Angelolopez’s Weblog

August 2, 2013

An Interview With Navy Veteran Randy Leer

One of the things that I’ve most enjoyed about the Everyday Citizen blog site has been reading the various blogs from people across the nation. One of the most interesting bloggers is Randy Leer. Randy Leer was born and raised in Hays, Kansas and he served five years in the U. S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. After his time in the navy, Randy studied Political Science/Pre-Law and Geography at Fort Hays State University. He was a member of FHSU Democrats, Pre-Law Society, and Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honor Society and he wrote a regular political column in the university paper. He moved to San Diego with his wife while she was in the Navy and when she finished her time in the Navy they decided to stay in San Diego. Randy has studied some business courses at DeVry and continues to have a diverse educational path. He is looking toward a career in Public Administration as he begins a job at the Department of Veteran Affairs, after a long period of struggling to find employment.

Thank you very much Randy for doing this interview. You were raised in Hays, Kansas. What was it like growing up in Kansas? How did Hays, Kansas, influence you as a person?

Growing up in Hays, Kansas was not a bad experience. I always felt I did not fit in with the culture and felt like things were too slow and boring. I think I was always a bit awkward there. I grew up with assistance from special education programs in school. I was challenged by what was attributed as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder; all the while having testing that showed me as having a significantly above average IQ. I’ve always had an inherent instinct to challenge authority, especially when I thought they were wrong. In rural culture of western Kansas, challenging authority will have you viewed as a trouble maker.

I lacked interest in much of what I was told I “needed” to learn and saw no significant need for it. I was told by faculty that I was a very rational person because I could seem to know the minimum amount of homework that I had to do to pass courses and I would walk that fine line and pay little regard to those who told me that was not good enough. Yet, in high school I became engaged in a teen group that was a sort of parallel group to a preexisting version that was made up of community leaders from many walks of life geared toward resolving community challenges. So there I was, this slightly misbehaved teen, going to meetings with leaders such as the District Attorney, Educators and other leaders, including the County Sheriff whom became a sort of mentor to me which I still have a great deal of respect for.

I remember that as part of this group I had the opportunity to meet a motivational speaker named Rolfe Carawan. He talks of character as a goal and basis for determining who a person is. His philosophy, of not judging ourselves or others by comparison to each other, but rather by what we have done with what we’ve been given; laid a deep value in my mind that still remains.

For those that don’t know, rural western Kansas is mostly conservative, and when I say conservative I mean extremely conservative individuals. I was involved in politics, though I didn’t realize it, and I had little interest in politics as I left Hays in 2001 to join the Navy. Just the same, I would say I was just right of center on the political spectrum. I had pro-gun, anti-abortion, and anti-drug beliefs; as most do there.

What was your experience like in the navy as a medic? Did your travels expand your viewpoint on various issues?

More than all my years in K-12 education; the Navy shaped me and taught me many lessons and brought me experiences that I have cherished and regretted, but found very valuable. In the Navy I spent my first year in training spread over Great Lakes, IL and Jacksonville, NC.

I remember seeing “Pearl Harbor” in the theatre when it came out summer 2001. I remember how shocked I was by watching the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was talking with a friend after that movie and I was making some comment about the movie made me feel like attacking Japan again. I remember that because of how much my opinion would change about it later.

That September 11th we were attacked. I was on leave and between duty stations when that happened. I remember the pride I felt to wear my uniform on that day. Donald Rumsfeld was on TV telling us to be out of uniform and to keep a low profile. I thought to myself, “The American people don’t want to see their heroes hiding.” I put my uniform on and wore it to church with a great sense of pride and I refused to show anything but courage. After September 11th all of us young guys in the military were talking really big about the brutal things we were going to do to the people who committed this act. All of us in this country were so blinded with rage; there were even pictures of Bin Laden taped inside the urinals at one of the airports I passed through.

After all my training I ended up going to Okinawa, Japan. I started out working in the Emergency Medicine Department. As I spent my days there and learned more about the people and the culture and became immersed in it, I remembered what I said about wanting to attack Japan again, now it was different though. These people were just like us; they did the same type of professions and hobbies. Actually, I thought they were even more civilized than we are in some regards. They have a very tempered and peaceful way about them.

I heard many things about how the local Japanese citizens were irritated by our presence there and what occurrences had happened. One of the big problems is that some of our troops conduct themselves very poorly there, especially when consuming large quantities of alcohol. I shared their displeasure for this behavior while working in the Emergency Medicine Department because we often times were the “drunk tank” or cleaning up after their bad choices. I could understand why the Okinawans would be bothered by these actions. I didn’t like these fools coming in to my workplace and causing issues and I could only imagine how much more bothersome it would be to have it in my neighborhood and around my children.

After my time working in the Emergency Medicine Department, I started working as a supervisor in the medical supply side of the hospital. There I had Okinawan citizens that I worked with daily. They quickly became some of my favorite coworkers that I’ve ever had. I almost preferred working with them, and when I had off time I tried to stay away from the bases and the common spots that our troops hang out. It was an eye-opening experience and I really felt like Okinawa was more of a home to me than Hays, KS when I was on leave. So these people that I had held with hatred and ignorance were now like my kin.

Aside from the enriching experience of Okinawa, I found myself becoming increasingly conservative, I think because I was surrounded by it so much and so many of my supervisors and mentors were. Everywhere I went I saw FOX News and that became much of my news source. When it was time for the U.S. to go to Iraq, I was rearing and ready to go, though I was never sent. I was cheering it on and arguing in favor of it against anyone who thought it was wrong. I even voted for George W. Bush for reelection.

You did many blogs in 2008 supporting Obama for the Presidency. What has been your opinion of the Obama presidency? What have been his major accomplishments and disappointments?

I believe President Obama was a great choice and could have done much. I think two very disastrous things have happened since November 2008. The first disaster is what we see all the time with the people of this nation; a short sighted view and a short attention span. President Obama said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” This was in reference to the large number of people with a large amount of energy that were ready to get to work. By the end of Obama’s first year the sleeping giant of an electorate that had awoken and put him in office had gone back to sleep. He needed our grass roots energy and participation. We abandoned him.

The second blow was the bottomless source of money and propaganda thrown against him. He had little choice but to go to the right to try to accomplish something. Obama, by his actions, resembles Ronald Reagan more than any Democratic hero. Yet, the right still calls him too liberal and a socialist. I sort of wish Hillary would have won, for the simple fact that she would have had a bit more support, a bit less hatred thrown at her and she would have been white, which I believe, sadly, would have made a big difference.

I believe President Obama forced us to take some serious steps towards real healthcare reform. Obamacare is probably not the answer, but it is progress and we can build on it as we go to perfect it. I think he has done pretty well rebuilding the economy and pulling us out of the nosedive that our country was in when he took over.

Unfortunately, I believe he allowed himself to be intimidated too easily though. He has chastised his base and bailed on too many ideals that we were promised and that we needed. I believe his support of the Patriot Act and NDAA has made him look like somewhat of a traitor to many of us, including me. I believe he sold out on the prosecution of Wall Street, which he would have overwhelming grass roots support for. After all, Wall Street did more damage to this country, and the civilized world, than any terrorists could dream of doing. I think when Obama’s grass roots support network abandoned him in the first year he lost his back bone.

On December 16, 2008, you wrote a powerful blog for Everyday Citizen against California’s Proposition 8. What are your thoughts of the evolution of this country’s attitudes from the time that you wrote that blog to the time of the recent Supreme Court ruling invalidating Proposition 8?

I think we, as a people, have started to realize that it is, at the very least, none of our business. I think that is probably the first lesson that many Gay Rights opponents need to learn. I think we have also started to learn that we have all known gay people that have been afraid to be themselves for too long. This is starting to make us ashamed and that is what tends to make us act to bring equal rights to an oppressed people, much like the African American Rights battles of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s gained its greatest momentum with the people seeing their peaceful demonstrations being met with violence.

Something I’m actually ashamed of is my own past bigotry towards the LGBT community. When I was in the Navy I had a gay roommate and he was a bad roommate, completely separate of his sexual orientation. I saw him in bed with another guy one morning on my way to work and I reported him. I had plenty of reasons to be unhappy with having him as a roommate but I chose to use the DADT rules of the military to attack him. I actually got to know the guy that he was in bed with, later on. I ended up becoming friends with him and my opinion of gays took a blow. I started feeling ashamed about what I did. As this battle has been coming to a peak and I’ve evolved on my views, I have felt terribly ashamed of my actions and my past beliefs. I don’t know whatever happened to my old roommate but I’d be happy to apologize to him and admit I was wrong, without hesitation. As a person, I didn’t care for him but to attack him on something that was beyond his choice and none of my business was wrong.

I admire a series of posts you did on April 16 and 18, 2011 on the voices of the middle and lower classes. It was insightful, with lots of facts to back up your arguments defending the middle class and the poor from the criticisms of the wealthy elite. You give a rich variety of Biblical quotes to support your contention that the Bible strongly supports social justice for the poor. Your blogs show a deep understanding of how conservatives think and the blogs debate conservatives on their own terms. Do you still have conservative friends and family members that you engage with political debates on? What insights have you gained from these relationships and conversations?

I still have deeply conservative friends and family. I have stopped debating with them, for the most part. I like to have intellectual debates with supported points. Too many of them resort to an attitude of “I’m right and you’re wrong because I say so.”

I have a friend that was trying to convince me that President Obama was going to change the US Constitution to remain President. I tried to explain to him the complex requirements for amending the Constitution, despite my explanation he remained set on his view. I was tempted to ask the waiter for a pen and a piece of scratch paper so I could sketch out the continental US and show him the electoral break down; I decided that it was a waste of time though. I think for me I have become so angry and frustrated with so many of these people that I’ve decided that there is nothing to be accomplished and the situation is much like Mark Twain’s quote; “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

The far right has demonized knowledge and education and intellect, so how can you try to persuade or debate against that kind of philosophy.

You’ve done blogs on April 9, 2011, May 3, 2011, January 14, 2012, and September 14, 2012 that has shown great empathy for the problems of military veterans and their families. Your blog on September 14 is especially poignant in describing the problems of returning veterans and the lack of resources of the Veterans Affairs Administration to try to address those problems. Since you wrote that article, how has the situation been for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan?

I think most telling is the suicide rate for Veterans. Forbes had an article that said the rate for Veteran suicides jumped to 22 a day on average. We are losing more of our troops to suicide than combat now. Some of these are unlikely to be prevented, but in many cases the Veteran is unable to get care in a timely manner. To be fair, there are good and bad quality staff at the VA, but no one is good enough to provide quality care to all the Veterans they interact with when they are caught in a tidal wave of need. The VA is growing to meet the need but they started way too late. We currently have a VA system that could be on pace, had it been this size two years ago. The VA is playing catch up in a race that seems nearly over while the VA is still at the starting line.

There is a medical principle that is pretty much a given for any condition; the sooner the proper care is rendered for a particular ailment, the faster the patient will experience improvement. I can vouch for this with my back. If I have a back spasm and I can get chiropractic and physical therapy care for it within a few days, I will be dramatically better by the end of the week. If I have to wait a couple weeks to start the treatments, then it will take me weeks to start seeing real improvement once the treatment does start. These services are buried with need right now. It can take a month before a Veteran can get in to Physical Therapy. Imagine having a terrible back spasm, bad enough that you can barely walk or stand up, and you have to wait a whole month to get the proper care. The main form of treatment then becomes pills; such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, cyclobenzaprine, diazepam. These are all highly addictive. In my case, these drugs are needed for a few days to loosen up my muscles enough to walk and then I have to suffer through the pain after that, because these drugs exacerbate my depression. This is a common side effect.

So I ask you to consider this; a combat wounded Veteran. You can expect him to have PTSD, insomnia, chronic pain, bad knees, a bad back and various other problems. Now in this VA system that is over tasked, we are giving said wounded Veteran lots of muscle relaxers, perhaps sleeping pills, perhaps narcotic pain pills. All of those can cause depression and addiction, even if it isn’t already present. Now picture this guy taking these every day and waiting a month to get in to Physical Therapy and a similar amount of time to get in to see a Mental Health provider. In a month’s time of popping depression causing pills, while dealing with mental health problems, chronic pain and difficulties adjusting back to normal life, we could be writing this Veteran off. He’ll feel abandoned and helpless. He won’t know what to do, especially when the entity that is there to help him can’t get to him for a whole month. By the way; don’t forget the high unemployment rate for returning Veterans. Yes, I completely understand how they choose to take their own life.

Another example of how the returning Veteran is being met with complications is receiving their needed benefits. For those who don’t know, there is a monthly pay known as Compensation, or as disability to most Veterans. It more or less exists to provide monthly pay to Veterans who are no longer in a healthy state after their service. It is awarded in a percentage equivalent to the percentage that the Veteran is determined to be disabled by a board. There have been claims open for years. Until recently, the typical time table I was hearing from Veterans waiting for their claims to be decided was two years from the time of claim till the time of decision. If this Veteran isn’t adapting and isn’t able to find a job, they really need this money to help them. Two years of hopelessly struggling to survive could very much cause a person to lose faith and hope.

It is easy to blame the VA for this. I think some things could be done more timely and more efficiently. I especially think their needs to be congressional action to grow the VA, much faster than it is growing right now, in order to meet the rapidly growing needs. The VA is improving, let me be clear with that, but it has such a very long way to go.

One of my favorite blog of your is one on May 22, 2011 where you take on some assumptions of the Christian Right. I especially admire your perspective as a liberal Catholic on issues like the message of compassion and love found in the Bible and I was impressed by your knowledge of the Bible. What has your religious journey been like? What are your thoughts on Pope Francis?

I have a very skeptical view of the church. I had little hope that the new Pope would change anything. However, I remember watching or reading some prophecy that this Pope was to be assassinated, I only think of this because of how radically different Pope Francis has been so far. I could see some fanatic declaring him the antichrist and shooting him because he is deviating from the wrong headed views that the church has been pushing for so long. I thought this was so ironic.

As far as my journey, I have come from being a Catholic to something quite unique. I have faith in God and Jesus Christ. I believe in many of the old traditions; such as wearing blessed medals and using rosaries. However, I have increasingly grown suspicious of the church, and I mean all the Christian churches. I see in my mind the emphasis of modesty and poverty in relation to material things being shown to us by God. Then I see the church showing us grand architectures and adornments of precious metals and stones. I see the words telling us that what we do to the least of Gods people, we do unto him. Then I see a church that chastises a group of Nuns who neglect the gay-bashing agenda to help the poor. I see church leaders defraud their followers and teach hate unto one another. I see a church condemning how we choose to love one another while ignoring the desperation and pain of children being abused by members of the church, and I see that same church hide the truth.

That same church has been comfortable with horrific actions and leaders. I see that church hosted Adolf Hitler and invests in capitalist investments, while the teachings say to speak for those without a voice and to never take interest on a loan. I see the history of that church being to hide knowledge from the people and to manipulate teachings to have wealth poured unto its leaders and to ignore and exploit the poor. I question how I can trust the Bible at times, because these same villains are responsible for the translation of the Bible; these same villains that launched crusades that murdered innocent people. One crusade in to Jerusalem is described in history as a mass killing of everyone living there, Christian and Muslim alike. The belief was that God would “know his-own”. It is described as being so bloody that the crusaders waded through knee deep pools of blood. Today, the most religious of people are the most hateful and judgmental it seems. I find it sad that I, and many like me, see the Christian symbols and assume the person bearing it will likely be a source of undeserved condemnation. What should symbolize a safe haven, now symbolizes a warning to steer clear.

I don’t understand the myopathy of many of the vocal Christians today. They carry a belief that only their way is right and everyone else is going to hell. I find this so blasphemous. They are basically saying that God, the great creator that imagined and created all that is, was not forward thinking or creative enough to have more than one right answer and could not have created all that which we call science. To think that billions of Buddhists are going to hell because they don’t believe in Christ, despite lives of poverty, peace and selflessness; well I find that to be a slap in the face to God.

I actually find Christianity to be so tainted and distorted that I have turned to Zen Buddhism to learn more and find a greater sense of peace. I have never heard of Buddhists invading any countries to force Buddhism on to people. Perhaps it has happened but it certainly isn’t as notorious as Christian imperialism. Many question how I can do this. How I can “worship a false idol while being a Christian.” It is easy to explain. I believe Buddha was sent as another teacher to teach the people how to live. Buddha never claimed to be a god or a son of a god. He was a man who found enlightenment and peace through human means; many of which match teachings from Christ.

In your Everyday Citizen profile, you mention that you are a proud Democratic Socialist. How did you evolve from being a conservative person who watched Fox News to becoming a Democratic Socialist? Was there a particular experience or a book or class that changed your political point of view?

After I left the Navy, I found myself having more time to read. I watched FOX News still and when they brought up issues I would research them. I was raised Catholic and I try to live by the values I’d been taught about empathy and compassion. I kept finding my personal values colliding with the portrayal of the news on FOX. I remember one example; I was watching O’Reilly Factor and he was ranting about how an illegal alien had killed a U.S. citizen while driving under the influence of alcohol. He was so passionately talking about the need to crack down on immigrants because of things like this. I couldn’t understand the link. The problem here was the DUI. The status of residency was completely irrelevant to this immigrant’s actions. There are natural born U.S. citizens that get drunk and get behind the wheel every day. As I did more reading and saw more examples of FOX showing exceptionally biased reporting that was clearly geared toward an agenda and leaving out stories that did not fall in line with their objectives, I stopped watching.

I also found it troubling to see them continue to rally for the war in Iraq and for G.W. Bush when the truth was so apparent. I was so humbled and furious that I had been fooled in to supporting this war of profiteering. Innocent people were dying in Iraq and I had lent my support to a crime that sent thousands of my brothers and sisters to their unnecessary deaths.

In college I was taught two principles that have served to be exceptionally important in my forming of positions on issues. The first is that; a person cannot consider themself to be knowledgeable about an issue until they know it well enough to make the argument in favor of a position that is opposite to their own. That came from a successful attorney on the prelaw/political science side of my education. The second is that; a person does not know anything unless they can prove it. Specifically, cite it from a reputable source, study or data set, and preferably from more than one independently confirmed source that can support the claim. This lesson comes from a great Professor, who actually does some work at NASA, on the Geography side of my education. This principle is also a sound principle in the science community.

When I analyze and verify information related to the issues, the liberal side tends to win out more often. I actually don’t really claim any kind of party affiliation anymore. I’m registered Democrat because I want to vote in their primaries and because, between the two major parties, I find them easier to tolerate. I’m really tired of both parties and I think they are both hypocrites. Take regulation for example; both parties are against personal regulation, except for abortion with Republicans and except for guns with Democrats.

My personal views are most easily summed up as favoring the poor over the rich and the individual over the corporation. I believe that government should provide services and protection to its citizens and, other than collecting the necessary taxation, should not interfere with their rights. I believe the Patriot Act and National Defense Authorization Act are grotesquely wrong and unconstitutional. When we give away our rights over fear, we deserve, neither, liberty or security. I believe in the “Second Bill of Rights” written by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I have chosen some interesting people/entities/causes to stand behind. My support is for right over wrong, truth over deception, peace over war. As I see those I support coalescing around the ideas I believe in, and against that which I oppose, I am reassured that I am choosing the just.

Your blogs show a strong antipathy for the excesses of corporate power over our political system. Were you supportive of the Occupy Wall Street movement? What are some ways that you think ordinary citizens can fight corporate power in the political system?

I believe we are at an exceptionally dangerous time. We no longer run this country, not because we can’t but because we won’t. The last election saw a voter turnout of 57.5% of eligible voters. I think it would be fair to use that same percentage to break that down to show voter involvement. I believe that of the voters who turned out, about half actually knew about the candidates and the issues and follow the news somewhat regularly. Of that half, I believe only about half of them are seriously informed and check the information they are given and do further research from the stories they read. It is then reasonable to assume that only about half of them are active in grass roots movements like campaigning for candidates or issues and petitioning and protesting. That is about 6% that really get engaged to the level our Founding Fathers would have wanted to see from us.

I believe that we need to look at ourselves first. We hate these politicians but we elect them and we allow them to commit reckless acts on our nation. We allow them to game the system against us and we follow like sheep when they point at the other side and tell us to blame them. Occupy Wall Street was great, and that’s why so little was shown on the mainstream news. Most people think it was just a bunch of dirty, lazy, hippies hanging out at a park. Most don’t know it was a global movement.

I find it really interesting how we always try to build progressive measures, similar to other industrialized nations, to help our people and we always face the critics. The critics always have the same arguments that amount to calling the system we are admiring socialism and defective. They say we don’t need it because we are America and we are greater, more powerful and superior in every way. If America is so exceptional, why can’t we take that system and make it better?

I am skeptical of where our country is headed because of silly arguments like that being the mainstream discourse that is making the decisions. The wealthy have successfully taken the most disenfranchised Americans, those that need education the most to do better for themselves and their families, and taught them that anyone with intellect and education is bad and they are better because they are ignorant. They’ve brainwashed an entire social subset to refuse what they need most. It reminds me of those stories about kidnappers holding children captive for years and convincing them that they are safer with their captors and that the police will only hurt them if they catch them. Is this Stockholm Syndrome; I’m not sure but it seems similar. The key that would unlock their salvation is viewed by them as poison. The corporations and the wealthy have really done well with that tactic. I don’t know how we fix something like that.

As a person who likes to travel, I like to learn about the various places from people I’ve interviewed. What advice would you give to someone who is visiting San Diego for the first time? What are some places that you’d recommend visiting in your area?

I think what has impressed me most, as far as sites, has been the Harbor Seals and California Sea Lions. In the area called La Jolla, one can go to a manmade beach that has a sea wall to shield it from the waves. The Harbor Seals are there from evening till morning. Unfortunately, there is a battle going on between those that want the beach to be open to the public and those that want to close it to protect the seals. They are so hostile to each other that it takes away from the experience of being able to see these wonderful animals up close. About 150 meters north of that location are sets of rocks that the sea lions like to lay on.

San Diego County is so unique that you can visit a beach, a marsh, a national forest, mountains, deserts, canyons and rivers all in one day. I like Laguna Mountain, especially in the winter months, to see the contrast of a cool lush environment of a mountain top forest looking out over a desert. The Pacific Crest Trail actually runs across the Laguna Mountain area.

During the right seasons one can see Grey Whale migrations, sometimes from the shore, and take boat tours to see Blue Whale migrations during their seasons. Regardless of the season, one can always see several dolphins. In the last year or so there was actually a mega-pod of dolphins. This is an extremely rare occurrence and involved thousands of dolphins over several miles converging from numerous pods in to one area and a few lucky tour boats happened to be out in the midst of it; unfortunately I was on one of them.

Cabrillo National Monument is a small park but a rare gem. Cabrillo sits atop a cliff that overlooks the entrance to the harbor. It is a vertical peninsula and use to be completely military back in WWII. It was a critical lookout point and still has a historical Army barracks and lighthouse. Today the Coast Guard still has an operating lighthouse on there. There is also a National Veterans Cemetery. The Department of the Interior has sort of scooped out the center and made it a park. The military is still scattered up both of the sides. At this location you can see historical items that go back to the Spanish conquistadors landing here. Below there are tidal pools that have natural wonders. On top you can get a bird’s eye view of North Island Naval Air Station, the birth place of US Naval Air Warfare. Here you can watch “Jayhawk” Helicopters, F-18A Hornets, and other aircraft take off and land. Look down over the other side and you can see the Navy Submarine Base. It isn’t unusual to see US Navy Subs, Aircraft Carriers and other Navy ships coming and going past this point.

I prefer natural wonders so I won’t refer you to many city locations. However, there is an unimaginable variety of different cultural foods in the downtown Gas Lamp District. In Old Town, one can see much of the culture that comes from the Spanish settlement of this area and the blending with the Mexican culture that is just about 20 minutes south of there on I-5.

Here are more interviews that I did for Everyday Citizen

An Interview With Cartoonist Scott Stantis
An Interview With Cartoonist Peter Evans
An Interview With Progressive Christian George Koukouris
An Interview With Cartoonist Gustavo Rodriguez
An Interview With Children’s Book Illustrator Lea Lyon
An Interview With Democrat Nancy Hirstein Smith
An Interview With Cartoonist Ann Cleaves
An Interview With Muslim American Activist Zahra Billoo
An Interview With Peace Activist and Lay Pastor Jim Ramelis
An Interview With Cartoonist Monte Wolverton
An Interview With Cartoonist Adam Zyglis
An Interview With Reverand Gerald Britt
An Interview With Cartoonist Tjeerd Royaards
An Interview With Poet, Activist, and Teacher Diane Wahto
An Interview With Cartoonist Jesse Springer
An Interview With Cartoonist Steve Greenberg
An Interview With Eric Wilks
An Interview With Cartoonist Greg Beda
An Interview With Poet Melissa Tuckey
An Interview With Cartoonist Andy Singer
An Interview With Author Robert Balmanno
An Interview With Cartoonist J.P. Jasper
An Interview With Cartoonist David Cohen
An Interview that Everyday blogger Diane Wahto kindly did of me

November 3, 2011

The Weekend Before Halloween At Occupy San Jose

On Halloween weekend I dropped by Occupy San Jose to see if anything was going on. They were having face painting and various other activities for children who were visiting with their parents. I spent some time talking to the people holding signs in the street corner. During the hour I was there, I heard many cars honk and drivers gave thumbs up to show their support for their message. During the week a man named Cracker and he has been sitting on top of a City Hall wall to get more attention for the group. Cracker spent the day talking to people who were curious to know why he was up this wall.

A few of the signs were in commemoration of Scott Olsen, an Iraqi veteran who was hurt last week in Occupy Oakland in a melee with the police. Several of the sign holders were there for the first time, inspired by what they’ve seen on television and read in the internet. A few of these first-timers camped out with the other demonstrators for the night. I talked to a young fellow named Owen, who decided to camp out with Occupy San Jose after reading about the group for the past week in the San Jose Mercury news. Another person, a bass player, decided to come out during his time off of work.

Some of the sign holders were veterans of various demonstrations and protests to fight war and advocate social justice. One veteran demonstrator was telling me that in Palo Alto, protesters were setting up an Occupy Palo Alto encampment. He told me that he had been in several vigils in the corner street near Vallco and Santana Row. A nice lady who is also a veteran of several protests had read in the Metro that the city of San Jose is suing the banks for risky investments that plunged the nation into economic crisis. At the street corner, a young man used a bullhorn to call out to passing drivers about the growing economic inequality that has occurred over the past 30 years, and to highlight the struggles of the middle class.

The Occupy San Jose demonstrators had set up face painting, art, and chalk drawing activities for children. A lot of kids came in Halloween costumes. Various people were making their own signs, writing messages that they wanted to convey. There was a huge pile of signs with different messages. You didn’t necessarily have to agree with all the messages in each sign. If you wanted to hold a sign in the street corner, you could pick a sign with a message you agree with. There were many teens making signs and taking part in protests today. A few high school students watched the Occupy San Jose protest on the internet and wanted to be a part of history.

As I write this blog, the Occupy Oakland group is having a general strike in Oakland. Several thousand protesters have successfully forced a halt to operations at the Port of Oakland, the nation’s fifth busiest port. There were a few acts of vandalism by a fringe group of masked hoodlums, damaging some windows at a Well Fargo bank and spraying graffitti at some stores. Several Occupy Oakland demonstrators tried to stop the vandals from causing damage to the property, and some would sweep up the remains and try to scrub off the graffitti. Late at night, there was a back and forth where some masked groups would push metal trash bins in the middle of the street as a barricade, and more peaceful protesters would try to push the bins away from the street. Eventually, the masked group set to fire some of the metal trash bins and they clashed with police. Several of the Occupy Oakland protesters said that they were worried that the vandalism would give the Occupy Oakland march a bad name. Over all, the march today was nonviolent and peaceful.

The fight to control corportate power and correct economic inequality is not new. Teddy Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech from 1910 deals with many of the same economic issues that the Occupy Wall Street protests are dealing with today.

We come here to-day to commemorate one of the epoch-making events of the long struggle for the rights of man-the long struggle for the uplift of humanity. Our country-this great Republic-means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy, the triumph of popular government, and, in the long run, of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him. That is why the history of America is now the central feature of the history of the world; for the world has set its face hopefully toward our democracy; and, O my fellow citizens, each one of you carries on your shoulders not only the burden of doing well for the sake of your country, but the burden of doing well and of seeing that this nation does well for the sake of mankind.

There have been two great crises in our country’s history: first, when it was formed, and then, again, when it was perpetuated; and, in the second of these great crises-in the time of stress and strain which culminated in the Civil War, on the outcome of which depended the justification of what had been done earlier, you men of the Grand Army, you men who fought through the Civil War, not only did you justify your generation, but you justified the wisdom of Washington and Washington’s colleagues. If this Republic had been founded by them only to be split asunder into fragments when the strain came, then the judgment of the world would have been that Washington’s work was not worth doing. It was you who crowned Washington’s work, as you carried to achievement the high purpose of Abraham Lincoln.

Now, with this second period of our history the name of John Brown will forever be associated; and Kansas was the theatre upon which the first act of the second of our great national life dramas was played. It was the result of the struggle in Kansas which determined that our country should be in deed as well as in name devoted to both union and freedom; that the great experiment of democratic government on a national scale should succeed and not fail. In name we had the Declaration of Independence in 1776; but we gave the lie by our acts to the words of the Declaration of Independence until 1865; and words count for nothing except in so far as they represent acts. This is true everywhere; but, O my friends, it should be truest of all in political life. A broken promise is bad enough in private life. It is worse in the field of politics. No man is worth his salt in public life who makes on the stump a pledge which he does not keep after election; and, if he makes such a pledge and does not keep it, hunt him out of public life. I care for the great deeds of the past chiefly as spurs to drive us onward in the present. I speak of the men of the past partly that they may be honored by our praise of them, but more that they may serve as examples for the future.

It was a heroic struggle; and, as is inevitable with all such struggles, it had also a dark and terrible side. Very much was done of good, and much also of evil; and, as was inevitable in such a period of revolution, often the same man did both good and evil. For our great good fortune as a nation, we, the people of the United States as a whole, can now afford to forget the evil, or, at least, to remember it without bitterness, and to fix our eyes with pride only on the good that was accomplished. Even in ordinary times there are very few of us who do not see the problems of life as through a glass, darkly; and when the glass is clouded by the murk of furious popular passion, the vision of the best and the bravest is dimmed. Looking back, we are all of us now able to do justice to the valor and the disinterestedness and the love of the right, as to each it was given to see the right, shown both by the men of the North and the men of the South in that contest which was finally decided by the attitude of the West. We can admire the heroic valor, the sincerity, the self-devotion shown alike by the men who wore the blue and the men who wore the gray; and our sadness that such men should have to fight one another is tempered by the glad knowledge that ever hereafter their descendants shall be fighting side by side, struggling in peace as well as in war for the uplift of their common country, all alike resolute to raise to the highest pitch of honor and usefulness the nation to which they all belong. As for the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic, they deserve honor and recognition such as is paid to no other citizens of the Republic; for to them the republic owes it all; for to them it owes its very existence. It is because of what you and your comrades did in the dark years that we of to-day walk, each of us, head erect, and proud that we belong, not to one of a dozen little squabbling contemptible commonwealths, but to the mightiest nation upon which the sun shines.

I do not speak of this struggle of the past merely from the historic standpoint. Our interest is primarily in the application to-day of the lessons taught by the contest a half a century ago. It is of little use for us to pay lip-loyalty to the mighty men of the past unless we sincerely endeavor to apply to the problems of the present precisely the qualities which in other crises enabled the men of that day to meet those crises. It is half melancholy and half amusing to see the way in which well-meaning people gather to do honor to the men who, in company with John Brown, and under the lead of Abraham Lincoln, faced and solved the great problems of the nineteenth century, while, at the same time, these same good people nervously shrink from, or frantically denounce, those who are trying to meet the problems of the twentieth century in the spirit which was accountable for the successful solution of the problems of Lincoln’s time.

Of that generation of men to whom we owe so much, the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said:

“I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind.”

And again:

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

If that remark was original with me, I should be even more strongly denounced as a Communist agitator than I shall be anyhow. It is Lincoln’s. I am only quoting it; and that is one side; that is the side the capitalist should hear. Now, let the working man hear his side.

“Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. . . . Nor should this lead to a war upon the owners of property. Property is the fruit of labor; . . . property is desirable; is a positive good in the world.”

And then comes a thoroughly Lincoln-like sentence:

“Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another, but let him work diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.”

It seems to me that, in these words, Lincoln took substantially the attitude that we ought to take; he showed the proper sense of proportion in his relative estimates of capital and labor, of human rights and property rights. Above all, in this speech, as in many others, he taught a lesson in wise kindliness and charity; an indispensable lesson to us of today. But this wise kindliness and charity never weakened his arm or numbed his heart. We cannot afford weakly to blind ourselves to the actual conflict which faces us today. The issue is joined, and we must fight or fail.

In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. That is what you fought for in the Civil War, and that is what we strive for now.

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth. That is nothing new. All I ask in civil life is what you fought for in the Civil War. I ask that civil life be carried on according to the spirit in which the army was carried on. You never get perfect justice, but the effort in handling the army was to bring to the front the men who could do the job. Nobody grudged promotion to Grant, or Sherman, or Thomas, or Sheridan, because they earned it. The only complaint was when a man got promotion which he did not earn.

Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, will have two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned. Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service. One word of warning, which, I think, is hardly necessary in Kansas. When I say I want a square deal for the poor man, I do not mean that I want a square deal for the man who remains poor because he has not got the energy to work for himself. If a man who has had a chance will not make good, then he has got to quit. And you men of the Grand Army, you want justice for the brave man who fought, and punishment for the coward who shirked his work. Is that not so?

Now, this means that our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice-full, fair, and complete-and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs.

It has become entirely clear that we must have government supervision of the capitalization, not only of public-service corporations, including, particularly, railways, but of all corporations doing an interstate business. I do not wish to see the nation forced into the ownership of the railways if it can possibly be avoided, and the only alternative is thoroughgoing and effective legislation, which shall be based on a full knowledge of all the facts, including a physical valuation of property. This physical valuation is not needed, or, at least, is very rarely needed, for fixing rates; but it is needed as the basis of honest capitalization.

We have come to recognize that franchises should never be granted except for a limited time, and never without proper provision for compensation to the public. It is my personal belief that the same kind and degree of control and supervision which should be exercised over public-service corporations should be extended also to combinations which control necessaries of life, such as meat, oil, or coal, or which deal in them on an important scale. I have no doubt that the ordinary man who has control of them is much like ourselves. I have no doubt he would like to do well, but I want to have enough supervision to help him realize that desire to do well.

I believe that the officers, and, especially, the directors, of corporations should be held personally responsible when any corporation breaks the law.

Combinations in industry are the result of an imperative economic law which cannot be repealed by political legislation. The effort at prohibiting all combination has substantially failed. The way out lies, not in attempting to prevent such combinations, but in completely controlling them in the interest of the public welfare. For that purpose the Federal Bureau of Corporations is an agency of first importance. Its powers, and, therefore, its efficiency, as well as that of the Interstate Commerce Commission, should be largely increased. We have a right to expect from the Bureau of Corporations and from the Interstate Commerce Commission a very high grade of public service. We should be as sure of the proper conduct of the interstate railways and the proper management of interstate business as we are now sure of the conduct and management of the national banks, and we should have as effective supervision in one case as in the other. The Hepburn Act, and the amendment to the act in the shape in which it finally passed Congress at the last session, represent a long step in advance, and we must go yet further.

There is a wide-spread belief among our people that, under the methods of making tariffs which have hitherto obtained, the special interests are too influential. Probably this is true of both the big special interests and the little special interests. These methods have put a premium on selfishness, and, naturally, the selfish big interests have gotten more than their smaller, though equally selfish, brothers. The duty of Congress is to provide a method by which the interest of the whole people shall be all that receives consideration. To this end there must be an expert tariff commission, wholly removed from the possibility of political pressure or of improper business influence. Such a commission can find the real difference between cost of production, which is mainly the difference of labor cost here and abroad. As fast as its recommendations are made, I believe in revising one schedule at a time. A general revision of the tariff almost inevitably leads to logrolling and the subordination of the general public interest to local and special interests.

The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. Again, comrades over there, take the lesson from your own experience. Not only did you not grudge, but you gloried in the promotion of the great generals who gained their promotion by leading their army to victory. So it is with us. We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered-not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective-a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

The people of the United States suffer from periodical financial panics to a degree substantially unknown to the other nations, which approach us in financial strength. There is no reason why we should suffer what they escape. It is of profound importance that our financial system should be promptly investigated, and so thoroughly and effectively revised as to make it certain that hereafter our currency will no longer fail at critical times to meet our needs.

It is hardly necessary to me to repeat that I believe in an efficient army and a navy large enough to secure for us abroad that respect which is the surest guaranty of peace. A word of special warning to my fellow citizens who are as progressive as I hope I am. I want them to keep up their interest in our international affairs; and I want them also continually to remember Uncle Sam’s interests abroad. Justice and fair dealings among nations rest upon principles identical with those which control justice and fair dealing among the individuals of which nations are composed, with the vital exception that each nation must do its own part in international police work. If you get into trouble here, you can call for the police; but if Uncle Sam gets into trouble, he has got to be his own policeman, and I want to see him strong enough to encourage the peaceful aspirations of other people’s in connection with us. I believe in national friendships and heartiest good-will to all nations; but national friendships, like those between men, must be founded on respect as well as on liking, on forbearance as well as upon trust. I should be heartily ashamed of any American who did not try to make the American government act as justly toward the other nations in international relations as he himself would act toward any individual in private relations. I should be heartily ashamed to see us wrong a weaker power, and I should hang my head forever if we tamely suffered wrong from a stronger power.

Of conservation I shall speak more at length elsewhere. Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation.

Moreover, I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few, and here again is another case in which I am accused of taking a revolutionary attitude. People forget now that one hundred years ago there were public men of good character who advocated the nation selling its public lands in great quantities, so that the nation could get the most money out of it, and giving it to the men who could cultivate it for their own uses. We took the proper democratic ground that the land should be granted in small sections to the men who were actually to till it and live on it. Now, with the water-power, with the forests, with the mines, we are brought face to face with the fact that there are many people who will go with us in conserving the resources only if they are to be allowed to exploit them for their benefit. That is one of the fundamental reasons why the special interests should be driven out of politics. Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation. Let me add that the health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part.

I have spoken elsewhere also of the great task which lies before the farmers of the country to get for themselves and their wives and children not only the benefits of better farming, but also those of better business methods and better conditions of life on the farm. The burden of this great task will fall, as it should, mainly upon the great organizations of the farmers themselves. I am glad it will, for I believe they are all well able to handle it. In particular, there are strong reasons why the Departments of Agriculture of the various states, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the agricultural colleges and experiment stations should extend their work to cover all phases of farm life, instead of limiting themselves, as they have far too often limited themselves in the past, solely to the question of the production of crops. And now a special word to the farmer. I want to see him make the farm as fine a farm as it can be made; and let him remember to see that the improvement goes on indoors as well as out; let him remember that the farmer’s wife should have her share of thought and attention just as much as the farmer himself.

Nothing is more true than that excess of every kind is followed by reaction; a fact which should be pondered by reformer and reactionary alike. We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.

But I think we may go still further. The right to regulate the use of wealth in the public interest is universally admitted. Let us admit also the right to regulate the terms and conditions of labor, which is the chief element of wealth, directly in the interest of the common good. The fundamental thing to do for every man is to give him a chance to reach a place in which he will make the greatest possible contribution to the public welfare. Understand what I say there. Give him a chance, not push him up if he will not be pushed. Help any man who stumbles; if he lies down, it is a poor job to try to carry him; but if he is a worthy man, try your best to see that he gets a chance to show the worth that is in him. No man can be a good citizen unless he has a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so after his day’s work is done he will have time and energy to bear his share in the management of the community, to help in carrying the general load. We keep countless men from being good citizens by the conditions of life by which we surround them. We need comprehensive workman’s compensation acts, both State and national laws to regulate child labor and work for women, and, especially, we need in our common schools not merely education in book-learning, but also practical training for daily life and work. We need to enforce better sanitary conditions for our workers and to extend the use of safety appliances for workers in industry and commerce, both within and between the States. Also, friends, in the interest of the working man himself, we need to set our faces like flint against mob-violence just as against corporate greed; against violence and injustice and lawlessness by wage-workers just as much as against lawless cunning and greed and selfish arrogance of employers.

If I could ask but one thing of my fellow countrymen, my request would be that, whenever they go in for reform, they remember the two sides, and that they always exact justice from one side as much as from the other. I have small use for the public servant who can always see and denounce the corruption of the capitalist, but who cannot persuade himself, especially before election, to say a word about lawless mob-violence. And I have equally small use for the man, be he a judge on the bench or editor of a great paper, or wealthy and influential private citizen, who can see clearly enough and denounce the lawlessness of mob-violence, but whose eyes are closed so that he is blind when the question is one of corruption of business on a gigantic scale. Also, remember what I said about excess in reformer and reactionary alike.

If the reactionary man, who thinks of nothing but the rights of property, could have his way, he would bring about a revolution; and one of my chief fears in connection with progress comes because I do not want to see our people, for lack of proper leadership, compelled to follow men whose intentions are excellent, but whose eyes are a little too wild to make it really safe to trust them. Here in Kansas there is one paper which habitually denounces me as the tool of Wall Street, and at the same time frantically repudiates the statement that I am a Socialist on the ground that that is an unwarranted slander of the Socialists.

National efficiency has many factors. It is a necessary result of the principle of conservation widely applied. In the end, it will determine our failure or success as a nation. National efficiency has to do, not only with natural resources and with men, but it is equally concerned with institutions. The State must be made efficient for the work which concerns only the people of the State; and the nation for that which concerns all the people. There must remain no neutral ground to serve as a refuge for lawbreakers, and especially for lawbreakers of great wealth, who can hire the vulpine legal cunning which will teach them how to avoid both jurisdictions. It is a misfortune when the national legislature fails to do its duty in providing a national remedy, so that the only national activity is the purely negative activity of the judiciary in forbidding the State to exercise power in the premises.

I do not ask for the over centralization; but I do ask that we work in a spirit of broad and far-reaching nationalism where we work for what concerns our people as a whole. We are all Americans. Our common interests are as broad as the continent. I speak to you here in Kansas exactly as I would speak in New York or Georgia, for the most vital problems are those which affect us all alike. The National Government belongs to the whole American people, and where the whole American people are interested, that interest can be guarded effectively only by the National Government. The betterment which we seek must be accomplished, I believe, mainly through the National Government.

The American people are right in demanding that New Nationalism, without which we cannot hope to deal with new problems. The New Nationalism puts the national need before sectional or personal advantage. It is impatient of the utter confusion that results from local legislatures attempting to treat national issues as local issues. It is still more impatient of the impotence which springs from over division of governmental powers, the impotence which makes it possible for local selfishness or for legal cunning, hired by wealthy special interests, to bring national activities to a deadlock. This New Nationalism regards the executive power as the steward of the public welfare. It demands of the judiciary that it shall be interested primarily in human welfare rather than in property, just as it demands that the representative body shall represent all the people rather than any one class or section of the people.

I believe in shaping the ends of government to protect property as well as human welfare. Normally, and in the long run, the ends are the same; but whenever the alternative must be faced, I am for men and not for property, as you were in the Civil War. I am far from underestimating the importance of dividends; but I rank dividends below human character. Again, I do not have any sympathy with the reformer who says he does not care for dividends. Of course, economic welfare is necessary, for a man must pull his own weight and be able to support his family. I know well that the reformers must not bring upon the people economic ruin, or the reforms themselves will go down in the ruin. But we must be ready to face temporary disaster, whether or not brought on by those who will war against us to the knife. Those who oppose reform will do well to remember that ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both politics and business of a sordid and selfish materialism.

If our political institutions were perfect, they would absolutely prevent the political domination of money in any part of our affairs. We need to make our political representatives more quickly and sensitively responsive to the people whose servants they are. More direct action by the people in their own affairs under proper safeguards is vitally necessary. The direct primary is a step in this direction, if it is associated with a corrupt-services act effective to prevent the advantage of the man willing recklessly and unscrupulously to spend money over his more honest competitor. It is particularly important that all moneys received or expended for campaign purposes should be publicly accounted for, not only after election, but before election as well. Political action must be made simpler, easier, and freer from confusion for every citizen. I believe that the prompt removal of unfaithful or incompetent public servants should be made easy and sure in whatever way experience shall show to be most expedient in any given class of cases.

One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests. I believe that every national officer, elected or appointed, should be forbidden to perform any service or receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, from interstate corporations; and a similar provision could not fail to be useful within the States.

The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so long as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens. Just in proportion as the average man and woman are honest, capable of sound judgment and high ideals, active in public affairs,-but, first of all, sound in their home, and the father and mother of healthy children whom they bring up well,-just so far, and no farther, we may count our civilization a success. We must have-I believe we have already-a genuine and permanent moral awakening, without which no wisdom of legislation or administration really means anything; and, on the other hand, we must try to secure the social and economic legislation without which any improvement due to purely moral agitation is necessarily evanescent. Let me again illustrate by a reference to the Grand Army. You could not have won simply as a disorderly and disorganized mob. You needed generals; you needed careful administration of the most advanced type; and a good commissary-the cracker line. You well remember that success was necessary in many different lines in order to bring about general success. You had to have the administration at Washington good, just as you had to have the administration in the field; and you had to have the work of the generals good. You could not have triumphed without the administration and leadership; but it would all have been worthless if the average soldier had not had the right stuff in him. He had to have the right stuff in him, or you could not get it out of him. In the last analysis, therefore, vitally necessary though it was to have the right kind of organization and the right kind of generalship, it was even more vitally necessary that the average soldier should have the fighting edge, the right character. So it is in our civil life. No matter how honest and decent we are in our private lives, if we do not have the right kind of law and the right kind of administration of the law, we cannot go forward as a nation. That is imperative; but it must be an addition to, and not a substitute for, the qualities that make us good citizens. In the last analysis, the most important elements in any man’s career must be the sum of those qualities which, in the aggregate, we speak of as character. If he has not got it, then no law that the wit of man can devise, no administration of the law by the boldest and strongest executive, will avail to help him. We must have the right kind of character-character that makes a man, first of all, a good man in the home, a good father, and a good husband-that makes a man a good neighbor. You must have that, and, then, in addition, you must have the kind of law and the kind of administration of the law which will give to those qualities in the private citizen the best possible chance for development. The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive,

Some youtube videos of Occupy San Jose

October 29, 2011

More News On Occupy San Jose and More Articles On Income Inequality

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — angelolopez @ 2:31 am

Last Monday I visited the Occupy San Jose site to donate food to the occupiers. I had read in their facebook page that they were looking for donations after the police had taken their food and many of their supplies. When I dropped by, the group was in the middle of a meeting. A few of their members were planning to attend a City Hall meeting to engage in a dialogue about the councilmembers’ concerns and to complain about the police taking their supplies.

It was attended by around forty people. A local restaurant owner donated some of his restaurant food for dinner for the protesters. Several people just wanted to show support for the cause. Individuals were able to express their thoughts and concerns about the Occupy San Jose and everyone else listened and took each person seriously. I thought it was a nice show of democracy.

A day later, police clashed with the participants of Occupy Oakland and a protester, Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen, was hurt by rubber bullets that were fired by a police officer. This attack has had a galvanizing effect on other Occupy protests throughout the nation. In facebook, several activists have posted on their wall their support of Olsen and Occupy Oakland. Across the Bay, police decided not to raid Occupy SF encampments, and this has reinvigorated the demonstrators. Office workers and tourists have mixed with the SF Occupiers, showing their support of the Occupy SF cause. The SF Occupiers have been conscientious about keeping the area clean, and recently four portable toilets arrived.

I admire the Occupy Wall Street movement. Right now I’m reading Eric Foner’s book Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery about Lincoln in the context of the various anti-slavery movements of his time. Foner makes a point that there was a relationship between the abolitionists and the Radical Republicans. Abolitionists were the most radical of the anti-slavery groups, and they worked outside the political system to create agitation and focus on changing public opinion on slavery and the equality of African Americans. Radical Republicans worked inside the political system to push for legislation to abolish slavery.

I think the Occupy Wall Street movement plays the same role that the Abolitionist movement played in the 1800s. They work outside the political system to creat agitation and focus the public discourse on the inequalities of the current economic system. For the past couple of years, I’ve been learning about the interplay of radicals and reformers in bringing about social change in our country’s history. Katrina Van Den Heuvel wrote in the November 4, 2008 edition of the Nation about the necessity of grassroots movements to pressure Obama and the Democrats for change:

We know the Democratic Party is not the only vehicle for change. Historically, the party’s finest moments have come when it was pushed into action from the outside by popular social movements. That same pressure is needed now. Retreat and timidity are losing strategies for addressing economic crisis, a shredded social compact, two wars which must be ended, and a damaged reputation abroad–especially with stronger majorities in Congress and a new president who has raised expectationsand promised real change.

…History tells us how Franklin Delano Roosevelt was compelled to abandon caution because of the great traumas of his day. The Great Depression gave him little choice but to be bold. But it was popular social movements working outside the administration and empowered unions of that time that put strong pressure on FDR to carry out bolder reforms. That outside force was disciplined, strategic and focused, and it made the FDR years much better than if people had just sat back and let the President fend for himself against special interests. There’s a powerful lesson in there for the movements of our times.

I think the Occupy Wall Street movement has helped focus the media and the nation on the economic inequalities that have existed in this nation for decades. Here are several articles that I have found on economic inequality. This blog is illustrated with photographs I took last Monday night of the Occupy San Jose meeting.

Andrew Sullivan wrote an article in the October 22, 2011 edition of Newsweek where he wrote:

Social and economic inequality is higher than it has been since the 1920s, and is showing no signs of declining.

Sure, multinational corporations have rescued millions from poverty in the developing world in the last decade. But they have also outsourced more and more blue- and white-collar jobs away from the West, pioneered technological innovation that has made entire professions—remember travel agents? librarians? secretaries?—redundant, and rewarded the brilliant and driven at the expense of the middle class and the job security it once enjoyed. Even great Western products like the iPhone now actually employ more Chinese than Americans in their manufacturing. People rightly wonder how they can ever master these powerful forces again. And, yes, the income numbers are staggering by any measure. From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, the median American household saw its income double. Since then: a screeching halt, or barely a 5 percent rise in incomes for the less-affluent 90 percent of Americans. But between 1979 and 2007, the top 1 percent saw their incomes soar by 281 percent. Add to that the collapse in home values, and soaring costs for health insurance and college, and it becomes remarkable that we haven’t seen much more unrest. I believe the man who posted the following statement online: “I work 3 jobs. None which provide health insurance. My son is on Medicaid. We are on W.I.C. We’re 1 paycheck from disaster. I am the 99 percent.” Do we not all know someone like him?

Add to this what can only be called an “accountability deficit.” The financial sector and its deregulated leverage binge in the Clinton and Bush years greatly benefited the top 1 percent. Much of this, we now know, was based on obscure mathematical formulas no one fully understood at best and were direct scams against their own customers at worst. What was Wall Street’s response? A furious attempt to resist any new regulation, a refusal to take full responsibility for the mess, and eager participation in a bailout paid for in part by their victims. Do we really need to understand why some have reached a snapping point—now that Wall Street is lobbying to repeal the one reform that reined it in, Dodd-Frank? In Europe, the same arrogant dynamic prevailed. Government elites merrily agreed to the euro, and then promptly violated all the rules designed to make it work—especially if it meant keeping spending under control. Large pluralities were opposed to this—majorities in some countries—and yet the European project continued its inexorable path to an unsustainable present. And who now pays the price? Not the elites. Largely the young, the poor, and, yes, the increasingly desperate middle class.

Marisol Bello and Paul Overberg wrote for the October 26, 2011 edition of USA Today:

Income is shifting to the top tier of households, especially those in the top 5%, Taylor says. The top 5% earn more than $181,000 annually.

In 2010, the top one-fifth of U.S. households collected 50.3% of all the nation’s income, up from 49.9% in 2006. The lowest-earning one-fifth of households collected just 3.3% of the nation’s income, down from 3.4% in 2006.

That leaves the three-fifths of households in between — a common definition of a broad middle class. It collected 46.3% of the income last year, down from 46.7% in 2006.

Analysts call it the middle-class squeeze.

The data are the latest signs of a trend that dates to the 1970s, says Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute. Back then, 53% of the nation’s income went to the middle class.

She says that during the 2000s, households in the middle class began losing ground because their incomes were not growing. The recent recession made it worse as employers cut work hours, furloughed workers, froze salaries or imposed layoffs. At the same time, the value of family assets, such as homes, went down.

“Families are taking substantial losses,” Shierholz says. “The really scary thing is, there’s no relief in sight.”

Don Peck wrote an article in the September 2011 edition of the Atlantic Magazine that stated:

Arguably, the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class. Median incomes declined outright from 1999 to 2009. For most of the aughts, that trend was masked by the housing bubble, which allowed working-class and middle-class families to raise their standard of living despite income stagnation or downward job mobility. But that fig leaf has since blown away. And the recession has pressed hard on the broad center of American society.

“The Great Recession has quantitatively but not qualitatively changed the trend toward employment polarization” in the United States, wrote the MIT economist David Autor in a 2010 white paper. Job losses have been “far more severe in middle-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs than in either high-skill, white-collar jobs or in low-skill service occupations.” Indeed, from 2007 through 2009, total employment in professional, managerial, and highly skilled technical positions was essentially unchanged. Jobs in low-skill service occupations such as food preparation, personal care, and house cleaning were also fairly stable. Overwhelmingly, the recession has destroyed the jobs in between. Almost one of every 12 white-collar jobs in sales, administrative support, and nonmanagerial office work vanished in the first two years of the recession; one of every six blue-collar jobs in production, craft, repair, and machine operation did the same.

Autor isolates the winnowing of middle-skill, middle-class jobs as one of several labor-market developments that are profoundly reshaping U.S. society. The others are rising pay at the top, falling wages for the less educated, and “lagging labor market gains for males.” “All,” he writes, “predate the Great Recession. But the available data suggest that the Great Recession has reinforced these trends.”

|Jason B. Johnson wrote for the October 16, 2005 San Francisco Chronicle of the struggles of the middle class in the San Francisco Bay Area:

Some middle-income Bay Area residents have seen mishaps like divorce, serious illness or a layoff make the difference between comfort and a financial struggle.

The bigger picture is that the gap between Americans with the highest and lowest incomes is growing. High-wage earners now have so much disposable income that they are pulling up prices for everyone, economists say, and that is stretching middle-income households.

Upper-income families — those earning more than 95 percent of Americans — went from making $95,737 a year in 1970 to $164,104 in 2001, in constant dollars, a 72 percent increase. The very wealthiest Americans’ incomes rose even faster. But the median household income rose only 21 percent in constant dollars between 1970 and 2004. And near-poor families — those with higher incomes than only 20 percent of American families — saw their earnings inch from $20,134 to $24,640, a 22 percent increase between 1970 and 2001.

Annys Shin wrote for the January 14, 2011 edition of the Washington Post

There is the single mother from Manassas who after losing her job and going on public assistance could no longer afford to pay her mother to watch her children and had to send her mother to child development and CPR classes to qualify for public child-care assistance. There is the laid-off TV repairman who 30 years ago received a degree after studying Greek, Latin and Hebrew and now, facing meager job prospects, regrets having chosen to work with his hands. There is the well-dressed couple who after losing their jobs in the auto industry pulled into a food pantry in Gaithersburg in a gleaming, gas-guzzling four-door truck they had bought for fun a few years ago and now wish they hadn’t.

The recession exposed how precarious a hold many middle-class families had on their status. The housing meltdown and credit crunch wiped out nest eggs and the ability to maintain a credit-fueled lifestyle.

Now, as many Americans see work as the only way to dig out of debt, they’re finding that jobs are scarce. The average duration of unemployment has reached record levels, as has the proportion of jobless people who have been out of work for more than six months. For those who have slipped a couple of income brackets, that means a long road back toward the middle class, said economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute.

Kay Lazar wrote for the February 24, 2008 edition of the Boston Globe:

Soaring costs of essentials such as housing, healthcare, and transportation, in the face of stagnant pay, are squeezing countless middle-class families, many to the brink. More than half have no financial assets, or have debt levels that exceed their assets, according to a recent Brandeis University study called “By a Thread, The New Experience of America’s Middle Class.”

Throughout Boston’s northern suburbs, directors of social service agencies that have long served impoverished families say they are witnessing a rising tide of requests for heating, rental, and mortgage assistance from middle-class households. Many have to be turned away because the families earn slightly more than the limit that would make them eligible.

“If you are in the middle class, there are no safety-net programs for you, and yet you are paying the same as most wealthy people for most of your costs,” said Jack Mogielnicki, executive director of Lynn Economic Opportunity, an antipoverty agency. “Water and sewer bills are going through the roof, and your property taxes have gone up because the cities and towns are in as bad a shape as you are.”

Youtube videos of America’s middle class

October 22, 2011

“Occupy Wall Street” and the Struggling Middle Class

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — angelolopez @ 8:46 pm

Here are some articles that I found on the struggling middle class. Illustrating this blog are more photos I took of Occupy San Jose last week.

Tim Mullaney wrote on the October 20, 2011 edition of USA Today

In the cold, hard world of statistics, economists say demonstrators’ grievances are on the mark. At bottom, the protests are about how American middle-class life is undermined by four decades of near-stagnant wages for middle-income workers and a recession that has brought an unprecedented level of long-term unemployment. Throw in the exploding inflation in two of the most common expectations of middle-class life, health insurance and college — and a double-digit percentage decline in wages of young college graduates in the last decade — and the root causes of New York’s Zuccotti Park become clear.

“These people are not just protesting for the hell of it,” said Allen Sinai, chief economist at Decision Economics in New York, which consults for banks and hedge funds. “A lot of people don’t have purple hair, but underneath, they feel what these people are saying. The middle class is under tremendous pressure.”

Data on incomes, health insurance and employment show mainstream standards of living have been stagnant since the 1970s, with upward blips during expansions wiped out in downturns, after steady growth before 1973. The downturn since 2007 has made things worse.

Adjusted for inflation, median household income has fallen nearly 10% since December 2007, including a 6.7% drop since the recovery began in mid-2009, according to a study by Sentier Research in Annapolis, Md. The inflation-adjusted median income of wage- and salary-earning workers is $5 a week lower than in early 1979, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

…Access to health insurance has deteriorated for years. The average worker contribution to employer-sponsored coverage has nearly doubled since 1999, rising from $1,548, or $2,068 in today’s dollars, to $4,128 this year for a family policy, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s enough to wipe out millions of middle-class raises. The number of uninsured Americans has risen 15% to more than 50 million since 2004, the foundation says.

The percentage of unemployed people out of work for six months or longer in this downturn has been the highest since records have been kept, dating to World War II. Including people involuntarily working part time or who have given up looking and aren’t counted as unemployed, 16.5% of workers are unemployed or underemployed, the government says.

Edward Luce wrote for the July 30, 2010 edition of the Financial Times:

The slow economic strangulation of the Freemans and millions of other middle-class Americans started long before the Great Recession, which merely exacerbated the “personal recession” that ordinary Americans had been suffering for years. Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the ­multiple is above 300.

The trend has only been getting stronger. Most economists see the Great Stagnation as a structural problem – meaning it is immune to the business cycle. In the last expansion, which started in January 2002 and ended in December 2007, the median US household income dropped by $2,000 – the first ever instance where most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the start. Worse is that the long era of stagnating incomes has been accompanied by something profoundly un-American: declining income mobility.

…Combine those two deep-seated trends with a third – steeply rising inequality – and you get the slow-burning ­crisis of American capitalism. It is one thing to suffer ­grinding income stagnation. It is another to realise that you have a ­diminishing likelihood of escaping it – particularly when the fortunate few living across the proverbial tracks seem more pampered each time you catch a glimpse. “Who killed the ­American Dream?” say the banners at leftwing protest marches. “Take America back,” shout the rightwing Tea Party demonstrators.

Robert Pear wrote for the October 9, 2011 edition of the New York Times:

The full 9.8 percent drop in income from the start of the recession to this June — the most recent month in the study — appears to be the largest in several decades, according to other Census Bureau data. Gordon W. Green Jr., who wrote the report with John F. Coder, called the decline “a significant reduction in the American standard of living.”

That reduction occurred even though the unemployment rate fell slightly, to 9.2 percent in June compared with 9.5 percent two years earlier. Two main forces appear to have held down pay: the number of people outside the labor force — neither working nor looking for work — has risen; and the hourly pay of employed people has failed to keep pace with inflation, as the prices of oil products and many foods have jumped.

During the recession itself, by contrast, wage gains outpaced inflation.

One reason pay has stagnated is that many people who lost their jobs in the recession — and remained out of work for months — have taken pay cuts in order to be hired again. In a separate study, Henry S. Farber, an economics professor at Princeton, found that people who lost jobs in the recession and later found work again made an average of 17.5 percent less than they had in their old jobs.

“As a labor economist, I do not think the recession has ended,” Mr. Farber said. “Job losers are having more trouble than ever before finding full-time jobs.”

Mr. Farber added that this downturn was “fundamentally different” from most previous ones. Historically, other economists say, financial crises and debt-caused bubbles have led to deeper, more protracted downturns.

Ron Scherer wrote on the October 24, 2011 edition of The Christian Science Monitor

Think life is not as good as it used to be, at least in terms of your wallet? You’d be right about that. The standard of living for Americans has fallen longer and more steeply over the past three years than at any time since the US government began recording it five decades ago.

Bottom line: The average individual now has $1,315 less in disposable income than he or she did three years ago at the onset of the Great Recession – even though the recession ended, technically speaking, in mid-2009. That means less money to spend at the spa or the movies, less for vacations, new carpeting for the house, or dinner at a restaurant.

In short, it means a less vibrant economy, with more Americans spending primarily on necessities. The diminished standard of living, moreover, is squeezing the middle class, whose restlessness and discontent are evident in grass-roots movements such as the tea party and “Occupy Wall Street” and who may take out their frustrations on incumbent politicians in next year’s election.

…To be sure, the recession has hit unevenly, with lower-skilled and less-educated Americans feeling the pinch the most, says Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com based in West Chester, Pa. Many found their jobs gone for good as companies moved production offshore or bought equipment that replaced manpower.

“The pace of change has been incredibly rapid and incredibly tough on the less educated,” says Mr. Zandi, who calls this period the most difficult for American households since the 1930s. “If you don’t have the education and you don’t have the right skills, then you are getting creamed.”

October 8, 2010

Cartoons For The Tri-City Voice July to September 2010

On April 9, 2008, I began to do cartoons for the Tri-City Voice, a newspaper that covers the Milpitas, Fremont, and Union City areas in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s been a dream come true for me to be a published cartoonist and I’ve really enjoyed thinking up of cartoons each week. Most of my cartoons are political cartoons, but I occassionally do cartoons of the local Bay Area scene and cartoons for the holidays.

The months of July through September 2010 were dominated by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The area of New Orleans and Louisiana were still recovering from the Katrina hurricane of 5 years ago, and their ecology and environment took another blow from the oil spill. The illegal immigration debate continues in Arizona as SB 1070 takes effect in the state. The American middle class continues its 30 year slide, as the manufacturing and blue collar jobs that created the middle class continue to become either obsolete or out sourced. In New York City, a controversy erupts over a proposed Muslim center a few blocks away from the site of the former Twin Towers, causing a new slate of Islamophobia in the nation.

In local news, the San Jose Mercury News has a series of articles exploring the extent of corporate lobbyist influence on the representatives in the California legislature. This influence extends to writing the bills for many of the representatives, many of whom are too inexperienced due to the term limits set in place in the 1990s which eliminated many long time legislators. The home foreclosure crisis continues to be a drag on both the California and the national economy. The Congress votes to compensate Filipino World War II veterans for their service during the war. In San Francisco, a court ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and that gay marriage was a constitutional right. This court ruling was immediately appealed, as progressive Christians fight against the homophobia within the Christian Church and clash against conservative Christians. In Fremont, the Vice Mayor proposes to extend the term limits of the City Council to 12 years. In the California Fall ballot is Proposition 23, which would effectively freeze the recent California laws to help ease climate change and decrease our dependency on fossil fuels through the promotion of alternative energy.

To view the cartoons that I’ve done for the Tri-City Voice from July to September 2010, click the dates below. The cartoon is below the crossword puzzle.

The Americans July 6, 2010
Hayward And The Natural Gas Plant July 13, 2010
NATO Contributes To The Illegal Immigration Influx July 20, 2010
Lobbyists and the California Legislature July 27, 2010
The Continuing Home Foreclosure Crisis August 3, 2010
Filipino World War II Veterans Get Compensation August 10, 2010
The Middle Class Continues To Slip August 17, 2010
The Hayward Mural Program August 24, 2010
The Fight Between Progressive and Conservative Christians Over Gay Marriage August 31, 2010
Moderate Muslims Get Harassed By Both Radical Islam and Islamophobia September 7, 2010
Extending Fremonts’ Term Limits September 14, 2010
Proposition 23 September 21, 2010
Conservative and Liberal Nightmares September 28, 2010

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