Wall Street Tells the President of the United States to Bugger Off

Acela Express Departs NYC Arrives DC
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These were the Amtrak trains available to the three grandees of Wall Street; Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs; John Mack, Chairman of Morgan Stanley; and Richard Parsons, Chairman of Citigroup, leaders of perhaps the most important Wall Street firms. Yet not one of them was willing to change their flight schedules in spite of approaching weather, causing them to miss being in attendance with twelve other senior bank executives at at an urgent conclave summoned to the White House by the President of the United States. The meeting was called in order to discuss pressing issues; bank lending, executive compensation and legislation seeking reform of the financial services industry. According to White House sources they ascribed their absence from the meeting as due to "inclement weather."

The three must have felt sufficiently entitled that they could travel to Washington at the last minute and if the weather didn't oblige, so be it. With the nation up in arms about the perversity of pouring billions into the coffers of the banks (not only TARP, but counter party billions, federal guarantees of toxic holdings, green lighting conversion to becoming bank holding companies, access to myriad Fed programs etc., etc.) the symbolism of their tone deaf failure to be present at the President's meeting is beyond understanding. As one White House staff member was quoted, "It was pretty nervy."

And these grandees are the heads of organizations whose trading desks cash in on every nuance of change in the weather. They are ever alert to the gathering of a hurricane in every corner of the globe, knowing it may significantly impact the trading price of crude oil, and even more significantly paying for the services of professional weather prognosticators giving their grain trading desks early alerts on weather impacting growing conditions for wheat, soybean and corn crops so that their futures contracts can be traded with greater profitability. And with all this firepower at hand these three poobahs didn't have the interest nor considered it their obligation, given the billions of help their organizations received, to get a heads up on the weather front moving in. They stubbornly kept to their last minute flight schedules even with the approaching weather that would play havoc with their flight plans. Had their trading desks been equally oblivious and not had a fall back plan on major positions they had undertaken, it would have cost the career of the lead desk trader. Even then they had the option of a last minute reprieve, as an early train would have delivered them to Washington on time, but that would have meant traveling with the hoi polloi, the great unwashed, you know those little people whose tax dollars spared them the need from having to take the subway, ever. Hardly worth keeping an appointment with the President of the United States.

Their clumsy absence bespeaks of an arrogance that is frightening. Perhaps not the three individuals per se, but certainly the hubris of the Wall Street crowd. Here is a services industry vital to the well-being of the nation that appears to have its head in the sand, playing ostrich to the burning anger vested against them throughout the land. They are powerful, rich, with a Congress largely under their thumb. In turn we have a President who speaks for so many of his fellow citizens, and the leaders of the Wall Street crowd feel he can be figuratively and symbolically dismissed together with the anger of so many of their fellow citizens. It is a bonfire waiting to be lit. Beware!