If there’s one thing that unites Americans even more than religion, race, creed or political party, it’s concern for their money. And I don’t care if you call yourself one of the brothers, part of sisterhood united, comrade, colleague, Mr. Democrat or Ms. Republican – anyone bothering to look at their investment account must by now feel anger.
Because, while the rest of us were losing our retirement funds, a few of “us” were pulling out billions of dollars from the very same companies – Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, Martha Stewart’s Omnimedia and, most recently, Worldcom. You’re ruined; they buy a $25 million house. Some fat cat sold his stock to you at big bucks, but after they secretly learned that the company was really the Investment From Hell. The investment biz has a name for this: Pump ‘N Dump. They pump their stock values and … well, guess who gets dumped on.
Accounting firms have become the corporate finance versions of serial killers, all the while aiding and abetting America’s highest-paid date rapists – Corporate CEOs – who drug their investors with phony numbers before pillaging them from their last dime. Meanwhile, the securities analysts who recommended these stocks and the brokers who sold them seem to have more experience putting lipstick on pigs than they have about the companies they sell. They booked billions in fees. You sucked wind.
You know, even liberals agree that in an orderly marketplace where the rules are clear and the Securities and Exchange Commission is there to catch the bad guys, the rule is, “You make your bets, you take your chances.” Investing, like getting older, ain’t for sissies.
But what if the rules are rigged? Facts never disclosed, or even invented as these companies went merrily along? Where was the SEC? And deep in the trenches, where were the “public” accounting firms certifying those Corporate 10-Ks and Annual Reports with the magic words, “These statements have been examined in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Practices, blah, blah, blah.” Probably reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. That is, when they weren’t hobnobbing on the golf course with the crooks who hired them, playing in clubs where they wouldn’t let you in the back door, even if you could afford it. Meanwhile, some bum who defrauds the welfare system out of a couple of hundred bucks gets six months in the can.
Hey, when Global Crossing was CTD (Circling The Drain), CEO Gary Winnick bought a house for – catch this – 90 million bucks. And what kind of CEO deserves to make that kind of money? How about a guy whose stock recently closed at exactly 5 cents per share. Worldcom trades for less than a buck and Enron, the mother of all scams, is selling at 11 cents for share.
These just weren’t “ideas that didn’t work” or well-intentioned schemes that never made it off the drawing board. This was Fraud with dot com after it. Books were cooked – think accounting firm Arthur Anderson, freshly convicted of same last week – lies were told and evidence was shredded. Inside trading, interest-free loans, the whole panoply of how to steal from the investors. But it all added up to the same thing: Crooked fat cats playing “Supermarket” with your money.
But what can be done?
Lawyers – the very ones my right-wing friends love to hate – will bring some justice with securities’ fraud suits in the civil courts. (Watch your mails – you may be getting notice of some of the class actions if you were one of the Scammed ‘N Damned.) But more needs to be done – not just to recover your dough, but to punish these crooks so that the next market cycle is more of an honest deal. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Forget new laws. We’ve got enough already. What we do need is some ball-buster running an organized crime task force devoted with one mission – putting the guilty in the can.
- Write your elected representative (assuming they weren’t taking money from the same corrupt people) and demand that this task force be established now – and that these crimes should have a “Truth-In-Sentencing” requirement.
An ex-con I once knew told me, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Most of these dot scammers figured an easy retirement on the golf course. I’d be willing to see their plans change for a bit – maybe using some of that financial wizardry to make our colorful automobile license plates even shinier.