Monday, October 17, 2016

The Lady Or The Tiger?

The Lady or the Tiger?" Most of us know the short story first published in 1882 by Frank Stockton that tells of an unusual punishment imposed by a semi-barbaric king in which the accused must choose between two doors. Behind one door is a maiden and behind the other is a tiger.
hile there is no shortage of memes or impassioned bloggers trying to convince people to vote for outlier parties in the presidential election with appeals to emotion primarily or perhaps fair play or even ideology purity. Is there any path for any of these outlier candidates to win?

It is not a coincidence (see the power structure article) that in the many years since this country’s establishment of democracy, no more than two parties have ruled national elections and the senate. Although 43% of Americans today are classified as political independents and despite the present preference of an emergent third party among voters, the Libertarians and Green Party members struggle to find support nationally and could not get enough signatures or forgot to file the paperwork, or couldn't raise the 5,000 dollar filing fee to even be on the ballot in 12 of the states.
That alone prevents them from even having a path to winning a national election.
But that's not the only thing that stops them from possibly winning.
This, as I say is no coincidence,
it's in the mechanics laid out in our constitution.
The rules strongly encourage a two party system.
I do not like this any more than staunch believers in libertarian-ism
or any of the 150 some political parties in the US do.
It isn't "fair", it isn't "good"...but it is so.

I'm betting most people would find policy positions much closer to what they personally would choose somewhere in that array outside of the 2 major parties.
If one votes for policy only with no regard for viability, (the possibility of actually winning)
there are compelling reasons to do just that,
yet most people want to ACTUALLY effect policy
and to do that you have to win elections.
Currently friends, an outlier party can not win.

The closest an outlier party has ever come to the presidency was Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 Progressive party campaign where he won 27.5% of the vote!
That only occurred as conservatives wrangled control of Republican party chasing the Roosevelt progressives away. Which led eventually to the Democratic party becoming their home.(as faulted as it may be, the Democratic party has been the sole source of all progressive legislation since 1930. It's been the source of all legislation that dealt with civil rights, women's rights, infrastructure investment, funding education, the arts, social services, national parks, etc. All these matters were supported by the Democrats and opposed by the Republicans).
The reason outlier parties simply can not win is primarily the structure of the nation’s voting system and the simple concept of Duverger’s law.

The electoral college, created to formally elect presidents, requires an absolute majority of at least 270 votes, and this requirement in itself makes third parties nonviable.
Winner-take-all systems which 48 of the 50 states use for the electoral college make it impossible for a third party to emerge with any chance of gaining considerable electoral votes.
It's that simple.
Wouldn't we all LOVE to do away with the electoral college?
I imagine all but the staunchest conservative who has no faith in democracy , but dreamily longs for the good old days of feudal states would agree.

Getting rid of the electoral college requires rewriting the US constitution.
That my friends is a very big hurtle to any change.
It's not impossible, but it requires a 2/3s YEA vote in both houses (votes from people who benefited from the existing system), AND ratification from 2/3s of the states.
I would love to see plurality myself, but I will not vote for someone who simply can not win and hence not effect any policy at all.
In local and state elections, it may well be another story.
And if enough elections are won at that level by an outlier party
a network can begin to be built to supplant one of the larger parties.
(the possibility of converting the existing system at the federal level to a plurality are slim as we have supplanting is the more likely scenario).

The populace realizes this statistical improbability of outside party success, and most third party supporters coalesce around the largest party with whom they identify the closer election day comes.
They form an allegiance with this party although they identify more with the smaller party, in order to defeat the largest party of their ideological opponents. Those who go against this process will be blamed for lost elections by splitting votes and guaranteeing success of the major opposing party. This process happens in countries where plurality is the norm more so than the US actually.
(Look at the un-natural alliance of the Liberals & the Tories in England for instance).
Candidates and supporters of outlier parties deny this, but the data just does not support their claims.
Social Scientists studying the matter as it applies in the U.S. agree the net effect of voting for outlier parties only helps whichever of the major parties is least like the outlier one a person votes for.
Could we become more pluralistic like the UK or Canada?
Not without amendment to the constitution.

Differences in voting processes explain why the United Kingdom normally has three or more parties that have a fair chance at elections while the US does not.
With our winner-take-all system , proportionality is tossed aside no matter how close the plurality of the vote actually is.
In the UK, though it may not be direct proportionality, more than three parties get a certain amount of seats in the House of Commons. In the US, anything other than a Democrat or a Republican is rarely seen, (only two independents in the Senate. None at all in the House of Representatives.) Unfortunately, both systems end up being troubled by some form of gerrymandering, but far more so in the US.

There are further restrictions other than absolute majority in the electoral college that put further severe dampers on any third party efforts. The amount of private money and funding in forms of Super PACs and other organizations leaves other parties little to work with in terms of competition.
Parties who do not have significant funding compared to the standard billion dollar benchmark of the large parties are surpassed immensely in efforts of marketing, a requirement to spread the message and even existence of the party. Private funding also means the GOP and Democratic Party receive an easy pass when it comes to the eligibility requirements of raising at least $5,000 in 20 states while third parties struggle to meet it. (Those are state by state rules...again the constitution gives states this power).

You have to remember that the political parties are nothing more than private clubs. They have no official state function, nor any requirements to behave in a democratic more so than a yacht club or a golf club. Furthermore, the Democrats and Republicans can even be seen working together to disenfranchise smaller parties. One example of this is the Committee of Presidential Debates that determines who is allowed on the highly-watched general election debate stage. Rules and regulations are often imposed to shut out smaller parties instead of allowing the nominees from the third and fourth largest parties to debate, effectively creating a monopoly on these debates.
Again this problem arises because they are no more than private clubs that are not controlled by government any more so than the process of  selecting Grand Poobahs at the Flintstone's Waterbuffalo Lodge.

These are unfortunate truths but they are truths none the less.
America’s two-party system is a result of its electoral structure.
Its electoral structure is not a result of its two-party system.

Possible solutions
Instant Runoff.
The current political process leaves many Americans longing for more choices of candidates and hoping for election reform. One voting process that may prove to be a more inclusive solution is an instant run-off.
Instant run-off elections constitute candidate ranking by the voter.
The voter would list over three candidates starting with the most preferred.
If a voter’s first pick candidate received the least votes, their vote would then be given to their second pick.
With this process, though it is not flawless, no blame could be placed on a voter of a third party for splitting votes and the winner take all effect at least could be overcome.

Public Financing
Removing the effect of private capital on elections would transform the process entirely.
It would create a level playing field where no candidate could garner advantage.
It would also eliminate the institutionalized graft where politicians owe their financiers favors.

Want to reform the process?
That's how you do it.
Want to vote for someone other than a major party candidate and have your vote actually HELP your cause?
That's how you do it,
Until then, it's casting the first your own face.

As to T
he Lady or the Tiger?
Sutton never solved the riddle...he left it up to you.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sex, Politics, Religion, & Baseball

The Real Reason Trump Has Evangelical Support:
They're Just Not That 'Religious'
As long as I can remember, conservative commentator George Will has never impressed me with his political pieces, though oddly perhaps, I have often read his columns because he does know and love baseball and writes very well about the game and it's history as well as his experience as a long suffering Chicago Cubs fan. (At least there's something he can be pleased about this year).
    I would often cringe as I witnessed Mr. Will struggle to find ways to make arguments for George Bush's policies, particularly the choice to invade Iraq, since the rationale changed almost daily for doing so and none of it made any sense whatsoever to me at any point.
George Will is an avowed conservative, I am not. So it's not surprising that in political matters we seldom agree. But giving credit where I feel it is due, this last year George Will has been one of the earliest and most vocal critics of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
In an article for National Review, George Will writes:
"the tape revealed nothing about this arrested-development adolescent that today’s righteously recoiling Republicans either did not already know or had no excuse for not knowing. Before the tape reminded the pathologically forgetful of Trump’s feral appetites and deranged sense of entitlement, the staid Economist magazine, holding the subject of Trump at arm’s-length like a soiled sock, reminded readers of this: “When Mr. Trump divorced the first of his three wives, Ivana, he let the New York tabloids know that one reason for the separation was that her breast implants felt all wrong.
His sexual loutishness is a sufficient reason for defeating him, but it is far down a long list of sufficient reasons. But if it — rather than, say, his enthusiasm for torture feven “if it doesn’t work,” or his ignorance of the nuclear triad — is required to prompt some Republicans to have second thoughts about him, so be it."
Trump's faux masculinity, or.rather cartoon version of masculinity;
is frankly an ironic gift to feminism. 
One of the plethora of shams in the skeletal essences
is the counterfeit piety found among Donald Trump’s supporters.
As Yahoo News reported-
“Leaders of religious conservative groups largely stood behind Donald Trump on Saturday, the day after vulgar sexual comments he made about women surfaced online, but some expressed concern that the U.S. Republican presidential nominee’s remarks could depress evangelical turnout on Election Day."
Trump brags about groping women and trying to seduce a married woman. Vice presidential poodle Mike Pence said he could not defend Trump’s words. But he forgives him. (Fine, actually that is admirable...but I wonder if he also forgives his political foes...judging from the legislation he pushed for in his state allowing businesses to refuse service to gays or Muslims...anyone they don't like really if they claim it's against their religious belief; I'd say not.)
Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, said “I continue to support the Trump-Pence ticket.”What the above-quoted story doesn’t mention is that Gary Bauer is currently president of an organization that named itself American Values.
Considering all of the vile things that Donald Trump has said, one wonders of course,
just what values that Bauer considers to be American values.
And is the working FAMILY he claims to represent the Manson Family?

Jerry Falwell Jr. proudly continues to endorse him (though thankfully students at the Liberty University campus, which he is president of, generally do not.)
James Dobson of Family Talk radio condemned Trump’s comments but called Clinton’s support for abortion rights “criminal.”
Overall, politically active Christian conservative leaders across the country said they were worried that Trump’s comments could depress turnout, but have no problem apparently with the pernicious comments Trump has made throughout his campaign regarding women, "the Blacks", people of other faiths, Mexicans, admiration of dictatorships, flippant calls for violence ("I'd like to punch that guy's face in" "Anyone who beats that guy up, I'll pay your legal fees"), etc.
I have to think they must own completely different "bibles" than any I have ever seen in my lifetime.

Why would so-called “Evangelicals” be supporting Trump?
Rebecca Cusey explains in her commentary published by The Hill:
“Who knew obscure Biblical knowledge would be so handy in this election?
With Evangelicals remaining,
at least as far as we can tell in the rapidly changing environment,
a solid block for Trump,
those stories of old echo into today.

Evangelicals are a funny bunch, prone to tease points out of – to all others – irrelevant Biblical passages and apply them to current events.

To this point, an idea has been circulating in Evangelical circles
that paints Donald Trump as a modern day Cyrus
— the ancient king of Persia who sent Jews home to Israel from captivity
as told in the book of Ezra (among other passages).
By accounts in and out of the Bible, Cyrus was a generous and just ruler,
instituting (relatively) fair laws and religious freedom in his vast empire.

Cyrus was a pagan and yet God used him to restore the people of Israel, so the pro-Trump argument goes. Though Trump is not a Christian in the way Evangelicals would ever really accept, it continues, God is raising him up to fulfill God’s purposes.”

In short, Trump can act like a pagan,
but that doesn’t matter as long as he isn’t Hillary Clinton."

Others who stand by Trump are Ralph Reed,
a member of the campaign’s evangelical advisory board.
He's the former partner of the imprisoned lobbyist-racketeer Jack Abramoff,
and the founder of the Faith n' Freedom Coalition.

  Perennial feces huckster and televangelist Pat Robertson also stands fast with Trump.
The above-mentioned Trump supporters
preach that piety requires one to support Trump over Clinton. 
They are, as they always do; promoting counterfeit piety.
First off, these so-called “evangelical leaders”
are certainly not promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Instead, they are promoting a hybrid of religious legalism
somewhat like Sharia Law and their political philosophy
which favors corporatism and wealth concentration.
Oh yeah,  Dobson rails against abortion,
but the Bible never mentions abortion.
The Bible is silent about that subject.
The Bible is silent about all the things that Trump’s religious supporters rail about.

The faux piety within the GOP is troublesome.
  I have known plenty of devout practicing Christians who are Democrats
and who would never support Donald Trump.
  Are they somehow less pious than the Republican Christians?

And why do obvious hucksters like Pat Robertson or Ralph Reed
get to define what Christians should believe about the Bible?
And which parts they shouldn't?
The one very clear message I think we all can clearly see
in the New Testament,
Is Love One Another
As much as I try to see any sort of way to correlate that edict
to any policy of the GOP
or anything Trump has said
I can not find even an inkling of similarity

That's ok because...
the Christian faith is politically neutral.
We all should be abhorred by any attempt to mix Christianity with politics.
We all should reject false piety.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Fear Of A Just World - The Backlash Against The 1960s

Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.
– George Orwell, 1984
Forget about Trump. Forget about Clinton. There is far more going on than the personalities and flaws of these individuals. There is a far larger frame here and a picture that needs interpretation and possibly curating.
Those of us left who lived through the 1960s, who experienced the upheavals of that era understand that the project of transforming our world towards a more democratic, just, ecologically balanced future has deep roots. Straddling confidently atop the long sturdy roots laid down by labor struggles and previous movements for social justice transmits the possibility and hope that we can indeed change the world. I know this is so because my friends... because we already have. Indeed, the civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, women’s rights, LBGT, and environmental movements movements begun in the 60s era successfully challenged the dominant capitalist institutions of the U.S.
So much so, that those institutions have been scrambling for the last 50 years to systematically minimize the possibility of any future freedom struggles. Pretty much that's all the last 50 years have been about...attempting to negate and deny the impact of the 1960s rebellions on society.

There has been an ongoing campaign to denigrate and obscure the democratic promise that the movements of the sixties still hold, while at the same time co-opting the symbols and imagery of that era to trivialize the meanings as well as make Corporate America seem “cool” and sell more products. This reaction has gone hand-in-hand with material forces, such as student debt and coercing the population into inactivity and obedience. The result is a “depoliticized society,” with a diminished ability to make history.  Knowledge of this campaign is a weapon against rootlessness and despair.
This is the product being sold now in every media market...rootlessness and despair.
It's why we see the political campaigns we see today.
It's why we are not talking about Native Americans struggling to protect their water supply, or global warming... but instead the absurd antics of a narcissistic billionaire with the intellect and vocabulary of a carrot or the tired stories of misogyny and alleged 'crookedness" that has been investigated ad nauseum over and over. It's all designed to distract, disgust, repel, and lower the IQs of those outside the power network that revolves around the extreme concentration of wealth and the power that goes with it. It's all meant to make you feel rootless, disparate, and hopeless.  
The 1960s are typically remembered as a time of turbulence and change.
Even if you did not live through it, you know the iconic images of assassinations, war, protests, urban riots, men on the moon, long hair, drugs, sex, pop art, and fantastic music.
The underlying story of that decade was the clash between capitalism and democracy, one in which  millions of Americans participated in social movements and challenged the country to become more just and more democratic.  In some ways it succeeded and in others it failed. The true history of that struggle has been consistently distorted and hidden from view. What the power network and the media they own still cannot comprehend, or perhaps would most like to forget, is the democratic promise that formed the basis of those sixties social movements. In his book, Obscuring The Promise of Democracy; Edward P. Morgan suggests that the surge in democratic empowerment in which large numbers of Americans of all ages organized themselves to confront and transform a range of injustices rooted in American institutions has largely disappeared from memory. 
The sixties’ social movements, at their best, were not just about stopping racism or war on a systemic scale, but also about the self-realization of the millions of individuals involved on a personal level. Morgan calls that“democratic empowerment.” and describes it  as “one’s unfolding ‘freedom to,’ a lifelong discovery of one’s authentic self, the discovery of which progressively frees one from manipulation by others and potentially by the disabling scripts of the unconscious”
You may have experienced this, it's a rush of sorts...perhaps the first time you participated in some type of organizing meeting for a cause you knew was a just one, and realized that in working with others you had the power to impact the world for the better. The meaningfulness and self-confidence that comes from a politically active and engaged life contrasts dramatically from the dominant modes of apathy and self-loathing inoculated into us by capitalism and its occupied mass media appendages. The experience of acting together allows people to see themselves differently and to grow into their full potential, to gain courage in the face of challenges – from registering people to vote, speaking at a meeting, to holding a picket sign, or risking arrest in direct action.  Jim Lawson, the civil rights organizer is quoted as saying, “ordinary people who acted on conscience and took terrible risks were no longer ordinary people. They were by their very actions transformed”. 

In the 1960s we rode a wave of personal and political transformation. It exploded in the black freedom movement as African Americans of all ages stood up against terrorism and oppression and found pride and voice, it contagiously spread out from the South to other areas and populations in the country. White students returning to campus from battles against segregation began to question and stand up against the U.S. invasion of Vietnam. Women involved in these movements connected their gender experiences with the role of women in capitalist patriarchal society, and fought for a world without sexual inequality. LGBTs, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, American Indians, Asian Americans, factory workers, prisoners, and many others also joined in to the wave of democratic empowerment, finding  allies & greater confidence and higher expectations for the world around them. 
In concert these social movements pointed the way towards a vision for a radically democratic society, in which capitalism would be replaced by the participation of diverse constituencies in the decisions which affect them. Such a vision was spelled out in many places including Students for a Democratic Society’s famous Port Huron Statement, which coined the term “participatory democracy.” This vision absolutely mortified the ruling class of the time, prompting such responses as the Trilateral Commission’s 1975 publication “Crisis of Democracy,” which defined the “crisis” as an “excess of democracy,” or too much democracy for the correct functioning of the U.S. in its role as “the hegemonic power in a system of world order

The fear of rising democracy was the prevailing attitude of elites long before 1975.
Corporate power riddled the impartiality of the news way before Reagan came along and removed all the stops.
 Morgan’s book, (mentioned earlier) in fact, documents media distortions of sixties social movements at the time they happened. Rather than the right-wing myth of a “liberal media” bias, Morgan documents how the mass media in the 60s consistently misinterpreted the democratic surge of social movements in order to discredit them in the eyes of the public and prevent them from picking up too much steam.
This was done much more intently after the 60s on two fronts: a right-wing “ideological backlash” which bore poison fruit in the policies of the Reagan-Bush era in the 1980s (which still continues to this day), and  a “commercial exploitation” of sixties sights and sounds to sell “a feeling of empowerment as a partial compensation for the real thing”.

Anyone who has read Chomsky and Herman’s critique, Manufacturing Consent, will recognize that while the United States has freedom of the press, the reality is that the press is largely in the hands of 3 owners...this corporate media defines “legitimate” points of view and excludes contradictory ones.
They design the public consumption of a limited range of viewpoints that embrace rather than challenge the system’s foundational myths, ideological beliefs, and institutions.
Many of the perspectives and actions of the earlier black freedom movement, which challenged racist segregation in the South, were considered “legitimate” and were covered at times sympathetically by the mainstream press. Yet, once that same movement turned its sights from regional (Southern) to national or economic targets, the press swung against it. For example, The Washington Post reacting to Martin Luther King’s first anti-war speech in 1967, “Many who have listened to him with respect will never again accord him the same confidence. He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people. And that is a great tragedy”
MLK had stepped outside the boundaries of "legitimate" discourse. Questioning Jim Crow segregation was “useful,” but questioning a US foreign policy which ultimately killed 3-5 million Vietnamese was interpreted as betrayal.
Many Sixties historians draw a line between earlier civil rights activism, most of which was explicitly nonviolent, and later post-1965 struggles, including “Black Power,” anti-war organizing, the women’s movement, etc. and create a “Good Sixties” vs. “Bad Sixties” mythology. Research highlights how this was entirely a media construction, mostly due to the movements moving their criticisms of American society beyond “legitimate” media boundaries. As the press turned from sympathetic to unsympathetic, the official story got further away from the issues that movements were raising and increasingly focused on the protesters themselves as “outsiders.” Unable to comprehend or transmit growing moral outrage against the war in Vietnam, white supremacy in the North, or male domination of women, the media became fixated on the idea that all this protesting was due to “a new, postwar baby boom generation that was  merely restless, questioning, and ultimately rebellious. The “baby boomer” story or the “family quarrel” frame therefore was used to characterize protesters’ actions as errant and their causes as unworthy.  Similarly, the media sensationalized appearances over substance, constantly revisiting the “dirty hippie” theme as a way to ridicule those involved in grassroots movements.
Other right-wing anti-sixties backlash frames have so thoroughly poisoned much of the media’s coverage of protest and activism that they have graduated to the level of “common sense.” Thus, attempts to challenge racism, sexism, homophobia or other oppressive behaviors are lumped into the belittling term “political correctness” Feminism has become almost a dirty word in much of society, associated with “man-hating” and a completely fabricated, over-sexualized “bra burning” myth. Another commonly-held belief which Morgan’s book reveals to be a total myth is the story that veterans returning home from Vietnam were “spit on” by anti-war protesters. Instead he found, "A search for documentation of spitting incidents found only a few press reports of pro-war people spitting on antiwar veterans” (pg 279 of his book). Nevertheless, this myth serves the larger establishment goal to “shift historical guilt from those who instigated and ran the war to those who opposed it”.
I can personally attest to not only being spit on, but actually being physically attacked by a group of pro-war men in their late 30s in front of the Smithsonian Natural History museum during a peaceful demonstration when I was 17...oddly my 2 companions had been drafted and were off to boot camp the next day...but we looked like "hippies" I guess.  Ironically we weren't even there for the protest on the mall...merely to visit the museum. It was a volatile time. But a time I'd not trade for any other.
I'm thankful to have experienced it. And those experiences inform and enrich my life to this day.

They also make it possible to understand and deconstruct all the backlash that we are still dealing with. When we watch films about or alluding to the CNN's series on the decade or even the backstory in "Forrest Gump". It's sanitized, re-arranged, the message controlled.
It wasn't black and white, but many shades and hues.
It's a fine movie with a wonderful soundtrack mind you, but there is an underlying propaganda message...intentional or merely subliminal.
  The Forrest Gump film  unquestioningly contains and propagates many right-wing backlash frames, reinforcing them in the public mind. The protagonist is a white man from Alabama, home of the most vicious racism and some of the greatest racial battles of the 1960s. The innocent and mentally challenged Gump remains oblivious to this racism  and therefore provides an avenue for today’s viewers to “move past” or “get over” racial conflict by simply ignoring, Gump-like, that it is still a problem  More blatant right-wing themes fill other scenes in the movie, including Jenny’s physically abusive boyfriend being “the President of SDS at Berkeley,” who hangs out with threatening, rhetoric-spouting Black Panthers, and the portrayal of the Vietnam War reduced to one in which invisible Vietnamese inflict gruesome damage on young American men. (One thing about the "real" 60s folks, is news reporters didn't filter footage from the anyone ate dinner back then I have no clue). Most of all there is the incredibly problematic portrayal of the Jenny character herself. Instead of remaining with slow-witted-but-loyal Forrest, Jenny’s crime is in her seeking independence (perhaps an allegory for the women’s movement?) As punishment, Jenny then becomes the butt of a long string of right wing backlash myths. Joining up with hippies she doesn’t know, she then begins to smoke dope, performs naked in a club, is featured in Playboy, gets strung out on hard drugs, and eventually dies of an AIDS-like disease. Along the way, Jenny is also shown with a large number of strange men, and even contemplating suicide. Think of it...Jenny is the one character who happens to be the only sympathetic character involved in any kind of protest or movement activity in the entire film, Jenny embodies not only the myth that 60s activists had too much sex and took too many drugs, but that these behaviors led directly to the social problems of the 70s and 80s, the AIDS epidemic. This history revision is easy to point out in this film, but it's rampant in all forms of media.

History is constantly being revised and sanitized for the benefit of  corporate capitalism. You can recognize this "backlash" against the 60s and positive social change as a crusade in which one's material interests are suspended in favor of vague cultural grievances that are all-important and yet incapable of ever being assuaged.While earlier forms of conservatism emphasized fiscal sobriety, the backlash mobilizes voters with explosive social issues...which is then married to pro-corporate empire economics. And in particular any honest view of the 1960s is purposefully obscured or erased entirely in all of corporate media and indeed even pop culture to a degree.

This is all related to the overall power structure in the U.S.

While Forrest Gump transmits anti-movement backlash messages, the film is remembered more for its heavy dosage of iconic sixties imagery and its classic countercultural soundtrack. This illustrates the second prong of mass media’s reaction to sixties-era social movements which is cultural co-optation. However much the conservatives may froth and moan about the 60s, the truth is mainstream culture was tepid, mechanical, and uniform; while the revolt of the young against it was a joyous and even a glorious cultural flowering, though it quickly became mainstream itself.  It was a time when the gray  cold 50s cracked open and springs of contrarian sentiment began bubbling into the best minds of a generation raised in an era of unprecedented prosperity but well versed in the exquisite existential subversions of the Beats and Mad magazine. The story ends with the noble idealism of the New Left waterboarded and in ruins while the art and music of the counterculture was sold out to Hollywood and the television networks. 
The music industry of the 1960s was wonderfully chaotic and diverse with far too many small entrepreneurs running record companies to control "the message". By the end of the 1970s the corporate world bought them up and controlled "the message" which is why music no longer plays the crucial role in people's lives it once did.  Film industries & TV especially, adapted itself in the late-60s/early-70s to attempt to absorb the attention and market of “rebellious youth,” through such shows as “Mod Squad” and “All in the Family”. While these and other shows communicated various liberal ideas and attitudes prevalent in sixties counterculture, they effectively exploited them in order to sell corporate goods and culture. At the same time, this commercial co-optation took people off the street and plopped them onto the couch, it worked hand-in-hand with the government’s repression of social movements to demobilize  and anesthetize the population.
The corporate mass media’s post-60s adaptation of the tools of the counterculture elevated irony, self-satire, and absurdity in an attempt to stay “hip.” “The introduction of ironic, hip advertising became a magic cultural formula by which the life of consumerism could be extended indefinitely, running forever on the discontent that it itself had produced.
Watching TV commercials in 2016 is a drastically different experience than watching ads from forty years ago. If you go back and watch old commercials, it’s a startling experience. Not only do they run at a much slower pace, without constant cutting from one shot to another, and of course making use of far fewer computer generated effects, but the tone of the commercials was very different.
Older ads tried to convince the viewer that their product was quality, useful, and affordable.
Today’s commercials often have nothing to do with the product in question.
Although they display the company’s logo and deploy clever techniques to slip the brand into dialogue, the vast majority of today’s ads are 30-second comedy routines headlined by celebrities or wacky characters who are involved in some satirical or absurd plot. Corporate brands actively parody themselves in order to present the impression that they are perhaps cooler or hipper than other brands. This transformation is part of a truly subversive dynamic that effectively preempts dissent and criticism because the media themselves are self-parodying.
Interesting to me is that parody, satire, and irony remain the most common cultural weapons utilized by those of us on the left or in the counterculture. It is as if we are attempting to stay one step ahead of capitalism’s cultural co-optation, mocking them faster than they can mock themselves.
Yet, sadly I would suggest that we have entered a race we cannot win.
This is no longer 1968, and the vast majority of youth in the US today are completely plugged in to the mainstream media’s constant hum, while most are probably unaware that a counterculture or left movement even existed in this country.  Thomas Frank speaks of the media as “cultural machines that transform alienation and despair into consent,” the left’s use of satire reverses this transformation. But yes,  we may know how to use our words and images to break down consent and conformity, but in doing so I fear we may generate more cynicism and despair than we do hope or inspiration, qualities that are absolutely necessary for building a mass movement for any sort of social or economic justice. I don't like saying satire and parody are personally very valuable to me.
But I don't think they work as effectively as they once did, and may actually contribute to the effect desired by our dark corporate overlords.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Understanding Power Structure In The U.S.

Who wields predominant power in the United States?

From 1776 to the present, the answer is and always has been those who have the money.
It's no coincidence that the first president,
George Washington; was one of the biggest landowners of his day.
Late 19th century presidents were close to the railroad interests and the 'robber barons'.
For the Bush family, it was oil and other natural resources, agribusiness, and finance.
Today it's the banks, corporations, agribusinesses,as well as big real estate developers.
They work separately on many policy issues, but in combination on general issues like
taxes, opposition to labor unions, and trade agreements.
They set the rules within which all policy battles are waged.

How and why does it differ from other nations?
This conclusion may at first glance strike you as too simple or direct,
leaving out the effects of elected officials or voters.
Yet it is not simple at all. The reasons behind it are ripe with complexity.
Understanding the deviations and contrasts with other democratic nations
require an understanding of social classes, the role of "experts",
the two-party system, and the history of the United States, (especially Southern slavery).
In terms of the larger world-historical picture, large economic interests rule the U.S. because there are no rival networks that grew in U.S. history.
  • There is no one big church, as in many countries in Europe
  • No big government, as it took to survive as a nation-state in Europe
  • No big military until after 1940 (which is not very long ago) to threaten to take over the government
So, the only power network of any consequence in the history of the United States has been the economic one, which under capitalism generates a business-owning class and a working class, along with small businesses and skilled craft workers who are self-employed, and a relatively small number of highly trained professionals such as architects, lawyers, physicians, and scientists etc.
In this context, the key reason why money can rule -- i.e., why the business owners who hire workers can rule -- is that the people who worked in the factories and fields were divided from the outset.
They were divided into free and slave, white and black, and into numerous immigrant ethnic groups as well.

Divide and Conquer
The divisions created by the ruling class made it difficult for workers as a whole to unite politically to battle for higher wages or better lots in society. The divisions couldn't be more obvious today.
Look at our presidential race. Observe how the various groups are incited on many fronts including the major media (which now is 'occupied'. Owned by very few corporate interests) to be angry with each other rather than at the very people doing the inciting and dividing.
The simple answer that money rules has to be qualified somewhat.
Domination by the few does not mean complete control, but rather the ability to set the terms under which other groups and classes must operate. Highly trained professionals with an interest in environmental and consumer issues have been able to couple their technical information and their understanding of the legislative process with timely publicity to win governmental restrictions on some corporate practices. Wage and salary workers, when they are organized or disruptive, sometimes have been able to gain concessions on wages, hours, and working conditions.
Most of all, there is free speech and the right to vote. While voting does not necessarily make government responsive to the will of the majority, under certain circumstances the electorate has been able to place restraints on the actions of the wealthy elites, or more often, to decide which elites will have the greatest influence on policy. This is especially a possibility when there are disagreements within the higher circles of wealth and influence.

There is global stratification and there is American stratification.
The effect in the US is more pronounced.
The Poor never have any power and are at the mercy of others, in the US the Middle and Working Class, once robust in the post WWII era have been decimated and have less power than in nearly all other democracies. Still, the idea that a relatively fixed group of privileged people dominate the economy and government goes against the American grain and the founding principles of the country. "Class" and "power" are terms that make many Americans a little uneasy, and concepts such as "upper class" and "power elite" immediately put many people on guard. Americans may differ in their social and income levels, and some may have more influence than others, but it is felt that there can be no fixed power group when power is constitutionally dwelling in all the people.
We observe democratic participation through elections.
There is evidence of social mobility. So we conclude that elected officials, along with "interest groups" like "organized labor" and "consumers," have enough "countervailing" power to say that there is an open, "pluralistic" distribution of power rather than one with only the very richest people and corporations at the top. But this is just denial.
Contrary to this pluralistic view, rule by the wealthy few is possible despite free speech, regular elections, and organized opposition.

  • The ruling wealthy coalesce into a social upper class that has developed institutions by which the children of its members are socialized into an upper-class worldview, and any newly wealthy people are assimilated.
  • Members of this upper class control corporations, which have been the primary mechanisms for generating and holding wealth in the United States for over of 150 years now.
  • There exists a network of nonprofit organizations through which members of the upper class and their hired corporate leaders not yet in the upper class shape the policy debates in the United States.
  • Members of the upper class, with the help of their high-level employees in profit and nonprofit institutions, are able to dominate the federal government in Washington.
  • The rich, and corporate leaders, nonetheless claim to be relatively powerless.
  • Working people have less power than in other democratic countries.
Let's take a moment to define the term "power" and to explain the "indicators" of power that determine who has it.
Power is one of those words that is easy to understand but hard to define in a precise manner.
We know it means "clout" or "juice" or "muscle" or "the ability to make things happen." We know it comes from words implying the ability to act in a strong, compelling, and direct way, but we also know that power can be projected in a very quiet or indirect manner.
Let's define power as "the capacity of some persons to produce intended and foreseen effects on others"  This is a general definition that allows for the many forms of power that can be changed from one to another, such as economic power, political power, military power, ideological power, and intellectual power (i.e., knowledge, expertise). It leaves open the question of whether "force" or "coercion" is always lurking somewhere in the background in the exercise of power, as many definitions imply.  Power can be thought of as an underlying "trait" or "property" that is measured by a series of signs, or indicators, that bear a probabilistic relationship to it. (Bet you didn't see quantum physics coming into play in an article about policy making!)
There are three primary indicators of power, which can be summarized as (1) who benefits? (2) who governs? and (3) who wins? In every society there are experiences and material objects that are highly valued. If it is assumed that everyone in the society would like to have as great a share as possible of these experiences and objects, then the distribution of values in that society can be utilized as a power indicator. Those who benefit the most, by inference, are powerful. In American society, wealth and well-being are highly valued. People seek to own property, earn high incomes, to have interesting and safe jobs, and to live long and healthy lives. All of these "values" are unequally distributed, and all are power indicators.

Power also can be inferred from studies of who occupies important institutional positions and takes part in important decision-making groups. If a group or class is highly over-represented in relation to its proportion of the population, it can certainly be inferred that the group is powerful.

If, for example, a group makes up 10% of the population but has 50% of the seats in the main governing institutions, then it has five times more people in governing positions than would be expected by chance, and there is thus probable reason to believe that the group is a powerful one.

There are many policy issues over which groups or classes disagree.
In the United States different policies are suggested by opposing groups in foreign policy, taxation, the general welfare of the people, research, public education, and the environment. Power can be inferred from these issue conflicts by determining who successfully initiates, modifies, or vetoes policy alternatives. This indicator, by focusing on actions within the decision-making process, comes closest to approximating the process of power that is contained in the formal definition. It is no less an inference to say that who wins on issues is an indicator of "power" than with the other two types of empirical observations -- value distributions and positional over-representation -- that we must also use as power indicators.

The Upper Class
The upper class makes up only a few tenths of one percent of the population.
Members of the upper class live in exclusive suburban neighborhoods, expensive downtown co-ops, and large country estates. They often have far-away summer and winter homes as well. They attend a system of private schools that extends from pre-school to the university level; the best known of these schools are the "day" and "boarding" prep schools that take the place of public high schools. Adult members of the upper class socialize in expensive country clubs, downtown luncheon clubs, hunting clubs, and garden clubs. Young women of the upper class are "introduced" to high society each year through an elaborate series of debutante teas, parties, and balls. Women of the upper class gain experience as "volunteers" through a nationwide organization known as the Junior League, and then go on to serve as directors of cultural organizations, family service associations, and hospitals (see  Kendall, 2002, for a good account of women of the upper class by a sociologist who was also a participant in upper-class organizations).
These various social institutions are important in creating "social cohesion" and a sense of in-group "we-ness." This sense of cohesion is heightened by the fact that people can be excluded from these organizations. Through these institutions, young members of the upper class and those who are new to wealth develop shared understandings of " how to be wealthy".
Because these social settings are expensive and exclusive, members of the upper class usually come to think of themselves as "special" and "superior." They think they are better than other people, and certainly better able to lead and govern. Their self-confidence and social polish become useful in dealing with people from other social classes, who are taught to admire them and defer to their judgments. Findings by economists on the wealth and income distribution say that the upper class, comprising 0.5% to 1% of the population, owns 40-50% of all privately held wealth in the United States and receives gains of 12-15% of total income yearly on average. In short, the upper class scores very high on the "who benefits" power indicator.
The Role of Corporations
Major economic power in the United States is concentrated in an organizational and legal form known as the corporation, and has been since the last several decades of the 19th century. No one doubts that individual corporations have great power in the society at large. For example, they can hire and fire workers, decide where to invest their resources, and use their income in a variety of tax-deductible ways to influence schools, charities, and governments. Are the large corporations united enough to exert a common social power?  Are they controlled by members of the upper class?
The unity of the corporations can be demonstrated in a numerous ways. They share a common interest in making profits. They are often owned by the same families or financial institutions. Their executives have very similar educational and work experiences. It is also important for their sense of unity that corporate leaders see themselves as sharing common opponents.  Largely organized labor, environmentalists, consumer advocates, and regulation from government officials. A sense of togetherness is created as well by their use of the same few legal, accounting, and consulting firms.
However, the best way to demonstrate the unity among corporations is through what sociologists call "interlocking directors," meaning those individuals who sit on two or more of the boards of directors that are in charge of the overall direction of the corporation. Boards of directors usually include major owners, top executives from similar corporations or corporations located in the same area, financial and legal advisors, and the three or four officers who run the corporation on a daily basis. Several studies show that those 15-20% of corporate directors who sit on two or more boards, who are called the "inner circle" of the corporate directorate, unite 80-90% of the largest corporations in the United States into a well-connected "corporate community."
Most all social scientists agree that corporations have a strong basis for cohesion.

So members of the upper class have power based on their wealth, and corporate executives have organizational power. Contrary to the claim of some, that there is a division between owners and managers, I think there is strong evidence for the idea of great overlap in membership and interest between the upper class and the corporate community. The wealthiest and most cohesive upper-class families often have "family offices" through which they can bring to bear the concentrated power of their collective stock ownership, sometimes placing employees of the office on boards of directors. Then too, members of the upper class often control corporations through financial devices known as "holding companies," which purchase a controlling interest in operating companies. More generally, members of the upper class own roughly half of all corporate stock . Then too, upper-class control of corporations can be seen in its over-representation on boards of directors. Several past studies show that members of the upper class sit on boards far more than would be expected by chance. They are especially likely to be part of the "inner circle" that has two or more directorships. According to the "who governs" power indicator, the upper class absolutely controls the corporate community.
Government Policy Is Shaped From Outside Government
The upper class and the closely related corporate community do not stand alone at the top of the power structure. They are supplemented by a wide range of nonprofit organizations that play an important role in framing debates over public policy and in shaping public opinion. These organizations are often called "nonpartisan" or "bipartisan" because they are not officially identified with politics or with either of the two major political parties. But they are the real "political party" of the upper class in terms of insuring their stability and domination of society and the compliance of government to their wishes.
Upper-class and corporate dominance of the major nonprofit organizations can be seen in their founding by wealthy members of the upper class and in their reliance on large corporations for their funding. However, dominance is once again most readily demonstrated through studies of boards of directors, which have ultimate control of the organizations, including the ability to hire and fire top executives. These studies show that members of the upper class are greatly over-represented on the boards of these organizations, and that nonprofit organizations share a large number of directors in common with the corporate community, particularly directors who are part of the "inner circle." In effect, most large nonprofit organizations are merely part of the corporate community.
All the organizations in the nonprofit sector have a hand in creating the framework of the society in one way or another, and hence in helping to shape the political climate. The cultural and civic organizations set the standard for what is beautiful, important, and "classy." The elite universities play a determine what is important to teach, learn, and research, and they train most of the professionals and experts in the country. However, it is the foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion organizations that have the largest, most direct, and important influence. Their ideas, criticisms, and policy suggestions go out to the general public through a wide array of avenues, including pamphlets, books, local discussion groups, mass media, endless internet sites and echo chamber blogs as well as the public relations departments of major corporations. The foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion organizations function as a "policy-planning network."

Tax-free foundations receive their money from wealthy families and corporations. Their primary purpose is to provide money for education, research, and policy discussion. They have the power to encourage those ideas and researchers they find compatible with their personal goals, and to withhold funds from others. Support by major foundations often has had a significant impact on the direction of research in agriculture, social science, and the health sciences. However, foundations also create policy projects on their own. The role of the think tanks is to suggest new policies to deal with the problems facing the economy and government. They do so using money from wealthy donors, corporations, and foundations, think tanks hire the experts groomed by the graduate departments of  particular elite universities. These policy-discussion organizations are the hub of the policy-planning network. They bring together wealthy individuals, corporate executives, experts, and government officials for lectures, forums, meetings, and group discussions of issues that range from the local to the international, and from the economic to the political to the cultural. New ideas are tried out in weekly or monthly discussion groups, and differences of opinion are aired and compromised. These structured discussion groups usually begin with a presentation by the invited experts, followed by questions and discussion involving all participants. Such discussion groups may range in size from ten to 50, with the usual group having fifteen to 25 members.
The many discussion groups that take place within the several policy-discussion organizations have several functions that do not readily meet the eye. First, these organizations help to familiarize  corporate leaders with policy options outside the view of their day-to-day business concerns. This gives these executives the ability to influence public opinion through the mass media and other outlets, to argue with and influence experts, and to accept appointments for government service. Second, the policy-discussion organizations give members of the upper class and corporate community the opportunity to see which of their colleagues become the best natural leaders through watching them in the give and take of the discussion groups. They can see which of their counterparts understand the issues quickly, offer their own ideas, facilitate discussions, and relate well to experts. The organizations thus serve as sorting and screening mechanisms for the emergence of new leadership for the corporate rich in general.
Third, these organizations disseminate their participants to the media and public as knowledgeable experts or leaders who deserve to be tapped for public service because they have used their free time to acquaint themselves with the issues in nonpartisan forums. The organizations thereby help make wealthy individuals and corporate executives into "national leaders" and "statesmen." Finally, these organizations provide a forum wherein members of the upper class and corporate community can come to know policy experts. This gives them a pool of people from which they can draw advisors if they are asked to serve in government. It also gives them a basis for recommending experts to politicians for government service.
The organizations also serve obvious functions for the experts. First, presenting their ideas and policies to these organizations gives them an opportunity to have influence. Second, it gives them a chance to advance their own careers if they can impress the upper-class and corporate participants.

The policy-planning network is not totally homogeneous. There are basically two ideologies represented. There are moderate-conservative and ultra-conservative wings within it. Moderate conservatives may favor foreign aid, low tariffs, and increased economic expansion overseas, whereas the ultra-conservatives tend to see foreign aid as a giveaway. Moderate conservatives tend to accept the idea that governmental taxation and spending policies can be used to stimulate and stabilize the economy, but ultra-conservatives insist that taxes should be cut to the very minimum and that government spending is the devil. Moderate conservatives accept some welfare-state measures, or at least they support such measures in the face of serious social disruption. Where ultra-conservatives have consistently opposed any welfare spending, claiming that it destroys moral fiber and saps individual initiative, so they prefer to use arrest and detention when faced with social unrest.
The reasons for these differences are not well understood. There is a tendency for the moderate-conservative organizations to be directed by executives from the very largest and most internationally oriented of corporations, but there are numerous exceptions to that generalization. Moreover, there are corporations that support policy organizations within both camps. However, for all their differences, leaders within the two clusters of policy organizations have a tendency to search for compromise due to their common membership in the upper-class and corporate community. When compromise is not possible, the final resolution of policy conflicts often takes place in legislative struggles in Congress.
The existence of the policy-planning network provides evidence for yet another form of power possessed by the wealthy few: expertise on social and political issues. It is an important complement to the naked economic power possessed by the corporations. One that plays a larger role in directing and forming public opinion as time goes on.

The Power Elite
Now that the upper class, corporate community, and policy-planning network have been defined and described, it is possible to discuss the the "power elite."The power elite is the leadership group of the upper class. It consists of active-working members of the upper class and high-level employees in profit and nonprofit institutions controlled by members of the upper class through stock ownership, financial support, or involvement on the board of directors. This does not mean that all members of the upper class are involved in governing. Some are only playboys and socialites; their social gatherings may provide a setting where members of the power elite mingle with celebrities, and sometimes they give money to political candidates, but that is about as close as they come to political power.
Conversely, not all those involved in the power elite are members of the upper class. They are sons and daughters of the middle class, and occasionally, the blue-collar working class, who do well at any one of several hundred private and state universities, and then go to grad school, MBA school, or law school at one of a handful of elite universities -- e.g., Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, MIT, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, and Stanford. From there they go to work for a major corporation, law firms, foundations, think tanks, or universities, and slowly work their way into the 'elite' group.
The idea of the power elite intertwines class theory and organizational theory, two theories which are often thought of as distinctive or even as rivals. The basis for the intertwining of the two theories is to be found in the role and composition of the boards of directors that govern every large profit and nonprofit organization in the United States. It is on boards of directors that the values and goals of the upper class are integrated with those of the organizational hierarchy. Upper-class directors insure that their interests are infused into the organizations they control, but the day-to-day organizational leaders on the board are able to harmonize class interests with organizational principles.
It is important to stress that not all experts are members of the power elite. People have to be high-level employees in institutions controlled by members of the upper class to be considered part of that realm. Receiving a fellowship from a foundation, spending a year at a think tank, or giving advice to a policy-discussion organization does not make a person a member of the power elite. It also may be useful to note that there are many experts who never go near the policy-planning network. They focus on their teaching and research, or work for groups that oppose the policies of the power elite.

Direct Control Of Government
Members of the power elite directly involve themselves in the federal government through three basic processes, each of which has a slightly different role in ensuring "access" to the White House, Congress, and specific agencies, departments, and committees in the executive branch. Although some of the same people are involved in all three processes, most leaders specialize in one or two of the three processes. These three processes are:
  1. The special-interest process, through which specific families, corporations, and industrial sectors are able to realize their narrow and short-run interests on taxes, subsidies, and regulation in their dealings with congressional committees, regulatory bodies, and executive departments;
  2. The policy-making process, through which the policies developed in the policy-planning network described earlier are brought to the White House and Congress;
  3. The candidate selection process, through which members of the power elite influence electoral campaigns by means of campaign donations to political candidates.
Power elite domination of the federal government can be seen most directly in the workings of the corporate lobbyists, backroom super-lawyers, and industry-wide trade associations that represent the interests of specific corporations or business sectors. This special-interest process is based in varying combinations of information, gifts, insider dealing, friendship, and, not least, promises of lucrative private jobs in the future for compliant government officials. This is the aspect of business-government relations described by journalists and social scientists in their case studies. While these studies show that the special interests usually get their way, the conflict that sometimes erupts within this process, occasionally pitting one corporate sector against another, reinforces the image of widely shared and fragmented power in America, including the image of a divided corporate community. Moreover, there are some defeats suffered by the corporate rich in the special-interest process. For example, laws that improved auto safety standards were passed over automobile industry objections in the 1970s, as were standards of water cleanliness opposed by the paper and chemical industries.
Policies of concern to the corporate community as a whole are not the province of the special-interest process. Instead, such policies come from the network of foundations, think tanks, and policy-discussion organizations. The plans developed in the organizations of the policy-planning network reach the federal government in a variety of ways. On the most general level, their reports, news releases, and interviews are read by elected officials and their staffs, either in pamphlet form or in summary articles in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal. Members of the policy-planning network also testify before congressional committees and subcommittees that are writing legislation or preparing budget proposals. More directly, leaders from these organizations are regular members of the dozens of little-known committees that advise specific departments of the executive branch on general policies, making them in effect unpaid un-elected temporary members of the government. They are also very prominent on the extremely important presidential commissions that are appointed to make recommendations on a wide range of issues from foreign policy to highway construction. They also serve on the little-known federal advisory committees that are part of just about every department of the executive branch.
Finally, and crucially, they are appointed to government positions with a frequency far beyond what would be expected by chance. Several different studies show that top cabinet positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations are held by members of the upper class and corporate executives who are leaders in policy-discussion organizations.
The general picture that emerges from the findings on the over-representation of members of the power elite in appointed governmental positions is that the highest levels of the executive branch are interlocked constantly with the upper class and corporate community through the movement of executives and lawyers in and out of government. Although the same person is not in governmental and corporate positions at the same time, there is enough continuity for the relationship to be described as one of "revolving interlocks." Corporate leaders resign their numerous directorships in profit and nonprofit organizations to serve in government for two or three years, then return to the corporate community or policy-planning network. This system gives them temporary independence from the narrow concerns of their own organizations and allows them to perform the more general roles they have learned in the policy-discussion groups. They then return to the private sector with useful personal contacts and information.
As important as the special-interest and policy-planning processes are for the power elite, they could not operate successfully if there were not sympathetic, business-oriented elected officials in government. That leads us to the third process through which members of the power elite dominate the federal government, the candidate-selection process. It operates through the two major political parties. For reasons to be discussed in a moment, the two parties have very little role in political education or policy formation; they are reduced to the function of filling offices. That is why the American political system can be characterized as a "candidate-selection process."
The main reason the political system focuses on candidate selection to the relative exclusion of political education and policy formulation is that there can be only two main parties due to the structure of the government and the nature of the electoral rules. The fact that Americans select a president instead of a parliament, and elect legislators from "single-member" geographical areas (states for the Senate, districts for the House) leads to a two-party system because in these "winner-take-all" elections a vote for a third party is a vote for the person's least desired choice. A vote for a very liberal party instead of the Democrats, for example, actually helps the Republicans. Under these rules, the most sensible strategy for both the Democrats and Republicans is to blur their policy differences in order to compete for the voters with middle-of-the-road policy views, or no policy views at all.
Contrary to what many believe, then, American political parties are not very responsive to voter preferences. Their candidates are fairly free to say one thing to get elected and to do another once in office. This contributes to confusion and apathy in the electorate. It leads to campaigns where there are no "issues" except "images" and "personalities" even when polls show that voters are extremely concerned about certain policy issues.
It is precisely because the candidate-selection process is so personalized, and therefore dependent on name recognition, images, and emotional symbolism, that it can be in good part dominated by members of the power elite through the relatively simple and direct means of large campaign contributions. Playing the role of donors and money raisers, the same people who direct corporations and take part in the policy-planning network have a crucial place in the careers of most politicians who advance beyond the local level or state legislatures. Their support is especially important in party primaries, where money is an even larger factor than in general elections.
The two-party system therefore results in elected officials who are relatively issueless and willing to go along with the policies advocated by those members of the power elite who work in the special-interest and policy-planning processes. They are motivated by personal ambition far more than they are by political conviction. Still, there are some extremely conservative elected Republicans who often oppose power elite proposals, claiming that such policies are the work of secret communists or pointy-headed intellectuals out to wreck the "free enterprise" system. There also are many Democrats from blue-collar and university districts who consistently oppose power elite policies as members of the liberal-labor coalition. However, both the ultra-conservatives and the liberals are outnumbered by the "moderates" of both parties, especially in key leadership positions in Congress. After many years in Congress the elected liberals decide to "go along to get along." "This place has a way of grinding you down," explained Abner  Mikva  a former liberal Congressman of the early 1970s in a classic summary of what happens.

Although members of the power elite are far and away the most important financial backers for both parties, this does not mean that there are no differences between the two parties. The leadership levels have intra-class differences, and the supporters tend to have inter-class differences. The Republican Party is controlled by the wealthiest families of the upper class and corporate community, who are largely Protestant in background. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is the party of the "fringes" of the upper class and power elite. Although often called "the party of the common person," it was in fact the party of the Southern segment of the upper class until civil rights issues chased them away. The power of the Southern Democrats in the party and in Congress was secured in a variety of ways, the most important of which was the seniority system for selecting committee chairs in Congress. (By tradition, the person who has been on the committee longest just about automatically becomes the chair; this avoids conflict among members of the party.) However, the underlying point is that the one-party system in the South and the exclusion of African-Americans from the voting booth until the mid-1960s gave the Southern planters and merchants power at the national level through the Democratic Party out of all proportion to their wealth and numbers. Thus, it is not necessarily the wealthiest people who rule. The nature of the political system also enters into the equation. But the Southern elites are not poor; they are only less rich than many of their Northern counterparts. The Southerners dominated the Democratic Party in alliance with the "ethnic rich" in the North, meaning essentially wealthy Jews and Catholics who were shunned or mistreated by the rich Protestants in the Republican party. The businesses they owned were often local or smaller than those of the Republican backers, and they usually were excluded from the social institutions of the upper class. These ethnic rich were the primary financial supporters of the infamous "political machines" that dominated Democratic politics in most large northern cities.
The alliance between the Southern segment of the upper class and the Northern ethnic rich usually was able to freeze out the policy initiatives of the party's liberal-labor coalition through its control of congressional committees, although there was a time (1940 to 1975) when labor unions had significant influence on the Democrats. When that alliance broke down because the machine Democrats sided with the liberals and labor, then the Southern Democrats joined with Northern Republicans to create the "conservative coalition," AKA "the conservative voting bloc," wherein a majority of Southern Democrats and a majority of Northern Republicans voted together against the Northern Democrats. This conservative coalition most often formed around the issues that reflect class conflict in the legislative arena -- civil rights, union rights, social welfare, and business regulation. Legislation on any of these issues weakens employers in the face of workers and their unions, so it is not surprising that the conservative coalition is based on the shared interests of Northern and Southern employers. This alliance won far more often than it lost in the years between 1937, when it was formed, and the 1990s, when it disappeared for the simple reason that many of the Southerners had become Republicans.
Once the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was in effect, the Democratic Party was slowly changed because African-Americans in the South were able to vote against the worst racists in the party primaries. The gradual industrialization also was causing changes. As a result of these two forces, Southern whites started to move into the Republican Party, which thus became the party of wealthy employers in both the North and South. In that context, the Democratic Party is slowly becoming what many always thought it to be, the party of liberals, minorities, workers, and the poor.
In summary, the special-interest process, policy-planning process, and campaign finance make it possible for the power elite to win far more often than it loses on the policy issues that come before the federal government. The power elite is also greatly over-represented in appointed positions, presidential blue-ribbon commissions, and advisory committees within the government. In terms of both the "who wins" and "who governs" power indicators, the power elite dominates the federal government.

However, this domination does not mean control on each and every issue, or lack of opposition, and it does not rest upon government involvement alone. Involvement in government is only the final and most visible aspect of power elite domination, which has its roots in the class structure, the nature of the economy, and the functioning of the policy-planning network. If government officials did not have to wait on corporate leaders to decide where and when they will invest, and if government officials were not further limited by the acceptance of the current economic arrangements, then power elite involvement in elections and government would count for a lot less than it does under present conditions.
There are many democratic countries where the working class -- defined as all those white-collar and blue-collar workers who earn a salary or a wage -- has more power than it does in the United States. This power is achieved primarily through labor unions and political parties. It is reflected in more egalitarian wealth and income distributions, a more equitable tax structure, better public health services, subsidized housing, and higher old-age and unemployment benefits.
How is it possible that the American working class could be relatively powerless in a country that prides itself on its long-standing history of pluralism and elections? There are several interacting historical factors. First, the "primary producers" in the United States, those who work with their hands in factories and fields, were more seriously divided among themselves until the 1930s than in most other countries. The deepest and most important of these divisions was between whites and African-Americans. In the beginning, of course, the African-Americans had no social power because of their enslavement, which meant that there was no way to organize workers in the South. But even after African-Americans gained their freedom, prejudices in the white working class kept the two groups apart.
This black/white split in the working class was reinforced by later conflicts between craft workers -- also called "skilled" workers -- and industrial workers -- also called mass-production or "unskilled" workers. Craft workers usually tried to keep their wages high by excluding industrial workers. Their sense of superiority as skilled workers was reinforced by the fact that they were of Northern European, Protestant origins and the industrial workers tended to be Catholics and Jews from Eastern and Southern Europe. Some African-Americans were also found in the ranks of the industrial workers, along with other racial minorities.
It would have been difficult enough to overcome these divisions even if workers had been able to develop their own political party, but they were unable to develop such a party because the electoral system greatly disadvantages third parties. Workers were stuck. They had no place to go but the Republicans or Democrats. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the craft workers often supported the Democrats, while the recent immigrant industrial workers tended to support the Republicans. Even when craft and industrial workers moved into the Democratic Party en masse in the 1930s, they couldn't control the party because of the power of the wealthy Southern planters and merchants.
Nor did the workers have much luck organizing themselves through unions. The employers were able to call upon the government to crush organizing drives and strikes through both court injunctions and police arrests. This was not only because employers had great influence with politicians then, just as they do now, but because the American tradition of law, based in laissez faire (free market) liberalism, was so fiercely opposed to any "restraint of trade" or "interference" with private property. It was not until the 1930s that the liberal-labor coalition was able to pass legislation guaranteeing workers the right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining. Even this advance was only possible by excluding the Southern workforce -- i.e., agricultural and seasonal labor -- from the purview of the legislation.
Industrial unions were defeated almost completely in the South and Southwest.
Unions thrived in a few major industries in the North in the years after World War II, but then their power was eroded beginning in the 1970s as the big corporations moved their factories to other countries or lost market share to European and Japanese companies culminating with the absolute all out war on American laborers since the 1990s.  Given this history of internal division, political frustration, and union defeat,  American workers continue to accept the highly individualistic ideology that has characterized the United States since its founding. This acceptance in turn makes it even more difficult to organize workers around "bread-and-butter" issues. They often vote instead on the basis of bait issues or religious convictions, with those who are deeply religious, opposed to affirmative action, or opposed to gun control voting for the avowedly anti-union anti-worker Republican Party.

We must not confuse freedom with social power.
Between 1962 and the 1990s there was a great expansion in individual rights due to the civil rights, feminist, and lesbian-gay movements, but during that time the ratio of a top business executive's pay to a factory worker's pay increased from 41 to 1 to about 300 to 1. American workers can say what they want and do what they want within very broad limits, and their children can study hard in school so they can go to graduate school and join the well-off professional class as doctors, lawyers, architects, or engineers, but when it comes to social power the vast majority of Americans have very little of it and have no real path to becoming a part of the power elite. The economic division has only gotten far worse since the 1990s.

So who benefits? Who sits? Who wins?
All the indicators point to only one conclusion.
You know the answer.
It isn't you.
So Why Are The Rich And The Businessmen Moaning?
Despite these various kinds of objective evidence that the power elite have nearly absolute power in relation to the federal government, we witness many corporate leaders claiming that they are relatively powerless in the face of government. To hear them tell it, Congress is more responsive to organized labor, environmentalists, and consumers. They also claim to be harassed by willful and arrogant bureaucrats. These negative feelings toward government are not a new development, contrary to those who blame the New Deal and the social programs of the 1960s. A study of businessmen's views in the 19th century found that they believed political leaders to be "stupid" and "empty" people who went into politics only to earn a living, and a study of businessmen's views during what are thought of as their most powerful decade, the 1920s, found the exact same mistrust of government.

The emotional expressions of business leaders about their lack of power cannot be taken seriously as a power indicator
 This is little more than childish emotional outburst...entirely based on their feelings and not in any tangible reality. It may be a psychological uneasiness with power. Feelings are one thing, the effects of one's actions another. But it is difficult to try to understand why businessmen complain about a government they completely dominate.
  I imagine complaining about government is a useful political strategy.
It puts government officials on the defensive and forces them to keep proving that they are friendly to business. Also, businessmen complain about government because in fact very few civil servants are part of the upper class and corporate community. The anti-government ideology in the United States tends to restrain members of the upper class from government careers except in the State Department, meaning that the main contacts for members of the power elite within government are at the very top. There is uncertainty and mistrust about how the middle levels will react to new situations, and therefore a feeling that there is a necessity to "ride herd" on or "reign in" the potentially troublesome "bureaucrats" who are not necessarily in their pocket.
There also seems to be an ideological level to the business leaders' attitudes toward government. There is a fear of the populist, democratic ideology that underlies American government. Since power is (in theory only) in the hands of all the people, there always is the possibility that someday "the people," in the sense of the majority, will make the government into the reflection of pluralist democracy that it is actually supposed to be. In a very real way the great power of the upper class and corporate community are culturally illegitimate, and the existence of their power is always vigorously denied. It is okay to be rich, and even to brag about wealth a little bit, but to flaunt that power becomes problematic, and they sense that. It's a sort of masquerade, maybe even one that due to limited experience with the reality 99% of people have to deal with, they actually believe is so.
Finally, the expressions of anguish from individual corporate leaders concerning their powerlessness also suggests an explanation in terms of the intersection of social psychology and sociology. It is the upper class and corporate community that have power, not individuals  within that community. Apart from their institutional context psychologically they feel powerless.
As individuals, they feel hurt that they are not always listened to, and that they have to convince their peers of the reasonableness of their arguments before any actions are taken.
Moreover, policy that is adopted is a group decision, and it is sometimes hard for people to identify with group actions to the point where they feel personally powerful. It is not surprising then, that specific individuals might actually feel powerless within the context of this monied and powerful group which is the only experience they have.
Consider for a moment the absurdity of the powerful & privileged Donald Trump representing a revolt against the privileged and powerful. He champions 'populist' causes such as complaining about the bad trade deals made, yet if you look at what little specifics he offers, his "deals" are no more beneficial domestically to workers. They favor the same people who benefited from the original deals & his record of manufacturing his namesake goods is the same as the people he demonizes on the campaign trail. He claims to represent the "common" people's interest in "helping" the middle class.
Yet his economic proposals only give even more tax cuts to the wealthiest such as himself...many of whom (Trump included) don't pay federal taxes at all thanks to their ability to write the tax codes in their favor through their power structure. I have no idea personally why Trump is doing this, other than I imagine his ego is just so big he feels he needs a crown to wear. Maybe, in terms of the power structure allowing this absurd charade, it's a way to control the anger of the electorate. Certainly something similar occurred with the "Tea Party". Media and folks like the Koch brothers, guided and financed that "rebellion" which used frustrated angry voters to put candidates friendly to Koch industry wants in government. One thing I can tell you is that any political operative who inherited a fortune, who owns 600,000 dollar portraits of themselves (which they charged to an alleged "charity") and sits on gold chairs and toilets has no understanding of what could possibly improve the lot of a working family and little or no interest in doing so. With all the evidence presented here that the power is in the hands of such people, why on earth would they want to be the "face" of it and in what universe would they fight against themselves?
Why would they want even more power?
Well that's another discussion.
The Nature Of Greed.


"Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle." - Noam Chomsky

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.
Read more at:
Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.
Read more at:
Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.
Read more at:
Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle.
Read more at:

More Than Economics
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s ego may be larger than the size of his real estate empire, but that doesn’t mean he leads a happy satisfying life...or enjoys mental health. Indeed the extreme wealth inequity the US system has produced also tends to produce psychopathologies.
  On the other hand, the self-esteem of people who are living from paycheck to paycheck, or become  unemployed tends to erode as well. Research from UC Berkeley has revealed this mind-wallet connection. The Study finds self-worth plays a key role in the development of mental disorders. Researchers concluded that one’s perceived social status or the lack thereof; is at the heart of a wide range of mental illnesses. Researchers have linked inflated or deflated feelings of self-worth to such afflictions as bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, anxiety and depression, providing yet more evidence that the chasm of ever widening distance between rich and poor is also bad for your health.
Moreover, the richest of the rich think differently than the rest of us, see themselves differently than the rest of us see them, and inhabit an alternate reality exclusive to themselves.  In other words, they function very much like any 16th century European aristocracy.  Oh yeah, and they're deeply paranoid.

Extreme inequality, it turns out, creates a class of people who are alarmingly detached from reality — and simultaneously gives these people great power.

Today’s Masters of the Power Universe are insecure about the nature of their success. We’re not talking captains of industry here in modern times folks, not men who make stuff.
We are, instead, talking about wheeler-dealers, men who push money around and get rich by skimming off the top as it sloshes by.
They boast that they are job creators, the people who make the economy work.
But that is a blatant lie. Many of us know it — and so, I suspect, do some of the wealthy themselves, as a form of self-doubt causes them to lash out even more furiously at their critics.
Unlike the robber barons of the past age, the endeavors of these people simply DO NOT really add any value whatsoever to the economy.



Kendall, D. (2002). The power of good deeds: Privileged women and the social reproduction of class. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
Wrong, D. (1995). Power: Its Forms, Bases, and Uses (2nd ed.). New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy: Corporate Dominance from the Great Depression to the Great Recession

by G. Williams Domhoff

Our Sponsors Today