Leader in Texas adverse possession movement hasn’t been successful yet

The adverse possession advice being peddled through a Texas man’s website and e-book hasn’t exactly worked out yet:

If you direct your browser to 16dollarhouse.com and plunk down $9.97 for an e-book, you can still learn from Ken Robinson ( “poised, measured, insightful and wise” and an AMERICAN, all caps, as the site informs you) how to use adverse possession, a once obscure Texas law, to get a house on the cheap.

Be forewarned that Robinson’s legal theories haven’t worked out so well in practice. Earlier this year, he was evicted from his $350,000 Flower Mound McMansion after a judge decided that his claim to the house was bullshit. His disciples have fared little better.

Following news of Robinson’s scheme, officials in Tarrant County made the rounds evicting squatters who moved into homes after filing adverse possession claims. Eight of them were charged with theft or burglary.

David Cooper was the first to go to trial, which wrapped up today…

But Texas law also says you can’t steal people’s stuff and, in Cooper’s case, the house actually wasn’t abandoned. It belonged to a couple who were spending a lot of time in Houston, where the wife was undergoing cancer treatment. When it became clear that the home wasn’t abandoned, Cooper was arrested and charged with burglary and theft.

See more about the ruling on Robinson’s Flower Mound case here.

This would be an interesting protest movement that someone like Occupy Wall Street might want to take up: identify and then occupy Texas houses.

Whatever happened to Occupy Naperville?

After seeing a few stories about the renewed Occupy Wall Street effort yesterday in a number of global cities, I wondered: what happened to Occupy Naperville? A few updates:

1. From the Occupy Naperville website (occupynaperville.org): they will be meeting again this Saturday, September 22.

Occupy Naperville Every Saturday Until We End the Corporate Dominance of our Government and Achieve Economic, Social, Democratic, and Environmental Justice for All

  • We are a grassroots movement, non-partisan and non-violent  and enlightened, intent upon establishing genuine democracy and just systems with sharing and fairness toward all.
  • Overcoming domination by elites and involving representatives of all stakeholders can lead society to creative solutions in both public and private spheres that serve the common good.

2. The media has been quiet regarding the group. The last story I could find in the local media was from April 17, 2012 when both Occupy Naperville and a local Tea Party group went to Benedictine University:

Benedictine University in Lisle held Youth Government Day on Tuesday. Through the event, Benedictine hosted several hundred high school students and representatives of two political movements…

This year, the CCL invited representatives of two highly visible political movements — Occupy Naperville and the Illinois Tea Party — to campus to demonstrate to high school students what their rallies look like. The students — with public safety officials, CCL leaders and their teachers present — were able to choose which of the mock rallies they wanted to attend. The event was designed as a learning exercise for the students, not to elicit any tension or conflict between the two groups.

After the rallies, leaders from both movements took part in a panel discussion with the students. Each side discussed what motivates them, how they organize, what resources they have and how they use social media to communicate with their members.

I wonder if any local students were convinced either way.

3. I’d love to see an academic study about Occupy Wall Street in the suburbs. All of the news stories I have seen have focused on the big cities and the larger gatherings of protesters. What happens to a social movement group in a more decentralized landscape? Naperville may be a suburban corporate center but these big businesses are not downtown. The protesters could still take on Starbucks, Apple, and other chain restaurants and retail stores but that is not quite the same in going to headquarters of major banks in a big city.

Academics flock to research the Occupy movement

A New York Times article suggests a number of academics have seized the opportunity presented by the Occupy movement to not only teach about but also research the protests:

“This thing just erupted so quickly,” said Alex S. Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College who studies the policing of demonstrations. “It’s almost overwhelming to deal with all the information that’s out there.”

Mr. Vitale is finishing a 10-city study of interactions between protesters and the police since last fall, which he said showed a lack of overall “militarization” in police response in major cities. (New York is an exception, said Mr. Vitale, who organized a demonstration against police tactics in Zuccotti Park last fall but said he did not consider himself part of the Occupy movement.) Other researchers are doing ethnographic studies, crunching survey data, recording oral histories and analyzing material by and about the movement, all at lightning speed compared with the usual pace of scholarship.

“Academics are used to taking forever, but we don’t have to,” said Theda Skocpol, a sociologist at Harvard and author, with Vanessa Williamson, of “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” a study of Occupy’s right-wing counterpart published in January…

Some researchers also say that the sympathy many academics feel for the movement risks undermining objective research.

It will be very interesting to see the research and then the resulting discussions.

This highlights a larger issue in academia: the common lag time between events and publishable research. This can often take a few years as researchers quickly draw up plans, collect data, analyze it, and then work through the review process. I imagine there will be some pressure to get some of this Occupy research going more quickly, perhaps with an interest in more quickly addressing and understanding this phenomenon and with the idea of capitalizing on political momentum. Could this change how research is presented and considered in the future? Work could be published in web or open source journals. What about books that are rushed into print or even more timely, e-books?

Columbia anthropology class about Occupy Wall Street

I’m sure this new anthropology class at Columbia about Occupy Wall Street will get a lot of attention:

Columbia University will offer a new course for upperclassmen and grad students next semester. An Occupy Wall Street class will send students into the field and will be taught by Dr. Hannah Appel, a veteran of the Occupy movement.

The course begins next semester and will be divided between class work at Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus and fieldwork that will require students to become involved with the Occupy movement outside of the classroom…

Appel is a staunch defender of the Occupy movement, in her blog she said that, ““it is important to push back against the rhetoric of ‘disorganization’ or ‘a movement without a message’ coming from left, right and center.”

Appel told the New York Post that while her involvement with the movement will color the way she teaches it will not prevent her from being an objective teacher.

This class will receive criticism for three reasons:

1. The professor has been involved with the movement.

2. It will draw attention from conservatives who will argue that liberals are continuing to use college classes to indoctrinate America’s youths.

3. People will see it as a waste of time and money as this expensive college should be teaching “useful” things. (This is similar to criticism about classes about Jay-Z or Lady Gaga.)

At the same time, the class has a number of advantages:

1. The professor may be connected to the movement but it is a unique opportunity for students to have an entry point into this group. I would bet the professor could get the students unique access to certain people or events that would lead to a better class experience.

2. The class addresses an important current phenomena. Whether you agree with the purposes of the movement or not, it is something worthy of study to understand why and how it developed and whether it will lead to change. How many people want to sit in a class about dry material when they could be learning about something happening right outside?

3. This is a chance for students to gain research experience in a unique setting. Aren’t colleges pushing research experiences for students?

From my point of view: I think a key here is that students develop their critical thinking and research skills in the course. This does not necessarily mean agreeing with the Occupy Wall Street movement but students should leave the course with a better understanding of the issues, the protestors, and how to do research.

Occupy Wall Street to move into foreclosures?

As Occupy Wall Street moves forward, here is one of the next steps is to move into foreclosures:

Occupy Wall Street has left the street and gone legit. They’ve rented office space in the Financial District and meet daily at a public atrium inside Deutche Bank.

“We’ve managed to, in basically two months, propel the issues of inequality and social justice to the top of our national discussion,” said one Occupier.

In various cities today there were marches on a variety of issues, but the movement plans new tactics. On Tuesday around the nation, it plans to occupy foreclosed homes. In mid-January, a call to pitch tents outside of Congress.

Foreclosures have generally taken a back seat recently to issues like jobs, stock markets, and Republican presidential nominees. Can OWS turn attention back to housing? It will be very interesting to see where they occupy homes (the worst areas like Merced, California or Las Vegas?), how they sustain their collective energy if they are more indeed spread out, and how neighbors respond.

Some recent polls on the most important issues in the minds of Americans:

PwC Health Research Institute in mid-November: job creation is most important and healthcare and the deficit are tied at number two.

Gallup in early November: the economy leads the way but there is no mention of housing or foreclosures.

Rasmussen Reports in mid-October: economy leads by wide margin with 84% saying it is “very important.” No separate category for housing so hard to parse out jobs, stock market, housing.

Perhaps there aren’t many people tracking dissatisfaction with housing in recent months?

If these polls are correct, should the OWS focus on job creation and the economy rather than branch out into foreclosures/the housing market?

Occupy Wall Street to occupy Black Friday?

There is a report that some Occupy Wall Street protesters want to take the movement to national retailers on Black Friday:

Some demonstrators are planning to occupy retailers on Black Friday to protest “the business that are in the pockets of Wall Street.”

Organizers are encouraging consumers to either occupy or boycott retailers that are publicly traded, according to the Stop Black Friday website…

“The idea is simple, hit the corporations that corrupt and control American politics where it hurts, their profits, ” states the Occupy Black Friday Facebook page.

A few of the retailers the protesters plan on targeting include Neiman Marcus, Amazon and Wal-Mart.

Besides wondering how many people will do this, it raises other questions:

1. Would most or even a sizable minority of shoppers welcome the protesters? I would guess not. People might think that the income and power situation in the United States is unequal but that shouldn’t get in the way of good sales.

2. Why are certain corporations singled out in this list (though they do suggest going after the top 100 retailers)? Why not Target? Walgreens? Kroger’s? Costco? If it is all big corporations that are the targets, will the protesters be evenly distributed or will they go for the typical targets like Walmart and McDonald’s that are often tied to sprawl and excessive consumption?

3. How exactly does one have a visible protest at Amazon.com? I guess the group could take over the comment boards. If Deadspin can prompt so many responses that ESPN can’t keep up, maybe Occupy Wall Street can do the same.

4. If protesters show up en masse, what will the response of stores be? Is the parking lot of Walmart a public space? (I assume not.)

Update on Occupy Naperville

While some of the protests in major cities around the United States have seemed to lose some steam, Occupy Naperville is still operating and has its own website.

Beyond the initial news coverage, there hasn’t been too much additional coverage. However, a Chicago Sun-Times piece posted yesterday suggests the group is “finding its voice”:

Now a month old, the Saturday morning demonstration against economic inequality that operates under the credo “we are the 99 percent” continues to attract several dozen participants to its weekly walk from Ogden Avenue into the retail core and back.

About 55 people came to last weekend’s protest, a slightly smaller group than the 70 who had taken part in each of the previous two weeks. The demonstrators again processed to the amphitheater on the Riverwalk to share ideas.

By group vote during each week’s general assembly, the participants are building a platform. They agreed at an early gathering to support the effort to reinstitute a limit on corporate campaign donations. Last time they adopted support for a single-payer health care system, making that another tenet of the local movement…

The marchers also agreed during their general assembly to seek a waiver that would let them use a bullhorn earlier than the noon start time stipulated in the city code, and they made plans to host a food drive in support of local hunger relief.

That is not an inconsequential number of people yet still not a whole lot. I wonder if the group has any interest in prompting change in local (meaning Naperville or DuPage County) rules such as social service provisions. Why only focus on state or national issues?

Increasing gap in wealth between older and younger generations in America

It isn’t too surprising that older Americans have more wealth than younger Americans but perhaps the bigger story is that this gap has increased in recent decades:

The wealth gap between younger and older Americans has stretched to the widest on record, worsened by a prolonged economic downturn that has wiped out job opportunities for young adults and saddled them with housing and college debt.

The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.

While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation.

The median net worth of households headed by someone 65 or older was $170,494. That is 42 percent more than in 1984, when the Census Bureau first began measuring wealth broken down by age. The median net worth for the younger-age households was $3,662, down by 68 percent from a quarter-century ago, according to the analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The analysis in the story suggests that this growing gap is indicative of tougher economic conditions brought about by difficulties in finding a job, the delaying of marriage, growing college debt, and less of an ability to purchase a home when younger.

I wonder how this gap might translate into social or political action. Older Americans are well known for their relatively high voting turnout compared to younger Americans who are more fickle. Would younger Americans vote consistently about down-the-road issues like the national debt, Social Security, and other things they may be several decades from personally experiencing? Is this less consistent voting behavior among younger Americans the reason that there aren’t more safety nets for younger adults? Are Millennials, and not “Walmart Moms,” the next major voting bloc to emerge?

How much of this should raise concern about the economic welfare of younger Americans now or should we be more worried about how this later, rougher start in life will lead to less wealthy Americans (with its impact on American society) decades down the road?

It would be interesting to tie this to information about the demographics of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Media reports have tended to portray many of the protestors as college students or just our of college – how true is this? In public support for the movement, how much is based in the younger ages versus older demographics (who might support the Tea Party more?)?

How much it costs to live in the cheaper suburbs or expensive New York City

Opponents of sprawl argue that while many prospective buyers move further away from work in order to buy bigger yet cheaper homes, there is a cost. One website argues that the each mile closer to work is $15,900 that could be spent on a house:

We all know that driving to and from work every day is costly, but exactly howmuch of a toll does each mile of commuting take on your finances? This True Cost of Commuting graphic breaks it down.

Taking stats and calculations previously mentioned by Mr. Money Mustache, the infographic illustrates just how expensive commuting is. Each mile you live from work costs $795 in commuting expenses per year (assuming a driving cost of 34 cents per mile and factoring time lost with a salary of $25 per hour). $795 a year for just one mile! You could buy a house worth $15,900 more with that, as Mr. Money Mustache pointed out in his article, since $795 would cover the interest on a 5% mortgage rate.

If you don’t want to calculate in the time-is-money factor, each mile (one way) of commuting will cost you $170 a year. It’s a compelling reason to move as close to work if you can (or bike to work or telecommute).

See the large infographic here. I don’t know about Mr. Money Mustache’s calculations but this is a sizable number.

At the same time, there were reports this week that the Occupy Wall Street protestors tend to live in pricier homes. As Megan McArdle notes, this is a consumption choice where people decide to spend more of their income on a home in a great city:

My initial reaction was the same as many people I’ve seen in comments sections: the protest is in New York, which is expensive.  This is hardly surprising.

But on second thought, I don’t think that’s quite right.  At least some of the houses identified by the Daily Caller are in places like Texas and Wisconsin.  But more importantly, I’m not sure we should “discount” these home values for location.  The fact is that living in an expensive city is a consumption choice.
You hear this argument all the time from people in New York.  “Rich?  Hah!  We’ve got four people in 1600 square feet, and our school bills are going to put us into bankruptcy.”  Many New Yorkers believe that they should be given some sort of income tax abatement because of the expense of living there (with the lost revenue being made up from “really rich” people, natch).  Slightly less affluent New Yorkers frequently believe that landlords should be forced to offer them “reasonably sized” apartments at a modest fraction of their income, because after all, otherwise they couldn’t afford to live in New York…
Living in a blue state is a choice.  If coming to New York meant that you had to put four people in a three bedroom apartment that’s uncomfortably far from a subway line, instead of buying a nice little condo in Omaha, this does not mean that you are not “really” better off than your counterpart in Omaha; it means that you have chosen to consume your extra wealth in the form of “living in New York” rather than in the form of spacious real estate, cheap groceries, and an easy commute.

So what people in the Midwestern suburbs might spend on a daily 20 mile each way commute in a SUV translates into a more expensive apartment in New York City.

Both stories cited above suggest consumption is a choice. But is it truly an unfettered choice? What would lead some people to aim for the bigger yet cheaper house in the suburbs and others to spend more money on a smaller place in a cosmopolitan paradise? Perhaps this information would help both sides engage in conversation rather than talk past each other and try to force the other side to follow their logic…

Of course, we could look at the broader trend of American political and cultural discourse on this subject. On the whole, government policies have promoted suburban living while a few big cities, such as New York City, have successful dense, mass-transit oriented living. Cultural discourse, even if it is shifting toward the younger generation’s increased interest in denser living, still privileges the suburban American Dream.

In discussion of Occupy Wall Street, McMansions seen as part of the culture war

As part of a larger fascinating discussion about who the members of Occupy Wall Street actually are (the almost-elite versus the elite?), Megan McArdle suggests McMansions are part of the larger culture war in the United States:

Orwell goes on to point out that it is the anxious lower-upper-middle-class who have the most venom towards those below them–precisely because to preserve their status, they have to keep themselves sharply apart from the workers and tradesmen. And I think that that does apply here as well, at least to some extent. One of the interesting things about going back to my business school reunion earlier in the month was simply the absence of the sort of cutting remarks about flyover country that I have grown used to hearing in any large gathering of people. I didn’t notice it until after the events were over, because it was a slow accumulation of all the jokes and rants I hadn’t heard about NASCAR, McMansions, megachurches, reality television, and all the other cultural signifiers that make up a small but steady undercurrent of my current social milieu, the way Polish jokes did when I was in sixth grade.

Some of my former classmates now live in flyover country, of course, but mostly, I think, they just didn’t care. No one seemed very interested in the culture war.

So why does that same culture war seem so important to so many of the people that I know in New York and DC? (“The intellectuals”, as one of my classmates laughingly called us, when I started dropping statistics in the middle of cocktail chitchat, and then lamely explained that this is kind of what passes for fascinating small talk in DC.)

It’s not entirely crazy to suspect, as Orwell did, that this has something to do with money. Specifically, you sneer at the customs of the people you might be mistaken for. For aside from a few very stuffy conservatives, no white people I know sneer at hip-hop music, telenovelas, Tyler Perry films, or any of the other things often consumed by people of modest incomes who don’t look like them. They save it for Thomas Kinkade paintings, “Cozy cottage” style home decoration, collectibles, child beauty pageants, large pickup trucks***, and so forth.

It is fascinating to think about the comments that McArdle describes: in some circles, there is a different set of profane objects while such objects barely rate as topics among “average” people in middle America. Being in academia also leads to hearing more of such comments. I would add Walmart in as another significant “cultural signifier” in these conversations.

McMansions is an interesting addition to this group. There is often quite a bit of scorn intended when using this term. Of course, most people in flyover country don’t own McMansions (though perhaps they aspire to own them) but many communities allow them. I have found that the use of the term McMansion is often tied to sprawl, another issue that can separate the big cities from flyover country. McMansions are often seen as a part of the larger package of sprawl which includes an emphasis on cars, big houses, a waste of natural resources, and a lack of beauty and quality.

I don’t know if she knows it but it sounds like McArdle is making Bourdieu’s argument: those with more education look at aesthetics and a deeper understanding of objects while those with more money purchase for functionality. Take a McMansion: someone with more education might note its lack of quality, its contribution to sprawl, and wish for an architect-designed home. Someone with more money might note that you can have eight family members easily fit in the home and each can have their own bedroom, bathroom space, and play space.

A side note: I did have to laugh when McArdle suggests that dropping statistics into conversation is also a signifier. If so, I am guilty…

(A caveat: these sorts of flyover country/big city or red vs. blue state dichotomies are always more complex than they are commonly presented in public discourse. But just because they are broad terms describes tens of millions of people doesn’t mean that there isn’t necessarily some truth to them.)