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Gender: Male
Hometown: Detroit, Michigan
Home country: Citizen of the world whose address is in the U.S.
Current location: Detroit, Michigan
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
Number of posts: 66,602

Journal Archives

How America Became an Oligarchy

How America Became an Oligarchy

Posted on Apr 8, 2015
By Ellen Brown, Web of Debt

This piece first appeared at Web of Debt.

According to a new study from Princeton University, American democracy no longer exists. Using data from over 1,800 policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concluded that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of – or even against – the will of the majority of voters. America’s political system has transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where power is wielded by wealthy elites.

“Making the world safe for democracy” was President Woodrow Wilson’s rationale for World War I, and it has been used to justify American military intervention ever since. Can we justify sending troops into other countries to spread a political system we cannot maintain at home?

The Magna Carta, considered the first Bill of Rights in the Western world, established the rights of nobles as against the king. But the doctrine that “all men are created equal” – that all people have “certain inalienable rights,” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – is an American original. And those rights, supposedly insured by the Bill of Rights, have the right to vote at their core. We have the right to vote but the voters’ collective will no longer prevails.

In Greece, the left-wing populist Syriza Party came out of nowhere to take the presidential election by storm; and in Spain, the populist Podemos Party appears poised to do the same. But for over a century, no third-party candidate has had any chance of winning a US presidential election. We have a two-party winner-take-all system, in which our choice is between two candidates, both of whom necessarily cater to big money. It takes big money just to put on the mass media campaigns required to win an election involving 240 million people of voting age.


In every presidential election between 1872 and 1896, there was a third national party running on a platform of financial reform. Typically organized under the auspices of labor or farmer organizations, these were parties of the people rather than the banks. They included the Populist Party, the Greenback and Greenback Labor Parties, the Labor Reform Party, the Antimonopolist Party, and the Union Labor Party. They advocated expanding the national currency to meet the needs of trade, reform of the banking system, and democratic control of the financial system.


Foundation Hotel: $29M Firehouse Remod Arrives Soon (downtown Detroit)



The brick-dropping Wurlitzer is threatening to go boutique and the Roosevelt Hotel now has windows. Hell, even the infamous Corktown Inn is proudly swapping hookers for hipsters. Where might the magic spread next? Keep an eye on the old Detroit Fire Department headquarters downtown, where a long-awaited $29M conversion into the Foundation Hotel could soon show signs of life.

With plans for 100 rooms and a decor theme that celebrates Detroit history, the Foundation could begin construction within 90 days, reports the Free Press. A job listing for a hotel manager pegs the ETA at spring 2016, so things really need to get moving soon. These renderings from McIntosh Poris are definitely a good start.


Detroit Free Press editorial: Time Michigan got on the right side of history

You can stand on the wrong side of history for only so long.

Things change. Sometimes by slow and painful inches. Sometimes in an onrush of miles, eating up terrain at a breakneck pace.

We've said it before, in a thousand small ways, wrapped in broader messages and in service of larger points. Today, we're saying it plainly: Discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is wrong, whether done in open hatred or cloaked in religion.

The freedom to worship God, gods, or no god at all is intrinsic to the American experience. Because of that, we, as a nation, have too often indulged the assumption that religion was sufficient to justify discrimination.

This argument was once used to justify racism, in law and in practice. It was false then. It is false now. ................(more}


Harvard Feels the Heat on Fossil-Fuel Divestment

from In These Times:

Harvard Feels the Heat on Fossil-Fuel Divestment
It’s not Al Gore’s movement anymore. Student activists are bringing a new militancy to the fight against climate change.


“Push back. Use social media, use the Internet.”

That was the advice on climate change that former Vice President Al Gore gave to a packed auditorium at South by Southwest this March.

Gore’s Oscar-winning 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, sparked a new sense of urgency with its no-nonsense look at the bleak science of global warming. His advice in 2015, though, seems less than adequate. Almost a decade after An Inconvenient Truth’s release, the climate fight is focused less on raising awareness than on building grassroots power, and college students—using social media, the Internet and more—are leading the way.

On March 19, in the early hours of the morning, 43 students and alumni of Swarthmore College filed into their school’s Finance and Investment Office and plopped themselves on the floor in front of a few anxious administrators. They say they will remain there in rotating shifts until their demand for good-faith negotiations toward fossil fuel divestment is met. More than 1,000 faculty and alumni have expressed support, including UN Climate Chief and Swarthmore alumna Christiana Figueres, who wrote a letter to administrators and students urging divestment.

Swarthmore's occupiers are among the thousands of students across an estimated 400 U.S. campuses calling on their institutions to sell off stocks in the top 200 publicly traded coal, oil and natural gas companies. Divestment goes beyond simply sounding the alarm about climate change to naming a culprit: the fossil fuel industry. The goal is not to hurt companies’ bottom lines—which a loss of shareholders won’t readily accomplish—but to shift popular opinion against the fossil fuel industry and, ultimately, remove its social license to operate. ................(more)


Bernie Sanders Endorses Chuy Garcia, Calls Chicago Election a ‘Political Revolution’

(In These Times) Underscoring the extent to which Chicago’s April 7 election has taken on national symbolism, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) visited a church on Chicago’s Southeast Side on April 2 to call for a “political revolution” and rally behind mayoral hopeful Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and 10th ward City Council candidate Sue Sadlowski Garza.

Sanders told the wildly cheering crowd of several hundred Southeast Side residents that Garcia and Sadlowski Garza—a Chicago Teachers Union leader from a family of vaunted United Steelworkers activists—represent a break from the corporate-minded “oligarchy” that has ruled on municipal, state and federal levels.

Garcia, Sadlowski Garza, CTU President Karen Lewis and members of the crowd also came to the stage to speak, many describing the Southeast Side as symbolic of the way working-class neighborhoods have been decimated by globalization and then neglected by neoliberal politicians. The Southeast Side was once a thriving industrial area where tens of thousands of people worked well-paying union jobs in the steel mills. But as the steel industry largely moved overseas in search of cheaper labor, the neighborhood became plagued by unemployment and disinvestment. Residents say things have grew worse as successive mayoral administrations focused on downtown and wealthier areas, allowing crime and structural deterioration in their neighborhoods to spiral.

“Where there was a unified 10th ward, there is now isolation; where there were safe streets, now there are kids turning to gangs and drugs and despair,” Sadlowski Garza lamented. “None of this happened to us by accident.” ..............(more)


Juan Cole: Do GOP Frontrunners have an Iran policy besides Sanctions and Bombs?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

President Barack Obama’s negotiations with Iran to ensure that its nuclear enrichment program remains purely civilian, for generating electricity, ought to be bipartisan in spirit. Achieving that goal would benefit all Americans.

The GOP presidential field in particular and the Republican Party in general have decided to treat the Iran negotiations the way they did Obamacare, as the unfortunate apparent achievement of a president they had determined to emasculate, which needs to be abrogated yesterday. In short, they are making the Iran talks a partisan domestic issue, refusing to recognize it as a diplomatic victory.

Some of the Republican obstreperousness derives from a desire to please one man: Sheldon Adelson, the sleazy casino magnate who made his pile in unsavory ways in Macao, China and who threw $100 million of his own money behind Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney in 2012. As a result of recent Supreme Court rulings such as Citizens United and the striking down of campaign finance reform by that theorist of capitalist dictatorship, John Roberts, cranky individual billionaires like Sheldon Adelson have abruptly been awarded the right to buy and sell American presidents. Chris Christie traipsed off to try to please Adelson in Nevada and called the Occupied Territories of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Occupied Territories, and was taken to the wood shed by Adelson, who wouldn’t be able to see oppressed persons if they were carrying him in a palanquin. .................(more)


Kissing the babies on the campaign trail (cartoon)


Fans At Wrigley Field Are Resorting To Peeing In Cups


We’ve been chronicling the hilarity of the Cubs’ attempts to renovate Wrigley Field this offseason, but things took a dark turn as the park opened for its first game Sunday night. An anonymous tipster sent us the above photo with the following explanation:

Hi, Wrigley is an unmitigated disaster tonight. Every bathroom line is roughly a block/30 mins long. Men are peeing against walls in the concourse. This is a real picture of a makeshift urinal I took right after a guy used it.

We’re also being inundated with photos of ridiculously long lines for the bathroom:

Chris Hedges: Boycott, Divest and Sanction Corporations That Feed on Prisons

from truthdig

by Chris Hedges

NEWARK, N.J.—All attempts to reform mass incarceration through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics, the courts and state and federal legislatures are useless. Corporations, which have turned mass incarceration into a huge revenue stream and which have unchecked political and economic power, have no intention of diminishing their profits. And in a system where money has replaced the vote, where corporate lobbyists write legislation and the laws, where chronic unemployment and underemployment, along with inadequate public transportation, sever people in marginal communities from jobs, and where the courts are a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate state, this demands a sustained, nationwide revolt.

“Organizing boycotts, work stoppages inside prisons and the refusal by prisoners and their families to pay into the accounts of phone companies and commissary companies is the only weapon we have left,” said Amos Caley, who runs the Interfaith Prison Coalition, a group formed by prisoners, the formerly incarcerated, their families and religious leaders. “Mass incarceration is the most important civil rights issue of our day. And it is time for communities of faith to stand with poor people, mostly of color, who are unfairly exploited and abused. We must halt human rights violations against the poor that grow more pronounced each year,” Caley said here. He and other prison reform leaders spoke Saturday at the Elmwood Presbyterian Church.

“We have to shut down the system,” said Gale Muhammad, another speaker and the founder and CEO of Women Who Never Give Up. “All the companies that use prison labor have to be boycotted. And we can’t stop there. We have to boycott the vending machines in the prisons and the phone companies. We have to stop spending our money. Until we hit them in the pocket they won’t listen.”

Former prisoners and prisoners’ relatives—suffering along with the incarcerated under the weight of one of the most exploitative, physically abusive and largest prison systems in the world, frustrated and enraged by the walls that corporations have set in place to stymie rational judicial reform—joined human rights advocates at the church to organize state and nationwide boycotts inside and outside prisons. These boycotts, they said, will be directed against the private phone, money transfer and commissary companies, and against the dozens of corporations that exploit prison labor. The boycotts will target food and merchandise vendors, construction companies, laundry services, uniforms companies, prison equipment vendors, cafeteria services, manufacturers of pepper spray, body armor and the array of medieval instruments used for the physical control of prisoners, and a host of other contractors that profit from mass incarceration. The movement will also call on institutions, especially churches and universities, to divest from corporations that use prison labor. .......................(more)


The Sweet Briar Dilemma: Will Predatory Lending Take Down More Colleges?

The Sweet Briar Dilemma: Will Predatory Lending Take Down More Colleges?

Sunday, 05 April 2015 00:00
By Alan Smith, Next New Deal | Op-Ed

After 114 years of educating young women in rural Virginia, Sweet Briar College recently announced that the 2015 academic year would be its last. It’s closing its doors, administrators say, because its model is no longer sustainable.

There are plenty of people coming out of the woodwork to explain Sweet Briar's problems. Dr. James F. Jones, the school’s president, claims that there are simply not enough people who want to attend an all-women's rural liberal arts school (though application numbers and some pundits disagree); he blames the discount that the school was giving to low-income students for the institutional budget shortfall. Billionaire investor Mark Cuban says that Sweet Briar has fallen victim to the student loan bubble and that students are unwilling to commit the money to attend, which sounds a lot like the blame-the-homeowner narrative that came out of the 2008 financial crisis.(more) Others are wringing their hands that small colleges in general are doomed.

These takes are varied and complex, but they are all missing an important point: that predatory banking practices and bad financial deals played an important and nearly invisible role in precipitating the school’s budget crisis.

A quick look at Sweet Briar’s audited financial reports (easily available in public records) reveals enough confusing and obfuscating financial-speak to last a lifetime, but a few days of digging did manage to unearth a series of troubling things.

A single swap on a bond issued in June 2008 cost Sweet Briar more then a million dollars in payments to Wachovia before the school exited the swap in September 2011. While it is unclear exactly why they chose 2011 to pay off the remainder of the bond early, they paid a $730,119 termination fee. For a school that was sorely strapped for cash, these fines and the fees that accrued around this deal (which are hard to definitively pick out from financial documents) couldn't have come at a worse time. ....................(more)


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