Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stimulus packages under the tree

Somehow economic disasters are always our fault and our responsibility to fix.

A few years ago Americans stopped saving and started spending and borrowing like, well, Americans are always urged to. Then something went wildly wrong with the housing and financial markets. We were told we were living beyond our means, something no one mentioned to the suckers at all those mortgage closings.

The solution? The government borrowed $700 billion, or more, from us taxpayers to give to the banks that had been giddily lending to foolish people who couldn't pay it back. This was real money, not the mortgage-backed paper those banks used to build the housing crisis of cards.

Our job? Same as after 9/11. To go shopping.

Yes, the idea this Christmas season is to spend more money we don't have. Saving is a good thing, but right now Uncle Santa is getting a lot of requests for corporate bailouts (never mind who's been naughty or nice) and Wall Street and retailers really need us.

On Black Friday (a name eerily reminiscent of the names given days of stock market crashes), we did our patriotic duty and went to the mall and stimulated the economy. No one was trampled at our little mall, but plenty of people were there with us, and this year it's hard to say we're all consumerist saps.

After all, part of our family's economic stimulus plan was to buy a chest freezer for homemade stocks, soups and tomato sauce. I know all that good food will last at least through the coming year.

I'm not so sure about our money.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Surrender-Monkey Bubbly All Around

Ah, I remember it well. August 8, 1974. The day a disgraced Richard Nixon left office in a go-to-hell-icopter from the White House lawn. I went out to the local liquor store in Cambridge, Mass., and they were all sold out of champagne. A Boston Globe reporter was even in the store writing a story about the sudden statewide champagne shortage. So early this morning, I went to Safeway to get a bottle.

It was a bottle of Taittinger brut, and the sign under it said it cost $29, marked down from $50. But when the clerk rang it up the price came to $39, marked down from $60. After a price check, the clerk said I'd grabbed a more expensive Taittinger, and asked if I wanted her to get the cheaper one.

"No, this is for Obama," I said, grandly, mostly to the people waiting impatiently in line. "And if McCain wins, we've got plenty of the cheap stuff at home."

Cheers and high-fives from everyone, especially the good union clerks and baggers. This may be white suburbia, but it's Marin County, California, soon to be part of the U.S.A. again. I hope.

Thinking the unthinkable: If the unthinkable happens, we'll be drinking that very drinkable Taittinger anyway. (Warning: Severe name-dropping ahead.) The great thing about champagne, as I told Claude Taittinger when he and I were at a fancy dinner in San Francisco a few years ago, is that you drink it in very good times and bad.

"Ah, oui, mon frere," he said to me, or something like that, and I reminded him of the greatest champagne movie of all time.

Remember Bogart and Bergman in "Casablanca" when the Nazis enter Paris? They pop a bottle of bubbly.

At least in this election the nasty totalitarians aren't about to enter our capital. They're already there.

Santé, and sanity.