Wednesday, September 29, 2021

That One Time I Almost Agreed With Tucker Carlson and J.D. Vance

Tucker Carlson and J.D. Vance had an interesting conversation on Tuesday night. It all started with the Fox News host showing a video clip of some students confronting their peers about hanging out in a multicultural area with signs saying "police matter."

Say what you will about the confrontation, but Carlson took the whole thing in an odd direction by pointing out that the student who initiated the confrontation was a Ford Foundation Fellow based on a report from a blogger. Vance jumped in with an accusation that the foundation is attempting to destroy our country. Worse than that, we are subsidizing their efforts because they are tax exempt.
The basic way this works is that the Ford Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Harvard University endowment, these are fundamentally cancers on American society, but they pretend to be charities, so they benefit from preferential tax treatment...

We are talking about hundreds of billions of dollars in ill-gotten accumulated wealth. It serves as a tax haven for left-wing billionaires and what do they do with this? They fund critical race theory, they fund ridiculous racism, they fund teaching 6-year-olds that they should, you know, cast off their gender. We are actively subsidizing the people who are destroying this country, and they call it a charity. It's just ridiculous.

Henry Ford and Bill Gates might be surprised that the money they made and gifted to their foundations amounted to "ill-gotten accumulated wealth." But that's a story for another day. What shocked me was to hear these two right wingers complain about the non-profit status of foundations. Carlson kicked off the conversation by saying that "the Ford Foundation is just one of many foundations that enjoy nonprofit status and get to completely change the country non-democratically using their tax exemption." Vance ends the segment by suggesting that we "seize the assets of the Ford Foundation, tax their assets and give it to the people." At that point, Carlson smiled and nodded his agreement.

All of that might come as a surprise to the folks at the Bradley Foundation, the Koch Family foundations, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Scaife Family foundations,  and the Adolph Coors Foundation - all of whom are also tax exempt 501(c) 3's, just like the Ford Foundation. A report by People for the American Way identified those as the top five right wing foundations that are "Buying a Movement." You might remember that both Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jane Mayer have documented that several of these foundations are funding the politicization of our courts as well as Trump's Big Lie as an excuse for voter suppression. As I've written previously, all of this is precisely how right wingers are weaponizing philanthropy. 

So in a sense, I agree with Carlson and Vance. We ought to be talking about whether these foundations should be tax exempt. That conversation should probably also include other 501 (3) 3's - like churches that are pushing a political agenda. But now we're getting into territory that will send right wingers howling. I don't think any of that is what Carlson and Vance had in mind.

It might be helpful to unpack why these two white men went after the Ford Foundation - particularly their fellowship program. According to the foundation's web site, the purpose of the program is "to increase faculty diversity at US colleges and universities." It's not hard to imagine why white supremacists would find that kind of program to be a threat.

As it turns out, Carlson was lying (surprise, surprise) when he said that substacker Chris Brunet "posted dozens of internal documents from the Ford Foundation that show that the focused on pure partisanship, indoctrinating students with left wing political propaganda and sending them forth to wreck the country."

Brunet has, in fact, launched a massive attack on the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program. The documents he received, however, came from fellows who participate on a listserv that offers both alumni and current fellows the opportunity to network, collaborate, and mentor each other. Brunet was provided with archived emails from the listserv by a group he calls "whistleblowers." Their access and participation in the emails indicates that they, too, are foundation fellows. So the group is hardly a monolith. 

What is clear from the comments Brunet selected to share is that, in a group dedicated to increasing diversity at colleges and universities, conversations got difficult at times. Participants were questioning whether or not to engage with comments they found offensive. That kind of conversation is always challenging.  

But Brunet faces his own problems when it comes to online communication. At his substack, he identifies himself as a participant and leader at an anonymous online messaging board for economists known as Economics Job Market Rumors (EJMR). As it turns out, U.C. Berkeley student Alice H. Wu mined more than a million posts from the board and published a paper titled "Gender Stereotyping in Academia: Evidence From Economics Job Market Rumors Forum.” 

Ms. Wu set up her computer to identify whether the subject of each post is a man or a woman. The simplest version involves looking for references to “she,” “her,” “herself” or “he,” “him,” “his” or “himself.”

She then adapted machine-learning techniques to ferret out the terms most uniquely associated with posts about men and about women.

The 30 words most uniquely associated with discussions of women make for uncomfortable reading.

In order, that list is: hotter, lesbian, bb (internet speak for “baby”), sexism, tits, anal, marrying, feminazi, slut, hot, vagina, boobs, pregnant, pregnancy, cute, marry, levy, gorgeous, horny, crush, beautiful, secretary, dump, shopping, date, nonprofit, intentions, sexy, dated and prostitute.

The parallel list of words associated with discussions about men reveals no similarly singular or hostile theme. It includes words that are relevant to economics, such as adviser, Austrian (a school of thought in economics) mathematician, pricing, textbook and Wharton (the University of Pennsylvania business school that is President Trump’s alma mater). More of the words associated with discussions about men have a positive tone, including terms like goals, greatest and Nobel.
David Romer, a leading macroeconomist at Berkeley, summarized the paper as depicting “a cesspool of misogyny.”

Carlson's source - Chris Brunet - not only hangs out at a cesspool of misogyny. He describes himself as a leader there. That makes it more than ironic for him to criticize a listserve where people struggle to have meaningful conversations about race.

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