Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Atlantic Wire: Don't Hate Bankers Because They're Rich--Or When They Stab Cab Drivers

It's no wonder that America is in the mess its in when you consider that lapdog-to-power publication like The Atlantic is what passes for a "liberal media," these days. I realize that is not exactly breaking news to anyone in the reality based community, but the horrid rag, or at least its Atlantic Wire online news feed, demonstrated yet again where it really stands in an article about the Morgan Stanley banker who allegedly stabbed a cab driver in a dispute over a fare. In "Why We Love to Hate Masters of the Universe," Senior Writer Wall Street Sycophant Jen Doll, who actually used to write for the Village Voice no less, admonishes her readers not to hate the little rich bastard just because he is rich:
In the annals of crime, there is a place reserved for the banker—a special sort of banker, mind you, not just the guy who offers you free checking with your savings account, presuming you keep a certain balance, at Chase. You probably never see this esteemed creature, unless he deigns to be seen, or unless you frequent his gilded circles (in fact, he may look a lot like everyone else, but don't let that terrify you; he smells your fear). He is the one who lives in a million-dollar abode on Park Avenue, or in "the wealthy enclave of Darien." He may be the owner of a "sweeping curved staircase, perfectly plumped chintz pillows, backyard swimming pool, and a Ferrari in the garage." He has so much when some have so little, so much in material goods but also in the currency of power, that when he crosses the rules by which we expect him to conduct himself—after all, he is civilized, or must be, with so much in liquid assets—we recoil back in horror only briefly before we jump in to censure, releasing a sigh that demonstrates our resignation that of course this person could not have had all that and been a decent human being, too. Of course. And there is some joy in that resignation, because we are struggling, because of the economy, because of the haves and have-nots, because of the 99 percent, just because.

Take the case of William Bryan Jennings, a man who could not have been more unfortunately named and now faces an unfortunate reality. Not that there's anything unfortunate about being the head of fixed income for North America at Morgan Stanley, or owning a $2.7 million mansion in Darien, Conn., or being able to send your children to a prestigious private school or afford a $204 cab ride home from Manhattan when you've had too much to drink at your holiday party and can't locate the town car that's been ordered for you. What is unfortunate is fighting with your cab driver over the fare once you're home, refusing to pay that cab fare, shouting racial slurs, and then, in failing to get your way, stabbing that cab driver, who, in perfectly cinematic contrast, lives in a ground-floor apartment in Astoria near the railroad tracks "in the shadow of the Triborough Bridge."

These are things that Jennings has allegedly done. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on March 9; he has denied using racial slurs and claims, according to his lawyer, who says Jennings thought he was being abducted. If convicted he could face 11 years in prison. As a direct consequence of his actions that night in December, he's been placed on leave, and according to rumors he may never get his job back. The next court date, a pre-trial hearing, is scheduled for April 12. But whether he's proven guilty or not, Jennings is now a member of the bad banker club.

He follows in footsteps like those of Rajat Rajaratnum, billionaire and in 2009 the 236th richest American, the Galleon Group's former hedge fund manager and founder—who was found guilty of allegations of insider trading and sentenced to 11 years in prison in October 2011. Or those of Rajat Gupta, formerly of Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company, whose trial over "passing along corporate secrets to Rajaratnam" will soon begin (Gupta is a man who in his own estimation still wasn't rich enough). Going further back, there's Martha Stewart, not a banker herself but certainly a member of a certain coterie of power players, convicted of insider trading and sent to jail back in 2004. Fictionally, we have Wall Street top bond salesman Sherman McCoy, done in by his own greed and selfishness (with the help of the media) in The Bonfire of the Vanities, or the case of Wall Street's Gordon Gekko, who believes above all else that greed is good.

There is a sense that these figures, the "masters of the universe," dubbed so without our explicit agreement (even as we are complicit in their successes) are somehow more evil than your garden variety criminal, someone without wealth and power and private schools and sisal rugs at his fingertips. This is good for us, because we can hate them more, without any sort of liberal guilt associated. The bigger and badder the persona, the better. Which is why, when the news came out about Jennings, we slapped our foreheads and thought, "Shoulda known, not another one!" in an almost gleeful (though rueful) fashion while feeling just terrible for his alleged victim.

Interestingly, however, Jennings doesn't quite fit our stereotype. As Conlin and Francescani write, "In the world capital of ego-driven alphas, Jennings didn't come off as one. He was polite and well-liked, according to Morgan Stanley colleagues. He also was a 'Morgan monk,' utterly devoted to the firm and his job, with little personal life outside work." If Jennings hadn't been a banker and instead was, maybe, an inebriated mid-level ad exec on his way home from a Christmas party who got into a tiff with a cab driver, would we react the same way? Maybe...but probably not. With great power comes greater responsibility, so we expect our masters of the universe to behave appropriately. But if we're being honest, we don't really want them to behave properly, not only because it makes for interesting news, but because, well, schadenfreude. We want them to be bad so we feel better about ourselves.

So when Greg Smith, the hero-or-anti-hero or in any case now famous writer of the "Why I'm Leaving Goldman Sachs" op-ed in the New York Times, tells us how bad his coworkers are, calling their clients "muppets," taking advantage of the poorer or weaker or stupider, generally reveling in their toxic environment -- we eat that up and ask for more. We want to hate those corporate bigwigs making all the money and crushing the little people and complaining about how poor they are on Urban Baby. When it turns out they're human...good or decent people who've worked hard but messed up...that becomes less easy, or certainly less pleasant, to swallow along with the lump of jealousy that burns in our throat.

But back to the case of Jennings. There is dispute over what actually happened in the cab that night, and we may never know exactly what occurred. We do know things escalated to the degree in which a pen knife was taken from a briefcase, and a cab driver was left bleeding and in need of six stitches. We know that later Jennings went on vacation with his family, to Florida, but that at the end of February, he turned himself in to cops. And all that is probably enough for him to go down in the banker hall of villainy, regardless of the outcome of the trial. It's easy to hate bankers, because not only are they rich, and richer than we are, but also, most of us don't actually understand what they do. What we do understand, and what people have understood since the beginning of time, is that watching the mighty fall is far more amusing than watching those further down in the rungs of power remain exactly where they are.
First of all, I love how Jen Doll (speaking of unfortunately named) condescendingly presumes to know what all of her readers were feeling when they heard about Banker William Bryan Jennings's run in with the cab driver. Apparently, she and her editors at The Atlantic who green lighted this tripe assume that we are all a bunch of easily enraged troglodytes, ready to form a lynch mob and string poor, put upon Banker Jennings up from the nearest tree. The really neat trick here is the attempt to make you feel guilty about not feeling liberal guilt about hating him.

Sorry, but I do hate the fucker and I don't apologize for it. I'm supposed to take this asshole's banker buddies at their word about what a great guy he supposedly is? Or be at all concerned that this incident might cost him his high flying job, which is after all to rape and pillage the planet's resources and fuck over people who actually work for a living? Excuse me, but I'd rather extend my empathy to the cab driver who got stabbed, thank you very much, because he is, you know, the actual victim here.

But beyond just looking down her nose at the unwashed, stupid masses who read The Atlantic Wire and let their lack of liberal guilt run amok (and who are obviously too dumb to know when they've been insulted), I really must ask why Ms. Doll felt compelled to write an article sticking up for Banker Jennings in the first place. The defendant has by all appearances plenty of fucking money and can afford to buy a conga line's worth of the absolute best defense attorneys available. He hardly has to worry about being railroaded by the American justice system, the way, oh, say the cab driver might have been had the roles in this case been reversed.

I guess what makes me so angry about this craptastic turd of an article is that I grew up reading the columns of the late, great Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko. For the better part of four decades, Royko used his daily column, when he wasn't busy shining the spotlight on the Windy City's bountiful municipal corruption, to stick up for the little guy against whatever forces, be they bureaucratic, corporate or even gangster, that might be attempting to stomp on him. Royko brilliantly used the power of press to right many wrongs in that very cold-hearted and unfeeling city, and working class Chicagoans in particular loved him for it. The idea that a writer with a media platform would use that platform to defend one of our overlords after he viciously assaulted one of the little people must surely have Royko spinning in his grave. Banker Jennings will get his fair trial, a much fairer trial than you or I would ever be able to afford were we in his shoes. He doesn't need some hack writer kissing his ass on top of it.

It would be one thing if this tired old "don't hate the rich just because they are rich" mantra that is used to justify all sorts of bad acts perpetrated by the corporate and Wall Street elites was being spewed forth by a conservative propaganda sheet like the American Spectator. It's something else again when it comes from a publication dutifully read by good little liberals everywhere. I guess Ms. Doll has to the have the evil of Wall Street bankers rubbed right in her face so she might understand a little better why they are so justifiably hated even when they aren't outwardly Gordon Gekko caricatures and why they don't need the likes of her sticking up for them.

Here's hoping that some right wing billionaire soon makes a hostile takeover bid of The Atlantic, and when he seizes control he immediately fires the entire staff. Sitting on the unemployment line still might not enlighten the dimwitted likes of Jen Doll, but I would love nothing better than to see her feeling bad so that I can feel better about myself.

Bonus: A song from a guy who gets who the enemy is


  1. All I can come up with is that Jen Doll is trying for a spot on Fox and Fiends. I hope she has a closet full of ass exposing mini-skirts to go along with this sorry article or she’ll never get hired.

    You’re right- it’s disgusting that someone would put effort into defending something such as this- that’s why I think it has to be for some self promotion (hey Breitbart’s dead-there’s a vacuum in the right wing hateosphere).

    This reminds me of the hedge fund manager who broke the waiter’s finger for bringing him (horrors) a check in full view of others. And yeah, you can get family and friends to vouch for these types because they likely don’t treat them in such a manner. Those who don’t make millions are the parasites to them, right?

    I hate the enablers like Jen Doll more than the actual miscreants. I think they are so depraved as to be unreachable where Jen Doll probably knows better.

    1. I actually checked out Jen Doll's Twitter feed as I was writing this (and yes, I had to suppress a gag reflex). What little I could stomach made her look like stereotypical, narcissistic New Yorker, so wrapped up in that cloistered world that she probably has bankster buddies she pals around with. To her, they are no doubt the "real people," not some unwashed immigrant cab driver.

  2. Well said Bill Hicks.

    " which a pen knife was taken from a briefcase..."

    Merely her use of the passive voice indicates that Ms. Doll is being obsequious to the banking class.

    Yesterday I made a treck into Manhattan to join a group of occupiers for an assembly in Foley Square, specifically to protest the police policy of "stop and frisk" and illegal arrests. Several people spoke representing factions that have been targeted - people of color, occupiers, & the Muslim community. One young woman described how she has been arrested many times in her life. My first reaction was, well, she must have been breaking the law and I felt a little uncomfortable about standing with her publicly without really knowing all the facts.

    She was very angry, very militant, and as I listened to her I started to feel so proud that she was able to make the connection between her social status and skin color and the trajectory of her life instead of accepting that she is bad and to blame. It was no accident she has been in and out of jails. It is as other speakers pointed out, part of the system of injustice that has been pervasive in this country since the beginning.

    One of them said, we're not slaves anymore. Now we're criminals.

    It made me happy that the occupy movement is helping people to clearly articulate that this corrupt system is unsustainable.

    I still have a pin on my camera bag from being arrested last summer at the Washington DC rally against the oil pipeline from the tarsands. A fellow occupier saw it and told me that he had been on Keith Olbermann's show for saying something like, we should be protesting that pipeline of cash running from Wall Street to Washington...which I thought was quite clever!

  3. You have to consider her true audience, and it's not us. The Atlantic, The New York Times, The New Yorker and most other "progressive" mainstream publications are really just fashion magazines. The fashion here being maintaining a "progressive" sheen while enjoying all the material comforts of the evilly corrupt system embodied by Mr. Jennings and his ilk. So it's okay to decry female circumcision in Africa, right wing Bible thumpers, and even the excesses of the NYPD when they stomp an Occupier, because these are "safe" progressive sentiments that don't really challenge the existing power structure, i.e. the money power. But holding a banker or a corporate law firm partner or Big Pharma CEO up for pillorying in part because of what they do... well that's hitting a little too close to home. None of these publications will ever directly challenge the system because their employees and readers are inextricably woven into it (as am I, I should admit). Many of the young "journalists" working at these publications are in fact the sons and daughters of such people.

    1. That is an outstanding point, and just goes to show again how thoroughly corrupted the media is across the board. And to think so many liberals and progressives think the problem begins and ends with Fox News.

  4. I so hate the whole liberal guilt thing that limo lefties try to make everyone feel all the time, like when Breitfart died. All the vaguely left leaning folks who wrote about him totally glossed over the fact that he was a terrible fucking person and tried to paint him as some sort of honorable journalist, except for Mark Ames, who just tore into that little turd, as it should be.
    You shouldn't have to feel guilty for hating people and you shouldn't be ashamed of hate in the first place, some people deserve our hatred. I hate arrogant rich assholes who live in cities far away from the real consequences of their precious capitalism, and destroy peoples' lives and the environment with the stroke of the pen or sending of an e-mail, just so they can fatten their already over stuffed wallets and hire thousand dollar hookers, and then actually believe that they are somehow smarter or better than everyone else because of the size of their paycheck. I hate those people, and I wish untimely and painful deaths, and for that I refuse to feel guilt or shame.
    "Oh, but they're people too!" we're told, "They have wives and kids and dogs, they're just like us!" I don't give a shit, they're wives are air-headed debutante wastes of oxygen, most of their kids are entitled little shits that believe they actually deserve all of the advantages they have access to, and their dogs, well, I feel bad for the dogs, because dogs will love someone no matter what.

    1. That Ames piece was awesome. I don't always agree with him, but he is one of the few who truly "gets it."

  5. Bless you, Bill, for reminding us all of the late, great Mike Royko. I too, grew up reading him and loving every word he wrote. (And when he left for the Chicago Tribune after "the Alien" -- aka Rupert Murdoch -- bought (and nearly destroyed) the Sun-Times, I immediately changed subscriptions.) Can't believe he's been gone so long ... there really was no one else like him.

  6. Another flack who thinks that taking a contrarian point of view is the same as either journalism or editorialism. Clueless.

    Here's an idea to help level the playing field. Ban private lawyers. All lawyers are placed in a common pool and their names are drawn at random to defend defendants. Lawyers are paid a set fee by the state. Defendants can not hire additional council. You get what you get. On the other hand, if a lawyer violates his responsibility, he goes on trial using a random lawyer. This system could be extended to all lawyers and cases, with minor tweaks to the payment system. You'd see a hell of a lot more plea-bargains and DA's would have a much better conviction rate. Plus, you'd have fewer lawyers, but the one's you'd get over time might actually be doing it because they believed in the system.

    Wouldn't you love to see this asshole go to trial using a random public defender instead of the team of flesh-eating, sociopathic, sleezeball, Wall Street-funded, scumbag lawyers he'll actually have.

    1. I've always thought taking the money out of the legal system would be the best way to level the playing field, but we all know that those who have the money to pay for the best defense will never allow it. It is fun to think about, though.

  7. I would like to endorse the thoughts of "Huey Lewis" above. I've made the same point, oh, let's say about a hundred times before on DOTE. Mark Twain called the self-serving views of sycophants like Jen Doll *corn pone opinions*.

    I've always wondered how these fuckheads are actually selected to write for Atlantic Wire (= The Daily Show, The New York Times, Salon, etc).

    Takes one to know one? I believe that's it. Jen must have passed the litmus test, which means speaking truth to power is strictly off-limits. But how is that *communicated* in the job interview? And here's where things get weird because it is simply *never* spoken about. It's simply *understood* (nod, nod, wink, wink) that anything Jen Doll -- if that really is her name -- writes will be harmless drivel.

    It is truly a marvel how things work.

  8. It happens well before the job interview. It takes personal connections to GET the interview. Living on the fringe of privilege for many years has taught me that there's a reason there are private prep schools, ivy-league universities, debutante balls, golf clubs, tennis clubs, fox-hunting clubs, yacht clubs, beach clubs, and social registers.