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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 03:32 pm

Wall Street is dazed and confused

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Astonishingly, some Wall Streeters continue to be clueless about what the Occupy Wall Street movement is protesting. Yoo-hoo, Streeters: Note that the movement’s name has the term “Wall Street” in it.

While there is a plethora of particular issues being raised by the protesters – from the corrupting power of corporate money in our elections to the demise of middle-class wages – the unifying theme is that each one adds to the rising tide of economic inequality that’s enriching the most privileged few by knocking down America’s workaday majority. And, Mr. and Ms. Streeter, guess who are the most powerful perpetrators of this greed-fueled disparity: Yes, you.

Perhaps an example would help you grasp the obvious. Even as the protest was spreading in mid-October to hundreds of cities, tone-deaf executives at Bank of America announced three moves:

One, to goose up their own extravagant pay, they’re socking financially stressed debit-card users with a new $5 a month fee.

Second, they’re dumping 30,000 of the bank’s worker bees onto America’s already swollen unemployment rolls. Goodbye, and good luck finding another job.

Third, two top executives who are departing the bank are being handed golden parachutes totaling $11 million.

In the midst of this, Steve Bartlett opened his mouth. A former Congress-critter who was promoted to be Wall Street’s top Washington lobbyist, he is a perfect symbol of the infuriating corrupt coziness between financial elites and lawmakers. Yet Bartlett blithely says, “We (don’t) see ourselves as the target (of the protests).”

After all, he explains, Wall Street “has to be well capitalized and well financed for the economy to recover.”

Golly, Steve, I think we capitalized you extremely well. What part of the public’s multitrillion-dollar bailout of the Street’s elite did you not see? We the People see every glaring dime of it. And we also see that rather than helping our economy recover, you’re now lobbying Congress to kill Wall Street reforms so banksters can grab even more at our expense.

Yet the most befuddled Wall Streeter of all is – big surprise – the richest guy.

In assessing the spreading public protest against the rampaging greed of today’s corporate and financial elite, John Paulson turns out to be as confused as a goat on Astroturf. Oh, he gets it that the people’s anger is directed at hedge fund profiteers like him, but he claims that riffraff like us are simply confused on the virtue of accumulated wealth.

While it’s true that he raked in nearly $5 billion in personal pay last year (the largest single haul in Wall Street history), and while it’s true that his riches flow not from advances to benefit humanity, but from rigged Wall Street casino games, he asserts that it’s the amassing of wealth itself that serves the public good.

It’s unfair, Paulson scolds, that protesters demonstrated in front of his 28,000-square-foot, $15 million mansion on New York’s Upper East Side, targeting him as an exemplar of plutocratic excess. Don’t they know that billionaires like him pay taxes, “providing huge benefits to everyone in our city?” Besides, he points out that he’s not merely a billionaire, but one of those “job creators,” as Republican leaders prefer to call corporate chieftains these days.

Paulson brags that his hedge fund “has created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City since its formation.” Wow – 100 jobs in a city of over 8 million people. Thanks, John, our economy wouldn’t be the same without you!

When it comes down to it, all that the Paulson-clique really wants is a little love – a small show of gratitude for all that the richest 1 percent is doing for us 99 percent of Americans by making themselves ever-richer.

“Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses,” he wrote recently in a plaintive press release, “we should be supporting them and encouraging them.”

See, protesters, you’re gonna make John cry. You should be ashamed – except that he does have $15 billion in net worth to dry those tears.  

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

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