Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Athens-Yonkers-Peekskill Express

Greek Yogurt
We've gone from worrying about why they ran out of that Greek yogurt we love at Costco to wondering if Greek debt is going to be the end of everything after all. Just when we were told that all would be fine, for a while at least, the Greeks scuttled everything and, horror of horrors, will ask "the people" to decide.

Didn't they try that during the French Revolution only to find that the only one who benefitted was an inventor named Joseph-Ignace Guillotin?

Just because Greece is the cradle of democracy doesn't mean they have to take it so seriously all of a sudden. Americans may hate Congress with a passion, and with excellent cause, but do we really want to have a national-popular referendum every week about taxes, healthcare, what to do with all these millionaires, and the price of gasoline?

We think not, based on several recent trips to airports and malls, where we've seen our fellow citizens wearing what appear to be pajamas or old gym clothing, with expandable waists; while munching on large pieces of fried cheese and gazing into their smart phones (so-named because they are better educated than their users) for some kind of instruction about what they absolutely need to buy and place on the shelf at home with all the other crap.

As if on cue, another banking/trading villain has emerged in MF Global, famous for having a former Senator and Governor from New Jersey at the helm. Perhaps they would have done better with the cast of Jersey Shore in charge. This outfit bet heavily on the fact that the Old Europe, as Rummy (where's a sharp guillotine when you need one!) used to call it, would HAVE to bail out Greece and other debt-profligates, because...well, it was just unthinkable that they would not.

Apparently, Greeks beware of Euros bearing gifts.

Oh yes, aside from those big bets, debt leveraged to equity 40-1, MF Global has "misplaced" several hundred millions of dollars of client money. Is this Greek Tragedy or Comedy? I can't help thinking that John Candy would make a very fine movie out of all this, if he were still alive.

Or, perhaps this plot will seem all too familiar to those of us who were paying attention way back in '08.

But, why worry about Greece, when the fun is about to begin right here at home. This week, I've been touring cities on the Hudson, Peekskill and Yonkers to be exact. Both have seen better days. Both have tried, tried, tried to revive downtowns with public/private (mostly public) investment, AKA debt. They have aging populations who need healthcare, immigrant populations that need work, student populations that require better education, etc & etc. Meanwhile, their tax bases are hurting and they do not want to lay-off public employees, further adding to their woes.

Have we mentioned pensions? These cities and many others like them around the country have HUGE underfunded pension obligations brewing, among other kinds of debt. When citizens see the real (currently a state secret) numbers on these obligations, they may begin wailing away like Clytemnestra and Maria Callas never dreamed of wailing.

Yonkers Revival
The Governor of New York apparently has a plan to fix this, except that nobody has actually seen the Governor in a while, since he prefers his office and phone to mixing with the rabble in the streets. Maybe he'll fix this like he fixed property taxes, which he had capped at a 2% annual increase, UNLESS (small print and unpublicized loophole) cities, villages, and towns vote to override that cap, which they are already beginning to do.

Wasn't it that great Greek philosopher, Cat Stevens, who said, "...Ooh, Baby-Baby, it's a wild world, and it's hard to get by just upon a smile..."

But, we must try.

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