Crooks…

My friend Chris Massa wrote the following “essay” (for lack of a better term), and I couldn’t help but post it here. It is brilliant, absolutely true, and worth reading…hopefully it makes you think like it did me…

I first saw this picture when I came into the Starbucks where I work yesterday, on Wednesday, October 8. It was on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and it didn’t make a big impression on me, at first. With the financial situation how it is, I’m used to seeing pictures of CEOs hanging their heads in shame. But the more I looked at it, a word jumped out at me: CROOK. For some reason, people felt that this man, whoever he is, is a crook.ย 

I saw his picture again this morning, of all places, on Roger Ebert’s website. Ebert’s a fantastic writer, but he’s known for his film criticism, not his political or economic analysis. That’s when I knew that this guy, Richard Fuld, had clearly done something that I should know about.

Here’s the short version: Fuld is the Chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers, a 158-year-old global financial-services firm based in New York City. Really, I don’t know what any of that means. I have no clue what Lehman Brothers does, or ever did. What I do understand is that they declared bankruptcy on September 15, the largest bankruptcy in US history, and Fuld appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — or as I like to call it, HOGREFORM — on Monday, October 6.

Roger Ebert points out that, when asked what defines “rich,” both John McCain and Barack Obama had very different answers. Obama said, to be considered rich, you should be making $250,000 a year. McCain said $5 million. In some ways, both of these numbers work for me. Yes, if you make $5 million a year, you’re definitely rich. My issue is that, by default, anyone who makes less than these figures would have to be considered, at best, middle-class. In my opinion, Obama’s figure seems closer to the mark, while McCain’s is hopelessly out-of-touch. Still, consider those two numbers. $250,000. $5,000,000. Brace yourself. Are you ready?

Since 2000, Richard S. Fuld Jr. made approximately $350 million. That’s $350 with six zeros after it. That’s perilously close to half-a-billion. That is a figure that I simply don’t understand, and I never will. And frankly, I’m OK with that. But I digress. Last year, Fuld made roughly $45 million. By my calculations, if he worked 52 weeks a year, 40 hours a week — and I’m willing to bet he didn’t work that much — he was making a little less than $22,000 an hour. And, during the past year, Lehman Brothers was going bankrupt. Translation: He was getting paid $22,000 an hour to watch his company do a nose-dive.

Remember watching “School of Rock” with Jack Black? Remember what he said rock music is really all about? It’s about sticking it to The Man, right? Well, take another look at that picture, my friends. The Man now has a face and a name.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Fuld is the only example of The Man that we have. There are certainly more Men out there. But for me, and for many people, including HOGREFORM, Fuld is a perfect example of what has gone wrong with the American economy, a reminder that corruption and greed, not prosperity, has trickled down.

But let me take this a step further. Have we forgotten that, every day, 30,000 children die of starvation and preventable diseases? Have we turned a blind eye to the fact that, as we speak, a tuberculosis epidemic is ravaging the developing world, an epidemic that, in 2005, killed 1.7 million people? Don’t we care that, according to the World Bank, 1.2 billion of the world’s population are trying to survive on one dollar a day, or less?

The fact of the matter is that there are serious problems in the world right now, and while throwing money at them won’t make them go away, neither will keeping all the money to ourselves. People in the developing world don’t need our happy thoughts and our best wishes, and praying about it doesn’t excuse us from doing something about it. If he wanted to, instead of buying summer homes and flashy suits, Fuld could have changed the world. Yes, I may be applying an unfair stereotype. I admit that I don’t know what he did with all the money he made, but I don’t think it was worth it. His suit’s not even all that nice.

I know I’m kind of digging myself into a hole here, or at the least, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. And really, I’m just angry. I’m angry that people like Fuld think they are justified in making more in one hour than I make in a year. I’m angry that CEOs on Wall Street are letting the American taxpayer foot the bill for their corruption. And I’m also angry that, when our economy is in trouble, we would have the audacity to think that we have it bad. Quite frankly, I’m angry that we honestly believe that the next President will be able to make it all better.

I guess, when it really comes down to it, I’m angry at myself. I’m not on Fuld’s level, perhaps, but I have turned a blind eye towards poverty and injustice far too many times, and I will no doubt turn it again today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. Maybe I’m even a little bit angry that Fuld is ashamed, hanging his head, refusing to make eye contact with those around him, while I’m sitting here in my room, typing away on my Mac, letting people continue to believe that I’m a good person and a nice guy.

I’m not, you know. I’m a crook, too.

Postscript: I just read this on Wikipedia. Apparently, shortly after announcing Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy, Fuld was punched in the face by an employee at the office gym. I think I understand why.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s