America: Democracy in Reverse

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Whenever this many rich people celebrate together, be wary.

America is sometimes characterized in its most exultant propaganda as the shining city upon a hill, history’s greatest experiment in self-governance. In the wee hours of December 2, though, it failed to live up to that marvelous hype. What happened in the United States Senate that day was a travesty that can accurately be described as democracy in reverse. An unpopular group of lawmakers passed an extremely unpopular bill, which will eventually be signed into law by an extremely unpopular president for the benefit of a small number of citizens. Continue reading

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America is about to not have a government

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An empty House of Representatives photographed during a recess.

When Donald Trump takes office in January, real estate and entertainment will occupy the White House, Big Oil will occupy the State Department, Wall Street will occupy the Department of Treasury, fast food will run the Labor Department, and privatizers will be entrusted with public education and criminal justice. In addition, Congress and a substantial majority of statehouses will be controlled by a party whose defining philosophy is the elimination of public institutions. For all intents and purposes, America is about to not have a government – certainly not one recognizable as democratic. Continue reading

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

Greece has the right idea: Say no to debt

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, meets with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, meets with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

Around 2,500 years ago, the Greek city of Athens developed a novel concept: dēmokratía, the rule of the people. Though their system was far from perfect, Athens laid important moral and philosophical groundwork that stood in contrast to the dynasties of pharaohs and emperors. Leave it to the Greeks, two and a half millennia since developing the concept, to remind the world of today what democracy is supposed to look like.

Greece’s ongoing debt predicament is not unlike the subprime mortgage crisis in America. Lenders issued bad loans which the debtors proved unable to pay back. In Greece, those lenders have been both private banks and fellow Eurozone nations. As in America, rather than allow the banks to eat the loss, what’s being demanded instead is taxpayer sacrifice. Continue reading

GOP backlash to Denton fracking ban reveals a dark hypocrisy

Amid last week’s Republican sweep of the 2014 midterm elections, there were some notable progressive victories. Marijuana decriminalization, gun control laws and minimum wage increases all passed on various states’ ballots. But perhaps the most inspiring initiative voters put into law was a ban on fracking in Denton, Texas. Unfortunately, Texas politicians, bureaucrats and business interests are pledging to fight, repeal and/or ignore it. Continue reading

The 2014 election was a big hustle, and it proved voting is not enough

America has just finished another midterm election, and the results were overwhelmingly in the Republicans’ favor. The GOP picked up a majority in the Senate and strengthened its majority in the House, holding more seats there than they have since 1928 with 248. Republicans were also given a great deal of control in state legislatures and governor’s offices.

This map shows just how dominating the Republican performance was, particularly in the House of Representatives.

This map shows just how dominating the Republican performance was, particularly in the House of Representatives.

This, predictably, has led to fretfulness in liberals. Many are reading the huge Republican victory as a rejection of the policies of President Obama. That’s certainly a big element. But what the election results really signify is a population that is utterly confused and desperate for a solution. Public approval for elected representatives and the way the country is moving remain at dismal lows, so it’s not hard to imagine that any change must be for the better. Republican victories are as much a reflection of the left’s disillusionment as they are of the right’s continued mobilization. Continue reading

Opinion: Get the police out of Ferguson

Nobody talks much about the 3rd Amendment. Everyone knows the 1st. There’s entirely too much hubbub about the 2nd. Most people know there used to be a 4th and a 5th. But what about the 3rd ?

For any non-constitutional scholars or anyone who’s forgotten middle school civics, the 3rd Amendment reads: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

Most casual observers don’t consider the statement especially relevant. There are no soldiers stationed in America against anyone’s consent. Or are there? Continue reading

If Ferguson police want an end to violence, they should stop acting violently

What’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri is not unprecedented. Police violence in the US has been escalating for years. Given the context of Nixon’s war on drugs, crack’s urban proliferation following the CIA’s funding of cocaine-dealing Contras, and the post-9/11 world of heavily-armed storm troopers kicking ass on Main Street, it’s not difficult to understand how tensions explode between a population and its police force. Continue reading