America – A Very Young Country


By: inoljt,

I recently had the opportunity to talk with a foreigner about American history. He asked how long America had been independent.

That’s a complicated question. There are a lot of years that could be used to answer the question. 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed? Perhaps 1783, when Great Britain admitted defeat? 1787, when the Constitution was written? Or perhaps 1789, when George Washington was inaugurated as president?

In any case, I said, America is a very young country. It’s only been independent for around three hundred years.

I decided to actually double-check that figure. 2012 minus 1776, which seems to be the year most people use for American independence.

It turns out that America has been an independent nation for only 236 years! That is not a lot of time. Think about it this way: one really really old person theoretically could have lived for more than half of the history of this nation. That’s pretty amazing.

There’s an interesting bit of historical context that goes along with this. Most great powers throughout history tend to last for a remarkably uniform amount of time: around 200 years. There are empires, of course, which fall apart the moment their founder dies. Other powers last for milllenia. But even with these powers one can see the two-century cycle: two centuries of dominance and hegemony, followed by a time of decay and chaos, followed by another two centuries of strength, followed by another time of decline, and so on.

The United States has been a great power roughly since 1898, when it won the Spanish-American War. That’s 114 years. Following the simple logic above, America has roughly 86 years of greatness left before it falls into chaos. (Of course, good leadership and strong institutions can shorten or lengthen that period of time.)


Watching Gaddafi’s Madness


By: inoljt,

It’s said that power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi presents an excellent example of this tendency. One could illustrate this fact through the usual means: by talking about how Gaddafi started out not half-bad and ended up a maniac. How he initially ensured the oil wealth of Libya went to the people of Libya, and how he ended up being overthrown by those same people.

But a picture is worth a thousand words.

This is young Gaddafi, back when he just took over control of Libya.

The man here is very different from the image of Gaddafi that the world is used to seeing. Gaddafi actually looks quite compelling here. He is charismatic and undeniably handsome, probably more handsome than a good majority of human males. This was before Gaddafi had been in power for a while.

Compare this to the Gaddafi we all knew and loved.

Not so handsome anymore.

One can see the effect of decades of absolute power just by looking at Gaddafi’s face. There is a peculiar effect that holding power has on the way people look (one can see it on the faces of many American politicians).  Gaddafi has the look of a man unused to being disobeyed or questioned. There is an air of manic about his eyes. It’s the look of a man who has held absolute, unquestioned power for too long.

One hopes that the next leader of Libya will not have that look.



‘We were supposed to get change,’ not Defense Authorization Act stripping civil liberties


Cenk returns to the Defense Authorization Act, which the White House now says senior advisers will not recommend that President Obama should veto. “In all of the troubles I’ve got with President Obama, he couldn’t be that bad, right?” Cenk says he thought, even as others argued that NDAA seemed constructed to give the executive branch more power, not less. “You’re not going to get any of this in the mainstream media. You’ll get robots that say, ‘Defense Authorization Act passed, it was bipartisan so it must be good.’ Well, it’s not. It’s horrible. It’s hideous. Look, I’m opposed to Newt Gingrich because I think he’s a danger to the Republic. But look at this! This is a danger to the Republic. What’s the point electing Obama if he’s going to do Bush or even worse than Bush? We were supposed to get change!”



Why College Students Don’t Vote – Some Anecdotes

College students, and young people in general, are famous for their low voting turn-out. In the 2010 midterms, an estimated 20.9% of 18 to 19-year-olds voted – far below the estimated 51% who voted in the 2008 presidential election. 18-to-29-year-olds composed 18% of the electorate in the 2008 presidential election; in the 2010 mid-term elections, they composed a mere 11% of the electorate.

As a college student myself, I’ve had a number of conversations with individuals who did not vote this November.

One person had a mid-term on election day. This individual wasn’t very interested in politics, and so he put his mid-term as more important than his vote. Save for Proposition 19, he did not care very much about anything that was up on the ballot.

Another person forgot to register in time. This individual was also far more interested in baseball than politics, which he knew very little about.

Forgetting to register in time was the reason why another college student didn’t vote. This person was quite politically interested – he believes in the philosophy of communism – and liked to talk about international events. But he didn’t know about the actual routine of registering and applying for an absentee ballot.

This was the same with another college student that I talked with during the summer. I asked him who he was going to vote for, and he responded by saying, “Oh yeah, I forgot that we can actually vote now. How can I vote outside the state?” I then told him how to apply for an absentee ballot.

Finally, there was a college student who didn’t vote due to a mistake in his voter registration form. This mistake apparently caused the state to think he was 10-years-old.  The student attempted to correct the error, but wasn’t able to do so. In talking about this, he called himself “disenfranchised.”

Now, none of these individuals can be accused of being stupid or lazy. They are in fact the opposite – extremely bright, extremely ambitious, and extremely motivated. They constitute the future leaders of the United States.

And they all forgot to vote.

In general, it seems that lack of interest and lack of knowledge were responsible for this. Many young people have never voted before in their lives, and they are unfamiliar with what you actually need to do to vote. Unlike adults, they haven’t been doing the procedure for years. The media always urges people to vote, but it never tells you how to vote: you have to register in your state (here is the form for California), and if you go to college in a different state you need to apply for an absentee ballot for your state (here is the form for California). This is not hard to do; it is just that most young people don’t know that they have to do it or forget to do so in time.

Lack of interest also plays a role. A college student uninterested in politics, who doesn’t know how register to vote or who forgets to register, isn’t going to vote. This is probably quite common.

There are policy changes that can increase turn-out. Election-day voter registration can help young voters who forgot to register in time. Voter turn-out is much higher in states with this. Perhaps states can add a requirement to high school government classes guiding students through the registration and absentee ballot process.

But youth turn-out will probably always lag overall turn-out, as long as young people are more busy than old people.




Political Spectrum Moves Right

Host of The Young Turks Cenk Uygur guest hosting on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show explains how the political spectrum has shifted far to the right in the last 30 years.




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