Tag Archives: politics

We didn’t weed out racism when we should have

Behold the blackberry root

The racism I grew up with was subtle. Not so subtle I didn’t recognize it, but subtle enough that it could live there in the background without offending too many people.

Without offending me enough to do something about it.

And I’m convinced that is why it’s still around in 2018 and factoring into a national election.

Racism is like Himalayan blackberry bushes. A thorny species in the rose family, these plants were brought in for fruit production in the 1800s, but they quickly spread out of control and changed the landscape by out-competing native plants. Each spring they pop up through the bark dust like other weeds, but you can’t just pull them out. They’re stubborn, and they have thorns. So you weed everything else and swear you’re going to come back for it. But you don’t, and they grow bigger. Continue reading We didn’t weed out racism when we should have

Raging for Twenty Six Years

I remember the first time I heard Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut album.

I was a junior at a country high school. My brother and my best friend were deeply into punk rock, and I wanted to date this hottie college girl named Cheryl Carpenter.

I was all over the place, at times trying to fit in with the rednecks and the true-blue farm kids, and at other times trying to be what I saw my favorite others around me being.

I hadn’t really found a place for myself yet. Continue reading Raging for Twenty Six Years

How to talk to kids about the end of democracy

Dr. Seuss’s art

This is not really a how-to essay. I’ve always hated anyone telling me how to raise my kids or giving me books about parenting.

But we’re living in the last days of the American constitutional federal representative democracy, and we have front-row seats to its rapid descent into hell.

What better teaching moment could you possibly ask for? Continue reading How to talk to kids about the end of democracy

Thoughts from a snowflake

I stopped by an old friend’s apartment to commiserate tonight and to wait out the hellish Portland traffic.

We drank a couple of Sticky Hands IPAs, and I relived some Facebook conversations for him, since he quit it a few weeks ago.

I’m a little envious of this and tell him so.

But he’s not unaware of what’s going on. He knows about the latest antics of our orange wannabe dictator. He’s aware that the Senate silenced  a female member while allowing her male colleagues to read the same words she attempted to.

Continue reading Thoughts from a snowflake

evitcepsreP yM gnignahC

Changing your evitcepsrep is all about exposing yourself to new views
Changing your evitcepsrep is all about exposing yourself to new views
It’s been a challenge to change my perspective this week.

I’ve been coming at this from one angle since all hell broke loose on Tuesday night.

Finding the negatives lying around on the floor, picking them up, weighing them, and then moving on to the next one.  Continue reading evitcepsreP yM gnignahC

Sliver: Intro (History as a parasite)


NGC 5907 galaxy
NGC 5907 galaxy

2120 – Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest region of what was once the United States of America.

Only shards of history survived the cullings.

And by shards, I’m being generous.

We passed history down from one person to the next in small groups around burning wood with the flames casting shadows on our surroundings for ten thousand years.

We marked the rocks with the images in our mind drawn by flames. And pounded reeds flat and bleached them in the sun and made up words to describe the images and the actions around them in complex relationships that became written language.

And then we maximized efficiency and built printing presses to make short work of storing our history in volumes in libraries.

But war, as it does, burns away the words with fire and rhetoric.

We digitized history and made the whole thing accessible to every human being in small, hand-held computers. And we shrank it, until millions of volumes could fit onto the tip of a needle.

History compounded is a radioactive element biding its time until transmutation releases energy and blows itself into shards and larger chunks.

And so we’re left to tell our story one generation to the next, to pass along the DNA of our existence, sometimes in rich detail and sometimes in shards too small to understand why we keep repeating our mistakes.

I pieced this all together from the slivers of information I have gathered over my lifetime, which evenly spans the turn of the 22nd Century.

I inherited some of it and found most of it, extracting it willingly or unwillingly from its hosts. Oh, yes, history is a parasite. Or didn’t you know that?

History periodically blows itself up, so we must pick it up in shards or larger chunks and piece it together and determine that we will never kill each other in large numbers again for resources. But we can’t fight history’s innate need to repeat itself, and so we become willing hosts, corrupted and finally destroyed as the shards and larger chunks to be pieced together by a future generation.

In this way we have eked out our existence on this rock for this brief moment in time.


Sliver by Timothy Alex Akimoff copyright 2016

Teenage Politics


On Thursday, around our dinner table, I couldn’t help but think that my kids are becoming really great liberals.

If liberals means they espouse a political ideology founded upon ideas of liberty and equality.

We discussed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the State of the Union address, the economic impact of falling oil prices and, of course, school testing, a topic they are all too familiar with and opinionated about.

As I listened to each of them make a case for or an argument against some aspect of our discussion, it dawned on me that they have become what I had hoped they would.

Independent thinkers.

Thoughtful question askers.

Skeptical analysts.

I was fast becoming a Young Republican at their age, bent on making my worldview, the one I had fashioned as a second generation immigrant, work for me.

Continue reading Teenage Politics

Welcome to the Middle Ground

Springfield, Illinois
End of the legislative session. Springfield, Illinois

“Where y’all from,” asked the big bouncer at a nightclub called Stella Blue.

“Chicago,” someone replied.

“Welcome to the middle ground,” he said after checking our IDs at the door.

Upstairs, the club was an ironic polar opposite of its “Dead” namesake.

American-flag-themed Budweisers, a dance floor with bad dance music, a digital disco ball, five public radio employees and a whisky-voiced, bleach-blond bartender with electric-green-tinged contact lenses.

Continue reading Welcome to the Middle Ground

Why we should vote in spring and not in fall –

I’ve often thought elections should be held in the spring, when hope like blossoms springs from our hearts after the long, bleak winter. 

Instead we hold them shortly after the leaves have fallen and the fields have been reaped of their harvest. 

We hold elections at a time when our hearts and minds are battening down the hatches in advance of the figurative death witnessed in leafless skeletal tree branches, barren fields and brutal winds whispering the onslaught of winter. 

Makes you wonder what the time of year we vote has on our collective psyche. 

Would the optimism coming out of a long-winter’s slumber into the fresh newness of spring change the vitriolic nature of our passive-aggressive social networking? 

Is there something to the fact that elections are held at a time when we are still coming down from the super-charged, adrenaline-filled weekends on boats, at the races, on bicycles and skateboards soaking up the sun in a bleary, devil-may-care, 95-degree summer stupor? 

Like all journalists, election night is like Christmas morning for me. I love the frenetic atmosphere in the newsroom generated, no doubt, at the thought that we are covering one of the greatest aspects of being an American, the right and ability to vote. 

I love the fast-paced narrative as the political landscape of the future starts to take shape, and the stories of the next year are laid out along changing party lines and new faces both local and national. 

At 38, this will be five elections from inside newsrooms stretching from Salem, Oregon as an intern at the Statesman Journal to fighting with CNN photographers on the camera podium in the Adams Center in Missoula, Montana for a Barack Obama rally to nearly knocking over the newly elected governor of Alaska while trying to take my heavy winter coat off before an interview.

And now to Chicago, the home of the sitting president, who is looking a little more grey around the temples, a little more lined in the face and with a lesser gleam in his eyes.

Or maybe that’s just my perspective going into this winter season having watched the most derisive and negative campaigns of my career. 

Before this election season, I had never considered unfriending my friends on Facebook or Twitter, and yet here I am having culled my list. Not to reflect what I want to hear, but to temper the vitriol and to make the voices of reason on both sides of the politics spectrum stand out in the din and chaos.

And I’m back to the idea of holding elections in the spring, where after candidates have battled themselves bloody trying to reach us through the protective cover of our hard hibernation, we emerge with a collective hope in all things new, a desire to clean out the cupboards of dust and detritus and perhaps extending that to city councils, legislatures and Congress.

Instead of voting after the grilled hedonism of late summer, after the death-themed finality of Halloween, lets vote after the hunger pangs of Lent and with the newborn feel of Easter fresh in our hearts.


I am those people you look down on –

I have had a job since I was 14. I waited tables at Peter’s Little Bavaria shortly after I was old enough to get a worker’s permit.

I was in a grocery workers’ union by the time I was 16.

Before I turned 20, I had worked in landscaping, food service, grocery, mechanics and child care.

Getting a job was never a problem for me. Getting ahead was.

Just about 18 years ago, I convinced my best friend to marry me. She might have believed that I’d one day be wealthy, and that I’d take her around the world with me. I’m not sure where she got that idea.

We followed some good advice and spent our first year together living at my parents’ home. We saved a little money and tried to figure out how much we’d cost together.

There were times when we made good money and when our expenses were low. And there were times when accidents occurred and unexpected medical expenses drained our savings.

Some call these the ups and downs of life.

At some point, whether we were ready for it of not, we had a child. This was not as a result of poor planning. In fact, for many years, it was the folks at Planned Parenthood that helped us afford to use birth control.

To my dear friends who see everything in black and white, contraception and abortion are only parts of what Planned Parenthood does. Defunding anything without thinking through the ramifications may just prove more costly than you might think.

Shortly after we conceived, we found ourselves at the receiving end of another of life’s beatings.

The upside was a little money left to us by my grandfather. Enough, in fact, for me to start a small house painting business. I bought a van, a sprayer, a few buckets, some sandpaper and my contractor license.

The downside was an accident that nearly blew off my left index finger. Four surgeries later, I got to keep the finger, but I lost my business. I sold off the van, the sprayer, the buckets and the sandpaper to pay for some of the medical bills and the medications I needed for an experimental plastic surgery that allowed me to keep my finger intact.

The total medical bill amounted to more than $20,000, if memory serves. The doctor told me I could cut that in half if I decided to let the finger go.

Here’s the kicker though. My wife and I were on the Oregon Health Plan at the time. As a young married couple with very low income, we qualified for at least basic medical care.

After many months of therapy, I was able to work again. But we were broke with no way of borrowing enough to start up the business again.

So we went back to volunteering at a non-profit missionary organization we had been affiliated with several years before.

My wife was 5 months pregnant when we left to live on a little, impoverished commune in one of the richest valleys on the island of Oahu.

Yes, it was Hawaii, but the first night we slept in our room in a shack at the back of the mission’s property, we woke up to rats in our bed.

Impoverished doesn’t even begin to describe us at this point. We were volunteers. We prepared our own food, fixed our broken pipes, trimmed our trees and worked together as a community so we could serve the larger community around us.

Given the choice of looking for low-income work or volunteering at a mission to try to do some good in this world, I think it’s obvious why we did what we did.

Living in such conditions, we qualified for the Hawaii state health plan. When our first child arrived, we welcomed him into this world with grateful hearts for the services we were receiving, for the goodness of the citizens of Hawaii to take care of their lowest income residents in this way.

Several years went by. We rode the ups and downs of life. I decided to go to college, since the options for work were very limited. No income means no credit, no credit means no small business.

When my wife and I decided we wanted to have another baby, it was in a season of stability. The coast looked clear, the horizon was unclouded. 

But even as a bar man making good tips, we never reached a point of comfort. Abject poverty was always just two missed paychecks away. We understood this. It’s part of the fear that keeps you trapped in the same cycle for years and years. 

The government carried us thorough many tough days, especially those scary days when your child is sick or needs emergency care and you have no idea how deep those costs might run.

WIC provided milk, tuna, cheese and cereal for all three of our children. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford those items. It was that with the help, We were able to establish another small savings account. Maybe a two-month buffer between abject poverty. Just enough, perhaps, to make the decision to go to college instead of looking for another low-wage job. 

Hearing members of my family talk about the ne’er-do-wells on food stamps still stings a little. That’s because at one point, my wife and I qualified for food stamps on the federal level. But a state law kept us from receiving that aid. 

I kept the card around as a souvenir for many years. Mostly to remind myself that I needed help not once, not twice, but many times. 

There were times when we went to the food bank provided by a local church. At other times, we picked up carrots and onions at the farmers market with a small check from the U.S. government. 

At times, we relied on the goodness of our neighbors for food and sometimes for shelter.

While in college, we lived off my wife’s income and the residual from grants provided for books and technology needs. We lived in a double-wide trailer. There were nights when I slept on the couch with a pellet gun by my side so I could shoot the rats that would come up from holes in the floor. 

I remember making meals with whatever we had in our pantry. But our babies ate well and drank their milk and grew into healthy children.

And I graduated from college having paid for half my education out of pocket. I still owe $32,000 to the government for the remainder of my student loans, but that is the best debt I will ever have. 

In the months after college, we crawled very slowly out of the depths of abject poverty into more comfortable realms. 

We did not achieve this because of high wages. I was, after all, a journalist. We achieved this because of those circumstances in life that you can never count on but which make your life either unimaginably easier or horrifyingly terrible. 

They are the variables. 

Nearly blowing my finger off with a paint sprayer was a variable. Losing a job because of a near-death car accident was a variable. So was the offer of living in my wife’s grandmother’s house so it would not fall into disrepair after she went to hospice care. So was the use of my parents’ cars so I could work. 

Today I make more than twice what I made when I took my first job in journalism. If I earned these wages 20 years ago, I would have been considered upper middle class. 

And still, we are only a few paychecks from abject poverty. The goal of having six-months worth of savings remains a distant dream. The money we have saved at times has been used up when we needed to make a deposit on a rental house, pay off an unplanned trip to the emergency room or take care of those other debts that tend to show up when you’re not looking for them. 

I still rely on the government for help at times, like when I was laid off from the Missoulian newspaper a couple of years ago.

Just three years ago I bought my first house with a $10,000 tax credit that the government was giving out to encourage first-time home buyers.

I don’t know if I’ll ever need to go on food stamps or if I’ll have to rely on the government for health insurance. I suppose I expect to again, knowing full well that the ups in life generally mean you must go down. 

This is a lot more of my story than I like to tell people. It’s not that I’m ashamed, it’s that it’s a lot to tell, and we have short attention spans. 

The reason I wanted to write this today is for those of you who are quick to judge, and especially for those of you who tend to lump everyone into the same category. 

I do not deny that there are many people, thousands of people, in fact, who take advantage of government help. I have met many of them in the lines at the state and county health organizations and in the lines at the grocery store. 

I also know, from experience, how difficult it is to escape the cycle of poverty. I know that for every inch you crawl your way out of it, you are just a slip away, mere seconds, from the bottom. 

Was I lazy? No lazier than you. Let me finish where I began. I have had a job of one kind or another since I was 14. I have seen good times, and I, like many others, believe in the hard work it takes to achieve them. 

I have seen the fickle nature that life takes at times. I have made wrong turns. I have gone down the wrong path more than once. 

If you know me well, then you know my heart for people and the way I want to care for others. Now you know another part of my story. And I hope that before you publish another damning post on Facebook or Twitter that lumps us all in together as lazy ne’er-do-wells who rely on the government with no desire to make anything better of ourselves. You are speaking about my wife and I.