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Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010 03:36 am

Executive excess: The rewards of being bad

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Look out, they’re angry. Foaming-at-the-mouth angry. And they’re lashing out, saying they won’t take it anymore. As one of their leaders angrily cried, “It’s a war.” Indeed – they’re on the move to take their country back.

Forget the tea party rowdies, this is the champagne party! More precisely, it’s the Dom Perignon-$1,000-a-bottle-champagne-party, propelled by – get this – billionaire’s rage.

Yes, some of the richest, most pampered people on the planet – people who literally wallow in luxury every day, with never a concern about losing a job, a home or health care, or getting their kids into college – these people are wailing in self-pity. They are Wall Street hedge-fund operators, which essentially means they are high-flying financial flimflammers. What has stoked them into an elitist fury is a Barack Obama proposal to close off a ridiculous tax loophole that has let them pay only 15 percent of their lavish income in taxes, rather than the 35 percent rate that us commoners pay.

One of the richest of the ragers, Steve Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, sees Obama’s proposal as an outrageous intrusion into the suites of the elite, comparing it to “when Hitler invaded Poland.” This over-the-top-tantrum comes from a multibillionaire – a guy who spent $3 million in 2007 just to throw himself a birthday party! Come on, Steve, you’re filthy rich. Stop hyperventilating and pay your taxes!

Pathetically, the real root of this sad Hedge Fund Rebellion is a feeling by these powerful, super-privileged megalomaniacs that they are being picked on. One even whined that asking hedge-funders to pay taxes at the same rate as everyone else amounts to the “persecution of the minority.”

Good grief, man, get a grip! Next thing you know, these doofuses will hire Glenn Beck to host a weepy telethon to “Save the Billionaires’ Tax Loophole.”

But it’s not enough that the wealthy elite want to exempt their excessive, ill-gotten income from any fair contribution to the public good – they also want to slash our incomes. Many of America’s top-paid CEOs are the very ones who’re ruthlessly axing America’s middle-class jobs, and they are reaping gains from our pains.

A new survey finds that corporate chieftains who inflict economic pain on the company’s workers receive more financial gain for themselves. The Institute for Policy Studies examined the layoff-payoff records of America’s 500 largest corporations during the past couple of years. IPS researchers report that the 50 CEOs who fired the most rank-and-file employees averaged 42 percent higher pay than their peers, averaging an extra $3.5 million each.

One of the champions in this contest of convoluted corporate compensation was Mark Hurd. As chief executive of computer giant Hewlett-Packard, Hurd dumped 6,400 workers in 2009 – a year in which he pocketed a paycheck of $24.2 million. Earlier this year, Hurd was forced to resign from HP after an internal investigation found that he falsified some expense reports. No need to weep for Mark, though – he was comfortably compensated for this bad turn of fortune, receiving a severance package reportedly worth $40 million.

Being bad, you see, can be awfully good for a CEO’s bottom line. For example, IPS documented one category of badness-to-goodness that is especially infuriating. Five of the 50 leading pink-slip-issuers last year were also bailout barons. Among them was Kenneth Chenault, honcho of American Express, which got $3.4 billion from us taxpayers in 2008 to save it from financial ruin. In gratitude, Chenault subsequently offed 4,000 employees, then helped himself to a paycheck of nearly $17 million, including a $5 million cash bonus.

To see the full IPS report, titled “Executive Excess 2010,” and to help stop the excess, go to www.ips-dc.org.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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