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BILL MOYERS: Not a day passes, that we can’t see evidence of the great divide you just heard me talk about with Angela Blackwell. All you have to do is look at the news.

The Wall Street Journal reports that big American companies have emerged from the deepest recession since World War II more profitable than ever: flush with cash, less burdened by debt, and with a greater share of the country’s income.

But, “many of the 1.1 million jobs the big companies added since 2007 were outside the U.S. So, too, was much of the $1.2 trillion added to corporate treasuries.”

To add to this embarrassment of riches, corporate taxes today are at a 40-year low.

Then look at this report in the New York Times, last year, among the 100 best-paid C.E.O.'s, the median income was more than $14 million, compared with the average annual American salary of $45,230.

Combined, this happy hundred executives pulled down more than two billion dollars.

And according to the Times, “these C.E.O.’s might seem like pikers. Top hedge fund managers collectively earned $14.4 billion last year.”

That’s Wall Street—the metaphorical bestiary of the financial universe. But there is nothing metaphorical about the earnings of hedge fund tigers, private equity lions, and the top dogs at those big banks that were bailed out by tax dollars after they helped chase our economy off a cliff.

So what do these Wall Street nabobs have to complain about? Why are they whining about reform? And why are they funneling cash to super PACs aimed at bringing down Barack Obama, who many of them supported four years ago?

Because, says Alec MacGillis in “The New Republic” -- the president wants to raise their taxes.

That’s right. While ordinary Americans are taxed at a top rate of 35 percent on their income, Congress allows hedge fund and private equity tycoons to pay only 15 percent on their compensation.

The president wants them to pay more, still at a rate below what you might pay, and for that he’s being accused of – hold onto your combat helmets -- “class warfare.” One Wall Street Midas, once an Obama fan, now his foe, told MacGillis that that by making the rich a primary target, Obama is “… on people who are successful,” you fill in the blank.

And can you believe this?

Two years ago, when President Obama first tried to close that gaping loophole in our tax code, Stephen Schwarzman, who runs the world’s largest private equity fund, compared the president’s action to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. That’s the same Stephen Schwarzman whose agents in 2006 launched a predatory raid on a travel company in Colorado. His fund bought it, laid off 841 employees, and recouped its entire investment in just seven months.

Last year alone, Schwarzman took home over $213 million in pay and dividends, that’s a third more than 2010.

So Angela Blackwell was on the mark when she said this is a wealthy country, she also nailed it when she said one reason so many are not doing so well, despite that great wealth, is because the decision makers, and the people who have the money and influence, don’t feel connected to the rest of us.

So you can understand why I’m going to miss Bernard Rapoport, who died this month at age 94. B was my friend for half my life, and a long-time supporter of my work on public television. But more important, he was a capitalist with a conscience.

His parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia who landed in Texas, where B was born dirt poor. Poverty there either broke your heart or bit your ankles. And like a man with a bulldog at his heels, B scrambled up and out. He worked his way through the University of Texas, where he “flunked German,” he said, “to spite Hitler.”

At age 24, he met his future wife Audre on a blind date – they were engaged the next day. Together they invested $25,000 to start a life insurance company, which they later sold for half a billion dollars. B would have given it all away, except for an uncanny ability to make money faster than he could dispose of it.

He and Audre gave millions to help low-income children in Waco, the heart of Texas, where they lived modestly and where he died. Millions more to our beloved alma mater, the University of Texas; supported progressive causes and politicians, civil rights and voting rights, arts and culture, and social justice across the country and in Israel – from an eye clinic serving predominately Arab patients, and a high school for children of Israeli families who wanted to co-exist with Palestinians.

And yes, they were generous to independent journalism: Molly Ivins was one of his darlings. And so was the tough little magazine The Texas Observer, that fearless watchdog that takes on the oligarchs who run the state.

Not once, not once, did he ever suggest to me a story to cover or criticize one we did. It was hands-off all the way.

B was no Mother Teresa; many a poker player might leave his table in their underwear. But he stayed close to his roots, urged the politicians he supported to raise his taxes, and felt morally obligated to argue against his own privilege.

There weren’t many Texas tycoons who believed society not only has the right, but the need, to check and balance their appetites.

He did.

It was the only way democracy and capitalism could work.

B read more books than anyone in business I have ever known, and he would send us one that especially moved him, usually about how democracy works, or doesn’t, or on the contradictions of wealth and power.

He fretted as his energies began to fade, and toward the end he called almost every Saturday morning, and always beginning the conversation with the same question: “Moyers, what can I do to make this world a better place?”

You did plenty, my friend. You did plenty.

That’s all for this week. We want to call your attention to an upcoming special report. On Friday, April 20, our colleagues at Public Television’s Need to Know, in partnership with the Nation Institute, investigate whether U.S. Border Patrol agents have been using excessive force to curb illegal immigration.

HUMBERTO NAVARRETE: He's not resisting. Why are you guys using excessive force on him?

JOHN LARSON: As you arrived there, what was the very first thing you heard?

HUMBERTO NAVARRETE: I heard Anastacio screaming and asking for help.

ASHLEY YOUNG: He was being tased for several seconds and wasn’t moving.

MALE VOICE: Ah! Por favor!

ASHLEY YOUNG: I think I witnessed someone being murdered.

BILL MOYERS: That’s Friday, April 20th. Check your local listings.

Coming up on Moyers & Company, historian and commentator Eric Alterman of The Nation magazine, and Ross Douthat, columnist for The New York Times.

At our website, BillMoyers.com, remember Angela Blackwell said Americans don’t like to talk about race, so what do you think goes unsaid? Share your thoughts on a special spotlight section of the website or link from there to our Facebook page.

That’s it for now. See you next time.

Bill Moyers Essay: Capitalism With a Conscience

April 13, 2012

With help from the government, a very friendly tax code, and their own coffer-powered influence, big American companies have emerged from the recession flush with cash, less burdened by debt, and with a greater share of the country’s income. As a consequence, Angela Blackwell suggests, people with enormous money and influence often don’t feel connected to the rest of us.

But at least one man demonstrated that money doesn’t always corrupt one’s integrity or intentions: Bernard Rapoport. A “capitalist with a conscience” with an authentic connection to the struggles and values of everyday Americans, Rapoport died this month at 94. A friend and long-time supporter of Bill Moyers’ work on public television, Rapoport gave millions to help low-income children in Waco,Texas. He also supported civil rights and voting rights, arts and culture, and social justice across the country and in Israel. He urged the politicians he supported to raise his taxes, and felt morally obligated to argue against his own privilege.

In this essay, Moyers pays tribute to the man he admired, and the vital causes they shared.

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  • Marty

    From your description, it sounds like Bernard Rapoport was what is known in Hebrew as a “Staddik”, a righteous man.   I was taught that it is a Jewish obligation to ask oneself each day, “What can I do to make this world a better place?” It’s also known as Tikkun Olam, Repair the World. Few can meet the burden, it sounds like Bernard Rapoport did. May he rest in peace.

  • Bewildered

    You nailed it again as usual, thanks.

  • John_hepburn

    In order for capitalism to work the money has to circulate but these guys want to have everything. Eventually the only thing left for them to take will be the clothes on our backs,,literally.

  • Thomas Jon94

    Here’s what I’m curious of…

    I recognize that political rhetoric is often  the bait of a mine laden trap, but where is the fear of this “class warfare.”

    More and more often, as soon as someone broaches the topic of unfair economic, social, or intra-cultural disparity (ie…the differences in economic experience and perspective among various races within our nation) between the haves and have nots, the class warfare accusations start to fly.

    This week’s episode, with the Angela Blackwell interview, followed by Mr. Moyers essay here, presents a good opportunity to discuss the possible minefield that lies between the trenches.

    Are the warnings that the well to do and “want to be well to do” keep shouting…”Class warfare!! Class warfare…” a real danger, or are they the growlings of toothless dogs?

    What if there was a “class warfare?’ Where is the danger?

    Is it in just admitting such a thing does, and has existed for even longer than our country been around?

    Does it demand, in this case,  that President Obama alienate many potential donors and supporters?

    Does it force the “Hope People” into the long awaited tossing away of that carrot on a  stick called the American Dream (I hereby coin the terms “American Illusion/Delusion”,) and then have themselves be blamed for crushing the spirit of all those sad eyed young people never able to reach that goal of economic security for their progeny?

    Truly I ask, where is this danger? The less-than privileged in this country have been the target of barrage upon barrage of crippling political and economic policies for decades. Corporate subsides, tax break incentives, lower tariffs, corporate person-hood,  superpacs…the list goes on, I’m just tired of thinking of them(made the point.)

    We, the less- than privileged, really have little left to lose.

    If we don’t go, or send our children to college, we are stuck in servitude positions.

    If we do go to college, we are soon strapped with debt and the highest tax rate burdens.  We gain middle level positions where both parents are forced to work just to meet basic bills with little relief to hope for except squirreling away every dime to save for our children’s education.

    There are the 1 or 2 out of a thousand exceptions to the rule that are able to succeed…those are thown in our faces as examples of what we are hoping and slaving toward.

    So what is the down side of admitting the class war?

    Is there something else I’m missing…some all destroying danger?

    Or does it really come down to the two sides of the same 1% coin, both afraid to have the less-than privileged see behind the curtain of power at what levers are being pulled and by whom?

    I say admit it, fight it, and get it over with…the privileged will control the police, but I doubt it will go that far. People in our times do not seem ready to throw the tea into the ocean. They/we, lol, are sufficiently enthralled by “The Bachelor.” “Survivor,” and one or all of the “CSI’s.”

  • Ken S

    The class war has been going on for decades, but in the opposite direction, perpetrated by the rich on the poor. To admit it is to admit there is something that needs to be fixed. Instead, the term is used by the rich in Orwellian fashion to mean the opposite of reality; to maintain the ruse that ours is a classless society.

  • Kurt in Tampa

    What a great tribute to a capitalist with a conscience.
    Bernard Rapoport provided an inspiring example of how the we can all work together towards a brighter future. Many thanks to Bill Moyers for his report.

  • JonThomas

     Exactly.

    It’s really starting to bother me that so few who talk a big game will stand up to the accusations.

    From Mr. Moyers description, it sounds as if Bernard Rapoport was a warrior for his principles.

    I realize that President Obama has something to lose if he stands up to accusations of starting a class war, but in his first run he presented himself as a man willing to fight for the “little people.”

    Why do politicians and others and keep backing away? There is plenty of evidence of the decades of eroded opportunity and outright theft foisted upon the middle and lower income brackets.

    Example after example of privileged influence  being used to pass legislation and policy in order to give greater advantage to special interests.

  • Bill Moyers

    You’ve asked the right question, Jon. And I don’t have an answer–yet.  Moyers

  • Bill Moyers

    I will send this to his family, Marty. They’ll be touched by what you said.  Moyers

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Rapoport was born in the 1917. He and his parents struggled during the Depression. He began working as a jeweler’s clerk to get through college, and then as an insurance agent after graduating. His wife’s uncle helped them swing the $25K loan to start a health insurance agency. This happened at the end of WWII when there was pent-up demand and an enormous untapped market in the infancy of hospitalization policies. Growth could be explosive in those times because the middle class was strong. At the crest of the baby boom (when I was born in 1956) Bernard expanded his product line into life insurance and took the company public and national. Think about how lucky he was, and not yet 40 years old.

    Man, just think how times have changed.
    No young couples are starting insurance agencies, not starting any businesses with small loans. Markets are saturated and dominated by large corporations. Predatory operators pick you off as soon as you get a good thing  going. The capitalist frontier is as exhausted as the wilderness frontier. Demand is soft and incomes are falling for most  households. You  can’t work your way through college anymore.
    My observation is that circumstances make the ascendance of mensches like Rapoport highly unlikely. His business contemporaries had a wider range of choice to be progressive and egalitarian than today. The iron grip of Oligarchy is on the self-made man more than ever not to be concerned or charitable.

    Bill Moyers’ sponsors, Bernard and Audrey Rapoport lived exceptional lives in an exceptional era. It is not for me to say if their business was a net benefit to the public. What we can be sure of is that they shared as much of their personal wealth in support of egalitarian causes as possible, and lived modestly as an example. They were as good as people were allowed to be in their time. And now there are social costs and political penalties associated with trying to be so good.

    Capitalism evolved and it can’t unwind. Corruption, war, oppression, secrecy, invasion of citizen privacy, Empire and the wealth and income gap are now necessary to its operation. The Rapoports could not have gone back to selling simple hospitalization policies on a membership savings model at the time they sold the  diversified corporation for half a billion. And the bottom line accounting on a global scale will never allow us to recover justice and fairness without bankrupting this unsustainable house of cards. For the Rapoport’s generation it is merciful that they will pass away before understanding the impasse good intentions created.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    How much does Cheney have to pay for a fresh heart?

  • Bill Moyers

    I think you’re right about this, and I am sure B understood it, which saddened him toward the end.   bm

  • friend of people

    I want to think that Capitalism has a conscience but alas, American history is filled with too many examples that
    prove it doesn’t have a social conscience. Today Capitalism is controlled by big corporations and bought and paid for by money. Most money is “earned” by maximizing profits. The ways to maximize profits are: (1) to derail all regulations designed to protect people; (2) pay as little as possible to wage earners; (3) produce products or services which are inferior in quality and longevity; (4) satisfy the investor class who earn their income from investments and not salaries; (5) fool consumers by employing marketing techniques that are fraudulent; and (6) reduce corporate taxes to as little as possible. Add the profits made by the war machine and you have a deficit ridden economy that eventually must be made up by the average tax payers and a drastic decrease in social service including infrastructure improvements. The whole system has to change from top to bottom.

  • Anonymous

    Profit above morality, profit above country, profit above all reason is America’s heart of darkness. Our funeral parade will be three centuries long, and the final words of Corporate Kurtz shall be, “Profit! Profit!”

  • Glenn

    I can’t thank you enough for this essay; I know it means a lot to all the Rapoports and it’s sweet that the video had a photo with Audre & his granddaughters who brought as much joy to Mr. Rapoport as anything could.  I hope I can commit myself to living as I believe and having a great time doing it — both of which Mr. Rapoport seemed to fulfill.  

  • friend of people

    I wish to add something to what i spelled out above. Studying the different religions for a number of years, I have concluded that it is true that people who work within this economic model and are religiously inclined can show both compassion and a social conscience. That is coincidental to the practice and concept of Capitalism. There is much in Judaism, for instance, that speaks volumes about sharing with the lass fortunate and helping rather than taking. There are elements in Christianity and Islam who show charity and selfless behavior as a result of their commitment to God/Jesus/Allah. Secular Capitalists are both driven and committed to a different model that takes, competes and runs over others.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Even when I make an accurate observation I regret any negative reflection on exceptional people who try their best for justice and fairness.

  • Lyndon Olson

    Thank you Bill , Lyndon