AIG in the house! (Protesters on the lawn)

On Saturday, the Working Families political party took a busload of middle class people on a tour of Fairfield Connecticut, the Gold Coast town where many of AIG's most prominent executives live. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the home of Douglas Poling, second-in-command at the company's controversial "Financial Products" division.

Rich people are often curious about the lower classes, and poor people sometimes wonder how the other half lives, so it shouldn't be surprising that inter-class tourism has a long and proud history. In the nineteenth century, wealthy New Yorkers used to pay handsomely to take trips through the city's worst slums. Often repackaged as fact-finding missions or charitable excursions, the trips were barely-disguised excuses to stare at prostitutes and beggars and loudly wonder how anybody could live in such extreme poverty.

In the sixties, people from the suburbs would pony up pocketfuls of dough for tours of New York's East Village or San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, where they would stare at hippies playing music and enjoying experimental lifestyles. A few years later, one politician after another made the pilgrimage to Charlotte Gardens in the Bronx, where demolished buildings and rubble-strewn empty lots made a satisfyingly post-apocalyptic backdrop for speeches about the failures of government and the need for better social services.

Of course, poor people have sometimes had their revenge. In 1968, prankster Joey Skaggs took a busload of East Village hippies on a bus tour of suburban Queens, where the longhairs sampled hamburgers and snapped pictures of people mowing their lawns. For that matter, tours of stars' homes in Los Angeles are a satisfying payback for fans who often have to pay too much to see films of depressingly low quality.

In a similar vein, this weekend's tour of Fairfield gave ordinary people a chance to see how AIG rewards its most prominent employees. Poling, for example, lives in a huge $1.7 million home, which he hired two guards to protect on Saturday. The same was true of James Haas, whose beautiful colonial house sits alongside a huge golf course and has views of Long Island sound. At both houses, protesters delivered letters praising the occupants' decisions to forego this year's bonuses and asking them to support higher taxes on people earning over $500,000 per year.

The tour ended with a visit to AIG's financial products division office in Wilton, Connecticut, where protesters waved signs and changed "Money for the needy, not for the greedy."
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