Economic Outlook: Let the bashing begin

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International   |   Oct. 3, 2012 at 8:44 AM
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An election year is hard on Wall Street and hard on millionaires -- at least this election year is.

Across the country, campaign ads are blasting away at any political candidate who ever came within 100 miles of Wall Street, including Keith Rothfus, who is running for Congress in Western Pennsylvania and says he was on Wall Street once -- as a tourist.

But he is a corporate attorney who represented the Bank of New York Mellon long ago, The New York Times reported, and that sets him up as a big, bad corporate hack, who worked for a financial firm that received -- oh, dread -- Troubled Asset Relief Funds.

It helps or hurts, depending on your point of view, that TARP was conceived by a lame duck Republican administration, then handed off to Democrats. That means the issue allows for bipartisan bashing.

A senator from Illinois named Barack Obama voted for the TARP program, proposed by President George Bush. Not too many months later, President Obama was in charge of the program and the Treasury Department was forever explaining how critical it was to save the country's banks.

Along about this time, Obama went to Wall Street to badmouth those "fat cat bankers."

Now he is bashing his opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who earned millions as an executive with Bain Capital. And everyone knows what private equity firms do: They buy companies, then trim the fat right down to the bone. Then they sell the bones or bury them, whichever nets the most profit.

Wall Street is downright ugly sometimes. On the other hand, so is evolution.

Ohio's Republican state treasurer, running for a seat in the U.S. senate sums up the equal opportunity caterwauling.

"Every Democrat and every Republican who took our tax dollars and used them to bail out Wall Street banks was dead wrong. It was fiscally irresponsible. It was morally wrong," a Josh Mandel television advertisement says.

Now about those millionaires: The Congressional Research Service, a bipartisan think tank serving Congress, said there are currently 2,362 millionaires now receiving federal unemployment checks.

This must make for some amusing moments at the unemployment office where the millionaires have to come up with reasons they turned down jobs like a fry-cook at Wendy's, but it is also provoking some hearty indignation in Washington where Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., wants to put a stop to the practice of putting millionaires on the dole.

The Wall Street Journal came to their defense, however, mentioning that the $20.8 million in public assistance paid to 2,362 millionaires in 2009 was a trifle. After all, there were 120,000 unemployed workers who earned $200,000 to $500,000 per year before they were laid off and they were handed more than $1 billion in 2009.

The Journal said the question is: Where to you draw the line? How much wealth is too much wealth for someone to receive unemployment checks?

This question was both rhetorical and sincere, as if everyone knew jolly well there couldn't possibly be a unemployment recipient too wealthy to receive a check.

After all, the Journal points out, millionaires paid into the system, the same as everyone else. By extension, the Journal challenges, should their social security benefits be taken away as well?

Romney, of course, is not mad at millionaires, preferring to count on closing loopholes as a way to make the tax system more fair. The devil is in the details there, of course, which puts Romney in a bind.

The more loopholes he spells out before the election, the harder it might be for him to raise campaign contributions from his peers. On the other hand, the less he explains now, the less credibility he can offer to voters.

In international markets the Nikkei 225 index in Japan lost 0.45 percent while the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gained 0.23 percent. The Sensex in India added 0.24 percent. The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 0.13 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain gained 0.18 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany was flat, rising 0.08 percent. The CAC 40 in France slipped 0.21 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 was off 0.07 percent.

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