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The Other Oily Mess

at least the one in the Gulf can be burned......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 28, 2010.

It's been fun to see the Goldman Sachs honchos under fire before the Senate committee this week for trying to sell worthless securities to their own loyal customers for a hefty commission. Then, in a manner for which the word cynical seems somehow insufficient, they further profited by betting against the customers' interests.

It's seldom pontificating Senators, emoting for the ages and camera, warm the heart, but it must have been fun to be a Senator yesterday and forbid bathroom breaks to these smug crooks who made billions for sleazy dealings. It was better than the tobacco chiefs decades back who also lied and weaseled but at least looked abject and beaten, but then their crime was only a form of manslaughter for profit. The current one is more serious, being solely about money. Well, that and national security and several centuries of western civilization, but mostly money. The Goldman Sachs guys retained their smugness throughout, but when brought up on the inevitable charges their performance will haunt their defense. I predict at some near point Goldman Sachs will offer to pay a huge fine in their belief money can excuse anything to prevent prison and poverty. They're an oily bunch, and everyone they've touched smells of the crude.

These types of scenes allow people of less success - like, oh, me - to feel superior for a few minutes at my ethics and morality, and I say this as a convicted felon who served time in jail. If it's easy for me to feel superior watching Goldman Sachs, how near orgasmic it must be for most people. You know, the hard working, tax-paying heroes of the nation, the salt of our earth, the rocks of our Gibraltar, the good people of faith and devotion, some of whom were cleaned out by the financial collapse and appear at similar hearings of the crooks like candidates for an American Gothic update. The women clutch cloth items to their throats, the men look with calm, practiced visage at the witness stand or defense table. Depending on camera angle, some will cry. The handkerchief at the neck may be to cover the diamond necklace, but, just like Walmart customers, people who had hundreds of thousands to invest in ridiculous securities that weren't remotely secure can feel pain, too.

Bernie Madoff's fall has prompted suddenly energized policing agencies to notice that, gee, there seem to be rather a few Ponzi schemes at local, regional and national level, and courageously, with fingers damp to the political thermals, announce investigations, arrests, and the humiliating details. One wonders why what is obvious now was not obvious then. Here in Boulder, there are several current cases resulting in convictions or confessions in the recent past. At least one now involves a church. But there are uncomfortable aspects to Wall St.'s curtain being pulled back, leaving oily fingerprints.

We can hardly not pay attention to the men at the controls, but just like, each year, the same scams for roof repair or Nigerian millions or door to door sales make the screen for investigative reporters, these things continue because they work. It's heart breaking to see the elderly deprived of their homes and losing their retirements, but quite often those beloved creatures were quite willingly part of get rich quick schemes and are themselves scamming by feigning ignorance and pleading the cover of age as their hedge. Their excuses are often not much more ethically pure than Goldman Sachs'.

In the big leagues, it's often union pension funds and group trusts rather than individuals, but so often those that bought into these clearly thready funds were supposed financial managers of skill, experience, and devotion to their customers, yet they never seem to have researched at all, or if they did, were incompetent. But few are fired, because they can finger so many others. V So while I look forward to some Wall St. high rollers doing the perp walk, it needs to be admitted they were doing exactly what their customers secretly wanted, so long as it was other people that got screwed. These guys just took the next step down, penalized their own with the unwashed. It may be that, seeing what a scourge has been wrought, and for winking at the discords too, all, indeed, will be punished and deservedly so. Some may hope this oily mess is solved as the one in the Gulf will be, by simply burning it away. But this oil sticks to too many, and few indeed can feel either smug or superior.

Except me, of course.