Plus ça change … Anita Hill edition

Anita Hill, a professor at Brandeis University, grew up in Lone Tree, Oklahoma, a speck on the map, about a hundred miles east of Oklahoma City, and thirty-some miles west of Muskogee. She graduated as valedictorian from her local high school and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree with honors from Oklahoma State University. She earned her law degree with honors from Yale Law School in 1980. In 1989, she became the first tenured black professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Anita Hill – 2015

Three years later, after a nationwide fundraising campaign initiated by a feminist group, and matching state funds, the Anita F. Hill professorship was endowed at the University of Oklahoma Law School. Oklahoma legislators promptly demanded Ms. Hill’s resignation and introduced a bill to prohibit the university from accepting out-of-state donations and even attempted to close the law school. School officials attempted to revoke her tenure. After five years of this, Hill resigned. The law school defunded the professorship in 1999, the position having never been filled.

Clarence “Long Dong” Thomas

What could a person have done to provoke such reaction in her home state? Anita Hill had the temerity to testify before the 1991 Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Joseph Biden, considering Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, for whom she had worked when Thomas was in charge of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The FBI had previously questioned Hill. When that interview was leaked, the Senate committee called her to testify. She told the committee that Thomas had asked her out several times and she had always refused. His work conversations regularly addressed such topics as women having sex with animals, pornographic movies about group sex and rape, and “his own sexual prowess,” referring to himself as “Long Dong Silver,” an homage to a contemporary porn star. She also famously related his examining a can of soda on his desk and asking, “Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?”

The invective directed at her came quickly and forcefully. Thomas, of course denied it and went further, saying it was “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said , “Hill was working in tandem with ‘slick lawyers’ and interest groups bent on destroying Thomas’ chances to join the court.” Contemporaneous opinion polls showed most people believed Thomas.

Ms. Hill took and passed, a polygraph test; Thomas refused to take a test. Four other women were waiting to testify but the committee chose not to hear them. Thomas, with all of one year’s experience as a federal judge, was confirmed. He has since distinguished himself as the least-inquisitive justice, often going months without asking a question or making a comment, and its most predictably conservative voter, including his dissent against affirmative action, something from which he benefited during his education.

A documentary film, “Anita,” about her experiences was released in 2014. HBO presented a dramatic film, “Confirmation,” starring Kerry Washington, in 2016.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

Why Facts Don’t Matter

Eyewitness testimony has been the bedrock of our justice system. Studies have repeatedly shown, though, how unreliable our recollections can be. False memories can be slipped into our memory by third parties. Or we see what we expected to see and our mind fills in missing detail and that becomes our memory. We tend to re-tell a story according to the listener. Defense attorneys know this. With retelling, we become more certain that an erroneous recollection is true.

Researchers at Stanford University had volunteers review suicide notes and decide which were real and which were made up. They were informed of their scores; some were told they were correct in almost every instance, others that they were wrong on most of their choices. Except all the scores were fictitious and had no relation to the subjects’ actual performance. Even after being informed their scores were bogus, subjects originally given high scores still persisted in believing they were exceptionally perceptive, much better than average in determining what was true.

Which brings us to Fox News and its loyal viewers…

Right-wingers have been frothing about the nefarious deal Hillary “Lock her up!” Clinton made, selling U.S. uranium to Russia in exchange for large contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Fox News has been relentless in promoting the story, feeding the outrage against Mrs. Clinton. But then Fox talking head Shepard Smith went on the air and, point by point, took apart the story. He dispassionately pointed out that Clinton was not Secretary of State when the sale occurred, that the State Department was only one of nine Federal agencies involved, that the company, Uranium One, was mostly Canadian owned, that none of the uranium in question would leave the United States. Et cetera.

Fox’s audience was not interested in facts. They turned their outrage against Shep Smith.

“I feel you are actually CNN (fake news) when Shep Smith is on.”

“Get rid of him. He is a shill for Hillary as most gays are. Does not have the integrity to be on Fox.”

“Shep Smith needs to be fired for his biased reporting!!!!”

… and on and on.

Shepard Smith should stay with Fox News. Viewers need to be confronted with documented information, even if only rarely.

 

Of course, it’s hard to refute Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert’s chart showing Uranium One conspiracy.

Death and Taxes

2016 was a tough year for hedge funds, their managers anyway. The combined income for the top 25 managers was a paltry $11 billion, the lowest since 2005. That’s just a little over half of the $21.2 billion they “earned” in 2014. Don’t feel too sorry for them, though. Most of their income is categorized as “carried interest” and taxed at a rate of 20%, compared to the 39.6% top tax rate for “earned” income. Your investment in a hedge fund is subject to the typical “two and twenty” fee structure. The fund manager annually takes two percent of your invested assets plus twenty percent “performance fee” on profits realized. (The performance fee is considered carried interest.) What if your assets lose money? Does the manager suffer 20% of the loss? Ha, ha, that was a joke.

While campaigning last year, our president said, “I have hedge fund guys that are making a lot of money that aren’t paying anything.” He said he would change the tax system to force those who work for hedge funds to pay more. “They’re paying nothing and it’s ridiculous. I want to save the middle class. The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.”

What little that has been revealed about the Republican “tax reform” includes a reduction of the tax rate to 15% for “pass-through” income. This is trumpeted as relief to small family businesses that are S corporations – meaning the business is not taxed. The income is passed through to the individual owners who are presumably taxed at a lower rate. Guess what – investment firms can be pass-through businesses also. If carried interest is taxed at the higher rate, who cares, because as pass-through income it will be taxed at even less than before.

The United States nominal tax on corporations is 35%, purportedly the highest in the industrialized world. The effective tax rate, because of endless incentives and breaks, is not so high, about 22% for profitable companies. Of the Fortune 500, nearly forty percent paid zero Federal tax in at least one year between 2008 and 2015. Some, including General Electric, International Paper, Priceline.com and PG&E, incurred a total federal income tax bill of less than zero over the entire eight-year period — meaning they received rebates.

Our president recently delivered a speech to an audience including hundreds of truckers – “hard-working men and women” who are “the lifeblood of the economy.” He touted a lower tax on manufacturers as a boon to truckers as it will increase growth and demand for trucking. He also wants to eliminate the estate tax, pejoratively called the “death tax” by Republicans. He claims this will allow truckers to pass their assets on to the next generation, allowing their businesses to stay in business. Republicans have previously said keeping family farms alive was the overriding reason to abolish estate taxes.

The first $5.49 million of your estate is exempt from estate tax; for a married couple, it’s $11 million. Tax experts calculate last year 80 farms were subject to any estate tax at all; for trucking companies, it was 30. Elimination of the estate tax is estimated to save the Trump family approximately a billion dollars. That assumes that The Donald does actually own anything.

As billionaire hotelier and husband of another New York real-estate magnate, Leona Helmsley, famously said, “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

Should Presidents Talk to Children?

After the 1988 presidential election and his two terms in office, Ronald Reagan spoke to the nation’s schoolchildren.

I would say that the most important thing you can do is to ground yourself in the ideas and values of the American Revolution. And that is a vision that goes beyond economics and politics. It’s also a moral vision, grounded in the reverence and faith of those who believed that with God’s help they could create a free and democratic nation. They designed a system of limited government that, in John Adams’ words, was suited only to a religious people such as ours.

Well, I don’t have very much of a quarrel with the very cheap weapon and so forth that makes it so easy for the wrong people to have a gun. I would like to see us concentrate on what I described in California: of making sure that anyone who buys a gun is a responsible citizen and not bent on crime.

Two decades later, in his first year as President, Barack Obama planned to address the nation’s student body at the beginning of the new school year. Immediately, controversy ensued. Parents were outraged that the Kenyan Muslim not be allowed to indoctrinate their offspring with his socialist doctrine.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future. We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Our current president recently addressed Boy Scouts at their Jamboree.

You know, in the Boy Scouts you learn right from wrong, correct? You learn to contribute to your communities, to take pride in your nation, and to seek out opportunities to serve. You pledge to help other people at all times. In the Scout oath, you pledge on your honor to do your best and to do your duty to God and your country. And by the way, under the Trump administration you’ll be saying “Merry Christmas” again when you go shopping, believe me. Merry Christmas. They’ve been downplaying that little beautiful phrase. You’re going to be saying “Merry Christmas” again, folks. But the words “duty,” “country” and “God” are beautiful words. In other words, basically what you’re doing is you’re pledging to be a great American patriot. By the way, what do you think the chances are that this incredible massive crowd, record setting, is going to be shown on television tonight? One percent or zero? The fake media will say, “President Trump spoke” — you know what is – ‘President Trump spoke before a small crowd of Boy Scouts today.” That’s some — that is some crowd. Fake media. Fake news.
Thank you. And I’m honored by that. By the way, all of you people that can’t even see you, so thank you. I hope you can hear. Through scouting you also learned to believe in yourself — so important — to have confidence in your ability and to take responsibility for your own life. When you face down new challenges — and you will have plenty of them — develop talents you never thought possible, and lead your teammates through daring trials, you discover that you can handle anything. And you learn it by being a Scout. It’s great.

Afterwards, the Scout leader apologized for the president’s speech.

Keeping Up the Outrage

(This was originally published August 2016.)

footballBy not standing for the national anthem, Colin Kaepernick has disrespected the sacred ritual of football. The American concussion game is inseparable from patriotism. There has not been so much outrage since John Lennon commented that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.* Defenders of Christianity – as if Christianity needed to be defended against a pop-music star – organized burnings of Beatles records.

Two years after Lennon’s remark, at the Mexico City Olympic Games in the incendiary year of 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood, black-powerbarefoot, on the podium at the medal awards ceremony. Smith had won the gold, setting a new world record, in the 200-meter sprint. Carlos took the bronze. Instead of humbly holding hands over hearts during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” they each raised an arm, gloved hands clenched in fists, in what was considered to be a black-power salute. The silver-medal winner, Peter Norman, an Australian, did not raise a clenched fist, but wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his jacket, as did the other two. They were booed as they left the podium.

Smith and Carlos were pulled from upcoming relays and Olympic chairman Avery Brundage evicted them from the Olympic Village. Back home, both athletes, and their families, received death threats and had difficulty finding employment. They each played briefly in the NFL. Smith became track coach and taught sociology at Oberlin College in Ohio and later at Santa Monica College. Carlos was a counselor and track and field coach at Palm Springs High School.

Norman was allowed to stay in the Olympic Village, but was shunned 19682008at home. Although qualifying for the 1972 games, he was not selected for the Australian team. Norman’s time in the 1968 race, still stands as the Australian record. He died of a heart attack in 2006. Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral.

John Lennon continued to have a successful musical career. A born-again Christian and rabid Beatles fan, Mark David Chapman felt betrayed by Lennon’s blasphemous remarks. On a night in 1980, Chapman waited with a loaded gun for Lennon’s return to his New York apartment building.

And Colin Kaepernick? Who knows? Outrage over a football player’s sitting down may tell more about us than it does about him.

Beatles2* John Lennon: Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

Nobody knew that geography could be so complicated

“It’s very, very tough because it’s an island,” the president said, asserting that his government received “A+” marks for responding to storms in Texas and Florida. “The difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean — and it’s a big ocean, a really, really big ocean.”

from The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon