James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bankers contrite? Not a chance

It's almost impossible at times to keep from laughing out loud as people from Barack Obama to my neighborhood handyman complain about bank executives and other big shots who continue to pay themselves big bonuses and buy fancy private jets even as they suck up billions of dollars of tax money.

People are astonished that the billionaires “just don't get it.” The bankers and industrialists are supposed to be contrite and to accept more modest pay, say my neighbors. The bankers and brokers have behaved “unconscionably” in continuing to pay themselves big bucks, says our new president.

Ya gotta chuckle, at least.

To be clear:

Ladies and gentlemen, the top level bank executives and stock peddlers and auto manufacturing executives and Ponzi scheme operators are not even slightly sorry about anything they have done. Given the opportunity –- as they hope and expect -– they will do it all again, but to still greater gain for themselves.

They will take the taxpayer billions and use it to benefit themselves to the greatest degree possible; it is what is right, in their unshakable view of the world. They are furious at suggestions that the public should get some stake in their enterprises merely for bailing them out to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.

They are deeply annoyed, and even angry, that anyone out here in the jungle dares to question them on anything. They are mostly –- not all and not entirely –- holding their tongues about criticism from the public, but they're even angrier that politicians they own have the effrontery to criticize of their behavior. That some politicians dare to suggest ways to rein them in through renewed regulation and rules on executive pay is outrageous as far as the masters of the universe are concerned.

In their own eyes, those masters have made no mistakes, other than a few very minor public relations errors, such as auto company CEOs flying separate private jets to Washington for a congressional hearing. And, if you read their comments carefully, you realize that they are not at all sure even that was a mistake; private jets and $10,000-a-night hotel suites are simply part of what is due them.

They continue to do things like spending millions on redecorating their offices because in their eyes, such things are right and normal for people of their stature. That they continue to do them clearly demonstrates the depth of their belief in their own privilege.

They do not make mistakes, they are congenitally unable to make mistakes.

That is their genuine and deeply held belief.

If you don't understand that, you never will understand the battle just now beginning in Congress, in the media and in our society.

The surprise and outrage of citizens and politicians –- mostly faked on the part of the president and members of Congress, who know better -– is another demonstration of how little most Americans know about how things work in this country and about the people who run things here.

It may seem arrogant on my part to say that. I do understand that most people have not had my advantage in having worked for several decades at a job that kept me in close contact with the rich and powerful. I earned my living in part by conversing, in groups and often one-to-one, with many of the very rich and genuinely powerful, including the chief executives of some of our biggest banks and corporations. I talked frequently with many of the image shapers, apologists and intellectual gurus of the right and left, including several times with the greatest con man of all time, Milton Friedman, who remains a saint of the political right.

Still, there's plenty of readily-available information, even in the right-run corporate media, about who those people are and why they don't feel in the least contrite.

So put aside the bewilderment and surprise and deal with the fact that we will never get the slightest change in methods, beliefs or behavior, let alone contrition, from the very rich and powerful people of the corporate world. They and their MBA flunkies have a set of beliefs that will not change. Their talent for self-delusion and penchant for self-justification is equal to that of the Nazi generals.

They will not willingly accept any public control over their behavior. They will fight with every powerful weapon they have to prevent any increase of government regulation, or rules of conduct, or restrictions on executive compensation, or strengthening of the ability of unions to organize, or to increase their taxes or, indeed, to greatly limit the amount of our tax money, yours and mine, that flows to them, or even to establish some control over how they spend our tax money.

In fact, they are using our tax money this minute to shore up their power and undermine ours; a recent, back-of-the-paper article in the New York Times and a couple in small publications have noted that the banking/investment firms have substantially increased their lobbying efforts in Washington and in state capitals in recent weeks. Lobbying is expensive. The money comes from us.

Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, still they only effective and entirely accurate big-media critic of the banks, has pounded bank executives frequently, most recently Monday, Feb. 2, and is clear that they have been awesomely stupid.

Krugman also insists that public investment in the banks and their mostly worthless assets should give the public a powerful voice in how the banks' business is conducted henceforth. He seems to stand alone on that essential point, unless you count us no-count citizens.

But even Krugman has not to date called for firing the whole lot of idiots who created the desperate mess we, and the world, are in.

For the life of me, I can't see how anything can change, or how our economy or economies around the world can be saved unless we kick out every big-bank executive in the top three or four levels of the organizations' hierarchies. If the boss is a dangerous idiot, it is a given that so are almost all of the people he has allowed to rise to the heights in his organization. If you've ever worked for any kind of a corporation, you know that to be true.

When the bankers claim that they must pay huge bonuses to their people in order to “keep the best and brightest,” the only rational response is to laugh them out of the room. They and their “best and brightest” have driven our economy into the ground. That is the indisputable truth.

So why aren't we laughing, and, especially, why aren't our politicians laughing and the kicking the fat cats in their fat asses?

The Republicans, we understand. Those who are left are either mad ideologues or they are venal toadies who follow the orders of the people who bought them their positions, knowing that if they don't, they'll be thrown aside.

But the Democrats?

Most of them are as afraid as their Republican counterparts of the big money. Quite a few of them –- think Blue Dog (or dirty dog) Democrats -- have the intellectual capacity, depth of humanity and world understanding of cacti, and a majority appear to have no more spine than the night crawlers we Minnesotans use for walleye bait in the summer.

(Come to think of it, “bait” may be a more apt descriptor than I at first realized. Something to lure our votes, to sucker us into biting the hook.)

It may be possible yet to set things right and avert a depression that will make that of the 1930s look like a minor recession, but it will happen only if we hound the Democrats, including the new president and his crew, mercilessly. To get things right, we have to bombard their offices with snail mail, emails and phone calls, day after day, week after week. We must demand they throw the bums out, to insist that our interests, not the interests of the rich and presently all-powerful must be served.

How likely is that?

A pertinent comment from Albert Einstein, sent to me recently by friend and fellow journalist Lydia Howell:

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”


Remember how for years we were told by Republican Party people and business executives that what we desperately needed in government was business acumen?

“Government should be run on a businesslike basis,” we were told, and this or that Democratic candidate was unfit because “He has no business experience,” or “Doesn't know how to run anything; he's never run a business.” We should “model government on business,” ran the unending mantra.

I submit that the two politicians of the past 50 years who best exemplify American business are George W. Bush (incompetent but arrogant from his first day to his last) and Rod Blagojevich (public office acquired and held solely for the purpose of self-enrichment).

And you know what? The right is still preaching the same exhausted sermon; it's just that only a handful of loyal nutters are listening at the moment. But they'll be back.