Random Thoughts

Prestidigitation, Politicos and Bikinis

Prestidigitation or sleight of hand is what a magician does when he pulls a card from his sleeve while the attention of the audience is diverted by his speech or a visual distraction by a provocatively clad curvaceous companion performing some antics. Politicians all over the world, use this subterfuge to bamboozle the ignorant, unthinking, uninformed, mercurial public to blind them with a contrived attention grabbing feint, while their nefarious dirty tricks pass unnoticed by the public eye. The media collaborates in the tamasha and circuses by ignoring the main issue or inflaming their passions about other trivia of much less significance. The American president and congress have honed this technique to perfection and the US electorate is the ideal and proverbial mug bred over centuries to be a dumb, fawning and domesticated animal jumping to fetch. The Indian case involves exciting religious, linguistic or ethnic passions.

In 1776, taxes by the British parliament were used for a power grab by the rich to incite the average Joe public to foment the so-called war of independence, even though the taxes were less onerous than those imposed on the British public. Whispers about how the British were the sole obstacle to the landless being able to usurp Indian land because of their unjust treaties with the Indian nations. An unmentioned hidden agenda was to renege on the personal debts of the American land owners to British merchants in London. It was concealed from the public eye. At other times, race, religion, immigration have been used (Japanese internment, yellow peril of the Chinese, Soviet communism, Spanish language, Mexican immigration). In the present meltdown, blame is diverted mainly to the irresponsible policies of center left and naive do-gooders to legislate GSE (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) lending and insuring practices to the ordinary less well off to buy a house or the irresponsible borrowers for taking out loans they could not repay. The reckless lenders, their lack of due diligence, the securitization of mortgage, credit card and auto loans, the imprimatur by greedy rating, mortgage and credit default swap rating agencies like S&P, Moody's, MBIA, Ambac, MGIC, AIG to name a few, are swept under the rug, as are the follies of investment and big banks (Wachovia, Countrywide, CITI, BofA, Wells Fargo, Bear Stearns, Lehman, Merrill, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs).

It is critical to look behind this curtain of the wizards of Oz and not be fooled by what is on stage. It is important never to forget what some Smart Alec commented about a woman's bikini, 'What it reveals is interesting, but what it hides is essential, so don't abandon your goals for diversions'.

Congress debated endlessly to increase the duration of unemployment compensation, minimum wage increase and COBRA health insurance extension, while ignoring the fact that laid off workers were being pushed off to sky dive without a parachute and conniving at the hundreds of millions of dollar golden parachutes which were being handed out to the CEOs of Citibank, Merrill Lynch etc. The present chief of AIG, Liddy appointed by the Congress is being hounded from pillar to post, the former chiefs responsible for the debacle at AIG, Citibank etc. , are showcased by the media as expert paragons of virtue. Paulson, former chief of Goldman Sachs, in his new avatar as Treasury Secretary let Bear Stearns and Lehman go under, but bailed out AIG on the pretext of systemic risk. No one knew until recently that the largest chunk of government and taxpayer money went to protect Goldman Sachs (13 billion dollars). He used the analogy of the sky is falling to pass a 750 billion first bailout which was largely spent hastily without due diligence to buy junk assets from his crony institutions with substantial losses to the taxpayer. The Congress first hesitated to show its opposition but caved in on the second try to make whole its big contributors. This was just theater to fool the public.

This is like a medical researcher publishing a factually incorrect paper in a prestigious journal and a few months later publishing another paper rescinding the first one and then claiming two publications on his curriculum vitae without contributing anything to the advancement of science or wisdom. Such is the case of Robert Rubin who went from Goldman Sachs to Treasury Secretary and was the chief architect of NAFTA and repeal of the Glass Steagall Act under the closet Republican Bill Clinton. He then became Vice Chairman of Citibank during the time that Citibank went on a rampage of improper and at times unethical, if not unlawful behavior (In Japan and Germany and mortgage backed securities which have now become toxic assets) and contributed to the present mess. Now he mouths off on the airwaves as the wise sage. Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner have a similar career. Obama's choice of them as his key policy makers is like appointing the fox to guard the chicken coop.

Obama's genuflexion to the Israeli lobby by abandoning Freeman's appointment to head national intelligence and appointing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State does not bode well for his Middle East policies. It is consistent with his opportunistic pandering, when he announced at the AIPAC conference that Jerusalem was the sole possession of Israel with no Palestinian claim. His appointment of Dennis Ross, a markedly partisan and partial negotiator in his tour of duty in the Israel Palestinian talks, as a special envoy in charge of Iran, tells us that no rapprochement is likely. His video message to Iran is just a gambit by which he can claim that he tried peaceful measures before a military attack on Iran by Israel or the US. His keeping on of Gates as defense secretary and surging troops in Afghanistan, failure to close Guantanamo and Bagram and silence on illegal renditions is a sure indication that war in Afghanistan will go on for decades. His plan to keep 50,000 troops for years in Iraq shows that he is just the new stooge in different colored outer garments of the military industrial complex, just like Fancy Fallacy (speaker) and Hoary Writ (Senate majority leader). Obama's pussyfooting over single payer government administered national health insurance, which would eliminate the 15% cut that health insurance executives siphon off to the detriment of health services of the population that he is their Benedict Arnold, not ours.

That brings me to the Republicans crowing socialism and reckless overspending with ballooning deficits. Where were they from the Reagan to the 'W' era when massive tax cuts without spending reduction were put in place? A new drug plan for seniors was enacted with lying numbers and left to the drug companies to decide the price to be paid by the government. Bill Tauzin who midwifed the birth of the bill in the darkness of night while the Republican leadership twisted and broke rules, left Congress for a million dollar a year industry job as his reward for the rape of the taxpayer. Phil Gramm did the same for his removal of oversight of the CFTC, once headed by his wife, who subsequently became a board of directors member at Enron, the main beneficiary of the deregulation that led to 147 dollar oil and the credit default swap imbroglio which led to the AIG fiasco.

Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank, who would be better named Mephistopheles Dud and Boloney Fraud, both knew about the 165 million dollar bonuses that AIG gave out, and yet claimed surprise. Dud has done this before for a favorable loan rate that he received from Countrywide Financial as his privilege from the senate seat, he inherited from his father due to the stupidity of the electorate of Connecticut, whose other poisonous gift to the nation includes Senator Joseph Lieberman determined to fight Israel's wars to the last drop of blood of the last American. It was probably Geithner who persuaded Dud and Fraud to insert the clause in the House Senate Conference bill to permit the payment of the AIG bonuses. Their spurious claim is the sanctity of contracts which is only applicable to their rich campaign contributors and not to the labor unions (UAW) who were coerced into abrogating their contract and accepting reduction in wages as a precondition to the government bailout of GM.

The Republican hue and cry about not nationalizing the banks which are largely owned by the government or in hock to the government is just another ploy to keep the money spigot of endless capital infusion open, so that the big guys can benefit in years to come from rising share prices taxed at a lower capital gains rate. Geithner, Summers and their crowd are just passing through the revolving door of a short government service stint, before emerging on the other side to claim their rich desserts of speaking engagements or million dollar jobs in the sectors they allowed to prosper at public expense like Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Greenspan and others, while our progeny are saddled with interest and debt payment for generations to come. If the public had any sense they would vote for only that candidate who is not a Democrat, Republican or incumbent, and would put all elected leaders on trial after their term ended, like the Spartans did with punishment for malfeasance being death.

The arousal of passions to scapegoat the 165 million bonus recipients is to obscure and hide from public sight the thousand times larger bailout of the big banks and brokerages through AIG. This is why it is critical to look behind this curtain of the wizards of Oz and not be fooled by what is on stage. It is important never to forget what some Smart Alec commented about a woman's bikini, 'What it reveals is interesting, but what it hides is essential, so don't abandon your goals for diversions'.


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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