Goldman Sucks

Goldman sucks, according to Greg Smith, a former banker in the investment firm’s London office. In a New York Times Op-Ed on Wednesday, March 14, Smith wrote a scathing resignation letter detailing a company culture rife with scheming and scamming its clientele, practices he witnessed firsthand over his twelve-year career there. Goldman’s practice of unloading “shitty deals” unto unwitting investors while simultaneously placing bets against them has of course been well-documented and comes as no surprise, but what does is that such public humiliation comes from within its own ranks.

Once universally revered but now widely reviled, Goldman Sachs is the investment bank everyone loves to hate. Tarred by scandal in the 2008 housing meltdown for selling garbage CDOs stuffed with sub-prime mortgages while at the same time making huge bets on the collapse in the housing market, the firm faced ethics hearings from the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations in April of 2010. In a particularly memorable exchange, Michigan Senator Carl Levin grilled GS Mortgages Department head Daniel Sparks about internal memos referring to a prioritized investment for sale as “one shitty deal.”

Goldman played both sides of the game to its own profit, which is legal, as CEO Lloyd Blankfein has pointed out, “in the context of market-making.” To be clear, market-making is creating an arena for fair transactions to occur between buyers and sellers–not what Goldman was doing, which was “taking one side of a transaction that they were themselves creating and structuring so that it would cause the other side of the transaction to fail,” according to Inside Job director Charles Ferguson. In the eyes of many, Goldman engineered a great global fraud. As a result of the greedy calculus of Goldman, and the entire banking industry, the housing market imploded, taking the economy and millions of American jobs with it. To add insult to injury, the banks subsidized their losses to the already reeling taxpayer, while privatizing all of the ill-gotten profits.

Since the meltdown, the banking industry has fought reform tooth and nail, in order to protect profitable unregulated revenue streams, i.e. derivatives. At the same time, banks are profiting wildly from charging ever-higher interest rates and fees to consumers, while the Federal Reserve has kept the federal funds interest rate–the rate banks pay for cash–near zero. That’s a damn fine spread… Banks pay practically 0% on cash that they then turn and lend to consumers at a charge of up to 30%.

Banking profits are up and bonuses are bigger than ever, but are those bonuses deserved? Can you really say that you ‘earned’ tens of millions ‘rightfully’ when it was the result of a rigged game? This cavalier attitude of corporate entitlement for bankers and stockbrokers did not always exist, and it certainly does not bode well for the American Dream… Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, the stock market existed as a resource for businesses looking to raise capital, not as a global Ponzi scheme for manufacturing investment bubbles. Smith yearned for the halcyon days of an era at Goldman when clients mattered more than profits–when they weren’t referred to as “muppets” by managing directors. Smith’s manifesto marks a call to conscience not just for Goldman Sachs but for America.

The Eleventh Commandment

The debacle over President Obama’s free contraceptive mandate within the Affordable Care Act came to a head this week with Rush Limbaugh calling birth control advocate and former president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice  Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute. The uproar started when California Congressman and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa convened a February 16 hearing to discuss regulations requiring faith-based employers and insurers to provide birth control, and allowed no women to speak on the panel. With women’s health at the center of the debate, the absence of women was offensive and troubling to many. The title of the hearing itself, “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” is indicative of the partisan rancor from the outset. The prohibition of Fluke’s testimony was red meat to Democrats who seized on the opportunity to criticize the motives of Republicans, who have been on a tear lately… from defunding Planned Parenthood to passing a Virginia law requiring ultrasounds for abortions to introducing “personhood” legislation which would define life as beginning at the moment of conception.

Prior to the Fluke controversy, Obama addressed the legitimate inquiry into First Amendment protections for religious institutions by removing the requirement from the Catholic Church itself and placing it on insurance companies instead. Republicans and religious leaders, however, would not drop the issue, and it morphed into a debate on women’s health. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum weighed in on the issue, decrying the use of contraceptives as a practicing Catholic, and in an interview with Andrea Mitchell, his financial backer Foster Friess said, “On this contraceptive thing, my Gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” Friess’ admonition for women to keep their legs closed didn’t exactly go over well.

The following week Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, convened their own hearing in which Ms. Fluke testified to the non-contraceptive conditions for which birth control is often prescribed, and recounted stories of a friend with polycystic ovarian syndrome and a student with endometriosis who cannot get coverage from her insurance provider. Ms. Fluke implored the panel:

“How can Congress consider allowing even more employers and institutions to refuse contraceptive coverage and then respond that the non-profit clinics should step up to take care of the resulting medical crisis, particularly when so many legislators are attempting to defund those very same clinics?”

Ms. Fluke’s assertion that birth control could cost over $3000 over three years set off a wildfire on the right. Limbaugh opined that the third-year law student is a “slut” who is “having so much sex” that she can’t pay for contraception, and that her desire for free birth control coverage made her a “prostitute.” While the quoted amount is on the high end and there are many cheaper options, her assertion is not technically false. Per month it works out to $83.33, and while generic pills cost much less, the more effective Ortho-Evra patch goes for $80-100 per month. Seemingly ignorant as to how birth control actually works, Limbaugh figured how much sex Fluke must be having per day to be paying so much…. Earth to Rush Limbaugh:  Pills, patches, etc. don’t work like Viagra–you don’t pop them every time you have sex! A woman could have sex once a month and her birth control would cost the same amount.

On the topic of Viagra… Bill O’Reilly jumped on the Sandra-Fluke-Slut-Train himself, apparently in a contest with Limbaugh to see who could be more insulting to women. O’Reilly echoed Limbaugh’s crass characterizations of Ms. Fluke, but went further trying to debunk a comparison by California Senator Barbara Boxer of birth control to Viagra, the cost of which IS covered by health insurance. Objecting to financing the recreational use of contraceptives, O’Reilly said:

“Nobody’s saying that American women should be denied insurance coverage if something is physically wrong with them, and that’s what Viagra covers for men. So this is BS, and by the way nobody is denying women birth control either- it’s on sale nearly everywhere.”

However, the Boxer analogy is an apt one. Both pills are used for reproductive AND preventive health, but BOTH may be used recreationally. According to noted Boston urologist Irwin Goldstein, nearly 400 of his patients are using 25 mg of Viagra nightly as a preventive measure–with nothing ‘physically wrong with them.’ Says Goldstein, “Men say, ‘I’m potent. I don’t want to become impotent. Is there something I can do?’ It’s a very simple strategy for preserving sexual health.”

Further, as found in a WebMD article entitled, “Viagra: How Young is Too Young?”:

Urologist Myron Murdock, medical director of the Impotence Institute of America, says these men are likely to use Viagra because sexual performance is a high priority for them.

A younger man, Murdock says, “wants his V-12 Jaguar working just perfectly,” whereas an elderly gent may be content with less dependable erections. What’s more, the sexual partners of younger men “are more demanding of their performance,” Murdock says.

Pfizer denies that it’s promoting Viagra for recreational use. “We’ve consistently opposed that,” says spokesman Geoff Cook. Nevertheless, Murdock says it’s fine to pop the little blue pill to “optimize” your sexual performance.

So Bill O… I, like you, don’t want to subsidize someone else’s bedroom recreation–whether it’s boner pills or birth control. I suspect, however, that this is not what it’s really about… It’s about the suppression of female sexuality in a patriarchal society and forcing religious morality on others, which is funny coming from a political ideology that allegedly espouses liberty. So why is a woman a whore for wanting to have sex responsibly without risking unwanted pregnancy? Because of the eleventh commandment.

P.S. Personally, I stopped taking birth control seven years ago, so I’m not looking for a handout. I didn’t want to poison my body with synthetic pharmaceuticals with harmful side effects. But hey, that’s the beauty of this country–it’s my choice. If you guys want to poison yourselves with magic pills, go right ahead, I won’t stop you.