SCENE NINE : THE DOLLAR TROUBLE – TIM MEET’S THE COLLECTIVE
Sitting beside his daughter, Warren was trying to console her. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. Debby gently brushed his hand away. Human touch felt like prickly thorns for her. Within the span of just sixty seconds or so, Tim had destroyed all that existed between them. Was power an all corrupting factor that could end relationships so abruptly? The churning inside made her crouch. She could feel the revolt shaping up within. She knew she needed to calm down her mind. Even her father’s most sincere efforts were not good enough to pacify the mind that oscillated between anger and hurt.
When Theodore entered, his nephew was pacing back and forth in his room. He was unusually restless.
“This was not how I wanted to end things with Debby, Uncle”, he yelled as he saw his uncle entering.
“How else could I have rescued you, son?” Asked Theodore, who was more concerned about his nephew’s big meeting ahead.
“How would I know when my personal matters are decided by others?” Tim hit back with renewed anger.
Theodore lit a cigarette and blew out the smoke.
“Tim, if you continue your rendezvous with Debby, where do you see yourself four years down the line with respect to your political career, your personal life and your own embodiment as a person?” Theodore was happy he was able to come up with a question to get things back in the right perspective.
“I am not interested in answering that, Uncle.” replied Tim who now was walking slower but keener to hear what his Uncle had to say.
Theodore saw Tim loosening up a little and decided to probe his nephew a little further. He walked over to give his nephew a bear hug. Tim who first appeared to push his Uncle away eventually allowed himself to be held by someone who he thought of as family. The feeling of helplessness at the thought of leaving Debby was overwhelming to Tim. He thought of Warren seated a few rooms away picking up the pieces of Debby’s now broken life, thinking about what had just happened. Did he ever suspect anything or did he think that the relationship they shared was one of brother and sister? It seemed so at his Birthday party and all throughout their lives. Tim and Debby loved each other and, the world envied the relationship the two shared.
Now separated by two floors in the same hotel, the top brass of the Republican Party was caught unaware of the scandal they were embroiled in.
Tim finally seated himself on the bed and began to visualize how his life would pan out 4 years from now. He could see himself a broken man, with no power, and no business either. He saw himself isolated trying to work things out with Debby. The Democrats were going for their fourth term and everything seemed in disarray for Tim. Debby had made a third attempt on her life and was being treated for mental sickness, and Tim was living off the small rent he earned from his apartment in New York. Tim longingly looked back at the past and his early years with Debby. Here were two kids who somehow found comfort in each other. They were so unlike and yet met midway as fellow travellers in a life riddled with challenges. It was the early 90’s, and Debby was just 7 and Tim was 13. Debby’s mother had passed away in a car accident leaving her daughter to Warren’s care.
The marriage of convenience was not working. The love Warren had for Tim’s mother, Anna, was not a well-kept secret in political circles. After her mother’s death, Debby saw more and more of Tim because Warren and Anna were only too keen to continue their rendezvous at each other’s homes. This kept them away from the prying eyes of the cynics in the society. The death of Debby’s mother created several ripples in the lives of both the children. Debby lost her mother and more importantly saw little of her father who kept himself busy most of the time with politics and Anna at other times.
Tim who had just lost his mother in the aftermath of his father’s death was left to fend for himself at school and home. A sense of hurt towards Warren’s actions was inherent and stayed on with Tim. There was tension in the air between Warren and Tim although Warren offered Tim a spontaneous guiding hand in politics and business.
Children of circumstance, they found each other’s company comforting and rewarding given the void their parents left in them. Tim, gentle and affectionate, came to love this little girl as a brother would, with bed time stories, getting her dressed for school and listening in on all that was happening in her life as a young girl. Tim started to drive one of the many cars lined up at home by the time he turned 16. Debby was the first to jump in and became his partner in a midnight get away where they drove to the end of the town and back. They would often lie next to each other and chat late into the night or share a bucket of ice cream over old classic movies. When Tim turned 18, he got drafted as a marine in the army, leaving Debby distraught and unhappy. With a father who was ever so occupied with his professional life, Tim was all that Debby had. With Tim away in the army, she stood to lose her only anchor. Tim kept in touch with Debby through letters. He made conscious efforts through his words to make up for his absence.
Tim was posted in the Gulf, and he was a part of the United States’ Marine Crack Team that entered hostile territories to capture fugitives wanted by the United States. Despite having the patronage of the US president, he availed no privileges. Instead, he was part of a brotherhood that watched each other’s back, breathed the same air and ate the same food. In the midst of all the bloodshed he encountered, Tim took time off to write to Debby. American bases were equipped with libraries that allowed the soldiers to dabble in literature and poetry. This was when Tim began to show a keen interest in American politics. He felt it was bizarre that he was leading units into sovereign countries and capturing individuals who were suspected of being terrorists. Tim was to witness large scale torture and death of innocents. He felt repulsion brewing within. He began questioning the very basis of American hegemony in the world. The violence was far removed from the kind of language used in Washington to justify American dominance. What existed away from the shores of America was not the export of democracy, free trade and the free market but governments that had been propped up to carry forward America’s agenda. He could not come to terms with the American ‘counter communism’ policies of the late 80’s when his country had successfully funded the rise of global Islamic terror, institutionalizing the term Jihad and created a number of so called allies around the world.
Tim found the war he was fighting neither just nor reasonable. To him, continuing in the armed forces seemed unjustifiable. After serving his time in places such as Somalia, Iran and Iraq, he returned to the States only to head straight to a formal university, where he learned the nuances of foreign policy. Debby was a changed person by now. She was now a teen; a very feisty one at that. Adolescence had gotten the better of her in Tim’s absence. While she still managed to retain the love for Tim, she had gone from being the delightful little girl that Tim knew to someone who was abusing her body with alcohol. Violent outbursts at the slightest misdemeanor by the men in her life left her broken.
Tim’s return renewed hope of a support mechanism that she longed for all through his absence. Tim who had turned into a strapping young man was only too keen to help Debby through this. He found his mother further estranged and this led him towards Warren who seemed the only conduit that could enable a semblance of relationship with his mother.
Soon stepped in Uncle Theodore who was more Jewish as a businessman and Tim’s ‘go to’ person in matters of politics and business. While Warren was the official mentor and guide to Tim, Theodore played a crucial role in determining the way Tim’s relationship with Warren would flourish.
The year 2015 had ushered in huge changes in the lives of Tim and everyone of importance around him. While Tim seems ready to be president, the issues he is facing in the Ritz stand to rob him of his political career along with his best friend and love.
Tim wanted to stretch himself on the sofa in the hotel room. Though he was now more determined not to reopen the chapters of his life that he had chosen to close, the memories kept haunting him. The nostalgia and the passionate love that was now lost was causing him pain and anguish. He gratefully accepted the sleeping pill Uncle Theodore had offered. He slowly drifted into a slumber completely oblivious to the enormity of the hurt he had caused to Debby. Theodore left the room quietly more worried about the next day’s meeting than the emotional state of his nephew.
Debby, in the meanwhile, was helping herself out of the room with Warren who had decided to head to the family farmhouse in Florida to deal with his daughter’s anguish. Through the years, Warren had felt he did not wrong either Tim or Debby. He had helped Tim manage his father’s businesses, had facilitated his entry into the army, helped him come back when he knew his time there was over and most benevolently opened the door for his entry into politics.
The next morning, Tim woke up early. Theodore had stayed back and had ordered breakfast for two. Tim waddled into the shower, his shoulders drooping. He spent an unusually long time in the shower. Under the icy cold rush of water, he began to sob, trying to wash away the burden of his sins; the sins he had committed against a soul that had so fervently loved him.
Theodore knocked on the door after half an hour, and asked, “Boy, aren’t you done yet?”
“I’ll be right out.” Tim shouted. Tim finally came out after an hour, looking fresher and calmer than he was when he went in.
He dressed himself in a navy blue suit which went with a white shirt and a black tie.
“Feeling better?” Theodore asked.
“Yes, let’s get this done with.” He reached out towards his bag and opened it. He pulled out the profiles of his guests. Each one, it seemed, came with more baggage than the other. He knew that, at any cost, he had to negotiate with those of the third world. It was they who were beginning to have a say in global commerce and trade, and negotiating with them was the key to the success of the meeting.
Tim’s mind kept being pulled into thoughts about Debby, though he tried hard to focus on the job at hand. There is always time to cry and mourn and it can wait, he thought. After rushing through his breakfast, he left the room and headed towards the president’s chambers meant to host meetings such as the one at hand.
The members of the Collective had checked in to the hotel the previous evening. Unaware of what was going on in room 202, most of them used their time in Washington for what it’s worth; making friends and getting updated with the news floating around in the corridors of power. For the Sheikh from the Emirates, this meeting with Tim was particularly significant. With Tim’s vision for the future appearing more and more socialist, the Sheikh wished for the presidential hope to go easy on him if Tim does assume office. Helping the Emirates maintain law and order serves the twin goal of keeping Jihadi terrorists in check and creating a surplus of oil reserves for the war on terror to be fought. The Sheikh being the head of state was welcomed by President Richard just the previous day. Richard, clueless of what other business the Sheikh might have had here in Washington, met his Arab friend over lunch and had an official diplomatic interaction. The press release from the White House was a crisp “Sheikh from Bahrain visits White House, given full ceremonial welcome.” The two leaders discussed the situation in the Gulf. The American president assured his Arab friend of America’s continuing co-operation in safeguarding the interests of her friends in the Arab world.
Mr. Agarwal attended an Indo-American conclave themed ‘Indo-American friendship in the 21st century – the way ahead’. Funded by Indian NRIs, the conclave served a great opportunity to meet the big names engaging in trade with India. The following day, Mr. Agarwal was to meet, alongside the Collective, with a guy much younger but someone who was fast becoming the face of America. The purpose of Mr. Agarwal’s visit to the States was to drive home a single point agenda; currency reforms if the Republicans won the elections.
In the conference room for the meeting with the Collective, Mr. Chang was the first to be seated. His laptop was running and the Chinese delegate seemed only too keen to keep himself engrossed with his work. Over the years, Chang had grown into a name to reckon with globally, and he wished to erase any signs of his humble beginnings after tasting the fruits of success in the business world. His architect back home was building him a thirty-storey mansion in the heart of Beijing and was currently sharing designs of furniture available in the most expensive boulevards of America. The high house is part of his fantastic dream to wake up each morning and stand tall over the city. While China is one of the largest exporters of furniture to the world, the quality hardly found favor with the rich in that country. The interest in his home seemed to have overshadowed the agenda set forth by the Collective. With Ravi Agarwal having set the tone for the meeting, Chang was only too keen to hand over the mantle and focus on his little project back home.
Meanwhile, Tim had begun his slow and measured walk towards the conference room. His tears having been washed down with the shower and the stress wiped out by a short swig of whiskey, he stepped into the room to see Chang seated there. He immediately moved over to his side and introduced himself. Chang, who until now was busy with his laptop, smiled at Tim. Touched by the humility shown by his American host, he rises to shake Tim’s hand. Tim, who had made some quick notes on members of the Collective, asked Chang how his factories back in China were faring. Chang, who was now familiar with the kind of conversation men in high offices made, smiled and replied, “Very well, Mr. Timothy Arnold. Thank you”.
Tim took his seat at the head of the table going over some notes he had scribbled before getting to the conference room.
His gaze on his note book was interrupted by the sound of Shwarps and Jackson, who rushed into the room and headed towards Tim to greet him. Soon to follow were Nagasaki and Romanov who headed straight to their seats failing to take notice of Tim. After a few pleasantries, it was time for business. Ravi Agarwal’s entry into the room ensured this, and Tim with a deliberate indifference to the Indian’s stature in the group, continued scanning through the book. Mr. Agarwal was more at ease and maintained a confidence that was evidently missing a month ago at Davos when he had sat all muffled up in the room looking weak and inferior to the other speakers present.
The butler in attendance walked in with sandwiches and juice as had been requested by Shwarps. He had ceded his position to Ravi, but given Ravi’s lack of experience in managing such a meeting, had stepped in to organize this meeting. The sandwiches seemed highly distasteful to Tim, given his anxious, nervous and dazed mind.
The meeting began with Shwarps making a presentation to those in the room.
“Good Morning, Gentlemen”, he began.
“On behalf of the Collective, I thank Mr. Timothy Arnold for making this meeting happen.” He paused and surveyed the heads which were nodding in agreement.
“Over the last month, the members have had a chance to weigh your candidature for president as opposed to the candidate being put forward by the Democrats.”
Shwarps paused again and stole a glance at the figure sitting composed at the other end of the table. He had seen Tim as a boy a number of times during his visits to Warren’s home while he was a young member of the Collective. He was glad to see the young boy all ready to take on the big and ugly world of American politics.
“We have, in addition to weighing the chances of the Republicans, been mindful of the speeches you have been making and the response you have generated. I’ll say this honestly and bluntly, as I have done to several presidential candidates in the past, that you are to us a conduit who can help us set the tone for global commerce and trade. Our meeting at Davos saw some heated arguments between some of our members. The balance of power has shifted towards the Asians, and this you will notice as we proceed further in our discussions. Before I conclude, however, I must caution you that our support to you is conditional on the premise that you agree to take our agenda forward even before the elections meet their end. The promises you make to us should be the promises you make to the people of this country.”
Tim did not show any signs of surprise. Shwarps went on to inform Tim about the next speaker who was Mr. Ravi Aggarwal, the new chairman of the Collective.
“At our last meeting, we saw a change of guard. As I had mentioned in the beginning, the balance has shifted eastwards and, as the paramount power of the world, America must understand this reality. Mr. Ravi will take over from here.” Saying this, Shwarps sank into his chair ceremoniously as though signaling the end of his glorious days as the chairman of the Collective.
Mr. Ravi Agarwal, as he rose to speak, knew that he was on a shaky ground because Jackson’s support to the Collective hinged on the Collective backing his opposition to gun reform. His fear that the control on domestic gun laws would translate into control on international gun laws had persuaded him to take an adamant stand. Agarwal was aware that it was unnecessary for the Collective to entertain Jackson. However, Ravi was mindful of the threat by Jackson of exiting from the Collective, and he did not want such a setback at so early a stage of his tenure as chairman. The challenge of high negotiation was a persistent nagging point to members of the Collective, and here Ravi was having his baptism by fire.
Ravi pulled out a simple map of the world. Tim and the others were taken by surprise. Never before had they seen something like this. Men like Jackson and the Sheikh could not even place many of the countries marked in red. These were the countries various members of the Collective represented.
He then went on to link up various interests of the Collective and how those interests were indirectly or directly linked to the interests of the United States of America. The members were all ears when Ravi explained the purpose behind presenting the map. Ravi connected the dots of each member sitting in the room showing how their interests were beneficial to the American government and cutting these connections would prove fatal for the American land.
Ravi explained how Mr. Chang’s shipping business was doing very well as it supplied the American main land with everything that was being produced in South East Asia. In addition, he explained the Chinese interests in Africa where Mr. Chang was in partnership with men like Jackson, who was engaged in the seed business. In Africa, they cultivated thousands of acres of land in collaboration with the governments present there. At the mention of this, Jackson erupted with exuberance to say how these farms were making nationalities irrelevant, breaking down boundaries and bringing the fruits of advanced civilizations to the third world African nations. To this the others in the room nodded in approval.
Tim sat through attentively, though for him it was all hog wash and an attempt by the Indian speaker to rationalize some pro-south Asian policy by the Americans. Through these examples, Ravi Agarwal was trying to show the deep linkages between business in the third world and the American economy. Tim wondered why this talk by the Indian was sounding more like a discourse on the virtues of capitalism. He absorbed Ravi’s words and asked himself how the capture of native farms in the third world could be seen as a sign of free trade. Tim was aware of how Chang’s factories in China employed cheap workers who have been displaced from their homesteads in rural China owing to the country’s Industrial push. The big cities of China needed electricity, water and workers, and this could only be supplied by colonizing its own countryside.
Ravi connected the dots with America to further enunciate his point about global trade and weakening boundaries. He marked out Romanov and mentioned the control he had over the defense industry, which allowed him to supply various governments with the necessary ammunition to protect their democratically elected governments. Tim continued to listen, only too aware of how this system of military hardware worked, given his own involvement in the arms industry. But all this still did not help getting the Indian to arrive at the point Tim was waiting for. The cliché around the role these industries were playing was beginning to sound mundane and, with his personal trauma related to Debby playing up every now and then, this monologue by Ravi was playing on his nerves.
Moving onto Mr. Nagasaki, Ravi elaborated on the Japanese industrialist’s interests in the African farm industry and the shipping business. Once again, Tim’s notes served him well and helped him recall Nagasaki’s involvement in the land grab in Africa. Nagasaki looked on sheepishly aware that he had missed meeting Tim on his arrival. Ravi soon moved to the Sheikh to explain how the emirates have always stood by American interests in the gulf supplying oil and silencing any domestic dissent in the countries.
The Sheikh was presented as the one who ensured that democracy survived in the countries that America was now engaged in as liberators. His control over the oil trade meant that America could continue to fight cheaper wars and spread its hegemony across the globe.
Tim wondered what this had to do with the elections. He was aware that he would be asked to go easy on gun reforms and the seed industry. The argument being put forward seemed to suggest that coming down on corporation would only threaten American interests further.
Ravi Agarwal followed up his journey around the world by explaining how America was poised to continue with its superior control over the world over the next three decades. Besides, its permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council would ensure that its interests were safeguarded. Ravi then arrived at a very important point in his discussion.
“Mr. Timothy, while the world has seen the strength and stealth of the American Army, the world has also seen the shortcomings of the American economic model. Too many people bear the brunt of the policies pursued by the United States in the name of protecting free trade. While it is true that American hegemony will continue through the next three decades, this chance or reality stands to be compromised. The continuous threat of a financial collapse will suck away the world economy and make the dollar redundant.”
Tim who until now was happy hearing issues he was aware of, now sat up to listen in more carefully what the Indian had to say. From presuming that he would be asked to push forward reforms in support of guns, seeds and shipping, he was now quizzing himself about what the inevitable proposal would be.
“Is that all?” Tim asked.
“Not yet”, replied Ravi who was a little perturbed by Tim’s interruption.
“Sir, I have given you enough reason to think that we all are collectively behind the interests of American hegemony. Irrespective of the speeches you have been giving, it seems like you will protect the interests of your country and your friends.”
“Also, American dominance is here to stay and, with such a control over the commanding heights of global trade and commerce, it seems like a reasonable time for you to step up and done the mantle of Presidency”, Ravi said with a voice that conveyed confidence. He let himself smile, for he was proud.
Tim was seeing through this speech mindful of the step backwards he was being asked to take in the larger good of the American people. Here, for the first time, the world’s largest business cartel was trying to rationalize its actions by drawing America’s culpability into question. While it was true that American policy was the guiding light of world trade, the Nagasakis, Agarwals and Changs were equally to blame for selling American policy back home. Tim knew that what was being proposed had to be sold to the American public with necessary changes so that it stays in tune with the principles he believed in.
Ravi Agarwal continued with his monologue, aware that he now had to go in for the kill.
“Over the last few decades, the world has seen the rise of big players from the third world. You see, our governments are weak, and so are our monitory mechanisms. With such rich natural resources around, it allows men like me to get rich and powerful. This in turn allows me toinvest my riches in clean businesses around the world. This is not just my story but of several others also who live in tropical countries like mine. Some of them are present in this room and will vouch for what I am saying.”
“I had earlier spoken about the projected rise of the American dream in the three decades to follow with a warning about the impending threats about the financial collapse. Here I wish for you to know the Collective wish of the Collective group.”
“We stand here today to make you see reason in the abolition of the American dollar as the essential currency reserve of the world. As countries of the third world and the first, it seems it is time for America to brace the realities of the 21st century, and let go of its controls on the dollar. This would save countries the risk of paying for the mistakes caused by overpaid corporates in wall-street and will allow a semblance of balance in payments and exports.”
Tim wondered if he had heard it right. What was for him a simple meeting had now turned into a situation that would require quite a lot of skill to wriggle out. He tried to look calm. To add to his woes was the unanimity in opinion of those who were seated there. He couldn’t help reaching out for some water.
“The dollar”, Mr.Agarwal continued, “is preventing the businesses in the third world from growing.”
While it did give him and others a competitive edge in exports, all international purchases were meant to be made through the dollar. This gave the American economy an unfair advantage since men like Mr.Agarwal were paying a sort of tribute to the American economy.
“The impending financial collapse that will take place sooner than later is bound to sink us further. Thank you.”
Completely caught off guard, Tim breathed in deep. He was aware of the stakes that were riding on the proposition being pushed forward by the Collective. Politicians are often caught in this dilemma between righteousness and pragmatism, and here Tim was aware of the costs and benefits that could accrue from siding with the demand of the Collective. While siding with the Collective would be equivalent to moral treason, it could still be sold to the American public given the tenor of his speeches. Tim was weighing the words he would need to take control of the situation. He couldn’t afford to let Ravi Aggarwal have unrealistic expectations. He needed their support. Then he cleared his throat.
Ravi Agarwal sat down.
“I am impressed the way you have pieced together the argument that you have made opposing the dollar. While some of the things you say are true, I stand to disagree with the supposition that the continuance of the dollar as a currency reserve is detrimental to the global economy. There have been economic cycles even during the existence of the gold standard, the great depression being one such example. To blame the dollar for an impending threat is rather naive to my mind.”
He paused to make sure he was seen as speaking with confidence.
“I do, however, take your point about the inter connectedness of the global economy, which to my mind is mainly due to the intervention and leadership of the American economy.”
Tim wondered how he was able to defend the very policies which he vociferously criticised other times. Ravi tried to interrupt Tim, but Tim continued without heeding to his calls for attention.
“The Asian continent deserves all the credit for the way men like you have emerged on the scene helping your countries take forward steps. Mind you, and I say this to the respectable Collective, I am the son of the soil too and I will protect the interests of my country. While I say this I must add that I am willing to consider your proposal on its merits as and when I see them, and not on the arguments you put forward just now.”
Ravi Agarwal, aware that his entire ambition of winning over Timothy Arnold was crumbling away, took solace from the fact that after this meeting there would be several occasions for him to pitch his plan forward. He hadn’t come this far thinking that Timothy Arnold would stand up and clap as soon as he finished his presentation. He had foreseen the present situation too. He still had a secret move hidden away from Tim which he planned to initiate the moment the meeting was over.