Sunday, January 31, 2010

I Guess It Really Ain't Over 'Till It's Over

Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars. The keys to a dozen hideout flats all over the city. I bet twenty, thirty grand over a weekend and then I'd either blow the winnings in a week or go to the sharks to pay back the bookies.
Didn't matter. It didn't mean anything. When I was broke, I'd go out and rob some more. We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it's all over.
And that's the hardest part. Today everything is different; there's no action... have to wait around like everyone else. Can't even get decent food - right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I'm an average nobody... get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.
-- Henry Hill, Goodfellas
Just a little more than 17 months ago, I convinced myself that Wall Street bankers had finally screwed up the racket they had going and were destined, like Ray Liotta's character in Goodfellas*, to live out the rest of their lives like "schnooks." Bank stocks plummeted. Credit markets froze. And Michael Lewis -- who wrote the seminal take on industry -- even declared that Wall Street had finally reached "The End."

* Speaking of the mafia, a Jimmy Breslin quote --with a slight modification by me--seems particularly apt for this occasion. It appears to me that Wall Street bankers, just like gangsters, have  "yet to find anything that's too small to steal."

Ah, how naive we were...

As if you needed any further proof that wasn't going to happen, here it is: Lloyd Blankfein--The $100 million Man.

It's tough to decide what angers me most about this middle-finger to taxpayers, the millions of Americans still out of work and those being forced out of their homes. Perhaps it's that Goldman--despite its protests otherwise--has benefited from government assistance in many ways other than the TARP money it claims it didn't need, from the government guarantees of its debt to its conversion to a bank-holding company to when it got billions of dollars through a back-door bailout of AIG. Or, it could be that Wall Street cares extraordinarily little about fixing the pay practices encouraging behavior that hurts shareholders, clients, and taxpayers. But maybe it's just that these assholes actually think they deserve it.

Whatever the case, it's pretty clear we're a far cry from where we were just a little while ago. I remain unconvinced that even the current plan to regulate the financial industry will do much to eliminate the worst practices on Wall Street or make the economy safer. And if it looks that way now, just imagine what it will look like in 17 months...

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