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Watching the watchmen: why you should question the wealthy

By Joshua Hernandez, Mar. 02, 2021

For many Americans looking to turn their savings into a fortune, the stock market looks like their best shot at achieving the American Dream.   

Embodying this idea are the Wall Street traders living big and using their power and influence to point America in the right direction. Or rather, what they believe is the right direction. 

Growing up, I believed in the American Dream for as long as I could, until it became clear to me that justice and consequences did not apply to the wealthy who had no shame exercising their power. 

Unfortunately, because of how our society is structured, and the values we are led to believe, there will always be competition over the resources and power we believe each American is entitled to. Therefore, we each have to fight for our freedom against those who would take it from us. 

So, if you want to ensure your freedom, you must know how your enemies operate, and recognize them for the self-serving hypocrites they are. 

You can usually spot these people two ways, either by paying attention to their actions or those of their associates. In the case of WallStreetBets, there is a lot to look at. 

The WallStreetBets subreddit is an informal forum for stock traders looking to make money with their own money. The language is crass and offensive to most, and it is on purpose. On this subreddit, people who join instead refer to themselves as degenerates rather than members. 

Keith “DFV” Gill is a 34-year-old chartered financial analyst and a prominent figure in the WallStreetBets community. On Twitter and YouTube, he is known as Roaring Kitty, but on Reddit, his username is too profane for media coverage, hence the abbreviation. 

On Sept. 8, 2019, Gill announced on WallStreetBets that he spent $53,566.04 of his own money on GameStop stock. Despite initial jeering from the subreddit, Gill held on to his stocks, and by January this year, Gill made millions off his investment. 

That same month, other individual investors, also known as retail investors, began investing in GameStop en masse, inflating the stock 1500% in just two weeks. 

In a hearing conducted by the House Committee on Financial Services, Gill testified that he invested based on his own intuition. As Gill said, he likes the stock. 

Enter Melvin Capital, a New York investment management firm founded by Gabriel Plotkin in 2014. Plotkin, a former member of hedge funds Citadel LLC and SAC Capital Advisors, once received illegal insider tips during his time at SAC. 

Plotkin was never prosecuted, and his colleague, Michael Steinberg, had his prison sentence reduced from 20 years to only three and a half. The judge’s reasoning must be seen to be believed. 

Flash forward to 2021, and Plotkin’s firm has lost 53% of its assets from trying to short sell GameStop stock. 

However, rather than taking responsibility for betting against a dying video game retailer, Melvin Capital was bailed out on Jan. 25 with a combined $2.75 billion courtesy of Kenneth Griffin and New York Mets owner Steven Cohen, the CEOs of Citadel and Point72 respectively. 

To add insult to injury, two days after the bailout, Discord temporarily banned WallStreetBets’ server and the Reddit page was temporarily set to private. Both have since been restored. 

Then, on Jan. 28, online brokers like Robinhood, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, DriveWealth, Webull, Alpaca, and Interactive Brokers instituted temporary restrictions on trading, specifically targeted at GameStop, AMC, and other stocks popular among WallStreetBets. 

Robinhood in particular drew many traders; not only were the trade restrictions imposed fundamentally antithetical to the company’s namesake, but it also makes more than 40% of its revenue from selling customer orders to hedge funds like Citadel

Once again, the double-standard is clear. Hedge funds are allowed to make risky bets without consequence, so long as they fund the online brokers; retail investors are not allowed because it costs hedge funds their fortunes. 

Now, despite running rival hedge funds, Griffin and Cohen share many interests, such as politics and philanthropy. 

For example, from 2018 to 2019, Griffin donated a combined $25,100 to four U.S. representatives: French Hill of Arkansas, Andy Barr of Kentucky, Ann Wagner of Missouri and Bill Huizenga of Michigan. Coincidentally, these four representatives are also members of the House Committee on Financial Services

As for Cohen, he donated $1 million to Donald Trump’s inauguration back in December 2016. Oddly, this information cannot be found on the FEC’s individual contributions page; however, it can be found on page 123 of this PDF. 

Lastly, both Griffin and Cohen have ties to the Robin Hood Foundation, a venture philanthropy organization dedicated to fighting poverty in New York. In April 2017, Griffin was reported to have donated $15 million to the organization

As for Cohen, he has a spot on the emeritus board. His contemporaries include Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch, television journalist and former Nixon administration press aide Diane Sawyer, actress Gweneth Paltrow, and Bezos Family Foundation co-founder Jacklyn Bezos, mother to Jeff Bezos. Not listed is also convicted sex offender and former film producer Harvey Weinstein; he resigned in October 2017 around the same time as people began to expose his crimes to the public. 

Again, I say all of this because I believe it is crucial to know who you are dealing with. No one can be expected to solve anything if they do not know what the problem is, and men like Plotkin, Cohen and Griffin count on the public to turn a blind eye to their activities. 

In a 2007 interview with the Business Journals, Griffin himself said “we zealously guard our private life,” deliberately avoiding the press and buying off photos taken of him so they may be kept out of circulation. 

“It’s alarming how little we know about the inner workings of the market, and I am thankful that this committee is examining what happened,” Gill said. 

“I also want to say that I support retail investors’ right to invest in what they want, when they want. I support the right of individuals to send a message based on how they invest.” 

I cannot speak for everyone, but that does not sound very degenerate to me. That sounds like freedom and honesty. 

Despite what you may hear or read in the news, Gill wants other people to have more freedom and control over their lives. Men like Plotkin, Cohen or Griffin want control and influence over the American stock market, so they buy allies and hide from the public unless they decide to advertise their good deeds. 

Their actions show they do not care if they, or their associates, compromise our public servants, or hurt countless people, so long as they continue to live their lives as they have for years. When billionaires have that much power over the elite and the media, it is much harder for people with average wages and salaries to exercise their own freedom. 

This is not the America we were promised. Money in politics and philanthropy has turned government, media and public support into an item up for auction – a far cry from the unalienable right to pursue our own happiness, or the promise of fair and equal representation under the law. 

We have to hold people accountable for their actions, question the motives of the wealthy and recognize double-standards when we see them. 

Everyone should have an equal shot at success. Until we stop letting billionaires buy their way out of personal responsibility for their mistakes, the American Dream remains dead. 

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