In Dire Need of Creative Extremists

MLK Memorial on the national Mall
(h/t Mobilus In Mobili CC BY-SA 2.0)

While many would point to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial  in August 1963 as his most powerful, the words from King that most move me come from a letter written four months earlier, as he sat in the Birmingham jail. It was a letter written to local pastors, who expressed support for his cause but concern for the manner in which he came to Birmingham to protest. When looking back at historical letters, there are some that are products of their time that illuminate the events of that day, but which need footnotes and commentary to explain to contemporary readers.

King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is *not* one of those letters. I wish it was, but it isn’t. It’s all too clear, and speaks all too clearly even now.

In that letter, King identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the hoodwearing Klanners or the politically powerful White Citizens Council folks, but the white moderate. These are folks who

  • are more devoted to order than justice
  • prefer a negative peace – the absence of tension – to a positive peace – the presence of justice
  • constantly say they agree with your goals but not your direct methods for achieving them
  • feel no problem in setting a timetable for someone else’s freedom
  • live by the myth of time, constantly urging patience until things are more convenient

Anyone who has watched the news at any time over the last three years knows that this great stumbling block to freedom and justice, the Moderate, is an all-too-familiar presence, appearing in various guises. For example . . .

  • police officers who, as one African-American after another is beaten, abused, and killed by one of their colleagues, silently watch the attack as it unfolds, who refuse to intervene, who write up reports to cover for this conduct, and who by their silence and their words defend and justify assault and murder done under the color of law;
  • staffers at ICE facilities who, as children are separated from their parents, as people are crammed into unlivable facilities, as basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap are withheld, clock in and clock out without saying a word;
  • personal assistants, co-workers, and superiors who watch as victim after victim were abused by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein, and untold others, and who said nothing;
  • Susan Collins, hand-wringer extraordinaire, who expresses her deep concerns about this rightwing nominee or that destructive proposed policy, and nevertheless puts her concerns aside time and time and time again to confirm the nominee or enact the proposal into law;
  • media figures who practice “he said/she said journalism,” who twist themselves into pretzels in order to maintain their “access” to inside sources, and who refuse to call a lie a lie in the name of “balance”;
  • corporate bean counters, who place such things as quarterly profits and shareholder value ahead of worker safety and well-being, ahead of environmental concerns, or ahead of community partnership, saying “we can’t afford to . . .” when what they really mean is “we choose not to spend in order to . . .”;
  • lawyers who provide legal cover to those who abuse, torture, and terrorize, and the second group of lawyers who “let bygones be bygones” in order to not have to deal with the actions of the first group;
  • bishops and religious leaders who privately chastise abusive priests and pastors, but who fail to hold them publicly accountable and seek justice, out of a concern to not cause a scandal that would bring the religious organization into disrepute; and
  • leaders of sports programs who value winning so much that they are willing to look the other way when coaches, trainers, and doctors abuse athletes.

The tools of the Moderate are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to The Team, and the explicit and implicit power of the hierarchy. The Moderate may not be at the top of the pyramid, but as long as the Moderate can kiss up and kick down, they think they will be OK. They’ll keep their powder dry, waiting for a better time to act. But all too often, the Moderate refuses to use what they’ve been saving for that rainy day, even when they are in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.

But there are signs of hope, and we’ve seen some of them as well over the last three years:

  • career government professionals – at the State Department like Marie Yovanovitch, at the Department of Defense like Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at the Department of Health and Human Services like Dr. Richard Bright, at the Department of Justice like Brandon Van Graak, and others like them – who refused to worry about personal consequences to themselves and fudge the data, ignore the facts, shade the advice,  or stand silently by while others do so;
  • passers-by to acts of injustice, who not only document what is being done but who take action to hold perpetrators to account (NY dog walkers, represent!);
  • young voices like Greta Thunberg who refuse to go along to get along, who ask the tough questions of those in power, and who question the answers that mock the truth, and old voices like Elizabeth Warren who do the same; and
  • voices of political relative newcomers like Katie Porter, AOC, Stacy Abrams, who do not let their low spot on the political totem pole (or lack of a spot at all) keep them from speaking out for justice.

This past week, longtime AIDS activist Larry Kramer passed away. He founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to care for gays stricken with AIDS, while the government turned its eyes away from the problem. Later on, he founded ACT-UP, when he saw GMHC had become too domesticated and unwilling to rock the boat when the boat desperately needed rocking. He called out the gay community and he called out government officials, even those who were trying to help like Anthony Fauci, for not doing anywhere close to what was needed.

And in many respects, it worked. Maybe not as fast as it should have, or as well as Kramer would have liked, but it made a difference. From Kramer’s NY Times obituary:

The infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one who got the message — after Mr. Kramer wrote an open letter published in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988 calling him a killer and “an incompetent idiot.”

“Once you got past the rhetoric,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview for this obituary, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”

Mr. Kramer, he said, had helped him to see how the federal bureaucracy was indeed slowing the search for effective treatments. He credited Mr. Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of elaborate drug regimens that could prolong the lives of those infected with H.I.V., and in prompting the Food and Drug Administration to streamline its assessment and approval of certain new drugs.

In recent years Mr. Kramer developed a grudging friendship with Dr. Fauci, particularly after Mr. Kramer developed liver disease and underwent the transplant in 2001; Dr. Fauci helped get him into a lifesaving experimental drug trial afterward.

Their bond grew stronger this year, when Dr. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the coronavirus epidemic, opening him to criticism in some quarters.“We are friends again,” Mr. Kramer said in an email to the reporter John Leland of The New York Times for an article published at the end of March. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

Which brings me back to King’s letter and the title of this post:

. . . though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We’ve got plenty of extremists like Stephen Miller and the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died. We’re in dire need of more creative extremists.

Which leaves me with one question: how will you be a creative extremist today?

Covid-19 and Class Structure

The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates the class structure of the US. I’ve written several posts on the issue of class in the US, but most such analysis takes an index of some kind, wealth, education, income, and places people sequentially, then divides the line into groups which are called classes. For example, in this post I described Thomas Piketty’s classes based on wealth.

I discussed a modern Marxian class structure analysis here. Class is defined in terms of social and ownership relationships. Typically we think of three classes, the capitalists, the workers, and a small class of professionals and artisans who own their own means of production and work for themselves, but are to some extent dependent on the capitalist class. [1] This simple structure leads to difficult problems for people trying to use the analysis for social change.

1. In a large corporation, those at the bottom of the hierarchy own nothing but their labor and can only survive by selling that labor. They have little, if any, control over their working conditions. They are subject to the orders of those above them in the hierarchy. In higher levels of the hierarchy workers have limited control over the means of production, and have the power to control the actions of their subordinates. In even higher reaches, people achieve actual control over the means of production and control the actions of larger numbers of people. At the top are people who control the means of production through their power to direct their subordinates. In this more complex setting, the boundaries of class are blurred, and it is easy for people to misunderstand their position in the class structure.

It’s also difficult for people to understand that the problems they face in their jobs are common across all jobs. It isn’t just your boss who’s a jerk, your employer who has appalling policies on health care, sick leave, vacation and day-to-day irritations. Everyone faces those issues.

2. People don’t understand that capitalists exploit workers. This chart shows that the share of national income going to the labor sector has trended down since 1960. It dropped dramatically and stayed low during the last 20 years. That loss goes to the rich. I discuss the way in which capitalists justify this exploitation in this post.

3. Most people do not understand how they are exploited operationally, because everything they experience seems natural. That’s because capitalists exercise substantial control over the public understanding of issues of political economy. Their version of business history dominates. Their theory of economics, neoliberalism, is not threatened by any widespread alternative. Their concept of the role of government has controlled since the 1950s. They have an out-sized input into our choices for political office in both legacy parties. They have used that power to hold onto and increase their power.

But.

This pandemic has the potential to wake people up from their torpor. This article by Robert Reich is a good starting point. Reich identifies four classes defined in relation to the lockdown.

A. The Remotes: “…professional, managerial, and technical workers – an estimated 35% of the workforce” who are working and reasonably well-paid. They are largely unaffected by the lockdown.

B. The Essentials: the people who are required to go to their workplaces despite the lockdown, including health care workers, care-givers, farm workers, meat packers, grocery store and pharmacy employees, employees of gun stores and liquor stores.

C. The Unpaid: the non-essential workers who are now unemployed and subjected to lockdown, about 25% of the work force. Most of them lost their health insurance as well as their income, and face an unpleasant future.

D. The Forgotten: those “…for whom social distancing is nearly impossible because they’re packed tightly into places most Americans don’t see: prisons, jails for undocumented immigrants, camps for migrant farmworkers, Native American reservations, homeless shelters, and nursing homes.” The lockdown doesn’t affect them, as their lives sucked already.

Reich doesn’t mention the Fifth Class, those who are largely unaffected by the lockdown. This group has two segments. One is retirees and those near retirement, who presumably have the income and assets they need and to maintain their lifestyles. They have Medicare, stable housing, access to grocery stores and pharmacies, and generally can shelter in place with no discomfort. The second segment is people who have so much money they are not at all affected. They can just hop on their private jets and come and go as before, maybe with fewer people to serve them drinks.

The Covid-19 pandemic has sharpened the blurred lines described in Point 1. There are only two groups: the Reomoters and the Fifth Class who can can stay home and protect themselves; and the Essentials and the Unpaid. The Essentials who can’t stay home, and are at risk of serious illness and death, with whatever insurance they can cobble together. The Unnpaid are unprotected from financial ruin. The serious risks facing the Essentials and the Unpaid are the same across all jobs.

The exploitation described in Point 2 is now in the open. The rich and their politicians value capital over the lives and well-being of the Essentials and the Unpaid. First, capitalists were heavily subsidized by the Fed and Congress, Second, politicians are granting the demands of the capitalists to reopen the economy and shield them from liability if they don’t protect their workers from deadly illness. Republicans force people to choose between working for the rich or protecting their health at the cost of their unemployment benefits and their life savings.

The domination of discourse raised in Point 3 has been eroded by the rise of the political rhetoric of Sanders, Warren, and others. A large number of working people of all incomes don’t accept the assertions of the rich and their media giants as gospel. They can see the impact of Covid-19 on themselves and everyone they know. They can read about the problems faced by other workers, and see that they are in the same position.

The practical outcome? Workers at a number of giant corporations are planning a work action for May Day.

“It’s more powerful when we come together,” Chris Smalls, a lead organizer of the May 1 walkout, who was fired from Amazon’s Staten Island fulfillment center after staging a walkout on March 31, told Motherboard. “We formed an alliance between a bunch of different companies because we all have one common goal which is to save the lives of workers and communities. Right now isn’t the time to open up the economy. Amazon is a breeding ground [for this virus] which is spreading right now through multiple facilities.”

The strikers are asking consumers to boycott Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Walmart, FedEx, Target, and Shipt. They say that many of the workers will walk out, call in sick, or take other action. Their demands are astonishingly minimal: personal protective gear, paid sick leave, hazard pay, and a few company specific needs.

The Essentials and the Unpaid are forced to risk their health and their finances so the Remoters and the Fifth Class can live comfortably. That’s a concrete way of showing people their position in the class structure. Where are the politicians and media people capable of articulating this so everyone gets it?

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[1] In this post, I use the term “capitalist” to mean the top .1% in wealth and the top managers of the largest businesses. It’s useful here where the basis of the analysis is more or less Marxist, but I’m ambivalent about it because I’m not particularly a Marxist. I’m just a guy who reads books. I usually use the term “filthy rich” which my mother loved, but it seems perjorative.

Rural COVID-19: The Tyson Food Clusters

There has been a lot of attention to the COVID cluster in the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, SD, which shut down after hundreds of workers became ill with COVID-19. One worker in the factory died.

But there’s another meatpacking plant that has had four deaths: a Tyson’s Food plant in Camilla, GA.

Four employees of a major poultry producer’s operations in rural southwest Georgia have died after becoming infected with the coronavirus, a company spokesman said Friday.

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said three of the employees worked at the company’s chicken processing plant in Camilla, while the fourth person worked in a supporting job outside the plant. He declined to say how many workers there have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus.

[snip]

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents 2,000 workers at the Georgia chicken plant, identified the three plant employees who died as women who had worked there for 13 to 35 years. A statement from the union said many plant employees are “sick or in quarantine.”

This factory is commuting distance — 30 miles — from Albany, GA, where a funeral on February 29 led to a significant cluster. It’s in Mitchell County, GA, which has a population of around 22,000, of whom about half are black. Camilla itself is about 5,600 people, of whom 66% are black. The poultry plant is the largest employer.

Coronavirus has spread to the next largest employer in town: Autry State Prison, which employs 500 people and houses 1,700 prisoners. 4 staffers and 6 prisoners have tested positive, according to official numbers. (And a County jail has 3 cases.)

While Tyson Foods has implemented some measures to slow the spread — including making masks mandatory — it still isn’t providing sick pay.

Gonzalez said the company has improved safety measures at the Camilla plant by checking employees’ temperatures, requiring workers to wear face coverings, installing dividers at work stations and providing more space in break rooms. He said the company in March had “relaxed our attendance policy to encourage workers to stay at home when they’re sick.”

[snip]

The union has called on poultry processors to require employees to quarantine themselves for 14 days, and pay them sick leave, when they’re exposed to co-workers testing positive for the virus. It also wants individual departments to be shut down for 72 hours and cleaned after a worker tests positive.

The CEO of Tyson Foods, Dean Banks, is one of the CEOs Trump claims to be consulting on how to reopen the country. Yet his plants are responsible for two clusters of COVID.

148 of the workers in a Tyson pork plant in Columbus Junction, IA have tested positive, and two have died. 47% of the population in Columbus Junction are Hispanic and 12% Asian.

Tyson’s workers account for 89% of the cases in rural Louisa County. This story includes an anonymous family member of someone who works at the plant claiming that Tyson’s public comments about preventative measures at the plant are not true.

The relative of one plant worker, however, disputed that, telling Starting Line the company did not provide face masks to workers, still had people working in close proximity to each other, allowed workers to eat together in the break room, and that workers weren’t told of the infections until the day the plant shut down. Not wanting to disclose their name, they also noted the only changes made at the plant were taking employees’ temperatures as they came in, encouraging people to wash their hands, and displaying posters with information about the virus in multiple languages.

Trump and Tyson Foods seem to think these workers are expendable. But if food plants continue to cause clusters like this, it’ll not only shut down key parts of the food supply, but create clusters of COVID-19 in rural areas that are far less equipped to deal with it.

Update: Deleted a comment about Hispanic population in Columbus Junction per Peterr’s comment.

The Conservative Lie About Moral Relativity

Periodically leftists get blamed for creating a moral relativism that is destroying society. Here’s one Marcy caught:

And here’s a piece from Dan Dreezner, tongue-in-cheek, but still:

Traditionally, commentators have tended to assume that those articulating “there are no facts, just opinion” views came from the left. No longer!

Well, those commentators can just fuck right off.

1. Patrick Chovanec seems to think the dominant class never thought of using its position to control the definition of facts, and to write history to show that they deserve to be dominant until philosophers and then leftists started talking about the nature of truth. [1] Rightists say the left is responsible for the decline of morality for pointing out that the dominant class are self-serving liars and haters.

Political conservatives deflect with harpy shrieks that the left denies the existence of all facts and history. No. Leftists deny the fabrications of the dominant class. Lefties reject the facts that the tobacco industry created denying that cigarettes cause lung cancer. Lefties deny the manufactured facts about climate change spread by the fossil fuel industry. Why, some lefties even deny the truth of Parson Weems’ stories about George Washington.

There have always been people who contested the facts asserted by the dominant class; for example, Galileo. The Catholic Church made him deny his own factual observations on the ground that he must be wrong because he contradicted their interpretation of the Bible. That contradicted the claim of the church hierarchy that it possessed the sole power to interpret scripture. This is mirrored by the decision of Catholic prelates to handle child rapist priests in-house rather than through the justice system.

The right wing thinks academics are leftists. These scholars are writing histories that recover and include the voices of working people in the labor movement and other dissidents who are canceled by the dominant class in their histories. [2] Making new factual observations and finding old records to incorporate into histories is the exact opposite of denying the existence of facts and histories.

2. In this post I take up a not so post-modern view of facts and truth, that espoused by Charles Sanders Peirce and Henry James. Truth is a property of our beliefs: do they correspond with reality in ways that are useful for some human purpose. Peirce and James and other pragmatists do not deny that there are facts. They know that things exist in the world, separate from individual human beings. But they deny the existence of non-corporeal things that only a few people can perceive. They reject the Platonic idea of the “forms” external to the reality we can experience directly or indirectly. They say that what we can sense is all there is for us of that external reality. [3]

Those who take the other view insist that there are absolutes like the Platonic Ideal Chair of which the chair I’m sitting in is merely an exemplar. But that’s just pretend. What they mean is that there is an external source for absolute morality. In the US, most of them mean that their Christian Bible establishes absolute morality, and anyone who questions that is wrecking society.

A lesser person that I am might point out that it’s a strange religion that teaches that character is the only important factor in voting for president, so adherents must not vote for any Clinton; but also teaches that a different adulterer and liar who is also a corrupt businessman is an instrument of the Almighty, and that it’s sinful to believe otherwise.

I’ll just say I can’t understand why anyone would pay attention so someone claiming that they are receiving directions from the Almighty, directions no one else can perceive. [3] For example, when people tell us they killed their children because God told them to, we consider them criminal or insane. Why is it different when similar people abuse our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because God told them to? [4] Why should they be allowed to enact laws to enshrine their hate-filled views like the laws that wrecked the life of the genius Alan Turing? So, yes. Some lefties and lots of other people really do reject the idea of absolute morals.

3. Conservatives are convinced that if there is no source for absolute morals, no God, then everything is permitted, as Dostoevsky puts it in The Brothers Karamazov. This is a shocking proposition. It implies that people will only act morally if there is some form of punishment or reward. But that is not the way we live. We are all raised to understand our obligations and responsibilities in our families, in our schools and in society at large. We know the rules, and we know why we have those rules. This is true of Pakistani Muslims, Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Indian Hindus, Chinese Confucianists, US atheists, and Bolivian Catholics, Native Americans, in fact, in avery society ever. There are customs, mores, rules of etiquette, rules about food, hierarchies of respect, funerary customs, laws, and institutions to teach and enforce all of these and more.

This is from an essay by Richard Rorty titled Moral Relativism, 1996.

In his more recent book Thick and Thin, [Michael] Walzer argues that we should not think of the customs and institutions of particular societies as accidental accretions around a common core of universal moral rationality, the transcultural moral law. Rather, we should think of the thick set of customs and institutions as prior, and as what commands moral allegiance. The thin morality which can be abstracted out of the various thick moralities is not made up of the commandments of a universally shared human faculty called ‘reason’. Such thin resemblances between these thick moralities as may exist are contingent, as contingent as the resemblances between the adaptive organs of diverse biological species. [5]

In other words, we can’t reason our way to an absolute morality, any more than we can have it handed to us by people claiming they know the will of the Ineffable. We inherit a morality by osmosis and direct teaching, and we inherit ways of judging our actions based on that morality. That suffices for many. But we can learn about other cultures and their moralities, and we can make value judgments about both our own and other cultures. Further, we are able to question our own standards for judging moralities. As Rorty puts it,

The pragmatist view of what opponents of pragmatism call ‘firm moral principles’ is that such principles are abbreviations of past practices – ways of summing up the habits of the ancestors we most admire. P. xxix.

I don’t admire those of my ancestors who thought that enslaved people are not human beings, or that Jews are cursed, or that women are chattel or that the LGBTQ community is an abomination. I admire my ancestors who fought against those firm moral principles, trying to wreck the morality taught by the then dominant class.

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[1] I discuss this use of power to create a kind of reality here, with links to other aspects of Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas. Of course, my citation to a French scholar makes me utterly irrelevant.

[2] For example, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the US and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning, both of which I highly recommend.

[3] For a different view, see Thomas Merton’s book Mystics and Zen Masters.

[4] I urge readers to consider Kierkegaard’s Fear And Trembling carefully. And maybe watch the excellent 1991 movie The Rapture.

[5] Philosophy and Social Hope, p. viii, at xxxi; it’s aimed at lay readers, and is very accessible. On the subject of what Walzer calls transcultural moral law, see Karen Armstrong’s book, The Great Transformation. I liked this book, but reviewers are less favorable. Roughly, Armstrong discusses the idea of The Axial Age, put forward by Karl Jaspers, noting similar reactions across cultures to the dislocations of the period 1000-200 BCE.

The Mouse That Roared, The Bigotry Roseanne Perpetrated and Ignorant Racism Of Trump

Tonight, the ABC network, obviously owned and controlled by the Disney Mouse, has fired Roseanne Barr. It is a fine step. The better question is why they ever rebooted her ignorant racist act. The answer is, like the relentless quest of the New York Times to connect with “real America Trump Country voters”, they were more concerned about selling shit and getting eyeballs than they were about morality and truth.

Yeah, it is that simple.

ABC knew exactly what kind of ignorant racist bigot Roseanne Barr was, but they rolled the dice on the crap table of television because they cravenly thought there was a market for low brow bigotry in the age of Donald Trump.

For a bit, it seemed they were right. Heck, maybe they still are, maybe this country has fallen that far.

But when the pet star of ABC and Donald Trump, Roseanne, compared an accomplished woman like Valerie Jarrett to things I will not even cite here, even the Disney Mouse of ABC canceled her on the spot. How heroic.

It is fine to harsh on Roseanne. She has earned it for a long time. A long enough time that ABC and the oh so socially responsible “Disney Mouse” completely understood and, still, signed up to renew the platform for gross bigotry that Roseanne Barr represented in a heartbeat when they though they could catch the wave of Trumpian bigotry and racism.

It was like candy for the media monsters, much like the acceptance of the New York Times and other major media, although to a less obviously crass extent. Make no mistake though, it is all of the same cloth of go along to get along “let’s get maximum eyeballs” theory by major media that feeds the message fed to the United States and world. They know better, and they owe better. And, yes, I am talking to you Maggie Haberman. She is certainly not the only one, just a common and un-rehabiltated symbol at this point. But Mag Habs and the Times “political team” have come to this point the old fashioned way: They have earned it.

But, hey, the Times are not alone, CNN is similarly still sending out Salena Zito to interact with revanchist bigotry in “real America” like that bunk should be celebrated and normalized, not scorned and attempted to be informed.

This country should not celebrate ignorance, bigotry and stupidity. We should fight and overcome that.

ABC and the Disney Mouse may be unconscionably late to this game as to the attempt to ride the ignorance and bigotry of Roseanne Barr, but maybe there is a better day ahead.

Today, Howard Schultz and Starbucks took the step back to rethink and do better. ABC and the Mouse made a late, but needed step.

One step at a time. It is better than the original knee jerk reaction of the ABC network to piggyback on the bigotry of Roseanne Barr.

Belated Update: The title to this post was not meant just to be descriptive of the Disney action as to Roseanne, it was also an homage to the thoroughly wonderful classic movie “The Mouse That Roared”. If you have not seen it, you should. I think it is occasionally on TCM, but not sure. It is a wonderfully subtle early tour de force by the great Peter Sellers.

Wilbur Ross Lets His Inner Trumpian George Wallace Bigot Freak Flag Fly

The real Mr. Magoo of the Trump Administration, Wilbur Ross, this morning went on a full court press, with the press, to promote the latest push from the Trump Administration. When did the US seek out pointed bigotry and otherism on the official census? 1950. Magoo Ross and his Commerce Department issued a racist manifesto:

“The reinstatement of a citizenship question will not decrease the response rate of residents who already decided not to respond. And no one provided evidence that there are residents who would respond accurately to a decennial census that did not contain a citizenship question but would not respond if it did (although many believed that such residents had to exist). While it is possible this belief is true, there is no information available to determine the number of people who would in fact not respond due to a citizenship question being added, and no one has identified any mechanism for making such a determination.”

Actually, that is exactly what it is going to do, and what will occur. Facts and intelligence no longer matter.

From Hansi Lo Wang at NPR:

“A lot of census watchers, former census bureau directors, other census experts have said that they are very, very concerned that there already is a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment, that already folks are very concerned about giving personal information to the federal government, that now if there is a citizenship question added as the Commerce Department is announcing that … a lot of immigrants, not only those who are undocumented, but anyone who maybe has ties to folks who are undocumented, may not want to … participate in the census and therefore they would not be counted, and that has direct impacts on how people are represented in this country.

“All census numbers are used to reapportion seats in Congress, specifically the House of Representatives, and also these numbers have an impact on how billions of dollars are distributed around the country … from the federal level all the way down to the local level of how school districts figure out how to divide up resources. So this could have a really big impact if immigrants are not participating in the census in 2020.”

And thank you Vanita Gupta, in the New York Times (also reinforced in an interview with MSNBC):

“Adding this question will result in a bad census — deeply flawed population data that will skew public and private sector decisions to ensure equal representation, allocate government resources and anticipate economic growth opportunities — for the next 10 years,” Vanita Gupta, the chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a deputy attorney general in the Obama administration, said in a statement Monday night. “The stakes are too high to allow this. We urge Congress to overturn this error in judgment.”

Dianne Feinstein issued a, for once, spot on press release:

“An accurate count of everyone living in the United States is vital to our democracy. Adding a question designed to depress participation in certain communities is an assault on the foundations of this country.

“Given President Trump’s toxic rhetoric and aggressive policies toward immigrants, it’s clear his administration wants to include this question to discourage participation in immigrant communities. Individuals living in mixed-status households may be afraid to participate, fearing their responses would be used to target them or their families.

“This is particularly troubling in states like California with high immigrant populations. Without an accurate census, our state will lose federal funding for infrastructure, schools and social welfare programs we are rightly owed. Even more troubling, an undercount of our population could lead to California losing seats in Congress, disenfranchising millions of California voters.

“The administration’s claim that this question is needed to ‘permit more effective enforcement’ of the Voting Rights Act is simply not true. A citizenship question has not been included on the census since 1950, 15 years before the Voting Rights Act was passed. Instead, that data is already collected on the American Community Survey, a longer set of questions sent to more than 3.5 million American households every year.

“The census should not be a political football, used to depress responses from immigrant communities and target states like California. I’m committed to ensuring an accurate census in 2020 and will work with California’s leaders to have this citizenship question removed from the census.”

Yes. And it is a real issue. Not since George Wallace tried to block the schools from the minorities he hated, has there been such an immoral and unmitigated assault, for craven political purposes, as Trump and his merry band of bigot henchmen are putting forth now. It is the sickness that is killing America, not that which will make us great.

Can’t wait for the “Constitutional scholars” of the Federalist Society to weigh in with their full throated support of yet more rank Trump Administration bigotry and hatred. And some more “Liberal Media” stories about racist hicks in diners that support this revanchism. This is Trump’s America. And, yes, Vlad Putin must be chomping on popcorn and loving it.

Corruption Is The Use Of Public Position For Private Gain

According to a law journal article by Zephyr Teachout, the Founding Fathers had a shared understanding of corruption.

To the Delegates, political corruption referred to self-serving use of public power for private ends, including, without limitation, bribery, public decisions to serve private wealth made because of dependent relationships, public decisions to serve executive power made because of dependent relationships, and use by public officials of their positions of power to become wealthy. P. 373-4.

Of course, the Supreme Court doesn’t see it that way. The only form of corruption the politicians on the Court recognize is quid pro quo transactions, the formal exchange of value for taking a governmental action. This view carries over to the private sector. Only rarely are there prosecutions for kickbacks or other forms of corporate bribery because the laws are spotty, and anyway, who cares? The market, whatever that is, will take care of it.

The Ryan-Trump tax bill is an excellent example of of corruption in Teachout’s sense. A number of senators received personal benefits from a provision which applies low pass-through tax rules to passive investments in real estate. This clause will not increase investment or jobs. It only benefits equity holders, including Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. For details, read the articles by International Business Times’ David Sirota. Corker and Hatch deny that they are corrupt but do not describe any benefit to ordinary Americans from the changes.

Another beneficiary of changes in the law is Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI, who owns interests in a pass-through manufacturing business and several pass-through real estate businesses. Equity holders pay ordinary income tax on it at their personal rate. Johnson announced he wouldn’t vote for the bill unless it benefited him; as well as anyone else who owned investments like his. He wanted a deduction of part of the income. Senate leadership eventually made an offer, there was bargaining, and eventually they settled on 20% of a number based on a complicated formula involving wages and capital. Just as on the real estate side, this bill is just a gift to owners of unincorporated businesses. The value of their interests will go up and their taxes will go down, and nothing will change in terms of investments in the business. Johnson’s explanation for this is not his personal wealth but the fact that business income is treated differently depending on the form of business organization. But the reason people choose non-corporate forms is the personal benefit, and Johnson doesn’t explain this crucial difference or the impact of the changes.

It isn’t only government officials who can use public positions for their personal benefit. In 2015, 58 university presidents made more than $1 million. They must be really good at raising money. Fun fact: the ridiculous tax bill provides for a 1.4% tax on income from endowments greater than $500,000 per students at schools with 500 or more students. The insufferable N. Gregory Mankiw is perturbed. I say good. At least there is somewhat less incentive to raise vast sums of money at schools like Notre Dame, which estimates its tax at $6 to 9 million. Notre Dame spent $354 million from its endowment which garnered about $1.21 billion, if I read this right.

Corporate CEOs have reached even higher levels of compensation; so of course as a group they were proponents of this sickening bill. They’ll get billions to use to pay shareholders with dividends and buybacks, and they’ll benefit handsomely from both, because almost all of them are big shareholders. They also love huge mergers, and once industries are consolidated, they raise prices in excess of costs which increases corporate income and thus their own. I wrote this about drug companies showing the details. And here’s a disgusting recent example.

I’ve focused on economic corruption, but abuse of power goes beyond economics; the most obvious arean is sexual predation. Others can do a better job explaining that kind of abuse so I’ll just leave it there.

Many of the people in positions of authority in the corporate sector, the non-profit sector and the government sector use their positions for private gain. We can speculate about the reasons for it, and debate the extent of it. Maybe it’s no worse now than before; it just seems worse because Trump is president. And of course, we aren’t all corrupt, and we aren’t all corrupt all the time. For those with some self respect or some self control, there is this sickening feeling of collapse.

I think that’s because our public discourse is so barren. We have no vocabulary for analyzing the problem, or thinking about what we need to change. We think in terms of criminal law when we talk about corruption, and not the language of duty and responsibility. Let’s stop doing that.

Corruption is the use of public positions of authority for private gain.

M&M Mars Candy, Trump and The Estate Tax Giveaway

[Ed Note: This is a guest post by our tax law expert friend Bob Lord. It is a particularized abject story of exactly what kind of interests are pushing the Trump “Tax Cuts” agenda, why, and how ridiculously corrupt and insulting to the 99.5% of America the effort really is.]

The Mars family has made billions selling us M&Ms, Snickers, and countless other Halloween treats for a century now. But when it comes to paying tax, the Mars family seems to be all tricks and no treats.

In fact, the family’s latest tax trick may have cost the U.S. Treasury a whopping $10 billion. What could $10 billion do? That’s the cost of delivering prenatal care to hundreds of thousands of expectant moms under Medicaid, an essential program that President Trump and the GOP Congress plan to cut by up to $1 trillion.

According to the current U.S. tax code, any American worth $25 billion can expect 40 percent of that, or $10 billion, to go to Uncle Sam in estate tax, the federal levy on the personal fortunes of deep pockets who kick the bucket. Forrest Mars Jr. had a $25-billion fortune when he died in July 2016. But the Mars family has apparently been able to avoid estate tax on that entire $25 billion.

How do we know? Researchers at Forbes and Bloomberg, the two business publications that track America’s billionaire wealth, have some fascinating numbers for us.

Forest Jr. and his two siblings started 2016 with personal fortunes in the vicinity of $25 billion. Now if Forrest’s fortune had been subject to a significant estate tax after he passed on, the collective wealth of his four daughters in 2017 would be substantially less than that $25 billion.

The just-released 2017 Forbes list of America’s 400 richest shows otherwise. Forbes puts the wealth of each of Forest’s four daughters at $6.3 billion, for a total of $25.2 billion. That’s almost identical to the 2017 fortunes of their Aunt Jacqueline and their Uncle John, each at $25.5 billion. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index reports similar numbers.

Should any of this surprise us? Not really. We’re seeing Mars family history repeat itself. Eighteen years ago, Forrest Mars Sr., the original Mars family billionaire, died. The Forbes 400 lists from the years surrounding 1999 show that the Mars family lost no wealth to estate tax back then either.

But the Mars family must at least be paying oodles of income tax, right? Nope. How could that be? This particular tax-avoidance story starts over a century ago, when Frank Mars incorporated his candy business.

Back then, the value of the stock in Mars Inc. had only minimal value. But over the years the stock appreciated considerably in value. By 1988, that appreciation had made the Mars family the wealthiest clan in America. The Mars billionaires still rank as one of America’s wealthiest families, in no small part because none of the gains in the value of the family’s Mars stock have ever been subject to income tax.

Is the Mars family content with its current level of tax savings? Apparently not. The family has joined with 17 other billionaire families and collectively spent $500 million lobbying Congress for reduced taxes on billionaires and the companies they run.

These companies face corporate income tax on their profits. Mars, Inc. has had to pay these taxes over the years. Unlike Mars family members as individuals, the Mars company hasn’t been able to sidestep its tax bills. But the Mars and other billionaire families have found a friend in President Trump and the current Republican-led Congress. The pending Trump-GOP tax plan would take a meat axe to corporate tax rates.

The resulting corporate tax savings, if this plan gets adopted, will likely translate into a multi-billion-dollar tax savings for Mars, Inc. — and a corresponding bump in the net worth of Mars family members.

The real prize for the Mars in the Trump tax plan? That may be in the elimination of the estate tax that the Trump White House is now pushing. Wait, what? How would the repeal of the federal estate tax help a family that’s already avoiding the estate tax?

For America’s ultra-wealthy, repealing the estate tax turns out to be more about the federal income than the federal estate tax. As Mars family history makes painfully clear, tax avoidance vehicles available under current law allow even billionaires to zero out their estate tax.

But billionaires, under current law, do pay an appreciable income tax price for their estate tax avoidance. Assets on which estate tax is avoided carry an offsetting income tax disadvantage. That disadvantage would vanish in a simple estate tax repeal.

What does that mean? Let’s say we have a billionaire who paid $10 million for stock now worth $100 million and does nothing to avoid estate tax on that stock The billionaire never has to pay income tax on that gain. Those who inherit that stock from the billionaire’s taxable estate can sell it for $100 million and not pay any income tax on the gain either.

But if that billionaire stashed that stock into a trust to avoid estate tax, he would forfeit that income tax advantage. The untaxed gain associated with the stock would be passed to the trust beneficiaries. These beneficiaries would face an income tax on the previously untaxed gain when they sell the stock.

If the Trump-GOP estate tax repeal takes the same final form as the estate tax repeal bill introduced in the House of Representatives in 2015, wealthy Americans will get to have it both ways: zero estate tax and the elimination of any untaxed gain at death.

And that would allow the next generation of Mars family members to avoid income tax on over a century’s worth of economic gain. Quite a trick, huh?

So enjoy the candy, America. The Mars family will keep the cash.

Happy Halloween!

[Robert J. Lord, a tax lawyer in Phoenix, Arizona and former Congressional candidate, is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.]

Spaced In Time Trash Talk

Welp, moving from KIller Trash Talk to the things that are this weekend takes a lot. Insanity abounds, and is all around. Your healthcare? Yes, that is getting screwed hard. JCPOA (the Iran anti-nuke deal) yes, that too. If it affects the world in at least semi-positive way, the current President is blowing it all up. The fact that a black man might have even touched on any subject seems to infuriate the dementia ridden sundowning asshole in the West Wing even more.

It is who and what we life forms are now. And it is sickness in every regard, domestically and internationally. Trash Talk was designed to be a refuge from such things. I just cannot anymore. So, if that is a problem, I am sorry. Hopefully we will not stand by, and will not back down, while assclowns like Donald Trump cravenly politicize even common sports entertainment to soothe the 30% base they so cherish.

Nope.

Puerto Rico is dying in their own streets. Northern California is burning. People are trying to ride out the fire in swimming pools as their houses burn around them. While the Trump Administration and GOP sit on their hands, when they are not actively trying to make the entire situation worse. The fuckers are flying on jets, flying flags and making coins in their own image.

But, hey, the NCAA is moving on. Not sure anybody thought anything different would happen in Chapel Hill. Begging the question as to what happens to Louisville, another legacy NCAA basketball program. The NCAA under the terminally lame leadership of Mark Emmert will never change.

In the pros, it is getting hard to figure who is the bigger asshole. Is it Goodell and the NFL, or is it the, at this point, ignorant scorched earth strategy of Jeff Kessler and the NFLPA? The NFLPA is making an ass of itself in trying the everything and the kitchen sink theory as to Zeke Elliot. The NFLPA had a sympathetic plaintiff, Brady, and a supremely tenuous case by the NFL based on simple physics and chemistry. But then the NFL won in the 2nd Circuit. Zeke Elliot is not an all American kid with multiple championships. He is an abusive punk from Ohio State that is lucky the NFL did not find an aggravating act from when he pulled down a woman’s blouse in public during a parade. If you think Elliot has the better case here, you don’t try cases in real courts.

The thing is, whether under federal or state law, and in this case collectively bargained law, the arbitration rules….and the rules ARE “relaxed”….and control. It is about the process, not the facts. I, and a lot of others, tried to argue in the face of this in both Brady and Peterson. Same in Bountygate prior to those two cases. Those arguments were all made in cases with far more appealing clients than a repetitive malefactor like Zeke Elliot. He will serve the suspension, it is only a question of whether he and Jeff Kessler are smart enough to do so soon, or make it later, when it will really hurt a likely playoff team. We shall see whether the NFLPA scorched earth insanity prevails over the inters of Homer Simpson, er Jerry Jones and the Cowboys.

The games go on. The Natinals really ought to still be around, but the Cubs put them to rest. The Yankees somehow overcame Cleveland. Hard to not think the Tribe was the better team, but they didn’t close the deal, and the Yankees did. That said, the conference championships look truly awesome. I think the Astros are not only a better team, but have some juice right now as opposed to the Yanks. Not betting a lot of real money on that, but I think so. The Dodgers are what the Yankees used to be. The best team that all the money in the world can buy. But Chris Hayes made a Trump for Cubs deal with the devil last year, and I hope it still holds, and the Cubs win. If we “have” to have Trump, let the Cubbies win again.

Syracuse obliterated Number 2 Clemson already. Man, that was ugly. So was the job an average Cal did on Pirate Mike Leach and Washington State. Utah at USC should be interesting. Washington at ASU here might be as well, but Chris Peterson is a light years better coach than ASU’s Todd Graham, so ASU likely to get blown out, even at home.

Back to the pros: Philly already topped the Panthers, thanks to a good game by Wentz and a horrible one by Newton. Won’t always be that way, Panthers are dangerous if they get in the playoffs. Skins host the Niners. Will Kirk Cousins be playing on the other team next year? The Pack at Vikings looked really interesting when it looked like Sam Bradford was returning. Less so now, but Case Keenum can produce and they are in Minneapolise with that damn horn they blow. I’ll take Rodgers and the Cheese, but may be a great game.

My game of the week is the Buccos at Cardinals right here in the Big Toaster. Debut of Anthony Peterson at RB for Phoenix. Carson Palmer has quietly played superb QB so far this year for the Cards….when he is not getting murdered from bad, nee atrocious, O-Line play. If Arizona’s constantly remade O-Line can gel and protect the old man, it will be a hell of a game. Not going to bet on that, but just saying. Rams at Jags might actually be interesting. Glad that matchup is, for once, not in London. Other game of the week is unquestionably Scribe’s Steelers at Arrowhead to see the Chefs. I don’t for one second think Big Ben has lost a step, even if he may finally be maturing. But I am not sure that other forces in that locker room are unified the way past Steeler teams are. This will be a HUGE game for Pittsburgh, and less so for KC. I’ll take the upset on this one.

Okay, that is that. Another week. Another dime. Another dollar. Thank you for being here, and send some love to Puerto Rico and Napa.

The “Liberal” NY Times Focuses on the Next Disastrous GOP Daddy

It is never enough for the “liberal” media. Despite how the “liberal media” gets relentlessly dumped on and marginalized by the right wing nut machine, they are ALWAYS there to hand out some candy to the nutters.

Here are the estimable Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns in the Only Bunk That’s Fits To Print Gray Lady:

WASHINGTON — Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence’s schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

Well, crikey, good that the paper of record is covering this. What else they got?

It may get worse, said Jay Bergman, an Illinois petroleum executive and a leading Republican donor. Grievous setbacks in the midterm elections of 2018 could bolster challengers in the party.

“If the Republicans have lost a lot of seats in the Congress and they blame Trump for it, then there are going to be people who emerge who are political opportunists,” Mr. Bergman said.

Well, sorry I asked, turned out it was some entitled crap from a “petroleum executive”. Great call guys!

Swell. Excellent follow up to all those “Ignorant average Trump voters still ignorantly averagely love Trump” reports that are rampant in the beloved balanced media.

Today’s GOP, fronted by Trump and his ilk, is NOT an aberration, but rather the culmination of where the Republican party has been headed for decades, since at least Reagan’s bigoted opening salvo in Philadelphia Mississippi. It is the party of nationalism, racism, bigotry, scientific ignorance and revanchism.

But, hey, never underestimate the ability of the national media to keep on singing like they don’t know their actions helped put this country in the lurch it is in (Her Emails!!). And that their continued refusal to unequivocally call out the current President for the blithering dangerous loon he is, may lead to making the lurch far worse.

The answer to America’s ills do NOT come from the discredited daddies in the GOP, whether older like Mike Pence and John Kasich, or younger like Ben Sasse. We have seen this movie before, and it sucks in a very disastrous way.

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