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.”


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.