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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 2/16/09

Captain of the Universe

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It was quite a show.

Wednesday it was, 2/11, 9 years into the new century.

Next day, Amit R. Paley wrote in the Washington Post, "The titans of Wall Street, already humbled by the financial meltdown, were hauled before Congress for the first time Wednesday to face the rage of the nation."

Paley's article, titled, Congress grills bailed-out bankers, reflects gravity of the situation with heavy lines such as, "Lined up in a row at a nationally-televised hearing, the chieftains of eight banks that received $165 billion in federal bailout funds were pounded with ferocious questions from lawmakers demanding to know whether the firms were misusing taxpayer dollars." Just the concept of questions themselves somehow possessing ferocity suggests an almost surreal situation. And that it was...rather like a circus except there were little more than tigers and clowns.

The titans' testimony was their most "full-throated" response yet to lawmaker and analyst criticism that banks are hoarding the bailout money instead of making new loans with it, as Congress intended. Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase insisted his firm made $150 billion in new loans in the last quarter of 2008--with consumer loans "jumping" by 2.1% over the previous quarter.

"Make no mistake," said Kenneth Lewis, CEO of Bank of America, "we are still lending and we are lending far more because of the TARP" (Troubled Assets Relief Program).

"Let me be clear with the committee," said Vickram Pandit of Citigroup, "I get the new reality and will make sure Citi gets it as well. Pandit apparently volunteered to take a yearly salary of $1 until Citi returns to profitability. All the titans were "grilled" on their compensation packages---lawmakers demanded that each recite their salaries (which ranged from $600,000 to $1.5 million, not counting Pandit). All claimed zero bonuses.

John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanley, said, "As an industry, clearly, we made mistakes. I think the the entire industry shares some of that responsibility and for that we are sorry for it."

That was so eerily like Ben Bernanke apologizing for the Fed causing the Great Depression--the fact of that seemed to go right over most everyone's head. But after all, with corporate media suppression at full power, how many knew that leaked documents and defector testimony had clearly revealed the Fed's drooling over the thousands of banks and farms they hoped to acquire for pennies on the dollar by inducing a depression? How many knew that current chief of the Fed Ben Bernanke stated for the record: "Regarding the Great Depression. We did it. We're very sorry. We won't do it again."

Back to the Wednesday "grilling," one could actually watch extra gravity torque faces of the titans so ferociously that a sloughing-off of flesh, especially corners of the mouths, seemed imminent--especially! when CEO Kenneth Lewis bleated: "I feel more like corporal of the universe, not captain of the universe at the moment."

Another crescendo in this "...public pillorying of the executives" came when seven of them claimed they did not expect to request more federal money--and several of them said they never wanted even the first installment of the bailout money.

At this point an "exasperated" Democratic Representative from Pennsylvania, Paul Kanjorski, said, "For anyone who contends that you do not need the money and that you did not ask for it, please find a way to return that money to the Treasury before you leave town."

Imagine...not one of the titans took Rep. Kanjorski up on the offer. But that sequence did reveal the raw sense of the whole affair. Corporate media did everything they could to soothe "rage of the nation" by portraying the whole show as a ferocious grilling and pillorying of those bad ol' banksters into contrition and humiliation by our fearless elected officials. A victory for the people!

Disappointingly, for those paying close attention to the trajectory of their country, the only thing genuinely meaningful was in fact a certain loss for the people--something most all of the people surely wrote off as somewhat cutesy, a moment of levity. It was Kenneth Lewis's "I feel more like corporal of the universe, not captain of the universe at the moment." It may have played differently if there were a huge dial above the committee that showed the instantaneous visceral responses such as blood pressure of the committee members. A huge silence might have ensued because this simple statement disguised in levity, in it's subtlety, was deadly serious. If there were any real ferocity instead of hyped and apparent ferocity, it was there and every committee member felt it to the bone.

This show was an elaborate farce, apparent power versus real power. Real power is spoken in money. Real power always wins. In the end, banksters laughed all the way home with most of our money. Committee members, forces of apparent power, cowered in hopes of not actually offending real power.

A pageant of how power maneuvers in this country, that's what was so subtlely displayed. Corporate media made sure a vast majority of Americans interpreted the pageant as exactly what it was not. Is it any wonder why real power ends up with more and more of the nation's wealth, while the peoples' power is wielded by clowns?

Original Washington Post article:  

Bernanke's confession:  
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Rand Clifford lives in Spokane, Washington. His novels and earlier essays can be found at
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