Monthly Archives: April 2011

a house is more than a home: gatsby mansion destroyed

Earlier this month, an old mansion that is believed to have been the inspiration behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic literary portrayal of the opulent Jazz Age The Great Gatsby, was razed to the ground. The 25-room mansion, known as Land’s End, was emblematic of the famed Gold Coast on Long Island.

“This [area] represented the epitome of everything you could strive for, everything you could want,” explains Ruth Prigozy, Executive Director of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society. “You had optimism. You had a sense of what America was. The possibility of America. And you had it embedded in one place.”

According to literary legend, Fitzgerald would sit at night on the porch of his house in Great Neck, and stare across the bay at the Land’s End mansion, contemplating the themes that would form Gatsby, a novel which does a better job than most of honestly exploring the promises and perils of the American Dream.

“The home was one of the few remaining relics harkening back to Fitzgerald’s time on Long Island,” Serena Altschul reports for CBS Sunday Morning.

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the rich just ain’t what they used to be

Remember Robin Leach, the host of the television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous who charmed us with “champagne wishes and caviar dreams”? Well, two decades later, it seems we’re all still hungover from the uber-affluent-extravaganza buzz we collectively endured. Celebrity gossip. The Fortune 500. Beltway politics. Who can sort through such porous distinctions anymore?

So is it really surprising that Donald Trump is deciding to run for President? He already has a tower, a board (bored) game, and a TV show. Is he supposed to just ride off into the sunset on his yacht, lounge on the beach of his own private island paradise, telling his martini cocktails they’re fired, never to be heard from again?

If only.

The uber-wealthy. Seems the more they get, the more they get in everyone’s face.

It’s tempting to reason that it has always been like this. “We seem to be made to suffer,” fatalist philosopher C-3PO reasons. “It’s our lot in life.”

But the reality is that today’s insane-ly rich have become even more brash than their power-wielding forbearers of yesteryear. (If that’s even possible. Which, unfortunately, it seems to be.) Commie-red rose-colored glasses aside, the rich just ain’t what they used to be. And an intriguing new study by (former Barnard College history professor) Thaddeus Russell, A Renegade History of the United States, makes that abundantly clear.  Continue reading

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a spot of tea for patriot’s day

Yesterday was Patriot’s Day. Here in Massachusetts, that means (Boston) Marathon Monday, the beginning of April Vacation, and the annual 11am Sox game.

But, social festivities aside, the day is, of course, named to commemorate the beginning of the American Revolution, which started with “the shot heard ’round the world” at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, back on April 19, 1775.

As we know (history geeks unite!), those battles were preceded and caused by the all-important Boston Tea Party, which, with the current Tea Party Movement hysteria, has drawn more than its usual share of attention of late. Today’s Tea Party heralds those early patriots for their direct action against overtaxation as the historical genesis of their own anti-taxation, anti-government ideals. But what if those at that original, infamous Boston Tea Party were not protesting against overtaxation, but performing a direct action against corporate tax cuts instead?

“The Tea Act,” states Thom Hartmann, “gave the world’s largest transnational corporation, the British East India Company, the biggest corporate tax break in world history. It was an actual tax refund on millions of pounds of tea they were unable to sell and were holding in inventory, and would have been billions in today’s dollars.”

Why was this so upsetting that it would lead the colonists to “commit a multi-million-dollar (in today’s money) act of vandalism”?

In the fascinating (history geeks unite!) video below, Thom Hartmann explains the largely unknown history of the Tea Party using a first-hand account, Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party, written in 1834 by George R.T. Hewes, who was an actual participating member at that infamous revolution-stirring event, “a survivor of the little band of patriots who drowned the tea in the Boston Harbor in 1773,” as Hewes himself phrased it.

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so much for death and taxes

As Ben Franklin famously observed, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” That is, unless you’re a large, powerful corporation type-of-person. In which case you can live forever, and completely dodge your tax-paying responsibilities.

So, this Tax Day, amidst a plethora of service-cutting budget proposals, here’s a medley of corporate tax-evading infuriation.

1. Chuck Collins, senior scholar for the Institute of Policy Studies urges us to “remember the tax dodgers” this tax day. “If you write a check over $10 to the IRS,” notes Collins, “you just paid more than Verizon, Boeing, Bank of America, Citigroup and General Electric combined [!] in federal taxes.”

Sounds unbelievable? It should. But unfortunately, it’s not.

2. The Nation magazine offers a slideshow of companies that made billions in profits, and yet received millions in tax breaks, including Exxon/Mobil, who reported “$19 billion in profits,” and received a “$156 million rebate from the IRS.” And General Electric, who got a “$4.1 billion refund from the IRS” despite raking in “$19 billion in profits,” as well.

One thing GE didn’t do, despite the recently-released (fake) press release stating so, was plan on returning their tax break in full by this year’s Tax Day.

3. Rather, the press release was created by activists at US Uncut to highlight the fact that GE and other “corporate persons” are avoiding their tax-paying patriotic responsibilities, despite the profits they are reporting. “No corporation is an island,” pointed out US Uncut spokesperson Carl Gibson, “even if they hide all their profits in tropical tax havens.”  Continue reading

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kobe’s fine should fund gay rights

The NBA Playoffs begin today. But like many hoops fans, I’m still reeling from the recent regrettable actions of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant.

Earlier this week, during a highly-charged game against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers icon, 5-time champion and perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant received a technical foul (his fifteenth of the year) from referee Bennie Olsen. Bryant then went to the bench, and proceeded to punch a chair in frustration, before uttering the homophobic slur heard ‘round the sporting world. “Hey Bennie! F____n f____t.”

The league immediately fined Bryant $100,000 for his verbal indiscretion, a move that was applauded by GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). “While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated,” fashion czar and league commissioner David Stern stated. “Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society.”

But while Commissioner Stern and the NBA should indeed be applauded for their swift handling of this beyond-unfortunate incident, they should not escape criticisms either.  Continue reading

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revolt at the waldorf! rich activists push for higher taxes on themselves

Two weeks ago, two affluent activists from Resource Generation joined a rally at New York’s prestigious Waldorf Astoria Hotel to protest Governor Cuomo’s proposed social service cuts combined with tax cuts for the rich. They carried with them a most unusual protest sign: “Another trust-fund baby for taxing the rich.”

Why would they do this? Read about it in my recent article for InTheseTimes.com:

REVOLT AT THE WALDORF:

RICH ACTIVISTS PUSH FOR HIGHER TAXES ON THEMSELVES

A few weeks ago, outside Midtown Manhattan’s famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, protesters gathered to rally against Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cut funding for public services, while also cutting taxes for the wealthy. Organized by New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, the marchers represented several organizations joining together to “Demand That Millionaires Pay Their Fair Share.”

But amidst the chants of “Not another nickel, not another dime! Bailing out millionaires is a crime!” on March 31 were two protesters holding a very unusual rally sign: “Another trust fund baby for taxing the rich! Let’s pay our fair share!”

It certainly wasn’t the first time trust-funders have made their way up Park Avenue to the prestigious Waldorf Astoria. But it was probably the first time inheritors of wealth have publicly rallied in front of the esteemed hotel for an increase in taxes on themselves.

Who would do such a thing? Why would anyone actively advocate against their own self-interest? “Our current tax system perpetuates inequality,” states Elspeth Gilmore. “Wealthy people can really change that narrative.”

Read on …


 

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Filed under Accountable Wealth, Activism, Class, Economic Justice, Fair Taxation, Philanthropy, Social Change

quote of the intermittent time period V

From Stephen Duncombe’s Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture:

“The history of all rebellious cultural and political movements is the history of the unavoidable contradiction of staking out new ground within and through the landscape of the past. But today this laying of claims may be harder than ever. No longer is there a staid bourgeoisie to confront with avant-garde art or a square America to shock with countercultural values; instead there is a sophisticated marketing machine which gobbles up anything novel and recreates it as product for a niche market … The underground is discovered and cannibalized almost before it exists.” – Stephen Duncombe

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