The Company Picnic
A Wall Street Journal poll of 350 major corporations found that the median compensation, including stock options, for CEOs last year was $2,635,799. That was a growth of 3.1 percent. Overall, US wages and benefits climbed 3.5 percent. So, in a way, ordinary workers fared better than the CEOs, didn't they? OK, just kidding. The CEOs pocketed an extra $79,253 or so on the year, while a worker with an income of $40,000 grossed an extra $1,400.
As of the latest count, Bill Gates's net worth was $51 billion, which is greater than the combined net worth of the 106 million Americans at the bottom of the pile. The press keeps going gaga over the stock-market boom, but let's not forget, comrades, that 90 percent of the stock gains went to the wealthiest 10 percent of households, with 42 percent of the bounty going to the superrich 1 percent. So let's hear no more about the growth of your piddling retirement account.
I mention those little differences in prosperity to provoke, I hope, the kind of anger that you need to appreciate this book by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman. Mokhiber is editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, a legal weekly based in Washington, DC; Weissman is editor of Multinational Monitor, which also operates out of Washington and is a window on nasty corporate power. Their purpose in Corporate Predators is to show what happens when big business (as Ralph Nader says in the introduction) "goes on a rampage to control our society." Granted, there's nothing new about that, except in the fresh intensity of the rampage and the increasing collusion of the federal government--far, far more than when Woodrow Wilson complained, three generations ago, that "the government of the United States at present is the foster child of special interests."
The result, as you will see in Corporate Predators, is that while the special interests sometimes do get by with murder and mayhem--the chicken industry, for example, subjects its workers to some of both--more often they traffic in bottom-line crimes such as fraud, the device by which Medicare contractors bilk the government of an estimated $100 billion a year. Among the more avaricious is Blue Cross/Blue Shield, better known in this book as "Blue Criminal" because of the $221 billion it has paid in fines for cheating the government in six states.
In a recent New Yorker cartoon, a CEO says to his board members (who look much like stereotypical Mafiosi), "Tell the public we don't want to hurt them. We just want their money." But of course, in addition to robbing us they do hurt us, and nowhere more than in the way they mistreat the environment, usually with impunity. Mokhiber and Weissman remind us, for example, that while a million tons of chemicals dumped by General Electric have poisoned a 200-mile stretch of the Hudson River and rendered its fish inedible, the company has yet to spend a penny to clean it up. When an Ashland Oil Company tank collapsed and polluted 200 miles of the Monongahela and Ohio rivers, it was let off with a $2.25 million fine, which to Ashland was about as painful as the fine you would pay in New York for a parking violation.
This is also the tenth anniversary of the worst pollution of coastal waters in US history, when an Exxon tanker spilled almost 11 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound, polluting more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, killing tens of thousands of birds and marine mammals and ruining much of the Alaskan fishing industry. Most of the cleanup costs were paid by taxpayers; Exxon paid a fraction, but it was allowed to deduct 34 percent of that from its taxable income as "a routine cost of doing business." As for the 1994 jury verdict of $5.3 billion in compensatory damages, Exxon hasn't yet paid a cent.
It's awesome the way big business persuades the government to make chumps out of taxpayers, using our guarantee to rescue big banks that gambled on risky investments overseas and lost on Wall Street hedge funds. Talk about chumps! We even pay to develop drugs that the government then gives to pharmaceutical firms, which sell them back to us for billions.
In these pages you'll meet corporations that have--with the help of our carefree government regulators at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission--transformed the antitrust laws into the most embarrassingly bad joke of the century. The first use of the antitrust laws, which are supposed to prevent dangerous concentrations of corporate power and, specifically, price-rigging, was in 1914, to break up the Standard Oil Trust, which by gobbling up dozens of smaller companies had come to control 95 percent of the oil refining industry in this country. The Supreme Court divided the bulk of the Standard assets among seven major oil companies, with Exxon and Mobil being by far the biggest splinters.