Today's evidence the economy is going straight to the Inferno: 600 Starbucks stores are closing, which will leave a gaping hole in the anchor of countless strip malls and exurban power centers. Oil prices have sunk car sales and rentals to historic lows, and the fact no one is traveling anymore has left casinos struggling to pay the power bills. How did the whole world collapse so quickly? If only Leona Helmsley's dog could talk, folks! (Nobody knows the trouble Trouble has seen.) See, fundamentally not much has changed, but the nature of the market is to exaggerate. Oil prices, which should maybe be around $100 a barrel, have been driven up by speculators. GM stock is at a 53-year low over car sales that are only at a 10-year low. Casinos are power-greedy structures that are generally loaded down with a few billion dollars in debt before they even open and there are 11,500 Starbucks locations that will stick around to sate your dependence on caffeinated milkshakes. But as Leona Helmsley once pointed out, only the little people pay taxes, and only the little people really have to worry about this recession stuff. Dick Grasso is keeping his $140 million payout, the CEO of Starbucks is keeping his billion dollar net worth, and little Trouble here is keeping his $100,000-a-year bodyguard services. That, torture and Obama's mortgage with me and Megan after the jump.

MOE: Okay, this is the kind of paragraph too good to check, but I kind of wish they'd checked it anyway:

They have reason for concern: News last year that the biggest named beneficiary in Mrs. Helmsley's will was Trouble, her Maltese, led to death threats against the dog, which now requires security costing $100,000 a year.


I really don't see how this is possible, unless there is a business more lucrative than supplying ammunition to the Pentagon or starting an Iraqi resistance organization. How hard would it be to just take Trouble to some sort of doggie day care, where he could relax and meet other dogs and begin a new life away from all the old ghosts and outrageous comments? Which reminds me,

MOE: If someone has a hit out on your dog, do the police have any responsibility to keep it alive?

MEGAN: Who would put a hit out on a dog? Like, a for-real hit? Didn't people see A Fish Called Wanda?

MOE: And isn't this whole story sort of a study in how people who have excessive affection for animals - maybe there is something wrong with them?

MEGAN: Anyway, I would think the cops would dismiss both the threat and the person reporting it as cracked.

MOE: And that

MOE: is when you call in the $100,000 ex-KGB pet security service.

MEGAN: I mean, if you have $5-$8 million to spend in, what, like 10 years or less, given that the dogs were a certain age when Leona died, why now?

MEGAN: I mean, why not, Freudian typo.

MEGAN: Anyway, so did you see the harbinger of the economic apocalypse? Starbucks is closing 600 stores.

MOE: Leona Helmsley was once heard saying, "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." And in that vein I think we need to remind readers that Barack Obama, double Ivy Leaguing arugula-chomping card-carrying member of the elitist elite, got a home loan that may have saved him $300 a month. THREE HUNDRED A MONTH. Don't get me wrong, I'd love an extra $300 a month but if they went through some shady unethical business to save that no one can ever accuse them of being too highbrow ever again.

MEGAN: It doesn't even sound like they got it somewhere shady. It looks like they went through a local bank (support your local businesses!) who probably don't see a ton of wealthy customers or super-jumbo loans, showing nearly $500,000 in annual income, a $2 million windfall payment and the potential for book earnings. I'd bend over backwards to get those people as customers, too. Did I tell you back when I was trying to find an interesting job out of grad school, before I decided stupidly to be a lobbyist, I interviewed for a position in private banking? That's banking for super-rich people. It's all about relationship-building. The .375% they maybe lost on the loan discount they gave to get the business (in that world) is more than made up for the volume of business you get from making a wealthy customer happy. I wish I'd gotten that job.

MOE: Yes I know all about private banking. I had a friend whose dad was a client. The guy kept her on a budget but she would call at all hours to get funds. This sort of blew my mind. Starbucks, meanwhile, is a terrible terrible thing. I mean, these stores represent less than 5% of their stores, and apparently 70% of the closures are happening at stores that opened after 2005, so your Starbucks is probably safe, but for the exurban power centers and lifestyle strips that it will effect, the trickle-down (ha!) effects will be intense. Because those guys rely on Starbucks to pull in other tenants! And if they can't get Starbucks they're left with a 60% vacant strip mall!! Enough of those in your zip code and people might have to start moving back to cities.

MOE: Oh in other news, and I thought Pennsylvania state senators were sleazy. And also, how is this even possible. And also, Helmsley originally tried to leave $12 billion to her dog but the judge reduced that to $2 billion and even pitched in a few million for some grandchildren Helmsley had deliberately left out of her will.

MEGAN: You know how you know the Massachusetts guy is a bad politician? Unlike a Congressman, he's not running for re-election.

MOE: Oh god and thank the deities Obama nabbed the critical Streisand endorsement.

MEGAN: Well, that and Michelle's speech last week should help him corral some of the LGBT Hillary supporters that are still upset.

MOE: Yeah he's no Vito Fossella.

Prosecutors alleged in a news release that Marzilli told one woman, "The sex is sweet, the sex is sweet, you want it, and you want to go with me."

He allegedly asked the second woman "Do you have any undergarments under that?"

I'm trying not to mention Italy's dismally low birth rate right here.

MEGAN: Well, Congressman Fossella could've helped out with that, what with his 2 kids with his wife and one with his mistress, he's totally beating the replacement rate!

MEGAN: Also, "the sex is sweet"? Was he fucking high? That shit wouldn't get a boyfriend laid, let alone a stranger on the street.

MOE: Oh check it out Obama beat out McCain as barbecue guest even though I hear McCain, inexplicably given what we know of Obama's iPod, did better on the "who'd you rather carpool to work with." Oddly, there doesn't seem to be a poll yet addressing the question, "Which candidate would you rather have holler at you on the street?" James Marzilli might have just won the Worst Holler

MEGAN: In other insult news, Paul Begala would like to apologize to dirt for calling Republican lobbyists dirtbags:

"I think it was wrong for me to call those fat cat lobbyists dirtbags," said the longtime Clinton confidante. "It is an insult to bags for dirt around the world."


MEGAN: Even the RNC spokeperson laughed at that one.


"A bag of dirt will have the occasional fecal matter, but generally dirt is good," he said. "I'm a gardener and I grow tomatoes. I love dirt. I should have said oil bag [when talking about GOP donors], or a chemical bag or toxic bag. After all life grows out of dirt."


MOE: I would have suggested he said "bag of coal" but that would be insulting to the barbecues Americans are so eager to invite the Obamas to. Did you check Harry Reid's YouTube performance? It's gone viral. I'm not sure why? But I endorse!

9:15 AM

MEGAN: While I'm watching that, you should read Attackerman's post on our using 70s Chinese torture manuals to train our soldiers on how to torture effectively and watch the video of Christopher Hitchens getting waterboarded, but not for any prurient interest.

MOE: I was going to bring that up with you, first you do it, then this graffiti artist does it and now the Hitch signs up. Does he address whether it's more painful than getting his balls waxed? Actually, can we just do that from now on? Wax the balls of these guys? And I read the story on how we got our interrogation tactics from the Chinese, who also incidentally invented water torture except no wait they didn't they just got wrongly accused of that, and I feel the same way in this sense. Also remember about the INS using Soviet drugs to sedate detainees?

MEGAN: I do remember the sedating detainees thing, that's just fucked up. I wonder if Hitchens saw the video of me waterboarding Jim (lost in the Wonkette server transition when they got sold, RIP waterboarding video) and thought it looked less crappy and scary than it was?

MEGAN: Also, I would think that ball-waxing would be Geneva-compliant, as long as it wasn't women doing it.

MOE: Thomas Frank digs through the Library of Congress on McCain adviser Charlie Black and finds a cynical former officer of some young fascist society that employed nasty smear tactics and liked to take money from poor and give it to fatcat oil bag Republicans.

MEGAN: Black founded the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which, if what Franks says is true, explains why people think PACs are all shitty and dirty and not just money clearing houses for the most part:

NCPAC's calling card was slime. It constantly attacked members of Congress for votes they hadn't cast and positions they hadn't taken – "there have been a few mistakes made in terms of research," was all Mr. Black would admit – and the group's main accomplishment was dodging the campaign-finance laws of the day.


Why does McCain keep this guy around? He's the Pied Piper of bad press.

MOE: And it's not like the McCain campaign is wary of downsizing! Um, do you think that when rich evil people are irrationally devoted to their pets it's a sign that there is something just fundamentally fucked up about pets in general? Because I sort of do.

MEGAN: I think it's something fundamentally wrong with the lives of those rich people.

MOE: She evicted her own widowed daughter-in-law.

MEGAN: Like, they're so alienated from other people and feel like the only unconditional love they get is from their pets (which may be true - God knows Leona wasn't known as a great humanist and treated people like shit, so they probably didn't like her).

MOE: Yeah but do you feel like you know a fair amount of people who, given the money, might become even more pet-obsessed and gradually distance themselves from all humanity? Because I feel like I do. I don't know. Maybe I'm just sort of a hater.

MEGAN: I can't really say, I know, like 6 friends with pets and one of them is you.

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