Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stimulate This!

I don’t know about you, but I am so completely sick and tired of hearing about the Democratic Economic Stimulus Package, the pros and cons of its passage and the eight million Freudian implications of the word stimulus. Those who support its passage really can’t explain their reasoning (something about jobs) and those who yearn for its defeat can’t explain their reasoning either (something about pork). Confused? Annoyed? Feel the urge to contact your local congressman or senator and ask them if they’ve scored some killer dope from Michael Phelps? Do not bother, true believers. According to my inside sources, 99 percent of Congress has already decided how they are going to vote on the bill, regardless of the feelings of the constituents they supposedly represent. This type of political posturing is guaranteed to do absolutely nothing except stimulate further feelings of disgust and apathy from the citizens they have pledged to help.

It is widely agreed that the United States’ infrastructure is in disrepair and needs to get fixed, sooner than later. It’s also widely agreed we need to develop alternative energy sources so we can get the living hell out of the Middle East and never look back. Many schools do need to be brought into the 21st Century so our children can compete with Western Europe, Russia, Japan and all the other nations that are passing us by in education standards. Most people also agree that giving 246 million dollars to Hollywood producers is nothing but evidence that “pay to play” is the name of the game. Ugh. How did that provision got in the stimulus bill remains a mystery but I’ve got a darn good idea who put it there. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is possibly the most pompous, egotistical politician I have seen in my life. Pelosi was quoted talking about this massive spending bill before Barack Obama was even elected. It’s little shock she would give a kickback to those who helped bring in thousands of fundraising dollars. Evidence of Pelosi’s special favors date back to her election as Speaker, Pelosi lobbied to have U.S. territory American Samoa exempted from the federal minimum wage increase. Coincidentally, one of American Samoa’s largest employers is Star Kist Tuna whose parent company, Del Monte, is based in Pelosi’s home district. My inner Fox Mulder suspects nearly all questionable provisions in the stimulus bill were authored or encouraged by Speaker Pelosi, considering she started writing it months before it was unveiled.

Conversely, Republican ideas surrounding the stimulus bill have revolved around tax cuts. I like extra cash as much as the next person but I highly doubt extra cash in my pocket is really going to bring back millions of jobs. Americans are changing the means they spend radically, from retail stores to the internet, from new cars to old beaters. Tax cuts are not going to encourage people to go to Abercrombie and Fitch. They are not going to convince anyone they should buy SUV’s from two potentially bankrupt auto companies. Tax cuts sound good because people like money. However, I find it difficult to accept these proposals from a party that marched lock, stop and barrel with a president who spent us into oblivion. Over the long term, tax cuts result in underfunded schools and roads that look like obstacle courses. Federal tax cuts trickle down in a very nasty way. If the U.S. government spends less, there is less money for states, counties and towns, who are then forced to raise property taxes to make up for the shortfall. The main difference is that counties and cities do not rely on public opinion nearly as much as state and federal government. Counties and cities can raise your taxes without public voting to pay for necessary (and unnecessary) services. The only exception is public schools, where tax increases are required to be voted upon. In difficult economic times, proposals to limit class sizes, hire more teachers and provide a better learning environment for our children tend to be shot down, as this voting procedure is sadly the only voice citizens get over how their money is spent. I learned all of this in “Reaganomics 101.” Took it for eight years. Got an “A.”

So who’s to blame for this boondoggle we’re in? We’re America, dammit! There has to be a bad guy somewhere. After discussing the causes of the economic crisis with one of my trusted advisors, the Stallion, I have determined the main perpetrator that instigated our current almost-maybe-just quite might be-next depression: Starbucks. Before you drop your vanilla latte in shock and awe, let me elaborate. For the last decade, Starbucks attempted to monopolize the coffee industry by constructing stores on every city block and in every shopping mall hoping to corner the coffee market by annihilating all competition. They did this with such zeal that sometimes you could see two of three Starbucks stores in the same mall and two on the same city block. This business strategy doesn’t make sense. My Adam Koeppe Simple Math shows that if a business chooses to compete against itself, the end result is subtraction rather than addition. Customer traffic will decrease, rather than increase, for a variety of reasons. There are only so many coffee drinkers and even less who choose to throw down a five-spot to get their fix. One busy store becomes two steady stores. Add a third and you have employees spending company time texting their buds more than pouring overrated java. Secondly, nobody likes a monopoly, especially a company like Starbucks that built stores next to independently owned coffee shops with the sole intent of eradicating them. It’s just bad form. Third, Starbucks failed to recognize the rising competition of energy drinks, choosing to ignore their popularity and focusing instead on pimping Paul McCartney CD’s. Add all this mismanagement up and the result is thousands of layoffs and store closings blamed on an economy that could never have sustained the expansion in the first place.

Starbucks isn’t really the problem. I used to keep the IDS store in Minneapolis in business by ingesting a gallon of iced tea a day. However, they’re evidence of incredibly irresponsible lending by banks. Why would any loan officer provide loans to a company when simple math states that their expansion will fail? In the Stone Age, a company had to provide a detailed business plan to the lender, explaining their strategy, the potential revenue and a timetable for repaying the loan. The only reasoning for allowing Starbucks, Home Depot and thousands of other crazy companies access to millions of dollars is that of fear itself. If a loan officer objected to the request on one of these companies, he or she risked losing commission or potentially their job. If Starbucks was denied a loan, all a high-ranking company minion had to do was contact the loan officer’s boss, threaten to take their investment elsewhere and watch the magic money appear. The fear of losing these million dollar clients overtook basic common sense. If Wells Fargo denied the loan, then Bank of America would cover it. This type of competition was supposed to be checked up on by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) but apparently they were too busy covering up accusations leveled at one of their dear friends, Bernard Madoff.

Currently, we are being told by President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Katzenjammer Kids that if we don’t act now on this stimulus, we face certain catastrophe. Our cell phones will stop working, McDonalds will close, the sky will turn dark, the Daleks will align themselves with the Hall of Doom, the Hellfire Club, the New Kids on the Block, the Green Goblin, the Hobgoblin, Chris Brown, Zombie Saddam Hussein, Plankton, Swiper and Barry Bonds forcing the entire world to watch endless broadcasts of crappy Dane Cook movies. Seriously, we’re supposed to be scared. Fear is the most powerful weapon in existence. This fear which Sean Hannity apparently has an issue with despite his supporting the politic of fear used to blow Baghdad to bits. Six years ago, George Bush convinced the majority of Americans Saddam Hussein was going to nuke the entire planet if we didn’t stop him. Oops.

President Obama’s chokehold on Wall Street executives’ pay is probably the only stimulus the economy really needs. All the average citizen needs to see is that they’re being looked out for and limiting pay for the bailout bozos accomplishes this more than building fifty roads. Despite millions spent on PR and ads attempting to convince the public otherwise, these people are greedy, selfish humans who will stop at nothing to achieve their goal – which is always more money and power. The entire country is keeping their eyes on these guys and the only way they’re ever going back to their free-wheelin’, wining and dining ways is to actually do their job. If they are so indispensable to the financial industry, let them prove it. Otherwise, let someone else in and see if they can make sense of this. There’s quite a few unemployed individuals right now and I’m sure they’d love to replace the people responsible for putting them out of work.

When the stimulus bill passes – and it will pass, I guarantee something magical will happen. The sky will clear, flowers will bloom and happy times will be here again. We will be sold this reality every day and at every press conference. If we are sold sunshine, most of us will consume it in abundance. Spring is indeed around the corner. We will start spending again, as we always have. We will get that better job, because we’ll try a little harder. We’ll make that mortgage payment; cheer our kids at basketball games and smile a little bit more. We will put our sunglasses on after dark and see the light of the moon because our leaders will tell us the sky is bright. We’ll get back into the swing of things, buy a vanilla latte and bask in the glory of change. Unfortunately, the change is only that of perception. We can alter our outlook and emotions but when the sunglasses are off, the world is still shades of infinite gray. We will be no better or worse. Our future is left up to our own dreams, desires and fears. Dreams are better. It’s the stuff life is made of.

Most of us have friends and family who have lost their job or had their hours cut because of this mess. People who bust their butt every day, and do the best they can to provide for their loved ones. People who give new parents outgrown baby clothes rather than sell them, give away an unused freezer, provide an extra hand on a house project and expect nothing in return. These are good people who’ve been screwed, yet they are not bitter nor do they beg. The make the best of what they have and look for ways to help those they care for rather than spend every day crying about something they can’t fix. They’ve never asked for a government hand-out and never will. They are proud of their work ethic, the life they lead and the friends they’ve made along the way. Our country is running short on role models these days. Maybe we should look at the people in our neighborhood. It is the human quality of empathy that truly shines when times are tough. Recovering from this economic catastrophe will not come from faith in government, rather the undeniable human spirit within us. If we learn anything from this, let it be that it is not the size of your house or the wealth of your portfolio that matters, but the size and wealth of our hearts, which is one possession that can never be lost or taken away.

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