Rush Limbaugh said it first.

I could not help but comment on the above headline. It was displayed prominently by Drudge post-debate. What’s interesting is earlier in the day on his radio program Rush Limbaugh  said, “So their objective at CNN is going to be to make every one of these people look like an absolute wacko nutcase fruitcake.”

So Anderson Cooper will be blamed for the “catty” behavior between the candidates. Romney and Santorum got into a shouting match early in the debate and Romney again with Perry on immigration that actually led to him putting his hand on Perry’s shoulder.

Recap of the debate performance:

Mitt Romney –This is still Romney’s to lose and he will probably not see much of a bump from this debate. Republican primary voters know Mitt Romney and right they are “still in the market”. It will be interesting to see what happens when the field starts to thin out. Only then will be know how weak he really is. From the left-leaning room I watch the debate in, it didn’t seem like the wanted Romney to make it to the general election.

Rick Perry – Oh Brother First. he needs to stop referring to Herman Cain as “Brother” which he did twice during the debate. He also attempted to make Romney his target but Mitt was prepared and shot back every time with specific policy results of Perry as Governor. The debate was tough on Perry he needs to go after Obama directly so he can draw that “bright contrast” he mentioned. He must also expand his plan for jobs beyond the energy and oil industry. Even if this is ok in  a Republican primary it doesn’t help his perception as an oil and gas man from Texas.

Herman Cain-Apples and Oranges He is a branding machine, everything that comes out of his mouth sounds like a slogan and so “matter of fact”. Its great to keep it simple but if he wants to be taken seriously Cain needs to be more receptive to criticism. Everyone he disagrees with is not “wrong”. It may work as a CEO but being President will require working well with others.

Newt Gingrich – “Adult in the room”- At least thats what I think his message is. He is trying to play the role of the uniter. I haven’t heard him attack anyone else on stage and that makes me believe he may ne vying for the VP slot.

Michele Bachmann – She has failed to define her role in these debates. She gets a good oneliner per show but its not what she needs to turn her campaign around. She hasn’t raised the money she needs to remain competitive but she may still be banking on Iowa even while her numbers have slipped there since she won the Ames straw poll.

Ron Paul- Same as he ever was Ron Paul is without a doubt the most consistant candidate and regularly draws the most applause. He gets the most donations from service men and woman but dropped a bomb when he said our aid to Israel hurts them and makes them “dependent”.

Rick Santorum-  In the Bachmann camp, he is basically irrelevant at this point. The field is split too many ways for him to get the support he needs unless there were fewer candidates but I don’t think his funds will last that long.

I look forward to the next debate and hope it includes less familiar faces.

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Occupy Wall Street: Too Big To Fail?

The combination of Occupy Wall Street and Social media may mark the end of the invisible hand. With the rise of crowd sourcing and location-based services it could be that the consumer actually solves the economic crisis. It would mean a paradigm shift from the losing battle of employee vs employer to “the customer is always right”.

Occupy Wall Street is a testament to the concept of “jobless recovery”. Higher stocks and corporate profits don’t constitute a recovery when states are cash strapped and American’s are experiencing stagnant wages and record unemployment. The fact that lower-income wage earners experience a recession first and recover last is as old as civilization, but this time things may be different. When the Occupy Wall Street movement began I was surprised only in that it wasn’t a response to a single event or catalyst. Now I’m beginning to think it could be the catalyst.

Some of OWS activities included asking customers to close their accounts at bailed out banks and switch to local worker-owned credit unions. At the Occupy Austin event a couple of speakers mentioned shopping farmers’ markets and buying local. There could be something to this, Austin not only weathered the recession better than most cities, but even corporate chains here know there are consequences to displaying a questionable commitment to the community.

People would have probably remained blissfully ignorant of wealth disparity as long the 40-hr work week paid the bills, insurance, mortgage and allows for modest savings.  According to a Wall Street Journal article 53% of workers surveyed said they’ve taken on new roles, with just 7% getting a raise or a bonus. People are catching on to the more work less pay trend. Most American’s don’t want to be rich, they want to fulfill their own pursuits of happiness.

if U.S. businesses keep prospering while Americans are struggling, business leaders will lose legitimacy in society. He exhorted business leaders to find a way to link growth with job creation at home. Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria (Harvard Business Review Nov. ’10)

If our financial system were not on the brink of a double-dip recession and small businesses could get loans and hire people there would be no movement. Instead people have lost faith in their political and economic leaders whose only response has been to claim the climate is bad for “job creators”.  The Wall Street Journal reports that US multi-nationals cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s and increased employment overseas by 2.4 million. It could be that if the current leadership doesn’t get it together and address the jobless part of this recovery the people just may take it into their hands.

Who is behind Occupy Austin?

Several people have contacted me regarding the #OccupyAustin movement. Some thought I maybe participating, others that I might actually be a chief organizer. Neither is the case but they were all right to assume I had a strong interest in understanding what its about, who’s behind it, and what if any connection it has to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I had heard about satellite events popping up across the country but my first tangible experience with the Austin version was Oct. 5th when I came across the website OccupyAustin.org. It prominently displayed customized fliers advertising the Oct. 6th launching of the local movement. I could tell by the graphic design and advanced nature of the start up website that these folks had access to some very talented human resources. The facebook page had over 8,000 likes and the event had over 4,000 RSVPs and I began to wonder how such a movement could gain so much steam right under my nose without my knowledge. I have built many websites in my day and designed even more fliers which is why I was initially skeptical that a real grass-roots movement could work together so seamlessly, (at least digitally) without a real funding source.  This led me to believe there was most likely some preexisting group that was attempting to establish themselves as a mouthpiece of the Austin faction of OWS. I started perusing their website for clues like links to other organizations, names of prominent individuals or even sponsors. What I found was a page of over 10 email addresses all at the “OccupyAustin.org” domain. I was curious if there could really be this many individuals involved so I began sending emails. Within hours I received replies thanking me for my interest and jumping right ahead in asking me what skills I might have to offer. I explained my interest was from a media perspective but that it could offer away to help others understand what their movement was about. I was given a couple of names and signs to look for once I reached City Hall. I knew that if I wanted to understand better who was behind this intense effort I would have to get there early and start asking questions.

Once I got to City Hall at about 11am I sat for a moment and observed the crowd looking for someone who was clearly asserting authority. There were a few folks sitting around taking notes and doing busy work but it wasn’t until a young gentlemen, named Ronny,  stood before the crowd and announced a “General Assembly” meeting would be held at 3pm that afternoon that I knew who to talk to. When he returned to the crowd I visited with him and asked him a barrage of questions regarding the web site, the General Assembly and the difficulties of “representing” a movement that claimed no leader. Addressing the website first he listed an IT guy, web designer and content manager and assured they were all volunteers. He said the General Assembly met once a day and “made decisions based on consensus”. They developed elaborate hand gestures to keep meetings from devolving into shouting matches. At some point the General Assembly broke into smaller groups called “magnets” run by “facilitators” with specific issues such as media, fundraising, childcare for demonstrators, housing, legal, web and so on. Each would take minutes and report back to the GA. They then would discuss strategy and the future of the movement’s activities such as which bank to march on and on what day. Though we live in a constitutional republic this group was exercising a primitive form of direct democracy and every meeting the facilitators rotated to prevent any inkling of “centralized power”. After a few days the General Assembly released a list of  goals and demands attempting to ally themselves with the Occupy Wall Street movement that included: “economic security”, “financial fairness” and “corporate responsibility”.

I was amazed to see pop-up tents, a large PA system and a network of supply chains for food, water and even shelter for demonstrators. They attracted a little over 1,000 people that day from all demographics but generally the young and frustrated. Each day since has seen smaller numbers in comparaison but those that remain are a determined group. Ronny said they not only planned to grow the “occupation” in Austin but to help other groups across Texas organize within their cities. There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media about who these people are and what they stand for, but one thing I am certain of is they are not lazy.

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Rick Perry jabs Occupy Wall Street at Value Voters Summit

He may not have addressed it directly but Rick Perry referred to the Occupy Wall Street movement in his latest address to the Value Voters Summit.

You know Liberals are now pointing the finger of blame at successful employers under the guise of fairness, but when they utter phrases like “fair share” you just know, heh, they’re once again playing fast and furious with the truth. And the truth is you can’t reve up the engine of economic growth by heaping higher taxes on job creators, you can’t spread success by punishing it, you can’t unite our country by dividing it.

The answer to our troubles lies in a positive optimistic vision with policies rooted in American Exceptionalism.

He has the last part right but most Americans would not look at the state of the financial sector as a “success”. The lack of rules and ethics that allowed for multi-national credit card companies to prey on young people at college campuses putting them and our country further into debt is not my idea of American Exceptionalism.

Perry also mentioned a Wall Street Journal article that indicated, “Nearly Half of U.S. lives in household receiving government benefit”. Now, much like the famed “Rich people pay half of all income taxes” this claim also deserves some scrutiny. First it serves to point out that all but 18% of Americans will pay payroll taxes. This is a federal tax on working people, fine, but at least give them credit for paying into the system.  The headline infers that slightly more than half of the U.S. do not receive a government benefit. This is one of the many ways the supply-side media tries to have it both ways. They would have you believe the government is funded by the wealthy and they receive no benefits such as tax breaks, loan guarantees, bailouts, loopholes or special access to government officials.

The graph below represents how many American households are receiving specific government benefits like Social Security, Medicare and food stamps. Notice while the trend nears 50% in 2010 the unemployment rate hovers around 9%. This means that less than 10% of the working age population is unemployed yet nearly half the households still need additional government assistance, a clear product of stagnant wages. Juxtaposed against the next graph you can see as CEO pay increased dramatically employee wages remained level.  Now consider the rise of inflation, cost of living and loss of benefits over the past two decades and we have a recipe for economic malaise.

The Increase in executive compensation correlates almost exactly with the number of households receiving “a government benefit” for the same time period. I would contend that the Wall Street occupiers are not interested in taking money from the rich but when they work hard to create wealth for a company or institution they expect to share in their own success. If people continue to believe that working harder will not increase their standard of living or take home pay we will lose the motivating factors for free market capitalism.

Occupy Austin “This movement is about Democracy”

I returned to #OccupyAustin about dusk. The occupiers had grown in number to over 1,000 and the atmosphere was festive. The crowd skewed young but was at least as diverse as the city itself. There were impromptu sing-a-longs, home made signs and lots of folks who were clearly there out of curiosity.

I walked into City Hall which happen to have a council meeting in session discussing the possibility of moving May city elections to November.  Having worked as an election administrator for both the 2006 and 2008 elections I can assure moving elections to November amounts to increasing turnout. The city is also relieved of funding an additional election in the spring. Although this is a separate matter it deals directly with democracy and participation, two things that were going on in mass just outside. After speaking to one of the on-duty officers about his long day we walked to The Gingerman right up the street. We discussed what good if any could come from this gathering and all agreed supporting local business was a good way to “recycle our wealth”.  We would start with bars and breweries and dub it #occupintAustin. After a Peacemaker and a Rahr Gravel I left and headed back to City Hall.

At that point it was 11pm. I walked up to Univision doing an interview with a lady holding a POW MIA flag. The crowd had thinned some but the remaining occupiers looked as fresh and enthusiastic as I left them. I heard conflicting reports on whether the protests actually had to conclude by a certain hour but according to the chatters on their live feed they plan to be there all night. I will make my best attempt to go to City Hall and watch the march on Bank of America. There they plan to ask customers to leave BoA and join a local credit union. Should be interesting but I don’t think BoA is in the business of novel ideas. I suspect by now they’re aware of the plan and will have security or APD on hand to remove any trespassers. Its worth noting that unlike most protests I have attended this one felt it necessary to appear “pro” law enforcement. It is in at least part a branding effort but I saw multiple conversations between occupiers and officers, many speakers thanked them for being there and one read, “APD are the 99%”.

If you are interested in how to participate the General Assembly has posted list of items they need and how they can be donated. If you would like to learn more about what the General Assembly does you can read their minutes from today. The operations are growing increasingly complex and demanding and it appears to all be done by volunteers. There is a lot that can be said about these people but lazy is not one of them.

Slideshow of today.

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Occupy Austin at City Hall

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Occupy Austin, a set on Flickr.

I arrived about 11am at Austin City Hall for the #OccupyAustin event. The occupiers numbered about 300. There were about 5 news trucks from local Austin media who were browsing the crowd for interesting looking characters to interview. The APD was also out in force. After exchanging several emails last night with “organizers” (my word) I was most curious to see how organized this group actually was.  I spoke to “Ronny” after watching him address the crowd about the 3pm General Assembly. He said they are still working on an actual structure but they have formed committees that cover increasingly specific issues conducted by moderators and all decisions are reached by consensus. He handed me a print out of what had come of the first General Assembly held just a few days ago. It described the procedures, the structure of “facilliation teams”, hand signals for communications and an introduction to their purpose. It begins:

As a group we have decided to take n the form of Occupy Wall Street movement to have all planning and activities (from the logistics of the operation of the occupation to the planning of activities) take place through committees. The General Assembly is a gathering for these committees to report back to the group as a whole on their progress and receive consensus approval to move forward with activities that affect the occupation as a whole.

I asked about the trouble of “representing” a group that claims no leader and he acknowledged the obvious problem. Just minutes before a young woman with an Occupy Austin media pass addressed the crowd over a document being circulated that was not “approved” by the general assembly. You could immediately since her frustration as she was met with grumbles and comments from people who wanted to make it clear no one spoke for them.

My main issue with any protest movement is a lack of, whats referred to in the organizing world as, “action items”. Ronny assured me that each assembly ends with action items drawn from consensus. Tomorrow Oct. 7th they will march to Bank of America and ask customers to switch to a local credit union instead of supporting corporate banks. Another speaker suggested shopping at farmers’ markets and keeping money within the community. I think as long as the group stays flexible and organic enough to absorb the general discontent of Wall Street it can maintain successful less they fall in the trap of alienation by affiliation.

A different kind of Festival

It’s the weekend following ACL and I’m at the Texas Tribune Festival. Its a festival for policy wonks, news junkies, liberal do-gooders and industry insiders. I got lucky and received an invitation from a friend who won tickets on twitter. The festival was organized by the Texas Tribune which describes themselves as:

…a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide concern. Our vision is to serve the journalism community as a source of innovation and to build the next great public media brand in the United States.

Continue reading “A different kind of Festival”

Class Warfare: Do we have to pick sides?

We are hearing a lot about “job creators” but what about “wealth creators”? Those are the many hands that perform the jobs and create the wealth that gets funneled to the top and fails to trickle down. It isn’t about over-taxation, its about labor costs and the American middle-class standard of living is just too high for the bottom line. There are short term solutions to the economic recession like rebuilding infrastructure; but the foundation of our new economy’s longterm growth will be small business. They are the most likely to hire during growth, less likely to layoff employees without exhausting all other options and they provide character and tradition to communities.

Continue reading “Class Warfare: Do we have to pick sides?”

A Tea Party Rally for Change in SETX?

While on our trip to Turkey my father (State Representative Joe Deshotel) received an invitation to speak Monday, September 12th at a Tea Party rally billed as a “‘Return to Community-Making a Difference,’ a Southeast Texas TEA Party rally to remember 9-11 and refocus attention on the local community honoring 9/11”.  The invitation was from former Jefferson County Republican Party Chair and current Tax-Assessor collector Shane Howard. I happen to have a personal relationship with Shane as I served myself as Executive Director of the Jefferson County Democratic Party and we debated weekly on Fox 4.
Continue reading “A Tea Party Rally for Change in SETX?”

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