Dangling Opulence

I watched in horror as my home, New York City, was being blown away by Hurricane Sandy, and I was full of fear for my family and friends who were taking the mighty storm head on. I started thinking of the poor and the homeless and how they would survive the impact of the deviating storm. As I watched the news and listened to the talking heads, they mentioned the luxurious apartment skyscraper being built on West 57th Street and the crane that was dangling 70 stories above New York City’s pavement.

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The building, a 90-story grand palace whose über rich tenants have plopped down a whopping $90 million each for the top 10 floors looked cold and deadly as the crane intended to erect the gazillion dollar structure, dangled in the air, I started thinking about the super wealthy and the 190 million America struggling in the wake of man-made and natural disasters.

In the last sixty years, America has had its best economic gains when the government was involved in growing the country through the building of modern America. The interstate highway system, the most modern ports in all the world, massive expansive bridges like the Verrazano connecting my native Brooklyn to the birthplace of my ancestors across the Narrows leading into New York Harbor. The government helped developers build Long Island and many other neighborhoods and cities. The government built public schools and rewarded our bravest with the G.I. Bill and the availability of a college education. States expanded colleges, universities and trade schools and as the population became more and more educated the country became the shining star on top of a hill for the entire world to emulate.

That’s what a big government did for America and, in doing so, the wealthy became endowed with more wealth than any group of people in the history of the world. And this, in turn, grew the middle class to the envy of the world.

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The evidence is real and concrete; when the American middle class grows so grows the economy of the country. The evidence is also real and indicts the theory of “trickle down” economics. The theory, pushed by Ronald Reagan and his economic team, has no evidence of working or doing any of the economic gains spouted by conservatives and the GOP. The only group that boosted its wealth is the top 2% of the population. Over the last 40 years the top 2%’s wealth has grown over 170% while the middle class grew up only 40% over the same period of time.

As for the poor, well they have suffered more in the last ten years than at any time post Great Depression. Over that time period people in poverty have lost more than half of their wealth, with African-Americans losing over 60% of their previous wealth. Compared to the über wealthy, think of their wealth in terms of  dollars per hour; a man as wealthy as Mitt Romney who claims to have made $21 million dollars last year made an estimated  $10 thousand dollars an hour whereas the working poor make do on $7.25 and hour and food stamps.

An estimated 16 million people now live in poverty; most stay alive on disability insurance, Social Security, food stamps, short-term public assistance, section 8 housing, Medicare and that magical minimum wage. $58 dollars a day of sweat, toil and pain — existing not living — day in and day out, their children malnourished and under-educated, with 2 million more locked away in state, city and federal prisons — mostly old, children, southern whites, African-Americans and immigrants from south of the border, while the über rich languish in opulence much like the super wealthy of societies of the past unaware of the tragedies that surround them. They’re isolated by extravagant living and show little to no concern for the country that protects and promotes them like no other country in the world, fostered by politicians who attach themselves to the rich like sucker fish on a shark.

The devastation inflicted on my New York home is being met with a spirit that never gives up — that champion attitude that oozes out of the sweaty pores of the toughest people on the planet. And with new cooperation fostered by the need to care for the citizens of the area, President Barack Obama and Governor Christie proved today what pragmatic leaders can accomplish when the fate of the American people in their hands, proving that some can live up to the social contract they have accepted by their service.

As the water from the sea battered the east coast, it exposed a deteriorating American infrastructure and ripped the scab off the needs of America and its people — needs that take us back to a time when the American middle class counted and were not thought of as obstacles by the rich, sucking benefits out of their stock portfolios and off-shore bank accounts. The opulence of the 2% was magnified by a dangling crane high above West 57th Street threatening to come crashing down on the workers of New York and the poor who could only try to take shelter from the storm.