By Robert Scheer
Who are these people? I am not referring to the pathetic parents of “Balloon Boy,” whose fake drama I have been unable to escape while on the treadmill this week, thanks to my gym’s insistence on tuning its flat-screen TVs to Wolf Blitzer’s nonstop self-parody.
The Colorado incident was significant only in the tawdriness of those who perpetrated the made-for-TV scam and their allies in the mindless media who covered this sham “reality” so relentlessly. But even so, it was enough to push aside most consideration of the true hoax reported last week with far less fervor: the obscene rewards that Wall Street bankers bestowed upon themselves for ripping off our economy.
The people I want to know more about are the superrich who expect to be rewarded for their failures, like the folks at Goldman Sachs who will receive $16.71 billion in bonuses—an average of $530,000 per employee—this year after their company did as much as any to bring the world economy to the brink of disaster.
“The Guys from Government Sachs” is what The New York Times once called them in recognition of their chokehold on the federal government. Their power is marked by the two treasury secretaries who led the fight to legally enable and then reward Wall Street for its obscene excesses. Why wasn’t there a CNN stakeout at the homes of former Goldman-execs-turned-treasury-chiefs Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson aimed at finding out how they feel about the almost $7 billion profit that Goldman Sachs made in the last two quarters in the wake of the government’s bailout of the firm?
They were both deeply involved last fall, along with Rubin protégé and current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, then head of the New York Fed, in saving Goldman as archrival Lehman Brothers was forced to go belly up. As opposed to Lehman, Goldman was allowed to change its status and become a commercial bank qualifying for Federal Reserve and TARP funding. Goldman received $10 billion in immediate bailout funds, and we are supposed to be grateful that the company has paid it back in return for an end to any pretense of government control over its executive compensation. The additional cool $12.9 billion that Goldman received from the government as a pass-through from the bailout of AIG to cover Goldman’s toxic paper is money the investment bank has no intention of ever paying back.
The rationale for saving Goldman and the other too-big-to-fail usurers was that the rescue would increase lending to businesses and consumers and thus revive the economy. But Goldman made money last quarter by shunning such loans and instead putting the government-guaranteed low-interest money it now can borrow toward acquisitions and bond and stock trading. As The New York Times reported: “Titans like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase are making fortunes in hot areas like trading stocks and bonds, rather than the ho-hum business of lending people money.”
Under the headline “Bailout Helps Fuel a New Era of Wall Street Wealth,” Times reporter Graham Bowley detailed many of the enabling favors that the government, under two presidents, extended to Goldman, like clearing the way for the company to issue bonds guaranteed by the FDIC. “It may come as a surprise that one of the most powerful forces driving the resurgence on Wall Street,” the Times reported, “is not the banks but Washington. Many of the steps that policy makers took last year to stabilize the financial system—reducing interest rates to near zero, bolstering big banks with taxpayer money, guaranteeing billions of dollars of financial institution debts—helped set the stage for this new era of Wall Street wealth.”
It should not come as a surprise to Timothy Geithner, who, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week, talks to the honchos of Goldman more often than to members of Congress ostensibly in charge of banking legislation. Nor will it shock the lobbyists for Wall Street—augmented, as The Nation reported last week, by the pro-Goldman efforts of former Democratic congressman and faux populist Dick Gephardt—that the rich will emerge richer from this deep recession in which so many Americans have lost everything. The die is cast: People working in finance grabbed two-thirds of the growth in GDP over the last decade, with the rest of us scrambling for the other third.
Nor will the situation change anytime soon. The House Financial Services Committee is in charge of writing new rules to protect consumers, but as the respected Sunlight Foundation reports, 27 of the 71 members of that committee receive at least one-fourth of their campaign funds from the financial industry, with the rest of the committee members not far behind.
Now if we could get one of the banking lobbyists to float a duct-taped flying saucer balloon, Wolf Blitzer might cover the real hoax.
AP / Gerald Herbert
“Balloon Boy” he ain’t: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner shown during a joint hearing of the House Financial Services and the Agriculture committees in Washington in July.