Posts Tagged ‘economy’

U.S. might have to move in with ‘rents

July 28, 2011

The United States, facing a debt crisis that could cripple the nation economically for years to come, has decided to move back in with its parents.

And England has mixed feelings about the decision.

“That boy needs to learn to stand on his own two feet,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “He’ll never amount to anything if he keeps up this irresponsibility.”

“Oh, David, he’s had a difficult time lately. Don’t be so hard on him,” countered Queen Elizabeth II. “He’s our own flesh and blood. We can’t turn him away.”

The United States, or “Uni” as his parents call him, is looking at a default on its financial obligations as early as next Tuesday because it can’t agree to raise the debt ceiling. Should that default occur, the nation will be looking for any way it can to save money, and eliminating its monthly rental payment on the North American continent could be one option.

“It’d just be short term, I promise,” said Uni of the proposed move. “I could stay in their basement. The Tube (London’s underground subway system) would be ideal, and I could do any fix-up it needs. It might be a tight squeeze for 300 million people down there, but I really don’t have many choices.”

The U.S. is facing not only the much-publicized debt crisis. It’s also trying to recover from the Great Recession, which has kept unemployment figures near 10% for almost two years, as well as a growing budget deficit and unprecedented income disparities between rich and poor.

Uni faces revenue shortfalls that are being caused in part because of unreasonable demands by his roommates to keep income at historically low levels, and because his job as World Policeman recently changed from full-time to part-time.

“I still might be able to pick up some freelance work in security, like being a night watchman or something,” Uni said. “But what I really want is to do something creative. I’m thinking this is the right time to pursue my dreams of becoming a rock musician. There’s good money in that.”

But Britain’s prime minister said he felt like that was an “immature choice” for someone of Uni’s age.

“He’s 235 years old, for Christ’s sake. He needs to grow up,” Cameron said of the plan. “He needs to get a real job, like his brother Canada, who’s doing quite well as a pharmacy tech.”

Cameron proposed that Uni could live instead with his sibling to the north, who has vast amounts of uninhabited land in its Arctic regions. The U.S. countered that it’d never get a gig “way the hell up there” and even if it did, “I don’t think the Eskimos would get our particular blend of ska, hip-hop and R&B.”

The Queen, however, seemed much more willing to accept having the entire U.S. return to the land from which it won its independence in 1776.

“I can’t help it; I’m a mother and I still love all my former subjects, even if they’ve made bad choices about how they’d be governed,” Elizabeth said. “I’d take any of them back in a second. Except maybe for India. Try as I might, I don’t think we could find room for 1.3 billion people on our fair little island.”

Uni continues to blame part of his problems, though, on the people he invited to live with him in 2010. He says they gave him some bad advice that led to his current predicament.

“When I first met Sarah at a tea party back in 2008, I thought she and her friends were good people,” Uni said of his roommates. “But I had the hardest time getting them to pay their portion of the rent, electricity, cable, etc. We’d get all these nasty letters and phone calls from collection agencies, but they said I should just blow them off. That’s what I did, and now look at the trouble I’m in.”

“They said paying bills and living up to your obligations is for squares,” Uni added. “I should be in one of those FreeCreditReport.com commercials. I know my band would do it in a second.”

If the Leader of the Free World can convince his father to go along with the move, he said he’d eventually pay Britain back, with interest.

“My buds Moody and Standard and Poor will tell you I’m good for it,” the United States said. “Just be sure you ask them before next Tuesday.”

Uni said he thought he could be comfortable living in England until things turn in his favor, despite the lack of some amenities he’s grown accustomed to while living on his own.

“My folks don’t have internet, for example, so it’s going to be tough to keep up with all my social networking,” the U.S. said. “I think, though, that Ireland next door has unsecured wireless, so I’m hoping I can poach off of that.”

“That’s exactly the attitude that has to change,” countered PM Cameron. “If he’s going to continue to welsh like that, he can just live with his cousins the Welsh.”

Plenty of room on the platform for futon, beanbag chair and cement-block bookshelves

Cantor won’t compromise on compromise, or anything else

July 19, 2011

Negotiations on a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling continued to falter over the weekend as Tea Party favorite Rep. Eric Cantor sought to redefine the concept of compromise in meetings with President Obama.

Insiders say that Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, is objecting to every proposal floated by Democrats until he gets something to placate his far-right constituency.

“It’s ridiculous,” claimed one senator familiar with the closed-door sessions in a White House conference room. “This guy won’t let us turn up the air-conditioning without bargaining for one of his pet issues.”

Sources close to the negotiations say Cantor eventually agreed with the rest of the room that it was a little stuffy, and said he’d permit adjustment of the thermostat in return for an agreement to dismantle the Department of Education.

The Virginia conservative reflexively opposed even the most innocuous suggestions in the Saturday session until he could tie it to his plans for smaller government, no new taxes, and an end to the social safety net.

“The President made what I thought was a nice gesture by bringing bagels to the morning meeting,” a source said. “Cantor was all, like, ‘I would’ve preferred donuts. The American people have resoundingly shown that they also prefer donuts. If we have to eat bagels, I want estate taxes permanently reduced to zero.'”

Even some fellow Republicans, like House Speaker John Boehner, appear to be annoyed by Cantor’s refusal to go along with any suggestion at all without gaining a quid pro quo.

“(Vice President) Biden was discussing revenue projections, and was using a black marker to illustrate a point on the whiteboard in the front of the room,” said a GOP congressional aide. “Cantor demanded use of a red or orange marker instead, and said he’d only accept black if Medicare was completely privatized. Boehner could clearly be heard muttering ‘Jesus’ under his breath, and then Cantor went off about it being an anti-Semitic slur.”

“I half-expected him to demand that Boehner convert to Judaism right then and there in return for not making the exchange public,” the source said.

The Saturday meeting had to adjourn by early afternoon when Cantor refused to agree to bathroom breaks unless participants adopted his plan to allow corporations to use the military to force consumers to buy their products.

“Those job-creators need help in increasing profits,” Cantor reportedly told his fellow negotiators. “I’m prepared to sit here all day in a puddle of my own urine if it will help get America back to work.”

Cantor has drawn criticism from some quarters for outlandish positions he has held in the past. After tornadoes devastated Joplin, Missouri, this spring, he said federal disaster aid should be offset by cuts to other programs. He spent up to $15,000 on an investment that would offer huge returns if government bonds defaulted. He claimed his office was shot at during the healthcare debate when it turned out to be a random gun misfiring.

But now that he’s regarded as the unofficial head of the Republican Party’s Tea Party wing, God forbid anybody should offer him any resistance.

Revisited: A safari to the discount grocery store

May 14, 2011

Craving a little adventure in your daily routine? Want to break out of the normal patterns of life to do something exciting and different? Care to be confronted by a wild animal?  

If you’re tired of your role as an apex predator at the top of the food chain, then might I suggest a shopping expedition to Discount Grocery Safari. “The Deege,” as it’s affectionately known, is a market located about a mile from my home, specializing in the sale of scratched, dented, mangled, damaged, injured and mutilated grocery items.

Some of the packages are only slightly imperfect, while others look like they’ve been trampled by a rhino. The contents inside are supposed to be safe and effective, which is good if effectiveness is something you’re looking for in tonight’s dinner. Any parts oozing down the outside of the can or box cannot be similarly guaranteed.  

A few of the items may also be slightly past their expiration date, though perishability isn’t generally a factor in items like toiletries and paper products. Except perhaps for the bathroom tissue that seems to be made of papyrus.  

I was a little perplexed about the “safari” allusion until I visited the humble establishment over the weekend. As I stalked up and down the four short aisles inside the prefab corrugated building, the dim lighting suggested a venture into the jungle of deepest, darkest upstate South Carolina. It felt like danger lurked around every corner, or maybe that was a hulking cart full of single A&W diet root beer cans. Like a safari, it seemed the expedition could result in three possible outcomes: I’d bring down a trophy of a bargain, I’d at least get a memory of something exotic and dangerous, or it would be me who became the kill, brought low by the underestimated ferocity of StarKist’s “Lunch To-Go” tuna pouch.  

The parking lot outside the Deege has room for no more than eight cars on its gravel and broken concrete surface. What would otherwise be a ninth spot is taken up by a rack for a ragtag collection of grocery carts that seem to have wandered off from higher-end grocery stores in search of a better life, only to be ultimately discarded after their porn career failed. There’s no automatic door opener to sense your presence and invite you in. Like the savannahs of Africa, the Deege is not easy to access. You have to wrestle your cart over a two-inch rise while trying to hold the door open and avoid the family of Bodines headed for their truck with a month’s supply of potato chips.  

It takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust to the light, though your nose is given no similar reprieve. Since the inventory is subject to the whims of gravity and centrifugal force on the truck that it fell from, the featured produce varies from day to day. On Saturday, it was bananas, ripe as can be if not exactly yellow. There were also zucchini, cabbage and what looked like potatoes though they could’ve been elephant droppings. We’ll need to be vigilant for the rogue male apparently in the area.  

In an alcove to the right are several large chest freezers. There are no signs advertising what’s inside. You have to lift the lid and examine the interior yourself, and even then it’s not certain whether the large resealable bag contains shrimp or a buffed-up species of krill. Not being a baleen whale, I’d hope that it’s shrimp. It’s offered at $9.99 a pound, which is a little high for plankton.  

I turn back to the left and head for the aisle against the far wall. Here you have a collection of off-brand sodas with near-brand names — Dr. Peppy, Seven Heaven and Cola (Diet) — as well as what passes for the health/beauty/cosmetics section. There are spray deodorants with just a thin reed poking up out of the can instead of a nozzle, several bent boxes of Kleenex containing facial tissue that features a tire-track pattern, and there’s this …  

   

… the First Response home ovulation test kit, apparently ripped to shreds right there in the store by a shopper desperately looking for the eggs.  

I round the corner and start down the second aisle. At about half the width of the first row, you can barely maneuver the shopping cart between the racks of flour and oils, much less accommodate a passing shopper of more than two dimensions. Here we also have bags of “jet-puffed marshmallows” (USAir’s newest profit center?), Sadaf brand falafel mix and a jar of gefilte fish labeled as “sweet”. The “best if used by” date on the fish is quite a bit in the past, although those ten days lost when Pope Gregory introduced his new calendar in 1582 can be discounted.  

As I turn down the next-to-last aisle, I see more evidence of the “safari” nature of the enterprise …  

  

… where the green paint has been worn from the concrete floor by the spring migration of wildebeest. This section is a bit of a hodgepodge with no discernible theme. One rack features the book “Victory Club” by Robin Lee Hatcher, and it’s flanked on the left by Skippy brand dog food and on the right by Rite-Aid’s unscented panty liners. I’m not sure of the book’s plot, though a logical observer is led to believe it involves a pack of canines with feminine hygiene issues.  

Finally, I’m coming down the last lap. On this aisle, there are ice cream cones and taco shells which, being particularly susceptible to breakage, seem a long shot for a satisfactory customer experience, unless you like sprinkles. Snack foods near the cash register include some pretty decent candies and a bag of the failed Burger King venture into retail, the “ketchup and fries chips”. I’m tempted to fork over a dollar for the chips, just for laughs, then decide the King should not be rewarded for his lack of marketing acumen.  

The cashier is a smiling woman whose sense of pride indicates she might also be an owner or manager. The checkout equipment is surprisingly modern, complete with scanner and touch screen that are as out-of-place as a bagboy on the veldt. For my total bill of $14.92 — “hah, hah,” she observes, “Christopher Columbus” — I got a bag of ground coffee, some cookies and candy, a tube of the tasty-but-discontinued Mexican Layer Dip Pringles, two mousse cup selections and a generic can of salmon cat food. I shudder to imagine how unspeakably offensive the expired fish byproducts must be, which means my cats loved it.  

I’m handed a receipt and my safari is complete. It was quite the adventure for an otherwise boring afternoon. I picked up some nice used food and tasted what excitement might be like halfway around the globe on the world’s most mysterious continent.  

And here’s something you don’t get as you rumble your Jeep back into camp at the base of mighty Kilimanjaro. At the bottom of my receipt is a saying from the locals at the Deege, an expression of goodwill that will remind me how satisfying this challenging hunt was: “Thank You! Come Again Soon!” it reads. “No Refunds! No Exchanges!”  

The exterior of “The Deege”

Ryan fleshes out Medicare revamp

May 10, 2011

Conservative Rep. Paul Ryan’s radical proposal to revamp federal spending — by reducing entitlements, slashing the defense budget and cutting even more taxes — is now being fleshed out in meetings with his fellow proponents of a strictly balanced budget.

These so-called “deficit hawks” are living up to their name, swooping down on helpless victims from above to fill their own bellies, then defecating the remains all over the rest of us.

The Wisconsin Republican proposed earlier this year to end Medicare as we know it. Instead of having the federal government pay doctors directly for health care for the nation’s elderly, Ryan recommended so-called “block grants” given directly to seniors, who would then be responsible for buying their own insurance. He also wants to shave tens of billions from the Defense Department’s budget, which currently totals nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars annually.

Word has now leaked out that these two initiatives will be linked if Ryan’s proposal is enacted into law. Military surplus from a down-sized armed forces will go directly to Medicare recipients as payments-in-kind. Equipment, vehicles and weapons will be delivered wholesale to retired citizens, who will then be responsible for converting them into the funding necessary to pay for their health care coverage.

“We have these stockpiles of materiel that are the leftovers of plans to wage conventional warfare. And, we have these stockpiles of old people that are the leftovers of a once-great America,” Ryan reportedly told his fellow Republicans. “It only makes sense that we use the one to deal with the other.”

“Obviously, we can’t require our senior citizens to make up a new fighting force to serve in all these asymmetrical wars we have going on,” he added. “The next best thing, then, is to give them our old military technology, and let them figure out how to sell it off.”

An outline of Ryan’s plan obtained by several news sources shows that a “means-tested” system is under consideration that would deliver the highest-value weaponry to the sickest individuals, while healthier seniors would get lesser grants.

“Someone with major medical issues like cancer, debilitating heart disease, or Alzheimer’s might get an old B-52 Stratofortress,” an aide to Ryan told reporters. “People with medical issues in the mid-range of cost — like a hip replacement, for example — could maybe get one of those powered exoskeletons we tested and abandoned a few years back. Then we’d use items like the M9 Flamethrower, the Stinger surface-to-air missile and the M2 Browning machine gun to pay for preventive care, like regular physicals, eyeglasses and dental work.”

Critics immediately questioned the feasibility of the plan, wondering how the infirm would handle the logistics of converting military aircraft, submarines and mothballed battleships into cash.

“Think about it,” said Democratic Congressman Barney Frank. “Your grandmother can’t operate a TV remote or a cell phone, and yet we’re asking her to learn the advanced avionics that would be required simply to get an A-10 Thunderbolt attack plane out of her driveway. It’s just not practical.”

“I, for one, don’t even trust my 96-year-old uncle with solid foods,” added Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. “So I’m not at all comfortable with the idea of him carrying a cluster bomb to his gastroenterologist just so he can afford his co-pay.”

“It’s really not all that hard,” countered the Ryan aide. “Vehicles can be sold at virtually any used car lot. Supplies like canteens, parachutes and food rations will bring a nice price at an Army/Navy store. And there are literally thousands of terrorists out there who will offer a great deal on landmines, grenades and automatic weapons.”

The aide noted that some seniors may even want to keep the equipment to help them out around the house or nursing home, and find another way to pay for their health coverage.

“I could see those night-vision goggles being really handy for the old man with an enlarged prostrate who’s getting up a dozen times a night to use the bathroom,” the assistant noted.

Nothing glamorous, but it’s a living

May 9, 2011

I’ve written only obliquely about my day job in the past, mostly because I’ve feared that making it widely known that I’m a cynical misanthrope could impact my job security. Turns out, that’s a highly prized attribute in my industry.

So today, I’m opening up a bit to describe more of what I do between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. five days a week. There are some confidential aspects to my work, so I’ll need to be careful about revealing certain sensitive details. I think, however, I can paint a general picture of my job responsibilities without jeopardizing national security.

No, I’m not a member of Navy Seal Team Six, or any other seal team for that matter (though you might think otherwise if you heard some of the incessant honking that passes for conversation around me). I’m a financial proofreader.

Less glamorous perhaps than putting a kill shot in bin-Laden’s eye, I’d instead be the one the CIA turned to if the world’s most-feared terrorist dared to publish a poorly punctuated manifesto. I’d be firing semicolons at him so fast that what’s left of his head would be spinning.

My team consists of myself and another proofreader, four typists and a team coordinator. We spend our workday converting clients’ word-processing files onto our own system, then making editorial changes to those documents.

Actually, that’s not completely accurate. In reality, we spend probably 80% of our day cruising the Internet, clipping coupons, playing online Scrabble and complaining about how much we dislike our cushy jobs. We keep reminding ourselves that they also serve who only sit and wait. But it sure makes the day go faster when you actually have something constructive to do. Other than scoring 63 points by spelling “QUIZ” on a triple-word square, that is.

The documents we help our clients produce are the prospectuses, proxy statements and merger agreements that keep company shareholders and government regulators informed about the inner workings of the nation’s economy. Without this transparency, the capitalist system as we know it would fail to function.

What? You say that failure has already happened? Oh. Maybe I need to be playing a little less Scrabble.

The recent financial meltdown was not my fault, nor was it the fault of anybody who works for my company. We simply help our clients disseminate the documentation they release to the public, rather than offer them any advice on what to say and how to say it. If they want to tell their shareholders that throwing corporate assets down the sewer offers an “exciting opportunity for organic growth and diversification into synergistic enterprises,” my main job is to make sure they spelled “synergistic” correctly.

Fun fact: The accompanying unaudited consolidated financial statements do not include certain information and footnote disclosures required by the United States generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. The interim financial statements and notes are presented as permitted by instructions to the Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q and Article 10 of Regulation S-X.

I sit at my work station, ever at the ready, until one of the typists announces that they’re printing out some pages that need to be proofread. I then take those pages and examine them closely to make sure there are no errors.

If the job is simply a “conversion” from the client’s system onto ours, all I do is a quick scan of the copy to make sure nothing is different between the two versions. When our proprietary software was more primitive, and our workforce less experienced, we’d occasionally find instances where the client wanted a Euro symbol and we’d accidentally give them an ampersand or the Greek letter epsilon or perhaps a tiny photograph of a puppy. Now, that almost never happens, so instead we scour the document to make sure all the dashes have space on either side of them. Wouldn’t want to jeopardize the upcoming merger of AT&T and T-Mobile by having inconsistent spacing around the dashes.

The other thing we do is take documents already on our system and make client-directed alterations to them. They fax in a page showing they want to insert a comma, we give that page to an operator with 25 years experience doing this stuff, they make the change and print it out, and I have the awesome responsibility to make sure the comma is there. It must be in the right spot. It must not be an italic comma or a bold comma or an underlined comma. It must be a Times Roman comma, not an Ariel one nor a Palatino one nor — God forbid — a Digi Antiqua Light Condensed comma. If the change is made correctly, I stamp the page with my employee number, record on my computer that the page is correct, then merge the page in with its related paperwork on a nearby table.

Grueling stuff.

This week, our second reader is on vacation, so I’ll be handling all the proofing responsibilities myself. I have long (and suicidally) maintained that we don’t need as many proofreaders as we have but, fortunately for my job security, those observations have fallen on deaf ears. Now, I’ll have the chance to prove my theory. I’ll need to be careful and read more slowly to be sure that I’ll fail.

By any objective measure, what I have is a pretty great job. There’s no physical exertion required. Our office is air-conditioned, there’s a coffeepot not 15 paces from where I’m sitting, and I can spend as much as seven hours a day doing as I please, as long as that involves staying in my seat in case one of those commas come along.

For the moment, I’ll have to put this blog-writing aside and prepare for action. Behind me, I hear our coordinator rustling some papers, while other pages are printing out nearby. Now, he’s approaching one of the typists and handing a document to her for processing. Soon, I’ll be called on to review her work and give it my seal of approval.

It’s as close to the heroic actions of a Navy Seal that I’ll get. But it’s a living.

A penny for my thoughts

April 14, 2011

Question: The most disgusting feature in the above photograph, taken of the ground outside a Burger King drive-through window, is:

A. The crushed, discarded cigarette butt
B. The black splotches in the upper half of the photo (probably sun-dried gum or pickles, though possibly dried droplets of catsup or blood)
C. The poor-quality construction and fit of the concrete slabs
D. The penny

Answer: The penny. Not only has it probably sat on the ground for days, being repeatedly run over by cars full of Whopper-munchers, but before that it was handled by who-knows-how-many grubby hands. Were I forced at gunpoint to lick any of these four, I’d choose the penny last.

+++

One of the few memories I have of my preschool days in Miami involved finding a bunch of lost change under a swing set. First I saw a nickel, picked it up and ran to my mother to show off the found treasure. Then I went back to the same spot and found a dime, repeating the same reportage to my mom. (Already, I was on a career track toward becoming a journalist). Next came a quarter, then another dime, then another quarter. Obviously, someone had swung too close to the sun.

The last coin I encountered was a penny. It was mostly buried, deep in the sand. Only Abe Lincoln’s receding hairline and the sentence fragment “GOD WE” were visible. Already enriched to what in 1958 was a virtual fortune of 75 cents, I decided to leave the penny behind.

+++

The Lincoln head penny first entered the circulation of U.S. currency in 1909. Within only a few years, its value had become so small that the 16th president rose zombie-like from the grave, demanding that Congress authorize his picture be put onto something more substantial. In 1928, following years of lobbying efforts by Zombie Lincoln, his portrait was added to the five-dollar bill.

+++

In junior high school, if you picked up a found penny from the schoolyard and a bully saw you do it, you’d be subjected to a half-dozen bicep slugs and the taunt “penny-pincher!” Non-bullies would hold the punishment at three punches.

+++

I paid for my take-out lunch from the local diner in cash the other day. The bill came to $5.98. I gave the cashier $6 and waited dutifully for my change, but she moved on to the next customer without forking over my two cents.

It made me feel cheap to be taken advantage of in such an inconsequential way.

She would’ve gotten the two cents in any case. I would’ve put it in her tip jar.

+++

One of the first pennies used in the British South Africa was nearly two inches across and weighed an eighth of a pound. The coins were very unpopular due to their large weight and size. Plus, the impression on the coin showed Britannia holding a trident in her hand, but locals thought it was Satan. They called it the “Devil’s Penny” as they assumed only the Devil used a trident.

+++

I’ve taken to carrying a few assorted pennies in my wallet so I can pay bills that come to $4.01 or $13.16 without receiving four additional pennies in change. As long as I have that one penny with me, though, those totals rarely seem to happen. Everything is nice and rounded — $11.25, $21.80, $57.10, etc.

While fumbling for cash at a convenience store the other day, the penny fell out of my wallet. There were several people waiting in line behind me, but all of them were nice enough not to punch me in the arm.

+++

In case you’re curious, the penny I have in there now is dated 1989. Imagine how far this coin has travelled in the last 22 years, assuming it didn’t spend all of that time behind the cushion of someone’s couch.

+++

The penny currently costs the U.S. government a full 1.6 cents to mint. If we could decide to eliminate this smallest coin from production, the federal deficit of $14 trillion could be reduced to nothing by the time the Earth crashes into the sun as the entire solar system is engulfed by supernova.

+++

How much money has to be lying on the ground in front of you these days for you to go to the trouble of bending over to pick it up and pocket it?

I stepped right over a dime the other day, then felt guilty about how the coin would’ve fed my grandfather and his entire family for three months.

Currently, it takes a quarter or more for me to risk lower back injury.

+++

To “spend a penny” in British idiom means to urinate. The etymology of the phrase is literal; some public toilets used to be coin-operated.  British Rail gradually introduced a better public toilet (called the “Superloo”) and the charge was raised to about two-and-a-half pence.

Volunteer spirit could get us through government shutdown

April 7, 2011

WASHINGTON (April 7) — The long-held Defense Department goal of an all-volunteer armed forces is set to become reality tomorrow as the federal government shuts down and becomes unable to pay its service people fighting in three wars around the world.

“We make it very clear when we sign them up that this man’s army is an all-volunteer army,” said Maj. Gen. Roscoe Tanner. “We want them to know that Americans are more proud than ever that we have the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, and that they’re willing to do it on the cheap.”

“How’s that again?” observed Corp. Matt Michael. “That wasn’t my understanding from the recruiter about what ‘all-volunteer’ meant.”

“Oh, yeah,” countered Tanner. “Look. Look right here, on dictionary.com. It says ‘volunteer — somebody who works without being paid’. It’s kind of like helping out with your church’s potluck supper, except with more landmines.”

“But I lost my leg in Iraq. They’re still paying for my prosthetic limb, right?” asked Michaels.

“We might be able to find you a stick around here somewhere,” Tanner said.

“And we’re not getting our pay? How are we supposed to feed our families back home?” Michaels pressed.

“I suggest they volunteer to help out at a local soup kitchen,” Tanner offered. “I understand the workers there can lick the bowls when everybody’s done.”

As our brave men and women in uniform face the prospect of fighting and dying just for the fun of it until the budget impasse in Washington is resolved, politicians on both sides of the aisle tried to hammer out a compromise to fund the government for the next fiscal year.

Republicans initially wanted the new funding bill to reflect about $33 billion in spending cuts, and the Democrats agreed. The Republicans then thought “gee, that was easy, let’s ask for $40 billion instead.” As President Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday, they appeared close to agreeing on the $40 billion figure, so the GOP jacked up their request to $60 billion.

“I am prepared to stand firm on the $40 billion — no, make that $50 billion — no, make that $60 billion,” Obama told a group of reporters following the meeting.

Boehner, facing pressure from Tea Party conservatives on the right who want to dissolve the federal government entirely and replace it with a Wal-Mart, was visibly stressed by working on an issue that could negatively impact so many Americans.

“We have to be prepared to face some hard times,” a tearful Boehner told a press conference. When reminded that Congress will still be paid in the event of a government shutdown, Boehner collected himself and said, “let me rephrase that — you have to be prepared to face some hard times.”

Rep. Michelle Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite on Capitol Hill, urged Americans to be inspired by the military’s spirit of volunteerism, and ask what they can do for free in order to preserve our great American experiment in democracy.

“Offer to work in a prison that has laid off its guards, offer to serve on a SWAT team if your town’s police force has been dissolved,” Bachmann suggested. “Hop in your SUV for a summer vacation in Afghanistan, where you can help root out the Taliban. And I’d like to see the millions of elderly whose use of Medicare has put us in such a deep hole … I’d like to see these folks volunteer to start feeling better.”

Bachmann even suggested that unpaid helpers could be used to return astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station to earth. Since the next space shuttle launch won’t be possible without a new federal budget in place, the astronauts face being stranded unless an alternate plan for bringing them home can be developed.

“I’ve got an extension ladder in my toolshed, and I think just about all my neighbors do too,” Bachmann said. “If we all pitch in — on Saturday, for example, when we usually get together to neaten up the entrance to our subdivision — I bet we could strap enough ladders together to reach all the way to outer space.”

“It’s this kind of can-do spirit that will get us through the coming elimination of the federal government,” she added.

Happy April Fool’s Day

April 1, 2011

When I was in college at Florida State back in the early seventies, we had an annual tradition of turning the student newspaper completely over to fake, funny news each April Fool’s Day.

The usual collection of straight news stories, meeting announcements and accounts of the woeful exploits of the 1973 Seminole football team (record that year: 0-11) were replaced by fanciful parodies written by our talented staff. Almost forty years later, I can’t remember many of the actual articles, except for one I recall that featured the nation’s first dead streaker, his lifeless body carried around Landis Green by a couple of friends.

In that same tradition of turning the tables on readers who expect one thing and get another on this annual day of frivolity, I present my humor post for April Fool’s 2011.

BNP Paribas introduces ‘THEAM’

LONDON (April 1) — THEAM is BNP’s new investment partner that will specialize in index, active systematic, guaranteed and alternative portfolio management, and the result of a joint project between BNP Paribas CIB and BNP Paribas Investment Partners.

THEAM will combine BNP Paribas Asset Management’s SIGMA teams with those of Harewood Asset Management (Harewood AM) which was created in 2004 at the initiative of BNPP CIB’s Equity Derivatives teams. Gilles Guerin has joined BNPP IP as CEO of THEAM.

MERGER OF TWO SPECIALISTS WITH COMPLEMENTARY SKILLS
With the growing convergence of the portfolio management techniques used by asset managers and capital markets expertise developed by corporate and investment banking groups, the proposal to merge Harewood AM and SIGMA was a logical move that aligns with the latest investor expectations in terms of liquidity, innovation and market access.

The joint venture means the two entities can support one another and combine their respective strengths to better serve their clients.

THEAM will draw in part on the SIGMA team’s acknowledged expertise in index and guaranteed portfolio management, risk allocation and absolute return strategies, while Harewood AM will provide its expertise in systematic funds, the use of innovative underlying assets and funds of hedge funds.

By pooling the strengths of BNP Paribas CIB and BNP Paribas IP, THEAM benefits from the best practices of both investment banking and asset management, thus offering innovation, responsiveness, transparency and security within a culture of long-term performance and solid customer relations.

A WIDE RANGE OF INVESTMENT SOLUTIONS
The aim of the merger is to offer investment solutions that meet the needs of investor profiles across a broad spectrum of underlying assets (equities, bonds, commodities, volatility, currencies, etc.) and through the skilled application of an extensive range of investment styles. THEAM has been created to meet each investor’s specific requirements. The new entity will offer four main categories of portfolio management services:

Index management: via total or optimized cash or synthetic replication, its indexed funds offering and its EasyETF tracker funds are centred on the world’s leading financial indices.
Active systematic: based on algorithms and implemented by portfolio managers specializing in the use of arbitrage techniques, THEAM’s management approach ranges from full discretionary to full systematic. It is distinctive in its predominantly quantitative component, which provides optimized access to the various asset classes.
Guaranteed and protected management: From passive management with formulas funds to active management, THEAM offers protected or guaranteed solutions where the risky assets, or the guaranteed component, or both, are actively managed.
Liquid alternative management: THEAM offers its internal absolute return strategies under UCITS III funds, and also selects and assembles hedge funds and managed account to create liquid and transparent portfolios.

ORGANIZATION
As a new BNP Paribas IP Partner, THEAM will be chaired by Dominique Hoenn and managed by Gilles Guerin as CEO. Gilles Guerin will be assisted by Denis Panel (CIO) as Head of Investment and Structuring, and Alexandre Mojaisky (COO) as Head of Sales and Support.

THEAM will have a Supervisory Board comprising six members (three from BNP Paribas IP and three from BNP Paribas CIB) and which will be chaired by Philippe Marchessaux.

“This ambitious project, which brings together the talents and skills in both corporate and investment banking and asset management, offers a unique opportunity for investors to access a vast range of investment solutions, and I am delighted that Gilles Guerin has agreed to take the helm,” said Philippe Marchessaux, CEO of BNP Paribas Investment Partners

Yann Gerardin, Head of Global Equities and Commodity Derivatives at BNP Paribas CIB, added: “This new entity will give clients the benefit of CIB’s innovation and research, combined with Asset Management’s expertise in developing tailored investment solutions.”

Davis Whiteman, an observer completely unaffiliated with BNP and totally ignorant about the arcane world of investment banking, added “Happy April Fool’s Day.”

Fake News: Lady Gaga inspires budget writers

February 15, 2011

In an interview broadcast Sunday night on “60 Minutes,” Lady Gaga admitted that she wrote most of her songs under the influence of marijuana.

“I smoke a lot of pot when I write music,” she told Anderson Cooper, then demonstrated the side effect of short-term memory loss by adding, “I smoke weed when I write.”

It’s long been known that drug use can encourage the creative flow in many writers and other artists, from jazz musicians to novelists to rock stars. The lack of inhibitions it promotes can give rise to innovative thought patterns and lead to ideas that might not have been considered in the fog of sobriety.

Now, taking his cue from both the immensely successful pop star and from political observers who say we need “outside-the-box” perspectives to solve many of the nation’s chronic problems, President Obama told reporters yesterday that he wrote the $3 trillion 2012 federal budget submitted to Congress Monday while he was totally blitzed.

“Not just stoned, mind you,” he said. “Really, really stoned.”

Obama paid numerous homages to Lady Gaga in the 216-page document delivered to Capitol Hill yesterday. He titled the chapter devoted to cuts in military spending “Bad Defense,” an obvious reference to Gaga’s hit “Bad Romance.” He addressed the need to put reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits on the table in a section called “End-End-Entitlements, End Entitlements,” sampling the rhythms and phrasing of the chorus from “Poker Face.” He even gave a shout-out to now-departed chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who helped draft the massive document before leaving the administration late last year. The “Acknowledgments” page at the end thanks “Rahm, Rahm, oo-la-la.”

The President offered his proposals for increasing some budgets while slashing others in an often-rambling style. He credited this stream-of-consciousness writing technique with allowing him to float improbable ideas and then build on them with hallucinations and illusions “that made sense at the time, though now a couple of days later, I’m not always sure what I meant.”

In one example, Obama suggested a way to rein in health care costs among aging Baby Boomers about to enter their Medicare years.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get everybody who was sick into one big stadium, then have them describe their symptoms to each other, without having to get doctors involved?” he asked on page 158 of the proposal. “Everybody could bring a bag of the medicines they’re currently taking, and we could do a big swap meet kind of thing where patients could shop among these partially used prescriptions and try to find something that would work for them. We’d have a bunch of magazines sitting around the room with all those ads from the different pharmaceutical companies and all the potential side effects, and people could use these for reference about what they might need. Some participants would find exactly the medicine they need and get better, and some would end up with life-threatening allergic reactions that might take them out of the Medicare pool altogether. And some even might get a little high. That would be really cool.”

Obama used a similar blue-sky approach to address other domestic issues such as immigration and the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

“What if all the illegal Mexicans doing landscaping work could help keep up the outward appearances of these abandoned homes blighting many suburban neighborhoods?” he speculated. “If they worked hard enough, cut the grass really good, kept the leaves raked, and everything, then they could earn points toward owning that home themselves. And if there are any Edward Scissorhands types out there who could make some of that fancy topiary — maybe eagles and unicorns and tigers and puppies — they could move to the front of the line to achieve full citizenship status. And the original homeowners who couldn’t make their payments would be deported to Mexico. It’d be like a circle-of-life kind of thing. It would be awesome.”

Republicans in Congress were quick to attack many of the President’s proposals, charging that they did little to reduce the voluminous federal budget deficit.

“Some of these may have seemed like good ideas at 2:30 in the morning, with your belly full of pizza and your head full of funny smoke, but in the light of day, then just don’t make sense,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “I think that our proposals to eliminate aid to the poorest Americans while increasing tax breaks for the wealthy and the corporate elite represent a much more practical approach to the problems faced by our economy.”

“That’s cool, that’s cool, we can work with that,” Obama said in response to Boehner’s criticism. “Let me listen to ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ a few more times and see if we can’t work some of that in there. I’m in a very bipartisan place right now. ‘Come on people now, smile on your brother,’ they say. ‘Everybody get together, try to love one another right now.'”

DADT to be repealed? Do tell!

December 21, 2010

Actual quote from Marine Pfc. Alex Tuck, as reported by The New York Times, on how he felt about the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:
“Showers will be awkward. But as long as a guy can hold his own and protect his back, it won’t matter if [someone] is gay.”

As Congress scrambled through the final days before its holiday recess, the volume of legislation under consideration became almost unmanageable. Lame duck though it was — even lamer a duck than usual — the flurry of bipartisanship that only a looming vacation can inspire saw a record number of measures headed to the president’s desk.

Among the more groundbreaking was the repeal by the Senate Saturday of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s long-running game show in which losing participants see their careers reduced to ruin. After almost 20 years of a policy that allowed gays to serve in the armed forces as long as they marched instead of minced, homosexuals would be allowed to admit their sexual orientation — though they may want to think twice about doing it in a nation of Islamic fundamentalists.

Several Republicans broke party ranks and voted in favor of the repeal. And not just the gay ones. Meanwhile, Democrats in the House and Senate were nearly united in favoring the repeal, led by openly Democratic Rep. Barney Frank (Gay-Mass.).

But it was Republican Sen. Eric Newby of Wyoming who may have been the most surprising proponent of a new policy. He wants the enacting legislation called “Do Ask, Do Tell, Provide Video” (DADTPV).

“If there are men who actually participate in this kind of deviant behavior, I think they owe it to the public to be very openly gay,” Newby said. “I’d like to see videotape of just what’s going on here, so I can condemn it and condemn it until, well, who knows what will happen?”

With a full plate of bills to act on in just the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Congress is wasting little time. Legislators have sometimes been criticized in the past for not even reading the details of a measure. Now, there are many who don’t even have the vaguest idea of what’s coming up for a vote.

Take, for example, the START Treaty, designed to reduce the number of nuclear missiles held by both the U.S. and Russia. About half the opponents think it’s a preschool program, similar to Head Start, that would trade many of our nation’s two- and three-year-olds to Moscow for oil and natural gas resources. Others plan to oppose the treaty with a revised bill they’re calling STOP.

“It stands for ‘Something to Oppose Proliferation’ or ‘Something to Offset Pyroclasty,’ something like that,” said Rep. Eric Cantor. “So far, all we really have is the acronym, and even that is a work in process.”

Another measure subject to widespread confusion is the so-called DREAM Act. It would provide a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military. But that’s not how Rep. Joe Hampton (R-Tex.) sees it.

“A law that requires American citizens to file a daily report with the government on what they dreamed about the night before is just plain intrusive,” Hampton said. “What if I start dreaming about DADTPV?”

Two other proposals that representatives had hoped to act upon were a bill strengthening food safety regulations, and a fund set up to help cover health insurance costs of first responders to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Perhaps inspired by the compromise that saw Democrats agree to temporary extension of the Bush-era tax cuts in return for an extension of unemployment benefits, legislators paired the seemingly unrelated plans together. It was Rep. Martin Mayo, D-Fla., who suggested combining the two issues and subjecting them to an up or down vote.

“Obviously, we’re in no position to fund a huge medical payout with the deficit so high,” Mayo said. “So how about if we instead offer a healthy snack to the brave firemen, policemen and EMTs who responded on that fateful day. We’ll overnight each of them a fruit basket from Harry and David’s. And we’ll bombard it with gamma radiation first to make sure it’s safe.”