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Commentary Last Updated: Mar 12th, 2007 - 00:34:39

The rich get filthier and the poor get poorer
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Mar 12, 2007, 00:32

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It�s hard to imagine, even as a life-long New Yorker, the far past obscene delights described in the Washington Post article For London�s New Super-Rich, No Whim Need Go Unfulfilled.

London�s nouveau money monarchy call themselves �the haves and the have yachts,� sailing past Bush�s contributors �the haves and have mores.� That paucity of moderation underlines a mamoth selfishness that characterizes the free marketer, now enjoying maximum freedom to swim in London�s financial cash-pool, while its working class and poor struggle to stay afloat.

These are �rich London bankers and traders who drop tens of thousands for an evening of cocktails and hire �personal concierges� to get their girlfriends dresses like those worn by movie stars. . . . financial stars paid a total of $17 billion in annual bonuses in recent weeks, including more than 4,200 people who received bonuses of at least $2 billion each, on top of salaries already sagging under the weight of zeros.� And zeros are what they are, which you�ll find if you hold your nose and read the whole scabrous article.

These are the investment bankers and hedge fund gang about whom I wrote in �Japanese interest hike sparks markets plunge.� These are the Cayman Island pirates, the Bermuda and Bahamas sheltered corporatos, today�s massive gang of champagne/money guzzling fascists, who are making vast sums gambling with the health, wealth and well-being of the world�s economic system.

It is unlikely they can see beyond their greed, potbellies and Ferraris; or that the errors of their ways can result in massive financial bubbles bursting, wounding, as in America, sub-prime mortgage holders, who lost homes they couldn�t afford in the first place. It is unlikely they believe their actions could trigger a series of massive bank defaults, and a total collapse which will make America�s 1929 Crash look like Ground Hog Day. This is the logical outcome of a free market system that has turned Capitalism into a Casino Royale, not the film but the reality, in which the wealth of nations is being summarily sucked from the marrow of their bones.

These, my darlings, are the ghouls, the beyond the Masters of the Universe Tom Wolfe depicted in his brilliant novel. This is more like the protagonist Eric Packer of Dom DeLillo�s prescient novel, Cosmopolis, which takes place in a somewhat futuristic New York City. Packer is a young billionaire hedge fund manager, consistently outperforming the market, who crosses the city in his 35-foot long white limo, personally outfitted with an array of liquid screens spilling every conceivable piece of currency and market data. Curiously he is hedging on the price of the yen falling, when in fact it continues to climb, sucking in billions of his fund�s dollars, and putting him at risk. Yet he persists till his ill-fated end.

Until then, he manages to have his personal managers meet with him in the opulent limo (home and office away from same), have sex with one or two, and listen to his chief of theory, Vija Kinsky, tell him, �We want to think about the art of money-making. The Greeks have a word for it. Chrimatistikos. But we have to . . . adapt it to the current situation. Because money has taken a turn. All wealth has become wealth for its own sake. There�s no other kind of enormous wealth. Money has lost its narrative quality the way painting did once upon a time. Money is talking to itself. . . .

�And property follows of course . . . The enormous expenditures that people make for land and houses and boats and planes. This has nothing to do with traditional self-assurances, okay. Property is no longer about power, personality and command. . . . The only thing that matters is the price you pay. Yourself, Eric, think. What did you buy for your one hundred and four million dollars? Not dozens of rooms, incomparable views, private elevators. Not the rotating bedroom and computerized bed. Not the swimming pool or the shark. Was it air rights? The regulating sensors and software? Not the mirrors that tell you how you feel when you look at yourself in the morning. You paid the money for the number itself. One hundred and four million. This is what you bought. And it�s worth it. The number justifies itself.�

If you think this fiction invites question, return to the article, in which �Rich Russian, Arab sheiks, Indian moguls and other foreigners are among those buying up mansions like cartons of milk. At One Hyde Park, a luxury apartment complex that the British media have dubbed the world�s most expensive address, the cheap apartments are going for $40 million and the penthouses are expect to fetch well over $100 million each.� Reality imitates fiction. Fiction predicts reality. After all, DeLillo�s book was published in 2000, and it must have taken him a while to write it.

�Peter Hain,� the article points out, �an outspoken member of Prime Minister Tony Blair�s cabinet, called the recent bonuses �grotesque� and said the recipients should give lumps of it to charity. A recent poll found that 73 percent of respondents agreed that bonuses were �excessive and something should be done about them,� while 69 percent said the gap between the highest paid and average earners is now too big.�

It must be. Garry O�Dea, a luxury car sales executive, said that �the waiting list for a new custom-made Ferrari is three years . . . Demand for cars costing more than $200,000 is rising.�

Yet, if this isn�t bizarre enough, consider the response of New York Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg (billionaire owner of Bloomberg News) and our Democratic Senator Charles Schumer . . . listen to their response to the information that �Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, not[ed] that 15 years of uninterrupted growth in one of the world�s most open economies has set London�s financial sector swaggering.�

The Big Apple�s politicos� response was that �increasingly tight regulation of U.S. financial markets, as well as strict immigration laws, were hurting New York, while rival London, closer to rising giants in Asia and Russia, was becoming more attractive to business and talent.� Well, yes, and so is sexual and human (adult and child) slavery, slave labor, sweat shops, assassinations, denial of civil liberties, and a strangled press. Do we want those, too? They come hand in hand. Where are your values, Mayor Blumberg and Senator Schumer?

Why do we admire what�s worse about Great Britain. For me the Great in Great Britain is its people, the people who fought the Nazis with whom the monarchy was flirting. The same people who fought an oppressive decadent monarchy for hundreds of years for a modicum of freedom and democracy.

Across the pond, we find Wall Street, the Main Street of the American Economy, has already brought you AIG�s billionaire CEO Maurice Greenberg, kicked out of his own company after incurring a $1.6 billion fine for tampering with reinsurance rates. It has also brought you Dennis Koslovsky, Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and Bernard Ebbers, to mention a few of the superstar crooks. But for a more complete list, check Forbes Wall Street Fine Tracker for 2000 to 2004. Or check the more menacing Global Exchange�s �Most Wanted� Corporate Human Rights Violators of 2005.� You�ll see many familiar �friendly� names there, products of already too loose corporate governance.

Do we want more than this? To have the Sarbanes Oxley legislation neutered, or thrown out, because it is strong and effective with the greedy and/or cramps their style of doing business? I don�t think so. Or you will end up with a Wall Street worse than London, where �business is soaring at Quintessentially, a service which provides 24-hour assistance to customers who need to �access the inaccessible,�� according to co-founder Aaron Simpson. �Like $6,000 replicas of Jennifer Lopez� Academy Awards �Marchesa� gown . . . or an elephant-shaped cake studded with rubies and emeralds, and a parachute trip over Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border in southern Africa.� Got milk? Good. That�s all you need.

Simpson described the need for these must-haves as the outcome of �the adrenaline rush you get from making a 10 million-pound bonus . . . the same as falling off a cliff at 3,000 feet.� Like wow, gotta have it. And also Quintessentially, bring me the heads of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tony Blair and the greaser that ordered the elephant cake. I�d like to put them on pikes surrounding a pet zoo of corporate offenders and administration members, where working people can come and toss them peanuts, or whatever other delectables they care to.

And lastly, let me repeat my first sentence, �That it was hard to imagine, even as a life-long New Yorker, the far past obscene delights of the WP article.� I say that because if I walk two blocks east of West End Avenue (on which I live), lined with pre-war buildings whose apartments have risen from four and five to seven or eight figures in the last thirty years, I will come to the low-income projects of Amsterdam Avenue, and the poor white, Hispanic and black families living there, many receiving with public assistance, most at the low end of the wage spectrum.

Yet, I will see their beautiful human faces. I will see their kids, skate-boarding, playing softball in the schoolyards, and going to the public schools my kids went to as well. I know these people�s humanity. I know their music, the hip-hop, the salsa, the blues. I know their struggles. Nor do I turn my face from it to move across the Washington Bridge to some lily-white suburb in New Jersey or north to Westchester�s bedroom communities for �professionals.� I want to see it. I wanted my kids to see it, to know and befriend, and be brothers and sisters to the other half to make themselves whole.

I often stroll those streets, walk through the projects, to remind myself where I came from, the mean streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Nobody bothers me. And I don�t bother anyone. This is the beauty of opening your arms to your fellow human beings. You don�t have to hide on a yacht full of money beyond the three-mile limit of the dispossessed to be safe. You are safe in your own compassion for the lives of others; happy with whatever you do or don�t have. Happy to be standing side by side with the living. That�s the enchilada to shoot for. Priceless.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York. Reach him at

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