Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Too Little to Fail"

I had only been asleep for two hours before I was awakened by the ringing phone. As a veteran of eight years on night shift, I was used to these interruptions. Blearily, I rolled over and glanced at the caller ID. The digital readout showed “Fannie Mae,“ my mortgage holder. Uh oh. I snatched it up.
“Hello,” I croaked.
“Hello, may I speak to Mr. O’Doyle, please?”
“Mr. O’Doyle, I’m calling on behalf of Fannie Mae to let you know that we have yet to receive your mortgage payment for this month. As I’m sure you’re aware, this payment is due on the fifth of every month, and your payment is currently two weeks late.”
“Sorry about that,” I said. “I made a few bad investments down at the grocery store. I thought sure that those four boxes of macaroni and cheese would last us all week, but there I was on Friday, buying Ramen noodles.”
“Excuses aside, when can we expect to receive payment, Mr. O’Doyle?” he demanded.
“Just be patient,” I said, “help is on the way. I saw on television last night that Uncle Sam has realized that folks like me are having trouble paying our mortgages, and he’s stepping in to assist us. I believe the number I heard was $200 billion, so that ought to square us for a while, right? I know that this will increase our tax bill down the road, but Uncle Sam understands that these are tough times, and he’s willing to work things out.”
“Mr. O’Doyle, you seem to have misunderstood,” he said. “The $200 billion in government relief is to rescue Fannie Mae from our bad debts, not you from yours.”
“What? That can’t be right! They’re the same debts, aren’t they?” I asked. “I mean, you guys are struggling because you made idiotic decisions on mortgages like mine. There’s no way I should have been approved for a home loan worth six times my annual salary to begin with. But here I am, stuck with it, and a flexible mortgage rate that keeps going up. Luckily, Uncle Sam knows that we make bad decisions from time to time. He’s willing to step in so we aren’t forced to suffer from our bad decisions. Despite the fact that you never should have issued the mortgages, you still get your money. Are you telling me that when I, as a taxpayer, am giving you the money to cover your losses on my bad mortgage, you still expect me to make good on that same debt?”
“Ummm, yes, well the government is bailing us out, not you,” he explained again.
“So even though the blame lies primarily with your policies, we’re expected to pay not once, but twice? And even though we’re saving you from your own folly with our tax dollars, you figure you deserve to be paid not only the money owed to you, but $200 billion tax dollars on top of it?” I demanded, my voice rising.
“Well, sir, you have to realize that not everyone who owes us money will, in fact, be able to pay it,” he reasoned. “The bailout is designed to cover our losses in those instances.”
“I bet they’d be able to pay it if the government gave them the money,” I said. “And furthermore, if the debt has been covered, shouldn’t they be off the hook for it? You guys foreclosed on my neighbor, Lou, two months ago, and his family has been living in a camper behind his mother’s house ever since. Now that his debt has been covered, where can he pick up his house keys?”
“I’m afraid the bailout doesn’t apply to individual cases,” he said. “Rather, it applies to our institutional debt. The government has decided that we’re ‘too big to fail.’ You aren’t.”
“I’m willing to bet that come tax time, this bailout will be individualized plenty,” I said. “Nobody’s too little to qualify on April 15.”
© Micah Russell, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

"You Can Actually See Russia from Here"

John McCain and other Republicans are defending his choice for the vice presidency against charges that she is totally unqualified. Mrs. Palin herself vouched for her extensive foreign policy credentials, saying she has lived next door to Russia for years. As she told ABC News, "They're our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska."

I was explaining this to Patty. “I don’t understand how people can call her unqualified,” I said. “Look how she answered her critics on the foreign policy issue.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Patty. “People are so quick to ignore the importance of experience like that. And her thinking opens up all kinds of possibilities. Take you, for instance. You lived in Detroit for a couple of years when you were growing up. That’s just a stone’s throw from Canada. I’m sure you’re qualified to be vice president too.”

“I don’t know about that,” I began modestly. “It’s just Canada. They all spend their winter vacations in Florida anyway. But what about that trip we took to Houston in 1974 to watch the Super Bowl? We were practically in Mexico.”

“A weekend might not be long enough to become an expert,” said Patty. “But think about this. The hospital is only ten minutes from our door, and we’ve lived here for over twenty years. Maybe I should set up shop as a cardiologist. I’m probably qualified to deliver babies and perform appendectomies, too.”

“What makes you think that?” I asked. “You’re not qualified to practice medicine. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of!”

“Just following her logic,” Patty said. “We’re only a few miles from the university as well. You can actually hear the chapel bells when the wind is blowing this way. That should be all I need to edit an economics journal. Or give a lecture on Elizabethan drama. Or to head up a biochemistry research lab.”

“Come on, Patty,” I said. “Quit joking about stuff like that. You’re talking about important jobs where you really have to know what you’re doing--doctors and economists and biochemists and literary scholars and what not.”

“Right,” she said. “Whereas, if she and McCain are elected, and anything should happen to him--God forbid--, she has her finger on the nuclear red button, and the fate of the world is in her hands. She’s in charge of dealing with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, Cuba, Venezuela, and every other nation in the world. No doubt living across the Bering Strait from Russia has more than prepared her. I imagine she has a grand global strategy all worked out.”

“There’s probably not much chance she’ll be placed in that position,” I said hesitantly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Patty responded. “Eight vice-presidents have stepped in so far when the president died, and Gerald Ford took over when Nixon resigned. That’s 9 out of 43. When you consider that McCain, if elected, will be the oldest man ever to take the office, has a history of melanoma and a medical record 1,200 pages long, you’ve got to consider the odds that she’ll replace him are pretty good.”

“Ouch,” I said. “I’m developing a headache just thinking about it.”

Patty whipped out a pen and tore a piece of paper from a notebook. “Here,” she said, “let me prescribe something for that.”

She handed me the note. In capital letters she had printed “VOTE.”

© Tony Russell, 2008