Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tales of Oligarchy

Greetings, fellow 99%ers!

In case you haven't heard of their study , economic researchers Gilens and Page have studied decades worth of economic and political data and have found that in essence,we are living in an oligarchy.
An oligarchy - where the elites and privileged control policy.  In fact, their conclusion is that unless the policy preference of the 99%  is aligned with the preference of that infamous 1%, the policy has little chance of being adopted.  In the article I linked to, there is a link to their pdf document.  I will be going through that and trying to digest their data and arguments.  It's not that long and at first glance seems to be fairly readable.
French economist Thomas Piketty has garnered a lot of notoriety for his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in which he explains that we are rapidly heading toward oligarchy or are already there.  He argues that rising wealth inequality threatens capitalism itself.
I've long thought that greed would wreak havoc on us; well, greed and complacency.  We've continued to not challenge policies that enable the elite to control all the shots.
Now for a truly disturbing display of oligarchic privilege, read about this event   Sorry about the title of the post, but I didn't write it.
I just don't understand why more people aren't up and arms over this sad state of economic affairs.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Any Hope for This Supreme Court?

Well, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on college affirmative action programs  in Michigan.

I just shake my head.  Such programs can really make a difference in the lives of students and enable them to pursue their degrees at a more varied list of institutions.  Please note the track record of what happens when such bans are created.  Justice Sotomayor in her dissent, cited the drop in the percentage of African-American and Latino-American students at UCLA and UC Berkeley after a California ban on such programs. The NY Times has stunning graphics which detail what has happened to African-American and Hispanic-American enrollment in colleges in states having bans on affirmative action. 
"Supporters" of such bans may argue they're against 'discrimination' - but the results of the bans show that the effect is certainly discriminatory - against minorities. And in today's world, where we bemoan the fact that not enough of our young people graduate from college, I feel such bans are counter-productive to the educational interests of our nation.
If you read Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, he has a great section about the worth of affirmative action.  Maybe I should send a copy to the Attorney General of Michigan. Oh, and the members of the Supreme Court as well. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

This is Justice?

I'm not a lawyer.  But I'm a very concerned citizen, especially after the very recent ruling in a lawsuit brought by the families of three drone strike victims.  In Al-Aulaqiu v. Panetta  handed down by Judge Collyer, the suit was dismissed. This hasn't gotten much coverage, so if you haven't heard of it, here's a general article at The Guardian.  For some analysis, here are two good sources: 1) Marcy Wheeler's article at the Empty Wheel blog found here,  and an article on the Bivens aspect of the ruling by Steve Vladeck, found here .

I find this ruling very troubling.  It gives a pass for the government to kill, assassinate whatever American citizen - with no due process and often on dubious intelligence.  Not only that, the actual process of targeting can be very flawed, as shown by the revelations in this piece from The Intercept.

It decidedly ignores the Fourth Amendment. Judge Collyer noted drones are to kill, not seize.  But as Steve Vladeck points out, the decision of Tennessee v. Garner specifically says lethal force is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.  In that context I don't see how this recent decision can be based on sound reasoning.

I have not seen much of anything written about the implications of this ruling to the separation of powers and checks and balances of our three branches of government.  It seems to me - and again a big disclaimer, I'm no lawyer - that this ruling is the Judicial Branch shirking a duty to check the overreach and unconstitutional activity of the Executive Branch.  Oh, yes - I did see in surfing several news articles about this that the Judge herself said something to the effect of "The executive is not a check on the executive."  And she comes up with this decision?  Any knowledgeable lawyer reading this (are you there, Lois?) should feel free to comment; I'd love to hear your take on this!

I definitely find myself in sympathy with the reasoning of the families' attorneys from the ACLU and the Centre for Constitutional Rights (you can quickly find and read their comments in the general article at The Guardian).  I'm not sure if this will be or can be appealed.  I thought someone posted - maybe at Marcy Wheeler's blog? - that they hoped it wouldn't stand up.  So there we are.  With the way some of these courts are ruling these days, even on appeal, I'm not sure how hopeful I am for a better result.  It really makes one shake one's head and wonder: how did we get here?

UPDATE:  In case anyone wants a reference to Judge Collyer's remark about the 'executive' - go here.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Supreme Court Got it Wrong...Again!

What should we be feeling after the horrendous McCutcheon Decision? I know I feel many emotions - outrage, frustration, sadness among them. 

The decision is abominable, of course, but after Citizens United, I suppose it was not unexpected.  I find it a slap in the face to ordinary citizens and a solidifying of the power of the wealthy elite - what the top 1% - the top .1% ? - those who have been chief campaign contributors and will now be able to control politics even more.  Here is a great graphic that explains brilliantly what the decision means, monetarily.

My thoughts, which I alluded to above, are aligned with those so cogently expressed by Robert Weissman, the President of Public Citizen, in their statement which can be read here.

There is a glimmer of hope, though, however faint.  There are several grass roots groups that are protesting and seeking to get a Constitutional Amendment passed to get the big money out of politics.  I know that so many folks have day to day challenges that make reforming campaign finance seem relatively unimportant.  But as with the surveillance state revelations, these are extremely important issues.  We must stand up for the society we want to become.  It will not be easy.  However, we must get some outrage going and channel it into productive action to transform our present mess into something more responsive to ordinary citizens.  You know - the people our government is supposed to be of, by, and for.