More Than Chutzpah

There are a number of translations of the yiddish term “chutzpah.” Among the best-known is some variation on the following: chutzpah describes the gall of a person who murders his mother and father and argues that he’s entitled to the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.

The Trump administration may actually have gone that orphan one better.

After reluctantly beginning to comply with a court order requiring them to reunite families–to return the children to the parents from whom they had forcibly taken them at the border– the administration was going to charge the parents for the expenses incurred.

You want this kid back? It’ll cost you….

The judge was not amused.

A U.S. judge in California on Friday ordered President Donald Trump’s administration to pay the costs of reuniting immigrant parents with children separated from them by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border, rather than forcing the parents to pay…

“It doesn’t make any sense for any of the parents who have been separated to pay for anything,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who last month ordered that the children be reunited with their parents by July 26, said at a hearing in San Diego…

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the administration over the family separations, said at the hearing that immigrant parents had been told by immigration officials they had to pay for their travel. One parent was initially asked to pay $1,900 to be reunited with a child, according to ACLU court papers. Trump administration lawyer Sarah Fabian called the judge’s order on paying for the reunifications “a huge ask on HHS,” referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fabian said those decisions were handled at the field level, adding that HHS, which houses the detained children, had limited resources.

“The government will make it happen,” Sabraw responded.

So according to an administration lawyer, expecting the government to pay the costs of  cleaning up an inhumane mess of its own making is “a huge ask.” As Ed Brayton commented, first they kidnapped these children, and now they want to charge a ransom for them.

Words fail…..


Defining Chutzpah

Chutzpah is a yiddish term that roughly translates as “gall” or “nerve.” Borscht belt comedians have historically illustrated its meaning with the following example: a young man kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.

The young man in that story looks almost reasonable in comparison with AIG–or more accurately, in comparison with AIG’s former CEO, Maurice Greenberg. Greenberg may go down in history as the ultimate example of chutzpah. As Politico noted, in an introduction to their report,

Remember when AIG took a $182 billion bailout only to turn around and hand out seven-figure bonuses to the same guys who tanked their company? Grab the pitchforks — it gets better.

Politico was talking about the fact that AIG’s current board was meeting to consider whether the company should join a lawsuit brought by Greeenberg and former shareholders of the insurance giant. The suit centers on an allegation that the terms of the bailout that saved the company were unfairly onerous.

Think about that for a minute.

In fact, let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say your brother-in-law came to you with a problem; thanks to his own greed and all-too-clever business dealings, his company was on the verge of ruin. Assume he begged for your help–a loan to get him out of the dicey situation he had created. You wouldn’t have given him the loan, but you knew that if you allowed him to go under, other family members–most of whom were innocent of any participation in his folly–would lose money they’d invested in his business. Some would lose their life savings. Your nephews would have to drop out of college, your sister-in-law who had cancer would lose her health insurance…The consequences of his stupidity and venality would be horrible.

So you grudgingly agree. You tell him that you’ll lend him the money, but only on condition that he repay it with interest at an above-market rate and subject to other terms you hope will protect you and his company against further profligate behaviors. He eagerly agrees, since he knows no one else would lend him the money and the higher rate is justified by the greater risk involved. Deal.

Immediately after he gets the money, he takes his management team on an extravagant cruise. And then, when the business stabilizes, he sues you, alleging that the terms of your loan were unfair.

See what Politico meant by the pitchforks reference?

I don’t blame AIG’s current board for going through the motions of deciding whether to join this jaw-dropping lawsuit. They have an obligation to their shareholders to actively consider even bizarre claims, and they decided–quite prudently–against it. But the audacity of the Greenberg lawsuit–the staggering sense of entitlement it displays–is absolutely overwhelming.

It easily displaces other examples of chutzpah. In fact, it may be the most apt definition of the word yet encountered.

It makes me want to ask that famous question: have you no shame, sir?



The time-honored personification of “chutzpah”–a yiddish word usually translated as “nerve” or “gall”– is “a guy who kills his mother and father and throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.”

I have a better example: Brent Waltz.

Waltz, for those who’ve never heard of him, is the radical Right ideologue who defeated Senate legend Larry Borst in a Republican primary a couple of cycles ago. More recently, he has been in the news for non-ideological reasons: when a business venture he founded went belly-up, it turned out he had failed to make the legally-required payments into the State’s unemployment compensation fund. Whoops! Well, as he explained, these things happen–as a lawmaker, he’d been busy with other, more pressing matters, and well…those pesky legal requirements sort of escaped his notice. (Think he’d be equally nonchalant about Indiana citizens who fail to abide by the rules he is helping to pass at the General Assembly?)

According to a court filing in February, Waltz and his investment company received more than 145,000 from the failed enterprise, while as a result of his “inadvertence,” the workers who lost their jobs when the business closed were unable to collect either the pay they were owed or unemployment benefits.

Now, Waltz and (inexplicably) ISTA have teamed up to promote …wait for it…a new school program in fiscal literacy. I kid you not.

That’s chutzpah.


Wanting Indiana’s Cake After Eating It

I have a great idea. I’m going to sell my house, but demand that the State continue to give me my homeowner’s tax credit.  Think “our man Mitch” would approve?

I don’t either.

But how is that any different from his complaint about the distribution of federal highway funds?

Highway funds are allocated to the states on the basis of a formula that includes the miles of road the state must maintain. As I understand it, the feds are taking the eminently reasonable position that since Indiana contracted away its responsibility to maintain the Toll Road, the Toll Road mileage should be subtracted from the mileage used in the formula. That will cost the state some $40 million this year, and our governor is incensed at the unfairness of it all.

I think we can guess what his position would be if he were still budget director; he’d not only support the new calculation, he’d probably be demanding a refund for the years since the Toll Road was leased. (Apparently, the feds aren’t trying to penalize Indiana for their delay in adjusting the formula. He should be grateful for small favors!)

Indiana got a big windfall when we “leased” (essentially, sold) a state asset, just as I would get a big cash payout for my equity if I sold my house. When the Toll Road lease was negotiated, the state made a big deal of the fact that the vendor would be responsible for maintaining that asset. If I sold my house, I would also be relieved of the need to fix the roof, keep the plumbing in repair, cut the grass…all those expenses attendant to homeownership.

The only difference is, I would be ashamed to whine about losing a tax credit to which I would no longer be entitled.

Demanding federal highway funds to maintain a road someone else is legally obligated to maintain takes real chutzpah.


Have You No Shame, Sir?

I think what is most appalling about the crop of new “Tea Party” governors, is the absolute impunity with which they use their positions for personal, as well as political gain. In my tradition, we call this sort of behavior “chutzpah.” In English, I think the word is “criminal.”