Marc Steiner

January 6, 2010

Mayor Dixon Announces Her Resignation

Mayor Sheila Dixon’s pending resignation is a real tragedy both politically and personally.   

We don’t know the details of the bargain she made with the judge and the prosecutors, although that will all  come out shortly. My guess is that there will not be another trial and that she will fight to keep her  pension. I predict that she may run again in the future.
May 4, 2009

Happy 90th Pete Seeger!

photo by Michael Cantor

Pete Seeger turned 90 on May 3rd. They threw him a 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. He is an American icon, a national treasure that embodies the heart of the great American soul of liberty and justice for all.

For more than 70 years he has been singing about freedom, justice, civil rights, human rights, for the workers, for the environment. Wherever someone struggled for freedom in America, Pete was there. On Barack Obama’s Inauguration he sang with Bruce Springsteen and closed out the event with every stanza of “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. He fearlessly and to the glee of the revelers included the long unused stanza that called for the “breeching of the wall of private property.” He bounded off the stage like a man forty years younger. He was hugged and greeted by the new President.

He lives his beliefs as he sings them. When Senator Joe McCarthy and his dreaded House Un-American Activities Committee came after him, he refused to cooperate. He was blackballed and banned for ten years. He said “I don’t give a shit about my career.” When he returned, the Smothers Brothers brought him back to TV. He sang the anti-war and freedom folk song “Waste Deep in the Big Muddy.”

When he helped make Huddie Leadbetter’s, (aka Leadbelly’s), “Good Night Irene” into a hit, he made sure that Leadbelly got the royalties. He did the same for the family of Solomon Linda who wrote the African Freedom song that everyone sang in the fifties, sixties and seventies that became a rock‘n’roll hit, “Wimoweh.” He could have stolen the proceeds of the royalties and kept them for himself, as so many of the unscrupulous did to Black performers. Not Pete Seeger; he lives his life by his word, by work, by his politics, by his beliefs.

I first saw him as a young civil right worker singing with the Freedom Singers in Mississippi, a young Bob Dylan by his side. I grew up with his folk music because my mother always played him.

They say he has memorized more songs than any performer alive. Whenever he hears of a struggle for human rights in America, for the poor, for the infirmed, for our earth, he is there at 90. On his banjo, that he has had for over 60 years, are written the words “this Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender.”

He has become a sage. When asked why, in the face of so much opposition, of so many backward turns and some say the hopelessness of the causes he believes, why does he keep singing, pushing and fighting for justice, he gives a New Testament parable about a soldier who with his sword slashes open a bag of seeds. Some fall on the rocks and die, some seeds drown in the water, some are crushed under foot, but some fall onto fertile ground. They sink into the soil and grow a thousand fold. That is who we are he says. He knows the fight for freedom, for a just world is endless, and that every song we sing, every word we write, every story we tell, every oppression that is pushed aside brings more people to a better world and one day the fertile soil will win.

Peter Seeger, one of the few heroes I have in life …. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all, and to my Mom, wherever your spirit is floating around.  I am sure you are having a Guinness and shot.   She is the reason that I am so Irish.   Well, she was Irish by immersion.   Maisie Anne Round Steiner grew up in the north of England, the daughter of North Country miners and a Scotswoman of the MacPherson clan.   She was a wild, unruly, alive renegade whose mother sent her to a Catholic convent (though she was Protestant of Baptist/Methodist roots) in the mountains of Wales.  It turned out that the nuns were a bunch of Irish pro-IRA radicals who embraced my mom as she embraced them.

So we were brought up on the legends of ancient Irish warrior kings like Brian Baru, IRA revolutionaries like James Connolly, the first Jewish Mayor of Dublin Robert Briscoe and the great Irish poets and writers who graced our bookshelves.  The nuns imbued in her a sense of social justice.  As a young British woman she embraced the IRA, anti-colonial struggles and love for humanity and human rights.  Her mother sent her away to be disciplined and straightened out, so she could act more like an English lady.  Instead, she came back with the fire, soul and love of life of the Irish.  She passed it on to her children and breathed it deeply with each breath she took.  She found four leaf clovers and had conversations with the leprechauns and the spirits.  Though Eire did not flow in her veins, it lived in the depths of her being.

Thanks Mom, for making me Irish.  I’ll have a Guinness and a shot for you tonight.

January 12, 2009

Marc on Mayor Dixon’s Indictment

I hate watching this happen.  It is no small matter for a sitting Mayor to be indicted.

I have known Sheila Dixon for over thirty years.   We are not close friends.   We have not been in a private social setting together in 32 years. We met when we were both counselors and teachers at Baltimore Prep, a program at Westside Shopping Center for street kids who had just come out of prison or had been kicked out of school, whose lives were on the corner instead of the classroom.   Sheila was committed to those kids. She didn’t take any stuff from them and she knew every game they could play, because she came from the same streets that they did.  Baltimore Prep is also where she met Mark Smith, who later became her husband, with whom she raised her nephew Juan Dixon and his brother.   The boys’ parents had died from heroin addiction.  Sheila and Mark saw those boys to manhood.  This is the Sheila Dixon I know.

I knew her a little in the intervening years.  I remember when she was first elected to the city council.   I remember when she banged her shoe on the table exclaiming it was our turn now.   She was committed to working class black folks. She lived and knew their pain, joys and struggles.   A lot of white journalists, politicians and others thought she hated white people.  I don’t know what her innermost thoughts about race were, but I can say that anyone who came up in a certain way who was from a certain place had historical reasons to have a mistrust of white people.  Whatever she thought then, however, she has grown from that place, as did William Donald Schaeffer from his place of not caring about Black folks before he became Mayor.  She bleeds working class blue in her veins.   That is the Sheila Dixon I know.

So, these indictments are just tragic.  If they are true, they show stupidity and sheer greed.  

As I wrote last week, the only difference between the actions of our city officials and indicted power developers, and goings on in Congress between politicians and corrupt corporate leaders, is the thin but sturdy line of legality.  

Politicians are always doing favors for the powerful and their friends.  It is part of human existence.   Nevertheless, it was not the fur coats that bought Ron Lipscomb city contracts, but rather all of his city and corporate contacts.  

I am not excusing anything here.  If Sheila and others broke their sacred trust with us, they have to leave elected office at the very least.   It cannot be tolerated.  

The worst offence would be if she actually took gift certificates that were intended for poor families and children to enjoy Christmas.   I hope that even if the bribery and malfeasance indictments are true, that stealing from street kids and poor families is not true.   That could break a city’s heart.

That would not be the Sheila Dixon I know.   Soon we will know whether she broke the law.  If she did, then the court will decide her fate.  If she is exonerated, she could become one of our greatest Mayors. If not, she will become one of our greatest disappointments and tragedies.

January 8, 2009

City Hall Indictments – Mayor Sheila Dixon Indicted

Update: We just received news, at 2pm today (Friday January 9) that Mayor Dixon has been indicted on 12 counts. Read more in the Sun. We will see what the day brings but the rumor mill has it that Sheila Dixon will be indicted today, just as Helen Holton and Ron Lipscomb were indicted yesterday. My feeling is that if she had just declared those coats she would not be in front of a grand jury. If she had just recused herself from voting for a company her sister worked for there would be no investigation.
November 24, 2008

Marc on the killing at Lemmel Middle School

THE STABBING

In 1962 there was a sixteen-year-old kid who had to survive in the streets of this city, terrified.  

He was a confused kid in a lot ways.   He read Hemingway, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Spinoza, Bertrand Russell and Marx.    He was a non-violent warrior in the civil rights movement who experienced the terror of violence by white mobs and cops.   He was also a street corner boy.   A jitterbug with his 20-inch pant cuffs with pleats, banlon shirts and porkpie hats.    Drinking wine, shooting nine ball, looking for parties, talking shit and sometimes getting into trouble.   All over the place he was, in the midst of violence but not violent, going for bad because you had to and standing up even when you knew you would be hurt.   You had no choice on the corner. 

This kid hung out on the Heights, the next neighborhood over was the Junction.   Now the boys on the corner from the Heights and the Junction knew each other, didn’t war, walked through each other’s zones, intermingled and went to the same parties often but had different corners they owned and different pool halls and basketball courts they played on. 

One day he went into Arundal’s Ice Cream parlor on the Boulevard, that long stretch of street that connected the two corners.   Arundals was in Heights territory.  They always had better spots on the Heights.   Big Hand Bey and Blue Eyed Plu and the some of the boys from the Junction were hanging out there.   As was custom, this kid walked up to Bey, a titular top dog from the Junction, and held out his hand palm down to slap five with Bey.   Bey didn’t offer his hand, just a glare with a broke down mug that signified something was up and it wasn’t good.   The other boys with him just postured and stared.

So, this kid knew something bad was going on and that these guys meant him some harm for some reason.   He remembered just months before when Big Hand Bey beat down Blue Eyed Plu into submission on the corner.   It was a bad beating but Plu now ran with Bey.   At this point discretion was the better part of valor and that ice cream soda could wait a while.

Later that day he went over to the elementary school yard where the boys from the Heights hung to talk, play basketball, shoot craps and do whatever.   When he got there Ronald said he should split because Bey and them had been up here earlier looking for him with a .45.   All the brothers in the yard turned their backs on him, because he was a marked man and no one would stand with him.  

It was a terrifying moment.  He was alone.   He turned to his walking partners Scott and Methu.   They called Phillip Methu because he looked so much older than everyone else. Methu was short for Methuselah.   Even though he was 16 he could pass for 21 and often bought the wine and malt liquor everyone loved. Methu was scared of no one. 

At any rate, he turned to Methu and Scott and to his best friend Little Billy for help.   He knew Scott and Methu would stand, or he hoped they would.  Little Billy had taught him how to dance, fight with a knife, talk to girls and survive the streets.   There was a deep bond between the two.  All three said they would stand with him, as would Taz and Jerry.   Taz was Ronald’s brother.   Where Ronald was mean and a terror, Taz was sensitive, smart but a brave stand up guy and Jerry was cool.  Always dressed cool, knew how win the ladies over and was a damn good boxer and a bit country to boot.   Against Bey and them that wasn’t many guys but you knew they had your back. 

They said we need a war council, so they all met at his house.   To his surprise two of the older heads on the corner who were also two of the baddest boys around, period, Benny Lee and Meathead, showed up at the council that was held in the basement of his house.  

Most of them thought that the only way to avoid a throw down with a much bigger force was to have him fight Big Hand Bey straight up, one on one.   That was a terrifying thought.   Bey was big, strong and bad.   He had seem him fight before and knew that he could not win and would be badly beaten in a face off with Bey.   He knew he may have no other choice. 

If it came down to it on the corner or at a party everyone would throw down with him, come whatever.     He knew they would stand with him, have his back, but his loyalty to them did not want to put them through it.   The meaning of real and true friendship was defined as never before.   That definition would define his life from that moment on.

He couldn’t understand why all this was happening?   What was it?   What had he done to incur the wrath of Bey and those boys!? 

A few weeks earlier everyone had thrown in some money to buy some wine and malt liquor up at the bowing alley.   This boy, Binky, took the money to buy everything.  When he returned empty handed he gave some of the money back to everyone but him.   So he said to Binky, where is my dollar?  Binky said he wasn’t going to give him his dollar.   Fuck you, Binky said.   So, he said, Boy you are going to give me my money back.   As Binky took off his coat he knocked him out with a flurry of punches.   Then took a dollar from Binky’s pocket and walked away.   He thought he was cool but Binky was one of Bey’s boys.

Then there was that night a month or so before when there was a party over on Bentalou.  One of those blue lights in the basement parties.   He was slow dancing with this girl who this other boy wanted but he kept on with her.   He pulled her not the other dude.   They went off together but the other boy threatened to fuck him up.   He payed that no mind, the girl was just too fine, phat and willing to be with him to worry about that threat.  Didn’t know the boy but he might have been one of Bey’s boys, he thought.

Or, was it because he was white?  The only white boy on the corner, there weren’t too many like him.    An easy mark for many … boys who did not like him, the cops or other white folks who saw him as a traitor and a freak.

Probably it was all of that but being white didn’t help … did not help at all …

One night he was going to visit his girl friend.   The same girl he met at the party.  Beatrice, really beautiful girl who was down from Harlem for the summer to visit her aunt.  It was late.  He was walking down a street with few lights but a peaceful, warm, quiet night.   Earlier, he was going to go to a dance at the hall in his neighborhood but Scott and Methu said the Junction boys were there and it be best if he did not go.  So, he split to see Bea.  

As he walked a couple of blocks past the club on a residential street, a car slowed down.  He could feel it sliding slowly over his left shoulder.   He was aware of it, very conscious of everything around him, then a shot rang out, then another.   The boys in that car were shooting at him.  

He took the hat from this head and ran hard.   Through the bushes, leaping a fence, another shot rang out, he leapt another fence was then faced by a Doberman, but he kept running, the Doberman hard at his heals, but he leapt another fence over into an alley as another shot rang out.   He hid, then ran, then crept, knowing they were driving around looking for  him.  He saw them, but hid in the shadows behind a garage in a dark alleyway. 

Then he made a dash for it down the alleys, around the corner and down another alley.  He got to Bea’s crib, banged on the door, she answered, he pushed her inside, panting and out of breath, disheveled, socks falling down around  his shoes, pants torn, drenched in sweat and fear.  He spent the night there in her basement curled up beside her.

Little Billy had given him a switchblade.   He wanted a gun.   He carried the switchblade everywhere.   At night he would walk with it open, up his sleeve.   The handle of the knife rested in his palm, the blade resting on the underside of his forearm as he bopped with that pimp walk that was  how you did back in the day.    He was keenly aware of every shadow, every movement and would walk out into the street when he got to alleyways.    He would turn to look down the alley, always terrified, always nervous and jumpy, leaping with fear at the slightest abnormality or sound.

One night he was coming home from a party.   Scott and Methu peeled off to head in the opposite direction to their homes, Taz and Jerry walked a way but then they too left, walking west to get to their houses.   He was once again alone for the next seven blocks to his house, switchblade open against the sweat of his forearm, head pounding with fear that made the eyes and throat dry and tight.  

As he passed an alleyway he sensed some movement.   A figure darted out, grabbed his left arm, spun him around.  Then another figure punched him hard in the right side of his head, sent him twirling, almost losing his feet from under him.   They were on him.  The switchblade slid down his palm twisting the blade end out,   He lashed out stabbing and slashing blindly as fists swung around him.   He felt the knife hit something hard then soft, it was sickening sensation.    He kept slashing and stabbing, one boy fell to the ground, and a knife skidded from his grasp down the alley.   The other boy staggered back down the alley.   He heard screaming and moaning as he glanced at the scene before turning on his heel to run.   Run, he ran hard, scared, not stopping for blocks until he got to his house.   The knife still in his hands as opened the front door.   He ran to the phone, dialed the Operator, said two boys were stabbed in an ally, then hung up the phone quickly.  He stumbled into his room, falling into his bed.   His hands were covered with blood, his shirtsleeves were red with blood, blood all over his clothes.

What the fuck had he done.   What was he going to do?    Had he just killed someone?   What was he going to do?

I stayed awake all night thinking about those boys.   Did I kill somebody?!   What was going to happen next.   I knew they would find me, my hat was in the alley, they would snitch, one of them would die.   I would go to jail forever, no one could save me, just like no one, not my parents, not the cops and not my brothers on the street could save me from the Junction.  

COMMENTARY ON THE KILLING AT LEMMEL

I could not get this story of my past out of my head after reading about that 14-year-old child who was stabbed and killed at Lemmel Middle School on Friday.   My first reaction was wondering what happened.  What fear drove them to carry weapons?   What madness lived under the reason for the killing?

At first people were saying it was gang-related.   Now, one of the stories surrounding this young man’s death is that he was a bully and the kid who killed him was one of his victims.   The child who did the stabbing turned himself into the police. 

Many people do not understand the fear that so many of our children in the inner cities of America live with every day of their lives.    I would venture to say that the vast majority of young people who carry weapons, be they knives or guns or clubs, do so out of fear and self-protection.   You have to live with a mask of neutrality and fearlessness on your face at all times.   That joy of youth that so many children in our nation enjoy cannot be allowed to blossom for most inner city kids.  When gentleness can be a weakness, the hard cover you are forced to wear keeps the joy at bay.  

So, if it is true that the poor boy who died was a bully, and this kid who stabbed him then turned himself in was in a corner with no where to go but slashing his way to escape, then what should our response be as a society who judges actions of others like this?  

What do we do with this boy who took a life perhaps defending his own in a world where no one can protect you but yourself?   What are we as a society and our government willing to do to invest in these children to be able to learn, live and find joy in their schools?   Will we send an army of counselors and therapists into that school to help the children and their teaches cope with what just happened?   Will we teach alternatives to violence?  Will we invest in recreation centers staffed with counselors to reach out to street kids?   Will we invest in the green economy to put their parents to work so we can build stable families?

Can we show we care?   Can we build a society that cares enough to put people to work, to eliminate poverty and invest in our children the way we do highways, McMansions and prisons?  

We can if we have the will.  We can’t lose another child to the streets.

November 5, 2008

Day After the Election by Marc Steiner

Last night, I went to my daughter Chelsea’s home to watch the returns.   She was having a watch  party.  It was the perfect venue for that night for many reasons.     Chelsea’s mom, Sayida Stone, my first wife and a dear friend, is African American.   Chelsea is a Black woman, a mixed race child of America.   She has three children, my grand children.  Their father, Ebon, a schoolteacher, martial artist and musician, is Afro-Italian-Puerto Rican.   From the beginning, Chelsea was deeply moved by Obama’s candidacy.  It was their time, it was their day, and it is their time now. 

Chelsea’s sister, Alana, her mom’s daughter with her husband who is Jamaican, is 21 years old, a brilliant artist and a junior at MICA.   I call her my daughter once removed, she calls me Saba, which is Hebrew for grandfather.   Alana was there with a dozen of her classmates.  Young, African American, Latino, Asian, mixed race and white who worked for this campaign, who believed in this message of hope.

Chelsea’s friends who were there ranged from 28 to their early forties, every color of the American rainbow.  Her mom, her husband Jenel, and others of our generation were there, as well.

The feeling in her home was electric and explosive, but explosive with peace and hope.   When Obama was announced the next President of the Untied States of America, there was a pandemonium of joy, screaming, shouting, hugging, singing and champagne corks popping.  

I looked around realizing this was their day.  These young people believed so deeply and were so full of what the future might bring to us all.  

While watching television it was hard not to notice the contrast between the Obama supporters in Grant Park in Chicago and the McCain supporters.   Obama’s in a public park with thousands of people of every generation and race in America and McCain’s in a private club for the wealthy and all, well not all, but almost all, white.  

This was an election of the two Americas from which we were born and in which we still live.   Our great nation has no state religion.   Our state religion is our democracy, our belief in freedom and liberty.   The USA was founded on liberty and slavery in the same breath.  Imagine that and think about that for a moment.   Liberty and slavery are the foundations of our nation.   The roots of the contradiction and the hope that dwell uneasily together in our nation’s soul were alive and palpable last night in this election.  

Maybe the tenor is about to change.   Race and racism hurt America.   It is a deep wound in the Black American spirit.  It is a burden of pain in white America, as well.  

The man who was voted in to become the 44th President of the United States of America may be changing the tenor and tone of our nation.  In the spirit of the civil rights warriors, he was unbowed and non-violent in his stand against his tormentors in this campaign.   When Barack Obama was faced with lies and low blows dealt by his opponents, the Republican Party and their independent advocates, he responded with dignity, strength and love.  So many of his supporters screamed that he should fight back, blow for blow  and spit in their eye.  Barack Obama chose to hold his head and his sense of morality and ethics high, so he kept walking straight ahead amidst the verbal blows and lies.  He set a standard for his supporters and the America he believes in.  The roots of that way of responding politically come from Martin Luther King, the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s that they gave birth to and that gave birth to them.   It bodes well for what we may be able to do in America together.

I am not naïve about the difficulty that lies ahead of us.  Barack Obama is not the savior; he is the embodiment of hope for many Americans.  The struggle is now on to define our future.  We can now fight for something rather than against it.   We will have a seat at the table for the debate on our nation’s future.   We have serious work ahead of us.

Good gumbo, too, last night... A gumbo of America in the room, a gumbo of America who voted Obama,  and a great gumbo in the pot.

October 1, 2008

Marc on the Bailout

It is interesting to read the New York Times columnists and editorial writers, among many other papers, ridicule the Neanderthal Republicans for voting against and killing the bailout package negotiated between the Democratic congressional leadership and the White House. They seem to forget that 40% of Democrats in the house (90) voted to kill the package, as well.

 Click "READ MORE" below!

August 11, 2008

Marc on Obama and Race in America

Last week I wrote a blog about Obama. I originally wrote in my essay that 30% of the people in America would not vote for a Black man for President. Jessica Phillips, one of my producers, challenged the stat, asking me where it came from. Well, I could not pin point the source, if there ever was one.
August 11, 2008

Marc on Legalizing Pot

It is such a beautiful, unseasonably cool August morning, crisp, cool and a tad cloudy.  I picked up the Sunday papers on my way back in from walking our dog, Charley.  I opened the Times, put it down and glanced at the front page of the Sun, below the fold on the right hand side.  “Community in shock over Harford man’s drug charges … Ecologist, decades long teacher revered by residents.”

 

My gut told me this was not some heroin dealing, gun toting, cocaine smuggling outlaw swaggering through the Harford County landscape posing as a mild mannered teacher of our children.  I was sadly right, as I read the story.  Sadly right and really, really pissed off.  

 

A sixty-two-year-old man who spent his life teaching kids about nature, our environment and love of life.  He smokes marijuana and it appears as if he might consume some psilocybin mushrooms sometimes.  He must really be an evil man.  Pretty soon, all the kids in Harford will be smoking dope, dropping acid, snorting cocaine, having sex and god knows what else.  Known as Ranger Bob to all the kids, why, if there ever was a contrived name, Ranger Bob is it.  Look, he even has a beard and plays Santa Clause on his Christmas tree farm.   That’s how he snares all those kids.  The devil in disguise.   You think he is really teaching about the earth, nature and our history, respecting life and the planet we live on...

 

OK, enough with the sarcasm, but this is just madness.   I don’t think anyone should go to jail, or have their home or children threatened with seizure, or livelihood taken away from them for smoking, growing or even selling marijuana.   Most Americans who are 62 and lived through the counter culture world of hippies, slogged through a rice paddy in Nam, were active in the anti-war movement, in some non-combatant military role or alive in 1968 smoked a joint.  Presidents did it.   Some folks still do it that lead functional, successful and productive lives.  

 

Most people I know, at some point in their lives, smoked dope.   There is a reason why we call it dope.   So, most of us don’t do it anymore.   Most of us don’t get drunk anymore.   We have more important things to deal with then people’s personal behaviors. 

 

People should not go to jail for using marijuana.  We should legalize it, tax it and let it be.   Grow hemp so we can stop cutting down trees for paper, and let marijuana bloom like we grow tobacco for cigarettes and hops for beer and barley for whiskey.    Many Indian reservations want the chance to grow hemp for industrial uses.   It could help our environment, create new jobs and new industries.  

 Every 45 seconds someone is arrested on a marijuana charge, and most of those for mere possession.   In 2003, the last statistics I could find, there was an all time high (no pun intended) of 755,186 with 88 percent of those arrests were for possession, not the manufacture or distribution, of marijuana.  The cost in imprisonment of these offenders’ amounts is conservatively $1.2 billion each year.   If you are arrested for growing over 100 marijuana plants you go to jail for a minimum of five years.  That is longer than for manslaughter or for grant theft auto.  Conservatively, it costs $1.5 billion a year to incarcerate these folks.  If you add in law enforcement and courts along with imprisonment, it may be as high as $15 billion a year. We could have spent that money to build new schools, to open homeless shelters or veterans' hospitals, to preserve the environment or even to fund anti-drug programs in schools. 

Harvard Economist Dr. Jeffrey Alan Miron produced a highly acclaimed study, "The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition," which was endorsed by hundreds of economists, including conservative leaders like

Dr. Milton Friedman of the Hoover Institute, Dr. George Akerlof of the University of California at Berkeley, and Dr. Vernon Smith of George Mason University.  He concludes that “replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of legal regulation would save approximately $7.7 billion in government expenditures on prohibition enforcement -- $2.4 billion at the federal level and $5.3 billion at the state and local levels for a combined savings of $10 to 14 billion dollars."

 Everyone has statistics.   This argument has been going on for a long time.  The bottom line is that chasing down pot smokers is a waste of our time, energy and money.   People should have the right to have as they wish, consume what they want and pursue their pleasures as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others, harm our children or the environment.   

Bob Chance, by all accounts from the former Mayor of Bel Air to the head of their county library, is a good soul who loves children and a defender of our environment who loves teaching.  He should not have his life destroyed because he likes to smoke pot on his own time.  He should be able to wake up on this unseasonably cool August morning not worrying about going to jail or losing his beloved farm.

August 1, 2008

Marc on Wal Mart and Unions

When I opened the Wall Street Journal this morning, that centerpiece article Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win:

 

"Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized."

Wow, I just read it and sat there stunned for a minute.  Then I woke up,
and wondered what I was so shocked about. 

Here we have Wal-Mart, a store, that despite its new green image and it’s pronouncements about the Green economy with SEIU boss, Andy Stern, has a history of abusing its employees, paying low wages and few benefits.  

Wal-Mart says they are not telling any employees how to vote or who to campaign for. Right, I am working the cash register at Wal-Mart wearing a big Obama button.  Oops, is that a pink slip floating after me?!  Who’s to know, who’s to protect my rights.   Oh yes, that would be Papa Walton. 

Let me be clear about my past.   I have been a member of union.   I have
been a union organizer.   I am one of those who believe that if had not been for unions we would have had no middle class in the numbers that we have in America.  They fought to ensure that their working class members had a decent life.  

Now, unions have become increasingly irrelevant to life in America.   Partially of their own making by becoming lethargic corporate giants themselves.  Union leaders got too far away from their own members forgetting what it means to work hard to pay your bills and take care of your families.   They stopped organizing.  Yes, unions were victims of this economy and of the erosion of the industrial base of America.  But they have done little to fight it, to change with the times, to organize new workers, to speak up for the unorganized and to enter the 21st century.   They became lethargic dinosaurs. 

They became easy targets for onerous laws to destroy or curtail or cripple their power to organize.   Unions became the media demon and the business
the clean good guys in white shirts that knew how to run a nation. 

Unions are only here because so many employees get screwed.    It is
interesting I can think of five friends who own companies that don’t have unions.  Their workers don’t want or need them.   These owners run the gamut from libertarian to progressive to conservative to liberal.   They don’t have unions because they treat their employees right.  They offer health care, take care of people, worry about their families and take human beings into consideration.  They are small companies, too, from 50 to 200 employees.  They do it right. 

If business leaders don’t want unions, then treat people right.   Meanwhile,
America’s laws should be union friendly.   Unions need to be protected while organizing and have the freedom to do so.  The Employee Free Choice Act that Wal-Mart and others are so worried about is the least our government can do to protect an employee's right to organize and better their lives.

Senators McCain and Obama, what say ye?   We are waiting here.

July 28, 2008

Marc on Mayor’s Control Over Baltimore Schools

 Psst!  Looking for Marc's blog post on legalizing marijuana?  Click here to read it!  We sent the wrong link in the last email!  Sorry!

 

Yesterday's Sun carried a story about Mayor Sheila Dixon's desire to
reclaim control of Baltimore City Schools. She was always troubled
by the state takeover, as were many of us. She is being encouraged by all the other Mayors who have taken control of their city's schools.

I remember when State Superintendent Dr. Nancy Grasmick made her move
to control the management of city schools. We aired a number of
conversations in this debate. I was very doubtful then of the logic
of the move. More importantly the state's bureaucracy was no more
nimble or creative in its work, or willing to take the risks necessary
to change the city schools than the city school's entrenched
Paleolithic-minded bureaucracy.

It was not until the Baltimore City Board of Education's leadership
and direction changed that things began to move. More importantly it
was not until parents, students and teachers started to demand charter
schools that any movement took place. Ultimately, it was when Dr.
Andres Alonso arrived that our city schools began to make the
radical leaps needed to shake the lethargy out of aging special
interests. Now our schools have begun to blossom. Students,
parents, teachers and principals are beginning to be heard, held
accountable and be made part of running our schools.

The Board and the new CEO and our schools seem to be operating almost
independently of the state or the city. Things are changing. The
state needs to get out of the way. The city should not get in the
way. Maybe an entirely new partnership has to be created between the
city and our schools. Perhaps we have not invented the next step, yet.
The Mayor and the School CEO need some quiet time together to think
this through. City officials, the CEO, the school board, parents,
teachers, students, and our business and philanthropic leaders need to
spend some time thinking calmly and clearly about the future.

There is no going back to old paradigms and designs. There is no
handing pack power to old models of control and management. We need
to be moving forward to new ideas, not stuck in 20th century power
politics playing with the lives of our children.

We have a unique opportunity here. Let's build it not blow it.