Uncommon Sense

October 31, 2013

Conservative Talking Points Go to the Devil

In a recent interview, former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay said: “Jesus died for our freedom. And Jesus destroyed Satan so that we could be free and that is manifested in what is called the Constitution of the United States. God created this nation and God created the Constitution; it is written on biblical principles.”

Okay . . .

But then in October Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated (sotto voce) in an interview, “I even believe in the devil.” He followed up with “You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so . . . removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the devil.”

So, which is it conservatives: is the Devil alive and well or is he dead?

Generally conservatives show more discipline regarding their talking points.

(And DeLay? “Jesus died for our freedom.” WTF? The way DeLay thinks, he must be “pro-choice” in that Jesus gave us the choice . . . not to go to Hell.)

October 28, 2013

The Disaster that is College Sports

Everybody knows . . . I hate that phrase but . . . anyone who follows college sports knows that very few sports generate the income to pay for the others. Basically college basketball and college football programs generate the bulk of the money for college athletics budgets. Now we find out that a large majority of college football programs either break even or lose money. Colleges still support such programs and are even expanding them, because they see them as outreach programs, ways to get their marketing information out and about.

Excuse me, but the benefit to society, other than serving as the minor leagues to wealthy professional sports systems, is exactly what?

If we need any more evidence for the distorting effect money has upon our social system, here is yet another example.

If these programs provided for the physical training of all students (they don’t), if they provided for lessons in competition (which intramurals does as well), if they provided anything other than entertainment, I could support them. As it is, college sports seem completely out of control.

There is graphic going around the Internet, showing the highest paid public employee by state. Here it is (Source: Deadspin)

Highest Paid Employees by State

Notice anything?

Out . . . of . . . control.

And before the haters get on me. I was a four year college athlete: in community college for two years (no scholarships) and two years at a state college (Division II, no scholarships). I loved playing but that was a different game in a different time. The money of television and big time sports organizers hadn’t taken over yet.

You Didn’t Build It! Part 2

In a recent article addressing the power of individuals P. L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Education, Furman University, wrote: “Consider Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, George W. Bush, Bill Gates, and Mike Krzyzewski. What if these five men had lived in the early to mid 1800s? How would their lives have manifested themselves in that era? It is without a doubt that two of these men would have had quite different lives—and not because of their talents, character, or determination. Social norms are powerful and are primary when considering the individual talents of people.”

The Randites in the Republican Party seem to think that each person is entirely responsible for their own success and while no one argues that individuals aren’t to a large measure responsible, there are a lot of other circumstances. In general, people can only respond to the opportunities that are available to them. Making millions of dollars per year playing professional sports is not an option if there are no professional sports. making personal computer software to make millions is not an option if there are no personal computers.

Behind every successful person is a social structure, a physical infrastructure, and a culture. Too many people at the opportunity rich end of the spectrum extrapolate their experience to everyone. Ex-presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a classic example. He said he was a self-made man and nobody helped him on the way up (justifying his wealth). He apparently didn’t count the million dollar loan his father gave him. (I worked for almost 40 years and didn’t quite make two million dollars in toto.) “Poor” Mitt Romney is a person who thinks that a million dollars of seed money is no big thing, hardly worth mentioning.

Currently there are corporate educational “reformers” who are claiming that education is the cure for poverty because an education gets you a better job when means you will have more to eat. Their thinking doesn’t include the fact that poverty is the biggest barrier to getting an education in the first place. You see: they have never been poor.

Any personal success I or any other individual has achieve is not due to just my or their efforts. Major contributions were made by a great many other people.

And, if you realize this is true then you must ask yourself why it is we are wasting mountains of human capital by not extending more opportunities to the poor. They are only monetarily poor, they are not poor in spirit, nor are they poor in ability. If we offer them opportunities and they succeed, then they are in the position to offer such opportunities to another generation. Denying opportunities to the poor (Hey, gang, let’s cut food stamps!) doesn’t make you noble, it makes you short-sighted, mean, cruel and, well, assholes.

It’s a Start

The State of Texas, home of ten gallon hats, creationism, and iconoclasts, has done something really interesting. It passed a law preventing educational testing lobbying groups from making political contributions to state politicians. If this law holds up, it is the first step on a very good path. The only thing they left out is . . . all of the other lobbying groups.

The constitution guarantees the right of citizens, individually or in groups, to petition their representatives. It does not give them the right to bribe them.

WTF? Our Trade Imbalance is Because of U.S. Corporations

When I was younger, there were regular news articles about what were called “trade deficits.” A trade deficit exists for a country when the value of the goods imported exceeds the value of the goods exported. When a country had a trade deficit or “negative trade balance” that meant they were, in effect, exporting money. The litle trade deficits of the 1960’s were talked about with dramatic language. Basically we were losing our edge if we couldn’t export more than be imported and something needed to be done!

Starting in the mid-1970’s (surprise, surprise) our trade began to get more and more out of balance with us on the short end of the stick. Our current trade imbalances are immense compared to those of my younger days and not just due to inflation, immense as a percentage of GDP.

How did this happen? Well, by now it is no surpise. As the result of a well-orchestrated effort on the part of conservatives sponsored by the monied interests we exported millions of our jobs overseas. we make almost nothing “in the U.S.A.” anymore. But the shocking thing is that our trade deficits are because we are buying goods sold by those very same U.S. corporations that sold our jobs overseas (Nike, Microsoft, Apple, NCR, etc.)! So the middle class loses jobs (and all middle class wages were driving down as the competition for jobs went up, so even if you didn’t lose your job, you are suffering an effect), while the corporations moving the jobs got richer and richer, enabling them to buy more and more politicians.

The stunning thing is this: when have you heard anything in the news media about these trade deficits? Anything? No? There is no more graphic proof that the corporatization of the news media has resulted in a lack of news about corporate highjinx. Articles filled with outrage about of “trade policy” and “trade deficit” abounded . . . until the corporations bought the media companies. Now, nada, zip, zilch. The only time corporations appear negatively is when they are in court which is part of the public record.

Maybe the Tea Partiers are right? I want my country back. I don’t want to live in a country “of the people, by the rich, and for the rich.”

October 25, 2013

Why All the Wealth and Income Disparity?

Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty of The Guardian have just written a piece “Why the 1% should pay tax at 80%” (which you can read here (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/24/1percent-pay-tax-rate-80percent?)

I encourage you to read the whole article but I share a few quotes below to make a point.

“In the United States, the share of total pre-tax income accruing to the top 1% has more than doubled, from less than 10% in the 1970s to over 20% today. A similar pattern is true of other English-speaking countries. Contrary to the widely-held view, however, globalisation and new technologies are not to blame. Other OECD countries, such as those in continental Europe, or Japan have seen far less concentration of income among the mega rich. (Italics mine.)

In other words, if the “usual suspects” for the great wealth accumulation were “globalization and technology” should not other economies show the same effect? Many do not, so that is evidence the those are not as powerful factors as we have been lead to believe (lead to believe by the economic shills for the rich).

“There is a strong correlation between the reductions in top tax rates and the increases in top 1% pre-tax income shares, for the period from 1975-79 to 2004-08, across 18 OECD countries for which top income share information is available. For example, the United States experienced a 35 percentage-point reduction in its top income tax rate and a very large ten percentage-point increase in its top 1% pre-tax income share. By contrast, France or Germany saw very little change in their top tax rates and their top 1% income shares during the same period.”

Our rich got huge tax cuts, France’s did not. Germany’s did not. Our rich got hugely more wealthy, France’s did not. Germany’s did not. These are just two comparisons but there are many more that show that tax cuts, maybe more than all of the other factors, have lead to the income and wealth disparities (and the resulting political distortions, etc. we have suffered due to floods of money being injected; e.g. currently there are small floods of money from out of state sources flowing into school board elections because the privatization of education means “profits!”). The authors then go on to address three scenarios of what might happen were we to actually increase our rates on the highest earnings.

“To tell these various scenarios apart, we need to analyse to what extent top tax rate cuts lead to higher economic growth. Again, data show that there is no correlation between cuts in top tax rates and average annual real GDP-per-capita growth since the 1970s. For example, countries that made large cuts in top tax rates, such as the United Kingdom or the United States, have not grown significantly faster than countries that did not, such as Germany or Denmark. (Italics mine.)

“What that tells us is that a substantial fraction of the response of pre-tax top incomes to top tax rates may be due to increased rent-seeking at the top (that is, scenario three), rather than increased productive effort.”

Basically they are saying that “Trickle Down” is more of a “Flood Up.” The additional wealth created by the tax cuts has not been channeled into job making activities but rather into investments that increase their wealth without producing much. (Can you remember “novel financial instruments,” boys and girls?)

One very needed correction is that rich people would have less money to invest which means that the stock market would shrink. Investors think this is a bad idea but I think it is good. The swollen amounts of cash used for “investment” purposes instead become used for much more speculative efforts resulting in things like the price of gasoline going up because investors feel that there may be uncertainty in the Middle East causing prices to go up later, so they drive up prices now.

Reducing the amount of money available for such speculations, will result in more conservative investors and more conservative investments. Currently these idiots are investing like they are using Monopoly money.

My argument is that the rich have gotten their chance to prove the “trickle down theory” and they have proven that it does not work. Contrary to the claim that the “rich know better what to do with their money than the government” they have proven that they are not to be trusted with so much money (as money is power in the U.S.).

Oh, and do realize that we all pay the same tax rates! The same tables apply to all of us. We are talking here about creating new, higher tax rates on money earned over a million dollars per year. So, your taxes are unaffected.

October 24, 2013

Ted Cruz’s Reverend Wright is His Father!

Chris Hayes recently wrote on Truthdig.com that “U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz—whose father is Rafael Cruz, a rabid right-wing Christian preacher and the director of the Purifying Fire International ministry—and legions of the senator’s wealthy supporters, some of whom orchestrated the shutdown, are rooted in a radical Christian ideology known as Dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism. This ideology calls on anointed “Christian” leaders to take over the state and make the goals and laws of the nation “biblical.” It seeks to reduce government to organizing little more than defense, internal security and the protection of property rights. It fuses with the Christian religion the iconography and language of American imperialism and nationalism, along with the cruelest aspects of corporate capitalism. The intellectual and moral hollowness of the ideology, its flagrant distortion and misuse of the Bible, the contradictions that abound within it—its leaders champion small government and a large military, as if the military is not part of government—and its laughable pseudoscience are impervious to reason and fact. And that is why the movement is dangerous.”

Wikipedia has this to say about Dominionism “Dominionism (sometimes used interchangeably with Christian Reconstructionism and theonomy, see below) is a political and religious philosophy that seeks to make the United States government a Christian theocracy. (Most Dominionists try to avoid using this name. Regardless, it is usually applied to any Christian movement with these explicit or implicit goals.)

“Dominionists believe that the civil laws laid down by the Old Testament (as distinct from the moral laws such as the Ten Commandments) should be enforced by reforming the U.S. legal system along theocratic lines, which would entail a substantial increase in the use of capital punishment. They also believe that that biblical injunctions regarding slavery should be followed.”

These people don’t want to post the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, they want to bring back slavery (as recommended by the Bible, of course, which has regulations involving slavery and God directing the enslaving of men, women, and children, but no injunctions that I can find).

Conservatives railed against President Obama because of his association with Reverend Wright. I just gotta hope Ted Cruz runs for President to see if he will disavow his own father.

Just Keep Telling Them Lies

I was reading an article by Lawrence Davidson appearing at www.consortiumnews.com called “Right-Wing Ideology Run Wild” in which he says “Today’s struggle to return us to minimalist government and maximum economic “freedom” is led by a collection of fundamentalist Christian right-wingers and Tea Party mad-hatters.”

This struck a chord in me because too often liberal leaning folks have allowed the far right to establish the terminology of the debate. In this case the objectionable phrase was “return us to minimalist government.” The word “return” doesn’t belong there because this country has never (never, ever, never) advocated minimalist or small or reduced government (ever).

I date the creation of the United States to the Ratification of the Constitution. The Constitution defines us, it says who we are and why we exist as a nation. It’s adoption marks the beginning of our existance as a nation. And since we are this grand experiment in self-government (. . . of the People, by the People, and for the People, . . .) we created a Constitution that took certain rights for the federal government and left all other rights of government to the states and to the people. There is no limit to how we can govern ourselves, no limits as to how much government we can have, nor is there any endorsement of any amount of government less than all we want.

There is no “return” since we have never been there. The last time we had “minimal” federal government was under the Articles of Confederation and that was a near disaster (and before the creation of the U.S.).

Let’s see this as what it is. The plutocrats want less government because government means taxation and they don’t want taxation (except for to pay for the police (to keep the riff-raff in order), the military (to make wars to protect their economic “rights”), and the courts (to protect their contracts)). Government also means regulation and the plutocrats do not want anyone opposing their path to greater and greater wealth accumulation.

When Ronald Regan, as President, began the “government is the problem” campaign, what has happened to middle class wages and what has happen to wealth inequity? If you do not know, you are either asleep or a fool. Wake up.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Back in May of 2010 in my 13th post, I described the Tea Party folks pretty much to a tee. Many don’t remember but the Repubs were crushed when Barack Obama won back in 2008. So many people couldn’t believe that their candidate was beaten by a black guy that they stopped identifying as being Republican. The percentage of the electorate willing to identify themselves as Republican sharnk to a frightening low. I described it as a flash flood having scraped away all but the bedrock of a stream. It was then that radical conservatives (the rock-ribbed Repubs, see the metaphor and the linkage, nice, eh?) realized that they then formed a majority of the shrunken Republican Party and were energized to take over. They had always been consider a fringe part of the GOP family so they were pandered to but not taken seriously. That was to change.

The zeitgeist for these people was that “their country” was being taken over by “those people,” and the thought of their tax monies being given to unworthy black and brown people was just evil, it was Socialism, it was Naziism, it was unthinkable. They wanted “their country” back, you know the one run by and for white people.

While I think that having a Christian Evangelical core didn’t help, the behaviors of these people clearly show that they worship not Jesus, but money, power, and prejudice. Because the Supreme Court has seen fit to multiply the voices of the rich over the poor and middle class, and the rich are largely conservative, power flowed to these “New Conservatives.” Access to that power has attracted the unscrupuled who care little for the country, less for its black and brown citizens, who they fear, and who are willing to burn the house down to remove the infestation.

It will be interesting to see how many voters actually continue to vote for these people.

October 21, 2013

Transform the Schools with Business Principles? No, We Should Use Sports Principles!

The current hostile takeover of our public schools on the part of conservative billionaires is off on the wrong foot; they somehow believe that the principles used to run a business should be used to run public schools. This is an incredibly stupid idea as a business is based on making a profit through competition while schools are break even organizations working through collaboration. There are much better models for these educrats to push and I am going to suggest they look at Sports. (I am pretty sure they won’t bother because their efforts have noting to do with serving school children better and everything to do with making profits off of the enterprise. Why else would you push a “business model,” really?)

So, sports as a model for reforming our schools is my suggestion. The eduformers are all for firing principals if they don’t meet goals. What better model than sports! Coaches and managers get fired willy-nilly when a season ends with disappointing results. None of them appeal to a union for protection, so much the better. And if teachers (coaches) are going to get fired if they don’t get good results, they will work harder at recruiting those students who can produce those results. The students then can establish a sort of free agency where they will sell their services to the teacher offering the highest pay. And where will the teachers get the money for the free agents? Merit pay! It all fits together.

Baseball is showing the way. Teams now keep statistics on a batter’s batting average broken down by pitcher (left- and right-handers), by the month, by where they hit in the batting order, and by the count. (What’s his average against left-handers with a 2-2 count, Bill? Here let me look it up.) New metrics are being invented all of the time and there is an entire movement, called Sabermetrics, that just acquires data and creates new measures of proficiency, so the Sports Model has lots and lots of room for high stakes testing and data banking.

Plus the Sabermetricians have data compiled for many decades, which could be the model for collecting data on students that could lead to new ways to teach, well, if not that, new ways to make money off of teaching.

Think about it. Teachers wouldn’t have to be retrained (well, the men any way, uh . . . the real men).

What are Americans better at: sports or business? Sports is based on teamwork and sacrifice. Business is based on raw competition and greed. Which is the better model for plutocrats to wring profits from our public schools, I ask you?

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