TPM Cafe: Opinion

Out of 300 million Americans, a few thousand wield disproportionate economic and political influence because of their positions at the pinnacle of America's corporate and media establishments or their roles as political allies (or puppets) of the corporate ruling class. C. Wright Mills described this group in his 1956 book, The Power Elite, G. William Domhoff has updated this analysis in his book, Who Rules America? (now in its 7th edition), and Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson have described how the power elite wields its influence in Winner-Take-All Politics


Many of them have overlapping memberships on the boards of the largest corporations, business lobby groups, universities and think tanks, foundations, and media conglomerates. They are not part of conspiracy. They do not meet secretly to plot America's future. And they disagree with each other on some issues, particularly same-sex marriage, abortion and gun control. Some are corporate conservatives and moderates; some are right-wing reactionaries and racists; others are lunatic libertarians. 

But they agree on the essential concerns about the economy. The top Wall Street and Wal-Mart CEOs, the media monopolists and their talk-show agitators, the billionaire benefactors, and the business lobbyists share an antipathy toward unions, progressive taxes, and government regulations that protect consumers, workers, and the environment. They fund think tanks and hire college professors to promote their views and to cry wolf about government rules -- denying the reality of global warming, warning that raising the minimum wage or strengthening regulations on banks will "kill jobs," and attacking Obamacare (and Obama) as "socialist." They work closely with right-wing, conservative, and moderate politicians to carry out their agenda. They act on behalf of big business and the super-rich, but to translate their ideas into public policy they have to persuade voters that their agenda benefits middle class Americans -- a task that is getting harder and harder to do. 

Yet even among the few thousand members of the power elite, there are a small number whose influence is greater than the others. Here is a list of the 20 most influential members of the power elite. 

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Who do you trust to accurately evaluate scientific studies and make medical recommendations based on them: Scientists and medical professionals, or political zealots with clear agendas? If you went with option B, welcome to the United States Congress. You'll fit right in.

A few months ago, the House of Representatives passed a Republican-sponsored bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. The bill, titled the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," justified its restrictions for the reason stated in its title: That fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, and therefore abortion must be outlawed after that point. On its face, the passage of the bill looked a waste of time (and taxpayer dollars), given the unlikelihood of it passing in the Senate, and the inevitable White House veto. But the point was never to turn the bill into law. The point was to lay the groundwork for a fetal pain framework, with National Right to Life penning the legislation and proposing the bills at the state and national levels, and smaller anti-choice groups rallying their troops around the issue. It's working: A dozen states have passed abortion restrictions justified by fetal pain claims. Many more have proposed bans. Anti-abortion activists are hoping fetal pain will be an issue that reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, since limiting abortion at 20 weeks directly challenges the abortion rights framework outlined in Roe v. Wade, which created the framework that abortion restrictions could be enacted after "viability" outside of the womb, which generally happens between 24 and 27 weeks.

Just one problem: The weight of the scientific evidence points to the conclusion that fetuses cannot feel pain at 20 weeks.

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About 11,000 Americans die each year from firearm-related homicides. Monday's shooting at Washington, D.C.'s Navy Yard that killed 12 victims and the gunman is sure to spawn debates about gun rights, gun control and how to reduce those deaths. All too often, these discussions are not based on logic and science, as with other public health problems, but are awash in heated emotions and void of substance.

As we saw with the horrendous Newtown, Conn. shooting that killed 20 elementary school children and six faculty members last December, debates over gun violence often devolve to senseless shouting matches.

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On Monday morning, as the news of the tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard began to surface, I had a thought I'm certain I shared with millions of Americans - I hope it wasn't a veteran. Unfortunately, in this case, it was a Navy reservist never deployed overseas.

But whether or not the alleged shooter was a vet begs the question -- why do we associate acts like these with veterans?

One of the primary reasons that we have come to almost subconsciously associate violence -- and in particular, large-scale violence -- with our veterans, is that many in the media have encouraged an over-generalization and simplification for all of these tragedies. If you watched cable news coverage this week, the narrative quickly evolved into a "disturbed vet" trope: he had served in the military and may have been diagnosed with PTSD, there's nothing too surprising about that. After all, who among us hasn't seen movies like "Rambo"? With less than 1 percent of the population serving in the today's military, it's all too easy to think, "Oh, he was just another 'disturbed' veteran with PTSD. That makes sense."

This irresponsible narrative is sadly not only inaccurate and cuts journalistic corners, but it's also unfair to the millions of those who have served this country, in peacetime and in war, and who are contributing positively to their communities. It disregards the real stories that could and should shape a national conversation around mental health and our nation's responsibility to our veterans.

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In a recovering economy, one would think that our legislators would do everything in their power to assist struggling Americans. For the past five years, ordinary people have been trying to keep their heads above water in the midst of mounting foreclosures, historic unemployment levels and rising levels of food insecurity. Yet this week in the House of Representatives, Republicans have continued their ruthless crusade against the poor by taking up a measure that would cut $40 billion in food assistance.

Somehow along the way, conservatives in this country began to criticize people on public assistance programs - including food assistance - and categorize those individuals who rely on these programs as "dependent on government." Sadly, the GOP seems to have internalized this faulty rhetoric in every way. We, however, cannot allow their ideological arguments to determine the fate of our core anti-hunger program.

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