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Historical Perspective on 21st Century Tea Parties or, Down the Rabbit Hole

April 15, 2009

So my interest in teabagging (no, not that kind) has been peaked and after watching some corporate media coverage and doing a little reading I find myself feeling a lot like Alice.

“At any rate I’ll never go there again!” said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. “It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!” – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter VII

Especially after reading this article by Thom Hartmann who lends a little perspective to recent goings on. In sharp contrast to the Boston Tea Party of 1773 which was thrown to protest the destructive capitalism of the British East India Tea Company, today’s teabaggers are being sponsored by the corporate interests this nation once rebelled against. Hartmann explains:

CNBC Correspondent Rick Santelli called for a “Chicago Tea Party” on Feb 19th in protesting President Obama’s plan to help homeowners in trouble. Santelli’s call was answered by the right-wing group FreedomWorks, which funds campaigns promoting big business interests, and is the opposite of what the real Boston Tea Party was. FreedomWorks was funded in 2004 by Dick Armey (former Republican House Majority leader & lobbyist); consolidated Citizens for a Sound Economy, funded by the Koch family; and Empower America, a lobbying firm, that had fought against healthcare and minimum-wage efforts while hailing deregulation.

The typical animal attending these bashes resembles a half asleep Dormouse, railing against socialism without knowing what it means because some corporate clown on Fox News or CNBC told them it was evil. They protest their high tax rates even as the oligarchs who egg them on bribe the Congress for bigger tax cuts for themselves and force wage concessions on the working class, all for the sake of the economy of course. The problem here isn’t that taxes are too high; it’s that tax money is not being spent for social programs that might improve the lots of those who toss their tannins but goes to line the pockets of weapons makers and bankers instead.

Hartmann gives some historical context and explains the British East India Tea Company was founded in 1600 when Queen Elizabeth got some investors together to form the corporation which today’s limited liability companies are modeled after – not much risk for the investors but with enormous potential for profit. The Company grew rapidly, squashed much of their competition, and dominated trade around the globe. But to do so they incurred huge amounts of debt and by the later part of the 18th century they were in financial trouble. But luckily for the Company they had bought off most of the British Parliament and royalty who were also investors and they lobbied for new laws exempting them from taxes, which they got with not much of a problem. (Any of this starting to sound familiar yet?) The effect of this would be to put their competition in the colonies out of business and by 1773 the colonists had had enough.

One of the catalysts for revolt was the work of an anonymous pamphleteer (something today’s bloggers can surely appreciate) who wrote under the name Rusticus which might be loosely translated today as Joe Six-Pack, or possibly Jane Wine-Box depending on the scribbler’s gender. Rusticus wrote:

“Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Men. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of Gain. The Revenues of Mighty Kingdoms have entered their Coffers. And these not being sufficient to glut their Avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled Barbarities, Extortions, and Monopolies, stripped the miserable Inhabitants of their Property, and reduced whole Provinces to Indigence and Ruin. Fifteen hundred Thousands, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth denied its Fruits; but [because] this Company and their Servants engulfed all the Necessaries of Life, and set them at so high a Price that the poor could not purchase them.”

The rabble had been roused and not long after Boston harbor took on the tint of a nice Earl Grey and a couple years later the revolution was on to free the colonies from the corporate parasites.

Today’s boneheaded baggers seem to have forgotten all that if they ever bothered to learn it in the first place, and Fox News sure as hell isn’t going to remind them. They are clueless as to whose interests they are really serving as they stomp their feet and if they actually were to get what they are asking for, before long they’ll be standing stupefied as their house burns down because they can’t afford to pay the private fire corporation to come put out the flames. Once again the words of the cynical curmudgeon H L Mencken come to mind:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

These Dormice could save themselves a lot of time and effort by simply asking the Queen of Hearts for a trial.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Stemella permalink*
    April 16, 2009 7:41 am

    I read this out loud, because it was such a great little essay. Bravo! Tannin tossers!

    This whole teaparty tango is another example of the Republican’s success with getting their believers to work against their own interests. They are playing on the shallow misdirected “patriotism” based on symbol rather than content. They feed on people’s fears of the other. Through the looking glass, absolutely.

    The thing is, we are all now being manipulated by the Evil grandchild of the BEI Company, the Global Multinational Corporation, with it’s corrupt subsidiaries like Carlyle, Halliburton and the Saudi royals and other tyrants of the world.

    If somehow the sheeple could take that anger at “Taxation” and fear of brown people and join forces with those of us on the left who also shake our fists at the bankers we might actually get somewhere. If only they could see that the Corporatists are the fascists, not the liberals, then maybe we could have real influence on the government, to really deal with the systemic corruption, instead of what I fear may evolve into grassroots civil war. It is in the interests of the small minority of Ultra wealthy corporatists that we rabble be divided. The culture wars were a prelude to something far more destructive that I feel simmering, threatening to boil.

    There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to human beings and our nature. Eventually something will have to give.

    • cometman permalink*
      April 16, 2009 8:16 am

      Thank you and thanks for sparking my interest.

      I wish I knew how to get people like these teabaggers to realize how they are being played. But being cynical, I suspect they probably will never learn, to the detriment of the rest of us who have our eyes open. I’m sure you remember what Mr. Zappa said about people like this over 20 years ago:

      With a big ol lie
      And a flag and a pie
      And a mom and a bible
      Most folks are just liable
      To buy any line
      Any place, any time

      As it was and ever shall be….

  2. Stemella permalink*
    April 16, 2009 7:46 am

    By the way, Rusticus is also a crawdaddy, Orconectes rusticus See a picture here

    Some bloggers are indeed pamphleteers, a proud tradition.

    • cometman permalink*
      April 16, 2009 8:20 am

      I did a search for ‘Rusticus’ when I was writing this to see if there was anything else about this pamphleteer. Only looked at thewiki link, but I did notice the crayfish. Also a butterfly, a spider and a mosquito too along with a bunch of dead romans. No mention of this pamphleteer there. Maybe if some wikipedian runs across this little post they’ll be inspired to update the page.

      • Stemella permalink*
        April 16, 2009 9:36 am

        I saw that Rusticus was mentioned in another Common Dreams article by Hartmann from 2005 where he compares Rusticus to Cindy Sheehan. He mentioned the name George Nicholas, on whom I wasn’t able to find much. He may have been this guy

        GEORGE NICHOLAS, lawyer, soldier and jurist, was probably born in James
        City county, Virginia, about 1743, and died at Lexington in 1799. His
        father, Robert Carter Nicholas, was a distinguished lawyer of that state,
        was treasurer of the colony of Virginia, a member of its council and of
        the house of burgesses.
        George Nicholas commanded a company of Virginian troops in the
        Revolutionary war, subsequently practiced law in Charlottesville, Albemarle
        county, was a leading member of the Virginia convention, assembled for
        the consideration and adoption of the constitution of the federal Union;
        was a member of the Virginia legislature from Albemarle county and had
        taken rank among the first men of that state long prior to his removal to
        Kentucky, in 1787; he settled in Mercer county, near Danville in 1792 and
        framed the constitution under which Kentucky was admitted to the Union.
        Although that convention was composed of the best and most able men then
        living in the state, it has been claimed that he was the leader and
        brightest luminary of all. The first constitution of the state was largely
        his own suggestion, indeed he was reputed to be its author. He had, in
        Virginia, figured conspicuously in a similar convention, associated with
        such men as Madison, Randolph and Patrick Henry, and was soon established
        in the confidence of the people of Kentucky. He was the first attorney
        general of Kentucky, appointed June 15, 1792, but served only about half
        a year. He spent the last years of his life in Lexington and became the
        first law professor in Transylvania University. He was preceptor of many
        illustrious men in the legal profession, Martin D. Hardin, Wm. T. Barry,
        Robert Wickliffe and others having been his pupils. Nicholas county was
        named in his honor. He was a man of great virtue and many noble traits of
        character, was universally beloved throughout the state and was one of the
        most distinguished men and lawyers in the early history of Kentucky.

  3. cometman permalink*
    April 16, 2009 8:51 am

    The big corporations continue to do the same damge Rusticus complained about so long ago when he said this:

    Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Men

    Now 1,500 farmers in India have commetted suicide after being driven to destitution:

    Bharatendu Prakash, from the Organic Farming Association of India, told the Press Association: “Farmers’ suicides are increasing due to a vicious circle created by money lenders. They lure farmers to take money but when the crops fail, they are left with no option other than death.”

    Mr Prakash added that the government ought to take up the cause of the poor farmers just as they fight for a strong economy.

    “Development should be for all. The government blames us for being against development. Forest area is depleting and dams are constructed without proper planning.

    All this contributes to dipping water levels. Farmers should be taken into consideration when planning policies,” he said.

  4. cometman permalink*
    April 16, 2009 9:09 am

    The conventional wisdom in Mediterranean archaeology is that a Dark Age occurred after the end of the Bronze Age as the civilizations of the Homeric heroes fell into ruin. But now archaeologists have found some evidence to question that assumption:

    The discovery of a remarkably well-preserved monumental temple in Turkey — thought to be constructed during the time of King Solomon in the 10th/9th-centuries BCE — sheds light on the so-called Dark Age.

    Uncovered by the University of Toronto’s Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP) in the summer of 2008, the discovery casts doubt upon the traditional view that the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age was violent, sudden and culturally disruptive.

    Ancient sources — such as the Homeric epics and the Hebrew Bible — depict an era of widespread famine, ethnic conflict and population movement, most famously including the migrations of the Sea Peoples (or biblical Philistines) and the Israelites. This is thought to have precipitated a prolonged Dark Age marked by cultural decline and ethnic strife during the early centuries of the Iron Age. But recent discoveries — including the Tayinat excavations — have revealed that some ruling dynasties survived the collapse of the great Bronze Age powers.

    A few years ago while browsing a bookstore I leafed through a book (which I can’t recall unfortunately) which called the premise of a Dark Age into question. The author’s hypothesis was that the pottery sequence used to date various finds was chronologically incorrect. Didn’t dig into it too deep but I found the theory to be a bit far fetched and haven’t heard anybody else call it into question. This latest discovery is interesting but it remains to be seen if this one find will overturn longstanding assumptions based on the work of many many people over a long period of time.

    I have visited Dark Age sites in Greece and they are very different from the sites you see before and after. The ruins are much smaller and located in very remote areas as if the inhabitants were frightened of some threat. The artwork was of a lesser quality and there is not much if any evidence of written language during that period, at least in Greece. I don’t know enough about the rest of the area.

    But then again archaeology isn’t physics, and more excavations may lead to new theories. But until somebody finds a Rosetta Stone giving an account of what actually happened, all anyone will ever be able to do is guess.

    • Stemella permalink*
      April 16, 2009 9:51 am

      The idea does give rise to hope that there have been and always will be pockets of light and learning even when the majority are floundering in madness, blindness and American Idolatry. In spite of how stupid and animalistic I know people to be en masse, I still hold the idealism that there is always light to balance the darkness. I have seen it in my own studies of the ancient past. I have seen it in my journey through life.

      Someday I would like to go to Turkey. It is a fascinating place, a crossroads, a balancing act, throughout history.

  5. cometman permalink*
    April 16, 2009 10:04 pm

    Somebody needs to give the Counterpunch economics writers some more exposure. Maybe CNBC will give them a call. Ha!! Mike Whitney has another good one comparing the recent uptick in the stock markets to how things are going for the rest of us and the numbers he throws out are pretty staggering:

    Retail sales fell in March as fearsome job losses and tighter credit conditions forced consumers to cut back sharply on discretionary spending. Nearly every sector is seeing declines including electronics, restaurants, furniture, sporting goods and building materials. Auto sales continue their nosedive despite aggressive promotions on new vehicles and $13 billion of aid from the federal government. The crash in housing, which began in July 2006, accelerated on the downside in March, falling 19 per cent year-over-year, signaling more pain ahead. Mortgage defaults are rising and foreclosures in 2009 are estimated to be in the 2.1 million range, an uptick of 400,000 from 2008. Consumer spending is down, housing is in a shambles, and industrial output dropped at an annual rate of 20 per cent, the largest quarterly decrease since VE Day. The system-wide contraction continues, with no sign of letting up.

    The markets are up due to all the free money the banks are being handed, the cheerleaders are waving the pom poms, but the fundamentals are still trash and based on some really funny math, which might be hilarious is it weren’t causing so many who aren’t Wall Street execs to hit the unemployment lines. he quotes Bloomberg on Wells fargo whose stock has risen significantly lately:

    “Details were scarce and we believe that much of the positive news in the preliminary results had to do with merger accounting, revised accounting standards and mortgage default moratoriums, rather than underlying trends,” wrote Cannon, who downgraded the shares to “underperform” from “market perform.” “We expect earnings and capital to be under pressure due to continued economic weakness.”

    Of course the happy figures Wells and the others have reported lately are all just “preliminary” and it’s been a while since the second take hasn’t been significantly worse than first reported.

    • Stemella permalink*
      April 16, 2009 10:31 pm

      I saw some pretty staggering indicators for my city lately. Bankruptcies up 120% over last year. Record foreclosures too, after months and months of record foreclosures. Food banks and shelters unable to keep up with the need. Unemployment ever climbing. Crime rate climbing.

      Meanwhile oodles of people, economists, analysists, regular observers of the situation, yell out that the Banks are robbing us with the aid of the Sheriffs of Nottingham. No one seems to give a damn. Obama got a dog. Biden’s gonna think about building us some choo choo’s; they’re both allowing the torture to continue and the scarecrow still doesn’t have a friggin brain as the flying monkeys are dipping their bags in the orifice of Rush Limptyone

      It really is time for the re-appearance of Robin Hood and his merry bands.

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