Stewart Dougherty - April 10, 2009
Fifty years ago, on March 23, 1959, Ian Fleming's novel, Goldfinger was published to great popular acclaim. In the movie released five years later, arch villain Auric Goldfinger attempts to detonate a nuclear device inside the gold depository at Fort Knox, radioactively contaminating the nation's gold reserves for decades and making them untouchable. Goldfinger's motive is to drive up the value of his personal gold holdings. He has deposited 20 million British Pounds' worth of gold in Amsterdam, Caracas, Hong Kong and Zurich, and estimates that the value of his bullion will increase by ten times after the U.S. gold supply is neutralized. So he stands to profit by his crime in the amount of 180 million British Pounds, or $504 million at the then conversion rate of $2.80 per Pound.
The book and subsequent movie were blockbuster successes. The world was gripped by Goldfinger's daring scheme, dubbed "Operation Grand Slam," and its larger-than-life mastermind and villain. People viewed Goldfinger's plan as the boldest criminal adventure of all times, at least as of that time.
In the 1964 movie, Goldfinger delivered a stirring address to several U.S. gangsters he sought to enlist as partners. He exclaimed: "Man has climbed Mount Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean. He's fired rockets at the moon, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor - EXCEPT CRIME!"
What a difference fifty years make. In the context of today's metastasizing epidemic of financial crime, Goldfinger's $504 million theft could only be regarded as completely insignificant. Crime has not merely climbed Mount Everest, it has been launched to Mars.
On March 19, 2009, nearly 50 years to the day after the publication of Goldfinger, Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General of the TARP Programs (SIGTARP) made the following comments in testimony presented to the United States House Ways and Means Committee:
"We stand on the precipice of the largest infusion of Government funds over the shortest period of time in our Nation's history. History teaches us that an outlay of so much money in such a short period of time will inevitably attract those seeking to profit criminally. If, by percentage terms, some of the estimates of fraud in recent government programs apply to the TARP programs, we are looking at the potential exposure of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money lost to fraud."
Barofsky repeated this warning in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on March 31, 2009. Nothing had occurred in the 12 days since his prior testimony to change his mind that potential TARP fraud was in the "hundreds of billions of dollars." So much for Goldfinger and his previous arch-villain status. Time turned him into a piker, and the hurricane of history hurled him aside.
A universal fact is that all life forms seek to expand and thrive. This applies not just to the organisms of the human body and natural world, but also to the organisms of the human mind. Just as the forces of good seek to prevail, so do those of evil. Avarice, theft and corruption are life forms, just like restraint, honesty and truthfulness. They all strive for greatness, triumph and glory.
When then-Treasury Secretary Paulson first proposed the $700 billion TARP 1 Program in September, 2008, a collective sense of incredulity gripped America, and the world. The dollar amount of the request was astonishing, and Congress's initial response to the proposal was a flat out "No." Faced with defeat, Paulson arranged a closed-door session with top Congressional representatives. During that meeting, he outlined a "nuclear winter" scenario if the $700 billion funding request were denied. Shaken by Paulson's predictions, which included bank closures, empty ATMs, mass unemployment and social chaos, Congress did an about-face and approved the enormous $700 billion plan.
At the time, $700 billion appeared to be a staggering and surely-adequate amount of money to fix the nation's banking and economic problems. Only a tiny number of economic experts, including Nouriel Roubini of NYU, predicted that the cost of the bailout would ultimately be measured in many trillions of dollars, not mere hundreds of billions.
Now, only six months later, direct and indirect bailout costs exceed $13 trillion dollars, more than eighteen times the original, then-huge amount approved for TARP 1. And bailout costs are escalating as the economy continues to contract, and, in certain sectors, crater.
To put these numbers in perspective, the United States of America, or, more precisely, The American people, are said to own 261 million ounces of gold, supposedly stored in the same Fort Knox vault that Goldfinger found so appealing. At $1,000 per ounce, the people's gold has a value of $261 billion dollars. TARP 1 alone has cost 270% of the entire value of that singular, tangible American asset. The total $13 trillion bailout cost thus far is 4,980% of the value of America's gold asset. Fort Knox has been robbed, not by Goldfinger, but by the cheats who concocted the nuclear financial waste that has crippled America's financial system and economy.
To place the numbers in additional perspective, Special Inspector General Barofsky now tells us that something close to the entire amount of TARP 1 ("hundreds of billions of dollars," in his words, and likely around $500 billion by our estimates), will be consumed by fraud, or stolen. In other words, roughly twice the value of the nation's entire gold supply will be wiped out not by the original fraud, but by the fraud associated with the bailout money designated to deal with the original fraud. Fraud upon fraud upon fraud, in a mind-numbing daisy chain of crime, corruption and greed.
While Mr. Barofsky spoke about anti-fraud measures the government hopes to implement to mitigate this fraud, it is difficult to have much confidence in them, particularly since he also referred in the same speech to problems the government is experiencing in hiring competent auditors and regulators to oversee bailout spending. After 25 years of regulatory failure, from the S&L crisis, to the dot con scandals, to epic fraud at Enron, Worldcom, and other major corporations, to blatant, illegal Comex precious metals short concentrations and related price manipulation, to the Madoff Ponzi scheme, to the current banking and credit emergencies, it is clear that government has simply been incapable of getting ahead of financial fraud in America. In each and every case cited above, government regulators arrived at the crime scenes long after the frauds had been committed and the money had disappeared. The defrauded have been fortunate to receive fractions of pennies for each lost dollar. Sadly, financial regulation in America is an after-the-fact phenomenon. So Mr. Barofsky's fraud warnings must be taken seriously.
The current cost of the bailout and associated guarantees now exceeds $13 trillion, with no end in sight. The expenditure of every bailout dollar is 100% experimental because the nation has never before faced a financial catastrophe like this, and is therefore flying blind. Given the bailout cost, it is now clear that the equivalent of the nation's entire economy has been plundered. While in the past thieves have concentrated their criminal energies on robbing a bank, art museum, or Brink's vault, the criminals behind our current crisis decided to steal a first-world nation's entire economy. They committed the unthinkable: the theft of a nation.
Sensors in retail stores can detect a package of chewing gum being shoplifted. Payment verification systems can spot a bad check in a tenth of a second. Credit card authorization programs can instantaneously detect an irregular spending pattern, and shut down a compromised account. "Eye in the sky" casino cameras can zoom in on a dealer lifting a $1.00 chip, or a blackjack player rearranging cards to personal advantage. IRS computers, watching a nation of 300 million people, can pick up in seconds a $50.00 mismatch between 1099- and tax return-reported interest income. Fraud detection has become an advanced science and practice throughout the world that can prevent even the smallest of crimes.
But for more than a decade, a multi-trillion dollar Wall Street fraud raged with such virulence and intensity that it has crippled not just the economy of the world's most-powerful nation, but now the global economy. United States regulatory authorities, funded by taxpayers at a cost of billions of dollars per year, never spotted anything, until the entire system, according to Paulson, nearly collapsed.
Is this plausible? Is it plausible that an entire economy could be looted for a decade without regulators, politicians, or banking insiders knowing or doing anything about it? Does that make any kind of logical sense whatsoever? Or is this the colossal kind of crime that billions of dollars' worth of political contributions and lobbyist influence, combined with epic greed, criminality, money know-how and malicious intent, can buy?
In a time of crisis, it is difficult for people to see the obvious. They mourn for better days, which have disappeared. They cling to hope that their circumstances, which have collapsed, will miraculously improve. But it is false hope, because the vacuum of the future has inhaled their past, and that past is never coming back.
What is obvious is this: the creation out of thin air of billions of dollars of bailout money, "hundreds of billions of dollars" of which will be stolen by the same criminals who looted the country in the first place, cannot re-start an economy whose capital has been stolen. There is a saying: "If you keep doing what you have been doing, you will keep getting what you have been getting."
And that is what is in store for America, more of the same, unless we fundamentally reassess our approach to this crisis.
If knowledge sets one free, the first thing the people need to know now is that the current economic emergency was not an accident; it was a crime. It was the theft of a nation, and the victims are its people.
Accepting this, they must respond. They must reconsider every idea they have about money, financial security, and the competence of the state to protect their welfare. This process inevitably will result in a paradigm shift on the subject of money. It will lead to the adoption by the people of a new reserve currency: the People's reserve currency. And most likely, they will gravitate to the financial security provided by money that has a 5,000 year history of international value, stability, acceptance and prestige: gold.
From the beginning of civilization, only 5 billion ounces of gold have been produced, in a world of 6.5 billion people, and hundreds of trillions of dollars' worth of paper currencies and paper assets backed by nothing: in other words, anti-money. The people are going to rediscover economic truth, and in particular, the power of the theory of supply and demand. When they do, the paradigm shift will be enacted, as they replace currencies that have utterly failed them with true money that can restore their financial health and set them free.
Copyright ©2009 Stewart Dougherty. All Rights Reserved.