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March 22, 2014

A minority group that's getting out of hand

By Sam Pollak
The Daily Star

---- — You know how it is with this one particular minority group. I’m pretty sure you know which one I’m talking about here.

I mean, members of this minority are always looking to take offense, so much so that you really have to watch what you say all the time, lest you be accused of being biased against them.

Of course, some of them are good, decent folks you wouldn’t mind having over for dinner, but they’re probably the exception. Most of them are really pushy and don’t know how to act when they’re not around their own kind.

They think the world owes them a living. They want things done for them that they could easily do themselves if they just got off their butts and showed some initiative.

They expect hard-working, taxpaying Americans to cater to them and not to resent all the advantages they get from the government.

With all the publicity they get, you’d think there are more of them than there really are. Maybe that’s because they tend to be so clannish, sticking together so they can stick it to everybody else.

At last count, there were only 442 of them in the United States.

They are, of course, America’s billionaires.

Many of them — including the liberal George Soros and the conservative Koch brothers — give a lot of money to worthy charities, and some of them even pay sizable taxes, although they tend to not be shy about taking advantage of offshore tax havens.

They have it made, and then some.

But bring up income inequality with some of these characters, and you’re likely to be accused of being Madame Defarge, happily knitting away while the guillotine beheads yet another member of the bourgeoisie.

Earlier this year, venture capitalist Tom Perkins, who is estimated to be worth about $8 billion, wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal complaining about the Occupy Wall Street movement’s “demonization of the rich” and its “progressive war on the American one percent.”

Incredibly, Perkins equated this criticism to Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Nazis killed almost 100 Jews while burning down synagogues and vandalizing Jewish homes, schools and stores. In its immediate wake, about 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

Perkins’ letter, as you might expect, engendered opprobrium far and wide, so much so that Perkins later allowed that “I used that terrible word ‘Kristallnacht,’ which I should never have used.”

But then, a month later, at a speaking engagement moderated by Adam Lashinsky of Fortune, Perkins said if he had his way, only taxpayers would be allowed to vote, and that the more taxes you pay, the more votes you should get.

“…What I really think is, it should be like a corporation,” Perkins said. “You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How’s that?”

How’s that? Ridiculous, that’s how it is.

According to the Washington Post, between 1979 and 2011, wages for the median worker grew by only 6 percent. Those in the top 5 percent saw a rise of 37 percent. The top 1 percent’s earnings grew by an astounding 113 percent.

Under Perkins’ logic, that privileged income should buy millions of votes to help Perkins and his ilk have even more say in how things are run in Washington than they do now.

Not content to allow Perkins to be the only rich idiot making asinine comments equating advocates for the disadvantaged with Nazis, billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone had his say in Politico about criticism of the wealthy’s massive political contributions and influence.

“…If you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany,” Langone said. “You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.”

Later that day, obviously informed that he had said something stupid, Langone apologized for being caught saying what he actually believes.

“If my choice of words was inappropriate — and they well may have been that — I extend my profound apologies to anyone and everyone who I may have offended,” he said in a statement without reneging on his basic premise.

Langone, you might remember, is the guy who made a not-so-veiled threat in January to Pope Francis. In essence, Langone said that unless the pope stops scolding the rich about the plight of the poor, it will make the rich people very unhappy.

So unhappy that they just might change their minds about helping to finance the $180 million renovation of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Call me naïve, but I kinda think that when you feel your bank account entitles you to blackmail the pope, your hat might be getting just a tad too snug.

And I’d be very surprised if that is a minority opinion.

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/sampollak.