Monthly Archives: January 2014

Liars, Damn Liars, and Statistics

Photo by Ryan Thompson/U.S. Department of Agriculture [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Ryan Thompson/U.S. Department of Agriculture CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The US House passed the 2014 Farm Bill, proclaiming their pride of a “bipartiisan” piece of legislation that now moves to the Senate. At the core of the bad policies included with some good ones in the Bill are the cuts to the food stamp program known as SNAP. “This is legislation we can all be proud of because it fulfills the expectations the American people have of us,” said Representative Frank D. Lucas, (R-OK), who led House efforts to pass the farm bill, according to a report in The New York Times.

The Bill will cut $8 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years. To soften the blow, the draconian measure was wrapped in the language of “only a 1% cut” when revealed to the public. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, right?

The 1% cut will be taken from 850,000 households across 14 states, with as much as a 50% cut to those household’s monthly benefit. Hardest hit of the cities will be New York City itself, where 40% of food stamp recipients are military veterans. The statistic of 1% was derived by using the national number of recipients to average the effect of the 850,000 households losing 50% of the benefit. Otherwise, we would be shocked, outraged and demand the Senate not pass the bill.

I don’t know about you, but I am shocked and outraged. To take food from the most vulnerable people and average it over the nation’s total program recipients for politics-before-people purposes is nothing less than lying to the public about the effects of legislation. They think the public can’t figure basic math and will applaud their efforts without examining the real facts.

Since when has not feeding a veteran’s family in New York City been beneficial for a farmer in Iowa? How is a “Farm Bill” related to feeding FEWER people? Attaching the SNAP cuts to the Farm Bill is purely political, and comes after other cuts to the program have already been passed. After growing up on a farm, I can say this smells very much like organic fertilizer of the male bovine kind…

After all, throwing a veteran’s family under the manure spreader is easier for Washington than throwing corporate tax breaks under the plow. They are learning to compromise…

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The Enemy Within

Photo by Newark Preschool Council, Inc (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Newark Preschool Council, Inc (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

10,000 children are injured or killed every year in this country by the same thing. We should be outraged. If it were a corporation doing this, we would demand laws and criminal processing. If it were a terrorist group, we would demand the almighty forces of our military be used to utterly destroy the enemy. If it were a disease, we would demand the CDC and other government agencies pool their resources and stop at nothing until it could be halted in its tracks.

But since it is because of gun violence, we can’t even talk about it. America has passed no federal gun restriction laws since 1993, when President Clinton signed the Brady Bill into law. Since then, we have had a few executive orders signed, the most recent by Pres. Obama following the Newtown shootings in January of 2013. But there has been no congressional action on this issue, despite studies and reports proving the statistic of our children being slaughtered by 10,000 per year.

I am not an advocate of those who subscribe to the notion that all guns are bad. I hunt, I grew up with firearms and I understand the traditions most Americans cherish in that regard. But I also believe that parents should be able to send their children to school without wondering if they will come home that day. They should not hope someone starts making bullet-proof clothing for children. They should be able to count on their elected officials to respond when the nation faces the loss of our greatest national treasure.

Join Occupy World Writes in our support of Americans For Responsible Solutions. It is worth your time to at least explore and consider the topics presented on their website.

Go ahead – pull the trigger.

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The Unity of our State

White House photo by Susan Sterner (President Delivers "State of the Union") [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

White House photo by Susan Sterner (President Delivers “State of the Union”) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Every year, Americans receive the State of the Union Address delivered by the sitting President of the United States. We are presented with an agenda of what is wanted or needed, so Americans will know what not to hope for.

You see, this is not really a report of where we’re at. This year, Pres. Obama gave us specific actions, both Congressional and executive, that could be implemented. They would, in principal, be good policy. But the populace also knows the honest reality of policy: no good policy gets implemented without red tape and bureaucracy making it ineffective.

We’ve learned to endure the ritual, the pomp and circumstance, the surrealness of it all. We’ve learned that what Washington is supposed to do in contrast to what it actually does is two different things. And we’ve learned that when we get mad enough, we can get some slight reaction in some small measures.

By standing together to send messages, we can change things. Solidarity, regardless of the presentation, is crucial. This generation and culture uses social media for all kinds of interaction, and we are finding ways to use it to influence Washington.

12 days ago, we launched our #rapeculture campaign on Facebook. This was in response to the provision in H.R. 7 requiring the IRS to audit rape victims. We explained the details of the bill in our post, US House Wants IRS to Audit Rape Victims. The Hyde Amendment, already law, restricts Federal funding for abortion. H.R.7 forces legal discrimination of a class of people, intimidates women into not reporting a crime for fear of unfair scruitiny, and forces victims to re-live their experiences through invasive interviews with unqualified individuals, who are then entitled to pass judgement on their truthfulness..

We asked you to share the bill and cosponsors, and to post on the cosponsors’ Facebook pages the link to the bill with the hashtag #rapeculture. As of yesterday evening, the bill had been shared 468 times according to a suggested Facebook post prompt. Better yet, the rape audit provision was struck from the bill. Furthermore, President Obama has now said he will veto H.R. 7 if it reaches his desk. We have reason to believe that the public outcry we helped create was the driving force behind both the removal of the rape audit provision and the veto threat.

Photo by Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Our union – the future of this country – actually DOES depend on every one of us. It depends on US acting in UNITY to defend what we want and need from the interests of politicians bribed lobbied in Washington. Use your network of social media to start a ripple in the pond.

And be sure to check our FB page frequently and see what ripples we are making.

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The Other Grand Canyon

ownership_occupy_poster_zps7879609fEvery year in January, I go to the big music trade show in Anaheim (NAMM); it’s both a chance to meet with people on a business level and a chance to spend quality time with friends in the area. And, every year I’m struck by the divides; not only the one between the big companies with their huge display booths and the small companies with one or two people who scrimp and save to get a small booth for the show, but on a wider scale, the inequality present in the LA/Orange County metro area.

On Wednesday evening, I went out for dinner with an old friend and his wife. He and I grew up in what for the time was an upper middle-class neighborhood, so the concept of privilege isn’t lost on us. They decided we’d have dinner in Newport Beach that night, so we took the short drive from my hotel down to Newport. As you first get into Newport Beach, the first thing you notice are the houses on the hills overlooking the ocean, and the gates on the road leading up to the houses. The houses are huge, sprawling things with big yards and huge windows facing the ocean. Want to live here? Better have a few million stashed away to even talk with a realtor.

As we proceed into town, we drive past the harbor. Here, you see lots of boats; the cheapest of which would cost as much as a house in most places in LA itself. The road past there looks like a normal suburban area, until you notice what the various stores sell. Here, you don’t see a Best Buy; you see custom audio consulting services to design audio systems for individual rooms. Instead of your Chevy or Ford dealers, you see Bentley and Ferrari dealers. Then, we get to where we were going for dinner; Fashion Island.

Fashion Island is an outdoor mall, like many others in California. But, once again, there’s a surreal quality to it. Instead of a fountain, they have a koi pond. There’s a big Rolex store and other such stores catering to the people who have more disposable income each month than a lot of the surrounding cities’ residents have in total income for the year. However, they also have sidewalk vendors there; we stop and talk to one of them who sells lamps and lamp kits made out of recycled milk bottles.

A second generation Angelino whose family’s originally from Mexico, he’s there day in and day out supporting his wife and kid with what he makes from his stand. On a good day, he might make as much as $500; most days, he makes $100 or less. We buy both a lamp and kit from him, and go to dinner. Fortunately, there’s a few affordable chain restaurants in the mall; we stop at one of them for dinner, and then head back to drop me off at my hotel.

The next night, I’m visiting a couple of my friends who live in LA proper. Both of them work in tech support for a software company, and are successful artists in the local music scene. The block they live on which has fifteen houses or so could fit into the property of one of the houses in Newport Beach. We talk for a while, and then walk down to a local taqueria to grab some tacos and flan. Even with the reasonable prices of the restaurant the night before, our bill for everything ends up to be less than what the bill was for one of us the night before. We grab our tacos and flan, and walk back to the house.

Photo by HELP Los Angeles. All rights reserved.

Photo by HELP Los Angeles. All rights reserved.

The last time I’d been to that house prior to Thursday was the year before. I was in town for the show, but stopped at the house to help them in a community outreach program called HELP Los Angeles. HELP Los Angeles goes out once a month or so and spends a day helping the homeless by distributing things like food or personal hygiene kits. That time, it was personal hygiene kits. Around 15 of us sat wherever we could find room inside (it was raining), and divided up the donations of sanitizer, toothbrushes, etc. they’d received and made individual kits to hand out the next day. We made close to 150 kits that night, and handed them out the next day to the homeless on Skid Row in downtown LA. They were gone in under a half hour; we could have used many, many more.

The gap between what we had and what the homeless had was stunning, to put it mildly. We tend to forget how lucky we are to have roofs over our heads when it rains, and a place to shower and cook food- much less that we have food. However, the gap between us and the people in Newport Beach who own the homes on the hill is even larger; we might as well be homeless if we take our wealth as a percentage of what they have. And, to have the gap between the people in Newport Beach and the homeless on Skid Row a mere 50 miles away is not only mindboggling; it’s obscene.

Imcome inequality in this country is a real problem, and it’s only getting worse. What can we do about it? We can demand that our Congressthings do their jobs and support a raise in the minimum wage. We can demand that employers who don’t pay their employees a living wage be held accountable. We can advocate for the homeless by supporting a homeless bill of rights, as was passed unanimously in Duluth earlier this month.

What we can’t do is remain silent.

 

 

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Remain Calm – All Is Well

By Authors of the files (by the same order of the files): Roland zh، Lutz، Crispin Semmens، Justinform، Biella "Gabriella" Coleman، David Shankbone. (Combined by Abbad). [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Authors of the files (by the same order of the files): Roland zh، Lutz، Crispin Semmens، Justinform، Biella “Gabriella” Coleman، David Shankbone. (Combined by Abbad). [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

If you rely on US news exclusively, you most likely are insulated from what our media has decided you do not need to know. You are supposed to care about investigations of scandals and the decision about what kind of healthcare is right for you. The rest of the world is doing just fine, and all of them want nothing more than to exchange goods and friendship with America.

What don’t they want you to be concerned about? Real democracy is taking hold in these countries. The plutocracy that we actually practice in this country is not true democracy, despite what our elections and text books tell us. What is happening in the rest of the world is the fruit born when the people can only take so much. And the last thing they want you to know is that the movement is actually working, growing and spreading. Our government decries those who attempt to stifle these protests in other countries, while militarizing our own police forces to be able to defeat them on American soil. Where, you ask, are all these protests happening?

Syria, regions of Iraq, Iran and Turkey
Ukraine; Kiev, Lviv and extending to major cities
Cairo, Egypt
Bangkok, Thailand
Banguai, South Central Africa
Myanmar
Paris, France
Argentina
Germany
United Kingdom
Cuba
Greece
Brazil
New Delhi
Nicaragua
Cambodia
West African nation of Burkina Faso
China
Manila

The US press wants you to think the Occupy movement is over. It is NOT. They want you to think America has gotten past protests from the 99%. We have barely begun. They want you to think these protests are ineffective. They are not. Pay attention, here! This is coming to a neighborhood near you VERY SOON!

Please DO NOT remain calm – all is NOT well…

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BTW: We Need to Fix That

Photo by Ben Combee from Austin, TX, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Ben Combee from Austin, TX, USA (Flickr) CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Democracy is founded on the principal of each person having not only the right to vote, but the ability to do so through a process that does not require passing obstacles and forfeiting wages by standing in lines for hours on end. 201,000 voters in Florida gave up trying in the last election, after over 7 hours of waiting in line.

Those that wish to make this process more cumbersome in an effort to discourage certain groups from voting are betraying our ideals. After a recent SCOTUS decision that weakened the 1965 Voter’s Rights Act, many state houses across the nation have been focused on how to take advantage of the ruling to gain control by rewriting state election rules.

Voting in America is state run. There is no federal oversight. Each state decides how to best administer the voting process, which is what the Presidential Election Commission focused on in a year-long study to make recommendations for consideration for states to review. The suggestions have been described by Obama as “eminently doable.”

The Commission’s report, titled as The American Voting Experience, has been released in an article in the Washington Post on January 22.

Sadly, none of these reports or discussions bring up the biggest threat to our democracy facing the nation: the Citizen’s United ruling. By allowing unfettered amounts of corporate cash to pour in without transparency, our candidates now run campaigns on glitzy advertisements that avoid discussion of basic issues and instead focus on attacking their opponent. “Town meetings” are now actually fund raisers, and gerrymandering has become all the rage. The result is an electorate with decreased confidence in voting outcomes.

Politics are local. Get involved – volunteer at your local election committee and polling place. Make sure rules are set that make ALL voters able to cast a ballot, regardless of party, age, gender, religion, orientation, race, ethnic group or other classification status. Clear the path so every American that has the right to vote can do so freely, unintimidated, timely and confidently.

By the way – We CAN fix this.

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The Town in Search of Truth

Photo by John Campbell (Verizon Camera phone) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by John Campbell (Verizon Camera phone) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

In our previous post, When Science And Politics Collide, Corporations Win,” we talked about Azle, Texas experiencing an alarming increase in earthquake activity following fracking operations near the community. Since that report, the good citizens of Azle and their determined mayor, Alan Brundrett, are not sitting idly by, waiting for the ground to shake.

They have decided to do their own ground shaking. Over 100 people boarded buses and drove the “Earthquake Express” trip to the state capital in Austin to attempt to get some answers and resolution to the increasing problem. But meetings aren’t enough, and seldom result in immediate action from the state.

Knowing no action will be taken until science has been proven, Azle has hired a USGS seismologist to conduct studies of the earthquake activity. The scientist has been working on site for nearly a month. The research results will be instrumental in the small community’s attempt to defend the safety of the community against the interests of stakeholders in the big gas and oil industry. The community’s website keeps all citizens informed and up to date with the situation.

On 1-7, the Texas Railroad Commission, the regulatory body in the state that oversees the oil and gas industry, issued a press release in which they announce their intention to hire an in-house seismologist. Among other duties, the seismologist is to “lead efforts to conduct research as well as internally integrate oil and gas science with seismic science; coordinate communications and information gathering with stakeholders…” There is no indication of how long their nation-wide search will take to fill the position, nor how long the studies will be conducted before the Commission will take any action at all. They seemed focused on finding someone willing to work with the “stakeholders” of gas and oil companies.

Occupy World Writes salutes the town of Azle, Mayor Alan Brundrett, and those in the Texas area of Azle that insist on facts and action, not wink-wink, nudge-nudge politics that place the interests of corporations over the safety of people. We believe all people should be empowered to take action when government fails to address concerns affecting them.

When it comes to the natural resources of a state or country (water, oil, gas, wind, mineral deposits, etc), it is the PEOPLE who are the stakeholders. Maybe that’s why the SCOTUS decision in Citizen’s United attempts to make corporations people too…

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Extreme Income Inequality: ‘It’s fantastic’

 Differences in national income equality around the world as measured by the national Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds with perfect equality (where everyone has the same income) and 1 corresponds with perfect inequality (where one person has all the income, and everyone else has zero income). Image By Hysohan (Data from Gini Coefficient World CIA Report 2009) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Differences in national income equality around the world as measured by the national Gini coefficient. The Gini coefficient is a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds with perfect equality (where everyone has the same income) and 1 corresponds with perfect inequality (where one person has all the income, and everyone else has zero income). (Click image to enlarge)
Image By Hysohan (Data from Gini Coefficient World CIA Report 2009) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is convening in Davos, Switzerland this week. Comprised of the world’s richest individuals, top CEO’s, world leaders and other powerful people, the intent of the meetings is to map out plans for the world’s economy during 2014.

The annual meeting chooses a theme each year. The 2014 theme is “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” and takes place over 4 days of meetings and forums, according to a piece released by Time, engaging “on all platforms” at the conference. “Our aim is to develop the insights, initiatives and actions necessary to respond to current and emerging challenges,” a statement from Time reads. The theme itself sounds ominous for the people not included at the meeting, since the decisions there will effect their lives the most.

Income inequality is scheduled to be one of the topics discussed. Irony is not. We should all have confidence in the WEF when we hear “Shark Tank” host Kevin O’Leary say “it’s fantastic” that the world’s 85 richest people hold as much wealth as its 3.5 billion poorest people. In a study by an international relief organization, Oxfam, a new report this week found the richest 1 percent in the world controlled about $110 trillion in wealth, or 65 times more than the world’s poorest half.

Do the people meeting in Davos have any frame of reference to be anything but the 1% at the top? Do they know the struggles of a South African family trying to survive on $1 a day? Do they comprehend the oppression when $.23 an hour is considered “good pay” in some countries? How many times have they been homeless, hungry and cold? Has unemployment ever been their only means of survival? How many representatives of the actual 99% will be at the WEF?

Have you ever wanted to replace the “E” with a “T” in this wheel of fortune called a Forum?

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Spies Get Treated Better Than That

Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC-BY-3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

In a flurry to swing American opinion regarding the documents released by Edward Snowden, politicians are now repeating an “absurd” talking point that Snowden was a spy for the Russians. Snowden points out the time it took to have Moscow allow him to enter the country after arriving there from Hong Kong last June. “Spies get treated better than that,” he said.

In a report from Reuters, Snowden credits the American people as being smarter than politicians think they are. He has repeatedly stated he has acted alone, and also states he took no documents with him. The United States is insisting on his capture and return, while his international support remains high.

Despite what your personal feelings regarding Mr. Snowden may be, the fact of the matter is that we are now having a conversation about national security we would not otherwise be having. The facts show Americans overwhelmingly believe the sacrifice of freedoms for the feeling of security is not an acceptable sacrifice.

If we took the NSA’s manpower and budget used to track, store and filter through the privacy of Americans and used it to actually develop an effective means of preventing tragedies, most taxpayers would feel this is money spent more wisely. Searching for a needle in a haystack reminds us of a child’s game. We can do better than this.

Occupy World Writes stands in Solidarity with all those who are willing to risk their personal freedom and liberty for the good of their country’s people. We believe “whistle blowers” should be protected, regardless of who the whistle is blown on; governments, corporations, banks, politicians, police, clergy, faculty – it matters not. Wrong is wrong, injustice is just that.

Prove your intelligence, America!

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How’s That Globalization Working For You?

Syrian Za'atri Refugee Camp. Photo by U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Syrian Za’atri Refugee Camp. Photo by U.S. Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Is the world really globalized? For the most part, it seems so. Until it comes to the Americans.

We have talked about the problem with the media in a previous post. No clearer example can be used to illustrate this problem than with the events since the grinding halt of real news in this country after the breaking story of a governor’s alleged involvement in a traffic jam.

This has obsessed the news media to the saturation level equal to that of Super Storm Sandy.

Meanwhile, most Americans do not know that a state of emergency has been declared in Thailand, which allows the government to use military forces to defeat the peaceful protestors in Bangkok.

In Kiev, warnings have been issued by the government that it is perfectly legal to replace the rubber bullets they have been using against the protestors with live ammunition.

Geneva II talks have convened for discussion regarding Syria. On the eve of those talks, the UN and several Human Rights organizations are reviewing a War Crimes Report proving the Assad regime’s atrocities unequaled in horror since 1945.

The released War Crimes Report appeared in an article in The New York Times with a report from Robert Mackey, presenting evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out in Syria by the Assad regime in a systematic campaign of torture and carnage.

If America wants to grow up and play ball with the rest of the world by talking about “globalization,” may we suggest starting with finding out what is going on?

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