In keeping with today's theme of economic woes, as well as a final salute to that scumbag Ken Lay, we want to give you a bit of cut'n'paste from The New York Times. Not because we are thrilled with the so-called paper of record, but they do have a hell of a staff, including one who moonlights for Fox (*spits on ground*) News; Ben Stein is an economist, damn funny guy, and a raving Bush supporter, but even he can see which side his greenbacks are buttered on, and where is it for the rest of us? Hat tip to Just a Bump in the Beltway.
July 9, 2006
A City on a Hill, or a Looting Opportunity
By BEN STEIN
JUST for my own bad self, I love living in the United States of America.
Every night before I go to sleep, I lie in bed next to my wonderful German short-haired pointer, Brigid, and my Dalmatian, Susie, and I look out at the palm trees and the stars and think that the Gestapo isn't chasing me, and that I am grateful. I think that the Soviet NKVD cannot come knocking on my door and send me to Lubyanka prison, and I am ecstatic. I listen to my dogs' soft breathing, and I know my wife is next door in her inner sanctum with her four cats, reading, and I feel safe and grateful.
Life in America in 2006 for an upper middle-class person like me — who, although overweight, still has decent health — is just paradise. There is no place like this place, a shining city on a hill, a gift from God every moment of every day.
But still, with all of that, something is seriously wrong. I could put it into statistics, and in a small way, I will, but I'll mostly put it in layman's terms.
When I was a lad, the chief executive of a major public company was paid about 30 or 40 times what a line worker was paid. Now the multiple is about 180. What did they do in the executive suite to become so great? Upon what meat do they feed? Why, as we are being killed by foreign competition, do we need to pay our executives so much?
We have investigators looking into whether some corporations paid their executives with stock options whose strike price was retroactively determined to be the lowest price of the quarter, so that the options were "in the money" from Day One. After opening investigations into the remarkable timing of some of their own option grants, several companies restated their financial reports, which makes it straight-up fraud in my book. Not one person has been charged with any crime, while young black men and women who sell a tiny amount of drugs on a street corner do hard time. How can this be right?
We have immense corporations that cry the blues all day long about how their pension costs are ruining them and how they have to freeze pensions or lay off workers or end pensions altogether (can you say "Friendly Skies?") and turn over the pension liabilities to the taxpayers. And the same corporations set aside many millions for the superpensions of the top executives.
Even at my own beloved General Motors, whose Cadillacs I love so much — precisely because I think of them being made by the sons and grandsons of men who fought in Vietnam and at Peleliu and other bloody World War II battlefields — there is severe action to have workers quit and to lower their pensions.
At the same time, however, spectacularly large executive pensions, coming straight out of profits, keep G.M.'s retired top dogs happily playing golf at the Vintage, while the men who actually made the cars are saying: "Welcome to Wal-Mart. How can I help you?"
As I endlessly point out, taxes for the rich are lower than they have ever been in my lifetime. (To be fair, taxes for the nonrich taxes are very low as well.) And this is occurring as we accumulate government liabilities that will kill us in the long run. (And cutting spending will not work. Most federal and state spending is for items that are untouchable, like Medicare, education, the military — and, most cruelly of all, interest on the national debt. Every president promises to cut spending and not one of them does it unless a war comes to an end.)
We are mortgaging ourselves to foreigners on a scale that would make George Washington cry. Every day — every single day — we borrow a billion dollars from foreigners to buy petroleum from abroad, often from countries that hate us. We are the beggars of the world, financing our lavish lifestyle by selling our family heirlooms and by enslaving our progeny with the need to service the debt.
I don't see this — except for the taxes — as a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It's just the way we live today. Drunken sailors from the Capitol to the freeways. Heirs living on their inheritance and spending it fast. The titans of corporate America getting as much as they can get away with and hiring lawyers and public-relations people if there is a problem. It is later than anyone dares to think.
Is this America, where far too many of the rich endlessly loot their stockholders and kick the employees in the teeth, the America that our soldiers in Ramadi and Kirkuk and Anbar Province and Afghanistan are fighting for? Is this America, where we will end up so far behind the financial eight ball we won't be able to see because of mismanagement by both parties, the America that our men and women are losing limbs for, coming home in boxes for?
The Saturday before Memorial Day, I spoke at a gathering of widows and widowers, parents and children of men and women in uniform who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The person who spoke before me was a beautiful woman named Joanna Wroblewski, whose husband of less than two years — after four years dating at Rutgers — had been killed in Iraq.
She cried as she spoke, and she was right to cry, but she said she tried to keep love and trust in her heart. She spoke of her devotion to her country and her husband's pride in the flag. There was not a dry eye in the room, nor should there have been.
ARE we keeping the faith with Joanna Wroblewski? Are we keeping the faith with her husband? Are we maintaining an America that is not just a financial neighborhood, but also a brotherhood and a sisterhood worth losing your young husband for?
Is this still a community of the heart, or a looting opportunity? Will there even be a free America for Mrs. Wroblewski's descendants, or will we be a colony of the people to whom we have sold our soul? Are we keeping the faith with this young widow? That is the question I ask about this beloved and glorious America for which her husband, Lt. John Thomas Wroblewski, died. If we are, we should be proud. If we are not, we'd better change, and soon.