Jim Hightower

Failing Upwards
by Published on

WHEN HEROES ARE HUCKSTERS

Oh, Angelo, what a hero you are. Yessiree, a real corporate hero.

Angelo Mozilo is CEO of Countrywide Financial Corp., which was America’s largest huckster of subprime mortgages before that whole house of cards came tumbling down. Thousands of Countrywide’s customers have lost their homes, thousands of its employees have lost their jobs, and Countrywide itself was on the brink of bankruptcy until it arranged a bailout merger with Bank of America.

Angelo didn’t suffer a bit, though. He had set himself up with a nice little severance package of $36 million, plus $400,000 a year in consulting fees from the new owners and the use of the corporate jet. However, after an explosion of public outrage over this sweetheart setup, Angelo has stepped up to say he will voluntarily forego his golden parachute. What a guy, huh?

But wait-before you burst into tears of gratitude, let’s note that Saint Angelo had taken even earlier steps to provide a financial cushion for himself. At the dawn of 2007-a year that would be catastrophic for Countrywide-Mozilo quietly adjusted an executive stock-selling plan so he could unload his millions of shares of company stock.

When he first “adjusted” the plan, Countrywide’s stock price was about $40 a share. Today, it’s $6. In between, his sales netted him a cool $132 million. That does not count more than $300 million in stock he’d previously sold. So when Angelo made the grand gesture of giving up a severance package he didn’t deserve in the first place, he was already sitting in the lap of luxury-unlike the shareholders, customers, and employees who didn’t have advance knowledge of Countrywide’s collapse.

Some hero.

THE WOLF SURVIVES

On a wintry night, in the pale light of the moon, the wolf emerges to howl again.

Yes, “Howling Paul” Wolfowitz is back in government! The neocon hack who was a top architect of George W’s Iraq debacle is being brought out of the shadows to chair a prestigious State Department committee that advises the secretary on such matters as weapons of mass destruction.

You might recall that when Howling Paul was Bush’s undersecretary of defense, he insisted that big bad Saddam Hussein had WMDs and had to be taken out before he dropped one right here in America. “Disarming Iraq,” Wolfowitz solemnly declared just before Bush’s invasion, “is a crucial part of winning the war on terror.”

As Americans have learned the hard way, Paul, George, Dick, Rummy, Condi, and others were duping us. Saddam had neither WMDs nor any connection to the al-Qaida terrorists we should have been fighting. Incompetent ideologues like Wolfowitz led our country into a disastrous war that has strengthened the enemy and weakened the U.S. As one leading nuclear policy expert says, “The advice given by Paul Wolfowitz over the past six years ranks among the worst provided by any defense official in history. I have no idea why anyone would want more.”

Yet here he comes, newly appointed to head the 18-member International Security Advisory Board. There, he’ll have access to highly classified material and leeway to affect our national policy on such explosive matters as Iran and Pakistan. A State Department official says, simply, “We think he is well-suited.”

Well-suited to do what-lie? A new report documents 935 false statements that Bush & Co. made to justify their invasion of Iraq. Eighty-five of those were by Wolfowitz.

LESS NEWS IS BAD NEWS

Be careful, it’s a jungle out there-especially if you’re the editor of the Los Angeles Times. If you don’t eat your own editorial staff, that newspaper’s corporate brass will eat you.

In 2000, the Times was bought by the Tribune Co., a media conglomerate based in Chicago that owns the Chicago Tribune, as well as two dozen television stations. The conglomerate brought in a well-regarded editor, John Carroll, to run the L.A. paper, and he and his staff produced 13 Pulitzer Prizes in five years. But headquarters kept forcing newsroom cuts on Carroll until he got fed up in 2005 and quit.

Next came Dean Baquet, another stalwart journalist. Again, chieftains in Chicago kept ordering him to devour reporters until he couldn’t take it anymore and, in 2006, said “no.” He was sacked. That put James O’Shea in the editor’s chair, but now comes word that the job has swallowed him, too. He’s just been fired for refusing to cut $4 million from the newsroom budget.

That’s three editors chewed up and spit out in just over three years. They were fired not for any journalistic shortcoming, but because they wouldn’t fire the people who do the journalism.

Was the paper unprofitable? No. The nastiest part of America’s increasingly conglomerated media is that the owners don’t just want to make a profit, they want to make a killing. In 2006, for example, the Los Angeles Times hauled in nearly $600 million in profit-a 10 percent return on sales.

Many independent papers would be happy with that financial result, but conglomerate investors howl for returns of 30 percent or more. So they try to bleed newsrooms to death to extract more dimes for their own pockets.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com.