Class Warfare Blog

August 28, 2014

Being Black in America: Then as Now

I was reading a book (Awash in a Sea of Faith by Jon Butler) and a sentence jumped off of the page: “By 1660 the law in each colony established slavery’s most elemental forms: the owner possessed the slave, the slave’s labor, and the slave’s progeny.” What is stunning about this is prior to the availability of large numbers of African slaves (and I do mean large numbers, in many counties they became the largest segment of the population) the only similar source of labor was from “indentured servants.” Indentured servants signed a contract (or their parents did) that sold their labor for a fixed period of time for a price. These were usually English poor people looking for a way out of poverty in a land of opportunity. The owner of the indenture had control of their labor and their person to some extent. They could insist on certain behaviors, like piety, cleanliness, etc. There were abuses as legal remedies were not always available to wronged indentured servants, but the key point is the owner of the indenture did not own the individual and they did not have any claim on their progeny although they could charge their wards for the upkeep of such children. (Whether or not an indentured servant could marry was not always part of the contract, most often it required the permission of the indenture holder.)

The striking thing about the institution of slavery as developed here in the U.S. was the ownership of unborn children. While our modern minds quail at the owning of another person, at that time one could make an argument, based upon the Bible, that slavery was not only allowed by normal and regulated. Every time you read the word “servant” in the Bible, replace it with the word “slave” because the job of servant was not what it was in Victorian times, a paid position. But to own any issue of those slaves is a total abomination that could only come from a viewpoint that African slaves were equivalent to farm animals in the minds of the early Americans. They were not human. If you owned a horse, you owned any foals and you bred them as you will. Same for cows, and goats, and chickens, … , and slaves.

History also reveals to us that in the South, the white segment of the population lived in constant fear of slave revolts, revolts in which slaves would rise up and murder their oppressors in their beds. Farm animals don’t rebel against their lot in life, human beings do, so there was some cognitive dissonance involved. My opinion (and it is just that) is that fear burned into the minds of many Southerners this dissonant position: “they” are human and they are dumb animals and this became a very durable meme. (A dumb animal is one that cannot speak, by the way, not one bereft of intelligence.)

“You don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes,
a couple of blocks is probably all it would take to understand.”

Fast forward to today.

A young man is gunned down in the street in Ferguson, MO for sassing a police officer and running away. Apparently he stopped and turned back toward the police officer to surrender, but he was shot and killed anyway. Another young man was shot and killed in a toy store for holding a pellet gun and talking on a cell phone. The store video showed the gun held like a cane, with the muzzle on the floor. No verbal directions were given before the shooting started. Young black men are shot and killed and hassled with impunity by white and even black police officers. The black officers apparently have to show solidarity with their white co-workers to be acceptable into their community.

Young black men are stopped and questioned on sidewalks and in stores and, while driving, pulled over and ticketed at very high rates. Jon Stewart told a tale last night of one of his comedic minions, a black man dressed in a tailored suit, out with his producer, who was dressed closer to a street person than anything else. They both went into a building and guess who was questioned by building security? (Hint: the Black guy.)

Slavery was ended. Jim Crow was created to take its place. Vagrancy laws were especially useful to the miscreants who created this nonsense. Black people with no job were arrested and given a large fine which, because they had no job, they could not pay. So, they were impressed into work gangs and paid a pittance until their “fines” were paid. In other words: official slavery was reinstituted.

After Jim Crow was eroded (ain’t gone yet) the general approach has been to incarcerate large numbers of Black men, which makes them unemployable and strips them of their voting rights, but which makes them, because of their high incarceration rate, paintable as dangerous, which allows them to be shot down in our streets because, well: black, therefore dangerous. Fox (sic) News beats the drum along with other right-wing ideologues, that Black people are to blame. If they hadn’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time; if they had just done what the Police asked; if they hadn’t been Black, everything would have been okay.

They are just animals.

When I was growing up, I was told that before I criticized anyone I should “walk a mile in their shoes,” which was an aphorism that I should try to see what things looked like from their viewpoint. If I had been treated as ordinary Black citizens in this country are treated, I would have become completely radicalized and would probably be dead at this point for trying to fight back. You don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes, a couple of blocks is probably all it would take to understand.

Do you understand?

August 22, 2014

Our Post Racial Society: An Update

Filed under: Race — Steve Ruis @ 3:52 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

When President Obama was first elected in 2008, many pundits were quick to proclaim that we had become a “post racial” society, that racism was “of the past.”

Anybody still think that?


Didn’t think so.

Consider yourself updated.

August 20, 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge and What It Says About Us

My son posted this rant on his Facebook page yesterday and I felt you might enjoy it.

“At the end of the day, I’m fine with the ice bucket challenge. If it raises a little money or a little awareness, great. It will divert that money from other charities, by and large, but that’s okay too. Fundraising is a competitive sport.

“The problem isn’t with the ice bucket challenge per se but with the way we, as a society, divest ourselves of responsibility for taking care of the ill and for supporting our most disadvantaged citizens (or non-citizens). We defund Medicaid, reduce research spending, kneecap education, and generally repress or ignore numerous social and environmental problems in the name of economic liberalism, individual autonomy, small government, and low taxes.

“If you really want to effect change, use your vote, your voice, and your visa to fight for a society that doesn’t foist responsibility off on charitable individuals and non-profit foundations.

“Charities have always existed, and will continue to do so, to bridge the gap between individual means and state support. This is important, as private charities can often respond to new or pressing needs with a lot more flexibility, speed, and precision than a large and heavily regulated bureaucracy. The fact that we have so many charitable organizations, however, is terrifying, not comforting, because they represent all the things our branches of government—meaning we, the people—are not doing. Centralization can be ossifying to some extent, but in trade it brings stability, transparency, and most importantly, public oversight and democratic control. (At least in theory. We live in a democracy, but whether it is representative or not is open for debate thanks in large part to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.)

“So if the ice bucket challenge works for you and you want to donate some money to the ALS Association, go for it. But don’t expect that money to do much. A few million dollars will support about a year’s worth of research by a couple of scientists—with a high probability of making no measurable impact on ALS—or, it could provide a little extra support for people with ALS, one of the most horrific diseases in existence, and their caregivers. For a short time. But remember something else. Bill Gates did the ice bucket challenge. Bully for him—I wonder how much he donated? He amassed a fortune that is larger than the GDPs of the world’s 100 poorest countries (i.e., half of the countries on the planet). That’s not counting Paul Allen’s money. And that money is now the basis for a charity that, among other things, is fighting malaria and restructuring U.S. education. That may be a good thing—he’s no longer gouging individuals and businesses for software updates they don’t need or shouldn’t have had to pay for over and over again—but we (the people) also have no say in what happens with that money … as we have no say in what happens with most charitable donations. Perhaps if we had had a better system of taxation (call me old fashioned, but large corporations and rich people should have to pay taxes) and elected representatives who represented us (the people), education would not be a “problem” for the Gates Foundation to “fix,” and ALS would not require a viral marketing campaign to raise celebrity profiles at the expense of real, meaningful change.”

Ah, the apple falleth not far from the tree.

You Don’t Need to Know What is in Your Food; Nothing to See Here, Move Along

It is fascinating to me to observe that the same people who are lobbying vigorously against the people’s right to know what is in the food we are sold are the same people who extol the virtues of Free Markets. You know, free markets … the markets based upon both buyer and seller having “perfect information” about what is being bought/sold, so that the playing field is level.

“Don’t see a contradiction there? Neither do the conservatives and other politicians
who are receiving major campaign contributions, aka bribes, from the
corporations with economic stakes in our food.”

Don’t see a contradiction there? Neither do the conservatives and other politicians who are receiving major campaign contributions, aka bribes, from the corporations with economic stakes in our food. That transaction has perfect information: “do as we ask and the money will continue to flow.”

The Health Insurance—People Interface

Health insurance, really the cost of health insurance, has been a matter of significant public debate for over five years now. What hasn’t been addressed that I can see is the relationship between people and their insurance. To explain, I must share a story.

I recently acquired an ear infection and when it did not heal by itself after a reasonable amount of time, I went to my doctor and he wrote out a prescription. The prescription was for ear drops containing the antibiotic Cipro. I needed 10 cc of these drops, about one third of a fluid ounce. So, when I went to get my prescription filled, I was asked for my prescription insurance information and I explained that I had none and the clerk looked crestfallen. He showed me the price tag for my one-third ounce of ear drops: $248. I was shocked. I also did not have $248 to spend on ear drops, so I declined to purchase those drops.

When I got home, I did a little research. Cipro (Ciprofloxacin) was approved for use in the U.S. in 1987. You may remember it from the fact that following the anthrax scare of 2001, the US government purchased 100 million tablets of it at a reduced price of $0.95 per pill. I am guessing but I expect that my 10 cc of ear drops contained less than 100 mg of Cipro, which sells for a little over $3 per tablet in Canadian pharmacies. I also found a price for my ear drops in that same pharmacy and it was $55. So, ear drops which a couple hundred miles from here in Canada sell for $55, sell for $248 here in the U.S.

My guess is that you are not shocked that pharmaceutical companies are gouging you for all you are worth. My point is that the pharmacy clerk fully expected that I had some form of medication insurance and that they would pay for it and, since it was no skin off of my nose if a big, bad impersonal medical insurance company had to pay, I would allow that. Think again, clerk person!

“The stuff was selling for $93,248 per gallon!”

Think about this. At $248 for 10 cc of ear drop solution, that means that stuff sold for $24,800 per liter and since there are 3.76 liters in a gallon, if memory serves me well, then the stuff was selling for $93,248 per gallon. This occurs in a country which would scream bloody murder if they were asked to pay $5 per gallon for gasoline. And my guess is that the cost of the processing and purchase of the stuff to make one gallon of gasoline is greater than the 10 cc of ear drop fluid. Now, I realize that pharmaceuticals are targeted in law suits and often have significant development costs, but don’t you think the development costs for Cipro have been paid up several times over during the last 25 years? (In 1999 alone, Cipro sales reached 1.52 million Euros which represented 30% of its owner’s, Bayer, total pharmaceutical revenues.)

So, if you think health insurance costs are too high, why would you be indifferent to the costs of things when “insurance will pay for it,” especially when it looks like a significant rip off?

Do your due diligence.

As an example, when I went on to Medicare two years ago, Medicare recommended I establish a health baseline which included a colonoscopy. I just received a notice from the doctor who did that procedure that it was time for another one. That procedure cost $4600 (retail), a small fraction of which was paid by Medicare (as payment in full; go Medicare!). So, I went on line and checked out the recommendations of the appropriate medical society and they recommended a five year interval, even a ten-year interval if you got a clean bill of health on the previous colonoscopy. I do not plan on another colonoscopy in the near future. Not only does Medicare not need to pay for a service that is not recommended, I don’t have to go through all of that again.

Do your due diligence. If you think something is too expensive, it probably is. If you want your insurance to be less expensive, don’t shrug when someone says “Your insurance will pay for it.”

August 14, 2014

We Need Less Government Regulation, Part 1435

In this continuing series of why we need less government regulation, I give you:

Report: Drillers Illegally Using Diesel Fuel to Frack
Propublica 3 hours ago 1 Comment 209 Views
An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.

We can trust our corporations. After all, their reputations are at stake.

<signed> The Neoliberals

Can We “Create” Great Teachers?

The Corporate Takeover of Public Education Movement is fixated on the role of great teachers being able to surmount any handicaps students have to ensure all kids get a quality education. The fact that research shows that teacher’s influence is limited to a small fraction of the total, they believe this is the one and only path to education reform.

Their approach to having great teachers in every classroom is a select and discard process. Teachers who self-select the occupation are given a job and if they do well they are kept and if not, well they are discarded. In order for this process to work (it being the same process by which we select fruits and vegetables for direct sale to customers or to canneries) then teachers need to be easily discarded  (fired). The important part of this “easy to be fired” aspect is that it be “for any reason.” This is because the current “criterion” for teacher quality leans heavily on whether those teacher’s students scores go up on standardized tests (the so-called Value-Added Measure or VAM). Since research shows those results to be inconsistent and unreliable for such a purpose, then other “criteria” will need to be invented to be used to fire the incompetent, so for now it has to be for any reason since we don’t know what we will need to invent.

Another path would be the flip side, an option surely to appeal to the conservative billionaire philanthropists paying for the entire process because it is a supply side, trickle down approach. We should create great teachers and then inject them into the system. Now, since these “certified to be great” teachers are not going to work for peanuts, they will only be affordable in the richer districts, but eventually they will trickle down to those less fortunate districts.

So, how do we create “great teachers?” The only extensively explored process we could emulate is the creation of “great athletes.” A huge amount of money is regularly invested in the services of fabulously endowed athletes. The old system of waiting to see who showed up on campus to play football, for example, has been replaced by an extensive recruiting system that includes national rankings, national support systems and awards, etc. for those even far from college age. Once they get recruited, these athletes are pampered with tutors and guidance counselors, they live in special dormitories and eat in their own dining halls. They have dedicated exercise rooms and specialized staff to help them train. Their lead instructors (aka coaches) earn millions of dollars to guide these young athletes to become great at what they do. Finally the crème-de-la-crème are selected to contest for jobs with established athletes, thus keeping the young growing and the established on their toes.

So, here’s the model: recruit the best and brightest potential teachers by tracking them nationally. Offer scholarships to the most promising potential teachers and then house and feed them lavishly while at university. Pay the Dean of the Education Department millions of dollars to develop these “great teachers” and then have a national draft for their services with a “Rookie Salary Cap” of $1,000,000 per year for the first three years to prevent overspending by the richer school districts.

If this is successful, we may see Fantasy Teaching Leagues sprouting up all over and teaching will become the goal of minority kids all over the country.

August 9, 2014

Finding Solutions

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
Tags: , ,

I have been trained in a particular kind of group problem solving (interest-based issue resolution if you are interested). One of the key elements of that process is making sure you understand the problem before you try to find a solution. One wag summed it up as “putting the why before the what.” This is the exact opposite to the process of our political process in which various politicians start with their version of a solution, often when we were unaware there was a problem, and then those politicians spend all of their time explaining why their solution will work, while others explain why it won’t work. No effort is made to establish the exact nature of the “problem.” A current example is the “solution” offered by the House of Representatives to bolster the security of our southern border because a large number of minor children walked across the border and surrendered to authorities. Border security was not the problem; what to do with 50,000 underage asylum seekers was.

Let’s take a “problem” we all seem to agree upon. Even the President has spoken on this one: “the U.S. is not producing enough college graduates in the STEM categories.” STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Everybody, conservative and liberal alike, says this is so, so it must be a real problem.

One of the solutions proffered is to increase the numbers of work visas allowed for foreign workers who have credentials in this field. This “solution” is very popular in Silicon Valley, for example. A number of other people are pushing legislations forcing schools to concentrate more on STEM subjects. And there are more “solutions” being proffered.

But, what is the problem, really?

Wha? It’s “the U.S. is not producing enough college graduates in the STEM categories,” stupid.

How do we know this is true? What evidence is there for this claim?

Oh, well, … , uh, because so many people say so.

Ah, a great many people said there were Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, enough to go to war over. Did that make it true? Apparently not.

If there were not enough college graduates with STEM degrees, we should find a number of things. For one, the wages of such employees should be going up much faster than other wages. Right? Supply and demand laws say that when demand is high and supply is low, cost goes up: basic economics. So, are wages for such jobs showing this effect? Uh, no.

Oh, well, another effect of this supply and demand situation would be that college graduates with STEM degrees should have much higher employment prospects because of this. The data show that the unemployment rates for recent STEM graduates are not as high as for other grads, but still not what any one would claim as being low.

So, are we creating enough STEM graduates for our needs? Yes.

So, why are all of these people calling this a “problem?” Gosh, you wouldn’t think that there are hidden agendas here, wouldja?

Probably the biggest chunk of the hidden issues is wages. College students are leaving college with record amounts of debt, debts that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy thanks to conservatives, so they must be paid off. If you were in this position would you take a job with low wages which would not allow you to meet your obligations when your expectation was that, with a STEM degree, you would qualify for a good paying job?

I read an article about a company bemoaning the fact that they had jobs open for master machinists for over a year and had not been able to fill them. A closer look showed they were offering $12/hr to machinists who in recent memory were making $40+/hr. (Realize these are not your old school lathe monkeys; these are people who have to facile with computer programmed equipment (CAM).)

The solution “to increase the numbers of work visas allowed for foreign workers who have credentials in this field” is a bogus solution. The idea is to bring foreigners over here who would be dependent upon their employers to maintain the employment status that allows them to stay here, so they are not going to make waves or demands for higher wages. Also, they can pay them substandard wages, which will seem really large to those employees at first. Then those lower wages will help hold down or even drive down wages for the other employees. Who, in their right mind, is going to their boss and demand better pay knowing they could be replaced by somebody making 60% as much? Who, in their right mind, would complain about a 5% salary cut due to “economic conditions” if they could be replaced by somebody making 60% as much? Would you?

The Toyota people have a wonderful rule they follow regarding “problems” and “solutions.” It is called the “Five Whys” in that they feel that at a minimum you need to ask “why” five times before you will understand a problem and/or its solution. Here is an example of using this rule to dig out the root cause of a “problem.”

• My car will not start. (the problem)
Why? #1 The battery is dead.
Why? #2 The alternator is not charging the battery.
Why? #3 The alternator belt has broken.
Why? #4 The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced.
Why? #5 The vehicle was not regularly maintained as recommended. (a root cause of the problem)
This actually happened to me. The battery in my car went dead. I recharged it thinking the problem was I left the lights on or something. It went dead again. So, I replaced the battery. That went dead. I finally took it to a shop which found the root cause (a bad electrical switch somewhere).

We need to ask “why” a lot more, for both problems and proffered solutions. We have enough examples of political solutions with hidden agendas to tell us that they are problematic.

Why, why, why, why, why?

August 7, 2014

The Republican Claim of a Democrat “War on Whites”

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:56 am

…, …, um, …

I’m sorry, I can’t stop laughing … I’ll have to post later …

These Are My People! (Chemists, That Is)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 8:50 am

“O, Excellent Air Bag”: Humphry Davy and Nitrous Oxide

We would do anything to advance the chemical arts and sciences.

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