The Hightower Lowdown
CEO pay surges, George W. recycles at the Pentagon, & Tom DeLay quacks like Daffy Duck.
Corporate bosses had a rough year in 2000: plummeting stock prices, lower profits, angry stockholders, slumping sales. They booted thousands of workers out the door. Luckily, there was one little bright spot that helped see them through the tough times: their own paychecks.
Need a New Boss?
Business Week reports that while the pay of workers barely kept up with inflation last year, CEOs of major corporations skipped away with an 18% increase in their cash compensation, plus getting stock compensation that lifted the average CEO paycheck to a princely $13.1 million.
Top of the heap was John Reed, former co-CEO of the financial conglomerate Citigroup. John was ousted from the company by his co-CEO, but to cushion his fall, Reed received $293 million in pay. Sometimes it hurts so good to lose. The second-highest-paid honcho was Sanford Weill, also of Citigroup -- yes, the very fellow who ousted Reed! He was paid $225 million. Apparently, Sanford's overall executive efforts weren't all that great, for he ranked fifth on Business Week's list of CEO ignobles who gave shareholders the least for their pay.
Some of the most adroit managerial moves by top executives in the past year came not in advancing their products, workers, or shareholders, but in protecting their own pay. A number of CEOs were caught holding options on stock that had collapsed in value -- so they connived to have those stock options invalidated and to be given new ones worth millions. Cool! I imagine a lot of shareholders would like to turn in their worthless stock coupons and get valuable new ones.
This is why so many shareholders and workers these days feel like they could use a boss transplant.
George W. doesn't seem like the recycling type, but if you check his White House performance so far, you'll see that there are many old things he's trying to reuse.
Recycling Pentagon Trash
He's brought back an extraordinary number of retreads from Daddy Bush's administration. While he campaigned last year as an "outsider," 43% of Bush the Second's presidential appointees are well-worn insiders who also held appointed positions under Bush the First.
W's not only running the same old people through the system, he's also bringing back old, failed policies, like another super-bloated, boondoggle-loaded Pentagon budget. Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld (Washington retreads themselves) are leading the charge to dump a record $329 billion a year into the black hole of Pentagon spending -- more money than Congress would appropriate for every other federal program combined.
Bush & Company claim that a massive spending hike is needed for basics like bullets and better pay for soldiers, but that's just PR camouflage for funneling the bulk of these added billions into the coffers of the huge weaponsmakers that backed Bush's presidential run. Among them is Northrop Grumman, which now stands to make a killing off taxpayers by recycling one of the most notorious of boondoggles: the B-2 stealth bomber. The B-2 is the world's most expensive plane, it's not very stealthy, it's slow, it requires a massive support force, it can't fly in bad weather, and it's a maintenance nightmare. Bush's bloated Pentagon budget calls for buying 40 of them from Northrop Grumman at $735 million each.
Not all recycling is a good idea -- especially when it's a real piece of trash, like this $30 billion chunk of corporate welfare.
Washington, D.C., is full of odd ducks, but the quackiest by far is also the most powerful: Tom DeLay.
Tom 'Quackers' DeLay
This former pest exterminator from Sugar Land is not merely eaten up with right-wing ideology, he's messianic in his drive to foist it on the rest of us. How far out is Tom? He thinks Bush is a liberal and that middle-of-the-road Democrats are socialists. He thinks it was wrong to ban DDT, that the minimum wage should be eliminated, that clean-air and clean-water laws should be repealed, that worker safety laws should be scrapped, and that corporate America must be liberated from regulations that protect consumers and workers.
Tom sees politics as a "battle for souls." DeLay recently told The Washington Post that he seeks to build a "God-centered" nation whose government will promote prayer and worship. His godly government limit the rights of homosexuals, curb contraceptions, end the separation of church and state, outlaw abortion, and post the Ten Commandments in every public school.
Asked about the majority of citizens who would feel somewhere between uncomfortable and terrified by his plan to mold our government to the dictates of his religion, DeLay sighed sadly and told the Post: "When faced with the truth, the truth hurts. ... People hate the messenger. That's why they killed Christ."
Whoa, Tom -- I think you've got your halo a little too tight! It would be one thing if such quackiness was coming from just another lawmaker, but DeLay is the most powerful man in Congress, serving as party whip and controlling a vast network of fundraising entities and extremist political operations. George Bush says he wants to put a compassionate face on the GOP, but Tom DeLay is the real face of Republican power.
Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.