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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

A beach dune in the Hamptons

Photo by Clay LeConey on Unsplash

It's tough being rich. For one thing, you have to be on constant alert to keep commoners from encroaching on your turf and disturbing your lifestyle, tranquility and ... well, sense of proper social order.

So, surely, everyone can appreciate the angst of the swells who summer in the Hamptons, an ultra-tony seaside enclave of New York City's old-wealth families and Wall Street elites. Located on the far-eastern tip of Long Island, for generations, they've effectively used local ordinances to keep us riffraff from entering their exclusive communities. But now, to their shock and dismay, they find their fortresses of privilege besieged by — believe it or not — American Indians!

Marauding tribes from afar? No, they're local people, some 1,600 members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation who live on and around their tribe's small reservation that has also been on this tip of Long Island for generations. In fact, it's the fabulously rich white residents who are the invaders, for their Anglo predecessors first moved onto (and began taking over) Shinnecock lands in 1640. Today, the Indigenous people struggle with poverty or near poverty, gazing across a small bay at the perfectly manicured lawns of the huge summer mansions of their Gatsby-esque invaders.

But — look out! — to help lift their community from the mire of debilitating poverty, the Shinnecocks intend to build a modest tribal-run casino on their reservation. "Oh, the horror!" shriek the Hamptonites at this tacky intrusion! Yet, the reservation is the Shinnecocks' sovereign land, free from the Hampton elite's zoning laws. Some 200 hoity-toity Hamptonites have desperately formed a group with the war cry "Keep the Hamptons the Hamptons!" Pleading for someone — anyone — to stop the tribe's progress, one of them exclaimed that "A lot of us are bleeding-heart liberals and sympathetic to the oppressed. ... But it's not the right location."

It never is, is it? The tribe's chairman, aptly named Bryan Polite, notes that while a casino is an issue of elitist esthetics to the privileged neighbors, its revenues would "help the tribe expand its family assistance fund to help members with such expenses as rent, food, utilities and car payments" and would "change the quality of life here overnight." But who cares? A few of the snobbiest Hampton blue bloods haughtily warn they will move out if the Shinnecock casino comes in.

Hmmm, sounds like a good trade to me.

These days, the rich in our country have developed such an arrogant sense of self-entitlement that they've gone from being merely irritating to infuriating.

Unsurprisingly, their plutocratic greed and rigging of the system to benefit themselves has generated a political backlash across the country. This includes a widely popular push to tax — yes, tax! — the massive stashes of wealth that the powerful have amassed by shortchanging the middle class and the poor. Alarmed by this uprising, the rich and their political hirelings have launched a major effort to defuse public anger — not by altering their behavior or actually addressing the gross economic disparities they've created but by trying to hide their excesses behind a semantical twist.

You might have noticed that since "the rich" has become a negative phrase, it has been dropped from the vocabularies of corporate PR agents, Republican lawmakers, right-wing political commentators and other defenders of wealth concentration. Rather, the millionaire/billionaire class is now glorified as "high earners" and "high net worth individuals."

Yes, both are awkward phrases, yet both remove any tacky reference to the boodles of wealth such people have grabbed. Instead, these euphemisms exalt the fortunate few as superior earners and worthy individuals. Words matter, because they are powerful social constructs that frame our culture's moral values. For example.

— Boeing Inc. was so badly managed in 2020 that it lost $12 billion and offed 30,000 workers, yet its CEO grabbed $21 million in pay.

— Tenet Healthcare made about $400 million in profit last year, partly by firing 11,000 workers, but its CEO pocketed a paycheck of nearly $17 million, calling the year a "learning experience."

— Hilton sent about a fourth of its corporate workforce packing last year and lost some $720 million, but the CEO got away with a $56 million paycheck.

Other gross failures at the top include AT&T, Disney, General Electric, and T-Mobile, yet each haughty top executive was rewarded with at least $20 million in pay.

In every case, the establishment media cloaked the greed with euphemisms that the failed bosses "earned" their millions and have a "net worth" of such-and-such. The perpetrators of these lies might ask the ousted workers how much they think the CEOs are worth.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

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