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 Olympus.
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.
© 2008 San Francisco Chronicle