The Heavy Hand of Obama and the Czars

Three news items:

Item Number 1:

“The nation’s top bankers walked away from a summit with President Barack Obama pledging broad support for his bank-bailout program and efforts to revive the economy, but the meeting failed to resolve tensions over executive pay and the president’s tough rhetoric of recent weeks.”

All of the banks have received federal bailout cash- in some cases after being told they must– and some have openly bristled over mounting public criticism of their pay and their banks’ lending.”

“Some of the chiefs told the president they want to return their bailout money later this year, but Mr. Obama told them that regulators would permit such a move only if the banks were truly healthy.” All quotes are from WSJ, March 28, 2009.

I italicized the phrases that ring alarm bells in my mind. These enterprises are now captives.  They were captured and they will be released when their captors decide the time is proper. They are being dictated to. Who decides when a bank is healthy? Why, the Finance Czar, or the president.

Item Number 2:

“Government Forces Out GM CEO Wagner” WSJ March 30, 2009.

“The Obama administration used the threat of withholding more bailout money to force out General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, marking one of the most dramatic government interventions in private industry since the economic crisis began last year.” “Mr. Wagoner was asked to step down on Friday by Steven Rattner, the investment banker picked last month by the administration to lead the Treasury department’s auto-industry task force.”

This is draconian intervention. The Car Czar is at work. Didn’t the age of Czars end with the fall of Nicholas and Alexandra of Russia in about 1917? The proletariat is on the move. But this time it is led by a Czar.

Item Number 3:

“Two Montana Democrats are leading the charge against gun control- even helping force the military to continue selling surplus brass to gun aficionados who want cheaper ammunition.” Their moves are “credited with overturning a short-lived brass ban.” AP in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, March 30, 2009

The Hammer is Coming Down!!!

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Gardening for the Poor

Would you garden for the poor?

Sounds noble.

What if the poor were living in a government housing apartment within sight of the garden and you could see that they were refusing to plow, plant, weed and harvest? Would you then work for them?

Below is a list of projects like this. They claim to teach independence and skills. That is good, if it works. Reports of the indigent participating are spotty, though.

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/aug/14/local/me-garden14

http://www.homelessgardenproject.org/

http://transitioncolorado.ning.com/events/boulder-homeless-shelter

http://urbanministrygarden.wordpress.com/2007/09/30/dry-fall-homeless-action-alice-watersslowfood-class-on-class/

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http://groups.ucanr.org/mbmg/Projects/Homeless_Garden.htm

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Of 4-Wheelers and Free School Lunch

I met with Sasquatch, the high school sophomore, again this week. Our one-hour visits are delightful. Mainly we quiz him, and me!, on general knowledge from the glossary of terms at the end of the book Cultural Literacy. As usual, he got 55% right, a figure I do not consider too pathetic.

His sister returned from Europe. She is 12. She went with her middle school class from Chief Joseph Middle School. She was pick-pocketed in Spain, (“where even the homeless men are well-dressed”). What the thief got was her Spanish phrase book. Sweet revenge.

The trip cost $4,000.

I asked “Who paid for that?”

Their dad did. The whole $4,000.

Sasquatch got a used 4-wheeler for hunting. His dad bought it for him. It cost $2,000. It was in “sweet” condition. It had “been babied by its owner”.

Sasquatch’s mom is on welfare and he is on free school lunch. His mom finished a secondary education degree a couple of years ago.

What Does it Mean to Be an American?

If you believe my history professor, people in America cannot answer this. To him there is no belief in founding principles or documents, no commonly-held pride in national accomplishments or figures, nothing we Americans ascribe to, honor, believe in, strive for or do together. No common religion, language or purpose.

I disagree.

We honor individualism. We are proud of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and of having outlawed slavery. We pursue sexual gratification, profit and self-indulgence. We limit government. We’re suspicious of government snoops, of drafts, of onerous regulations. We express ourselves frowardly. We idealize sports, from Little League to the World Series, from children’s gymnastics to men’s softball leagues. We cherish nature. We aid the downtrodden. We expect integrity. We eschew corruption. We pray. Our foundations are Judeo-Christian. We acknowledge a linguistic heritage: English. We celebrate Christmas and the 4th of July together. We expect families, not agencies, to inculcate responsibility and virtue. We are free, except when over-taxed. We are prosperous to a greater extent than any other people. We expect to keep the fruit of our labors- money, profit and earnings- and to suffer when we over-indulge, slack off and fail.

What are people expected to know to pass the test for citizenship? They need to know about the Constitution and what is expected of citizens. This tells us something about our civic heritage. We have a cultural heritage which includes jazz, baseball, basketball, Hollywood, and world technological leadership.

These are the ways people of other countries and immigrants see our country and how we ourselves view America.

Overheard in Student Union Building

In January, early in this semester, I heard a young man talking on his cell phone.

“He’s not out of money yet because I’m going to buy his kayak off him as soon as I get my loan check.”

This is the first thing I think of when I hear talk in our state legislature about how students need a tuition freeze, to shield them from the rising costs of college education.

I’m presently conducting a poll of what students did over MSU’s Spring Break, and what others at other universities are planning on doing.

How far did they go in their travels? Did they work any of the 9 days they had off? How many hours total did they work?  So far, few have worked. One worked 40 hours but first he got in a 3-4 day trip to Boise for a gamer’s convention. Home to Sandpoint, but a few days in Oregon first. San Diego and Las Vegas. Seattle.

Taxpayers would be more sympathetic to further taxes to shield college students from increasing tuition if students were working at every opportunity. Maybe they are not as poor as their advocates in the legislature indicate.

The End of Contract

Contract is one of the pillars of free enterprise. Free enterprise is the means to wealth that keeps our people strong and free. Only a free people can choose virtue.

But contract is eroding.

Tenants in shopping malls in Arizona put keys in the mail to owners in Montana and say they quit. Contract out the window. Tenants in Nevada quit paying rent but stay in business, in their shopping malls. Landlords have no leverage. There is no value in evicting them. No other business is ready to take the space.

The landlord gets a call from the bank. Where is the payment? The landlord pleads poverty, no money to make the payment. The landlord and bank renegotiate a new payment schedule, interest rate and terms. The original contract is nullified.

Manfacturers in Montana negotiate lower rent. This nullifies ther contract.

City workers are asked to take a pay cut. State workers in California get furloughed, their contract nonetheless. Teachers in Montana are asked to forego the three percent raise in their contract. AIG and Fannie May and Freddie Mac executives have their contractual bonuses axed.

All contracts seem to be subject to cash flow verities. This gives little basis for the contracting parties to plan. This is a worrisome trend.

Without property rights, free expression, markets and contracts, we’re sunk.

Recession? What Recession?

We have a long ways to go. Standards of living in Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico are far below the lowered standards of living we are experiencing since the bubble burst.

I recall a nearly naked man in Brazil, living on the jungle floor outside of town. I recall a haggard 14 year-old man-handling an iron-wheeled wheelbarrow. In it were three buckets of water. The total weight approached 170 pounds. The boy weighed 80.  He pushed it 1/4 mile on an uneven surface to some bricklayers. He stopped every 40-50 feet to adjust his load. I recall the farm laborer, also in Ecuador, going home from work. He dozed precariously on a 2″x10″ plank on a metal rack above a pickup bed. The pickup jostled wildly. I recall the roadside homesteaders in Brazil, the saw sharpener in Brazil, the neighborhood in Marituba, in which, if you had a hammer, you were known as he who owned a hammer, the one to borrow from..The idle young men. The three room house with three light bulbs, dirty floors and one bed for three children. No one in the four families we dined with owned a car. The walking masses. The cowboys of Ecuador. The farmers drying lima beans on the roadway.

We must view the hardships of our recession comparatively.