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Daedalus ascending

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Guy Ottewell


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A millionaire in England, named Nicholas Van Hoogstraten, described the ramblers who insisted on their right to use a public footpath across his land as “the scum of the earth.”
     This man paid two hitmen to kill a business rival, Mohammed Raja (for which he was jailed for a year, then released by the House of Lords). By sucking up to and bankrolling the tyrant Mugabe, he got the chance to take over Zimbabwe's largest bank and coalmine. He kept his land while five thousand white farmers, whom he called “white trash,” were evicted. When Africans suspected of supporting the democratic opposition were forced to flee the country, he got possession of their assets.
     If I allowed myself to call human beings “scum” or “trash” I might so rate Nicholas rather than the ramblers and farmers, but let's coin, say, scump to refer to persons who, despite or because of having far more wealth than they need, behave despicably. They seem to be common.
     — Rupert Murdoch (Australian with American citizenship) used his empire of television and newspapers (Sun, News of the World, and he even bought the venerable Times) to spread hatred of refugees because (as someone remarked) racism never hurts sales. He boasted of having the government of Britain in his pocket, though not that of Europe. “When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.” Giving this frankly as the reason, he used his newspapers to spread anti-Europe propaganda.
     — Silvio Berlusconi, who used his monopoly of Italian television to become prime minister, also take his turn as president of the council of Europe. He played host to Tony Blair in the palace he had carved out of a piece of the fragile coastline of Sardinia. Pushed out of office for a while, he returned in 2008 on a wave of xenophobia, and lost no time in encouraging harassment of immigrants and Gypsies; appointed the “best looking and least qualified” females to his cabinet, and spent much of his time inducing cronies to offer jobs to actresses whom he called his “little butterflies”; was pursued by countless legal charges, mostly of corruption; in one, he bribed a British lawyer with $600,000 to lie in court; another was for paying for sex with an under-age Moroccan belly-dancer. He spent 562,000 euros on gifts to young women in 2010, and 900,000 on his palace in Antigua. In his broadcasts he claimed that he was the victim of “judicial harassment unmatched in the civilised world” and “without doubt the person who's been the most persecuted in the entire history of the world and the history of man.”
     — Christoph Blocher, billionaire industrialist, who in 2004 led a campaign that came within a close vote of making Switzerland, one of the world's richest countries, stop admitting asylum-seekers, except for those with independent means (that is, those least in need of help); and then led a successful and rabidly racist campaign to reject mild changes in Swiss law that would have made it less complicated and expensive for second- and third-generation immigrants to gain citizenship.
     — The Duke of Westminster, richest man in Britain with five billion pounds, yet receiving three hundred thousand pounds a year from the taxpayers in agricultural subsidies for his inherited farm (while exports from subsidized farming continued to ruin peasant farmers in poor countries).
     — Lady Julia Pilkington (bought her title; inherited her millions from a great-grandfather who was one of the inventors of plate glass); she harassed her (also rich) Southsea neighbors by having sex in view of them in her open-air hot tub and, when they objected, calling them “whore” and “pervert.” Sentenced to community service, she picked and chose what she was willing to do; was willing to work “with computers or animals,” wouldn't work in a charity shop because of having to touch other people's clothes, tried to get out of an appointment by bursting into tears because she was missing her pet dog's medical appointment, showed up in miniskirt and gold flip-flops to pick up litter in a forest and refused to change into overalls because it infringed her “human rights.”
     — Richard Marker, hereditary owner of the village of Gittisham near Honiton in Devon; he decided to sell it to a rental-housing firm, and told his tenants they had three months to buy their houses or get out.
     — King Mswati III of Swaziland who, while his country suffered from starvation and AIDS, took a thirteenth (sixteen-year-old) wife, proposed to spend £5,600,000 on building palaces, and £28,000,000 on a private jet plane.
     — The tenth Earl of Shaftesbury, with a “nine-thousand-acre family seat in Dorset, seafront flat in Brighton, expensive London residence; also house in the affluent hillside area of Cannes, and a renovated windmill near Toulouse, valued at £1m each, and £3m worth of furniture in his rented apartment.” He disappeared, probably murdered, and his inheritance was disputed by his three wives and string of nightclub hostess companions.
     — Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, fat son of tyrant Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea; only legitimate income was his salary of $6,800 a month for being “Forest Minister”; embezzled and extorted more than $100 million of his country's resources. He owned a company operating in the forests he was supposed to protect, took bribes from other logging companies. He spent for instance $31 million on a Malibu mansion (with eight bathrooms, six walk-in wardrobes, swimming pool, twenty-car garage, private golf course). His staff there “complained of being cheated out of salaries and overtime wages, and being forced to source prostitutes, Playboy bunnies, drugs, and even tigers for parties held at the estate.” He spent $1,784 on a pair of wine glasses for that house, $38 million on a Gulfstream jet plane, $18 million at an art auction in Paris, $3 million on memorabilia of the pop singer Michael Jackson, and $12 million on twenty-six luxury cars (seven Ferraris, four Mercedes-Benz, five Bentleys, four Rolls-Royces, two Bugattis, an Aston Martin, a Porsche, a Lamborghini and a Maserati), and since the country had hardly any paved roads he sent the cars to his six mansions in Paris, South Africa, and elsewhere. He would have spent $389 million (more than his country spent on health and education in a year) on the world's second largest private yacht, but was forced by a news leak to announce that he had “changed his mind.” Equatorial Guinea had huge amounts of oil, thus Africa's highest per-capita income, but it all went to the regime (established by coup in 1979), who didn't even provide water and electricity to the seventy percent that earned less than two dollars a day. U.S. governments, despite years of pressure from human rights groups, turned a blind eye to the regime's corruption, so as not to endanger the activity there of American oil companies such as Exxon Mobil, until under Obama in 2011 the Justice Department established a “Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative” and filed suits in Los Angeles and Washington to recover such of the funds stolen by Obiang Junior as were in the U.S., “for the benefit of the people of the country from which it was taken.”
     — Donald Trump, New York real-estate vampire, sued a newspaper for five billion dollars for saying he was worth only a quarter of a billion. He built a £750-million golf resort, with hotels and holiday houses, on the coast of Scotland, persuading the authorities to override environmental objections. Then when there was a plan for a wind farm with eleven turbines out at sea, which would be distantly visible from his resort, he pledged £10 million for an anti-wind-farm campaign, and wrote to the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, threatening that he could win a “very large lawsuit” against the “horrendous machines.” His two sons went on a hunting safari in Zimbabwe, killed a leopard, a water buffalo, etcetera, and took trophy photos of themselves brandishing the tail cut off an elephant and standing beside a crocodile strung by the neck from a tree.
     (This was written before Trump campaigned for the presidency of the U.S. and greatly increased his claim to scumphood.)
     — Charles Haughey, Irish prime minister, all wondered how on a parliament salary he could waste so much money on silk shirts made to order in Paris, sumptuous restaurants, cars, and houses (one of them with a pub built inside), until it was found that one of his big-business cronies had handed him gifts of £1,300,000.
     — Flavio Briatore, billionaire playboy usually to be found partying with starlets or tooling around the Mediterranean in his yacht, held a party for other billionaires at his Billionaire Club to start a campaign of protest against new taxes of a few thousand euros a year on second homes in Sardinia and large yachts and private planes visiting Sardinian ports.
     — Michael Crichton, best-selling author of Jurassic Park and other trash; helped the Bush administration to soothe the public about climate-change, and attacked a critic of his work by putting him into a novel as a character (name unchanged) who rapes babies and also has a small penis (on the theory that someone so attacked will keep quiet).
     — “Madonna,” singer owning nine houses.
     — Thaksin Shinawatra, communications tycoon who became prime minister of Thailand, took his personal stylist along to the many other capitals he flew to, was ousted by a military coup in 2006, moved along with his billions to London, bought the Manchester United football team, and complained that life was hard: he could not get a satisfactory haircut.
     — Leona Helmsley, the “Queen of Mean,” dominated the New York hotel industry; underpaid the contractors who installed gold taps in her marble bathroom; said to one of the employees she terrorized “We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes”; went to prison for evading $1,200,000 in taxes; left nothing to her grandchildren but $12 million to her toy Maltese terrier bitch “Trouble,” which had been accustomed to biting the housekeeper paid to bathe it.
     — Tay Za, business crony of General Than Shwe (Burma's Chief Thug); he owned a company busy with tourism, real-estate development, and exporting teak, and Burma's only private airline, and its only private international shipping line, started with a loan of ten million dollars from the military government; in 2008 he confiscated an entire village, Tayor Gone in the land of the Kachin tribes, to make way for jade mining; more than three hundred people were displaced without compensation.
     — Mukesh Ambani, son of a billionaire and “world's fifth-richest man,” built himself “the world's most expensive house,” five hundred and fifty feet high, with six hundred staff, six floors for parking, pad for three helicopters, multiple floors for pools and dancehalls, overlooking Mumbai (Bombay), where six million lived in hovels.
     — Denis Thatcher (prime minister Margaret's husband), who complained that “The bloody socialists' high taxes mean I can't afford a Rolls Royce.”
     — His son “Sir” Nark Thatcher, led a life of shady oil deals, made twenty million from one of them (Al Yamamah) when his mother was prime minister; financed the attempted coup against tyrant Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, by paying £280,000 to Simon Mann for a helicopter to fly in the opposition leader, expecting him to give them the country's oil contracts; the coup was foiled, Mann and the other mercenaries were caught in Zimbabwe and extradited to Equatorial Guinea, and into Malabo's hellish Black Beach prison and be “skinned alive,” as Obiang threatened; in vain Mann sent pleadings for money for his defence to “Scratcher,” who claimed he had thought what he was financing was an air ambulance for the African poor; put on trial in Cape Town, he got away with a four-year suspended sentence and a fine, paid by his mother, who sold two paintings to do it; he divorced his rich heiress wife and married another rich heiress, and hid out in southern Spain at a luxurious villa, with servants and high security, which cost £1.5 million a year, except that he didn't pay the rent, so that his landlord started legal proceedings, describing him as “not just a crook but an utterly arrogant crook.”
     — Lang Hancock, Australian mining billionaire, who wanted to use nuclear weapons for dredging new ports along the northwest coast of Australia. Asbestos in his mine caused hundreds of deaths among the workers, who were mostly aboriginals, but he accepted no responsibility, not believing that exposure to asbestos led to sickness. He told a television interviewer that the “problem” of Aboriginals could be solved by luring them to a welfare office and doping their water to sterilize them, so that the race would go extinct.
     — Ramzan Kadyrov, one of the warlord-leaders of Chechen struggle against Russian oppression, turned coat and became Putin's puppet and, in 2007, president of the Chechnya that Russian forces were still crushing with mass looting, rape, imprisonment, torture, and disappearance; had his photo displayed everywhere along with Putin's; had a fortified residence in his home village, and a private army to whom he demonstrated his shooting skill; had his militias continue the killings, torture, disappearances, etc., along with house-burnings, thus cowing his fellow Chechens so that none dared criticize him, except for the brave few, such as Natalya Estemirova, murdered at his or Putin's instance; boasted (to Russian television) “I've already killed those I should have killed and I will kill all those standing behind them and I will be killing as long as I live”; became hugely wealthy on kickbacks from the sales of his country's oil.
     — Frederick Chiluba, Zambian bus conductor who rose to head of the trade unions, in 1991 defeated Kenneth Kaunda (the president since independence in 1964), was hailed as “champion of democracy,” soon got rid of independent ministers and surrounded himself with cronies as corrupt as himself; by comparison Kaunda's people had been mere “pickpockets.” During Chiluba's decade of power his official earnings amounted to $100,000, but he spent five times that in one clothes shop, called Boutique Basile, in Geneva, to whom he sent payments in suitcases stuffed with cash. He had hundreds of outfits of designer clothes, “mountains of silk dressing-gowns and pyjamas, monogrammed dress shirts and tailored suits”; one hundred pairs of custom-made shoes, all with heels raised two inches to make him look taller than his five-foot stature; there were shoes embossed with his initials in brass, shoes of lizard skin dyed to the color of jade, cream-colored ostrich-skin slip-ons, red silk slippers. This in a country ten million of whose twelve million people lived on less than one dollar a day, yet with these ignorant poor he kept himself popular. He had accounts in Britain, Switzerland, and Caribbean countries, to cover his spending under the pretence of financing overseas intelligence operations. He tried to change the constitution and run for a third term, was forced out by his own party, hand-picked his vice-president Levy Mwanawasa as successor, but Mwanawasa, disgusted by the extent of the looting, set up an anti-corruption panel, which began convicting lower officials. In 2007 the Zambian attorney general brought a case against Chiluba in Britain, and that court concluded he had embezzled more than $57 million and vainly ordered him to repay it. At last (but after Mwanawasa had died in 2008) a case was brought against Chiluba himself. The prosecutors, hoping for a watertight case, charged him for only a small fraction of his thievery, $500,000. He refused to recognize the court's authority, refused to answer questions, instead mounted a publicity campaign portraying himself as victim of a “witch hunt” by his successor and by “racist” Britain After a six-year trial, in 2009 Judge Jones Chinyama read out a six-hour verdict of acquittal; a blow to hopes of fighting corruption throughout Africa.
     — General Augusto Pinochet, who in 1973, with secret C.I.A. backing, militarily overthrew and murdered the elected president of Chile, ran a seventeen-year reign of terror in which thousands were tortured, killed, or disappeared; and amassed huge riches from drugs and arms-dealing, and from privatizing industries that had been nationalized under his socialist predecessor and handing them over to his sons-in-law and other cronies, before any regulations could be set up, so that they were “wildly profitable.”
     — Kim Jong-il, absurd dictator of North Korea (a country like a closed camp of desperately starving people), had six armored private trains, totalling ninety carriages, equipped with luxurious apartments, reception halls, and high-tech equipment; any of the trains he rode in was preceded by a second to check the safety of the line and followed by a third carrying security guards; there were nineteen stations for his exclusive use.
     — Julius Malema, head of South Africa's African National Congress Youth League, made it seem “cool” and was favored by president Zuma as “a leader in the making” (“on the make”?); on a salary of less than £1,600 a month, he wore designer clothes and had two luxury houses and a fleet of cars, having diverted lucrative building tenders to a company in Limpopo province held with an associate; accused of being a “tenderpreneur,” he said things like “We are the elite that has been deliberately produced by the A.N.C. to close the gap between whites and blacks . . .  It's not me, it's the office, I don't know which car is which, when they come to me and say 'Chief, we're using this car today,' I get in and we go . . . ”
     — Michael Ashcroft, who by buying and selling a succession of companies (cleaning, janitorial, car auction, security) became a billionaire; moved his base from Britain to Belize (the former British Honduras), a tax haven where, he admitted, he was “exempt from certain taxes for thirty years” (its prime minister said “Ashcroft is an extremely powerful man. His net worth may well be equal to Belize's entire G.D.P. He is nobody to cross”). He was the largest-ever donor (around ten million pounds) to the Conservative party. In 1999, after he loaned the party £3,600,000, its leader, William Hague, nominated him for a peerage. Hague went so far as to importune Labour prime minister Tony Blair with phone calls begging him to approve. Ashcroft was rejected by the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee as a “tax exile.” The Conservatives needed his money and tried again next year; the committee again rejected him. He wrote a letter to Hague giving a “clear and unequivocal assurance” that he would “before the end of this calendar year” become a permanent resident. Hague wrote to Blair that Ashcroft “is committed to becoming a resident . . .  This decision will cost him (and benefit the Treasury) tens of millions a year in tax yet he considers it worthwhile.” The committee asked for documents proving that he had become resident in Britain and was paying taxes, saw the former, agreed to see the latter “later,” never did but awarded the peerage anyway; it afterwards repeatedly warned the Conservatives of this but got no answer. So Mr. Ashcroft became (for no other merit than his party-political bankrolling) a “Lord.” Conservatives secretly called it “the million-pound peerage”; one of them said “A peerage is a useful business tool on the international scene. It was cheap at half the price.” The next Conservative leader, Cameron, made Ashcroft deputy chairman of the Conservative party, and from an office close to Cameron's he manager the drive toward winning the next election, pumping millions of his own and others' money (£6,128,944 in 2007 and 2008, massively outspending the other parties) to Conservative candidates in all the marginal constituencies, held narrowly by the other parties, which thus were flooded with Conservative propaganda, to gain the 117 seats that would bring a Conservative majority. Labour M.P. Gordon Prentice insisted on trying to find out Ashcroft's status: what exactly had he undertaken when he got his peerage? For three years Ashcroft used his lawyers to protect the secrecy (but quietly began making his Bearwood company, which had not operated in Britain, start doing so, since it was illegal for foreign companies to make donations to British parties). Finally in 2010 he was forced to answer (knowing that the information was going to be given out later that day by the Cabinet Office, which had been ordered under the Freedom of Information Act to answer Prentice's question). It turned out that Ashcroft had, back before he was made a peer, negotiated with the tax authorities an agreement that “permanent resident” could be interpreted as “long-term resident.” This sleight-of-wording allowed him to act like a citizen of the country — passing laws as a member (unelected) of its parliament, working for a party as its vice-chairman — without being one. He had the status of a “non-dom” (“non-domiciled resident”); “non-doms” were people who were able to pay only the lower taxes of the countries where they mostly lived, though they usually, unlike Ashcroft, got the status by both living mostly in and having their origins in the other countries. He had paid zero tax in Belize (a poor country where a third of the children starved) and in Britain only on his British income, avoiding £127 million that he should have paid on his far vaster overseas income. Out of this money that should have gone to the country had come the bounty he had lavished on the Conservative party; in effect, he had funded the party with taxpayers' money. A parliamentary “select committee” hald an investigative hearing; Ashcroft, Hague, and the Conservative members of the committee refused to attend. As soon as the furore about Ashcroft died down, the Conservatives accepted another £123,464 from him, helping them win more of those marginal seats in the 2010 election. Ashcroft also dominated businesses in the Turks and Caicos Islands, including the largest construction company, Johnston International; in 1999 he claimed emphatically that he had sold it and had no further interest in it. In 2006 this company built a $16-million house for the prime minister, Michael Misick; a mystery was how he could afford it. Misick was so corrupt that in 2009 he was removed and the islands came under direct rule from Britain. In 2012, because of a libel case that Ashcroft brought against The Independent for articles about him, it was revealed that he still controlled Johnston International, and that he had known of his companies' dealings with the corrupt politicians.
     — Putin and Medvedev, prime minister and president of Russia, said to have more than two dozen palaces, villas, and mansions for their private use.
     — Sergei Polonsky, Russian “construction magnate,” who said that “anyone who does not have a billion can go to hell.” (In 2011 during a televised talk show, Polonsky remarked that he felt like “punching someone in the face.” Instead, another Russian “oligarch,” that is, plutocrat, Alexander Lebedev, who bought The Independent, punched Polonsky's face, knocking him off his chair. The scene was widely broadcast, and Lebedev explained “I had to listen to his very aggressive behaviour for an hour and a half, He insulted everyone in the room.”)
     — Sheldon Adelson, billionaire owner of Las Vegas casinos. He poured money into right-wing Israeli groups opposing compromise with the Palestinians; and into the election campaigns of George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich. An independent Israeli television program called Channel 10, after four months of investigation, criticized him on various grounds such as his use of his political connections to win a gambling licence; he demanded an apology, threatening to sue and getting a crony, owner of the the Estée Lauder brand of perfumes, to withdraw advertizing; so Channel 10, being too poor to fight a lawsuit, was forced to make a lengthy apology dictated by Adelson's lawyers, and its director and two others resigned; it was decried for not being able to stand up for freedom of the press. In 2012 Adelson was investigated in the U.S. for bribery of foreign officials. He spread into the casino business in Macau, which was overtaking Las Vegas, and declared his intention that Macau would make him richer than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. In 2012 Adelson gave $60 million to a “super P.A.C.” for Mitt Romney, the largest political donation in history. It was good to see him waste it.
     — Adrian Beecroft, made his millions from a firm offering loans at huge rates of interest to tide workers over to their next paycheck; used the Cayman Islands tax haven; gave £530,000 to the Conservative party; Conservative prime minister Cameron asked him to study how employment law might be changed to boost the economy; his report recommended getting rid of the requirement that employers give a reason when firing employees. (These dismissed employees would need his loans.) “Britain has some of the poorest workers' rights in the Western world, but Cameron has hired multimillionaire Conservative donor Adrian Beecroft to propose shredding those that remain” (Owen Jones in The Independent, 2012 June 22.
     — Kenneth Dart: he inherited Dart Containers, the U.S.'s largest manufacturer of disposable plastic cups; remained on its board but decamped on his yacht to the tax haven of the Cayman Islands, where he set up a large business in real-estate development. He “pocketed an estimated $600m from putting pressure on the Brazilian government after its default in 1993,” and in 2012 his Dart Management became the largest of the “vulture funds” profiting from Greece's financial panic, buying a large fraction of its debt at a small fraction of its value in expectation of being able to force the government to repay with interest; refused to take part in the restructuring of Greece's debt that might save it from default, threatened to sue; the harassed government found it could not afford a showdown with him, and in May 2012 had to pay 436 million euros to bondholders, or which 400 million was to Dart. Meanwhile ordinary poor Greeks were rushing to the banks to save some of their money before the crash.
     — When socialist President Hollande announced that he would stick to his campaign promise of a 75 percent tax on marginal (whatever that is) income over a million euros, Bernard Arnault announced that he would take Belgian citizenship. He was the richest person in France and fourth richest in the world; got his £32 billion from “Louis Vuitton-Moet Hennessy luxury-goods empire.” He was born near the Belgian border but had no Belgian connection. He gave a reason about developing his financial interests in Belgium; this was dismissed as absurd since he was free to do so anyway. Belgian citizens could escape tax by living in Monaco; French citizens could not. Arnault said that he did not, as yet, have plans to renounce his French citizenship and move to Monaco.
     — “Sir” Richard Branson, having made himself rich from his “Virgin” air line and other “Virgin” businesses, including buying health centers that had been part of the National Health Service, moved his residence to his private island of Necker in the Virgin Islands, so as to avoid billions of pounds in tax. He should have been deprived of the knighthood given to him presumably for services of some sort to his country.
     — Olivia Mead, aged nineteen, one of the grandchildren of Australian mining magnate Peter Wright, brought a lawsuit against her two half-sisters, claiming a larger share of the wealth left in their father's will; she had received only $3,000,000 (Australian). She gave the Supreme Court of Western Australia a list of her requirements for her “proper maintenance, support, education and advancement” for the rest of her life, which she estimated would last to the age of 96. She would need, each week, $400 for meals out and $150 for fine wines; each year, a $10,000 handbag, five pairs of $5,000 shoes, $40,000 for holidays, and $2,000 for the upkeep of her pet axolotl. Her needs also included a $2,500,000 house; a $250,000 bass guitar with gold and diamond studs and a nut made of Siberian mammoth ivory; Tiffany prescription sunglasses; an Audi A4 and a Toyota Tarago (cars?); $100,000 for a wedding; and enough to bring up four (estimated, presumably) children. Total $25 million.
     Dante could think of no worse people to put in the lowest circle of hell than Judas Iscariot and the tyrannicides Brutus and Cassius.
     There are whole classes of scump, such as the rich “hunters” who pay to shoot from behind fences at lions mass-bred on lion farms in South Africa, whose bones are then exported to Asia as aphrodisiac. And below the illionaires there exist yet lower. In the lowest circle I would rate those who order or freely commit torture and those many who still promote dog-fighting and bear-baiting.