Friday, November 17, 2017

The Tell For Presidential Dishonesty In 2017 Is Moving Lips

Long ago, this blogger heard a joke that went "How can you tell when a lawyer is lying?" Now, we have the Moron-in-Chief who has lied five times a day in less than a year of his miserable occupancy of the White House. The Moron should go into the floor-covering business. The natural jingle for his TV commercials: "Your carpets will lie like a Trump!" If this is a (fair & balanced) assessment of a national tragedy, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
We’re With Stupid
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

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It would be much easier to sleep at night if you could believe that we’re in such a mess of misinformation simply because Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million people on Facebook.

The Russians also uploaded a thousand videos to YouTube and published more than 130,000 messages on Twitter about last year’s election. As recent congressional hearings showed, the arteries of our democracy were clogged with toxins from a hostile foreign power.

But the problem is not the Russians — it’s us. We’re getting played because too many Americans are ill equipped to perform the basic functions of citizenship. If the point of the Russian campaign, aided domestically by right-wing media, was to get people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, the bad guys have won.

As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. Good God. At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.

Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.

Fake news is a real thing produced by active disseminators of falsehoods. Trump uses the term to describe anything he doesn’t like, a habit now picked up by political liars everywhere.

But Trump is a symptom; the breakdown in this democracy goes beyond the liar in chief. For that you have to blame all of us: we have allowed the educational system to become negligent in teaching the owner’s manual of citizenship.

Lost in the news grind over Roy Moore, the lawbreaking Senate candidate from Alabama, is how often he has tried to violate the Constitution. As a judge, he was removed from the bench — twice — for lawless acts that follow his theocratic view of governance.

Shariah law has been justifiably criticized as a dangerous injection of religion into the public space. Now imagine if a judge insisted on keeping a monument to the Quran in a state judicial building. Or that he said “homosexual conduct” should be illegal because his sacred book tells him so. That is exactly what Moore has done, though he substitutes the Bible for the Quran.

I don’t blame Moore. I blame his followers, and the press, which doesn’t seem to know that the First Amendment specifically aims to keep government from siding with one religion — the so-called establishment clause.

My colleagues at the opinion shop on Sunday used a full page to print the Bill of Rights, and urge President Trump to “Please Read the Constitution.” Yes, it’s come to this. On press freedom, due process, exercise of religion and other areas, Trump has repeatedly gone into Roy Moore territory — dismissing the principles he has sworn to uphold.

Suppose we treated citizenship like getting a driver’s license. People would have to pass a simple test on American values, history and geography before they were allowed to have a say in the system. We do that for immigrants, and 97 percent of them pass, according to one study.

Yet one in three Americans fail the immigrant citizenship test. This is not an elitist barrier. The test includes questions like, “What major event happened on 9/11?” and “What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?”

One reason that public schools were established across the land was to produce an informed citizenry. And up until the 1960s, it was common for students to take three separate courses in civics and government before they got out of high school.

Now only a handful of states require proficiency in civics as a condition of high school graduation. Students are hungry, in this turbulent era, for discussion of politics and government. But the educators are failing them. Civics has fallen to the side, in part because of the standardized test mania.

A related concern is historical ignorance. By a 48 percent to 38 percent margin Americans think states’ rights, rather than slavery, caused the Civil War. So Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, can say something demonstrably false about the war, because most people are just as clueless as he is.

There’s hope — and there are many ways — to shed light on the cave of American democracy. More than a dozen states now require high school students to pass the immigrant citizenship test. We should also teach kids how to tell fake news from real, as some schools in Europe are doing.

But those initiatives will mean little if people still insist on believing what they want to believe, living in digital safe spaces closed off from anything that intrudes on their worldview. # # #

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero (2016). See all other books by Eags here.]

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

This Blogger Thinks The Moron-in-Chief Doth (Virtually) Protest Too Much

The world is getting curioser and curioser. Roy (THe Molester Boy) Moore is gathering women accusers by the minute. Andy Borowitz frames the entire disgrace within a much larger national disgrace. Roy The Molester Boy is a clown seeking to replace another clown (Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III — sometimes pronounced like the word for a lump of excrement) as a US Senator from Alabama. Roy The Molester Boy has attracted eleven women (at last count) who allege Roy The Boy Molester behaved inappropriately when they were 14 or so and Roy The Boy Molester was in his late 30s. However, Borowitz imagines the Moron-in-Chief offering a defense of Roy The Boy Moldester as the victim of malicious women accusers and the zinger comes in the final few sentences of the report. If this is a (fair & balanced) proof that the 19 accusers of the Moron-in-Chief is nearly double the 11 accusers (and counting) of Roy The Boy Molester, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
Trump Warns That Dumping Roy Moore Could Start A Dangerous Trend Of Believing Women
By Andy Borowitz

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("The Borowitz Report")—Breaking his silence on Alabama’s embattled Republican nominee for the US Senate, Donald Trump warned on Wednesday that dumping Roy Moore could start a “dangerous trend” of believing women.

“I think we need to be very, very careful here,” Trump told reporters. “This is not just about Roy Moore. This is about our country deciding that we are going to start believing women, something that we have never done before.

“This is a very dangerous road we’re heading down,” he said.

Trump cautioned that, if instituted, a new practice of believing women would “totally destroy” the system that the country already has in place. “For years we’ve had a system of believing men,” he said. “It’s worked very well. It’s done a great job.”

He said that he was considering a number of measures to stem the tide of women’s credibility, including an executive order banning women from giving believable accounts to the press. “That’s something we’re looking into,” he indicated.

Trump painted a doomsday scenario of what might happen if the “very bad trend” of believing women gained traction in the country. “If people believe Roy Moore’s five accusers [currently 8 and counting], what happens to a man who has, say, about twenty accusers?” he asked. “I don’t like where this is going.” # # #

[Andy Borowitz is the creator the "Borowitz Report," a Web site that is a lot funnier than the stuff posted by Matt Drudge and his ilk. Borowitz is a comedian and writer whose work appears regularly in The New Yorker. He is the first winner of the National Press Club's humor award and has won seven Dot-Comedy Awards for his web site. His most recent book (and Amazon's Best Kindle Single of the Year) is An Unexpected Twist (2012). Borowitz received a BA, magna cum laude (English) from Harvard University.]

Copyright © 2017 The New Yorker/Condé Nast Digital

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What Is Lower & Sleazier Than Pond Scum? It Is Known As DJT Because He Is The World Champion Of Sleaze!

Whenever the Moron-in-Chief feels threatened (more and more of late), he falls into a predictable pattern of posting near-illiterate Twitter-tweets or staging yet another campaign rally even a year after the 2016 election. Put those predictable behaviors with inane executive orders and you have the essence of the Moron's presidency. Since those faux nostrums are losing effect, the Moron has upped the ante to include jailing or exiling his political opponents before declaring himself President for Life. If this is the (fair & balanced) foretelling of the end of democracy in the United States of America, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
"Lock Her Up" Becomes More Than A Slogan
By Peter Baker

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President Trump did not need to send a memo or telephone his attorney general to make his desires known. He broadcast them for all the world to see on Twitter. The instruction was clear: The Justice Department should investigate his defeated opponent from last year’s campaign.

However they were delivered, Mr. Trump’s demands have ricocheted through the halls of the Justice Department, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now ordered senior prosecutors to evaluate various accusations against Hillary Clinton and report back on whether a special counsel should be appointed.

Mr. Sessions has made no decision, and in soliciting the assessment of department lawyers, he may be seeking a way out of the bind his boss has put him. At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, he pushed back against Republicans impatient for a special counsel. But if he or his deputy ultimately does authorize a new investigation of Mrs. Clinton, it would shatter post-Watergate norms intended to prevent presidents from using law enforcement agencies against political rivals.

The request alone was enough to incite a political backlash, as critics of Mr. Trump quickly denounced what they called “banana republic” politics of retribution, akin to autocratic nations where election losers are jailed by winners.

“You can be disappointed, but don’t be surprised,” said Karen Dunn, a former prosecutor and White House lawyer under President Barack Obama who advised Mrs. Clinton during her campaign. “This is exactly what he said he would do: use taxpayer resources to pursue political rivals.”

Democrats vividly recall Mr. Trump on the campaign trail vowing to prosecute Mrs. Clinton if he won. “It was alarming enough to chant ‘lock her up’ at a campaign rally,” said Brian Fallon, who was Mrs. Clinton’s campaign spokesman. “It is another thing entirely to try to weaponize the Justice Department in order to actually carry it out.”

But conservatives said Mrs. Clinton should not be immune from scrutiny as a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, investigates Russia’s interference in last year’s election and any connections to Mr. Trump’s campaign. They argued, for example, that Mrs. Clinton was the one doing Russia’s bidding in the form of a uranium deal approved when she was secretary of state.

Peter Schweizer, whose best-selling book Clinton Cash raised the uranium issue in 2015, said a special counsel would be the best way to address this matter because it would actually remove it from politics. “It offers greater independence from any political pressures and provides the necessary tools to hopefully get to the bottom of what happened and why it happened,” said Mr. Schweizer, whose nonprofit organization was co-founded by Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist.

At Tuesday’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Sessions denied that he was responding to Mr. Trump’s public pressure. “A president cannot improperly influence an investigation,” he said, “and I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced. The president speaks his mind. He’s a bold and direct about what he says, but people elected him. But we do our duty every day based on the law and facts.”

Even as he rebuffed Democrats suggesting he had been compromised, Mr. Sessions pushed back against Republicans who pressed him on why he had not already appointed a special counsel. “What’s it going to take to get a special counsel?” demanded Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio.

“It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel,” Mr. Sessions said.

Mr. Jordan raised questions about a dossier of salacious assertions about Mr. Trump prepared last year by a firm paid by Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Jordan said “it sure looks like” the Democrats collaborated with the FBI to use the dossier to persuade a secret intelligence court to issue a warrant to spy on Americans associated with Mr. Trump’s campaign. “That’s what it looks like,” Mr. Jordan said.

Mr. Sessions bridled at that. “I would say ‘looks like’ is not enough basis to appoint a special counsel,” he retorted.

Among the issues being examined, according to a Justice Department letter to the committee, is the uranium case. In 2010, Russia’s atomic energy agency acquired Uranium One, a Canadian company that at the time controlled 20 percent of American uranium extraction capacity. The purchase was approved by a government committee that included representatives of nine agencies, including the State Department.

Donors related to Uranium One and another company it acquired contributed millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, and former President Bill Clinton received $500,000 from a Russian bank for a speech. But there is no evidence that Mrs. Clinton participated in the government approval of the deal, and her aides have noted that other agencies signed off on it. The company’s actual share of American uranium production has been 2 percent; the real benefit for Russia was securing far greater supplies of uranium from Kazakhstan.

Other issues mentioned in the Justice Department letter include Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server, which was investigated by the FBI until the bureau’s director at the time, James B. Comey, declared last year that no prosecutor would press charges based on the evidence. The letter said the department was also examining Mr. Comey for leaking details of his conversations with Mr. Trump after the president fired him.

To the extent that there may be legitimate questions about Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Comey, however, the credibility of any investigation presumably would be called into question should one be authorized by Mr. Sessions or his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, because of the way it came about under pressure from Mr. Trump.

Of 10 former attorneys general contacted Tuesday, only one responded to a question about what they would do in Mr. Sessions’s situation.

“There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” said William P. Barr, who ran the Justice Department under President George [H.W.] Bush. “Although an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a president wants it, the ultimate question is whether the matter warrants investigation.”

Mr. Barr said he sees more basis for investigating the uranium deal than any supposed collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia. “To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” he said.

Mr. Trump promised last year that if elected, he would instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Mrs. Clinton. But he backed off that shortly after the election, saying, “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons.”

By last summer, with Mr. Mueller’s investigation bearing down, he had changed his mind. To Mr. Trump, the inquiry was a “witch hunt” based on a “hoax” perpetrated by Democrats. It was all the more galling, advisers said, because Mrs. Clinton had not been prosecuted, a frustration exacerbated by recent reports about how her campaign helped finance the salacious dossier.

“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered AG, looking into Crooked Hillarys [sic] crimes & Russia relations?” he wrote on Twitter in July.

“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out,” he wrote in October. “DO SOMETHING!”

“At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper,” Mr. Trump wrote again in November. He added: “Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems.”

Mr. Trump has expressed frustration that he does not control the FBI or the Justice Department. By his own account, he fired Mr. Comey while bristling at the Russia investigation that the FBI director was then leading. He has also expressed anger at Mr. Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing that investigation, resulting in Mr. Mueller’s appointment, and he has refused to rule out firing the attorney general.

With his job potentially on the line, Mr. Sessions has been put in the difficult position of absorbing his president’s ire while safeguarding the department’s traditional independence. By asking prosecutors to evaluate the evidence, he has a ready-made reason not to appoint a special counsel if they do not recommend one.

“I have no idea what will happen, but this letter is entirely consistent with the AG later saying, ‘We followed normal process to look in to it and found nothing,’” said Jack L. Goldsmith, a former Justice Department official under the younger Mr. Bush. “The letter does not tip off or hint one way or another what the AG’s decision will be.”

At least one active Twitter user will be waiting for that decision. # # #

[Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times covering President Donald J. Trump. He previously covered the presidencies of Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Baker joined The Times in 2008 after 20 years at The Washington Post. In between stints at the White House, Baker and his wife, Susan Glasser (now Politico’s chief international affairs columnist), spent four years as Moscow bureau chiefs, chronicling the rise of Vladimir V. Putin, the rollback of Russian democracy, the second Chechen war and the terrorist attacks on a theater in Moscow and a school in Beslan. He has written three books and co-written another. Baker received a BA (politics) from Oberlin College (OH).]

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The REAL City Game

In the early 1970s, this blogger read one of the best basketball books ever — Heaven Is A Playground — by Rick Telander who left the NFL to write a first-person book about playground basketball in Brooklyn. One of the characters (among playground legends) that Telander wrote about is James "Fly" Williams. Today's post describes the end-of-the-trail story of Fly Williams, who likely will live out his remaining days in a New York penitentiary. If this is (Fair & balanced) account of the tragedy of our streets, so be it.

[x BR]
From Playground Hero To Rikers Island: The Tragedy Of Fly Williams
By Leo Sepkowitz

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Nobody knows for sure why they call him Fly.

It has been said the name has aerial roots—a nod to James Williams' old knack for jumping up high and staying there awhile. Story goes that, around 1970, a teenaged Williams played against a group of park regulars at Foster Park, by his native Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. He had been giving them the business for a while when a missed shot ricocheted high off the rim and up toward the backboard's apex. As the locals went up for the rebound, Fly took off, soaring over them to snare the ball, his elbow clear above the rim, before slamming it back down.

Or maybe pop culture spawned the nickname. In 1972, Curtis Mayfield dropped a funk album called Super Fly, which served as the soundtrack to a movie of the same title. The film's protagonist is a slick drug dealer, and, to varying degrees, some who knew Fly Williams back then connect him to the music and movie. Then there's another theory: that "Fly" stems from Williams' propensity to let it fly as a confident shooter. Still, others claim that the name was born on some unknowable afternoon, in a world where, if you dazzled a crowd for long enough, somebody would nickname you something.

As a kid, Fly dominated a booming New York street basketball scene. Local competition included future NBA players, like World B. [Lloyd] Free and Al Skinner, but Fly always stood out. He was equal parts thrilling and unpredictable, as likely to show up and score 50 as he was to not show up at all.

Away from basketball, Fly could be wildly entertaining—with his extravagant tales punctuated by a somewhat-toothless grin—but then he'd swing the other way too, often losing himself to furious rages. Williams' inconsistent behavior forced him out of basketball prematurely, and as his career faded away, so too did his charisma.

On May 3, Williams was arrested in his fourth-floor apartment in Jamaica, Queens, where he'd lived for 12 years. According to the criminal complaint, police recovered a loaded firearm and 32 glassines of heroin ($6-$10 packages) on the premises. Williams was initially arrested on six felony charges, the most serious among them being criminal sale of a controlled substance. Later filings would reveal dozens of other charges and that, following a monthslong investigation, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office believed Fly to be a heroin kingpin.

Beginning on October 24, 2016, the DA used various forms of surveillance to keep tabs on "the Williams heroin trafficking operation," per the criminal indictment. The tactics included a series of monthly undercover buys. After six such meetings, Williams and three others allegedly "agreed to and expected to sell one half kilogram of heroin" to their undercover buyer.

The deal never took place. Instead, the DA closed in on the ring. In all, 21 people were indicted, including Fly's son, James Jr., and his stepson, Jeffrey "Doobie" Britt. The DA alleges the drug ring earned more than $21 million across Brooklyn while under investigation.

On October 4, Williams, 64, appeared in Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn for a pretrial hearing. He'd spent the prior months at Rikers Island, held without bail. He wore a beige jumpsuit, his hands cuffed behind his back. He walked with a heavy limp. He looked thin, nowhere near his 200-pound playing weight, or even the 160 pounds he weighed the night of his arrest. The Afro and long sideburns featured on his old trading cards were long gone, replaced by a short haircut and gray stubble. The only connections between this James Williams and the former Brooklyn playground god were his height, of course, and a pair of orange-tinted glasses, a reminder of his old stylistic flair.

At the hearing, Williams' lawyer, Allana Alexander, requested that bail be set. She argued that, in the phone calls made by Williams and recorded by the DA, Williams did not use violent language or discuss drugs with his co-defendants. The criminal indictment references several taped conversations that contradict Alexander's argument.

Assistant DA Robert Basso read from the recordings. "They know I'll shoot that gun, too," he read aloud, quoting Williams. "You're not gonna sell dope on this corner when I'm on this corner." The request for bail was denied, sending Williams back to Rikers Island until his next hearing in December.

While B/R requested to speak with Williams, he declined to be interviewed for this story. He now faces 56 charges, including 12 Class A felonies, which each carry possible life sentences. In June, he pleaded not guilty.

"Fly was the kind of guy that did it his way," says World B. Free, the former NBA All-Star. Free grew up around the corner from Williams in a nearby public housing project. They're roughly the same age, both born in 1953. During their childhood, New York City teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, and Brooklyn suffered. But you'd never know it looking at Williams.

"Fly liked the honeys, you know?" Free continues. "When we were young, every time I seen him, he'd have a pretty one. He was cool, calm, collected, with a big car—he was the man. He was a bad mama jama. Brother could do it all."

Well, maybe not everything, not always. In junior high, Fly gave football a spin, once striding down the streets of Brownsville at no more than 100 pounds, wearing a helmet, cleats and shoulder pads. It took only a few team practices for Fly to absorb a big hit. It was basketball after that.

On the blacktop, he could cook with either hand and score with ease. Well before the three-pointer was widely embraced—or counted at all—Fly would consistently launch from deep. His scoring ambition made him a hero to local kids like Pete Edwards, who grew up watching Fly at the Intermediate School 8 gym in Queens, where Fly famously scored 100 points in a game. Another time, Edwards watched Fly score 30 or 35 in one half against former NBA player Al Skinner, then leave at the break.

Skinner, now 65, can only laugh at the memory. "That sounds like Fly," he says. Skinner, who played six years across the ABA and NBA, faced off against Williams a number of times growing up. "He was exceptional. Most guys can only handle, but he could shoot too. At 6'5", athletic, he had all the tools."

In 1973, Fly became a central character in what would become Rick Telander's book Heaven Is a Playground, which chronicled the lives of various Brooklyn streetballers. "This guy was out on the edge," Telander now says of Fly. "He was missing a bunch of teeth, had a gigantic Afro with a pick in it, and he was so skinny. He was manic, hilarious and over the top. At the same time, you could tell there was a lot of pain there."

Telander goes on, "He might be the perfect ghetto product—he's a parody of it, almost. But maybe that parody is real. 'You want to know what happens to us when we're born in poverty, the ghetto, in horrible surroundings and we're black? Here it is. Look at me.'"

In 1983, The so-called crack epidemic swept across the United States. To some people, though, the issue was nothing new. "They call it an epidemic now," Richard Pryor famously said. "That means white folks are doing it."

Nearly 35 years later, the U.S. is facing another widespread drug problem. Overdoses from opioids (which include heroin as well as prescription meds like oxycodone) killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total marked an all-time high. The New York Times estimates that the death rate from drug overdoses increased by 19 percent in 2016. It is a devastating trajectory.

In Brownsville, the worst of America's drug problem is exemplified. More than a third of the local residents live below the poverty line, according to a New York City report [PDF]. The number of drug-related hospitalizations is nearly triple the average for the rest of Brooklyn or for NYC as a whole.

"[Opioids] are an epidemic now," says [Pete] Edwards, who now organizes the IS8 tournament in Queens. "But, how to put it gently? It's only an epidemic because it's reached certain nationalities.... These things have been going on in my communities for years—forever."

During Fly's youth, even some of the great local athletes were involved. Namely, two historic New York basketball players, Earl "The Goat" Manigault and Joe "The Destroyer" Hammond, had their careers wrecked by drugs. The Goat was a mythical leaper who never reached the NBA. In 1969, he was arrested and convicted on a drug possession charge.

The Destroyer was drafted by the Lakers and offered a $50,000 contract, but he turned it down. As he'd later explain, he was already sitting on $200,000, earned dealing marijuana and heroin—he didn't need the Lakers' money. The Destroyer would twice serve prison time on drug-related charges. Eventually, he returned to New York City, penniless, flipping greeting cards for dinner money.

One wonders about how Fly, the heir to the NYC hoops throne, was affected by the fates of both playground legends, and by the community at large.

"They seriously insane in my neighborhood," Fly tells Telander in Heaven Is a Playground. "I mean if you don't have a gun—maybe five or six guns—you in real trouble. The other night this dude's standing in a building yelling, 'Shoot me! Shoot me!' And this other dude was holding a gun in [his] mouth the whole time. And he shot him. The shot dude comes staggering out on the sidewalk and lays there. And the people—man, the people on the sidewalk—they just stood around and laughed."

Fly was raised in the Brownsville projects by his mother, who was born in South Carolina. Williams' father was not in the picture, and neither were some of his older brothers. He could have used their protection. Fly would often get in fights, and, thin as he was, he rarely had the advantage. Without tougher family members around, there was little chance at retaliation. Eventually, Williams developed a hot temper.

"The crime and senselessness around him seemed to affect him more than it did others," Telander says. "His response was all over the place."

In 1972, Fly found some sense of salvation in college at Austin Peay [State University]. It was an odd choice on the surface—Fly had never seen a place as slow-moving as Clarksville, Tennessee, and the town was not overflowing with 6'5" African-Americans with Afros. Still, Fly quickly took to the sleepy surroundings. In his freshman season, he averaged 29.4 points per game and brought the Governors to the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Fly's sophomore season was even more impressive. He averaged 27.5 points and 10.9 rebounds per contest while shooting 46 percent from the floor—amazing for a high-volume scorer—and won Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year. The team returned to the Big Dance.

Fly was mostly beloved and embraced. The team warmed up to "Super Fly," and throughout games, crowds would chant, "The Fly is open, let's go Peay!"

He was not as beloved by the coaching staff. Fly struggled to adapt to a traditional team concept. Some coaches didn't want Williams back for his junior year.

Meanwhile, as far as Fly was concerned, he had three options: return to college for a third season; enter his name into the NBA draft; or enter his name into the ABA (American Basketball Association) draft.

Fly didn't play his cards well. He entered the NBA draft, then quickly withdrew to return to Austin Peay. However, he was ineligible thanks to a standardized test snafu, and he'd have to wait a year before reapplying for the NBA.

He was left with only one option: the ABA. In 1974, the infamous Spirits of St. Louis acquired the rights to Fly Williams.

"I'd heard of Fly as a playground legend," says Bob Costas, who called the Spirits' games from '74-'76, the last two years of the franchise. "I think the first game, Fly came off the bench and scored 24 points. We didn't draw huge crowds, but the 5,000 people that were there went nuts. He was an immediate crowd favorite."

Fly's loose playing style was a good fit for the lax ABA. (Costas remembers his talents thusly: "Lightning quick; very fast off the dribble; will make the open shot; no conscience from where he takes it; unlikely to lead the league in assists.")

And yet, despite Fly's brilliant potential, his numbers were underwhelming. In his debut season with the Spirits, he averaged shy of 10 points per game.

The same tendencies that hindered Fly at Austin Peay—tendencies that had helped to make him a legend in Brooklyn—were causing problems again. Fly often forgot or ignored designed plays, opting instead to improvise alone.

Meanwhile, there were graver concerns off the court. Recreational drug use ran rampant across basketball in that era, and it didn't spare the ABA. The Spirits' leader, the late Marvin "Bad News" Barnes, revealed he used drugs on the bench and in the locker room during his pro career in "Free Spirits," a 2013 documentary about the team.

"There was a Wild West atmosphere in the ABA to begin with, which made it entertaining," Costas says. "But let's be honest, Fly arrived as someone who was susceptible to all of that. It didn't happen to [teammates] Freddie Lewis or Steve ["Snapper"] Jones. I would think that Fly didn't have much of an anchor."

That much became clear after Fly's first season in St. Louis, when he was cut loose by incoming coach Rod Thorn. It became a transitional time for Williams, as even the flimsy structure preserved by the ABA disappeared. At age 22, Fly was free to drift, if that's what he wanted to do.

"Getting cut demoralized him," says Lewis, once a Spirits guard who mentored Fly. "It depressed him, and he didn't try to get back in the league. He just went to the streets and settled for being the playground legend. It hurt me to my heart to see him give up, because in my opinion, Fly could have played with any team in the NBA."

Instead, during the 1975-76 season, Williams hung around the Spirits as a sort of drug liaison.

"Sometimes Marvin would put me on the plane 'cuz they needed their candy," Williams said in "Free Spirits." "I was the drug guy. I couldn't leave. I knew the dealers and everybody in every city.... They used to put their orders through me."

In 1976, Fly signed with the Lancaster Red Roses of the Eastern Basketball Association, a now-defunct semi-pro weekend league. "There was even confusion as to what the name of the league was, because nobody had kept records or kept forms or anything," says Steve Kauffman, the league's former commissioner, who later founded his own talent agency.

If the ABA was a mess, the EBA was a disaster. But Williams thrived, at least when he showed up for work. In 17 appearances with Lancaster, he averaged 27.1 points per game.

He was an All-Star in 1977 but arrived to the game late in the third quarter, blaming a flat tire.

In the years that followed, Fly bounced around the EBA (which was renamed the Continental Basketball Association). At one point, he was suspended for missing a couple of games, then returned to score 20 in a win. Another time, he was suspended for six games after he hit a referee. That marked the unofficial end to a half-baked career.

"Fly is a legend," says Costas, "but he's a legend to a relatively small audience."

He returned to the one place that still embraced him: Brownsville. Things were just as they had been—Williams was an icon, but Brownsville was struggling. And trouble followed him there. In 1987, he got into a fight with a friend, which expanded into a larger fight, which ended in Fly getting shot by an off-duty officer.

"I saw the X-rays," Telander says. "We started counting the shotgun pellets inside him by the hundreds. It looked like a pepper shaker had spilled."

Williams was charged with, among other things, attempted robbery and weapons possession. "They said I tried to rob my friend," he told Slam magazine in '98. "... It was just a misunderstanding." Williams served 14 months in prison.

Not long after his release, Williams was back on his feet. In 1991, he participated in Old Timers' Day, a tournament hosted by Free at Foster Park. Fly showed with a healthy surprise: teeth.

"When we were small, he'd smile, and you'd only see that one tooth," Free recalls with glee. "But once he got those teeth, it was like a piano, like Magic Johnson. That's 'cause we got older. He needed them for who he was gonna be as life went on. There was young Fly, then there's the man Fly."

Fly's reinvention didn't maintain much momentum. In '93, he was convicted on a drug possession charge. He served two years in prison.

He was released in 1995. He hadn't played professional ball in nearly 20 years. Costas estimates Fly earned a one-year salary of $50,000-60,000 with the Spirits. In the EBA, Kauffman says, players were paid from game to game, usually around $75 per. Fly may have also picked up a few bucks from other semi-pro leagues or side gigs, but it's hard to calculate his total career earnings to approach $100,000.

He did find a part-time job in Brooklyn, speaking at the Brownsville Recreation Center, where he would discuss his past mistakes with local kids.

"I thought he was drifting into being a senior citizen with some regrets," Telander says. "Maybe he was not rich, he might even be poor, but he was not a bad guy."

The BRC would only say, through a Parks spokesperson, that Fly was a seasonal employee many years ago. But Edwards, who frequents the rec center, says there weren't many events that Williams would miss, even in recent years.

Perhaps for that reason, Edwards finds it hard to believe Fly is guilty of the charges against him. "I don't necessarily trust [the charges], especially with his name to sensationalize it," he says. "I wish him the best. Hopefully, he pulls through."

Free carries some compassion for Fly too. "It's a hurtful thing, but I still say the man has done a lot of good for a lot of people." He goes on, "One thing about Fly—he always, always took care of them kids around there."

It's notable that Free and Edwards, two local stalwarts, are more defensive of Fly than most. Neither excuses what Fly allegedly did, but neither jumps to condemnation. They watched Fly at his peak and during his more recent struggle to improve and survive. Free views Fly as a modern Robin Hood who steals from the rich—or at least sticks it to the man—for the good of the poor.

But a felony charge is not weighed against prior kind deeds. Fly allegedly provided heroin to locals in the neighborhood—the same people to whom he used to lend T-shirts and sneakers. His alleged actions lay the groundwork for the next Fly Williams to flame out, too, or to never emerge at all.

Said Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez in a May statement: "That someone with his stature in the community and his influence on young people would run such a substantial narcotics operation is truly sad and reprehensible."

Telander echoes those thoughts. "If you take down yourself, if you're going to die in prison, and your son and stepson are there with you, which seems likely, your life is beyond a wasted life, it's an evil life," he says.

"It makes me wonder, was he involved in some way for years and years? Or did he suddenly become desperate and get into something stupid, dangerous, evil? I would truly love to talk to him, as a guy who's known him for 40-plus years, and say, 'What the f--k happened?'" # # #

[Leo Sepkowitz is a senior writer at SLAM magazine. He received a BA (journalism) from Emerson College (MA).]

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Despite Mea Culpas From The Blogger, Witness A Graphic Depiction Of Moral Bankruptcy

Brickbats to this blogger for mishandling the e-mail that brought today's TMW 'toon yesterday. Somehow in juggling that e-mail between a Google bookmark file and a Gmail saved-mail file, the e-mail from Tom/Dan disappeared into the nothingness of cyberspace. The message from Tom/Dan was brief as he pled (pleaded?) fatigue from all of the bewildering events of the past week (and possible travel-fatigue?) and promised a fuller statement with next week's 'toon. Stay tooned. If this a (fair & balanced) demonstration of cyber-incompetence, so be it.

[x TMW]
How Low Will They Go: Roy Moore Edition
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow." His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2017 This Modern World/Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Today, Learn A New Name For The Small Business Owner: Sucker

Today, this blog offers the excellent revisionism of business historian Benjamin Waterhouse. He exposes the cynicism and opportunism of the the 1% and thwir propagandists with their empty allusions to small business enterprise to provide cover for their "middle class tax breaks" and other economic claptrap used to mask their venality. If this is a (Fair & balanced) exposé of the dishonesty of the politico-mercantile classes, so be it.

[x Aeon]
The Small Business Myth
By Benjamin C Waterhouse

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Small business is the hero of modern capitalism. Owners of small firms are the virtuous strivers, the job creators and the plucky entrepreneurs who drive the economy. ‘Small businesses make a huge contribution to national prosperity and supporting Australian jobs,’ states the Labor Party in Australia. And you would struggle to find a political party in any Western democracy that disagrees. A British government official made the (unverifiable) claim that firms with fewer than five employees made 95 per cent of radical innovations. Even amid the divisive politics of the United States, as the satirist John Oliver recently noted, everyone seems to agree that ‘small business is the backbone of the economy’. In a world of international conglomerates and global capital, the proverbial Main Street proprietors get a lot of love.

For all the enthusiasm, a central puzzle remains: what, really, is the role of small business in the economy? Is looking out for small business a progressive goal? Surely, the public fascination with upstarts, bootstrappers, and innovators reflects ideals of independence, improvement, and a better tomorrow. Yet history reveals another story: a distinct and powerful small business mythology at the heart of modern political life. Beginning in the late 1970s, adulation of small business acquired a new and important role in modern capitalist countries. In particular, the Reaganite and Thatcherite movements turned to celebrating small business as a stalking horse to advance the very kind of economy that handicapped upstarts and small independent proprietors, and privileged big national and multinational corporations.

Although love for small business may seem like a timeless feature of capitalism, the widespread belief that small entrepreneurs hold the keys to economic revival is relatively recent. Across the wealthy world, starting around 1980, small business emerged from the shadows of ‘Big Business’, with newfound political, intellectual, and cultural clout. In the United States, President Jimmy Carter, cast himself as the first ‘small business owner’ in the White House since Harry Truman. Carter promised to help small businesses by rolling back government regulations. Small business lobbyists also became more active. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), founded in the 1940s as a mail-order survey company, reinvented itself in the 1980s as an influential lobbying group on behalf of small businesses. Intellectual attention to small business increased as well. In 1970, eight American universities offered courses on starting a new business; by 1980, 137 did. Whole magazines devoted to entrepreneurship emerged. ‘After years of neglect, those who start and manage their own businesses are viewed as popular heroes,’ one commentator raved.

A key moment in the modern myth-making around small business came in 1978. That’s when MIT economist David Birch [PDF] published claims — which he repeated in testimony before Congress — that small firms had accounted for 80 per cent of all new employment opportunities between 1968 and 1976. Critics quickly pointed out that Birch’s findings were quite wrong, largely because he defined firm size according to how many employees worked in a given location (like a branch office, factory, or store), not how many the firm employed altogether. In fact, most job creation, in the 1970s and today, comes from a small number of very fast-growing firms, while most small firms either fail (killing jobs) or remain small.

Birch later admitted that the 80 per cent figure was a ‘silly number’, but the claims took firm root in popular mythology and political rhetoric by the 1980s. ‘Small businesses create eight out of every 10 new jobs,’ said Richard Lesher, president of the largest pro-business lobbying organisation, the US Chamber of Commerce.

Small business is among the most powerful symbols of modern capitalism. Small business owners are frequently described as virtuous, self-reliant, and independent – the same characteristics Thomas Jefferson ascribed to free farmers in pre-industrial society, or that Max Weber used to explain the Protestant work ethic which, he argued, undergirded industrial capitalism in the late 19th century. Just as important, small business, by virtue of its limited scale and scope, avoids the moral baggage often attributed to Big Business – bureaucracy, market manipulation, and good-old-boy networking, for example.

Like many powerful symbols, small business is notoriously hard to define. When creating the Small Business Administration (SBA) in 1953, the US government officially defined one as ‘independently owned and operated and … not dominant in its field of operation’. Today, to qualify for an SBA loan, US manufacturers must have fewer than 500 employees, and non-manufacturers must have annual receipts below $7.5 million (although the government reserves the right to make exceptions). More qualitative traits — like the absence of managerial hierarchies, less formalised labour relations, and closer ties to local communities — also influence how some scholars define small businesses. To make things more complicated, ‘small business’ covers a diverse range of business functions, counting everyone from the small-town dry cleaner to the wealthy software start-up. We know small business the way US Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward knew pornography: when we see it.

Historically, however, ‘small business’ did not exist in any meaningful sense until the advent of ‘Big Business’ in the late 19th century. Before the emergence of large, vertically integrated, and diversified corporations, ‘small business’ was simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, and no one spoke on its behalf. Steel, oil, sugar, and cigarette producers emerged as the first Big Businesses, and in 1890 the Sherman Act inaugurated American anti-trust policy to protect smaller competitors from their monopolistic practices.

The real boom in small business political consciousness came in the early 20th century, with the rise of the chain store model. Rooted in the anti-trust tradition, the anti-chain movement championed small retailers who faced destructive competition from mail-order houses and department stores.

In the United States, the representative Wright Patman stepped up as the face of the anti-chain movement. Patman was a doughy, balding populist and segregationist Democratic congressman from rural Texas. First elected to Congress in 1928, the son of tenant farmers made his name as an avid defender of small companies — the ‘common man’ — against the predations of eastern bankers, industrialists, and chain stores. In 1935, Patman pushed legislation that limited the discounts large retailers could offer. Hailed as the ‘Magna Carta for small business’, the Robinson-Patman Act (Senate Majority Leader Joseph Robinson (D-AR) was the co-sponsor) became law. President Franklin Roosevelt worried that the law would hamper economic recovery, but signed it anyway in a gesture toward the popularity of the cause. Patman defended the measure for its commitment to ‘fairness’ — by making the same discounts available to all buyers (whether at a chain store or a small grocer), the law struck a blow against concentrated wealth and privilege while still preserving the consumer cost advantages that mass distribution had created.

The Robinson-Patman Act marked the end, not the beginning, of a policy regime that protected small firms. By the post-Second World War years, small business was a divided and weak community. An ethic of ‘bigness’ reigned. Big corporations, with big research grants from big government agencies, worked with big universities to bring you modern life — from pharmaceuticals to aerospace, computers to communications. By the time Wright Patman died in 1976, at age 83, the popular backlash against bigness and the renewed attention to small business had not yet taken hold.

But had Patman lived into the 1980s, he would likely not have recognised the new ways politicians embraced and defended small business. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, small business advocates like Patman had claimed that small firms were inherently virtuous and worthy of special protection, even if larger companies offered lower prices or greater efficiencies. Yet by the 1980s, a decade of recession, inflation, fiscal crises and weak productivity combined to recast political culture in wealthy capitalist countries. In the United States, Western Europe, and eventually Australia, the logic for defending small business shifted entirely: rather than a virtue unto itself, smallness became the antidote to the bloat and inefficiencies of bigness; independence, the source of innovation.

The revival of small business’s symbolic political appeal in the 1980s brought another key change: activists used it not to attack Big Business, but to go after big government. Wrapping themselves in the cloak of small business mythology, those conservatives successfully redefined a hundred years of debate over economic size.

These changes did not come easily. To the frustration of small business groups and many conservative activists, the Republican Party retained its longstanding image as the party of Big Business, particularly in the early years of the Reagan administration. Many small business owners complained that Republican tax policies favoured larger firms, which took advantage of loopholes and provisions for writing off the depreciation of large assets. In addition, they charged that the growing federal budget deficit — which expanded due to a combination of Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts and the sharp recession that lasted until late 1982 — led to high interest rates that hurt the little guys the most.

Members of the Reagan administration worried about their popularity among small business owners. ‘Small business is bedrock Republican,’ as Elizabeth Dole, the director of public liaison at the White House, told George [H.W.] Bush, the then vice-president, in 1981. Or at least, it should have been: most small business owners were middle and upper-middle class white men, and most held economically conservative politics. But some parts of the small business community were moving away, Dole warned, because they believed ‘this administration favours Big Business and corporate America’. In 1983, White House staffer Red Cavaney warned that the Democratic National Committee planned to make overtures to the small business community. If Republicans ‘become too heavily associated with the “big” at the expense of the “small”,’ Cavaney predicted, ‘this threat could pose some serious problems.’

Republicans picked up the rhetorical mantle of small business, but instead of changing their policy ideas, they changed what it meant to speak for small business. For the better part of a century, small business activists had stressed the virtues of competition. Small businesses, they argued, demanded legal support — through punitive taxes on market dominators and the break-up of monopolies — because their very existence created a more competitive market place.

Economic conservatives in the 1980s pushed a counter-narrative. Murray Weidenbaum — first chair of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors — charged that economic growth, not competition, should be policymakers’ primary goal. Certain sectors of the economy, including the rapidly growing service sector, lent themselves more productively to small-scale enterprises. Industrial manufacturing, on the other hand, did well when a small number of giant operators took advantage of their size to produce more efficiently at a massive scale.

What mattered to Weidenbaum wasn’t size or market share per se, but rather how good businesses were at growing, because only a growing economy would create new job opportunities. The single-minded focus on small business as the creator of jobs, in other words, confused cause and effect. ‘It is not the small businesses that created the jobs,’ he concluded, ‘but the economic growth’ (emphasis mine).

By putting the focus on growth, not small business as such, conservatives subtly manipulated the mythology of small business. Most small businesses do not grow into mid-sized or large companies, and in fact the vast majority fail within five years. Earlier small business proponents understood the nearly permanent condition that small business represented and treated small business owners as a stable class. The conservative politics of the 1980s, however, focused instead on a small subset of the small business community: entrepreneurs.

Although the classical definition of an ‘entrepreneur’ simply invoked someone who started a new business (the French word means ‘someone who undertakes’), the term acquired a new connotation in the late 20th century. ‘Entrepreneur’ today implies a growth orientation; while a mere small business owner may persist in remaining small, an entrepreneur seeks to strike it rich. In short, entrepreneurs are small business owners that don’t want to remain small business owners.

The growing fetish about entrepreneurship formed an integral part of the conservative project that blurred distinctions between small and large firms. President Reagan himself perpetuated this shift. Reagan — whose pre-political private sector experiences lay in Hollywood and at General Electric, two exemplars of mid-20th century Big Businesses — positioned himself as a populist defender of the people even while promoting an economic vision rooted in the interests of concentrated wealth. Bragging about a recovering economy in 1987, he insisted that ‘small businesses fare best with stable prices, low interest rates, and steady growth’. Moreover, ‘America’s entrepreneurs are continually experimenting with new products, new technologies, and new channels of distribution.’ Small businesses, in other words, achieved their value through their innovative contributions, rather than servicing or maintaining an existing system.

Yet Reagan betrayed the bait-and-switch. ‘The great industrial and commercial centers of our nation were built by innovators like Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell,’ he continued, ‘whose small businesses grew to help shape a new economy.’ At a stroke, the president – perhaps unintentionally – gave up the game: small firms’ worth came not from promoting competition or preserving local values, but rather from their potential to cease to be small businesses. Left out of this formulation, of course, were the millions of nail salons, fast-food franchises, accountants, landscapers, general contractors, housekeepers, cosmetics sellers, photography studios, restaurant owners, small town lawyers, and florists who would never become the next Ford Motor Company or AT&T.

Why does all this matter?

Since the 1980s, the pace of global capitalism has quickened, and economic transactions occur at a speed and complexity unparalleled in human history. At the same time, political culture has become increasingly fragmented and atomised. From the breakdown of party authority to tribalist politics and hyper-partisanship, residential and educational re-segregation to media segmentation, fracture dominates. The bigger things have got, the more powerful the urge has been to get small.

This manic contradiction — between the scale of modern life and the powerful siren call of the atomised locality — lies at the heart of a destabilising transformation within capitalism itself.

The present historical moment is witnessing the breakdown of the so-called ‘Berle and Means’ corporation — the shareholder-owned but manager-controlled, bureaucratic, and deeply interconnected organisation first described in Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means’s book, The Modern Corporation and Private Property (1935). Since the end of the mid-20th century conglomerate wave, corporations have concentrated and streamlined. Since the 1990s, the number of publicly traded companies has declined. Liberalised trade and cross-border capital flows have accelerated the ‘Nike-fication’ of production, birthing a world where anonymous and poorly regulated sweatshops in developing countries pay paltry wages to workers who manufacture items adorned with a global brand. The internet created new opportunities for instant communication and coordination, and firms responded by outsourcing and off-shoring far more than production. Spinning off their financing, distribution, advertising, human resources, and customer service functions to the lowest bidder, many of the world’s biggest businesses are today little more than coordinators of a massive network of nodes. The dissolution of the classical corporation emerged alongside a new business focus on portfolio management and short-term valuation. Such managerial priorities reflect the rising ideological and economic clout of the ‘shareholder-value’ movement as well as a broader commitment to a neoliberal vision of value.

This breakdown of the corporation as an economic and social institution is a critical feature of capitalism today, and it deeply shapes how we value — and overvalue — small business. The disintegration of the old order, although couched in populist language of ‘shareholder democracy’, has generated uncertainty and dislocation as well as freedom and opportunity, and those ups and downs have not been distributed evenly. The well-educated with privileged access can take advantage of the new niches that open up, and become entrepreneurs. Those in the lower tiers, however, confront a deteriorating employment landscape pockmarked by wage stagnation, decreased mobility, and lower-paid and low-benefit jobs. Social safety nets are evaporating, and wealth inequality is expanding. ‘Necessity-based’ self-employment is rising in rich and poor countries alike. Self-sufficiency has always been part of the allure of opening one’s own business. In the globalised, atomised economy, it has also become an unstable lifeline.

By linking the political agenda of small business and large business, conservatives in the 1980s laid the foundation for a set of policy developments that hastened the globalising forces of late-stage capitalism and failed to mitigate its effects. By presuming that small business was uniquely or exceptionally innovative, they ignored the real world of small business owners and perpetuated a devastating myth that judged small companies by their ability to become Big Businesses. In so doing, they missed the most critical developments in global capitalism: the simultaneous fracture of the mid-century corporate world and the rise of an isolated, privileged global elite that marginalised and weakened the vast majority of small businesses. # # #

[Benjamin C. Waterhouse is associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina atChapel Hill, where he teaches courses in politics, business, and capitalism. He is the author of Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA (2014) and The Land of Enterprise: A Business History of the United States (2017). Waterhouse received an AB, cum laude (history) from Princeton University and a PhD (history) from Harvard University..

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