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September 19, 2008

BILL MOYERS: From our offices here in New York, we look out on the tall gleaming skyscrapers that are cathedrals of wealth and power — the Olympus ruled by the gods of finance, the temples of the mighty, the holy of holies, whose priests guard the sacred texts of salvation containing the secrets of sub-prime lending and derivatives as mysterious and elusive as the grail itself.

This last couple of weeks, ordinary mortals below could almost hear the ripcords of golden parachutes being pulled as the divinities on high prepared for soft, safe landings. All this while tossing their workers into the purgatory of unemployment, like sacrificial lambs. Yes, the billionaires who fed during the fat years of speculation are long gone, to their yachts and offshore islands.

During the last five years of his tenure as CEO of Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld's total take was $354 million. The current chairman of Merrill Lynch, who's been on the job just nine months, pocketed a $15 million signing bonus. His predecessor, Stan O'Neal, retired with a package valued at $161 million after the company reported an 8 billion dollar loss in a single quarter. And remember Bear Stearns chairman James Cayne? After the company collapsed and was up for sale at bargain prices, he sold his stake for more than $60 million. And the former heads of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the gods who failed, are fighting to keep severance packages of close to $24 million combined on top of the millions in salary each earned last year while slaughtering the golden calf. As it is written in the gospel according to me first, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

But let's change our metaphor for a moment. Let's go to our sports desk. Because if religion is no longer the soul of capitalism, we have to look somewhere else to understand this new gilded age. And there it is, just a few miles north of Wall Street, the "House that Ruth Built". Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, who ruled Yankee Stadium and sired generations of princes after him: DiMaggio and Gehrig, Mantle, Maris, and Jackson. Yankee Stadium, as fabled a place to Americans as Ilium was to the Greeks.

But believe it or not, this Sunday — weather permitting — the Yankees will play their last game here. The stadium's being demolished, to be replaced next year with a brand new one. What a history to disappear down the memory hole.

On opening day, in 1923, New York Governor Al Smith threw out the first pitch and John Philip Sousa led a big brass band playing his famous marches. It was the roaring Twenties, when the money flowed like bootleg whiskey, the pride before the fall. The year after the market crashed, as the Great Depression began, Babe Ruth was taking home $80,000 a year, more than the President of the United States, Herbert Hoover. "Why not?" Ruth asked "I had a better year than he did."

Yankee star Alex Rodriguez had a better year than both of them. This season, A-Rod is making $28 million. Just part of an annual Yankee payroll of $200 million-plus, the richest in baseball. Their owner, George Steinbrenner, is one of the country's richest tycoons, among the Forbes 400. But when it came to paying for the new pleasure dome costing $1.3 billion, the millionaires on the field and King Midas in the skybox came up with some razzle-dazzle plays to finance their wealth machine. Tax-free bonds, requiring ordinary citizens to subsidize the construction, and hundreds of millions more for new parking garages, a train station and parks. Those parks, by the way, will supposedly replace the ones seized by the city to make room for the new stadium. The little league games that used to flourish on sandlots just outside the old ball park have been moved miles away, sent down to the minors on a long road trip.

That's okay, you may think, there will be plenty of room for the tax-paying public to come root, root, root for the home team — even the coliseum in ancient Rome had bleachers, for the commoners. But in fact there will be 5,000 fewer seats in the new stands.

And while the Yankees reportedly have promised that half of what's left will cost $45 apiece or less, those seats that used to cost $250, right behind the dugout, will cost you $850. And if you want to be near home plate, you'll have to cough up $2,500...per game.

Meanwhile, there will be more luxury suites and party rooms where the fat cats gather, safely removed from the sweaty masses. Corporations and wealthy individuals will be able to rent the luxury suites for anywhere from $600,000 to $850,000 tax deductible dollars a year, assuming they haven't filed for bankruptcy this week.

GEORGE STEINBRENNER: "We are all here today to celebrate the new Yankee Stadium. It's a pleasure to give it to you people. That's what we're doing. This is for you people."

BILL MOYERS: Why aren't the fans and tax payers giving the Yankees a Bronx Cheer? They are. But city officials rolled over them while making sure local politicians stay in the line up. The pols are getting their own luxury suite at the new stadium for free and first shot at buying the best available seats.

And so this Sunday evening we will bid farewell to dear old Yankee Stadium, and await the new colossus to rise from its ruins. It will cast its majestic shadow across one of the country's poorest neighborhoods, whose residents will watch from the outside as suburban drivers avail themselves of 9,000 new or refurbished parking spaces. Never mind all the exhaust, even though in this part of town respiratory disease is already so high they call it "asthma alley."

Not that the well-to-do in the infield seats will have to hear that wheezing. They'll have access to a private club, a private entrance and a private elevator. Totems of this Gilded Age. Let the games begin.

That's it for the Journal. Don't forget to check out our Web site at And remember the first presidential debate is coming up and we want to hear what questions you'd like to ask the candidates. Be in touch with us at I'm Bill Moyers.

Related Media:
FBI Domestic Spy PosterGilded Age Redux?
Steve Fraser, historian and author of WALL STREET: AMERICA'S DREAM PALACE, discusses the modern parallels and differences to the first Gilded Age, the big disparity between the rich and poor, and the increasing strain on working Americans. (June 13, 2008)

FBI Domestic Spy PosterFree Lunch
Bill Moyers interviews NEW YORK TIMES investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Cay Johnston who says America's system has been rigged to benefit the super-rich. (January 18, 2008)

References and Reading:
Renderings of the new stadium on the Yankee's Web site.

Stadium comparison's on the Yankee's Web site.

Press Coverage
"For Stadium Seating, City Officials Demand Luxe "
by David H. Halbfinger and Fernanda Santos, THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 15, 2008.

"Stadium Goes Up, but Bronx Still Seeks Benefits"
by Timothy Williams, THE NEW YORK TIMES, January 7, 2008.

"Bronx sees Yankee cash"
by Patrick Arden, METRO NEW YORK, July 31, 2008.

"Brodsky: Yankee subsidies hit taxpayers"

"Congress probing whether city wildly inflated value of land for new stadium"
by Juan Gonzalez, the DAILY NEWS, July 27, 2008.

"Congress probing whether city wildly inflated value of land for new stadium"
by Juan Gonzalez, the DAILY NEWS, July 27, 2008.

Community Groups and Studies
Inside Baseball: How Current and Former Public Officials Pitched a Community Shutout for the New York Yankees
Good Jobs New York released a report critical of the Yankee's stadium deal.

Field of Schemes Blog
Companion Web site to the book FIELD OF SCHEMES by Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause. The authors continue to follow the use of public money to subsidize pro sports facilities.

Save our Parks
Community blog opposing the taking of parkland for the new stadium.

Yankee Stadium Community Benefit Agreement
Amy Levine, a staff attorney at the Government Law Center of Albany Law School studies Community Benefit Agreements.

New York City Park Advocates
"NYC Park Advocates, Inc. is a non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group dedicated to improving the lives of all NYC residents through the restoration, preservation, expansion, proper maintenance, management and safety of its public parks and open spaces."

Domestic Policy Subcommittee Hearing on Taxpayer Financed Stadiums, Convention Centers, and Hotels
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: Subcommittee on Domestic Policy held a hearing on taxpayer financed stadiums in March of 2007 with a related hearing: Gaming the Tax Code: Public Subsidies, Private Profits, and Big League Sports in New York on September 18, 2008.

Published September 19, 2008

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A Bill Moyers essay on the new Yankee Stadium...and other matters.

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