No Joy in Mudville


In D.C., a new baseball stadium opens amid the same old staggering poverty and inequality

Oh, they’re so happy over on ESPN because of the Washington Nationals’ new baseball stadium, which opened last night when George W. Bush threw up the first pitch.

The doofus POTUS was wild with his throw to Nats’ manager Manny Acta. Strange, isn’t it, that Bush’s battery mate was Acta instead of the Nats’ catcher, Paul Lo Duca. But the ex-Met is ensnared in the steroids scandal, so his PR quotient is below the Mendoza Line.

Funnier still was during the game itself, when Bush showed up in the broadcast booth to say of the steroids scandal, “I hope the players fix it.” He didn’t say “the commissioner” or “the owners.” Only “the players.”

The broadcast crew noted that Bush is a former baseball owner. But that’s only technically true. Before he was even Texas governor, Bush was trotted out before the public as the “owner” of the Texas Rangers. But Tom Hicks was the real owner; Bush put up a minuscule amount of money but was only the front man for Hicks and the rest of the real ownership group so they could get a stadium and other parts of a sweet deal with Arlington, the home of the team. When the Rangers were later sold, Bush cashed in for a lot of dough.

Years later, Bush became Dick Cheney’s front man, where he’s been even more dangerous.

Too bad D.C. isn’t making out as well as Bush. The new stadium was a point of contention when D.C. didn’t even have a team and its luxury boxes were only a dream in the minds of politicians and lobbyists.

Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post kicked ass on that story in 2004, pointing out D.C. residents’ terrible plight when the decision was finally made by Major League Baseball to put a team back in the U.S. capital.

As I noted at the time in “Playing Ball in D.C.” [October 25, 2004]:

Baseball’s execs have spread some money around, and they’ve probably quelled forever all threats from Congress to repeal baseball’s fortunate exemption from antitrust laws now that they’ve placed a team in D.C., the former Montreal Expos. Just another toy for the congressmen to play with, starting next year. Think of their being entertained by corporations and their lobbyists in the new D.C. stadium’s skyboxes.

Way down below them will be the average D.C. resident. The U.S. leads the world in wealth inequality, and the gap is continually widening. And income inequality in the District of Columbia is wider than in any other major U.S. city.

Yes, way down below them, if they could afford tickets in the cheap seats, will be the average D.C. resident. Bleacher bums? No. Just bums.

Since 2000, the gap between rich and poor has widened throughout the country. But D.C. was in terrible shape even during the Clinton years. From an analysis of census data by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute before Bush even took office:

The study found that the average income of the top fifth of DC’s households equaled $186,830 in 1999. This was 31 times higher than the average income of the bottom fifth of households—$6,126.

While Atlanta and Miami have income gaps similar to DC’s, income inequality is much less pronounced in most other cities. In the typical city in the analysis—which includes central cities of the nation’s 40 largest metro areas—the income of the top fifth of households is 18 times the income of the bottom fifth.

Well, maybe things are better since Bush became president. Yeah, right. Here’s what the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute had to say last October:

Despite dramatic improvements in the District’s economy over the past decade, economic conditions have actually worsened for many residents, according to a new report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

The study, entitled DC’s Two Economies: Many Residents Are Falling Behind Despite the City’s Revitalization — examines trends in employment, wages, income, and poverty. One of its most striking findings is that while the number of jobs in the District has grown every year since 1998, the percentage of African Americans who are employed has actually fallen, as has the employment rate among residents with no more than a high school diploma. For both groups, employment rates are near 30-year lows.

“It is surprising — and deeply troubling — that large numbers of DC residents are falling behind when so many of the city’s economic indicators are at their best levels in decades,” said Ed Lazere, executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. “The District’s well-known economic disparities are getting even worse.”

And how about that earning gap between rich and poor?

The earnings gap between DC’s highest (top 20 percent) and lowest (bottom 20 percent) earners is at its widest level since 1979. Inflation-adjusted earnings have increased just 6 percent for low-wage workers in that period, while jumping 40 percent for workers at the top.

Trying to stem the out-of-control crime in poverty-stricken D.C., district officials enacted a strict gun law that the Supreme Court just got finished hearing arguments on. (See this L.A. Times editorial that lays out the arguments.)

Guns aren’t the only problem of course. There’s also butter. Only the pols and lobbyists can afford the high-priced spreads.

Meanwhile, even the baseball owners called the plan to finance the bonds for D.C.’s new stadium the sweetest sweetheart deal they’d ever seen.

The baseball owners and Congress were the ones playing ball. As of last night, the luxury boxes are now occupied by lobbyists and their lackey pols, while D.C.’s poor continue their everyday drudgery.

Wonder if there’s a Larry Craig Memorial Bathroom in the joint?