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The Long Way Home

Politicians need to stir up enough outrage among half plus one of voters to win the next election. They’ve gotten quite good at it.

We’ve just witnessed one of the more effec­tive, yet silly ways, in the recent brouhaha over raising the federal debt ceiling. A complic­it media has a field day reporting on all the machinations surrounding the issue. But like everything in politics they report more about who is winning or losing than they do about the substance.

Congress first passed a debt ceiling in 1917, setting a limit on how much money the gov­ernment could borrow to pay its debts (mon­ey it has previously borrowed). Prior to that, members needed to approve each borrowing and, looking for Congressional efficiency, they told the Treasury Department it had an allow­ance and said, “don’t come back until you’ve used it all.”

Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 times to raise, extend, or redefine the debt limit.

The national debt has increased under every presidential administration since Hoover’s, al­most a century ago, and you know how his ten­ure turned out.

We lackeys of the politicians, bureaucrats, and plutocrats like to be outraged about the debt. Sitting at the bar, coffee shop, or boat landing we express that outrage. “The govern­ment should live within its means, like I have to,” is a favorite quote.

But is that true?

According to Ben Sprague, a bank officer in Maine who writes a weekly newsletter on all things real estate and finance, we the people now hold almost $1 Trillion in credit card debt. That’s almost $8,000 per household accord­ing to an April 13 article in USA Today. Per household.

Average interest on credit card debt is 20%, significantly higher than the low single digit rate the federal government pays to borrow. Added to mortgages, car loans and student loans (not to mention loans for the toys we cherish), we the people look a lot more like the federal government than we care to admit. Heavily in debt but the interest rate we pay is higher.

For most of American history there has been a federal debt. But unlike its citizens, the gov­ernment can and does just print more money to make its payments.

If the government misses a payment on its credit card, a crisis of confidence takes hold and the overall economy, and real people, suffer. In 2011 a Republican Congress held the debt ceiling hostage in negotiations to get deficit reduction from the other side. Failing to raise the debt limit in time led to a drop of 2,000 points in the Dow Jones Industrial Av­erage, a downgrade of the government’s credit rating, and likely the re-election of a Demo­cratic President the following year.

Politicians, bureaucrats, and plutocrats make debt ceiling negotiations a weeks long Kabuki theater, almost always just to reach a compro­mise they know they will reach all along.

Since debt ceiling rage has a shelf life, pol­iticians use immigration, Critical Race Theo­ry, drag queens, wokeness, and Disney to keep people up in arms. They need outrage to make sure all the money that is spent by the pluto­crats for their elections keeps flowing.

Friedrich Nietzsche, a 19th century German philosopher once said, “They muddy the wa­ter, to make it seem deep.” The phrase “muddy the waters” means to cause an issue to be un­clear and harder to understand. Especially for we lackeys.

That’s exactly what happened this Spring over the debt ceiling issue.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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