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Chicago Tribune

Christmas: Too big to fail

Every Who down in Whoville likes Christmas a lot, but the budgets to pay for the trappings are shot. And, no, we're not going to write this entire piece in verse; we don't have the in-house talent to sustain it and our freelance budget is hurting, but that's precisely our point. Who can afford the holidays this year?

Retailers are bracing for a disappointing shopping season. Americans who are worried about losing their jobs, their homes and their life savings aren't in the mood to line up for Nintendos. Employers have canceled Christmas parties and holiday bonuses. Shopping malls aren't hiring seasonal workers, and local governments are cutting funds for their holiday displays or threatening to. No, Virginia, there is not a Santa Claus. Maybe next year.

Across the country, cash-strapped towns will make do with fewer lights and shorter parades, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, a trade group, is holding meetings to discuss economic survival strategies. Lavish open-bar office parties are out; potlucks in the break room are in. American Express, Hearst Corp. and Morgan Stanley all have canceled their holiday staff celebrations, according to the Wall Street gossip site Dealbreaker.com. Don't miss the bitter grousing in the site's anonymous comment section.

Here in Chicago, a City Hall budget crunch was eased by $10-million by giving employees three extra days off during the holidays — without pay. You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

Whose idea was it to schedule the holidays in the fourth quarter? That shortsighted plan virtually guarantees that seasonal good cheer will be axed whenever we need it most. Right now, for example.

To riff on Dr. Seuss a little more: We have an idea. An awful idea! This page has a wonderful, awful idea!

You guessed it — a bailout. Why didn't we think of it sooner? Taxpayers have already committed nearly a trillion dollars to saving mortgage monsters Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, insurance giant AIG and the entire banking industry. What's a few billion more for tinsel and lights? As long as Congress is working on a plan to save Detroit automakers from themselves, why not underwrite a few thousand office parties while we're at it? How about a modest economic stimulus package — say, a $25 gift card for every American?

Yes, we know that in the end, the Grinch could not stop Christmas from coming. But our economic crisis is much bigger than one cave-dwelling green meanie and his dog-drawn sleigh. We need help, and we know just the man for the job: Henry Paulson. If this works out, he can carve the roast beast.

Christmas: Too big to fail 11/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 5:30pm]

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