Letters to Paula, SO96

Bill Horne, Millbrook, Ala.: Can you please explain why it is absolutely necessary that we balance the national budget? I've had a bad headache trying to figure out why.

A: I too have had headache pain and also some itching ever since Ross Perot made such a fuss about the evil deficit and the need to balance the budget. Perot said that leaving the deficit was a terrible thing to do to our grandchildren.

Compared to passing along my genes to my grandchildren, passing along my debt will seem a minor offense, I'm sure. Still, I worry about it because we've been told to worry about it. Bob Dole said two or three times in his rebuttal to the State of the Union address that when we go in and check on our kids at night we should think about the deficit. Of course it made me wonder why Bob Dole is still tucking in his 40-something daughter at night.

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I asked Paul Solman, the business correspondent for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," to whom we owe this money. It's a shockingly stupid question, I know, but I always thought we owed it to other countries or something. However, Paul informed me that when we buy government bonds, we are loaning that money to the government and that this makes up most of the national debt. I couldn't believe it. This big, evil deficit that is relentlessly pursuing our innocent grandchildren, like the giant chicken heart that ate New York, is money we owe to us.

No wonder Ross Perot is so concerned about our repaying the debt. We probably owe half of it to him.

Is this helping your headache? I feel much better.

Recruit, e-mail: Do you think young people can get a good start in life by taking advantage of the programs that America's Army is offering?

A: Many times, while watching TV late at night, I've been so intrigued by that commercial claiming that "in the Army you'll do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day" that I've stopped cold, unable even to continue removing Oreo crumbs from my carpet with Scotch tape.

In order to answer your letter, though, Recruit, I called the Army recruiting office in Hollywood. I talked to a very sweet sergeant, who, of course, did feel that the job training programs offered in the Army could be an important part of a youth's bright future.

The sergeant said that there are 200 career fields to choose from and that the deal is that the Army trains enlisted people who then work for the Army for a couple of years. It all sounded so nice.

I had a nettlesome feeling, however, that in her enthusiasm the sergeant was omitting some of the terms of the deal. I have some green plastic Army men from the Burger King Toy Story promotion and not one of them appears to be repairing a computer or doing any administrative work. Sure enough, on further inquiry, it turned out, as partial payment for the training, you might have to go to war or, worse yet, on a peace mission.

Write Paula c/o Mother Jones, 731 Market Street, Suite 600, San Francisco, CA 94103. Fax her at (415) 665-6696; or send e-mail to paula@motherjones.com