Either Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne is certifiably insane, or he’s a genius. Perhaps he’s a blend of both. I have to admit, the guy fascinates me.
For the past five years, Byrne has waged an unrelenting crusade against the banking practice known as naked short selling, a financial sleight of hand that floods the market with nonexistent stock. Today that war has culminated into two Internet websites, a high-profile public relations campaign, and a $3.48bn lawsuit that Byrne has filed against 12 New York brokerage firms, alleging a “massive, illegal stock market manipulation scheme.” The case is still pending.
To get a sense of both the scale and significance of Byrne’s claims, take a few paces back in time. Years prior to the 2008 financial crisis, Byrne went on TV warning people of the dangers of naked short selling and predicting that a financial catastrophe was just around the corner.
“I think there is something going on in the American marketplace that has to be stopped,” Byrne told Bloomberg in November of 2006. “When it comes to light, it’s going to be something that makes Enron look like a tea party.”
Do people take Byrne’s warnings seriously? Not so much. Some call Byrne “delusional.” Others assume that Byrne exaggerates (he recently called Mad Money host Jim Cramer a “criminal” for his role in the market meltdown). Still others find his predictions downright irritating. CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo nearly barked Byrne off her show after he said: “Our economy is a house of cards. I think we’re on the edge of a global financial meltdown,” back in 2007.
After facing so many press hounds and jeering crowds, it became clear that in order to adequately convey his message to interested investors and consumers, Byrne would have to use alternate communication methods. He took matters into his own hands.
Byrne launched two websites, Overstock.com/CEO – a mini-site on worldstock, education and Wall Street corruption, and Deep Capture – a comprehensive website describing the “capture” of our nation’s capital market exchanges, SROs, regulators and congressional oversight. Byrne is also rumored to have financed a film detailing the role of naked short selling in helping to fuel the global financial meltdown. View the video here: http://bit.ly/aHyGK
While Byrne himself may come across as a lunatic to some (his adversaries are hoping for this effect), the argument he pulls together is compelling enough to sway public interest, particularly in light of the overwhelming sense of distrust people have in today’s financial institutions. It would seem that this is Byrne’s argument to win. His conspiracy theory, laid out on the Deep Capture website, clearly demonstrates how ethics drive the economy:
Over the last twenty years Wall Street has come to be dominated by a group of players who first pushed the laws to their limits, then openly flouted them until they became blurred beyond the possibility of enforcement. For instance, the standards of professional journalism have been eroded by a group of reporters who have tried to appear as players, but have become pawns. Similarly, The Securities & Exchange Commission, regulator of our nation’s capital markets, has been captured by financial elites to the point that it favors Wall Street over Main Street.
“Naked Short Selling” and Other Insincere IOUs are a crime routinely occurring in our capital markets. Small loopholes created to provide “fault tolerance” in our nation’s stock settlement system are being exploited by Wall Street brokerages and their hedge fund clients to steal billions of dollars. One side effect of this crime is that corporate governance in America has been shattered. Another side effect is that many companies (often innovative tech and biotech companies) have been damaged or destroyed, while the Americans who invested in them were robbed, generally with no awareness on their part beyond the loss of their savings in the stock market. A third side effect of this crime is that it has created in our country’s financial system a crack so deep it could trigger a systemic collapse.
The financial media are incapable of bringing a critical mindset to this issue because of their too-cozy relationship with Wall Street (several financial journalists actually seem to be engaged in blue-smoke-and-mirror attempts to obfuscate issues on behalf of the financial elites who turn up wherever this crime is occurring). As a result, the crack in our financial system appears to be reaching catastrophic proportions. Within “social media” (blogs, message boards, and wikis) evidence for the preceding points has been pieced together, but there is a campaign to hijack the social media discourse, organized by the same people who are profiting from the crime.
Byrne admits that to many, the preceding conspiracy theory will appear a bald and unconvincing tale. “When I first began discussing these claims, the New York Post ran a photo-shopped picture of me with a flying saucer coming out of my head,” says Byrne. “For two years the profession of financial journalism has demonstrated that in its view there are, in fact, two subjects beyond critical examination: Wall Street, and the profession of financial journalism.”
Well, Mr. Byrne, perhaps not for long. The transparency influencing all business sectors is sure to affect journalism and finance. At least, let’s hope so.
Christine Arena is the author of The High-Purpose Company - The Truly Responsible (and Highly Profitable) Firms that are Changing Business Now Like what you just read? Get your daily dose of corporate insights.
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