740 Park Avenue: Where Monopoly Is Played For Keeps.

Posted January 27, 2014

by Jerry Alatalo

mountain3“Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.”

– Adam Smith (1723-1790) English economist

Monopoly is a fictional board game. Fiction has been defined as “n. 1. novel, fantasy. 2. fabrication, figment, unreality, falsity.” Nobody knows how many people consider the nonfictional real world as a form of monopoly – a game that’s played for keeps. The board game acts as a metaphor in Alex Gibney’s (The Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) documentary film, “Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream”.

Don’t ask me why I have never been able to like reading novels or watching fictional films. There is no ready explanation. Perhaps some day there will come a greater appreciation for art forms such as the great novels, or who can tell if fiction writing is/is not in the cards for future projects. At present, nonfiction reading and viewing of documentaries is where it is, and some may agree with the saying “truth is stranger than fiction”.

There is probably a good chance that every man and woman who prefers nonfiction for their information source has felt at times like the truth is hard to bear. Austrian writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924) said “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us”. Perhaps, noticing he lived for forty-one years, one may want to think twice before following his advice on which books to choose.

“Park Avenue” is a film that wounds and stabs us, for it portrays America in true documentary style, and leaves one either short of breath or breathless. This could explain why people have a desire to seek nonfiction books and films – because there is an innate curiosity in humans that is almost as insatiable as a heroin addiction. Given the tremendous increase in roads to travel on the internet, it is safe to say that there is an epidemic going on around the world. An epidemic of truth-seeking affecting all those who could be called “curiosity addicts”.

This is in no way meant as a criticism of human beings’ curiosity. Quite the opposite. One can express thanks for the internet, as much truth has come out for the benefit of humanity. “Park Avenue” is the second film, after viewing “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”, I’ve seen by Alex Gibney. Both of these films wound and stab, leaving the viewer with lingering thoughts like “how could this have happened?” and “why isn’t something being done about this?”

Alex Gibney is a great documentary filmmaker.

The biggest message that can be taken from “Park Avenue” relates to money and political power in America. Most men and women reading this are aware of the growing inequality in America and around the world. As someone who named his blog “The Oneness of Humanity” it is only natural to become interested in an issue as large and encompassing as wealth inequality. Any conception of oneness is directly the opposite of inequality, so those who hold that humanity is one family – where all are brothers and sisters – may have something to add to discussions surrounding “haves” and “have-nots”.

The film juxtaposes the lives of people living close to each other on Park Avenue in New York City, within a ten-minute drive across a river from each other. At “740 Park” reside the so-called upper crust of billionaire hedge-fund owners and corporate CEOs. A ten-minute drive away is the South Bronx – perhaps the poorest congressional district in America.

There are only 31 units at 740 Park, lavish and luxurious beyond one’s imagination, each unit containing up to 30 rooms or more, lived in by people who have in effect rigged the rules in their favor. Rigged to such an extent that Jack Abramoff – the convicted-of-corruption lobbyist who dealt with what Blackstone Group billionaire CEO Steve Schwarzman called himself and his billionaire friends, “Occupy Waldorf” – described the money/political power system as… “badly in disrepair”.

Besides an interview of Jack Abramoff, who served four years in federal prison after his conviction, there are many more interviews of intelligent people describing with frankness the politics and money problems. One person points out that things are such that lobbyists bring with them laws they want enacted when visiting elected representatives in the House and Senate. Things were bad before the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling – the amount of money spent of political campaigns to gain influence has only sky-rocketed after the infamous decision.

In passing, every last cent and dollar should be removed from political campaigns, starting with a constitutional amendment to abolish/overturn Citizens United. Jeffrey Sachs, featured in other posts here, says in “Park Avenue” that the government in Washington has become “owned and operated by United States corporations”. The reality is that most elected representatives have become bought and sold by the billionaires who live at 740 Park and other upper crust communities.

Much was made of the 15% tax on dividends and capital gains paid by Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election. This is the tax rate Warren Buffett made famous when he stated “I shouldn’t be paying a lower tax rate than my secretary”. George W. Bush paid a visit while campaigning to 740 Park, spoke for an hour to Steve Schwarzman, and, after a fifteen minute stay at an “Occupy Waldorf” fundraiser, left with a $1.2 million check.

Billionaire Blackstone Group CEO Schwarzman, when asked during a filmed interview if he had any comments on low taxation of capital gains and dividends, said “…that’s the sort of issue that is in the political world. We don’t have a say on that”. (Emphasis added)

Democrat Charles Schumer is seen as the person mainly responsible for defeating measures to increase the 15% wealthy tax, so viewers find little separation between the two major parties when big, big money is around – one of the interviewees thought that Schumer “buried the bill”. Some will be surprised to learn the film notes the 1980 Libertarian Party vice-presidential nomination of Charles Koch, one of the controversial Koch Brothers. The Libertarian Party got 1% (perfect) of the national vote, so the Koch brothers had to figure another way to gain influence.

So, the brothers began investing directly through gobs of multi-million dollar checks to right-wing think tanks, universities, and, after Citizens United, political action groups – including founding the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) of which its head said “our side is the side of freedom”. AFP owes its political philosophy to Ayn Rand, and found many either conscious or unconscious Rand adorers in the membership rolls of the so-called Tea Party.

Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running-mate, is heard in a radio interview from 2005 contradicting his 2012 distancing of himself from the controversy surrounding Randian philosophy. Alex Gibney then guides viewers through Mr. Ryan’s so-called “Path to Prosperity”, the economic plan described by John Boehner as “the key to America’s future”.

The film then delves into Wall Street corporations that lose billions of dollars while CEOs give themselves and colleagues multi-billions in bonuses, republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s assault on collective bargaining rights of “pampered public employees” with his “budget repair bill” (avoiding recall with the help of AFP – $10 million), and finally lists the names of men who declined to be interviewed for the film or failed to respond to multiple requests. Those men are:

Charles Koch

David Koch

Paul Ryan

Charles Schumer

Steve Schwarzman

John Thain (Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch)

Scott Walker

Jeffrey Sachs may have summed up the film’s message when he said, “America became a place where money buys everything”. It is perhaps trite to talk about a documentary and suggest the film “must be seen by every American”. On that, it is up to the viewer to decide.

At any rate, there are human beings on Earth who… play for keeps.

****

(Thank you Why Poverty @ YouTube)

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