Category Archives: commentary

The Thing About Taxes

I will preface this by saying I am not well-researched in the areas of politics, national financing, or whatever actually goes into this mess, in the United States or elsewhere.

But I think it might be worth mentioning my thoughts on a few things, based on personal experiences, and some things I’ve heard that just… don’t make a lot of sense.

Taxes aren’t inherently bad.

The word “tax” in itself has come to have largely negative connotations–if you’re being “taxed” by something, you’re being weighed down or put upon. We have classic examples of people, like the Sheriff of Nottingham from the Robin Hood stories, who abuse taxes.

In a truly ironic state of affairs, my dad is adamantly against any kind of raise in taxes, but he also works for the state of Minnesota, and part of our taxes are what pay his own wages.

But if taxes are being abused, for things like… oh, say, a giant wall, or a football stadium… then, yeah, I wholeheartedly understand the aversion.

I don’t think anyone is ever entirely sure what taxes are used for, but there’s obviously some mismanagement going on somewhere, and that’s the bad thing. Taxes themselves? They have some truly positive possibilities.

Let’s just, for the sake of imagination, pretend that a perfect world is possible. What should taxes, in a perfect world (and my opinion) be used for?

  • Protecting/conserving the environment
  • Researching and developing important new innovations in energy, transportation, and health (cure for cancer, anyone?)
  • Providing/maintaining a basic standard of health and well-being for everyone
  • Paying first responders, health professionals, and peace-keepers
  • Educating people well
  • Preserving culture by investing in arts, museums, libraries, archives, and community centers
  • Community improvements, like road construction, parks & rec, etc.
  • Providing some kind of safety net and/or rehabilitation programs for those who are  out of work and/or homeless. (This would include retirement, and being out of work due to an injury, veteran benefits, and other things of that nature, in addition to being in a bad situation for other reasons.)

Some people are really put out by the thought of providing for others. Which… I get, to some extent. At the moment, it’s hard to fathom providing for myself, let alone anyone else in the country–but that’s because a lot of things in “the system” are broken. They’re not being used the way they should.

If I had the peace of mind that came with guaranteed good health, the basic ability to learn the things I need to know without being in debt for the foreseeable future, and the reassurance that life as we know it wasn’t on its way to being toasted out of the Earth like a bad virus, I would happily give away a third or more of my income for the rest of my life.

In a perfect world, what would your taxes be used for?

What would you be willing to provide, to make your own life and the lives of others easier?

Captain Marvel: Earth’s Mightiest Hero

Warning: This post contains (mild) spoilers.

Yesterday, Rick and I went to see Captain Marvel in theaters.

Strangely, I’d heard almost nothing about it after it was released on March 8th. The only thing that had passed through my social media was some headline about an old white guy upset about the MCU’s mightiest hero being a woman.

Over dinner last week, my dad, who coincidentally is also an old white guy, and who has not yet seen the movie, expressed his own confusion about Captain Marvel being a woman. Having grown up with the kind of Captain Marvel who starts out as a little boy, shouts “Shazam!” and channels the powers of several ancient male heroes by morphing into a well-muscled, fully-grown man, he wondered how all of that was going to work.

First of all, there’s no reason a girl couldn’t channel the powers of male heroes, given the opportunity–their maleness and their powers are not mutually inclusive. Secondly, I’m not sure what the deal is with kids having to grow into adults in order to use their powers (this also confused me when I first read the W.i.t.c.h. series).

But, most importantly, DC’s Captain Marvel/”Shazam” is not the same character as Marvel’s Captain Marvel. And, as I’ve learned from my good friend Wikipedia (because I am in fact not a comic book nerd), Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel’s civilian identity) has been a fixture of Marvel Comics since 1977, when she first appeared as Ms. Marvel, in a new series of that name, after having gained her powers from events that transpired in the Captain Marvel comics. She finally took up the mantle of Captain Marvel herself in 2012 (although it appears there were a couple other women who also held Captain Marvel’s title and/or powers, at some point or another). So, yes, the first Captain Marvel was a guy, but Carol Danvers certainly has a legitimate claim to the role.

And Marvel nailed it with this movie.

It is the most normal movie I have ever seen.

“Vers” (played by Brie Larson) as she’s known when the story begins, is apparently an alien soldier from another planet, fighting a war against another race of aliens called Skrulls. When the Skrulls capture her and take her to 1990’s Earth (this is a prequel), she works with a young Nick Fury to find and defeat the Skrulls before they can infiltrate Shield and steal an essential piece of technology.

It sounds pretty straightforward, for a superhero mission, but along the way, Vers, who can’t remember anything about her past and has trouble controlling her powers (read: obeying; getting things right), manages to discover who she is and what she is really capable of.

I cried watching her self-actualization play out. This wasn’t a story about a woman being powerful despite being a woman or because she was a woman. This was a story about a human being–who just miraculously happened to look and act like me–realizing their full potential.

Brie Larson is beautiful, make no mistake, but they don’t make her up like a supermodel (cough cough, Wonder Woman), and she’s dressed from head to toe in a practical uniform which sufficiently protects her from both the elements and the vacuum of space. She’s fit, like I imagine anyone with military training would be, but she looks like a normal person, not somebody’s ridiculous ideal.

And our hero’s defining relationship? Carol Danvers’s friendship with Maria Rambeau, a black single mother and badass pilot, replaced what could have easily been a meaningless long-lost love interest, if this were a different movie.

Captain Marvel, despite the horrendous line of advertisement I found on this AMC theater page, is not a “(her)o.” What a strange and belittling advertisement for such an amazing and worthy character.

She is a hero.

Captain Marvel is smart, brave, and human, in addition to having powers on par with those of DC’s Superman. I’m excited to see her take down Thanos in Avengers: End Game next month.

In the meantime, go see Captain Marvel. (Go experience it in IMAX, too.)

Take your friends and your children with you.

Everyone should see this movie.

We Need to Talk About the Eviction Crisis

Why is This a Crisis?

Evictions are a nearly unreported threat to Americans, but an increasing population are experiencing them. It’s long been the standard that people should spend no more than 30% of a person’s income on housing. But a recent Harvard study found just over 21 million households spend more than 30% on housing. 11 million people were reported to be spending more than half their income on housing.

When families spend more on housing, they are forced to spend less on other items. Spending more than 30% on housing makes paying for basic needs like electricity, groceries, and clothing like buying a luxury item. Children and seniors are impacted more from this reality as they are the most vulnerable.

It makes other items we tend to take for granted, like internet access or cars, practically impossible to possess. While that may sound like less of a “need,” consider applying for a job. In this age it’s nearly impossible to apply for a job without the internet. It’s equally as hard to go to multiple interviews without a car.

Matthew Desmond wrote a book called “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” In the video linked here, he talks about the how big of an effect evictions have on American families.

Of that 1/4th that receives housing funding  that Desmond mentions in the video, they have to endure long waits to actually receive that help. The remaining 3/4ths will likely continue on dangerous eviction cycle, which could last for the rest of their lives.

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A Milwaukee eviction of Ara Sprakman

What Can be Done Right Now?

A problem as big as the eviction crisis can’t be bundled up in one solution. That said, there are many promising efforts. Desmond mentioned that people are at a disadvantage in eviction court, as they either don’t show or can’t afford a lawyer. New York City passed legislation to afford legal assistance to tenants. The move resulted in an 18% drop in evictions within a two-year span. The legislation has recently been picked up by Rep. Keith Ellison as a house bill (H.R. 1146), but not much has come of it the current congressional session.

In Desmond’s book, he championed the expansion for Section 8 voucher program. While I fully support that, there are serious issues. The biggest issue is that landlords can legally reject Section 8 voucher funding. This is a form of discrimination, plain and simple, but there still is hope. The Minneapolis city council passed legislation that prohibits landlords from rejecting Section 8 funding. This legislation need to be expanded on the state or federal level. City laws are a short-term fix as they can be overruled by the state law or  withholding federal funds.

How to Take Action

First, there are many groups that have been doing great work in this effort. On Just Shelter, there are links to both local and national resources supporting the cause. Consider volunteering with a group to either assist families or spread the message in your community.

The biggest work that can be done is through our government. Long lasting and sustainable efforts will have to be done through policy. Find your local council-members and mayor and call them. Once you’ve done that, consider calling your congressional representatives, both in the U.S. House and Senate. Remember to stay calm and respectful. Chances are you going to speak to a college intern. They already have enough on their plate. That said, make sure you stress how important affordable housing is to you.

Lastly, we need to do what we can to convince the greater public that housing is a basic human right. People have the right to have a consistent place to sleep, eat, and live. Children and seniors have the right to a place that offers security from harmful elements. Housing doesn’t need to be lavish, but it does need to be there.

Hey Democrats…get your shit together.

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Pick a day. Could be today. A week from today. Hell, even a few weeks from now. At some point, it’s best that we stop caring about the effects of the damn 2016 primary. I don’t care about Bernie Sanders’ revolution. I don’t care about defending the Clinton legacy. Party members are dragging the people into these factions of “Bernie Bros” vs. “Establishment Democrats.” With as much crazy stories that comes each day from Trump’s presidency, my interest in liberal in-fighting wanes.

My tipping point was a recent story in The Root about the recent lovefest that was the DNC unity tour. The story is a good read; that’s not what pissed me off per se. It’s more so reading how the tour became noticeably awkward and left Democrats more confused than before. This quote from the article gives a good reflection on the shit hitting the fan.

Sanders came out stomping hard for Heath Mello, a Democratic mayoral candidate for Omaha, Neb., despite the candidate’s pro-life stances. Then the DNC chair called Sanders out for his stance, then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called out Perez and then Sanders told them all that you have to make ideological compromises to win. This coming from the same Bernie Sanders who screams, You shall not pass” to any Democrat who isn’t progressive enough for his tastes—despite not being a Democrat.”

Awesome.

In my opinion, rehashing the primary is a political crutch for party members. It seems like we’re in a time where people are eager to define themselves and what path they’re against. In the end, it’s not only about identity politics, women’s rights, or speaking to white working class. It’s a combination of all those things and more. I’ll be more at ease when more Democrats are brave enough to speak about progressive positions that move the country forward. I don’t need constant railing against the elites or a regurgitation about “putting hope on the ballot.”

Democrats have some serious questions to answers to America’s problems. It’s been four months into Trump’s presidency and I still don’t know how the party plans to tackle criminal justice reform, the eviction epidemic, and work automation. These are some serious issues that seem to touch various wings within the Democratic party. Don’t you think it’d be reasonable to, I don’t know, talk more about them? Maybe I’m being whimsical.

And hey, if you happen to be a Democrat in power and read this, here’s another thing on my wish list. MAKE IT SIMPLE TO UNDERSTAND! It seems like every good idea gets put through some machine that make it sound twenty times more complicated when it gets talked about. I get it, this shit is hard, and I certainly don’t have the answers. Yet Republicans have mastered this art (see: death tax & religious freedom) for some dubious things. It’d be nice if Democrats could have a reasonable counterbalance to that. Say what you want about Bernie Sanders, but he was heading in the right direction in making policy relatable. It seems reasonable to start there.

I don’t want to rant more than I have already. All I want is the party to advance past 2016 and state it’s case. People don’t care about internal party politics. They care about actual plans to improve their lives.

Trump’s Cuts Affect Arts & Culture in Rural America

IMG_20170427_192242_030When news circulated about Trump’s budget cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, I’m not sure the immediate thoughts where the effects to the south. My thoughts at least weren’t going there at least. As with anything as complicated as the American budget, there are far-reaching effects that may be hard to recover from.

Take the cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for instance. Had those type of cuts occurred within the last few years, we may have never had the podcast S-Town, one of the most critically acclaimed podcast so far this year. S-Town tracks the life of John B. McLemore (no relation), and his personal connections within his town in Alabama. S-Town does have legitimate criticisms, but on the whole it gives a rare glimpse of the struggles and unnerving realities of living life in rural Alabama.

With the National Endowment for the Arts, my immediate thought was Broadway plays and art galleries in major metropolises. Yet an interesting CBS story highlights how the endowment affects the opposite of that narrative. The story covers Appalshop, a non-profit arts center located in Letcher County, Kentucky. It shows how Appalshop’s important not only to the county’s economy (They have 18 full-time employees and five part-time employees and have a million-dollar payroll annually according to program director and fundraiser Ada Smith), but also capturing the culture of Kentucky. They’ve filmed movies that exposed audiences to Kentucky’s musical legacy to black families who recently moved from Alabama.

Sadly it takes the possibilities of budget cuts to understand importance of things like S-Town or Appalshop. There’s been a recent narrative that we need to listen more to the rural working class. While I think that’s an overblown solution to a complicated problem, its just wrong to cut off an opportunity for their voices to be heard. These cuts would do just that, and that’s the most frustrating part.

I’m not sure what type of difference saving Appalshop or funding for future projects like S-Town will have. The hope is that people realize that things like the art and public broadcasting does more good than harm. This an even greater goal in rural America. I’ve read a ton of articles and listened to a bunch of “experts” about this very topic. The general consensus is that shit like that is hard to do. Hopefully highlighting stories like those two will makes it easier.

 

Drinking from the Wrong Lemonade Stand

Let me cut right to the chase. I’m sure you have heard that Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith proclaimed May 23, 2016 to be “Beyoncé Day” in Minnesota.

 

Proclaiming “days” isn’t anything new for Governor Dayton. He actually proclaimed 20+ different ones in May. Heck the Queen Bey shares her day with the Terrace Theatre in Robbinsdale, MN. So really May 232016 isn’t “Beyoncé Day”, it’s “Beyoncé and Historic Terrace Theatre Day”.

Let’s push “Historic Terrace Theatre Day” aside (sorry Robbinsdale!) and talk about “Beyoncé Day”.

Continue reading Drinking from the Wrong Lemonade Stand

Extraversion + Intuition + Thinking + Judging

Yep, I am an ENTJ.

 

Some of you might have already pegged me as such, but who cares about my personality type anyway? Whether you realize it or not, you all do.

Continue reading Extraversion + Intuition + Thinking + Judging

“Smarter than the Average Bear”

Shane Koyczan is a spoken word poet who makes hilarious, haunting, and heart-breaking presentations. In February 2013, he delivered a powerful presentation of “To This Day” at a TED Conference. The poem explains the painful journey many children face when bullied by other children and “explore[s] the profound and lasting impact that bullying can have on an individual.” Yet, Koyczan’s message is one of hope.


I found the poem so moving that I shared it with my thirteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. My precious girl actually teared up as she watched it and said, “Mom, I have to tell you about what happened at school…” My heart began racing as I thought of all the terrible things someone may have said to my intelligent, strong-minded, unique daughter and I waited for her to talk. She proceeded to tell me the following story.

Some boy approached me today and said, “Hey! Don’t I know you?” I was confused at first and said, “I don’t know.”

He asked me, “What school did you go to in 2nd grade?” I thought it was funny that he was asking about that grade in particular but I told him.

Suddenly he exclaimed, “You’re Elizabeth?! I knew I remembered you! When I first came here [to the United States], I couldn’t speak very good English, but you sat next to me and tried to help me. Other kids teased me but you didn’t. We were both little then, but I remember what you did. It made a difference. I was confused about what was going on, but at least I wasn’t so lonely with you around. I really didn’t know what was going on, but you stayed with me.”

As a parent, I have worked hard to raise children who are aware of the effect their actions have on others. I always tell them to try to make a difference in whatever small way they can. When my girl shared this with me, my heart swelled with immense pride. 

So whatever it takes, make a difference in someone’s life today. You never know the ripple effect your actions will have on strangers. And for Koyczan, stand up for the “Yogi Bears” of the world who like karate chops and pork chops.

Ricky Gervais Says Television is Dead…

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… and that YouTube is the world’s largest broadcaster.

On The Daily Show April 17th, Ricky Gervais announced that he has started the Ricky Gervais Channel on YouTube. Jon Stewart seemed somewhat surprised that such an enormously gifted talent as Gervais would throw down with the idiocy of cats getting sprayed with coke and Ricky’s answer was that he would sign that cat up and take 90% of his earnings. 

Some of my favorite clips on Ricky’s YouTube channel are the pilot titled “Ricky Gervais Teaches English” and the “Idiot Abroad” series where Ricky and friends seem to relentlessly pick on their friend and straight man Karl. Ricky offers pilots and gets feedback on them from his audience which replaces the old, expensive and time-consuming process of playing bits in front of live audiences to craft and hone content such as was the creative process of many film makers and comedians, like the Marx Brothers for instance. He is completely in control of the content so he can take feedback directly from his audience and change or discontinue as he chooses without contracts or movie studios getting in the way. 

But the thing I found most hilarious and intriguing is that Ricky also talked about his Twitter Feed. Like myself, I have heard a lot of classmates express confusion about how to use Twitter as an element of a successful social media campaign. Ricky is a master. He often turns Twitter in on itself as a tool to analyze and comment on the social media and the people that use it. For example, he offered to donate 10,000 pounds to a charity if no one re-tweeted his offer. Thousands of people re-tweeted. He clarified to NOT re-tweet and again, thousands of people re-tweeted his offer of charity.  “Do you really think I have to think about a Tweet?” Gervais asked. He pulled this stunt in the car on his way to The Daily Show. 

Still from Ricky’s new film, Derek

He often re-tweets his followers- especially the hecklers who did not fully think about what they were tweeting. It is the easiest comedy writing that ever was- he has abundant content without writing a word himself! Everything is free, engaging and entertaining. And at the same time, he is linking to Australian reviews of his new  film, Derek. Sounds like Gervais has taken some points from Meerman Scott. Did I mention that there are also links to Ricky’s Web page and Blog? It’s a social media 360 and a really good example to all of us of how one man has used social media to create interest and engagement, entertain, and above all, promote himself in a way that makes us want to observe and participate.

Since an element of truth is the essence of quality humor, comedians often make the best teachers. I signed up to follow Ricky on Twitter not only because I know he’ll make me laugh. I know that his pranks, re-tweets and interaction with his followers will give me valuable insight into social media- and we’ll have lots of fun along the way.