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News » Deep End

The Derivative Defense

A Wall Street tactic is embraced by crooks, cheats and liars everywhere.


“I had derivative sex,” said Mark Souder, the rumpled Republican congressman from Indiana who resigned from office recently when news surfaced of his extramarital affair with a perky part-time employee.

“I was a derivative Vietnam vet,” said Dick Blumenthal, the strangely tanned Connecticut attorney general now running for the Senate, as he explained why he lied about serving in Vietnam.

“I was a derivative scholar,” said Adam Wheeler, the shifty-eyed college senior who was exposed as a fraud after faking his way into Harvard.

These three scoundrels are thought to be the first malefactors to make use of the innovative and ingenious "Derivative Defense," so named because it is derived from the popular financial instruments known as derivatives, those swaps, futures and options at the center of banking catastrophe that has enriched Wall Street and ruined our country.

Brains of ordinary human creatures go into shutdown mode when some Wall Street Master of the Universe or television talking pundithead starts talking about derivatives. They are airy things, those derivatives, complex entities that seem to partake of a reality beyond our mortal ken. That’s because, in reality, derivatives are unreal. They are based on something real, but not real in and of themselves. A derivative’s value, if you can call it that, is based on the value of something else.

Derivatives are like fake money; however, unlike real fake money, derivatives can be transformed, by financial alchemy, into real money. Sometimes, with derivatives like credit swaps, if the real money underlying the fake money loses value, your fake money—it’s magic!—turns into real money that grows and grows and grows, like muscles on fake hormones.

Seeing how successful Wall Street was in capitalizing on fraud, on deriving multitudinous silk purses from phony sows’ ears, the illustrious characters referenced above, messieurs Souder, Blumenthal and Wheeler, should be congratulated for so boldly adopting the Derivative Defense.

Let us begin with the least ingenious of the Derivative Defenses, the one put forward by Dick Blumenthal, Connecticut attorney general who would be senator. After five draft deferrals, the Harvard graduate, on the brink of garnering an all-expenses-paid trip to Vietnam, got himself inserted into the Marine Corps Reserve in and about Washington, D.C., where he had to endure such war-is-hell duties as collecting Toys for Tots. From such traumatic experiences, soldier Blumenthal derived a tour of duty in Vietnam and spoke increasingly through the years of how he and his fellow warriors were reviled and cursed upon their return from the jungles of Vietnam.

General Blumenthal’s derivation of Vietnam heroics from stateside charity work is an admirable example of the derivative mentality. Consider the change in variables: from the small prepositional change of “serving during Vietnam” to “serving in Vietnam, ” the general derived the huge change from ferrying toys to fighting the Viet Cong.

Next we have the Derivative Defense of Adam Wheeler, the Delaware public high school kid who derived from modest accomplishments a gold-plated genius-level resume. He leveraged a dismissal from Bowdoin (kicked out for cheating) into a transfer from MIT to Harvard. He never attended MIT, of course, and faked transcripts from Andover and perfect SATs from the College Board to slip into Harvard as a transfer student.

Had young Wheeler been content to leave it at that, he might have spent the rest of his life basking in the shine of a Harvard degree. But he overreached himself, like some Wall Street wizard betting the store with the hard-earned cash of trusting investors. He began turning in papers plagiarized from notable scholars, and even after getting caught and kicked out, continued to fabricate scholarly triumphs to gain academic glory. A simple phone call to mum and dad from a skeptical Yale official, like a creditor calling in his chits, broke the bank of his deception.

Finally, let us pay homage to Representative Souder, the upright defender of conservative family values, who urged sexual abstinence on his constituents while practicing vigorous sexy-time with his comely assistant. Like a good derivative, his extramarital slap and tickle was based on the solid bedrock of marital bliss. Had his marital bed not been so tucked and smoothed with family values, his derivative extramarital bonds would not have climbed so high.

Whether the new Derivative Defense will succeed is yet to be seen. After all, fakery in the human sphere is more easily discerned than fraud in the financial realm.