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​A sitting monument

by Ed Raymond | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Gadfly | February 7th, 2018

America sculpture by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan.jpegFinally, a fitting monument to the One Percent—a gold toilet
The Middle East has been a human maelstrom for thousands of years because of tribes fighting one another for the four necessities of life. If you wonder about it, study why the region has the highest unemployment rates in the world and presently has 29 million children living in extreme poverty. Many millions of their parents live in abysmal conditions, unable to supply decent housing, water, or nutritious food.

Poverty is the reason they kill each other. Here’s why. Five of the ten richest monarchs in the world lead countries in the Middle East. They spend billions on the most absurd extravagances known to man: land, castles, palaces, jet planes, yachts, and solid gold toilets.

At one time Iraqi billionaire Saddam Hussein did his daily duty in gold toilets he had installed in at least two palaces. They quickly disappeared when Saddam went into hiding. I can only hope an Army and Marine private shipped them home at government expense.

One more example of obscene absurdity: the Sultan of Brunei owns 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in a 1,788-room palace, proclaimed the largest in the world. It was valued some time ago at $350 million.

If curious, check on why at least 50 Saudi Arabian princes get living allowances of about $250,000 a month—and spend millions building palaces for themselves. They don’t seem to recognize the role they play in a world that has 29,000 children die every day from preventable diseases such as diarrhea and malaria.

Income inequality is spreading like the flu across the globe. Currently the six richest people on Earth own more assets and cash than the 3.7 billion people in the bottom half of the world’s population. And the United States has the highest rate of income inequality in the developed world.

Question of the day: how many of the 99 percent attended the super bowl?
Estimates are that if you are a member of the One Percent your annual income must exceed $500,000 in 2017. I wonder how many 99 Percenters attended Super Bowl LII. I see Governor Dayton paid $6,000 for his seat. He didn’t seem too happy about it. He said he took two sons to the game—but didn’t say he paid for their tickets. The NFL distributed tickets to cities and teams, claiming they ranged from $3,340 to $3,882. It listed tickets for the general public at $5,999 to $12,000. A seat on the 25-yard line and close to the field sold for $9,500. Of course, that’s all before scalpers and other miscreants got their hands on them. They were asking $5,200 for the average ticket.

Why am I thinking of the Roman government and how they operated the Roman Coliseum? It marked the end of the Roman Empire.

There were numerous ticketed events taking place during the week ranging from $25 to $45. But a Rolling Stone Party ticket ran $625, a Leigh Stenberg Party ticket was set at $375, and a Playboy Party was priced at $475. There was a Super Bowl Players Tailgate Party at $750 and a Blitz Tailgate Party at $484.

I see the Forum News Service reported a concert admission ticket at $20,000. I hope that was a mistake. Was it Pink, Jennifer Lopez, or perhaps God playing the harp? The average price for hotel rooms in the area was said to be about $500. Menus listed Iranian caviar at $1,000 a serving, beef skewers at $75, lobster dinners at $99, and creamed corn for $14. Fans were urged to buy NFL-sanctioned caps and T-shirts for $60 and $54. Parking spots were $65.

These don’t seem to be 99 Percenter prices. Local airports received over 1,500 private jets for Super Bowl week. Most private jets take $3,000 to $7,500 an hour to operate. Evidently it’s a big deal to say: “I was there!” Billionaires spending millions to see a football game? Get a life!

It’s just a game, folks. I have played in about 80 football games in high school and college and was co-captain of my college football team. As a high school principal I have hired football coaches. I’m a Vikings fan. I have watched hundreds of games -- high school, college, and professional. But if one team is behind 15 points at halftime I pick up a book.

Pay $6,000 to watch a football game? Bring on the white jacket! Lock me up! I favor my recliner, a martini, TV, and a good read.

The average player salary in the NFL is about $2 million. Quarterback Tom Brady of the Patriots makes about $21 million a year. So in Minneapolis we had One Percenters in the private boxes (costing $325,000 for this game with booze and food additional) and in stands watching other One Percenters on the field play for them. It’s a great One Percent party.

Eventually the pitchforks will be raised and this will not stand. Competitive billionaires have ruined all sports. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team makes $55,000 every time he walks to the plate. That’s the median annual salary for an American family.

Some One Percenters are slowly getting a sinister message
My French cousins are well known for their rough and tumble protests, particularly those involving farming rules or more McDonald’s. They set aside New Year’s Eve to burn expensive cars as a message to the plutocrats that their reign may be ending. It’s a strong message to the “Let Them Eat Cake Crowd.” This year they burned over a thousand expensive cars they found on the streets on New Year’s Eve, setting a new record.

France also has income inequality and racial intolerance. My French cousins call the new president Emmanuel Macron the “President of the Rich.”

A few One Percenters are beginning to recognize that our country is really divided between the rich and poor—and that the pitchforks are being sharpened. An Atlanta billionaire has spent six years and $30 million building a modern fortress for his family. Designed like the Greek Acropolis, the 36,000 square-foot castle features walls of reinforced concrete to repel heavy machinegun fire, bulletproof windows, bulletproof doors with locking pins, and is filled with booby-trapped features.

But we also have plutocrats like hedge fund manager Ken Griffin of Citadel LLC who has garnered $8.7 billion in wealth. He has homes in New York, Chicago, Miami, and Hawaii that total out at 144,620 square feet and are valued at $655 million. He pays a lower rate of income tax than any of his cooks, secretaries, maids, and property managers. He hasn’t revealed whether he sits on a solid gold toilet.

The story of King Donald’s golden throne
It seems Trump’s White House asked the Guggenheim Museum of New York for the loan of a Van Gogh painting to hang in the White House. The chief curator, evidently not a fan of New Yorker Donald, offered a work of art by Maurizio Cattelan called ”America” which satirizes the disposable nature of American society and its anxieties about the body and its functions. He had used the theme of Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain,” in creating “America.” The “Fountain” is a common urinal so Cattelan created a working gold toilet which was installed in a public restroom at the Guggenheim.

According to Cattelan, the “use of gold satirizes not just American values but references a long discourse about the vanity of wealth, the belief of rich people that everything they do is transmogrified (changed into a different form) by money.”

In other words, plutocrats like Trump have crap that is sweet-smelling and pleasing to behold. The gold toilet offered the White House is of common design that would look like one installed in a public school or airport. It is not a classy toilet like the ones recently invented by the Japanese that have heating elements in the right places, spray pleasing aromas, and quickly dry areas with blasts of air—complete with lighting and musical options.

King Donald, who loves gold fixtures in his airplanes, helicopters, gold signs on buildings, and in his Trump Tower home, has not rejected the offer of the gold toilet. It’s a rather amusing conundrum for him. We know he loves gold. Will he accept the gold toilet to display in the White House? Or will he insist on getting a Van Gogh? Is a gold toilet or a Van Gogh more important to him?

This is really all about income inequality
So here we had a week of obscene wanton excess, Super Bowl LII, with plutocrats flying in by private jet to occupy suites costing $325,000 for three hours of “Me, Me, Me” while devouring $1,000 Iranian caviar and $130 ribeye steaks. Isn’t it a new chapter in the movie of “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

Meanwhile in the 99 Percent, 67% of us have savings of less than $1,000 and 44% of us cannot come up with more than $400 to cover an emergency expense. Over ten million 99’s have no bank account. Super Bowl LII ads ran $7.7 million for 30 seconds. In 2016 10.5 million Americans fell below the poverty line because of medical bills.

Now we have Trump bragging about companies giving $1,000 bonuses. Big deal. That’s two weeks rent for a one bedroom apartment in San Francisco. WalMart brags about increasing pay and giving bonuses that cost the corporation a whopping $700 million. The Walton family was worth a total of $145.3 billion before the bonuses and pay increases. Gee, now they are worth only $144.6 billion. Will these Walton kids ever make it out of that financial hole?

The Minnesota miracle has now become the Minnesota mess
I see the University of Minnesota has become a victim of the billionaire domination of college and professional sports, by building a $166 million day - and night-care center for Gopherville’s 750 athletes. Coaches making more money than the president of the university say it will help to recruit athletes to prepare them for playing in the NFL, NBA, and NHL.

The Plutocrats have won again, turning college presidents into fundraisers instead of educational leaders. At the same time, Minnesota regents said they didn’t have enough money to continue to operate a 45-year-old childcare center in the Education Department, where teachers are prepared to teach in Minnesota schools. At the same time they dedicated the palace for athletes, the regents voted to increase non-resident tuition by 15%. Priorities, priorities, priorities.

I follow Jim Southan of the Tribune on occasion because I love sports, whether its Tiger Woods or Tom Brady, but he hit it out of the park describing Super Bowl LII: “Now it is about modern America, the intersection of sport and celebrity, the transformation of news events into spectacles and the monetizing of everything.” Amen! Sounds like Rome to me.  

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