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A Testy Blankfein Seems to Have Given Up

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The Goldman Sachs CEO isn't helping his company's tarnished image.

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Lloyd Blankfein just can't seem to get out his own way.

The Goldman Sachs (GS) CEO -- who should be quite comfortable in Washington, as his company and its employees have donated more to US political parties since 1989 than any other financial institution in America -- appeared this morning before the Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, along with JP Morgan (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, Morgan Stanley (MS) Chairman John Mack, and Bank of America (BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan.

While Dimon, Mack, and Moynihan carried themselves with poise during the first portion of the hearing, Blankfein often came across as petulant, defensive, evasive, and condescending.

When answering one question, Blankfein began to explain what the term "mark-to-market" accounting meant, only to be cut off by a terse "Thank you, Mr. Blankfein. I'm familiar with what mark-to-market is."

Blankfein, ostensibly one of the smartest minds on Wall Street, also failed to provide any substantive answers, only excuses, such as:

"We got caught up in elements of froth in the markets."

"We were going to bed at night with more risk than anyone should want to have."

And: "We had too much leverage in certain transactions."

After one lengthy answer to a question posed by Commissioner Heather Murren about whether or not there are now adequate levels of regulation in the financial sector, she immediately asked, "So, was there a 'yes' in there?"

What's gone wrong when Lloyd Blankfein, a man paid vast sums not to get "caught up in elements of froth in the markets" and not to go "to bed at night with more risk than anyone should want to have" and not to have "too much leverage in certain transactions" admits on live television that he did exactly that?

Has he simply given up on the idea that Goldman Sachs will ever win back the respect of the American public? After all, it was just this week that reports surfaced about Goldman considering instituting a program that would require executives and top managers to give a certain percentage of their earnings to charity, as the company gets set to dole out $18 billion in employee bonuses.

Sounds like a grand idea. Plus, as a man who earned $25.84 million in total compensation for 2008 (much of it in Goldman stock), Blankfein is surely a generous philanthropist and will have no trouble leading by example.

Not quite.

Public records show that the Lloyd and Laura Blankfein Foundation gave away a total of $950,500 for the year.

That's 3.67% of his total compensation.

By contrast, Jamie Dimon earned $8.52 million during the same period. However, the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation gave away $1,358,500.

That's 15.94% of his annual pay.

Goldman Sachs may trade the markets brilliantly. But it's high time to hire a new PR department.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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