Monday, March 30, 2009

Abraham Obama

It seems that those who tried to draw parallels between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln may have got their wish. Both were Illinois politicians who won the presidency. Both took office in the midst of huge national crises. And Obama even used Lincoln’s Bible when taking the oath of office.

But now the comparisons may be complete with the latest news out of West Palm Beach, Florida. It turns out that the much-used "red state-blue state" national divide was more than just a handy political metaphor. Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has apparently led a revolt that has launched America’s second civil war.

Calling on all red states to join the new Confederacy of Conservative States of America, Limbaugh pointed to recent decisions by Barack Obama that have irremediably divided the nation. Blaming the ills of America on the socialist maneuverings of the Democrats, the rotund conservative urged all "right-thinking" and "right-leaning" Americans to join the CCSA.

"I simply can no longer abide the liberal nonsense coming out of places like Los Angeles and New York," said Limbaugh. "If those east coast and west coast crazies want to destroy the nation, they’re not going to take us down with them."

Within days, red states from Montana to Georgia declared their independence and quickly joined the new confederacy. Just about every state from the Rockies to the Gulf of Mexico has joined up and others are threatening to do likewise.

President Obama has placed National Guard troops on alert all along the red state-blue state border which has quickly become known as the Olbermann-Hannity Line. Unfortunately, most of America’s arsenal is owned by breakaway conservatives. The White House is reportedly under siege and could fall into rebel hands at any time.

The United States is quickly becoming unravelled. Those few remaining liberals in states like Texas and South Carolina are fleeing for northern destinations. Likewise, the handful of conservative residents of states such as Oregon and Massachusetts are already on the highways headed for points south.

President Obama addressed what is left of the United States and urged citizens to remain calm. "A house divided against itself cannot stand," said Obama. "And those conservatives are just downright crazy."

"Who you calling crazy?" said an incensed CCSA President Limbaugh. "Those Yankee liberals are going to destroy what’s left of America. Real Americans will join with us to create a new land of freedom, opportunity and opportunistic freedom."

As sporadic fighting broke out along the Ohio River and the Minnesota-North Dakota border, it became clear that a full-blown civil war was imminent.

"Well, it’s not the worst thing that could happen," said President Obama. "At least now no one will be bitching about Iraq and the economy."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Give What You Can

A recent mailing from the registered charity SERF, the Salary-capped Executives’ Relief Fund:

Edward Scott III has to fly business class. He no longer has access to a corporate jet. Gone are the days when he was picked up at home by a chauffeur-driven limousine. Now he’s forced to drive himself to work in a two-year old Lexus. Lunch is in a two-star restaurant only and not on the company expense account.

Edward is just one of the dozens of victims of President Obama’s $500,000 cap on corporate salaries. Once a noble financial CEO who tirelessly helped to underwrite residential mortgages for those who couldn’t afford them, now Scott himself has to try to cope with less, much less.

Unlike you and me, corporate executives can’t put aside money for a rainy day. They have to keep up appearances. And that means millions spent on everything from suburban mansions to downtown condos to country getaways. Not to mention extra vehicles, wine cellars and made-to-measure suits.

Some unfortunate business leaders have already fallen on hard times. Stories abound of corporate executives being forced to exercise long-held stock options, access offshore bank accounts or even sell one of their summer homes. In a few tragic cases, some sadly had to go so far as to dip into family trust funds.

So please look into your heart and give what you can to help Edward and those like him. Whether it’s a million, a hundred thousand or even just ten thousand dollars, whatever you can afford to give will help.

For example, your donation of only a thousand dollars a week will ensure that Edward’s children can still attend private school. Two thousand a week lets Edward and his family continue to vacation in southern France rather than be forced to rent a cottage on the Maine coast. And for a one-time donation of as little as $25,000, you can help Edward buy a Persian rug or an antique commode for his office.

Time is running out for Edward and his hard-hit colleagues. Seven-figure severance packages and annual, six-figure bonuses only go so far. Having to defer that new car purchase an extra year or switching from Russian caviar to domestic can be hard on any family.

America has a proud tradition to present to the world. A proud tradition of corporate excess that tells everyone that this is the land of opportunity for a select, chosen few. But with the new salary cap, our corporate elite can no longer afford to maintain that prestigious image. They desperately need your help.

So please act now and give generously to SERF, The Salary-capped Executives’ Relief Fund. Remember, the corporate executive you save may be your own.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Carney Economy

Recently the American economy has been likened to a giant Ponzi scheme. But, in reality, it has a whole lot more in common with carnival barkers.

Consider the rube, or in this case, the average American consumer. Generally he’s doing OK. He may not own his own home but he has a good job, a working automobile and a comfortable albeit not affluent lifestyle.

The next thing John Q. Consumer knows is that he’s strolling along the carnival boulevard that is the American economy and he’s being enticed by carney barkers from all sides. It’s all fine and good to suggest that he simply ignore the siren songs from these snake oil salesmen. But it’s pretty hard for most of us to pass up a deal that sounds too good to be true.

"Step right up and see the amazing new credit card," calls out one barker. "Consolidate all your other credit card debts on one new fabulous card and only pay 15% annual interest. Plus you’ll earn free travel points that’ll take you to new and exotic destinations."

So maybe Mr. Consumer already has a dozen credit cards and he can resist that guy’s sales pitch. But he’s being bombarded from all sides and some of those other pitches sound mighty good.

"Is your car starting to cost you in unwanted repair bills? Tired of 20th century technology? Well now is the perfect time to trade in that old clunker and treat yourself to a brand new SUV. And with no money down and 0% financing, there’s no better time than today to drive away in the vehicle of your dreams."

Maybe John Q. Consumer has got enough sense to stick with his current vehicle. Or maybe he knows that those "low monthly payments" are not so low after all. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune to the guy in the next booth.

"Watch movies, sports and your favorite shows in amazing high definition on a giant 52- inch screen complete with surround sound and the latest in flat screen technology. Why spend another night straining to watch your old TV when the world of the future is here today? For less than you might think, you can turn your living room into a fabulous home theater."

Pretty hard to resist, right? Forget about the financing charges, the extra required hardware and the new cable subscription fees. How can Mr. Consumer resist the lure of the shiny new toy? Doesn’t he work hard and doesn’t he deserve something for himself?

Perhaps the flashiest carney on the American midway is the home seller. Actually, this carnival sting requires three con men to pull off. First there’s the real estate agent who entices John Q. Consumer with dreams of owning a huge monster home despite his middling salary. He reels Mr. Consumer in and passes him on to the mortgage broker.

The broker then employs the "hard sell" convincing the mark that he can afford a giant mortgage with no money down and initial low monthly payments if he’ll just sign on the dotted line. And then the banker or "closer" comes in to seal the deal and bundle John’s mortgage with a bunch of others to entice some other rubes in another confidence game called derivative investments.

The American carnival midway is never ending. Maybe the mark can resist one or two or even three of these lifestyle sirens. But like the ancient Greek sailors of old, eventually he’ll be lured into the rocky shoals of bankruptcy.

But even then, our average consumer has not escaped from the entreaties of the carney barkers. "Just declare bankruptcy and, before you know it, you’re debt free and ready to buy, buy, buy again."

So how does Mr. Consumer free himself from the enticing traps set by the magicians of the American midway? It’s definitely not easy. After all, unlike a regular carnival, this one never leaves town and sometimes even asks the marks to bail out the carneys when they’ve gone too far. But the solution is basically the same as with any carnival midway; just leave your wallet in your pocket and keep on walking.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Toyota Reessayer

As most Canadians know, a sure sign of spring is Tim Horton’s annual Roll-up-the-rim-to-win contest. And every year, many of us have a renewed hope of winning if not a new vehicle or laptop or cash prize, then at least a free coffee or a donut.

So it was with great anticipation that I entered my local Timmies last week I knew that last year’s major prize was a Toyota Matrix and that this year’s grand offering was some new model of Toyota unknown to me. But never mind, I thought, I’m sure it will be clear upon rolling up the rim on my winning cup what kind of vehicle I would be getting.

So I ordered my medium coffee, a decaf to ensure that I would not be overly excited in the event that I became an instant winner. As I sat drinking my cup of coffee, I allowed my mind to wander, envisioning myself behind the wheel of a brand new Toyota something or other.

Finally I finished my drink and the moment I’d been waiting for arrived: the ceremonial rolling up of the rim. With only my right thumb poised, I unfurled the right hand edge of the rim and rolled it out to reveal my prize.

I must admit that I was expecting to be greeted by the usual "please play again" or possibly a free coffee or donut. But I was shocked to find my revealed rim bore the word "Réessayer." At first I was a bit mystified until I realized that this must be the new model of Toyota on offer by the Tim Horton’s chain.

Could this be? After God knows how many years and who knows how many coffees, was I finally the winner of a brand new car? Apparently yes.

I was elated and could hardly contain myself. In a matter of days, I would, in all likelihood, be driving a brand new Toyota Réessayer.

I headed home in a state of sheer elation. Once home, I sat down at the kitchen table and proceeded to dial the Tim Horton’s 1-800 number.

A pleasant-sounding woman answered the phone and I described to her my good fortune. She asked me where I had bought the coffee and then she asked me to read exactly what was on the rolled out rim.

"Well it says I’ve won the Toyota Réessayer," I replied. "You know, your major prize."
"Could you read to me exactly what is on the rim," said the woman.

Reading directly from the cup edge, I told her it said "Réessayer S.V.P."

"Ah, yes," she said. "You have indeed won a marvellous vehicle. It costs virtually nothing to maintain and basically runs on air. It is a modern miracle of engineering and is, in fact, invisible."

Little did I know that I had won such a fabulous car. Not only was it a Toyota; now I discovered that it cost nothing, ran on air and was invisible.

Trying to contain myself, I giddily asked the Tim Horton’s woman when I could pick up my new vehicle.

She kindly suggested that I check my driveway every day to see if my winning vehicle had been delivered. Since it is invisible, I expressed my concern about being able to recognize it when it arrived.

She said I should simply go out in the driveway and kick in the general direction of where one of the tires should be and wait for my foot to make contact. If I hit nothing but air, she suggested that I wait until the next day and then simply "please play again" or look up the word "réessayer" in a French-English dictionary.

It’s been a few days and my new car apparently has yet to appear, as far as I know. But in the meantime, I think I’ve won again. That is, of course, assuming that Toyota also makes the new "Gagnez Un Beigne" sedan.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Obama's Secret

First it was the $792 billion stimulus package. Then it was the multi-billion dollar bank bailout. Next up was billions for the auto industry. And then, like magic, there was $275 billion for ailing homeowners.

Frankly, people were beginning to wonder how Barack Obama could do it. How could the new president keep spending billions upon billions of dollars? Surely there must be a limit to his ability to summon up even more bucks for bailouts.

Well it turns out that the answer is no. There is no limit to his generosity and it turns out it’s all because of a discovery the new president made on his first day in The White House.

"That first day," said Obama. "They gave me a tour of my new home including the Oval Office and the Lincoln bedroom."

"But while my tour guides took a break," said the President. "I took it upon myself to explore The White House basement. And you know what I found down there? A printing press, that’s what."

Apparently in the recesses of Obama’s new home resides a remnant from the days of FDR and the New Deal.

"Yeah, it was an offset printing press that can spit out thousand dollar bills at an incredible rate," said Obama. "For 1930s technology, it’s pretty amazing."

Since that first day, Obama has ordered White House staff to keep that old printing press operating 24/7 to fund whatever bailout was next.

"I have to admit," said Obama. "It’s come in really handy. Every day somebody else is looking for a handout and, by golly, I’ve always got something for them."

It turns out that this was the very press used by Franklin Roosevelt to fund his alphabet of New Deal programs that helped America weather the Great Depression.

"If it was good enough for FDR," said Obama. "It’s good enough for me. My only concern is that people may not honor these thousand dollar bills once they realize they’ve all got a picture of his wife Eleanor on them. Let’s just hope we’ve turned the corner by then."