As all Montanans know, Montana has the highest suicide rate in the United States.
There are many contributing factors, but among the most significant are economic disparity and social inequality.
Montana has both in spades.
Like so many other veterans who volunteered to defend their communities, we vets are returning home to find communities have been sold to the rich by our civilian neighbors.
The most egregious example of this is the taxpayer giveaway scheme known as Tax Increment Financing.
Returning veterans are trying to integrate back into society, only to find that we’re integrating into a burning house. And of many of the friends that I have buried who decided to put a gun in their mouth, or their neck through a noose, one thing they all had in common is they lost hope and were broke at the end.
Especially my military buddies. 22 of us do it every single day. But it’s not just vets who kill themselves. Of the dozens of comrades, friends and acquaintances that I have personally buried, a good deal of them never served in the military, because we here in the great state of Montana have the highest suicide rate in the country.
And one of the single, largest contributors to the suicide epidemic in this state is a lack of economic resources. There is a direct correlation between debt and suicide, between joblessness and suicide, and between economic disparity and suicide.
Have you been to the Missoula Food Bank lately? I have. And what shocks me when I’m down there is how many home owners I see when I’m down there. They’re the ones most embarrassed to ask for help, because they have work; they have a mortgage; they have college degrees. And yet they’re barely getting by. Economic desperation contributes significantly to rising suicide statistics, and highlights how most of us are barely surviving today.
Handing over Missoula’s sovereignty to a Wisconsin millionaire is not helping alleviate suicide in this community. We’re throwing fuel on a dumpster fire, and that fuel is alcohol. It’s a big party every night of the week in the halls of downtown, but it’s not a party for we the community who pay for it.
And pay for it we do. We pay for it in job loss. We pay for it with rising tax rates. We pay for it in crime statistics. We pay for it in drunk driving deaths. And we pay for it when we lose people to despair.
As returning vets witness the effects that our representatives’ decisions have on society, one message is clearly communicated over and over at every level of government. And that messages is that when our government is done with us, we vets are supposed to kill ourselves. That’s our role. And being unable to make ends meet, unable to make a decent living, and unable to enjoy basic dignity our home towns are among the most significant factors that contribute.
So maybe it doesn’t matter that our city is being gentrified and transformed into a corporate nightmare. And maybe it doesn’t matter that our intrepid representatives are helping them do it. Maybe it doesn’t matter that good-paying, full-time jobs with actual benefits have become scare in Missoula.
And maybe we shouldn’t worry. After all, it seems more jobs will open up just as soon as the people working them kill themselves from relative hopelessness, thereby providing much-needed job opportunities for the rest of the community, which is becoming increasingly unemployed and financially insecure.
Housing should only make up 28% of your total monthly household expenses. However, in many areas of the America today, housing costs up to 40% or more of the average worker’s take-home pay.
When you factor in all the other expenses people have just to survive it doesn’t take long to see why so many are so desperate. This ever-rising cost-of-living coupled with stagnant wages is rapidly manifesting a humanitarian crisis.
The vast majority of jobs start at an average wage of under $15 per hour but the cost of living grows to become more and more astronomical.
If rents and housing costs were all that were skyrocketing while wages stagnate, people might be able to find a way to make it work, even given the way rent has skyrocketed. But it’s not just rising housing prices putting many in an economic pinch. The costs of fuel, healthcare, food, insurance, utilities, and medications, are also on the rise. And when Mayor Engen, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the City Council add more and more of these TIFs onto existing property taxes, it might seem good in the short term, but what they’re really doing is selling our children’s future down the Clark Fork River.
At a time when we are already barely able to pay our bills, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s constant TIFs add just a little more desperation to the mix, a few million dollars at a time.
When you ask the affluent Missoulians what they do for a living, the honest answer is “they have money.” They don’t do anything.
Nick Checota should be required to put money back into the community he’s exploiting. But instead Mayor Engen chooses to line Nick’s pockets with our taxpayer money. And a lot of energy is spent trying to convince Missoulians that that’s not what’s happening. Tax Increment Financing is just too complicated for the people to understand, but sleep tight, your money is in good hands. Go back to bed Missoula. Your representatives have everything under control. Nothing to see here. No massive, multi-million dollar giveaway here. Go back to sleep Missoula.
TIFs lie at the very heart of what Bernie Sanders is talking about when he mentions privatized gains and socialized losses.
If the only tool you have is a hammer every problem tends to look like a nail. And the Missoula Redevelopment Agency continues to smash the community of Missoula apart with the overwhelming destructive power of Tax Increment Financing – the most asinine corporate giveaway scheme since Wall Street derivatives.
Those of us who are from Missoula don’t think it needs to be “redeveloped”. that sounds like the same language used to describe the 3rd world as “developing”, as though everyone should be striving to achieve the same standard of homogenized corporate world order.
The millionaires of the world, who account for just 0.9 percent of the global population, now own nearly half of the planet’s $361 TRILLION in wealth while the bottom 56 percent of the population owns less than 2!
Desperate to retain capital investment, cities now entice developers with “geobribes” like Tax Increment Financing (TIF); a development incentive wherein cities designate areas “blighted” and issue bonds to pay for upgrades before handing it all over to private developers to build condos and theaters. Missoula awarded $1.5 million to Stockman Bank in TIF money. But since Missoula didn’t have the money in hand, Stockman Bank loaned Missoula the $1.5 million at 4% interest, to be given back to Stockman Bank as a subsidy they didn’t need at taxpayer expense.
Here in Montana, the City of Missoula awarded $1.5 million to Stockman Bank in TIF money, but since Missoula didn’t have the money in hand, Stockman Bank loaned Missoula the $1.5 million at 4% interest, to be given back to Stockman Bank as a subsidy they didn’t need at taxpayer expense:
Missoula is now paying interest on the money Engen gave to Stockman through Tax Increment Financing.
What’s worse, now all TIFs are slated to go through Stockman, further incentivizing more gentrification, forever and ever, until Missoula no longer resembles a western town, but the lifeless, glass towers of Dubai.
Now Mayor Engen threatens to further line the pockets of Wisconsin millionaire Nick Checota with more than $16 million in TIF. It turns out that all the controversial TIF developments have one thing in common – their owners contributed to Mayor Engen’s campaign: including Nick Checota, Andy Holloran, and Peter Lambros.
As the economic situation for many Missoulians stagnates or worsens, a building boom has enriched developers and bestowed upon Nick Checota a music venue monopoly he is exploiting for maximum financial gain.
None of this apparently interests Democrats.
Once-upon-a-time Democrats gave more than vacuous rhetorical support for the poor and working classes. This was before the great neoliberal sellout exemplified by the Clinton dynasty.
Meanwhile, Missoula’s corporate-owned media gladly smear the people trying to defend our tax dollars from out-of-state millionaires with loaded and inaccurate slurs like “republican” and “conservative” just for upholding liberal values. The reign of Engen and his rotating stable of rubber-stampers has seen the cost of housing explode while enrollment at UM has imploded.
The fact that the MRA is an un-elected board should infuriate all Missoulians, not only because of how money is being spent, but the fact that the public is deliberately under-informed and misinformed about these meetings, and these taxing schemes in general.
If we can afford to give Nick Checota $16 million, we can afford to fix our roads, alleviate poverty, and lower our suicide statistics.
I never thought I was going to spend my military retirement fighting against corruption in my own home, but here we are, surrounded by the hopelessness of what neoliberalism delivers to working families: austerity, debt and corruption.
This post was composed by Outer Limits contributor and Army veteran Brandt Miller.
This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you.
May our collective, eternal vigilance in search of the truth help to alleviate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.