Friday Reads: American Oligarchy, South Korean Tragedy, and Hillary Under the Microscope




Good Morning!!


Yesterday Dakinikat quoted from a WaPo article by Larry Bartels on the Republican Party’s increasing identification as white and anti-every other ethnic group. (Of course he failed to mention that Republicans also focus almost exclusively on the needs of men who identify as Christians, but I’ll let that go for now.)

Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, is the author of  Unequal Democracy:The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. In the WaPo article, Bartels argues based on his research that, despite its seeming choice to ignore the needs of the majority of Americans and the growing ethnic diversity in the U.S. population, the demise of the GOP may not be immanent.  Bartels writes:

Even momentous demographic changes occur slowly; non-Hispanic whites will remain a majority of the U.S. population for the next 30 years, and (allowing for differences in age profiles, citizenship status and turnout) a majority of the electorate even longer. (According to Census Bureau tabulations, non-Hispanic whites were 65 percent of the U.S. population in 2012, but 74 percent of the electorate.) Thus, if white voters “continue to migrate toward the Republican Party” in response to demographic change, “it will be a long time before it finds itself unable to win elections.”

Just look at demographically diverse but stubbornly Republican Texas, always just about to turn blue. The changing American polity may come to look more like Texas than like the multicultural Democratic stronghold of California. In an increasingly diverse America, identity politics will continue to cut both ways.


Take a look at the illustration at the top of this post and you’ll see why Bartels is probably right. According to a recently released study (pdf) by Martin Gilins and Benjamin I. Page of Princeton and Northwestern Universities respectively, we are no longer living in a democracy. The U.S. has already become an oligarchy. Sure we knew that already, but now we have confirmation from a scientific study. From BBC News:

[T]he two professors have conducted exhaustive research to try to present data-driven support for this conclusion. Here’s how they explain it:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

In English: the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power.

The two professors came to this conclusion after reviewing answers to 1,779 survey questions asked between 1981 and 2002 on public policy issues. They broke the responses down by income level, and then determined how often certain income levels and organised interest groups saw their policy preferences enacted.

“A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time,” they write, “while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time.”


On the other hand, Gilins and Page conclude:

because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.

Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

These study’s results reinforce Larry Bartels’ findings about the tendency of white Americans to support the goals of the super rich even when it is not in their own best interest. Another quote from the study via Gawker:

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our 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…

Recent research by Larry Bartels and by one of the present authors (Gilens), which explicitly brings the preferences of “affluent” Americans into the analysis along with the preferences of those lower in the income distribution, indicates that the apparent connection between public policy and the preferences of the average citizen may indeed be largely or entirely spurious.


Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:

The theory of Economic Elite Domination is fairly self-explanatory. The theory of Biased Pluralism holds that policy outcomes “tend to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.” In essence, the researchers found that government policy changes are correlated with the wishes of the wealthy and with interest groups, but not with the wishes of the average American—even though the whole idea of “Democracy” is to ensure that the wishes of the majority tend to carry the day.

The study notes that the position of the median American and the position of the affluent American are often the same; therefore, regular people tend to think that their political interests are being represented when they see the triumph of some political position that they agree with. In fact, the researchers say, this is a mere coincidence. Yes, the average American will see their interests represented—as long as their interests align with the interests of the wealthy.

Yes, it’s extremely depressing, but we have long sensed this and now science has confirmed our intuitions. Now we have to figure out how to change it.

In other news . . .

Ferry sinking off South Korea with 450 people on board...epa0416

We haven’t talked much about the disastrous sinking of a ferry loaded with South Korean students and their families. So far 28 people are known to be dead and 268 are still missing–including 246 students. From the Wall Street Journal:

On Monday night, Kim Si-yeon and her family took her mother out for a late birthday dinner. Ms. Kim pushed for a cheap Korean barbecue restaurant and family members say they reluctantly obliged because the young musician and actress was leaving the next day for a four-day high school trip.

The next morning, the father of Cho Eun-jung, another student at the same school, didn’t want to wake his daughter before he left for work. So he cuddled her in his arms and kissed her forehead, he said in an interview.

Student Lee Hye-gyeong later that morning said a quick goodbye to her boyfriend as she left for the bus ride to the ferry port where the three students and more than 300 of their classmates would set sail for a 13-hour journey to Jeju Island, a popular South Korean vacation spot.

An annual trip for high-school juniors from Danwon High School in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, the trip was designed as a break before the students began intense preparations for college entrance exams next year. Last year’s class was the first to take the boat; in the past, student groups had flown.

What happened next, not long after sunrise on Wednesday morning, has become a national tragedy in South Korea. The students had just finished a breakfast of bulgogi, a Korean beef dish, rice and kimchi when the ferry capsized and sank.

So heartbreaking. From NBC News: South Korea Ferry: 30-Minute Evacuation Delay Trapped Dozens.

A half-hour delay in evacuation orders may have trapped hundreds on board the doomed South Korea ferry, according to new details which emerged Friday about how the disaster unfolded.

A transcript of a ship-to-shore exchange, and interviews with surviving crew members, reveal that the vessel was listing too heavily for passengers to escape by the time the captain issued orders to abandon ship….

Oh Yong-seok, a helmsman on the ferry with 10 years of shipping experience, told The Associated Press that when the crew gathered on the bridge and sent a distress call, the ship was already listing more than five degrees, the critical angle at which a vessel can be brought back to even keel.

The first instructions from the captain were for passengers to put on life jackets and stay where they were, Oh said. A third mate reported that the ship could not be righted, and the captain ordered another attempt, which also failed, Oh said.

 A crew member then tried to reach a lifeboat but fell because the vessel was tilting, prompting the first mate to suggest to the captain that he order an evacuation, Oh said.
About 30 minutes after passengers were told to stay in place, the captain finally gave the order to evacuate, Oh said, adding that he wasn’t sure in the confusion and chaos on the bridge if the order was relayed to the passengers.

“We couldn’t even move one step. The slope was too big,” said Oh, who escaped with about a dozen others, including the captain.

I guess the old saying that the captain must go down with the ship no longer holds true. There is an arrest warrant out for the captain though. From the WSJ again:

SEOUL—Arrest warrants were issued for the captain and two crew members of the sunken South Korean ferry on Friday, as a crew member confirmed accounts that the captain was among the first to abandon the sinking ship.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, crew member Oh Yong-seok, who isn’t a target of an arrest warrant, re-created the chaotic final moments before the ship capsized on Wednesday morning. He said that while members of the crew did abandon the boat, they did everything they could to first evacuate the vessel’s passengers.

The focus on the crew members’ final actions came during a third day of frustration, confusion and tragedy that offered no new breakthroughs in attempts to rescue the nearly 300 passengers who remain missing.

Investigators also didn’t appear to be any closer to understanding why the ship made what it called a “radical right turn” shortly before it began to sink.

In another tragedy, a vice principal who escaped the sinking ferry has committed suicide. First Coast News:

SEOUL – The vice principal rescued from the doomed South Korean ferry has been found hanged, Korean police said Friday.

Out of the ferry’s 475 passengers, 325 had been second year high school students from Danwon High School in Ansan, about 20 miles south of Seoul. They were on a four-day trip to the island of Jeju, a popular South Korean tourist destination.

The vice principal was identified only by his surname, Kang. He was on the island of Jindo, where rescued passengers had taken shelter. A police officer said he was hanging from a tree.

Read more details at the link.

Prepare yourself for another outbreak of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

Hillary orange

The New York Times reports: New Batch of Clinton Documents to Be Released.

The National Archives on Friday was preparing to release its largest batch yet of previously withheld documents from the Clinton administration, with topics to include the conflicts in Somalia and Rwanda, Middle East peace negotiations, the Oklahoma City bombing and public figures like Richard M. Nixon, Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey.

The bundle that is likely to receive the most attention, though, is one that covers Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ill-fated attempt as first lady to overhaul the health care system. Mrs. Clinton, who ran for president in 2008, is considering a second attempt in 2016.

The roughly 7,500 documents — consisting of memos, transcripts, speeches and emails — were to be posted by the Clinton Presidential Library at 1 p.m.

Also from the NYT, the claim that Hillary Clinton Struggles to Define a Legacy in Progress.

It was a simple question to someone accustomed to much tougher ones: What was her proudest achievement as secretary of state? But for a moment, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing recently before a friendly audience at a women’s forum in Manhattan, seemed flustered.

Mrs. Clinton played an energetic role in virtually every foreign policy issue of President Obama’s first term, advocating generally hawkish views internally while using her celebrity to try to restore America’s global standing after the hit it took during the George W. Bush administration.

But her halting answer suggests a problem that Mrs. Clinton could confront as she recounts her record in Mr. Obama’s cabinet before a possible run for president in 2016: Much of what she labored over so conscientiously is either unfinished business or has gone awry in his second term.

From Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the grinding civil war in Syria to the latest impasse in the Middle East peace process, the turbulent world has frustrated Mr. Obama, and is now defying Mrs. Clinton’s attempts to articulate a tangible diplomatic legacy.

Horrors! I guess Hillary should just drop out then (“Why won’t that nasty bitch quit?”). And now that she’s going to be a grandma, she probably should give up all her ambitions and become a babysitter. From The Christian Science Monitor: Chelsea Clinton baby: Will Hillary Clinton be less likely to run in 2016? Would anyone ask that about a man running for president?


There are tons of Hillary headlines today, so I’ll give you a sampling:

NPR: Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Chess Board.

WaPo: Poll: Hillary Clinton’s numbers worst since 2008, as GOP brand surges (Sigh . . . Whatever. 2016 is a long way down the road.)

WaPo: Hillary Clinton says she’s ‘a huge supporter’ of immigration reform.

Bloomberg: Hillary Clinton’s Diplomacy Memoir Will Be Called ‘Hard Choices’

Snarky commentary on the upcoming book by Joe Coscarelli at New York Magazine: Hillary Clinton Wants You to Know That She Faces Very ‘Hard Choices,’ Like, For Instance, Running for President in 2016

So . . . what else is happening out there in the world? Please share your links in the comment thread and have a fantastic Friday!!

39 Comments on “Friday Reads: American Oligarchy, South Korean Tragedy, and Hillary Under the Microscope”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    A little stress relief:

  2. Fannie says:

    On this day, 19 years ago:

  3. Fannie says:

    I want to thank you and Dak for the excellent coverage of all the junk going on. You know California use to be Red, I can only think overtime Texas will turn blue. The republicans are doing all they can to control the vote, and lower the turn out, that might give them a better chance of winning.

    I am happy for the Clintons, they have done a excellent job with Chelsea and have a super good relationship. There are areas for all parents when they have failed, and sometimes it’s glaring because the Clintons are always in the starlight more times than not. Regardless of any shortcomings they have smoothed the road, come together and LOVED like no other family.
    I admire Hillary, and will work to put her in office as POTUS.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks, Fannie. I’m still an optimist too. Things can change very quickly in politics at times.

      • dakinikat says:

        Wonderful synopsis of Bartel’s study and the others. I read about these folks that are so duped by the powers that be and others that just sit by and say my vote doesn’t count and want to scream wake the fuck up!

    • RalphB says:

      Damn, that’s just sad!

      • Fannie says:

        Sorry was trying to link the Arkansas Nine……….Because we seem to be going backwards and the issues of stateism really is becoming dangerous. Governor Orval Faubus, defied the the surpreme rule of the land (pretty much like the Mormons did in 1851, and Cliven Bundy has recently decided to do), by defiances of the federal law. He called in the national guard, (like Bundy as called in the militas). In the case with Arkansas nine, the courts forced them to obey the “laws of the land”.

        We got people all over this country, who are more concerned about states rights, and could care less about we the people. There is no debating it, it’s get posse and guns men. I think about the Dent family, about the father who served in Vietnam, and I think what the teacher said to the student who was asking questions and told you have to work through the struggle. Fact is we didn’t win in Vietnam, we didn’t win the war on poverty, and we didn’t win the case of desegregation. Can I ask this question, what the fuck did we do it all for in first place. This is seprate but equal, and reading over the article we haven’t accomplished nothing, not a damn thing. I had always thought we were making progress, but some how it’s been torn down. Can’t seem to get answers, not from the teachers, not from laws, or courts, and in other words all he fought for in Vietnam, in education, as everything else, it didn’t count. They the teachers, politicans, and lawyers become the exploiters, and are preventing kids from a simple thing called education, in order that they made earn more money, and have useful careers, and truly become learners, and helpers to other. I think of those kids on the bus from Los Angeles, being recruited to Humbolt State University, this is what it’s about, getting the kids out to see the world, see how other campuses and libraries, and businesses, and are working, and how to get out and learn.

        Do we truly understand, that if we don’t fix it now, we never will. The cost in terms time, energy and money to repair all the damage done now, will damn near be the death of us, and will certainly prevent our children, our country from being whole.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Ooops! Charles Pierce begins to wake up from the Koolaid-induced fog; notices that Snowden’s question to Putin was idiotic. Pierce still doesn’t understand that Snowden is Putin’s “useful idiot” and is simply following orders.

    He’ll probably like Snowden’s followup in today’s Guardian, but I have no doubt that is just part of Putin’s long-term plan. Flatter Snowden and let him criticize Russia briefly–thus duping the U.S. media into thinking Snowden is an independent agent.

    So fascinating.

    • bostonboomer says:
      • bostonboomer says:
  5. bostonboomer says:
  6. NW Luna says:

    A National Popular Vote could help decrease oligarchial power.

    New York has become the latest state to join an agreement that would ransform the U.S. presidential electiont. Under the compact for a National Popular Vote, states across the country have pledged to award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote. If enough states sign on, it would guarantee the presidency goes to the candidate with the most votes nationwide. This would prevent scenarios like what happened in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but still lost the election to George W. Bush. The compact will kick in only when enough states have signed on to reach a threshold of 270 electoral votes.

    “….it’s an important step psychologically, because now the threshold, instead of being 50 percent of the way to the threshold, we’re 61 percent of the way. So every little bit—every little bit helps. And, of course, New York is the media capital. Things don’t really happen in the brain of the media until they happen in New York. So even though California, New Jersey, state of Washington—even though all these other states have already signed on, it’s only now starting to raise to the level of some sort of public attention. … we’re halfway—more than halfway to solving one of the central problems of our Constitution, which is the—this Electoral College setup. And the problem with the setup is not the Electoral College itself. The problem is the winner-take-all by state. That’s what creates all the anomalies.”

    • dakinikat says:

      I still think it is the donor situation. Pols cannot get elected without huge sums of money. We should shorten the election cycle some how and try to shut down the crap the supreme court is doing. The supreme Court is really the group that is selling off the people these days. fat tony should be guillotined.

      • NW Luna says:

        Campaign financing reform has been crushed and near buried by the donor oligarchy, enabled by the Supreme Court.

      • RalphB says:

        One of the best things about the Aussie and British systems are the election cycles which are only a few weeks long. Campaigning outside the cycle is not only illegal it will lose you votes because it’s hated. I think money is still important but the effect is limited compared to our system.

  7. RalphB says:

    tpm: ‘Duck Dynasty’ Show Canceled In Missouri Due To Low Ticket Sales

    The “Duck Dynasty” clan isn’t the draw it used to be. Not even in the Bible Belt.

    Promoters announced last month that members of the Robertson family would appear at a show titled “Faith, Family & Ducks” at an 11,000-seat arena in Springfield, Mo. …

    The TV ratings are also way down now. 🙂

    • NW Luna says:

      May those trying to shoot harmless animals always shoot themselves in their own feet!

  8. RalphB says:

    Texas seizes ranch of imprisoned polygamist leader Warren Jeffs

    SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) – The sprawling Yearning for Zion Ranch in west Texas, where polygamist leader Warren Jeffs sexually assaulted young girls and justified it by claiming he was the “prophet of God,” is now the property of the State of Texas.

    The Texas Department of Public Safety, which raided the Eldorado, Texas, ranch in April of 2008, said in a statement released on Thursday that the walled compound has been entered by law enforcement officers and “the residents have agreed to vacate the property.”

    Jeffs, 58, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in the Texas prison system. He was convicted of sexual assault relating to what his sect called “celestial marriages” to two underage girls at the religious compound.

    This is how handles child rapists.

  9. dakinikat says:

    I really want to write more about this but felt like it’s good place to put it today

    Still, today’s economic elite is very different from that of the 19th century, isn’t it? Back then, great wealth tended to be inherited; aren’t today’s economic elite people who earned their position? Well, Piketty tells us that this isn’t as true as you think, and that in any case this state of affairs may prove no more durable than the middle-class society that flourished for a generation after World War II. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to 19th-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

  10. RalphB says:

    Speaking of things you hate, Mitchell should be hung!