Lloyd Blankfein's the Wrong Spokesman for Gay Rights - Rolling Stone
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Lloyd Blankfein’s the Wrong Spokesman for Gay Rights

Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of The Goldman Sachs Group

Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of The Goldman Sachs Group

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Courtesy of good friend David Sirota, who has also written on the subject, I heard today that the Human Rights Campaign, the organization that advocates for equal rights for gay, lesbian, and transgender people, has named Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein its “national corporate spokesman for same-sex marriage.”

This is an extremely unfortunate error by the HRC, which in making Blankfein a spokesman for this important political campaign has allowed one of the most relentless enemies of the poor and the disadvantaged to use the gay and lesbian community to buy moral credibility.

What’s most distressing about this decision is that the HRC has decided to honor and celebrate the CEO of a company with an extensive record of promoting inequality and preying upon ordinary working people.

How would the members of the HRC board feel if a group of labor unions got together and decided to nominate an antigay bigot like Rick Santorum, Gary Bauer or James Dobson to head a national campaign for workers’ rights?

Well, state workers in Mississippi might very well ask a version of that question about the HRC, now that the HRC has made a spokesman out of a man whose company, Goldman, Sachs, reportedly bilked the Public Employees’ Retirement Fund of Mississippi out of nearly $700 million, by selling those pensioners the toxic mortgages issued by corrupt lender New Century.

So maybe the HRC will avoid doing work in Mississippi, then – no big deal. Of course, there’s also Arkansas, where Goldman is being sued by the Arkansas Teachers’ Retirement System for fraud involving the notorious Abacus deals… and Virginia, where the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Group is bringing suit… and there’s also Illinois, where the Central Laborer’s Pension Fund, a major holder of Goldman stock, is suing Goldman (and Blankfein personally) for devoting too much money to compensation and not leaving enough for shareholders (there are a bunch of those suits out there). The Teamsters, the SEIU, Workers United – they’ve all targeted Goldman for one ugly reason or another.

In fact, in most every state in America, some major institutional investor, union, pension fund, or shareholder is either suing Goldman, Sachs or Blankfein for unethical business practices, or actively protesting the bank’s extreme greed and seeming disregard for the well-being of ordinary people.

How about overseas? Well, the HRC might want to avoid agitating in Holland, where the Dutch pension fund ABP is suing Goldman for more mortgage ripoffs. It might want to avoid Australia, where Goldman helped sink a hedge fund called Basis Capital by putting it into $100 million worth of a toxic deal called Timberwolf (that’s the one where Blankfein’s subordinates were celebrating after they found such a dumb customer, with one Goldman bragging he’d found a “white elephant, flying pig and unicorn all at once”).

The HRC should probably also stay out of South Korea, where Goldman settled with the Heungkuk Life Insurance company, which also was suckered into the deadly Timberwolf deal to the tune of tens of millions. And those disturbances in Greece you’re watching on TV this week? You might want to look into Goldman’s history of larding up that country with deadly swap deals, and then helping create an index for speculators to bet against Greek debt. Then there are the Dutch and German banks who collectively lost over a billion dollars though Goldman’s Abacus scam…

All over the world, Goldman is famous for lying and cheating people out of their money, profiting from the misfortunes of others, and saving its own neck through political influence and bailouts. This is who HRC wants representing the gay and lesbian community?

As for Blankfein personally, he’s only a guy whom a U.S. Senate subcommittee recommended for perjury charges, who told a British newspaper he was doing “God’s work,” and who took home $53 million in compensation in 2007, the worst year of a national financial crisis he had a big hand in creating. So it’s not like he’s personally a dick in addition to running one of the most corrupt and predatory firms in the history of international capitalism.

There is a long tradition of Wall Street predators mesmerizing the liberal press through their advocacy – often sincere advocacy – of socially liberal causes. Traditionally a homogenous bastion of rightist politics, Wall Street’s end-of-last-century shift toward an embrace of social issues dear to progressives and Democrats was a key to the finance community’s success in finally seducing both major parties.

Crossover types like Bob Rubin, another former Goldman head who made it fashionable for a depraved finance pirate to vote Democratic, paved the way for the modern phenomenon of corrupt financiers escaping media scrutiny through the careful nurturing of good-guy images through advocacy on issues like environmentalism and gay rights.

The good p.r. these guys buy with this activity is, quite literally, the least they can do. What I mean by that is that coming out for gay rights or green energy is utterly inexpensive, from either a dollar standpoint or an ideological standpoint, for the Blankfeins of the world – it costs them nothing, but there’s a gain there. Sirota put it eloquently:

Not surprisingly, the particular progressive causes they choose tend to be those that do not impact their businesses or personal economic situations. In some cases, in fact, these thugs seem as if they are leveraging their stands on such progressive issues as a quid pro quo bargaining chip for their personal financial interests. As just one example of where that kind of dynamic may have played out, recall that almost immediately after Wall Streeters underwrote Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign to legalize gay marriage, Cuomo launched a public (though ultimately unsuccessful) campaign to halt the extension of a so-called millionaires tax on those same Wall Streeters.

The fight for gay and lesbian rights is ongoing and important, and same-sex marriage is an important battle in that war. I’m glad Blankfein is on the right side of it – he ought to be, everybody ought to be. But the HRC stepped in it on this one. I hope they rethink their decision.  

p.s. Maybe I’m misreading something, but if I’m going to let Lloyd Blankfein run around town dressed in my own personal cloak of liberal do-gooderism, I want him paying top dollar for the privilege. So how is Goldman only listed as a Bronze Partner in the HRC list of corporate partners, when companies like American Airlines and Citi are Platinum Partners? Hell, HRC should’ve come away from this transaction owning all of Greece’s debt and that entire Maiden Lane bond portfolio Goldman just bought from the Fed. Sigh… on the other hand, no one ever accused Lloyd of being a bad negotiator.


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