Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 19:08 pm (KSA) 16:08 pm (GMT)

Banking on bankruptcy in United States

MJ Akbar

Why did the Washington Post downgrade its business section when a crime story is always a great read and the best crime stories of America are now on the business pages? Add this to the many things one cannot understand about American media.

Who would have thought that the first word might serve as the last word and the first word would be uttered by George W. Bush? Bush’s plaintive analysis of the Greatest Crisis in Human History was pithy: “If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down.” All right, not quite how Keynes or Galbraith might have put it, but elegance was not the issue when the Titanic hit the iceberg. One suspects Bush rather enjoyed the thought that the sucker might suck someone else down.

We tend to forget that “bank” is the first part of “bankruptcy.” Barack Obama’s problem however seems to be a bankruptcy of ideas. No one I spoke to here in Washington — and among them were high officials of finance — is yet certain how the most powerful economy in the world turned into a cashless casino. Obama’s solution is to flood the casino with money so that the game does not suddenly stop. How much money? A trillion dollars, and more to come. What happens when the dollar starts to slip to the value of printing ink? China, which has invested heavily in dollars, is getting edgy. Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman is not impressed by Barackonomics. He writes that Obama is squandering his political capital by replicating a solution even Bush abandoned: Cash for trash. The Titanic might leave the dollar on thin ice.

Ordinary eyes see clearly what expert vision misses. There is rage on the avenues of America. The working class, increasingly bereft of work, was moving in busloads for a few days in search of bankers who had compounded their irresponsibility with the sin of drawing bonuses from dole. The pitchfork, once a weapon aimed at witches, is the symbol of anger. Ed Rollins, a Republican pundit who is a TV regular, reported the public mood succinctly: “They think it is all occurring because of the greedy guys on Wall Street and inept officials.”

Inept? Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s chief of staff was a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. Does that say something?

Citigroup boss Vikram Pandit has a nickname: Pandit the Bandit. He has just begun renovating his offices, at a cost of $10 million. He will get a sub-zero refrigerator as opposed, one presumes, to the above-zero machines available in the country of his origin. He will also get “premium millwork.” No one knows what this means, but I can see Indian chief executives calling up their interior decorators.

Add a new word to your conversation. Hyperopia. Fear is making people look so far ahead that they cannot enjoy the present.

Why are American TV anchors so fond of redundancy? Why have they begun to say, particularly on CNN, “Take a listen” when “listen” is perfectly serviceable? Is “take” more virile? The only explanation is that TV anchors are so in love with their voices that they will not give up a chance to squeeze an extra three seconds.

Bankers are not the only fat cats. John Clay of the World Wildlife Fund informs us that the American cat eats more fish each year than the African human being. On top of this the cat eats chicken and beef. Will fat cats be affected by the fact that the American economy has shrunk by 6.3 percent?

A cartoon by Mike Luckovich in Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes gallows humor to the gallows. A banker, with a grin and a bonus bag, is standing outside a cave in Afghanistan. An irate Osama berates him: “Find your own cave...”

Barack Obama has earned, so far, $8,605,429 from book royalties. That’s fair reward for the journey to the White House from a madrasa in Indonesia. Tom Friedman has sold 12 million copies of his flat earth thesis without ever wanting to become president. On purely partisan grounds, including professional kinship and personal friendship, I declare Tom the winner of the royalties contest.

Both are getting ideological competition from a surprising source: John O’Hara. “The Grapes of Wrath,” a huge indictment of materialism published in the 1930s is the sleeper success of publishing. In 1959 O’Hara wrote to his friend Adlai Stevenson, the great icon of liberals, “If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick.”

*Published by ARAB NEWS on March 29.

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