As president of the Pacific Exchange in the late 1990s, Warren Langley oversaw the West Coast's biggest financial center, a trading floor where some 17 million shares of stock changed hands daily. Though he served at the pleasure of traders and investment banks such as Morgan Stanley, he is no longer interested in pleasing them. Yesterday, he stood on a hillside in San Francisco's Financial District in front Morgan Stanley's and Goldman Sachs' regional headquarters to declare his support for Occupy Wall Street West, a coalition of 50 groups planning a slew of anti-bank protests Friday.
"From the inside, I watched Goldman Sachs, the big banks, the hedge funds bet our money and then get bailed out when they lost," said Langley, surrounded by protesters holding images of a devious-looking Mr. Moneybags (Monopoly) character. "I saw corporations and the 1 percent buy our congressmen and senators and then pay no taxes, get subsidies, and move jobs overseas. This is our last chance to level the playing field and let you and our kids and grandkids have the opportunities that I started with."
Langley, 69, began working in finance in the 1980s, rising to become CEO of Hull Trading Company, a $500 million proprietary trading firm active in stock options and derivatives. The job often involved pressuring the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to loosen financial regulations. "I was just trying to push the boundaries of things that would help me make profits," he confesses. "I didn't perceive the risk to the economy, and I think that is the part that really changed for me."
For some CEOs, the easiest way to get rich is to quit.
Increasingly, corporations offer their chief executives fantastically generous severance packages—retirement bonuses, extended stock options, and pensions that can add up to $100 million or more. Call 'em platinum parachutes. These deals are supposed to benefit shareholders by encouraging CEOs to take a long-term view of corporate profits, but some compensation experts have their doubts. "Too many golden parachutes and too many retirement packages are of a size that clearly seems only in the interest of the departing executive," says a new report by GMI, a corporate governance consultancy.
By way of example, the report singles out 21 CEOs whose severance packages are worth more than the median US earner would make in 49 lifetimes. In the case of GE's John Welch Jr., the figure would be 203 lifetimes. But you could still argue that the most outrageous example is Viacom's Thomas Freston, who put in just one year of work for his $100-million-plus sendoff.
GMI, "Largest Severance Packages of the Millennium"
Congressman Ron Paul's third-place finish in Tuesday's Iowa Republican Caucus was a remarkably strong showing for a candidate who has so little in common with mainstream Republicans. Perhaps the nation's most politically unique congressman, Paul shares policy stances with conservatives, liberals, and libertarians, while differing markedly from all of them.
So where does Paul fit in the Libertarian universe?
Libertarianism might be a simple ideology, an aversion to big government in all its forms, but don't tell that to libertarians: "Like any movement of any size," says Nick Gillespie, editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, "it is an endless operation of trying to figure out more and more ways in which people who agree on 99.9 percent of everything can really hate each other's guts."
Anarcho-Capitalists: The most radical of the lot, they want to abolish government entirely (though, unlike regular anarchists, they do support private property rights). "The state acts like a band of thieves and killers," explains Lew Rockwell, the best-known exponent of this strain. "The private sector doesn't do that."
Minarchists: Archrivals to the anarcho-capitalists, they support a minimalist version of government: Let the state handle roads, policing, and defense—but nothing more. Many, including Ron Paul, view the Constitution as the ultimate minarchist document.
Cosmopolitan Libertarians: Term used by the minarchist editors of Reason to describe their embrace of world citizenship and deride rivals as hayseeds
Economic Libertarians: Worship free-market absolutists like Milton Friedman
Hippie Libertarians: Worship freedom-loving freaks like Larry Flynt
Religious Libertarians: Worship deities of their choosing, care about politics primarily as it affects religious freedom. In 17th-century England they were Puritan Roundheads. In 21st-century America they're Mormons.
Gold Bugs: Advocate a return to the gold standard, or some equivalent, as a way to diminish the fiscal powers of the state; dismiss foes as "inflationists"
Objectivists: Followers of philosopher Ayn Rand who love morality tales, hate anarchy, and endorse a scorched-earth foreign policy. If "flattening Fallujah to end the Iraqi insurgency will save American lives," Ayn Rand Institute director Yaron Brook has written, "to refrain from [doing so] is morally evil."
Neolibertarians: Libertarian neocons; big supporters of the Iraq War
Paleolibertarians: Old-schoolers who despise the neolibertarians for selling out to the system. Also think atheism is overrated.
Technolibertarians: Extropians, transhumanists, sci-fi-fans, they strive to transcend humanity's meat-puppet limitations and take self-determination to the final frontier.
South Park Conservatives: Find their politics articulated in a show created by two avowed libertarians; a seminal episode follows a race for school mascot between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Which, says Reason's Gillespie, "pretty much sums up how most libertarians approach politics."
Paultards: Blogosphere dis for those who annoy the online masses by relentlessly shilling for their man in comment threads, polls, and social networking sites
Rand of the Free
Around 9 percent of Americans are libertarians. What makes them tick?
85% are white.
67% are men.
53% are under 50.
59% say they are satisfied financially.
82% say government is almost always inefficient and wasteful.
67% say they're politically independent, yet 70% say they'll vote for a Republican in 2012.
27% say Mitt Romney is their top pick; 13% say Ron Paul.
36% say they don't know where Obama was born.
38% regularly watch Fox News.
60% say we shouldn't give up privacy to be safer from terrorism.
54% support legalizing pot.
71% say homosexuality should be accepted,
Yet only 43% support gay marriage.
63% say there's no solid evidence of global warming.
The bad news for the US Chamber of Commerce is that the world now knows that Chinese hackers broke into its computer system. The good news is that its membership has suddenly increased tenfold. This is according to the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Politico, which reported yesterday that the US Chamber of Commerce has 3 million members, 2,700,000 more than it has claimed as of late.
Did a few reporters accidentally misplace a decimal point? Not likely. Most media outlets used the "3 million members" line until 2009, when I discovered that the Chamber's true membership is no more than 300,000. After a bit of back and forth, the Chamber was forced to agree with me. Many reporters continued using the wrong number until I called them on it, at which point the 300,000 figure finally won out. Or so I'd thought.
The inflated reports of the Chamber's size have allowed it to claim to speak for a broad swath of American businesses, when in reality it's a dark money outfit controlled by a few ultra-wealthy special interests. In 2009, just 16 members accounted for 55 percent of its $200 million budget.
So here we go again. A math lesson for Siobhan Gorman of the Wall Street Journal, Tim Mak of Politico, and Gerry Smith of the Huffington Post (who should know better): 3,000,000 - 2,700,000 = the correct size of the US Chamber of Commerce.*
*If you count only dues-paying members, the true Chamber membership is probably closer to 100,000, but what's a couple hundred thousand here or there?
At a strip mall clogged with Ferraris and fashion boutiques, Beretta Gallery salesman Chris Cope shows me a framed photo of one of his best clients, an oilman posing next to a bounty of elephant tusks. In addition to selling massive safari rifles, this high-end Italian weapons emporium in the Dallas suburb of Highland Park supplies $130,000 Imperiale Montecarlo shotguns as well as petite .22s and chic, lockable handbags to conceal them. All told, it sells more firearms than any other Beretta outlet in the world. Last year, the store presented George W. Bush with a $250,000 shotgun engraved with the presidential seal, a picture of his Scotty dog, and "43" on the lever. The gun, which required more than a year to assemble, was a thank-you from Mr. Beretta for a military order of a half-million pistols.
It's fair to call 75205, the zip code for most of Highland Park, the most enthusiastically Republican enclave in the country. Among the two-dozen zip codes that donated the most money to candidates and political parties last year, 75205 gave the highest share—77 percent—to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It also gave Republicans more hard cash, $2.4 million, than all but four other zips nationwide. Affluent, insular, and intensely sure of itself, Highland Park is the red-state counterpart of, say, Berkeley. It's a place where, one native son half-jokes, friends might ask one another, "Do you want to come over for barbecue after we go vote for Mitt Romney?" People in the surrounding city of Dallas, where I grew up, call it the Bubble.
"We don't need the government to do things for us—that's why the town is very, very independent," says Ray Washburne, a co-owner of the Highland Park Village mall and a native "Parkie." In 2004, Washburne and George Seay III (pronounced "see"), a grandson of Texas' first 20th-century Republican governor, cofounded Legacy, a group of 200 families that "have been successful in their careers and want to be involved in the political process." The group hosts aspiring GOP presidential candidates at a yearly summer retreat in Colorado, where they "network with other people who have been trying to push along the conservative, free-enterprise cause." Washburne befriended former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at an event in 2008 and later joined his short-lived presidential campaign.
It's no secret why Highland Park attracts so many rich conservatives. It has a prime location near Dallas' financial center and one of the lowest property tax rates in a state with no income tax. Yet it has one of the nation's best school systems and an average emergency response time of 2.5 minutes. "Highland Park is safe," says Mary Bosworth, a local GOP precinct chair. "You call the fire department and they'll be there in three minutes, versus 'Are you dead yet?' in Dallas."
Wilbur David Cook, the urban planner who designed Beverly Hills, drew up the plan for Highland Park a few years before it was incorporated in 1913. One of the community's first (if factually dubious) slogans, "It's 10 degrees cooler in Highland Park," reflected its attractiveness to the elite, as did its restrictions prohibiting property sales to minorities. A friend who is a descendant of one of Highland Park's founding families was discussing this history over lunch at Washburne's Mi Cocina restaurant when a black acquaintance, a successful loan broker, stopped by our table. Answering before I could ask, my friend said, "He does not live in Highland Park."
Over the years, the Highland Park police has been repeatedly accused of racial profiling. A 2007 report by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (PDF) found that the town's officers searched black drivers four times more often than whites. The cops are also known for stopping people who, as a former officer testified in a civil rights suit against the town, "did not blend in." Daniel Kanter, a local Unitarian minister, believes he was pulled over because he drives a battered Toyota Corolla. "Beyond racial," he says, "it's profiling by the make and model of your car."
Defenders of the Bubble say it's unfair to brand it as exclusionary, self-absorbed, or materialistic. A friend cites the story of Charles E. Seay, a.k.a. "Big Charlie," a self-made insurance millionaire and George Seay III's great-uncle. On a 1989 trip to Acapulco, Seay's van tumbled off a cliff but was caught by a lone madrona tree. Seay concluded that God had put him on earth for a purpose. By the time he died in 2009, he'd given away tens of millions of dollars to local hospitals, museums, and the YMCA. "Because he did, other people did too," my friend said. Today, many big Highland Park social events are charity balls.
Of course, the Parkies would much rather comfort the afflicted than afflict the comfortable. In 2006, Garrison Keillor, host of the public radio program A Prairie Home Companion, visited the Highland Park United Methodist Church. "Within 10 minutes [I] was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics," Keillor later wrote in an indignant op-ed. "I was there on a book tour for Homegrown Democrat, but they thought it better if I didn't mention it."
As a senior at Highland Park High in the mid-'90s, Butler Looney hung out with the only black girl in class and grew his curly hair slightly longer than average. He thinks that's why his class voted him "Most Liberal." (He later designed the seal for the George W. Bush Presidential Library.) "People in Berkeley are kind of the same," says Looney, who, like me, eventually moved from Texas to the San Francisco Bay Area. "It's like, 'I can't believe that you would associate with those other kinds.'" Yet he's not offended by liberal friends who diss his hometown or Parkies who can't comprehend why he left. "It's not out of malice. They just have no concept of the other side."