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“Billionaires’ Crybaby Club”: Someone Get These Whiners A Bottle!

Does being super-wealthy make you extra susceptible to self-pity today? That’s the only conclusion we can draw from an epidemic of self-pitying American billionaires decrying their persecution by “despots,” and the “Kristallnacht” of rising concern about income inequality, over just the last few months.

Charles Koch is the latest to fall victim to what funnier folks than me have labeled the WATB syndrome, with a whiny op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. “Collectivists” in government, Koch writes – “those who stand for government control of the means of production and how people live their lives,” i.e. Democrats — “strive to discredit and intimidate opponents.” It gets worse: “They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.)”

I’m worried about Charles Koch. For one thing, with all his billions, he couldn’t find a better ghost writer? His silly op-ed, with its alarmist Marxist clichés and fusty Schopenhauer references, would have been dismissed as an April Fool’s joke if published just one day sooner. It came the same day as the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision, which only increased its ridiculousness.

But Koch’s self-pity and persecution complex is downright unhealthy. He clearly suffers from the same malady as Tom Perkins, who delusionally compared rising political concern about income inequality to “Kristallnacht” for the rich. Newspaper-destroying real estate mogul Sam Zell, who cosigned Perkins, is also a victim, complaining the super-rich “are getting pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so,” when in fact “the 1 percent work harder.”

Self-pity sufferer Ken Langone of Home Depot even warned Pope Francis that Catholic billionaires might stop contributing to the church because of the pope saying the “exclusionary” culture of the rich made some of them “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.” Langone had earlier joined self-pitying mogul Leon Cooperman to admonish President Obama for “new lows in polarizing rhetoric…aimed at successful people in the business sector.”

Maybe we need a public health campaign to warn billionaires about the dangers of self-pity: stress, anxiety, depression, isolation and illness. The authors of “47 Steps to Stress Management” say that “the effect of self-pity on the body is similar to chronic anxiety.” A widely quoted 2003 study of self-pity in the Journal of Personality found:

…Strong associations of self-pity with neuroticism, particularly with the depression facet. With respect to control beliefs, individuals high in self-pity showed generalized externality beliefs, seeing themselves as controlled by both chance and powerful others…Furthermore, individuals high in self-pity reported emotional loneliness and ambivalent-worrisome attachments.

Deepak Chopra says self-pity is linked to “dependency,” so clearly Paul Ryan ought to consider a crusade to change the “culture” of his billionaire patrons in addition to that of “inner city” men:

The issue is dependency. Self-pity is the opposite of self-esteem. It arises because you feel no one will lift you out of your difficulties. With no one stronger, older, wiser and kinder to help you, there’s a tremendous sense of lack. You cannot find the same strength that these rescuers have—or you imagine them to have—and the ache of not being enough is felt as self-pity or “poor me.”

Of course, this isn’t the Koch brothers first pity-party, or their first descent into making things up about President Obama. Three years ago Charles and David sat down with the Weekly Standard and complained about their “demonization” by Democrats and President Obama, who they then went on to demonize. (A clinical note: Projection is also associated with self-pity.)

Charles accused Obama of believing “Marxist models.” David went further, blaming Obama’s views on his father, “a hard core economic socialist in Kenya,” he said. “He had sort of antibusiness, anti-free enterprise influences affecting him almost all his life. It just shows you what a person with a silver tongue can achieve.”

David also called anti-Koch protesters “very, very extreme, and I think very dangerous….That was pretty shocking, to see what we’re up against, or what the country’s up against: to have an element like this.”

So clearly self-pity is a persistent problem for Charles and his brother. Maybe we need a public health campaign: If your bout of self-pity lasts more than four hours, call your doctor. The authors of “47 Steps to Stress Management” have other advice:

“If you have trouble breaking the self-pity habit, you might want to try an excellent way of getting your mind off of yourself: help others.”

Oh well, that’s probably not the answer.

I don’t know what to advise Charles Koch about his unhealthy habits. He certainly has the money to get the best professional help available. But I would urge the Wall Street Journal, the official newspaper of record for the top 1 percent, to stop encouraging the damaging dependency and self-destructive behavior of its readers and patrons, before it’s too late.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, April 3, 2014

April 4, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Epidemic Of Plutocrat Self-Pity”: Filthy Rich But Secretly Terrified, Inside The 1 Percent’s Sore-Winner Backlash

What explains the toxic mélange of entitlement and shame that’s driving the raging 1 percent sore-winner backlash? From Tom Perkins comparing the ultra-rich to Jews during “Kristallnacht,” to tycoon and newspaper-destroyer Sam Zell insisting “the top 1 percent work harder,” to investment banker Wilbur Ross proclaiming that “the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons,” there’s an epidemic of plutocrat self-pity afoot. Just last week ex-CEO of Morgan Stanley John Mack told the media to “stop beating up on” CEOs Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein after they got obscene raises from JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.

The sore winner backlash is odd timing. There’s no longer any real movement to hike taxes on their income or their wealth, both of which are at all-time highs. President Obama has said an increase in tax rates is “off the table.” There’s no more discussion of the “Buffett Rule,” named for the Berkshire-Hathaway oracle who famously suggested his secretary should no longer pay higher rates than her boss.

Almost nobody talks about ending the “carried interest” loophole that lets hedge fund managers pay a shamefully low rate on much of what should be considered income; instead there’s a “boom in trusts passing carried interest to heirs,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Yes, they’ve figured out a way to pass that unfair advantage onto their heirs through new estate-tax dodges. Sadly, Occupy Wall Street has fizzled, so they can even enjoy Zuccotti Park unaccosted.

So why all the whining now? I read Kevin Roose’s buzzy “I crashed a secret Wall Street society” piece Monday morning looking for insight. You should read it if you haven’t. It’s a fun hate-read. You’ll come away thinking, if you don’t already, that a lot of these people are monsters.

Apparently the secret fraternity Kappa Beta Phi gathers the titans of Wall Street at the St. Regis once a year for a gala that celebrates their wealth and power and mocks the rest of us. New inductees to the fraternity are charged with putting on a variety show to entertain the long-tenured. The evening features all the standard bad behavior common to male societies, from sports teams to military units to the boys of the Bohemian Grove. Cross dressing? Check.

After cocktail hour, the new inductees – all of whom were required to dress in leotards and gold-sequined skirts, with costume wigs – began their variety-show acts.

Misogyny and homophobia? Check.

The jokes ranged from unfunny and sexist (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Hillary Clinton and a catfish?” A: “One has whiskers and stinks, and the other is a fish”) to unfunny and homophobic (Q: “What’s the biggest difference between Barney Frank and a Fenway Frank?” A: “Barney Frank comes in different-size buns”).

Mocking the loser-outsiders, who paradoxically make their great wealth possible? Check.

One of the last skits of the night was a self-congratulatory parody of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” called “Bailout King.”

When Roose was discovered, he was ejected from the ballroom, and the story wound up in his new book, “Young Money,” a portrait of eight entry-level Wall Street traders, which came out today. The Kappa Beta Phi story was excerpted in New York magazine.

What the excerpt captured was the insularity and paranoia of plutocrats who band together to protect themselves from mostly imagined social approbation and self-doubt. As Paul Krugman has argued, they aren’t like the titans of yore who made things; they “push money around and get rich by skimming some off the top as it sloshes by.” They’ve gotten insanely wealthy mainly by rigging the rules of the game to privilege the world of finance, and it’s no wonder they’re worried the rest of us will someday figure that out.

The good news from Roose’s work? Among younger Wall Streeters, there’s more doubt than you might expect. The percentage of Ivy Leaguers going into investment banking straight out of college is dropping. Before it faded, Occupy Wall Street had an impact on some of his young subjects, Roose reveals. The bad news is, the people who have doubts about the morality of their enterprise, and about their own privilege, tend to leave, so that those who remain are particularly entitled and/or deluded.

Still, that nagging doubt helps explain the backlash. They project in order to protect themselves. Their self-defense gets ever louder.

Last week Tom Perkins doubled down on his plutocrat paranoia at the Commonwealth Club, insisting the more money you have, the more votes you should get. He later “clarified” his remarks by saying he was only warning about the dangers of the 50 percent of the country that doesn’t pay taxes nonetheless having the right to vote. It was an uglier version of Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remark. Neither Romney nor Perkins nor their many defenders seem to realize that the people who pay no taxes are either retirees, or low-wage workers who are paid so little they’re not taxed.

These men who rigged the rules of the game to make themselves obscenely wealthy are trying to convince themselves, and us, that they’re entitled to those rewards. If only there were a genuine political movement triggering their paranoia.  Instead, it’s preemptive, a product of their buried guilt and practiced entitlement.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, February 18, 2014

February 19, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Income Gap, Plutocrats | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Inequality, Dignity And Freedom”: People Least Inclined To Respect Efforts Of Ordinary Workers Are Winners Of The Wealth Lottery

Now that the Congressional Budget Office has explicitly denied saying that Obamacare destroys jobs, some (though by no means all) Republicans have stopped lying about that issue and turned to a different argument. O.K., they concede, any reduction in working hours because of health reform will be a voluntary choice by the workers themselves — but it’s still a bad thing because, as Representative Paul Ryan puts it, they’ll lose “the dignity of work.”

So let’s talk about what that means in 21st-century America.

It’s all very well to talk in the abstract about the dignity of work, but to suggest that workers can have equal dignity despite huge inequality in pay is just silly. In 2012, the top 40 hedge fund managers and traders were paid a combined $16.7 billion, equivalent to the wages of 400,000 ordinary workers. Given that kind of disparity, can anyone really believe in the equal dignity of work?

In fact, the people who seem least inclined to respect the efforts of ordinary workers are the winners of the wealth lottery. Over the past few months, we’ve been harangued by a procession of angry billionaires, furious that they’re not receiving the deference, the acknowledgment of their superiority, that they believe is their due. For example, last week the investor Sam Zell went on CNN Money to defend the 1 percent against “envy,” and he asserted that “the 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.” Dignity for all!

And there’s another group that doesn’t respect workers: Republican politicians. In 2012, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, infamously marked Labor Day with a Twitter post celebrating … people who start their own businesses. Perhaps Mr. Cantor was chastened by the backlash to that post; at a recent G.O.P. retreat, he reportedly urged his colleagues to show some respect for Americans who don’t own businesses, who work for someone else. The clear implication was that they haven’t shown that kind of respect in the past.

On the whole, working Americans are better at appreciating their own worth than either the wealthy or conservative politicians are at showing them even minimal respect. Still, tens of millions of Americans know from experience that hard work isn’t enough to provide financial security or a decent education for their children, and many either couldn’t get health insurance or were desperately afraid of losing jobs that came with insurance until the Affordable Care Act kicked in last month. In the face of that kind of everyday struggle, talk about the dignity of work rings hollow.

So what would give working Americans more dignity in their lives, despite huge income disparities? How about assuring them that the essentials — health care, opportunity for their children, a minimal income — will be there even if their boss fires them or their jobs are shipped overseas?

Think about it: Has anything done as much to enhance the dignity of American seniors, to rescue them from the penury and dependence that were once so common among the elderly, as Social Security and Medicare? Inside the Beltway, fiscal scolds have turned “entitlements” into a bad word, but it’s precisely the fact that Americans are entitled to collect Social Security and be covered by Medicare, no questions asked, that makes these programs so empowering and liberating.

Conversely, the drive by conservatives to dismantle much of the social safety net, to replace it with minimal programs and private charity, is, in effect, an effort to strip away the dignity of lower-income workers.

And it’s something else: an assault on their freedom.

Modern American conservatives talk a lot about freedom, and deride liberals for advocating a “nanny state.” But when it comes to Americans down on their luck, conservatives become insultingly paternalistic, as comfortable congressmen lecture struggling families on the dignity of work. And they also become advocates of highly intrusive government. For example, House Republicans tried to introduce a provision into the farm bill that would have allowed states to mandate drug testing for food stamp recipients. (A commenter on my blog suggested mandatory drug tests for employees of too-big-to-fail financial institutions, which receive large implicit subsidies. Now that would really cause a panic.)

The truth is that if you really care about the dignity and freedom of American workers, you should favor more, not fewer, entitlements, a stronger, not weaker, social safety net.

And you should, in particular, support and celebrate health reform. Never mind all those claims that Obamacare is slavery; the reality is that the Affordable Care Act will empower millions of Americans, giving them exactly the kind of dignity and freedom politicians only pretend to love.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 13, 2014

February 17, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“He’s No Aberration”: Tom Perkins Is Willing To Say What The Rest Of The Ultrarich Are Secretly Thinking

Tom Perkins incensed the Internet (again), when he suggested Thursday that only taxpayers should get the right to vote and that the wealthiest Americans who pay the most in taxes should get more votes. Yep, you read that right.

The sentiment is especially offensive when you consider the demographics associated with the statement (read: white and male), but it isn’t the most absurd thing he’s said. That would be a letter Perkins wrote to The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 24, in which he compared “the progressive war on the American 1 percent, namely the ‘rich’  ” to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, particularly that the 1 percent face a “rising tide of hatred” akin to Kristallnacht, a series of coordinated attacks against Jews in 1938.

The strangest thing about the letter isn’t that he thought that or even admitted it in a paper of record. What boggles the mind is the outpouring of support he received from like-minded ultrarich Americans and conservatives.

Billionaire investor Sam Zell, appearing on Bloomberg TV recently, denounced what he termed “the politics of envy,” arguing the 1 percent have earned their position in society. “I guess my feeling is that [Perkins] is right: The 1 percent are being pummeled because it’s politically convenient to do so,” he said in an exchange with anchor Betty Liu. “The problem is that the world and this country should not talk about envy of the 1 percent. It should talk about emulating the 1 percent. The 1 percent work harder. The 1 percent are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.”

And The Wall Street Journal, a publication most beloved by the rich, similarly came to his defense. Anyone wondering whether the paper’s editors had printed Perkins’s letter to embarrass or expose him had their answer: They published it because they were sympathetic to the argument. Under the curious headline “Perkinsnacht,” the editorial board published an indictment of “liberals in power,” waxing dramatic about how “liberal vituperation makes our letter writer’s point.” The editors concluded: “The liberals aren’t encouraging violence, but they are promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents.”

Support for Perkins’s argument was so widespread that The Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson wrote a piece questioning what exactly was making “some conservatives take a leave of their senses” in coming to Perkins’s defense. The best response to that question came (as usual) from New York Magazine‘s Jonathan Chait. “Perkins’s letter provided a peek into the fantasy world of the right-wing one percent, in which fantasies of an incipient Hitler-esque terror are just slightly beyond the norm.”

It wasn’t just the wealthy who came to Perkins’s side. One of the most cogent conservative arguments I read came from Michelle Malkin, who argued that it’s dangerous to marginalize a group, any group, even millionaires and billionaires. It was a good point, but it was something else in her piece that caught my attention. She called Perkins a “truth-teller” whose “message in defense of our nation’s achievers will transcend, inspire, embolden and prevail.” No matter, she lamented, “the mob is shooting the messenger anyway.”

That’s just it: Perkins isn’t an aberration, and his message is offensive precisely because it speaks to something a lot of rich people and conservatives actually believe. Perkins hadn’t gaffed. He hadn’t misspoken. Although he would later qualify his remarks, he was making a point that many of the uber-rich believe instinctively. They’re just too prudent to say so.

Perkins’s most recent statement—that people who pay more in taxes should get more votes—hasn’t had time to attract the kind of support his first one garnered, but it has parallels in Erick Erickson’s 53 percent movement. The founder’s counterpunch to Occupy Wall Street’s “We are the 99 percent” slogan was meant to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes. The assumption is that Occupy protesters are among the now famous (thanks, Mitt Romney!) 47 percent of the country who don’t.

The sentiment would resurface again on the presidential campaign trail when Romney said the thing that doomed his candicacy. A refresher: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Another thing Romney left off but might as well have said? Those who believe they are entitled to vote. Romney and Perkins have good reason to want to keep the 47 percent from voting. Namely, the 47 percent won’t make it a priority to protect the interests of the long-suffering 1 percent. They have more pressing concerns, like, say, groceries.

And that gets to another of Perkins’s fears: that the 1 percent is somehow endangered and at risk of “economic extinction.” To wit: “The fear is wealth tax, higher taxes, higher death taxes—just more taxes until there is no more 1 percent. And that will creep down to the 5 percent and then the 10 percent,” he said. It’s the irrationality of this fear that has garnered the bulk of media attention. But it’s also worth reflecting for a moment on just how poor Perkins’s conception of percentages is. (Pauses for dramatic effect. Moves on.)

There are a few other statistics Romney didn’t mention, such as that two-thirds of households that don’t pay federal income tax do pay payroll taxes. Or that 18 percent of all tax filers paid neither payroll nor income taxes. Of those who paid neither, nearly all of them were elderly or had incomes under $20,000.

Romney thought he was speaking in confidence, but Perkins isn’t worried about that. Perkins, as Malkin so deftly observed, is a truth-teller. He’s saying what the right-wing 1 percent truly believe but are too scared to admit publicly.


By: Lucia Graves, The National Journal, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments


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