Who’s Cheating America? The Billionaire vs. The People

Okay, we had some fun with King NFL earlier this week. But what about its owners? Aren’t those the real fatcats? Well, I guess that all depends. If you’re talking about my beloved Green Bay Packers, then it’s time to sit down and be quiet. The town owns the team. You won’t find a better story in professional sports.

Let me repeat that. The town owns the team! Victory is ours!

But for everyone else: ugh. A billionaire. A few half-decent ones (the Rooneys in Pittsburgh come to mind) and an awful lot of unbelievable blowhards. And the worst of all just might be Washington’s very own Daniel Snyder.

Image Credit: Forbes.com

Here’s the thing about billionaires: they have a hard time living with rules. There’s a speed limit? Well, who cares about that? Give me a ticket? I can pay the fine. Give me another ticket? Have you seen my bank account? Take away my license? I can hire a driver! Impound my car? My helicopter works just fine! Or in the words of another American billionaire:

Lawyer: Your Honor, my client has instructed me to remind the court how rich and important he is, and that he is not like other men.
Mr. Burns: I should be able to run over as many kids as I want!

Daniel Snyder (Artist’s Rendering)

That’s the logic they follow. We might as well just let them drive fast. They will anyway! The rest of us citizens, for whom things like fines and insurance premiums and an inability to, you know, get to work matter… well, that’s who the speed limit’s for!

So in addition to running a great franchise like the Washington Professional Football Team into the ground (can’t argue with a complete lack of success), Snyder has made himself one of the Beltway’s worst citizens. But why stop there? Why not just break some federal rules as well:

It was a small concession in the grand scheme of things, the kind that the rich and powerful frequently wheedle out of government, especially back then, during the presidency of George W. Bush, when such favors were flowing like booze in a skybox. But its discovery set off a decade-long campaign of bureaucratic retribution over two administrations that nearly sent an innocent man to prison.

What was this small concession? To install a crony in high political office? Lobby for a tax cut? Nope.

The tale begins in 2000, when Snyder paid $10 million for a riverside estate in the Washington suburb of Potomac, a posh neighborhood in a posh community typified by the recently deceased gray-haired government worker whose property he had purchased—King Hussein of Jordan. … Among Washington’s ruling class, the bluffs flanking the Potomac River northwest of the city are the closest one gets to a penthouse on Central Park, but Snyder quickly encountered a problem: he couldn’t see any water from his waterfront property. The [national] park’s trees were in the way.

I get what I want I get what I want I get what I want I’m NOT GETTING SOMETHING I WANT.

Since the park was designated a national historic site in 1971, any alterations to the land, no matter how small, have had to first pass through an intensive period of paperwork, environmental impact statements, and waiting. For thirty years, no modifications were granted.

That’s right. No Superbowl Trophy for you, Mr. Billionaire. The park belongs to us! And we like trees more than we like your view! But don’t worry, your mansion will survive. And… wait, what?

Later that month, a complaint from one of Snyder’s neighbors about men with chain saws clear-cutting the scenic easement behind the team owner’s house made its way to the C&O Canal’s new chief ranger, Robert M. Danno.

Why? How?

Over the phone, [an official] told the investigators, [Snyder’s lackey] seemed agitated that nothing had been done yet, and suggested an exit strategy, which he later alleged had come from the Redskins’ attorney: most of the trees in question were nonnative; why not clear-cut them and call it an exotic-plant extermination program?

And then what? The feds just rolled over? One man didn’t!

Recently arrived in Washington, Danno was a distinguished NPS veteran, having spent a long career out west—fighting Rocky Mountain forest fires, pulling tourists from a mudslide, and rappelling down a sheer cliff in pitch darkness to rescue a group of scientists. When Yellowstone reintroduced wolves in 1995, Danno was there, literally carrying the first alpha female to the transport caravan. … With the earnestness of a Boy Scout (which he once was, of course), Danno immediately brought the clear-cutting complaint to the attention of his boss, Kevin Brandt, and as the park’s top law enforcement officer, he requested permission to investigate what had happened.

Okay. Whew! A boy scout is on the case! He ended the madness. Right?

It soon became apparent to Danno that his aggressiveness was not appreciated by his superiors. Fearful about losing his job, he kept quiet. Then, in March of 2005, Danno was told to hand over his gun and his badge and to empty out his desk. He was being reassigned to a desk job at the George Washington Memorial Parkway while the NPS pursued a number of disciplinary charges against him. Danno beat back the charges. … The independent review board recommended that Danno be restored to his old law enforcement post.

But Brandt brushed them off, and had Danno transferred once more—to a posting at Fort Hunt Park in suburban Virginia. A former chief ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park, a veteran of Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, Danno was relegated to a job processing picnic permits at a thirteen-acre municipal park in Virginia with four tables.

I should be able to run over as many kids as I want! And put as many decent Americans out of work as possible. They’re in my way! Chop them down like so many evil trees.

I weep for you, America. Two days in a row. Now let’s watch us some football, united in our hatred of cheaters everywhere!

Previously in Who’s Cheating America:

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