They Can't Be Bothered With Us: America's CEO Culture

West Virginians are going to remember WVCHS8's iconic photo of Gary Southern CHRIS_REGAN.jpgswigging ice-cold bottled water as he walked away from reporters in Charleston, citing a "very long day" that he had after depriving hundreds of thousands of West Virginians of usable water. The "Freedom Industries" CEO is not all that different from British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward, who famously "wanted his life back"  after questions from reporters put him out, just because BP had dumped over a 100,000,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. These men don't understand our lack of sympathy for their plights, when they are "unfortunately" caught red-handed doing the things they do every day.

These lamentations from the multi-millionaire or even billionaire class are becoming more and more common. West Virginia's own Don Blankenship famously complained of the "indignity" he felt subjected to as his mines violated state and federal laws and safety standards, ultimately resulting in numerous unnecessary deaths of coal miners. Former Bloomberg CEO and billionaire mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg recently took time out from his busy schedule to tell us that homeless people are homeless because "that's how God works."

You could do a whole story just on our friends at AIG - current CEO Robert Benmosche recently complained that when his titanic bonuses of tens of millions of dollars are criticized, he feels like he's being lynched in the Jim Crow south. His predecessor, Hank Greenberg, having received over 180,000,000,000 in public money, is now suing us, the taxpayers, for not being generous enough to him.

Each of these super-wealthy leaders displays the same fundamental attitude towards the rest of us - that of the narcissistic personality disorder. American corporate culture excels at producing these individuals who have outsized notions of their own importance, an inability to empathize with others, a penchant for exploiting others and "a very strong sense of entitlement." And so, whether they are in the midst of polluting Charleston's water supply, or the Gulf of Mexico, whether they are getting men killed underground in the mines, leaving the homeless on the street in New York City or simply destroying America's economy for their own financial gain, these folks repeatedly see themselves as victims, even cjr southern.jpg martyrs.

These folks have come to believe, because of their wealth, that they are simply above the rest of the people in this country. A certain number of them have swallowed the notion that they are the "job-creators" and that the rest of us are just oh, so lucky to have them in our lives. They may be devotees of Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged - believing, truly believing - that without them, the world would simply fall apart.

The facts tell a different story. In this most recent disaster, Southern's company not only failed to report the disaster immediately, they actually knew ahead of time the leaking tank was bad, but failed to act. When the EPA inspectors arrived "no measures" had been taken to contain the spill. These don't appear to be the acts of elite talent managing a company "better than government." Nonetheless, these same individuals believe that any regulation of their work is "job-killing" and "burdensome." In fact, we come to find out that getting "government out of the way" of Freedom Industries is what paved the way for the spill in the first place as the company appears to have been covered by loopholes [immediately] that prevented there from being inspections at the site to make sure the company was acting safely.

Mr. Blankenship has tried to hold himself out as an advocate for mine safety, but his internal memoranda sing a different tune: "If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever), you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills." A lot of good West Virginians died underground to cash the checks written by one CEOs outsized ego. The collection of great men, earning unbelievable salaries and bonuses, sometimes paid by the taxpayers of this country, just can't seem to get their own basic jobs right.

We needn't bother reciting how our best-paid CEOs in the financial industry brought down the economy in 2008. What we should wonder is why we paid them so well to do it, and why do we reward them with even more afterwards? We have underfunded agencies trying to keep up with unsafe workplaces, toxic releases and financial frauds. Dedicated public servants work for modest pay at OSHA, EPA and the SEC, for example. But all they get is heat from the anti-government crowd and the next thing you know, there's no clean water to drink in Charleston for a week.

Meanwhile, it only gets tougher for ordinary people. With the largest unemployment figures since the great depression, unemployment benefits are not just cut, they're terminated (they should be raised). Somehow, opinion makers seem to think that America's deficit is due to the poor and nearly poor collecting too much in the way of benefits. Each time lawmakers meet in Washington DC, more punishment for the poor and the unemployed tops the list of topics. Maybe it's time to start punishing the people who are actually responsible for what's happening in this country. Maybe they need more rules, more regulations, and more oversight and maybe it's time they started actually paying for the trouble they've caused out of their bursting bank accounts.

Here's what it comes down to: While no one in Charleston had clean water to use this past week, you can bet Gary Southern did. While the BP oil spill crushed livelihoods in the Gulf, Tony Hayward was planning his next sailing adventure. When our miners died underground, Don Blankenship was safe and snug at home. Mike Bloomberg doesn't sleep on the street because unemployment and poverty are God's decision, as far as he's concerned. And when millions of ordinary Americans lost their pensions and investments in 2008, the billionaire bankers only got richer on the taxpayer's dime. It's no wonder they think so well of themselves - we always give them what they want.

It's ordinary Americans that pay the price for our CEO culture, over and over again. It's ordinary Americans who take the blame for what a privileged few do wrong, over and over again. These CEOs eat the big dinners while we pick up the checks.

How about next time we stiff 'em?

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