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Who are those guys?

November 21, 2010
Tribune Chronicle

Watching Federal Reserve boss Ben Bernanke in action reminds me of that classic scene in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid movie.

They're trapped on a cliff, a raging river hundreds of feet below and a relentless posse behind.

When Butch tells Sundance they have to jump, Sundance admits he's afraid because he can't swim.

"You stupid fool, the fall'll probably kill you," Butch retorts, and with a yell they take their leap into film history.

Bernanke is taking the same kind of jump in world financial history. The differences are he's taking the rest of us with him, and this isn't a movie.

The six-shooter that the Fed chief favors is a $600 billion program to buy long-term U.S. Treasury bonds. It's an unprecedented gamble to revive the U.S. economy, one that's creating a cast of characters amazingly similar to the famous Western.

This isn't to compare Bernanke - call him Butch Bernanke - to a gunslinger and bank robber, although critics claim he's shooting from the hip and robbing our children of their financial future by saddling the country with enormous debt.

In fact, his gang members, otherwise known as American consumers, are mainly responsible for his predicament. Decades of wild spending have caught up with consumers, leaving them so debt-laden that they're now desperately trying to shut the barn door and hide from the sheriff.

Pulling back on spending is the common sense thing to do, but it creates a whole new set of of demons for Butch Bernanke, namely a posse that just refuses to quit.

One member goes by the name Deflation, who's just a mean cuss that can smell a victim 10 years away and waits patiently for the kill.

Another member is China, who's a bit irate because Americans borrowed a wagonload of money from him and now want to repay him with steel slugs instead of silver.

Yet another is called Speculator, who isn't particular about which side he's on as long as it pays a good buck and he gets a piece of the spoils.

The posse has a bunch of other unhappy members, including Bond Vigilante, Trading Pardner and Tea Party Politician, who have one thing in mind: Bring Butch Bernanke to economic justice.

So he stands, looking at the black abyss below, listening to the posse's pounding hoofbeats behind him and knowing he's about to take a leap that no one has ever tried before.

In the movie, Butch Cassidy and Sundance lived to die another day. This drama will play out in real time, with real money (well, sort of) and real lives. So grab some popcorn - in fact, stock up on it before the price skyrockets - and sit back for the show.

It's gonna be a wild ride.



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