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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SOBERING THOUGHTS ON THANKSGIVING WEEKEND


Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. As you feast with family and friends this holiday weekend, count your blessings. If you have a roof over your head, have a job, have health insurance, are in relatively good health, and can enjoy a generous helping of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, squash, beans, jello, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, you are indeed very lucky and should feel very, very grateful. For you are far better off than those who are homeless or are lining up for a charitable hot meal in a food line somewhere.

I read with disappointment and a sick feeling in my gut that many charities and nonprofit organizations will be severely cutting back on or even eliminating free meals for the poor this Thanksgiving due to severely depleted budgets. This is nothing for us to be proud of as a nation. In fact, we should be thoroughly ashamed, especially those who have received the massive tax cuts President George W. Bush and his conservative Republican Congresses enacted for ultra-high incomes so many years ago and which remain in force to this day. All that extra money which we were told would go for domestic business creation to make millions of new high-paying jobs here has instead gone overseas, was wasted on wild market speculation, or has been held on to. Our standard of living was supposed to rise from those tax cuts and the free trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA which were set up at the strong urging of these same conservative Republicans and me-too "New" Democrats.

Instead, our standard of living is dropping. So much for the wisdom and value of free market, conservative Republican economics.

Quite by accident, I discovered a unique "Salary Crunch" feature courtesy of ESPN, a leading national sports TV and radio network. It featured an interactive table whereby you could plug in your current annual salary and see how much time it would take New York Yankees' pitcher C.C. Sabathia (current annual salary: $23 MILLION) to "earn" the same amount you do in a year's time. For those of you making $100,000 a year (a well-higher-than-median salary), it would take Mr. Sabathia only 1.1 innings of pitching. But it would take YOU 230 YEARS to earn what he makes in ONE year! For those earning, say, $30,000 per year, Sabathia would only have to pitch merely 0.33 of an inning (1 out), but it would take YOU 766.67 YEARS to earn his current annual salary. To those poor folks currently being paid only minimum wage (a puny $7.25 per hour, or just $15,080 per year), Mr. Sabathia is paid this amount in only 0.17 of an inning (LESS THAN ONE OUT), and it would take those folks 1,525.2 YEARS to earn his annual salary. Interestingly enough, C.C. Sabathia is not even Major League Baseball's highest paid player!

We have seen the compensation rates of the wealthy shoot skyward in recent years, even as those of the middle class and poor have remained the same or even declined. Ever-rising fuel and health care costs have further eroded buying power and compounded the stress the average American worker is under as he or she tries to maintain.

Keeping in mind the minimum wage figure of $15,080 annually I have already provided you with, compare it to the compensation rates of 5 other prominent wealthy individuals I have picked at random below:

Angela Braly, CEO of health insurance giant WellPoint: $9,844,212.
Miles D. White, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Abbott: $33,400,00.
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees' third baseman: $28,000,000.
Stephen Hemsley, CEO of health insurance behemoth United Health Group: $3,241,042 (and previously much higher).
John Lechleiter, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly: $13,000,000.

Remember, folks, these exorbitantly high compensation levels are being paid at a time where the nation is suffering a 10.2% (17+% actual) unemployment rate, nearly 50 million (almost 1 in every 6.5 of us) have no health insurance coverage, and roughly 10% of the population is now on food stamps, There is no moral justification for the disparities in income we are seeing, with these disparities growing out-of-control every year. This phenomenon is wrong, and, furthermore, endangers our well-being as a people.

This practice is the abuse of capitalism.

And yet, there are still many people who scream at raising taxes on the very wealthy, or at government stipulating how much is too much when it comes to fair executive compensation levels for Wall Street bankers and business executives our tax dollars bailed out earlier this year. They want no control of or regulation over these outrageous salaries, even though we taxpayers and we stockholders have had no voice in the setting of those salaries yet continue to pay them. These people, just like the practices they wish to preserve, are dead wrong. The sky is not the limit when it comes to celebrity or executive compensation, especially when that compensation harms the economic well-being of ordinary working people and the poor, and as we are the ones partially funding it.

So this holiday weekend, give thanks that you are not deprived or living hand-to-mouth under a bridge. Think of those poor people who are, but also remember the ultra-wealthy others who have put them there, are keeping them there, and/or are keeping you trapped at the level of income you are at. We have nothing to be thankful to these people for except our own personal struggles and the misery of others. And let us not be complacent about this status quo: It is in our best interest, and is our moral obligation, to change this scenario. The wealthy elites are doing next to nothing to look out for the rest of the country or to sensibly regulate themselves, and they never will. Call it income redistribution; call it socialism; I don't care what you call it. THAT is why GOVERNMENT, as an agent of we the people, must have and must utilize the power to more fairly level the playing field for all!

24 comments:

Oso said...

Jack,
Great column.
Like many people,I waver between being grateful for all that I do have,and frustration at how much the wealthy have.

Fortunately the grateful part is usually the one that wins out.Maybe I just have low expectations?

My aunt used to tell me how when she was little, their dolls were twigs bound together and the dresses for the dolls were strips of leftover cloth.

So I felt like I was rich,to have toys made in stores.

And in comparison to probably 90+ percent of the world population, I was and I am.

SJ said...

@Jack,
a great sentiment.
and btw, in case we don't touch base before Friday...

a very big Happy Birthday to you my friend.

I will raise a glass in your honor at the dinner table tomorrow evening.

Cheers Jack!
-SJ

Oso said...

Jack,
Please let me echo SJ's sentiments:

Happy Birthday !

So you're 21 now and can drink legally ?

Jack Jodell said...

Thanks, guys, and I will raise a glass in your honor, too, both Thanksgiving and Friday. You are both gems cut from the right mold. The honor is mine, to "know" you as I have come to do. Keep on fighting the god fight, my friends! Some day, we will have much to celebrate!

mud_rake said...

Another 'sobering thought' comes right after this weekend when Obama reveals his plan for Afghanistan.

More troops, more billions down the drain- monies that could have been spent on the poor and struggling of THIS nation.

I'm afraid that he's not strong enough to pull the Afghan plug and turn toward our people for a change.

Oso said...

Mud_Rake,
I believe you hit the nail on the head.Obama isn't strong enough to do the right thing.

Vigilante said...

You guys: I'm most thankful to have made your acquaintance!

Jack Jodell said...

mud_rake,
Very valid points, and a terrible tragedy for our nation. As the old adage goes, "Never put off untilk tomorrow that which can be done today." If only Bush had taken care of business the way he should have in 2002, we wouldn't be in this current quagmire. Others may disagree, but I see a number of parallels with Vietnam here...
---------------
Thank you, Vigilante, and we all feel the same way toward you, my friend. Let's keep fighting the good fight! And thank you for that marvelous quote I've been using for all these months:"Tax the very wealthy to make everyone healthy!"

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

You are the first thing / think I am reading as I tune in (behind me) to the Macy Day Parade - always called it that - and Jack,
Best Turkey Day Post award from this bench sitter goes to YOU! I'll be relating this post today, as I sit with family and friends, and say, of course, you all should be reading these blogs....
you open our minds
enlighten our hearts
and
ask us to remember what we DO have.

I'm a capitalist. A small business woman who dreams of making much more, so I might do much more, not live day to day in the peter to paul fiscal mechanics ... and I find something to share with community. My mom used to remind us, whatever you have .... the privileges you enjoy, are because your community helped /s you to achieve them...you always owe something back...it's your responsibility. Jack, you are giving back with a golden quality. [So do most the blogs I read!] But today you're my first read as dawdle before having to get ready for dinner.
Thanks Jack, for giving me reminders of what the quality of character is really all about.

Cheers, darlin'. And brother, Happy Happy B-day!

Jack Jodell said...

Thank you, Gwendolyn, for this wonderfully humbling comment. I think your mom was quite a lady to have imbued all that common sense and community spirit into you, and I shall tip a glass to both of you today.

I am very thankful for insightful and kind-hearted bloggers like yourself and for the many others of similar character I have been lucky enough to become acquainted with over this past year. I love all of you! Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Vigilante said...

Happy T-Day, Jack!

TRUTH 101 said...

While I am thankful that you and everyone else on my reading list are great writers, thinkers and bloggers, I am also frustrated that you and everyone else on my reading list is a better writer, thinker and blogger than I am.

As usual, great post Jack. Best wishes from my house to yours on Thanksgiving and every other day of the year my friend.

Marc McDonald said...

You know, these incredibly high CEO salaries would never be tolerated in places like Europe and Japan.
And CEOs getting sky-high salaries while laying off thousands would cause riots and violent street clashes in Europe.
Until American workers organize and take to the streets, we can expect further polarization between the haves and have-nots.
While watching a report on MSNBC that was talking about Obama adding another 35,000 troops to the Afghanistan quagmire, it occurred to me: what, exactly, has changed under Obama?
Gitmo is still open. The Iraq war rages on. The rich are still getting richer, while the poor get poorer.
I hate to be cynical, but I really haven't seen much change under Obama.
Anyway, great post! I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving.

Jack Jodell said...

Marc,
Your comments are dead on---all of them. Europe and Japan definitely would never allow their CEOs to pull off stunts like they do here. One of the huge mistakes Americans make is to almost have a knee-jerk reaction against any form of salary regulation. In my mind, there are legitimate high salaries and there are wholly unjustified, FAR too high ones. These latter ones include those of CEOs who get them after exporting jobs or ordering massive layoffs, or any salary in excess of, say, 100 times the median level of employees' wages.

As for changes under Obama, that is also a sad but true charge you make. In his defense, though, if there is one, look at the resistance Congress has given him every step of the way. For all practical purposes, congressional GOP members don't even recognize him as President. They vote as a bloc against every single thing he tries to do. I have never seen such noncooperation in my lifetime, and I don't think it was even this bad at the beginning of the Civil War. This is undoubtedly the most obstructive Congress in our history, and THAT needs to change BIG TIME!

MadMike said...

Hey Jack! How cool! Happy birthday to you:-)

MadMike said...

P.S. I almost forgot! We need to raise taxes A LOT on the wealthy, and a little on those of us who are not so wealthy. We must pay for what we get...

TRUTH 101 said...

Mike is correct. I need a government that pays its bills and obligations more than I need a tax cut.

Vigilante said...

Truth, if I were wealthy enough to belong to the entrepreneurial class, I would prefer a marginal increase in taxes in order to provide programs that marginally stimulate spending so that the markets for the good & services that the companies in which I was invested would expand commensurately, and I could improve my ROI.

What's wrong with my logic? Can anyone help me out?

Jack Jodell said...

Let's face it, guys: Bush gave the wealthy huge tax cuts and told us they would stimulate investment in new industries and new high paying jobs here. That never happened. Instead, there was investment in plants set up outside of our borders and jobs were shipped overseas, with new, cheaper-paying jobs created here, and not that many of them. Bush and the free trade crew also told us that trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA would create jobs and lower the cost of goods sold here. Very little of what was promised with that occurred too.

The wealthy have decumated the middle class and the poor over the past few decades. These huge tax cuts and military misadventures overseas have bankrupted our government and severely eroded our standard of living. It is now time to refill our government's coffers by "taxing the wealthy to make everyone healthy" with a large surtax on the incomes of billionaires and companies which have invested elsewhere rather than here, and to reverse this insane policy of making the filthy rich even filthier rich at the expense of everybody else. We got along just fine with a 70% tax rate on the top brackets for decades; I would say an immediate increase to 49% or so today would help this country a great deal, and to hell with the dishonest supply-siders who would disagree.

TomCat said...

Happy Thanksgiving Jack. The bottom 40% of Americans own only 0.2% of the wealth. Therein lies the whole problem.

Stimpson said...

In the words of Bruce Cockburn: "The tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream / As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream / Bring us men in gasmasks dancing while shells burst / The trouble with normal is it always gets worse"

Jack Jodell said...

TomCat,
You are exactly right.
---------------
Stimpson,
Thank you for that very interesting lyric. I think he summed it up nicely!

Beach Bum said...

Jack, just got back in and wanted to wish you a happy birthday.

And yet, there are still many people who scream at raising taxes on the very wealthy, or at government stipulating how much is too much when it comes to fair executive compensation levels for Wall Street bankers and business executives our tax dollars bailed out earlier this year.

Patriotism for the elite is a mile wide but only an inch deep for them. It's mind boggling to hear them talk about supporting the troops and the wars but have spasms when it is mentioned that we need to pay for them.

My faith in the American people is weaken at times over how they ignore this contradiction and willingly go along with sending their sons and daughters to die for wars that mainly support the lifestyles of the rich and powerful.

Of course they go along cause they generally have no family member fighting in these wars. Not only do I wish there was a war tax but I'll beat the dead horse again and say that the draft needs to come back. Like Jon Stewart said one time about the lack of protest over the Iraq War, something like this: had a draft been in effect it would have been a whole other story.

Anyway Jack, Happy Birthday and I'm adding you to my blogroll tomorrow. I'm more than slightly drunk and going to bed. Its hell to type this way.

Jack Jodell said...

Beach Bum,
Thanks so much. oI'm with you all the way on what you have commented here. You raise a very true point about how the rich want to have war but not pay for it themselves. Hell, they never want to pay for anything, including their defense, highways, police, fireeducation, health care, and our wages. They just want to take money in, never shell any out. And they have the gall to complain about "welfare queens" and such, when THEY have the biggest sense of entitlement of all! Curious lot, those people...