American Corporate Executives Cash In as Austerity arrives for the Rest

By ANDRE DAMON | WSW | MARCH 22, 2013

As the US government prepares to furlough 1 million federal workers and slash hundreds of billions in social spending, corporate executives in the United States are receiving among the highest payouts in history. USA Today reported Thursday that at least ten CEOs took in $50 million apiece in 2012, largely as a result of cashing in stocks that have soared in value with the rising market. According to the newspaper, “Early 2013 proxy filings detailing 2012 compensation show a growing number of CEOs reaping $50 million or more, gains that could prove unmatched in breadth and size since the Internet IPO craze enriched tech company executives more than a decade ago.”

In its own analysis, the Wall Street Journal observed that executive pay has become ever more directly tied to stock values, noting that last year, more than half of compensation at major companies was tied to “stock or financial performance,” compared to 35 percent in 2009.

Among the top pay packages according to preliminary calculation is that of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, which included stock options valued at $103.3 million this year, on top of $30 million in other compensation and stock, as well as $10.2 million in vested shares, according to USA Today.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally likewise took home $61 million by cashing in shares that vested last year, added to his compensation of $21 million. This payout was based on a sharp rise in the company’s profitability that has been made possible by downsizing and the slashing of wages for newly hired workers to $15 per hour. Mulally’s pay is more than 2,500 times that of a new auto worker.

Apple’s Tim Cook got $139.7 million from restricted shares that vested last year, while Oracle CEO Larry Ellison was granted $90 million in stock.

These payouts are only a sampling of the huge sums that the ruling class is handing itself. The stock market, inflated through $85 billion a month handed to the banks by the US Federal Reserve, is the central transmission belt for this enrichment.

The engorgement of the ruling class has been facilitated by the actions of the state, and in particular the Obama administration. After the financial collapse of 2008, facing widespread public outrage at executive compensation, the administration explicitly opposed any constraints on pay. “We don’t disparage wealth,” Obama said repeatedly. Proposals for CEO pay centered on encouraging companies to tie this pay more directly to “performance”—i.e., share values.

Even while the corporate CEOs and other members of the financial oligarchy rake in astronomical payouts, the constant refrain from the media and big business parties is that there is no money to pay for social spending, and that health care and retirement programs must be cut and workers’ incomes slashed.

Next month, as a result of $85 billion in “sequester” spending cuts, over 1 million federal government employees will begin scheduled furloughs, resulting in effective pay cuts of 20 to 35 percent. These furloughs come together with tens of billions in cuts to public education, anti-poverty programs, and unemployment insurance.

With both Democrats and Republicans acknowledging that the cuts will be permanent, the turn now is toward working out an agreement to slash hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The ultimate aim of the ruling elite is to dismantle everything that remains of the social safety net, plunging the working class into Dickensian poverty and social misery.

The argument that there is no money to pay for these programs is rendered absurd by the vast amounts of cash being handed out to executives or simply sitting around on corporate balance sheets. In 2012, the amount of cash held by US non-financial corporations rose by 10 percent, to $1.45 trillion, according to Moody’s. This figure is enough to pay for the sequester cuts 17 times over.

In fact, Apple, whose cash hoard rose to $137 billion, could itself pay for this year’s sequester cuts, with $50 billion to spare.

Loaded with cash and unwilling to invest, corporations have dramatically increased dividend payments to investors. The New York Times reported earlier this month that S&P 500 companies are expected to hand investors $300 billion in dividends this year, an increase over last year’s payout of $282 billion. American corporations bought back $117.8 billion in their own stock last month, the highest total on records going back to 1985.

The relationship of the American ruling class to the rest of society is a fundamentally parasitic one. Over the course of three decades, under conditions of economic decline, stock market speculation, rather than production, has become the central mechanism of wealth accumulation.

The 2008 crisis, far from reversing this process, has strengthened it. The ruling elite seized on the crisis to escalate the transfer of wealth. The soaring CEO pay and investor payouts on one hand, and vast social misery on the other, are in reality two sides of the same process.

The American ruling class proceeds with an almost shameless disregard for the consequences of its own actions. Amidst mass poverty and unemployment, as it dictates the most brutal austerity measures all around the world, the financial aristocracy engages in an uncontrollable orgy, propelled by its own social being.

Such actions, however, do not go unnoticed. They are producing within the United States an immense wellspring of social opposition that will take the form of working class struggle.

Two Million British Strike over Pension Fund Looting

AFP
November 30, 2011

Up to two million public sector workers in Britain went on strike Wednesday over changes to their pensions, after the governmentresponded to slashed growth forecasts with fresh spending cuts.

In what unions said was the biggest walkout in decades, thousands of schools were shut, hospitals operated with minimum staffing levels and local authorities were paralysed.

Thousands of workers marched through central London and Manchester, northwest England, during the 24-hour strike.

However, fears of long delays at London’s Heathrow airport, one of the world’s busiest air passenger hubs, failed to materialise as most immigration officials turned up for work.

Ferry ports and cross-Channel rail services linking Britain to continental Europe, also operated largely as normal.

The strike is the biggest test so far of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, which sparked the unions’ fury by making public sector workers pay more into their pensions and work longer.

Anger rose further on Tuesday when finance minister George Osborne targeted the pay of teachers, nurses and soldiers and revealed plans to cut an extra 300,000 public sector jobs as he sharply reduced Britain’s growth forecasts.

Osborne infuriated the unions by announcing a new two-year, one-percent cap on public sector pay rises.

Cameron was scathing about the strike, telling parliament it had been a “damp squib” and lambasting unions for calling the action while negotiations on pensions were ongoing.

The prime minister insisted that reforms to public sector pensions were “absolutely essential”, and accused Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, of being “irresponsible, left-wing and weak” for refusing to condemn the strike.

The Unison union said two million workers had taken part in the stoppages, and claimed they had wider support.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the government had put the public sector “under attack” and the strike was fully justified.

“There comes a time when people really have to stand up and make a stand,” he told ITV television.

“With the scale of change the government are trying to force through, making people work much, much longer and get much, much less, that’s the call people have made.”

In Salford, northwest England, around 30 refuse collectors manning a picket line outside their depot dismissed claims that their pensions were “gold-plated” compared to those in the private sector.

Neil Clarke, a union organiser with Unite, said: “The government is attacking our pension schemes — they are looking for public sector workers to contribute more, work longer and receive less in pension benefits.

“The average public sector pension comes in at £3,000 ($4,650, 3,500 euros) a year. Could you live on £3,000 a year?”

BAA, the operator of Heathrow Airport, said queues at border control points were “normal”, despite prior warnings that delays of up to three hours were likely.

“Due to the effective contingency plans we put in place with airlines and the UK Border Agency, immigration queues are currently running at normal levels for Heathrow,” said BAA chief executive Colin Matthews.

A giant union rally took place in Birmingham, Britain’s second city, and unions said 300,000 workers downed tools in Scotland.

British diplomats abroad were also involved in the strike, with the United Nations, Washington, Paris and all major capitals affected.

Under the government’s proposals — which form part of its efforts to slash the budget deficit — public sector workers will have to work until they are 66 and increase the amount they pay into their pensions.

But staff face a lower pension payout, which will be based on their average salary as opposed to the final salary schemes to which they are currently tied.

Spending Cuts? What Cuts? Oh, Phantom Cuts!

by Rep. Ron Paul
August 1, 2011

One might think that the recent drama over the debt ceiling involves one side wanting to increase or maintain spending with the other side wanting to drastically cut spending, but that is far from the truth.  In spite of the rhetoric being thrown around, the real debate is over how much government spending will increase.

U.S. Representative and 2012 Presidential Candidate, Ron Paul

No plan under serious consideration cuts spending in the way you and I think about it.  Instead, the “cuts” being discussed are illusory, and are not cuts from current amounts being spent, but cuts in projected spending increases.  This is akin to a family “saving” $100,000 in expenses by deciding not to buy a Lamborghini, and instead getting a fully loaded Mercedes, when really their budget dictates that they need to stick with their perfectly serviceable Honda.  But this is the type of math Washington uses to mask the incriminating truth about their unrepentant plundering of the American people.

The truth is that frightening rhetoric about default and full faith and credit of the United States is being carelessly thrown around to ram through a bigger budget than ever, in spite of stagnant revenues.  If your family’s income did not change year over year, would it be wise financial management to accelerate spending so you would feel richer?  That is what our government is doing, with one side merely suggesting a different list of purchases than the other.

In reality, bringing our fiscal house into order is not that complicated or excruciatingly painful at all.  If we simply kept spending at current levels, by their definition of “cuts” that would save nearly $400 billion in the next few years, versus the $25 billion the Budget Control Act claims to “cut”.  It would only take us 5 years to “cut” $1 trillion, in Washington math, just by holding the line on spending.  That is hardly austere or catastrophic.

A balanced budget is similarly simple and within reach if Washington had just a tiny amount of fiscal common sense.  Our revenues currently stand at approximately $2.2 trillion a year and are likely to remain stagnant as the recession continues.  Our outlays are $3.7 trillion and projected to grow every year.  Yet we only have to go back to 2004 for federal outlays of $2.2 trillion, and the government was far from small that year.  If we simply returned to that year’s spending levels, which would hardly be austere, we would have a balanced budget right now.  If we held the line on spending, and the economy actually did grow as estimated, the budget would balance on its own by 2015 with no cuts whatsoever.

We pay 35 percent more for our military today than we did 10 years ago, for the exact same capabilities.  The same could be said for the rest of the government.  Why has our budget doubled in 10 years?  This country doesn’t have double the population, or double the land area, or double anything that would require the federal government to grow by such an obscene amount.

In Washington terms, a simple freeze in spending would be a much bigger “cut” than any plan being discussed.  If politicians simply cannot bear to implement actual cuts to actual spending, just freezing the budget would give the economy the best chance to catch its breath, recover and grow.

Greek Parliament approves Austerity Package

While the Greek government surrendered to the IMF and World Bank demands for more spending cuts, the streets of Athens saw an increase in protests with thousands of citizens taking on police.

Associated Press
June 29, 2011

Greece’s lawmakers approved a key austerity bill Wednesday needed to avert default, despite a second day of rioting on the streets of Athens that left dozens of police and protesters injured.

The passage of the bill was a decisive step for the country to get the next batch of bailout loans from international creditors due from last year’s financial rescue. Another bill has to be passed Thursday for the government to secure the money.

The bill to cut spending and raise taxes by euro28 billion ($40 billion) over five years has provoked widespread outrage, coming after a year of deep cuts that have seen public sector salaries and pensions cut and unemployment rise to above 16 percent.

While deputies voted, stun grenades echoed across the square outside the Parliament building and acrid clouds of tear gas hung in the streets. Authorities and emergency services said 21 police and 15 protesters were injured and transferred to hospitals, while 26 people were detained.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund have demanded both bills pass before it releases euro12 billion of bailout funds — without the money, Greece was facing defaulting on its debts by the middle of next month, potentially triggering a banking crisis, particularly in Europe, and turmoil in global markets.

“We must avoid the country’s collapse with every effort,” Prime Minister George Papandreou said in his speech prior to the vote. “Outside, many are protesting. Some are truly suffering, other are losing they privileges. It is their democratic right. But they and no one else must never suffer the consequences and for their families of a collapse. We must do everything so that there is no freeze in payments.”

The Greek vote was greeted by a sense of relief in Europe’s capital cities, who have been fretting about the impact of a potential Greek default both on their banking systems and on the future of the euro currency itself.

“That’s really good news,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said when told of the outcome of the vote on her way out of an economic forum in Berlin. Germany is Greece’s biggest creditor.

Equally, relief was the main response in markets too. Soon after the vote, the euro was trading at a fairly elevated level around the $1.44 mark while stock markets around the world were posting big gains.

In Greece, the main Athens stock market closed up 0.5 percent at 1,264, while borrowing costs eased some 80 basis points from a morning high, with the yield on 10-year bonds settling at the still high 16.55 percent.

“The fact that the Greek parliament has passed the government’s medium-term fiscal plan clearly reduces the chances of a near-term disaster,” said Ben May, European economist at Capital Economics.

The unpopular package of spending cuts and tax hikes passed by 155 votes to 138, with five opposition deputies voted “present” — a vote which backs neither side.

A sole deputy from the governing socialists, Panayotis Kouroublis, dissented over government plans to sell a further stake in Greece’s state electricity company and was soon expelled from the parliamentary group by Papandreou.

In a dramatic vote, socialist deputy Alexandros Athanassiadis, who had previously vowed to vote against the bill, overturned his decision at the last minute and backed the package, saying he had been swayed by the prime minister’s comments in parliament.

A conservative deputy broke ranks with her party’s line to also vote in favor, bolstering the government’s majority of five seats in the 300-member parliament.

In the run-up to the vote, violence engulfed the square outside for the second day, while services across the country ground to a halt in the last day of a 48-hour general strike. Riot police fired volleys of tear gas at swarms of young men who were hurling rocks and other debris as well as setting fire to trash containers.

After a lull in the fighting around the time of the vote, the riot started up again with intensity.

Protesters threw flares and orange and green smoke bombs, and a few sprayed fire extinguishers at police, who picked up rocks and tossed them back. Heavy clouds of tear gas wafted over the chaotic scene in front of parliament.

U2 Fans want Bono to Pay his Taxes

U2 was accused of donating only 1 percent of the monies collected through Bono’s ONE organization.

AP
June 24, 2011

U2 and its frontman Bono, known for their global poverty-fighting efforts, were accused of dodging taxes in Ireland by activists who crashed their performance at England’s Glastonbury festival.

The anti-capitalist group Art Uncut inflated a 6-metre balloon emblazoned with the message “U Pay Your Tax 2.” Security guards wrestled them to the ground before deflating the balloon and taking it away. About 30 people were involved in the angry clash.

Bono fan Gary Noble, 45, said he found the security response “all a bit shocking.”

“I love U2 but I think everyone should pay their taxes. The campaigners have a right to voice their opinion,” he said.

Art Uncut argues that while Bono campaigns against poverty in the developing world, his group has avoided paying Irish taxes at a time when his austerity-hit country desperately needs money.

Ireland, which has already accepted an international bailout, is suffering through deep spending cuts, tax hikes and rising unemployment as it tries to pull the debt-burdened economy back from brink of bankruptcy.”

Tax(es) nestling in the band’s bank account should be helping to keep open the hospitals, schools and libraries that are closing all over Ireland,” Art Uncut member Charlie Dewar said ahead of the protest.

U2, the country’s most successful band, was heavily criticised in 2006 for moving its corporate base from Ireland to the Netherlands, where royalties on music incur virtually no tax.

Bono, guitarist The Edge and U2’s other members – bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen – are among the country’s wealthiest residents. Forbes magazine has estimated the band earned $US195 million ($A185.68 million) last year, mostly through its hugely profitable 360 Degrees world tour.

It’s not known how much personal income tax the band members pay in Ireland.

During the years when Ireland was a booming “Celtic Tiger” economy, the members of U2 invested in a wide range of Dublin properties, including a luxury riverside hotel and a planned Norman Foster-designed skyscraper on the River Liffey. Plans for the “U2 Tower” were shelved when property prices collapsed in 2008.

U2 is headlining the first night of the three-day Glastonbury festival, its first appearance at Britain’s most prestigious summer music event. The band was due to perform last year but had to pull out after Bono injured his back.

Some 170,000 people have descended on a farm in southwest England for the extravaganza, which includes sets by Morrissey, Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, Beyonce and scores of other acts.

Rubber boots are the fashion item of choice after heavy rain turned the 364-hectare site into a mudbath. More rain is forecast.