Monday, December 11, 2017

There is a catastrophe coming. How do we stop it?

I used to believe that all it took to succeed, at least in the USA, was to work really, really hard and not squander your money. I believed that one could always find a job, always find an affordable home and always pay all of your bills if you just worked and tried. The American Dream - I believed it.

When I graduated from university, I was lucky in that I was not in debt - but I also had no savings whatsoever. I went immediately into an unpaid internship - in fact, I paid to be in that internship, with money from my parents - the fee was to cover the cost of the dorm room I lived in that summer. By the time of my first post-university paid job, I was already a few thousand dollars in debt on a credit card, from living expenses (food and gas and a bathing suit). I worked full-time, I walked to work, I lived in a studio apartment, I went without a TV and cable, I accepted furniture donations from friends getting rid of a futon frame, table or chair rather than buying furniture, I used dishes, cookware and silverware that was extra from my Mom's house, and by the end of two years, I was still a few more thousand dollars in debt. Then I moved to California for work. I worked full-time, I shared a house with housemates and then, at 26, got a one-bedroom apartment in the back of a shack of a house - the floor tilted. I drove a paid-for used car - my first car, also used, also paid for, had been stolen when I was 24. I never, ever shopped for leisure, never fell for a rent-to-own or paycheck cashing service and wasn't ashamed to buy used clothes. And by the time I was 30, still driving car number 2, I was more than $50,000 in debt - just from living.

In that time of debt, I was always able to find a place to live. I thought anyone who really wanted to could. An ad for an available apartment would be put in the newspaper (yes, we had those back then), and there would be half a dozen people standing outside at 8 a.m. to meet the landlord at 9. Twice, when there were at least a dozen other applicants to live in an apartment, many of whom got there before me, I was able to convince the landlord that I would be the best tenant EVER, and I got the place I wanted. But it was only years later that I started to wonder what happened to all those other people that were just as desperate to find a place as me. It wasn't like there were several other places they could choose from. I realized at long last: I'd just been lucky.

Everyone I knew at that age was carrying about that much debt as well. Most of their debt was university debt. We just all accepted that this was the way it was: you are in debt until you hit 40 or so. You slowly get out of it over the years, but you just keep working hard and, eventually, everything is okay. For me, I did get out of debt, through putting myself on a strict budget, learning to cook, renting out a room in my house, being lucky and having no substantial health issues when I had no insurance nor any unbudgeted-for car problems, always being fully employed and, eventually, landing the high-paying job that lifted me out of debt and allowed me to, at last, start saving for retirement. I was about 38 when I got out of debt - and that was five-10 years sooner than I thought I would.

And here's the thing: I know now I was lucky. Things are way, way worse now than they were then. People are desperate for rentals all over this country, particularly in places like Portland, Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area / Silicon Valley. People with full-time jobs are living in their cars and RVs, driving around each day after work looking for a place to park for the night. I love Judge Judy, but she drives me crazy when she tells people living in substandard rentals that are unhappy with their landlord's inaction, "Move!" There's nowhere to move to, Judge! And while lots of jobs are being created, they are low-paying jobs. You cannot drive to a job, nor take the bus to a job, on $10 an hour, and get out of debt, let alone stay out of it and save. Have you seen the longer and longer lines of people going to food banks, the growing number of seniors signing up for Meals On Wheels? If you haven't, then you are not paying attention.

The American Dream is a myth for millions of people. Millions of hard-working people in the USA are one medical emergency or one car emergency or one house disaster away from losing a home, losing a car, losing a livelihood. And there too many people that have no home at all. 

I know that, if I were 30 years younger, following the same path I followed back in the 1990s, I would be living in an RV or my car now. I would. Or I would have to move back in with my mother, who lives several hundred miles from me, and the only jobs availble to me there would be $10-$15 an hour jobs. And I would be lucky to have that safety net.

It just so happened that, when I was ready, financially and personally, to buy a house for the first time in my life, the world was in a recession. Had I been ready one year before, or one year after, my story would be VERY different. My husband and I looked at more than 30 houses before we bought this one. We could take our time - we were in no rush. We got the house we wanted, without any competition from anyone else. We knew this was a very special moment in time. None of that happened because we are especially smart or savvy or hardworking; we are all those things, but our ease in buying an affordable home happened because we were lucky.

Now, just four years later, our house is valued twice as much as we paid for it. Small homes in our city sell within weeks, sometimes days, and any size home in Portland has potential buyers lined up from the moment of sale announcement. Rentals of any size are a piping hot commodity anywhere in this area, with people posting repeated online via Facebook, begging friends to help them find a place to live. We could easily rent out the extra bedroom in our house regularly on AirB & B - and we're seriously thinking about it.

People so desperate financially and regarding a place to live keeps them away from paying attention to politics. It's impossible to register to vote if you don't have a permanent residence. Debt and financial worries are keeping people away from the polls.

How to change this? This situation should be on the TV news every night, it should be talked about daily in every major newspaper and online media outlet. But it's not.

Every election, I get involved with get-out-the-vote efforts. But what else can I do? What is the Democratic Party doing to address this growing catastrophe - that the Republicans say isn't actually happening at all?

Now what? I sometimes dream of workshops all over the country that teach people how to avoid debt, how to get out of debt, how to stay away from predatory lenders, etc. But, honestly, even that isn't enough. So many people in debt are NOT there because they didn't spend their money wisely. Also, how does that help someone living in a car?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Al Franken resigning: putting country first

By resigning, U.S. Senator Al Franken is doing what is best for his country. Guilty or not of sexual harassment, that fact cannot be denied.

Al Franken's resignation is what's best for my country. That doesn't stop me from weeping as I listen to him announce that he is leaving. As someone who owns and has read all of his books, including one where he wrote, "Jayne, Good work for the UN" (a friend got that for me), it hurts both that he's resigning and that so many women have said he touched them inappropriately.

Even if HALF of the women who have made accusations against Al Franken are lying, that means there are still women who are speaking the truth. I can be skeptical about one. Maybe even two, especially if they are outspoken opponents - I can't lie, I do judge. But THAT many accusers, many of them Democrats? Yeah, that's really hard for me to say it's all a "misunderstanding."

What Al Franken said in his resignation expresses exactly why he had to resign. It was the right thing to do.

But with all that said: if you demanded this, then let's hear your demands for the resignation of the man in the Oval Office. Let's hear your unequivocal condemnation of Roy Moore. You can't have it both ways. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What will it take?

Until you try to vote and are turned away...

Until you or someone you love are denied a wedding cake, or housing, or a marriage license, or a job, by someone that believes your sexuality or religion (or lack thereof) is a sin...

Until you cannot drink the water that comes out of your tap because of the inaction of the current Republican lead government...

Until you fear law enforcement so much that you are afraid to call them when you or someone you love has been robbed or is danger...

Until your public libraries close...

Until you realize the public school where you send your children is so severely cash-strapped and unsupported that your children will never be able to get the quality education they deserve from such...

Until the public lands you love are less than half the size of what they are now - if they exist anymore at all...

Until you lose your health insurance coverage...

Until you start skipping much-needed medical treatment because you know you cannot afford it and your health insurance (if you have such) won't cover it...

Until you lose your pension or retirement savings...

Until you or someone you love cannot access abortion services and is forced to give birth...

Until you know someone killed by a gun in someone's home or someone who shouldn't have had access to a gun...

Until you lose your livelihood/career because of the actions of the Republican-lead government...

Until someone you know dies from lack of health care because he or she couldn't pay for it...

Until someone you love dies in North Korea or to defend interests of Saudi Arabia...

Then I guess you are just going to keep on voting Republican. Or not voting at all.


Friday, October 20, 2017

I don't know how to fight nationalism nor fascism

In school, I was taught that Germany turned to fascism because the country was economically devastated, because people didn't have enough to eat, because they were desperate, because conditions were extreme. I was taught that, had these things not happened, Germany wouldn't have lost its collective mind and murdered several million people.

For many years since, every time I've studied a time when people have flirted with nationalism or fanatical religion, or seen it happening in other countries, I've thought, well, things are dire there, people are scared, maybe justifiably so. Some economic stability and education will take care of this and they'll stop this nonsense as a result.

I don't believe it anymore. I'll never believe it again. Because of what I'm seeing right here in my own country. Nationalism - fascism - is rampant, not just in marches but in casual conversations on Facebook and over lunch and dinner tables. People are saying, explicitly, proudly, that criticism of the President should be utterly unacceptable, that people should be forced to stand for patriotic music, that police are justified in killing unarmed black men, and on and on. There's a constant denial of science and a continually deriding of public schools. There is an insistence that one religion is right and every other religion isn't just wrong, but is a threat. The majority of white people in the USA who have at least some college education and voted in November 2016 voted for Donald Trump. The majority of white WOMEN in the USA who have at least some college education and voted in November 2016 voted for Donald Trump. That he has been a sexual predator in the past - and bragged about it - didn't matter to those voters. That he blames sexual assault in the military because women were admitted into the military - didn't matter to those voters. That he ripped of several hundred people via his "university" and had to settle for many millions of dollars didn't matter. That he lied about Barack Obama, disrespected Gold Star families and military heroes, and said vile things about women didn't matter.

And none of this support for him is because white people are economically devastated, because they don't have enough to eat, because they are desperate, because conditions are extreme.

Quite frankly, I'm not trying to figure it out anymore. Because I don't care. I'm tired of their belief in fake news despite the mountain of reality proving it wrong. I'm tired of the double standard regarding the horrible man in office now and the very respectful, honorable one he replaced. I'm tired of their "I'm not a racist, but obviously white people are better and history shows us that" nonsense. No, I'm not going to reach across the table. No, I'm not going to listen. I'm done.

Geesh, even George W. Bush is worried.

Extreme nationalism has no signs of slowing down in Europe. It's also happening in Turkey and the Phillippines and India and Russia. People are feeling militant about their native languages and what they perceive as their national culture.

And people in the USA are embracing it as well.

So... now what? Education doesn't work to change their minds. Facts don't work to change their minds. These people do not have any patience or attention to detail, and they balk at the idea of time and deliberation it takes to learn and make important decisions, like a nuclear deal with Iran. They want simplistic, almost childlike emotional and very quick answers, answers that feel good rather than are based on any study or fact.
What to do?

Slaves were not freed in the USA because a majority of slave owners were convinced that slavery was wrong. Nazis were not defeated in Germany because a majority of Nazis and their sympathizers changed their minds. It took violence. It took devastation. It took an incredible amount of death.

I don't want violence. Or devastation. Or death. I do not romanticize nor desire any of that.

The victories of the civil rights movement did not happen by winning over racists. People didn't' vote for it - the courts and the Executive Branch listened to those supporting civil rights and did what was right, even if it wasn't popular with millions of people - maybe a majority of people. But we don't have that on our side now.

I've marched twice in Portland, once for women, once for science. I've been attending city council meetings since before the election; I want to keep my eye on the city council to make sure they aren't up to any shenanigans, like trying to cut an essential service or giving developers sweet heart deals. I've attended four public meetings with my state or national legislators, making sure right-wingers aren't showing up in greater numbers at any event and so that I can listen first hand to their messages. I've joined the official local arm of the Democratic Party, because I very much want to keep the party fighting for social justice, fighting for abortion rights, fighting for workers' rights, fighting for civil rights, fighting for the issues that affect people on a daily basis. I write the news media every time they get lazy in their reporting, every time they drop the ball in an interview with a member of the GOP.

But nothing changes. The fascist march continues.

Next week in Idaho, at Boise State University, there will be a presentation on how Idahoans organized a successful counter-movement to white supremacists in Idaho. According to the web site,  the presenters will "explain how people united around a variety of strategies that resulted in many victories--culminating in 2000 with an Idaho jury’s civil judgment against the Aryan Nations for $6.3 million that bankrupted it. The decades-long campaign for human rights--and to check the threat of the white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis--included passage of state legislation, support as allies for victims, comprehensive programs in the K-12 schools and colleges, public rallies and events, numerous press conferences and press releases condemning acts of hate, close working relationship with the police and prosecutors for aggressive prosecution of hate crimes, partnership with the faith community, statewide coordination with organizations and institutions for positive steps to advance human rights, commitment to the philosophy of non-violence and peace, and a pledge to never remain silent in the face of hate."

But what if the white nationalists are a populist movement that doesn't see itself as "white nationalists", even as they espouse similar statements? What if parents in those K-12 schools and universities block programs that encourage understanding and deliberation and, instead, promote anti-science curricula and a one-sided story of history that glorifies Western Europe alone?  What if the police and faith communities are part of the problem in creating intolerance and division?

I'm going to keep fighting, non-violently. I'm going to keep talking. People are in danger - particularly people who aren't white like me. My country is in danger. But I still believe in the ideals of my country and want to continue to live them and try to promote them.

But I also admit that the idea of buying a ranch in a remote location and living the rest of my days taking care of abandoned horses and providing tent space to people traveling the world by motorcycle, and cashing in on my privilege and giving up on humans in general, is sounding better and better.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Blue Gardenia

My informal film studies via Turner Classic Movies continue... all I'm missing are the post-film discussions.

A couple of years ago, I saw The Blue Gardenia for the first time. It's directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, of Metropolis fame, and his eye elevates the movie far beyond what it could have been in less attentive hands. The film was completed in just 20 days, and in many ways, that lack of time shows. But it's still excellent. In fact, it should be celebrated, but sadly, it's not. It's a forgotten melodrama, almost film noir, from 1953 - forgotten except by TCM and me. I'm sure it's been overlooked by most movie buffs and critics because most of them are men, at least the ones that get asked to write columns and do interviews, and this is a movie almost entirely from a woman's point of view.

I probably wouldn't have liked The Blue Gardenia had I seen it when I was a teen. Maybe I did start to watch it as a teen and turned it off. But at my age now - oh, it resonates in so many ways.

The film opens with an attempted rape. The first 33 minutes would be great to show to a group of young people now, to talk about predatory behavior and victim blaming. It's rivaled only by the opening of Thelma and Louise in that regard.

Ah, but the difference in those two movies, in terms of when they were filmed, what the law is, and what the law was...

I saw Thelma and Louise the night it came out in California and several weeks later in Southern Indiana. In the California theaters, the audience gasps at the shot, but in Southern Indiana, women cheered. Sympathy or not, most audiences in the USA wouldn't think of the killing as portrayed in that movie, legally, as self-defense - because it wasn't - but it would probably go down legally as voluntary manslaughter: the purposeful killing of a human being, yes, but in a case where the offender had no prior intent to kill and acted during the heat of passion, under extreme circumstances that could be understood as causing a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed to the point that they can't reasonably control their emotions (based on the definition in "What Are Homicide and Murder" by Aaron Larson in ExpertLaw.com).

Contrast this with The Blue Gardenia. The killing by Norah is clearly self-defense by the law of today, 2017. What Prebble tries to do is clearly rape - Norah is in no condition to give consent. But in 1953, those ideas, legally, didn't exist in those circumstances, even if women at that time, and for all time, knew it in their hearts - just as the character Norah does. But she hides because she knows she has no legal protection at all - if she is found out there is no legal justification for that murder, not in 1953, and she's going to prison for life, probably to be executed.

I watched The Blue Gardenia yet again today, and the conversations I see all over social media about the behavior of Harvey Weinstein, Roger Eugene Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and the current President of the USA, Donald Trump, all flashed through my mind during the first 33 minutes of the movie. Because I realize that what is clearly predatory behavior in this movie, what is clearly attempted rape in this movie, would be called by many men here, today, even in 2017, as a "gray area," and Norah's behavior would be seen as "sending mixed signals" by those men.

And it makes me want to scream. It means every use of the word clearly in this blog would be disputed by many men and women today, even in 2017. It means that, when I watch Mad Men and am appalled at what is said to Joan in that 1960s world, there are also men and women that watch it and still think she is asking for it because of how she dresses.

We still have so long to go...


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

it was a good wagon, but an impractical star

I would love to downgrade my Direct TV package. But I can't. Because I must have Turner Classic Movies.

I must.

I love the truly classic movies they show, like Casablanca. But I also love the old, obscure stuff they dig out from under the couch that maybe isn't THAT good, but I watch them and find some incredible little moment in many of them.

The latest is from a while back. It was at the beginning of The Deadly Affair, a 1966 adaption of a John le CarrĂ© story. This is a speech by a character called Samuel Fennan, who has been told by the main character, played by James Mason, that a letter has been sent, anonymously, identifying him as a former Communist:

Practically everybody was a member of the party at Oxford in the 30s. Half the present cabinet were party men. You know Mr. Dobbs, when you’re young, you hitch the wagon or whatever you believe in to whatever star looks likely it can get the wagon moving. When I was an undergraduate, the wagon was social justice, and the star was Karl Marx. We perambulated with banners. We fed hunger marchers. A few of us fought in Spain. Some of us even wrote poetry. I still believe it was a good wagon, but an impractical star. We had faith and hope and charity. A wrong faith, a false hope, but I still think the right sort of charity. Our eyes were dewy with it, dewy and half shut.

I so get this. I don't know if it's directly from the novel or was created for the film - but nothing better explains why so many people were sympathetic to Communism back in the 30s and 40s.

I try so hard not to let my eyes be so dewy that they are half shut.



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Motorcycle trip in Washington State: a Smokey Adventure


I just realized that I didn't link to my travelogue about our annual motorcycle trip. This year, it was 10 days in Washington State: a Smokey Motorcycle Adventure in August.

Our 2017 trip included Gifford Pinchot National Forest (our favorite), Mt. Rainier National Park, Wenatchee National Forest (new for us), Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (new for us), North Cascades National Forest (new for us), Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (new for us), Olympic National Forest (new for us), and Olympic National Park (new for us), as well as Trout Lake and Packwood, which we've been to before, plus these new cities for us in Washington state: Naches, Ellensburg, Leavenworth, Methow, Chelan, Winthrop, Newhalem, Marblemount, Concrete, Oak Harbor, Amanda Park, Humptulips and Aberdeen.

As a result of our Washington state trip, of August 30, 2017, I have ridden 23,496 miles (37,813 km) on my KLR (Kawasaki). I've ridden 34,496 (55,516 km) overall on motorcycles (my previous bike was a Honda Nighthawk).

But what's even more fun to think about is not the number of miles or kilometers, but the things I've seen. And that's why I write travelogues.

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