The City Of Bell – Just The Beginning?

   It was almost all bad.   We had BP’s CEO running off to take part in a yacht race in the middle of the oil spill and a “better than nothing” health care reform bill that left health insurance companies in a position to continue draining the economy.  At the same time, big pharma was being allowed to continue charging Americans double the world’s going rate for meds.  There was also our alleged financial reform, doing for Wall Street what health care reform did for the health insurance industry — pretty much leaving them alone to make up their own rules on how best to gamble and plunder their way into the next big economic disaster.

All this, while an increasingly besieged and shrinking middle-America continues to bear the financial burden for those at the top.  The elitist corporate officials with guaranteed fat cat salaries and health benefits for life.  Generosities also bestowed upon their bought and paid for political lap dogs in the House and Senate.

It was not a pretty picture.  Then came Bell, a little community that found out just how badly they were being ripped off.  And the people there got really, really angry.  They took to the streets and demanded that their city leaders be kicked to the curb.

It started when the Los Angeles Times reported that Bell’s City Manager was pulling down nearly $800,000 a year and would pick up a pension of $600,000 a year upon retirement.   And the Chief of Police, who was earning $457,000.  And the Asst. City Manager, who was bringing in $376,000.  All in a town with a population of only 37,000 and unemployment running into the double digits.  A town that has part-time city council members paying themselves $100,000 a year.

Turns out Bell, isn’t alone.  Today the Times is reporting on the City of Laguna Hills in Orange County, where a candidate for city council asked three grad students to try and determine how much City Manager Bruce Channing was earning.   The students found he was taking home a base salary of $233,430, but that his total earnings were $460,809.   The paper reports that Channing was receiving “additional payments.”    Mr. Channing, the paper says, calls the report “factually inaccurate and misleading.”

Maybe, but that seems like a lot of additional money, doesn’t it?

For that matter, why are members of the Los Angeles City Council the highest paid council members in the country?  The individual council member’s annual pay runs around $179 ,000.    That’s before you add in all the other niceties, like office budgets that run around $1.2 million and 8 free cars per member.  Each member has several bank accounts for discretionary spending, permitting them to move millions of dollars around in a fashion that’s difficult for mere mortals of non-governmental status to understand.  Not that there’s anything illegal in what they’re doing.  It’s just next to impossible for regular folk to follow the money.  Maybe this is why each council member needs 20-25 aides?

At a time when the city is in the red and the Mayor is calling for layoffs, LA Weekly reports members of the Los Angeles City Council are raking in salaries that are 400 times the local median income.  Plus, they get a fleet of cars.

Know what they get up in San Francisco?  A free parking space.

Then there’s the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, where salaries run something above $150,000 (it’s tough to try and pin down just how much above) and each has a personal “discretionary” fund of $3.4 million.    Five supervisors with a $23 billion budget and no oversight apart from a few gadflies who show up at meetings now and then and a weakened media which increasingly ignores the Board.   Some of the supes are riding around in chauffeur-driven cars while the county continues to face layoffs and severe program cuts with a jail system that’s bursting at the seams.

Out in the nation’s capitol, the average net worth of our esteemed members of Congress has now reached $1.7 million.  One of the richest of the rich, is Congresswoman Jane Harman.   Citing a report from the Center for Responsive Politics, Reuters reports; “The center estimated Rep. Harman was worth $409 million in 2006, but it said her net worth could be as high as $597 million and as low as $222 million because lawmakers are only required to disclose assets and liabilities in ranges.   Determining an official’s precise net worth is impossible using the financial disclosure forms that Congress currently employs.”

How convenient.

But the really big money is on the corporate side.

“According to Business Week, the average CEO of a major corporation made 42 times the average hourly worker’s pay in 1980. By 1990 that had almost doubled to 85 times. In 2000, the average CEO salary reached an unbelievable 531 times that of the average hourly worker.”

Over the past several decades millions of jobs have been sent offshore, prices have gone sky-high and corporate profits have gone through the roof.  However, wages for average Americans have remained flat.   This posed a problem for the business community, in that it left average folk (who were by now burned out from working two to three jobs a week) with no money to buy anything due to their diminished buying power.  So, they gave us all credit cards at interest rates which, in a civilized nation,  should be illegal.  Is it any wonder credit card debt has soared?

Here’s what one of our founders had to say about setting up a central bank in America-

“The end of democracy, and the defeat of the American revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of the lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

“If the people ever allow the banks to issue their currency, the banks and corporations which will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property, until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.” -Thomas Jefferson

I have to wonder what Jefferson would say about our current state of economic affairs, as we are now at a point where the richest 1% of Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 90%.   And still the corporations keep looking for places to cut and bankers seek new ways to bleed the middle and upper middle class.

How are you doing these days?

Maybe what’s getting started in Bell will turn into a grassroots movement, with average Americans demanding greater equity from a system that increasingly favors the rich while turning its back on the rest of us — the middle class and even the upper middle class.  We’re all fair game for the unregulated greed unleashed by the Reagan Revolution and promoted by subsequent administrations with nearly unlimited support from Wall Street, most of the Senate and much of the House.

Maybe it’s time to follow in Bell’s footsteps and get angry.  Really, really angry.

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