#544 March 29, 2009

Weekly Comments: Bankers tangle with taxpayers over Geithner’s Trillion

COLUMBUS: In Washington Mr. Geithner has the Treasury printing press running night and day. You know, when you set out to print a Trillion dollars in small bills, it takes awhile.

I don’t know what he plans to do with all that money. I had someone help with the arithmetic and it comes out that if you divide that Trillion dollars among the hundred million taxpayers in this country, each one gets $10,000. I doubt anyone would turn it down, and they might spend enough to kinda stimulate the economy.

But before you start making a long shopping list, here’s some news to jolt you back in your seat. This new tax on electricity from coal or oil is going to cost us over $0.6 Trillion. So unless you intend to live in the dark your share will cost you around $6000 of the $10,000.

Then here come the bankers. The big bankers say they have other plans for this Trillion dollars. They say, “We’re the ones that need that money, not the taxpayer.”. Of course, when the bankers had the money a few years ago they invested it in toxic assets. They didn’t call them “toxic assets.” No, they called them “affordable mortgages for people with no income.” Or “higher limits on an unnecessary credit card.”

In Nevada, the Legislature announced they don’t want our nuclear waste after all. They let us spend billions and billions fixing up a hole in Yucca Mountain to store it in, and now they changed their mind. I would tell Nevada, “That’s fine, you return the billions we invested in Nevada and we’ll call it even. Otherwise, we’ll take back Hoover Dam.” There’s probably legislators that don’t want it either.

President Obama announced that the War on Terror has ended. From now on it’s an “Overseas Contingency Operation”. The world is waiting to hear what Osama Bin Ladin thinks of his new occupation, “Contingency Operative.”

What we need is a contingency operation for the country, right here, not just overseas. We need a contingency for Mexican drug lords. And a contingency for higher oil prices and one for bankrupt banks. Obama even needs a contingency plan in case North Carolina loses next weekend.

Mrs. Obama has her own contingency operation: planting a garden. I think it’s a good idea for the First Lady, and it sets an example for the country. She had some school children come and help dig up part of the White House lawn. The garden is about 30 feet by 40 feet, with plans for 55 kinds of vegetables, fruits and berries. She intends to provide vegetables for her family, the White House staff, and guests at official functions, plus donate to a soup kitchen and give some to the students doing the work. With that many mouths to feed, without Immaculate Intervention she’s gonna need to plow up a few acres of the National Mall. (And by Immaculate Intervention, I do not mean help from her husband.)
Historic quote from Will Rogers:
“You have a fine organization. I understand you have ten thousand here; and if you count the ones in the various federal prisons, it brings your total membership up to around thirty thousand.” From a 1923 speech at a national convention of Bankers

#543 March 22, 2009

Weekly Comments: Congress and the President provide the humor

COLUMBUS: Congress is acting plumb nutty. They just announced a plan to tax 90% of the AIG bonus money that Congress approved just a month ago. Of course, we would like for ’em to give the bonuses back, considering we own 80 percent of the company. But Washington is fretting over a few million in retention bonuses while the trillions they handed out are wandering around, promiscuously.

The latest plan from Mr. Geithner is to run off a Trillion dollars in bills on the old printing press. China and the rest of the world stopped loaning us money, so he figured he’d just print some himself and hand it out. He also wants FDIC to spend half a Trillion to stop banks from going under. As I recollect, FDIC insures our bank accounts against bank failure. And at the rate banks are failing, they could run out of money before Christmas. So keep your fingers crossed. Our Treasurer is betting $1.5 Trillion of our money on the plan.

If the President and Congress had an inkling how much trouble they would have spending and managing that $700 Billion stimulus, maybe they would have given more thought to letting people keep their tax payments for 3 or 4 months. There would have been no need for Congressional hearings to charge any average taxpayer with giving his tax rebate toward a million dollar Wall Street bonus. Little, if any, would have wound up in French banks. Popular vacation spots might be hiring instead of laying off.

The whole country now realizes we overspent, over mortgaged, and over capitalized. The only way to solve the problem is to get back to spending only what we make, and if you have to borrow, make sure it’s no more than you can reasonably expect to pay back. The people know it; the problem is convincing Congress and the President.

Our President is trying to juggle a whole lot of problems instead of working on one big one. He’s campaigning across the country and on television programs for everything he promised: taxes on coal, gas and oil; national health care; smaller farms; taxes on the rich.

Maybe something said by a humorist in 1931 could help the President focus (see first quote below). Will Rogers was invited to appear on a special radio broadcast on unemployment. He was followed on the program by President Herbert Hoover.


“Now we read in the papers every day, and they get us all excited over one or a dozen different problems that’s supposed to be before this country. There’s not really but one problem before the whole country at this time. It’s not balancing (the) budget. And it’s not the League of Nations that we read so much about. It’s not the silver question. The only problem that confronts this country today is at least 7,000,000 people are out of work. That’s our only problem. There is no other one before us at all. It’s to see that every man that wants to is able to work, is allowed to find a place to go to work. And also to arrange some way of getting more equal distribution of the wealth in the country.” Radio, October 18, 1931

“I could study all my life and not think up half the amount of funny things they can think of in one session of Congress.” WA #119, March 22, 1925

“There’s two different schools of thought in this country on the value of money. People who have money are against the printing press. They’re against printing any more money. And people that haven’t got any are in favor of it, you see? That’s the two schools. Both of them, mind you, are equally honest. It’s awful hard to reconcile two views like that. The only way I see for folks to ever view the money question alike is for everybody not to have any. Then they’ll all look at it the same way; or go the other way and let everybody have some. But if nobody’s got any, the old printing press will look pretty good. But if everybody’s got some, in the ash can goes the printing press.” Radio, May 26, 1935


“Personality and promises are basic to politics. You have the personality. I’ll equip you with the promises.”   From the movie “County Chairman”. In the role of a campaign manager, Will Rogers adlibbed this line to his candidate. 1935

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

#542 March 15, 2009

Weekly Comments: Words of wisdom from country folks

IRELAND: As I write this, it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day. And there’s no better place to write from than Ireland.

By now you may be tired of reading and hearing stories about Irish parades and Irish celebrations with their green eggs, green beer, green shamrocks, and girls decorated in green. What you’re ready for is fewer green faces and more greenbacks.

I don’t have a plan to get you more money, but folks here in Ireland can sure help you learn to get by with less of it. Let me get one thing straight… this Ireland is not way over next to England; it’s right here in America, in the fine state of West Virginia. These folks put on an Irish Spring Festival every year, and it’s grown so big it stretches over two weeks. The big addition this year is a new parking area. It’s multi-level parking. The main building has all the modern conveniences (running water, electricity, big kitchen), but to help you get in the “old-time” mood, visitors are invited to use the outhouse.

I asked some of these Ireland “natives” for their opinion of the economy. They aren’t optimistic. One told me, “We’ve got plenty of deer, groundhogs, and quite a few bears, but if the city folks back East run out of food, we’re afraid they may come over here and shoot all of ’em. During the Depression you could hunt for a week and not even see a sign of a deer.”

These country folks know how to grow their own food, raise a few chickens, hogs and sheep, milk a cow, churn butter and pick blackberries. If necessary, they barter for what they can’t produce. When they talk of buying and selling stock, it’s the four-legged variety. And it leaves them scratching their heads when they read about the big shots in New York that can’t survive without a million dollar bonus, even when the outfit they work for is broke and getting by on handouts from the taxpayers.

President Obama abandoned his plan to get his voters to buy stock (the New York variety). He realized he had been talking to the wrong audience, and this past week addressed CEOs, bankers, and top financiers. In other words, people with money. He told ’em the economy is fundamentally sound. They believed him and stock prices shot up 10 percent.

The President signed the big appropriations bill, which followed on top of the big stimulus bill. Congress wanted quick results and it’s already making an impact on education. First graders are now learning to count to a trillion.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

“The way I figure this thing will end is that the Depression won’t be solved. It will just remain with us, and as a new generation grows up, why they won’t be used to anything else and they won’t mind it… (For) these young ones coming along, the old car will be worn out, the radio gone, and a hundred and one other things he won’t know anything about. He will only buy what he needs, and will pay for it. So you see the Depression won’t end till we grow a generation that knows how to live on what they got and never knew anything else.” WA #569, Nov. 19, 1933

#541 March 8, 2009

Weekly Comments: Unemployment everywhere but Washington

COLUMBUS: All I know about unemployment is what I read in the newspapers. Unemployment is getting worse, especially in the newspaper business. This country claims to have a higher literacy rate than years ago when McGuffey’s Fourth Reader was as far as some of us ever got. But what good is it to know how to read if you don’t read.

Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uniformed. And if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.” Well, Samuel Clemens was a newspaper man himself so he was kinda poking fun at his own industry. Today, if you want to be misinformed the best bet is to get your news from the internet or television. Newspapers is doing the best they can with what they got left. I sure do appreciate the ones that let me annoy their readers weekly.

Back to this unemployment. Have you noticed that one place is never plagued by unemployment: Washington. Now every few years a mess of Republicans replace a mess of Democrats, and vice versa, but there’s always a net gain. We should be hiring people where they know how to make and build something, like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Des Moines, and let go the ones in Washington and Wall Street where the main talent is trading sheets of paper and arguing.

President Obama went on the radio and told us things are looking up, so go out and buy some stocks. It leads to a tough choice: do I buy a cup of coffee or a share of bank stock? They cost the same and the coffee will be gone in a few minutes. But so could the bank.

Well, all the millions of folks that voted for him got the message. They checked their portfolio, and spent the rest of the week… selling. Voting for him cost nothing, but this is real money.

Congress sent an appropriations bill to the President. It has 8000 pork barrel earmarks, including one that really is pork. Iowa is to get a million dollars to study the body odor of a hog. Well, I can save ’em the entire million because hogs smell the same today as they ever did. The only problem is that too many people who never smelled a hog are moving in next door to ’em. PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. have proposed a solution; they want to shut down these farms. So if you like ham and bacon and pork chops you may have to raise your own in the back yard. With a sow and a dozen little pigs rooting around your flower beds and manicured lawn, odor may be the least of your worries.

Good news in Houston. Barbara Bush is recovering fine. Doctors replaced a heart valve with one from a pig. Now there’s a pork project that’s worthwhile.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

“The reason there wasn’t much unemployment in the last ten years preceding 1929 was every man that was out of a job went to work for the government. It costs ten times more to govern us than it used to, and we are not governed one-tenth as good.” DT #1770, March 27, 1932

“We used to think that if a man was out of a job for a few months that that was almost a record, but now it goes by the years. What can be done to relieve it? It’s our only problem. All the rest that our Government get all excited about mean nothing…Most of these other ills are just side lines of the unemployment issue. If everybody was working, there wouldent be all these others… Yet with all the honest effort, and all planning, and all the money that’s been spent along various schemes, unemployment has held its own if not increased.” WA #638, March 17, 1935

“There is not a man in the country that can’t make a living for himself and family. But, he can’t make a living for them and his government, too, the way his government is living. What the government has got to do is live as cheap as the people.” DT #1990, Dec. 20, 1932

“Funniest thing in this controversy over a bill to regulate Wall Street; Wall Street now wants to write their own bill. They are pleading guilty, but want the privilege of pronouncing their own sentence.” DT #2386, March 27, 1934

#540 March 1, 2009

Weekly Comments: A $3.5 Trillion budget, and no Paul Harvey to explain it

COLUMBUS: This country was sure glad to see February end. Bad news all around. President Obama told Congress the economy is in the dumps and what the country needs is “shared sacrifice.” He wants the top taxpayers to sacrifice, and the other 95% to get their share. Then he announced that next year he wants the government to spend $3.5 Trillion. He didn’t say where the money is coming from, but it’s about a third more than they took in last year. Those of us among the 95% expecting a payment, don’t bother putting it in your pocket; it’s going right back to Washington.

Now, I’ve been working with you folks a few months, trying to get a handle on exactly how much is a Trillion. The way I figure it, if Adam and Eve had each started spending $100 an hour, and kept at it until today, they still would not have reached $3 Trillion. Yet, our president is confident that 565 Senators and Congressmen, with the help of a few million federal employees and 150 million who don’t pay income taxes, can go through $3.5 Trillion in only 365 days!

The stock market losses for the month of February were the worst since 1933, mainly because of Citibank and other big banks. Of course in March 1933, Mr. Roosevelt took over and the first thing he did was close all the banks. Gave ’em a holiday. In March 2009, Mr. Obama, instead of closing these banks, wants to give ’em $350 Billion.

General Motors had a rough month. They say they need another $16 Billion, or $59,990 for every car sold in February. AIG asked for $30 Billion more so their executives can go to a Honolulu resort. They haven’t been there since January.

Perhaps the most lasting (bad) news of the month is the passing of a fellow Oklahoma radio man, Paul Harvey. He started on a Tulsa radio station in 1933, at age 15, and he kept at it for 75 glorious years. Listeners of 1200 radio stations will sorely miss his voice of reason and optimism.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

“I have heard every kind of reason given for our hard times and as causes of our slow recovery… The banks all failed because the interest people owed ’em was larger than the principal. What would be the matter with banking on a real percentage of business? The banker receives interest in accordance to what the borrower makes on the loan. If he don’t make anything, he don’t pay anything.
Well, that’s about all for today. Be busy tomorrow reading telegrams from bankers.” 
DT #1975, Dec. 2, 1932

“(Roosevelt) was inaugurated at noon in Washington, and they started the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and before it got half way down there, he’d closed every bank in the United States. Now a Republican woulda never thought of a thing like that. No, he’d of let the depositors close it. And mind you, Mr. Roosevelt was just two days ahead of the depositors himself.” Radio broadcast, April 30, 1933