Saturday, July 30, 2011

E-Membership Can Lead to Regular Membership

I had a wonderful experience this week. I’m not going to name the individuals, but I want to share the experience.

On Thursday evening, we had our new, reorganized, and revitalized Grange discussion held via a teamspeak conference, which is sponsored by the National Grange. The topic of the evening was the “meaning of fraternal in the Grange.”

We had a good group of members ranging from Maine to California who participated, including a brand new E-Member from Texas.

We discussed the meaning of fraternal in the dictionary and found that the origin of the word comes from the Latin for brother. The discussion then began on what it means in the Grange.

Friendship and the social aspects of fraternalism were first discussed. Then the shared experiences of the Grange were shown as a source of fraternal bonding between members. Grange leaders who give opportunities in leadership development to the members are an important part of our fraternal structure. The trait of members coming together and providing support for those who go through sad or tough times is a positive element of Grange fraternalism. Finally how the members come together to celebrate members’ milestones during life was shown to be an important ingredient of fraternalism.

The evening discussion then turned to how we can build a stronger fraternal spirit in our Community Granges. The importance of each officer doing their best during the meetings and other activities such as installation of officers and the three methods of bring new members into regular membership.

We finalized the evening with a talk about what the Master/President, Chaplain, Lecturer/Program Director, and the Graces (Ceres, Pomona, and Flora) could do to strengthen the fraternal spirit in the Grange.

At the end of the hour discussion, the new E-Member stated that he was very impressed with what we had talked about. He had also found out where the Texas State Grange and said he was going to check it out if possible.

The E-Member sent me an email this morning which stated in part, “I attended the morning session of the Texas Grange in Blanco. It was wonderful! I wish I had known about it earlier so I could have planned to spend the entire weekend, but other obligations called me away.

“I was treated as a real welcome member. Everybody was just wonderful. Master Jack Smithers had me introduced to the meeting as the “first Emember in Texas”! You should be really proud of the Texas Grange for the way they embraced the emembership program.”

The result of an hour discussion on one aspect of Grange membership was an E-Member who now is seeing what the Grange potential for members really are. The members in Texas now also have a new friend.

If you want to hear what is going on in the Grange, go to our website and check out the events. There are two to three meetings using teamspeak each month on a wide variety of topics. There are highlights of a lot of different programs and all you have to do is join in to reap the benefits of Grange membership. You can even join online as an E-Member or find a local Grange to join.

I invite you to become a part of the Grange!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Post Office Closures Affects Rural America

I checked the list of Oregon post offices that are being “studied” to determine if they should be closed. It wasn’t a bit surprising to see mostly small rural post offices on the list, as it seems the postal service isn’t that concerned with service anymore.

The current proposal to close 3,700 post offices out of about 32,000 locations will once again disproportionally affect rural America. Last year’s proposal to discontinue Saturday service and this proposal adheres to the mind-set of a bean counter. Less business in rural America and greater distances which equals greater expenses and that means we eliminate service there, while focusing on the urban areas where we make more money.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) brags that they reach every address in America- shouldn’t they be serving every American rather than appearing to want to focus only on the populated centers of the country?

I realize that the real issue is money. When the Congress made the USPS a quasi-governmental agency with the goal of being self-sufficient, they also handed them a huge debt from the employee retirement program. It would appear that Congress set the USPS up for failure and then the USPS management was forced to choose a path of reducing service rather than innovating.

What will be the cost to continue service to these areas where the local post office is closed? What will be the cost to the citizens who need to drive to the next town to mail packages that are not standard flat rate size? Will there be a delay in mail delivery for affected rural citizens, especially when things like chicks (baby chickens not mail order brides) and critical medicine are involved? Will these factors and others actually be offset by the savings of closing these small offices?

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the concept of the postal service in America and while he may not have imagined the size and scope of our nation today, I have a hunch he would not be impressed with the attitude of reducing service that the USPS is displaying toward rural America.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

S&P Ratings and the Debt

Yesterday the Standard and Poor’s Rating agency (S&P) warned again that the credit rating of the US could be downgraded unless we resolve the credit ceiling issue and start reducing the debt. I then heard the President hold a press conference and blame the other guys for not having a fair and balanced plan.

The reality of a downgrade of the US credit rating would probably not be good. While I’m not sure what may or may not happen, common sense says that one big impact would be that borrowing money would cost more. The lower your rating, the bigger the risk to the people loaning you money and the more interest they want to assume that risk. If the government pays more, so will we the people.

In 2010, net interest outlays totaled $197 billion due to lower interest rates. The scary thing is the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects (Dec, 2010) that, under current law, the combination of rising debt and rising interest rates will cause net interest payments to balloon to nearly $800 billion by 2020. If the current amount doesn’t worry you, nearing a trillion dollars in less than 10 years should. And when you consider that it seems the CBO always underestimates the cost of government over time, maybe we should be a little frightened?

Fair and balanced is a point of view. I remember a tax increase in the 1990’s where the President said we were only going to tax the rich. When my taxes went up that year, I realized that the President and I had a different view of what rich meant. While I thought I was rich in friends and family and yet had to struggle to pay my bills, the law increasing taxes on the rich caught me in the net as well.

I keep thinking that the current debt situation is because of the spending our government has been doing. All my life I’ve heard people point out stupid things that the government spends money on. When you think about the attitude of “if we don’t spend it, we won’t get it next year” it does make sense how it happens. However if we can’t find ways to cut the federal budget, oh yeah, that is another problem since Congress has not passed one in a while.

Political posturing is not the answer for the debt or economy. It only matters for elections and I'm not worried about elections next year when S&P ratings this year could harm our economy and future.

What I want is a growing economy so people can go back to work and pursue their version of the American dream. As I look around the world and back at history, I am having trouble finding a country, a company, or even a person who spent themselves into prosperity. The obvious first step to me is that our nation needs to reduce its debt. It seems only fair to me that we reduce spending first, and start now.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dam Removal is Clean Energy Reduction

The Klamath River Basin (Oregon/California) has been news for over a decade. The ongoing issues include the removal of four dams on the Klamath River Watershed to aid in fish recovery. Those four dams produce about 155 megawatts of power. I found that each megawatt provides from 400 to 900 homes with power. Assuming 500 homes per megawatt, which means those four dams, keep 77,500 homes out of the Stone Age.

Being an Oregon native, I’ve seen the importance of dams for flood control, water management, and electrical power generation. Recreational uses of the reservoirs created have also benefited local economies. I have also seen the importance of providing passage for fish both upstream and downstream from the dams.

One argument that I haven’t seen much of is the fact that when we remove a dam, we remove pollution-free electrical generating capacity. Most environmental groups oppose coal and natural gas fueled electrical generation facilities. In addition, scientists are conducting research into the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere and its impact on climate change. The release of excessive amounts of CO2 is primarily through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Regardless of your views or opinions on that issue, we need to be good stewards of the earth.

The energy consumption of our country isn’t going to be reduced - especially considering the huge energy conservation efforts we’ve made over the last couple of decades - unless of course we are willing to make major changes to our lives and eliminate things like refrigerators, air conditioners, TV’s, cell phones, and computers which all use electricity.

It seems a bit short-sighted to remove non-polluting energy sources on the chance it will help endangered fish. When nuclear, wind, solar, tidal and other non-polluting forms of energy generation are in use and providing the bulk of our energy, then let’s talk about dam removal.

I do believe that we should do our best to help endangered fish, but I’d much rather have a dam producing electricity than a coal fired plant producing power. Maybe it’s time to change the topic from dam removal to clean energy reduction.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Debt Ceiling and the Deficit

Listening to the news, it would seem that it is time for the President, our Senators, and our Representatives to actually find some solutions on the debt ceiling based on what we regular Americans already know.

First, we are spending far more than we take in. A trillion dollar deficit increases our national debt. Since 2008 we have added 4 trillion dollars to our national debt. The only way to stop growing the debt is to reduce the deficit spending to zero. It doesn’t seem that this concept is all that hard to figure out, at least for those of us who live out of the infamous beltway.

Will reducing the federal spending hurt? Of course it will. Some federal employees may lose their jobs, some people living off the flow of money from the federal government will lose their income, and some companies will need to find new clients. It will be similar to what many of us around the country have experienced over the past several years.

The upside is that without the federal government spending every available dollar, the economy may begin to grow which would provide new jobs and opportunity.

Second, the debt ceiling is about spending. Congress has demonstrated their ability, over the past decades, to spend whatever amount is collected in taxes and more. We must start the process to only spend what we collect in taxes and fees (revenue). To continue increasing the limit on the federal credit card without a plan to halt the growth of the debt is foolish at best. At worst, it is destructive to every American’s future.

In our lives, if we leave large debts, they are paid out of our estates when we die. That means our family has a smaller inheritance. For the federal government that means the following generations are left with more bills than opportunities.

Third, if we want to actually solve this problem, Congress needs to do their job and pass a balanced budget. Then we need to live within our means, just as families across our nation already do. Discussions on raising revenue (tax and fee increases) and eliminating tax credits should be a part of the budget discussion, not a negotiating tactic in dealing with the debt ceiling.

Americans know what happens when your personal or corporate debt grows too large, we go bankrupt. Watching Greece, Ireland and other countries that have failed to keep spending under control should serve as a warning to us. I’d suggest that the approach that regular Americans take toward debt be followed by our government.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Independence Day

Monday is Independence Day and it falls on the fourth of July. I hope you see a parade, display your American flag, and spend some time with your family.

This holiday weekend should include some moments of reflection for each and every American. In 1776 the Continental Congress made the decision that England didn’t care about their future and against all conventional wisdom declared independence. A group of loosely allied colonies deciding to take on the world’s superpower seemed a long-shot to most.

History tells a different story. One in which events didn’t go as expected, one where people rose to the occasion and the result was independence after 8 hard years of war. Every American should take the time to understand the conditions that led to the Declaration of Independence. We should familiarize ourselves with who our founding fathers really were and the risk they took.

Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin each impacted the effort to gain independence in dramatic ways and their names are scattered across our nation in their honor. But many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence are unknown to most Americans. These were real people who suffered real effects from their signing that unique document. Their courage, their dedication to the cause of freedom, and their sacrifice in that cause demands that we emulate them today. When they signed that document, they knew if they failed, it likely meant their life would be forfeit.

235 years of history will have passed since that historic day of July 4, 1776. Should not each American reflect on the legacy we’ve inherited and commit ourselves to ensuring that this grand experiment in freedom continues far into the future?

I will be celebrating our Independence Day this fourth of July, not the 4th day of July. The fourth is a holiday because of what happened in Philadelphia during that hot summer in 1776. Enjoy the weekend and the celebrations and family time, but don’t forget to take that moment and reflect on what we are celebrating.