Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wassailing the Wealthy (Redux)

Despite all the toil and strife, dare I hope that there is renewed cause for optimism as 2015 grinds to a close? His name is Bernie Sanders, and he is the first presidential candidate since FDR to burst upon the scene and welcome Wall Street's hatred with open arms. His op-ed demanding financial reform in today's New York Times should have the plutes wailing all the way to the slopes of Aspen, drowning out the polluting noise of their own private Lear Jets.

In the spirit of the (hopefully) coming socialist revolution, here's an expanded and updated version of my Christmas post from last year:

The Christmas season is traditionally the one time of year that we're permitted, even encouraged, to burst forth from our hovels to guilt-trip the rich while spreading joy and fellowship throughout the land.

Key word: traditionally. Because according to government studies, the charity coffers are dwindling and fewer of us are reaching out to our fellow human beings in these hard times. In sixteen out of the twenty categories measured in 2013, the levels of social engagement by Americans have plummeted. People were either too busy working multiple minimum wage jobs, or they were too depressed about their worklessness to feel able to extend themselves. Volunteerism, as well as average household wealth, has dropped precipitously since the Great Meltdown of '08. An estimated two million fewer Americans volunteered last year than they did in 2012.

Besides the actual cost of volunteering (say, reliable transportation) are the increasingly erratic work schedules foisted upon the Precariat by the owner class during this New Abnormal Era. People working insecure crazy hours at Walmart or McDonalds, for example, are less likely to commit to helping and socializing because they never know, from one week to the next, what hours they'll be assigned to work. Increasingly, people no longer feel like they own their own time.

Here's a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that the volunteerism rate dropped precipitously during the misbegotten reign of Bush the Younger, recovered somewhat at the onset of Barack Obama's second term, and is now sliding once again:

 According to the BLS, volunteerism is now at its lowest point since the agency started keeping statistics in 2002. The rate of "highly educated" volunteers is decreasing more than in any other demographic group.

A survey by Gallup reveals that while charitable giving increased worldwide last year, it fell in the United States, now the wealth disparity capital of the advanced world. The proportion of Americans who reported making a charitable donation decreased from 68% to 63% Nonetheless, the US is still far more generous than most: 
Despite its 12th place rank in giving, the United States retained the index’s designation as the most generous country in the developed world, with relatively high marks in helping strangers (third place) and volunteerism (sixth place).
Worldwide, the United States stood second overall behind Myanmar, where, the report says, the traditions of the overwhelmingly predominant Theravada branch of Buddhism lead to high rates of giving and volunteerism. More than 92 percent of Myanmar survey respondents reported donating money.
 But wait. The professional philanthropy/donor class is becoming ever more selective in its own generosity. The extremely rich are wont to "invest" in places rather than in causes and people, and insist that their charity be tax-deductible. They tend to give to the arts, to medical research (the rich get sick, too) and elite institutions of higher learning. They give to politicians via secretive "charity" slush funds. They give to each other's money-laundering family foundations. They set up charitable LLCs to protect their untaxed wealth. Living, breathing human beings who are not part of one's dynasty are not tax deductible  -- they are, however, eminently disposable. Charities such as the Salvation Army and United Way, that give aid more or less directly to the poor, are really hurting this year.

Charles Dickens had a description for the narrow-minded charity of the elites. He called it  "telescopic philanthropy."

In Bleak House, his satiric masterpiece on social class and greed and the evil that men do, one of the most memorable minor characters is Mrs. Jellyby. In her ostentatious zeal to concern-troll the denizens of a far-away African backwater, she neglects her own home and children. Mrs. Jellyby is the Victorian fictional counterpart of such modern-day philanthrocapitalists as Bill Gates and the Clinton Family, who set their sights on largely foreign, arcane initiatives while the wealth disparity and poverty and misery in their own country are allowed to continue as their own rich selves only grow richer in the process.

Dickens's trenchant definition of this kind of self-serving charity is "rapacious benevolence."

"There were two classes of charitable people," he wrote, "the people who did a little and who made a great deal of noise; the other, who did a great deal and made no noise at all."

Mrs. Pardiggle, another obnoxious character in Bleak House, sounds eerily like the presidential candidate who never tires of boasting how tirelessly she works for "the struggling, the striving, and the successful." 
 "I do not understand what it is to be tired; you cannot tire me if you try!" said Mrs. Pardiggle. "The quantity of exertion (which is no exertion to me), the amount of business (which I regard as nothing), that I go through sometimes astonishes myself. I have seen my young family, and Mr. Pardiggle, quite worn out with witnessing it, when I may truly say I have been as fresh as a lark!"
And her staged visits with ordinary folk -- "great shows of moral determination and talking with much volubility" -- are at carefully vetted, focus-grouped events, with the poor people acting as mere props.
"Well, my friends," said Mrs. Pardiggle, but her voice had not a friendly sound, I thought; it was much too business-like and systematic. "How do you do, all of you? I am here again. I told you, you couldn't tire me, you know. I am fond of hard work, and am true to my word."
As Hillary Clinton also said, "It's not easy, it's not easy. And I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do." And, "everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion." 

According to her official (auto) biography on the White House website, Hillary Clinton has "worked tirelessly on behalf of children and families" from the time she was a child herself. Her work ethic and stamina are the stuff of legend. Even after falling and breaking her elbow while Secretary of State, she returned to working tirelessly almost immediately. Anybody who doesn't realize that she never spares herself from her grueling schedule just hasn't been paying attention for the past 30 years. She must astonish even herself as she temporarily divests herself from her family's charitable foundation and travels the country, making a Great Noise about how much she cares.  

But enough about everyday Americans. What about those everyday benevolent raptors, aka the philanthrocapitalists? What are they up to this season of Yule for the wealthy, gruel for the rest of us?

Says former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, "The favored charities of the wealthy are gaining in share of the philanthropic economy. The total amount of the money given away by the very wealthy is going up, not because they're giving away a greater share of their income, but because their total wealth itself has grown."

The wealthy are great hiders and hoarders of their record wealth. As well they should be, given that the 80 richest people on earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world's population combined.

And that brings us to the lost tradition of wassailing: directly accosting and assailing the uber-rich, Bernie Sanders-style, for a share of the pie that they stole right from off our collective windowsill in the dead of night. The modern substitute of representative democracy, in which the politicians we elect to represent us are supposed to tax the rich in order to even the playing field is yet one more tradition now relegated to the scrap heap of the public good.

The custom of orphans and beggars going door to door and serenading the ruling class right where they live dates at least as far back as the third century. The landowners and nobility would  briefly open their homes to provide a little warmth, food, and mystery liquid from the Wassail Bowl. The wassail songs themselves were but gentle, good-natured reminders to the rich that 'tis the season for noblesse-obliging.

During times of plague and famine, however, the wassailing tradition would often devolve into armed home invasions, leading to the siege mentality so common among our sensitive ruling elites today. Not that wassailing ever really caught on in Exceptional America anyway, founded as it was on a shiny, right-leaning hill. As a matter of fact, the Pilgrims actually banned the whole celebration of Christmas! Those Puritans we honor at Thanksgiving were the original Bah-Humbugs.

Let's face it: fast forward, almost 400 years, and anybody daring to go on a Wassail Jaunt through the Blackwater-guarded gated communities of the Forbes 400 is really taking his life in his hands.

In early 19th century New York City, the rich and the prominent were very upset when the rabble rabbled during Yule. Gunfire, bread riots, lots of sex and drunkenness and vice sent the privileged behind locked doors, where they've remained ever since. The evolution of Christmas in income-disparate America into insular closed-door gatherings was a direct result of elite paranoia.

New York City Christmas Riot, 1806
In the mid-19th century, just as unfettered capitalism and the Industrial Revolution were gearing up with a vengeance, an Englishman named William Henry Husk departed from the bland God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen feel-goodism and repurposed the traditional Wassail carol to fit those particular hard times. He might have titled it "Soaking the Rich at Christmas." It was during this same magical era that Karl Marx was stirring things up with his revelations of the capitalist war on labor, and when Charles Dickens was sticking it to the greedy rich in his popular novels. The Scrooge-like forbears of the oligarchs of Kochtopia and Walmartistan were just as annoying then as they are now.

Here's what greeted Ebenezer Robber Baron back in the day:

We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door.
But we are neighbours' children
Whom you have seen before.

Jo the street sweeper from Bleak House (Mervyn Peake)
  Tell that to Congress and the plutocrats who own the government. Our rulers have once again evoked the Ayn Rand Who Stole Christmas in order to fill the begging bowls of the too-rich by draining those of the less fortunate. The coal in recent stockings consisted of food stamp cuts and ending long-term unemployment insurance. The latest lumps for the Lumpen are pension cuts and transforming what's left of our savings into gambling chips for Wall Street casinos.

As Bill Moyers wrote in his eloquent Christmas essay
The $1.15 trillion spending bill passed by Congress last Friday and quickly signed by President Obama is just the latest triumph in the plutocratic management of politics that has accelerated since 9/11. As Michael Winship and I described here last Thursday, the bill is a bonanza for the donor class – that powerful combine of corporate executives and superrich individuals whose money drives our electoral process. Within minutes of its passage, congressional leaders of both parties and the president rushed to the television cameras to praise each other for a bipartisan bill that they claimed signaled the end of dysfunction; proof that Washington can work. Mainstream media (including public television and radio), especially the networks and cable channels owned and operated by the conglomerates, didn’t stop to ask: “Yes, but work for whom?” Instead, the anchors acted as amplifiers for official spin — repeating the mantra-of-the-hour that while this is not “a perfect bill,” it does a lot of good things. “But for whom? At what price?” went unasked.
We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.

We asked Santa for a tax on high speed trades. This relatively modest surcharge and some relatively modest affordable tax increases on the richest .01% would fund health care, highway improvements and public education. Helping those less fortunate -- now commonly known as the refugees from the middle class -- would help the rich, too. A rising tide lifts all yachts. It's time for some trickle-up. Hell, it's time for a geyser. We ordinary people have been stretched and bled dry enough.

So let's get on with the sarcasm, shall we?

Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth
Bring us out a mouldy cheese
And some of your Christmas loaf.

It's not prime rib we want, but it would be nice if a few banksters went to jail for that subprime mortgage fraud. Just a slab of tainted cheese and some of that rock-hard fruitcake from last year to keep a little flesh on our ribs. A living wage of at least $15 to start would be nice, too. That thin Yule Gruel of platitudes and bootstrap-boosting Randian rhetoric just doesn't do it for us any more.

And while we're waiting for the inevitable revolution, here's one last rich-shaming stanza to tide you over:

Good master and good mistress
While you're sitting by the fire
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.

Needless to say, this mildly socialistic version of the Wassail Song is probably not being piped through to plutocratic office parties. The various recorded versions still around are heavily bowdlerized. The mouldy cheese is transformed into "tasty" cheese in one rendition. In other version, the money for our purses is reduced to "a few coins." Nor is it likely to be heard on the automated loops of easy listening holiday tunes coming from a corporatized FM radio station studio devoid of any actual human wage-earning DJ. The Christmas music will be cut off precisely at the stroke of midnight on December 26th. That's when the annual mad stampede for the post-holiday sales and binge of gift returns will get underway.

This is not to say that actual Christmas caroling is not still around. You just have to know where to look for it. And look no further than the great American cultural center-cum-New Abnormal town square: the shopping mall. (or Galleria, if you prefer to be elite.) The voices are singing and the bells are ringing to get shoppers in the mood to spend and consume till they drop.

You can even find a modern version of the Wassail Bowl. It's over at the food court, and it's called a self-serve soda machine. And it'll cost you.

Cheers and happy holidays to Sardonickists everywhere!

P.S. And on a lighter note... If Bernie Sanders of Brooklyn ever goes wassailing, it'll probably sound something like this: 


annenigma said...

In my neck of the woods, there's a yearly Christmastime competition to see which of the 6 cities/towns in the valley collects the most money in Salvation Army kettles on 'Ring Day'. Town officials take turns manning the kettles at designated sites.

It should come as no surprise that the results were in inverse relation to the wealth of the city. The poorest town, my own, won for the 7th year in a row. The next poorest came in second, and on down/up the line. The two resort cities of millionaires/billionaires came in last as they always do.

As Karen noted, they only donate when they can take it as a tax deduction - (a)pathetic bunch.

annenigma said...

Sorry, I forgot that the wealthy don't live here in the winter, so they're not around to donate. My mistake. But they also generally lack commitment, attachment, and community spirit because they're seasonal. So never mind - they're exceptional.

Happy Festivus...for the rest of us! (Dec 23rd)

Pearl said...

Annenigma: Excellent suggestion in your comment in the last article by Karen, regarding getting Hillary into the Supreme Court (but will she vote for or against Citizens United?). But then we have to get Bernie into office and with a small miracle in the NYTimes which I wrote about also after the last column, it makes the possibility stakes higher now.
I see it made your day also, Karen.

Regarding the decline of charity giving the main problem with average people is the financial situation so many face. Add questions about some of the honesty of many charities and my beef that charities needing money for medical organizations should be something that is covered by the government health care organizations via progressive taxation, turns me off as well.
Karen I think something was left out in your last line about what Bernie's wassailing might sound like. (a blank?)

Pearl said...

Karen: found your wassailing video, winter wonderland. when pressing original post when reading the comments, the video is blank. glad to find it on the original column.

Ken Wallace said...

Priceless. Enough to bring a tear to one's eye. My rich conservative cronies are all about charity, provided THEY decide who is worthy. Merry Christmas all.

annenigma said...

Criminals are not supposed to profit from their crimes, right? Yet banksters and other casino capitalists did just that. President Obama, per campaign 'donation' reciprocity, gave them a pre-pardon without even a formal investigation of their crimes. In effect, he drove the getaway car after their heist. If we're to believe the Justice Dept. claim that the cases were too complex to sort out in order to win convictions, there WAS/IS an easy remedy to put the onus on them to prove their innocence - Civil Asset Forfeiture!

Under this Federal law and its state and local versions, law enforcement can seize assets (cash preferred) of anyone suspected of being involved in illegal activity. No charges. No trial. No conviction. Sound familiar? Indefinite Detention of persons for national security reasons is its kissing cousin in the same crime family.

Anyway, all those Wall St. banksters could have had their assets seized and kept by the government until THEY could prove they weren't involved in illegal activity if they wanted to get it returned. Just take their money, mansions, Lamborghinis, yachts, jewels, securities, etc. and let them pay THEIR lawyers to sort it out and prove their innocence. Impossible! The Justice Dept didn't need to work up a sweat preparing a case at all, they just needed to turn the tables on them like they do to average citizens.

Unbelievably, the government(s) pulls off this institutionalized, legalized theft from average Americans every day. It's even rigged so that if the locals/state law enforcement decides to seize cash under their local similar laws, they only get to keep 60& of it, but if they steal it for the Feds, they get to keep something like 80% and the Feds get their 20%. Think of it as incentivized profit sharing. Talk about partners-in-crime!

This is how the local and state police have been funding their budgets instead of asking for more money and having to reveal their slush fund and how they use it. That money is kept off the books and is used to secretly purchase Stingrays, drones, and other spyware that they don't reveal to the defense lawyers or courts.

I'm not buying letting them off the hook so easily with just paying back the government for TARP funds, or even with just tax increases. We taxpayers need to be made whole on a more personal level from the trillions in criminal proceeds that Wall St. crooks got to keep and use to create even more wealth for themselves. We're talking trillions. That's enough to pay for free tuition, free health care, total infrastructure renewal including FREE broadband internet for all so we can use it to track what our government is doing, unfiltered and uncensored by their corporate partners-in-crime such as tv and newspapers. That's what I call proper payback.

Those who engage in organized crime and profit from the proceeds of their crimes with the collusion of government should also be investigated and charged under RICO - Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law. The whole damned system is corrupt and crooked, rigged from top to bottom to steal from the poor to give to the rich. We can't clean this mess up unless someone gets serious. Where is our Robin Hood?

We need Bernie to light this fire and we'll stoke it good. He should start speaking out about the crimes that went unpunished and the victims (us!) who did not receive proper restitution for damages, including pain&suffering, to our lives and livelihoods. Bernie needs to put together a big team of young lawyers, like Nader's Raiders, to clean out disinfect the whole Establishment.

If these laws can't do the trick, then Bernie's Brigade of young lawyers can craft some new ones up that can. Yes We Can!

(My name is Bernie Sanders, and I approve this message ;-)

Pearl said...

Bernie Sanders Criticizes Hillary Clinton on Health Care and Campaign Finance via @NYTPolitics

Pearl said...

I entered the above comment because I saw this item on Bernie's website and had a difficult time tracking it down in the Times. It was in the First Draft section which covers presidential activities. Wonder if others will miss it. Finally another report but difficult to locate and no comments allowed.

Pearl said...

Great suggestions Annenigma: but we need a Bernie Sanders to get the power to make those changes.

I wonder if this latest comment picked up by the Times (was he asked to write it for them or just reporting his statements?) may have had it put where it was hard to find in deference to any embarrassment to Krugman who always defends Obamacare, might occur.

annenigma said...

Here's a very good takedown of 'corporate criminal' and 'warmonger' Hillary Clinton by Ralph Nader in a 25-minute interview with Abby Martin. He also comments about Bernie giving away his bargaining chips and what supporters should do if he loses the nomination.

It's got me thinking. If Bernie loses to Hillary this Spring, wouldn't that mean that he'd turnover his leftover million$ in donor contributions and his donor list to Hillary? I can't imagine he wouldn't.

The combination of his pledge to endorse her, not run against her on 3rd party ticket, not go negative on her, and not resign from the Senate to run for President all add up to one thing: Bernie Sanders hedges his bets. He's not 'All In' in his run for the Presidency.

Pearl said...

The Sanders campaign is taking its fight with the DNC to the next level
200738611.html?soc_src=social-sh&soc_trk=tw via @YahooPolitics

This article involves more information about the background of the man who was fired by Bernie's website for examining Hillary's information which indicates connections to the DNC and others which sounds suspicious.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Happy Boxing Day, Eh!

Annenigma, that was a great link to the Nader interview. Ralph tells us what Bernie must do––soon!––to make us believe he is not Hillary's sheepdog.

If, however, Bernie is in fact a sheepdog who sheepdogs for the DNC in order to preserve his Senate committee status within Democratic ranks, the left-over money millions of Americans have sent Bernie for his campaign (on the off chance he fails to win the nomination) will be forwarded to Hillary's national campaign coffer. Seems like the loser's unused campaign money often follows the towel that gets tossed into the ring.

From another perspective, however, this would be a clever way to contribute to Hillary as the lesser evil without actually having to admit you contributed to Hillary. Such deniability might come in handy during her tenure in the White House.

At the end of the above-mentioned interview, a multi-window display pops up with related videos. I recommend the interview of Nader on the public TV channel in Ontario called TVO––14 ½ minutes about Canada with plenty of invidious comparisons to its neighbor to the south.

annenigma said...

Here's my latest blast in the NYT with regard to political dark money:

RICO - The Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations act. That law is the mechanism by which we can restore our Democracy, taking it back from the corporate-government cabal we have now.

Campaign casheteering is just one filthy finger of one money grubbing hand of a system of corruption masquerading as a democracy where citizens are no longer are represented. The corporate-government revolving door is helping spin out the cash and representing only it's own interests. It's an entire body of corruption, nicely dressed in suits and flag pinned and medaled chests. The war profiteering Military-Industrial-Surveillance complex are it's arms to force its will.

The insidious destruction of democracy must be stopped dead in it's tracks by the application of RICO laws - IF ONLY we could find someone in the Justice Dept who loved their COUNTRY more than power and money. Criminals must not be allowed to profit from their crimes, period, but Wall St. is still holding onto their ill-gained heist, thanks to their partners-in-crime in the corporate-government.

Stealing a Democracy from the rightful owners, the sovereign citizens, is unforgivable. The powerful do not give up power willingly though. It must be pried out of their money-grubbing hands with handcuffs and steel bars.

That's far better than the alternative. Someone in power needs to read the handwriting on the wall. It's called the Declaration of Independence.

Pearl said...

Re: the editorial on dark money in the NYtimes: If Krugman was doing his job the editorial board would not have to spell out the facts to the public. I am amazed that this was printed and sense more than the reader's disenchantment with NYTImes policies being effective but some kind of personnel changes behind the curtains in the paper may have occurred.
The comments are right on with those writing well educated in the facts. Therein lies the problem of how to get such information into the heads of the voting public as mentioned by many disenchanted readers.

Obviously the obscene behavior of the Republicans have galvanized many people but where to go from here. Also I am glad they criticized Obama for dithering (it should have been even stronger) which Krugman fails to do.

And then, the connection to Hillary which becomes more and more obvious when the money for her campaign is revealed in detail and will that help? Will she respond?

I wonder how Bernie will react and whether he will be quoted anywhere.

And all this for Christmas day which timing by the Editorial Board is of interest.
It has not made my day but although aware of the basics spelled out in detail I find it discomforting and hope it makes more people feel that way.

Karen: would love your reaction to the article.

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