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September 2011, Week 4

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Tue, 27 Sep 2011 21:00:01 -0400
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A Billionaires' Coup in the US 

The debt deal will hurt the poorest Americans, convinced by
Fox and the Tea Party to act against their own welfare

By George Monbiot
The Guardian/UK
September 23, 2011

There are two ways of cutting a deficit: raising taxes or
reducing spending. Raising taxes means taking money from the
rich. Cutting spending means taking money from the poor. Not
in all cases of course: some taxation is regressive; some
state spending takes money from ordinary citizens and gives
it to banks, arms companies, oil barons and farmers. But in
most cases the state transfers wealth from rich to poor,
while tax cuts shift it from poor to rich.

So the rich, in a nominal democracy, have a struggle on their
hands. Somehow they must persuade the other 99% to vote
against their own interests: to shrink the state, supporting
spending cuts rather than tax rises. In the US they appear to
be succeeding.

Partly as a result of the Bush tax cuts of 2001, 2003 and
2005 (shamefully extended by Barack Obama), taxation of the
wealthy, in Obama's words, "is at its lowest level in half a
century". The consequence of such regressive policies is a
level of inequality unknown in other developed nations. As
the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz points out, in the past 10
years the income of the top 1% has risen by 18%, while that
of blue-collar male workers has fallen by 12%.

The deal being thrashed out in Congress as this article goes
to press seeks only to cut state spending. As the former
Republican senator Alan Simpson says: "The little guy is
going to be cremated." That means more economic decline,
which means a bigger deficit. It's insane. But how did it
happen?

The immediate reason is that Republican members of Congress
supported by the Tea Party movement won't budge. But this
explains nothing. The Tea Party movement mostly consists of
people who have been harmed by tax cuts for the rich and
spending cuts for the poor and middle. Why would they
mobilise against their own welfare? You can understand what
is happening in Washington only if you remember what everyone
seems to have forgotten: how this movement began.

On Sunday the Observer claimed that "the Tea Party rose out
of anger over the scale of federal spending, and in
particular in bailing out the banks". This is what its
members claim. It's nonsense.

The movement started with Rick Santelli's call on CNBC for a
tea party of city traders to dump securities in Lake
Michigan, in protest at Obama's plan to "subsidise the
losers". In other words, it was a demand for a financiers'
mobilisation against the bailout of their victims: people
losing their homes. On the same day, a group called Americans
for Prosperity (AFP) set up a Tea Party Facebook page and
started organising Tea Party events. The movement, whose
programme is still lavishly supported by AFP, took off from
there.

So who or what is Americans for Prosperity? It was founded
and is funded by Charles and David Koch. They run what they
call "the biggest company you've never heard of", and between
them they are worth $43bn. Koch Industries is a massive oil,
gas, minerals, timber and chemicals company. In the past 15
years the brothers have poured at least $85m into lobby
groups arguing for lower taxes for the rich and weaker
regulations for industry. The groups and politicians the
Kochs fund also lobby to destroy collective bargaining, to
stop laws reducing carbon emissions, to stymie healthcare
reform and to hobble attempts to control the banks. During
the 2010 election cycle, AFP spent $45m supporting its
favoured candidates.

But the Kochs' greatest political triumph is the creation of
the Tea Party movement. Taki Oldham's film (Astro)Turf Wars
shows Tea Party organisers reporting back to David Koch at
their 2009 Defending the Dream summit, explaining the events
and protests they've started with AFP help. "Five years ago,"
he tells them, "my brother Charles and I provided the funds
to start Americans for Prosperity. It's beyond my wildest
dreams how AFP has grown into this enormous organisation."

AFP mobilised the anger of people who found their conditions
of life declining, and channelled it into a campaign to make
them worse. Tea Party campaigners take to the streets to
demand less tax for billionaires and worse health, education
and social insurance for themselves.

Are they stupid? No. They have been misled by another
instrument of corporate power: the media. The movement has
been relentlessly promoted by Fox News, which belongs to a
more familiar billionaire. Like the Kochs, Rupert Murdoch
aims to misrepresent the democratic choices we face, in order
to persuade us to vote against our own interests and in
favour of his.

What's taking place in Congress right now is a kind of
political coup. A handful of billionaires have shoved a
spanner into the legislative process. Through the candidates
they have bought and the movement that supports them, they
are now breaking and reshaping the system to serve their
interests. We knew this once, but now we've forgotten. What
hope do we have of resisting a force we won't even see?

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited 

[George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The
Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive
State: the corporate takeover of Britain. He writes a weekly
column for the Guardian newspaper. Visit his website at
www.monbiot.com]

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