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  dossier 3: Scenes From a Bubble
Once upon a time, over a long hot Summer, Americans were glued to their collective television set watching something called "Watergate". Aka "See Dick Fall". Almost thirty years later, we had "Those Crafty Clintons!". Today, the drama is called "WorldCon". Some prefer "Enronomics". The title "Wall Street" has already been taken. The effects of our most recent TV event will be socially transforming. This time, there will be a legion of Nixons and Clintons to excoriate. Shifty eyed, sweating, fallen gods of business are already squirming beneath the harsh inquisition of our fraud busting political representatives. The first round of executives have been arrested-- courtesy of Adelphia Communications. Book em Larry. As in Thompson, our new corporate crime czar. Of course, Adelphia isn't WorldCom or Merrill Lynch. And many of the politicians now waxing righteous, sucked divine CEO boot so recently you can still smell shoe polish on their breath. It's into the memory hole with that one.

A friend asks "Where is the Red Guard now that we need them? How about some public trials and executions?" I must admit the idea has appeal. A slew of stadiums have been built with public "revitalization" money; why not use them to revitalize the stock market? It's being said that in order for the market to recover fully, the public needs to see herds of CEO's marched off to jail. Through the streets, preferably nekid. But why settle for mere recovery? Mass public slaughter of bad boy big wigs might bring back the bull(s). And if the events were held in second tier cities, it could help boooooost their economies. I'm sure any number of consulting firms, could be called upon to provide rock solid proof that x amount of public executions (renamed justice festivals) would produce x amount of jobs. Non polluting ones too. Blood is organic. Though most of the jobs would be low level, such as hot dog hawkers and mop up crews, some would be highly skilled. Beheading and flogging take training. Plus willingness to wear a hood. Which isn't as common as you'd think. Hood head is hell on the do.

Speaking of hair, I used to get mine cut at Astor Place Barber in downtown Manhattan. Astor Place started out as your typical barber shop but in the 80's, due to the proximity of the East Village, became the source for the world's best punk cuts. In the 90's, Astor became tonier as the East Village became gentrified. Astor was always a great place to visit. Many of the barbers were recent immigrants from Italy and Greece. Most were men and they'd trade amusing, pro forma insults with each other while cutting hair. The Italians could really talk food and you'd pick up recipes and tips on butchers. The radio was usually tuned (loud) to a generic rock station. Various barbers would at times sing along with a favorite. As I was in and out of NYC, my visits to Astor became more infrequent. The last was about two and a half years ago. An invasion of the body snatchers had taken place. Launched from the planet "Bubble". Instead of the radio, there was a TV mounted near the ceiling in every corner of the room. Tuned to CNBC. All stock market, all the time. Shills nattered breathlessly, pumping dead cert future wealth. Maybe the sets were initially installed for customers, but it was the barbers who were mesmerized. Their hands moved over customer heads, clipping and snipping, scissors guided by habit. Eyes were turned heavenward, as if Jesus himself was delivering a sermon from the wall mounted sets. Conversation with customers was desultory and distracted, communication among the barbers had gone group mind; consisting of sharp cries of joy, or groans of disgust in response to market movements. It was mondo bizzarro and strangely embarrassing. Almost as if you'd seen them engaging in-- well, you know.

Another scene from a bubble. Real estate related, taking place a few years earlier in New Jersey. When living in Hudson County, I frequently took a bus that ran between Port Authority in Manhattan and Jersey City, in the process passing through Hoboken. The run was a commuter haul, carrying loads of young professionals from their NYC places of business, to their beds and bars on the "Gold Coast", the strip directly across the Hudson from lower Manhattan. Though the trip was only about five miles, it often took over an hour due to traffic snarls. Riding the bus gave me an opportunity to study architectural detail at length, plus brush up on the inner world of yupsters. Which revolved mainly around career trajectories, the failings of ex-lovers and real estate.

On one run a young woman I'll call "Laurie", described to a friend, in loud and indiscreet detail, how a certain realtor had "fixed" it with a bank, so that even though she was financially unqualified, she could buy a condo. The "fixing" involved faking assets and using another, hidden loan from the realtor's buddy. Laurie's tone was gleeful. She'd cut a clever deal with the help of a professional with "connections" who "was on her side". She was lit with the glow of verified self worth, like a slot machine addict when cherries line up in a row. Coincidentally, I knew others who'd scored via the very same realtor, who was moving turkeys at inflated prices for a couple of secret partners. Old boy politicos figured into the mix. HUD had bucked the original investments and the not quite code compliant renovations. Bank loans were bouncing faster than the dumps of a rap video ho. There was plenty of cream for all.

A typical tale and not that major compared to say, the unsavory acts perpetrated by some who deal in affordable housing. But over the past few decades, when real estate profits (be they real or imagined) beckoned, some pretty typical people were more than willing to go creative with accounting and take advantage of conflicts of interest. And when stuck with a dud, they kept mum and passed it on down the line. In order not to be "the greater fool": the last person caught at the end of a scam. Or beneath a collapsing bubble.

A post Enron television commercial for Charles Schwab, touts the trustworthiness of the firm by drawing a contrast with the competition and depicting a boiler room telephone sales manager hyping his crew into pushing a worthless stock. He urges them to "get out there and put some lipstick on this pig". It's a pungent bit of drama. A mini Glengarry Glen Ross. Lipsticking pigs has become a national sport. Not played solely by CEO's. Not that I'm knocking the stadium idea. The golden boys did indeed kick the pins out from under a lot of trusting people. I support closing egregious loopholes that encourage particular frauds, plus a much stronger law enforcement focus on white collar criminals-- of all stripes. Who knows? When the public tastes blood, it can become a habit. Corrupt pols, crony campaign contributors and housing crooks might be next on the menu. Bring on the weenies!

Till next time--

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

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Copyright (c) 2002 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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