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Twenty Feet from Dogdom

Giga-Yachts Invade Santa Barbara


Thursday, September 5, 2013

DO THE TIME, DO THE CRIME: I celebrated Labor Day, as usual, by working. In America’s bulging pantheon of meaningless holidays, Labor Day remains the undisputed king. Even Hallmark Cards has yet to figure out how to exploit the event ​— ​which in reality signifies the sad end of summer fun. I swung by the traditional Labor Day barbecue held the by local Democratic Party at Oak Park to check out the speechifying, but I couldn’t hang. The food, it turns out, was catered, so there was no sizzle of burned animal flesh to tickle my olfactory senses. And who ever heard of a smoke-free barbecue? Instead, I held a worker solidarity rally of my own and invited the usual coalition of me, myself, and I. “We” spent the time constructively, I might add, trying to parse the lines of demarcation distinguishing a mere “super yacht” from the more exalted “mega yacht” and that even more extravagant “giga yacht.” Such things are important to know. Notorious railroad robber baron Jay Gould famously boasted that he could “hire half the working class to kill the other half.” To the extent anyone alive can make the same boast, it will be an owner of such luxury craft. I don’t know for sure if they’re accepting job applications, but they’re already here.

Angry Poodle

Late Friday night, our man Rick Caruso ​— ​whose vast empty promises regarding the remodel of the Miramar Hotel are big enough to house all the homeless ​— ​chugged his 216-foot yacht, the Invictus, past the Santa Barbara coastline this weekend on his way to Newport Beach. There, it turns out, his boat ​— ​a cross between a Viking Cruise Ship and a naval destroyer ​— ​has caused quite a stir. Initial reports suggested Caruso’s boat was so ostentatiously over-the-top that it boggled the senses of even Orange County, where excess in the name of bad taste has always been considered a virtue. Upon closer inspection, however, it may be Newport Beach’s real concern was that the Invictus is actually too small. To qualify as a certified giga yacht, a luxury craft these days has to be at least 220 feet long. By that measurement, Rick’s boat may not cut the mustard. No such question mark hovers over Russian gazillionaire Roman Abramovich, who happened to chug his 377-foot yacht, Luna, through the channel this weekend, as well. For the record, Luna has not one but two helipads, two swimming pools, and its very own medical center. While that exceeds the capacity of my salivary glands to produce spit, it pales in comparison to the world’s biggest yacht, the 590-foot (two football fields) Azzam, which comes with twin pools, twin helipads, its own mini sub, a missile defense system, bulletproof glass in the bedroom, and a laser system designed to disarm and deactivate any encroaching paparazzi.

To be fair, Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw has been discretely cruising around the Mediterranean in her yacht, the Calixe, for years. But maybe if what you’re sporting is only 193 feet in length, discretion is demanded. Wendy was aboard the Calixe, if I recall, when the immortal meltdown that’s since consumed her paper was first triggered seven years ago. I mention McCaw not to kick any dead horses, but because the sad fate of the union drive by News-Press reporters illustrates just how egregiously little protection is afforded American workers seeking to organize. In 2007, McCaw fired nine employees then on the frontlines of the union effort at her paper. Although two administrative judges with the National Labor Relations Board would find McCaw guilty of wholesale unfair labor practices ​— ​spying, intimidating, and firing pro-union employees ​— ​there were no penalties. McCaw ignored orders to reinstate the illegally fired workers ​— ​who sought union protection only after McCaw disciplined three reporters for violating rules that did not then exist ​— ​and took her case to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Deploying logic so circular that it would induce whiplash in even the demonically possessed girl from The Exorcist, a panel of three judges dismissed the charges against McCaw and upheld her absolute right, as the owner and publisher, to do as she pleased. In their ruling, released several months ago, the judges concluded that because the union agitators wanted to restore ethics to the newsroom ​— ​which the judges insisted lay outside the scope of collective bargaining ​— ​the fired reporters and editors were not covered by any of the usual protections that federal law pretends to offer. Federal labor law was written to give workers the cover needed to get to the bargaining table with their employers. If it turns out their demands are ridiculous, the bargaining table is where that determination is to be made. But by their actions, McCaw ​— ​and the judges ​— ​cut the legs off the bargaining table before anyone could sit down at it. That’s not just eliminating the middleman; that’s shooting him in cold blood. To the extent the workers’ “ethics” demand actually intruded on McCaw’s right to dictate the content of her newspaper, the judges made a Mount Kilimanjaro out of what barely qualified as a molehill. In actual practice, the News-Press workers were asking only that reporters be allowed to have their bylines deleted from news articles they felt had been edited to reflect the political biases of McCaw. This proviso exists in various papers throughout the country, and to date, the sky has not fallen. Although the union effort is still twitching at the News-Press, it’s the sort of spastic muscle movement one associates with dogs just run over by Mack trucks.

I mention all this because union membership is now down to an all-time low, 11 percent. And as union membership has declined, the chasm in income inequality has grown exponentially. Coincidence? I strongly doubt it. This, I understand, is America, where one person’s ceiling is someone else’s floor. But no one will be confusing my plastic, tar-encrusted kayak with a giga yacht anytime soon, no matter how hard they squint.

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