Archive for March 2015

Interview with Becky Saleeby   1 comment

becky_saleebyTell us something about yourself.

I have lived in Alaska for almost 32 years, so it is home to me. My children were born and raised here. My husband, Bruce, and I are both retired archaeologists who had the good fortune of making a living here, doing what we loved best. We did fieldwork everywhere from the North Slope down to Southeast. We even spent one winter of fieldwork deep in the forests of Prince of Wales Island with a four-year-old in tow!

 

That’s exciting and so very Alaskan, isn’t it? Our ordinary lives are adventures. Searching for Isaiah John is your first published fiction, but you have a long history of non-fiction writing in your university career. So, were you like me, writing fiction for your own entertainment in your spare time, or was this book your first foray into fiction writing?

I really admire people like you who have the passion to write fiction in your spare time. While I was working, my mind was too numb from writing non-fiction during the day to even attempt jotting down notes for a story. Besides that, I really didn’t know HOW to write fiction. Thanks to the wonderful teachers and classes at 49 Writers, I learned another craft in my 60s!

I’ve heard really good things about 49 Writers. I’m going to drop you off in a remote cabin on an Alaskan river and come back in a week. It’s summer, you have food and plenty of bug spray — the necessities of life — and I tell you to bring three books with you. What are those three books?

So glad you asked!  I recently organized all the books in my fiction bookshelf according to a five star system. There were only a few I considered worthy of five stars. Here are three of them: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng; Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks; and anything by Barbara Kingsolver.

What are you passionate about?

Like all mothers, I am passionate about my kids. Now that they are grown, I’ve been able to make room for the other interests that lurked in the shadows. It’s hard to say whether I am more passionate about writing or about gardening. Of course in Alaska I can be a gardener for six month and then switch over to writing in the fall and winter. Another passion is learning Spanish, which has not come as easily as the other two, though I do keep plugging away on it and am still taking classes.

Searching for Isaiah John is a story within a story that explores Fairbanks just before the Pipeline boom (1968) along with Alaska in the 1920s. Of course, Fairbanks is my hometown. Where did you come up with the concept?

It was a concept that developed over three years of intense writing. At first, I concentrated on Lydia’s story during the 1920s, but later, the life of Jacob Tao began to be just as interesting to me.

Becky-saleeby SearchingWhy did you pick those time periods? Especially Fairbanks 1968 — that would be what my mother called “the shadow time” — no longer the fascinating gold camp that has been written into legend, but not yet the oil boom town.

The late 1960s and early 1970s was a time period when the Alaska Natives were beginning to have a powerful voice in the politics and economy of the state. I originally chose this time period so my character Lydia, whose heyday was in the 1920s, would still be alive (in a fictional sense!) and could tell her story to Jacob Tao. When I realized what a wealth of information there was out there about the land claims era, I was happy to delve into this time period too.

Tell me about Jacob Tao.

Jacob Tao is a character I wrestled with for six drafts before I puzzled him out. He is a laid-back, sixties-kind-of-guy, who enjoys basketball and teaching and drinking beer. He is not a hero, though he does an extraordinarily kind deed for his mysterious neighbor Lydia.  He has the type of curiosity that drives people to search and find the answers to difficult questions even when there is nothing in it from them. He is a composite of so many people.

Tell me about Lydia Galloway.

Lydia is a mysterious one, right until the end of the book. It took me a long time to figure out her motivations. The key to Lydia’s character is this: once she wants something, she will move heaven and earth to get it. I will let the reader decide whether such focus is a positive or negative characteristic or may a little of both.

Talk about the setting of the book — the villages, Fairbanks and how the Tanana River forms a backdrop to the tale.

I loved living in Fairbanks for six years and go back to visit whenever I can. When I first flew into town in June of 1983 and saw absolutely no sign of roads or houses or other vestiges of “civilization” until we had almost landed, I knew it would be my kind of town. The fact that it is also a university town is an enormous advantage. The Tanana River is the thread that ties the landscape together, summer and winter, but it is a vast lonely place. Maybe that is why I am so attracted to it.

What are your literary plans for the future?

Right now I am working on a second novel which is set in Guatemala.  I had to figure out a way to combine my love of Spanish and Latin American culture with creative writing.  Going there to do “research” is also fantastic.

Searching for Isaiah John is available through Amazon in print only.  It definitely evokes an Alaska that I am familiar with and that I wish more people really knew about. Check it out.

Epic Fantasy … Epic Writing   1 comment

Daermad Cycle is a complicated project with multiple threads in two timelines, at least two cultures, and many characters.

I just spent the last week trying to organize the various bits of the story that have been written so that they will flow the way I want them to and now I am looking at the gaps.

How did Ryanna and her travel companion get from Cenconyn to Clarcom? And how long did it take them?

Epic fantasy means you must exercise the art of epic writing. As god of my particular universe, I must step back into the world I have created and start really answering the questions of how to flesh out the bare bones of the story and have all the threads come to together at the end while simultaneously setting up the third book in the series.

Good heavens! I have a lot to do. Did I say Murklin Wood would come out in October?

Uh …. I like a challenge. Let’s see if I can do it!

WordPress Meet and Greet – All Bloggers Welcome   Leave a comment

Posted March 24, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Stay Tuned for Writing Wednesday   Leave a comment

This week’s interview is with Becky Saleeby, an Alaskan author.

Posted March 24, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Writing

Tagged with , , ,

Becky Akers on Racism   Leave a comment

Lela: Welcome back! Becky Akers and I are continuing our discussion of how an anarchic world would deal with racism and bigotry since there would be no government to enforce civil rights. Becky, my mother, an American Indian, suffered some segregation issues – difficulty renting apartments, denial of job opportunities — so I’ve always viewed the Civil Rights Act as a necessary government action which means I can be a human and not some sort of subhuman racial minority. Which brings us back to my original statement – government would not be necessary if men were angels. If men and women are bigots, how do the people they want to oppress get justice in a world without government?

 

Becky: Lela, I attended a women’s college that was so heavily Jewish it offered a kosher dining room. We schicksas, as its patrons called us, were forbidden to so much as throw our trash into the kosher garbage cans. Imagine the bigotry when even your wastepaper isn’t good enough!

 

Christian AnarchyLela:  That’s awful, but vaguely understandable given Jewish kosher regulations. I wouldn’t choose to be that cut off from the normal course of society and I couldn’t treat people with such contempt, but I understand it in principle. But that sort of attitude is exactly what scares me.

 

Becky:  Yep. So it’s understandable that you and a great many folks hope the State will force people to show better manners. But let’s remember who codified and enforced the racism that your mother suffered: government.

 

Lela:  Did it come from government or was it people in community who hated/feared Indians and wanted their land and asked government to support their decision to steal and abuse? That’s sort of off topic, but it is interesting to consider which came first — racism growing from the sinful hearts of fallen people or the government codifying and enforcing that racism.

But, back on topic — does anarcho-capitalism offer a better solution than civil rights legislation?

 

Becky:  Anarcho-capitalism offers far better methods of combating racism than that sin’s prime proponent, the State, ever could.

 

For over 75 years after the Constitution’s ratification, the Federal government and many states legislated and enforced chattel slavery. And those governments’ atrocities against American Indians are so heinous and infamous that time, space, and a queasy stomach prevent my rehearsing them here. Does it make sense to look for salvation from racism to the very agency that bolstered—and continues to bolster—it?

 

Lela: From someone who gets to look at it from both sides — whites did some evil things to the Indians, but some of my Indian ancestors admitted to the evil they did to white settlers. There was evil done on both sides and I can’t justify any of it. I can understand the sentiments that created the conflict, but I can’t justify the sins committed.

 

My family came to Alaska about 1946 just after Alaska became the first place in the United States to make Jim Crow-like discrimination illegal. My mom immediately noticed the difference from her experience in Washington State. My dad was with his first wife, a Creole, at the time and he always talked about the “miracle” of anti-discrimination laws. I grew up never really knowing legalized racism and thank God for that.

 

Becky:  But let’s ask another question: why were Jim Crow laws “necessary”?  Why go to the bother of legally banning black people—or, in Alaska’s case, native peoples—from movie theaters, housing, etc., if white people are by and large racists? Because clearly most proprietors of movie theaters, landlords, restaurateurs, etc., disagreed with discrimination. Then as now, these folks wanted as much profit as they could earn. And that means subjugating one’s prejudices against other colors to favor one: green.

 

Lela:  That’s a perspective I had not considered before. It would explain why Alaska’s anti-discrimination law was passed in 1945 and within a year my dad and mom (in separate parts of Alaska) noticed a difference. I always sort of imagined the owners of the Juneau Hotel grinding their teeth as Roy and Katherine Peratrovich celebrated its passage by dancing in their ballroom with their white patrons, but I never met any older white Alaskans who said they were absolutely horrified at its passage either. And it is true that the discrimination laws were written to “protect” white privilege because whites were a minority compared to Natives at the time. So, you think money is an anecdote to bigotry?

 

Becky:  Yes, I do. I think the free market in general is one of God’s greatest blessings to us because it lifts more people out of poverty by far than any other economic system. And specifically, it is bigotry’s most tireless enemy, as the State tacitly admitted every time it passed another law against a commercial transaction or behavior based on race.

 

Now, does this mean that everyone everywhere will welcome everyone all the time in an anarchic world? No, of course not. Let’s always remember that anarchy does not yield utopia, nor should we want it to: utopians like Hitler or the Khmer Rouge number among the most ruthless murderers in history. Whatever our social or political systems, we will still be fallen sinners living in a fallen world. But anarcho-capitalism offers the most opportunities for peace, prosperity, and freedom from bigotry’s burdens to the most people.

 

Lela: I’m still stuck here, though. I’m not looking for a utopia where everyone gets along and nobody has any evil thoughts. That won’t happen until we’re with Jesus in heaven and I honestly believe there will be some seriously embarrassed Christians when that day comes.

 

Becky: Amen. Seriously embarrassed.

 

Lela: From a statist perspective:  those that society deems “less-than” can perhaps “buy” their way into an accepted status in stateless anarcho-capitalist society. The converse is that “less-thans” are almost always poor in material wealth because of lack of opportunity. So again, don’t we circle back to needing the state to protect civil rights?

 

Becky:  Lela, much of the “lack of opportunity” you lament results from the State! For example: government requires many professionals, such as hair-braiders or morticians, to undergo expensive training totally irrelevant to their needs and to buy a license before they can practice their trade. Poor people almost always lack the time, money and resources to comply with the State’s demands; this isn’t “lack of opportunity,” this is outright tyranny! And it wouldn’t exist in an anarchic world.

 

There are other problems with anointing government Our Protector Of “Civil Rights” (I’ve put that term in quotes because I vehemently disagree with “civil rights,” as I explain here, here and here. “Civil rights” is a recognized political philosophy based on Marxism rather than mere shorthand, as most people assume, for “warm, fuzzy laws against nasty old bigots”). First, let’s remember government s inherent incompetence and corruption. Neither fault goes missing among those writing, passing, and enforcing regulations against discrimination. A Chinese landlord in San Diego, CA, may bribe the bureaucratic bean-counter who finds no Korean tenants in his five apartment buildings, but he’s unlikely to increase his profits in a heavily Asian area if he continues to indulge his racism.

 

Lela:  Okay, that makes sense. In a territory where most people were Alaska Natives who were starting to get educations and incomes (Roy Peratrovich was a lawyer, for example), it didn’t make much sense for businesses to refuse to sell to them.

 

Becky:  Remember, too, that we can’t control the unintended consequences or direction of any legislation, including that of “Civil Rights.” Who would have predicted in 1964 that the State’s ordering hoteliers, airlines, landlords, movie theaters, etc., to accommodate all patrons regardless of ethnicity would lead to the persecution-sorry, prosecution of Christian bakers and florists 50 years later for refusing to supply cakes and flowers to homosexual “weddings”?

 

Lela:  I definitely agree there. A law upholding the Christian principle of anti-discrimination (James 2 comes to mind) has become an excuse to deny religious liberty — to force private individuals to participate in and publicly sanction sinful behavior.

 

Becky: Lela, you’ve articulated a powerful principle there concerning the State. It always twists “well-intentioned,” “Christian” legislation into a horror straight from the pit of Hell. “Compulsory education” is another case in point: Protestants concerned about the huge numbers of Irish Catholic immigrants to mid-nineteenth century America pushed for laws compelling everyone to send his kids to “public” school–which they assumed would always be Protestant. Imagine their horror if they could see the State’s schools today, with pornography and the deliberate destruction of innocence, a.k.a “sex education,” unhealthy drugs and violence rampant, Darwinism not only preached but fanatically believed, and indoctrination in Marxism replacing any actual education.

 

Lela: In effect, the Civil Rights Act now discriminates against Biblically-faithful Christians. So how did that get twisted around?

 

Becky:  The Civil Rights Act arrogated the property owner’s rights to the State; in effect, a restaurateur no longer owns his diner because government now tells him how he may or may not use that property. If you doubt that, let me ask whether you own the bottle of aspirin you bought 2 weeks ago and placed in your medicine chest. If you do own it, can I prohibit you from opening it? Of course not! You can open it or not as you see fit, right?

 

Lela:  Yes.

 

Becky:  And if I said, “I prohibit you from opening that!”, wouldn’t you laugh at me? Wouldn’t you say, “Look, I have a headache, and anyway, it’s my aspirin! I’ll open it when I dang well please! It’s none of your business!” So with other kinds of property. If the State can tell me the uses I must make of it, I do not own it: the State does. And once we have ceded government the authority to dictate how some property-owners must use their property (restaurants must seat black patrons; landlords must rent to families with little kids though they disturb other tenants), we cannot legitimately, logically protest when it forces other property-owners to use their property as bureaucrats and politicians desire.

 

Lela:  Okay. I can see that. In fact, I’ve had conversations with people on this blog who argued the same thing from the statist position.

 

Becky: Lela, it’s supremely ironic that so many folks believe the State saves us from the consequences of bigotry: it’s among the worst of discriminators, if not the worst! Go to almost bureaucracy’s website and you’ll find a page like this one, listing the ways in which the agency favors some people over others, based solely on sex, race, etc.

 

Lela:  Right. Those pages (in print in those days) were always a conundrum for me because I could legally claim minority status, but I was raised to celebrate all of my heritage, so I didn’t. In high school, I started checking “other” and writing “human” on the line. I hope some bureaucrats were confused by that.

 

Becky: Good for you! The upshot is that government doesn’t prohibit discrimination and bigotry; instead, it promotes both in the varieties that bureaucrats and politicians prefer.

 

Lela: I’m part-American Indian, but I have blue eyes and curly hair, so I have a choice whether to look white or Indian (and have experimented to see if there is a different reaction; there is sometimes with some people). In principle, I can say that private individuals and companies have a right to choose who they associate with, but if I’m honest, as an Indian, that would mean my freedom would be curtailed by their freedom. It’s not as simple as saying “well, just move somewhere and associate with your own kind” because my own kind is as much Americans of Swedish and Irish descent as Americans of Indian descent. To me, freedom is being able to move within all of those groups without having to change my appearance to “pass”. I don’t care what’s kicking around in the private recesses of some rude person’s mind because their thoughts don’t hurt me, but if their actions deny me freedom … then I start to see a need for government to protect my freedom.

 

Becky: We need to return to our definition of  government,  Lela, which I’ll paraphrase as “physical compulsion, up to and including lethal compulsion, and the authority some people (ie, politicians, bureaucrats and their enforcers) claim to initiate that compulsion against others.” Are you saying that if a landlord refuses to rent to you, government should ultimately kill him?

 

Christian AnarchyLela:  No! Rudeness should not carry a death sentence.

 

Becky: Let’s also specify what we mean by “freedom” (which I’ve used throughout our conversation interchangeably with “liberty”), since you fear that bigots’ actions deny you your freedom. The dictionary defines ”liberty” as “freedom from arbitrary or despotic government or control.” As an anarchist, I’d remove “arbitrary or despotic.” And for the purposes of our discussion here, I’d also delete “or control” since we’re dealing with political freedom and there are other sorts of “arbitrary or despotic…control” (my mother-in-law, for example!). Ergo, liberty is “freedom from government.”

 

When we consider both these meanings in the context of your sentence, we see that however despicable or cruel the “rude person’s” treatment of you may be, he is in no way denying your freedom. Unless he is a politician or bureaucrat acting in an official capacity—and in an anarcho-capitalist world, we’d have neither of those sub-species—he is merely insulting, offensive, and inviting the judgment of God. Indeed, his abuse is so egregious that when you tell me about it, Lela, I organize a boycott of his business. I shun him personally, too, as do readers of the articles I write against him. Pretty soon, he either gets the message, or he’s one lonely, broke racist.

 

Lela:  Now we’re getting to the crux of the conversation! Reasoning from a statist position, the lack of a state means there’s no way to influence others, but you’re suggesting there are alternatives to the state that work just as well or better.

 

Becky: Much better!

 

Lela: We’re running out of time today. Would you be willing to return to discuss this further?

 

Becky: I’d be honored to do so!

 

Becky Akers is a free-lance writer and historian who has written two novels about the American Revolution, Halestorm and Abducting Arnold.

 

 

Stay Tuned for Christian Anarchy   Leave a comment

Becky Akers retuChristian Anarchyrns to discuss the role of government in perpetuating institutional racism.

Interestingly, this coincides with Starbuck’s Race Together campaign, which I (and my husband Brad) take exception to on the grounds that it is itself racist.

Join Becky and I for this timely discussion.

The Seven Things (about my writing) Challenge   Leave a comment

I love a challenge, so I accepted it. Seven things to know about my writing!

1) My books start as a character or two telling me his/her story. Until that first character presents himself, there is absolutely no point in my deciding to write a book because it won’t start.

2) I am an adventure writer. Typically, I’m 30,000-words into a manuscript before I know where it is going to end. I obviously don’t write from an outline … for the first draft.

3) I re-write from an outline on the second draft. I have a definable beginning, middle and end, I add subplots, and I now know what I need to do to bring the story to a satisfactory conclusion.

4) I write long, so I write series. Short stories are a challenge for me. How can anyone really get to know a character or the world they live in without spending time with them?

5) I write anywhere anytime. I loath filing for work, but I write in my head while I’m doing it, so it’s tolerable. Alaska (where I live) is the ultimate road trip state and long miles can be spent having conversations with my characters.

6) I love mythology, religion, history and political science, so there are often elements of these underpinning my writing.

7) Despite living in Alaska, I have never successfully written an Alaskana-genre book.

FCEtier

7

Recently, a couple of my author friends tagged me in a writing project. The assignment: post seven things about your writing.

1. My writing is done at a standing desk.

2. When I start a book, the first and last chapters are written first.

3.  I do not use an outline.TouristKillerNewCover-LRG

4.  In the beginning, notes are made on main and significant characters. As the writing continues, the characters grow and change and take on their own identities and display their strengths and weaknesses.

5.  My plan is to avoid the “dark and stormy night” syndrome. Establish the setting with a few brief sentences, then let the characters tell the story in dialog. Not fond of the omniscient narrator. Instead of writing that the elderly lady sang off key, I bring out the old woman and let her sing.

6.  I read a lot of old books, take notes, then…

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Posted March 22, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

On Being a Racist   10 comments

(Hubby Brad is making one of his rare guest appearances. Lela)

 

Hello, my name is Brad and I am a racist.

I must be a racist because the barista at Starbuck’s scribbled “Race Together” on the side of my cup. Apparently I look like a racist. Apparently Lela does not because her cup just had her name scrawled on the side along with the secret code for how she likes her coffee. Her friend Susan, who looks very Alaska Native, was also not blessed with the invitation to have a conversation with a white coffee-dispensing college student about race. My friend PJ — RACIST!

Lela and I are generally opposed to putting our images out on social media. It’s not like the NSA doesn’t know who we are or what we look like, but we don’t want to make it any easier for them. You’ll just have to take my word for it — I’m white. My eyes are blue-green, my hair is sort of honey brown and my skin — well, this time of year, it’s blindingly white. We don’t get a lot of sun in Alaska in the winter and since it rained all last summer, it’s been about 18 months since I’ve tanned. So I think this is the whitest I’ve ever been.

I know — disgraceful! How can I have any understanding of what darker-skinned people feel when my skin is this white? And I was buying coffee with another white guy at a bookstore! Can’t you just smell the white privilege?  White men who can read at a 6th grade level and afford designer coffee! Obviously we need to discuss race relations in America with our barista! I mean, she has dreds. She can’t possibly be a racist!

So here’s something to know about the inner workings of my mind. Like most human beings on the planet, I do have some prejudices. I prefer vanilla over chocolate ice cream, for example. I discriminate against flavorless Lower 48 blueberries in favor of tart Alaska blueberries. I like Jeeps better than Subarus which I prefer over Fords. If given a choice, I will choose movies that feature explosions over romantic comedies. I don’t like some people and love to hang out with others. I discriminate all of the time. We all do and that is not necessarily an evil thing. Trust me on this — Alaska blueberries — WAY better than Lower 48 blueberries!!!!

Ah, but is my choice of coffee companions an indication that I discriminate in favor of white people? Could be. I grew up in a rough New York City neighborhood during the bussing era of the 1970s. In the 5th grade, I was stabbed by a Puerto Rican girl for no reason I ever knew and I haven’t really had much use for Puerto Ricans since, but if you are a friendly Puerto Rican and don’t try to stab me, I’ll eventually warm up to you. You know the saying — once stabbed, twice shy, but you can prove to me that I can trust you. And, then I was once beaten up by two drunk (Alaska) Native men, so if you’re a drunk Alaska Native man harassing people in downtown Fairbanks Alaska, you might want to steer clear of me. I’ve learned to growl and threaten to bite rather than get kicked in the ribs again.

See — RACIST! Or maybe the Puerto Rican chick and the Native guys hurt me and I learned the lesson they were trying to teach me.

In high school, I was smitten by a black girl in my history class who would never give me the time of day. My best friend is an Alaskan Eskimo. My wife is part-American Indian. My very beloved daughter actually looks more Indian than her mother. Once I was the only white man on a remote job site and three of my black coworkers announced I could call them the “n-word”. I guess these non-whites have f failed to notice that I’m a bigot, huh?

I’m Irish American and like most American whites, I am uncomfortable with this topic. In fact, I feel like I don’t have a right to have a contrarian opinion on this subject. The only reason I’m posting this is that Lela insisted. It was about 17 years ago that my coworkers honored me by trying to let me into their group. I couldn’t say the “n-word” without blushing and choking. They thought it was funny and tried to get me to practice it, but I never could do it. Finally, they took pity on me and said I didn’t have to. But why was it hard for me to say it? They called each other “nigga” all the time. It appeared to be a term of endearment and camaraderie. I was honored that they gave me permission, but I couldn’t say it. Since then, I’ve asked quite a few white people if they could say “n-word”. I haven’t found any that could. They are absolutely embarrassed by the term.

Why?Because we’ve all been indoctrinated to never have bigoted thoughts about people of color and to never, ever say the n-word. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but I want to just point out that there’s a double standard. White people have been taught to be careful of the sensitivities of non-whites, but non-whites are not necessarily held to the same standard.

Have you ever seen an Indian fella wearing a “Native Pride” hat? You see it a lot here in Alaska. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I wore a “white pride” T-shirt, but I fear getting beat up again, so I’ve never run that experiment. This week in Fairbanks, we’re having the Festival of Native Arts, where Native people get together for Native dancing and eating ethnic foods (muktuk and seal oil, yummo!) and non-Natives are expected to plunk down big money to go watch this, but they aren’t permitted to participate. We’re supposed to respect this exhibit as healthy cultural pride. What if Irish people were to get together for jig dancing or Germans were to get together for beer drinking and glockenspieling and say it’s okay for non-Irish to pay money to watch, but they can’t participate — what would be the reaction?

BIGOTS!

But what really bugs me is that 17 years ago, I could say “nigga” to a black man and he would call me friend, but today I don’t think those same men would honor me with that privilege because black people today are no longer judging white people by the content of their character, but by the color of our skin. White people are expected to apologize for being white, as if that is anything we can control any more than a black person can control being born black.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like racism to you? It sure sounds a lot like racism to me.

Race with Us? Really?   9 comments

Pouring my coffee over her head occurred to me!

In case you don’t know, Starbuck’s has decided to instruct the rest of America on race relations in this country. In doing so, they’ve managed to lose my business for a while.

RACE WITH US!

It’s what was scribbled on the side of my husband’s coffee cup last night. It was also scrawled on the side of his friend PJ’s cup. We ran into PJ and Susan in the parking lot of Barnes & Noble. Susan and I talked quilting while PJ and Brad discussed how the early spring is messing up their snow machining. The guys got coffee and the gals got coffee. Susan is Athabaskan Indian. I’m part-American Indian (but white people don’t usually see it unless it’s pointed out or if I’m with someone for them to compare me to and see similarities). Brad is Irish-American, I think PJ is German-American – blond and his last name could be German (okay, I never thought to ask).

The problem?

Susan and I had no such missive on the sides of our cups!

RACE WITH US?

It is not just white people in this country that need to have a conversation about racism. I’m a tribal member. Trust me. Reservation Indians are the most racist group I know personally. The Tanana Chiefs Conference just called for a 100-year plan that includes (in my opinion, but Susan agreed with me) some highly racially-oriented ideas. My black-nephew-in-law took the election of Barack Obama to start having a race conversation in which he has decided all “white” people are racists who need to be confronted about what he supposes is going on in our heads.

Kind of like Starbuck’s.

Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when a man might be judged by the content of his character not the color of his skin. I thought we were there when we elected Barack Obama. That would seem to have been a pretty clear indication that blacks at least were welcomed into the circles of power not just by the elites, but by the voters. Sadly, I was mistaken. This has been the most racially-divisive presidency since Richard Nixon.

These days having “white” skin immediately means you need to be educated about race relations by bigots with dark skin. Brad and PJ, two white men, need the conversation. Susan and I apparently do not. The message I got was that if you’re a person of color, you’re exempt from this race conversation. Or maybe it’s that if you’re hanging out with a person of color, you don’t need that conversation. If you are white and you have friends who are white then you clearly need the conversation. For the record, PJ and Brad are married to BIA-recognized tribal members and have children who are BIA-recognized tribal members.

So now you know why I wanted to pour my coffee over the barista’s head.

I resent the insinuation that if I am not of a certain racial group I must be a bigot. Until this conversation started coming up every other day, I personally hadn’t thought much about racial issues for a long long time. That’s right. I’m an American Indian who had not thought much about racism. Why? Because I don’t experience a lot of racism in my life. That may be because I don’t go looking for it. The world is full of rude people of every skin color. I don’t assume they are rude because they are racists. I assume they are rude because they are human. Maybe ignorance is bliss or maybe I only encounter racism when the person is truly being a racist, when I can’t avoid the reality.

Like when the Starbuck’s barista scribbles “Race with us” on the side of my husband’s coffee cup, but not on mine.

And, by the way, overt racists are (in my experience) almost always people of color. White people got it knocked out of them a long time ago. Maybe there are still racist thoughts kicking around in their heads that come out when they drink heavily, but for the most part they don’t say it and they don’t act on it. Reservation Indians and certain communities of black people, however ….

If we want to have this conversation, let’s invite everybody to the table. Let’s be honest about racism in America and admit that while white people have learned to keep their heads down and their mouths shut on the subject, people of color feel their skin color have been given a pass on their own racism.

RACE WITH US?

Lela Asks: Why Stay Like This?   2 comments

Lela Markham Davidson Ditch Corrected

Last week, Thom Stark responded to a reader who objects to his tax money being used to provide grants for infrastructure or services that, he felt, government shouldn’t even be involved in. Today, I’m going to touch on that topic, but then turn to the larger topic of whether what we’re doing currently is even sustainable.

Thom, I’m going to surprise you and agree that earmarks are a better system than what has replaced them since the big “bridges to nowhere” scandal. This is my nod to our modern-day reality of the federal government stealing from individuals in the form of taxes, thus impoverishing the states and forcing them to rely on federal revenue sharing which looks a great deal like welfare payments. If this is the way things must be (and they are at the moment), then earmarks make sense. Congress gets to direct the moneys to specific projects in specific states for specific purposes. Senators and representatives are elected from their states for the purposes of “bringing home the pork”. In theory, Senators are all equal and get a chance to lobby for their own earmarks. Of course Ted Stevens was, by virtue of his longevity in the Senate, more equal than others in committee assignments and that made Gravina Island bridge (which the Gravina Island residents did NOT want) possible. When Mark Begich replaced Uncle Ted, that longevity and the federally-funded projects that came with it went away. And, I say, good riddance. Alaska needs to disentangle from federal revenue sharing and plan for our future.

But the subject is earmarks and Congress bringing home the pork to their home districts.

These days, of course, they can’t really do that. The flap over earmarks was a long time coming and needed to occur, but Congress got the wrong impression from the criticism. It’s not “earmarked” funding most people hate; it’s the out-of-control spending. States must balance their budget by law. The federal government has no such requirement. In 2006, the country was only $8 trillion in debt and people were fed up. At 62% of GDP, anyone who has ever balanced a home budget knew we were in trouble. Earmarks took the limelight, but war spending and entitlements are what were and are driving the debt. Because earmarks became a dirty word, Congress now directs the funds as block grants for specific types of funding and leaves it to the Executive branch to determine the allocation of those funds. In other words, they gave more power to the Executive branch and furthered the imbalance of federal power while ceding their own tradition authority. And look what the Obama administration did with that new system? We are now $18 trillion in debt, which is 103% of GDP. To “solve” this problem, Congress is now considering a competitive funding system, at least for transportation infrastructure. I can see it now. The states that hire the best PR firms to write their grant applications will get more federal dollars. Poor states will become poorer and rich states will become richer — at least until the wheels come off the federal spending bus.

Earmarks were not the problem. Spending was and is the problem. And that is the larger conversation.

Yes, it is the way that it is now, but should it be that way? Why couldn’t it be some other way? It was once.

Before there was a federal income tax, the federal government was small and pretty efficient. We weren’t at war all the time because the federal government couldn’t afford to start wars. States raised their own revenues and used them on things of local and state interest. Roads got built, there were hospitals and museums, and churches took care of the poor. It was only with the 1914 passage of the Income Tax Amendment that the federal government could afford to start a war and it celebrated by starting World War 1. Yes, I know the war started in Europe, but the US prior to its official entry in 1917, spent three years egging the Europeans on, supplying the British and basically waving a red flag in the face of Germany, asking them to attack our bomb-carrying merchant ships. Our government did the same thing prior to World War 2. There’s nothing like being on a near-permanent wartime footing to make people think they should pay their taxes and bargain away liberty for security. Never let a crisis go to waste, after all.

The downside to federal income taxes is that states cannot derive sufficient revenue from state taxes. There is a limit to how much people can pay in taxes and still support their own lives. Because state legislators must face the public on the streets of their home towns, they are loath to raise taxes too much. So states require revenue sharing from the federal government, which makes no sense to me because the money is coming from their residents, bypassing them and then returning from the federal government. It provides a disconnect in people’s minds. Everybody wants cool federally-funded projects in their district and they applaud their states for lobbying to get them, while at the same time struggling to pay their bills because the federal government and then the state takes so much of their income in taxes. It’s a vicious cycle of taxation and spending.

Well, all that spending is catching up to us. There’s all that debt, which will take decades to pay down, IF we stop deficit spending soon, but worse, our entitlement system is on the verge of collapse. We’re approaching $90 trillion in unfunded entitlement liability, which is more than 200% of GDP. Sooner or later, this house of cards is going to come crashing down unless we seriously change the way we do things on the federal level.

So, you say “this is the way things are; live with it.” I look at the looming fiscal disaster coming our way and say “we can’t live with it because it’s unsustainable. Something must change.”

But what?

Everything these days is a 3rd rail. The politicians insist we can’t reduce Social Security, even though it is the single greatest revenue suck in the domestic budget (Medicare is almost equal to it). The politicians say we can’t reduce military spending because ISIS is going to sail up Chesapeake Bay with a squad of suicide bombers. Sequestration means we have to close the Washington Monument and that makes tourists grumpy. So we play around, reduce deficit spending from $1.1 trillion to $980 billion (otherwise denoted as a reduction of $3 billion) and pretend a drop in an ocean is a fix. The half of the country that wants to believe that the gravy train can keep going forward accepts the propaganda and says “we’re reducing the deficit. Isn’t it wonderful?” and make those of us who passed basic math in high school wonder if societal IQs dropped suddenly while we were reading Bastiat.

Yes, technically we are reducing the deficit, but the debt continues to grow and it is the debt that will eat our liver some time in the near-future. The solution will not be found in raising tax rates on the “rich”. You could tax everyone making a million dollars or more a year at 100% of their income and come within a couple hundred billion of closing that budget gap, but the next year, the “rich” will all have renounced their citizenships and moved to Malaysia or gone bankrupt.  You could tax corporations more, but they would do the same thing, taking more American jobs with them to Malaysia.

Thom StarkEngland’s history is indicative of what happens when you try to tax your way out of a spending problem. The British Empire used to be a great deal bigger than it is today and much more powerful, until they taxed their prosperous citizens into bankruptcy and emigration to support perpetual wars and welfare programs. Now the taxes rest on the soldiers of the middle class who cannot afford to leave  and their children are starting to espouse libertarian philosophy. This isn’t just happening in England, but there are political trends suggesting Europeans generally are beginning to rethink the socialist nanny state. They’re much further down the road than we are, so it is harder for them to define let alone find the exit, but they have many of the same issues that we do and some of them are thinking the solution won’t be found in government growth, but in a return to classical liberalism.

Yes, this is the way things are, but that way is not sustainable. It isn’t the fault of one political party or the other, or one president or the other … it is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed before the federal fiscal bus goes over a real fiscal cliff and takes the economy with it. My income and retirement are tied up in the economy, so — yeah, I care what happens to it. I would think you would too.

 

Lela Markham is the author of the epic fantasy The Willow Branch and the soon-to-be-released apocalyptic dystopian Life As We Knew It, which will explore many of the issues Thom and I touch on in this conversation.

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