Here is your open thread for March 3, 2020.
Jennifer Warnes turns 73 today. Warnes sang three songs that won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. I like this one better than those. It was also nominated in that category, but didn’t win.
Today marks the 138th anniversary of the birth of Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi, namesake of an investment scheme still widely in use today. Ponzi didn’t invent this scam, but he mastered it. He called his sham enterprise the Securities Exchange Company — that’s right, the SEC — and promised investors they’d double their money in 90 days. He started the “business” in January 1920 and by that summer was raking in a million dollars a day in investments, with many of his investors happily reinvesting their profits instead of cashing out.
The SEC was, of course, a Ponzi scheme — meaning he simply paid off his earlier investors with the money he was bringing in from later investors. All such schemes inevitably collapse, but Ponzi used his profits to buy control of a legitimate bank which he used to lend himself enough money to keep the scheme afloat. That worked, for a little while, until it all came crashing down and took the bank with it. Ponzi’s investors, all told, wound up losing about $20 million and he was sent to federal prison for five years.
When he got out of prison, Ponzi went back to work — moving to Florida where he started a new scam selling swampland to investors he promised a 200% return. He wound up back in prison for another seven years.
Charles Ponzi died, nearly penniless, in 1949. Flash forward to 1994. I’m working for an evangelical nonprofit agency in Philadelphia and everybody in our world is pumped up about the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy. This group had secretive connections to super-wealthy anonymous donors who would match any funds invested with the foundation, doubling our money in just a few short months. It sounded too good to be true, but most of the major arts charities in Philadelphia had already invested, along with Harvard and Princeton universities, Wheaton College, and hundreds of other evangelical groups.
Yep, it turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. The guy who orchestrated it got out of prison about 11 years later, just before the arrest of Bernie Madoff.
Speaking of financial con artists … Larry Burkett was born on March 3, 1939. Burkett became a best-selling Christian-brand author with his books on financial advice, selling more than 11 million copies of his dozens of titles while also becoming a trusted “financial advisor” on white evangelical radio via several syndicated programs on “money matters.” Burkett’s financial advice came with an increasing flavor of apocalyptic prepper paranoia, culminating in his biggest-seller, a book called The Coming Economic Earthquake. He also branched out into conspiratorial novels written for a LaHaye-and-Peretti-fed audience primed to treat fiction as prophetic history.
Here’s the publisher’s blurb for Burkett’s most popular novel, The Illuminati: “A secret society has infiltrated the highest offices in the world with the intention of creating a one-world economy, a goal opposed by pastor John Elder and the Constitutional Rights committee who must struggle to free society as well as the growing number of Christians being jailed as terrorists.”
He followed that with The THOR Conspiracy, which warned of a one-world government formed by an “alliance of international governments and inner-city gangs.” This was the key to Burkett’s financial advice: Teaching white evangelicals to be fearfully suspicious of government and of, um, “inner-city” folk … nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
George Miller, director of Mad Max and Fury Road, turns 75 today.
Author Ron Chernow turns 71. Robyn Hitchcock is 67. Radio host Ira Glass [endearingly awkward pause] turns 61. Emmy-winner Julie Bowen is 50. Jessica Biel is 38. In two years, Camila Cabello will be allowed to rent a car.
Talk amongst yourselves.