Magazine Editors Admit Class Bigotry, Laugh

In 2013, The CIA Paris Review celebrated its 60th anniversary. In August of that year, four figures associated with the magazine—editors Lorin Stein and John Jeremiah Sullivan, and writers James Salter and Mona Simpson—appeared on Charlie Rose. During one of Rose’s patchworks of sycophancy and accidental Absurdist Theater, there emerged a telling social fact. The host read a comment about The Paris Review from the editor of Vanity Fair.

Rose: It was Graydon Carter who said, “I am reliably informed that this little magazine comprises four elements: shabby, cramped quarters, meager wages, attractive interns of independent means [laughing], and boundless enthusiasm.” That’s pretty fair.

Simpson: I think that’s very fair—and enduring.

Rose: And smart editors.

Stein: [Smiling] He didn’t say that.

[General laughter]

Rose: He didn’t say it. Graydon said it. But that was his, “reliably informed.” But tell me about the parties too.

I hate to interrupt the panel right when they were about to discuss parties at George Plimpton’s place back in the day, but did you catch that? The editor of a famous magazine said that Paris Review interns were all independently wealthy (and apparently good-looking), and representatives of The Paris Review readily agreed. In fact, they were amused. If you don’t see what’s wrong with that, try changing Carter’s quote to refer to “male interns” or “white interns.” Had someone made either of those allegations, Rose’s guests would have objected furiously, even if it were true.

Nor is this merely a matter of the cost of living in New York City. There are many colleges and universities in the Five Boroughs from which the magazine could draw students for internships, possibly even in return for credit toward a degree. Should the PR team feel adventurous, they could grant internships to some students who receive need-based scholarships from their colleges. If the magazine has a bunch of trust-fund recipients for interns, that is by choice.

Unpaid interns play a large role in deciding what a magazine publishes. At most magazines that allow writers to submit work, the overwhelming majority of rejected manuscripts get rejected by interns. As Paris Review editors explained in a question-and-answer session on Reddit[1] shortly after this episode of Charlie Rose: “Our interns screen the unsolicited submissions (the ‘slush’) and pass the good stuff along to the editors.” The social background of PR interns makes for a sensibility heavily influenced by privilege. It also makes for bias in favor of submitters whose cover letters and writing reveal posh backgrounds.

Likewise, internships are often regarded as an essential qualification for writers and editors seeking full-time work. Here is a description of the advantages gained by interns. It appears on the web site of a magazine called The Paris Review.

Paris Review internships are a great introduction to the literary world. Past graduates have gone on to find work at a wide range of literary agencies, publishing houses, magazines, and newspapers, among them HarperCollins, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Simon and Schuster, The Gernert Agency, The Wylie Agency, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and The Wall Street Journal. Others have gone on to enjoy successful freelance careers as editors and writers.

The issue of interns and access came up in the Reddit Q&A. Chat-participant BuiltLikeTaft asked whether “such heavy reliance on unpaid labor is limiting access” and if “that is likely to change.” The Paris Review team replied:

Good question. It’s something we’ve thought a fair amount about.

For qualified applicants who can’t commit to a full-time unpaid internship—a common situation, especially for people who are holding down jobs—we offer positions as readers, which are ad-hoc and have flexible hours.

That’s nice, I guess, but I don’t believe “ad-hoc reader” carries the same résumé weight as “intern.” Why can’t The Paris Review raise money to provide paid internships for qualified applicants with financial need? The magazine’s editors frequently discuss attending parties with rich, literature-loving New Yorkers, so why not see if they can get a donation or two between canapés? It seems that it would not be difficult to create a small percentage of internships that pay, especially given that the editors told another questioner that “[w]e tend to have four or five interns at any given time.” But none of those possibilities appears to have occurred to The Paris Review’s “smart editors.”

For his part, Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter made news on the subject of class and magazines a couple months before The Paris Review’s Charlie Rose episode. He hired a new contributing editor, Pippa Middleton, whose principal qualification was that she was the sister of Kate Middleton, wife of the UK’s Prince William.

In the U.S., the worst form of censorship is practiced by the rulers of the media rather than the government. It is directed against writers who were born outside the elite and those who write about subjects that make the elite uncomfortable. The publishing industry’s use of trust-funded interns, and its habit of privileging former interns when filling paid positions, are crucial factors in such censorship.

Here is the video of that episode of Charlie Rose. The discussion I quoted above occurs with 10:52 remaining. (The counter runs backward. I don’t know if that symbolizes anything.)

[1] In that chat, The Paris Review was represented by editor Lorin Stein, deputy editor Sadie Stein, associate editor Stephen Andrew Hiltner, assistant editor Clare Fentress, and digital director Justin Alvarez.


Victory for Greece

Alexis Tsipras and supporters of Syriza. Photo: Agence France-Presse
Alexis Tsipras and supporters of Syriza. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Syriza, Greece’s party of the left, triumphed in Sunday’s elections. The party fell just short of a majority in parliament, winning 149 seats out of 300. Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, is now prime minister in a coalition government made up of his party and a conservative nationalist party called Independent Greeks, which holds 13 seats in parliament. The leader of the latter party, Panos Kammenos, will be minister of defense. That will give pause to anyone who knows the history of military rule in Greece (or anyone who has seen the film Z). On the other hand, Independent Greeks have little public support on their own. They are also anti-austerity and regard the German government as the main enemy of their nationalist ideas. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, was a leading culprit in forcing budget cuts on Greece, so the fight against German economic imperialism offers a basis for cooperation.

There is better news in the appointment of economist Yanis Varoufakis as finance minister. Varoufakis has referred to austerity policies as “a kind of fiscal waterboarding” that made Greece “a debt colony.” He and Tsipras are sticking to their demand for renegotiation of Greece’s debt. Syriza has also pledged to re-build the Greek economy and deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by austerity. The party has promised to provide free meals for 300,000 of the poor and to provide medical care for unemployed citizens who lack health insurance.

Tsipras’s team recognizes that Greece’s dire economic-growth figures are largely due to a lack of consumption spending by everyday people who went broke during the current crisis. They have committed to increasing the minimum wage and providing partial debt relief to individuals in poverty. That will help those who have suffered most in recent years, as well as the national economy.

Also on the agenda is the abolition of the unified property tax, which hit middle-income families hard, and which will be replaced by a tax on large estates and luxury homes. Syriza also plans to deal with tax evasion by the wealthy, which is rife.

You can read the party’s full program here.

Greece’s problems are severe (for a thorough account, see this 2011 piece by Stathis Kouvelakis), but the old policies made the situation much worse.

Threats to Greece, internal and external, are not hard to find. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party finished third (although a distant third) in the elections and saw their percentage of the vote reduced slightly to 6.3%. They remain a serious threat, due most of all to their infiltration of police and military forces.

Workers everywhere should watch the situation in Greece carefully and pressure their governments to cooperate with the Tsipras administration. That is especially true for German workers, who hold a high standard of living due to strong unions and a welfare state that is almost uniquely generous. The goal of bankers in throttling Greece and other debt-strapped countries in Europe (Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain), is to destroy labor unions and public services in those countries. That will create a large, new cheap-labor zone within the European Union. If that happens (and things have been moving quickly in that direction since the 2008 crash), good-paying jobs in countries such as Germany will disappear, re-appearing in the cheap-labor zone at much lower wages and smaller benefits.

Decades ago, the U.S. government obeyed the wishes of big business by following a similar plan, intervening to crush workers in countries such as Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, and Indonesia. Big business said “thank you” to Uncle Sam and moved American jobs to low-wage countries impoverished by repressive U.S. policies. The suffering of workers in those countries thereby spread to American workers. That dynamic continues to create misery to this day. High-paid workers in Northern Europe and elsewhere must recognize that if the economic destruction of Greece is completed, their economic destruction will follow.

The Greek Elections

Greece is preparing to elect a new parliament. Syriza, the only party that represents the people, is leading in the polls. A coalition of leftist groups, Syriza has gained support because it opposed the devastating austerity program forced on the country by the banks and the two “mainstream” parties (the New Democracy Party and the Socialist Party). Austerity policies, the practice of reducing public spending during an economic downturn, have had the same brutal effects wherever they have been tried. They reached their sadistic nadir in Greece.

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza (and, here’s hoping, Greece’s next prime minister) wrote a piece in 2013 explaining the need to end the banker-prescribed and politician-imposed attack on Greece.

In 2011, I wrote about austerity policies in both Greece and the U.S. I interviewed journalist and economic expert Greg Palast, who argued that the Greek government should follow the example of Argentina in 2002 and simply refuse to pay a significant portion of the debt. He also called for an end to Greece’s participation in the European Union’s transnational currency, the euro, which was devised to give the central banks effective control over fiscal policy.

Palast recently criticized Tsipras for stating that he wants Greece to stay with the euro. That would indeed be a mistake. But if Tsipras becomes prime minister, he will soon learn that remaining in the eurozone is incompatible with the return to sane economics that he wants to achieve.

The election in Greece is as clear-cut as any in history. Syriza versus the other parties translates to the people versus foreign bankers.

The Richest 1% Will Soon Have More Wealth Than Everyone Else

A new report by the British charity Oxfam reveals that, on current trends, the richest 1% of the world’s population will possess more wealth than the other 99% by next year.

Oxfam notes that members of the 1% “had an average wealth of $2.7 million per adult in 2014.” In the report, titled Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More, we learn that the poorest 80% of the global population hold only a negligible amount of wealth.

In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet. Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world.

In a previous post, I discussed recent work by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Those two scholars charted a dramatic increase in the hoard of wealth held by the richest Americans. But they lacked clear data about the role of inheritance in that phenomenon. For their report, the Oxfam team examined Forbes magazine’s list of billionaires and determined that “over one-third of billionaires started from a position of wealth.”

The report includes many useful recommendations, including new social investment, protecting union rights, and raising taxes on the rich. Oxfam also recommends a battery of measures against wealthy tax cheats: “stopping the use of tax havens, including through a blacklist and sanctions; making companies pay based on their real economic activity.”

There are many salient proposals in the report, but the press release includes one strange recommendation.

Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, Chief Executive Officer of E.L. Rothschild and chairman of the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism . . . called on business leaders meeting in Davos [at the World Economic Forum annual meeting] to play their part in tackling extreme inequality.

Asking the business elite to do something to reduce economic exploitation and class differences? That dog just won’t hunt, except maybe foxes.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Newly Discovered Speech

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

On December 7, 1964, Dr. King gave a speech in London. A few days later, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. (My guess is that if Dr. King had lived to see the Nobel Peace Prize given to Henry Kissinger in 1973, he would have given his prize back.) Brian DeShazor of the Pacifica Radio Archives recently discovered the speech, which aired today as an exclusive on Democracy Now!

Dr. King spoke about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, of course, but also such subjects as economic injustice, apartheid in South Africa, and the rights of immigrants in the United Kingdom. In this segment of the speech, he discussed a common retort to human rights movements, viz. that change is moving too fast and that patience and time will solve all problems.

We have heard and we have lived with the myth of time. The only answer that I can give to that myth is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I must honestly say to you that I’m convinced that the forces of ill will have often used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill. And we may have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around saying, “Wait on time.”

Dr. King also called for an economic embargo on South Africa’s apartheid regime and criticized what we might call the cult of “free trade.”

Why is trade regarded by all nations and all ideologies as sacred? Why does our government and your government in Britain refuse to intervene effectively now, as if only when there is a bloodbath in South Africa—or a Korea or a Vietnam—will they recognize a crisis? If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil, if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny that we find there, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.

The speech also included this powerful passage in which Dr. King responded to a contemporary trend in pop psychology, which emphasized being “well-adjusted.”

But I must say to you this evening, my friends, as I come to a close, that there are some things in my own nation, and there are some things in the world, to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation, discrimination, colonialism and these particular forces. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.

See the Democracy Now! report, with full audio and a transcript of the speech, here.




The New Racial Scapegoating

Racism and right-wing extremism have returned with a boldness not seen since the Jim Crow era. The signs are clear. Right-wingers openly gloated about the police killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown Jr., shortly after they lionized armed racists at the Bundy ranch who challenged the existence of the U.S. government. Meanwhile, George Zimmerman basked in the folk-hero status that conservatives bestowed on him after he killed unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. To complete the picture, there are attacks on voting rights, anti-immigrant outbursts, and the spectacle of the Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, embracing a group regarded as a “domestic terrorist movement” by the FBI.

The explanation for resurgent hate-mongering seems equally clear: the country elected and re-elected an African-American president. If we need another explanation, we can cite white conservatives’ fears about immigration and changing U.S. demographics. But a central cause of the racist revival has gone unnoticed. Right-wingers opened a toxic new era of racism when they decided to scapegoat minorities for the financial crisis.

The crisis, and the bipartisan giveaways to the banks that were responsible for it, demolished conservatives’ claims about regulation and made a joke of their professed devotion to “fiscal responsibility” and “self-reliance.” Naturally, Republican politicians and right-wing media could not allow their followers to see the crisis in its true light. They needed to find someone to take the fall for Wall Street’s thefts. So they launched a massive campaign to blame racial minorities, especially African Americans.

At the center of that campaign is the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. The CRA set out this objective for federal bank regulators:

to require each appropriate Federal financial supervisory agency to use its authority when examining financial institutions, to encourage such institutions to help meet the credit needs of the local communities in which they are chartered consistent with the safe and sound operation of such institutions.

The law was designed to discourage “redlining,” in which banks refuse to make loans to residents of certain neighborhoods, irrespective of the applicants’ credit. Redlining is a cornerstone of housing discrimination motivated by race bias, class bias, or both. With good reason, the authors of the CRA believed that if a bank accepts deposits from residents of a particular area, the bank should not systematically exclude those residents from its services.

Did that law cause an economic meltdown three decades after it passed? Let’s look at what the experts say. Dean Baker, an economist who issued early warnings about the dangers of the housing bubble, has repeatedly written that the Community Reinvestment Act is not to blame for the financial crash. In 2011, Baker wrote: “The biggest actors in the subprime market were mortgage banks like Ameriquest and Countrywide . . . They were not covered by the CRA.” “Many of the worst loans were made to finance homes purchased in newly created exurbs,” Baker added. “The CRA is about having banks make loans in inner city areas where they take deposits.”

The U.S. government’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission reached the same conclusion. In its 2011 report, the Commission stated that “the CRA was not a significant factor in subprime lending or the crisis . . . Research indicates only 6% of high-cost loans—a proxy for subprime loans—had any connection to the law.”

Even Bloomberg Businessweek published a piece rejecting right-wingers’ attempts to blame the CRA for the crisis. In a September 2008 article in that publication, Aaron Pressman wrote that “loans made under the CRA program were made in a more responsible way than other subprime loans.” In fact, “CRA loans carried lower rates than other subprime loans and were less likely to end up securitized into the mortgage-backed securities that have caused so many losses.”

Pressman also offered helpful suggestions for anyone looking for government policies that contributed to the crash.

Better targets for blame in government circles might be the 2000 law which ensured that credit default swaps would remain unregulated, the [Securities and Exchange Commission’s] puzzling 2004 decision to allow the largest brokerage firms to borrow upwards of 30 times their capital and that same agency’s failure to oversee those brokerage firms in subsequent years as many gorged on subprime debt.

Of course, that sort of analysis was the last thing leading conservatives wanted their followers to see. The Community Reinvestment Act was a terribly weak basis for a frame-up, but rightists lacked a better one. So they pushed their trumped-up case as hard as they could.

On September 25, 2008—ten days after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection—Laura Ingraham was a guest on The O’Reilly Factor. Host and guest both endorsed the lie that the crash was due to CRA-driven efforts to force banks to make home loans to “minority communities.”

Ingraham: Bill, the problem here is government intervention in the free markets. Nineteen ninety-five, when Bill Clinton decided to tell, you know, Robert Rubin to rewrite the rules that govern the Community Reinvestment Act and push all these institutions to lend to minority communities, many were very risky loans. That was a noble idea, perhaps, but that certainly wasn’t following free-market principles. This big pressure on institutions to dole out money and these risky loans started this whole ball rolling at Fannie [Mae] and Freddie [Mac].

O’Reilly: I don’t disagree with you.

That same month, Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto put the same message more succinctly: “Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster.” In October 2008, Lisa Schiffren at National Review offered the McCain campaign advice on how to address the financial crisis:

Obama and his allies . . .  overrode traditional banking norms, which they called racist. Now we are all paying for their leftist ideology. For a real fight, mention the Community Reinvestment Act.

Sean Hannity followed the same line in November 2008, saying that “The federal government and the Democrats, they forced these banks, through the Community Reinvestment Act, to make these risky loans.”

The right’s obsessive scapegoating has continued apace since 2008. In 2010, Glenn Beck called the CRA a “scheme that really led to all of the things that we’re now having to bail banks out for.” And here is Rush Limbaugh in 2013: “There was a thing called a Community Redevelopment or Reinvestment Act. I’m not sure of the title.” It appears that you have researched this matter carefully, Mr. Limbaugh. Please continue. “[The CRA] was a plan designed to get people into houses who had no business being in houses because they couldn’t afford them.” Limbaugh then specifically excused Wall Street: “You might have heard that the banks were responsible, that the banks did this. The banks were under federal orders.” Lest his listeners miss the point of his broadcast, Limbaugh said: “Most of the beneficiaries of the subprime mortgage were minorities.” Lest his listeners still miss the point, he added: “Racial minorities.”

Those lies by Limbaugh were double-barreled. The evidence indicates that most borrowers who received subprime loans were white. More fundamentally, the “beneficiaries of the subprime mortgage,” as Limbaugh calls them, were not the people who took out those loans. The true beneficiaries were the financial institutions that bundled worthless home loans into securities, sold them to unsuspecting customers, crashed the world economy by doing so, and then received a fortune in government handouts.

Right-wingers’ cover-up for Wall Street created an ugly new strain of race-baiting. Fox-watching, Limbaugh-listening white people had long been presented with vicious stereotypes of minorities, particularly African Americans. The two main stereotypes are the violent criminal and the welfare cheat: witness George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton campaign ads and Ronald Reagan’s fictitious Chicago welfare queen. But terrible as those slurs are, they have certain limits.

Before the ’08 crash, if you were a white conservative living in a suburb, small town, or rural area with few black residents, your fear of black criminals probably did not seem an immediate, daily threat (depending, of course, on your level of paranoia). And, as much as you might fulminate against “minorities and illegal immigrants on welfare,” your (fictitious) grievance against them was probably restricted to complaining about paying taxes to support “freeloaders.”

All that changed in the wake of the right’s post-crash scapegoating. In Foxworld, the urban thug and the welfare queen both graduated to white-collar crime on a global scale. After September 2008, if you or someone close to you lost a job, lost a home, or suffered other economic fallout, conservative media were there to tell you that greedy minorities were the ones who did it to you. It was—is—a whole new chapter in the classically American story of misdirected anger.

It is easy to see the impact of that gross distortion of reality. If you believe the Fox-Rush gang, you believe that your post-2008 economic struggles were caused by minorities, and especially black people, taking homes they didn’t deserve and threatening your job and home by wrecking the economy. That belief lies at the root of the current manifestation of racism, which is intensely focused on the idea of defending home and neighborhood. George Zimmerman is a hero to conservatives because they regard him as a man ready to use force to stop the black threat to the neighborhood—or in his words, stop a “fucking punk” who was “looking at all the houses” and “up to no good.” Cliven Bundy takes on a similar role for right-wingers, claiming to defend God-given property rights against a black man in the White House. Bundy’s friends at Fox News Channel distanced themselves from him when he stated their racism a little too explicitly, but neither the appeals to armed violence nor the racism underlying them are going away any time soon.

If that seems far-fetched, consider the case of Representative Steve King (R., Iowa), who equated President Obama with Kim Jong-un because of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to cancel the Washington Redskins’ trademark. Back in September 2009, King took a leading role in the effort to protect the banks by demonizing minorities. In a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, he characterized the financial crash by combining the stereotype of the black welfare queen with the stereotype of the black criminal, throwing ACORN into the mix for good measure.

These are the things, some of the things, that ACORN has done. They’ve contributed to the toxic-mortgage situation that brought about the economic meltdown, just a year ago. And they’ve done so by shaking down lenders, by demanding contributions from lenders.

Rep. King’s speech displays all the elements of the right’s racist scapegoating: corrupt minorities and their allies staging a shakedown, demanding homes and money they don’t deserve, while powerless white bankers are compelled to go along. And those imaginary events are supposed to have taken place when George W. Bush was president, before Barack Obama—described by conservatives as a black “thug” from Chicago—moved into the White House.

If you believed right-wingers’ explanation for the crash and recession, you would wonder what could possibly stop the onslaught against your livelihood by minority home-stealers/economy-wreckers and their federal allies. You would view white police officers as a crucial line of defense against black lawlessness. You might even conclude that nothing short of “Second Amendment solutions” could save you.

Conservatives took the anger caused by the financial crisis and diverted it from Wall Street to minorities and government programs designed to fight racism and help the poor. Given the persistence of those smears, and the scope of economic suffering since 2008, we should not be surprised by the upsurge in racism nor by the emergence of heavily armed right-wing cadres, preaching insurrection. We should be surprised that it has not been worse.

Muslim Terrorists and Other Dangerous Fanatics, Part 2

I thought I had recovered from being sick, but last week was worse than the one before. I’m feeling better at the moment, so it’s time to get back to blogging.

The BBC has published obituaries of the 12 victims of the Muslim terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. Here is information about victims of the subsequent Paris attacks.

Those terrible events have prompted debate about whether politically correct liberals give a free pass to Muslim fanatics when they would not do the same for Christian fanatics. I’ll have more to say about that later, but, in general, I agree with that assessment.

However, many of those who are rightly categorical in their criticism of radical Islam turn a blind eye to Christian and Jewish extremists. We received a reminder of the close similarities between Muslim and Christian totalitarians when William Donohue of the Catholic League issued a statement blaming the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack. As I noted in my last post, that was a typical tactic for Donohue, who also excused the Catholic Church hierarchy for protecting child-molesting priests.

I recalled a book I once reviewed that was written by one of Donohue’s allies, Deal W. Hudson. Hudson worked as an adviser to George W. Bush and acted as a liaison between the GOP and right-wing Catholics. His book is full of the sort of ludicrous bigotries and puritanism that we associate with Muslim fanatics. Likewise, my review included the story of what Hudson did to his 18-year-old student Cara Poppas. Donohue apparently didn’t find anything wrong with that, because he gave Hudson’s book a glowing blurb.

When you look at that case and the cases of Muslims who terrorize women, you have to consider that religious fundamentalism, whatever the specific sect, is mainly a club of predators and those who make a living by excusing them.

Here is that review.

Deal W. Hudson, Onward Christian Soldiers

Review by Chris Pepus

Originally published by Razorcake, August 31, 2008

Most observers of the Christian Right focus on Protestant evangelicals. Evangelical support is crucial to Republican electoral success, but elements in both the Roman Catholic Church and the GOP have worked to bring Catholics into the Republican fold. One of the key players in that effort is Deal W. Hudson, a Catholic who served as an adviser to George W. Bush and the Republican National Committee from 1999-2004. GOP outreach to Catholics has achieved some success. According to CNN exit polls, Bush won 52% of the Catholic vote in 2004, up from 47% four years earlier.

In Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, Hudson describes Catholic participation in conservative activism and urges his co-religionists to ally with right-wing evangelicals. The bulk of the book is devoted to attacks on progressives and secularists. Riddled with contradictions and double standards, Onward Christian Soldiers provides an unsparing look into the ideology of the Religious Right.

Hudson takes aim at separation of church and state and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1947 endorsement of that principle in Everson v. Board of Education. He ominously notes that the author of the court’s decision, Justice Hugo Black, was “a former member in the ‘20s of the Robert E. Lee Klan No. 1 cell of the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama.” The reader is meant to associate the KKK with separation of church and state, even though the hate group has consistently opposed that constitutional doctrine.

Hudson’s attempt to link secularism with racism looks even more absurd when he discusses the origins of the Christian Right. He traces the birth of the movement to outrage over new regulations passed by the Internal Revenue Service in the 1960s and ‘70s. At issue was the IRS’s decision to cancel tax exemptions for southern religious schools that discriminated against black students. Hudson denies that opponents of the regulations were simply motivated by racism: “The government was presenting a real threat to Christian education,” he writes. However, the author slips up later, admitting that the fight was about “the integration of Christian schools.” The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with the IRS, but private religious schools remain a bulwark against integration in many southern communities. In electoral terms, the exemption issue played a key role in rallying white southerners to Ronald Reagan’s candidacy in 1980.

Along with federal officials who oppose tax breaks for segregation, other villains in Hudson’s book include the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The author criticizes the Conference for treating economic exploitation as a fundamental evil and a threat to life, instead of focusing on abortion, homosexuality, and stem-cell research. In terms of economics, Hudson regards the GOP’s tax cuts as the best help for the poor, ignoring data that show increases in poverty, debt, and homelessness on Bush’s watch.

Despite the economic figures, Hudson puts great stock in the president’s “compassionate conservatism.” Referring to a meeting with Bush held before the 2000 election, Hudson remarks that it was “clear to me that Bush was inclined to commit federal funds to address the compassion concerns he had discussed at length.” Perhaps he should have spoken to Bush about that after the election. In addition to a plethora of cuts in programs that benefit the poor and disabled, Bush’s budgets have under-funded the president’s own programs—the “faith-based” anti-poverty grants and “No Child Left Behind” education initiative—by tens of billions. Hudson’s faith in George W. Bush surpasses all understanding.

Morality is a recurring theme of the book, and the author misses few opportunities to give voice to hypocrisy and bigotry. He praises Reverend James Robison, who achieved prominence in the late 1970s by charging that gays, in Hudson’s words, “recruited children for sexual acts.” Hudson states that Robison’s stance reflected “a Christian perspective.” He also lauds Jerry Falwell and Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in Florida, which gave rise to the Moral Majority and went under the slogan of “Save Our Children.” It is therefore striking that one of Hudson’s heroes in the war against immorality is Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who spent years covering up for a number of child-molesting Boston priests.

Another example of the gap between the author’s moralist rhetoric and the actions of right-wing Christians is the scandal that caused Hudson to resign his position as adviser to Bush. He quit in 2004, following a published report about an incident that had occurred ten years earlier, when he was a professor at Fordham University. Hudson offers a terse account of the event, saying that he “had a sexual encounter with a female undergraduate.”

That isn’t the full story. The student, Cara Poppas, discussed the episode in a 2004 interview with the National Catholic Reporter. Poppas said that back in 1994, when she was enrolled in Hudson’s class, she confided to him her feelings of depression and thoughts of suicide. A few days later, the professor took the student to a bar, although she was, at eighteen, under legal drinking age. According to Poppas, she became intoxicated and Hudson brought her back to his office, where a sexual encounter took place. “I was completely in Dr. Hudson’s hands,” she stated, noting that she was “unable to stand up.” Shortly after the incident, the student filed sexual harassment charges against the professor, who resigned his position at Fordham.

Writing about that episode in Onward Christian Soldiers, Hudson’s main emotion appears to be self-pity. He describes the public scandal resulting from his actions as a “horrific experience” in which he was “personally attacked” by political opponents. However, he now feels comfortable enough about his past to accuse secularists of creating a “morass of immorality in education.”

After launching numerous tirades, Hudson strikes a more positive note when he writes about alliances between Catholic conservatives and evangelical Protestants. He believes that the two groups are already drawing closer. “It’s a virtual reuniting of Christendom,” he proclaims. Hudson’s warm feelings toward right-wing Protestants aren’t entirely reciprocated. On February 27, Catholics received a sharp reminder of their place in the Religious Right when Senator John McCain met with Reverend John Hagee and accepted his endorsement for president. A leading evangelical activist, Hagee has referred to the Catholic Church as the “Antichrist system” and as the “Great Whore” described in the Bible. In scripture, the Great Whore is ultimately “consumed by fire”—a clear indication of the degree of tolerance Catholics can expect if people like Hagee ever achieve full control in America.

Back in 2000, McCain criticized candidate Bush for making a speech at Bob Jones University, an evangelical institution, because the school’s leaders were anti-Catholic. Apparently, McCain has now learned who’s really in charge of the Christian Right. Since Hudson disregards so many other facts, he might at least take note of that one.

Muslim Terrorists and Other Dangerous Fanatics

Memorial display outside the French embassy in Berlin. Photo by Carsten Koall.
Memorial display outside the French embassy in Berlin. Photo by Carsten Koall.

I’ve been ill, but I’m now getting back to regular posting.

Let’s start with this. After radical Muslims attacked Charlie Hebdo staff, and civilization itself, on Wednesday, there has been an encouragingly healthy response from the civilized. Friday’s successful raids by the French police are cause for relief, as is the nearly universal condemnation of Wednesday’s act of terror and the one at the kosher supermarket that followed.

Looking at the biographies of the two brothers who perpetrated the first attack, we can see a maddening pattern of delusion. The pair became the latest to murder on behalf of their imaginary friends in the sky (imaginary friends in the sky being the second leading cause of violent death in history, after greed). Beyond that, however, there is the decision by two men who grew up in poverty to throw in their lot with the Islamic establishment. Have they seen the way the Saudi royal family and other powers of international Islam live? What made them think such people gave a holy shit about impoverished Muslims?

Also, if reports are correct, the perpetrators had a connection to al-Qaeda. As you may recall, al-Qaeda was founded by a spoiled kid named bin Laden from a cadet branch of the Saudi royal family. He decided that he had not received his proper share of oil money. So he recruited a bunch of dupes to get killed in order to make him the new caliph. Bin Laden never quite made it to that coveted title, but the suckers are still lining up to join Team Osama, apparently.

In America, most people categorically condemned the attacks in Paris. “Most people” does not include the leadership of right-wing Catholics, however. William Donohue, head of the Catholic League, issued a statement titled “Muslims are right to be angry.” “Had [editor Stephane Charbonnier] not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive,” Donohue wrote. Apparently, Catholic and Islamic extremists have agreed to postpone their Crusades rematch until after they’ve killed all the freethinkers.

Donohue is a specialist at blaming the victim. For years, he has been the leading apologist for child molesters in the Catholic Church. Donohue’s statement last week proves once again that he is a psychological dead-ringer for every abuser who commits an atrocity and then says, “Look what you made me do.” It’s not difficult to trace the origins of that mindset: you can find it throughout the scriptures of the three big monotheistic religions. William Donohue and the Muslim terrorists just have a natural affinity for it.

What’s the Matter with Bill Maher?

In 2012, I wrote an article for In These Times about class bigotry among both liberals and conservatives. On his TV show Real Time, Bill Maher has frequently made remarks mocking working-class whites and Americans who do not live on the coasts. When David Carr of The New York Times joined Maher on the program and joked about people with “low-sloping foreheads,” the pair received a lot of justifiable criticism. However, as I showed, many of the critics were conservatives with no room to talk on the subject of class bigotry.

I interviewed Carr for the article, which also addressed another controversial moment on Real Time. Maher showed a video of Alexandra Pelosi interviewing white conservatives in Mississippi, many of whom expressed overtly racist, homophobic, or religiously bigoted views. But the only people seen making bigoted statements in the video were working class and male. On Maher’s program the following week, Pelosi attempted to balance out her stereotypes by presenting interview footage, mostly of African-American men, filmed outside a New York City welfare office.

In one of the drafts of the article, I made a point that didn’t make it into the final edit. A Real Time viewer asked via e-mail why Pelosi did not interview “people of the most affluent areas.” She replied: “The problem with rich people is that they can hide . . . in their gated communities.” It’s too bad Nancy Pelosi’s daughter cannot gain access to any places frequented by the rich.

The real problem is that Maher often raises issues that don’t get addressed in other corporate media. But when he ridicules working-class and rural whites, he alienates people who might otherwise be ready to listen to a progressive message.

You can read the article here.


Maldistribution of Wealth in America: New Evidence

Claude Vignon, Croesus Receiving Tribute from a Lydian Peasant, 1629.
Claude Vignon, Croesus Receiving Tribute from a Lydian Peasant, 1629.

Class differences are increasing dramatically in America. Compelling new evidence of that fact is found in a paper published last October by leading economists Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics. Titled “Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data,” the paper effectively rebuts those who disregard the problem of maldistribution of wealth.

Most recent economic scholarship dealing with class has focused on increasing differences in income, since about 1980. With regard to wealth, however, hard evidence was less readily available. Some have argued that there has not been an upward redistribution of wealth on the same scale as the upward redistribution of income. “Our paper, however, challenges this view,” Saez and Zucman write. “We find that wealth inequality has considerably increased at the top over the last three decades.”

The two scholars report that “almost all of this increase is due to the rise of the share of wealth owned by the 0.1% richest families, from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012, a level comparable to that of the early twentieth century.” Let me emphasize that: the richest one-tenth of one percent have more than tripled their share of America’s wealth since 1978. Their cut of America’s wealth is nearly as high as it was in 1929, 24.8%, the highest percentage held by the 0.1% in any year since 1913.

The bottom 90% still hold more wealth than the top 0.1%, for now anyway, by a margin of 22.8% to 22%. But the authors point out that, “for the bottom 90%, wealth has not grown at all,” between 1986 and 2012.

How did the super-rich obtain such a hoard of money? Was it due more to earnings or to inheritance? “Due to data limitations,” Saez and Zucman write, they cannot yet offer a detailed comparison of “the relative importance of self-made vs. dynastic wealth.” Even so, the authors cite another fact that suggests that much of the wealth increase at the top is due to inheritance: “in the 1960s, top 0.1% wealth holders were older than average, which is not the case anymore today.”

Another telling factor is the sharp reduction in federal inheritance tax (known as the estate tax) since 2001. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a useful summary of changes in the estate tax, and the effects of those changes, here. And Figure 1 at the end of Saez and Zucman’s paper shows a sharp increase in the 0.1%’s share of wealth after 2001.

A PDF of the paper and Excel files with raw figures are available on Professor Saez’s website.