Uncommon Sense

October 27, 2012

So, Who Wins?

With regard to the presidential election, if Mr. Romney wins, then the corporate class and the monied interests will have a pliable, if not plastic, President and we can expect attacks on women’s health issues, environmental standards, business regulations, and the social safety net. Rich people will get large tax cuts, poor people will pay for them. So, the corporate class and the monied interests win.

If Mr. Obama wins, the center will continue to hold. (Mr. Obama is a centrist, not a liberal or conservative, comparable to the likes of Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton.) It is unclear how the Republicans will respond. (I suspect that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will say that the Republican’s number one political goal is to make sure that President Obama is only a two term president.) If the Republicans continue their obstruction, we will at best muddle through. If they do not, we all will prosper at a fair rate.

No matter which candidate wins the President election, though, the monied interests will have won because their goals are a) to discredit the federal government as an instrument of the people and social change and b) to drive up the costs of elections.

These long term goals of the conservative monied interests serve them by weakening the only major opposition to them running the show (the unions have been pushed to the margins and they have bought most of the politicians and judges) and driving up the costs of elections will make their influence that much greater in the future, making them able to prevent any uppity politician from opposing their plans.

Conservatives (with a capital C) used to be conservative (with a lower case c) of the social order. These modern Conservatives want to change the social order and conserve their own wealth and power. They have even changed the meaning of the word.

Romney’s Smoke and Mirrors (aka Shuck and Jive)

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:17 am
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Apparently Candidate Romney will make it to election day without substantially stating how his economic policies will work. The keystone of what he has said is that he will cut income tax rates 20% along with reducing capital gains taxes and corporate taxes. The implication is that “tax cuts will stimulate the economy.”

Candidate Romney also has criticized the so-called “Stimulus” bill of 2009 as “not creating one job.”

Apparently, Candidate Romney is unaware that almost one third of the $800+ billion 2009 Stimulus bill was in the form of tax cuts, insisted on by Republicans (who then did not vote for the bill). This was, one thinks, the largest tax cut in history.

Consequently, Candidate Romney is saying:

1. I will cut taxes.
2. It will not work.
3. This is how I will fix the economy.

And this guy is neck and neck with the President?

The only conclusion I can draw is that people are willing to vote for a charlatan to make some obscure political point, either that or they are just plain stupid.


October 18, 2012

Preserving the Sanctity of Marriage

Filed under: History,Religion,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 2:31 pm
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One of the knocks on President Obama by conservatives is that he has chosen not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. They say he is not defending the sanctity of marriage. But, just what is the “sanctity of marriage?”

According to Wikipedia, “Marriage (also called matrimony or wedlock) is a social union or legal contract between people called spouses that creates kinship.” So far so good. Sanctity is a close synonym of “holiness.” Wikipedia chimes in again with “Some Christian authorities say that the New Testament regards marriage as instituted and ordained by God for the lifelong relationship between one man as husband and one woman as wife. Christian theology affirms the secular status of civil marriage, but additionally views it from a moral and religious perspective that transcends all social interests.”

So, marriage is “holy” . . . which means . . . what?

Some equate this to “whomsoever God has joined in marriage, let no man put asunder.” This, of course, excludes the Pope and other officials of various churches who have granted and even sold “special dispensations,” annulments, etc. and when those were insufficient, then the religion was replaced with one more conducive to the needs to the supplicant (think Henry VIII and the Church of England). So, that inyerpretation doesn’t quite hold water (holy or otherwise).

Okay, I will cut to the chase. I hate to break it to these folks, but marriage isn’t particularly holy. Common, ordinary, yes—holy, uh, no.

I know it disturbs creationists to think back more than 6000 years, but consider what life was like 10-12 thousand years ago. This was before there were cities. People lived in small villages or wandered about in smallish groups. We were “hunter-gatherers.” What was marriage like then, do you think? This was before God made himself known. (Okay, I know some of you think that God made himself known on Day 1, but there were people before Adam and Eve. The Bible clearly states that the sons of Adam and Eve went off to the land of Nod to find wives. Which means that we are descendent from Adam and Eve and the children of whatever God created those people nearby? The Bible acknowledges there were other Gods. Oh, dear, this is so confusing.)

“The social contract I want to see is that of becoming joined as parents.”

Back to my argument. When a young man and women wanted to start their own family long, long ago, whose permissions were needed? Anyone’s? Or did they just go off and snuggle in a bush? I suspect parents would probably chime in (they have ever since). What need was there of spiritual guidance? Did the stars need to be aligned? Was there a proper season (even without an estrous cycle)? Just when did the shamans and priests muscle in on this “social contract.” And that “muscling in” like all of the other “muscling ins” was another form of “you need me” from those shamans and priests. If one went without the shaman’s or priest’s blessing, terrible things would happen. But then terrible things happened all the time; I wonder how they could tell the difference? Ah, the shaman/priest would tell them! The same hijacking happened with coronations of kings. Kings were battle leaders chosen by the tribe. If many tribes were involved, maybe a king of kings was needed, but just for the battle. More recently, of course, kings couldn’t be chosen without approval from the local religious potentate. But those relates came up with the idea of the “divine rights of kings,” which allowed those “kinds” to lord it over us peons even when there was no battle in the offing, so they gave as well as they got.

Marriage is hardly sacred. And really marriage doesn’t need defending. People whine about the high rate of divorce. But what do the “divorced” do? They go get married again.

And people really make a fuss about getting married with licenses, blood tests, and ceremonies and whole industries involved (think “Bridezillas”), plus there are laws regarding your mutual and joint tax responsibilities, etc. but there are no contracts regarding the children. Unless there is some kind of criminal abuse, there is little force behind the laws regarding the responsibilities of parents to their children. Those agreements have to be enforced in civil court, by one spouse against the other.

I would like to do away with marriage as a social contract. I mean: who cares if you are “married”? The social contract I want to see is that of becoming joined as parents. I want to see oaths taken and contracts signed regarding how children of that union are to be raised, fed, clothed, educated, etc. I would like the force of the government behind those contracts.

Now that relationship approaches the sacred and requires some defense as at least one of the participants is defenseless (consult the French for where to start).

Electoral Dismay

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:20 pm
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I am admitting to more than a little dismay regarding the characteristics of the electorate. Interestingly enough I have little problem with those who are disengaged. A dear friend is just so. The disengaged see the political negativity, the venality, and very little difference between the two parties, so I understand their desire to keep such at arm’s length.

The feeling of dismay I have is associated with the quality of thinking behind those who are engaged enough to have chosen a presidential candidate already. One candidate has changed his mind about everything and often changes his mind back and then back again. He clearly represents the interests of rich people and proffers policy suggestions that benefit the rich and disinherit the poor, the elderly, and the infirm. His policy suggestions are often illogical and can’t be challenged by facts as the response will always be “my policy will work and it will help” or “my policy will do X” with no details regarding the mechanism (where God is).

The other candidate may be accused of some incompetence, but every legislative initiative he has taken has been filibustered which means it can be blocked by a 40% vote in just one of the two houses of Congress, which is abuse of the majority by the minority if I have ever heard of it. The last two Congresses have set records for filibusters. This candidate has gotten some things done, even though opposition to anything getting done is immense (the most recent Congress has set an all-time record for getting the least done). This candidate seems sincerely concerned with the poor and less advantaged and seems to want to help. He also seems concerned regarding civil rights, except when it comes to the Patriot Act (sic).

Yet, the race is near a dead heat.

How is it that so many ordinary Americans are “for” the rich guy who has boldly stated that he will reduce rich peoples taxes a great deal more than poor peoples’ or the middle class’s. His 20% “across the board” income tax reduction should pay the rich handsomely. The bottom 47% who pay no income tax because they do not make enough money? Let’s see a 20% discount of $0.00 is exactly $0.00. Twenty percent of the approximately $3 million dollars the candidate paid in taxes in 2010, would be a net gain of roughly $600,000. Oh, and he wants capital gains taxes done away with. Let’s see the poor and middle class pay roughly, uh, nothing in capital gains taxes. The candidate pays almost all of his taxes based on capital gains, so his tax rate stands to drop from the 11-14% of the last two years to approximately 0%, a saving for the candidate of roughly $3,000,000 a year. Oh, and the candidate doesn’t want to produce his tax records from previous years so that Americans can see how much he stands to gain personally from his own policies. (Nyah, nyah, nyah.)

And ordinary Americans are lining up saying, “Yeah, give me some of those policies. The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, that’s what this country is about!”

I can feel nothing but dismay.

October 12, 2012

Martha Radditz’s One Mistake

In a near stellar performance in the very limited role of debate moderator at last night’s vice-presidential debate Martha Radditz made just one big mistake. It came in the form of this question:

“Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process . . . will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive?”

The mistake is that Social Security is not “going broke” and it doesn’t contribute in anyway to our budget woes as it is accounted completely separately from all other tax revenues and expenditures. Just for your information:

Social Security took in more than it spent last year, added $95 billion to its surplus and lifted 20 million Americans of all ages out of poverty. At the end of 2011 it had a $2.7 trillion surplus (that’s 2700 billion dollars for all y’all not in Mitt Romney’s class). The Social Security surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits.

By the way, the GOP “truth machine” refers to this surplus as “IOUs” and “worthless paper.” Those IOUs and “worthless paper” are U.S. Treasury bonds. This is because the GOP voted to require the SS Administration to invest their excess funds in U.S. Treasuries. They think of them that way because they would just like to write those off and lower the national debt by $2.7 trillion, destroying millions of needy people in the process, of course, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

So why does everybody think that Social Security is going broke? This is a “meme” created by conservatives, especially Wall Street people and the conservative think tanks they help fund. Their fellow travelers at Fox News and their ilk repeat this over and over until it becomes “common knowledge.” The fact that it is false is irrelevant to them, though.

Now why would Wall Street folks want to privatize Social Security; they don’t need those retirement benefits? Could it be that if Social Security is privatized all of that money would flood into the stock market instead, making every security they own instantly much more valuable?

Gosh, could they be that venal?

This Court (of Public Opinion) Needs a Judge

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 12:08 pm
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In a recent post I recommended we follow the lead of our good neighbor Costa Rica and establish a fourth branch of government to run our elections, especially our debates. As good as Martha Raddatz was as moderator of the vice-presidential debate, there is still something lacking.

If you liken the debate to a courtroom proceeding, what we have is two lawyers going toe to toe. We are the jury but there is no one really at the helm. (Our debate moderators are more like the official of the court who keeps the calendar.) What I want is something akin to a British judge whose role it is to get at the truth. The two candidates are just trying to score electoral points and the truth suffers . . . mightily. These debates are often used to cloud issues rather than make them more clear.

Should not these debates inform voters about the issues and not just the candidates? Why are arguments permissible that have been judged inaccurate, incompetent, or both? Why are the “facts” really opinions when the real facts are available? Lawyers in court who try to make points that have been ruled another way get warned and then punished if they persist, by the Judge.

I know that Republicans will respond that they have a different set of facts (apparently including the Earth being less than 10,000 years old and that the small government recommended by the Founding Fathers includes inspecting womens’ vaginas), but do we not have the ability to tell fact from fiction? Are we that incompetent?

October 9, 2012

Social Security Solvency Bunkum and Fairness (A Black and White Analysis)

One of the “fixes” that has been proposed for Social Security is to raise the retirement age up to 70 from the current 65 to 67 years (depending on birth date). It is important to note that Social Security taxes are capped at about $110,000 in income and essentially constitute a flat tax (not progressive as are income taxes). Also, it is important to note that if you make money from stocks and bonds, that money is not taxed at all! Nor is it held against you when your benefits are calculated (as my pension is). This is another massive benefit the rich have bestowed upon themselves.

The so-called “Social Security problem” would essentially disappear if the cap were removed or if dividends were taxed. The “problem” is widely misunderstood, in that Social Security currently has a $2.6 trillion dollar surplus! This is the so-called Trust Fund. This is not just a pile of cash sitting somewhere (picture Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin) because the Congress passed a law requiring the Social Security Administration to buy Treasury Bonds with any surplus funds, so it owns 2.6 trillion dollars of our national debt. The Social Security system is not in any immediate danger and is not the cause of any federal budget deficit because its tax revenues and expenditures are kept separate from those in the federal budget. But the Baby Boomers started retiring in about 2006 and are expected to stress the ability of the system to pay out benefits down the road, so some action will be needed.

The usual response by conservatives is to cut benefits, directly or through raising the retirement age. They have always opposed Social Security and have scorned those who need it as inferior because they didn’t become wealthy enough to not need it. Realize that Social Security is currently estimated to keep roughly 40 percent of all Americans age 65 or older out of poverty and is the biggest cause of senior citizen solvency ever created.

Let’s seriously consider the proposal to raise the benefit age to 70.

Start with the consideration that the life expectancy for black men in 2008 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) was 70.8 years, 5.4 years below the 76.2 years for white men. Life expectancy for black women was 77.5 years, while the life span for white women was 81.2 years. So, if these were the actual figures, the average Black man would receive benefits for 0.8 years and the average White woman would receive benefits for 11.2 years.

This means that half of all Black men born today would not live long enough to collect a SS benefit! Realize also that that statistic is for Black men born today. The life expectancy of Black men born previously was much lower. In just 2003 it was 68.8 years and in 1990 it was 64.5 and in 1935 it was 51.1 years. People born in 1935 would be expected to retire in 2000 (when 65 years old) and would then be eligible to collect a SS benefit, but by then a large majority of the American Black men born in that year were dead.

Chris Rock jokes that Black men should get Social Security at age 50, but maybe he has a real point there. We have a system that doesn’t take into account that women live much longer than men and Whites much longer than Blacks. We all pay at the same rate (except the Mitt Romney’s of the world who have set the tax rules in their favor), but we don’t all receive at the same rate.

If we are going to reform the system, let’s reform it to make it more fair, not less.

October 8, 2012

Political Memes Die Hard (Kill the Liberal Press . . . Kill! . . . Kill!)

I heard the phrase “the liberal press” the other day and was struck by it, by its quaintness, by its anachronistic quality.

Many people do not realize that the idea of “the liberal press” was part of an orchestrated campaign to destroy the freedom of the press, guaranteed by the constitution, and replace it with what we have now, corporate media. Six corporations own basically all of the radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers. All of the news organizations have been transformed from “public service” status to “profit or perish” status. Consequently we now have biased infotainment instead of news.

You have probably heard of the now infamous “Powell Memo” that laid out the strategy to do away with the ”the liberal media,” amongst other things. (Powell was given a Supreme Court seat, partly in gratitude for his strategy.) Realize that there never was such a thing as “the liberal media/press.” If anything, the news media had a center-right balance point. Consider, as partial proof, the “newspaper moguls” of the past: Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, William Randolph Hearst of the Hearst publications empire, etc. They were all fire-breathing conservatives. I can’t recall a single liberal newspaper giant.

And if one is really, really conservative, then all of the media from the liberal edge of conservatism through liberal to the far left is all “liberal” to you. (The jokes ran “According to XYZ, Attila the Hun was a liberal.”) So, the meme of “the liberal press,” what we call today a “talking point” or “buzz word,” was launched to do its work. (A meme is the social equivalent of a biological gene, being self-replicating, etc.) So, bang the drum they did, and not slowly. Many are still banging it (attacking the press is still a Republican mainstay, even though they are attacking allies now). I guess they didn’t get the “the war is over” memo.

Ronald Reagan got into the act with the repeal of the “Fairness Act” which required publishers to present balanced viewpoints (the minority party response to a major presidential speech is a hangover from that era; it is no longer required), which lead the way to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News (“Fair and Balanced” is their motto, a big lie if there ever was one). The SEC was also taken over to grease the skids, as it were.

With the corporate takeover of the news, the only news we hear or see is that which serves corporate interests. For example, have you heard about how effective the economic sanctions against Iran producing nuclear weapons have been? No? They have been very, very successful. Hmm, I wonder who benefits from us not knowing that? The military-industrial complex, maybe? Or maybe the conservative anti-Obama crowd?

We didn’t lose our freedom of the press. It was taken from us in an orchestrated attack on the truly free press we used to have.

Things will not get better until we get it back.

October 7, 2012

Let’s Follow Costa Rica’s Lead

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:40 am
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After watching as much as I could stomach of the first presidential debate, I once again am amazed at how lackadaisical our process is. Questions get asked which are not answered or, worse, answers are given that are patently false and there is no follow up. Really, Governor Romney, to pay for a 5 trillion dollar tax cut, you intend to cut PBS? Really? That 0.42 billion dollars ought to make a real dent in the 5 trillion dollar problem your proposal creates!

Maybe we should follow the lead of tiny Costa Rica, which incidently based its government on ours. You know Costa Rica, the tiny Central American country with no army and no war and the highest literacy rate in the hemisphere? Yeah, them. Costa Rica had the sense to create a fourth branch of government. In addition to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches they have a branch of government whose responsibility is simply to conduct all of the elections. They are nonpartisan, make all of the rules, run the debates, etc.

Apparently they think elections are important enough to not have them run by the political parties themselves.

And we call them a banana republic! Maybe we should look a bit harder in the mirror.

October 5, 2012

Ryan Meet Rand, Rand, Ryan, Introductions Done

Filed under: Politics,Science,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 8:31 pm
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Ayn Rand wrote in “Philosophy: Who Needs It?” that “I am not a student of the theory of evolution and, therefore, I am neither its supporter nor its opponent.”

Basically she is saying, if you don’t understand something, you can’t have an opinion on it.


One of Ayn Rand’s acolytes is Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Mr. Ryan apparently has overlooked his guru’s advice as he has quite a few opinions on things he doesn’t understand.

I think we ought to require our elected representatives to explain each scientific or technical or medical or even legal concept before they can vote on it, so we can tell whether they have any idea of what they are talking about. It might require some of them to actually do some work and prepare for their main job, rather than their constant striving for political advancement.

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