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Eisenhower’s Farewell Address should be seen by every American every year……
The news: A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.
An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.
For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often.
It’s beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.
That might explain why mandatory background checks on gun sales supported by 83% to 91% of Americans aren’t in place, or why Congress has taken no action on greenhouse gas emissions even when such legislation is supported by the vast majority of citizens.
This problem has been steadily escalating for four decades. While there are some limitations to their data set, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez constructed income statistics based on IRS data that go back to 1913. They found that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is much bigger than you would think, as mapped by these graphs from the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities:
Piketty and Saez also calculated that as of September 2013 the top 1% of earners had captured 95% of all income gains since the Great Recession ended. The other 99% saw a net 12% drop to their income. So not only is oligarchy making the rich richer, it’s driving policy that’s made everyone else poorer.
What kind of oligarchy? As Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan explains, Gilens and Page’s findings provide support for two theories of governance: economic elite domination and biased pluralism. The first is pretty straightforward and states that the ultra-wealthy wield all the power in a given system, though some argue that this system still allows elites in corporations and the government to become powerful as well. Here, power does not necessarily derive from wealth, but those in power almost invariably come from the upper class. Biased pluralism on the other hand argues that the entire system is a mess and interest groups ruled by elites are fighting for dominance of the political process. Also, because of their vast wealth of resources, interest groups of large business tend to dominate a lot of the discourse.
In either case, the result is the same: Big corporations, the ultra-wealthy and special interests with a lot of money and power essentially make all of the decisions. Citizens wield little to no political power. America, the findings indicate, tends towards either of these much more than anything close to what we call “democracy” — systems such as majoritarian electoral democracy or majoritarian pluralism, under which the policy choices pursued by the government would reflect the opinions of the governed.
Nothing new: And no, this isn’t a problem that’s the result of any recent Supreme Court cases — at least certainly not the likes FEC v. Citizens United or FEC v. McCutcheon. The data is pretty clear that America has been sliding steadily into oligarchy for decades, mirrored in both the substantive effect on policy and in the distribution of wealth throughout the U.S. But cases like those might indicate the process is accelerating.
“Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does,” Gilens and Page write. “Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support.
“But we tend to doubt it.”
July 4th Militarist Bunkum (an encore by request)
By Paul Craig Roberts/paulcraigroberts.org/ July 3, 2014
Did you know that 85 to 90 percent of war’s casualties are non-combatant civilians? That is the conclusion reached by a nine-person research team in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The deaths of soldiers who are fighting the war are a small part of the human and economic cost. Clearly, wars do not protect the lives of civilians. The notion that soldiers are dying for us is false. Non-combatants are the main victims of war.
Keep that in mind for July 4th, which is arriving tomorrow.
July 4th is America’s most important national holiday celebrating American independence from Great Britain. On July 4th, 1776, America’s Founding Fathers declared that the Thirteen Colonies were no longer colonies but an independent country in which the Rights of Englishmen would prevail for all citizens and not only for King George’s administrators. (Actually, the Second Continental Congress voted in favor of independence on July 2, and historians debate whether the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4 or August 2.)
In this American assertion of self-determination citizens of Great Britain were not allowed to vote. Therefore, according to Washington’s position on the votes in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine–the former Russian territories of Donetsk and Luhansk–America’s Declaration of Independence was “illegitimate and illegal.”
On July 4th all across America there will be patriotic speeches about our soldiers who gave their lives for their country. To an informed person these speeches are curious. I am hard pressed to think of any examples of our soldiers giving their lives for our country. US Marine General Smedley Butler had the same problem. He said that his Marines gave their lives for United Fruit Company’s control of Central America. “War is a racket,” said General Butler, pointing out that US participation in World War I produced 21,000 new American millionaires and billionaires.
When General Butler said “war is a racket,” he meant that war is a racket for a few people getting rich on the backs of millions of dead people. According to the article in the American Journal of Public Health, during the 20th century 190 million deaths could be directly and indirectly related to war. 190 million is 60 million more than the entire US population in the year that I was born.
Although the British did manage to burn down the White House in the “War of 1812,” the only real war fought on US territory was the war against Southern Secession. In this war Irish immigrants fresh off the boat gave their lives for American Empire. As soon as the South was conquered, the Union forces were set loose on the Plains Indians and destroyed them as well.
Empire over life. That has always been Washington’s guiding principle.
America’s wars have always been fought elsewhere–Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Philippines, Japan, Germany, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. Washington even attacks countries with which the US is not at war, such as Pakistan and Yemen, and engages in proxy wars. The article cited above reports: “The United States launched 201 overseas military operations between the end of World War II and 2001, and since then, others, including Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Not a single one of these wars and military operations had anything whatsoever to do with defending the US population from foreign threats.
Not even Japan and Germany posed a threat to the US. Neither country had any prospect of invading the US and neither country had any such war plans.
Boldface by BPR Editor
By Arlen Grossman/ The Big Picture Report
The never-ending circular logic of America’s Mid-East Foreign Policy:
(1) Many Muslims hate the U.S. because we interfere in the affairs of Muslim countries
(2) In reaction to this interference, Muslim extremists fight back with terrorist tactics
(3) In reaction to the terrorist tactics, the U.S. militarily interferes in Muslim countries.
(4) Repeat steps (1) to (3)
The solution should be obvious.
BUSH CREATES PAINTING OF WHAT HE IMAGINES IRAQ IS LIKE TODAY
By Arlen Grossman/ The Big Picture Report
The Earth, in case you haven’t noticed, is a big mess right now. All living things, humans included, are suffering the effects of a planet stressed to the breaking point.
(At the time of Jesus, there were about 200 million people on Earth.)
Consider the problems we face:
GLOBAL WARMING. Carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants are collecting in the atmosphere, trapping the sun’s heat and causing the planet to warm up. Already we are experiencing record heat (the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1990), drought, storms and fires, and they are expected to get worse. According to the United States Global Change Research Program (which includes the Department of Defense, NASA, National Science Foundation and other government agencies): “global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced” and that “climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.”
(In 1000 A.D. the population of the world was about 300 million.)
SPECIES LOSS. The planet is losing species faster than at any time since 65 million years ago, when the earth was believed to have been hit by an enormous asteroid. The National Wildlife Federation estimates we are losing 27,000 species a year. Dr. Richard Leakey, the famed paleontologist, believes that half of the earth’s species will vanish within one hundred years, a mass extinction that “threatens the entire complex fabric of life on Earth, including the species responsible for it: Homo sapiens.”
(By 1500, the world population was roughly 500 million.)
POVERTY. According to a World Bank study, more than half the people in the world live on less than $2.50 a day. More than half of the world’s nations cannot grow or import enough food to adequately feed their population. One-third of all deaths around the world, according to UNICEF, including 22,000 children a day, are a result of poverty.
(By 1800, the world population reached nearly one billion.)
POLLUTION. About 40 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by water, air and soil pollution, according to a 2007 Cornell research study. With 1.2 billion people lacking clean water, the World Health Organization estimates 3.4 million people a year, mostly children, die from water-related disease. According to the WHO, another seven million people every year die from air pollution.
(By 1850, the population of the world grew to about 1,200,000,000.)
WATER SHORTAGES. More than 1 billion people are currently living without clean drinking water. The World Bank reports that 80 countries now have water shortages that threaten health and economies. By 2030, nearly half of the world’s people will be living in areas of acute water shortage, according to a U.N. report.
(By 1900, the world’s population rose to about 1,600,000,000.)
LOSS OF RAINFORESTS. We are swiftly losing the one of the Earth’s most important ecosystems. Experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years. Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson called the depletion of rain forest areas “the greatest extinction since the end of the age of dinosaurs.”
(By 1950, there were over 2,500,000,000 people in the world.)
These are just some of the serious problems fouling the environment and ruining the health of our home planet. We haven’t even touched on many other quality of life concerns: education, medical care, traffic congestion, waste disposal, crime, war, violence, etc.
(By 1975, world population increased to over 4,000,000,000.)
What is the cause of all these societal problems and global degradation? Some readers might examine one issue at a time–global warming, water and food shortages, etc.– to look at causes and solutions. Some may think they can find answers by reading between the lines. In this brief essay, more astute readers merely need to read between the paragraphs in this essay to recognize a major contributor to all these problems.
(In 2011, world population reached 7,000,000,000.)
It shouldn’t be hard to grasp, but for too many it is: humans have been and will continue proliferating at a far faster pace than the Earth can handle. When the consequences of overpopulation are widely understood–and when human impact is acknowledged and resistance to population control overcome–only then can we begin reversing this dangerous course. Only then will there be a realistic hope of healing and saving the only planet we have. The longer we wait, the harsher the consequences.
(By 2050, the population of the world is expected to be about 9,300,000,000.)
(This is a revised and updated version of my essay first published in The Big Picture Report and OpEd News in 2011.)