Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Study: U.S. Is Now An Oligarchy, Not A Democracy

A new study by professors at Princeton and Northwestern universities calls into question the viability of American democracy, in view of the power of the wealthy to influence laws to serve their own interests regardless of the wishes of the majority:

“The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence,” Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page wrote in the study, titled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens.”

While Gilens and Page call the state of the current political system “economic elite domination,” another term could also be used: Oligarchy, otherwise known as a system in which power rests with a small number of economically or politically advantaged people.

The study looked at nearly 1,800 policy issues over a 20-year period between 1982 and 2002. According to their data, when the rich support a policy, it has a 45% chance of becoming law. And when they oppose it, it has only an 18% chance of being enacted.

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule – at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. 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 U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it,” the study said.

Other studies have shown that income inequality has grown in recent years. An economist at the University of California-Berkeley estimated that between 2009 and 2012, the richest 1% of Americans held 95% of all income growth.

Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and the more recent McCutcheon v. FEC have made it easier for corporations and wealthy individuals to spend money for political purposes, which could increase their influence over elections and eventually policy decisions.

“We believe,” the study’s authors concluded, “that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Moyers And Krugman: "What The 1% Don't Want You To Know"

Bill Moyers interviewed Paul Krugman on the upcoming phase of income inequality, a discussion sparked by Thomas Piketty's new book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." Piketty, according to Krugman, has presented an expanded perspective on today's unprecedented inequality, one in which inherited, dynastic wealth will rise to the forefront. In this oligarchy, the sons and daughters of today's wealthy will continue to buy the political system to serve their interests. Krugman states, “What Piketty’s really done now is he said, ‘Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don’t really get what’s going on.’ He’s telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth. We’re seeing inequalities that will be transferred across generations. We are becoming very much the kind of society we imagined we’re nothing like.” Watch this illuminating interview:

Monday, April 21, 2014

"Barack Enroll" Song Celebrates Obamacare Signup

After enrollment for the Affordable Care Act hit eight million, exceeding President Obama's target, Lauren Mayer celebrated with her song, "Barack Enroll." She explained, "As a card-carrying liberal Jewish mother who supports reproductive choice, marriage equality, environmental sanity, and economic fairness, I've seen way too much distressing news lately, which I usually channel into my weekly songs, full of sarcastic digs at the Tea Party/Koch Brothers/GOP, et al. But this week's ACA enrollment news was truly encouraging, and it motivated me to write an unabashedly positive song (okay, with only a few digs at the right wing, but hey, sometimes it's just too tempting to gloat!)." Watch her perform her song, based on the tune to "Old Time Rock and Roll":

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Warren Slams Ryan For Blaming The Unemployed

Speaking at the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor’s Humphrey-Mondale Dinner on March 29, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) criticized the skewed perspective of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). "Paul Ryan looks around, sees three unemployed workers for every job opening in America and blames the people who can't find a job," she asserted. Ryan, though, won't blame the powerful interests that tanked the economy; instead, he wants to perpetuate their advantages: "Paul Ryan says don’t blame Wall Street: the guys who made billions of dollars cheating American families. Don’t blame decades of deregulation that took the cops off the beat while the big banks looted the American economy. Don’t blame the Republican Secretary of the Treasury and the Republican president who set in motion a no-strings-attached bailout for the biggest banks – nope. Paul Ryan says keep the monies flowing to the powerful corporations, keep their huge tax breaks, keep the special deals for the too-big-to-fail banks and put the blame on hard-working, play-by-the-rules Americans who lost their jobs. That may be Paul Ryan’s vision of how America works, but that is not our vision of this great country." Watch:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Night At The Liberal Curmudgeon: Simon & Garfunkel Live In Central Park

One of the most memorable performances I've ever attended was Simon & Garfunkel's free benefit concert in Central Park, September 19, 1981. Above they sang "Scarborough Fair," the traditional English ballad included on their classic "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme" album (1966).

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sen. Bernie Sanders: What Do The Koch Brothers Want?

On his web site, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked what right-wing billionaires David and Charles Koch want, besides $80 billion in wealth, the second largest private company and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. He argues that the Koch brothers won't be satisfied "until they are able to control the entire political process." Sanders presented excerpts from the platform of the Libertarian Party of 1980, the year David Koch ran as the party's vice presidential candidate. It's a chilling document that calls for the omplete shredding of what's left of the social safety net:

“We urge the repeal of federal campaign finance laws, and the immediate abolition of the despotic Federal Election Commission.”
“We favor the abolition of Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
“We oppose any compulsory insurance or tax-supported plan to provide health services, including those which finance abortion services.”
“We also favor the deregulation of the medical insurance industry.”
“We favor the repeal of the fraudulent, virtually bankrupt, and increasingly oppressive Social Security system. Pending that repeal, participation in Social Security should be made voluntary.”
“We propose the abolition of the governmental Postal Service. The present system, in addition to being inefficient, encourages governmental surveillance of private correspondence. Pending abolition, we call for an end to the monopoly system and for allowing free competition in all aspects of postal service.”
“We oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes.”
“We support the eventual repeal of all taxation.”
“As an interim measure, all criminal and civil sanctions against tax evasion should be terminated immediately.”
“We support repeal of all law which impede the ability of any person to find employment, such as minimum wage laws.”
“We advocate the complete separation of education and State. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
“We condemn compulsory education laws … and we call for the immediate repeal of such laws.”
“We support the repeal of all taxes on the income or property of private schools, whether profit or non-profit.”
“We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
“We support abolition of the Department of Energy.”
“We call for the dissolution of all government agencies concerned with transportation, including the Department of Transportation.”
“We demand the return of America's railroad system to private ownership. We call for the privatization of the public roads and national highway system.”
“We specifically oppose laws requiring an individual to buy or use so-called "self-protection" equipment such as safety belts, air bags, or crash helmets.”
“We advocate the abolition of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
“We advocate the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration.”
“We support an end to all subsidies for child-bearing built into our present laws, including all welfare plans and the provision of tax-supported services for children.”
“We oppose all government welfare, relief projects, and ‘aid to the poor’ programs. All these government programs are privacy-invading, paternalistic, demeaning, and inefficient. The proper source of help for such persons is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.”
“We call for the privatization of the inland waterways, and of the distribution system that brings water to industry, agriculture and households.”
“We call for the repeal of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.”
“We call for the abolition of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”
“We support the repeal of all state usury laws.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Robert Reich: Raise Minimum Wage To $15 An Hour

Robert Reich acknowledges that the Senate Democrats' push to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour is an improvement over the current $7.25, but he argues that it should really be incrementally raised to $15. With his cartoonist skills and sound economic logic, Reich provides seven reasons why. Watch:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blackburn: GOP "Led The Fight For Women's Equality"

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) talked around the Republicans' blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act, stating that the bill was "helpful for trial lawyers" and that her party "led the fight for women's equality." Women instead, she stated, have to be concerned with "maximum pay" and "access to capital" and oppose regulations and–of course–Obamacare. Got that? Once again, Blackburn spoke in riddles while maintaining her historic opposition to equal pay. Watch:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

All-White Fox Panel Discusses "Race In America"

After viewing Attorney General Eric Holder decrying House Republicans for their ugly divisiveness and President Obama speaking about the gains of the Civil Rights Act under attack, Fox hosts held a discussion, "Race In America." Every participant was white, and the general consensus was that racism is no longer a problem or priority in America. "Who cares" about racism, one asked. Watch:

The Whitney Biennial

This year's Whitney Museum Biennial is the last one to be held in the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue before the museum moves downtown. That fact may give the Biennial, which showcases new artists, a bittersweet feeling for longtime patrons of the Whitney. At the same time, for this viewer, this feeling was mixed with a sense of deja vu regarding the show itself.

Two years ago, the Whitney included a selection of work from past Biennials, and I found myself more drawn to those works. Once again, I found the apparent vogue for installations employing video, audio and other mixed media to be too overwhelming and phantasmagorical–and, again, I was drawn to a modernism from decades past, as contrasted with the postmodern mixing of styles and influences here. In particular, I was interested in the work of four women working in abstract expressionism, a style once associated with a male macho aesthetic of big canvases and energetic gestures. Such artists included Louise Fishman, Jacqueline Humphries, Dona Nelson, Amy Sillman and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. I was particularly impressed with two canvases by Louise Fishman, including "Crossing the Rubicon" (2012) above, suggestive of the rawness, broad strokes and bold colors of the early Willem de Kooning, such as "Gotham News" (1955). My response to Fishman's work demonstrates that ultimately one will always find something that resonates at the sweeping survey that is the Whitney Biennial.

The Whitney Biennial continues through May 25 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, NYC, (212) 570-3600,