Tales from an amateur handy-dad Vol. 1: Building raised garden beds.

First of all- this blog isn’t dead yet! I’ve been way too busy with school to write anything that didn’t have a prescribed word count to think about this blog but as my last semester winds down I’m hoping to find more time to post here. Now onto the post.

So I decided that it would be a good idea to build some raised garden beds this year. Last year I half-assed tilled up a patch of my yard and got some corn, peas, beans, and…squash(?) out of it but it was messy and a pain. So I got a bug up my ass on Saturday and ran to my local co-op for the black stuff and then to a big box hardware for the lumber.

This was pretty easy to do. And you can do it on the cheap. When it comes to lumber, here’s a few things I learned:

*Don’t get treated lumber.
*Use reclaimed wood if you can.
*If you can’t use reclaimed wood, go with cedar or juniper.

I chose to go with cedar fence boards for the walls of my beds. I could have bought some cedar 2x6x8s but those are about $15 a pop. The 8′ cedar fence boards are $2.35 a pop. Doesn’t make much sense to spend a ton of money for something that will just hold dirt.

As for the dirt, pro tip: use as much o your own compost as you can. Don’t have any yet? Start a pile now and you’ll have black gold this time next year. Mine consists of veggie scraps, chicken  crap, wood shavings, grass, and leaves. Seems to be the right mixture as I had a lot of really rich, dark soil at the bottom of my pile.

So on to the instructions. I’ll start with the materials I use for two 4’x8′ beds:

Two 2x4s
Two 2x3s
Twelve 8′ cedar boards (about 5.5″ wide)
Screws (shown below)
Paper bags (or cardboard, you’ll see in a minute).
Dirt & compost.

First, I measured out 8 14″ sections of the 2×4. These will be the corner posts.


Swanson speed square is a *must have* item, and keep the book that comes with it!!

Then I cut them of course. And did the same for the 2x3s (8 in total for supports)


Yeah I'm know there's no safety guard on there but the miter saw was free...

Then I cut the ends of the 2x4s on an angle to make stakes.


If the garlic bulbs don't keep the vampires away...

Okay next I ripped four of the fence boards in half, giving me eight 4′ sections. The lumber pile looks like thus:


Okay, time to screw! I like these star headed screws because they seem to strip less easily, but maybe that’s just me..


There's stars upon thars...

So the reason I cut the 2x4s to 14″ was to leave an inch over the top and another two inches for the stake end below. So that’s why I lined it all up like this. These are the 8′ sections here.


Then I screwed in the 2×3 supports 3′ in from both sides of the fence boards. This will prevent the boards from bowing out because they are on the thin side. It’s also really easy to sink your screws too far since the wood is so soft. (Go ahead and make the joke, you know you want to…)


I repeated this until I had four long sections. Then I lined them up in my yard where I wanted them. Remember to have the long sides facing south if you can to maximize sun exposure.


The next part is where we prepped the grass. And by “prep” I mean “murder”. If you have access to a tiller, use that!! If not, you can do what I did. I set my mower to the lowest setting and mower, then went over that area with a weed whacker to get as much as I could. Then we sprayed the area with vinegar (yeah, it kills grass. Use it in your driveway instead of roundup, only takes a few minutes to work and WAY better for the environment). Then I hand tilled the area to break it all up. When I say ” I” , I mean my wife. I had to bail and she took over this part for bit.

When that was all done the grass looked deader. So then we attached the 4′ sections to either end and pounded down the stakes to try and hold it down and in place.


See! Grass is deader!

Next, we lined the bottom with paper bags. I grabbed these lawn bags at aforementioned big box store because we didn’t have any on hand. This will ensure that grass stays even deader than before.


Suffocate the grass!

Next, I started to fill it in with compost from our compost pile. This is a terrible photo of our compost pile and the black gold found underneath.


Terrible photo of rotting things.

I was able to grab about 4-5 wheelbarrow loads of the stuff per each bed. Given a 4 yard Barrow, and it was about 82% full each time and the beds were 4×8…I dunno…math…


Although the quality is generally terrible, child labor is free.

After I scooped as much worm poop as I could, we then filled in the beds with top soil that I bought from our local co-op/feed store. You can probably get it cheaper another way but I didn’t feel like trolling Craigslist for dirt on a Saturday.


Dirt was sourced locally and creep-free.

And voilà! Raised garden beds! I left the supports and corner posts higher in case I ever wanted to attach something there. Next year I’ll use flexible PVC and turn these into mini greenhouses. I might also add a trellis or something for beans to grow on.

The only thing I might do over is to leave the supports an corner posts one inch higher, and the stake ends of the corner posts one inch lower.

So, that’s that. I’ll post photos when we have vegetables in there, and we’ll see what we end up with this year. It’s already looking like we’ll have more cherries than last year, and hopefully some pears, apples and plums to go along with those.

Let me know if you have any questions or extra tips in the comments.


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.



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.



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?



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?