Monday, November 29, 2010


Approximately a year ago I posted the following blog post. I am reposting it because we now stand closer than we ever have to repealing the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, the Pentagon says it doesn't benefit the military, poll after poll show that a clear majority of Americans want DADT repealed and yet certain members of the look like they are going to fight the repeal so as to make the repeal fail or at least to delay the vote. This is not about the military, this is not about what the people of this country want, this is about politicians reaching for power and favors and trying to keep themselves in office. Make this difficult for them, write your senators, both republicans and democrats and tell them to repeal this misguided program, tell them to stand up against any plans to delay voting on the repeal and tell them that one of the biggest issues of this past election was voters feeling like their representatives aren't listening to them. The people have spoken over and over again on this issue and now our Senators need to listen to us and act accordingly.

Find out how to contact your Senators here,
and take the time to contact them, then repost this information everywhere you can so the Senate has no choice but to listen to us and to start supporting our troops, all of our troops.


Thoughts about a homecoming story.

Listening to the radio on my way home from work tonight I heard a reporter tell the stories of a few military families as they waited for their loved ones to return home from Iraq. They talked about their excitement and joy at getting to see their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, boyfriends and girlfriends again for the first time in many months. They talked about the pride they feel knowing that their loved one is sacrificing so much for their country. They talked about the sacrifices they themselves make, waiting at home, anticipating that next letter or call or email. Making sure that they take advantage of every chance to tell their sailor or marine how much they love them and how proud they are of them.

A few minutes into the story the magic moment arrived. In the background you could hear the sound of buses pulling up and a growing wave of cheers, shouts, and cries of joy. The reporter related in great detail the scene of uniformed men and women rushing from the buses and being swept up in a wall of hugs and tears and  kisses. I could easily visualize the scene the reporter talked about and could feel how powerful and joyful of a moment this had to be for everyone involved.

Well almost everyone. The reporter then turned to a family who could only stand and watch as the other families greeted their returning heroes. The father in the family explained that it had been their plan all along to be there that day, to greet his son as he stepped off the bus, to give him the kind of hug that only seems to be possible after a long separation. Sadly this wouldn't be possible as their son had been killed in Iraq, still, they wanted to share a little bit of the joy the other families were feeling. It made my heart hurt a little less for them knowing that the other families were doing everything they could to help them through this, that they were willing to take a break from their celebrations to help this family who could only celebrate their memories, to acknowledge that they were all part of a bigger family, a military family, and that like any good family they would be there for each other to lean on.

I was still sad for one other group though, this group was never mentioned in the story, and it is possible that that particular day they weren't even there. I know that this forgotten group of American heroes is often present on days like this though and it saddens me greatly.

Imagine stepping off the bus having just returned from a long deployment, risking your life every day for the country you love. Imagine looking out into that sea of people waiting for the return of you and your fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines. Imagine looking out into that crowd and not seeing the person that you love the most. Worse, imagine stepping off that bus and seeing the person that you love so much but not being able to run to him or her and throw your arms around them and kiss them with the passion you feel for them deep in your heart, a passion intensified by the months you have spent apart. Imagine the distance that separated you all those months seemed even greater because you had to temper all of your letters, your emails, your phone calls so as to keep your love for each other a secret. Imagine all of this. Imagine the loneliness, imagine the empty feeling you would have knowing that you have to wait to get that welcome home kiss, that "thank God you are back" embrace, and the reason that you have to wait is because of the government of the very country you have been risking your life for.

Thanksgiving is upon us and I think we owe it to the fine men and women who serve our country and who also just happen to be gay or lesbian to be able to get that kiss, that embrace upon seeing the person they love for the first time in months. They deserve to be able to serve their country as who they are, Americans. Americans who just happen to love someone of the same gender. We should let them be as thankful for living in this great country as we are, and that means never making them question why they are giving up so much to fight for a nation that is forcing them to live a lie.


So, indulge me for a few minutes here as I break into a discussion of macroeconomics and current US economic policy.

Currently the Federal Reserve Bank is doing its best to encourage inflation. By keeping interest rates as low as they can possibly keep them they are trying to get consumers and businesses to spend money and crank up demand. The government has also pumped a lot of newly printed money into the economy which tends to lower the value of the dollar which when combined with the theoretical increase in demand created by artificially low interest rates should cause prices to rise, in other words, inflation.

Why would the Fed want to cause inflation? Simple, it is relatively easy to control inflation as you can simply raise interest rates and quell demand. So if something less than positive has to happen the Fed seems to think that inflation is the way to go, especially since the alternative, deflation, scares the guys at the Fed more than almost anything else in the world.

So let's talk about deflation for a second. Deflation is basically a way of saying that prices are falling, which of course sounds great. We all love getting a deal and walking into a store to find that everything is cheaper than it was the week before sounds like a pretty exciting prospect, especially when this happens during a bad economy and so many of us are watching our spending so closely.

This is where it gets tricky though, you see deflation is often times caused by a bad economy causing consumers and businesses to reduce their spending. As demand decreases manufactures reduce production and reduce their workforces, these layoffs cause an even greater reduction in demand which also leads to a reduction in prices to try and clear old merchandise off of stores shelves. This reduction in prices is of course, deflation. So prices start dropping, but they tend to drop in a rather gradual manner. Consumers knowing that prices are dropping can then enter something of a waiting game, patiently holding off on purchasing to see just how low the price might go. So even while prices are dropping consumers may still not spend at levels to raise demand to levels that would inspire companies to hire and even worse these same companies are making less money on each item sold and so they might even result to further layoffs to save money. This out of control downward trend is known as a "deflationary spiral" and there isn't much the Federal Reserve Bank can do to slow it down once it starts. Many believe the Great Depression can be explained as a deflationary spiral.

Add to this the fact that deflation hurts borrowers. When we enter a deflationary period we know that prices go down, this decrease in price is accompanied by an increase in the value of the dollar as each dollar can buy more. If you take out a loan with set monthly payments, of say $300.00, then as prices decline, but your loan payments remain the same, then you are actually paying more each month as your $300.00 has gone up in value.

Let's look at our current economic situation. Demand is low because of high unemployment and a slow economy. Savings rates are higher than they have been in years which reduces the amount of currency in circulation and would tend to increase the value of the dollar.  So it seems that we should be experiencing deflation right now. But we aren't.

Currently we are experiencing very low levels of inflation, barely over 1%, but prices are still rising when it seems that they should be dropping. Why is this? Well the Fed's effort to spur inflation is working, just not in the way it should. Instead of low interest rates increasing demand, which isn't happening to any great extent (banks are still rather hesitant to loan money and so the lower interest rates aren't allowing consumers and businesses to spend more) what they are doing is, however, having an effect on the value of the dollar on the international currency market. The dollar has been maintaining a fairly low value against other currencies because of the low interest rates set by the Fed, this means that the price of imported goods, which are much of what we buy these days, stays up and, in my opinion, is responsible for keeping us from entering a deflationary period.

But just as prices aren't dropping as we might have expected them to several decades ago before the manufacture and production of so many of the goods and items we purchase shifted to other countries so of the negative aspects of deflation might not occur as we would expect.

Lets say the Fed started promoting deflation instead of inflation. The first thing the Fed would do is raise interest rates. Currently I think this would have a very minor impact on demand in the US economy as banks won't be any less likely to loan money with high interest rates than they have been with low interest rates, in fact they might be willing to loan more cash as they would see higher possible profits once interest rates were raised. Raising interest rates would cause an increase in investor demand for US currency though as the value of our currency increased. This would cause money to be removed from circulation which would cause a further increase in the value of the dollar and a decrease in the prices consumers pay at the store.

If the value of the dollar increased quickly enough and prices fell fast enough I don't think we would see consumers waiting for even lower prices, especially if there is pent up demand that lower prices could tap into by overcoming consumer caution. We also wouldn't see major layoffs in the US as most of the manufacturing jobs negatively impacted by deflation have already moved out of the US and those jobs wouldn't be as negatively impacted because the reduction in the end prices paid by consumers would be offset by the increase in the value of the dollar being paid to these foreign manufacturers.

So we could see reduced prices, increased demand, and no real unemployment threat if we venture into deflationary territory. Yes, borrowers would still be negatively impacted, but the current economic situation is hurting them just as much. So please, if anyone reading this knows someone at the Fed tell them to reconsider their forecasting models, it seems they would have worked great 40 years ago, but they come up short in the global economy. Go Deflation!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Economic localvores

OK, I am not a fan of organic foods. Plain and simple I can't find any firm scientific evidence that organically produced foods offer any real health benefits, but I can see lots of economic reasons to not purchase foods labeled as "organic". Organic foods cost more, plain and simple, they are also very popular currently and so more and more food producers are jumping on the organic bandwagon. Do not be misled, just because food is produced in a way that allows it to be labeled as organic does not mean that it was produced on a small farm, by a farmer interested in protecting your health and the health of the environment. Much of the organic food we find in our local grocery stores is produced by large corporations and is produced in ways that mean it takes more land to produce the same amount of food. The simple use of land for agriculture is harmful to the environment because it displaces local flora and fauna if nothing else, and quite often it is produced half way around the world and comes with less shelf life than normal production methods and so it has to be shipped in ways that use more fossil fuels and harms the environment even more. Also the increase in organic food production could, if it hasn't already, cause an overall increase in the price of things like fresh produce making it harder for low income families and individuals to afford a healthy diet.

So no, I don't care for organic foods, I do, however, think that buying locally produced foods is a wonderful idea. Not only are you purchasing foods that took less energy to transport to your grocery store but you are also buying food that tends to be fresher, buying produce that had a chance to stay "on the vine" longer and that will probably taste better, and you are also supporting your local farmers and agricultural workers. Buying local, becoming a localvore, is a wonderful idea with very few drawbacks in my opinion.

Being a localvore can go way beyond food though. If you bank with a locally owned and operated bank there is a good chance that you won't be dealing with the people that pushed the high risk loans that helped to cause the current mortgage crisis. If you buy from a locally owned retailer you will be helping your local economy more than if the profits from your purchase are sent to another state or another country. If you deal with local companies the layers of bureaucracy you have to go through to get satisfaction if there is a problem with your purchase will probably be reduced.

Buying locally, locally produced goods, from retailers based in your area, from service providers who are your neighbors, makes sense for all of us. We all suffered because we allowed corporations to get "to big to fail". Lets instead start supporting companies that are small enough to care, it might be a little more expensive in the short run but in the long run it might help us save, not just money but our overall economy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Biblical Authority

This past Sunday my partner and I were in Plains, GA to see some friends of ours. One of our friends happens to be the pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains which is a small church but a remarkably well known church as well, you see Maranatha counts one of the most famous Sunday school teachers in the world as one of its members, former President Jimmy Carter.

President Carter still teaches Sunday school as often as his schedule will let him and he was in Plains and teaching so we were able to enjoy his class this past Sunday. He entered the crowded room filled with people from around the country there so they could get as close to a President of the United States as they could and he started off asking the same question he asks at the beginning of all of his classes, "Are there any visitors here today?"

This is a man who is 86 years old and still quick as can be and completely on top of his game. Not only is he still well respected around the world but he also has the ability to stir things up in his own home town. In his lesson he read Romans 13:1-3, verses in which the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome. Let me quote the verses for you from the New International Version Bible;

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.

This is an interesting bit of text, you see Paul is telling the church in Rome that they should not stand up to the Roman government because the Roman government only exists because God allows them to exist and going against the government is to go against God. Of course this forces us to ask some rather unpleasant questions, if we had lived in Nazi Germany would we have been wrong to stand up against Hitler's government? Were the Vietnam war protesters in the US wrong in the eyes of God? Must Christians sit back and say nothing against their government and simply follow all of the laws and regulations the government establishes? 

I commend President Carter for raising these questions and turning an event that for most is simply a formality they must sit through in order to get their photo made with President Carter into a moment in which all of us were forced to stop and think about what it is that we actually believe.

Many individuals in the Tea Party movement would consider themselves Biblical literalists, taking every word in the Bible as the word of God, but if this is what they believe how can they rail against our government so strongly? How can any of us follow a God that would command us to accept a regime like the Nazis, could God be responsible for putting monsters like this in power?

President Carter offered a very reasonable answer, although I must admit it was a bit surprising to hear from a Southern Baptist in a church in rural Southern Georgia. President Carter reminded us all that the church in Rome was very small when Paul wrote to them, very small and very vulnerable. The Roman government could have easily have crushed the Christian Church in Rome with little effort and President Carter argued that Paul was advising the church in Rome to not make waves, to lay low, to avoid attracting attention. Paul according to President Carter was advising the church in Rome that to stand up against the Roman Government would be the end of the church in Rome and so the best way to serve God was in fact to respect the authority of the Roman government in this case. He then added that this information was specifically for the church in Rome and that it probably didn't apply today.

President Carter was saying that not every word in the Bible applies to us today and that if we were ever in doubt we should compare the passage we are having doubts about to the teachings of Jesus Christ himself and if the two are in conflict to rely on Christ's teachings. This would be considered by many Christians to be a rather radical statement as they believe that the Bible is the word of God and to go against any of it (even though it does seem very self contradictory in many places) is to go against God. Of course this means that the Tea Partiers were sinning with all of their calls to stand up to the US government and it means that anti-abortion protesters should stand down and accept the right of a woman to have an abortion as this right came from a government which Paul tells us was established and endorsed by God.

So maybe these verses from Romans will be what causes many Biblical literalists and Christian fundamentalists to decided that not every word of the Bible was intended for them or for our time. Maybe they will start to see the Bible as more of a living document that has to be read with the perspective that comes from living in the 21st century. Of course this would make it hard for them to defend the stance that most Christian Churches have taken against gay marriage, it would make it hard for them to not fight as hard as they can for things like universal health care, support for the poor, help for the disabled, and to fight for the equality of all man-kind.

You raise an interesting question President Carter, do we listen to Paul and simply let the government do as it will as it is an extension of God's power? Or do we follow the example set by Christ and focus on the needs of the poor and marginalized in our society who Jesus always stood up for? This is an easy one for me to answer, I just wish we could get an answer to this question out of all of the major religious leaders in our country. And I bet they will be talking about this in Plains for a few days to come.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The 2 party system must end.

In 2008 the economy was in terrible shape and Americans were angry with how George Bush and the Republicans had been running the country. So what did the voters do? They did the only thing they could, they voted in a bunch of Democrats.

Now in 2010 the economy is in terrible shape and Americans are unhappy with how Barrack Obama and the Democrats are running the country. So what did the voters do? They expressed their anger in the only way they can, they voted in a bunch of Republicans, you know, members of the party that they were so angry with two years earlier that they replaced many of the Republicans in Congress and many Republican governors with Democrats. They took the party that was seen as being responsible for the severe economic down turn and put them back in power because they really didn't see any other way of punishing the Democrats who they were not happy with.

Imagine if there had been other choices besides the Democrats and Republicans in this elections. Imagine if there had not just been a viable third party but a viable 4th and 5th and 6th parties as well. Some people will imagine this and think it sounds like chaos, but to me it sounds like a way to make government work.

With just 2 parties there is little incentive for either party to try and govern effectively. They realize that it is easier, far easier, to win elections by making the other party look bad than it is to win elections by governing effectively. This is why between 2008 and 2010 the Republicans became the party of "No" and offered steadfast resistance to any policies promoted by the Democrats no matter what the policies were. Now that the Republicans control the house I would be willing to bet money that Democrats in the House will take on a much more obstructionist stance as they see it as the easiest way to stand out in voter's minds. In other words we have institutionalized grid lock and a nearly complete inability to deal with the problems facing our nation.

But if you had five parties in Congress with similar numbers of representatives things would change considerably. Any two of these parties could join up (and since the divisions between the parties would probably be diluted with the inclusion of more parties the likelihood that two parties would join up should increase) and get a considerable amount of legislation passed. This means that all the parties would be encouraged to start working together to make themselves look good instead of just trying to make one other party look bad. Additional parties would also help spread out the money being donated by large corporations and other special interest groups and reduce their over all influence.

So what do we do? Continue swapping out the 2 parties every few years or do we eliminate the 2 party system and make our government work again?