Thursday, July 28, 2011

Marie Antoinette Moments

Here are some bits from a series of vignettes of how out-of-touch the ultra-rich are from mainstream Americans. This needs to keep being hammered home until ordinary Americans catch on to how the last 40 years have been a Rip Van Winkle era where the bottom 90% slept while the top 1% went on a binge of greed and theft that is nearly incomprehensible...

From an slideshow article on Salon magazine by David Sirota:
As the economy for most regular people continued to sputter toward the end of the Bush years, and as Wall Street was gearing up to administer its mortgage-meltdown pile driver on unsuspecting Americans, multimillion-dollar parties became all the rage.

The most famous of these was the $5 million birthday bash for the Darth Vader of private equity, Stephen Schwarzman. (This orgy of ostentation was made even more disgusting by New York Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin and his "In Defense of Schwarzman" apologia that is, in retrospect, a perfect example of how an entire Let Them Eat Cake propaganda system replaced serious financial journalism.)

But before Schwarzman could be held up as an anomaly, he was soon topped by a $20 million celebrity-studded hotel party right in the heart of the desperately poor Middle East. Held just weeks after the global economic meltdown commenced, the bash included "a fireworks show that organizers said was visible from outer space," according to the New York Daily News.


There have been many individual instances of shocking elitism that somehow portray the rich as oppressed. Until last year, my personal favorite was the one where a top Wall Street fundraiser for President Obama complained that "the investment community feels very put-upon" and that bankers "feel there is no reason why they shouldn't earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don't want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown" that they created.

...when September 2010 rolled around ... the nation was formally introduced to hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci, who used a nationally televised presidential town hall meeting to declare himself the man that "represent[s] the Wall Street community."

Lecturing President Obama -- a president who had helped pass the multitrillion-dollar Wall Street bailouts, refused to prosecute Wall Street wrongdoers, and almost singlehandedly halted U.S. House-passed legislation cracking down on excessive bonuses at bailed-out banks -- Scaramucci declared that though Wall Street pay was at that very moment continuing to break records, Wall Streeters nonetheless feel "like a piñata."

"Maybe you don't feel like you're beating us with a stick, but we certainly feel like we've been whacked with a stick," he said. "When are we going to stop whacking Wall Street like a piñata?"

Not only did Scaramucci somehow manage to mix an aw-shucks aggrieved-regular-guy shtick with a self-important declaration that he "represents the Wall Street community"; not only was he speaking as a member of a hedge fund industry whose 25 top execs made $1 billion each during a recession year that saw middle-class wages continue to flatline; and not only did he find a particularly colorful victim metaphor about piñatas while simultaneously failing to mention the bailouts -- he pulled it all off in the context of a nationally televised White House event, deliberately seizing the media attention as an opportunity to tell the world to eat cake. Wonder what kind of bonus he earned for that.


As Mother Jones has reported, the average American family in the bottom 90 percent of income earners makes just $31,244 a year -- and, to reiterate, that's the average, meaning many make far less. Similarly, the median net worth of American families is a mere $120,000 -- and remember, "net worth" means the sum value of all of a family's assets liquid or otherwise, from income to home to car to furniture to the kids' dirty undies.


The Washington Post's article headlined "Squeaking By on $300,000" was absurd enough, but a Sunday Styles piece in the New York Times took that cheeky, gee-whiz journalism a step further. Daring readers to attempt the supposed hardships of affluence, the piece was titled "You Try to Live on 500K in This Town." (The story naturally fails to mention that the city's median household income is about $38,000 a year, meaning that most New Yorkers take the headline's challenge on a yearly basis.) Instead, it reported on a proposal to limit bailed-out bank salaries to a half million dollars a year, and then proceeded to try to cheekily illustrate how impossible that would be in the Big Apple.

According to the Times' "cold hard math," this is virtually untenable given expenses that include $32,000-a-kid private school bills, $96,000-a-year mortgages, $96,000-a-year co-op maintenance fees, $45,000-a-year nanny tabs and, of course, the undebatable requirement that very rich people take "at least two vacations a year, a winter trip to the sun and a spring trip to the ski slopes." And mind you, the Times was quick to inform us, this doesn't even include other "prerequisites" to living in New York City like "restaurants, dry cleaning... kennels for the dog when the family is away, summer camp, spas and other grooming" and $1,000 suits from Brooks Brothers.


During a January 2008 Democratic presidential debate, ABC News' Charlie Gibson -- who made $7 million a year -- used a question about taxes to insinuate that a household pulling in $200,000 a year is merely making a middle-class income, when in fact, roughly 97 percent of American households make less.

Gibson's message, however out of touch, subsequently oozed into cable TV -- and from there, into elite culture at large. In 2010, for example, CNN's Kiran Chetry suggested that "in some parts of the country" making $250,000 a year "is middle class" -- a statement that defies Census data showing that even in the wealthiest enclaves in America, a quarter-mil a year is still three times the median income. Meanwhile, University of Chicago professor Todd Henderson garnered national headlines for an essay railing on the repeal of Bush's tax cuts -- an essay declaring that his family's $250,000-a-year income meant he was "just getting by."


One of the hallmarks of Let Them Eat Cake-ism is an absolute lack of self-awareness mixed with a complete disregard for hypocrisy or personal responsibility. The end result is an especially nauseating "for me, but not for thee" attitude.

In this recession, that has manifested itself as bankers walking away from their obligations to cover their own losses and happily vacuuming up public bailout dollars -- all while lecturing strapped homeowners about their moral responsibility to pay their bills.
Go read the original to get the full article and the embedded links.

I keep wondering when Americans will wake up from their forty year illusion of "trickle-down economics" and the idea that if you keep cutting taxes for the rich it won't mean more taxes for the bottom 90%. I know that it will have to stop some day unless, when the US hits a 0% tax rate for the rich, I mean "the job creators", it starts a negative tax, i.e. it starts giving "cash incentives" in lieu of taxes in the hopes that billionaires-soon-to-become-trillionaires will find the kindness in their hearts to employ some of the 200 million abysmally impoverished Americans in some capacity at a newly established starting wage of $1 an hour. Well, maybe if you give the ultra-rich an instant cash reward of $10,000 per employee, they might find their way to make those $2/hour jobs since that means $10K will yield an immediate $5K profit for the "job creators".

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