Monday, March 23, 2009

Balance In Our Economy

“Rage at AIG Swells As Bonuses Go Out,” reports the Washington Post. President Barack Obama declares insurance giant American International Group is in financial straits because of "recklessness and greed." He intends to stop it, (Brady Dennis and David Cho, WP Staff Writers, March 17, 2009; Page A01).

This has resulted in a tidal wave of public outrage. "It's a mob effect," one senior executive said. "It's putting people's lives in danger." Politicians and the public demanded that AIG rescind payouts that rewarded recklessness and greed at a company being bailed out with $170 billion in taxpayer funds. Company officials contended the uproar scares away the very employees who understand AIG Financial Products' complex trades and who are trying to dismantle the division before it further endangers the world's economy.

There is much discussion among people right now and we need to be alert, act ethically, maintain moral and political balance for the common good. For example: “We’re spending money so that the government doesn’t put so many impediments in the way that we kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” Chamber of Commerce President told Lou Dobbs, (War On the Middle-class/Viking/2006/42).

Dobbs alleged, “We have allowed the elites to subvert the principles of free market and a democratic society, and establish the lie that the unfettered growth of our economic system is far more important than the preservation of our political system” (11).

What else does Newsman Dobbs report? Half of Americans make more than $44,000 and half less (16). Income increased for the median family by 18%; the top 1% increased up to 200%. Illustrating the point, NW Airlines increased Executive Compensation by $2.5 million while the company fought bankruptcy and slashed worker pay. Dobbs noted our greatest danger is internal--CEOs et al with millions in stock options, who have become rich on options based on company performance … and maintain at any cost.

Remember when George Bush repeated his mantra about “work Americans won’t do”? The truth is, we no longer honor honest work! Bobby is a plain, simple man, without letters or degrees. He is physically robust, an American mountain man of SE Kentucky--a family man, and deeply religious. Bobby is as honest as the day is long, a man of honor--a trash truck driver. He arises every morning at 1:00 a.m, and goes to work at 3:00. There are thousands of employed and unemployed Americans like Bobby, honest and honorable, while some of our biggest CEO increases--up to 200%-- are in Defense Contracts - getting rich by reason of “Just War”.

Remember when K-Mart filed for bankruptcy in 2002? CEO Chuck Conley got $9.5 million severance while laying off 22,000 without severance--similar story at Polaroid. I agree when Dobbs suggests we cannot be healthy while lobbyists influence our laws. In 1968 we had 62 registered Lobbyists, today 34,000. These include 2390 former public officials and 240 Congressmen. No wonder Dobbs concluded we have the best government money can buy--the culture of corruption--Bush, Abrahamoff et al.

Fifty years ago Corporate America’s taxes were 1/3 of our federal revenue and only 1/8th now, while the Middle Class pay roughly half of all Federal Taxes. Citizens for Tax Justice found the largest 275 US Corporations dropped 1/5th over the past 3 years, 21.4 in 2001 to 17.3 in 2003. They reported pretax of near $1.1 trillion but paid only $557 billion. Bank of America, for one, has some 50 tax havens abroad.

Yet, CEO Raymond of Exxon Mobile told Congress, “We’re all in this together all over the world.” His 13-year compensation as chair & CEO equaled $l44,573 per day, with these additional benefits: retirement package of approximately $400 million + stock options, pension, personal and home security, $1 million consulting contract, use of corporate jet + other perks (Dobbs, pp 25-26).

This amounts to corporate welfare, whether the company makes money or not. CEOs were paid over the past 5 years an aggregate of $865 million in compensation (including AT&T, BellSouth, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Lucent, Merck, Pfizer, Safeway, Time Warner, Verizon & Wal-mart) while shareholders lost $640 billion.

Should a CEO be paid as much as the market will bear? If so, how about those who earn it for him or her? It reminds me of Mark Green’s quote of Woodie Guthrie: “Through this world I’ve rambled, I’ve met lots of funny men. Some rob you with a six-gun and some with a fountain pen” (Green/Losing Our Democracy/106).
From Warner’s World

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