Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Contract Keeping, Part II

Part I of Contract Keeping covered some of the details of the current complicated situation surrounding debt ceiling, continuing resolutions, and implementation of Obamacare. There’s a contrast between what the president says about the high priority of keeping our contract to pay our debts and the way he disdains contracts and commitments at will.
So it is with thought of contract keeping that we take a look at presidential choices during the government partial (17%) shutdown.
·        He has shut down and refused access to a privately owned hotel and restaurant along the Blue Ridge Parkway—which wasn’t closed. He has used federal money to hire forces to barricade access, losing even the income the private entity would have paid if allowed to operate. I can’t tell from the story whether the inn is on private land or is private property on leased public land. I haven’t read the contract, but I believe this business owner and any others similarly affected have a right to sue over breach of contract, and certainly can sue for government’s seizure of private property.

·        He tried to shut down the parking lot to Mt. Vernon—a privately owned property on private land—because the parking lot is jointly owned between private entities and the federal government. Federal resources were used to blockade the parking lot, but no resources would have been spent to leave the space open. No word on what urgent treasury need was satisfied by this additional expense and intrusion on private property. Again, I haven’t read the contract about the jointly owned parking lot, but I bet there’s nothing in there warning that the government can arbitrarily cut off use without emergency safety cause.

·        He has evicted people from their privately owned homes located on park lands at Lake Mead. He used federal money to make the evictions happen. He didn’t simply say, “You won’t have federal services while in your home, so you’ll need to depend only on state and other jurisdictions.” No, he says you can’t live in your home that you own—on property for which you have a long-term lease contract. The president is saying that, if you have a lease contract with the federal government, it is null and void during a temporary partial shutdown, and you must therefore be prevented from using your personal property until the president gives his express permission. Any other landholder would be taken to court and would lose for this breach of contract. I would like to see a lawsuit against the president personally, since this is his doing.

Mt. Rushmore backside view,
because the front view was closed
·        The president not only shut down national parks, he used taxpayer dollars to pay officials to block views from the road. On the paid-for road leading through Mt. Rushmore National Park, all the viewpoints were barricaded, and officers were stationed to keep cars and buses from stopping to take photos of the very visible mountain. Certainly the only reason the whole Mt. Rushmore wasn’t covered with a curtain was the logistics of hooking up a piece of fabric so large.

·        There were four soldiers recently killed in Afghanistan. What usually happens is that there is a grant of $100,000 within three days, to cover funeral expenses and other immediate needs of the family at the time of crisis, while waiting for other death benefits to be issued. But our president couldn’t keep that promise—because it would hurt the public more if the promises weren’t kept. There was enough outcry over this failure to our troops that Fisher House, a private charity for injured veterans and their families, offered to make the payments as needed during the shutdown. The president accepted the offer, insuring he would have the government repay the debt after the end of the shutdown. Several problems here: first, we have plenty of money in the treasury for the essential government role of the military—including keeping our promises to our soldiers. Choosing to break this contract is despicable. In addition, the president has no power to commit the federal government to additional debt—as he did with Fisher House; only Congress can do that. Meanwhile, the House had two months ago passed a bill to fund the military, and just to be certain, also passed a bill to guarantee these payments to families after military losses be paid. The bill sat on Harry Reid’s desk—with him saying it was moot now that the Fisher House arrangement had been settled. Then, because of bad optics, he had it quietly passed in the dead of night.
There are additional ridiculous measures the president has taken, beyond outright breach of contract, simply to cause pain to the American people.

barricades removed from WWII Memorial
·        The open air Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was closed, by barricade, to prevent aging veterans from visiting. Meanwhile a group of illegal aliens are granted access to the National Mall (where, if reports are true, the federal government built a platform stage for their use) to demonstrate for a path to citizenship. In response, this past weekend there was a peaceful, large gathering on the National Mall, where demonstrators cleaned up the space—including placing the unneeded barricades neatly in front of the White House.

·        In Utah, where 70% of land has been claimed by the federal government, local authorities decided to peacefully remove the barricades to allow people to drive through the people’s park land and look around; it was costing more to keep people out than to let them in. And it was harming the local economy, which is forced to depend on public lands. Eventually the state made a deal to pay for parks to be open during the shutdown, so the federal government couldn’t claim penury as the reason for forbidding access to most of the state.

·        There were public drinking fountains in the Alleghenies and C&O Canal area, where he had faucet handles removed so water could not be accessed. The plumbing was already paid for. The water came from wells. It certainly cost more to remove water access than it could have cost to monitor water contamination for what is expected to be no more than days or weeks. Petty and mean-spirited? Yes.
There are a few clever phrases and appropriate epithets for the president that have come up during this shutdown:
·         The Spite House
·         Campaign of Pain
·         “Make It Hurt”
·         Barrycades
·         Intransigent
A couple of good pieces about the “make it hurt” policy are Bill Whittle’s Afterburner video and a piece by John Stossel called “Shutdown Theater.”
It may be that the ridiculousness of the “Spite House’s” “Campaign of Pain” is getting through to the lesser informed. The president’s approval rating is now historically low—lower than George Bush’s ever was, even with a continuous media screed against him. And this president still enjoys a fawning media (with just occasional chinks). An informal poll on a liberal college campus in Colorado showed overwhelming blame for the shutdown going to the president and democrats. I’m sure the president would see that as unexpected.
I am always in favor of clarity and truth. It may be that truth about the president is escaping into the general consciousness. It is possible that standing up to this bully at this moment in history could turn out to be a very worthwhile opportunity for truth to be better understood.

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