Thursday, April 29, 2010


Getting Too Used To Crooks

The disgusting thing about the Goldman scandal is how tolerant the business and investing media are in saying it was just business as usual. Ho hum!
I've listened with revulsion while writers for the Globe and the Post have said in their papers and on the BNN TV channel that Goldman really shouldn't have pulled that scam on investors but, hey, the investors were big boys too and, gee, that's how it's been going for decades on Bay St. and Wall St.
So the crime is not in stealing from people but being found out. And if you brazen it out in hearings and pretend that you have to get big bonuses or you would go to another den of thieves, then the politicians will let you get away with it, providing the political contributions keep coming from the armies of lobbyists.
There are exceptions, but many financial commentators don't expect any securities body to do much in punishing Goldman Sachs or any other company and really don't think that's awful.
So the financial media is as out-of-touch with the ordinary Joes and Janes about how scandalized they are about the stock market shenanigans as Bay St. and Wall St. There is a Grand Canyon between Wall Street and Main Street.
Financial institutions had little credibility with the public and they certainly have none now. No one loves a banker, and stock brokers are a mysterious breed too, but at least there was a feeling that if you were careful, you could make a little money for a rainy day.
It has been proven rather conclusively that the big financial outfits considered us all as suckers to be disemboweled of every last buck, and they included their colleagues in that too. There is no honour among thieves, as Bay St. and Wall St. have just proven again. These guys weren't just about to steal all our savings for a rainy day, they wanted the umbrella and the rubbers and anything else they could rip off our carcasses.
Ironically, such a flawed commentator as Eliot Spitzer, who is trying to resurrect a career out of the beds of expensive hookers, wrote tough comments on Goldman and the fellow travellers. He said: "Now that we are seeing the inner workings of the products that Goldman is marketing, we must ask whether Goldman and other investment banks do deserve the huge public subsidies they have received. Do they do anything that has any real social value?"
There has been a lot of wonder about that lately. Are Goldman and the others just immoral operators of casinos? Or it is really, as the commentators insist, just the way our financial world has worked, works now, and will work eternally.
Yet isn't it strange that we have to go to the disgraced former governor of New York State to hear tough views about that, but the typical business columnist has the attitude of let the big boys look after themselves and if the rest of us are smart, we would invest only in mutual funds and pay those hefty annual fees.
Why even the great guru who walks on water, if it's in Coke, Warren Buffet, has come to Goldman's defence. It would be believable if Buffet didn't have a huge investment in Goldman, something like $5 billion. Buffet is used to big bets, and winning, like on Coke, but even such a respected sage can't be trusted when he's put $5 billion where his critical mouth should be.
I was disappointed that contrarian Terence Corcoran, the Post editor who loves to swim against majority opinion, didn't gut the Goldman crooks for me. I'm a fan of Corcoran and when I was Editor of the Toronto Sun tried to hire him. The Sun owned the Post at the time, and I could pay him at least 20% more than he was getting, but the Posties loved to regard Sun staffers as swimmers in pond scum.
Tolerance for cheats is something I don't understand. But then the National Post uses columns by Conrad Black, languishing deservedly in prison. Black was a con artist right from high school but he still managed to trap many of us, and I was one, into losing thousands with his companies. I asked the Post brass why they had the gall to have Black as a regular columnist after his dismal record and the lofty reply was that readership surveys showed him right up at the top. Apparently Post readers have a great tolerance for cheating too.
The best line about Black was given by Hal Jackman, the former lieutenant-governor and multi millionaire with nearly 30 companies. Jackman said that Black was a friend of his but he would never dream of investing with him.
When I was a kid reporter and occasionally covered annual financial meetings, my older colleagues talked about how big a crap shoot the Toronto Stock Exchange was. They talked about boiler room operations and Ponzi schemes and con men. But then some of them made a lot of money on a northern mine. So I've been investing for four decades and done okay except for the occasional mysterious bankruptcy. Yet when I sample the sloppy coverage of the North American financial media and survey the financial carnage of the last few years, I consider myself lucky.
No one is prepared to be a real watchdog with more bite than bark, to savage the liars when the big boys concoct another fraud that no one, including themselves, really understands. And when politicians keep stopping short of real reform and huge fines, it makes me feel humble because I managed not to be taken in, but I had a good broker.
Dealing with financial institutes without a good broker riding shotgun is like jumping into the lions' den and pulling the tail of the nearest big cat. The wonder is that some humble investors still manage to survive with any profit at all.

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