Wendy and I, sadly, are still slightly stiff from our relay marathon last weekend, so we ran flat through the neighborhood this morning. One of the first talking points to come up was a mutual, overriding feeling that the Carmel weekend, year after year, is over much too soon. If you were to look up the term heaven on earth, next to it you’d find the words “Big Sur – Carmel”. The rugged coastline, the ocean, the trees, the air. I’m lightheaded just thinking about it, which led me to this proposal:
If I can get enough individuals reading Daily Cup of Jo, I might be able to turn it into a lucrative endeavor. Of course, my primary goal is to entertain, enlighten and inspire but let’s set those aside for a sec. After paying some essential bills, perhaps I could put a down payment on a small cottage nestled among the cypress off Highway 1. It would be big enough for guests, as you’d all be welcome any time except when I don’t want you there. I’d create a mini Chautauqua Institution and offer seminars and round table discussions where we would attempt to solve problems big and small, internationally and local. There would also be wine and cheese and crusty bread, and a roaring fire during the colder months. Whaddya say? Are you willing to copy and paste my site wherever you can for the good of us all?
I’m shameless, and kinda pathetic. I apologize. Let’s get back to the task at hand.
Last week, speaking to my brother-in-law, I took my own stab at a Goldman Sachs-football betting analogy, thinking it couldn’t possibly be as simple and obvious as I described. Yesterday, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, in Washington for the Senate hearings, attempted the same. I like her but I don’t think it went so well and I’m bitter at her for trumping me. Here’s my take, more simplified than hers:
Imagine I’m the bookie. It’s Saturday. Mary gives me money, placing a bet, because she believes the New York Jets are going to win their game on Sunday. Ricky also gives me money, betting that the Jets are going to lose. Lots of people are giving me money on this game and for each bet, I take a fee. The Jets lose. Ricky and everyone else who bet against the Jets make a profit. I pay them with the money I got from Mary (and others) who bet the Jets were going to win. Back up now and imagine that I have inside knowledge that Mark Sanchez, the Jets quarterback, just drank a beer laced with Drano. There’s a great chance that without Sanchez, the Jets won’t win. I still take Mary’s money (and the bets from all her friends) and never tell a soul what I know about Sanchez. I go to another bookie and place wads of cash on the Jets to lose. They do lose, remember? I reap profits from the bets I’ve taken AND from betting against the Jets myself. That doesn’t sound nice, does it? I shouldn’t have taken Mary’s bet. Or if I did, I should’ve told her about the beer and the Drano, right? That’s the ethical thing to do, yes? Goldman Sachs is accused of being unethical. Instead of bookies and bets, they’re dealing in CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and lots of other acronyms. It’s still Vegas, any way you look at it.
If you watched any of the hearings yesterday (C-SPAN carries them live), you’d conclude that the Goldman Sachs guys are guilty, guilty, guilty. When Senator Carl Levin (D – Michigan) repeatedly asked Goldman CEO Daniel Sparks a very simple question and Sparks continued to act as if Levin was speaking Croatian, all I could figure is that Levin is taking an anti-depressant which increases the serotonin level in his brain allowing him to stay calm in the face of indescribable folly while preventing his head from exploding. At no time did I get the sense that the Goldman fellas were about to admit any wrongdoing. I have no idea what will happen to them but I know why we should care.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took a vote for cloture, meaning he wanted to try and get sixty votes on the Senate floor to allow for limited debate on the financial reform bill before a vote is taken on the bill itself. He failed. Republicans are concerned about an issue involving a $50 billion dollar rainy day fund in the event of another bank catastrophe, paid for by the banks themselves, and Democrats have offered to revisit the provision. I’ve read pages about it and still don’t understand how Republicans view it as another potential tax-payer bailout, which I know we all can’t stomach again. What concerns me most is the Republican claim that the proposed regulations on derivatives (the CDOs, the credit default swaps, etc.) are too far-reaching and will be devastating to the economy. Huh? These same derivatives are among the very products that led to the financial meltdown in the first place.
Republican concerns that outside investors (i.e. China) will take their business elsewhere (countries with less regulation) is sort of goofy. How can they defend a marketplace that sells a product that is at the very least, faulty, at worst, deadly? In the GOP’s defense, Senators Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, behind the language and spirit of the financial reform bill, hardly have a history of looking out solely for the best interests of Dick and Jane. But it appears that, even after three failed attempts at cloture, Harry Reid is going to eventually find the votes to begin debate, and soon. Unlike healthcare, there WILL be some bipartisanship involved, if for no other reason than the November midterm elections.
The American public will not, should not, cannot accept the financial services status quo in this country. And if anyone believes it simply won’t happen again, let’s recall the dot com bubble of the oh-so-very-recent 90s, when venture capitalists and Dick and Jane participated in the Ponzi scheme of Silicon Valley and millionaires, on paper, became a dime a dozen. California is still reeling from the shenanigans of state politicians who believed there was no limit to how high a stock price could go on a website that offered no product and had no revenue.
I’m up to one thousand eighty-nine words now on this post and that’s too many. Let me just close with this: if all the American public does is speak up and steer the debate, it will be more than we did while this whole mess was going on and it may just end well, or at least better than it’s been the past five years. We, the average citizen, the plebe, thought things were too good to be true. Turns out we were right.
Perhaps tomorrow, I’ll get back to entertaining y’all. I’ll be in the kitchen.
Wednesdays with Wendy