The real toxic assets on Wall Street are the people who run Wall Street.
Their boundless recklessness and their grotesque desire to be enriched for that recklessness are what have brought this country to its current sorry state.
Some think the wolves of Wall Street don't get it. Some think they are out of touch with ordinary Americans, who work hard and play by the rules and don't understand such naked greed.
But the wolves do get it. That's the problem. They get it just fine. Because the way the system is set up, they cannot lose. If you are a small-businessperson and you run your business into the ground, you go out of business. If you are a giant Wall Street firm like AIG and you run your business into the ground, you get $170 billion in bailout money and your executives get at least $165 million in bonuses.
What's not to get about that? The rich get richer. The fat cats get fatter. The rules are designed that way.
If you examine the tick-tock of who knew what when regarding the payment of those bonuses to AIG, one simple fact emerges: Everybody who had the power to block the bonuses knew about them in advance and didn't block the bonuses.
AIG Chairman Edward M. Liddy, who makes only $1 per year and turns out to be worth every penny, did not block the bonuses, and the Federal Reserve did not block the bonuses, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner did not block the bonuses.
By the way, last week on television, I referred to Geithner as "Timmy." That was unkind of me, and I apologize. It's just that every time I see him, he reminds me of a kid who just got his lunch money taken away from him on the playground.
President Barack Obama said recently, "I think Geithner is doing an outstanding job."
Yeah, heckuva job, Timmy. Whoops. There I go again. Name-calling. Anger. Outrage.
All of these things are bad. It is "class warfare" and "populism" and indicative of a "pitchfork mentality." That is what I am now reading. Taxpayers are to blame for being angry about what is being done with our tax dollars.
It is not enough that we get robbed and plundered we must be humble about it.
We must bend over and say, "Please, plunder us again." Because anger is bad.
Obama said on "60 Minutes" Sunday that he can't "govern out of anger." And he is right. But he can't govern out of apathy, either the kind of apathy that our financial regulators have practiced for years.
Jay Leno recently asked Obama, "Shouldn't somebody go to jail?"
The answer should be easy. The answer should be "yes."
Instead, Obama responded, "Most of the stuff that got us into trouble was perfectly legal."
I think that's the problem. I think that is what needs to be changed. But we can't even get the AIG bonus money back! Yes, the House passed a 90 percent tax on the bonuses, but Obama doesn't like the House bill. He said on "60 Minutes" that "we're gonna have to take a look at this legislation carefully" because "we don't wanna cut off our nose to spite our face."
Wall Street cannot lose. Even when it gets caught paying itself obscene bonuses, it cannot lose. We are afraid the wolves will sue us. We are afraid the wolves might get upset or depressed. We are afraid we might be accused of bad behavior.
Larry Summers, director of the president's National Economic Council, said the AIG bonuses had to be paid because "we are a country of law."
Liddy said we had to pay the bonuses because it was the only way to retain "the best and the brightest." Geithner said the bonuses could not be blocked because that would make the government "vulnerable to legal challenge."
To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt: I could carve better men out of bananas.
I realize it is very tough to find good people to go into government service these days. We spend so much time finding people who have paid their taxes that we cannot summon the energy to find people who have actual backbones, too.
The wolves of Wall Street are not afraid of what Congress is planning. The wolves are in the driver's seat. They are raking it in. That is because the wolves have always operated on the honor system.
We've got the honor, and they've got the system.