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Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013 12:01 am

Can Wall Street buy redemption?

Goldman Sachs churns out enormous profits from its high-rolling, casino investment schemes, while also churning out fat paychecks for its top executives. They literally sack up the gold, even as their speculative gambles have wreaked havoc on our real economy.

But, finally recognizing that their public approval rating has sunk lower than mad-cow disease, Goldman’s banking barons now want you to know that they feel your pain and are eager to “give back” to the people. So – ta-da! – they’ve transformed themselves into philanthropists, having goosed up the bank’s foundation in order to flash their “charitable side.” Goldman’s chief of staff noted that “people said we weren’t doing enough” to address the gross inequities created by Wall Streeters, so they’ve turned their foundation into the fourth largest corporate charity in America. In an orchestrated show that the New York Times dubbed “reputation redemption,” the bank’s charitable arm doled out $241 million last year, including grants to women in developing nations and small business projects here in the U.S.

That sum would be impressive, except for a couple of ugly hickies on it. First, the foundation spends an unseemly amount on slick videos and PR efforts to extoll Goldman’s new “generosity,” diverting philanthropic funds from altruism to corporate promotion. One Goldman banker, who’s appalled at the self-congratulatory splashiness, said of the charity: “It’s run as if it’s a Broadway show.”

Second, $241 million sounds like a lot – until you see that the financial empire’s income last year topped $34 billion. Do the math, and it turns out these “bankers with a heart of gold” actually allocated less than one percent of Goldman’s income to its widely ballyhooed beneficence.

 How pathetic. Even poor people put these multimillionaires to shame, regularly donating 3.2 percent of their meager incomes to charity. Trying to buy redemption on the cheap is just another banker scam, but why aren’t we surprised that they would even view charity as a self-serving hustle? After all, on Wall Street, it’s assumed that anything can be bought and sold – from fraudulent investment packages to congress critters.

It’s no surprise, then, that the wizards of Goldman Sachs assumed they could purchase an image make-over, convincing us gullible rubes that they’re not just a pack of malicious, money-grubbing narcissists, but at heart, are huggable bankers who want nothing more than to serve humanity. Hence, the Goldman Sachs Foundation spreading a few of its millions hither, tither and yon in a flashy show of charity designed to mask the bank’s voracious ethic of greed.

But whom do the Goldman-Sachers think they’re fooling? By putting a pittance of their billions into charity, they’re merely updating the old PR shtick attempted a century ago by the billionaire robber baron, John D. Rockefeller, who went around in public parsing out dimes to a few children in the vain hope of buffing up his sour public image. But, worse, Goldman’s sly executives are not even donating their own dimes! It’s the shareholders’ money that these bankers are doling out. Worse yet, it’s also our money. By ours, I mean that Goldman’s so-called “gifts” are deducted from the income taxes the bank owes, thus, shorting America’s public treasury of funds that We The People need for schools, roads, parks, clean water and other essentials to advance our society’s common good.

Also, what is “charitable” about funneling $375,000 into one of Bill Clinton’s show-and-tell PR events? This donation by Goldman’s foundation went to Clinton’s Global Initiative conference in September, allowing the banking giant to plaster its brand on the event, including being the “host” of a panel moderated by Chelsea Clinton. Come on, that’s not charity – it’s advertising.

Jim Hightower is national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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