Monday, April 21, 2014

Week of 04/21/2014

America the Oligarchy
A recent study by researchers in Princeton and Northwestern Universities have come to the conclusion that many of us have suspected for a while now.
That America, the supposed “beacon of democracy and freedom”, is not what it pretends to be.
It is not a “democracy inside a republic” as the conservatives and neo-conservatives continually claim it to be as they beat their chests with self-important fervor.
Instead of being what we have so proudly defended for over two hundred years as that “more perfect union” as described in the U.S. Constitution, America has become… an oligarchy.
In order to come to this conclusion, the researchers looked at U.S. policy going back from 1981 to 2002, from Presidents Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.  (And, yes, that includes the eight philandering years of Bill Clinton.)  This isn’t the stuff that the politicians claim is going on, but the actual policies as they are implemented on behalf of the United States.  They then compared those policies to the expressed preferences of the average American citizen, with those of the wealthy and influent citizen, and with those of corporations and special interest groups (a.k.a. the lobbyists of K-Street and C-Street).  They discovered that U.S. policy almost exclusively follows the wishes and preferences of both the influent citizen and those of the special interest groups, and rarely those of the average citizen.
"The central point that emerges…” the researchers say, “is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."
Bear in mind this research ends prior to the corporate collapses of 2002 and 2003, the Iraq War, Sarbanes-Oxley, the re-writing of the banking and bankruptcy rules in 2003 and 2004, the housing bubble, the Great Recession, the extensions of the wrongly-named PATRIOT Act, not to mention the recent Supreme Court decisions which gave special interest groups and wealthy individuals carte blanche to spend any amount of money to influence politics.  Only one year of Bush Junior’s Imperium was covered in the study, and certainly none of Barack Obama’s White House Fail.
One can only wonder what their conclusions would be if they added these events into their research.
But with the information at their disposal, the researchers, in their peer-reviewed study, concluded that America is no longer behaving like it is a government responsive of the masses, which is what a true representative democracy inside a republic is like.  Instead, the researchers have concluded that America is more aptly defined as an oligarchy.
Personally, this commentator is surprised that they would use the term oligarchy instead of plutocracy, since that really fits what we’ve become.  And, really, if the events of the more recent twelve years were taken into account, I’m sure that the researchers would have to amend their conclusion to call America a plutocracy instead of an oligarchy.
But the real question is… when will the rest of the great unwashed recognize this?
We’ve seen this happening, especially with the Great Recession!  Our government bailed out the banks.  They bailed out Big Auto.  They gave all sorts of benefits and breaks to Big Corporate.  But when Americans looked for help, they were given a pittance and then left to twist in the wind.
Look at the Occupy movement.  They demanded accountability.  What did they get?  They got pepper-sprayed and mass-arrests.  They had police storm their camps like a gang of third world thugs.  Meanwhile, millions of Americans continued to lose their homes in foreclosures, all to support a financial scheme that bought and sold mortgages like they were stock options.
And when actual wrongdoing was revealed, nobody was arrested!  Instead, the big financial institutions have been able to literally buy their way out of accountability by putting up a pittance of a fine.  Sure, words like “millions” and “billions” are thrown about, but when you’re talking about a scheme that brought in hundreds of billions of dollars, giving up a few million or billion in a “fine” is essentially pocket change. 
Occupy protesters get arrested and they go to jail.  The people they try to protect and defend are put out on the street.  But “Too Big To Fail”?  They get to throw some pocket change and make some promises to “do better” and they are allowed to get away with their criminal activities without even losing sleep.  Hell, the executives even get raises!  The powerful get the gold, the average Americans get the shaft.
Does that sound like a government “by the people, of the people, and for the people”?
Here’s a good issue to ponder: the extensive spying into our lives by our own government.
We all say that it’s wrong.  Our government shouldn’t be doing that.  Our government shouldn’t be spying on us like it has been.  GOP, Democrat, libertarian, Green, liberal, conservative, neo-conservative… doesn’t matter the political party or the political leaning, we all say that this is wrong.  Promises are made to change the system.  Politicians beat their chests like alpha male chimps and say that this will end.
Okay, so what’s really being done about it?
Not a damn thing.
Why?  Because changing it would affect those in power.
Go down the list of political reforms that people continually demand.  Term limits, balanced budgets, less regulations, tax reform, repealing laws… how many of them have actually been implemented?
We all say we want tax reform, and just about every time come “Tax Day”, we entertain the idea that we should be revising the tax system so that it would be “fairer”, less of a hassle for people.  Every politician will tell you the tax system is needlessly complex and complicated.  They may even have a personal favorite way to reform the tax system, from a flat tax to the “FairTax”. 
And yet, year after year, nothing gets done to truly fix the system that we all know is broken.  Despite the overwhelming demand to fix it, despite the almost universal agreement that something must be done, our tax system continues to be complex and complicated.
Why?  Because it benefits those in power.  It benefits the accountants and the financial institutions and the politicians themselves.  Because it allows the career politicians to dole out tax breaks and deductions and exemptions to curry favor.
As the researchers best said it: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”
I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: the Soviet Union was never really a “communist state”, despite the rhetoric that went on from its foundation to its ultimate collapse.  What the Soviet Union really had was an oligarchical state masquerading as communism.  And while it could not keep up with the Cold War, what really triggered its demise was the realization from the masses that they had been living in a lie.  That there was an elite group – “the party” – that had all of the privilege while the masses were struggling in continual poverty.
And now here is the United States essentially doing the same thing, being an oligarchical state masquerading as a “democracy inside a republic”.  A state that gives favor almost exclusively to special interest groups and wealthy individuals.  A state that allows corporate criminals to get away with their crimes while they punish those that call for accountability.  Of career politicians that are fixated only on their own re-elections, even from day one of their jobs.  Of a judicial system that sustains the status quo by any and all means necessary, even if doing so ultimately destroys this nation.
And… do you know what the biggest punchline of them all is?  Ultimately we have allowed this to happen!
Let’s get brutally honest here… we really have nobody but ourselves to blame when it comes to this gradual degradation into an oligarchy.
How many times have you surrendered to the two-party script?  How many times have you rejected third-party options on the prepared line of “they’d never win”?  How many of you have continually recited the mantra that you “have” to vote for the supposed “lesser of two evils”?
You supposedly “want change”, and yet you refuse to vote for it.  You expect the system to somehow fix itself.  And you threaten to “punish” the system by voting for the other half of the two-party problem if you don’t get that change.  Yeah, that will “fix” things!
Look at the great fraud that is the so-called “Tea Party”.  They claim to want change, but apparently only if that “change” comes in the form of extreme conservative GOP.  Despite their threats to “break away” from the GOP, they continue to recycle the script year after year that tells people to not rock the boat.  They’ve become nothing more than just another special interest group.  They’ve become part of the very problem with the country.
Yes, this report shows that the game is rigged.  The system works against the normal American.  We’re seemingly screwed.  But ultimately that one is on us.  We’ve been listening to the script instead of what we believe is right.  We don’t speak up when the system works to screw us over, and we condemn those that try to speak up.
When asked what America’s Founding Fathers had created, Benjamin Franklin reportedly replied “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Clearly we could not.

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