Ever since humans first took to the sea, pirates have inexplicably vanished and reappeared along our coasts and waterways. Who were those mysterious figures who appeared along the mist-shrouded docks and beaches of Tampa Bay during last week's Republican Convention? While all eyes were on the Democrats, we decided to find out.
Pirates are often portrayed as a festive lot, so our investigation began with an ABC News report of an event where corporate campaign donors were lavishly entertained by The Commodores, whose hit "Brick House" captivated 70's-era dancers with its hypnotic chorus --
Chick-a-maw, chick-a-maw, chick-a-maw-maw,
Chick-a-maw, chick-a-maw, chick-a-MAW-maw!
-- and the extra syllables and syncopated pauses added to selected word:"She's a ba-rick" --(pause) -- "house/she's mighty mighty just lettin' it all hang out ....
It is a wondrous thing to watch rich white people getting down -- trust me, I know -- and many a groove thing was undoubtedly shaken at the Commodores event, where Sen. John Cornyn of Texas thanked donors from Blue Cross Blue Shield, AFLAC, and AT&T. Each has financial interests affected by the law known as "Obamacare."
But boogieing and piracy are not the same thing, so our search continued. Elsewhere in Tampa a conservative group called the American Access Network
sold access to elected officials "advertised the chance to mingle with members of Congress and senior staff at an arena skybox overlooking the convention floor for $30,000," according to ABC. And even better offers were available:
"Full access to the group's intimate luncheons and hot ticket concerts were open to their biggest supporters -- those who gave $250,000."
As the Commodores might say: Yeeowww!
Unethical? Sure. But piracy? We weren't sure. The trail grew warmer when we learned about the yacht party thrown by a Florida developer for "bundlers" who had raised $1 million or more for Mitt Romney's campaign. ABC reports that more than fifty people were entertained aboard the Cracker Bay, a yacht flying the ensign of the Cayman Islands, where the American-owned vessel was registered.
As the astute reader may have already noted, the boat shares its nationality with a big chunk of Mitt Romney's money.
We wondered at the use of the name "Cracker," a derisive Southern term for white males, since that appeared to be the primary's demographic group represented at these affairs. Were these wealthy men mocking their poorer counterparts, who are sometimes disparaged with the term? But another GOP patron professed ignorance when reached aboard his boat, the SS Peckerwood.
"We let the help name our boats," he explained.
In true piratical fashion, guests aboard the Cracker Bay attempted to conceal their identity, in this case by covering up their name tags as they boarded the boat. But reporters observed Texas oil heir Charlie Moncrief, whose family saga would put Dallas to shame.
Another guest was ultra-right real estate investor Melvin Sembler, who earned notoriety for running a sadistic and exploitative string of youth "rehabs." It would ruin the lighthearted tone of this piece to describe the horrors which STRAIGHT, Inc. inflicted on young people, so we'll leave the horrifying details to Alternet and the Institute for Policy Studies instead.
Self-respecting pirates would be ashamed to be associated with the likes of Mel Sembler, who bought himself the ambassadorships to Australia and Nauru under George H. W. Bush and the Italian ambassadorship under George W. Bush. Which ambassadorship might Sembler purchase under a Romney Administration? The U.N.? The moon?
Then there's Cracker Bay "captain" Gary Morse. Morse owns the development company behind "The Villages," a string of "master-planned" retirement communities in Florida. Florida's unusual "special taxing district" regulations allow private corporations like Disney to usurp government functions, including taxation, while exempting themselves from most government regulations. (Mystery writer Carl Hiassen has written a nonfiction book called Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World which addresses Disney's misuse of these laws).
"The Villages" are governed by "Community Development Districts" -- most of which are controlled by Morse himself. From a comprehensive and compelling Bloomberg report:
Morse controls almost every facet of life at the Villages... On a 33-square-mile parcel... he's built and sold more than 44,000 homes... created 39 golf courses and developed 4.5 million square feet of commercial space, including two hotels, 60 restaurants and two movie theaters... Morse owns the local newspaper, a television channel and an AM radio station... (his) commercials have been fixtures on the Golf Channel. His bank lends to retirees fleeing south; his insurance company provides them coverage. He even gets paid to pick up the trash and organize tee times.
It's like something out of The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan's surrealistic 1960s television series on the BBC. "Be seeing you!" How does Morse do it? Bloomberg explains: "Morse... has become one of America's wealthiest real estate tycoons with the help of tax-exempt municipal bonds issued by special government entities he's created to fund the expansion of the Villages."
Traditional pirates operate outside government control, often in self-governed areas which anarchy theorists sometimes describe with the acronym "TAZ" (for "Temporary Autonomous Zone"). But if pirates have typically been "non-state actors," Morse hijacks government itself and exploits them to expand his own wealth. In other words, he's a lot like Mitt Romney and other wealthy Republicans: They gripe about the cost of government, even as they exploit it to enrich themselves at public expense.
"Special taxing districts" are a microcosm of the para-piratical dystopia Republicans would create for the entire country, where corporate rule is supreme and democracy is as faint a memory as oceangoing corsairs.
Bloomberg reports that Morse's empire includes "four jet planes -- including a 21-seat Dassault Falcon 900 and two 22-seat Dassault Mystere-Falcon 50s, which can fly 3,623 miles without refueling." That sounds like the makings of a fleet. Was there a secret global flotilla of conservative bandit ships ringing the world's oceans? To help us find out, local informants arranged a secret meeting with a figure known to us only as "Cap'n Mitt." In the minutes just before dawn, a schooner emerged as if by magic from the mists off Tampa Bay.
The pirate ship's rigging creaked in the salty breezes as an ageless figure, his ample hair and square jaw strangely familiar beneath his eyepatch and sailor's hat, peered at us from the fog-shrouded deck.
"Are you a Republican?" we asked him. "Aye," he said tersely. From the crow's nest high above us, a dog barked. "But are you a pirate?" He chuckled. "Well, we don't run from government, we own it. But what do Republicans do then?" he asked rhetorically. "We privatize public services." I waited. "And what's another word for 'pirate'?" He paused for dramatic effect.
"'Privateer,'" he answered himself with a smirk.
"Is the Cracker Bay part of your fleet?" He nodded.
"What part of the Republican Platform appeals to the rich men who fly your flag?" we asked. "Is it the return to the lawless days of deregulation?" He chuckled. "That pleases them mightily," he said. "What about taking away government agencies' ability to protect people from corporate predators?" He smiled. "Aye," he said, "that does too."
"But how do you explain this piracy to the voters?"
He chuckled, then cast off for deep waters. The ghostly ship was already fading back into the mist-shrouded deep as he said "Everybody loves a party." He smiled enigmatically. "So we pretend they're invited to ours." I shouted my final words as the ship began to vanish into the mist: "But they're not! That's obvious by now! What can you possibly say to sell a program like that?"
The now-invisible buccaneer chuckled. "With enough money and media power behind me, all I have to say is ... " The unseen freebooter's voice echoed across the fog-shrouded waves: "... chick a maw, chick a maw maw! Yeoww!"
And with that his vessel disappeared, never again to be seen by human eyes or revealed by campaign disclosure laws.
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