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I can't decide whether I really like it or I really hate it when these burning questions that I have finally get answered. (Questions about anything, really. I've been told I'm fairly inquisitive. That loosely translates into "fixated on day to day minutiae.") I'm pretty sure that it's a little bit of both, but neither one makes me feel any better than I did when I didn't know an answer to a question. And frankly, I don't think it's supposed to work that way, yet it often does. And you know I'm going to provide an example of just such a conundrum.
As the financial infrastructure of this fine (but dumb) country teeters on the brink of collapse, lawmakers are trying to reach an agreement for terms of providing a bit of financial assistance to the banking industries. It's an agreement that has been shopped to the American people as a "bailout". Personally, I don't know how they expect any taxpayer to get behind and be in favor of a "bailout". The term "bailout" is never a good thing, unless you're in a boat that's taking in water. Then it's a fabulous idea. Bailing out those who were unregulated, irresponsible and borderline retarded never sounds like a good idea, but sometimes you have to things in order to avoid something worse. In this case, it's either help out the failing and faltering banks or watch our economy shatter and set off a nationwide depression which will result in a sort of Blade Runner type of society with cannibalism. And no one wants that. Ever. In a boat taking on water or not.
In order to help out these banks that are in danger of going under, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke came up with a plan to dole out a bunch of cash to these banks. When I say "a bunch" I mean "a hell of a lot of cash". We're talking $700 billion dollars. Billion. With a 'B'. 'B' as in "Boy howdy, Slim. That's a buttload of money." And while I do trust Henry Paulson and while I do think that Ben Bernanke is capable of doing his job competently and well (though I'd kind of like Alan Greenspan's thoughts on this whole ordeal. It's not that I'm a Greenspan fan, but he was around for a while and that which is familiar makes me more comfortable.), I was having a hard time figuring out where that $700 billion figure came from.
Good thing that there's Forbes Magazine to help out with these things. They wanted to know where that figure came from as well, so they asked the Treasury Department about it. They got a response. And this is where I can't tell if I'm glad to have the answer or if I'm angry that I have the answer. If it's just one of those, I still don't know which one. But if it's a little bit of both of those, that would make sense, though I don't know how often I would fluctuate between being content and wanting to kick someone in the kneecaps. Really hard.
According to Forbes, a Treasury spokeswoman said, "It's not based on any particular data point. We just wanted to choose a really large number." Oh, I see. Well, thanks for clearing that uuuu....hey. Wait. Wait a minute. What? WTF?!?
It's not based on any particular data point? Are you kidding me? Shouldn't it be based on at least ONE particular data point? Like the point that shows you how much money you actually need to do this? Wouldn't that be a "particular data point" that you would want to know? Apparently, if you are the Treasury Department, no it is not something that they want to know. HOW is that possible? Isn't that how problems like this usually get started in the first place? By not basing anything on anything and just pulling a very large number straight out of thin air? Isn't that how all of the shady bastards in the real estate industry were pricing houses for a while there? Yeah, that's what I thought. Hmmm.
So the Treasury Department, in it's efforts to save the country from plunging into economic despair not seen since 1929, has decided to implement the PNOOOA strategy. PNOOOA is an acronym which stands for the Pulling Numbers Out Of Our Asses strategy. Well, I'm SO glad that the Treasury Department is around to help the country get out of this mess. I feel better already. Wait. No, I don't! Isn't taking out too much money the basis of the problem in the first place? And now these guys want to take out $700 billion because they "wanted a large number"? (Yeah, I wanted a really large number to be the limit on my first credit card, too. But that didn't happen and for good reason. The bank wasn't going to give me a really large number for my credit limit because I hadn't shown them that I was capable of managing less than a really large number yet. If I could show them that I was capable of that, then we could talk about my being allowed to manage more. But they weren't going to just let me go around spending money right and left and hope for the best that I'd make it all turn out pretty good in the end. Shocking, I know.)
That one statement from the Treasury Department spokeswoman tells me that the American public doesn't really know how big this thing is and, if $700 billion is just a "really large number" that they wanted, the cost of the entire dealio might not be that high. Of course, they don't explain why that is in the Forbes article. I guess that's because it's supposed to be a good enough answer for us. And while it really isn't, at least it gives me some vital information about what's going on over there. It definitely tells me that there are a whole bunch of Legislators with their heads up their asses who are trying to work out some sort of a deal to do something. Reassured, I am not.