The recession has devastated the finances of many Americans, but it has been very good to the Walton family. Since 2007, Walmart stores have been flooded with millions of folks who've lost their shirts in the housing bust, stock market crash, and stalled job market—people who can no longer afford to buy anything that isn't made in China and sold by someone making close to minimum wage. Using newly released data from the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances (listed as "SCF" below), labor economist Sylvia Allegretto has put together this chart on the diverging fortunes of the Waltons and their customers:
As Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Insitute points out, the six Walmart heirs now have more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined, up from 30 percent in 2007. Between 2007 and 2010, the collective wealth of the six richest Waltons rose from $73 billion to $90 billion, while the wealth of the average American declined from $126,000 to $77,000 (13 million Americans have negative net worth). Here's a chart of how many average Americans it has taken over time to equal the wealth of the Waltons:
It may be no accident that rising income inequality in America since the 1970s has coincided with Walmart's meteoric expansion:
When things heat up in the Empire State, many of our nation's rulers join the Summer Colony, what Hamptonites call the influx of plutocrats and assorted helpers who seasonally fill the island's beach chalets. Escaping nearby Manhattan's heat and noise for a few months each year is one of the 1 percent's most cherished membership perks, but it may be going the way of groundskeeping graveyard shifts at The Creeks.* A growing class of Hamptonian super-rich now insist on commuting to their tranquil getaways by helicopter, thereby disrupting the peace of anyone beneath their flight paths. Hamptons' resident Frank Dalene, a founding member of the Quiet Skies Coalition, says billionaire industrialist Ira Rennert is the worst offender. Here's a video he recorded of Rennert's Sikorsky S-92 and other noisy choppers buzzing the roof of his home:
For more on Hamptons helicopter feud, read my story from the July/August issue.
*According to the book "Philistines at the Hedgerow," the previous owners of The Creeks, Albert and Adele Herter, employed gardeners who worked at night so as not to disturb the Herters during the day.
Cannabis station, a medical marijuana dispensary, is located at the site of a former gas station in Denver, Colorado.
Remember when the feds pledged to end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that complied with state laws?
Psych! Like a trippy screen saver undergoing a phase change, the Justice Department has morphed its marijuana stance back into what it looked like during the Bush era, going on the offensive against dozens of medical pot operations. This week federal agents moved to evict Harborside Health Center, the nation's most respected (and by all accounts, most legally compliant) dispensary.
The Justice Department has certainly done a lot of weed-whacking in recent years, but mostly just around the fringes of California's $1.3 billion medical pot industry. Staying true to its word, it has targeted dispensaries that violated state law by, for instance, opening up too close to schools and parks. And it has used an obscure provision of the tax code to stipulate that dispensaries cannot deduct routine expenses such as rent and wages. It claims Harborside owes the IRS back taxes totalling $2.5 million.
But this week the department appeared to cross the line, breaking its 2009 pledge to leave state-compliant dispensaries alone. On Tuesday it filed papers to seize the properties in Oakland and San Jose where Harborside does business, alleging that it is "operating in violation of federal law."
In a statement, US Attorney Melinda Haag said she was now moving to target "marijuana superstores."
"The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be violations of the state's medical marijuana laws," she said.
Of course, size doesn't necessarily equate to disregard for the law. And either way, going after dispensaries that might break the law is a much different standard than targeting actual lawbreakers. But there you have it—even as the public becomes ever more tolerant of pot, the feds are becoming less so.
In 2010, people cheered when Congress gave shareholders the right to vote on the pay of corporate CEOs. Too bad those nonbinding votes haven't embarrassed the greed out of the chief executives. In fact, CEO pay crept up another 5 percent last year, once again far outstripping wage gains for middle-class workers.
While some CEOs, such as GE's Jeffrey Immelt, took a modest pay cut in 2011, many continued drawing outsized checks. Here we list 10 of the most egregiously overcompensated executives. They're selected not just on the size of their pay packages, but how much more they were paid than their peers at similar companies, as well as the disparity between their personal fortunes and those of their employer. Collectively, they highlight the cozy relationships between today's corporate boards and their chief executives. "You don't suggest [corporate compensation] consultants who are Dobermans," Warren Buffet, a critic of excessive CEO salaries, quipped in this YouTube clip. "You get cocker spaniels and make sure that their tails are wagging."
Timothy D. Cook, Apple Compensation: $378 million Corporate profits (2010-11): +85% Stock gain/loss (2010-11): +34%
With twin 2,520-horsepower engines and up to 19 seats, the Sikorsky S-92 is among the world's most powerful civilian helicopters. "Helibuses" typically service offshore oil platforms and the like, but two years ago billionaire industrialist Ira Rennert acquired a posh version to shuttle himself between Manhattan and Long Island's exclusive Hamptons, where he owns a 63-acre, 110,000-square-foot villa complex. One of the first to notice the giant bird was Frank Dalene, founder and CEO of a successful luxury homebuilding company, who lives on a ridge along Rennert's flight path. Its whumping rotor was like "a lightning bolt striking nearby," says Dalene, a fast-talking 58-year-old with a long nose and narrow-set eyes. He blames the vibrations for "literally damaging my home."
Dalene and his neighbors near the East Hampton Airport might have abided Rennert's choppers—he owns two—had they been an anomaly. But the situation has become intolerable over the past few years, Dalene says, thanks to a whirlybird craze among the investment bankers and hedge fund gurus who weekend in Sagaponack and Southampton. On Friday afternoons the tiny airport is a beehive. Come summer, some CEOs commute daily between their beach chalets and Manhattan's East 34th Street Heliport. "They don't give a crap about nobody," Dalene gripes.
Last year, he founded the Quiet Skies Coalition, an anti-helicopter group that has become one of the most potent political forces in the Hamptons. Its wealthy members north of the Montauk Highway launched what Dalene describes as a "knock-down, drag-out battle" against "ultra-wealthy" helicopter owners who largely live on the south side, accusing them of shattering the island's tranquillity, contributing to climate change, and poisoning the air with leaded fuel. "I am beginning to think Mr. Rennert is practicing class warfare," Dalene wrote Rennert's Manhattan secretary in an email that likened the noise assaults to "throwing their garbage on the other side of the tracks for us poor folks to live with."