Share Our Wealth

On September 8, 1935—soon to be seventy years ago—Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long was assassinated in the Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

Long was a controversial figure in his day and remains so among the people who’ve heard of him. Views on his status tend to divide sharply along class lines for those who know about his history. In this first posting on Long, I’d like to let him speak for himself, from the next but last chapter in his autobiography, published the year before his death.

From Every Man a King: The Autobiography of Huey P. Long by Huey P. Long, 1933

CHAPTER XXXVI

THE MADDENED FORTUNE HOLDERS AND THEIR
INFURIATED PUBLIC PRESS!

The increasing fury with which I have been and am to be, assailed by reason of the fight and growth of support for limiting the size of fortunes can only be explained by the madness which human nature attaches to the holders of accumulated wealth.

What I have proposed is:—

THE LONG PLAN

1. A capital levy tax on the property owned by any one person of 1% of all over $1,000,000 [dp: $14,275,000 in 2005 dollars]; 2% of all over $2,000,000 [$28,550,000] etc., until, when it reaches fortunes of over $100,000,000 [$1,427,500,000], the government takes all above that figure; which means a limit on the size of any one man’s forture to something like $50,000,000 [$713,750,000]—the balance to go to the government to spread out in its work among all the people.

2. An inheritance tax which does not allow one man to make more than $1,000,000 [$14,275,000] in one year, exclusive of taxes, the balance to go to the United States for general work among the people.

The forgoing program means all taxes paid by the fortune holders at the top and none by the people at the bottom; the spreading of wealth among all the people and the breaking up of a system of Lords and Slaves in our economic life. It allows the millionaires to have, however, more than they can use for any luxury they can enjoy on earth. But, with such limits, all else can survive.

That the public press should regard my plan and effort as a calamity and me as a menace is no more than should be expected, gauged in the light of past events. According to Ridpath, the eminent historian:

“The ruling classes always possess the means of information and the processes by which it is distributed. The newspaper of modern times belongs to the upper man. The under man has no voice; or if, having a voice, his cry is lost like a shout in the desert. Capital, in the places of power, seizes upon the organs of public utterance, and howls the humble down the wind. Lying and misrepresentation are the natural weapons of those who maintain an existing vice and gather the usufruct of crime.”

—Ridpath’s History of the World, Page 410.

In 1932, the vote for my resolution showed possibly a half dozen other Senators back of it. It grew in the last Congress to nearly twenty Senators. Such growth through one other year will mean the success of a venture, the completion of everything I have undertaken,—the time when I can and will retire from the stress and fury of public life, maybe as my forties begin,—a contemplation so serene as to appear impossible.

That day will reflect credit on the States whose Senators took the early lead to spread the wealth of the land among all the people.

Then no tear dimmed eyes of a small child will be lifted into the saddened face of a father or mother unable to give it the necessities required by its soul and body for life; then the powerful will be rebuked in the sight of man for holding what they cannot consume, but which is craved to sustain humanity; the food of the land will feed, the raiment clothe, and the houses shelter all the people; the powerful will be elated by the well being of all, rather than through their greed.

Then those of us who have pursued that phantom of Jefferson, Jackson, Webster, Theodore Roosevelt and Bryan may hear wafted from their lips in Valhalla:

EVERY MAN A KING

 

The Global War on Unemployment Compensation Fraud

As reported in today’s Oregonian, the ever-vigilant anti-terror forces have caught another imminent threat in Portland, who’s been scamming the state unemployment fund:

FBI inquiry leads to fraud case
A Muslim faces charges over jobless aid while he worked in Qatar, a lead developed by the Portland joint task force

A former Intel engineer and board member of the Portland Islamic School faces federal charges that he defrauded Oregon’s unemployment compensation system.

A federal grand jury in Portland indicted Soubhi Fakher Abdulkarim, 40, on 32 counts of wire fraud and one count of stealing public money.

The FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force found in April 2003 that the Syrian-born naturalized U.S. citizen was living and working in Qatar, in the Persian Gulf, when he applied for and received benefits from the Oregon Employment Department.

–snip–

For more than a year the state made electronic payments to Abdulkarim’s Wells Fargo bank account in Oregon totaling $12,960, the indictment states. He reciprocated, prosecutors say, by filing weekly eligibility reports by e-mail.

But the JTTF discovered that Abdulkarim was being paid $9,000 a month as an Internet technology manager for Aspire, Qatar’s new sports academy. The feds notified the state, and the payments to Abdulkarim stopped.

–snip–

I feel safer. I mean, I’m glad the state’s not paying Abdulkarim any more undeserved unemployment compensation (and I’m looking into those Qatar job offers a little more thoroughly) but I also wonder how much money the FBI spent investigating this guy, and what the heck they’re doing, since this is their big Oregon success since the Brandon Mayfield fiasco.

The Oregon Lottery at 20:1

A short piece by Tom Grace in Willamette Week last month caught my eye, a geographic correlation between where the Oregon Lottery takes money in and the income levels in the same area.

According to Grace’s article:

The 97217 ZIP code in North Portland, which has 49 video-poker outlets, topped Oregon’s list for net video-poker sales in 2004 with $19.4 million-or $650 per man, woman and child. That’s over a month’s rent for a one-bedroom apartment in an area where the last U.S. Census classified nearly one in seven residents as living in poverty.

Compare that with the 97221 ZIP code in Portland’s West Hills, where the median income is nearly double that in 97217. Net sales last year from its five video-poker outlets were $1.1 million, or $95 per person.

Exploding Property Lists

In a discussion on problems with long lists and the script window on DIRECT-L (“script editor and ve-e-ery long lists”), Cole Tierney posted a link (in the new DOUG Director Wiki) to his Lingo implementation of the php print_r function, which takes a property list and creates a human-readable, indented string:

put print_R ([#test: [#indent: “joe”], #test2: #bill], 1)
— “[ \
    #test: [ \
        #indent: “joe” \
        ], \
    #test2: bill \
    ]”

As a side note, I’d like to mention that I’ve finally finished my first DOUG article for a long time, on reading XML in Director using Flash XML objects created on-the-fly.

Criminalizing Association at TIME

In his generally admiring review of two biographies of Robert Oppenheimer, TIME‘s Richard Lacayo makes two incredibly dense statements:

Even a generous evaluation of his fate would call him complicit in his downfall. Whether through hubris or naiveté, he refused to take seriously that his years of association with communists would open him to suspicion.

and in the very next paragraph:

Oppenheimer always denied that he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. But he never sought to conceal that he had spent much of his professional life surrounded by party members, including his younger brother Frank. Even his wife had been a member before their marriage.

Despite the best efforts of people like J. Edgar Hoover, being a member of the Communist Party or sympathizing with communists wasn’t any more of a crime than being a fascist (and it’s still not, despite TIME‘s Acc Coulter cover).

Oppenheimer had been American enough to be chosen to lead the research team in the most secret scientific pursuit of World War II. He’d helped win the war for the US, and given them a nuclear monopoly. In a sane society, that contribution would have been weighed against his “years of association with communists.” Perhaps Oppenheimer was naive about just how stupid people could be, but by any reasonable standards there should have been no “suspicion.”

And how (and why) was he supposed to hide the fact that his brother and wife had been members of the Communist Party (an organization they could legally belong to)? He never “sought to conceal” it because if you weigh the fact that they weren’t doing anything illegal against the fact that Oppenheimer built the fucking bomb, a rational person would have said “So what?”

This is another example of lazy writing, lazy editing, and lazy thought. Lacayo falls into a “blame the victim” fallacy of faulting Oppenheimer for being locked out of the nuclear research establishment while simultaneously acknowledging that the FBI illegally bugged his home, office, and phones. He mentions how Atomic Energy Commission chair Lewis Strauss used transcripts of those taps in hearings to strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance, but the guilt has already been placed on Oppenheimer by Lacayo for not taking his communist associations seriously and not trying to cover them up (and for signing farmworker rights petitions and raising funds for Republican Spain). Lacayo’s implies that Oppenheimer was pretty much asking for it, what with wearing that pretty dress and all.

Oops. I meant what with being a liberal and all.

Only a few more weeks before they stop sending me these things.

Dvorkin Undermines NPR

As if NPR needed anyone to undermine it but itself, NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin wrote (in “When Those Pesky Blogs Undermine NPR News”) about how information is just too darn free. A letter.

Mr. Dvorkin:

You state near the end of a recent column that “The blogs showed NPR, when it posted the Defense Department document, that the Web has changed both the rules and the means of disseminating information.”

The npr.org domain has been around since 1993. Are you seriously saying that an organization that has had an Internet presence for a dozen years, that posts hundreds of shows a week online, and has a fairly sophisticated Web presence itself is just now realizing that the “means of disseminating information” have changed?

[UPDATE] Unbelievably, Dvorkin wrote back within minutes. Believably, the response is virtually meaningless:

Yes. The volume and scope of all internet information is becoming so prominent, that it needs to be acknowledged. NPR website does a good job, but it is a mere drop in the
ocean.

JD

Reed vs. the Conservatives

The May 2005 issue of Reed, the alumni magazine of the college I finally graduated from, has an article questioning whether the college’s traditionally liberal campus keeps the conservatives down. It somehow completely misses David Horowitz’s current anti-liberal campus crusade. It prompted a letter.

Regarding the “Uncivil Discourse” article in the May 2005 issue I’m a bit perplexed. When I was a student during the Reagan and G.H.W. Bush presidencies there seemed to be no end of students arguing over virtually everything. Indeed, Anne Bothner-By (’86) is quoted in the article as saying “Reed students are very combative.” Are the conservatives less combative (something that seems hardly likely if you turn on the TV or radio)? Or do they just have a harder time making the kind of fact-based argument that tends to gain support from the type of people who choose to study at Reed?

As I read the article this April weekend, a conclave of Christian conservatives, addressed by the Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate, was meeting to discuss how a largely Republican-appointed federal judiciary is biased against Christians, and how judges who disagree with them might be removed from office, which might give some pause to those students considering careers in law. The Kansas Board of Education is about to decide whether thinly-disguised creationism should be included in the science curriculum, which would presumably affect whether high school students see the connections between chemistry, physics, and biology as mysteries of nature or acts of God. You tell me whether that will affect their future careers on the edge of science and the lives of anyone planning to teach said students.

The discussion is open. It has been open. I was attacked for pointing out that folks who complained (two years after the incident) about police twisting their arms and letting them go at Safeway after they were removed from the Development Office during the South Africa divestment sit-in got off pretty easy. A few years older than my fellow students and from a blue-collar background, I found Reed student liberalism (and conservatism) broad but not particularly deep. As in the real world, a lot of the people didn’t care about politics at all.

What I found most astounding about Gay Monteverde’s article though, given its premise, is its failure to mention the current campaign led by David Horowitz’s Students for Academic Freedom to pass an “Academic Bill of Rights” in state legislatures nationwide that purports to protect academic freedom but is viewed by faculty groups in states where it’s moving forward (such as Florida) as a restriction on acceptable topics of discussion in the classroom and the ability to correct students whose views don’t mesh with topics like evolution. The campaign is predicated largely on painting the faculties and student bodies of colleges as “too liberal.” As a private college, Reed wouldn’t be affected by anything like that passing in Oregon, but the timing’s certainly a heck of a coincidence.

Michael Medved Hates Soldiers But Loves War

Wonkette notes that film critic (and Yale honors graduate) Michael Medved takes Hollywood to task for not being patriotic (where have I heard that before?), blaming “Many of the major stars today [who] have an Ivy League background.” He can’t understand why popular wars like the first Gulf War haven’t spawned more loving coverage, just conflicted works like Three Kings (where even the characters who are only in it for the money end up putting their lives on the line to help some Iraqi civilians), The Manchurian Candidate (which wasn’t so much against the war as it was anti-corporatism), and Courage Under Fire (not that anyone watched it).

In what is perhaps his finest moment of black kettle-calling, Medved blasts Oliver Stone (who attended Yale for a year) for his movie Platoon and a speech he gave nearly 20 years ago when he accepted an ACLU award. After quoting Stone’s criticisms of the military-industrial complex and the Cold War, Medved asks: “Is it any wonder that people who deliver statements like that also feel the need to trash the U.S. in film after film after film?” After his year at Yale, of course, Oliver Stone did a tour of duty in Vietnam and received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Medved, whose jaw-droppingly name-dropping biography notes that he was classmates at Yale Law with Bill and Hillary Clinton (although he didn’t finish his law degree), turned 19 in 1967, the same year that Oliver Stone headed off to serve his country. Medved had a Selective Service “occupational deferment” teaching middle school three hours a day.

A Cloud Hangs Over TIME

In the interest of full disclosure, let me put some of my long history as a sci-fi geek up front. I’ve got my original white D&D box (circa 1976) on my office shelf, and I played role-playing games for most of a decade. I worked for nearly four years in a science-fiction/fantasy book & game shop. I conceived and organized a science-fiction convention in 1983. My wife and I first met at a monthly party organized by sci-fi writer John Varley. So what follows here is not a slam of people who enjoy a fantastic story.

Darth Vader: Mr. Force

Rather, it’s a call for a saner type of fandom, particularly in the case of TIME writer John Cloud, whose fawning cover story on Ann Coulter spawned choking noises from people like myself who don’t think people who advocate terrorism and the targeted killing of journalists should be given airbrushed coverage. Sometimes, it can lead to a bit of criticism, as it does here. And here. And here.

This week, Cloud recounts “How Star Wars Saved My Life” although he doesn’t really explain exactly what it saved his life from. He does mention having “crushes on most of the boys in the neighborhood” — at six; that he has a boyfriend; that he regularly came home when he was twelve with spitballs in his hair. But there’s no explanation as to how Star Wars made any of this more bearable, particularly. All I had during my geeky youth was 2001 and the original Star Trek, but they didn’t exactly save me from getting bullied.

Like a lot of over-eager fans, Cloud approaches his 900-word essay with a true believer’s passion and little perspective. He (or an editor) should have noticed the eighth of the essay — complete with dialog — Cloud devotes to recounting his favorite scene from the original movie that even sounds like you’re talking to the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. And perhaps it’s my athiest heart talking, but I’m fairly certain that by the time I was 12 — even with Cloud’s upbringing — I wouldn’t have been praying “the Lord would send me to live with Han and Chewie.”

This lack of perspective, even in the thirtysomething Cloud’s life, is what I think went wrong with the Coulter interview — apart from even thinking of or approving of it. At one point in my life, I met a lot of sci-fi writers, some of whom were big at the time and others who have become big in the last couple of decades. But even then I knew they were just people, and that’s something a writer for TIME should know about any interviewee, whether they’re someone they like or someone they don’t.

There are always fans whose internal governor of gushiness is switched off, however, and they may not know anything about the person, they’re just thrilled to be talking to them. To have the illusion that they’re being treated as an equal, even when the famous person’s only talking to them to peddle a book, a movie, or a story about Iraqi WMDs. Starstruck reporters can’t be objective about their subjects.