I love Friday newsdumps. Friday is when companies, government agencies, or anyone with bad news to release lets it go. On Friday, Apple Inc. revealed that it missed its own annual sales and profit goals for the first time since 2009. Sales volume for the iPhone fell in 2016 for the first time since its introduction in 2007, and the company posted its first annual revenue decline in 15 years.
CEO Tim Cook's paycheck, which is tied to Apple's financial performance, took a big hit -- a 15% cut from his total annual compensation! It looks like there's going to be some serious belt-tightening and budgeting in the Cook household.
Apple hasn't had a new blockbuster product like the iPhone, iPod, or iPad in years. Critics charge that the company is lagging behind on its voice-based interfaces. AI-powered voice assistants seem to be the wave of the future. Even though Apple introduced "Siri" more than five years ago, it is not keeping up with rival services from Google, Amazon, and others. Apple's dominance in the smartphone world, assured by its superior design and execution, could be in danger if they don't make the next step to the always-on, voice-activated devices of the future.
(Of course, despite these problems, Apple is still far and away the world's most valuable company with a market value over $600 billion and is the most profitable U.S. corporation with net income of $45 billion in 2016.)
Nonetheless, because he fell short of his own projections (largely because of a sharp slowdown in iPhone sales revenue from China), poor Tim Cook had to suffer. His compensation is linked to financial performances, so the bastards at Apple cut his pay.
For most Americans, a 15% pay cut would require some change of lifestyle, some kind of economizing. Time for some penny-pinching and coupon-cutting.
But in Cook's case, he's had to struggle by on only $8.75 million this year, down from $10.3 million. (Don't forget that an executive on his level has an enormous, virtually limitless expense account and pays for nothing on his own. Every meal, every trip, every party, everything is charged to the company.)
But perhaps the board didn't feel so bad, cutting Cook's pay because in 2011, when he took over as CEO, they gave him a grant of stock valued at the time at $376 million. And there was that other restricted stock grant he received in 2011 that vested last year for him to the tune of another $135 million. And he has an additional 3.5 million shares coming to him, in increments until 2021, worth another $413 million.
Now isn't that ridiculous?
I'm all in favor of good compensation for hard-working executives. The TG worked for years at a very high level in several corporations, and I know that those jobs are virtually seven-day a week jobs. For the most part, rich people work very hard. They work hard to get rich, and they work hard to stay rich.
But is there any limit to the greed out there by the super-rich? How much money do people like Tim Cook need to make? The percentage of national wealth going to a very few people – not the 1%, but the .001% -- has distorted our economy in fundamentally hurtful ways.
By every conceivable measure, income inequality is out of control in the USA and has made our society unfair, dysfunctional, and untenable for a majority of Americans. A comparative handful of billionaires and super-rich families control large swaths of the American economy. They are often dedicated to causes like dismantling public education, undermining the rights of workers, especially public school teachers, financing climate change denial, and working against the rights of the LGBT community. And they have the almost unlimited ability to buy politicians at all levels of government – cf. ALEC -- to maintain their stranglehold on society.
The reality is that 75% of America households live paycheck to paycheck. No matter that we're "the richest country in the world," life in America, for most Americans, is a difficult thing.
In 2015, in "the richest country on Earth" –
• 43.1 million people (13.5 percent) were in poverty.
• 24.4 million (12.4 percent) of people ages 18-64 were in poverty.
• 14.5 million (19.7 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty.
• 4.2 million (8.8 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty.
(And remember, all these numbers are essentially bogus because they mark the poverty line for a family of four at $24,300 a year. That is an absurdly low figure: what family of four could live on that, for food, rent, transportation, etc., for an entire year? You know what things cost out there?
Tim Cook made $24,300 before he got out of bed on January 1st.)
Take your pick of any of these facts:
In 2015, the amount of money that was given out in bonuses on Wall Street was twice the amount all minimum-wage workers earned in the country combined.
Since 1990, CEO compensation has increased by 300%. Corporate profits have doubled. The average worker's salary has increased 4%. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage has actually decreased. In 1965, CEOs earned about 24 times the amount of the average worker. In 1980 they earned 42 times as much. Today, CEOs earn 325 times the average worker.
The poorest half of the US owns 2.5% of the country's wealth. The top 1% owns 35% of it.
Tax rates for the middle class have remained essentially unchanged since 1960. Tax rates on the highest earning Americans have plunged from an almost 70% tax rate in 1945 down to around 35% today. Corporate taxes (what they actually pay) have dropped from 30 percent in the 1950s to under 10 percent today.
The big, simple fact is that our society has gotten out of balance: the rich are too rich and the poor are too poor.
It's time to re-balance the economy. De-incentivize super-greed with a higher tax rate on super-incomes, and re-invest that money in an equitable health care system, R&D, public schools, parks, clean energy projects, infrastructure, higher wages, public workforce, and a workable, renewed pension system. For starters.
I wonder whose side President Trump is going to be on.
Just look at his Cabinet choices.
Then call your Senator and tell them to RESIST.
On the other hand ...
MAGIC MERYL STREEP
As if I needed another reason to love and admire Meryl Streep, her speech at the Golden Globes was a knockout. She made her remarks sound spontaneous and natural when they were obviously very well thought out. She didn't even mention Trump's name; she didn't have to. And she mainly called him out for being a bully, something that is impossible to deny. Still, she raised quite a fuss.
I've seen Meryl three times on stage: in the legendary 1977 production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD at Lincoln Center directed by Andre Serban with Irene Worth, Raul Julia, etc. ... in ALICE IN CONCERT, a musical by Elizabeth Swados at the Public Theatre in 1980 ... and in 2001, in THE SEAGULL in Central Park directed by Mike Nichols with Kevin Kline, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Natalie Portman.
She is obviously the greatest actress of her generation with an unrivaled range, imagination, and ability to convey detail. And if I complain sometimes about roles that she didn't do – she should have played Blanche du Bois and Portia and Lady Macbeth and Amanda Wingfield and Mary Tyrone – she has been remarkable in a lot of fine movies: THE DEER HUNTER, KRAMER VS. KRAMER, OUT OF AFRICA, SILKWOOD, ADAPTATION, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, the superb ANGELS IN AMERICA (on TV), and SOPHIE'S CHOICE, her greatest performance and arguably the finest performance ever given by anybody, in any movie. Who's better? Only Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT.
Meryl's speech at the Golden Globes
Meryl in SOPHIE'S CHOICE – "The Choice" – her greatest performance
More SOPHIE'S CHOICE – "They had courage."
KRAMER VS. KRAMER – "Were you a failure?"
KRAMER VS. KRAMER – "I'm his mother."
DOUBT – with Viola Davis – Two great actresses
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA – The blue sweater monologue
NAT HENTOFF, DEAD AT 91
For the first half of my life, growing up and living in the New York City area, the VILLAGE VOICE was a very important publication for me. As a Village-loving suburban kid, I read the Voice avidly. Founded in 1955 by Norman Mailer, Dan Wolf, and another guy, the Voice was the first and greatest alternative weekly. Every week, I and a million other New Yorkers devoured the Voice.
The paper was famous for its regular contributors:
Jack Newfield ... Andrew Sarris ... Jules Feiffer ... Robert Christgau ... Pete
Hamill ... Ellen Willis ... Wayne Barrett ... Alexander Cockburn
... Stu Mack ... Jonas Mekas ... Michael Musto ... Jill Johnston ... Lynda Barry ...
Mark Alan Stamaty ... Richard Goldstein ... Hilton Als ... Peter Schjeldahl ... and
so many others. More than I can remember.
But nobody, outside of Mailer himself at the beginning, was more the spirit of the Voice than Nat Hentoff because, as a prominent jazz critic and political writer, he was respected in both arts and news circles, the Voice's two main areas of interest. Hentoff wrote for the Voice for fifty-one years, from 1958 to 2009.
I read his classic 1955 book of early jazz musicians HEAR ME TALKIN' TO YA more than once. He was an active civil libertarian, anti-death penalty advocate, and champion of human rights. At the end of his life, he began to drift to the far right, winding up at the Cato Institute and publishing on WorldNetDaily.com. He took some extreme positions, especially on abortion issues, and became something of a crank. But his passing is to be mourned.
He died surrounded by his family, listening to Billie Holiday. There are worse ways to go.
THE VOICE used to be essential reading. Everyone checked for the Voice for music listings, movie reviews, their classifieds, and their columnists like Nat Hentoff. Now I guess, New Yorkers go online – to a million other places. They give it away for free. Things change.