The American Saga Of The Cruise Ship And The Fishing Boat
The death of the black teenager Trayvon Martin, shot to death by a private “security” guard in an Orlando, Florida “gated” community, not only is a deadly comment about our society, it reminds all of us that we are building a “stove-piped” country, with each economic group occupying a restricted space. During the George W. Bush administration of 2001-2009, there was a 53 percent increase in gated housing units, reinforcing a bunker mentality against what black writer Rich Benjamin calls the “loitering, non-property owning poor, renters, new immigrants, and people perceived to be poor.” Benjamin spent three years and traveled 27,000 miles within the United States, living mainly in white gated communities, interviewing residents. Over 10 million housing units secured by fences or walls are in U.S. gated communities.
We are even emphasizing the utility of a privatized criminal justice system, with citizens who can afford such services—secure gates, private cops, private roads, private parks, private schools, private playgrounds—living, as Benjamin writes, “in smugness and fear.” The “Shoot First” and “Stand Your Ground” laws passed by states reinforce the idea that we live in our narrow stovepipes of communities, isolated and mistrustful of any group that is above or below us in social and economic ranking.
Real estate developers realize that “gated” is becoming a negative world, so now we switch to Orwellian fantasy speech, calling gated communities “master-planned communities,” “landscaped resort communities,” and—get this one—“secluded intimate neighborhoods.” Benjamin sums up the rapid growth of these privatized areas this way: “No matter the label, the product is the same: self-contained, conservative and over-zealous in its demands for ‘safety.’ Gated communities churn a vicious cycle by attracting like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid group-think against outsiders. This creates an us-vs-them mental landscape.”
Titanic Cry “Women
And Children First!”?
Remember all of the chest-thumping about rich men going down with the Titanic, saving lifeboat places for third-class women and children who were housed in the very bowels of the ship? A thorough study of death rates from the Titanic reveals that wealthy men had the same survival rate as third-class children. There were tremendous differences in survival rates across the three “ticket” classes. The cheaper the ticket, the higher the rate of death. Of course, it was more difficult to get to the deck from third class, but all passengers did have time to get to the lifeboats that were available.
I thought of the Titanic survival rates and gated communities when the story of the Star Princess cruise ship and the fishing boat “The Fifty Cent” hit the news. Three poor teenaged fishermen from Panama, hoping to get a big catch, went to sea but were stranded far from shore when their motor quit. The three spent more than two weeks drifting further out to sea, hungry and thirsty, before they spotted the Star Princess. The three frantically waved T-shirts and orange life jackets trying to get the attention of anyone on the cruise ship. They did. Three passengers spotted the little fishing boat and its passengers as they were bird watching. They had high-powered binoculars, spotting scopes, and cameras equipped with telephoto lenses. They took pictures of the boat and passengers. They notified crew members, who called the bridge about the fishing boat. But one spotter said, “Nothing happened. The ship didn’t slow down. It didn’t seem to change course. So I went back in and asked what the captain was going to do. And he said he didn’t know.”
Two weeks after the sighting by the cruise ship, one fisherman who survived was rescued by another fishing boat over 650 miles from shore. He had thrown the bodies of his two friends, who had died from thirst and exposure, overboard.
There is a law of the sea called Regulation 33 of the International Convention: “The master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving a signal from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance...” The Star Princess saw the fishing boat when it was 130 miles from land, way beyond where a small fishing boat would go. The court case should prove interesting. Was there a port-of-call time that had to be made by the cruise ship?
A Looter Elite Feasting
Like Maggots On The
Carcass Of An Empire
University of California professor Ernest Callenbach wrote an ecological utopian novel called “Ecotopia” in 1975 while serving as an editor and film expert at the university. He studied communities and societies around the world, concentrating on those that lived simply and focused on saving the environment. He died April 16, 2012. He left a summary of his life and thoughts on his computer. His analysis of our present condition in this country is worth repeating over and over. This sentence sticks with me: “The people who do best at basic survival tasks are cooperative, good at teamwork, often altruistic, mindful of the common good...hoarders and dominators win only in the short run, and end up dead, exiled, or friendless...we need to help each other, to look out for the communities of which we are a part.”
He doesn’t think much of the One Percenters: “We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class. But this maggot class does not invest its profits here....The looter elite systematically exports jobs, skills, knowledge, technology, retaining at home chiefly financial expertise: highly profitable, but not of actual productive value.” Callenbach uses Mexico as an example of where the U.S. is heading: “End result: something like Mexico, where a small, filthy rich plutocracy rules over an impoverished mass of desperate, uneducated, and hopeless people.” Wall Street, the leader of the looter elite and charter members of the maggot class, is doing exactly what he writes about—rapidly killing off the middle class. The maggot class would represent the cruise line owners, sailing quickly by the three poor fishermen so they could make port and collect a few more bucks for side trips.
Here’s One Of
Those Looting One
Meet Edward Conard, buddy and contributor of Mitt Romney, who made hundreds of millions of dollars at Bain Capital, that vulturous private-equity firm so much in the political news. Conard retired at age 51, evidently exhausted from carrying all of those huge deposit slips around. Actually, he has so much disposable cash he is a member of the .01 Percent, not the common ordinary 1 Percent. Conard has just finished a book on finance and the economy called “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You Have Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong.” His premise? Income inequality is not a sign the system is rigged. The greater the income gap, the better off everyone will be. The superrich spend little on their personal comforts because most of their money is invested in job-creating and productive businesses. Computer inventors deserve billions because the machines made life and work more efficient, improving our economic fortunes. Google developers deserve billions because they made the world so much richer.
Sometimes Conard goes completely off his plutocratic, fascist, Ayn Rand rails. He claims investment bankers did not cause our Great Recession because people took their money out of the banks before the bankers could use it for loans!! He says the financial crap designed by Wall Street banks, such as financial derivatives, credit default swaps, collateralized-debt obligations, and mortgage-backed securities, was good stuff not understood by a lot of dummies. He writes, “Only sophisticated investors understood these new financial tools!”
When The Maggots Start
To Eat The Good Flesh
Conard also thinks the government should guarantee bank bailouts if we go through future recessions or depressions. It seems his only interest is money and how to make it. He ridicules art history majors who waste their time studying those two subjects in college instead of joining “the risk-taking, innovative-hunting, competitive life of the banker.”
New York Times reporter Adam Davidson interviewed Conard at length and summed him up as a real maggot in the end, even if he had “earned” hundreds of millions of dollars: “Conard describes the world as grim and soulless, one in which art and romance and the non-remunerative satisfactions of a simpler life are invisible. And that is...Conard’s world. God didn’t create the universe so that talented people would be happy. [The world] is not beautiful. It’s hard work. It’s responsibility and deadlines, working till 11 o’clock at night when you want to watch your baby and be with your wife. It’s not serenity and beauty. If a Wall Street trader or a chief executive is filthy rich...the merciless process of economic selection has assured that they have somehow benefitted society.”
Guys like Conard tend to prove that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is scientific and right. Conard should spend some time studying art and history instead of spending his entire life counting dollars. He might run across a live-by statement by an old, wise Indian chief: “Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”
At 82, Callenbach
Probably Has Written
The Epitaph For
The American Empire
The wisdom and the history found on Callenbach’s computer is probably too late to save this country—but we should at least read his post-mortem and autopsy. He recalls when the U.S. developed into the strongest, most vital, and most democratic country in the world in the thirty years following WW II: “Thanks to strong unions and a sympathetic government we had unprecedented productivity and prosperity widely shared, a huge working middle class evolved—tens of millions of people could afford (on one wage) a modest house, a car, perhaps sending a child to college.” No longer is that possible.
But in describing what has happened in the last two decades, Callenbach tolls our funeral bell: “Capitalists who grew rich and powerful by making things gave way to a new breed: financiers who grasped that you could make even more money by manipulating money. They had no concern for the productivity of the nation or the welfare of its people; with religious fervor, they believed in maximizing profit (witness Facebook IPO and the derivatives of Morgan Stanley) as the absolute economic goal. They recognized that, by capturing the government through the election finance system (witness Citizens United, the SuperPacs, and the Republican Supreme Court) and removing government regulation, they could turn the financial system into a giant casino. Little by little, they hollowed the country out...Our wars became chronic and endless (over a decade in both Iraq and Afghanistan) and stupefyingly expensive (over a billion a week in Afghanistan alone). Our diets became suicidal (leading the world in obesity), and our medical system faltered (still behind Cuba in effectiveness and 34th in the world), with even our life expectancies [beginning] to fall.”
I picked up a discarded copy of ForbesLife the other day, described as “the magazine with the founding mission of celebrating the rewards of success with flair and style.” The articles and the ads all emphasized the excesses of the One Percenters. Robert Forbes, the son of Malcolm Forbes, the founder of Forbes magazine, described how his dad “loved to go into his garage and look at the 40 Harley-Davidson motorcycles he had parked there.” Is that what life is really about? ForbesLife had a story about a $27 million man-cave put together by a bachelor. It had solid gold bathroom fixtures, electronic bullet-proof windows with steel shutters, and four gold-leafed bedrooms. Numerous “sophisticated” ads sold $2,950 leather belts, watches at $65,500, $490 shirts, $2,730 pants, $195 shirt pocket squares, and $1,000 men’s shoes. There is truly a sickness in the land.