#atozchallenge: The American Oligarchy

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Euphemisms are the bastions of politics. So when political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page published their study in the Princeton University Press about oligarchy within the American politics*, they certainly don’t call it an oligarchy. They use economic elite domination. Which is exactly what an oligarchy is.

Oligarchy and kleptocracy (see my previous post on kleptocracy) are parasitic and vicious cycles: government hands its largesse to a select number of businesses, and those businesses then turn around and pressure or pay off government to get preferential treatment.

Only the largest and most egregious law-breakers are ever brought to media attention: AT&T, Comcast and in 2008, Lehman Brothers and its ilk. America is held hostage by the greed of these companies: there are de-facto monopolies in every industry and our regulatory agencies cannot stop them.

Before we point fingers and accuse our international compatriots of letting business, greed and graft control the political class, let us take a look at our long history of allowing the same in America, in the name of innovation.

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by istara

#atozchallenge: The American Kleptocracy

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The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good.

Gordon Gecko is running for president. You see him every hour on television; his speeches become breaking news, as the media breathlessly waits for his plane to arrive. He is the gilt paint over the rotting wood of our infrastructure. We are allowing him to run, because we believe that politicians are corrupt and that we need new blood, obviously.

But is he not corrupt himself? He has used every avenue to his advantage: tax breaks, imminent domain and lackadaisical  reforms meant to improve our ability to trade and destroy.

We point to kleptocratic states like Pakistan and Russia, as if we don’t have clans of hoarding multi-national companies and military contractors siphoning money from the public coffers. We know who they are: the Koch brothers, the Walton family, Lockheed Martin and Blackwater (now called ACADEMI).

So greed, for America, is good for those who are greedy. We have a dire choice this November: who will be greedy in good ways? Is greed ever good? How will American society get past this greed?

Sometimes greed works. Georgia’s state house and senate recently tried to pass a ‘Freedom from Religious Prosecution’ act, similar to some other states, and businesses pressured Governor Deal to veto it; however, the fact that businesses hold so much sway over our politicians is just the exception that proves the rule.

I have no answers, because I am a pessimist. We are reaping what we have sown, and I believe we deserve this disaster, if only to start anew. There are too many working parts that must fail, but fail we must, so that we learn. We should have learned in 2008, but we did not. And now, eight years later, we shall learn a hard lesson again. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Matej Tomazin

#atozchallenge: Capitalism has Failed

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It is the love of money that is the root of all evil, not money in and of itself. Hoarding it, refusing to spend it, refusing to pay taxes on it so that it may help others, is the love of it.

The re-distribution of wealth are the four most hated words in any crony capitalist society. ‘We earned it!’ cry the CEOs of Fortune-500 companies who have placed so little value on their workers. ‘If you weren’t so lazy you could be here too!’

The fact of the matter is the value placed on owning something is much higher than working for it. Therefore, a CEO obviously will make more than a shop assistant because we believe that having the company means more than working for it. And this model follows everywhere: the principal of a school makes more money for running the school/being ‘the face’ than a teacher does in the classroom.

And so, of course, money flows upwards. Those at the very, very bottom are left fighting for what is left over, and even those who do not place much value on money say ‘just work smarter, not harder and you can get to the top’.

Capitalism even at its purest is a terrible idea for any diverse society made up of people with different needs, wants and talents. Capitalism at its worst postulates that if you do not or cannot supply capital, you do not deserve to live. And in 21st century Western society, we see it happening: people who do not have capital die from a lack of it.

American and European societies are held at the echelon of what a ‘developed’ nation should look like. What is it, exactly? Mal-nourished children who are struggling in class because they’re hungry? Homeless veterans with no place to turn to receive aid for their PTSD? If we live in the greatest society, what then, is the worst? – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Joel Santana

#atozchallenge: Books (about Politics) I Have Loved

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I don’t read as much as I used to; I feel this is something people say very often. However, when I do get a chance to read, I tend to re-read things over and over and over. I also prefer non-fiction to fiction. Here are books that hold my political interests.

The very first books about politics that I can remember reading were Al Franken’s comedy non-fiction ones. I picked them up in a university book store all at once: Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat IdiotLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them and The Truth (with Jokes). Some of the jokes are cruel just for the sake of being cruel, but honestly, exposing some of these people for the standard bearers of hate is worth the cruelty sometimes. If I lived in Minnesota, I would always vote for Franken.

I like my politics with a little bit of satire, so Jon Stewart’s book America (The Book) and Stephen Colbert’s I am America (and So Can You!) are two books that manage to sneak in quite a bit of thought whilst they’re busy lampooning society.

Douglas Adams is one of my favourite authors, and I have read everything he has ever written. His death was way too pre-mature. Whilst the book Last Chance to See isn’t necessarily about politics, it is about environmentalism, a tent pole in my personal political beliefs. Two species featured in this book are sadly extinct, but we should not give up just yet!

I spend a lot of time reading about gender and race as a woman of colour. One of my favourite books that looks at a more complete picture of racism, but very much at the epidemic of mass incarceration, is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. It took me a long time to read this book, as I kept having to stop in anger. It is a book worth reading.

Books about economics are usually dry and really hard to get through. However, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and Thomas Picketty’s Le Capital au XXIe siècle (Capital in the 21st Century) are both interesting and engaging, and full of good knowledge.

Finally, George McGovern’s What it Means to Be a Democrat (the only book without a wikipedia link) is a rallying cry to American Democrats: what it means to be progressive and liberal in the 21st century, and to build reform slowly but surely. It’s filled with personal anecdotes and what I feel is prescient advice.

Read on, and until next time. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by unsplash

What I’m reading this week: 12 February 2016

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I read a lot of strange things this week, and sort of last week. It’s been very busy chez moi, and also busy in the world of news. I stayed abroad this week (in news, not literally); mostly, to get another perspective on all of our political madness. That does not mean, however, that I have forgotten about New Hampshire. Of course I haven’t.

First off, New Hampshire. The New Yorker once more has some amazing reporting. I really do not regret getting my teacher’s subscription.  My first article from the magazine is John Cassidy’s Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Ride the Populist Wave. Interesting look at the idea that, whilst Sanders and Trump are running two very different campaigns, their ideas are very much based on the anger and disillusionment of their supporters. Sanders supporters are angry because America isn’t as equal as it should be, and Trump supporters are angry (in my opinion and observation) because they have to share more of their pie with people they don’t think deserve it. Otherwise, my thoughts on New Hampshire can be found here.

I knew in my heart that the American primary was pretty interesting to the rest of the world, mostly because it is so much bombast and takes so long. So the next two articles are from the Swedish and German perspectives. I am a novice Swedish speaker, and Metro is easy enough (and probably a tabloid) for me to undestand. Göran Greider wrote a short article about Bernie Sanders and how socialism has become less of a frightening word in American politics, entitled Varför är alla rädda för Bernie Sanders? (Why is Everyone Afraid of Bernie Sanders?) Though not optimistic about his chances, Greider writes:

Nej, Bernie Sanders blir nog inte amerikansk president. Men hans kampanj är den politiska väckelserörelse som skakar liv i ett förstelnat och allt mer ojämlikt USA. Alla som sitter på för mycket makt är rädda för honom.

[No, Bernie Sanders won’t be the next American president. But his campaign is the political revival that is shaking apart the ossified and and increasingly unequal United States. All who have too much power are frightened of him.]

Please excuse my questionable translation.

From Der Spiegel: Politik, a FAQ about the American primary system for Germans. Our democracy is a bit of a carnival for anyone who doesn’t live inside of the circus tent, so the questions might seem funny, like ‘What is Super Tuesday?’ and ‘Why do Americans even have primaries?’ but there were also questions that some Americans can’t even answer, like ‘What are Super-delegates?’ and ‘What are Super-PACs?’ If you understand German or have German relatives who want to understand our system, send them to Veit Medick and Marc Pitzke’s Endlich verständlich: So funktionieren die US-Vorwahlen (‘Finally understandable: Here’s how the US Primary System Works’).

From Bill Moyer, via The Nation, an article by Ari Berman about the GOP’s fight to stop the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The VRA is usually a bi-partisan, completely normal vote, but the Supreme Court’s gutting of it has caused some 21 states to enact very strict voter identification laws (I happen to live in a state with fairly strict laws, which chafes a bit). Ted Cruz has taken up the completely bogus mantle of fighting voter fraud. Do not be fooled: restricting access to voting is a violation of one’s civil rights.

Moving on to France. I have lived in France three times: six months in Lyon, a year in Nancy and a year in Paris. Being a woman of colour there who speaks fluent French (but is not French) is always an eye-opening experience; I’m sure I will write about it more in future. So Annette Lévy-Willard’s post «Pour être Français il faut être blanc aux yeux bleus» (‘To be French, one must be white with blue eyes’) was another reminder that racism exists everywhere, even in countries I might prefer over my current home. This blog post was a review of the documentary Les Francais, c’est les autres (The French are other people). I certainly wish I could find a legal copy of it to show my students.

February is Black History Month, so I thought I’d end this week’s article list on two fascinating articles dealing with Blackness, Black identity and the future of Africa post-post-colonialism.

The first is from Identities.Mic, discussing the hashtag #HistoricPOC going viral on Twitter. The post, entitled #HistoricPOC Is the Powerful Illustration of Black History Month Everyone Needs to See has some great pictures and more links to follow.

And finally, I leave you with Le Monde’s article about the sudden rush of money to African technology start-ups, Samir Abdelkrim’s Les robinets du financement s’ouvrent pour les start-up africaines (The financial taps open for African start-ups). A rather dry look at how capital is coming into west African countries to help them on the path to becoming networked.

Until next time. – SDM

Illustration from E. Benjamin Andrews History of the United States, 1912.