Maureen Dowd : The Goldman Mafia Hearing

Thursday, April 29, 2010

…..The wood-paneled Senate committee room had an old-school look.  The combed-over committee chairman, Carl Levin, had an old-school look.  And the Congressional hearing trying to illuminate surreptitious and avaricious behavior by an amoral, macho gang was the 2010 equivalent of the 1950s Mafia hearing depicted in “Godfather II.” “Government Sachs,” as the well-connected Goldman Sachs is known, was called to account by the actual government on Tuesday.  And the traders and executives who dreamed up the idea of packaging smoke were every bit as slick, evasive and dismissively unapologetic as Michael Corleone.  He only claimed to trade in olive oil; they actually delivered the snake oil.  You know you’re ethically compromised when Senator John Ensign scolds you about ethics.  The Nevada Republican is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee and the F.B.I. for chicanery surrounding an affair with a staffer.  His wealthy parents paid off the mistress and her husband, who was also on Ensign’s payroll.  “I think most people in Las Vegas would take offense at having Wall Street compared to Las Vegas.  Because in Las Vegas, actually people know that the odds are against them.  They play anyway,” said the righteous Ensign.  “On Wall Street, they manipulate the odds while you’re playing the game.  And I would say that it’s actually much more dishonest.”  There was a bipartisan jackpot in casino metaphors.  “How does that differ from going out to Caesar’s Palace, the sports book, and making a wager on the outcome of an athletic contest?” Senator John McCain of Arizona asked C.E.O. Lloyd Blankfein…..As Americans lost homes and lined up for jobs, Goldman made $13 billion in 2009, and Blankfein got a bonus of, as he haltingly admitted to McCain, “um, um, nine million.” “The idea that Wall Street came out of this thing just fine, thank you, is something that just grates on people,”  Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman told Blankfein.  “They think that you didn’t just come out fine because it was luck.  They think that you guys just really gamed this thing real, real well.”

…..The Goldman crowd was certainly cosmopolitan.  Blankfein dropped a Latin phrase (Goldman had a “de minimis” business in direct home loan mortgages) and French peppered Senate Exhibit No. 62, from the petite, handsome Fabrice Tourre, the S.E.C. target who called himself “the fabulous Fab” in a 2007 e-mail…..In an e-mail to his girlfriend, he called his “Frankenstein” creation “a product of pure intellectual masturbation, the type of thing which you invent telling yourself: ‘Well, what if we created a “thing,” which has no purpose, which is absolutely conceptual and highly theoretical and which nobody knows how to price?’ ”  In another e-mail to her, he blithely joked that he was selling toxic bonds “to widows and orphans that I ran into at the airport.”  At least the Fabulous Fab had the good manners to cloak his feelings of fabulousness in front of the committee and put on an earnest mask.  Luckily for Goldman, greed may trump ethics.  The firm’s stock closed higher Tuesday.  Wholesale olive oil closed higher as well.

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