#666 July 31, 2011

Debt crisis may be averted

COLUMBUS: It ain’t easy writing a column when the news is changing by the minute. It appears, as we turn out the lights tonight, that Harry Reid and John Boehner have concocted a bill that the President won’t veto.

President Obama gave a short speech on this compromise bill to raise the debt ceiling to around $17 Trillion. He said he wants more taxes on the rich and that we will have the “lowest level of annual domestic spending since Eisenhower was president.”

Nobody knows for sure what’s in this bill so it may wind up with more taxes. But anyone who lived through the 1950s will be shocked to hear that federal spending is lower today. I looked it up. The highest budget under Ike was less than $0.1 Trillion. During his 8 years the total debt increased by $25 Billion to a whopping $0.29 Trillion in 1960. Of course the population has doubled, but we’re spending as much in week as Eisenhower did in a year. We’ll add as much federal debt in the month of August as the country did in our first 180 years.

Budget arguments are nothing new. “Every statesman wants to vote appropriations, but is afraid to vote taxes. The oratory of Washington is on “reconstruction,” but the heart of Washington is on (the next election). We never will get anywhere with our finances till we pass a law saying that every time we appropriate something we got to pass another bill along with it stating where the money is coming from.” (1932)

I sure hope they settle this mess by August 2 so the President (and the rest of us) can enjoy his 50th birthday party in Chicago August 3. Cake for everybody.

This is my 666th Weekly Comments, and I hope we’re all still around for #667.

Historic quotes by Will Rogers: (from Weekly Article #666)

Well all I know about dogs is not much, but in Alaska there is an awful lot of dependence put in dogs. Of course the plane has diminished the dog travel a lot but still the backbone of the Arctic is a dog’s backbone. I met up there, just as I was leaving Fairbanks, that famous musher and dog race winner, Seppala. He become immortal on that famous drive with the (diphtheria) serum to Nome (in 1925)… Seppala is as identified with dogs as Mae West is with buxomness…
Well I dident have long to talk to him that morning, as we was trying to get off, and the river was narrow and many bends and Wiley was afraid that with a full load of gas that we might have some difficulty in taking off, so we had some gas sent out to a lake about 50 miles out, and then flew there and loaded up and took off. We were headed at the time for Point Barrow the furtherest north of any piece of land on the North American Continent…
Joe Crosson the ace pilot that we were with so much in Fairbanks, an old friend of Wiley’s, has a mine and we went out there. He has a partner, a Swedish fellow, that runs it and he had just killed a bear right at his house door. And the Swedish fellow tells how Mickey (his wirehaired fox terrier) went out one night and run the bear in. Well as a matter of fact Mickey went out and the bear chased him in, and Earnest had to shoot the bear to keep him from running Mickey under the bed. They say there is more fellows been caught by a bear just that way. An old pet dog jumps the bear and then they hike straight to you, and the bear after ’em, and the first thing you know you got a bear in your lap, and a dog between your feet. There is two kinds of bear dogs: the ones that drive ’em away and the ones that bring ’em in. Little Mickey thought he had done it (because) Earnest said he chewed all the hair off the bear, after death.”
 WA #666 (This unfinished article was in Will’s typewriter when the plane crashed near Pt. Barrow, August 15, 1935)

#665 July 24, 2011

Heat in Washington leads to a wacky idea

COLUMBUS: Heat and drought has taken over most of the country. It’s been dry and hot in Oklahoma and Texas for months, but folks back east paid no attention until it struck them too.
Television announcers have been advising everyone to stay inside where it’s cooler, and do nothing. And that’s exactly what Congress and the President are doing. Nothing. At times I have said we should not complain when Congress does nothing because “when they do nothing they don’t hurt anybody.” I also said we should not settle anything during hot weather because “heat and reason don’t go together.”
But since they could not settle the debt problem back when it was cooler, we just have to take our chances with the heat. When you’re spending $10 Billion a day, and only taking in $6 Billion, your banker had better be your best friend. Why, every morning before breakfast President Obama  signs another $4 Billion IOU to the First Bank of China.
Republicans in Congress passed a bill called Cut, Cap and Balance.  Democrats don’t seem to like it, but have offered no bill of their, at least not in writing. Nobody can agree on nothin’.
Suppose they compromise this way: The Senate Democrats and President Obama go sit in a corner and write a deficit reduction plan for the next 6 months. Lay it out exactly. Then the Republicans go in the opposite corner and write their plan for the 6 months after that. That way the debt ceiling get raised and both sides get an equal shot at reducing the deficit and improving the economy. Next July let the Supreme Court analyze the half year under the Democrat plan, and the half year under the Republican plan. Whichever plan the Court figures did the most good for the country will be adopted for the 6 months after that. Regardless of which plan the Supreme Court picks, the voters will have the final say in November 2012.
If you say, “that idea is wacky”, well, just blame it on the heat.

Historic quotes by Will Rogers: (from Weekly Article #665)
“These Eskimos have one of the most (scheduled) lives there is, almost to a day of the various months or seasons, they will go from the hunting or trapping of one animal to the other. White fox takes up just so many days, perhaps a couple of months, but there is almost a certain time that they will stop and move to another place to take up another game. Muskrat, then their seal and fishing for their supply of dog food. They all come in and hold a celebration on Christmas, then by New Years they are out again.
Then the polar bear season occupies so much of their time. He is pretty hard to get…Then they got the caribou to hunt. There is literally thousands of caribou all over Alaska and the Yukon, and Northwest Territories…
A whale used to net ’em about 18 or 20 thousand dollars, when whalebone was selling, but the minute the women started reducing, and trying to get some sort of shape with a rubber corset, the old whalers were pretty near put out of business… Polar bear hides are not worth anything now they say. Furs have been pretty cheap.
It’s a great country, where you have to live off the country, hunt, trap, kill and live. Four mails a year into that place, two and a half months when it’s not frozen in.” 
WA #665, written about Aug. 14, 1935

#664 July 17, 2011

Cut air-conditioning to solve debt impasse

COLUMBUS: The boys in Washington are still arguing over the debt.  They can’t seem to agree on how to reduce spending by 40% (as suggested by Republicans) or increase tax collections by 40% (suggested by Democrats). What was true in 1931 is still true today: “A debt is just as hard for a government to pay as it is for an individual. No debt ever come due at a good time. Borrowing is the only thing that is handy all the time.”

If you are looking for a way to reduce costs, here’s an idea. Shut off the air-conditioner in every federal building in Washington, and force them to stay in there until they agree on something. Not only would they save on the electric bill, Republican Congressmen might see that eliminating mortgage deductions on half-million dollar mansions, including their own, ain’t unreasonable. And Democrat Senators might see that since folks are living longer, maybe raising the age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 ain’t so bad either. If the Oval Office got up to a hundred degrees, the President might be more inclined to offer some of his favorite programs for the chopping block. Spending a Trillion dollars on high speed trains that run 39 mph may lose its luster. And maybe all of them together can agree on doing without a few new tanks, fighter jets and Humvees.

I read where some women’s groups claim that the ladies are getting a raw deal from Washington. That raising the retirement age to 67 is not fair to the so-called weaker sex. Well, since women are outliving men by 4 or 5 years, maybe they ought to work longer than men; let men retire at 67, but women work till 70 or 71. Of course no Congressman (or sane comedian) would even raise that possibility. We all know that women never really get to retire, and when the husband retires their work just gets harder.

Here are two closing thoughts from the 1930s. “By the end of next year, 1936, our per capita debt will be $270 each… It costs ten times more to govern us than it used to, and we are not governed one-tenth as good.”

Historic quotes by Will Rogers: (from Weekly Article #664)

  “These little towns and cities in Alaska have mighty fine little papers. They take all the big news and whittle it down till you can read it and understand it… They cover about all of Congress that is fit to cover; you see, we cover a lot that we shouldent…
That Yukon 
(River) that you have read so much about that is formed away in the Yukon Territory of Canada. We flew down it from the head, and it winds and twists till it comes out away down near San Marchiel, in the Bering Sea, 2,000 miles away…
You look on a map and all the country that is north of the real mainland of Canada, all those tremendous Islands and gulfs up there, a white man is not allowed to fish, hunt or trap in. It’s entirely for the support of the Indians that live up there. We never had thought of that. And say, the old Injun and the Eskimo is a mighty smart trader up there.
One thing I don’t believe I could ever be 
(is a trapper.)… The hospitality and generosity of a trapper, or a man that lives way out, would put us to absolute shame… They would mush through the Winter 50 below for days to help a friend.” WA #664, written about Aug. 13, 1935

#663 July 10, 2011

Solve the debt crisis, sell a state

COLUMBUS: Obama and Congress are negotiating on the debt ceiling and deficit. But I am making no predictions. Last week I was off by 20 years on that murder case. I can afford an error of a few years, but my bank account can’t handle it if I miss by a couple of Trillion dollars.
No prediction, but I do have a suggestion: Let Obama agree to give up all the expensive programs he put through, and in return the Republicans would agree to give up the costly ones they passed under President Bush. Not the wars following 9-11-2001 (that’s already been spent). But, for example, the one giving free prescription drugs to old folks whether they could afford them or not, and the no child left behind program that pretty much failed to make our students smarter. Now, anyone presently benefitting from those could continue, but no new people will be added. That’s where the big savings will come. Like Social Security and Medicare, the ones on it now won’t be affected, but folks around 50 may have to work to 70 to get it.
Now you’re saying, “That will reduce expenses, but what about income taxes for the rich? Can’t we raise ‘em?” Yes, but here’s my plan. In two years their tax rates will go up to where they were in 2000, but only if the unemployment rate is above 5% on July 1, 2013. See, if these rich folks want to keep their Bush tax cuts they have to go out and hire enough people to eliminate the unemployment problem. They always claim that raising taxes will cut jobs; well, let’s see ‘em prove that by keeping those taxes low, they can put more people to work.  It is not a great plan, but it will cut expenses, Republicans can claim they did not raise taxes, and it creates a ton of new jobs.
We sure need the jobs. Only 18,000 new ones last month. McDonald’s stopped hiring.
Folks are worried sick about a government shutdown. Oh, Lord, what will happen to us if government employees stop getting paid? Well, Minnesota shut down government more than a week ago, and have any of us outside the state noticed? You can still buy Scotch tape, Wheaties, and Pillsbury flour. And Minnesota farmers are milking their cows and feeding their turkeys. The fish are biting, and even if you can’t buy a hunting license you can still shoot a moose.
Greece says they have a debt crisis, but it’s really a work crisis. Nobody wants to work. They would rather protest, carry signs, throw rocks, and set fires. And anyone who is working will soon go on vacation for half the summer. That will get rid of the protesters temporarily; from habit they’ll go to the beach.
What Greece needs to do is sell off a few islands. Those Greek Isles are so popular you would be surprised what they would bring at auction.
Maybe we could do the same. Republicans would probably agree to sell Massachusetts and Connecticut. But the price would be depressed because the buyer would be compelled to accept Harvard and Yale. So if government really wants to rake in the dough sell Iowa. With farmland going for $10,000 an acre, it would come closer to canceling the debt than any three of our eastern states.

Historic quotes by Will Rogers: (from Weekly Article #663)
 “If there is a prettier trip in the World than from Seattle to Alaska by what they call Inland Passage, I never saw it…
Did you ever pay much attention to a map of Alaska? Well there is some astonishing things about it. Now we have a long narrow strip of land that I don’t think is but 30 miles back from the ocean to the top of the ridge of mountains, and then comes Canada. We cut Canada off from the ocean for five or six hundred miles.
We bought it from Russia in 1867. Seward was Secretary of State, and he bought it from the Russians and the Ambassador at that time from there was (Edouard de Stoeckl).
We paid $7,200,000, and the thing is almost as big as the United States. At that time they called it “Seward’s Folly.” Kinder like it is now, we never know when we are doing well till away later. I guess it’s the best bargain we ever made.
I never could see why Nations don’t sell each other land like they ought to instead of having them go to war to get it. I don’t think we are as civilized as we used to be back in those days. Now (Alaska) was away off from Russia’s main body, and they sold it.”  
WA #663, written about Aug. 10, 1935

#662 July 3, 2011

Federal deficit debate obscured by murder trial

COLUMBUS: President Obama went on television last week to tell how he would reduce the deficit by a Trillion dollars. All he could think of was to cut private jets and increase taxes on high incomes. The President thinks the economy will improve if company bigwigs fly commercial and spend more time waiting in airports. Meanwhile in China, businesses plan to buy thousands of those same planes so their executives can work more efficiently. “If your time is worth anything, travel by air. If not, you might just as well walk.” (1927)

One of the biggest drags on the economy for the past month or two is this trial down in Florida. Granted, it did create jobs for a slew of TV reporters and mediocre lawyers for three years. This young mom killed her 2-year old, and she’ll spend about 20 years in jail, but the whole situation has dragged on like a mystery novel with no end. But it will end. The jurors have been sequestered away from civilization for so long, that whenever the lawyers stop talking, in about half a day they will find her guilty of something, just so they can go home. [Added note: I clearly underestimated the abilities of the defense lawyers and overestimated the intelligence of the jurors.]

While the whole country was distracted by the murder trial in Orlando, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was tried and convicted. He was found guilty of 17 counts of… well, guilty of being a Chicago Democrat.

You can tell the debt ceiling argument is coming to a head when a Congressman is willing to give up vacation days. If you think the debt ceiling ain’t important, imagine if your monthly bills were $5,000, and starting next month, you could only pay out $3000. Which $2000 of spending would you give up? Maybe stop eating out (buy bulk, and cook at home), no air conditioning, cancel the cable TV and cell phone, no new clothes, park the car, no vacation, no concerts, no movies. Could you do it? And not just for one month, for at least two or three years. Well, that’s what is facing Congress. What the President offered only adds up to about $200 a month in my little example. Even though this “family” was living on a little more than $3000 when he took over the finances, it ain’t all his fault. For too long the role model for Washington spending has been Greece.

Enjoy the Fourth. It’s a great day to celebrate a country’s birthday.

Historic quotes by Will Rogers: (from Weekly Article #662)

    “Well, all I know is just what I hear when I talk to somebody and as I generally do all the talking, why I don’t hear much. But I started out on this trip with the idea that I was going to do some listening.
Rex Beach hit Juneau just before we took off. [Beach was an author/novelist famous for portrayals of life in Alaska.] Rex and his wife Greta are responsible for me in the movies. They was making a great Alaskan picture (in 1918), and the character was “Laughing Bill Hyde.” It was one of his famous short stories, by that same name. I was playing that summer in the Follies, and they got the “Nut” idea that I could play the part. It was made at the old Fort Lee Studios, in New Jersey, just across the river from New York City. They used to make an awful lot of pictures there.
It was made for Mr. Sam Goldwyn, who has all these years remained the famous producer.  With producers coming and going, and changing, he has held his own right at the top. He was my first picture boss, and we have remained friends all these years, a rare combination.
I have always had a great respect and friendship for Rex and Mrs. Beach. Rex is an unusual man, outside all this writing. He is an authority on a lot of things… Well, Alaska was certainly glad to see him. They remember up here, none of this one-day sensation like down in Cuckooland.
Well, Wiley’s got her warmed up. Let’s go.”
  WA #662, written Aug. 9, 1935