Of pitchforks and penthouses

Ed Raymond

Billionaires want to take you for a ride in space, if you can afford it.

Everybody needs to understand critical economic and racial facts

Once in a great while one runs across an innocent-looking article that is like a combined X-ray, sonogram, and MRI examining your country. Daniel Immerwahr in the October 23 New Yorker in “The Pitchfork of History: Beyond the myth of rural America” covers some facts that are not often covered by the media in its struggles to never stop presses, turn out lights or shut off cameras.   Did you know that: Indigenous people in 574 tribes have fought 1,642 military engagements against the United States. Treaties resulting from those battles have cost us billions of dollars. One historian has suggested Little House on the Prairie should be retitled Little Squatter on the Osage Diminished Reserve!

1.  Only 10 of the tribes have approved same-sex marriage.

2.    Family farms have virtually ceased to exist. We now have “family corporations.”

3.    The country’s largest food company is PepsiCo, which owns Rice-A-Roni, Sabra, Rold Gold, Doritos, Gatorade and Quaker Oats.

4.    U.S. agriculture is not capitalist. The government stabilizes prices, provides insurance and at times limits supply. Government policy always supports the largest farms such as Archer Daniels Midland.

5.    In 1920 there were one million Black farmers. Now only 100,000 are operating.

6.    Slaughterhouses used to be in population centers like Chicago because of perishability. Slaughterhouses are now near small cities and towns because labor is cheaper and staffed by low-paid immigrants. Gainesville, Fla., with a population of 140,000, is the chicken-processing capital of the world ,with huge plants with thousands of Latin America workers.

7.    The Pentagon has 4,000 military bases in the U.S. containing acreage equal to the state of Kentucky.

8.    Half of U.S. troops killed in Iraq have come from towns of less than 25,000 – and a fifth were from towns of less than 5,000. The poorest 50 counties in the Divided States of America supply a majority of troops in the military.

9.    Dollar General has four times the number of stores Walmart has in the U.S. and always places stores in small towns. The corporation makes money by minimizing staff and paying minimum wages. If a store does not make money, it is immediately closed. The CEO says: “We’re kinda like gypsies. We can close a store and be gone in 24 hours.”

10. In recent elections in the 10 largest cities, Democrats elected mayors. Of the top 30 of the largest cities, only two elected Republican mayors. Meanwhile, Republicans rule in everything “small,” except for Indian reservations and the Black Belt in the South.

Rural people are only one/fifth of the population but have greater power in national elections because of the large number of lesser populated small states. In the past six elections Democrats received 34 million more votes than Republicans but had a majority of senators only once.

In the past six presidential elections, Democrats won the popular vote five times but elected presidents just three times. Democrats win cities, Trumplicans win rural areas. Something is wrong in La-La Land. Those statistics give Republicans the advantage in the House of Representatives and in state legislatures. California, with 40 million people, has two senators and Wyoming, with 580,000, has two.

Harper’s magazine uses “Harper’s Index” to reveal important points about the American people. In the last issue it has comments about retirement savings of American workers:

(1) 50% have no savings,

(2) 80% have less than $100,000,

(3) 25% have less than $200,000, and

(4) 25% earning at least $175,000 a year consider themselves too “poor,” or ”just getting by.”

Another fascinating fact about American attitudes: 21% of pet owners,  who, given the choice between saving the life of one person or one dog, would choose the dog! The pay gap between city and rural folk just widened when Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill increasing the minimum wage for all health care workers in California to $25 an hour by 2028, and minimum pay for fast food workers to $20 starting next April. California’s overall minimum wage is currently $15.50 an hour, while the federal minimum wage stays at $7.25. Californians will vote in November 2024 whether to raise the overall minimum to $18 an hour.  

Extreme tourists blast off to space while homeless live in cars in ‘safe lots’

As income inequality explodes across the world, we keep adding new terms and words to the lexicon of many languages. Please add “Extreme Tourism” and “Safe Parking Lots” to your language. Because of tax havens, loopholes and celebrity politicians we have a concentration of massive wealth created by lucky entrepreneurs, hedge fund managers and investors who have a great desire to be at the top of the elite list – whoever maintains it. And we have the billionaire bandits who will be happy to supply billionaires and millionaires constant thrills and chills.

The once-in-awhile richest man on earth, Elon Musk, runs SpaceX and offers rocket rides to the International Space Station for an eight-day stay for a measly $55 million each. He takes three at a time. Three men returned to earth in April. This business is so attractive to a California company it plans to build a space hotel named The Voyager Station, which will include villas, gym, restaurant and bar and artificial gravity.

British billionaire Richard Branson also has a space company that will take you way up yonder on a 90-minute flight to 55 miles above the earth to experience a few moments of weightlessness. A seat aboard the space-plane costs $450,000 – and he has 800 customers signed up.

Another once-in-awhile richest man on earth, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is also in the extreme tourist business. His Blue Origin rockets have taken customers paying somewhere between $250,000 and $450,000 a seat on an 11-minute, 62-mile trip to space. Jeff keeps busy as chairman of the board and with rockets and two superyachts.

Want to go to the deepest spot in the ocean or pay a visit to the Titanic resting place so you can tell guys and dolls at your clubs? BYOS Expeditions will take you to the Mariana Trench in the Pacific at 36,000 feet in a titanium-hulled Triton for $750,000 a seat. A reminder: the four passengers in the Titan which disintegrated a 8,000 feet each paid $250,000 for the dip. I guess relatives will speak for them at their clubs. Last year 105,000 tourists visited Antarctica on cruise ships for fees between $50,000 and $100,000. That’s hardly worth talking about. A record 463 people paid between $60,000 and $100,000 to climb Mt. Everest in the spring. Only 17 died on the climb.  

President Joe Biden and his cloud-covered Chief of Staff Joe Btfsplk

Old people will remember the small man always covered with small, dark clouds who often shadowed Al Capp’s character “Li’l Abner” as he went from one rather comic situation to another in that famous comic strip. Sometimes Joe helped rescue Abner in comical plots or was heavily involved in serious ones.  The other Joe reminds me of a glad-handing politician of the 1920s who happens to be caught in the 2020s. He keeps bragging about Bidenomics but doesn’t seem to realize billionaires are reaping all the profits of his economy. Joe never defines “fair” taxes and doesn’t seem to know taxes create civilizations. There are many elements that define “common good.”

Joe has been sucking up to billionaires too long to understand that members of a community must share wealth to satisfy common interests. It costs money to make the “common good” available to everybody: basic rights and freedoms, transportation systems, cultural institutions, charities, police and public safety, judicial systems, election institutions, public and private education, comfortable environments, clean air and water, and, of course, national defense.

If Joe is making some progress in a few of these common good elements, it can only be described as “teeny-weeny.” A recent Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey reveals:

(1) food insecurity is at its highest level since Joe was inaugurated (insecurity is a nice political term to say you’re hungry!),

(2) homelessness is up 40% in big cities,

(3) evictions are increasing in most cities,

(4) more adults are skipping medical appointments because of cost, and

( 5) only 65% of adults can cover an emergency of $400 with cash. Joe’s black clouds are covering a big majority of Americans. Wait until 45 million Americans ages 20 to 90 start paying $1.7 trillion in federal student debts again! Joe didn’t get that done either.

The biggest goof is Joe allowed the economic, which had decreased child poverty by 5% and evictions halted during the COVID-19 major crisis, protections to expire. Child tax credits had proven to be a big deal. They were also dropped. For some reason Joe could not keep a member of his own party, another Joe (Mansion), from throwing grenades and firing rockets at a program that really would have reduced poverty in this country.

Why are American workers making as much as $75,000 to $130,000 living in their cars and RVs in special parking lots? Several large cities have organizations which are creating “safe” parking lots because housing is so expensive due to economic inequality. Living in cars and RVs is risky business because of crime. Hundreds of safe parking lots across the country, many by churches, malls and large stores, have designated places for people living in their vehicles. Local organizations and police departments are providing security. California, which has more homeless than any other state, has dozens of safe lots. It opened the first one in 2004.  

Meanwhile, on the superyachts, in $100,000-a-night penthouses

While millions of poor people are crossing Mexican, Libyan and Thailand borders to escape tropical and temperate zone environments, heat, autocratic governments and poverty, hotels in the financial capitals of the world, particularly New York and London, are setting obscene economic records. London has several deluxe hotels where the penthouse suites are usually always filled at $120,000 a night. One manager stated: “The ultra-rich are price insensitive.”

Four o’clock teas go for $110 a cup. A drink called the London Swing goes for $30 in the bar If you want to spend the night in a room costing $1,300 a night once used by Winston Churchill, the clerk will simply add another “0” to the room charge. It’s for bragging rights. Our billionaires are continuing to make the planet uninhabitable in a few years by buying more mansions, superyachts, private jets and $1,000 lunches. It keeps them in the running for being the greediest.

New records for most expensive properties are being set every month from Palm Beach to Miami Beach. The average price for a home in Palm beach is $20 million which equals $4,554 a sq. ft. That means a single bathroom runs about $300,000. Recent reports indicate the Greenland and Antarctica ice fields are melting at three times the previous rate.

Corky and I lived on a North Carolina barrier reef called New Topsail Island for two years while I was stationed at Camp Lejeune. The average landscape was eight feet above sea level at the time. In a few years the island will disappear. Goodbye, Surf City!