Decision 2008: The Long, Painful Road To Something That Will Only Slightly Change How Things Will Work In Washington

November 4, 2008

Finally, in an election season that started in what seems to be around 1792, the voters will choose the next President.

Both candidates are making their last minute pitches to the American public. Despite what the polls say, there is a rather significant number of individuals who are still undecided—greater than the margin of error, the pollster’s moral equivalent of pulling out. These equivocating individuals are known in statistical terms as complete morons. That may be a bit harsh, of course, though politics has little patience for the uninitiated. There are a few exceptions as to why anyone would still not have enough information to make a decision—the Amish, for instance, or the clinically insane. The candidates are going to be bringing their message to Monday Night Football, for crying out loud, trying to latch onto the last vestige of normalcy in the public that hasn’t been inundated with small snippets of misinformation served out of context after being market tested.

Of course, given that the end-game speeches of both candidates pretty much boil down to “I mean, c’mon,” it’s easy to see why many people just want the damn thing over with.

Pundits are mixed as to whether this is a massive realignment in the political landscape or just a reaction to the combined train wreck and helium-induced self-combustion that is the last, tragic days of the Bush Administration. Some look at America and see people who yearn for health care reform, protecting the environment, and disgust with the wealthy class. Other, more realistic individuals see a vast collection of individuals who will forget about all of these things once Ashley Simpson “accidentally” flashes her hoo-ha in front of the TMZ crew.

John McCain has a desperate road ahead of him on Election Day. He is quite far behind on the polls, and is losing in nearly every battleground state. His only glint of hope is that a reasonably large number of individuals still haven’t made up their mind, and in a world where Two and a Half Men gets nominated for an Emmy anything is, indeed, possible.

Barack Obama, for his part, is campaigning like he’s already won, which in all likelihood he has. He’s reached out publicly to specific individuals, asking them to be in his administration; he’s even letting Joe Biden speak at rallies without having someone nearby with a blackjack and a tranquilizer gun. Overconfidence is always a bad thing for politicians, however; marginal supporters, assuming it’s in the bag, may be less inclined to hike it to the pools under adverse conditions, such as getting a decent tee time.

It’s also going to be an historic election regardless of the outcome. For the Democrats, nominating the first black candidate is not only symbolic but an important step in recognizing race relations in this country. If the Republicans win, there will be the first woman on a major ticket to win. It’s a far cry from 2000, when it was two white boys from Texas who won.

Of course, in Western Pennsylvania, things have turned slightly uglier than normal. Jack Murtha, a House Democrat, has been on record stating that Western Pennsylvanians are basically racist and may be willing to vote against Obama simply because he is black; after apologizing, he effectively noted that we weren’t racist but merely “redneck.” (In a world where there is an actual flourishing market for fake bull testicles to attack to your vehicle, this is probably more of a feature than a bug.) Western Pennsylvanians aren’t necessarily any more or less racist or redneck than anyone else, at least on paper, but they also tend to not be fans condescending politicians. So much so that Murtha may only win with 55% of the vote instead of 70% this time. (As an aside, Pennsylvania is one of the few states that mandate that all state liquor stores be closed today. I feel this is wrong, since if there’s any day in which you need a stiff drink, November 4th is it.)

There are pitched battles of ugliness throughout the national elections as well, particularly for the Senate. The North Carolina Senate race has turned sour, with motherly incumbent Elizabeth Dole dragging out the “all Democrats are atheists” horse and flogging it publicly, something normally discouraged in practice by the Methodist Church. The corruption trial of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who, at 1,500 years old, is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, concluded that he was guilty and effectively ceded the race to the Democrats, reducing the number of Alaskan Democrats that are not currently serving in Congress to be about 50% or so. In Minnesota, they are seriously considering electing comedian Al Franken to the Senate, an absurdity ranked only above the completely ridiculous notion that any state would elect a former professional wrestler to the governor’s office.

But on Tuesday night—or, more probably, next Friday three weeks from now when all the court challenges have been exhausted and the pundits have worn themselves out with barely-legitimate rationalizations about minutia and both Diebold and ACORN have been drug out into the public and flogged by members of the Methodist Church—we will finally know who our next President will be. In either case—whether it be the messianic Barack Obama or the underdog maverick John McCain—there are going to be lots of people getting piss-ass drunk Tuesday night. And there’s nothing quite as uniquely American as that.


Swing State Confidential

October 21, 2008

It’s late in the campaign season, which means it’s time to start crunching the numbers.

While the election has the potential to be close, it’s important to look at those states that could go either way. These are the states that the candidates are focusing on, campaigning hard for, and, most importantly in the world of politics, spending boatloads of cash in.

Many media outlets foolishly create lists of a dozen or two states, claiming such ridiculous things like Delaware might actually vote Republican or Utah might swing Democratic. And they insist on using the slightly perverse “swing state” instead of the clumsier but more accurate “vacillating morons who can’t make a proper rational decision that aligns with their cultural and economic interests.” (Iowa, I’m looking at you.)

Here is a list of the most likely swing states for this election.

Nevada
Under normal circumstances, Nevada would be a lock for the Republicans. Otherwise, it’s a nice, solid conservative state, if you don’t count all the whores and rampant gamblers. This year, however, may be a realigning year. The unions have made themselves more politically potent, Nevada’s sizable libertarian sympathies are antithesis to many of McCain’s policies, and, more importantly, while a lot of people have lost money in their 401(k), even more lost money on the Giants-Patriots game.
For McCain: The anti-government types in Nevada hate both candidates equally, but the stuff they can get away with will force them to choose and probably be more inclined for McCain. They can get away with everything in the desert from free weed and Russian Roulette, but they can’t get away from the IRS.
For Obama: Whores and rampant gamblers vote.
Wild Card: “So, I hear yous is thinkin’ ‘bout votin’ for sumbuddy. Let’s see what Jimmy the Baseball Bat has to do to get yous to change your mind.”

New Mexico
New Mexico was one of the few states to actually switch sides between 2000 and 2004, voting for Gore in the former and for Bush in the latter. While it could possibly be a result of the growing socially conservative demographics in the state, or perhaps immigration fears, most likely it’s because it looked around, saw all the red states surrounding it, and decides to assimilate, something everyone else has been urging for quite some time.
For McCain: New Mexico is Arizona looking for the cool spot on the bedsheet.
For Obama: It is a legal uncertainty whether livestock can vote.
Wild Card: It’s a question mark how many people are willing to drive about two thousand miles to the nearest voting booth.

New Hampshire
Tiny New Hampshire, nestled snugly in New England, is an outlier in an increasingly liberal part of the country. Fervently anti-tax and mostly anti-government, they have a large libertarian streak which could break for either candidate. Also, there really isn’t anything else to do in New Hampshire besides shovel snow and care about politics.
For McCain: New Hampshire loves McCain. We’re talking open-mouth, call the next day love. They also hate older brother Vermont, so may vote McCain out of spite.
For Obama: Like New Mexico, New Hampshire is looking around a sea of blue and wondering if they’ve misplaced the memo.
Wild Card: It starts snowing in New Hampshire somewhere in July of last year, and while the residents are used to hostile weather, Health Savings Accounts and Campaign Finance Reform aren’t worth getting the snow tires on for.

Virginia
A southern state by trade, this is normally a lock for the GOP. This year, however, enough of northern Virginia has converted to the Democratic Party that it’s likely it will change sides. While it’s uncertain whether the combination of government workers, contractors, and service-related jobs will translate to a permanent change to swing state status, it’s reasonably certain to be close this time. Not like, say, Chancellorsville.
For McCain: Virginia is still, technically, the South.
For Obama: The Klan doesn’t pay above GS-10.
Wild Card: I’m pretty sure they still have literacy tests.

Ohio
The heartiest of the heartland, Ohio is usually quite conservative. Like its neighbors Pennsylvania and Michigan, however, they’re slowly rusting away, shedding industrial jobs to foreign lands like Greensboro, North Carolina, where “closed shop” means “this is a private supper club.”
For McCain: They look around at Buffalo, New York and Gary, Indiana and suddenly realize things aren’t that bad.
For Obama: Voters are not only angry about the economy, they also are angry about not having any professional football teams this season.
Wild Card: Never underestimate the power of the Amish or Browns fans.

Missouri
One of the traditional bellwethers of the United States, Missouri is often held up as a microcosm of the nation as a whole. They have a demographic makeup of urbanites, minorities, and religion very close to the nation as a whole. And aside from a brief fling in the 1950’s, when they were irresponsible and young, they’re always voting for the winner.
For McCain: Missouri is the south without being southern, and west without being western. Much like the blander items on the Denny’s dinner menu. In other words, all the items on the Denny’s dinner menu.
For Obama: The one time they voted the wrong way for president was when the candidate was an intelligent, thoughtful policy wonk from Illinois with only four years experience in elective government. Whoops.
Wild Card: St. Louis may be known for original blues music, but they also have a major league hockey team. You figure it out.

Colorado
Colorado used to be a solid, Republican state where residents went to church, build log cabins in their spare time, and regularly shot their breakfast. Unfortunately for the party, much of the growth in the past decade has consisted mostly of displaced hippies looking to smoke dope, start atheist churches, and pretend like they are saving the world but in reality making it harder for people to flush their toilets. As such, it’s become increasingly progressive, and this year may be the year it finally tips and just turns into one big ski commune.
For McCain: All the members of the Colorado Black Caucus were going to attend the convention, but he couldn’t make it.
For Obama: If there is any place in America where you’ll find a hunter crouched in the woods drinking a grande marble macchiato and listening to both Phish and Martina McBride on his iPod, it’s Colorado.
Wild Card: As far as I’m concerned, the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson lives on and is more than willing to beat the crap out of you regardless of your political affiliation.

Florida
After the fiasco that was the 2000 election, all eyes have been on Florida. While 2004 was thankfully and remarkably uneventful, it was also safe for the Republicans that year. Since Florida is equal parts tourist trap and real estate developer’s scam, they’ve been hit particularly hard by the real estate collapse and economic downturn.
For McCain: People tend to vote for candidates that are like themselves. And McCain—white-haired, suspicious of teh internets, and kinda creaky—fits Florida quite well. Also, get off the lawn.
For Obama: People are leery of voting for someone older than themselves. And, seriously, these people are like a thousand years old.
Wild Card: Old people can barely master the Dollar Value Menu, let alone the butterfly ballot. Hopefully everyone cancels themselves out and we can just forget about this state altogether.


Who’s Your Daddy?

October 12, 2008

I think I may be slowly changing my mind on my position about how much I like sharks.

Okay, I “like” sharks in the sense that I like them swimming about on my television set, and then only briefly. They seem inherently menacing, like bears or Dennis Rodman, and so a little bit of them goes a long way. And any prolonged viewing of a shark on TV or at the zoo aquarium will reach the inevitable eventuality of them bloodily chomping down on something or someone, making a big show of raw flailing flesh about the water grinning from whatever it is sharks have instead of an ear to whatever it is sharks have instead of an ear. Kinda cool in the abstract, I guess, but not someone I’m inviting over for bridge anytime soon.

Reports out of Virginia are that a shark, with the unfortunate name of Tidbit (sharks, regardless of gender, should be named after evil Greek gods, belligerent generals, or rocks, not theoretical Fisher Price toy product lines) was pregnant, even though she had had no contact with a male of her species, ever. DNA tests proved she, indeed, carried the baby shark even though she was of the stay-home-on-prom-night-watching-Sixteen-Candles-and-weeping sort. This is the second such documented case of the asexual reproduction of a shark, the first being a few years ago in Omaha. There, when a lady shark gave birth to a baby shark which was—in what can only be described in medical terms as “awesome”—immediately chomped down by another larger, presumably male, shark, intent on keeping his child support payments to an absolute minimum. More proof, of course, that you couldn’t get any in Nebraska even if you tried.

I am constantly concerned that our animal brethren—everything from mammals and amphibians to fruit flies and South American hostel residents—are in a perpetual state of conspiracy against the eventual overthrow of the human race. Evidence for this isn’t hard to find, of course. Our pets are masters of manipulation, forcing us to purchase artificially-flavored bacon-style chunks and then reversing Pavlov, getting us to fork over the tasty nuggets on a regular basis for doing remarkably simple tasks such as not taking a dump on the good white couch in the den.

I trust very few animals, in fact. Cats, in particular, seem a manipulative breed, the entire attention-getting concept of nice-dinner-trumps-football-playoff-game mentality conceptualized in a living organism that coughs up its own hair as a form of passive-aggressive routine maintenance.
So when I hear about sharks cranking out babies asexually, it greatly concerns me on two very important fronts. First, it makes me think that sharks have more up their sleeves than simply crunching down jellyfish and looking for surfers to terrorize. While I’m all for that—I am unsure whether jellyfish or surfers rank higher on the list of things this world could conceivably be better off without, though “both” is an adequate answer—I’m also well aware that the same tactics to use against creepy ink-squirting sea critters and community college dropouts in southern California can also be used against major freight shipping lanes in the Pacific and oil tanker itineraries.

Besides operating in the grand conspiracy, it also worries me because of its message: Mother Nature is stating to the world that males are unnecessary. Sure, there have always been footnotes in our high school biology text books about the three or four known organism that can reproduce without a male, but these are normally strange, rare amphibious creatures that are useless outside of filler for Chinese school cafeteria meals. It’s not like cheetahs or elephants are stomping around cranking our calves and kittens indiscriminately about the Serengeti. (Just so you know, I know about as much about geography as biology, so cover your ears and hum if you don’t like my gross miscalculations of species taxonomy or temperate zones.) Now that the phenomenon has progressed to include animals that could, in theory, bite my head off with little to no repercussions amongst their contemporaries, I am much more gravely concerned than before.

There are several theories as to why these sharks are flushing out virgin births. Seafood has, traditionally, been a quite literal breeding ground for strange reproductive activities. Some blame it on the ocean’s quite unique biodiversity; others on the social instincts of the animals. My own personal theory is that the ocean is a large, almost unfathomably large place, and I could see it difficult to find a compatible mate. It’s probably hard to find another whale or dolphin that shares your own interests in catching tasty fish or watching Rushmore with the sound turned down. I could see at times that your options are to ride the current for four months or so from the Indian ocean to the Hudson Bay just to get some strange and not even get a two-star meal out of it—or unluckily become one. Or just putter around the house in curlers and learn how to do it on your own. I could see males doing the former—and probably have—but I can see the females just embracing the latter, a sort of proto-feminist movement within the marine animal community. Next they’ll be demanding equal plankton for equal work and a more fair distribution of lifeguard bits.

Of course, I’m sure many activists will point to this occurrence as proof that gender is unnecessary and may eventually disappear as a function difference between men and women. While it may be true, it also points towards a grim world in which all transportation seizes up from lack of oil changes, all businesses close from four to five so Oprah can be watched, and no decision is ever made about anything, ever, and even if it is, it is changed immediately after the original decision can no longer be reversed. Alas, this is scarily close to the world right now. At least we could do without those uppity sharks.


Make A Run For The Money

October 11, 2008

It’s quite understandable that most individuals are freaking out about the current economic disaster. While few people actually directly buy stocks—thought plenty of people have dormant Ameritrade accounts for when they thought they were going to be crackerjack day traders back in 1998 but gave up after one week of taking a bath on internet pet food companies and incorporated European “tanning” salon chains—many people have 401(k) accounts. And these retirement accounts have not exactly responded how imminent retirees want them to—namely, up. It’s rather understandable that a nation of reluctant investors has suddenly realized how distant pages in the financial section of the local paper now officially matter to them beyond checking the potential interest rate on a loan for that sailboat they will never buy.

Thank goodness that people are reacting rationally about this, such as thirty year olds waiting all of four hours until they get home from work to accept the tax penalty and pull all their money from their retirement accounts and stuffing it under their mattress, causing most financial advisors to fall over in pain after listening to small parts of their soul die. While the market is being unpredictable, there are certain rules of finance that are immutable, one of them being reckless changes in your financial spending are the equivalent of the cross between a women two weeks before the announces she wants a divorce and…every other woman.

Well, at least journalists are being reasonable. Such as Time magazine, which ran a cover story entitled “How We’re Going To Be Sipping Bone Marrow Soup And Eating Crabgrass Clippings For Breakfast For The Next Three Decades.” For style, they put a stock picture of a soup line from the Depression on the cover; stock photos being necessary since there aren’t exactly any modern soup lines to snap pictures of, a fact no doubt quickly ascertained by the crack objective journalists at Time. One assumes that journalists study to become journalists because they already understand everything there is to know about finance and economics (cough, cough).

So at least television financial advisors are acting like reasonable human beings, right? Such as Jim Cramer, the host of Mad Money, declaring that anyone who hasn’t converted all of their shares into gold bullion being stored in small compounds in the Pacific Northwest is going to be first up against the wall when the revolution comes. Most financial advisors try to avoid such broad-based panic-generating statement, though in Cramer’s defense he is certifiably insane.

While it’s certainly possible the economy will spiral out of control and falling stockbrokers will force the creation of a new task force within FEMA, things are a lot different than they were in the 1930’s. The banking system now resembles what happens to my DVD player after the power goes out and comes back on during a storm—it’s a lot of interconnected wires and signals that create a lot of flash and activity that doesn’t really show that anything productive is happening. But tinker with it for a few scary minutes and it will still play Suburban Commando like a champ like it always has, at least until a power surge destroys the whole thing.

Of course, there is one unfortunate similarity between now and then, and that’s bank failures. Bank failures have been virtually nonexistent for the past sixty decades or so (the legal system delineating the different types of banks in such a way as to make Andy Warhol a beacon of sense and clarity), owing in part to the fact that, unlike now, most banking CEOs aren’t complete amoral idiots. An elaborate system of balances has been set up in the financial industry for years effectively guaranteeing that banks won’t fail. They mostly do this by forcing banks to hold on to a certain level of assets in relation to the money they are holding, a concept so simple that no one ever followed it.

During the savings and loan crisis in the late 80’s and early 90’s, financial institutions were using any and all random items to claim as assets—everything from artwork with deliberately overinflated worth to all the crap they could find in their grandmother’s attic—and in many cases would simply declare their grandmother’s attic to be worth what it theoretically would be worth if anyone wanted to actually go root around and inventory the place while she prattled on about a sale at the Hallmark store and meat rationing, which of course no one ever did. Because of the resulting financial mess from this scandal, many regulations we see today being flaunted were initiated—and the reaction, alas, seems to be much the same.

Unfortunately, new regulations didn’t help, since banks went ahead and used mortgages on homes that had highly inflated prices to begin with as assets, and the exact same story started over again—when the depositors knocked on the door, the bank found nothing but a burned out DVD player in granny’s attic. So it may be a while before we see any part of a recovery. If only there was a way to make embarrassingly clunky metaphors a solid asset, we could finally get ourselves out of this mess.


Fifth Avenue Bailout

October 1, 2008

I don’t think anyone knows what to think about this economic bailout.

The presidential candidates aren’t sure of what to make of the failure of the bailout to pass. Of course, the candidate’s position on the bailout package can be summed up pretty nicely:

Barack Obama: “I will take a tentative position on the bill until the House votes it down, so they can get all the heat for its defeat. I’ll then have an internal poll taken to see whether I want to be for it or against it regardless of its content. Once it’s voted down, I can then come out against it with little repercussion.”

John McCain: “I have no idea what is in this bill because I pretty much know jack about the economy. I would defer to my vice presidential candidate, since she is set up to complement me on my weaknesses, but it turns out she doesn’t know jack about the economy either. Even though this is the case, we still know more about the economy than Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, and the Treasury Department combined.”

Of course, even though the House of Representatives voted on it, which necessitates them specifically stating “Yes” or “No,” they don’t know what to think about it, either. Almost immediately as the last ballot hit the bottom of the box (or I assume as such; I have no practical way of knowing how votes are actually, physically tabulated on the House floor. It’s probably some pussy method like swiping an ID card, but I like to imagine they have to text their vote to number 67773 (standard text messaging rates apply) or at the very least auction off a part of their soul every time they cast a vote), representatives took to the airwaves doubting their vote cast. Some seem genuinely confused, given that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson gave lawmakers approximately fifteen minutes between the time they received the plan and had to vote on it, forcing legislators to use the “find” function on Adobe Acrobat to look for—depending on their political philosophy and geographical location—“tax cuts for the same people who got us in this mess in the first place,” “education grants that have somehow been tangentially related to the financial crisis,” “energy investment credits, otherwise known and handing out burlap sacks of cash to the oil companies so folks from Texas and Alaska might actually sallow this piece of tripe law,” “contractual obligation to saw off California so it drifts out into the sea,” or “Britney Spears Sex Tape” (the latter, one presumes, is simply out of habit).

The American population isn’t sure what to think about it, either. It’s one of the finest balancing acts in modern politics. People hate bailing out with massive amounts of taxpayer cash the obviously boneheaded mistakes made by rich Wall Street tycoons who, when it’s all said and done, will still be driving their Porsches around Rodeo Drive while eating foie gras and drinking Château Latour and buying tickets to the Eagles concert afterwards. On the other hand, not bailing them out will spell if not total disaster a pretty unfortunate downturn in the economy causing many consumers to stand in bread lines reading the want ads while talking on one of their three cell phones.

And, it turns out, Wall Street doesn’t know what to think about it, either. The stock market has been incredibly volatile, which is saying something in a year of an increasingly large number of ups and downs. Investors can’t quite decide if they want to jump off of buildings, throwing worthless stock certificates of AIG like confetti as they fall, or whether they want to crouch behind their office chair, salivating while holding a fork in one hand and a knife in the other, waiting for the right time to jump and carve out a huge chunk of the mortgage business at dirt cheap prices during the Great Huge Federal Government Fire Sale Of Assets From Incredibly Greedy And Stupid Companies Whose Board Of Directors Are Still Somehow Going To Make As Assload Of Money.

And—heavens to Betsy—I don’t know what to make of it, either. My rather theoretical libertarian heart wants so badly for the government to shrug their shoulders and extend a middle finger of sympathy to these failed companies who failed because they failed to realize that they were greedy and stupid. And I want people who bought houses worth about three times outside of their pay scale to suddenly realize that it isn’t just cocaine, Amway, that Ron Paul contribution you made one night you were drunk, and a nasty Starbucks habit that can lead to financial distress; sometimes overextending yourself does, too, and you shouldn’t expect the government to bail you out. On the other hand, it was government interference that sort of precipitated this in the first place, with both unrealistic tax credit encouragement and regulations effectively forcing bad loans to be guaranteed. And while I think it’s bad policy, stabilizing the economy while letting the government make a dime off the deal maybe isn’t the worst thing in the world. The blame is easy to spread around because everyone is to blame. About 13 people out of 433 are still trying to figure out the most politically expedient way to assign it for the record.


Welcome To The House of Cards

September 28, 2008

With the looming economic crisis soon to splash down on the American and global financial systems, maybe normal citizens are concerned about how this will affect them. Will I lose my house? Is my 401(k) solid? Does this mean more news about FDIC and subprime loans and less about Lindsay Lohan’s hoo-ha? These are all very important questions, so perhaps it’s time to clarify a few things about what’s happening:

Q: So…am I up the creek or what?
A: Probably. But maybe not. The extent of the financial crisis had yet to be known. So far, few consumer banks—the kind that give away free toasters when your order checks with cows and puppies printed on them—have been adversely affected. It’s the financial banks that are getting tugged on the short ones. How bad the situation will get depends on how much of the financial bank crisis trickles down to the consumer side.

Q: Will the government be supplying me a paddle, then?
A: It depends. If the paddle companies made years of lousy mistakes compounded with excessive indifference to market conditions, then, yes, the government will probably reward them by giving them a boatload of cold cash.

Q: How did we get in this mess in the first place?
A: Well, it depends on your political philosophy. If you’re a liberal, then this is all part of George W. Bush’s plan from January 20th, 2001, to nationalize the United States economy, personally pilot the planes into the World Trade Center, monopolize the oil supply so he can freely drink a quart of it every day for breakfast, and spend the waning days of the American empire circle jerking with Dick Cheney, T. Boone Pickens, and Rupert Murdoch. If you are a conservative, you blame this on irresponsible consumers buying $500,000 houses with a steady income solely from the fry cook line at the local Jack in the Box and whining when it turns out they can’t make their mortgage payment on time. If you’re a libertarian, you shake your election-losing fist at Richard Nixon for ever getting us off the gold standard in the first place. If you’re religious, blame it on the gays.

Q: None of that involves any financial or economic rationale at all.
A: Your point? It’s an election year, you know.

Q: Right.
A: Right.

Q: So what really happened?
A: You will probably sleep better at night if you don’t know.

Q: Try me.
A: Fair enough. While there are multitudes of reasons why—high commodity prices, a cyclical recession, declining value of the dollar, Ben Bernanke wore a blue tie instead of a red one last Monday—it all focuses on the housing market. For the past decade or so, easy credit—encouraged by the government for citizens (read: voters) to buy houses on the cheap—inflated housing prices well above the market price. Banks were even encouraged to loan to individuals whose credit rating was not exactly what one would call totally awesome. To compensate, many of these mortgages had triggers that would cause the interest rate to rise once payments were missed or even simply due to economic conditions. With more demand for housing, then, prices shot up. Since these were individuals who couldn’t normally buy a house in the first place, the rise in prices were artificially increased.

Q: OK. Tell me why I should care.
A: Economists have been sounding the property value bubble bell for around five or six years now, but no one listened. (Though, to be fair, this is mostly because economists have been ringing that particular bell every year since approximately 1776.) This was foolishly exacerbated solely by HGTV, whose entire program lineup consisted of reruns of “Flip This House,” where average, ordinary Americans would buy some shack, invest $2000 of paint and duct tape, and resell it for a cool million all within a matter of three or four business days. When some investors had an epiphany, or got knocked on the head, or simply got drunk enough to understand the current economic system, they finally realized the entire house of cards was about to tumble down quite ungracefully and make the Nigerian Treasury Department look like it had a comparatively solid foundation. When the bubble finally burst and the mortgage rates skyrocketed, maybe people found themselves paying mortgages for houses that were a fraction of their original value, and simply found it to be easier to chuck the house keys at the bank, tell them to sit and spin, and run away.

Q: So Johnny Lunchbucket and Jill Sensible Shoes overextended and have to buy generic Hot Pockets and crank their laundry for a while. Why do the banks care?
Because the mortgages they gave out were licenses to print money. At least they were, until the payments stopped coming in. Of course, that would be the case if the actual bank that gave you the actual loan was the one collecting the actual money. In most cases, these mortgages, once awarded, were immediately bundled up and sold to the highest bidder. These were originally thought to be nice, safe investments, since they involved solid assets largely guaranteed by the government.

Q: So they weren’t?
A: Kind of. The lending institutions responsible for all this—mostly Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—were acting like a combination of Tom Cruise in Risky Business, Weekend At Bernie’s, and large portions of Caligula. In case you’re keeping score at home, they were effectively nationalized as well.

Q: Wait, what? I thought Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac weren’t owned by the government.
A: Right. And Vladimir Putin isn’t running Russia, soccer will take off in America any year now, and Clay Aiken is straight.

Q: Clay Aiken came out.
A: I know. Exactly.

Q: Oh.
A: And pretty much all of the bank and other financial institutions that have failed are related in some way to all this.

Q: None of this sounds illegal. Stupid, but not illegal.
A: Exactly. All of this was bad decision-making, encouraged by the government. No illegality at all.

Q: Wait. So why the bailout? It seems like the government is rewarding bad decision making.
A: It would seem that way, yes.

Q: Funny how that happens.
A: Funny is not the adjective I was thinking of.

Q: I need a drink.
A: I would not disagree.


An American Autumn

September 25, 2008

Welcome to the fall! Some enjoy the fall because of the weather, the atmosphere, and the seasons. Others dislike it for the fact that that means winter is fast approaching. It’s one of my favorite seasons for a variety of reasons, not the least of which it is the season I most closely associate with my birthday. Of course, fall brings with it a multitude of different experiences for different people. Such as:

The Fall Television Lineup: Each year, the televisions networks reveal their fall television lineup. Nervousness fills studio executives, producers, writers, and budding actors as viewers are now going to be the ones choosing which programs survive and which ones get cancelled after two episodes even though the television critics are required by law to change their pants on an hourly basis because it’s so ridiculously orgasmic to watch but has to be chopped off the schedule because it drew in .04% fewer viewers in the 18-34 age range than Kansas City Prostitutes Drive Big Rigs in the Arctic. So while there is plenty of hope, there’s an awful lot of disappointment, especially as one considers the fact that we live in a world where someone is contractually obligated to actually give Jay Mohr some work.

Football Season: This year is nothing like last year, when entire franchises were being rounded up and sent to Gitmo and Michael Vick was wandering the nation shooting at feral kittens with buckshot. It’s actually quite sedate this year; despite the upset of the Giants over the Patriots, New England was expected to steamroll over all the competition. However, the only drama during week one of the season—aside from whether Baltimore and Cincinnati would actually both slide into negative points—was that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was injured and will be out for the rest of the season, giving him plenty of time to fight for messiahship with Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. Aside from some incredibly arcane disputes about renegotiating the collective bargaining agreement, the entire drama manufactures for this season pretty much boils down to variations of Chad Johnson’s legal name and the concept of Jessica Simpson.

School Starts: Or, in other words, school buses suck. In some ways, the start of school is a wonderful thing. I don’t like too many things in this world, but one of the things I am terrifyingly irritated by are children of the age four through eighteen. And when they are in a building learning the cosine and making closed circuits out of a bunch of C batteries and some old crusty wires from the Nixon era, they are notably not at the mall or in front of me at the checkout counter at the local department store. So carting the kids off to school is a remarkably wonderful thing, if nothing more than the fact that since I’m forced to pay for it anyway I might as well get some peace and enjoyment out of the deal by not having to be made to feel old every time I have to go to the grocery store.

Election Time: While there is a lot of justifiably intense media focus on the presidential campaign, it’s also election time for countless local elections, as many people are fully aware of given the what seems to be approximately sixty thousand road signs you will ignore over the next two months. Everything from comptrollers to commissioners to ward council seats, everyone is trying to get a piece of the sweet participatory democracy pie. And, living in Pennsylvania, we get a super special treat of pretty much election any damn fool to any absurd position, most notably the prothonotary, a completely artificially conceived lie of a position cooked up by the Greeks or the Catholic church or somesuch and forced upon us by a progressive movement hell bent on electing everyone’s dinner every day.

A Lot More Pumpkin Crap On The Shelves At the Grocery Store: Now, don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin stuff. I like pumpkin pies and cookies and bread and roasted pumpkin seeds and all sorts of things that make me quite capable of supply an embarrassingly large percentage of our natural gas needs. But every so many years—and this one looks likely to be one—there are multitudes of ridiculously-conceived items that are pumpkin-themed. I’ve even seen some monstrosity called pumpkin soup, something I suspect is very much so like finding something called watermelon broil or turkey cupcakes. (And please don’t write telling me that these things actually exist. I want to tread water for the remainder of my life assuming those things do not exist in a sane world.)

A Whole Mess Of Deadly Boring Movies Aimed At Scraping Up An Oscar Nomination:
Let’s face it, people are getting over the action-packed summer blockbusters, and are winding down now that the kids are on a regular schedule of not bothering me at the movie theater. The good news is that I can actually enjoy a movie without having to worry about contracting STDs from the approximately 14,000 teenaged sexual encounters that appear to occur once the lights dim down every time I venture into the theater after four in the afternoon. The bad news is that a boatload of period pieces, self-righteous historical epics, and a two-for-one sale at the Oscar Contender auction gets shoveled into the studio schedules, provided not entertainment but boredom packaged in sanctimoniousness. I don’t see why the movie industry needs to do this; the presidential campaign is fulfilling that need this year.