Volume 20, Number 4

Cover My Shorts

Ferdinand E. Hintze

Muted, all seven televisions in Ira Ruskin’s office showed the multi-acre horde of reporters tussling for position on the U.S. Treasury building’s lawn. Closed captions handicapped the government’s capacity to borrow enough money for another mortgage market rescue. For a caption-free view of the crowd, Ira swiveled his chair to the window behind his desk.

The second his eyes settled on some people to watch, his instant-message bell dinged. Elliot Stockman, his chief undersecretary, had promised to IM the week’s delinquency statistics.

Ira closed his eyes and swiveled back around. He wasn’t quite ready to look at the six computer monitors that formed a semicircle around him. Normally, he kept his eyes glued to either the monitors on his desk or the TV screens mounted to the walls in the background, a setup he called his real-time financial amphitheater, but today, one of Stockman’s people had probably leaked the delinquency figure, and the markets were already reacting. Ira lifted his head to a tidal wave of flickering red quotes. Every monitor showed its own freefall. The S&P 500, down twenty percent in the morning’s first fifteen minutes of trading, looked like numbers on a gas-pump display moving in reverse. Only commodities, led by oil at two-hundred-eighty-four dollars a barrel, were up.

42.6 percent delinquency, flashed from the instant-message window on the far-right monitor. Nearly forty-three percent of US households had missed at least one mortgage payment. Markets had expected around thirty-four. The IM bell jingled again, a second message from Elliot. Kuwait is calling for the number. Should I give it to them?

Before the indecision nipping at his stomach could take hold, Ira slid the keyboard from under his desk. No, Elliot. Do not respond. I’m about to meet with Burgess. I’ll tell you what to do after that.

Two years ago, with mortgage delinquencies still around twenty percent, Liza Jane—a consolidated federal conduit the government had created to absorb Fannie May, Freddie Mac and all the other mortgage operations it acquired during the TARP bailouts of 2008—ran out of operating capital. When the Treasury tried to float a special bond auction to keep Liza from drowning, nobody bid. Nobody wanted to lend the U.S. any more money. Europe didn’t want to risk another dollar-denominated loss. China worried that the U.S. couldn’t collect enough taxes to service any more debt. Then the oil-rich nations, for whom Ira had convinced Congress to declare a gas-tax moratorium and eliminate spending on alternative-energy research to make up the shortfall, offered to buy the bonds but wanted the interstate system for collateral. Somebody leaked the collateral demand to The New York Times, which editorialized it as “America’s Final Step on Capitalism’s Plank.” The next day, The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a forecast of a world wide liquidation of US debt. “Everybody the United States owes money to,” the WSJ lamented, “wants it back.” Fearful of a banking collapse, depositors stampeded branches for their deposits, leaving the system so void of cash that not even grocery stores could borrow money to stock their shelves.

Twenty-two months later, after Home and Garden Television replaced House Hunters and Designed to Sell with instructional shows on backyard agriculture, Ira brokered a deal between Congress and a consortium of investors from Kuwait. The agreement’s terms created Dixie Lee, a sub-conduit under Liza Jane, to try something previous bailout attempts hadn’t—reduce principal balances. Dixie Lee would refinance the delinquent mortgages at eighty percent of appraised value and sell the restructured loans to the Kuwaitis.

A coalition of fiscally conservative Republicans held a hearing on whether a Middle-Eastern entity should hold liens on so much American real estate, but after their posturing spooked an investment group from Dubai into liquidating its dollar holdings, they voted for the measure unanimously. The Kuwaitis, sensing fear in the representatives’ abrupt reversal, strong-armed Congress into re-writing the foreclosure laws to let them evict homeowners for a single late payment. The consortium could then sell the repossessed properties and keep all the proceeds, even those in excess of the loan balances.

Weeks after the program rolled out, Ira got the certified letter that brought every news service in the world to the Treasury building’s lawn for this morning’s meeting.

He slid open his right-hand desk drawer, pulled out the letter and unfolded it. One more read might tell him something the previous thousand hadn’t.

July 13, 2011

Virgil Edward Burgess
945 Magnolia Court
Silver Springs, FL 34488

Ira M. Ruskin
Secretary Of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Mr. Ruskin:

In 2005, my wife and I paid $329,000 for a home in Terra Estates, a newly constructed subdivision fifteen miles northwest of Ocala, FL. We chose this development because the pre-construction price included a lifetime membership to the adjacent country club.

The builder went bankrupt a year later. The country club’s partially landscaped golf course has grown into a tapestry of waist-high weeds. Similar vegetation has risen through the chicken wire foundations that were to become the tennis courts. Of the development’s two hundred and fifteen lots, twenty-seven contain structures at various stages of construction. Myself and Terra Estates’ twelve other residents share the expense of an annual bush hog rental to excavate weeds from the lots adjacent to our houses.

With eight-dollar-a-gallon gas and food prices triple what they were a year ago eating up the money for this year’s excavation, we began to consider putting our house on the market. Six different realtors said it was worth between $100,000 and $125,000, verses our mortgage balance of $245,000.

Shortly thereafter, news spoke of a Dixie Lee program where mortgage balances are being reduced to eighty percent of appraised value and refinanced into new loans. Despite our hatred of handouts, my wife and I applied. The bank rejected us on the grounds that our teaching incomes, which we supplement with off-hour convenience store jobs, were sufficient to cover our loan at its existing terms. The loan officer added that the Dixie Lee program was for borrowers that were either (a) already behind on their payments or (b) in adjustable rate mortgages that had reset into higher interest rates they couldn’t afford.

When we bought the house, we signed up for a fixed-rate mortgage, with the standard twenty-percent down payment, because we were afraid an alternative mortgage might reset our payment to a level we couldn’t afford.

This is unjust, Mr. Ruskin. Would we get our principal balance reduction if we’d taken out a risky loan and fallen behind?

I’d like to remind you that, while you were CEO of Goldstein and Mirabella, you advised President Bush not to bail out lenders and borrowers who’d acted imprudently. “Bailouts merely encourage more imprudence,” you said. During your confirmation hearings, you called today’s housing crash “A high budget rerun of the Savings-and-Loan debacle of 1990.”

Why aren’t you saying these things now, Mr. Ruskin? Institutions, as well as individuals, who’ve handled their finances imprudently must be allowed to fail. Only then will our economy re-establish the market-based roots on which it was founded.

All of this said, my wife and I sympathize with your political position. As a spokesperson for the president’s economic policy, you are unable to administer the tough medicine this economy needs.

Therefore, we’ve decided to help you.

We’re going to create a financial crisis that the government can’t afford to fix. We’ve mailed our house keys to our bank with instructions to commence foreclosure. We’ve created an instructional website to help other borrowers to do the same. So far, eighteen mortgagors, all current on their upside-down loans, have used our form letter generation tool to instruct their lenders to take their homes.

We will keep you posted on our campaign’s progress.


Virgil Burgess

Virgil Edward Burgess

Ira’s Blackberry sounded, crawling in quarter-circles on his desk with each buzz. This message—from Sam Gershowitz, COE of Dell Largo, the nation’s largest mortgage servicer—read, 268,000 more keys in yesterday’s mail.

Ira pressed the speaker button on his phone, punched out his assistant’s extension.

“Yes, Mr. Ruskin.”

“Please have security bring Mr. Burgess back.”

Six weeks had passed since Ira first saw the letter. He dismissed it until nine days later when Gershowitz called saying he’d received over fourteen thousand keys, up from eight thousand the day before and twenty-five hundred the day before that. Gershowitz had polled the CEOs of ten other servicers. All were receiving keys at similarly accelerating rates, from borrowers who’d never missed a payment on anything. The Kuwaitis had only agreed to buy loans in default at the time Dixie Lee was formed. The Kuwaitis would read these voluntary defaults as an attempt to hijack America’s economy. Then they wouldn’t buy anything.

Though creative, the home-forfeiture campaign didn’t surprise Ira. The below-market principal balances and lender-friendly foreclosure laws had given the Kuwaitis a can’t-lose deal. Other investment operations, starving for a place to recoup their dollar losses, probably found out about these terms and wanted in. The Dixie Lee plan had been offered to groups from Russia and China as well as several oil sheiks. The Kuwaiti fund was chosen because Ira’s nephew’s trust owned a ten-percent stake.

Three dark-suited men, each with a Bluetooth speaker clipped to his ear, came through Ira’s door.

“Mr. Burgess!” Ira sprung from his office chair. He walked through the suits and extended his hand toward the narrow-shouldered man with elbow patches loosely sewn to his tweed jacket and sloppily applied gel giving way to clumps of hair sprouting from his head. “Thank you so much for coming.”

Burgess grabbed the end of Ira’s hand, squeezed, and started shaking with a vigor that made the potbelly peeking from beneath his unbuttoned lapels jiggle.

“Th-thank you so much for having me.” Still shaking Ira’s fingers, Burgess rotated his eyes to the two American flags behind the desk, then to the window overlooking the reporters, then to the TVs replaying footage of the secret-service officers escorting him through them. “People thought my website was stupid. I never dreamed somebody like you would make me Economic Leader of the Year. And bring all those reporters out here for the ceremony. It’s such an honor, Mr. Ruskin.”

Burgess let go of Ira’s hand to wipe away the drip of moisture escaping his eye.

This routine of clumsy flattery made sense to Ira. After he’d settled on his theory that a rogue investment fund was backing Burgess in an effort to break the mortgage market, scare the Kuwaitis into pulling out and get an even better deal for themselves, he decided his only hope was to play along. He created the Milton Friedman Economic Leader of the Year award and flew Burgess, his wife and six grandchildren to Washington, D.C. to receive it on the Treasury’s front lawn. With his economic leader in transit, Ira would figure out who Burgess represented.

He didn’t. Burgess’s backers remained a mystery.

“The honor’s all mine, Mr. Burgess. It’s gumption like yours that’s going to lift America back onto her feet.”

Ira gestured the security people toward the door and Burgess toward the wooden chair facing his desk. Unlike other cabinet-level offices, Ira’s had no conversational area. The last Treasury secretary’s sofas and coffee tables had been removed so that Ira could sit behind his desk, watching the TVs and monitors, while he met with people. The markets told him everything he needed to know. The arrangement also fed his love of watching people react to his height. At four-eleven, his desk came nearly to his armpits. His guests, who he put in chairs with barstool legs, had to look down at him.

“So, Mr. Burgess.…” Ira pushed the two middle monitors apart before descending into his office chair. “I trust that you and your family had a comfortable night.”

The department had put the Burgesses up in a Renaissance Mayflower suite overlooking DuPont Circle.

“Absolutely, Mr. Secretary.” Burgess’s head bobbed affirmatively, launching his belly into another round of jiggles. He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a stack of greeting-card-sized envelopes and placed it on the desk. “My grandkids wrote you some thank-you notes for setting up their special White House tour. They can’t wait to meet the president.”

Ira forced his lips to widen while he stood back up and gathered the envelopes. Moments like these made him yearn for the private sector where he didn’t have to excite himself about all the crap people gave him. With a two-hundred-year-old letter opener, he methodically cut each envelope. The first card had perfectly written script on both inside flaps and two thirds of the way down the back. Ira gave his most anticipatory smile and scanned the first paragraph for something to comment on. It congratulated him for a 2002 Business Week article that quoted him with, “Invading Iraq is ridiculous. Even if they have weapons of mass destruction, does it make sense to spend a billion a day invading them? Why don’t we just stop driving? The terrorists would starve if nobody bought oil.”

Ira felt a pulsation in his jaw. To conceal it, he pushed the sides of his smile into his cheeks. He inspected the rest of the note for evidence that Burgess knew what happened three weeks after the Business Week article. Because Ira’s Citizens for Fiscal Discipline had raised over half a billion dollars for commercials to supplement George Bush’s 2000 campaign, the markets interpreted his anti-war comments as a subliminal message that the US wouldn’t invade Iraq. A group of small-cap defense stocks, which had skyrocketed on prospective war contracts, plummeted. Bush gave Iraq the deadline to reveal its nuclear laboratories, and the group skyrocketed again. That’s when the Securities and Exchange Commission discovered that Goldstein and Mirabella, Ira’s investment bank, had sold the defense stocks prior to the article, bought them back after they cratered and earned a ten-figure profit from the difference. Investors call the maneuver a short sale. The SEC claimed that Ira made his statements to drive the defense stocks down so his traders could short-sell them. When questioned, the traders claimed they didn’t know about the article. Ira claimed he had no way of monitoring what his traders traded and what they knew when they traded it. To settle the conflict, G&M paid a fifty-million-dollar fine. In return, the SEC dropped the charges and kept the matter confidential.

Ira pulled out the next note. It praised his comments to The Economist on how inadequately the US protects its airports. Days after that article came out, G&M’s private equity fund managed to spin off a cash-flow-negative manufacturer of luggage scanners at a record price. The SEC confidentially settled this charge also. G&M settled a total of six market-manipulation charges during Ira’s tenure as CEO, a number equal to Burgess’s grandkid count. But none of the notes threatened to expose the settlements. None even demonstrated knowledge of them. Yet all six complimented Ira for one of the interviews that led to an investigation.

Ira’s mind meandered from rogue investment funds to Barry Reinhart. As SEC chairman, Reinhart had pushed for Ira’s indictment after the third market-manipulation charge. He resigned when the Attorney General, Ira’s fraternity brother at Dartmouth, wouldn’t prosecute the fourth.

Ira looked up.

Burgess had twisted his face into an advanced stage of crying. He reached into his pants pocket for a pack of tissues. After extracting one, he dabbed his eyes and wiped between his lips and nose. Then he put the soaked tissue on his lap.

“Are you okay, Mr. Burgess? Can I get you something to drink?”

“No Sir, Mr. Secretary. It’s just that the kids spent four whole days at the library researching how hard you’ve tried to steer our country in the right direction.” Burgess took in a sniffle. “They’re going to be on Cloud Nine when I tell them how carefully you read what they wrote.”

Burgess’s six-inch wide tie barely touched the top of his potbelly. Its knot covered most of his throat. Ira hadn’t seen such a tie since the seventies. The mastermind behind this extortion had certainly picked the right actor.

“I want to get these letters into my library immediately,” the secretary said, pulling a manila folder from his drawer and sliding in the notes.

The IM bell jingled. Ira disabled the sound.

To buy time to evaluate his next move, he took out a notepad and started writing instructions to his butler on how he wanted the letters displayed. Every sentence-and-a-half, he’d glance up, hoping to see a grin, some gesture of anticipation, some hint of how his guest intended to use his leverage. Burgess would jerkily smile back, moist layers of pride encasing both eyes, as if his six grandkids had just won six essay contests on the same day. The consistency of Burgess’s grateful expression elevated the likelihood of what Ira deemed a worst-case scenario—Burgess acting of his own accord. Had the teacher mounted his campaign on behalf of a rival investment fund, Ira could find something else to sell them; the new World Trade Center, perhaps. Studs on the tower’s top seventy floors had been exposed for nearly a year, waiting for another round of high-interest financing. Had an Ira-Ruskin-hater backed Burgess, Ira would simply counter-extort. He had a lexicon-sized file of private-investigator reports of Reinhart singing backup in New Orleans drag club acts.

Action for reasons other than spite or self-interest left the secretary no recourse in its wake.

Ira had identified this worst-case scenario when the borrower-initiated foreclosures first became news. He presented the Burgess campaign to the President as a national security threat. Frightened by prospects that foreign interests were manipulating the housing market, the Attorney General classified Burgess and his wife as potential terrorists and invoked the Patriot Act. A multi-pronged investigation started with an IRS inspection of the Burgesses’ tax returns dating back to high school. After thirty-one years of teaching Junior High English in Ocala’s public school system, their salaries had just cracked thirty-two thousand dollars. Each donated exactly ten percent of that to the Silver Springs Baptist Church, their only deduction until they bought the house. Phone and e-mail records turned up only correspondence between the Burgesses and their family and church members, prompting the FBI to form a special task force to monitor the Silver Springs Baptist Church’s four hundred members. Five weeks of surveillance and wire-tapping uncovered over thirteen hundred recipes for fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw and miscellaneous other outdoor foods. (Silver Springs viewed weekly picnics as the primary weapon in its evangelical arsenal.) Unless a group of inscription experts the CIA brought in from Israel found inscriptions in the mixture formulas, the three-billion-dollar probe came up goose eggs.

Ira slid the folder into a drawer, leaned backward into his office chair, clasped his hands behind his head. His IM window contained six more messages. The bottom one showed an up-to-date number of borrower-initiated foreclosures.

A seventh splashed in, from Elliot Stockman. Kuwait called two more times. They’re pulling funds if you don’t call them.

“As of this morning, Mr. Burgess, sixteen point three million mortgagors have announced their intent to default.” Ira rubbed his temples. “Your campaign is bankrupting our country.”

“Sixteen million? How’d so many people find out?”

“Well, Mr. Burgess…” Ira leaned forward, folded his arms across the desk. “Seventy-six percent of the homes in America have mortgages that exceed their value. They all listened to you and stopped paying. They’re going to break the Federal Reserve. Then nobody will have anything.”

“I never thought so many people would actually walk away from their homes…” The teacher’s cheeks spasmed. His stomach started an erratic series of expansions and contractions. “We-we just wanted to make a point. Not make this kind of a mess.”

Shoulders shaking, Burgess lowered his elbows onto his knees. His face plopped into his hands, sending the wadded tissue from his previous cry cascading to the floor.

“Oh, Father,” he whimpered, looking at the ceiling then dropping his head back into his hands. “I was judgmental. You knew who needed help with their mortgage and who didn’t. Then I questioned you … Then—then I lost faith in your will … And tried to do your job.”

While Burgess bent forward to pick up the tissue, Ira’s Blackberry buzzed, a message from the President. The Kuwaitis had called him. They want to re-negotiate. They’re threatening to announce a pullout.

Meeting with Burgess right now, typed Ira. Stand by, Mr. President.

He thumped the Blackberry against the air like a Bible. “That was the President, Mr. Burgess. There are over twenty thousand press corps outside waiting for me to give you the Economic Leader of the Year award. The President needs you to tell them that you are going to catch up your mortgage and urge your followers to do the same.”

Ira decided to try this approach because, since Burgess had defaulted, the balance in his savings account showed monthly increases equal to his mortgage payment. Investigators reported identical bank account activity in a sample of other defaults.

Burgess looked backward at the televisions. CNBC was doing a remote from the New York Stock Exchange where a melee of traders elbowing each other kept the correspondent from lifting the microphone to his mouth. Flashing numbers atop the screen showed the dollar at near zero. Closed captions attributed the drop to a BBC interview with the chief manager of the Kuwaiti consortium. He’d mentioned a possible withdrawal from Dixie Lee.

Burgess turned around. His teeth chattered when he tried to open his mouth. He looked like he wanted to scratch his forehead but his fingers fidgeted too much. “It’s all crashing, Mr. Ruskin. What have I done?”

The teacher’s jaw went slack.

“You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, Mr. Burgess!” Ira needed to calm his guest down. He couldn’t let Burgess go in front of the press looking like he’d just witnessed human sacrifice. Then the Kuwaitis would want the interstate system added to the deal and probably the airports too. “You brought some very important issues to the forefront. And if the financial system wasn’t about to collapse, we wouldn’t bail out anybody.”

“So you …” Burgess sniffled. “You really agree with what I did?”

Ira threw his hands into the air. “I’ve never agreed with anything more in my life. The President agrees too. He’s formed a committee to put reforms in place so this won’t happen again.”

Burgess took another tissue from his pack, gave his nose a loud blow. The redness cleared from his eyes as he added the tissue to his lap and clasped his hands into prayer position.

“Dear Lord. I feel a bold wave of energy traveling through me. Mr. Ruskin knows bailouts are wrong and so do I. And you’re working through both of us to stop them—”

After quoting Bible verses on personal responsibility and telling God why they superseded other verses on blindly trusting Him to handle everything, Burgess pulled his tie into a tight knot, then straightened his lapel. “If you agree with me, Mr. Ruskin, then we’ve got to be strong. No more bailouts.”

The teacher leaned back and folded his arms.

Ira’s legs numbed. He flexed his chest, then his butt, then his calves. Feeling returned when he pressed his thighs together. At Goldstein and Mirabella, Ira had hired a seven-figure isometric-exercise expert who taught him how to combat situational stress. The expert’s techniques focused on pushing against something or flexing to prevent worries about what might, or will, go wrong from forming clusters of emotional energy. Calmly cleansing the body of these clusters had prevented hasty decisions ever since.

“So the President wants me to say, ‘Continue to sacrifice all of your family time working extra jobs to keep your mortgages current,’ so the system can afford to bail out people who’ve let theirs fall behind?”

Ira found himself frustrated at the sudden evenness in Burgess’s tone. The man came in tongue-tied and said a prayer. Now he spoke with better voice-inflection neutrality than the diplomats the President had mediating Palestine and Israel.

Ira looked at his middle monitor. The S&P 500 was down forty percent. “I don’t like this any more than you do, Mr. Burgess. But the financial industry will be insolvent if your people don’t catch up their mortgages. You can assure them that we’ve put controls in place to prevent this from happening again.”

“But, Mr. Secretary—just thirty years ago, the savings and loan industry made bad mortgage loans. The government put controls in place back then. If those controls didn’t work, why will these? You told Forbes yourself, ‘The financial industry will never learn how to lend money until the government stops covering its mistakes.’”

Ira tried to un-tighten the knot in his throat. He couldn’t.

“Listen, Mr. Secretary. Just say that nobody gets their principal balance reduced and I’ll catch up my payments. I can’t speak for everybody else but instinct tells me they’ll do the same. Wait a second.” Burgess slapped his forehead, like a high-school math student who’d just figured out a mistake he’d been repeating. “Do you owe this bailout to the people that tell you what to buy and sell?”

The knot in Ira’s throat turned to paralysis in his vocal cords. He’d once calculated that CEOs controlling two-thirds of the world’s stock market had been on his yacht. Their gossip cycled into Goldstein and Mirabella’s trading room and paid for the boat many times over. All ran organizations similar to Citizens for Fiscal Discipline. Together, the groups’ attack ads had put virtually every senator and congressional representative into office. Without those legislative assets to steer the confirmation hearings away from Ira’s trading history, he’d never have been confirmed to a cabinet post. Instead, he’d have had to find someone on the Prison Bureau to not only put him in a cell big enough for his computers and TVs but also wire it for cable and internet.

“Please, Mr. Secretary. You don’t owe them anything. You don’t owe anybody except God. And He’s put you in a position to stop an injustice. All you have to do is say nobody gets a principal reduction.”

Ira hadn’t been in a synagogue since his Bar Mitzvah. Yet Burgess had treated him as if he were orthodox, bringing up God several times, but never Jesus Christ. An evangelical Baptist that didn’t pitch Jesus to a Jew represented wisdom in its purest form. Maybe Ira should listen. He’d marshaled policy support to every CEO that ever gave him trading information. He didn’t owe anything to America’s debtors either. They only wanted a bailout so they could borrow again. And he sure as hell didn’t owe the Kuwaitis. Two-thirds of their money had been diverted from Iraqi oil surpluses, the ones Congress wanted to use for reconstruction. The Kuwaitis should be genuflecting to Ira for grounding the Pentagon’s efforts to get that money back.

The second monitor from Ira’s left displayed a list of financial stocks, mostly mortgage companies. Ira leaned toward it. Dell Largo ticked up an eighth. Two other mortgage stocks had risen from their lows.

Via no apparent mental connection with the present, Ira thought of the seven kids he’d spawned through three ex-wives. The eleven Third-World nations whose GDP couldn’t match his life-to-date divorce settlements reminded him of the traders he’d mentored at Goldstein and Mirabella. Those were his true family, kids that didn’t have child-support trusts to finance their environmental sit-ins and Peace Corps missions.

More financial stocks joined the up ticking. The S&P 500 trimmed its loss to 39.5%.

Ira let out a smirk before he could suppress it.

If his traders knew him at all, they’d have figured he manufactured Burgess to drive financial stocks down. Then they’d have short-sold accordingly. They probably tripped each other on the way to the Lamborghini dealership the night news of Burgess’s campaign broke. But now, his traders were trying to buy the stocks back to lock in their profits. Ira recognized this by the subtlety of the up-ticks. His traders were covering their shorts.

My traders, Ira thought. That’s who I owe.

Ira watched Dell Largo downtick. Great job, guys. Let it drop, then put in another buy order.

An urge to dial his old office at Goldstein and Mirabella tried to guide Ira’s hand toward the phone. He wanted G&M to send Burgess a trading commission. Had the teacher agreed to call off his campaign, everybody would be buying financial stocks in relief that Dixie hadn’t collapsed, making it difficult for his traders to cover their shorts at low prices. Burgess saved their profits. Now Ira could parade the teacher onto the Treasury’s front lawn and let him announce, NO MORE BAILOUTS. The banking system would collapse, and his people would buy the stocks back for nothing. One one-hundredth of one percent of the profits probably equaled one hundred times Burgess’s lifetime earnings. G&M could give him that out of its petty cash account. No one would even have to approve the disbursement. But, sadly, Ira knew Burgess would refuse it.

“You’re absolutely right, Mr. Burgess.” The Treasury secretary slapped his desk. “Let’s sit here and gather ourselves for a few minutes. Then we’ll have Security bring us outside to do God’s work.”