#609 June 27, 2010

Dodd-Frank, Smoot-Hawley, McChrystal and Lady Gaga

COLUMBUS: Congress passed a financial reform bill last Friday at 5 in the morning. That’s an odd time for a Congressman to be doing anything, except maybe staggering home.

When I read that the purpose of the bill is “to put a damper on wild and reckless spending of other people’s money by the people in charge,” I figured, ‘That’s great.’ And now that we’ve got a damper on Congress, maybe we can also regulate Wall Street.

This new Wall Street and Bank regulation bill is named the Dodd-Frank bill because those two birds had more to do with the financial crisis than anyone else in Congress. Senator Dodd got himself a cheap mortgage to buy a second home he couldn’t afford, and Congressman Frank insisted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac give loans to families that couldn’t pay the interest, driving Fannie and Freddie to bankruptcy. So now we’ve got financial reform that covers every bank in the country. Except Fannie and Freddie.

Dodd and Frank are hoping this bill doesn’t do for them what the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill exactly 80 years ago did for the reputation of those two Republicans. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act practically shut down world trade and did more than any other single action to turn a 1929 Wall Street crash into the Great Depression.

The G-20 meeting is in Toronto, and you know what that means. Protesters. This year the protesters are mainly hoodlums who could not afford airfare to the World Cup. Half of them are protesting  because they think G20 is a fruity sports drink that tastes sour. They couldn’t identify the 20 countries on a map if their life depended on it.

Canada is spending close to a billion dollars on police for G-20. At $50 million per country maybe this is one meeting that ought to be held over the internet. President Obama likes Twitter, so maybe they should have a #G20chat.

Canada has arrested 500 protesters. Back in 1917 I had a suggestion on what to do with young folks who were marching in protest to the War. “Put them in the Army. This marching is just the training our soldiers get before being sent to fight in Europe.” (Paraphrased)

Obama told the other 19 countries he wants them to buy more American products because that’s the only way he can cut the deficit in half. These other countries aren’t quite sure they want the job of balancing Obama’s budget, although Russia did agree to eat more chicken.

General McChrystal got fired. He probably deserved it. Not for disagreeing with the President, but for treating a Rolling Stone writer like a journalist. The magazine cover has a picture of a mostly naked woman who calls herself Lady Gaga. (Some folks think she should leave off the last a.) In a shopping mall today I saw a sign advertising “Bikinis half off”. I wanted to go in the store and ask, “Which half is off?” Well, last week Lady Gaga showed up at Yankee Stadium dressed like she had come directly from that store.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

“We sure had a great July Fourth, especially after we picked up our morning papers and found that Congress had adjourned the night of the third… This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as we do when the baby gets hold of a hammer. It’s just a question of how much damage he can do with it before you can take it away from him. Well, in eighteen months these babies have left a record of devastation.” DT # 1230, July 4, 1930 (shortly after passing Smoot-Hawley)

#608 June 20, 2010

What BP really wanted to tell Congress

COLUMBUS: Congress grilled Tony Hayward. By the tone of their questions to the president of BP, some of them literally wanted to put him on one of those big rotisserie grills where you roast a pig. Those Congressmen wanted a piece of him, preferably well done.

Years ago, I would sometimes make up a narrative for a Weekly Article. Last week if BP’s Hayward had said what he was thinking instead of what the company lawyers told him to say, I think the Congressional hearing would have been more honest and educational.

Congressman: How long do you think you will keep your job?
BP: I’m not spending even one minute thinking about keeping my job. We’re working to cap the well and then clean up the Gulf. By the way, how much time do you spend raising money to keep your job?

Congressman: Didn’t you take unnecessary risks with drilling this well? I demand an answer, Yes or No.
BP:  Yes. We were forced, unnecessarily, to drill in water a mile deep. That’s an unnecessary risk. We prefer drilling on land, or in shallow water. On federal land, this well would have been capped quickly, put into production, and we would already be writing checks to the U.S. Treasury. Big checks.

Congressman: Why weren’t you personally overseeing the drilling of that well?
BP: We have drilled hundreds of wells every year for years around the world.  I can’t keep an eye on each one.
Congressman (interrupting): I have had hundreds of pork barrel projects in my District, and I always keep close tabs on each one.
BP: At BP we don’t have a “grand opening” when a well is completed, and I don’t show up for photos. My job is to run a company. I have to balance a budget. Last year we took in $20 Billion more than we spent. How did you fellows do with your budget?

Congressman: Do you have technical assistants here today?
BP: No, it’s just me. They’re all working to stop the leak. That’s our main concern.

Congressman: I’m most concerned about the small business people along the Gulf coast.
BP. I’m concerned about the small people, too. We’ll make payments to all the small people who are harmed economically by the spill. Now, your President has imposed a 6-month delay in all off-shore drilling. Who will pay the laid off workers, and small businesses harmed by this unnecessary decision?

Now, that would have been entertaining. The well may be putting out 100,000 barrels a day (worth, conservatively, $5 million/day) so you know Mr. Hayward wants to stop the leak even if he did take a day off to watch a yacht race.

This is Father’s Day, and also West Virginia Day. In 1863, after General Stonewall Jackson got killed at Chancellorsville in May, the western half of old Virginia gave up on the Confederacy and asked President Lincoln if they could split and join up with him. Lincoln agreed and signed the papers.

Ironically, 147 years later we’ve got a state already in the Union who asked the President for help, and instead he is going to sue them. Just another example of why, despite all our hopes and dreams,  there may never be another Lincoln.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

“(You have heard) Lincoln’s famous remark, “God must have loved the common people because he made so many of them.” You are not going to get people’s votes nowadays by calling them common.  Lincoln might have said it but I bet you it was not until after he was elected.” WA #84, July 20, 1924

(At the end of a tribute on Mother’s Day… ) “Father had a day, but you can’t find anybody who remembers when it was.  It’s been so confused with April the first.” Radio, May 12, 1935

#607 June 13, 2010

Shovel and pail can aid oil spill

COLUMBUS: President Obama has called the BP President to the White House for an Oil Summit. If he really wants to stop the oil gusher, he should also bring in the presidents from Exxon, Chevron, Shell and  Conoco-Phillips.

These Big Oil presidents are scheduled to meet with Congress on Tuesday. That’ll be a bigger waste than the uncapped well. Congressmen will spend all day asking long-winded questions because they’re on television. There’ll be no time left for answers.

Instead, President Obama needs to get all these fellows huddled in a back room at the White House. He could say, “Give me your five best ideas on how to cap the well.” There ought to be at least a couple plans that could work.

Folks keep raising the guess on how much oil is being spilled. Last I heard the well might be producing 50,000 barrels a day. If it was in your home state instead of a mile under water in the Gulf, can you imagine the headlines? It would be bigger the California gold strike in ‘49. Local officials would be dancing in the streets. The Governor would declare a holiday.

Meanwhile the environmentalists are battling the Chamber of Commerce. On TV every night the environmentalists tell how terrible the oil is along the coast from Louisiana to Key West. That scares away the vacationers. Then the local Chamber comes on and says, “No, the beaches in our town are clean, no oil in sight. Bring your family and enjoy our pristine sand.”

This could be a great beach vacation season for families. Along with sun screen and beach chairs, make sure every kid has a shovel and pail. If the beach has no oil, they build sand castles. If there is some oil, the kids can put  their shovels and pails to good use, cleaning a stretch of beach. They get to keep all the oil they can haul home.

The World Cup has started in South Africa. In the first three days, all the games either ended in a tie or a shutout. I don’t know much about soccer. I heard an expert say after the United States and England tied 1-1, that a tie was better than a win. So now I know even less than I thought. Here’s how the World Cup will be decided: any team that can’t score is eliminated. The teams that can score enough to tie their opponents will be declared Champions. A 10-way tie for World Cup Champion would be about perfect.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:

“After a football (soccer) game in Lima, Peru, five were killed. They only kill ten in a revolution down there, so two games equals one revolution. Up here we don’t kill our football players. We make coaches out of the smartest ones and send the others to the Legislature.” DT #1389, Jan. 5, 1931
“For five straight years (Uruguay) has had the champion football soccer team in the world, and they play any country. The referee stays inside a big wire net where the spectators can’t get at him. Down here the people vote on whether they will hold a football game or a revolution, both equal in casualties.”
 DT #1939, Oct. 21, 1932

#606 June 6, 2010

Will sees bright future for these engineering students

PEORIA, Ill.: For the past four days I’ve been here in Peoria, Illinois, the heart of the state, and home to Caterpillar. Folks here in farm country are kinda reluctant to admit they are part of a state that includes Chicago. They’ll remind you this is the Land of Lincoln, not the land of Capone and Blagojevich.

I’m here with engineering students from 25 colleges in the U.S. and Canada who are competing to see who can design and build the best pulling tractor. These schools have teams, (mostly agricultural engineering students), that work all year and then travel to Peoria for the contest.

Now, these are not the big tractors you’re used to seeing on farms or at Tractor Pulls. These are quarter-scale. Each team is given some small Goodyear tractor tires that are about two feet tall and a foot wide. And Briggs & Stratton gives them 16-horsepower engines. The students design the rest of the tractor. No two tractors look alike. They can have from 2 to 5 of these engines hooked together, and either 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive.

If you ever wonder about the caliber of students graduating from college today, this bunch will stack up against any of them. I happen to be affiliated with the 13 from Ohio State University and know them better, but the whole contingent worked day and night to get their tractors running and ready to meet the technical specifications. Kinda like NASCAR, the tractors had to meet certain requirements related to weight, safety, braking, and ease of servicing.

This tractor design competition is not a class assignment. But these students probably learn more than in any 10 classes about the practical, problem solving skills they will need in business. They learn from failure, working long hours to correct a problem. If the new plan don’t work either, think up another. It may take a dozen tries to get the tractor to run good enough to pull the heavy competition sled even a few feet.. But this week in Peoria we saw many examples of failure turned to success. Dejection replaced by elation.

The government won’t need to create jobs for these students. Their experiences in working together, keeping focus and determination to use creative ideas to complete a task on deadline will get them hired by companies like John Deere, New Holland, and Cat.

These students are too young to remember Winston Churchill, but they followed his declaration during the dark days of World War II: “Never Give Up.” They sure didn’t. And as I watched these students trying one creative idea after another to correct deficiencies, I was hoping that, in a similar competition, there are teams of petroleum engineering students working on designs to cap an oil well a mile under water.

When asked about the extremely long work hours, one engineering student replied, “It’s not work when you’re having fun.”

Recently, we lost two great and influential Americans who lived close to a century, Art Linkletter and John Wooden. Whether it was Art entertaining on radio and television, or Coach Wooden inspiring basketball players at UCLA, they also knew how to turn work into fun.

Historic quotes from Will Rogers:
“There couldent possibly be anyone that knew less about Machinery (than me).  I never raised the hood of any car I ever had…  If I raised up the hood and a Rabbit jumped out, I wouldent know but what he belonged in there.  I drive ’em, but I sure don’t try to fix ’em.” WA #317, January 20, 1927

“There is no team of horses in the world that depreciates (as quickly as a tractor). And you can raise what he eats. But can’t raise what a tractor eats. A horse will keep on going even when it’s hungry, but let the old tractor get hungry and, brother, he stops.” WA #561, Sept. 24, 1933