Archives for category: Injustice

The people of Chile are expunging the last traces of the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. They elected Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old member of the Chilean Congress and a former student activist, as President of Chile. The election was expected to be close but Boric won by a 56-44% margin.

Boric was engaged in national protests over the past decade against inequality. A decade ago, he led protests against Chile’s privatized education system. He will be the youngest person ever elected to the Presidency of Chile. His election is a decisive rejection of the policies of the dictator Pinochet. His rival defended Pinochet and ran on a law-and-order platform and a pledge to cut taxes and social spending.

An Army General, Pinochet seized control of the government by a coup d’etat. He imposed a reign of terror, and thousands of his opponents were murdered, imprisoned, tortured, or disappeared. Pinochet called on Milton Friedman and the libertarian “Chicago Boys” to rewrite Chile’s Constitution. They baked the primacy of the free market and neoliberalism into the new Constitution. Pinochet’s regime cut social benefits, privatized social security and many government functions, reduced benefits, and introduced vouchers and for-profit schools. The economy grew, but so did inequality. Pinochet ruled from 1973-1990.

Protests against the nation’s privatized and deeply unequal education system rocked the nation a decade ago. Many Chileans were barely subsisting because of cuts to social security. More protests broke out in 2019 against the country’s entrenched inequality and corruption. Boric was active in all those protests.

Last year, Chileans expressed their demand for change by voting for a rewrite of the national constitution, the one written by the “Chicago Boys” and implemented by Pinochet.

The BBC reported:

Once the most stable economy in Latin America, Chile has one of the world’s largest income gaps, with 1% of the population owning 25% of the country’s wealth, according to the United Nations.

Mr Boric has promised to address this inequality by expanding social rights and reforming Chile’s pension and healthcare systems, as well as reducing the work week from 45 to 40 hours, and boosting green investment.

“We know there continues to be justice for the rich, and justice for the poor, and we no longer will permit that the poor keep paying the price of Chile’s inequality,” he said.

The president-elect also promised to block a controversial proposed mining project which he said would destroy communities and the national environment.

Chile’s currency, the peso, plunged to a record low against the US dollar after Mr Boric’s victory. Stock markets fell by 10%, with mining stocks performing particularly badly.

Investors are worried stability and profits will suffer as a result of higher taxes and tighter government regulation of business.

In a profile of Gabriel Boric, the BBC described his message:

When Mr Boric won the candidacy of his leftist bloc to run for president, he made a bold pledge. “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave,” he said. “Do not be afraid of the youth changing this country.”

And so he ran on a platform promising radical reforms to the free-market economic model imposed by former dictator Gen Augusto Pinochet. One that, he says, is the root of the country’s deep inequality, imbalances that came to the surface during protests in 2019 that triggered an official redraft of the constitution.

After a polarising campaign, Mr Boric defeated far-right rival José Antonio Kast in the second round of the presidential election by a surprising large margin, ushering in a new chapter in the country’s political history.

“We are a generation that emerged in public life demanding our rights be respected as rights and not treated like consumer goods or a business,” Mr Boric said in his victory speech to thousands of supporters, most of them young people…

Mr Boric, who says he is an avid reader of poetry and history, describes himself as a moderate socialist. He has abandoned the long hair of his activist days, and jackets now often cover his tattoos on both arms.

He has also softened some of his views while keeping his promises to overhaul the pension system, expand social services including universal health insurance, increase taxes for big companies and wealthy individuals, and create a greener economy.

His resounding win in the run-off vote of the presidential election, after trailing Mr Kast in the first round, came after he secured support beyond his base in the capital, Santiago, and attracted voters in rural areas. A supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion rights, he was also backed by huge numbers of women.

In his victory speech, when he was joined by his girlfriend, he promised to be a “president for all Chileans”, saying: “Today hope trumped fear”.

When people bemoan the increasing inequality in American society, they usually fail to mention one of the reasons for the huge gaps between those at the top and those at the bottom of wealth and income: The decline of unions. Unions didn’t disappear because workers lost interest in being represented by them. Major employers never liked unions, which demanded better pay and better working conditions, and thereby raised costs and cut profits. They used every opportunity to dispense with them, whether by automation, outsourcing to non-union states or nations, or intimidation.

California-based Capital & Main has produced an important series about union-busting tactics today. Capital & Main is a fearless, award-winning web journal. it specializes in investigative reporting and is typically on the cutting edge of political issues. It recently published a four-part series on the tactics used by union-busters. I will post them in order today. I strongly support unions. I have never belonged to a union, but I keenly believe in the importance of unions. Unions were the route into the middle class for millions of people. Unions were strong supporters of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The rightwing attack on organized labor has almost stamped out unions in the private sector over the past half century. The withering of unions coincides with the dramatic increase in inequality of incomeand equality. There are signs of a rebirth of unionism. Terrible working conditions and low pay are spurring on this movement. The big corporations are ripe for change, but as today’s articles show, the powerful oligarchs will fight to maintain union-free workplaces.

This is the introduction.

The company owner was so worried about his employees joining a union that he mounted machine guns to keep labor organizers off his coal mine, launched an anti-union magazine and even secretly funded a Black newspaper to convince African-American workers that unions were dangerous. Those union-busting tactics worked, allowing mine magnate Charles Debardeleben to stop his workers in the industrial Birmingham-Bessemer area of northern Alabama from joining a union during the 1920s and 1930s.

Almost a century later, the tactics have gotten less physically intimidating but remain just as effective. Earlier this year in Bessemer, Amazon was easily able to fend off a well-publicized union organizing effort through a relentless anti-union campaign that included a website, text messages to employees, fliers posted in bathrooms and classic techniques like captive audience meetings, in which workers can be forced to sit for hours and listen to anti-union consulting firms paid at least $20,000 a day. Some of the tactics may have been illegal — the National Labor Relations Board recently authorized a new election after the union argued that the company’s decision to install a mailbox onsite created the false impression that Amazon was running the election, which pressured workers to vote against the union.

https://e.infogram.com/047ec8bd-9d2b-43d6-9143-48a3cc2b5b73?parent_url=https%3A%2F%2Fcapitalandmain.com%2Finside-the-secret-world-of-union-busting&src=embed#async_embed

While union membership has risen slightly since 2018 thanks to some major organizing wins, and public approval of unions is at its highest level since 1965, labor has a lot of ground to make up. Union membership plummeted from 20.1% of American wage and salary workers in 1983 to just 10.8% in 2020. One of the biggest reasons for that decline is the use of well-funded, aggressive campaigns by employers to fight off unions, conducted largely through expensive union avoidance consultants and lawyers. In 2019, it was estimated that companies spend at least $340 million per year on such consultants and often engage in illegal tactics, for which the penalties are minimal.

“They seem to be more aggressive than they used to be,” says Joe Hernandez, an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers in Orange County, California. “There was a union election in South Dakota, where pro-union workers who had a couple of tardies that were previously overlooked ended up getting fired. Other times they just close down the store or factory. They’re doing it all — using surveillance technology, social media messaging, whatever they can to beat the union.” (Disclosure: UFCW is a financial supporter of this website.)

In conversations with dozens of union officials, union avoidance consultants, former regulatory officials and workers, we’ve gained insights into union-busting activities by companies ranging from behemoths like Starbucks, Amazon, CVS, Dollar General and Safeway to health care organizations like Kaiser Permanente and HCA-affiliated hospitals to gig economy startups like HelloFresh and Imperfect Foods.

In a series of four stories, Capital & Main will explore the role and impact of union busting: how your favorite companies still aren’t required to disclosehow much they spend on such consultants, how new workplace surveillance technologies have been exploited by some businesses to help them defeat organizing efforts, how labor studies academics have been pressured and intimidated by pro-business think tanks and lawmakers to stop their research into workplace issues — plus an interview with a longtime union organizer about his unlikely alliance with one of the most notorious union busters.


Alternet recapitulates a Boston Globe investigation of a new phenomen: drivers who use their car as a weapon to drive into protestors.

Three Republican-led states have passed laws to protect the drivers who ran into protestors: Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida.

On Monday, the Boston Globe reported on a “Back the Blue Act” signed by Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds. The bill took the side of drivers who run over protesters. In June of 2020, the driver of Reynold’s state-issued Chevrolet Suburban struck a Des Moines Black Liberation Movement protester who was urging the governor to restore voting rights.

Thirteen other states are considering “hit and kill” legislation.

You can read the Boston Globe investigation here, but be advised that it is probably behind a pay wall.

CBS News reported on an analysis by the U.S. Treasury showing that the richest Americans avoid paying $163 billion each year.

The top 1% of Americans are avoiding paying an estimated $163 billion in taxes a year, according to the Treasury Department. In contrast, more than 99% of taxes on regular incomes — paid via a paycheck — get paid.

That discrepancy is pushing the estimated tax gap, the amount of money owed by taxpayers that isn’t collected, to nearly around $600 billion annually, and to approximately $7 trillion in lost revenue over the next decade, the Treasury Department finds.

Tax evasion is concentrated among the wealthy in part because high-income taxpayers are able to employ experts who can better shield them from reporting their true incomes, the Treasury Department argued in a blog post. More complicated incomes such as partnerships and proprietorships – more frequent among high earners — have a far greater noncompliance rate that can hit as high as 55%.

“The tax gap can be a major source of inequity. Today’s tax code contains two sets of rules: one for regular wage and salary workers who report virtually all the income they earn; and another for wealthy taxpayers, who are often able to avoid a large share of the taxes they owe,” wrote Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy Natasha Sarin.

Meanwhile our roads, bridges, tunnels, and other vital infrastructure are underfunded. Schools need to invest in physical improvements. Class sizes are too large, especially in urban districts. Teachers are underpaid in comparison to other professionals with the same education credentials.

Taxes are too low on those who can most afford to pay them. Tax avoidance is thriving while our society’s basic needs are not.

It’s past time for nation building at home.

You may recall that sociologist and author Eve Ewing wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that said it was time to end the debate about charter schools and celebrate all good schools, whatever they are called. This is one of the talking points of the charter industry, which prefers the public not to notice how many charter schools close every year, how many are low-performing, and how many are run by non-educators who turn a handsome profit.

My response was here.

The New York Times published letters to the editor about the Ewing article. Only one was favorable, written by Jeanne Allen, who runs a charter advocacy organization called the “Center for Education Reform,” funded by rightwing billionaires and Wall Street financiers. CER promotes all kinds of school choice and is hostile to public schools.

The first letter was written by Denis Smith of Ohio, who has appeared on this blog:

To the Editor:

Re “End the Fight Over Charter Schools,” by Eve L. Ewing (Op-Ed, Feb. 23):

Why do we allow two separate but seemingly parallel systems of education, using scarce public funds that are taken from traditional public schools to fund charters, a seeming experiment gone awry? Why do we allow one entity that is accountable and has governance conveyed from the voters in each community and allow the other to avoid the same transparency and accountability?

Here in Ohio, charters are exempt from 150 sections of law that the public schools must be in compliance with to legally operate, yet the public schools are required to support charters with the school district’s transportation system and other services at no cost.

So no, we can’t stop fighting about the subject of charters until we have the same rules for both. If one is exempt from wholesale sections of the law, then by definition it is not a public school but something else, a school that acquires public funds to operate yet has its own rules and is free from much oversight.

Denis D. Smith
Westerville, Ohio
The writer, a charter school critic, is a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, responsible for assuring legal compliance in the operations of these schools.

The Biden administration chose a pro-testing advocate, Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust New York, to announce the decision that states must administer the federally mandated tests this spring. Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education nor has Cindy Marten been confirmed as Deputy Secretary. Who made this decision? Joe Biden? Jill Biden? Ian Rosenblum, who has not yet been confirmed as Deputy Assistant Secretary? (The Assistant Secretary has not even been announced.) Is the Obama administration back?

Joe Biden said unequivocally at a Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh when he was campaigning that he would end the federal mandate for standardized testing. Denisha Jones, lawyer, teacher educator, board member of Defending the Early Years, and the Network for Public Education, asked candidate Biden if he would end standardized testing. Watch his answer here.

This is hugely disappointing, first, because it is a broken promise; second, because it imposes standardized testing in the midst of a pandemic when access to education has been grossly uneven and unequal; third, because it diverts the attention of teachers and students to a meaningless exercise.

Please read this article that I wrote a few weeks ago for Valerie Strauss’s blog: What You Need to Know about Standardized Testing. It begins with the history of IQ testing, which was the forerunner to standardized testing, and shows its relationship to eugenics and racism.

In the middle, I summarize the pointlessness of the tests:

Politicians and the general public assume that tests are good because they provide valuable information. They think that the tests are necessary for equity among racial and ethnic groups.

This is wrong.

The tests are a measure, not a remedy.

The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.

Thus, the teachers do not learn where the students need extra help or which lessons need to be reviewed.

All they receive is a score, so they learn where students ranked compared to one another and compared to students across the state and the nation.

This is of little value to teachers.

This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.

The tests are a boon for the testing corporation. For teachers and students, they are worthless.

Standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and education. The students from affluent families get the highest scores. Those from poor families get the lowest scores. This is the case on every standardized test, whether it is state, national, international, SAT, or ACT. Sometimes poor kids get high scores, and sometimes kids from wealthy families get low scores, but they are outliers. The standardized tests confer privilege on the already advantaged and stigmatize those who have the least. They are not and will never be, by their very nature, a means to advance equity.

In addition, standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. There will always be a bottom half and a top half. Achievement gaps will never close, because bell curves never close. That is their design. By contrast, anyone of legal age may get a driver’s license if they pass the required tests. Access to driver’s licenses are not based on a bell curve. If they were, about 35 to 40 percent of adults would never get a license to drive.

If you are a parent, you will learn nothing from your child’s test score. You don’t really care how he or she ranks compared to others of her age in the state or in another state. You want to know whether she is keeping up with her assignments, whether she participates in class, whether she understands the work, whether she is enthusiastic about school, how she gets along with her peers. The standardized tests won’t answer any of these questions.

So how can a parent find out what he or she wants to know? Ask your child’s teacher.

Who should write the tests? Teachers should write the tests, based on what they taught in class. They can get instant answers and know precisely what their students understood and what they did not understand. They can hold a conference with Johnny or Maria to go over what they missed in class and help them learn what they need to know.

But how will we know how we are doing as a city or a state or a nation? How will we know about achievement gaps and whether they are getting bigger or smaller?

All of that information is already available in the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), plus much more. Scores are disaggregated by state, gender, race, disability status, poverty status, English-language proficiency, and much more. About 20 cities have volunteered to be assessed, and they get the same information.

As we approach the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind — it is important to know this history and this context. No high-performing nation in the world tests every students in grades 3 to 8 every year.

We can say with certainty that the No Child Left Behind program failed to meet its purpose of leaving no child behind.

We can say with certainty that the Race to the Top program did not succeed at raising the nation’s test scores “to the top.”

We can say with certainty that the Every Student Succeeds Act did not achieve its purpose of assuring that every student would succeed.

For the past 10 years, despite (or perhaps because of) this deluge of intrusive federal programs, scores on the NAEP have been flat. The federal laws and programs have come and gone and have had no impact on test scores, which was their purpose.

It is time to think differently. It is time to relax the heavy hand of federal regulation and to recall the original purposes of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: to distribute funding to the neediest students and schools; to support the professional training of teachers; and to assure the civil rights of students.

The federal government should not mandate testing or tell schools how to “reform” themselves, because the federal government lacks the knowledge or know-how or experience to reform schools.

At this critical time, as we look beyond the terrible consequences of the pandemic, American schools face a severe teacher shortage. The federal government can help states raise funding to pay professional salaries to professional teachers. It can help pay for high-quality prekindergarten programs. It can underwrite the cost of meals for students and help pay for nurses in every school.

American education will improve when the federal government does what it does best and allows highly qualified teachers and well-resourced schools to do what they do best.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, shares ideas about teaching in difficult times.


My high school and GED students always loved wrestling with the ideas presented by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bruce Springsteen. I’m sure they would now agree that America needs both – Coates’ Between the World and Me, centered around Coates’ letter to 15-year-old son, and the 71-year-old Springsteen’s Letter to You. Actually we need both masterpieces and Kamilah Forbes’ HBO adaptation of Coates’ advice on how to “become conscious citizens of this beautiful and terrible world.”

Coates’ Between the World and Me tackles “the question of my life,” which is “how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream.” It focuses on the fatal police shooting of his fellow Howard University student, Prince Jones. It illustrates how “the plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

But as Michiko Kakutani observed in her New York Times review, such assertions “skate over the very real — and still dismally insufficient — progress that has been made,” but Coates occasionally acknowledges there have been improvements. Kakutani writes, “His book often reads like an internal dialogue or debate.” And, seeming to concur with that interpretation when discussing the HBO presentation, Coates says it is evidence that “the story America tells about itself and how it tells it is a statement on how much things have changed.”

In the wake of the string of murders by police of unarmed black Americans that are now videotaped, the brilliant 80-minute program prioritizes the police shooting of Prince Jones in Prince Georges County. The location is important because Between the World and Me described the county as a “great enclave of black people who seemed, as much as anyone, to have seized control of their bodies.” But even there, “Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all of the fears that marked it from birth.”

It takes a full book, however, to recount the story of Coates who was raised in Baltimore, the son of a Vietnam veteran, who was a Black Panther and a librarian. As a student, Coates missed the wider historical context of racism. But the Howard faculty did “their duty to disabuse me of my weaponized history.” He reached a balance, however, and as an Atlantic Magazine reporter he drove a revision of the history of the New Deal, the post-WWII Fair Deal and the GI Bill. Despite the good they did for white people, Coates documents the lies perpetuated by these chapters of the “American Dream.”

Perhaps counter-intuitively, that leads to another set of truths found in Springsteen’s lyrics, as well as his autobiography, exploring the “Pax Americana” of his youth. He explains how working class kids or, at least, white youth during “the American Century,” were “destined to live the decent hardworking lives of their parents … if they could scoot through these years of wild pounding hormones without getting hurt or hurting someone else.” Bruce was acculturated into a value system where you “remain true to your crew, your blood, your family, your turf, your greaser brothers and sisters and your country. This was the shit that would get you by when all of the rest came tumbling down.”

As told in “My Hometown,” when Springsteen was 8-years-old, he would sit on the lap of “my old man,” a troubled World War II veteran who was the beneficiary of the GI Bill, and see its bounty, riding “in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town.” Springsteen’s dad would “tousle my hair and say son take a good look around, this is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown.”

But even this dream for white industrial workers was foreclosed. Deindustrialization led to racial violence and with the shotgun blast which signaled, “Troubled times they had come to my hometown.”

It is no criticism of Coates’ wisdom to say it should be complemented by Springsteen’s story of economic injustice done to “black and white” which derailed the progress that was once real. “The Boss” sings of the tragedy which undermined much of the best of the “American Dream:”  “They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks. Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown.

Your hometown. Your hometown Your hometown.”

Three decades later, Springsteen’s “American Skin” also supplements an understanding of the mindsets which have murdered so many black bodies. He begins the story of the “41 shots,” in Harlem, which kill Amadou Diallo as he tried to give his wallet to the police, through the cops’ eyes as “as they cross the bloody river to the other side.” Springsteen then sings about a black mother giving “the talk” to her son:

If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama, you’ll keep your hands in sight”

He concludes:

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

During this era of “Deaths by Despair,” which took off in the white working class America that helped boost Trumpism, Springsteen is the “last man standing,” the only survivor of his original band. He also uses multimedia poetry to make sense of America’s “dark evening stars. And the morning sky of blue…”

He has:

Got down on my knees
Grabbed my pen and bowed my head
Tried to summon all that my heart finds true
And send it in my letter to you

The CD doesn’t include the word “Trump.” I only saw what I believe is one clear reference to  him in “The Rainmaker.” It begins with “Parched crops dying ‘neath a dead sun. We’ve been praying but no good comes.” As they face, “The dog’s howling, homes stripped bare,” they admit, “We’ve been worried but now we’re scared.”

This fear opens the door to “the Rainmaker, a little faith for hire.” And the Rainmaker says that “white’s black and black’s white.” 

Getting back to the essential contribution of HBO’s Between the World and Me, Bruce Springsteen is my favorite poet/musical artist, but Kamilah Forbes draws on an all-star cast who place Coates’ “tactile, visceral” account of the “central truth” about the “domination of black bodies” in a profound context.  I’d say the amazing power of the images of the “entire diaspora” successfully allow Coates to speak the hardest truths without becoming excessively morbid. To really grasp Coates’ contribution, his indictments of America must be read along with the celebration of the multicultural, multigenerational expressions of black families, music, dance, art being sketched on the screen, and indomitable energy that Forbes brings together.

(I must also add that those touching scenes remind me of Springsteen’s videos of family, friends, and fellow musicians.)

The film version of Between the World and Mecombines historic and contemporary images family photos and videos, such as a baby boy feeding a candy bar to his dad, as well as historic battles, and the joyous dancing of children who would be killed, unarmed, by the police. Coates’ descriptions of Howard University as his “Mecca” juxtaposes the exuberant expressions of college students’ performances with that of tailgate parties of alumni reliving their Howard energies. Coates concludes this compilation of photos and films by saying they hold “power more gorgeous than any voting rights act.” 

Coates’ book – as opposed to a television special – had the space to acknowledge that white Americans also are a “new people.” They are “like us, a modern invention.” Coates concludes, and the awesome cast of the video also demonstrates how, “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.”

I expect Coates would agree that both the indictments and the glories of American culture can be best understood when his books’ horrific truths are juxtaposed with both – the multiple genres of the HBO presentation and Bruce Springsteen’s versions of history which are also presented in multiple genres of lyrics, music, autobiography, and film.    

Farhad Manjoo is an opinion writer for the New York Times. In this column, he says that the wealth of American billionaires has grown dramatically during the pandemic. We know that millions of Americans are facing hunger, poverty, and evictions. Inequality is expanding.

He writes:

When I called up Chuck Collins on Tuesday afternoon, I found him glued to one of the grimmest new metrics documenting America’s economic and social unraveling.

Collins is a scholar of inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, and since March he has been tracking how the collective wealth of American billionaires has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In previous recessions, Collins said, billionaires were hit along with the rest of us; it took almost three years for Forbes’s 400 richest people to recover losses incurred in 2008’s Great Recession.

But in the coronavirus recession of 2020, most billionaires have not lost their shirts. Instead, they’ve put on bejeweled overcoats and gloves made of spun gold — that is, they’ve gotten richer than ever before.

On Tuesday, as the stock market soared to a record, Collins was watching the billionaires cross a depressing threshold: $1 trillion.

That is the amount of new wealth American billionaires have amassed since March, at the start of the devastating lockdowns that state and local governments imposed to curb the pandemic.

On March 18, according to a report Collins and his colleagues published last week, America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. When the markets closed on Tuesday, there were 650 billionaires and their combined wealth was now close to $4 trillion. In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, American billionaires’ wealth grew by a third.

It is difficult to think of a more succinctly obscene illustration of the unfairness of the American economic and political system.

“The economy is now wired ‘heads you win, tails I lose,’ to funnel wealth to the top,” Collins told me.

Billionaires amassed their new billions just as millions of other Americans plunged into dire financial straits. More than 20 million people lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic. As Congress lazily contemplates whether or not to bother to continue to provide economic assistance to America’s neediest, as many as 13 million people are at risk of losing the expanded benefits that keep them just beyond the grip of hunger and homelessness.

Food banks across the country are bracing for another surge in demand. If a federal moratorium on evictions is allowed to expire at the end of the year, millions of Americans will have to pay months of back rent — making them vulnerable to what housing advocates warn will be a wave of evictions.

Why are American billionaires doing so well while so many other Americans suffer? Part of the story is garden-variety American inequality. Stocks are overwhelmingly owned by the wealthy, and the stock market has recovered from its early-pandemic depths much more quickly than other parts of the economy.

But some billionaires are also benefiting from economic and technological trends that were accelerated by the pandemic. Among these are the owners and investors of retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree and Dollar Generalwhich have reported huge profits this year while many of their smaller competitors were clobbered as the coronavirus spread.

Then there are companies that have bet on the rapid digitization of everything. Eric Yuan, the chief executive of Zoom, became a billionaire in 2019. Now he is worth almost $20 billion. Apoorva Mehta, the founder of the grocery-delivery company Instacart, was not a billionaire last year; this year, after a spike in orders that led to a new round of investment that pumped up the value of his company, he’s safely in the club. Dan Gilbert, the chairman of Quicken Loans, was worth less than $7 billion in March; now he commands more than $43 billion.

But like in the rest of the economy, there is a great deal of stratification even among billionaires — richer billionaires got even richer in 2020 than the poorer ones did.

Some of the numbers are staggering. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, was worth about $113 billion at the start of the pandemic. Now he is worth $182 billion — an increase of about $69 billion. Jim, Alice and Rob Walton, three of the largest shareholders of Walmart, saw their combined wealth grow by $47 billion during the pandemic.

This is a good time to urge you to read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.

The more equal societies are, the happier they are. We are sinking into an abyss of anger, hopelessness, envy, and despair.

In this post, Bill Moyers conducts an important interview with investigative journalist Anne Nelson, who talks about her new book, SHADOW NETWORK: MEDIA, MONEY, AND THE SECRET HUB OF THE RADICAL RIGHT.

Read this and you will understand the dark forces that are undermining our democracy and our democratic institutions, including our public schools.

BILL MOYERS: Let me begin with the most current part of the story, which comes just a little bit after your book is published when the conservative movement is facing a very decisive encounter with the very forces it’s been trying to defeat now for 40 years. How do you think the shadow network reads the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What are they making of it?

ANNE NELSON: Well, I think that they consider it a great triumph and a kind of culmination of 40 years of effort. And I demure a bit at the term conservative because this is, for me, the radical right. It is so far to the right of mainstream American public opinion that I feel that it’s in a different category both in terms of its ideology and its tactics. But they decided way back in the day of Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the movement that they–

BILL MOYERS: In the early 1970s, right?

ANNE NELSON: We’re going back to the ’70s and even earlier, because he was active on the Barry Goldwater campaign. And he was frustrated time and again by moderates in the Republican Party and people who were willing to work with Democrats to advance policy and solutions to public problems. And he created organizations and tactics that he openly declared should destroy the regime, as he called it, which would be the U.S. government as we’ve known it for the last century.

BILL MOYERS: Paul Weyrich is the man I remember saying–

PAUL WEYRICH: I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populous goes down.

BILL MOYERS: He was essentially saying, as a newly anointed leader of the religious right, what their philosophy was. The fewer people vote, the better their chance.

ANNE NELSON: That’s right. And from the beginning, in terms of their electoral tactics, it has been a matter of weaponizing certain churches and pastors and really exerting tremendous pressure on them to use churches as instruments of a radical right ideology. And then using similar tactics to suppress votes for Democrats, especially in key battleground states.

BILL MOYERS: So that’s why you conclude in your book they were to the right of the Republican Party. They were not just an offshoot of the Republican Party. They were not just fundraisers for the Republican Party, but they were ideologically and organizationally taking the Republican Party far to the right.

ANNE NELSON: Absolutely, and somewhat to my surprise, I found that their prototype was the Southern Baptist Convention, where they decided that in order to move it to the right, they had to use questionable tactics to elevate their supporters to key positions of influence and purge the Southern Baptist Convention of moderates in the seminaries and in the colleges and among the pastors. And it was a fairly ruthless process, and once these tactics were developed, they applied it to the Republican Party. And you had the same kind of tactics going on of purging moderates, some of whom had been in office for years.

BILL MOYERS: I should point out to some of our younger listeners and readers that the Southern Baptist Convention at the time and still today was the largest Protestant denomination in America. You know, something like it eventually reached 16 and a half million members scattered throughout the South and the West. We’ll come back to them in a moment. What do you think about the NEW YORK TIMES’ assessment that Amy Coney Barrett represents a new conservativism rooted in faith. That’s how their headline described a three-page portrait of her life and career. Does that make sense to you?

ANNE NELSON: Not entirely, because as a conservative Catholic, she follows in the footsteps of others such as Brett Kavanaugh and Antonin Scalia. So that’s not very new. And what I look at in my book SHADOW NETWORK is how these interlocking organizations support each other. The book is about the Council for National Policy– a radical right-wing organization that is very secretive, and it brings together big donors like the DeVos family and oil interests from Texas and Oklahoma and political operatives. And, for example, members include the leadership of the Federalist Society. Well, Amy Coney Barrett was a member of the Federalist Society for a number of years and is still a speaker at their events. It includes the head of Hillsdale College, which is one of their campus partners. Amy Coney Barrett was commencement speaker for Hillsdale College this year. So, there are all of these organizations that have been turning their wheels to promote her really for several years going back. She appeared on previous lists of potential nominees for the Supreme Court, and I don’t believe she would have been included in those lists had she not confirmed to their traditional idea of an activist judge.

BILL MOYERS: They knew what they were looking for.

ANNE NELSON: And I should add that one of the most powerful components in the Council for National Policy is the anti-abortion movement. Organizations such as the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America and other interests, which are anti-environmentalist interests from the fossil fuels industry. So, I think that we’ve seen a roadmap of what to expect moving forward.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me, who does make up the Council for National Policy?

ANNE NELSON: So, the Council for National Policy has traditionally been around 400 members. From the beginning, it’s included people with big money, a lot of them from the Texas and Oklahoma oil industries, but also the DeVos family of Michigan from the Amway fortune, and Betsy DeVos, of course. So, it has the big money to pay for things. It’s got the leaders of so-called grassroots organizations. Now, I say so-called, because they do not spring from the grassroots the way that you would expect from the name. They are organized with a great deal of money from the top down. So, for example, the National Rifle Association– their leadership is part of the CNP. They get money from the donors, they organize their millions of members, and you combine these with the strategists and the media owners. And I spend a lot of time in my book talking about the power of fundamentalist and conservative radio in swing states. Things that people on the East Coast overlook to a terrible degree. And the same thing with fundamentalist broadcasting, which has really several of these broadcasters — the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Trinity Broadcasting Network have really turned into outlets replicating the messaging from this organization. So, you have them interlocking and interacting and each supporting each other’s function. And I should explain something here, which is that they represent historically a white, Protestant, I’m sorry, but male-dominated patriarchy–

BILL MOYERS: No, that’s okay.

ANNE NELSON: And I have to say that demographically its time has passed. The United States has become more diverse religiously, ethnically, and racially. And they recognize that their core positions are not supported by the majority of Americans. So, they went to the limit, pulled out all the stops to get Trump elected by a tiny margin, but they doubt that they can do that again. The signs are not good. What they can do is make their hold on the federal courts concrete through the Supreme Court, and therefore, get majorities in cases like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and their political activation of the churches with tax-exempt status. And further their hold on power through the courts.

BILL MOYERS: So which part of the shadow network do you think chose, mentored, and groomed Amy Coney Barrett for this moment?

ANNE NELSON: Well, I have to speculate here. But I would see a fairly straight line from her position to Leonard Leo’s. Now, Leonard Leo is a very conservative Catholic. He was the operational figure of the Federalist Society for a number of years, and recently he shifted from that position to an even more activist position. Amy Coney Barrett was already a member of the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society has a pipeline through the lower federal courts, which she benefited from. So, in terms of this Catholic interaction they would be quite close to each other. Another key figure is Carrie Severino, who is from the Judicial Crisis Network, which was co-founded by Leonard Leo. And again, very right-wing Catholics who have tended to be overlooked while people focus on the fundamentalist Protestants. But Ralph Reed, who has been somebody who’s been active with the fundamentalist politicization for decades declared openly years ago that the next step to their campaign was to enlist the Catholic vote. And they’ve been aggressively doing that in recent years.

BILL MOYERS: And then there’s Don McGahn who was for three years Donald Trump’s chief White House counsel, graduate of Notre Dame, admirer of Amy Coney Barrett, who was scouting himself for recruits to bring up, train, groom, and put into the mix for potential Supreme Court justices. And I read that he was highly enthusiastic about her, had talked to Leo and that they had you had both these White House and legal forces behind her, knowing that she was one of them.

[The interview continues. I urge you to open the link and read it in full to understand the secret network that is currently running the federal government and selecting justices for the Supreme Court.]

James Hohmann of the Washington Post reviews a report that is soon to be released. It is highly critical of Attorney General William Barr.

He writes:

“A forthcoming report from the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, prepared in partnership with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, is sharply critical of Attorney General Bill Barr.

“The authors gave me a first look at their 277-page report, which is scheduled for publication next week, and focuses on nine areas, including the misleading summary Barr initially offered of special counsel Bob Mueller’s conclusions; the Justice Department’s handling of the whistleblower complaint related to President Trump’s infamous call with Ukraine’s president; his intervention in politically sensitive prosecutions, such as the cases of former Trump advisers Roger Stone and Michael Flynn; the deployment of federal agents and troops against protestors, including the order to clear Lafayette Square; the firing or reassignment of U.S. attorneys, especially in the Southern District of New York; his role in trying to block the publication of material unflattering to the president, such as former national security adviser John Bolton’s memoir; the politicization of several offices within the department, in particular the Office of Legal Counsel; and his resistance to congressional oversight, including subpoenas.

“The meatiest, and perhaps most timely, chapter focuses on Barr’s support for investigating the origins of the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Several of the authors have backgrounds in national security and intelligence, and they express fear that the ongoing investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut, ordered up by Barr, could have chilling effects on collecting and disseminating information about potential foreign interference amid the 2020 election.

“There is a grave danger to the Intelligence Community from politicized DOJ investigations, intimidation and potential prosecutions,” the authors argue. “The use of a criminal investigation is ill-suited to examining the process of foreign intelligence analysis, poses unnecessary risks to intelligence sources and methods, intimidates and alienates foreign intelligence analysts, and chills the analytic process in a way likely to undermine the candor essential to producing the best intelligence information for national policymakers. The cumulative effects are likely to increase the attrition of talented intelligence personnel and neutralize the concept of ‘speaking truth to power’ that is essential to the effective use of intelligence in national policy decisions. All of this weakens prospective U.S. intelligence capabilities to the advantage of Russia and other adversaries in competition with the interests and goals of the United States.”

Barr’s spokespeople at the Justice Department did not respond to three requests for comment. The attorney general has vigorously defended the propriety of all his actions since taking office early last year. He testified last year that he thinks “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign in 2016 and has repeatedly cast doubt on whether there was proper predication for the investigation. He has said that – as the nation’s chief law enforcement official – he has an obligation to pursue wrongdoing, if there was any. He recently delivered a fiery speech that criticized career prosecutors for the zealousness with which they have pursued certain targets of investigations and defended the politicization of the Justice Department on his watch.

 

The three chairs of the 10-member working group that prepared this document over several months are University of Pennsylvania law professor Claire Finkelstein, the faculty director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law; University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush; and Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of CREW, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, and a former federal corruption prosecutor.

The bipartisan working group includes several members with significant national security backgrounds, including Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, who served as general counsel of the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency; George Croner, who oversaw signals intelligence and FISA compliance in the operations division of the NSA’s general counsel’s office; Stuart Gerson, a former acting attorney general who ran the DOJ’s civil division under George H.W. Bush; Richard Meyer,who taught law at West Point after 22 years in the Army, including as a military intelligence specialist; and Shawn Turner,who wascommunications director for the director of national intelligence. Donald Ayer, who was deputy attorney general under Bush and Barr’s boss at one point, was a consultant for the project.

It is unknown whether Durham will issue any findings about his probe before Election Day, but Barr has not ruled out that he would announce something during the homestretch of the campaign. “The Attorney General appears to be determined to use the Durham investigation as a publicity tool in order to justify President Trump’s conduct in the 2016 campaign and to discredit the investigation of Robert Mueller,” the report says. “All signs point toward a politically orchestrated ‘October surprise.’”

Trump signed an executive order last year giving Barr broad authority to declassify government secrets, and the attorney general has used it. The Justice Department recently released a pair of documents that seemed designed to cast fresh doubt on the judgment of senior law enforcement officials who investigated possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016, showing that one of the FBI case agents thought prosecutors were out to “get Trump” and that a key source of allegations against the president had been previously investigated as a possible Russian asset.

Last month, a senior prosecutor working with Durham on his investigation resigned, raising concern that Barr was pushing the case toward some kind public announcement to benefit Trump ahead of the election. Durham’s investigators have reportedly asked witnesses about how the FBI handled the case after it came to have doubts about the credibility of Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer whose work the bureau relied on in part to obtain the secret court order to surveil Page.

The working group says it came to “the reluctant conclusion” that Barr is “using the powers” of the Justice Department to help get Trump reelected and cited several interviews that the attorney general has given to Fox News about the Durham investigation. The authors conclude with a list of 10 recommendations that they say would safeguard the rule of law, including ensuring more independence for future special counsels, requiring recusal of presidential appointees from matters involving his personal financial interests, staggered 10-year terms for U.S. attorneys and inspectors general, more autonomy for career prosecutors, additional independence for members of the intelligence community, more vigorous congressional oversight and requiring all Justice Department attorneys to comply with ethics advice from DOJ ethics officials. 

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, told the group in an interview quoted in the report that the questioning of intelligence analysts as part of a criminal probe into substantive foreign intelligence analysis issues has been “unprecedented.” Clapper said he could think of no other instance of such an inquiry during his 54 years in the intelligence world, and he complained that this will have a “very chilling effect” on analysts inside the agencies. “That just shouldn’t be,” Clapper said. “The intelligence community is supposed to tell the unvarnished truth as best it can, which is a hard enough job to start with.”