A new wave of environmental protest rocks China

by James Smart on April 18, 2014

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As recent protests against the construction of a PX refinery in Maoming attest, environmental issues are of greater concern than ever for the Chinese.

It began as an environmental protest of about a thousand people a few weeks ago on Sunday, March 30 in Maoming, southern China. By day five it had grown to over twenty times its initial size, with about a dozen deaths, scores of arrests and images of dozens of unarmed protesters scattered across the streets, lying in pools of their own blood. The government blamed protesters for the tipping over of police vehicles and attacking official buildings, while the protesters in turn accuse the police of attacking unarmed, peaceful citizens.

In an authoritarian state like China, where people are unable to let off steam on election day, protests are common — albeit risky and usually illegal. But what was behind this particular environmental protest, and how did it get so out of hand? We start by looking at the production of a chemical that is common, but seemingly misunderstood: paraxylene.

Paraxylene, or PX for short, is made in large quantities for the production of plastic bottles and polyester. China is the world’s largest user of PX, and has to import about half of what it consumes. The government recently decided that a 500 million dollar factory would help make up the shortfall, and went into partnership with Sinopec, Asia’s biggest refiner, to open a factory near Maoming.

Paraxylene is dangerous to produce. It affects the nervous system if ingested through the skin or breathed in. Organs can be affected upon bodily exposure. It affects body development and reproduction — at least in mice. Pregnant women are told not go near it. It damages hearing, and can cause chemical pneumonia. And it is highly flammable, even explosive at warm temperatures. Local people became concerned that a dangerous behemoth on their doorstep could damage the environment and affect their health.

Still, the production of most chemicals carries an element of danger, and one might have thought that, if properly regulated, such a large factory would have enormous economic benefits for the community. Indeed, the local authorities believed just that, but when they sent ten thousand brochures to the public informing them of the economic benefits the factory would bring, it backfired — culminating in a popular protest shortly afterwards. Why the public didn’t trust the state to provide a safe, regulated factory is not difficult to see in the context of rapid capitalist development, widespread environmental irresponsibility and an authoritarian state apparatus.

Ahkok Wong is an activist and school lecturer from down the road in Hong Kong, potentially enjoying his last two days of freedom.

“Environmental problems are one of the main outcomes of a one party-ruled, corrupted, non-humane government,” he starts. “The citizens started discovering what harm the PX plant can bring, so there are [a lot] of protests, and then the police arrest and kill protesters, forcing people to sign agreements that they support PX plants,” he continues. “They control the media and the internet so the news cannot get across the country.”

Protesters like Ahkok are sentenced by a judiciary with links to the government, which in turn has links to big business — for example, the Maoming PX joint venture between Sinopec and the state. Ahkok is going to court in a few days, for his participation in a 300,000 person-strong anti-Chinese government protest in Hong Kong. Is he expecting a fair trial? “I’m expecting nothing, to be honest.”

The other context in which to see this disagreement is with regards to the catastrophic levels of pollution and environmental damage all over China, particularly in the north. For example, at any given moment the air in most Chinese cities is somewhere along a spectrum between mildly harmful and extremely unsafe. Furthermore, China produces nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as the second biggest emitter, the USA. On top of this, one quarter of China already is, or is rapidly becoming, desertified. This leads to silted rivers, floods, drought, dust storms and erosion. In addition, a wealthier population with a penchant for ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup is leading to diminishing biodiversity, within its borders and beyond.

Most of China’s groundwater is so polluted that it can’t be used for drinking even if treated. Underground water supplies are also extremely polluted. Wildlife soon perishes upon contact with the water from many rivers. Last year thousands of dead pigs clogged up a river running through Shanghai which was contaminated by benzene through a factory spillage. Twenty people were hospitalized. Factories pollute rivers with impunity — and this has in many cases lead to cancer villages — areas so polluted as to now be uninhabitable. Animals in these villages die, the rivers change color, touching the water makes the skin itch, and as the name suggests, there are high levels of cancer.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that the state of the environment is up to fourth — and rising — on the list of Chinese public concerns, according to a Pew Survey carried out earlier this year, behind inflation, corruption and inequality. With growing environmental concerns comes a growing grassroots movement. No surprise, then, that environmental issues were at the heart of half of all the protests in 2013 that had over 10,000 participants. Meanwhile, the government is taking notice, and has taken steps to be seen to be paying attention.

“We shall resolutely declare war against pollution as we declared war against poverty,” Li Keqiang, China’s Prime Minister told parliament, live on state television, last month. This was followed by an increased budget to help prevent deforestation, a sizable clean water fund, and some modest pollution-culling targets. Fifteen thousand companies now have to declare all of their pollution levels to the environment ministry, which will make the information public.

This seems quite impressive, particularly as China didn’t even have an environmental ministry until 2008. Rules are all very well of course — the problem is implementation. Factory owners discharge waste at night, sabotage monitoring equipment, and easily skip around or bribe underfunded law enforcement agencies. They can quietly mix leftover chemicals with water and dump it into the nearest river. Still, the new laws show that the government is paying attention, so perhaps that ought to placate a restless public. Some give the government credit — others think it is mostly for show.

To understand where the government might really stand on this issue, we need to think in terms of how China values itself when comparing itself with the rest of the world. Economic indicators such as GDP seem to have a higher priority than harder-to-measure indicators of quality of living, especially when national pride vis-à-vis America comes into play. A paraxylene plant boosts business, jobs and output. As long as the state can be seen to be taking action with pollution, while doing relatively little, the government can help to maintain its position so long as the media remains compliant. And here seems to lie the Chinese contrast — what seems to be the case is sometimes quite the opposite.

Take the PX plant protests. At one point, authorities told the local newspaper that the building of the plant was being suspended. But it seems they told Sinopec no such thing, and work on the plant continued uninterrupted. While the authorities are now finally acknowledging the existence of cancer villages, they go into opaque partnerships with polluting industries. They allow protests in theory, but put so many restrictions into the ‘small print’ as to make them almost impossible in practice.

“If there are more than three people gathering in public and the police assume you are a threat to society, you can be arrested,” says Ahkok.

The government tell their own citizens they are listening to their environmental concerns. Meanwhile they block searches for “Maoming” or “PX” on search engines and on the popular social media site Weibo. People are told to trust the authorities. Meanwhile, on the very first day of the protests, seventy Maoming city officals were investigated for graft. A supposedly communist government represses the poor and benefits the wealthy. China starts to resemble a chemical spillage, public health deteriorates and those who speak out get arrested.

On a somewhat more optimistic note, however one may feel about the obvious human rights challenges that come with China’s one-child policy, there is no doubt it helped curb the country’s dangerously oversized population. With the help of a burgeoning economy and a strong inclination towards school success, an educated cadre is growing within the population; one that is more and more aware of the world, of their government, and of the quality of their lives. China’s hyperactive microblogger community are a byproduct of this, and are helping to heighten awareness for a lot of people.

But calling for the truth has its own risks. Xu Zhiyong, an anti-government activist, is halfway though a four-year prison sentence for calling on government officials to disclose their assets. “Those of you watching this trial from behind the scenes, or those awaiting for orders and reports back, this is also your responsibility. Don’t take pains to preserve the old system simply because you have vested interests in it,” he said as he was being sentenced. “No one is safe under an unjust system. When you see politics as endless shadows and reflections of daggers and swords, as blood falling like rain with its smell in the wind, you have too much fear in your hearts.”

Back to Ahkok Wong: “China does not have law and system,” he says. “They bribe, they arrest people who investigate truth, but there are no standards to follow. Only those who have absolute power and capital can change the situation, but then they benefit from all of this development and capital growth.”

“China is not meant to last,” concludes Ahkok. “It wouldn’t make any sense if this country could last.”

James Smart is from the South of England and is currently working as a university teacher and teacher trainer in Istanbul, Turkey.

More lies from Obama on Obamacare

http://cdn.breitbart.com/mediaserver/Breitbart/Big-Government/2012/Obamacare/obama-health-insurance.jpg

19 April 2014

At a press conference on Thursday, President Barack Obama extolled the virtues of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As a sign of the health care law’s great “success,” he pointed to the government’s estimate that 8 million people had signed up through HealthCare.gov and the other insurance exchanges set up under the bill by the March 31 deadline.

“All told,” he stated, “independent experts now estimate that millions of Americans who were uninsured have gained coverage this year—with millions more to come next year and the year after.” The rosy picture of Obamacare painted by the president is an insult to the intelligence of the American people and ignores the most basic facts about the present state of the health care overhaul.

First of all, those signing up have not done so voluntarily. The key component of the ACA, the “individual mandate,” requires that those without insurance from their employer or a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid obtain insurance or pay a tax penalty. Essentially, the uninsured are being blackmailed into purchasing coverage from private insurance companies.

Secondly, the claim that being insured through plans purchased on the exchanges constitutes anything approaching quality, affordable coverage for the vast majority of people is a fraud. Those shopping for policies have discovered that most of the least expensive “bronze” plans carry deductibles in excess of $5,000 for an individual and other high out-of-pocket costs, which must be paid before coverage even kicks in.

While acknowledging that “premiums will keep rising, as they have for decades,” Obama said they were projected to be “15 percent lower than originally predicted,” and that this would somehow miraculously translate into “more money that families can spend at businesses, more money that businesses can spend hiring new workers.”

As Obama is well aware, US businesses are currently sitting on a cash hoard estimated at $1.5 trillion, even as they shed jobs and boost productivity, while corporate profits and CEO pay soar. Obamacare will not reverse this trend, nor is it intended to.

On the contrary, it has been designed to enable the insurance monopolies, pharmaceutical firms and health care giants to slash costs and make even more money.

The biggest lie from Obama is that the program is a genuine reform on a par with Medicare, and that it will improve health care for millions of Americans. From the start, the health care overhaul has been aimed at establishing an even more heavily class-based system of health care delivery than that which already exists, in which spending is slashed for the government and employers and medical care is rationed for workers and their families.

A front-page article in Friday’s New York Times, “Cost of Treatment May Influence Doctors,” points to how this brutal reality is playing out under Obamacare. The article begins: “Saying they can no longer ignore the rising prices of health care, some of the most influential medical groups in the nation are recommending that doctors weigh the costs, not just the effectiveness of treatments, as they make decisions about patient care.

“The shift … suggests that doctors are starting to redefine their roles, from being concerned exclusively about individual patients to exerting influence on how health care dollars are spent.”

The article details how medical groups—including the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and others—are developing guidelines that could influence doctors to rate the value of drugs and treatments based on costs. The Times explains that traditionally these guidelines have “heavily influenced the practice of medicine” and “are also used by insurance companies to help determine reimbursement policies.”

The implications are far-reaching and ominous. Such guidelines could serve as the basis for a doctor choosing one drug over another, or deciding that a particular treatment is too expensive and withholding it. Cardiology societies, for example, are considering rating the value of treatments on the “cost per quality-adjusted life-year, or QALY,” a method currently in use in Britain and by some health economists. QALY is based on the number and quality of the years of life that would be added by a proposed medical intervention.

The Times notes as an aside, “In the extreme, some critics have said that making treatment decisions based on cost is a form of rationing.” But this is precisely the point. And it is clear that the elderly would be the main target of such rationing. Why spend money on a drug or treatment that would prolong life for only a few weeks, months or even years when an elderly person is chronically ill, approaching the end of life, and no longer producing profits for a capitalist?

As the WSWS noted previously, such arguments have a distinctly fascistic odor: “What are the ‘potential social benefits’ of the mentally impaired, or the physically disabled? Wouldn’t society be better served if their lives were cut short as well?”

It is no exaggeration to say that rationing of health care based on cost will result not only in the withholding of treatments and medications to the detriment of the health of millions of people, but also in needless deaths. Of course, the wealthy will have access to the best medical care that money can buy, as these rationing rules do not apply to them.

According to the Times, the soaring cost of drugs and treatments is behind the drive toward rationing. The society of oncologists, for example, is “alarmed by the escalating prices of cancer medicines” and is developing a method of evaluating drugs based on cost and value. The article also notes the $84,000 per course cost of Sovaldi, a new drug for hepatitis C from Gilead Sciences. It is never mentioned that such obscene prices are overwhelmingly the result of price gouging by pharmaceutical companies profiting off of the desperation of people battling life-threatening diseases.

The article notes that the cardiology societies, in a paper outlining new policies rating the cost and value of treatments, argue that doctors have to consider the financial burdens faced by patients: “Protecting patients from financial ruin is fundamental to the precept of ‘do not harm.’” This is remarkable! According to this reasoning, doctors will be doing patients a favor by withholding potentially life-saving treatments.

If patients need protection from anything, it is the for-profit health care system, in which the value of a procedure or medicine is judged not by its value for the patient, but by its impact on the bottom line of the giant health care chains, pharmaceutical corporations and insurance companies.

It is clear that rationing in health care, including moves by influential medical groups to establish new guidelines rating medical treatments according to cost, has accelerated under Obamacare. This highlights the reactionary character of Obama’s signature domestic policy. It is not a reform, but a counterrevolution in health care aimed not only at slashing and rationing health care for ordinary Americans, but at reducing life expectancy for the working class.

A true reform of America’s health care system would look nothing like the Affordable Care Act. The defense of health care as a social right requires that the entire health care industry be placed on socialist foundations, under public ownership and the democratic control of the working class.

Kate Randall

Google Glass, techno-rage and the battle for San Francisco’s soul

The Bay is burning!

The advent of Google Glass has started an incendiary new chapter in tech’s culture wars. Here’s what’s at stake

The Bay is burning! Google Glass, techno-rage and the battle for San Francisco's soul
Sergey Brin (Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lam/Ilya Andriyanov via Shutterstock/Salon)

In San Francisco, the tech culture wars continue to rage. On April 15, Google opened up purchases of its Google Glass headgear to the general public for 24 hours. The sale was marked by mockery, theft and the continuing fallout from an incident a few days earlier, when a Business Insider reporter covering an anti-eviction protest had his Glass snatched and smashed.

That same day, protesters organized by San Francisco’s most powerful union marched to Twitter’s headquarters — a major San Francisco gentrification battleground — and presented the company with a symbolic tax bill, designed to recoup the “millions” that some San Franciscans believe the city squandered by bribing Twitter with a huge tax break to stay in the city.

We learned two things on April 15. First, Google isn’t about to give up on its plans to make Glass the second coming of the iPhone, even if it’s clear that a significant number of people consider Google Glass to be a despicable symbol of the surveillance society and a pricey calling card of the techno-elite. Second, judging by the march on Twitter, the tide of anti-tech protest sentiment has yet to crest in the San Francisco Bay Area. The two points turn out to be inseparable. Scratch an anti-tech protester and you are unlikely to find a fan of Google Glass.

What’s it all mean? Earlier this week, after I promoted an article on Twitter that attempted to explore reasons for anti-Glass hatred, I received a one-word tweet in response: “Neoluddism.”

The Luddites of the early 19th century are famous for smashing weaving machinery in a fruitless attempt to resist the reshaping of society and the economy by the Industrial Revolution. They took their name from Ned Ludd, a possibly apocryphal character who is said to have smashed two stocking frames in a fit of rage — thus inspiring a rebellion. While I can’t be certain, I suspect that my correspondent was deploying the term in the sense most familiar to pop culture — the Luddite as barbarian goon, futilely standing against the relentless march of progress.



But the story isn’t quite that simple.Yes, the Luddite movement may have been smashed by the forces of the state and the newly ascendant industrialist bourgeoisie. Yes, the Luddites may never have had the remotest chance of maintaining their pre-industrial way of life in the face of the steam engine. But there is a version of history in which the Luddites were far from unthinking goons. Instead, they were acute critics of their changing times, grasping the first glimpse of the increasingly potent ways in which capital was learning to exploit labor. In this view, the Luddites were actually the avante garde for the formation of working-class consciousness, and paved the way for the rise of organized labor and trade unions. It’s no accident that Ned Ludd hailed from Nottingham, right up against Sherwood Forest.

Economic inequality and technologically induced dislocation? Ned Ludd, that infamous wrecker of weaving machinery, would recognize a clear echo of his own time in present-day San Francisco. But there’s more to see here than just the challenge of a new technological revolution. Just as the Luddites, despite their failure, spurred the creation of worker-class consciousness, the current Bay Area tech protests have had a pronounced political effect. While the tactics range from savvy, well-organized protest marches to juvenile acts of violence, the impact is clear. The attention of political leaders and the media has been engaged. Everyone is paying attention.

 

 

* * *

If you live in San Francisco, you may have seen them around town: Decals on bar windows that state “Google Glass is barred on these premises.” They are the work of an outfit called StopTheCyborgs.org, a group of scientists and engineers who have articulated a critique of Google Glass that steers cagily away from the half-baked nonsense of Counterforce.

I contacted StopTheCyborgs by email and asked them how they responded to being called “neoluddites.”

“If ‘neoluddism’ means blindly being anti-technology then we refute the charge,” said Jack Winters, who described himself as a Scala and Java developer. If ‘neoluddism’ means not being blindly pro-technology then guilty as charged.”

“We are technologically sophisticated enough to realize that technology is politics and code is law,” continued Winters. “Technology isn’t some external force of nature. It is created and used by people. It has an effect on power relations. It can be good, it can be bad. We can choose what kind of society we want rather than passively accepting that ‘the future’ is whatever data-mining corporations want.”

“Basically anyone who views critics of particular technologies as ‘luddites’ fundamentally misunderstands what technology is. There is no such thing as ‘technology.’ Rather there are specific technologies, produced by specific economic and political actors, and deployed in specific economic and social contexts. You can be anti-nukes without being anti-antibiotics. You can be pro-surveillance of powerful institutions without being pro-surveillance of individual people. You can work on machine vision for medical applications while campaigning against the use of the same technology for automatically identifying and tracking people. How? Because you take a moral view of the likely consequences of a technology in a particular context.” [Emphasis added.]

The argument made by StopTheCyborgs resonates with one of the core observations that revisionist historians have made about the original Luddites: They were not indiscriminate in their assaults on technology. (At least not at first.) They chose to destroy machines that were owned by employers who were acting in ways they believed were particularly economically harmful while leaving other machines undamaged. To translate that to a present-day stance: It is not hypocritical for protesters to argue that Glass embodies surveillance in a way that iPhones don’t, or that it is hypocritical to critique technology’s impact on inequality via Twitter or Facebook. Every mode of technology needs to be evaluated on its own merits. Some start-up entrepreneurs might legitimately be using technology to achieve a social good. Some tech tycoons might be genuinely committed to a higher standard of life for all San Franciscans. Some might just be tools. So Jack Winters of StopTheCyborgs is correct: The deployment of different technologies have different consequences. These consequences require a social and political response.

This is not to say that ripping Google Glass from the face of a young reporter, or otherwise demonizing individuals just because they happen to be employed by a particular company, is comparable to Ned Ludd’s destruction of two stocking frames. But Glass is just as embedded in the larger transformations we are going through as the spinning jenny was to the Industrial Revolution. By taking it seriously, we are giving “the second machine age” the respect it deserves.

The question is: Is Google?

* * *

I tried to find out from Google how many units of Google Glass had been sold during the one-day special promotion. I received a statement that read, “We were getting through our stock faster than we expected, so we decided to shut the store down. While you can still access the site, Glass will be marked as sold out.”

I followed up by asking how Google was coping with the fact that its signature device had become a symbol of tech-economy driven gentrification.

“It’s early days and we are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues,” said a Google spokesperson. “Our Glass Explorers come from all walks of life. They are firefighters, gardeners, athletes, moms, dads and doctors. No one should be targeted simply because of the technology they choose. We find that when people actually try Glass firsthand, they understand the philosophy that underpins it: Glass let’s you look up and engage with the world around you, rather than looking down and being distracted by your technology.”

You can hear an echo here of Ned Ludd in the statement that “new technology raises new issues.” But the rest is just marketing zombie chatter, about as useless in its own way as some of the more overheated and unhinged rhetoric from the more extreme dissident wings of Bay Area protest. When a group styling itself “Counterforce” shows ups at the home of a Google executive, demands $3 billion to build “anarchist colonies” and declares, as Adrianne Jeffries documented in Verge, that their goal is to “to destroy the capitalist system … [and] … create a new world without an economy,” well, good luck with that. We are a long way from “the precipice of a complete anarcho-primitivist rebellion against the technocracy.”

One thing seems reasonably clear: Moms and firefighters might be wearing Google Glass, but if Ned Ludd were around today, he’d probably be looking for different accessories.

Thom Hartmann: How America Killed Its Middle Class


We’re heading into a world that looks like a Charles Dickens novel.

There’s nothing “normal” about having a middle class. Having a middle class is a choice that a society has to make, and it’s a choice we need to make again in this generation, if we want to stop the destruction of the remnants of the last generation’s middle class.

Despite what you might read in the Wall Street Journal or see on Fox News, capitalism is not an economic system that produces a middle class. In fact, if left to its own devices, capitalism tends towards vast levels of inequality and monopoly. The natural and most stable state of capitalism actually looks a lot like the Victorian England depicted in Charles Dickens’ novels.

At the top there is a very small class of superrich. Below them, there is a slightly larger, but still very small, “middle” class of professionals and mercantilists – doctor, lawyers, shop-owners – who help keep things running for the superrich and supply the working poor with their needs. And at the very bottom there is the great mass of people – typically over 90 percent of the population – who make up the working poor. They have no wealth – in fact they’re typically in debt most of their lives – and can barely survive on what little money they make.

So, for average working people, there is no such thing as a middle class in “normal” capitalism. Wealth accumulates at the very top among the elites, not among everyday working people. Inequality is the default option.

You can see this trend today in America. When we had heavily regulated and taxed capitalism in the post-war era, the largest employer in America was General Motors, and they paid working people what would be, in today’s dollars, about $50 an hour with benefits. Reagan began deregulating and cutting taxes on capitalism in 1981, and today, with more classical “raw capitalism,” what we call “Reaganomics,” or “supply side economics,” our nation’s largest employer is WalMart and they pay around $10 an hour.

This is how quickly capitalism reorients itself when the brakes of regulation and taxes are removed – this huge change was done in less than 35 years.

The only ways a working-class “middle class” can come about in a capitalist society are by massive social upheaval – a middle class emerged after the Black Plague in Europe in the 14th century – or by heavily taxing the rich.

French economist Thomas Piketty has talked about this at great length in his groundbreaking new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. He argues that the middle class that came about in Western Europe and the United States during the mid-twentieth was the direct result of a peculiar set of historical events.

According to Piketty, the post-World War II middle class was created by two major things: the destruction of European inherited wealth during the war and higher taxes on the rich, most of which were rationalized by the war. This brought wealth and income at the top down, and raised working people up into a middle class.

Piketty is right, especially about the importance of high marginal tax rates and inheritance taxes being necessary for the creation of a middle class that includes working-class people. Progressive taxation, when done correctly, pushes wages down to working people and reduces the incentives for the very rich to pillage their companies or rip off their workers. After all, why take another billion when 91 percent of it just going to be paid in taxes?

This is the main reason why, when GM was our largest employer and our working class were also in the middle class, CEOs only took home 30 times what working people did. The top tax rate for all the time America’s middle class was created was between 74 and 91 percent. Until, of course, Reagan dropped it to 28 percent and working people moved from the middle class to becoming the working poor.

Other policies, like protective tariffs and strong labor laws also help build a middle class, but progressive taxation is the most important because it is the most direct way to transfer money from the rich to the working poor, and to create a disincentive to theft or monopoly by those at the top.

History shows how important high taxes on the rich are for creating a strong middle class.

If you compare a chart showing the historical top income tax rate over the course of the twentieth century with a chart of income inequality in the United States over roughly the same time period, you’ll see that the period with the highest taxes on the rich – the period between the Roosevelt and Reagan administrations – was also the period with the lowest levels of economic inequality.

You’ll also notice that since marginal tax rates started to plummet during the Reagan years, income inequality has skyrocketed.

Even more striking, during those same 33 years since Reagan took office and started cutting taxes on the rich, income levels for the top 1 percent have ballooned while income levels for everyone else have stayed pretty much flat.

Coincidence? I think not.

Creating a middle class is always a choice, and by embracing Reaganomics and cutting taxes on the rich, we decided back in 1980 not to have a middle class within a generation or two. George H.W. Bush saw this, and correctly called it “Voodoo Economics.” And we’re still in the era of Reaganomics – as President Obama recently pointed out, Reagan was a successful revolutionary.

This, of course, is exactly what conservatives always push for. When wealth is spread more equally among all parts of society, people start to expect more from society and start demanding more rights. That leads to social instability, which is feared and hated by conservatives, even though revolutionaries and liberals like Thomas Jefferson welcome it.

And, as Kirk and Buckley predicted back in the 1950s, this is exactly what happened in the 1960s and ’70s when taxes on the rich were at their highest. The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the consumer movement, the anti-war movement, and the environmental movement – social movements that grew out of the wealth and rising expectations of the post-World War II era’s middle class – these all terrified conservatives. Which is why ever since they took power in 1980, they’ve made gutting working people out of the middle class their number one goal.

We now have a choice in this country. We can either continue going down the road to oligarchy, the road we’ve been on since the Reagan years, or we can choose to go on the road to a more pluralistic society with working class people able to make it into the middle class. We can’t have both.

And if we want to go down the road to letting working people back into the middle class, it all starts with taxing the rich.

The time is long past due for us to roll back the Reagan tax cuts.

Apparently you can’t be empathetic, or help the homeless, without a GoPro

Today in bad ideas: Strapping video cameras to homeless

people to capture “extreme living”

Today in bad ideas: Strapping video cameras to homeless people to capture "extreme living"

GoPro cameras are branded as recording devices for extreme sports, but a San Francisco-based entrepreneur had a different idea of what to do with the camera: Strap it to a homeless man and capture “extreme living.”

The project is called Homeless GoPro, and it involves learning the first-person perspective of homeless people on the streets of San Francisco. The website explains:

“With a donated HERO3+ Silver Edition from GoPro and a small team of committed volunteers in San Francisco, Homeless GoPro explores how a camera normally associated with extreme sports and other ’hardcore’ activities can showcase courage, challenge, and humanity of a different sort - extreme living.”

The intentions of the founder, Kevin Adler, seem altruistic. His uncle was homeless for 30 years, and after visiting his gravesite he decided to start the organization and help others who are homeless.

The first volunteer to film his life is a man named Adam, who has been homeless for 30 years, six of those in San Francisco. There are several edited videos of him on the organization’s site.

In one of the videos, titled “Needs,” Adam says, “I notice every day that people are losing their compassion and empathy — not just for homeless people — but for society in general. I feel like technology has changed so much — where people are emailing and don’t talk face to face anymore.”

Without knowing it Adam has critiqued the the entire project, which is attempting to use technology (a GoPro) to garner empathy and compassion. It is a sad reminder that humanity can ignore the homeless population in person on a day-to-day basis, and needs a video to build empathy. Viewers may feel a twinge of guilt as they sit removed from the situation, watching a screen.

According to San Francisco’s Department of Human Services‘ biennial count there were 6,436 homeless people living in San Francisco (county and city). “Of the 6,436 homeless counted,” a press release stated, “more than half (3,401) were on the streets without shelter, the remaining 3,035 were residing in shelters, transitional housing, resource centers, residential treatment, jail or hospitals.” The homeless population is subject to hunger, illness, violence, extreme weather conditions, fear and other physical and emotional ailments.



Empathy — and the experience of “walking a mile in somebody’s shoes” — are important elements of social change, and these documentary-style videos do give Adam a medium and platform to be a voice for the homeless population. (One hopes that the organization also helped Adam in other ways — shelter, food, a place to stay on his birthday — and isn’t just using him as a human tool in its project.) But something about the project still seems off.

It is in part because of the product placement. GoPro donated a $300 camera for the cause, which sounds great until you remember that it is a billion-dollar company owned by billionaire Nick Woodman. If GoPro wants to do something to help the Bay Area homeless population there are better ways to go about it than donate a camera.

As ValleyWag‘s Sam Biddle put it, “Stop thinking we can innovate our way out of one of civilization’s oldest ailments. Poverty, homelessness, and inequality are bigger than any app …”

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/04/17/today_in_bad_ideas_strapping_video_cameras_to_homeless_people_to_capture_extreme_living/?source=newsletter

The 2,000-Year History of GPS Tracking

| Tue Apr. 15, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Egyptian geographer Claudius Ptolemy and Hiawatha Bray’s “You Are Here”

Boston Globe technology writer Hiawatha Bray recalls the moment that inspired him to write his new book, You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves. “I got a phone around 2003 or so,” he says. “And when you turned the phone on—it was a Verizon dumb phone, it wasn’t anything fancy—it said, ‘GPS’. And I said, ‘GPS? There’s GPS in my phone?’” He asked around and discovered that yes, there was GPS in his phone, due to a 1994 FCC ruling. At the time, cellphone usage was increasing rapidly, but 911 and other emergency responders could only accurately track the location of land line callers. So the FCC decided that cellphone providers like Verizon must be able to give emergency responders a more accurate location of cellphone users calling 911. After discovering this, “It hit me,” Bray says. “We were about to enter a world in which…everybody had a cellphone, and that would also mean that we would know where everybody was. Somebody ought to write about that!”

So he began researching transformative events that lead to our new ability to navigate (almost) anywhere. In addition, he discovered the military-led GPS and government-led mapping technologies that helped create new digital industries. The result of his curiosity is You Are Here, an entertaining, detailed history of how we evolved from primitive navigation tools to our current state of instant digital mapping—and, of course, governments’ subsequent ability to track us. The book was finished prior to the recent disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, but Bray says gaps in navigation and communication like that are now “few and far between.”

Here are 13 pivotal moments in the history of GPS tracking and digital mapping that Bray points out in You Are Here:

1st century: The Chinese begin writing about mysterious ladles made of lodestone. The ladle handles always point south when used during future-telling rituals. In the following centuries, lodestone’s magnetic abilities lead to the development of the first compasses.

Image: ladle

Model of a Han Dynasty south-indicating ladle Wikimedia Commons

2nd century: Ptolemy’s Geography is published and sets the standard for maps that use latitude and longitude.

Image: Ptolemy map

Ptolemy’s 2nd-century world map (redrawn in the 15th century) Wikimedia Commons

1473: Abraham Zacuto begins working on solar declination tables. They take him five years, but once finished, the tables allow sailors to determine their latitude on any ocean.

Image: declination tables

The Great Composition by Abraham Zacuto. (A 17th-century copy of the manuscript originally written by Zacuto in 1491.) Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary

1887: German physicist Heinrich Hertz creates electromagnetic waves, proof that electricity, magnetism, and light are related. His discovery inspires other inventors to experiment with radio and wireless transmissions.

Image: Hertz

The Hertz resonator John Jenkins. Sparkmuseum.com

1895: Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, one of those inventors inspired by Hertz’s experiment, attaches his radio transmitter antennae to the earth and sends telegraph messages miles away. Bray notes that there were many people before Marconi who had developed means of wireless communication. “Saying that Marconi invented the radio is like saying that Columbus discovered America,” he writes. But sending messages over long distances was Marconi’s great breakthrough.

Image: Marconi

Inventor Guglielmo Marconi in 1901, operating an apparatus similar to the one he used to transmit the first wireless signal across Atlantic Wikimedia Commons

1958: Approximately six months after the Soviets launched Sputnik, Frank McLure, the research director at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, calls physicists William Guier and George Weiffenbach into his office. Guier and Weiffenbach used radio receivers to listen to Sputnik’s consistent electronic beeping and calculate the Soviet satellite’s location; McLure wants to know if the process could work in reverse, allowing a satellite to location their position on earth. The foundation for GPS tracking is born.

​1969: A pair of Bell Labs scientists named William Boyle and George Smith create a silicon chip that records light and coverts it into digital data. It is called a charge-coupled device, or CCD, and serves as the basis for digital photography used in spy and mapping satellites.

1976: The top-secret, school-bus-size KH-11 satellite is launched. It uses Boyle and Smith’s CCD technology to take the first digital spy photographs. Prior to this digital technology, actual film was used for making spy photographs. It was a risky and dangerous venture for pilots like Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down while flying a U-2 spy plane and taking film photographs over the Soviet Union in 1960.

Image: KH-11 image

KH-11 satellite photo showing construction of a Kiev-class aircraft carrier Wikimedia Commons

1983: Korean Air Lines flight 007 is shot down after leaving Anchorage, Alaska, and veering into Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers are killed, including Georgia Democratic Rep. Larry McDonald. Two weeks after the attack, President Ronald Reagan directs the military’s GPS technology to be made available for civilian use so that similar tragedies would not be repeated. Bray notes, however, that GPS technology had always been intended to be made public eventually. Here’s Reagan’s address to the nation following the attack:

1989: The US Census Bureau releases (PDF) TIGER (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing) into the public domain. The digital map data allows any individual or company to create virtual maps.

1994: The FCC declares that wireless carriers must find ways for emergency services to locate mobile 911 callers. Cellphone companies choose to use their cellphone towers to comply. However, entrepreneurs begin to see the potential for GPS-integrated phones, as well. Bray highlights SnapTrack, a company that figures out early on how to squeeze GPS systems into phones—and is purchased by Qualcomm in 2000 for $1 billion.

1996: GeoSystems launches an internet-based mapping service called MapQuest, which uses the Census Bureau’s public-domain mapping data. It attracts hundreds of thousands of users and is purchased by AOL four years later for $1.1 billion.

2004: Google buys Australian mapping startup Where 2 Technologies and American satellite photography company Keyhole for undisclosed amounts. The next year, they launch Google Maps, which is now the most-used mobile app in the world.

2012: The Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Jones (PDF) restricts police usage of GPS to track suspected criminals. Bray tells the story of Antoine Jones, who was convicted of dealing cocaine after police placed a GPS device on his wife’s Jeep to track his movements. The court’s decision in his case is unanimous: The GPS device had been placed without a valid search warrant. Despite the unanimous decision, just five justices signed off on the majority opinion. Others wanted further privacy protections in such cases—a mixed decision that leaves future battles for privacy open to interpretation.

 

http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2014/04/you-are-here-book-hiawatha-bray-gps-navigation

New study finds US to be ruled by oligarchic elite

by Jerome Roos on April 17, 2014

Post image for New study finds US to be ruled by oligarchic elite

Political scientists show that average American has “near-zero” influence on policy outcomes, but their groundbreaking study is not without problems.

 

It’s not every day that an academic article in the arcane world of American political science makes headlines around the world, but then again, these aren’t normal days either. On Wednesday, various mainstream media outlets — including even the conservative British daily The Telegraph — ran a series of articles with essentially the same title: “Study finds that US is an oligarchy.” Or, as the Washington Post summed up: “Rich people rule!” The paper, according to the review in the Post, “should reshape how we think about American democracy.”

The conclusion sounds like it could have come straight out of a general assembly or drum circle at Zuccotti Park, but the authors of the paper in question — two Professors of Politics at Princeton and Northwestern University — aren’t quite of the radical dreadlocked variety. No, like Piketty’s book, this article is real “science”. It’s even got numbers in it! Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University took a dataset of 1,779 policy issues, ran a bunch of regressions, and basically found that the United States is not a democracy after all:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

The findings, of course, are both very interesting and very obvious. What Gilens and Page claim to have empirically demonstrated is that policy outcomes by and large favor the interests of business and the wealthiest segment of the population, while the preferences of the vast majority of Americans are of little to no consequence for policy outcomes. As the authors show, this new data backs up the conclusions of a number of long-forgotten studies from the 1950s and 1960s — not least the landmark contributions by C.W. Mills and Ralph Miliband — that tried to debunk the assertion of mainstream pluralist scholars that no single interest group dominates US policymaking.

But while Gilens and Page’s study will undoubtedly be considered a milestone in the study of business power, there’s also a risk in focusing too narrowly on the elites and their interest groups themselves; namely the risk of losing sight of the broader set of social relations and institutional arrangements in which they are embedded. What I am referring to, of course, is the dreaded C-word: capitalism — a term that appears only once in the main body of Gilens and Page’s text, in a superficial reference to The Communist Manifesto, whose claims are quickly dismissed as empirically untestable. How can you talk about oligarchy and economic elites without talking about capitalism?

What’s missing from the analysis is therefore precisely what was missing from C.W. Mills’ and Miliband’s studies: an account of the nature of the capitalist state as such. By branding the US political system an “oligarchy”, the authors conveniently sidestep an even thornier question: what if oligarchy, as opposed to democracy, is actually the natural political form in capitalist society? What if the capitalist state is by its very definition an oligarchic form of domination? If that’s the case, the authors have merely proved the obvious: that the United States is a thoroughly capitalist society. Congratulations for figuring that one out! They should have just called a spade a spade.

That, of course, wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows. But it’s worth noting that this was precisely the critique that Nicos Poulantzas leveled at Ralph Miliband in the New Left Review in the early 1970s — and it doesn’t take an Althusserian structuralist to see that he had a point. Miliband’s study of capitalist elites, Poulantzas showed, was very useful for debunking pluralist illusions about the democratic nature of US politics, but by focusing narrowly on elite preferences and the “instrumental” use of political and economic resources to influence policy, Miliband’s empiricism ceded way too much methodological ground to “bourgeois” political science. By trying to painstakingly prove the existence of a causal relationship between instrumental elite behavior and policy outcomes, Miliband ended up missing the bigger picture: the class-bias inherent in the capitalist state itself, irrespective of who occupies it.

These methodological and theoretical limitations have consequences that extend far beyond the academic debate: at the end of the day, these are political questions. The way we perceive business power and define the capitalist state will inevitably have serious implications for our political strategies. The danger with empirical studies that narrowly emphasize the role of elites at the expense of the deeper structural sources of capitalist power is that they will end up reinforcing the illusion that simply replacing the elites and “taking money out of politics” would be sufficient to restore democracy to its past glory. That, of course, would be profoundly misleading. If we are serious about unseating the oligarchs from power, let’s make sure not to get carried away by the numbers and not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Jerome Roos is a PhD candidate in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine.

Depriving homeless people of their last shelter in life is Silicon Valley at its worst.


The 1% Wants to Ban Sleeping in Cars

Because It Hurts Their ‘Quality of Life’

Photo Credit: meunierd/Shutterstock.com

Across the United States, many local governments are responding to skyrocketing levels of inequality and the now decades-long crisis of homelessness among the very poor … by passing laws making it a crime to sleep in a parked car.

This happened most recently in Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley, where new billionaires are seemingly minted every month – and where 92% of homeless people lack shelter of any kind. Dozens of cities have passed similar anti-homeless laws. The largest of them is Los Angeles, the longtime unofficial “homeless capital of America”, where lawyers are currently defending a similar vehicle-sleeping law before a skeptical federal appellate court. Laws against sleeping on sidewalks or in cars are called “quality of life” laws. But they certainly don’t protect the quality of life of the poor.

To be sure, people living in cars cannot be the best neighbors. Some people are able to acquire old and ugly – but still functioning – recreational vehicles with bathrooms; others do the best they can. These same cities have resisted efforts to provide more public toilet facilities, often on the grounds that this will make their city a “magnet” for homeless people from other cities. As a result, anti-homeless ordinances often spread to adjacent cities, leaving entire regions without public facilities of any kind.

Their hope, of course, is that homeless people will go elsewhere, despite the fact that the great majority of homeless people are trying to survive in the same communities in which they were last housed – and where they still maintain connections. Americans sleeping in their own cars literally have nowhere to go.

Indeed, nearly all homelessness in the US begins with a loss of income and an eviction for nonpayment of rent – a rent set entirely by market forces. The waiting lists are years long for the tiny fraction of housing with government subsidies. And rents have risen dramatically in the past two years, in part because long-time tenants must now compete with the millions of former homeowners who lost their homes in the Great Recession.

The paths from eviction to homelessness follow familiar patterns. For the completely destitute without family or friends able to help, that path leads more or less directly to the streets. For those slightly better off, unemployment and the exhaustion of meager savings – along with the good graces of family and friends – eventually leaves people with only two alternatives: a shelter cot or their old automobile.

However, in places like Los Angeles, the shelters are pretty much always full. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of unsheltered homeless people increased by 67%. In Palo Alto last year, there were 12 shelter beds for 157 homeless individuals. Homeless people in these cities do have choices: they can choose to sleep in a doorway, on a sidewalk, in a park, under a bridge or overpass, or – if they are relatively lucky – in a car. But these cities have ordinances that make all of those choices a criminal offense. The car is the best of bad options, now common enough that local bureaucrats have devised a new, if oxymoronic, term – the “vehicularly housed”.

People sleeping in cars try to find legal, nighttime parking places, where they will be less apparent and arouse the least hostility. But cities like Palo Alto and Los Angeles often forbid parking between 2am and 5am in commercial areas, where police write expensive tickets and arrest and impound the vehicles of repeat offenders. That leaves residential areas, where overnight street parking cannot, as a practical matter, be prohibited.

One finds the “vehicularly housed” in virtually every neighborhood, including my own. But the animus that drives anti-homeless laws seems to be greatest in the wealthiest cities, like Palo Alto, which has probably spawned more per-capita fortunes than any city on Earth, and in the more recently gentrified areas like Los Angeles’ Venice. These places are ruled by majorities of “liberals” who decry, with increasing fervor, the rapid rise in economic inequality. Nationally, 90% of Democrats (and 45% of Republicans) believe the government should act to reduce the rich-poor gap.

It is easy to be opposed to inequality in the abstract. So why are Los Angeles and Palo Alto spending virtually none of their budgets on efforts to provide housing for the very poor and homeless? When the most obvious evidence of inequality parks on their street, it appears, even liberals would rather just call the police. The word from the car: if you’re not going to do anything to help, please don’t make things worse.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/1-wants-ban-sleeping-cars-because-it-hurts-their-quality-life?akid=11722.265072.4yEWu6&rd=1&src=newsletter982385&t=3&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Obama, Monopoly Capitalism, and Global Hegemony

Time for an Accounting
http://img2.timeinc.net/people/i/2013/news/130429/president-obama-600.jpg

by NORMAN POLLACK

We’ve seen enough to know that the US is on track to push structural-ideological tyranny to a new level, not so much the reproduction of 20th century fascism (although that historical experience has created an indelible mark on the mindset of present-day geopolitical strategists in defining what might be possible in violating international law without thoroughly antagonizing the world community) as, instead, using a cloak of liberal humanitarianism to assert military power in pursuit of traditional imperialism. The same goals, different label.

America transcends the recent past, including its share in constructing a system of power politics, in favor of more ambitious unilateral dominance which takes advantage of the increasing cultural pluralism arising from the fragmentation of the commercial-financial order. Counterterrorism is the fig leaf for achieving greater wealth-concentration at home, aided by massive surveillance to induce social control of the population (informal boundaries on permissible dissent) for purposes of creating on the base of formal democracy a national-security state, and for achieving in the world, a predator state charged with the mission of resisting the societal democratization of emerging and industrial economies alike. Both are necessary, compliancy here and abroad, a tightly-woven structure of wealth and power, if US capitalism, penetrating every nook and cranny of the globe, followed—or sometimes preceded—by military intervention, bases, naval power, hard-nosed diplomacy, paramilitary efforts at regime change, is to sustain acceptable rates of profits at acceptable levels of risk. American capitalist preeminence in a not-deviating capitalist world, firmly grounded in the dynamics of counterrevolution (the US as guardian of the global system) is at the crux of what others perceive as the Exceptionalist Nightmare or the divine right of hegemony.

The fig leaf of counterterrorism, which has supplanted anticommunism to the same end of habituating the American people to still more invidious extremes of wealth differentiation and resulting class power, is still, however, not sufficient for the stabilization of capitalism at this level of intense concentration; for needed as well is the popularization of Reaction and Repression. Obama is the man for the job. His race —thanks to liberal guilt and political correctness—alone saves him from critical scrutiny (neatly played out, as though making Reagan’s Teflon presidency amateurish by comparison), as he, like none before him, integrates capitalist, military, intelligence, and media resources, i.e., the communities represented by the elites of each, into a finely-honed authoritarian backdrop for manifesting and executing national power. And yet, liberals slobber at his feet, their moral bankruptcy and lack of political wisdom and will nowhere more evident.

The putsch has become outmoded; the bowdlerization of race and gender is a sufficient cause of false consciousness, of feel-good celebration of diversity, as the upper 0.1% tightened their hold on the levers of power. A black president? a woman president? What would Paul Robeson think—or Rosa Luxemburg! If a white president abused power, from Espionage Act prosecutions to the hit list of drone assassinations, in the way Obama has, one might hope to see street demonstrations—a hope perhaps futile given the decline of societal awareness already rife in the way war crimes, corporate giveaways, and the celebration of wealth pass unnoticed.

Time for an accounting, then, before it’s too late. From whence, though? It is important to recognize how much America has changed, since, say, the early 1950s. At least, then, anticommunism was met by (often painful and unsuccessful) resistance, for as repression mounted so also did the clarity of struggle and need to fight back. Taft-Hartley, Peekskill, legislation, events, large and small, the purging of “reds” from labor unions (and like UE, whole unions themselves)—a time to be alive, the very lies being met in response by forthright declarations of freedom.

Those who took the Fifth, and found themselves fired; those like Claude Pepper of Florida, who in the 1950 Senate race had been smeared by the Miami Herald with a faked composite showing him embracing Joe Stalin, and Pepper’s opponent, campaigning around the state hissing that his opponent’s sister was a—thespian. Even as late as 1956, I followed Adlai Stevenson for three days during the California Democratic primary, and while hardly a flaming radical, he had, as I recall, dead-tired, standing on the railroad tracks somewhere around San Jose, expressed a vision of social awareness seldom found since. With Kennedy, the fascistization of America had begun in earnest.

The process continues, now accelerated.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

 

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/16/obama-monopoly-capitalism-and-global-hegemony/

 

 

Oligarchy, not democracy: Americans have ‘near-zero’ input on policy – report

Reuters / Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The first-ever scientific study that analyzes whether the US is a democracy, rather than an oligarchy, found the majority of the American public has a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” compared to the wealthy.

The study, due out in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, sets out to answer elusive questions about who really rules in the United States. The researchers measured key variables for 1,779 policy issues within a single statistical model in an unprecedented attempt “to test these contrasting theoretical predictions” – i.e. whether the US sets policy democratically or the process is dominated by economic elites, or some combination of both.

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts,” the researchers from Princeton University and Northwestern University wrote.

While “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association,” the authors say the data implicate “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

The authors of “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” say that even as their model tilts heavily toward indications that the US is, in fact, run by the most wealthy and powerful, it actually doesn’t go far enough in describing the stranglehold connected elites have on the policymaking process.

“Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups,” the researcher said.

“Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.”

They add that the “failure of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy is all the more striking because it goes against the likely effects of the limitations of our data. The preferences of ordinary citizens were measured more directly than our other independent variables, yet they are estimated to have the least effect.”

Despite the inexact nature of the data, the authors say with confidence that “the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

“We believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened,” they concluded.

http://www.trueskool.com/forum/topics/oligarchy-not-democracy-americans-have-near-zero-input-on-policy-