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After producing and directing a number of politically tinged and colon-ized documentaries, including Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Greenwald spent last year in the clutches of an anti-Republican fever, circulating a series of online shorts aimed at discrediting the 2008 presidential candidate John McCain. Now, with the cascading misfortunes of the global economic downturn putting more and more web surfers in a monetary crunch, Greenwald and his group of video agitators have set their sights on the Wall Street banks that many consider to be at the heart of the current financial meltdown.
According to a statement Greenwald issued Tuesday alongside the release of the latest Brave New Films project, "Burger King Exposed", $18,000 is not an irrelevant number, but rather the amount of financial assistance "each and every Burger King employee in America would have received last year if Goldman Sachs had shared its bailout billions with rank-and-file workers."
The tie in between Goldman Sachs and the home of the "Whopper" burger, of course, is that the troubled securities trading and investment bank, which is traditionally a major donor to both Democratic and Republican political campaigns, is also the majority owner of the Burger King brand.
After making headlines in 2007 for its ability to accrue profits in the billions of dollars by heavily capitalizing on the faltering mortgage industry and then going on to engineer a shady credit default swap in 2008 by manipulating both sides of the bond market and ultimately exaggerating the credit woes of State of California, (which was a client), Goldman Sachs lost billions of dollars when the financial sector's house of cards made its now infamous collapse last year. While the cash flow reversal was a disaster for investors and taxpayers alike, it turned out to be a boon for the bank, which received a direct cash infusion of Federal funds as part of the Bush Administration's bailout plan.
The rest of the story, which has already been widely publicized, provides all the ammunition Greenwald and Brave New Films needed. The math is a bit simplified, but when it comes to the excesses of corporate America the fruit simply hangs too low. After receiving billions of dollars in assistance from the US government and posting a $2.1 billion loss in the fourth quarter alone, "Goldman Sachs squandered 6.5 billion of our taxpayer dollars on bonuses for their financial staff. These were some of the highest bonuses on Wall Street! Meanwhile, Burger King workers earn wages averaging just $14,000 a year -- well below the federal poverty line for a family of three."
The notion is trite -- after all, it is the very same maximize profits/minimize losses mentality that drives the financial fortunes of men like John Thain, not the quality of the meal, that drives consumers to Burger King -- but nonetheless effective. If most Americans were able to process the bigger picture, it could be argued that the entire conundrum could have been avoided. But it is the same impulsiveness and lack of reasoning that filled an impossibly deep Giant Pool of Money in the first place, amplified by rising unemployment and general unease over the future of markets, that Greenwald and Brave New Films are banking on. When it comes to compressing shock-and-awe into an outrage-inducing five-minute YouTube clip, few have proven more adept.
As numerous financial analysts, network pundits, and even disgraced philanderers have been pointing out, limiting bonuses and executive compensation, even at numbers as gregarious as $6.5 billion, can amount to little more than grandstanding in the face of the trillions of dollars of financial trouble the markets are in. In fact, some are voicing concerns that, when it is all said and done, those truly punished by compensation limits won't be the already obscenely wealthy executive in question, but rather the myriad of non-profit organizations to which they traditionally donate for tax write-offs. Yet, in a political, cultural and economic climate where real solutions seem hard to come by, symbolism still goes a long way. SEE ALSO: www.burgerking.com
SEE ALSO: www2.goldmansachs.com
SEE ALSO: www.bravenewfilms.org
SEE ALSO: www.warongreed.org
SEE ALSO: www.npr.org/blogs/money
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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