Tag Archives: equality

SYNDICATED COLUMN: How I Found Out That the Courts Are Off-Limits to the 99%

Image result for court fees expensive            I’m suing the Los Angeles Times. I’m the plaintiff. I’m the one who was wronged. The Times should be defending themselves from my accusations that they fired and libeled me as a favor to a police chief.

But this is America.

Deep-pocketed defendants like the Times — owned by a corporation with the weird name Tronc and a market capitalization in excess of $400 million — are taking advantage of America’s collapsing court system to turn justice on its head. In worn-out Trump-era America, the corruption and confusion that used to be associated with the developing world has been normalized.

If you’re a big business like Tronc, you may be the defendant on paper but you have all the advantages in court. Your money allows you to put the plaintiff on the defense. You’re equal in the eyes of the law — theoretically. But it doesn’t feel like justice when the victim has to defend himself from the criminal. It’s like that song “Lola,” in which the Kinks sang “girls will be boys and boys will be girls”; the courts system is a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.

States like California passed anti-SLAPP laws to defend individuals with modest incomes (like me) against deep-pocketed plaintiffs (like the Times) that file frivolous lawsuits to intimidate and harass their critics. After an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the case freezes until a judge decides whether the case is meritorious. If the judge says it’s frivolous, it’s dismissed and the poor individual defendant gets his or her attorney’s fees paid by the deep-pocked corporation plaintiff.

After I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination, the Times filed three “anti-SLAPP” motions against me. So if the judge decides I don’t have a good case, this middle-class individual plaintiff will have to pay deep-pocketed defendant Tronc’s legal fees. The Troncies want at least $300,000.

Talk about topsy-turvy! The legislature should fix this law but they won’t because there’s zero political movement in that direction. I may be the only journalist to have criticized anti-SLAPP laws in a public forum. Articles about anti-SLAPP feature nothing but praise.

There were three motions. I lost one on June 21st, against the individual Times employees and executives involved in libeling me. (I plan to appeal.) That loss prompted a parting of ways with my attorneys. What followed was a month of representing myself pro se (in California they call it in pro per).

I now have new lawyers, and we’re waiting to hear how I did arguing against ace lawyer Kelli Sager’s anti-SLAPP motions for the Times and Tronc in LA Superior Court on July 14th. It sucked. But representing myself gave me a full-immersion crash course in just how messed up the courts really are.

The big thing I learned was that poor people have zero access to justice.

Nor do the middle class.

After the June 21st debacle, a semi-retired lawyer friend advised me to file a Motion for Reconsideration, a request to the judge to take another look and perhaps realize that he made some mistakes. The law gives you 10 days to file.

My Motion for Reconsideration was one of numerous motions I would have to draft and file myself while pro se. It was incredibly expensive, wildly burdensome and so daunting I bet 99% of people without a lawyer would throw up their hands and give up.

I’m the 1%.

I’m a writer. I went to an Ivy League school; I was a history major so I’m good at research. I used to work at a bank, where I worked on legal documents so I’m familiar with legalese. So I researched what works and doesn’t work in a Motion for Reconsideration. I crafted an argument. I deployed the proper tone using the right words and phrases.

Most people, not having the necessary skills or educational attainment, wouldn’t stand a prayer of writing a legal brief like this motion. Mine may fail — but the judge might read it and take it seriously because it’s written correctly.

I called the court clerk to ask how to file my motion. She was incredibly curt and mean. I’m a New Yorker so I persisted, but I could imagine other callers being put off and forgetting the whole thing.

Schedule a date for your hearing on the court’s website, the clerk told me. Good luck! The site had an outdated interface, was loaded with arcane bureaucratic jargon and a design that’s byzantine and hard to navigate. If English is your second language, forget it.

Eventually I found the place to reserve a hearing date — where I learned about the $540 filing fee.

Payable only by credit card.

No debit cards.

No Amex.

Protracted litigation against a well-funded adversary like the Times/Tronc could easily require dozens of $540 filing fees. The poor need not apply. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money. And what about people who scrape up the dough but don’t have plastic?

$10 would be too much. $540 is frigging obscene.

I paid the fee, printed out the receipt as required, stapled it to the back of my multiple required copies of the motion and went to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to file it. As I waited in Room 102 to have my motions stamped by a clerk, I studied the many working-class people waiting in the same line.

Here too, there is no consideration for the people. The clerk’s office is open Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30. Most people work during those hours. Gotta file something? You have to take time off. Parking? Expensive and far away.

I have a dream.

I dream of a court system dedicated to equal justice before the law — where anyone can file a motion, where there are no filing fees, where the courthouse is open on weekends, where you can file motions by uploading them online and there’s free parking for citizens conducting business in the people’s house.

But Tronc wouldn’t like that system.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Cash In

Why Sheryl Sandberg is Evil

Sheryl Sandberg is the author of a new book that you’ve heard of if you’re connected enough to be reading this, promoted by one of those PR tsunamis that publishers inflict upon the public every year or two in hopes of recouping six- or seven-figure advances: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

     She is also the chief operating officer of Facebook.

“Lean In,” we are told, is More Than Just a Book. It is a social movement. A way of life.

A happening.

“She is someone who works at Facebook,” moons Garance Franke-Ruta in The Atlantic. “Who leads Facebook. Who helped invent the Facebook we know today. Hers is a Facebook feminism.”

Yuck.

Comparing herself to Betty “The Feminine Mystique” Friedan, Sandberg wants her book to inspire “Lean In Circles” where women would meet to plot how to climb the corporate ladder and achieve gender parity in the boardroom. At their creepy gatherings, women will learn how to act more boldly, aggressively – more like men. Her idea of how men act, anyway.

Franke-Ruta again: “Sandberg is an unapologetic capitalist and senior manager who began her career in Washington, DC. She says she’s interested in seeing more women in leadership posts in corporate America and in the highest ranks of government. That means more women at the top, more women in positions of power, and more women who have the training and experience to lead within institutions actually getting a shot at doing – or daring to do – it.”

Visions of armies of women in beige blouses and dark safe corporate jackets marching through the streets of suburban office parks, chanting quotes from and waving copies of Sandberg’s manifesto, fill her dreams.

I think Sandberg is one of the most insufferable fools in the world of business. Which is saying something. But I don’t hate her for the same reasons as people like Maureen Dowd.

In the New York Times, columnist Dowd sums up Sandberg as a “PowerPoint Pied Piper in Prada ankle boots.” Such Dowdian snark, though cruel, is fair. Sandberg, after all, uttered a comment whose revealing immodesty would make Donald Trump blush: “I always thought I would run a social movement.”

Memo to SS: You don’t “run” a social movement. Lead it, maybe. If you’re lucky.

The Paper of Record asks the six- or seven-figure question:

“Even her advisers acknowledge the awkwardness of a woman with double Harvard degrees, dual stock riches (from Facebook and Google, where she also worked), a 9,000-square-foot house and a small army of household help urging less fortunate women to look inward and work harder. Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgments include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey?”

Oh, and her husband quit his job to mind the homestead. That’s convenient.

Still, Dowd et al’s argument that Sandberg’s wealth denies her the standing to issue advice to working women leaves me cold. It doesn’t matter who or what she is; either her ideas are smart and/or good for society or they’re not. A doctor who tells you to diet and exercise is giving you good advice even if she’s fat and smokes. Hell, I’m a dude yet I think I know better than Sandberg what’s better for women. For all I know, and many women agree, she gives good advice to ambitious women trying to climb the corporate ladder.

What grates about Sandberg, I think, is less the fact that a person born at mile 25 thinks she won the marathon because she worked so hard, than her failed attempt to elevate a self-help book to the level of politics.

Sandberg doesn’t know about politics. She doesn’t even know about identity politics.

Politics – debate and discussion about how we should live our lives and how to solve our problems after we have identified them – is hard. Very few people – including most politicians and elected officials – undertake the lifetime of thinking and research, or possess the magic of inspiration, it takes to come up with a transformative vision for an alternative future. The U.S. is tragically devoid of brilliant public intellectuals – our best and brightest political minds are ruthlessly censored and marginalized.

That’s real politics.

Then there’s identity politics.

Identity politics, the struggle by women, gays, ethnic minorities and so on against their privileged rivals in the economy and society, is a dead end. It’s tokenism. At best, movements based on identity politics grant special privileges to a tiny subset of traditionally oppressed demographic groups. Meanwhile, the overall hierarchical class structure remains intact.

It was moving, for example, to watch African-Americans celebrate the election of Barack Obama. Four and a half years later, however, not only can we see that the status of blacks remains the same as 2008 – harassed, arrested, shot and imprisoned at disproportionately high rates, discriminated against in the workplace, deprived of access to a high-quality education, their lifespans shortened by disease and poverty – Obama himself, supposed symbol of progress, doesn’t even talk about racial problems, much less try to fix them.

Everyone’s goal ought to be to liberate humanity from oppression. Identity politics distract from this struggle. They liberate no one.

What Sandberg advocates is even less worthwhile than identity politics.

Sandberg wants rat-race politics. Men, she argues, act like a bunch of testosterone-fueled jerks at work. She wants women to beat them at their own game.

“When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women,” writes Sandberg. “When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less…The solution is making sure everyone is aware of the penalty women pay for success. Recently at Facebook, a manager received feedback that a woman who reported to him was ‘too aggressive.’ Before including this in her review, he decided to dig deeper. He went back to the people who gave the feedback and asked what aggressive actions she had taken. After they answered, he asked point-blank, ‘If a man had done those same things, would you have considered him too aggressive?’ They each said no. By showing both men and women how female colleagues are held to different standards, we can start changing attitudes today.”

Man, I sure wouldn’t want to work at Facebook. It’s a lot more fun to work in an organization where no one – men or women – comes on too strong. Where people work as a team.

“Lean In” fails because Sandberg wants to accelerate the “race to the bottom” behavior that has become standard in American business and politics. She is not the solution to a problem.

She is a problem.

What we need to do is create a society in which everyone – men and women, gays and straights, whites and blacks, and so on – enjoys equal access to the good things in life. Whether like me you have concluded that capitalism, the idea that we are all created unequal, is evil and irredeemable, or you’d prefer to reform the system to make it more humane, replacing male assholes with female assholes gets us nowhere.

Rather than tell American women (or men) what to do, Sandberg would do better to consider her own role in making the United States a worse place to live.

She’s worse than a garden-variety “an unapologetic capitalist.” The virtual antithesis of Google’s “don’t be evil,” the company where she works has become one of the most culturally and economically destructive businesses in America by monetizing the death of a nation’s right to privacy. (This is worth, by one calculation, about $130 per user.) Facebook is so unaccountable that it doesn’t even provide a phone number for customer service. Now it’s emulating the reprehensible Arianna Huffington, attempting to accelerate the aggregation of what’s left of journalism outlets so essential to the health of civic life and democracy with its latest redesign of its News Feed.

Facebook is the face of the New Economy. It sucks $5 billion a year out of the U.S. economy, yet it puts almost nothing back in. It employs fewer than 4,000 Americans. (By way of comparison, GM—which generates less than twice as much as Facebook—employs more than 200,000 workers.)

Even if Sandberg is successful with her Lean In Circles, she will have accomplished the same thing as Facebook. She will have made a tiny privileged of elites richer—and 99% of America poorer.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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