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Greed at a Glance (2)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011 05:16 By Sam Pizzigati, Too Much | Op-Ed
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The Occupy Wall Street camp in Manhattan has come down. But the Occupy movement shows no sign of disappearing, in part because top 1 percent arrogance shows no sign of abating. Last week, the chairman of bailed-out insurance giant AIG declared that the Occupy “crowd” has a “fairly limited” understanding “of what makes our country work.” AIG's Steve Miller went on to claim that the AIG bailout “protected” taxpayers. In reality, as one financial watchdog notes, that bailout — $69.8 billion in tax dollars and another $97.8 billion in Fed Reserve loans — still has taxpayers $49.4 billion in the red. The AIG bailout deal also leaves taxpayers way back in line if the firm goes bankrupt . . .

More math that helps explain top 1 percent America: Sales at Walgreen, America’s largest drugstore chain, rose 7 percent in fiscal 2011. But profits for the year rose 30 percent, and compensation for Walgreen CEO Gregory Wasson jumped even higher — by 36 percent, the company reported last week. Wasson walked off with $10.9 million. Meanwhile, Chicago Business revealed earlier this month that Walgreen’s merchandising division has just eliminated an entire tier of middle management positions. A downsized “category specialist” now replaces associate and assistant managers. The drugstore giant is also axing a number of “category manager” positions, but won’t say exactly how many . . .

You don’t have to feast off prescription drug mark-ups to get rich in America today. You can run the trade association that shills for CEOs who do the marking up. Tom Donahue, the chief exec at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, pulled in $4.7 million last year. Not bad for someone who loudly labels public worker paychecks “over-bloated.” Donahue’s specialty at the Chamber: raising big-money donations for an organization the purports to represent small business. In 2010, new figures show, 88 percent of the Chamber’s dues-payers coughed up $100,000 or more, a rather stiff check for the average America ma-and-pa . . .

An estimated 47 percent of the lawmakers in Congress, says a new Center for Responsive Politics count, now rate as millionaires. This tally actually low-balls the congressional millionaire cohort — since the Center's calculations don't take into account either primary residences or artwork and other personal valuables. How do lawmakers pile up the big dough? Some — like Spencer Bachus, the Alabama Republican who chairs the House Financial Services panel — put the inside info their legislative status provides them to lucrative use. In 2008, news reports last week related, Bachus made a series of Wall Street bets that the economy would tank — after a closed-door briefing gave him advance notice that Wall Street was melting. Bachus ended up nearly doubling his money. Why no “insider trading” case against Bachus? Insider trading laws don’t cover members of Congress . . .

House calls live. Heart surgeon David Greuner has put together a team of 15 physicians that take their skills straight to the rich and famous. The private visits can come in handy at embarrassing moments. Last summer, for instance, an accomplished polo player in the Hamptons tore his shoulder and wanted to keep the injury hush-hush. A piece of cake for the Greuner team, whose visits can run up to $5,000, no insurance accepted. Maria Caprio, one satisfied Greuner team patient, had a doctor come by her Upper East Side Manhattan apartment to inject a local anesthetic. Enthused Caprio afterwards to a New York Post reporter: “When I have a severe migraine, the last thing I want to do is sit in an ER.”

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality published by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies.

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