Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wall Street holiday parties on ice; White House holiday parties on steroids

With the holiday season upon us, it hasn't escaped the sensibilities of Wall Street that many Americans are struggling with high unemployment, soaring credit card interest rates, negative home equity, and imminent foreclosure, and will not tolerate extravagant TARP-funded holiday parties.  From CNN:
Life might be good again on Wall Street these days, but financial firms are taking pains not to pop the champagne corks this holiday season.

Faced with a public relations nightmare over bailouts and bonuses, many financial institutions are either nixing company-sponsored events altogether or are simply planning quiet, in-house fĂȘtes in an effort to avoid scrutiny.

Veteran investment banks Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) and Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), for example, have both said they do not plan on hosting any company-sponsored holiday events this year.

A Morgan Stanley spokesperson said the company plans on giving the money that would have been allocated for a party to a yet-to-be-determined charity.

Embattled lenders Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), both of whom boast sizeable investment banking and securities trading divisions, said there were no plans to sponsor a staff holiday party this year.

Bank of America workers are free to organize a donation to a local charity, while Citi employees can celebrate outside of work, although they would not be reimbursed, according to company spokespeople.

And if reports about rival JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) hosting its own party at the former Bear Stearns headquarters are to be believed, the event promises to be a relatively tame affair.

"Now is not the time to show off," said Brad Hintz, a Sanford Bernstein analyst who tracks several bulge bracket banks. "Right now everyone is being very low key."
Everyone, that is, except the folks at the White House.  Lynn Sweet at the Chicago Sun Times reports that the Obamas will be hosting 50,000 open house and party guests during the holiday season:
As Congress and the Secret Service probe how Tareq and Michaele Salahi gained entrance to President Obama's state dinner last week without being on the guest list, I've learned that the Obama White House has 28 holiday parties planned over the few weeks with more than 50,000 people expected. And social office staffers--who were not posted near the entrance to check off guests coming into the state dinner--now will be more visible at the upcoming events.

In the wake of the party crashing incident, I asked Camille Y. Johnston, the communications chief for First Lady Michelle Obama about the heavy upcoming party season, kicking off this week.

"This holiday season more than 50,000 people will visit the White House's 17 holiday parties and 11 open houses. Social Office staff will be present to continue to assist guests and the United States Secret Service should any confusion arise. As always, the United States Secret Service will provide security and will control who has access to the White House grounds."
The President and the Democrats are quite fond of the phrase "shared sacrifice" with regard to their environmental initiatives, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the auto bailout, and mandatory community service requirements for able-bodied young people.  I guess sacrificing taxpayer-funded holiday parties for the primary benefit of political cronies who brought you to the dance doesn't apply.

The President preannounced last month that his 2010 State of the Union speech would focus on deficit reduction and returning the nation to fiscal responsibility.  I guess it was announced so far in advance, so we would have time to stop laughing by January.  Politico's report included this:
President Barack Obama plans to announce in next year's State of the Union address that he wants to focus extensively on cutting the federal deficit in 2010 – and will downplay other new domestic spending beyond jobs programs, according to top aides involved in the planning.

The president's plan, which the officials said was under discussion before this month’s Democratic election setbacks, represents both a practical and a political calculation by this White House.

On the practical side, Obama has spent more money on new programs in nine months than Bill Clinton did in eight years, pushing the annual deficit to $1.4 trillion. This leaves little room for big spending initiatives.
I guess reducing the deficit and controlling government spending is a resolution for next year.

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