|COURAGE, SACRIFICE CORPORATE GREED
By Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT.)
As we reflect on the year 2001, our minds catapult to the World Trade
Center in flames and hundreds of courageous firemen and police officers
racing up stairs to try to save their trapped fellow citizens. Almost
all of them gave their lives in this heroic effort.
For the last several months, the nation has been impressed by the
dedication and discipline of American troops in Afghanistan
successfully fighting to help rid the world of international terrorism.
Some of these young people have died or been wounded.
Throughout the country, in the wake of September 11th, there has been a
growing sense of coming together and shared sacrifice. Hundreds of
millions of dollars have been donated to special funds for the families
of the victims, and Americans are taking a deeper look at the meaning
of their lives.
And then of course there are the titans of corporate America.
Unfortunately, for many of them, it's the same old story. Greed, greed
and more greed.
Case in point is the Enron Corporation, which, just last year, was the
seventh largest company in America with revenue exceeding $100 billion
and over 20,000 employees. Having contributed millions in campaign
contributions to the Republican Party and the President, the company
was strongly positioned to influence the direction of energy policies
in the Bush Administration. One of the results of their efforts was a
huge increase in electric rates in California.
Earlier this year, Enron was forced to admit that it had over-reported
its profits by nearly $600 million. This led to the largest bankruptcy
in history. While Enron was exaggerating its profits, and before its
artificially high stock price plummeted, three top executives in the
company, Lou Pai, Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling cashed in stock options
worth some $560 million. Like rats on a sinking ship, they got their
money out just in time. But they didn't give that same opportunity to
their employees. While Enron's stock was crashing, the company forced
more than 12,000 of its employees to retain Enron stock in their 401(k)
pension plans. This caused massive losses for the workers and many lost
their entire retirement savings.
Taxpayers will be delighted to know that the House Republicans included
a $254 million corporate welfare check for Enron as part oftheir
so-called "economic stimulus plan." But it's not just Enron.
The American people continue to pay by far the highest prices in the
world for prescription drugs. Many of the same drugs sold in this
country by American drug companies are sold abroad at a fraction of the
price. The result is that millions of Americans suffer, and some die,
because they are unable to afford the medicine they need.
Meanwhile, year after year, drug companies constitute the most
profitable industry in our country. Last year, they had profits that
exceeded $30 billion. At a time when elderly citizens cut their dosages
in half, nine executives at the top pharmaceutical corporations in the
U.S. were given $890 million in stock options according to Families
USA. This is on top of the $169.9 million in wages, bonuses and other
compensation that these executives are already receiving.
How does the pharmaceutical industry manage to rip off the American
people, generate huge profits, get massive tax breaks and provide
outrageous compensation packages for their top management? Easy. As the
wealthiest political lobby in Washington they have spent, over the last
three years, more than $200 million in campaign contributions, lobbying
activities and media advertising
Even in the face of the bioterrorism attack on the United States, the
drug giants are choosing profits over the health of the American
people. When the federal government chose to stockpile the antibiotic
Cipro, the "deal" struck with the drug companies requires the
government to pay far more than is charged by generic manufacturers
abroad, and, in fact, more than the federal government itself already
pays under a different program.
But wait, corporate self-dealing doesn't end there. Take, for example,
Big Blue. As the holiday season approached, IBM announced a new round
of job cuts. According to published news reports, the company has cut
more than 5,000 jobs in the United States since July. Meanwhile, they
are building two new micro-processing plants in China where workers are
paid a fraction of what American workers receive. To IBM watchers, this
latest act is par for the course.
Two years ago, despite record-breaking profits and a pension fund
surplus of some $10 billion, IBM slashed pension and retirement health
benefits for workers in 1999 and 2000 and curtailed salaries in 2001.
Meanwhile, the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner, raked in $176 million in
total compensation and stock options over the past 2 years. In
addition, he has accumulated over $260 million in unexercised stock
options from IBM during his tenure. While slashing the pension plans of
IBM employees, he negotiated a retirement plan over $1.1 million a year
Once again, no bad deed goes unrewarded. If the House Republican
leadership gets its way IBM will receive $1.4 billion in corporate
welfare this year.
This country has gone through an extremely traumatic year, and we are
now confronting serious economic and security issues. It would be nice
if, for once, some of our corporate leaders looked out for someone
other than themselves.