In Thursday's post, I imagined a world in which conservatives placed equality at the center of their sensibilities. It was fun, though hardly realistic. As one reader said, conservatives never do that. If they did, they'd be liberals. But the goal of the exercise was less practical than imaginative. At the root of the many problems we face are thorny questions difficult to answer. But there's also a failure of imagination.
I don't mean to say we need "attitude adjustments." I mean to say we tend to accept conditions as if they were natural rather than what they are, which is constructed. So today, I want to stretch our imaginations by asking a deceptively simple question. Why does our democratic republic, founded in opposition to monarchy, tolerate billionaires?
I say "deceptively," because the question might prompt a quick reply: why not? Most Americans believe billionaires don't intend harm, earn their wealth and, on the whole, benefit society. Some Americans even think billionaires deserve our respect. After all, they sell things consumers like, innovate useful technologies, and some, like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, give away their fortunes to worthy causes. But what if I suggested this is rationalizing a democratic abomination?
Let's cut through the haze to state two things plainly about how one person becomes a billionaire. One, it's with the government's blessing. Two, it's with the government's willingness to look the other way. The free market is not free. The very obscenely rich would not be nearly as very obscenely rich if it were. Billionaires, therefore, are not self-made. They are politically, legally and socially made. Yet the vast majority of Americans tends to believe billionaires are just the way things are.
I am not suggesting some kind of malicious conspiracy. I am merely pointing out an obvious fact. Jeff Bezos is worth a reported $200 billion. (He is personally financing all those rockets to space.) It is not humanly possible for one man to work so hard so much so fast to earn $200 billion. (It's been a little over two decades since he founded Amazon.) There has to be a system established in tandem with the government, or in tacit approval by the government, to make such a pile of cash.
Ten percent of the country owns 89 percent of stocks on Wall Street, according to new data from the Federal Reserve. "The top 1 percent gained over $6.5 trillion in corporate equities and mutual fund wealth during the pandemic," CNBC reported this week. (The bottom 90 percent holds about 11 percent of stocks.) All that idle money is, moreover, taxed at lower rates than income you earn with your labor.
If it's taxed at all. Lots of very obscenely rich people hide their wealth. (Gerard Ryle, head of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, said of the global network of secretive and legal tax havens: "The people who could end the secrecy … are themselves benefitting from it. So there is no incentive for them to end it.") Meanwhile, the US government's ability to find wealth to tax has been hamstrung by decades of starving the IRS of resources. The result, according to the LA Times' Michael Hiltzik, has been a "tax gap" that reached a stunning "$630 billion in 2019 — more than 2.5 percent of gross domestic product and about 17.5 percent of the more than $3.6 trillion owed."
Let's say that again, with feeling. The very obscenely rich owe more than $3.6 trillion. That dollar amount should sound familiar. It's roughly the same one being haggled over by the Democrats and the White House. If passed, the legislation would be, along with another spending bill, the biggest investment in the American people since the 1960s. Spending so much is controversial, but it might not be if the very obscenely rich had not, as they have for years, created the impression that there's not enough money to spend on public goods and works. There has always been enough money, but this idea keeps living, in part due to the inability of normal people to imagine an alternative.
I haven't explained yet why billionaires are a democratic abomination. I'll close with that. I think it will help to imagine a political alternative.
What does it mean when a government of, by and for the people treats the very obscenely rich in ways it does not, and never would, treat the people? It means the government, founded in opposition to monarchy, has found ways of replacing the old order of greater mortals (kings and queens) with a new order of greater mortals. Instead of having "magic blood," as Lindsay Beyerstein put it, this new order has magic money, meaning they have so much of it, they can create whole industries to rationalize their existence, thus forcing the rest of us to fight with each other over whether to pay for things like community college.
That's not just wrong.
It's a democratic abomination.
U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy faced over a dozen conflicts of interest during his tenure due to his refusal to divest family stakes in companies tied to the policies of his own agency.
According to documents newly obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) via a Freedom of Information Act, Dejoy reportedly recused himself from agency decisions that might have affected the performance of his former freight transportation company XPO Logistics. However, the postmaster general opted out of divesting from the firm altogether, opening him up to a blatant conflict of interest.
Back in August, CNN reported that, despite his role in heading the USPS, DeJoy's stake in XPO fell between $30 million and $75 million – an apparent conflict that came as a complete "shock" to many outside experts.
"If you have a $30 million interest in a company, of course it's going to impact you," Stuart Gilman, a former assistant director at the Office of Government Ethics, said. "I would assume that there is a problem here. It certainly doesn't pass the smell test."
XPO routinely carries out contracts with both the USPS and other government agencies, like the Defense Department. During the first two months of his tenure last year, XPO signed onto at least two new contracts with the USPS.
"There was a period of time where the head of the Postal Service was making decisions when there could have been a conflict, and he could have been thinking about his own financial interest, rather than the interest of the Postal Service and the country," said Noah Bookbinder, the president of CREW. "That's significant."
Last year, by October, DeJoy had announced that he would formally divest from XPO in order to preclude any conflicts of interest from arising. At the time, CREW suggested that the nature of the divestment might be a "sham," largely because DeJoy transferred his assets to his adult children, who could then return those assets to their father after he leaves government.
Also under scrutiny are a series of trades made by DeJoy last June, just a month after he joined the administration. The postmaster general specifically bought $50,000 and $100,000 in stock options for Amazon.
"It's another conflict. He's got the option to buy. That means he's gambling that Amazon's value is going to go up," Marcus Owens, a former top IRS official, told CNN. "Why is he investing in a competitor to the enterprise that he's supposed to be managing? This is a classic case for investigation by an inspector general."
The USPS's Office of Inspector has reportedly reviewed DeJoy finances and concluded he has complied with the necessary ethical requirements. Still, CREW noted, the review did take into account a full picture of the postmaster general's finances.
Over the two years, DeJoy has also come under fire for his gross management of the agency, which last year entailed a series of "cost-cutting" measures, such as the removal of mail sorting machines, that would drastically slow transit times. The move earned the Trump-appointee accusations of attempting to sabotage the election in Trump's favor by undermining the mail-in-ballot process. Many Democrats have called for his resignation.
This month, DeJoy again announced a set of policies that would "result in serious delays and the degradation of service for millions," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The agency is expected to apply steep price hikes on commercial and domestic retail packages, as well as slow first-class mail transit by 30%.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, the QAnon Republican lawmaker and gun rights activist who owns a bar named Shooters in Rifle, Colorado, is being criticized after posting a tweet mocking and attacking Alec Baldwin. The well-known actor who spent several years playing Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live" shot and killed award-winning cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, apparently by accident, with a prop gun on set less than 24 hours ago.
Boebert dug up a seven-year old tweet Baldwin had sent in support of Michael Brown, the 18-year old Black man fatally shot by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.
She then added a snide and ugly remark and posted it to Twitter, only too happy to use the pain of Hutchins' grieving family, friends, and industry as a tool to attack Baldwin:
The outrage was palpable, even from a few on the right, like former Trump White House Director of Strategic Communications:
If you're going to tout your Christian faith, how about trying to have some empathy and grace over a tragedy? Don't remember the part of the gospel that says “anything for RTs" https://t.co/uPT3djTpT7
— Alyssa Farah (@Alyssafarah) October 22, 2021
A Democratic U.S. Congressman weighed in:
You are a ghoul. https://t.co/owURidfZqo
— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) October 22, 2021
This MSNBC correspondent made a keen observation:
Elected official makes joke about gun violence while holding gun in profile pic https://t.co/fO4JMiMUmd
— Cal Perry (@CalNBC) October 22, 2021
And many others:
A member of Congress is using her taxpayer-funded salary to dig up seven year old tweets to troll a man she's never met in what's probably the worst moment of his life. "Shame" doesn't even begin to describe this. https://t.co/BKtSWsADqc
— Mike Rothschild (@rothschildmd) October 22, 2021
So you just straight up don't give a fuck that there's a grieving family who just lost their loved one and can see you joking about their loved one's tragic death, huh?
— Kendall Brown (@kendallybrown) October 22, 2021
You really have to be the most ghoulish, heartless, shittiest excuse for a human being to use a tragic accident that cost a young woman her life, to attempt to crack a joke at @AlecBaldwin's expense. https://t.co/ZddmfIS0XB
— Ana Navarro-Cárdenas (@ananavarro) October 22, 2021
The “party of family values" ladies and gentlemen. This vile creature is reveling in a tragic death. She's using that horrible accident as a weapon in order to attack someone who is undoubtedly suffering. This is who she is. She is grotesque. She's an embarrassment to Congress.
— Jo (@JoJoFromJerz) October 22, 2021
This fact makes me so sad. This is the kind of person we have representing Americans. 😭
— Jacqui White (@jacqwhi) October 22, 2021
This is disgusting. A woman is dead. it's beyond ghoulish for an elected official to joke about this. https://t.co/4QAqyRtH5X
— andrew kaczynski (@KFILE) October 22, 2021
Lauren Boebert is a simpleton sociopath. She is a profoundly stupid person who compensates by being a huge asshole.
In hell, she'd be the hostess at a Nazi Hooters. https://t.co/aleoBtHbCd — The Hoarse Whisperer (@TheRealHoarse) October 22, 2021
The party of 'Christian values'.
A person died. These people are repulsive. https://t.co/0wbloL9Evz — Francis Maxwell (@francismmaxwell) October 22, 2021
One thing that really binds the modern Republican Party is a complete disregard for the life of human beings. https://t.co/p7QN5yja6C
— David Rothschild (@DavMicRot) October 22, 2021
You are evil. https://t.co/axvOO20wFL
— drew olanoff (@yoda) October 22, 2021
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