The Losers' Debt: What Occupy Wall Street Owes to the Tea Party

How the Tea Party's successful fight against help for debt-ridden Americans set the stage for Occupy Wall Street.

As the ranks of Occupy Wall Street swell, the inevitable comparisons to the Tea Party have led conservative agitators whose demonstrations catalyzed opposition to President Obama to deny any similarities between the two movements. They shouldn’t: Without the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street wouldn’t exist.

That's not because the Don’t Tread On Me crowd was first to voice criticism of the economy, but because their success as advocates for the lenders of the world put the screws to our economy—and the very debt-ridden people whose voices are carried by Occupy Wall Street.

Pinning down the origins of the Tea Party isn’t easy, but a good moment is February 19, 2009, when CNBC contributor Rick Santelli launched into a screaming rant. His target? The Obama administration’s plan to help people with “underwater” mortgages—loans worth more than their homes after real estate prices plunged, leaving them hard-pressed to refinance and make their payments.

“Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages?” Santelli demanded. “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July, all you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m going to start organizing.”

Now the “losers” are back: Check out We Are The 99 Percent, the Tumblr blog giving voices to the people behind the Occupy Wall Street protests: Nearly everyone talks about debt, from underwater mortgages to student loan or unpaid medical expenses.

One of the critical features of our recession is that high consumer debt is holding back recovery: People are too busy scrimping to pay their obligations (in part because real wages haven’t gone up in the last decade) to spend the kind of money that helps pull an economy out of recession and create jobs.

The Obama administration has taken repeated stabs at fixing this problem, including the ultimately hapless mortgage loan modification program that Santelli called out, mortgage refinancing initiatives, attempts to decrease student debt, and health care reform designed to help make care more affordable.

Plagued by poor execution and underestimating of need, none of these efforts have resulted in success yet. Part of this failure can be laid at the feet of President Obama and the Democrats, but the Tea Party’s Republican-adopted campaign against government intervention in the economy has doubtless postponed recovery and kept the government from taking basic actions to force the financial sector to share the painful costs of irresponsible lending.

Most ironic for a movement that proclaimed opposition to financial sector bailouts (a cheap and effective policy that should have been followed with radical bank reforms), the Tea Party’s largest influence in Washington was helping empower Republicans who promised to undermine any and all restraints on the behavior of the largest banks.

Equally problematic, the Tea Party turned the political agenda toward deficit reduction when the times demanded action on jobs. Their thriving opposition to action by the Federal Reserve to ease pressure on the economy has made it harder for the central bank to adopt policies that would ease the burden of debt by raising inflation.

Perhaps worst of all, by associating debt with irresponsibility, the Tea Party forgot the social conditions that led to the amassing of this record debt, especially fraud and irresponsible lending in the financial sector and growing inequality. This in turn denied the basic interconnections in our economy. The Tea Party refuses to see that beggaring their neighbors is a step toward beggaring themselves.

Now the indebted, tired of waiting, have come back to haunt our culture, reminding us loudly that the excesses of the past decade still hang over their heads, and that the promise of the United States—you can work your way out of your troubles—isn’t true when you can’t get a job.

So thank the Tea Party for the crowds in lower Manhattan: A lost decade of growth teed up a gut-punch recession for Americans who didn’t realize the instability of the foundation they built their lives on. When the Tea Party scrambled to oppose reasonable public action to alleviate these problems, the conditions were set for the organic explosion of the people who found themselves on the short end of the stick.

For all the conspiracy-mongering, disorganization and misguided proposals floated by Occupation Wall Street, we can hope they’ll be as influential as the Tea Party, for one sad reason: Unlike the fantasies of the Tea Party, the problems faced by the self-proclaimed Other 99 Percent are all too real.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Aaron

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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