Posts Tagged ‘economy’

Some are confused by Black Friday

November 25, 2011

The wave of fresh converts to evangelical Christianity appears to contain many who are confused about certain details of this, their first holiday season.

“I’m still learning my way around,” admitted Sonya Bennett. “I mean, I believe in Jesus and all that stuff; I’m just a little hazy on the reasons for some of these celebrations.”

Much of the bewilderment is becoming apparent during today’s so-called “Black Friday.” Large numbers of newly minted Christians showed up at post-Thanksgiving sales at Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers, thinking they were observing the day Jesus was crucified at Calgary.

“I guess I was thinking of — what is it? — Good Friday,” said Heather Thompson. “I thought Black Friday was the day the altar was draped in black cloth, and a somber service acknowledged our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for mankind. Turns out, it’s more about low, low prices.”

Thompson said many of her friends were also confused about the day. She said she felt that the Church of Christ, of which she became a member earlier this year, and the nation’s retail sector were “just asking” for there to be such widespread misunderstanding.

“I mean, think about it: Good Friday marks an occasion when something bad happened, and Black Friday marks a good day, a day of door-busting bargains. That’s just plain screwy,” Thompson said. “You’d think it would be the other way around. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one expecting up to 60% off the cost of my salvation.”

Bennett, a recent convert to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, said the church calendar at first didn’t make sense to her. She said she had time to meditate and reflect on her faith while waiting in line from midnight till 4 a.m. outside the Valley Hills Mall in Seattle.

“I finally puzzled through it,” Bennett said. “It just wasn’t possible that Jesus was crucified in late November, then born in late December, and then ascended into heaven in March or April. I know He can do some amazing things, but this just seemed totally whack.”

Similar puzzlement was expected during next week’s “Cyber Monday,” which has become the day on which close to a third of on-line Christmas gift sales are made. Either that, or it’s something to do with Simon Peter, or maybe the Immaculate Conception, or maybe Zhu Zhu pets.

“The one that always messes me up is Maundy Thursday,” said Oscar Bennett, who joined the Southern Baptist denomination in February. “I mean, is it a Monday or is it a Thursday? I’m all for talking in tongues, but come on. How can we have effective outreach to non-believers with this kind of double-talk?”

Raymond Price, a new member of the fundamentalist Mercy Schmercy Catholic Church in suburban Atlanta, defended Christianity’s elaborate calendar as something that novices should study and become comfortable with.

“It’s really not that complicated when you put your mind to it,” Price said. “Ash Wednesday is the day we remember volcano victims. Palm Sunday celebrates the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem in triumph after inventing the handheld personal digital assistant. Corpus Christi, in mid-June, marks the beginning of beach season on the south Texas coast.”

Price said his personal favorite day on the liturgical calendar was Ruby Tuesday.

“Any day that honors both the Rolling Stones and the Seaside Sensations combo platter is truly a holy day in my book,” Price said. “Ruby Tuesday — Fresh Taste, Fresh Price.”

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Just trying to help the Greeks back on their feet

October 25, 2011

Americans everywhere have been transfixed in recent weeks by the European sovereign debt crisis.

The unemployed stop their job search to review updates on the latest austerity measures. The uninsured ill worry that German banks will grow weary of bailing out neighboring Eurozone economies. Twenty-somethings who’ve given up on the American Dream join fantasy leagues to make a game out of which nation is most likely to default.

Not really.

The truth of the matter is that we don’t give two drachmas about economic problems on the Continent when we’ve got so many of our own. About the only time it comes up is when someone on the Right uses the crisis as an example of where “creeping socialism” is leading the U.S., or when someone on the Left wants six weeks of vacation.

The problems of Europe are centered for now in hot-headed countries like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain (the so-called “PIGS” nations). The swarthy peoples of the Mediterranean have been spending beyond their means for decades, borrowing against their children’s futures so they can eat olives, attend bullfights and long for their fascist past. Now, bondholders who subsidized this lavish lifestyle are demanding repayment, and they don’t want it in oregano.

The Greeks have come in for the most scrutiny. Every day, it seems, there’s yet another boring headline that nobody reads announcing “Resilient Euro Edges Lower Over EFSF Confusion,” accompanied by a photo of Athenians engaged in sun-splashed rioting. Austerity is painful and Zeus forbid the Greeks should be uncomfortable.

I wanted to learn more about the underlying causes of the crisis, so recently I ate lunch at a local diner run by Greek-Americans. Maybe this meat-and-three-vegetables eatery could give me some insight into why the inventors of democracy, geometry and men-wearing-white-skirts have screwed up their finances so badly.

I got my first clue from the sign outside Charlotte’s Steele Creek Cafe.

“Try Momma’s Meatloaf,” it read. “More Than 22 Vegetables.”

I don’t know a lot about Greek cooking, but it seems like including that many vegetables in a meat loaf recipe is destined to turn out poorly. It wasn’t until I got to the counter inside that this apparent example of profligacy and waste was clarified for me.

“It’s two separate things,” said the cashier taking orders. “That’s why it’s on two lines.”

“The line-break alone is not necessarily sufficient, even in signage,” I countered. “There should be a period, or at least a comma or semicolon.”

“Can I take your order?” she persisted.

Much like the people of Greece have shown through their street protests that they need adequate time to get their economic house in order, so too did I need a minute to decide on my lunch.

The sign behind the counter was filled with more lunch choices than I could readily digest. I stepped back to join several other would-be diners stroking their chins and pondering the selection. There was certainly a lot of what I think of as Greek food — souvlaki, a gyro plate, the eponymous Greek salad — but there was also Calabash shrimp and Philly cheesesteak and French fries.

And there were at least 22 vegetables, assuming you count stuff like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and rice and gravy as vegetables, which we here in the South very much do.

I asked to see a printed bill-of-fare to better study my options. I grew slightly more optimistic about the health of the world economy when I noticed that “default” and “currency devaluation” were not on the menu. I also saw that several prices had been whited out, with new prices handwritten over them. This seemed to indicate the Greeks were getting serious about real-world costs, at least when it came to the Ultimate 8 oz. Hamburger with Cheese.

Finally, I decided on the “hot dog (all-beef) combo,” a meal that would include my drink and choice of fries or onion rings, all for $4.80. I’m guessing the raw ingredients cost about half that, and was confident the difference would make a nice dent in the nation’s €216-billion debt.

“I’ll have the number 13,” I told cashier Tai’Shiquá. “Hopefully, the profits will help your people in their hour of need.”

“Say what?” Tai’Shiquá answered. She sounded a bit put-out, but I knew deep down in her proud Greek soul that she was grateful for my purchase.

While I waited for the order to be ready, I looked around the restaurant for a table. A working-class crowd was quickly filling the joint, giving the appearance that this really could be a profitable business if a bit of fiscal restraint were in place.

They could start, in my opinion, with the ketchup. Not only were there individual bottles sitting in every booth; there were several more available at the napkin and condiment station. Plus, there were additional packets included with to-go orders.

Another bit of excess could be seen at the fountain drink dispenser. Diners tapped their own selections, and could easily choose not to fill most of the cup with ice, cutting severely into a potentially high profit margin.

In two corners of the room, up near the ceiling, a pair of televisions played non-stop. There was no fee to watch.

A shelf near the door held the day’s newspapers. Their wrinkled appearance hinted that an earlier customer had purchased them at breakfast, then left them behind for others to read. This, despite the fact that all three publications were being sold from newsstands just outside.

Over in the corner were the restrooms. These were also free, despite the fact that many patrons would be willing to pay dearly for bathroom privileges after finishing off a plate of deep-fried perch.

I vaguely knew the owner from a previous visit, and decided to seek him out after I finished my lunch. I wanted to congratulate Pete Kakouras for the tentative starts he had made toward economizing, and offer my suggestions for what more he could do to move his restaurant and his homeland toward prosperity.

But Pete is gone. I’m told he sold out about two months ago. The new owner, an Asian gentleman named Jun Park, would be glad to speak with me, as long as I knew Korean.

So that’s the way it is: the Greeks are in danger of pulling the rest of Europe down the (free) toilet with them, and all because globalization made it necessary that they sell out to foreign interests. No wonder they’re fighting against tough austerity measures so violently. The cuts are being imposed by outsiders from the Orient. Next thing you know, we’ll see kim chi on the menu.

Whatever. You try to step up and help a foreign country get its house in order, and this is the thanks you get — a mythological tragedy of epic proportions, and an undercooked wiener on a soggy bun.

It’s all Greek to me.

“Occupy” movement making inroads in the office

October 18, 2011

Fed up with corporate greed and the unwillingness of his bosses to acknowledge the increasingly desperate plight of workers, Michael Ash has joined with anti-establishment protesters around the country by occupying a conference room at his office.

“I’m just tired of being exploited and abused by the powers-that-be,” the 32-year-old project manager for Hewlett-Packard told reporters in his San Jose, Calif., office. “It’s time for the people to take back what’s been stolen from them.”

“Also,” he added, “I’ve been out of ‘stickies’ for a week now and still they’re not stocked in the supply closet.”

Ash and others have watched as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has grown from its start in New York to its increasing popularity in cities across the U.S. and around the world. Thousands have shown up at events to voice their support for the unemployed, the poor, the young and the disenfranchised, and to state their opposition to the entrenched interests of the business community.

Ash joined the surging movement yesterday as his frustration with the way his chair was adjusted, and with the person who keeps linking the paper clips at his desk into a chain, boiled over into action.

“They obviously care very little about us,” Ash said of his superiors at HP. “If they did, they’d put a hidden camera at my work station and see who’s messing with my desk.”

Ash set up his protest in Conference Room B on the second floor of his office building shortly after 9 a.m. Monday. He brought in a sleeping bag from his car, and posted several signs he created in Word around the room. One read “Reform Corporate America” and another read “I Am the 99%.” A third sign was largely illegible because of black splotches all over the surface.

“I’ve complained about the toner in that printer for a week now, but all I get is the runaround,” Ash complained. “Typical behavior from the corporate fatcats who are more concerned about their tax breaks than they are about the toner.”

By 11 a.m., several coworkers had stopped by the rarely-used conference room to express their support for Ash, or to ask if he knew when he’d be finished, because sometimes people eat their lunch in there.

“Most meetings are in Room A, down the hall and around the corner,” Ash told reporters. “I picked Room B because I didn’t think anybody would care.”

Ash continued his demonstration until 1 p.m., greeting well-wishers, debating the value of increased taxes for high-income earners, and occasionally marching through the halls to get a drink of water. Shortly after 1, he was asked to leave the conference room to make way for a safety committee meeting.

“Sorry about that,” Ash told committee members as they streamed into the room. “Just give me a sec to clean up this mess. Here, let me put those chairs back. Sorry. Sorry.”

Dislodged from his protest site, Ash relocated to the men’s room next door, and re-dubbed his rally “Occupy Second Stall From The Sink”.

“In a way, this is better,” Ash said at mid-afternoon Monday. “It’s symbolic of how our future is being flushed down the commode by Big Business, and of how we have a really crappy system for reserving conference rooms.”

By the end of the day, Ash had added to his list of demands. In addition to his desire to get last Tuesday counted as a sick day rather than a vacation day, he called on his corporate superiors to unblock YouTube from office computers, to crack down on lunch thefts from the refrigerator, and to say something to the guy in accounts payable who always sneezes so loud.

“Also, after spending the day in the toilet, I want to demand a new box of toilet seat covers,” Ash said. “The box claims ‘provided by the management for your protection’ but that’s a lie. Management doesn’t care about our protection at all, at least unless it affects their bottom line.”

Ash said he had received a lot of support from co-workers during his protest.

“Guys have been coming in here all afternoon, and I believe they’re behind me,” Ash said. “I think they know I’m in here. They should at least be able to see my legs.”

Ash said he was unsure if he’d continue the protest for the rest of the week. The sales presentation he’s working on for the vice presidents’ meeting next Monday still needs a thorough re-do, and he’s also looking for a bit of clip art to break up the monotony of his PowerPoint.

“It’s time for the rest of America to ask, ‘where’s my bailout?'” Ash said. “I just have to make sure I can squeeze it into my schedule.”

Safety committee talks about temporary inconvenience of "Occupy" protester

Occupy Wall Street is occupied with ‘issues’

October 12, 2011

The dirty, stinking hippies who make up the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York will see their “be-in” enter its second month this week, with participants still incapable of selecting only one thing to protest about and still in need of a shower and a haircut.

Meanwhile, pundits and other observers continue to struggle with how to portray the anti-corporate movement in terms that the American people can understand.

“They smell bad, and they don’t pick up after themselves,” said Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee.

“Most of the men need a shave, and the women are just plain ugly,” noted CNN contributor Erik Erikson.

“Many of them are soiled,” added Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report. “I’d personally give each one a good scrubbing in the bathtub if I could find a hazmat suit that would allow me to get close enough.”

Some who have watched the grassroots movement grow from a few hundred marchers to thousands of demonstrators in over 70 cities complain that the group can’t articulate its concerns in a few simple words.

“They talk about economic inequality, upper-class greed and the way that corporate money controls our entire political process,” said Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. “What does that even mean?”

“Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest?” asked civil rights lawyer and protest supporter Glenn Greenwald. “Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality, and its unrestrained political power — in the form of crony capitalism — is destroying financial security for everyone else.”

“Ha, ha,” noted Noonan. “That’s too complicated.”

Noonan and others have said that the movement needs to articulate its message in simpler terms. Abuses of a long-entrenched hyper-capitalism that have resulted in a full-on attack of the middle and working class are hard to put your finger on, critics say.

“They could take a tip from Herman Cain and his ‘9-9-9’ tax plan,” said Huckabee. “Pick some random numbers and say that these represent your stand on complicated issues. If nothing else, people can use them to play the lottery.”

“Better yet, pick a few key words,” added Noonan, a former Republican speechwriter. “I would suggest ‘grimy,’ ‘grubby,’ ‘filthy’ and ‘foul.'”

A few more-moderate observers have suggested that Occupy Wall Street protesters represent a movement with roots similar to the Tea Party. Both have anti-government tendencies and both have relied on widespread public frustration with a status quo they claim is not serving their interests.

“Whoa, there. I wouldn’t say that,” said former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who many regard as a spokesperson for the Tea Party. “Folks in the Tea Party not only wash their hair, but they also style and color it. Many of the women wear tasteful jewelry while the men are careful to keep their shirts tucked in.”

Palin stressed that good grooming was the foundation of America, and that the Founding Fathers would’ve had spiffy crewcuts “if they’d had access to modern hair-cutting technology.”

David Raphael, founder of the Light Party and one of the spokespeople for the protest, said that demonstrators represent the 99 percent of the American people who struggle to survive, while the 1 percent super-rich exploit everybody else.

“This is a holistic, proactive, educational new political paradigm party dedicated to health, peace and freedom for all,'” Raphael said. “We have formulated a practical, synergistic seven-point program which addresses and serves to resolve our current socioeconomic and ecological challenges.”

Raphael added that he was reluctant to assume the role of official spokesperson, noting that most of those involved prefer that the movement remain leaderless. He used the so-called “people’s microphone” — a system of loudly repeating what each speaker says designed to get around the city’s ban on sound amplification — to confirm statements he gave to reporters.

“I’m saying we need to set the agenda for a New America,” Raphael told bystanders.

“HE’S SAYING WE NEED TO GET A GENERAL, AND THAT WE NEED A NUDE AMERICA,” the crowd repeated.

“No, wait,” Raphael corrected. “I’ll say we’re making a common statement about government corruption.”

“HE SAYS WE’RE MAKING A COMMUNIST STATE WITH A VOLCANIC ERUPTION,” the crowd said.

“No, no, I’ll say instead that we’re anti-consumerist and we want someone to address the growing disparity in wealth, and the absence of legal repercussions for those who caused the global financial crisis,” Raphael continued.

“OUR COMRADE SAYS WE NEED TO BURN OUR DRAFT CARDS, BURN OUR BRAS, LISTEN TO COUNTRY JOE AND THE FISH, AND SLIDE AROUND IN THE MUD,” the crowd repeated.

“Oh, I’m just going to say ‘power to the people,'” Raphael finally said in exasperation.

“SOMETHING ABOUT A PEEPHOLE,” the crowd shouted in confirmation.

Look at these filthy protesters. Just LOOK at them. (Don't, however, smell them).

Job sharing could end unemployment

September 20, 2011

A little-noticed clause in President Obama’s new jobs bill could result in a dramatic drop in the jobless rate. However, the quality of the jobs, and the goods and services that result from them, could suffer significantly.

The proposal to encourage more “job sharing” — an arrangement that allows two or more workers to split a single job — could knock the current 9% unemployment rate to almost zero. But having multiple people performing a task that was previously done by a single individual could have a serious downside, economists warn.

“It’s bound to get a little crowded on the other side of the bank teller window,” noted Princeton’s Mike Brennan. “If you’ve got half a dozen clerks all trying to help you at once, I’d recommend you count your money carefully.”

The plan offered by the administration is based on the European model, where the workforce is allowed to keep up its skills and maintain benefits while working drastically reduced hours.

Republicans were quick to attack the bill.

“Based on a European model?” asked House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “What, does everybody have to start smoking and making themselves vomit to lose weight? I don’t think we need to have public policy in the United States dictated by a bunch of Eurotrash stick-figure models wearing the latest style in goofy hats.”

“The American people,” added House Speaker John Boehner, “are not prepared to wear goofy hats.”

Democrats seemed to be warming slowly to the idea of job-sharing. Some saw it as a way they might be able to hold onto their Congressional seats should there be another Republican sweep in the 2012 elections. Others said they wanted to wait and see how practical the plan is before deciding to oppose it.

The President could point to several pilot projects already under way that aim to prove job-sharing will work on a large scale.

“Let’s not use the pilot project as an example,” urged White House press secretary Jay Carney. “Those pilots couldn’t agree whose responsibility it was to deploy the landing gear, and the jet crashed killing all aboard. That’s probably not the illustration you’d want to use.”

Instead, Carney directed reporters to a print shop outside Washington, D.C., where a work-share arrangement has resulted in the hiring of almost 100 new employees.

“We used to have one typesetter who would key in all the menus, flyers, resumes, etc., which we produce for our customers,” said KwikPrint manager Gretchen Hastings. “Now, we have a whole staff of typists, with each one responsible for a particular letter or punctuation mark.”

Hastings said her newly expanded staff will gather behind the keyboard and step forward to key their individual character as needed. The workers will share the $15-per-hour salary allocated to the position, allowing each person to pocket a much-needed 15 cents an hour.

“We thought about paying more for those in charge of keying the most-commonly-used letters, but that would’ve been an accounting nightmare,” Hastings said. “The payroll department is already struggling to absorb its nine new workers [one for each digit, plus the original accountant] and we didn’t want to complicate things further for them.”

Most of the typesetters are simply grateful to have gainful employment.

“I had been looking for almost 18 months, so I was really glad to finally land something,” said Beth Barber, who’s in charge of typing all “g’s”. “At least I got my foot in the door. Maybe they’ll eventually expand my responsibilities to include the letters ‘f’ and ‘h’.”

“I’m so grateful to be here,” said Bruce Rabin, who lost his job in banking in 2008 and has been unemployed ever since. “I’m going to type the hell out of my ‘w’ while I’m there, and hope that I make a good impression.”

April Johnson, the veteran typesetter who had to move aside to make room for all the new hires, was not as happy with the change as her fellow workers.

“The pay cut obviously sucks. I’ve got to admit, though, that it gives me more time to spend with my family,” Johnson said. “I live close by and, since my new responsibility includes only the relatively rare ‘z’, I have time to run home and check on my ailing mother in between words.”

Press secretary Carney said other businesses are also starting to get on the job-sharing bandwagon.

“There’s a car dealership in Arlington where potential buyers meet with salesmen who sell only a particular part of the car,” he said. “And I’ve heard of several Wendy’s (hamburger outlets) who use separate order-takers for each item on the menu.”

Carney denied a report that even his job as press secretary would be split among several dozen previously unemployed workers.

“To have a crowd of people standing up here, each one separately in charge of saying their own particular word in response to your questions, just wouldn’t be feasible,” he said. “The White House needs to communicate a clear, focused message on this issue.”

Told that most Americans questioned in a recent poll said they felt President Obama’s communications on the jobs issue were “muddled” and “confusing,” Carney said only “oh”.

“Hey, we could use that guy,” print shop manager Hastings said. “Our ‘o’ lady just quit to take a job in the healthcare field. She’s in charge of opening the Band-Aids, then handing them off to another worker to be applied to the injured patient.”

Italian businessman Ronaldo Salerno (left) waits his turn to dress as a gladiator entertaining tourists in Rome.

Bank of America tries radical recovery

September 13, 2011

Bank of America, the nation’s largest financial institution and currently struggling with uncertainty about its viability and a severe drop in its stock price, announced a radical recovery plan yesterday to get it back on sound footing.

The bank is confiscating all funds currently held by customers in checking and savings accounts.

“We’re sitting on these billions and billions of dollars that people have given us to ‘hold’ for them,” said bank spokesperson Nancy Townsend. “The economic reality is that we simply have to expropriate these funds so that our investors can collect their five-cent quarterly dividends.”

Townsend said the unprecedented step of seizing customers’ accounts was not done without careful consideration of the consequences.

“Frankly, we think many people won’t even notice,” Townsend said. “We’re putting play money in all our ATMs, so it’s not like people won’t be able to withdraw something.”

When asked how a corporate giant could simply take people’s savings in order to prop up its balance sheets, Townsend said “it’s not that hard, really.”

“You walk into the vault, you load up everybody’s cash into a big truck, then drive it to a secret location,” Townsend said. “Probably the hardest part will be making sure none of the cash falls out of the truck and into the road.”

Customer deposits, estimated at over $1 trillion, will go a long way toward shoring up investors’ confidence in the bank’s ability to cover losses related to its acquisitions of Countrywide Finance and Merrill Lynch.

Customers’ confidence may suffer, however, though Townsend noted that the bank’s “long-standing policy of not giving a fuck what average depositors think” will stand it in good stead in the coming weeks.

“We always got bad service ratings from our clients anyway,” Townsend said. “Stealing their money shouldn’t make it all that much worse than it already is.”

The bank dismissed concerns that legal challenges to the unauthorized appropriation of funds could eventually scuttle the plan. The company is subject to a patchwork of state regulations throughout the country, and many of these consider grand theft to be a punishable offense.

“That’s a deregulation issue that we’re trying to address in Congress right now,” Townsend said. “We feel the restrictions that government has put on private businesses — dictating, for example, that we can’t just confiscate money that isn’t ours — are holding us back. Free enterprise has to be truly free if this country is to recover from its downturn.”

Townsend was further pressed to explain how, even if stealing were legalized, that Bank of America could morally justify wiping out millions of bank accounts, leaving tens of millions of Americans penniless.

“Look,” she said. “People walk into our branches and hand over their cash. They may ask questions about interest rates and withdrawal fees and stuff like that, but they never ask that we don’t steal their money. If someone asks that we don’t do that, then we won’t do it. For them, at least.”

Is there going to be any way at all that people can keep their money?

“If they can quote us the serial numbers on the bills they deposited, then we’ll give those bills back,” Townsend said. “If all they can do to identify their money is offer vague descriptions like ‘it was green’ or ‘it had a bunch of stars on it,’ then we’ll have to turn those folks away.”

Reaction to the bank’s recovery plan was generally positive on Wall Street, with the stock surging some 6% in after-hours trading, though less enthusiasm could be heard from those who had their life savings wiped out.

“My checking, my savings, my investments, they’re all gone,” said customer Al Cumming, who tried to withdraw $50 in pocket money from a bank branch in suburban Charlotte, N.C. “It’s absolutely criminal what they’re doing.”

“Too bad for him,” Townsend said of the reaction. “Just as we’re too big to fail, so too are we too big to jail.”

Bank of America president Brian Moynihan (though it could just as easily be Conan O'Brien)

Jobs opening gives teens hope

August 25, 2011

Fresh off their second attempt at the GED — which both said they were “really really close” to passing — Brandon Stewart and Bryan Munroe excitedly began making plans today to apply for the newly vacated position running Apple Computers.

“I been lookin’ for somethin’ ever since I dropped out the ‘leventh grade,” said Stewart, a rangy boy with a scraggly mullet peeking out from under his backwards baseball cap. “I thought that clerkin’ job at the BP was gonna work out til I got robbed that night. I ain’t puttin’ up with that shit.”

“I’m pretty good with computers, so I think I might have a chance with this one,” said Munroe, wiping his face with his soiled Def Leppard t-shirt. “I got a smartphone. Look-a here.”

The 19-year-old resident of York, S.C., held up his Vonage cell phone. His forearm still glistened from the sweaty morning spent at his job dressed as an ice cream cone and waving at cars from the front of the new Dairy Queen.

Both young men, proud products of a South Carolina education system that let them meet girls and borrow Brandon’s stepdad’s truck to “attend” remedial classes twice a week, have been looking for work since late 2009. News Wednesday that Steve Jobs was resigning as head of Apple gave the two self-described rednecks hope they’d land a position they could hold onto longer than six months.

“I read it online — ‘Apple’s Jobs Leaving’,” said Stewart. “They said ‘jobs’ — plural — so it sounds like there’s at least two openings. One guy that quit was founder and chief executive officer, so maybe I could be founder and Bryan here could be CEO.”

“We each have unique skill sets that would allow us to work closely together,” Munroe added. “I’m the smart one and Brandon’s the strong one. I could do the thinkin’ parts and he could do the parts that required beatin’ people up.”

“What I really want to do is get into Ultimate Fighting,” admitted Stewart. “Workin’ a couple years as founder of Apple would look good on my resume. I know a guy who knows a guy who knows (mixed martial arts champion) Kimbo Slice, and he said Kimbo would be impressed by that.”

The two teens spent lunch together at McDonald’s Thursday, planning how they might get their applications submitted to the Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant. Munroe swiped a laptop from a diner who had gone to collect a second order of fries, and the pair scoured the Internet for information on the openings.

“It says here the guy who quit had pancreatic cancer, so they’re probably looking for someone who won’t call in sick all the time,” Munroe said.

“Hell, I hardly missed a day even after I got shot at the convenience store,” Stewart said. “I might not know what I’m doin’ most of the time, but half the job is showin’ up, right?”

“Damn straight,” confirmed Munroe.

Both men admitted that their failure so far to achieve high-school equivalency certificates could be a roadblock to their consideration. But Stewart said “if they (Apple’s board of directors) really want to make a big deal out of school-learnin’, we could try the GED one more time.”

“I bet I could get my brother to take it for me,” guessed Munroe. “He made it all the way to his senior year in Special Ed at York High before he dropped out.”

By the end of their mid-day planning session, Stewart had already drafted his resume, and Munroe was working his cell to line up half-cousins and baby mama’s who would agree to serve as personal references.

“Check it out,” Stewart said, handing the laptop to this reporter. “This here’s my resume, all ready to print out.”

“Did I spell ‘resume’ correctly?” he asked of the all-caps head reading “REZ-U-MAY” at the top of the page. “Think I’ll mail ’em maybe a dozen extras. That’s gotta help my chances.”

Munroe wondered if the two might improve their odds of getting the jobs by personally delivering their CVs to the northern California campus.

“Road trip!” shouted Stewart, followed by a rebel yell. Then, on further reflection, he noted that he really wanted to “go huntin’ and fishin'” this weekend and that “hell, we ain’t even got a car.”

As the duo wrapped up their lunchtime session, each reflected on the career change they hoped would lift them from the life they shared in a rusted mobile home.

“I’m not sure what the pay is gonna be, but I won’t settle for less than $9.50 an hour,” Stewart said. “I made $8.50 at the BP but that doesn’t count all the free Slushees I got after the manager went home.”

“I just don’t wanna wear any more ice-cream suits standin’ out in the hot sun,” said Munroe. “I’ll settle for $9 if they don’t make me wear a CEO costume and if they let me work indoors.”

Stewart (left) and Munroe relax in their pool while awaiting word from Apple

News is good … no, it’s not

August 12, 2011

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted over 500 points on Monday before soaring to a 400-point advance on Tuesday, then dipping to unprecedented lows on Wednesday before rocketing to new highs on Thursday.

“It’s a sign that investors are wary about the debt ceiling deal,” said Merrill Lynch analyst Bob Manson. “No, wait … it’s an indication that underlying  fundamentals remain strong. Rather, what we’re seeing is a lack of faith in our political will to make tough economic choices. No, I take that back … America is still the safest haven for investments in the world.”

Manson alternately smiled and grimaced while keeping watch on the market via his computer screen Friday morning. Later, he was admitted to the Manhattan Psychiatric Care Center for treatment of a bipolar disorder.

“Abadaba abadaba abadaba,” he noted as he left his Wall Street office strapped to a stretcher. “Inky dinky doo.”

Conspicuous volatility continued to dominate several other areas of life as well.

Following the military operation that killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin-Laden in May, President Obama’s poll numbers reached an 18-month high. Oops, he’s back down again as negotiations to raise the debt ceiling dragged on. Wait, wait … it looks like he and House Speaker John Boehner have agreed on a “grand bargain” that significantly reduces the deficit. No, no … turns out the deal stinks and his base has turned against him.

“Uncertain times likes these are difficult on the national psyche,” noted social psychologist Ray Dellrose. “Yet still, we find a way to adapt and survive. One minute we’re up, the next minute we’re down. We’re riding high in April, shot down in May.”

Unrest in the Middle East has resulted in a spike in gasoline prices that quickly leveled out when supply chains were restored, then shot up again as the summer driving season began before retreating again just recently.

“I cut way back on my driving, then took a trip to the beach, then started carpooling with a neighbor,” said Atlanta-area motorist Angela Haverty. “This morning, I stopped by the gas station and pumped about 100 gallons into the ditch because now it’s so cheap.”

In related news:

The anti-tax Tea Party is viewed in a positive light by most Americans … no, it isn’t … yes, it is … no, it isn’t.

Europe’s elaborate social safety net provides workers with more benefits than Americans … no, it’s contributing to their unsustainable debt load … no, it’s August and time for them all to go on holiday … no, riots are breaking out to protest the existence of a chronic underclass.

In Libya, anti-Qadaffi rebels have taken control of the oil-rich eastern part of the country … no, they’re being crushed by the military … wait, they’re using Twitter to coordinate their protests … no, the Internet has been taken down … oh — wait, wait — NATO forces have bombed Qadaffi’s headquarters, but they only managed to kill his family.

Republicans swept into Congress in the 2010 mid-terms have vowed to make jobs their number-one focus … no, it seems like they’re tackling the ballooning federal deficit first … now they’re refusing to raise the debt ceiling without concessions from more moderate factions … no, wait, now they’re back talking about jobs as well as how extremely Christian they are.

The National Football League has ended its lockout and players are reporting to camp with the season just around the corner … but the NBA 2011-2012 season looks like it may be completely cancelled by labor unrest — wait, now there’s a strike in baseball but it’s only the kind where a batter swings at and misses a pitch, not a full-scale work stoppage.

C'mon, world ... make up your mind

S&M downgrades America

August 9, 2011

S&M, the sado-masochistic ratings agency best known for abusing itself and others during a seven-year reign of terror, announced over the weekend that it was downgrading America’s credit rating.

“Look at you, America. You’re pathetic,” S&M said in a statement released Friday in the wake of last week’s debt ceiling deal. “You’re not fit to lick my boots. C’mon, let’s see if you dare. Let’s see you lick my boots.”

The U.S. government reacted quickly to the downgrade, pleading with S&M to reconsider the move that has caused markets to plummet this week.

“No, don’t do it!” said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner of the downgrade. “I mean, yes! Yes, you must make us pay for our naughty, naughty fiscal policies.”

“You are our master and we are your slave,” Geithner continued. “Yet we are not worthy to lick your boots. We need to be punished for the way we’ve let ourselves go, the way we’ve allowed spending to outpace revenues, the way we’ve allowed Tea Party zealots to hijack our national debate.”

“The United States is a bad, bad boy,” the secretary concluded. “I think you and all the other ratings agencies need to tie us down and beat us with a coat hanger.”

S&M noted in its release announcing the downgrade that Treasury notes and other government-issued bonds might not be as safe as originally believed. After rating U.S. debt at Triple-A for decades, the change to AA+ has roiled stock markets worldwide.

“We needed to issue a warning to the bondage market,” said S&M President and Chief Domination Officer Deven Sharma. “We can’t just look the other way and ignore how the bondage has deteriorated.”

Sharma dismissed allegations from some quarters that his agency’s reputation, soiled by inaccurate ratings that led to collapse of the housing market in 2008, undermined the credibility of the downgrade.

“We’re not the ones who are soiled,” Sharma said. “It’s the U.S. government that has the filthy, dirty diaper.”

Some have also noted that S&M’s figures contained an error in calculations of over $2 trillion.

“Our figure is fine. It’s just the spandex that makes us look fat. Look, this isn’t about us anyway,” Sharma responded to a reporter who questioned him outside of S&M’s Manhattan headquarters yesterday. “This is an issue between two consenting entities, and it’s none of your business.”

U.S. officials said they thought the economy could weather the downgrade, which some analysts had feared would cause interest rates to rise across the board.

“If things get too bad, to the point where we can’t take it any more, we do have a ‘safe word,'” Vice President Joe Biden told a Washington, D.C., chamber of commerce meeting. “All we have to do is say the word ‘Moody’s’ and all this rough play will stop.”

America (right) meets with S&M official

Obama happy to be of service

August 2, 2011

Gently massaging Rep. Michele Bachmann’s migraine-ravaged temples as he spoke, President Obama announced Sunday that a deal had been reached to avoid default on the nation’s debt, “if that’s okay.”

Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite who has said there’s virtually no chance she would vote for any compromise that doesn’t destroy the American financial system as we know it, quietly moaned as the president spoke to the nation.

Obama said later he knew the right-wing radical was unlikely to support the plan but “a massage is the least I can do to thank her and others on the right for not demanding even more than they did.”

Obama said the final draft of the bill to raise the debt ceiling “is not perfect but is a great example of how compromise — giving one side everything that it asked for while winning no concessions for yourself — can be achieved when there’s a gun held to your head.”

“The system has worked, just like most hijackings work,” Obama told the nation. “We landed the Airliner of Fiscal Responsibility safely at the Airport of Terrorist Demands and all aboard are safe.”

“And, best of all,” the president added, “we don’t have to put the hijackers on trial because we don’t have any money left to run the court systems.”

The president said he had to cut his address short because he was heading down to Kentucky to clean out horse stables as a favor to GOP Sen. Rand Paul. The freshman Republican, another Tea Party stalwart, said he too would not likely vote for the measure, but would promise not to scowl if Obama ever ran into him in the halls of Congress.

“That’s an important concession,” Obama said, “because I want him to like me.”

Most on the far right will likely end up voting against the bill that basically gave them everything they wanted, in part because they want to challenge the business-as-usual politics of Washington, and in part because they wanted the measure delivered to the House floor on a silver platter, with whipped cream on top.

“And a cherry,” demanded Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). “Don’t forget that we considered that cherry as a critical part of this new era.”

With passage of the agreement expected today, Obama will head out next week on a nationwide tour to build support for other crackpot ideas the Tea Party has put forward. Flexing their new-found strength, the conservatives have called for a diverse package of reforms that the president said he’d be glad to support, as soon as he finds out what they are.

One proposal already made by Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, pairs a change to the name of the country — from “United States of America” to “United Christian States of America” — with an initiative to repeal the Third Law of Thermodynamics because of its “pro-science bias.”

“Yeah, yeah … that sounds like a good one,” an eager Obama told reporters after the national address. “I’ll have my administration getting on that one right away.”

“Are you sure there’s not anything else we can do right now?” the president asked. “Just let me know if you think of anything, and I’ll be sure to do it, and do it with a smile.”

"Can I freshen that up for you?" Obama asks Tea-Baggers.