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Shirley Chisholm: ‘They will remember a 100-pound woman’

The tiny glittering black woman stood utterly at attention. She wore a suit of stiff brocade that fitted her shoulders so snugly it gave her a faintly military air. There was, in fact, something about her that suggested the Salvation Army. Perhaps it was only her stiff shoulders, or perhaps also her frequent references to the Lord. Then, too, she had a way of drawing herself up even straighter and stiffer in her moments of intensity, looking then totally charged with inspiration, a small quivering ramrod of righteousness.

“I’m here to tell you tonight, yes, I dare to say I’m going to run for the Presidency of the United States of America!” she uttered at the climactic center of her speech. When she said the word “dare,” she fairly squinted with indignation, and, propelled along now by her own anger, she told her audience she was out to prove to the public “that other kinds of people can steer the ship of state besides the white men …”

“Regardless of the outcome,” she continued, more slowly now for emphasis, “they will have to remember that a little 100-pound woman, Shirley Chisholm, shook things up!”

The small and hyper-tense black Congresswoman from Brooklyn was speaking to some 1300 of her supporters in a ballroom of the Americana Hotel three weeks ago. The occasion was the first fund-raising dinner for her Presidential campaign, and she had drawn to it just about everyone of importance in Brooklyn and Manhattan politics, including John Lindsay. A night of glory for her, the dinner raised some $60,000 and demonstrated her considerable drawing power in this city.

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But before another week was out, her still unofficial candidacy would appear to be shaking up Shirley Chisholm every bit as much as it was shaking up the male politicians she so longed to unnerve. For she went at the end of the week to a conference of black elected officials at Washington’s Sheraton-Park Hotel, where she was made to feel only barely welcome. The few female politicians in attendance did react warmly to her, but the black male congressmen, who appeared to be calling all the shots, were almost openly contemptuous of her.

Thursday evening (November 18) a cocktail party for the visiting black politicians was held in a large room in the Rayburn building on Capitol Hill. It was a gathering of black celebrities, who, like their white counterparts at such affairs, basked in the smiles of pretty girls, looked around to see who else of importance was present, and generally gave off that ineffable air of people who have made it and know it. Success seems to break down all philosophical barriers at Washington cocktail parties, and on this evening, at least, success had gathered in the same room black men as disparately oriented as the Nixon and Kennedy officials who showed up at the first Kennedy Center party.

So Robert Lee Grant, the tall, handsome black Republican who was fired last summer from his HUD job for shooting his mouth off against Agnew, stood easily in the same room with General Chaffee James, the black Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense whose job it is to tell the Pentagon’s version of the news to the press. General James was the kind of man who could sound respectably militant on the color question (“I think there are two blacks we can do without, that first one and that only one”) and the next moment sound like General Turgeson on the subject of his son’s 400-plus bombing missions in Vietnam. If you circulated around the room and listened to the talk, you could become quickly disillusioned about the salvific powers of black skin in America­ — that is, if you were white and liberal and secretly convinced that the blacks just had to be better. They had suffered too much at our hands. But there wasn’t much of the halo effect of suffering floating around that room in the Rayburn building. And there was to be a notable absence of halos among conference members during the next two days, an atmospheric condition which you had to be able to sense in order to understand what was really going on between Shirley Chisholm and what has come to be known as the black political caucus.

Omens of Mrs. Chisholm’s problems were evident at the cocktail party. When cornered and asked about her, Congressman Lewis Stokes (the brother of Carl Stokes) shrugged his shoulders, laughed, and uttered mock groans. Congressman William Clay of Missouri said, “Who’s Shirley Chisholm? You don’t represent The Village Voice, you can’t represent The Village Voice!” And he, too, laughed. Mrs. Chisholm was to be dealt with by the cruelest of all insults — she was to be ignored.

She herself soon around at the party looking as if she was having a good time. She was wearing a more functional woolen suit this time, again with the square-shoulders of a Salvation Army uniform. Women approached her in an almost endless stream, some of them just shyly shaking her hand and walking away, the bolder of them saying things like “We have admired you from afar all the time.” A vice-president of the National Council of Negro Women told me Mrs. Chisholm was extremely popular with black women. And for the next two days she did have an extraordinary way of dividing every gathering of blacks quite neatly along strict sexual lines.

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Indeed if there had been a larger proportion of women among the 300-odd blacks who attended the conference that weekend. Mrs Chisholm might have gotten the the endorsement of the black political caucus. As matters stood, however, she was treated to chilly courtesies, being asked to sit on the dais at one luncheon to introduce a speaker, and being given the moderator’s seat on a panel discussion of childhood and early development.

The latter assignment royally peeved her, and she stood up in the first Friday morning session of the conference to let the assembled men know she couldn’t understand why she had been left off the important political panels when she was the only serious Presidential candidate among them.

“For over 21 years this has been a part of my life,” she said, quivering with rage. “They’re always plotting and planning for me, but Almighty God has burned me up… Shirley Chisholm is the highest elected black woman official and, for those of you who don’t know it, the Democratic National Committeewoman from the State of New York. You’d better wake up!”

Her outburst made the evening news and a New York Times headline the next day. It did little to change her status with the black male congressmen.

The conference itself produced little news, and though there were closed discussion sessions, nothing conclusive was decided beyond the vote to hold a black political convention sometime early next year. There were sessions on techniques for designing districts to preserve black Congressional seats, sessions which made the whole black caucus seem like a tardy and futile effort, for it was generally agreed that redistric­ting plans should be ready and presented to the courts by the end of the month, wherever legislatures were gerryman­dering blacks out of their seats. (But one reporter thought even court efforts would yield small gains for blacks, the courts themselves being frequently political provinces.)

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Thus the interesting drama of the conference was the unspoken game of tug-of-war between Shirley Chisholm and the center of the male congressmen’s group, which appeared to be somewhere close to wherever close to wherever the Stokes brothers hung out. Ever since the black Congressional caucus had been meeting with other black politicos and civil rights leaders (a series of meetings, regional and national, which began several weeks ago), reporters had been hearing rumors that the male congressmen had wanted to run Carl Stokes as the black Presidential candidate. But Julian Bond, who had attended some of the meetings, had told people he was for running locally popular blacks in each of their various states. And by Friday night of the Washington conference, Lewis Stokes was to say the same thing.

In any case, Shirley Chisholm had definitely out-maneuvered her male colleagues, spoiling any chances for multiple black candidacies, locally based, and embarrassing them by making the rift between her camp and theirs very public. The whole point of their effort was to bring a solid bloc of united black delegates to the Democratic Convention, to bargain on plat-form issues of importance to their constituents. Perhaps as a result of their efforts, the National Democratic Committee chair­man, Larry O’Brien, had met with Congressman Charles Diggs (the leader of the black Congressional Caucus) and promised him blacks would get 20 per cent of the action in 1972 — whatever that meant. (The 20 per cent was a figure derived from the percentage of blacks who voted for Humphrey in ’68)  O’Brien later made some grand gestures to a group of female leaders (Mrs. Chisholm included), which may mean that by the time he is through dealing with factions, he’ll have promised away a good 200 per cent of “the action” before the convention. (A ‘youth caucus’ is expected to go begging to O’Brien in a few weeks.)

Throughout the conference, Mrs. Chisholm told people she had decided to run in response to the urgings of various individuals and groups. One source, an aide to a powerful New York Democrat, told me he thought she’d decided to run largely because she resented the way the male black leaders had ignored her in their initial efforts to build a national black political caucus. But she had been invited to a large meeting they held in Chicago several weeks ago, and she’d declined the invitation, sending a representative who asked the group to support her candidacy. Imamu Baraka (LeRoi Jones) is reported to have said, in response to this appeal, “Don’t women have race, too?”

When I asked her in Washington who some of the individuals and groups urging her to run were, she got quite indignant.

“I don’t have to reveal my strategy to you!” she snapped. “They’re groups of women, groups of young people, Chicanos. That’s all I want to say.” (She rattled off the same list of groups to a soft-spoken black student reporter.)

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What may really have decided her is something her most trusted political adviser discovered in Brooklyn before she ran for Congress in 1968: there were approximately 3000 more registered females than registered males in the black assembly districts of her Congressional district. Her ad­viser, an old statistician and experienced pol named Wesley Holder, told me he didn’t know whether this kind of sexual demography was the same nationally in black districts — but it may be an educated guess that it is.

There is no question about her appeal to black women. At a reception she held Friday night the weekend of the conference, one man approached her with a warm offer of help for her North Carolina campaign. “My wife is so impressed with you,” he said. He was not alone.

And she can turn on young crowds with her blazing, intense oratory. At the September voter registration rally in Pittsburgh where Lindsay was less than triumphant, she was interrupted by wild cheers and got a hearty standing ovation when she’d finished her talk.

These powers failed to move her black male colleagues, however, and during a reception she held for conference participants Friday evening, she was challenged on her dealings with them. Some of the questions put to her appeared to be drawing blood. She stood, surrounded by the admiring and the curious, answering their question and ultimately taking off into an impromptu speech.

Someone asked her a question about her strained relationship with the black male Congressional leaders.

“This is very, very distressing to me,” she said. “As of this moment the black elected officials have not really come up with their strategy. Meanwhile, people are moving, and the essence is time. This is politics! … In good conscience, I can’t hold back.”

She put in a special word of praise for Ronald Dellums, the freshman congressman from California (he was to make an unsuccessful bid for a Chisholm endorsement in a closed con­ference session later that evening), then she got angry again. Her body quivering, her voice fiercely lowered, she said, “How many of them assembled here do not already have a commitment someplace and still talking about a black thing?” She apparently wanted that to sound like more than a rhetorical question, but she never named a specific conference member who might be committed to another candidate.

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A man asked her whether it wasn’t true that she had been “initially asked to write the black agenda?”

“I don’t care to get involved in those details,” she answered quickly. “I was invited to the big meeting they had out in Illinois, but they knew I couldn’t go because I was in Texas and New Mexico collecting delegate votes … Because I am a woman, because I am black I’ve always had to do that work.”

“Was the caucus involved in your decision?” asked the same man.

“Not involved,” Mrs. Chisholm curtly replied. “Further question,” she said impatiently, turning her head away from the man. Then she appeared to think she ought to expand her answer. “My candidacy first developed from many, many people,” she said, asserting once again that she’d been urged to run by several groups six months ago.

After several additional questions, she warmed to the group and made her impromptu speech. She held her audience spellbound, skillfully alternating the rhythms and tones of her words, at the end looking truly possessed, with her arms drawn in, her eyes shut tight, and her voice deadly serious. She was moving and appealing; her feminism compellingly drew upon the sympathies of her almost solidly black audience, people who knew only too well the cruel pinches of discrimination. But there was a high strain about her, and a constant hint of paranoia. She sounded as if she knew she’d never capture the black caucus and as if this had been a great hope she was having trouble relinquishing.

“I can withstand the abuses, the insults,” she said passionately, “but I’m not gonna let anybody cover me up in a dirt hole.” Then, growing gentler, she said, “My brothers, if you can’t come along with me, I ain’t mad at you. But please, for God’s sake, you know my record. Don’t becloud the picture. Don’t lie!

“When people go out and say, Shirley Chisholm, she may become a captive of the women … and when you hear brothers saying you can’t talk with her, that’s because I’m a different breed of politician. I don’t wheel and deal morning, noon, and night. I am truly unbought and unbossed.”

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“Unbought and Unbossed” is the title of her autobiography. It’s a phrase that does not totally fit her politics. For her trusted ad­viser, Wesley Holder, is on a small scale a very competent political boss. He was borrowed from Brooklyn in 1958 to help J. Raymond Jones and Adam Clayton Powell win a difficult Harlem race. And Holder himself says proudly that “Shirls” makes no major decision without consulting him. Holder handles her Brooklyn office, dealing with most constituent problems and maintaining a policy of non-involvement in local controversies.

There are some indications that Mrs. Chisholm is closely allied with the Lindsay camp, although one certainly couldn’t say that means she has been bought by Lindsay at this point. Lindsay was the chairman of her fund-raising affair at the Americana three weeks ago. And Mrs. Chisholm will, in turn, be a sponsor of a $25-a-head Barry Gottehrer testimonial dinner in mid-­December, which should raise money for Lindsay’s campaign. One Lindsay aide told me that the Mayor’s and Mrs. Chisholm’s organizations in Brooklyn were synonymous. (This aide also spoke highly of Holder, recalling the days during the 1969 mayoral race when Holder would get all the local Lindsay people holed up in his unventilated office, drinking straight bourbon. By the time such meetings were over, said the aide, “I’d agree to everything he said.”)

And Mrs. Chisholm is considered a pragmatist on Capitol Hill. She is reported to be quick­-witted and effective in committee meetings. Mrs. Chisholm made startling news, of course, when she first arrived at Congress and refused her appointment to the House Agriculture Committee. Since then, however, she repor­tedly made her peace with the House leadership. And though she now denies it, it is widely believed on Capitol Hill that she voted for Hale Boggs as majority leader in exchange for an appointment to the House Education and Labor Committee. That vote was done by secret ballot, so even Boggs’s people can’t prove she voted for him, but Washington reporters recall that she didn’t deny it at the time. (In Washington more recently, she angrily told me she had never voted for Boggs.)

Among reporters she is described as a politician who does not do her constituent homework. But she does so much public speaking that such criticism may just be clever speculation. She gets $1500 per speech, and her schedule during the week I followed her fortunes was so packed that her staff told me to interview her between sessions of the conference. (She was always too busy to stop for an interview with The Voice, although she found time for CBS.)

One reporter who is most critical of her — although reluctant to lash out at her in print — is Dick Oliver of the Daily News. In 1969, Oliver was assigned to look into the case of Lance Corporal Ronald V. Johnson, a black Marine who had been convicted for allegedly raping an Okinawan girl. Ultimately Oliver’s investigations got Johnson a new trial and he was acquitted, but along the way, Oliver and Johnson’s supporters found it difficult to get Shirley Chisholm interested in his case — ­though Johnson’s home was in her district.

In the fall of 1969 a Daily News political reporter approached Mrs. Chisholm at a news con­ference to ask her whether she’d seen the stories about Johnson. She told the reporter she was too busy to get involved.

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In early 1970, when Johnson was scheduled to have his second trial, his attorney began to fear he would be hit with a drug charge because the military authorities were so angry with him. The at­torney called Oliver who in turn called Mrs. Chisholm’s office. She was out of town, but her staff did give Oliver permission to say she was upset about Johnson’s predicament. And as Johnson’s case looked better and better, said Oliver, Mrs. Chisholm began to champion it more strongly. “When we needed her, we didn’t have her. But later on, when we didn’t need her, she was there,” Oliver said recently.

Now Mrs. Chisholm is thought of as a staunch defender of blacks in the military. She recently sent one of her aides to Germany to in­vestigate racial problems among American GIs there.

Shirley Chisholm is a mixed bag. She can be calculating and manipulative; she can sacrifice principle to expedience; she can be courageous and moving; she can be hysterical one moment, sharply, dazzling rational the next.

She has announced that she will enter the Florida, North Carolina, and California primaries, the last of which makes no sense for a black who wants to contribute delegates to a black caucus at the convention. Whoever wins the California primary takes all the delegates to the convention; thus California blacks would do better to ride on the slate of a strong black candidate.

At this point, Mrs. Chisholm’s candidacy is obviously troublesome to her black colleagues in Congress. And though reporters find her good copy, they can’t understand why she’s running. It may be sheer ego; it may be her tenacious feminism that has motivated her. But this is the reason I overheard her telling a cluster of black women at the conference: “After this is over, I’ve done my thing for America … This is my legacy for the folks. Somebody has to have the guts to show the others we can do it.” ❖

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Thomas v. Hill: After the Storm

Don’t Mourn, Organize

By now, the Clarence Thomas affair has taken on the quality of a cat scratching for a place to bury its turds. The purring noises from the White House hid a determination to keep such matters under wraps. “I was thinking of my little grandchildren hearing some of the graphic sex allegations,” George Bush burbled late last week. How much safer to deal with such “messy situa­tions” behind closed doors. “I think some­times when you get to subjects that are sensitive, it is well to delegate to your elect­ed officials” — those same honorable men who covered up Anita Hill’s charges until a timely leak and a phalanx of women from the “lower” house forced the Senate to act.

Kicking up the kitty litter, Bush confided that he’d been “glued” to the set, but also observed that what he saw “was deeply offensive to American families.” In one breath, he acknowledged “the legitimate problem of sexual harassment,”  and in the next, disparaged “women activist feminist groups … I don’t think they speak for all women in this country.”

Here was the backlash in full force, and the Republican strategy of attack-and-deny laid bare. Its aims go well beyond the im­mediate issue, and as Thomas was sworn in, Poppy’s claws came out. Sexual secrecy was only one of his demands. While the president squatted above the fray, his min­ions called for a purge — not just of liberals, described by Thomas as “the old order,” but of feminists, especially in media.

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Among the targets were Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio, who had helped break the sex-harassment story, and Mau­reen Dowd of The New York Times, whose commentary brought a feminist perspective to the world’s most powerful men’s club. That must have frightened Poppy and his peers even more than Anita Hill’s charges: Here was a network of women journalists speaking truth to entrenched male power. The right lost no time in demanding their heads.

“I perceive a total perceptual split be­tween the chattering classes … and normal humans,” wrote Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for Reagan and Bush. On the Times‘s op-ed page, Noonan raised the fa­miliar specter of Republican populism — in which hard-working, family-oriented Amer­icans are pitted against a perverse and de­tached liberal elite. Warming to the task, Noonan compared a “Maybellined” wit­ness for Judge Thomas with a friend of Hill’s “who spoke with a sincere, unma­keuped face,” Noonan was echoing a pow­erful — if subliminal — tactic in the assault on feminism: dyke-baiting.

During the hearing, Senator Alan Simp­son muttered darkly of Professor Hill’s “proclivities.” Now a rumor is circulating that the Democrats had agreed not to intro­duce evidence of Thomas’s pornomania if the Republicans would sit on evidence that Hill is a lesbian. (If such evidence actually existed, this would have been one of the few deals that worked to the Democrats’ favor, since most people — including some liberals — are prepared to believe that lesbians hate men, but not that men who love porn hate women.)

Inevitably, the Thomas hearings became fodder for the roiling p.c. debate. Anyone who doubts that this word has become a cudgel for feminist-bashers should examine the Wall Street Journal’s editorial of Octo­ber 17, attacking “the state of political cor­rectness in the nation’s newsrooms.” The Times stands indicted for “total capitula­tion” by turning “its front page over to editorials by Maureen Dowd.” Elsewhere on the same editorial page, the Journal‘s Washington bureau chief challenges Nina Totenberg’s claim that she left the now-­defunct National Observer because of sexu­al harassment. (The real reason was plagia­rism, her former editor opines.) Both the Observer and the Journal are owned by Dow Jones, which may be why the editorial railed against “the catechism … that no charge of sexual harassment can ever be overblown or even plain wrong.” But male bonding, even more than any corporate tie, underlay the editorial’s defense of Juan Williams, a Washington Post writer who had slammed Thomas’s accusers, though he stands accused of sexual harassment bv sev­eral female colleagues. Quoth the Journal: “Free Juan Williams.”

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The right is determined to drive a wedge between “normal” women and feminism, between liberals and liberation, between sexual politics and realpolitik. The issue of sexual harassment is tailor-made for this agenda, because it plays to profound anxi­ety about changing gender relations. This shift is by no means limited to erotic eti­quette, but reforming these rites of arousal fore es men and women to confront primal insecurity and rage. Thus the confusion in the eyes of Democratic senators as they faced Clarence Thomas, as if a hooded brow could hide their empathy and the double-bind it placed them in.

Though the Democrats were widely ac­cused of wimpiness, the more enraging pos­sibility is that they were actively ambiva­lent about Anita Hill’s charges, just as the Democratic party is patently wary of femi­nism. The Republicans are just as anxious but far less held back, and the image of Alan Simpson thrashing, Orrin Hatch glar­ing, and Arlen Specter threatening, were a frieze of male panic and its reaction-forma­tion, rage.

But if feminists regard the Thomas hear­ings as a failure, the right truly will have won. In reality, this was an annunciation of a new, gender-based politics, with the po­tential to challenge the traditional configu­ration of left and right, which is based on a much older model of class. Feminism doesn’t fit into American politics as cur­rently practiced: at its most fundamental, it transcends class, defies racial and regional interests, and enters into virtually every public institution, as well as the most inti­mate interactions. No one can escape sexu­al politics — yet no one knows precisely what they are.

This suggests why the old order — not Thomas’s version but male-dominated con­servativism — was able to strike back so ef­fectively. Anita Hill’s testimony threatened not just relations between dudes and babes; it shook the very basis of American politics, and demanded that the system incorporate issues of gender along with those of race and class. No wonder the European press saw the hearings as “a great American psy­chodrama” (Le Monde), “humiliating for a great democracy” (Il Giornale of Milan): no other Western society is as willing as the United States to alter the sexual order.

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A truly bi-gender system world bring American politics closer to human nature. And the Thomas hearings were a gauge of just how much feminism has changed the alignment-scheme, redefining words like progressive and conservative. It’s clear from the struggle for reproductive rights, the at­tack on political correctness, and the re­sponse to sexual harassment, that the time has come to affix a new label to anti-femi­nist liberals: call them social conservatives.

This evidence of a new politics is one reason I’m convinced the Thomas hearings are a watershed for the women’s movement. Another is the emergence of a genu­ine hero: Anita Hill. Her refusal to play the victim, and her ability to withstand trial­-by-fulmination, epitomizes the dissemina­tion of feminism. Women across the coun­try, in a variety of occupational settings, now share a common sensibility. Although that perspective is most evident in the pro­fessions (as the strong support for Thomas among working-class women suggests), if feminism is true to the experience of all women, it will eventually overcome the barriers of caste.

It remains to be seen whether social con­servatives will nip the concept of sexual harassment in the bud. Polls show that most people think erotic innuendo should not be regulated by law. But the same ma­jority agrees that there is such a thing as sexual harassment, and that it ought not to be tolerated. This contradiction has yet to be resolved in laws. Meanwhile, the Thomas hearings produced a flood of complaints from women, inaugurating a great debate on the subject and its relationship to power. All of which presents a profound opportu­nity for feminists to organize women around yet another dirty secret, and in the process foster social change.

To shift the status quo — especially when it is grounded in the libido — is a monu­mental struggle. And the secret appeal of right-wing reasoning, with its conflation of freedom and male power, decency and re­pression, “common sense” and sexual or­thodoxy, can never be underestimated. But there is solace to be found in the social struggles of the past. The labor movement is in no great shakes today, but there was a time when the very idea of organizing workers was regarded as a violation of “natural law.” The propaganda was fierce, the backlash was formidable, and there was significant resistance among workers them­selves. At the darkest moment, a labor lead­er was framed for murder and sentenced to execution. He, too, was named Hill, and his last words pass easily from Joe’s mouth to Anita’s: “Don’t mourn. Organize!” ❖

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All the Ways the GOP Tax Bill Will Screw You Over

This is kind of a nutso time for trying to follow the news, we get it. Every day, Donald Trump is either threatening to tweet us into nuclear Armageddon or arresting and deporting more people; the mayor and the governor are squabbling over who’s not going to fix the irrevocably broken subways and the irrevocably broken housing market; and there have probably been another five sexual harassment revelations just since you began reading this sentence. So if you’ve chosen to ignore the tax bill currently moving through Congress as just one more thing than you can possibly take — and one that involves a lot of math to boot — that’s entirely understandable.

It’s also a really bad idea, because the Republican tax plan — really two plans, one passed by the House, the other possibly getting voted on by the Senate today — promises to be one of the largest redistributions of money in U.S. history. If you have kids, if you live in a high-tax state like New York, if you deduct things on your tax return, if you get too cold, it will affect you and your children and your children’s children in ways that only the Joint Committee on Taxation knows for sure.

So because it’s important, and because we know you need to save brain space for who the layabout aristocracy is marrying, we’re presenting some of the lowlights to you, in a simple question-and-answer format:

What will the tax bill mean for me, personally?

That all depends on who you are:

Is there anything good in the tax bill for normal people?

The House bill would eliminate the use of federally tax-exempt municipal bonds to fund private sports stadiums, which would mean New Yorkers would no longer be subsidizing sports venues in Milwaukee and Cincinnati. (The Brookings Institution has calculated that this has cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $4 billion since 2000.) A similar provision would prohibit tax-subsidized bonds from being used for private housing projects, which would hobble Mayor de Blasio’s plans to get private developers to build affordable housing, but maybe would force cities to build more public housing their own damn selves, so that’s a tougher call. Plus, of course, both of these could end up getting removed in negotiations to reconcile the eventual House and Senate bills, so don’t hold your breath too much.

Is this really going to happen? I got all worried about Obamacare repeal last summer, and then the Republicans tripped over their own feet and it never happened.

True, this Republican-led Congress has seemed uniquely incapable of getting any legislation enacted, which can lead to a false sense of security. And the tax bill is such a cornucopia of trash fires that even a lot of Republicans hate it for one reason or another. Last night the Senate leadership appeared ready to grab defeat from the jaws of victory when the Joint Committee on Taxation projected the bill, instead of paying for itself as Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had claimed, would increase the deficit by $1 trillion. This upset some Republicans who are upset by such things, and delayed a vote until today at the earliest. (Senate debate resumes at 10 a.m.)

That’s the thing, though: Almost none of the Republican objections to the bill are over the tax-the-poor-and-middle-class-to-give-tax-cuts-to-the-wealthy problems listed above, but rather about smaller concerns. Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), James Lankford (R-OK), and Todd Young (R-IN) have all expressed reservations about increasing the deficit; Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Steve Daines (R-MT) want extra tax breaks for businesses whose owners report their profits on their individual tax returns (late update: Daines said this morning that he’s a yes vote); Susan Collins (R-ME) opposes undermining Obamacare. The Senate leadership is currently trying to find ways to reduce the deficit bloat, but that would almost certainly mean raising taxes in the future, which could make some current supporters of the bill switch sides. It only takes three Republican “no” votes to kill the bill, so pretty much anyone could play the spoiler role here.

Enough about political horse-trading! I am angry, and I have a pitchfork and a flaming torch! Where do I line up to protest?

Things have mostly been pretty quiet on the vengeful mob front: A bunch of religious leaders sent a sternly worded letter to Congress, and some of them got arrested yesterday for holding a pray-in inside the Senate Office Building. Graduate students, who would have to pay taxes on their tuition breaks they get in exchange for teaching courses under the House bill, staged walkouts the day before. There have been scattered additional protests in several cities, but most groups opposed to the bills — including the New York Times’ Twitter feed — are telling concerned citizens to call both their senators and swing votes from other states, which you can do here.

When a bill of this scale last came around in 1982, it sailed through — memorialized in The Onion’s retroactive headline, “Congress Allocates $300 Billion to Nation’s Rich.” If you’ve been looking around and thinking, “The U.S. economy would be doing so much better if only Ronald Reagan had given even more money to rich people,” then these are the bills for you; if not, you may want to get those dialing fingers ready.

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Millions Of Sandy Relief Dollars From Congress Will Finally Arrive In April

After a worrisome flood zone upgrade, this is definitely a good thing to hear.

With funds from the $50 billion Sandy relief package that successfully struggled through Congress, Mayor Bloomberg announced yesterday morning how the first wave – $1.77 billion worth – would be implemented in recovery efforts. Of this amount, $720 million will go towards rebuilding destroyed homes, $185 million will be spent on reviving local businesses and $140 million will be used to improve damaged infrastructure.

For housing, the NYCHA will coordinate millions in an attempt to fix over 20,000 homes stricken by the storm. On the economic front, the City will hand out “resiliency” grants of $10,000, with $100 million in total, to jump start companies that have yet to recover. Another $80 million will be invested in long-term projects and competitive bidding awards. And, for infrastructure, the companies that kinda messed up a bit will receive $40 million to rebuild (and, hopefully, improve) infrastructure.

While all these plans sound great, there’s still a waiting period for bureaucracy to get its shit together: the monies will not start appearing until late April and early May.

It may be a longer winter for some. But at least the City has a game plan.

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$9.7 Billion Down, $51 Billion to Go: Obama Signs Off on Sandy Relief

“We’ll take what we can get” seems to be the mantra of Washington lately. But Sandy relief shouldn’t be held prisoner to that.

Yesterday, President Obama put his pen to the paper on a bill that would hand a nearly broke FEMA the ability to borrow $9.7 billion in funds to handle thousands of Sandy insurance claims. The legislation came straight from the House of Representatives, where it was voted on Friday after Representative John Boehner forced his distressed post-fiscal-cliff colleagues (67 of which said “no“) to vote on the spending measure.
The imminent deadline for additional funding was a result of FEMA’s warning to Congress that the agency’s wallet would be empty soon — an event that would have delayed thousands of these claims in Staten Island, parts of New Jersey and elsewhere. However, as we’ve said before, the $9.7 billion is just scratching the surface.
After cashing out to the Democrats on the tax breaks, the full Sandy relief package was delayed by Representative John Boehner last week. So, the total $60 billion was put on hold until Congress assembled again. FEMA will be in need again soon enough and, for this reason, the House have scheduled a vote for the remaining $51 billion on January 15. The Senate will vote the week after.
At this point, the decision will come down to just how different this “new” Congress really is.
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Damn You, Congress for Making Gov. Christie Look Utterly Logical and Completely Admirable

First and foremost, screw Congress for delaying its vote on the proposed Hurricane Sandy relief bill. Secondly, and far from foremost, screw Congress for continuing to make New Jersey Governor Chris Christie universally admirable.

Past love or disdain for Christie aside, the governor has displayed guts and bold leadership in the aftermath of Sandy. Most politicians are going to say the right things in the wake of a difficult tragedy, but most wouldn’t throw political allegiances and grievances on the back burner in the manner that Christie has.

“Last night, my party was responsible for this,” Christie said at a news conference earlier this afternoon. “This used to be something that was not political. Disaster relief was something that you didn’t play games with, but now in this current atmosphere everything is the subject of one-upmanship. Everything is a possibility, a potential piece of bait for the political game.”

Sounds like it would be a no-brainer decision for politicians to put the interests of hundreds of thousands of people devastated by a hurricane before partisan politics. But that wasn’t the case for the House Republicans who delayed last night’s anticipated vote on a $60 billion Sandy relief package.

Christie got specific in his condemnation of those responsible for the delay and singled out House Speaker John Boehner as the chief engineer of the delay.

“It’s a matter of the speaker deciding when he wants to do this because this was his decision to stop it,” Christie said. “He’s the Speaker of the House. And tomorrow’s another day. So he can prove to me that he really does care about the people of New York and New Jersey by getting this package done.”

Christie said that he and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo received multiple reassurances that the bill would be passed by Congress Tuesday — reassurances that came as late as 9 p.m. last night.

After he found out a little after 11 p.m. that the package would not be passed, Christie said he attempted to call House Speaker Boehner four times for an explanation for the delay. And though he finally spoke to Boehner this morning, Christie said he still hasn’t received a clear answer.

Reporters attempted to coax Christie into speculating about what role last night’s “fiscal cliff” deal played in the move to delay the Sandy relief vote. And though Christie declined to play “pundit” for the media and place the blame squarely on a Republican vendetta, he did have scathing words for the entire “fiscal cliff” fiasco.

“They’re all so caught up in [the] politics of this fake fiscal cliff,” Christie said. “If the people of New Jersey feel betrayed today by those who did this in House last night, then they have good company. I’m with them.”

The governor pointed out that it hadn’t taken the federal government any longer than 31 days to approve natural disaster relief packages in recent years. And, when asked today, the 66th day since Sandy hit, to predict when the relief package would be passed, Christie was noncommittal.

“There’s is no reason at the moment for me to believe anything that they tell me because they’ve been telling me stuff for weeks, and they didn’t deliver,” Christie said. “Our people were played last, and that’s why people hate Washington, D.C.”

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Mr. Cuomo Goes to Washington (To Beg for Cash)

New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s got a busy day ahead of him in Washington D.C. — which includes meetings with White House officials, the House speaker, and the Senate majority leader — where he’ll make the case for New York’s need for a $42 billion appropriation to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy.

Initially, the governor thought $30 billion in federal coin would do the trick. Last week, however, Cuomo said the state needed $32.8 billion in reimbursements and an additional $9.1 billion to help rebuild — and modernize — New York’s infrastructure.

This, of course, is happening as federal lawmakers duke it out over how to keep the country from going over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” So $42 billion for the Empire State might be a tough figure for the governor to achieve from the cash-strapped federal government.

Cuomo’s tentative schedule is as follows:

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Cuomo’s tentative schedule is as follows:

12:30 PM Governor Cuomo Meets With White House Officials
The White House
CLOSED PRESS

1:45 PM Governor Cuomo Meets With Appropriations Committee Chairman and Vice-Chairman Senator Daniel Inouye and Senator Thad Cochran
Hart Senate Office Building (Room SH-722)
CLOSED PRESS
Note: Meeting will also be attended by Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

3:00 PM Governor Cuomo Meets With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
U.S. Capitol Building (Room S-221)
CLOSED PRESS
Note: Meeting will also be attended by Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

4:00 PM Governor Cuomo Meets With House Speaker John Boehner
U.S. Capitol Building (Room H-232)
CLOSED PRESS
Note: Meeting will also be attended by U.S. Rep. Pete King, U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, and U.S. Rep. Bob Turner.

4:30 PM Governor Cuomo Meets With Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
U.S. Capitol Building (Room H-204)
CLOSED PRESS

5:00 PM Governor Cuomo and Members of New York State’s Congressional Delegation Hold Media Availability
Capital Visitor’s Center (Room 202)
OPEN PRESS

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Rep. Michael Grimm’s Office Break-In Not Quite Watergate; Just an 8th Grader Who Broke a Window

Congressman Michael Grimm’s Staten Island campaign office was “broken into” over the weekend in what the congressman initially suspected to be a Watergate-esque scandal presumably perpetrated by the cronies of his opponent in this year’s election.

Not quite — it was just an eighth-grader who broke a window.

The NYPD says today that an eighth-grader at a Staten Island junior high school told a school counselor that he and a friend broke the window. The boy, who has not been identified, has been charged with criminal mischief.

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Grimm initially claimed thieves broke in using old keys and then smashed
windows to make it appear like it was a just a case of random vandalism
— which it was. He suspected that the burglars installed software on
the hard drives of computers in the office designed to delete files.

Nope — a “police source” tells the New York Daily News that it “appears that a campaign staffer wiped the hard drives accidentally after
mistakenly inserting a Linux system disc into a Windows machine.”

They have hats for people like Grimm — they’re made of tinfoil.

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Charlie Rangel, Legendary Tax Cheat, Lectures Mitt Romney On Paying Taxes

Say what you will about Mitt Romney’s dopey comments that 47-percent of Americans are basically free-loading schlubs, but the last person — literally, the absolute last person — who should ever chime in on the issue is legendary tax cheat/New York Congressman Charlie Rangel.

But guess who chimed in on Romney’s comments — legendary tax cheat/New York Congressman Charlie Rangel.

Under the headline “Rangel to Romney: Americans Pay Their Fair Share Of Taxes, Unlike You,” Rangel — again, a Congressionally censured tax cheat — says the following:

 

“Nothing can be further from the truth than Gov. Romney’s ridiculous remarks that nearly half of American people do not pay federal income taxes, they pay other federal and state taxes. The 47 percent figure cited by the Republican presidential candidate covers only the federal  income tax and ignores the fact that people may pay a higher percentage of their income on a wide variety of taxes.

Everyone pays taxes. Lower income persons pay state and local,
property, excise and sales taxes. In fact, when all federal, state, and
local taxes are taken into account, the bottom fifth of households pays
about 16 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average. The
second-poorest fifth pays about 21 percent. This is higher than what
the Governor has paid in income taxes. He has absolutely no moral
authority to accuse nearly half of the American people of being
irresponsible and freeloaders.

Many of his millionaire and billionaire friends — approximately
55,000 — are paying lower taxes than millions of middle-class
Americans. In fact, in 2009, 1,500 millionaires managed to pay no
federal income taxes on their millions. Before he judges other people
about paying federal income taxes, Gov. Romney should come clean about
the tax returns he’s hiding from voters.”

Shhh! Nobody tell the racism police at <i>Gawker</i> that I used this image -- <a href="http://gawker.com/5943293/village-voice-editor-leaves-to-pursue-scientology-full-time" target="_blank">wouldn't want to get little Maxi Read's panties in a wad</a>.
Shhh! Nobody tell the racism police at Gawker that I used this image — wouldn’t want to get little Maxi Read’s panties in a wad.

This, of course, is the same Charlie Rangel who failed to report $75,000 in income he’d received from a three-bedroom, three-bathroom rental property he owns in the Dominican Republic. At the time, Rangel owed back taxes on the property for at least three years.

This is also the same Charlie Rangel who took a “homestead” tax break on the home he owns in Washington D.C. for several years. Problem is, Rangel simultaneously occupied multiple rent-controlled apartments in New York City.

And lest we forget the time he (ahem) forgot to include the sale of a D.C. home on his annual financial reports; the “discrepancies” in the reported value of a home he owned in Florida (anywhere between $50,000 to $500,000, depending on who you ask); or the inconsistencies in his reporting of his investment funds.

Then, of course, there’s the Congressional parking space that Rangel used to store his Mercedes Benz (for free) for years. Fairly small potatoes when you look at the other ways Rangel’s avoided paying taxes over the years, but under IRS rules, Congressional parking spaces are considered imputed income, and therefore can be taxed. Rangel, however, never paid a dime.

Rangel’s creative tax filings have earned him repeated (dis)honors as one of the most corrupt lawmakers in Washington, which is no easy feat — being one of the biggest liars in Washington is roughly as competitive as being the biggest drug addict at a Phish concert.

Perhaps a better headline for Rangel’s scolding of Romney would have been “Rangel to Romney: Hello, Pot — Meet Kettle.”

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Congresswoman Yvette Clarke On The 1898 Dutch Enslavement Of Brooklyn (That Never Actually Happened)

Democratic Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke attempted to re-write history last night during an appearance on the Colbert Report, during which she struggled with the details of hypothetical time travel and then claimed that slavery existed in Brooklyn in 1898, where the Dutch kept people in bondage more than 30 years after the Civil War.

Then, after ironing out the details of the aforementioned hypothetical time travel, she decided — after some lengthy internal debate — that if she were around in the 1930s and 1940s, she probably would have tried to stop World War II.

Good call, congresswoman.

The whole thing was dizzying, and would be hilarious — if the Dutch hadn’t lost control of New York in the 1660s, slavery hadn’t ended in the United States in 1865, and — most importantly — Clarke wasn’t a sitting congresswoman.

Clarke’s office didn’t immediately respond to our request for an explanation of her take on history — and time travel.

See the video of Clarke’s history lesson after the jump.

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