These people have flimflammed the entire nation

Apr 27, 2012

Baltimore, Maryland

Dow up more than 100 points yesterday. Gold up $18.

Google...Apple...what more do you need to know?

"Blah, blah, blah...don't you feel you're wasting your time?"

Our friend was being sympathetic. She gave us a look of pity, tightly controlling her face muscles; as if it might slide into contempt at any moment. After spending so much time with rocks, dirt, cement...cattle, grapes...doing such real things, we admitted that writing about economics and finance seemed a little light. As if there is nothing real there.

"I mean, you were building things...changing the landscape...and improving people's lives. Putting water in their houses...digging reservoirs...setting up solar power systems."

Yes, it was true. There is the world of real things...real work and real results. And there is a whole phony world of economists...commentators...
speculators...blow-hards and show-offs...hustlers and conmen...fools and knaves. Wall Street...and its victims.

But while the real world is more satisfying...the phony world makes us laugh.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the insiders are taking advantage of the "crisis" they caused. But the scale of the rip-off...and the audacity and subtlety of it...are breathtaking.

Yes, it is fun to watch a good flimflam artist at work. And those managing the US financial system are among the best.

One day, years ago, when our office was still in the slums of Baltimore, we got a knock on the door. It was after 7pm, but we were still at our desk...

Standing in the doorway was a slender white man in blue working clothes...he looked like a mechanic or a dishwasher repairman.

"I'm so sorry to bother you," he said with a slight Pennsylvania Dutch clip to his words. "But I saw your light on...and well, I just didn't know what else to do.

"You see, I'm a neighbor...I work at Dunbar's (an air-conditioning contractor) down the street.

"I hate to bother you. It's embarrassing for me. But you see, I was working late too...everybody had gone. I realized I was the last one in the shop. So, I locked up at Dunbar's. I was in a bit of a hurry, I guess. And so, I locked my own car keys and my wallet in the shop.

"I'd just call another of the employees. But I'm the only one with keys, except the boss and he's down the ocean (a local expression for having gone to Ocean City, MD). So I didn't quite know what to do.

"What a mess. I'm really embarrassed to be bothering you with this. But here's the problem. It's my wife. She's deaf. So, I can't call her and tell her I won't be home tonight. I've got to get home or she'll worry herself silly about it.

"I could take a bus...I live up in Pennsylvania...not too far over the line. But I locked up my wallet. I don't have any way to pay for a ticket..."

He went on to explain that he hated to borrow money. That he'd never borrowed money before in his life.

Your editor had no money on him. So, he went to borrow it from a co-worker.

"Sounds like a lot of BS," she said, pulling a $20 bill from her wallet.

"Oh no...he seems completely sincere," we replied.

We gave the man the money. He added that his wife made the best apple strudel in Pennsylvania, and solemnly pledged to come back tomorrow morning with a pie as well as our money.

The next morning, we watched our watch. 8AM...not yet. 9AM...he must be waiting to take a break. 10AM...guess he'll come over at lunchtime. At 12:30 we gave up. We repaid the co-worker, who laughed out an "I told you so."

"Yes, I've been had. But you know something, it was worth it."

A gentleman lets himself be rolled from time to time. Suspicion and cynicism are unflattering. Besides, he will spend $20 on lunch and forget it immediately. A good hustle, on the other hand, is memorable. And a good flimflam is rare and elegant.

So it is that we look on the Fed, the Treasury, and their Wall Street accomplices with admiration. They have flimflammed the entire nation... Almost 100 million households in America...and not one in 1,000 has any idea what is really going on.

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And more thoughts on the greatest flimflam ever:

*** Pushing its key rate down to zero ...the Fed gives its insider friends money for nothing. Trillions of dollars' worth.

The outsiders reach for their wallets. They know they are being robbed, but they have no idea how...or by whom.

Instead of getting a fair return on their savings, they get practically nothing. The idea is to force them into riskier investments. The Fed admits its strategy without shame or remorse. And it works. The poor Mom & Pop saver takes his money to Wall Street. And then, Barry Dyke author of "The Pirates of Manhattan II: Highway to Serfdom" at explains what happens. He calls it "a biblical transfer of wealth...from Main Street to Wall Street." "Wall Street, the mutual fund industry and corporate America has hijacked America's savings through 401(k) retirement plans. It uses workers' savings in 401(k)s funded with mutual funds to fuel outrageous compensation packages, fund shaky companies going public, accelerate speculation and to finance the corrupt Wall Street business model. It is an unprecedented biblical transfer of wealth from Main Street to Wall Street and corporate America. It is an unprecedented transfer of economic and investment risk onto the little guy. Main Street America has been taken to the cleaners with 401(k)s. It is a biblical transfer of wealth which will take most Americans years to recover from."

"The major problem today is that there is no savings or patient capital for regular Americans. The U.S. Commerce Department found savings to be around 1% of earnings during the 2007 housing bust, up to 8% in 2008, down to 5.8% in September 2010 and slid to 3.6% in September 2011. There is a major difference between saving and investing, but to Wall Street and the mutual fund industry the only way to save according to them is to put it into volatile highly-complex no-guarantee stock mutual funds."

"Putting money into a 401(k) is NOT SAVING. It is speculating. Here's the proof. According to the Investment Company Institute 2011 Fact Book, Americans' have 77.4% exposure to volatile equities in their retirement accounts. That is horrific. The Federal Reserve is at the heart of this savings debacle. By dropping interest rates next to zero, The Fed has forced Americans into volatile markets in search of yield. The only winners in this tragedy are the mutual fund giants, Wall Street and corporate executives with pay packages which would make King Solomon blush. In many respects this wealth transfer is worse than the Great Depression when people were more self-reliant and had a stronger family unit."

The Fed, the federal government, bankers, government workers and highly paid executives rarely speculate with their own fortunes the way Americans are forced to speculate in their 401(k)s

Mr. Dyke might have added that pushing money into Wall Street also pushes up prices on stocks, bonds, and other Wall Street products. At first, this makes the small investor feel smart. His 'investments' go up. Of course, not as much as the rich '1%,' who own far more of America's capital structure than he does.

But negative interest rates create bubbles. The Fed is now inflating its third major bubble in the last 15 years. This time, in US Treasury bonds. When it blows up, a good portion of the savings of American households - locked in pensions, mutual funds and insurance programs -- gets blown to smithereens.

Then, there is consumer price inflation too. You can't add $2 trillion to the nation's base money supply without some effect on prices. It could take a while to show up, but it would take a doubling of consumer prices just to bring the current base money supply per person back to normal levels. And that assumes the Fed straightens up...and does no more money printing.

And who will bear the hurt? The clever elite? Those who understand the hustle? Those who own gold...houses...offices and apartment buildings? Or those whose wealth is counted out in drips and drabs...from wages and meager savings?

Oh Dear out!

*** By popular demand, we include a final installment from Elizabeth, in which she rides for 12 hours to take Holy Communion to a 95-year-old blind woman, high in the mountains:

Domingo de las Ramas, April 1, 2012

Trip to Compuel

Last Saturday, Maria and I set off shortly after dawn - about 7:15 in this early autumn season-- to ride to Compuel. Our purpose was to deliver the consecrated Host to an abuelita of 95, Mercedes, who lives with her granddaughter Modesta and Modesta's son Daniel.

It was also to visit Compuel.

Compuel is a separate territory in the finca of Gualfin, and it occupies a special place in the minds of the people who live here. It is one of the three pieces of land -- the fertile river valley of Pucarilla and the extensive plane of Gualfin being the other two --that make up the territorial entity of Gualfin.

Pucarilla is a little earthly Eden, a green island amid sheer rock cliffs of pink and white powdery stone, further enclosed by the high mountain walls of Remate and Guasamayo with their snow-covered crests. With its own river, its large, spreading trees providing cooling shade, its productive orchards and fields, and its slightly lower altitude that allows vineyards and fig trees to flourish, it seems like a promised land. Cattle can graze here and grow fat, and if you dare, there is honey for the taking in hollow trees and in holes in the giant cactuses called cardones.

Gualfin is the campo, best viewed from the heights of the road to Compuel. At 2,900 meters above sea level, it is a higher and much drier parcel than Pucarilla, as well as much larger. It is where the majority of the cattle graze on desert pasture grasses and shrubs -- in the summer, when the plants are green and flowering, and in the winter, when the plants are dry but the blades, leaves, flower and seeds are still nourishing. Gualfin is principally watered by two rivers, the Gualfin and the Barranca that join together, flooding dramatically into the plain in a good summer of rains, thinning to a deep stream in the dry season, and disappearing through a gap in the encircling mountains to the rest of the Calchaqui valley system. Water runs from the Barranca into the asequias that provide water to the arriendos of the gente and to our sala and its fields of alfalfa and corn, its orchard and its vegetable and flower gardens. Two reservoirs, repressas, capture and store water.

The source of this life-giving substance is Compuel. From the heights of Compuel, at 3,400 meters, flow the river Compuel which waters Pucarilla, the rio de la Cruz and various quebradas which unite to make the rio Barranca.

Compuel is a world apart from Gualfin and Pucarilla, a vast flat empty highland plane, alternately marshy and arid. No tree grows here, except for a cottonwood that Jorge planted twenty years ago in a sheltered breach beside a stream. Away from the folds of the mountain slopes, there is no shelter from the sun or wind, except in the crevices of huge volcanic rocks piled up here and there in the plane.

Looking back at Gualfin from the abra de Compuel, early morning shadows.

Compuel, in its isolation and altitude, is a still and beautiful place, a natural place of pilgrimage. In fact, there is a procession to Compuel every year during the month of December. A mass is given at the foot of a plain white cross overlooking the plane from a high rocky hill. The cross was set there in 2000, the year of the Papal Jubilee, under the auspices of Maria and Jorge. Our local priest came up from Molinos that year, leading the procession from Gualfin to Compuel, and then continued on a four days' journey by mule to visit the families tucked away in the mountains.

Despite its seeming isolation, people have lived in and moved through Compuel for centuries; there are ruined storehouses and corrals from Inca times and probably before, stops on a trading route between the mines and salt lakes of the high plateau puna to the northwest and the rich lowland farms in the Calchaqui valley and beyond. In recent memory, mule trains packing salt still came down through Compuel every year.

And Compuel is frontier territory. Just over the Taquetuyo mountain is Jasimana, an enormous tract of high-altitude sparsely inhabited desert. Some of its hardy inhabitants are relatives of Gualfin families, but so inaccessible behind the mountain wall that a visit is several days' steep ride over terrain rough with fallen rocks and boulders.

On our way...

It was still dark when Maria and I set off with that sense of delightful adventure that comes with a voyage begun at daybreak. Our saddlebags were packed with bottles of water, lunch, a Bible, and the sacred bread. Maria rode the intrepid and experienced Regalito, one of Jorge's horses, and I rode our new criollo, who seems to have a "no worries" attitude to life and is learning to negotiate the mountain trails. We wore ponchos over several layers of clothes. Maria pulled a thick wool cap firmly down over her ears and put on a pair of mismatched gloves. We took, to my trepidation, the short cut. The short cut runs behind the sala, up the side of a mountain, through a pass, clings around the side of another mountain and runs seemingly straight down the other side to reach the road to Compuel. The path was in semi-darkness, until we rounded the second mountain peak and looked back at the valley of Gualfin. There, the sun glowed red as it rose in a breach between mountains. Ahead, it washed stony slopes a cool clear pink. "The gente say the sun paints the hills," said Maria, as touched as I was by this unexpected richness in the language of daily life.

Sunrise along the road to Compuel, overlooking an arriendo.

As we joined the road to Compuel, we met Pedro and his brother Pablo walking to work, and the young Bartolo running along to catch them up. The were coming from their arriendos below. Here the rio Barranco squeezes through mountain passes and swells into shallow vales, where the gente have built their houses of adobe, stone and barro, and where they grow alfalfa, corn, squash, and ava beans, and a few peach trees - food for man and beast, now and to sustain them over the dry, cold winter. On the sides of the mountains, the herds of goats were already moving specks of white and brown, busily roving over the rocky slopes. The gente also keep cattle in the hills but, as we were to see, they graze on the more remote hillsides far from the houses and enclosures where the goats come in for the night. Goats are milked, and also need to be protected from puma and, perhaps, apocryphally, from condors. But the cattle are only corralled when it is time for them to be vaccinated, castrated, and separated out for sale. A little bell around the neck of a calf is supposed to discourage puma; at any rate, it makes a merry and surprising sound in the silence of the desert.

Not that the desert is always silent or even still. The cool morning air brings out the birds. In this season, small brown and black doves in pairs coo in the algarroba trees. Parrots swoop among the cardones, chasing each other in raucous groups of three or four. A last waking owl stares stiffly from atop a cactus, a hawk hovers intently above an outcropping or jagged rock. Hummingbirds, picaflores, seem to hang in the air amid the flowering plants. And rarely, for reptiles are seldom seen, a small lizard quivers along a rock. We did not see any guanaco on this journey, but the other day when I was out riding in the Gualfin campo, my horse gave a startled leap as one came darting across the open plain, giving high-pitched cries that sounded like clamoring birds. It was a young male, looking for a herd to join.

At the abra de Compuel.

Maria and I passed the arriendos in the river valley below in the first hour and a half. In three hours of uphill climbing, some of it on bare rock that our horses negotiated with scrambling momentum, we reached the abra of Compuel. Here I had stopped a week before with Jorge, so that I could see petroglyphs carved long ago at this strategic point. Right at the peak of the passage was a pile of rocks that Maria said was called an "apacheta." You bring a rock or some other offering and add it to the pile. We noticed two empty bottles, perhaps previously filled with chicha, an alcoholic brew made since pre-Inca times from algarroba beans, and poured on the ground - and also drunk - as an offering to Pachamama, the earth goddess.

We stopped to admire the panoramic views on either side of the abra, and then started down the trail into Compuel.

We followed the quebrada de Compuel, a stream that runs in little waterfalls over rocks, disappears into the bottom of a small ravine, and then levels into a wide stream running over granular sand. As we went, Maria pointed out the names of various rock formations on the peaks: one called El Torre (the tower), another called La Virgen, because its form resembles the triangular shape of the Virgen of the Valley in her spreading robe and cape. Another looked like Christopher Columbus in his turban and cloak. As she added, history and geography were the subjects that fascinated Maria as a student and teacher. As we came down into Compuel, we passed a herd of cows grazing on well-watered bright green grass. Compuel supports two to three hundred head of cattle in bad years, and this year the cattle are getting fat.

An hour later, as we continued toward the distant mountain rim, Maria informed me that we could see the house. I could see nothing but a huge pink and grey rock wall in the distance, but as we approached, a cluster of low adobe houses appeared, pressed into a cleft at the foot of the mountain. The adobe walls and barro roofs were almost the same color as the earth; hardly surprising, as the bricks and barro mixture are made on the building site. We were now riding among hillocks of coarse grass and narrow rivulets of running water, and around dank and ominously dark ponds. Above us was the intense blue sky. We negotiated a final stream and crossed into the home pasture of the arriendo, where a few llamas grazed on the coarse grass. Laundry was drying, spread out on bushes. And a pack of nine dogs, all descended from a short-legged forebear, came out to see what we were up to. Their barking brought two figures, small in the immensity of the plain, the sky, and the mountains, out to greet us. We rode in safety up to a low wall, dismounted, tied our horses to bushes, and went in to the courtyard. Modesta and her son Daniel came forward to greet Maria as an old friend and to meet me.

Modesta is a delicate nutbrown woman in her late thirties who has lived her entire life in Compuel, caring for her livestock, her child and her grandmother. She wore a faded flowered shirt and a long homespun skirt of brown wool, over dark trousers and a pair of thick heavy leather sandals. She was reserved, probably because she did not know me and also probably because her life does not afford much opportunity for conversation. Her son Daniel, about 15, has the same small, slim build and coloring, but his eyes were a light clear brown, fringed with dark thick lashes. He had a sparkling look about him, as if he would laugh and chatter with slight encouragement.

A very ancient lady was sitting in the sun against the wall of the house; Mercedes, the 95-year-old grandmother who could no longer travel to church. "Ah," exclaimed Maria, kissing her. "I remember when she wore her hair is such long braids that she wrapped them twice around her head." The abuelita was blind in one eye, but with the other she scrutinized my face and then my hand, which she turned over gently between her own. "Que mano cholita!" she murmurred. Maria found this comment very amusing. A chola is a a white-skinned person. Very feebly, the abuelita rose from her maseta, the low chair that is typical of this area - almost a stool, it can be moved easily indoors and out, beside the fire or out in the sun. She wanted to offer me her seat. She crouched down slowly against the wall and waited for me to sit down. I was saved from this delicate attention -not wanting to seem impolite by ignoring her courteous gesture, but then -- I could hardly take her seat! - by the reason for our visit. It was time for the celebration.

Modesta and Daniel helped Mercedes to stand, and she took my arm as we climbed over the thresh hold into a small building next to the house. It was a chapel - and also a storeroom. Two shrines on portable frames were set on a trestle table at one end. Grapes drying into raisins hung from a ceiling rafter, as did wheels of cheese and a kettle. Bundles of fragrant ju-ju for tea were stacked in a corner, along with other herbs and sticks for kindling. The shrines were decorated with paper roses and leaves in bright primary colors. Inside, the shrines were filled with statues and paper images of Jesus, the Virgin, saints, and with sacred objects like Saint Peter's key and the oxen of San Laborador??? Over their painted plaster clothing, the saints were draped in mantels made of pieces of cloth, as if they were visitors who had been given comfortable native clothing to keep them warm and shelter them from the sun. In contrast to the multitude of images and statues in varied colors and styles -a jumble of holy objects in which aesthetics was secondary to function -- was a creche that Modesta had made herself. She had sculpted a herd of animals from clay. The little sheep, goats, and llama were finely made, and she had set them on a wide pan filled with earth in which she had planted grass.

The grandmother was seated on her little chair, and Maria began the celebration. We said the "Padre nuestro", the Credo, asked for forgiveness, and gave the responses to the prayers. We invoked the protection of the saints in the shrines, Maria and Modesta looking inside and making sure we had not missed any. Daniel and Maria sang. We took communion from Maria's hands. The abuelita took her wafer, mixed with water, from a spoon.

Daniel, Mercedes and Modesta Chaile

There was drum hanging next to the shrines. It was Daniel's. He took it down and hung it around his neck with the skin facing the ground, and played it for us with drumsticks covered with padded leather. He played with upward strokes, a rich muffled beat. Daniel plays for the misachica, processions celebrating patron saints and their feast days. He is planning to go on the four-day peregrine from Compuel down to Salta, where the annual procession of El Senor and La Virgen del Milagro on September 15 draws thousands of Saltenos to the city. The procession has its origin when an earthquake threatened the city in the 18th century. The priest led the populace, carrying their sacred images, around the periphery of the city. Salta was spared the earthquake.

Modesta's herd of llamas, Some have been shorn.

We left Modesta and her family, mounted up, and rode through a large herd of llamas that had gathered while we were inside. Llamas are very pretty and apparently have sensitive personalities. They spit with an accurate aim when they are ruffled; I went to a zoo as a child with friends whose rowdy little brother insulted one of the llamas by calling it a "broken down camel". The llama's spit hit him squarely on the cheek! I've also read that llamas won't stand to be struck or treated roughly - they will lie down and die. This is probably a myth, but I have noticed at Gualfin that people are gentle with animals. Dogs scuttle away with ears and tail low in response to a softly hissed "sali!". Unruly horses are soothed with a prolonged hiss or a soft "quieto, quieto". The only animals that have a rough time with man, it seems, are cattle when it is time to trim horns, castrate, and brand.

Maria and I found a sheltered rock on the lee side of a cluster of huge boulders and had our lunch. Then we mounted up again, and she led me to see a series of rectangular foundations in stone. These were the Inca and perhaps pre-Inca storehouses and corrals.

In the center of the plain of Compuel and running through it from north to south is the cienaga, marshland with pools of water that support delicate little "pichones," like small sharp-beaked doves, and small black and white ducks. Maria took me up close to observe the pichones floating in flocks upon the edges of the shallow pond among scattered clumps of reeds; startled, they soared into shallow, swooping, swallow-like flight. Less graceful, a pair of ducks rose perpendicularly from the water with strident warning quacks.

We stopped again at near the abra de Compuel, this time to gather the sharply fragrant muna-muna. This herb is said to be good for the circulation of the entire body. Men particularly like to drink it, said Maria with a twinkle in her eye. Our oenologist always asks her to brew him a cup of it when he makes his visit to the vineyards at Pucarilla. And he has five children already!

Sunset over Gualfin.

We rode homeward as the sun was setting behind us. The calves we had passed earlier were now scurrying eagerly back to their mothers. A few goats bleated sharply from the rocky heights, calling the cabritas in. The evening air brought out the scent of the blue lupines that grow in clouds in the higher altitudes. As we descended into the valley, the life of the courtyards of the arriendos was visible far below. Two little boys were playing on a roof and calling to another to climb up. A little girl scampered across a courtyard, while a dog leapt up excitedly beside her. A little child threw rocks at a herd of goats, while an older brother and a dog herded them on bicycle. The goats are kept in corrals made of thorny sticks, which apparently discourage them from climbing out during the night and getting into the fields. As we drew closer, we passed Gustavo's grandfather, Don Domingo, looking for a couple of burros. We had just seen them, we told him. Linked together with a chain around their necks, they were hopping among the rocks looking for tender shoots to eat.

It grew dark in the shadow of the mountains, but as we turned a curve in the road, we saw the campo of Gualfin ahead. There the sun was still shining, lighting up the winding river as it spread across the plain before disappearing into the breach to Angastaco.

At last we arrived, coming through the short cut to the sala in the twilight - tired to the bone, and well-pleased with our journey.

Affectionate regards,


Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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2 Responses to "These people have flimflammed the entire nation"


Apr 28, 2012

thank u for the photographs, yr soulful writing enhanced the atmospherics.
I invite u to visit the himalayas-its not the real world
its the other world that finally awaits us.
a compulsary holiday for wall street geeks is recommanded for they may also change their ways after a visit there.
all the best '
dr priti



Apr 27, 2012

Great Storyteller!!

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