Not So Fast

Fed Chairman Ben Bernake said last week, “the prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good.” Before making big investments in the stock market or big plans for your sales to take off, a little historical perspective might be good to consider. Here are comments from leaders the last time the U.S. faced such challenging economic turmoil (courtesy of Lance Roberts – www.streettalklive.com):

“I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or warrants pessimism… I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring, and that during this coming year the country will make steady progress.” – Andrew W. Mellon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, December 1929

“I am convinced that through these measures we have reestablished confidence.” – Herbert Hoover, December 1929

“[1930 will be] a splendid employment year.” – U.S. Dept. of Labor, New Year’s Forecast, December 1929

“For the immediate future, at least, the outlook (stocks) is bright.” – Irving Fisher, Ph.D. in Economics, in early 1930

“…there are indications that the severest phase of the recession is over…” – Harvard Economic Society,  January 1930

“There is nothing in the situation to be disturbed about.” – Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, February 1930

“The spring of 1930 marks the end of a period of grave concern…American business is steadily coming back to a normal level of prosperity.” – Julius Barnes, head of Hoover’s National Business Survey Conference, March 1930

“While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed through the worst — and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There has been no significant bank or industrial failure. That danger, too, is safely behind us.” – President Herbert Hoover, May 1930

“Gentleman, you have come sixty days too late. The depression is over.” – President Hoover, responding to a delegation requesting a public works program to help speed the recovery, June 1930

“… the present depression has about spent its force…” – Harvard Economic Society, August 1930

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Step Right Up

I played youth baseball for five seasons…and our record always seemed to be 8-8. My team lost the league finals in eighth grade basketball. Through all my years of competitive sports as a kid the only trophies I ever won were in Putt-Putt tournaments, where I had an adept skill of hitting the ball exactly where needed on the orange metal sideboards.

One of my awakenings as a parent was learning this is an ‘Every child gets a trophy’ and “Everybody’s a winner’ world. There is a box in our attic of more than 40 trophies ‘earned’ by our kids. The fact is not one is for winning a championship. Instead, they are for participation – acknowledgment that attending practices and showing up for games is somehow worthy of recognition.

There is a new law on the books here in Texas that a school district “may not require a classroom teacher to assign a minimum grade for an assignment.” Why was it necessary for our leaders to enact this legislation? Seems many districts had policies that set 50 as the lowest grade a student could receive, even if they failed to turn in an assignment or made 30 on an exam. Perhaps those in charge of education are recognizing that the by-product of No Child Left Behind Without A Trophy could be a generation without accountability. One that assumes everything always works out in the end, because they always reward me for just showing up.

I coached my son’s basketball team for six seasons, and the last two we lost the championship game. Some kids cried afterwards, saddened by coming up short for the second straight year. I didn’t know what to say. If I had it to do all over, here’s what I would tell them: “I’m proud of you for growing as a team each week. You listened, practiced hard and are a lot better than you were three months ago. You aren’t always going to win. That’s not how life is. Learn from this, and make changes that make you better.” That lesson would serve them better than some trophy that eventually ends up stored in the attic.

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Return to Yesteryear

A couple of Sundays ago we scheduled an ‘electronics free day’ at our house – which our kids met with a resounding “What! You’re kidding?” From the time we awakened until we went to bed, there was no television or radio… no e-mail or Twitter …no cell phones or iPods…no Xbox or Nintendo DS.

Instead, my wife, kids (ages 19, 15 and 11) and I did things like…oh…have focused conversations, read books and play board games. We also cleaned our house from top to bottom, discovering three overflowing bags of clothes and toys to donate to charity. From my viewpoint, it seemed all of us were more relaxed, smiled a lot and went to bed exhausted. The next morning, the kids even said, “You know, that wasn’t so bad.”

Obviously, it’s hard these days to disconnect for an extended period of time – and there were a couple of moments I admit to fighting the urge to peak at the Internet to see what was happening in the world. The bottom line is we enjoyed each others’ presence a lot, and the day turned out better than any of us expected. Then there’s the thought we used less energy, which is good for several reasons. It’s our intention to do this throwback day again in December when our daughter returns from college…and I, for one, can’t wait.

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Ending the Political Madness

Over the years I’ve served on quite a few committees…and one thing they all have in common is a specific time frame of membership. Usually it’s a three-year overlapping term. That way three people cycle off each year, so you have continuity and experience balanced with fresh ideas and perspectives.

Which begs the question: Why does government operate differently?

Would we as a nation be better served by term limits? What if the president, senators and congressmen were only eligible for a single six-year term – no re-election campaigns, no lifelong politicians?

Of course, they’ll never pass that law themselves. So, here’s a modest proposal: Run a third party in upcoming elections to vote out all incumbents. All newly elected members will sign a pledge that their sole purpose is to pass the 28th Amendment: setting a one-time six-year term for all elected national officials. Upon achieving that lofty goal, each of the interim third party members will resign, and new elections will be held. I’m thinking there’s no other way to put control back in the hands of the constituents.

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Time Passages

Two weeks ago, we put down our 16-year-old Golden Retriever. It was the first time I ever had to do something like that. We had dogs as I was growing up, but a friend of the family was called upon to handle that task on the two occasions it was needed. I recall coming home once each from high school and college, and learning we were no longer pet owners. That sort of made the whole passing of life thing a non-event; which is why I never imagined what it would feel like to go through that process.

As the day grew near, I was helping her up to go to the bathroom and she had pretty much stopped eating. We knew in our hearts it was the right thing, yet it grew increasingly more difficult to think about the inevitable. We decided on Monday that it would happen on Thursday, and the next 72 hours were filled with each of us spending time alone with her.

For a decade in our current home, whenever someone held the gate to our driveway open a second too long, she would tear out and head off to the neighbors. On Wednesday night, we opened it for her, and after pausing to give me a “Is this a setup?” look, she gingerly walked out, and we accompanied her slowly to visit her favorite yards. Then we took pictures with each of us and her.

On Thursday morning, I awakened with that queasy feeling in my stomach, knowing what would happen. As the hour drew near, I kept telling myself, “You’re her best friend, and this is the greatest gift you can give her” – then the tears flowed. When we arrived at the vet, our dog that for so many years went crazy with excitement there gingerly walked inside. We all said goodbye, then our oldest daughter and I accompanied her into the room. She looked at us with tired eyes, and I knew she was saying, “It’s OK, I’m ready.” We loved on her some more, and the vet shared what each of the three shots would do. Within five minutes, it was over, and she seemed so at peace – having lived a wonderful life.

Our family spent the rest of the day together, sharing stories and looking at pictures of our departed member. By Monday, the pain was gone, and today we smile whenever we think of her (although I still look out the window and expect to see her rolling in the grass…and think about putting her out at bedtime). Personally, I believe “All dogs go to Heaven.” After all, wouldn’t God want to have the most lovable, forgiving, loyal creatures in his Creation around him!

Addendum: When she was three, our now college-age daughter loved to have us read the Madeline books to her. One day she blurted out, “When we get a dog, I’m going to name her like Madeline’s dog.” A year later, we did…and she did. A son and another daughter followed, and the entire family is blessed to have had Genevieve in our lives.

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