Class Warfare Blog

February 8, 2016

Drowning in Economic Bullstuff

I got out and they sucked me right back in.”
SPR

In an editorial in the NY Times (Don’t Break Up the Banks. They’re Not the Problem.) Steve Eisman, one of the real folks portrayed in the movie “The Big Short,” argues that we should not want to break up the big banks, because well, it is messy, and it would hurt economic growth, and well, just because.

“If we want a stronger economy, improving the distribution and growth of personal income should be our focus. Breaking up the big banks will not help, and might even hurt.”

These people are incredible.

The whole point in making the banks as big as the are, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, was to continue the shift of the stock and other markets away from their original intent and toward speculative investments, none of which benefits the country or ordinary citizens. The stock market has become the tool of speculators and little else.

When you were in school, I am sure, you were taught the party line about the stock market, that a company, could sell itself by issuing stock certificates to a large number of people (thereafter the company is “owned” by whoever owns 51% of the stock). The money generated by this sale of stock allows the company to invest in its own growth as a “public corporation.” The company then paid “interest” to those who bought the stock (dividends) and maybe, down the road, the stock could be sold for a profit. It is a nice fairy tale and it is true as far as it goes. But all you need do is examine the most recent “star” initial public offerings (IPOs) to see something strange. Take Facebook’s IPO, for example. Facebook doesn’t make anything and I doubt anybody in your circle of acquaintances could explain how it makes money, but its stock price soared like an eagle then went down and back up. People were literally panting to buy stock in this company, a tech company that probably will not be around in 10 years , certainly not in 20 years. The example we were given in school was local widget factories, factories that employed our parents.

As far as breaking up the big banks “hurting the economy” because it would “disrupt all of the loans they were making,” consider the bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009. The federal government made the mistake of not tying the bailouts to the “loans” they could be making, so what did the banks do? They looked around and said, “there is no growth” so there is no reason to loan and they bought stocks and bonds with the money. Figure it out! If someone lends you money at 0% interest and you can invest it in the stock market at 5-6% or even higher. Talk about free money. All of that investment in the stock market made stock prices soar (the “markets” recovered from the Great Depression first, remember?) which made those banks investments even more valuable, made them even more money … that they still did not make loans with. The whole idea of them making loans with “free money” was to stimulate the economy by companies taking a chance to expand while it was cheap. People would be hired, goods bought, by these expanding companies and soon the recovery would be well under way. “Oh, wait, look! A shiny new stock certificate, I think I’ll buy that instead of making a loan with the money,” was the bank’s response.

The reason to break up the banks is because they are scum-sucking pigs, that when given the opportunity to make loans for free to help the economy recover from the largest economic depression in almost a century, they decided to profit from our loss. Then they spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against any change in the rules that allowed them to speculate unhindered by effective regulation/regulators which created the GD in the first place.

Gee, it is complicated! Gosh, oh, what can we do? All we need do for now is separate federally insured bank accounts from speculative ones and let them figure it out. They are, after all, the “new” smartest guys in the room.

February 3, 2016

Do We Really Want One-Party Rule, Especially by Republicans?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:45 pm
Tags: , , ,

Note Yes, I am on hiatus and not blogging here for the time. But this is the issue no one is talking about … and should be. SR

If we elect a Republican President in 2016, and the House and Senate remain under Republican control, a reasonable assumption if the GOP takes the White House, what could we expect to happen? I think it is fairly straightforward to project an answer from what Republican State legislatures are doing and the federal GOP representatives have been recommending.

The GOP, in all likelihood, would
•  Repeal Obamacare and replace it with nothing.
•  Cut taxes on the rich.
•  Cut Medicare and Medicaid.
•  Reduce Social Security Benefits.
•  Continue the corporate takeover of public schools, extracting profits from public coffers.
•  Deregulate the banking industry.
•  Deregulate Wall Street.
•  Reduce alternative energy supports.
•  Defund Planned Parenthood (promises are promises).
•  Expand the military budget.
•  Continue to undermine local control of cities by supporting “emergency manager policies.”
•  Move to make same-sex marriage illegal again.
•  Appoint hyperconservative judges to the federal courts and the Supreme Court so that more corporations can be people.
•  Conduct a belligerent foreign policy, probably involving increased military action.

The GOP, in all likelihood, would not
•  Reform the campaign finance system.
•  Reduce income and/or wealth inequality.
•  Raise the minimum wage.
•  Decrease the number of Americans who go without health insurance.
•  Act to curtail Climate Change
•  Preserve our public lands.
•  Take any action whatsoever on gun control.

Can you think of anything positive that you expect the Republicans to do if they are given control of the federal government? No? Neither can I. Consequently, why is anyone considering electing one?

December 20, 2015

Post No. 997 So Long and Thanks for All The Fish

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 8:18 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Dear Friends,
I have had a change in vocational obligations and so to make room for those efforts I am giving up this blog. I was waiting to make the 1000th post mark but have decided that that was kind of silly, so I am pulling the plug now.

Since I cherish the relationships I have formed with those of you who comment regularly, I will continue to keep in touch through comments on your blogs. Thanks for all of the feedback, encouragement, and praise along the way. And don’t give up the fight. We built the middle class of our memory before, we can do it again (this time I hope it does not involve a World War).

Steve

Parting Shot
I finally figured out what American Exceptionalism means! It was so simple, I just didn’t see it. It goes like this:

The United States is the greatest country in the world! … except for all of the guns and gun violence … except for all of economic bullying around the world … except for all the warmongering and arms selling … except for the racism and homophobia … except for all the religious hatred … except … except …

June 11, 2014

Teacher Tenure Rules Have a Negative Effect on Public Education?

A Los Angeles County judge struck down California rules on tenure for teachers in the Vergara v. California case. The plaintiffs argued that the rules made it too hard to fire ineffective public school teachers. Judge Rolf Treu concluded that tenure did have a negative effect on the education of children, especially black and Latino students, saying it violated those “students’ fundamental right to equality of education” under the state’s constitution.

Okay, let me see if I get this right. Teacher tenure rules are simply that there must be a process by which a teacher can be demoted or fired and that process must include a fair hearing. The public understanding of tenure being a “job for life” is mistaken.

To put this in perspective, the vast majority of public school teachers are competent and not a problem. The question is what to do about those who are incompetent. Every school district I have been a part of had such a procedure (as it was required by law). And, in almost every case of an attempted dismissal based upon competence, a court (or NLRB hearing) threw out the district’s case for the same reason: the districts violated the rules of their own procedures. So, apparently this judge threw out California’s tenure laws because of administrative incompetence. Adding to this the greatest number of teacher “dismissals”  resulted in the teacher in question “retiring” or leaving “voluntarily” and so did not appear to anyone as a “dismissal,” but were the equivalent.

And, do not get me wrong, the general population of teachers are frustrated that people they consider incompetent stay on due to administrative incompetence but at the same time support tenure laws to protect themselves from that same administrative incompetence (or perfidy).

Also, to focus on black and Latino students and the role of tenure is appalling. Did they consider that teachers are often assigned to “poor” districts as punishment or to encourage them to resign. Did they consider that administrators “reward” teachers by giving them the cushiest assignments in the schools with the best infrastructure and the best performing students instead of challenging them with the schools that really need the good teachers? Is tenure really an issue at all in struggling schools?

It should not be, but a conservative challenge (funded by the usual billionaire suspects) put in front of a conservative judge who found it to be so.

We will see as this legal charade continues.

June 7, 2014

What Ever Happened to Progress?

According to David Cay Johnson in Aljazeera America, the “recovery” from the Great recession isn’t so great, for example:

What about the average hourly wage for private sector workers? The 2014 Economic Report of the President shows that it rose in 2013. But the increase, after inflation, was just 12 cents an hour—a blip of about six-tenths of 1 percent.

More revealing, the average hourly pay of $20.13 last year was smaller than in 1972 and 1973. Back then, the inflation-adjusted hourly average was about 6 percent higher. In other words, people in 2013 worked 52 weeks to make what they would have made in 49 weeks back in 1972 and 1973.

Wait, it gets worse.

The presidential report shows that in 1972 and 1973 the average private sector worker was paid for 36.9 hours of work per week, but in 2013 this was down to 33.7 hours because a growing share of people can find only part-time jobs.

Combine lower pay with fewer hours, and the average weekly gross pay in the private sector dropped by 14 percent in four decades. That’s the equivalent of working 52 weeks in 2013 to earn 45 weeks’ worth of wages in 1972 and 1973.

What ever happened to “progress?” When I was a schoolboy (in the 1950’s) there was an intense focus on progress. General Electric’s slogan was “Progress is Our Most Important Product,” for example.

For working people, there has been not only no progress but just the opposite—regress—for the last 40 years.

When will working people stop voting against their own economic interests and insist that they share in the increase in wealth in this country? It is our huge productivity gains over that 40 years that created that wealth. Waiting for the fat cats to “share” doesn’t seem to be working. The “trickle” in “trickle down economics” is flowing the wrong way. Politicians are working for the rich, not the poor and the middle class any more.

Wake up people, you are being robbed and you are approving of it!

June 6, 2014

Oh, Yeah, Take This …

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:22 pm
Tags: , ,

Sam Harris’s blog is one of my favorites. On it he recently issued a challenge in the form of a contest (with a substantial cash prize, mind you, no cheapskate Dr. Harris) with the topic being to refute his thesis in his book “The Moral Landscape” that a scientific basis for morality could be found. Here is the prize winning essay (www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-moral-landscape-challenge).

The good doctor doesn’t allow comments on his website as he has neither the time to read them nor the staff to monitor them (plus he is a target, literally, because of his critiques of the Muslim religion, amongst other things). Consequently I am writing my comment about the refutation here. I state this up front so you can go elsewhere if this bores you.

The basis of the refutation is that there is no scientific definition of what “is good” means. And as Sam Harris used as an analogy the health business (doctors, nurses, etc.) the refutation basically says that since “good health” cannot be defined scientifically that medicine is in the same position as is a scientific morality, having to start with axioms of what “is true” to have any purchase whatsoever.

This is where I wish to start setting my hair on fire. I feel someone capable of evaluating such arguments as I majored in chemistry in college and minored in philosophy, also having read a great deal of philosophy. I remember my ethics professor pointing out that in 4000 years of recorded philosophy that philosophers had yet to answer a single question. His comment came in a very long discussion (taking up weeks) of what the phrase “is good” meant. This is in contrast to churchmen who have answered virtually every question, but incorrectly, e.g. Question: How old is the Earth? Answer: 6018 years. Wrong.

Since I am an academic I am used to this approach of taking somebody by the scruff of the neck and shoving their face into the bark of a tree and then screaming in their ear “Can you see the forest? Can you?” So, let us take a step back, shan’t we? The purpose of any system of morality is to guide people in making decisions that affect other human beings. Were you alone on the planet, I doubt the subject of ethics or morality would come up (although some now are trying to extend human ethics to include other conscious animals, let’s not go there for now as this is complicated enough as it is).

So, let me address the issue of health scientifically. Here is a scientific poll:
Q1 Would you rather be sick or well?
a. sick
b. well
c. don’t really care
What do you think the results would be if several thousand people were to seriously answer this question? Is there any doubt that 95+% of ordinary people would answer “b”? Would you not be suspicious of anybody answering a or c? Do you think the results would depend upon culture or ethnicity or age or . . . ? No, I don’t either.

So, we have scientific poll results saying that the hugely vast majority of human beings would rather be well than sick (or we would if we were to do this poll). So, does an academic concern over being able to scientifically and accurately define “sick” and “well” affect the interactions you might have with other people that involve the morality of these situations? I don’t think so.

This is by no means cut and dried. Let’s go back to the early days of the United States—the Revolutionary War period. Smallpox was a constant threat to our armed forces. (The British soldiers had either already had it and survived or been exposed to it enough to not get a bad case (they were somewhat immunized).) The radical idea cropped up that one could avoid the fatal aspects of smallpox by giving oneself a mild case of the disease (thus creating an immunity) and some douty Americans voluntarily did this, that is they chose being sick over being well. Of course, this is not a general condition we are addressing here, we are addressing a trade-off of choosing a mild short-term illness versus the possibility of a disfiguring and possibly fatal illness later. So, probabilities come into play. If you had to make this choice, would you prefer scientifically determined probabilities of death/disfigurement from a full-fledged case of smallpox versus the possibility of the mild case getting out of hand or would you prefer an “educated guess” by your health professional, the guy over there with the leeches?

If we step back farther, we see that scientific methods applied to medicine have resulted in better health outcomes for most of us and longer lifespans, too. So, wouldn’t it follow that having scientific information available any time a decision of questionable morality needs be made be a naturally good thing?

A system of morality should provide guidance when you have to make decisions that affect other people. (I think you should have autonomy over yourself up to an including suicide, but this is debatable.) Part of the problem is that some of us believe in absolute rules of morality and some of us do not. If you are a believer in moral absolutes, you will have a hard time accepting any scientific moral system as it will involve probabilities and not absolutes. I tend to think that people who believe in god-given absolute morals are deluding themselves. (They have to be god-given to have the authority behind them to make them absolute.) Such morals are wishful thinking on a grand scale. I say this because if the moral codes of say, Christians, were absolutes, a Christian would never murder anyone (Thou shall not commit murder.) because even if they avoided punishment in this life, punishment in the hereafter would be so extreme as to make such an act insane. And, of course, Christians, do murder people from time to time. So, whether you think such cases are clear evidence of insanity, at least you have to admit those rules do not work . . . especially the one about coveting your neighbor’s wife! The wishful thinking is that any god-given morality has to be more effective than any socially devised moral code we could come up with. Or possibly people like the fact that if someone does get away with it now, they won’t later; it is hard to tell.

The even sillier thing is if we do create a scientifically based moral code, how different could it be from the ones we have now? Are we going to come up with something that says it is okay to steal small things from rich people because they will hardly miss them but not okay to steal from poor people who need everything they have and more? I don’t think so.

It is clear to me that people have created the gods and therefore they created all of the “god-given” moral codes, along with the others (not god-given) and by and large these are pragmatic, “can’t we all get along” kinds of rules. We are not talking about the rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission, we are talking about general guidelines to help people who write such laws/regulations prevent fraud and abuse of others.

Need we worry about academic/scientific definitions of what it means “to steal” or should we take a step back and ask people, in a scientific poll, whether they want their goods stolen or not? Can we not accept the feelings of others as a basis to establish a scientific moral code? Are we not just trying to get along with one another, doing the most good and the least harm? Why is this so hard?

June 4, 2014

Selling Influence to Be Able to . . .

Legislators in North Carolina apparently just sunseted the bulk of that state’s environmental laws. If those laws cannot be re-passed in a very short time, they will disappear from the law books. This environmental extinction law was seemingly designed for such an outcome—the gutting of all state environmental regulations.

What I want to know is how the NC legislators felt when they went home that night to tell their sons and daughters about their day. “Daddy had a good day, we wiped out all of the environment protections passed by previous legislatures, honey.” How do you think 11-year old daughters would receive that? wives? sons in college?

Apparently those legislators were willing to sell their influence/votes to Duke Energy and the other big polluters in the state for campaign contributions. They were willing to sell their influence over the future health of their friends, neighbors, children, etc. to be able to . . . continue in office as someone who can sell their influence to be able to . . . continue in office. . . .

One suggests that those people rethink why they are in office. Apparently they think they are in office to raise funds to continue to hold office. If they do well at the state level, they might get to the federal level where as many as 10% of the population will approve of their performance, but only so long as they keep their jobs. It must be for the prestige.

May 29, 2014

Are Capitalism and Democracy Compatible?

On paper, capitalism and democracy seem to be compatible. The two large forces at play are, well, on one hand human and corporate greed, tending to redistribute wealth and privilege upward and on the other hand the voting majority of the poor and middle classes which tend to favor redistribution of wealth and income downward. So government spends a great deal of effort to support the “general welfare” and the plutocrats spend a great deal of effort to concentrate wealth in their own hands. The question is, do these forces balance?

If they do, then democracy and capitalism can coexist healthily.

But what if the plutocrats wage a campaign to get the less well off to vote against their economic interests and to create a mistrust of government supports? Both of these efforts are clearly in play as conservatives (with wealthy backers) are using social issues to mask economic votes and are bringing government into disrepute by making it “the problem” instead of “the solution.”

Does no one else see this? Hello?

Can you not also see that this has to end badly, that the efforts of the current crop of radical conservatives is destroying the balance that allows capitalism and democracy to coexist. And the result will be . . . ?

Hello?

May 28, 2014

Six Conundrums the Left Can’t Answer … Really?

Allen B. West, the deranged GOPer from Florida has posted the following:

Six Conundrums the Left Can’t Answer

1. America is capitalist and greedy – yet almost half of the population is subsidized.
2. Half of the population is subsidized – yet they think they are victims.
3. They think they are victims – yet their representatives run the government.
4. Their representatives run the government – yet the poor keep getting poorer.
5. The poor keep getting poorer – yet they have things that people in other countries only dream about.
6. They have things that people in other countries only dream about – yet politicians (mostly progressive socialists) claim they want America to become more like those other countries.

These, he claims, are conundrums that the Left can’t answer.

I don’t know about the “Left” as there is not much of one remaining in the U.S., but I can answer them.

#1 America is capitalist and greedy … uh, yes. But the estimate that half of the population is subsidized is too low. It is much closer to 100%. Every corporation, they are people, too, you know, is on the take. They get tax breaks, etc. from their bought and paid for politicians, so every one working for a corporation is also being subsidized. (Consider just the benefits Wal-Mart’s employees get to support their substandard wages.) Then all of those people getting Medicare, all of those people getting Social Security, all of those people getting a tax deduction to buy their homes (the greedy takers), all of those taking education expense deductions, etc. It would be hard to find anyone in this country not getting a subsidy.

The problem here is the amount of the subsidies. The corporations get billions. The rich get millions. The poor get peanuts and bad mouthed at the same time.

#2 The only people claiming victimhood are Fox (sic) News commentators. I’m sorry, the poor don’t have mouthpieces, or blogs, or paid PR flaks to make their point. Where do you get this idea that the “poor think they are victims?” Oh, you just made it up? Well, I can prove that the poor have been victims. Just compare the wages of the poor, go on, use the minimum wage, and compare it to the pay of CEOs whose companies hire workers for minimum wage jobs. Anybody who thinks that corporations are not using an economic downturn to hold wages down or are virulently anti-union to keep their workers wages down isn’t playing with a full deck of cards.

#3 The poor have representatives? Really? All those K Street Lobbyists the poor hired are having an effect, eh? Are you effing crazy? Our elected officials serve only their wealthy donors. Study after study proves this. On what planet did you grow up that has poor with effective political representation? Has this ever been the case in human history? When the minimum wage law was enacted in the 1930s, there were two groups of workers excluded; do you know which those were? They were farm workers and servants, i.e. black people. Did you see all of the black people’s lobbyists swarming Washington, D.C. to get that fixed? No? Neither did I.

#4 The poor’s representatives run the government? You mean like in the House of Representatives in which the average personal wealth of members is over $1,000,000? Rich people are just lining up to represent the interests of poor people, . . . uh, not. This idea runs counter to your other idiotic idea that government is transferring wealth from ordinary folks (really rich people) to the poor (the shiftless and lazy, really, you know “dem folks”). If there were such massive transfers occurring, would the poor still be getting poorer? See #3 for more.

#5 Yeah, our poor have things people in other countries just dream about, people in countries like Chad and Bangladesh. Our poor are really living a life of luxury … as victims, too. The “socialist European” countries you sneer at have better health care outcomes for far less money spent, often to no cost to their citizens than do we. What kind of price to you put on your health? Is having a wide-screen TV or a pickup truck better? Is there a reason that black folks in this country live lives so much shorter than do others? Could it be they often can’t afford health care because they want to, you know, eat or stay warm? You would not get any of the citizens of those “socialist” countries willing to trade places and be “poor” in the U.S.

#6 Hell, even I want the U.S. to be more like those other countries. Countries that care about people and who provide support to citizens in the form of health care and child care. What is so effing special about “everybody is on their own?” Surveys of whether or not people are happy show Canadians are far happier than Americans. They have fewer worries. They have a banking system that didn’t melt down like ours did because they regulated greed out of their banking system, for example. And they have the dreaded “single payer” health care system (falsely maligned with made-up stores by the U.S. Right). I know the bubble that just opened in your head: if you think Canada’s so great, why don’t you go live there? Am I right? As if my wanting to live near my family and friends had no bearing nor does whether Canada wants people like me. Let me flip that around and say “if you think “everybody is on their own” is so great, like in Afghanistan or Somalia, why don’t you go live there?

Stop making asinine claims you can’t support. They are not even original, but that is not surprising as I suspect you have no thoughts of your own.

 

Aw, shit!

According to the AP:

The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that it had reached an enforceable deal with Duke Energy to clean up its mess from a huge coal ash spill into the Dan River. The Feb. 2 spill coated 70 miles of the river in North Carolina and Virginia with toxic gray sludge. The E.P.A. will oversee the cleanup in consultation with federal wildlife officials under provisions in the Superfund law. Duke will reimburse the federal government for its oversight costs, including those incurred in the emergency response to the spill. Coal ash, the byproduct left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity, contains numerous toxic substances, including arsenic, selenium, chromium, thallium, mercury and lead. The agreement makes no mention of any fines imposed against Duke.

The key words are “Duke will reimburse the federal government for its oversight costs” (my emphasis) meaning that others will pay for the actual cleanup costs, while Duke, which caused the mess, will pay whoever watches the cleanup to make sure it is done right.

Crony capitalism wins again!

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