[News] Let Them Eat Yachts

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 7 13:24:36 EST 2012

February 07, 2012

The Rogues Gallery of the America's Cup

Let Them Eat Yachts


The once-proud city of San Francisco is on the 
verge of turning its storied public waterfront 
into a west coast playground and cash cow for the 
idle rich, now more popularly known as the One 
Percent.   America’s Cup is coming to town.

“America’s Cup.”   It has an odd ring to 
it.  It’s not a familiar sports appellation like 
the World Series of baseball, the Superbowl of 
football, World Cup of soccer, or even the 
Stanley Cup of hockey.  That’s because “America’s 
Cup” is a trophy passed back and forth between 
private yacht clubs inhabited by wealthy 
people.    The Cup originated in an 1851 race 
staged by English blue bloods and American robber 
barons who belonged to exclusive all-white yacht 
clubs.  The yacht clubs became the enabling 
organizations for the wealthy to race their boat 
toys against each other.  Naturally, as a class 
that relies on the hard work of others to produce 
wealth for itself, the hard work of the actual 
racing of the boat toys was done by hired 
hands.  No one expected Lord Bob or Mister 
Monopoly to get out there on the deck and take in sail.

 From the very beginning, America’s Cup was 
inextricably tied to that rogues gallery of 
sociopaths who amassed vast fortunes from the 
exploitation of workers and resources while 
enjoying the protection of the politicians they 
bought and sold like stocks.  JP Morgan. 
Vanderbilt.  Rockefeller.   Names that live in 
infamy in the memory of anyone with a 
conscience.  The tricked-out sailing vessels they 
commissioned were merely extensions of their 
insatiable egos.  They also collected race 
horses, governors, and mansions (one of 
Vanderbilt’s was aptly called “Idle Hours”), as 
their wives collected furs, servants and diamond 
studded collars for their dogs.  Mark Twain 
dubbed the period the “Gilded Age,” because its 
thin veneer of plating was not thick enough to 
conceal the prevalence of avarice and corruption underneath.

By the end of the 20th century, the Cup races, 
which had stumbled through the century with as 
much as eighteen-year gaps between events, 
suddenly expanded into regular matches and 
rematches between the ever-private yacht clubs 
(most of the clubs are still called the “royal” 
this or that) and added venues like San Diego, 
Auckland and Valencia.  With the phenomenal 
growth of cable television and its voracious need 
for twenty four hours of sports, even rich 
people’s sail boats attracted an audience, but it 
was still nowhere near a Sunday morning NFL 
game.  The game changer happened when Larry 
Ellison, a billionaire poster boy for the One 
Percenters sponsored a team that won the 33rd Cup in Valencia.

Flush from his victory, Ellison called up San 
Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and said something 
like: “I’m the sixth-richest man in the 
world.  I’ll fix up some of your piers, race my 
boats, and when the race is over, I’ll keep some 
of the waterfront.  Sound like a 
deal?”  (Actually, the proposal was similar to 
the late Warren Hellman’s music festival deal in 
which the City gave him Golden Gate Park to 
indulge his banjo-playing hobby.  The big 
difference is that Hellman didn’t get to keep 
part of the Park at the end of his festival.)

In his waning months as mayor, Newsom–ever the 
errand boy for the super rich–cobbled together a 
committee to facilitate corporate funding for the 
project and move the sweetheart agreement 
along.  The America’s Cup Organizing Committee 
(ACOC) included all the Usual Suspects in the 
City’s power elite:  vulture capitalists like Tom 
Perkins and  Hellman; denizens of the Downtown 
Gang like real estate predator Tom Coates, who 
had contributed one million dollars to the 
statewide initiative to eliminate rent 
control;  the Pacific Heights layabout, Dede 
Wilsey, who ironically coughed five grand to help 
pass Newsom’s anti homeless no-sitting/ no-laying 
on the sidewalk ordinance ; Old Retainers like 
George Shultz, whose questionable achievements 
include Bechtel, the Iran Contra scandal, and the 
discredited Committee for the Liberation of 
Iraq;  Bob Fisher, whose retail giant GAP was 
built on sweatshop sweat, and reps from super corps like Wells Fargo and AT&T.

Also added in honorary political seats were 
perennial incumbents Dianne Feinstein and Nancy 
Pelosi, whose accomplishments include enriching 
themselves in office, which is a common  activity 
in Washington.  For Ellison, Feinstein delivered 
the America’s Cup Act of 2011–signed last 
November by President Obama– which waived laws 
which prohibited foreign vessels to operate in 
American waters.  Pelosi, who was Speaker of the 
House during the Great Wall Street Bailout, is no 
stranger to privatizing property that belongs to 
the public.  She participated in the process that 
gave away San Francisco’s Presidio several years ago.

So, what does the non-profit (ha-ha-ha up your 
sleeve) ACOC do with the funding it 
raises?   Well, it funnels it to Larry Ellison’s 
private management team, the America’s Cup Event 
Authority.  The ACEA is the vehicle through which 
the One Percenters pocket financial rights to a 
large chunk of San Francisco’s extremely 
lucrative waterfront properties.    In return for 
Ellison’s chump-change makeover of some of the 
waterfront for his event, according to the San 
Francisco Chronicle, the latest version of the 
Host City Agreement gives the ACEA Seawall Lot 
330 and “the rights to leases of at least 10 
years and rent credit on four piers depending on 
the money it spends improving port 
infrastructure.”  For a minimum $55 million 
infrastructure investment by the ACEA, Ellison 
gets development rights and a 66-year-rent-free 
lease on Piers 30-32, and if he spends a little 
more pocket change, he gets reimbursement “ in 
the form of bond proceeds, then credit to lease 
Piers 26, 28, and, ultimately, 29, according to a draft of the deal.”

Already, the vultures are descending.  Last 
month, JPMorgan Asset Management (sound 
familiar?) gobbled up a 902,000 square foot 
complex in China Basin Landing for $415 
million.  (Those taxpayer-funded bailouts came in 
handy in the world of the idle rich.)

Oh, but America’s Cup will provide jobs, the 
hucksters proclaim loudly.   And tourists!  Well, 
we’ve all heard that one before.  What’s new is 
the hilarious claim that San Francisco needs an 
obscure boat race to attract tourists during the summer.

The Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915 also 
promised “thousands” of jobs in San Francisco, 
some of which actually materialized.  For those 
workers who were left out of this capitalist 
bonanza, Joe Hill, the immortal IWW songwriter, 
penned these words to the tune of “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.”

Bill Brown came a thousand miles to work on Frisco Fair
All the papers said a million men were wanted there
Bill Brown hung around and asked for work three times a day,
Til finally he went busted flat, then he did sadly say,
It’s a long way down to the soupline,
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way down to the soupline
And the soup is weak I know.
Goodbye, good old pork chops,
Farewell beefsteak rare,
It’s a long way down to the soupline,
But my soup is there.

As the recession deepens for the ninety nine per 
cent, the souplines are growing longer in the 
City of Saint Francis.   The Human Services 
Agency reports that 33,798 residents receive food 
stamps, up 61% from two years ago.  Housing 
foreclosures are averaging 3,000 a year over the 
past four years according to Realtytrac, and 
there are nearly 7,000 homeless men, women and 
children living in the city.  San Francisco’s 
ratio of homeless people to the general 
population is higher than that of New York or 
Chicago.  (Don’t worry, America’s Cup patrons, 
the SFPD will sweep those bothersome people away 
before your boat toys arrive, just like they did 
for Mayor Feinstein for her party’s national convention in 1984.)

In the City of Saint Francis, over 100,000 people 
live in the government’s definition of poverty, 
which is a basic subsistence level 
living.  According to the Center for Community 
Economic Development, “to meet the basic expenses 
for a family of three, one would need to work 
more than 3 full-time minimum wage jobs.”   I 
suppose the whole family could work full time 
bussing tables at minimum wage for the gentry 
eating $25 sandwiches on Ellison’s pretty new 
waterfront and maybe the child­school? what 
school?–could do a little overtime to meet the extra expenses.

So, San Francisco’s inestimably expensive 
waterfront is up for sale cheap to the One 
Percenters, yet another welfare program for the 
super rich.  What do the people of San Francisco 
get?   Not a single buck in the deal for the 
ninety nine per cent.  Not even four-bits for 
affordable housing.  Not even two-bits for 
schools or libraries.  Not even a dime for 
healthcare.  Not even a nickel for someone living on the streets.

This is the waterfront of the legendary 1934 
Strike which changed American labor 
history.  This was the Strike where workers 
bravely stood up to the One Percent’s 
strike-breakers, who were backed up by the police 
and the National Guard. This was the Strike that 
became the General Strike after the SFPD shot to 
death two strikers, Nick Bordoise and Howard 
Sperry.  This was the Strike that brought decent 
wages and working conditions to millions of 
workers over the following half century.

If logic prevailed, the proper site for America’s 
Cup would be the Cayman Islands, where the idle 
rich hide their money to avoid 
taxes.  Switzerland would be another likely 
candidate, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t have a 
coast line.  So, the boat toys of the One 
Percenters will probably sail in San Francisco 
Bay because the local political spine usually 
withers when it comes face to face with Big 
Money.  And, at that point, the One Percenters 
can say about the rest of us, “let them eat yachts.”

Don Santina is a cultural historian whose 
grandfather, Humphrey O’Leary, was a participant 
in the 1934 General Strike.  He can be reached at 
<mailto:lindey89 at aol.com>lindey89 at aol.com.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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