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WALL STREET WHINERS

February 3, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Despite regular flu shots, prescription strips of antibiotics and assorted home remedies I have been plagued by cold or flulike symptoms that have kept me confined to a sofa and in front of the television for the better part of three weeks.  When my children were home they accused me of watching PBS—Pretty Boring Stuff--my television tastes are even more limited now. C-SPAN is usually my first choice whenever they are airing something besides the American Enterprise Institute or the CATO Institute, both of whom have spent the last twenty years trying to convince the Republican Party that Conservatives have good ideas. That limits me to the History Channel, the Food Channel and the Travel Channel. However, despite my limited television attention span there are only so many times I can watch Andrew Zimmer swallow wood worms or be entertained as Rachel Ray whips up a 30 Minute Meal, or watch some guy explore Underground Cities on the History Channel.   That is what drove me to the financial channels—CNBC and Bloomberg.
If anyone needs convincing that our nation’s economic system has failed watch the financial channels. Despite the so called “free market” having been exposed as a fraud perpetuated by the financial mavens of Wall Street follow the convoluted logic of a big time buy out. 
Bank of America, troubled by toxic mortgages, asks the government for financial assistance. The government, we, give B of A $15 billion—a hefty sum to help pull them out of the mire.  At the same time B of A has negotiated to buy Merrill Lynch.  Although John Thain had only been head of Merrill 14 months he was slated to become head of global banking for the new company once the deal was complete.  Thain lived lavishly in his new surroundings and spent more than $1 million decorating his new offices including $35,000 for an antique commode—a toilet—that does not work.  While at Merrill Lynch in 2007 Thain was placed at the top of the executive pay for Standard and Poor’s 500 Companies by the Associated Press. But, bad publicity forced him to abandon his pursuit of a $10 million bonus after Merrill had a terrible year and the company was put on the market as a distressed property.   Thain was fired by his new boss; Ken Lewis when Lewis found out that Thain had paid billions of dollars in bonuses to Merrill employees and forgets to tell him that Merrill was going to report $15 billion in 4Q losses.
Never mind that John Thain and Merrill Lynch did not act financially forthright; Ken Lewis, top gun for Bank of America, has never explained why his bank was even considering spending $21 billion or $29 a share for a company that was headed for the same bankrupt bone yard as Lehman Brothers and at the same time Bank of America was going hat in hand for a government bailout. Never mind the antique toilets, the expensive rugs or private jets,  television commentators and their Wall Street guests had hissy fits that the government, that President Obama complained about billions of taxpayer dollars going for Wall Street bonuses.
  “That’s how we get paid” was the operative phrase as one commentator after the other on both networks fumed. One angry or exasperated commentator after another huffed and puffed and explained that thousands of financial workers outside the decision makers got paid in bonuses—bonuses over and above a meager base salary as low as $75,000 for some.  In all of the commotion the term “class warfare” was even mentioned. The intended message was that it was blatantly unfair to lump all financial workers and bankers into the same extravagant cesspool with the more notorious movers and shakers. 
The “government” came in for a lot of criticism, it always does. Instead of placing blame on the overly conceited and arrogant behemoths of banking, commentators blamed the government for failing to be attentive to investment bankers and interfering in the investment business at the same time.   The thought that we might be operating under a failed capitalistic business model—that we might need a new model—that we might have pursued royalty over reason—that it is the commonweal, the general welfare that outweighs the appetites of the few were never mentioned. However, let a worker like Lilly Ledbetter complain about parity, allow waiters and waitresses and field workers, domestics and nurses seek a higher minimum wage, let a union worker get a fifteen cent an hour raise—all hell breaks loose.  The man or woman who works with their hands is blamed for inflation—all of our economic ills. Suddenly those who toil, those who work every day at jobs they do not necessarily like but need to survive—those who have abandoned a dream deferred for the drudgery of circumstance are to blame at once for having too much credit card debt, and for not spending—consuming.  
 The vulgar, high salaries and bonuses of those in the financial sector were never mentioned as inflationary or excessive. But those same commentators in concert with a handful of Republican Senators decried the United Auto Workers for earning a living wage and insisted that their standard of living—their quality of life—be based on the lowest common denominator—the wages of Southern workers employed by foreign auto makers. 
Call it what you want to call it—call it the American Way–call it free enterprise—I call it class warfare when workers do not have parity. Yes, the excessively rich need to contribute more to the commonweal, the general welfare.   We can have healthcare for all and yes, Social Security is a government program that works and one that no one can be ashamed. Medicare and Medicaid works—both help sick people. As frail as they might be, our public schools work—we educate children and if they can get the money—they go to college. We can live in a better America where all can have healthier, happier lives where children can have all the free education they can attain and we can be assured that if we lose our job we will not be homeless. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, three unalienable rights guaranteed by the Constitution are explained away by Conservatives and by like-minded Republicans as intended for the general welfare instead of the individual. I reject that notion as strongly as the former reject generalities of the Second Amendment. A healthy, happy nation makes for a greater nation. 

 
 

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1920 Attack on Wall Street