Class Warfare Blog

April 18, 2014

Russia’s Long Game

Filed under: History — Steve Ruis @ 7:28 am
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During the current crisis in Ukraine (fomented by the west or not) history should not be forgotten. As the Iranians don’t forget our role in the overthrow of their elected government in 1953, Russia has not forgotten that a coalition of western powers invaded Russia after the revolution. Japan and the U.S. invaded from the east, European powers from the west. (Yes, we had troops on Russian soil.) Also, you need to know that when Russia took so many countries into its embrace after World War 2, it did everything it could do to “Russianize” those “satellites.” It made Russia the national language of those states and the only language to be taught in schools. And it moved a very large number of ethnic Russians into those states as they had earlier moved large numbers of other ethnicities out of them. Because of this, Russia always had a sizeable minority, at the very least, of ethnic Russians “on tap” in those states, to oppose internal revolutions or external invasions.

Anyone shocked by Russia’s current tactics of smuggling in its own troops to blend with the ethnic Russians already in Ukraine or Russia’s honoring plebiscites in areas dominated by ethic Russians miss the point that they prepared those strategies a long time ago.

April 16, 2014

Calling Bullshit: GOP Wants to Abolish the IRS

When there are so many real issues that need our attention, why are Republicans going around the country defaming the Internal Revenue Service? They have succeeded in cutting that agency’s budget and crippling it in various other ways. The GOP opposed a major computer upgrade when the IRS’s computers were about four or five generations behind being “modern.” And they continuously beat the drum with how wicked and evil the IRS is, and how bloated the tax code is.

This is abject idiocy. First, the IRS is not responsible for the tax code, Congress is. So, here we have the picture of Congressional Republicans going around the country blaming the IRS for the bloated state of the federal tax codes which is actually their responsibility. WTF?

So, do Republicans want tax code reform? I say “no,” and there are myriad reasons supporting this. The first is simply to watch their actions, instead of their words. Between 2001 and 2006, the GOP had control of the White House, the House, and the Senate. Anything they wanted to do they could. Did they even attempt any tax reform? No.

That could be the end of my argument … but wait, there’s more! How many pages of the federal tax code do you think are necessary to cover all of the rules needed for you to file your tax return? Fifty? One hundred? So, why are there thousands and thousands of pages in the tax code? They are there to provide tax loopholes for rich people and corporations, you know, so that hedge fund managers making billions of dollars annually never leave the lowest tax bracket (15%) while middle class folks making $50K-60K make it at least into the 28% bracket. People talk about tax havens in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands like they were the idea of those countries. when actually, they were created by the U.S. tax code. I wonder how those codes got written, hmmm?

Now we are getting a sniff of what the GOP’s minions are really doing: they like the bloated tax codes because they wrote much of it (Democrats, too) to give their rich patrons tax breaks; they just don’t want the IRS enforcing any of the more punitive parts of that code. Their approach is the same as with environment regulations: corporations don’t need environmental regulations; we can trust them to respect the environment. For the rich: we don’t need to enforce any of those tax laws that cause the rich to pay more taxes than they are now; we can trust them to pay their fair share of income taxes. (“These are not the “Droids you are looking for. There is nothing to see here.”) Of course, this is with all evidence being to the contrary: corporations regularly rape the environment (dump radioactive waste in holes in the ground and leave it for others to clean up, spill huge quantities of oil and not clean it up, leave toxic coal ash dumps out in what effectively are basins that fill up and overflow with rain water, oops, and rich people evade taxation, legally and illegally on a daily basis).

Most people, especially when having just confronted how much they have paid in taxes, aren’t happy about that, but if they are given a scale upon which they place their taxes on one pan and all of the services they receive for those taxes on the other they aren’t particularly unhappy or have buyer’s remorse, etc. (And if they are it is over matters of fairness, not that they are paying taxes at all; only GOP wingnuts think they shouldn’t be paying taxes at all.) But that momentary disgruntlement we all feel when we pay our taxes can be fanned into an anti-government feeling and that serves the GOP’s paymaster’s will. But, how many times have tax measures been passed by the GOP only to find out that the major beneficiaries are the rich even though they were pitched as to how they would affect your taxes, not theirs? And even if the rich don’t benefit all that much, as long as “the government” (which is just “us” acting together for the common good) is further starved of funds, the less it can do to oppose the will of the rich and the corporations.

Currently, tons of GOP political cash is being stored illegally in “charities” prohibited from doing much politically. Because they are “charities” they need pay no taxes and need not disclose their “donors.” The fact that these organizations spend all of their monies on politics is a minor peccadillo that the IRS should not be looking into, so we see the GOP cutting the IRS’s budget, reducing the number of IRS agents, pumping up false claims that the IRS is biased against conservative groups, etc.

So, I call bullshit on the GOP’s efforts to “rein in the IRS.” It is just another ploy in its support of the rich and corporations being allowed to do any damned thing they want. Of course, they include themselves in that group because to continue their effective support of the rich and powerful, they need to be rich and powerful, too.

April 13, 2014

What Cosmos Got Wrong, Part 2

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:05 pm
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If you read my original post “What Cosmos Got Wrong Last Night,” you will know that I objected to their graphics department’s depictions of atoms. They showed electrons having flaming tails in orbits around atoms which is just wrong. I won’t repeat that objection as I had no expectation that that would have been fixed in this latest episode. Those episodes have been “in the can” for weeks I am sure. So, again in this episode atoms are depicted as being roughly spherical with a translucent outer membrane within which electrons spin in orbits around the nucleus. They look a little like fish or frog’s eggs, albeit with sparkly bits whizzing around inside. There is no membrane. There is no outer surface. There are no orbits. Enough said.

What they got wrong that was new was their depictions of atomic nuclei. I don’t blame them so much as most school books get this wrong (still!) possibly because they are just copying schoolbook diagrams in previous books. The big mistake was depicting atomic nuclei as bunches of separate particles. In one case they had roseate proton bubbles mixed in with blue neutron bubbles, both jiggling nicely. The only problem with this depiction is … wait for it … there are no protons and no neutrons in atomic nuclei. But, but, sputter, we were told…! Yes, I know, but people don’t always use their words well. You see, atomic nuclei are not made “of” protons and neutrons, they are made “from” protons and neutrons.

“… there are no protons and no neutrons in atomic nuclei. But, but, sputter, we were told…!”

Atomic nuclei are made in stars (the furnaces of creation). Ordinary stars make the elements up to iron on the periodic table and the elements past iron on that table are made when super massive stars explode as supernovae. These nuclei are made by a process called nuclear fusion in which the word “fusion” is meant to imply the elementary particles are melted together to make new ones. In our sun, right now, hydrogen is being fused together to make helium nuclei. The helium nuclei are made by fusing two protons and two neutrons together to make a new single particle. That particle, the helium nucleus, has all of the charge of the four particles it is made “from” but not quite all of the mass. Some of the mass of the four particles was converted into energy in the fusion process (which is why physicists are trying to harness this process to produce energy). And this is where Einstein’s famous equation comes in: E = mc2. The energy made when that mass is converted is equal to the amount of mass multiplied by a very large number (the speed of light) twice! That tells you that a tiny amount of mass will make a large amount of energy.

Now, it is important to note, that the helium nucleus this created is not massive enough to break apart into two protons and two neutrons. This is the only reason this nucleus is stable. People think that the “protons in that nucleus repel one another and the neutrons help them by keeping them apart.” That’s a nice description for fourth graders, but not for adults. The real reason is that there are no protons any more, they were destroyed when they were fused together with the other particles, there is but a single particle of a 2+ charge. There are no particles to separate or to repel each other.

Just to make the story complete; as helium and hydrogen are fused into heavier and heavier elements (lithium, carbon, … , up to iron) energy is given off, but in ever diminishing amounts. As the amounts of energy diminish, the gravity of the star crushes it into a smaller and smaller space. This is why stars “die.” And only in the mindboggling massively energetic explosions of supernovae are the other elements made as they can only be made with an input of energy, quite a bit of it.

The other thing Cosmos got wrong last night was a comment made by NDT about the 10 million year journey of a photon created in the center of the Sun to make is way out of the Sun to radiate off into space, and even maybe get intercept by a planet (most of the light, almost all of it, misses any planet and keeps on going). In describing this process he stated that photons bounce off of atoms ricocheting in a random fashion, so are immensely slowed. Actually in the center of the Sun, there are no atoms. There is so much energy available that the electrons are so energetic that no nucleus can hold them. I mentioned in that prior post that electrons bound to atoms have only certain energies that they can possess (why is a mystery). And electrons can only absorb photons that have energies corresponding to two of their “allowed” energy states; otherwise the photon just keeps rolling. What I didn’t tell you is that unbound electrons can absorb any amount of energy a photon has. So NDT’s newly created solar photon is not bouncing off of “atoms” but is being absorbed by electrons (and even nuclei) and then recreated a short time later with its direction of travel made random. I do not know how one could tell if the photon absorbed and the photo created are the same photon, but I’d have to guess not. (If you can’t tell them apart, then the point is moot as they all are identical, save for the amount of energy involved.) How electrons are able to do this is somewhat of a mystery. But if you magically were able to wiggle an electron fast enough you could create light that way. The reason I say the photon absorbed and the photon released later are not the same is because there are naturally occurring minerals that absorb light and release it minutes or even hours later (They can even convert ultraviolet light into visible light and look quite spooky under “black light.”) During the time the light is stored, those photons do not materially exist, their kinetic energy having been converted into potential energy.

In summation, I am finding the new Cosmos series quite delightful and “must see” TV and I hope grade schools up through colleges will play this series for every student coming through. I just wish they had been a little more accurate in some of their depictions because, as you know, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

April 10, 2014

Evolution: This is a Test, This is Only a Test,…

In last night’s first episode of “Your Inner Fish,” on PBS host Neil Shubin described the discovery of the transitional fossil called Tiktaalik. This was one of the, if not the, first walking fishes. While I thought I could hear the anti-evolution crowd grinding their teeth while this was airing, I think they probably missed the big picture. It is worse than they thought.

Neil Shubin, a paleobiologist at the University of Chicago, described his team’s thinking; it went like this: there seemed to be a gap in the fossil record between fish and walking tetrapods (land creatures). Since they believed evolution theory to be true, there had to be organisms to fill that gap (as that was too big of a gap to jump in a single mutation, etc.). So, he and his partner, a geologist, decided to go looking for fossils of those animals. And, they accept the theory of evolution as being correct. If it is then such animals had to have existed and, if they did, there might be fossilized remains to be found (fossil creation is rare and haphazard). Since they had dates for the two fossils on either side of the fossils they wanted to find, they went to geological maps and located three areas of rock that were of that age and one of them was largely unexplored, so they chose that site to look in. They then got grant funding, a great deal of grant funding, to explore that site which was in a remote area in northern Canada (no roads, no towns, no people, that kind of remote). This was no small undertaking. It took years, and as I said much money, to do this “experiment.” They then applied principles of geology and geography to locate the best possible places to look in and eventually, they found Tiktaalik, at least the fossilized remains of it, the organism that they were looking for.

“In this case it is all support for the theory of evolution: check, check, and check.”

This is how a theory is tested. If it is true then predictions can be made that should also be true and will then be subject of experiments that either support or undermine that theory. In this case it is all support for the theory of evolution: check, check, and check. Not only did they find the predicted organism, but they found it in time where it was expected to be. And this is one of myriad examples that have been similarly documented. As time went on, minor tweaks were made to make the theory more accurate and voila, you have “settled science,” science that no one disagrees with any more.

Now, if evolution were a hoax, would scientists be dumb enough to get funding for an expedition involving polar bear dangers, shotguns, extreme weather, isolation, etc. all for something they don’t expect to find in the first place? Would granting agencies provide hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding for such enterprises if there were not a good chance of actually furthering scientific knowledge or are they “in” on the plot, too?

The whole idea that major concepts like evolution (Where are the transitional fossils?) and climate change (It is all a hoax!) are bogus is ludicrous and is indicative of a bankruptcy of better ideas. These claims are just props for the confirmation biases of the fellow travelers of the people in these “anti” camps. They don’t really mean what their words are saying, in fact there is a good chance they don’t even understand what they are saying (like the guy who wanted to see the fossil of a creature half monkey and half fish). These are just campaign slogans they have learned to repeat.

The trouble for the anti-evolution crowd is that young people are growing up and deciding on their own whether there is evidence to support these scientific theories and the people opposing them appear to them like people  who insist today that the Earth is flat or that the Moon is hollow appear to us: batshit crazy. And, when you get tagged with that label, your credibility on almost everything else goes with it. So, you religious out there, do you want to lose the ears of the younger generation altogether? If not, you might want to find a way to accommodate sensible positions on scientific discoveries and theories. Good advice for Republicans, too. How many young people will listen to your “Evolution is a lie straight from the pit of Hell” bullshit?

April 8, 2014

The Income Inequality Divide

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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On Ezra Klein’s new news/commentary website Vox there appeared an article with the title “Inequality is Highest in Democratic Districts.” This was apparently a mystery to many, even though the researcher (Michael Zuckerman of The Atlantic) who found confirmation of this fact stated “Part of this, Zuckerman writes, is driven by the simple fact of political geography: ‘cities have become, in general, strongholds of the Democratic Party, and cities have become, in general, hives of the most dramatic income inequality in the country.’”

Gosh, cities, I never would have guessed.

Where are corporate headquarters, do you think? In cities or out in the farm belt? And who comprise the bulk of the 1% and the 0.1%? Uhh … corporate executives? Got it in one, Bubba, so, … , the effing plutocrats are concentrated in big cities; amazing, right? So, people in the more rural parts of the country haven’t really seen any of this income inequality, right?

Oh, come on. The author of this piece actually thinks that politicians have looked at the data. Let me simplify it for you: if Democrats are for it, Republicans are against it, and vice-versa. Got it?

Pascal’s Wager Applied to Climate Change

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:52 am
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It is clear that the discussion over climate change is wrongly focused. Most people think it is about ignorance: if the people opposing climate change were only to see more evidence, they would be convinced. This is clearly wrong. More likely this is simple confirmation bias: we ignore information that contradicts what we believe and conservative myth-mongers got to the plate first with the “Climate Change is a liberal hoax” meme. Once they got their supporters to commit to this falsehood, then evidence no longer matters. Things that bolster one’s belief are latched upon; things that oppose that belief are ignored. It is a done deal.

“ It doesn’t matter whether you think it is real or not, the odds are way better if you believe. ”

Allow me to offer another approach, one based upon Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal, a seventeenth-century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist, offered the following apologetic for belief in God (paraphrased for modern eyes):

Either God is or is not.
If you believe he is not, and are right, you gain nothing, but if you are wrong, you lose everything (you burn in Hell forever).
If you believe he is, and are right, you gain everything (it’s Heaven, baby), but if you are wrong, you lose nothing.

Consequently believing in God is the only prudent path, it is heaven or nothing. Unbelievers face either nothing or Hell. What kind of idiot would choose that path?

Now, let’s apply this to Climate Change. This is a bit more difficult because the differences between eternity in Heaven and eternity Hell are rather stark while the repercussion of Climate Change are much less so, but nothing ventured, noting gained:

Either Climate Change is real or it is not.
If you believe it is not real, and you are right, you have gained nothing, but if you are wrong … the repercussions will be dramatic: submerged coastlines (where most major cities are), unpredictable weather patterns that make agriculture quite problematic, violent storms that wreak havoc, etc.
If you believe it is real, and you are right, all of the preparations you have made will offset some of the negative effects of climate change (how beneficial this will be depends upon how effective the measures taken are, so this is hard to estimate), but if you are wrong you will have spent money developing new sources of energy that might not be needed now but you also will have preserved in the ground vast resources of carbon fuels that will be available longer into the future (many of which are more valuable being converted into other chemicals that as fuels). And since the history of mankind is rife with the development of new sources of energy, this can hardly be considered a negative, especially since carbon-based fuels are finite, limited resources.

Consequently, believing Climate Change is real is the more prudent course.

It doesn’t matter whether you think it is real or not, the odds are way better if you believe.

Republicans: “We Need Less Government Regulation and Here’s Why”

(Speech delivered at the Get Government Off the Backs of the Job Creators Conference in Lubbock, Texas)
We Republicans argue that if we, in the form of the government, would just “get out of the corporation’s way” by reducing or eliminating regulations, especially environmental regulations, the corporations would be unleashed job creators and we would all be better off. Recent events prove our case.

Just a few days ago the Anadarko Corporation paid the largest cash settlement of a government environmental suit against it ever levied, $5.15 billion dollars. For years and years a subsidiary company if its was disposing of deadly nuclear waste but doing things like burying it in the back yard instead of disposing of it “according to regulations.” There are now apparently thousands of these toxic and radioactively contaminated sites that need to be cleaned up. When the settlement was announced, the corporation’s stock price rose dramatically. Why? Because a previous judge in the case had estimated the cleanup costs at $14 billion dollars, leaving the government to foot the bill for the difference over the $5 billion. So, the corporation got “less regulation” and the people were happy and bought up its stock, so much so that the value of the corporation’s own holdings went up more than the $5 billion they paid. See?

“ …  corporations really are people, good people, who have your best interests in mind. ” 

In North Carolina, Duke Energy had to go to the trouble to get its corporate president elected Governor of the state to get all of the environmental problems with its handling of its toxic coal ash pits all over the state. (Coal ash being what’s left over when you burn coal, being liberally laced with toxic heavy metals.) So what if they have been illegally pumping water that accumulates in these ponds from rain, dissolving some of the toxins, untreated into the state’s rivers? So what if a couple of these ponds collapsed completely dumping thousands of tons of that heady brew in nearby rivers? Water always flows to the sea, no? We learned that in science class in school. It would be unnatural if it didn’t. Think of all the money spent on getting Duke Energy’s president elected North Carolina’s Governor. All of that money would have been better spent creating jobs, like coal ash pit pump operator and security guards for when they were doing that.

And all of those oil spills from the BP, uh, incident in the Gulf of Mexico, to the Canadian and U.S. pipeline ruptures, uh, leaks, to the rail car dumps of oil. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, such is the cost of doing business. And having to pay to clean all of that stuff up, even with the generous discounts our politicians and lawyers arranged, well that’s expensive, and the money would have been better spent creating jobs.

And don’t get me started about “fracking.” Every time a corporation comes up with a new, job-creating technology, the damned gov’mint regulators start champing at the bit to write new regulations … as if the old one’s somehow wouldn’t work. This just cannot continue this way.

You see, do you not, that corporations really are people, good people, who have your best interests in mind. And why would we want to shackle them with unneeded regulations?

The Republican Party is the only party that stands ready, eagerly so, to liberate our corporations from this unnecessary and counterproductive burden. A vote for a Republican is a vote for freedom!

April 7, 2014

What Cosmos Got Wrong Last Night

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:46 pm
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I have been loving the new Cosmos series which has excellent writing, mellifluous voiceovers by a wonderful host, Neil deGrass Tyson, spectacular special effects and visuals, and which has made very few errors, too, at least until last night. In an attempt to explain how atoms absorb and release photons of light they created an animation of atoms. First their depictions were a bit sci-fiish and bizarre but they settled upon a single hydrogen atom with a fuzzy, jittery large spot representing the nucleus of the atom and a smaller, jittery blob of light representing the electron. There is the problem of scale, which I have written about before. It is impossible to show these particles at their actual scales and at their actual distances (even blown up as they were in the animation. The human eye is not capable of that feat, so I give them a pass on the two particles being overly large and overly close together. It is, after all, T.V.

 “This would have been a quite acceptable description if it were, say, 1922.” 

But then they goofed. They then showed the electron in orbit around the nucleus, one of , they said, many possible orbits. And that the electron, when it absorbed or released light energy, in the form of a photon, would leave one orbit and end up in a different orbit. They showed the glowing orbit (looking like a vapor trail the electron was leaving behind) disappearing and a new orbit appearing elsewhere. This is the so-called “quantum leap.”

This would have been a quite acceptable description if it were, say, 1922.

Since then, though, we have learned a great deal, specifically that there are no orbits. We do not know what atomic electrons are actually doing but we know what they are not doing and that is orbiting the nucleus. They are not in circular orbits. They are not in elliptical orbits. They are not in loop-the-loop orbits. There are no orbits! The locality of an atomic electron can be described but only as a probability map, e.g. it has a high probability of being here, and a low probability of being there, etc. These maps are called “orbitals” to signify that they replaced the orbits of earlier thinking. These orbitals are “unbounded,” that is they have no outer boundaries. A consequence of “unboundedness” is that all possible orbitals of an atom overlap. When an electron in an atom absorbs or spits out a photon of light energy, it does not change position in no time. It simply changes its probability map and since they all overlap (albeit in many cases only a tiny bit) each electron doing this is in its old orbital and its new one at that exact moment. What the electron does from that time forward is to exist as described by its new map rather than its old one.

A “quantum leap” (damned poets) is an instantaneous leap in energy, not in position. In human beings it is like an instantaneous change in mood; like if you were having a bad day but then got the news that your child finally was having another baby after trying for years: bingo, happy days are here again! This mood change does not require a change in position.

And neither does a quantum leap.

There is plenty of quantum wierdnesses to amaze the audience; they do not need to dredge up one hundred year old misconceptions to highlight them. For example, the fact that only a set of fixed energy changes are possible for any element’s atoms. If a photon races through an atom and does not correspond, exactly, to the energy difference between two of that atom’s orbitals, it just keeps going. Nobody knows (yet) why or even how those energies are fixed into the values the are or how the electron can tell whether or not to take on that photon. There is nothing like this behavior in the macroscopic world in which we live.

April 4, 2014

I’ve Had All I Can Stands, I Can’t Stands No More!

Leave it to me to quote Popeye the Sailor, maybe I should have used the “I’m mad as Hell, and I won’t take it any more!” line from the movie Network, but Popeye is good, so….

Recently I have been involved in a project involving looking up a great many websites of summer camps. I am amazed at how many summer camps, often free of charge, are available for economically disadvantaged kids, kids with cancer, kids with physical disabilities, kids with mental disabilities, kids who were subjects of abuse, kids who have lost a parent, kids who have survived burns and amputations, etc. Most of these camps have a few paid staff and myriad volunteers.

At the same time my partner has become involved in a leadership institute designed to help young school kids develop leadership skills, skills that will help themselves and their fellow students. In looking around, this city is a hot bed of volunteer organizations.

So, why do people volunteer their time and also gift their money to these organizations? It seems to me these folks, this really huge number of ordinary citizens, are trying to make the world a better place for others, especially for kids.

Contrast that effort, of myriad very busy modern folks devoting their spare time and money in helping others, to the efforts of our current crop of plutocrats (Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson, Charles and David Koch, etc.) who are spending small portions of their fortunes, which are actually very large quantities of money, in getting the political system to do what they want: basically to allow them to make even more money.

Take Sheldon Adelson: his big issues are the future of the state of Israel, opposition to online gambling, and opposition to unions. Mr. Adelson is in the casino business, so he wants the politicians he bribes, er … supports, to oppose any expansion of online gambling as that would effect his bottom line. And because he is a big business man, he opposes unions (Nevada, the casino state, is a “right to work” state which is a strange euphemism for “unions are illegal state.”) Being against unions is basically opposing ordinary working people’s ability to share in the wealth being created by their labor. Over the last forty years, union membership has declined in the U.S. (but not at all in neighboring Canada; a coincidence, eh?) through various efforts lead by plutocratic money, and as union membership declined, so did middle class wages. Today the average middle class worker makes a bit over $50,000 per year. Forty years ago, the average middle class worker made a bit over $50,000 per year (corrected for inflation). In that same time period, the wealth and income of the business owners nearly doubled.

Mr. Gates has paid for the current “Common Core State Standards” effort as a reform of public schools. That these standards were not written by teachers and parents and students, but were written by people in the “ed biz” (textbook companies, testing companies, charter school management companies) tells you that, no matter Mr. Gates’s motivations, the motivations of the people behind that effort is to “make money off of the public schools.” Since the Great Recession of 2008, funding of public schools has dropped significantly and no one to date has explained how extracting even more money out of the formerly non-profit public schools system to pay for the goods these folks are selling (charter school management services, computer systems, free rent for charter schools, expensive testing systems, curriculum materials, etc.) helps make that system better. If you were to ask any struggling business owner whether they would prefer some real help or help that drains his company of needed resources while doing very little, how do you think he would respond?

On top of all that, you need to know that public schools, even with all of their “handicaps,” are outperforming private schools, charter schools, etc. The common knowledge that “public schools are failing; we all know that” is a big lie, part of a propaganda campaign to get the plutocrat’s profit-taking foot in the door.

The Koch brothers are against corporate welfare, they say so right out of their own mouths. (Good on them, mate.) But they are buying politicians right and left to make sure that no new climate change or environmental legislation gets through Congress or the state houses because the Koch brothers make the bulk of their profits by polluting the air, water, and ground we all share. If those abilities were restricted, then they might only make a few billion dollars a year rather than many billions more.

So, volunteers of the middle class are spending their efforts trying to make their worlds a better place for their friends and neighbors and the plutocrats are spending their time and effort and a great deal of money to make more money.

I’ve had all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!

I will no longer do business with the plutocrats: I will not shop at Wal-Mart, I will not buy products made by the Koch brothers (there are quite a few brands, Goggle a list). I will not vote for candidates who receive money from them or their surrogates. I will not watch any political commercials as I want them to waste their money spreading their lies.

We need to get the money out of our politics. We need to reduce the effect of money in our society. We must oppose the plutocrats at home, in the streets, and in the ballot boxes. If we do not, all of those volunteer efforts will be wasted as the big issues will overwhelm the small. Climate change is a hoax only in this country; have you ever wondered why? Could it be that there is too much money at stake in the richest country in the world to allow it to be real. Do we have to wait until the people of Miami are under eight feet of water to say “gosh, maybe there is something to this.” Wake up people, the opposition to Climate Change is funded by big energy companies (like Koch Industries and Duke Energy) and politicians who can barely spell climate change let alone survey the evidence to come up with a reasoned position. (Even if they did, they’re “agin it” as they have been paid to be so.)

If you volunteer some of your time to try to make the world better, try volunteering your time to oppose these plutocratic efforts to rob us and our children of a better future.

April 1, 2014

How Milton Friedman Got It Wrong and Why the Radical Republicans Love It

Today’s current crop of conservatives (and calling them conservatives is a disservice to real conservatives; really they are radicals) believe in “free markets” as if they were the baby Jesus. The economist they revere above all others is Milton Friedman, a father of the Chicago School of Economics which basically placed “free markets” on a pedestal. Dr. Friedman argued that if markets were free, everyone would benefit in a maximal way. The one thing markets needed to work properly was to be free of distortions … like government regulation. (Ah, you can see the Conservative Radical Republicans drooling now, can’t you.) Dr. Friedman argued that economies would always be in a form of equilibrium. Here’s an example: if a company made some sort of gadget, a sprocket (Thanks, Steve Martin!) and these sprockets sold at a reasonable pace but all of a sudden the demand for sprockets became significantly higher (because some celebrity wore one in a movie), the supply of sprockets in the marketplace would dwindle making them hard to find and higher priced. Because of that, the manufacturers would increase the supply by making more sprockets to meet the demand, which would cause the prices and availability to fall back closer to what they were. If the manufacturers overestimated the demand and produced more sprockets than could be sold, the markets would have surplus inventory that would reduce orders for them and manufacturers would cut back upon production until the supply of sprockets met the demand. The equilibrium of supply and demand was something markets took care of by themselves, with no need of regulation by governments, as long as those markets were not interfered with. Milton Friedman thought that the natural state of markets was that of an equilibrium between things like supply and demand (and a great many other things I don’t have time to go into) but unfortunately, Dr. Friedman was wrong.

Markets do not display the attributes of an equilibrium system, they only show some of the attributes of what are called “near equilibrium systems” which are systems that are close to being at some kind of equilibrium state, but not quite there.

To explain a real equilibrium state, I will have to appeal to science, but don’t panic; all we need is a 2-liter soda bottle fresh from the store and full of soda (you can choose the flavor). These bottles are made of quite flexible plastic. Even a four-year old could crush one if it were empty. But the fresh bottle just brought home from the store is quite firm. Interesting. So, you place it in the refrigerator to be chilled and when you pull it out, if you are sensitive (and I know you are) you will find that the bottle isn’t quite as firm as it was when you put it in. Hmmm. But you are thirsty and you crack open the bottle and, lo and behold, it hisses at you! Apparently there was some pent up gases in the bottle. It stops hissing in short order and you fill your glass and replace the cap. As you put the bottle away, you notice that the bottle is quite unfirm, having lost its plumpness in the process. Well, well, well, and this whole process is repeated the next time you open the bottle.

What is going on here? What is going on is that the liquid in the bottle (which is mostly water but contains flavors and sweeteners) has a great deal of carbon dioxide dissolved in it. When you first bought the bottle most of the carbon dioxide was dissolved in the liquid but above the liquid (in what the bottler calls the “head space”) there is evaporated water (a little) and carbon dioxide gas (quite a bit). Since there is way more carbon dioxide gas in the liquid than it can hold under ordinary conditions, the carbon dioxide gas above the liquid is there in enough quantity to “inflate” the plastic bottle (yes, like a balloon) and make it firm to the touch. The manufacturers of these plastic bottles and aluminum beer cans use some of this structural effect to reduce the weight of those containers to reduce the cost of transportation of products in them (the heavier the contents plus container, the more fuel is need to move them around) which is why they are so flimsy but do not break in transit.

When you put the bottle in the fridge, two things happened, when a gas is cooled, you lower its pressure and, at the same time, you increase the solubility of the gas in the liquid. So, there is less gas in the head space and it has less pressure so the “pumped up” feeling of the container diminishes (a little). When you cracked open the bottle, you released the gas under higher pressure (hence the hiss) and the bottle becomes quite a bit less rigid. Not only that but the gas starts to leave the liquid at such a high rate that it no longer just happens where the gas and liquid touch (the surface) but the gas leaves willy-nilly all over the place producing “bubbles.” When the cap is screwed back in place, the bubbles keep coming for a time but that eventually stops as the head space pressure grows and grows (and the bottle “pumps itself up” again whence they stop coming. We say that the bottle has reestablished an equilibrium between the gas in the head space and gas in the liquid. This is a true physical equilibrium. The property it is showing is referred to as Le Chatelier’s Principle, that if a stress is applied to an equilibrium system, the system responds to offset that stress in part or in whole. So, you relieve the pressure of the gas above the liquid (Hiss!), then screw the cap back on and the system regenerates the pressure. This can happen over and over and over, but not indefinitely.

Dr. Friedman would like to think that economics worked the same way, possibly because if it did his little pea-brain could then have understood it. But here is the problem. The “system” (a soda bottle or an economy) will only achieve an equilibrium state if the system is closed, meaning the cap is on in the case of the bottle or nothing enters or leaves an economy, which one could describe as no exports and imports, capital flows, or even information entering or leaving the system.

The flaw in the thought that an equilibrium is a natural state of an economy is that not only is the system not closed but it can be opened in so many ways.

Back to the soda bottle for a minute. If you chill the bottle, it gets softer and if you warm it, it gets more firm. You can repeat this cycle almost indefinitely because nothing material ever leaves the system, only heat is entering leaving. So the state of the bottle in the form of the amounts of CO2 in the liquid and in the head space are repeated exactly the same over and over. Once you specify the temperature, the distribution of the gas in those two places can be calculated and will be exactly as calculated. But things are different when you open the system materially. Open and closing the bottle a great many times will result in less gas in the bottle and will change the distribution between the two places that gas can reside. Done enough, the soda goes “flat” and stops exhibiting the behavior of self-correction (e.g. you open the cap and there will be no hiss, no re-inflation of the bottle to its former firmness).

So, here is the key point. By selectively opening the system, you can affect the distribution of the materials in the system. This is true for real equilibrium systems and true for near or “quasi-closed” equilibrium systems. (If material is not leaving the system quickly the system will behave as an equilibrium system for a while.)

Enter greed.

In an economy, if you can manipulate the system through selectively injecting things into it or removing things from it, you can affect the distribution of money within it. The money is like the gas in the soda bottle, it seems to be moving around but is controllable (think about how they got that gas in there in the first place—tain’t natural I tells yuh!).

Now, here’s the kicker: the vast majority of market forces and government regulations have been put there not to gum up the works but at the behest of marketeers wanting to skew the distribution of wealth in the system in their favor. Yep, business are responsible for the majority of government regulations (favoring their inputs and disadvantaging the inputs of others). The tax codes are full of “regulations” favorable to this industry or that. And, what is advertising if not an attempt to manipulate markets? In Milton Friedman’s fantasy word, all “buyers” and all “sellers” have perfect knowledge. You know what the car you are interested in cost to make, what its expected lifetime is, what parts will break down first and what they will cost to replace, what it will cost to operate it, how safe it is, and what the finance charges on your loan will be. The seller knows how much money you have in the bank, whether you are worthy of a loan, etc. Right. . . . If everyone, buyer and seller, have perfect information, advertising will have no effect and hence be a waste of money. Have you noticed how little advertizing there is? No? Well, me neither. We are awash in advertizing, much of it coming from the “free market capitalist” devotees of Milton Friedman.

Consider the current state of economic affairs here in the U.S. Those with money have manipulated the system, getting it to respond how they would like, to redistribute wealth so that they have more and you have less. And the more money they have, the greater their inputs to the system, making those shifts even greater.

So, is an equilibrium a natural state of an economy? I doubt it and even if it were it would not be some benign “invisible hand” force that takes care of everybody. Instead it is a system susceptible to forces that redistribute wealth in the economy and is quite susceptible to runaway behaviors, like leaving a soda bottle on the counter with the cap off (damned teenagers!).

So, as far as I can discern, the “free market ideology” of the current Radical Republicans is just another scheme which, unlike Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor, steals from the poor to give to the rich.

We formed this country by repudiating the inherited political power of monarchy and aristocracy but we have succumbed to the power of inherited economic power of a bunch of scumbags who will do anything and say anything to keep the system functioning as it is, a siphon of wealth from those who have little to those who have way, way too much.

The way we solved this before, the last time this happened, is we taxed the hell out of inherited wealth and incomes way above normal. We must do this again, or we consign ourselves to living in a society where the few have much and the many have little if anything in the way of wealth.

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