Random Thoughts

The SEC - Hypnos, Not Argus and in need of Tchai

The Securities and Exchange Commission was created as a watchdog after stock manipulations that led to market crashes and loss of public money. The US government including the elected legislature, executive branch and the appointed judiciary have all been partisans of capital, so SEC chairmen are often from the industry and are meant to cover up the improprieties with occasional punishment of minor culprits, while the big shots go free. Their collusion is similar to that of the Afghan or Mexican police and drug lords. This is why Security dealers, investment banks and brokerage houses pay big fines but no one is punished even by a man like Eliot Spitzer. Prior SEC chairmen have had less than clean records and if some reformed sinner tries to genuine policing, he is forced to resign.

Thus the SEC was meant to be like the giant of Greek mythology, Argus Panopticus. He had a hundred eyes and was put by Hera, the goddess wife of Zeus to guard Io, a nymph whom Zeus had seduced in one of his myriad extramarital affairs. Hera changed Io into a heifer, but she was worried as Zeus had changed himself into a bull to rape Europa, after whom the continent of Europe is named. So Hera put Argus to guard Io to prevent access to her by Zeus. Zeus was obsessed with Io and charged Hermes, the messenger of the gods to free her. The staff of Hermes with its winding serpents is the symbol of physicians in the modern West. Hermes also played the flute wonderfully and did so to put Argus to sleep, thus closing all his hundred eyes, and killed him. Thus the SEC behaves more like Hypnos, the god of sleep and needs a prod to keep it awake. Incidentally, Argus was rewarded by Hera even in death, with partial immortality. She transplanted his eyes into the feathers of a male peacock where you can still the many eyes.

These are what Kipling called 'just so' stories common to Indian mythology, as in why the moon waxes and wanes due to partial redemption from his curse of death for preferring Rohini of his 28 wives. The story of Argus has a real life parallel in the botched war strategy of former Defense Secretaries McNamara and Wolfowitz and a former Citibank CEO. They had botched Vietnam, Iraq and International loans of Citibank, but were rewarded for their disastrous performance by being made the chiefs of the World Bank.

It was considered unforgivable by any Buddhist monk to lose 'Dhyan' from which the Japanese word Zen is derived via Chinese. The apocryphal story goes that a high Chinese monk fell asleep during meditation. He was so mortified by this lapse that he cut off his eyelids and threw them away, so that his eyes would never close. The myth goes that where the eyelids fell, from that ground grew a plant that the Chinese call TCHAI (Chai in India) and thus the tea plant prevents sleep. That is what the SEC needs.

Everyone now knows about the backdated options, Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, Healthsouth etc. These are old. Let me describe something that happened today, Friday, November 17, 2006. At around three in the afternoon, the stock of Mentor Corporation had a sudden spike in volume and price with a ballistic rise in both. No news was publicly available. The stock has been rising for three days. After the market closed today, the FDA gave approval for Silicone breast implants which the company makes. Did some people know this before the public announcement and will the SEC investigate? Don't hold your breath, but we will see.

This story has a further and prior problem. Over a decade ago Dow Corning went bankrupt because lawyers working on contingency fees and expert physicians untruthfully testified in court that the silicone breast implants cause everything in the past, present and future to the living, dead and yet to be born ( forgive the hyperbole). The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine wrote articles or editorials afterwards casting doubts on all this (interested readers should read Marcia Angell's book on drug companies, FDA etc.). The FDA banned the implants and has now permitted them despite protests from Ralph Nader's group.

Whom does one trust? Maybe that is why another Greek myth talks of Diogenes, who searched the entire Greek world with a lantern looking for an honest man and failed. The fervor of Gautami's search for a mustard seed from a household where no one had died, to make alive again her dead child, was equally intense though personal, and also failed. Plato therefore stated 'Who shall guard the guardians'? In Hindi we say, 'Jub zameen fasal khaaye to shikaayat kis se kare?    


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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