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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Post details: Newspeak


When politicians open their mouths - and they do it quite habitually - the first thing that occurs to me is: "Why tell it like it is when such dazzling assortment of mirrors is readily available and smoke can be purchased at virtually unlimited quantities?" Or to put it curtlier - "Have they no shame"? Half a century ago, George Orwell pointed out that a creeping political rot can manifest itself in a certain disconnect between words and their meaning, which he aptly dubbed "newspeak". As with his other observations, he was right on the money. The garlands of platitude provide an early warning indicator that ranking officials are losing their political touch - instead of shaping the civic discourse, they spend more and more time groping the public opinion. And that's the beginning of the end. Once the form gets smothered with lipstick and the content starts slipping into factual insolvency, the hollowness is but a knock away.

Example. Two years ago, we bailed out our reckless banksters to the tune of several trillion dollars. We had mopped up the mess they so skillfully orchestrated, we had paid off the astronomical debts they so blissfully amassed. But do you think our congressfolks fessed up and admitted that their beloved donors who nearly annihilated the global financial system needed to have their bottom line boo boos blown at by a turbocharged ventilator? Nah. All the hectic and unprecedented triage was ostentatiously touted as a help to struggling homeowners, nay as a valiant effort to keep the American dream alive. Indeed, pounding your political chest on behalf of greedy banks would be borderline suicidal - better be seen rubbing your fatherly forehead on behalf of hoi polloi.

Yet it wasn't the homeowners who got zero interest loans from the Fed. In fact, many lost their homes in the ensuing carnage. It was exactly the hustlers who lined their pockets in the housing market Ponzi scheme - the big banks shareholders and bondholders - who were on the receiving end of this debt laundering operation. Still, despite the Wall Street's massive PR effort, many people saw right through it. This outcropping of newspeak was so thinly veiled that it almost made me wonder: "Do they assume we are all compulsive morons?"

More recent example. This past December, President Obama extended the Bush tax cuts despite the fact that we are actively engaged in two expensive wars and running a mammoth deficits at 10% of GDP. After a flatulent bout of kabuki with GOP, these ill-conceived benefits were awarded across the whole earning spectrum to include all the usual globalization profiteers - the high financiers, the enthusiastic job exporters, the advanced weaponry peddlers. After the shellacking in midterms, this outcome was no shocker: the Republicans are mostly rich, they hobnob with the rich and they naturally look out for them. But the idea of shoveling additional dough into the coffers of their golfing "buddies" - whether they recruited from Goldman Sachs, Haliburton, JP Morgan or British Petrol - would have difficulty flying in the post-collapse environment. Hence the Great Job Creating Newspeak was slapped on the ensuing polemic where it cleverly masked what amounted to looting of the Public Treasury. Never mind that no elected repressentator really explained why the super wealthy should bother creating jobs with their windfalls when they could get better return on investment in precious metals or emerging markets or why weren't we swimming in a pool of jobs to begin with, after nearly 10 years of rigorous application of the Trickle Down Theory.

That detail, however, prevented neither Speaker Boehner nor President Obama from going on a chirping offensive, celebrating in rare unison the lifeblood they just poured into economy's clogged veins. I am sure Lousiana fishermen will sleep so much better knowing that all those needy billionaires will finally be able to replace that imitation tiger rug in the third bedroom of their second yacht by the real deal. If we stay this course, vacuuming those rugs and scrubbing the yacht decks squeaky clean will be the only real jobs left. I guess my idea of job creation would be high income taxes and specific projects - like the Hoover dam. That is what I'd consider an oldspeak. You know - say where the money comes from and also say where it will go to. But verbal prestidigitation and vague references to flows of hundred of billions of dollars mysteriously gushing from the horn of the Federal Reserve and inundating the financial markets don't sound very concrete to me. Admittedly, some of them may eventually seep onto the balance sheets of multinational corporations, but most will probably drown in the swamp of red tape and bureaucratic incompetence, never to be seen by an average Joe.

That leaves us with a natural question: where does the political newspeak come from? A great opportunity to see under the hood of its glistening body is the current skirmish about raising the federal debt ceiling. On the one hand we have the White House pushing hard to maintain its bloated budget, on the other we can see Republicans attempting to dust off their fiscal sanity mantra which they conveniently suspended during the Bush years spendopalooza. The exorbitant levels of grandstanding and posturing make it hard to identify the real sources of mischief. After all, in the heat of a high profile battle, common sense is often the first casualty, especially when everyone's agenda bag is loaded like the front row at a mafia funeral. But if you step back into cooler times, you can find great words of wisdom. Not so long ago (March 2006), when he was still but a Senator, President Obama had much healthier sentiment towards the issue of public debt:

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies...

Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here'. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."

There. That was some clarity of vision. The resolve of a young king.

But how quickly do political winds change! How quickly does the fresh blood of a young Senator become infected with the virus of easy money. I guess having your name printed on the White House stationery can radically sway your opinion about "leadership failure", especially when your principal whisperers, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, are well soaked in the bubbling pot of Wall Street finance. There is a reason why Obama's campaign got almost a cool million from Goldman Sachs alone - roughly four times as much as John McCain. Financial sector is the main pusher of the poisonous debt. They create the credit out of thin air and they profit from its distribution tremendously.

This is the perennial bane of all politicians - the higher they are the longer the list of special interests they are beholden to. And that is also the ultimate source of the newspeak. The competing and frequently conflicting interests of those who lifted you to power won't allow you to say anything with real substance let alone spunk.


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