Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Manhattan:
Messages and Goals

On Saturday October 22, 2011, Occupy Manhattan staged a protest at Triangle Park, across the street from K-State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Occupy Manhattan is part of a larger movement that is taking place in cities across the country called Occupy Wall Street. I interviewed 7 of the group’s members to better understand their message and goals. Of the seven Occupy Manhattan activists I interviewed, three were at their first protest.

Scott Poister, the event’s organizer, told me how Occupy Manhattan got started.

It was a funny thing. A couple of weeks ago Friday, an associate, I wouldn’t say friend but he became a friend since, but at the time just a guy, started an Occupy group on facebook. The Internet is a wonderful thing. I mentioned something about making yard signs, another person said how about we just have an organization or a protest because that is more effective than making yard signs and I said fine, I’ll do it and I went to city hall and got a permit. So I got you might say double dog dared into it and that was last week; we had a wonderful turnout. Over the weekend we had over 400 members join on the facebook group. This is really nothing like last weekend, and I got stuck as the guy with the name on the permit for the park and that’s what I do.

One of the reoccurring themes of their responses was opposition to the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United that allowed corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. Natasha, age 20, expressed her support for campaign finance reform.

 I’m most interested in the issue of the corporations being able to use money as a way of making them have freedom of speech and also corporations basically bribing certain politicians in the government to advocate for them. That is my main one that I don’t like that I would like to see change.

Erin, also an Occupy Manhattan activist, highlighted another common concern, the lack of responsibility by Wall Street investment banks that caused the financial collapse of 2007-2008.

I am standing in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. The fact that we bailed out all these banks, nobody’s held responsible for what they’ve done to our economy to the world economy. They get bailed out, they get raises, they get bonuses. People continue to get under a living wage. The middle class is disappearing.

Erin also attended an Occupy event in Budapest, Hungary last week. She is also a gay rights activist and supports the President’s jobs act. She also protests Fred Phelps because, “he gives my state a bad name and I love this state.”

Barbara Bascon, who is of Social Security age, criticized how some conservatives have demonized the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I think for one thing it is a demonstration of a majority feeling, opinion, philosophy of what is happening in this country and where people want it to go. I don’t see it as a protest and although I think people are sad, angry, upset about what is happening in our culture as much as in our country, it’s not an angry brawl, it’s not a mob as some people have described it. We don’t see police involvement. We don’t see angry confrontations. We don’t see violence. It’s totally non-violent. I am surprised and happy to see people holding up signs, they’re saying what I think are good things, voicing an opinion that they have a smile on their face. And that’s encouraging to other people. It’s like we’re glad to have this kind of opportunity. This is Occupy Wall Street, so I think it is the economic situation and what corporations and big business and banks have done and are still getting away with. That was the spark, that’s what got people going, but I think it’s a much larger issue that people are beginning to speak up about.

Barbara went on to discuss her dismay at the controversial reactions of some of the audience members at the Republican presidential primary debates. The first reaction was when large numbers of the audience at the NBC Presidential debate cheered the number of executions that occurred in Texas under Perry’s governorship. The second occurred at a CNN debate where a few people cheered on the prospect of a person not being treated in an emergency room because he didn’t buy health insurance. The final reaction occurred when members of the audience at a Fox News presidential debate booed a gay soldier in Iraq who asked the candidates if they would reinstate Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Barbara found these reactions troubling.

Barbara: I don’t think it’s the economy stupid, I think it’s the culture stupid. I think that when we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve lost the human touch. I think we’ve abdicated our responsibility to our fellow citizens and fellow man, however you want to put it. When we stand up and cheer about people dying, when we endorse and encourage capital punishment, openly we get off on it, and what was… there was a third one.

Me: The gay soldier in Iraq

Barbara: That’s right. That’s just incredible to me. As much as I have heard in the past few years, I am still shocked when I see people. It’s more than just indifference. They really are cheering that mentality on and that makes it more than just a political issue, that makes it a really dangerous situation in our country.

 Lowell Bliss, 49, is concerned about poverty and environmental issues. Lowell and his wife are members of an evangelical church in Manhattan and were missionaries in India and Pakistan for 14 years. He believes that the Occupy movement better represents the message of Christ than traditional evangelical political outlets.

I am just convinced that the message of Christ is more likely to get a voice in Occupy Manhattan than it will in say the Values Voter Summit or what have been kind of traditional evangelical political outlets. I tried to make my signs kind of biblically based. “What you do to the least of these,” refers to the poor and the environmentally oppressed and the unemployed and the foreclosed upon. And “love thy corporation” is a question, right? Where is the neighborliness and the love in how we’ve supported and protected our corporations but not people or the poor or the oppressed?

Stephanie Haliman Durban, 28, protested the lack of adequate student aid in higher education.

I’m a veterinary student here at K-State and I’m an out of state student, so I’m very happy to be here of course, but my student loans are quite atrocious. Just for tuition it’s about 45,000 a year and our projected starting salary is much lower than most people would think for a doctor. It’s about 63,000 a year. So in order to pay our school loans we’d be using up more than 50% of our take-home income, which is not what most financial advisors recommend. There is a lot of that. At the same time the government is saying that we need a lot of food animal veterinaries, which is what I want to do. But they’re also cutting the amount of loan forgiveness programs down to something small like 10 or 20,000 a year for the first two years that you work at a government job. So there isn’t a whole lot of support for us. And I know that money is going places where it probably isn’t as needed. That’s one of my big concerns.  

Two of the protestors at the rally were protesting the Federal Reserve. Chris Larson and Danelle Russell were not part of the Occupy movement and protested for the first time at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City a few weeks ago. Chris believes that monetary policy should be set by Congress rather than the Federal Reserve. Chris explained why he opposes the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve System has a very large influence on politics and the economy in this country because they are a private corporation that is not held accountable. They’re not elected representatives, they can’t be held accountable. It’s not like we can through them out of office or something like that and they control our monetary system. So they can control the money supply, they can pretty much create the business cycle because they can create bubbles by increasing the money supply and decreasing it. So they have a huge influence on the financial system.

Occupy Wall Street, like the protest movements that came before it, is exercising the most basic and essential democratic right, the right to speak one’s mind. In the broadest sense, they aim to shape the national political conversation in this country and to promote awareness of the problems our country faces. And while it is uncertain what the ultimate outcome of this movement will be, it is clear that they have already achieved that goal.  

Originally Published October 27, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

View by Content 2

Factchecking Politicians and Activists
                Governor’s Debate Factcheck
                Orin Hatch Fact-Check
                Voter Fraud: Exaggerations and Consequences

Media Factchecks
                Harry Reid joins a Republican Filibuster
                The Deficit: A History Lesson
                Factchecking the Peacock
                Adam v. Journalistic Integrity
                Republicans and the Debt Ceiling
                George Will Misleads on the Stimulus

                Balancing the Budget: A Primer
                Iraq: Why we must leave
                Afghanistan: Why we cannot stay through 2014
                The Debt Ceiling Deal is a Disaster

Media Praise
                NPR: Excellence in Journalism
                Jon Stewart’s Epic Takedown of Fox Business
                Dedication and Detail: The Rachel Maddow Show
                Rachel Maddow explains job-killing spending cuts
                Bias, Not Malpractice

                Where do People Turn for News?
                Where do People Turn for News? May Update


Debate Commentary
                The Fox News Presidential Debate
                The CNN Presidential Debate
                The NBC-Politico Debate

Debate Factchecks
                Factchecking the CNN Presidential Debate
                Factchecking the NBC-Politico Debate

Hard-News Articles
                The Kansas Budget
                Fun Facts about the Kansas Budget

Happy Birthday Truth Matters!

This week was the first anniversary of my first blog post at Truth Matters. On September 27, 2010, I posted my factcheck of the Kansas Governor’s Debate. I found that both candidates lied about Brownback’s voting record in the Senate. Alas, I didn’t get around to submitting it to my local paper’s editorial page before the election. But then again, I did submit my editorial on Bradley Manning and they never got around to publishing it.

Over the past year I have published 49 posts. One of which was my master links page where I organized my articles by content. I will be releasing a new master link page soon. That leaves the 48 articles I’ve written this year. 17 of those articles were media factchecks. 4 were factchecks of politicians or activists. 2 were factchecks of political debates. A total of 23, just under half, were factchecks.

10 articles were editorials. 7 were media praise. 3 were debate commentaries. 2 were about the viewership of various national news outlets. 2 were on the Kansas budget. 1 was a satirical piece.

Hands down, the article that was found via Google the most was my takedown of The Story of Stuff. Most often the search term is some permutation of, “Story of Stuff lies.” The video leaves many people like myself with a reaction of, “that can’t be true.” I was shown the video in one of my college courses. I was completely taken aback after I saw it. Her ‘purpose of the economy’ line left me absolutely breathless. The discussion that followed had virtually nothing to do with the video.  That class was part of a leadership program which maintained a group blog. I tried to get my critique posted there. In order to post it they were going to require me to make a bunch of changes. They said that by saying that the presenter was demagoging the issue I was comparing her to Hitler. Seriously. They also wouldn’t let me mention her name twice. One person in the group didn’t even believe that anyone ever lied about anything in politics. My editor was arguing all of my points with me. I ended up rescinding the piece. The group was not a place for free or intelligent discussion. I quit the group for this and other reasons.

Three of my favorite factchecks were on Martin Luther King, Raymond Davis, and Russia Today.

In March I factchecked a guest on Fox News for manipulating history. She said that Martin Luther King didn’t support public sector unions and merely advocated for equality of opportunity. In reality King supported public sector unions and called for government policies to alleviate poverty and inequality. She also fumbled the basic facts about the 1968 Memphis strike. I particularly enjoyed this factcheck because she fiercely attacked Richard Trumka for perverting history when she was the one who was perverting history.

Also in March I factchecked ABC for falsely saying that Raymond Davis was a diplomat instead of a CIA agent. The continued the lie that the State department asked them to push even after Davis was released and returned to the US after being detained in Pakistan on charges of murder. Davis may have been innocent, but lying about his job fundamentally changed the nature of the story. This is one of the quintessential examples of the US media’s manipulation of stories that are critical of US foreign policy.

I wrote the articles on MLK and Raymond Davis, as well as my satirical piece, on my spring break.

In July I pointed out the hypocrisy of Russia Today opinion host Adam Kokesh for criticizing the creation of a government funded news agency in Southern Sudan on his government funded news program. That level of hypocrisy reminded me of my favorite Daily Show piece where Jon Stewart attacked Fox for demonizing one of the largest shareholders of their parent company without disclosing their conflict of interest.

Two of my favorite research intensive non-factchecks were my articles on income inequality and the Kansas budget.

My editorial on income inequality pointed out 10 reasons we should tax the rich. I pointed out that the current income inequality in America is high compared to historical standards as well as compared to other countries.

My article on the Kansas budget explained the size and role of the categories of spending and government agencies in Kansas.

My articles tend to revolve around national security, the budget, and the media.

After correcting for my own page-views, my blog has received 1,559 views over the past year. You can compare that to other news outlets on my most recent article on ratings. Many of my viewers come from links I post in the comments section of FAIR, Huffington Post, Liberal Viewer’s facebook page, and Media Matters.  The vast majority of my viewers are from the US, but I have had viewers from Canada, Singapore, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia, Russia, France, and New Zealand.

I look forward to another year of factchecking and punditry.

Originally Written October 2, 2011