The economy has shown a great deal of improvement in recent months, but we have much further to go before it can safely be said that things have returned to normal. The state of the housing industry is a case in point.

Builders may be having a somewhat easier time selling homes now that unemployment appears to be gradually improving; new-home inventories are at a 42-year low. However, when it comes to building new homes or finishing out existing projects, they are almost as bad off today as they were at the low point of the recession, and they’ll stay that way until banks restore the flow of credit for housing production.

Small home builders continue to suffer from a severe lack of credit. Without access to financing, keeping the doors of their businesses open is a constant challenge and responding to rising housing demand becomes nearly impossible.

At this point in the recovery, builders should be contributing mightily to economic growth, triggering demand for a wide range of goods and services, creating jobs and boosting consumer confidence. We have been able to make gains, but how far we can take this recovery remains a big question as long as banks continue to regard real estate loans as too risky to consider.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill recently acknowledged the seriousness of this situation and have sponsored a bill creating a residential construction loan guarantee program to encourage and support lending to builders with viable projects. H.R. 5409, the Residential Construction Lending Act, would establish an effective foundation for enabling housing to regain its health.

Further gains in both the housing and job markets are clearly needed to raise the economy from its worst downturn since the recession, and ending the housing credit crisis needs to be a top national priority for achieving this objective.

Mark Patterson

president, Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Maine

Augusta

Democratic opposition to civil rights ancient history

Recent letters have pointed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Democratic congressional votes against that act as an example of historical Democratic intolerance of social progress.

Although historically accurate, that vote and the subsequent changes to the political map of the United States clearly demonstrate the opposite.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had as significant an impact on the U.S. political map as the Civil War had 100 years earlier. This law was passed by a Democratic president and Congress with the help of Republicans and despite the efforts of the Deep South congressional contingent, who were primarily Democrats and had been since Andrew Jackson.

However, beginning with the presidential election of 1964, those “Democratic” states supported Republican Barry Goldwater primarily because he was one of the leaders in the Senate who fought the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The Deep South had never supported a Republican candidate for president until 1964, when Goldwater carried every Deep South state.

This has become the rule rather than the exception since that election. Just as the election of a Republican, Abraham Lincoln, had driven the Deep South further into the Democratic Party, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 transformed the Deep South from Democratic to Republican. It has remained so since.

Therefore, any attempt to link the pre-1964 Southern Democrats (e.g., Bull Connor, George Wallace, et al.) with the current Democratic Party is either historically ignorant or deliberately misleading.

Gerry Langlois

Old Orchard Beach

Like banks, some brands can become too big to fail

Beware of your blue-collar coffee, it’ll cost you in the end.

Seattle’s Best, acquired by Starbucks in 2003, displayed a new logo design just as the brand was rolled out at more than 20,000 new retail shops. The plan is to sell a basic version of Seattle’s Best in thousands of new locations, including Subway and Burger King.

Why would they do that? Look at the logos that are popular with blue-collar companies that want to impact every aspect of your life, like Target, Walmart and Starbucks.

Understanding that Starbucks is the No. 1 coffee selection in a certain upper-class demographic and those trying to be upper-class, another corporate giant begins to look for ways to influence different economic and social cross-sections of the country. As with a car company that has many different models and price points, or a large mortgage company with a product for everyone, it seems that these retailers might get so big they won’t be allowed to fail.

What if research proves that caffeine is horrible for you in any amount? What if it becomes too expensive to grow coffee?

What if trade barriers are influenced and it becomes so expensive, like gas, that people switch to a more economical fix (like a smaller car)?

I guess you can’t blame them, it works. They have the money to roll out for free coffee for a week to get you hooked before charging you. They know once they get your coffee order, they can get your lunch and breakfast order as well. It’s the perfect model for crushing small business and taking an even larger market share.

I’ll stick with the Oh No Cafe, selling Coffee by Design, and Kitchen and Cork, selling Carpe Diem.

Hell, I’ll stick with anyone as long as they don’t make an obvious push to someday get my tax money. Buy local!

David Hopkinson

Portland

Nemitz brings Guard’s effort home to Maine

Thank you for sending excellent journalist Bill Nemitz to Afghanistan.

He brings the experiences of our Maine National Guard close to us here in Maine. We share their daily lives and learn what they’re up against!

It must also be a source of comfort and pride to their families. Maybe you’ll consider doing a piece on these families as a coda to the series?

This must be very expensive for the paper, and we should all be grateful for your efforts to inform us.

The photos are also good.

Pamela Lord

Portland