Brett Kavanaugh Shows the Shallow Nothingness of Our Ruling Class

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Justice Kavanaugh

Forget for a moment the performative anger. Forget the entitlement. Forget the insane conspiracies. Forget that he blamed the Clinton’s for his trouble. Forget, even just for a moment, that he’s at best a horned-up sex pest who combines that entitlement with a deep dismissal of women.

Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, Brett Kavanaugh coming up with an interesting or original legal theory? Can you imagine him having a nuanced look at a case? Can you imagine him focusing his penetrating insight into an undiscovered part of a case brought before him?

Of course not. Even if he were the bland basketball dad he portrayed himself as, there’s nothing in his record that says much of anything at all. And, of course, we can’t separate everything in the first paragraph from the totality of his absurdity.

All of it: the casual cruelty, the water-carrying for the conservative movement, the belief that getting into Yale based only on his attending one of the country’s most elite prep schools, the mocking laughter, the sheer shock and genuine horror that he could be held accountable for his actions: all of it is what makes up our elites.

Kavanaugh has put a glaring spotlight on the essential mediocrity of our ruling class, of the true elites that run this country. Not literature professors from Oberlin or Rachel Maddow or even Meryl Streep, but the ensconsed royalty who glide from position to position. Where they go varies a bit on personality and desire, but if you had the urge, as did Kavanaugh, you could float your way through the right wing and come to see the Supreme Court as your birthright.

What we see is that when you combine access to everything without the need to earn it, self-protection and cognitive dissonance makes it impossible for you to accept any dissent. This is very true when it comes from lower people, like reporters or Senators, and is especially, always true when it comes to women who don’t exist to please.

This is cruel, yes. It is viscous. It is a brackish burbling from our poisoned aristocracy. But what all that comes from, and what it creates, is a string of mediocre nobodies. They look in the mirror and see wealth and power, and instead of staring at weak chins and praising the accident of fate that gave them this unceasing fortune, they convince themselves they’ve earned it. They tell themselves they deserve it.

They’ve always been around, of course. And they’ve been bipartisan. But for the last 40 years, the Republican Party has mercilessly elevated these cruel nobodies, these unreflective wealth-mongers, these weird quasi-men who combine bootlicking with boot-stomping. Trump, obviously, is the ultimate triumph of unearned wealth and power, of the monstrous warping solipsistic power of unreflective privilege. But he’s also sui generis, a dark malevolent black hole, with his own terrible gravity.

Kavanaugh is different. There are a million of him. This has been remarked on before, usually (by me as well) in exasperation at the GOP, who could have nominated one of the same fascist-headed bullies who wasn’t a dogging pervert. Maybe he won’t get on. Maybe this week’s delay will clarify minds around this depthless goon who truly believes that any criticism of his character could only come from a vast conspiracy and not, say, the righteous consequences of a life spent harming others. Maybe they will end up finding another one, who will rule exactly the same, with the exact same lack of creativity, and the exact same hostility toward workers and immigrants and the environment and, above all, women.

They’ll find someone else. But really, that there are a million of these guys to begin with is the most damning indictment of our country available.


The Testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

Read it in full.

Read it an remember that she has no reason to lie under oath. Read it and remember that she knew her life would be forever turned upside down, and like Anita Hill, would be in history books as a victim. Read it and know that to think her lying outright she had to concede to have her life ruined in the hopes that a determined GOP majority would still refuse to confirm.

None of this is proof, of course. There isn’t, and won’t be, definitive proof unless Kavanaugh or Judge were to admit to it. But remember that when asked about this, Kavanaugh’s motivation for lying will be to save his job, to be promoted to lifetime tenure for the job he’s been being groomed toward for decades, and maybe even to save his marriage.

Dr. Ford’s incentives, if you believe her lying, are much harder to fathom.

Kavanaugh Continues Trump’s Attack on Workers

(Note: I had one of my most-trafficked days yesterday thanks to a Yemen post. So let’s follow that up by talking about OSHA!)

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A popular fish-based* entertainment park, let’s call it “Ocean World”, or “Sea Land”, has a show employing killer whales. A killer whale attacks and kills a trainer. It’s found that the entertainment park, which has a whole host of other problems, was found to have had safety lapses that led to the death of the trainer.

You’re asked to rule on whether OSHA, which by statute protects “all employees”, can fine the company a whopping $70,000 for violations. The case comes to your court. Do you rule:

  1. Oh, jesus, of course
  2. I find that while the death was tragic, WaterHeaven was not in violation of the statutes regarding safety, which I nevertheless find to be very important and Good.
  3. OSHA sucks.

If you’re Brett Kavanaugh, you’ve picked #3. Steven Greenhouse at The American Prospect explains more.

For Kavanaugh, the issue wasn’t what should SeaWorld have done to prevent Brancheau’s death or how could federal regulation have best helped prevent her death. Instead, the overriding issue for Kavanaugh was whether OSHA should even be regulating a company like SeaWorld. Kavanaugh asserted that OSHA should not be regulating sports or entertainment activities, saying it would be foolish, for instance, for OSHA to seek to limit injuries in professional football or NASCAR racing.

Although Kavanaugh describes himself as a “textualist” who follows the text of statues, he sought to create out of whole cloth an exemption from safety regulation for “entertainment activities” even though the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970—passed by a bipartisan majority and signed by Richard Nixon, a Republican—states that the law applies to “each employer.” The act calls on every employer to “furnish to each of [its] employees” work that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”

Writing that OSHA would never regulate football or NASCAR racing, Kavanaugh argued that since OSHA can’t explain why it wouldn’t regulate those “sports and entertainment activities,” but had opted to regulate SeaWorld, it was arbitrary and capricious and therefore illegal for OSHA to regulate SeaWorld. Kavanaugh glosses over the fact that Brancheau’s work at SeaWorld was not a competitive sport, like football or hockey, where injuries are inevitable.

Now, you could say this is a one-off type of case, as whale-training falls into a strange category of work. There are very few lines of business where it is even possible to get eaten by an orca, much less have that be a hazard of the job. I don’t know how he’s ruled on OSHA overall, if cases have come up.

But there are some key phrases here which give us hints. “aribtrary and capricious” are guiding lights in movement conservativism which can be used for any regulation which gets in the way of profit or protects workers at all. For a man to look at this case and feel that the real issue here is government overreach sort of distracts from his self-painted image of being an impartial jurist.

We know this, of course: he’s a mediocre flack, a rich fratty sex pest who has carried water for the conservative movement from the jump. Putting a man like him on the court has been the goal of the movement for 40 years; they’ve meticulously groomed and promoted his type.

There are a few end goals here. One, of course, being the end of Roe and Griswold.  The goal is to end any environmental protections that stop capitalists from doing whatever they want. The goal is to destroy any labor movements that get in the way of overwhelming profits. The goal, at its essence, is to remove the protections that recognize works as more than just tools of the boss class, to be used and disused as they please. It’s to stop recognizing that workers are human beings.

Kavanaugh isn’t alone. Neil Gorsuch famously believed that a worker has no right to protect her or his own life if it meant hurting the company at all. When a truck driver stranded in sub-zero conditions unhitched his trailer, whose brakes had failed, and drove to safety, he was fired for abandoning his cargo. Six judges said he had every right to do that. Gorsuch?

Maddin “wasn’t fired for refusing to operate his vehicle,” Gorsuch wrote last year in his dissent. He was fired for operating — that is, driving — his vehicle in a way contrary to company policy. So the company had a right to fire him.

Maddin had a simple choice, Gorsuch concluded: Freeze to death or lose your job. Maybe the company was not wise or kind, he added, “but it’s not our job to answer questions like that.” We judges just apply the law to the case at hand.

Now, obviously, there is a bit of a dodge here. He is sighing from above, wishing the company had policies that were better. But, alas, in this fallen world, what can one do? One can only “apply the law”.

The translation here is that if a company has a policy, no matter how dangerous or deadly or cruel it is, that must be followed. Men of goodwill like Neil Gorsuch can wish to heaven above that it were different, but if a company makes a decision, and you agree to work for them, your life is forfeit. Literally, your life belongs to company policy, which can’t be changed by regulation or judicial decree.

Kavanaugh might not make it through. But the next Heritage-clone who does will believe the same things. They are making it so that workers have no rights at all. They are making it so that if you sign a contract, you aren’t selling your labor to the highest bidder, but that the company is buying you.

This will be one of the primary legacies of Trump. He likes to talk about the working class, but his whole life has been marked by seething contempt for them. From screwing over contractors to dismantling every regulation possible, he’s punished those he’s seen as weak while empowering the already-powerful. He thinks that states should race to the bottom to compete for dangerous, unprotected jobs in which they can despoil the air workers breathe and the water they drink. There hasn’t been a bigger foe to workers since Calvin Coolidge.

And we have a Supreme Court poised to make that a generational reality, enshrined by a President elected with a minority of votes, the aid of a foreign power, and a vast campaign of voter suppression. If you ask if America remains a democracy, you have your answer right there.


*Melville concluded whales were fishes. Who am I to argue?


A Quick Thought On The Newest Kavanaugh Allegations

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Supreme Court nominee Steve Dallas

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called late Sunday for a delay in further consideration of Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh after a second woman accused him of sexual misconduct.

“I am writing to request an immediate postponement of any further proceedings related to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh,” Feinstein (Calif.) wrote in a letter to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee’s chairman.

Her letter came after the New Yorker magazine reported that Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale University, said he exposed himself at a party when they were both first-year students.

Ramirez, who told the magazine that they both had been drinking at the time of the incident, acknowledged some gaps in her memory but said she remembered another student shouting Kavanaugh’s name.

I’m not sure how you prove this. I’m not sure how the FBI gets involved. I’m pretty sure this is going to be used by the bad-faith right as an example of either how Democrats are making things up to derail Kavanaugh, how they are taking boys-will-be-boys behavior and shrilly excoriating and emasculating it, how #MeToo has gone too far, or all three. Probably all three.

But. Regardless of if this is provable or not, it certainly rings true. It certainly fits a pattern of obnoxious frattish behavior where the point has been to humiliate women, and where sex is a weapon of the powerful. It has been a hallmark of Kavanaugh’s whole career, this leering juvenilia, and he’s brought it to every stage of Republican politics. His questions to Bill Clinton, designed to humiliate, are also created to evoke snickering titillation. Vagina!

This is how he’s matriculated through Republican politics until he was given a seat on a powerful bench specifically so that he could one day be on the Supreme Court, to carry water for a movement that has paved a path for his essential mediocrity. He’s a rich kid who has bullied women his whole life, and will continue to do so with his rulings, stripping them and other non-rich/white people of their rights. He’ll do so gleefully. It’s like Paul Ryan talking about taking away the social safety net “around the keg”. It’s 80’s era Reaganite frat-heads conspiring to use a fake morality to justify theft and power.

That’s the heart of the movement: it’s not just a boot stamping down on the human neck, forever. It’s making you lick that boot while a bunch of popped-collar trust fund bros hoot and snigger in the background, cocks out, and now finally headed toward completion.

What Is Yemen?

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Pictured: Yemen, just not “Yemen” 

Writing for Lawfare, my good and great friend Greg Johnsen discusses the three wars currently happening in Yemen: the civil war (encompassing both the Houthi war against the “central” government as well as the southern secessionist movement), the regional war (Saudi Arabia/UAE against Iran) and the war against ISIS and al-Qaeda (in which the US is droning and bombing at its leisure).

It’s a damn interesting piece, and Greg does a great job of showing how all these wars are intertwined. ISIS and AQ aren’t just fighting against the west; they are trying to get land, are fighting the Houthis, and of course have a simmering battle against each other. The drone wars against them waged by the US are mixed up with our mindless and cruel and self-defeating support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a brutal perversion of the AUMF while at the same time its full expression.

Greg argues that the regional component, while the most outlandishly deadly, has the easiest “off-ramp”; both sides could agree to stop arming combatants and cease any involvement. That’s not “easy”, per se, since sunk cost, national pride, and other somehow-important factors would have to be overcome. But it is possible, and as the war gets more mired, and as disease slithers its way to the front pages, and as the Saudis and Emiratis are increasingly blamed for Yemen’s genocidal starvation, it is likely they’ll find a way to leave.

That’s when, in Greg’s telling, the real fighting will begin, and there will be no way to put the country back together.

The Houthis have made a lot of enemies during their time in power, but have largely been given a pass by many under their control due to the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign. When that ends, so too will some of their support.

There is, simply put, no longer a single Yemen. There are multiple Yemens and no single individual or group capable of re-uniting them into a coherent whole. Yemen has too many groups with too many guns to ever be a unified state again. The civil war, which has taken a back seat to the regional conflict over the past three years, will eventually resume at full force. And when it does, the fighting it produces will be bloody and protracted.

Speaking militarily, Greg is absolutely correct. There is no one capable of uniting Yemen into a coherent whole. There’s no Lee who can bring a rebellious enemy to heel. But even if there were, I don’t think Yemen could ever be back the way it was, simply because the “way it was”, as a unified nation, never really existed.

Uneasy unification in 1990 was followed by a civil war in 1994, after which the south was virtually occupied by jihadis returning from Afghanistan. A decade later, the Houthi wars started in the north, an area which had been under essentially military rule after the civil war in the 1960s. The southern secessionist movement began in full force in the aughts, and never really abated.

What, then, is there to put back together? Hell, it’s been 150 years since the US fought its war, and we’re still fighting political battles divided by region, as well as fighting over the role of the central government to do simple things like enforcing civil rights. And we’re a rich and powerful nation, in which tax money is spent freely around the formerly-rebellious parts, and they have a full and even disproportionate representation in politics and military. That’s the textbook way to reconcile after a war, and we’re barely hanging on.

Yes, there are complicated reasons for that, but that’s the point: these things don’t heal.

So I don’t know if there is a chance for Yemen to ever again be one nation, because it never really was. The pieces to be put back together don’t really fit together, even before war and disease and starvation shattered them further.

Just because we draw the map of Yemen based on 1990 borders doesn’t mean that’s the way the map has to be. Political maps are a perception; they are a snapshot of a moment in time, giving the essential absurdity of borders a place of primacy over the lived reality of geography and history. They tell a story, not the story.

Greg’s piece is an important part of a growing body of work among Yemen experts arguing that we can’t try to force unity, and have to build legitimacy from local experts. The sooner the international community recognizes that, and the sooner it stops thinking of every solution as state-based, the closer we get to ending this endless horror.

Kavanaugh Defenses Show Full Weight of Anti-Women Animus

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Reminder: he’s going to be terrible for women no matter what

There are few greater indications of the warping effect of political loyalties than we see in the attempted rape accusations levied by Christine Blasey Ford against Brett Kavanaugh, hitherto the all-but-certain next Supreme Court nominee.  No one except Ford, Kavanaugh, and possibly Mark Judge know what happened, and that might not even be true. The bridling effects of time and self-deception and trauma and any other number of factors might preclude anyone from being absolutely certain.

But certainly, there are many who are certain about what happened, and who have absolutely-held and rock-strong convictions about something they just heard about. If you want Kavanaugh to be confirmed, you don’t believe her, or believe that holding someone and covering her mouth is just what boys do. If you don’t want him to be confirmed, you believe her.

Myself, I tend to err on the side of the women, especially in this case. For one thing, there’s no real incentive to come forward. I know people are saying she’s a left-wing opportunist who is just trying to get fame and fortune, but come on. This isn’t Stormy Daniels, who clearly thrives in the attention economy. This is an anonymous woman who was opening herself up to opposition from the most powerful and most vindictive man on the planet, who has zero problem destroying lives.

And this instinct to defend one’s side was a conclusion all but foregone. Immediately after coming forward, the right-wing went to war against her. Someone found negative reviews of Christine Ford on the not-exactly-scientific site, and published them. These were quickly amplified by Drudge and Laura Ingrahm, among others. That the reviews turned out to be for a different Christine Ford hardly mattered. That the griping of disgruntled students doesn’t exactly shed light on the validity of rape accusations never seemed to enter in to equation. It was enough to attack her, to sow doubt, to make people associate her with something a little bit off. That’s the playbook.

Needless to say, the worst of it is coming from the Trump family, though surprisingly not the POTUS. Don Jr went all-in. He didn’t say the holding-down-while-trying-to-drown-out-screams didn’t happen, but that it was no big deal.

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Why are there flags?

LOL! Right? Women, always complaining about nothing. That’s what’s going on here, right fellas?

So yeah- unless Dr. Ford is a complete dummy, she knew this was coming. She knew she’d be savaged. She knew she was opening herself up to retribution. She knew that the forces of the right would be marshaled against her, with snarling fury. This in and of itself not proof of her accuracy, but it’s not nothing.

That the White House and Congress knew about this accusation (as they almost certainly did) and went forward is appalling, but not shocking. The whole point of packing the Supreme Court, beside helping business destroy workers and the environment, is to negate the autonomy of women. Even if Kavanaugh was a choir boy in high school, he’s still going to wreck abortion rights in this country, and maybe even erode Griswold. That’s the project. That’s why he was pushed and approved by right-wing activist groups.

That’s why the defense of him matters. That people like Don Jr and thousands of others are dismissing his alleged actions as no big deal, just boys being boys, and the opposition to assault as some shrill PC feminism, tells you all you need to know about their priorities. They aren’t ashamed of what he potentially did; they’re proud of it (even as he denies it).

It’s all part of the same animating idea of Trumpism: the id of white men should be fully unleashed, with gleeful sexual fury over the weaker. That’s why a libertine New Yorker who almost certainly has paid for some abortions is the hero of the Christian right and will preside over the demise of Roe. These aren’t contradictions. It’s the expression of misogyny given full reign, and it’s reshaping the foundations of our nation.

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

In an essay for Slate, the great Dahlia Lithwick got right to the heart of what makes the Brett Kavanaugh Foregone Conclusion Hearings so distasteful and weird, and captures the wooziness of this terrible and tacky and terminal moment.

…Republicans spent the first day of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings telling us that nothing that’s happening in here has anything to do with the fact that Donald Trump is the president. None of the concern around this Supreme Court seat has anything to do with the fact that the president himself is under investigation for corruption and campaign finance violations, or that his personal lawyer swore under oath that Trump instructed him to commit crimes, or that a foreign power is currently interfering with our election systems. All of that is about a different thing. This hearing is about something stable and immutable and good. And anyone who implies that anything is abnormal is a hysteric or an opportunist or an attention-seeker.

It is a bizarre and grotesque spectacle, but it isn’t actually disconnected from what is happening with the Presidency (and Lithwick isn’t saying it is; she’s saying the GOP is pretending it is).  While the spectacle of a disintegrating and lunatic Presidency seems to be happening on a separate track than the forced normalcy of the Supreme Court hearing, with its mawkish personal statements and routine elisions of important questions, they are really rolling together on one line: the wobbling, broken-down, clacking-toward-catastrophe roller coaster of our democracy.

The horrible NYTimes op-ed about the internal resistance is part of this disintegration. It’s bullshit at best, and just as anti-democratic as Trump at worst, even while it blares its self-serving committment to democracy.

After all, if you really believe that the President is dangerously unfit, that he makes “half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions”, that he is ” is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making”, that the “root of the problem is the president’s amorality”, the result of which is that “the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic”, then I don’t know: fucking do something.

Resign in a public spectacle. Testify before Congress. Put yourself on the damn chopping block. But working for a President who daily gets on the squawkbox and undermines our democracy, cries “TREASON” to his hordes about anyone who looks at him crosswise, and who literally has the power to destroy the world in his hand, isn’t heroic. It’s enabling.

We see the real heart of the editorial in the lines where it praises itself (using the term “unsung heros” to describe the author and other internal resistors) for “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military.” This is acheived, they say, in spite of the President. The author also somehow bemoans the “ceaseless negative coverage” (of a President lacking and first principles) and an “opposition hell-bent on his downfall” (“his” referring to a President that acts in a manner “detrimental to the health of our Republic”).

This whole op-ed is laying the groundwork for Trump not being Republican enough. It praises turning regulatory power over to the corporations that are being regulated and raiding the economy to help the rich get richer, and damns Trump for not being consistent enough in these things. And while it mentions that Trump is anti-democratic, it doesn’t mention at all things like voter suppression, gerrymandering, or blocking the ability of our states to protect their electoral systems from Russian interference.

And by god, it certainly doesn’t mention the constant race-baiting, xenophobia, and self-serving divisiveness on which this President, and the GOP as a whole, thrives.

That’s because the author doesn’t care about these things. They care not about protecting America from Trump, but about protecting GOP authoritarian ideology from a guy too stupid and reckless to keep it up. They worry about Trump giving away the game.

Because a President who is too stupid and amoral and reckless that he has to be shielded from responsibility by his aides should not be allowed to make lifetime appointments to any court. A President who can be fooled, as per Woodward’s bookby hiding documents from him, shouldn’t be in control of the military. He shouldn’t be allowed to impose his will on how elections happen. He shouldn’t be making any foreign policy decisions.

But he is allowed to. The Republican Party is dedicated to preserving minority dominance through a stranglehold on the courts and by ruthlessly suppressing votes and increasing both democratic and economic inequality.  The nonsense Kavanaugh hearings are in a continuum with that.

Republicans, captured entirely by western extraction interests, anti-government paranoia, and the American apartheid state, are trying to pretend the only thing abnormal about the Kavanaugh hearings are that people are mad. They throw up their hands and pretend it is uncivil to point out that a man with a minority of votes, aided by intense voter suppression and collusion with a foreign power, has been able to appoint two lifelong conservative operatives to the Supreme Court, one through a seat that was entirely stolen from Barack Obama in a complete electoral nullification. They think it is a ridiculous affront to our whole beautiful system that women are mad a right-wing flack is going to essentially overturn Roe, all because of a man who is considered an idiot child even by his closest companions.

This isn’t just hypocrisy. They are committed to the project of ensuring minority rule, because there is no actual commitment to democracy. And that’s what’s scary. They want to make this normal. They’re trying to make it seem like everything is ok. They’re standing ramrod still while the ground fractures and shatters, while great scalding geysers are unleashed and the steady stolid road under your feet turns liquifies sickeningly.

They want this madness and violence and cruelty and subversion to seem normal until, suddenly, it is.

Don’t Work Today

The Little Steel Massacre, Memorial Day 1937. 10 workers were killed. 

The one and only time I belonged to a union was also my first job. I was pushing carts and bagging groceries at Jewel. I was 14 or 15, or thereabouts, so this must have been 1993 or 94.  It was the beginning of Clintonism, as the Democrats had moved away from what we called the “New Deal Dinosaurs” or “old Labor Dems” like Mondale and Dukakis.

I remember distinctly joking with my friends about having to join the union, as I was the only one whose job made me do so (that I recall, anyway). We joked about me becoming a labor boss, and being super corrupt. That’s what unions were to me: an old-fashioned relic and an avenue for corruption.

The only experience I really remember from it was sitting in the poorly-lit and, to a sensitive teenager, bleak break-room while a rep explained to me when I could take my breaks, what rights I had, safety protocols, and everything else. I remember being bored, of course, and sort of uncomfortable, and certainly plagued with dread about the adult world of work. This break room filled with tired grown-ups and burn-outs was my haven? That was my union association: a painted break-room in the bowels of Jewel.

What I didn’t understand was that my dismissal of unions was part of one of the great tricks the boss class has ever pulled: convincing Americans that unions are the real enemies of workers, and that we’re better off without them. For decades, the monied right has led a frontal assault on organized labor, an assault that has reached its furious peak under that great hero of the white working class, Donald Trump.

It’s here that I know I should clear my throat and talk about how corrupt unions are, etc. But fuck that. It’s true that there has been corruption in unions, labor and otherwise. But there is no more than in any other human institution, and far less corruption than the pure distilled brutal greed of the boss class, parasites who turn workers into capital and then grind them into dust.

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