Uncommon Sense

December 30, 2012

It’s Time for Labor Unions to Get Off Their Asses

Because I may ruffle some feathers I feel the need to establish my bona fides, as it were. I have been a union president, a union chief negotiator, and held other offices in two locals, and won an award for organizing, so I am not criticizing unions as an outsider. In fact I am not criticizing at all, but I will be offering strong advice.

I have written about the New Deal a number of times, but I haven’t mentioned how President Roosevelt managed to pay for all of the public service programs he created in the midst of a massive depression. He did it by taxing the rich and the corporations. (If you want to know where the 90+% top marginal income tax rate came from, look no further.) And more than a few Republicans went along with this. Why? Roosevelt used fear as a motivator. The fear was that with 25% unemployment, the labor unions, the Socialists (real ones, not like we have now, that is figments of Fox (sic) News imaginations), and Communists were going to revolt and demand a new way of doing business. The only way to hold off the barbarians at the gate, as it were, was to address their needs. So, in the middle of the depression, we got Social Security, we got unemployment compensation, we got government jobs (via the WPA, etc.), and unions got more say.

Everything was as we say, peachy-keen and then this happened:

Graph of percent change versus hourly compensation and pructivity showing that productivity has continued to climb since the 1940's in a regular way and wages kept up until the early 1970;s when they went flat.

This corresponded with a severe decline in the numbers of Union jobs. In the 1960’s, about a third of all jobs in the private sector were union jobs. Now, there are less than 7% of all jobs are union jobs. And what have the unions done? Well, they have hoped for more help from the Democrats but most recently even with Democratic control of both houses and a Democrat in the White House, unions couldn’t even get a bill passed that allowed them to get certified with a card election, which was the standard procedure in the past.

So, I have to ask: how’s that hopey, changey thing doing?

The big problem with government granted rights, is the government can take them away. And after the New Deal, the Captains of Industry and the Monied Interests began working to roll back all of those changes. Gone are the Socialist Party and Communist Party as viable organizations. (Yes, they had significant membership in the past.) Gone are the high marginal income tax rates for the wealthy. Gone are the higher corporate tax rates. Gone is labor union power. And what is currently under attack? Answer: Social Security and Medicare and unemployment compensation. And when they are done, we will be welcome to all of the crumbs from the table and the New Deal will live on only in memory.

And the labor response? Wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ and not much else. Currently management uses threats to unions of plant closings, outsourcing of jobs, etc. to extract wage and benefit concessions and our unions, fearful of their loss of power and, yes, fearful for the welfare of their members, cave in. They aren’t alone, businesses bully state and local governments for tax concessions to “keep them where they are” or to “entice them to come into their communities.” They don’t have to bully the federal government, they’ve bought all of the legislators off.

The Captains of Industry and the Monied Interests created think tanks (in the 1970’s, look at the graph again) and developed a plan and then worked the plan (look up the Powell memo if you haven’t heard of it; the “conservatives” liked it so much it was worth a seat on the Supreme Court for Powell). The unions? No plan, just wishin’ and hopin’.

It is time to realize that we have a bad hand and we are playing with a short deck. In order to be successful, either the rules have to change (that ain’t happening, at least not in our favor) or we need to change the game.

What to Do, What To Do?
Simply put, leverage can be had by going into competition with said businesses. American workers are the most productive in the world. If Company X wants to take their jobs to China, how should a union respond? It has all the workers. It has capital in the form of a strike fund, which can be leveraged to finance a business, it could buy up the abandoned assets of said company and run that enterprise, all the while pointing out that the former company took their jobs to China and your company is making not just Union-made but American-made products (with lower shipping costs, too).

Frankly I don’t think most unions are competent to run business in the American model and to do so would be just trading one “Man” for another . . . as “the Man.” But, what if the new business were run as a co-operative/joint venture by the workers? The union plays the role of capitalist, that is it provides the money or leverages a loan from a bank (it would be nice for the union to own a bank, but that isn’t required). The workers would own the company and run it. Certainly, the costs of executive compensation would drop substantially, as would siphoning money off to pay to pay shareholders. Fewer managers would be needed and workers would have to take a much, much broader interest in the company than in just “punching a clock.”

The competitive advantages are immense: highly productive workers, American-made products, low shipping costs, lower management costs, etc. The cost of labor might be higher, I won’t say “will be” because if you hire a worker half as productive for half the wage there are no labor savings. Our labor costs more but is more productive. (Germany has even higher labor costs and somewhat lower productivity, yet is the #2 exporter of manufactured goods in the world (behind China)! manufacturing is not dead!) And think about what will happen to productivity when everybody has their mind in the game!

This is not magic, this is a fracking co-op! We have done these since Revolutionary times. We are good at it and with guidance and some education we can get better.

And imagine the leverage the union will have at the bargaining table for its ordinary business if Company Y threatens to take its jobs to Mexico. The union, after full consideration, might just look at the situation and ask “Will you be selling the plant? We can use it.”

Napoleon Hill had a precept that went something like “do each job with the intent of making that job obsolete.” Putting yourself out of business sounds scary, but it is a way to the future. The union business as it is currently framed is nonfunctional. But there is a role for a group who is willing to lead labor to a new future and there will be a role in that future for labor unions. There is more training of workers needed, business, advice, counseling, financing, etc.

It is change or die time. What do you want to do?

December 29, 2012

Religious Reset

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 2:29 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I have recently written a couple of posts about religious relics being put on display here in Chicago and so I have been musing about religion in general and Christianity in specific.

I also saw a very good presentation by Sam Harris (I adore Sam Harris.) in which one of his main points was that religion basically deals with death and consoling people when loved one’s die.

The main appeal of Christianity is its promise of everlasting life, which consoles Christians when they lose a loved family member or spouse or child. This in itself is just a delusion and should only harm those with the delusion, but that is only half of what is promised by Christianity. Christians believe that all people will live forever. That’s right; there is life after death and we all get one. Unfortunately, only a tiny number of folks, those who will be “saved,” get a nice afterlife. The vast majority of people on this planet including you and me will roast in Hell unfortunately, even those who were born and died before Jesus came along. Even those who were born and died before the Hebrew Bible was written, ca. 1 BCE. Even the batshit crazy creationists believe the earth is over 6000 years old, that means people were around for 4000 years before the Bible got written and 4000 years or so before Jesus made his promises. I expect we are talking many millions of people lived and died and then were sent to Hell on a technicality. Those fools were not saved as they didn’t accept Jesus in their hearts as their savior. You can almost smell the fat sizzling if it weren’t for the reek of sulfurous fumes.

“Christians believe that all people will live forever.
That’s right; there is life after death and we all get one.”

Christianity is not a nice religion. Studies show that the primary indicator of what religion a person espouses is the religion of their parents. That is we have little choice. All of those Christians are baptizing their kids before the kids can talk, let alone know what is happening.

Condemning 90+% of all people to eternal torment is terrorism. I have talked to a number of people who spent their childhoods in recurring fear because their grandparents or their friends were in the wrong religion and were going to roast in Hell. So, not only is this doctrine terrorism, it is child abuse.

Many people now say Christianity is nicer now and that as time goes on it becomes more gentle. If that is so, it is only because Christians are ignoring the Bible, which is considered by many to be the word of their God, so I can’t give much credit to people saying that a religion is much better now that they are ignoring its teachings.

I think everyone ought to be given a religious reset opportunity, kindo of a forced confirmation/opt out opportunity. It could be a sort of coming of age ceremony. We could get George Clooney to do the service. It would be short, George would merely ask : “Are you in or are you out?”

Why Are We Still Making War in Afghanistan?

Do you know? I don’t.

Is it because Al-Qaeda is still there? I don’t think so.

Is it because the current regime will collapse if we leave? If so, so what? Why is it particularly worth saving? It has minimal support from Afghanis.

Are we doing it because people are getting very wealthy selling arms? Well, that does explain Republican support for the war.

Are we doing it to make sure Muslins hate us forever and ever? If so, it is working.

What our true motives are I can’t fathom, but it is clear what direction we are taking. With a long term commitment to stay in Afghanistan and the “War on Terror,” we have made our president the permanent Commander in Chief and made the entire world, including U.S. territory, a battlefield. (And on a battlefield there is very little, or no, law.)

People are shocked to find out many believe that, absent a war, the President is not the Commander in Chief. The Constitution states: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; . . . (italics are mine)” At the time of the Constitution’s writing, the country had no plan for a permanent army and an army was to be assembled only in time of war. In essence when we needed our military to fight we put together an army and civilians were in charge. At other times, the military commanded itself.

So, with perpetual global war (when could a victory over global terrorism be declared do you think), the President has war powers. The so-called “Patriot Act” expands those powers to include things that shock older Americans (warrantless searches, indefinite detentions, legal assassinations of Americans with no due process, stripping Americans of citizenship, etc. (I wonder if the “Patriot Act” were more accurately titled, something like “The Surrender of Civil Liberties Act,” whether it would have any support at all.) President Obama is using drones to kill “militants” in Pakistan, Somalia, and who knows how many other places. Some people feel reassured by that but I am not. I know that they have redefined a “militant” to be any male of fighting age killed by our forces. So, if a bread salesman with three kids, gets in the way of a Sidewinder missile, he becomes a “militant” and is not considered a civilian causality. And “militants,” well, they deserve what they get.

Thanks to WikiLeaks we are now privy to the documented numbers of civilians killed in Iraq (assuredly less than the actual numbers) and they number in the hundreds of thousands. We are adding to that toll today. Gosh, why do they hate us so, all we stand for is freedom (and mass “collateral damage”).

In a bit of magical thinking, the Bush administration answered the question: “Why do they hate us so?” with “They hate us for our freedoms.” And we swallowed this tripe? For generations America was loved for our freedoms. People wanted desperately to come live here, to be free. People were sneaking into the country illegally. Students who came here to get an education applied in droves to stay here, but now “they hate us for our freedoms.” WTF?

They hate us because we support despots as rulers and we support Israel unconditionally, even when they are warmongering and committing atrocities. We feel entitled to go into other countries and change their form of government. (Hello, Iran of 1953, meet your new Shah! Let the torture begin!) We kill civilians in the hundreds of thousands and then say “but they were militants.” Tell that to the bread seller’s kids.

I say get out of Afghanistan . . . now. There is no real reason to be there.

I say repeal the Patriot Act . . . now. If any of its provisions are truly needed, let them be legislated one by one and not as a giant wad shoved down our throats when we were frightened. And if any of those provisions affect any of our Constitutional restrictions on government, then I say put them to a plebiscite.

Regarding the “War on Terror” . . . declare it over, not “won,” just over. In the future we will fight terrorism on a non-war footing, as a normal activity as we were doing before.

Stop the madness before we become so used to it, it becomes normal.

Religious Relics

After yesterday’s post, I have been giving more thought to what the words “religious relic” mean. In the past I have contended that one salve for our fiscal woes is to legalize some recreational drugs. The taxes on those sales would flood the federal and state coffers with new revenues and ease the pressure on the middle class paying taxes to support rich people. In addition, we could release half of the people from our prisons in that they are there for the grave sin of selling such drugs. This would also reduce the pressures on our criminal justice system and reduce quite a few of its costs.

But Americans aren’t ready to take that leap just yet. Close, but no banana.

But there is a way to “enhance tax revenues” without doing anything at all sinful and that is to tax the profit-making activities of churches. The amount of tax revenue, if the tax rates were set at the same levels as are ordinary enterprises, is immense. Now, please note I am not advocating a change in the First Amendment to the Constitution (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; . . .). If there is any religious purpose to the activities on church property, under current law it is exempt from taxation (and many labor laws, and . . . ) due to this provision and I am not talking about changing that status here, but what many people do not realize is that churches in the U.S. run many profit making enterprises that have no religious function whatsoever; they just pour monies into the church’s coffers. This is not a good deal for the churches, it is a great deal. (Ask any business man if they would like to be free from taxes and you won’t have to wait long for an answer.)

For example, one of the major landholders in New York City is the Catholic Church. Prime real estate in the form of office buildings and residential buildings are wholly owned by said church and rents and fees are collected but no taxes are paid. Those buildings have no religious function whatsoever, but because a church owns them, they pay no taxes on their profits.

If you think this is surely a small quantity of commercial activity, think again. If property taxes alone are considered, there are hundreds of billions of dollars in untaxed church property in the United States. The tax exemption on that land is the same as a gift of money to the churches at the expense of tax payers meaning that all citizens are forced to indirectly support churches (and synagogues and . . . gasp . . . mosques). Again, I am not talking about taxes on property where there are churches or seminaries, or retreats (or synagogues, or mosques), I talking about secular, for profit enterprises that have no religious activities associated with them.

Italy, you know, the home state of the Roman Catholic Church, has decided that these taxes are legitimate. We could, too.

The tax-exempt status of churches is a religious relic we can do without. And I certify its authenticity.

December 28, 2012

How Gullible Do They Think We Are?

Filed under: History,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:24 am
Tags: , , ,

There is a considerable faction in the scholarly community that believe that Jesus is an invented character, a character designed to carry a message in “wisdom literature.” For other examples, consider the Greek gods, the Roman gods, any god literature you don’t believe is true. For most believers, though, Jesus is considered to be real.  A local church is providing evidence for that reality. According to the today’s Chicago Tribune:

On Sunday, Holy Family Church — which survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and near-demolition more than a century later — will formally unveil three relics that the church says are more than 2,000 years old. A neighboring church donated the Vatican-approved artifacts, which are said to be crumb-size fragments from the manger where Jesus Christ was born, the cloak of St. Joseph and the veil of the Virgin Mary.”


Now, let’s put this in context. Let’s say you notice on eBay that a pair of jeans owned and worn by your grandmother are for sale. Amazing. How would someone prove that these were indeed your grandmother’s jeans? They could have been given to a friend or donated to charity and someone could have acquired them that way. But why would they save them? Why would the new owner preserve them? Then consider that there is a hefty market in fake jeans supposedly owned or worn by your grandmother. Then consider that this all happened 2000 years ago . . . when there was scant physical documentation of anything and everything tended to be communicated by word of mouth. Huh.

Even according to the Bible, Mary and Joseph were dead before the gospels were written. Presumably they would have continued to wear their clothes after Jesus’s crucifixion as nobody would have suggested that they preserve perfectly useable clothes. Jesus was not declared a god until centuries later, so Mary could not be the Mother of God until then. And why would anybody break off a piece of a manger (a device to feed animals), simply because a baby was supposedly placed in it for a couple of days? Why weren’t the clothes of the saintly James the Just, the “Brother of God,” preserved? He was more venerated at the time than Joseph or Mary. Could it be because the Church doesn’t want James’s message reinforced that no relics of his have been “found?”

I’d say that, given the vested interests of the certifying agency, that these “relics” have about 0% chance of being authentic. The Catholic Church has certified all kinds of things including the Shroud of Turin, which isn’t even old enough to have been a burial shroud 2000 years ago.

The real interests are exposed in the following quote from the same article:

The fragments ‘help us remember that these were real people,’ Boland said. ‘They really lived. They influenced their culture and their society, and they made a contribution that we’re still benefiting from many, many years later.’”

The true motivation is that if Jesus weren’t a real person, if he instead were an invention of clerics to tell a tale, his “message” would be blown completely out of the water. And all of the scams perpetrated delivering that message would dry up: no more tithes, no more offering plates, no more political clout, etc.

And we give these charlatans huge tax deferments, even on their profit making enterprises. Not even Italy is continuing to do that any more.

“Hurry, hurry, this way to the Giant Egress.” (A sign and call by P.T. Barnum to get people out of his tent to make room for more paying customers.)

December 26, 2012

The War on Christmas, Let’s Open a New Front

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:27 am
Tags: , , ,

I am a bit exasperated by two things this holiday season: the Christians who insist we need to get Christ back into Christmas aka “The War on Christmas” and its ilk and the blog posts about what do Atheists do during the “Holy Days.”

It should be abundantly clear by now that Christmas is a hodgepodge of winter solstice celebrations that Christianity highjacked. Their claims are that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus but they have no idea when he was born (+/– several years) and can’t even prove that Jesus was a real person. They cannot justify the celebratory tree (Oh, Jesus love to walk in the coniferous woods near his home in Galilee! That’s why we celebrate with a Christmas tree. Right.). They cannot justify the gift giving, the Santa Claus myth, etc.

People continue to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday because it is a secular holiday! It is not a Holy Day, but a holiday as the word has come to be known, a day set aside for celebration. The celebration is for the simple fact that the number of sunlit hours in a single day has hit bottom and will now grow until we get back to Spring and Summer. When this celebration was begun, people lived closer to the land and were living year to year and there was no promise that the seasons would continue to cycle like they did. They knew winters could last and last and their hope was that this one did not, because they could starve before new food supplies could be had. So the celebrated the turning point in the season in the hope that Spring would come as it had in the past.

I think it takes a great deal of chutzpah to highjack a festival and then complain that people are not doing what you want them to do rather that what they want to. In the English tradition, Christmas was actually banned by “the Church” for a while because the lower classes, don’t you know, were sniff, sniff, getting riotously drunk. To that idea, I lift my cup of eggnog!

If they want to invent a war on Christmas, I say “Bring it on!” My slogans will be “Get Christ the Hell Out of Christmas!” and “Hands Off Our Winter Solstice Celebration!”

Secularists of the World, Unite! And a Merry Christmas to all of you who put up with my rantings. I wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

December 24, 2012

Republicans Not So Delusional

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:30 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Republican disbelief that President Obama won re-election, handily so, has taken the form of claims that “Obama stole the election,” “Pollsters were trying to rig the election,” “Obama won because of Acorn,” and “Obama won because of voter suppression.”

The reaction to these comments is to “pity the fools, they are just so delusional.”

This is the wrong reaction. These comments are not crazy. They are educational.

The comments clearly indicate that Republicans think that these things work. We tend to think them ridiculous because we would never do such things. But Republicans not only can conceive of doing such things, but they have done all of them and have been doing all of them for many election cycles.

Voter suppression, check. Trying to rig elections, check. (See 2000, 2004 elections for clear evidence that Republicans steal elections.) Republicans even got Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter signed, sealed, and delivered by working with Iranians to not release their American hostages, promising them a better deal than the Democrats would give. The hostages got released when Reagan was swearing his oath of office.

Republicans killed the Acorn organization because they registered poor people to vote, which Republicans considered a way to rig elections. The fact that Acorn was doing it legitimately was irrelevant because they surely must also have had an underground part of the organization doing the dirty work needed.

They can think of all these things because they are doing them.

Listen more carefully to these claims as they are exposing their playbook.

It Is Time for an Insurrection

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:12 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

I have commented before that the only reason that citizens might want to own military style weapons with large ammo clips is for recreation or, well, there are those who want to be able to combat the government when, not if, the black helicopters “come for us,” and they feel the need to be equivalently armed with our military forces.

If you put the “recreational use” on one side of the political balance and wholesale slaughters like occurred most recently at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, there is no contest as to where the public interest lies. So, the only argument that carries any weight is the one in which our proto-insurrectionist neighbors need to arm themselves against the government. This group is quite small and while their delusions have been fanned into a white hot passion by the likes of Fox (sic) News, their interests are very, very small, compared to the large majority of Americans who would rather our neighbors not be armed to the teeth.

The problem is that the leadership of the National Rifle Association and its cadre of lobbyists has been captured by this lunatic fringe of the NRA. They exert enough political clout and money to prevent any progress on these issues from happening.

“I call upon all of the reasonable members of the NRA to oust their leadership and replace them with reasonable people,
people who return the NRA to its traditional role of supporting gun safety and promoting gun sports.”

So, it is time for an insurrection, but the insurrection needed is by ordinary, level-headed, reasonable rank and file members of the NRA. I call upon all of the reasonable members of the NRA to oust their leadership and replace them with reasonable people, people who will return the NRA to its traditional role of supporting gun safety and promoting gun sports and away from it’s current “we need to defend ourselves from the government” idiocy. If this proves politically inexpedient, I call upon all NRA members in favor of gun sanity to resign their memberships. If sufficient people do so, the leadership will fall naturally and when the NRA leadership recovers its bearings, you can rejoin. As it is now, supporting the NRA is not responsible.

Rebel against your leadership now and take your thumb off of the political scale in favor of gun violence. Restore some balance. If the “Fear the Government” crowd objects, I am sure they can splinter off and form their own organization. I hear that Ted Nugent would be more than willing to be their first president.

December 22, 2012

NRA Recommends Yet Another Government Power Expansion

The National Rifle Association through its spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, tried to deflect attention from the Sandy Hook Massacre and the fact that gun deaths will soon exceed highway fatalities in this county by stating that to them, the only obvious solution to guns being used in the schools is to have armed security guards at those schools.

Once again, the tax and spend conservatives see the only way out of their problem is by the government hiring on tens of thousands of new employees. LaPierre did not say what offsets to governmental spending would be used to pay for this unprecedented expansion of government power.

“Once again, the tax and spend conservatives see the only way out of their problem
is by the government hiring on tens of thousands of new employees.

In a post speech follow-up LaPierre indicated that it shouldn’t cost all that much as “urban” youths could be used as security guards because they are already proficient with weapons, possess their own weapons, don’t mind shooting people at all, and should be willing to work for minimum wage.

December 19, 2012

A Long, Long Line

There has been a long, long line of people standing in the path of knowledge and understanding, with a hand up yelling “Stop!” One doesn’t have to try too hard to come up with examples: the Catholic Church’s “Index Librorum Prohibitorum,” a list of books that Catholics were not allowed to read and which has included numerous scientific books (although they never saw fit to ban “Mein Kampf”), the trial of Galileo in which he had to recant what his lying eyes told him, Leonardo da Vinci skulking around in graveyards at night to find corpses to dissect to inform his art because the church had banned that knowledge, smallpox vaccinations being opposed by many divines as obstructions to the will of their god, Copernicus’s book stop being banned, and so forth.

And the long line hasn’t ended. The latest efforts involve Republicans who don’t like the overwhelming evidence of global atmospheric warming to the extent that a new law in North Carolina bans the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise. One recalls the story of the Cnut, tenth century king of Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden, who set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes. I suspect the Republicans of North Carolina will be no more successful than was poor Cnut.

Republicans also do not like The Theory of Evolution, so in the red, red states, state support for teaching creationism, oops—I mean Intelligent Design, is growing. There will be jobs in those states for their children, I am sure, just not any requiring factual knowledge that conflicts with revealed truth. (Repeat after me: “Do you want fries with that?)

There is a reason we all teach our children to “look both ways before crossing the street;” it is dangerous to stand in the middle of the road when you have no real business there. What has happened to the church’s opposition to fact? The Catholic Church opposed the idea that the earth revolves around the Sun. When you tell kids today that that happened, they respond “Really?” in disbelief. In every effort to impede the flow of knowledge and science, the religious have lost and in so doing have lost credibility and credibility is hard to regain. When you are in the business of telling people what to believe, basically telling people what is true, and you are found to be wrong, I don’t think a simple “Never mind!” will do. (I still miss Gilda Radner.)

Currently the Catholic Church claims that there is no conflict between the Church and science. Possibly the Republicans could learn this lesson, too, but I doubt it. They can’t hear any factual arguments over the really loud song lyrics playing in their heads . . . “Give me that old time religion, give me that . . . ”

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.