Monday, November 28, 2011

What's next for Occupy Wall Street?

As I've said in a previous article, Occupy Wall Street has already won by shifting the national discussion. It has gone from the thoughtless drumbeat of "let's cut taxes and shrink the government" to a more in depth dialogue of what our tax structure is like, how we're spending our money and 800lb gorilla in the room which is income disparity.

At first, it was easy for the media to ignore it. Certainly a few hundred people camping out in a New York park to protest the excesses and crony capitalism of Wall Street wouldn't last more than a couple of days, or so they thought. A couple of days turned into a couple of weeks, then a couple of months. An occupation of one city turned into the occupation of hundreds of cities worldwide, and a few hundred protesters turned into hundreds of thousands.

Occupy Wall Street has woken some of America up but we still have more people to reach. The TV pundits who initially looked the other way, have now realized that this is something they couldn't afford to ignore. It was intellectually lazy, as is much of our national conversation tends to be, to just dismiss the protesters as just a bunch of homeless people, students with useless liberal arts degrees, "dirty, lazy hippies" and spoiled kids who didn't want to work for a living. In fact, it presented a very convenient target for the likes of Breitbart, Coulter and Limbaugh to lob their freshly-squeezed verbal feces at, similar to a bunch of demented monkeys in a zoo.
Yet, when veterans like Sgt. Shamar Thomas or retired police officers like Capt. Ray Lewis stepped into the picture, the detractors lost their credibility.

Granted, there will always be the people who will believe whatever is spooned out to them from Fox News and but even people who would have never thought they had anything in common with left-leaning folks like Michael Moore have realized that there is something seriously wrong in this country that needs to be fixed. When you have Code Pink lefties standing next to working class moderates and Ron Paul libertarians, you know something has shifted massively. Even some of the more sensible Tea Party folks have come to the realization that while they may not agree with the dreadlocked guy beating drums and calling for the banning of animal testing, they have found some issues they do have common ground on, and for those who are profiting from and driving the status quo, it scares the hell out of them.

We've been a nation divided for quite some time now. We've been pitted against each other as pawns in a much bigger game. We've been fighting the wrong enemy and perhaps now folks are starting to wake up. Yes, it may be hard for a West Coast vegan to realize that many of us Southern, gun-toting, truck-driving meat lovers have something in common with them other than being a carbon based, oxygen breathing multi-cellular organism. It can be hard for some Ron Paul libertarians to accept the fact that not all Harvard-educated government employees want to take away their AR-15 rifles and not every government regulation is a plot to force their children into Communist re-education camps. Every day, a few more people figure this out on both sides and understand that this is beyond the classic trench warfare of "Left vs. Right". Then they see peaceful grandmothers, college students and war veterans being peppersprayed and teargassed. They get the point that this isn't just disgruntled kids looking for the "next big thing" and they're willing to have a hesitant, but honest conversation about what we need to do put our differences aside for awhile to fix things.

It's getting cold throughout most of the US and much of the Northern Hemisphere. For many, the prospect of camping through blizzards and sub-freezing temperatures is not a viable one. I speak for myself when I say that the tent cities have served their place in time but it is just the first step. A movement that does not evolve and adapt, is doomed to eventually fade into insignificance. By all means, we should continue to protest. By all means, we should be out there on the streets against the barricades, constantly reminding those who control the puppet strings that we are on to their game. We need to let them know we know the game is rigged and that despite whatever they say, the system does not work for the rest of us 99% of the time.

However, if all we do is protest, then nothing changes. Things change when people take protest and turn it into action. We will get a government "for the people, by the people" when we put together a coalition which agrees on a few basic principles and demands our elected officials follow them or seek employment elsewhere. I think that's the next step.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Zombie Apocalypse fantasy

One day you get up, put on the coffee, wake up the kids and drive to school. Your neighbors are a little extra haggard in appearance this morning but in this recession, you just figure they're either really hungover or perhaps they're just "dirty, lazy hippies" who just need to get back to work. As you swing your SUV up to the school, you are suddenly surprised to see your child's teacher isn't a "brainwashed Communist", they're actually a real zombie. In fact, the entire population, as far as you can tell, has turned into zombies.

Finally, all those canned goods and ammo boxes you've stored away are going to get to be used. As you dispatch that Subaru-driving art teacher you never liked anyhow and her partner with that 5.56mm assault rifle you bought during the height of the "Obama is gonna take all of our guns" hysteria, you remind yourself that even though you paid double the real price for it, it's worth it now.

You may chuckle a little but haven't we all enjoyed the last couple of seasons of "The Walking Dead"? Zombie films are very popular, but why? My theory is that they play to a darker side of us, a part of us which decent society frowns upon. We all have people we dislike or have been taught to hate. However, in a functioning society, we can't dispatch them without repercussions such as a lifetime in prison, lethal injection, or having to flee the country forever. But what if chaotic anarchy reigned? What if that person was suddenly no longer human and/or there was no government to enforce any rules?

As I've said before, there's people who cannot wait for the day that they can turn their guns on their neighbors and others who don't share their religious or political beliefs. The "Zombie Apocalypse" itself isn't a real scenario but it is sort of a code word for those who joke about hunting zombies while stockpiling guns and bullets. Just a little something to think about...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The monster under the bed

This week, a photo went viral. It showed a sticker on a man's truck stating that he wouldn't be hiring anyone until President Obama was out of office. While this showed a lack of basic economic and business management sense, both of which he was completely free to practice, it also peeled back the lid on the bubbling cauldron of racial bigotry which continues to stew just below the surface of the media's view. The comments by people supporting him, and the subsequent postings by this clown, proved enough for a little visit by the Secret Service.

People like Mr. Looman aren't uncommon. Sadly, they're a little more frequently found in the southern range of their habitat although the northwestern subspecies tend to be more violent and prefer swastikas whereas the southern subspecies prefers white hoods and crosses.

In their minds, a "Racial Holy War (RaHoWa is their code word)" will explode shortly and they will finally get to rid the United States of the racially impure (all non-whites). Of course, that's the basic version. What they also intend on doing is pretty much what Hitler did and eliminate the intellectuals, gays and anyone else who isn't a white heterosexual who subscribes to their bizarre and lunatic ideology. Meanwhile, I secretly giggle as their kids pop out bi-racial children.

In the general population, folks who truly believe in this racial purity nonsense are a very small portion. However, there's plenty more who in some ways, sympathize or partially agree with some of the bile they spew on local cable access programs, internet forums like Stormfront, or Facebook pages like the very one Mr. Looman set up calling for an armed uprising should President Obama be re-elected.

They love to pull out a Bible and the Constitution and point to their interpretation of these documents as justification for what they want to do, while conveniently forgetting the parts about separation of church and state or anything else that directly contradicts their lunacy. These are people who harp on about "smaller government" because smaller government or anarchy means an environment in which their ilk can survive. They want the government "out of our lives" so they, with their stockpiles of weapons and ammo, can form their own version of government to dictate to us how we will now how have to live our lives.

Don't believe me? Just cruise a couple of their sites for a few minutes. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The #OWS "Crucible"

There is a grueling final test at the end of Marine Corps bootcamp known as "The Crucible". For 54 hours, potential Marines march day and night, endure severe weather conditions, evacuate and care for simulated casualties, etc. Only after this is successfully completed will a recruit have finally earned the title of a Marine. You don't show up at Parris Island or San Diego, put on a uniform, pose for a photo and automatically get to be a Marine. You have to endure weeks of hell, tear gas, being woken up at ungodly hours and other unpleasantries in order to get there.

So it goes with the folks who are out at Occupy Wall Street and other protests across the world. Change doesn't just happen because you stand on a corner with a sign for a couple hours on the weekend or make a cool "99%" sign which makes the rounds on the internet. Don't get me wrong, a collection of those actions moves the dialogue forward and every bit helps and it is appreciated.

My hat is off though, to those who have gone through the "Crucible" of being a protester. Being arrested, beaten, peppersprayed, shot with rubber bullets and coming back for more abuse is a sign that the repressive tactics aren't working. In fact, they're backfiring and the frustration of the oppressors is showing. They are ironically building a more determined group of protesters and support for the Occupy movement at the same time. Whether it be waves of pepperspray rolling in with the Pacific mist in Seattle or batons clanking against barricades in Manhattan, every image or video clip of a grandmother being sprayed or a retired police officer being arrested makes us stronger, more determined and it's free publicity.

The thing is, the powers that be don't seem to grasp that this like aikido, as I wrote in a previous article "The Strength of Peaceful Protest". They don't understand that their overwhelming strength and weapons are their greatest weakness. They can't just walk away because they believe that means they lost. So they keep on fighting us, we keep growing stronger and more disciplined. They've taken "lazy, dirty, entitled rich kids" and turned them into politically aware and motivated individuals who are all leaders. These people who may have been politically apathetic before are determined now, more than ever, to change the status quo.

So keep on pepper-spraying, keep on arresting, keep on making us realize why we are doing this. We'll thank you one day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All is fair in love and war but this is revolution!

Recently I was sent to jail. No, not the jail where you go after a night of doing shots with your broskis and then making the mistake of trying to drive home, only to wake up with a splitting hangover and being spooned by a large tattooed man. I went to Facebook jail where I cannot comment on other pages or share links with them for 15 days.

However, there is something in common and that is in both cases, someone got something up their ass. One figuratively, one literally. It seems that some groups got such a case of butthurt that progressive and independent groups were banding together to recall politicians who were busting unions. I guess the vote in Ohio to repeal the anti-union law (SB5), the recall effort under way in Wisconsin and the spread of the Occupy movement was more than they could handle.

For weeks now, blog pages such as mine, and other independent/progressive pages have been under attack on Facebook. Before, we just dealt with the occasional troll who showed up. We'd play with them like a cat toys with a mouse before we finally banned them. Then they realized that if enough "spam" reports were filed against certain users or pages, they'd manage to silence that person for a couple weeks.

Facebook has a certain formula or algorithm to determine who it will suspend or ban. I am not sure what it is exactly but my guess is that if a user and/or page posts more than X number of times and gets more than X number of spam reports filed on them, they get suspended. Posts and/or links that mention a certain controversial subject are high on the list, right now OWS is probably leading the pack. There is a certain ratio of posts to complaints in this formula and multiple spam reports on the same post probably move you up that list.

I have learned that all pages are infested with trolls to some extent and you can never be rid of them completely. Some will even lurk on your own page, follow your activity, and then report every one of your posts outside of your page. However, you can possibly limit your liability by not posting on pages that are in direct conflict with your own. Posting on Rick Perry's wall is a good way to get possibly 50 reports for "spam" in less than an hour.

If you are a page admin, monitor your users, especially new ones coming in. While you may catch potential troublemakers at the door, it doesn't hurt to check up on random people and what they post elsewhere. I've banned quite a few people within minutes of them joining my page when I've seen them on other pages starting trouble, before they even got the chance to post on mine.

I believe in the freedom of speech and while Facebook and other social media sites are privately owned, suppressing the rights of others to share their political ideas is just fucked up. I hate to be hypocritical but I think it is time to use the tactics of our antagonists right back on them.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Shrugging at "Atlas Shrugged"

When you read "Atlas Shrugged" at the age of 16 or 17 to rebel against your parents or your Berkeley-educated teacher, that's one thing. When you are in your 30's or older and live your life by it, that doesn't make you counter-counter-culture any more, it makes you a sociopathic douchebag.

Self-interest to some extent is normal and healthy. Of course you're going to look after yourself to make sure you stay financially stable and ensure that you aren't being taken advantage of. Normal and mature self-interest dictates that you take care of yourself, so that you can take care of others.

However, the self-interest of Ayn Rand goes beyond self-preservation and headlong into the pit of narcissism and greed. It doesn't say "I'll help you so one day maybe you can help me". Instead it says "Fuck you, I got mine." It doesn't say "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as Jesus said in the Bible. Instead it says "Do unto others before they do unto you." It is an unhealthy atheistic nihilism which dictates that the ends justify the means and that he who dies with the most toys wins. It teaches that there is no moral code which binds us as species to look out for the less fortunate and that crawling to the top on the backs of others is ok.

I suppose if you are a complete nihilist which believes in no higher power, authority or any responsibility to those you use on your way through this life, maybe "Atlas Shrugged" is your thing. Yet, you cannot call yourself a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim or a member of any other religion without acknowledging that you are ignoring the teachings of that religion by being an ego-centric prick. Man is not an island. We weren't predestined to start making "good choices" and working hard at the age of 3, we had help along the way. Nobody got to where they are today without a little help from the right people at the right time. There's many people who worked hard for decades, only to see their jobs shipped overseas or people like myself who worked hard and did the right thing, only to have it come back to bite them in the ass.

Remember how I said in a previous article that the "Anti-Christ was already here"? Well, that entity is here but it isn't a person, it is an idea. It is the perception of the vast majority of the public that they are number one, that they are the most important entity in the universe. It is the belief that the individual is responsible to no one and fucking over other people is OK if that is what it takes to survive.

Personally, I would prefer to shuffle off this mortal coil with a clear conscience and poor, surrounded by people who love me than to die rich and alone. I hope I am not the only one.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We have met the enemy and he is us

There's still some places in the South, tucked away in little out of the way towns off the beaten path where it seems that not much has changed since the days of segregation. These are small towns that used to be on the major highways before the interstates of the great expansion cut swaths down from the North in their march to the sea. The little mom and pop stores are gone now, boarded up and overrun by kudzu vines that swallowed the rusty '57 Ford left behind decades ago.

There's a shop, still desperately clinging on, where an old man with a non-ironic trucker's cap still rolls his own cigarettes by hand. You can get pickled quail's eggs and a six-pack of PBR with the gas that is 20 cents more expensive than the Walmart down the road but if you ask him why his friends are no longer in business, chances are he won't blame Walmart. Instead it will be the government, "liberals", blacks, Mexicans or whomever else he was told was responsible for his predicament. Easy answers, like the easy moral choices faced in the tattered and yellowing John Wayne movie poster that still hangs by the old icebox in the back room.

There's a hunting and fishing store down by the lake with a gray-haired woman and an old hound dog that will always perk up his ears whenever you stop in to buy that last moment bag of ice before you head out to catch a cooler full of catfish. There's one pack of plastic worms and box of 12 gauge shells still on the shelf that were the hot items from 10 years ago, before the new Walmart super center paved over farmland 4 miles away. She will also probably blame the government, gun control, regulations and everyone else except who the real culprits are.

So it goes, through the country where we're fighting and blaming the wrong people. Last night, I was at a small town festival in a town that lost their Fruit of the Loom factory 20 years. There's no real economy left in that town and poverty is rampant. Some kids still fight the racial battles of their grandfathers as if it is still the most important issue of their time, all while both sides share the same poverty in addition to everything else, including the multiple variations of their skin colors.

They say "the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us he didn't exist" but I believe the greatest trick he ever pulled was convincing us that our neighbor was our enemy and the source of our problems. Why spend valuable time and resources fighting a war at home when you can just brainwash every ethnicity, social class and every subdivision of those groups into believing that their potential greatest ally and friend is really to blame for their troubles?

Now that, that is the real class warfare.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

99% vs 53% vs 1%

In an effort to undermine or disqualify the Occupy Wall Street movement, a few people have signed on to a new astroturf "we are the 53%" group. This 53% is supposed to be the percentage of Americans who pay a net income tax at the end of the year. The irony of the slogan is that it states, by logical process, that 47% of Americans live below an income level to which they would have to pay incomes tax. Saying that 53% of Americans pay a net income tax isn't something to be proud of, it is a condemnation of the economic situation that we find ourselves in. I used to be in the 53% tax bracket. I used to end up getting back only a portion of what I paid in over the year and do you know what? I was fine with that and I would happily go back to that bracket in a heartbeat if only I could.

Yet, politicians and their backers want to play class warfare by painting those who don't make enough money to pay income taxes as lazy. I hate to break it to you but not everyone can become a CEO, an investment banker, a trial lawyer or win the lottery. Some people are going to have to flip burgers, bus tables, scrape roadkill, fix flat tires, bag groceries or work as a security guard to make our society continue to work as we know it. Guess what? Some of us are OK with the cards that life has dealt us. Some of us have accepted that the "American Dream" may not be realized for us but we're still trying to get it for our kids.

Occupy Wall Street isn't protesting to ask for a handout, it is protesting to ask for a handup instead of the current system that primarily rewards people who climb the ladder, only to kick out the rungs below it. The 99% represents the people who the system isn't working for anymore, not those who want a free government check every month.

It is too easy to be mentally lazy and let Fox News tell you that we are a bunch of "dirty, lazy hippies". The problems we face are far more complex than some pasteurized 30 second sound bite. It is intellectually convenient to just write off a social issue that has come to a head as the bitching of a few who want something they aren't entitled to. It isn't that simple. Think for yourself.

Abandoned vets

If you come back in a box, you're a hero. It is easy to make a hero out of someone who has died. There's no responsibility to that person, no moral imperative to take care of them. Putting a Chinese-made plastic flag on their grave once a year seems to be the accepted token of appreciation.

But what about the abandoned vets? The men and women who manage to survive the hell of war, only to find themselves in a new hell at home. Physical wounds heal but mental scars are forever.

I have not been a member of the military but many of my friends are/were. My first experience with a PTSD victim was when I was still a teenager. My father took in a Vietnam vet as a tenant in one of his apartments. A former Green Beret, he was fiercely loyal to us but was prone to panic attacks, violent drunken outbursts and flashbacks. This was probably 15 years ago, before PTSD was even an accepted disability. Back then, they called it "shell-shock" and dumped them out of the military on a medical discharge.

Fast forward to 2004/2005...My friend and coworker Dan comes home from Iraq after an Army tour. Formerly mild-mannered, he came back with all the same symptoms. He'd drink himself into blackout fits where he'd lash out at everyone, then sob his eyes out on the bar before passing out. I moved away that summer but often wondered if he would finally get the help he needed. I got a call that fall, Thanksgiving evening to be exact. Dan took his own life by hanging himself in his parent's closet that morning.

He was one of many. We have veterans homeless on the street, in jails and mental institutions and there is very little attention brought to this. The Angola State Prison has their own color guard, comprised of incarcerated veterans.

So why aren't we running TV campaigns and sleek Facebook pages to draw attention to this? My answer is, it isn't something that people can make money from or use as political campaign fodder. It is convenient to slap a Chinese-made yellow ribbon magnetic sticker on your SUV and say you support the troops. It is easy to glorify the dead because they can't speak. They aren't shivering by a dumpster by your favorite Starbucks or asking for change outside the local Taco Bell. The homeless and the mentally ill veterans aren't a sexy dress blues photo, forever remembered as such and forever out of the way. They're here now. For the dead, their suffering is over. For the living, it has not.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I am what I am

I take shit from all sides. I have the "conservatives" and the Ron Paul folks wanting me to endorse their idea of basic anarchy, a government that is a shell of what it is now. On the other hand, I have the "progressives" and liberals who want me fight for gun control and other issues they hold dear.

The thing is, I don't get paid by either side. This page and blog are for me, by me. I don't get paid anything to write the things that I do and I write this to talk about what I think is right, not some thinktank in DC that is funded by the Koch brothers, Rupert Murdoch, George Soros or anyone else.

I express what I think is right. I fight for what I believe is the correct way in my opinion. I believe in some things that are a platform for the left, some things that are a platform for the right but when I started writing, I didn't sign a piece of paper saying I would be a mouthpiece for either side. I'm doing this for me. I am on the side of personal freedom and the little guy.

I hate hypocrisy and partisan politics but push me hard enough and I will swing left, or right, depending on the issue. I've been publishing this page for a little over a year now and I have taken shit from all directions. Guess that means I am doing something right.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Know your enemy

For years, we've had some mysterious and distant enemy to be afraid of. Someone out there who wanted to do harm to our way of life and only some flag-draped politician could save us. First it was Communist Russia, then it was Al-Qaeda, now it is our neighbors.

We've been divided, for the sake of politics, against each other. Republicans vs. Democrats. Fox News vs. MSNBC. Intellectuals vs. rednecks. Blacks vs. Whites. Gay vs. Straight. Christians vs. Atheists. Catholics vs. Protestants. Jews vs. Muslims. Hippies vs. skinheads. Crips vs. Bloods. East Coast vs. West Coast. Yankees vs. Southerners, etc. Every made up enemy is supposed to want to do harm and force us to live under their ideals.

The fact is, we're mostly all human beings who want to live our lives and raise our children right. The problem has been that over and over and over again, we've had it pounded into our heads on a nightly basis that there is so much to be afraid of. Stop being afraid. Yes, there are people out there who would wish harm upon us out of some mental psychosis but for the most part, we're all just trying to get through our lives the best we can.

Now that we are almost 2 months into "Occupy Wall Street", the people who have been setting us against each other for so long have been putting the spin machine into overdrive to try to stop something that could finally break us out of this mess. They've tried to paint supporters and protesters as "dirty hippies" and conveniently leave out the elderly who are front lines as well. They ignore or vilify the veterans who have come home and are now unemployed because a private contractor making triple their salary has taken their place in Iraq or Afghanistan. They love to preach patriotism, until it comes time to actually fund veteran's benefits, PTSD therapy and job placement.

We have politicians from both parties who have made very comfortable careers for themselves pretending to be representing us, all while taking contributions from the very people who are dividing us against each other. Even if we catch on to their game and vote them out, they are usually assured jobs working as a lobbyist to perpetuate the cycle with their replacement.

This has to end, someway, somehow. We can institute term limits, reform campaign finance laws, bar members of Congress from ever working as lobbyists and take money out of politics but that won't be enough. Only until we wake up, realize that our real enemy is the culture of fear and stop voting for the politicians who reinforce that, will we ever be truly free.

This is why we are Occupying Wall Street.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We are the 99%, here's why we Occupy Wall Street

We've already grasped the fact we aren't all going to be millionaires, movie actors or rock stars. Our generation has come to terms with the fact we are going to work until we're 70 or older, and as much as it sucks, we've accepted it grudgingly. We've realized that thanks to the Baby Boomers, Social Security may not be the safety net it was for our parents and grandparents and we're kind of OK with that, even as we pay out of our checks every two weeks to support your grandparents in Arizona or Florida or wherever else America goes to die.

We accepted the fact that "Hope and Change" rolled quietly into "Hope for some change down the road". We aren't OK with that, but hey, we'll live with it. Yet, when our homes get foreclosed on us because the banks who got a bailout won't return the favor to the same taxpayers who helped them, we're going to be pissed off. When the same financial institutions and trade schools who talked us into getting credit cards and student loans to get through college, only to now come and bully us to repay them when we are working minimum wage jobs despite our degrees, we'll probably finally have had enough.

We bought into the same "American Dream" that our parents and grandparents subscribed to. The one where if you work hard enough, save some money and go to school, you also can live the dream. The thing is, the "American Dream" set sail with Reagnomics and NAFTA. Now, if you work 10 years for a company, thanks "right to work" laws, they can dump you at any time, for any reason, and you're back at square one again while your job gets shipped off to an intern or someone who will work for half the price in Bangladesh or India.

In the old movies, the guy who found something crooked going in his company, or his politics, went and made a stand. Eventually, he turned out to be the hero and was usually rewarded for his efforts. In my case, I cut the losses of the company I worked diligently for by millions of dollars every month and I was rewarded with a boot out the door.

That isn't the "free market" and the capitalism our parents grew up with. This is a new system and one that rewards the cheaters, not the hard workers. We've finally realized that fact, and we're very, very pissed off.