In the 1980s the fictional Gordon Gekko told us that “Greed is good.” Never mind how at the end of the film (Wall Street) the soulless Mr. Gekko gets sent to prison. That was a Hollywood happy-ending not remotely based on reality. In truth the greedy among us more often than not get away with their reckless behavior. It’s everyone else who suffers. Often it’s a case of being “too big to fail” which allows corporate criminal behavior to go unpunished. It also helps if you’re rich enough to tangle-up the courts with high priced lawyers until the whole scandal goes away while our collective short-term memories fade. More often than not white collar crime counts on the statute of limitations running out while the evidence of wrong-doing quietly evaporates like quicksilver.
The average American constitutes the backbone of the nation–we are the hard workers. No one doubts that long days on the New York Stock Exchange are grueling. But try pipeline construction or brick masonry–I’ve done both. I’ve also been a corporate executive so I know what I’m talking about when I say that that cushier jobs are nowhere near as exhausting. Nothing is as physically or mentally challenging as genuine physical labor–working hard while worrying about whether or not ends will meet. At the same time we live in a nation that doesn’t read or care to learn from mistakes. Americans are easily brainwashed into ignoring truths happening right under their noses while clinging to the time-honored mythology of the “American Dream.” Never mind that the very dream itself is always being held at a tantalizing distance just beyond our grasp.
We’re told that hard work pays off and we’ll be rewarded for our efforts. That, however has not been my experience–nor has it been my observation. If a worker does anything particularly well, that individual is more than likely going to be frozen in place–stymied in a dead end position indefinitely. Why? Because If a person can do something well, why promote them? Leave that person to do what they’re already good at. Or better yet, find a flimsy excuse to fire the loyal employee if he or she is over fifty and hire someone younger and willing to work for less money and fewer benefits. It’s always the apple polishers who don’t actually fit-in, but have mastered the fine art of bullshit who manage to get themselves flushed upward with the tide of incompetence. Before you know it, those conniving back stabbers wind up in charge of the fate of all the more capable workers. I’ve seen it happen time and again. I have no reason to believe it’s any different in the banking industry.
In reality the American worker is the body and soul of our nation. The banks, corporations and investment firms are like cancerous tumors left untreated. Wealth is disproportionally distributed among the upper two percentile while the rest of us who genuinely work to survive see a shrinking share of the profits. We’re the ones who’re continually blindsided by the costs of everything from food and housing to medical care and education. In other words, the average American is the host organism–and corporate America is the parasite that sucks the life out of the host until neither entity is left strong enough to survive. That, sadly is the direction America is rapidly heading.
Suicide nets in China.
The wealthy fight tooth and nail to keep the minimum wage as low as possible even though increasing said wage won’t effect whether or not those privileged folks enjoy lavish European vacations, multiple ocean front beach homes or country retreats. The greedy among us work to bust unions in order to erode the middle class whether or not those middle income individuals actually belong to a union. Unions, while every bit as imperfect as the ruling class, are the firewall that protects average Americans from complete subservience. With stone hearts of cold greed, the rich outsource our jobs to nations who have no problem employing forced labor camps without any pesky encumbrances like minimum wages, health benefits or human rights. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m blogging on a device constructed under those very same deplorable conditions–although I didn’t know it when I bought the damned thing.) As if there was ever a “free-trade” option when buying a computer….
….The rich fight tooth and nail to avoid paying a fair tax rate while they look down their noses at everyone else and turn a blind eye to our nation’s crumbling infrastructure and withering middle class. It’s as if to say struggling people are mindless sponges unworthy of eating the crust that cakes on the pan. The wealthy class balks at the average person wanting healthcare coverage. Lest we forget how taxpayers paid untold millions to keep Dick Cheney’s soulless ass alive until his heart transplant came through. (No doubt someone with his blood type went missing and unnoticed somewhere in the world…. But I digress.)
Meanwhile the shrinking middle class sits back complacently, dumbed-down by television, watching football and never giving a moment of thought to how the last firewalls of income protection necessary to preserve their own quality of life is eroding right beneath them. Then again, more Americans vote for contestants on ‘America’s Got Talent’ than ever find the wherewithal to get their lazy bovine asses to the voting both, (especially during a midterm election which is when the most egregious political shenanigans take place.) Meanwhile the middle class has less money to spend on the goods and services that make and keep the wealthy rich. This is not a sustainable formula for a nation determined to survive as a first rate world power in our competitive 21st century global economy. Oh, by the way, the wealthy prefer not to fund middle class education. An uninformed populace is much easier to control.
Meanwhile the average person finds him or her self financially struggling against unforeseen healthcare costs–job losses–shrinking spending power and the rising cost of living. An unfair conventional wisdom dictates that those people must be lazy or stupid–otherwise they’d be rich. People victimized by these misfortunes are diminished and often fall into a downward spiral–when all they’ve ever wanted was to be treated fairly and given a chance on a level playing field.
ObamaCare has become a hotbed topic because the far right knows that once it’s implemented (flaws and all) people will come to like it and rely on it. It’s merely an extension of Medicare. Obviously there are kinks to be ironed out. That said, the more prosperous nations in the world economy have all had the wisdom not to allow health coverage to become a profit motivated industry in the first place. For-profit healthcare preys on the individual’s desire to live a healthy life–so companies raise premiums on a captive market to squeeze out a customer’s life blood.
But when the markets themselves became sick and were in desperate need of a transfusion (between the transition of Bush II and Barack Obama) billions and billions of dollars were infused into these “too big to fail” banks, investment firms and corporations. If a private individual falls on hard times (self-inflicted or purely through misfortune) the safety nets are far less lavish.
But to our north in Canada, a private equity firm called Ares Management purchased the highly profitable retailing giant, Neiman Marcus. There’s nothing unusual about that aside from the fact that Ares Management isn’t merely another private investment giant: Ares Management IS the National Canadian Social Security System. The primary beneficiary and shareholders of Neiman Marcus are now the elderly and disabled citizens of Canada. Other countries like Norway and Singapore, have instituted similar innovative thinking. In our greed-motivated capitalistic society, allowing entitlement programs to participate in the profits of a free market is nearly unimaginable. Just ask any “loving” conservative Christian–if they don’t pull a gun on you first.
Celebrating Ares’ Purchase of Neiman Marcus to benefit the Canadian Social Security System.
After our last severe economic recession everyone has been left uneasy. Foolhardy risk-taking both in the financial markets and on the world stage during the George W. Bush years–(but dating all the way back to Ronald Regan)–sacrificed long term stability for short term gains–all built on a greedy house of cards. The American taxpayer, already fleeced everywhere from the pump to the grocery store (and well beyond) paid in excess of SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS to save the smarmy asses of unscrupulous, mismanaged, incompetent and frequently fraudulent investment firms while the nation waged wars that no one ever had any intention of paying for. During this period, crooked CEOs commanding the corporate helm secured tidy golden parachutes to insure their own personal fortunes. They knew we were heading over a cliff. But thanks to taxpayer bailouts, Wall Street has recovered quite nicely, thank you very much. But it’s a jobless recovery that hasn’t by and large “tinkled-down” to the millions of unemployed and struggling Americans who continue to endure hardships. Bearing in mind the wisdom and generosity of Canada’s Social Security purchase, please take the time to ponder the following personal “retirement” plans:
* Richard S. Fuld, Jr. (Former CEO of Leiman Brothers) received $529 million from his Lehman job including his salary and cash bonuses prior to it’s impending collapse in September of 2008. He now has his own private investment firm and has purchased some very high-end real estate including an $8 million, nine-bedroom home with a guest house. He transferred ownership of a $10.6 million beachfront home, with a pool and tennis court, to his wife, Kathleen in November 2008. He owns a 40-plus-acre ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho. But on a more “sobering” note, he did have to sell his multimillion dollar Park Avenue apartment.
* Jimmy Cayne
, former CEO of the late of Bear Stearns lives in a $25 million apartment in New York’s Plaza Hotel. He divides his time between golf, bridge and smoking fine cigars. He retains a bridge playing coach who he pays $100,000 a year to keep his bridge game top notch. On Thursdays he helicopters to his $8.2 million dollar New Jersey beach house for weekend golf outings. He earned $87.5 million in cash bonuses from 2000 to 2007 and sold stock worth about $289 million and took home an additional $900 million prior to Bear Stears demise. All that extra cash helps support his second apartment on Park Avenue that he and his wife share when life becomes trying at the Plaza. (The “help” can become so surly when you don’t tip.) Occasionally Mr. and Mrs. Cayne “slum it” at their $2.75 million condo at the Boca Beach Club in Boca Raton, Florida. It must be so
difficult for them both.
* Charles O. Prince III
, former CEO of Citigroup resigned wisely in 2007 after losing $11 billion on sub-prime mortgage gambling, but he was “fortunately” awarded a $33 million dollar golden parachute and $65.2 million in cash salary and bonuses. Before you feel too sorry for him, he has a $3.6 million Nantucket getaway and a $2.7 million luxury home in Lost Tree Village north of Palm Beach, Florida.
* Stanley O’Neal
, the last CEO of Merrill Lynch guided the firm into losing $55 billion worth of corporate losses. To his good fortune, he got a golden parachute of $161.5 million preceded by $68.4 million in cash salary and bonuses. He quickly sold Merrill stock at a profit of at least $18.7 million. He transferred full ownership of his $10 million Park Avenue apartment to his wife late in 2008. They also own a $12.4 million vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard through a “legally protected” LLC. He sits on the board of Alcoa Aluminum, and for some mysterious reason they allow him to continue to do so.
* Kenneth Lewis
might have survived the initial Wall Street collapse unscathed, but he oversaw the purchase of toxic assets from other collapsing firms through Bank of America (in spite of some ticklish run-ins with the Justice Department). He personally holds $86.4 million from the sale of Bank of America stock prior to it being bailed out. After selling several other homes, he and his wife have “scaled-down” to living a meager existence in their $4.1 million beachfront condo in Naples, Florida.
Thus far not one individual of any real
consequence has gone to prison. Bernie Madoff doesn’t count–he was actually pulling off a pyramid scheme that already fit into a preexisting definition of illegal financial practices. That said each and every one of these executives (there are too many to list) found creative ways of breaking or redefining existing laws thus disregarding human decency. Finding creative ways of circumventing legal conventions doesn’t make anyone innovative–it merely redefines the term “dirtball.” Wealth be damned. But don’t any of you try your hand at those shell games, even on a small scale, because the law will nail your ass to the wall. None of these aforementioned CEOs will ever go to jail. You’d think that people who defrauded investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars would be wearing orange jumpsuits and sweeping floors behind bars–but that’s not how it works with white collar crime. These men with their obscene fortunes will go unpunished. It doesn’t matter who else lost their hard-earned retirement money or how many lives were ruined. These scum-balls amassed their fortunes
on the backs of other people’s misfortunes
. The more the world changes–the more it remains the same. None of them will ever be prosecuted nor punished–not in this life anyway.
- Disassociated Press, 9/14/2013
* Note: Much of the material interpreted in this opinion blog is based on research from The Center for Public Integrity.
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Minaiture – 1/12″ scale. Collection of the University of Nebraska’s Design Dept.
My Book, An Early Work Late in Life
is available at PixelPreserve: