Ayn Rant

There is a new protest movement swelling in America, and it is fed up.

It is tired of inequality. It's tired of those who have been bailed out by taxpayers not giving anything back to the economy. It is a righteous group, full of anger.

No, I'm not talking about Occupy Wall Street's 99%. I am speaking, of course, about the 53%, a counter-protest movement to the 99%. What makes the 53% different is that it's not a reaction to economic injustice. In fact, I doubt it would exist at all were it not for the success of the 99%.

As far as I can tell:

The name "53%" refers to the percentage of the population that pays Federal Income taxes. If the group's legitimacy as a struggling middle class movement is to be believed, the 53% is pushing down resentfully toward those at the bottom who are perceived as freeloaders, and asking those same at the bottom, or anyone grappling with this job market, to suck it up and get a job. Again, it's a counter protest movement, and its existence is not dependent on some innate injustice. Once the 53% sucks the steam out of the 99%, it's going to scurry back into its hole.

According to this CNN story, the 53% don't believe in Government handouts. Also, according to CNN, the 53% movement feels that people need to "stop complaining about the Government and financial institutions and start looking for work." There you have it, folks. Take Herman Cain's advice and just 'blame yourself.'

It seems to me that 53% is a way for people to express their frustrations with the economy. Only problem is, a simplistic, intolerant and naive view on poverty and unemployment does a disservice to the a myriad valid reasons the OWS movement has gained momentum.

I think what this 53% movement doesn't realize is, the advice they're giving to job seekers - 'take any job you can get and stop whining' - assumes that the unemployed in this country haven't been walking down this road for many years already. Some people - college graduates with specialized degrees - can't even get a job serving coffee or flipping burgers. Yes, it's that bad. Unemployment here in the Valley is officially over 9 percent, but the actual figure is closer to 15 percent. That number hasn't emerged because people are getting lazier. There are other forces at work.

I can't and won't speak for all the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) Protesters. I can't vouch for everyone participating. It's a broad movement with all kinds of people. It doesn't have many talking points other than the anecdote about Warren Buffet's secretary paying more in taxes than he does.

Last week, Jon Stewart, in an interview with Al Sharpton, expressed unease at 99's more theatrical elements, saying they detract from a huge component of OWS: Wall Street sent this country down the river and got a free pass while the rest of the us bailed them out.

I don't know if the OWS participants are choosing not to work. The ones I know are either employed, employed part-time, or full time students. Maybe they have lots of PTO saved up, or if they show up to protest in their off hours. For instance, I have enough PTO to wander off for about two months and do nothing. I just don't know, and the media hasn't done a great job serving this up. I don't know how many of them are trust fund babies, street people, 'freeloaders' or 'dirty hippies.' They don't want handouts from the Government. I don't know how they feel about personal responsibility, but their actions - showing up somewhere to protest economic injustice and unfairness, shows a great deal of civic responsibility. They are exercising their right to assemble and their right to free speech, much like the Tea Party. Many OWSers don't like Capitalism, but you might be surprised to learn that many of them think Capitalism actually has a place in our society. What we object to is Crony Capitalism, Banana Republic Capitalism, Plutocracy, and Meritocracy.

This year I will pay more in federal income taxes than I ever have, more taxes than many Americans. I believe in personal responsibility. But that term is loaded now. Let me rephrase. I believe in Corporate responsibility - and since Corporations are people, it means personal responsibility. I believe that it's possible for Corporations to employ sustainable business models that, over time, benefit the communities they inhabit and don't squander labor or resources in the process. I don't think there's a quick fix.I also feel that many Corporations, if left entirely to their own devices in an environment of deregulation, will choose the easy, destructive, exploitative route, and this is where Government should play a role.

I don't want to blame everyone else for my station in life. I'm not rich, and I will never be. I will likely never have a nice house, or live without fear of where my next paycheck is coming from. I'm okay with that, but even with good health insurance and a 401k, everything feels perilous. I'm being dogged about medical bills I don't owe because the health care bureaucracy has failed me. My retirement fund lost 40% of its value in the last six months, and is continuing to fall. I'm not whining about it; I accept it, but I don't like it.

I feel that the Government should play a role in peoples' lives, but that Government assistance should not act as a replacement for a paycheck. I feel that the right-wing is absolutely correct when they blame the breakdown of the family as a huge evil in the world, but that they undercut their own argument when they step in and start moralizing about their constricted definition of family.

I feel that policies of Government assistance, as applied to Student Loan recipients, welfare recipients, and others living just at or below their means, should be balanced and fair enough to dissuade systematic abuse, but strong enough to have an impact. In other words, I believe in things a lot of Americans believe in: compassion & moderation in social policy. Believe it or not, if this was the 1970s, or any time prior, I would be a moderate. Now, amid this Zeitgeist of resurgent Libertarianism, I'm seen as a raging liberal, and the mainstream conservatives are all Ayn Rand acolytes who claim, against all historical evidence, that FDRs New Deal ruined America.

Crafting new "New Deal" policies, especially in this gridlocked political environment, is not possible. I think the OWS movement stems partially from a reaction to inaction on the part of Congress, who, led by the fanatically Objectivist Paul Ryan and his Libertarian colleagues in the Tea Party Caucus, has obstructed each and every attempt for even the most moderate - by historical standards - legislation. Ryan is the most doggedly on-point spokesperson for the severe ideology that has gridlocked out political process. We haven't seen the last of this man. He will run for President at some point, and there is a good chance he could win.

Paul Ryan consolidated his belief structure into this simple statement:

"Telling Americans that they're stuck in their current station in life, that they're a victim of circumstances beyond their control, and that the government's role is to help them cope with it. That's not who we are; that's not what we do." 

Ryan went on to describe what he feel is the 'fatal conceit of Liberalism:'

"[Liberals feel that] money and wealth made and created in America is the government's unless they benevolently spend it back to people. It's the other way around. No one is suggesting that we don't need good schools and roads and infrastructure as a basis for a free society and a free enterprise system. But the notion that the nucleus of society is the government and not the individual, the family, the entrepreneur, is to me just completely, inherently backwards."

Ryan erects so many straw men arguments in that indictment of what he feels is 'Liberalism' that he now commands a grand Straw Man Army. I speak for the Liberals he indicts, and I can say for sure that I don't feel Government should be the nucleus of society, but as as a force for regulating wildly out of control industries and tamping down extreme monopolistic impulses, government has value. Liberals aren't, as Ryan asserts, diminishing the value of the individual, the entrepreneur or the small business owner.

No Liberal I know, and certainly no one I've spoken to who has taken to the streets, feels that money and wealth created in America belongs to Government. It's an absurd notion, one that no reasonably intelligent person would assert. It's also absurd to assert that Government's role is to first tell people they're powerless, then help them manage their powerlessness. That may be the unintended consequence of Democratic policies that don't work, but as a Liberal with a so-called 'fatal conceit' in my thinking, I find it interesting that I don't agree with Ryan's premise of my thinking at all.

This is the problem with fanatics like Ryan, who, in the fact of philosophical arguments, responding by making presumptuous, grandiose assertions about the ways Liberals think. He speaks in extremes, is clearly frustrated by what he feels is a destructive philosophical agenda on the other side, and instead of coming to the table and finding common ground, he tries an intellectual take down of the other side, something that politics rarely makes room for. It's counter-productive. Then, Ryan has the nerve to accuse the other side of solely using divisive rhetoric and making intellectual lazy, straw man arguments. He is doing the same thing, and for a man as clearly sharp and focused as Ryan, I'm shocked he doesn't see the hypocrisy.

Much of your take on the origins of the growing class divide in this country hinges on whether you feel, as I do, that racism and poverty have institutional roots that, despite huge strides in our society, have poisoned the soil. Poverty and repression has a paralytic effect on people, and effect exacerbated by regressive policies. Economic injustice is a prison in which people who lack the proper representation go nuts and lose perspective. Giving them a voice - and in turn giving them opportunities in their communities - can reverse the slide. Unfortunately, this sort of empowerment has been demonized as 'community activism' and unnecessary and wasteful social programs. The people who disagree with me feel that the best way to discourage poverty and unemployment and Government dependence is to yank it away and scold those at the bottom for not doing enough, not doing better, not working harder.

Even if you assume - and I do not - that everyone below the poverty line is there out of laziness and a lack of initiative, there are actual, real problems in our society that would explain much of it. It's tough, and rooted deep enough, so that pointing your finger and ordering 'get a job!' isn't going to solve the problem.

That said, I don't think poor people are 'lazy. I feel that there are lazy people in our society, but lazy crosses all class boundaries. I think you can be fat, happy and rich, and lazy, and unwilling to examine your culpability or re-think your worldview. I think you can also be poor and pissed off and unwilling to examine your own culpability. The word 'lazy' has racial and generational connotations that have to be quantified with examples and evidence, and groups like this 53% are banking on you not doing that. They are also banking that you won't dissect their oft-used term 'job creator,' which is actually code for 'rich person.'

If you disagree with me, you likely feel that things like racism and sexism are not generally institutional. You likely feel that the paralysis of poverty, or the frustration all across the job market right now, or the notions of unequal opportunity for many born beneath a certain station is all just a fairy tale concocted by people who desperately want to blame everybody but themselves for their station in life.

Candidates like Herman Cain want to tell you that because his story is remarkable - and it is - that everyone else can accomplish what he did with enough elbow grease. I believed that was true for a long time. No longer. People do rise up from humble beginnings and find success, but society just isn't set up for everyone to make that meteoric rise. We have to account for the fact that society is going to have members who need more help than others, and it's not about handouts.

The 53% believe in personal responsibility. Those of us pissed off about inequality in this country do not do anybody a service by scolding the poor for being poor, or by scolding the disenfranchised for not using tools that society has constructed to help them get out of poverty. You know why? Because those very tools have been stripped away.

Why is the 99% angry? Why am I angry?

Watch this to find out.

The 53% might be surprised to notice that we aren't upset about Government. We are upset about Corporate takeover of Government, and the systematic dismantling of our regulatory system, trade laws and corrupt financial instruments. We are upset about the entanglement of water, energy and oil with the very financial institutions that tanked the housing market. We're upset about trade imbalance. All this happened under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, and it paved the way for the Bank collapse. The collapse was not an accident, but a direct result of instruments devised to make money from outrageous risk. Money from risk is gambling, and gambling is not new, but money from risk acquired through consumer deception, or at worst, consumer fraud, is illegal and flat-out wrong. The meltdown this country - and other countries like Iceland - experienced was due to unprecedented, top heavy risk devised to make a very small group of people very, very rich.

As we all know, it didn't work out for the financial institutions, or for us, the 99%, but they got away with it. We taxpayers bailed them out. There were few high profile prosecutions, contrary to what Tim Geitner says. And our cost of living is going up while our wages remain stagnant. So we're pissed. Some took to the streets. The genie was out of the bottle, and our purpose was to express and vent our outrage, and for some of us, illuminate the issues. The 53% movement, which consists almost entirely of twitter and tumbler feeds, would go away tomorrow if the 99% ceased to exist, because it's sole reason for being is to provide an Objectivist counterpoint to anything we're saying, as communicated through means that we devised. It's brilliant.

Economic justice may take the form of Corporate regulation, job assistance, programs devised to empower the powerless, or a change in the tax code, but keeping things the way they are is not an option. I find it utterly amazing that my Libertarian colleagues can sit back and scold the less fortunate in our society - or those of us who represent them - for not being smart enough to understand a system that has failed them, for not doing enough to change their own circumstances, or for not discovering a voice and finding strength to change their  circumstances. This is exactly what Occupy Wall Street is all about. We tried the other methods. We tried sucking it up. We tried working in the confines of the system, their way, and it led us to the edge of the abyss.

Expressing our discontent in this manner was the next natural step, and not only that, but our right as free citizens. It's messy, it's full of constructive and destructive voices, but - like the Tea Party - it has the right to join the National dialog. Time has not yet revealed the usefulness or prescience of its messages, but the way those messages have resonated with so many around the country is proof positive that it's far more than a silly mob, or a group of do-nothing hippies and useful idiots.


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