A Word About Advertising


If you watch corporate television at all these days, you’ll frequently be bombarded by ridiculous, brain-rotting bursts of commercialism. And the advertisements are pretty bad too.

Contrary to my wishes, you may be seeing some advertisement videos on the margins of this blog. If so, I apologize. In order to keep ads off my blog, I’d have to pay Wordpress for a “premium” membership. I don’t have the money for that at the moment. I’ll try to do something about that down the road.

In the meantime, please remember: I’m Chris and I do not approve these messages.



Class Bigotry at the NOW, or Adventures in Bourgsplaining

Pehr Hilleström, A woman is reading, the chambermaid is bringing tea, 1775
Pehr Hilleström, A woman is reading, the chambermaid is bringing tea, 1775

American higher education has a long and shameful history of discrimination. In recent decades, many colleges have attempted to address the problems of racial and gender prejudice in their admissions practices. But with regard to social class, most top colleges cling to their old biases. Proof of discrimination has been building up for years.

A 2007 report by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute showed that the average U.S. college student came from a family with an annual income 60% above the national average. In 2011, education scholars Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski produced a study on college access. They found that 54% of Americans born into the top income quartile between 1979 and 1982 had received bachelor’s degrees. For the bottom quartile, the figure was 9%. That same year, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a report based on enrollment data from 2008-09. The Chronicle showed that, at America’s 50 wealthiest colleges, only 15% of students received Pell Grants, a federal scholarship for low- and middle-income students.

Conservatives have no problem with that situation and, despite regular encomia to diversity, liberals don’t either. If liberals are so committed to diversity, why don’t they call for the addition of social class to existing affirmative-action programs? That is a question that answers itself by being asked (to quote an old saying). In 2013, I wrote an article about discrimination against working-class people in higher education, and bourgeois liberals’ culpability for it.

The piece included this passage on one activist group’s support for social exclusion.

Will activists help when journalists and educational officials won’t? The National Organization for Women addressed the issue of class in “Talking About Affirmative Action,” posted on the organization’s website. The talking points included this pairing:

Myth: Affirmative Action should be based on economic need.

Fact: Affirmative Action is necessary so that women and people of color of every economic class have the opportunity to enter all fields. [The formatting is in the original.]

Note how the writer(s) of the NOW talking points frame the issue. Either we can have affirmative action “based on economic need,” or we can have the current version of the policy, based on gender and race. Why must we choose between those approaches? The NOW doesn’t say. In the early years of affirmative action, when feminists demanded a gender-based version of the policy, male liberals didn’t pretend that they could not accede to those demands without ending race-based preferences. If they had, feminists would have called them liars—and sexists. Yet, leading feminists and other liberals continue to repeat the lie that class-based affirmative action would necessarily end all other types of the program.

Hiding behind the NOW’s inclusion-speak—“women and people of color of every economic class”—is pure class bigotry. When institutions employ affirmative action based on gender, without also basing that policy on class, they place an additional burden of discrimination on working-class men, while allowing rich men to keep their privileges. They also allow a small elite of economically privileged women to monopolize opportunities ostensibly created for women in general. NOW leaders think that’s fine, so they should add another section to their talking points:

Myth: The National Organization for Women supports affirmative action for all women. Open the doors of opportunity to women!

Fact: No white-trash girl is taking my daughter’s place at Harvard. I am legacy! Hear me roar!               

Looking back on that article now, I would add this question: Are the NOW’s talking points bourgsplaining? Let’s define that term:

Bourgsplaining (n.) from bourgsplain (v.)

1. Strange but prevalent phenomenon in which members of the bourgeoisie attempt to explain social problems to working-class people in an ignorant, condescending, or hypocritical manner.

2. When members of the bourgeoisie tell working-class people that discrimination and other harmful practices are actually positive developments when they happen to the working class.

3. When members of the bourgeoisie state or imply that working-class people are privileged, relative to them.

See also trust-fund baby, conservative moralist, Ivy League liberal.

Since I wrote that article, the NOW has redesigned its web site. The “Talking About Affirmative Action” page has disappeared, at least for the moment. Is that exercise in class bigotry gone for good or will it return? The former outcome would be nice, if a little late for several lost generations of working-class women, as well as men, marginalized by policies furiously defended by the NOW.

If the NOW decides to re-post or re-state its attack on the idea of affirmative action for working-class people, perhaps a name change would be in order. “The National Organization for Rich Women” sounds terrible, but the name has an undeniably truthful ring.

Savage Terror: A Screenplay

Barbara Steele, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (L'orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock), 1962
Barbara Steele in The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (original title: L’orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock), 1962

In 2010, I wrote a short horror screenplay called Savage Terror. I tried a number of different avenues in my attempts to get the film made, but none worked out. Since the screenplay will not be produced, I decided to post it here.

I was reluctant to post it, because it contains a lot of detailed description of action, which seems to me a bit like explaining your jokes. On the other hand, horror fans may enjoy the screenplay, and it fits with the themes addressed in this blog.

If you are familiar with screenplay format, you’ll notice that when I created this post I tightened up the line breaks. I also left-aligned the dialogue (or, in this case, monologue) and rendered it in italics, due to formatting issues. I hope you won’t let that deter you. However, if you are deterred by all the savagery and terror, I’ll understand.





Camera faces down a sidewalk. SUSAN walks on the pavement toward the camera, carrying her purse. She is white and in her 20s. She turns on to the walkway leading to the front door of the apartment building.

The building is modern, and at least four stories tall. Susan walks to the front door and enters. PAN up to a fourth-story apartment. ZOOM on the apartment, then,



Long shot from across the living room, looking at the front door. (Let’s say the front door is on the east side of the room.) The apartment is comfortable, well-furnished, with a kitschy 1970s retro touch. The kitchen is on the side of the apartment near the front door, as is a hallway leading to the bedroom and bathroom.

In the living room, on the extreme opposite of the front door, is a sliding glass door that opens on to a balcony. There is a bookcase or similar piece of furniture with shelves against the west wall, south of the balcony doors. Books and curios are on the shelves, along with dolls and small sculptures of people, mainly modeled on adults. There is a white-hatted cowboy of the Gene Autry/Roy Rogers sort. Other dolls include:

An Indian woman, wearing a sari

A contemporary-looking, white, male U.S. soldier (enlisted man)

A British soldier in colonial field dress from the era of the Zulu War: red tunic, white helmet

Dolls and small sculptures also populate the top surface of a low chest on the north wall of the living room, not far from the balcony doors. The chest has legs and is not flush with the wall. There is space behind it and underneath it. The dolls/sculptures face outward toward the viewer (i.e. south). On the chest are the following dolls, among others:

A little green man from outer space

A white, male banker, holding a large, full money bag bearing a dollar sign and the words “FIRST BANK”

A male, faux-African doll like the one in Trilogy of Terror (1975), holding a long spear in his left hand. He stands on the right (east) portion of the chest. As Susan moves around the apartment, this doll is seen only in partial views, with the face obscured.

Now, back to the movie. Susan enters through the front door, carrying mail. She closes, locks, and chains the door behind her, switches on a light. She puts her purse on a table near the door and sits on the couch.


Medium frontal shot of Susan, opening and reading her mail. The last of the envelopes she opens is her bank statement. When she is finished reading, she gets up and places the mail in a drawer on the table.

Susan takes her cell phone out of her purse, leaving the latter on the table. She pushes a couple buttons, walks to the balcony door, and pulls back the curtain partway with her free hand. The screen door remains closed. She looks outside while waiting for an answer on the phone.

SUSAN:  Hi, I got your message. (Pause.) No, she couldn’t make it. It was just me and  mom. (Pause.) We didn’t do much, just some shopping. (Pause, laugh) As  matter of fact, I did buy a few new dolls.

Susan walks back to the low chest and looks down at the dolls. She smiles.

SUSAN (CONT’D):  Wait ‘til you see them.

Susan picks up the faux-African doll, which is at her far right. The doll is visible briefly from the back, but not in full-length view.


CU of Susan, walking slightly toward the balcony, doll in one hand but not fully visible.

SUSAN (CONT’D): She’s doing fine. She wants to meet you, but I told her I’m not even sure I like you yet. (Pause, laugh.) How did your game go? (Pause.) That’s too bad. (Hurried) OK. Thursday sounds great. (Pause.) All right, I’ll see you then. Bye.

Susan puts the doll back down on the chest. The shot centers on the row of dolls while Susan is placing the faux-African doll back on the shelf. Camera holds position as Susan walks right, her body still obscuring that particular doll at far right.


Frontal shot of Susan from behind the chest. Dolls are not visible, except the top of the faux-African doll’s spear. She pokes the tip gently with a finger, making a slightly pained face. She puts the phone down on a piece of furniture near the chest. She turns, walks to, and opens the balcony door, leaving the screen door closed. The curtain billows in the nice breeze.

Susan turns and crosses the living room, goes down the hall, enters the bedroom. The door remains open, but the camera does not enter the room. Susan walks to a closet, grabs a dressing gown, walks across the frame, changes into the dress O.S. She then walks back into frame, through the bedroom door, down the hallway, across the corner of the living room, and into the kitchen.


Susan enters the kitchen, puts some meat in the oven to cook.


Susan walks into the living room. She moves toward the couch, notices a strong wind blowing through the screen door.


Susan’s POV. All the dolls on the low chest are missing from the top surface. The curtain in front of the balcony door billows.


Medium frontal shot of Susan walking slowly toward the balcony door. She looks closely at the empty space atop the chest.

SUSAN (smiling): Did the wind knock you down, little fellows?

Susan proceeds to the balcony slowly. She pulls the curtain back a little and looks at the screen door, still closed. She looks out onto the balcony, sees nothing amiss, closes and locks the main door.

Susan turns and walks back to the chest. She stands in front of the chest and looks down at it. She then looks back to the balcony, then crouches down to look under the chest.


Susan’s POV: Dolls lying in a cluster. It is only a short glimpse. Faux-African doll is visible at back, mostly obscured by other dolls.


Susan, viewed from her left (west). She backs up a bit and raises her head from the floor. She’s still in a kneeling or crouching position. (O.S.) AGGRESSIVE GROWLING. Surprised, Susan quickly turns to her left.


Susan’s POV: BANKER DOLL (BD), the money bag, empty, lying on the floor in the background. Three fast CUTS, each one closer, ending on a head-and-torso shot. Banker Doll is modeled on a white man in his 50s, with a pin-striped, three-piece, gray suit. He is also a stereotypical WASP; Allen Dulles would make an excellent model for BD. He growls, jumps up and down.

BD begins running toward Susan.


Susan (not from BD’s POV) running away, east. She goes a few steps then takes a classic woman-in-a-horror-film fall, turns and rises a little from the floor, looking back.


Frontal medium shot of BD approaching.


Susan on the floor, looking back toward the monster. FAST ZOOM on her eyes as she screams.


Susan’s POV, on the floor. BD comes running toward her head. Whoosh! At the last second, he turns hard right and runs out of frame left.


Susan, monster not visible. She follows BD’s movements with her eyes, turning around quickly and crawling backward across the floor away from him. Her moves should indicate that he ran around her toward the (north) table. The sequence ends with a shot of Susan sitting on the floor, leaning back in fear. Her back is against the couch or some other furniture.


Susan’s POV. BD is holding her purse upside down, shaking it. He tosses it aside, picks up her billfold off the floor. He opens it, takes out cash, and starts eating it. He is a fast and loud eater.


Medium shot of Susan: shock and confusion on her face. She instinctively leans forward, trying to get a better look and make sure she isn’t seeing things.

SUSAN: How can this be happening?!


Banker Doll, who scoops her change up in both (cupped) hands and then devours it. It takes several grabs, but only a few seconds. He then pulls one of her credit cards out of the billfold and eats it. Other credit cards are visible in billfold slots.


Susan, same angle as before. Her expression shifts from shock to anger and she lunges at BD. He tucks the billfold under his arm and starts to run away. But Susan reaches out and snatches it from him shortly after he starts running.

BD turns and tries to get it back, initiating a short tug-of-war. Susan wins, momentarily, by smacking BD’s head with her left hand, causing him to fly to her right. He bounces off the wall, lands on the floor, and springs back up immediately. (He does that every time he is knocked down.) He jumps up, sees the cell phone sitting on a nearby piece of furniture. He grabs the phone and throws it at Susan with both hands. She ducks and it shatters against a wall behind her.

BD then runs back toward Susan to grab at the billfold again. Susan smacks him and he flies backward.


BD jumping up. Susan charges the monster, smacking him a third time. He sails southward, past the couch, lands on his stomach, then jumps up again, turns and faces Susan.


CU of Susan looking at BD, then turning left toward the kitchen.


Susan’s POV: the kitchen. A broom is visible on the near side of that room.


Susan, same angle as before. She puts the billfold in a pocket of her gown and moves toward the kitchen.


Medium shot of BD. He has turned around to face Susan, sees her retreat. He starts to run in the direction of her retreat (east), then takes a right turn toward the southeast corner of the room.


BD’s POV. He stops abruptly when he sees a print of a painting on the south wall: the Judgment of Paris. The painting is a contemporary, cheesecake interpretation — in keeping with the kitschy decor. Paris holds out a large, extremely shiny, gold apple.

The frame TUNNELS to show just the apple.


Closer shot of the south wall, displaying print. BD jumps up into frame, landing on a small, round table. From there, he leaps at the painting, reaching for the apple. His body hits the print full on, bounces back down to the floor. He jumps up and immediately gets whacked westward by the handle of a broom wielded by Susan.


BD getting up from the floor and starting to run away from Susan, rounding the couch. A chase ensues around the couch. Susan swings the broom and mostly misses: in addition to being fast, BD is elusive. At least once, he jumps over one of her low swings. He also grabs some curios and throws them back at her. She dodges them, but he destroys some (mid-20th century style) bric-a-brac that way. BD darts into Susan’s bedroom.



BD jumps atop Susan’s dresser and runs across it, stopping briefly to grab a pair of gold earrings. He eats them on the fly. Susan takes a bad angle while chasing BD and he eludes her, running back into the living room.



Susan lands another hit. It sends BD flying west, but doesn’t seem to weaken him.


Medium shot of Susan, looking down toward the monster in frustration.


Susan’s POV. She sees BD standing a short distance from the sliding doors that open to the balcony.


Same shot of Susan as before. With a look of determination, she throws the broom behind her and runs toward BD. She gets the monster in her hands and rushes toward the balcony. BD howls and flails. Susan lets go with her right hand to reach for the handle of the door.


CU of BD in Susan’s left hand. He wriggles free, falls to the floor, and runs away again. Susan looks to her left (east) and starts running toward the kitchen.



Profile shot of Susan in the kitchen, going through drawers, finding a large knife. When she’s got it, she turns to face the camera, striding toward it and the living room, hell for leather.



Susan’s POV, just past the opening that connects the kitchen and living room. There’s no sign of BD. SLOW PAN around the living room, followed by INTERCUTS between CU of Susan and her POV, TRACKING slowly forward. The shots are relatively long in duration.

Susan, in profile, passes in front of the cabinet against the west wall. Camera TRACKS with her. A couple shelves of dolls are visible. BD’s head darts out from behind the cowboy. That action takes place behind Susan’s field of vision, so she does not notice at first. The camera STOPS TRACKING and lets Susan nearly walk out of frame.

Susan stops, turns around. She looks at the shelf, seeing the monster. He scurries behind the row of dolls, knocking four or five of them forward off the shelf. He then jumps down out of frame at bottom-right as Susan lunges toward him. She swipes at him with the knife, missing high. Susan turns and looks at the floor. (O.S.) Sound of BD scurrying away. Susan follows him with her eyes, turns full and starts running toward him.


Floor-level shot of BD. He pushes hard against the leg of a small vintage chair. He tips the chair over, which lands in Susan’s way and trips her. She falls to the floor, holding the knife carefully to avoid cutting herself or losing her grip.


Looking down on Susan lying on the floor, face down. A few dolls are scattered near her head and upper torso, also face down and looking dead. These include the Indian woman, the U.S. and British soldiers. Also on the floor is a broken model of the Parthenon. Susan is only down for a few seconds.


Susan’s (floor-level) POV, looking right (east): BD running toward the table where Susan put her purse and mail. He opens a drawer, rifles through some papers, and grabs one.


Susan getting up and starting to stumble toward BD. He runs a little farther away, but Susan can still see him. The monster stops, stands in medium profile. He extends his right arm above his head and holds the paper — Susan’s bank statement — over his mouth. The numbers of Susan’s bank balance are visible. As he holds the statement (without his mouth touching it), he begins making violent chewing sounds. The numbers indicating the balance start spinning and stop at a row of zeros.


Susan, who screams angrily and resumes chasing BD, knife in hand.



Susan chases BD into the kitchen. She stabs at him, mostly missing, but when she does hit, the blow doesn’t stop BD and he quickly wriggles loose from the knife. He yells a lot, sometimes in pain, sometimes in anger. Once, BD blocks one of Susan’s stabs by throwing open a cabinet door and causing her to stick her knife in it.

At one point in their sprawling kitchen-floor battle, BD ducks under one of Susan’s lunges and snatches the protruding billfold from her dressing-gown pocket. He flees, opening the billfold while running. He stops for a second, pulls out a credit card and gobbles it. Susan catches up with BD and grabs the billfold. BD extracts the last credit card and starts to back away. Susan smacks it out of his hand and they both grab at it on the floor, moving past the oven in their struggle.

BD grabs the card and is about to take a giant bite. Susan reaches forward with her left hand low. She slaps upward, knocking the card out of BD’s hands. The card sails upward, spinning sideways like a shuriken over the sink. It banks off the wall behind the sink and falls into the right side, where the disposal unit is housed. A small control switch is visible on the wall behind the sink.

Camera follows BD as he vaults up to a cabinet door handle, grabs it with both hands, and swings his body upward to the outer edge of the sink (right side). He then dives into the sink, snarling with excitement. BD executes this acrobatic display quickly and smoothly.

Susan rises into frame. She turns on the garbage disposal with her right hand and grabs BD’s legs with her left, pushing him down. He emits a champion scream-queen death shriek. Sawdust and pieces of BD’s fancy suit shoot up into the air. Change is heard rattling around in the disposal, which nonetheless keeps going until BD is no more.

Susan switches off the disposal, then turns right and walks out of the kitchen. When she gets to the living room, she leans up against the wall, breathing heavily, but relieved.



Susan’s POV: the mess in the living room.


The mess, seen from the opposite side of the room. Susan walks toward the camera and further into the living room. She starts cleaning up.



New York Times Liberal Learns That Unions Aren’t All Bad

Henry James Soulen, Dancing at the Waldorf, 1896.
Henry James Soulen, Dinner at the Waldorf, 1896.

Last week, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof made worldwide news when he acknowledged that he had been mistaken about something.

Like many Americans, I’ve been wary of labor unions . . . I disdained unions as bringing corruption, nepotism and rigid work rules to the labor market, impeding the economic growth that ultimately makes a country strong.

I was wrong.

Wait. Back up. Nepotism is regarded in a negative light at The New York Times? Since when? Also, what does Kristof mean when he says that unions bring “rigid work rules?” I can assure him that employers routinely create “rigid work rules.” It is strange that he applies the term “rigid” to rules negotiated between workers and management, rather than applying it to rules set unilaterally by management.

Well, at least he admits that he was wrong. What brought about this radical change in his thinking? He writes:

[L]ook at American history. The peak years for unions were the 1940s and ’50s, which were also some of the fastest-growing years for the United States ever—and with broadly shared prosperity. Historically, the periods when union membership were highest were those when inequality was least.

That has been blindingly obvious to many people for decades. It is puzzling that Kristof is only now discovering those basic realities of American history. Another recent discovery of Kristof’s is the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

Joseph Stiglitz notes in his book The Price of Inequality that when unions were strong in America, productivity and real hourly compensation moved together in manufacturing. But after 1980 (and especially after 2000) the link seemed to break and real wages stagnated.

It may be that as unions weakened, executives sometimes grabbed the gains from productivity.

“May”? “Sometimes”? Professor Stiglitz has consistently stated that he believes there is a causal link between weakened unions and stagnating real wages. If Kristof is going to cite Stiglitz, he should note that fact, rather than hiding behind qualifiers like “may” and “sometimes.” If he regards that link as less firmly established than the renowned economist does, he should say why.

Since Kristof apparently doubts that executives (and, by extension, shareholders) have been “grabbing the gains from productivity,” he might take a look at the work of economists Atif Mian and Amir Sufi. They write that while worker productivity has doubled since 1980, “owners of capital are getting a bigger share of GDP than before. In other words, the share of profits has risen faster than wages.”

While Kristof is on the subject of his mistaken thinking about labor, perhaps he will also retract his opposition to laws that protect workers. He expressed his contempt for such laws in his 2009 prose ode to sweatshops, which I wrote about in this post.

Kristof’s column proves that while he can, on rare occasions, admit that he was wrong, he can never just leave it at that. This is how he closed his column:

I’ll say it again: I was wrong. At least in the private sector, we should strengthen unions, not try to eviscerate them.

I hate to quibble, but “at least in the private sector”? So maybe it’s all right to “try to eviscerate unions” in the public sector? According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 35.7% of public-sector workers belonged to a union in 2014, while only 6.6% of private-sector workers did. Union-organizing efforts are funded by dues paid by current union members. If we allow the evisceration of public-sector unions to continue, there may soon be no union movement left for private-sector workers to join.

Kristof’s newly positive statements about unions are as empty as they can be. I’m beginning to believe that he may be full of shit, sometimes.

His problem is that, despite his characteristically liberal views on other issues, Kristof lacks basic respect for working-class people. He would not sneer at civil-rights or feminist activists the way he does at working-class activists. Nor would it take him decades to see patterns of exploitation or discrimination against groups other than workers.

I wonder if it would even be possible to explain to him how absurd his 19th-century perspective on workers’ rights is. When I read Kristof’s column, I imagined him writing one in which he made similarly ridiculous claims of new-found enlightenment.

It looked like this:

Like many Americans, especially here in New York City, I had grave reservations about allowing a bunch of Irish to come to this country. Frankly, I thought that they would spend their days drunkenly copulating all over Times Square before running off en masse to confess to their priests. I was deeply concerned for our native-born street cleaners, you see, and also the traffic wardens. However, I recently discovered that the Irish have been here for a while and the danger of such untoward occurrences now seems relatively slight. I stand corrected.

Like many Americans, I was very worried about allowing women to vote. But did you know that members of the fair sex have been voting for some time in all 50 U.S. States? It’s true. I have been poring over election data and it is my considered judgment that female voters are no worse, on balance, than male voters. We live and learn.

Surprisingly, the same is true for voting by blacks. Make a note, people.

Like many Americans, I disdained universal, mandatory education for children. Honestly, it seemed like a communist scheme to allow street urchins to lounge around reading Cicero while my chimney remained entirely unswept. I was able to make other arrangements for my chimney, I am happy to state, and universal education has not proven a complete disaster. It has put some funny ideas into street urchins’ heads (they apparently want to form labor unions when they grow up). And it has contributed to their heedless, jitterbugging ways. But it behooves the ruffians’ betters to exhibit a demeanor of patient forbearance. I urge all reasonable Americans to join me in doing so.

Beckett and Pinter

At London’s Royal Court Theatre in October 2006, Harold Pinter performed the only role in Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape. In the play, an old man observes his birthday the same way he has for years. He listens to some audio recordings he made on previous birthdays and then creates a new one.

As a playwright, Pinter had been deeply influenced by Beckett. He took on this role despite numerous challenges. In 2006, Pinter had been struggling for years with esophageal cancer. He died in 2008. The original script does not call for Krapp to use a wheelchair, but Pinter needed one for this performance.

The BBC made a film version of the Royal Court production, which is unavailable in most of the world. You can see it below. An interview with Pinter precedes the play. The play starts at 7:40.

The video quality is not good. Also, while there are Spanish subtitles if you need them, you can’t turn them off if you don’t need them.

Even so, it is astonishing.

Corporate Tax Evasion: New Report

Bernie Sanders, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate’s Budget Committee, has presented a report detailing tax avoidance by highly profitable corporations. Sanders’s team used data derived from corporate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and checked against a Government Accountability Office (GAO) list of countries that serve as havens for tax avoiders.

The report offers a look at the finances of large corporations that have lobbied extensively for laws more favorable to themselves. The Business Roundtable is a lobbying group that advocates lower corporate tax rates, as well as cuts in Social Security and Medicare. It turns out that the companies making up that organization already hold an extremely favorable position on taxes, thanks in part to their use of tax havens.

Of the 201 companies that belong to the Business Roundtable, 111 have subsidiaries located in countries that the GAO regards as tax havens. “These 111 companies collectively are officially holding more than $1 trillion in profits offshore,” the report states.

Of the full list of 201 companies, “at least 81 have been profitable each year for five years in a row but almost all of these pay far less than the full 35 percent corporate tax rate.” In fact, some of these companies paid no tax at all, “but instead received refunds from the IRS during these years [2008-2012].” Included in that especially privileged group are Boeing, General Electric, Verizon, and Duke Energy.

Duke Energy may be a familiar name. That was the company caught employing gun violence and other illegal intimidation against union workers in Barbara Kopple’s 1976 documentary Harlan County USA. In 2014, Duke was responsible for a huge coal-ash spill into the Dan River in North Carolina. Apparently, not enough of the company’s refund money from the taxpayer went into spill prevention

You can find other heartwarming tales of the patriotism and civic-mindedness of America’s corporate persons in Senator Sanders’s report, available in PDF format here.

The Law of Debt Slavery

After the latest revelations in the HSBC scandal, there has finally been renewed debate over whether bankers should be allowed to escape punishment so easily. Recently, Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for criminal prosecution of HSBC executives and for strengthened financial rules.

I’m always glad when our distraction-focused public debate somehow lands on the right issues. But one aspect of legal reform has been missing from current conversations. In a Democracy Now! interview in 2009, legal expert Thomas Geoghegan described the problem.

 [W]e’ve not focused enough on the big deregulation that precedes all other deregulations . . . [I]nterest rates in this country were capped at eight percent, nine percent. In the 1970s, we began to deregulate this, and then we had a massive big bang with a Supreme Court case that effectively knocked out all the interest rate caps. And we have today, taken as common, that banks can charge 17, 18, 19, 30, 35 percent, not to mention payday lenders charging 200, 300, 400 percent.

Limits on usury were another casualty of the tidal wave of deregulation that swept the globe in the late 20th century. Geoghegan noted that, until very recently, such rules were considered fundamental. They also played a role in limiting the kind of speculation that preceded the 2008 crash.

 [T]he thing that was kind of an instinct in human and legal civilization, from the time of the Code of Hammurabi up to the present, and we created all these incentives for money to go into speculation.

In other words, a legal code that recognized slavery and prescribed mutilation for a wide range of offenses nonetheless contained a more advanced view of interest than our current laws. In our times, the destruction of interest limits contributed to the destruction of the U.S. economy. “When banks get 25 percent to 30 percent on credit cards and 500 or more percent on payday loans,” Geoghegan said, “capital flees from honest pursuits like auto manufacturing.”

See the entire interview here.

Filmmaking versus Hollywood

If you’re like me, you hate today’s Hollywood movies. If you’ve recently turned your back on the multiplex and are seeking better films to watch, may I recommend neorealism? Neorealism emerged in Italy with the end of fascist rule and World War II. Its films focused on the lives of the working class and poor. It brought a radically democratic approach that rejected the “star-vehicle” model and the escapism that governed (and still govern) American studio productions. Many of its finest moments involved non-professional actors depicting life in neighborhoods where they actually lived. Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti were two pioneers of the movement, which has only increased in relevance during the current dire age of big-studio movies and theater-chain releases. Neorealism is the perfect antidote to corporate Hollywood idiocy.

But on one film project, those two opposites collided. In 1952-3, Vittorio De Sica, another creator of Italy’s vivid new type of cinema, made a movie based on Cesare Zavattini’s story Terminal Station. Zavattini was an advocate of neorealism and had written several of its greatest films, often with De Sica directing. De Sica put together a plan to bring American actors to Italy to make the movie, which dealt with the break-up of a romance. Montgomery Clift signed on to play the male lead.

There was a problem. De Sica and his company had partnered with Columbia Pictures and Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick. Selznick is best known for producing a melodrama/KKK-recruitment-film (a tearjerker/cross-burner, if you will) called Gone with the Wind. Selznick sent De Sica a constant stream of notes telling him how to direct. The director refused to follow those commands and Terminal Station was released to audiences outside the U.S. in 1953. It is a memorable film, if not as strong as De Sica’s best films, The Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. But those latter two rank among the greatest films ever made.

Things got worse for Terminal Station after it was completed. Selznick had final cut over the American release and he decided to do a lot of final cutting. The Hollywood boss reduced the film’s running time from 89 minutes to 64 and tried to gin up business by changing the title to Indiscretion of an American Wife. In an attempt to keep viewers from feeling cheated (at least in terms of running time per dollar), Selznick tacked on a musical short called Autumn in Rome. Selznick was then married to Terminal Station’s female lead, Jennifer Jones, but flicker schlock was clearly his first love.

In this video essay for Sight & Sound, writer/filmmaker kogonada compares Terminal Station with Indiscretion of an American Wife. He uses split-screen visuals to great effect, allowing De Sica’s film to keep running on the left while Selznick’s version remains frozen on its cut point at right. That contrast allows kogonada to offer insights about Hollywood and, more importantly, neorealism. He says:

What Selznick sees as waste and excess becomes the essence of a different kind of cinema and sensibility, in which shots linger and veer off to include others, in which in-between moments seem to be essential, in which time and place seem more critical than plot or story.

Looking back on it, I guess American moviegoers should have been glad that Selznick let them see any of De Sica’s film. He might have decided to shoot his own version in Hollywood. In fact, can we be sure the producer didn’t do just that? When I saw this footage at the Internet Archive, I couldn’t help thinking that it was Selznick’s buried version of Terminal Station, mislabeled for all these years. At any rate, I believe it encapsulates Selznick’s vision and sensibility.

Take a look and see if you agree.


Conservatives versus the Bible

Raphael, The Death of Ananias, 1515-16.
Raphael, The Death of Ananias, 1515-16.

I’ve been busy with research and setting up interviews for some upcoming pieces. Even so, I couldn’t help noticing that there has been another upsurge in fundamentalist Christian self-righteousness in the U.S. I’ll have a post on that shortly.

In the meantime, here is an open letter I wrote in 2009 to the editors of Conservapedia, who had launched a new, online Bible translation project. The goal of the project was to rid Christian scripture of left-wing biases. No, I’m not kidding. The same people who say that they can’t tolerate atheists, gays, or adherents of rival religious sects, because the Bible tells them so, decided that they had to change the Bible to fit their ideology.

I never received a reply to my Epistle to the Conservapedians, but I do not believe any could gainsay the truth of my doctrine.

Advice for the Conservative Bible Project (December 2009)

Dear Conservative Bible Project editors:

I have been following your work with interest. You’re off to a strong start. It is about time someone deleted socialistic words like “laborer” from the Bible. Such changes bring scripture into harmony with true faith and conservative populism. However, I would like to highlight a few passages that could pose problems for your new version.

First, when you get to Deuteronomy, you’ll have to do something about the second verse of Chapter 4, which reads:

Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

If you leave that passage as it is, a reader might conclude that your work is sacrilege and stop reading right there. You’ve shown that you’re willing to delete whole sentences, such as the “Father forgive them” quote misattributed to Jesus by a left-wing Gospel author. So, I’d advise deleting Deuteronomy 4:2 as well.

While you have the blue pencil out, you might also want to deal with the creation stories. In Genesis 1, God creates animals first, then Adam and Eve. In Genesis 2, He creates Adam, then animals, then Eve. If we accept that the Bible is the inspired word of God (and only a left-wing atheist wouldn’t), there are two possibilities here:

1. God was doing a Tarantino and messing with the story’s chronology.

2. Genesis contains two contradictory accounts of the Beginning.

Neither possibility is optimal, so why not just eliminate one of the two accounts? That would free up space for advertisements and thereby inject the Holy Spirit of Free Enterprise more fully into the text. Be careful, though, and make sure the “Vitter for Senate” banner doesn’t get placed near any references to harlots. Or newborns. And, just to be safe, you should also keep any GOP congressional campaign ads far away from the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember, “the wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way.” That’s Proverbs 14:8—unless you decide otherwise.

Speaking of Sodom and Gomorrah, I noticed that you didn’t substantially change the section that deals with the aftermath of those cities’ destruction. As you will recall, God decided that Lot and his two daughters were the only people for miles around who did not deserve to be either fried or turned into a condiment. After they escaped Sodom, the happy family had a drinks party that was BYOD: Boink Your Own Dad. If you remove words of forgiveness, while retaining stories of unpunished parent-child incest, it might strike some readers as perverse.

Finally, there is the thorny problem of the early church’s economic policies, as described in Acts:

Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

That’s Marxism, plain and simple, and it gets worse. In Chapter 5, when Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold their property, they tried to hold back a portion of the proceeds from the rest of the church—a “private option” you might call it. Peter found out and cursed each of them in succession. Each fell dead.

How will you square that story with free-market principles? That’s the biggest question for your project, and I fear I’m out of suggestions.

Your friend,



Joseph Stiglitz on Debt Restructuring

Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, has written a piece on debt in Greece and worldwide. He points out that the austerity policies he warned against have triggered terrible consequences, in human terms as well as fiscal ones.

Austerity had failed repeatedly, from its early use under US President Herbert Hoover, which turned the stock-market crash into the Great Depression, to the IMF “programs” imposed on East Asia and Latin America in recent decades. And yet when Greece got into trouble, it was tried again.

In addition to the end of austerity, Stiglitz calls for debt-restructuring on a global scale.

Greece has also once again reminded us of how badly the world needs a debt-restructuring framework. Excessive debt caused not only the 2008 crisis, but also the East Asia crisis in the 1990s and the Latin American crisis in the 1980s. It continues to cause untold suffering in the US, where millions of homeowners have lost their homes.

 The renowned economist quickly dispenses with the idea that cancelling some debts would constitute a “moral hazard.” “If there is a moral hazard,” he writes, “it is on the part of the lenders–especially in the private sector–who have been bailed out repeatedly.”

Stiglitz also notes that the Allied Powers forgave Germany’s debt after World War II, a decision that fostered economic growth across Europe. Those facts also appeared in Syriza’s party program, which obtained a resounding endorsement from Greek voters on January 25. Since German chancellor Angela Merkel is the leading opponent of a renegotiated debt settlement for Greece, the point about Germany’s cancelled debts could hardly be more apt.

One odd aspect of Stiglitz’s approach, however, is his willingness to believe that the elites imposed the austerity regime on Greece (and other countries) due to error. For instance, he writes that “Greece’s current plight, including the massive run-up in the debt ratio, is largely the fault of the misguided troika[1] programs foisted on it.” Misguided? As I wrote in a previous post, austerity measures are part of an attempt by the rich to create new cheap labor zones and undercut wages everywhere.

You can read Stiglitz’s article at the Project Syndicate site.

[1] European Commission, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund.