To Have, and Have Not

What caught my eye one fine day was a story in the Times about the CEO of Merrill Lynch.  The  board of Merryl Lynch was trying to decide if they should ask their executive E. Stanley O’Neal to step down. The firm has posted a third quarter loss of 2.3 billion dollars, and has seen an 8.4 billion dollar write down of its total value because of actions in the sub-prime mortgage market, among other poor decisions. Suffice it to say, this man has sucked at his job. He’s cost the company, and shareholders, BILLIONS of dollars.  Actually, news of his impending departure saw stock prices rise $5.19 a share! Anyway, so this guy sucked at his job. We’ve all known people who’ve sucked at what they do. They’re the annoying ones in the office, the ones you just wish would call in sick everyday, because you get MORE work done when they aren’t around. But, what do you do when it’s your BOSS? That’s bad.  I’ve been in that situation, and I quit. But I have always worked for non-profits, so there was no money at stake, just my mental health. Anyway, so, when asked how under his leadership Merrill Lynch could lose so much money, E. Stanly O’Neal replied: “We made a mistake”.

WE MADE A MISTAKE???? What??? I’ve made mistakes. I’ve locked my keys in my car. It sucked, but a little help from a coat hanger, and I got them out. I’ve forgotten people’s names at times, I hate that I do that, but, it has happened, and I felt bad. I’ve rolled through stop signs, added things incorrectly, hit the wrong number on my cell phone (and someone answered and I proceeded to begin a conversation with them that I absolutely should NOT have because it was meant for another person entirely, and that is a funny story, but I haven’t written it yet so you’ll have to wait on that one), yes, I’ve done a bunch of stupid things, made a bunch of mistakes, but… none of them cost ANYONE any money, let alone billions of dollars.

But E. Stanley O’Neal, he’s quite a different story. He steers the company in a bad direction, causes losses totaling 10 billion dollars (so far), and then says WE MADE A MISTAKE.

Woops. I lost a billion dollars. I hate when that happens.

So why does it matter? Why should anyone care that this guy is such a complete corporate fuck up? Well, because his severance package is going to be worth at least 159 million dollars. That’s right. 159 MILLION!!! He gets that for FUCKING UP!

You gotta love capitalism. Seriously. Here’s where it just gets so interesting. See, people who support corporate capitalism, who think its just so great because the market decides who is fit and who is not, what’s good and what is not… these people, these people are constantly talking about how the market is the ultimate arbiter of what works and what doesn’t. Economic Darwinism. And they swear by it. Can’t have socialism because that would promote mediocrity, they say. Corporate capitalism ensures that talent and skill and ingenuity will rise to the top. Except when it comes to compensation packages for miserably untalented executives. Then, we reward them no matter how shitty a job they do.

So E. Stanley O’Neal can ruin the careers of a few people, cost shareholders billions of dollars, and he STILL gets to walk away with a severance package worth about 3,500 times what an average American family makes in a year. That’s right. Three thousand five hundred times what most American families make in a year.

Let’s put this in perspective. The minimum wage, at $7.25 per hour, peaked in 1968 at 90% of the poverty level. That means a wage earner making minimum wage, after working an entire year, would still be 10% below the poverty level- and that was in 1968, at its highest relative value. Today, its just a little over 50%. Now, if you took every dollar earned in a year by someone making minimum wage, and laid them out end to end, it would make a line about a mile long. Basically, it might get you to your nearest Dunkin’ Donuts. And you could use the last two dollars to buy yourself a cup of coffee. Now if you were an average American family, earning something around the median income, let’s take the median family income for the state of Iowa for instance, well… if you strung all your dollars up, end to end, that you earned in a year, it would make a trail about 7 miles long. That would get you to your nearest pizza place, and back. With enough left over to buy a pie. I like pepperoni. Anyway, now pretend you are E. Stanley O’Neal. Go ahead, do it. And pretend that you just got your severance package of 159 million dollars. And you laid all you dollars out, end to end. Do you know where you could go? China. That’s right, China. If you started out at the Empire State Building, and laid all your dollars out end to end, you could go all the way to fucking China. And back again. AND, there’d be enough left over for you to go to the Hamptons for the weekend.

That is the disparity of wealth in America. And it’s not about hard work. Or ingenuity. Or talent. Or brains. E . Stanley O’Neal is an untalented, uninspired, unintelligent, incompetent douche bag, and he gets to walk with the net worth of a couple of baseball teams. There goes your argument for the glories of capitalism. You can take E. Stanley O’Neal’s compensation package and your copy of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and stick it right up your…..

I must go on. And yes, if you are wondering, the measurements in the preceding paragraph are correct. I measured a dollar bill. And then multiplied and divided and figured out that E. Stanley O’Neal could make it to China and back (and then to the Hamptons) with just his severance package, and someone making minimum wage could go to Dunkin’ Donuts and get coffee. I like Dunkin’. Anyway…

He’s not the only one. There’s many more. Here are a couple of others:  Henry A. Kinnell Jr. was given a 200 million dollar exit from Pfizer after overseeing a 41 percent drop in it’s share value. FORTY ONE PERCENT! Almost half! Seriously. And what’s worse is that Pfizer laid off 7,000 people that year. Right before Christmas. Merry Christmas -you’re unemployed. I bet none of those people got anything near 200 million dollars when they were asked to leave. Nope. Just a pink slip and a “can you leave the bathroom key at the front desk please”.

Phillip Purcell of Morgan Stanley walked off with 144 million dollars after overseeing big losses and a plummeting of their stock in 2005. The list goes on. Basically, it seems that the bigger your “mistake” , the more money they pay you to leave. Maybe that’s it. They are paying them to leave. It’s like you have a party, and invite a bunch of your friends, and then your friend brings the new guy she’s dating. He seems really nice at first, but then he proceeds to get really drunk and starts breaking shit. He knocks things over. He drops plates. Then he breaks a lamp. Knocks over bottles. Makes a complete mess. Destroys your good crystal. Dumps champagne out of the window onto the heads of people walking in the street below. So, you ask him to leave. But he won’t. So you think of everything, but he still won’t leave. So you give him 20 bucks, call him a cab, and he’s gone. Your friend is embarrassed, but it’s not her fault. She never saw him get drunk before. So you forgive her. And you think hey, he probably broke a few hundred dollars worth of shit in your house, what’s another 20 bucks to get him to leave. And then he’s gone. You’re happy. Your neighbors might hate you for a while, but ultimately, things will work out in the end.

$159 million dollars. And I bet he doesn’t have to take a cab home.

So, this is what’s rotten in America today. Average families are seeing their real incomes fall on a yearly basis. Meanwhile, the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans continue to increase their share of the country’s wealth. And since GNP growth continues to proportionately affect all areas of the population, in other words, as the economy expands slightly, the largest portion of that  goes to the richest 1%, while absolutely none goes to the bottom 25%, what happens is the rich get richer, and the poor get screwed. Now, a true corporate capitalist would say that’s OK, because it’s the rich who are DRIVING this economy. Remember, they are the “job creators”. But I just showed you that that is not the case. Corporate executives are making decisions that monkeys on crack wouldn’t even make, and they are getting rewarded for it.

The Rich get richer, and the poor get screwed. It’s actually related.That’s simple math, if the wealthiest Americans are increasing their wealth, it has to come from somewhere. It comes from working class and poor Americans. You can’t have extreme concentrations of wealth without extreme concentrations of poverty.

So that’s where we are. And it stinks. Corporate Capitalists are ruining this economy, and E. Stanley O’Neal is a moron. His company is going to give him hundreds of millions of dollars ANYWAY. This is going on, and has been going on, for years.

And, over the past 40 years, average Americans have seen real wages fall. Consistently. 1/5 of our nations children live below the poverty level. Almost 50 million Americans have no health insurance. Millions are homeless. The list goes on. The question is, why aren’t average Americans pissed off? They should be. But the story isn’t front page news. What is? Jersey Shore.

Malcolm X once said the only difference between American people and the people in the rest of the world is that when the people in the rest of the world are oppressed, they know it. And I’ve always said, but I’m not famous, or dead, that we’ve got more to worry about from within, then from terrorists or anti-biotic resistant superbugs, or any of those things.

What’s going to destroy the very foundation that this nation stands on isn’t Al Qaeda or a super-bug gone wild.  It’s the super rich, rewarding mediocrity, and having a party while the whole place goes up in flames. Nero played violin when Rome burned, E. Stanley O’Neal will be drinking Dom Perignon and laughing all the way to…China.

And back again.

The Declaration of Interdependence

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July 4th, 2012

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that we are all dependent upon each other, not only to survive, but to thrive.  That every woman, man and child is dependent upon the whole in order to reach their full potential, and the whole of society is dependent upon all its members in order to move in the direction of providing an atmosphere of justice, mutuality and respect for all. Whatever happens to the least among us, happens to society as a whole. That all of us are connected to, and dependent upon, the earth on which we live. Whatever happens to the earth, happens to all of us.

We hold that the rapacious individualism of capitalism, based on the quest for power and accumulation of wealth at any cost, is destructive to individuals, the earth, and to society at large. It shall not stand. A society based on the profit-motive above all else is doomed to fail.  We reject the belief that individuals created this society, they did not. People working together did. No bridge, highway, building or dam was ever built by one person.  The very democracy that we celebrate today was created by the sweat, sacrifice, and bold actions of groups of people, standing together, working together, against tyranny. Collectively, we built an interstate highway system. Collectively, we created the internet. Collectively we have sent human beings into space. When Neil Armstrong was about to walk on the moon, his very words echoed this sentiment : “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”- these words recognize that without the collective work of so many people, that achievement would not have been possible. It also recognizes that great achievements are not done for the glorification of one person only, but for the good of all. It is only then that they have worth. It is only then that they will live on forever in the hearts and minds of all who come after.

When Jonas Salk created the polio vaccine, he was asked who held the patent. He replied “Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” He realized that he could not have achieved that without a team of people working with him. He realized that he could not have achieved it without being raised in a family and a community that supported his desire to be a scientist, without schools that taught him the math and science he needed to know to become one. And he realized something even more important:  that something as essential as the polio vaccine, which could help eradicate so much pain and misery in the world, belonged to the world itself. It could not be sold, commodified, or controlled for the profit of the few. It was for everyone to benefit from. It belonged to all of us.

We are, and always have been, a collectivist species. Like all animals, we huddle together for warmth when it is cold. We provide food for each other when we are hungry. It is our purpose, our mandate, it is in our genes. We need each other- psychologically, spiritually, biologically and emotionally. Men need women, children need their parents, neighbors need neighbors. We are not meant to live alone.  A society cannot be run by only one gender. Or only one race. Or only one age. We need each other to do great things. We need our young, as well as our elders.  We need our strong of body, as well as our strong of mind. Our history as the human race reflects it. From the time we were hunters and gatherers, to the time when we were agrarian. Everyone had their role, each contributed to the whole, and all benefited. Beliefs which separate us- sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia- make us weaker, not stronger.  Seeing some among us as lesser, makes us all less.

We recognize that the health of each of us reflects on the health of society as a whole, and vice versa. When some among us are sick, we are all sick. Each of us deserves access to health care. When one of our houses or apartments catches fire, the fire department responds. They put out the fire. They do not send a bill. When we are robbed, we call the police. If someone steals our purse, our car, they respond. They do not charge us. They do not deny us if we are poor.  Are then our bodies not worth as much as our homes, our purses, our cars? Just as the beaches, the mountains, the marshes and the plains belong to all of us, so do the achievements of medical science. We are only strong as a society if all are strong. We are only deserving as a people if all are deserving.

Each of us deserves access to share in the fruits of what this great land has provided for us- healthy food, clean water, breathable air. Food is not a commodity. It is a precious resource that has been available for all of us since the dawn of time. To allow the few to control the resources that are necessary for the many is folly. To allow corporations to control, modify, and distribute these resources is antithetical to what is necessary for society to thrive. It cannot stand. It is not sustainable. Clean food and water must be available to all, at all times.

We are interdependent not only among each other, but with the earth which gives us life. It is our duty to ensure the earth’s integrity. What has been here for millenia before any human walked this planet, shall be here for millenia after the last human has taken their final steps. We are but passengers on this ship, but we must now be its stewards. We must leave it better than we found it. We must not poison our air, our food supply, our water, our climate.  We must live prudently, and in harmony, with the earth and with all her plants and animals which spring forth. We must, as Jonas Salk said, be good ancestors.

Currently, there is an imbalance in our society. An imbalance of resources, an imbalance of wealth, an imbalance of power. This imbalance continues to move us farther and farther away from a free and participatory democracy. The few control access to capital, they have purchased representatives at all levels of government, they control the means of production, the distribution of goods, the salaries and wages that we earn, and much of the media outlets. Most of those that are in this top 1% of power and wealth have a mistaken belief in the power of the individual over that of society. They put their trust only in themselves, yet depend upon us for so much. They see people as resources; food , water and fuel as commodities; and government only as a means to consolidate their wealth and power.  Through their control of major media outlets, they have perpetuated these beliefs and propelled them onto the masses of society- convincing many of the lie that we do not need each other, that we only need ourselves.

We must reject this lie, if we are to survive. We must stand up for our interdependence. We must ring forth the song that each of us benefits from being part of the whole, and the whole itself cannot exist without the multitude of individuals who make up our world. We must reclaim our public space, our resources, the means of production, the means of distribution, and all levels of government- in the name of our collective good.  We must say with resounding confidence that it is this world in which we want to live- a world where people help each other, share with each other, work with each other, and support each other. A world based on mutuality and respect. A world that celebrates our differences, yet compels us to pull together in the web of interconnectedness and communion for the common good. For our generations, and for all generations to come.

When the representatives of 13 colonies got together to create the Declaration of Independence, it was a collective effort. Although those who forged this democracy were narrow in their thinking and actions when it came to allowing liberty to extend to all members of our society, they did understand the one fundamental truth:  that together we can accomplish great things, and alone we will fall. They enshrined this sentiment in our halls of government, and on our currency.  “E.Pluribus Unum”- out of many, one. They provided for the common welfare. They understood that divided we were weak and fractured, but together we were strong, and capable of amazing things. Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.  said almost 200 years later- “We go farther, faster, when we go together”.

We are now engaged in a struggle for the heart of our nation, and ultimately our world. A struggle between those whose humanity never pushes beyond their own experience, and those of us who are motivated by empathy, love, and a sense of interconnectedness and interdependence with the earth and all her inhabitants . Let us go farther, let us go faster, let us go together, and let us declare our intention to live in a world where we all recognize our connection to each other, where liberty  is not the freedom to shut another out, and where we are not simply a union of states or of governments, but of lives, connected inseparably to each other, for the good of all the people on this earth.

Anthony Zenkus