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People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Root Of The Problem

It's odd, I was telling (complaining to ...) Paula, just last week, that this was a big - and growing - problem:
Blame Television for the Bubble
By Jim Sollisch, writing in the Wall Street Journal

So now we know what happens when too many people who have too few assets buy too much house with the help of too many risky mortgage products and too little oversight. And while there's plenty of blame to go around -- unethical mortgage brokers, greedy bankers and irresponsible homeowners -- one culprit continues to get off scot-free: HGTV.

That's right. The cable network HGTV is the real villain of the economic meltdown. As the viewership reached a critical mass over the past decade -- HGTV is now broadcast into 91 million homes -- homeowners began experiencing deep angst. Suddenly no one but the most slovenly and unambitious were satisfied with their houses. It didn't matter if you lived in an apartment or a gated community, one episode of "House Hunters" or "What's My House Worth?" and you were convinced you needed more. More square feet. More granite. More stainless steel appliances. More landscaping. More media rooms. More style. You deserved it.

[O]n episode after episode for this entire irrational decade, HGTV pumped up the housing bubble by parading the most mediocre, unworthy-looking homeowners into our living rooms to watch while they put their tacky, run-of-the-mill tract homes on the market for twice what they paid and then went out and bought houses with price tags too obscene to repeat. You couldn't watch these shows without concluding that you must be an idiot and a loser if you lived in a house you could actually afford. [link]
I don't know the name of the show we were watching, but it was one of these on HGTV that has experts coming into homes and telling anxious owners whether or not they had enough equity built up for them to make improvements or to sell at a tidy profit and buy bigger (yes, I do; it was this one). My reaction? "Surely, this was taped before the housing crash. There's no way these homes are worth what these 'real estate experts' are telling these gullible homeowners. And look at how nervous those owners are as the verdict is about to be handed down. What in God's name would make people so insane about the value of the four walls around them?"

But insane many became. And then the crash became.

It might be a tad excessive to blame HGTV for this. But HGTV certainly provided (still provides*) a window into that manic world of self-delusion. A window into collective madness.

- - -

* While I'm on the subject, I'll tell you what I found particularly annoying about this. The female star of this particular show will bring an expert into a home and determine, based on purchase price, plus the cost of upgrades, and minus the estimated resale value of the home, what the homeowners' "profit" is.

Profit?

Yup. That's the word she uses. But the profit on something not yet sold - as everyone knows - is zero.

And we wonder why the housing sector went bust ...

Walking The Plank

At what point does the dollar become worth no more than the value of the paper it's printed on?

Here's when:
U.S. Debt Expected To Soar This Year
By Lori Montgomery, Washington Post Staff Writer

With President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats considering a massive spending package aimed at pulling the nation out of recession, the national debt is projected to jump by as much as $2 trillion this year, an unprecedented increase that could test the world's appetite for financing U.S. government spending.

While the current market for Treasurys is booming, it's unclear whether demand for debt can be sustained, said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP, which analyzes Treasury financing trends.

"There's a time bomb in there somewhere," Crandall said, "but we don't know exactly where on the calendar it's planted." [link]
It took our ancestors nearly 200 years to run up 2 trillion dollars in debt. Obama is going to do it in 365 days.

Frightening. Absolutely frightening.

On Government Coercion

Where was it I read this?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. [hint]
The consent of the governed.

A question: At what point do we, the governed, deny consent to that government that we chose to institute?

I say it's when the government turns on the people and, through the power to tax - the power to destroy - takes on the responsibility of behavior modification.

It's not exactly new for our government(s). Taxes have been levied on the weakest among us for years in order to change their "bad habits." Cigarette smokers. Drinkers. Gamblers.

But now the effort - and the mindset that propels it - is moving to an ugly, destructive new level.

Fat taxes come to mind. Taxes that could single out 86% of us for punishment because we enjoy ice cream and cookies.

And, more ominously, comes this (from "Green Comes Clean," Investor's Business Daily):
In a letter addressed to President-elect Obama and his wife, Michelle, James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, makes an appeal for a carbon tax, ostensibly as a means for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that's allegedly causing a dangerous greenhouse effect and warming trend.

This tax will have "near-term, mid-term, and long-term" effects on "lifestyle choices," Hansen acknowledges. But he seems unconcerned about how such coercion will rearrange the lives and manage the behavior of a people who should be free of state coercion.

Hansen and his ilk never seem to question whether the government should be involved in behavior modification. They believe so zealously in their cause — establishing an egalitarian society where conspicuous consumption is limited to the few who make the rules — that they have no misgivings about using the police power of the federal and state governments to beat society into shape.

"The police power of the federal and state governments to beat society into shape."

What if we choose not to be beaten? What will Hansen (and Obama and all the other Democrats in this country) propose be done with us then? A non-compliance tax? Incarceration? Banishment? Execution?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. Piss us off, pal, and that consent will be denied. Then where do we take the discussion?

And So It Begins

Suppose we would have seen a headline like this in the New York Times in January if McCain had won?

Some Forecasters See a Fast Economic Recovery

Somehow I don't think so.

Hope-n-Change. This is how it works.

I'm Enjoying This

Look, I really don't care who Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich nominates to take Barack Obama's place in the Senate. If it's not going to be this Roland Burris character, it'll be another twisted Democrat. So why get worked up over it?

But I will say this. The saga, as it plays out, is certainly entertaining. It seems Mr. Burris ain't all that bright. I guess that's the explanation:

Steve Chapman:
[L]ogic has never been his strong suit. A longtime advocate of a national handgun ban, Burris organized Chicago's first Gun Turn-in Day in 1993. But when he ran for governor the following year, he admitted that he owned a handgun ("for protection,") and did not hand it over to police as he urged others to do.

"He had simply forgotten about it," his spokesman said at the time—a claim that, if believable, suggested Burris was not exactly the model for conscientious gun ownership. "Honey, didn't I used to have a pistol around here? Any idea where it might be?"
"Logic has never been his strong suit." Logic? Doesn't Chapman mean "brains"?

News flash: The Democratic nominee for the Senate is a simpleton. Where he'll fit right in.

Count Me In

A well-known blogger in London calls on the Republican Party in this country to become conservative. I think it's time. Perry de Havilland writes:
2009 is going to be an interesting year, particularly in the USA. Big State Democrat Barack "The One" Obama crushed Big State Republican John "I Support the Bail Outs" McCain and this means the country is going to have a new president whose politics make him the most committed statist since LBJ. The country was given a choice between statism and statism and it voted for... statism.

Never has there been a better time for cleaning house. The usual excuses given for pragmatic 'broad church' politics no longer apply on the so-called 'right'... no amount of unity will change the fact that regulatory tax-and-spend politicians will be in charge for the next few years regardless of what people of a classical liberal disposition do. And so I would strongly urge such people to get into politics like never before ...

In short, I am calling on anyone who believes in liberty and limited government to reject all thoughts of party unity and work tirelessly to drive the statist right from their parties.

I am not calling for the 'libertarianisation' of the Republican party along the lines I would actually like, just for the party's rationalisation. I am in essence calling for a nominally conservative party to become... conservative.
He also calls for the creation of third (and fourth and fifth ...) political parties if the Republican Party doesn't move away from being a clone of the Democratic Party. That'll serve no purpose, but his main point is spot-on. We need a conservative party in this country, now more than ever.

Before it's too late.