Tea Parties Then; TEA Parties Now

Boston Tea Party: Colonists dumped the British...

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It is no accident that the modern TEA party has taken a name reminiscent of an allegedly heroic, self sacrificing, grassroots movement, and the similarities between the past and present are striking.  In the former, common people did the bidding of certain very wealthy American colonists, so that affluent Americans could avoid paying taxes paid by every other English subject. In the end, common people from both sides of the Atlantic suffered and died in a brutal conflict and endured the subsequent, harsh economic hardship. However, the wealthy skated through history. Similarities are indeed striking, for the present sees ordinary working class and middle class Americans demonstrating against federal programs, into which they have paid their own wages, often for decades: Social Security and Medicare, and a program which would be a remedy for most of their tribulations, universal healthcare. Universal healthcare would certainly stop the rising tide of bankruptcy, and would ensure a greatly improved public health. Disease which is currently allowed to exacerbate, because of inability to pay for treatment, would be halted before it became devastating. In many cases, Social Security and Medicare are the only safety nets people have to pull them away from certain poverty and starvation, not to mention an erosion of the public health, which would ultimately end in massive epidemics. These are not the only targets of the modern TEA party. Funding for virtually every public program, including public education, parks, museums, symphonies, and even the FBI have been targeted by this group. ‘Privatisation’ is a rallying cry for the TEA party. Taxed enough already? As Norman Collins said, “Good work don’t come cheap. Cheap work don’t come good!” The same holds true for much needed government services.

Regardless of well documented failures of the private sector to deliver adequate public services and the success of programs such as Social Security, which has served the American retiree and disabled well for over seventy years, TEA party activists would seek to destroy them. Why? Is this, indeed a ‘grassroots’ movement? Or, are ordinary working class and middle class Americans being relentlessly fed a load of disinformation by certain super rich individuals, who hope to profit by the destruction of these programs?

The Tea Act was a law passed by Parliament, expanding the monopoly of the British East India Company’s tea trade to all English Colonies, and allowing the selling of its excess tea at a reduced price. Prior to the passing of the Tea Act in 1773, the East India Company was required to sell all its tea solely in London, on which it paid a duty which averaged two shillings and six pence per pound, then the product could be exported. This had created a very profitable venue for smugglers to import and distribute tax-free tea throughout the American colonies. In Parliament, it was hoped that if the price of East India tea could undercut the price of smuggled tea, smuggling would cease.

Creating a new, formerly denied market, the American colonies, could increase revenue to the East India Company, enough to save it from the economic scrap heap and seriously impacting the overall British economy. The Tea Act stated that Parliament would refund 4/5 the cost of shipping the tea to America, thus allowing it to be sold at a far cheaper price than smuggled tea, further determining the possibility of an expanded market. Benjamin Franklin was among several American colonists opining potentially improved relations between the colonies and the Crown, as well as an improved economy, if the Company were allowed to export its tea directly to the American Colonies without paying the taxes it was paying in London. It is noted that this opinion, though widely well established, was less than inspiring among individuals who had heretofore made a healthy income from smuggling and related trades, including a certain businessman from Norwich, one Benedict Arnold, later becoming a household name, due to his Revolutionary War experiences. A merchant, smuggler, and fire warden in Boston, John Hancock was a loud, vocal critic. Alexander MacDougall and Isaac Sears were captains of privateers in New York City. They hardly agreed with Franklin. Haym Solomon was a noted financial broker in New York and Philadelphia. His business would suffer under the Tea Act. Each of these men was prominent in the underground movement opposing the Crown, the Sons of Liberty, which included Sam Adams, a tax collector and fire warden in Boston, and his second cousin, John, a lawyer in Massachusetts.

Note the businesses associated with each of these men: smuggler, tax collector, financial broker, privateer, lawyer. A fire inspector, or a fire warden, was the employee of a fire insurance company since fire brigades in the American colonies were volunteer and funded by the insurance companies. Iron placards placed within a building’s masonry announced which fire company would be responsible for extinguishing the occupant’s fire. It also could determine if a responding company had a duty to act, or whether it would merely allow the building to burn. A less than savory occupation, many fire wardens were little more than extortionists. Philadelphia boasted the first professional fire company, founded by Benjamin Franklin. It deployed a more egalitarian modality, establishing the type of response familiar to modern society.

Each of these men stood to lose great amounts of money with the Tea Act implemented. The spin put out by successful New England businessmen in reaction to their feared diminished income, was “No taxation without representation!” Due to the vitriolic emotions associated with this statement, chapters of the Sons of Liberty formed in each of the colonies. Common laborers and tradesmen joined the cause, profiting smugglers, tax collectors, financial brokers, privateers, insurance companies, and lawyers in Boston. On December 16th, 1773, consternation over the Tea Act reached its limits, and a small group of American colonists boarded ships in Boston Harbour, throwing cargo overboard, in defiance to the Crown. Fundamentally, an act of piracy and vandalism, by contemporary law, this occurrence has been enshrined in American history.

The modern American TEA party seeks to validate its identity as a grassroots movement by pairing itself with the Boston Harbour tea party. This identity is ironically not misplaced. As the Sons of Liberty were dupes of the super rich of their day, modern TEA party activists are the dupes of current, clandestine, American power brokers. It is anything but a ‘grass roots’ movement. It is a creation of the PAC, Americans for Prosperity, associated with Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks. Once again, the puppeteers are pulling the strings, and the ill informed dance.

Dick Armey, who served in the US House of Representatives from Texas, 1985-2003, was chosen to administer Americans for Prosperity by its benefactors, Charles and David Koch. Armey was educated as an economist and adheres to the Milton Friedman School of economics, supply side economics. George Herbert Walker Bush, also educated in economics, referred to Friedman’s philosophy as ‘voo-doo economics’. As an adherent to the Friedman School, Armey favored open immigration and the elimination of barriers to the movement of people and goods across national boundaries. In his early years in Congress, Armey became influenced by the writings of Ludwig von Mises from the Austrian School of economics, associated with the libertarian beliefs characteristic of George Mason University.  He is a strong supporter of replacing progressive tax levels and a complex system of deductions with a simplified single rate known as a flat tax, where the poorest taxpayer would pay the same rate of tax as the wealthiest.

On paper, this sounds reasonable, but, consider the price of a loaf of bread. Say a flat tax of ten percent applied to everything, replacing the present income tax. A two dollar loaf of bread would cost an additional twenty cents. This would be nothing to the rich. Add up a ten percent tax on all of your foodstuffs, and life could become quite difficult. Factor in clothing and other amenities, and you can see where this goes. The richest Americans live overseas, anyway, so they wouldn’t really be affected. Once again, the working class and the middle class assume the burden of taxation.

Armey, a proponent of loose immigration and free movement of goods and persons across national borders, and a proponent of increased middle class taxation, was also criticised by Focus on the Family leader James Dobson for having failed to ‘deliver’ for Christian conservatives while in office.  Leaving political office in 2003, Armey became co-chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which in 2004 merged with Empower America to become Freedom Works. The organization is dedicated to advancing a “Freedom Agenda” of “lower taxes, smaller government, and more freedom.” As with Grover Norquist, Armey would like to ‘shrink government down to the size where he could easily drown it in a bathtub’. Isn’t that anarchism? Isn’t anarchism incongruent with patriotism? Armey, the good patriot, continues to be a national political figure and ‘grassroots leader’, through his involvement with Americans for Prosperity, and the TEA party.

September 23, 1900 saw the birth of a son to Dutch Immigrant, Harry Koch, in Quanah, Texas, near the Oklahoma border. Fred C. Koch was educated at Rice University and graduated as a chemical engineer from MIT. He worked in Stalin’s Soviet Union briefly, but long enough to be disgusted by Stalin’s fascist dictatorship. Many of Fred’s colleagues simply disappeared. Corruption and government interference in his projects were rampant. It is only reasonable that a young Fred C. Koch should become thoroughly disenchanted with his soviet employer. History has labeled Stalin a socialist. Koch believed Stalin was a socialist. By Mussolini’s own definition, fascism is the melding of business with government. Like Churchill and many other world leaders living in the period just prior to World War II, Koch was enamored with the Italian experience. However, Churchill changed his mind. Compare Stalin’s economic policies with those of Mussolini and Hitler.

Years after Koch returned to the US, his hatred of Stalinism remained so great that he co-founded the John Birch Society, a proud sponsor of McCarthyism. Fred had four sons. Most noteworthy, Charles and David, often referred to as ‘the billionaire Koch brothers’, having turned their father’s successful oil business into the second largest, privately owned corporation in the United States: Koch Industries. Aside from being the sons of Fred C. Koch, and two of the richest men in the world, who are the Koch brothers? The answer is, “They are second generation Birchers, who happen to be greedy billionaires.” Charles resides in Wichita. David resides in Manhattan.

Wealth and libertarian philosophy aside, the Koch brothers are noted philanthropists. A prostate cancer survivor, David has donated enormous sums of money for prostate cancer research. He is a well known contributor to the arts. However, he is a libertarian, and in opposition to any public funding for the arts or healthcare. If one is rich enough, he can be treated for any disease or injury. He can go to the theater or ballet. If one weren’t born into wealth, as Charles and David Koch were, or didn’t acquire it, as their father Fred did, as Marie Antoinette allegedly said, he can “eat cake!” To safeguard their ideological beliefs and financial interests, the Koch brothers founded Americans for Prosperity.

Is the TEA Party a ‘grass roots movement’ or shills for power hungry billionaires? The original tea party was an activity which caused common people to act on the part of wealthy smugglers and financiers. Today, the TEA Party consists of working class and middle class Americans, many of them retired, and depending upon federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare, calling for a cessation of most, if not all, federal programs, in the name of lowering taxes and fighting socialism.

“No taxation without representation!” has been replaced by mixed cries for smaller government and fewer public services. If you are wealthy and live in an exclusive, gated community, with private security services, and your own personal live in physician, who needs government? However, if that is not the case…..

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About Stefan Jacke

MagicRobert presented me with a vellum document, composed in an insane script. We were in a well secured vault in the Michener Library. His face exploded into a broad smile, as he saw me recognize the words, "That government governs best which governs least." It was a copy of "On Civil Disobedience" in the author's own hand. The experience called to mind a conversation Henry David Thoreau had with Ralph Waldo Emerson, as Thoreau sat in a jail cell, incarcerated for protesting the Mexican War. Emerson asked, "David, what are you doing in there?" Thoreau responded, "The point is, Ralph, what are you doing out there?" Once, long ago, I jumped off of big red trucks, lifted weights, and cleaned toilets for a living. Then I wrestled drunks, ran around in circles, and got splattered with blood and all manner of body fluids for a living. Now I enjoy the stillness of early morning in my rocking chair on the porch, with a hot cup of coffee, trying in vain to forget the past. Thank you, Robert!
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2 Responses to Tea Parties Then; TEA Parties Now

  1. Kwaayesnama says:

    Thank you for the thought provoking article.

  2. Pingback: More on Tea Party « Ascend (of Asheville)

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