Cold Cash

by CARL GINSBURG

Protesters at Zuccotti Park spent a very long weekend in an October snow, tarps and tents providing scant protection against some early flurries.  Zuccotti sits on the south edge of Tribeca, a tony, toasty neighborhood of the 1 percent, where loft and condo prices still run in the many millions and whose inhabitants have a different perspective on things cold.

These are the coldest of times, as child poverty hit 22 percent in the U.S.—this nation now ranked near the bottom of OECD countries on youth health and welfare — a pointed indication of the appalling demise engulfing this country. In this land of the 1 percent, banks and non-financial companies are hoarding trillions of dollars in very essential capital.  Cash holdings of non-financial S&P 500 are over $1 trillion—“more cash than in decades,” is how Lisa Myers of Templeton Income Fund put it last month, a figure exclusive of cash held abroad by U.S. companies, estimated at $1.5 trillion.  Myers reported the cash holdings at European non-financials is now 800 billion euros, which puts the Greek rage in some perspective.

Quarterly reports in the U.S. are due out in coming weeks and, according to S&P Valuation and Risk Strategies research group, “[T]he question seems to be not whether cash holdings exceed the $1 trillion mark again, but by how much.”  Cold cash.

“Cash provides an important cushion,” offered the Wall Street Journal in an article last month, “Companies Shun Investment, Hoard Cash”.  In any event, to take these funds out of reserve requires “confidence,” as the 1 percent explain in their daily mantra, that droning cry for confidence, echoed in a media ever-alert to the supreme priority – indeed, moral responsibility — of colossal cash accumlation.  Confidence by consumers, confidence in government. After decades of stagnant wages, phony ratings by Moody’s and others, bank scams and rip-off interest rates triggering millions of home foreclosures – putting families, children out– and now predictable, escalating child poverty–  confidence?  A self-fulfilling prophesy if ever there was: impoverish the masses and plead no confidence in their future; impoverish the government and plead no confidence in its role; promote confidence in cash and hoard it.

Just a few miles up from Zuccotti, across the Harlem River that borders Manhattan on the north, the Bronx sits in expanse, the poorest urban county in the U.S., a vast borough of 1.4 million where the rate of poverty stands now at 30 percent.   For the more than one in four Bronx residents  18 years old or younger the poverty rate is 40 percent. As someone recently said, do the math.

Most Bronx residents work; they just don’t get paid a living wage.  Cold cash is the cause, working poor is the effect. Do the math.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg took time from a busy schedule decorating his Manhattan townhouse, described as “baronial,” to nix a $10-per hour minimum wage for a city-supported retail project last year, the tough-minded billionaire playing his part in readying the population for a life at or near poverty.  “A low-wage job is better than no job,” explained fellow billionaire and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt on ABC News on September 18.  “The real problem,” added Schmidt, “is not the business community.”  Add billionaire Schmidt’s name to list of purveyors of cold cash.  (Bloomberg also owns homes in London and Bermuda and the purchase of a  summer estate on Long Island for tens of millions was recently made known, the frugal mayor’s protestations for privacy notwithstanding. There is a fortune to be made in ignoring the needs of children.

The  reality for these young people of the Bronx is gut wrenching, as parents escort their neatly dressed and groomed children to dilapidated schools, with few labs, computers or even facilities for a physical activity.   Most recreation is gone and with it the full physical development of their children.   That’s incendiary.

Along Park Avenue in Manhattan, elite private school children congregate after school, awaiting transport to soccer, swimming, tennis, fencing.   Skiing is for winter break.  Their parents, paragons of responsibility, whose civic calling embraces the latest celebrity illness, a High Line promenade abutting Tribeca and most recently a $182 million in donations to the Metropolitan Opera, “an astonishing amount in a tough economic climate,” chimed the New York Times on October 10.  David Knott, McKinsey consultant, and his spouse kicked in an extra $500,000 this year “to support ‘The Enchanted Island,’ a new Baroque pastiche production this season.”  Bravo.

It was five years ago that the Bar of Association of the City of New York filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in the Seattle and Louisville  school cases.  It was a stunning document.  In this filing, the Bar decried the separate and unequal make up of New York City schools.  The Bar wrote that “separate is inherently unequal”  and added:

[F]ifty years after Brown, the promise of ending racial segregation in public education and eliminating the educational and social disadvantages that accompany racially segregated schools has been lost in many of our nation’s largest school districts. New York City is a particularly poignant case in point: it is widely known for its racial and ethnic diversity and eliminated de jure segregation long ago, yet its public schools are among the most heavily segregated in the nation. Numerous schools reflect a level of racial segregation that has led prominent critics to label them “apartheid schools” ….

Indeed, a system of apartheid schools persists today in the Bronx and elsewhere in New York City, separate and unequal.   Still, educational opportunity is touted as “the way out,” or the way in to the world of cold cash.

The 1 percent show no mercy.  Primary care is hard to obtain in the Bronx, with ERs substituting on a crisis basis.  Bus stops are overrun with eager riders, subways few and far between.  Quality fresh produce is not available, overpriced when it can be found.  Bronx landlords hound their tenants, with illegal notice a regular device.  One report is of a landlord who delivered an apartment to a new tenant with a vermin-infested stove.  When asked to replace it she explained the place had been rented “as is.”  Health codes be damned.   This landlord, like so many of the absentees ensconced in Manhattan, cutting every corner in pursuit of cold cash.

Carl Ginsburg is a lawyer, writer and organizer. He lives with his family in the Bronx.  He can be contacted at carlginsburg@gmail.com.

Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch

One of the Greatest Descriptions of Farm Work Ever Written— Don’t miss Frank Bardacke’s marvelous account from the California fields. ALSO Linn Washington Jr. on the “Black Backlash Against Obama.”

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