The Hightower Lowdown
American CEOs are overpaid; missile defense shield money could be better spent; and art snobs need to not have a cow.
Time for another Hightower Hog Report!
Lean Times, but Fat CEOs
Today's herd of fat porkers includes the boss hogs at Disney, American Express, Cisco Systems, and other corporate fiefdoms that suffered serious financial downturns in the past year. With stock prices collapsing and profits tumbling, the bosses of these outfits loudly began preaching austerity to the serfs in their fiefdoms, declaring their corporate finances to be so bad that Disney's honcho fired 4,000 workers, American Express offed 6,600, and Cisco punted 8,500 out the door.
However, these budget whackers did not accept responsibility for their poor corporate performance by taking any personal pay cuts. Indeed, Disney's boss scarfed down some $73 million in personal pay, American Express' enjoyed a 22% pay increase for the year, and Cisco's found an extra 40% in his trough.
Two watchdog groups, the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy, analyzed CEO paychecks for the past year at America's 365 largest corporations. They found that overall -- while stock prices dived, downsizing soared, and workers pay barely kept up with inflation -- those at the top averaged an increase of 18%. Most interesting is the fact that those CEOs who did the most firing of employees got the most pay, averaging nearly $14 million each, 80% more than the other bosses.
American CEOs now take 531 times the pay that average factory workers make -- a widening chasm of disparity. Oh, a CEO pay consultant exclaimed to The Chicago Tribune, "It's not fair to compare [CEOs] with hourly workers. Their market is the global market for executives."
Hogwash. Corporations in Japan, Europe, and elsewhere keep their pay gap at only about 50 to one. For them, it's a matter of simple fairness and social-harmony values that America used to represent.
Having gone along with George W.'s budget-busting, $1.3 trillion tax giveaway to his millionaire pals, Congress is now dutifully lining up behind Bush's corporate-induced fantasy of building a Star Wars missile defense shield, with a price tag reaching as high as 500 billion of your and my tax dollars. Thanks to Bush's millionaire tax gift, there no longer is any budget surplus from which to draw, so Congress will have to get any and all money for Star Wars by whacking it out of existing programs for education, children, health care, social security, pollution prevention, transportation, and other real needs.
Real National Security Spending
All this for a multi-billion-dollar high tech bauble that independent military and scientific experts repeatedly have told Congress is a complete waste, citing two excellent reasons: It isn't needed and won't work. In fact, it's been said that Bush's scheme for a Star Wars missile screen would be no more effective in protecting us from nuclear attack than if the Pentagon bought a lifetime supply of sunscreen for every American.
Meanwhile, Congress could be strengthening America in positive ways. For the $5 billion budgeted this year for Star Wars, lawmakers could have reduced class size to 18 students per teacher in the crucial first three grades in every elementary school in America. For the $8 billion Congress wants for Star Wars next year, it could have provided a Head Start program for every three- and 4-year-old child living in poverty, plus providing an Early Head Start program for all 2-year-olds living in poverty.
The missile-defense scam is not about defense, it's about rewarding the corporate campaign contributors who're getting these huge contracts to play wasteful high tech war games. To help move Congress from corporate largesse to public progress, contact the Priorities Campaign: 202/483-0900.
Today's Gooberhead Award goes to a couple of sourpusses who're gritching about the latest wave of public art in various cities across America. The public displays to which these gritchers object first appeared in our country a couple of years ago when Chicago placed 340 life-sized fiberglass cows on city streets. Each one was painted, bejeweled, posed, decorated, or otherwise designed by local citizens, ranging from established artists to schoolchildren.
Appreciating Public Art
I saw the Chicago cows, and I have to say they were terrific! You couldn't help smiling at the sheer whimsy of decorated cows on the streets of a city filled with serious-minded people bustling to and from their daily grind. Not only did locals pause to marvel and enjoy, but the cows became a tourist attraction -- and other cities soon found their artistic niche. Baltimore went with fish, including one dressed as Elvis with a peanut butter and banana sandwich in its fin. Cincinnati chose pigs, Orlando displayed 200, 6-foot-long lizards, and ... well, there are now sheep, flamingos, salmon, flying horses, turtles, and many more critters in the public spaces of our cities.
But then came the Goobers. An art critic in Los Angeles decried his city's decorated angels as "garbage on the street"; an urban historian in Chicago sniffed "I don't think it's dangerous, but a lot of them are very ugly"; and a St. Louis critic referred to his city's creations as "humiliating for the people who take art seriously."
Whoa, Goobers, don't take yourselves so seriously! These whimsical creations are more than art. As a Chicago official notes: "People gather around these objects and start talking to strangers. That's very important to creating a sense of community."
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.