The Credit Crisis

Explained by Shaun Eli, Wall Street Comedian

Exaggeration and misdirection are common tools used by stand-up comedians. They’re also being used to wrongly explain the credit crisis. And with much less humor.

An example of exaggeration? “The FAA raised the retirement age for pilots from 60 to 65… now your pilot and your meal can be the same age.” Or “Microsoft founder Bill Gates was knighted by the Queen of England. It’s part of a deal they made— she gave him a knighthood and in return he promised to abandon his plan to buy Scotland.”

The media refers to some vast, evil, unregulated $50 trillion credit default swap market. Here’s where exaggeration comes in. The ‘notional’ amount of the market might be $50 trillion.

That’s a meaningless number but it’s a huge number and we like big numbers in this country. That’s why everybody knows what the (roughly at 9,000) Dow Jones Industrial Average is, but few have even heard of the much more meaningful (roughly at 900) S&P 500 Index.  To explain the meaning of ‘notional’ consider my homeowners insurance.  I pay $700 to insure a $300,000 house.  That’s a $700 transaction.  I pay them $700 and nothing else happens.  It’s not a $300,000 transaction.  Sure, if my house burns down then they pay me $300,000 but if you want to count that way then you have to include all the houses that didn’t burn down.  At zero.

Guess what?  If you add up all the fire damage, and divide by the total number of customers (burned down and not), what do you get?  A number very near $700 per policy.  The actual economic value of the CDS market is probably more like $100 billion and even that ignores the fact that the same piece of paper probably trades back and forth a dozen times, so the actual risk is less than a tenth of that number.  But fifty trillion sounds scary.  Ten billion, not so much.  That’s Bill Gates only up to the knees.  Not enough to buy even the cold half of Scotland.

Be they currency swaps, loans or credit default swaps, trades between banks aren’t regulated.  And they shouldn’t be.  Are default swaps insurance?  Economically, yes.  But that doesn’t mean they should be regulated.  Insurance is regulated to prevent Allstate from taking advantage of Steve when he buys car insurance.  Not to prevent Goldman, Sachs from taking advantage of Citibank, both of which employ a large number of attorneys, traders and math & statistics PhDs.  Far more, by the way, than the New York State Insurance Department.  Many years ago when I created the first double-derivative CDS contract on Wall Street (a credit default swap based on the value of a cross-currency interest rate swap, if you must know) we all understood the deal.  If a particular retailer defaulted on its debt we would pay a major investment bank the value of the swap, because that was the risk to their counterparty which they wished to hedge.  No big surprise for anybody.

So I’ve explained that the vast, evil, unregulated $50 trillion CDS market isn’t vast or $50 trillion or regulated, but of course it’s evil.  Whenever smart people make lots of money doing stuff we don’t understand, that’s evil.  We’d much rather pay people millions for hitting a ball very far or singing about whatever it is teen idols sing about these days.  We may not be able to hit a ball very far or sing very well but at least we understand.

And now, some misdirection.  “A new study says that men and women differ in their eating habits. Women prefer fruits, vegetables, eggs and yogurt and men want to get the meal over with so they can have sex.”  And “The DEA announced that New Jersey’s heroin is the strongest in the country, it’s 71% pure.  That’s got to be a little embarrassing, isn’t it?  When your heroin is cleaner than your drinking water!”

So where did all the money go?  If you got a subprime mortgage and you’re making the payments it went to you– you got a loan and a house you couldn’t have gotten without the subprime market.  If you got a zero-down loan but were later evicted from your new house for non-payment it still went to you and you benefitted although it might not feel that way back in an apartment.  If you have a low rate on your credit card that’s because some Wall Street executives figured out how to package your loan with others and sell them.  That’s how you got your big-screen TV on which to watch stories about the value of your new house plummeting.  But that’s okay, come baseball season you can always switch the channel and watch a guy hit a ball very far.  Although by then you may be watching it back in your old apartment.

Did some of the money go to Wall Street executives?  Sure.  And I’m okay with that… as long as they buy tickets to my show.

 

 Oh, Canada!

Canadian stand-up comedian Guy Earle is being investigated by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal for making allegedly anti-lesbian comments from a comedy club stage in response to hecklers who interrupted his routine.

The story received almost no press in America. Nor even in Ontario. Maybe Torontonians think of B.C. the way we New Yorkers think of all the other states: remote places lacking people. But British Columbia isn’t Vegas– what happens in B.C. doesn’t stay in B.C. And in this case a dangerous precedent is being set, one that could set back the cause of free speech over two hundred years.

A little background… the very concept of Freedom of Speech originated in Eastchester, NY. In 1735 a journalist named John Peter Zenger published a criticism of New York’s governor William Cosby. Zenger was arrested and charged with seditious libel… and found not guilty because his attorney questioned the law rather than the facts, and truth was found to be an absolute defense against libel. Leading to the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press. It also led to a sign in Eastchester stating “Eastchester, NY, Home of the Bill of Rights.” For a number of years an even larger sign was attached to the same signpost, stating “Home of the Little League World Champions” because after 200 years America may take freedom for granted, but not baseball. Apparently Canada has a different attitude. Not to take freedom for granted, but to take away the grant of freedom.

Canada, you used to be the rational, middle child of North America, not as greedy or driven but seemingly happier and much more well-adjusted. You were like the smart girl with glasses; we didn’t want to date you but we were privately envious and we suspected that underneath the heavy winter clothes and the glasses, if you let down your hair you were secretly lovely and loads of fun. We looked up to you the way we admired Einstein, Lennon and, until recently, Woody Allen. A little bit eccentric maybe, though admirable. But no more. If you prosecute comedians for defending themselves on stage, in fact for making fun of people in general, we can no longer be friends. At least not after you’re finished helping us find Bin Laden. We’re upset, but we’re not stupid. We’re America, remember? Fair-weather friends. Just like the French, only fatter and with fewer Eiffel Towers.

Prosecuting people for making jokes? In America we don’t take our own government seriously but we never thought of your country as a joke. Now it’s just a matter of time before we start sending your entertainers back. Martin Short, Alan Thicke, maybe even David Steinberg. But we’re keeping Pamela Anderson; after all, we ARE greedy, selfish, superficial, over-sexed Americans. Michael J. Fox can stay too. And while we’re at it, you get American pharmaceuticals cheaper than we do, so could we please have some more oil? Seems only fair.

Canada, we’re truly sorry we took all your hockey teams. Would it make you feel better if we also took Quebec? We’ll have them speaking Spanish in no time.

We do love your country. When we’re in Europe and we’re confronted and forced to defend America we always have the option of turning chicken and saying “Oh, we’re Canadian” to make all the trouble go away and get the free drinks flowing. We’re jealous of that kind of respect.

Canada, we long for the good old days. Not only was your money worth less than ours but it was also way more fun to look at. And even as your quarters clogged our soda machines we liked your beer better, though most of us wouldn’t admit it. But a Bill of Rights? Something Canada lacks? As Jay Leno said in a joke I wrote for him that has been repeatedly quoted and emailed, about the Iraqi need for a Constitution: Why don’t they just take ours? It’s suited us well for over 200 years, it was written by some very smart men, and WE’RE not using it anymore.

My friends, I offer a fair compromise. There’s no copyright notice on our Constitution. We’d be happy to share it with you and we even promise not to make any Fifty First State jokes. Feel free to adopt our freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Free Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Religion, and the two rights everyone forgets about when quoting the First Amendment, Freedom to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances and the Right of People Peaceably to Assemble.

Even in comedy clubs. There’s no Constitutional prohibition of a two-drink minimum.

 

2006 On-line Dates

It seems like I had 2006 of them though I probably met only twenty women on line last year.

I met one woman whose profile said she was 5′ 9″, 37 years old and had never been married.  But somehow in the few days between the time I wrote to her and the time we met for lunch she grew two inches.  Yes, striking a blow for gender equality, a woman lied about her height.  In less than a week she’d also aged a few years and had gotten both married and divorced.  And though I met her on a Jewish dating site, she wasn’t Jewish.  She said she liked Jewish men; I guess I can’t fault her for knowing where to find us.  Maybe she really did have that Ivy League MBA she claimed.

I’ve learned that “My glass is half-full” means “I think I’m an optimist but since I can’t think of any examples I’ll just use a cliche.”  All the half-full glasses on JDate and Match.com made me wonder why so many women were drinking when they filled out their profiles.  Until I looked at the men’s profiles, at which point I understood.

For every extra-large woman who thinks it’s okay to say she’s “firm and toned” it’s refreshing to meet a normal-sized woman who thinks that she has “a few extra pounds.”  “A few” is usually not like “America still has a few allies left in the world;” it’s more like “It will cost you a few dollars to take a taxi from Brooklyn to Canada.”  And apparently proportional means twelve inches in depth for every twelve inches in height.  Yes, 1:1 is a proportion, just like spherical is a shape.  It’s just probably not the shape most of us are looking for.

On-line daters quickly learn that if someone has three attractive photos and one ugly one, the ugly one is the accurate one.  And that photo of you way off in the distance, covered head to toe in ski clothes?  The one that tells us nothing about what you look like?  Oh, it’s there because you ski?  Wouldn’t it be easier just to check the box next to “I like to ski?”  I guess it’s better than just having six photos of you surrounded by shirtless guys all holding bottles of beer.  That tells us something about you– that you think it’s a selling-point that drunken shirtless guys hang around you.  Will they be coming along on our date?  Because I’m not paying for them– I’m sure they can drink a lot in the five minutes it will take me to realize that you’re not my type.

Most women whose profile name is Ashley or Stacy are actually named Jennifer.  Women who speak Russian are from Russia, even if they claim to have grown up in Queens.  They’re also mostly named Svetlana.  At least it’s a welcome break from Jennifer, Jenny, Jen, Jennifer and the occasional Real Stacy.

Women who claim to look like a celebrity or a combination of celebrities never do, unless Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon resemble Phyllis Diller and somehow we all just fail to see it.  Having a similar number of eyes and noses does not constitute a resemblance.

Yes, we know that your family and friends are very important to you– why mention it unless mommy wrote your profile for you?  We’re also not impressed if you brag about having your best friend write your profile because you didn’t know what to say.  Of course your friend thinks you’re sexy, a great catch and a lot of fun– but she never went on a date with you so what makes her the expert?  If you can’t think of what to say about yourself in a pressure-free situation with virtually unlimited writing time you’re probably not going to have much to say on our first date.  I’d probably just end up dating your friend anyway– haven’t we all seen seven or eight versions of this movie?

You’re as comfortable in a cocktail dress and heels as in jeans and sneakers?  Wonderful.  I’ve never met a guy who is as comfortable in a tux as in jeans and a t-shirt.  Even James Bond puts on casual clothes when he’s not trying to seduce the villainess at the baccarat table in Monte Carlo; we just never see him when he’s at home in front of the TV.  I’ve heard he’s partial to “Jeopardy” and “The Simpsons” although that may just be a rumor.  You’ve only two hundred words to summarize yourself– is your love of French fries with mustard really one of your most interesting and unique qualities?  That does tell me something about you– that there really isn’t much about you to tell.

No, signing up for an on-line dating service does not prove you’re adventurous.  Saying that you think it proves you’re adventurous only proves that you’ve never had an actual adventure.  By 2006 most single people have tried on-line dating; it’s about as adventurous as getting a driver’s license or trying artichokes for the first time.  You want adventure? Try riding in a NYC taxi with your eyes closed or dating one of those creepy guys whose emails you can’t delete fast enough.

If your profile says “I am a 34 year old woman…” but the age box says you’re 38 then it’s been at least three years and one day since you’ve even looked at your own profile.  I don’t know what the harm is in proof-reading, but when you say you’re “intelligant” and “an enterpernuer” then at best you’re only one of the two.  If you misspell the name of your occupation please tell me where you work so I can short their stock.  Telling us you’re a sexy, beautiful blonde is a waste of words when we can see the photo above your essay.  The blonde part is apparent; the sexy, beautiful part is ours to judge, although thanks for telling us how hot you think you are.

If in your “perfect match” essay you simply have a long list of what you’re not looking for, it’s a good bet that you can’t find your perfect match because what you’re looking for is something to complain about.  “Thou shalt not” belongs in the Ten Commandments, not on an internet dating site.  This is where you tell us that you’re looking for the guy with mustard for your French fries.

Occasionally I hear from someone’s mother telling me that I’d be perfect for her daughter and “Here’s her phone number, go ahead and call.”  Maybe she’s the perfect woman but you certainly won’t be an ideal mother-in-law.  Besides, for all the times I’ve responded by writing back saying “Here’s my personal email address, why don’t you have your daughter write to me and tell me something about herself?”  I’ve never gotten a response.  Maybe you and your ideal daughter just don’t have the same taste in men.  You probably don’t even have the same taste in mothers.

Go ahead, ladies, email me your side of the story.  You don’t have to worry about my making fun of you on stage.  I don’t talk about on-line dating in any of my stand-up routines, but even if I did, fear not.  The women I won’t go out with would provide me with more than enough material.

My profile is truthful about my age, height, income, occupation and marital status although you may not believe me.  But that’s okay, because I know that my true love Jennifer is right around the corner.  She’s intelligant and enterpernuerial and loves her family and friends.  Oh, and she’s beautiful, too, she looks just like Angelina Jolie… when she’s covered from head to toe by a ski jacket, goggles and a hat.  You’ll have no trouble recognizing me– I’ll be the shirtless guy in our honeymoon photos.

 

My Internet Searches– an Explanation

Recently AOL posted presumably anonymous information on web searches by some of its customers.  With a little work reporters managed to determine the identity of some of these customers.  Lest they find my searches and report on them before I have a chance to defend myself I wish to explain the purpose of some of my recent internet queries.

First of all, the search I did for herpes medicine side-effects was because I heard another comedian making jokes about it and I wanted to see if they were listed side-effects or if he was speaking from experience.  Similarly, the search I did for Viagra was for a friend of mine.  A platonic friend.

The search for “Gay bars” was a typo.  I meant to search for “Gay 90s bars” because I’m going to a costume party and I wanted to see what other people wore a hundred and ten years ago.  I searched for “Level 3 Sex Offenders” and my address to find out if any lived on my block, not to find out if I’m a sex offender.  I’m pretty sure I’m not.

The search for hair-growth treatments, yeah, that was for me.

I searched for “U.S. Constitution” because I wanted to send President Bush a copy.  Apparently he lost his.  I searched for “Death penalty for home-improvement contractors” for, well, you know.

I did not really believe that there really was such a thing as “Death by chocolate” but I wanted to make sure.  Did I spend several hours last Tuesday night doing internet searches on ex-girlfriends?  Sure, if you’ll believe that Angelina Jolie is one of them, I’ll take credit for the others too.

The research I did on that company’s stock was at Warren Buffett’s request as he’s not that computer-literate.  Which stock?  Um, I forget.

I did not search for naked pictures of Janet Reno.  I have no idea how that could possibly get in there.  Oh, wait, I was looking for a gift for a home-improvement contractor.

 

Please help us find our missing child!

Our son Shaun Eli has been missing for almost two weeks.  He is our youngest child and we love him very much.  Please help us find him.  He needs our love and support. He was last seen getting into a blue Lexus driven by a Middle-Eastern-looking woman with dark, curly hair.

Here is a photo of him when he was five years old.

Photo of adorable four year old in short pants suit and bow tie Shaun is forty-three years old, still single and performs stand-up comedy at top clubs in New York and California. He is a licensed pilot and his interests include rowing and cooking. He loves chocolate and that’s probably how that woman lured him into her car. We want our son back. We visited the comedy clubs where he frequently appears but they wouldn’t let us inside unless we paid the cover charge.

It is possible that Shaun was taken captive by the FBI after he told the following joke on stage:

“The White House has reorganized the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, instead of reporting to the president, the head of the EPA reports directly to Exxon.”

We tried to notify Missing Persons but the desk officer refused to take our report, saying he remembered seeing Shaun on stage the previous night and that he was really, really funny. He said that we were probably just jealous since so many other comedians make fun of their parents but Shaun rarely mentions us in his act.

Help us get our son back.  Please forward this email to everyone you know; it takes only seconds and could save a life.  If you forward this email to at least sixteen people, Bill Gates will put your children through college, you will share in the great Nigerian oil fortune, receive a secret $250 cookie recipe, Martha Stewart will cook dinner for you and Oprah, and Al Gore will plant seventy trees on your behalf.

If you spot our son, please contact us and then please take a look at his website (www.BrainChampagne.com) one more time; it contains his biography, jokes he has written for late-night television, and a schedule of his upcoming live performances.  Go see him on stage.  We are very proud of him!  And the next time you’re praying, please say a prayer that Shaun gets onto The Tonight Show so we’ll at least see that he is okay.  And with your help maybe he’ll be home for Thanksgiving.  If he doesn’t have a show that night.

Thank you all so much! -The Loving Parents of Shaun Eli

P.S. Bill Gates dropped out of college, so he won’t pay for your children to go.  The Nigerian oil claim is a hoax.  There is no such thing as a $250 cookie recipe. Martha Stewart is still in jail and Oprah isn’t eating this year.

 

Last Candidate Standing

New York City 20 January 2004

This evening at 9 PM, while President Bush was delivering his State of the Union address and the seven remaining Democratic presidential candidates were campaigning for the upcoming New Hampshire primary, I was on stage at Stand-Up New York, practicing two three-minute monologues for the next day’s audition for the television comedy/reality show Last Comic Standing 2.

The large number of similarities between the original ten declared Democratic candidates and the ten comedians who will be vying to be The Last Comic Standing struck me as more than a co-incidence.  Each of the two groups of ten was self-chosen from among thousands of politicians nationwide with the ability to raise substantial funding from entities with a vested interest in supporting their success, or, in the case of the comedians, from thousands of comics who could raise the funds to get to one of several cities in which auditions were being held, even if it meant asking our unsupportive parents for help and bearing yet another lecture about why we should be working in our uncle’s office furniture business instead of entertaining people who have meaningful jobs like fighting fires, teaching children or writing imaginative excuses about why the trains were late yet again.

On last summer’s Last Comic Standing the comedians started out friendly but were forced to challenge and then attack each other in order to eliminate their competition one by one.  The Democratic challengers started out friendly, each bashing the Republican candidate then eventually turning on each other when they finally realized that George Bush wasn’t running in the Democratic primary and there could be only one winner, even in a country lacking an accurate way to tally votes.

Presidential aspirants have the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary to narrow down the field, then aspire to winning the Electoral College.  Comedians have showcase clubs in New York City & Los Angeles and aspire to The Tonight Show and Las Vegas.  It really should be the other way around, since comedians frequently talk about their upbringing, do jokes about farm animals and dropping out of college, whereas politicians are well known for… well, let’s just say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Comedians don’t really want to do commercials but the recognition generated by national exposure can help our careers immensely, not to mention the benefit of remuneration which keeps our landlords from throwing us in the snow.  Similarly, politicians don’t necessarily want to accept campaign contributions from tobacco and oil companies and the NRA, but that’s where money comes from.  It doesn’t grow on trees; it grows on tobacco plants and bubbles up from the ground.  Surprisingly, even the NRA is starting to have financial problems, and that doesn’t bode well for today’s economy.  I mean, if the most heavily-armed private group in the country can’t find money, what hope is there for the rest of us poorly-armed citizens?  The NRA thought about opening a theme restaurant in Times Square, until they realized what a bad combination it would be– heavily armed tourists and fifteen dollar hamburgers.

The selection process for Last Comic Standing 2 is much more fair and pure than the electoral process in this country.  Practicing comedy is free.  The auditions didn’t cost anything either.  And the auditioners don’t hide the fact that their selection process is motivated totally by self-interest– they are interested in ratings, otherwise known as money.  Voters may claim that they want to help the country as a whole, but it is a well-documented observation that they tend to vote their pocketbooks, even the men who don’t carry pocketbooks.  Most Americans carry a balance on their credit cards, and the national debt is over $70,000 per household.  Maybe Mastercard, Visa and American Express should be the ones to vote, since more and more Americans are already voting each month on which bills to pay and which to put off until next month’s bill primary.

Politicians bring pork home to their districts, and starving comics hope to snag some left-over food from comedy club kitchens.  We may ask for a free meal but at least we’re not forcing some guy in North Dakota to pay for our food in New York or for a study of frog-mating habits in Arkansas.  Yet it takes millions of dollars for a political candidate to be taken seriously, even more if he is against war, won’t eat meat or didn’t go to Yale.  Being rich is no proof of intelligence, as was demonstrated in the movie “Indecent Proposal” in which a man paid a million dollars for a night with a woman and didn’t even do it on the night when we set the clocks back.

Furthermore, while rich men have been accused of buying a New Jersey senate seat and the mayoralty of New York City, there has never even been an allegation that any comedian ever bought his way onto Jay Leno’s or David Letterman’s stage, although still not one scientist has been able to explain the success of Carrot-Top.

If Last Comic Standing hadn’t gotten sufficient television ratings there wouldn’t be a Last Comic Standing 2.  And if Dennis Kucinich and Joe Lieberman don’t get enough votes in New Hampshire, we won’t be seeing them on television this summer either.  Furthermore, if voter turnout continues to decline, a presidential candidate could get 100% of the votes and STILL not receive a majority from all eligible voters.  Kind of like my joke about asking when the word “terrorist” lost its middle syllable.  Lots of smiles, but no laughter.  On the bright side, when I thanked them for coming to the club on a cold night instead of staying home and watching TV, explaining that I could say “Nucular” as well as the president, they cracked up.  And to a comedian, a good laugh on stage is like winning the New Hampshire primary.  Without the burdens of having to kiss other people’s children, eat food at every stop and wake up in a strange bed night after night.  On the other hand…

Shaun Eli Breidbart performs stand-up comedy at comedy clubs in New York City, is a free-lance contributing writer to the monologue of America’s top late night talk show host and was the first comedian in New York City to audition for Last Comic Standing 2.

 

An Open Letter to the Vermont Teddy Bear Company

01/22/2005  Ms. Elizabeth B. Robert  President and Chief Bear Officer  Vermont Teddy Bear Company

Dear Ms. Robert:

Enclosed please find one Ms. Claudette Clawbear, one of my favorite bears.  I am sorry to give her up, but a Vermont Teddy Bear can no longer remain a member of my family after what I read in today’s New York Times.  I’m a Wharton-trained marketing executive and I understand your need to continue to launch new products.  I am a comedian and comedy writer, so I presume you thought it was funny to launch a Crazy For You bear, complete with straitjacket and commitment papers.  But when the governor of your state, the head of your state’s only teaching hospital and several advocates for the mentally ill all asked you to stop selling the bear, and hundreds of people have contacted your company with similar requests, and you simply ignore them all, you lose the respect of this comedy writer.  The mentally ill have enough trouble getting recognized as people with medical problems without your adding to the stigma by trivializing their maladies and reducing them to people who need to be locked up away from society, instead of treated with counseling and medication.  You’d never sell a cancer bear riddled with rotting flesh, or a purple heart bear with missing limbs (I hope not, anyway), so why would you sell a mentally ill bear?  What’s next, suicide bear, complete with pills?  How about drunk driver bear?  Autoerotic asphyxiation bear?  How about a gang-bang bear– what a great marketing idea– people would have to buy the whole set or it would lose its meaning.  Maybe a shoot the president bear, complete with his own sniper rifle?  With the country so divided, you’d probably be able to sell a lot of those.  Please don’t.  Extremely bad taste and teddy bears don’t go together.

My own comedy routine has some jokes about alcoholics and the mentally ill, including a long bit about eating disorders.  But I don’t trivialize these maladies.  I bring their seriousness to light in an amusing way, and I hope that my calling attention to them may cause some suffers to seek treatment, to understand that they aren’t the only ones, and that they can get help.  After they stop laughing.

So please take care of Claudette.  She was a gift from a girlfriend who loved me, who in fact was a director of a bear-like company I’m sure you’re familiar with: Bear, Stearns, one of America’s top investment banks.  We thought it was funny that when she called your company to order a businessman bear, they heard a female voice and sent a businesswoman.  Which was fine with us so we kept her.  But now she’s going back home to Vermont.  Her brother Bear Clawbear, her cousins AquaBear, MiniBear, MicroBear and their dogs Beebee and Suzy will miss her.  Well, they would if they weren’t inanimate objects, anyway.

I’ll be posting this letter on my web site, which gets thousands of unique hits every month, so you may start to hear from my fan base.  If you ever plan to be in New York City, please check the Schedule Page of my web site, come to a show and hear what comedy is supposed to sound like.

Sincerely,

Shaun Eli Breidbart

 

Iraq

The New York Times has reported that the American government has rebuilt and reopened an Iraqi cigarette factory even as that country lacks adequate electricity and medical supplies and even suffers from the inadequate protection of Iraqi ammunition dumps from saboteurs, terrorists and thieves.  But we shouldn’t rush to condemn our government before we have all the information, including details that have remained secret until now.

Reopening the tobacco factory is only the first step in a clever strategy to safeguard the lives of American troops, Iraqi police and civilians and the fortunes of Haliburton and Exxon.  Just before the factory restarts cigarette shipments, special squads of American tobacco executives will remove all “No Smoking” signs from ammunition dumps, ensuring that any insurgents attempting to get their hands on explosives will blow themselves up, eliminating the insurgents and the dangerous ammunition dumps along with any evidence of our secret plan.

The second stage of the strategy involves having American troops teach Iraqi children to play poker and blackjack, using candy as currency, utilizing the decks of cards with the pictures of wanted Iraqi military and political figures.  When the children realize that the troops have left them short of a full deck because soldiers held onto the ten cards depicting the enemies we have yet to capture, the Iraqi children will rush to turn in those ten so that they can resume their gambling.

The third stage, after ensuring that all of Iraq is as addicted to cheap cigarettes as Americans are to cheap oil, involves raising tobacco taxes to such a high level that Iraq will have no choice but to export as much oil as possible to generate enough money to feed their habit, thus ensuring that we have enough oil to feed ours.

Two hundred years ago the American Revolution started with colonists dumping tea into Boston Harbor.  But we don’t have to worry about an Iraqi Revolution starting with dumping tobacco into Bagdad Harbor– Iraq is a desert country and Bagdad is hundreds of miles from the nearest sea.  More importantly, tobacco is much more addictive than caffeine.  If we can raise the price of cigarettes in New York City so that a 2 pack a day habit costs $400 a month without starting riots, imagine how compliant Iraqis will be when we reassure them that they can smoke all they want, in exchange for something so far underground that they rarely ever see it.

Iraqis will soon be addicted to junk food, gambling and tobacco, proving that no army in the world is a match for the ingenuity and greed of American capitalism.