Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cutting out the Middleman

Everybody agrees our Country has a serious debt problem. The projected shortfall between revenues and spending is expected to grow to $1.625 Trillion this year. That's One Thousand Six Hundred Twenty Five Billion bucks! That equals all Federal expenditures just 14 short years ago. We are over $14.2 Trillion in debt, mostly to China, Japan and England. It won't be long before our debt eclipses our Gross National Product, which would put us in Greece and Ireland territory. That's not a good territory to find oneself. Not good, indeed.

So, I got to thinking. As a businessman, how I could use good business practices to reduce costs, or increase revenues, or both, without raising taxes and strangling the engine of productivity. And I think I've lit upon a rather creative solution to at least a piece of our problem.

We provide economic aid to scores of countries each and every year. Although it amounts to less than 1% of all spending, it's still a number in the range of $65 Billion per year, which is some pretty serious money. For instance, we send Egypt a care package to the tune of $1.2 Billion a year. Egypt. That's the same country which just ousted its dictator and replaced him and the constitution with some army generals. And within a few months, the army will likely be replaced by a mullah or two. But that's okay. Maybe they will be friendly mullahs. We like mullahs, don't we? It worked so very well in Iran, didn't it? But in the meantime, it makes no sense to me that we borrow money from China so we can send it to Egypt, and Jordan, and Chad, and Namibia, and Fiji and all those other countries. So here's the plan: We do what businesses do every day. We cut out the middleman. Everybody knows that doing so lowers costs and streamlines operations. We simply ask China to send the money straight to Egypt! Instead of laundering it through the Department of the Treasury and the State Department, and the Democratic National Committee, our inscrutable friends should send it straight to Egypt's army! We ought to be able to lay off hundreds, maybe even thousands of Federal public sector union employees who will no longer be needed to massage and redistribute China's money.

Oh, wait a minute. Considering that the Feds have added 200,000 new union employees since January 20, 2008, and appear dead set on adding more, the likelihood of any of them being laid off is somewhere between slim and none. And Slim, as they say, is out of town. Oh well, never mind…

Friday, February 11, 2011

Just Pay Separate Shipping and Handling...

When was the last time you were in the hospital? No, I don't mean stopping by to visit Uncle Teddy who broke his ankle trying to kick little Jamal's soccer ball. I mean as an actual patient. Hopefully, the answer is never. But if it's other than that, you have my heartfelt pity and condolences. That's because I just got sprung from my own hospitalization and there's a story in there worth telling.

Those who know me are aware that I have a rather crappy back. An inherited tendency toward degenerative disc disease, coupled with an early career as a professional pool player (lots of bending over a hot billiard table), both contributed to the torture of a lifetime of back pain. Pain so severe that I underwent my first back surgery in 2004. My second was a year later. And now, after some 5 years, they opened me up one last time to complete the fusion from top to bottom. As my surgeon put it, "It's time to connect your ass to your appetite." Being always of good humor, I remarked that, at the very least, I ought to have good posture.

So five days in the hospital and another 5 in a rehab facility gave me tons of material to blog about. But the routine stuff about being continually awakened from a fitful sleep to be asked how I was sleeping, just won't do. No, I decided that with all that time on my hands I should be able to concentrate on other observations. And the one that immediately came to mind was late night television.

Let me tell you that the TV you get in your hospital room is nothing like the TV you dial up at home. For some reason, probably cost, there are usually only a couple of dozen or so channels in their offering, and that includes three in Spanish and at least one each in Vietnamese and Korean. And the others are a mixed bag of cable stuff from Home and Garden to the Oxygen Channel, whatever that is. At least there was Fox News to keep me informed, but little else worth watching. However, what proved so interesting to me were the commercials, especially those on after Midnight. I can't recall actually watching late night commercials before. But this time I got out a pen and paper and started marking down my observations. And so, dear reader, in an effort to spare you from the pain and torment of having to research this matter for yourselves, here is what I noted:

You need to buy gold. And you need to buy it NOW! There were at least 8 or 9 different companies pimping gold and they did so at all hours of the day and night. And to a man they let me know that gold is well on its way to $2,000 an ounce, or maybe even $3,000. And as the guy kept saying, "It's easy to buy, easy to hold and it's never been worth zero." Well that makes me feel better. I want to buy something that's never been worth zero, don't you? Of course, they didn't mention that they charge you a commission to buy it, a fee to store it, and another charge to sell it. And, unlike most other commodities, it doesn't by and of itself generate anything of value. But hey, a whole lot of people must be buying it because somebody's paying for all those commercials.

People must be buying their car insurance as a result of TV ads as well. Also, because there are just so damn many of them. You've got a talking Gekko pushing Geico, a chick in a white dress with an annoying voice talking up Progressive and a fellow from State Farm letting you know not to do business with those other folks. And like gold, it has GOT to be profitable in order to pay for all those 30 second spots. I'm hopeful that soon we'll be able to buy it after we have an accident, sort of like Obamacare will let us buy health insurance after we need it.

Hoodies were big a couple of years ago. You know, the flannel body suit you wear while sitting next your sweetie in front of the fireplace? Well now, the hoodie comes with footies. I guess next year they'll add gloves to the equation. And maybe then zip-on burkas for those of Islamic persuasion.

Those of you who have been screwed by Social Security can thank your lucky stars you have Binder and Binder. That the firm that'll take on your case and make the Feds pay up. But they could lose the guy who puts on his dull brown hat while saying, "We'll deal with the Government. You have enough to worry about." What's with that hat, anyway?

On the subject of unnecessary affectations, we have Frederick Cox, Founder of Tax Masters. He's the guy with the artificially orange beard who strangely looks off to one side while delivering his pitch. Why doesn't he look into the camera?

I want to know once and for all which is better: Is it Hoveround or the Scooter Store. What I do know is if they qualify you and Medicare fails to pay for your little motorized wheel chair, you get to keep it for free. In fact, with my back the way it is, that's the next call I think I'll make. And by "free," I'm guessing that just means my neighbors will get to pay for it. The redistribution of wealth, don't you know.

A nifty new little invention showed up on late night TV called the Robo Stir. You turn this guy on and stick him in your skillet. From there he starts stirring and stirring all by himself. You can do something else entirely and this guy just keeps on stirring. They say it's $40 in Europe but only $10 here. Oh, but you have to pay shipping and handling. Who besides me believes that the shipping and handling charge covers the total cost of manufacture of gadgets like this one, plus a nice fat profit margin? And wouldn't the Europeans get pissed if they found out they're being screwed out of $30?

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention J. G. Wentworth. That's the company that'll pay you off for your structured settlement. And their ad campaign is soooooo annoying, how could you ever forget these guys? "It's my money, and I want it NOW!" I just wish I had a structured settlement to get paid off from.

And last but certainly not least, there's MESOTHELIOMA! I don't know what percentage of the American population has this dread disease, but if it's in relationship to the number of times these ads run, it has to be a majority. I'm sure it a terrible disease to suffer, but it can't be much worse than having to watch these ads. And now we can add Accutane and Avandia to the list of drugs that these nice law firms will gladly sue over. Let's see, you take a drug for pimples and your leg falls off. Just call the law offices of…

There are others, but I don't want to bore you to tears, like I was. There's reverse 1st mortgages, the Magic Bullet smoothie maker, Empire Carpet Company, a special ceramic knife that never needs sharpening, AARP Medicare supplemental insurance, etc., etc. After a few days of this I discovered the antidote. A sleeping pill! Just remember that if and when you are next admitted. It'll make your life easier.

Oh, and one more thing. If you'd like, you can usually get two of whatever ridiculous nonsense they're selling for the price of only one. Just pay separate shipping and handling. What a load of crap!