It’s Saturday evening but let’s see if I can borrow a little Sunday energy to write about one of my favorite topics: karma. However, I would like to mention that the last post was sent from a different hosting company and had the lowest readership in ten years. Please be sure to whitelist this sender e-mail and domain name: bioethikalist.com. A few people said they did not receive the mail. I test this myself and all mail was found, but for those who missed it, it has been posted as Ingrid’s Dot Connection.
For the purposes of this post, I want to create a broad context, as broad as possible, for understanding how and why what one does comes around to haunt the activator.
My pet peeve with the current rant over censorship and press bias goes somewhat beyond the legal issues revolving around whether or not a publisher has the right to choose what it does and does not allow to see the light of day. Technically speaking, I am an author and publisher, and I do not perpetuate what I believe to be false information. I also feel no obligation to support any particular agenda if it does not accord with my beliefs which, I hope, are based on a combination of ethics and fact, not fiction. We cannot actually always be sure of our facts, but I try to discern what is and is not reliable. . . while still leaving space for disagreement if the views are expressed sincerely and in a civil manner. I leave plenty of room to explore opinion versus facts, but when someone like Mike Pompeo boasts of lying when with the CIA and then whines about Susan Rice’s lying, I think it is time to mention karma. He says and does whatever he wants so why does he think others would not do the same? He has accused Julian Assange of being an enemy combatant when egregious deeds were exposed without causing a single fatality. So, fair is fair and I have no sympathy for his complaints. When the shoe pinches, it is time to wear sandals.
There was speculation around the time of the Democratic National Convention that Donald Trump would pardon someone. Many were hoping it was Edward Snowden and/or Julian Assange. They were disappointed, and from a journalistic standpoint, I think truth matters. If it does not matter, the material that sees the light of day is propaganda, not news or information. There is a tremendous amount of unlearning we all have to undergo to prepare for the changes that are ahead and that will, I believe, happen very quickly. We are close to what I think will be an avalanche of material we need to process so I am going to use taxes as an example today, but I will follow up with some other issues as time permits. Though the story I tell dates back more than 50 years, the system itself was created on Jekell Island in 1910 so we need to see why change is necessary and how it will affect a world that is changing as we speak.
Growing up, I met very few rich people. One day, I cam home from school and there was a gold Cadillac in the driveway. A gypsy my mother had met at an entertainment part quit to go prospecting and was lucky. He seemed to have a need to advertise his success so it was not particularly interesting to me except that he seemed happy. A few years later, the family, except me, sailed from the U.S. to Italy and met a Mexican family on the ship. The son took a fancy to my sister and wanted to settle on a future marriage as quickly as possible. A few years later, all of us, including my grandfather and an uncle and aunt went to Mexico to visit the suitor. My sister was still pretty young, and unlike me, she was not interested in anything foreign. Their home was indeed palatial and their sense of privilege was practically insufferable. Meanwhile, I will never forget how my blonde hair set off a stampede while visiting the university where Lorenzo was studying. It suggested to me that the obsession with my sister was based on her hair, not anything that would actually contribute to a happy union. For the record, they did not become engaged and, of course, did not marry each other, but this helped me to fend off first impressions and rely more heavily on what really creates bonds between people.
Meanwhile, years passed, and I met another wealthy person In Japan. To get a student visa, I had to have a sponsor. My roommate arranged this with someone her family knew. That seemed to cause an eight-month delay in paperwork. I never understood fully what the man did, but perhaps he was some kind of lobbyist with many adversaries. I met him very briefly once. He was gruff and a bit on the rude side but seemed to want to please my ex-roommate’s family.
Then, there was Yale. Many students were living in very fine homes with secretaries who did their typing for them . . . and probably did some of the research and writing for papers. They had butlers, cooks, and chauffeurs. I lived in a not quite shabby dormitory, but it was far from luxurious and had paper thin walls. When recruiters came to interview graduates, it seems they were most interested in the connections Yalees had to well-placed persons. Besides being the only woman in my department, I had no particular connections and only two job offers. My mother advised me to take the job where I felt most comfortable with the people. My father said to take the job that paid the most because the salary was an indication of the value the company placed on me. I took my mother’s advice and went to work on Wall Street.
The bank where I worked discouraged accounts under five million and believe it or not, five million used to be quite a bit of money. My starting salary was $7000 a year. Groceries for a week cost $7 and that was basically what fit into two large brown bags. Today, my groceries run about 20 times more than in 1964 but my social security is a fraction of what it actually costs to survive. The purpose here is not to reminisce but to set a stage so the most important note I could tack on here is that in Indonesia, the value of a kilo of rice has had the same relationship to silver for many, many centuries. The rupiah is another matter and has fluctuated all over the place, but this is because the relationship between the value of commodities has been stable but the relationship between currency and commodities has been manipulated by uncouth bankers. Just file that for a moment while I unravel a bit more.
With my fantastic starting salary and very high cost of living in New York City, I paid 14% in taxes but no customer of the bank was in more than a 2% tax bracket and most were paying nothing at all in taxes. One whole floor of the building hosted a fleet of lawyers specializing in trusts and estate management . . . and loopholes.
The training program for the trust company was long, several months. There were jobs in the bank that would take less than 15 minutes to learn, but some positions required really long mentoring. Among other things, we were told about the investment strategies for first generation wealth versus inherited wealth. We were grilled on what to say and do, and every communication was reviewed before going up the chain of command. This was all done graciously, but impeccably. There was nothing aggressive about the investing. No one was playing penny stocks. They were looking at financial stability for the long haul. Many of the trusts were for institutions with immense public support and long-term budgets so innovation, leadership, market position, and earnings were almost equally important. For the most part, stocks were held for decades and represented positions in industries that were either established or likely to gain to influence. As it was later explained to me, “We are where we are because we invested in IBM and Xerox when they were young.” In short, the bank played a role in the economy and provided a service of managing huge portfolios. Unless a company was floating new stock, the bank provided no other services. I could not, for instance, open a checking account or get a credit card from this particular bank as I did not have the million or more it took to do so. Across the street, there were plenty of other banks like Chase and Citibank that did provide these kinds of commercial services. Though the company was very well managed and had promoted me to an interesting position, I felt that the work of moving funds from one pocket to another was meaningless in the grander scheme of life and I was royally upset by the escalating situation in Vietnam.
As fate would have it, all of sudden, I had a plethora of job offers to go to Vietnam, It started with an offer from the Rand Corporation, but I have to admit I was ignorant of what that would have implied, but the representation made was that it was analyzing the motivations of Viet Cong to surrender. Being a pacifist, this was not my gig and I chose a job where my future boss was a dove who shared my view that the goal was to extricate the U.S. from the follies of the Johnson Administration. For those who are young and only read about the Kennedy assassination in history books, the fatal trip to Dallas took place in 1963 when I was in grad school and the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” was broadcast on the radio in the summer of 1964 when I blurted out some words that ought not to be published.
In Vietnam, starting in late 1966, there were frequent encounters with politicians, people in high positions in the Vietnamese government and elected officials from the U.S. as well as diplomats from all the various countries with embassies in Saigon. We were “overstaffed” in the economic section, but nearly everyone in the office was assigned to expenditures, and I was the only one working on the income side. The alleged goal was to make Vietnam self-sufficient so that dependence on the U.S. was reduced . . . and we could withdraw. That may have been a half truth for the State Department but it did not seem relevant to the military objectives.
The difference between income and expenditures was called the gap, and it was enormous. As one can imagine, trimming a budget can upset a lot of people because there is a gravy train that has nothing whatsoever to do with benefits of the project but rather the ambitions of those who wanted the projects in the first place. In short, the pressure on me to come up with a plan to close the gap was enormous.
Trust me, I am not writing this so as to tell a story about Vietnam nor write a chapter of my autobiography. I feel that what I am sharing about Vietnam is possibly, probably, going to happen in almost all countries in the very near future. People fear change until they can understand it so try to bear with me. If you are not interested in Vietnam, just consider it a stage set for a story that can be told in any language anywhere in the world at any time in history.
Once I understood how the system in Vietnam was put together, it seemed that no problems could be solved without changing the system. One day I got a phone call from the Minister of Finance asking me to visit him right away. He tossed a paper across his desk and it went sliding towards me. He asked if I wrote it. I said, I had. He said, “You work for me.” He put a table in his office and told me to reinvent the entire system. I had a lovely Vietnamese assistant named Lily, and we went to the Finance Ministry every afternoon to hammer out the details of the plan, one that was simple to administer and very fair.
The Vietnamese system was, in some respects, worse than the current American system. People submitted financial information and auditors would review the submissions and send bills. If no bill was sent within three years, the person was no longer obliged to pay income taxes for the year in question. All but three auditors had been drafted into the military so hardly anyone was being billed . . . and the gap was widening!
I want to pause here to mention that nothing I was proposing was taught in grad school or learned on Wall Street. If it had been suggested by anyone, it would have been kicked under the rug because the ones with the power to have created all the loopholes would never favor ushering in a system that is fair. Basically, all I proposed was that the income tax be replaced by a consumption tax and the rate could vary from zero for essentials like food, health care, education, and housing and variable for basic items and high for luxuries like fancy cars and yachts. In short, income was not taxed, but purchases were taxed in accordance with the ability to pay.
Taxes like this are very flexible. Supposing a country becomes a major exporter. Maybe all domestically produced items would be tax-free but imports would be taxed. Even this can be adapted. Perhaps there would be taxes on consumer goods but not on equipment or parts needed to make goods that would be mainly exported. Historically, Vietnam was a major exporter of rubber used to make Michelin and other tires. Thanks to Agent Orange, that industry was destroyed and the main export at the time I was there was duck feathers. . . and while significant to the Australian entrepreneur behind that business, the exports hardly compensated for the lack of sales of latex from rubber.
When I was going back and forth to Ecuador, I bought a travel backpack. It happened to have been made in Vietnam, and I was proud to have contributed a little to the financial system of the country. I left Vietnam in 1968 but Lily defended every line of our new tax proposal before the Diet (the Vietnamese parliament) and then she also left Vietnam. I met up later with her family when visiting Rome.
As for the Minister of Finance, he confided to me that he had been offered a job in Madagascar as assistant to the Minister of Finance. I said, “Here, you are the Minister of Finance.” He stayed and the North Vietnamese retained him as well as the tax system because they too understood both the minister’s integrity as well as the fairness of the system . . . which was widely circulated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, not your most congenial agencies, but pragmatism often prevails where money is concerned.
Now, let’s rewind a bit. The internal document from the State Department should not have been accessible to the Minister of Finance. Someone leaked it, not me and not Lily. There was an ethical issue within our office, but we never knew who was involved nor even if there was a inquiry into the matter. This particular matter was perhaps not a threat to security, but all inside information is of value to people who intend to profit over changes. For instance, harmless as it sounds, if someone knew the tax system was about to change and how it would change, they could, for instance, spend the money set aside for taxes and load up on cameras or boats or cars that would soon be taxed at a higher rate.
That said, the biggest source of quick wealth in Vietnam was smuggling. There were lots of ships in port and a lack of stevedores to off-load the cargo. The port was insecure. Raiding of ships was probably close to a free-for-all, but the real traffic was gold and opium. These usually on very short flights from Laos. Sometimes anonymous callers tipped me off, and I had 15 minutes to organize a raid . . . and to let the press know where to go shoot pictures for American newspapers. After a major gold raid, the Governor of the Central Bank asked me to visit him. He said, “You caused me a lot trouble yesterday.” He invited me to have a look at the gold in the vault but explained that he probably had less than two days to live unless a lot of that gold were to go missing. This translates as: organize the photo op asap unless you want me to attend my funeral. He was, as one would expect of a man in a sensitive position, a practical and frank person. He said that Americans made impossible demands on him, one person often contradicted another. He had actually shown me that before. He invited me to sit in his office one full day and just observe what a day in the life of the Governor of the Central Bank is like. It was obvious to me that every visitor was acting on his own without clearance at a higher level . . . and without any coordination. Most were just rude and intrusive.
So, we go on. He said that the cost of doing the American’s bidding was to keep his family in France. I knew that because I saw political kidnappings in Vietnam. He asked if I felt that 2% commission on the gold smuggling was too much, whether he seemed greedy to me, whether I would take action if the gold disappeared from the vaults, and so on and so forth. I listened very carefully. The only possible motivation for acquiescing to the Americans was to avoid even more complex dilemmas with the North Vietnamese. His other option would have been to join his family in France. In his shoes, that is probably what I would have done, but I am not Vietnamese and did not have ties to the land or its culture. There are many whose traditions go back thousands of years, and they do not want to give up those traditions or their identity. Also, it goes without saying that people of traditional cultures may not actually admire Western civilization.
Our foreign policy is fairly reprehensible. With the encouragement of the U.S., Ngô Đình Diệm and his brother were assassinated after a coup on November 1, 1963. Three weeks later, John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I will remind readers that though most did not know it at the time, the Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened. In short, at the highest level of government, it was known by the White House as well as the Department of Defense that no ships were attacked. Johnson won the 1964 election by a landslide.
Millions of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, twice the number of bombs used in World War II. Agent Orange destroyed plants, water, and lives of both civilian and military personnel regardless of their loyalties. Casualties were estimated at over three million, 10% of the Vietnamese population.
As the time to leave Vietnam approached, there was a lot of emotion. I had formed really close ties to some wonderful people whose lives were full of uncertainty. It was very hard to abandon them. Lily asked me what I would do next in my life. For some odd reason, I said facetiously, “Well, I still haven’t seen the worst country in the world.” She, of course, wanted to know what that was. I said, “India” because in my mind the poverty and passivity were obstacles to finding one’s way in life. I said, “facetiously” because my intention was to quit the State Department since I did not feel the leadership was simpatico.
Relevance to the Present Times
What I want to say at this time is that it is very likely that — without any direct statements confirming this — that the Federal Reserve, our central bank, and Treasury, our ministry of finance, have merged. I believe this is appropriate but I seriously doubt that most voters understand that monetary and fiscal policy should harmonize. The Federal Reserve has been a mysterious entity since its inception. It is owned by private bankers who create money out of thin air or digital shenanigans and they have acted without a sense of responsibility to the nation and its citizens and without much oversight, not to mention auditing.
On the fiscal side, there are volumes of books with all kinds of special considerations and concessions that are exploited to the hilt and with no real ceiling on how power or money is used. Merging everything and abolishing some things does not necessarily solve the problem unless the new or revised entities are properly administered. That might be a first in the annals of power politics but it is the fundamental issue to address before anything can be regarded as fair.
Personally, I favor these actions. I do not see them as power plays. I see them as logical. If there is a national government, then the major entities associated with the government should all be governmental. If the currency is supposedly U.S. currency, it ought to be created by the government. Taxes are a slightly different issue because all projects that require funding need to be funded and the money has to come from somewhere. The rumored new consumption tax is something I proposed to Father Bush. I got a note from the White House that the idea would be taken under advisement. I seriously doubted that but it’s a cute souvenir. I think POTUS will push this through. My CPA does not agree with me at all. She thinks a consumption tax would amount to more than I am currently paying. I don’t think so because there would be no self-employment tax and taxes would only be paid on non-essentials that are new. In short, goods that are resold would not be taxed every time they change hands. These taxes are very easy to administer and it is the CPAs who would be hurting, not their clients. The reduction in bookkeeping alone is like giving me a free vacation for two weeks every year and I am sure others also sense the freedom this would bring.
Such an overhaul would take the IRS out of law enforcement which is another big plus. Instead of catching people for money laundering, they have to find other ways to seek justice.
A debt jubilee is a somewhat different issue, but I think it is feasible since the abuse of credit has been monumental. I cannot imagine how many details are involved. When I think of our little group in the office in Saigon, we have to imagine hundreds and hundreds of inputs from every vested interest. I am glad I no longer work in that field, but we all use money, and we have to have a means of exchanging value for value . . . at least until we get to heaven and manna is free . . . as it should probably also be on Earth.
I called this post karma because I felt to show how imbalance creates the need for adjustments, not tweaks but major changes. Injustice can only be tolerated to a certain point and when the masses are suffering and the elite are above the law, the tipping point can come.
If one bad system is replaced by another bad system, we are in trouble, but try to keep in mind that we have actually been in trouble for a long time.
Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2020
First posted to subscribers on 23 August 2020