The Case for Fraud: What’s Next?

The Case for Fraud: What’s Next?

(A version of this article was published in Typepad on December, 2008))

(The Conclusion of a Four-part Series)

I

A couple of posts ago, I still held on to a modicum of hope concerning this country’s future, that of the West, our Western culture, and our way of life in general. Despite the parasites on Wall Street and the crumbling of the markets — despite the government’s ineptness to deal with the present crisis — I still dreamt of the unsung heroes. 

After the manner of the fictional characters from Ayn Rand’s novels, they were sure to rise from the ashes and make us believe 

  • that all was not lost; 
  • that values such as honesty, industry, and hard work were bound to persevere and could once more be reclaimed as part of our national heritage;
  • that America could regain its rightful place among the leaders of the world in championing democracy, freedom, and individual self-determination as Everyman’s birthright, that our once-cherished beginnings as “the Great Experiment” were far from over but would go on indefinitely;
  • that we were slowly approaching (if only staying the course) what some may have euphemistically dubbed “The End of History.
II

After all, there were (still) people like Bill Dettering et al. – all industry leaders, all young, innovative, and enterprising — people above the fray and the current frenzy of making a quick buck, people who were moved instead by a vision of a new world in the making. 

True, our manufacturing base may have dwindled, and so had our economic prowess. Still, I reasoned, we were the world leader in computer technologies — the undisputable nerve center of all future industries and business ventures!

And as the captains of industry of old or the heroes of Ayn Rand’s universe had done in the past, the same kind of folk would surely lead us out of our present-day morass into the brave new world of the uncertain future. 

III

Such were my musings and ruminations only a while back, while it was still possible to believe. And I held on to those beliefs with all my might, feverishly, frantically, blindly. I couldn’t let go. (See, for example, “The Met on th Net,” or “Setting Matters Straight, Part II.”)

No longer! Now I realize that all my hopes and a sense of cautious optimism have been in vain. They’ve all been predicated by a certain morality in government, the kind of decency we’ve come to expect from our public servants, politicians, and elected officials. 

IV

It isn’t to disparage anyone in particular, any person elected or appointed — anyone who had ever had the privilege to serve in public office. For all we know, he or she may be a paragon of virtue, precisely as we’ve imagined them to be as when we voted for them in the ballot box. It is, rather, that the culture of Washington had become so corrupt, so deeply stained and beyond repair, that it’s nearly impossible for any individual or group of individuals to reverse the process. 

Indeed, the marriage of Washington and Wall Street is well-neigh complete. And it is Wall Street that is the master!

It’s all on the pages of Catherine Austin Fitts’ memoirs, Dillon, Read & Co, Inc., and the Aristocracy of Stock Profits. I’m only the messenger.

V

If you think for a moment the present crisis is just another business cycle, a phase we must go through, think again.

Five hundred thirty-three thousand jobs lost in November alone, while the December stats are no less promising. To wit, 

  • The recent string of bank failures and the resulting credit crunch; 
  • Industrial giants like Ford and General Motors on the verge of bankruptcies, and the government’s frantic attempts at rescue;
  • Unprecedented daily swings in the Dow Jones and other market indicators;
  • The plummeting of oil futures and the corresponding drop of prices at the pump;
  • Reports of labor unrest in conjunction with business closures, such as of Republic Windows and Doors in North Side Chicago;
  • The folding of such icons of the publishing world as the Chicago Tribune;
  • The rise of modern-day piracy
VI

This bullet list is nowhere near complete. I’m also sure you could modify it at will. Almost daily, we’re treated to tidbits of news and information that only yesterday would have made our heads spin. One thing, however, is beyond dispute: the situation we’re facing defies all comparisons. 

Even the Great Depression of 1929 was a local phenomenon. The present-day crisis is global in every conceivable dimension. It’s global because of worldwide trade agreements, the interconnectedness of the markets, and geopolitics. To my thinking, it signifies nothing less than a general loss of confidence in the West and its bankrupt economic policies. For better or worse, raw capitalism, rampant and unchecked, has hijacked the institutions of liberal democracy; and the entire world is falling apart at the seams

VII

I’ve long stopped listening to conservative talk-show hosts for a variety of reasons. Occasionally a sound bite can’t escape me. Glenn Beck had it right the other day when he said:

Unlike the contestant in More-On Trivia that couldn’t find the downside of printing money, there is always a price to be paid. The dot-com bubble burst. We cured it with a housing bubble. It burst. We’re curing that with a money bubble. It’s the last bubble. When this one bursts, there ain’t anything left because our money will be worthless.

Indeed, once the “money bubble” is burst, there’ll be no place to hide!

VIII

In her Solari blog, Catherine Austin Fitts writes:

“People often ask whether I am concerned about inflation, deflation, peak oil, or a global financial meltdown . . . . [But] the risk scenario I weight most heavily is not listed above. I call it the ‘Slow Burn.'”

IX

Ms. Fitts goes on to explain what she means by “Slow Burn”:

The “slow burn” is a political culture and economy managed through principles of economic warfare in which insiders systematically protect themselves and centralize control and ownership of resources by using:

  • Central banks
  • Currency and lending systems
  • Taxation
  • Regulatory and enforcement policies
  • Controlled media and entertainment

Insiders use these means to drain the time, resources, and life of people on the outside. Although insider cartels compete and jockey for power, they are able to settle their squabbles by increasing control and draining everyone and everything else. This is why the bubble economy continues to deplete the real economy. It is likely the reason why Dick Cheney said, “Deficits don’t matter.”

X

To continue with the exposition, 

In a slow burn scenario, it is possible to prop up trillions of dollars in financial asset values by systematically arranging subsidies that ultimately liquidate life. This is what “managing” markets really means: de-populating people and places to maintain phony values created and necessitated by derivative bets.

The reason why it is difficult for sophisticated financial people to discern that a slow burn is taking place is because we have not yet collectively mastered the operational detail of how it is implemented. This is an extremely important subject.

One of the most important aspects of the Paulson Plan to re-engineer US financial regulation is the assertion of complete control of payment systems by the Federal Reserve and gaining access to the data of essentially any financial institution. Combined with 1) the ability to print money and 2) digital communication payment and surveillance technology(satellite), this will consolidate greater power into fewer hands than at any time in recorded history.

XI

Taken word-for-word, it’s the most astute appraisal I’ve heard yet. The consolidation of economic power is on while the government — any government — if not an accessory before the fact, appears powerless to act. 

Meanwhile, everything and everyone is “gobbled up.”

XII

In light of Ms. Fitts’ down-to-earth assessment of the crisis, I find it difficult to understand her unfaltering faith in the future, for, in the very same blog, she writes:

The future is something to be created, rather than feared. Allocating our time, networks, and resources to deal with a variety of high-risk scenarios frees us to become proactive and to build positive futures instead of negative ones. I like to understand what these scenarios mean in terms of managing risk and to know how we can succeed within all possible futures.

XIII

Likewise with her would-be solutions! She speaks, for instance, of investing in local communities – locally-owned and –operated banks, small businesses, etc.  Such institutions would create what she calls a climate of “financial permaculture” — a culture that would divert hard-earned money, individual savings, resources, and what have you, from centralized institutions on Wall Street that only take from the community, never give. 

Included in the concept are such strategies for rebuilding our communities as “repositioning of distressed assets,” “forming strategic partnerships,” “aligning incentives,” and “identifying and eliminating financial waste.”

XIV

Don’t get me wrong. The centralization of economic power at the hands of the few – institutions which are only self-serving – is the heart of the matter and the cause of all ailments. And decentralization is the apparent remedy. But how realistic is it?

 Given the years of indoctrination, the established patterns of consumer spending and investing, the ease and the economy of dealing with centralized banking- and telecommunication systems (be they Bank of America or AT&T), and generally speaking, “the WalMart” phenomenon, the odds are negligible that there could result in anything but a very insignificant shift of resources from concerns which are harmful to the well-being of our communities to those which are not. The best one could hope for are only a few relatively-speaking self-sufficient communities, insular and unto themselves, but too few to make a difference. 

XV

It reminds one of the good ole’ hippie movement in the 60s: only the die-hards joined the hippie communities at the prompting and, so the story goes, lived happily ever after.

Ms. Fitts has a perfect out, of course. “My business is investment, not prophecy,” is her disclaimer.  

Fair enough, but I think it behooves us to venture into prophecy even at the risk of being wrong. The big boys aren’t just going to take it lying down while the power slips through their hands. 

There has got to be a showdown

XVI

So what’s next?

The subject matter of political- vs. economic power, of their cooperation and confrontation, is a fascinating subject in its own right, regardless of the present, Historically at least, in a zero-sum game, politics – or the military, if you will – would always win out. What’s peculiar about the here-and-now is the degree to which governments have become susceptible to the dictates and whims of corporations. It’s not so much a statement about the relative decline of political power; it is a testimonial to the unprecedented rise in the power of a global conglomerate and its hold on us. 

XVII

In the olden days, the corporation was an arm of the government, so to speak – its goodwill ambassador, the provider of goods and services, even a mercenary if need be. The East India Trading Company is but one example, and there are many others from the history of the Spanish Empire: the formation of missionsfor one.  

And so, I believed that we’d reached the point of no return, a point at which corporate power was inviolable, that no power on earth could usurp it. 

No longer!

XVIII

An episode from Isabel Allende’s first novel — The House of the Spirits — comes to mind. 

After years of internal squabbles between the Liberal and the Conservative parties, now one party taking the reins of power and then another, the people have had it. A socialist-based movement called “The People’s party,” a relative newcomer to the political scene, wins the elections hands down and throws the rascals out. 

There is singing and dancing in the streets, and the mood is celebratory. But the festivities are short-lived. The conservative element of the just-deposed regime sponsors a coupe. As a result, the military takes over, and the newly-elected government is on the run.

Violence and terror are the order of the day!

XIX

Things don’t go, however, as planned. A period of “peaceful transition,” initially arranged to enable the conservatives to regain their grip on power, turns into a living nightmare. Power acts as an aphrodisiac, and the military is reluctant to let go. Even the conservatives are persecuted, no less so than the more “subversive” element, as part of the martial law. 

No one is safe! 

XX

When Esteban Trueba, a wealthy landowner and a former senator of the Conservative party, points out to the uncooperative functionary

that the very gun he packs in his holster had been bought and paid for by him and others like him, that the economic power is still in the hands of the conservative elite, he’s met with summary dismissal. 

“That may be so,” replies the functionary, “but now we are in charge.” 

To add insult to injury, poor Esteban must turn in the keys to his car.

So what started as an attempt to see “the minister” intercede on behalf of his imprisoned daughter, Blanca, ends in total humiliation.

XXI

South America is the scene of action – Chile, most likely, Isabel Allende‘s birthplace – although the narrator is careful not to make references to any such. And given the general proclivity of South American countries to resort to military dictatorships at the slightest sign of trouble – their entire history in fact – one is liable to dismiss this example as too parochial, too regional in nature to serve as an object lesson.

“Blame it on the Latin blood,” is the predictable response.

XXII

I beg to differ. 

The fascist elements have always been with us. And they’re not respectful of either time and place, nor of blood- or ethnic boundaries. The nature of the beast!

The history of the world is replete with examples of wide pendulum swings from one extreme to the other and all kinds of atrocities on either side. All of which leaves us in an unenviable position of having to choose between the worst of the available alternatives: brute force or slow and protracted exploitation. 

Compared to the horrid conditions described in Allende’s novel, the past may have seemed like a lark.

XXIII

We’re at the novel’s end. Blanca’s parents, Esteban and Clara, are both dead. All she’s left with is her mother’s diary, her own child, and her memories, of course. 

In Clara’s words, the express purpose of the diary was to help Blanca “reclaim the past and overcome terrors of years.” It was to help her “understand the relationship between events.”

XXIV

Blanca has a decision to make: the life of vengeance or forgiveness, of retribution or of letting go. She’d been wronged, and she’d be fully justified. Her soliloquy speaks for itself:

And now [that] I seek my hatred . . . I cannot seem to find it. I feel its flame going out as I come to understand the existence of Colonel Garcia [her half-brother, interrogator, and rapist] and others like him, as I understand my grandfather and piece things together from Clara’s notebooks, my mother’s letters, the ledgers of Tres Marías, and the many other documents spread before me on the table. It would be very difficult for me to avenge all those who should be avenged, because my revenge would be just another part of the same inexorable rite. I have to break that terrible chain. I want to think that my task is life and that my mission is not to prolong hatred but simply to fill these pages while I wait for Miguel [husband], while I bury my grandfather, whose body lies beside me in this room, while I wait for better times to come, while I carry this child in my womb, the daughter of so many rapes or perhaps of Miguel, but above all, my own daughter.

The message rings loud and clear: “It’s a celebration of life. Life is a miracle and nothing on earth, no political upheaval or economic distress, is going to change that.”

XXV

On this note, I’d like to close. 

We’re heading for hard times. Things are bound to get worse before they get better. The exact shape of things to come, the contours of the world in the making, is anyone’s guess. I’m sure that years from now, it’ll all be beyond our recognition. There’s one thing, however, which gives me a reason for hope.

 In the end, we shall persevere!

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