Uncommon Sense

September 30, 2013

Troublemaker Ratios

I learned from my years working in unions, that a very small percentage of union members caused the bulk of the problems and the bulk of the work for union staff. This is a basic fact of organizations. Society in general is made up of mostly law-abiding citizens but a small minority makes most of the trouble.

Consider the current Congress. A small minority of the House Republican Caucus is causing a great deal more trouble than their numbers indicate. The so-called “Tea Party” Republicans (which is a much too nice of a label) are a minority of the Republican Caucus, a much smaller minority of the House as a whole, an even smaller minority of the Congress, yet they are currently in the role of “tail wagging the dog.”

How can this be? The answer: cowardice.

The coward in question is Speaker of the House John Boehner. Rather than work with Democrats to pass bills, he insists that for any bill to pass his House, that it have a majority of his caucus voting for it. This rule is to be found nowhere in the rules of the House or in the Constitution. It was made up (not by Mr. Boehner, but a prior Republican Speaker) to protect Mr. Boehner’s job as Speaker. If Mr. Boehner had an ounce of courage he wouldn’t be standing in front of a parade he doesn’t believe in, yet he does. He is willing to threaten, to extort the American government with dire harm to get the way of that tiny minority of the Congress. In his world there is no such thing as the greater good of the country or “what’s best for the people,” there is only what is needed for him to keep his job. And the fascinating thing is . . . he hates his job.

Apparently he must enjoy the notoriety, the humiliation, and the shame, along with the prestige of being the most inept Speaker of the House in memory.

Bachmann Not Afraid of Government Shutdown: Yoda Responds

Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) recently commented that she was unafraid of either a government shutdown or defaulting upon the government’s debts, both potentially economic devastations to be caused by unnecessary actions of her Republican House Caucus. Yoda, Jedi Master, commented from his retirement “Not afraid you are? You will be. You . . . will . . . be.”

September 29, 2013

Ayn Randites Unite!

If the New Republican Party has a philosophy it is that of Ayn Rand (Takes and Makers, Oh my!) which is somewhat shocking. The reason this is so is that the Republican Party is the party of rich people and corporations. They have only been able to draw a sizeable number of ordinary Americans along with them by appealing to baser instincts: namely that black and brown people (unworthy by stint of coloration) are robbing them of their tax monies through welfare and government subsidies, etc. Plus, illegal brown people are stealing their jobs!

That corporate welfare (to the tune of at least $6000 per family) far outweighs anything done for the poor, be they black, brown, purple or white and that very few Americans are racing to take over the jobs done by illegals (day labor, picking agricultural fields, etc.) apparently escapes these folks, possibly because such data conflict with their racism. In any case, a large number of these ordinary conservative Americans turn out to be Evangelical Christians (aka Conservative Christians, aka Fundamentalist Christians, there seems to be no good definition of this group), which creates the pause with the Republican ideological link to Ayn Rand.

You see, Ayn Rand was an atheist. Her philosophy is steeped in secularism, so following her philosophy identifies the Radical Republican Right (aka the Tea Party) as being . . . wait for it . . . secular atheists.

I wonder if anyone has told that to the Evangelicals? Why I think they would want to split off on form their own party.

September 26, 2013

The American Diet and the Great American Food Industry

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has published “The Changing American Diet,” a report which uses data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to grade the healthiness of U.S. eaters. (One of CSPI’s main foci is the diet of Americans.)

According to this report, there’s been real change in the composition of the American diet since 1970. The average American ate almost 500 more calories per day in 2010 than he or she did in 1970, a 23 percent increase. Fruit, vegetables, lean dairy and the meat, egg and nut category have all been virtually flat in that time. So almost the entire increase is due to growth in sugars, fats (mostly in the form of oils), and carbs. Bonnie Liebman, the author of the CSPI report, attributed the bulk of that increase to two things: cheese and flour.

This also corresponds somewhat to the period in which we have seen an obesity epidemic.

Partly, in my opinion, this has been due to ill-founded health recommendations by our public health agencies. We can hardly blame a lack of exercise when so many of us are hitting the gym, running, etc. The level of physical activity now as compared to 1960 is staggering and yet collectively we are getting fatter. The culprit, of course, is the increase in carbohydrates which, if the extra 500 calories were stored (which it would not be in its entirety) it would mean a weight gain of almost one pound a week (roughly 1lb of fat equates to 4000 Cal of energy). If we had reduced the amount of food eaten in other categories, maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so bad, but we were told that fat in foods (which suppresses appetite) was bad and that carbs (which seem to stimulate appetite) were good. (The appetite suppression mechanism in our bodies takes about 20 minutes to act, so gulping our food down quickly rarely gives it time to do so, another factor in the obesity epidemic. Eating should be slowed down.)

As we eat more and more processed food and cook less and less fresh food, we are increasingly at the beck and call of the food industries. Their interest, I can confide in you, is to sell ever more of their products, so if any additive stimulates you to eat more of their products, they are for it. So, you will find two ingredients in almost all processed foods: sugar and corn products. (Yes, there is also salt, but salt was never as bad as it was portrayed.) The sugar and corn products are carbohydrate rich, appetite stimulating, and fattening.

So, we are turning our children over to corporate education services. We are turning our health over to corporate food interests. And we are turning our government over to corporate and monied interests. And all of those corporations have only one interest: and your child’s education, your health, and your political power can’t hold a candle to that one interest: showing a profit next quarter.

If I May Quote Diane Ravitch

Back when Dr. Ravitch was a darling of the conservatives in education circles I used to dislike her in the extreme (respect yes, but like, no). She had a conversion of sorts when she saw what conservative policies were doing to school kids and now is somewhat of a darling of the left. I think she is a darling of reason. Here is one of her warnings . . . about the consequences of turning over our school systems over to mayors and state and federal departments of education.

One thing we should have learned in the past dozen years is that it is dangerous to allow politicians to tie their ambitions to schools. When that happens, the Department of Education—whether it is a district or a state—-turns into the Department of Political Propaganda, dedicated to burnishing the image of the governor or the mayor. How can we know whether schools are improving when huge amounts of money are spent to spin the results so the politician in charge looks good?”  Diane Ravitch

September 25, 2013

If Ted Cruz Were to Take His Clothes Off, Would You Look?

The junior Senator from Texas Ted Cruz has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he craves attention. He has done nothing since being elected to the Congress. He has no novel ideas, he seems to have no ideas at all. He seems to skim the surface of the political pool and finds a crusade to attach himself to then starts looking for microphones to approach. He has offended the traditions of the Senate in which newly elected Senators are supposed to wait and take their turn at the microphones.

Mr. Cruz wants two things right now: attention and money and he doesn’t seem to care how he acquires them. Threatening to shutdown the federal government as a ploy to accumulate campaign contributions? Sign him up. Threatening the credit rating of the entire country and with it the robustness of the economic recovery of this country (such that there is) and the whole world . . . as a ploy to raise even more money? Yeehaw, sign him up.

When he strips naked to get even more publicity, will you continue to watch?

Mr. Cruz is a living political train wreck, the equivalent of a bad reality TV show, our generations Joe McCarthy, etc. something you are embarrassed to watch but can’t take your eyes off. The sad thing is that so many Republicans say that during their caucus meetings, he is the brightest bulb in the room. So, it is true, in a country of the blind, a one-eyed man is King, because that sparkle isn’t glitz, it isn’t intelligence, . . . it is snake oil.

Pascal’s Wager, The Flip Side

Filed under: History,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:17 pm
Tags: , ,

If you are unaware of Pascal’s Wager, it is quite famous in apologetic circles. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth-century French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher who applied mathematics to faith in a Christian God (he had no other god options if he wanted to live). It went something like this: we are all betting our lives either that God does or does not exist. If God actually does exist and assuming the gain (eternal life in Heaven) or loss (eternal life in Hell) are real, rational people should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, a few luxuries, whatever). Note this was before probability theory in mathematics had been developed, hence the novelty of the argument then and its mundaneness now.

The flip side is this: if you live your life in expectation of a reward in the next, you are not living your own life, you are living a life at somebody else’s direction. And, if there is no reward, you would have wasted the one and only life you will have. This is not the loss of a few pleasures, or a few luxuries, this is the loss of the self.

If it turns out that there is a god and he has created a hell, then you might want to ask him why outside of a miniscule speck of land in the Middle East, not a single scholar, mystic, seer, shaman, professor, judge, priest, or wise man heard or wrote his name, yet they wrote of thousands of other beings? If he was the source of all justice, what justice is there in not telling untold millions of people what the real rules are? And why were so many of the people who supposedly “got the message” such venal and evil people (Inquisitors, Crusaders, Bishops, Cardinals, Popes, etc.)? How was one supposed to see that god amongst the filth and squalor that was the life of the vast majority in Christian lands? Why was it not enough to live a simple life doing as little harm and as much good as one could?

A Republican Failure to Calculate

Congressional Republicans are threatening to take out the government and/or the full faith and credit of the U.S. if they don’t get their way regarding The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The reason is, they say, is that it is a bad law, it “sucks,” and it will fail. So, unless Mr. Obama agrees to repeal it, they will destroy the economy, maybe the global economy. (Images of Cleavon Little holding a gun to his head in Blazing Saddles comes to mind.)

So, why not just say “we opposed this when it was passed by a Democrat Congress, we opposed this in front of the Supreme Court, and we opposed this by trying to repeal it 42 times, but we have just run out of ways to oppose this, so don’t blame us when it fails.”

It is the perfect out. Obamacare is a bad law, it will fail, Republicans did everything in their power to prevent it from happening, but it ends up getting implemented, failing, and the Democrats are blamed. What’s wrong with this scenario? Government of the type they detest is undermined, more Republicans get elected in the aftermath, etc. What’s wrong with this scenario?

What’s wrong with this scenario is summed up by Gene Robinson of the Washington Post, one of the more level-headed observers of our politics “Republicans scream that Obamacare is sure to fail. But what they really fear is that it will succeed. That’s the reason for all the desperation. Republicans are afraid that Obamacare will not prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare — that Americans, in fact, will find they actually like it.”

So this last ditch effort is a manifestation of Republicans failing to calculate reality: under Obamacare, insurance costs will be held down and more people will be insured, so the public won’t have to pay for the care of the uninsured as much (fewer freeloaders is always a good thing with the conservative crowd, heck even I like that), and for the vast majority of us there is nothing we need to do.

Clearly Republicans don’t believe their own rhetoric, nor can they do political calculus worth a damn.

And get this: I hate Obamacare! The reason I hate it is: why should we allow insurance companies to skim up to 20% off the top to just do paperwork when Medicare has proven that the actual cost of the paperwork is only a few percent? I believe everybody should get basic health care services paid by all of us. Rich people can then supplement the basic service with all of the Cadillac services they want (but not tax deductably) on top of that. The “Basic” doesn’t cover exotic cancers, Siamese twin births, weird shit like that, just the basics. Bad luck happens, but it is not our job collectively to ensure against the worst, just the ordinary (prenatal and postnatal care and births, women’s plumbing issues, broken bones, common diseases, etc.). The taxes needed to pay for this should be less than what the corporations are paying for medical plan premiums right now.

Republicans can’t do this calculation either.

Why do Charter Schools Still Get Paid for Attendance?

Charter schools are part of the corporate hostile takeover of public education. The basic idea is that a school is given a charter to teach students without all of the usual checks and balances in the hope that they becoming foaming beds of innovation to “show the way” to the “hidebound and calcified public schools.” (Referring to public schools as “failing,” “underperforming,” “hidebound and calcified,” etc. is part of the propaganda effort. In reality, public schools are doing better than ever before in many ways.) It is assumed that when such schools are freed from all of the onerous regulations: accountability requirements, union contracts, state regulations, etc. that they will not only be “better” at educating our kids but they will be more cost-effective, too.

Over the history of charter schools, which is quite long, Charter Schools have been the darlings of liberals and conservatives, but currently they are being pushed along with other efforts by the corporate funded big foundations (Gates, Broad, etc.). Apparently they believe that the proven efficiency of corporations is a product of the corporate culture (pro-profit, anti-union, anti-worker, screw the competition, collaboration/cooperation/compromise is for the weak, etc.).

There are extravagant claims being made about the performance of Charter Schools, primarily that students attending them perform at a higher level than “ordinary” public school students. If this were true then why haven’t they asked to be put on a different pay scheme than the “ordinary” public schools. Currently public schools receive funding based on attendance. If students shows up, the school receives funds to teach them. But if Charter Schools are so much better, shouldn’t they be paid better? I mean you don’t see Harvard University bragging about how cheap it is compared to the local community colleges. They make their “customers” pay for the prestige of attendance. Isn’t that the way things work in a capitalist system?

Maybe Charter Schools don’t want “pay for performance” because:

· Many Charter Schools are run by profit-taking companies and no one (to date) has explained how extracting profits/money from what is paid to teach students makes the process better.
· Charter Schools often spend more money on administration than do “ordinary” public schools, thus reducing the amount of money used to educate our kids even more. Julian Vasquez Heilig has done a study on Texas charters showing that: in elementary schools, charters spend $147 more per pupil than traditional public schools; in middle schools, charters spend $495 more per pupil than traditional public schools, and in high schools, charters spend $230 more per pupil than traditional public schools. So much for being efficient. (By the way, a rule of corporate governance is one way to extract extra profits from an enterprise is for the owners to draw salaries.)
· In study after study Charter Schools are found to be not only “not better” than the “ordinary” public schools in their district, but worse. For example, in the Pennsylvania state school rankings, of the bottom 84 schools, 83 were charters.

So, while “pay for performance” is a hallmark of many of the corporate “reform” (sic) efforts, it apparently doesn’t apply here.

September 24, 2013

Hey, Rich People—

Since you have bribed our legislators to make sure that we, the middle class, pay most of the taxes (including some $6000 per family per year for corporate welfare), the simplest way to eliminate the annual deficit and national debt is to . . . raise our wages. Raise middle class wages; raise the minimum wage while you are at it and then we pay more taxes (more than you do) and “poof” the deficit is gone. Also, since we are middle class and living very close to the bone, we will spend every dime of our post tax income on something your blood sucking corporations are selling and you . . . will . . . make . . . even . . . more . . . money.

I call this theory “trickle up economics” and recommend it highly to you.

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