Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Dollar, a Dream, and a Hedge Fund

Time for another episode in the continuing series known as The Audacity of Oligarchy.....

"You gotta be in it to win it!" goes the TV commercial urging people to run out and buy lottery tickets.  Another one gushes: "All You Need is a Dollar and a Dream!" 

And needy people listen to this stuff.  According to one study, the indigent spend a whopping nine percent of their incomes on lottery tickets -- in effect, making this form of gambling a perfect addition to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 regressive tax plan to soak the poor.

So it was a real bummer to read that three millionaire asset managers, hailing from one of the most exclusive and expensive enclaves in the country, have won the $254 million Powerball jackpot in Connecticut. They spent one lousy dollar - or a portion of their income the size of a subatomic particle -- on one measly ticket. There hasn't been this much outrage since millionaire Jim Sensenbrenner, congressman and heir to the Kimberly-Clark fortune, won the lottery for a third straight time.

Well, harrumph!  According to a Connecticut state lottery official, rich people can dream too, dammit!  Rich people are everyday people, just like us. And of course, we are much consoled that the lawyer for the trio says they plan to give a "substantial" portion of their after-tax, hundred million dollar-plus haul to charity. Presumably to a charity designed by the rich, for the rich -- to avoid further taxes. I know, I know -- I am probably being totally unfair. I promise to issue a retraction once they donate the whole shebang to Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross, or the free clinic movement, or food banks, or any worthy cause that doesn't take a substantial cut for its CEO.

One thing that really struck me about the coverage of this moment of oligarchic irony: the nouveau-nouveau riche asset managers just don't look all that happy in the photos. Maybe they feel bad about winning and snatching the food out of the mouth of the unemployed single mom in front of them in line that day, who'd just spent her last dollar on a ticket. (doubtful) Or, they are miffed that the government is taking a whole half of their haul in taxes (they're used to the effective 15-18% rate reserved for the .01%). Or, they are simply annoyed that they had to take time from their busy day of making money to pose in the traditional lottery photo-op.

Ho Hum.... Another Day, Another Quarter-Billion (AP Photo)

Update:  A fourth reason for their apparent discomfort: an acquaintance is telling the press that the bankers may not have actually bought the ticket after all, that they are just "fronting for the real winner." 

 Money does not buy happiness, people. (Actually, that's a lie. It really really really helps when you don't have much of it.)  But the uber-wealthy of the Forbes 400 are not joyful humans, for the most part. (I have absolutely no proof to back me up on this, but writing it makes me feel better.) They worry too much about how they can keep what they have, and fret about how they can get more.  The poster-child for unhappy billionaires has to be Walmart heiress Alice Walton:

Like the Greenwich Powerball Trio, this 62-year-old was also a wealth manager before her own $20 billion jackpot from Daddy Sam made her America's 10th richest person. She now spends her time spending her billions on art and charity to avoid taxes, as well as on lawyers to avoid prosecution. In April 1989, while speeding in her Porsche, she struck and killed a friend of hers. She was never charged, nor did she offer any compensation to the victim's family. Nine years later, she was arrested after hitting a gas meter. Her words to the arresting officer will go down in the annals of plutocratic chutzpah: "I'm Alice Walton, bitch!"

She pled guilty, though, and paid a paltry $925 fine: a speck of molecular dust in the infinity of the universe. Her most recent arrest came this past October. (mug shot above.) This time, she sent her regrets.  Mea minima culpa.

More from the Gallery of Peevish Plutocrats:


Anne Lavoie said...

I noticed on tv that the check was written out to 'The Putnam Avenue Family Trust'. Now we hear they are just the front group for the real winner who wants to remain anonymous. More tax dodging.

My bet is that the only charity that will receive this money is the very Putnam Avenue Family Trust that was formed as a receiving agent for their loot.

No wonder they're not smiling! You know how families are when it comes to money. It's probably become the Putnam Family Feud by now.

Valerie said...

Funny, my first reaction was that the lottery had been fixed - kind of like voting machines.

But Anne is right. This probably is just a way to avoid paying taxes. All big lottery winners say they will give to charity - wonder how many of them actually do.

And money doesn't buy happiness but a living wage does buy a person a level of financial security that is important. Constant worry about whether a person has money for food, rent, gas and the electric bill tend to put a damper on the simple joys of life. Working two jobs to make "ends meet" tend to do the same.

And, DreamsAmelia thanks for the suggestion about the 60 Minutes show on the homeless children in Florida. I wept as I watched it. I hope all the Republicans out there noted ALL the parents had been employed and lost their jobs. ALL those parents were seeing their kids went to school. The one that touched me the most was the little girl that was ashamed her family had to take food from a church foodbank. How sad is that!

THAT kind of poverty simply doesn't take place in other first world countries. America is no longer great - just mean and tired.

Neil said...

At the risk of sounding trite, this is another example that life is not fair. But is life itself a rigged game too, like the banking and corporate world? Below is a link to a story about Joan Ginther of Bishop, Texas, who made her fourth trip to lottery headquarters in Austin to collect a million dollar prize. A four-time million dollar lottery winner? How is that even possible?


DreamsAmelia said...

Yeah, Neil, life is not fair, but the unfairness is almost delicious when you can get a set of photos together like these, with the most petulant expressions.

Sardonicky carries on the fine tradition of satire, whose barbs alone rectify much injustice. We are such wimps compared to the cartoonists of the 1800s-early 20th c. --go look at them for free on the archives of the Lib. of Congress website, and you can see how tame our "political debate" is these days...

Anne Lavoie said...

Weren't public lotteries supposed to benefit education? In my home state of New Hampshire that's how it started, but I don't see it happening. Where does the money go other than to advertising, winners, stores that sell tickets?

Now that we see that the rich buy tickets, it makes you wonder if there isn't an inside game after all.

The jackpot are getting bigger, the rich are playing to win, and the public, including education, gets poorer. The stores that sell tickets are very happy with the cut of the winnings they get.

Sounds like another business scam pulled on the public. This form of tax doesn't even go to the public at all, it goes to the inside players.