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Posts Tagged ‘The Uber-Rich’

My Adventure in the “Rich World”

July 20, 2011 5 comments

It’s been awhile since I posted, and here is why: The first stop on my latest journey was New York City’s Upper East Side, where I visited certain people who are close to me and whom I will not mention by name. It was a difficult trip, but an enlightening one. The Upper East Side is like a little village where nothing much ever happens, the atmosphere is sterile, and most of the human interaction is between the very rich and their servants.

My hosts live on the thirty forth floor of a building that overlooks the east river. Because many diplomats live in the building all residents must be vetted before they move in. Dry-cleaning is picked up and delivered. The building has it’s own water system and security force. In case of “civil unrest” it will become a fortress.

We sat at one of the many small, luxuries, and entirely predictable little bistros that dot the neighborhood. Over a lovely salmon and a glass of Pinot my hosts confessed their dismay at the thought that I advocate wealth and income redistribution, an economic policy usually associated with the communist revolution. What I wanted to say, but didn’t, is that I too am against the redistribution of wealth as it has actually occurred. Since the “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s the redistribution of wealth UPWARDS has been extreme and unrelenting, and we (the middle class) would like our money back.

The conversation turned to taxes, particularly the theory behind taxing or failing to tax the uber-rich at an appropriate rate. My host asked me what income level I thought of as being “rich”. As in, rich enough to pay more. I replied that most people in this country, all of the millions that make around twenty thousand a year, if they are “lucky” enough to still be working, would like say that $250,000 a year is the cut. But, I said, I understand that a person of this income feels themselves to be only comfortably middle class. I understand that people in this demographic have big expenses, that they feel inferior to the “truly rich” whose shadow they live under. So, could we agree that a person making ONE MILLION a year was rich enough to pay a larger share in a system of progressive taxation? I got no real answer as the conversation trailed off in the stifling summer air.

I then tackled share holder primacy and the fact that Wall Street doesn’t actually produce any wealth after the first offering of stock, but is rather a large liquid pool of wealth that allows the “owners” to skim the cream from the top in the form of profits, profits gained by stepping on the backs of all other people, other species, and the health of the earth itself. That dog didn’t hunt either, not in that company.

I put off writing about this for months. Publishing it will not increase my popularity in my family. Finally I decided that if I am going to go forth with this project, which I believe in more ever day as I watch the depression deepen around me, I just have to stand in my truth. I didn’t make this world, I just write about it with as much clarity as I can find. So, dear reader, expect the rest of the story soon, now that the log jam in my mind has been broken.

Sonoma County in the Twenty-first Century Depression

March 6, 2011 6 comments

A Sign in a Cafe Window in Santa Rosa, CA

This evening I’ll be on a bus from my home in Sonoma County to San Francisco and from there, the rest of California. But today I want to talk about my home county, which is Sonoma. This beautiful little gem sits between the ocean and a string of mountains. It has a varied landscape, including redwood forests, a fertile central plain and breathtaking coastline. The climate is Mediterranean, but around here we just call it great.

But, for all that, Sonoma County is in the world, and the world is in big trouble. As I began to talk about this project with my acquaintances and with passers-by, a different Sonoma began to emerge. First, in the beginning of the melt-down of 2008, there was the mortgage broker I knew from a business net-working group who was losing her own home. As I began to focus on this subject it became more and more visible to me. In a popular Thai spot I was unintentionally eavesdropping on a table full of high-tech employees from a “downsizing” company. The lucky ones who had kept their jobs “for now” were treating their former colleagues to lunch and commiseration.

Then, some of the bigger storefronts began to go dark. Mervyn’s closed but Macy’s remained. Tourism is down all over as people everywhere down-shift their spending habits. The only group that has not down-shifted is the uber-rich. Lucky for Sonoma County, there are features here that are attractive to that demographic. There is a slice of Sonoma County tourism that is doing very well.  As a playground for the wealthy, Sonoma County offers high end restaurants, always full, wineries, quaint little inns, and beautiful scenery. If you can figure out how to be of service to these people you will stay employed.

As I write the official unemployment rate for Sonoma County is 10.5%, which means that if we include 99ers and self-employed people that have closed their doors it is more like 22%. I went down to the food stamp office at the beginning of last year and saw that the line was peppered with the newly impoverished. You can tell the ex-middle class by their dress and demeanor. The demographic that day appeared to be older and female.

Of the people lucky enough to have a job, some really aren’t so lucky after all. I have several friends that lost a job in the last two years only to get another one many months later with longer hours, less pay, and worse working conditions. But, if you want to keep your house you just suck it up. I met a woman the other day who was working a counter at a downtown store. She pointed to her name –tag and said “my father told me, if your name is on a building you are rich. If your name is on a plaque on your desk you are middle class. And if your name is on your shirt—well, you are poor” It turned out that she and her husband had lost a business that had thrived for twenty years in the crash, and then they had lost their house when the bubble burst. She told me that their house had dropped from $900,000 to $500,000. They were willing and able to restructure the debt, but the bank refused. Later the bank sold the property for $250,000 which is half what they were willing to pay. Now a speculator will snap up the house, and she is working retail for $12 an hour. Her husband remains unemployed.

 

More Frodo than Joan de Arc

February 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The View from my Window

Here I am, a month off course, and ready to finally take the big leap. It has been a hard winter for many, myself included. I have been ready to roll for weeks, but not with bronchitis and not without any cash at all. Today I am breathing deeply and my little paycheck will be in my hands within days. Enough to make it all work.

Another consideration has been the weather. This winter has been a very hard one all across the country, even the Deep South. My plan was to go there first and avoid the deep freeze in the north, but then the snow and freezing weather went south before I did. But, freezing or not I will be heading out.

There is a certain excitement in the traveling, even for the purpose in which I am engaged. I have my maps, a guide book or two. I will be going by bus, so I must travel light. I have to carry my equipment-camera, computer, recorder, phone, and whatnot, plus food and water, in one carry-on bag. The other bag will have everything else. On the bus, you never know when you will have to schlep.

I am more like Frodo than Joan de Arc. I would gladly spend my days busying myself around the little piece of the world I call home, studying all the things that are fascinating and enjoying the passing days. But, I see the world (both my little corner and everyplace else) sinking into ever greater darkness. I often think that if I had been lived in France during the World War II, I would have been compelled to be part of the resistance no matter what my temperament.

Packing Up

Today, the uber-rich have been waging a vicious class war on the rest of us for a good many years, and we have not, for the most part, offered any resistance. This is finally changing.  The events in Wisconsin over the last few days should act as a clarion call to the rest of us. The uber-rich have caused a depression for the rest of us while they rake in record profits on our backs. They have used the corrupt doctrine of corporate personhood to purchase the federal government, and therefore delegitimize it. And now they want to all but dismantle that government, except for the military of course.

This is evil. Plain and simple. Wage slavery and economic colonization is just as evil as the old kind of slavery and the old kind of colonization. Ownership of one person by another is always wrong, no matter how it is framed. I am concentrating on America because I am an American, but this war, waged by the rich on people and planet is and has been a global affair. In fact, American citizens are the last victims, not the first.

I am not saying that every uber-rich person, as an individual, is evil. But, as a class, the uber-rich are destructive, anti-democratic, and wicked. They hide behind the un-workable ideology of laissez-faire capitalism, making the Orwellian claim that free markets = free people, when the opposite is clearly true. Having purchased Washington, they have caused the anti-trust laws to be all but forgotten, thereby allowing them to buy the mass media and ruin the free press in the United States. All of these things make the uber-rich a wicked class. It also make them traitors to their country, sanctimonious flag waving notwithstanding.

When faced with evil it is necessary to act, however powerless one feels. So, off I go on my odyssey into the wide world. My gift is that of the wordsmith. I can’t feed the victims of this depression, nor give them shelter, but I can at least give them a voice.