Here’s a Real Shock: America is “Becoming” an Oligarchy, Princeton Study Says

The US is dominated by a rich and powerful elite.

So concludes a recent study by Princeton University Prof. Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof. Benjamin I. Page, according to the BBC.

oligarchyThis will come as a shock to absolutely nobody who has been paying attention to the American political scene the past 30+ years. The study “compared the public’s influence on 1,779 policy issues between 1981 and 2002, finding that more often than not, the interests of wealthy groups and individuals won out over the demands of the general public. For instance, when 80 percent of the public asked for a change of some sort, they got their way only about 43 percent of the time [links to PDF of study].

While the study gingerly sidestepped the question of declaring this country an oligarchy in outright terms (“Our findings are consistent with the U.S. being an oligarchy but don’t prove that to be so,” Page said), the fact is that this development has been pretty clearly visible to all but the blindest of observers for some time now. On any number of issues — gun control leaps immediately to mind — when significant majorities not only of voters but even of gun owners and NRA members support reform and the gun industry lobbying group opposes it, its opposition wins out. (This despite the demonstrable fact that in the last election, the NRA lost virtually every single election in which it invested. As Media Matters found, “Of the nearly $18 million the NRA poured into the 2012 elections, over 95 percent was spent on races where the NRA-backed candidate lost.”)

The study concludes, in its abstract, “[E]conomic elites and organized groups representing business
interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens
and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

To put it more clearly and directly, we need look only to this quotation from Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont: “An “upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world. In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country.”

Wake up and smell the non-Fair Trade coffee, Senator. That ship has long since sailed.

Awesome Video Clip on Homo Evolutus

I picked up this clip from Upworthy this morning. Wow. Visually mind-boggling and the ideas underneath are just as stimulating and exciting.

We have indeed reached a point where we have upstaged and overridden physical evolution. It is now up to us how we evolve spiritually and intellectually and psychically. We must reach a tipping point in this New Evolution if we are to survive as a species and it has always been necessity of survival that has driven evolutionary change and accelerated it.

Salon.com Pushing Too Many of My Buttons

salon_logoI’m probably one of the longest-standing continuous readers of Salon.com left on the planet. I worked there in the publication’s very earliest days. I was the first hire who hadn’t worked at the San Francisco newspapers. In my role as initial Webmaster, I saw the operation from behind the scenes. I also occasionally wrote sports pieces.

Since I left the company many years ago, I have maintained my interest in the magazine, which I really think is one of the best-written and entertaining online pubs. When they went to a premium model, I signed up without hesitation. Not only did I want to support what I see as their very worthwhile efforts, I also prefer an ad-free browsing experience wherever one is offered.

Lately, though, the Salon.com folks have been annoying me no end. Specifically, in recent weeks, I’ve seen all of the following during my browsing experiences there:

  • videos that begin to play with full audio without warning or asking me if it’s OK to do so;
  • audios that at least appear to be originating on their pages but for which no link can be found before the audio stops;
  • popup ads, particularly for the New York Times, that don’t appear until some time after I’ve been reading a page, disrupting my enjoyment of an article in the most irritating manner possible;

I recognize the need for advertising. I don’t resent it per se. But in order for it to work, for it to be a good Netizen if you will, it has to be far less obtrusive than these examples. These tactics smack of desperation (and as a shareholder of Salon.com, I know whence that desperation comes!) but they interfere sufficiently with my appreciation of the editorial at Salon that I’m one annoying disruption away from abandoning my long-standing engagement with the publication.

I’ve emailed them about my concerns to no avail. If you’re a Salon.com reader and you’ve noticed these things as well, maybe if more than a few of us complain they’ll find a way to be more civilized in their advertising approach.

We can hope.

Tiny Galaxy May Be One of Earliest Formed

Scientists studying an incredibly small galaxy near the Milky Way have concluded that it may be one of the very earliest galaxies formed in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang.

Photograph of MIT Astrophysicist Anna Frebel

MIT Astrophysicist Anna Frebel

According to a paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, researchers led by MIT’s Anna Frebel have been collecting detailed information on the composition of six of the brightest of the galaxy, Segue 1’s, stars. They’ve discovered that the few hundred stars that comprise Segue 1 are composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium, showing only trace amounts of the heavier metals that are characteristic of more mature stars.

Salon.com posted a clear layman’s explanation of the discovery and its possible importance in understanding the earliest fractions of a second of the Universe’s coming into being. Perhaps the most important things we can learn relate to how galaxies come into being in the first place and what stops them from growing and expanding.

Because Segue 1 and its ilk are so incredibly tiny (hundreds of stars rather than the hundreds of billions of stars in most known galaxies), they are difficult to detect. Only Segue 1′s proximity to the Milky Way has made it possible to find and isolate it for study. If further research continues to reveal more secrets, this minuscule object may turn out to have great significance for cosmologists.

$300 3D Printer Raising Millions on Kickstarter

Salon.com is reporting on a 3D printer from a startup that’s seeking funding on Kickstarter that might be a breakthrough .

The Micro 3D printer is planned for late Summer delivery at an incredible $300 price point.

With 27 days left on its Kickstarter fund-raising campaign, the company had already raised $1,898,707 at this writing. They started off seeking $50,000.

This is clearly going to be hot!

Micro3d_Printer

The Progressive Vacuum in American Politics

Michael Lind, writing on Salon.com today, offers this concluding observation to a piece attempting to analyze why the Democrats can’t seem to win in local and Congressional elections despite clear voter support for progressive policies:

The white working class has not rejected the party of pro-working-class economic progressivism, because in today’s America no such party exists. They can’t turn down a new New Deal that nobody offers them.

Green Party USA Logo

Green Party USA Logo

socialist_party_logoHe’s right if we focus only on the two major parties. But both the Green Party and the Socialist Party USA espouse the progressive principles about which Lind writes so clearly. Many if not most of these policies draw more than 50% support in polls when they are posted as policies independent of the party proposing them or the President’s name. And yet the policies are never even seriously proposed by Washington politicians of either stripe.

I’ve been around long enough to understand the potential problems associated with a third-party movement. But I’ve also been around long enough to see that we are not going to achieve the systemic change that is needed to right the American ship of state and back it off from the brink of a corporate state collapse within the framework of the present two-party system, which is built on a crumbling and unsustainable capitalist foundation. Real, systemic change can only come now via  radical dismissal of all Powers That Be.

This won’t be a short-term solution. It will probably take more years than I have left on Planet Earth. But if we don’t start soon, it may become impossible.

This is the Age of Fracture

Princeton University history prof emeritus Daniel Rogers has dubbed this period in American history “The Age of Fracture.” He feels like the dominating movement or concept of this time is the increasing specialization of knowledge and experience that has, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says today, led to the “water cooler running dry.”

That is, there is no more common vocabulary, shared set of experiences or even values, on which people of the same generation — let alone those from adjacent generations — can gather and share and communicate.

calvin_miscommunicationThe Internet and its offspring interactive, niche TV/entertainment, have brought us to a place where we can live within the confines of a tiny echo chamber, a place where we only see, hear about, interact with and evangelize news and culture that aligns with our already-settled notions of what’s important and relevant.

It has, of course, always been true that we can live as narrowly as we wish. The Internet didn’t create that phenomenon. Neighborhood news and gossip, local shopping, the community bar or barber shop or post office, have been places that enabled us to stay as parochial as we wished for the most part for as long as we wished. But there were important national media: three (only three!?) national TV networks. Large and influential regional and even national newspapers. To be sure, we had to go a bit out of our way to find those sources, but anyone who cared to be at least marginally informed — if for no other reason than to hold sway in the barber shop debate society — could find useful and factual information. Those who chose to avoid that aspect of culture lived objectively thinner and poorer lives and held narrower views.

The difference caused by the Internet is one of scale. It is now possible to focus one’s interests astonishingly narrowly and still never run out of what passes for information and knowledge about any given topic.

I encountered an interesting case of this myopia this morning. As I say in my immediately prior post for today, Al Jazeera America got its hands on an advance copy of the UN Human Rights Committee’s report on the United States and did a story on it today. Aside from the UK-based Guardian, not one other media outlet picked up the story except a right wingnut 2nd Amendment blog. And that source only mentioned the report’s comments on gun violence in America. So if you were a follower of that blog, your entire awareness of this scathing and important report was about the one issue that you see as seminal. You might even have agreed with substantial other parts of the report if you’d read it. But you almost certainly would not have done so.

This kind of narrow view of things is what scares me most about American voters and elections.

Bombshell: UN Human Rights Commission Takes US to Task, Big Time

In a soon-to-be-released report, the United Nations Human Rights Commission criticizes the United States’ record on human rights within its own borders and internationally. As of this writing, the only more-or-less mainstream media outlet to pick up the story is the Guardian. Not one outlet in the United States has picked up the leaked report, which was obtained by Al Jazeera America and released this morning.

Logo of the United Nations Human Rights Committee

Logo of the United Nations Human Rights Committee

Amnesty International’s representative at the UN commented on the report by saying, “The U.S. is adept at demanding human rights change from other governments while failing to meet international standards itself.” The Guardian characterized the report’s assessment of the United States as “withering”.

The harshly critical report lists 20 specific areas of concern:

  1. Racial disparities in the criminal justice system
  2. Racial profiling
  3. Death penalty
  4. Targeted killings using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones)
  5. Gun violence
  6. Excessive use of force by law enforcement officials
  7. Legislation prohibiting torture
  8. Non-refoulement (“a principle of international law which forbids the rendering of a true victim of persecution to their persecutor” – Wikipedia)
  9. Trafficking and forced labor
  10. Immigrants
  11. Domestic violence
  12. Corporal punishment
  13. Non-consensual psychiatric treatment
  14. Criminalization of homelessness
  15. Conditions of detention and use of solitary confinement
  16. Detainees at Guantanamo Bay
  17. NSA Surveillance
  18. Juvenile justice and life without parole sentences
  19. Voting rights
  20. Rights of indigenous people

The full unreleased version of the report is included on the Al Jazeera page on which the article appears.

I understand that the fact that Al Jazeera America (AJAM) broke the story causes many Americans to roll their eyes at best and become vitriolic about Islamic news sources at worst, but it’s worth noting that AJAM is clearly dedicated to providing fair and objective reporting of world news from a global, rather than U.S. parochial, perspective. I’ve been studying their coverage for the past two weeks and comparing it to that of CNN, BBC America and the PBS News Hour. I find it to be remarkably objective and refreshingly well produced. Their coverage of the Middle East is, if anything, more balanced and insightful than any other news network.

But in this case, none of that should really matter. The UN is about to release a report clearly critical of the US record on human rights, a report to reveals, at the very least, the hypocrisy of our government in such matters. The fact that no American media outlet has picked up the story is quite telling.