RSSCategory: Social justice

True war heroes

March 29, 2014 | By | Reply More

Many of us “Support the U.S. Troops” in the Middle East even though we have no idea what they are doing on a day to day basis. There is no significant news reporting from the areas where the soldiers do whatever they do, so many Americans fills this vacuum with hopeful imagination. I don’t. I assume the worst. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and there is no sunshine where the U.S. military is operating in the Middle East. At any time over the past ten years, you could read 100 consecutive days of most any local newspaper, and you wouldn’t know anything about the day to day conduct of members of the U.S. military. You would barely know that we were at war. There have been no meaningful photos and no stories to advise us of what is really going on, where our heavily armed military encounters civilians.

Nonetheless, in our ignorance, we declare ALL troops to be heroes, clapping for them at baseball games and other social events, having no idea what they are actually doing. Imagine honoring any other profession, not having any self-critical information with regard to that person’s activities. “Ladies and Gentlemen, let me hear a round of applause for Joe, who is a great musician,”imagine everyone in the room clapping, even though none of them had ever heard of Joe, and none of them have heard him play even one note.

Sometimes we do learn what a soldier has actually done, and sometimes it is a actually the story of a hero. Take the case of Hugh Thompson, who stepped up to do what was right, at his own risk:

Returning to the My Lai area at around 0900 after refueling, he noticed that the people he had marked were now dead. Out in a paddy field beside a dike 200 metres (660 ft) south of the village, he marked the location of a wounded young Vietnamese woman. Thompson and his crew watched from a low hover as Captain Ernest Medina (commanding officer of C Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment) came up to the woman, prodded her with his foot, and then shot and killed her.

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Recurring haunting thought

August 16, 2013 | By | 5 Replies More

Recurring haunting thought: A formal democracy is not at all inconsistent with a country trending toward dictatorship. Given our bizarre national priorities (I’m referring to the various planet-destroying and hyper-xenophobic policies where the aims of the two major parties INTERSECT), one could meaningfully advocate today for a revolution by which the control of the United States government should be handed to the People. I can imagine people scoffing at this idea: “Isn’t that what we already HAVE?” Sure. On the books, that’s what we have.

How much things have changed in the U.S. that so many high-placed prominent government officials publicly construe common folks who want to be well-informed about government misconduct to be dangerous enemies. How far we’ve come, that a former President declares that “America has no functioning democracy at this moment.” How far we’ve come that it’s so difficult to get so many people to wrest themselves from their TV and sports obsessions in order that they can regain focus enough to see the danger of our policies divesting regular folks of any meaningful political power. If this seems like hyperbole, check out “Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America” by John Nichols and Robert McChesney.


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Grass roots effort versus payday loan industry money.

August 2, 2013 | By | Reply More

Last year my law partner John Campbell and I (we are two of the three attorneys at Campbell Law) donated our time and energy to serve as legal counsel to more than 118,000 Missouri citizens who sought enact a new law to cap the interest rates of payday loans (often 400% to 500% interest per year). What is it like to gather voter signatures when hundreds of thousands of dollars in industry money is pushing back? This excellent article by Propublica details the obstructionist tactic called “blocking” and the misleading ads sponsored by the payday loan industry.

What else can happen as part of a hotly contest ballot initiative? Notice the article’s description of the incident where someone broke into the car of a petitioner and stole 5,000 voter signatures. PayDayLoanShark

Most people I know are shocked to learn that payday loans carry such high interest rates. If Missouri voters were really allowed to vote on this issue, I do believe that they would overwhelmingly cap interest rates at 36 percent. Last year’s battle was between grass roots supported interest rate caps versus immense amounts of industry money funding an AstroTurf movement. The issue never came to a vote last year–the signature collection efforts barely fell short.

In 2014, we are looking to try once again to cap these predatory loans that are deceptive and dangerous products for most of those who fall prey to using them.


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The lesson of the sentence Bradley Manning is about to receive

July 31, 2013 | By | Reply More

Michael Moore sets the stage. Here’s the beginning of his long list:

Manning now faces a potential maximum sentence of 136 years in jail. When his sentence is announced tomorrow, we’ll all get a good idea of how seriously the U.S. military takes different crimes. When you hear about how long Manning – now 25 years old – will be in prison, compare it to sentences received by other soldiers:

Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the senior military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib and the senior officer present the night of the murder of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi, received no jail time. But he was reprimanded and fined $8,000. (Pappas was heard to say about al-Jamadi, “I’m not going down for this alone.”)

Sgt. Sabrina Harman, the woman famously seen giving a thumbs-up next to al-Jamadi’s body and in another photo smiling next to naked, hooded Iraqis stacked on each other in Abu Ghraib, was sentenced to six months for maltreating detainees…


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Democracy: More than majority rule

July 7, 2013 | By | Reply More

At, Nicholas Buccola explains that a true democracy does more than merely count the votes. It is more than mob rule. The context is Justice Scalia’s dissent in United States v. Windsor.

While the right to govern ourselves collectively is part of the “the beauty of what our Framers gave us,” it is not the whole of it. This right exists alongside the rights of individuals to be treated with dignity and respect. In his Windsor dissent Scalia all but mocks the majority’s concern for the “personhood and dignity” of individuals and contends that not only should the government be free to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage, but he reminds us repeatedly that he believes the government should be empowered – if the majority wills it – to imprison homosexuals for making love in the privacy of their own homes.

What one cannot detect in Scalia’s Windsor dissent is an appreciation for the idea that true democracy entails not only collective self-government, but respect for the right of the individual to govern his own conduct. Scalia’s dissent has all the markings of a brand of democracy too shallow to accept. Genuine democracy – like the conception of democracy defended by Frederick Douglass – is far more worthy of celebration this Fourth of July weekend.


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Cops and ex-cops step up to condemn the war on drugs

May 19, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

Numerous cops and ex-cops have stepped up to condemn the “war on drugs.” , They go by the name LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and they are now thousands strong. Here is the mission of LEAP:

The mission of LEAP is to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ending drug prohibition.

LEAP’s goals are: (1) To educate the public, the media and policy makers about the failure of current drug policy by presenting a true picture of the history, causes and effects of drug use and the elevated crime rates more properly related to drug prohibition than to drug pharmacology and (2) To restore the public’s respect for police, which has been greatly diminished by law enforcements involvement in imposing drug prohibition.

LEAP’s main strategy for accomplishing these goals is to create a constantly growing speakers bureau staffed with knowledgeable and articulate current and former drug-warriors who describe the impact of current drug policies on: police/community relations; the safety of law enforcement officers and suspects; police corruption and misconduct; and the excessive financial and human costs associated with current drug policies.


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Bradley Manning barred as S.F. Gay Pride Grand Marshal; abusive corporations welcomed.

April 28, 2013 | By | Reply More

Glen Greenwald reports that Bradley Manning may not be honored at this year’s San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, though corrupt and abusive corporations are welcome:

So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash. What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture. Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling pieties, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America’s political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.

Greenwald also points out the flaw in Ms. Williams’ thinking, which is a conflation I often hear, even among many folks who think of themselves as progressive:

Equating illegal behavior with ignominious behavior is the defining mentality of an authoritarian – and is particularly notable coming from what was once viewed as a bastion of liberal dissent.

And how should one now characterize the Gay Pride parade?

Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation’s most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.


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Modern paradox: Well-informed futility

April 24, 2013 | By | Reply More

SANDRA STEINGRABER (part of an interview with Bill Moyers):

Yeah. Well-informed futility is an idea that psychologists hit upon in the 1960s, specifically to explain why the people watching television news about the Vietnam War came to feel more and more futile about it. Whereas people who watched less television felt less futile. So it seemed like a paradox, right? The more informed you are, you think of knowledge as power.

But in fact, there is a way in which knowledge can be incapacitating. And so the psychologists went further and now have applied this to the environmental crisis and point out to us that whenever there’s a problem that seems big and overwhelming, climate change would be one, and at the same time, it’s not apparent that your own actions have any meaningful agency to solve that problem, you’re filled with such a sense of despair or guilt or rage that it becomes unbearable.

And so my response to that is basically what the book Raising Elijah is all about. So I try to take well-informed futility as my starting point and let people know that there is a way out of this. But because we can’t — I can’t honestly tell you that the problem is less bad than it is, the response has to be that we scale up our actions. So the problem is huge. And so our actions have to be huge as well.


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Putting mortgage trustees under the microscope

March 21, 2013 | By | Reply More

I’m going to offer several facts, then I’ll ask a few questions.

  • Many states allow foreclosures to occur entirely outside of the court system. In these “non-judicial” foreclosure states, a “trustee” is deemed to be a “neutral” party charged with the duty to make sure that the foreclosure process is fair.
  • Since 2008, U.S. banks have foreclosed on more than 10 million families. About half of these have been non-judicial foreclosures supervised by trustees.
    Trustees are appointed by the banks at the time homeowners take out their home loans. These trustees are strangers to the homeowners, but highly paid repeat-player legal advocates for the banks.
  • Many foreclosures occur despite the fact that homeowners are disputing whether the foreclosure should occur at all. In many of these cases, the homeowner claims that he or she has made all mortgage payments timely, indicating that the bank has lost or misallocated the payments. In significant numbers of these cases, the homeowner has offered written proof that he or she has made every mortgage payment on time. In other cases, the bank unjustifiably added charges to the bill (such as forced-place insurance, even though the home-owner already has insurance) and the homeowner refuses to pay these bogus charges. On other occasions, the bank has mangled the accounting, giving the homeowner no confidence that the bank has any idea of what is owed or what has been paid.
  • I have seen each of these situations in cases I’ve handled. Despite knowledge of each of these problems, the “neutral” trustee in each of these cases nonetheless proceeded with the foreclosure.
  • On occasions too numerous to count, homeowners facing unjustified foreclosures had turned for help and advice to these supposedly “neutral” trustees, calling them up and asking questions. In many of these cases, the trustees gave the customer terrible legal advice—advice that was helpful to the banks and harmful to the homeowners. In many cases, the trustees gave the homeowners no advice at all, indicating that the customers should simply pay the banks unwarranted late fees and back interest, or else lose their homes.
  • Many “trustees” are also law firms (consumer advocates refer to them as “foreclosure mills”), who in addition to falsely claiming that they are “neutral trustees,” also serve as attorneys in fact to the banks.

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