The Tea Party Trojan Horse

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The whole notion of the Tea Party as a legitimate grassroots movement is such a joke.

Yes, there are millions of Americans seeking to change the United States in ways that serve the majority of its citizens. No, they’re not going to accomplish that change via the Tea Party Movement. Anyone who takes a few minutes to connect the dots can see that the movers and shakers in this so-called grassroots movement actually are lobbyists and politicians in Washington, D.C.

There wouldn’t even be a Tea Party worth talking about without the priceless air time Fox News has poured into the movement – like a hiker blowing gently on the first fragile embers of a campfire – and the billions in health care lobbying dollars looking for a home in 2008-2010. And Fox News is the unofficial propaganda arm of the Republican Party and its wealthiest supporters.

It’s more than curious and coincidental that at least one principle member of the DC political lobbying firm of Russo Marsh & Rogers is so closely identified with the leadership of the Tea Party Movement. He and at least one of his associates are also active in both the “Our Country Deserves Better” and “Move America Forward” organizations. A quick visit to the latter will give you a nice view of their tactics and agenda and at least one link to the Tea Party in the form of their “Tea Party Express” group. The guy to look for is lobbyist Sal Russo, who can be found here on his firm’s website and here on the Our Country Deserves Better (OCDB) website, which counts Tea Party Express as one of its political campaigns.

That’s worth saying again – OCDB counts the Tea Party as one of “its campaigns.” Not as a personal political activity. The Tea Party Express website is the kind of thing that would have made P.T. Barnum blush – he of the “there’s a sucker born every minute” mindset. And “Our Country Deserves Better” may be the most appropriate name possible for a group that’s closely aligned with the forces dividing American wage-earners to prevent them from advancing their common interests.

Yes, we deserve better, but we can’t afford to hire lobbyists like Sal Russo. In our pay-for-play political system that places working people at the mercy of those who can.

Another player in this fake grass roots organization is former U.S. House majority leader Dick Armey and his Freedomworks machine, who now serves as an adviser to Tea Party groups. This is the same politician who wanted to privatize Social Security when he was in office, a move that would have had millions of senior citizens eating cat-food after the stock market plummeted at the start of the current recession.

Armey is a lot of things, but no one would ever describe him as a political outsider or as nonpartisan. He’s got a big political machine in DC with a large staff that’s fueled by a lot of money. See for yourself, right here.

Do you really think Armey is involved with the Tea Party Movement out of the goodness of his heart? I don’t. He’s got a big staff, which translates into a helluva big monthly payroll nut. I think there’s money to be made preserving the status quo and he’s making it.

The one indisputable truth about bad times is that they create fuel for change. The problem is that the special interests that benefit from the status quo and employ firms like Russo Marsh & Rogers and Freedomworks have diverted that fuel and stymied reform via the Tea Party Movement.

Their success means that armeysystemic problems cannot be resolved as long as elites can suffocate legitimate criticism and hijack populist electoral energy in a blizzard of lobbying dollars. It’s a blueprint for neutering the impact of working voters through misinformation. Not empowering us.

I see an American middle class desperately looking for alternatives to the lobbyist-owned Democratic and Republican machines. The Tea Party movement isn’t it, but does redirect populist energy for change in a way that’s useful to the corporate oligarchy running this nation into the ground.

The driving factor in the deterioration of American Society right now is the mindless pursuit of short-term profit growth and the idea that an executive’s fiduciary duty – their legal obligation to maximize shareholder value – justifies conduct that places that goal ahead of the national welfare.

We’re not talking about profit versus loss. We’re talking about sustained annual profit growth of at least 8%.

Let’s take that philosophy to its logical conclusion. After a solid business matures and has signed up every possible customer how does it continue to grow profits at that rate? Well, in this nation you start by spending less on those customers. That’s why candy bars get a little smaller and cost a little more each year.

Once those “reputation” gains are exhausted, a so-called “growth company” cuts worker headcounts to increase productivity or moves American manufacturing jobs to a low-wage economy like China. Then what?

congressWell, if you can buy enough political support through legal bribes – also known as unlimited soft money donations to a political party, rather than an individual candidate – you can raid the federal treasury via industry subsidies or secure new laws that allow you to exploit working Americans via predatory lending practices, as for-profit colleges like Bridgepoint Education Inc. are doing. You can also block reforms that try to halt such practices, as the health care industry has done by bankrolling the Tea Party movement.

You can pay our elected leaders to open up new areas to oil an natural gas drilling to “raise our national security through energy independence.” Never mind that a nation with fossil fuel reserves in the ground has more security than a nation that has exhausted them.

The problem isn’t the companies or the industries. It’s that the government that once regulated them now works for them. That’s not healthy because there are no checks and balances. Big business owns the whole system, except when working Americans are united around a single issue.

The beauty of the Tea Party and Fox News is that they prevent working voters from uniting around anything. Instead, we’re constantly divided by wedge issues, like abortion and gay marriage, which have nothing to do with our core concerns about feeding, clothing, housing and educating our families.

The Tea Party has been so effective that its even got farmers and elderly Americans, who receive Social Security, Medicare and agriculture subsidies, railing against the sins of big government, even though the programs they benefit from the most are responsible for making government big.

The neutering of the working class vote has helped create a world where you can’t play in the national political sandbox unless you have big bucks. That means step No. 1 to winning office is building up a fat bank account – not taking principled stands on important issues that appeal to voters. Not telling the truth.

That’s why most of our elected leaders are not leaders these days – they’re actors who play leaders on TV. They’re spokespeople. They’re brands.

cashRight now they’re all trying to sell themselves to us as the uncola. As the people who aren’t responsible for the mess we’re in as a nation because they would have never allowed it to happen. But the system itself virtually assures otherwise, because if you don’t have enough money to feed the political marketing machine you may as well pack it in.

The people, corporations, industries and unions that donate soft money to political parties in bricks of $10,000 and more don’t do so because they want to change the status quo that helped them amass those riches. Come on.

Do you really think companies like Comcast and ConocoPhillips want change? Do you really think union bosses like Vincent Giordano – who makes $550,000 a year as head of the supposedly nonprofit New Jersey teachers union – want change? I don’t.

The elite interests that run this country cast the only votes that matter in our marketing-based electoral system because they supply the bricks of cash that fuel the propaganda machines. This is the incredibly effective machine that sold Sarah Palin and Joe Biden to us as champions of the middle class. It sold Jeb Bush to Florida crackers as one of their own. And it sold black politicians like Kendrick Meeks and Jesse Jackson Jr. to inner city African Americans as people who had suffered and could relate to their struggles, even though neither had ever been without the huge social and financial safety net that comes with a parent in high office..

Biden is from Delaware, which undermines the ability of every other state to regulate big business by throwing its legs open to the Fortune 500 with the nation’s friendliest corporate legal code. Jeb’s name isn’t even Jeb. It’s John Ellis Bush. He and his brother were raised in the elite private schools of Massachusetts. Not Florida. As for Palin, she’s a poorly educated political spokesmodel who has led a sheltered life and is willing to say whatever sells.

These are the kind of people that pass for leaders when you have a divided middle class.

Most wage-earners possess neither the time it takes to winnow through all the misinformation out there to get to the truth, nor the money to spare for donations. Our only role now is to be fooled and exploited.

That’s where the Tea Party comes in. It’s really just a bunch of angry people who are being misled by elite interests via the Fox Propaganda Network and its conservative competitors.

The taxpayer movement the Tea Party evolved from was nothing until the health care industry began filtering money into it and Fox started pretending that its rallies of 10 and 20 people were really 100 and 200 people. If similar tactics were applied to the remnants of the old temperance leagues that championed prohibition you can bet attendance at their rallies would promptly surge from dozens to thousands, too.

There’s an old Confucian proverb – the first step toward wisdom is to call things by their right name. If Confucious lived today he might have added that if you want to frustrate populist reform you can do so with confusing jargon. Aka smoke and mirrors. That’s all the Tea Party really is.

Russo Marsh & Rogecrowdrs is proud of their ability to game the system. If you visit their website they will tell you all about it. Let’s just assume that Sal Russo is very good at what he does, which is obscuring the truth, or he wouldn’t have so many clients.

The Tea Party Movement is Astroturf, not grassroots. It’s just another vehicle for the elites to divide working Americans so we cannot act in concert politically to advance our common interests, which is what democracy is supposed to be about.

It makes a lot more sense to assume that the political lobbyists – one of our nation’s premier growth industries – aren’t being paid for nothing. Quite the contrary, they are incredibly effective. So much so that they’ve succeeded in transforming the United States back into an oligarchy over the past 30 years from the democracy it became after World War II.

This transformation isn’t a conspiracy. It’s just a lot of people trying to get paid for putting their thumbs on the scales of public debate. And you and I don’t pay very well.

That’s the world we really live in. We’re not really a democracy any more and we don’t have free markets. In fact, the popular lie about the virtues of the mythic free market is the easiest way to identify a bullshit artist.

If you disagree please show me any one of the following:

1) Access to legal service
There is no middle-class law market. In a free market we would have one.

2) Access to affordable health care
Why weren’t health care companies fighting over the more than 40 million uninsured Americans prior to the recent heathcare reform legislation? If this were really a free market for medical care, companies would have been competing for that huge pool of customers and the growth opportunity they represent for this mature industry.

3) Representative leadership
In a true democracy the middle class would be represented. Politics would be a period of service – not a career. We’d have real term limits and real campaign finance reform, instead of fake term limits and fake finance reform. In short, we would not have someone like Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), or Eliot Engle (D- N.Y.) who have been in the House of Rerepsentatives since 1971 and 1989 respectively. That’s not term limits. That’s elected office for life.

4) Free speech.
How many of you are afraid to post your thoughts publicly on Facebook, for fear of being fired? That’s not a false fear. You can and will be fired.

5) Representative Unions
We don’t have enough representative unions. Instead, far too many are ruled by elites that dole out favors to politically savvy older workers at the expense of younger workers and pass on power to their children like the constitutional monarchs of old. Why, because unions also buy poltical cover to insulate themselves from change.

This list goes on and on.

Look, we’re getting screwed and it’s not our imagination. And American wage-earners will continue to get screwed because the energy for change is being hijacked by the Tea Party, which is really a movement of moneyed interests.

This is a real problem that undermines one of the core strengths of the American democracy – the ability to conduct a bloodless revolution every election. We can’t do that right now because we only have one option – the two major political machines owned by this nation’s financial elite.

The fiction is that the difference between Democratic and Republican political machines matter to working Americans. I submit that so long as public office can be purchased, those differences are irrelevant as we witnessed during the debt ceiling debate.

That’s why we keep voting the bums out. However, instead of replacing the old bums with real leaders, we’re just replacing them with new bums from a different political manchine. Freud put it best when he said the definition of insanity is repeating the same action in the expectation of a different outcome. That’s us right now.

This is your world and these are the unpleasant truths that Tea Partiers just don’t want to deal with.

cageLet’s look at one example of Tea Party rhetoric for a sec. I’ve heard a helluva lot of critical talk from this group about middle-class and lower-middle-class homeowners who were irresponsible and lived beyond their means. They say those working people helped create the national housing bubble, but you hear damn little from them about irresponsible millionaires like actor Nicholas Cage, who lived beyond his means and purchased dozens of homes and even islands at inflated prices. Apparently, living beyond your means is OK with the Tea Party if you are wealthy.

That’s not exactly the stance one would expect from a grassroots movement comprised of working Americans.

I’ve also heard a ton of stuff from the Tea Party in which they use “socialism” as a negative proxy for communism. However, damn little of their rhetoric accurately defines socialism or the seminal notion that societies that promote the common needs of the many are inherently socialist. In essense, that society itself is socialist.

According to the Tea Party, providing unemployment checks is socialist. Bad, bad, bad. But the same folks say our overwhelmingly middle-class military is not socialist. It’s good, good, good. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that there are a raft of military contractors with hundreds of DC lobbyists on retainer.

jobsLikewise, the Tea Party says government subsidies for agriculture, housing and energy industries are not socialist. Once again, these industries employ hordes of lobbyists.

It’s abundantly clear that the Tea Party is branding anything as socialist that could place the needs of this nation ahead of the individual profit growth goals of their employers. Meanwhile oligarchy and greed is being rebranded as democracy and as something good, when they’re neither.

Likewise, the Tea Party talks a good game on the hundreds of bllions government tax dollars lavished on the banking sector, but has done nothing to reclaim them. It has been much more effective denying unemployment benefits to idled workers. What’s the difference ebtween the two grooups? The unemployed don’t have lobbyists, or profit growth expectations.

At a time when most of us can’t borrow a dime and can’t get even earn a single percentage point of interest for our life savings, the Federal Reserve actually lent hundreds of billions of our tax dollars to our largest banks nearly for free. 

The effective federal funds rate right now is 12 basis points. That’s how much banks charge each other for overnight loans. There are 100 basis points in a single percentage point, which means that 12 basis points actually rounds off to zero percentage points.

Meanwhile, the very same banks routinely charge 29 percentage points of interest on credit cards and spend millions each year on newsletters and consultants that help them maximize revenue from late fees and overdraft fees. The interest rates they’re charging have not gone down along with the federal funds rate.

Why do you think the due dates for so many monthly credit card payments have mysteriously moved to the middle of the month from the beginning? Do you think it’s because more people want to pay their bills in the middle of the month? I don’t.

It’s because we’re under financial attack. The unsustainable pressure to grow profits every year is turning our own corporations against us. That’s why we saw predatory lending before in housing and why we’re seeing it now in for-profit college tuition.

Predatory credit card practices are one of the reasons middle-class bankruptcy levels have surged even during times of overall economic prosperity in this country since 1980. They’ve gutted the middle class in combination with soaring health insurance profits.

That’s why you don’t have any money and that’s why you don’t have any time. We’re talking about basic survival for working Americans like you and me. Yet some of those very people think the Tea Party represents them.

I have a 47-year-old friend who thinks he’s in the Tea Party. He’s against a national medical system in concept. However, he also has a bad back and is unable to work. This small business man is a machinist/craftsman. He has no medical insurance and spent several weeks sleeping on his back on his living room floor last month because he didn’t have any medical coverage and could not afford the bloated hospital rates tCredithat are routinely levied against the uncovered. That would not have happened to him in Canada.

Friend No. 2 is another strong, self-reliant small businessman who has been listening to the Tea Party. This 49-year-old Florida resident has lingering health problems from an old motorcycle accident, but no health insurance coverage. He makes his living buying homes, fixing them up and reselling them in Florida. He needs two vertebrae in his neck fused, but is avoiding surgery because the housing crisis has frozen his assets and he simply cnnot afford to pay the blood money. That would not have happened to him in France or Germany.

Friend No. 3 is one of the nation’s top photographers, but he can’t afford to have a third child because it costs about $15,000 to deliver a baby in this nation without health insurance. Both of his kids have been delivered via cesarean section to save money. That would not have happened to him in Sweden, Norway, Finland or Denmark.

Friend No. 4 is a 50-year-old health professional in New York City who thinks he’s in the Tea Party. He rails against big government, but doesn’t seem to realize that it’s big government that makes it possible for him to live in a rent controlled apartment for $600 a month, instead of the market rate of $2,500.

Right now, the Tea Party and Fox News are using wedge issues, like illegal immigration, to divert legitimate energy from the changes that need to be made, like real banking reform. They’re branding those changes as “socialist”  and trying to insinuate that socialism is the same thing as communism. It’s not.

Here’s a handy-dandy rundown of what the various governing ideologies really mean.

• Society: a group of people who band together to advance their common needs. In short, a community that advances the needs of the many – like price stability and accessible health care.

• Oligarchy: A government in which a small group exercises national control, often for corrupt and selfish purposes.

• Socialism: a nation characterized by collective ownership, unequal distribution of goods, and pay according to the value of the work done.

• Communism: Collective ownership, equal distribution of goods and equal pay. Lousy workers get the same compensation as good workers under communism.

• Democracy: a government run according to majority rule.
barnum
Which one do you think we are?

Well, we’re definitely not a democracy anymore because the majority of Americans would like to have access to affordable food, energy, housing, education and health care. The majority of us would also like to be able to speak freely – even on Facebook.

But we have none of those things, because we’ve become a corporate oligarchy. That’s the one word that never seems to make the Tea Party agenda and the main reason they don’t pass my smell test as a legitimate populist movement.

To steal a line from my former newspaper colleague John Grogan, who wrote the book Marley and Me, “they’ve got the old BS meter pinned in the red.”

Ultimately, the most impressive apsect of the Tea Party is the ruthlessness of organizers like Sal Russo. He may not be particularly principled or patriotic, but he sure is one helluva good lobbyist. You have to admire that.

P.T. Barnum ain’t got nothing on old Sal Russo. I sure hope his momma’s proud of him. Chances are that if she is it’s only because he doesn’t tell her what he really does for a living, which is screw over decent people.