Category Archives: The Outside World

The Economy Explained

There are, according to the last census, 308,745,538 people in the United States and we come in all varieties, racially, economically, socially, spiritually, gender-ly, etc. etc. Plus there are scad-zillion businesses, organizations, groups, churches, schools, and other outfits to consider. All of which tends to make “the National Economy” seem impossibly complicated. Throw in a little jargon (think: hedge fund derivatives, unsecured debentures) and we’re just as happy to leave it to the experts, since who could possible understand the problem, much less the solution.


I’ve decided that the issues troubling our economy are essentially the same as those of an imaginary large family, writ large. So:

Let’s say your family has fallen on hard times and is going deeper into debt. You’ve already cut out all the obvious luxuries – you don’t eat out, have cable TV, go on vacations, or buy new clothes. You cut each other’s hair, grow your own vegetables, and reuse plastic bags, but it isn’t enough savings. Now you’ve started skimping on significant things – the driveway is impassible and Grandpa needs to see a doctor.

What do you do?

Suppose there are ten people in your family. Three are too old, too young, or too sick to work, so they don’t contribute any money. Four work at lower or middle class jobs and chip in what they can, but it isn’t enough to keep the family afloat. Two make lots of money at professional jobs, but have resisted paying more than the family members employed at jobs like parking lot attendant or kindergarten teacher. One has millions in savings, but doesn’t think he should pay anything, because he isn’t presently working.

See where I’m going with this?

Introduction to the Law, Chapter One

There are two basic kinds of law – statutory and common law.
Statutes are the laws passed by state and federal legislatures.
Federal law includes:
Rights guaranteed in the constitution. These are a “floor” but not a “ceiling.” In other words, states may pass laws that give their people more rights than are guaranteed in the constitution, but the states must provide their people at least these rights.

Example: The United States constitution has been interpreted to require that all indigent criminal defendants facing a possible sentence of 60 days or more have an appointed lawyer if they can’t afford them. The U.S. constitution does not require a free lawyer for appeals, but the states provide one anyway.

Federal laws also govern things considered too important to have variation among the states, or that concern the country as a whole. For example, it was long ago decided that it would be better to have one postal system, one armed forces system, and one type of money, rather than letting states create their own. Federal regulations also govern issues that are considered to affect everyone and that it’s important to have standardized, such as the testing of new drugs and regulation of air travel.

State laws include all the statutes that a state passes governing whatever they want to have rules about, as long as these statutes don’t violate the federal constitution or try to govern a subject that the feds already have a claim on. So, a state cannot have its own special laws on the cost of postage or the requirements to join the army.

The theory is that it’s better to allow the states to “experiment” with laws in various areas, and then maybe the more successful ideas might spread to other states. Areas of life governed by state law include:

Laws about schools and education.
Laws about marriage, divorce, and the rights of parents.
Criminal law – which behaviors are a crime, the punishments, the procedures.
Laws addressing state institutions, such as state parks, the state budget, the state police, and so on.

But, no matter how detailed these state and federal laws are, there are always new situations that aren’t covered by any law, or that require a court to interpret the laws on the books. Plus, people hate to lose, so they often appeal the result of a trial. The appellate courts then decide whether the trial judge made a mistake that requires reversing of changing the decision.

For example, under North Carolina law, once a court has decided who has custody of a child, the custody arrangement cannot be changed without a “substantial change in circumstances.” You can imagine how quarrelling ex-spouses fight over what is a substantial change of circumstances.

Let’s suppose that someone appeals a child custody determination and argues that since their ex-wife has joined the army, there is a substantial change of circumstances. What would you consider in deciding this? Whether she is stationed overseas or in the U.S.? Who else is in her household? Other factors?
Okay, so let’s suppose the appellate courts of the State of Confusion rule that when a parent enlists in the armed forces, this is automatically a change in circumstance that entitles the other parent to seek a change in custody.

That rule, whether it’s a good one or a stupid one, becomes the law in that state. Because this rule was announced by a court interpreting the statute, it’s called a “common law” rule. The “common law” is all the rules, holdings, and decisions of appellate courts. Statutes are laws passed by a congress, and the common law is found in decisions in appeals that interpret the statutes

So, if there is an outcry in the State of Confusion, maybe the state legislators in Confusion will pass a new law stating that “the trial court may not consider a parent’s service in the armed forces as a change of circumstances unless there is additional evidence showing that the parent’s service has caused a substantial change in the child’s daily life.” Then that statute trumps the common law.
But as soon as that law is passed, people will be back in court arguing over what is required to demonstrate that a parent’s enlistment has “caused a substantial change in the child’s daily life.” And round and round we go.

Retirement Party Contest!

Retirement for TrendSpeak Phrases:

I’ve decided to retire a few phrases I’m thoroughly bored with.

First up: “It is what it is.”


If you have suggestions for other words or phrases that should be retired, let me know.
Winners will be selected and will receive a Really Great prize, of some sort.

Where’s Joe?

I’m looking for Joe Biden.
Has anyone seen him since the election?

I mean, besides that one time when he drank a beer
in the Rose Garden with those other guys?

If you see him, ask him to contact me, ‘k?

Where's Joe?

I’m looking for Joe Biden.
Has anyone seen him since the election?

I mean, besides that one time when he drank a beer
in the Rose Garden with those other guys?

If you see him, ask him to contact me, ‘k?

Time to Stand Tall

Dear President Obama,

I really do admire and applaud your bipartisan spirit and efforts to find common ground with the Republicans in congress. Perhaps I’m naive, but I actually hoped and expected that your approach might prove contagious and usher in an era of cooperation.
Such has not been the case. Unfortunately, the branch of the Republican Party getting the media attention consists of those who have not shown any sincere desire to cooperate or to reach any bipartisan agreement on any issue.
Worse yet, we’ve been subjected to a parade of absurd, baseless distractions, instead of a substantive debate.
Remember these “issues” –
1. Is Barack Obama really an American citizen? We’ve seen his birth certificate and the birth announcements in the paper, but can we be sure?
2. If doctors are allowed to get medicare reimbursement for consultation about end-of-life issues, doesn’t this mean there will be “death squads” and we’ll all have to justify our existence to a “death panel”?
3. Health insurance reform is socialism!
4. False outrage over “indoctrination” when you tell school children to study hard and stay in school.

We already have roads, a postal system, armed forces, schools, libraries, police and fire protection — all paid for with taxes. These aren’t considered “socialist” institutions. Why is it any different to add basic health care to this list of things that we as a society want to guarantee our citizens? We don’t buy special insurance to be allowed to drive on the roads, call the fire department, or attend public school.

But, let’s get to the point.
You’ve been kind of wimpy about this.
Time to man up, dude.
Out here on the front lines, we’re getting a bit restless. Brows are furrowing. This isn’t about reaching a compromise with folks who don’t want to compromise. It’s about reassuring us that you’ve got the strength and the nerve to stand up for us.

Bipartisanship is a worthy goal. But, doing what’s best for the American people is more important than a political abstraction. People are getting sick and dying while congressmen bicker. Trust me on this – we’d rather see you lose swinging that keep on being so timid.
Stand tall on Wednesday.
The masses out here need to know that you can and will do that.

Excuse me, can I have a hand, I need to hop off this soap box.
Here’s hoping for a fiery speech tomorrow!
Give ’em hell!

Photos from Bellingham

See the banner picture of sunset?
Sunset, I might add, which was occurring at 4:30 in the afternoon!

I took it with a cell phone while in Bellingham.
Here are a couple of others:

This was in the Bellingham Farmers’ Market


And some posters in a window, with artistic reflections –