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Washington standoff: 'Maybe the dog will talk'

October 09, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Maybe the dog will learn to talk.
Maybe the dog will learn to talk. (Matt Rourke/AP )

President Obama's nod to the idea of a short-term increase in the debt limit has people talking about whether offering Republicans this option is smart or dumb.

Smart: It relieves the pressure of near-term brinkmanship.

Dumb: It just means there will be another standoff crisis in a few weeks. 

There's a certain small amount of value in buying time, however; the question is whether anything good happens in the interim. That question reminds me of a Jewish parable about the Polish landowner's talking dog, which I heard from the corporate conglomerator Meshulam Riklis in 1986.

Riklis, now 89, was an Israeli businessman best known as the creator of Rapid-American Corp. and the onetime husband of Pia Zadora. He was a member of Michael Milken's junk-bond corporate borrowing club. He was viewed as a rascal, but an enormously entertaining one.

When I interviewed him for a Los Angeles Times Magazine cover story, he wanted to explain how financing a company with debt bought you time.

He did so with a parable from the Jewish Diaspora about a Polish landowner who orders the local rabbi to teach the landowner's dog to talk, on pain of exterminating the local Jewish community.

"So the rabbi says, 'All right, but I want you to know, it's going to take 10 years.' And all the villagers say, 'Rabbi, you're crazy. You'll never be able to teach the dog how to talk.'

"The rabbi says, 'Well, in 10 years, who knows? Maybe the landowner will die, maybe the dog will die . . . or maybe the dog will learn to talk.'"

It's a bit sad that ending the budget crisis depends on the dog learning to talk, but there we are.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email.


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