The Occupy 99% and Tea Party movements were founded on the perception that the citizens of the United States are being systematically fleeced of their wealth by our country’s major institutions. Over time, these institutions are becoming more efficient and effective in extracting money and reducing personal wealth, impoverishing an ever larger percentage of the citizenry using unethical, fraudulent or corrupt behavior.
In recent years, government at all levels has had an increasingly large target on its back. As programs multiply, are corrupted from the original intent, and taxes rise, people become increasingly fed up with the entire economic system. This nationwide perception has filtered into the Central Valley of California and is a major subject of discussion among various local political groups.
THE TEA PARTY
Stanislaus County has an active branch of the Tea Party. Members of the local movement indicate that they are very disatisfied with our large and burdensome government. Members are so strident that, on occasion, they surprisingly advocate for the dismantlement of even the programs which personally benefit them, such as Social Security. The Tea Party says it’s pro-business and private enterprise, attributing all of the country’s woes to government.
Local politicians have met very angry Tea Party crowds at various meetings. The Teabaggers, as they are referred to by other groups, demand lower taxes and smaller government with greater accountability. Last year, Congressmen Dennis Cardoza and Jeff Denham held widely publicized district meetings where hostile Tea Party members vented their frustrations.
The Republican Party has attempted to harness the political energy of the Tea Party movement by trying to co-opt Tea Party principles. At his district meeting, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham assured attendees that he would faithfully represent the Tea Party agenda.
After originally honoring his promise to the Tea Party members, Congressman Denham recently distanced himself from the Tea Party. Last year, Denham kept his promise and voted against raising the Federal debt limit ceiling and taxes on the wealthy. But in a recent flyer, he portrayed himself as a defender of Social Security and Medicare, considered socialist welfare programs of big government by the Tea Party.
A disenchanted Republican Party member recently changed parties to become a “Tea Party Libertarian”. He criticized Republican efforts to co-opt the Tea Party: “Most Republican politicians pay lip service to the Tea Party while continuing to push for X subsidy and Y pork program in their district.” The Libertarian also said that Republicans are as corrupt as Democrats and only pay lip service to Tea Party principles to get votes.
At his district meeting, Democratic Congressman Dennis Cardoza received a hostile reception by Tea Partiers. He refused to pander and made no promise to push the Tea Party agenda. A few months after the contentious district meeting, the Congressman announced he would not seek re-election so that he could spend more time with his family.
In response to the Tea Party movement, the Occupy 99% movement formed last year, presenting a disorganized and indefinite group of demands.Thedemands include mandating government to grow bigger in order to provide more services and making the wealthy pay higher taxes, euphemistically referred to as “their fair share”. Occupy 99% mirrors the Democratic Party in its disorganization and range of ideology.
The Democratic Party has tried to co-opt the Occupy 99% movement just as Republicans have courted the Tea Party. Some Occupy 99% demonstrators seem disillusioned with Democrats based on a perception that the Democrats are in cahoots with Republicans to rob the middle and lower classes of personal wealth. When the Democrats controlled Congress, not much changed to stop the fleecing of the middle and lower classes. Demonstrations by Occupy 99% have been periodically held at the 5 points intersection downtown.
Occupy 99% protestors abhor Republicans. Republican Congressman Jeff Denham has been criticized for his past support of the Tea Party, for obstructing the creation of a fair tax code, and for favoring large corporate farmers over the needs of smaller farming operations.
The Libertarian’s view the Democrats as false supporters of the Occupy 99% movement: “Democrats see the 99% as sheep to be fleeced, not people who they are supposed to be representing the best interests of.”
The Tea Party and Occupy 99% movements were created in response to the systematic fleecing of the average citizen. Tea Party is anti-government, while Occupy 99% is anti-corporation. Libertarians are anti-government AND anti-corporation. Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul would have done quite well if a primary had been held in the Central Valley before Mitt Romney declared victory. Mr. Paul is viewed as more a Libertarian than a Republican and thus his popularity.
A Libertarian’s rant criticizes government and corporations at the same time: “All corrupt corporations are in bed with our inherently corrupt government. By dismantling the government sponsored cartel system, every honest person in the future would be better off. Market entry is made extraordinarily difficult due to regulation, licensing schemes and certifications required.” The large corporations benefit from government regulations.
INSTITUTIONS THAT FLEECE
The government fleeces citizens via an inequitable tax code, where privileged individuals pay relatively low tax rates. Citizens are also fleeced by inflation, caused by deficit spending by government and expansion of the money supply. Inflation punishes those on fixed incomes and those who lack tangible assets. As more citizens become impoverished, losing their homes and jobs, inflation hurts them more. Meanwhile, corporations benefit from inflation.
Corporations fleece citizens by using laws that grant them special favors including immunity from competition, immunity from civil suit, and favorable tax treatment. In major industry segments in the United States, economic concentration of business is progressing rapidly. For example, more and more restaurants belong to chains or are part of multi-brand conglomerates. Hotel chains are merging into ever larger entities with increasing power to fix room rates. This anti-competitive state of affairs has resulted in profit levels seldom seen in a free market. California has the highest gasoline prices in the nation because of the few companies remaining in competition.
The extent of price fixing is much greater than people have noticed. The government’s regulatory enforcement has been gutted by “pro-business” politicians. Large corporations are free to raise prices at will “to meet the competition”. The most egregious of the wealth stealers in recent years is the banking industry. Using robo signing to foreclose on countless numbers of homes, many homes were seized using questionable title documents. The banks have become the largest owners of real estate in the country. The five biggest banks now control the largest percentage of the banking industry in history. With banks lacking competition, fees are headed upward, creating new gimmicks to take small bites of wealth each month from the average citizen.
Locally, Occupy 99% has held a number of demonstrations against large corporate banks. The latest bank protest was held on Saturday, April 28th at the Bank of America on McHenry Avenue. At the protest, customers were urged to move accounts to credit unions and smaller financial institutions that do not share the blame in the corruption of the nation’s economic system.
Investing in Wall Street is a rigged game. Insiders trade stocks before the public can learn about major events that affect stock value. Annual reports are rife with misleading information, including inflated earnings reports. Bankruptcies come suddenly and unexpectedly, with greedy corporate officers looting assets and permitted to keep what they have stolen. Only the most egregious offenders ever get caught or punished. CEO’s pay themselves lavish salaries while stockholder dividends are shortchanged.
Locally, Occupy 99% has had a number of sympathy demonstrations with New Yorkers protesting at Wall Street.
GROWING STRUCTURAL UNEMPLOYMENT
In the name of free trade, this past decade, a large number of the country’s jobs have been shipped overseas. Wherever labor is cheaper, the large corporations send the jobs overseas. This has created a permanently high country-wide unemployment rate that undermines the ability of citizens to accumulate wealth and have a decent standard of living. As the jobs are shipped overseas, the Third World problems are coming to the United States.
Neither the Democrats nor Republicans seem to fully understand the dissatisfaction of citizens in the Tea Party and Occupy 99% movements. Both parties seem more intent on maintaining power than in restoring economic equilibrium to the country. As wealth accumulates into fewer hands, the economy and social stability deteriorate.
The short term prognosis for the United States is poor. The economy is recovering at a snail’s pace. Locally, unemployment is still above 17 percent and real estate values are near lows not seen since year 2000. It may take the emergence of a third major political party to upright the ship of state. If that fails, the longer term alternative will be greater social unrest, or worse, the decline and fall of the country as a major economic power. According to the protesting groups, our country could fail under the weight of its institutional corruption.