Wednesday, December 21, 2016

MARLEY’S BACK - TO HAUNT US

IT WAS MARLEY, ALL RIGHT
I was visited by Jackob Marley, the late partner of Ebeneezer Scrooge. It was Marley no doubt. He was dead all right, zombie like. He had that kerchief around his jaw so it wouldn’t fall open. If his jaw hyper-extends and drops open then he has this astonished expression in his eyes and can only stand there speechless, gaping at you and the world with his tongue flopping out. That’s why he tied his jaw closed.
     It damn sure was Marley all right. He wore that same old 1800s night cap and night shirt but now with a lot more rips and tears where as he wandered about, it apparently had got caught on bushes and stuff. Worse, he was pretty well along with rotting. It was a wonder that his arm didn’t fall off or something.
Scrooge told us Marley had been condemned to walk the earth for eternity never to find rest or peace, rather “incessant torture or remorse”. I wonder if Dickens, who made that  condemnation, ever thought about what ol’ Jakob would look like now, 180 years after his death. Ghastly!  A ghastly reminder of the fate that awaits us all if we take up the lifestyle of Jackob Marley – namely greed – and don’t change like Scrooge did.
     Maybe you’ve forgotten who Marley was? Marley and Scrooge were teenage friends. They had been apprenticed together. They set up one of those nineteenth-century “counting houses” which we today would call an investment “bank”, though bank was just s loosely used designation then as it is today when describing hedge funds and the current money machines. Marley himself called it “our money changing hole” a description as appropriate for the 1830s as it is today.
     Scrooge & Marley had seats on the London Stock Exchange. They were brokers on the London exchange in the 1800s like Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney or others were on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). They paid themselves handsomely – more than handsomely. Like executives today, their salaries were comparatively in the millions which today add up to billions.
Marley and Scrooge parted ways seven years before Marley showed up at Scrooge’s on Christmas Eve. Apparently, after he left Scrooge and Marley, Marley had gone on an “acquisition amble” around the world which had accelerated his greed nature and rocketed his income. Marley’s greed always becomes visible and evident in his chain of penance which he wore that night when he first haunted Scrooge.
Oh yeah, this is  never just a visit, and a chat; it is a fearsome  haunting.   

MARLEY’S CHAIN OF PENANCE
Marley’s original chain was, as Dickens tells us, was “long and wound around him like a tail; it was made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, deeds, ledgers, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” And that was only the chain of the first seven years Marley had walked before he haunted Scrooge. His chain when he haunted me now included what he gained from his walks about the earth and on his acquisition ambles during the last 180 years!
     A miniature tall, diamond encrusted building represented Corporate Empires, all of them. Like glittering diamonds strewn all over the world. The industrial era of the 1800s made forming corporations and collecting corporate capital easy, especially when linked with technology. When railroads came along, now there was a real “engine” of capitalism!
     His chain has miniature railroad cars, for J. Gould’s railroads of course, Marley inspired all the the Robber Barons of 1865 – 1890 who habitually cheated and robbed investors and consumers. One of those cars was labeled “14th Amendment – Equal Protection for Corporations.” That was the first step toward corporations as persons.
There was a Silver Dollar representing the corrupted the U.S. government. And, a gold snake symbolic ruthless, predatory activities they carried on with each other comparable to those of the robber barons of medieval Europe.
     Marley’s chain had a sack of sugar, a bottle of whiskey rope, beef jerky and a pack of cigarettes representing the most notorious of the trusts were the Sugar Trust, the Whisky Trust, the Cordage Trust, the Beef Trust, the Tobacco Trust, John D. Rockefeller's Oil Trust (Standard Oil of New Jersey), and J. P. Morgan's Steel Trust (U.S. Steel Corporation).
     An empty cup symbolized the best law which, in Marley’s opinion, he had helped pass in all those years, bankruptcy. Bankruptcy! What a concept!  Great, greedy giants take risks and if they fail, they off load employees and expenses for pennies on the dollar with no consequence for the management, other than financial rewards! Small people lose everything, executives get bonuses. Mentioning it brought the glint of a little tear to Marley’s eyes.
Today all corporations who feel they are not making as much profit as possible can get protection by bankruptcy. Auto companies, their suppliers, airlines, coal companies, steel companies, casinos, President elects, manufacturers of all sorts, go bankrupt to shed labor contracts, environmental protection costs and so forth. Hundreds of examples dangled like multi-colored braids on Marley’s Chain: Delphi Automotive, owned by GM until 1999, declared bankruptcy in 2000 to cut union wages from $30 an hour to $10. Hardly uncommon. But, CEOs salaries go up! Jakob Marley, oracle of misery to some, lined the pockets of the wealthy and guided them to increased profits.
He lifted his chain and pointed at Monopoly houses and hotels.
Of course! Mortgage debt, another Marley favorite! And there was a small bobble-head figure, clothed in black, representing NINJA loans – No Income No Job No Assets – nodding, nodding. A player in the 2008 stock market crash – jaw dropping for everyone but Jakob Marley (whose jaw is tied into place.)
     Marley now has a globe on his chain.  On it are tiny pins for the country economies where he depressed wages and increased profits until they approach the rate of the 1960s! Fie on workers rights! What minimum wages? Child workers, you bet! The ratio of debt to disposable income for the super wealthy in the U.S. alone, went from 60% to 140% in 2007 – unprecedented in economic history! Consider how much the rate has accelerated in third world countries or China where American industry fled to boost profits.
     Why not? This is the era of science and technology which gave us the internet! So a Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellite whirled like a drone about Jakob. Silicone Valley has new, special place on Marley’s Chain. Europe struggled with the EU; New York had its day, the District of Columbia was Obamaized, Hollywood now battles the internet companies for content. Technology is still the easiest way to get into a new “money hole” as Jakob would say and grin, of he could grin without unfortunate consequences.
     But then I noticed the pill bottles, hundreds – hundreds? Thousands! - of tiny bottles, the most profitable part of Health Care. Here you could see Big Pharma, big profits from pain, cancer research and opoids. They represent the latest result of Jakob’s ambles, shifting the thinking from science for advancing human health to science for advancing corporate health. Nice!
     Marley’s chain came to an end. He twirled it. He delivered his message.  I looked around for Scrooge, but I was alone.

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS NOW
If you remember, Scrooge was shocked by the haunting of Jakob Marley, by the sight of Marley, by the weight of the chain and the fact that Marley was required to haunt the earth dragging this chain of sins forever. Scrooge, like most of us Bohemian Bourgeois (BOBOs) of today smile and won’t let Jakob penetrate our smug, gold-plated hearts. That’s how it was for Scrooge until he realized he was Marley. He had the same ambitions, goals, and loves. His heart was the same. Cold and hard.
     Scrooge came to be convinced that if he did not change his ways, he – we - would have the same fate as Marley. If there was no generosity in Scrooge’s soul – in our souls – if we did not help the most desperate amongst us, then the Ghost of Christmas Present (as in this Christmas, as in Now), presents us with our Fate – this Fate for the world:
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from under your skirts. Is it a foot or claw?”
“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it.” Was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”
“From the foldings of its robe, it brought forth two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
“Oh, Man, look here. Look, look down here,” exclaimed the Ghost.
“They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have fulfilled their features out, and touched them with it s freshest tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled the into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.”
“Scrooge startled back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.”
“Spirit, are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it,” cried the Spirit, stretching out his hand towards the city.”
“Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end.”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ...
The bell struck twelve.”(1)

© Copyright 2016, Jean W. Yeager, All Rights Reserved.
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A CHRISTMAS CAROL, an  1843 Novella by Charles Dickens

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