The Times They Are A-Changin’ Particularly For the Haves And Have-Nots

Ed Raymond

I think Bob Dylan of Minnesota fame is one of the best contemporary song writers about real substance--and one of the worst singers who ever tramped the stage. To me he sounds like a guttural hog grunting in a rain barrel. But I thought of his very thoughtful song “The Times They Are A-Changin’ “ after reading the Star Tribune’s perceptive articles about the haves and the have-nots in the metro area’s high school athletic programs and viewing the PBS special “Detropia.” His first stanza outlines our society’s problems succinctly:

 Come gather ‘round people-wherever you roam-and admit the waters
Around you have grown-and accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’-then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone-for the times they are a-changin’.

In The Country Of The Greedy, The One-Eyed Hedge Fund Manager Is King.......

   Shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected president and brought his California Mafia to the Washington Buffet, Wall Street trader Ivan Boesky told business students at the University of California his philosophy of life: “Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” Thus he, more or less, ushered in our third Gilded Age of greed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Boesky inspired Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street” in 1987, where Michael Douglas playing the corporate raider and stock manipulator Gordon Gekko uttered the immortal words of the Wall Street investment bankster: “Greed is good!” Boesky was later convicted of insider trading and traded Wall Street for Prison Avenue and a comfortable cell.
   After 30 years of this relentless glacier of greed we have the greatest income inequality in the history of the modern world. The American middle class has not had a raise in almost those thirty years, and thus has been destroyed as the balancing power. A strong middle class is the core of a democracy. A strong middle class keeps the rich and poor in check. Now we have 8,000 hedge funds in the United States controlled by speculators, gamblers, and Wall street banksters “hedging” their bets to ensure they stay on top. Mitt Romney, the millionaire who never paid more than 14 percent federal income tax, is now building his sixth McMansion in Utah, as an example.
   The highest paid hedge fund manager in the United States made $3 million an hour in 2012, with many also-ran managers way down on the list to $1 million an hour. Meanwhile, a middle-aged woman living in a rotting, desiccated Detroit suburb has lost her transportation to her minimum wage job at $7.25 an hour that is two hours away. The city of Detroit can no longer afford to keep city buses running.

Detroit–The Incredible Shrinking City

   Anyone who believes that our economy and the middle class are recovering should review “Detropia,” the PBS special about the economic woes of Detroit, once the capital and capitol city of the middle class. Once the fastest growing city in the entire world, it is now the fastest-shrinking city within the United States. In 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression Detroit started to build the most powerful industrial base in the world because of the exponential growth of the auto industry. The city of Detroit won World War II for the Allies, building jeeps, trucks, tanks, and airplanes. Detroit was called the “Arsenal of Democracy” around the world.
   A few years after the war 1.8 million people were living in Detroit, a symbol of urban sprawl, consuming a land area larger than Los Angeles, Boston, and Manhattan combined. The middle class wanted parks, green spaces, large lots, and good schools. It was the beginning of what was later called “The American Dream.” Today the population is around 780,000, but it is very hard to count. Every 20 minutes another family leaves. Over 100,000 large comfortable family homes are vacant. Hundreds of blocks have only one or two inhabited houses.
   The filmmakers take their audience on a tour of miles of huge, abandoned auto and auto parts plants. They even film a team of gypsy salvagers tearing the plants apart to get the steel, copper, and other metals they sell to metal dealers and junkyards. Ironically the salvaged metals are sold to China—to turn into cars exported to the United States. The director of the film emphasizes this by showing Chinese cars, selling at about half the price of American, at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show.
   The Republican governor of Michigan has placed Detroit under a bankruptcy “manager” who has the emergency power to privatize city services, tear up union contracts, and sell off municipal assets. Kevyn Orr, who gained experience managing Chrysler’s managed bankruptcy, has been asked to prevent Detroit from entering Chapter Nine bankruptcy. The city has $15 billion in long-term debt, can’t afford to keep streetlights on, and has the same number of murders as New York City, which is 11 times Detroit’s size. Police work 12-hour shifts with ten percent pay cuts. Private businesses in Detroit bought the police $8 million worth of squad cars and ambulances. Once a great art town, now the Detroit Institute of Arts has had to list paintings done by van Gogh and Matisse as assets so they can be sold in case the city does go bankrupt. At least one art critic thinks the Institute has a billion dollars worth of art that can be sold.

The Other Side Of The Art World At Christie’s Latest Art Auction

   Meanwhile, in Wall Street-rich New York City, the recent postwar and contemporary art sale at Christie’s in Rockefeller Center set a world record of $495 million for an art auction. Big art collectors from all over the country, most of them hedge fund owners and managers,  had a great time bidding on 66 works that went for the $495 million. The biggest money went for Jackson Pollack’s “No. 19, 1948”, a “drip” painting made by Pollack standing on a ladder and dripping various globs of paint on a canvas spread on the floor.
   Artists say Pollack “delicately” dripped different colors of paint from high. I have seen pictures of the painting. To me it looks like a painter’s drop cloth that should have been discarded years ago. Delicate droppings? My ass!  I think one could duplicate it by placing six rats in a cage over canvas, and feed them something that gives them chronic diarrhea to get them to paint “delicately.” Different foods could provide you with vibrant colors. But my favorite paintings are by Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell. What do I know? Anyway, No. 19 went for $58.3 million to top the market, with four bidders fighting for it. Twenty years ago it sold for $2.4 million. A close second was Lichtenstein’s “Woman With a Flowered Hat” going for $56.1 million, bought by Ronald Perelman, a New York investor. Lichtenstein’s “Nude with Yellow Flower” was evidently a steal at $23.6 million.
   While all this money is flowing like Niagara around Wall Street, it is painful to remind these billionaires that a baby born in the great “manufacturing” state of Ohio has now less of a chance of living at birth to six weeks than a baby born in North Korea or the Gaza Strip. Stuff happens when mother and baby have no access to health care. And that Ohio woman with the baby? If she was born in 1990 and did not graduate from high school in 2008, she will live five fewer years than someone who graduated in the same year. Joblessness, poor nutrition, and lack of health care will take its toll.
   Those who think the economy is getting better because the stock market is rising will get a bucket of cold water in the face if they read James Surowiecki in The May 27 New Yorker. He says it’s the rich exchanging money because they have so much money they have run out of places to invest it. His point is that ordinary little stock owners dumped stock in 2008 during the recession and refuse to go back in. So, actually only the rich own substantial stocks! Less than half of the people own stocks and most have just a dribble. One out of six Americans live in poverty, but over half have no assets. The bottom 50 percent averages $18,000 per year. The average household in the bottom 75 percent earns about $31,000 per year. That means that nearly 75 percent of Americans live in poverty. The twenty richest Americans could pay for all of the food stamps going to 47 million people.

Wine And Roast Beef In Minnetonka,
Kool-Aid And Spaghetti In Anoka

   Minnetonka, Eden Praire, Columbia Heights, And Coon Rapids are all ghettos in the metro area, they just have different folks living in them. These suburbs were prominently mentioned in a three-day series in the Star Tribune about the haves and have-nots in high school athletics in the metro area. The wealthy suburban public and private schools are dominating all phases of athletics because of money, booster clubs, equipment, uniforms, coaching, fields, diamonds, arenas, gyms, and everything else associated with athletics. At Eden Praire, one of the affluent powers in Minnesota high school athletics, corporate sponsors such as Wal-Mart, Culver’s, Edward Jones Investments, and the Hazeltine National Golf Club provide millions of dollars worth of buildings and equipment. The Coon Rapids Booster Club is supported by a family restaurant, a small meat store, and a gas station. Coon Rapids recently bought Stillwater High School’s used football helmets. I hope they all passed the safety and smell tests.
    Hockey is a great Minnesota sport but equipment, travel, uniforms, arenas, and ice time cost large buckets of money. Private high schools cannot only recruit good players who have been to numerous hockey camps, they also attract rich donors who build practice and game arenas. In the past 14 years large and small private schools with tuition around $10,000 a year and up have won 16 of the 28 hockey championships. The big gaps started to appear in the 1990’s. Some booster clubs and schools raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for all sports. Como Park High School, in contrast, has a booster club held together by four parents who raised $4,600 spread over all Como Park teams last year.
   The Minnetonka baseball team is playing on a diamond that cost the school’s booster club $4.4 million. The booster club raised  money at a lakeshore restaurant fundraiser featuring a silent auction which included a week’s vacation in Hawaii, a pheasant hunt in South Dakota, a cultured pearl necklace, and a spa day sponsored by a Lexus dealership. Meanwhile the Anoka football team ended a poor season by having a paper-plate spaghetti dinner in the school cafeteria. Anoka, the largest school district in Minnesota, has won 22 state titles in the distant past–but just three since 1994.

Eden Praire High School Has Nine Gyms, St. Paul Johnson Has Problems Keeping The Gym Lights On

  Wayzata, another Minnesota powerhouse in athletics, raised $372,000 for high school sports in 2012 through the Wayzata Booster Club.  The club also collected $320,000 for a digital scoreboard for the football field. It rivals many college scoreboards. South St. Paul High School has raised $500,000—over a period of 38 years. It currently has $39,000 in assets. The Orono High School Hockey Boosters raised $402,000 last year. Eden Praire High School has four basketball coaches paid by the district. Three others are paid by the booster club.
  Private schools won three of the four championships in basketball–DeLaSalle in 3A, Minnehaha Academy in 2A, and Minnesota Christian in 1A. Wealthy donors just completed a $4.4 million hockey arena for St. Thomas Academy, which won its third straight 1A hockey title this year.
   As a matter of fact, this report reveals there are fewer and fewer middle class high schools within the state. Perhaps public and private schools should schedule each other based on outside income per student. The evidence indicates income inequality is becoming the most important element in school sports. Politicians know the answer to this–but won’t act.