Was Roseanne in the Wilderness Too Long?

New Orleans   It is beyond dispute that Roseanne Barr has gone off the deep end with a string of racist and anti-Semitic tweets along with a tight embrace of a startling array of conspiracy theories and conspiracy promoters.  Did Trump and Twitter finally enable us to see the real Roseanne that has been lurking at the edge forever or is this something new?

You may wonder why I ask, and why do I care?

Fair question.

Mainly because I remember the pre-Trump and pre-Obama Roseanne as something very special.

In 2006, Roseanne spoke at the convention banquet of ACORN’s National Convention in Los Angeles.  She was fantastic.  She embraced our predominately black and brown membership and leadership effusively that summer.  She identified with them as a working-class woman and mother on the same side of the class divide.

She didn’t just talk-the-talk either.  She joined Michael Moore, the documentarian, on a traveling tour in Florida to support the successful ACORN ballot proposition raising the minimum wage statewide by one dollar in that the 2006 election.  She was great.  She was a star.

Ok, that was a dozen years ago.  What happened?

It’s worth remembering that Roseanne has always worked her comedy through the life she lived as a Utah mother firmly rooted in the working class, but also a “domestic goddess,” as she called herself.  The first iteration of her show tried to speak to the grassroots that she knew, so her embrace of what she might have thought was a white working-class surge of resentment and anger at being neglected and without respect was nothing new to her even if it was accompanied by Trump and his dog whistles of racism as well.

For years after her first show ended her efforts at a comeback of any sort seemed perpetually mired in failure.  She had a reputation of being difficult, but part of that was the pushback at her wanting more control – and pay – as a woman in charge.  Who is to know how to sort out Hollywood spin for and against her?  Not me, certainly.

But, it is easy for me to believe that both her huge success and more recent failures had an impact on her better angels.  She was always outrageous, often to affect.  Now she was becoming outlandish and extreme.  She didn’t have to travel a far distance to get there.

A comeback now that asks her to be the media symbol of a flawed narrative about Trump’s support was bound to be trouble.  She has always been a lonely voice in wilderness.  Now she’s the wilderness itself, and it’s a darned shame.

I can’t help but thank Roseanne for standing with ACORN in 2006 anymore than I can’t help condemning her for her current outbursts of racism and anti-Semitism.

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The Rich are Wheeling and Dealing for Themselves at Private Foundations

New Orleans       The Wall Street Journal and its reporter, Andrea Fuller, provided a public service for all of us by reviewing the publicly available tax filings of thousands of private foundations.   Their subject was the willful lack of compliance with the almost fifty-year prohibition against self-dealing.  Self-dealing occurs when private foundations do business with insiders like their officers, directors, and substantial donors, i.e. the rich themselves.  Such dealings are supposed to be against the law and trigger tax penalties for these tax-exempt institutions.  Spoiler alert! The Journal found that this law is broken with impunity, and, surprise of all surprises, creating and running a private foundation seems to mainly just be a tax dodge.

The numbers were astonishing.  The Journal found 1800 foundations that flaunted the fact that they did business with insiders in their latest publicly available returns in 2016.  About 10,000 private foundations checked boxes indicating that they legally compensated insiders.  Essentially this means that in the very form they were giving the Internal Revenue Service they were thumbing their nose at the IRS with impunity.   There isn’t much risk in this because the IRS only imposes extra taxes on about 200 individuals annually out of the pool of insiders that are feeding at the trough in more than 112,000 private foundations.  The odds are way better than at Las Vegas that the rich won’t get caught.  Everyone who believes the Trump administration is going to beef up its review of private foundations has forgotten perhaps that Donald Trump was caught making political donations to candidates from his private foundation and simply paid back the money, no harm, no foul.

Just to be clear, a private foundation is a tax-exempt entity created by rich individuals and families ostensibly for charitable purposes.  There are more than one-hundred thousand of these babies.  Think Bill and Melinda Gates.  There are over 1.2 million public charities, classified as 501c3’s, that also exist for similar charitable purposes but receive sufficient support from the public to continue to qualify.  The Journal helpfully noted that 76,000 private foundations have less than $1 million they are sheltering, 28,000 have between one million and ten million in assets, and then there are 8000 whale-sized private foundations that have more than ten million in assets.

The rich don’t just make their money, they disguise a pile of it for tax purposes in private foundations.  The Journal’s report is clear that a lot of them continue to use these foundations as private bank accounts and spread the wealth to family and friends calling them either trustees or private contractors despite the clear prohibitions of the law.  Paying slick lawyers is still cheaper than paying taxes as long as you can feather your own nest, it seems.

Trust me on this.  There will be no sudden investigation or cries of outrage in Congress where these same folks are likely or potential donors nor in the White House where they may be family and friends in the “we all do that” Trump club.  Meanwhile, as they say, the rich get richer, and private foundations help them stay that way, while we pay taxes.

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