PALM BEACH, FLA. -- The Wall Street Journal once referred to people whose incomes were so low that they didn't make enough money to pay any federal income taxes as "lucky duckies."
The really "lucky" ones even got free money in the mail, an Earned Income Tax Credit from the federal government, if their earnings were sufficiently low.
The Journal, of course, got it wrong. Any of its biggest-income readers would rather make $100 million and pay $30 million in taxes and still have $70 million left than earn $25,000 and pay no federal income taxes, or earn $9,000 a year and get $1,000 in annual assistance from the government coffers.
In any case, there are some super-lucky ducks and some real unlucky duckies here in Palm Beach, primarily separated by their distance from the water.
As luck would have it, the homes that have dropped the fastest in value over the past few years -- and won't hit bottom until well into 2009, according to a front-page analysis in the local newspaper here last week -- are the properties that are farthest from the water, i.e., the least-expensive houses and condos to start with.
The real lucky ducks, in contrast, the people still watching their real estate millions grow, are those with the top properties in the best locations.
Not far up the beach from our hotel, for instance, Donald Trump's 7-acre private residence with 500 feet of ocean frontage, a premier property (naturally), is for sale for $125 million. In addition to the 61,000-square-foot primary house with seven bedroom suites, a media room, a grand ballroom and staff quarters, the property includes a two-bedroom poolside house, a four-bedroom coach house, and a two-bedroom guesthouse. Trump reportedly paid $41 million for the property in 2005.
A bit in the other direction from our hotel, Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago (means "sea to lake," i.e., the property runs from the ocean to the bay), the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (cereal) and E.F. Hutton (money).
"Mar-a-Lago is a 55,000-square-foot estate on 18 oceanfront acres -- 115 rooms, 33 bathrooms, 58 bedrooms, three bomb shelters," explained a local real estate broker. "Ms. Post's daughter gave the property to Palm Beach. The upkeep was $3 million a year. The town sold it to Trump for $11 million, and that included $3 million in art in the house. It's a priceless property. In 1995, Trump developed it into an exclusive club, a $1,000-per-night boutique hotel."
Nearby neighbors to Mar-a-Lago are singer Rod Stewart and Netscape founder Jim Clark. Right on the ocean, Stewart's light-yellow stucco home with two large cement lions standing guard at the gated entrance is in the $30 million range. Across the street, on the bay, is Clark's $100 million-plus estate, reportedly with a landscaping bill of $130,000 a year.
In political news here that sounds not unlike the midnight pay-grabbing of Pennsylvania's politicians, The Palm Beach Post reported that the "Riviera Beach City Council members voted themselves raises later in the meeting after most of the people attending had gone."
The preferred form of ground transportation for the top crowd here appears to be anything that's foreign and over $150,000. In the air, it's private jets. The fastest -- four hours from JFK to Paris -- is the new supersonic private jet from Nevada-based Aerion Corp. The top speed is Mach 1.6 (it's illegal to go faster than Mach 1.1 over the continental United States).
The first two Aerion deliveries, at $80 million a pop, were to Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi and Tarek bin Laden, Osama's half brother. With turbans flying around at Mach 1.6, Bush II better keep the pedal to the floor in old Air Force One on the way back.
Regarding religion, they're still fighting here about evolution and creationism. The current Florida curriculum requires science teachers in state schools to teach students that forms of life change over time.
In Palm Beach, several school board members want intelligent design, i.e., creationism, to also be a required part of the curriculum. No way, they say, is there a direct link between monkeys and Mercedes owners.
I don't understand the fight. Why is it an either-or matter, i.e., either evolution or intelligent design? Why can't it be both? If things evolved, why does that rule out a belief in God? Why couldn't evolution just be a tool of an all-powerful Creator, an intelligent designer?
Finally, the authorities here sent 20 sheriff's deputies, two K-9 units and a helicopter to a local mall because some kid's pants were hanging too low.
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