Monday, December 26, 2011

Too Small to Fail

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"

Every schoolchild in America knows these words. For those of us who have forgotten those halcyon days of elementary school, carefully reciting the words of our founders, they are to be found near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.

With those words began a revolution. A revolution predicated on the idea that the individual had worth (we'll ignore the obvious double standards for the moment, of woman, blacks, and indigenous peoples who were not treated equally, for the sake of discussing the ideal). A revolution forged on the idea that the government belonged to the people, not the people to the government. With those words, we became citizens, rather than subjects, and our world changed.

The Constitution continued in that tradition. Read carefully the Bill of Rights, and you will find something not taught to many American schoolkids. The simple truth is, the Bill of Rights does not GIVE us a single right; but rather, they define rights the Founding Fathers felt were clearly God given and could not be taken by any government.

Enter 2011. When we have a generation of people who believe that big government is good when it grants money to Goldman Sachs, GE, and BP, but bad when it keeps its promises to social security recipients and to the next generation by providing an education to ensure that, while they may not be equal, they have equal opportunity. A generation that has villainized teachers and lauded opportunistic talking heads who speak for the corporations, for the wealthy, for a class that shaves gold into its food and turns its nose up at the poor despite building their wealth on the backs of those very poor.

When the first stimulus bill was passed, we were told that the banks needed bailouts because they were "too big to fail". The same banks that made questionable investments. The same banks that would exploit loopholes and robosigners to evict hardworking families from the homes they had once bought with a youthful glint in their eye and a promise of seeing grandchildren swing on the swing of that old oak tree.

Well, I am possessed of the opinion that the individual is too little to fail. We built this country on the idea that the individual was important, had value, had worth. We impressed upon our children's minds that they could become anything they wanted, even the President of the United States, and we fostered that ideal to such an extent that our country is now governed by a man who was born 3 years prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, at a time whan he couldn't have even voted in many states, much less held elected office.

What the Democrats have forgotten, what the Republicans have forgotten, what the Tea Party has forgotten, is that somewhere in this discussion we cannot forget the individual. In the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, we forged a social contract with these individuals. A social contract we have long forgotten.

It's time to talk to our representatives, not about giving more tax breaks to the wealthy, but about remembering those who are too little to fail. .

Friday, December 16, 2011

The New American Reality is the Old Dickensian Reality

I read one of the most disturbing articles I have seen in awhile. Yes, more disturbing than the news about the NDAA or SOPA.

It seems that corporations, in desperation to recover lost assets, have turned to a time honored Dickensian solution: jailing debtors.

The following article details this deplorable practice: Debtor's Prison Makes a Comeback.

. The article states that 1/3 of US states have laws which allow debtors to be jailed for their debt. Using Wikipedia for a source (I know, I know...but the article didn't list them, and I couldn't find a better source in short time to allow me to post up an article), I was able to find six: Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, and Washington. The same article stated that Tennessee and Oklahoma outlaw the practice.

If anyone has a list of the states that allow it, please send it to me. I'd like to post it, as I can't find returns on my searches on this one.

These are the reasons we are outraged. At the same time corporations are jailing their debtors, their own debt is being forgiven or restructured. Corporations under recent ruling not only are considered persons, but have superior legal protection.

I don't think this nation will long survive as long as it continues to treat its working class like criminals, devalue wages, and increase prices. There has to be a breaking point, and the Occupy and Tea Party movements would suggest to me that we are near it. The question is, are we near enough to help the families who will undoubtedly be torn apart by the government to whom they so blindly pledged their allegiance, the government that they were taught functioned "of the people, by the people, and for the people" that now only works to serve the wealthy and powerful?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

We Made the Wrong Argument Against McCarthyism

As the Occupy movement continues on despite media reports of its demise, there have been a few very revalatory incidents from the opponents of Occupy Wall Street. Not only do we have Ann Coulter, one of the most widely heralded voices of the right, advocating openly for a "Kent State" solution, but virtually every pundit, every forum discussion has focused on the movement, which many see as Socialist. If I were to count the times I have been called a "useful idiot" by these people in open discussion, I would need several extra fingers and toes.

This is, in a nutshell, the new McCarthyism. Even speaking out in support of the movement is considered radical, and I have no shortage of well meaning friends "helpfully" filling my inbox with commentaries on the "evil" Wall Street movement. Often, the commentaries focus on the vandalism and the now absolutely infamous (and similarly isolated) incident or a protestor using a police cruiser as a toilet. But more often than not, the charge of "communism" is rampant throughout the discussion.

Before I continue further in this discussion, let me be clear that I am not a communist, although I consider it sad that such a qualifier would be considered necessary by any rational individual claiming to even have a modicum of free thought.

I have long thought that in the McCarthy era, as now, the debate was focused on the wrong subject. Even if the accusations of McCarthy and his henchmen were true, why is it relevant? We pride ourselves on the free exchange of ideas in this country, yet nothing could be further from the truth when we deliberately suppress ideas, deliberately disqualify them from consideration in public civil discourse.

The truth is, in a free society where people are free to self determine their future, that freedom should allow as much freedom to exercise certain elements of socialist economic thought as it does to the warped version of economic feudalism that we've wrongly labelled "capitalism". It is, after all, not a free and open electoral process if certain candidates and certain ideologies are not allowed to even be debated in the public forum.

The truth is, casualties of "capitalism" are just as rampant as casualties of "communism". The difference is, we do a better job of hiding it. We don't count the deaths of people who die from preventable diseases because we attribute those to lifestyle decisions. We don't count the deaths of those who freeze to death or burn up in our inner city tenements because we ascribe those to carelessness on the part of slumlords, who we rarely prosecute for their negligence. We don't count the suicides of those who failed financially because we ascribe that to mental illness. Similarly, we don't count the abortions by parents in impoverished regions who choose abortion because they feel it is preferable to raising a child in the ghettoes. But most of all, we don't count the deaths of both citizens and soldiers in foreign nations where our nation building has crushed them under the wheels of our war machine. If you counted those casualties, the bloody nature of the system we currently have in place would easily meet, if not exceed, the statistics of those who suffered under Communist dictators.

This is not to say Communism is right. I personally abhor Communism just as I am beginning to abhor a laundry list of other "isms". But if we are to be honest, we should abandon the notion that our system is preferable simply on the government's word alone.

Until we truly embrace a free exchange of ideas, we can expect the same endless line of failed politicians, failed policies, and the same old cookie cutter lies coming forth. If we want to make real and meaningful change, we have to accept that several things need to drastically change as regards our current modus operandi.

And that cannot happen if we abandon ideas based not on reason but our own preconceived notions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't Misattribute to Evil What Can Properly be Attributed to Laziness

Over the course of the Occupy protests, pepper spray and tear gas have become part of standard operating procedure. In some cases, police have assaulted protestors in other ways as well, apparently hoping to provoke a response.

It's easy, in the wake of this, to evoke memories of Kent State and claim that the police are evil. It's easier still to invoke memories of Nazi brownshirts and claim that we are devolving into a Nazi state.

It's easy, yes, but is it honest?

While I don't doubt that there are some officers who act with malice, I believe the majority of them act because pepper spray and tear gas are easier than direct confrontation. And I believe this has been happening for a long time in our police departments, but it took protests of scale to actually bring this to our attention.

I remember an incident years ago where an individual died after being shot with over 100 "less lethal" rounds. The story was this: the individual was mentally ill and off his meds. The officers knew this coming in, and yet they descended into the basement where the suspect was located. The suspect took a defensive position under the stairs and threatened police with a knife. Rather than wait the situation out, they loaded the less lethal ammunition and punped enough at the suspect to recreate the closing scene of "Bonnie and Clyde".

Unfortunately, we have culturally descended to the point where we believe that every action of the government is "for our own good", and in the intervening years, we ave not policed the police well enough. We let assaults by police go unchecked under the misguided mantra that somehow the suspects "deserved it". We ignore reports of brutality by pretending that they were a reasonable, measured response to the actions of individuals. And we allow officers unmonitored use of potentially lethal tools because we believe they will be used properly and with discretion.

What happened at UC-Davis was a wakeup call. Nothing in that scene was provoked, and the officer acted with sheer malice. But were it not for the shocking contrast between the passive resistance and is use of pepper spray as if he were using a can of RAID on some insects, we would not realize the cavalier attitude the police have towards the use of these instruments.

Of course, it may be that my analysis is wrong. Maybe malice is the sole driving force behind the actions of these officers. If so, they need to be arrested and tried. But if, perhaps, the actions are laziness, we need to make sure to let them know we will not allow them to continue to use these weapons without stringent oversight.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The UC-Davis Incident shows our complacency

This weekend, as I was travelling to march with Occupy Dallas, I was a bit behind the curve in seeing the outrageous actions of the police on the UC Davis campus, and further behind in posting a response. What grabbed me about the video were multiple items:

First, the smugness and arrogance of the officer in showing the pepper spray canister to his fellow officers before using it.

Second, that not one...NOT ONE of the protestors presented any kind of threat to the officers or to people around them. I have always been told that these kinds of weapons were used in response to FORCE, not to passive resistance.

Third, the complacency of the other officers. They stood by, they were as guilty as the officer who pulled the trigger.

Fourth, the AMAZING restraint of the protestors. They did nothing to encourage an escalation activity, then they peacefully but firmly moved the officers off campus.

Fifth and last, the arrogance of the chancellor. These people really DO believe they are another class of citizen!

But I was grateful for it for one thing. For many years, stories have been coming out of the ghettos about the abuses of police officers. And while the occasional "Rodney King" video surfaces, more often the officers are believed over the people. In fact, I have fallen victim to that thinking myself.

Te truth is, police in Oakland, at UC Davis, and in New York have showed their ugly side while the world truly is watching. In light of this, perhaps it is time we begin reviewing the complaints coming from the ghettos. Maybe a lot of the crime and atred emanates from the powerlessness felt by someone attacked by the system who has simply lacked the means to fight back.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Dallas II: Revenge of the fallen

We had planned the trip to Dallas long before this past weekend. I was making a recycling run and it was a natural opportunity. "Opportunity" became a call to action when the Occupy Dallas camp was evicted this past weekend.

One thing did change about our plans, however: instead of driving to Dallas Friday night, we stayed at the Occupy Amarillo encampment before rolling out. We were treated to Avenue 10's enthusiastic performance of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". For the sake of the innocent (AND the guilty) of the Occupy Amarillo movement, I will leave out the sordid details. Besides, I now have images burned into my brain that will never, ever leave!

We rolled out at 5AM. Somehow, 5AM comes earlier on the weekends than the weekdays, and we actually hit the road at about 5:30 in a caffeine fueled rush down highway 287. In anticipation of the holiday weekend, the reyclers were exceptionally busy, but we still arrived in time to eat a quick meal before embarking on the march.

By our best guess, about 200 people showed up. See what happens when you try to crush a movement, Mr. President?

Here are pictures from the march:

And, lest there was any doubt about te source of doggy doo:

aaaahh, yes...the reason for the march:

Before leaving, I left some words from Woody Guthrie on the tent:

Thank you, Occupy Dallas. It was an honor and a privilege to march in solidarity with you again. We spent the night in Dallas and returned home Sunday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy Dallas Eviction: Update

I will blog updates on the Occupy Dallas eviction as I get them.

Here is a piece from the Dallas Observer blogs. It is a firsthand account, and the information is consistent with what I have been hearing. The most disturbing element to me is the fact that police are removing the media, "to keep them safe".

From WHOM, precisely? It seems to me in a conflict that the armed elements are more likely to pose a danger than the unarmed elements. And who were the armed elements, the guys with pickets, markers, and signboards, or the guys with riot gear, guns, and pepper spray?

We allow media in a war zone, but not in a raid on a peaceful protest? Sounds fishy to me, folks. And if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and smells like a duck, it's probably a DPD officer in an overreach of their Constitutional authority!

People, it's time to wake up! You may disagree with me, you may disagree with the movement, but if you stand for free speech, if you stand for democracy, you should agree with our right to be heard. We WILL NOT be silenced!

As with my earlier post, I will ask again, where is President Obama as this is going on? To answer that question, I checked his schedule. As of 8:55PM ET last night, he was en route from Canberra to Darwin, Australia. (source). That's right; as the country is in domestic turmoil, our President is conveniently out of pocket. Given the fact that mayors coordinated these raids, can this be coincidental?

For the truly curious, here is the source of my information:

Activists stood the line in demanding accountability for Bush and Cheney. It's time to do the same for President Obama.

Occupy Dallas Raided: Opinion

Occupy Dallas was raided last night in a move that echoes the evictions of other Occupy camps nationwide. There has been much evidence that this has been a part of a coordinated effort between the mayors and the feds. Time will tell how strong the proof is, but if this is true, then people in the Occupy movement should make sure to hold Eric Holder and President Obama accountable, just as they would have done with the previous administration. Even if not true, one has to wonder where Obama has been as these raids have been undertaken. In one of the most widespread examples of unrest since the days of Vietnam, our President has been conspicuously absent. Is this the domestic policy that his supporters have long championed him for?

Whether you agree or disagree with the objectives of the Occupy movement, anyone who is even slightly inclined towards support of civil liberties should shudder at what is going on. The movement, with a few notable exceptions, has been peaceful. Yes, there have been incidents of illegal actions, but the cities should address those illegal actions (which compose a VERY small minority of protestors), and not the movement as a whole.

A search of YouTube has so far failed to turn up any video of the eviction, but I will post it when I find it. If anyone has video, please feel free to add it in the comments section. Meanwhile, here is a recent video from the Occupy Dallas movement:

Occupy Amarillo is still proceeding with plans to make a "road trip" to support Occupy Dallas. We will be leaving from the Occupy Amarillo encampment at 7th & Harrison between 6:30PM and 7:00PM. We will be returning on Sunday morning. Anyone interested in going bring shelter and warm clothing. If you want to bring food, water or gas money, you may, but that is not required.

Also, in light of recent events, we will be exchanging cell phone numbers. If anyone plans on exercising civil disobedience, we need to know where you are and who you are so that we can help you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why NOT Green? The REAL Inconvenient Truth

In the 1970's I was in elementary school. As we sat in the class with our books, in rooms with heroes like Mary Lou Retton and Muhammed Ali hanging on the walls, we were educated about the environment. These were the early days of the environmental movement, when catalytic converters were still a "new" item, and when you could still buy leaded fuel at the pump.

We discussed the future of a petroleum based energy system. At the time, worst case scenarios pegged us as having a 20 to 30 year supply of fossil fuels left. While the interceding years have proven that hypothesis wrong, the threat of a looking energy shortage did drive us to discussion of alternatives. We envisioned a world of wind and solar, and, yes, nuclear power (this was before disasters like Three Mile Island). But we did believe we would see a day when the world no longer depended on pulling petroleum out of the ground.

More years than I would like to count later, we're really no closer to realizing that goal than we were then. Yes, we are running windmills, and there are solar farms, but as a percentage of our energy production they are rather small. While we may be impressed by the energy output of a 2.5 megawatt wind turbine (among the larger turbines operating at scale), it would take 1.6 million wind turbines operating at full performance to equal the annual output of the Hoover Dam; 8 million to equal the output of the Grand Coulee Dam.

To put it simply, even in open areas with Class 4 or higher winds, such as the Texas Panhandle, there is not enough land to house them all. To say nothing of the transmission lines that are still under construction to move the energy to populated areas.

The painful truth of a green movement is that it will not only take personal sacrifice, but personal involvement. And that means less consumption. Which means less cash for America's largest companies.

It's hard for corporate America to own backyard gardens (although Monsanto is certainly trying their hardest), which can assist families in reducing consumption, putting less strain on the grid. It's hard for them to profit off of aquaculture, so they regulate it out of existence where they are able. They also regulate raising small food animals in most communities (although I was raised in a household that offered a telling example of WHY chickens, for instance, aren't the best thing to raise in the city, I advocate for addressing the nuisance itself, not the presence of the animal. Let those with the means to raise them properly do so). It's also hard for them to profit off of reduced carbon emissions, which is why they suggest pollution caps to address the problem.

And let's not even address the idea of using the secondhand market for anything you need that's not a consumable. Using the secondhand market also has the added benefit of keeping your money in your local community.

A comedian in the late 80's or early 90's (I believe it was Eddie Murphy, although Google nor YouTube has been especially helpful in assisting me to find it)addressed the money issue in his act. You want nuclear energy? They control the uranium. Want geothermal energy? They control the geothermal vents. Want solar energy? ...there's no such THING as solar energy!! (I'm sure my paraphrase was way off, but it was the best I could come up with relying strictly on recall). The truth is, if you can't commoditize it and sell it on Wall Street, corporate America has no interest in solutions. And neither do politicians who are effectively owned by corporate America.

The truth is that if we want to see a greener future, we're going to have to set about doing it ourselves. Waiting on someone to act against their own economic self interest is a fool's errand, and one we are best left NOT pursuing. We can quite easily engineer our homes to maximize sunlight. We can learn to garden in ways that maximize even small spaces (I recommend Mel Bartholomew's "Square Foot Gardening" for help on this one). We can pursue optioons like aquaculture or raising small animals (although there are a lot of local regulations to research).

In short, there are as many different possible solutions as there are people. And I have no doubt that the innovative minds to effect change are out there.

But if we wait on Washington, it's never going to happen. There's simply no market for TRUE green solutions.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How to Run as an Independent in the state of Texas

As the Occupy movement grows, some have asked if we will run candidates for office. While the movement will not push a candidate to avoid being coopted, I believe it is important to make the information on running for office available to those who are interested.

You do not need to run as an Independent; in Texas, the Democratic, Republican, and Libertarian parties all have ballot access. A county chair within each of these parties will tell you what filing fees, if any apply, and they will likely be a good resource to find volunteers to help with your campaign. The Libertarian party usually does not charge filing fees, and is always looking for good candidates; contact the state office if there is no county chair.

But if you do not wish to identify withany of these parties, here's what you want to do.

First, if you plan on soliciting ANY campaign donations, you will need to file with the Texas Ethics Commission. You can do this before you file for office, and I personally would advise it as you can get a headstart on fundraising. You will find their website at: . This is the site for candidates and officeholders. The shedule for deadlines for the 2012 election cycle is located HERE. Know it. Learn it. Live it. The single biggest error many candidates make is not paying attention to filing windows.

The next step is to pay attention to candidate filing windows. This information can be found at the Secretary of State's office. There is a guideline for independent candidates filing for public office here: . Please note that the filing deadline has changed and will officially open November 28th as there is still ongoing discussion about redistricting within the state of Texas. The Secretary of State's office can keep you up to date on this information if you contact them.

The next step is to advise friends and family NOT to vote in the primaries. Voting in the primaries in Texas negates their right to sign your petition, and you will need those signatures. Make sure your friends are registered to vote, though, so that they can sign.

You can then begin collecting signatures. You have 75 days after the primaries to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot. You can do this by standing in public places, or attending meetings of likeminded groups.

The rules above apply only to the state of Texas. If you have any questions about how to run in your state, or if you need any further information on running in Texas, please contact me. I would be happy to help you find what you need.

People As Commodities

Some years back, in the place where I lived (which will stay anonymous out of deference to the innocent), a homeless shelter was being built. This homeless shelter was being constructed for $50,000,000 for a community of about 70,000. In addition, the organization building the center received just over $1 million in donations annually.

At the time, the city's poverty rate was below 10%, meaning 7,000 people below the poverty line. Assuming that a generous half of those 7,000 needed the facility's services, that's just over $14,000 per person. Considering the facility had about 200 beds, however, and that 3500 people were unlikely to need shelter, this means thwy were spending $250,000 per bed. Good money if you can get it.

That's about the time I realized why poverty remains in a nation of affluence such as ours: because poor people have been commoditized, and it is big business.

If you have a birth certificate and a social security number, there are dollar signs attached to you (if you don't, in the United States, you ironically do not have personhood rights. As a school administrator told children once in my hearing, "all you are is who you are on paper"). This is the reason for mandatory vaccines ($). This is the reason for early intervention services ($$), public education ($$$$), the school lunch program ($$$$$$), and the SNAP (formerly food stamp) program ($$$$$$$$$$!), as well as just about any other social program in America that you can think of.

It is also the reason for the often abused CPS system. While CPS was started with good intentions, you know what they say about "the road to Hell". Along the way, a system rightfully established to protect children from abuse and neglect began treating those children as commodities, using them for medical experiments (not a conspiracy theory, but proven through various sources...for reference, see here. I could mention other sources, but this thread is not about that). In some areas, they became "adoption mills", and as late as the 1960's, they adopted Indian children to white families so that they could teach them our culture and our heritage and to ditch their Indian culture.

I was asked about solutions to the homeless "problem" in America, with its myriad of causes, and I realized through mulling over the questions that all practical solutions required a fundamental change in how we see people. Homeless organizations have no vested interest in reducing homelessness; in essence, they would be planning for their own obsolescence. And if we became a drug and tobacco free society, think of the money we could no longer raise in taxes (for tobacco), and prison/treatment centers (for drugs). Think of the police we would have to fire if the financial incentive was removed from many criminal activities.

It's the same reason, in essence, that the health care industry has grown out of control. I don't think doctors fail to tell Type 2 diabetics that most cases can be completely cured through diet and exercise because they fear liability; it doesn't stop doctors from telling smokers to stop smoking, does it? No, the reason they relay this information to Type 2 diabetics is because they are bought and sold by big pharma. A "cured" Type 2 diabetic doesn't bring the bucks.

When we took our youngest child to a routine checkup, despite the fact that he was well above average weight and height, we were told by the resident pediatrician that "a child cannot get adequate nutrition from breast milk; they need supplemental formula and vitamins". This is not some older doctor that was doing the talking, this was a resident who was taking classes, so this was CURRENT information being taught! And this information could only have come from big pharma.

The more I examine the problems relating to homelessness and the poor, the more I realize that the system IS the problem. Not capitalism; there's nothing wrong with capitalism, but there IS something wrong with the system we have in place. It's closer to economic feudalism than it is capitalism.

It's amazingly simple to tell people to "get a job", or, "heal thyself", essentially. It's much, much harder to examine the root causes of WHY people are where they are, roll up your sleeves and get busy fixing it. But if we're going to find a SOLUTION rather than a quick fix, that is exactly what we need to be doing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Elephant in the Tent for the Occupy Movement.

As the Occupy movement gathers steam, there's been one side that I have been reluctant to cover. Reluctant because of the concern that it might break solidarity and that it might be misconstrued. It is, as i see it, the elephant in the roomtent for the Occupy movement, and it's something we're going to have to at least acknowledge. If we don't, we stand the risk of crumbling from within.

That elephant stems from the fact that we don't know many within our movement. While we can't be guided by fear and distrust, we must acknowledge that there will be elements among us that are just as corrupt, just as suspect in their motives, and just as greedy as the people we are protesting. It has long been my observation that often socialist activists are quite confident that they will be part of the power structure in the socialist government they are trying to create. And I have little doubt there are similar motives to subscribers of other "isms", which is precisely why we cannot allow that talk to coopt the movement. It's not that their positions are necessarily wrong, just that their own hearts can be coopted, and they have a tendency to carry that unknowingly into the discussion.

Those who accuse us of being socialists do so because they see socialist signs in the pictures and videos released of the protest. Those who accuse us of being violent to so because they have trusted the word of those who say we were acting violently, even absent video proof (to my knowledge, there has not been credible video evidence of widespread violence, although I will acknowledge there may be a few acting on their own who have participated in violence). Similarly, other criticisms stem from people seeing what they want to see an being unwilling to discard evidence to the contrary.

So, there's the crux of the problem, how do we combat it? I have personally been trying to encourage opponents to dialog, to discuss, to understand our points of commonality and points of disagreement. I have found, for instance, that when Citizens United is explained/discussed, we get a strong majority who agree with that one point. Corporate greed is a little more divisive, but I'd still say it's a strong selling point.

We must not confuse solidarity with subservience. Trading one master for another just makes us continue to be slaves, albeit with fancier chains. We are growing to the point where legitimate criticisms need to be discussed, or they will become the very fissures that ensure our on defeat. I still support the Occupy movement 100%, but that does not mean I support the individual actions undertaken by all of its members, even if those members happen to be organizers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dear Dave: A Response to Dave Ramsey

On October 19, 2011, Dave Ramsey wrote a thought provoking article addressing the Occupy Wall Street article. Inasmuch as he addressed the protestors' concerns as he saw them, it was clear that his article was written from an understanding of the movement as he saw it, and not from any felt communication with the people involved in the movement. You can read Ramsey's article here:

Before I continue, let me state that I highly respect Dave Ramsey, and believe that if we followed his principles, we would not be in the financial condition that we are in. To that end, I would like to address his letter from the perspective of one who supports the Occupy movement.

Dave begins by saying that the OWS protestors have no idea what their goals are. Because of this, he begins on a flawed premise. While OWS protestors represent a diverse group, most of us are very WELL aware of what our goals are. The problem is that we are not molding them into the neat little shapes that bureaucratic societies like to see. That is, rather than consisting of a list of clearly definable goals in the shape of a party platform or business plan, what we unite around is giving a voice to those who have none. In Amarillo, it's fair to say prevailing thought is more Libertarian than it would be in, say, Oakland...but it's also fair to say that the Libertarian thought is, at best, a plurality, not a majority, and DEFINITELY not a consensus. Michael Moore is cited as frequently in our discussions as Ron Paul, and there are Obama supporters as well as Tea Partiers within the movement.

That's what makes the Occupy movement so hard to pigeonhole. We unite around the idea of liberty, NOT partisan politics, although the latter is hardly absent from our discussions. To present a list of demands at this point would be to do the very opposite of what we hope to do: it would alienate those who deviate from the prevailing thought. There are plans underway to develop something more cohesive, and Ramsey of all people must realize that proper planning and preparation takes time.

The first issue he addresses is actually the point where he and the Occupy movement (as well as the Tea Party) are in agreement. I won't spend a lot of time here because he does acknowledge this point of common thought, as I believe, does most of America.

The next issue is that of corporate greed. Again, surprisingly, Dave is on the same page as the Occupy movement: greed is bad, or, to use his words, “It’s a spiritual disease, and it is a disease that sadly affects a lot of companies across the country”. Dave is on point here. Where he deviates from the movement is when he assumes that we (as a group) believe that all businesses are evil or that capitalism is ineffective. While that thought certainly is not absent within our movement, I would again hesitate to call it a consensual view. Michael Moore, who has spoken to the movement, readily admits he is part of the 1% and that capitalism has been very, very good to him. I think if anything the thought is that we want to be included, not exploited.

And again, Dave makes the flaw of assuming ours is a capitalist economy. A look across the board would tell you otherwise. Walk into most factories and workers aren't paid “merit pay”; those with similar longevity and equivalent positions are paid pretty much the same. That's more consistent with socialism than it is with capitalism. A capitalist economy would reward those who contribute more to the wealth of the company with greater pay across the board. Yes, the CEO would still make bank, but still would the company's top producers, the idea guys, and those who effectively produce the company's output.

The next point he attacks is the thought that “Wall Street is evil”. That statement in its simple form is not entirely true, but with a simple addition could be made to represent a consensual view. It would be fairer to say “Wall Street, as it currently does business, is evil”. That is because the way it does businesses capitalizes on the failure of the economy through short selling and rewards day traders and speculators with ridiculously low capital gains taxes that incentivize market manipulation and instability. The market has not caught up with the Internet, and this has allowed some very greedy people to take advantage of that lag.

I have to shake my head at the next point where he claims we believe wealth redistribution is the answer. Again, we have that contingent among us, but they do not represent a widely held consensus. Many of us are working class families not looking for a handout but for a piece of the American dream. We have built, we have worked, and we have sacrificed to have that opportunity.

In the end of his article, Dave encourages us to celebrate the land of opportunity. And while it's easy to look at Dave and castigate him as part of the 1%, if you know his personal life story, you know how hard he worked to get there. Dave Ramsey is not a trust fund baby, and in fact loathes that mentality entirely. And he's right; we SHOULD celebrate the fact that many have greater opportunity than other parts of the world.

But we must also recognize the changing aspects of the world around us. I respect Dave Ramsey enough that his is the model we use for our household finances. But looking at his income models shows us that what he suggests often does not work for modern incomes.

He recommends that we spend 25-35% of our income for housing. I know of few among the working class who can keep it below those levels. In fact, if you can keep it below 50%, you're doing pretty well.

Utilities and food come next, each are supposed to take between 5-10% of your income (actually, food is up to 15%). In many households, winter heating bills easily top $500 per month; summer utilities are usually no less than $100 a month. To a family making $2000-3000 a month, this threshhold again might not be reachable. With an average household income just north of $40,000, you MIGHT be able to reach it, but just barely. As for food, well, most of us probably CAN make some cuts to bring the food prices down, but with the rate of inflation in food over the past few years, that is getting harder and harder to achieve.

Transportation is next, again it is supposed to consume 5-10% of your income. In our area, gas has not dropped below $3.25 a gallon for 8 months, meaning that 5-10% figure is not reachable for rural families, if it's reachable for anyone.

Medical and health was the interesting one. He recommends you spend 5-10% of your income. I cannot speak for everyone here, but health insurance alone consumes 25% of our income. The only way to drop that is to get on Medicaid, a move I am considering even as I don't want to do it.

To put it simply, living on today's budgets in today's economy, Dave Ramsey's own plan is unworkable. While working 60-100 hours a week may be a temporary solution, it is not sustainable to many of us and is more likely to lead to broken homes, broken dreams, and premature death, the very things that people who follow Ramsey's plan are trying to avoid. And for those of us in rural communities, it is even harder, as options like a second job aren't workable if the gas to get to the job eats up more than the money you would make at the job.

If Dave Ramsey's assumptions of the motivations of the OWS movement accurately reflected the ideals of the movement, I cannot think of a single point of his with which I would object. And regardless of the misinformation on Dave's part, I believe that the article is a worthwhile read. But when I look across the actual faces of the movement, the people I've seen marching and the stories I have seen posted on various blog sites, I don't think that these ideals are typical of the movement at all. At least, they are not typical of our local Occupy movement.

So, if I were to sit down face to face with Dave and have just a moment or so of his time, what would I tell him? I would tell him that the faces I have seen, the people I have met and encountered, and the voices I have heard, are voices that are frustrated because they're not being heard. They watched while the very banks given the bailouts foreclosed on their homes, not always by honest means. They watched while their wages fell against inflation and the dreams they had were deflated by the decreasing dollar. They watched as their Supreme Court gave power to the corporations under the guise of the First Amendment to buy and sell politicians at a level where the individual could not compete. And they watched as millionaires drank champagne on the balconies, laughing at the hurting, the aching, the needy below them.

We ARE the land of opportunity, and the ideals that founded this country are ideals in which I still believe. But until this country works as hard for the factory worker as it does for the factory owner, we have an injustice that needs to be remedied. And that is why we march.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why the Occupy Movement is Necessary

The media says we are looking for handouts. Critics accuse us of being funded by sources, and allying with Communists. The specter of McCarthyism is stronger now than it has ever been. In the wake of that, I feel it necessary to share more of my personal story. The following was posted online and explains a lot about why I joined the Occupy movement:

As the Occupy movement continues to gather steam, it has been frustrating explaining to people over and over again that this is not some socialist or anarchist uprising, but rather the combined frustration of people TRYING to make a better life for themselves, only to find the deck stacked against them.But people will believe whatever is convenient.Rather than investigate, learn, and study the facts for themselves, they would rather put people in boxes and make sweeping accusations, no matter how hurtful those accusations may be.

If I had a hundred dollars for every time someone has called me a socialist or accused me of being unAmerican, I would BE part of the 99%.

I've told part of my story, now I feel it's time to tell a bit more.Three years ago, I honestly felt we were getting out of the woods. As I pulled my credit report, most of our bad credit was ready to roll off (or so I thought -- I hadn't learned of the legal loopholes corporations use to keep bad credit from EVER coming off of your credit report). If we simply paid our bills and managed our money wisely, we were within 18 months of being ready to move on to a better future. In addition, I was two semesters away from earning my degree, so i would come out of it with increased earning potential.

We didn't have health insurance, though. I made $22,000 a year, and there were no plans available for less than $650 a month. Yes, the kids qualified for CHIPs, but I let the same people who call me a socialist for marching talk me into believing that applying for CHIPS made us leeches on society and somehow lesser human beings. In short, I believed the Republican lie. I wanted it to be true because I saw it as a map for a better life for my family.

One morning, my thirteen year old daughter came into the room. She said she had pulled something in her arm at the playground the night before and couldn't move her arm. I took her to the ER, our only option, and she was diagnosed with a broken arm. The total bill, when it came to us, was over $11,000.

Two weeks and one day later, we were preparing to take her to the doctor's for followup, and our then 4 year old came screaming out of his bedroom. He had pinched off the tip of his finger in the closet door. Amy headed one way to the doctor with Destiny, I headed the other with Quinn to the emergency room. Another $5,000.

We did not qualify for indigent care because we actually made money. I could not apply for CHIPS because we did not have certified copies of the birth certificates for the kids, and, at $25 apiece, could not afford to purchase them and pay the rent and keep the utilities paid in the time required for medical assistance to cover them. When we tried to make payment plans with them, they shrugged off the $25 a month I offered. "Not enough". They wanted $400 a month minimum, or a payment plan at 14% interest. I couldn't even pay the INTEREST on that plan!

I finished my degree, and am making better money but still not good money. We had the fortune to find a house that had been abandoned and purchase it via tax bid for less than $1000. We had to clear out a LOT of garbage and brush, and put a new meter loop on, and the sewer and roof will need replaced as soon as we can afford it, but it's ours. But because of my credit, I am automatically disqualified for many of the jobs for which I carry all of the paper qualifications, education and experience needed to obtain. I currently pay 25% of my income for health insurance premiums, and when insurance premiums are paid, I take home about $24,000 a year. It's not enough.

I'm not asking for redistribution of wealth; I'm asking simply for an honest wage for honest work. For our working class families to have hope and a future as well, and not to have the American Dream be the domain of the privileged few. When your child coughs in the middle of the night, you shouldn't have to ache with them because you cannot get cough medicine for them, or sit out a fever wondering IF you should seek medical care. We should, we can, be better than that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Road Trip to Dallas

Yesterday I had to travel to Dallas to recycle old computer parts. Because I made the trip early, I decided to stop by and visit the Occupy Dallas movement. I was especially encouraged when I learned they would be marching on the Fed.

It took me awhile to find their camp, but eventually I found it. Contrary to what you have heard from the media, it was a clean, well kept camp.

The first view of the camp.

A couple of other pictures. Not the way the media describes it at all!

The library

AHA! Bongo Drums! I KNEW this was a subversive group!

The march as long and the weather was hot for late October. We had a lot of marchers and everything was orderly and well organized. This was a great and diverse group of people, sick of seeing a system that works for the few at the expense of the many. Along the way, we were encouraged by honks and shouts of support from bystanders and a lady at a drivethru window that danced in step with the chants of the protestors. It was a great day to be out, and a great group of folks. If you are in or near Dallas, I strongly encourage you to drop by and just offer your support even if you can't march.

Here are some other pictures from the march:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Imperialism, the Original Ponzi Scheme

For those who are not Christian, I want to warn you I am writing from a Christian perspective. Feel free to disagree with my position, if you must, but not to attack my faith:

There’s been a fair amount of talk in Republican debates about whether Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. To put it bluntly, as it currently stands, it basically is.

In defense of Social Security, though, while it certainly qualifies, it is not history’s newest, nor history’s largest. That honor belongs to imperialism, the idea of building empires that has existed through the ages and evolved into modern American economic structure.

Throughout history, most generations have had the luxury of living near large unclaimed pieces of land. If they didn’t want to follow the rules of a certain society, they could either migrate to another city or strike off in the wilderness and start their own. In fact, when Paul’s admonition in 2 Thessalonian 2:10 that “if a man does not work, neither let him eat” was penned, this was largely true; a person COULD strike out on their own.

Following cultures had that option, and our nation was founded on that option. Following our nation’s independence, and even long after the Louisiana Purchase, there was still more land unsettled than settled, and in the 1800’s, the Homesteading era ensured that anyone who was willing to brave the wilderness could stake their own claim to a piece of land and make their own way.

Gradually, settlement succumbed to greed and homesteading lands were sold to corporate mining interests, and industrious successful homesteaders bought the land off of those who couldn’t make a go of it. And they bought cheap. As a result, they soon controlled thousands of acres.

But land is finite, and the opportunities presented our ancestors don’t exist today. As a result, the power balance changes less and less, as those who control land and wealth are not inclined to surrender it willingly. Basically, the Ponzi scheme of imperialism paid off to thousands of generations of investors, but reached the point some time back where it could no longer pay out to the existing population.

So there’s the problem, what is the solution?

Ironically enough, a nation that prides itself on being a “Christian nation” must turn to the supposedly secular world for Biblical answers. I say “supposedly”, because while secularists hold this viewpoint, there are also a good number of Christians who do as well. Christians that Glenn Beck has demonized, yet whose philosophy is pulled straight from the pages of Scripture.

First, our nation should observe the Jubilee. I’m sure even many liberal scholars will disagree with me on this statement, but I firmly believe that had we followed the Bible’s economy (up to and including the Jubilee), we would probably not have the cycles of boom and recession that have led to so much deep hurt. I hate to say it, but in this instance, I do believe that the economic hardships we are going through are a direct result of our own sin and refusal to follow God’s law.

Jubilee was the year when slaves were to be returned to their family, but more importantly, it was the date when land was to revert to its original owner and debts were to be cancelled. In America today, while there certainly are millionaires who have come from next to nothing, the vast majority inherited some land and title. While the industrious did increase it, they nonetheless began in a better position than many who did not have the luxury of such inheritance.

Leviticus 25:23 advises the believer: “The land must not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners, my tenant farmers.” This would indicate, then, that a society following God’s instructions, particularly one where a strong plurality consider the US to be a “Christian nation”, would be inclined to allow the land to revert back so that someone else could own it. History has shown us that is not the case.

In addition to observing the Year of Jubilee, we should do away with corporate ownership of land. Isaiah 5:8 tells us: “Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!”. We can take from this what we will, but it is a pretty strong rebuke to the idea of corporate ownership.

There are a lot of further steps we could/should take, but if we want to address the immediate problems before moving forward, these two would be the place to start. Ending corporate ownership of land ensures that land will be resold. If an individual holds onto a sinking asset, eventually they want to rid themselves of that asset, and they will sell it. The property taxes as well make the idea of holding on to thousands of acres without getting a return an untenable solution. But when a corporation is involved and individuals are shielded from the risk of poor investment, these become a tax write off and are no longer a consideration.

As to the Year of Jubilee, it has long been called for among the circle that Glenn Beck detests, and it is past time. We ARE our brother’s keeper, and it is time to begin making things right. Such isn’t socialism, it is in fact the very core of Christian teaching

What is the Solution?

As we're coming upon an election year that could best be described as "tumultuous", there are a lot of questions being asked about the direction we want to take in leading the country. People have been very good about identifying the problem, but identifying, and agreeing on, the solution, seems to be where we are having our difficulties.

In 2008, the nation embraced change. I won't disparage the intent of our President, though I disagree with him frequently, as I do believe he is a sincere man. It must be noted, however, that sincerity does not necessarily translate into able leadership. One of the problems of the 2008 election was that many Americans embraced change without knowing what chnge they wanted to make. All they knew was that they were tired of the status quo and wanted something different.

The problem with that mentality becomes obvious when you realize that every alternative solution cannot be the best solution. There are good solutions and bad solutions, and a lot of solutions that fall somewhere in between.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, for instance, consists of a great deal of Americans who agree that there is a problem, and although there is disagreement as to the exact nature of the problem, there is ample agreement as to its source. They're now setting about on the sticky phase of deciding what, exactly, needs to be done. But as they set about doing it with cameras in their faces and reporters who are used to instant solutions wanting to know what they want done, it's tricky.

Critics of the OWS movement have identified the lack of a clear agenda as its biggest liability; I am going to say (almost certainly not without argument) that it is its biggest strength. You would not start a business without a sound business plan that had been well researched and well thought out. There's a lot of work that goes into the constructive phase of a business plan, a lot of brainstorming, of trial and error, and research. And the finished product does not reflect the reams of discarded paper, of half sketched ideas dreamed up in the middle of the night, or of sticky notes attached to various places around the room.

Put simply, the building phase can be a convoluted mess.

OWS is currently in the building phase. They're bringing together a bunch of people from varying backgrounds with very different ideas on what the next step should be. And to their credit, they are including as many voices as possible in the process. Rather than act reactively to the next election, they are acting proactively. Even in Texas, with our insanely early candidate filing deadline, these discussions are taking place while people who might be interested in running for office have ample time to discuss it and file.

Unlike the Tea Party, which was quickly coopted by politicians telling them what they should want, the Occupy movement is taking time to gain critical mass and get a consensus of ideas on how to move forward. To put it simply, and in the best "geek-speak" possible (although this will probably be the most contentious point of my discussion), in a Mac and Windows world, the OWS movement is the Linux, the open source political movement.

To those who fear that we won't move past the disordered state we're in now, there is a timeline and there is a plan to build up the OWS movement. The movement will be choosing delegates, and is working towards a consensus in the summer that will be presented in advance of the party conventions. I don't know what the finished product will be (nobody does), but you can rest assured it will not be a hastily thought up, reactionary response.

You don't need to look far to know that we need to drastically change course as a nation. You only need to ask yourself what the solution is. And the OWS movement is working to determine that. It's my hope that you will at least consider listening to what comes forth.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


The next Occupy Amarillo Action Committee meeting will be Tuesday, October 18th at the 806 coffee house. This is the time to let your voice be heard. If you need more information, I can be contacted at, or you can contact us via the Facebook page or group, or the meetup site. Saturday's event as a great event and we are going to be hard at work planning the next event. We will need people to help get the word out, so if you can help, let us know. This is especially importnt for people in surrounding towns (Pampa, Dumas, Borger) who might not make it in for the meetings, but want to help. If you can get the word out in your community and help with ridesharing, that would be great. We made a strong statement on October 15, 2011, we would like to make a stronger statement at the next march. we look forard to seeing you there!

Media Coverage of the Amarillo movement

After seeing some of the reports on other #Occupy movements, I wasn't sure how the media would cover our protest in Amarillo. Things tend to lean quite far to the right here, and it's easy to be concerned that the coverage would lean that way.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, that that was not the case. The AGN wrote probably the best piece, and the other news outlets were fair (with the exception of a blip by one TV news media source that was quickly and professionally cleared up). They didn't attack or support us, they did, quite simply, what they're paid to do and reported the news.

I would like to publicly thank channels 4, 7, and 10 and the Amarillo Globe News for reporting fairly and accurately on the protest. They get run through the wringer often enough, and deserve cedit when it is rightly due.

Occupy Amarillo

The Occupy Amarillo movement got off to a great start Saturday, October 15.

Since we just got things under way a week ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. How many people would show, would there be counterprotestors, would we see a police presence? Amarillo is, after all, a city where differing ideas are frowned upon, the reddest part of a red state, and an area where people don't often like to step outside their comfort zones. But for all those things, folks are generally civil, more inclined to roll their eyes if they disagree than anything.

When I showed up at Ellwood park, I was worried. We looked around, and only saw homeless people. It took awhile, but eventually protestors trickled in. And by trickled, I mean trickled. when Channel 10 showed up to get news footage, there were 10-15 of us standing around.

But by the time of the march we had 75. Some could not make the full march and met us at the Chase building. By the time we got there, there were between 80 and 90. Not bad when you consider protests in Denver started out with about 100.

After the march, we discussed ideas. It was interesting to see the variety of views presented. Although we do not agree on all solutions, we agree that much needs to be done, in Amarillo and elsewhere.

If you want to join in the Occupy Amarillo movement, Like our Facebook page. There is also a group, just contact a member to be added.

And now, photos (borrowed from Job's Anger

Welcome to the Free Market Socialist

I created this blog because I'm amused at the sheer confusion between political systems in America. I'm a free market capitalist, but often get branded a socialist because I believe that the worker is entitled to a fair price for their labor, halth care, and safe and clean working conditions.

In other words, I'm basically caught between worlds.

As a supporter of the Occupy movement, I will pass on information about the movement, ideas, and opinions, as well as other tidbits I think might interest you. Thanks for viewing!