First Annual Scrooge of the Year Award

By: Dave Palmer

Each holiday season seems to have its own particular set of Scrooges who seem determined to spoil the holidays for everyone, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable among us. This year is no different, with the exception that I have decided to call attention to what I believe to be the three worst offenders of 2013. Here is the list, in descending order:

#3: The Texas teen who killed four people in a drunk driving accident, got probation due to “affluenza” defense, and the judge who bought his defense:

Unfortunate, egregious, and 100% true. According to the Time, Ethan Couch, a 16-year old boy and seven of his friends decided to have some rich kid fun. They stole two cases of beer from a local store, got plastered, and went for a joyride in Ethan’s F-350 pickup. Just prior to the accident, Ethan was speeding and had a blood alcohol level that was three times the legal limit. “His pickup truck slammed into the four pedestrians, killing Brian Jennings, a 43-year-old Burleson youth minister; Breanna Mitchell of Lillian, 24; Shelby Boyles, 21; and her 52-year-old mother, Hollie Boyles,” Huffington Post reported.

According to the Time article, the penalty for crimes of this nature involve fines of up to $10,000 and between 2 and 20 years in the state penitentiary. Indeed, the prosecution sought the maximum prison time for the boy. This is where Ethan’s over-priced lawyers stepped in. They claimed that he suffered from a condition known as “affluenza.” According to his lawyers, his wealthy parents let him get away with everything, and this lack of consequences caused him to blur the line etween right and wrong.

“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Gary Miller, a psychologist assigned to Couch said in court. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”

The worst part about this whole situation is that the judge bought this lousy excuse. Ethan was sentenced to 10 years’ probation, and assigned to a juvenile rehabilitation facility near Newport Beach, California that costs $450,000 per year. His parents are going to pick up the tab, of course, and the prosecutor believes that Ethan will be back in court one day on another charge and cite this lenient decision as reasoning for his actions.

So, three families will be deprived of the company of loved ones this holiday season. Instead of getting sweet justice under the tree in the form of seeing their murderer locked up, they get a lump of coal in the form of what amounts to a slap on the wrist because the kid’s parents are rich.

On the bright side, maybe poor people will be able to argue that they have “poor pox” because their parents had to work two jobs each in order to pay the bills, and therefore they were never around to discipline them, causing them to not know right from wrong through lack of teaching. However, this seems rather unlikely as the poor could never afford the level of attorney the Couches can, once again illustrating that our justice system tips the scales in favor of whoever can stack the most money on their side.

#2: McDonald’s:

McDonald’s has frequented the news cycle several times in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and all of the stories give cause for their placement in the runner-up slot for Scrooge of the Year.

Not only were many McDonald’s locations open on Thanksgiving (some for 24 hours), but the fast-food giant decided to offer its employees what the company believes are several pieces of sage advice for the holiday season. We’ll tackle them in approximate chronological order.

First up, the McDonald’s budgeting tool. The fact that McDonald’s provides a tool for its employees to track their spending and figure out what they can afford is fantastic. However, there are a couple of problems with the tool. First is that their “budget”, as reported in the L.A. Times, involves $1,105 monthly income from a first job and $955 from a second job, which seems to indicate one needs two jobs in order to be able to afford to live. Second, it sets some ludicrous levels of expected spending, such as $600 for rent, $20 a month, car and home insurance together $100, and $150 devoted to your car for a car payment, gas, etc. However, there is zero money in the budget for heat (I’m sure that works great for Michigan McDonald’s workers), and the whole budget adds up to a $750 a month allowance and a daily allowance of $25. It also suggests that they brown bag their lunch (thus discouraging employees from purchasing their products, not that they’d share their profits with them anyway) and skip take out from other restaurants.

No sooner than the dust had settled from that media storm, McDonald’s started another one with some suggestions regarding how their employees might dig out from holiday debt. Surprise, surprise, McDonald’s offering their employees a Christmas bonus wasn’t one of them. In fact, paying their workers more was the farthest thing from their minds, according to NBC News.

“On a short term basis, do whatever it takes to dig out from your holiday debt,” NBC reported as a suggestion from the McDonald’s website. “You may want to consider returning some of your unopened purchases that may not seem as appealing as they did. Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash,” it continued. “Consider bringing a brown bag lunch and skipping the takeout …. You might also consider a temporary part time job to dig out of debt quickly.” The site also suggests that employees “quit complaining” in order to reduce holiday stress.

However, the proverbial cake taker is the most recent advice from McDonald’s regarding holiday tipping. In keeping with the theme of being out of touch with what their employees’ lives are really like, their website suggests “‘a gift from your family (or one week’s pay), plus a  small gift from your child’ for an au pair, ‘one day’s pay’ for a  housekeeper and ‘cost of one cleaning’ for a pool cleaner. Where exactly a McDonald’s worker making minimum wage might get money to hire an au pair, a housekeeper, or a pool cleaner is not clear. However, McDonald’s executives not only believe that their workers have enough scratch to hire such services, they also have enough money to give them huge holiday tips, which combined with the other two points gives them the silver medal in Scroogery.

#1: United States Congress:

To their credit, Congress managed to hammer out a two-year budget deal in the waning hours of this year’s legislative session, which rolled back $65 billion of sequestration cuts, and included $23 billion in deficit reduction funds. But, as has been the case for about five years now, it is both Congress’s actions and inactions that defines the institution and lands them the first annual Scrooge of the Year Award.

According to Al-Jazeera America, the savings are achieved by requiring federal workers to contribute more to their pensions (money they can no longer spend on Christmas gifts), cutting pension benefits for military veterans under 62 (which could force them to choose between Christmas presents for the family and groceries for the week), higher security fees for air travelers (those who travel to see loved ones may not be able to afford the baggage fees for their presents), and reduced government cash for oil and gas development research (watch out at the pumps, you might not be able to afford to go over the river and through the woods except on foot.)

As far as Congress’s inaction goes, they failed to address the expiration of federal emergency unemployment benefits, which are set to expire December 28. This is right in time to plunge the jobless who are trying to show their family a merry Christmas deep into debt and long-term poverty. The bill also failed to address the upcoming debt ceiling, which sets the stage for another monumental showdown in Washington.

In the end, Congress managed to seal its place as our Scrooge gold medalist with their lack of work. This year, Congress got a grand total of 239 days off. In that time, they managed to send a measly 57 bills to the president’s desk. The 112th Congress did little better with a paltry 284 bills. The 80th Congress, which Harry Truman blasted as “do-nothing” passed a total of 906 bills.

Therefore, Congress has earned a well-deserved Scrooge of the Year award for failing to prevent millions of Americans from facing poverty following the holiday season, for cutting retirement benefits for those who pledged their lives to serve our country, and for taking money out of the pockets of every day consumers that might be used to spread a little seasonal cheer.

Merry (middle finger) Christmas from all those on the Scrooge list, and a very real Happy Holidays from yours truly. Be safe and enjoy the holidays responsibly.