There never seems to be a shortage of extreme and vitriolic language spewing out of the folks at MSNBC. The latest example of the extreme rhetoric appearing on MSNBC programming comes from a guest on the weekend show Melissa Harris-Perry.
Appearing as one of Ms. Perry’s guests was Anthea Butler, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, who, when discussing record numbers of Americans now on food stamps, compared Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, to a “sharecropper.” [See video after jump. MP3 audio here.]
Perhaps she knew a slavery comparison was a bit too much so she dialed things back a bit. How nice. Criticism of Walmart began with host Perry claiming that:
The rising poverty rate in the slack labor market are to blame as low wage jobs outpace middle income jobs three to one. And many of the low wage jobs are found in the retail sector. The nation's biggest retail employer, you guessed it, Walmart. It pays its average sales associate an estimated $15,576 a year. For a family of four, that's well below the poverty line of $22,050. Making that employee eligible for food assistance. Food assistance that goes right back into the pockets of our corporations.
The panel was filled with anti-Walmart sentiments, including the Nation’s Greg Kaufmann and community organizer Stephen Lerner who commented that:
I think what the corporations on the right have realized is the best defense is a good offense. So they're out here screaming about people on food stamps and entitlements, when it's a subsidy to them.
While the majority of the anti-Walmart commentary was fairly tame, when it got to Anthea Butler, the sentiments changed. Butler thought it appropriate to compare Walmart’s work practices to that of a post-Civil War landowner renting out to sharecroppers observing that:
This is like sharecropping except this is a giant company store right and the company store is feeding itself off of both the government and the people that it's enslaving.
Butler’s racially-charged language continued, with the professor claiming that:
If you have this system that's going in this constant circle of sharecropping, they're robbing both sides. They’re robbing our government and they’re robbing us and they’re robbing us because they won't even pay the taxes that they're supposed to pay. And that’s the biggest thing.
Butler’s commentary is not only highly offensive but false as well. Her criticism of Walmart as “robbing our government” for not paying their taxes is no different than any major company, including NBC parent company General Electric, using legal strategies to lower their overall tax burden. It makes perfect sense for the company and the company's shareholders, who, by the way, include thousands if not hundreds of thousands of retirees on fixed incomes.
In addition, for those like Harris- Perry and Butler who complain that Walmart does not pay its employees a “living wage” do not understand that the market dictates salaries and no employee is forced to work for a company if he or she is unhappy with the compensation he or she receives.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Butler is no stranger to making racially-charged remarks. In February of 2013, while appearing on the same MSNBC show, Butler partook of cracking race jokes on air. Ms. Butler is also infamous for arguing that the director of the anti-Islam YouTube short "Innocence of Muslims" --which the liberal media falsely charged precipitated the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on 9/11 of last year -- should be thrown in jail:
Good Morning. How soon is Sam Bacile going to be in jail folks? I need him to go now. When Americans die because you are stupid…
See relevant transcript below.
March 31, 2013
10:14 a.m. EST
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY: Despite recent good news about the recovery of our economy at the top of the food chain, our federal social safety net programs continue to catch more and more Americans. Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP has jumped 70% since 2008 to a record 47.8 million recipients as of the end of 2012. And congressional budget analysts expect participation to expand again next year. The rising poverty rate in the slack labor market are to blame as low wage jobs outpace middle income jobs three to one. And many of the low wage jobs are found in the retail sector. The nation's biggest retail employer, you guessed it, Walmart. It pays its average sales associate an estimated $15,576 a year. For a family of four, that's well below the poverty line of $22,050. Making that employee eligible for food assistance. Food assistance that goes right back into the pockets of our corporations. Because a 2010 report estimated that more than a third of all food stamps redeemed in the United States were used, you guessed it, at Walmart stores. Adding up to 4.5% of the company's total sales. Even traditional welfare is corporate welfare. So Greg, we pay the employees poverty wages, the social safety net gives them food stamps. The only place where they can then spend those food stamps is back at the place that paid them poverty wages, the Walmart welfare loop.
GREG KAUFMANN: It's a good day to be a Walton in America, isn't it? Thank god we do have these food stamps.
KAUFMANN: They kept 4 million people out of poverty in 2011. And for every $5 in food stamps expenses, there's $9 in economic activity. But obviously, it goes back to the issue of where are the good jobs that are going to pay people enough to feed their families? For the last year, I've been talking to janitors who work for some of the most expensive, richest corporations in America who go home and they need food stamps, they need Medicaid, they need a second job and then they read about in the newspapers how they're not spending enough time with their kids.
HARRIS-PERRY: They're bad parents. So on the one hand, yes, what food assistance is doing is keeping people from starving. But it’s also subsidizing Walmart.
STEPHEN LERNER: I think what the corporations on the right have realized is the best defense is a good offense. So they're out here screaming about people on food stamps and entitlements, when it's a subsidy to them.
LERNER: I don't know if your show is ready for this really radical idea.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let's go.
LERNER: I think there's a direct relationship between what you pay people and how much they earn.
HARRIS-PERRY: Whoa. You’ve just blown my mind. You mean, if you pay people a fair wage, they will have earned a fair wage?
LERNER: Yes, and so what happens is the whole thing, it's like so wacko. You can call is Walmart, Target, BofA whatever you want to call it. You impoverish your workers then the state basically we all subsidize them because you have to eat. That's still allowed. You have to eat. And then you whine away about free markets and say isn't it terrible that the government is spending all this money on these poor people that you made poor. It really -- it's sort of psychotic, pathological behavior, blaming the people you hurt while you're richer than at any point in human history.
HARRIS PERRY: And it really is that part. If in fact corporations were hurting it would feel different. Like look if it were, the times are tough, everybody's got to take a little bit of the pain. But in fact record profits.
ANTHEA BUTLER: Record profits. All I can think about was when you were saying this, this is like sharecropping except this is a giant company store right and the company store is feeding itself off of both the government and the people that it's enslaving. So if you have this system that's going in this constant circle of sharecropping, they're robbing both sides. They’re robbing our government and they’re robbing us and they’re robbing us because they won't even pay the taxes that they're supposed to pay. And that’s the biggest thing. I mean we can talk about all the tax breaks they get. But let me tell you, I got a friend who works for a corporate tax person and they are evading lots of taxes and it’s irked through the tax law. So when we talk about these things, we can't get away from the fact that they're not even paying into the system. They're not even paying what they should be paying.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is one of the things we see with Walmart. You look down at what they do, they actually systematically in each of their locations challenge property tax assessments so that even if supposedly those initial incentives have worn off, they're nonetheless keeping themselves from having to pay even the most basic property taxes.
DAN DICKER: And we have to remember that the economic pie is fixed. It doesn't get larger or smaller. There's only a certain amount of capital to go around. So every time that we deliver a tax break to a Walmart, every time we give a land grant to a Walmart, every time we move something some tax credit forward, what it does is it puts less money into the state and the federal coffers and that means there’s less money for food stamp programs for health care for education for child care. All of these programs take cuts on the back of what's become corporate welfare. And that's something that has to be remembered because otherwise, you forget that there's a limit to how much money that you can have spending. And it's not the fault of people who are on the lower end of the spectrum that they're not making it. If all the money that’s supposed to be going into the government that’s supposed to be used for a social safety net is going for a corporate safety net.