Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Are the banksters we have the bankers we deserve? Part 1


You young'uns will find this hard to believe, but once upon a time bankers staked their personal credibility as well as their banks' profitability on their assessment of loan applicants' creditworthiness, a job now done (badly) by computer algorithm. Here former Army Sgt. Al Stephenson (Fredric March, Oscar-winner as best actor for this performance), returned from the Pacific, interviews a returned-vet sharecropper named Novak (Dean White) who dreams of buying a farm. Al's decision is affected when he spots his recent accidental traveling companion, former sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell; Homer lost his hands in a fire that consumed his ship in the Pacific), in the bank. In the clip we also meet the third Boone City traveler, former Army Air Forces Capt. Fred Derry (Dana Andrews), an ace bombardier over Europe who has found those skills poorly adapted to civilian employment, and also Al's daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright). At the end of the clip Al has to answer for the Novak loan decision; we'll be coming back to that scene, which concludes here.

"In the Army I've had to be with men when they were stripped of everything in the way of property except what they carried around with them -- and inside them. I saw them being tested, and some of them stood up to it, and some didn't. But you got so you could tell which ones you could count on. I tell you, this man Novak is okay. His -- collateral is in his hands, and his heart, and his guts. It's in his right as a citizen."
-- Cornbelt Savings and Loan VP for small loans Al Stephenson

by Ken

You have to admire the loyalty of the Senate Republicans to their bankster buddies. Didn't bankster cuddle-bunny Miss Mitch McConnell pinky-swear to his Wall Street buddies that as long as they show the GOP the love, he'll look out for them?

This can't be right, can it? Isn't he already in prison from his massive campaign of bribe-taking and influence-peddling in the health care "reform" charade? Or am I thinking of Holy Joe Lieberman? At least one of them must be doing hard time by now, surely. And Baucus? And the Lincoln woman? You mean to tell me the four of them aren't playing bridge together every evening in the rec room of some federal pen after a hard day's work on the rock pile? How is this possible? Quick, somebody get Holder on the phone.

Which raises the obvious question --

I don't think it would be fair to call our U.S. Senate, the very Senate that yesterday failed to vote yesterday to begin debate on financial services regulatory reform, "the best Senate money can buy," do you? I mean, if you're going to buy the damned thing anyway, shouldn't you be able to do a damned sight better than this?

On the other hand, if it's obstruction you're after, since all it takes is that magic number 41, while our Senate doesn't come cheap, it's pretty darned efficient.

Think Progress's The Progress Report has a great wrap-up on yesterday's Senate carnival, "Doing Wall Street's Bidding," which includes the apt observation: "Despite complaining for more than a year about some perceived lack of transparency in the health care debate, the GOP obstruction means that further debate on the financial regulation overhaul will not see the light of day -- which appears to be exactly what the Republicans want."

Leaving the Democrats to nurse their sizable but useless Senate majority by trying to reduce Goldman Sachs bankster-in-chief Lloyd Blankfein and his bankster-commando henchmen to tears, though my favorite performance today came from a Republican on Carl Levins' Investigations Subcommittee, naughtyboy John Ensign of Nevada, who (as reported by Business Week) made a show of taking offense at having Wall Street compared to Las Vegas, declaring: “In Las Vegas most people know that the odds are stacked against them. On Wall Street they manipulate the odds while you’re playing the game.” And what is Ensign doing still in the Senate? Surely by now he's resigned while he waits for the inevitable indictments coming down?

And speaking of Goldman Sachs --


Somali Pirates Say They Are Subsidiary of Goldman Sachs

Could Make Prosecution Difficult, Experts Say

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA (The Borowitz Report) – Eleven indicted Somali pirates dropped a bombshell in a U.S. court today, revealing that their entire piracy operation is a subsidiary of banking giant Goldman Sachs.

There was an audible gasp in the courtroom when the leader of the pirates announced, “We are doing God’s work. We work for Lloyd Blankfein.”

The pirate, who said he earned a bonus of $48 million in dubloons last year, elaborated on the nature of the Somalis’ work for Goldman, explaining that the pirates forcibly attacked ships that Goldman had already shorted.

“We were functioning as investment bankers, only every day was casual Friday,” the pirate said.

The pirate acknowledged that they merged their operations with Goldman in late 2008 to take advantage of the more relaxed regulations governing bankers as opposed to pirates, “plus to get our share of the bailout money.”

In the aftermath of the shocking revelations, government prosecutors were scrambling to see if they still had a case against the Somali pirates, who would now be treated as bankers in the eyes of the law.

“There are lots of laws that could bring these guys down if they were, in fact, pirates,” one government source said. “But if they’re bankers, our hands are tied.”

Still speaking of Goldman Sachs, have you read Matt Taibbi's dazzling Saturday Guardian piece, "Will Goldman Sachs prove greed is God?" The deck is: "The investment bank's cult of self-interest is on trial against the whole idea of civilisation – the collective decision by all of us not to screw each other over even if we can." He views Goldman's ethos as an expression of pure Ayn Randianism, in line with that other great U.S. economic pillar of Randian "thought," former Fed Chairman Al "Mumbles" Greenspan. We're probably going to come back to the Guardian piece, but do yourself a favor and read it now.

But to get back to Best Years of Our Lives -- in case you didn't recognize it, that's what our clip up top is from.

I already forget what I was supposed to be doing Sunday evening when I decided that even tuning into TCM's screening-in-progress of Best Years, a picture I hadn't liked all that much the last time I saw it, probably 40-plus years ago, seemed like a marginally better option. I hadn't missed all that much of it, and wound up watching to the end of a picture that's nearly three hours long.

For starters, it was startling to see that in 1946 a major motion picture was made, and had a public impact like few movies ever have had in this country -- it swept the 1947 Oscars, winning seven altogether (including, in addition to March as best actor: best picture; best director, William Wyler; best screenplay, Robert Sherwood; and best supporting actor, Harold Russell) -- portraying a country that was treating its returned World War II veterans, long decades before they were metamorphosed retroactively into the Greatest Generation, as an embarrassment, an annoyance, and even an economic menace, demanding jobs where there weren't any.

We're accustomed to thinking of Korean War vets as victims of fighting in a war that never became an official war, and Vietnam vets as victims of fighting in Vietnam, and Persian Gulf and Afghanistan vets as victims of the Bush regime secrecy and the American Code of Veterans' Invisibility, whereby patriotic Americans "support the troops," mostly by mouthing off, until they're finished trooping.

The World War II vets, however, we're accustomed to thinking of as troops of gladly received returned heroes. No doubt they were, for a brief while. In Best Years it appears that the American habit of supporting our troops only while it feels good is older than we thought. At the same time, the overwhelming response to the picture also suggests that back then the country was capable of feeling shame at shameful behavior.

It was also stirring, even kind of thrilling, to see Best Years laying out a populist agenda that even today seems decidedly radical, with some incendiary writing that reminds us that Sherwood's Best Years script is No. 44 on the Writers Guild of America's 2006 list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays of all time. The best pages of this script are better than anything in most of the 43 higher finishers.

Here, for example, is the scene I mentioned earlier, where Al Stephenson has to defend his decision on the Novak loan, apparently having been ratted out to the bank president, Mr. Milton (the pre-Perry Mason Ray Collins [below]), by prissy bank officer Mr. Prew (Charles Halton):
MR. MILTON: We were discussing this loan to this man, what's his name? Novak.
STEPHENSON: Yes. Yes, I approved it.
MR. MILTON: Well, may I ask, Al, on what basis?
STEPHENSON: On the basis of my own judgment. Novak looked to me like a good bet.
MR. PREW: But the man has no collateral, no security.
MR. MILTON: Evidently you saw something in this man.
STEPHENSON: Yes, Mr. Milton.
MR. MILTON: What was it?
STEPHENSON: Security. Collateral. You see, Mr. Milton, in the Army I've had to be with men when they were stripped of everything in the way of property except what they carried around with them -- and inside them. I saw them being tested, and some of them stood up to it, and some didn't. But you got so you could tell which ones you could count on. I tell you, this man Novak is okay. His . . . collateral is in his hands, and his heart, and his guts. It's in his rights as a citizen.
MR. PREW: Nobody's denying him his rights.
STEPHENSON: Oh yes we are, if we deny him his chance to work in his own way. [Some vocal overlap.]
MR. MILTON: There's no need to raise our voices. Of course, since you've approved the loan, the incident is closed. However, in the future, Al --
STEPHENSON: Yes, I -- I understand, Mr. Milton. In the future I must exercise more caution.
MR. MILTON [handing PREW the paperwork]: Thank you, Mr. Prew. [PREW leaves. STEPHENSON is leaving when MR. MILTON addresses him.] Al, you -- you know how I feel about you, and always have. Why, I've always considered you one of the family, so to speak, like my own s- . . . younger brother. I picked you personally for this job, and I know you'll make good. And we do, we have every desire to extend a helping hand to returning veterans -- whenever possible. But, we must all remember that this is not our money we're doling out. It belongs to our depositors. We can't gamble with it.
STEPHENSON: I'll remember, Mr. Milton.
MR. MILTON: We'll meet at the Union Club at 7:30. And, uh, give my best to your charming wife.
STEPHENSON: Thank you, Mr. Milton.

For what it's worth, Robert Sherwood's Oscar-winning Best Years screenplay is No. 44 on the Writers Guild of America's 2006 list of 101 Greatest Screenplays. The best writing in it is better than anything in most of the 43 higher finishers.


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