Monday, October 27, 2008

The Audacity of Hope Ain’t Jest Whistlin’ Dixie

The young ones really do carry our species' life energy. When they come to life, the rest of us live again, the rest of us dare to remember and dare to dream. Again. 64

Barack Obama appeared at a rally in Albuquerque. 45,000 of my fellow New Mexicans attended. Lots of us have been pounding the pavement for this remarkable candidate for months. Many of us have sensed an unsettling wisp of patriotism. This post, however, concerns a far more spectacular phenomenon.

The almost fearful optimism felt by many of the young strikes light through these chilly, fall, high desert nights. At the outset of his campaign, I could see the reluctance in their eyes. Everything they had heard about politics and politicians, all the cynicism of their parents (and, God forbid, me) became a torturous reality during the Bush Autocracy. The seemingly bottomless self-serving of a wretched, neo-con psycopathy had lost even the inclination to deceive us as they increased their insults, and, for the young, the outrages slipped into a dismal, national, hopeless melancholy of realization that we, as citizens, really had lost a class war.

The hubris of an openly opportunistic Congress as it extracted more and more from the country, the silence of a whining, insistent, self-defined media claiming to be relevant and a President who seemed to walk in a mindless, blood-soaked indifference had all gently groomed these young ones for our national descent. A Justice Department openly determined to serve its masters any outrage they ordered and a Supreme Court which almost instantly inaugurated its party choice in the face of what was called an election quietly reinforced the darkest “No Exit” existential numbness for the young ones.

Challenged, frustrated, they found themselves agonizingly unaware. They absolutely felt, but they were blind sided by not knowing. There was the unsettling possibility -- in those young minds -- that they had been bred stupid to be a meaningless sacrifice in Carl Rove’s dreadful abattoirs. Their fate was to be a lifetime of low caste exploitation, the lot, historically, of all who had suffered the loss of their country. Logic was to mean nothing in the face of power. A tawdry innuendo of gutless democracy and bereft freedom continually demanded that it was enough. That it was all there was. That it had always been all there was.

No wonder they narcotized themselves with useless education, distraction, drugs and half hearted attempts to pretend that the future had somehow survived.

Then came the black man.

I had seen it before, long ago. At first no more than furtive, stolen moon light through a cold night’s wind, then that ancient human spark began to reappear, frightened and cowering at first, then, ever so slowly, a bit more courageous. You know, that nasty little spark that has always terrified tyrants.

These young ones who had never been persuaded or convinced before, still refused to listen, but they saw inside themselves. They could see what had been put there. They saw the extremes. They saw, at once, both the soul starving deception of the ones who had frightened all of us so masterfully and the crazy inebriation of every human who had ever finally stood for himself after believing that he couldn’t. Details mattered little. Perhaps it was George Washington sizing up the British Empire with a thought of taking it down. Perhaps it was some nameless, but deadly brave Australopithecine deciding that terrifyingly lethal saber tooth could also bleed.

Thoughts such as these only become material when there also exists the possibility of mortal failure. All new currency to these young ones -- currency with an exchange rate known to none of them.

Could something like this be possible? Possible even to those who weren’t entirely sure they even knew what the “something” was?

They searched their textbooks and computers. Everything they found there seemed to be more of the same dark blanket of hopelessness. They watched the news with a new fervor, but it only told them new versions of the same depressing story of inevitability. They spoke out, a little, and were told that they were foolishly exaggerating, that they were spoiled and indulgently dreaming.

The televisions spoke to them. They listened for a while. Then they quit listening. At least, they quit believing. They were told to have no hope. They were told that things were not really as things were, really. The televisions told them to be calm, to be accepting. The televisions told the young ones that the televisions spoke the truth.

The world encompassing evil slowly emerged, revealing itself to them. They didn’t know enough to be any more than suspicious, but they could feel the hypnotic death grip of this numbing pain slipping. The details of fact, perhaps, continued to elude them, but the fact of anger made its own muscles in their souls. The young ones got mad.

Against the most powerful odds on the planet, the black man was still there, still speaking. The young ones listened because he was speaking to them. Was he the first one who spoke to them?

The rest of this strange, fast tale is history.

If you are a tyrant, hope is a cancer. If you are a tyrant and it becomes audacious hope -- either in perception or material reality -- it is a mortal threat, dulling the psychology of despair, relentlessly charting its course to a painful, unavoidable desolation. No death is more desperate than the one endured alone when all who might wait with you have lost interest.

And, we can see these empty, pompous interlopers, exposed as such false creations, while their machinations and purloined power collapses in the face of hope such as this. They rage, briefly, snarling about in the dust, formulating another of their ravenous schemes to perpetuate control, but then, when lit up fully by this new light, they become eerily passive like the gazelle after the failed escape, calmly grazing for a last moment before the cheetah hits.

The hope of the black man was impressive enough, but alone, hardly historically decisive.

However, once it entered the young ones...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Health Care Without the Lipstick.

Another MeanMesa Lipstick Commentary! This time HealthCare!63

A little history.

As Americans, our intuitive, aggregate concept of “health care” has become, gradually, and perhaps, unavoidably, more and more complicated, more and more unexamined and more and more incomprehensible as it slowly transformed itself to present a new, modern phenomenal definition. Things have been “added” to it.

Entrepreneurial opportunities have been identified, encouraged, injected and groomed in ways which inevitably transformed it by indulgences easily betrayed by modest semantics. Masterful commercial psychology has successfully contaminated both our interest and our expectations in ways that have converted an older, more rational approach to a modern frenzy of insistence, liability and other barely manageable (again, codependent) demands.

Fifty years ago the United States was enjoying the tangible benefits of being a culture which was not burdened with resurrecting itself from recent military destruction. The proletariat economy was literally awash with good paying jobs and a highly visible population, consequently, endowed with remarkable -- at least by global comparisons -- discretionary wealth. Lingering atop this frothy “three tiered wedding cake” was the fairly widely accepted proposition that the system at play here was “the very best in the world” with respect to all sorts of things.

What kinds of things? To name only a few, our new hegemonic military; our ICBM’s, our industrial productivity, the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of our citizens, the proclaimed freedom of religion and the arguably hypnotic luxury of a vast, barbecue pit, martini drenched social extravagance. Naturally, human beings lived a bit longer in such a place. Overlooking clean water, fresh air, plenty of food and even “pretty good shoes,” we quite comfortably attributed that good fortune to our health care. Why not? It was, after all, “the best in the world.”

Doctors here had entered a developmental phase predicated on the idea that going to school longer meant earning more afterward. Hard classes, harder cash. What had previously been best described as a comfortable livelihood was reinventing itself into an economic opportunity able to compete with a new populist conception of the old robber barons.

The religionists had done very well promoting their famous “death fear,” that is, the proposition that one, by willingly servicing religion’s economic avarice in life, might have an edge at the Gates of Judgment. The militarists franchised a bit for themselves as they maximized the contemporary (and well remembered) advantages of war’s horror to extract resources dedicated to Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex.”

Interestingly, the doctors were able to also promote their own, small franchise enabled by the same happy neurosis.

“Death fear.” Our interest in controlling as much of this inevitable calamity as possible began to direct our entire economy and our cultural psychology. The religionists promised intercessionary comfort from the hands of the blindly retributive divinity. The militarists promised protection from premature death resulting from violent military aggression here before more acceptable forms of demise. The doctors promised defense from the risk of premature death resulting from preventable or remedial assault by bacteria, viruses and traditional homo sapien system failures.

Health care was slowly redefined from its original purpose. What had once been the hope of “curing what ailed me” became a promise to “live longer.” Although this change was an undetectable subtlety in any specific visit to the family’s physician, the big picture of medicine was becoming enthralled with the prospect of being able to make much greater promises and, as a result, engorge ever larger amounts of the cultural resources. This was the first new addition.

Likewise, our penchant for controlled results subcontracted a growing part of the promises of the doctors’ new found franchise to the compensatory notion of paying for failed promises. Malpractice, although hardly a medical treatment, injected itself into the already heady brew of unrealistic expectations and codependent demands for controlled outcomes. Previously, the successful treatment of some malady was accepted as a happy serendipity. Aside from outright malfeasance, with this next, new addition, medical success could finally embrace the psychotic notion that recovery was the only “fair” outcome of treatment, moving anything less to a status not dissimilar from “breach of contract.”

A third addition was the new idea of directing research toward the most marketable styles of medical problems. There is no way to speculate if the development of Viagra retarded discovering the cure for skin cancer as it diverted research cash, but Viagra is by no means the only distracted target and skin cancer is, equally, by no means the only possibly neglected, alternate break through.

The social culture had delivered all sorts of drugs and treatment regimes to the doctors as it slowly moved away from the heroin and cocaine saturated elixirs of the early 20th century. Once it became clear that a certain treatment advantage might be gained from a more educated dispensing of, say, antibiotics the die was cast. Another addition. Immediately attached to that treatment advantage came a franchised, statutory and dependable addition to direct income. Big. Direct.

In Tijuana or Juarez anyone with enough pesos can simply purchase antibiotics from a pharmacist. The right pharmacists might even offer a suggestion as to selecting the right one. The statutory self-preservation aspects of the doctor franchise will probably prevent you from legally bringing them back to the United States. Antibiotic outcomes are better here with the statutory insistence that they be dispensed by a medical doctor and blanketed by the liability promises made possible by our appetite for compensated malpractice. Those outcomes falter a bit when they include the outcomes of those who must simply suffer without any unaffordable care.

Perhaps the next addition is the idea that, although prescribing medicine is still left under a doctor’s discretion, commercial advertisements can openly seek to direct a potential patient’s interest toward certain pharmaceuticals. The proposition is that this possible, future patient may not know what to tell his doctor so as to initiate this line of necessary, successful and profitable treatment. The infomercials solve that.

Also added are certain psychological presumptions. Departing briefly from the death fear, the capitalists have managed to successfully suggest to doctors (and insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies) that any diversion from the current system would inevitably curtail what are presently claimed as reasonable, capitalistic profits. The countering view is that these reasonable, capitalistic profits are actually another one of our famous capitalistic “bubbles,” that is, reasonable, capitalistic profits probably not that reasonable after all. This addition survives on innuendo, but it survives.

Another almost subconscious addition has found its way into the mix. It seems that these highly ethical doctors have a habit of “milking” treatment costs in certain situations. In many cases, this has successfully been blamed on the patients. It turns out that extremely low income and minority patients simply don’t know how to consume health care as cost effectively as more well-to-do sick folks. The concept is not too hard to swallow. If these ne’er do wells were smarter, they would find themselves in the more prosperous category.

The obvious conclusion is that health care for these “lower class” patients is far more likely to be unreasonably expensive. The unreasonably expensive idea arises from several origins. The first is, simply, that the more prosperous are paying for it. From that point of view, any treatment at all may as well be unreasonably expensive. We see that brutally manifested in modern political dogma. It has never been easier to “jerk the knee” of an illiterate neocon with even the most innocent mention of an alternate medical economy.

Another important side effect which must be avoided in that argument is the possibility that less than ethical doctors are encouraged to haul their medical franchises to these, well, less desirable neighborhoods where special opportunities for excessively profitable treatment seem to abound. The down side possibility of this neo-conservative, self-fulfilling prophecy is lubricated by maximum resource extraction until the happy day when that dire prediction becomes fact. Poor people love to consume unnecessary medical care when rich people are forced to pay for it. Unethical, lower class doctors love to bill this into existence so long as they are held harmless from criticism, prosecution or Medicare review. This concept has definitely been added to the mix.

Finally, we arrive at the elephant in the living room. Again. Except in this case, the elephant is better cast as a six hundred pound hog. A hungry one. Not directly attaching Sara Palin to the argument, the lipstick issue rises up front and center. This, of course, is the matter of medical outcomes. The question of medical outcomes, inevitably joined at the hip to the question of medical costs, immediately casts its shadow on the question of medical profits and the comparative value of alternative medical economies, not neglecting the strange taint of medical economic ideology. All the feathers swirling around this headless chicken fly right in the face of the “best in the world” axiom describing our health care.

U.S. health care outcomes suck compared to those of comparably prosperous other countries. U.S. health care costs also suck when compared to the same alternative programs. Pay more. Get less.

It isn’t glorious, expensive new inventions that justify our health care costs. Nor waste. Nor welfare fraud. Nor chiropractors. Nor herbalists, accupuncturists or midwives.

It’s profit. You know, profit like the profit buried in the pharmaceutical bill that was authored by the pharmaceutical lobbyists and passed by the, well, pharmaceutical congress at 3 o’clock in the morning.

"Lawzee! Peddlin' these pills turns a better profit than sellin' whores in a lumbercamp!"

At this juncture, our cultural rip current of Marxist paranoia instantly enters the fray at full power. Who, exactly, is getting all this money? Who, exactly, is convincing us that our meager medical outcomes are actually the “best in the world?” What voice keeps telling us that, if we think a social medicine system is so great, to simply visit Canada? Canada, where everyone hates the national health care? Canada, where hordes of sick people flood into the U.S. every day, trying desperately to save their lives? Canada, where pharmaceuticals exploit the huge, honest investments we make here making their socialized price there attractive enough for elderly Americans to ride buses across the United States for a chance to buy them? With uninsured cash? Please.

If not Canada, then Europe. England. South Korea. Japan.

If the elephant in the living room is hard to ignore, discover the pig. Aside from being huge, it also stinks. Hogs also have a famous insistence on eating everything that isn’t bolted down, and this one is no exception.

Quick! Apply the lipstick! The good old “best in the world” lipstick.

Had enough? Remember this medical-pharmaceutical-insurance monopoly franchise on November 4th. Vote.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Watching Codependents Argue Politics

Does the Elephant in the Living Room Add A Voice To Our Political Discourse?
What else could we expect from a codependent social culture? 61

The Cliff’s Notes version of codependency’s definition deals with a crazy appetite for control, a stark dislike of confrontation and, at least, a conceptual foundation bricked up with these two features supporting various mechanisms of projecting authority. Apparently, a dismal lack of confidence might be added to the list.

No matter of concern for the successful self-delusionist. Any honest personal examination of these traits can be avoided with a psycho-narcotic dose of implied judgments not particularly burdened with risky original propositions.

Now to politics.

All about us there is a perpetual hue and cry for a discussion of the issues. No venom is too cruel for all the posturing and speeches intended to provide trust, understanding and identification with the candidates. If one were to accept this endless diatribe about the “avoiding of issues,” he would find himself enduring an equivalent airtime of cage wrestling brutality which never strayed from red meat discussions of direct arguments about almost everything. For example, say, nuclear war with Russia, the total destruction of North Korea, and so on.

There would be nervous breakdowns, suicides, domestic violence, drug addiction and alcoholism running rampant. It seems that we are too willing to simply forget that we are hiring these people to take care of all this stuff. We’re too busy taking care of our own pressing decisions.

Let’s add codependency to the mix.

Rather than indulging in “blogosphere” psychotherapy, we can extract a few phenomena which might illuminate this peculiar argument. What signs of codependency are we talking about, anyway?

1. We would like to know exactly what is going to happen.

A central feature of the qualified candidate is to know ahead of time just what challenges might arise. We have always granted great acclaim to prophecy realized. When some terrible development slides into our reality, our first interest rests with who saw it approaching first, not what can we do about it.

Now that we face some sort of economic meltdown, for example, the candidates appear much more interested in staking out the ground of the earliest warning about it than presenting any innovative counter to the threat itself. The specific nature of the calamity -- and its gravity -- quickly fades into a research project of just exactly who frightened us about it first.

The predictable result of this approach is that every politician feels compelled to frighten us quite frequently about all sorts of things, placing his timely fear marker on our poker table. Should any of these dire predictions materialize, he will be able to exude at least the implication of his own insight and thoughtfulness. His solution, although a reality we will probably end up living through, will be a secondary matter compared to his foresight.

Codependents value early warnings much more than good solutions. It is a convenient underpinning of their sensation for having control.

2. We would prefer a very specific promise from these candidates of ours as to exactly what they would do in all manner of hypothetical situations.

As we listen to campaign explanations of a candidate’s proffered response to various opportunities and calamities, one would suspect that we live in an absolute dictatorship. No matter the plan presented, there is always the matter of a recalcitrant congress, an economy with sufficient strength and a durable popular support. The voting public has a history of being rather fickle. Yes, the President will have a bully pulpit. No, his proposals will never enjoy so much as a single moment of peace before the counter arguments arise.

Further, conditions change. Along with the evolutionary shift brought by a new President, many other things also evolve. International affairs germinate, sprout and blossom on heavily unpredictable schedules. Foundations of domestic political support ebb and rise with rather shocking new political ambitions from all quarters. No matter the controlling complexity of hypotheticals, no matter how finely they are resolved into clusters of imagined details, they will never offer a rational measure which might absolutely and accurately predict the behavior of the man we might elect President.

For the codependent with a demanding insistence on knowing outcomes beforehand, this dynamic essence of the moment becomes a worrisome menagerie of alternate possibilities. Threats and opportunities arising in spontaneous moments are equally disturbing. (Troublesome spontaneous moments are those which have eluded the hypotheticals.)

3. We would really rather not have to risk trusting our own intuition or judgment.

If we were exercise this sort of intuition or judgment, it would present itself as a rather subjective insight. Based on what we gradually came to assume about a candidate’s character, background, reliability and so forth, we would venture forth into those rough seas and simply say “As far as I can tell, this one is the guy we want.”

Risky? Of course. This choice may really not be the guy we want. We may have been fooled, or worse yet, successfully deceived. Lied to! What fools we would be! Or worse, what fools we would appear to be! “Just imagine! I voted for that guy!”

Our alternate approach is to scurry about stacking up incredible amounts of evidence supporting our decision. Here, the difficulty lies in the obvious. There is no existential source for supporting evidence for hypothetical propositions. If there were, it would, again, be the utter, infallible voice of prophecy! If such evidence were to precisely match the conditions arising later, an election choice would amount to little more than diligent research.

Unhappily, we are inevitably confronted with the problem of selecting evidence derived from non prophetic estimates of the future. The details are, somehow, unavoidably mismatched, inaccurate or suspiciously motivated. (All those Biblical prophets fared so well chiefly due to their elevation to that status after the prophesied events or something similar actually occurred. Rather detail-free prognostications didn’t hurt their ascent too much, either.)

Codependents find extremely greater comfort in pitting contradictory research against all other evidence rather than in the bravado of outright speculation based on their own intuition and confidence. We find ourselves waging a war of conflicting information and considering it to be waging a war of ideas and issues. Just so long as someone else -- almost anyone else -- said something, it qualifies as a legitimate position.

At this point, these lengthy extractions and quotations are filling the web memory with literally gigabytes of storage as they are trotted out over and over. The debate centers on conflicts of raw data rather than on an individual's thought propositions based on such quotations. Only what is cited does battle. Conclusions drawn from such material and presented as arguments, that is, presented as products of confident, original thought, fill sparse, hard starved kilobytes of that same storage.

Little quality, much quantity. A wrenching poverty of conclusions from those who cite and a mindless, thundering maelstrom of insinuations from those cited. When the tangible discrepancies become too ponderous, the authority of the authors of those cited works becomes the battleground. No ideas -- too risky. Maybe even more endless text from someone else will finally be persuasive! Has winning the argument surpassed supporting good solutions?

“To hell with the prospects of the candidate. I must prevail over this mindless debate!”

4. We insist on a spectacular absence of hypocrisy, real or imagined.

What sort of treasures are sought in all these unending, quoted presentations? The most highly valued of all would be a revelation of hypocrisy. Oh yes, all the jurors will anxiously commence a public contest to see who is more outraged, but each will remember his own transgressions as he struts and spouts the depth of his dire injuries. Hypocrisy is usually either too complicated (One must read all this stuff first, as preparation, of course.) or simply centered on some topic without any particular interest. Alter boys in the closet, it isn’t.

The election of saints would always be a bad idea if it were ever actually true, but, aside from the case of those satisfied Iranians, such dreamy idealism is almost always a fraud. A temporary one. Hypocrisy is as common as wallpaper and as provocative as paint. Beige paint. The only tangible product of paying so much attention to hypocrisy is the creation a horde of self-protective politicians so adept at omitting details that their painfully generalized policy positions gradually become monotonously mud-like. When presented with such tortured propositions we, naturally, become a bit frustrated.

Breaking loose: “Why not zany?”

If our scrutiny of these statements and positions becomes energized enough, we may resort to consulting dictionaries, compendia and other authorities to enable our “debating.” Hogwash!

If you wish to use a word in a meaning other than the dictionary’s, go ahead! Present yourself. Explain yourself. Defend yourself. Place that idea of yours out in the world where it can either flourish or wither. The price of that “withering” has been unreasonably exaggerated! It has become an unexamined phobia! The penalty we imagine as we accept this notion of “paying too high a price” for expressing ideas of ours that never “connect” is a deception. A codependent deception! Our well groomed temerity has produced a swamp devoid of life sustaining innovation or sparks, a wasteland of endlessly restructured quotations with such a dismal, ponderous homogeneity that we begin to suspect that there really isn’t even a possibility of anything new, much less anything new and relevant.

Too often that conclusion suggests that there aren’t any possible answers or solutions. Not too far below that idea is hopelessness, a startling invitation to more attempts to extract control during a plummet to calamity. Yuck.

An endless "snipe hunt" searching for hypocrisy or someone to agree with can hardly be considered our best effort at objective mentation. The stakes are frighteningly high. Is this the best we chose to offer? Is offering something better simply too risky?

If you wish to present an argument of your own, go ahead! A bit of research to explain your thoughts might be nice, but to insist on finding some other statement which is similar is utterly unnecessary. And, disgustingly codependent. Good, new, innovative ideas find little comfort in the imagined security of the “safety in numbers” myth.

Being involved hardly requires cover from external authorities. Each of us is endowed with a mind and a mouth. Confidence comes from our own work on ourselves, from our unbending determination to exercise our precious lives to the fullest. Confidence comes from our insistence that our own personal, individual effort at life be always at its maximum.

Speak up.

The BailOut Begins

The scene: a dignified mansion in the hills of Connecticut 62

October weather had turned the color of all the tall trees along the long curving drive. The guards and the security gate of the place had been left far behind as the Rolls limousine slid silently into the covered entry way. Its privileged passenger jumped out, rushing in to meet his comrades, a boisterously grinning group of middle aged executives.

“Jerry! Come on! The meeting’s just about to start. Want a drink?” one of the well suited but already disheveled gentlemen in the massive atrium asked.

“Is Paulson already here? And, Jack. Is Jack going to be in the meeting?” the limo’s passenger asked of the laughing crowd as he joined the happy procession to the meeting room.

“Oh, yeah! Everyone’s here. We were waiting for you. Did you get those last positions posted in the market?” someone in the crowd asked.

You betcha!” he answered jokingly. Everyone else began to laugh even more raucously. “I’m all set to go. I wanted in a couple of tasty little banks and some commodities stuff before we prime this market for the big one! Heh, heh.”

Outside a chilled autumn drizzle had begun, misting over the two dozen or so gleaming limousines in the side driveway. Chauffeurs, abandoning their automobiles, had begun to congregate in the caterer’s tent. A few of the younger ones took furtive glances at the girls who had just arrived in the caterer’s bus.

Inside, the meeting was starting. Treasury Secretary Paulson, flanked on either side by a couple of Wall Street giants, was chuckling at a quiet joke shared between them. Behind the Secretary a ceiling high panel lit up. On it were a cascade of the most recent inside trader information from the market. The attendees grew silent.

Bernake sat solemnly at the other end of the great conference table. Dignified servants rushed to fill every coffee cup and drink, pausing only to slightly rearrange the incredible bouquets. Paulson swept his hand to the side. All the staff quickly hurried out of the room, closing the door. Two Blackwater guards took their silent positions on either side of the doorway. Husky and intimidating, neither of those two faces reflected a sense of any of the events in the meeting room.

Paulson began, still chuckling. “Okay guys. Who would like a chance to participate in the, ah, saving of the economy? A show of hands, please.”

All those now seated around the table quickly raised their hands, smiling but attempting to feign a serious, concerned look.

“Very well,” Paulson continued, also pretending seriousness, “I want each of you to take your pencil and the little slip of paper in front of you and jot down what you think your fair share of this should be. Be sure to write down your name so we can be sure you get the, uh, financial help you’ll need to, uh, well, you know, save the economy.”

Again, the room filled with laughter. The stock market moguls began to write, all the while looking suspiciously at each other. Most of them held their hand to block any possible view of their papers by those sitting next to them. Almost all at once, everyone present folded the little slips and placed them in a basket being passed around.

Bernanke rose, tapping his water glass as if to propose a toast. “Some of you may have noticed that I have five extra slips here at my chair.” All eyes greedily shot toward the Federal Reserve Chairman. “Hank and I have a special surprise. We all know that the drama of our credit tantrum is what made this possible, and, right now, Hank and I would like to express our special thanks to a few of you who really got involved with our dog and pony show.”

The Federal Reserve boss droned on, “We know that you could have refused all those nasty little interviews with the media hacks. We also know that those of you who actually submitted yourselves to those ugly questions could have just lumbered through it. Well, in some cases those interviews were truly works of art! All those troubled “deer in the headlights” looks, the smiles of desperate optimism and the loosened ties were sheer mastery. You guys terrified the whole world with your performance! Bravo! Bravo!”

“For you, we have a extra bonus! Right now, I am writing down your names and yet another amount of bail out cash in addition to what you’ve already asked for. Everyone! Everyone! How about a big round of applause for the actors in our midst?” the Reserve Chairman beamed.

“You know who you are! Barry, Steve -- stand up! Josh, Bill, Mikey! These are the boys who drove this baby home! Big round of applause! Big round of applause!” the Chairman continued, folding the extra five slips of paper and ceremoniously dropping them into the basket.

One of the honored interjected his own praise. “Hank, annihilating your old Goldman Sachs foe at Lehman was a stroke of genius! That scared the crap out of anyone who might have seen through our other antics. A big hand for Hank! A big hand!

Paulson, bowing and still clapping, made his way to Bernanke’s end of the table. Taking the basket, he went to a small door at the side of the room. “We’ll have the results of our, uh, work here in a few minutes. My Treasury people are issuing the credit vouchers right now.”

Returning to his seat, he glanced over his shoulder at the trading board behind him. The cascade of stock prices had already grown a hint of positive trends. A moment later all the bail out issues had been posted. He rose again, this time turning to look at the results. “Okay. We still have four-hundred- twenty-seven billion of the original seven-hundred.” Every face at the table was now locked onto the Treasury Secretary. “So,” he continued, pausing for effect, “let’s have some fun!”

Paulson and everyone else roared with laughter. “We, ahem, still have to decide the ‘quick and the dead’ out there among all those little banks. Anybody got any scores to settle?”

Instantly, all those at the table rushed to raise their hands. One particular man was frantically waving his arm back and forth.

“Okay, Larry. You look like you’re ready to go. I assume you would like to make a call to Quicksilver National in Cleveland. Go ahead! Get even with that little ingrate!

Larry was already punching in the numbers on the elaborate telephone at his seat. He toggled to the speaker phone. A pleasant woman’s voice answered. “Quicksilver National. How may I direct your call?”

Larry, struggling to control his glee, answered quietly. “The bank president, please.”

The receptionist answered politely. “I’ll transfer you to his office. Thank you for calling Quicksilver.”

The Treasury Secretary quietly held his finger to his lips. “Quiet everyone. Quiet.”

Another woman’s pleasant voice answered. “President’s office. This is Ms. Mayhew. How may I help you?”

Larry, now almost out of control, stumbled ahead. “This is Lawrence Kashbague from Kashbague and Scrape. I need to speak with Mr. Tumblethorpe.”

The voice responded, “Mr. Tumblethorpe is in a meeting at the moment. Can I relay a message to him or, perhaps direct your call to someone else?”

“No, I need to speak with Tumblethorpe himself. This is an urgent call. Please slip him a note and tell him I’m on the line. Tell him I’ve got some important news for him.”

The crowd around the table struggled to swallow their guffaws.

After a few moments, the bank president was on the line. “Yes? Mr. Kashbague?”

Larry attacked. “Tumblethorpe! How’s your begging coming along? Did you manage to swindle anyone out of any cash or is Quicksilver still only a couple of hours from collapsing?”

The voice on the line was surprised. “I didn’t expect to hear from you, Kashbague. What do you want?”

“I want to buy your bank, asshole! I’m sitting in a, ah, special meeting with the bail out on a trading board in front of me. I’m offering you a hundred-seventy-six million for Quicksilver. Is that enough to bail it out?” Larry laughed.

Tumblethorpe, obviously shocked, stammered for a moment, then answered. “Well, we’ve been asking three hundred-forty-five million, but no one has any money. A hundred-seventy-six is awfully low. I’m not sure we can do that.”

Larry shot back, “Okay. Just ride the bastard all the way down, then! This is the last chance you’ll get. That’s a fact! Heh. Heh. You can take that to the bank, you son-of-a-bitch.”

“Where did you get that kind of money, Kashbague?” Tumblethorpe asked.

“Doesn’t matter, loser.” Larry fired back. “It’s a hundred-seventy-six or nothin’. Take it or leave it.” The others attending the meeting could barely contain themselves. “Make up your mind. You want it or not?”

After a pause in the conversation, Tumblethorpe’s shaky voice returned. “I, uh, guess I’ll take it. I mean my shareholders will, ah, ...”

Larry shot back. “Done! There is one other small matter, Tumblethorpe. That hot teenage daughter of yours. She’s got to marry my boy.” The efforts to maintain silence at the conference table now fell apart.

Tumblethorpe’s voice, now thoroughly shaken, finally returned. “You’re crazy! Who else is there? I hear voices.”

“Yes or no. What do you want? You think that daughter of yours will have a nice life with a washed out ex-con for a bankrupt father?” Larry continued to press.

“Oh God. What am I doing?” Tumblethorpe struggled. Stammering, he continued. “Okay. You’ve got me, Kashbague. Take it. Take it all! Take Melinda!”

“We’ll be talking.” Kashbague added ominously, chuckling. He hung up. The entire table exploded with violent, hysterical laughter and back slapping.

When the roar subsided, Paulson again rose, asking, “Okay, who wants to go next?”

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Youth for McCain!

A short and passionate tale of elderly street theater.

Senator McCain scheduled a nice, dull town hall meeting here in Albuquerque. Some of the younger ones wanted to travel down to the UNM (University of New Mexico) campus and stand around demonstrating.

All that seemed reasonable enough. After all, it was a magnificent New Mexico autumn day, sunny and mild, and who knows? A friendly crowd offered the portent of pleasant company and new acquaintances.

I got busy on my home-made sign right away. Spreading the cardboard out on the living room floor and unceremoniously dumping all three boxes of various, colored magic markers nearby on the carpet, I began. As a neighborhood organizer for the Obama Campaign, all manner of aggressive and outlandish ideas for my sign's message were rushing through my mind. Still, there was my anticipation of some design problems, not the least of them the fact that half of the markers were, well, frankly, dried up and useless. Naturally, those would be all the good sign colors.

Furtive memories of that now ancient rebellious glory in Chicago at the Convention in 1968 were, by now, coursing through these old bones like an IV of adrenalin. One lesson of those halcyon days was to always use at least a 1" x 2" for a holding board. Another lesson was to never underestimate the persuasive impact of, yes -- you've got it -- street theater!

The right wording and a few of my "most geezerly" old people clothes would be enough for me to launch my one man mission to sign up young people for my "Youth for McCain" movement! Taping an American flag from WalMart (spelled: China) on the handle of my cane, finished the picture!

Of course, it would take both sides of this masterpiece to fully communicate the compelling nature of this invitation to these, till now, misdirected young people. I added a great, paper sunflower from Dollar General to "draw in the young girls."

That Obama rally was clearly on its last legs. Moving bravely into the midst of the crowd, I began.

"Get a haircut!"
"Join the Army!"
"Buy some stock!"
"Get with the McCain ticket, you spoiled back sliders!"

For those intrepid enough to endure these "American Dream" introductions, I immediately followed up with:

"I'll bet you don't even have a mortgage."

It was a great success! The mortgage crack kept eliciting responses such as "I'm only eighteen," but nothing could deter me once I was obviously on a run. To top off any of these dramatic epithets which got this far, I went on:

"Damned spoiled punk kids! Ingrates! Can't you appreciate all the sacrifices and hard work us old geezers have done to make this world what it is?"

"Grampy McCain is better than you deserve! Now. just hold your nose and get out there and vote for him!"

"You'll look good with a uniform and a rifle!"

Naturally, I offered some well seasoned geriatric advice to the young ladies, too. The astounding and inspiring fecundity of the second candidate in the "Youth for McCain" movement could hardly be overlooked. They were all transfixed by me, my well aged wisdom, that is.

"Have some babies, dammit!"

"America's tax paying future is depending on you!"

Oh well, I assume you have a fairly good picture by this point. Everyone had a good time except the Republicans who found themselves trapped in the auditorium.

Obama for President!