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Thursday, March 11, 2010 01:04 am

Goldman Sachs authors a Greek tragedy

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Another Greek-based cargo ship and its crew were recently hijacked by Somalian pirates, costing the Greek owners an undisclosed amount in ransom.

Such ongoing acts of brazen piracy off the coast of Somalia have riveted the established media’s attention. But the same news hawks have missed (or ignored) a much more brazen, longer-running and far larger robbery in Greece by Gucci-wearing thieves who are more sophisticated than common pirates — but lack a pirate’s moral depth.

I refer to — who else? — Wall Street financiers. Specifically, Goldman Sachs.

Goldman, a global financial conglomerate and America’s largest banking fiefdom, is notorious in our country for its arrogant, anything-goes corporate ethic that is astonishingly avaricious, even by Wall Street’s dissolute standards. The firm is villainous enough that it could be its own reality TV show, perhaps titled, Bankers Behaving Badly. A few highlights:

— During the past decade, Goldman’s wizards were particularly inventive monkey-wrenchers, devising much of the investment gimmickry that enriched crafty Wall Streeters like them, even as it led to the wrecking of our economy.

— In 2006, Goldman’s CEO was considered such a whiz that he was elevated to treasury secretary and soon was handed the task of fixing the very economic mess he had helped create. His “fix” was the cockamamie, self-serving, multitrillion-dollar taxpayer bailout that did save Wall Street... but has left our economy in shambles.

— Rather than apologizing for their failures and using their bailout funds to rush loans to America’s credit-starved businesses, Goldman’s debauched financiers immediately went back to playing the same old global game of high-risk craps that caused America’s crash, this time rolling the dice with the backing of our tax dollars.

— Juiced by an infusion of federal funds, Goldman executives declared a profit this year and promptly lavished more than $16 billion in bonus payments on themselves.

— To keep the fun rolling, Goldman is now lobbying furiously in Washington to kill regulatory and consumer bills that could rein in its destructive greed.

— Moving from mere greed to naked narcissism, Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, has proclaimed that his bonus bonanza is warranted because he is “doing God’s work.”

Perhaps he was referring to one of the Greek gods. It turns out that, for the past decade, Goldman has also been practicing its ethical flimflammery in Greece, a nation long mired in a sea of debt.

In 2001, Goldman’s financial alchemists formulated a scheme to allow the Greek government to hide the extent of its rising debt from the public and the European Community’s budget overseers. Under this diabolical deal, Goldman funneled new capital from super-wealthy investors into the government’s coffers.

Fine. Not so fine, though, is that, in exchange, Greek officials secretly agreed that the investors would get 20 years’ worth of the annual revenue generated by such public assets as Greece’s airports. For its part, Goldman pocketed $300 million in fees paid by the country’s unwitting taxpayers.

The financial giant dubbed its airport scheme “Aeolus,” after the ancient Greek god of the wind — and, sure enough, any long-term financial benefit for Greece was soon gone with the wind. By hiding the fact that the government’s future revenues had been consigned to secret investors, Goldman bankers made the country’s balance sheet look much rosier than it was, allowing Greek officials to keep spending like there was no tomorrow.

Last month, however, tomorrow arrived. Greece’s crushing debt has exploded into a full-blown crisis, with its leaders disgraced and the country on the precipice of the unthinkable: the default of a sovereign nation.

So, who is getting punished for the finagling of Greek politicos and Goldman profiteers? The people, of course — just like here! Greeks now face deep wage cuts, rising taxes and the elimination of public services just so their government can pay off debts the people didn’t even know it had. Meanwhile, Greece’s financial conflagration is endangering the stability of Europe’s currency and causing financial systems worldwide (including ours) to wobble again. All of this to enrich a handful of global speculators.

Thanks, Goldman Sachs.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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