Uncommon Sense

December 27, 2013

China Invests in the Rust Belt; the U.S., Not So Much

According to the N.Y. Times, China is investing in Toledo, OH and other Rust Belt cities:

“. . . Toledo turned to China to make the 360 panels, 1,300 pounds each, needed for an extension to the Toledo Museum of Art. Some here resented the move after China supplanted the United States as the world’s top glass producer. But in the process, city leaders began an improbable and remarkable relationship.
“Over the past seven years since the museum project was completed, ties between Toledo and China have grown numerous. Chinese companies have paid more than $10 million in cash for two local hotels, a restaurant complex and a 69-acre waterfront property. Mayor Michael P. Bell has taken four trips to China in four years in search of investors. His business cards are double-sided, in English and Chinese.
“. . . Huaqiao University, one of the largest higher-education institutions in China, recently signed an agreement to open a branch in Toledo. There have also been preliminary talks between local officials and a Chinese company about an arrangement in which industrial tools would be produced in China, shipped for assembly in Toledo and labeled ‘made in the U.S.A.,’ which would allow them to be sold at a premium.
“. . . Chinese companies made $12.2 billion in direct investments in the United States during the first nine months of 2013. That is up from $7.1 billion in all of 2012, which was itself a record at the time, according to the Rhodium Group, a New York-based consulting company.
“. . . Chinese investors have been buying commercial and residential real estate in Detroit, inexpensively because of the city’s financial troubles, and have agreed to finance a $1.5 billion waterfront development in Oakland, Calif. This year, on a trade trip to China, Gov. Jerry Brown of California discussed Chinese investment in the state’s troubled $91 billion bullet train project.
“But Toledo, a largely blue-collar city of about 280,000, appears to be punching well above its weight at a time when mayors from Philadelphia to San Francisco are returning from China empty-handed.”

So the Chinese government has found many things worth investing in the Rust Belt but us, we’re sitting on the sidelines, which is puzzling. There was a time when major construction corporations would be whipping their Republican representatives to create substantial government-financed infrastructure projects. There are projects galore in and around our cities that only government will tackle. The contracts would create jobs for American workers and fix problems that can only get worse. The cost of borrowing the money for the projects (which we would do in any case), is at an all-time low. Labor is cheaper (relatively) than it has been for decades, materials are cheaper than they have been for decades. So, why the reluctance of Republicans to sign on for infrastructure spending?

Please don’t answer “because of the debt” or “because of the budget deficit.” Republicans ordinarily only pay attention to such matters during Democratic administrations and ignore them during Republican administrations, so they are not real concerns, just leverage points. (The last time the “debt” was an issue was when Bill Clinton was President. Under the Bush’s, not a peep.)

What political priority do the Republicans have that precludes them creating big government contracts for a long-time corporate sponsor? They are still going to the mat to support lavish Defense spending, why not spending on construction everyone agrees is the responsibility of the government?

Got an answer? I don’t.

December 25, 2013

Pope Flat Out Lies to Gathered Thousands!

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 2:32 pm
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In Pope Francis’ holiday message in front of 70,000+ people, the Pope told a couple of whoppers. Toward the end of his comments Francis said “God is peace . . .” and “God is full of love.” What god was he referring to?

The god of the Bible is the god who had Abraham sacrifice his own son as a “test of faith.” How much peace and love could be in a father’s heart after going through such an event. The god of the Bible is the god who led his chosen people across a desert to a “land of milk and honey” that he would “give them.” But instead of using his amazing powers to clear the land of its former occupants, he required the Israelites to wage war and put the indigenous population: men, women, and children, to the sword. This is not a god of love and peace. This is a jealous god.

The Pope really shouldn’t tell lies.

Eternal suffering awaits
anyone who questions
God’s infinite love.
‑ Bill Hicks ‑

December 24, 2013

Why Do We Let Money Rule?

Why do we let corporations, like the private prison conglomerates currently, donate money to politicians who decide whether they receive contracts and under what conditions? Why do we let politicians who have accepted money from such donors vote on bills that affect their benefactors?

What do we call it if a judge were to accept money from a client or a client’s attorney (aka lobbyist)? What do we call it when an foreign official is given money to make a decision favorable to the gifter? What do we call it when criminals give money to police to cause them to look away for a short while?

Why are their laws against bribing our own judges and police in this country and even bribing officials in foreign countries but it is acceptable, even legal, to bribe our own officials in this country?

If we don’t solve this problem, money will always rule . . . or rather those with the money will rule.

We could start by restricting campaign donations to people represented by a politician (currently or potentially) and we could allow corporations to lobby but not promise jobs or give money to politicians. They could talk all they wanted and provide as much information as they wanted, but to allow them to bribe our officials? Insanity.

Wow, Smell that Highway!

Filed under: Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:42 am
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According to the NY Times, “this month, Milwaukee began a pilot program to repurpose cheese brine for use in keeping city roads from freezing, mixing the dairy waste with traditional rock salt as a way to trim costs and ease pollution.”

All I could think was “Whey cool!”

The New Racism

Since the delights of overtly demeaning those with skins darker than ours has become highly unacceptable, racism has had to go underground. It has gone underground so far that some refer to our now “post-racial” society, still others state that it is the talk of race that must stop to finally eradicate the last vestiges of racism.

O . . . M . . . G. . . .

The racism of today is on clear display and in some ways more cruel than that of the past. At least we aren’t lynching people right and left, instead we doom them to lives of poverty and frustration. African-Americans aren’t “niggers” anymore, they are just shiftless and lazy . . . and unemployed.

The major objection of the non-wealthy conservative set is that their tax monies are being redistributed to unworthy people, people who need to get out and get a job and support themselves instead of laying around living off of the dole. Of course, there is some truth connected to their fantasies, a few grains of sand on their beach that fit their criteria, but mostly they are flat out wrong.

How did this happen? Well, it didn’t happen by accident. Consider that when Franklin Roosevelt signed the unemployment insurance law into being, that agricultural wage workers and live-in domestic servants were excluded from such benefits. What rationale could be had for these exclusions? Do ag workers, working for pay, not work hard? Domestic servants who live with their employers lose their housing as well as their paycheck if they are “let go” (nice euphemism). Why were they excluded? Could it have been that somewhere near 80% of all such workers at that time were black and that Roosevelt needed his Southern Democrats (the “Dixiecrats,” a telling label) to get the law passed?

Is it an accident that white ex-cons are more likely to be hired for a job than African-Americans? Is it an accident that relatively minor non-violent lawbreaking comes with very long sentences, yet rich white kids who kill four people with a pickup truck get probation at what constitutes a resort? Is it an accident that white people can “stand their ground” and shoot and kill unarmed black people, people that they deliberately stalked to put themselves in harm’s way? Currently a greater number of African-Americans are in jail than were slaves in 1850. If you are black, you will get a sentence serving more years than if you are white, for the same crime . . . always.

Is it an accident that white millionaire farmers get large federal agricultural subsidies protected but poor people get their food stamps cut? Is it an accident that if the word “welfare” or “poverty” are mentioned on TV news shows, it is almost always accompanied by video footage of black people? Black people constitute on 9% of the U.S. population and if every single one of them were poor (they are not) they would not constitute a majority of the poor, so why are blacks shown many times more often than whites in such coverage?

The largest recipient group benefiting from the social safety net in this country is elderly white women (they live longer than men and are younger when married and live longer than black men and black women) but Social Security is still under attack, even though it has a 2+ trillion dollar surplus, is solvent for the next twenty years “as-is,” and simple adjustments could make it solvent for the foreseeable future. Why? Could it be the conservative view that all “welfare” is going mostly to unworthy black people? Could it not? I am not willing to concede that some of our conservative lawmakers have honest policy objections based upon reality; you may if you wish.

Racism is woven so tightly into the fabric of our culture that it is hard to see unless you look closely.

Look closely.


Where Have All the Revenues Gone? Long Time Passing.

There is a constant drumbeat by Republicans that corporate taxes are too high. It is taken as common knowledge by self-important Washington-types. Consider the following graphic:

share of federal tax revenueDo you wonder how it is that corporations have gotten to the point that they no longer pay their fair share of federal taxes? Was that an accident? an oversight? And who picked up the slack? Notice that income tax and payroll tax shares have both increased over that time. Also note that the percent of those taxes paid by rich people has actually declined.

Could it be that corporations have gotten the laws changed to shift the tax burden off of them and on to us (there were a couple hundred registered lobbyists in 1971, 30,000+ now)?

And the drum is still being beaten “corporate taxes are too high, corporate taxes are too high!”

When will you say “Enough!” and do something about it?

What Goes Around Comes Around

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:53 am
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The objections to the “War on Christmas” notwithstanding, it is easily acquired knowledge that Christians highjacked winter solstice festivals to create a birthday celebration for their god, the birth date of whom is unstated in any biblical writings (yes, astronomers try to place it in time by looking for times in which a bright object overhead could be the “Star of Bethlehem” but that makes the assumption that the “guide star” was real and not a copy of the many guide star tropes in previous stories).

This was a strategy learned from the Romans; the Romans allowed all conquered peoples to maintain their local gods, as long as they accepted the Roman emperor into their pantheon, as a way to pacify local populations. Since Christians are monotheistic, they simply allowed local religious festivals but with aggressive Christian rebranding.

Well, what goes around comes around, and a recent survey in England, reported in today’s Guardian newspaper, that “one in 10 people aged 25 to 34 in modern Britain think that Father Christmas is mentioned in the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus.” Others believe that the birthing scene of the baby Jesus included a Christmas tree.

You can’t complain about the taste of a stew to which you added only some of the ingredients, no?

I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Dear Reader.

December 23, 2013

Blame the Rich? Only for their Corporate Ownership

The rich have gotten richer, but their taxes haven’t gone up, neither have corporate taxes, so . . . share of federal tax revenueNeed I say more . . .

December 22, 2013

NatGeo Faith-a-thon

The National Geographic Channel played quite a number of biblical archeology-themed shows last night. I tuned into a couple to see how they were doing. Too many of these “entertainments” seem to be designed along the lines of the “Ancient Aliens” shows where some archeological findings are proffered and then the question is asked “Couldn’t it have been Ancient Aliens who built this?” There really is no question, the question is the answer, by implication. Of course it could have been aliens, but it also could have been fairies, or demons, or pixies, too. The question is what are the probabilities that it were that.

The show I watched was “The Lost Kings of the Bible” which was focused upon the question whether Kings David and Solomon were real. Among their “evidence” was that archeologists were in agreement that if the two had lived it would have been in the 10th century BCE (but little else). This seems to be a strange statement because the texts claiming these two were real is the only text that could place them in time, basically they were saying that if one fact was real, the other also had to be, too, which is rather strange.

They were moving along pretty well, not making any outlandish claims, just asking the questions: “Could this be evidence of King David’s/Solomon’s actual existence?” before cutting to a commercial. But then they blithely dropped the bomb! They casually mention that the Jewish Bible was written in the 7th century BCE . . . based upon “memories.” This has been known for quite a while but kept from many Christians in this country, that the Bible was written based on “memories” from the past, oh, 1500 years or so. Their data storage must have been better than ours as we are rapidly losing the capacity to view movies from early in the last century and read computer records from just a few decades ago.

In any case they followed with the story of David and Goliath, with the usual attempts to prove either was an actual historical character. The mentioned that the armor of Goliath was described in the Bible in great detail, but unfortunately the armor described is that of a 7th to 5th century BCE Greek Hoplite, not a 10th century BCE Philistine! Apparently the Bible’s writers “memories” didn’t extend back to the tenth century, a least regarding the armor in one of the most famous battles of that millennium. And, they clearly felt that it was acceptable to make up such descriptions when the “memories” didn’t supply them. In other words, elements of fiction writing are clearly on display.

They didn’t mention these latter conclusions.

Basically, if they admit the writers of the OT got such things wrong, then they would have to open the topic of what else did they get wrong?

In the end, they came to no conclusion other than there is very, very little data showing these two kings were real people. The show was better than their ordinary drivel, couched so that believers and non-believers can point to their shows and say, “see, I am right” but not yet focused on getting to the truth of such matters.

The “Duck Dynasty” Kerfuffle

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:48 am
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In an interview with one of the “stars” of the “reality” TV show “Duck Dynasty” in GQ magazine, it was discovered that the gentleman in question has some somewhat quirky “beliefs,” beliefs apparently stemming from his religion.

Regarding whether this TV show continues is neither here nor their to me. If people do not want to support others with such beliefs, their audience and their sponsors will evaporate and the “stars” will go back to their prior wealthy state. If not, then not.

In the discussion over the comments made, though, too many people are focusing on the matter that these are “religious beliefs” and therefore have some special standing in our public discourse. We are hesitant to criticize another’s “religious beliefs” because . . . well, because, that’s why.

What is missing from this discussion is the fact that the gentleman’s beliefs are created by him, not by the religion. If one goes to a church and learns of their doctrine and finds it unbelievable, or racist, or misogynist, or otherwise offensive, what does one do? (Miss Manners wants to know!) One gets up and walks out and goes into another church. Christianity alone has 40,000 different flavors to choose from. (Take that Baskin-Robbins!)

And people who are members of any church do not necessarily believe every last bit of that church’s orthodoxy. You see, Christians pick and choose what it is they will believe. They go from church to church until they find one they “like” and then they just ignore the bits of that church that they don’t like. Otherwise there is too much cognitive dissonance for comfort.

So, if a racist, misogynist, homophobic God-fearin’ ’Merican wants a church, he can find one that agrees with his beliefs. It is not the other way around. So, don’t criticize the man for his religious beliefs, criticize him for his personal beliefs, they are no more based upon his religion than the quality of a car is based on how many people buy one.

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