Word of the year: oligarchy

An oligarchy is when a few people rule over the majority. The rulers are put in power due to wealth or nobility. At its core, oligarchy involves concentrating economic power and using it for political purposes. 

In an oligarchy, an organized minority controls a disorganized majority. It’s the most common type of rule around. We even see it in high schools with the cliques and power couples.

Some countries such as Saudi Arabia have been oligarchies for a long time. Others such as in Venezuela, form when democracy goes wrong. Cochtonia in my novel series, is such an oligarchy.

Ancient Rome was an oligarchy as was South Africa (established by Caucasians) in the last century.

Today these countries are oligarchies: Russia, Ukraine China, Iran (religious), Saudi Arabia (wealth, monarchy), Turkey (one family, the Kocs), North Korea, and a few others.

Some consider the US to be rapidly becoming a wealth based oligarchy now that over half of our wealth is controlled by a few families, with the Koch brothers and Silicon Valley wealth controlling much of the country’s policies. The Koch brothers have been very bad for any policies protecting the environment, for example.

Why would people put up with such rule? In many ways, it makes life more predictable. You don’t have to worry about politics, which is exhausting and a lot of work. The most powerful oligarchies offer hope that a few select peons will be able to join, lying to people that all have a chance. This is evident in my next novel, Lost in Waste.

The downside is, of course, most citizens become discouraged, disenfranchised, and even rebellious.

Democracy is most often toppled into oligarchy when people complain about government. Have you heard the terms starve the beast and big government sucks? It might sound like a pleasant appeal to independence but the truth is, these are oligarch refrains. These ideas aren’t based on any sort of well-researched, economic policies. They come from the wealthy wanting more and more.

In an oligarchy, you don’t vote out bad politicians. Once they get in, the repeat the lies of the oligarchs. Try writing one of Iowa’s senators these days. If you have evidence that their policies are hurtful, they write back calling you an idiot or don’t write back at all.

One tool of oligarchy is to divide the people. Here in Pella, people use the abortion issue as an excuse to support the oligarchy. If this issue goes away, the oligarchs will come up with something new to control the masses. I’m on the local planning and zoning commission and found that political party did not define how members reacted to a local controversy. People can be unified, but oligarchies don’t want this.

Oligarch’s also make sure that ordinary people depend on them for economic survival. You can see this today, as small businesses are swallowed up by large chains, companies merge, and even the media consolidates. In my town, the local factories sometimes tell people how to vote and run their own insider candidates. In fact, a tool of an oligarchy is to set up puppet rulers.

A third way they survive is to destroy any pubic projects and instead, make people reliant on their charity. An example of this is the American Prairie Reserve, which combines public and private lands, and is funded by primarily oil profiteers. They take and they give, and they expect us to admire them, as all oligarchs do.

How oligarchies fall? It can occur when some oligarchs become sympathetic with the public and fund initiatives favoring them. It is thought that this is why Caesar was killed.

If the majority organizes, they can regain some rights, and even tax the minority. The first step of opposing an oligarchy is to remain informed. This is why oligarchies such as Russia and some political parties put out so much disinformation.

Another way to gain freedom is to follow science. Science relies on independence and evidence based decisions. Unlike the powerful, most scientists have the public interest at heart, Scientists have been oppressed by oligarchs–think Galileo for example. “Indeed, reflecting on what drew him to the study of physics, Stephen Hawking once noted that in his chosen field, “It doesn’t matter what school you went to or to whom you are related. It matters what you do.” (source of quote) The idea that people are free to observe and to think is what moves science forward. The Dark Ages were a time of stagnation for science. Science and democracy grew from the Enlightenment together.

It’s no accident that independent research is being cut in the US.

Another way to fight back is to not share disinformation. Understand that disinformation comes with a kernel of truth to entice you. Misinformers might post a kind meme one minute and a lie the next. They might modify a real video clip, such as was done to make Nancy Pelosi appear to be slurring her words. Misinformers micro-target you. If you like dogs, a meme will carry a dog for example. Do not post or comment on dubious sources of information. If possible, speak privately to your dear old friend or relative who has become a meme-poster. Remember, lies and conflict only help the oligarchy.

To read more, go here and here.

Tall Tale of Privatization

I took a road trip recently. It reminded me of the tall tale of privatization.

In West Virginia, the toll has doubled to $4. To cross West Virginia on I-77, a person needs to pay this three times, once every approximately every 30 miles, because the highway uses no state or federal funds. This decision has been made on a state level. Some people take country roads and locals can get a cheaper pass but trucks can’t. Costs get passed on to consumers.

We all pay gasoline taxes to fund our roads. However, it’s not enough and despite promises, infrastructure dollars will not be increased unless cuts are made to other domestic programs. In a punishing move, Trump has said that money will be taken from California, one of our most productive states. In the mean time, states are coming up with solutions that increase inequality.

Indiana privatized its toll roads, using a foreign company. The company then went bankrupt. This is common for privatized toll roads. Despite the disaster in his state, Pence is still a fan of the practice–which requires tax payers to subsidize the private partnerships. These partnerships have a track record of going broke. Additionally, they sell our public lands and roads to profiteers.

In North Carolina, a crowded freeway has some much needed new lanes but people can only drive on them if they have an Express pass, costing $6 or more. The passes are sold and the new highway lanes, where you can go as fast as you want, are owned by a company in Spain, Cintra. I-77 needed more lanes, the tax base did not allow for it, so privatization stepped in. Now there are two tiers of people on the road, the fast people with money and the rest of us.

Me in the slow lane in the rain

This is similar to the anti-Net Neutrality folks, who want people to pay to get their sites into the fast lane. My site will be in the slow lane.

My district once had a politician who promoted private prisons…along with less regulation (he owned a factory). He called them a growth industry. Private prisons pay employees less than government run prisons. However, they don’t appear to save any money because they have a profit motive, unlike government prisons. They’ve been implicated in scandals such as Kids for Cash, bribery, and campaign contributions. They’ve been linked to an increase in incarceration and people returning to prison because they have no incentives to rehabilitate people.

Iowa threw its lot in with Medicaid privatization. Many critics said it was a thank you gift to political donors. In any case, costs of providing coverage have nearly tripled, because, um, profit motive. What did you expect? Unable to learn from others, the U of Iowa president is pursuing privatization of the university’s utilities.

Privatization of city services has increased costs across the country. Services to poor areas of cities have been cut when privatization sweeps in. Drinking water costs have increased while service decreases. Veolia, a private company, was in part responsible for Flint’s water woes and caused problems in Philadelphia. Famously, parking meters in Chicago have been privatized for the next 75 years. (U of Iowa is seeking a 50 year privatization.) Fees went up and meters started malfunctioning. Privatization has a disregard for the environment. It’s all about profits. Despite this, corrupt politicians want to privatize the popular US postal service even as privately held FedEx suffers numerous woes.

Do a search for Privatization Horror Stories for more.

It isn’t just happening in the US. In Australia, privatization has raised costs for everything from airport parking to energy. In Russia, privatization has created oligarchs.

Privatization increases inequality. Privatized entities fall apart. This is why privatization is a part of my next dystopia.

Ditch the myths about poverty and wealth

The problem with the economy here in the US is: it only works for some. Income inequality is at record highs. Food prices are 40% higher than they were ten years ago, in part because investors have been buying commodities. In other words, the rich are getting rich by making the poor pay more for food. Cutting food aid, as our government is considering and the president is pushing, makes it even more difficult for those in poverty to get healthy foods.

Income inequality makes a country less productive. Meritocracy is a lie. Wealthy people aren’t smarter, more productive, and better for society. It’s bad for society and even bad for them to believe this. And let’s be honest–a lot of them make terrible bosses. They aren’t cut out for it.
Plywood highlights this rural city hall and there’s not a Starbucks in sight to blame.

I recently got my salary letter. My raise was not wonderful. The next day, my spouse went to the hospital for surgery. It was needed, unexpected, and tucked in at the end of the year since we’d already hit the deductible with a procedure in June. I have health insurance. It’s not good but I won’t go bankrupt this year. All I can wonder is: why is the economy allegedly so good? Where is my raise? If an educated person is unable to see wealth mobility, is it possible?

The problem with the economy here in the US is: it only works for some. Income inequality is at record highs. Food prices are 40% higher than they were ten years ago, in part because investors have been buying commodities. In other words, the rich are getting rich by making the poor pay more for food. Cutting food aid, as our government is considering and the president is pushing, makes it even more difficult for those in poverty to get healthy foods.

Income inequality makes a country less productive. Meritocracy is a lie. Wealthy people aren’t smarter, more productive, and better for society. It’s bad for society and even bad for them to believe this. And let’s be honest–a lot of them make terrible bosses. They aren’t cut out for it.

Living in a poor neighborhood can change your biology. It’s stressful to be poor and the stress of being unfairly scrutinized and blamed for your poverty is crushing. This creates a cascade of harmful hormones.

Poverty shortens lives. Poor people live on average, 15 years less than rich people in the US and they are more likely to die from cancer.

Crime goes up when people know the deck is stacked against them. Add this to the tendency of rich people to cheat and you have the makings of an unstable society.

On the other hand, there are some lies persisting about people in poverty. They are NOT terrible parents and they DO value education. In general, poorer people abuse alcohol and drugs LESS than wealthy people do. Most families in poverty have two working parents.

The welfare budget in the US is less than one half of one percent in the US. About 60 percent of people in the US will spend at least a year in poverty. This is a rate twice as high as in Europe. There is little government assistance to help. Poverty in the US is escalating despite the low unemployment rate. The new jobs do not pay well. The raises these days go to those making above $100,000.

Poverty myths are so prevalent here that even poor people believe them. It’s why they can be convinced to vote against the social safety net and be proud of voting that way. There have been a few people here in the US who got rich on their own–kind of–not considering that the government seized lands from the natives who had cleared and settled the land. Americans grossly overestimate economic mobility with less educated people being the most likely to believe the meritocracy and poverty myths.

The myths exist to keep people in their place. How many politicians have you heard hint that if you don’t vote for them, the economy will go south, the rich will yank your job, you’ll slip into poverty and it will be your fault? Politicians will repeat the lies of welfare queens and poor people buying too many lattes. Ironically, the boyhood home of the politician who spoke so dishonestly of welfare queens is having hard times financially and needs government assistance.

Lattes do not create poverty. An unequal society and persisting myths do. The poor do not need financial advice. To assume this is snobbery. An occasional latte is not making anyone broke. Poor wages and high fixed costs such as for housing and health care are doing that. A latte is a cheap treat to keep them from wanting to die. As one woman said, “I’m poor and I like doing face masks to cheer myself up. I’m poor and I like to eat a meal I didn’t have to make when I’m too tired to keep going. Bite me.”

Since the war on poverty is far from over, we should be putting money into keeping society stable and working towards equality. And when I write dystopias, income inequality will be part of the unhealthy society. You know what else, I’m 100% with the poor woman and face masks.

Seeking asylum

Seeking asylum has a long history. As part of the Geneva convention, people are allowed to avail a country for protection if they are being persecuted for race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion.

“An asylum-seeker is a person who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations in another country, but who hasn’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee and is waiting to receive a decision on their asylum claim. Seeking asylum is a human right. This means everyone should be allowed to enter another country to seek asylum.” (source here)

“A refugee is a person who has fled their own country because they are at risk of serious human rights violations and persecution there. The risks to their safety and life were so great that they felt they had no choice but to leave and seek safety outside their country because their own government cannot or will not protect them from those dangers. Refugees have a right to international protection.” (source here)

By contrast, a migrant might leave their country “because they want to work, study or join family, for example. Others feel they must leave because of poverty, political unrest, gang violence, natural disasters or other serious circumstances that exist there.” (source here)

According to the Geneva Convention, at the moment of urgency, cooperating countries have to let asylum seekers and refugees into their country. Later, they go though a proceeding that determines if they get asylum. This can be risky because if they get sent back, they could be killed by the people they are fleeing. Asylum seekers need to present a convincing case that they were in danger in their country and had no way to find protection. They are granted temporary asylum and it is up to the government of the country where they seek asylum if they should be detained, locked up.

In the US, Trump etc has decided that ALL asylum seekers and migrants be detained. (At our expense. $$$$$$$$$$) The kids of asylum seekers and migrants are not detained so they are taken from their parents and getting sent to camps. That’s the logic. But why detain everyone? This hasn’t been done before. There are no clear guidelines for caring for the children. Some have even been put up for adoption, leading to accusations of kidnapping!

In the current system in the US, honest people fleeing persecution and violence in Latin America can be detained with criminals. They can be detained for years, by the way, even if they are innocent. This is not the smartest, cheapest, or kindest policy. It lowers the moral standing of the US in the world because no other country separates parents and kids. (Although India won’t let anyone in since they never signed the Geneva convention.)

Sadly, women fleeing domestic violence or genital mutilation are not covered by the convention. People fleeing natural disaster, migrants, have the same rights as asylum seeking but in the US, those from the Bahamas are being turned away.

Right now, there are over 25 million refugees in the world. Here in the US, most asylum seekers are from China, followed by El Salvador.

In the US, asylum seekers could once refer to the highlighted document. However, it is no long available.

The Geneva Convention was created in 1951, as stories of Jewish people fleeing Nazis being turned away and later executed became known. The United States was responsible for turning many away, including a ship load on a vessel known as the St. Louis. The US signed the Geneva Convention and codified the principles in 1980. It is considered to be international law. It’s not illegal to seek asylum but, egged on by cruel policies, some seekers are called criminals. This is a violation of international law and inspires hatred and demonization across the globe.

Here is a podcast on How to seek asylum plus a heartwarming story. Here is the History of the Geneva convention.

BTW, if your state has capital punishment, as Iowa is considering, and as the US has added, you can be a refuge to to another countries such as France. Let’s hope the world gets a little more loving or there could be no place to flee to. We also need to recognize domestic violence as violence.

How I Got My Real ID

For those of you familiar with my Unstable States dystopian series, you’ll recall that in the nation of Cochtonia, people don’t vote and get scanned regularly with a No Regrets device. As detailed in Mixed In, this scanner was developed to allow people to check sex partners for diseases, but it quickly became used by the Vice Patrol to check them for “deviance” instead. We haven’t reached this point yet here in the US, but we do have The Real ID. (Click link for official description)

The Real ID is supposed to provide better security at airports and other places, and who doesn’t want better security? However, critics say that the 9-11 hijackers had plenty of ID (some faked) and this didn’t stop them. The National Academy of Science pointed out numerous problems with having a National ID. The new type of ID not only resembles restrictive IDs used in Russia, but provides a nice hackable data base with plenty of our personal information.–including images with facial recognition! We all know that not much has been done to prevent hacking.

The Real ID has been in the works since 2005. “Republican Cong. F. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is to blame. In February 2005, he attached the Real ID Act to a defense appropriations bill. No one was willing to risk not supporting the troops by holding up the bill, and it became law. No hearings. No floor debate. With nary a whisper, the United States had a national ID.”

According to the government “On May 11, 2005, President Bush signed into law the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005 (H.R. 1268, P.L. 109-13), which included the “Real ID Act of 2005.” Title II of Real ID—“Improved Security for Driver’s License’ and Personal Identification Cards”—repeals the provisions of a December 2004 law (P.L. 108-458) that established a negotiated rule making process to create federal standards for driver’s licenses and instead directly imposes prescriptive federal driver’s license standards.”

It will be required by 2020, just in time for the election. Will it affect voters? Yes, in some states you will need a real ID to vote: CO, GA, MD, NM, MS, NE, SD, TX, UT, VT, and WY. Some states are automatically granting enhanced driver’s licenses as Real ID stand-ins: Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington are states that currently issue EDLs. (For more information on EDLs, please go to www.dhs.gov/enhanced-drivers-licenses-what-are-they.) And there’s a lurking danger–the federal government doesn’t like some states’ Real IDs and are declaring some of them invalid. California is one of these states.

It’s estimated that in 2020 millions of people will not be able to vote or will be discouraged from trying to vote due to Real IDs,

I went to get my Real ID at the DOT this week. Here’s what I had to bring with me:

You must apply in person to get a Real ID. The DOT comes to Pella two times a month and provides services from 9am-4pm. Otherwise, you have to drive to the county seat. No problem for me but if a person is not a driver, it could be.

In Pella, I waited for about 40 minutes and had to pay $10 and get a new photo taken. My Real ID will come in the mail in a week or so. I had a passport, but to get it, I had to get a new official birth certificate and pay for that (since I was born out of state in Michigan), a photo, and pay for that, and pay for the passport. How do poor people get a Real ID? I wrote Homeland Security (in charge of the Real ID rollout) and asked this question. I’ll update when I get an answer.

What’s the problem? Isn’t this a simple upgrade from the IDs we have now? Not simple for everyone. Many people do not have or need photo IDs. Rural people were often born at home and don’t have birth certificates. Some people have their names spelled wrong on their birth certificate or suddenly find they were not legally adopted and must pay hundreds of dollars in fees to comply. People who have recently gotten divorced/married or moved to a new state report making multiple trips and headaches to get their Real ID. In Kansas, not only have there been problems, but only 40% of people have a Real ID. Some people have expired licenses and don’t drive. Over 80% of people in the US have flown at least once and 50% have flown recently.People can use a Passport as an alternative for flying. However, it’s taking longer to get passports due to lack of staff. And once again, I ask–what about poor people?

Here in the US, about 11% of the population has no ID of any kind. There are ministries and non-profits to help poor people get IDs, which are needed for things such as welfare and getting married. The real ID has made this a time eating and burdensome process. Is there help in Iowa? If so, I can’t find it

Some people worry that Real ID will create two tiers of people–those who have a real ID and those who don’t. It seems a little dystopian, don’t you think?

Click here if you need help obtaining a Real ID.