With the official publication date of July 4 rapidly approaching, I’m publishing a third deleted chapter from Survival of the Richest on my blog. Hope you enjoy.
The Customer is Always Wrong
The nature of any human being, certainly anyone on Wall Street, is ‘the better deal you give the customer, the worse deal it is for you’.
– Bernie Madoff
If you’ve ever tried to get a company to honor an extended warranty, you understand just how antiquated the classic axiom “the customer is always right” has become. It’s terribly disillusioning to spend an extra amount of money on a product, and be assured repeatedly that this will provide special protection and garner “your money back, no matter what,” if the product stops working, and then have the company invariably find a loophole, once the product breaks, enabling them to deny the claim. Virtually all stores offer these same kinds of warranties, for nearly every electronic or computer product they sell. In the same vein, we find auto dealerships boasting about “bumper to bumper” warranties, on each vehicle they sell. They, too, however, also push customers to purchase an extended warranty. Now, to a novice like me, everything associated with an automobile is between the bumpers, mitigating the need for any “extended” coverage, but it is often very difficult to file a claim on these kinds of plans, as the dealer or manufacturer finds an exemption of one sort or another in order to deny it.
If we had an actual free enterprise system, with unfettered competition, we’d know it. We’d see companies slashing prices for the same products their competitors are selling. But we don’t see that. Ever. Gas prices are uniformly the same, within a few pennies in each general location, regardless of what brand of gas the station is pumping. Safeway, Giant, Shoppers Food Warehouse and other large grocery chains charge the same amount for bread, milk, and other items, again within a few pennies of the competition. Not only would we see free enterprise in motion through competitive pricing, we’d see competitive service as well. Companies would compete against one another to see who could give the best customer service. This situation has really deteriorated over the past twenty years; before the late 1990s or so, for instance, Giant Food used to feature nearly every item in their stores at half price, in bi-weekly sales. Now, their “sales” are almost always laughable, with ten or fifteen cents off the regular price the “new norm.” Safeway does much the same thing.
The reality is, instead of competition, we see collusion. The service is going to be uniformly subpar, most of the time, at McDonald’s, Wendys, Taco Bell and Burger King. The cashiers will generally be no more friendly at CVS than they are at Target or Walmart. Sure, there will be individual exceptions, but the companies themselves are not mandating smiles or good service, no matter how much they may claim to be. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the average retail worker makes just over $21,000 per year. In all reality, one cannot expect happy employees behind the cash registers at any company, since all retail pays such a paltry wage (with little or no benefits, to boot). So, the consumer is actually paying for the small amount he or she may be saving in list price, as the only possible benefit from outsourcing and free trade, with pedestrian service and shoddy quality. In the same way that restaurants expect the consumer to supplement the pittance they are paying servers with generous tips, retail stores expect consumers to be patient with inadequate customer service, because, as a friend of mine once told me years ago, after complaining about how much the regional managers at his retail company who “did nothing” made, “What do you expect when we’re being paid like this?”
Some companies mandate what the Huffington Post referred to as “surface acting.” For example, Walgreens recently dictated that their retail people use the canned phrase, “Be well” to customers. (Huffington Post, February 20, 2014). The author of this particular story didn’t address the crucial matter of salary; it certainly must be hard to act pleasant and utter a scripted line multiple times a day, when one is earning the kind of compensation retail stores inevitably provide. Such in-authenticity at the cash registers reflects the fraudulent nature of the companies as a whole, much as their mindless advertisements and forgettable slogans do.
If “Mom and Pop” shops still existed in any quantity, as conservative propaganda would lead you to believe, then consumers could take their business there, pay a little more for the product, but receive better service and support local industry as well. What “Mom and Pop” store can compete with the big grocery chains, the huge oil companies, the national drug store chains? Instead, we have seen massive mergers in nearly all fields of business over the past few decades, culminating in the ugly reality that six companies now control 90 percent of the mainstream media, whereas the number was fifty companies as recently as 1983. (Business Insider, June 14, 2012). We’ve seen the same monopolistic mania throughout our capitalist system, from airlines to oil companies to big banks. Bigger is definitely not better when it comes to business, from the point of view of the average consumer. Through what feisty internet site Reddit calls “the illusion of choice,” ten mega corporations have consolidated things to such an extent that they control nearly every purchase we make. To give just one example of the present “competition” in the marketplace, the giant Nestle Corporation owns nearly 8,000 brands worldwide. In the world of finance, Mother Jones disclosed that the number of banks has dropped, due to mergers, from 12,500 to 8,000. Meanwhile, the ten largest financial institutions control 54 percent of our total assets, a number which has increased dramatically from 1990, when they held just 20 percent. Even corporate stalwart Forbes magazine had to admit the obvious, in an October 22, 2011 article headlined, “The 147 Companies That Control Everything.” We see the same kind of intense consolidation of wealth and power in corporations that we see in individual wealth.
The illusion of choice is one of the most hilarious games corporate America plays with consumers. The farce is aided and abetted by the mainstream media, who pretend that companies are fiercely competing for customers. The fact is, if your child wants the latest video game system, or smart phone, you’re free to buy it from several “competing” outlets, but the price is going to be almost exactly the same. The same thing applies to automobiles; while every dealer loudly and garishly proclaims they are having a “monster closeout sale” virtually all year, every year, when they add up all the taxes and surcharges, the price is going to be pretty much identical, wherever and whenever you buy it. And if you want the sadly but undeniably superior Japanese engineering, you can find comparable-and I mean almost exactly comparable-“levels” of cars for each company. They’re going to look similar, get the same kind of gas mileage, and cost pretty much the same. If these companies were really competing against each other, at least one of them, especially the American ones-who have every reason to slash prices, since the public lost confidence in their vehicles a long time ago-would have advertised the “best deal anywhere,” and developed a new model for under $10,000, including taxes, freight and shipping, etc.
Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration reveal that gasoline usage has fallen dramatically in this country over the past decade. In 2000, Americans reached a peak of over 59,000 gallons of gas used every day. By 2014, the daily number of gallons had plunged to less than 18,500. Some enterprising wit on a conspiracy forum tallied the numbers from the 1980s, using an average price of $1.50 per gallon, and compared them with the lower usage numbers from 2014, at an average price of $4 per gallon. Not surprisingly, the figures matched exactly. So the oil companies are losing nothing by the sharp drop in usage, and were calculating enough to raise the price per gallon just enough to continue a consistent profit margin.
Obamacare, more kindly known as the Affordable Care Act, appears to be a corporate-like fiasco that is about as unfriendly to the “customer” as possible. Critics discovered recently that the toll-free line for Obamacare was almost exactly 1-800-FUCKYOU. Actually, if you dial that specific number, you get a sex line that now gives you options for Obamacare. This is because the actual number our government leaders set up for this health insurance plan is 1-800-F1UCKYO. I don’t think you have to be a “conspiracy theorist” to find it impossible to attribute this to innocent, bureaucratic red tape. The odds of them randomly coming up with a number spelling out something like that is incalculable. Those who misrule us appear to have a macabre sense of humor; is this their “inside joke” way of giving a literal middle finger to the suckers who bought into this misnamed “affordable” monstrosity? Is it just another way of saying the customer is never right? Did the bureaucrats and lobbyists “earn” whatever it was they were paid to devise this dastardly program?
While small businesses have had to cut positions and employee hours because of the additional costs of the new healthcare law, McDonalds and twenty nine other big corporations (including PepsiCo and Foot Locker) were given a special “waiver” that allowed them to bypass the requirements that those who aren’t “too big to fail” had to abide by. Also exempted were Democratic Party favorites AARP, the United Federation of Teachers and the Teamsters. This is really just the most recent version of the “rich man’s exemption” instituted during the Civil War. Some things never change. (Bloomberg Business News, October 7, 2010). Meanwhile, the Catholic Church was understandably upset that their soup kitchens, hospitals, homeless shelters and other social service organizations weren’t granted an exemption from the law. They were strongly motivated by the fact that part of the “healthcare” the Church must provide to its employees includes contraceptive drugs and services, which of course violates the tenets of their faith. In a baffling inconsistency, other religions, like Muslims, Christian Scientists, and the Amish, are exempt under the law. (Insurance Financial Advisor News, February 7, 2012).
Wherever you call now, business or government agency, you are met with an incredibly annoying, increasingly lengthy and complex automated menu system, which is incomprehensibly frustrating to navigate. I have heard almost no public criticism of this menu system, which no one can possibly like. How are these menus an “improvement” in any way, shape or form? The only beneficiary here is the company instituting it, thereby eliminating a general receptionist employee, and a human voice for the caller to talk to. Again, if there was truly “competition” in the marketplace, some companies would discard these automated menus, and advertise that they were doing so. Customers would be attracted and receptive to this, but since everyone uses it, no company has to get rid of it in order to attract business. You can talk to one metallic voice or another, but you really have no choice in the matter.
Ann Brenoff, of the Huffington Post, wrote in a column aptly titled “When Did the Customer Stop Being Right?” that, the answer to her question was “somewhere around 1980.” Citing Gordon Gekko, corporate villain extraordinaire from Oliver Stone’s iconic ‘80s movie Wall Street, Brenoff states that “When eating your young became the new business model, customer service was kicked to the curb in favor of not wasting money.” While Brenoff attributes what she calls, “…an entire generation of disinterested store clerks, rude waiters, indifferent cable company operators and medical office staffs…” to the excesses of Wall Street, as was the case with the earlier cited article from HuffPo, she doesn’t mention how little these positions pay, and also overlooks the calling card of this new uncaring collective persona; the automated menu system. (Huffington Post, August 15, 2013).
One particularly bad investment many Americans make is in life insurance. The only way to come out ahead on this deal is to die, and to die young. Your family may reap some benefit from it, but you will never do anything but make payments. Or you could be murdered, and have your beneficiary collect a double indemnity payment. The only reason such insurance is necessary is, once again, because most people aren’t paid enough to save much of anything, and cannot even meet what the funeral industry indelicately calls “final expenses,” much as they struggle to meet the day to day expenses of life. In 2008, the Federal Reserve System acquired an 80 percent stake in the mega insurance company American International Group (AIG), when it gave AIG an $85 billion loan. The Associated Press dutifully and inaccurately called the transaction a “government takeover.” Of course, in reality the Fed is not a government agency, but a private corporation. The entire insurance world became even murkier as a result. AIG CEO Robert Benmosche got a 24 percent pay raise in 2013, bringing his total yearly compensation to $13 million.
Car insurance is an even worse deal for consumers, but it’s mandated by law if one is to be permitted the “privilege” of driving. A customer can pay for auto insurance for decades, without a single blip on the record, and then one accident, or sometimes just one ticket results in higher premiums, even a cancellation of the policy. Home insurance is a bit more valuable, but even there the only way to come out ahead is to have something disastrous occur. Just as it is with life insurance, car insurance and homeowner’s insurance are necessary only due to the fact most Americans would struggle otherwise to pay the costs of severe damage to either their automobiles or homes. Incredibly, all insurance companies (there’s that absence of competition again) exempt flooding and foundation damage from their coverage. Needless to say, these are very expensive repairs, but the coverage you’re paying for won’t help you at all.
The insurance industry justifies this policy by maintaining that honoring such damage claims destroys homeowner incentive to improve their property. Why then, do they exclude damage from a nuclear war from their coverage? From a tidal wave? How are homeowners supposed to prep for that? The failure of insurance companies to cover certain devastating events conveniently created a cottage sub-industry, whereby homeowners can purchase extra flood insurance, for example. Even when insurance claims are honored, the consumer usually has to pay a substantial deductible out of pocket. People avoid insurance agents for a reason; they inherently know it’s never going to be a really good deal for them. You’re basically gambling that nothing bad happens, to you, your home, or your vehicle, and the best case scenario would be for you to pay for decades on each policy, while remaining healthy, accident free and storm and flood free. Which would mean, of course, that you paid for nothing. And if you keep contacting them for legitimate claims on your home, the same situation applies as it does with auto insurance; the company will raise your premiums and eventually cancel your policy. It’s a real lose-lose situation.
In 2004, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced that a lawsuit was being brought against Marsh and McLennan, the nation’s leading insurance brokerage firm, for “fraud, bid-rigging and antitrust violations.” Spitzer declared, “The insurance industry needs to take a long, hard look at itself…If the practices identified in our suit are as widespread as they appear to be, then the industry’s fundamental business model needs corrective action and reform.” His official press release was titled, “Investigation Reveals Widespread Corruption in Insurance Industry.” One of the numerous buried provisions in the massive Affordable Care Act, which was read by almost no legislator who nevertheless felt qualified to vote on it, is what conservative critics claim is coded bailout language. Will the insurance companies be given billions courtesy of taxpayers, like the banks and auto manufacturers before them were? Insurance companies of all kinds are, in reality, middlemen that are necessary only because the cost of car accidents, death and home repair is beyond the means of almost all poor and working class Americans. The logical solution, as it is in every case, is to pay all workers enough to meet these costs when necessary, not to mention the costs of everyday living. But that will remain impossible, as long as our crony capitalist marketplace continues to bestow such a huge percentage of the money supply upon so few people.
Incredibly, in this field as in seemingly all others, the poor get especially screwed. A 2012 study by the Consumer Federation of America found that “Low-income drivers are routinely charged higher auto insurance premiums than well-heeled car owners.” This is because the insurance industry factors in elements like occupation, credit history, education and residence location, resulting in the poor being routinely labeled higher “risks,” and thus subject to higher rates. The report found that the exorbitant costs of insurance made driving effectively unaffordable for many low-income households, leaving them at a further disadvantage in the rat race by restricting where they can work, shop, find daycare or go to school. The study also exposed the inconsistency of the industry, by pointing out that it apparently doesn’t consider an important fact which should theoretically lower the risk for drivers with less income; the poor drive only about half the annual miles the richest 20 percent of Americans do, because of the cost of gas and car maintenance, entertainment, etc. Estimates vary on just how much more the poor have to pay for the “privilege” of driving, but various comparisons place the difference as at least $300 annually, with perhaps as much as $1,000 per year. (Time, January 31, 2012).
An updated study in 2013 found even more glaring discrimination against the poor. As America Online reported, on January 28, 2013: “Even if they have better driving records, researchers found that drivers in lower-and-middle income brackets were charged higher premiums than well-to-do drivers in 66 percent of the cases studied. We’re talking more than pocket change. In more than 60 percent of cases studied, the safer driver was charged at least 25 percent more than the one with a checkered driving record.” “What our research at this time, and our earlier reports, show is that this is not a free market at all,” said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the CFA. “It’s a very uncompetitive market.” Again, we see the marketplace charging those who have the least means to afford it more than anyone else for a product that is practically mandatory in our society.
One of the few areas in which the mainstream media has actually done some real investigative work is the car repair industry. Several times, local and national stories have shown, by use of undercover reporters, how ripping the customer off with unnecessary and/or overpriced repairs is standard operating procedure for many gas stations and national automobile shops. I was told, by two different people who had never met each other, that when they worked at their respective gas stations as youths, that giving wrong directions on purpose to those who asked for them was a proud tradition of the industry. Given that, it’s hardly surprising that these businesses would bilk the public for unneeded repairs. But these undercover exposes have done little to change the practices which are clearly just “a part of the business.” In 2006, for example, NBC’s undercover report exposed Jiffy Lube employees in California selling unnecessary services and in some cases not even performing the services purchased. In 2013, NBC followed up on the story with a hidden camera, and found the situation hadn’t changed at all, despite the fact that the earlier report had elicited an apology and a promise from Jiffy Lube management that they would curb this cheating of customers. (St. George News, May 21, 2013). The automobile repair industry, however, represents one of the only ways a blue collar worker can take advantage of someone wealthy or at least upper middle class. As David Hapgood showed, in his excellent 1975 book The Screwing of the Average Man, this industry, like all others, has its own coded language, its own way of “screwing” the public. If a member of the Rockefeller family has to take his car into a local repair shop, he or she is going to be just as unlikely to understand the jargon of the lowly paid clerk behind the counter as any one else. How many of us would be able to tell if we really need a new distributor?
This is the unspoken reality of today’s business world; not only do the companies act as if the customer is never right, they all seem to behave as if they couldn’t care less if you took your business elsewhere. Why don’t they seem to want our business? Is it because they’re all in cahoots together, to offer similar, poorly manufactured products, bad service, and identical pricing? Is their arrogance a result of the fact they know there is no real competition out there, and that you have nowhere else to go? When I complained to Papa John’s a few years ago, because when we opened our pizzas, we found the toppings were wrong and had all slid to one side, the regional director never responded to my email. I tried again, and he came back with a ridiculous reply that said, “Well, you told me you were going to buy your pizza elsewhere, so I figured what was the point?” I don’t mean to single out Papa John’s, but if you go online, you’ll find numerous web sites devoted to complaints about this company’s drivers, food, management, etc. And yet the company just keeps growing more successful. This is in large measure due to all the corporate promotion (remember, Papa John’s is the “official pizza of the National Football League”), but still one would expect consumers who have been burned by them to at least switch to someone else. Has “Papa John” Schnatter “earned” his success? How many companies achieve success through a superior product, as opposed to expensive advertising campaigns and the sheer convenience of plentiful chain stores in numerous locations?
To cite just one example of an inexplicable success story, consider Amy’s Baking Company, located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Their establishment was renowned enough to warrant an appearance on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares reality show. Watching the episode they appeared on was an uncomfortable experience; owners Amy and Samy Bouzaglo were presumably on their best behavior, yet they conveyed the most arrogant, unfriendly demeanor one could ever envision. To say that the customer was “never right” in their restaurant is quite an understatement; the couple would angrily confront patrons over the slightest complaint and usually insist they leave their establishment and never return. They were shown absconding with their servers’ tips, and treating their staff shabbily. Their personalities were so over the top, it was impossible to believe they weren’t acting, at least to some degree. The Bouzaglos even reacted to online criticism by taunting reviewers with expletive-rich responses. Shortly after the show aired in May, 2013, Israeli citizen Samy’s immigration status was found to be in question, and he faced deportation. (International Business Times, May 22, 2013). Also, Amy’s criminal past, which included a stint in prison, became public knowledge. There are no figures available for Samy’s net worth, but he invested over a million dollars into the restaurant in 2006, in an attempt to fulfill Amy’s “dream.” It is incomprehensible to me how someone with the violent, volatile personality of a Samy Bouzaglo could have accumulated a million dollars “extra” in which to indulge his wife’s fantasy, indicating he’d been very successful in some capacity. And how could a restaurant with food consistently rated so poorly, and service so bad even our jaded mainstream media couldn’t fathom it, have operated successfully for the seven years prior to the airing of this reality show?
My personal experience tells me that success in the business world is not normally the result of hard work, dedication, or exceptional ability. I confess that I often cannot figure out exactly what is responsible for it. When I interact with one uncaring cog after another, in business after business, I’m forced to conclude that the owners of most businesses don’t care whatsoever about consumer satisfaction or delivering the best possible product, and thus haven’t “earned” the wealth they’ve accumulated, nor do many of them seem remotely “worth” what they’re making.
The bad customer service we all now take for granted is reflective of the unconcerned, entitled oligarchs who run the business world. I have known individuals who became successful at business, albeit on a much smaller scale than the examples I’ve generally cited in this book. They have not been ingenious at all; as a matter of fact, they have often been remarkable for their inefficiency and incompetence. They didn’t have good interpersonal skills. Some of them only had rudimentary writing and spelling abilities. They weren’t offering a product that was different from numerous others vying for the same market, or something that was new or daring. One thing they all seemed to realize, however, is that it is inexplicably advantageous to not be overly concerned about the consumer. I saw this in real estate agents as well, over many years in the business. The successful ones were often impatient, unpleasant types who bullied their customers and provided subpar service. An honest marketplace would weed those types out, and force them to either fight for the consumer or the client, or be driven from the industry. Our corrupt, illogical marketplace appears to do just the opposite, rewarding failure, bad service, slow response and ill manners, as if it was being overseen by a team of Bizarro World directors.
Part of the problem we face is that society often mistakes hubris and aggressive self-confidence for competence and leadership skills. Successful salespersons in any industry are those who “won’t take no for an answer;” in other words, those who don’t listen to the customer. For whatever reason, a large percentage of human beings respond to this kind of pressure, often obnoxiously applied, by caving in and giving the brash “closer” yet another sale. One of the all-time nastiest “successful” people in any field, Major League player and manager Leo Durocher, unfortunately was all too correct with his philosophy that “Nice guys finish last.” Strict, disciplinarian coaches, teachers, parents and bosses are universally more respected than their laid-back, kinder and gentler peers. Bullies are usually popular in school, and are just as frequently the ones promoted by companies when they graduate to the work force. As a Harvard Business Review study found, “Leaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders….” Too many humans also suffer from a Stockholm syndrome effect, whereby these bullying, impolite figures are seen as figurative captors, and identified with. Are most bosses, at all levels, “earning” their success with learned aggressiveness? Or are they profiting from unattractive genetic traits, ones that should logically be shunned in polite society? How wide is the line between alpha-aggressiveness and sociopathic behavior? Considering that according to respected journalist Jonathan Turley, several studies have also shown that a high proportion of CEOs from major companies are sociopaths, it appears that “leadership” qualities may be intertwined with darker, truly dangerous traits.
The slogan “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of London’s Selfridge department store. The “new norm” in terms of customer service was perhaps first officially postulated by Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines. Bethune stated that he realized a small number of passengers were just “unreasonable, demanding jerks,” and that he was going to side with his employees. Well, that kind of loyalty sounds commendable, but part of the “rebuilding process” Bethune instituted were the layoffs of 4,000 of those workers he cared so much about. He initiated a typical top-heavy bonus incentive program, where non-management workers could earn anywhere from $65-100 per month if certain goals were met, while the top 20 company executives could get as much as 125 percent of their yearly salary each quarter if those same goals were met. (Bloomberg Businessweek, May 26, 1996). He also began to outsource some flights to other companies. Bethune was typical of the “successful” middle-agent adolescent we see so often in our modern age, having become renowned during a prior stint with Boeing for collecting a slew of speeding tickets while driving his Porsche. He really knows how to work the system; sitting, as a “retiree,” on the Boards of Honeywell (his yearly compensation there, as of 2008, was just under $260,000), Sprint Nextel (for which he received $243,958 in compensation in 2013 alone), Prudential Financial (for which he was paid $220,000), and is a trustee of the New York Academy of Art. No figures could be found for his net worth, or any of his yearly compensation while at Continental or elsewhere, but it’s a certainty he has accumulated a substantial fortune. (All numbers courtesy of Forbes).
Of course, there are rude, demanding customers who expect too much and lodge illegitimate complaints. But much like the old expression, usually attributed to William Blackstone, that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer,” if a company is truly committed to superior service, then the old adage “the customer is always right” makes perfect business sense, and adds another veneer of civility to our society. Such a policy, and a commitment by management to enforce it, is pro-consumer and thus a perk that the average person used to benefit from. And ignoring input from customers makes a mockery of so-called “competitive” free enterprise.
No matter how you look at it, most business owners at all levels are doing little to “earn” whatever wealth they’ve accumulated. In an office environment, they fret over the trivial costs of pens and stationery, while food establishments monitor the numbers of ketchup and mustard packets, napkins and straws that their employees provide for carryout orders. Many fast food and other restaurant employees don’t even get the free meals and sodas they used to be given, not that long ago. Business owners don’t have to worry about competing, because the competition offers nothing different to the consumer. When the marketplace is dominated by incompetence, someone incompetent has to win.
Here’s another chapter that was originally in Survival of the Richest, which was edited out of the final published version.
Rich Reverends, Advisers and Experts
Great things happen in small places. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Jesse Jackson was born in Greenville (South Carolina).
– Jesse Jackson
It takes money to preach the gospel. Jesus himself knew that, and contrary to what some people think, His ministry was not a poor one. He had so much money coming in and going out through His ministry that He had to appoint a treasurer. His name was Judas.
– Kenneth Copeland
L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer and founder of Scientology, once declared, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” Hubbard succeeded beyond his or anyone else’s reasonable expectations. Leaving aside any of the allegations concerning the authoritarian, iron-handed approach of Scientologists, it cannot be denied that this modern day founder of a new religion achieved incredible wealth because of it. Most reports indicate that when he died in 1986, Hubbard left behind an estate valued at $650 million. He may indeed have “built” that, but did he “earn” it?
The whole televangelist field, which usually features highly animated, over the top preachers “starring”on their own individual programs, didn’t end with Jim and Tammy Bakker. Kenneth Copeland is today perhaps the most visible proponent of what has become popularly known as “prosperity theology.” This kind of new gospel, and new terminology, is necessary, in order to explain and excuse the extravagant wealth Copeland and his ilk invariably accrue.
A 2008 Associated Press investigation found that Copeland had arranged a lucrative brokering deal, through Integrity Media, for his brother-in-law, his son had acquired church-owned land, which had quadrupled in value as he used it for his ranching business, and Board members of his organization had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking at church events. They found a “web of companies and non-profits tied to the televangelist” that “calls the ministry’s integrity into question.” Copeland enjoys a $6 million (at the time of this 2008 article) 18,000 square foot church-owned mansion, a private airstrip and hangar for the ministry’s aircraft, on a 1,500 acre campus outside Forth Worth, Texas. Copeland became “born again” while working as a pilot and chauffeur for an even more notable evangelist, Oral Roberts. Kenneth Copeland Ministries employs five hundred, with a budget in the tens of millions. The last publicly known salary paid to Copeland by his ministry was $364,577 in 1995; Copeland’s wife, Gloria, was paid $292, 593 during the same year. Much as the corporate world arranges to have their fellow plutocrats sit on each other’s Boards, Copeland has several fellow televangelists on his organization’s Board. (Associated Press, July 28, 2008). In 2007, former employees of Kenneth Copeland Ministries were interviewed by local Dallas/Fort Worth reporter Brett Shipp. The employees revealed that around 10,000 cash-bearing prayer requests were received each week, and that Copeland himself saw “zero percent” of the mail.
Creflo A. Dollar is Senior Pastor of World Changers Church International, which has locations in several U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New York. He drives a Rolls- Royce, is transported by private jet, and owns a million dollar Atlanta house and a $2.5 million Manhattan apartment. John Hagee is the CEO of Global Evangelical Television. Before converting his organization into a church in 2004, which permitted him to avoid disclosing his tax returns, Hagee “was known to be the highest-paid nonprofit executive in San Antonio, making nearly $1 million a year.” In 2000, Hagee was paid nearly a half million dollars in salary and deferred compensation for sixteen hours of work a week, which most of us would define as “part time.” In the same year, Hagee earned another $300,000 from his church, for unspecified reasons. According to the Memphis Flyer, Bishop Charles Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ “earns” a $900,000 salary and owns a 10,000 square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills while most of his congregation lives in impoverished South Central Los Angeles.” Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria are known to have made tens of millions of dollars from book sales, and live in a luxurious, 17,000 square-foot Houston mansion, that is worth some $10.5 million. Osteen’s net worth has been estimated at $40 million. Bishop Eddie Long, of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta, has made millions from his ministries, drives a $350,000 Bentley automobile and lives on a twenty acre, $1.4 million estate. Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Dallas was paid a $1 million annual pastor’s salary, as well as $240,000 additional “parsonage allowance” pay. He, too, lives in an expensive mansion. (Huffington Post, January 19, 2012).
Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) was founded in 1973, by Paul and Jan Crouch. It is the world’s largest Christian broadcasting network, with facilities located all over the United States. Even more impressively, it is the third largest broadcast station group of any kind in the U.S., bigger than CBS, Fox and NBC. The Orange County Register reported, on August 6, 2008, that TBN took in $200.7 million in 2006, and only spent $141 million of that, pushing the organization’s overall assets close to a billion dollars. In 2008, the Crouchs combined made nearly $800,000 and their son, Paul, Jr., was paid $214,137 as “Vice President and Director.” The Crouchs own a $5 million home in a gated Orange County, California community, which was described as a “palatial estate” with an ocean view. In all, TBN owns some thirty homes across the country, all paid for in cash, The Crouches spend time living in all these homes. The Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, the nonprofit that runs TBN, owns some $54 million of property in Orange County, with $44 million of it being exempt from property taxes, public documents reveal. Trinity Christian City International features a million dollar fountain in front and Paul Crouch’s 8,000 square-foot executive suite.
The fallen Reverend Jimmy Swaggart was once leading the familiar televangelist lifestyle; huge mansion with swimming pool, referred to by his ministry as “the parsonage,” he and his wife owning matching Lincoln Town Cars, the private jet once owned by the Rockefeller family, swanky gifts like a diamond studded Rolex and a mink coat, courtesy of his faithful flock. (Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1988). Swaggart was caught with a prostitute in 1988, and despite a ridiculous, tearful on-air apology, was eventually defrocked from the Assemblies of God, only to face another scandal involving a prostitute in 1991; this time, Swaggart was not so contrite, informing an audience at the Family Worship Center that, “The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business.” The once high flying televangelist’s fall from grace was engineered by fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman, whom Swaggart had previously exposed for his numerous affairs. Gorman had his son and son-in-law stake out the motel in New Orleans where Swaggart met the first prostitute. Swaggart, interestingly enough, is cousins with rock and roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis and country music artist Mickey Gilley. Swaggart has staged something of a “comeback” in recent years, although his reported salary and that of his wife (between $300-600,000 a year) are not all that excessive when compared to the financial worth of some other high profile televangelists.
Early televangelists like Jim and Tammy Bakker and Pat Robertson were undoubtedly influenced by the “prosperity now” philosophy of Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, better known as Reverend Ike. Ike routinely made seemingly anti-Christian statements like, “Close your eyes and see green. Money up to your armpits, a room full of money….” In return for his “blessing,” Ike unashamedly asked for donations, but expressly forbid any coins, declaring, “Change makes your minister nervous in the service.” The cash rolled in, making Ike a multimillionaire. He flaunted his wealth, with ostentatious bright clothes, flashy jewelry, luxurious homes and expensive automobiles. As a young man, he claimed to have been a successful faith healer in Boston. Because of his wealth and love of materialism, Ike antagonized not only traditional Christian ministers, but also Civil Rights leaders, who urged black churches to champion social reforms. Blasphemously twisting the oft-ignored verse in Matthew about the camel going through the eye of a needle, Reverend Ike said, “If it’s that difficult for a rich man to get into heaven, think how terrible it must be for a poor man to get in. He doesn’t even have a bribe for the gatekeeper.” (New York Times, July 29, 2009). Reverend Ike was basically the Little Richard of religion.
Pat Robertson is perhaps the most well known evangelical Christian leader, having run for President in 1988 and still a regular commentator on political issues. Like so many others we have examined in this book, Robertson grew up wealthy, the son of U.S. Senator A. Willis Robertson. Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in 1960, along with Regent University, the Christian Coalition, and the American Center for Law and Justice, among other things. He is the best selling author of several books, the most interesting being his 1991 The New World Order, in which Robertson reveals a smattering of forbidden political knowledge. According to respected independent-minded journalist Greg Palast, Robertson has built a fortune of anywhere from $200 million to $1 billion. Robertson is a seemingly extreme right-winger, yet he endorsed the decidedly middle-of-the-road establishment favorite Rudy Guiliani for President in 2008.
The feisty populist weekly Spotlight investigated the untouchable Reverend Jesse Jackson and found that the home he resided in as of 1988-one of three homes he then owned- had been recorded in an unusual, secret land trust. (The Spotlight, May 16, 1988). Jackson’s career has consisted largely of being a racial agitator, in highly selective cases. Despite dropping out of seminary school, Jackson began referring to himself as “reverend” as early as 1966. According to Kenneth Timmerman, Jackson “has never had a church himself, and he has been accountable to no one.” Black Chicago Tribune reporter Angela Parker discovered that, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson had embezzled money from Operation Breadbasket. On December 6, 1971, Jackson was suspended by the Southern Chrisitan Leadership Conference’s head Ralph Abernathy and SCLC board chairman Joseph Lowery charged him with, “administrative proprieties and repeated acts of violation of organizational policies.” In response, Jackson broke off from the SCLC to form Operation Push, which would later be known as the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. As Timmerman revealed, in his best selling book Shakedown, Jackson has made a career out of threatening corporations with claims of discrimination and boycotts. One of his earliest extortions was in 1982, when he launched a boycott of Anheuser-Busch, claiming that they didn’t have enough black-owned distributorships. Jackson wound up collecting some $510,000 from Busch; when two of his sons purchased a River North distributorship for $30 million (and how did they possibly have the financial wherewithal for that?), Jesse suddenly became very supportive of Anheuser-Busch. Jackson has actually lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to block companies seeking government approval to merge, until they donate money to his organization. Timmerman found that another Jackson organization, the Citizenship Education Fund, had received millions of dollars through negotiated settlements with companies Jackson had accused of racist employment practices. In 1981, Jackson pressured Coca-Cola into awarding a lucrative distributorship to his half-brother Noah Robinson, in order to stop the reverend from publicly blasting the company for doing business in apartheid-era South Africa. Half- brother Robinson would profit from another Jackson “shakedown” a year later, obtaining a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. The government has funneled at least $50 million into Jackson’s various groups over the years.
Bill Clinton appointed Jesse Jackson as “Special Envoy” to Africa in 1997, and the good reverend ran up exorbitant expenditures in the role; on one 1998 trip to Africa alone, the costs were an incredible $42.8 million. (World Net Daily, March 12, 2002). Jackson is known to have used Rainbow/PUSH Coalition funds to pay his mistress child support as well as her “moving expenses.” The woman Jackson fathered a child of out wedlock with, Karin Sanford, made over $120,000 as a Rainbow/PUSH staffer in 1999 alone. A 2003 “shakedown” of NASCAR over its alleged “racist” practices netted Jackson’s organizations at least $250,000. Jackson initially called Bell Atlantic and GTE the “apartheid system” of telecommunications in a 1999 attempted “shakedown,” but after the company donated $1 million to his CEF organization, the reverend applauded the deal as “a way to deliver the benefits of growth in the telecommunications industry.”
Celebrity Net Worth claims that Jesse Jackson is presently worth $10 million. Considering how his financial activities have been largely undocumented and remain mysterious, this may well be a very conservative figure. On the surface, it seems implausible that Jackson could have legitimately built such a fortune. He served as “shadow Senator” from Washington D.C. for six years in the 1990s, but the position was unpaid. Jackson’s salaries with Rainbow/PUSH and Citizenship Education Fund were not reported on tax returns; CEF did not identify its highest paid employees on its 1999 report to the IRS, as required by law. Jackson sat on the Board of Directors for Citizen Action in Illinois in the 1990s. Sure, Jackson has written books, and had a CNN talk show for a while, but much about his financial worth is shrouded in secrecy and cannot help but raise eyebrows.
Another black reverend, Al Sharpton, burst into prominence in the late 1980s, as one of teenager Tawana Brawley’s advisors. Brawley alleged that she’d been the victim of a vicious, racist gang rape, involving powerful New York figures. Eventually, Brawley admitted it was all a hoax, but Sharpton never apologized and the mainstream media never took him to task for being associated with such a travesty. Celebrity Net Worth claims Sharpton is worth $5 million, a tidy sum for a supposed man of the cloth who was a one time tour manager for James Brown, but whose only known job in recent years has been as host of a low rated MSNBC talk show. In a 2011 interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, Sharpton admitted he’d been an undercover government informant in order to stem the flow of crack cocaine into black neighborhoods. (New York Times, July 21, 2013). The Smoking Gun would expose the true facts about Sharpton’s government career in April, 2014, when it revealed that the good reverend had actually been “flipped” by the FBI after being caught on tape negotiating a cocaine deal with an undercover agent. Sharpton went on to wear a wire for the FBI to record conversations with Mob boss Joseph “Joe Bana” Buonanno.” In his usual childish style, Sharpton ridiculed the reports by declaring, “I was not and am not a rat because I wasn’t with the rats….I’m a cat. I chase rats.” While both Jackson and Sharpton appear on cue whenever the mainstream media decides to focus on a particular racial incident (the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case being an obvious recent example), they are nowhere to be found when the almost daily videos of white police officers harassing, injuring or killing blacks all over the country appear online.
Whether it’s the over-the-top televangelists like Kenneth Copeland, or race hustlers like Jesse Jackson, these very wealthy figures don’t appear to have done anything substantial to “earn” their positions in society. Are any of these transparently hypocritical religious leaders “worth” the riches they’ve accumulated?
While many Christian religious figures have been scrutinized for their various transgressions, very little attention has been paid to the number of wealthy rabbis. Israel’s richest rabbi, thirty six year old Pinchas Abuhatzeira, is worth an incredible $367 million. Like so many wealthy people, he inherited his fortune from his father, also a rabbi, who was murdered in 2011. The ten wealthiest rabbis in Israel are worth a collective $620 million. (The Jewish Daily Forward, November 11, 2013). In a June, 2012 article online at Failed Messiah, titled “Israel’s Richest Rabbis Make Hollywood Stars Look Poor,” Forbes Israel reporter Shmarya Rosenberg accurately assessed this lunacy, saying, “They’re richer than you or I will ever be, and they didn’t get their money by inventing products, curing illness, or benefiting society.” Perfectly mirroring the successful strategy of televangelists, Rosenberg explained that, “They got it by graft, by charging people for ‘blessings’ and by exploiting tax laws.”
Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto is known as the “rabbi to the rich and famous.” Like most of the wealthiest rabbis in Israel, Pinto is a Kabbalist. Mimicking “faith healers” in the televangelist world, rabbis like Pinto claim to be able to perform miracles. His ministry in New York features celebrities like basketball star LeBron James, American Eagle chairman Jay Schottenstein, and New York City politician and bully Michael Grimm. Talk-show host Donny Deutsch and former congressman Anthony Weiner are among those who have sought his advice. In the late 1970s, American rabbi Daniel Lapin founded the Pacific Jewish Center, a Venice, California synagogue, with partner right-wing author and media personality Michael Medved. Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss are among the rich and famous who attend the synagogue. Lapin’s book Thou Shall Prosper could have been written by any “prosperity doctrine” Christian minister. He has collaborated frequently with conservative radio show host and financial “adviser” Dave Ramsey, who has an estimated $55 million fortune, according to Celebrity Net Worth. There is no public information on Lapin’s net worth, but it seems reasonable to believe he has done very well financially. Overall, rabbis on average earn far more than their peers in the Christian denominations. The average salary for a rabbi in the United States is an incredible $140,000, while the average Protestant minister earns only $40,000. Muslim imams make only $30,000 on average, and Catholic priests a mere $25,000. (The Huffington Post, January 13, 2012).
Dov Zakheim is perhaps the most interesting rabbi in the United States. Somehow, he met the qualifications to become Undersecretary of Defense under President George W. Bush. He had previously served in several lesser positions in Ronald Reagan’s administration. He is an eighteenth generation rabbi, and according to a November 20, 2012 interview he gave with Yeshiva University, his connections were such that the man who examined him for his thesis was Alastair Buchan, son of the author of the well-known book The Thirty Nine Steps (later one of Alfred Hitchcock’s acclaimed films), who was at the time head of the Institute for Strategic Studies. Prior to joining Bush’s administration, Zakheim was CEO of SPC International. Not surprisingly, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as the United States Naval Institute, the editorial board of the journal The National Interest, and an “adjunct scholar” for the Heritage Foundation. Zakheim took a Senior Vice President position with Booz Allen Hamilton upon leaving the government, and retired in 2010. He remains a “senior fellow” at the CNA Corporation, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, sits on the Board of Directors for TTM Technologies, Inc. ,is Vice Chairman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is co-vice-chair of Global Panel America. He has also formed his own Zakheim Group, of which he is president. Zakheim is not only the most interesting rabbi, but clearly the busiest as well. It was during the good rabbi’s watch that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced some $2.3 trillion had been discovered missing during an audit of the Pentagon’s books. This startling revelation came on the day before 9/11- September 10, 2001, and was naturally forgotten afterwards. (Department of Defense American Forces Press Service, February 20, 2002). As was the case with Lapin, there is no information available concerning Zakheim’s net worth. But a man with that many important positions must have built up a substantial fortune, and cannot possibly have been able to devote much time to religious functions as a rabbi.
The Dalai Lama, reincarnated spiritual leader of Tibet, lives in exile in India. The U.S. State Department is the Tibetan exile community’s largest funder by far, donating some $3.5 million annually, as of 2009. (Business Standard, April 25, 2009). Westerners have provided much of the funding for the Dalai Lama’s community, which has probably amounted to many millions of dollars over the years. It is unclear just where all that money is going. The Dalai Lama loves nepotism as much as any other powerful figure around the world; many of his family members have assumed prominent roles in the exile government. The Dalai Lama has traveled frequently, and the trips aren’t cheap; one 2012 excursion to Hawaii alone cost an estimated $1 million. (Honolulu Civil Beat, April 18, 2012). The Dalai Lama comes from the aristocratic world of the upper-class Tibetan monks; even without being perceived as the special, reincarnated one, his social status was determined at birth. (Forbes, October 12, 2011). No concrete information can be found regarding his net worth, but the Dalai Lama has been seen wearing gaudy, $60,000 gold Rolex watches. He regularly decries any attachment to wealth, and informs the poor masses listening to his speeches that it’s “fun” to be poor. There are actually four or five other “Dalai Lamas” who are still contending for the title of the “one true one,” but this individual has the support of powerful forces like the United States government. While we don’t know exactly how much wealth the Dalai Lama has, the Information Office of the State Council published a white paper a few years back, claiming that when he fled Tibet in 1959, he personally owned generous quantities of gold and silver, 20,000 pieces of jewelry, and more than 10,000 pieces of rare silk, satin and fur clothing, including 100 plus robes encrusted with pearls and other expensive gems.
Buddhists generally reject materialism and devote themselves to spiritual development. It is probably not surprising that so many typically deluded celebrities have claimed to be Buddhists, while obviously not rejecting any of their own substantial materialism and wealth. Richard Gere, Tina Turner, Keannu Reeves, Leonard Cohen, Herbie Hancock, Orlando Bloom, Steven Seagal, Kate Bosworth and Tiger Woods are some of the more notable figures to espouse Buddhist beliefs. Needless to say, Tiger Woods is one of the richest celebrities in the world, with a net worth of $500 million. He also was a serial adulterer, which has to violate the precepts of any viable religion. Richard Gere is worth $65 million, Bloom is worth some $35 million, Bosworth $24 million; none of these “Buddhist” celebrities are giving up anything earthly in their quest for spiritual growth. Even more laughably, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his wife Laurene Powell, a trading strategist with Goldman Sachs, were married by a Zen Buddhist monk.
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a Hindu mystic who became a celebrated figure in the 1960s, when the Beatles and other celebrities flocked to him for spiritual guidance. He developed the transcendental meditation technique, known as TM, which also became popular with icons in the entertainment industry. His international organization established health clinics, mail order sales, and organic farms. The value of their U.S. assets alone was reported to be $300 million in 2008. (New York Times, February 8, 2008). Wikipedia informs us that Mahesh came from an “upper caste family” living in British India. His book The Science of Living and Art of Being sold more than a million copies. The Beatles were not dissuaded from following their religious guru, even when they heard that he’d made sexual advances towards actress Mia Farrow, another disciple. The good Maharishi owned lots of lucrative properties in England. In 1988, Indian tax authorities accused his organization of falsifying expenses and tax fraud. Pop culture figure Deepak Chopra got his start as one of Mahesh’s top aides. (Huffington Post, November 17, 2011). The Hare Krishna movement was started by another Hindu mystic, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He, too, was born to a prosperous family, in Calcutta. The most famous of his publications was The Bhagavad Gita As It Is, released by the giant MacMillan Publishers in 1968.
Controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakahn has managed to build a fortune worth over $4 million, as of 2012. The web site Rich But Broke also reported his yearly salary at that time to be $336,188. Farrakhan is still a Muslim minister, and often gives weekly online sermons, even at his advanced age. Although not much concrete information is available regarding his family’s economic background, Farrakhan was classically trained on the violin, starting at age six, and went on to appear as a child on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. He also attended the prestigious Boston Latin School. Some have speculated that Farrakhan, who had been an assistant minister to Malcolm X, but quickly became one of his rivals for power, was behind the 1965 assassination of the radical black leader. Rather oddly, the always fascinating Farrakhan has become a devotee of L. Ron Hubbard’s philosophy of Dianetics, while maintaining he is not a Scientologist, and in recent years the Nation of Islam has hosted its own Dianetics courses. One of Farrakhan’s projects, Muhammed Farms, has received substantial government subsidies since Barack Obama entered office. The watchdog group Open the Books reported that, “Within the geographic borders of the City of Chicago, 930 entities received an aggregated total of $6.129 million in federal government farm subsidy payments. Federal farm subsidy program dollars are flowing into the ‘urban areas’- where there are no farms. The recipients include grain traders and members of the Chicago Board of Trade, wealthy second generation inheritors, and non-profit organizations such as the Mallard Habitat Foundation and a charity of The Nation of Islam. Many entities receive the federal subsidies at their downtown loop office buildings or residential mansions. Nearly every neighborhood in the city receives federal farm subsidy payments- including the Gold Coast, Downtown-Loop, Lincoln Park, and even the President’s neighbors in Hyde Park.” (The Blaze, December 9, 2013). Like many leaders of other religions, the wealthy Farrakhan urges his followers to reject “material wealth,” and rebukes “…people of wealth and status who have enriched themselves at the expense of the poor.” (From a 2006 letter to Fidel Castro).
While Catholic priests have less personal wealth than ministers of other religions on average, and, as Fortune magazine once put it, “the Vatican’s top brass…works for peanuts,” the Vatican itself has riches that cannot be accurately calculated. The Economist was able to discover that, in 2010 alone, spending by the Vatican and other church-owned entities was $170 billion; only sixteen companies worldwide generated more revenue. Nearly 60 percent of this spending went to the extensive Catholic Health Care network, led by Catholic Charities USA. Another 28 percent went to colleges, while only 6 percent went towards the daily expenses of local parishes and dioceses. The CEO of Catholic Charities, Rev. Larry Snyder, was paid $318,663 in 2012. When Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013, an unprecedented historical event, he was allotted a relatively modest $3,340 monthly retirement income. The Roman Catholic Church has holdings in art and real estate that, again, can’t really be accurately measured, since they would never sell them. It still holds money, gold and jewels obtained during the Crusades. The Church owns some decidedly unholy types of property, including the London building housing Bulgari Jewelers, and apartment buildings in Paris and Switzerland. The Vatican Bank is the most mysterious element of the Church; its total assets as of 2011 were an astounding $8.2 billion. Pope Benedict, prior to his retirement, aped the actions of corporations all over the world by hiring an international headhunting agency to pick a candidate of “professional and moral excellence” to head the bank. They selected, not surprisingly, the upper crust, German financier Ernst von Freyberg as president. Freyberg, just as predictably, hired Promontory Financial Group as consultants, to review accounts and other bank procedures. (International Business Times, March 14, 2013). One notorious former long time president of the Vatican Bank, Bishop Paul “the Gorilla” Marcinkus, was rumored to have ties to organized crime elements and the shadowy Masonic lodge Propaganda Due (P2) and was accused, by author David Yallop, of being a possible accomplice in the death of Pope John Paul I in his 1984 book In God’s Name. Italian journalist Mino Pecorelli, who had been investigating Marcinkus, the Vatican Bank and Banco Ambrosiano, and their ties to organized crime, was murdered in 1979. One of Marcinkus’s typically tough, blunt public statements was, “You can’t run the Church on Hail Marys.” (Washington Post, February 22, 2006).
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a controversial Christian sect that is controlled by a group of corporations, the primary one being the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Watch Tower alone owns a large number of properties in Brooklyn. Between 2004 and 2012, it sold several of these for a cumulative amount of between $600 million and $1 billion. (New York Observer, February 13, 2012). The Watch Tower Society has even opened branches in Britain, Germany and Australia. While average Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that the governing body members of their faith are paid only $400 a month, and live in modest apartments at the Bethel headquarters in Brooklyn, they also get quite a few nice perks. They can travel on an almost unlimited basis to anywhere in the world for free, and receive free lodging and food, as they do at home in Bethel. They also are given free medical care, free dental, free maids and laundry service, and something called “green handshakes.” These “handshakes” are bestowed upon them with an unknown degree of regularity, by wealthy members anxious to curry favors. (Jehovahs Witness.net, April 7, 2008 and others). Although this denomination doesn’t seem to enrich its leaders the way some other branches of Christianity do, they certainly have a huge collective treasure chest. And despite doctrine that rails against material possessions and fleshly desires, some incredibly wealthy figures remain Jehovah’s Witnesses. Venus and Serena Williams, for instance, with a combined net worth of $160 million, are still practicing members of the faith. So was pop music star Prince, who possessed a net worth of $300 million (despite not having a hit record for decades), and was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and converted back in 2001.
Perhaps the most puzzling religious group is the Unification Church, founded by the late Korean “Reverend” Sun Myung Moon. Moon officially declared himself the messiah in 1992, years after he’d built a powerful network of right-wing organizations, including The Washington Times daily newspaper. He was an influential figure in the administrations of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In 2004, he and his wife actually staged a coronation ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office building, during which Republican Roscoe Barrett embarrassed himself by bowing down before the couple, and Democrat Danny Davis carried in one of the two golden crowns placed upon their heads. (Salon, June 21, 2004). Moon died in 2012, and his Harvard-educated daughter Jin took over, attempting to modernize the religion by renaming it Lovin’ Life Ministries, and establishing an official rock band for the sect. She also abolished the church’s tradition of mass arranged marriages, during which Rev. Moon had presided over matching up hand-picked brides and grooms who often couldn’t communicate in the same language. From the time of the Nixon administration, irate parents began complaining that Moon was a cult leader that was brainwashing his subjects, who were popularly referred to as “Moonies.” In 1976, a congressional investigation concluded that Moon was likely a “political tool” of the KCIA, the Korean intelligence agency. Moon’s family, which included thirteen children, were raised in the lap of luxury, with a private bowling alley, six pizza ovens and a waterfall adorning the dining room of their mansion. Moon and his church fought numerous allegations of misconduct, from tax evasion to personal charges from his children about sexual abuse, violence and drug usage. Other claims were made that Moon’s “church” had originally started out as a sexual cult. One of his sons died in a car wreck and another jumped to his death from the seventeenth floor of a Las Vegas casino. (New Republic, November 12, 2013). The exact amount of the estate Moon left behind is unknown, but most online references assume it to have been in the billions.
Non-religious, self-help gurus preside over what USA Today estimated is a $13 billion a year industry. Tony Robbins, the so-called “peak performance coach,” is probably the most visible of these “gurus,” and is worth an incredible $480 million. Robbins, like all of these “gurus,” tells his gullible audience that “anyone” can become wealthy, if they follow his “system,” which is, of course, available to them at a hefty price. He also preaches “positive” thinking, and that great things await those who simply change their attitude. Robbins charges well-heeled clients $1 million a year for private coaching. Steve Harvey is a former stand up comedian who has transformed himself into an “expert” that specializes in advising mostly other black people, in a “hip,” rather ungrammatical style, about things they really should already know. He has a morning radio program, a television program, is host of The Family Feud and the author of best-selling “self-help” books, all of which have combined to give him an estimated net worth of $100 million. Harvey’s “advice” is mostly aimed at women, whom he objectifies while chastising them about “giving it away” too easily, as Olivia Cole pointed out so cogently in the April 17, 2014 Huffington Post. Harvey is not talented, or especially intelligent, or impressive in any way, and yet he has somehow become a titan in the entertainment industry. “Dr. Phil” McGraw was first promoted by Oprah Winfrey, and has built a $245 million fortune, with his tough, “straight talking” style of “advice.” McGraw responded to extensive criticism that his “counseling” was simplistic and superficial by saying, “I’m not the hush-puppies, pipe and ‘Let’s talk about your mother’ kind of psychologist.” (South Florida Sun Sentinel, July 3, 2001). Again, what are Robbins and his ilk producing of value? Most of what these “experts” say or write is extraordinarily basic; the kind of old-fashioned, common sense advice you might get from a grandparent. Is their “expertise” worth that kind of fortune? And is what they’re doing anything different from what the televangelists do?
Financial “expert” Suze Orman has an estimated worth of $35 million. But hasn’t most of her fortune, like Dave Ramsey’s and others, been derived from “advising” the common riff-raff, at a cost, on how to achieve their financial success? This is similar to the way so many “no money down” real estate seminars have fleeced desperate audiences over the years. During one of these seminars I attended in the mid-1980s, I asked the speaker a few questions. First, I wanted to know why every one of these “experts” had been dead broke, bankrupt, before they discovered the amazing secret that they were willing to share with the unwashed masses, but only at a steep price. Already, at that time, I was realizing that this was classic overkill, selling the product too well, much as habitual liars invariably provide too many details. Second, I told him that because he was charging so much for his tapes and books, the conclusion was inescapable that his wealth had been derived from those sales, and not from any brilliant real estate investing strategies. Naturally, most of the audience hissed at my question, enabling him to ignore it. High profile financial “expert” Jim Cramer, best known for his CNBC program Mad Money, came under blistering attack in December 2014, from irate fund manager J. Carlo Cannell. Cannell was Cramer’s co-founder of and fellow shareholder in TheStreet.com. Cannell was understandably upset that, while the company’s value had plunged from $1.7 billion in 1999 to $75 million, Cramer had received some $14 million in compensation and millions more in stock options, over the same time period. “Were there to have been wealth creation we would characterize your robust compensation as accretive,” Cannell wrote in a letter filed with SEC. The letter goes on to blast Cramer for enjoying such extravagant perks as “a perfumed sedan driver and assorted assistants who spray ionized lavender water on your barren cranium.” Cannell was bitter that Cramer’s yearly compensation was more than the cumulative dividends that were paid out to common shareholders. “Once a $70 stock, TST is now $2.20.” Cannell stated. “You have done well, but how has the common shareholder done?” (Bloomberg and others, December 3, 2014). Helaine Olen wrote about the negative impact of these financial “advisers” in her book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry. “The idea that anyone can give specific advice to millions of people first of all doesn’t really work,” she notes, and accurately points out that most people don’t rack up credit card debt through “spending too much,” but rather because of medical emergencies or long bouts of unemployment.
Psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants have done remarkably well for themselves, despite the fact that their predictions are almost always vague or wrong. Jeane Dixon made a fortune with her ridiculous predictions, such as her 1960s claim that Mars would be abducting Earth’s teenagers, or her crystal ball seeing World War III starting (with China) in 1958, or her contention that a female U.S. president would be elected in the 1980s. She, like seemingly everyone else, boasted after John F. Kennedy had been assassinated that she’d known it was going to happen. In a similar vein, she garnered notoriety as early as 1942, when she warned actress Carole Lombard not to fly. Since Lombard did die in a plane crash, she wasn’t around to verify Dixon’s story. (Antique Week, August 7, 2009). Nancy Reagan utilized the services of prominent astrologist Joan Quigley during her White House years. According to Reagan aide Donald Regan, Quigley was being paid a $3,000 monthly retainer by Nancy Reagan. As is the case with Jeane Dixon, no figures are available regarding Quigley’s net worth, but the first news story about her connection to the Reagans referred to her as “a wealthy San Francisco socialite.” We do know that her father was president of the California State Hotel Association, and that she grew up on “the high-end Nob Hill area” of San Francisco and attended prestigious Vassar College. (The Telegraph, October 28, 2014).
Another noted “advice” giver, talk show host and author Dr. Laura Schlesinger, has accumulated an estimated $40 million fortune. Dr. Laura portrays herself as a moralistic, “family values” type of person, but her own life has been filled with questionable behavior. While regularly chastising callers for “shacking up” without being married, Schlesinger herself lived with a man who was married to another woman for several years, was estranged from her only sibling for a very long time, and hadn’t spoken to her own mother for some twenty years before her death in 2002. (Vanity Fair, September 1998). It wasn’t until two months after she died that her mother’s remains were discovered in her Beverly Hills condo. (San Francisco Chronicle, December 21, 2002). With an attitude Ayn Rand would have been proud of, Schlesinger explained that she hadn’t mourned over either of her parents’ deaths, because she felt no emotional bond to them. (The London Times, April 6, 2006). Completing the perfect “conservative” persona, she had also posed for nude photos in the 1970s, which were disseminated online to much fanfare in 1998.
The marketplace has apparently determined that those who possess the gift of gab in abundance, and have no qualms about asking those with little wealth, who in fact are coming to them for the express purpose of increasing it, to part with it in order to make more of it, are some of the most valued members of American society.
Whatever else they may be, these bilkers of common folk undoubtedly are aware of H.L. Mencken’s unfortunately accurate assessment of his countrymen, which has come to be paraphrased from a Chicago Daily Tribune column he wrote in 1926 as: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”
If a real populist president were elected, or if a majority of those in Congress were populists, what kind of reforms would they enact? What follows are just some of the things I would try to do if I was in a position of power.
The first thing a true populist would do is to focus on the most important issue of our time; the undeniable fact that the vast majority of people are simply not being paid enough to meet the ever increasing costs of living. I don’t mean Bernie Sanders-like rant about raising the minimum wage fifty cents an hour. I mean Huey Long-like emphasis on just where all the wealth is, and proposals to take that ill-gotten wealth and distribute it more equitably among the masses who need it.
We’re about 2000 years overdue for a Year of Jubilee. While it would probably be unworkable to simply absolve all personal debts, I think a compromise could be reached that would still provide massive relief. How about cutting the amount, terms and interest rates on all individual and small business loans in half? Combined with legislation to cap any interest rate on any loan at say 8 percent, I think that would increase cash liquidity for everyone.
A true “America First” policy would involve bringing all military troops home, immediately. We could work out the logistics of military bases in certain countries, but no U.S. troops should be guarding, occupying or bombing anyone in any nation anywhere. Instead, they could be employed at home, guarding our oddly unprotected southern border. There is no reason for an expensive, tacky wall. Those who have been crossing our southern border for decades are doing so because our government wants them here.
A true “America First” policy would slap a 100 percent tax on any corporation that moved offshore. Tax credits could be devised to encourage them to stay in this country, and the more they paid their workers, the bigger the tax credits would be. I would also propose a 100 percent tax on any bonuses given to executives that laid off a single worker that year. And the first thing any real populist would do is to end the disastrous H 1-B Visa worker program, as well as all the other foreign guest worker and student worker programs.
Simply following the recommendations of the Grace Commission from the 1980s would cut government spending by one third, which was discovered to be nothing more than waste. In the thirty plus years that have elapsed since then, I think it can be safely assumed there is even more wasted government funding now.
There should be a complete and thorough audit of the Federal Reserve System. It ought to be abolished, and replaced with a nationalized system controlled by our elected leaders. The national “debt” has been monetized by the Fed and was created by bankers. It isn’t our debt, and should be repudiated. If the bankers who created the debt want to figure out how to pay it back, let them. However, it isn’t the obligation of the people to do so.
The practice of fractional lending needs to be curtailed and replaced with a credit union-type of system, where the funds actually exist in some tangible form. As it stands now, our banking system is legalized counterfeiting. I’m no monetary expert, but if we established a commission led by people like Ron Paul, I’m sure we could come up with a sound, stronger system.
The budgets of our intelligence agencies should be public knowledge. They should be held accountable for everything they’re doing, as well as the cost to taxpayers. At least some of these agencies could easily be abolished. The Homeland Security Department should be abolished at once, and the Patriot Act rescinded. The layers of fat should be cut out of our bloated military budget, and no more inexcusable wastes of taxpayer money from scrapped weapon programs should be tolerated.
Our priorities should be completely rearranged. With no more foreign interventionism, and the elimination of many unnecessary and unconstitutional agencies, plenty of money would be available for the rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure, including our woefully outdated power grids.
Most every illegal immigrant would leave voluntarily if we simply stopped giving them any government benefits. Proof of citizenship should be required for all government assistance, and the practice of permitting “anchor babies” should be ended. Sanctuary cities should receive no government funding. Obviously, any illegal immigrant caught committing any crime should be deported immediately. With the borders actually being guarded, and no promise of government benefits to lure them, people will simply stop sneaking into this country.
With the advances in artificial intelligence, America has to look at replacing welfare and unemployment benefits with some kind of guaranteed living income. We also should look at trying to house the long-term homeless in abandoned homes and retail properties that have been empty for long periods of time. This would require thoughtfulness and creativity, something our leaders have never been renowned for, but it could be worked out.
Why is America unable to provide free wifi internet access everywhere, when a country like Estonia does? Several other countries provide free or very cheap internet to their citizens. The United States has now dropped out of the top twenty countries worldwide in terms of public wifi network quality. European countries, and even some Third World nations, provide much faster and cheaper broadband services than the wealthiest country in the world does.
While the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in many crucial areas, we are light years ahead of anyone else in CEO pay. I have long advocated that a maximum compensation package be established for large corporations, tied to a minimum package, so that executives couldn’t make more than say twenty five times what their lowest-paid workers make. That used to be the norm until thirty years or so ago. Even the worst of the old plutocrats recognized that you had to pay people enough to buy their products. But in today’s Ayn Rand-inspired political climate, profits are all that matters. Greed is good.
Part of our infrastructure overhaul should be a true mass transit system that reflects the wealth and technological know-how America possesses. The United States boasts the third worst average commute time among all First World nations. Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, and Hasselt, Belgium are just two cities that offer zero-fare public transportation systems to their inhabitants. As in all areas, America can and should be doing much better.
I know my conservative friends will remind me that “nothing is free,” and these government services will cost plenty. We already pay enough taxes to receive a well-run socialist state in return. But that’s the problem with America; we don’t get anything in return for what we pay. That is, unless you consider perpetual bombings and occupations of smaller nations to be a benefit. Or that we all benefit somehow from the largely unknown shenanigans of the CIA, FBI, DIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies. We certainly don’t have decent roads, bridges, airports and power grids to show for it.
I would establish a 911 Truth Commission, consisting of impartial researchers, as well as a new independent investigation into the JFK assassination. This would be essential in removing the cloud of suspicion which hangs over the heads of the officials who continue to cover-up the truth about these and so many other issues. “Extreme” leaders like David Duke, Louis Farrakhan and others should be invited to sit down and discuss their concerns, in an effort to establish racial and ethnic harmony. A national commission should be formed to investigate the myriad instances of police brutality and criminality, and the failure of their superiors to hold these officers accountable for their actions.
Much as Huey Long established free health clinics all across Louisiana in the 1930s, we ought to have free health clinics everywhere in this country. We should begin a gradual transition to a single-payer system, like most of the world has. The insurance and pharmaceutical companies will have to “sacrifice” this time, not average people.
Marijuana should be completely legal, and all drugs should be decriminalized. Private prisons should be abolished. All judges should be subject to recall. Direct democracy should be implemented at least partially. With a certain number of signatures, a given number of ballot measures could be put up for a national vote each year. Our elected officials would have to abide by the will of the people on these measures, and the courts could not overturn them.
Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden should be pardoned and hailed as heroes, as should Julian Assange. There must be meaningful prosecutions of powerful political figures that have committed numerous crimes, if only as a symbolic demonstration that no one is above the law.
Much of what I’m saying and writing will be labeled as socialist or even communist. On the contrary, totalitarian societies have never distributed the wealth in any kind of fair way, or delivered essential services fairly to all the people. Populism is far different from socialism or communism. Huey Long, for instance, was attacked relentlessly by both the communist and socialist parties in America. He is hardly a hero in the Soviet Union. It isn’t Marxist to point out how wrong it is for a handful of elites to have more money than they know what to do with, while in present-day America nearly half the population has less than one percent of the collective wealth.
The only way America can be saved from a slide into Third World status and an eventual collapse is to expose all the corruption. We must acknowledge that all these problems exist before we can solve them. As a great paranoid once wrote, if they can get you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers. America is hopelessly corrupt, from top to bottom. Too many of our people have responded to this perpetual wrongdoing by mimicking the behavior Mike Judge spoofed in his film Idiocracy.
We need to admit that nothing illustrates the sorry state of present-day America better than the sinful distribution of wealth. With Donald Trump exposing himself as more of a plutocrat than any kind of populist, all we can do is hope that the sheeple wake up and finally demand something better.
A great deal of material was ultimately edited out of what will be the published version of Survival of the Richest. I will be sharing much of that material here on my blog. I’d like to start with what was to be the longest chapter in the book, which examines the entangling alliances and incestuous nature of fame and success.
Chapter Two: Relations and Connections
Everybody gets everything handed to them. The rich inherit it….I mean what people take for granted among the upper and middle classes, which is nepotism, the old-boy network.
– Toni Morrison
Much research has been conducted over the years, establishing that most of the United States presidents were related to one another. Lineage specialist Gary Boyd Roberts found that George H.W. Bush was the tenth cousin once removed of his Vice President, Dan Quayle. Both Bush and Quayle, Boyd found, were related to Abraham Lincoln and, oddly enough, Charles Stanley Gifford, long thought to be Marilyn Monroe’s seemingly low life father. Even odder is the fact that Monroe herself was a Mayflower descendent. Boyd also stated that Bush was related to nine other former presidents. (USA Today, November 15, 1988).
Actor Tom Hanks is a descendent of Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s mother. So is George Clooney, who is Lincoln’s half-first cousin, five times removed, according to ancestry.com historians. Ben Affleck, despite what seems on the surface to be a fairly humble background, is supposedly related to sixteen different Presidents, including Barack Obama, who has a lot of prestigious figures in his family tree for the first black man to hold the office (Obama is also said to be a distant relative of another famous actor, Brad Pitt, who we are told is a distant cousin of director Spike Lee as well). Playboy founder and publisher Hugh Hefner is an eleventh cousin, twice removed, to President George W. Bush, and like the Bushes and Marilyn Monroe is descended from the Mayflower. Entertainer Madonna is descended from President John Tyler, and is also a distant cousin to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Actor Richard Gere can also trace his roots back to the Mayflower, as well as Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and James Garfield. Clint Eastwood is a real blue blood, with ties to King Henry I of England, President Franklin Pierce and Nancy Reagan. Sarah Palin is a ninth cousin, once removed, of FDR and yet another Mayflower descendent. Actress Angelina Jolie, meanwhile, is related to Hillary Rodham Clinton (who in addition to Madonna and Jolie, is also distant cousins with two more entertainers, singers Alanis Morrisette and Celine Dion, and if it can be believed, beatnik author Jack Kerouac and Camilla Parker-Bowles, wife of England’s Prince Charles). Longtime hack party politician and war aficionado John McCain is a sixth cousin to former First Lady Laura Bush. (Quad City Times, March 25, 2008). Model Kate Upton is the niece of U.S. Rep. Fred Upton. Johnny Cash’s wife June Carter Nash was distant cousins with President Jimmy Carter. Actress Olympia Dukakis is a cousin of one time Democratic Party presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Actor Ralph Fiennes was born into what Business Insider called “an aristocratic family,” and is eighth cousins with Prince Charles.
These roots sometimes go back several generations. Standard Oil of New York chairman of the board Henry Clay Folger, for instance, was descended from Abiah Folger, Benjamin Franklin’s mother. Americans cherish the image of Abraham Lincoln being born in a log cabin under desperate circumstances, but in reality his grandfather amassed over 5,000 acres of prime Kentucky real estate, benefiting from the advice of family relative Daniel Boone. Another president depicted as rising from nothing was Harry Truman, whose grandparents had a 600 acre farm, who took piano lessons as a child, and who at age sixteen was a page at the 1900 Democratic Party convention. Two time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson II’s grandfather was Jesse Fell, an important Republican Party figure and personal friend and campaign manager of Abraham Lincoln. His other grandfather was even more illustrious; Adlai Stevenson I was Grover Cleveland’s vice-president. His grandmother helped establish the Daughters of the American Revolution. Gulf War Commander-in-Chief General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. had a father who was the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, and presided over the bogus investigation into the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. The fact that both his father and grandfather had been four-star Admirals certainly helped John McCain start off on the right foot in his military career. Former Secretary of State and Democratic Party presidential nominee John Kerry’s background is littered with prestigious names like Forbes and Winthrop. Another Democratic Party presidential standard bearer, ex-Vice President Al Gore, had a father who was a U.S. Senator and a mother who was one of the first women to graduate from Vanderbilt University Law School. Astronaut Alan Shepherd, dictionary impresario Noah Webster, actors Alec Baldwin, Dick Van Dyke and Christopher Reeve, crooner Bing Crosby, Union General George McClellan, the first “super” chef Julia Child, reclusive author Thomas Pynchon, painter Grandma Moses Robertson, poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and child “expert” Dr. Benjamin Spock are just some of the celebrated figures descended from the Mayflower.
Renowned explorer Ferdinand Magellen was born into a “Portuguese noble family.” Jonathan Swift’s grandmother was related to the poet John Dryden, his grandmother’s aunt was a first cousin of Sir Walter Raleigh’s wife Elizabeth Throckmorton, who was one of Queen Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting, and his uncle married the daughter of the godson of William Shakespeare. Charles Darwin was born at his family home “The Mount” (you know you’re rich when your family’s home has a name). His father was a wealthy doctor serving high society, and both his grandfathers were prominent abolitionists. Karl Marx was descended from a series of Rabbis, and his father was a wealthy lawyer who owned multiple vineyards.
Jack London’s mother’s family (the Wellans) were very wealthy. Writer Miles Mathis alleges that London’s ancestors had testified at the Salem Witch Trials. Radical leader John Reed was born in his wealthy grandmother’s mansion, which featured a staff of Chinese servants.
Gary Cooper’s father was a judge. So was Marion Davies’, long time mistress of tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Katherine Hepburn was, to quote Wikipedia, “raised by wealthy, progressive parents.” Her father was a urologist and her mother an outspoken feminist advocate. Actress Carole Lombard had parents who each came from wealthy families; biographer Robert Matzen termed her childhood her “silver spoon period.” Imdb tells us that actress Miriam Hopkins was “born into wealth,” and attended private “academies” like her arch-enemy, Bette Davis (whose father was an attorney). Actor Franchot Tone was born into what Imdb describes as “a well-to-do upstate New York family.” Actress Paulette Goddard’s father was the son of a “prosperous cigar manufacturer,” in Wikipedia’s words. Director Howard Hawks had a father who was “a wealthy paper manufacturer,” and a mother who was the “daughter of a wealthy industrialist,” to quote Wikipedia. Director William Wellman’s upper-class bloodlines went back to the Declaration of Independence, which his great-great-great grandfather signed. Howard Hawks’ father was a “wealthy paper manufacturer” and his mother was the daughter of “a wealthy industrialist.” Sisters Joan and Constance Bennett came from a prestigious acting family, with theatrical roots dating back to the eighteenth century. Their nephew was Morton Downey, Jr., who briefly achieved fame in the late 1980s with a sensationalist talk show, and whose own father, Morton Downey, Sr. was a noted singer and composer. Actor Robert Montgomery was the son of the president of the New York Rubber Company, and his daughter Elizabeth, well remembered as Samantha in television’s Bewitched, continued to “build” on his success. Myrna Loy’s father was a banker, rancher and the youngest man ever elected to the Montana state legislature. Jayne Mansfield’s father was an attorney who practiced with a future New Jersey governor, and her grandparents were wealthy enough that she inherited what would have been over $1 million in current value from them. Margaret Sullavan’s father was “a wealthy stockbroker,” to quote Wikipedia. Jane Wyatt’s father was a Wall Street investment banker, and her mother a drama critic. According to Wikipedia, Norma Shearer’s childhood in Montreal was “one of privilege.” Orson Welles was born to an affluent family, and as a youth he once spent the summer at a private New York art colony playing with the children of the Aga Khan. He was yet another Mayflower descendant. Grace Kelly’s wealthy father had won three Olympic gold medals in his youth, and was appointed the National Director of Physical Fitness by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Audrey Hepburn had a slew of Baronesses and other aristocratic relatives in her background. Imdb provided an illuminating anecdote, noting that one time leading lady Lynn Bari happened to remark to her co-star Anabel Shaw, during the filming of Shock (1946) that she was a direct descendant of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. An astonished Shaw revealed that she was directly descended from the man who killed Hamilton in a duel, U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr. Can we picture two construction workers, or janitors, or file clerks, ever having such a conversation?
Actress Tallulah Bankhead’s father was the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and both her grandfather and uncle had been U.S. Senators. Humphrey Bogart’s father was a surgeon and his mother a renowned illustrator who had studied under the famous painter James McNeill Whistler, and he was still another Mayflower descendant. Speaking of Whistler, he grew up the son of a “prominent engineer,” to quote Wikipedia. Artist Henri Matisse, again in the words of Wikipedia, was the son of a “prosperous grain merchant.” Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, had a judge for a father. Nathanial Hawthorne was descended from a family of judges and important members of the community; his great-great grandfather was one of those who oversaw the Salem Witch trials. T.S. Eliot’s grandfather had founded a church, his father was president and treasurer of a brick company, and his mother was one of the first social workers. Ezra Pound’s grandfather was a U.S. Congressman. So was Emily Dickinson’s. Black poet Langston Hughes had mixed ancestry; the Langston branch was described by Wikipedia as “elite, politically connected,” and had led the Ohio Anti- Slavery Society. Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, had a father who managed “the family brewery,” in Wikipedia’s words. Author Booth Tarkington’s uncle was the governor of California, and his wife was related to the mayor of Chicago. He attended the ultra-prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. As a Princeton undergraduate, he socialized with future President Woodrow Wilson. F. Scott Fitzgerald was named after his second cousin, three times removed, Francis Scott Key; Wikipedia informs us he came from “an upper-middle-class family.” Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books, was descended from a prestigious banking family, and his father was a long time member of the English Parliament. Socialist writer and politician Upton Sinclair had what are invariably described in accounts as “wealthy maternal grandparents.” His father came from an aristocratic southern family, too, that lost their fortune after the Civil War. John Cheever grew up in his prosperous family’s large Victorian house. William Faulkner’s father owned several businesses, and his grandfather owned a railroad. John Irving’s stepfather was on the faculty of the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy, where the fledgling writer received an elite education. Wikipedia tells us that James Joyce’s father and grandfather both married into wealthy families. Vladimir Nabokov was born into a “wealthy and prominent family of minor nobility,” to quote Wikipedia. Gertrude Stein’s father was a “wealthy businessman,” in Wikipedia’s words. One of the few verifiable aspects of William Shakespeare’s biography is the fact his father was a wealthy official in Stratford-upon- Avon, and that his mother came from an important, respected family.
Cole Porter was “the only child of a wealthy family,” to quote Wikipedia. His grandfather was “the richest man in Indiana.” Composer Stephen Sondheim was another only child of wealthy parents. Composer Richard Rodgers was “born into a prosperous German family,” according to Wikipedia, and his father was a prominent physician. Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II had a grandfather who was a theater impresario. When his father died, he was eulogized in the New York Times as “the Barnum of Vaudeville.” Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber came from a prominent musical family, was a Queen’s Scholar at Westminster School and studied at the Royal College of Music. Wikipedia tells us that Agatha Christie was born into a “wealthy upper middle-class family.” Oscar Wilde’s father was Ireland’s most renowned eye surgeon, who was knighted and known as “Sir,” while his mother was Lady Wilde. W. Somerset Maugham’s father and his grandfather were both prominent English lawyers. Archibald MacLeish grew up on what Wikipedia termed an “estate,” and his mother was the president of Rockford College. In a biography that is clearly missing some essential pieces, Clare Booth (later to marry Time-Life founder Henry Luce, who attended exclusive private schools himself as a youth), was referred to publicly as a “socialite” as a young girl, attended private “Cathedral” schools in New York, took a tour of Europe as a girl with her mother and stepfather, and at age ten was Mary Pickford’s understudy on Broadway. Ring Lardner was, according to Wikipedia, “the son of wealthy parents.” Virginia Woolf was born into a wealthy family; her father was a “Sir.”
We see the same trends from generation to generation, and the list is endless. Rock star David Crosby came from the very prominent Van Cortlant family, and his father was Academy Award winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby. Future Byrds’ band mate Roger McGuinn had a mother and father that co-wrote the best seller Parents Can’t Win during his childhood. Singer Linda Ronstadt’s family was affluent enough to be featured in a 1963 issue of Family Circle magazine. Another notable folk-rock performer, Gram Parsons, came from a very wealthy family (his mother was the daughter of a citrus fruit magnate). Singer Bonnie Raitt’s father was a Broadway star. Go-Gos guitarist Charlotte Caffey’s father was a well known television director. Pop singer Lesley Gore had a father, according to Wikipedia, who was “a wealthy manufacturer of children’s clothes and swimwear.” James Taylor’s father came from a “well off family,” to quote Wikipedia, and he was a physician and university professor, while his mother was an aspiring opera singer, who had studied at the high brow New England Conservatory of Music. His one time wife, fellow music star Carly Simon, came into the world as the daughter of Richard L. Simon, co-founder of publishing giant Simon & Schuster. Former Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth’s father was an eye surgeon who, according to Wikipedia, “made millions via his practice and real estate.” Glee star Darren Criss had a father who sat on the Board of Directors for the ritzy San Francisco Opera, and is the chairman and CEO of EastWest Bank. Little Feat’s Lowell George was born in Hollywood, and his musical career was initially funded by his grandfather’s stock. His father was a furrier to the stars. Motown record mogul Berry Gordy was descended from a white plantation owner, and related to President Jimmy Carter.
Comedian Billy Crystal’s father was a jazz promoter and record store owner, his uncle was the well-known musician and songwriter Milt Gabler. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s father was an executive with IBM. Kimmel’s one-time girlfriend, comedian Sarah Siliverman had a mother who was Senator George McGovern’s personal campaign photographer. Adam Carolla’s father was a psychologist, and his step-grandfather was a Hollywood screenwriter. Carolla expressed his feelings about rich people and poor people clearly (and seriously) in an interview with The Daily Caller. “They’re better than poor people. They just are,” he declared. “They (rich people) work harder, generally. More focused. …the poor people I grew up with, fairly lethargic, did a lot of complaining., they smoked a little too much, drank a little too much, blamed everyone but themselves a little too much.” It is difficult to picture the son of a psychologist, raised in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, having any poor people around to “grow up with.” Ari Emanuel is one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood. His brother is former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Yet another brother is noted bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, who was one of the architects of Obamacare. Their father was a doctor who was active in the Irgun, an Israeli group that many consider to have been terroristic in nature. ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., who is the foremost NFL draft “expert” in the country, experienced one of those unexplained assists up the ladder, when as a high school student he was encouraged by then Baltimore Colts executive Ernie Accorsi to sell his research to fans. Do NFL executives normally give advice to high school kids? Kiper has built a $7 million fortune out of analyzing one annual event.
Actor Armie Hammer is the great-grandson of oil tycoon and advisor to numerous politicians Armand Hammer. Designer Calvin Klein’s daughter Marci fought her way through the morass of show business to become a very successful TV producer. Comedian Jon Stewart’s brother is a powerful figure with the New York Stock Exchange. Actor Chevy Chase is distinctly upper crust on both sides; his mother was a concert pianist and the stepdaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt Crane, his father was a prominent editor and writer, his grandfather was a well-known illustrator and a grandmother was an opera singer who performed regularly at Carnegie Hall. Chase was listed in the Social Register at a very young age. He, too, can trace his ancestry back to the Mayflower. CNN talk show host Anderson Cooper is the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was born to a billionaire father, and her great-great grandfather founded the huge French conglomerate Louis Dreyfus Group in 1851. ESPN’s Chris Berman’s mother was a reporter for Time magazine and his father was a corporate executive vice-president. Singer/Actor Harry Connick, Jr. had a mother who was a Louisiana Supreme Court justice, and his father, Harry Connick, Sr. was the District Attorney of Orleans Parish, who succeeded Jim Garrison in office, and was one of his political enemies who did everything in his power to keep any information about the JFK assassination away from the public. For good measure, his parents also owned a record store. Actress Sigourney Weaver’s father was Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, a television pioneer who was once president of NBC, while her uncle was actor and comedian “Doodles” Weaver. Meryl Streep’s father was a pharmaceutical executive, and her family was among the first landowners in Pennsylvania.
While no details about his parents are available, Rolling Stone co-founder and publisher Jann Wenner attended the prestigious Chadwick School, whose alumni include Liza Minnelli, Joan Crawford’s Mommie Dearest daughter Christina, the children of actor Bruce Lee, screenwriter/director Robert Towne and Maureen Reagan. Wenner benefited from one of those fortuitous quirks of fate, as influential jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason somehow became his mentor while he was attending college at Berkeley, and helped him find a job at Ramparts magazine, then co-founded Rolling Stone with him. Actor Robert Duvall’s father was a Navy Admiral, his mother was descended from Robert E. Lee. One of Bruce Dern’s grandfathers was a former Utah governor and Secretary of War. His granduncle was poet Archibald MacLeish. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s father was a U.S. congressman and one time Mayor of Baltimore; she is one of the richest members of Congress, turning all those years of “public service” into an estimated worth of more than $58 million. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s father was a prominent figure in California politics, and as a boy he met famous people like future Chief Justice Earl Warren. Best selling author Danielle Steel had a father who was descended from the founders of Lowenbrau beer, and her mother was the daughter of a diplomat. As Wikipedia tells us, “…from an early age, she was included in her parents’ dinner parties, giving her an opportunity to observe the habits and lives of the wealthy and famous.” Best selling crime writer Patricia Cornwell is a descendant of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the abolitionist who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her father was one of the leading appellate lawyers in the country, and served as Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s law clerk.
Time and again, when investigating those who’ve “made it” big, one encounters strange missing links. While there often is little information about what their parents did for a living, when a prep school props up, or an Ivy League university, or an unexplained internship with some individual or company that is a guarantee of future success, the conclusion becomes inescapable that this particular person grew up in a decidedly wealthy family. Robin Leach, for example, an ordinary looking man with no discernible talent, has amassed a $15 million fortune, primarily from hosting the pretentious television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, which was little more than weekly promotional advertising for greed and materialism. Leach, too, had a strange jump to prominence, as his limited public biography informs us only that he somehow became a general reporter for the Harrow Observer, a mainstream weekly British tabloid, at age fifteen. Sam Zell, founder of Equity Group Investments, was the son of a “successful grain trader,” and while he was in college, he benefited from a unique arrangement; in return for managing a fifteen unit apartment building, he was given free room-and-board. In short order, he was managing all of this owner’s investment properties, and won a contract with an even larger developer. During a 2012 appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Zell arrogantly declared, “I succeed because I am driven and I take the risks. Deal with it.”
Some beneficiaries of the system at least acknowledge how fortunate they were. Actress Jennifer Anniston once uttered these refreshing comments; “My dad became a soap opera actor, and I was an extra in a skating rink scene on the soap. I didn’t audition. It was nepotism all the way.”
The two most popular “advice” columnists of the twentieth century were “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers. Their real names were Pauline and Esther Friedman, and their father owned a chain of movie theaters. Whatever the odds are of the two most high profile figures in an industry that seemingly requires no special talent, being sisters, it is hardly surprising that they came from a family of substantial means. Another pair of famous siblings, actors Julia and Eric Roberts, had parents who ran an acting school. Among their students were the children of Martin Luther King, Jr. As a thank you for their services, Coretta Scott King paid the entire hospital bill when her mother gave birth to Julia. Talk about literally entering the world on an exceptionally fortunate note! Brothers Bryant and Greg Gumbel had the decided economic advantage of having a judge for a father. Sibling actors John and Joan Cusack had a father who owned a film production company, and was close friends with high profile political activist Philip Berrigan. Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s father was a director and producer, their mother a screenwriter. They are descended from Swedish nobility. Actress Joan Collins and her best-selling author sister Jackie had a father who was a theatrical agent whose clients included the Beatles and Tom Jones. If any of these celebrated figures had been born to fathers that were chronically unemployed alcoholics, for example, would they ever have been able to “build that?”
Film Director and Producer Judd Apatow’s mother managed the record labels founded by Judd’s grandfather, music producer Bob Shad. His father was a real estate developer. Both of actor David Schwimmer’s parents were lawyers; his mother boasted high profile celebrity clients like Elizabeth Taylor and Rosanne Barr. Schwimmer’s Friends’ co-star Matthew Perry had a similar comfortable upbringing; his father was an actor and model, and his mother was at one time the Press Secretary to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Actor Geoffrey Owens, who was one of the regular cast members on the 1980s Cosby Show, was the son of United States Congressman Major Owens. Actress Kyra Sedgwyck is a true blue blood. Her father was a rich “venture capitalist,” and she is descended from a slew of luminaries, including the founder of the prestigious Groton School and an owner of The Atlantic Monthly. Her actor husband, Kevin Bacon, while not boasting quite the same sterling set of genes, did have a very prominent architect for a father, who was a long time Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. Actor Edward Norton has a similarly impressive set of relatives; his father was a lawyer and Carter administration federal prosecutor, his grandfather was a prominent developer who developed Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Boston’s Quincy Market, and is generally credited with inventing the modern shopping mall. Fresh out of Yale University, the future actor was able to begin his working life comfortably as a “consultant” with one of his grandfather’s companies in Japan.
Dan Akyroyd’s father was an adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Chris Farley had a father who owned his own oil company. Andy Sandberg had a grandfather who was a “philanthropist,” to use Wikipedia’s term, and served as executive chair of the American Jewish Congress, and he is a third cousin to U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin. Robin Williams had a father who was a senior executive with Ford Motor Company, a mother who’d been a model, and his great-great grandfather was Mississippi Senator and Governor Anselm J. McLaurin. Nick Kroll’s father was the founder of “the world’s leading risk and security consulting firm,” to quote VH1. Glenn Close grew up on a five hundred acre estate in Connecticut, the daughter of a “socialite” mother and a father who was renowned enough in the medical world to be the personal physician to Zaire President Mobuto Sese Seko. Her grandfather was married to an heiress of the Post Cereals family, and was the director of the American Hospital Association. She is also a second cousin to Brooke Shields. Nicole Kidman’s father was a noted psychologist and author. Her great-great-great grandfather was a “Sir,” who owned a huge chunk of the Australian outback. Actor Paul Giamatti’s climb to the top was made much easier by the fact his father was an affluent Yale professor who would go on to become Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Another sports Commissioner, current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, had a father who was a United States Senator.
Burt Bacharach’s father was a well-known syndicated newspaper columnist. Stewart Copeland, drummer for the band The Police, was the son of CIA officer Miles Copeland, Jr. Actress Olivia Wilde was the daughter of successful journalists and according to VH1, “comes from a long line of British nobles.” Filmmaker and actress Lena Dunham had famous artists as parents and spent her childhood summers vacationing next door to Meryl Streep. Actor Tom Hiddleston, again according to VH1, “grew up the son of a wealthy scientist and pharmaceutical company owner, and attended school with Prince William.” Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine, according to Pop Crush, is the son of Fred Levine, founder of giant clothing chain M. Fredric. He met two of his fellow band members at the exclusive, private Brentwood School. Ariana Grande’s father is CEO of a design company that includes FAO Schwarz and Eddie Murphy as clients. Model/singer Cassie attended a very expensive (Pop Crush reports the yearly tuition is upwards of $26,000) prep school, so her ethnically diverse parents (Filipino and Mexican/African-American) must have had some money. Actress Michelle Williams is the daughter of commodities trader and author Larry Williams, who was also a two time Republican U.S. Senate candidate. Game of Thrones star Rose Leslie is certainly at home on the set; she was born in a castle (just one of those owned by her family), and is descended from an impressive line of nobility. Celebrity scientist Neil Degrasse-Tyson’s father was the human resource commissioner for New York City mayor John Lindsay. Bill Nye, another celebrated scientist, attended the exclusive Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. Henry Beard, co-founder of National Lampoon, is the great-grandson of Vice President John C. Breckinridge. Screenwriter and playwright Robert Sherwood, a member of the celebrated Algonquin Round Table, was born to a “rich stockbroker” and a mother who was “a well-known illustrator and portrait painter.” Sports columnist and short story author Ring Lardner was “the son of wealthy parents,” and his son Ring, Jr. continued to “build” on the family success, becoming a renowned journalist and screenwriter.
Barbara Walters’ father was a Broadway Producer and Entertainment Director of the Tropicana casino in Las Vegas. Perhaps this explains why her speech proved to be no impediment to her astonishing success in the broadcasting world. Wikipedia tells us that news anchor Brian Williams was raised in a “well to do” home. His father was an executive vice-president of the National Retail Merchants Association. His daughter, Allison Williams, is upholding the family tradition, and “building” a promising acting career. Veteran reporter Diane Sawyer’s father was a judge. Producer Dick Ebersol’s father was a chairman of the American Cancer Society, and again, in one of those strange leaps to prominence, he temporarily dropped out of Yale University at the age of 20, to become ABC’s first ever “Olympic researcher.” Media mogul Ted Turner’s road to success was made much smoother by the fact he inherited his father’s business, worth $1 million, in 1963, when he was only 24 years old. Turner’s father committed suicide, but unlike most children in such tragic circumstances, young Ted was able to console himself with a lucrative, ready-made career. Right wing journalist John Stossel was raised, again in Wikipedia’s words, “on Chicago’s affluent North Shore,” and went to Princeton. Fellow conservative Rush Limbaugh grew up in a family full of lawyers, including his father. His grandfather was a judge and member of the Missouri House of Representatives. Journalist Hannah Storm’s father was the Commissioner of the American Basketball Association, and later moved to the NBA, where he became President of the Atlanta Hawks. Conan O’Brien’s father is a physician and a Harvard professor, while his mother is an attorney. MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski not only had a father who was Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, she is the grandniece of a former President of Czechoslovakia. ABC’s Cokie Roberts is the daughter of long time Congressman Hale Boggs, who was also a member of the Warren Commission. Ben Bradlee, long time editor of The Washington Post, was from a wealthy Boston Brahmin family. His lineage included various royal figures, including a Roman emperor. His close friend in childhood was future CIA big wig Richard Helms. (Newsweek, October 21, 2014). His third wife, author and reporter Sally Quinn, was the daughter of a renowned military figure who was connected prominently to the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency. One of Bradlee’s ace reporters, Bob Woodward, was the son of a chief judicial court judge.
Young music phenomenon Taylor Swift is descended from three generations of bank presidents. Her mother was a former marketing executive who became a homemaker. Her father was an executive with Merrill Lynch, who according to The Richest, “provided the initial seed money for starting Big Machine Records, which had Taylor Swift as the first signed artist.” The Richest described it as “a very upper-class upbringing.” Lady Gaga’s father was Joseph Germanotta, whom The Richest called “a successful and wealthy internet entrepreneur.” A child star from an earlier era, Brooke Shields, had a father who was a wealthy Revlon executive, and she is descended from several noble Italian families, including her grandmother, who was a princess. Shields’ marketable “value” was perhaps best displayed when she was chosen to be a spokesperson for a federal anti-smoking campaign, and commented, “Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.” (Orlando Sentinel, June 21, 2013). Actress Dakota Fanning’s mother was a professional tennis player, her grandfather was a former NFL player, and her aunt is one time ESPN reporter Jill Arrington. Musical artist Robert Ritchie, better known as Kid Rock, had a father who owned multiple car dealerships as well as a six acre orchard where, according to Wikipedia, young Ritchie would “help pick apples and cared for the family’s horses.” At least Kid Rock appears to understand how absurdly our wealth is distributed, as indicated by his comment that, “Athletes and musicians make astronomical amounts of money. People get paid $100 million to throw a baseball! Shouldn’t we all take less and pass some of that money onto others?” While appearing to be regularly active in charitable work, Kid Rock has still managed to accrue a $40 million fortune.
Even those who are infamous rather than famous often come from upper-class backgrounds. Monica Lewinsky, whose “fame” was achieved by providing oral sex to President Clinton in the Oval Office, came from an “affluent family in Southern California,” to quote Wikipedia, where her father was an oncologist and her mother an author. She went to Beverly Hills High School. Lewinsky netted a reported $500,000 from the book Monica’s Story, and $1 million for a 1999 interview with Barbara Walters. (New York Times, March 5, 1999). Showing little embarrassment, Lewinsky appeared as herself in a few 1999 Saturday Night Live sketches. She went on to form her own handbag manufacturing company, The Real Monica, Inc., and made $300,000 from a Jenny Craig endorsement deal. In later years, she hosted a dating show, studied at the elitist London School of Economics, and presently is rumored to be joining the cast of The View. That’s a lot of “building” from some blow jobs. Donna Rice, only slightly remembered today as the attractive blonde whose affair with married Senator Gary Hart derailed his 1988 presidential campaign, grew up in an upper middle-class home, and started modeling at age thirteen. She was on the same high school cheerleading squad with future Entertainment Tonight host Leeza Gibbons (whose own father was the state superintendent of education). Rice has turned into a moral crusader, serving as CEO of Enough is Enough, an anti-pornography organization.
Business leaders who are not celebrities tend to come from the same kind of stable, fortunate backgrounds. Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes was born, in Wikipedia’s words, “to an affluent Lutheran family.” His father was an executive with Norton Simon. Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie’s grandfather founded General Cinema, one of the largest movie theater chains in the world. Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman descends from prominent figures on both sides of her family; she is the great-great granddaughter of U.S. Senator Charles B. Farwell, and the great-great-great granddaughter of a member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. She is also the great-granddaughter of a judge and the great-great granddaughter of a general. Her father was the president of his own financial advisory firm. NBC President Jeff Zucker’s father was a cardiologist. His connections were such that he was able to catch on with the Miami Herald while still in high school, as an extremely rare “teenage freelance reporter.” Former Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit was raised in an “affluent Brahmin family,” to quote Wikipedia. His father was an executive with Sarabhai Chemicals. Steve Burke, former CEO and President of NBC Universal, had a father who was the president of Capital Cities Communications, the company that then owned the ABC network. Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham inherited the newspaper from her wealthy father, Eugene Meyer. Her mother was an intellectual who was close friends with famous figures like Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Granddaughter Katherine Weymouth went on to become publisher of the Post, keeping alive the family tradition of “building” it. Multi-billionaire Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Company, had a father who was a movie producer and a mother who was, in Wikipedia’s words, a “civic leader.” His father would re-marry, to actress Claire Trevor. Anne Cox Chambers, of Cox Enterprises, is worth $13.5 billion, and was the daughter of newspaper publisher James M. Cox, who was also the 1920 Democratic Party presidential nominee. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s father was Sir Keith Murdoch, who owned two Australian newspapers and a radio station. Philip Anschutz, worth over $10 billion, had a father who was an oil tycoon and a grandfather who founded a bank. Nick Woodman, founder of GoPro, who saw his income rise some 5000 percent in 2014, to at least 77.4 million, although Bloomberg estimated that his total compensation package was actually more than $285 million, had a wealthy father who founded his own investment bank. Heather Bresch, CEO of giant pharmaceutical company Mylan, is the daughter of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman’s father was a photographer for Life magazine. Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers had a father who was an obstetrician and a mother who was a psychiatrist. Coca-Cola Muhtar Kent’s father was the Turkish consul-general in New York. And top executives who “built” upon parental success has been so prevalent in the corporate world that USA Today would headline a December 4, 2009 story, “Second-Generation CEOs Find it Tough to Follow Dad’s Footsteps.”
Weymouth’s Washington Post headlined its February 4, 2014 story lauding Microsoft’s new CEO as, “America Needs More Immigrants Like Satya Nadella.” Nadella’s father was a prominent figure in India, who was a member of the prime minister’s Planning Commission. Apparently we “need” more immigrants whose background reflects the upper class backgrounds of so many successful American citizens. Another highly successful immigrant is author and new age physician Deepak Chopra. He too hailed from a wealthy Indian family; his father was a cardiologist and head of the department of medicine at a large New Delhi hospital. Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei has distinguished family roots that trace back to the Ming Dynasty. As Wikipedia tells us, “his family lived in the upper echelons of society.” His father was a banker. Mexican-born actress Selma Hayek’s father was an oil company executive; VH1 described him as “fabulously wealthy.” Gangham Style performer “Psy” comes from the wealthiest district in Korea, and his father is the executive chairman of DI Corporation, while his mother owns a restaurant.
Mehmet Oz, better known as television star “Dr. Oz,” was born in Cleveland, but his physician father emigrated from Turkey a few years before his birth, and his mother came from what Wikipedia calls “a wealthy Istanbul family.” “Judge Judy,” or Judith Sheindlin, was the daughter of a dentist; as of 2013, she had a contract that paid her $47 million per year, or an incomprehensible $900,000 for each of her fifty two workdays. (Parade Magazine, October 24, 2013). Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau had impressive bloodlines; his great-grandfather established a New York sanitarium, and a bishop and prominent New York politician are among his great-great-great grandfathers. One of his older ancestors, Gerardus Beekman, was one of the first colonial governors of the Province of New York.
While we’ve already listed a few examples, things appear to be much the same in Great Britain. Simon Cowell, best known as the acerbic judge of shows like American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, had a mother who was, to use Wikipedia’s term, a “socialite.” His father was a music industry executive. Actress Helena Bonham Carter’s father was a merchant banker, her mother a psychotherapist, and her great-grandfather was Prime Minister Herbert H. Asquith. In the words of the internet movie database, “…her blue-blooded family tree also contains barons and baronesses, diplomats, and a director, Anthony Asquith, who made Pygmalion and The Importance of Being Earnest, among others.” Mick Jagger supposedly grew up in a “middle class” family, but he studied at the London School of Economics, one of the breeding grounds for new members of the elite, and an odd place to find a future rock star. Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, who went on to marry one of the world’s most famous soccer players, was “embarrassed by her family’s wealth,” to quote Wikipedia, and begged her father not to drop her off at school in their Rolls-Royce. Author Salman Rushdie’s father was a Cambridge-educated lawyer. Writer Christopher Hitchens’ father was a Naval officer, and he studied at Oxford, as did his brother, fellow writer Peter Hitchens. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour’s father was the editor of the London Evening Standard, her mother had a father who was a Harvard professor, and her great-great-great grandmother was novelist Lady Elizabeth Foster, Duchess of Devonshire. Kirstie Mary Allsopp, a British “television presenter,” had a father who was a Baron and a former chairman of Christie’s, the renowned international auction firm. Another British journalist, Alastair Bruce, grew up on an estate and is a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce. Actor Eddie Redmayne is from a family of British bankers, according to VH1, and was classmates with Prince William at Eton. Alan Napier, best remembered for playing Alfred on the ’60s television version of Batman, was a cousin of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.Then there is Lady Victoria Hervey. You know someone comes from wealth when their name is prefaced with “Lady.” Hervey is a very American-style celebrity; she appears frequently on British television, and is a well-known model and party “it girl.” Hervey’s understanding of poverty was revealed when The Daily Telegraph quoted her comments on the homeless: “It’s so bad being homeless in winter. They should go somewhere warm like the Caribbean where they can eat fresh fish all day.”
All of these examples are not being cited to chide the specific individuals in question, or to bemoan their success. Many of them are extremely talented, and might very well have won any kind of competition on their own merits. I’m a huge fan of some of them. Creativity must normally be nurtured and supported, financially and emotionally, so it’s understandable perhaps that artistic people especially would tend to come from upper-class backgrounds. But it’s undeniable that starting out in life with a financially secure household, not to mention extremely wealthy and well connected parents, gives one a tremendous edge in the fight for success, and supports Barack Obama’s contention that they didn’t “build that” by themselves, and were the beneficiaries of good fortune.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, most people cling to visions of Lana Turner being discovered in her tight sweater at Schwab’s Drug Store, as the kind of fluky good break very few get in life. It is true that, unlike most actors of her generation (or any generation since), Turner came from genuinely humble origins. But they neglect to note the obvious; Turner, like most actresses, singers and journalists, was very good looking. Beauty is just about the only quality that can trump wealth, and thus we do see a number of apparent “rags to riches” stories involving females (and a much lesser number of males) who just happen to be exceptionally attractive physically. This is not merely to postulate a “casting couch” explanation, but recognizing a very simple, time honored truth, although writers like Daniel Hamermesh, in his book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, overthink the proposition.
The establishment, which of course consists exclusively of successful people, recoils at any notion that “luck” has anything to do with where one winds up in life. In his book, Skinny on Success, Jim Randel claims to have determined that 99% of the 1000 entrepreneurs, actors, musicians and other noteworthy figures he investigated didn’t get a single break, even if they themselves acknowledged it. Forbes magazine, in a story promoting this terribly misleading book, declared, “…the truth is big breaks just don’t happen, People make them happen, through hard work, networking, courage, passion and pain. As for lasting success, it has a lot less to do with singular, transcendent moments than it does with incremental progress and unflagging grit.” I hope that this chapter alone thoroughly exposes just how untrue this contention is. Reading these kinds of declarative statements, which try so desperately to convince the unwashed masses that those who’ve “made it” deserved to, and in effect did so because they simply out-hustled and outworked the rest of us, it’s easy to understand why Obama’s “you didn’t built that” elicited so much hostility from Forbes and other pillars of the status quo.
I’ve only scratched the surface here. In searching through the backgrounds of many celebrities and successful figures in other industries, past and present, there have been very few I’ve found that didn’t come from at least stable, upper middle class families. I had to pick and choose, to edit this chapter significantly so that it didn’t become the primary thesis of the book. I also left out almost all the connections within the same field; it’s perfectly reasonable for the sons of politicians to enter politics, or singers to have children entering the world of music, actors begetting actors, etc. I’ve included essentially just the most notable examples, who were clearly aided by the circumstances of their birth in “building” their success.
Certainly, there are numerous examples of people rising from the lower class to positions of prominence, but these are exceptional cases when one factors out the worlds of sports and (to a lesser degree), entertainment. However you look at it, we are far, far removed from the kind of meritocracy Thomas Jefferson dreamed of.
We’ve all heard the saying, “nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. I would add a third inevitable item to this list: poverty. Lyndon B. Johnson waged a phony war on it, and liberals have raged against it for ages. And still it remains. Poverty is inexorably tied to human greed, and as long as one exists, so will the other.
In the Middle Ages, the poor were labeled peasants. Being a peasant under the harsh realities of feudalism must have really, really sucked. While the lords got the best of everything, peasants swore an oath on the Bible to not only their lords, but the dukes, earls and barons who owned those lords’ properties.
The peasants were also called serfs, clearly differentiated from their superiors, who were also referred to as nobles. The nobility had a great deal- the serfs performed all the physical labor, while they reaped the rewards of that labor. The peasants still had to pay not only rent for a tiny share of land to live on, but a special tax called a tithe which went to the all-powerful Church. This 10% tithe still has an enduring popularity in the world of Christian fundamentalism, which falsely claims it is mandated somewhere in the Bible. It isn’t. The Church collected so much “tithe tax” (peasants often had to pay in produce, since they had little cash), that some of the massive barns they built to store it can still be seen today.
Some of the most unfortunate souls in past times were forced to stay up all night and beat the lily pads outside the castles of royalty, to drown out the croaking frogs that might otherwise keep those kings, queens, princes and princesses awake. The poor in Elizabethan England didn’t share in even a Reagan-style trickling down of the wealth from such legendary figures as Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Sir Francis Drake or Sir Walter Raleigh. Before the Reformation, the extensive monastery system in England would assist the poor, but this was not available in the later part of Tudor England.
Charles Dickens and other reformers attempted to illuminate the awful conditions of the poor in Victorian England. The East End of London was more abysmal and dangerous than any modern American ghetto. A large percentage of females of all ages were forced to resort to the world’s oldest occupation in order to eke out what passed for an existence. Homelessness was so rampant that doss houses- pathetic group dwellings which sold a filthy cot or even a spot on the floor for the night, littered the East End’s landscape.
In nineteenth century America, as in much of Europe, there was at least a partial sense of responsibility for the poor, that was reflected in state poor laws, which mandated that towns take care of their own poorest residents. By the 1870s, the term “tramp” had become familiar to all; describing poor, rootless men who traveled by foot or illegally rode the railroads in an effort to find work. Some families were so strapped for food they sent their children out to scavenge through garbage, in a precursor to today’s dumpster divers.
Outright slavery, indentured servitude, sharecropping, squatting, unpaid interns, illegal immigrants- the desire on the part of those with money has always been to get the cheapest labor possible. I sincerely believe that the One Percent personally wants to bring back slavery. Illegal immigrant labor is about as close as they can come at this point. Around the world today, there are actually still some 30 million slaves. 10 million are in India alone, which provides so many of those H1-b visa workers, who are bringing down wages in IT in the same manner illegals helped to bring down the wages of those on the bottom rung of the employment ladder.
The longest war in human history is still being waged. The rich have always waged war upon the rest of us, especially the poor. Class warfare isn’t something that will suddenly happen if the wealthy actually have to share in all that “sacrifice” they keep demanding of everyone else. It’s been happening forever, and it’s really happening now.
When a minimum wage worker ends up paying more taxes than a billionaire (which has happened far too many times), that’s warfare. When a wealthy driver with a bad record pays less for insurance than a poor driver with a good record (which is common), that’s warfare. When a poor person who can’t keep up payments on a loan has their interest rate raised, making it even harder to pay, that’s warfare. When a poor person is caught with crack and gets a much harsher sentence than a wealthy person caught with powdered cocaine, that’s warfare.
When the CEO making $40 million in compensation cuts the remaining perks and benefits of his non-management workforce, that’s warfare. When a student who rolled up a huge loan debt that can only be repaid with a high-paying job, is offered only low-paying positions that never even used to require a degree, that’s warfare. When politicians demand that recipients of truly minimal government aid be required to work or volunteer, thereby cutting into any time they might have to actually look for a paid job, that’s warfare.
When companies hire interns and don’t pay them, often for extended periods of time, that’s warfare. When business owners lie about not being able to find workers when all statistics show there are far more job seekers than jobs, that’s warfare. When politicians look to slash bottom-tier social programs that grant modest benefits to very poor people, while supporting the building of stadiums for billionaire sports team owners at taxpayer expense, that’s warfare.
When anyone loses a job or a home because of the costs of a catastrophic illness, that’s warfare. When a homeless person is forced to “move along,” even though he has nowhere else to be, that’s warfare. When the price of a small apartment is beyond the means of the average worker, that’s warfare. When the cost of living continues to skyrocket in all areas, while companies increasingly refuse to give any pay raises to non-management personnel, that’s warfare.
When pensions are being eliminated, and aren’t even a possibility to average workers under the age of forty, that’s warfare. When debtors prisons are making a comeback, as they are, that’s warfare. When layoffs and outsourcing go hand in hand with incomprehensibly lavish executive pay, that’s warfare. When the minimum wage isn’t raised for years, and an increasing number of politicians actually want to abolish it, that’s warfare.
This subject is foremost in my mind now, with the upcoming July publication of my second nonfiction book, Survival of the Richest. I am about as anti-war as a person can be, but I’m going to the front lines on this one. We need more people to fight back, against the relentless onslaught of the One Percent, as it continues to do what it has always done.
Abraham Lincoln said, “The Lord must have loved the common people. He made so many of them.” This kind of aw shucks, disingenuous “pro” poor rhetoric, which seeks to persuade the poor that their awful financial circumstances is actually some kind of blessing, has always been popular with politicians. Religious types love to quote the Bible and remind us, “The poor you will always have among you.” This little gem is supposed to assuage our concern for the poor, just like the “you will hear of wars and rumors of war” quote is supposed to make us resigned to perpetual war.
There is nothing sacred, or spiritual, about being poor. With all the wealth at our disposal, it’s criminal that poverty still exists. I truly hope that my new book will be an effective weapon for our side in this eternal class warfare.
The establishment is finally acknowledging just how screwed up the Social Security system is. CNN and other mainstream outlets reported recently that for the first time in the history of the program, a married working couple who turned 65 in 2010, would on average receive less in benefits than what they paid into the system.
While a similar working couple, making an average income, would have received some $120,000 more in benefits than they paid, had they retired in 1990, the 2010 couple was set to get about $21,000 less than was taken from their paychecks over a lifetime worth of work. According to the same research, the problem is just going to grow more pronounced. A couple presently in their early forties can expect to pay more than $100,000 in payroll taxes than they will get back after retirement.
In the past, retirees could get as much as ten times what they paid into the Social Security and Medicare systems upon retiring. This was largely because payroll taxes were much lower during their working years. Even though payroll taxes have been increased over the past few decades, the simple fact is there are fewer workers to support the exploding number of Baby Boomer retirees. The system pays more out than it collects, and the so-called “trust fund” will be depleted by 2033.
The great “tax cutter” Ronald Reagan not only raised payroll taxes, he signed off on the odious proposal of the Greenspan Commission to start taxing Social Security benefits, beginning in 1984. The estimated windfall from this double taxation was supposed to go into the trust fund, but instead it was mixed into the general revenue, to finance endless no win wars and occupations of foreign lands, mindless foreign aid, still secret intelligence agency budgets and the like.
Payroll taxes, which are withheld from paychecks in order to finance Social Security and Medicare, are about as regressive as can be imagined. The Social Security part of the tax is only levied on the first $119,000 of income. If anyone can explain the logic in that, I’d like to hear it. Under this system, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and the rest of the One Percenters are taxed like someone making $119,000 annually. Few if any politicians advocate for all income being subject to Social Security taxes.
During his 1992 presidential campaign, Ross Perot kindly and gently suggested voluntary means testing for Social Security benefits. This suggestion was met with howls of protest, from the AARP and other lobbying groups. In reality, means testing must be part of any rational attempt to preserve Social Security for the majority of Americans who will truly need it. As Perot also explained, he certainly didn’t need it, but couldn’t even voluntarily turn it down.
In reality, retirement is fast becoming another privilege only the rich and upper middle class enjoy. An astounding 40% of Americans aged 55-64 have no formal savings in any retirement account. The number of employees with a traditional pension (the kind paid for by the employer, unlike 401Ks) was down to 31% by 2010. The median amount of retirement savings for those in that age bracket is just $14,500. Even those in that age group with formal retirement plans have an average of just $104,500.
The average balance in a 401K-type of retirement account for those in their late 50s to early 60s is a pitifully small $17,000. As in so many areas, we have regressed here to an embarrassing degree. By any measure, and by all statistics, Americans are far less prepared financially for retirement than they were in the 1980s or even the 1990s.
As I will go over in detail in my upcoming book Survival of the Richest, conventional pensions have been all but eliminated in corporate America. As recently as 1989, two thirds of Americans still had a pension through their employer. As of 2013, in contrast, a typical American couple only had $5,000 saved for retirement. Research from Boston College shows that the percentage of households who will fall short of being able to financially survive retirement has risen from 31% in the early 1980s to 52%.
Leftists continue to deny the giant elephant in the room that illegal immigration represents in terms of many issues, including Social Security. Since so many illegal immigrants are paid under the table, they obviously aren’t paying into the Social Security and Medicare systems. As the Washington Times and others reported last year, the IRS actually encourages illegal immigrants to steal Social Security numbers. According to these reports, some one million Americans have been victimized by this government sanctioned theft.
The Social Security Administration also issues millions of “non-work” Social Security numbers. Although these cards have “Not valid for employment” printed on them, their own audits have found that illegal immigrants use them widely. Those highly valued immigrant farm workers are not subject to withholding taxes, and neither are several other classes of visa workers. Even lawful immigrants have it better in many ways than those born in America. For instance, it’s not widely publicized that legal immigrants receive significantly more government benefits than the U.S.- born.
One of the countless advantages the wealthy have over the common riff-raff is a significantly higher life expectancy. Since Social Security pays benefits for as long as you live, obviously this tends to reward them even further, as they receive a benefit they don’t need for a longer period on average than the vast majority of retirees. Men with the highest 10% of incomes live an average of twelve years longer than those in the bottom 10% bracket, while the wealthiest women live ten years longer than their poorer peers.
More than 47,500 millionaires got Social Security benefits in 2010. 7.2% of beneficiaries reported a yearly income in excess of $100,000. The median beneficiary income for Social Security, meanwhile, is just $26,000 per year. 27% receive less than $15,000 annually. Since those at the bottom in terms of Social Security benefits almost certainly had no pension or savings to rely on, we can reasonably conclude that more than one-fourth of Social Security recipients are living in abject poverty.
Echoing Ross Perot, as he did so often during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump suggested his fellow One Percenters opt out of the system. “I have friends that are worth hundreds of millions and billions of dollars and get Social Security. They don’t even know the check comes in,” the loose cannon billionaire declared in 2015. Trump has declared that he will not support any cuts in Social Security, as the Paul Ryan-types of Republicans clearly desire. It remains to be seen what the president does on this issue, as well as so many others.
The math is very simple here. Unless means testing and taxation on all income is implemented, the Social Security system will eventually crash. There is an incomprehensible $107 trillion in “unfunded liabilities;” or the difference between promised benefits and anticipated revenues. According to the Cato Institute, that’s twice the world’s annual Gross National Product. With an exploding population of elderly Baby Boomers, who will rely even more upon Medicare, clearly that problematic program is doomed as well.
Then there is the Social Security Disability Fund. A favorite target of Ayn Rand- worshiping conservatives, SSDI has been teetering on the brink of insolvency for the past few years. With the frightening increase in both obesity-driven health problems, and mental illness-related issues (antidepressant medication, for example, increased an incredible 400% from 1988-2011), the definition of “disability” has been greatly expanded.
Before Social Security, nursing homes were a rarity in this country. Older family members were simply taken in by their children and grandchildren. The program was never designed to be a retirement program. With the disappearance of pensions for most workers, however, and the general lack of reverence for the elderly in America, Social Security has become an absolute necessity for most retirees. And besides, they’re simply getting the money back that they paid into the system.
The more financially stable Baby Boomers can look forward to becoming “snow birds,” and heading for the warm climes of Florida. Most Americans, however, aren’t that fortunate now, and far fewer will be that fortunate in the future. For them, along with the inevitable infirmaries of old age, will come a fearful financial impact.
As usual, I have no confidence in our political leaders to address this problem rationally. Their pensions are top-notch, and thus if Social Security is privatized or eliminated altogether, they will not be subject to any repercussions. What are possible solutions? I’ve advocated that any drastic changes to Social Security come with the option of a lump sum payout, with the entire amount paid into the system by workers being awarded to them. Actually, this would probably be an option many might take anyhow, in lieu of monthly payments.
To save Social Security, all income must be subject to taxation. This way, Bill Gates will contribute just a bit more than your local car mechanic. And there must be strict means testing. No One Percenter needs Social Security. But knowing our leaders, they’ll probably just raise the retirement age to 90.
Donald J. Trump not only is the most divisive political figure of my lifetime, he is also the most paradoxical. A billionaire populist is, after all, about as clear an oxymoron as can be found. Champions of the common people aren’t often born with silver spoons in their mouths. The upper crust is also normally a lot more articulate than Trump is.
The ouster of wild card General Mike Flynn is an ominous sign to those of us who are concerned about Trump being co-opted by the establishment that despises him. Flynn’s “crime” was evidently not telling the full truth to neocon Vice President Mike Pence, who more and more resembles Trump’s version of LBJ.
Flynn appears to want peace with Russia, something no one in the corrupt establishment wants. His son also just happens to be really awake politically. His on- target tweets about Pizzagate in particular seem to have fueled the real opposition to his father. In my view, Flynn was one of Trump’s few palatable choices so far for his cabinet. The two leading contenders, according to the dinosaur media, to replace him are Admiral Robert Harward, said to be chicken hawk extraordinaire Lindsay Graham’s top choice, and tainted insider David Petraeus.
Surrounded by neocon insiders like Reince Priebus and his assistant chief of staff Katie Walsh, who was a #nevertrumper and supposedly had the audacity to chew out Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner recently, it’s going to be difficult for Trump to get anything done that isn’t elite-approved. If Jeff Sessions can actually deport large numbers of illegal immigrants and remains strong on trade, then populists can hold their noses over his less than scintillating record on civil liberties.
While seemingly filling up the swamp with more alligators instead of draining it, Trump does continue to say things that no president has ever said. Watching his press conference today was surrealistic; I never thought I’d see a president treat the laughable mainstream reporters with the scorn and disrespect they so richly deserve. The more then keep trying to beat the drums for the “Russian hacking” scenario, the more their putrid approval ratings sink with the public. If Trump does nothing else, at least he has exposed these shills for the state for what they are.
I keep wondering at Trump’s naivete. Why would he continue to be loyal to chief of state Priebus (not to mention his assistant, Trump hater Katie Walsh), instead of replacing him with someone like Roger Stone? I can’t believe he hasn’t named Stone to any position. I thought maybe he’d reach out to conservative mavericks like Rand Paul or Pat Buchanan. Or even reach across the aisle to populist Democrats like Cynthia McKinney or Dennis Kucinich. Just this week, Kucinich launched a blistering attack on the intelligence community that is clearly trying to reignite the cold war, and came off sounding much more like a Trump supporter than many of those he has named to his cabinet.
I know personally that Cynthia McKinney would probably have taken the VP spot on Trump’s ticket. I actually suggested this to a high ranking official in Trump’s campaign, but it was quickly shot down without any further thought. Just imagine how revolutionary such a presidential ticket would have been. Instantly, the “racist” and “sexist” labels would have lost all their luster.
Trump has still been in office less than a month. Just getting America out of the odious Trans Pacific Partnership and signing the executive order banning foreign lobbying were revolutionary strikes against the corrupt establishment. If he launches a full audit of the Fed, rebuilds our embarrassing infrastructure, and actually allows Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to chair a commission that will undoubtedly expose the shameful links between autism and vaccines, then he will have done more good already than any president since John F. Kennedy.
Trump’s evident attempt to appease the neocon Republicans isn’t going to work. John McCainiac, Lindsay Graham and Paul Ryan continue to beat the drums for World War III. To his credit, Trump called them out on Twitter over this very issue. But he still continues to surround himself with too many insiders that appeal to these warmongering disciples of Ayn Rand. Trump has never been a conservative, and he isn’t playing a very believable one so far. His hot-button issues were all populist inspired, and he will be largely remembered by how true he remains to those pledges.
The hatred and vitriol directed at Donald Trump is unprecedented, and shows no signs of diminishing. Deluded filmmaker Michael Moore is now seriously proposing that Trump be removed from office and replaced with Hillary Clinton! The establishment “left” has been exposed as thoroughly as the mainstream media has. They are becoming more unhinged by the day, and don’t even attempt to formulate their never ceasing “protests” beyond calling Trump the same old tired names.
In fact, watching uncensored videos of these social justice warriors, one comes away with the inescapable impression that they cannot be reasoned with. As someone who read and was inspired by the great books The Myth of Mental Illness and The Manufacture of Madness, written by psychiatry’s greatest iconoclast Thomas Szasz, I always hesitate in calling someone crazy. However, after viewing far too many of these disturbing “protest” videos, I think it can be safely said that the most extreme of these social justice warriors are bat shit insane, if anyone is.
So Trump remains a paradox to me. One minute, he is lashing out courageously at the mainstream media and corrupt politicians in both parties. In the next, he seems to be listening to the advice of neocon advisers regarding more military intervention in far-flung lands. He needs to return constantly to the “America First” refrain that appealed to many of us. He teases us with comments about all the trillions we’ve wasted on senseless wars, but then seems to be gearing up for a battle with Iran.
It ought to be obvious to everyone by now just how entrenched the corruption at the top of our country is. Here we have a supremely flawed individual, who seems to be trying to reform just a few parts of the monumental mess in Washington, and he is being figuratively assassinated daily. If many in the government, big business and Hollywood get their way, this assassination is likely to become a literal one. Threats to assassinate Trump have become so common that they don’t even raise eyebrows at this point.
Half of this country is probably awake now, at least to some extent. And so we sit and watch our unlikely heroic One Percenter with the bad hairdo, to see if he becomes co- opted like everyone else, or if he actually battles the creatures in the swamp (including most of those in his cabinet), and succeeds in making this country just a little better.
The inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States ushered in a public polarization that has never been seen before in our history. The protests, and even cries for impeachment, are just as unprecedented. The “honeymoon” period every previous president enjoyed clearly does not apply to Donald Trump.
Trump has been an incredibly active chief executive thus far. A few of his Executive Orders have been outstanding; the one withdrawing the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership and the one banning officials from becoming lobbyists for foreign interests in particular. He vowed to launch a full-fledged investigation into voter fraud. And in his only really admirable appointment, he tapped Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to head a commission to investigate the links between vaccines and autism.
As always, Trump has said some awful things, too. He inexplicably sprang to Barack Obama’s defense and called Chelsea Manning an “ungrateful traitor” for criticizing the former president. He signed an Executive Order that senselessly eliminated a proposed cut in FHA insurance for lower income home owners. His appointments have too often been typical “conservative” types, presumably to appease a Republican establishment that still remains uneasy about him. It’s still unclear just what his replacement for Obamacare will entail, and if it will do anything to stop the dramatically rising cost of health care.
The hatred and vitriol directed at Trump is something no other public figure has ever experienced, outside of perhaps Adolph Hitler. India Knight, a “respectable” mainstream British journalist, tweeted out numerous anti-Trump comments, including “The assassination is taking such a long time.” Magnatone CEO Ted Kornblum wrote on Twitter, “Rest easy, people, it’ll only take 100 days till Trump gets a bullet in the head.” Madonna spoke of burning down the White House. Actress Ashley Judd inferred that Trump fantasizes about his own daughter. And a Saturday Night Live writer joked that ten year old Barron Trump was going to be America’s first home-school shooter. Another “comedy” show is in the works, in which the star will be an adult portraying young Barron.
This open discussion of assassinating a sitting president is something that would never have been tolerated in the past. I have noted before that I firmly believe a substantial portion of Americans would support the assassination of Trump. What passes for the “left” today has been exposed in all its glory in the post-election aftermath. The hysterical weeping, screaming, and threats of violence, on the part of the anti-Trump contingent, is embarrassing, and would be ridiculed by a sane society. If this election demonstrated anything, it demonstrated that we are not a sane society.
The anger and the hatred is ostensibly because the object of their scorn is a “hater,” a “racist,” a “sexist” and “intolerant” of others. Even if the most absurd charges against Trump were true, he could never hope to be as hateful and intolerant as these inflexible “protesters” are. What exactly are they protesting? Not even Hillary Clinton disputes the outcome of the election. They are exhibiting classic poor sportsmanship, and simply will not accept the fact their candidate lost. Just imagine how protesters against Barack Obama’s election would have been treated, in the media and by the police, if they’d been so aggressive and threatening in their behavior.
It’s difficult for me to imagine that the populist hero so many of us have longed for would turn out to be this egotistical billionaire turned reality television star. Trump certainly doesn’t look or sound the part. He still forms his sentences in a frustratingly inarticulate way, and takes to social media as recklessly as a twelve year old. His immature responses to so many of the countless attacks on him, especially from the entertainment world, don’t exactly seem statesman-like. It’s difficult to imagine a better example of not judging a book by its cover.
But Donald Trump is the first major party presidential candidate in my lifetime to talk about most of the forbidden topics, the ones that control the fortunes of every average citizen. He’s talked about auditing the Fed. He actually wants to place the interests of Americans first. He’s spoken the truth about the sorry state of our infrastructure. He’s condemned the Republican warmongers John McCainiac and Lindsay Graham for “always trying to start World War Three.”
Trump may be the first genuine “conspiracy theorist” to live in the White House. Laughably, the establishment has finally found a conspiracy theory of their own to promulgate, to explain his election. After decades of demands for peace and detente with the Soviet Union, even at the height of their domination over great parts of the world, they have charged that Vladimir Putin’s Russia somehow tipped the scales by “hacking” the 2016 presidential election. This word “hacking” just keeps being robotically chanted by Trump opponents, without any further thought. Exactly what did “the Russians” do to “hack” the election? This is truly one conspiracy theory that is utterly, completely ridiculous.
The court historians tend to love the most active, hands-on presidents. As I hope to show in Hidden History 2 down the road, the most powerful presidents have actually been the worst ones, because they invariably wielded that power against the great majority of the citizens. If he keeps all his campaign promises, Donald Trump could very well be the first aggressive president whose actions conflict with the desires of the elite leaders behind the scenes.
Even if he turns out to be just another garden-variety neocon, Donald Trump’s election has exposed the fraudulent nature of the mainstream media, and the hypocritical inflexibility of those who call themselves “liberals” today. Most Americans know where the “fake news” is coming from. No alternative outlet could hope to compete with the nonsense CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and every other mainstream organ peddles on a regular basis.
I believe that, if Donald Trump had a different personality, he would not be so despised by so many. He simply is what he is; a vain, often juvenile seventy year old man who is thoroughly used to getting his way. He doesn’t have a lot of tact, and can’t seem to filter his views for public consumption. For many people, that kind of honesty is refreshing in a politician. His most attractive trait remains the incomprehensible amount of hatred he elicits from every pillar of the establishment.
After only a few weeks at the helm, it’s been a mixed bag, but I’m still generally impressed with Trump. Even if most of his appointments don’t seem to be outsiders, those inside the swamp are howling at him louder than ever. Only time will tell if he goes the way of Richard Nixon or the way of Huey Long.
The “progressive” label is affixed to public figures just as dishonestly as “liberal” is. Truly progressive thinking is obviously a good thing. But as used by the establishment, the label instead indicates the kind of narrow-minded authoritarianism most modern “liberals” are renowned for.
The easiest way to distinguish a true progressive or a true liberal from a fake one is to study their views on war and peace. The court historians tell us that Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were the ultimate “good guys,” deeply concerned for their fellow human beings and only driven to war by despicable foes.
Study the actual historical record, not the widely publicized propaganda pieces written by well-publicized establishment historians. Wilson obeyed his masters and steered America into a disastrous foreign conflict that changed the world forever, in a very bad way. As a true progressive, General Smedley Butler described it, “war is a racket.” Butler detailed the incredible fortunes that were made just from “the war to end all wars.”
Franklin Roosevelt did everything in his power behind the scenes to move America into Europe’s new conflict, and succeeded when Japan launched a “sneak” attack on Pearl Harbor. But anyone who even suggests that FDR had prior knowledge of the attack risks the kind of scorn the mainstream media and court historians direct to those who question the divinity of the establishment’s secular saint, “Honest” Abe Lincoln.
Looking at establishment “progressives” today, the one thing that distinguishes them from actual progressives or populists is their persistent support for any and every war the United States involves itself in. Virtually any Democratic party nominee since LBJ fits this profile perfectly. They bought into the Gulf “war,” and every subsequent excursion into the middle east. Even more laughably, they support this undefinable “war on terror,” and the restrictions of civil liberties that go along with it.
Genuine populists like William Jennings Bryan, Robert LaFollette and Huey Long are generally ignored by the court historians. If Bryan is mentioned, it’s to inaccurately ridicule him as a Bible-thumping clown who made a fool of himself at the Scopes trial. He isn’t associated with “peace,” despite resigning in protest from Wilson’s cabinet over American involvement in WWI. Long, of course, is labeled a “demagogue” and accused of corruption, based exclusively on second-hand accounts of a “deduct box.”
It is hard for those who are not fully awake to understand the differences between a Howard Dean and a Dennis Kucinich, for instance. It’s the same kind of difference that existed in the 1968 campaign, regarding a Hubert Humphrey and a Robert F. Kennedy. The Democratic Party has always stayed away from any true populist presidential candidates. They had a great populist in Congress, James Trafficant, and railroaded him into prison on truly absurd criminal charges.
Donald Trump is not my idea of a populist. But he has taken stances on vital issues that border on the subversive, in the eyes of our corrupt establishment. His boldest move, and one of the boldest nominations any president has made in modern times, was tapping Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to head a commission studying the impact of vaccines. This was a revolutionary middle finger to the state; not only has RFK, Jr. been vocal about the connection between vaccines and autism, he is a Kennedy. He’s the son of JFK’s brother, Attorney General and right-hand man. The establishment doesn’t want him near any lever of power.
Establishment “progressives” like FDR, Harry Truman, LBJ, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama delivered speeches about alleviating poverty. Their rhetoric has never come close to matching their record. Huey Long (an entire chapter will be devoted to the Kingfish in my upcoming book Survival of the Richest) actually made the lives of the poor in Louisiana demonstrably better. If Americans had elected RFK in 1968, or Cynthia McKinney or Dennis Kucinich in more recent years, they would almost certainly have taken real, direct action against poverty.
“Liberal” Bill Clinton’s push for mandatory sentencing and “three strikes you’re out” policies didn’t help the poor. On the contrary, it resulted in far more poor people doing to prison, for much longer sentences, than ever before. “Liberal” Barack Obama’s “affordable” health care act provided free health care to no one, except perhaps for illegal immigrants, which is probably a fitting epitaph for his administration. Real populists recognize that our healthcare system is beyond repair in its present state, and advocate for a single-payer system. They certainly wouldn’t support Obamacare’s mandate that forces everyone to purchase insurance or face exorbitant penalties.
The establishment Left, like the establishment Right, supports every horrific measure proposed, from NAFTA to TPP to corporate welfare, which creates the sinful disparity of wealth we see in America, and around the world today. It’s impossible to effectively solve this problem without focusing on where all the money is going, which I do in Survival of the Richest. Just during the course of writing that book, the already incomprehensible statistic that the 80 richest individuals in the world have more wealth than half of the world’s population, fell further to 62 individuals.
Unless America wants to become a card-carrying member of the Third World brigade, we absolutely have to narrow the unprecedented gap between the haves and the have nots. We not only have to deal with outsourcing, immigration and foreign visa workers; mass automation will eliminate an untold number of jobs as well. Increasingly, I am thinking that some kind of guaranteed income is the only viable solution here, but I don’t expect that idea to fly in this country, until we experience a total collapse and are fighting in the streets over food.
Where is any “progressive” leader in America, calling for a guaranteed annual income? It’s doubtful our always inept leaders have any idea of how to deal with the birth of automation, much as they never dealt intelligently with immigration, trade, healthcare, foreign policy, or any other critical issue. Their approach to the inevitable Social Security crisis is to keep raising the retirement age, which perfectly reflects the short-sided perspective that has all but destroyed this nation.
We need a new generation of populists like Huey Long and William Jennings Bryan. There is no real alternative when the establishment “left” is just as hawkish on war and disinterested in civil liberties as the establishment “right.” This is again why Donald Trump has incurred the wrath of the entire establishment. He isn’t a Reagan opposing “liberalism.” He has ranted specifically against “globalism.” Virtually every major political figure of the past fifty years has been a die-hard globalist. This is why they agreed not to disagree on foreign policy, to make it “bipartisan.” In other words, to never speak out against the continuous wars.
Huey Long’s “Share the Wealth” society attracted millions of members. As I hope to show in my book, he was assassinated by powerful forces because of the tremendous threat he represented. Despite all the talk about eradicating poverty in the decades that followed, including LBJ’s ridiculous “war” on it, which was just as unsuccessful as Reagan’s “war” on drugs, not a single politician ever thought to pick up Huey Long’s mantle, and demand redistribution of the wealth. Not even a true demagogue, exploiting the poor for his own purposes, appeared on the scene. Even Long’s own son, Russell, never made it an issue in all his years in the U.S. Senate.
Our corrupt establishment needs a substantial underclass as much as it needs perpetual war, in order to maintain its illegitimate power. Even a few populist stances, such as Trump has taken, threaten this criminal state to its core. Take away the massive illegal immigration and awful trade deals, and a crucial plank of globalism is destroyed. Merely rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure is Populism 101, because it represents an expenditure that directly benefits all the people, not just the plutocratic elite.
Establishment “progressives” appear to define “progress” as a draconian Banana Republic-type of world, where austerity and authoritarianism reign together. Huey Long spoke of sharing the blessings with everyone, while “progressives” today advise “sacrifice” and dramatically lowered expectations and standards of living. The “new normal” is an ever widening disparity in wealth, no pay raises, benefits or retirement for the great mass of workers, and the death of both empathy and idealism.
John F. Kennedy’s idealistic speeches would be appreciated by very few in our cynical modern world. Establishment “progressives” appear to be restricting their idealism to increasing the number of transgender bathrooms. No one talks of the simple solution Huey Long advocated; to take from those who have too much and give to those who have too little. The legend of Robin Hood resounded with the public for a good reason; most people recognized that he was a hero, not a villain.
No honest system permits such a concentration of wealth as we see today. Survival of the Richest will examine this dishonest system in depth. It is indeed rigged against the common people, and in favor of the wealthy. No one honestly “earns” billions. As the great socialist Eugene Debs put it a century ago: “I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.”
To paraphrase what was once said about slavery; if this kind of distribution of wealth isn’t wrong, then nothing is wrong. If only we had some true progressives, some high profile populists, to point the obvious out to the people.
Ross Perot warned Americans, during his 1992 presidential campaign, that if present trends continued, we were about to become the first generation whose children have a lower standard of living than their predecessors. His prediction has come true in spades.
Reports surfaced in mid-2016 that, for the first time in 130 years, more young people aged 18-34 lived with their parents than in any other living arrangement. In 1960, 62% of that demographic lived with a spouse or romantic partner, but by 2014 the number had dipped to 31.6%, as opposed to 32.1% residing with their parents. In 1960, 84% of young males were employed. By 2014, only 71% were.
These are alarming but predictable statistics. The cost of housing, combined with a bleak employment market, made this situation inevitable. One of the primary reasons home-ownership in America is at a 26 year low of 64% is the undeniable fact that Millennials simply can’t afford to buy real estate. Home ownership rates for those aged 18-34 fell 7.3% from 2005 to 2015. In a recent survey, 80% of Millennials reported that it was hard for them to find affordable housing.
For those Millennials that are lucky enough to have a full-time job, upward mobility is difficult. One ugly aspect of the “new normal” was reflected in a recent Bloomberg headline: “Say Goodbye to the Annual Pay Raise.” The fortunate souls in the Top 20 percent of wage earners are given bonuses and other perks that the mass of employees can only dream about. All of these mind-boggling disparities will be discussed in depth in my upcoming book Survival of the Richest.
The traditional pension is going the way of the annual pay raise as well. As another recent article stated, “Will the Youngest Ever Get to Retire?” We’re all familiar with the impossible financial logistics involved in Social Security. As huge numbers of Baby Boomers begin collecting their benefits, the system will become more overdrawn than ever. As usual, our clueless leaders can only push “solutions” like raising the retirement age again. No one seems to want means-testing, or taxing all income, not just the first $119,000 as under the present regressive system.
We know from polls released last year that some 62% of Americans have less than $1000 in savings. In a less reported poll, it was discovered that Americans under 35 have a collective savings rate of negative 2%. With only a slight possibility of a 401K plan (which they largely fund themselves), no yearly raises and no traditional pension, how can Millennials ever hope to advance in life? Like most Americans, they aren’t being paid enough to save anything. Without savings, not only are inevitable emergency expenses problematic, but home ownership is a virtual impossibility.
Millennials on average are 29% less likely to buy a car than those in Gen X. The average cost of an engagement ring these days is nearly $5,000. The average wedding costs $26,645. This is just part of the reason why marriage rates in America hit a record low in 2015. Based on current trends, about one fourth of all Millennials will forego marriage. Just from 2008-2015, the marriage rate for young women with only a high school diploma or less dropped 13%. Meanwhile, the marriage rate for young women with a college degree rose 6% over the same time period. I think we’re confronting financial reality here more than a massive cultural shift.
While the disparity of income and wealth in America continues to grow, this gap is especially noticeable among Millennials. While so many of these younger Americans are unemployed or underemployed, one third of those who make over $500,000 a year are Millennials. That is startling, considering that 90% of Millennials make less than $60,000 annually. While many Google employees start at six figures and get free organic meals, free haircuts, nap pods and other incredible amenities, numerous Millennial peers are filling out vague psychological questionnaires online just to be considered for an $8 hourly retail job.
Student debt has overtaken credit card debt in America. Young people are paying exorbitant tuition fees and not receiving their money’s worth. The job market has changed dramatically in the past twenty five years or so. Many of the jobs that used to require only a high school degree now demand at least a Bachelor’s. Not only this, but they pay less than they used to. And, of course, the benefits have been slashed across the board for working-class people.
As I will detail in my book, the poorer you are, the more you pay for nearly everything. If you fall behind on your credit card payments, your interest rate goes up. Your credit score will impact your ability to get a job, and if it’s too low, you’ll pay more for things like insurance. If you’re rich enough, you get incomprehensible amounts of corporate welfare, from lucrative contracts and tax breaks, to valuable swag bags for celebrities. The average celebrity gets $100,000 in free stuff every year.
We all should want our children to do better than us. Too many of my fellow Baby Boomers have faulty memories, and ascribe to the popular mantra that they worked especially hard, walked fifteen miles to school every day, etc. I was there. We had it easy compared to the situation most Millennials must deal with today. A college degree was worth something then. Yearly raises were a reality for nearly all workers. And it was much easier to earn promotions and move onto other jobs than it is now.
Society responds to any valid complaints by Millennials by calling them “Snowflakes,” and joking about them “living in their parents’ basement.” The selfishness and greed on the part of too many old people now is uglier than it has ever been. I know Baby Boomers who’ve written their adult children off for no good reason, for making the same kinds of mistakes our generation made. They’ve disowned them, and appear to have forgotten all the illicit sex they engaged in, and all the rampant drug and booze- fueled parties they regularly attended in the 1970s and 1980s.
It’s sobering to think of what the generation after the Millennials- their children- will face. Unless Donald Trump can stop the approaching tidal wave of draconian austerity, they will be full-fledged citizens of a Third World nation that resembles the historical United States little more than a colony on Mars would.
Ralph Waldo Emerson offered this timeless gem: “To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived- that is to have succeeded.” In his greatest speech, John F. Kennedy said “we all cherish our children’s futures.” Does it really seem at this point in time that older Americans are concerned with making anyone breathe easier, or that all of them cherish their children’s futures?
If older Americans truly cared about the world they are leaving to their children, their grandchildren and future generations beyond that, then they’d be enacting policies that reflected that concern. They’d educate themselves on the current job market, the relative worthlessness of many college degrees, the limited path to upward mobility, and start showing some empathy for the younger generation. None of them would bark, “You’re out the door when you turn eighteen” or similar remarks.
I used to worry about how I’d react to having an empty nest. I don’t think about that very often now, because fewer empty nests are a part of the “new normal” world we’ve created. My generation grew up spoiled, in an unusual era where jobs were plentiful and opportunities were greater. America is morphing into a Waltons-style system of living, wherein 3 or even 4 generations living together under one roof is becoming more commonplace. Families being driven closer through financial necessity is perhaps the only bright spot in this “new normal” set of circumstances.
As far back as 1999, the head of the Australian Human Rights Commission called Baby Boomers “the most selfish generation in history.” Polls show that while Baby Boomers label themselves responsible and self-sufficient, Millennials have negative self-images and feel pressured by expectations that are becoming increasingly hard to meet. In a word, our children by and large consider themselves failures. Not only have autism-spectrum diagnoses soared among Millennials, a full quarter of them struggle with mental illness.
Successful Baby Boomers swear by the essentials that brought them their secure standard of living, and especially place great value on a college education. Mention the “college conspiracy” or crushing student loan debt to them, and you’ll get the kind of vacant look most human beings have always been known for. They’ll brag about working in a restaurant or at construction when they were young, and bemoan how little they were paid, without the least bit of knowledge of the present employment market. They act, much as their own parents did, as if the world hasn’t changed dramatically in the last fifty years.
I’m impressed by how insightful so many Millennials are. They question everything, as young people should. But unlike previous generations, I don’t think most of them will outgrow this intellectual curiosity. In the past, when people attained a level of financial security, they stopped questioning the system that granted it to them. The undeniable reality is that, for an alarming number of Millennials, they will continue to see themselves as existing outside a system where opportunities are shrinking daily.
If “Snowflakes” are not maturing into adults, accepting responsibility and paying their fair share of taxes, it’s largely because our collapsing economy has forced them into their parents’ basements. If they spend inordinate amounts of time playing video games or smoking dope, can we blame them? They understand how bleak the future is for them. What else would we expect them to be, other than perpetual adolescents?
Love your children. If you treat them the way you should, maybe they’ll take care of you in your old age, instead of dumping you into one of our odious nursing homes. Take the time to learn about our present economic reality. Most of the hard-nosed Baby Boomers are completely unfamiliar with the “new normal” in even applying for a job. They are anxiously looking forward to a leisurely retirement, and their attitude appears to be that the “Snowflakes” are lazy and entitled.
Our leaders love to advise us to “think of the children.” Is life about dying with the most toys, or leaving the world a better place for our descendants?