I hope you're enjoying the new parade of bad behavior by the super-rich. There's certainly been plenty of it from the "We can do whatever we want at any time, and to hell with you if you don't like it" crowd. Here are some examples, both local and national, that show what I mean.
We saw JPMorgan Chase CEO James Dimon announce a loss of at least $2 billion from irresponsible, risky trades. Pundits and politicians, sensing another disaster in the making, wailed, "They're at it again!" Dimon's main concern, though, was that the feds would react by passing financial regulations that might stop investment banks from using the economy as their personal casino and, you know, tanking the damn thing once and for all.
Next up was billionaire Eduardo Saverin, one of the founders of Facebook, who renounced his U.S. citizenship (he retains his Brazilian citizenship) in order to avoid taxes on his multiple billions of dollars. Saverin's move sparked widespread disgust among what I like to call "normal people." But it also sparked disturbing reactions like the Forbes magazine column titled, "For De-Friending The U.S., Facebook's Eduardo Saverin Is An American Hero."
That article should be enshrined in a history museum somewhere, framed and flaunted as the moment when it became official that the United States' super-rich and their apologists had slipped off the rails and entered Sociopath Land. At the very least, they have completely lost touch with a fundamental underpinning of any organized society — the commonweal, or a concern for the common good.
The common good isn't a popular concept these days in D.C., particularly among members of the Tea Party-cowed GOP, whose legislative guru Rep. Paul Ryan proposed a budget in late March that would practically dissolve what little social safety net this country provides, pump up the war machine and, of course, give massive tax breaks to the wealthiest one-hundredth of one percent of Americans. When Obama stated the obvious, calling Ryan's budget "social Darwinism," he was roundly rebuked by today's nasty-edged purveyors of what used to be called conservatism.
Locally, we learned from the Observer's superbly reported series on hospitals that Carolinas Healthcare System has a split personality: First-rate, caring treatment of patients on one side, and policies that make financially strapped former patients' lives miserable (while the hospitals sit on billions in reserves, and pay their execs millions) on the other side. Those revelations are on top of the continual local whining by Ballantyners who hate paying for lesser folks' roads and schools so much, they want to secede from the city. Meanwhile, real-estate fat-cat Richard Pittenger is shamelessly wielding his personal money hammer to try to buy a seat in Congress. And don't forget Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan's infamous complaint that he was "incensed" about criticisms of BofA, which more than earned its status as America's most hated corporation. All of these actions derive from a firm belief, popularized in the Reagan era, in the supremacy of money over ethics, never mind the common good.
The Observer's hospital series came to life recently during a visit to a friend's house. My friend, L., is a freelance graphic artist, whose finances had already been hurt by the bad economy when she suddenly required major surgery last August. L. pays through the nose for health insurance, which after the hefty deductible was paid, covered about two-thirds of the cost of her surgery. Her lengthier-than-expected recovery further worsened her financial predicament. The day I visited her at home, the phone rang seven times in the first hour. Five of those calls were from bill collectors who, like Carolinas Healthcare System before them, wanted L. to pull thousands of dollars out of thin air.
"That happens about four times a day," she said of the calls. "I told CHS I would definitely pay them, but I didn't know when I'd be able to do it. That wasn't good enough, so the calls started pretty soon after the surgery. I really can't pay them squat right now, and they won't take that answer. It's weird to be treated like a queen by doctors and hospital staff and then come home to this. They hassle me every day, and they could very try well to get a lien on my house ... they're just acting like swine. ... it's like all their money couldn't buy them a little decency."
Of course, L. just doesn't understand that the moneybags who run CHS, as a healthcare industry honcho wrote, have a responsibility to sue former patients in order to "maintain a sustainable business structure." Sigh.
"A little decency." Hmmph. What kind of country does L. think we're living in?