Category: Good and Evil

Stroll down the highway . . .

| June 5, 2014 | 5 Replies

Almost a nightmare tonight. I flew into St. Louis at 11:30 pm, and I was tired. I found my car at the airport and was driving about 60 mpg in the center lane of Hwy 70 toward downtown. Coming around a curve in the highway I though I saw something, and a split second later I DID see that it a man slowly walking across my lane. He was wearing a dark red top and black pants. I gave the wheel a slight nudge to the left, but not a hard tug for fear of rolling the car over. I ended up on the left side of my center lane, and missed hitting the man by less than a foot. There was no time to hit the brakes. He was not looking toward me when I almost hit him. I don’t know whether he was drunk or mentally ill. I found myself shaken up, and thanking my stars for both him and me. A couple minutes later, I thought of calling the police, but the man would have made it across the highway, or not, by then. You just don’t expect to see a person walking on a dark superhighway at night, so when I first thought I saw him, I couldn’t immediately process that it could be a person. looking back, I now see that I made an almost unconscious decision that I would not flip my car (probably a suicidal maneuver) in order to save this man. It’s a disturbing thought, made only a bit less disturbing by the fact that the entire episode lasted 2 seconds, making it impossible for me to think things through in real time.

And now, back home, I once again remind myself that an avoided tragedy is a great gift. What happened is the equivalent of me striking and killing a man on the highway, and then a magic genie coming along and using magic to undo the damage. I came so close to striking the man that it almost seems like I DID strike him . . .

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Ken Ham’s Lack of Wonder

| February 7, 2014 | 1 Reply
Ken Ham’s Lack of Wonder

By now, I’m sure, many people know about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  Only 9% of respondents apparently saw Ham as the winner.  Of course that won’t be the end of it. 

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No national war on needless hospital deaths in the U.S.

| September 20, 2013 | Reply

So why isn’t there any national war on hospital negligence? Isn’t a death a death? More than 200,000 needless hospital deaths every year.  Propublica Reports. 

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Time to ban predatory lenders and rent-to-own shops

| July 9, 2013 | Reply

David Ray Papke has recently published “Perpetuating Poverty: Exploitative Businesses, the Urban Poor, and the Failure of Liberal Reform,” suggesting that it’s time to pull the plug entirely on predatory lenders and rent-to-own outlets. If only legislators would base their decisions on what is just rather than the flow of money to their re-election campaigns. Why ban them rather than regulate them? Because it’s been attempted for a long time, unsuccessfully. These business are great at evading the spirit of regulation.

In the end, the urban poor who shop and borrow at rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns do in fact pay exorbitant amounts that are much higher than what they would pay for goods at Walmart or loans at the local bank. As scholars have argued for almost fifty years, it is routinely the case that the poor pay more than middle and upper-class Americans for comparable goods and services.1 This includes food, housing, transportation, insurance, mortgages, and health care,2 and it certainly includes goods and loans from rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns.

This article has four major sections. The first three examine the business models of, in order, the rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns. Each of these business models features a highly-crafted, standardized contractual agreement that does not merely support the business but rather is central to it. The fourth section of the article reviews reformist efforts related to these businesses and also argues that these liberal efforts at reform have been ineffective. The business models and concomitant contractual agreements of rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns are so sophisticated and adjustable as to make them virtually impervious to regulation. As a result, rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns continue not only to exploit the urban poor but also to socio-economically subjugate the urban poor by trapping them into a ceaseless debt cycle. A blanket proscription of these tawdry businesses might be the only way to drive them from our midst and to eliminate their active role in the perpetuation of urban poverty.

. . .

Some practices so fundamentally affront our shared values that they should quite simply be prohibited. It is one thing to exploit the urban poor, but it is another thing to systematically worsen their socio-economic condition and to thereby subject them to greater control and subservience. Exploitation, in other words, might be tolerable in our market economy, but subjugation should not be. You can take people’s money and the value of their labor, but you not should be able to yoke them permanently or even semi-permanently to subordination. By actively making the urban poor even poorer, the rent-to-own, payday lending, and title pawn businesses do just that and should be banned.

Papke’s article can be found here. It is published by Marquette University Law School.

For more on payday loans, see various articles at this site with the word “payday,” including this look at how the battle between reformers and the industry wages on the ground.

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United States attempts to blackmail Ecuador over Edward Snowden

| June 28, 2013 | Reply

From Democracy Now:

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa: “All of a sudden, trade tariffs became an instrument of blackmail: behave or leave the free trade movement. In the face of threats, insolence and arrogance of certain U.S. sectors, which have pressured to remove the preferential tariffs because of the Snowden case, Ecuador tells the world: We unilaterally and irrevocably denounce the preferential tariffs. Our dignity has no price.”

Correa’s government followed up with a dig at the Obama administration by offering to donate millions of dollars for human rights training in the United States on matters of “privacy, torture and other actions that are denigrating to humanity.

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Obsessing over physical courage; overlooking moral courage

| April 29, 2013 | Reply
Obsessing over physical courage; overlooking moral courage

Ask people who their heroes are, and many of them talk about those who engage in physical exploits, such as soldiers and athletes. Most of those who I consider to be courageous, however, do not engage in any physical acts of bravery. [More]

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Invisible war victims

| April 1, 2013 | Reply

Glenn Greenwald writes the following as part of his article on an upcoming film titled “Dirty Wars.”

The most propagandistic aspect of the US War on Terror has been, and remains, that its victims are rendered invisible and voiceless. They are almost never named by newspapers. They and their surviving family members are virtually never heard from on television. The Bush and Obama DOJs have collaborated with federal judges to ensure that even those who everyone admits are completely innocent have no access to American courts and thus no means of having their stories heard or their rights vindicated. Radical secrecy theories and escalating attacks on whistleblowers push these victims further into the dark. It is the ultimate tactic of Othering: concealing their humanity, enabling their dehumanization, by simply relegating them to nonexistence.

The following excerpt is from the website of “Dirty Wars.”

As [Investigative Reporter] Scahill digs deeper into the activities of JSOC, he is pulled into a world of covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams “find, fix, and finish” their targets, who are selected through a secret process. No target is off limits for the “kill list,” including U.S. citizens. Drawn into the stories and lives of the people he meets along the way, Scahill is forced to confront the painful consequences of a war spinning out of control, as well as his own role as a journalist.

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Considering Cults and the Need for Meaning

| February 27, 2013 | 10 Replies
Considering Cults and the Need for Meaning

Recently, I finished reading Lawrence Wright’s new book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollwood, & the Prison of Belief, about Scientology. It’s a lucid history and examination of the movement. [More . . . ]

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What really happened in Vietnam? Nick Turse investigates war crimes files.

| February 22, 2013 | Reply

Journalist Nick Turse investigated Vietnam war crimes files, thousands of them. As he explained to Bill Moyers, there is much America did in Vietnam that it should be ashamed of. Why dredge up the past? First, Vietnam is within the lifetimes of many people currently alive. Second, a powerful lesson illustrated by Turse is that in the absence of accurately reported information our government excels at hiding the truth and painting rosy pictures. This is a very important lesson pertaining to Iraq and Afghanistan. We always have spotty and hyper-censored media coverage concerning the conduct of our troops. What have our troops been doing? The assumption should be that in the absence of vigorous and accurate reporting, things have been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan that could not possibly withstand the light of day. That is certainly what happened in Vietnam, which was a concocted war, just like Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans need to quit pretending that they are getting accurate information from their government in the absence of any trustworthy verifying source of information. In the absence of trustworthy information, we need to assume that war is a theater for war crimes and make believe.

How many decades will we need to wait before the truth comes out about the wars of “freedom” we are fighting in the Middle East? How many decades will pass before historians declare that these needless wars were conducted in shameful ways. How long before Americans realize that our biggest wars are wars to clamp down on information waged by our government against the people of the U.S.? Here are a few excerpts from the Turse interview by Bill Moyers:

All the atrocities that [John] Kerry mentions by name [before Congress] I found evidence of all of those types of crimes represented in the records of this Vietnam War Crimes Working Group in the government’s own files. So at the same time that– you know, that Kerry and the veterans that he was referring to there were being smeared as fake veterans or as liars, the military had all these records that proved that these were just the very crimes that were going on in Vietnam.

[An army medic named Jamie Henry] saw these things. And when he first spoke up about brutality his life was threatened by fellow unit members. And even his friends came to him and said, “Look, you have to keep your mouth shut or you’re going to get shot in the back during a firefight and no one’s going to be the wiser.” So Jamie did keep his mouth shut, but he kept his eyes open. And he kept cataloguing everything he saw.

And this culminated in– it was February 8th, 1968. And his unit moved into a small hamlet. And his commanding officer, a West Point trained captain– ordered all the civilians there rounded up. It was about 19 civilians, women and children. And Jamie was taking a break, smoking a cigarette. And over the radio he heard this captain give an order. And it was to kill anything that moves.

And Jamie heard this. And he jumped up. And he went to go try and intervene. But he was just seconds late. He showed up just as five men arrayed around these civilians, opened up on full automatic with their M-16 rifles, and shot them all dead. And Jamie told me that 30 seconds after this took place, he vowed that he would make this public.

And he made it, you know, his duty to do so. As soon as he got home from Vietnam, he sought out an Army lawyer. And he told them everything that he saw. And this Army lawyer told him that he needed to keep quiet, because there were a million ways that the Army could make him disappear. He went to spoke to an Army criminal investigator. But that man threatened him. He went and sought out a civilian lawyer who told him to get some political backing.

He wrote to two congressman. Neither of them returned his letters. Then he started speaking out. He went on the radio. He went to public forums. And even the winter soldier investigation He spoke out there. But he could never get any traction. And finally, you know, it was years later that Jamie just gave up. And you know, he decided that he just had to move on with his life.

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