Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who Is Ron Paul?

I generally keep my mouth shut when it comes to politics. I've always felt that I don't know enough about what really goes on to be particularly vocal about my opinions on the matter.  And I certainly don't know enough to engage in a real discussion with somebody about things like foreign policy or fiscal responsibility.  But, a new presidential race is happening now, and I feel like everything I've learned about all the other stuff I'm interested in (food, education, etc.) has made me feel obligated to learn more about who's running, what the issues are, and to engage in the conversation.
In 2008, I voted for Obama. He is intelligent, respectable, articulate, and he promised to bring change for us. He hasn't. I certainly don't think that he's responsible for the current dismal state of things, but he hasn't done much to shake things up, either. And in the four years since I voted (rather casually, to be honest) for Obama, a lot has happened in my life to change my worldview.  I am now a wife and mother, a small business owner (paying for individual healthcare), and a homeowner.  I have a better understanding of how much of our income is taken by the government and I have seen firsthand (in people around me unjustly receiving welfare benefits) how poorly mismanaged that money is.  And it infuriates me. I also have learned more about how the government's involvement in the food industry and in education have prevented the voice of the public from really affecting change.  And I now know that when our grandparents pass and want to leave us their hard-earned money, the government will claim a large portion of it as its own. WHAT?!?!  My parents always told me that when I got older I would become more conservative. Ha! They were right. But here's something weird:  I thought when I announced to my parents that I was thinking of voting for Ron Paul, that they would be excited that their youngster liberal daughter had finally come over to their side. But they weren't. They told me Ron Paul was a nutter, anti-Israel, and dangerously indifferent to Iran.  Huh?  Well, like I said, foreign policy is not exactly my strong suit. So, when they said this to me, I retreated and became determined to learn more about it and figure out why my die-hard Republican, NRA-member, anti-big government parents were not fans of Ron Paul. I really didn't get it. But as I scoured the internet, watching debates & interviews, trying to get the full scope of things by watching FOX News, CNN, The Daily Show, and a bunch of little guys in between, it became clear. Ron Paul has been intentionally dismissed by mainstream media and by the other candidates. He has been painted as a loon, on the fringe, wacky, and unelectable. The GOP establishment wants us to think that by supporting Ron Paul (and taking all those votes away from Mitt Romney), we are supporting Obama.  They want us to think that he doesn't stand a chance and that we're really better off to just go ahead and ignore him and vote for Romney instead. Plus, they are deliberately confusing people about Paul's stance on foreign policy (among other issues).  So, I'm going to sum up what I've learned so far about Ron Paul and what he stands for, in case you're wondering some of the same things I was.  You guys that have been Paul supporters for a long time, please comment and correct me if I get any of this stuff wrong.

1. Foreign Policy  Basically, Ron Paul is non-interventionist. He things we should mind our own business and stop trying to police the world. This means bringing our troops home, and not just from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from places all over the world. He recognizes that our meddling in other country's affairs actually makes us less safe (because it makes people hate us), rather than more safe, like our past administrations would have us believe. He thinks the threat of Iran has been vastly overestimated, pointing out that their military is terribly unorganized and inefficient, and that they are not a serious threat to our national security.  And he wants to cut funding to Israel (this one causes a lot of gasps).  He agrees that Israel is our friend and ally, but he also recognizes that they don't need or want our money or military presence in their country. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel's Prime Minister) has said so.  Cutting our funds to Israel is simply part of the larger, non-interventionist plan for cutting military spending.  Ron Paul is not out to get Israel.  He's also not interesting in cutting defense spending, meaning he wants to continue to build our military presence at home. He just wants to bring troops home from all other corners of the world, and this would mean huge cuts in spending, which we obviously need.

2. Monetary Policy (End the Fed)  Ron Paul plans to first issue a major audit of the Federal Reserve, and he wants to eventually end it. This is a really big deal and would fundamentally change our economy.  Even though I worked in a bank for a while, I still don't fully grasp how the Fed works. I know how it works in terms of clearing checks and monitoring money supply, but then it starts to get foggy for me. I'm still learning on this one. I know the Fed controls interest rates and inflation and has the sole authority to print money, even when there is nothing to back it. Printing money without anything to back it is like using your credit card when you don't have the money in your checking account. You're spending money that doesn't exist, and it will most certainly bite you in the ass later.  Interest rates are something that I didn't have that much understanding of until I bought a house.  When interest rates are low, it's great if you're getting a mortgage (ours is only 5%, but they were around 18% in the 1980s) but really sucks if you're trying to save money or have been dependent on interest income, because interest rates on things like CDs and savings accounts will also be low. So, in the 1980s when interest rates were high, it cost more in interest to buy a house, but it was easier to save money and retired people could easily live on interest income from the money they had saved. 
Basically, the Fed controls our economy. And, that control rests in the hands of just a few people, and they operate in secrecy and answer to no one. Because they control interest rates and inflation and can print money whenever they feel like it, they control the value of the dollar. Ron Paul suggests that we end the Fed, that its existence in unconstitutional, and that we should return to our Laissez Faire (remember that term from school?), free market society.  He also wants to do away with the IRS and repeal the federal income tax (which only accounts for 1/3 of total federal revenue, anyway, which I did not know). REPEAL THE FEDERAL INCOME TAX!!!!!  How much more of your paycheck would you take home if you weren't paying those taxes? Uh, a lot.  He's also vehemently opposed to overspending and understands that getting our debt under control is incredibly urgent and serious and that it should be our number one priority right now.

3. Civil Liberty Ron Paul talks about the Constitution a whole lot, and seems to be the only candidate out there who actually knows (or cares) what it says.  He believes that the role of government is to protect the liberty of the people. Period. The End.  He wants us to be able to have our guns (yes, Dad, he supports the NRA), he thinks the NDAA is a complete outrage (if you don't know what that is, look it's serious business), he's a big supporter of homeschooling (hooray!), and he thinks people should be able to spend their hard-earned money however they damn well please, thank you very much.

4. Healthcare Dr. Ron Paul is a retired OB-GYN, so he has real first-hand experience with the healthcare industry. During all his years as a doctor, he never once accepted payment from Medicare or Medicaid. People who couldn't afford to pay were taken care of by the church (he worked in a Catholic hospital).  And it wasn't that big of a deal, because healthcare costs were low. Ron Paul believes that government involvement in the healthcare industry, along with big ugly corporatism, is part of what has driven prices so high.  He thinks that the government has no place requiring people to have healthcare and that the market needs to be opened up to allow people more choice in healthcare coverage.

These are the most talked about issues lately.  Ron Paul of course has strong opinions about other things, including education and environmental policy.  On some things, I don't quite agree with him. But he is fundamentally different from any other candidate that we've seen in years. And he has a HUGE following, despite what the mainstream media has said. He is particularly popular among young people, like myself, and even younger college students. This totally baffles people because college students are historically liberal and no one can pinpoint why they love Ron Paul so much. Well, here's what they don't understand: we young people are sick and tired of being lied to and manipulated. We can't get jobs, despite our college education, and when we do get a job, it pays next to nothing and the government takes half.  In these low-paying jobs, we aren't offered employee-paid healthcare and can't afford to pay for individual insurance, but we still don't qualify for Medicaid. We are drowning in student loans and are desperate for a paycheck.  Meanwhile, our politicians are spending money that we don't have and aren't doing anything about our lack of jobs, and instead are playing word games to try and convince us that real changes are happening.  We are not convinced.  We are not stupid and we are not blind.  We see that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and the other major players are all a part of the same big political machine. They're all the same: playing with rhetoric, dancing around the issues, blaming each other for the poor state of things.  People see what's happening and are tired of it.  And that is why Ron Paul has so much support, as "fringe-y" as he may seem. He is not part of the machine. He is genuine and honest and has held the same values for thirty years. And he is the only one who has the courage to really get into the nitty gritty of these difficult and complex issues. For Ron Paul, the agenda is not so simple and shortsighted as beating Obama, which is what Mitt Romney focuses on.  The issue is that we have got to change direction, fundamentally change the way we're doing things, and soon, or else our beloved America will really be headed for dark days.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Caterpillars, Bugs, & Slugs!

The garden looks like a real garden this year!  Like, with actual food growing!  Very exciting.  However, with all this fantastic growth, I'm entering all new territory in the world of gardening. I have to be out in the garden a lot more often and I'm constantly having to look up and identify bugs and how to deal with them sans chemicals, and having to identify other problems like nutrient deficiencies.  The raised beds that have my friend Duane's magical compost are doing wonderfully, and I fertilize them a bit here and there just to encourage more lush growth. The other pots and beds, which do not have that magical compost have given me some trouble.  Here are some pictures of how the garden is looking now. We have eggplant, jalapenos, sweet red peppers, green bell peppers, tomatoes, and basil growing (and okra and beans, which are kind of behind). So far, only a few cherry tomatoes and basil have been ready to harvest, but the others are growing fast!  I have to go out to the garden daily now to keep an eye on bugs and make sure I'm there to pick the veggies as soon as they're ready.

                  Eggplant                                                    Sweet red peppers

                        Green bell peppers                                 The short ones are okra

Garden troubles:

Nitrogen Deficiency   The beds without magical compost have had a major lack of nitrogen (and probably other nutrients, too).  I suspect that this is because we used store-bought compost which probably came from some god-knows-where giant farm and the manure that was composted is actually sterile because the animals it came from were not well cared for. Anywho, the soil is not so wonderful, so the plant growth was significantly stunted and the leaves were all yellowy.  Also, my bean leaves were developing weird brown spots, which I initially thought was some kind of bacterial or fungal thing, but turned out to just be another sign of too little nitrogen.  I was super discouraged and had sort of lost hope for these guys, but I began a serious fertilizing regimen anyway.  I started dousing them with liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed, the gold standards of organic fertilizers, and they seem to have made a miraculous recovery!  Their leaves are now a lovely dark green and they are showing rapid new growth. The beans are dropping their brown spotted leaves and also have new growth.  Hooray!  It feels really good to have nursed these guys back to health.  I'll keep up with the fertilizing regimen, since I know they need those nutrients and are not getting them from the soil. 

Bugs  This part of gardening sucks.  I've poured so much time and energy into getting healthy, productive plants and now all these bugs think they can just come along and eat my veggies!  How rude!  Plus, in many cases, the best way to deal with them is to pick them off by hand, which I do not love.  But, I have to save my veggies. The bugs in the pictures below are the most obnoxious. They're called leaf-footed bugs, but here in Alabama we call them stink bugs. I HATE THEM. The ones on the left are adult bugs. The red ones on the right are the same type of bug in the nymph stage. They cluster together on the tomatoes, stick in their needle-like mouth thingy, and suck out the juice of the fruit. This sucking damages the fruit and stops it from growing.  These guys are super difficult to control organically, so I've been out there several times a day lately, spraying them with soapy water and flicking them away.  Today, I plan on going out with a cup full of soapy water to capture them (the big ones fly).  I'm super frustrated with these stupid stink bugs and I really hope I can get them under control.

Caterpillars  Caterpillars are kind of cute, but they eat my plants. They love to munch on the leaves and hide out on the under side of leaves, in the shade.  Luckily, they've been relatively easy to deal with. I just pick them off, which isn't so bad, and put them safely on the ground in another part of the yard. I don't like to kill things unnecessarily.  The caterpillars seem to be worse after a big rain, but generally they haven't caused too much of a problem.  And thank goodness I don't have those monster-sized green glob looking caterpillars that are like a scary real-life version of a cartoon bug. Mine are small and friendly looking, but still unwelcome in the garden.

Slugs  I really only had a problem with slugs for a little while. I never actually saw them, but I knew (thanks to the internet) that they were there. They come out at night and munch the leaves (very irregularly, not in holes like caterpillars), and can be easily controlled by placing a cup full of beer in the garden!  I was all ready to put some beer in an old yogurt cup and place it in the garden with the rim at soil level, but I never had to.  I noticed after a big rain that there wasn't any new damage being done to leaves, so I guess they went away....or drowned in our torrential Alabama rain.

Aphids These are tiny little black bugs that generally congregate in large numbers on the underside of leaves, which they like to munch on. I noticed them on my okra plants and immediately went out to spray them with soapy water.  Then we had seven inches of rain in one night. Uh, that's a ton of rain (we also had a minor roof leak that night, so that was lovely).  Haven't seen the aphids since.

I've also had to learn to leave the good bugs alone. Spiders and ladybugs are friendly in the garden.  I never thought I'd be glad to see spiders!  And I've developed a whole new level of appreciation for being able to go out and buy food at the store, and especially at the farmer's market. I can't imagine what it would feel like to know that if it didn't rain or if stink bugs ate all my tomatoes, I might not be able to make ends meet. But that's what it's like for farmers, I suppose. And doing it organically is really hard work (I'm certainly more aware of that now), and requires a whole world of knowledge about everything from soil chemistry to entomology to weather patterns. It also requires careful planning and management. When I get ready to plant a fall/winter garden, I'll have to find out which plants can be planted where tomatoes were, which ones shouldn't be planted in the same place as beans, etc. This kind of planning is important in organic gardening/farming because it's the natural means of discouraging pests and plant sickness.

I think it's important to support our small organic farms whenever we can, and to understand that there is good reason that organic produce, even direct from the farmer, is often more expensive.  Buying from the farmer is best for everybody: best for the farmer (who we need to stick around so that we'll keep having good food), and best for us because we can ask the farmer about his/her practices and feel confident that we are making a healthy food choice.

Maybe next year I can grow enough food to share with friends and family!  If the stink bugs don't eat it all.