Occupy Wall Street vs. Tea Party

By: hawkgrrrl
October 25, 2011

A recent article contrasted the Occupy Wall Street movement with the Tea Party movement.  Both groups are angry, loud, and demanding change; both groups feel the financial bind of the recession and believe reform is needed to alleviate their situation.  One of the key differences highlighted was that OWS blames corporations (and government for not regulating them) while the Tea Party blames government directly (and taxation that supports government programs).  Given that, it’s also interesting to note that Tea Partiers have been more likely to make change within the system by electing their own (although that could certainly be an eventual outcome for the Wall Street Occupiers). 

 The way I would characterize the two movements is that the Occupy Wall Street movement overthinks things while the Tea Party underthinks them.  OWS (seriously, check this link for some whacked up nonsense in the OWS movement) is too consensus driven and indecisive whereas the Tea Party is decisive to a fault, knee-jerk and stubborn – dare I say, crotchety?  Both groups have their cranks and wing-nuts.  But the movements are full of the same moral outrage at the economic situation.

This weekend, an article in the Straits Times talked about why this movement that has been so successful globally didn’t fly in Singapore. Some of these reasons are related to the Singaporean culture of saving face, not wanting to go to a movement unless everyone else is (or the bathroom, for that matter), and feeling that the movement’s unclear objectives make it destined to fail.  However, the other reason the movement didn’t get off the ground in Singapore is that Singapore is thoroughly devoted to capitalism and does not villify banking; even if Singaporeans forget where their bread is buttered (and at 2% unemployment, the bread is sufficiently buttery), Singapore won’t let them forget.  In addition to discouraging grass roots protests, the government is also very quick to respond to concerns raised by citizens, and obviously problems can be a little simpler to solve in a country the size of Manhattan. One criticism the author of the OP levied that I had to take exception to is the Asian stereotyped view of the West that the Wall Street Occupiers didn’t do the hard work required to get ahead in life.  In conclusion, the author of the OP deemed OWS a “pity party.”  That may be accurate, but that doesn’t mean pity isn’t warranted.

There are some legitimate complaints, IMO.  College education has gotten increasingly expensive, with less and less return on that investment as the supply of certain jobs (especially high paying jobs) has outgrown demand for those jobs.  Many well-educated and hard working students can’t find a job in the field they’ve spent years studying and mortgaged their future to pay for.  Additionally, due to this job supply and demand misalignment, solutions will likely take another generation to bear fruit, leaving this generation lost, faring worse than preceding ones.  CEO pay has grown disproportionately higher than average workers’ pay.  And gap-riddled government regulations have allowed inexperienced, incompetent and dishonest people to make ill-advised decisions that make markets unstable in the long-term.  When a majority of companies in an industry post record short term gains due to toxic investment strategies, even smart companies that generally avoid those unsustainable risks are forced to take steps to mitigate the impact to their stock price and protect investors.  Our over-reliance on the market to right itself left us vulnerable to these types of mistakes.  Those who look to government to fix the corporations should bear in mind that government is the same “corporation” that routinely overspends its budget and fails accounting audits.  Physician, heal thyself!

There is some faulty thinking behind these movements also.  Both are quick to criticize, but slow to diagnose and even slower to find real solutions forward. 

The idea of the 99% vs. the 1% is also a bit of an oversimplification, although it makes for a nice slogan.  Is the 1% based on earnings or based on net worth?  Any way you slice it, income tax goes up the more money you earn.  Sales tax, OTOH, is often a lower percentage of total earnings for the wealthy because the lower earners are spending more (if not all) of their income.  The higher earners are putting a chunk of those earnings into savings, which is why taxes paid by them are higher on income but lower when retail taxes are included. 

Of course, the 1% is a pretty big group, regardless of which way it is defined:  one in every 100 Americans.  According to Washington Post, that’s a group that includes CEOs making over $30M per annum along with any middle level managers or small business owners making $516K + per annum (including bonuses, investments, capital gains, etc.) as a household.  I doubt these folks are running into each other at cocktail parties in the Hamptons or outbidding one another in auctions at Christie’s.  If based on net worth, the top 1% includes only those who have $14M or more socked away, which seems a fairer way to cut it.  If the 1% is based on geographical area, top 1% of earners in NYC are much higher than the national average (over $1M per annum income), but how could they not be when a studio apartment in Manhattan costs the same as a mansion in Dubuque?

CNN puts that threshold quite a bit lower:  just under $345K per annum in 2009.  Why the discrepancy?  Possibly because CNN is based on IRS records, and the lowest earners don’t pay income tax.  If they are disincluded, it will skew the cutoff point downward. According to CNN, the top 1% earned 17% of the nation’s wealth (not the much touted 42%, even with the lower cutoff) and paid 37% of the taxes.  31% of these top earners are executives and managers in non-financial fields; just under 16% work in health care, and over 8% are lawyers. Either way, the 1% is not that easy to nail down.

There has also been criticism of the OWS group’s tactics.  One article noted that Occupiers made a mess of a Walmart in Texas, lobbying for better union representation; yet the people who had to clean up the mess were the very people they were claiming are victimized by Walmart.  Additionally, some have expressed concern about the inconsistency between a term like “occupy,” generally used to describe military takeovers, and participants singing the Beatles’ anthem, “Give peace a chance.”  Although Occupy Wall Streeters have been loath to be confined to one party, many have observed that they are the Tea Party of the Left (which may be apt since the Tea Party is to the right of the right).

The final criticism of the OWS group is its failure to articulate demands and its hesitancy to name leaders or ally with existing leaders.  It’s a movement that wants to govern by consensus, even if that means it can only run as quickly as its slowest or most outlying member.  In that regard, the movement parallels the National Assembly during the French Revolution, a movement of sans-culottes dedicated to decrying their condition, the wealthy, and the ineffectual government, but without an understanding of how to get out of the economic spiral.  I doubt we’ll see beheadings without a Robespierre, though.  I suppose Occupy Wall Street is to the National Assembly what Mock U.N. is to the actual U.N.:  a bit of educational theater, but not a revolution that creates a new form of government.  Yet protest can be a catalyst to change.  It can be the spark that lights the fire that lights another fire that eventually spreads to another building and burns something down in the process.  Protest may not get exactly what it’s after (difficult to do when demands have still not been articulated), but it does add punctuation and tone to a conversation.

What do you think will be the result?  What will it take to get the economy back on track and to get the unemployment rate back to pre-recession levels?  Do you ally with either the Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party movement or neither and why?  Discuss.

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24 Responses to Occupy Wall Street vs. Tea Party

  1. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 25, 2011 at 5:58 AM

    Funny, Texas basically executed Arthur Anderson. You can do that to corporations. Texas puts them out of their misery all the time.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 25, 2011 at 5:59 AM

    “the movements are full of the same moral outrage at the economic situation.”

    A point made by one of the republicans interviewed by NPR — he commented that the two movements had a lot in common and he respected them for it.

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  3. Eric Nielson on October 25, 2011 at 6:49 AM

    What do you think will be the result?

    I think one result is that it will push the two parties farther apart – which might be a good thing.

    What will it take to get the economy back on track and to get the unemployment rate back to pre-recession levels?

    From an American perspective, I think we need to do something to balance outsourcing to other countries. I hate to say that, but I am afraid the free market has sprung a leak, and to much capital is leaving the system insted of getting to the laborer.

    Do you ally with either the Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party movement or neither and why?

    I am sympathetic to some of the core complaints of both camps. Both government and corporate America have greed and corruption involved.

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  4. Mike S on October 25, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    What do you think will be the result?
    It will fizzle.

    What will it take to get the economy back on track and to get the unemployment rate back to pre-recession levels?

    Do you ally with either the Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party movement or neither and why?
    Neither. The system is broken, but it reflects an underlying greed of the American people.

    For example, many bankers made a lot of money financing mortgages to people who didn’t really qualify. But it takes A LOT of work to buy/refinance a house. I know MANY, MANY people who bought and “flipped” houses because it was an easy way to make money. I know many people who treated their houses as banks and took money out to buy “things”. As a country, our household savings rate is around 0-1%, and has been low for years. We spend, spend, spend, spend.

    Our average house size has increased from under 1000 square feet in the 1950s to over 2500 square feet, while our family size has decreased. We generally don’t have a single black-and-white TV, but multiple TVs. We have cell phones and internet and microwaves. Since 1969 (in my lifetime) we have gone from 1.16 vehicles per household to 1.89. And the number of vehicles per licensed driver went from 0.7 to 1.06 (we have more vehicles than licensed drivers to drive them). We are society that wants what we want, and we want it now.

    Half the people in the country pay little in tax, yet want more benefits. People want more healthcare than we have money to pay for. Trends for social security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. are all terrible. But no one will ever fix it. Politicians are too scared for their jobs to make real changes. People are too beholden to their benefits to accept real changes.

    My prediction, we won’t do ANYTHING significant. Maybe shave a few tens of billions here and there, but ultimately that’s like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. Ultimately, it will collapse and reestablish at a new, lower equilibrium. And Chinese will be the dominant language in the world for trade and commerce.

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  5. hawkgrrrl on October 25, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    Mike S: “Our average house size has increased from under 1000 square feet in the 1950s to over 2500 square feet, while our family size has decreased.” Yeah, but in our defense, obesity is at an all time high!

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  6. salt h2o on October 25, 2011 at 9:16 AM

    You should also check into why Singapore’s Health Care costs are so low- but then again, why would we ever follow a working model? (cough cough..TX v. CA)

    My question with the Occupy Movement is: If your occupation of something is to prove a point- what will make you leave? Protesting Vietnam was easy- end Vietnam. This Occupy movement can’t articulate what will make them go away. Hard to give them what they want when they don’t know what it is.

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  7. Heber13 on October 25, 2011 at 9:46 AM

    I happened to be in NYC this past weekend, and was able to visit the progress on the World Trade Center buildings and memorials, and also the OWS display.

    WTC was inspiring, how the government and many corporations are donating millions and hundreds of millions to rebuild something better out of a true tragedy…something that helps me remember our threats in this world, and makes me proud to be an American that no matter what crisis we face, we pick ourselves back up and move to a better tomorrow.

    OWS was a grimy group of hippy-looking people playing music and screaming (and stinking…phew…talk about a whole block of BO…nasty). We took some pictures of some of their signs and banners, and even after getting home and showing the rest of my family…we couldn’t decipher what the signs meant, let alone what the OWS message is or what it stands for. There is no clear message.

    Perhaps the government and corporations get greedy and corrupt…but they seem to be a lot more effective than taking over wall street in a Woodstock-like fashion.

    My opinion…nothing will come of it. People just like to have something they believe in and have their voice heard. But real change will come from the organized political parties that are able to cater to these voices, and other more important voices, while doing other constructive work.

    The 9/11 memorial buildings and parks will truly be amazing when completed. That is the beacon of hope that inspires me to future progress in this country.

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  8. Heber13 on October 25, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    Mike S: “Our average house size has increased from under 1000 square feet in the 1950s to over 2500 square feet, while our family size has decreased.”

    I just heard a report that the predictions are homes will decrease in size and average closer to 2100 sq ft. in the next 10 yrs.

    We may get greedy…but we seem to learn from real market forces and adapt, as many people will continue to downsize to more practical living standards, and require government to balance budgets in a fiscally responsible way.

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  9. Will on October 25, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    Class envy, especially when it is supported by a political leader, has almost always resulted in diaster. The economy will not recover until private investors start investing their money. Private investors will not invest until they see an environment that will result in a return on their investment. The idea of going after the people that create jobs has always seemed stupid too me.

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  10. jmb275 on October 25, 2011 at 2:00 PM

    Re Hawk-
    Very nice and timely post. I have a few comments:
    1. I guess I think it so absurd that there is not a direct answer about the economy. Has the economic science done nothing for us in 50 years? We are having the same stale debate that Mises and Keynes were having decades ago. I understand the economy is an extremely complex system, but it feels strange to me to be debating the correctness of such old theories. If there has been progress, then it certainly isn’t making it to the ears of even informed (but not expert) Americans.

    2. I’m largely on-board with Mike S. I watched as people bought $1.3 million homes that lost 50% of their value in 2 years time. I watched them put a pool in their back yard funded by their continually devaluing house. I watched them buy new BMWs, and other luxury cars. It’s insane!! Can the gov’t fix it? I highly highly doubt it as the gov’t is the worst economic actor in the entire economy. Can the free market fix it? Yes, but only at the expense of great pain and suffering particularly by the poor who are universally the victims of either capitalism, or gov’t intervention despite everyone’s good efforts.

    3. I sympathize with the ideals of both movements, but I tend to be more capitalism oriented because I believe strongly in meritocracy.

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  11. James on October 25, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    Hawkgrrrl, in the OP you stated “According to CNN, the top 1% earned 17% of the nation’s wealth (not the much touted 42%, even with the lower cutoff)”

    There is some confusion on the statistics here that I wanted to mention. The 17% figure is specifically in terms of income (as indicated by your term “earned.”), while the 42% figure is in terms of wealth held, not simply income. So the 17% figure is not a refutation of the 42% figure; they are simply each about separate things, the former about income and the latter about accumulated wealth.

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  12. prometheus on October 25, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    “The idea of going after the people that create jobs has always seemed stupid to me.”

    I agree to an extent, Will. However, I think that when the people who create jobs are willing to commit murder, fraud, and wholesale environmental destruction to make more money, they need to be neutralized and removed from power.

    Are there good corporations, led by decent people trying to make a decent product? Absolutely. Are there evil corporations, existing only to steal as much as they can? Absolutely.

    The main problem is, that the people who make the jobs have fewer and fewer restraints placed on what lengths they can go to in order to turn a profit. And we all know what power does to us….

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  13. jmb275 on October 26, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    Here’s the thing about the job creators. People (corporations) only create jobs if it’s in their best interest. I think it is naturally assumed by free-market proponents (myself included) that the rich want to get richer and the way to do that in a capitalistic society is to invest in companies or otherwise create jobs to grow a company. And that theory holds a lot of the time. But the free-market doesn’t force anyone to do anything (unlike the gov’t). As a result, we have to acknowledge that sometimes the rich won’t create jobs. Sometimes they’ll just sit on their piles of money.

    My point is, it’s a very naive view to think that if we just don’t touch the money of the wealthy that more jobs will be created. In fact, if I were rich, and were interested in making more money, I would do what is being done – outsource! Creating jobs in our country has to be in part a function of our manufacturing base and overall economic health. And the truth is, we’re a nation build on consumerism, NOT manufacturing.

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  14. Douglas on October 26, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    Whether it’s 17% that the top 1% have as the portion of total income, OR 42% of total wealth, it all boils down to the same thing, as John Houseman put it, they “URRNED” (earned) it!! To me, the argument is as silly as decrying how much a top notch major leaguer like Albert Pujols pulls down when the overwhelming majority of professional ballplayers have short careers where they make less than $30K a year. Obviously it’s because in the eyes of the team that inks his contract Mr. Pujols is worth it! And so it goes throughout all facets of the economy. Granted, with what seems to be outrageous compensation packages for corporate fat cats, especially when their companies do not perform well, it does seem wrong, but is that not for the stockholders to deal with? Of course, ever more the reason to decrease Federal spending (less contracts) and definitely stop the bailouts, which seem to mostly bail out the big boys.
    Likewise, as long as there continues to be an entitlement mentality in this country, especially receiving largess directly from Uncle Sam, we’ll continue to slip further behind our foreign competitors. It’s not just the “welfare hos” and their gaggles of brats (future gang bangers and welfare mothers), it pervades all facets of society. Case in point is a recent AARP commercial..”there’s fifty million of us, we’re watching, and we vote…” and like a bunch of self-centered idiots, they’ll continue to vote for Uncle to sustain them via “Social In-Security” and Medicare in spite of the its financial inviability. Our Seniors could care less that figuratively they are “eating their young”, as long as they can play golf and live carefree “golden years”! Folks, it ALL has to stop. Eventually, it will, just perhaps if the idiots in DC persist in the present course the inevitable fall will be all the much worse!
    I’m reminded of an analogous situation described by the fictional Gen. “Buck” Turgidson in “Dr. Strangeglove”. When the National Security Council is meeting in the War Room (where you’d couldn’t have a fist fight, paradoxically), the General proposes sending in the rest of SAC on the hells of the renegade B-52 wing, asserting that an analysis of that particular scenario indicated a strong chance of catching the Soviet air defenses off-guard. The President naturally objects to this unprovoked strike. The General responds that in his opinion the USA was at a “moment of truth”, with an unpleasant reality that nuclear war was imminent, and the choice boiled down to whether there would be 20 million or 150 million Americans killed. Likewise I assert that the steps that will be necessary to fix what’s broken will be unpleasant for most if not all, but the alternative if action is not taken ASAP will get exponentially more dire if the present reckless course is maintained. My fear is that neither the jackass party nor the elephants have the inclination or imagination to do other than accelerate this once great nation to oblivion.

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  15. prometheus on October 27, 2011 at 8:06 AM

    Douglas, this is my huge problem with the corporatist monopoly we live in today. At what point does a CEO “earn” a salary 400 times greater than an employee? Entitlement? Yes, let’s talk about the entitlement the rich feel to be rich, when in many cases they either inherited their wealth or are ludicrously remunerated for their work.

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  16. Geoff - A on October 28, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    What does a CEO do to “earn” an incredible salary except negotiate it in the first place. Do they have more stress? don’t think so.
    I don’t believe there should be more than a factor of 10 between the lowest and highest paid workers.

    Interesting that the European solutions include banks not being paid back fully, and shareholders not getting their dividend rather than the poor suffering for the mistakes of the rich.

    Could America do the same? Why not?

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  17. Douglas on October 29, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    #15 and #16 – at least I can address collectively those that paste the “Mean People Suck” sticker on their cars’ rear bumpers…
    If you feel that a particular company’s top management is improperly (re: excessively) compensating their top management, then, for pity’s sake, don’t buy their products/services and don’t invest in their stock! Ever heard of the power of the market? What the hell would you propose as an alternative, other than to bitch and whine about the “rich”? Some Communistic/Socialist system of levelling out the outcomes for incomes, which has proven time and time again to make everyone “equally” poor? Envy truly is one of the most cancerous sins, since it causes the envious to often unfairly judge those that have (maybe they worked harder, or took greater risks?).
    Even though there is definitely hard times out there (and Northern CA has taken it on the chin), there is STILL great opportunity. Though there may be a recession/depression out there, I’ve determined not to participate.

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  18. Geoff - A on October 30, 2011 at 12:49 AM


    To comment or question to appropriateness of executive salaries is not necessarily bitching, whining or envying. Is it not posible to question/discuss without being labeled in such a manner.

    I would also point out that where banks were regulated to a greater degree than in America we did not get into such a mess.

    In spite of your positive attitude and support for the wealthy, do you really believe someone can work 1000 times harder or smarter than you do, which is the question?

    When you talk of countries that do regulate their banks and other socialist activities like providing healthcare for their citizens, and make everyone equally poor, are you thinking of places like Germany or Australia?

    As for envy, it’s not that much different from aspiration, but has very little to do with a discussion on whether anyone can “earn” a salary over a million a month.

    As I said earlier I would support a regulation where there could not be more than a factor of 10 difference in wages throughout a company.

    You’ve managed to get some wonderfully emotive and uniquely American concepts into your response but they still don’t answer the question of whether it is right/moral for one person to feel entitled to an immense salary at the expense of others who may work equally hard but not have the power to claim the salary.

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  19. hawkgrrrl on October 30, 2011 at 3:10 AM

    Personally, I’m very pro-corporation and pro-capitalism, but I do agree with two points: 1) CEO pay has gotten out of control, even though the theoretical risks are higher, clearly they haven’t been able to avoid the collapses of some major corporations; we’ve far exceeded reasonable meritocracy, and 2) government has failed to regulate the right things in the right way to avoid these issues, which is no surprise coming from them. Those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t do and also can’t teach apparently can always fall back on politics.

    Even though CEO pay is outlandish, that’s really nothing to me. I don’t lose a second of sleep over it, and I have no ambition to become a CEO. CEO pay isn’t causing the tanking economy.

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  20. Douglas on October 30, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    #18 – it is “right” for a person to accept whatever compensation they fairly negotiate with their customers/employers. Private salaries and other earnings should NEVER been regulated at the source by the government…else…”there was twenty square meters of living space in that room” (my fave quote from “Dr. Zhivago”).
    That having some cases a “kleptocracy” going on in the higher echelons of Corporate America. But again, that’s for their respective boards of directors and/or stockholders to deal with, or you and I, the consumers, can weigh in by directing our hard-earned dollars away. That’s a darned good reason why the free market must run unfettered; it would seem obvious that a corrupt corporate management would better feed itself off fat government contracts and/or a government-enforced monopoly.
    Frankly, I trumpet the cause of neither rich nor poor. IMO, the best way I can help the poor is to not join their ranks myself. As for the rich, they can and do take care of themselves. I can’t necessarily emulate those that were “born into the purple”, but of those that started from humble beginnings and “urrned it”, like the recently-assumed-room-temperature Steve Jobs, I can see what they did to succeed and apply it in my own life.
    Again, those that somehow believe that envy will put food on the table find that no one will grow the crops and the table gets smashed into firewood, again, just like in “Dr Zhivago”.

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  21. prometheus on October 30, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    “That’s a darned good reason why the free market must run unfettered…”

    Douglas (20), this leads to monopolies and price fixing, which means I can’t vote with my wallet, as you would like me to do.

    Solution to this problem? (And please, no invisible hand waving – the evidence is fairly clear that wealth concentrates, and there needs to be a way of preventing that concentration.)

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  22. Douglas on October 30, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    #20 – “Douglas (20), this leads to monopolies and price fixing, which means I can’t vote with my wallet, as you would like me to do”. What historical evidence is there that a free market has INEVITABLY led to monopolies? And ultimately, the consumer, at least in the USA, does have the ability to vote with his wallet…it just depends upon what level of lifestyle change and/or inconvenience (real or perceived) you’re willing to endure. Not that I want to do it, but there are those that live “off the grid”. There are families that get by on ONE automobile, often paying cash for it! A small example is that my “beater” is a 17-year old Mercedes Diesel that burns SVO and/or bio as well as the petro stuff. I have alternate sources and can, in a pinch, make my own fuel. I do keep four drums of spare fuel on hand, having to “rotate” stock since the stuff is somewhat perishable. I’ve also embarked on another automotive project: find a decent VW bug, accumulate spares for it (perhaps even a complete spare engine), and why??? Because after my experience of the complexity of maintaining the “Family Truckster” (2007 Chrysler Pacifica), while I can afford to keep our present latter-day iron (we also have a 2011 Ford Fusion), I want my wheels to be readily maintainable. That’s my answer to the overly-complex vehicles foisted upon us nowadays. Do believe that IF a “simplicity in motoring” movement really got going, there’d be an outcry sponsored by auto manufacturers and the UAW to prohibit it, probably on the grounds of ‘safety’ or the ‘Environment’, which, of course, are bogus.
    “I pity da fool” (thank you, “T”) that believes himself helpless to live his life on his own terms.

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  23. FireTag on November 1, 2011 at 11:09 PM

    I know I’m really in catch-up mode here, but I just had to respond to Geoff-A’s:

    “I would also point out that where banks were regulated to a greater degree than in America we did not get into such a mess…When you talk of countries that do regulate their banks and other socialist activities like providing healthcare for their citizens, and make everyone equally poor, are you thinking of places like Germany or Australia?”

    The regulators, representing the European governments, gave THEMSELVES the advantages they were so afraid to give their banks by assigning the government debt of their countries a ZERO RISK weighting BY REGULATION. This was not done for the benefit of the banks, but for the benefit of the governments who could buy votes by PROMISING social benefits that they would eventually be unable to may for.


    Governments are indeed making the German people poorer, because politicians as a class are no wiser nor any less corrupt than CEOs as a class. It’s also why public pension funds in states and cities are also going bankrupt throughout the US.

    George Will said it best in a column a few weeks ago when he noted that OWS believes that government is irredeemably corrupt, but insufficiently powerful. The Tea Party shares the premise of corruption but considers the proposed remedy to be insanity.

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  24. FireTag on November 1, 2011 at 11:24 PM

    Oh, and if you’d like a citation on the state situation from today’s headlines, here it is:


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