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America has a legal system. What it lacks is a justice system.

Policy & Politics

Burr-ing: The New Term For Republicans & Corporations Sucking America Dry

America has a legal system. What it lacks is a justice system.

Robert Reich is a gadfly. He served as Bill Clinton’s Commerce Secretary and since then has made it a point to be a perennial thorn in the side of evildoers at all levels of government, although to be fair, most of the targets are Republicans. I have said repeatedly that America has a legal system but lacks a justice system. The case of Richard Burr, a Republican senator from North Carolina, makes the point nicely.

Burr is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a position that gives him unparalleled access to what is going on in the world. In January and February, he dutifully parroted the party line prescribed by the alleged president that the coronavirus was little more dangerous than the common cold. But Burr — and our so-called president — knew that was a lie. Both had been fully briefed by the intelligence community about the threat COVID-19 posed to the world and to the United States.

In February, while continuing his line of happy talk for public consumption, Burr was telling those around him the new pandemic would be as bad as the Spanish Flu that took the lives of 650,000 Americans a century ago. Then he sold up to $1.7 million worth of stock he owned in 33 companies — just days before the US stock market went into a step decline, wiping out trillions of dollars worth of wealth. Burr, of course, protests he did nothing wrong. And so far, the machinery of government seems to agree with him. Not a peep from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the organization that fell all over itself in its rush to imprison Martha Stewart over a sale of stock amounting to about $1,000,000. Not a word from the Justice Department (there’s an oxymoron if there ever was one) even though the known facts suggest a crime may have been committed.

The counterpoint to this story is a ruling by a Texas appeals court this week upholding a five year prison term for Crystal Mason, who cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while on supervised federal parole. In fact, her ballot was never counted because election officials determined afterwards that she was ineligible to vote. The Guardian says the prosecution of Mason was highly unusual to begin with. Since 2014, at least 12,668 people have voted using a provisional ballot in Tarrant county and 88% of them have been rejected because the voter was not eligible. Mason is the only voter who used a provisional ballot who has been prosecuted for illegal voting.

There is a legal principle that prevents arbitrary and capricious actions by state or federal officials. It’s the same principle that says the police cannot randomly issue speeding tickets to every tenth car on the highway when all of them are speeding. But legal principles hold no sway for Judge Wade Birdwell of the Texas Second District Court of Appeals. You can almost hear the venom in his heart as he penned these words:

“Although Mason may not have known with certainty that being on supervised release as part of her federal conviction made her ineligible to vote under Texas law or that so voting is a crime … she voted anyway, signing a form affirming her eligibility in the process despite the fact that she was not certain,” he wrote.

And The Message Is…..

If you are following along so far, the message is, if you are rich and powerful, you get a free pass for any and all transgressions. If you are poor and black, you get a soap suds enema from the justice system and 5 years in prison. You see how this works, right? Any questions?

Here’s another recent example. In the midst of the greatest crisis America has faced in the past century, Republican lawmakers in Kentucky — annoyed that voters had the audacity to elect a Democratic governor and worried that favorite son Mitch McConnell might not get reelected this year — voted to tighten the ID requirements needed to register to vote in the Bluegrass State. In order to get the proper ID, citizens must now visit the registry of motor vehicles. Oh, by the way, all registry offices in Kentucky are closed due to the coronavirus, so good luck registering to vote this year in Kentucky.

The So-Called Stimulus Package

The situation in Washington is extremely fluid at the present. Last week, The Donald proposed a $1 trillion stimulus package. As of this moment, that has ballooned to $1.8 trillion, with huge chunks of cash earmarked for loyal Republicans. At issue is a $500 billion fund for the business community. The kicker? Republicans want the Treasury Department to have sole discretion in deciding who gets the cash.

With the Tweeter in Chief firing anyone in his administration who does not kneel and kiss his ring, Democrats fear that only those businesses who swear an oath of fealty to the Great and Powerful Trump will get any of the money. They are right. Captain Chaos likes nothing better than punishing his political opponents. The odds of him favoring some businesses over others are 100%.

The package at the moment calls for each American earning under $75,000 a year to get a check from the government for $1,200. How many rent payments will that cover? And what happens when the money is gone? Fred Bullard, president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, has offered his opinion that US GDP will fall by 50% in the second quarter with unemployment rising to 30%. If his vision proves correct, the overall effect on the nation will be greater than the Great Depression that started in 1929.

Against that backdrop, the airlines are demanding $58 billion. If they don’t get it, they are telling the government they will start firing workers as soon as next week. As usual, the little people will get it in the neck while corporations and business leaders gorge themselves at the public trough.

Morally Repulsive

Reich says, “Using power and privilege to exploit the weak and vulnerable in the face of a common threat is morally repugnant.” He has coined a new word to describe what is going on. He calls it “Burr-ing,” in reference to the heist Senator Burr pulled off recently. Here’s what Burr-ing looks like, according to  Reich.

Why do airlines deserve to be bailed out? Over the last decade they spent 96%of their free cashflow, including billions in tax savings from the Trump tax cut, to buy back shares of their own stock. This boosted executive bonuses and pleased wealthy investors but did nothing to strengthen the airlines for the long term. Meanwhile, the four biggest carriers gained so much market power they jacked up prices on popular routes and slashed services (remember legroom and free bag checks?).

While generous toward airlines and other industries, the Republican bill is absurdly stingy toward people, stipulating a one-time payment of up to $1,200 for every adult and $500 per child. Some 64 million households with incomes below $50,000 would get as little as $600. This will do almost nothing to help job-losers pay their mortgages, rents and other bills for the duration of the crisis, expected to be at least the next three months.

The Republican coronavirus bill is about as Burring as legislation can be — exposing the underlying structure of power in America as clearly as Burr’s stock trades. In this national crisis, it’s just as morally repulsive. Take a look at how big corporations are treating their hourly workers in this pandemic and you see more Burring.

Walmart, the largest employer in America, doesn’t give its employees paid sick leave, and limits its 500,000 part-time workers to 48 hours paid time off per year. This Burr-ing policy is now threatening countless lives. (On one survey, 88% of Walmart employees report sometimes coming to work when sick.) None of the giants of the fast-food industry – McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Duncan Donuts, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Subway – gives their workers paid sick leave, either.

Amazon, one of the richest corporations in the world, which paid almost no taxes last year, is offering unpaid time off for workers who are sick and just two weeks paid leave for workers who test positive for the virus. Meanwhile, it demands its employees put in mandatory overtime.

Here’s the most Burr-ing thing of all: these corporations have made sure they and other companies with more than 500 employees are exempt from the requirement in the House coronavirus bill that employers provide paid sick leave.

Punishing Non-Profits

Here’s another example of how Republicans in Congress are using the crisis to take a meat axe to people they don’t like. According to The Washington Post, Republicans want to exclude non-profits that receive Medicaid funds from access to government backed loans. The likely target of that provision is Planned Parenthood, but a closer analysis shows the provision, if enacted, would severely hamper services provided to America’s neediest citizens. Talk about morally reprehensible. While corporations and executives get to continue with business as usual, home and community-based disability providers, community-based nursing homes, mental health providers and health centers, group homes for the disabled, and even rape crisis centers would be excluded from participating in the pig party.

“It’s a huge problem,” Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc, a national advocacy organization for the disabled, tells The Washington Post. “Our chapters who provide services would all be impacted,” she says, making it harder to “provide home and community-based services all over the country.”

Standing Tall In A Time Of Need

Democrats are being pilloried today for daring to protect American citizens from a monumental raid on the US Treasury. Mitch McConnell and his cohorts are hurling invective at Democrats for refusing to knuckle under when faced with enormous political pressure. Now is the time for profiles in courage, not cowardice. Republicans in Congress see an opportunity to shove yet another expensive boondoggle favoring their biggest campaign donors down the throats of ordinary Americans and they are determined to take it.

This is an exercise in naked political power and a further clarification of how America favors the wealthy at every turn at the expense of the poor and the powerless.  The scariest part of the whole scenario is that Republicans do not understand how morally corrupt they have become. After 2016, Mitch McConnell barked, “Winners make the rules. Losers go home.” That’s not how a democracy works, Mitch, but it is how fascist state operates. If you are concerned that ordinary Americans are getting thrown under the bus because of the coronavirus emergency, it’s not too late to contact your representatives in Congress and express your support for the rule of law, not the law of the jungle.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we heed his advice.


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