Miller: Right, left: Does it matter?
Of the hundreds of headlines that pass by me daily both electronically and in print, the one that bothered me most Thursday was this one at huffingtonpost: “Goldman Sachs Got Billions From AIG For Its Own Account, Crisis Panel Finds.”
Essentially what this congressionally appointed panel found was that Goldman collected $2.9 billion after the taxpayer bailout on speculative trades Goldman itself made. Or, to put it another way: Goldman gambled and lost but figured out a way to hoover up bailout funds that went directly from taxpayers to Goldman’s shareholders. Oh, and by the way: The deal was crafted in part by Henry Paulson, then the treasury secretary, who just so happens to have once headed Goldman Sachs.
Don’t ask too much about the mechanism behind all this, because the big con the big banks play relies on complex financial instruments and maneuverings most of us wouldn’t understand even if it was carefully explained to us. I’ve read a great deal in a variety of media about the financial collapse and its underlying causes, and have found it impossible to retain a working knowledge of things like credit default swaps and derivatives and all that. (Read Matt Taibbi’s book “Griftopia” for a plain-speak, unvarnished look at how all this went down.)
Of course, this latest reveal about Goldman’s nefarious doings is just the tip of the iceberg as it relates to how a very small number of wealthy, crafty bankers lobbied hard for deregulation, gamed the system and turned Wall Street into a casino over the past decade or so. As Taibbi points out, it was even better than a casino, because the house (the banks) mostly used other people’s money at the table and, when the thing went south, they had taxpayers pony up to cover the losses.
And we’re arguing about anchor babies out here in the heartland.
Watching President Obama’s State of the Union address the other night, I was struck by how little was said about the rotten underpinnings of the American financial system that have essentially brought us to our knees. But, then, Obama himself has populated his administration with many of the same white-collar gangsters who created and perpetuate this nasty system: a brilliant and devious machine the purpose of which is to transfer wealth from the many to the few.
If you think that’s an exaggeration, just look at the numbers:
>Top marginal tax rates have gone from 81 percent in 1940 to 35 percent today.
>Over the past 30 years, income has grown nearly 300 percent for the top 1 percent, but only 25 percent for middle-income Americans.
>The gap between the top 1 percent of earners and the rest of us hasn’t been this wide since the Roaring 20s.
Remember that big ol’ tax break extension Congress just handed the richest in December? How about the dwindling estate tax? It all goes into the negative column everyone’s so worried about.
But hey, the DOW touched on 12,000 this week, and U.S. companies are sitting on trillions of dollars in liquid assets. It’s too bad they’re not hiring anybody yet, but at least the big bonuses are still being handed out up top – and never mind that they haven’t paid back all of their bailout dollars yet.
Maybe some day this will change, but don’t hold your breath: Fully half the members of Congress are millionaires – from Dems like John Kerry to Republicans like Darrell Issa and our own Jared Polis. It seems unlikely they’ll be interested in changing the formula of the wealth distribution system. I’m starting to believe those who argue there’s little difference between the parties apart from the surface arguments they champion to keep us distracted from the real issue of wholesale corruption at Washington’s very core.
If ever there was a time for some third party to rise and challenge the status quo, this may be it.
Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 668-4618.
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