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Excerpt: "The gap between the Beltway and the economic realities of most Americans can be found in the common Washington framing of households with an annual income of $250,000 - a figure achieved by just the top 1.5 percent - as 'middle class.' It's understandable, since that's not much more than the $174,000 base pay pulled in by rank-and-file members of both houses of Congress. That's how rich our representatives have become."

The US Capitol. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
The US Capitol. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)



OWS Press Team: Cash Corrupted Congress

By Jeff Smith-OWS Press Team, The Daily Beast

28 December 11

 

Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns

 

t's always been about the money. Occupy Wall Street chose to set up its 24-hour outpost of political dissent on the doorstep of the finance industry primarily to underscore the simple fact that money has corrupted our political process so completely that the seat of power in the U.S. isn't even in Washington, D.C. any more. That said, the Capitol continues collecting its cut, as evidenced in this week's double-barreled dispatches, in the Washington Post and the New York Times, on the exploding wealth gap between our ever-more affluent representatives in Congress and the financially flat-lined citizens they represent.

From its inception, OWS has focused on the concept of legalized bribery, as the continually rising cost of a political campaign - an average of $1.4 million for a successful House run, up fourfold in real dollars since 1976, and nearly $10 million for a Senate seat - has been largely subsidized by wealthy donors, corporations and special interests, in return for legislation that favors their interests. It's a form of regulatory capture that most first-world democracies outlaw as corruption, but that Americans know as "the way things are," along with "ask your doctor" pharmaceutical ads and campaigns pitching products directly to young children. The result is an almost total lack of confidence in our elected officials, as reflected by Congress' almost impossibly low 9 percent approval rating.

Even insider-trading laws don't apply to our lawmakers, despite their regular access to valuable market information Joe Citizen will never hear, not to mention their power to tilt markets and pick winners and losers by removing a sentence from this piece of legislation, or adding a clause to that one.

The gap between the Beltway and the economic realities of most Americans can be found in the common Washington framing of households with an annual income of $250,000 - a figure achieved by just the top 1.5 percent - as "middle class." It's understandable, since that's not much more than the $174,000 base pay pulled in by rank-and-file members of both houses of Congress. That's how rich our representatives have become.

While that salary actually has dipped slightly in inflation-adjusted dollars over recent decades, our representatives have kept getting richer. That's both a reflection of the high cost of campaigns that effectively dissuade would-be candidates without ready money of their own or access to it from running, and the private profits many of our elected officials can and do claim once in office.

The freshman class of 106 members elected last year, including many new Tea Party-backed Republicans, had a median net worth of $864,000 - an inflation-adjusted increase of 26 percent from the 2004 freshmen. In the wake of a crushing recession, America's politicians actually were richer, in part so they could foot their share of the bill, along with their donors, for the political ads that are expected to be one of the fastest-growing sources of television advertising revenue in 2012, breaking the spending record set in 2008.

A survey this year by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research found that nearly one in four Americans couldn't come up with even $2,000 in cash within 30 days if he or she had to, while another one in five would have to pawn or sell possessions or take out a payday loan. Compare that with our representatives in Washington' median net worth of $725,000, excluding home equity - up more than 150 percent since 1984 in inflation-adjusted 2009 dollars. Over the same period, the wealth of an American family has declined slightly, with the comparable median figure sliding from $20,600 to $20,500, according to the University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics.

Taxation as a remedy to perpetual wealth is as much a part of the American legacy as a representative government, but the last 30 years have seen both taxes and representation recede. We now have a society with limited social mobility, where the advantages of wealth translate into preferred access to healthcare, education, business, and yes, even the political process.

The fact that Congress is moving away from the rest of the public is exactly why Occupy Wall Street has found such a giant hole in the political conversation to step into, and why our national representatives have kept their distance even when polls showed the public responding powerfully to our complaints and slogans. In a true market of political ideas, we'd have been prime targets for coopting. Instead, President Obama works "99 percent" into his speeches, and business as usual continues.

We now have a society where the advantages of wealth translate into preferred access to healthcare, education, business and yes, even the political process.

Despite such indifference, Occupy Wall Street resonated where previous protests petered out by creating and holding a physical space where it was impossible to avert one's gaze. Members of the general public came to Occupy encampments all over the country to take in the scene and to participate, despite the disinterest shown by politicians and the glib tone of much of the mainstream press coverage. The occupation became an amplifier for those voices - not unlike the people's mic itself - as the encampment in Zuccotti Park meant that a like-minded group in another city was now part of a national story that didn't schedule its own ending like a traditional protest, and couldn't easily be ignored. The 99 percent rediscovered the collective power of our voice, and started using it to make a whole lot of noise.

In 2012, expect to hear more of that noise from Occupy the Caucuses and Occupy Congress. Money talks, but we do too.

 

Comments   

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+33 # bugbuster 2011-12-28 13:48
Worthless aristocrats.
 
 
+25 # Adoregon 2011-12-28 14:01
Axiom:
[Public]Servants never earn or have more than their [true] masters.

This simple axiom should clarify who the true masters of elected officials are and always have been.

Simple.
 
 
+43 # jlohman 2011-12-28 14:37
Today's two-parties are bought and paid for by CEOs seeking deregulations and the defense industry seeking product sales, and we taxpayers are tired of it. Political bribery affects 100% of the issues, starting with wars and taxes. NOTHING happens without it. Being the right thing to do makes it an automatic No No. Good laws do not need cash bribes to flow... only bad laws do.
 
 
+19 # jon 2011-12-28 19:35
"Good laws do not need cash bribes to flow... only bad laws do."

A profound TRUTH, and a rallying cry similar to "Taxation without representation is tyranny".
 
 
+25 # JayMagoo 2011-12-28 16:38
We need names, party affiliations, and districts they represent, and in the case of US Senators, their state. Also include the Congressman's and the Senator's net worth, so we know who is taking the corporate money or buying stocks with insider information. Publish these lists and repeat publishing them again and again. This will be valuable information in the upcoming election year.
If RSN puts these lists out there for election campaign workers, that will be a true and valid use of the First Amendment. Just what the writers of the BIll of Rights intended.
 
 
+21 # Maurjan 2011-12-28 16:39
It is terrifying how the police are being used to abuse and intimidate the Occupiers with riot gear, pepper spray, tasers and brute force, tearing up their encampments.
 
 
+6 # Scott479 2011-12-28 18:51
Don't worry Maurjan, our fearless leader and agent of hope and change President Obama will come down hard on the abusers of free speech-of course that happens to be OWS not the jack booted thugs whom he actually supports.
 
 
+14 # Phlippinout 2011-12-28 20:11
Thank you, I need to know someone is as disgusted as I am. Jack booted thugs is exactly what they are and i hope one day while i still live and breathe, i will see some of these traitors behind bars, no matter what party they hide behind.
 
 
+14 # Tippitc 2011-12-28 20:12
Inside the Beltway Bubble they live in world that you gain access to by selling your heart and soul to the highest bidder. I wonder what it feels like to be a 'Stepford' Congressperson? !
 
 
+10 # foxglove16 2011-12-28 21:22
I feel despondent. We need laws that make all elections publicly funded with strict oversight on fact checking. We need to have absolutely no corporate funding, no anonymous super PACs. We need lobbyists to only be allowed to give public pitches of their position- with facts and figures to back it up- and no more. But without a national referendum process, how can we get these laws proposed, much less passed, when every member of congress has personal reasons to prevent the end of their gravy train? Any one out there have any suggestions about how we can put an end to this? A suggestion that won't get us all up thrown in a deep hole up when the so called Patriot Act lets the government bug our phones, follow our movements by GPS, and otherwise grind us under their well funded heels. A suggestion that takes into account the ignorance and apathy the government relies on from a large proportion of the population.
I'm not a wacko (ask the little voice in my head! ;-) But the system is FUBAR and I don't see how to change it. I still vote Democratic, because the Republicans are more corrupt than the Dems. They will make our decline into a majority in poverty quicker than the Democrats. So far, 3rd parties and voter boycotts only get the ones you hate worse elected.
 
 
+5 # Laurenceofberk 2011-12-29 02:56
I feel for you and with you Foxglove. The system is FUBAR.
But it's been going on now for hundreds of years. It's not going to vanish overnight.
Our biggest problem at this time is that we have fallen out of the habit of face to face community. Only community and solidarity can overthrow or even change an armed plutocracy.
So our job is clear. We have to ORGANIZE communities: at work, in our neighborhoods, schools, everywhere. Even if we don't win our immediate battles, if we have gotten more people to TALK to each other, we are moving forward. Occupy is a good beginning. Now we have to take the experience of the general assembly everywhere we go.
We have to set up schools and forums for organizers, so we can learn the best methods.
Don't despair. Every moment that we are becoming more human, which means to communicate and LISTEN, we move closer to a new world. It will take time, but along the way there will be sudden, unexpected accelerations, as with Occupy itself.
 
 
+2 # wrodwell 2011-12-29 00:02
There's been enough talk; time for meaningful action. Next step: descend on Washington, DC, invade Congress and throw the bums out. Ditto with the Supreme Court and the Executive office. The entire political system is irredeemably corrupt and rotten and needs to be discarded so we can start anew. Nothing else will do the job right, so why wait until the next election. "Elect" to make something happen NOW.
 
 
+3 # Doubter 2011-12-29 13:36
There is an increase in cries for direct drastic action.
Only when this becomes an avalanche and the great majority rebels will change be effected.
 
 
-2 # CHFels 2011-12-29 09:02
The thrust of this article is correct, of course, but the idea that congressional salaries make one "rich" is just absurd. Quote:
"[$250,000 is] not much more than the $174,000 base pay pulled in by rank-and-file members of both houses of Congress. That's how rich our representatives have become.

While that salary actually has dipped slightly in inflation-adjus ted dollars over recent decades..."
UnQuote

$174,000, as a *family* income, IS middle class, and is definitely NOT too much to pay for the highest legislators in the country. A family with two parents that are high-school teachers can easily make as much, in many districts. Since this family will pay almost as high a tax rate as bank CEOs, what they take home leaves them just middle class - not even upper middle class.

And pretty much the same is true of a family earning $250,000, although they are obviously a bit better off, and might be called "upper middle class" (barely). If only 1.5% of American families earn more, that just goes to show how badly the middle class has been ravaged in the U.S. since 1980: we are a nation of 75% poor people, a shrinking middle class, and an incredibly wealthy aristocracy. Welcome to the banana republic.
 
 
+9 # ericlipps 2011-12-29 10:10
Quoting CHFels:
The thrust of this article is correct, of course, but the idea that congressional salaries make one "rich" is just absurd. $174,000, as a *family* income, IS middle class, and is definitely NOT too much to pay for the highest legislators in the country. A family with two parents that are high-school teachers can easily make as much, in many districts. Since this family will pay almost as high a tax rate as bank CEOs, what they take home leaves them just middle class - not even upper middle class.

And pretty much the same is true of a family earning $250,000, although they are obviously a bit better off, and might be called "upper middle class" (barely). If only 1.5% of American families earn more, that just goes to show how badly the middle class has been ravaged in the U.S. since 1980: we are a nation of 75% poor people, a shrinking middle class, and an incredibly wealthy aristocracy. Welcome to the banana republic.


I suppose it depends on what you're willing to define as "middle class." Writing as someone whose salary is just over $40,000 a year, I find it hard to muster much sympathy for people, or even couples, making four, five, or six times as much who want to be accepted as merely "middle" class. Doing so broadens the "middle" so far as to make it meaningless.
 
 
+5 # Banichi 2011-12-29 16:32
This is a very good article, defining pretty well the differences between 'middle class' as Washington sees it and the rest of the real 99%, never mind the 1% who don't give a s**t. My best year in Info Tech as a consultant I grossed under $100k and thought I was doing fabulous. I am now living on SS plus a little bit I make as a computer tech, and the downhill slope to that has been brutal. All my 'retirement' savings went to try to stave off losing my house, which finally went anyway. I am grateful to be able to find a roommate situation I can afford while I try to make ends meet. I used to call myself a Democrat, but no more. I am a Progressive in that I agree that both parties are bought and paid for, and that it doesn't matter what political brand you profess to be if you are really only a clown and a dingo (Aussie scavenger dog).

People - citizens, no consumers - are waking up to rage. Is the Big Lie Machine going to win in 2012? Maybe...unless we all stand together, the Constitution and Bill of Rights will be dead.
 
 
+5 # mwd870 2011-12-30 07:45
Yes, it has always been about the money. There is something especially ugly about the concept of legalized bribery and how members of Congress are finding ways to enrich themselves. I couldn't believe it when the information came out that insider-trading laws don't apply to our lawmakers. Are they really our lawmakers? The insider-trading practices have to change. Our esteemed Congress should not be above any laws.

In the meantime, we hear talking points from both sides over and over with almost no action to back it up. Congress is being paid to work for the people, but they spend their time fundraising and cultivating relationships with the 1%. We should be proud of those in Congress who care really about what is happening in this country.

Citizen consumers are waking up. It is critical for the majority of Americans to understand and support the movement to get money out of politics, including Administration advisors and policy makers. The revolving door has to be closed permanently.
 

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