What follows is a powerful snapshot of the moral and political dilemma progressives face today. President Obama and his team bailed out Wall Street, richly depicted in Arnaud de Borchgrave‘s commentary “Bonus Pool Party” below.
I recommend the entire piece, but this will get you going:
In his classic “Bonfire of the Vanities,” Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe were thinly disguised Wall Street megalomaniacs suffering from gluttonous edacity. Today, there is no longer any need for disguise. They flaunt it openly before congressional committees, oblivious to growing public anger about what retired Master of the Universe investment banker Peter G. Peterson calls their “carnivorous, animalistic greed.” This time, the race to the trough supersedes party labels. Democrats and Republicans slurped in almost equal measure.
The total bonus pool at the end of 2009 for the nation’s six biggest banks was $130 billion. (Goldman Sachs’ alone was $23 billion.) Chief executives plead the need to pay staggering amounts to partners so they won’t be poached by rival houses. Yet about 200,000 jobs were lost in financial houses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, including those of many senior executives. Others compare themselves to movie and sports stars, candidly confiding that they also have to maximize their peak earning years.
Treasury estimates that total bank repayments of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money, drawn from U.S. taxpayers, should exceed $175 billion by the end of this year. That would cut total taxpayer exposure to the banks by three quarters. But Wall Street’s captains are in high dudgeon over a government levy on the banking industry for losses Treasury says it will incur in the melee, or minus $120 billion to the taxpayer on the $700 billion in TARP lending to 21 financial institutions. Some of the major houses – e.g., JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America – have long since repaid everything with interest.
Michael J. Boskin, one-time economic adviser to President George H.W. Bush, says investors no longer trust economic and fiscal statistics and are “increasingly inclined to disbelieve them.” To base decisions on misleading, biased or manufactured numbers, Mr. Boskin says, is “dangerous.” Cynicism over official statistics is growing.
The lobbyists in orbit around Capitol Hill are making sure that whatever comes out of Congress to curb the Obama administration’s levy appetite will also be a no-lobbyist-left-behind act, including the 3,000 (out of 13,200) who suddenly became consultants rather than face more elaborate reporting requirements – and potential criminal liabilities. It is now a crime for lobbyists to buy meals for or provide gifts to lawmakers or their aides.
Meanwhile, the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed and those whose jobless benefits expired were around 27 million. These days, low-pay-no-benefits jobs are considered good deals.
The widening gap between “les miserables” and what looks like the old Soviet caricature of America’s ubercapitalist, chomping on a Havana cigar and flashing a pinky diamond, doesn’t seem to bother high-powered executives testifying before congressional committees. Some Wall Street CEOs even admitted their mistakes were partly responsible for the worst economic and financial conditions since the Great Depression.
The rest here.
— Steve Clemons