Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why You Should Leave Your Bank...Now

© Makeyourmoneymatter.org

There may be nothing you can do to empower yourself in today's economy and political structure (for lack of a better term) than to choose where your hard-earned dollars go. No, you don't have much of a choice in taxation, but you have a marketplace full of financial institutions. Some of those are better than others. Some of them have demonstrated time and again an absolute contempt for conventional middle-class consumers. Here are some reasons why you should choose wisely, and maybe opt for a credit union instead of a bank.

Fees. Many traditional banks nickel and dime your accounts to death. You need a minimum balance or you get a "maintenance fee." You bounce a check, you get a fee. Ok, you might deserve a fee if you are fiscally irresponsible, but too often you do not have to do anything to incur a fee.

Maximums and minimums. We already mentioned minimum balance requirements for traditional banks. They usually have a maximum withdrawal amount, and/or number of withdrawals, too, which means you are being punished for emergency situations in which you may need more than the usual amount. The most you should suffer is an interest penalty for a low balance.

Socially and environmentally irresponsible investments. This may be the overriding reason you should leave a commercial bank. Are you opposed to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)? It may interest you to know that Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley have all extended credit to Energy Transfer Partners, the company constructing the DAPL. Don't believe me? Check out the Snopes.com article. We can collectively make a statement by taking our own personal business elsewhere.

Lack of interest. Literally! Can you remember the last time your bank account earned interest? Neither can I. Savings accounts are essentially worthless. Certificates of deposit (CDs) lock your money away for at least several months or more at a time and still pay next to no interest. Banks have no interest in paying you to save, or creating products that reflect the need of the average person to keep assets liquid for emergencies yet still earn a little interest in the meantime. Sure, the Federal Reserve chairman is responsible for setting interest rates, but banks still have more flexibility they choose not to exercise.

Lack of interest in you. Unless you are wealthy enough for private banking services, you are probably of little interest as a customer to the average bank. Priorities at least appear to be: Shareholders, CEO, customer and/or employee. Banks are profit-driven institutions that profit off of customers, not for them. They push loan and credit servicers like....I'll resist comparisons to nefarious enterprises. We are encouraged to live beyond our means, and to think first of ourselves instead of our communities. It's what banks do.

I have been with a credit union for the communicating arts for decades, and finally divorced myself from conventional banks....at least five years ago. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Customer service is outstanding, no matter how much is in my account, or how many products I have. This excellence has persisted even after a merger with another credit union. When was the last time an event like turned out for the better?

Because credit unions are not publicly traded, the customer is the priority. Because credit unions are usually local, or at least regional, and/or tied to a particular profession or military service, responsiveness to members vastly exceeds that of a traditional bank. Further, they are often sponsors of local charities and charitable events, from which we all prosper as a more healthy community.

I no longer live in the same city (not even the same state) as my credit union, but no worries. Many credit unions do what is called "shared branch" transactions. I can go to a totally different credit union to do my banking. How cool is that?

I urge my readers to give serious consideration to switching from a big bank to a credit union, for all of the reasons mentioned above. At least take stock of your current bank and make sure it is doing right by you, and right for our world at large. This is how you become empowered. You deserve it, and so do the rest of us.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Writers Have a Right to Rant

© Pixabay.com

The best rants are written so well that they do not offend. At least, they do not give an impression of being self-serving, or even bitter. The best rants create an understanding where there was none before. Today, I hope to deliver just such an essay, about what life is like as a writer in the digital age.

First, traditional markets for non-fiction writers are ever dwindling. Magazines are disappearing, their circulation sliding as people turn more and more to online content. The magazines that still exist are relying less and less on freelancers, so there are even fewer prospective clients to approach. One of my favorite, and most dependable, clients was forced last year to limit freelance work to in-state authors only as a result of state congressional mandate (which applied to all government agencies hiring contractors).

Second, if you manage to land an assignment, the time lag between when you deliver and when you are compensated can vary from a few weeks to months, even years. You always aim, as a writer, for clients who "pay on acceptance." That means that once they receive and approve your article, they cut you a check. Many magazines, however, pay "on publication." Editorial calendars typically work several months or more in advance, so even if they love your piece, you will not be paid until it goes to press.

There is no guarantee that even if the editor agreed to entertain your piece, that it will ever see the light of day in the publication. New writers almost invariably have to write "on spec," short for speculation, until they can demonstrate to the editor that they provide quality content and meet deadlines consistently. Good publications will offer a "kill fee," a percentage of the contracted payment amount for the article, if for some reason they cannot use the completed assignment. Really good publications will pay a "finder's fee" for research you do that they want to keep on file and perhaps spread over several articles.

The continuing expectation of free content from yourself, dear reader, feeds into the collective devaluation of all forms of artistic expression, from photography to painting to literature to music....and that is when you are not stealing those images and passages to raise your own profit margin. Hear that, advertising agencies and corporate marketing departments? This is a rampant criminal enterprise flying under the radar. I, myself, have had my entire Bug Eric blog reproduced without my authorization.

Copyright infringement has become so obscene that many writers, photographers, and artists now devote more time to writing Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices to search engine and blog platform providers than they do to producing new material of their choosing. One author I know regularly files suit for infringement; but you have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, at $35 a crack, to be eligible to file lawsuits. She now earns more from lawsuits than she does from new projects.

When you put all these factors together, writing presents itself as an occupation that is disrespected, pays little and rarely with any predictable frequency, and is subject to copyright infringement at any time. Consequently, we have mostly beleaguered, demoralized writers who mutter "what's the use?" to themselves every time they plop down behind their keyboards; and, not surprisingly, few new writers are emerging to take their place.

I don't know what we should expect from a culture and society that has devolved in its ability to spell words correctly, and arrange them in grammatically appropriate ways. That is, when we even use words. Every damn thing is an acronym anymore, with resulting confusion, misunderstanding, and inappropriate assumptions that serve only as fodder for "Damn You, Autocorrect!" Clear communication is vital to the sustainability and advancement of civilization. We devalue writers at our collective peril. They are not out to make a monetary fortune, but they deserve to make a living.

© Myriadeditions.com

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Immigrants My Ancestors Were

© historythings.com

The roots of my personal heritage literally go back to the Mayflower. I suppose I should be proud of that distinction, but as I have grown older the novelty has worn thin and my more informed understanding of history, thanks to enlightened friends and obscure media outlets, has left me less than comfortable with my ancestral privilege. I take less for granted now, and have even more respect for those who have succeeded despite the governmental, cultural, and social obstructionism they have faced. Recent executive orders and openly hostile segments of our U.S. population are making me question what we are so afraid of, and the answers I suspect are ironic and troubling.

When my forefathers arrived in North America there was no United States. The land was occupied by indigenous tribes which either embraced the European aliens or slaughtered them, depending on which accounts you read or have been exposed to. Back in my day, at least, little mention was made in the textbooks about the diseases the White Man exposed the natives to, and how those illnesses devastated indigenous populations. I suspect this fact is still omitted from school lessons in an effort to protect our heroic Caucasian reputation.

We certainly don't make a habit of discussing our legacy of Native American oppression, from confining entire "tribes" to bleak reservations, stealing their children and placing them into boarding schools where they were "re-educated" to conform to the standards of their new White masters. Somewhere between the noble savage and the sworn enemy of progress lies the truth between stereotypical extremes. We still excuse ourselves today, turning a blind eye to the routing of indigenous Nations from where we have already banished them if it blocks the path of a pipeline, or sits atop an oil or gas deposit. Progress today is measured in White profit only.

Dare I even get started on how we have treated Blacks? Equally shameful. Again, we have barely progressed in the realization of past mistakes, while continuing to invent new transgressions. Reparations? Between Native Americans and Blacks alone, our debt of guilt and shame dwarfs the National Debt by several orders of magnitude, as it should. By some miracle of forgiveness and faith, these "minorities" have refrained from violently overwhelming us. Instead, most have exhibited remarkable tolerance, and extended the hands and hearts of friendship and cooperation in all segments of our society.

So, I ask you, those who stand behind measures to ban refugees, build a wall to block those seeking a better life, and exile those who are already here because they are of different faiths or cultures, what are you so afraid of? I think I know. You fear that what we once did to the natives and other minorities will now be done to you, to us. How ironic and awful that our own shame and guilt have morphed into toxic "protectionism" and nationalism. Those are poorly-disguised versions of racism, and you know it. We persist in this framework at our collective peril. No one profits from this mindset and the behaviors that stem from it.

The only way I can overcome my personal angst and sorrow over the fire my forefathers started is to not remain oblivious, idle, or silent. I am not proud of the errors of the past, but I am proud to recognize them, and to not ignore the ongoing plight of those less fortunate, regardless of their ethnicity, origin, or religious beliefs. The societal privilege I enjoy is a sheer coincidence of skin color, gender, and genealogy. Yes, it comes with historical baggage, too, but I own it. How about you?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

It Is Not "Politics"

© Horizons.gc.ca

This week I have seen several friends on Facebook complaining about all the "political" posts in their newsfeed, and wishing it would just stop. Perhaps they can be forgiven for being confused. Politics is what got us here, but what is happening now is not politics. It is executive orders and cabinet appointments and congressional initiatives that people are objecting to, and with good reason.

It isn't "politics," it is current acts of GOVERNANCE that threaten to destroy our democracy, civil rights, and environmental health.

There may be a little residual whining about who won the election, but the overwhelming majority of comments and links that are appearing in my social media platforms are directed at the actions of the President-elect and Congress. Even traditional Republicans are voicing concern over the heavy-handed executive orders, especially the "ban" on refugees and other immigrants from select nations that appear to have little if any history of exporting terrorists.

Equally alarming is the appointment of Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon to the National Security Council. This executive order may actually violate federal law. Only secretaries and undersecretaries are eligible for appointment to that council, and it has traditionally been composed only of the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy (which overseas nuclear weapons), the President, and the Vice President. I would be disturbed by this appointment regardless of who the President is, or what party affiliation they purport to have.

Our President-elect has no respect for either party, and is taking excessive liberties....to trumple (yes, I just coined the word "trumple") the rights of citizens of all political persuasions....

Perhaps that is at the root of this. Our President-elect has no respect for either party, and is taking excessive liberties with his power to trumple (yes, I just coined the word "trumple") the rights of citizens of all political persuasions in order to advance an extremist agenda aimed at dismantling all regulation of corporate business, abolishing protections of every kind such that labor, consumer, and environmental safety will suffer unimaginable horrors and, finally, pour gasoline on the smoldering and false notion that we have more to fear from immigrants and other nations than we do from corporate abuses and excesses here at home.

Trust me, "politics" would be tolerable, tame, and a lot less provocative compared to the hostile policies spewing from the Oval Office at present. Besides the executive orders, the President-elect has retreated from the press corps, viewing them as domestic enemies to be blasted at every Twitter-tunity. Our Commander-in-Chief has zero interest in explaining his actions, and uses social media not to connect with the citizenry but merely boast and bash as he sees fit. This man is not anybody's President, unless they are perhaps shareholders in his businesses.

So, the next time someone objects to "political" posts on Facebook or elsewhere, I hope they will reconsider what is truly at stake here, what is happening already, and what will happen if we do not find common ground, in a hurry, as the body of the electorate. Continue to don your rose-colored glasses if you will, stay blissfully unaware by blocking, "unfollowing," or even "unfriending" those who do not share your opinion, but you ignore the facts at your peril.

Maybe today you say good riddance to immigrants, public education, the Environmental Protection Agency, or any other group or agency you view as a waste of your taxpayer dollars; but, sooner or later, something you do value is going to go away thanks to this administration's careless, misguided, and single-minded railroading governance. What will you do then? Who will have your back?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

How to Save the Economy - Government

One of my more recent posts focused on what you as an individual can do to change the U.S. economy for the better. Today I want to offer suggestions for what government can do. My emphasis is on local-level government because you have a greater degree of influence there; and local initiatives that prove successful often get adopted at state, regional, and national levels later.

© KTTN.com

Stop insisting that economic salvation must come from elsewhere. The traditional strategy for stimulating local economies is to offer tax breaks and other incentives to out-of-state, even multi-national, corporations that promise to provide jobs in your city or town. This is almost never sustainable in the long term. When some other city or state offers a better deal, the company flees to that place. Further, the "good jobs" that require technical skills receive applications from everywhere, or may even be outsourced to another country. Exactly who is winning here?

Provide help and incentives to local businesses. Take those tax breaks and incentives you offer out-of-state corporations and start applying them to local enterprises. This is key in building a stable, unique, and respected economy. Offset hikes in minimum wage, utilities, and other overhead expenses that big, established companies can withstand without any help, by giving local businesses tax credits and other help. Require banks to put local start-ups ahead of big business when it comes to loans and other investments. Employment opportunities must include the opportunity to make your own employment.

Raise the minimum wage. We have heard the same tired arguments for and against, but consider this: Many individuals earning minimum wage are holding two or three jobs, or several part-time jobs just to pay their bills. Raising the minimum wage would thus increase employment opportunities as these people are able to drop one or more jobs. The decrease in stress on these workers also relieves all of us of collective healthcare burdens, allows parents to spend more time with their families, recreate, and otherwise enhance their physical and emotional well-being. Productivity goes up as each worker is taxed less in the physical sense.

Stop criminalizing homelessness and poverty. Here in Colorado Springs, the City Council has written ordinances designed not to address the roots of homelessness and poverty, but to simply erase it from public view. I know this because no councilperson has voiced objection to the homeless camps in our stream corridors where the average businessperson or shopper never ventures. Making it a crime to panhandle, or even sit or lie down on the sidewalk in certain parts of town, is an effort to protect wealthy people from shame and guilt.

Improve urban planning. In many municipalities, one could simply ask for urban planning period. Annexation to boost tax revenue may be appealing, but the cost of providing utilities, public transportation, and other amenities quickly overruns those gains. Having lived in Portland, Oregon for a fair portion of my life, I can attest to the viability of a semi-flexible "urban growth boundary" that creates a unique urban-rural interface, and allows growth to pay for itself. "Density" is not a dirty word, and walkable neighborhoods are highly sought-after by the new generation of business professionals who put a premium on reduced commutes and vibrant communities. Urban planning attracts desirable..."elements."

Broaden educational opportunities. Learning is a life-long commitment, but few cities or towns make continuing education a priority. Sure, there are online alternatives, but workshops, conferences, and traditional classrooms are still important. Opportunities for informal education through museums, libraries, and parks are not always publicized enough, and are certainly under-funded. Boost monetary allocations to reflect an interest in keeping citizens ahead of the curve and able to transition to newly-created occupations.

Promote multicultural festivals and events. Diversity is a strength of all communities, but too often we do not even know our neighbor. We may not even speak the same language. Festivals and events give citizens a chance to learn about other cultures by reaching beyond stereotypes and assumptions, and actively engaging with others in-person.

Prioritize public health and safety. This goes beyond law enforcement and an adequate number of hospitals. We have had enormous failures across the country in providing safe drinking water, healthy air quality, and safe transport of hazardous materials. We cannot tolerate privatization of water resources, or relax regulations designed to protect us from abuse by corporations trying to skirt the law when it comes to flammable, toxic substances. We need to tighten regulations, if anything.

Become innovative with taxation. Increases in sales taxes have been repeatedly used to fund what should be standard budget items like infrastructure maintenance. Such regressive applications hit the poorest citizens the hardest, and cost overruns often exceed the revenues generated anyway. Get creative. Why not a parking tax to encourage use of public transit, the revenue actually going to improved public transit? I am in no way an expert on taxation, but it is clear to me that we need to apply some serious brainpower to creating alternatives to the traditional, outdated code.

Empower citizens whenever possible. Finally, it should be an overriding priority of local governments to reward public initiatives that allow individuals to pursue projects that benefit the community as a whole. Some regulations actually do need relaxing. Ordinances that prevent homeowners from growing their own vegetable gardens, or erecting their own modest wind or solar devices, should be modified or repealed. Innovative ideas should be rewarded whenever possible, and seldom, if ever, punished. A citizen who feels motivated to create something, or share something, be it an idea or something more tangible, is the most valuable citizen of all. Oh, that means everyone is valuable, by the way, and not just as a consumer of goods and services.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Drunk Driving

I rarely post content here that is not my own, but one of my friends on social media narrowly avoided a tragic automobile accident recently, and her account of the ordeal is so powerful that it demands more widespread circulation. Please take this message to heart, "share" it, and intervene whenever there is potential for an intoxicated human being to get behind a wheel.

The aftermath of the accident © Laura Lillie Saenz

"First - everyone involved is ok. Normally I wouldn't share something like this, but my reasoning is important. I can't convey how close we were; I'm not sure how we were not involved, but for the hand of God. The kids and I watched all this unfold. We watched the driver crawl out the window, and his passenger stumbled out to the ground.

My son was getting out of the car before I even stopped; and went to her and he sat with her while the driver ran. I checked on the elderly gentleman in the truck, while calling 911. The girls patiently sat in the truck for hours. As we sat with the young lady whose face was cosmetically damaged, [with] at least 2 teeth out, she told us she was sorry.

You see, they were drunk. Really drunk! It was 6 PM and they were coming back from a Mexican restaurant in town; she said she had 9 beers (she barely weighed 100 pounds), that they were drunk, but she let him drive her car. He left her laying on the side of a ditch, for strangers to care for her. I asked her to talk to us until paramedics got there, and she laid there talking to me about her 4-year-old daughter and her mom. I just kept looking at my son and my truck that safely held my babies and thanking God for our safety.

But, as we waited and watched first responders do their jobs, I couldn't help but be angry too. There is NO excuse for anyone to ever get in a vehicle and drive after drinking. If you have a habit of drinking - even one or two beers - and getting in your car, you need to get a picture of your kids, your wife, your mom, and put them on your dash. You need to know your story may not end as well as this one. This young momma could have very easily been taken from her daughter tonight. That elderly man, was probably a grand-daddy, a husband, and loved.

I have zero patience for intoxicated drivers. You are endangering the lives of other people around you, and could forever ruin the lives of so, so many people, robbing all future generations of a chance to know a loved one. Parents, please, tell your teenagers that if they are ever in a situation where they have been drinking, or a friend has been drinking, tell them you will come get them no questions asked (until the morning anyway). Tell them repeatedly. Tell them in their 20's that if they are out partying you'll pay for a cab ride home. Let them know they can come to you in that moment. Be mad at them later, but be thankful they're alive.

If you have a friend out drinking, maybe right now, call them, tell them you'll come get them, offer to be a designated driver or pitch in for a cab. But, don't let them, or yourself, get in a car if you have had anything to drink.

I am happy to say that just after they told us we could leave, one of the first officers on the scene came and thanked us and told us they got the guy. I am thankful that these people involved will be able to go home and hug their loved ones again." - Laura Lillie Saenz

We drink to celebrate, we drink to drown our sorrows. We are given far too many excuses to drink and not nearly enough reasons not to. Drinking alcohol is never, ever an acceptable coping skill. One could argue convincingly that we should not drive a vehicle during any emotional highs or lows, let alone under the influence of substances that exacerbate those emotions. The NFL playoffs finish today. The Super Bowl is in a couple more weeks. Do not let fanaticism end up in fatality.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Letters to....Colorado Parks & Wildlife Re: Predator Control

Our Colorado Parks and Wildlife have recently made public a plan to hunt bear and mountain lion in select areas of the state in an effort to increase populations of deer for hunters. The period for public comment is apparently still open and I took it upon myself to draft the following letter to the commission at dnr_cpwcommission@state.co.us. I encourage others to make their voices heard as well.

Dear Commissioners:

I hope this comment in opposition to the proposed predator control strategy for bear and cougar does not come too late in the process.

While I support the hunting of game animals, and understand the occasional need to put down a "nuisance bear" or other individual predator, I am vehemently opposed to hunting non-game wildlife otherwise. It is my opinion that we do not have adequate knowledge of predator populations to ensure that hunting would not cause undo harm, not simply in decreasing populations beyond a viable threshold, but also by weakening the gene pool. This may already be happening with game animals because human hunters tend to target the healthiest, most robust specimens while natural predators go after weak, diseased, elderly, and young prey.

Secondly, for better or for worse, the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, in terms of our current understanding of the biology of predators. Research by state and federal agencies, universities, and private organizations and individuals has revealed these animals to be far more complex and admirable than previously recognized. Documentary filmmakers have turned public sentiment in favor of fostering populations of predators. Whether or not you decry anthropomorphism, you have to recognize that the public is now going to oppose hunting predators in most instances. In fact, there is widespread support for increasing predator populations to balance what is seen as a surplus of deer, elk, and other prey species.

The idea that predator control is necessary for deer and other game animals to prosper has been disproven time and again since the days of Aldo Leopold and his land ethic. I know that I am not saying anything you do not know already, I respect your individual and collective intelligence, knowledge, and experience. However, we have reached a point in history where politics no longer has a place at the table.

Hunters may have a strong lobby, but that does not mean those who pursue wildlife in a non-consumptive fashion to watch, photograph, paint, and otherwise take away experiences that do not involve killing an animal, do not have rights as well. They are simply not as organized, in many cases not as wealthy, and are certainly a lot less quantifiable. This does not mean their numbers are small, or their voices should be ignored. I am quite confident I speak for hundreds if not thousands.

The one case you could make is that aside from state park fees, and tax check-offs, wildlife "watchers" pay little towards conservation and management. I am certainly open to help crafting ways to change that so that we are helping instead of complaining and otherwise responding without participating in a material fashion.

Thank you for your attention and consideration of the points made above.

Sincerely,
Eric R. Eaton

This is a $4.5 million plan that will be executed in the Piceance Basin and along the Upper Arkansas River, involving trapping as well as shooting puma and Black Bear. There is no question there is a disconnect between rural residents (and hunters) and urban populations in how each view predators. Those who make their livelihood "in the woods" and on ranches deal with real, live predators on a regular basis, with real, live consequences. City-dwellers are mostly exposed to carnivores in television documentaries and at the zoo. Predators tend to be an abstract concept from the safety of your living room or from the safe side of a fence or moat.

We need to start a dialogue between all public and private stakeholders before situations like this arise that needlessly pit one group against another.