Multinational Monitor

SEP/OCT 2008
VOL 29 No. 2


Biotech Snake Oil: A Quack Cure for Hunger
by Bill Freese

Nuclear's Power Play: Give Us Subsidies or Give Us Death
by Tyson Slocum

Conservation Corp.: Enviros Ally with Big Grain Traders
by Christine MacDonald

The Concession Trap: Auto Worker Givebacks and Labor's Future
by Simone Landon

The Commercial Games: Selling Off the Olympic Ideal
by Jennifer Wedekind


Bad Samaritans: How Rich Country "Help" Hurts the Developing World
an interview with
Ha-Joon Chang

Unhealthy Solutions: Private Insurance, High Costs and the Denial of Care
an interview with
Steffie Woolhandler

Arts, Inc.: The Corporate Control of Culture
an interview with
Bill Ivey


Behind the Lines

The State of Corporate Welfare

The Front
Climate Changing Africa -- African Inequality

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Greed At a Glance

Commercial Alert

Names In the News


Greed at a Glance

Who Can Afford Parking?

Investigative reporting has taken an interesting twist in the United Kingdom. Reporters from the Sun, a London daily, staked out Harrods, the high-end shopping emporium, and counted the number of chauffeur-driven luxury cars either idling or driving around the block while their passengers shopped inside.

The stakeout, in just one day, caught over 50 tycoons who “ignored global warming to ensure their gas-guzzlers were waiting by the exit.” The worst case? One $300,000 Bentley spent four hours idling as the car’s two passengers shopped inside. The Bentley, the Sun notes, emits four times the pollution of a standard compact car.

A Rat Pack Plum

Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan once partied there. A staff of 50 gardeners now keep it spiffy. And a Russian billionaire will soon call it home — or, more likely, one of his homes.

We’re talking, of course, about the Villa Léopolda, the French Riviera estate that has just become the “world’s most expensive house.” An anonymous Russian corporate oligarch has purchased the property — for a record $750 million — from the widow of a murdered Swiss private banker.

Built a century ago by King Leopold II of Belgium, the butcher of the Congo, the 20-acre spread has also belonged to Italy’s Agnelli family, the founders of Fiat. Microsoft’s Bill Gates reportedly offered about $112 million for the property three years ago.

A Tale of One City, Two Universes

Las Vegas has gained two new distinctions that illustrate neatly just how staggeringly polarized income and wealth in the United States have become. A new survey on personal debt — as measured by foreclosures, bankruptcies and credit card balances — has dubbed Las Vegas America’s most debt-ridden metro area. The city’s foreclosure rate, the nation’s third-highest, helped seal the title.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas now also boasts the most exclusive luxury car dealership in the United States. The just-opened Lamborghini Las Vegas at the Palazzo carries a full-range of fine motorcars, including a Bugatti that can hit 250 miles per hour — and sells for almost $2 million.

The dealership features a two-level showroom, $400,000 of artwork, a boutique, espresso bar and a lavish Italian restaurant. The ownership welcomes gawkers, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, provided they buy a $10 tour ticket.

A Getaway for Gazillionaires

Gas prices have you keeping close to home? Then you probably won’t be considering the hot new vacation offer from Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Hotel. The deal: seven days and nights in the Persian Gulf for just $1 million.

The package — the first million-dollar holiday ever, the hotel is crowing — includes a private jet flight to the Dead Sea for a mud bath, another to Iran to have your “own hand-made Persian carpet” woven before your eyes, and still another to Bahrain for a pearl-diving expedition.

Back in Abu Dhabi, you’ll overnight in the hotel’s Palace Suite, a $15,000-per-evening pad that features “gold, silver and marble bedrooms interrupted only by a giant 61-inch plasma TV.”

What aren’t vacationers likely to see on this “ultimate” holiday?

Any of the 2.5 million migrant workers in and around Abu Dhabi who average $150 a month laboring in 100-degree heat to build temples to “trophy tourism” like the Emirates Palace Hotel.

Conspicuous Dressing

Only a few years ago, notes Women’s Wear Daily, experts “were sounding the death knell” for haute couture, the très expensive handicraft of the great French fashion design houses. Some big names — Yves Saint Laurent, for one — had even exited couture entirely.

But couture has roared back, observers of this year’s Paris fashion shows agree, thanks to an “expanding” international customer base “flush with wealth” — and immune to global economic turmoil. Explains Christian Dior exec Sidney Toledano: “Very rich people are not suffering from the crisis.”

The very rich do have some fashion worries, Houston socialite Becca Cason Thrash admits. At a recent London party, she and another guest came wearing the same $47,000 outfit.

Her Majesty’s Napkin-Folders

The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis currently has no plans to start training crews for private luxury yachts. But stranger things have happened.

Stranger things are happening. The British Royal Navy has opened a “Superyacht Academy” at Portsmouth’s historic naval base.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, the scuttlebutt has it, has already had crew go through “a thorough grounding” in skills that range from fighting shipboard fires to “folding napkins.”

The Portsmouth course runs $1,440 per sailor and has the yachting industry simply tickled. With 400 luxury yachts now launched a year, says yacht expert Michael Howorth, not to use the Royal Navy facilities “would be wasteful.”

— Sam Pizzigati,  editor of Too Much, an online weekly on excess and inequality


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