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A Bill of Goods for Xmas

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Christmas is here again, our erstwhile annual day of hope now hijacked by marketers, junk consumerism, and burly red-coated pagan Santas. Ever since Franklin Roosevelt brought forward the date of Thanksgiving to squeeze in more buying time, the commercial bonanza that is now Xmas lost the Christ for good.

What do I want this year? Less toxic mouthing off by Donald Trump (to be known evermore as DT as in delirium tremens), less killing everywhere, and a recognition of the other in our midst. What will I get? More populist mouthing off by DT (for a short while anyway), more killing in the name of peace, and a tightening of borders along traditional hate lines. Maybe we can just skip Xmas altogether and go straight to New Year’s.

I wonder if anyone noticed that DT may have set off the argument that left 14 dead in San Bernardino. The toxic “inherent dangers of Islam” line could have come straight from his hate-filled mouth. But then DT will say that demagogues don’t kill people, people kill people. Or whatever happens to come out first.

I hope at least we can look at our many blessings this Xmas. That we aren’t fleeing Syria, aren’t stopped by the police as a black man, didn’t get caught in a mass shooting (a daily occurrence in the U.S. now). How does the modern parable go? First they came for the Xs and I said I wasn’t one, then they came for the Ys and I said I wasn’t one, then they came for the Zs and I said I wasn’t one. And then they came for me and there was no one left to help. I am Syrian, I am black, I am a law-abiding citizen (insert your own X, Y, and Z).

Three-year-old Alan Kurdi died this year while fleeing with his family as a Syrian refugee. We all cried and wondered how this could happen when we saw his lifeless little body washed-up on a beach. But maybe we should lay blame at the foot of the industrial-scale warmongers selling weapons to any and all sides. In 2014, the arms industry totted to $64 billion. It’s not hard to see the correlation between sales and deaths.

Unfortunately, another unarmed black man will be killed by another white police officer soon, and we will be horrified anew. New York, Ferguson, Baltimore, Wilmington, Chicago, …. But let’s not look to the last killing to measure a response. Let’s look at the causes of the next. An overly militarized police force. Check. A shoot-first-ask-question-later patrol policy. Check. Poor police-community relations. Inequality and economic hardship in urban neighbourhoods. Distrust of someone who isn’t me. Check, check, and triple check.

Unfortunately, there will also be more mass shootings despite the rhetoric. Tyrone, Waco, Charleston, Houston, Roseburg, San Bernardino, …. In 2015, there were 353 mass-shooting events in the United States (as of December 2) with 462 killed and 1,312 injured as determined by one online tracking site. But let’s not look to the last massacre to measure a response. Let’s look at the causes of the next. Easy access to guns, an always-on Saturday night jamboree culture, quick tempers. Disregard for anyone who isn’t me. The cesspool of violence deepens with every death.

Will we have a ceasefire or break in the killings at least on the holiest of days? Doubtful. Will the mouthing off from above be paused? Highly unlikely. Xmas will come and go and the economic benefits will be reported. Few will question where all the fancy wrapping paper goes.

Instead, we’ll get more stretched logic from DT about the dummies in Congress, the dummies in the White House, the dummies in the press, because his mouth moves faster than his brain. His tirade of nonsense is now a daily reality show. I still can’t believe this one from a November 16 Squawk Box performance:

“I have a bigger heart than anybody, but you can’t let the people into this country.” (3:42)

“Had there been some guys with a gun, there would have been a shootout and probably the primary people that got whacked would have been the killers.” (8:22)

“I’m the only one that was [against going into Iraq] because I said it was going to destabilize the Middle East which it totally did and Iran would take over, absolutely take over, Iraq.” (10:22)

This from a guy who bought his own book to get it on the best-seller list. But not to worry, such ad-hoc deductions from a reactionary Richie Rich have almost run their course. His time in the spotlight will be over when the primaries start and real voters get a real case of the DTs. Throwing darts at everyone kills everyone. Exit stage, well, whatever direction he came from.

Maybe I should wish for something I have a chance of getting such as less of everything. Alas, it’s hard to say “no” when the marketers rule the airwaves. Did anyone notice that Buy Nothing Day became Black Friday this year? When the auto-drive cars and drones are perfected, we will have a perfect person-less delivery system for all the toys. No need for Santa, just the sleigh.

Of course, you can’t fault the everyday shopper for wanting to get a better deal, supposedly on offer on Black Friday, but we can certainly ask why we need so much. Not all of us need a giant screen TV, Adele’s latest, NextNextG whatever. Not all of us can own the future.

I don’t need Adele 25 followed by Adele 29, Adele 33, …. Though it will more likely be Adele 29, Adele 31, Adele 32, Adele 32.5, Adele 32.75 once the music men start trotting out her honesty faster and faster until like Zeno it appears as one constant line. The 76 tromboners will say it’s a civic duty.

Is it possible that my wanting more creates less for another? Is it possible that we all can be millionaires if we just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps? 1 2 3 pull. Not according to Newton. Not according to Marx. Not even according to Ayn Rand. My being rich means someone else must be poor. My being very rich means someone else must be very poor. It’s basic math. Or Spirituality 101.

Oxfam will soon be updating their yearly inequality analysis (in time for the Davos World Economic Forum). Will 75 equal 3.5 billion this year (down from 80 and 85 the previous two years)? Will we applaud this as success? Is there a Hall of Fame of Billionaires? Can I get in on a secret Santa with Bill Gates? Imagine when one person owns everything? Who then will be left to say, “stop.”

Top of my wish list this year is less carbon and more solar. I know some still think it’s a lefty hoax, but come on doubters, deniers, and DTs, where’s your entrepreneurial spirit? You can achieve grid independence and the ability to do as you please in your own corner of the world. How is that not as American as apple pie?

Our Norman Rockwell days are over, but change is good: the cotton gin, the steam engine, the phonograph, the light bulb, the power station, computers, the internet, clean energy. It’s time for more than a Charlie Brown lump of coal. Time to let the fixing begin.

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.”

John K. White, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Physics, University College Dublin, and author of Do The Math!: On Growth, Greed, and Strategic Thinking (Sage, 2013). Do The Math! is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at: john.white@ucd.ie.

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