The ancient Greek historian and essayist Plutarch is said to have written that “an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” If such is true, then the United States has fallen deathly ill. Consider the following report by Paul Harris in The Observer:
On the surface, Mark Cain works for a time-share company. Members pay a one-off sum to join and an annual fee. They then get to book holiday time in various destinations around the globe.
But Solstice clients are not ordinary people. They are America’s super-rich and a brief glance at its operations reveal the vast and still widening gulf between them and the rest of America.
Solstice has only about 80 members. Platinum membership costs them $875,000 to join and then a $42,000 annual fee. In return they get access to 10 homes from London to California and a private yacht in the Caribbean, all fully staffed with cooks, cleaners and ‘lifestyle managers’ ready to satisfy any whim from helicopter-skiing to audiences with local celebrities. As the firm’s marketing manager, Cain knows what Solstice’s clientele want. ‘We are trying to feed and manage this insatiable appetite for luxury,’ Cain said with pride.
America’s super-rich have returned to the days of the Roaring Twenties. As the rest of the country struggles to get by, a huge bubble of multi-millionaires lives almost in a parallel world. The rich now live in their own world of private education, private health care and gated mansions. They have their own schools and their own banks. They even travel apart – creating a booming industry of private jets and yachts. Their world now has a name, thanks to a new book by Wall Street Journal reporter Robert Frank which has dubbed it ‘Richistan’. There every dream can come true. But for the American Dream itself – which promises everyone can join the elite – the emergence of Richistan is a mixed blessing. ‘We in America are heading towards ‘developing nation’ levels of inequality. We would become like Brazil. What does that say about us? What does that say about America?’ Frank said.
In 1985 there were just 13 US billionaires. Now there are more than 1,000. In 2005 the US saw 227,000 new millionaires being created. One survey showed that the wealth of all US millionaires was $30 trillion, more than the GDPs of China, Japan, Brazil, Russia and the EU combined.
The rich have now created their own economy for their needs, at a time when the average worker’s wage rises will merely match inflation and where 36 million people live below the poverty line. In Richistan sums of money are rendered almost meaningless because of their size. It also has other names. There is the ‘Platinum Triangle’ used to describe the slice of Beverly Hills where many houses go for above $10m. Then there is the Jewel Coast, used to describe the strip of Madison Avenue in Manhattan where boutique jewellery stories have sprung up to cater for the new riches’ needs. Or it exists in the MetCircle society, a Manhattan club open only to those whose net worth is at least $100m.
The reason behind the sudden wealth boom is, according to some experts, the convergence of a new technology – the internet and other computing advances – with fluid and speculative markets. It was the same in the late 19th century when the original Gilded Age of conspicuous wealth and deep poverty was spawned by railways and the industrial age. At the same time government has helped by doling out corporate tax breaks. In the Fifties the proportion of federal income from company taxes was 33 per cent, by 2003 it was just 7.4 percent. Some 82 of America’s largest companies paid no tax at all in at least one of the first three years of the administration of President George W Bush. [full text]
In today’s installment of “On the Cutting Edge of Research,” Reuters is reporting that “scientists have genetically engineered mice that develop the physical and psychological characteristics of schizophrenia.” I am not making this up. The article goes on to say that, “when these genetically altered mice matured, they showed increased agitation in open spaces and had more trouble finding hidden food than healthy mice and less interest in swimming.” Wow, that’s amazing. Who knew that mice had any interest in swimming? I wonder if they take a dip au naturel or wear miniature Speedos. Oh, and what’s up with hiding their food? As if being given schizophrenia by their human overseers weren’t bad enough, the poor little critters have to stumble around in a delusional state (Texas?) and deduce where their dinner is concealed. Oh, well, I guess them’s the [psychotic] breaks.
According to the Projo, there is talk of a resolution on the horizon for the concrete plant opponents in Cranston. But it may just be talk. In fact, it sounds decidedly like just talk if John O. Mancini, lawyer for Cullion, doesn’t even know about the proposed resolution, as he suggests in the article. From the Projo:
CRANSTON â€” Mayor Michael T. Napolitano has been quietly informing City Council members and neighbors of a half-built concrete-batching plant off Pontiac Avenue that he is working on a resolution to the year-long controversy surrounding the project.
The mayor, who has declared his opposition to the plant, has remained tight-lipped about the details of his proposal.
And residents, who call Napolitano a half-hearted ally in their fight to block completion of the project, say they are skeptical that the mayorâ€™s talk of a resolution is anything more than an attempt to score political points with the neighborhood.
â€œHe hasnâ€™t been strong enough,â€? said Suzanne Arena, a spokeswoman for Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development, an opposition group that has raised concerns about traffic, noise and pollution.
But Ernest J. Carlucci, the mayorâ€™s director of administration, defended Napolitano.
â€œThis administration,â€? he said, â€œis doing everything within its power to rectify this situation.â€?
John O. Mancini, a lawyer for Cullion Concrete Corp., the company trying to complete the plant, said the city had not yet approached his clients about settling a contentious court battle over the project.
But he said Cullion, which suspended construction of the plant in June 2006 amid the growing controversy over the project, would be open to discussions.
â€œIf thereâ€™s a way to resolve this short of litigation,â€? he said, â€œweâ€™d be willing to hear it.â€?
If you’re not outraged or concerned, then you’re not paying attention…
â€¢ Certain Degrees Now Cost More at Public Universitiesâ€”As if being unable to afford tuition at a private university were not bad enough, the New York Times reports that some students who attend public universities are beginning to find themselves priced out of certain fields of study, thanks to the collegiate version of Ã la carte pricing.
â€¢ Bush Administration Utterly Callous Toward Iraqi Refugeesâ€”Writing in The Progressive, Amitabh Pal describes the burgeoning humanitarian crisis in Iraq and takes the Bush administration to task for so meagerly providing assistance to “the more than two million Iraqis rendered nationless due to its misadventure.”
â€¢ Friends mobilize on Facebook to protest boy’s deportationâ€”From the McClatchy Newspapers, a heartbreaking story about all that is wrong with this nation’s immigration policies, as exemplified by an 18-year-old honor student from Miami who has been in this country since the age of 2 yet is scheduled to be deported to Colombia because he is undocumented.
â€¢ White House Trims Investigators Tracking Environmental Crimes, Below Level Ordered by Congressâ€”The Associated Press (via the Environmental News Network) reports that “fewer U.S. environmental cops are tracking criminal polluters these days” (in defiance of federal law) and there has been “a significant decrease in the numbers of criminal pollution investigations and civil lawsuits and the amounts of fines assessed under President Bush.”
Our vigilant press just gave us a penetrating report on the President’s lower bowel, and now there’s a new crisis. Hillary Clinton wore a v-neck sweater, and there were reported sightings of…cleavage.
I’m not an expert on the semiotics of dress, so I wouldn’t pick up a message unless she wore a shirt with a picture of Che or the Confederate flag. What she was wearing looked pretty ordinary to me, (you can see a picture and judge for yourself here), but the fact that her clothes trumped her speech tells us a lot about the judgments women face, all the more if they are public and powerful. There is a great editorial in the New York Times, which would not normally be accessible online unless you have account. You can, however, go to Greenpagan, that is posting the editorial. Judith Warner says it better than I ever will in my dreams.
You see, I’d always thought that, when you reached a certain age or a certain stage in life, you sort of bought your way out of the sexual rat race. You could be a ‘person of cleavage’, to borrow a Pulitzer-worthy phrase from Ruth Marcus, a Post columnist, but you could nonetheless make it through your day without having to give the matter much thought.
After all, isn’t every woman past a certain age, at a certain weight and after a certain amount of breast-feeding, a ‘person of cleavage’? And aren’t you allowed, at a certain time of life, to escape from the world of at least my youth, where you couldn’t walk down the street licking an ice cream cone without inviting a stream of leering commentary?
I always thought that middle age afforded some kind of protection from prying eyes and personal remarks. I thought this was the silver lining to growing up and growing older. Clearly, I was wrong.
For the rest of this fine essay, click here.
Council member Emilio Navarro was good enough to send a copy of the ordinance which was defeated on Thursday night. You can read the full ordinance here. Council Member Navarro provided this accompanying email:
The argument against the ordinance was it was â€œanti businessâ€? and businesses are going to be driven out of Cranston and that the ordinance should not be city wide.
My biggest fear is the residents of this city are the ones that are going to be driven out because city government is letting them down and not protecting their quality of life. Their problems are falling on deaf ears and that is not good government. It is irresponsible government.
I tried putting forth a vehicle or process in which residents can voice their concerns and, if in extreme cases like the one facing the residents of Domestic Bank there would be solution, if merited, by designating resident parking areas with stickers if approved by the city council.
I’d also like to raise a question that comes from an exchange on Kmareka between Tom Cloonen and the elusive “Jesse from Cranston.” Tom Cloonen praised Emilio Navarro, calling him “one of the more honorable men I have had the pleasure to meet.” Jesse responded that “Mr. Cloonen seems to like Emilio because heâ€™s doing his job as a first-term City Councilor: listening to vocal residents about their issues. Once this lot thing is over, I expect Emilio will find more important things to spend his time addressing.” I wonder if Jesse can further explain what he meant by this comment. In my understanding of being a legislator, listening to constituents is the main part of your job. If Emilio continues in politics, what are these “more important” things that you expect he will be doing?
Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece in which I decried the rash and immoral acts perpetrated by the Bush administration since 9/11, ostensibly in the name of national security. Specifically, I took exception to the unjust and Kafkaesque detainment of alleged enemy combatants at the GuantÃ¡namo military prison. Despite some shift in the tide of public opinion (and political representation), this shameful symbol of all that has gone wrong with America these last few years remains open for business. The injustice persists. In today’s McClatchy Newspapers, Shashank Bengali reports on the unrelenting nightmare that one of the detainees, Sami al Hajj, has endured for more than half a decade now:
He’s all but unknown in the United States, the country of his jailers, but in his homeland of Sudan, Sami al Hajj is a national hero. The president has spoken out about him, demonstrations have been held in his name, and a bakery in Khartoum has printed his picture on its packaging.
A 38-year-old cameraman for the Arabic news network al Jazeera, Hajj has been imprisoned as an â€œenemy combatantâ€? at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for five years, but never charged with any crime. He was arrested by Pakistani police in December 2001 while on his way to a news assignment in Afghanistan, but he’s denied having any links to terrorism.
The independent, Qatar-based network earned the wrath of top U.S. officials after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for airing statements by Osama bin Laden. Hajj has been interrogated approximately 130 times, according to his attorneys, and nearly every question has been about whether the network or its journalists are connected to al Qaida or other terrorist groups.
Hajj had been with al Jazeera for only a few months at the time of his arrest, and heâ€™s told military interrogators that he knows nothing about the networkâ€™s corporate structure or financing.
Family members describe him as a soft-spoken romantic whoâ€™d dreamed since boyhood of becoming a cameraman. Before he joined the network, he had a succession of low-level jobs with private companies in Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.
â€œPeople here know him to be so calm, so respectful. Heâ€™s not a terrorist at all,â€? said his younger brother, Asim al Hajj, 31, who lives in the family home in a working-class suburb of Khartoum, Sudanâ€™s desert capital. â€œHe is caught up in this because the United States government is against al Jazeera.â€?
Interrogators offered to secure Hajjâ€™s release if he agreed to spy on al Jazeera, his attorneys say, but Hajj has refused.
Sudanese officials and international human rights and press freedom groups have demanded that Hajj be tried or released. Neither appears likely. Documents released by the military suggest why Hajj continues to be held: He’s alleged to have couriered money in the late 1990s to the Azerbaijan branch of al Haramayn, a Muslim charity that provided support to extremist groups, and to have once met an unnamed â€œsenior al Qaida lieutenant.â€?
Hajjâ€™s attorneys said both allegations, which surfaced in an August 2005 review board hearing, stemmed from his work as an assistant to the head of a soft-drink distribution company in Dubai. In the hearing, which he attended wearing the white uniform reserved for the most cooperative inmates, Hajj refused to respond in the absence of his attorneys, who are barred from such proceedings.
â€œWith all due respect,â€? he said, reading a statement, â€œa mistake has been made because I have never been a member of any terrorist group, and I never took part in any terrorist or violent act.â€? [full text]
According to this article from UPI, Michael Moore has been served a subpoena to appear in court because of the trip he took to Cuba.
BURBANK, Calif., July 26 (UPI) — Michael Thursday said the Bush administration has served him with a subpoena regarding his trip to Cuba during the making of his new film, “Sicko.”
The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who appeared Thursday on NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” said he was notified about the subpoena at the network’s studios in Burbank, Calif.
“I haven’t even told my own family yet,” Moore said. “I was just informed when I was back there with Jay that the Bush administration has now issued a subpoena for me.” [full text]