Posts Tagged ‘finance’

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.

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)

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

Ally and Alli looking to become allies

February 22, 2011

In a move that had many analysts shaking their heads, it was announced yesterday that a merger-of-equals will take place between Ally Bank, an Internet financial institution based in Utah, and the makers of Alli, a leading anti-obesity drug.

The new firm, to be called “Alliy Consolidated,” will attempt to achieve a unique corporate synergy by bringing together two companies that seemingly have little in common. Ally Financial is the former banking arm of GMAC, involved primarily in automobile loans but trying now to attract savers by offering simple banking products at competitive interest rates. Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline distributes Alli, the medication known generically as tetrahydrolipstatin, which uses fecal incontinence in conjunction with a reduced-calorie diet to promote weight loss.

“This is a great day for our customers interested in saving for retirement while looking to trim down in time for bathing-suit season,” said Joseph Crouse, who will become president of the combined firm. “We’ll be using economies of scale and the power of two well-known brands to stake out an innovative niche in two growing markets. Alliy will offer one-stop shopping for tubby clients interested in leveraging the convenience of online banking with the inconvenience of steatorrhea, a condition characterized by oily, loose stools and excessive flatus.”

The similarity of the two companies’ names had long confused many potential customers. People who logged onto in search of urgent or frequent bowel movements instead found themselves reading about no-penalty certificates of deposit (CDs) and money market accounts. Meanwhile, those looking for modern financial products offered over the Internet were encountering information about controversial aversion therapy techniques that associated eating fat with unpleasant “treatment effects.”

“We’re taking the negatives associated with that confusion and turning them into a positive,” Crouse said. “Now, people will have time to be constantly in and out of the bathroom because they are spending less time and effort managing their personal finances.”

Crouse said the new business, which he called the “first bankaceutical,” will hit the ground running once federal regulators approve the merger later this spring. He said a management team is already in place that “will use that same sense of urgency that Alli consumers feel on a daily basis and apply it to the creation of the world’s greatest online depository institution.”

“We’re redefining the whole concept of ‘making a deposit,'” Crouse told reporters.

Observers of the mergers and acquisitions market expressed reservations that the new company could succeed. They cited the well-known failure last year of an effort by the makers of Flomax, who tried to pick up remnants of the collapsed investment bank Lehman Brothers. Despite a lavishly financed marketing campaign featuring the tag line “Piss Your Money Worries Away,” that attempt was abandoned in the wake of the recession.

“I’m just not sure they can make it work,” said Eric Royster, an analyst from Bank of America. “Their offer of transparent financial products may or may not be successful with a customer base that is constantly shitting itself.”

Crouse said he hoped the new name will blur negative memories some may have of Alli. In 2007, the consumer group Prescription Access Litigation awarded the medicine its “Bitter Pill Award,” asking the question “with allies like this, who needs enemas?”

“Our attorneys are already working with the FDA to include new safety information on our packaging about the risk of severe liver injury,” Crouse said. “We think that’s a small price to pay for no-fee ATMs.”

Crouse said the new Alliy will continue to offer FDIC insurance for deposits up to $10,000, while limiting its customers to “no more than five withdrawals per day.”

“Ally Financial has long been known for its liquidity, even during the height of the 2008 banking crisis,” Crouse said. “I think this merger will take that reputation to the next level.”

Meanwhile, speculation grew that yet another company could be snatched up in this current round of merger mania in corporate America. The makers of All laundry detergent were said to be in preliminary discussions with the new Alliy. That combination would result in the biggest player yet in the lucrative field of firms whose names start with “All”.

“There’s more synergy there than one might think at first glance,” said a financial reporter from The Wall Street Journal. “It may seem counterintuitive, but loose, oily stools can actually be processed into a very effective cleanser. It’s an all-natural alternative to the processed phosphates that All is using now. If they get the go-ahead from regulators, I see the board at Alliy being so flushed with success that they just may try to make this play.”

Taxes and weight loss tackled in same effort

January 6, 2011

As soon as the holidays pass, thoughts turn to the two major concerns of every New Year: weight loss and tax preparation. Now, there’s one company that can help you with both.

H&R Blob offers customers a unique combination of services that will help you shed pounds while pulling together all the various forms and statements needed to maximize your federal and state tax returns. You’ll be guaranteed compliance with most major features of the tax code and, at the same time, slim down that pudgy frame fast enough to be in compliance with this summer’s bathing-suit season.

“The common theme in both efforts has to do with deductions,” says H&R Blob President Jerry Moore in TV commercials hitting the airwaves this week. “We help you maximize the weight subtracted from your figure, and we help manipulate your financial figures to maximize the amount of taxes you avoid paying.”

H&R Blob’s business model is based on achieving a synergy between two daunting efforts. Pieces of both are cross-pollinated so that a pair of annoying headaches can instead become a single massive ischemic stroke that, when cured, leaves the customer both slimmer and wealthier. Though the process can be traumatic, many clients later report no memory of the effort itself, nor of loved ones or once-familiar pets.

Moore says H&R Blob takes pertinent numbers from your most recent health exam and plugs these into your tax form, doing away with artery-clogging W-2’s and 1099’s entirely.

“For example, we take your cholesterol numbers and use these as your tax credits. We take your triglyceride count and make this your number of dependents,” Moore said. “Your BMI (body mass index) translates as your withholding and your weight in grams becomes you adjusted gross income.”

Moore promises that the stress of pulling such a bold stunt on the Internal Revenue Service will provoke rapid weight loss as you lie awake sleepless at night, worried that you’ll be jailed for tax fraud.

“Our patented techniques will get you from a 1040 down to a weight in the low 900s in just a matter of weeks,” Moore claims. “Then, when the penalties and interest start kicking in around mid-May, your frame — and your pockets — will be further lightened. By June, you’ll be nearly skeletal. You’ll be the envy of the shore.”

Moore said the trick to getting a hefty refund is to carefully itemize all the food you’ve eaten in tax year 2010. Most officials at the IRS will be so confused to see “chocolate cake slice” and “banana cream pie” where normally home office supplies and business travel expenses are listed that you should expect at least double the amount you received in 2009. Since less than 1% of returns are subject to a formal audit, you have a 99% chance of avoiding a visit from a revenue agent coming to your home to weigh you.

“And if they do, it is our promise that we’ll stand behind you, and discreetly place a foot on the scales so it looks like you weigh more than you do,” Moore said. “Usually, they feel so sorry for your pathetic condition that the audit is dropped.”

H&R Blob also makes a special offer to the morbidly obese, arranging for them to qualify as a corporation or a partnership so that hundreds of pounds of excess flab can be disguised in the books as an off-shore venture, beyond the scope of U.S. income taxes.

“The bonus here is that you can take a tax-deductible trip to Bermuda or the Cayman Islands to set up your shell corporation,” Moore said. “Of course, the down side is that you may have to pay for as many as two or three airplane seats.”

Fake News: Bank reform takes to the streets

April 27, 2010

WASHINGTON (April 26) — As part of the financial system reform proposal now before Congress, President Obama announced yesterday that local police will be empowered to stop and arrest anyone they suspect of being a banker.

Despite objections from civil libertarians that such profiling of possible bankers is unconstitutional, the president said that the porous walls of financial institutions were allowing too many illegal executives out into the countryside.

“Bankers are everywhere today,” Obama told reporters at a Rose Garden press conference. “Just look around at the landscapers working right here in this garden. You can tell by their clothing, their music, their food and their ghostly pale skin that they are not legal Americans. We must empower our law enforcement officials to confront these intruders and take them into custody.”

With that, about two dozen middle-aged men dressed in conservative grey business suits dropped their leaf blowers and edgers, and scampered over the wrought-iron fence of the White House grounds and out onto the streets of Washington.

“Get them!” shouted the president. “They’re running away!”

Obama’s announcement represented a sharp reversal of the Administration’s previous stance that the men and women whose irresponsible risk-taking nearly toppled the economy should be granted amnesty, as well as large bonuses. When Arizona began rounding up bankers at routine traffic stops following enactment of that state’s tough new law, the president at first had called the move “a dangerous precedent.” But within days, the president saw the national outcry against employees of depository institutions reaching a fever pitch, and he changed his position.

His speech Monday echoed many of the themes in an address given by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who granted authority to state and local police to “round up the bankers and send them back to Bangkok.”

Civil rights groups like the American Banking Association said they understood the public’s impatience with enacting new regulations, but still opposed the wholesale round-up of all conservatively dressed citizens.

“We’re seeing our members arrested and being forced by police to make a statement well before they’re prepared,” said Harold Penderson, president of the ABA. “Our systems are set up to generate a statement only at the end of the month, and now our customers can help us save money by receiving these statements online instead of through the mail.”

Penderson listed a number of reforms that his member institutions had already established to address the most grievous shortcomings of financial services firms. Among these, he cited new fonts being used on the screens of ATMs, allowing cash to be dispensed in ten-dollar increments instead of the previous twenty-dollar amount, and confirming the end of each electronic transaction with “are you really sure?” instead of the previous “are you sure?”

He also said that large investment banks on Wall Street would now be referred to with derogatory nicknames. For example, Goldman Sachs will be called “Goldman Sucks,” and Citibank will be called “Shittibank.”

Meanwhile, as the national debate rages on about the preferential treatment of Wall Street versus Main Street, another faction has stepped into the fray. Singer Eddy Grant said the residents of another thoroughfare — Electric Avenue — are being overlooked as neighborhood institutions vie for their piece of the pie against the titans of New York’s financial district.

“Down in the street there is violence, and lots of work to be done,” Grant said. “No place to hang out our washing, and I can’t blame all on the sun.”

He added, “Oh … no … We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue, and then we’ll take it higher.”

Grant denied that taking it “higher,” or “workin’ so hard like a soldier,” meant his neighborhood would look to a higher power for authority to violently wrest control of the nation’s assets from the hands of the few.

“Oh, no,” he reiterated when confronted with the charge. “Oh, no.”

My advice: Take advantage of friends’ kindness

July 26, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a weekend summer rerun feature of I look at questions of ethics, propriety, faith, technology, geopolitics, health, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from readers looking for a more open and honest relationship with their friends.

Q. Our best friends, “Bill and Melinda,” are financially well off. My husband and I make just enough to get by. We have been friends for a long time and always have a good time together. “Bill and Melinda” are always inviting us to go with them on expensive trips. When we say we can’t afford it, they insist on paying. They even offered to buy us a membership in their country club. When we explain we’re uncomfortable with them paying for everything, they tell us the money is no big deal. How can we make them understand that we appreciate their generosity but are uncomfortable accepting their charity? – Not Only Poor But Really, Really Stupid

A. I think that if you’re truly best friends with these folks, you should be able to have an honest conversation about your concerns. I suspect they don’t even realize your discomfort, and would try to be more understanding if they did. I also would bet that they consider your friendship far more valuable than anything they could buy, and that’s why they want to be so generous.

No – forget that. It’s entirely too reasonable.

I would make a point of entertaining them the best way you can afford, in the coziness of your own home. The fanciest restaurant in the world can’t compare with a home-cooked meal of spam-and-dog-food lasagna around the small bench you call a dining room table. Go all out for this event, setting a trash fire in the corner of the room to provide the right ambience and putting a block of cheese on the back porch to draw out all the rats. After your friends have had a few glasses of malt liquor, all class differences will be forgotten.

Then, when they return the favor by inviting you into their home, be prepared to thoroughly ransack the place looking for jewelry, cash and expensive electronics to be loaded into your pick-up truck and hauled away while they’re preparing the canapés. If they happened to surprise you during your looting spree, just laugh it off – in as threatening and maniacal a laugh as you can summon.

By the way, you say these people are named “Bill and Melinda.” That wouldn’t be Bill and Melinda Gates, would it? If so, make sure you also steal the Microsoft stock certificates.

O America! I file now my taxes

April 15, 2009

There’s a little-known provision in the U.S. Tax Code that I think I’m going to use with this year’s income tax filing. Even though the Internal Revenue Service provides taxpayers with dozens of different forms to make it easier to communicate all the appropriate information, you are not in fact required to use any of these forms. As long as they get the data they need in a timely fashion, other formats are acceptable.

So instead of using Form 1040 like I might normally do, I’m going to file my 2008 income taxes in free verse, with inspiration from America’s greatest poet, Walt Whitman.

O America!

Thy gleaming towers of commerce lie in rubble and ruin

Your once-proud people shamble through unending off-lays and sizings-down

They struggle to find work, both the learn’d and unlearn’d

The homefires they thought were theirs are possessed anew

Usury stalks the land where once there was a reasonable credit market

Lo, I watch the dark clouds of fate gather, yet hope I must

As it is in my American spirit!


Yes, you must levy a surcharge upon your citizenry

It is how we will pay for the stimulation and the bailing and the eventual recovery

That will someday soon return our land to its promontory on the mesa on the hill

Return its people to their hurrahs, so as to squelch the fury of rous’d mobs

(I’m looking at you, Fox News).


The security of thy corpus is bound up in a social net that numbers tens of myriads

My number is but one of these – 287-39-6312

This cipher is mine and mine alone, and I glory in its individuality

My love, my spouse, my lifemate, she too is joining me in this annual celebration

And her number too is of interest to thee – it is 365-08-4118

We file jointly, for we are married.


And, yea, we do want to pay the tripl’d dollar

To go toward the Presidential Election Campaign

Though we desire as well to register our strenuous protest and objection

To the ongoing war with Mexico.


You wish to know the assembled value of my wages, my salaries

You wish to know the value of even my tips, tho they pale in comparison

To the worth that was visited upon me by my father in heav’n

Forthwith I will divine these and show thee to a cent

The integer is sixty-seven thousand

Seven hundred and thirty-six dollars

Or so that is what I deign to report.


I have interest in life in all its aspects

In the brown ants and the little wells beneath them

And mossy scabs of the worm-fence, heap’d stones, elder mullein and poke-weed

I have interest in how you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d me over

And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart

But I report no interest of the taxable kind

And no unemployment compensation and no Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.


No one shall claim me as dependent, for I am so fiercely independent

That sometimes it makes my head hurt, and my acquaintances annoy’d

At this point I shall claim a deduction of seventeen thousands and nine hundreds

For so it has been direct’d by statutes in the rule of levies

I shall subtract this from the previous line to arrive at my taxable income

Despite the horror of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events.


O America!

You have already withheld substantial fractions of my annual fortune

As I can see from the box numbered two on my Form W-2

I do not begrudge this contribution to thy welfare and that of my fellow citizens

For we all must labor together to build a nation of brothers, a nation of sisters

Tho I sure wish you didn’t spend so much on that folly of a program

To build a cow museum in the land of the Nebraskan.


I claim no earned income credit

I claim no nontaxable combat pay election

I claim no recovery rebate credit

For I have seen the worksheet on pages 17 and 18

I only claim to celebrate myself, and sing myself.


I will now add my total payments to calculate my tax

As it is express’d in the tax tables I must now consult

As once I consulted with the boatmen and the clam-diggers

The butcher-boy and the blacksmith and the runaway slave

(I think that butcher-boy had a thing for me, tho that shall be another sonnet)

And now, because line 10 is larger than line 11, I shall subtract line 11 from line 10

This is my refund, and I glory in its amount, even as I had hop’d for more.


I hereby direct that said sum shall be directly deposited

With all alacrity and without undue delay

To an account I designate as one of “checking”

And with a routing number that aspires to be the lofty 4732985

And yet in reality will never reach those hallowed heights.


You will hardly know who I am or what I mean

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless

I stop somewhere waiting for you

And so I affix my signature here

So you know that it is me.


Fake News: Former execs still keeping busy

April 9, 2009

NEW YORK (April 7) – Titans of corporate America who have lost their jobs in the current economic downturn may have their golden parachutes to keep them financially secure, but for men whose hard-driving work ethic no longer has an outlet, the transition to retirement can be difficult.

Some of them are taking on new careers that may not provide the monetary incentives they’re used to, yet still put a sense of purpose into their days. We tracked down several of these former masters of the universe to see how they are surviving as, at most, the night manager of a star.

Or, in the case of former General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner, a Starbucks.

Since his highly visible ouster last month by President Obama, the 30-year GM veteran was able to get on as a second-shift barista at a midtown New York coffee shop. His drive to come up with innovative solutions to satisfy customers seems to be serving him well in his new position.

“Even though my experience is mostly executive, I’ve always had a keen interest in both R&D and in sales,” Wagoner said in an interview during his 15-minute smoke break. “I’m trying to put some new ideas out there so my supervisor might recognize my talent and move me to first shift.”

Wagoner has been suggesting new products that have met some initial resistance from customers. He believes, though, that if the company will continue to offer the products, they will eventually become a success in the marketplace.

“I think I have a pretty good idea of what Americans want from my days at GM,” Wagoner said. “So I’m pushing three new product lines: hot toddies, sassafras soda-pop and, as a seasonal offering for the upcoming summer months, a thick, steaming-hot cup of heavy cream.”

Wagoner said that although he’s learned a valuable lesson from his experience offering car buyers mostly SUVs and Hummers as gas prices soared over $4 a gallon, he’s not going to stray from his core belief that people have to be told what they want.

“I had a guy just an hour ago who begged and begged for a tall light mocha no whip, but I wasn’t going to give in,” Wagoner said. “I was determined to sell him the hot toddy. He finally stormed out and said he was going for some green tea at the Japanese place next door. He’ll be back. Just you wait. You’ll see.”

Meanwhile, across town at an east-side convenience store/gas station, former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain was sharing a late-night shift with co-worker Habeeb Alawi. Thain worked the cash register behind a thick pane of bullet-proof glass while Alawi hosed down the pavement and watched for drive-offs outside.

Thain famously lost his job at the iconic Wall Street investment firm shortly after it was acquired by Bank of America. Stories soon emerged about Thain’s extravagant spending habits while at Merrill, including over $1 million to redecorate his office.

“I learned some hard lessons in that experience, but I think I’ve come out of it a wiser man,” Thain said through a small metal vent in the glass. “Your priorities definitely change when you’re making $9.50 an hour.”

Thain said that he still enjoys the finer things in life, and that he’s dipped into the $83 million salary he earned in 2007 to make his current work a little more comfortable. The rubber mat he stands on for six hours a day is about twice as thick as standard issue, and he’s gilded the edges with ermine fur and gold plating. And the small cubby hole back behind the men’s room where he stashes his coat and other personal belongings is padded with thick Irish leather infused with a fine Italian cologne that helps disguise the smell of stale urine nearby.

“I like keeping busy here and, who knows, maybe this will lead to an executive position in the energy business,” Thain said.

“Hey, I saw you put that candy in your pocket! Put back the damn candy before I come out there and rip your arm off,” he said to a customer. “I said, put the … Oh, no! No, don’t shoot! Don’t kill me! Please!”

Finally, we caught up with former Lehman Brothers chief Richard Fuld, whose investment firm imploded after a series of highly complex financial transactions fell apart last fall. Fuld is working 15 hours a week at the front counter at McDonald’s on Times Square but soon hopes to increase his hours to 20.

In between working the cash register and handing out bags of burgers and fries, Fuld talked about how he hopes to turn his current labor into a new business model that could employ some of the wheeling and dealing techniques he perfected on Wall Street.

“What we could do is offer customers the option to buy a Big Mac for about a quarter of what the actual burger costs, then if our prices go up later, they can cash out the option and make a profit on their fast-food purchase,” Fuld said. “We could sell French fry futures and McNugget derivatives, which would allow us to charge a fee for the transaction itself, then put that money into convertible debt obligations and leverage these to position ourselves in the commercial paper market for sausage and cheese McGriddles with no egg.”

Fuld said he hasn’t yet been successful explaining his plan to his boss, franchisee Desai Muktananda, but will keep trying.

“I guess maybe there’s a bit of a language barrier there,” Fuld said. “I don’t think his English is good enough for him to understand when I talk about the notional value of forward hedging and off-balance-sheet swaptions.”

World’s smallest economies meet

April 6, 2009

TRENTON, New Jersey (April 5) – Representatives of nations in the B-20 met this weekend in Conference Room Number 2 of the East Brunswick Township Fairmont Suites to talk about the challenges they face as the smallest countries in the world.

The summit of the world’s tiniest states comes in the wake of last week’s meeting of the G-20 in London, where President Obama joined other leaders of the largest economies to discuss global financial matters, the banking crisis, and environmental and security issues. The B-20 group, on the other hand, met to address concerns that they alone share, including where everybody in the country was supposed to sit, and what to do about citizens who can’t seem to keep their hands to themselves.

The B-20 (the “B” stands for “bottom”) group finished their three-day conference late Sunday, and issued a joint communiqué on the results of their discussions.

“We come away from this meeting with many mutual understandings,” said Uday Maranathan, prime minister of the Seychelles (area: 107 sq. mi.; pop.: 69,000; you probably thought it was: French for “seashells”). “We have a fresh resolve to work together to solve our many unique problems.”

Conferees addressed a number of concerns that they face back home, including the issue of rising sea levels among the island nations, the need for a more diverse economic base, and the lack of awareness among much of the world that they even exist.

“I think just the publicity we got from having this meeting will go a long way toward helping us,” said Nelson Johnson, premier of Turks and Caicos (area: 166 sq. mi.; pop.: 30,000; you probably thought it was: a sandwich). “If we can just get more tourism dollars into our economies, that would make a big difference in our gross domestic product.”

The leaders were also looking for ideas on how to improve agricultural techniques among their native farmers so that the nations could move closer to self-sustenance, rather than relying on their larger neighbors for take-out.

“Most of the member states have a severe shortage of dirt,” said Heinrich Schwess, foreign minister of Liechtenstein (area: 62 sq. mi.; pop.: 29,000; you probably thought it was: a Hebrew sausage). “That makes it very hard to grow things. We’re going to be working together as a group to see where we might find some common ground. I hear they might have some at Lowe’s so I’ll be stopping by their lawn and garden center before heading back to my country to pick up several bags.”

Countries that have found a way to maintain at least a small agricultural base are hoping to move away from traditional cultivation of bonsai trees, baby corn and frosted mini-wheats to the kind of plants that can more easily be converted into other products. This would not only aid farmers but also allow a food-processing industry to emerge that could employ those who are unable to work in the fields.

“Tourism and agriculture seem like natural fits for relatively underdeveloped states such as ours,” said Dominic Arazanno, prime minister of San Marino (area: 24 sq. mi.; pop.: 25,000; you probably thought it was: former quarterback of the Miami Dolphins). “But I also think there’s a chance we can support at least a small amount of manufacturing or perhaps even some high-tech research facilities.”

Though most of the B-20 members have populations that are uneducated, there are a few that have a relatively large percentage of their people with a college-level education.

“We’re very proud of the skills that exist in our work force,” said cultural affairs attaché Philippe Ponduro of Malta (area: 122 sq. mi.; pop.: 362,000; you probably thought it was: a kind of milkshake). “Those two kids can really ramp up the production when they have the right incentives.”

Peaceful cooperation among the member states could continue to be a challenge if the league wants to work together to solve all the problems they share. Though they lack any kind of standing army, that didn’t prevent two governments from engaging in a recent skirmish in the south Pacific. Palau (area: 191 sq. mi.; pop.: 16,000; you probably thought it was: rice) and Tuvalu (area: 9 sq. mi.; pop.: 9,700; you probably thought it was: 2007 Ultimate Fighting Champion) fought a bitter battle over rights to large stone located halfway between them. Palau’s rowboat eventually defeated Tuvalu’s three guys in life preservers but not before both sides spent large portions of their national treasuries on the campaign.

“We must make peaceful coexistence our number-one priority,” said B-20 chairman Manaloa Huvanaram, a parliamentarian from Tonga (area: 289 sq. mi.; pop.: 112,000; you probably thought it was: a toy truck). “We shouldn’t even pick on someone our own size.”

One option raised in the communiqué was the possibility that several of the tiny lands could merge to form larger entities. A few that have already tried this option – Antigua and Barbuda (area: 171 sq. mi.; pop.: 83,000; you probably thought it was: two separate countries), and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (area: 150 sq. mi.; pop.: 109,000; you probably thought it was: a doo-wop group from the fifties) – held a convocation Saturday to give tips to the other members. One leader said he’s already made a tentative agreement along these lines to increase the profile of his minuscule nation.

“We had a very promising discussion with (Canadian rock icon) Neil Young, and I think we laid out enough economic incentives for him to consider joining us,” said president Herman Lodgeworth of St. Kitts and Nevis. “If we can rebrand ourselves as ‘St. Kitts, Nevis and Young,’ I think a lot of business leaders will sit up and take notice.”