America Compromised: the Budget Bill of 2014

The Congressional omnibus budget bill is a compromise – a BIG compromise. It turns the clock back on regulations put in place after the financial market meltdown in 2008 had taken us to the brink of another Great Depression. It undoes the core provision of Dodd-Frank and increases the limit for wealthy giving to political campaigns.

Cover on John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire in which "Sorrow" the family dog floats to the surface after the plane crash.

Cover on John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire in which “Sorrow” the family dog floats to the surface after the plane crash.

The dog we hoped we’d buried still floats, as Views from the Edge published on MinnPost a year after the 2008 crisis.

Click Sorrow Floats: the Healthy-Deregulated-Capitalism Myth Just Keeps Resurfacing.

Sorrowfully, memory is short, and, because the American electorate chooses amnesia to consciousness, the old dog still haunts us.

 

 

The Wall Street Tattler

Gordon C. Stewart               March 15, 2012

How could he do this? Is Greg Smith a tattler? Or, perhaps, Judas?

How could one of Wall Street’s own go to the New York Times (“Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs”) to publicly denounce the company’s culture?  “He just took a howitzer and blew the entire firm away,” said Larry Doyle of Greenwich Investment Management.“ (“Wall Street Exec Quits with Public Broadside).

According to the LA Times article, Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein suggests that Mr. Smith – Golman’s executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.- is a “disgruntled employee.” William Cohan, author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, says that “there are lots of disgruntled people who leave Wall Street, and they don’t do this” (i.e. open their mouths.) “What I’m hearing (on Wall Street),” said Cohan, “is sour grapes. You just pigged out at the trough for 12 years and you don’t have enough sense to keep your mouth shut.” (underlining mine)

Keeping one’s mouth shut is the name of the game on Wall Street.

Conscience may have its place so long as you keep it to yourself. You can have a conscience on Wall Street, just don’t exercise it. You’re part of an elite gang. Whether on the Street corners of impoverished neighborhoods like Watts in LA and Bedford-Styvesant in NYC, or in the center of crony capitalism that is Wall Street, gang members don’t rat on other gang members. If you don’t like it, swallow hard and keep your mouth shut.

Goldman’s rebuttal to Mr. Smith’s statement -“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping off their clients,” referring to their own clients as Muppets – hardly has the ring of strong denial. “We disagree with the views expressed, which we don’t think reflect the way we run our business.”

Hmmm. “…don’t think…”? Why not “don’t”?

It’s a rare thing for a spokesperson for a corporation with the best legal counsel in the world to say anything than a flat-out denial. “We don’t think” sets up the issue as a matter of perception, not fact. It’s Goldman’s perceptions of itself versus Mr. Smith’s disgruntled perception.

Mr. Smith’s refusal to live by the Wall Street gang code of conduct will lead to a barrage of attacks on his character calculated to divert the public’s attention from an institution that eats people’s investments and life savings to the Judas who is without integrity.

Goldman understands that for most of us the world is personal, not institutional. We don’t like tattlers and turn-coats, disgruntled employees who never learned the lesson of kindergarten that you never tattle on your friends. You don’t go running home to tell momma. Part of the code of the playground is not to tell.

What’s even more unusual in this case is that Greg Smith dealt in derivatives. Remember them? Derivatives – a complicated form of financial market gambling so convoluted that even the people who manage them can’t explain how they work – were at the center of the Wall Street meltdown in 2008. They were legal then. They are legal now. Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street gang of crony capitalism are still calling the shots with the highest paid Washington lobbyists money can buy.

Greg Smith is a Wall Street Judas who betrayed his gang not with a kiss but with a howitzer.

How could he do this? Why didn’t the guy who ate at the pig trough for 12 years just kiss and say good-bye? Why did he make his money and then break the code?  Unless…unless…unlike so many of those who were taught not to tattle, Greg Smith couldn’t live with himself and decided not to run home to tell momma but to run to the New York Times. He’ll never again be allowed on the playground.

Sorrow Floats: the Healthy Deregulated Capitalism Myth Just Keeps Re-surfacing

Gordon C. Stewart | Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009MinnPost.com

“Sorrow floats.” Perhaps the line from a John Irving novel — in which “Sorrow,” the stuffed family dog preserved by a taxidermist, floats to the surface of the lake after a plane crash — helps explain what is happening in America.

Something dear to the American family died one year ago last September-October. Prior to the series of chilling events of that period, most of us had lived with the illusion of relative economic and financial health. Then Sorrow was rushed to the emergency room for government resuscitation.

Since then our memories of that pre-September 2008 world have taken a turn that families often take at funerals when the eulogies bear little resemblance to the reality of the deceased. We’re quarreling over what was real and what is mythical reconstruction.

Following the plane wreck that takes the lives of the Berry family parents in Irving’s “The Hotel New Hampshire,” the stuffed family pet bobs to the surface of the lake, floating among the wreckage. Sorrow floats. So does the thing we lost last fall.

What died? A ruling assumption

What died last year was the ruling assumption that an unregulated free-market system was the best way to organize an economy and that laissez-faire capitalism is democracy’s natural ally. The market almost crashed. It didn’t crash only because the federal government intervened to prevent a repeat of the crash of 1929. Sometime between mid-September and Oct. 7, when Congress passed its bill to stabilize the financial markets, the myth of the virtue of deregulated capitalism died. It was stuffed by the taxidermy of government intervention, but it still floats.

When a conviction or a myth dies, it doesn’t go away. It continues to bob to the surface. Sometimes, as in the case of the Berry family, the old dog is much easier to love after it is dead. Sorrow — obese, lethargic, and persistently flatulent in its old age — no longer waddles through the dining room to foul the air and ruin everyone’s dinner. In the public psyche, the unpleasant memories of the real life Sorrow give way to the stuffed Sorrow, a thing of nostalgia that lives on … even after it’s dead, and long after the plane has crashed.

Over and over, we forget

Sorrow and its old illusions float every time the reconstructed memory, forgetting the real Sorrow, barks about “socialism.” Sorrow floats every time we shout each other down in town-hall meetings. Sorrow floats every time nostalgia forgets that it was only by government intervention that Sorrow is still around. Sorrow floats every time we forget the voracious appetite, unscrupulous predatory practices, insatiable greed, and the obesity that led to the deaths of Lehmann Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns, not to mention insurance giant AIG and all the banks that had taken the plunge into a market of deregulated derivatives and mortgages that led to the epidemic of home foreclosures, bankruptcies, pension-fund collapses and job losses. Sorrow, the old dog that failed us, still floats and still barks a year after the crash when the mind forgets and nostalgically remembers a system we thought was working in our interest.

Old ideas and convictions die hard. The powerful economic forces that grew fat during the years when government was viewed as the people’s enemy will stoke the fires of public anxiety and anger, taking advantage of the floating Sorrow that reminds us of something that we love more in retrospect than we did the day it died of its own obesity.

The Rev. Gordon C. Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska. He is the moderator of Shepherd of the Hill Dialogues and former executive director of the Legal Rights Center. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not represent the views of anyone else.