Sunday, October 17, 2021

Nothing runs their workers over like a Deere

By Labor Correspondent Joseph Hill with
Harold Hill in Ottumwa, Iowa

They manufacture expensive agricultural equipment for one of the world’s largest and wealthiest corporations. The current boom market in the commodities harvested by the company’s products has led to robust sales of the company’s products and healthy profits of $5,440,000,000 for the first nine months of this year. The company’s CEO compensation doubled year-over-year.

How much would you pay the workers who are keeping this gravy train on the tracks? The answer, at least the one provided by the John Deere company, is a little over $40,000 a year, which includes plenty of exhausting over time.

And when John Deere’s workers asked the company to share some of its lush profits with them, the company offered a 2% increase a year for six years. That’s an $800 annual raise. At historical inflation rates, that equals no raise at all. At the current inflation rate of 5.4%, that’s a real wage cut of over 3% a year.

Although it sounds incredible, the unionized workers of John Deere hit the bricks.

The strike is presented in the media as part of a growing yet inexplicable labor “unrest,” which has also seen restaurant workers leave their grueling $2.13 a hour positions and notoriously s****y employers like Jeff “Space Penis” Bezos scrambling to replace their quitting warehouse workers with fresh cannon fodder.

But when the details are filled in, the wonder is that American workers put up with this crap for years, not that they are suddenly discontented with their ‘umble lot. Workers have been getting screwed for decades even as the compensation of their bosses, and the financial finaglers who manipulate and rubbish their companies, has skyrocketed.

The John Deere workers pulling down $40,000 a year, hardly a lavish living even around their Illinois and Iowa factories, were a generation ago well-paid union workers able to afford a comfortable middle class life and send their children off to war, like Ottumwa’s Radar O’Reilly.


 
But never fear — the benevolent bosses have graced their workers with a lavish bonus plan known as GIPP [Surely, CIPP? – Ed.] 


In other words, it's a scam right out of The Jungle.  If your boss keeps raising the number of hogs you have to slaughter to get a bonus, then there's no reason to think you'll get a bonus at all.  You'll just be sweated more.

Maybe things are tough at John Deere. Is it able to pay decent wages? Let’s ask Wall Street:

Deere has exposure to end markets that have attractive tailwinds. In agriculture, we think demand for corn and soybeans will be strong in the near term, largely due to robust demand from China and tight global supplies. On the construction side, we believe the company will benefit from legislation aimed at increasing infrastructure spending in the U.S. The country’s roads are in poor condition, which has led to pent-up road construction demand.

Note that none of this sunny outlook is due to Deere management, although revenue growth is a key determinant of long-term compensation for the CEO and his lucky lackeys. The revenue growth was due to high commodity prices, which gave farmers bucks to drop on fancy new farm equipment, and the possibility of a Democratic-led revival in infrastructure spending.

Also the stuff Deere builds enjoys a good reputation:

Deere’s intense brand loyalty among farmers and strong competitive positioning leads to pricing power. For decades, the company has consistently produced best-in-class agricultural equipment, leading to the largest installed base in the industry.

We’ll be generous here and say that if a company’s products have a reputation for quality, that’s likely due to good management and good workers, so it would be only fair to split the resulting profits, right?

Here’s how that’s worked out. As John Deere workers were expected to scrape by on $40K (plus, to be fair, 100% company-provided health insurance, a benefit enjoyed by everyone in every other industrialized country), its CEO got $15,588,000, more than double the measly $6,000,000 he was paid in 2019.  The cynical might ask if any Deere workers saw their pay double in just one year. 

And by the way if you were interested in investing only in highly ethical businesses, here’s Morningstar’s verdict:

We do not think Deere’s wide economic moat faces any substantial threats from environmental, social, and governance, or ESG, risks.


Screwing your workers is apparently not an ESG risk, so DE remains on the list of investment options for ethical investors, or at least those who are less offended by profits gained from the sweat of workers than from natural gas.

Deere responded to the strike by sending its nonunion workers into the assembly lines, which should do wonders for Deere’s reputation for quality, not to mention ambulance calls to evacuate scabs who have injured themselves operating the massive and dangerous equipment used to fashion 20-ton combines, while their flacks assure the public that the suits are “working day and night to understand our employees' priorities.” We can help.  Their priority is more f***in' money.

In short, after seventy years of Republican anti-worker policies, John Deere workers, like pretty much all other private-sector wage slaves, are barely hanging on as their bosses have reaped all of the benefits of a generation of economic growth. There's an ocean of data on this but here's one chart comparing trends in the wealth of middle class workers and rich people:

 


Of course, the Republican war on American workers wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the crucial support it got from — those same American workers.

We can turn the clock back to 1948, when Republicans, over Harry Truman’s veto, passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which among other things allowed states to screw unions by giving workers the right to benefit from union-negotiated wages and benefits without paying union dues. This free riding is known as “right to work,” by which Republicans mean the right to get union benefits without paying union dues. Next thing you know, Republicans will be advocating “right to infect” laws based on the alleged freedom to transmit lethal diseases to coworkers in a time of pandemic.

Old Chuck Grassley has been screwing
Iowa workers for years

As suggested earlier, many Deere plants are located in Eastern Iowa and many Deere employees work there. The late [Surely, senior but alive and well? — Ed.] Chuck Grassley represents those workers. Last year he warned that voting for Democrats would lead to, wait for it, repeal of Taft-Hartley.

And more generally, Iowa was carried by the Former Loser Grifter by nine points.  The FLG's commitment to paying his workers fairly is well-known, at least if you’re a sex worker who’s got the goods on him.

How’d the Tangerine-Faced Traitor do in Deere Country? In Wapello County, home to Ottumwa, the FLG's margin was 24 points (61-37).  Real President Biden won Polk County (Ankenny) 57-41 and Black Hawk County (Waterloo) by 54-45.  But in Scott County (Davenport), Biden won by only four points (51-47).  Not good enough.

Now it’s possible that Deere workers all voted Democratic as a recognition of which party supported them and all other workers. We doubt it, as the defection of white factory workers form the Democratic Party has been the factoid that has launched a thousand idiotic reports from rural diners.   And 11% of the Iowa electorate who voted for Obama twice didn't come through for Biden.

We’re happy to support Deere workers (and Kellogg workers and restaurant workers) but at the same time wouldn’t it be great for them, for us, and for the country, if when they went to the polls they supported themselves?

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Law and Order: We're-the-Real-Victims Unit

By Scott V. Sandford
Justice Correspondent with Bart Vanzetti in Boston

A thousand years ago in America [Actually, 2020 – Ed.], an unarmed manacled Black man was murdered in cold blood by a white Minneapolis policemen.  The outrage sparked a national movement to call the police to account for its centuries of unrestrained violence principally directed at people of color.  

After a year of struggle and effort, what do we have to show for it?  If you guessed a commitment to restructure the police, you lost!  Here's the summary, courtesy of The Washington Post:

How'd that happen?

At least 35 state qualified-immunity bills have died in the past 18 months, according to an analysis by The Washington Post....The efforts failed amid multifaceted lobbying campaigns by police officers and their unions targeting legislators, many of whom feared public backlash if the dire predictions by police came true. Officers said they would go bankrupt and lose their homes. They said their colleagues would leave the profession in droves.

Qualified immunity is the doctrine that keeps cops from being sued when they violate the law, as long as they can claim that their exact form of misconduct had not already been found illegal.  It's just as ridiculous as that:

Qualified immunity in action

There’s the 2019 federal court ruling granting immunity to a Georgia deputy who shot a 10-year-old boy lying face down on the ground while aiming at a nonthreatening family dog. Or the ruling that same year protecting California police who had been accused of stealing $101,380 in cash and $125,000 in rare coins in 2013 as they searched a local business and the owners’ homes. While the police may have been “morally wrong,” they were still protected from lawsuits by qualified immunity, the court found. 

We're actually dubious about repeal of qualified immunity as a cure-all for police misbehavior. The actual damages are paid not by Officer Bang-Bang but by the government he works for. Already millions of dollars a year are spent to settle police misconduct claims, but that just leaves less money available for stuff like schools and health care. And the payouts don't seem to be deterring police violence.

A more promising path, in our view, is repeal of the web of legal provisions that paralyze efforts to discipline or fire officers who aim at the dog but hit the boy.  Those efforts have gone nowhere, thanks to insanely powerful police unions, craven pols, and public apathy.  It's amazing to us that the same legal system and power structure that crushes private sector workers seeking to unionize so they can someday get a bathroom break from Jeff “Spaceman” Bezos is exquisitely protective of police unions.

Fortunately, the police unions repay their privileged position by resolutely putting their members first:

The incendiary and confrontational president of one of New York City’s main police unions resigned on Tuesday evening, hours after federal investigators raided the union’s Manhattan headquarters and his Long Island home. In a statement, the board of the union, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, said that its president, Edward D. Mullins, was “apparently the target of the federal investigation.”  

Your border patrol at work

Light-Fingered Eddie, when not apparently stealing, was known for his outspoken racism and hatemongering, including illegally Tweeting out pictures of Mayor de Blasio's multiracial daughter after her arrest during the wave of protests following the police murder of George Floyd (remember him?).

But of course the police's contempt for the rights of persons of color and their own belief that they can break the law with impunity are but two sides of the same racist coin.

The results of this undeserved white impunity are as plain as the 700,000 Americans who died of COVID-19.  Speaking of unnecessary pandemic deaths, police are defying laws requiring them to be vaccinated before inflicting themselves on the disease-ravaged populace.  In other words they are failing to do their duty to protect the public while violating the law they swore to upheld.

The nation's largest police force, fresh from their success flogging Haitian refugees at the Battle of Del Rio, are now complaining that (1) the aliens they are hunting are infecting them with COVID (demonstrably untrue), but (2) they shouldn't be forced to take the safe, effective vaccine to protect themselves from these supposed on the job risks.

Even the conventional wisdom-lovin' Washington Post is having trouble with that one:

In recent weeks, leaders at the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) have joined Republican lawmakers who allege the Biden administration is allowing migrants to spread the coronavirus in the United States and placing the CBP workforce at greater risk, while also opposing his vaccination order.

Pick a lane, buddies.

To the Long Beach School PD,
it's a target-rich environment

The Sheriff of Los Angeles County has already said he won't insist that his thousands of deputies do what they have no trouble making the public do — obey the law. If his deputies threaten public safety by violating the vaccine mandate law, well, that's OK with this zealous public guardian.  We wonder what Justice Jeannie “I didn't know the tax returns I signed were fraudulent” Pirro would say to that.

But police impunity does more than threaten the public's health and well being.  It also kills.  In Long Beach, California, a high school “safety” officer, which is a gun-toting cop who pads around schools until a mass shooting starts, shot and killed an 18-year-old unarmed mother driving away from school for the capital offense of not stopping when he told her to.

While authorities are “investigating,” the shooter remains on the loose, as so often happens when an unbadged perpetrator is caught in the act of killing an unarmed woman who was no threat to him or anyone else.

And although this outrage happened in 2016, it so perfectly illuminates what happens when an unconstrained white racist law enforcement system meets powerless Black children that we had to quote it (via ProPublica.org):

If anything, the headline undersells the horror:  Four black kids were arrested and sent to jail in exurban Murfreesboro, Tennessee for the non-existent crime of watching a schoolyard fight at which no one was hurt.  They were rousted, arrested, and sent to a juvenile jail operated by an ignorant white racist, where they were held for days until the unqualified rednecks who immured them were overruled by a combination of public outcry and real lawyers.

The punchline: the tortured kids got a modest settlement, and the ignorant white bigots remain in full control of the juvenile justice system.  The insufferable white Church Lady who intones about the value of discipline while running an illegal scheme to brutalize children “still runs juvenile court, making $176,000 a year.” 

By the way, Murfreesboro is not some hamlet up in Butcher Holler.  It's a city of over 150,000 within commuting distance of Nashville in a state which was carried by the Former Loser Grifter with 61% of the vote.  They know better but just can't quit locking up Black children. 

In fact, their kiddie jail is so enormous they rent out cells to similarly-minded bigots in the South.  The jailers have produced a marketing video touting their lockup featuring “saxophone music and b-roll of children in black-and-white striped uniforms.”

But before you conclude that the police are utterly out of control, check out this story from that capital of racial harmony, Boston, Mass.  A BPD sergeant is paying a heavy price for boasting about driving his unit into a peaceful crowd of George Floyd demonstrators.  According to WBUR,

A Boston Police Department sergeant faces a 10-day suspension after he was caught on video boasting about driving into protestors during last year's demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis....Clifton McHale will serve eight days of the suspension starting Monday, the department announced Friday. McHale need not serve the other two days if he stays out of trouble for six months.

Eight whole days?  Who's the victim here?

Acting Mayor Kim Janey and candidate Michelle Wu both expressed the view that this loudmouth should no longer be roaming the streets of Boston with a gun and a badge.  Fortunately for him, he's protected by the legal and contractual web of police union red tape that keep interlopers like the current and likely future Mayor from interfering in police-generated whitewashes.  

Which is why, “The Boston Police Superior Officers Federation did not respond to requests for comment.”

Why should they? Under the rules they wrote, the members of the Real Victims Unit don't owe the people who pay them to keep us safe a g*****n thing.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Yale's Grand Strategy: He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules

 By J. Humperdinck Stover
New Haven Correspondent

The news from South of Here has grown alarming; specifically, there's a dustup in New Haven at that beacon of Southern Connecticut erudition, Quinnipiac [Surely, Yale? – Ed.] University.

No, we're not talking about the news that notorious Yale Law Professors Jed “Hello, Ladies” Rubinfeld and his beloved spouse Amy “If You Got It,  Flaunt It” Chua have put their Tudor pile in New Haven on the market, with the intent of moving to New York, the better to avoid their students.

There's even bigger news:  a Yale History Professor has had the effrontery to stand up to the plutocrats who contributed over $250,000,000 for the advancement of knowledge in New Haven.

The news made page one of The New York Times:

Henry's Grand Strategy in action in Cambodia

The Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy is one of Yale University’s most celebrated and prestigious programs. Over the course of a year, it allows a select group of about two dozen students to immerse themselves in classic texts of history and statecraft, while also rubbing shoulders with guest instructors drawn from the worlds of government, politics, military affairs and the media.

But now, a program created to train future leaders how to steer through the turbulent waters of history is facing a crisis of its own.

Beverly Gage, a historian of 20th-century politics who has led the program since 2017, has resigned, saying the university failed to stand up for academic freedom amid inappropriate efforts by its donors to influence its curriculum and faculty hiring. 

Before we dig any deeper into this juicy academic scandal, can we ask just one question? 

What the fuck is Grand Strategy?  

The phrase has a musty 19th Century imperial or manifest-destiny quality to it, bringing to mind Bismarck's Grand Strategy to dominate Europe or Polk's Grand Strategy to steal the West from Mexico.

Fortunately there's a distinguished Yale Professor of History to explain it to us proles:

“Grand Strategy” is a capacious but slippery concept, one that has generated continuing debates about its meaning. In his 2018 book “On Grand Strategy,” Professor Gaddis defined it as “the alignment of unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.”

We seem to recall our old friend Tommy Hobbes writing this down 350 years ago, but he didn't have the advantages of a Yale education.

Anyone else have any idea what tf Grand Strategy is as an area of erudition?

In 2006, it was formally endowed with a combined gift of $17.5 million from Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brady. In a 2013 article in The Yale Daily News, Professor Gaddis said Mr. Brady had given a single directive: “Teach common sense.”

Sure, what could go wrong with delving deeply into what a rich white man calls “common sense?” Let's find out!

According to a pretty thorough piece in the Yalie Daily:

But after the 2020 presidential election, a Times op-ed by professor of political science and humanities Bryan Garsten, who previously co-taught Grand Strategy with Gage, prompted Brady to begin pushing for changes to the program. The Times reported that Brady told Gage that she had not been teaching it “the way Henry Kissinger would.” “That’s absolutely right,” she responded. “I am not teaching Grand Strategy the way Henry Kissinger would.” 

You might think that was a good thing, but you aren't writing the checks.  In fact, the white men who were decided that tenured faculty at Yale couldn't be trusted to teach stuff without some guidance:

In the months following the publication of Garsten’s op-ed, ...Yale seized on a previously unused measure in the bylaws of the 2006 gift agreement allowing for an external five-member “board of visitors” to advise on practitioner appointments. Brady and Johnson suggested several members who were ultimately chosen to join the advisory board. These people included Kissinger, who served under former President Richard Nixon, as well as Stephen J. Hadley, former national security adviser to George W. Bush. . .

And if there's anyone who knows what not to do in the pursuit of a Grand Strategy, it would have to be one of the geniuses behind the Iraq War.

But it was that old war criminal Henry Kissinger who tore it.  Can you imagine not wanting to take advice on Grand Strategy from the guy whose previous efforts in that area included advocating nuclear war for fun and profit (hey, he got tenure for it!) and illegally bombing Cambodia to promote Tricky Dick's peace with, um, honor plan for Vietnam.

Whereupon Professor Gage resigned (although she does get to keep her job as a tenured Professor of History).

Like most exercises of Grand Strategy, this one appears to have blown up in the faces of the white men who planned and executed it.  Professor Gaddis himself was not amused:

Yale tells its students: no lunch for you!

History professor John Lewis Gaddis, one of the co-founders of the Grand Strategy program, told the [Yale Daily] News that “the Yale administration could have made it unambiguously clear to the donors that the faculty shape the curriculum. The administration should now, equally unambiguously, commit itself and recommit this institution to this fundamental principle.” 

As with every failure of a white man's Grand Strategy, the debacle was followed by a Grand Parade of Ass-Covering:

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate has promised a full investigation, while University President Peter Salovey has publicly pledged Yale’s commitment to ideological diversity.

“The Senate is highly concerned regarding the news that Professor Gage has resigned as Grand Strategy Director due to pressure from donors to control the curriculum of the program,” a Friday morning statement from FAS Senate Chair Valerie Horsley reads. “The Senate will investigate this situation and will issue a plan for further action in the coming weeks.”

Don't hold your breath. In fact, the Yale Daily News has reported yet another case of the University sacrificing core principles to attract bucks from donors. In this case, the core principle is not starving the undergraduates:

What are hungry undergrads to do, especially those who don't have a lot of spare cash to eat in local greasy-spoons, while the dining hall is being appropriately outfitted to delight the palates of wealthy potential donors?  

We're beginning to think that maybe Yale's commitment to diversity, intellectual and otherwise, hasn't changed all that much since 1912, when your correspondent had the following exchange:

"Here's three new scalps," continued McCarthy, producing some cushions. "Had to vow eternal love, and keep the dear girls separated—a blonde and two brunettes—but I got the pillows, my boy, I got 'em. And now sit back and hold on."

He made a third trip to the trunk, unaware of Stover's distracted mood, and came back chuckling, his arms heaped with photographs to his chin.

"One thousand and one Caucasian beauties, the pride of every State, the only girls who ever loved me. Look at 'em!"

The good news: a century later, thanks to rich white men and cowardly money-hungry functionaries, Yale is still celebrating Caucasian beauties.  Like Henry Kissinger.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Housing the Neediest, the Harvard Way

By Yard Correspondent Larry Lowell
with Bart Vanzetti in Boston

The news continues to be grim: the methodical demolition of American democracy at the hands of the Trumpublican Party continues its relentless march, the bent Supreme Court decides to bring back coathanger abortions sub silentio, the unfolding climate disaster rages on, and the Red Sox continue to suck while wearing hideous yellow uniforms, and we learned that our Constitutional order was saved only by the grace of – wait for it ‐ Potatoe Dan Quayle.

So we were desperate to bring you some good news.  Thanks to the beneificence of Penny Pritzer '81, we are now able to bring you some:

 

For those of you worried about Harvard Economics Professors doing their business, whatever it is, from rude huts erected in Cambridge Common, the news comes as an immense relief.  A new building for the Economics Department – what could be better?

We remember, back before Penny Pritzker swanned across Harvard Yard, that our sectionmen (as they were then called, and were) were consigned to rather shabby quarters in a temporary barracks originally built for the Army to house ROTC.  Despite these privations, they succeeded in explaining to the meanest intelligence (us) the wonderful things that happened when marginal revenue equaled marginal cost.

Things have improved for the beleaguered Economics Department since then, as they can now be found in the Littauer Center, a handsome granite pile where luminaries like Henry Kissinger used to spin their brilliant theories, like nuclear war was really your friend.  Hey, he got tenure for it.

But Littauer lacks the state of the art facilities needed to support a world-class Economic Department (apparently).  Under the current layout for example, Professors and undergraduates are allowed to circulate in the same corridors, leaving open the possibility that the latter could try to speak to the former.  This can't go on.

The new building, and let's go way out on a limb here and call it the Pritzker Center, is supposed to be built somewhere north of the Yard, although last we looked there wasn't a lot of space within five minutes walk to the Faculty Club.  

By the way, who is Penny Pritzker and how is it that she has $100,000,000 to throw around?  According Harvard President Bacow, as told to the official Harvard organ, the Gazette:

“Penny Pritzker is everything we hope an alum will be — an accomplished and principled leader, a true and tireless public servant, and a loyal supporter of Harvard and of other institutions devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and the expansion of economic opportunity,” said President Larry Bacow. 

She sounds very nice.  She's also one of the heirs to the Hyatt Hotel empire:

Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Hyatt Hotels billionaire heiress Penny Pritzker is one of 40 politicians named in Sunday’s release of the Paradise Papers, an investigation of 13.4 million leaked records from two offshore services firms and 19 tax havens' company registries. 

The new Ec Building will have plenty of room for
faculty meetings (Architect's drawing)

....Pritzker, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce under the Obama administration .., was required by federal law to divest any business interests identified by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics as potential conflicts of interests within 90 days of her confirmation. In a May 2013 letter written to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Pritzker stated she would divest herself of 221 holdings, [including] IAS and Triton....

According to the Paradise Papers, that’s not what happened. "Documents show that on June 27, 2013 — two days after her confirmation — Pritzker transferred shares in IAS Holdings and Triton Container to Delaware-registered DRBIT Investors LLC,...." A form filed with the Bermuda Monetary Authority shows that DRBIT is owned by trusts for Penny's children,. ...

Triton Container is a Bermuda-based shipping container company founded by Penny’s cousin Tom Pritzker, [who] invested $1 million at the time of its founding. In February 2011, the Pritzkers sold a majority stake in Triton Container to Warburg Pincus & Vestar for a reported $1 billion. It now has more than $8oo million in revenues and $8 billion in assets.

Prior to joining Obama’s team, Pritzker co-founded real estate investment firm Artemis Real Estate Partners, served as the chairman of the board for credit-leading firm TransUnion, and also was a board member of Hyatt Hotels, initially purchased by her uncle Jay Pritzker in 1957.

If only they had taught us in Ec. 10 that the best way to make billions is to start with a tidy pile of family money!  Maybe they did, but unlike Penny Pritzker, we weren't paying attention.  Also once you have s**t tons of money you don't pay taxes on, you get to keep your original wad.  According to Hyatt's own SEC filings, Penny's family trusts own over 10% of Hyatt, worth let's see over $800 million.

By the way, although she pays zero taxes on the appreciated value of inherited stock, if by some chance she has taxable income from something (like her salary as Secretary of Commerce), she can avoid taxes by deducting the value of her $100 million donation, or about $37.6 million of tax savings at current rates.  Who doesn't love America?

Building palatial new digs for Harvard gasbags was not Penny Pritzker's first foray into Cambridge real estate, as this by now yellowed clipping from the Boston Globe recounts:

Governor Deval Patrick said yesterday that he plans to direct Massachusetts employees to boycott Hyatt hotels ... unless the chain rehires the nearly 100 housekeepers it fired last month.

Patrick wrote to Hyatt Hotels Corp.’s chief executive, Mark S. Hoplamazian, on Tuesday, threatening the boycott - his third attempt in a week to convince the company to reverse its decision to replace the housekeepers at three Boston-area Hyatt hotels with lower-wage workers from a Georgia staffing firm.....

The chain said it created a task force to help the dismissed housekeepers find new jobs, offered retraining assistance, and extended their health care coverage for three months [Thank you, Penny! – Ed.].

The Hyatt Regency Boston, the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, and the Hyatt Harborside fired 98 housekeepers on Aug. 31, replacing them with $8-an-hour employees from Hospitality Staffing Solutions. Many had been cleaning rooms at the chain’s hotels for more than 20 years and earned about $15 an hour.

Some of the housekeepers said they were asked to train their replacements and were assured that the crews were only vacation and holiday fill-ins

It turns out that the Harvard Economics Faculty is not the only bunch that's had trouble finding adequate lodgings, by the way.  For several months now, homeless persons have been camping out in tents on sidewalks in South Boston, near Boston Medical Center:

Her estimable reporting on these people suggested strongly that they were desperate not only for housing but for health care services to help them fight their addiction, but were having little luck getting either.

We're going to go way out on a limb here and suggest the reason that our fellow human beings are sleeping in tents on sidewalks is because they can't afford or obtain (a) housing and (b) health care.

The “problem” of homelessness is usually presented as the agony suffered by rich people who have to see them as they cruise the streets of rich cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles in their Teslas:


It's not that the homeless are suffering that's the problem, it's that rich people have to look at them.

Funny how homelessness has increased in places where housing prices and income inequality have skyrocketed.  Like San Francisco, Boston, or, just across the river, Cambridge.

Perhaps if billionaires like Penny Pritzer '81 had to pay taxes on their huge unearned wealth, and to pay their workers living wages instead of tossing them onto Memorial Drive, there might be more money to build housing and provide services to the homeless and millions more facing eviction and workers could afford decent homes in Bailey Park.

If only there was a large group of trained professionals who could analyze the relationship between rich people skipping out on taxes on the one hand and poor people camping out in the streets of Boston on the other.

We're sure they'll get right on this as soon as they settle into their plush new digs built for them thanks to the munificence of Penny Pritzker '81.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Lessons of 9/11 and the Price of "Freedom"

By New York Bureau Chief A. Cahan
with Vincent Boom-Batz, M.D., Medical Correspondent

Not the graphic you were expecting on the 20th anniversary of 9/11?  Think we're forgetting the terrible losses of that day?  

Are you forgetting that thanks to the mishandling of the COVID pandemic this country is losing the equivalent number of 9/11 deaths every two days, or fewer?

Don't see the connection, Hamilton Burger?  Just wait a minute.

We won't forget the more than 3,000 Americans who lost their lives on that stunning day.  But we also don't forget what happened after that, unlike a surprising number of our still-breathing fellow citizens.

Immediately after 9/11, the world came together to support the United States and pledge its support to take down the al-Qaeda terrorist gang that perpetrated that evil deed.  Even Iran joined the fight against al-Qaeda.  But Toronto David Frum, then doing business as a speechwriter for George W. Bush, still said they were part of the triangular Axis of Evil along with Iraq and North Korea.

Two days after 9/11, the Queen of England, not known for public shows of emotion, ordered her Coldstream Guards to play The Star-Spangled Banner as a gesture of solidarity:

That was September 13, 2001. One day later

Three days after 9/11, George W. Bush had already decided he would use 9/11 to invade a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. 

The reasons remain obscure, although the best that can be deduced from the neocon fever dreams is that, like Michael Corleone, they wanted to take care of all the family business at once. Unlike Michael Corleone, though, they had no f***in' idea of what they were doing.

The cost of this unforced stupid error was immense, and is still climbing today.  The first casualty (well, maybe the second, after truth), was the global unity engendered by 9/11.

As for the later casualties, here's a handy chart:


At the risk of stating the obvious, that's a lot of people who didn't have to die.  Had George W. Bush not perverted the unity and patriotism generated by 9/11 to flog his lethal insane wars, most of them would be alive and perhaps well today.

Why did all these people die?  According to George W. Bush and his fellow Republicans it was all about – freedom. In his words:

In Iraq, the [U.S. occupation] Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council are also working together to build a democracy....And we're working closely with Iraqi citizens as they prepare a constitution, as they move toward free elections and take increasing responsibility for their own affairs.... 

Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations.

....The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. (Applause.)

Of course not everyone got to enjoy this wonderful freedom:

 
 
 
 

And back home in the United States, there were victims, mostly Muslim, of the post-9/11 hysteria fanned by the Bush Administration (despite Bush's occasional pious claims that Islam was not our enemy).

Just today, Slate's Amicus podcast recounts the brazen assault on Constitutional rights and international law perpetrated by Republicans in the name of freedom. And Washington Week, in between not very fascinating accounts of what Peter Jennings said in the ABC newsroom that morning, managed to provide some airtime for Muslim journalists who didn't recall America as being a bastion of freedom for them.

Here' what a dangerously subversive, um, candidate for the New York City Council, Shahana Hanif, recalls about that time:

So throughout undergrad is when I was really able to understand the violence enacted by our government with the Patriot Act, the creation of the NYPD demographics unit, the formation of ICE—that all of this was happening. These horror stories were caused by harmful, violent, xenophobic, Islamophobic legislation.

The evidence suggests that 9/11, in addition to being a terrible tragedy, did not in fact usher in a new dawn of freedom.  Rather the opposite.  

Which bring us to the current day.  As of last week, the total COVID-19 death count in America has exceeded 658,000, with no end in sight.  On September 9, more people died of COVID-19 than on September 11, with a new 9/11 toll added every 48 hours:

Source: The New York Times

And why is this catastrophe happening?  Once again, it's in the paper of record:

Three studies that drew data from different U.S. regions evaluated the protective power of the vaccines. One looked at more than 600,000 virus cases in 13 states, representing about one quarter of the U.S. population, between April and July, and concluded that individuals who were not fully vaccinated were far more susceptible to infection and death from the virus.

They were 4.5 times more likely than vaccinated individuals to become infected, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die from the coronavirus, the study found. 

People are dying because they refuse to get vaccinated (except for children under 12, who have no choice). They're also dying because some refuse to take simple steps to limit transmission, like wearing masks indoors.

And why is that?

Just like 2003, mass death is caused by “freedom.”

And who is making the specious argument that requiring masks and vaccines is an assault on freedom? If you guessed the same people who told us after 9/11 that we had to invade Iraq for freedom, you win:

If the need for federal action last week seemed clear, the response in some quarters to Biden’s announcement was hostile.

Several Republican governors, including in Texas, Georgia, and South Dakota, vowed to fight the mandate in court.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Biden and the Democrats had “declared war against capitalism” and he pledged to “fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian.” [Just like Fort Sumter? – Ed.]

Even before the president spoke on Thursday afternoon, the Federalist, a right-wing publication, assailed the vaccine-and-testing plan as “a fascist move.” 

Ah yes, who could forget Mussolini and his evil fascistic drive to improve public health in Italy?

It's hard to know how much of this crap is a sincere perversion of liberty properly understood (which does not include the liberty to run red lights and drive drunk), how much is pandering to the perpetually lunatic angry Republican base, and how much is the cynical calculation that the worse the pandemic gets, the more the Republican midterm chances improve.

We don't care. All we know is that just like the aftermath of 9/11, Republican contempt for facts and relentless pursuit of partisan political advantage no matter the cost to the Republic have led to ridiculous claims that the defense of “freedom” requires the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

On this 9/11 anniversary, the pandemic losses serve as a useful reminder that Republican disinformation is just like the toxic rubble pile at Ground Zero: it kills for years.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

These f**kin' guys, Ch. 39,255

By A.J. Liebling
Meta-Content Generator with
Justice Correspondent Scott V. Sandford

For fifty years, the Republican Party, at first cynically and then because it had been captured by Christian dominionist reactionaries, has packed the courts with anti-abortion zealots eager to send women back to the days of Lysol and coathanger abortions.

Last week they succeeded.  

In an unsigned opinion whose cowardice was only exceeded by its legal incoherence, five Republican Justices, including two sex offenders, decided they would not stay the enforcement of the Texas abortion bounty hunter act even as they acknowledged it might well be unconstitutional under current Supreme Court precedent.

Why?, you may ask.

Here's the totality of the legal reasoning that these five cowardly extremists offered to the millions of Texas women now denied their Constitutional right to abortion, as summarized by Justice Sotomayor:“Today, the Court belatedly explains that it declined to grant relief because of procedural complexities of the State’s own invention.”

Oh. 

Billy Kristol joins the Resistance

But courts have the power to enjoin state action pending judicial review precisely to allow them to sort out these daunting procedural or any other complexities while not burdening those whose Constitutional rights may be being taken away.

And we're not going to dive too deep into the ridiculous effort by Texas Republicans to immunize their anti-abortion bounty-hunter law from federal judicial review, except to point out that there is nothing that bars a federal court from enjoining the enforcement of an unconstitutional statute by prohibiting state officials, like judges and clerks, from doing so.   

The Supreme Court actually said so, when it held in 1948 that state court judges could not enforce racist deed covenants: “State action, as that phrase is understood for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, refers to exertions of state power in all forms. And when the effect of that action is to deny rights subject to the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is the obligation of this Court to enforce the constitutional commands.”  Shelly v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 20 (1948).

Anyway, our point here is not to belabor the ludicrously slender rationale offered by the five reactionaries after Justice Sotomayor blew it to bits.  Instead, we want to focus on a subsequent outrage: the cries of ex-Republican bloviators and gasbags that after decades of working to empower the Republican Party and all it stands for, they are shocked, shocked to discover that their Party oppresses women.

Our first example is Billy “Wrong About Everything” Kristol, who has taken to Twitter to express his undying solidarity with the women of Texas:

Speaking of men getting off scot-free, let's remind ourselves of Billy Kristol's sordid past.  For decades, he's carried the bags for a miserable lot of Republicans all of whom devoted themselves to telling women what they could do with their own reproductive systems.  He was really hoping they would invade every country in the Middle East to show how big and strong we are (and how did that turn out, Billy?).

Kristol loyally served anti-abortion VP Dan Quayle

But among other postings, he was the Chief of Staff for dumb as a bag of hammers Vice President Dan “Potatoe” Quayle.  Quayle was added to the Republican ticket to appease hard-right zealots unsure of George H.W. Bush's fidelity to their core principles, like denying women the right to a safe and legal abortion.

Here's Kristol's former boss on the topic:

Quayle, who said he opposes abortion except when the mother's life is in jeopardy, made the statement when reporters here asked whether the Maryland woman raped by Massachusetts murderer William Horton Jr. should have given birth to Horton's child if she had become pregnant. He said Horton's 1987 rape while on a prison furlough program approved by Michael S. Dukakis would not have justified an abortion.

Today marked the third time recently that Quayle has said he thinks rape victims should not get abortions if they become pregnant.

Remember all the times that Billy Kristol was so concerned about a woman's right to choose that he criticized his boss for trying to take it away?  Neither do we.

Republican hypocrite #2, come on down!

 

Oh, wow, has she ever opined on the importance of abortion rights before?  Well, after John Kerry refused to vote for an idiotic bill treating fetuses as persons for the purposes of imposing criminal liability, our staunch protector of women's rights then doing business as George W. Bush's campaign flack had this to say:

''John Kerry began this process as the duckling of the far left and hopes to emerge at his convention as the swan of the heartland,'' Ms. Devenish said. ''Only the truth about his record will prevent this phony makeover of the nation's most out-of-the-mainstream senator.''

Oh, wow, indeed: refusing to vote for an anti-abortion dog whistle made John Kerry out of the mainstream, in which Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney swam so happily?

Fast forward to 2008, when our women's rights heroine was trying to foist Sarah Palin off as qualified to serve as Vice President.  

Her views on a woman's right to choose were clear to even the meanest intelligence (not surprising as they emanated from one):


What part of that did Nicolle Wallace not understand?

Cue Ed McMahon: “Well, that must be every single Republican coatholder, shill, and apologist who pretends they weren't aware of the anti-abortion rights positions of the hacks they so spinelessly supported for decades.  EVERY SINGLE ONE!”

Not so, Republican breath.

We saved the most shameless and odious for last:

What has Rick Wilson been doing for his entire political career? If you guessed flacking for odious Republican anti-abortion stooges by smearing their Democratic opponents, you won! 

Wilson got his start in politics as a field director for former President George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign. During that campaign, according to CNN, Wilson was mentored by Bush strategist Lee Atwater...

Too bad about those Democrats, Rick

In 2002, Wilson was a media advisor for then-Rep. Saxby Chambliss' U.S. Senate campaign. In one notable ad, Wilson and others in the campaign attacked then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) over his votes for funding to the Department of Homeland Security. ...Cleland had pushed to give DHS employees civil service protections, pitting him against President George W. Bush on the issue. But the ad’s copy suggested that he had opposed the creation of the department itself.”

Wilson told the site of the ad's creation, saying, "... It is an ugly ad. It is a hideously looking ad because we wanted people to focus on the votes. The mechanism itself is pretty simple and basic [namely, lying – Ed.]. We knew back then that saying the words ‘against the president’s vital homeland security efforts’ [would work]."...

During the 2008 presidential election, Wilson was responsible for the creation of ads attacking then-Sen. Barack Obama (D) for his relationship with pastor Jeremiah Wright...

 Wilson's firm Intrepid Media also worked for a super PAC in support of Marco Rubio's presidential campaign.

George H.W. Bush?  Who appointed Long Dong Thomas, the deciding vote in the Texas abortion bounty hunter debacle?  All those other Republican hacks who consistently opposed abortion to appease religious extremists?  

Indeed, it's hard to think of any single political consultant who was more responsible for this week's decision than this bombthrower.

And now he's the protector of women's rights?  Hoh-kay.

You might say what's the big deal? If there are scores of Republican bag-carriers who have come over from the dark side, isn't that a good thing? Well, yes and no.

Bringing more folks into the tent is a good thing. But pretending that their 50 years of effort to overturn Roe doesn't really mean anything falsfies history. It was their efforts that brought women to the currtent crisis. Those five Republican clowns didn't drop from heaven, like rain over Mt. Kisco. They were the product of decades of efforts of Rick, Nicolle, and Billy, not to mention many more.

We think that if these ex-Republican bomb throwers really want to be readmitted to the human race, they need to face their sordid pasts honestly and atone for their sins.  It's the right time of year!

And as they continue to earn huge bucks from their current notoriety, it would be only fair of them to contribute some substantial portion of their loot to a fund that flies poor Texas women to states where, at least today, abortion is available.  

The most important lesson from the current debacle is that actions have consequences.  Don't let Billy, Rick, Nicolle, George, Toronto Dave, Meaghan, and all the other f**kin' guys pretend otherwise.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The disasters mount, but we've got a twofer!

 

By Immigration Editor Emma Goldman
with Justice Editor Scott V. Sandford

Not since 1968 have the terrible events of recent days have come so thick and fast.  It's easy to lose track of each catastrophe as a new one emerges.  But before they fade from living memory, like the efforts by the previous President to overthrow the United States Government last January, let's spend a minute on a couple of them.

And the good news is: we've got a fix!

As the Afghanistan debacle slides towards its inevitable conclusion, once more drenched in American and Afghan blood, it turns out that even those lucky enough to escape from the Taliban face many obstacles to finding a safe haven, whether in the United States or elsewhere.

For example, it turns out that, according to The Washington Post, some of our Afghan allies and their families evacuated from the madness of Kabul have not been able to get beyond – the tarmac of Dulles Airport (itself named for a notorious warmonger and incompetent Secretary of State who until Mike Pompeo had been regarded as the worst Secretary of State in the history of the Republic):

Once again, America welcomes people
who seem a little different
  
 

Afghan evacuees arriving in the United States are running into new problems as they land: Hours-long delays have left hundreds stranded on planes parked at Dulles International Airport outside Washington as they wait to be processed and cleared for entry.

All flights carrying evacuees to the United States are being funneled from interim stops overseas to the airport 25 miles outside the nation’s capital. The lengthy process for thousands of new arrivals includes biometric and biographical screening, as well as coronavirus testing.

The delays are the most recent example of the massive challenge confronting the U.S. government as it has raced to evacuate and resettle tens of thousands of Afghan families

We understand the need for biometric and security screening, but couldn't some bureaucrat have foreseen this problem and we don't know rented some rooms as the Dulles Courtyard by Marriott where desperate Afghan families could be isolated in modest comfort and dignity?  Or taken an inventory of surplus Government buildings that could be converted for temporary housing for refugees?

Speaking of which, let's not let the terrible news from Afghanistan drown out all the other bad news from last week. Here's one gem, brought to you courtesy of two elections in which the popular vote loser snuck in due to a bent Supreme Court decision and an idiot FBI director covering his own ass in public, respectively:


A pretty obscure order from the Supreme Court even by their own standards.  It may be hard to understand, although the last sentence gives the game away.

What's going on here?  The American Immigration Lawyers Association provides some background:

On August 13, 2021, [some stooge] U.S. District Judge [in Amarillo,Texas] issued a nationwide injunction directing the Biden administration to reinstate the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as “Remain in Mexico.” This Trump-era policy required asylum seekers to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings. Those hearings were held in secretive tent courts along the border and were the site of numerous due process violations. Upon taking office, President Biden ended enrollments into MPP and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rescinded the program on June 1, 2021. The Biden administration has worked to bring in over 13,000 formerly MPP individuals into the U.S. to resume their removal hearings.

The Amarillo judge wasn't a-hankerin' to
hear the Department of Justice arguments

Briefly, Judge Kacsmaryk found that the Biden administration illegally terminated MPP because it failed to take into account certain considerations. For example, Judge Kacsmaryk reasoned that the Biden administration ignored whether the government has the detention capacity to hold all asylum seekers and migrants subject to mandatory detention in deciding to end MPP. [Spoiler alert: it does not]

In issuing this injunction, Judge Kacsmaryk accepted as true many of the Trump administration’s claims about the program, including that ending MPP is the cause for the recent rise in border crossings.

Before we go any further, one fun fact: in 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had held that the MPP had not been legally authorized and was thus void.  Its injunction was vacated because the Biden Administration had agreed with the Court and ended the MPP. 

Another fun fact: the Migrant Protection Protocol was the brainchild of grifting white supremacist hatemonger Stephen Miller.  We can't be sure but we suspect he came up with the Orwellian name: the Protocols are designed to do the opposite of protect; they are intended to hurt asylum seekers by forcing them to remain unprotected in Mexico in violation of U.S. asylum law.  It's like Andy Gropo calling his behavior as Governor the Subordinate Women Protection Program.

So you've got the Law West of the Amarillo calling a decision to stop tormenting asylum seekers by making them wait in tents in dangerous Mexican border towns “arbitrary and capricious.”  And you had the Ninth Circuit last year calling the decision to impose such torment unlawful.

What's a Supreme Court to do?  Especially in an area of exclusively federal competence (immigration) and in a field in which courts have traditionally deferred to the executive (conduct of U.S. foreign policy, in this case vis-á-vis Mexico).  

Might as well do something useful with the building

If you guessed forced Biden to keep the illegal Former Loser Grifter policy in place, you've won a dream date with Brett Kavanaugh! And Squiffy, and the rest of the weight-lifting club! Pro tip: better wear a one-piece bathing suit under your kilt.

In their defense, how could the Supreme Court know that the Amarillo injunction at issue intruded into a core Executive power? Except by reading the submission of that well-known immigrant-rights group, the Department of Justice:

Notwithstanding the “danger of unwarranted judicial interference in the conduct of foreign policy,” .. the district court would -- at the behest of States who may concededly gain nothing -- supervise the good faith of the diplomacy needed to reestablish a version of MPP that would function effectively in August 2021 and thereafter.

And the Supreme Court could hardly be expected to comprehend just how awful, unjust, and illegal the Rot-in-Mexico program was, right

The district court’s mandate to abruptly re-impose and maintain that program under judicial supervision would prejudice the United States’ relations with vital regional partners, severely disrupt its operations at the southern border, and threaten to create a diplomatic and humanitarian crisis.  

So where are we?  Short answer: who knows?  There's no doubt that the MPP created terrible suffering, up to and including sexual assault and death, which are apparently not matters that trouble the deep jurisprudential thinkers down in Amarillo

The policy, officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols, mandates that non-Mexican asylum return to Mexico as they await hearings in the United States. It has resulted in the creation of makeshift camps where hundreds of migrants have waited for weeks, if not months, in squalid and unsafe conditions. In some cases, migrant families have opted to send children across the US-Mexico border alone.

Lawyers for the asylum seekers called the government's policy illegal and said that in the months that it has been in effect "reports of murder, rape, torture kidnapping, and other violent assaults against returned asylum seekers have climbed."

Sounds hopeless?

Not to the Spy.

If the Supreme Court assigns zero harm to people living unguarded in tents, then perhaps they would like to try the experience for themselves. In turn, the Afghan refugees now rotting on planes in Virginia could be processed someplace safe and well-guarded: the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill. There's lots of space, a big cafeteria, and even a basketball court.

Maybe a few months of doing whatever it is they are doing, seemingly unrelated to law, in tents on the lawn in front of their building will give Brett “One-Eyed Wonder” Kavanaugh, “Long Dong” Thomas, John “the Bongmaster ” Roberts '76 and Spooky Amy among others a new respect for the hardships faced by asylum seekers and the appropriately modest role of the Supreme Court in dictating the foreign relations of the United States.

Or maybe not.  But at least the taxpayers of the United States will be able to use one of the buildings they own for its intended purpose: justice.

STOP PRESS: As we go to press we have learned of another easily guarded Washington landmark that is currently going almost entirely unused but would be ideal for housing and processing Afghan refugees: