City Giving Occupy LA Protesters “Opportunity” to Learn About Free Speech

As reported in the LA Times:

Many Occupy L.A. protesters arrested during demonstrations in recent months are being offered a unique chance to avoid court trials: pay $355 to a private company for a lesson in free speech.

The irony is so thick you could cut it with a chainsaw. At a time when our governments are working overtime to figure out new ways to curtail First Amendments rights as much as possible, and at a time when corporations are running more and more of our lives, the city decides to outsource their justice with a free speech class?

Free speech, protest, and civil disobedience are integral parts of American history. Without them, there would have been no civil rights movement, no end to segregation, no right for women to vote, and in fact, no independence from Britain!

Occupiers deserve a huge thank you from all parts of society, for standing up (finally) to the gross imbalance and corruption in our political system.

People like Carmen Trutanich should be ashamed of themselves for this patronizing, insulting behavior. If they spent half as much of their resources fighting against the true criminal actions going on in our midst, we wouldn’t need Occupiers in the first place.

Time for Left & Right to Unite Against Corporate & Government Corruption

It’s time for Americans across the entire political spectrum – left and right – to turn off the talk radio, ignore all the “talking points”, and embrace the core ideals of the Occupiers.

After talking with some Occupy LA protesters one afternoon and reading about the movement online, I began to realize that when you look past the fringe elements, a few common demands begin to take shape: for a return to accountability in government, for corporations to serve their communities as well as their shareholders, and for an end to corruption in our public and private institutions.

These are not the radical demands of hippie freeloaders; this is a common-sense rallying cry for all Americans, liberal and conservative. Our government is broken. Corporations are increasingly focusing on their bottom line at the expense of their customers and the society that supports them. This is not a fight to destroy capitalism – it is a fight to save it.

A recent survey reported that most Occupy sympathizers blame corporations for our current mess, while most of those who do not identify with the movement blame the government. There really is no difference in these points of view. They are flip sides of the same coin, with a common root cause between them. This is why it is so important to ignore media voices that try to drive a wedge between the left and right for the sake of ratings. They are trying to distract us, and despite what they would have us believe, we all want the same thing: a government that is responsive to its citizens. We are Americans, first and foremost, and our country was founded of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is our duty to stand up for our country and demand something better of our institutions.

I am not advocating that everyone should throw away their political beliefs. Each side has different ideas about how to address the problems facing our country, and this healthy exchange of ideas is exactly what makes our democracy so vibrant. But right now we can unite behind a common cause, which is to end the paralysis in our politics, and demand accountability from politicians and corporations to the people they serve.

The Occupy movement embodies a classic conservative principle of individualism: the responsibility each of us has to create a better life for ourselves and our community. I have come to see that the movement is not about demanding handouts. It is about ending handouts to our country’s least-deserving, the so-called 1%. Do not confuse this with a redistribution of wealth. This is about leveling the playing field so our free market system can begin to work again.

Americans, left- or right-wing, need to ask themselves if they are happy with the status quo. If they are unhappy with the free pass our financial institutions have gotten after bringing the global economy to the brink of destruction, if they are unhappy with the record levels of unemployment, and most of all, if they are unhappy with how our politicians have become incapable of doing anything substantial to fix this mess, then they need to support what the Occupy movement is fighting for. They are giving a voice to all our grievances.

Perhaps the greatest gift these occupations have given us is the sense that individuals can still effect change. Ultimately, you may not agree with everything they are saying, but there is no denying that they truly are fighting for all of us and for our country. And through their sheer force of will and dedication, they have become a powerful symbol of what individuals can accomplish together.

Supporting Occupy does not mean giving up bathing and joining a drum circle. It means becoming involved in the political process. It means forcing our politicians (Republican and Democrat) to stop listening to their donors and start listening to mainstream Americans again. It means demanding that CEOs stop seeing their customers as nothing more than dollar signs. Simply put, this movement is about putting citizens back into the driver’s seat.

And if we can make our system start to function again and get our government to listen to people instead of dollars, we can then begin to have a proper, adult debate between liberals and conservatives about the areas in which we disagree, and move forward and prosper again.

Let the People Speak. Do not Stifle Dissent.

To those out there who applaud police actions to clear Occupy camps across the country, to those who think these people should not have a venue to air their grievances, to those who are against the messiness of public protest, consider this:

If we followed your lead, this country would have stayed in Vietnam, the South would be segregated, and women would not have the right to vote. Oh, and the USA would also still be British.

One of the things that makes this country so great is that its citizens have the right to stand up and demand change. You don’t have to agree with what protesters are saying, but you should be thankful that people are invested enough in our country to try to improve it.

And by the way, this is true of everyone – Occupiers, Tea Partiers, everyone. I’m convinced if you took away the divisive talk radio hate-mongering (on both sides), you’d find most rank-and-file Occupiers and Tea Party supporters have a shocking amount of grievances in common. Unfortunately, our media earns its living by creating divisions and maintaining a status quo by keeping us apart.

So, I say: let the people speak. Ignore them at your own peril. One of the greatest strengths of a democracy is its ability to allow for change from below. It can be messy, but it’s vital.

A Quick “Thank You” to Councilmember Ed Reyes

Dear Councilmember Reyes,

I am writing to you in regards to your comments quoted today in the LA Times article Councilman wants to see the bill for allowing, ending Occupy LA, and I wanted to personally thank you for helping keep people’s attention on what is truly important about this movement.

I was so disappointed in the mayor’s decision to clear out the camp this week, and appalled today to see the debate centering on petty issues like cleanup of the park space. I am so sick and tired of seeing politicians and the media try to distract our attention from important issues by focusing on irrelevant sideshows, and today’s brouhaha over the state of the City Hall park is just one more example of this.

As you rightly pointed out, we should instead be discussing why so many people feel that their only option is to go out and occupy spaces all over this country. Instead of belittling them and telling them to get a job, we should be trying to create opportunities in this country so they can find a job. And instead of complaining about the homeless around the camp, we should be focusing on the root cause of why there are so many homeless on our streets in the first place.

It is so easy to overlook it when one of our politicians says something we agree with it, and so easy to jump on them when they do something that rubs us the wrong way. I wanted to take a moment to let you know that your words are very much appreciated, especially at a time when they are also so needed.

Brian Haigh

A letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Dear Mayor Villaraigosa,

I’m hearing disturbing reports that the city is planning to clear the Occupy LA camp sometime next week. I have to urge you in the strongest possible terms to let them stay.

I understand that Occupy LA is an inconvenience to the city, and there are concerns over the well-being of the park space around City Hall.

However, this pales in comparison to the actual suffering of millions of Americans right now. The men and women in Occupy LA are sacrificing so much to try to change a system that so many of us have lost faith in. To try to stifle their voices would be to turn your back on the qualities that have made this country so great in the first place.

PLEASE, let Occupy LA remain. I assume you originally entered politics to try to make some kind of a difference, and to leave a legacy with this city. Here’s your opportunity. Moments like this come once in a generation, if we’re lucky. Make the right choice, for the sake of Los Angeles, and for sake of the United States of America.

Brian Haigh

Was the mortgage crisis Clinton’s fault?

There is a constant push in the media to simplify the Occupy movement into a single catchphrase, then to either jump on board or vilify it based on an equally simple notion. Enter Michael Bloomberg:

“It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp. Now, I’m not saying I’m sure that was terrible policy, because a lot of those people who got homes still have them and they wouldn’t have gotten them without that.”

This is one of the points the right likes to jump on from time-to-time, the “Blame Clinton” thread, which pins our entire mess at his feet in the 1990s. Investors Business Daily recently dived into this, with an article breathlessly titled Smoking-Gun Document Ties Policy To Housing Crisis (echoing some of Michael Bloomberg’s comments). It just came out yesterday, and I can bet it will be all the rage on right-wing radio and blogs.

I won’t even argue that what it describes wasn’t a contributing factor (I’ll leave that to this excellent piece), BUT it does conveniently ignore the fact that while the housing boom was on, NOBODY on the left or the right was complaining. I personally remember very vividly that one of George W. Bush’s re-election themes was how a record number of people were homeowners during his term.

And while lending standards were being relaxed, how did the industry react? I suppose the banks were all dragged kicking and screaming into this because the government forced it upon them? That they were forced to give out all these loans, then forced to package them and resell them at a profit to other institutions? To extend extra credit to people based on the inflated value of their home they knew they couldn’t afford? All the while raking in greater and greater profits while becoming increasingly leveraged out to the precipice?

I would argue that the mortage crisis is the culmination of 30 years of government policy. The deregulation started under Reagan removed the safety valves from our economy, leading to the middle class stalling out while the 1% did better and better. With the middle class stuck, the only way to increase purchasing power (even against inflation) was to use credit. This was ultimately unsustainable as we all found out.

So should the Occupy movement really be about protesting government policy?

In part — this movement is about fighting the collusion between large corporations and government against the best interests of the general population. Government policy has been geared to benefit a small sliver of the American public for too long, under the guise that the benefits they reap will somehow spread to the rest of us. It has resulted in a corrupted, skewed system where the voices of the vast majority of people are no longer being heard.

For our part, we were complicit in our silence. That has changed, and people are waking up now and realizing that the only way to change the system is to stand up to it.

Occupy Wall Street Demands Life Without Hardship, and Other Nonsense

The lead story was about Occupy Wall Street — a group that seems to consist of mostly young, able-bodied, able-minded people with their well-honed sense of entitlement “protesting” against a country that much of the world would lie, cheat, steal and kill to enter.  They finally issued their list of 13 demands. These included, but were not limited to, a “guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.” Such a life would provide the Occupy folks plenty of time to think up more demands — while sitting around all day.

– “Occupy Wall Street Demands Life Without Hardship

This is Larry Elder writing on his site, reflecting his views of the Occupy movement (a view shared by many on talk radio it seems).

Let’s set aside the idea that he seems to have a problem with young people protesting something they sense is terribly wrong with this country (while his radio job essentially entails him standing on a soapbox doing the exact same thing). If this country were as perfect as he suggests, he would be out of a job.

This insane demand he drummed up – a “guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment” – is not part of any list of demands I’ve seen. I even tried googling it, and only right-wing websites were coming up in the results.

It’s so typical, and it’s one of the reasons why people like Larry Elder are part of the problem. Why any true conservative would be in favor of corporations gaming the system to advance their profits at the expense of the people they serve is beyond me. He, and others like him, should be THRILLED that young people across the country are finally becoming politically active. If you get past the fringe opinions (and every movement has them, just look at the kooky wing of the Tea Party), you’ll see that people are just looking for the system to be FAIR again. That’s not a liberal agenda. The free market system will only work if the playing field is level for all participants. 

The 53% is really part of the 99%

There has been a meme floating around the Internet in reaction to the 99% movement, called “We are the 53%”, based on the factoid floating around that only 53% of Americans pay income taxes. This backlash plays upon the the idea that people supporting the Occupy movements are leeches on society looking for more handouts.

The problem of course, is that none of this makes any sense.

So who are the 47%? There’s an excellent article on Slate that goes into greater detail than I ever could. The bottom line is, some people are too poor, while others claim enough deductions to wipe out their taxes (almost half are elderly), and yet others benefited enough from the Bush tax cuts that their deductions erased their income tax obligations.

But even deeper than that, this movement tries to pretend that income taxes equals all taxes, which is ludicrous. Every single person in America (whether a citizen or not), pays into the system. Every. Single. One. There are taxes for Social Security, Medicare, roads, payroll, the list goes on and on. Some people may get more from the system than they pay into it, but everybody pays (just like with any kind of insurance, when you think about it).

One of the core ideas of this movement is that the 53% are the hard-working ones pulling themselves up by their own hard work, and are now being expected to subsidize everyone else. And yet the statistics are quite clear (see this NY Mag article with the pretty graphs) — the middle class that these people identify themselves with are slowly being squeezed to death by the 1% who are continuing to use the system to further their own goals at the expense of everyone else. The anger from these “53 percenters” is misguided — maybe they should be asking why so many people can’t find jobs, or why they’re paying a mortage worth more than their house.

I can appreciate conservatives not wanting to jump on what is largely seen as a left-wing movement. But we are fighting for a level playing field. We are fighting for the American Dream, where hard work is rewarded. We expect our government to respond to the people who elect them, not to the people who pay them the most money to do their bidding.

This is not about being a liberal or a conservative. This is about common sense, and about restoring the balance to this country.

Support H.R. 1489: Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2011

As the Occupy movement has taken hold, we have been searching for concrete changes we can stand up for. Despite what many in the MSM (mainstream media) would have you believe, it is not the job of Occupy protesters to come forward with solutions to problems. THAT job belongs to politicians (who have been hired to write laws on our behalf). One of the goals of this movement is to get those in power to stop listening to lobbyists and talk radio hosts, and start listening to the 99%.

However, there is one, simple demand many of us have: a return to the regulations that kept commercial banking and investing banking separate – ie, return many of the Glass-Steagall provisions that were repealed in 1999 (and which lead to this unregulated mess we found ourselves in less than 10 years later). Fortunately, a little googling, and lo and behold, there is a bill floating around to do just that. As the title of this post suggests, it’s called The Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2011, and one of its goals is to get Glass-Steagall protections back on the books.

You can read the text of the bill here: H.R. 1489 (
Here is a page listing its status:  H.R. 1489: Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2011 (

As of May 2nd it was going through the Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises.

This bill is vitally needed to help put a stop to insanity that financial deregulation has caused, and everyone reading this should do something to help persuade our members of Congress that they need to listen to the 99% and support this.

I will begin compiling action items here we can all do to help push this bill through Congress. And of course, if you have any resources you have found (petitions, etc) please post them in the comments below. And please get the word out!

Restoring Balance to Free Enterprise

There is absolutely nothing wrong with capitalism – it is the greatest tool for spreading wealth amongst the greatest number of people our recorded history has known.

BUT, every system needs to exist in balance. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s what makes the world go round.

The founding fathers of the USA recognized this, and built in a number of checks and balances in the government they developed with the US Constitution. There are two houses of government, an executive branch, and a judicial branch, all working together to ensure that no one body accrues too much power and upsets the balance of government.

Why wouldn’t it be different in the free market? As we’ve witnessed over the past thirty years, without regulation corporations will only grow larger and larger, and gain power until they swallow up everything in their path. It lead to the worst recession since the 1930’s. And yet still, there are voices calling for LESS regulation. Regulation is the safety valve that keeps the system running!

The system is completely out of balance. With the Occupy movement we are trying to restore balance, and really help save the system from itself.  Again, this doesn’t mean everything has to have 10 levels of bureaucracy attached to it (that’s just an imbalance of a different kind), but we HAVE to start re-regulating in our economy if we want to save it, and if we want the American Dream to actually start meaning something again.