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Jewish World Review June 19, 2002 / 9 Tamuz, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Consumer Reports

The greediest bunch of no-talent morons the world has seen since the Harding administration | I think I speak for all of us when I say that this finger-pointing and blame-casting and stone-throwing at Martha Stewart makes me sick. I feel like calling up Congress and the New York Post and just yelling on the phone: Leave this good woman alone.

They are all jumping all over Martha just because she dumped $227,000 worth of stock in ImClone, as it happens, the day before the Food and Drug Administration refused to license what was supposed to be ImClone's big moneymaker, a cancer drug called Erbitux. And, as it also happens, that very day Martha made a phone call to her good friend Sam Waksal, who was then the CEO of ImClone. As it further happens, Waksal has been charged by the feds with insider trading for allegedly telling relatives to dump their ImClone stock before the FDA decision kicked the bottom out of the company. Which is trading these days at under 10 bucks a share, down from $58 the day Martha made that call and unloaded while the unloading was still good.

The innuendo here is that Martha took advantage of her friendship with Waksal to cash in, so she wouldn't get burned in the flameout. As if this is a crime or something.

The natterers also criticize Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling and Andrew Fastow and the other 137 top executives of the Enron Corp. for, as was reported this week, glomming $681 million in cash and stock in the months before they drove their company into one gigantic bankruptcy hole, devastating the savings of many thousands of investors -- or "saps," as they are technically known -- and stiffing many lower-level Enron employees by maxing out their severance deals at $13,500.

They cavil at the just rewards of Joseph P. Nacchio, this week ousted as chairman and CEO of Qwest Communications International for snarfing up $87 million in compensation in 2001, the year in which, under his splendid leadership, the stock of Qwest (whose accounting practices are under investigation by the SEC) declined 65 percent in value.

They second-guess the case of Christos M. Cotsakos, the E-Trade chairman and chief executive who took home about $80 million in compensation in 2001, a year in which the company he brilliantly stewarded lost $242 million. (After reports of his pay inspired carping and moaning, Cotsakos gave back $21 million in cash and stock, but it is believed he will be able to get by on the remaining $60 million if he brown-bags lunch.) They say unkind things about Bernard J. Ebbers, recently resigned as chief executive of WorldCom Inc., who is being investigated by the SEC (don't those guys have any real work to do?) for the $366 million loan he took from the company as its share prices sank into the usual dismal swamp. They are critical of L. Dennis Kozlowski, recently booted as chief of the conglomerate Tyco International and also recently indicted on charges of tax fraud, who has made more than $300 million in salary, bonus and Tyco stock sales since 1998.

They even mutter about the greatest of our captains of the information-age economy, the men who made the biggest merger in history and built AOL Time Warner into a magnificent mega-whatever that has managed to lose 64 percent of its value in only one year. Sure, that is a lot of other people's money to throw away, but does that mean Steve Case, chairman of the AOL Time Warner board, doesn't deserve the $127.3 million he got from cashing in his options? Do you gainsay Dick Parsons, the new CEO of the company, the $26.9 million he snagged? Resent Bob Pittman, the chief operating officer, getting his $61.6 million?

Be fair. At least have pity for Gerald M. Levin, the mastermind of the AOL Time Warner merger; he held on to his $325 million in post-deal options, and this stock is now worth only $53.8 million -- a pittance. It is said that other disgraced chief officers of ruined corporations will not even golf with him; they regard him as simply too poor.

Listen, people. Our titans of industry are the best darned titans of industry in the world, and they deserve anything they can get, with both hands. It is not their fault that they turned out to be the greediest bunch of no-talent morons the world has seen since the Harding administration. It could have happened to anyone. Let them have their money -- oh, sorry, I meant our money.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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