Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bethany McClean - on the GS Hearings and more..

I have a very long list of favorite people on the planet, and Bethany McClean is one of them. For many years she wrote for Fortune Magazine, and more recently moved to Vanity Fair. In addition she co-wrote "The Smartest Guys in The Room" - a book about Enron, and you if you have not seen the movie, you should.

She weighed in about the Goldman, well, mess... by writing this oped for the New York Times - Meet the Real Villain of the Financial Crisis. She has this to say.....

"But the transaction at the heart of the S.E.C.’s complaint is a microcosm of the entire credit crisis. That is, there are no good guys here. It’s dishonest and ultimately dangerous to pretend that Goldman is the only bad actor. And the worst actor of all is the one leading the charge against Goldman: our government."

This article is a must read as it puts other actors in to both this transaction and others like it that are at the heart of this crisis. I did not watch the hours and hours of testimony yesterday, only about 30 minutes, but if you did, I ask you, what was accomplished? Do you think the folks asking the questions asked balanced ones? Do you think they understood the nature of this transaction, or even how institutional market making firms like GS work? ( from what I watched, not at all ) Where does it all go from here?

I am not defending GS in this transaction. I am not even defending Wall Street. Nor am I attacking anyone. It just seems to me that educated, unemotional, thoughtful and truth seeking dialogue was not what I witnessed yesterday and I would have thought that would be the purpose of those hearings.

A list of other lead articles written about the testimony yesterday... "'Fabulous Fab' breaks cover to face grilling as Goldman's woes mount"-Financial Times, "Goldman Sachs on the defensive as senators ask blunt questions"-The New York Times, and "Goldman is bruised, defiant in senate"-The Wall Street Journal.


Mike said...

Your November 15, 2009 post got my attention with this provocative title, "God versus Goldman Sachs: A Former Partner Challenges Lloyd Blankfein".

Your 720 words describe how you, your husband and others, "have 'retired' to serve the world...of the culture we experienced while at Goldman."

Your paean to prosperity ended with a prayer you wrote: "Dear Heavenly Father. The world is not a fair place, but we know that you are fair. So many people, your people, your children, are suffering and we pray you hear them and you comfort them. We pray today that you will help us all choose actions that will make this world better. We pray that you CHANGE our hearts to hear the cries of others, and that will drive our actions. We pray that you make us all generous people, because you are so generous with us. We know you expect a lot from us because you know what we are capable of. We know that you tell us that to those to which much is given much is expected. We know that it is in serving that we will find our peace and our joy. We pray this in your name -Amen."

Did Lloyd give your challenge the attention you deserve?

I will continue to ask the polite, well-reasoned questions you've ignored since my first post.

Mike Micallef

Jacki Zehner said...

Mike. You have asked me some big questions over time and I thank you for moving in to a much more respectful tone. I will try to answer them by saying this - I am trying to do what i can to make a positive difference in this world. I don't feel I need to give you the list of what i do and why i do it, nor would I ask you to do it, or anyone else for that matter. As you quoted, God is fair, and I do believe that we will be held accountable for our thoughts and actions.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jacki that people who want to comment on this blog should do so with respect.

But I find it hard to find how Bethany McClean, as a former investment banker at GS, can write a fair and balanced article about some of the things that GS and other like-minded Wall Street firms have done to create the financial debacle that this country is in.

The whole "Blame Congress" theory doesn't hold water when you see how much money Goldman Sachs and other firms have spent to lobby for deregulation and weaken the power of the Fed. I mean, come on!

My tax dollars went to bailout Goldman and the other greedy Wall Street firms that do bear responsibility for the fact that this country's economy is going down the toilet. Most Americans are smart enough to know that, and a former GS employee who writes an op-ed in the New York Times isn't going to change too many minds.

What that Sinclair Lewis quote? Something like, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." (language is not gender inclusive)

Jacki Zehner said...

Dear Anonymous,
Thank you for framing your comment so respectfully. So you know Bethany barely worked at GS and is truly an outstanding investigative reporter. She has an opinion of course, but i truly believe it is a balanced and informed one. Yes the government lent GS money, but it was only because the whole financial world was melting, and that was not because of them, or any one player. The gov't got paid back all their money with huge interest. YES GS has some responsibility, but so do many many many others, not the least of which are Fannie and Freddie who we don't hear much about anymore. When the truth comes out about them, and about how much money they have cost YOU, you will have something to be really upset about.

Chris Gray said...

an interesting thought by Bethany McClean:

"(they)never had any duty to protect us from their greed."

So, by this logic, if I hit a man over the head and take his wallet and no one is their to stop me or sees me or enforces any laws upon me, I am absolved of any responsibility.

I believe the reason why this situation is so hard for everyone to get their hands around, and thus continues to take sides and try to point out which group is worse, is that what is going on lacks any noble cause or purpose. There is only one reason for what is going on.

The purpose of what is going on is theft. It is that simple. Why do Goldman Sachs executives go to work in the federal government, the treasury, and the federal reserve? To serve humanity? To love his brother as himself?

It does not begin and end with GS. The world always needs an example. Perhaps one should be careful when using God's name.

I did watch the senate hearings, and yes they were a spectacle (I hold most (not all) of our present politicians in the same light as the other destroyers) but what was most interesting to me was the employees of GS inability (save one) to simply agree that they have a responsibility to look after their clients interest. This should be easier than the broader concept of love your neighbor.

I have a very good friend (an atheist) who holds this same value. He is the president of a company. If the other person is not smart enough to look out for his interest and he can take advantage of the situation to benefit himself he will do it. He does not do anything illegal by man's laws. For the first time in his life, after laying off 50% of his employees (almost 200 people), I believe he is thinking about his value system.

By the way, no one from his company has left and is involved in setting of interest rates or any other actions of legislative or monetary policy.

It is that simple. Thou shall not steal. People in our financial system, enabled and intertwined with our federal government (and sometimes the same players) have transferred wealth to themselves and taken it from others. While valid arguments can take place about individual transactions (and I can expand about my personal encounter with GS), no argument can be made about the bailouts. Anyone given money and/or given money at near 0% interest and then allowed to buy treasuries at 3% or more interest (or use the funds for a higher return) can close whatever gap that threatened insolvency (and pay back the principle and interest).

My friend I mentioned before, J. (the one with a child with Turner syndrome) could have saved his house and life savings if he was given enough bailout money to produce a yield off a treasury note to pay off the spread when his mortgage rate adjusted. What is the difference between him and any other human being in this country? Who has access to more rights than others in a just society?


Chris Gray said...

The information about the GSEs (fannie and freddie) is readily available. The losses will continue to grow. They are exempted in the present financial "reform" package. Why? Because they are part of an immoral system that cannot find a way to unwind. And a separate action is to put the entire student loan system in a GSE! (within a health care bill!!) and GM paid back their loan with interest! (but it was with different bailout funds and we will not talk about the $50 billion in losses incurred to date).

These present economic, social and employment problems will take years of challenge. What a great opportunity to be alive right now to take on this challenge and do something with purpose! What will guide us; mans laws or God's laws?

Read Martin Luther King Jr.'s letter from a Birmingham jail. Now there is a cause to take sides! Human beings are not equal.(which is being repeated today in a different form). Notice King makes 39 references to Christianity, God, Jesus, faith, Paul, God's law. Now fast forward to the US black caucus visit to Cuba and press conference on the positives of present day Cuban society and Castro. Why? Because the black caucus has lost its connection to God's law and only wants power and money to hand out(like almost every politician and bureaucrat alive today).

This is not theory for me. I was born in Georgia Baptist hospital. We lived in East Point, not far from King's church, (a white family) until the early 1970s when three black men came down our driveway and told my mother (I was in her arms) that we needed to get out of the neighborhood if we knew what was good for us. We left. The world is not perfect. I married a first generation US/Cuban. Her family was destroyed by Castro. Freinds were put against a wall and shot. They lost everything, except freedom when they came here. The world is not perfect.

King said "If I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws." Today's black caucus tells us we can learn from Cuba, and Fidel is a very intelligent man.

Theft and lust for power and money. Not my side.

Today the financial players and government have acted to segregate their rights versus the rest of our society. It is not as noticeable as a fire hose or attack dog as seen during the civil rights cause, but I believe it is a similar, yet a more subtle discriminatory practice against a large part of our society. It is self evident. It has led to 20% unemployment. It has led to the public sector on average making much more than the private sector. It has led to employees who have taken no risk, invented nothing, and built nothing of long term lasting value for society making money beyond the wildest imagination. It is abnormal.

President Obama lamented to students graduating from the University of Michigan that people (critical of the government) do not understand that the government is a reflection of the people. He is right, a lot of people do not understand this yet, but more and more will. President Obama should have said to the graduating students; look at the person to the left of you and the right of you. Only one of the three of you will gain employment with opportunity remotely aligned with your goals and ambitions. Go find out why that is!

I will close with this:

Our present challenge and answers- Galatians 5:13-26 6:1-10