Leavitt: Give thanks while you can

By Irv Leavitt for Chronicle Media

Irv Leavitt

The hardest thing to fix on a car is an intermittent problem: a mysterious ailment that happens occasionally, but never, ever, when in proximity to someone who could possibly diagnose it.

I once took a vehicle with this sort of malady to a mechanic named Mory Friedman, who told me it could be a number of things, but which, he could not say.

My old friend Mory advised, in his Czech accent, that I should not worry too much.

“Ve’ll know vot it is,” he said, “ven it gets vorse.”

Mory’s philosophy on old cars also fits many of the decisions that propel nations, including this one. The people who make decisions for the rest of us often have no idea what the upshot will be until it’s all over, and it may be time to call the tow truck.

That has never been more true than during the last two years, when I think we have all witnessed some very experimental attempts at governing. Many of these initiatives were not supported by any obvious effort at planning, and so reasonably could have resulted in spectacular disasters. But so far, not so terrible. For that, on this Thanksgiving, I give my thanks.

The experimental initiatives include some that I have fantasized about doing, if I were king of the world, but even then would never have had the guts to try.

I often daydreamed of telling the Supreme Leader of the hot mess known as North Korea that either he immediately straighten out his act or we will do such bad things to his country that even National Geographic  will not know where to find it.

As we all know, the impulsive dude who now lives in the White House acted out my fantasy. And, cutting to the chase, Kim Jong-un is not sending any more radioactive weapons flying over the Sea of Japan. At least not this week.

Aside from that positive development, he is doing anything else he pleases, including making more missiles. It has to be assumed that he’s ordering their construction so they can be used for eventual destruction of something or someone.

Therefore, we may have merely fostered a more congenial relationship with a nation that still holds the title of most likely to succeed in starting the chain of events that leads to the end of the world.

But it hasn’t happened yet. Thanks!

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Another one of my gutless fantasies is to tax the heck out of all the stuff China sends over here that is made by kids and other underpaid employees. We would not back off at all until the Chinese stop making bootleg copies of movies, which is one of the few things Americans can still get good prices for overseas.

The Donald has indeed tariffed the heck out of China, but not for the purpose of affecting the use of underpaid labor. That’s not how he rolls.

He is doing it to force the Chinese to buy more of our stuff. This would be a benefit if it all works out. The problem is that the Chinese already buy a lot of our stuff. Or, at least, they used to.

Their annual soybean bill was $12 billion in 2017, before their own retaliatory tariffs. The folks in the White House may have been pretty pleased with themselves, since there’s no place else that can provide so many beans as we do. And no one can come close to providing it by this time of year, which is when our crop comes in, and the Chinese wait for us to put more than half of it on ships heading their way.

The price our farmers are selling beans for went way down after the tariffs, but that doesn’t mean the Chinese hog farmers would buy it up at the discount, making up for the tariff rise.

They’re not buying any of it. Their bosses told them not to. If worse comes to worst, the bosses said, just give the piggies less to eat.

In the long term, South American soybean farmers can always get more arable land by cutting down more rain forest. And China could also cut out the middlemen and grow the beans they need on their own. The main reasons they were buying instead of growing was because it was cheaper, and it was a bone to throw to the folks who were buying their cell phones.

This is kind of bad news for our farmers, who have been selling lots of stuff in recent years for less than it costs to produce it. This year, milk and, of course, beans, are often going at a loss.

The good news is that in the 12 months ending June 30, there were 475 Chapter 12 “farm bankruptcies,” according to the U.S. Courts. That may not sound like good news, but in the previous 12 months, there were 482.

The bad news is that we don’t know what the rest of this year has brought, and will bring. But I’m glad that I won’t know when I carve the turkey, either.


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The economy is good, people tell me, so, again, thanks! The U.S. Gross Domestic Product continues to inch up.

But it’s a weird good economy. Most people who want work have work, but a lot of them are not making enough money to save anything. They’re buying lots of stuff, yet more businesses are shutting down. And half the farms don’t profit.

There was a lot of corporate profit this year, however, fueled by tax cuts. The cut-money was largely used by the corporations to buy up stock in themselves.  It’s unclear how anyone benefits from that except stock market investors, though stocks don’t seem to be all that sure of a bet lately, despite all the buying.

The tax cuts required the kind of federal borrowing unheard of since World War II, despite indications that there has been no similar emergency.

By 2030, these cuts will have generated a doubling in the national debt. If nothing is done, many federal programs will be on thin ice, especially Medicare and Social Security. And it will start happening a lot sooner than 2030.

But that won’t be apparent this holiday week. Thanks!

Last week, a 71-square-mile iceberg — about three times the size of Manhattan — shook off from Antarctica and floated away. It was a nice show for some scientists, who got to watch it break up from their seats in a NASA plane.

But it was not that big in the scheme of things. In 2015, a 225-square-mile sheet of ice broke loose, and last year, one that covered 2,240 square miles wandered off.

The melting that frees the icebergs is due to an increase in water temperature of about 1 degree. And each time a sheet of ice is lost, it’s easier for that warmer water to get under the existing ice pack and loosen some more.

All those melting icebergs can’t be handled by Bounty, the Quicker Picker Upper. Japan has already spent billions building enormous cisterns and breakwaters to protect Tokyo from rising water. They say it isn’t enough.

We’re not spending much to protect our coastlines. As of last year, we’re not even acknowledging that global warming is a problem.

Maybe it’s not. Maybe there’s a drain plug somewhere that we can pull to let some of the water out.

You doubt that? You’re worried about what the future holds?

Don’t worry. We’ll know what it is when it gets worse.

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