I thought it a nice touch when the D.C. fuzz escorted Congressman Patrick Kennedy to his home after he slammed his car into a barricade just blocks from the Capitol a few weeks ago. This is what cops do for a living. They do not test drunken drivers, they limo them home. The fact that Kennedy was speeding, was zonked out, and could hardly stand up was of no consequence. What’s a little booze and drugs when one’s a Kennedy? People pay taxes in order for the police to be present when politicians in Washington don’t play by the rules. A female member of the House slaps a security guard doing his duty and then gets to call a press conference and charge racism. So what else is new? The egregious Kofi Annan, head of the squeaky-clean U.N., gets a buddy to vote for a $500,000 award for Kofi and soon after taps the buddy to head a U.N. environmental program. That, after all, is what friends are for.
When George Orwell published Animal Farm, he received a note from an official at the British Ministry of Information. “It would be less offensive if the predominant caste in the fable were not pigs. I think the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offence to many people ...” The book’s ending is my favorite. “All animals are equal—but some animals are more equal than others.” Well, all I can say is the Kennedys have been playing the equality card since time immemorial, except when it comes to meeting common people, like the Los Angeles airport guard whom Patrick Kennedy assaulted when the guard objected to the congressman trying to squeeze an oversize piece of luggage through a metal detector. But not to worry, it’s all in the Kennedy equal-up-to-a-point elitist tradition. Try to run for it, deny, then give a press conference and go into rehab. End of story.
America’s bipartisan elite has nothing on the French and British aristocracy of the 18th century. For years our elite has encouraged trade deficits, offshoring jobs and technology, a growing foreign debt, and unrestricted immigration. American workers have suffered immensely, with declining pay, loss of manufacturing jobs, and increasing part-time jobs without benefits. Corporate high rollers have, however, done well because shedding workers is the easiest way to make the bottom line look good.
Income distribution in the United States has not been so unequal since before the Second World War. Executive over-compensation is the main cause of this. The neoconservative policy agenda —free trade, belligerence towards all save Israel, huge military spending—also helps the inequality. According to one poll, CEOs at companies that outsource the most U.S. jobs are rewarded with the biggest paychecks. The ratio of average CEO pay to worker pay was 431 to 1 in 2004. The biggest CEO pay took place among defense contractors. Something is very wrong here, as they say.
My favorite piggy is of course David H. Brooks, CEO of bulletproof-vest maker DHB Industries, who pocketed 180 million big ones, spent $2 million on his child’s bar mitzvah, and then saw the Marines recall more than 5,000 of the vests after they proved useless. So what’s a few dead Marines when an expensive bar mitzvah is involved?
Mind you, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of piggies. The former Exxon Mobil chairman comes to mind, as do others from Occidental Petroleum and Pfizer. Citigroup’s Sanford Weill is right up there with the head pigs also. And let us not forget World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. He has made a seamless transition from being a flack for the military-industrial complex to being a flack for U.S. banks and corporations. Wolfowitz knows the score. He got out in time, where Iraq is concerned. Despite being the lightning rod behind America’s greatest political and strategic blunder, he was rewarded with a job that is a public-relations winner. He is supposed to be helping the poor with money from the rich. In actual fact, the World Bank also builds giant industrial enterprises that poor countries don’t need that serve to undercut American workers. Halliburton, Bechtel, Pfizer are among the beneficiaries. But Wolfie emerges smelling like the proverbial rose—as did the grotesque Robert McNamara, who led us to victory in Vietnam and in the middle of the debacle was awarded the presidency of the Wolrd Bank for a job well done.
And so it goes, my friends. Unlike the Roman emperor who named his horse as first consul, we have not gone that far. But capitalism has come a long way since people built industries from scratch—and employed people to build them. Now the takeover is king. Hilaire Belloc called it money shuffling. I call it a Gadarene lust for fame and attention. Still, there is good news. If you have a drink too many, not to worry. The cops will take you home for free, and everything will be hunky-dory.