A friend of mine — I'll protect her identity by calling her Timothia Geithner, because her style of communication bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the befuddled US secretary of the treasury — walked into the local bar during a recent happy hour and announced, "I'm furious at IGA."
I'm normally furious at a host of institutions and people, which at any given moment might include the likes of Bernie Madoff, Time Warner Cable, Manny Ramirez, teenagers who insist on taking Twilight seriously, adults who insist on taking Watchmen seriously, and anyone who offers you a beer but gives you a Michelob Ultra instead.
The local IGA supermarket has never elicited the necessary level of outrage (limp lettuce! overpriced pastry! weak selection of tabloids at the checkout counter!) to make my list.
But I knew better than to challenge Timothia's pronouncements, because her tortured explanations (where's Amnesty International when you really need them?) usually lead only to further imponderables. For example, she once told me she was going for a medical procedure called an "MIR."
"You're being examined by a defunct Russian space station?" I asked.
"I know what I'm being examined by," she said. "I have a photogenic memory."
And me without a camera.
But back to her fury at IGA. "They're paying those big bonuses to their executives," Timothia said. "It's just not right."
"Ah ha," I said, as the fog finally lifted. "You mean AIG."
"Gesundheit," she said.
I mention this conversation because it seems rooted in the same logic that's produced the Obama plan to spend a billion bucks buying "toxic assets" from failing banks, as well as the numerous proposals before the Maine Legislature to borrow so much money to spend on questionable projects as to make the state itself a toxic asset, thereby increasing our eligibility for a federal bailout.
"We are looking for where we can get the most return for our investment," state Senate President Libby (no relation to Edward Liddy, the CEO of IGA, I mean, AIG) Mitchell told the Portland Press Herald, referring to her bill to stimulate the economy by issuing $27 million in bonds to improve depressed downtowns and fix up historic buildings.
We might get a better deal by buying $27 million worth of stock in AIG. I mean, IGA.
"This has to be one of our prime steps to recovery," Mitchell (no relation to "Sunshine Charley" Mitchell, the president of National City Bank, whose questionable antics were responsible in part for the stock market collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression) said in the Kennebec Journal about her plan to borrow $200 million (without voter approval) to build affordable housing.
I could have sworn building housing was one of the "prime steps" that got us into this mess.
"Our economy depends on investing in our people, and giving them the tools they need to be successful," said Governor John Baldacci (at best, a distant relative of best-selling author David Baldacci, who's still doing very well, even in this economy, thank you), in announcing a $306-million bond package.
Apparently, the governor lacks a "photogenic" memory (but then, why should his memory be different from the rest of him?) that might have enabled him to recall that his plan will boost the state's overall debt past the billion-dollar mark for the first time.
Among other things, Baldacci wants to use $52 million in borrowed money for building improvements at University of Maine System and Maine Community College campuses. Of course, he also wants those same institutions to lay off teachers and reduce their course offerings, thereby leaving many of the improved buildings vacant.
Environmental groups are asking us to go in hock to the tune of $87 million to buy more public lands. Meanwhile, the public lands the state already owns, namely its state parks, need maintenance and repairs costing an estimated $40 million that nobody is talking about appropriating. Because, I mean, how would fixing up our current properties get us out of the recession?
In all, Mitchell, Baldacci, the enviros (no relation to Enron), and other assorted members of the don't-pay-as-you-go crowd want to borrow $1.3 billion.
Debt payments on the more than $900 million in bonds the state has already issued or approved will cost taxpayers more than $263 million in the next two years. The interest on these loans is a bigger part of the state budget than the entire judicial system, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Legislature.
If this collection of buttheads (no relation to Fannie Mae) gets its way, the financial burden from the state's debt would more than double.
If the prospect of all that wasted money has given you a headache, I suggest seeing a doctor about having an MIR — I mean an MRI. Or you could try some over-the-counter pain meds. I think they sell them at your local AIG.
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