Guest editorial by Ernest A. Canning
While both phenomena --- Occupy Wall Street and the "Tea Party" --- have emerged at a time of acute economic distress and a sense of alienation, disenchantment and betrayal brought on by an increasingly authoritarian corporate capitalism, they are as different as night is to day.
Occupy Wall Street is a genuine, organic, knowledge-driven democratic uprising. Its source, as perceptively described by Ben Manski, Executive Director of the Liberty Tree Foundation, is to be found in a profound "contradiction." "The promise of the Unites States is democracy," he writes, yet "The reality is that corporate elites rule."
The American "promise" is embodied in the lofty, egalitarian principles of the Declaration of Independence, in the recognition provided by the U.S. Constitution that the purpose of government is to "promote the general welfare," and in the concept inscribed above the portico of the U.S. Supreme Court --- "EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW." The "reality," as noted by former New York Times reporter, Chris Hedges, is that political power in the U.S. has been seized by a "criminal class" of rapacious oligarchs, whose radical goal is not merely the ability to carry out their criminal pillage of the economy and the environment with impunity, but the decimation of "all impediments to the creation of a neo-feudalistic corporate state."
The goal of Occupy Wall Street, Manski observes, is "to make the promise the new reality." It is, in that sense, a broader movement than both the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, for it is not limited to a rejection of Jim Crow and imperial conquest, but a total rejection of the authoritarian corporate security state that the rapacious oligarchs have erected.
Like the occupiers, the indoctrinated followers of the "Tea Party" are experiencing a profound sense of fear, alienation and betrayal. But what the latter do not realize is that theirs is a misdirected anger --- the product of an Orwellian manipulation by the same reactionary billionaires (aka "economic royalists" per FDR) who, in reality, are the source of their economic insecurity and political oppression.
But, before exploring the Orwellian manipulations of billionaire sociopaths, let's examine the underlying political and economic conditions that have given rise to Occupy Wall Street...
Rise of the 1%
It is not all that difficult to see the correlation between policies leading to economic collapse and wealth disparity. Consider the dates and distribution of income between the top one percent and the bottom 90%.
The gap between shares of new wealth between the top one percent and the bottom ninety, now nearly identical to that which precipitated the Great Depression, is even greater when the measurement is taken within the context of a global economy.
Last year, in our piece on "Savage Capitalism", we covered author and Canadian citizen advocate Maude Barlow's assessment that "the world has divided into rich and poor as at no time in our history." Barlow stated:
Vast numbers of Americans are experiencing levels of economic hardships not seen since the Great Depression.
Not only have middle-class wages stagnated and fallen, but, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real unemployment rose to 16.5% in September --- more than 25 million people.
One out of every six Americans lives in poverty. Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "14.5% of American households suffered from food insecurity in 2010." For minorities, the number is much higher --- "25 percent of African-American households and 26 percent of Hispanic households."
"59 million Americans had no health insurance for at least part of 2010, an increase of 4 million from the previous year." According to a Harvard University Study, 45,000 Americans die each year simply because they cannot afford healthcare insurance --- 45,000 in addition to the still uncounted numbers who die when carriers refuse to authorize vital procedures.
Meanwhile, corporate profits have soared to "their highest level in history." Over the past year, the 400 wealthiest Americans experienced a 12% increase in their net worth to $1.5 trillion. In the two year period, 2009 to 2011, the fortunes of Charles and David Koch increased by more than 70% from $17 billion each to $25 billion each, tying them each for fourth on the Forbes 400, behind Bill Gates, $59 billion, Warren Buffett, $39 billion and Larry Ellison, $33 billion.
Economic and Political Inequality
As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis famously observed, "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
Nobel Prize winning economists Paul Krugman, in The Conscience of a Liberal and Joseph E. Stiglitz in Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy forcefully refute the myths of so-called "free market" ideology --- an ideology which William K. Black, a former Wall Street regulator, asserts has produced a symbiotic relationship between Wall Street and the political elites resulting in a "criminogenic" environment that permits the ruling class to defraud with impunity.
Wealth concentration creates a vicious cycle. As explained by Kevin Phillips in Wealth and Democracy, quoting political scientist Samuel Huntington:
The demise of the American middle-class over the past forty years and the 2008 Wall Street crash were not random events. They are the result of deliberate policies carried out by a government that is increasingly democratic in name only.
The U.S. government is approaching the status of a captive tool of a criminal class of wealthy oligarchs --- part of a global class war enabled by a spate of NAFTA-like free trade agreements that gave a green light to the oligarchs to outsource the U.S. manufacturing base in search of $2/day slave wages in Asian sweat shops; a dismantling of regulatory structures, such as Glass-Steagall, which permitted Wall Street and the "banksters" to engage in fraudulent financial schemes with impunity; the transfer of trillions of dollars over the years to the titans atop of the military-industrial complex, as wars are carried out to secure oil and Empire, and, on top of it all, tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent.
The Great 'Big Government' Deception
The principle distinction between Occupy Wall Street and the "Tea Party" can be summed up by a single word, "knowledge."
As reflected in numerous photographs posted by We are the 99% and as noted in a Los Angeles Times article covering "Occupy LA," those in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement understand full-well that the problem flows from the greed-driven, vice-into-virtue philosophy of a billionaire class which tirelessly strives to subjugate the health, safety and financial well-being of humanity, not to mention the issue of a sustainable environment in light of global climate change.
Brad Friedman's Tea Party Express II: Rise of the Tea Bags, demonstrates that the hapless followers of the top-down "Tea Party" movement are badly misinformed. It is an hilarious short video documentary in which Friedman plays the straight man by asking simple questions. The comedy is furnished by spontaneous answers of the "Tea Party" followers called to gather in Los Angeles at an event sponsored by one of the "movement's" corporate-sponsored front groups, the Tea Party Express.
For comparison purposes, Brad's two-part Rise of the Teabags video is posted below, along with a Democracy Now segment entitled "We are the 99%": Voices from the Occupy Wall Street March.
While some within the rank and file of the "Tea Party" may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, many are individuals whose fear, economic displacement and sense of betrayal have rendered them vulnerable to the pernicious impact of the slick, simplistic propaganda with which they are bombarded 24/7 by Fox "News" and the right-wing media echo chamber.
As observed by Danny Schechter, in When News Lies, more broadly, the propaganda flows not only from the right-wing, but even from mainstream media "news":
While the hard-right lies about a host of topics, the core to oligarch success lies in the ability to convince a significant segment of the American public that government per se --- as opposed to government perverted by corporate wealth and power --- is the true source of the demise of the middle-class. What their deluded followers fail to realize is that the true concern of billionaire sociopaths, like the Koch brothers and fellow travelers, is not "Big Government," but the accountability and rule of law that come with democratic governance.
The hard-right targets both democracy and unions because these are a means by which an aroused citizenry may shield itself from corporate tyranny.
These ideas and ideals are understood by the courageous "occupiers" fighting to reclaim their voice in American democracy in "occupations" growing rapidly across the nation. Ironically, while the difference may be stark between the occupation movement and the Fox "News" "Tea Party" movement, as Lee Fang recently detailed at ThinkProgress a more apt comparison for Occupation Wall Street might well be the original Tea Party in Boston nearly 240 years ago --- a truly organic movement that sparked a very real revolution.
Brad Friedman's Tea Party Express II: Rise of the Tea Bags follows...
Democracy Now segment, “We are the 99%”: Voices from the Occupy Wall Street March...
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).