A blog of politics, law, religion, and the tricky spots where they collide.

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A Request

The most effective anti-eviction and displacement organization I know is on the last day of a ten day keep-the-lights on fundraiser. Springfield No One Leaves is a community-led organization comprised of homeowners and tenants, many of whom are on (or past) the brink of foreclosure. I spend most Tuesday evenings at SNOL meetings advising homeowners and tenants of their rights. (Then I get to spend some time in court reminding the banks and their attorneys that people still have rights.) Carolyn has canvassed properties near foreclosure and has assisted in turning some empty, foreclosed lots into a community garden. (This was a garden first, ask later effort.) Supporting this group may be the best thing I’ve ever done.

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced that it has reached a $5 million settlement with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, the nation’s largest provider of home mortgage loans, resolving allegations that the lender discriminated against women who were pregnant, or had recently given birth, and were on maternity leave.


Women on paid maternity leave would apply for loans. Wells Fargo would essentially say, “Oh. You just had a baby. We’re not giving you a loan. You’re probably not going to go back to work. We know how women are.”

The War on Poverty

I used to think that the War on Poverty had been less successful because some very smart people underestimated how hard it would be to eradicate poverty. I think I was wrong. I think the real reason has a lot to do with how many very smart people decided to take poverty’s side.

It turns out that the question of how to dupe poor people into losing what little they have is a very profitable question. You generally don’t even need to follow the laws. What are the poor foks going to do, hire a lawyer and sue you? Just keep a layer of scuzz between you and the nastiest abuses. The giants of finance aren’t necessarily the guys doing the pay day lending, predatory mortage loans, sub-prime mortgage loans and so on directly. But they’re absolutely the ones profiting off it. (You’d have to be a sucker to break the kneecaps yourself.) Same things with the off-shoring, over-seas labor abuses, and all the other race-to-the bottom practices.

A lot of my very bright friends went into finance after college. Don’t judge too harshly. It was 2004. We still talked about “financial innovation” as if it was an unfettered good. There are layers of excuses between the victims of capitalistic excess and the souls of those making the decisions. I see, with some frequency, somebody who struggled against all odds to go back to school, get a decent job, and buy a house in which to raise a family. Then … bam, predatory lender. Game Over.

Give it to the brethren. I can take care of myself.

Mary W. Mitchell, first female graduate of Bates college, turning down a scholarship. Carolyn explains:

I don’t know how I came to be reciting Bates history to Dan this weekend, but this woman is legend here.  Bates’ first female graduate, Mary W. Mitchell (class of 1869), was offered a scholarship by the college’s founder, who was impressed that she was keeping up with her male classmates by day while working nights in Lewiston’s textile mills.  She wasn’t having any of that. She went on to teach at Vassar and found a girls’ school in Boston.

On Prosperity and Disparity

Given how affluent the United States is, on average, it’s a bit perplexing how comfortable we are with poverty. Of course, the “average” wealth means nothing when most of it is concentrated in an increasingly small set of people. This is usually the spot where somebody accuses me of playing the politics of envy.

I don’t think it’s that at all. Imagine you’re at a child’s birthday party. One kid has seven pieces of cake and the others are scrambling over crumbs. Now say you leave the room for a bit and come back and now that kid has fifteen pieces of cake and the others have nothing more. I’d have some questions for the kid with all the cake. Specifically, “Why do you have twenty pieces of cake—and is it possible that you have something that isn’t rightfully yours?”

There are a few answers the child with all the cake could give that I wouldn’t find particularly persuasive.

  1. "You’re a communist."
  2. "The other children aren’t very good children."
  3. "I acquired this cake through perfectly legal methods."
  4. "I give away some of my cake to those who have less."

None of the responses answers the central question of how one person ended up with an extreme portion of the limited resource that in a more just world would be distributed relatively equitably. The fourth response suggests that maybe the kid with all the cake isn’t heartless—but it also fails to answer the question of what went wrong in the cake distribution mechanism. The sheer and increasing disparity suggests both that there’s a legitimate inquiry into its causes and a legitimate suspicion that somebody might be doing something unfair or immoral.

I miss message boards

Discussion threads could go on for weeks. These days with the kids and their snapchat it’s like everything has to be over before you even know what’s happening. There’s breaking news and there’s outraged reaction to breaking news. Then - OMG look a squirrel

Joe Biden sticks both feet in his mouth. – Quartz

The US vice president called the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to take back remarks that the United Arab Emirates had funded Al Qaeda fighters in Syria. On Saturday, Biden apologized to Recep Tayyip Erdogan for claiming Turkey’s president had admitted to allowing potential ISIL recruits to cross into Syria.”

Remember all the concern in 2008 about Biden being a gaffe machine? As it turns out, he sometimes accidentally says something true and makes things awkward for everybody.

(Source: suchtango)

May I start selling indulgences to assuage middle-class liberal guilt?

Feeling a bit bad because you just dropped $40 on a nice dinner, even though families in my town don’t know how they’re going to eat tomorrow? Donate $40 to your local food bank and volunteer for an hour at a soup kitchen.

Cons: That’s not really how justice works. And it’s a moral dodge of the most obnoxious sort.

Pros: $40 to the food bank.