April 25, 2006

A Different Class of People

We have all read stories about how George Bush's base is the rich, how he curries their favor, and how he rewards them as often as possible. We have read stories about the tremendous benefit the tax cuts for the rich have been for, well, the rich. Just today, in a CNN poll about gas prices, a small number of Americans (around 20%) is saying that the $3.00 plus gas price is not having any appreciable effect on them. Everyone else is saying that it is hurting them financially. Guess who those 20% are.

So when we hear that oil companies are making record profits, and that CEOs are making record salaries, bonuses and receiving mammoth golden parachutes, just what does this tells us about how rich the rich are actually getting?

Here are some examples of just how rich George Bush's base is getting.

In 1985, the Forbes 400 were worth $221 billion combined. Today, they are worth $1.13 trillion -- more than the GDP of Canada.

In 2005, there were 9 million American millionaires, a 62% increase since 2002.

Only estates worth more than $1.5 million are taxed. That's less than 1% of all estates. Repealing the estate tax (which rich Republicans euphemistically call the "death" tax) will cost the Federal government (that's us, the taxpayer) at least $55 billion a year. In other words, we'll have to make up the shortfall.

This year, Donald Trump will get $1.5 million an hour to speak at Learning Annex seminars.

Public companies spend 10% of their income compensating their top 5 executives.

ExxonMobil's 2005 profit of $36.13 billion is greater than the GDP of 2/3 of the world's nations.

When companies are in trouble, top executives still get rewarded. For instance, 10 former Enron directors were forced to agree to pay shareholders only a $13 million settlement which is a mere 10% of what they made by dumping stock while lying about the company's health.

And while United Airlines, as a result of its reorganization bankruptcy, has cut the pensions and salaries of most employees, 400 of the top executives have been promised 8% of the shares of United stock which will be issued upon emerging from bankruptcy. United's top 8 executives will also get a bonus of between 55% and 100% of their salaries.

1,730 Board members of the nation's 1,000 leading companies sit on the boards of 4 or more other corporations. Half of Coca-Cola's 14 member board is an example.

The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, and it has everything to do with whether you are a member of the right class.

American Express, in their exclusive magazine, Departures, gives us an idea how rich the rich actually are getting these days:

-- David Smith's stainless-steel sculpture Cubi XXVIII (1965) was sold at Southeby's for $23.8 million, making it the most expensive contemporary work ever sold at auction;

-- an oak-and-glass table made in 1949 by Italian designer Carlo Mollino sold at Christie's for $3.8 million, double the previous record for a piece of 20th century furniture;

-- a 14th century porcelain Yuan jar sold a Christie's London for $27.7 million, eclipsing the previous record for an Asian work by $18.5 million;

-- a painted Pennsylvania candle box (estimated at $8000 to $12000) soared to $744,825, becoming the highest-priced piece ever sold by Freemans, a 200-year old auction house in Philadelphia;

-- Edward Steichen's vintage photo The Pond-Moonlight sold at Sotheby's for $2.9 million. No single vintage photo had even brought $1 million prior to this;

-- Edward Munch's painting Summer Day went for a record $9 million at Sotheby's London.

It is worth noting that this issue of American Express' Departures magazine is The Culture Issue. In a section entitled, Culture Watch, the editors begin with this Prosperity Index that reports on record setting auctions listed above. The section is sub-titled Special Edition - The State of the Arts Around the World. Another feature piece in The Culture Watch section is entitled So You Want to Buy a Rembrandt? Some people's idea of "culture" is other people's idea of extravagance and rarity.

Doesn't this all make sense? The rich have got to do something with the windfall they are reaping from the Bush/Cheney regime.

[Thanks to Mother Jones magazine for part of this data]

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