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!