GOP Helps Predatory Lenders Target Troops

© Josh Sager – May 2015

The Republican Party loves to call itself patriotic, pro-military, and pro-troop, but their actions rarely match up with this rhetoric. Unfortunately, this has been made extremely clear during the last few weeks, as GOP politicians are currently trying to help payday lenders and banks exploit our troops with predatory lending practices.

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In 2006, a law was passed that would allow the Dept. of Defense to restrict banks and payday lenders from applying exploitative interests rates when lending to troops. This was necessitated by the fact that lenders were giving short term loans with annual interest rates well into the hundreds of percents, trapping thousands of active-duty soldiers in endless cycles of debt. In order to support their families, soldiers would be forced to take out loans, which would balloon and require them to take out even more loans to keep afloat.

If you need a better understanding of the problems behind payday lending schemes, you should watch John Oliver’s segment on the subject, as it was the clearest and most concise summary of the issue I have encountered:

Last year, the DOD finalized its rules restricting exploitative lending practices aimed at active-duty soldiers, and are now trying to get them implemented. Unfortunately, during the last two weeks, the Republican majority in the Congress has voted twice to delay this implementation process and potentially kill the reforms entirely.

Currently, an amendment to the NDAA that stalls these protections is being finalized by Representative Stivers (R-OH) and will shortly be voted on. It is expected to pass and will be included in this year’s NDAA. As Obama is unlikely to veto the NDAA over this provision (defunding the entire military), it appears as though the Republican sellouts will be successful in stopping these protections and enabling continued abuse by unethical lenders.

In effect, the Congressional Republicans are trying to make it easier for legalized loan-sharks to ruin the lives of the people who we send to protect our nation. They may claim to love the troops, but have shown through their actions that they clearly love the banksters who pay them campaign contributions far more.

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While I certainly don’t support many of the choices made by our military’s leaders (ex. invading Iraq) or even the conduct of many of our troops (ex. Abu Ghraib), I find it amazing that anybody can justify the exploitation of soldiers to turn a profit. Our soldiers put themselves into harm’s way, ostensibly in order to serve their country, risk life and limb on a regular basis, and are paid a frankly-pathetic wage for their efforts (ex. the starting salary for an E1 Army Private is $18,378 per year).

Because they are often away from home and make such low wages, soldiers often are forced to borrow money just to support their families. If this weren’t shameful enough for our country, we have allowed predatory lenders to live in this niche and use the desperation of soldiers to force them to accept usurious interest rates. Just to complete this injustice, we then have politicians who take money from the lenders in order to facilitate their crimes and who also take money from the military-industrial complex in exchange for starting even more wars.

This multi-faceted collage of greed illustrates just how immoral and corrupt our politics have become in recent years. We have elected corporate sellouts who are willing to aid and abet the exploitation of even those who protect our nation if it will fill their pockets with campaign donations. Any politician to support payday lenders over soldiers should have to answer for their vote come election time—conservative pro-military groups in particular should hold these politicians to account for voting in favor of corporate cronyism and exploitation rather than the best interests of citizens.

Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents

Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents

Local activists say city payment plan is ‘unsustainable’ and unjustbyLauren McCauley, staff writer 8 Comments”We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story,” said DeMeeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade. (Photo: Detroit Water Brigade/Facebook)Despite international outcry over a previous push to shut off water to its poorest citizens, the city of Detroit on Monday will begin to hand out notices to as many as 25,000 residents, threatening once again to turn off the taps.The warnings will be hung on the doors of households where water bills are at least 60 days late or exceed $150 in overdue payments. Residents will only be given 10 days to pay their bill or sign up for a payment assistance plan.However, despite the city’s attempt to increase assistance to the lowest income customers, advocates say that these efforts don’t go far enough.”They can send out the notices, but really are not reaching out to the people,” DeMeeko Williams, of the grassroots humanitarian group the Detroit Water Brigade, told the Detroit News.”We want the shut-offs to end. Period. End of story,” added Williams.After the initial wave of mass shut-offs began in December 2014, the city was met with fierce resistance including a damning statement from the United Nations, which accused Detroit of violating the human right to water.”If people are already unable to pay their bills, how could you expect them to keep up if you add past-due payments on top of that?” —Maureen Taylor, Michigan Welfare Rights OrganizationUnder the city’s new payment option, dubbed the “10-30-50” plan, overdue households enter a two-year agreement by first paying down 10 percent of their past-due balance, while at the same time covering their monthly bill. If a payment is missed, the resident will then have to pay 30 percent of their balance; after that, 50 percent of the balance. If a fourth payment is missed, residents face having their water shut off.However, a recent survey by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan found that nearly all of the customers signed up for the plan are now 60 days overdue.ACLU reporter Curt Guyette writes:According to the most recent numbers provided by Detroit’s Department of Water and Sewerage, 24,743 residential customers are enrolled in a payment plan. Of that number, 24,450 are at least 60 days past due on their payments—meaning that their homes are in danger of losing water service once the city resumes shutoffs.    Stated another way, only 300 of the 24,743 customers put on the mayor’s payment plan were able to keep up with their payments and ensure their water will keep flowing.    “You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what the outcome would be,” Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told Guyette. “If people are already unable to pay their bills, how could you expect them to keep up if you add past-due payments on top of that? The plan was fundamentally flawed from the beginning, and we said that.”MWRO has started a petition calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene against the renewed shut-offs, which the group says target “low-income families and have affected the homes of children, the disabled, and our honorable veterans.”With some families forced to pay as much as 30 percent of their monthly income to restore their water supply, the petition charges that the city’s payment options are “unsustainable” and unjust.”No mother or father should have to choose between paying a water bill and meeting their family’s other basic needs,” reads the statement. “The crisis is growing, and Detroit’s families need your help.”

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Source: Calls for Obama Intervention as Detroit Threatens Water Shut-Off for Another 25,000 Residents | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community

Extremists Attack Draw Muhammad Contest, Illustrate Problems in Islam and Bias in the Media

© Josh Sager – May 2015

Yesterday, two Muslim extremists armed with guns shot at, and tried to enter, a Muhammad cartoon competition located in the Dallas area, Curtis Caldwell Center. Fortunately, the organizers of the event had hired significant amounts of extra security (one report estimated $10,000 worth of off-duty police to supplement the normal security measures), who shot and killed these terrorists before they could enter the building. One security guard from the Curtis Caldwell center was shot in the leg and his injuries are not life-threatening.

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This shooting is just the most recent in a long pattern of Muslim extremists attempting to murder people who they see as offensive to their religion or its prophet. If the police had not been there to stop these men, there is little doubt that this would have been a repeat of the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

The event that that was attacked was put on by Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative. While the name of this group sounds positive, the fact is that Pamela Geller is a right wing ideologue and her group is little more than a neoconservative idea mill that produces bad foreign policy ideas and nationalist propaganda. Her group was running a draw Muhammad contest that would award $10,000 to the cartoonist who drew the “best” cartoon. Ostensibly, her event was intended to promote free speech and fight back against Muslim anti-speech violence, but it is very likely that she was just trying to antagonize people and raise donations from right wing supporters.

That said, her motives, methods, and ideological background are completely and totally irrelevant to this situation. In the USA, everybody has the right to be a bigot or idiot, and nobody has the right to harm people who they disagree with. Geller was well within her rights to sponsor an event that lampoons Islam, and Muslims have every right to be offended and insult her back.

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The terrible irony of this situation is that the attackers and many in the media covering the attack have done everything possible to prove Geller’s anti-Muslim message for her.

First, two Muslim extremists went to a peaceful (if offensive to some) cartoon exhibition with the intent to murder cartoonists for insulting them. These two individuals are real-life manifestation of the barbaric, violent, theocratic, caricature that has been applied to Muslims throughout the west. It is simply impossible to call Islam a religion of peace while lunatics like this are committing such violence across multiple continents.

Second, many people in the media have reacted in a way that suggests that the natural and expected response to drawing Muhammad was that violent Muslims would try to murder you—oftentimes, these are even the same people who claim to hate Geller for being an “Islamophobe” or a hate-monger. They blame these cartoonists and Geller’s group for “inciting” the attack and say that it was wrong of them to use their right to free speech in the way that they did. They argue that the intended-victims are somehow to blame for the violence that was almost perpetrated against them.

Put simply, these people are demonstrating true bigotry by infantilizing Muslims and inadvertently buying into the argument that Muslims are just so savage, extreme, and uncontrolled that society cannot hold them to the standard that we hold everybody else. They claim the mantle of “religious tolerance” while they really present a case for anti-Muslim condescension.

By holding society to a different standard in regard to insulting Muslims, these people are willing to justify denying American’s their rights and pandering to religious extremists. Their proposed sensitivity is wholly limited to Muslims, and if Mormon extremists had bombed a showing of “The Book of Mormon,” none of the individuals would ever make these excuses. This is simply because they have internalized the ugly stereotype of Muslims that they purport to reject (unconscious bias) but are trying to make a visible effort at overcompensating in the other direction (extreme political correctness).

The only non-racist way of looking at this situation is to hold EVERYBODY to the exact same standards. No group should be assumed inferior or less able to control themselves in the face of criticism and no line of discourse should be seen as so offensive that it requires a response with a gun. In a world that follows this ideal, anybody is allowed to insult any religious group—whether it is Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Scientology or Pastafarianism—without their speech being used to excuse violence as a response. Even racists, homophobes, nationalists, and sexists have this expectation of safety while they exercise their speech rights.

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In exchange for letting even bigots have free speech, we receive an indispensable return: those who have positive views which offend the mainstream are also protected. At one point it was “offensive” to the American mainstream to promote interracial marriage or equal rights for women, gays, and African Americans. If we didn’t protect unpopular speech, we would never have changed into a country which is proud of supporting these once “offensive” ideals, as any civic discourse aimed at shifting public opinion could simply have been met with violence (even these protections were imperfect, as the KKK demonstrated at the time).

If somebody is offended by speech, they can ignore it, complain about it, counter it with arguments, boycott its sponsors, mock it with humor, or do any number of other things that do not involve violence. Unfortunately, many Muslims have yet to learn this and are currently stuck in much the same mentality that Christianity was stuck in during the dark ages—any blasphemy or thought-crime must be met with force so that god doesn’t get his feelings hurt. This thought process has no place in a free society and Muslims was work within their communities to implement the very same reforms that Christianity did (ex. separating religion/government, adopting religious protections, not taking insults to religious figures as seriously, etc.) while further marginalizing the extremists who give their religion a terrible name.