• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 17/Grade 12, 15/Grade 10, and 13/Grade 9.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • ChasDarwinHasAPosse
  • Farm School: A Twitter-Free Zone

    antitwit
  • Copyright © 2005-2014 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Hard to tell

if the latest campaign news is more embarrassing for the Conservatives, who’ve been caught plagiarizing, or for the Liberals, who’ve been caught napping — for five years.

Wait, make that skinnydipping.

Another crack at Summer

We finally finished combining late last night after a week’s delay.   And now we can make bales and haul them home in the sunshine:

And Saturday is the big Pumpkin Festival about an hour away, from which we may return with our own big pumpkin.

Banned Books Week: Day 4: Boo

A recent addition to the book challenge lists is one of the popular Ology books, Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin by Dugald Steer.

Last year and this year, the book has been challenged at the West Haven, Connecticut, Molloy Elementary School Library “because the book exposes the children to the occult”. According to the May 2007 issue ALA’s Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom,

A book in a West Haven elementary school has outraged a mother who claims it has exposed her young daughter to the occult. On February 9, she brought the book back to school to ask other parents’ opinion and to confront the principal.

Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin was checked out of West Haven’s Molloy Elementary School library by Cary Alonzo’s eight-year-old daughter.

“Well, it has pentagrams in here. It has how to cast spells with actual spells to say and recite,” said Alonzo. The book even has a few tarot cards. With the popularity of Harry Potter, this book is apparently also a hot item. Alonzo says it teaches an alternative religion that’s potentially dangerous.

“If I cannot go in this library and pick up a Bible or a Koran, I don’t think this should be there either,” said Alonzo.

Showing the book to other parents at Molloy’s movie night, she enlisted support. “Books like that shouldn’t be in the schools. If the parents want to get the books, they should get them on their own,” said Joe Vecellio of West Haven.

Others aren’t bothered a bit and say this kind of attention is a black eye to an otherwise outstanding school. “Things like this put a bad name to the school where it’s a school where teachers work hard, the assistants work hard, the principal works hard,” said Rosemary Russo of West Haven.

“I looked at it, you know, I guess everybody’s different, there are some items that could be taken the wrong way,” said Molloy principal Steve Lopes.

Lopes says Wizardology was ordered through Scholastic magazine and is a part of a series that did go through a selection process. It has now been pulled off the shelf and will be reviewed. That is not enough for Alonzo, who says if one slipped through, there may be others.

“At this level, they’re young, they’re very impressionable,” said Alonzo.

I wasn’t able to find anything online about the status of the school’s review, or whether the school has by now, as it should have, added copies of the Old and New Testaments, and the Koran, to the library shelves; I’d also recommend a copy of The World’s Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions, edited by Philip Novak, but I realize I’m pushing here.

I did, however, find an interesting discussion of wizards in children’s literature over at the Rutherford Institute website; the discussion is an interview with Connie Neal, author of both What’s a Christian to do with Harry Potter? and The Gospel According to Harry Potter and Wizards, Wardrobes and Wookiees: Navigating Good and Evil in Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars. Some excerpts from that interview:

Was it the popularity of Harry Potter that fanned the flames of disdain in these certain Christian circles?

…I first heard about the books from a fellow mother of voraciously reading children, and she told me about this great series where an orphan went to a boarding school to learn all about being a wizard and using magic. Any concerned parent would raise an eyebrow at this. The whole setup of a story about wizardry raises antennas, but when you really look at the books, what is the difference between them and the Chronicles of Narnia? For me, it is the age we live in where kids can go from a Harry Potter fan website in three clicks to a web site where actual witchcraft is discussed. This was simply not the case when C.S. Lewis released his books. Parents are so busy and there are so many more options for their children to get into trouble with; parents think they are too busy to police their kid’s activities. They are scared.

Right off the bat with the Harry Potter phenomenon, the most aggressive opponents have come out of a personal involvement in the occult. They can’t read Harry Potter as we can and enjoy it; their situation is much like an alcoholic going into a restaurant and waiting at the bar for a table—they can’t do it. These attackers with an occult background have helped create this fear and hatred of Harry Potter, but they haven’t realized that not everyone is going to respond as they have and so have ruined the experience of reading Harry Potter for others without their background. These people have a particular weakness, and instead of their background being investigated in Christian media, their views were blindly accepted. With the Christian retailers returning my books and big Christian radio networks stonewalling me, they are killing free speech in the Christian community. This is a much bigger issue than Harry Potter or witchcraft in these books. If this free speech that we have worked so vigorously for is something we take away ourselves, then we have already lost. Both sides of the story need to be told and responsible journalism needs to occur, in the secular media as well because all they like to show are the zealots and their book burning, and that does not represent all Christians. …

Have you found that the Harry Potter detractors you run into have read the books, or more often do they rely on hearsay? And if they have read the books, did they ever give the books a chance?

Sure, there are some who come up to me and tell me how horrible the Harry Potter books are, but their response to my question of “Did you read the book?” is that they saw a quote about how bad they are and they don’t need to read them. There are 64 real references to witchcraft in the first four Harry Potter books, but you have to see them in context to know they are not teaching witchcraft or sorcery. Many of the detractors who have actually read the books already have made up their mind that Harry Potter is evil before they read. They have taken a magnifying glass and picked at the books, using literary reductionism to find what they want to find. You can pick up Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and do the same thing that these people have done with Harry Potter; it is ridiculous. …

* * *

“This is my tutor Merlyn, a great magician.”

“How-de-do,” said the King. “Always like to meet magicians. In fact I always like to meet anybody, you know. It passes the time away, what, on a quest.”

“Hail,” said Merlyn, in his most mysterious manner.

“Hail,” replied the King, anxious to make a good impression.

They shook hands.

“Did you say Hail?” inquired the King, looking about him nervously. “I thought it was going to be fine, meself.”

“He meant How-do-you-do,” explained the Wart.

“Ah, yes, How-de-do?”

They shook hands again.

“Good afternoon,” said King Pellinore. “What do you think the weather looks like now?’

“I think it looks like an anti-cyclone,” said Merlyn.

“Ah, yes,” said the King. “An anti-cyclone. Well, I suppose I ought to be getting along.”

At this the King trembled very much, opened and shut his visor several times, coughed, wove his reins into a knot, exclaimed, “I beg your pardon?” and showed signs of cantering away.

“He is a white magician,” said the Wart. “You need not be afraid of him. He is my best friend, your majesty, and in any case he generally gets his spells muddled up.”

The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White, 1939

A niche issue for some

If I were more of a cynic, I’d think that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s latest election promise today, a tax credit for children’s artistic activities, is aimed more at competing with the NDP’s latest election promise than at rectifying his recent anti-arts and culture words and deeds:

Speaking in Ottawa, Harper said the Conservatives would extend the new credit worth an estimated $150 million a year to lower-income families, along with the existing children’s fitness tax credit.

The credit will apply on up to $500 of eligible fees for children under 16 who participate in eligible arts activities, he said. ..

The move comes as the Conservatives have faced intense criticism, especially in Quebec, over a decision to cut up to $45 million in federal funding for numerous arts programs ahead of the Oct. 14 federal election. ..

“Today’s announcement shows once again, as I’ve been saying, that this government, in fact, does support culture and arts,” Harper told reporters.

“We spend a lot more on culture and arts, but we do so in a way that we ensure is an effective use of taxpayers’ money and ultimately, in this case, benefits families and all of society as well.

I suppose the lesson is to make the most of those music, drama, and drawing lessons, kids, because once you hit the age of 16, the Canadian government is no longer interested in your artistic pursuits. Better yet, keep up with those no-tax-credit French lessons and you can move to France.

Banned Books Week: Day 3: Just lousy

[Tom] Joad looked at him with drooped eyes, and then he laughed. “Why, you’re the preacher. You’re the preacher. I jus’ passed a recollection about you to a guy not an hour ago.”

“I was a preacher,” said the man seriously. “Reverend Jim Casy — was a Burning Busher. Used to howl out the name of Jesus to glory. And used to get an irrigation ditch so squirmin’ full of repented sinners half of ‘em like to drowned. But not no more,” he sighed. “Jus Jim Casy now. Ain’t got the call no more. Got a lot of sinful idears — but they seem kinda sensible.”

Joad said, “You’re bound to get idears if you go thinkin’ about stuff. Sure I remember you. You use ta give a good meetin’. I recollect one time you give a whole sermon walkin’ around on your hands, yellin’ your head off. Ma favored you more than anybody. An’ Granma says you was just lousy with the spirit.” Joad dug at his rolled coat and found the pocket and brought out his pint. The turtle moved a leg but he wrapped it up tightly. He unscrewed the cap and held out the bottle. “Have a little snort?”

Casy took the bottle and regarded it broodingly. “I ain’t preachin’ no more much. The sperit ain’t in the people much no more; and worse’n that, the sperit ain’t in me no more. ‘Course, now an’ again the sperit gets movin’ an’ I rip out a meetin’, or when folks sets out food I give ‘em a grace, but my heart ain’t in it. I on’y do it ’cause they expect it.”

Joad mopped his face with his cap again. “You ain’t too damn holy to take a drink, are you?” he asked.

Casy seemed to see the bottle for the first time. He tilted it and took three big swallows. “Nice drinkin’ liquor,” he said.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939

* * * *

John Steinbeck’s now classic book of the Great Depression has been banned, burned, and challenged since it was first published in 1939.

Opponents of the book since its publication have found it vulgar, immoral, indecent, profane, blasphemous, ungodly obscene, misogynic, pro-union, and have objected to its portrayal of human life “in such a bestial way”. Of course life for countless Americans during the Great Depression, especially those in the Dust Bowl forced to become migrants, was in fact vulgar, immoral, indecent, profane, blasphemous, ungodly obscene, anti-woman (anti-man and anti-child for that matter), and many did live like animals. As Timothy Egan in The Worst Hard Time wrote,

Even the tumbleweeds that had kept farm animals alive were in short supply. [Fred] Folkers had been one of the first nesters to salt his thistle, making it edible for cattle. Now some of his neighbors wondered: why couldn’t people eat tumbleweeds as well? Ezra and Goldie Lowery, homesteaders in No Man’s Land since 1906, came up with an idea to can thistles in brine. Friends asked them how they could each such a thing, the nuisance weed of the prairie. It was as dry as cotton, as flavorless as cardboard, as prickly as cactus. Well, sure. Indeed they tasted like twigs, no debate there. But the Lowerys said these rolling thistles that the Germans had brought to the High Plains from the Russian steppe were good for you. High in iron and chlorophyll. Cimmaron County declared a Russian Thistle Week, with county officials urging people who were on relief to get out to fields and help folks harvest tumbleweeds

US efforts to stifle The Grapes of Wrath are detailed at the American Library Association (ALA) website page for “Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” (as of 2000):

Burned by the East St. Louis, III. Public Library (1939) [I've found mentions that the book was not in fact burned in this case and that the order was rescinded] and barred from the Buffalo, N.Y Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City, Mo. (1939); Kern County Calif, the scene of Steinbeck’s novel, (1939); Ireland ( 1953); Kanawha, Iowa High School classes (1980); and Morris, Manitoba (1982). … Challenged in Vernon Verona Sherill, N.Y School District ( I 980); challenged as required reading for Richford,Vt. (1981) High School English students due to the book’s language and portrayal of a former minister who recounts how he took advantage of a young woman. Removed from two Anniston, Ala. high school libraries (1982), but later reinstated on a restrictive basis. Challenged at the Cummings High School in Burlington, N.C. (1986) as an optional reading assignment because the “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.” Although the parent spoke to the press, a formal complaint with the school demanding the book’s removal was not filed. Challenged at the Moore County school system in Carthage, N.C. (1986) because the book contains the phase “God damn:” Challenged in the Greenville, S.C. schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references.” Challenged in the Union City Tenn. High School classes (1993).

Just in time for the annual commemoration of Banned Books Week, the story of Kern County, California, case against The Grapes of Wrath now has its own book, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” by Rick Wartzman (Public Affairs, September, 2008). Jonathan Yardley reviewed the book for The Washington Post the other week; and Mr. Wartzman has an article adapted from the new volume at AmericanHeritage.com.

Obscene details the Kern County Board of Supervisors resolution in August 1939 against the book. The county in the heart of the agricultural haven of the San Joaquin Valley was the haven sought by most Great Plains migrants, only to find themselves in squalid camps at the mercy of the anti-union fruit growers. After the resolution passed, the head librarian in the county wrote to the four members who voted for the ban,

If that book is banned today, what will be banned tomorrow? And what group will want a book banned the day after that? It’s such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin and may in the end lead to exactly the same thing we see in Europe today. Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading. If Steinbeck has written the truth, that truth will survive.

The Board of Supervisors lifted the ban in 1941.

According to a California Libraries article (at the California Council for the Humanities website), which also includes a history of the Kern County case, California Library Association president Sydney Mitchell had said the year before Grapes of Wrath was published, “Librarians should be all for democracy. In the totalitarian state the librarian becomes merely an agency for propaganda, for the dissemination of such information as the authorities care to pass on.” The following year, just before the book’s publication, the American Library Association (ALA) began to consider adoption of the first Library Bill of Rights (see below). And, according to Louise Robbins in Censorship and the American Library: The American Library Association’s Response to Threats to Intellectual Freedom, 1939-1969, “the nationwide ‘rash of bannings’ of Grapes of Wrath helped spur ALA’s appointment of an intellectual freedom committee in 1939.” No doubt aided too by six years of the Nazi book-burning campaign, and war in Europe.

* * * *

Library Bill of Rights

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.


Adopted June 18, 1948, by the ALA Council; amended February 2, 1961; amended June 28, 1967; amended January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 24, 1996.

Banned Books Week: Day 2: What big teeth you have

How could Little Red Riding Hood
Have been so very good
And still keep the wolf from the door?
Job? Father? Mother?
No! She had none.
So where in the world did the money come from?
I need to ask it:
Who filled her basket?
The story books never tell.

from the song “How Could Red Riding Hood?” by A. P. Randolph, 1925

* * *

Today’s title is Little Red Riding Hood, retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, a 1984 Caldecott honor book.

You wouldn’t think there would be anything wrong with this retelling, based on the lovely cover illustration, would you? But eagle-eyed readers, not just tipsy types, will have spotted the bottle in Red’s basket, and that meant trouble eight years ago in Culver City, CA. You see, Red’s mother had packed the basket with “a loaf of bread, some sweet butter, and a bottle of wine”. Presumably for medicinal purposes only. But according to an AP news article, in May 1990,

First-grade readers of Little Red Riding Hood have more to fear than the Big Bad Wolf, say school officials. It’s the wine she has in her basket.

An award-winning adaptation of the classic Grimm’s fairy tale has been pulled from the youngsters’ recommended supplemental reading list because the heroine has wine in the basket of goodies she brings her ailing grandmother. [The basket, as packed by Red's mama, contains "a loaf of fresh bread, some of this sweet bread, and a bottle of wine"]
“It gives the younger ones the wrong impression about alcohol. If they should refrain, why give them a story saying it’s OK?” said Vera Jashni, assistant superintendent for instruction [with the Culver City Unified School District].

“I don’t think the basket of wine is a good concept for kindergarten or first grade,” said school board member Robert Knopf. He said he would rather have seen “a nice thing like cookies and cakes or a picnic basket with food in it.”

Jashni, who ordered the ban, said it was the final paragraph of the story that sealed her decision — the part after the woodsman kills the Big Bad Wolf.

“The grandmother drank some of the wine, and . . . after a while, the grandmother felt quite strong and healthy, and began to clean up the mess that the wolf had left in the cottage.” ..

Houghton-Mifflin Co., a Boston-based textbook publisher, distributed [the title] as part of a 10-book package, and California education authorities placed it on the state’s recommended supplemental reading list for 5- and 6-year-olds.

Houghton-Mifflin spokesman Sandy Caswell said the ban was incomprehensible.

“The fact that it’s an award-winning book, and one we felt was a good retelling of the story, led us to select it as part of the reading series,” she said. Caswell added the company had received complaints about the book from three other school districts, all of them in California.

Another version of the AP story mentions Gina Grawe,

a teacher at Linwood Howe Elementary School, [who] organized a day-long protest last week over the ban.

“Is this the beginning of book-banning? One person should not have that much control to make that decision,” Grawe said. “I’m sure someone could find something objectionable in any book — there’s drinking in Tom Sawyer.”

And oh so much more. But that’s fodder for another day.

In a nice twofer, a 1925 song about Little Red Riding Hood, “How Could Red Riding Hood?” by A.P. Randolph, apparently holds the distinction of being the first song banned from the radio for being “improper and suggestive”. Click here to hear the song and for more information on the song, and click here for A.P. Randolph’s lyrics.

Of course, the tale of Little Red Riding has long been fraught with meaning, as this history of the story and the page of annotations at the wonderful SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages points out, well before Bruno Bettelheim examined The Uses of Enchantment and Catherine Orenstein removed the hood in the more recent Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale.

Trina Schart Hyman was born in 1939 and died in 2004 at the age of 65 of breast cancer. According to her online biography by Denise Ortakales,

She grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania learning to read and draw at an early age. She credits her mother for instilling in her the joy of books by reading to her from the time she was an infant. She spent a whole year wearing a red satin cape that her mother had made for her because her favorite story was Little Red Riding Hood.

Ms. Schart Hyman’s retelling of the Grimm fairy tale, was “one of her favorite stories.” From her Caldecott Honor speech in 1985,

I don’t do sketches, or preliminaries. I think about it instead. I think about the story and about what it means and about how it can be brought to life in pictures. I think about the characters and what makes them tick and where they’re coming from and where they might be going to.

I think about all this a lot. I think about it so much that eventually I start to dream about it. And when my dreams start to become the dreams of the characters in the book, when their reality becomes a part of my subconscious, when I can live in their landscape, when I put on a little red cape with a hood and tie the red ribbons under my chin, then I know what to do with my pictures.

And from an interview with Miss Ortakales, in answer to a question about her favorite childhood picture books,

My favorite book was Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There weren’t picture books the way we know them now when I was a kid. There were books with pictures in them, but the first picture books that I remember were Little Golden Books. I love Grimm’s Fairy Tales a lot. I grew up on them, I believed them. My rules for life were in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I believed in that kind of good and evil, and that magic could happen. That you could walk along and find a magic stone. I believed that for a long time. And I don’t know, maybe I still kind of believe it only it just hasn’t happened yet.

A better bailout, from Joe Stiglitz

Joseph Stiglitz, University Professor at Columbia University and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics, in yesterday’s Nation:

A Better Bailout

… The administration attempts to assure us that they will protect the American people by insisting on buying the mortgages at the lowest price at auction. Evidently, Paulson didn’t learn the lessons of the information asymmetry that played such a large role in getting us into this mess. The banks will pass on their lousiest mortgages. Paulson may try to assure us that we will hire the best and brightest of Wall Street to make sure that this doesn’t happen. (Wall Street firms are already licking their lips at the prospect of a new source of revenues: fees from the US Treasury.) But even Wall Street’s best and brightest do not exactly have a credible record in asset valuation; if they had done better, we wouldn’t be where we are. And that assumes that they are really working for the American people, not their long-term employers in financial markets. Even if they do use some fancy mathematical model to value different mortgages, those in Wall Street have long made money by gaming against these models. We will then wind up not with the absolutely lousiest mortgages, but with those in which Treasury’s models most underpriced risk. Either way, we the taxpayers lose, and Wall Street gains.And for what? In the S&L bailout, taxpayers were already on the hook, with their deposit guarantee. Part of the question then was how to minimize taxpayers’ exposure. But not so this time. The objective of the bailout should not be to protect the banks’ shareholders, or even their creditors, who facilitated this bad lending. The objective should be to maintain the flow of credit, especially to mortgages. But wasn’t that what the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout was supposed to assure us?

There are four fundamental problems with our financial system, and the Paulson proposal addresses only one. The first is that the financial institutions have all these toxic products–which they created–and since no one trusts anyone about their value, no one is willing to lend to anyone else. The Paulson approach solves this by passing the risk to us, the taxpayer–and for no return. The second problem is that there is a big and increasing hole in bank balance sheets–banks lent money to people beyond their ability to repay–and no financial alchemy will fix that. If, as Paulson claims, banks get paid fairly for their lousy mortgages and the complex products in which they are embedded, the hole in their balance sheet will remain. What is needed is a transparent equity injection, not the non-transparent ruse that the administration is proposing.

The third problem is that our economy has been supercharged by a housing bubble which has now burst. The best experts believe that prices still have a way to fall before the return to normal, and that means there will be more foreclosures. No amount of talking up the market is going to change that. The hidden agenda here may be taking large amounts of real estate off the market–and letting it deteriorate at taxpayers’ expense.

The fourth problem is a lack of trust, a credibility gap. Regrettably, the way the entire financial crisis has been handled has only made that gap larger.

Paulson and others in Wall Street are claiming that the bailout is necessary and that we are in deep trouble. Not long ago, they were telling us that we had turned a corner. The administration even turned down an effective stimulus package last February–one that would have included increased unemployment benefits and aid to states and localities–and they still say we don’t need another stimulus. To be frank, the administration has a credibility and trust gap as big as that of Wall Street. If the crisis was as severe as they claim, why didn’t they propose a more credible plan? With lack of oversight and transparency the cause of the current problem, how could they make a proposal so short in both? If a quick consensus is required, why not include provisions to stop the source of bleeding, to aid the millions of Americans that are losing their homes? Why not spend as much on them as on Wall Street? Do they still believe in trickle-down economics, when for the past eight years money has been trickling up to the wizards of Wall Street? Why not enact bankruptcy reform, to help Americans write down the value of the mortgage on their overvalued home? No one benefits from these costly foreclosures.

The administration is once again holding a gun at our head, saying, “My way or the highway.” We have been bamboozled before by this tactic. We should not let it happen to us again. There are alternatives. Warren Buffet showed the way, in providing equity to Goldman Sachs. The Scandinavian countries showed the way, almost two decades ago. By issuing preferred shares with warrants (options), one reduces the public’s downside risk and insures that they participate in some of the upside potential. This approach is not only proven, it provides both incentives and wherewithal to resume lending. It furthermore avoids the hopeless task of trying to value millions of complex mortgages and even more complex products in which they are embedded, and it deals with the “lemons” problem–the government getting stuck with the worst or most overpriced assets.

Finally, we need to impose a special financial sector tax to pay for the bailouts conducted so far. We also need to create a reserve fund so that poor taxpayers won’t have to be called upon again to finance Wall Street’s foolishness.

If we design the right bailout, it won’t lead to an increase in our long-term debt–we might even make a profit. But if we implement the wrong strategy, there is a serious risk that our national debt–already overburdened from a failed war and eight years of fiscal profligacy–will soar, and future living standards will be compromised. The president seemed to think that his new shell game will arrest the decline in house prices, and we won’t be faced holding a lot of bad mortgages. I hope he’s right, but I wouldn’t count on it: it’s not what most housing experts say. The president’s economic credentials are hardly stellar. Our national debt has already climbed from $5.7 trillion to over $9 trillion in eight years, and the deficits for 2008 and 2009–not including the bailouts–are expected to reach new heights. There is no such thing as a free war–and no such thing as a free bailout. The bill will be paid, in one way or another.

Perhaps by the time this article is published, the administration and Congress will have reached an agreement. No politician wants to be accused of being responsible for the next Great Depression by blocking key legislation. By all accounts, the compromise will be far better than the bill originally proposed by Paulson but still far short of what I have outlined should be done. No one expects them to address the underlying causes of the problem: the spirit of excessive deregulation that the Bush Administration so promoted. Almost surely, there will be plenty of work to be done by the next president and the next Congress. It would be better if we got it right the first time, but that is expecting too much of this president and his administration.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 64 other followers