The president appeared on morning television on every channel, even ESPN and HBO. Their executives strongly protested the hastily drafted White House programming order (and usurpation of the First Amendment). “Show it or else…” was the reply from the White House. “The First Amendment does not apply during a national emergency.” The resistant networks meekly complied. It’s best not to upset the man holding the telecom kill switch.
At first glance, the president’s inescapable face appeared to beam strength and resoluteness. His eyes were reassuring, squinting with a confident glint. His navy blue suit and red tie shouted, “I’m in charge! Everything is okay!” He spoke in a smooth, gentle current, smiling often.
But something was askew. His cosmetics were a little off. It seemed too thick or badly retouched or the tone was flat—like a dead man’s makeup. His shave was not close, and his shoulders slumped a little bit.
He sat behind that familiar White House desk, framed by an American flag, and a bureau of family photos, and the Oval Office window draped in gold curtains. The window opened out into what appeared to be a quaint, wooded, suburban backyard. Somehow, the sky framed in that window was blue and clear that morning while the rest of Washington D.C. was being bombarded by a deluge of rain.
The Oval Office set—which might have actually been a blue screen on Air Force One for all anyone knew—was designed to conjure images of a fatherly chat in the household study. The president played the role of Ward Cleaver in the minds of the middle class who were obediently awaiting instructions. But the choreographed invocation did not conjure personal memories of real fathers for the audience so much as it conjured a nostalgic vision, implanted into the American mind by the family-themed television shows they absorbed over the course of their lives. The Oval Office chats parroted stylized TV life which itself parroted stylized life of the 1950s. Few had studies in their homes, anymore. And most Americans never had a real chat with their real dad while he was dressed in a suit and sitting behind a desk. Many Americans had no memory of meaningful chats with their dads at all, other than superficial conversations every other weekend. And if they were so lucky as to have a real chat with their real dad, the view out the study window would probably be that of the siding of the next door neighbor’s plywood mcmansion.
Yet so many presidents had given addresses from that fabricated set, apparently because it worked so well. For an audience conditioned by a lifetime of mass media, the conjured image instilled calmness, trust, and submissiveness. It made the infantilized and helpless population of dependent serfs feel at ease. “The president is father and father knows best. Everything will be okay. Just keep doing what you’re told.”
Vaughn poured himself a cup of coffee as he contemplated calling in sick from work. He was exhausted from running around all night, but he decided he needed to go in. This is not the time to inconvenience my employer, he thought. There was twenty percent unemployment out there, by some unofficial accounts.
The president started to speak as Vaughn took his first sip of designer coffee. Good thing he stocked up on the stuff before the Seattle firm went bankrupt.
“My fellow Americans, over the past night, while most of you were sleeping, rogue elements, operating in foreign markets and exchanges—elements unfriendly to America—launched a coordinated surprise attack upon the people of United States. This attack was not one waged by ships and planes or on any battlefield, but it was an attack nonetheless. This was an act of terror, not with bombs, but by keyboards and the internet and on public trading exchanges. These foreign agents and rogue elements have sought to injure America,” he paused for a moment, then smirked, “but they will soon discover that they cannot subdue our great nation by cowardly acts of terrorism. America is a resilient nation. It has survived a Civil War and the Great Depression. It and has mobilized the arsenal of democracy to win two world wars. It’s a nation that always rallies, always comes together. America will unite to confront this challenge, as it always has in times of tribulation and struggle. We have the most powerful economy in the world. America is the world’s engine of prosperity and growth. Our industriousness and our diversity are the envy of all the countries of the earth. And no matter what the forces of evil may attempt in order to harm us, we shall endure. We will vanquish our foes and recover. America has faced adversity and always come back stronger. Tested,” he paused for emphasis, “but with greater resolve. Our democracy has always been reborn wiser and stronger by her trials…
Blah, blah, blah, Terrorism…
Blah, blah, blah, Freedom…
Blah, blah, blah, Sacrifice…
Blah, blah, blah, Diversity…
Blah, blah, blah, Progress…
Blah, blah, blah, Responsibility…
Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.”
Presidential speeches never change.
While the president spoke, corporate purchasing agents, who had no time for imperial propaganda, were on the phone with their overseas suppliers. After hanging up, they frantically updated their spreadsheet models with new raw materials costs.
Millions of “Effective Immediately” emails flew out to distribution centers and warehouses and convenience stores and retail outlets. Out in the real world, while the big media talking heads blathered on about the emperor’s new clothes, shopkeepers were doubling and tripling the numbers on their price tags, databases and marquees. Prices were rising in real time.
On-the-street reporters, only marginally less vapid then the in-studio anchors, hit the streets seeking to expose the “evil capitalist price gougers“ who were using the economic emergency as an opportunity to line their pockets. The reporters shoved microphones and cameras into disgruntled customer faces and captured their lamentations. Grocery store traffic was elevated, but the clerks noticed that the big movers were potato chips and soft drinks and beer. Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.
Local police departments were notified overnight by agents of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to increase their presence. Vaughn noticed two patrol cars cruising through his neighborhood as he got ready for work.
Vaughn’s 72-inch, high-definition, flat screen made in China droned on. “We have gone past the point of no return,” said the chief European economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland. “There is a complete loss of confidence. The bond markets are disintegrating and it is getting worse moment by moment.”
“What should the government do?” asked the anchor who couldn’t understand why the government had allowed it all to happen in the first place.
“The banks need more liquidity. The Central Banks—the Fed, B of E, Bank of Japan—they need to create more money and lend it to the commercial banks so they can continue to operate. They have to have the cash to buy up the glut of sovereign debt before the system collapses. But first, we need to close the markets and let the Central Banks get together and sort everything out.”
“So, more bailouts? What do you say to those who argue that that isn’t capitalism—that markets should be allowed to liquidate?”
“We’re dealing with the real world here, not some textbook ideology. Call it whatever you like, intervention, QE, whatever, we have to destroy capitalism in order to save capitalism!”
It was quite a morning. The contagion cruise that embarked from Asia while America snored the night away tucked in their Therapedic, space-foam mattresses purchased on their Visa cards,continued its world tour through China and Australia, past India and the oil fiefs and Europe, and across the Atlantic. Markets in India, Russia, Germany, and London all crashed, triggering circuit breaker rules that suspended trading in the darkness of the American night. The ship of destruction finally sailed up the East River, on to Manhattan Island, and right down Wall Street.
Advisors tried to convince the president to preemptively close the markets. “No can do,” he bristled with executive bravado. “The markets must open. Refusing to open is a sign of capitulation and surrender. America never surrenders!”
The professorial Federal Reserve chairman, his ever-whitening beard and ever-receding hairline making him look ever-the-more gnomish, loosened his tie and poured himself a drink at the 9:30 open. Perhaps the great sovereign ship would not sink, he hoped. The Fed had key-stroked hundreds of billions of dollars throughout the night and had managed to prop up the jittery futures markets. The expectation was that this could tame the animal spirits in time for the NYSE open. But all hope was dashed as the market sank nine percent at the opening bell.
“Fools! Don’t they know they’re killing us all?” The Fed chairman cried out as he gulped his breakfast bourbon. The Plunge Protection Team, the Fed’s equivalent of Special Forces, stepped in and started buying which stabilized things for a few moments. Then a rumble thundered through the sovereign hull when word got out that the Chinese were not buying anything. The dollar immediately began a rapid decent against the yuan.
The floor traders started asking questions. “Who’s buying up the treasuries? Chase? Citi? Deutsche? RBS? Goldman? Dubai? What did you say? Come again? You mean they all stopped trading treasuries a week ago? Holy shit! Who then? Direct dealers? Like who? Moriah LLC? Who the hell is that? You say they bought fifteen billion? Really? Some outfit called Crazy Horse bought ten? Who are they? I’ve never heard of them. What’s going on? Where are the big banks? Wait a sec, this isn’t right. Just heard two hedge funds liquidated due to redemptions. Are you sure about that? Oh My God! This is it! This is it! Abandon ship! Abandon ship! Get out now! Sell it all! Sell it to those pension fund chumps! Sell it all to the Fed before they stop buying. Sell! Sell! Sell! Sell! Sell!”
A full-fledged avalanche of panic ensued, cracking the hull of the multi-trillion dollar sovereign vessel. The unsinkable U.S.S. (United States Sovereign) Titanic sank in a spectacular, cascading selloff with three-times record volume.
The gnome fed chairman downed his drink and poured another, and another, and watched the bond ticker on his closed circuit network. Prices down…4%…11%…18%…. Interest rates up plus .5%…plus 2.0%…plus 5.0%!
The Fed tried to pump out as much of the tsunami of debt as it could by key-stroking the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to clear all the offers. The Plunge Protection Team went all in. They hijacked the fiber-optic bandwidth to make sure their buy orders got through first. Then they stalled the private sellers. They worked covertly through friendly foreign central banks: the Bank of England, the Bank of Australia, the Banco de Panama—yeah that’s right, Panama. They had private banks on the dole, too—not the household Wall Street names but most of the regional outfits. The Fed gave them huge guarantees and unlimited lines of credit and agreements to repurchase everything they bought with guaranteed returns, but the rumors of the Fed’s scheme had gotten out. As the Fed key-stroked more and more dollars, and the names of the buyers of treasuries got more and more obscure, and the purchase amounts got more and more spectacular, the dollar itself listed, then tipped over, then began sinking faster than the treasuries they were supposed to be backed by.
The unsinkable Titanic of American sovereign debt, the flagship of profligacy and arrogance, was sucked into a vortex. Over the course of twelve hours, the dollar price of a Japanese car, a barrel of Saudi oil, and a container ship full of Chinese chotskies DOUBLED. The U.S. stock market big boys all tanked as the cost of rolling over their debt exploded. The exchanges plummeted further, going limit down and suspended trading in dollars.
The Gnome had seen enough. He stepped in and pulled the plug at 10:01. International currency exchange in dollars was suspended worldwide. Wire and ACH transfers were suspended. To prevent capital flight, transfers from checking and savings accounts to foreign banks were limited to one thousand dollars. Banks on the east coast opened for an hour so the patrician class from Martha’s Vinyard could withdraw some walking-around money. Then all the banks went on holiday. There was a flurry of internet activity as intrepid nerds tried to move their offshore money market dollars and PayPal accounts into foreign currencies and commodity money and Bitcoins, but that too was brought to a screeching halt when the internet kill switch was thrown on financial transactions.
At the silent, somber floor of the NYSE, the highlights of the president’s speech played on yet another Chinese-made big screen above the ticker which read “U.S. Markets Closed…FOMC in emergency session…Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-2.” The remaining traders on the floor erupted in sarcastic applause.
Vaughn took a moment before leaving for work to look in on his young daughter. He quietly pushed her door open and snuck into her room. She was still asleep, lying sideways in her crib with one tiny foot dangling out, buried in an avalanche of blankets and her toy monkey. Her cherubic cheeks moved slightly as she suckled blissfully on her pacifier. Vaughn felt she was getting a little old for pacifiers. A feeling swept over him as he watched her, like a breeze of fresh cool air in some stale, stagnant chamber. It was a righteous feeling, a sensation of clarity and purpose. How bad will things get? What will I have to do for my family? What am I capable of doing? The answers blew into him as he looked down at little Brooke.
With the country crumbling into talc under the weight of its hubris and corruption, with the Nero president blustering away with his platitudes, with the zombie masses taking their opiate of big media propaganda, Vaughn realized then and there that there would be nothing, no one, no event that would come between him and his family. He loved them more than his own life. He would pay any price for them. He found casting off worry to be liberating. He released the millstone of worry that had been chained to him.
The dying republic, a victim of its pointless, bankrupting wars, its corporate welfare and bloated nanny-state, finally succumbed. Her citizenry concerned themselves only with who was going to win American Idol. America was meaningless to Vaughn now. Now it was time for survival. He felt an arm slip under his elbow and around his chest. It was Jess. She pulled in tight against him and rested her head between his shoulder blades.
“You were right,” she whispered.
Her acknowledgement meant everything to him. He needed to be and do right by her and her assessment was the only one that really mattered. He was vindicated for dragging his family out to the store in the middle of the night. He almost took pleasure in seeing things unravel the way that they had, but he knew that that was selfish and foolish to think about things that way. He wondered if the karma wheel would spin back onto him somehow. Tough times were ahead for all.