The Criminally Innocent
Richard Fuld, Jr. used to be the “Big Boss” of Lehman Brothers Holdings until the US meltdown that sent corporate rats scampering into their holes. But he’s not taking the fall: he swears “all his decisions were both prudent and appropriate given the information he had at the time.”
With the dramatic flair of Camus’s judge-penitent in The Outsider, he adds, “I wake up every single night wondering what I could have done differently… This is the pain that will stay with me the rest of my life.”
The “rest of his life,” of course, wouldn’t be exactly a guilt trip down memory lane, but crying all the way to withdraw from the bank the “nearly $500 million in salary and bonus payments in the past eight years.”
But Fuld, Jr. would disagree with Sen. Henry Waxman: “The accurate figure was probably less than $250 million… with the majority of my compensation [coming] from stocks, and the vast majority of the stock I still got, I closed at the point of our filing.”
After all, the lesser employees are likewise implicated in the crime. “They owned about 30% of the company’s shares.”
Queried “why Lehman approved nearly $20 million in payment for two departing executives about a week before the bankruptcy filing,” he answers, “the payment of $2 million for Andrew Morton, head of fixed income, was deemed ‘appropriate’ for his years of service. Another $16 million, paid to Benoit Savaret, who was leaving as chief operating officer for Europe and the Middle East, was the result of a contractual obligation.”
[Meralco executives, who get humongous salaries for their alleged administrative expertise, as if they come from another planet, must be all smiles.]
This is simply the tip of the iceberg, as it were: the self-proclaimed corporate geniuses, masters of the Nietzschean herd, must be bragging that they are entitled to play with people’s money, & scoop up a bigger share of the pie.
How could Fuld [& his ilk] say it with straight face before a half-full room & a phalanx of Code Pink protesters who “pelted him with insults and called for him to be jailed.”
Yet he must be sneering at the gallery, feeling ethically vindicated: You can huff & puff, but I’m retiring from all that on some tropic isle, anyway.
Conscience is a complex moral proposition to establish. Some Christians of Ku Klux Klan variety may even find it divinely sanctioned to kill off heathens (now conveniently labeled terrorists) in the axis of evil. Priests administer rites of confession to prisoners, never mind if they’re innocent, about to be sent to the gas chamber, even sprinkle with holified water limousines to spare the rich blokes from unfortunate accidents. & thinking God will throw a protective mantle over the privileged while showering the bare-footed poor with promises of pie in the sky.
In a system where all modes of relations are reified – the abstract is transformed into material or concrete, i.e, passion is a diamond ring, justice is a handgun or a gavel by a partisan court – & actualized as commodities (the value of your humanity or naked life is measured in gold or bronze), the people are only worth a quarter & should grin & bear it if their hard-earned money, invested in risky instruments concocted by managers, falls short of profit expectation. There is no culprit to be put on the block for “having defrauded investors” or be “designated the villain of the day.”
Everyone shares the responsibility of loss but never of profit that is the domain of managers.
Of course, Fuld wouldn’t hang. The capitalist system, in its unwritten code, shields him from lynching, which it usually does on sub-humans in colonial turfs. [In South Korea, for instance, the head of the Samsung Group was found guilty of tax evation, but his sentence was suspended. The rich, even in Muntinlupa always prove to be different from the common rabble.]
Religion doesn’t make things easier for the street guy: temperance is the wisdom for the ages, so anyone who gambles deserves his fate. But what if the dice is loaded against him?
In the Philippines, corporate robbers don’t get it in the jugular. The interlocking interests will not allow finger-pointing [a judge is soft on business because he is not adverse to the philosophy of surplus-value, anyway], so much so that capitalists are deemed purveyors of good intentions & victims of market dysfunction. The Shylock paradigm is an emotional settlement: Shakespeare didn’t understand the mechanics & logic of capitalism, elevating the case to a moral & ethical imperative, never an indictment of the business of usury itself.
The Grepalife fiasco is too recent to be closed: the Yuchengco firm, according to its protestants, has failed to settle accounts with policy holders, yet it is poised to buy out Philamlife, as if it’s awash with moola.
This, in a symbolic level, is the very model of “systemic violence,” according to the Slovenian maverick Zizek, that is “often the catastrophic consequence of the smooth functioning of our political and economic system… Something like the notorious ‘dark matter’ of physics… which [helps make sense] of what otherwise is ‘irrational explosions of subjective violence’.”
That is to say, the American masses may witness up close the implosions of a system gone haywire (campus shoot-out, cocaine addiction, mortgage defaults, etc, as the very indicators of violence of their situated life) but they cannot altogether change it because they have ideologically shut down their eyes to alternatives the system itself has conditioned them however to consider as a cure worse than the disease.
The Christian dictum that “he who is not without sin, cast the first stone,” neutralizes the guilt of the oppressor & freezes the victim – isn’t it a wonder why the notion of parity works against the very position of the aggrieved, because things are theoretically equal?
The Law in capitalism, which is a byproduct of a developing bourgeoisie, is another Kafkan castle: you cannot enter it, much less return.
On the other hand, socialists in UK are up in arms: “Why should they pay” they scream, “for the banks’ crisis?”
Why do moneybags not have enough of everything? Why does Fuld insist it’s only $250 million thereabouts, & not $500 million without batting an eyelash. A wad of pounds could be mindboggling to a pauper: a truckful could give him a heart attack.
Finance & psychology are truly blood brothers. In a rehab in the US, psychologists engage patients “afflicted with ‘money disorders,’ the slew of unhealthy and self-destructive behaviors that are not as extreme as pathological gambling, kleptomania or compulsive shopping, but nevertheless afflict large numbers of people.”
& the “problem financial behaviors identified by psychologists in recent years are: overspending, underspending, serial borrowing, financial infidelity (cheating on spouse by spending & lying about it), workaholism, financial incest (lending money over relatives to control them), financial enabling (throwing large sums at, say, adult children who are not motivated to support themselves), hoarding, and plenty of guilt and shame around poverty and wealth.”
Money, in effect, says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist, is a “portal into unresolved family histories and generational history patterns.”
Acquisition of the legal tender isn’t simply an economico-ethical issue, but a psychological response to a “trauma”: however, to the common wisdom, intelligence & luck are the raison d’etre for “success,” which happens because one risks, never a drive to resolve certain Freudian dilemma. Of course, the capitalist system itself translates accumulation as the very logic of surplus-value, but there are variations to the triggers that cause the “madness”; after all, whether it is compulsive spending or Calvinistic penury, it remains a case for assessing psychoanalytic disorders.
Was Fuld enabled by his socio-political environment to acquire something beyond his managerial capability or was he the very symptom of an overrated system that has reached its limits of consumption & overproduction?
Businessmen, after all, are technocrats lionized daily in the conduct of community life: they are requested to grace occasions of gross solemnity (like cutting ribbons for a food branch, or attending visual exhibits which their philistine notion of art cannot comprehend), or given some media space for a comment or two that may not even be worth a slice of melamined tofu. Money, having pushed them into the top 500 of the oligarchic world, has mantled them with erudition & finesse.
& the cycle repeats itself – opinions clothed in technicalese are recycled like mantra to scare away the ghosts of inflation. Has it ever occurred to the public, dazzled by the honcho’s perfumed respectability, that it is heeding the counsel of psychotics whose message is an index of their secret dysfunction, or neurosis? That their “intellectualized” status is cause for the millions of suckers to linger like insects in the wings?
For every million raked in by a financial satrap, there’s a gang of guys left out holding an empty bag.
Recession may not even be a cure for Americans to reconsider their credit-card mania: after some time, when the tremblor has waned, for sure they’ll go back to their old habits & relive the good imperial times, & Darfur will just be memory of something that is crudely unique to Africa.
When Vivian Hultman heard the news that the killer of her daughter was given executive clemency by GMA, the “knots in her stomach… came back,” as if she had never left the Philippines & decided to bear her grief in Sweden.
She would visit the grave of Maureen whenever she was “depressed” some blocks from her house & needed to be with her spirit – but the respite seems forever gone. The wound has never healed & the vision of the “unrepentant” executioner keeps haunting her sleepless days & nights. She has put on weight, as if her body had let go of all the anxieties of her motherhood…
She really hasn’t moved on. But how can anyone, especially a mother, accept the reality of a permanent loss of someone delivered out of her womb?
The DOJ secretary, a man, would let loose a mouthful, vexed as he was to the quick. The Hultmans “are hypocrites… they can go jump into the North Sea.” The spiel was terribly misplaced: people, after all, didn’t score his predicament when his kidney nearly cost him his life. They had observed the tedious, if unwarranted ceremony, of never kicking him when he was down. They didn’t even crack jokes about the organ being synonymous with the “temperament… of, say, a nice helpful guy,” different, from, say, the ubiquitous Secret Police.”
The observers of elementary protocol were off the mark: the Secretary’s penchant for one-liners showed his insensitivity to return the compliment. Is it a case of an infantile lust for Warhol’s 15-minute fame which, if historically annotated, would be an appendix of philistinism to this regime?
But, of course, most politicians live for the moment. & Gonzalez is basking in the temporal adulation of being at the center stage of public imagination.
[Some cynics point out he probably would dread the day when reporters would steer clear of him because he’s no longer good copy, already put out to pasture. Such fear of anonymity haunts faded screen idols, failed politicians, even notorious criminals who cherish the once-secret limelight in their psyche.]
Should we follow the travail of Sharon Cuneta & Francis Pangilinan, like it were a telenovela that ensures the profitability of media & also assures the state that nothing like serious conversation is happening to undermine the President’s speech?
The hypnotized masses, regaled to a point of idiocy by noontime shows with the usual narratives of rich-poor mise-en-scene, have been launched onto this very path of triviality precisely because the politics of the elite rules the airwaves.
The audience indeed must be steered from a notion of Agamben’s naked life or “life – human life – in which the single ways, acts and processes of living are never simply fact but always and above all possibilities of life, always and above all power.”
The poor live their lives in absentia.
Should they return to the crude reality of themselves, there may be hell to pay.
Meanwhile, the party goes on. Sharon & Francis have been stirring the hornet’s nest, as it were, like the very nation’s future depended on their marital strife. After all, the Pangilinans have invested heavily in Cuneta’s magical name – & we’re in the dark as to where private begins & public ends.
Who’ll gain from this split, anyway?
Ralph Recto without Vilma wouldn’t have made the former a political commodity.
Kiko without Sharon is virtually a lost presidential bid.
But should we care about the fates of Senator Noted & Senator VAT?
Sunday it was when he saw bunched together at a jeepney stop in front of Vinzons Hall some freshmen out on a break & abuzz over where to take their lunch: the boys were chattering in their effeminate voices, the girls anxiously examining the charts & formulae in their test questions. Their faith in the book Paul Samuelson’s Economics seemed immense, rock-solid: on its pages are the keys eventually to the world of high finance they dream to enter & have a life.
But are they informed that First World technocrats are hemming & hawing as to how to fix the Wall Street meltdown?
If only they knew professors had confessed it’s such an unchartered sea that is the future, would they have taken the exam?
Academic knowledge doesn’t seem to matter when mentors are as lost as any street bum.
The exam week is done, & the old professor who hasn’t made any visible impact in his profession & given to petty despair over the banality of the academe, peruses the blue books on the table with the insouciance of the world-weary.
The words on the page – misspelled at times – do not cohere, ideas are stacked like dirty plates yet the writers are cocksure they have pinned down the discourse. Remarkably, the student stuff is a notch higher than their elders’ who are still stuck in the morass of old philosophies which however have served them well: with the little knowledge of their era, they have made their pile, gained respectability, as if to say the new learning doesn’t really matter as long as you bring home the bacon.
& the young eventually will follow this well-traveled route: they will be the old guys they didn’t want to be. Today is a repetition of yesterday. & tomorrow is just another day.
Learning is another ceremony of termagant chatter.
The old are brimming with old dogma; the young with young illusions.
Frankly, no one is prepared for life: success or failure is an accident. The universe, after all, was born of chaos.
“With my films,
I get closer & closer
quips a filmmaker
whose whole life
has been premised
seeking to get deeper
into the essence
But will he ever
reach that bottom
that keeps on
& on a Kafkan mode
receding into the
heart of an abyss
like a wayward
& when finally
he exclaims “Eureka”
like some old
will he be sure
it’s not a changeling
it could have
on the sly?
Is it really the One,
at the edges of his eyes?
The news head reads: “New Yorkers ask: Will the economic tailspin translate to a rise in crime? “
Says Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis: “Every recession since the late ’50s has been associated with an increase in crime and, in particular, property crime and robbery.”
But he adds, “Typically, there is a year lag between the economic charge and crime rates.”
It goes without saying the crunch will be in 2009 when ripples turn into waves that will virtually drown blue-collar workers: unemployment will go up, OFWs will return in droves, business will contract & the streets, given the proportionate conditions of Manila, will prove doubly dangerous. The poor in short will turn desperate – & to hell with the biblical injunction “Thou shall not kill.”
But the dire prognosis – despite the lies that the “fundamentals are strong” – will be a boon to the Palace. Nothing will be more assuring to its tenants than the possibility of charter change or even martial rule on the pretext that a strong state is antidote to the financial conflagration.
Already, we hear noises from its lackeys.
[& if we take into consideration Soros’s admonition “it’s a fallacy to believe that markets correct themselves, & the bubble is gone forever,” surely the reality of the emergency state is upon us.]
But is the world-wide recession – globalism is capitalism enforced upon mankind by force or seduction – the flashpoint for a paradigm shift?
& given the backwardness of the Philippines which has remained characteristically a field for “drawers of water & hewers of wood,” will a revolutionary upheaval come into fruition by virtue of the massive “universal” dislocation?
From my rocking chair, I dare gaze into my cloudy crystal ball: there will be one, never a repetition of EDSA which was never in the first place a revolution – to repeat it is to duplicate a duplication on the mode of Louie Bonaparte’s rendition of a farce.
The coping mechanism for the downtrodden seems to be limitless: they rewash, reheat, reflavor left-overs from garbage bins without feeling sorry for themselves; the demolished squatters pick up their lives in pushcarts to reconquer back alleys; the middleclass on fixed wages improvise & adjust their lifestyle to “make both ends meet,” without a traceable resentment that they do not deserve the current governance.
& organized religion, their refuge in times of distress, is no more than organized violence against themselves.
How can the obviously pacified, existing like disconnected monads, be rallied to “rage against the dying of the light?”
& suppose it does happen the divine should perforce visit upon this land inexplicable violence that may spark some sea-change – how would we define it?
The Jacobin revolution in France is usually degraded (notably in the columns of the late Max Soliven) into a dogmatized truism that “revolution devours its own children,” usually devolving into its original fascist state – an interpretation Zizek would contest: “With regard to the French Revolution,” he explains, “it was significantly Danton, not Robespierre, who provided the most concise formula of the imperceptible shift from ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ to statist violence or in Benjamin’s terms, from divine to mythic violence: ‘let us be terrible so that the people will not have to be’.”
He adds, “For Danton, the Jacobin, revolutionary state terror was a kind of pre-emptive action whose true aim was not revenge on the enemies but to prevent the direct ‘divine’ violence of the sans-culottes, of the people themselves. In other words, let us do what the people demand of us so that they will not do it themselves.
Certainly, the Palace & other forces will interpret it according to their own inclination.
The young girl,
mature beyond her years,
“If you will only listen,
what the grass
he empties his mouth
of sound –
he begins to read
He has not slept since –
for the cries of animals
& the silent scream
of fallen trees
keep him tossing
in the night.
Even the earth
to be half-second late;
he must not
keep pace with the universe…
If he misses a beat,
credit it to his theory
of the counterflow:
he must not rush
with the centrifugal blow.
like a gyroscope
heavy on its feet,
the complex symmetry
of a leaf,
the whorl of air
that slaps against
of rubber shoes
on soft, black soil –
O He moves faster now
that he has slowed down.