A garage in the sky

Ed Raymond

Is it possible to move from a tent on a sidewalk to a garage in the sky?

There have been wealthy people who added a car elevator to the mansion for their Bentleys so they could unload groceries close to the kitchen, but I have never seen a high-rise apartment building advertise a sky garage for each of the 62 apartments in a high-rise – including the 62nd floor penthouse.

On a barrier island called Sunny Isles Beach 30 miles from Miami, a developer is creating three-bedroom apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows, an outdoor kitchen on an open 1,595 sq. ft. terrace, a private 9’X24’ swimming pool, and an in-unit 1,525 sq. ft. garage called the Dezervator for million-dollar Bentleys or other makes. There is room to park three cars.

The building itself will have a beach club, spa and dining club. All for $7,850,000. With bedrooms, bathrooms, storage and other rooms too numerous to mention, the total sq. ft. must be around 10,000.

I still remember the national stir caused by multi-millionaire Mitt Romney when he had a five-story car elevator installed in a California home. I imagine now that it’s no big deal around the world and in the richest country in the world.

Since Googling for more info, I have received a lot of pitches of $12m to $14m mansions condos and apartments in what has to be a very rich ZIP Code.

While our One Percent is busy spending millions on “collectibles” (John Jacob Astor’s watch of Titanic fame was just bought by a private collector for $1.2m), and checking out superyachts, or second or fifth mansions, and funerals in space, the numbers of homeless are increasing every day in the richest country in the world –and the one with the greatest economic disparity.

We now have one of the shortest life expectancies and the highest infant mortality rate of the richest, industrialized nations Organization of Economic and Cooperation Development (OECD) in the world. We kill about 50,000 and wound another 100,000 each year with at least two firearms for every adult that remove all reason and civility from neighborhood streets and bars. In a society rocked by “deaths of despair,” we kill more than 50,000 with opioid drugs each year peddled in the pharmacies and on the streets by our greedy shareholder drug cartels. We believe lazy, crooked welfare queens drive new Cadillacs to the welfare office to pick up their checks.

Maybe we should study how the “World’s Happiness Countries” remove despair. Every night we have more than 650,000 homeless, with less than half in shelters and the rest in tents, or covered with cardboard on park benches, or cramped in old vehicles. We have the highest rate of evictions among renting households in OECD countries. A worker in the U.S must earn $21.25 per hour to rent a single room with 30% of his income in the average city. It ain’t possible.  

Let’s send Congress to ‘happiness countries to see how they do it

I still remember a snarky comment made by Divided States of America Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia many years ago when he said he would never use a foreign court decision to support a position taken on a case in our Supreme Court, implying they didn’t have the brains to add anything to a difficult decision. I see the state of California, which leads the DSA with 180,000 homeless on its streets and in its cars, sent a four-person committee to Vienna, Austria, which leads most European cities in growth, to study how they contain the homeless number to virtually zero.

Vienna has no one on the streets, no one in filthy encampments and keeps building to house those who become homeless. They also build swimming pools, gyms, workshops, gardens and roof terraces in those settlements. Those poor and middle-class people provided homes keep them for their lifetime and can even pass the housing to their children. More than 60% of the poor and middle class in Vienna live in subsidized housing.

In very rich California only 5% of housing is subsidized. Austrians provided homes are required to pay rent of 27% based on their total income if they are employed. In many California cities it takes 50% of income just to pay rent. Vienna is densely built and has a well-connected transportation system, which eliminates the necessity of having cars. Cities in California are so spread out because of the automobile it adds considerably to the cost of raising a family. The subsidized housing program in Austria is supported by a 1% tax on all salaries, which has been used for more than 100 years!  

A Santa Monica council member who has studied the Vienna options says: “Unfortunately, in my city, some people think finding room for cars is more important than building homes for people.” Parking lots in California cities take up huge areas where adequate housing could be built. California has housing costs double the DSA national average while suffering a 40% increase in costs in the last five years. Economic inequality is to blame. Even starter homes in many California cities start at $1m. San Diego’s median housing sells for $980,000 and currently has 10,000 homeless living in the streets.

Average monthly payments on newly purchased homes average $5,500 a month. A comfortable middle-class life in California costs more than $200,000. Vienna, a city of two million, builds 6,000 to 7,000 new housing units a year to absorb the population increase. Four Californians studying the Vienna system have said: “You cannot tell whether an Austrian is rich or poor by what he is wearing or where he is living.” Perhaps even Scalia could have found more than one good idea in Vienna.  

Here is another reason we have many failures of government

Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times makes several important points in a fascinating article “The Price We Pay for Having Upper-Class Legislators.”   We have more than 7,300 state legislators in the whole country, but only 116, or 1.6% of the total, have worked or are working in a manual labor job, the service industry or a clerical or union job, according to a study conducted by Duke University and Loyola University of Chicago.

Geez! With my work record, I “coulda” have been a “contenda” for a state legislature! As a farm kid, with manure on his boots, I have been a silo packer, potato seed sorter, cow milker, bundle hauler, body hauler, mailman, singer (1948 Miss America Bebe Shoppe Show) dorm counselor, waiter, cook, dishwasher, carnival worker, hotdog and ice cream sandwich salesman, window washer, painter, carpenter, bartender, Marine Corps officer, high school English, creative writing, and journalism teacher, semi-pro baseball pitcher, assistant American Legion baseball coach, park board baseball supervisor, school district personnel director, salary and benefits negotiator, high school principal, elementary school principal, NDSU education professor, Concordia education professor, radio and TV  “political analyst,” and 32 years as weekly columnist. It’s been fun, and still is.

To get back to the subject, I see 1% of Republican legislators have working-class backgrounds while 2% of Democrat legislators have had that role. There are 10 states where no Republicans have had a working-class job! Only 10 states have full-time legislatures with median pay of $82,000. Fourteen states have part-timers with average pay of $18,000, and the remaining have “hybrid” legislators who put in about 75% of their time and are paid an average of $41,000.

We can only conclude our legislatures are not built so working people can participate and add important critical facts in legislative debates. They can’t afford to take the time, so we have to have wealthy people who don’t know much about what “working” people go through to try to make a living for the family.

For the richest country in the world to earn a top spot in the Happiness Poll, we must have majority representation from the bottom 90% and minority representation from the top 10% instead of the other way around. Our state legislators should be provided with a sufficient middle-class salary, funds for staff salaries, child care, housing and good health insurance – or universal health care. We need to examine the representatives of the governments of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and European countries in the top 10 Happiness Poll. We have to get rid of the legislatures and legislators that are dominated by wealthy people who pursue their own goals and not much else.  

How can our social contract smother us with happiness?

Life in the Divided States of America can be pretty grim for 90 million who live in the richest country. But with too many people motivated by 400 years of racial hostility and the greatest economic inequality on Planet Earth, Americans have  refused to develop a true welfare state securing the well-being of all citizens. Is it so difficult to see why Finland has the happiest people in the world? They give a damn about each other! They don’t buy the violin for $1.1 million for another investment to make a fast buck that was played as the Titanic sank in the cold Atlantic.

By the way, the case for the violin was sold to another collector the same day for $350,000. What the hell do you do with a damaged violin case? You sell it to another greedy nutcase! Finns spend their money on people.

Washington Post writer Eduardo Porter summarized life for many Americans in this short paragraph: “In this American story, the less fortunate – Black, Brown and White – are left to scratch by as best then can, often falling into a deep well of misery. The rich engage themselves way beyond anything seen in other wealthy, industrialized societies of the West. Princeton University scholars Anne Case and Angus Deaton made the case that these dynamics were deadly, producing an epidemic of suicides and overdoses called ‘deaths of despair.’ Inequality and death are joint consequences of the forces that are destroying the white working class. It is the deeper forces of power, politics and social change that are causing both the epidemic and the extreme inequality.”

How did we get to this point? Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has the answer: “Unrestrained capitalism.”  

He describes the use of unfettered markets – markets without any rules and regulations. Cheating is rampant and trust is low. The vultures are circling and are getting refueled in the sky.  Have you watched grocery prices in the last two years? Stiglitz: “A world without restraints would be a jungle in which only power mattered, determining who got what and who did what.”

Prime ministers of Brazil, Germany, Spain and South Africa have proposed charging the world’s 3,000 billionaires a 2% wealth tax yearly to be used to fight poverty, inequality and climate change. Brazil chairs the G20 group of developed nations which is meeting later this year. Brazil is going to propose that all 195 nations pass the billionaire tax to attack those problems.

So far, President Joe Biden has said absolutely nothing about charging our 765+ billionaires the tax.