COLUMBUS _ ``Don't give 'em a dime unless they're willing to go public,'' said Uncle Chet, who sat across from me at the card table.
``They say some companies are too big to fail,'' said Alice.
``They'll say anything to get their hands on your money.'' He stared at his cards. ``If they're making us taxpayers eat the bad debt, we should get the good debt, too. Why should we be punished for someone else's pyramid scheme?''
``I'll go two,'' said Hon.
``Three,'' I said.
``They're telling us we can't afford national health care, which we obviously need, then just last week they coughed up $85 billion to buy AIG, an insurance company we obviously don't need,'' he said.
``Now that's leadership,'' I said.
``I just don't think Uncle Sammy should swallow another trillion in debt to bail out financial gangsters,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Let me ask you this: Did they cut us in when they made their billions, buying their islands, living high on the hog?''
``No way,'' I said.
``If this were happening the other way around, would they open their wallets to the average Joe and Josephine?'' he asked.
``Bye me,'' said Alice, tossing long white hair, like Emmylou Harris', side to side.
``Now if I were a rich broker, a kingmaker, I'd go four; then if I didn't make it, I'd whine about how I'm too big and important to lose this game of cards,'' said Uncle Chet.
``Does that mean you're passing?'' said Hon.
``At my age, don't even say that,'' he said. ``Yes, I'm relying on my partner.''
``Spades,'' I said, and laid down the ace in this backwoods game of pitch _ high-low-jack game.
Alice had no spades, Uncle Chet had the deuce and that gave us high and low. Hon grew quiet, sloughing off a card, and I knew that's where the trouble would be coming from.
``So what's the best-kept secret of this presidential race?'' asked Uncle Chet, refilling his glass with table wine.
``How McCain left his first wife?'' said Alice.
``No, everyone's heard that,'' he said. ``He dumped her for the rich young one.''
``The Keating Five?'' said Hon.
``That might be it,'' he said, ``but I was thinking about how McCain wants to privatize Social Security. He wants to take 25 percent of our retirement and give it to Bear Stearns.''
``There is no Bear Stearns.'' I led the 10 of spades, fishing for trump.
``I meant Lehman Brothers,'' he said.
``You know there's no Lehman Brothers,'' said Alice.
``Technically, you're wrong again,'' I said, and collected the trick. Uncle Chet was out of trump now, but Hon was still in.
``He doesn't mind gambling with Social Security, because to him, it's just beer money,'' said Uncle Chet. "Remember, he thinks that if you make four million a year, you're still middle class.''
``Don't I wish,'' I said.
``And what if people invest their Social Security but lose their shirts?'' said Alice. ``What happens then?''
``Chaos,'' I said. ``Riots.''
``Well, Obama's against privatizing Social Security, McCain's for it, and I'd like to hear about that when they debate,'' he said.
``The excuse for privatizing it is the fund may go broke eventually if we don't do something different,'' said Hon.
``That's because the rich are getting away with murder,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Right now, all income up to $102,000 a year is taxed, and nothing beyond that. So if you make $50,000, every dime is subject to Social Security tax. But you make $20 billion and own a fleet of ocean liners, you only pay Social Security tax on the first $102,000.''
``So we should tax some of that upper income,'' I suggested.
``An obvious solution, because that's where the money is,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Obama's for it, but need I say, McCain is on the other side.''
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.