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Clark: The face on U.S. penny keeps common sense at bay

Sun., Feb. 10, 2013, midnight

Canada minted its final penny the other day and embarked on a program to gradually round up and melt down the 82 million kg of coppery coins in circulation.

As a public school-educated American, kilograms, mammograms and all the other metric mysteries are Greek to me, although it does sound like a lot.

But I’m not here today to complain about the metric system.

I’m here to complain about being upstaged by our neighbors to the north, which is hard to swallow.

America, not Canada, is supposed to be the trendsetter when it comes to important societal changes.

There are only two arenas where Canada should reign superior to the good ol’ red, white and blue: smooth beer and hockey brawls.

OK, Canadians are quite dominating when it comes to curling, too.

But 86ing the penny? That should have been our move. And we should have made that move years ago for the following good reason:

Making a penny costs MORE than a penny.

Based on the going rate for raw materials, in fact, creating a penny costs nearly double the face value.

Continuing to churn out one penny after another makes as little sense as giving Tom Arnold another sitcom.

The other day I pulled my aged Jag into a downtown parking spot and got out to pay the ransom.*

(*In his State of the City address Friday, Boy Mayor David Condon said he wanted Spokane to be the “City of Choice.” I’m down with that. So let’s all put Condon to the test and “choose” to NOT feed the $#%!ing meters.)

By all the jingling in my pocket, I assumed I had more than enough change. Further inspection, alas, revealed a dozen grubby pennies commingling with three dimes and a lone quarter.

Disgusted, I pumped in the silver and left the pennies at the meter’s base as a tribute to the Ticket Gods.

Why do we keep making these nuisance coins?

Blame Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln is without a doubt our most beloved president.

More beloved than Washington.

More beloved than Jefferson.

At least 39.8 kilograms more beloved than Millard Fillmore.

As gangly and weird looking as he was, it’s still a wonder that Lincoln was ever elected.

There must have been some inexplicable attraction about him.

Lincoln: the Steve Buscemi of his day.

Because of this, killing the penny would be like killing Lincoln all over again, and no official wants that on his hands.

Think anyone would balk at axing the penny if, say, Dick Cheney’s menacing mug was on it?

We all know the answer to that.

Lincoln, who turns 204 on Tuesday, is a sacred national hero, like Lance Armstrong before he told Oprah what a doping, cheating scum he is.

And could our 16th president be any hotter right now?

• Bill O’Reilly’s recent bestseller about him has already spawned a TV show.

• President Obama took his latest oath of office with his left hand on a Martin Luther King Bible and a Lincoln Bible.

• Who knew that Honest Abe was so badass on vampires?

Speaking of documentaries, Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is getting plenty of Academy Awards buzz.

Add it all together and you can see why there’s no chance we’ll be following Canada’s penny-pinching lead anytime soon.

True, living in a penniless society would require an adjustment at first.

Canadians plan to “round up” or “round down” when, say, tipping the barkeep or purchasing new beaver pelts.

Could Americans do this?

Hey, I’m part of the newspaper industry. I obviously don’t know beans about running a successful business.

But all this penny stuff has taught me one truth about economics:

Government may be the only enterprise where losing money is the actual goal.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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