Ben Stein: Wealth and misery in the news

News takes on deeper meaning when you put a human face on the statistics. Here's Ben Stein:

A few days ago when I opened the newspaper the news was so strange that it made my head spin.

There was so much spectacular randomly-acquired wealth and so much misery right next to each other that I couldn't fit it all into my brain.

First there are the stories of how much money will be made by people with even the slightest connection with Facebook when it goes public soon. A man who painted murals on the walls of its headquarters will make hundreds of millions. Clerks and programmers will make tens of millions. Early and small investors will make millions and millions - wealth beyond imagining.

Then comes the punch to the gut: The lay-offs and pension cuts and health benefit chops at American Airlines.

Just for me, I live on airlines. I see how hard the flight attendants and ticket clerks and pilots and everyone else work. They travel, get their internal clocks thrown off, work when they're exhausted, sleep in strange hotels. You would have to appear bright and cheery for us cranky passengers.

The way I see it, they're not paid a lot for this.

Now, because of the effects of deregulation, high fuel costs, and relatively high labor costs, American is in bankruptcy, and roughly 13,000 of the employees are going to be laid off permanently.

Many will probably be older flight attendants and clerks with poor job prospects. Their pensions will be cut off. Their health benefits will be slashed. They will really suffer.

I live in the air, as I said, and these people are my family. It is just plain heart-breaking what their future is.

When I read about it right next to the stories about the instant, sometimes effortless billionaires of Facebook, I want to lose my mind.

Maybe this is a story about how, as John F. Kennedy said, "Life is unfair."

Maybe it's a story of the virtue of having your own savings.

Maybe it's just a very sad story.

I hope the bankruptcy judge who decides what the final steps will be for American just bears this in mind: Those American Airlines folks are great people. They deserve a heck of a lot better than what they're getting.

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