The Reset Manifesto
CopyrightÂ© 2016 by Lazlo Zalezac
“There was a fifty million dollar bounty on him.”
Most of the attendees, including Peter’s whole family, turned to look at the person who had just spoken. Patricia and Charles couldn’t believe their ears. George sat there open mouthed.
“I knew there was a bounty on him, but I didn’t know it was that high,” Rebecca said complacently.
Incredulous, Patricia and Charles stared at her. It was Charles who finally asked the obvious question. “Are we talking about Pete?”
“I wish you would call him, Peter. He preferred to be called Peter, not Pete.”
“Dad hated being called Petey since it was too juvenile. He thought that Pete was too friendly. He always said that Peter was the name on his birth certificate.”
“You’re changing the subject. Who would put a bounty on Pete?”
“Call him Peter.”
“Okay, Peter. Who would put a bounty on Peter?”
“You don’t get a bounty put on you by running an Internet order shop.”
The social order of the country was breaking down at an incredible rate. There were protests on a daily basis, but they were only the most obvious manifestations of the fracturing social structure. There was a subtle fracture developing in the workplace, namely a growing animosity between employees and executives within corporations. The executives continued making their imperial decisions fully expecting that those who worked for them would implement them without question. Employees, both salaried and hourly, were very aware of the negative impact that many of those decisions would have on the public; after all, they were members of the struggling masses as well as employees. They didn’t make the millions a year that protected them from the negatives of their decisions.
Some of the decisions, such as changing the packaging of a product, were arbitrary and nonsensical. Suddenly, a well recognizable product faded into obscurity because people had to search for it on the shelves. That particular orange colored package with the iconic image on the front with the product name spelled out in a classic font was replaced by a different color, new image, and a funky font that only buried the product amongst the competitors. Well trusted and highly recognizable brands lost their market standing. It might sound stupid, but it did hurt when someone mentioned that they thought the product on which one worked had disappeared from the market because they hadn’t seen it anywhere lately.
The products that once made companies a household name were relegated to the bottom shelves in order to promote alternatives. These new products weren’t attracting new business. They were cannibalizing sales of the existing products. With the drop in sales of the old classics, those who were associated with the product were criticized for the falling revenue. Clearly, lowered sales weren’t the result of executive decisions. No, the executives making the decisions were quite firm on that.
Under threats of losing their jobs, employees grudgingly implemented the decisions knowing that what they were doing was hurting the company, or antagonizing the public. It was increasingly difficult to take pride in their work and in the company. The quality of work decreased with each major negative and arbitrary decision passed down from above. The criticism by executives became ever more vocal.
It was a stupid issue that came down from above that became the straw that broke the camel’s back. A number of executives in a food company decided that an old staple product needed a flavor face-lift. The over-spiced result was inedible. No one who tasted it could stand to take more than one bite – the garlic was overpowering, the pepper brought tears to the eyes, and the salt threatened to close the throat. It was not an accident. The team that was charged with improving the flavor of the original recipe had done it intentionally as a protest about changing The Product upon which the company was founded.
Tongue in cheek, the head of the team had described the flavor as memorable when presenting it to the executives. Without even bothering to taste the samples that had been brought along, an executive decision was made to replace the original flavor with the “new and improved” flavor. The team was shocked and protested that they hadn’t even tasted it before coming to a decision. They questioned the wisdom of the decision. Shock turned to disgust when an executive replied that he wouldn’t eat the shit the company made for love or money.
Everyone called upon to join the project protested the decision. All it took was one taste of the new recipe to convince anyone not to support the adoption of the vile stuff. The louder the employees protested the decision the more the executives dug in. It was not a rational reaction on the part of the executives. One would think that they would listen to a ground swell of resistance to an idea, but they viewed any disagreement as disrespect.
Then the firings began. At the slightest hint of disagreement with the decision, people were kicked to the curb. It started with the upper levels of salaried management employees and trickled down to the hourly employees. With each firing, confidence in the executive staff took another hit. It became accepted among the employees that the company was doomed. It would not survive the introduction of the “new and improved” flavor.
One Thursday, there was a top-level meeting of directors to discuss how to market the new flavor. The meeting devolved into a discussion of how to prevent the introduction of the new flavor rather than how to market it. Could they alter the recipe to salvage something? It was pointed out that the spices had been purchased. That was not seen as too great of an obstacle since other products used those same ingredients. The meeting lasted for hours without a final resolution.
The following day, one of the vice presidents learned about what had been discussed in the meeting. He became furious. He personally went to every director who had been at the meeting and fired the individual in an extremely visible and insulting manner. Managers, observing what could only be described as a temper tantrum by the vice president, looked at each other wondering who would be next.
A salaried employee is considered management, although it is more accurate to say that a salaried employee holds an executive, administrative, or professional position within a company. There are sufficient differences in the three kinds of salaried positions that it is worth a slight digression to examine them.
Executives have a contract with specified compensation that includes a base salary, stock options, bonus plans, and additional benefits such as company cars and country club memberships. It’s important to distinguish between an owner and a corporate executive. An owner has a lifetime stake in the health of a company. Generally speaking, a corporate executive doesn’t have a real investment (although they may have some stock or stock options) in the corporation, and may even have a golden parachute that assures them money even if fired for incompetence.
Administrators often have supervisory responsibilities, although that is not strictly true. In many corporations, personal assistants and executive secretaries are deemed as holding administrative positions. In terms of corporate power, executives make the decision and it is up to the administrators to make sure that the decisions are implemented.
Professional employees bring an area of expertise, such as engineering, legal, and accounting, to the corporation. It would be unfair to administrators to say that the professionals are the worker bees of the salaried workers, but to a certain degree that is the case. Professionals tend to have a self-imposed work ethic appropriate for the profession.
Administrative and professional employees are treated more like hourly employees, except they are paid a fixed amount per year regardless of how many hours they work. They may labor more than forty hours a week, but they are not paid overtime. While they might not clock in and out of the job, there are expectations of maintaining regular work hours. There’s no union to look out for them and to organize them in unified action. This isolates each employee and makes him or her more vulnerable than a union employee.
Monday morning the employees struck back in a desperate attempt to save the company. Union and hourly employees had a long history of going on strike. Everyone knew that employees holding administrative and professional positions within a company didn’t go on strike, but they did that day. In fact, only five percent of the employees working in that division of the company showed up to work that morning. A walk through the buildings was disturbing. The floors of the buildings which were home to accounting, human resources, product development, and purchasing departments were barren of people, except for an odd individual here and there. Lunch came and the building emptied out completely.
The significance of administrative and professional employees walking off the job cannot be understated. Engineers, accountants, and lawyers do not walk off the job. Bosses do not walk off the job; after all they are the bosses. The fact that they did echoed around the country like the shot heard around the world. An unstated gentleman’s agreement which, for nearly a century, had the strength of law within the corporate world was shattered.
For decades, corporations had been taking advantage of the white collar employees. Understaffing projects so that people had to work overtime to complete them on time was so common that it had the nickname, right sizing. It was seen as a way of saving money. People had been forced into working conditions where life was spent in small cubicles. Without representation of a union, salaried workers received minimal raises for decades, slowly losing in terms of standard of living. Sixty years ago a single worker could support a family; it now took two wage earners to have that same standard of living.
The corporate world was ripped apart as employees all over the country walked off their jobs in protests. Executives called upon politicians to pass laws forcing people back to work. Laws were passed, but they weren’t enforceable. Soldiers couldn’t go door to door collecting workers to haul them off to work and then stand over them to force them to work.
The time of riots was beginning to reach a crescendo; but, there was one more poke of the stick into the angry hornets’ nest that was yet to come.
Peter sat in front of two computer monitors. The larger one was displaying the image from an online role-playing game. He was one of a number of people on a quest to slay some monster or another. In terms of game play, the team wasn’t making much progress. They weren’t even talking that much, just tossing a cryptic remark out from time to time.
The game world was one of the safest places in the world to communicate a conspiracy. For one, the language used in playing the game was automatically of a plotting and/or violent nature. In online worlds, there were often tens of thousands of little quests involving teams of anywhere between one and a hundred people. It becomes impossible to distinguish real conversation from game conversation.
Actions taken in the game world had no consequence in the real world. It was the monitor of the second computer which was displaying the desktop of a remote machine where the actual quest to slay a monster was taking place. They were just using the game world to coordinate the real-world attack.
He typed the command that threw the targeted routers and switches into maintenance states where they started attempting to install a firmware update that was guaranteed to fail. Once the command had been sent out, he went back to the game world and announced, “The enemy reserves are cut off. It’s time to sack the citadels.”
Around the globe, fingers started flying across keyboards sending commands to some of the most protected and secure machines in the world. While everyone might believe that the military has the most secure machines in the world, they don’t. The most secure computers are those belonging to banks and financial organizations. People worry about their money far more than they worry about national security. Governments might fall, but the banks will continue and, as far as the money people were concerned, it was the money that was important.
There was another player, the Dragon Families, in this attack who had a particular ax to grind against the American financial industry. The secretive Dragon Families claimed that close to $1 trillion was stolen by, among others, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and the UN, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the Italian government, Giancarlo Bruno and the Davos World Economic forum and many of the owners of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board. The claim originated between 1927 and 1938, when, under arrangements made between the Finance Minister of China and the US Secretary of the Treasury, the United States Government purchased 50 million ounces of silver and leased vast amounts of gold from the Nationalist Chinese Government using bonds. Many of the bonds were backed with the Chinese gold taken by the Federal Reserve Board during those years and never returned to its legal owners. These families wanted their money back. Now!
After decades of attempting to recover their money, the Dragon Families went after international banks which had been part of what they felt was the theft of their money. What the banking world didn’t know was that the families had been training people and getting them into the banks and companies that wrote software for banks for over sixteen years. Their people held the keys to the data vaults. They were going to expose everything the banks had done to steal their money to the world.
There was no attempt at finesse in this attack. This was a raw exercise of power to take control of a world of data, to steal it away from the legal owners. Every known exploit was attempted, including the back doors that the government had imposed on computer operating systems. The sad fact was that software had become intentionally insecure as a result of government surveillance efforts.
The companies didn’t stand a chance against such a concerted attack. Computers holding financial transaction data from banks, investment firms, and stock exchanges were defenseless. The attackers dropped little programs on the machines so that they became part of an ad hoc network. They triggered file backup programs, redirecting the data to machines under control of the hackers.
From his desk inside the Federal Reserve Bank Headquarters, Bora Polat watched the data within the highly secured systems stream out over the high speed lines he had recently installed to facilitate sharing of data among the various branches of the Federal Reserve System. He was keeping a promise he had made to his grandfather to return the world to a real currency. His grandfather believed that currencies which are only backed by the word of a government were worthless. He was affronted by the fact that the US Dollar was such a currency, and was the currency of international trade.
The Federal Reserve was about to get an audit performed through the ass by a horde of berserk ax-wielding Vikings intent on doing the most damage possible. Bora sat back, took a sip of his spiced tea, and smiled while watching one of the world’s most powerful financial institutions fall. He had seen enough to know that the world of finance was about to undergo a radical change.
For more than eight hours, data flew out of banks, investment firms, and government departments. The banking industry wasn’t processing a single transaction. Not a dime was taken from the banks, only records. Yet the records that were taken would destroy the financial industry even worse than outright robbery. At a minimum, tens of thousands of people would end up in prison (or worse).
While most of the hackers involved were dealing with financial records, Peter and the crew rescued from the Supermax facility were battling law enforcement. They were hitting law enforcement with DOS (denial of service) attacks of unprecedented scale from millions of machines scattered around the world. Occasionally they would slip in a virus that would start taking machines down. Peter used the buffer overflow vulnerability of the network time daemon to shutdown machines. DNS entries were corrupted. Viruses, worms, and Trojan horses were dropped onto machines. Probes made by security professionals were directed into honeypots where they could discover nothing.
Now that the civilian world had learned how to understand data better, the data that was being stolen was getting posted on the Internet with front-ends that allowed one to visualize the data in multiple ways. The hacker elites, consistent with their right to privacy beliefs, made sure that the data were sanitized before being posted. Actual account numbers and the names of individuals were scrubbed from the data. That did nothing to hide the kinds of back-end activities that were going on with money put into those accounts.
A third grader could look at the data and see that something was wrong. Why was the stock market rising by 12%, yet retirement accounts invested in the stock market were only rising at 2%? Where was that missing 10%? How was it that certain financial institutions were earning 24% returns on stock investments? Wasn’t it odd that it was the financial institutions handling poor performing retirement funds who were earning significant returns on its investments?
Names of traders along with the trades they made were published. Pointing fingers directly at guilty individuals, the bonuses received by them were published as well. It was obvious that fraud involving billions of dollars was taking place at the expense of honest hardworking Americans who had only one potential source of retirement income beyond Social Security available to them. The scale of theft was unimaginable. The companies were working for the bottom line of the company, not for the people whose money they were supposed to be managing.
All of that paled in comparison to the impact of the data from the Federal Reserve Bank. An institution that had gone for a hundred years without an audit suddenly had its books exposed to thousands of conspiracy theorists. Excited that their access to the data would allow them to prove their conspiracy theories, people descended upon the data by the thousands. How was it that a trillion dollars disappeared during the last economic crisis? Oh wait! It didn’t disappear, it went to banks all around the world — all they had to do was ask for some of it and they got it. The reason? No record of that. How about the money that disappeared during the crisis before that? The same banks received gifts? How odd.
A private (or is that semi-private) institution is put in charge of printing currency for one of the largest governments in the world. Did anyone really think that it would print only what was requested without printing off a few bucks for itself? Let’s also put it in charge of the economy itself. Sure, it wasn’t going to manipulate the economy for its own profit. No, never. Let’s hire executives from the financial institutions which dealt the most with it to run it. Of course, they wouldn’t engage in a little scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Never. It wouldn’t occur to them.
The conspiracy theorists were wrong. They didn’t think big or grand enough to even scratch the surface of what was really happening. They were proclaiming the subject had an easily treatable case of pneumonia, when it actually had lung cancer.
The reaction to the data dump was predictable. The press and government focused on that fact that the data was released through an illegal act and that it was important to hunt down the criminals. They didn’t care that the data showed criminality on a scale that was impossible a hundred years ago. Theft of assets of several billion people was something that shouldn’t have been ignored, but that crime took second place in significance to the crime of releasing the data.
Of course, the people who had their assets stolen from them tended to view things with a very different set of priorities. Millions of people who were putting away money for their retirement were incensed that it was being stolen from them, that their investments were being manipulated, and that no one in power was all that concerned about it. People worked for forty years to set aside enough assets to retire for thirty only to find that ten percent of what they were investing was being stolen up front and that they were losing a lifetime of return on that stolen money.
There were riots in the streets.
It was election year and things initially progressed as one might predict. Candidates for the two parties were trotted out, primary elections took place, and the field of candidates was winnowed down to one candidate for each party. Well, there were a couple of independents in the race, but no one in the press covered them. After all, independent candidates weren’t real candidates and voting for them was the same as throwing your vote away.
It was after the primaries that the party candidates discovered a major flaw in their thinking for three of the battleground states which had changed their voting procedures. Each candidate in the primary had selected their delegates who went through the process of getting on the ballot as electoral candidates. So there was Ohio with eighteen electoral votes with seven candidates who had been running in the primary. The fact that the presidential candidate withdrew didn’t mean the candidate electors were taken off the ballot. The result – there were 128 names on the ballots representing the two parties.
There were also another 26 names for electors who had declared for issues rather than people. There was the candidate elector for prosecuting investment fraud and the candidate elector for corporate reform and the candidate elector for ... well ... there was basically a candidate for just about everything that mattered to voters. These candidates had slipped into the process as a result of the self-organized citizen action committees that had millions of members.
Another flaw in the revised election process became immediately obvious. Election machines weren’t capable of handling a ballot with 154 names for 18 positions along with all of the other races that were taking place. Oops. That was going to be an issue.
Some bright strategist for one of the parties came to another realization that compounded the problem from a party perspective: people were voting for the elector, not the candidate. This meant that an individual who didn’t make it through the primary could still get votes in the real election. How? Voters could vote for the electors who were registered for the election, but had declared for a candidate who had lost the primary. Oh no! Everyone knows that voters are idiots and they have to be prevented from ruining party politics.
People who had declared for specific candidates and had gone through the process to become an electoral candidate were suddenly pulling out of the election. The field of electors was quickly reduced to 62 individuals, which was still a lot more than the election machines were capable of handling. Since it was impossible to redesign the election machines in time for the election, there was only one possible solution, namely, paper ballots.
As had always been the election practice, the candidates went through the old get out and meet the voters. The 26 individuals who had qualified to be on the ballot and had only declared for an issue went on the campaign trail. The campaign turned into a zoo with candidates running all over the place.
It was near the end of October when James Michael Anderson, a 73-year old man, received his retirement account statement at the end of the third quarter. As one would expect, it contained his third quarter and year to date performance data for his account. The performance of the fund was miserable. There wasn’t any other way of describing it. Looking over the losses presented on it, he wondered what the hell they were doing with his money. There was no way it should have lost that much value when the stock market had been flat the entire year.
It was obvious exactly what had happened but he didn’t trust his interpretation of what he was reading. He asked his grandson, Bart, to come over to the house and explain to him why he had lost so much money. The grandson looked over the statement and then went to the web. He wasn’t sure that he understood what had happened, although if what he suspected was true then someone had stolen a lot of his grandfather’s money. Wanting another opinion, Bart called his girlfriend, Cathy, who understood financial matters better than he did and asked her to come over to help explain why his grandfather had lost ten percent of his retirement money in a single year.
Cathy and Bart ended up on a website showcasing the stolen investment data from the company that managed his retirement account. Two hours later, Bart and Cathy presented their opinions as to what had happened. The investment company had stolen that money from him by manipulating the prices paid for stocks. The young couple walked him through the process by which the investment company had bought and sold stocks, always at a loss to him, and sold and bought stocks at a profit to them. They ended up with thirty thousand dollars of his money and all of the stock they had sold to him and bought from him.
The people to whom he had entrusted his retirement money had stolen thirty thousand dollars from him, which in his opinion was a crime that deserved punishment. He went to a lawyer to ask what he could do about it. The lawyer told him that investing money was a risky proposition and losses were to be expected. James was not happy about that answer. He returned home from the lawyer’s office angrier than when he had left the house.
James Anderson pondered what he should do about the theft. He wanted them to pay for their crimes, but that didn’t seem possible. He was sure that someone, somewhere had an answer for him. He went to that fount of all human knowledge, the Internet. He couldn’t tell if what he found was fact or fiction, explanation or conspiracy theory. He decided that it was past time for him to learn more about the Internet.
Bart and Cathy spent several evenings every week giving him lessons on how to find things on the Internet. For them it was a kind of quasi-date, cheap and not very exciting, but a good excuse to spend time together. Bart was concerned because his grandfather wasn’t acting like his normal easygoing self. Cathy thought it was great that an old guy like him was working so hard on learning something new.
He found articles about cyberstalking and had Bart explain what it was all about. Cathy showed him how easy it was to find out all kinds of things about people. James was shocked at how much he could find about himself on the web.