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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly

The pirates are at the helm of the SS United States and it looks as though the navigators are all on their side, too, and the situation is looking grim.

No other conclusion was possible after this week. Federal auditors revealed that AIG, the insurance giant that sailed into troubled waters largely because it insured the piratical antics of the “Masters of the Universe,” threw itself a $400,000 party shortly after the fed bailout of the company to the tune of $85 billion.

The event was a week-long bash at a California St. Regis resort in late September; it was the company’s way of saying, “Thanks, great job, boys,” to its top salespeople. This was a month after the financial meltdown began to loom large on the worldly horizon, a year or more after warnings started seeping out of the woodwork regarding the subprime mortgage mess.

And then, to add insult to injury, the feds have handed AIG another loan. I heard this one is for $37 billion, I guess to help them figure out how to spend the first loan. They need help like that, the poor schmucks. They’re obviously scared out of their Brooks Brothers suits, and need old Uncle Sam to open his wallet a little wider to convince them they truly are the invincible, omniscient wizards they’ve believed they were for so long.

What a load of crap. And it looks as though we’re all going to have to swallow it and smile.

When the governments of the world got together this week to drop interest rates ” a spectacle of cooperative action that apparently is beyond the reach of our leaders except when the Masters need help ” did the markets perk up and right their ships? No, they continued to tumble and fumble around, threatening to take down countless bystanders in the manufacturing, retailing and information sectors.

Many of the talking heads on the Boob Tube seem to be reading from the same script these days, as the word “recession” gets used so often it has begun to lose its meaning to most of us. Of course, the talking heads as a group were quick to chastise those who dared to used another word ” “depression” ” because they think it’s OK to scare us a little but not advisable to scare us a lot.

And they’re right. The anger is mounting in the beer halls and back alleys of America, and apparently around the world, at the image of these smart-alecky, arrogant, lying wunderkinds with their ridiculous paychecks and their overblown expense accounts and their trophy wives and their multiple mansions.

You can hear it in the voices of the people interviewed on National Public Radio, which has been doing the best job of all the major news-gathering organizations in covering this mess.

You can feel it when you call your relatives in other parts of the country and, even when they put a brave face on things and chatter on about America’s resilience in times of crisis, they are desperately trying to hide the fear behind the words.

The problem is, we’ve been sold down the river starting with the Reaganauts of the 1980s. That’s when it became the leading mantra of government and Wall Street that any regulations were bad and, in the words of Gordon Gekko, “Greed Is Good!” The greedheads believed their own publicity machines, the stampede toward risky investment strategies and insupportable investment “products” went hot-wild for a couple of decades, and then the walls came crashing down.

Why are the markets tumbling? Because the very jackals who built them up to absurd heights of self-delusion are now panicking and revealing exactly how morally bankrupt they are. Just as they did when they were raking it in, they look out only for No. 1, and the devil take the hindmost. Which, by the way, means the rest of us.

So, to return to the seafaring analogy, the luxury liner of our international economy is foundering because the pirates forgot how to steer in stormy weather. Water is washing over the gunwales, the crew has joined the pirates and they’re stealing the life boats.

Mutiny, anyone?

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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