Ending year on a high note. Is the Great Recession over?

President Obama is ending 2014 on a high note. The Dow at 18,000 and gas prices around two dollars a gallon made December a nice turnaround from a disastrous November. Remember the election?

The year was filled with plenty of problems: the JV team better known as ISIS, the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the Putin “outbreak” in Ukraine, the VA and IRS scandals, Secret Service issues, and rising suspicion of local police by African-Americans.                                                                                                                                                One unfortunate continuing issue is that our foreign policy is viewed as a disaster by our friends. Yes, they probably relied on us too much in the past, happy to let us defend the free world. But after six years of withdrawing our strong influence, both big and small troublemakers seized on cracks in our armor to attack and taunt.

Is the Great Recession over? The economy is closing the year with good news. The latest quarterly report shows a 5% increase in GDP, employment is up and shoppers spent more for Christmas. There is concern however that middle and lower income folks have not benefited much from the recovery. If gasoline stays low for a few months like it did six years ago, and the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates near zero and minimizes inflation, even these folks may have a few extra bucks in their pocket.

I think the average person has a better understanding of economics than our President. Did you hear him comparing the economics of constructing the Keystone XL pipeline to roads and bridges?  First, he declared there is no potential benefit to this country of building the pipeline (with private dollars) because it will simply make a Canadian oil company wealthy with no effect on oil supply or gasoline prices.  Instead, he touted the potential economic benefits of pouring more taxpayer dollars into roads and bridges.  Even an old cowboy knows the difference between something paid for with private dollars and something financed with tax dollars, especially dollars borrowed from China.

President Obama does seem concerned about the cost of keeping our Gitmo prison open for Islamic terrorists. He says it is costing a million dollars per prisoner a year so he wants to turn ‘em loose. Actually he wants to return them to their home Islamic country, but that’s the same as turning ‘em loose. For one of those terrorists that we let out a few years ago, we have offered $5 million to get him back. Where’s the economics in that? Do you suppose we ever spent a million a year on a prisoner at Alcatraz or Sing Sing? To save money we need to operate that prison like a Gitmotel-6 instead of a Ritz-Carleton with gourmet meals, plush rugs and a manicured soccer field.

Historic quote by Will Rogers:
“It hasn’t been a bad old year, as years have been going lately. In fact in years to come, when all these professors switch from economists to historians, they are liable to label [this year] as the historical year, the year of the big switch from worse to better.” DT #2312, Dec. 31, 1933

All lives matter, including police.

Al Sharpton and the mayor of New York got themselves in a heap of trouble. They have been encouraging protests against the police and a few protesters attacked police and others marched down the middle of the street in Brooklyn, chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do you want it? Now!”

Well, two of the mayor’s New York policemen were executed today in Brooklyn.

Rev. Sharpton would be better off if he found a church where he could preach a Christmas sermon, and remember that, to Christ, all lives matter.

President Obama announced that he has negotiated a deal with Cuba: we will end sanctions, and in return Cuba will end… nothing. The Castro brothers admit nothing, give up nothing, and of the millions of dollars Cuba will end up receiving, none will be shared with the people of Cuba.

President Obama said he would “like to go to Cuba.” However, the First Lady and his daughters yelled, “NO! We’re going to Hawaii for Christmas, not Havana.”

Most young folks know little about Cuba except it has been Communist under Fidel Castro since the 1950s. Here are a few comments by Will Rogers, who had earlier visited Havana during a Pan American Conference in January 1928. President Coolidge gave a speech there.

      “In 1898 we tried to fix it so Cuba would have liberty and all the accompanying benefits. Now [1933] Cuba is having one of the best civil wars that’s been produced in years.” DT #2188, Aug. 8, 1933

There is no doubt that Cuba is run cockeyed, but what country ain’t? Now, we get our sugar from Cuba, and anything we do in Cuba is going to be misunderstood.” DT #2189, Aug. 9, 1933

     “Did you see in the paper where Cuba is laible to have another change of government?… It’s their country. It’s their sugar. Take the sugar out of Cuba and we would no more be interested in their troubles than we would a revolution (in Africa).” DT #2218, Sept. 12, 1933 [Today, Will would add cigars.]

Merry Christmas to all. Anyone in Hawaii for the holidays is gonna be a whole lot merrier than anyone in Cuba.

Historic quotes by Will Rogers: (on Christmas)

“I am too busy replacing presents to write today. I bought some mechanical and electric things for the kids and wore ‘em out playing with ‘em myself.” DT #120, Dec. 23, 1926

“Merry Christmas, my constant readers, both of you. No scandal today. There is some, but it will be more scandalous by tomorrow.  Men, act surprised as if you didn’t know the tie was coming.” DT #121, Dec. 24, 1926

The Will Rogers Person of the Year

Our Lame-Duck Congress passed a bill. It’s a huge bill, 1600 pages, that spends $1.1 Trillion. Nobody has read it, and nobody seems to like it except President Obama and Speaker Boehner. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t like it. Senators Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren don’t like it. If that sounds like an odd mixture, you’re right.

You may remember last month I told you what a Lame-Duck was:  It’s like where some fellows worked for you and their work wasn’t satisfactory and you let ‘em out, but after you fired ‘em you let ‘em stay long enough so they could burn your house down.”  Well, this Lame-Duck lit a fire to one end of the house while building an addition on the other end. And they’re sending us the bill for the arsonist, firefighters, lumber and carpenters.

Is $1.1 Trillion the total budget for a year? No way! The government will spend close to $4 Trillion. So where are the arguments over the other $3 Trillion? Well, that’s our so-called entitlements and other commitments made by previous Congresses, some of them Lame-Ducks too. That $3 Trillion is the big chunk of the budget we ought to be debating. Interest payments are getting out of control and the only way to reduce those payments is to eliminate deficits. Social Security and Medicare need attention, and nobody knows what a hole Obamacare might plunge us into.

       Time magazine selected their Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters. Good choice.

I have another good choice that I doubt Time even considered. I’ll call this the “Will Rogers Person of the Year.”

Who could it be? My “person” is the men (and women) who have developed horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.** Now, my Oklahoma prejudice may be showing, but think about the impact the expanding American oil and gas industry is having on our economy. I read that the drop in gasoline prices (not to mention natural gas prices) is equal to another Quantitative Easing. That means it is worth about $80 Billion a month. And this economic boost is with real dollars, not “printing press dollars” from the Federal Reserve.

**Note: The “person” mainly credited with this development is George P. Mitchell (1919-2013), a Texas oilman. His father was an immigrant from Greece, who changed his last name from Paraskevopoulos to Mitchell. George P. Mitchell graduated first in his class at Texas A&M in Petroleum Engineering. He eventually founded an oil drilling company which is now part of Devon Energy.

Historic quotes by Will Rogers:

       “The budget is a mythical beanbag. Congress votes mythical beans into it and then tries to reach in and pull real beans out.” DT #2047, Feb. 24, 1933

       “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.” DT #1733, Feb. 12, 1932

Cheaper oil means more Christmas presents

Did you know there was a race to 18? The stock market is approaching 18,000 for the Dow Jones. But our national debt got to 18 first; it hit $18,000,000,000,000 last week. Whether President Obama will claim credit for either one I’ve got my doubts.

China replaced us as the world’s largest economy, proving you can’t grow your economy by borrowing money. If borrowed money counted, our $18 Trillion would put us so far ahead China would have to round up fifty other countries to top us.

Our economy may be nothing to brag about, but it’s better than most. Yes, it sounds like a contradiction, but nobody except Germany and the US has climbed back up to levels before the Great Recession. Another 300,000 workers found jobs last month and the unemployment rate stayed below 6%. Still, if you ask ‘em, the majority of Americans think the recession is not over.

One thing that is helping out is oil prices. Gasoline around here is about $2.50 and headed down. That can leave a few more dollars for presents under the Christmas tree.

Jonathan Gruber, the Obamacare economist who became famous for calling American voters “stupid” will testify to Congress this week.  The Supreme Court may be listening in because those nine justices are taking a second look at the health care law. If five of them decide Gruber was calling them stupid, they may shut down at least part of Obamacare.

Seventy-three years ago Japan attacked us at Pearl Harbor. The next day President Roosevelt and Congress declared war on Japan and Germany and Italy. Even though the country was totally unprepared in 1941 to wage war, it took us and our friends less than four years to defeat them. In 2001 we were attacked by Islamic terrorists, and thirteen years and two Presidents later we seem to be nowhere close to defeating them.

What’s the difference between then and now? Well, back then winning that war was not only “Job One”, it was our only job. Nothing else mattered. Today, we’ve got a hundred different “jobs” and “killing Islamic terrorists” may rank no higher than fifty. It has to share time and resources with global warming, fighting Ebola, flying to Mars, common core math, retraining police not to shoot, and saving snails, minnows, turtles, hoot owls, and prairie chickens.

Historic quotes by Will Rogers:

(The League of Nations appointed a delegation) “to go to Manchuria and see how much country Japan had captured. Well, Japan asked ‘em not to come till they had captured enough to make the trip worthwhile. If Japan keeps expanding, the delegation will meet the Japanese army at about Reno or Salt Lake.” DT #1728, Feb. 7, 1932

“China has had a war. It was the usual modern war. Nobody knows who won.” Saturday Evening Post, May 12, 1928