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Published: Sunday, 1/18/2009

T' stands for trillion-dollar deficit and trouble

WE SHOULD have known it might come to this. We, meaning you and I, bailed out the savings and loan industry. We bailed out the airlines. We bailed out the banking industry. We're in the process of bailing out the automotive industry. What's next, the pornography industry?

Well, if the bottom dwellers in certain entertainment and publishing industries have their way, yes.

Larry Flynt, the guy who made his fortune in porn, grossing millions literally and figuratively now wants a federal bailout. The guy who makes Hugh Hefner seem like the president of Rotary is upset that the good old days of the adult entertainment industry have gone belly up, so to speak.

Apparently these are not the best of times at Hustler magazine and Mr. Flynt's other enterprises. According to an organization called Morality in Media, Mr. Flynt, and Joe Francis, the gentleman behind the Girls Gone Wild videos, are making a pitch for a $5 billion federal bailout to help offset a dramatic downturn in adult-entertainment industry revenues in recent years.

For those not familiar with Girls Gone Wild, the concept was brilliant in its simplicity: persuade college girls to expose their chests and then sell the videos to college boys. Or so I'm told.

First, let me say that I'm not convinced of Mr. Flynt's and Mr. Francis' sincerity here.

Sounds like a grand publicity stunt to me, but it is Morality in Media's job, I guess, to sound the alarm just in case.

After all, 'bailout' starts with B. And that rhymes with T. And that stands for trouble. Yes, we've got trouble, my friends. We've surely got trouble. It's a slippery slope we're headed down, and Morality in Media president Robert Peters recognizes it.

Mr. Peters is all for getting the unemployed back to work. But, he explains, not all employment is helpful to society. Subsidizing gambling casinos would keep people working and provide new jobs, he says, but at what cost? Legalizing prostitution and bankrolling brothels, massage parlors, and escort services with public money would create jobs too, Mr. Peters notes, but again, at what cost?

Well, let's suppose we give Mr. Flynt and Mr. Francis the benefit of the doubt and assume they really do want to tap into the public trough. But if we help these guys out, then we have to get our minds out of the gutter and look at all the other industries out there that need our help.

What about the big pharmaceutical companies? Some of these drugs cost so much money that people without insurance help are neglecting to fill or renew their prescriptions. Sales go down, profits slip, and CEOs begin to reach for the Rolaids.

They need our help, folks.

Along the same lines, our medical and dental practitioners could use a few billion, too. People put off visits to the doctor in tough times. Dental checkups and dental work are easy expenses for many of us to postpone or cancel when stretching the paycheck is Job One.

Be true to your teeth, my mom always said, and they won't be false to you. Or maybe it was Soupy Sales. Doesn't matter. It's good advice easily ignored when the family budget is hurting more than that cavity in the molar. The nation's good health suffers in a recession and our health practitioners need to be kept whole until things improve.

Our colleges and universities are in trouble as well. The cost of higher education, already out of reach for so many, is impacting enrollment and these institutions' bottom line. We need to do something for them.

What about concert promoters? Purchasing a pair of $100 tickets for a rock concert is a luxury most unemployed people decide they can do without. So the event promoters, and the stars who face the indignity of a half-empty arena, deserve our sympathy and our support.

And don't get me started on the movies. How do those guys stay in business selling tickets for a lousy 10 bucks? The concession stand certainly helps, but a $5 cup of popcorn can only do so much. These people need a bailout.

As for professional sports, you have to feel for team owners who find it so tough these days to sell season tickets to fans preoccupied with putting food on the table. I say let's bail out every professional sports franchise in America, except of course for the New York Yankees, who don't need it and don't deserve it. However, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, I am sure, would be most grateful.

Let me single out one other group for special attention the baggage handlers at our airports. If their union isn't already demanding a bailout, their leaders may need to be replaced. After all, we don't want the guys out there on the tarmac angry at us.

Look what they do to your luggage.

And let's not forget home builders and Realtors. These are good people in a heap of hurt now and they could use a boost.

Finally, I have a thought that might be the solution. While most of America's retailers suffered through a miserable holiday shopping season, Wal-Mart though it is enduring lower fourth-quarter earnings than expected did better than just about everyone else.

Maybe we could persuade Wal-Mart, in the spirit of public service, to underwrite the bailouts of all these worthy recipients. I realize this is heresy coming from somebody named Walton, but the Arkansas Waltons, especially old Uncle Sam, never liked me much anyway.

Besides, who's going to bail out the biggest constituency group of all the taxpayers? We're facing a possible trillion-dollar deficit. That starts with T, and that stands for trouble. Yes, we've surely got trouble.



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