Of Cruise Ships and Homemade Rowboats

Ed Raymond

From Havens To Havens
I take the New Yorker for the cartoons and the occasional informative article. I thought two cartoons in the latest issue explored the conditions in the world and the United States as well as several thousand words could. Through the portals of animal cages by the floor of the Roman Colleseum one can see five cowering prisoners waiting in line. In the lion cage four lions are lounging on the floor while the leader of the pride was hectoring them from the open gate: “Let’s go, boys---those Christians aren’t going to devour themselves.” That’s one of our conditions in the world.  In the other cartoon, God is staring down at planet Earth from Heaven, and says to an accompanying angel: “I’m starting to prefer the ones who don’t believe in me.” Perhaps an accurate evaluation of what religion has accomplished lately.  The Panama Papers have revealed that Gordon Gekko-type greed is sweeping the earth, infecting the rich in a pandemic on every active continent. The 400 richest Americans have $2.3 trillion in wealth and the top 10%  own 75% of the nation’s wealth, while the median income for the middle class has fallen in 80% of America’s counties. The income gap between the rich and disappearing middle class is the highest ever measured in the U.S.  And a growing body of evidence indicates that the rich just don’t give a damn about their fellow Americans. In the 2016 political race, Bernie Sanders rails against “the billionaire class” while the Republicans attempt to defend the rich by shouting “class warfare” at him. According to a recent study wealthy Americans have $36 billion in numerous tax havens. We already know they cluster in gated, protected communities while their young ignore military service. During the world wars thousands of rich Harvard students and alumni went to war, 400 dying in WW I and 700 in WW II, With Quentin Roosevelt and Joe Kennedy perhaps the most notable. But later Harvard even banned ROTC military training programs from the campus for a period of time. Mitt Romney probably expressed the attitudes of the rich toward serving their country when he was asked to comment on the fact none of his five sons had served in the military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: “They served the country by helping me get elected.” Give that man another tax break!

The Guardian’s Anthony Gaughan: “How America’s Rich Betrayed Their Fellow Citizens”
The steel magnate Andrew Carnegie decided to make amends for being a robber baron around the turn to the 20th Century and helped build 1,689 public libraries around the country. I used the one in Fargo constantly. John D. Rockefeller, who prayed to make more money at every breakfast, became the richest man in the U.S. by buying politicians and hired guns to keep his oil and mining enterprises really black. Later in life Rockefeller and his sons developed the Rockefeller Foundation which still serves the public. A few of our new billionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have developed socially-minded philanthropies, but it seems that most of the One Percent  do not have even a lukewarm attitude toward maintaining the social mobility of the 99 Percent. Their percentage of contributions to charities is lower than the ghetto charitable rate. Most of the rich today contribute millions to right-wing politicians who promise to cut government programs that benefit the working class such as K-16 education facilities and programs and healthcare.
As an example of what happens with great income inequality, let’s take a look at library use in San Jose, California, a city of one million in the middle of the very wealthy Silicon Valley, 40% of whom are immigrants. The San Jose library system has 187,000 active accounts, with 39% owing a total of $6.8 million due to fines and other charges for missing materials. Over half of the children and teenagers with library cards owe fines. When the late fee hits $50 it’s turned over to a collection agency. In  poor neighborhoods, up to one-third owe fines but do not have personal broadband or computers—even in Silicon Valley computer heaven-- but they need library computers to access the Internet for information, job openings, and applications.

There’s Big Trouble In Ocean City
Auto glass shops in San Francisco are full every day, replacing glass broken in “smash and grabs” on expensive cars parked on the mean streets. Although one of the richest cities in the United States, violent crime has gone up 18% in five years. The head of San Francisco Travel, a tourist organization, describes the problem: “We are the wealthiest big city in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the world, and we have this situation on our streets.” San Francisco draws tourists from all over the world because of climate, views of the bays and the Pacific, and the amenities of hotels and restaurants. Because of the invasive investments of Silicon Valley billionaires it now has the most expensive real estate in the country. On the sidewalks, driveways, and lawns of this very expensive property are tent encampments and many rag-covered homeless people sleeping wherever. Crimes against property are up 60% in five years, with some people saying it is much higher because many of these crimes go unreported. The Chamber of Commerce is asking city government to solve the problems and conditions of the streets, which include housing and hiding the homeless, public intravenous drug use graphically visible, the large numbers of mentally ill people on the streets, and street aggression by panhandlers. Such behavior costs the city millions in tourist dollars. One Limited Edition BMW owner had to replace windows four times in six weeks. An article about San Francisco written by Thomas Fuller has a rather plaintive statement made by a Mr. Edmonds-Waters: “This has become an extremely expensive city to live in. The divide between those who have and those who don’t is ridiculously ginormous.” That seems to be a descriptive word!

The Magic Kingdom Is Available For Those Who Can Afford It
For the rich visitors who can afford to avoid crowds, Walt Disney World is now offering after-hours access to the Magic Kingdom—for a healthy price. Over the centuries markets for the rich are developed during almost every large income gap.  Delta Airlines now offers “surprise-and-delight” services at major airports for first-class passengers switching terminals. Delta supplies Porsches instead of buses. There’s lots of money to be made catering to the rich in a divided society. Los Angeles LAX now offers a private facility to rich celebrities so they can escape traffic jams and long lines at airport terminals. It costs them an extra $1,800. At Orlando’s SeaWorld, you can move to the head of the line and get the best seats for rides and shows for an extra $80 a ticket. If you want you and your kids to swim with dolphins and have a trainer help your kids feed birds, sharks, and other sea creatures, that service is available for $1,000 a day for a family of four.  Crystal Cruises is developing luxury Boeing 777s with showers and private suites that will ferry passengers on 14-day or 28-day trips around the world. The price has not been revealed yet. Spending by the top 5% in the U.S. has risen 35% from 2003 to 2012, even with an intervening recession. During the same period spending by the bottom 95% rose only 10%.
Cruise lines are quickly developing private “havens” for wealthy cruisers aboard their biggest cruise ships. The Norwegian cruiser Escape, which carries 4,200 passengers, offers 275 elite guests a private area aboard ship and a concierge and 24-hour butler service, a private swimming pool, a private sun deck, and private restaurants. If they attend a show on the ship, a gold key gets them the best seats in the house. In trying to attract wealthier guests to cruise ships, most of the lines have determined that the rich want to be surrounded by other rich, not the peasants in third class. That was the same attitude exhibited on the Titanic, where even drowning in the cold seas was not equal. The private area on the Escape is actually called the Haven. Ironically one can assume many of the elite occupying suites in the Haven have shell corporations in various tax “havens” around the world.

Segregation By Affluence
Income inequality has reached such a gap in the U.S. that social critics are now saying that the top 20% are becoming completely separated from the bottom 20% by geography, education, and income. With all of the political and economic power segregated in the top 20%, the social order in this country is changing. According to an article by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times, the percentage of families living in very affluent neighborhoods more than doubled between 1970 and 2012—from 6.6% to 15.7%. At the same time middle class families in metro areas dropped from 64.7% in 1970 to 40.5% in 2012. That’s a precipitant drop in one generation. During this period of rapid change the suicide rate among older Americans has just skyrocketed, led by women ages 45 to 64 at an increase of 63%. The suicide rate for men of the same age increased 43%. From 1990 to 2014 the overall suicide rate rose 24% to a total of 42,773 people in 2014. The rate among girls 10 to 14 has tripled in 30 years. American Indian females had the sharpest rise of 89%, with Indian men at a 38% increase in 30 years. White middle-aged women had an increase of 80%. The increases have mainly come from less educated whites because of drug overdoses, suicides, liver damage, and alcohol poisoning. Federal researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics say people who have links to poverty, hopelessness, and poor health have reached a desperate stage in American society.
A study of New York City millennials ages 20 to 31 by city comptroller Scott Stringer indicates that they earn 20% less than the generation before them. The present millennials have attended college at a much higher rate but are mostly stuck in low-wage jobs where they will probably never make up the difference. Over 33% of workers with BA degrees in New York City have low-wage jobs in 2015, up from 23% of BA workers in 2000. Hospitality and retail sectors created 91,000 new jobs since 2000 but wages have fallen 16%. The arts and entertainment areas have hired 16,000 millennials in the same period but wages are down 26%. On Wall Street wages have gone up 14%--but 11,000 millennials lost their finance jobs during the period. And the millennials now know they are poor. That’s the difference now with all of our communications. Back in the 1940’s I had no idea we were poor. I remember my father building a homemade wooden boat so we could go fishing. I never had a thought we couldn’t afford to buy one. I thought he was just putting all of his skills to work. Which he did.