Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (Yale ’85) had just finished complimenting Shake Shack for returning $10 million to the U.S. Treasury. It was money the deluxe fast-food hamburger and hot dog chain had snagged from the $380 billion Paycheck Protection Program, created to allow small businesses to continue paying their employees during the Corona Crisis.
With revenue last year of nearly $500 million from its 189 locations in the United States and abroad, Shake Shack doesn’t fit anyone’s definition of a small business. So, when it got caught with its hand in the cookie jar, so to speak, it quickly decided to give its 10 million cookies back to the Treasury rather than become the symbol of avarice and greed for a program that’s already gone badly awry.
Mnuchin had barely finished praising Shake Shake for having second thoughts about committing fraud when Our Leader (Wharton ’68) somehow free associated Shake Shack with that other outpost of fine dining, Harvard, accusing it of also having received corona money it shouldn’t have. “Harvard’s going to pay back the money,” too, he announced, reclaiming the spotlight at Tuesday’s briefing from the hapless Mnuchin.
That Harvard hadn’t asked for or received the $8 million Our Leader demanded it give back was, it seemed, neither here nor there. That the money in question wasn’t PPP money meant to help small businesses pay their employees wasn’t, apparently, here nor there, either.
What money Harvard was eligible to receive was its share, based on a formula set by Congress, of the $12.8 billion set aside in the CARES rescue legislation for some 4,000 colleges and universities across the country. The money was apportioned based on the number of students receiving federal loans and/or Pell grants each school had enrolled this semester.
Among other things, the money was to help scholarship students pay for the food and housing they haven’t received since March 15th, when most colleges and universities closed their dorms, dining halls and classrooms due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Harvard, like most Ivy League schools, has bent over backward to diversify its undergraduate student body, guaranteeing any student it accepts enough financial aid, in the form of scholarship money, loans and grants, to attend Harvard. The $8 million Harvard was supposed to automatically receive would have gone to scholarship students who needed the money.
While it’s true that Harvard’s $41 billion endowment is the largest of any university in the world, it’s also true that Harvard’s financial aid package is more generous than most because it uses income from its endowment for scholarships, which reduces the student loans Harvard undergrads are saddled with after they graduate.
Rather than try to explain these inconvenient facts to someone who isn’t interested in facts, Harvard bowed to the bully behind the pulpit, announcing Thursday it would not accept the $8 million its students were entitled to.
The Bully must have been pleased because its the first victory he’s won in quite a long time. But it’s a victory he may come to regret because, let’s call it the Harvard Rule, has implications for him and lots of his friends as well.
If I understand the logic behind equating what Shake Shack did and what he then demanded Harvard do, it was that wealthy institutions and, by extension, wealthy individuals and profitable corporations affected by the economic meltdown, shouldn’t accept CARES assistance they might otherwise be entitled to because they’re rich.
If I’m not mistaken, arbitrarily discriminating against the rich because they’re rich is called populism or sometimes, even, socialism.
So, if what’s good for the geese is good for the gander, the Harvard Rule ought to apply to companies like the Trump Organization and its owner, who claims to be a multi-billionaire.
Oh, dear! (keep reading)
According to The New York Times, Eric Trump has asked the GAO whether, due to the present unpleasantness, it plans to reduce the rents on government-owned buildings it leases to the private sector.
His query was in reference to the estimated $220,000 a month the Trump Organization pays in rent each month for the government-owned Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, now the Trump International. Eric issued a statement, after The Times found out about his letter to the GAO, saying, “We just want to be treated like everyone else.”
Of course, he does. And, so does Dad, I’m sure. And we can all be sure the folks over at GAO haven’t interpreted Eric’s letter as a veiled hint that Dad expects a rent reduction on the Old Post Office property, or else.
Thing is, according to the new Harvard Rule, rich institutions and billionaires whose companies have been hurt by the corona meltdown, shouldn’t receive assistance or special consideration because they’re rich.
It seems unlikely Our Leader will apply the Harvard Rule to himself. But still, could it be a signal that he’s thinking about running on a soak-the-rich Populist platform in the Fall?
It’s actually not a bad idea, given how apparent the inequality has become during the Corona Crisis. But would any of his followers believe his populist promises, second-time-around?
Will many of them even still be around?
WHITE HOUSE QUACKERY
According to The Times, health department hotlines across the country were deluged with calls Thursday after Our Stable Genius suggested injecting bleach or Lysol into our bodies might be a cure for COVID-19.
No one in their right mind, which according to the polls includes about 55 percent of Americans, would believe a word the President of the United States says, whether it’s his medical advice; his estimate of the number of people who came to his Inauguration; the help he received, and expects to receive, from Russia; the reasons he withheld the arms delivery to Ukraine; or anything else, really.
But there are those who do. And since it’s still a free country, they have a right to believe what their Leader tells them.
Why should we try to dissuade them? The next time he comes up with a cure-all for the coronavirus, let his Base try it and see for themselves.
Surely, there will be fewer of them if they do.
Which will help defeat Our Leader in November.
Because those who inject themselves with bleach or whatever other quackery he recommends, will not be able to vote even by absentee ballot.
They’ll be absent, alright.
They’ll also be dead.