Monthly Archives: May 2017
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.