Class Warfare Blog

December 9, 2016

The Russian Slur Returns!

When I was young, the most common slur used to brand those one disdained was to call them a communist. (You dirty commie!) Now it seems we are again using Russia as a pejorative.

The most overt such case occurred last month when the Washington Post gave a glowing front-page shout out to an anonymous online blacklist of hundreds of American websites, from marginal conspiracy sites to flagship libertarian and progressive publications. That anonymous website argued that all of them should be investigated by the federal government and potentially prosecuted under the Espionage Act as Russian spies, for wittingly or unwittingly spreading Russian propaganda.

Once again, the Russians/Commies are the bad guys.

Interestingly, as I learn more of history, our tendency to use Russia as a whipping boy has a long history. Take, for example, the aftermath of World War II. Without heroic efforts on the part of communist Russia, half the world would be speaking German now. Russia suffered horrifically from the German invasion. Tens of millions of Russians died from combat-related events and tens of millions more died from deprivation. President Roosevelt and Josef Stalin had an agreement that the U.S. would help Russia recover after the war. But then Roosevelt up and dies and then Truman is President. (Truman replaced Wallace as VP because Wallace was too progressive for the likes of the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. Remember the Dixiecrats and all them other conservative Dems?) Truman blew off Roosevelt’s promise and told Russia to go fend for itself even though we ponied up big time to rebuild Europe. The reason? Russia was spying on us because we had the atomic bomb. They felt that if the U.S. were the only country to have “the Bomb” then it would become a de facto global dictator (as we had “the Big Stick”). Plus our refusal to honor our promise of post-war help proved our untrustworthiness. But, guess what? The Russians weren’t the only country spying on us for atomic secrets. They were just one of many. (Also remember that communism and socialism were considered “threats to democracy” and were anathema to all conservatives then (as now). And, I have to wonder if any of that would have played out had Wallace succeeded Roosevelt.)

By and large the post-war “red Scare” was trumped up from real and imagined material and turned Russia from an ally into an enemy.

And now we are doing it again. Most of the anti-Russian propaganda currently being stated is just that, propaganda. And, it turns out that the website WaPo heralded, as mentioned above, apparently has links to the CIA and Ukrainian fascists. Plus the website author admits he just made up the list of “treasonous, fake news” websites. Sheesh!

Don’t we ever learn?

Fear is now the most common tool used to sway electorates. Real fears, such as the fear of the effects of Climate Change are pooh-poohed because the plutocrats do not want that particular fear motivating folks. And when no real source of useful fear can be had, made-up fears are entirely adequate. (The Mexican rapists are coming, the rapists are coming! The Russians are trying to fix our elections!) So, Republican attempts to fix our elections are swept under the rug, but the Russians, the Russians … !

I just realized that this blog is probably going to be added to the list of treasonous websites! Oh well, in for a penny….

December 6, 2016

The Demolishing of Public Schools for Fun and Profit

Well, not for fun, and I have been wrong about it being only for profit. I have argued that since the plutocrats/oligarchs who really run this country have captured almost all of the major wealth producing activities in the U.S., that they have been more and more attracted to the billions of dollars of public funds spent annually on public education, that the “privatization” efforts going on (Charter Schools! Vouchers! Yay!) were fueled by greed for a share of that pile of money. I still believe that is true but that there is another source of fuel for the fire in the bellies of the current crop of education “reformers.” And, no it is not fun, but religion. And, as usual, it was right there, hiding in plain sight, ignored by the “usual news media suspects.”

“Well, not for fun, and I have been wrong
about it being only for profit.”

There is a long history in this country of fundamentalist religiosity, typically Protestant in nature. Currently, in parts of the country you can see extreme pushback at public schools for teaching mainstream science in the form of the theory of evolution and the phenomenon of climate change. This is understandable. If the theory of evolution is right, then the fundamentalist, “young earth” Christian worldview (and hence the promoting religion promoting that view) is wrong. If they lose the fight over evolution, they will lose the grip their religion has over a large segment of the U.S. population.

In surveys of Americans on the topic of evolution, a significant fraction of U.S. citizens do not believe in it, believing in magic instead, and that disbelief is securely linked to certain religious affiliations. You do not observe anything like it anywhere else in the developed world. The folly of “belief” in evolution is actually preached in their churches, not surprisingly as those pastors preaching it will be out of jobs if evolution is accepted.

The religious right in this country wants control over their school systems to be able to teach what they know is true, and it ain’t evolution. This is the other major force in the current education “reform” efforts. Consider the following:

The religious right has long had the goal of eliminating public education. Candidates don’t need to be closet Reconstructionists to be influenced by the work of Reconstructionists, but it’s worth noting that when R.J. Rushdoony wrote the Messianic Character of American Education in 1963 he argued that education is not a proper function of government. ‘Government schools’ were the vehicle for promoting the anti-Christian religion of humanism and should ultimately be abolished. Few outside his small circle took him seriously.” (“The Republican ‘No Schools Left’ Program” by Julie Ingersoll, August 8, 2012)

Few took Rushdoony seriously in 1963 because we had communists to fight, but now that we done whipped the commies, we have turned to fight the real enemy, the atheists that supported commies all of those years, which when they weren’t eatin’ babies, they was promoting God-less, atheist science in the form of evolution. (“We ain’t no kin to no monkeys!”)

While I poke fun at these folks as being untutored, etc. it really is not that anymore. Their attitudes are not due to a lack of schooling but from the general tendency of us to surround ourselves with other people who think and act as we do. The religious right live in communities dominated by the presence of other religious right people. In their churches they reinforce each other’s beliefs. In their schools, they teach the right way (pun intended), schools in which biology teachers are cowed into teaching something other than the theory of evolution, telling themselves they “ran out of time” to cover it. It is immensely fascinating to me that the religious right has gone all in for the GOP which, while they pay lip service to the religious rights “needs” and “family values,” in general worships only the God of Mammon. But, if a horse is going in your direction, you don’t check its worthiness, you just saddle up.

So, charter schools, vouchers, they are all good as far as the religious right is concerned. They can then set up schools that teach the Real Truth™ and use their own tax monies to pay for it. No need to invoke the Constitution or nuthin’ like that.

All the “Fake News” that Is Fit to Publish

Apparently the latest hot topic for political pundits to pontificate upon is the idea of “fake news,” otherwise known as lies. What they are decrying is not that lies exist or that there are so many of them, but they are so easy to “publish.” Hah!

There are more lies now than any other time in human history and I am confident in that statement because there are more people alive that ever before in human history and all humans lie. And it is also true that each of us has more reach than ever before. You are, for example, reading this blog, which in effect is my personal publication organ. This was not possible even a short time ago.

What is lacking is not control over the sources of such material, after all we do pride ourselves in having a political system that protects the freedom of speech, but that people are apparently not at all skeptical about the “information” they have available.

I must insist that all news is fake news. It is the case in which every time I have been interviewed for publication that I have felt that the interview and what was published were at odds. Local papers never seem to get it right. I have heard that same criticism over the years about larger publications.

“I must insist that all news is fake news.”

The manipulations of the Bush administration leading up to the Iraq war were willingly embraced by major “news” publications, even though they turned out to be made of whole cloth. What, the utterances of our politicians are no longer trustworthy? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you … that anyone ever thought they were. Politicians look at the “press” (now “the news media”) as something to be managed or controlled, not as something to embrace as a bulwark of democracy. The “press” no longer looks at itself as the protector of democracy, nor does it have the role of scourge of dishonest politicians.

What is needed is for all of us to be a lot more skeptical. We need to ask “Where did you hear/get that?” On Facebook? Oh, that explains a lot. Apparently many Americans get a substantial amount of their news off of Facebook. WTF? Well, Facebook has a well-known reputation for journalistic integrity I guess. (No, it does not; I am being sarcastic!)

Come on, people! Get a pair! Show the whole world that you are not the gullible idiot who thinks that “if it was on the Internet, it has to be true.”

We need more guidelines. How about “Breaking News!” — Breaking news means we got it wrong, but we got it fast! And “this was verified through a confidential source” means (a) if I told you who told me, you’d laugh at me or (b) I am willing to be manipulated by someone who is unwilling to be quoted.

Our news media were on an upward trajectory away from “yellow journalism” and toward greater integrity but that trend has been reversed. In today’s journalism, opinion is promoted as fact and to make money news organs are peddling opinions without any facts. The newspaper guideline “If it bleeds, it leads” has been replaced with the 24-hour news cycle’s “Look at the shiny object, how does it make you feel?”

December 5, 2016

Reduce Business Taxes!!

So, President-elect Trump wants to reduce business taxes to keep businesses here in the U.S. Actually I am in favor of that. But for that to be reasonable, there must be an understanding. If we reduce business taxes to 20% or 15% on profits, then there must be an understanding that businesses will actually pay those taxes. Currently, the highest business tax on profits is 35%. That sounds like a lot, but if you look close enough you will see that hugely profitable companies in the U.S., like G.E., either pay no tax at all or actually get a refund from the government. Not only that but the average tax paid by companies is in the low teens of percents. Plus getting a refund for an individual is getting money back from taxes you already paid (that’s what “withholding” taxes are), but if a business get a “refund” it is not their own money coming back, it is money they never paid coming to them, otherwise known as a subsidy or gift of public funds. (Yes, some businesses pay “quarterly taxes” but if it ends up at 0% for the year, I suspect it si 0% for each quarter, too.)

I am willing to consider a lower business tax, even a “flat tax” (that should start conservatives drooling) if it is also a minimum tax, that is it is the very least a corporation will pay, no matter what other perks they get through Congress.

The current system encourages companies to lobby Congress for special tax perks just for themselves and this is where the ridiculous “refunds” come from. In fact, in the “bloated IRS tax code” that conservatives are constantly railing against, the “bloat” is due to special favors for businesses, not for you and me. (Congress creates the tax code and then blames the IRS for it. Now that is chutzpah!) Our section of the code is miniscule compared to the special sections designed to help single companies and industries.

If you are not convinced of the reasonableness of my idea, go back into history and see the fraction of federal income that was due to taxes placed on businesses versus taxes based upon individuals. During several, very rosy periods of U.S. history, the bulk of federal receipts came from corporation taxes, not individuals, so low corporate taxes is not magic juju that makes the economy expand. Due to corporate lobbying (lobbying has a tremendous return on investment; a dollar spent on lobbying generally returns over $20 of perks) the fraction of federal government receipts from individuals has risen (a lot!) and the fraction from corporations has shrunk (a lot). Note Check out the first two columns in the table here.)

Corporations no longer pay anything near to their own fair share.

Please, please do not get confused. Corporations pay taxes based upon profits; individuals pay taxes based upon income. Imagine what your taxes would be like if you, like a business, could “deduct” housing costs (all of them including maid services), food costs, transportation costs, utility costs, bookkeeping costs, etc., etc. before you started “doing your taxes.” Hubba-hubba!

Also, having a “flat tax” on business profits would not harm “Mom and Pop” businesses. All of those businesses end each fiscal year with no profits and would pay no tax on such, unless they are incredibly stupid. At the end of the year, the owner should pay themselves bonuses adding up to all of the leftover funds of the business. They will then pay what we pay on our personal income, but their business had no profit, so it would pay no tax. If they wanted to expand their business, they could then lend their business a sum of money (nontaxable) and then the business could deduct any interest it pays back to the owner and again, no business taxes are paid.

But in order to issue dividends to stockholders in a corporation, there must be a profit. If there is no profit, there is no money to pay dividends. If there are no dividends there are not many stockholders, so dividends are paid, profits are therefore declared to be able to pay them, and if there were a flat tax on profits, taxes would be paid (unlike now).

Trump Selects Ben Carson for His Cabinet

President-elect Donald Trump has picked retired neurosurgeon and former rival presidential candidate Ben Carson to be his Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mr. Trump was advised that at least one person “of color” needed to be on the team and Dr. Carson was the only Black man he knew who wasn’t a sports star or entertainer or busboy.

Dr. Carson had previous indicated that he had no interest in doing a job like that, one in which he had neither talent nor experience. Apparently Mr. Trump offer Dr. Carson a yuge deal he couldn’t refuse. Dr. Carson was confused when he was asked how much experience he had in “swamp draining,” but “a steep learning curve is nothing to deter him,” he said.

November 24, 2016

Religion as a Basis for Politics

I have been writing about religion in the context of a class warfare blog for some time as there are repurcussions to religious beliefs. The article excerpted below by Forsetti’s Justice on AlterNet says it quite well.

* * *

An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king.

“As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: ‘Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.’”

“ … “

“Because rural, Christian, white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, supported by facts that go against their fundamentalist belief systems from “outsiders,” any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.

“Another major problem with closed-off, fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. All belief systems are to some extent, but fundamentalist systems even more so because there are no checks and balances. If bad information gets in, it doesn’t get out and because there are no internal mechanisms to guard against it, it usually ends up very damaging to the whole.”

“ … “

“What I understand is that rural, Christian, white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; don’t trust people outside their tribe; have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades; are unwilling to understand their own situations; and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties will get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them. I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well. I understand their fears are based on myths and lies. I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to. They are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more. Their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians. They are the problem with progress and always will be, because their belief systems are constructed against it.

“The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by coastal elites. The problem is a lack of understanding of why rural, Christian, white America believes, votes, and behaves the ways it does by rural, Christian, white America.”


Actual “Deplorables” Found!

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:06 am
Tags: , ,

Hillary Clinton had her Romney-esque “47%” moment when she claimed that half of all Trump voters were “deplorables.” (What advantage she thought she was gaining to make such an absurd claim is beyond me.) But, now, the actual Deplorables have surfaced. Apparently President-elect Trump is filling cabinet posts with them!

You read it here first!

November 23, 2016

Steven Pinker on a Lesson We Have Failed to Learn

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm
Tags: ,

(Steven Pinker is an evolutionary psychologist and author)

“Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history, one that is logically prior to every other discovery, is that all of our traditional sources of belief are, in fact, generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. These include: faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, augury, prophesy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom, and that warm, invigorating glow of subjective certainty.”

Can you imagine what politics would look like without all of that?


What Happened to the GOP Disdain for the Department of Education?

The standard position of the GOP on the DOE has been “Off with its head!” that it never should have been a federal agency, let alone a cabinet level agency, at all, that education should be left to the states. Remember Rick Perry’s “Ooops” debate topic? It was which departments he would abolish if he were made president. He remembered the DOE but forgot the DOE (Department of Energy). This position was supposed to based on a preference for local control of education and parent’s rights to educate their children as they saw fit. The DOE was de facto federal overreach, according to Republican stalwarts.

But …

… according to CNN, President-elect Trump has offered Betsy DeVos the U.S. Department of Education post, and she took it. Ms. DeVos does not hide her contempt for public schools, she advocates for school vouchers so her wealthy friends can get their private schooling of their children subsidized. She opposes any regulation or oversight for charter schools and she loves her them charter schools, especially those funded from public taxes, whether or not they perform any better than the schools they are replacing.

So, apparently Mr. Trump will not be disposing of the DOE as part of the GOP wish list.

I guess there was money to be made.

November 22, 2016

Getting Some Perspective on Being Middle Class

In the last 35 years or so, the wages of middle class people have been basically stagnant. So, for a third of the last 100 years, while worker productivity and the cost of living have continued rising, the ability of middle class jobs to support a middle class lifestyle have not. The result is what we have now: a whole bunch of Americans kinda sorta hanging on to what they got.

If you go back a 100 years or so, you can get some perspective on how this came about. You will see that it is the same people who grossly inflated the cost of living in the U.S. who are currently suppressing the ability of U.S. citizens to afford a middle class life. In the 1910’s and 1920’s the vast majority of Americans did not take out a mortgage to buy their homes. There weren’t that many people who were buying their own homes, for one, and those who did often saved up the money or got it from relatives or borrowed from relatives. There was no large mortgage banking industry.

Then the Great Depression hit and home ownership got even farther from the grasp of the middle class. It was only after World War 2 that a series of factors combined to have home mortgages become a viable mechanism to acquire a domicile for those in the middle class. About a million working age American men lost their lives in the war and those who did come back wanted to resume a “normal” life as soon as was possible. Because of the manpower loss due to the war and the expanding economy, work was easy to get. There was a burgeoning industrial capacity that was turning from war material back to consumer goods and a sense of “we are all in this together,” that lead to a great deal of prosperity. Men and still some women had jobs and disposable income, so all kinds of things were made for this new market, including the development of housing developments (Levittown, etc.). The U.S. Government got in the business of helping to finance home purchases (although with built-in racist limitations for people of color) and with sureties being offered by the government, so too did a great many private lenders. So, through the rest of the 40’s and then the 50’s and 60’s, the middle class of this country boomed and the number of us in the middle class owning our own homes steadily rose.

Interestingly, during the Reagan years in California and during his presidency, things took a down turn. (You know, those family values of Republicans kicked in.) In order to support the kind of life middle class people were learning to enjoy, families had to see both Mom and Dad working. The influx of money into the family from working women helped maintain the new middle class lifestyle but also launched a housing price boom. Thanks to Elizabeth Warren’s academic research, it was discovered that when women started contributing more and more to the family’s income, they also had more say where it went and it was increasingly going for houses in “better” areas, the “better” being in school districts with good schools.

Housing prices increased rapidly, first in California and then throughout the U.S. Housing consumed more and more of the family budget, often costing up to 50% of family disposable income. Government supported these price increases by making interest payments tax deductible, which seemed like a good thing for home buyers but actually just inflated prices (“You can afford this more expensive house because of the large tax deduction you will get on the interest payments!” Remember that?) Rapidly escalating home prices lead to rapidly escalating property taxes because the rates were set “before” and the “assessed value” kept rocketing upward when each house changed hands. In California, a bellwether state, a tax payer revolt lead to a state-wide proposition that put severe limits on property taxes. Other states did something similar. These limits shifted responsibility for many services that were formerly based upon property values, like education, from those local sources of income onto other sources, often based in statewide government. This resulted in less local control and a greater tax burden on the state which doesn’t collect taxes based upon property but upon sales and income, more regressive taxes.

It was President Reagan who made sure that the wealthier citizens paid much less of those federal taxes and shifted the tax burden, especially through payroll taxes, off of the well to do and onto the middle class.

Then the federal government released the shackles of the banking industry and all kinds of high jinks take place. The final culmination is in the collapse of the housing mortgage industry in 2007-2008 based upon the ability of banks to bundle very sketchy mortgages into highly rated derivative securities, so anything went, at least until everything went up in smoke.

So, the banks got bailed out, their shareholders got bailed out, Wall Street got a minor slap on the wrist and homeowners, well they were told to suck it up and take their medicine.

So, where does this leave the middle class?

Well, with the wage suppressing activities of anti-union, anti-worker conservatives, helped by neo-liberal assholes who should have known better (when your goals align with blood sucking capitalists, you no longer have the right to call yourself a liberal, “neo” or otherwise), we have a middle class in name only. Most of us work longer hours for less compensation, have fewer government services available and less hope for the future and our children’s futures since 1950. (“You don’t need a retirement program. When you sell your house, you will have plenty to live on in your golden years.” They could have asked us to turn around and bend over because they had something to shove up our assess, but their sense of propriety didn’t allow for that.)

Those of us in the middle class who were conned into investing our futures in houses and then who lost those houses have basically had to start over. (I sold my last house in 2007, one of the very few sold in my county in that year and was very lucky to get out with my skin intact.)

Since the conservatives and neo-liberals are now in charge, I do not expect better jobs, more affordable housing, less expensive education for our kids, less expensive medical care or much of any real benefit to flow toward the middle class. I see … distractions … many, many distractions in our future. Progress? Not very much, no.

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