Outlaw Arbitration

The recent Supreme Court decision against arbitration was yet another victory for corporations over the rights of citizens.  The case was decided along partisan lines, with Republican nominated justices providing the majority pro-corporate opinion.

It is time we fight back.

Arbitration is, in essence privatized justice where the legal ball is always in the corporation’s court.  It is essentially being forced on consumers in a manner strangely reminiscent of price fixing and collusion.  This will not stand.  We live in a time where corporate rule has led directly to the entirely preventable disasters in Japan and in the Gulf of Mexico.  They have been granted ever more power to directly influence our government with their massive financial resources.  This is not about drawing a line in the sand.  It is about recognizing that corporations now have far more say in our system of government than we do, and resolving to fight back any way we can.

One way to fight back would be to campaign to outlaw arbitration.  We need a coordinated, grassroots campaign to provide consistent and compelling communications to convey how arbitration puts citizens at risk while allowing corporations to get away with crimes.  We need legislation prohibiting the use of arbitration clauses to lock consumers into a lopsided means of conflict resolution.

Call your legislator today.  Let’s outlaw arbitration and snatch this victory back from the jaws of SCOTUS.

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New York City’s Many Fire Trap Apartments

The cold fact is New York City is failing to protect its citizens.  A recent fire ended in tragedy and has helped expose some of the nastier habits of city inspectors.  While the practice of illegal conversions is getting some play in the press, another deadly hazard is not: The combination of gas stoves and insufficient heat.  My first apartment in NYC had almost no heat in the winter.  Exploring on HPD’s site allowed me to see violations and complaints for the past few years.  Every winter – heating issues.  The situation played out the same each time:

  1.  I’d call the city
  2. The city would call the super
  3. The super would pump up the heat
  4. The city would send an inspector
  5. The inspector would find nothing wrong

The first time the inspector came by, the super hadn’t reacted fast enough, and we both confirmed a violation.  Additionally, the inspector informed me the wall by the door to the apartment had been illegally setup, and was a fire hazard.  Subsequent calls to the city revealed no violation had been recorded, and each subsequent visit by an inspector went through the above steps.  Eventually I broke my lease and moved out.  However some of the older residents did not have that luxury – and remain.

I spoke to one such resident – who had been in the apartment for over 20 years (and hence was paying an extremely low rent).  She mentioned the heat issue had been going on every single winter she had spent at the property.  She compensated by turning on her oven and opening the door.  In addition to creating a Carbon Monoxide hazard, a gas oven is an especially problematic source of heat for an apartment.  My former neighbor was convinced the New York Housing Department was corrupt.

As far as I know, the apartment still has heating issues.  Visits to HPD’s site to check up on the property now return NO violations or complaints for the past few years – which I know to be false having provided a few of those complaints myself.  Whether this is the result of corruption, malfeasance, or incompetence the end result is same: New Yorkers needlessly suffering and needlessly at risk.

At the Mercy of the Church

Franklin Graham’s assertion that the government needs to leave the care of the jobless and the needy to the Church asks us to cede the care of all Americans to religious authority.  This brings us to an appropriate topic for this Blog Against Theocracy 2011  post: Charity vs Social Justice and how it feeds into the power hungry tendencies of organized religion.

Charity is about giving to those in need, Social Justice is about addressing the reason people are in need.  There is a story about a man who comes upon a river, and sees a child drowning.  He dives in, and pulls the child to shore.  As soon as he reaches the shore he see’s two more children drowning.  Upon rescuing them, he see’s three coming down the river.  At some point, we need to ask what is going on upriver.

So how does this connect to Graham’s statements, and the role of the Church?

Charity can exist within the right-wing theocratic dream society, social justice cannot.  Charity allows us to help the visibly suffering temporarily but keeps us from addressing the systemic roots of the problem.  Charity puts the have-nots at the mercy of the haves.  The poor depend on the whims of the rich.  This is precisely what happens in Graham’s ideal world:

If you didn’t have a job, you’d go to your local church and ask the pastor if he know somebody that could hire him. If you were hungry, you went to the local church and told them, “I can’t feed my family.” And the church would help you. And that’s not being done.

Where does that leave atheists?  Where does it leave Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists?  At the mercy of the Church.

Which is precisely where right wing theocrats want us – at the mercy of wealthy and the ostensibly holy.  Without the equality of a safety net by the people and for the people, help could be tied to church attendance (or come with a heavy evangelical price tag: “You want to eat?  Sit through a lunch hour advertisement for Jesus”).

a hundred years ago, the safety net, the social safety net in the country was provided by the church.

But the government took that. And took it away from the church. And they had more money to give and more programs to give, and pretty soon, the churches just backed off.

For those churches that backed off – it is an indication of their character and commitment to their fellow man (contrary to implication: not all churches backed off providing a safety net).  Our national character must be made of still deeper compassion and wisdom.  Not only must we continue to fight for social justice on an national level, but in our own lives work to address the systemic suffering in our world.  For that we don’t need religious authority – only our own innate sense of right and wrong.

How Obama is Working Hard for President Huckabee or Romney

When President Obama was elected he had several key things going for him:

  1. He wasn’t the Republican heir to George W Bush
  2. He represented a party that stood for economic issues near and dear to the vast majority of the voting public
  3. He promised to cut down on lobbying and corruption
  4. He was a brilliant public speaker
  5. He promised to fight bipartisan bickering and give us a functioning government

Based on the combination of his anti-lobbying anti-partisan approach, he framed himself successfully as a new kind of politician.  He was able to excite his party base with his oratory, his youthful energy, and the fact that he wasn’t George W Bush in a nation decidedly sick of the man.  He didn’t just win, Obama enjoyed a telling victory in 2008.

Let’s look at those same points now.

Obama isn’t the Republican heir to George W Bush

Still true, but only because he has become the Democratic heir to George W Bush, and Dick Cheney (Glenn Greenwald @ Salon):

But the crux of Bush/Cheney radicalism — the mindset and policies that caused much of the controversy — continues and has even been strengthened.  Gen. Hayden put it best, as quoted by The Washington Times:

“You’ve got state secrets, targeted killings, indefinite detention, renditions, the opposition to extending the right of habeas corpus to prisoners at Bagram [in Afghanistan],” Mr. Hayden said, listing the continuities. “And although it is slightly different, Obama has been as aggressive as President Bush in defending prerogatives about who he has to inform in Congress for executive covert action.”

And that list, impressive though it is, doesn’t even include the due-process-free assassination hit lists of American citizens, the sweeping executive power and secrecy theories used to justify it, the multi-tiered, “state-always-wins” justice system the Obama DOJ concocted for detainees, the vastly more aggressive war on whistleblowers and press freedoms, or the new presidential immunity doctrines his DOJ has invented.  Critically, this continuity extends beyond specific policies into the underlying sloganeering mentality in which they’re based:  we’re in a Global War; the whole Earth is the Battlefield; the Terrorists want to kill us because they’re intrinsically Evil (not in reaction to anything we do); we’re justified in doing anything and everything to eradicate Them; the President’s overarching obligation (contrary to his Constitutional oath) is to keep us Safe; this should all be kept secret from us; we can’t be bothered with obsolete dogma like Due Process and Warrants, etc. etc.

He’s extended the same Bush Tax cuts he campaigned against.  In fact his rush to compromise and fiscal conservatism masquerading as bipartisan centrism has been so severe that it has crushed the second key thing he had going for him.

Obama represents a party that defends the economic interests of working people

With revenue cut and war/terror spending increasing, there was bound to be a collision.  Couple that with the President’s obsessive need to appear as the bi-partisan philosopher-king, and you get negotiation tactics so inviting to the opposition it makes John Boehner look like a teary Jack Donaghy.

The quaint term “austerity measures” doesn’t capture the human cost of paying for tax cuts and tax evasions for wealthy individuals and large corporations.  Those cuts are already being felt, and will be even more severe when 2012 rolls around.  They aren’t just budget cuts, they are deep cuts into the voting base for Democrats across the country, and those cuts are going to badly injure Obama’s re-election chances.  (John Amato @ Crooks and Liars):

Every poll shows quite clearly that even Republican voters do not want a cut in these benefits.

If Sperling’s argument is about reforming Social Security and Medicare without taking away from them, then OK, but that’s not what I’m reading here. Do these creatures only listen to Villager gasbags who want working-class Americans to be the only people to “share” the sacrifice and suffer in America after Wall Streeters and their partners caused the Great Recession?

Obama is casting himself as the friend of the wealthy and the enemy of the working class at a time he needs to do the opposite.  His hands are tied by his bipartisan image at a time he desperately needs to break free.  But you get the sense he likes it that way.  Obama has become the willing prisoner of a small aspect of his election campaign – unable and unwilling to break free and become true to what he ran for.  This is especially clear when one considers lobbying.

Obama promised to cut down the influence of lobbyists and K-Street

Obama has

All of this casts his much touted ethics reform in such a harsh light the reform isn’t even visible to the voting public anymore.

Where does this leave us?

Obama is still fighting the supposedly good fight on being bipartisan.  As Digby has observed over and over, this is a one sided battle.  The Republicans – down to their votes – don’t give a damn about being bipartisan and compromising.  They care about winning.  That imbalance will surely lead to the Democrats losing.  Obama is still an amazing public speaker but with the way he’s been running things you have to ask – who is going to go hear him speak?

Regardless of whether the religious right, the corporations, or the tea party are able to exert enough influence to secure the Republican nomination in 2012 one thing is clear.  If Obama doesn’t change course they will secure more than just the primary.

Heroes Wont Stop Working

“people don’t stop trying to kill themselves just because the government shuts down” – Good people are going to keep working tonight – for free.

Why?  Well they will keep working because lives will be on the line – and that’s all they need to know.  They won’t be getting paid though.  All because the Republicans in Congress are trying to take out Planned Parenthood.  They don’t give a damn what it costs or who it hurts to get to that goal.

Grassroots Conservatives

Awwww, grassroots Republican ingenuity in action  (Hourly rate to be determined by experience or zealotry?)

DC Should Suspent Garbage Collection for Congress

Since Congress is going to shut down to appease the Republicans (who will settle for nothing less than complete Democratic obedience) – this means DC will need to cut services:

The city would close Department of Motor Vehicles locations and suspend public works operations like street sweeping, and the city would let a week go by before collecting trash, Gray said. All of D.C.’s libraries would be closed, as would the city’s recreation centers.

Why not cut off trash collection and cleaning for Congress (and all congressional offices) until the budget has been passed?