700 Billion Fluffy Nothings

Staggering bailouts? Body counts? Global warming stats? They're just numbers, silly

Relax, people, it's just a number.

It's just a bunch of zeroes. It's merely 700,000,000,000, and if
you look closely and blur your eyes just right and then hit yourself in
the face with a brick, you'll soon see that each and every one of those
cute little circles is filled with goodness and candy and the sweet
sighs of puppies and pie.

Really, what could such a ginormous number possibly mean to everyday
hard-workin' plebes like you and me? What does all that wild
speculation about imminent recessions and the total collapse of the
U.S. economy and "the end of Wall Street" actually mean for us all on a
day-to-day basis? In a word, nothing. In five more: happy safe
terrorist-free nothing. After all, "the fundamentals of our economy are
sound." And besides, we're all just "a nation of whiners." There now. Better?

Don't you already know? If eight miserable years of Bush have taught us anything, it's that numbers like these don't actually mean anything, or have any real effect or significance,
be they astronomical bailouts, soldier body counts, the costs of a lost
war, evidence of global warming, insane oil profits, you name it.

This is what you must remember: When you see all kinds of
frightening data flit across the screen, when you hear all sorts of
dour forecasts and prognostications and when you're hammered by
endlessly grim pie charts and downward-pointing arrows and scowling
rich white men sitting before congressional panels, well, just remember
you are simply in the realm of the gods, that the swirl of terrifying
numbers is merely how they rearrange the furniture up there on Mount

In other words, it has absolutely nothing to do with your hopes and dreams or future tax bills
or the price of a double latte at Dunkin' Donuts. OK, it actually does
-- disastrously so -- but it's best not to think about it too much.
Fair enough?

I know, it's tough not to feel a little shaken, unnerved, openly
disgusted. A $700 billion bailout of a Bush-gutted economy by an
already nearly bankrupt U.S. Treasury? Two trillion for a failed war in
Iraq? Ten trillion in national debt and a $480 billion budget
deficit (not counting the $700B for the bailout and it could be much
more) and a record trade deficit, with all those numbers nearly double
(if not far more) of what they were in 2001? Why, you'd almost think
someone -- or maybe an entire administration, perhaps the most irresponsible in modern U.S. history -- was largely to blame. But they're not! Because they're just numbers!

Like these: 47 million Americans without health insurance (up 30
percent from eight years ago). The U.S. dollar now worth roughly half
of its 2001 value. More than 150 signing statements
challenging over 1,100 provisions of federal law from a president who
could give a flying constitutional crap for legal precedent. Oh, and
yes: 4,170 dead U.S. soldiers (so far), 100,000 brain damaged and
wounded, and tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians. But again,
who's counting? Not Bush or McCain, that's for sure. So why should you?

Remember this, citizen: Numbers are intangibles, totally
inconsequential, wispy insubstantial things to be fawned over by
liberal scientists and math geeks and tax accountants and people who
care about, you know, stuff. As such, when those numbers turn really
dark and frightening and dangerous to the stability of your job and
your life and your future, well, we can't really hold anyone accountable.

Certainly not Bush and his cronies, who've handed every tax
break, gutted old law, nefarious new law and contorted FDA/EPA
regulation over to Big Energy and the military suppliers and the same cretinous Wall Street players
who mangled your money in the first place. Certainly not crusty,
untouchable Alan Greenspan, now deemed to be the master architect of
this collapse, whom John McCain once worshipped like a god.

And certainly not those greedy Wall Street cretins themselves,
many of whom knowingly manipulated a flawed system and floated
trillions in worthless paper so as to better make their boat payments.
Who cares if that paper had little pictures of your kids' futures on
them? Personal note from Wall Street bankers: F--k you for caring.

(By the way, as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested, it's
probably best not to threaten all those Wall Street CEOs and upper-tier
execs with yanking their multimillion-dollar golden parachutes, because
they might balk and choose not to participate in the riskiest bailout
in U.S. history. Don't forget the golden rule, abused citizen: The gods
always win.)

Wait, what the hell do you think you're doing, staring in
justifiable panic as your stock portfolio and your 401K and your nice,
sturdy bank's own valuation shudder and slip by 10, 20, 40 percent in
the space of a week, or maybe collapses altogether? What are you doing,
suddenly discovering your home is worth a fraction of what it was or
that you can't really afford to send your kids to college anymore or
that you can't get a loan for your small business and your credit
rating is suddenly meaningless? Get away from the screen, citizen.
Remember: It's just numbers. This isn't about you, whiner.

Here's a fun number: Nearly $40 billion in profit for Exxon
in 2006, the biggest of any U.S. company, ever. By the way, the price
of a barrel of oil just jumped its highest amount in history -- $25 in
a single day -- thanks to all the violent instability in the U.S.
market. Turns out, given the bizarre machinations of How It's All Set
Up, the energy markets are loving this meltdown, and Bush's oil cronies
(among others) are getting richer than ever. Go figure.

It just keeps going. The Dow, for the first time in history,
moved more than 350 points four days in a row. The value of the U.S.
dollar just sank even lower, which now means a cup of coffee in Paris
will cost the average American about $147. And what about the $600
billion Congress is about to rubber-stamp for Pentagon spending and Homeland Security? Best not to think about it. They pray you don't.

Here's an idea: Maybe we can force all the oil companies to bail
out the U.S. economy, given how, thanks to Bush administration's
unchecked rapaciousness and Dick Cheney's oily sneer, their total
profits for this year will likely outstrip the combined value of the
"war" on drugs, terrorism, God, country, megachurch DVDs, and your
children's children's future. You think?

I know, it's all a bit confusing for the everyday plebe, all
these massive sums and baffling lexicons of financial jargon and sullen
overlords of finance and government slapping each other around like
nervous children. Best you don't pay too much attention. Best you don't
ponder too deeply much how all those numbers intertwine and feed into
and off of each other.

And best you don't contemplate the biggest number of all, the
one that sums up the overall odds that you, the average wary
Bush-ravaged tax-paying American, will emerge largely unscathed from
this historic debacle.

That number? Oh, about one in a million.

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