Election season highlights the shallowness of American democracy

Charles and David Koch are interviewed by MSNBC anchors "Morning" Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

Charles and David Koch are interviewed by MSNBC anchors “Morning” Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.

No serious scholar of history or political science considers the United States a democracy. Nor is the country a Constitutional Republic, which is sometimes given as the technical term. We like to think of ourselves as democratic, but America is, more or less officially, an oligarchy. This means the people have very little influence over policy, which is instead implemented by and in favor of private concentrations of wealth.

With election season in full swing, this simple fact gets overlooked and the platitudes about democracy are pushed harder than ever by pundits and politicians. Ironically, no time in America reveals more about our democracy deficit than the presidential election cycle. Between campaigns that are bought wholesale by billionaires and a news media that frames the election in the perspective of big business, Americans really aren’t invited to participate in the process much at all. Continue reading

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How the Sanders campaign can increase its momentum

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sits down with the host of Real Time, Bill Maher.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sits down with the host of Real Time, Bill Maher.

With over a million small contributions from 700,000 ordinary Americans, the Bernie Sanders campaign has remarkable popular support. He’s accomplished this despite some notable handicaps: he self-applies the label democratic socialist; he refuses to take money from Super PACs; and he’s up against Hillary Clinton, a member of one of America’s royal families whose nomination in the Democratic primaries is often treated as inevitable. As inspiring as it is to see him doing well, there are some things his campaign could do even better. Continue reading

The GOP is a cult

GOP candidates line up at their most recent debate with the oddly appropriate tagline,

GOP candidates line up at their most recent debate with the oddly appropriate tagline, “Your money, your vote.”

The title of this article is intended to be slightly salacious and incendiary, but it’s also an honest diagnosis. The GOP, driven by a radical fundamentalist ideology, is unrecognizable as a traditional political party. “Cult” is a frankly accurate way to describe an organization that creates an alternate reality, worships power and seems to be following a suicide pact.

All this was on display in the most recent Republican debate. It was arguably the most heated debate so far, but not because of passionate disagreements on policy. Candidates battled less like diplomats determining the fate of the free world than like a chimp tribe choosing an alpha. The Republican Party is radicalized way beyond the point of debating sensible policy positions. Continue reading

Democratic debate reveals flaws of debate system

Dozens of online polls had Senator Bernie Sanders winning the debate by huge margins, but much of the corporate media still declared Hillary Clinton the winner.

Dozens of online polls had Senator Bernie Sanders winning the debate by huge margins, but much of the corporate media still declared Hillary Clinton the winner.

After months of Republicans dominating 2016 election coverage, the Democrats finally had their chance in the spotlight. Their debate was certainly a more down-to-earth presentation than the hysterical Republican spectacles, but it wasn’t without moments of surrealism. Overall, though, the debate served primarily to reveal the superficiality of our political system.

If anything, that superficiality really speaks to the need for more debates. The Democrats aren’t having another one until November 14. All the candidates really had time to do at the first debate was speak in talking points. It wouldn’t have been that different a show if candidates just took turns reading blurbs from their campaign websites. Continue reading

We need more days like Labor Day and stronger unions to get them

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders pickets with Iowa workers last week. As a senator, Sanders also recently introduced legislation that would guarantee paid vacation time to full-time workers.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders pickets with Iowa workers last week. As a senator, Sanders also recently introduced legislation that would guarantee paid vacation time to full-time workers.

Today is Labor Day, a day on which millions of Americans will enjoy a luxury that, sadly, is rarely afforded to them: a day off from work.

Unlike some holidays, there’s little ambiguity about what Labor Day represents. It’s a day that first gained momentum, and eventually legal status, in the late 1800s. Organized labor had been fighting bloody battles with factory owners and police to help end the injustices of the Gilded Age, and Labor Day was set aside to recognize the contributions of those workers to America’s success.

Now, workers have their holiday, but also face the very real prospect of a return to that Gilded Age. Wages are stagnating, hours are increasing, benefits and pensions are disappearing, and union-busting is back in full force. And all of this is happening at a time when GDP is expanding and the wealthiest Americans are the richest they’ve ever been. Continue reading

Media: Enough with the polls and distractions; talk about issues

A woman pulls Donald Trump's hair at an event to prove it's real. This passes for

A woman pulls Donald Trump’s hair at an event to prove it’s real. This passes for “political news” during a presidential election cycle.

Like the holiday season, the presidential election cycle seems to begin earlier and earlier every go-round. And also like the holiday season, the election brings to the surface all the lowest points of our media, society and culture.

The next president won’t be decided until Nov. 8, 2016 and the coverage is already relentless. It’s difficult to turn on TV news or visit any news site, no matter its political affiliation or lack thereof, without seeing stories about the 2016 election. What a shame that for the next 14 months we’ll be forced to endure so much exposure to our national mediocrity. Continue reading

Activists are right to make Bernie blacker

Activists join Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley on stage at the Netroots Nation conference. (CNN)

An activist joins Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley (right) and moderator Jose Antonio Vargas at the Netroots Nation conference. (CNN)

Ordinarily, the Netroots Nation convention – an influential, annual gathering of progressive politicians and activists – might not receive much press outside of progressive media. But this year, a group of #BlackLivesMatter activists made headlines when they challenged Democratic presidential candidates, notably Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, to address issues of police brutality and systemic discrimination against black Americans. Continue reading

Sanders vs. Trump could be just what the country needs

Billionaire real estate developer and reality show personality wants to be the most powerful man in the world.

Billionaire real estate developer and reality show personality wants to be the most powerful man in the world.

As soon as Donald Trump announced himself as a presidential candidate, the media labeled his candidacy a waste of time and dismissed him as a clown. Such characterizations are hard to argue with and, indeed, Trump repeatedly confirms them. But in the early stages of the 2016 campaign, amid a Republican lineup with no obvious standouts, this petulant personification of the right-wing lizard brain has emerged as the early GOP frontrunner. Continue reading

Voting for Bernie Sanders will be a pleasure

Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in his congressional portrait.

Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in his congressional portrait.

Of the last seven presidential terms, only Barack Obama’s two have not been held by a Bush or Clinton. Preliminary media coverage is already predicting the 2016 ticket will be Jeb Bush vs. Hillary Clinton, keeping the dynastic tradition intact. A more depressing – not to mention less democratic – prospect is difficult to imagine. But Americans are lucky to have a candidate who promises to shake up our lesser-of-two-evils politics in 2016: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Continue reading