Is the U.S. government following the will of the People? The answer is no, according to a new study:
Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.
Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.
[Cartoon by Jonik reprinted here with his permission]
Excellent 6 min video by Lawrence Lessig illustrates that a tiny slice of Americans control our Congressional primaries, making general elections unimportant. Our Owners run our elections much like the Chinese elites are running Hong Kong’s elections. What’s different is that residents of Hong Kong are demonstrating in huge numbers to force change and we are generally complacent. That is in large part because our “news” ignores our huge problem. We have allowed democracy to die in America. Lessig challenges us – are we willing to fight for it?
Quote by Boss Tweed near the beginning: “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Private money primaries make elections almost irrelevant. Lawrence Lessig nails it here.
Very few politicians speak for ordinary people any more. Mostly, they speak to those with money in order to get some of that money for themselves. A shining example is Bernie Sanders. Recently, he was interviewed at length at Salon:
What I’ll tell you is what I do say in public, which is that, at a time when the middle class is collapsing; when we have more people living in poverty than ever before and we have huge income and wealth inequality; when we are the only major nation on earth that does not have a national healthcare system; when we have millions of young people leaving college deeply in debt; when we have the planetary crisis of climate change; when we, because of Citizens United, have a billionaire class now controlling our political process, we need candidates who are prepared to stand up without apology representing the working families of America and are prepared to take on the billionaire class which controls so much of America. I think that’s absolutely imperative that that takes place.
What I have said is that I am giving thought to running for president. I haven’t made that decision. It’s a very, very difficult decision. I have gone to Iowa on a couple of vacations. I’ll be back there. I’ve gone to New Hampshire. I’ll be there this Saturday. And I’ve gone to other places in the country including the south—North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi—to get a sense of how people are feeling.
But yes, I am giving thought and I will make the decision at the appropriate time.
Bill Moyers has done an in-depth analysis of ALEC. If you wonder how so many conservative bills are being pushed through state legislature, look no further than ALEC:
A national consortium of state politicians and powerful corporations, ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — presents itself as a “nonpartisan public-private partnership”. But behind that mantra lies a vast network of corporate lobbying and political action aimed to increase corporate profits at public expense without public knowledge.
In state houses around the country, hundreds of pieces of boilerplate ALEC legislation are proposed or enacted that would, among other things, dilute collective bargaining rights, make it harder for some Americans to vote, and limit corporate liability for harm caused to consumers — each accomplished without the public ever knowing who’s behind it. Using interviews, documents, and field reporting, the episode explores ALEC’s self-serving machine at work, acting in a way one Wisconsin politician describes as “a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests.”
At Truthdig, Chris Hedges points out that our real rulers are invisible and that our purported Democratic process is largely a distraction:
Politics, if we take politics to mean the shaping and discussion of issues, concerns and laws that foster the common good, is no longer the business of our traditional political institutions. These institutions, including the two major political parties, the courts and the press, are not democratic. They are used to crush any vestiges of civic life that calls, as a traditional democracy does, on its citizens to share among all its members the benefits, sacrifices and risks of a nation. They offer only the facade of politics, along with elaborate, choreographed spectacles filled with skillfully manufactured emotion and devoid of real political content. We have devolved into what Alexis de Tocqueville feared—“democratic despotism.”
The squabbles among the power elites, rampant militarism and the disease of imperialism, along with a mindless nationalism that characterizes all public debate, have turned officially sanctioned politics into a carnival act.
Pundits and news celebrities on the airwaves engage in fevered speculation about whether the wife of a former president will run for office—and this after the mediocre son of another president spent eight years in the White House. This is not politics. It is gossip. Opinion polls, the staple of what serves as political reporting, are not politics. They are forms of social control. The use of billions of dollars to fund election campaigns and pay lobbyists to author legislation is not politics. It is legalized bribery. The insistence that austerity and economic rationality, rather than the welfare of the citizenry, be the primary concerns of the government is not politics. It is the death of civic virtue. The government’s system of wholesale surveillance and the militarization of police forces, along with the psychosis of permanent war and state-orchestrated fear of terrorism, are not politics. They are about eradicating civil liberties and justifying endless war and state violence. The chatter about death panels, abortion, gay rights, guns and undocumented children crossing the border is not politics. It is manipulation by the power elites of emotion, hate and fear to divert us from seeing our own powerlessness.
“Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country,” Edward Bernays observed in his 1928 book, “Propaganda.” “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”
Politics in the hands of the corporate state is anti-politics. It is designed to denigrate and destroy the values that make a liberal democracy and political participation possible. It is a cynical form of mass control. Corporate money has replaced the vote. Dissent is silenced or ignored. Political parties are Punch and Judy shows funded by corporate puppeteers. Universities, once the epicenter of social change, are corporate headquarters, flush with corporate money, government contracts and foundation grants. The commercial press, whose primary task is attracting advertising dollars, has become an arm of the entertainment industry. It offers news as vaudeville.
Genuine political activity, the organizing work needed to protect citizens from the abuses of power, exists only on the margins of society. Politics in America has gone underground.
The amount of accruing student debt is incredibly distressing. John Oliver has produced this excellent expose on the debt, the politics and the long trail of victims.
Thousands of students are running up enormous debt, especially at for-profit colleges. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of educational institutions, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy regardless of how bad the track record of the institution for actually placing students into jobs in their fields of education.
The marketing strategies of for-profits are especially reprehensible.
Excellent job of exposing this dysfunction and fraud. Once again, we rely on comedians to do the best journalism.
The Redacted Team examines police militarization and how Time, Inc. rates its writers. George W. Bush recalls his torturing days, John F. O’Donnell recalls his history with Hillary Clinton, and Sam Sacks gets a face full of tear gas.
The Nation reports that venerable civil rights organizations are selling out on the issue of Net Neutrality. Literally.
[T]elecoms are desperate for third-party approval, and have even resorted to fabricating community support for their anti–net neutrality lobbying campaign. Perhaps the bigger picture here is how so many of the old civil rights establishments have become comfortable with trading endorsements for cash. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other telecom companies have donated, either directly or through a company foundation, to nearly every group listed on the anti–net neutrality letters filed last week. We saw a similar dynamic play out with Walmart when the retailer handed out cash to civil rights groups in order to buy support for opening stores in urban areas.
Times have changed. Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck.
Economist Anat Admati discusses the banking crisis with Bill Moyers, pointing out that real reform has not yet occurred.
BILL MOYERS: But as you surely know, the bankers tell us, not only do we have a safer system, but it’s getting even better as reforms are put into place. You look skeptical.
ANAT ADMATI: Well, they are truly trying to confuse people with their narratives. They just– either speaking a language that nobody can understand, or they say things, sometimes, that are completely wrong. And sometimes they’re just misleading.
But if you step back and look at the system, it’s very fragile. It’s one of those systems that’s like a big house of cards. You touch it, stuff can happen fast. And it’s far from any system that we would think of as reasonably stable, able to support the economy, all of that.
BILL MOYERS: You made that point in your TEDx talk. That the average US corporation relies on 70 percent equity and earnings. A company like Google, however, maintains 94 percent equity and borrows little. Banks, on the other hand, live on borrowed money and maintain very little equity— five percent. So when banks are over leveraged, and interconnected, and loans go bad, everything can topple, and there is poor old Uncle Sam trying to keep whole system from collapsing. And are they still taking these risks?
ANAT ADMATI: Oh, enormous. And by any measure of exposures to derivatives and the amount of debt versus their own money that they have, by most of these measures, it’s incredibly distorted and dangerous.
BILL MOYERS: I learned from you that two years before the financial crisis, the average size of the top 28 banks was $1.35 trillion five years ago. The average size last year, $1.7 trillion. And you say these too big to fail banks are particularly reckless and dangerous.
ANAT ADMATI: Look at them. They’ve basically become above the law. The people in them are able to do things that most other corporations would worry more about them doing because they can benefit from upsides all through the chain. And their creditors don’t worry enough, as much as other creditors would worry. And the downside eventually is everybody. So, by just taking the risk, they’re able to pass on some of their costs to other people. That’s kind of how it works for them.