Saturday, August 20, 2011

Facebook comments and jobs

When I write a new blog posting I always link to in on Facebook so my friends there will feel pressured to read it. Quite often I get comments about my blog on Facebook and after my last blog post I received a very interesting one.

A friend I went to junior high and high school with took exception to my call for a new government jobs program similar to the programs started by FDR during the Great Depression. My friend wanted to know what the government could give people jobs to do. He stated that we had all the roads and landing strips we needed and wondered how many more parks we could really use. He also argued that a program like FDR's would be ineffective because the private sector is taking care of our infrastructure needs today and so there is no reason for the government to tackle any problems we might face. These are fair questions and arguments and so I did my best to answer them.

I told him that of the 600,905 bridges in the US 72,868 are listed as being structurally deficient, an additional 89,024 bridges are functionally obsolete meaning that over 25% of the bridges in our nation are in need of serious repair or replacement. Add to this our crumbling sewage systems, road problems caused by disrepair and inability to carry current traffic loads, the fact that nearly 20% of the dams in the US are at risk of failure, and an electrical grid that is barely capable of carrying current demand and that is at risk of being shut down by cyber attacks and it seems pretty easy to see how the government could find huge numbers of jobs for people to do that obviously aren't being taken care of by the private sector. I thought I had done a good job of addressing my friend's arguments but my husband suggested that the information I listed might not really speak to the concerns of my friend. I can't say that the two of us have been terribly close since we left high school but from what I understand my friend has been pretty successful and now lives in a very nice city in Tennessee. So I started to think, how could I show someone like my friend the value of a government jobs program similar to the efforts used to pull us out of the Great Depression?

We have all heard the old saying, "Think globally, act locally" and it occurred to me that using local examples of how FDR's programs impacted people and the economy might be the best way to go. So here is my new answer to my friend's questions.

If we look at the history of the State of Tennessee from the Great Depression till today we can see several examples of how FDR's programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration benefited and are still benefiting the people who live in our state. Three small cities in East Tennessee provide a great example of this. The thing all three share in common is their proximity to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park (GSMNP). The GSMNP was chartered in 1934 and was the first national park in the US who's land and other costs were paid for in part with federal funds. All previous national parks in the US had been funded with state and private funds only. After the creation of the park a considerable amount of work had to be done to turn its rough terrain into a park that would be accessible to large numbers of visitors. Since the park was created during the Depression workers from the CCA and WPA were sent in to construct the roads and buildings and trails that would turn this rugged mountain landscape into the most visited national park in the United States. All of this work, performed by individuals being paid directly by the US government, had a great side effect in the area as the number of jobs created vastly outnumbered those produced by the work going on inside the GSMNP. Three little towns suddenly found themselves along the route a majority of visitors took to get to the GSMNP and these towns started offering lodging and food and other services for the many visitors that came to the mountains.

Gatlinburg, TN was a small, sleepy, isolated community. In 1912 it consisted of only six houses. But in 1934, the first year of the park's existence, 40,000 visitors passed through the city. In 1935 500,000 visitors passed through the city and the numbers have been going up ever since. Pigeon Forge is a town that sits a bit further out from the park but it also was changed dramatically. The main thoroughfare in Pigeon Forge, and most of the side streets are lined with hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants, and outlet malls. Dollywood, one of the most popular theme parks in the nation is located in Pigeon Forge. All of these thousands of businesses operate in a town that only had a population of 5,083 in the year 2000. Obviously finding a job is not a big problem in this community. The third town, Sevierville, sits along Interstate 40 and is the county seat of Sevier County and is much larger than either Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. A visitor exiting the interstate at Sevierville still has a 45 minute or so drive before reaching the GSMNP but that hasn't stopped the city from taking full advantage of the tourist industry. There are over 2,000 hotel and motel rooms in this city of 14,101 residents and they generate over $500,000.00 each year in tax revenues alone.

All three of these towns are perfect examples of how the job programs had a positive impact well beyond the jobs they directly created. Here's the thing, these programs ended almost 70 years ago, but in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville they are still, to this very day, creating jobs. These programs created the environment that allowed entrepreneurs in East Tennessee to succeed and bring the people in the area along for the ride. No private sector business would have ever made the huge investment and took the risk to buy the land and build the infrastructure required to create the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The government took the risk and millions of people are still benefiting from the government's actions.

Of course my friend and I don't live in East Tennessee so let me see if I can get even more local. The two of us grew up in Hendersonville, TN, a city in Middle Tennessee just outside of Nashville located on Old Hickory Lake. We both attended Hawkins Jr. High School, one of the older schools in town. The oldest section of the building was built, you guessed it, during the Great Depression and I have been told that the CCA was responsible for its construction. I can't say with 100% certainty that the CCA did build our school but knowing its age I have no reason to doubt that they did. If they did it means that my friend, and myself, both directly benefited from a federal jobs program that had ended decades earlier. We both received part of our educations in this building, this building had something to do with what we have both become and who we are today. We are both, at least to a small extent and probably to a much larger extent than we will ever realize, products of a set federal jobs programs. Programs that helped to employ millions and put food on the tables of countless households across the country and played a major part in bringing our nation out of the deepest economic crisis it has ever faced. Yes, my friend and I are the products of a set of programs that ended almost 70 years ago and that are some how still working for all of us today.

Why should we institute a major new federal jobs program in this day and age? Because we need the jobs today, because the need the infrastructure improvements today, because our economy needs the help today, and possibly most of all, because we owe it to all the people who won't be born until after all of us are gone. This isn't a choice, this is our duty as Americans.

Many complain that we shouldn't expect our children and grand children to pay for our debts. I think it would be much worse to also saddle them with the added cost of our apathy and unwillingness to act while we still have the chance.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Economic lies

It seems like everyday I hear someone on TV saying that the government can't create jobs, only the private sector can do that. I also hear people talking about cutting government spending as a way of stimulating the economy. I am sick and tired of these lies.

First of all the government can create jobs. Take a look at history for an example. FDR started several jobs programs during his administration. Not only did these programs greatly improve the infrastructure of the US they also created millions of jobs. Between 1935 and 1943 the Works Progress Administration alone (the WPA was one of many programs that provided jobs for unemployed Americans) created more than 8 million jobs. These 8 million jobs put money back in the pockets of individuals all over the US who then spent this money on food and rent and other goods. This increased demand then created even more jobs and helped pull us out of the Great Depression. There was only one problem, FDR, like many Republicans today, was strongly opposed to deficit spending.

In 1937 FDR pushed for fairly severe spending cuts. His fear of deficits caused him to pull billions of dollars out of the economy as it was recovering. The effect? The US, in 1937, plunged headfirst back into recession. Spending cuts in no way helped the economy, they sent it into a tailspin.

So why, when we know that the government CAN create jobs and therefore increase demand which in turn stimulates the economy, are we allowing our government to destroy our economy with their claims that the government can't create jobs? Even worse, when we know that spending cuts during a period of economic contraction or slow economic growth is the worst thing we can do, why are we believing the lies we are being told about spending cuts?

We need to stand up to our representatives and tell them that since businesses aren't creating jobs it is time for our government to do it. We need to tell them that unless they support a real job creation plan that we will vote against them in 2012. We need to tell them that we can pay for a job creation programs by taxing the wealthy and that history also tells us that this won't harm the economy at all. From 1945 to 1963 the US economy experienced its longest and greatest period of growth while top income tax rates ranged from 70% to 91% so obviously taxes do not in any way effect economic growth or private investment.

We have to stand up and acknowledge that we are being lied to and then stop falling for the lies.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Money, people, and politics in Tennessee

I have recently started a new job as part of a grassroots effort with the Tennessee Democratic Party. Myself and the people I work with go out each day and talk to voters, we tell them about new demographic information the Democratic party has obtained that makes it easy to see how the Democrats in Tennessee, if we get the ball rolling now, can make the 2012 and 2014 elections turn out very differently from the 2008 and 2010 elections. We work to get the Democrats we talk to excited about this information and the new path the party is on. We speak with as many people as we can each day in order to make the Democrats of Tennessee understand that we need their help. We need volunteers and we need contributions to utilize the new information and tools we have at our disposal. We do everything in our power to make it clear that Democrats can win in this state, but only if we have the help of the people who will most benefit from the election of more Democrats.

The problem is that each and every day I have people tell me that I am wasting my time. They believe that Tennessee has become a Republican controlled state and that there is nothing that I or any one else can do to change that. The sad thing is that, if we think this way, they are right. Luckily if we decide that this state is worth fighting for, and it is, if we decide that things like public schools and Medicare are worth fighting for, and they are, if we decide that we can take this state and our nation back from the wealthy, self appointed elite that now control it, and we can, then we can make all of these things happen. But only we can make all of these things happen, no one else is going to do it for us.

The Democratic Party in Tennessee is going through a period of change as we speak. For years the party operated as a "good ol' boys" network with the control of the party resting outside of the hands of the average Democrat. Well the old network has moved on. A state House, Senate, and Governor's Office in Republican hands has made the good ol' boys look for greener pastures and this has put a dent in the Democratic Party's finances. At the same time it has created a great opportunity for the rest of us. Someone has to fill the vacuum left behind and if we act now we, the average, everyday, less than wealthy, Democrats in Tennessee can step in and have our voices heard in a greater way than they ever have before.

The way we do this is easy. We get involved. The party needs your contributions of time and money. You don't have to spend 40 hours a week at party HQ and you don't have to write out a check for $5,000.00. But the time that you can spare, you know that time you normally fill playing games on facebook, and the money that you can spare, think of how much you spend each month on eating out or on going to the movies or on drinks after work, will not only be of great help, it will also get noticed. Trust me, the party knows which areas donate the most and the most regularly. The party knows the average income levels and racial make up of the areas where volunteers and donations come from. The party knows this and will take notice, but if we don't contribute there will be nothing to notice.

A great opportunity has been laid at the feet of the voters of this state. Especially those voters who may rightfully feel that the Democratic party has not paid close enough attention to the issues that effect them the most. We have the opportunity to make the Tennessee Democratic Party our party. Will we make the most of this opportunity or let it slip away?

If you would like to make a contribution to the Democratic Party of your time or money you can contact me through this blog and I will be happy to make that happen. Because together we can make it happen, we can become the change we want to see in the world.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The best day of our lives.

This past Saturday my partner, Ranger, and myself had the best day of our lives.

You see this past Saturday was our wedding day. Before you ask, no, we aren't legally married anywhere. We did, on that day, sign legal documents setting up a domestic partnership agreement, medical and financial powers of attorney, and wills, but there was no marriage license as gay marriage isn't recognized in the state of Tennessee. On that day though the lack of legal recognition didn't matter.

We had the ceremony at the bar I used to work at. We would have loved to have had the ceremony at the church we attend, but the United Methodist Church strictly forbids conducting ceremonies celebrating the love of two men or two women on church property. On that day however, the lack of recognition from our church didn't matter.

You see on that day our relationship, our love, was recognized by our families and our friends. Even though we couldn't have the ceremony at our church several members of our church took part in the ceremony. That day we stood together on the stage in a bar, a straight bar, in a run down part of town, and we publicly proclaimed our love and commitment for each other in front of the people who mean the most to us.

The crowd completely filled the room and as we stood there looking out at a group of people who were gay, straight, transgendered, black, white, Asian, young, old, wealthy, poor, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, and who were willing not to embrace just us, but everyone else in the room with us. It was a beautiful and remarkable sight to see that much love in one space. As the ceremony progressed we sang together, laughed together, cried together. All of us, in a matter of a few minutes, became a community. My partner and myself watched total strangers become friends, we saw people with almost nothing in common bond with each other over a piece of cake and a cup of punch. We saw the love we feel for each other reflected in our friends and families. What we saw, in this simple place, filled with ordinary people, was nothing short of a miracle.

We appreciate so much all of the people who were there, all of the people who helped make the ceremony possible, and all of the people who couldn't attend but sent their well wishes to us. We thought that this would be a great day, but nothing could have prepared us for how wonderful it really was. Now we are challenged to take what happened that day and keep it going, to share with others, every day, the love and community and support for each other that we saw that very special day. If you were part of our wedding day then we challenge you to do the same, that day was so incredibly special, but we should do all that we can to turn it into something ordinary. We should try and make every day just like that one, if we can share love with the people in our lives on a daily basis like everyone there did that day we won't have to worry about working to legalizing gay marriage, it will happen on its own.

Thank you so much to everyone who made our wedding day the best day of our lives.