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Jewish World Review
Oct. 14, 2008
/ 15 Tishrei 5769
Where are the street protests?
It is surprising that with all the financial pain felt by
the U.S. population including the many individuals with 401K plans
invested in the stock market, there have been no street protests
demanding more immediate and effective action from our representatives
in Congress and the White House.
When the war in Vietnam dominated our political lives in the
70s, angry crowds marched in every big city and raging rallies were held
in Washington, D.C. Every member of Congress was visited by protesters.
I was there in the Longworth building actively opposing the war
receiving anti-war constituents nearly every day. Until recently, there
were regular demonstrations in the streets and on college campuses
demanding that the troops in Iraq come home.
The absence of protests now when our economy has been driven
into the ground by greed on Wall Street and in Washington is a mystery.
We saw some of that greed uncovered when the CEO of Lehman Brothers,
Richard Fuld, Jr., was interrogated before the House Oversight Committee
chaired by Henry Waxman. I served with Waxman when I was in the
Congress from 1969 to 1977, and there could be no better legislator to
make public what happened. According to Fox News, "Richard S. Fuld Jr.,
chief executive officer of Lehman Brothers, declared to the committee 'I
take full responsibility for the decisions that I made and for the
actions that I took.' He defended his actions as "prudent and
appropriate" based on information he had at the time. 'I feel horrible
about what happened,' he said."
The New York Times reported that "...in response to a
question from Dennis J. Kucinich, who wanted to know how Mr. Fuld's
public statements could be valid in light of efforts by JPMorgan Chase
to secure $5 billion in extra collateral from Lehman in the final days,"
Mr. Fuld stated, "'No, sir, we did not mislead our investors. To the
best of my ability at the time, given the information I had, we made
disclosures that we fully believed were accurate."
Really? The Times also reported, "At one point on Monday,
Mr. Fuld was confronted with an internal memo dated June 8 that included
warnings about Lehman's condition and asked the question, 'Why did we
allow ourselves to be so exposed?' Mr. Fuld, after a long scan of the
memo, said, 'This document does not look familiar to me.'"
Does anyone believe him? I think few, if any, do. Will he
be punished? Some say he had an estimated fortune of $3 billion which
has been reduced to $30 million, and that is punishment enough. I do
not agree. I believe that if Fuld deliberately misled the investing
public, he should be pursued criminally and civilly, and is only one of
many who should be held accountable.
I don't know whether Fuld is criminally responsible for the
debacle. But all of us are aware of the financial void into which we
have fallen. According to CNN, "...the Dow ended its worst week ever
Friday, capping a staggering eight-session sell-off that resulted in a
2,400-point loss. It's not just the size of the loss keeping investors
on edge, it's also the gyrations. On Friday, the Dow whipsawed, falling
as much as 697 points in the first minutes of trading before quickly
climbing back into positive territory, only to turn lower shortly
after." What bothers people, in addition to the pain of seeing their
hard earned retirement funds disappear, is not to see those who caused
it identified and, where grounds exist, criminally pursued. Surely,
some of those CEOs, CFOs and directors committed fraudulent acts. What
the public demands is that those who engaged in crimes be punished. In
all likelihood, nothing will happen to them. It is reminiscent of the
cigarette company CEOs who testified under oath before Congress that
they did not believe there was any connection between cigarette smoking
and cancer. Millions of smokers died from cancer, but none of those
CEOs were charged with perjury.
I am surprised that no civic leaders or political parties
have been able to stir the public to take to the streets in peaceful
protest. Ought there not be a public rally in every city, particularly
New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., led by respected,
responsible civic leaders who will convey the anger and fears of the
electorate to the Washington lawmakers and demand the kind of leadership
provided by FDR back in the days of the Great Depression?
People are really hurting. Those living on fixed incomes,
including retirees, are wondering how they will be able to pay their
bills, while those nearing retirement are doubting whether they will be
able to afford to retire. Millions of Americans who have recently
examined their stock statements have found their assets depreciated by
as much as 42 percent from their high. Last week, the S&P was 35
percent below its 200 day moving average. The last time that occurred
was when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.
Yes, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve
Chairman Ben Bernanke appear to be taking action, but apparently, not
enough. The public is frightened and wants to know where were our
leaders when the debacle was unfolding. The public wants to know when
will those who are politically responsible for our agony be held
accountable and when will those criminally responsible be facing judges
and juries. Even if the measures recently taken by governments around
the world begin to work and restore confidence and the stock markets
rally, those responsible for the debacle should be held accountable.
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