Month: January 2014

The American Oligarchy

American democracy, as it was designed, is dead. At the very least, it’s on life support and has been for a while. If we aren’t careful, we aren’t going to be able to revive it and the Founding Fathers’ efforts to give it to us will be lost.

As the story goes, Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and was asked by a woman if the new government was a republic or a monarchy. It was reported that without hesitation he responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” So, what exactly did he mean and do we need to heed his warning today?

Today, if you walked down the street of any American city and asked any average citizen what kind of government we have in America today you would likely hear from nine out of ten people, “A democracy.” That answer, to a degree is correct. A democracy is “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” (1b) That other person (I am being optimistic here), the one out of ten, would answer “a democratic republic.” This answer would be more correct. A republic is “a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.” (1b.1) America is both a democracy and a republic. Or, at least it was.

I say “it was” because I am beginning to believe that it may no longer be. We the people, I think, like to pretend that we still have a democratic republic but does the “supreme power” really rest in the hands of the people? I would argue that it does not. What do we really have? It is now more of an oligarchy. An oligarchy is “a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.” (2)  Thomas Jefferson once said, “Liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it [be]comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of the government by an individual, by a group.” (NOTE: Jefferson was not talking about fascism in the WWII sense that we tend to think of it today. He was talking about it more in the economic sense.)

The key part I want to focus on is that our government is now run by a small group of elites, by a group of people who have tremendous economic wealth and through that wealth “own” the government. Let’s first start with the distribution of wealth in our country. To understand this argument, you have to start here because wealth is the means to power.

Did you get that? The richest 1% of the country has 40% of all the nation’s wealth and they own 50% of all the investments in the stock market. What do they do with all that wealth? Well, they invest it of course because that generates more wealth but they also put it to good use by buying elections. Yep, I said it, they buy elections!

This is where the oligarchy of our government comes in. Our government, Congress and the President, is “owned” by private power, a small percentage of super rich elites, who use their wealth to perpetuate what is best for themselves and their friends. The last presidential election cycle is a good example to show my point. Why? Well because we are seeing it happen before our eyes. One thing that I have become keenly aware of is that in order to run for a political office, you need a pretty substantial stack of cash along with some pretty hefty backers as well. If you don’t have the financial support of a few big donors or the very influential party you choose to side with (who also have their own big donors), you likely can’t win an election in America. Running a campaign has become extremely expensive and it has gotten worse over the years. As a result of the media exposure, costs have gone through the roof. How do you make a win happen? Find and use a money source. Well rather, in many cases, they find you. If you don’t find yourself in the “favor” of those with the wealth, you probably don’t stand much of a chance on winning.

The total cost for the federal election cycle of 2012, Congressional and Presidential, was just under $6.3 BILLION. That’s a big pile of dough! If you click on those links, you can see that being a politician is an expensive venture. So, does all that cash come from their pockets or do they have help? Many of those who ran for office did have their own wealth, and collectively the 535 Congressional members have a net worth of more than $1 million each. The millionaires’ club has now gone over 50%. So, what does all that mean? The group of rich people in Congress, those men and women who make our laws, don’t get much competition when it comes to running for office because the average Joe can’t afford to run. Yes, there is competition and in some cases it was a very fierce competition (just look at the top 11 campaigns for self funding) so money doesn’t always guarantee a win, but it does certainly help in a vast majority of campaign races. And, of course, there is help from many other sources as well, all of whom represent a small percentage of the population but a large percentage of the wealth.

Oligarchy.

Thomas Jefferson spoke of it, and Ben Franklin warned us about losing control of the very government the Constitution set up. We have not heeded the warnings of our Founders. We the people are all created equal but if we don’t keep private power from controlling the government, equality of opportunity isn’t going to survive in the land of the free. Instead, those who have the wealth and the power control opportunity and access will be severely limited to those who can afford it. We already see this in practice as the costs of college have gone up in the last decade. Not just slightly, but by leaps and bounds.

The American government can’t be allowed to continue towards a more powerful oligarchy, but we are well on our way down that road. We have to fight the rise of private power by being educated in our voting and not merely settle for whom has the best commercials or most striking mass mailers. We can’t rely simply on the incumbent, who often becomes entrenched with tenure and power, or vote because it is the only name on the ballot we recognize. We can’t just let those with great personal wealth or with seemingly unlimited backing from a small percentage of the population continue to gain control of our government. For if we do, it will no longer represent us – as many have made the case for already.

Our democratic republic is in danger and our Founder Fathers would be disappointed in us.

I Kissed a Girl, and I Liked It!

Yep, I kissed a girl and I liked it. For those of you that know me, this likely comes as no surprise. Sorry Katy Perry, I am going to borrow the title of your hit song. I hope you don’t mind.

That being said, I feel the urge to tell you about it. You see, that kiss changed me. It changed me physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and probably some other “-ly” words too. That kiss led to some other stuff, mostly a relationship with the woman  who belonged to the lips. From there she eventually became my wife. Again, for those of you that know me, this stuff also doesn’t come as a surprise.

The reason, or urge, I want to talk about that kiss today is because it has been six years since that kiss. I certainly didn’t know when I kissed her in the car in the parking lot of the community college that it would lead to this. It did and it has. Now, we have been together, through thick and thin (and we have seen the extreme of both) over those last six years. We have been married for 3 1/2 of them. I can’t imagine having anyone else by my side. She is my partner, confidant, best friend, strength, refuge, my…well, you get the point. She is a lot of things to me.

When it came time for the bridal shower I was asked to write “25 Reasons Why I Love Jenn.” The 25 reasons were going to be shared with her at the shower as a surprise. I thought it was a good idea so I complied. The thing is, it was pretty easy to come up with the following 27 reasons (OK, I didn’t comply completely. I am difficult, what can I say?):

I love…

  1. …the way your face lights up when you see me.
  2. …the way you are quick to offer help or say, “I can do that.”
  3. …that you are caring to a fault at times.
  4. …every time you kiss me it still feels like the first time.
  5. …that you are frugal most of the time.
  6. …that you think I am “funny” and laugh at me.
  7. …that I can feel your love and don’t just hear or see it.
  8. …the fact that you are looking forward to making my lunch for school. 
  9. …your hand on my back.
  10. …holding your hand in the car.
  11. …that you try to make do.
  12. …that you are happy with simple things.
  13. …that you tell me “I love you” often.
  14. …the little notes that you leave in places for me to find later.
  15. …that you put up with my sounds.
  16. …the cute little way you bite your lip when you are thinking about something.
  17. …that you see me as I am and not the way I see me.
  18. …your willingness to get dirty and to work hard.
  19. …your encouragement in all that I do.
  20. …that you endure the cold and rain to watch me play softball.
  21. …the way you speak your mind.
  22. …that you love my daughter as though she were your own.
  23. …your desire to be a Godly woman and continue to pursue Him.
  24. …that I feel “safe” with you and don’t have to be something or someone I am not.
  25. …that you love me.
  1. …that we can go to church and worship together.
  2. …that you understand teaching is more to me than just going to work and I have more “kids” than my daughter.

I love that first kiss. Obviously, since I am crowing about it even to this day. I kiss that girl every day, multiple times if I can manage it. AND, I still like it! I cherish the list above because of the little things that I saw even then that I knew I loved about her. And now, six years later, on the anniversary of that first kiss, I could probably name a whole bunch of other reasons I love her. Things that I have discovered as time has progressed and I have gotten to know her better. But, I am gonna save those for another day, another anniversary. The point today is this:

I kissed a girl, she became my wife, AND I LIKE IT!

Is Personalization Good in All Cases?

Computers have been making it easier and easier to connect with the world for quite some time now. They have been getting better and better at doing it as the years have passed and they are getting faster while doing it at the same time. That is fantastic, until you stop to think about what that could mean if we aren’t careful. Those at Facebook, Google, Amazon, or whatever tech company you name at this point have been working towards a web that allows them to personalize the web to your own tastes and preferences (but really mostly so they can make money marketing stuff to you). This is good to some degree because I don’t want, unnecessarily, to see ads for feminine products. Those things might be useful to those I love, but not to me personally. So, yes, this personalization is good. However, take a look at the video below. Discover what a “filter bubble” is and why total personalization of the web is a bad thing.

What do you think? Does he have a point? Is this progress, progress?

Courage in the Face of Criticism

I have been thinking about resolutions a lot since the new year, 2014, has begun. I haven’t ever really been one to do a resolution and my mantra has typically been, “My resolution this year is to have no resolutions.” Someone may have said that before me, don’t know and don’t care. But, the beginning of the year has brought the thoughts of resolutions again to the forefront on my mind. I think I am going to try one this year! It is going to be tough and maybe you can help me with it.

I hereby do resolve to have MORE courage in the face of criticism.

Why? Why do I feel the need to make a resolution this year when I have been so against them in the past? Quite simply, I don’t want to “go with the grain” this year. I am not going to follow the crowd. It is time to stand up and be counted.

These guys, and their thoughts, have motivated me to this decision:

“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”

“Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.”
-Augustine of Hippo

“The truth is not always the same as the majority decision.” – Pope John Paul II

Who is with me? Anyone else need to do this as well? Leave your comments and thoughts below.