Crazy World

spinning disc 0420Once long ago, Julie Andrews starred in the movie Victor Victoria as an out-of-work chanteuse in 1930s Paris who is plucked from the street by a very flamboyant Robert Preston (who was so convincing that he selected a western for his next project, and said of his character in that, “Gay, he ain’t!”). He convinces her to re-brand herself: pretend to be a man pretending to be a woman.

Other than the part where Dame Julie makes the least convincing man in the world, no matter how effeminate, it’s a movie I’ve always enjoyed, with splashy showtunes, just enough slapstick, a fun cast that stops just short of over-the-top . . . and in the middle of all this mayhem is this beautifully shot, quiet moment where it’s just Julie and the piano as she sings about how crazy her world has become.

Well, now we’re all there with you, sister/brother/sister.

Crazy is a world where the federal government is buying up ventilators for the national stockpile that is a “national” stockpile not for states’ use. This edict came from yet another blithering yammerhead of the First Family, Prince Jared. A conservative commentator tweeted that Jared might just be what unifies this country: “NOBODY likes him.”

But instead of recognizing that statement for the idiocy it is, the White House of course doubled down, first changing the written verbiage describing the stockpile, where up until about two days ago it said it is for states’ use; now it says “isn’t,” and second when the president used all his limited vocabulary to explain precisely nothing and then turned on the reporter: “Why can’t you understand this?”

Crazy is a country where in two weeks — even if they feel like lifetimes — unemployment shot from almost nothing to a point where the unemployed could be the country’s third-most populous state behind California and Texas, ahead of New York.

If we’re on Julie Andrews’ crazy roller coaster, I have hit a nadir, and it was no fun at all on the way down.

In Denmark the government decided to pay 75 percent of every employee’s wage for three months if their employer has been impacted by covid-19 but is willing to pay the remaining 25 percent and keep workers on the payroll, even if they’ve been sent home.

Here in the U.S. the government threw a fistful of dollars into a muddy arena now being churned up as little businesses try to find a single bill deep in the pit. In the meantime, the “too big to fail” folks sit back, pick up the phone to call their good friend Steve at the Treasury, and he sends over a chunk of money that is 1.4 times as much as what’s available for the little guys, without any explanation required. [Kroger: sales up 30 percent. They probably need some of this assistance.]

With great fanfare, and triumph at such a bipartisan show, the Small Business Administration rolled out the Paycheck Protection Program on Friday, which is supposed to be a grant masquerading as a loan. Knowing the dollars are finite and that competition will be fierce, every little business in the country had their application ready to go ahead of time. And then ready to go again when the form changed. And then again, when it changed a third time in 24 hours.

Do you know when the banks who are supposed to provide the loans for this program were given their first instructions? In the wee hours of Thursday. None of them issued loans yesterday, although Bank of America says it has “processed” 10,000 and the Treasury was crowing about how $900 million had already been awarded, all of it from “community” banks.

Here is what the top officers at one of our community banks said to that: “The announcement of the program appeared to be the top priority, but it was premature. The substance is still not yet complete, creating a chaotic situation with the truth as a casualty. . . .We are in contact with hundreds of other banks through our trade organizations, and we do not know of any who are able to do any more than we are. We suspect that statement from Treasury is inaccurate.”

Now, this is the bank that already told us we were going to the bottom of their pile, because we’re not a commercial customer, even if Kara and Geoff have an account there. I called the savings and loan where we are a commercial customer and spoke with the president. He said they were trying to figure out how to offer this program, but was frankly upfront: his priority is trying to assist the customers who have never missed mortgage payments who now suddenly have no money to meet their April obligation.

So then I called Wells Fargo, where Kara has her home mortgage. They were very friendly and helpful, up until they told me to sign up for an on-line account and only then realized we aren’t an existing commercial customer. They remained friendly and as helpful as someone can be when they have no way to process anyone’s request, let alone someone not in their system, but we’re at the bottom of their queue if we’re even still in it.

At least they weren’t Bank of America, which I did not attempt to call: they made it clear to their existing customers that the only applications they’re currently considering are for those customers with outstanding loans. Even if you’ve borrowed from them in the past, if you’ve paid that off, they’re not talking to you.

Do you know how far down the heap that leaves Pat’s Screen Printing? We’re not even going to find any straw among the mud in that pit.

A lot of times, as I’ve written dues checks to the two chambers of commerce we belong to, I wonder what I’m really gaining with my membership, but now I know. Ashley in Crested Butte and Celeste in Gunnison have been tireless beacons for their members, and when I wrote to them, mostly as an FYI, they offered contact information and genuine sympathy. These days, I’m taking whatever I can get, even if sympathy is not going to keep my peeps employed.

StartUp Colorado, offering free assistance with these federal programs, has not e-mailed me back, and I’m not sure I see the point in contacting the SBA hotline when it’s clear the entire agency is upside down right now.

So now I’m trying to interpret the ECR (ERC? it’s all alphabet soup to me), which seems to be much more convoluted but perhaps less sought after. “If Employee A has $8,000 of qualifying wages in the first quarter and $2,000 in the second quarter, you can get a credit of $4,000 in the first quarter and $1,000 in the second, and if your Social Security obligation isn’t that much, relax and never worry, because we’ll be sending you a check. Make sure to wait by your mailbox. Only don’t wait past June, because that’s when the Postal Service runs out of money.”

Wouldn’t it just be easier, like Julie, to pretend to be something we’re not while pretending to be ourselves? That we aren’t socialist like Denmark, where everyone stays in place, doesn’t ramp up the unemployment rolls to statehood size, doesn’t have to mud-wrestle for free federal money that isn’t socialism, but that we are the US of A, pulling every big business up by their bootstraps to make it easier to stomp on the little guys? (It’s quite possible that the big boys’ $500 billion can be used for executive bonuses, even as they lay employees off.)

Crazy world.

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