It’s Time to Sharpen the Pitchfork Tines
The Walt Disney Corporation just raised the price of a day pass to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando to $105. This increase was made while one-half of our population is in poverty, and two-thirds of our families do not have savings enough to cover a $500 repair bill or a $1,000 emergency room charge. Over half do not have a month’s income on hand, and their retirement funds represent about four months of income.
In the last six years the median wealth has dropped 40 percent, leaving the poorest half with negative wealth. Food costs have doubled in 35 years. College tuition is 11 times higher. In 2000-2010 the costs of raising a child went up 40 percent. Half of black children under 6 live in poverty. Over half of public school students qualify for poverty-level lunch subsidies. Since 2008 there has been a 70 percent increase in children on food stamps. A middle-class citizen can’t even afford to watch his Supreme Court in action anymore. With only 200 seats available in the Court, the rich and big corporations are now paying people thousands of dollars per day to stand in line for seats so their lawyers can be present for Court hearings. Democracy in action??
An anonymous poet in the Adbusters magazine summarized beautifully what has been happening in the United States for over a decade:
“I don’t see democracy working./ I don’t see capitalism working./ I don’t see our culture working./ I see the infighting and culture wars./ I see continual fights on social issues./ I see no hope for the unemployed./ I see no hope for the middle class./ I see pedophiles and drug addicts./ I see car bombings and terrorist attacks./ I see spree killings./ I see reality TV eating our souls./ I see friends and families giving up./ Giving up on their dreams./ Not remembering when they had any./ I feel like I’m in a movie./ Yesterday after work I lay in the dark./ I thought about my family./ I thought about all the illnesses we have./ I thought about the dreams of our children./ I thought about the world they will inherit./ I thought about the cost of their educations./ I thought about the toxins in the water./ I thought about the crime on the streets./ I watched a show about the drug trade./ I thought about America’s addictions./ I thought about America’s depression and anxiety.”
A German manufacturer is exporting gold-embossed toilet paper to the U.S. for the buffed pleasure of the One Percent. Real gold. The sale of “luxury” toilet paper has grown 70 percent since 2000. That’s the quilted, perfumed, four-ply stuff with lotion. The luxury market is now one-fourth of the standard toilet paper market. Economists predict the luxury toilet paper market will grow 9 percent over the next five years. Cottonelle advertises its Clean Ripple design. Use your imagination. Kimberly-Clark advertises its “high end” lavender-scented blend (no pun intended) that cleans so well users will start going “commando.” I think that means “without underwear,” but what do I know?
Oprah magazine editors recently reviewed a book they said was about the future called “On Such A Full Sea.” It’s about the rich and their serfs who live in counties racked with enslavement and crime. Huge SUVs speed on highways covered in potholes, driving the rich to beautiful gymnasiums. The rich participate in health care auctions that go to the highest bidder. The editors should look around. That’s happening today.
In the past 35 years, we have created $30 trillion in new wealth while putting 6 million more children on food stamps. Before the recession in 2007, 12 out of 100 kids were on food stamps. After the recession in 2014, 20 out of every 100 were on food stamps. While 115,000 households were increasing their wealth by $10 million a year we had an average of 1.1 million homeless kids.
While corporations such as WalMart and many other retail and fast-food franchises were making billions, each household in the U.S. paid over $400 in taxes to help feed, clothe and provide health care through government programs for their salaried employees. WalMart recently announced a $1 raise for those employees. WalMart made $25 billion in profits last year. That big raise of $1 will cost them $1 billion. The Best Congress Money Can Buy recently cut the food stamp program by $8.6 billion over 10 years.
The largest farm operators, most of them corporations, will get $14 billion in subsidies during that time. And the mainstream media glows about the booming stock market and declining unemployment. It doesn’t mention the stock market is just the rich exchanging millions because only the top 10 percent are really investing in it. The new jobs? Not enough pay to keep one person alive, let alone a family.
Stores that were anchors of thousands of malls across the country are closing. Some are in bankruptcy. Middle class shoppers know these stores well: Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears-K Mart, Radio Shack to name just a few. The profitability per square foot in regional malls has been declining for years.
In the last four years regional mall net incomes have gone down over 12 percent. That’s real money circling down the drain. We still have stupid economists who can’t figure out why businesses that cater to the middle class are failing. It’s a serious circulatory disease called extremolackomoney. Tiffanys, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and other luxury stores are doing well, up 8 percent this year. But they cater to the rich. Some economists thought the besieged middle-class would go out and blow the money saved by decreasing gas and fuel costs. Instead families paid off debts and bought necessities.
According to a pre-Inca god named Pachacamac, the social and economic classes came about because of three eggs. Their creation goes as follows: at the beginning during times of great hunger, the first woman was attempting to cultivate the earth when the sun’s rays penetrated her from behind, causing a baby to be born. Pachacamac was displeased with the sun, so he tore the baby to pieces. From those remains sprouted the first plants. The baby’s teeth became grains of corn, bones became yucca, flesh became potatoes, yams and squash. These plants made the sun very angry, so he blasted Peru and left it very dry. For revenge he cracked three eggs on the soil. From a golden egg were born lords. From a silver egg were born ladies of the lords. From a copper egg were born all of the workers who served the lords and ladies. This is a metaphor for our times.
The world now has over 1,400 billionaires. The U.S. dominates with 536, emerging China has 213, a very productive Germany has 103, while India has 90. By the way, one of the Indian billionaires has built himself a 34-story, 570-foot tall, 800,000-square foot “home” in the middle of Mumbai staffed by over 600 servants. Designed by a Chicago architect to withstand an 8-Richter scale earthquake, it has 21 elevators, three helicopter landing pads and is valued at $2 billion. Mumbai is home to some of Asia’s worst slums while India has 42 percent of the world’s underweight children younger than 5. The home with both ocean and slum views is owned by Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Limited. Evidently he has few limitations.
But our Christian and Jewish billionaires are doing all right, even if no one has built a $2 billion home — yet. We have 15 of the world’s top 20 billionaires. Bill Gates of Microsoft is on top with $79.2 billion, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway is third with $72.7 billion and Larry Ellison of Oracle is fifth at $54.3 billion. The four sons and daughters of WalMart’s Sam Walton occupy four spots in the world’s top 20 with a total of $160.8 billion.
The 15 Americans are worth a total of $646.8 billion, which happens to be very close to the entire Defense Department budget. But the money keeps rolling in to the One Percent. They don’t seem to pay much attention to Biblical and Talmud strictures about the rich and the poor (Something about needles, camels and the poor?). We have created 1.6 new millionaires in just the last year and a half. Last year personal luxury spending increased a steady 8 percent to $73 billion. New York City billionaires spent $25.5 billion last year on luxury goods, more than the entire country of Japan.
Economists at Morgan Stanley Bank said the growth in luxury spending may not be sustainable. They said, “How many personal aircraft can one buy?” I don’t know, but with the competitive attitude of our billionaires to have the best and biggest, I’m sure someone will try to find out. Thrifty billionaire J. Paul Getty of Getty Oil got tired of his guests in his London home using his telephones, so he installed a pay phone in the home’s foyer. That is real greed.
The old Chinese guy was right, and American Henry David Thoreau supported his position about wealth: “America is the slave of an economical and moral tyrant called Mammon.”
Thoreau thought most Americans wanted more luxuries and comforts and were never content with less. He thought we did not understand how much of our lives were dedicated to earning luxuries (My neighbor has a 200-foot yacht. I’m going to order a 250-foot one). Such an attitude turns many into money machines. He added, “Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. Don’t wait for politicians to attain enlightenment before we begin our journey toward simplicity, for it will be a long time before they wake up.” End of sermon.
How do we get the attention of those who have garnered enough wealth to pervert our democracy by buying the loyalty of politicians? Who have perverted many aspects of our culture by paying sports stars millions of dollars to hit homeruns, score baskets and put little white balls into holes in the ground? Who have no idea how the poor live on the other side of the tracks? Who made it possible for Wall Street to pay 2014 bonuses to their employees that equal three times America’s median income? Who made it possible to stash $2.1 trillion on little islands overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes? Who made it possible for rich school districts to get more local funding than poor school districts? Who made it possible for only 10 percent of the children born to college grads to grow up in single-parent households? Who made it possible for Jon Stewart to become the most trusted news anchor in America?
My French ancestors back in 1789 got the attention of the “let them eat cake” crowd during a period of great inequality by jabbing sharp pitchforks into fat behinds while leading wealthy aristocrats to the national razor, the guillotine. Heavens to Betsy, I would never recommend such violence. Trying to scare them into spending all their money on security would be satisfying, but …
But I would recommend national strikes by groups of workers making less than $15 per hour. Corporations can’t fire everybody. In all my years I have gained the idea there are only two ways to keep the wealthy from their money. One way is to deprive them of their servants or we can put them in jail for violating immigration laws because all American billionaires have hired illegals to do their dirty and essential work — at slave wages.
But no U.S. employer has ever gone to jail for such a violation. But what would happen if on Monday all hotel and motel workers making less than $15 an hour didn’t show up for work for the day? How about all retail workers on Tuesday? How about all fast-food workers on Wednesday? How about all public service workers on Thursday, and so on? Such national strikes might get the attention of the rich and the government that supports them.
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