U.S. Government: Republic or Plutocracy?

As someone who has taught U.S. government and economics to high school students, I will say firsthand that there is significantly less interest in politics among the youth than in virtually every other conceivable topic.

Topics more interesting to younger Americans include but are not limited to: Sports, music, iPods, movies, video games, Facebook, partying, Lady Gaga, Jersey Shore, Comedy Central, South Park, Adult Swim, etc… (the list goes on and on…).

Now, let me be clear – there are many young Americans who are very interested in our political process and are active in keeping up with the news, even before they graduate from high school.  Unfortunately those students are few and far between, swimming in an ocean of political apathy.  While many so-called education experts do not hesitate to point out our nation’s dismal science and math scores, there is significantly less focus on social studies education.

Today, there are a record number of citizens who claim to be independent voters.  As commentators have noted following last Tuesday’s election results, a majority of independents who voted Obama into office chose to vote against incumbent Democrats.  While Republicans claim this is a sign that voters want less “big government,” it is simply a signal that voters are tired of the party in power.

In 2006, Democrats took control of Congress after voters became disillusioned with Republican policies working for everyday Americans, and in 2008 Senator Obama convincingly won against Senator McCain in the presidential election.  In 2008 McCain ran on the slogan “Country First”, and the PR battle that ensued was between the Republicans’ strategy of using patriotism and denouncing Obama’s ideas versus Obama’s “Yes We Can” strategy of “Hope” and “Change We Can Believe In.”

To anyone following U.S. politics and current events in the past decade, it was not surprising to see Obama win against McCain and his unqualified running mate Sarah Palin.  Today, many Democrats appear to be baffled as to why they lost so many seats in the midterm elections.  After all, didn’t Bush and his Republican-led Congress get us into this mess in the first place?  Paying for two wars with costs well over $1 trillion and enacting tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich at the same time is economic suicide, as most Econ. 101 professors would point out.

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Out of Touch with Middle-Class America

I find it disturbing that there has been so much commotion about comedian Stephen Colbert’s testimony to Congress on the plight of migrant farm workers and the topic of illegal immigration.

The latest line of criticism from the mainstream media – and no, it’s not from FOX News – is Jonah Goldberg’s column entitled “Stephen Colbert makes a mockery of immigration debate.”

Goldberg begins, in his super-serious way, by saying, “The comedian’s appearance before Congress was an excruciatingly inappropriate spectacle.”

And continues: “The real upshot of Colbert’s shtick is that he’s mocking people who disagree with him — or with the left-wing base of the Democratic Party — on the complicated issue of immigration.”

Let me first begin by critiquing Goldberg and every other major news “journalist” for giving so much attention to this testimony.  You have just unwittingly disproved your own point by giving this testimony more attention through criticizing Colbert than you would have if Colbert was never invited in the first place. Read more of this post

The Recession, the Rich and the Reality of the American Dream

The American public has just received news that the recession is over – and has been over for about 15 months now.

According to a statement released on Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, an organization composed of over 1,000 economics and business professors, the recession has been “officially” over since June of 2009.

Surprise!

Before beginning your much-belated celebration, there are several troubling thoughts that come to mind when reflecting on this statement that was just released on Monday.

For starters, the primary economic indicator used to judge whether or not we are experiencing a recession is GDP growth.  If the GDP shrinks for two consecutive quarters – or 6 months – then we are officially in a recession.  The National Bureau of Economic Research also uses Gross National Income, manufacturing and trade sales, and the aggregate hours of work (among other indicators) in determining that the end of our recession was June of 2009.  So according to this organization, which primarily uses GDP, GNI and business output indicators to determine the duration of downturns in the business cycle, the “Great Recession” started in December of 2007 and ended in June of 2009.

Economic Policy Institute analysis

The actual report states the following: “In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity. Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month.”

Which brings me to my next point: Is it a mistake to measure economic well-being by strictly following patterns of the business cycle (i.e. changes in certain economic indicators)?  I understand the difference between leading indicators (stock market returns), coincident indicators (GDP) and lagging indicators (unemployment rate) in determining the economic performance, but should we continue valuing these indicators over others when measuring economic performance? Read more of this post

The United States of America – A Graphic Narrative of Recent Socioeconomic Trends

[Graphs/images taken from a number of sources; all graphs/images are for educational purposes only]

During the post-World War II boom, economic growth was spread fairly equitably across the different income groups.  The economic philosophy most commonly followed during this time came from John Maynard Keynes, who believed that governments must practice deficit-spending, especially in times of recession, in order to promote full-employment. Keynesian economic philosophy influenced FDR’s New Deal programs and promoted the idea of government stimulus programs to create jobs.

From 1979 to the present day, the economic growth has mainly benefitted families with incomes over $75,000, particularly the richest 20% of the population.  During this same time period, the top tax brackets have seen their tax rates drop.  The main economic philosophy practiced by politicans, particularly Ronald Reagan, came from Milton Friedman and his seminal work Capitalism and Freedom. This supply-side theory promotes free enterprise and followers believe that government interference is ineffective and unnecessary (e.g. flat tax is better than progressive tax, government should not create jobs, etc…).  The only problem is that in practice this theory has been a failure for the bottom 80-90% of income earners (i.e. the vast majority of Americans).

[taken from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

If we focus on the growth of the wealthiest Americans, the income growth disparity is even more pronounced.  During the past thirty years the richest 1% saw their incomes increase by 232%, compared to a very modest 10% increase for the bottom 90%.

I Love Freedom, I’m a Patriot and I Support Our Troops!

And God bless the United States of America!

Okay, I will back off from the hyperbole for a minute.  No, I am not trying to sound condescending (did it work, though?).  I just want to take a minute to comment on the way we use language and how the words that we choose to use reveal a lot about us and our “agendas”.

Barack Obama used the words “hope” and “change” and the phrase “Yes We Can” more times than I care to remember during the 2008 presidential campaign.

One of President Obama's 2008 campaign slogans.

Not to be outdone, McCain and Palin used the nationalistic tagline “Country First” and utilized patriotic sayings, symbols and video clips so often that the next step would have been draping the American flag over themselves every time they spoke.  After watching the 2008 Republican National Convention, I am surprised I didn’t throw up red, white and blue all over the living room floor.

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The Lost Cause of the War on Drugs

Based on the alleged goals of our government’s war on drugs and after examining all available evidence, this so-called “war” has been a colossal failure.

A March 2001 Pew Research Poll shows that “Nearly three-quarters of Americans say we are losing the drug war, and just as many say that insatiable demand will perpetuate the nation’s drug habit.”

Nine years later, an April 2010 Pew Research Poll revealed that “41% of the public thinks the use of marijuana should be made legal while 52% do not. In 2008, 35% said it should be legal and 57% said the use of marijuana should not be legal, according to data from the General Social Survey. Twenty years ago, only 16% of the public said the use of marijuana should be legal and 81% said it should not be legal.” Read more of this post

Control the Head, Control the Legs – Ryan Rhoades

As a former wrestler and wrestling coach, I taught my athletes that wrestling is a sport about control.  If you control your opponent’s head his body will have to follow.  If you control his legs, his major power source, you can dictate his movements.  The one with the superior position always has an advantage to exercise the most control.

I also taught them that wrestling is the toughest sport and it mirrors life in more ways than any other sport.  Wrestling is the oldest sport; older than Athens-style democracy and practiced in the ancient Greek city-state of Olympia during the first Olympics.

Although it has only been a year since I gave those words of advice, they are turning out to be truer than I realized at the time.

The powers-that-be have used this knowledge, these methods of control, to advance their selfish agenda at the detriment of the average citizen.  The powerful political class and the even-wealthier bank and corporate managers, who often remain in the shadows, are systematically destroying our democracy right before our very eyes.

The “Power Elite”, a term coined by sociologist C. Wright Mills, controls the head using the mainstream media and controls the legs using socioeconomic policies.  If you control the head and the legs, the body is bound to follow. Read more of this post

“Emerging Adulthood” by David Green

ZCommunications | “Emerging Adulthood” by David Green | ZNet Article.

20-Somethings and Bad Social Science in the Neoliberal Era

New York Times Magazine picture, Emerging Adulthood theory

In the title of an 8000-word article in the New York Times Magazine (August 18th), Robin Marantz Henig asks: “What Is It About 20-somethings? Why are so many people in their 20s taking so long to grow up?” The questions and answers are based on research by Clark University psychologist Jeffrey Arnett that has provided the foundation for the recently-popularized “developmental stage” of “emerging adulthood.” Arnett’s fame and fortune began with a “seminal” 2000 article in American Psychologist. “Emerging adulthood” is now for all practical academic purposes certified as a standard stage of human development, with its own body of research and yearly conferences.

My major contentions in addressing this research are three-fold: First, beyond its purely descriptive efforts (which, based on this article, are nevertheless inadequate), this is pretentious social science with no sound theoretical basis in human development, psychology, or sociology. Second, it is bad social science precisely because it avoids what might make it plausible and useful social science—a consideration of the economic neo-liberalization of post-adolescence over the past three to four decades. Third, proposing “emerging adulthood” as another ever-so-profound and “vital” stage of youth’s emotional and psychological development serves to de-politicize what is ultimately a “stage” of life that, if anything, has been shaped by ruthlessly political and volitional elite ideologies and policies. Read more of this post

Pick Clements for U.S. Senate, by Ryan Rhoades

Tom Clements for U.S. Senate (SC), 2010

[This is my letter to the editor that was published today, Saturday September 4th in The Greenville News.]

There has been extensive coverage of Democrat Alvin Greene, whose constant gaffes and suspicious past make him easy pickings for media ratings.

In fact, Greene has garnered more media attention than most other Congressional candidates so far in 2010.

So what about incumbent Sen. Jim DeMint?

Many are familiar with DeMint and most voted for him in the last election.  However, his reactionary agenda is becoming more apparent when looking at his recent contributions to certain Tea Party candidates.  His political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has contributed over $2 million to neoconservative candidates. Read more of this post

It’s Witch-Hunt Season – Paul Krugman, NYTimes.com

It’s Witch-Hunt Season – NYTimes.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman

This Op-Ed article by Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman sums up the current Republican/Tea Party hysteria quite well.  I suggest it to everyone – especially given the sudden rise of irresponsible right-wing extremism. Read more of this post