Editorial: Plenty of reasons to distrust Wall St. (Burlington Free Press)

If anybody needs another reason to be angry over the fact that taxpayers might be stuck with the bill -- $700 billion and climbing -- for Wall Street's bad behavior, testimony by financial executives before Congress should do nicely.

Lehman Brothers chief executive Richard S. Fuld Jr. told the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee -- Rep. Peter Welch , D-Vt., is a member -- that Lehman paid million in bonuses to executives heading out the door even as the investment bank was seeking a federal rescue to stave off bankruptcy.

Fuld told the committee, "I take full responsibility for the decisions I made." Does that mean he'll get the money back from the executives?

The Feds declined to help Lehman, of course, and the investment bank went on to become the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. The fact the there was no direct intervention of taxpayers dollars hardly means that we won't end up paying as Lehman's failure contributes to the current financial crisis.

Then came the testimony by the top executives of American International Group, the insurance giant that received an $85 billion bailout from the federal government. A week after Washington committed to the rescue, AIG executives held a weeklong retreat at a luxury resort costing $442,000.

In addition, a former executive who led the division blamed for AIG's troubles continues to receive $1 million a month from his former employer, which paid him $280 million over the past eight years.

And when AIG reported a $5 billion loss in fourth quarter 2007, then chief executive Martin Sullivan successfully argued before the firm's compensation committee for a $5 million performance bonus.

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., a member of the committee channeled this nation's loathing for the financial industry when he said, "This unbridled greed, this callous abuse of the trust of hard-working Americans' savings is just so disgusting it is hard to put into words, and the anger level in America is coming, as it often has, at Wall Street."

To make matters worse, these were people who were essentially gambling with other people's money. What looks like a careless attitude toward excessive risk must have come easy knowing they stood to walk away with millions regardless of which way their bet turned out.

The greed and bad behavior that led up to and continued even through the companies' plea for a public bailout make it clear these Masters of the Universe are playing taxpayers for suckers. We need no more evidence that Wall Street cannot be trusted.