Of course we won’t forget

Starting late last night I saw a lot of people changing their Facebook profile pictures to some sort of 9/11 commemorative logo, and lots of the “Never Forget” images have started appearing. I have to wonder why anyone needs this reminder.
You never see people of the WW2 generation carrying signs asking us to never forget D-Day. Our history books have not erased Lexington and Concord, Wounded Knee, the Iranian hostage crisis, or Waco from their pages, nor has time allowed them to slip from our collective memories even as the generations that lived through these events have long since passed. You don’t need to carry a sign saying “Never forget D-Day!!!!” because….

IT WAS FUCKING D-DAY. Holy shit, it was a terrible, terrible tragedy that altered the course of world history, geography, and touched hundreds of millions of lives. Just like 9/11. It was one of those events where people will always remember where they were. We don’t need t-shirts or commemorative plates or coffee mugs made in China to recall what happened that day. Thirteen years later and you can’t go a full week without someone invoking 9/11 on the news or in popular culture.

So, maybe instead of “don’t forget” we go with “don’t abuse”.

Don’t abuse the memory of that day in order to show me how “patriotic” you are. Waving a bigger flag and yelling ‘MERICA!!! at the top of your lungs doesn’t make you more patriotic. (There’s also not *one* way to show your patriotism).

Don’t abuse the memory of that day by invoking 9/11 as a way to end a conversation.

Don’t abuse the memory of that day by using what happened as political fodder. You are not a better politician or contributor to the national dialogue because you show concern for the victims of 9/11 and their families. Everyone does. That you do so with a bullhorn just makes you look like an asshole.

Don’t abuse the memory of that day to sell your message/merchandise/self/network or for a promotion.

Don’t abuse the memory of that day to try to sell the public on an unnecessary and unjustifiable war.

Don’t abuse the memory of that day for an applause line or to get facebook likes. It makes you a grade-A asshole.

Don’t abuse the memory of that day by removing it from its historical and global context.

It is impossible for anyone that lived through that day to forget about 9/11. It’s one of those events that we will never outlive and will never disappear from our collective lexicon. There are ways to honor the memory without trying to be the loudest asshole in the room, shoving your fake patriotism in everyone’s face. You might start with placing the day’s events in their proper historical context, or by drowning out those idiots following Alex Jones that still claim it was a false flag attack or the New World Order or other similar bullshit. Just please save me your holier-than-thou faux patriotic nonsense. It belittles what occurred and relegates what should be a greater conversation into the bargain bin of slogans, catch phrases and knee-jerk reactions.

Cheers.

newOlogy

A rather inopportune time for me to re-enter the blogging world as I have a million commitments at the moment. House has been coming along nicely but still a lot of work to do in the yard (and inside!). Kids. Schoolwork as I’m now enrolled at WSU 2/3 time. Work. Also looking around for a better job opportunity and trying to sleep a bit here and there.

Anyway, while this isn’t the best time to start back up with any sort of expectation of consistency on your author’s part, there is a nagging sense that I need to pull something out of my self. I’ve had this passion for writing now for as long as I can remember. Words hardly fail me (especially after a few choice ales) yet there has been this incessant mosquito as of late that’s begging me to throw out many of my preconceptions, long held beliefs, old allegiances, ideological thinking and other such nonsense, and start again. With something fresh.

I’m calling it (for now) my newOlogy. Posts will be tagged and categorized accordingly. I’m realizing that my thoughts on religion, politics, war, morality, all of these things are in such a state of flux that something here has to give. The only way I know how to work it all out is either get as smashed as one can get and blather at my wife or the bathroom mirror or some other object that doesn’t hold a mutual desire to engage in any sort of thought exercise… or…. Or I could put it all down here. Start with the basics and let you, my audience of three trash me in the comments and challenge what I’ve put out for the world to hear. At least in the latter of the two, I’ll be able to go back and see what it is that I’ve come up with.

So my next post (here in a few minutes) will be my 1st part in a long, humble attempt at a theory of everything. Or at least of those things that matter enough to debate, get worked up about, and generally raise one’s blood pressure.

 

Cheers.

Not much of a choice

We like to pretend like there is a real choice in politics, but there isn’t. Because of decades of gerrymandering safe districts, the two-parties have infected national politics with the old stereotypes of entrenched ward bosses with near lifetime appointments in both houses of Congress.

Our Presidential choices aren’t much better either. In the primary races, candidates pathetically pander to a small fraction of their party’s base that is ideologically driven and has the loudest bullhorn, no matter how much of the party they truly represent. After a candidate is chosen, they then spend the next few months and hundreds of millions of dollars pandering to just 4-6 million “undecided/swing” voters. These people largely vote with their pocketbooks in mind and are far less independent than they would have you believe.

There are, of course, the “3rd” party candidates that run too. Occasionally they are successful but usually at city-council and state legislative levels. People will tell you that you’re throwing your vote away when you vote for them, and that the mere fact that they dare to challenge the status quo of the 2 party duopoly makes them a potential “spoiler”, which is like labeling someone as being a leper.

It isn’t any wonder that people are generally fed up with politics today.

I heard this one today: “Romney and Obama are both stranded in the middle of the ocean. Who gets saved? America.”

But is it really just an either-or, two sides to the same coin choice? Looking at my options, I really don’t think so. I stand firm that I’m a limited-government type of guy, but not in a rigid Ron Paulite type of way. I’d much rather the government left me alone to make my own choices and didn’t tax me to pay for land wars in Asia to feed the coffers of plutocrats. But when asked to vote Republican, 9.9 times out of 10 I have to say no.

You can chose to blame some of what I’m about to say as one-off crazies or individual lunacy that doesn’t reflect the party as a whole. But I call bullshit. While I’m all for smaller, more efficient government, voting for a Republican on the federal level means that I support the following:

Trickle-down economics – this is of course the theory that if the already wealthy just had a bit more money and were burdened with taxes less, that they would just hire all of the unemployed people out there and the economy would have room to grow. We know this doesn’t work having tried it on more than once occasion in the last century. Currently we’re in a demand-slump. Meaning that it is weak consumer demand that is slowing down the economic recovery. The rich spend less of their income, while the middle and lower class tends to spend more of it. Until those people are spending more, we won’t see continued growth. And if wages continue to be stagnant, we’re going to be living in a Walmart economy for decades.

Science denial – Only 6% of scientists associate with the GOP. Why? Maybe because a plurality believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old and that we came about from the literal garden and a magical talking snake that told us knowledge was a bad thing. Or that they deny the very well established science on global climate change.

Crazy – The GOP has enacted or tried to enact laws that force a women to have a vaginal probe stuck in her if she’s considering an abortion. One of their reps thought that women couldn’t get pregnant if she was “legitimately raped”. A one time front-runner for POTUS claimed that the HPV vaccine made people retarded. A majority of republicans believe that the current President of the US was either born outside of the US or is a Muslim.

Imperialism – Many want to go to war with Iran preemptively, ignoring a decade of a similar failed policy in the US. Paul Ryan calls for an annual increase in military spending – indefinitely (with seemingly no way to pay for it).

Destroying the Environment – Republicans have even included it in some of their official platforms that the dissolution of the EPA is one of their priorities, as well as repealing the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. A vast majority don’t accept the overwhelming evidence that humans are the primary cause of global climate change.

 

I could go on, but I won’t. I could also point out stupid shit democrats do like react to everything bad that happens with a ban, such as the large soda ban that has taken place in New York. Their constant lip service to responsible spending while never (on their own) tackling the long-term problems we will face when it comes to entitlement spending and the growing national debt. Yes, I know exactly how we got to the mess we’re in now, but dealing with it is a whole other issue.

So, when given the choice between someone that understands science and someone that thinks rape babies don’t happen, or given the choice between someone that understands that unions have been a positive impact on the middle class for the last century versus someone that still believes in the myth of trickle-down economics, I generally, reluctantly, raise a blue flag.

 

 

*I’m drafting a post on alternative choices, as well as a sort of meta-post on where I personally stand on the important issues of the day. As always, constructive comments and suggestions more than welcome. Cheers.

Tenets of Deep Ecology – part 1

As it should be clear, Deep Ecology has had a profound impact on my views regarding the environment, ecology, economics, philosophy, and policy decisions. In order to explore this a little deeper, I’ve decided to write a few posts going over the eight main tenets of Deep Ecology as expressed by Arne Naess. Let’s start with number 1:

The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves (synonyms: intrinsic value, inherent value). These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.

There is a reason that this is the first tenet. It is certainly the most important. The underlying basis for Deep Ecology is that our value system is skewed in a direction that is completely unsustainable, is in dis-harmony with our environment, and will lead to ours and our planet’s destruction. While this was developed in the 70’s and 80’s, we’ve now become what I like to refer to as a “throw-away” culture. We value things less because they generally have less value. We’ve invented plastic eating utensils and paper plates that we just throw away in a landfill somewhere. Nothing is repairable anymore. Furniture doesn’t last and often is unable to be repaired for most consumers. Electronics and (especially) children’s toys are generally single-use items, made to be thrown away once they’ve become damaged or broken. Everything just gets thrown away and replaced from our big-box retailers.

Unfortunately, this “throw-away” mentality has permeated nearly every aspect of our lives and become a great economic achievement in the eyes of many. What this has led to is the devaluation of the entirety of nature in the minds of consumers. It isn’t easy to place that blame squarely on the shoulders of consumers though. Everything in our lives has become externalized. I’m not just talking about economic costs (which I will be posting about soon enough) but the whole process of consuming. Everything comes to us in neat, plastic-wrapped brand name packaging on nice clean shelves. Our meat is dyed a certain color so that it looks more attractive in our grocery stores. Death happens away in a hospital; birth behind a closed door in a hospital room. Our energy is produced in some far away plant, and our garbage goes away in a truck, never to be seen again. We lack value because we lack the experience associated with our consumption and our culture.

Alder forrest near the Stillaguamish River – typically this area floods a bit during the rainy season, and is frequently home to creatures big (bears, cougars) and small (beavers, frogs, pygmy owls).

Deep ecology then, asks us to experience these things for ourselves. It asks us to be dependent upon local sources of materials and energy. It asks us to be engaged in the communities we live in. It asks us to value nature the same way we do the homes we live in. It is primarily a shift in values that will bring about the change that deep ecology seeks. It begs us to ask questions like “Do I need this?” “What happens when this thing will break or my children outgrow it?” “Where was this food grown and how far has it traveled” “Who made this, and how was it made and brought to me?” “Is it sensible to fill up a recreational swimming pool when I live close to rivers, streams, lakes and the ocean?”

Asking such questions is just the first step. Shifting your world view is the goal here, and asking the tough, deep questions will help get you there. Where “there” is, is when we can come to view our forests, top soil, coral reefs, and rainforests as being at least (but likely more) valuable than television, urban sprawl, cheap plastic everything. Trees are valuable because they are trees. Not just because they give us oxygen or because they are a source of building material. Here in the Pacific Northwest, trees form their own tiny ecosystems. Ferns grow on branches where a sort of tree-soil has formed with moss. In the Redwoods, this is even more developed as there can be inches of soil on top of branches, which provides a tiny ecosystem for small plants, bugs and critters. Trees keep soil intact and prevent erosion. When they die and fall over, they actually are home to more life/pound than they were once alive. They become “nurse logs” which are home to an amazing array of life. Current Republican Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has said that he doesn’t know what wilderness areas are for, or how they are valuable other than the oil/gas/timer deposits they have there. Mr. Romney, wild areas are valuable because they are wild. They have value in and of themselves, not to mention that large wilderness areas are the only hope for speciation and evolution to continue to work, along with the only possible way to preserve biodiversity. Humans are valuable because they are humans. Not because of their economic output, or their place in society.

I’ve written more than intended here, so I’ll pick up with some of the other tenets soon. Cheers.

Searching for a new home

One thing that this housing market and terrible economy has provided is a pretty decent buyer’s market in terms of housing. There are lots of homes on the market right now, and interest rates are ridiculously low.

Here in Cascadia, there seems to be a gluttony of mobile and modular homes up for sale. I have nothing against a modular or mobile home. My mother lived in one (as did I when I stayed there) for 20 years or so, and most modern modulars aren’t that bad. They do however, loose value with rates similar to a used Yugo and don’t qualify for certain types of loans.

Because of our current situation, we’re in the market as first time home buyers, and are finding that we’re looking at a very narrow market in terms of homes. Some of these parameters are external due to our choice in using a USDA loan. We’re fine with the rural nature of the loan, but the houses we’re looking at sometimes only need a very little amount of work but USDA won’t go near them. Some of the parameters are self-inflicted. We’d like at least 3 bedrooms, over 1100 sq feet, and at minimum a 1/4 acre lot. In many places in this country that wouldn’t be too hard, but around here it is. What’s left after the mobiles and modulars are some nice, small homes. The bigger the lot, the smaller the home in our price range, and the bigger the home, the smaller the lot. Some of the yards here are about as big as our kitchen table. We need a bit more room for our kids to run and burn off energy, and for our plans to garden, compost, and raise chickens.

What we’re often left with are some nice little houses that we get outbid on or are already snatched up by someone else. What’s left after that are the foreclosures and short sales. We’ve found a nice place with a half acre lot, and a good sized home that is a little farther out than we had liked, but it seems to be a good house so distance might have to be a sacrifice. However, it is a short sale. These can go easy, or they can be like slowly pulling a band-aid that has been adhered with Gorilla Glue. The current residents in this house don’t answer their phone, and don’t return the calls of our or their real estate agents. Why not? Because until the bank sells the house, they’re basically there rent-free. So any delay they can create is a benefit for them. This is frustrating for us to be sure.

Yet I also can’t help but sympathize with those people. They live in a small rural area that has had some very tough economic times as the main employer there, a lumber mill, has laid off several workers over the past few years. Tourism hasn’t been that great there either. So, it is understandable that this mother and daughter have hit some hard economic times. They likely became unable to pay their mortgage for any number of reasons. They have every reason to fear a knock at the door and the phone ring. They probably want nothing more than to be able to stay in their home, to provide themselves with some type of stability in what may be some rather chaotic times in their life. I feel bad for them. I really, really do.

I do have some issues with looking at this house because of all of this. I don’t want to see a family forcibly uprooted because of something I do. But it is going to happen regardless. And, the longer the house sits on the market, the less money they will be able to get for the house and the less likely the bank will end up going forward with the short sale, which will hurt the owner if it ends up in foreclosure. It is a tricky situation, but I’m also thinking of my family’s needs (we’re currently 2 adults, a 3 year old and a 1 year old in a 2 bedroom apt) for now and in the near future.

The home buying process thus far has been much more frustrating than I would have hoped, but we’re making baby step progress.

Making a dent

For the past year or so, I’ve been volunteering with a local non-profit, Sound Salmon Solutions. It’s an organization that works on salmon habitat restoration in the river basin where I live here in Snohomish County, WA.They work with local volunteers, land owners, local municipalities, Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the tribes to accomplish all of this. A lot of what they do is removing invasive species like Himalayan Blackberry and Japanese Knotweed, and then planting native plants to restore habitat. They also do lots of educational outreach with schools and at public events. When I go to help out, it’s mostly been planting, but I’ve also volunteered my services as a photographer to snap some photos for their website.

Yesterday I went out to a private landowner’s property, and 25 or so of use planted 750 native plants like cedar, ash, alder, pine, willow, and some bushes like salmon berry and rose. It was all along the side of a creek that runs into the Stilly river (pictured below, the spot we were at is by the red star) that had previously been overgrown and choked out with invasive blackberry bushes. This was just part of the process that started a year ago and will continue with more maintenance over the next few years.

The yellow star denotes the area where I live, and it’s also right next to a confluence where the North and South forks of the Stillaguamish River meet before the river winds its way out into the Puget Sound. As you can see, the river feeds quite a bit of local agriculture (including the CSA we subsrcibe to, the Klesikc Family Farm). The river is also home to a large population of bald eagles, which feed upon the coho, chinook, steelhead, and other salmon.

The reason I included this in a post here is because part of adopting a more ecocentric world-view involves a focus on bioregions, and bioregional governance/stewardship. Rather than putting effort into say, protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, it would be more prudent and productive to put real work into improving the river where I live, and protecting the wilderness in the mountains I’m surrounded by. This is deep conservatism in action, because it relies heavily upon the people that live here in these watersheds and have a vested interest in seeing them thrive, as opposed to some far away, centralized entity with no real connection to this land.

It is important to note that much of the work has no direct human benefit. The work done this weekend will create forest to border the landowner’s property on the creek-side. Previous plantings have been for the sole benefit of salmon themselves. Will fishermen benefit? Sure, eventually they will. But at stake here is the reintroduction of the wild into parts of this land that have been manicured, distorted and destroyed for over a century.When planting, I was speaking with the landowner Leon, I believe. He was telling about how the land had been homesteaded as 160 acres in the 1870′s or 1880′s by his great-great grandfather. He talked about how much the land had changed in his 70+ years there due to some of the major floods and logging that takes place across the road from where he is. But he often recalled those childhood memories of running in the streams and creeks on the property and wading with the juvenile salmon by the dozens. That is it right there, the contact with the wild that fills us up and connects us to the world we live in. But, he said he hadn’t but a couple of salmon in the past decade or so swimming in those creeks and streams. Our work there will hopefully change that. I was planting side-by-side with some of his grandsons that were talking about how cool it would be to see the trees all grown up and to have a forest there in a few years. Hopefully the family stewardship of the land there will be a lasting legacy.

Later this year (I believe), in a river not too far south, they will be breaching a levy in order to restore an expanse of estuary that was taken over by agriculture and housing developments decades ago. I’ll post more on that when it happens.

 

The government which governs best…

Just yesterday I was listening to NPR and they were talking about how President Obama had recommended combining several government agencies into one, thereby reducing government waste, bureaucracy, costs to taxpayers, and government workforce. The agencies involved are all related to the Commerce Department and are all business related. The Commerce Department itself would cease to exist, but this plan actually provides for a practical solution as to what would happen to the department and it’s functions after the re-alignment of agencies, something that libertarian and conservative ideologues like Ron Paul and Rick Perry have yet to provide.

This should be an almost no-brainer, depending upon all of the particulars of course. I’m a huge advocate for these types of moves, and if successful I’d like to see more of it. For instance, we could combine the EPA and Department of Agriculture with the Department of the Interior. We could merge the Departments of Transportation and Energy, and I’m sure there are other agencies out there that we could combine to be more efficient, intrude upon our liberty less, and function as a valuable service for citizens and business owners. (I’d also do away with Homeland Security altogether but that’s another post…)

Maybe this has always been on the President’s agenda, since he did talk about this in his last State of the Union address. Maybe it’s a new idea born of general concern for the behemoth of beaurocracy that our government has become. Or maybe he’s just doing it because it’s good politics in an election year.

Personally, I don’t give a shit why he’s doing it. Just do it. Really, it’s a great idea.

Of course, our Republican friends might not agree. No doubt they’ll use this as another political football, even though we all know if it was a Republican President proposing this, it would have received nearly unanimous approval. I’m eager to see where this actually ends up going, and maybe Washington State could take a page out of this book. I’m looking at you, Departments of Ecology and Department of Natural Resources.

 

 

 

The mistake was what he did say, not what he didn’t…

Last night in the 3,756th Republican debate, Texas Governor Rick Perry made what many are calling a “gaffe” by drawing a blank when talking about the three government agencies he would do away with when elected President. He was able to name the Department of Education, and the Department of Commerce, and when offered help by his fellow candidates, said that the EPA needs to be rebuilt, but that it wasn’t one of the agencies he’d get rid of. The talking heads are saying his campaign isn’t likely to recover, all because he stumbled during a “debate”.

First, this wasn’t a debate. This was a highly commercialized hour of campaigning brought to you by CNBC and their many sponsors. There was no honest discussion because candidates are not held accountable for the nonsense that they are uttering.

Next, why was the “pause” the greatest mistake that Perry made? He’s talking about shutting down the Department of Commerce for cryin’ out loud! Let’s take a quick peek at what the DoC does:

• They oversee international trade, and gather labor and other important economic statistics and data that is vital in shaping domestic and foreign trade and monetary policy.

• They oversee NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Shutting this agency down would be bad.Very bad. This isn’t just a bunch of nerds sending weather balloons in the air. NOAA forcasts hurricanes and other major storms, and provides time-critical information to local authoritites to advise them on evacuation procedures. This is a risk to life, property, and the economy. There is a lot of other things that NOAA oversees as well (like weather forecasts that farmers and companies that transport goods rely on, or assessing the damage from the BP oil spill), all of which directly impacts the environment, lives, and the economy.

• The Department of Commerce issues patents and trademarks.

• The Department of Commerce has under it agencies like the National Insitute of Standards and Technology, which puts scientists and engineers to work developing technology and setting standards in the scientific community. This is something that goes way back to our founding fathers, and how they saw a need to have a set standard for weights/measures and other matters of science.

Why isn’t this a much, much larger issue than his forgetting another agency to shut down? Or how about the Department of Education? What possible good could they provide to the public?

• It helps to fund Gallaudet University – the only deaf college in the United States

• It issues student loans and pell grants so that people can afford to go to college

• Sets standards for schools at a federal level

• It makes sure that students have equal access to educational opportunities (though improvement is still clearly needed here)

In my opinion, the Dept. of Education doesn’t go far enough, and is probably a bit too decentralized. While local communities should have the most influence over their children’s education, a strong agency like the DoDE needs to set higher standards in Math and Science if we ever want our children to be able to compete on a global level once they enter the job market. I’d also like to see a national apprenticeship program, but that might be another post altogether. Reform these agencies and get rid of waste? Of course! Close them down entirely? Insanity!

Yet none of these things apparently matter in these debates. According to Governor Perry, we can just shut down the DoC and offer no viable solutions for issuing patents. How does a market economy drive innovation without a guarantee of patent protection?

I guess those types of questions don’t fit on a bumper sticker though. And that’s all we’ll hear going into this 2012 race; bumper sticker politics. Change. Hope. Less Government. Job Creators. Taxes bad. Support the Troops.

Aren’t the issues we face much more complex?

Cheers.

Voted.

Last week I was able to vote in my underwear, and no one seemed to mind. Thankfully, my state has mail-in voting, where nearly all ballots cast are done by mail. There are still a few polling places around for people to go in-person ( I believe they can also fill out a provisional ballot if they haven’t registered as well) if they want though.

Personally, I think this system is fantastic (though could be more successful if postage wasn’t required, though you can drop your ballot off at a few different ballot boxes in each county) as far as allowing as many people as possible to vote. In many places, voting still takes place in person, on a Tuesday during the day. This is prohibitive for many working people to find the time to go and vote throughout the day, and isn’t a very efficient process. Also, I find that I am able to make a more informed vote from the convenience of my home, with my laptop open next to me. I can take a look at who is sponsoring a particular initiative, follow the money used in campaigns, and do some thorough research of the candidates and the claims they make.

Right now, we’re seeing quite a few efforts at voter suppression guided by the GOP and powerful moneyed interests. Other than move to mail-in ballots and maybe changing the election day (either to a week-end or having a national holiday on election day), what are some other ways to increase voter turn out?

Why I support the Occupy Movement

My paternal Grandfather arrived home from his tour in Europe during WW2 and started an HVAC business in my hometown of Saginaw, MI. My father worked for him for a bit, and he employed a few people, some white and some black. He and my grandmother had enough money to invest in a few houses around Saginaw, and rented them out. My grandmother took care of most of the property management, and when times were tough, she told me that she would sometimes barter with people if they weren’t able to make a rent payment one month. I got the sense that my grandparents kind of saw their tenants as some sort of extended family. They were able to afford a nice home in the suburbs, and sent two daughters to nursing school, and another off to college to become a teacher. My father followed his father in the world of skilled trades, and was able to get a job at the GM Steering Gear Plant as a tinsmith. My grandparents would retire at a decent age, and move to Virginia. My Grandfather died earlier this year, and my grandmother is able to survive off of the money they saved, social security, and the fact that their house has been paid off for years. They were the 99%.

My maternal Grandfather was stationed up in Alaska during the end of WW2 and Korea, mostly helping to land planes and sitting around playing poker all day. When he was done with his service, he worked at a factory until he retired, and my grandmother would pick up an odd job here and there like housecleaning, babysitting, or selling Avon products. They raised two children, took vacations at least once a year, and cared for the many grandchildren that made their way through their home. My Grandfather passed away 2 years ago, and my grandmother never once had to worry about money thanks to the investments my grandpa was able to make. My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago, and she left her children and grandchildren with no debt. Going on camping vacations was one of my favorite childhood memories of my grandparents, and we were able to do that at least once a year. They were the 99%.

My Father literally worked hard – 50+ hours a week in a hot and noisy factory, working with his hands and machines all day long. He would go to night school at a local community college to learn different skills and trades (like autoCAD) so that he didn’t have to spend the rest of his career on the low end of the totem pole. He is now in charge of the entire plant’s CFC. He is salary, though still works his ass off (like 60+ hours a week) so that he can retire before the company fails. Because, he isn’t working at Steering Gear anymore. GM spun that factory off in the 90’s and it was Delphi. Then Delphi went under and it was sold to a (I believe) Korean company, which was then sold to who the fuck knows now. I don’t even know what the place is called anymore. But I do know that in my youth, Steering Gear made Saginaw run. In a town of 80,000-100,000 people, it employed over 20,000. Now it employs between 4,000-6,000. All of the people at that factory, including my father, are the 99%. My father busted his ass all those years to give me the things I had, pay the bills and have enough fun money that we could buy some old used snowmobiles or dirt bikes and go tear up our country lot. We’d take a vacation once a year that usually involved camping, and I was lucky enough that he could afford braces for me. He bought my first car for $600, an El Camino with the caveat that we both would fix it up a bit before I drove it. That was a big thing for my dad, to always do everything you can for yourself. I can only think of like 1 time my dad ever hired anyone to do anything. He raised me to be proud to be where I came from, to be proud of the working class values he instilled. I am.

My mother and father divorced when I was 8. My mother worked at a bank 4 days a week, and then also worked at a grocery store 3-4 days a week, both on the shitty side of town. By shitty I mean her bank was held up like 6 times, and even her grocery store was held up. Who robs a Kroger? Seriously? Eventually she became the Assistant Manager there, and then they sent her off to one of their discount chain stores as an Assistant Manager, making probably 12 bucks an hour. At this point, she was supporting herself, and had custody of my sister, and she had visitation with me on every other weekend. Not much money left over after the payments on her mobile home, the rent on the space, and the rest of the bills. Even considering this, she made it a point to take a vacation with me at least once a year. Even if it was just a trip to Toronto that included some city sight-seeing, Niagra Falls, and the zoo for 3 days, or the time we went to Sea World in Ohio. I had a blast. My mother quit her job to take care of my grandmother, but since she died earlier this month, my mother will have to go back and look for another job. She’ll be turning 50 next year, and I can’t imagine that the prospects for an out-of-work ex-retail store manager in Saginaw Michigan are going to be too bright. I’m extremely worried that she won’t be able to find anything, but my mother is humble enough that she’ll take whatever job she can get. She is the 99%.

Currently I work full time at a company that provides video relay services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. They pay and benefits are alright. Enough to feed my family, pay the bills, and every once in a while have some fun money. My wife is a stay at home mom, and for that I am extremely grateful. We live modestly because we have to. We have internet but no cable. A home phone and my wife has a cheap pre-paid cell phone. Thankfully my work provides me with a cell phone, or else I likely wouldn’t have one. We live in an apartment because it was all we could afford, but are hoping to secure a USDA loan and purchase a cheap home next year. In addition to working full time, I’m also going to school full time. In 2014 I should be able to graduate with a BA in Environmental Policy. Right now, I’m the working poor and I’m the 99%.

But I don’t hate capitalism. I think people that earn higher wages often deserver higher wages. Not all the time, as is the case with CEO pay, but most of the time. I don’t hate Wall Street, nor do I hate banks. But I choose not to use banks. A bank’s primary incentive is to make as much profit from their customer’s money as is possible, regardless of the people involved. A credit union, on the other hand, has its primary incentive in its customers themselves; keeping them happy, and creating as little risk as possible, because there is no profit involved with a credit union.

I also happen to think competition is a good thing. Competition drives innovation, and drives people to succeed. I think communism is generally stupid, as is socialism. I think neither of these systems could ever work unless you created a small, sustainable island community with a small population. But I digress.

I also think that students that take on student loans should have to pay them back. I’m all in favor of overhauling the entire education system, but there is no reason that people that willingly took on these loans shouldn’t have to pay them back.

Why am I in support of the Occupy movement? Why am I proud to be part of the 99%? Because the lives that my grandparents lived are now something of a myth. The idealized middle-class American dream is slipping away. The idea that I could now get good job at a factory, put in my 40 hours a week, and retire at 65 with a good pension and retirement are all but dead. The idea of getting a good job at a factory and having job security is all but a myth. The very idea of a pension is all but a myth anymore. Hell, I’m not very confident that I’ll be able to retire before 70 at all.

I support the Occupy movement because of the level of greed and corruption in politics. Democracy cannot succeed when only a few powerful moneyed interests control the government. I am strongly opposed to oligarchy and plutocracy, both of which our country is heading towards.

We continue to reward companies that have sent our jobs overseas, and continue to reward a dirty energy industry that creates greater negative externalities than their value added. All because they have bought our politicians and influenced legislation in ways no ordinary American can.

We continue to spend billions and trillions on wars overseas and building an Imperialist state around the globe while we step over homeless people here at home, while Native people here in the US live in conditions as bad as they are in Haiti.

I stand with the Occupy movement because the movement is inclusive, and fits many voices within it. There is no “one” message, other than maybe that the majority of Americans have been excluded from the processes that affect our lives in the greatest ways, and we’re sick of not having a voice anymore. The institution of democracy has been stripped away from most Americans, and left in the hands of a privileged few.

I’ll likely have more posts on this topic, but right now my only thoughts on how to affect any type of change really comes down to just one word: vote. Many of the people at these protests either have never voted or don’t often vote. I know many of you feel disenfranchised by our two-party duopoly, but that is no reason to not still vote. Voting in the primaries and non-major elections is the best first step, especially if you want to advocate for “third” parties. And even when it does come down to a Democrat vs. a Republican, there is a real choice there. Yes, both parties have been bought out by powerful interests, but to compare them as apples and apples is an exercise in willful ignorance.

Anyway, I’m glad that this movement has begun. It seems to me like people are fighting for the America that my grandparents lived and thrived in, the one that they envisioned their grandchildren could do even better than they did in.

Cheers.