Monday, December 25, 2017

From Al Bundy to Trumpty-Dumpty: The spiritual part of the war on Christmas was lost in the days Trump was failing as a casino owner

By Marc Jampole

I started feeling under the weather at around Noon the day before Christmas, so I spent much of the late afternoon and early evening drifting in and out of sleep while the television blared Christmas-themed episodes of “Married with Children,” the 1990s dystopic situation comedy about a lower middle class family of selfish, self-seeking, uneducated, ignorant individuals who think only of material possessions.

All the Christmas episodes revolved around the father of the house, Al Bundy, trying to get his hands on money to buy Christmas presents, and each time coming up short. His various part-time jobs and schemes all backfire, or he fails to get to the bank in time or he gets drunk and buys drinks for the house at the bar where he ends up after a stint as a Santa, with all the other poor blokes playing Santa in Chicago. That one has a bizarre ending, as Al uses his one positive trait—his athleticism which combines strength, agility and speed—to take possession of items from the bar, all labeled “Ray,” and give them as presents to his family. Best gift: A gold necklace with the name Ray on the gold medallion to Peggy, the wife Al loves to hate and hates to make love to.

Along the way, the Bundys, and most other characters, display vile and venial behavior and say many cruel things, all of which is hilariously funny, because they form a harmless exaggeration of the real world. In none of the episodes do any of the characters consider anything about Christmas other than the tradition of buying, giving and receiving presents. Virtually all the action not in the Bundys’ seedy home occurs in the marketplace: Al’s shoe store, next-door neighbor Marcy’s bank, the department store and other mall fixtures. No spirituality. No finding the true spirit of Christmas. No affirmation of traditional values. Even the parody—no, travesty—of “It’s a Beautiful Life” in a misogynistic, misanthropic vision in which his wife and two children are all better off in every way if the miserable Al had not been born. We laugh because we recognize in the extreme meanness and venality of the Bundys a parallel to our own lives and the people we know.  

In Al Bundy’s world, love, friendship and every other emotion can only be found in money and material possessions, the values of American consumerism.

Also in the world of Donald Trump. All his talk about a war on Christmas involves the public market of commerce and has no spiritual element. It’s as if anything having to do with the religious aspects of Christmas—the story and its meaning, going to a mass or other church service, volunteering to feed the homeless, even caroling—has been consumed in a miasma of commercial values.

From Bill O’Reilly in 2012 through Donald Trump this year, the war on Christmas has always reduced to the secular marketplace. Do clerks and cashiers say “Merry Christmas” and thereby manifest their religiosity or do they utter the blasphemous “Seasons Greetings” and risk eternal damnation? Do the decorations have images of the Christ child and the legend “Merry Christmas” or do they rip all Christian doctrine to shreds by interspersing “Happy Hanukkah” and menorahs among “Seasons Greetings” placards and sundry Santa Clauses, sleighs, decorated trees and colorful wrapped-and-bowed packages? Instead of letting the marketplace operate without constraints, like conservatives are supposed to, those who believe that Christians must fight back in some religious war propose to regulate the market by stressing their one holiday. The authoritarian plea is meant to intimidate other cultures by stressing the primacy of one religion as a means to establish it as a de facto, and (they hope) someday de jure, national faith. This intimidation is a kind of softening up of all minorities for other assertions of Christian dominance such as refusing to bake wedding cakes for gay weddings, making abortion as hard as possible if not illegal, buying into a global war on Islam, and tampering with science and history text books.

Many pundits have already detailed the many reasons why conceiving of a war on Christmas as a Trojan horse for a war on secular values is wrong. Briefly, we are a secular society founded by fairly unreligious rich folk. Furthermore, Christmas iconography already dominates most celebration, even if has ceased to have or never had religious significance. Moreover, making potential customers feel uncomfortable is never good marketing. As a Jewish atheist, I won’t shop in any store, online or brick-and-mortar, once someone has said “Merry Christmas” to me. I imagine many other Jews, Muslims, Hindi and Buddhists have similar feelings. The idea of secularizing Christmas in the marketplace makes good business sense, and it doesn‘t disturb the private celebrations of Christians. Let’s also consider that making “Merry Christmas” the standard greeting debases its religious connotation, because it turns the phrase into a secular greeting that everyone gives everyone.

The rightwing media has taken up the battle cry against the war on Christmas for five years, but most mainstream media has recognized it is a false issue, a fake war.

So who else but a charlatan to declare victory in a fake war? It makes perfect sense that Donald Trump would claim that he had won the war on Christmas by re-instilling Christian values in the marketplace, from which secularists (read: liberal, feminist, gay, immigrant and minority) had vanquished it. At his rallies over the past few weeks, The Donald has been patting himself on the back for bringing Christmas back. Now, a nonprofit started by former Trump aides is going to run a Christmas day commercial in which a series of everyday Americans thank Trump for what he has done since his administration took over. Among the many faces of casually dressed people in various locations, mostly white but a token number of people of color —all manifesting traits associated with working class people—is a beautiful young white girl who says, “Thank you for letting us say “Merry Christmas” again.” Someone should tell that little girl that it was never against the law to say “Merry Christmas”; it’s merely thought in polite company to be poor manners to assume someone you don’t know is Christian. Unless, that is, if she’s an actress playing the role of grateful little girl.

Of course, they don’t really care about Christmas as a religious holiday, not Trump, not Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, not Meghan Kelley (who insisted both that Santa Claus was a real historical figure and that he had to be white), nor any of the other rightwing shills who said secular forces were destroying Christmas by their continuance of the decades-long American practice of marketplace recognition of other religions. They have all proved themselves many time to be committed to the values of conspicuous consumption and consumerism. But as elitists and authoritarians, they like the idea of giving the ignorant something they can be angry at other than the greed and acquisitiveness of their corporate masters, and in Trump’s case, fellow rich folk. All of them supported the mean-spirited tax overhaul, which Trump is publically calling a “Christmas gift” to the American people, knowing full well that it only the gift to the wealthy He has admitted as much to his rich friends at Mar-a-Lago.

Here in New York, we see very little evidence of more people saying “Merry Christmas” and fewer people saying “Seasons Greetings,” no stripping signs of Hanukkah from decorations, no increased religiosity in the sentiments people express in public interactions. Beggars in the subways make sure to include everyone in their solicitations. I did see one group of young men, mostly Hispanic, in seminary garb roaming together in the East Village saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone and being greeted with typical New Yorker’s scorn by the people with whom they tried to engage. I have also seen collections of Orthodox Jews publicly celebrating their version of Hanukkah in the streets to the same reaction.

But it may be different in the hinterlands.

In any case, let Trump have his victory, a hollow one because the more that people focus their celebration of Christmas in the marketplace, the more the true spirit of Christmas suffers. That was the lesson of “Married with Children” two decades ago, and nothing has changed since then. The marketplace long ago Bundyized the celebration of Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New tax bill tries something that’s already failed many times: lowering taxes on wealthy to spur economic growth. But it’s typical of GOP to propose programs that have proven not to work

By Marc Jampole
Much of science and engineering involves trial and error: You try something and it doesn’t work, or doesn’t work perfectly, so you modify it or try something else. You learn from experience and apply what you learn to future activities. Trial and error is a necessary part of the scientific method.
Perhaps it’s because learning from experience is part of the scientific method, and thus part of science, that the Republicans refuse to do it.
It’s clear that the GOP didn’t look at real-world experience in the passage of the tax overhaul which over time will transfer more than a trillion dollars of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the very wealthiest Americans. They say the new tax system will supercharge the economy, which will result in more tax revenues than before the cuts. But past efforts to cut taxes on the wealthy have never led to increased prosperity, nor to increased tax revenues, whereas raising taxes on the wealthy always does. The Reagan tax cuts didn’t lead to prosperity, which came only when taxes were raised again under Bush I and Bill Clinton. The Bush II tax cut led to the 2008 recession by giving rich folk additional money to create a real estate bubble which, upon bursting, sent the economy into a tailspin. Only after the tax increases under Obama did the economy start to purr again.
And what about Kansas? The Sam Brownback-led experiment in cutting-and-gutting has led to an economic disaster. The Kansas example is particularly on point: Under Brownback, the legislature entirely eliminated taxes on what are known as pass-through businesses, which account for about half of all business profits. Brownback made the same glowing predictions that Trumpty-Dumpty and Paul Ryan are now making for lowering the income tax on pass-throughs and the other benefits of the tax bill that only the rich will enjoy. But instead of an economic boom, Kansas has seen seven years of little if any economic growth and massive budget deficits. The tax base shriveled, forcing lawmakers to cut spending on public schoolscollegesMedicaid and other programs. Courts had to order the state to spend more on public schools. This year, after years of suffering, the Kansas legislature finally reversed the tax cuts, overriding Brownback’s veto in a refreshing if desperate bipartisan effort.
Anyone who follows the scientific method would conclude from the wealth of experience that cutting taxes on the wealthy is a bad idea. But Trump and the GOP live in a weird faith-based universe in which wishful thinking can somehow defeat reality.
Unfortunately, tax policy is not the only area in which the GOP—and sometimes many Democrats—ignore experience:
War on drugs
The premise of the war on drugs was to limit supply by punishing everyone involved in the illegal drug trade—suppliers, dealers and possessors, especially those whose skin was not white. Launched by the Nixon administration and pursued for decades by Nixon’s successors, but especially under Republican presidents, the war on drugs proved to be an abject failure that ended up filling our prisons with people who committed low level, victimless crimes. So what does the Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis propose? Program after program to limit supply and little to work on reducing demand. While not as Draconian in its proposals to punish users as the original war on drugs was—after all, opioid addicts are primarily white and heavily centered in white rural areas—the commission proposes only two programs to limit demand out of a total of 56 recommendations. Most of the rest of the commission’s report details various ways to limit supply. Trump and Sessions would add more criminalization and jail time to the mix.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and it was a quagmire that drained the Soviet treasury and sowed discontent on the home front. Ten years later, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, tail between their legs, unable to achieve any of their objectives, but leaving behind a wide and bloody trail of death and destruction. Many believe that the experience in Afghanistan contributed to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Did the Soviet disaster—and those of the Russians and British in the 19th century—stop the Bush II Administration from invading in 2001 after Afghanistan refused to relinquish Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks? Not a chance. After more than 10 years of futile fighting that cost the lives of more than 2,000 American soldiers and about 100,000 Afghanis, drained the U.S. and accomplished nothing, Obama began to draw down the American troop totals in Afghanistan. Lesson learned—that is until the Republicans took control of the White House again and the Trump Administration announced its intention to ratchet up the U.S. military presence in the war-torn country—more drone attacks and more troops.
 Private prisons
Private prisons have led to widespread abuse of prisoners and greater violence behind bars and they often cost more than public prisons. President Obama’s response to the pile of evidence against private prisons was to announce that the federal government would gradually end their use. Yet there is so much experience that shows that private prisons don’t work that of course the GOP under Trump are supporting them. One of the first things Attorney General Jeff Sessions did was to scrap the Obama order to phase out the federal government’s use of private prisons.
Encouraged by big business and electric power generators, those Republicans who admit that we have to address climate change propose cap-and-trade as the way to lower carbon emissions. In this case, they’re joined by many Democrats. With cap-and-trade, a market is created for trading what are called “pollution credits,” which essentially means that companies that pollute buy the right to do so from companies that don’t pollute or pollute less. The original cap-and-trade scheme to address acid rain lowered emissions of SOby 42% in the United States. Europe, by contrast, used regulations to fight acid rain and was able to remove 71% of all emissions. Yet the U.S. (under Clinton but Republican support) insisted that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol focus on cap-and-trade as the main way to reduce carbon emissions. I really shouldn’t blame the GOP for their preoccupation with this failed concept, since the rest of the world, including Democrats, have also been enamored of cap-and-trade. For example, despite the fact that every single cap-and-trade program in the U.S. and Europe has failed to lower emissions, China recently announced it is establishing what it says will be the largest cap-and-trade market in the world.
In all of these cases, the reason the GOP prefers to follow failed policies instead of learning from experience is that big contributors benefit from continuing to pursue the fallacies, even if most people suffer. Sometimes it’s defense contractors. Sometimes it’s slick GOP cronies who want to make a quick buck through privatization. Sometimes it’s large industry and electric power generators who seek to exploit a badly formed and loophole-filled policy to avoid their responsibility to clean up their industrial processes. But whenever the GOP ignores the lessons of experience, someone makes a lot of money.
When contemplating the inability for the GOP to apply the lessons of the past to solve today’s challenges, I can’t help but think of the refrain of the old Pete Seeger song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” It keeps playing in my mind: “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?”
The answer for the GOP and Trump seems to be “Never.”

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Final tax bill not as mean-spirited as earlier versions, but still gives virtually all benefits to rich folk, while screwing everyone else. And it will still lead to another great recession or worse

By Mark Jampole

In the days before Congress passed the so-called tax overhaul, better termed the “Reverse Robin Hood Plan,” some televisions news programs showed images of the protests, but for the most part the news media accepted as a fait accompli the passage and signing of one of the greatest transfers of wealth up the socioeconomic ladder in world history. Usually I would complain that the mainstream media is once again manifesting its bias towards covering conservative protests, ideas, intellectuals, primaries and candidates while ignoring the left, but in this case, it’s hard to blame the media. After all, if Republicans in Congress were ignoring all the experts saying the bill is a disaster for the economy and all the polls which show anywhere from 59% to 70% of all Americans opposed, why would they be moved by pickets and chants outside their door?

The final tax package is not as mean-spirited as the original House and Senate versions, but it’s still a bad bill that reflects the underlying greedy philosophy that has animated the Republican Party for years: government by the rich, of the rich and for the rich. True enough, gone are some of the more obnoxious aspects of the bill like making graduate students pay taxes on free tuition and ending the deduction for adoption programs and teachers’ classroom expenses. The cap (doubled!) on assets not subject to the estate tax remains.


The tax overhaul still gives an enormous permanent tax reduction to the wealthy, while giving smaller temporary tax breaks to everyone else.

It still favors investors over workers and business owners over employees.

It still gives a major shaft to taxpayers in the high-tax states that pay more to the federal government than they receive already and still have enough money to provide more social programs and healthcare to their citizens.

It still increases the deficit by more than a trillion dollars over the next ten years, and that’s using optimistic estimates of future economic growth and revenue collection.

It still requires the federal government to cut non-military spending, and the Republicans still intend to use the new deficits it creates to justify cutting social welfare and insurance programs even more.

And it still is a recipe for economic disaster. It will increase both income and wealth equality. The gutting of the individual mandate will throw 13 million people off healthcare insurance rolls and jack up costs 10% for everyone else. Because it makes less money available to government, it will hamstring federal and local efforts to improve our infrastructure, conduct essential research and development in basic science, educate children, address climate change and tend to the needs of the elderly and disadvantaged. It will still take money out of active circulation because rich folk already have enough money to buy what they want and will therefore put their money into dead assets like stocks that aren’t initial public offerings, bitcoins, artwork and other collectibles, bloating the value of these assets until some asset group forms a bubble.

A lot of the Republicans are brainwashed dumb asses or unthinking greed machines, but many must know of the economic disaster that the tax bill will likely engender. At the very least, they understand that their money grab for the wealthy will end up pissing off a lot of people who will lose their job or their healthcare insurance, immediately or eventually pay more in taxes, find college, healthcare and housing costs going up, drive on pothole-infested roads and drink dirty water.

The hope of Trump and the Republicans must be that those who will temporarily receive a fatter pay check starting January will be delighted and that the asset bubble won’t burst into another full-blown recession until after the 2018 election. The optimists among them may be predicting the crash won’t come until after the 2020 election, enabling the Electoral College again to give a majority of its votes to a dangerously unqualified, ignorant buffoon and giving the Republicans the right to gerrymander voting districts into victories for another 10 years. But the crash will come, and when it does, Democrats will sweep back into office and have to deal with all the messes the Republicans have created. They will have to reinstitute regulations, restock the talent of many departments, restart oversight programs, revise language on websites, return the voting rolls to full democracy, reverse short-sighted decisions based on nonsense that went against the best interests of our citizens, renew relationships with many other countries and rededicate the country to the ideals of an open, secular, democratic society. And yes, the Dems will have to raise taxes on the wealthy, but just as the tax increases after the Reagan and Bush II tax giveaways to rich folk, probably not to the current level. Thus the trend since the 1960’s of society expecting less of the wealthy and more of everyone else will continue.

By the time the Democrats get back in control (or reason returns to the Republican Party), a lot of damage will have been done to millions of people in the United States and in the countries where we have military operations, our economy, the environment and global stability. Our reputation in the world will be in tatters and its possible our allies and adversaries may have moved on without us in trade, peace, arms, development and environmental agreements.

Also by that time, however, the current stock of Republican congressional representatives and senators will have secured cozy and lucrative sinecures with lobbyists, law firms, businesses or rightwing think tanks. Of course, the possibility exists that large numbers of white people will continue to channel their rage and frustration at their personal hard times into racial tribalism and thus continue to vote for right-wing candidates who speak in code and pander to their worst instincts. As the Alabama special Senate election proved, the call of racism is still strong.

But Doug Jones’s upset of Roy Moore also proved the power of getting out the vote, which nowadays depends to a large extend on organized efforts to overcome the many barriers that Republican-controlled states have erected to voting since 2010. The Alabama turnout, while only 32%, was considered heavy for a special election, which is shameful but also points out how many potential voters are out there. Surveys almost always demonstrate that Americans are much more liberal on economic, foreign policy and social issues than our politicians are. We like to blame big money for the current gang of deplorables running Congress and the White House, but big money does not elect people. It only funds their campaigns. Voters elect, and for far too long, too few of them have made their voices known. The result is the abomination of a tax bill which will end up crippling the U.S. economy. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Editorial: High Ground is Slippery

Coming up on Year Two of the Trump Misadministration was not the time for Democrats to make Al Franken walk the plank.

Forcing Franken to step down from the Senate because of relatively minor incidents that occurred when he was still a comic and radio talk show host, before he was elected to the Senate, creates a new opportunity for Republicans to pick up a Democratic seat in 2018. Democrats already faced long odds in regaining the Senate majority. Franken had three years remaining in his term but his departure would set up a special election next year to fill the last two years of his term.

This is an expensive show of high dudgeon by the Democrats in an attempt to seize the moral high ground. Republicans welcome the disgrace of Franken, but they show no shame or embarrassment in their embrace of Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

We don’t dismiss that the women who have complained about Franken may have a grievance with him, but it’s hard to determine the alleged misdeeds rose to the level of sexual harassment or abuse. It’s certainly not the level of abuse alleged against Trump, who remains in the White House despite at least 16 credible claims of sexual harassment and abuse and his recorded bragging of his sexual predation, and Moore, who received support from the Republican National Committee as well as from the White House in his campaign for the Senate from Alabama despite credible complaints that he pursued relationships with teenage girls as young as 14 and, in some cases, assaulting them. (And Clarence Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in 1991 despite the sworn complaint that he sexually harassed Anita Hill.)

Arguably, the most serious complaint against Franken was aired Nov. 16 by Leeann Tweeden, a former model and conservative radio host in Los Angeles and a frequent guest on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, about an aggressive kiss during a USO skit overseas in 2006, and a photo of Moore posing as a lecher above an apparently sleeping Tweeden, during a flight on the tour. Although news reports called it groping, the photo does not show Franken touching Tweeden.

Franken apologized for the incidents, though he said of the claim that he tongued Tweeden during the rehearsal kiss, “I remember that rehearsal differently, but what’s important is the impact it had on you, and you felt violated by my actions. For that, I apologize.” Tweeden accepted his apology, but that wasn’t enough to stem the outrage of #MeToo militants who said Franken had to go.

It’s easy to believe Republicans set up the fall of Franken. He has emerged as an effective senator who, among other things, had caught Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his contacts with Russian officials before last year’s election, and Franken was being mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2020.

Actor and comedian Tom Arnold, who hosted Fox Sports Net’s Best Damn Sports Show Period when Tweeden was a cast member from 2002 to 2007, claimed Tweeden was coached by Roger Stone, who has specialized in dirty tricks for Republicans since his time in the service of Richard Nixon. Tweeden denied she coordinated the statement, saying neither she nor any of her managers or colleagues at KABC “coordinated with any group, campaign or individuals outside of the news industry” when she decided to go public with her story. Stone also denied the claim, but he appeared to have advance knowledge that the allegations were coming as he was quoted saying, “It’s Al Franken’s ‘time in the barrel’,” hours before Tweeden’s allegations, The Hill reported.

Franken, who has been a consistent advocate for women’s rights, could have survived the Tweeden incident, but more allegations started trickling in, claiming that Franken groped butts and waists in photo shoots at the State Fair of Minnesota and other events. Then an anonymous allegation, reported in Politico Dec. 6, that Franken tried to kiss a former Democratic congressional staffer in 2006 after her boss was interviewed on Franken’s Air America radio show broke the dam, causing more than 30 Democratic senators to call on Franken to step down. Franken denied the incident took place, but on Dec. 7, after Democratic leaders called for him to resign, he announced he would leave the Senate.

“Is this the principled solution?,” Dahlia Lithwick asked at Slate Dec. 6. “By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve …

“You can talk about gradations of harm — what Franken is accused of still pales next to child predation — but even that is a trap,” Lithwick continued. “The point is, as Jennifer Rubin notes [in the Washington Post], that ‘one party has adopted a zero-tolerance position (with Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, set to go before the ethics committee) and another party opens its arms to people it believes are miscreants.’ Rubin feels confident that becoming the party of alleged sexual abusers will harm the GOP in upcoming elections (did she live through last November?). My own larger concern is that becoming the party of high morality will allow Democrats to live with themselves but that the party is also self-neutering in the face of unprecedented threats, in part to do the right thing and in part to take ammunition away from the right — a maneuver that never seems to work out these days.”

In a Senate where Republicans have been ramming through unqualified and underqualified right-wing judicial nominees to lifetime appointments on 52-48 votes, as well as giving the green light to Trump’s agency heads who appear determined to undo government programs that have developed over the past 80 years to help workers, seniors, minorities and small businesses and family farmers, the best hope for progressive Americans is that Democrats can pick up three Senate seats in the next election to regain the majority and stop the damage being done. That is particularly important as Republicans already are preparing to use the deficits that their supply-side tax cuts will increase, as an excuse to cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social programs that help the working poor as well as the middle class.

Democrats already were planning to defend 23 seats next year, including many in states Trump carried, as well as two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats. Only three Republican states — Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee — are rated solid pickup opportunities (though Texas Democrats have high hopes for unseating Ted Cruz). But even if Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) names a good progressive Democrat to replace Franken until next November, it does not help for Democrats to add Minnesota to the states they must defend.

Public officials must be held accountable for their misdeeds, but the Democratic caucus forcing members to quit upon the publication of complaints amounts to unilateral disarmament if Republicans are allowed to stay in office at least until their cases are resolved by each chamber’s ethics committee.

Franken originally offered to cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of the complaints against him, but we think a more fruitful exercise might be to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to hear complaints of relatively minor transgressions.

We should draw a line against harassment of women, but in cases such as Franken’s, perhaps we should allow for a dotted line. If you think Franken should reverse his decision and remain in the Senate, call his Senate office in St. Paul at 651-221-1016 or his D.C. office at 202-224-5641 and tell him to stay put. — JMC

Editor's Note: When this was written, Al Franken had not said when his resignation would be effective. On Dec. 14, his office told the Associated Press he plans to leave office in early January, after Gov. Mark Dayton announced he would appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to replace him. Franken reportedly said, "Tina Smith will make an excellent senator ... I look forward to working with her on ensuring a speedy and seamless transition." 

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2018

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Selections from the January 1-15, 2018 issue

COVER/Jefferson Morley
Trump mulls his own private army

High ground is slippery


Trump’s tax ‘reform’ will devastate at-risk college students

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Missourians hope to CLEAN up politics

Children’s health insurance might end in January because Congress spent the money on tax cuts;
Treasury’s long-awaited analysis of GOP tax plan bad news for Republicans;
Tax bill bad for renewable energy, but good for robots;
To prevent climate change, Dems need to learn lessons in ruthlessness;
Worker shortage slows rebuilding in Texas and Florida after hurricanes;
Under Mulvaney, consumers don't need protection;
Michigan governor names indicted medical chief to lead public health council;
Study shows marijuana legalization reduces alcohol use;
Scholar on liars has never seen one like Trump ...

The truth shall set us free

Our social structure is rigged 

President Trump’s Bears Ears order is an illegal attack on tribal sovereignty

It’s time to change more than Trump

The tax scam: naming the culprits

The rest of us get the lickspittle

Everyone hates this tax bill

Sex and long division: stronger together?

Deposing the lyin’ king

A newly elected Democratic Socialist tells how to win in Trump country

Republicans unhappy with independent bank watchdog

Medicare imports must be reduced

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Where are the Burghers of Congress?

False certainty is dangerous

Ultimate distractions

Apocalypse by accident?

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Mining history written in blood

Net Neutrality RIP: Essential parts of America’s DNA are about to be destroyed

‘Dunkirk’ will evacuate major awards

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Time Magazine’s Person of the Year: The Weaponized Penis

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Bombshell: Will the real Hedy (NOT Hedley!) please stand up?

Al Franken should resign? That’s absurd. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

It's Not So Simple

By Art Cullen

Dueling stories about meatpacking and immigration published by The New Republic and Slate dragged Storm Lake and me in, so I would like to set the slightly altered record straight on both.

Each story came out last Wednesday (Dec. 6). Each is about a new chicken plant proposed for Fremont, Neb. That is the same story Katie Couric is doing for National Geographic Television this spring, contrasting the more open embrace of immigrants in Storm Lake — which has been at the immigration game a good long time — to the ordinance in Fremont that prevents renting to undocumented persons.

The two most important points:

• The New Republic story claims that anti-immigrant sentiment is driven by racism. The story suggests that East Coast bias despite good effort is not calling it out. It’s not that simple — racism and the well-funded noise machine that spews it are just a part of what forms the sentiment. I know Northwest Iowa pretty well, having lived here most of my life. There is a lot of racism but it does not explain our Republican race-baiting congressman, Steve King, in all his dynamic. People who are not racist vote for him and Donald Trump, who are both extremist boors if not outright racists. They create a perceived threat (Mexicans are overrunning us!) and offer a law-and-order solution (Build the wall, ship them out!). Iowa first validated Barack Obama for America and then voted for him twice. I think King and Trump are more cynical than being just sincere white supremacists. They understand that Northwest Iowa thinks it has been getting the shaft ever since they planted the state capitol in Iowa City and Minnesota was still part of our territory. Many of my ignorant friends conflate people of color with their having lost control of their own destiny; they don’t realize they never had control of it. It’s harder to hate the Chicago Board of Trade than it is a Mexican who doesn’t like American football or can’t speak English. They voted for Barack Obama to take on the Board of Trade and Wall Street. He didn’t.

• Second, the Slate story comes under attack from The New Republic story for not contemplating racism and the noise machine enough. I found the Slate story to be balanced and comprehensive old-fashioned reporting. The Slate story suggests that immigration will play out the same way it always has — the young immigrants will get an education and leave the small meatpacking town like the white kids before them. The Storm Lake experience tends to be different. We find that subsequent generations are sticking to Storm Lake because of tight family bonds we knew from our own families a couple generations ago. Storm Lake is growing organically while neighboring county seats are not. That is an inescapable fact. This lingering among generations is enhanced by aggressive efforts by Iowa Central Community College and Buena Vista University to provide life skills that can be employed in Storm Lake. It is happening.

Finally, The New Republic story says that we won the Pulitzer Prize for editorials on hog confinements polluting drinking water. As our readers know, the editorials were about local government transparency over their funding to defend themselves from a Des Moines Water Works lawsuit on nitrate pollution of the Raccoon River. The editorials also urged accountability for drainage districts that speed the delivery of nitrate to surface waters through underground tile; this flow is not regulated under federal or state law. It was not about hog confinements. In fact, this area of Iowa is especially well suited to dense livestock populations —it needs them for soil tilth — because of its flat lay and dense soil types. Livestock —cattle and hogs — can and do convey a benefit to what we call “sustainable” agriculture and clean water. It all depends on how the livestock and their manure are deployed and applied.

Now, about Storm Lake:

This is a county seat of about 15,000 people (we don’t know for sure because so many are undocumented) with a 3,000-acre lake and Buena Vista University, a small Presbyterian liberal arts college. It is dead center in Northwest Iowa, which has always made it a good salesman’s town and meatpacking center. People have always come and gone in Storm Lake since meatpacking was introduced here more than 80 years ago. We are about 150 miles from Fremont but not that far psychically.

The Farm Crisis of the 1980s began a wave of depopulation from which Iowa and Nebraska have not recovered. About the same time, Iowa Beef Packers (IBP), which revolutionized the cattle industry, set its sights on pork. When the unionized Hygrade pork plant closed in Storm Lake about 1980, IBP moved in after a year with no union and several hundred Laotian refugees willing to work for half of what the union boys did. Most of us didn’t blame the Southeast Asians — they fought our dirty war and we all knew that the unions were busted. We knew who the new boss was in town. They beat the Mob at their own game in New York City. Who were we to trifle with them?

When IBP could find no more plow boys or Asians they sought help south of the border. That was 25 years ago. Storm Lake was more uncomfortable with Mexicans than Asians because we didn’t have the same guilt. We didn’t realize what the North American Free Trade Agreement was doing to those corn farmers in Jalisco who got uprooted and moved to Storm Lake after we shipped them all our cheap, subsidized leftover corn and pork.

We all got over it. All but the Trump 30%, let’s stipulate. Storm Lake gets along wonderfully. The New Republic suggests that a Hmong woman could not seriously be better off in, say, Storm Lake instead of Queens. I visited New York recently — I can guarantee you that Hmong woman who wants to grow long beans and egg plant is immeasurably better off with two acres in Storm Lake than 200 square feet in the Big Apple. Our schools will support the Hmong woman’s children. The Baptist Church is sponsoring them and making sure their needs are met. This does not happen in Queens or even Des Moines. It still happens in Storm Lake, where not everything is racist. Storm Lake voted for Obama, for Clinton, for inclusion, and against Steve King and exclusion every time. We just elected a Latino to the city council and a Latina to the school board. We will elect more as they step forward, and they will.

We know what we can do here. We will not be building Teslas or running Amazon. We will grow corn and raise hogs — we hope here — for slaughter. There are huge environmental challenges to it all, not the least of which is all the corn we grow with all those chemicals so that we can feed all those turkeys and chickens and hogs. We have to get that under control. We have to diversify and heal the landscape. We can and will manage those things. We will be forced to — Nature is demanding it right now, and we are starting to answer with more sustainable approaches like winter cover crops.

Livestock create jobs. They are jobs on the first rung of the ladder to success. Rural Mexicans are building goat farms and horse farms. Hmong women are peddling at the Farmers’ Market and appear to laugh a lot doing it. Arturo Deanda is moving cars. Tyson pays $15 per hour to start, which is no crime. Would that most magazines pay unheralded writers that much. Que sera. Storm Lake is just trying to get by in a system over which it has no control, and to help poor people out of poverty and instability as we can. When you hear the horror stories from El Salvador you want to give them everything you have. That’s the simple part of the story. And that’s the biggest part of the story in Storm Lake, from one who was born here but can see its warts. Too bad if it is different in Fremont.

Art Cullen is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of The Storm Lake Times in Storm Lake, Iowa, and managing editor of The Progressive Populist. His book, “Dateline Storm Lake: Immigration, Agriculture and Climate Change” is scheduled to be released in October by Viking. Email:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Those doing a victory dance at the election of Doug Jones to U.S. Senate from Alabama should remember that 650,000 voted for a child molester

By Marc Jampole

While anyone who believes in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPS, food stamps, public schools, cheap public universities, abortion rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should rejoice in the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over the truly deplorable Roy Moore for the U.S. Senator from Alabama, we should only do so with caution.
Trump and the Republicans are still in charge. The GOP is still upsetting decades of Congressional protocols pushing through a tax bill that represents the largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy in U.S. history, a tax bill opposed by more than 70% of all Americans. The current administration is still overturning regulations that address climate change and protect Americans on the job site and in the marketplace. The appointment of a young generation of ultra-right, pro-corporate judges continues.
Moreover, democracy in America is still threatened, not just by the Republicans in Congress and the White House, but by the voters themselves. Only 32% of registered voters participated in the Alabama special election, a total that all the news media is labelling as high or heavy. A majority of voters stayed home and that’s a good turnout? No wonder Congress so often thwarts the will of the people and acts against the best interests of most Americans to favor a wealthy few. The people often don’t speak loudly enough.
More dangerous to American democracy than the lack of voter participation is the fact that more than 650,000 voted for a child molester. Even if every one of the Alabama voters who stayed home had voted against Moore on the principle that a child molester should not represent a state in the U.S. Senate, that doesn’t mitigate the fact that more than 15% of the total electorate either didn’t care or took the word of a man over a large number of very credible women and supporting witnesses. Either these voters are morally bankrupt or irredeemably misogynist. The low turnout magnifies the power of this 15%, just as it did in the 2016 Republican primary races in which Donald Trump never exceeded 25% of the total of eligible Republican voters. When voters stay home, a motivated minority can turn the country in an ugly direction—in this case, almost electing a child molester.
Which brings us to Senator Al Franken, a good guy and leading liberal light. On the scale of sexual offenses that men can perpetrate against women, Franken’s is much less offensive than Roy Moore’s. But still not acceptable. And they occurred multiple times. He made at least eight women feel uncomfortable with his frat boy antics. Why didn’t he learn from his mistakes?
I’m fairly certain that someone said something to him about the inappropriateness of his behavior at least once over the years. Back in 1973 when I was teaching my first university-level French course at the University of Washington—Introduction to French Literature—I was prone to making salacious puns and sexual innuendos in my lectures. I was just a 22-year-old doofus trying to be funny and clever—I was and am an incorrigible punster with a vivid imagination and a love of jokes about sex. After about three weeks, one of my female students took me out for a coffee and told me the jokes made the women feel uncomfortable. I was as embarrassed as I have ever been, completely humiliated. I stopped the sexual joking immediately. I never had another complaint. I am still grateful that my student sent me in the right direction so early in my career and adulthood.
That was 45 frigging years ago!!! Don’t you think that along the way some outspoken woman would have done the same favor for Franken, who as a liberal must have hung out with a number of sensitive, sensible and assertive women? Keep in mind, too, that some of Franken’s antics took place in public “on the job,” typically working for large organizations. Every large organization has had a sexual harassment policy in effect and given training to supervisors on identifying and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace since about the mid-1990s. Many seem routinely to ignore the policy especially as it applies to powerful men, but that doesn’t let the liberal feminist Franken off the hook.
It therefore shocks me to see so many comments on Facebook asking Franken to remain a Senator, petitions pleading he reconsider and nasty notes to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, leader of those demanding Franken resign. These well-meaning liberals and progressives risk giving up their ideals for political expediency—exactly what we accuse the other side of doing. If being accused of molesting a 14-year-old, assaulting a 16-year-old and pestering a bunch of young girls when he was in his thirties disqualifies Roy Moore from elected office, how can we exempt Al Franken for his overly aggressive and sexual touching and feeling? The case of Trump is even more apt. If we disqualify Trump for his 18 instances of harassment, we must qualify Franken for his eight. When it comes to the discomfort it could cause a woman or the assertion of a prerogative of power over a woman, I can’t see much difference between touching a woman’s breast and slipping fingers underneath her panties. Both equally heinous.
Franken has to go. Otherwise there is no moral ground on which to accuse Trump, Moore and other Republicans. Otherwise, we send a message that in certain cases it is alright to harass women, and even perpetrate a mild, good-natured, we’re all-just-having-a-good-time sexual assault.

Monday, December 11, 2017

What is the relationship between domestic & foreign policy in the current administration? Is it an incoherent stew or is there a grand strategy?

By Marc Jampole
That the incendiary announcement that the United States was moving its embassy to Jerusalem comes in the wake of the Senate’s passage of the Trump GOP tax giveaway to the wealthy begs the question: Does any relationship exist between domestic and foreign policy in the Trump years? Can we connect the current administration’s domestic policy to shift wealth to the wealthiest and permanently entrench the wealthiest as a ruling elite to our bellicose, go-it-alone, anti-Muslim foreign policy? Is there a grand design? Or is it just an incoherent stew of bad ideas?
To a great degree, domestic and foreign policy always work hand and glove in the United States. For the most part, both have always served the interests of the ultra-wealthy and a coterie of large companies in industries long used to mixing in politics such as energy, metals extraction, telecommunications and defense.
The current foreign policy abandons attempts to solve world problems collectively and replaces it with an angry isolationism that tries to bully or bluster to get its way. It appears to represent a radical turn from the approach of at least the last three administrations, but if you scratch the surface…la plus sa change, as the French say. We seem always to have a ton of troops and advisors in a number of foreign countries. We still employ a large number of private companies to perform military functions. We still seem to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia and therefore demonize Iran. Diplomacy may be gone. We may be courting authoritarians and snubbing allies. But we’re still flexing our military muscle, still fighting several senseless wars. We still employ a large number of private companies to perform military functions. We still seem to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia and therefore demonize Iran. Diplomacy may be gone. We may be courting authoritarians and snubbing allies. But we’re still flexing our military muscle, still fighting several senseless wars.
But what does our foreign policy—both what continues and what is new—have to do with domestic issues?
As it turns out, our continued military misadventures that transcend regimes have four profound connections to domestic affairs, all of which have both political and policy implications.
First and most obvious, the defense industry plays a large role in our politics. No candidate from either party has strayed very far from espousing the central tenets of our foreign policy since the end of World War II, which of course call for tremendous annual expenditures for the military. Our sainted President Obama, for example, was a leading proponent of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons and raised no objections to robot weapons that decide on their kill without human intervention. The acquiescence to or support of the defense industries by all leading politicians results in a greater likelihood that we will use the weapons.
For the most part, politicians from both parties also buy into the long-time U.S. policy of being the arms master to the world, selling more military weaponry to other countries than the rest of the nations of the world combined. Often these sales, by private military corporations, take place only because of U.S. loans to the purchasing government.Thus our federal budget is stretched and our politics distorted by the influence of military contractors.
Besides draining our treasury of funds that could be used to help people, both in the United States and throughout the world, our large military expenditures and our long-time policy of being the arms master of the world contribute to the overall “culture of guns” that exists in America. We are armed to the teeth and have armed the world to the teeth. The political and policy dynamics of selling guns abroad and guns in the United States reinforce each other: America, armed to the teeth, land of freedom and defender of freedom.
In other regions of the world, our arms mongering causes disruptions. In the United States, it leads to a slaughter unseen in any other nation of the world. Then again, no other nation in the world has so many guns in active circulation. Every study shows that the more guns a society has, the more people will die and be injured by guns. Our elected officials seem to accept the casualties in the United States in the name of a single freedom proclaimed as inviolable through a gross misinterpretation of an amendment to the constitution ratified more than 200 years ago, long before the invention of automatic weapons and bump stocks.
Our foreign policy also helps to justify our domestic police state apparatus, and has done so since the end of World War II when we decided we were better off with the Soviet Union as an enemy than as a friend. When we don’t have an enemy, we manufacture one, or expand a minor threat such as ISIS into a major one. Government uses international affairs as the rationale and justification for all manner of intrusion into our lives, such as eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens, executing secret searches, tracking library card use, seizures of private property, classifying millions of documents as top secret and cracking down on undocumented immigrants.
Finally, foreign affairs serves as a distraction from domestic issues. Traditionally, people come together in a war. They’re ready to make sacrifices for the good of the country.They forget or are willing to postpone consideration of pressing domestic issues such as healthcare, minimum wage and growing inequality. The common enemy—be it real or imagined—takes our mind off domestic concerns. Think North Korea and the fear of nuclear attack.
Defense industry influence, the gun culture, the excuse for creating a security state, a distraction from domestic problems. These four links between domestic affairs and foreign policy transcend administrations and have existed since at least the Truman Administration. Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, getting into a name-calling contest with an erratic lunatic with a finger on the bomb, escalating the war in Afghanistan again and trying to wiggle out of the Iran nuclear deal may make us quake from fear that our foreign policy has gone rogue, but the main outlines of the post-war bipartisan consensus to be both the world’s bully and its arms dealer persist, as does the pernicious interaction between foreign policy and domestic affairs that is the necessary outcome of that overarching strategy.

Friday, December 8, 2017

My mistake: Trump didn’t have private meeting w/David Koch & friends the day after Senate passed tax reform. It was another Park Avenue billionaire, Stephen A. Schwarzman

By Marc Jampole

It turns out that my guess as to who hosted the private meeting Donald Trump had at 740 Park Avenue the day after the Senate passed the Trump GOP massive tax cut for the wealthy was wrong.
I said it was probably David Koch, and that Trumpty-Dumpty no doubt has his hand out for a little sugar from the windfall Trump’s Republican Party was giving the Koch family and their pals.
But the New York Times is reporting—six days after the meeting—that the host was Stephen A, Schwarzman, the billionaire founder of private equity behemoth Blackstone Group, another trust fund baby who has turned his head start into an estimated $11.2 billion in net worth. The Times report claims that the group included old New York friends and real estate colleagues, a tip-off that at least part of the article is spun from air or that almost no one attended, as Trump doesn’t have many if any New York friends or real estate colleagues after his buffoonish public behavior before and during “The Apprentice,” thousands of lawsuits involving legitimate New York businesses he stiffed and his six bankruptcies that cost plenty of New York real estate interests lots of money. New York’s wealthy and powerful elite have considered The Donald a joke since before one of his ex-wives first called him The Donald.
Supposedly many in the group who met with Trump at Schwarzman’s luxury apartment, urged Trump to pressure the Republicans in Congress to roll back plans to end the tax deduction for state and local taxes. Ending the deduction is expected to cost high-tax, high-benefit states like New York, California and New Jersey billions of dollars—part of the way Republicans are planning to pay for the enormous tax break they are giving to everybody assembled in Schwarzman’s apartment except for the servers and security.
My bad guess as to whom Trump visited matters not to the points I was trying to make when I—alone among news reporters and pundits—reported the meeting earlier this week. Whatever else was discussed, we can be sure that Trump had his hand out. We can also rest certain that whoever else was in the plush environs of the Schwarzman residence with Stephen A. and the Donald, they were multi-millionaires or billionaires aligned with conservative causes. The self-seeking and self-satisfied moneyed elite whose opinion matters more to Republicans and many Democrats than the will of the people.
And we can rest assured that self-interest was in the minds and on the lips of everyone present. Remember that it was Schwarzman who in 2010 compared President Obama’s proposal to increase taxation on “carried interest” profits to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. I guess he needs all that money to indulge his well-documented hobby of collecting expensive antiques and fine art furniture.
The question remains as to who was riled enough about my OpEdge article and had the juice to force a “correction” at the head of a front-page Times article. The article was about the fact that Trump is going against many other New York moneybags in wanting to end the state deduction. The fairly lengthy piece never returns to the meeting, or even to Schwarzman. The mention of the meeting was a factoid throwaway that was entirely unnecessary for the article and a fairly weak beginning to it.
So who wanted the record corrected? Was it Koch, who doesn’t seem to want to have any public association with the erratic and ignorant leader of the current administration? Or was it Schwarzman, who in the past has embraced his connection to Trump and his role as a Trump advisor? I doubt it was Trump himself, who would have no reason to correct a small inaccuracy in a blog reaching 40,000 people, and every reason in the world to pretend to the American people that he doesn’t spend a lot of time trawling for dollars amongst the ultra-wealthy. Although I have strong circumstantial evidence that the Times has ripped off my OpEdge and Jampole Communications ideas before, I doubt it was the Times that started the ball rolling after seeing my article, because the Times always knew Trump was headed to the Big Apple to beg for cash. It published two photos that referenced Trump’s day-after-the-tax-heist trip in the Sunday paper without explaining the reason for the visit. Of course maybe after seeing the OpEdge article, the Times editors realized they had an interesting little factoid they could use to flesh out a broader story.
We’ll never know, just as we’ll never know what was really said at the meeting. I doubt, however, the conversation veered anywhere close to discussing government actions that would help the vast majority of Americans not worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Behind Trump GOP grand plan to reduce deficit by cutting spending on social welfare, healthcare & Social Security is idea that the poor are inferior & undeserving

By Marc Jampole
As many others have pointed out, the Republican Party hasn’t wasted any time letting the other shoe drop. They’re dancing their standard two-step of first creating a deficit by cutting taxes on the wealthy and then wailing that the deficit is hurting the economy; of course, the only way to fix it by cutting government spending on social welfare programs.
Reagan pulled this swindle in the 1980’s. Bush did it in the first decade of the 21st century.
And now the Republicans are about to take the first step of the same old swindle by giving the ultra-wealthy the largest tax cut in American history. Most everyone knows that the Trump GOP plan is to pay for this new federal largesse to our least needy in three ways: 1) Cutting spending; 2) Raising taxes on the middle class; 3) Creating a deficit.
Typically, the GOP waits a few years before calling for slashing federal spending, but this crass and brazen new Trump-led GOP has already begun to call for deep cuts to close the large and soon to get larger deficit. Both Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have explicitly said that the next step is to radically shrink Medicare and Social Security.
Yes, Social Security. Remember, Reagan tried to go after the government run insurance program into which employees pay 6.25% of their earnings (up to a very low $118,500 annually) for the promise of a steady check once they retire. Social Security provides the bulk of retirement income for most Americans. The best Reagan could do was raise the tax, trim benefits and enable the federal government to borrow money from the Social Security Trust Fund. Since then, Republicans routinely treat Social Security as if it were part of the budget, and not a separate Trust Fund.
Bush II went after Social Security literally the day after his second inauguration and it backfired. Obama’s Simpson-Bowles Commission wanted to lower Social Security benefits as a way to pay for the great tax cut to the wealthy it was proposing. That went nowhere fast.
Now the Republicans are ready for another assault on Social Security as part of a broader plan to get the federal government out of the business of helping anyone except those who don’t need the help. There’s little chance they’ll succeed in doing much more than raising the retirement age or trimming the benefit. Too many people depend upon on Social Security, so like any head-on assault against the Affordable Care Act, an attempt to end or radically change Social Security will fail. Little nibbles at its edges, however, have succeeded before, so even as the GOP fire-bombers ask for a radical change such as privatization, the so-called moderates will be pushing to nip and tuck the program—lowering annual increases, raising the retirement age, increasing the tax, anything but raising the cap on income assessed the Social Security tax, which would of course hurt rich folk.
One reason that Social Security is so hard for the GOP to attack is that everyone uses it, and so it is impossible for the GOP to pretend that only the undeserving receive Social Security benefits, like they do with welfare, food stamps and Medicaid.
For those unhip to the language of racial coding, when the Republicans label a group like food stamp recipients as underserving, they mean “of color,” and more recently also “immigrant.” They revel in assuming that most recipients of aid from the government are minorities, and then playing on the racism that many whites still harbor—the secret feeling that whites are superior and, the not-so-secret fear that minorities are taking away the good jobs, the promotions and the college acceptances, deserving none of it. In fact, whites born and raised in the good ole U-S-of-A make up the overwhelming majority of the recipients of virtually all social welfare programs. But if the GOP can convince their base that only minorities—the undeserving—receive the benefit, they have a good chance of keeping their support.
We can already see the GOP begin to demonize the poor. Many news and opinion articles are repeating some of the odious things Republicans have been saying to justify cutting social welfare programs. Comments by Senators Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch that blamed the poor for their predicament have rightfully received widespread condemnation. Grassley said that poor folk would be rich if they spent less on booze, women and movies. Hatch chided poor children without healthcare for “not lifting a finger” to help themselves.
Behind the racism of these comments is a secondary code that the news media does not pick up on, and in fact often enables. To a much smaller, but much richer base than the uneducated white wage-working class, goes this secondary message: It’s not just minorities and immigrants who are inferior, undeserving and responsible for their own dire condition—it is anyone who isn’t rich. The rich got that way through their hard work, deserve what they have and don’t deserve to have it taken away from them—no matter what.
The idea of the deserving rich and the underserving poor predates Ronald Reagan’s politics of selfishness. It is a mutation of what sociologists call the “Protestant ethic.” The Protestant ethic starts with the idea that it’s not prayer or ritual or even faith that gets you into heaven, but good works in the real world. But one form of Protestantism, Calvinism, added the concept of “predestination” that those deserving god’s grace and a glorious afterlife were predetermined. As early as the Dutch Golden Age—decades before social thinkers were using Darwin’s theories to justify letting the wealthy prey on everyone else in a deregulated, laissez-faire market economy—the Protestant ethic underwent a secular inversion, at least in business circles and among the clericals feeding at their trough. The idea arose that becoming a success, and specifically a financial success, was a sign of goodness and god’s grace. Conversely, the poor manifested their inferiority by virtue of being poor. In a sense, everyone becomes self-made, untethered from their social background and wealth and the vagaries of chance. We know you’re inherently good because you’re rich. We assume that the poor remain so because they are inherently bad. The virtue of the “self-made multimillionaire,” as the right-looking-center publication The Economist once described Mitt Romney.
Of course the real world is far different, full of virtuous teachers, professors, nurses, home health aides and other educators and care-givers who make less money than they would as corporate attorneys or investment bankers. It’s also full of virtuous bus drivers, security guards, construction workers, janitors, telemarketers, cashiers, burger flippers and other low-paid jobs who work just as hard as corporate CEOs, hedge fund managers, advertising executives and professional athletes, but make much less money.
The wealthy have been playing one form or another of the “we deserve it” card since the emergence of modern democracy. Racism makes it easier to play because a racial inferior is by definition undeserving. But the ultra-wealthy merely use racism to divide and conquer. Believe me, they—and by “they” I mean the Trumps, Kochs, DeVoses, Mnuchins, Mercers, Anschutzes, Scaifes and their ilk—have just as much disdain for all poor people as the poor uneducated cracker cruising white power websites has for minorities.