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1752 - Looking ahead and looking back

When you have been writing about Wyoming for almost 48 years, you become very good at predicting the economy. Right?  Well, maybe not so hot some times.

Frankly, I have compiled a pretty good record of predicting the future of Wyoming – except for four years ago. My headline for that column was Wyoming’s “future is so bright, we have to wear shades.”

         Boy was I wrong. Here is what I wrote:

         “Wyoming’s economy heading into 2014 is a prosperous and optimistic job-creating colossus. The state is changing the face of its economy and altering its future forever.  The curse of the predictable boom-bust cycle, which rears its ugly head every quarter century or so, will not visit our state in the foreseeable future.”

         Wow. What a swing and a miss! Air ball. A fumble.

         As we all know, energy prices collapsed that year and we have been struggling ever since.

So here we are, four years into this bust, and some folks can see some small lights at the end of the long economic tunnel ahead.

But rather than think we are currently in a bust, I prefer to call this “normal,” and I remind folks that we need to adjust our lives and our economic expectation to the current climate.

         My best years in business were 1995 to 1999, when Wyoming was still in economic doldrums. We proved that you could have business successs if you work hard enough and smart enough. We all need that attitude today.

When I look back on 2017, it seems that some Wyoming people need to face a true reality check.

         Instead of considering our economic conditions booms or busts, we need to identify these kinds of cycles, which are predictable, and consider them the norm. This is what 2017 was like and how 2018 will continue to be.

         To business owners and managers, 2018 will be a time when they all need to maintain strict discipline when it comes to expenses.  Since a huge part of Wyoming’s economy is government-based, agency leaders need to run local, state and federal government entities in a businesslike manner, too.

         My theory is that we need to make sure our “yearnings do not exceed our earnings.” To many people that is not as important a consideration as in the past. But based on today’s economic realities, it should be our most important guideline.

         In some places living within your means is not considered a normal way of operating. We see countries and even businesses adopting what has been called the European model, where everyone gets an income, whether they are productive or not. And even if an individual does not have a job, he or she is able to get enough income from the government to live a decent life.

         To many old-timers, this is a foreign concept. The concept of receiving an income without working does not compute when we look back on our own experience.

         During my 55 years in the workforce, I was always told if one was honest and put out a quality product, things would turn out okay. Today, in many places and ways, this playbook has been discarded.

         We live in an age of acceleration where jobs described as “medium skill, high paying” just do not exist any more. For decades those kinds of jobs propelled the middle class.

         Some of the highlights of the upcoming year will be:

         • The Legislature will be trying to find money to cover our state expenses while not raising any taxes.  Biggest fight might be over a statewide lodging tax versus a statewide tourism-specific tax.  Supporters of both plans are lined up and digging in.

         Education will again be a target of where expenses can be cut but any efforts to inflict big cuts seem to be losing momentum.

         • Some fellas named Murray, Gordon, Forslund, Dahlin, Downing and Harshman plus some gals named Throne and Hageman will be busy in 2018 along with some others yet to surface, wanting to occupy the Governor’s office.

         It will be an interesting political year with Sen. John Barrasso and U. S Rep. Liz Cheney possibly facing some serious challenges.

         Back in 2017, my favorite event was the eclipse, which brought what seemed like a million people to our state. Not sure what is coming this year but our future is sound.  Perhaps it is not bright enough to cause us to wear shades full-time, but we should get through this year in fine shape.

1751 - Christmas cheer from the Schmidt house

A famous cartoon concerning folks named Schmidt is often circulated around the Internet these days.  My old pal Pat Schmidt, former publisher in Thermopolis and Lovell, has some observations about this story. Here is how members of his family have dealt with this situation:

       “Now in the height of the Communications Age, humorous cartoons from back in the 1950s and 60s are still generating mirth and merriment on the Internet! Or is that regenerating?

       “Take the case of our family and one particular cartoon. Over decades, reactions from family members have ranged from my father’s outrage to my grandchildren’s extreme merriment.

       “You’ve seen the cartoon. Santa Claus is parked atop an old outhouse, angrily berating his lead reindeer, ‘Damn it, Rudolph, I said, The Schmidt-house!’

       “I was still in school when I first saw ‘the cartoon’ and heard the story about my short-tempered father taking a swing at another railroader who was showing it.

       “To explain my dad’s outrage about that use of his last name, it might help you to know that though born here, his German family had immigrated from Russia to America shortly before World War I. As a child, he had suffered through the taunts of ‘Kraut-lover’ from children who were well aware America was in its first big war with Germany.

       “Many Schmidt families Anglicized their last name to Smith upon or after arrival in America. Not ours.

       “The approach of World War II found my dad in the Wyoming National Guard Cavalry, where, under military pressure, he changed his name from Wilhelm to William. But he (and the rest of his brothers) kept the name Schmidt.

       “That horse cavalry unit was deployed to the West Coast well before Pearl Harbor to guard against a Japanese invasion. Later, other members told me how my dad got fighting mad one time when, during roll call, the sergeant called off the names of the Schmidt brothers as “Horse-Schmidt, Cow-Schmidt and Bull-Schmidt.”

       “Though my siblings and I winced a little the first few times when we were teased with the Santa outhouse joke, I don’t remember getting that angry. Even my younger brother, who inherited much of my dad’s temper, never took a swing at anyone over it, as far as I know.

       “My children, now adults, never seemed offended when the latest reincarnation of the Schmidt-house joke was shown to them.

       “In Cheyenne during Christmas a few years ago, the joke reached epic proportions, springing to life when a couple of son Joe and daughter-in-law Kori’s friends built a giant outhouse and placed it in the yard of their home. Santa, Rudolph and his sleigh were perched on top. Spotlights gloriously highlighted the caption, ‘Damn it, Rudolph, I said, The Schmidt-house!’

       “Joe’s family awakened to the clamor, went outside to see what was the matter and found the oversized creation spotlighted in front of their home.   

       “The biggest laugh among family members came when Joe’s younger brother Jake confessed that the two creators, a doctor and a lawyer, didn’t have the carpentry skills to finish it and called on him to help.

       “Christmas light tours that year in Cheyenne detoured from the usual hot spots to the corner of Capitol and First, and hundreds of people viewed the gloriously lit Schmidt-house, complete with a half-moon door and appropriate captions.

       “Merry Christmas from the Schmidt HOME!”

       Author John Davis who lives in the town of Worland and also lives in the house owned by the Worlands, for whom the town was named, wrote the following:

       “In my book Sadie and Charlie, I wrote about a Christmas story involving Sadie and Charlie Worland.  The Worlands and their social crowd were preparing a big Christmas feast, with Sadie Worland cooking a whole pig in her oven (which didn’t quite fit).  Her friend Helen Howell cooked several pies.

       “Just before the big dinner, Howell called Sadie Worland and told her that the Howell dog had eaten all the pies.  Sadie replied:  ‘Helen, think nothing of it, the damn pig blew up.’”

        Davis concludes: “Whether because of the inability to close the oven door or the way it was being cooked, the pig exploded.  We don’t know how all this was finally worked out or what the celebrants ended up eating that evening.”

       Merry Christmas.

       This is a time of year when giving is better than receiving.  There are many efforts being made by big-hearted people to reach out to those not doing so well.  You can help, too. You will not regret it.


1750 - The perfect Wyoming Christmas Gift

This is the time of year when I always try to locate Wyoming-themed items or products made here in the state, which I can give to friends and relatives.

         I reached out to my network of friends and here are some ideas they sent:

         Beth Miller from the State Historical Museum in Cheyenne sells a huge amount of Wyoming-oriented products each Christmas and all during the year. Here is her report:

         “My top sellers so far this year:  2018 Wyoming Historical Society calendars-365 days of Wyoming history. New holiday ornaments featuring dinosaurs, hand knitted bison and moose and custom Wyoming State Capitol ornaments are selling well. License plate birdhouses and barn stars made at the Wyoming Honor Farm that I purchase from the Department of Corrections also do well - I sold at least three of the small birdhouses every single day this summer. My newest books are J.C. Penney, the Man, the Store, and American Agriculture.

         Cheyenne; A Sesquicentennial History by Rick Ewig and the Snow Chi Minh Trail book-can`t keep that one in stock.

Other good sellers include Chugwater Chili and dip mixes, Wyoming jams, jellies and syrups by Elizabeth Townsend at Berried Delights in Newcastle and honey candy from Queen Bee Gardens in Lovell.”

         Retiring UW Professor Phil Roberts offered the following with a focus on his hometown of Lusk:

         “There is a book of local interest for residents of Niobrara County titled: And No One Died: Stories of the Niobrara County Wyoming Flood of June 2015, by Phyllis Willson Hahn. It contains a series of "oral history" accounts of numerous people who experienced the unusual incident.

“Those not having a specific interest in the Lusk area might find the method of some value as a template for writing about other catastrophic events striking small towns (although we hope it never will happen, of course). Assembling such materials as a ‘history’ a generation or so from now would not have been possible so it is a remarkable way that a newspaper columnist turned her skills toward an in-depth series of interviews to record the event. (Some of the "chapters" began as columns in her weekly submissions to the Lusk Herald).”

Former long-time rancher and lawyer from Wheatland, Ray Hunkins, who now lives in Cheyenne, offered: “ I recently watched Pete Simpson narrate Over Wyoming last Sunday and was very impressed with the production by Wyoming PBS. I`m thinking of purchasing for some for my out-of-state friends. Also just finishing C.J. Box`s Back of Beyond, a thriller which I have enjoyed.”

Also had the following submission: “Wyoming award-winning author Steven W. Horn’s latest novel, When They Were Young: A Sam Dawson Mystery, was released October 26, 2017.  In the latest novel, photographer Sam Dawson stumbles across a child`s body while fishing in Wyoming`s Laramie range and must unravel the truth as those closest to him get drawn into a dangerous web of revenge. When They Were Young is the third book in the critically acclaimed Sam Dawson Mystery Series.”

Tom Cox of Lander is anxiously awaiting the DVD of the new movie Wind River and thinks a DVD collection of the Longmire TV show would be a big hit for Christmas.”

Worland’s John Davis loves some of the fine restaurants in Jackson and thinks gift certificates to the Snake River Grille or Jenny Lake Lodge would be appreciated. He also modestly suggested people consider a couple of his recent books, which were about the Johnson County War and the famous killer Tom Horn.

         Sam Lightener Jr. has a new book called Heavy Green about the Vietnam War that is getting good reviews.  Romance novels by Mary Billiter are fun reads, too. And we cannot leave out the great Craig Johnson with his Longmire series.

Cheyenne’s Larry Wolfe suggested a coffee table book by a certain Wyoming columnist.  Thanks, Larry.

Museums around the state have amazing offerings of items for sale this time of year, all of which pertain to Wyoming.

Please support programs for the needy this time of year. You will not regret it. Local food banks and those relentless bell-ringers for the Salvation all deserve your support.

Mainly, I think people need to support their downtowns.  Local merchants were hit hard over the past two years and this is the season when they can get their economic situations back to normal.  Plus when you go shopping downtown you will see a lot of old friends and make a bunch of new ones. Happy shopping!


1749 - Major movie coming in 2018 about Dick Cheney

I first heard about Dick Cheney 44 years ago when he was named chief of staff for then-President Gerald Ford.

         Some four and a half decades later, he has retired from one of the most interesting and influential political careers of any person in the country.

         Today, the Jackson-based author maintains a quiet existence as he travels Wyoming with his granddaughter’s horse competition efforts. He also appears at events such as Lander’s One Shot Antelope Hunt, where he competed in 2016.

         Politically, he helped his daughter Liz Cheney get elected to the state’s sole U. S. House of Representatives seat last fall, a post that he ran for and won back in 1978.

         But despite his most recent attempts at obscurity, a movie about his life will soon burst onto the national and international scene next fall that should be a blockbuster.

         Called Backseat, its creator Adam McKay says Cheney is arguably “the single most powerful political figure in modern American history.”  Wow.  Pretty big description for a young guy who grew up in Casper.

         McKay has signed big movie stars to play people we all know. Christian Bale will play Cheney and Amy Adams will play Lynne Cheney. Steve Carell will play former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Tyler Perry is playing Colin Powell.

         Actor Bill Pullman plays Nelson Rockefeller. Sam Rockwell plays George W. Bush, Alison Pill plays Mary Cheney and Lily Rabe plays Liz Cheney.

         Some photos from Variety Magazine show amazing transformations as Bale and Adams modified their appearances into Dick and Lynne.  It is always a challenge to play living people who have been in the public light in recent years but going by what these photos show, they are on the mark.

         Director McKay says he has always been interested in the former Veep.

“I’ve always found Cheney fascinating,” McKay told the publication Deadline. “Questions of what drove him, what his beliefs were, but once we started digging, I was astounded at how much he had shaped modern America’s place in the world and how shocking the methods were by which he gained his power.”

The Deadline article continued: “While new Vice President Mike Pence has cited Cheney as a role model, Cheney has always been a polarizing figure and a lightning rod for controversy for his role in expanding the powers of the presidency while he served eight years as No. 2 to President George W. Bush.   

 “Among his initiatives was to press the war on global terrorism post-9/11, with tactics that ranged from spying to invading Afghanistan and then Iraq – the latter based on Intel that Saddam Hussein had procured weapons of mass destruction and was aligned to al-Qaeda, assertions that were considered shaky at the time and were never substantively proven — and the establishment of techniques including waterboarding as part of an ‘enhanced interrogation program’ that many called torture against suspected terrorists held in Guantanamo without access to due process. Cheney previously served in the Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush administrations, before he became Halliburton chairman and CEO, and then joined the Republican ticket alongside Bush.”

The article concluded: “Cheney was a study in contradictions: a war hawk who himself received five deferments that kept him from fighting in Vietnam. And while the Bush administration did not support gay marriage, Cheney personally went against the grain, perhaps swayed by the fact that his daughter was openly gay. Cheney’s approval rating was down to 13 percent when he left office, and he has long been a critic of the foreign policy of his former boss’ successor, President Barack Obama.”

An earlier movie called W. by director Oliver Stone also showed Cheney in his role in the George W. Bush administration.  Richard Dreyfuss played Cheney in that 2008 movie.

As a long-time Wyoming newspaper editor, I had a lot of conversations with Cheney when he was our U. S. Representative. I always found him personable, knowledgeable and well intentioned. I thought he did a wonderful job of representing the state.

We were proud of his role in the U. S. House and very proud of him as Secretary of Defense, especially during the first Iraq War.

And like most Wyomingites, we were beaming with pride when he was elected Vice-President.

His role in getting the country involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has left him a checkered national legacy. I always felt that most elected officials in his position during the 9/11 attacks would have pushed for such wars.