With the Susan B. Komen Foundation’s pink ribbons tied up in knots this past week by a public relations disaster, and Republicans apparently convinced that global warming was simply an attempt by Al Gore to crack a joke, so-called “pink washing” and “green washing” are no longer as attractive to big businesses looking to varnish their public record. And so it was a convenient but very telling move when, just yesterday, the nation’s largest gay rights organization announced that Lloyd Blankfein would be its first “national corporate spokesperson” for marriage equality.
Mr. Blankfein, when not promoting the rights of same sex couples to wed, is better known for his role as head of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street mega-firm that has made billions by divorcing families from their homes and retirees from their life savings.
My favorite part is when Blankfein says, “Equality is just good business.” This from the man who, in 2010 in the middle of a financial downturn that he helped create, took home $13.2 million dollars in compensation — or more than 266 times the median American household income of $49,445 for the same year. Put another way, in 2010, Mr. Blankfein earned more in a day-and-a-half than ordinary Americans earned in an entire year.
Oh, but you say, he’s running a successful business. Alas, Goldman’s 2010 earnings were down 37% from 2009 and in 2010, the firm paid $550 million to settle a Securities and Exchange Commission fraud suit charging that Goldman misled investors by selling misleading dud mortgage securities — betting against their own clients to make money on the housing market’s collapse. And in 2011, the Federal Reserve fined and rebuked Goldman for so-called “robo-signing” foreclosures, a mechanized process riddled with errors that wrongfully kicked millions of Americans out of their homes.
Meanwhile, pre-crash, Blankfein’s compensation in 2007 was a whopping $68.5 million. It seems inequality and injustice are very much the core of Blankfein and Goldman’s business practices.
But there’s no evil that cannot be undone by a You Tube video of a smiling, jacketless Wall Street executive, right?
Further rattled by the very popular, populist uprisings of Occupy Wall Street, it’s no surprise that Lloyd Blankfein is trying to repair his and his firm’s image by playing activist. And no doubt his support for marriage equality is both genuine and long-held. What is surprising is the willingness of the often disappointing but still modestly principled Human Rights Campaign to celebrate Blankfein as a gay rights hero when he has been so consistently and rightfully disdained as a villain on so many other justice issues of our time. I doubt that millions of gay families facing foreclosure are relieved that Lloyd Blankfein supports them being carried over the threshold of homeless shelters.
An 81-year-old widow from Des Moines, Iowa, Ferol Wegner wasn’t the type of person who would normally go to a protest against the banking industry. But that was before she lost 30 percent of her pension in the economic downturn. Without mincing her words, Ms. Wagner blames the big banks. “Fraud, corruption and greed,” she says. “These folks must be held accountable.”
In the great American tradition of populist anger, Ms. Wegner and millions of Americans like her are mad as hell and not taking it anymore. This week, from Kansas City to Charlotte to New York, thousands of Americans who have lost their savings, their homes and their jobs because of Wall Street’s reckless irresponsibility will show up at the doors of big banks across the country. They won’t be knocking lightly. According to Ms. Wegner, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the other titans of finance did not tread lightly on her financial security. She does not plan to be polite in return.
In a coordinated, nationwide week of actions, the grassroots organization National People’s Action is demanding that big banks stop using customers’ money to lobby against financial reform, stop unnecessary and unjust foreclosures, end the abusive practices of payday lending and other predatory loans, and start making good investments in small businesses and local cities and towns, rather than gambling our economy down the drain. What might seem like common sense proposals to stop putting profits before people and rebuild our economy for all of us are suddenly radical in a climate where Republicans are clamoring to block any meaningful financial reform and stand on the side of Wall Street criminals who destroyed our economy rather than ordinary Americans struggling to recover.
“This is not the America I remember,” says Ms. Wegner. “These banks crashed our economy and gave themselves lavish bonuses as a reward. There must be stricter rules and regulations.”
It is not surprising that the Tea Party, with overwhelmingly wealthier members, is getting so much visibility. Ms. Wegner captures the daily insecurity of ordinary Americans—angry at the big banks but often too busy treading water to make a cup of tea. But it got to the point where Ms. Wegner, couldn’t afford not to act. “My mother lived to 101. If I live that long, my savings will have run out long before. I’ll have social security but that won’t cover all the bills. If I need to go to a nursing facility, I don’t know where the money will come from.” Now, her anger like millions of Americans, is boiling over.
It was one thing for struggling Americans to swallow the bank bailout as an economic necessity. But now that Wall Street firms are reporting record profits and bonuses, even amidst fraud indictments, the injustice is just too much to take. “I’m demanding that justice be served to those of us who are being asked to rescue them,” Ms. Wegner said of the banks. “Who is going to be held responsible and accountable for these crimes against the American people? Who is going to rescue us when our savings are gone?”
Ms. Wegner is not terribly optimistic that the big banks will listen. She knows that they are furiously at work spending her money to lobby Congress to kill financial reform, so that they can keep unraveling her economic security to increase their own bottom line. But Ferol Wegner knows she is not alone. Millions of Americans are as fed up as she is and Ms. Wegner hopes that, by raising her voice, others will join her. “We the people still have the power,” she says. “Why not exercise it?”
What else could we do with $5.5 billion in bonuses Goldman Sachs is giving its employees for the first three months of 2010? You’d think that after ruining our economy AND being indicted for fraud, Goldman would have the sense to give the American public the money to spend ourselves.
Actually, on second thought, they did such a great job tanking our economy, I’m sure they deserve it.
Watch my latest video blog with ideas for what else we could spend that $5.5 billion on.
And check out the Showdown in America, with events planned across the country of ordinary Americans telling the big banks enough is enough!
Recently, Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up a group of Tea Party activists by ranting against “big daddy” government. But when we’re facing the worst economic crisis in decades, brought about by Wall Street’s blatantly greedy and fraudulent manipulation of our economic security for their personal gain, we should be welcoming “big daddy” government with open arms. Wall Street needs a spanking.
But instead, in his speech today to financial sector executives, President Obama was at pains to provide comfort to the crooks of Wall Street rather than chastise them. “I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings.” According to the White House, the President is intentionally avoiding a scolding tone in favor of the sort of plain-people-joining-with-powerful-CEOs bipartisanship that was so plainly absurd in health care reform. Obama’s Kumbaya calculus seems based on two assumptions — first, that the American public doesn’t want their president to fundamentally criticize capitalism; second, that the American public will believe the spoon fed load of crap that Wall Street executives had our economic best interests at heart but just somehow, by accident, went astray.
Average Americans who’ve had their homes pulled out from under their feet, their credit card interest rates quadrupled, their jobs shipped over seas — because the financial industry literally created “investments” that bet against the American dream — are not stupid enough to believe that this was all an honest mistake. Taxpayers who were told that bank bailouts were the only way to save our entire economy from disaster can smell the deception buried beneath record Wall Street profits and bonuses now surfacing in the first quarter of 2010 alone. Our collective critique scratches more than the skin of “a few bad apple” executives here and there. In November 2009, a BBC World Service poll found that 63% of Americans think capitalism in its current form is not working. Since then, everything from the Citizens United ruling to the Goldman Sachs indictment has only confirmed our deep suspicion that the nature of capitalism in America is rotten.
That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in markets and business. Americans are nothing if not entrepreneurial and industrious. But that’s not what capitalism in America looks like today. The version of market economics that’s been shoved down our national throat is designed exclusively by and for the benefit of giant corporations. Big business buys our politicians and writes our laws so they can crush small competitors, pillage our environment and destroy workers lives and human rights and anything else that stands in their way. And because big business owns our media, too, they have the perfect platform to persuade us over and over again that this arrangement is in our collective best interest.
As Americans, we buy a lot of crap, but we’ve finally stopped buying this lie. What’s good for big business is not good for America.
For too long, mass public disaffection with the way capitalism in America is structured has been silenced because politicians and the media, beholden to big business, convinced us there is no alternative. Now, faced with such a sobering and stubborn economic crisis caused by very deliberate flaws in our economic structures, we’re more aware than ever not only that there is an alternative but that we must embrace it. That doesn’t mean socialism. But it does mean aggressively critiquing and re-constructing capitalism so that the market’s primary goal is to work for working class and struggling Americans. The very survival of the American dream is at stake.
On Thursday, April 29, 2010, thousands of ordinary Americans will descend on Wall Street to call for meaningful financial reform that holds big banks accountable and makes our economy work for everyone. Those of us who will be at the Showdown on Wall Street — and the millions of Americans we represent — are worried about our jobs, our homes, our farms, our children’s education, our very way of life. What we’re not worried about is hurting capitalism’s feelings. After all, capitalism never coddled us.
Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on fraud charges filed against Goldman Sachs and conservative opposition to clearly much-needed financial regulation. Brilliant (Stewart, that is — not the Wall St. crooks and Republican liars)!
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|These F@#king Guys – Goldman Sachs|
And if you never saw my video exposing how Goldman Sachs was betting on death in its “death bond” derivative scheme, there’s no time like the present:
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