The Flaming Sword of Justice, with Ben Wikler






April 2013
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When Aaron Swartz took his own life this January, we lost one of the world's foremost fighters for digital rights. But since his death, we've seen a massive surge of energy in the movement for freedom and justice online. On this episode, I talk to David Segal--a close friend of Aaron's and the executive director of Demand Progress, the group that Aaron founded in 2011--who has just helped defeat an effort to make the notorious Computer Fraud and Abuse Act even worse. 
In this very personal and conversation, you'll hear how Aaron came to create Demand Progress, how he was ensnared by the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and how an unlikely alliance of figures from left and right are coming together to change it. And you'll hear what it was like for David when his partner in advocacy was indicted under a law that, no kidding, was created in reaction to the fictitious hacker-panic movie War Games in 1984.  Online-rights activism was, of course, only one of Aaron's many causes--but hearing these stories, you'll see why changing this unjust law is a fitting and necessary first step towards honoring his legacy. 
Direct download: Sword_2013_04_30.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:30pm EDT

Gaby Pacheco arrived in the US at age 8, and thrived here. It wasn't until middle school, when her sisters were rejected from college because they lacked immigration papers, that she found out she wasn't a citizen. But in the years to come, instead of hiding the truth, she did something unusual: she decided to speak out.

Her activism earned her the ire of immigration authorities, who rounded up her family and demanded that she stay quiet if she wanted to prevent their deportation. But she fought back, waging a years-long battle for change. On January 1, 2010, she began a journey that would take her to the national stage: she and three friends began a 1500-mile journey, on foot, that soon made national headlines as the "Trail of Dreams." By the time they reached Washington, DC that May, they had faced down the Ku Klux Klan and built a 30,000-strong petition for reform. Months later, one of them met with Obama to discuss immigration reform—and, just last week, Gaby Pacheco was the one undocumented immigrant to testify for immigration form at the United States Senate.

To hear Gaby tell her extraordinary story of courage, resilience, and hope is to realize that the xenophobes are outmatched, whether they're in Klan robes or pinstripes. Tune in!

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_29.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:24pm EDT

It's a great business model: make deal with a state government so that you're paid to imprison people. Cut spending on safety and health so you can rack up big profits. And then use some of those profits to lobby for harsher sentencing, so that the state government makes more deals for more private prisons. Perfect!

Except, um, everything. 

Today's show shines a spotlight on the private prison system, with help from two of its fiercest critics: the head of Grassroots Leadership, which has helped curb some of the industry's worst excesses, and a former private-prison inmate who tells how he, during his incarceration, helped stop a massive private prison expansion... and then beat the prison company that tried to retaliate against him.

Warning: if you listen, you're gonna get angry.



Grassroots Leadership's website—research, campaigns, and more.

"Beyond Walls and Cages"—check out Bob Libal's chapter, "A Prison Is Not A Home"

Mother Jones story on Alex Friedmann: "Ex-Con Shareholder Goes After World's Biggest Prison Corporation"

Stop Owlcatraz! Students at Florida Atlantic University successfully prevent private prison corporation GEO Group from pushing their way onto campus. (Hear their story on this episode of the Flaming Sword of Justice.) 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_25.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:34pm EDT

Campbell's cautions us that we should never underestimate the power of soup. The old proverb says that we should never underestimate the power of a kind word. But lawmakers, employers, and gun lobbyists might want to adopt a different creed: never underestimate the power of moms. Today we'll meet to the co-founder and executive director of MomsRising, a million-member nonprofit organizing moms and their allies for a better world. She and the other moms of MomsRising are fighting the fights that we should all support: for decent wages, parental leave, paid sick days... and, in these moments of battle with the NRA, for common-sense gun laws that can save kids' lives. Get ready for an hour of maternal power with the Flaming Sword of Justice. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_24.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:03pm EDT

What makes people love their work? Money? Power? Prestige? Those probably help. But groundbreaking new research illustrates the explosive power of a different force entirely: making a difference in other peoples' lives. Our guest, Dr. Adam Grant, has driven a revolution in management theory and the psychology of work, turning old ideas about "incentives" upside down. But could his research be used for evil? And what does it mean for people who don't actually care about the jobs they already have? Find out all that and more on a special social-science-research-y edition of The Flaming Sword of Justice.

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_23.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:47pm EDT

When people talk about comprehensive immigration reform, they talk about a lot of different things—some people talk about paths to citizenship, some people talk about border security. But there's one aspect of immigration reform that almost nobody talks about, but everybody should agree on: kids. Tens of thousands of kids arrive in this country without documentation and without their parents. Experts say that nearly half of them would have the right to gain citizenship, even under current law, because of the violence and repression that they're fleeing. It's an issue that could break your heart, but it doesn't have to be this way. Our guest, attorney Wendy Wylegala of Kids In Need of Defense, is here to tell us what's happening, how to fix it, and how you can help. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_22.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:12pm EDT

The NRA claims that the only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good guy with a gun—and the stories told by Hollywood can make that seem true. But if you move a few miles away, to the streets of Los Angeles, you'll quickly learn that real life is much more complicated and much more beautiful: that, most often, the people holding the guns aren't bad guys, or good guys, they're human beings, people struggling to stay alive in circumstances they didn't create and would never have chosen. If you want to stop violence at its root, it's not about pulling a trigger: it's about helping people realize their rights and achieve their dreams. Our guest, Alex Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos, has lived every part of this story. He's been in gangs, in prison, deported. He's been hunted by the LAPD and by El Salvadoran death squads. And when he found a path to a life in service of justice, he didn't just walk it himself—he became mentor to help thousands make the same journey. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_19.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:35pm EDT

When you think about Iran — when you think about the crushing of the Green Revolution, about the massive censorship of the Internet and free speech, of the government that represses its people and alienates so much of the world, you might not experience a rush of hope. But on today's show, you'll hear a reason to hope for Iran that we trust you'll find compelling indeed. Our guest, Sara Haghdoosti, today launches a new organization that uses the tools of 21st-century political organizing to unite people around the world, Persian and non-Persian alike, who believe that the people of Iran can and will create a better future for their country —

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_18.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:26pm EDT

On today's show, the stunning story of how a tiny grassroots group waged an unrelenting and visionary 15-year campaign to win fundamental change by the world's largest paper producer... and, just one week ago, won a victory that would make the Lorax proud. 
Our guest, Danna Smith of the Dogwood Alliance, lived the battle from start to sweet, sweet finish, and she's here to tell a tale of corporate campaigning, grit, and redemption that proves what's possible if you never give up. 
Direct download: Sword_2013_04_17.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:19pm EDT

On today's program, an appreciation for the heroes saving lives in Boston—and a landmark moment in the struggle for a better America: a bipartisan group of Senators has released a landmark immigration bill that creates a path to citizenship, and Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition is here to tell us about the path to this moment... and why the stakes in this fight are so high. 

Direct download: Sword_2013_04_16.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:53pm EDT