Nel's New Day

February 3, 2012

Siegel Represents the 1 Percent

Newt Gingrich has a number of loyal supporters, including the ostentatious David Siegel. People may not recognize his name, but they will recall his 90,000-square-foot unfinished house in Florida that he’s still trying to sell for $75 million. When I wrote about him a few months ago, a computer search lacked anything current about him. Siegel, however, has reappeared in the limelight, this time with a lawsuit.

When filmmaker Lauren Greenfield obtained Siegel’s permission to make a documentary about the opulent home patterned after Versailles, home of French kings,  the year was 2007, and Siegel thought he could afford to build his palace. By 2008 the recession stopped the building but not the film, The Queen of Versailles, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last month. Siegel’s suffering company, Westgate, has a time-share resort in Park City (UT) where Sundance films are shown.

Sundance’s promotion described the collapse of Siegel’s time-share empire and the foreclosure on his mansion. Siegel took umbrage to this and the description of his “rags-to-riches-to-rags story,” claiming that this publicity is hurting his company’s business. Sundance changed the description but kept the offending phrase. Meanwhile the original description is still wandering the Internet. Not satisfied, Siegel tried to keep Sundance from showing the film.

His next approach was to file a lawsuit that alleges, “As a result of the defamatory statements, Siegel and Westgate have been injured in their good name, credit and reputation, have been shunned by customers and the business community, specifically the Park City area, with whom they previously had business relations and have suffered a loss of customers and diminished profits.” The solution, according to the lawsuit, is a sum in excess of $75,000 in damages from Sundance, Greenfield, and her husband-filmmaker, Frank Evers, as well as court costs.

“It’s just one more effort to ridicule and humiliate the 1 percent,” said the 76-year-old business owner. “They made it look like my company is in ruins, that I live in a pigsty, that my wife is a gold-digging blonde bimbo, that she’s overendowed, that she’s a shopaholic.” Then he backtracked a bit. “Some of that might be true but it’s not the way they presented it. She’s a shopaholic, but what woman isn’t.”

Siegel is also hostile about the filmmakers’ omission of his political and charitable activities. He takes pride in having had the Rev. Jerry Falwell in his home and describes himself as a “political kingmaker” who was “personally responsible for getting George W. Bush elected president.”

The Newsweek column (2/6/12) about Siegel and his lawsuit is available on the net complete with a photo of the house, but this source is missing the statistics, such as 23 bathrooms, and the lovely photo of David and Jacqueline Siegel. Those images are well-worth seeking out the original.

David Siegel has made himself an icon of the income inequality, the “class warfare” which Republicans contend is tearing the country apart. He wishes to build a 90,000-square-foot house while 1.5 million people are homeless and another 15.8 million are paying over 50 percent of their income toward house, making them eligible for tenant-based housing subsidies. Only one in nine, however, receive this benefit. In 2010, 17.2 million households in the United States, approximately 1 out of 7 in this country, were “food insecure” (a polite term for hungry), the highest number ever recorded in theUnited States. That was a year ago; the number increased in the last 12 months.

Food stamp use rose 70 percent over the past four years with the trend expected to continue. With the overwhelming layoffs and house foreclosures in late 2008 and early 2009, the number of people needing money for groceries went from 27 million people to 46 million, the number receiving food stamps six months ago. This assistance gives people about $2 per meal. Meanwhile the cost of living increased 3.6 percent while wages stayed stagnant—if people had wages.

The Gallup organization released information last October that American workers are now three times more likely than Chinese workers to be unable to feed their families. In the United States, 19 percent of Americans worried about being able to feed themselves or their families, compared to only 6 percent of Chinese. In this country almost one in four children go to bed hungry every night.

With his desire to build the biggest house in the nation and his lawsuit from feeling insulted, David Siegel is a symbol of the wealthy conservatives who believe that the people without homes, the ones who can’t feed their kids, just aren’t working hard enough. He supports Newt Gingrich for president, the man who said, “I repudiate, and I call on the President to repudiate, the concept of the 99 and the 1. It is un-American, it is divisive, it is historically false…You are not going to get job creation when you engage in class warfare because you have to attack the very people you hope will create jobs.”

Fact: The U.S. is number 1 in the world in terms of income inequality.

December 14, 2011

Income Inequity Destroys Economy

Class warfare: that’s what Republicans call it. They want everyone to stop walking about the inequity of income between the bottom 99 percent and the rest of the people in the country. Income inequity is so prevalent, however, that seeing it cannot be avoided.

David Siegel tried to sell his unfinished 90,000-square-foot house (no, that’s not a typo!) in Orlando. The asking price of $75 million may include the 10 Segways that he, wife Jacqueline, and their eight children use to get from one part of the house to another. The 10 of them will not be homeless; Siegel still owns the 26,000-square-foot house where they live. The last recession hit Siegel hard: his time-share company, Westgate Resorts, went from an annual $200 million profit to $1 billion in the hole. His money difficulties, he explained, stemmed from his banks that won’t finance loans.

The recession hurt others as well. Edra Blixseth, former co-owner of the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky (MT), filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. She said that she and husband Tim were “living on the financial edge,” edge meaning two yachts, three jets, and a California estate with its own 19-hole golf course and staff of 110 people. Their spending is in accord with the patterns of the top 10 percent that spends 10 times the amount that the bottom 80 percent do. We’ll guess that the bottom 80 percent are more concerned with toothpaste and milk whereas the top end concentrates on jewelry and vacations.

When Westgate couldn’t roll over its debts, Siegel fired half of his workforce of 12,000 people and sold off assets. Today, according to Siegel, Westgate is “highly profitable,” but revenues are still half their peak levels. Economy measures for the Siegel means that they fired 14 of their 15 housekeepers and lost their private chef, “Chef Jeff.” The kids go to public school, and the bank seized their Gulfstream. The family is allowed to use it occasionally, but on a trip when they had to fly commercially, one of the kids said, “Mom, what are all these strangers doing on our plane?” [Thanks to Robert Frank for this information in his book, The High-Beta Rich: How the Manic Wealthy Will Take Us to the Next Boom, Bubble, and Bust.]

Conservatives are fond of raging about how little the bottom half of the people in the nation. They like to say that these people pay nothing, but they neglect the fact that any employed person in the United States pays payroll taxes. It should be a no-brainer to understand why the unemployed don’t pay taxes.

The top 1% of earners pay 38% of federal income taxes. They also have 38.3% of all privately held stock, 60.6% of financial securities, and 62.4% of business equity. The top 10% have 80% to 90% of stocks, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate. In summary 10% of the people pretty much own the United States of America.

Other income inequities:

The top 0.1 percent of earners in the U.S., about 328,000 people, has more than 20 percent of the personal income in the country, and their average income is $5.4 million. The average income of the bottom 90 percent is $31,244.

In 1970 the top 100 CEOs earned $45 for every $1 earned by the average worker; in 2006, the ratio was $1,723 to $1.

In 2005 total reported income in the United States increased almost 9 percent from the year before; income for those in the bottom 90 percent dipped slightly compared with the year before, dropping $172, or 0.6 percent. The gains went largely to the top 1 percent, whose incomes rose to an average of more than $1.1 million each, an increase of more than $139,000, or about 14 percent.

The top 300,000 people in the U.S. (about 0.1 percent) collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980. The top 10 percent of  people in the U.S. collected 48.5 percent of all reported income in 2005, an increase of more than 2 percent over the previous year and up from roughly 33 percent in the late 1970s, about a 50 percent increase.

The combined net worth of the bottom 40 percent of the nation’s wealth  is 0.3 percent or the country’s total net worth; the top 1 percent has 25 percent or the nation’s wealth, about the same as just before the Great Depression in the 1930s.

S. Robson “Rob” Walton, Walmart chairman and 9th richest person in this country, has a net worth of about $19.7 billion. Walmart workers make around $8.75 an hour, about $18,000 a year. Each one of these employees would have to work over a million years to approach the $19.7 billion. Alice and Jim Walton each have about $20 billion, and Christy Walton has $24 billion. In 2010 the CEO of Walmart, Michael Duke, made his average employee’s yearly salary, $18,000, every hour.

Six members of the Walton family possess wealth equal to that of the entire bottom 30 percent of Americans: six people have the same wealth as over 90 million people in this country.

In the 1950s the top 400 taxpayers faced a 90 percent federal tax rate; by 1995 their effective tax rate, what they really paid after all deductions as a percent of all their income, fell to 30 percent. Now it’s barely 16 percent.

In 2010 business donated $1,317,999,729 to political campaigns; labor donated $92,355,686. Such an inequity in campaign expenditures guarantees increase income inequity.

In 1994 the top six banks’s assets were 17 percent of the economy; in 2009 the top six banks’ assets were 63 percent of the economy.

Between 1979 to 2007, average inflation-adjusted after-tax income grew by 275 percent for the 1 percent of the population with the highest income; their share of after-tax income more than doubled from below 8 percent in 1979 to 17 percent in 2007. For those in the top 20 percent of the population, average real after-tax household income grew by 65 percent, increasing their overall share from 43 percent in 1979 to 53 percent.

For the poorest fifth of the population, average real after-tax household income rose 18 percent between 1979 to 2007, lowering their percent of after-tax household income from 7 percent in 1979 to 5 percent in 2007. And for the three-fifths of people in the middle of the income scale, the growth in such household income was just under 40 percent, dropping their share of after-tax income by 2-3 percent from 1979 to 2007. Thus the lowest 80 percent almost kept up with inflation during these 28 years, but the collective income of the top 20 percent is now more than the bottom 80 percent.

The U.S. has a higher level of income inequality than Europe, Canada, Australia, and South Korea, according to data gathered by the World Bank. America ranks in the bottom third of the list of 90 countries, which is mainly based on 2008 data of per capita income or consumption in each nation.

Unique to the United States is the relative lack of government support compared to Europe and Canada. Other countries provide more public services, including health insurance, higher education, daycare, and pensions. And these benefits are provided on a more universal basis, rather than being dependent on one’s income level, as in the United States.

Europe also places more restraints on executive compensation so its corporate leaders don’t receive the outsized packages that their American counterparts do. Lavish executive pay is one reason why the top 1% ofU.S. earners have seen their average inflation-adjusted household incomes rise by 275%, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

At the same time, weakening the unions has destroyed the middle class. The conservatives’ philosophy that income inequity is good because it shows the success of capitalism makes them fail to recognize that without a strong middle class, the bottom 99 percent cannot afford to spend money to support the private sector. The result is fewer and fewer jobs, continually weakening the private sector and keeping them from supporting the public sector. The Republican position is forcing the United States into a race to the bottom of the world’s economy.

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