Uncommon Sense

May 31, 2013

It’s The Effing Corporations (Business as Usual is Killing this Country)

There needs to be a healthy debate about corporations because business as usual is killing this country.

First I want to set aside the idea of “small business.” The tax definition is simply a business which has a small number of owners, so the Koch brothers own small businesses. It is a completely useless definition. Let me also set aside all “little” business that are owned and operated by the same folks. I am a part of several of these. These businesses are run by the same people who own them and generally aren’t incorporated, but might be.

What I am talking about are larger corporations with hired gun CEO’s and Boards of Trustees. Here’s the problem: these corporations are run based on totally fallacious “business models” that are ruinous to this country. Here’s why I say this.

Public owned corporations, those with stock “shareholders,” are completely distorted by the stock market. Their management teams operate in such a manner that they show a small amount of growth in profits every quarter of every year. Slack periods aren’t wanted, nor are bumper years wanted. Just slow steady growth of profits. There is, of course, no real value in slow steady growth. The reason this is so is the stock market. Stock market analysts create predictions as to how much growth each of these companies will have for any year. The stupid thing is that if the company meets those expectations they are rewarded by people buying their stock, driving up its price. Since the officers usually are given generous stock options, they aren’t exactly innocent bystanders, plus most companies hold some of their own stock, and it is a good thing when it becomes more valuable.

But if, the fates forbid, the company fails to meet the analyst’s expectations people sell the stock and the price falls! I can’t think of any other situation where this sort of thing happens. If the weatherman predicts rain and it doesn’t, what do you assume? The weatherman made a mistake, no? If a sports commentator has a prediction of which horse will win a race or which team will win a ball game and he is wrong, what do you assume? The sports commentator made a mistake, no? If a radio talk show guy says that a particular singer is the “next big star” and she wasn’t, what do you assume? The talk show guy made a mistake, no?

How is it that Wall Street analyst are so effing good that people buy and sell their stocks based on how well a company did compared to their predictions rather than assume the analysts made a mistake? The answer is that they aren’t all that effing good and their public records show this. Those analysts get their data from … anybody know? Yep, the companies themselves, through public filings and such, but those companies know how the game is played and they regularly “massage” the data so that it appears as they want it to. Thus a faulty predicting ability, based on data massaged to be somewhat unreal, results in perfect predictions? WTF?

Plus, the completely synthetic rules of this game are designed for abuse. The CEO’s pay is tied to the stock price, so what is important to the CEO? Yep, you got it in one. So, if it is necessary to fire a bunch of people he felt were necessary to be hired six months ago, to “lower costs” and “raise profits” to meet this quarter’s Wall Street expectations, then that is what is done.

Most of these CEO’s don’t actually run anything. The actual performance of the company is due to underlings efforts. The CEO’s job is to manage the stock price by hook or crook. The amazing thing is that the “owners” don’t give a rat’s ass and accept this as the status quo. Even though this behavior doesn’t correlate with the long term health of the company, it’s all good to the shareholders.

One of the most profitable ways to bolster a company’s profits (showing a whopping 26:1 return on investment) is to bribe our politicians to create special tax breaks for their companies. And if we need to cut Social Security and Medicare to pay for it, so be it. Corporate taxes as a fraction of federal receipts have been shrinking for years.


We need to ask ourselves if the fantasy we learned in school about the value of corporations is really playing out like we thought, because by shipping jobs overseas, shirking paying their taxes, and playing the Wall Street Mambo for profit they are ruining this country.

May 30, 2013

Here Is How to Fix the Filibuster Rule

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 6:13 am
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I understand the allure of the Filibuster Rule; it constitutes a protection from what is called the “tyranny of the majority,” in effect, when one of the two parties in our two-party system has a temporary majority in Congress (history shows us all majorities are temporary), they are then able to push through legislation that is hurtful to the minority. And when it is was used sparingly, typically only on landmark legislation, it served that role. But here’s the thing, how can a rule be described as protecting the rights of a minority party when that party has a majority in the other house of Congress? Does not having control of one whole house of Congress constitute enough protection for that party’s rights?

“Does not having control of one whole house of Congress
constitute enough protection for that party’s rights?

 Currently Senate Rules allow for a change from a 50+% vote to enact legislation (or even to call for a vote) to a 60+% vote at any time for any reason by any senator. (A presidential veto can change the rules even more, requiring a 67% majority in both houses to over ride a veto.) But these rules have allowed one party to change divided government into one party control of Congress. By filibustering everything in sight, the Republican Party has a majority in the House and an effective majority of only 40+% in the Senate, resulting in nothing getting through Congress of which it does not fully approve. When the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, the Filibuster Rule, used willy-nilly, gave Republicans effective control of the Senate. So, the Filibuster Rule gives us divided government when we have majority government and majority government when we have divided government.

To fix this problem, the Filibuster Rule in the Senate should only apply when one party controls both houses of Congress and it should only apply to the minority party.

It is tempting to say it should apply only apply when one party controls both houses of Congress and the White House, but that wouldn’t respect the separation of powers in the Constitution. This way, there would be true protection of minority rights and we would avoid what we have now, which effectively constitutes a “tyranny of the minority.”


May 25, 2013

Faux Outrage Machine

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:01 am
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As reported by By Lindsay Wise of McClatchy Newspapers, a little known group of federal employees will be receiving bonuses while other federal employees will be furloughed because of the Sequester!

According to a report that a Senate subcommittee issued Friday . . . members of the government’s highly paid Senior Executive Service – who make up less than 1 percent of the federal workforce – had received more than $340 million in bonuses from 2008 through 2011. The bonuses came on top of annual salaries that ranged from $119,000 to $179,000.

“Created by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the Senior Executive Service is made up of leaders who serve in key positions just below top presidential appointees, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management website. They oversee the day-to-day activities of about 75 federal agencies.

The agencies that spent the most money on Senior Executive Service bonuses were the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which paid more than $16,000 per employee; the National Science Foundation, which paid more than $14,000 per employee; the Department of the Navy, which paid $13,000 per employee; the Department of Health and Human Services, which also paid $13,000 per employee; and the Department of Commerce, which paid more than $12,000 per employee.

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri has introduced a bill that will kill these bonuses while the Sequester is in effect!


Executives just below top presidential appointees make $120-180k. This is highly paid? And were going to get bonuses of up to $16,000! Wow.

This is chump change folks! How about the effing Wall Street bankers, who dropped the world’s economy to its knees and then took $1,000,000+ bonus. That is something to be outraged about!

I worked at a community college as a professor. My highest salary over a 40 year career was just over $70,000. The president of that college made about $125,000 if I remember right. Now she was not the highest paid executive in that school district as there were chancellors and vice-chancellors in the hierarchy above her. And, these federal executives, with the responsibility of running an entire federal agency (you know, the people who actually know what they are doing), are making money comparable . . . to a community college president (one of 106 in California).

What a bunch of blood suckers! Not!

Get some perspective for Pete’s sake!

Misguided Education Reform

Much as our political system is being reshaped by mountains of conservative money, a similar effort is being made to reshape American Public Education along the same lines: anti-union, anti-teacher, authoritarian, etc.

A brilliant article by Nicholas Lehmann in the New Republic spotlights the poster child for this movement, Michele Rhee (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113096/how-michelle-rhee-misled-education-reform).

Mr. Lehmann points out that the schools that cater to the rich backers of Ms. Rhee, the ones the children of these rich masters of the universe attend, do not offer anything like what Ms. Rhee advocates. There is no high stakes testing, teachers are not paid based upon student performance and anti-unionism isn’t rampant. There is, instead, the very best of what American education has been all along.

So, this is class warfare at it’s highest levels. They get the best, the drones (the rest of us) get what we need for us to take our pre-destined place in society. Night, night, American Dream.

Well, done, Mr. Lehmann!

Is it any wonder so many of us advocate taxing the rich. Just as we wouldn’t let  a child play with fire or firearms because they could hurt themselves or others, we can’t afford what these people want to do with their “play money.” Take it away until they prove more responsible.

May 23, 2013

What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 12:31 pm
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Those of us old enough to remember watching the Watergate Hearings on television remember that phrase (because it was used over and over again). This is part of a legal and political game of “who knew what when” that can be applied to determining whether someone had a motive for their actions. If a jealous husband shoots the wife’s lover before he knew of her infidelity, that motive wouldn’t hold up in court, for example.

Currently Republicans are trying to fan the flames of the current IRS problems into a full-blown scandal. House Speaker John Boehner has stated that since “now it appears they’ve (the White House) known about it for about a year . . . it’s pretty inconceivable to me that the President wouldn’t know.”

In other words, since the President must have known about it for a long time . . . and said nothing . . . then it is a cover-up!

There are only a few problems with this. The White House has admitted to hearing of the problem . . . last month . . . not last year and there is no evidence they knew of it as anything but an internal IRS matter any earlier.

But, the IRS Inspector General informed Darrell Issa and Jim Jordan (of the House Oversight Committee) of the inquiry last July. So, if we were to use the Speaker’s logic, since a House committee knew of it since last July, the Speaker must also have known about it . . . and since he said nothing . . . the Speaker of the House was covering up this scandal!

The scandal, though, is not about this. The scandal is about how a statute that says that institutions which exclusively do social welfare work can get 501(c)(4) tax status could be interpreted by the IRS as “institutions that primarily do social welfare work.” And that happened in 1959 when Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, was president. The consequence of this “interpretation” is that currently institutions do not even need to apply for this status, they just have to act as if they were one and everything is okay. Having gone through the mandatory paperwork (plus fees, lawyers, etc.) to get a 501(c)(3) organization off of the ground, this is ludicrous, especially when the “4s” were not supposed to be politicking with their funds and many of them were doing nothing but. (Here’s an excerpt from the enabling law’s language (. . . exclusively for the promotion of “social welfare,” such as civics and civics issues, or local associations of employees with membership limited to a designated company or people in a particular municipality or neighborhood, and with net earnings devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.). Note the use of the word exclusively.

I don’t care whether such organizations are conservative, liberal, or comprised only of angels, I do not want any purely or primarily political agency getting tax free status, nor should their donors be anonymous, as they are now.

Creationists at a Crossroads

If you haven’t read John Zande’s brilliant post on the turmoil in the Christian world over the biblical scholars finally blowing the lid off of the Big Biblical Secret (Psst, the first five books of the Bible are fiction! . . . pass it on.), I highly recommend it to you (Well, This Is a Little Embarrassing, Isn’t It?).

Now creationists, people who believe that the universe was brought into being by magic, either 6000 years ago or maybe 14 billion years ago, are in a bit of a bind. Creationists argue against the findings in cosmology, physics, geology, space sciences, and biology because they prefer to believe that the story of the creation of the universe as told in Genesis of the Bible is literally true.

Well, biblical scholars have finally pointed out what they have known for over a century, that there is not one shred of evidence that the first five books of the Bible are historical and there is a great deal of historical evidence that points to their being fiction.

So, creationists, who were blocked from getting their “scientific doctrine” into school textbooks in this country as a violation of our separation of church and state doctrine and who then reclothed their doctrine as the “Intelligent Design Theory,” therefore have a bit of a problem. They are arguing that they are right and the biblical scholars, whose job it is to know about these things are wrong.

What do you want to bet that this is exactly what they will do? After all, they have had a considerable amount of practice telling biologists, Darwinists, chemists, physicists, astronomers, geologists, archeologists, cosmologists, evolutionists, etc. they are all wrong. How hard could it be to add a majority of biblical scholars to the list?

May 19, 2013

“You Want a Christian Nation? You Can’t Handle a Christian Nation!”

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:05 am
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I rarely reblog pieces but Robert Nielsen from Ireland has painted a portrait of what having a Christian religion mixed into a nation’s politics brings. Please read this.

Legacy of the Catholic Church 

May 17, 2013

China is the New Texas

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:05 pm
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In April a 7.0 earthquake in Sichuan Provence in central China killed over 100 people. This earthquake was small potatoes compared to the 2008 earthquake about 100 miles away on the same fault line that killed something like 80,000 people.

Seems like the people there can’t get a break.

Oh, but the Chinese government is planning a new plant for the region. Jobs and security are coming. PetroChina started building plant with a 200,000 barrel per day petroleum refining capacity and 800,000 ton per year ethylene output in Pengzhou city . . . right on the very same fault line.

Protestors of this decision have been repressed by the secret police. And, in case you weren’t aware: petroleum distillates, petroleum, and ethylene are all highly flammable. Should be able to see it burn from space.

The West, Texas Debacle Followup

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:54 am
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I wrote rather scathingly about the laissez-faire attitude regarding safety and zoning regulations surrounding the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. In response one commenter said that my tone labeled me as being bigoted. Maybe that is true, but I can’t help but believe that Texans want it the way it is in Texas, and I find that unconscionable.

In most states zoning laws prohibit the close proximity of dangerous businesses from schools, hospitals, day care centers, and elder care facilities and the like. Not so in Texas. In Texas, people are free! Free to do really stupid things that innocent people end up paying for.

The anti-regulation fever is intense in Texas and “bad regulations” are those any local business doesn’t like. Black and white labeling of regulations is stupid. Child labor laws are regulations. Mandatory schooling laws are regulations. Food safety laws are regulations. Why do these things exist in the first place? Prior to the turn of the Twentieth Century, all of these things were handled locally. Why do we now have global regulations of the federal sort, hmm? Any ideas?

Do you know that during Prohibition (now there was a bad regulation) that bootleggers (thank you Ken Burns for explaining that term) would mix in a little wood alcohol (methanol) when they didn’t have enough grain alcohol (ethanol) to make a batch of faux booze, completely ignoring the fact that as little as three eights of an ounce of methanol ingested can make you blind (and I am not talking blind drunk, I am talking can’t see a damned thing blind).

Adulterating food and drink to make a profit was something not unknown by a great many businessmen. There are literally thousands of examples of businessmen doing flat out stupid, dangerous things to make a profit, with the damage being done to customers, not themselves.

Now, the laissez-faire folks will say that “the market” will correct those things. A store known to sell adulterated products will soon lose all of its business. How many dead children (yours?) will it take to show that this medicine or that food was toxic? I mean we are talking about people putting arsenic in their pickles because it gave them better color! And I think stupid businessmen proliferate at a much faster pace than they could be weeded out by trial and error. Also, what if you only have one store?

Some regulations are good, some are bad, the trick is to determine which is which and fix the bad. You can’t do that with an “all government regulation is bad” attitude, especially when your local businessguy (remember him?) gets to determine what is bad with a check to a politician’s campaign fund.

And if you Texans like things this way (e.g. Don’t Mess with Texas) I have to believe that you want such things like the West, Texas disaster to imperil school children and the elderly, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t behave the way you do.

Can you imagine what would have been the case if that had happened in the daytime with those two schools in session? Is that the symbol of your “freedom” that you want? There are enough real accidents to justify the need to keep the gasoline and match factories separate.

May 16, 2013

Atoms, Argghh!!

Filed under: Education,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:37 am

atomI went to Google Search to see if I could find a public domain representation of an atom for my last post. What I found was crazy making! The diagram at the right is from a U.S. Department of Labor website and is typical of what I found. The only problem with it is that there is nothing correct about it.

These idiotic Atomic Energy Commission style diagrams are absolutely ridiculous. For one, atoms have only two parts, not three. Atoms are made of electrons and nuclei. Nuclei are made from, not of, protons and neutrons. The neutrons and protons are gone, replaced by what they made, a nucleus.

Let me give you a basic example. You know table salt, yes? Table salt is sodium chloride by name and NaCl by formula. It is made from the elements sodium and chlorine, but not of them. “Salt” is white, crystalline and necessary for life. If you exclude all salt from your diet, you will die (it is needed for nerve function, but being highly soluble in water, it will leave your body in sweat, tears, spit, and urine and needs to be replaced).

Sodium is a silvery metal that is so highly reactive it reacts with the oxygen in the air with no provocation needed. And don’t get it near water, it will react with water with explosive fury. Chlorine is a pale, yellow-ish gas that is also highly reactive and corrosive to the point that it is deadly to humans. In salt, you can find no silvery metals, nor any yellowish gas. Those elements no longer exists as they have been replaced by this benign substance. NaCl is made from sodium and chlorine, not of sodium and chlorine.

Similarly, protons and neutrons are fused (melted) together under high pressure to create nuclei. The protons and neutrons are gone, replaced by the nucleus. We know this is true because the nuclei weigh less than the protons and neutrons from which they were made, hence those particles can’t be “in there somewhere” as there isn’t enough mass to constitute those particles. (This is how a whole bunch of electrically positive particles (protons) can be crammed together in such a small space and not be repelled by their “like charges.” They really aren’t there. There is only a single particle with the same charge as the sum of all the proton charges originally.)

Can you see the 100,000 times difference in the width of the nucleus and the atom as a whole? Looks about 7:1 to me.

Can you see the 100,000 times difference in the width of the nucleus and the atom as a whole? Looks about 7:1 to me. Is that honest?

So, the “bunch of grapes” representation of the nucleus (with little “n” and “p” or + and 0 labels) is a bunch of hooey. There are no protons and neutrons “in” there.

The other problem is scale. Consider that the nucleus weighs at least a thousand times more than all of the electrons put together. So, in any atom diagram the nucleus should be rendered with a thousand times more ink than the electrons. But the space the electrons take up is a million billion times larger than the volume of the space the nucleus takes up. Since the nucleus is so small, we must start with the smallest possible dot we can make (a single dot for a single particle), to represent the nucleus and then a roughly spherical wispy volume around it will represent where the electrons are, but that volume must be drawn in using only a thousandth the amount of ink used to make the dot

See the problem. An accurate representation of an atom can’t really be made without the ability to zoom in and out more than a sheet of paper or a static image on a screen allows.

But these grade school phony representations and statements (“the number of protons in the nucleus is . . .”) get carried on into college and university and are misleading and present barriers to further understanding.

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