Say No to the Bailout

I’ve been wanting to comment on the financial crisis, and the proposed bailout, but have been far too swamped with work to organize my thoughts into a coherent post.

Rod Dreher over at the Crunchy Con blog has had some excellent commentary, and has summarized many of my own thoughts.

Donald Luskin is up with a piece today at NRO that really nails the critical reasons why this is a terrible idea. In part:

Even if you grant that this really is a “crisis,” and that it justifies an extraordinary intervention, there can be no doubt that the $700 billion authority being sought for the purchase of distressed mortgage-related securities is far too great an amount. Of the $1.26 trillion in non-prime mortgages — that is, “sub-prime” and “Alt-A” mortgages — $743 billion is already either owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, companies that were shored up by a government rescue earlier this month. That leaves $521 billion, which means the Treasury’s $700 billion would be more than enough to buy them all. And that’s even if the Treasury paid full value. In fact, the Treasury will get a steep discount, considering that many of the mortgages in question are in delinquency or default. Does the Treasury really have to buy every single non-prime mortgage — even the healthy ones — twice over?

And if the Treasury’s authority were scaled down to something more in proportion to the size of the asset market it claims to address — say $350 billion — must that authority be granted all those dollars at once? Couldn’t we start with $100 billion and see how it goes, and go back later for more if necessary?

In order to restore confidence in these shaky markets, there’s no doubt the administration would claim that its commitment must be both large and irrevocable. But considering the enormous powers being vested in the discretion of a single unelected official — the Treasury secretary — markets may also find solace in the idea that there will be an accountable process for learning from mistakes and making appropriate corrections.

I should note that Luskin goes on to discuss some mitigating reasons that could justify the bailout, and he does say that he’s currently leaning toward supporting it — just that he wishes it was smaller. I agree that some action needs to be taken to address liquidity in the financial markets, but the current proposal’s massive size and delegation of authority to the Treasury Secretary are deal-breakers for me.

I’ve written my congressman to express my opposition. Whatever your position, I encourage you to let your own representative know what you think. You can follow this link to do so.

How Do Civilizations Collapse?

Bill Whittle is up with a thought-provoking piece at National Review Online, asking how civilizations collapse. His answer: neither with a bang nor a whimper, but when the great bulk of people decide that the civilization is simply no longer worth defending.

The heart of the piece is this passage:

I live a few miles from Santa Monica High School, in California. There, young men and women are taught that America is “a terrorist nation,” “one of the worst regimes in history,” that it’s twice-elected leader is “the son of the devil,” and dictator of this “fascist” country. Further, “patriotism” is taught by dragging an American flag across the classroom floor, because the nation’s truest patriots, as we should know by now, are those who are most able to despise it.

This is only high school, remember: in college things get much, much worse.

Two generations, now, are being raised on this poison, and the reason for that is this: the enemies of this city cannot come out and simply say, “Do not defend the city.” Even the smartest among us can see that is simple treason. But they can say, “The City is not worth defending.” So they say that, and they say that all the time and in as many different ways as they are able.

If you step far enough back to look at the whole of human history, you will begin to see a very plain rhythm: a heartbeat of civilization. Steep climbs out of disease and ignorance into the light of medicine and learning — and then a sudden collapse back into darkness.

And it is in that darkness that most humans have lived their lives: poor, nasty, brutish, and short.The pattern is always the same: at the height of a civilization’s powers something catastrophic seems to occur — a loss of will, a failure of nerve, and above all an unwillingness to identify with the values and customs that have produced such wonders.

The piece goes on to discuss this central idea in more detail, and is worth reading in full. It should be noted that Whittle believes Western Civilization is under assault, but he does not believe we are doomed.

And who does he believe has the best chance of holding our culture and civilization together? You got it: the yeoman farmers of the nation. He doesn’t use that phrase, but his conclusion is Jeffersonian to the core:

It is the small-town virtues of self-reliance, hard work, personal responsibility, and common-sense ingenuity — and not those of the preening cosmopolitans that gape at them in mixed contempt and bafflement — that have made us the inheritors of the most magnificent, noble, decent and free society ever to appear on this earth. This Western Civilization… this American City… has earned the right to greet each sunrise with a blast of silver trumpets that can bring down mountains.

102 Minutes

It’s a gray, drizzly, foggy morning here in Michigan; if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was back in Seattle. The weather is actually pretty appropriate, as it’s a good match for the mood I’m in this morning. One of those days where you want to just leave the lights off, lay on the couch, and listen to the rain fall.

A big reason I’m in this mood is a program the History Channel aired yesterday, 102 Minutes that Changed America. I’ve seen a lot of programming about 9/11, particularly in the last few days, but this one was different. It affected me much more profoundly, because of the way it was put together. Pretty much the entire thing consists of amateur video and home movies. Apart from some raw footage shot from news helicopters (which isn’t broadcast-quality), there is no professional camera work. We do get occasional graphics on the screen, informing us of the time and where the video in question was taken (“Three blocks Northwest”, or “Five Miles North”). There are no instant replays of big moments; everything plays out in real time, from when the first person noticed the first tower was on fire and turned on a video camera, until several minutes past the collapse of the second tower. The only professional news reporting or commentary we get is what was playing in the background, as the home video cameras rolled.

What makes this program so deeply disturbing is that it is so raw and so real. By “raw,” I don’t mean graphic. There is nothing in here that’s any bloodier or more graphic than anything that’s been shown in other TV programs. It’s more the raw emotion, and seeing it through the eyes of ordinary people as they absorbed what was happening and were trying to make sense of it. Was that first fire in the first tower a bomb? How did they get it up there? Or was it some other kind of explosion, like a gas line? Someone heard it was a plane? A small plane? How did it get lost and crash on such a clear day?

Another especially memorable portion is the footage from Times Square, of ordinary people staring up at the big video screens and watching the news play out. The expressions on their faces are indescribable; you can see the shock, and the questioning, and the wheels turning in their heads as they grapple to process the images they can’t believe they’re seeing.

And there are the videos rolling in elevators, and where average people are gathering, passing along speculation and wondering what is going on. There is the shear terror and emotional meltdown of the girl who was filming from her living room window when the second plane hit; she puts the camera down (still rolling, pointing into the middle of the room), and we hear her wailing hysterically as she runs from her apartment, calling out “I can’t be on the 32nd floor of this building anymore.”

It was especially sickening watching all the firefighters rushing to the scene from all over the city; there is lots of street-level footage of emergency vehicles, and the prevailing attitude is: There is a building on fire. People are trapped. We’re going up to put the fire out, and get the people out. If anyone believed the towers might collapse, there’s no sign of it on these videos — everyone was regarding it as just another building fire that had to be extinguished, and you do that by sending in an army of firefighters. Was really difficult to watch this, knowing what was going to happen to all of these men in just a few minutes.

When the first tower collapses, we get the confusion of one family that’s filming through the window of another building: Wait a minute. I can’t see the other tower. Where is it? Is it behind all that smoke? I can’t see it.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. This is an extremely well-produced program, which really puts the viewer on the streets of NYC on 9/11. It affected me like no other 9/11 programming, and is going to stick with me for quite some time.

Unbridled Hate

Last weekend, with all the charges swirling about Sarah Palin, I did something for the first time: I actually went over to the Daily Kos and spent some time reading both the blog pieces and the comments.

All I can say is: I felt like I’d stumbled into the “Two Minutes Hate” from George Orwell’s 1984, in which images of enemy leaders are projected on a screen and everyone in the auditorium must spend 120 seconds screaming angrily at the top of their lungs. I’ve seen some fairly biting pieces and comments on conservative political blogs in the past, but nothing with the kind of visceral hatred I saw at the Daily Kos. What was it about this plain old mother of five from Alaska, I wondered, that could inspire this kind of a reaction?

Jeff Bell is up with an excellent piece discussing this question. As usual, his insights far surpass anything I could have come up with. He sees the Left’s reaction as rooted in values reaching back to 1789:

The most important thing to know about the left today is that it is centered on social issues. At root, it always has been, ever since the movement took form and received its name in the revolutionary Paris of the 1790s. In order to drive toward a vision of true human liberation, all the institutions and moral codes we associate with civilization had to be torn down. The institutions targeted in revolutionary France included the monarchy and the nobility, but even higher on the enemies list of the Jacobins and their allies were organized religion and the family, institutions in which the moral values of traditional society could be preserved and passed on outside the control of the leftist vanguard.

The analysis goes on from there, and gives among the most insightful looks into the culture of the Left, and its goals and values, that I’ve read in some time. The final paragraph ties all of this back to Sarah Palin, and what she represents to those steeped in the culture and values of the contemporary Left. I won’t spoil it here; you can follow this link to read the whole piece.

Now, From the Dog

We spend a lot of time following politics in our family, and spent most nights of both conventions eating dinner in my office as we watched the proceedings. And it’s been interesting to see the sorts of things the kids have been absorbing.

To preface this story: long-time readers know we have two farm dogs. Scooter is a mostly-black border collie mix, while Tabasco is an Australian Red Healer mix. Both dogs spend a lot of time in my office while I’m working.

A couple of evenings ago, I was typing away at my computer. Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG), age 9, was sitting with both dogs on the couch across the room. Holding Tabasco in her lap, and moving Tabasco’s muzzle up and down as if the dog was talking, HFG began to extemporize a television commercial:

Everybody should vote for John McCain. Scooter was going to vote for Barack Obama, because he’s black. But I convinced him he should vote for John McCain. I’m Tabasco, and I approved this message.

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing, but HFG still doesn’t understand what’s so funny. And that in itself, I must say, makes it even funnier.

Motherhood and Vocation

The Sarah Palin nomination has led to some passionate discussions in the Catholic blogosphere about the responsibilities of mothers with young children, and whether such mothers ought to be running for public offices which demand so much of their time. These discussions have tended to be quite thoughtful, and a welcome contrast to the way these issues have been framed and discussed in the MSM.

Catholics understand motherhood to be much more than a biological function; it is above all a vocation of service, love, and self-sacrifice. Perhaps the most powerful and eloquent explanation of this is John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem. This letter is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand the beauty of grandeur of the role of women in God’s design. I first read it as a young single man, long before I even met Mrs. Yeoman Farmer, and it gave me a tremendous appreciation for what my future marriage and family life could be — if I married someone who shared the Church’s understanding of the vocation of women. Fortunately, I found that “pearl of great price,” and the rest is history.

In Mulieris Dignitatem, the holy father does not give guidelines or instructions as to when or whether mothers should stay home full-time with children, or what kinds of jobs they ought to engage in outside the home. But given his discussion of motherhood as a vocation to complete self-giving and love for one’s children, it seems that the normal thing is for a woman with a family and young children to devote herself to them as completely as possible. This is the course we have followed in our own family; MYF left her job as an attorney shortly before our first child was born, and she has been home with our kids full-time ever since. She never speaks of having “given up” her previous career, because she knew all her life that marriage and motherhood were the ultimate vocation to which she aspired. Practicing law was merely an interlude between college and that ultimate vocation.

But God has different plans for some mothers. In some extraordinary cases, in addition to granting them children, God gives women special talents and gifts that he expects to be used and invested and shared to enrich the greater community. He calls these women, and their families, to prayerfully discern the best way to fulfil their vocations to both motherhood and community service. This service can take any number of forms: education, health care, government, nonprofit organizations, charities, foundations, and so forth. In discussing this, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I quickly came up with several examples of extraordinary mothers whom God called to extaordinary vocations of public service:

St. Gianna Beretta Molla. She is primarily known as the “pro-life saint” who chose to carry her fourth baby to term, even though that meant delaying treatment of cancer. As a result of that choice, she died a very painful death just six days after giving birth. But what is less often remembered is, despite having three children under the age of four, she worked full-time as a physician — even while her husband was overseas on business. (Doctors and medical facilities were scarce in post-war Italy.) As the Vatican’s own website explains, “With simplicity and equilibrium she harmonized the demands of mother, wife, doctor and her passion for life.” Clearly, she and her family viewed her medical practice as a vocation of service to others, something at which she was especially talented, and something extraordinary to which God was calling her to continue doing, even after the arrival of her babies.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton had five young children, and with the death of her husband was in the position of raising them on her own and in great poverty. And yet, while those children were still young, Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore invited her to move to that city, found a boarding school, and then a religious order. That order grew to be enormously important in establishing Catholic education in the United States — so much so that she is known as the patroness of Catholic schools. But she did all of this while raising her young children.

Queen Isabella, perhaps more than any other person, helped make Spain a great nation. At a time of enormous tumult, she and her husband (King Ferdinand) laid the foundation for the unification of her country under their grandson, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. In addition to defending against external threats from Portugal, and leading a fierce “reconquista” to take Granada back from Muslim occupiers, she was also the one who financed Columbus’s voyage to the New World, which opened Spain’s golden age of exploration and spread the Catholic faith around the globe. She and Ferdinand were also instrumental in confronting and rooting out corruption in the Church and elsewhere in their country — so much so that the pope bestowed on them the title “Los Reyes Catolicos” (The Catholic Sovereigns). And she did this while raising five young children. (Do we see a pattern here?)

Isabella was one very tough lady, who challenged nearly every cultural norm of her day. Take a look at this exerpt from one junior high history book, which describes a time when Castile was under seige and on the brink of disaster: Isabel, now pregnant again, rode from town to town to get help. She raised troops, money and supplies. Isabel put her trust in God and spared herself not at all, riding tirelessly. At the end of June she took personal command of several thousand troops and drilled them expertly. They were animated by her spirit and her faith. Eventually she had assembled an army of 42,000 in Valladolid. (In the months leading up to the birth of one of her children, Isabella rode over 2,000 miles on horseback.)

Wiktoria Ulma was a Catholic wife and mother in Poland during the Nazi occupation. She and her husband Jozef had six young children and were expecting a seventh. But in those extraordinary times, they believed God was calling them to an extraordinary level of service to others: they sheltered several Jewish refugees in their home, despite the danger this might mean for themselves and their children. Eventually, Nazi patrols reached the Ulma home and caught them harboring these Jews — and the entire family was dragged into the street and shot. The story can be found here and here.

MYF and I can’t presume to read the mind of God, and aren’t privy to any requests He may have made of Sarah Palin’s family. But it seems to us that it is quite possible, and perhaps even probable, that at this extraordinary juncture in our nation’s history she might be one of the instruments He has chosen to share her gifts of leadership — five children and all. And perhaps it is precisely because she has five children, including the one whom 90% of other families would have exterminated, that God has chosen to call her onto the national stage at this time. She may be the one God wants to use to promote and defend an authentic culture of life, at precisely the time when the other side has nominated a man who thinks basic questions about when babies get human rights are “above his pay grade.”

As I said, I can’t presume to read the mind of God. But I do know this: I’m sure glad Queen Isabella didn’t retreat behind the castle walls with her kids, when it was clear God was calling her to a great role on the world stage. If God is calling Sarah Palin to that same stage…well, God bless her and her family for answering that call.