Monday, September 15, 2008

"Are you enjoying watching this?"

An interesting vignette emerged from the account given by Associated Press Business Writers Joe Bel Bruno, Christopher S. Rugaber and Martin Crutsinger of the fall of Lehman Brothers, definitely more a matter of writing than journalism:

Employees emerging from Lehman's headquarters near the heart of Times Square Sunday night carried boxes, tote bags and duffel bags, rolling suitcases, framed artwork and spare umbrellas. Many were emblazoned with the Lehman Brothers name.

TV trucks lined Seventh Avenue opposite the building, while barricades at the building's main entrance attempted to keep workers and onlookers from gumming up the steady flow of pedestrians flowing in and out of Times Square.

Some workers had moist eyes while a few others wept and shared hugs. Most who left the building quietly declined interviews.

People snapped pictures with cameras and their phones. Observers pressed up against a police barricade drew the ire of one man who emerged from the building and shouted: "Are you enjoying watching this? You think this is funny?"

Well, yes, there was a certain joy in the experience; and one would have expected that those employees were well enough educated to recognize the joy of Schadenfreude even when they were the target. The fact is that only a few voices dared to speak up about the "rescue" of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac being yet another example of paying more attention to the needs to the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and helpless. Last night was not much of a reversal from Amy Goodman's observation that, at the Democratic National Convention, poverty had once again been forgotten; but even the slightest amount of discomfort to the rich and mighty of Lehman (not to mention the lesser-paid minions to whom discomfort was also alien) must have meant something to those who have to confront really discomforting questions about food, clothing, and shelter every day.

Unfortunately, this particular experience of Schadenfreude will be all too brief. The key message from the Associated Press story is that the rich are, once again, rallying to the support of the rich:

Ten banks -- Bank of America, Barclays, Citibank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS -- each agreed to provide $7 billion "to help enhance liquidity and mitigate the unprecedented volatility and other challenges affecting global equity and debt markets."

The Federal Reserve also chipped in with more largesse in its emergency lending program for investment banks. The central bank announced late Sunday that it was broadening the types of collateral that financial institutions can use to obtain loans from the Fed.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the discussions had been aimed at identifying "potential market vulnerabilities in the wake of an unwinding of a major financial institution and to consider appropriate official sector and private sector responses."

The idea the getting out of poverty may be more important than maintaining wealth continues to be off the radar for all but a few "minority report" organizations, such as the Growth Commission. When I introduced reader of this blog to this little-known institution, I concluded with the following sentence:

If a candidate like Barack Obama wants to maintain his "audacity" stance, then he may wish to consider the audacity of questioning the conventional economic wisdom that got us into this mess in the first place; and a good place to begin the questions could be with the findings of the Growth Commission.

This would be the perfect time for Obama to make good on this strategy. It is hard to believe that we shall hear anything more than warmed over status quo from John McCain with little regard to how much of that status quo is responsible for the mess in the first place, and I could not think of a better opportunity for the media to wake up and stop spending so much time of Sarah Palin. It is time for this country to rethink its economic priorities; and Obama may well be just the right person to deliver that message, particularly if he can convince us that he is ready to follow through on it if he is given the keys to the White House.

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