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If You’re Wealthy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands

I’m taking a song back. Those racist frat boys at Oklahoma slandered “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with lyrics not worthy of ink.

The melody of the original is so catchy, and I haven’t heard the tune sung with such gusto since I was in third grade. My mind can’t seem to escape the earworm, so I am transmuting the racist lyrics from that viral video into something a little more pleasant, like adding Richie Havens’ gravelly voice to the end of it: clap your hands, clap your hands, clap your hands.

And that’s all you can really do when you hear the noise of hatred – redefine it so you own it. I jokingly tell my paralegal that I hate everyone. It’s easier that way. But misanthropy isn’t a great philosophy on which to base a daily existence.

Cecil, the night security guard in the Linden, when I ask him how he is doing, he always says that he is grateful for today. I love him for that. Sometimes when I’m burning the evening oil at my solo practice and I see him on patrol, I will ask him how he’s doing just so I can hear him express thanks for being alive.

Cecil is not white, nor is he rich. But he is happy to be here. He is one of the people hated by those kids at the University of Oklahoma’s SAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon or Stupid, Arrogant Elitists, whichever you choose), one of the people exploited by the one percent.

Having the attitude of gratitude for this existence in spite of the odds, to me, makes men like Cecil superior to those punks who defiled “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

People who are conscious of the evil that people do to each other may find it hard to be happy, to clap your hands, clap your hands, clap your hands. People who watch the closing of our open society, sing.

When we look at Governor Malloy go to Puerto Rico for a conference on how to maintain power as we sit here and argue over budget deficits, how can we not be mad?

About 16 men and women in Connecticut have a combined net worth greater than $60 billion. On February 9, 2015, the Associated Press reported that the state Department of Revenue Services doesn’t reach out to the super-wealthy, but will keep an eye on them.

The AP quoted Kevin Sullivan, former Lieutenant Governor and now commissioner of DRS as saying: “There are probably a handful of people, five to seven people, who if they just picked up and went, you would see that in the revenue stream.”

The same AP story named “hedge fund owner Steven Cohen; Thomas Peterffy, of Interactive Brokers; Ray Dalio, of Bridgewater Associates; and Paul Tudor Jones, of Tudor Investment Corp. Combined, their net worth is more than $40 billion, according to Forbes.”

So why don’t we ask them for more? What is the policy benefit of allowing 16 people to control such a massive chunk of the wealth in our daily lives? They control the policy and the discourse. That’s why.

The State of Connecticut faces a budget deficit in the biannual budget of $2.3 billion. The Wall Street Journal on February 18, 2015 reported that “Mental-health-care providers, hospitals and higher education were among those who would see the deepest cuts under Mr. Malloy’s proposal.”

Remind again why I should be happy when I know that 16 men and women could be taxed at a higher rate, and plug the deficit with no problem, but the state instead glad-hands the super-wealthy.

Many of us are scraping to get by, yet our taxes will rise.

Even worse, the City of Hartford gives away $60 million stadiums built at taxpayer expense to the super wealthy. The City of Hartford faces a much easier budget deficit of $46 million, as do other cities around the state.

There is no money for civil society, yet we are building stadiums and pretending things are okay. Our institutions are falling apart around us. UConn now gets only 20 percent of its annual budget from the State.

Our infrastructure stinks. We can’t plow properly in this City. Our roads and bridges fall victim to rust, winter and lack of maintenance. We have a massive problem with our levees.

And we refuse to talk about the white elephant in the room: the governmental policy which allows a miniscule percentage of the population to own so much of our world.

What is the benefit to the public and to society to give permission to the Ray Dalios and Steve Cohens and Thomas Peterffys and Paul Tudor Joneses to have so much? We know the trade-off is greater suffering for those who have the least among us.

Gov. Malloy’s budget proposal makes that clear: the young and the sick will face the wrath of austerity. There is plenty of money to go around, but we allow a certain number of people to control it all, and they don’t want to share.

And talking about class division is not even allowed. If anyone listened to John Dankosky on WNPR’s Where We Live last week (March 5) host a conversation about red-hot zoning issues, you heard a conversation among his guests about the zoning mess at 68 Scarborough Street, Hartford.

Scarborough Street is the bastion of wealth on Hartford. Down the street from them lives Court of Common Council president Shawn Wooden. He lives in an $860,000 mansion with his family. Good for him.

Too bad Wooden’s policy making as Council president reflects his perspective as a one-percenter. And Wooden has been somewhat quiet about the Scarborough 11. Doesn’t want to upset the neighbors (some of whom are likely closeted racists who might have taught their children its okay to think of the N-Word, but just don’t say it in public.)

At 68 Scarborough, 11 people – eight adults and three children – have purchased and moved into a vacant mansion. The catch: Hartford zoning law allows only two unrelated adults to live together. If two adults owned the house, and the other adults were servants, there’d be no problem.

This type of zoning is a class-based exclusionary tool, said one of Dankosky’s guests, Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens, a Norwich resident and educational assistant at Three Rivers Community College in New London. She studied zoning laws statewide, and found this classism across CT.

A tony municipality, she said, has language like housing cannot be beyond the means or fail to meet the needs of substantial segments of town’s families people. She said this discriminatory language is common.

Hartford Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Sara Bronin responded to Darby-Hudgens that this type of dialogue is not beneficial.

“We have to work together. We all live in the city,” Bronin said. “Hartford is diverse and we have a diverse housing stock. Most of our land is zoned to be multi family more than single family. It is important to me that we not make this sort of a class warfare sort of thing.”

She could barely say class warfare without stuttering. But she spoke like the partner of a mayoral candidate. Has anyone inquired why Luke Bronin, at age 35, is in a position to even make a run for Mayor? His father, Andrew Bronin, is a dermatologist.

According to OpenSecrets.org, Dr. Bronin made more than $60,000 in political contributions since 2002, including $14,500 to the Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee from 2009 to 2014.

Pocket change, right? I know some of you drink that in a weekend in St. Barts. Raise the diamond-studded martini glass to me, will you?

No one doubts Luke Bronin is an intelligent, thoughtful, accomplished young man. I know plenty of them like Luke. But Luke is different because his Dad has doled out the mother’s milk of politics. Whether intentional or not, this has opened doors for Luke. That, in a nutshell, is privilege.

Which is why it rankled me to hear Sara Bronin, sounding like a professor, tell us to avoid talk of class warfare. With “Where We Live” as a platform, she taught us to “try not to use some of the damaging rhetoric that has been used on this issue in the past.”

But, Chair Bronin, your side is winning the class war. We are losing. I know you will dislike me discussing this.

But I’m the jerk who walks into the room and picks on the most powerful person. You and Luke live in a million dollar mansion on Elm Street; the only house on Elm Street facing Bushnell Park.

Luke is running for mayor of the second poorest city in America, and the only way he has the financial wherewithal to do so is because he comes from an extremely wealthy family. Should Luke win, he will, to many, seem like an oligarch. He has no credible record in the community of Hartford to speak of.

Luke is only a credible candidate because of his wealth. Mayor Segarra will not use this line of attack because he is a toady of the one percent. Instead, Segarra’s campaign tries poorly to poke holes in Luke, leaving his biggest vulnerability on the table.

Okay. We knew this would come up in the campaign. Let’s get it out now.

How can we approach the wealth gap without talking about divisions of wealth? It is the same way that we cannot talk about racism without talking about the racists among us who hide in plain sight, yet keep their virulent racism hidden for buses and chants.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, clap your hands, clap your hands.

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