Uncommon Sense

March 29, 2014

RIP—Political Parties

This weekend marks the beginning of the end of the political parties as we knew them. In the past, any potential political candidate had to solicit the help of one of the political parties to have any chance of success. The usual path for a candidate was to run for local office and make him- or herself known to the local political party officials. Then additional offices were attempted forming a ladder to higher office with closer and closer involvement with the party and more and more support from the party. Party officials introduced “up and coming,” promising new candidates to the various power brokers in the party. They arranged for fundraisers and provided funds from general accounts. They provided expertise that would have otherwise cost a candidate a great deal to purchase.

All of that is now on the edge of being gone.

Good riddance you say? Also going with the party is any influence the parties had over candidates to form their platforms or, really, anything else.

Replacing all of that will be the private “political conventions” put on by billionaires. This weekend in Las Vegas, most of the major Republican players in the 2016 presidential sweepstakes are meeting with billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. In the 2012 election cycle Mr. Adelson spend a pittance, a mere $90 million on presidential candidates (less than 0.5% of his wealth I am told). That kind of money will take a candidate as far as they want to go in any election. So, gone is the influence of the parties to get candidates to “toe the party line” only to be replaced by whatever it is the billionaires want as a “return on their investment.” And I do not believe the American Plutocrats will be publishing their “platform,” that is the list of the things they want of their candidate gets elected.

Candidates for sale! Candidates for sale! Git yer candidate!

March 19, 2014

It Ain’t Envy and It Ain’t Jealousy Plutocrats

Recently a number of the 0.1 Percent have come out of the woodwork to complain about how they are being treated by the press and bloggers like, well, me for one. Of course, they came out ham-handed, referring to how they are being treated with Nazi references and slavery references.

Really? Just stop.

Their core complaint, if I can discern it, is that when jealousy and envy are stirred up against a minority it off doesn’t end well.

Really? Just stop.

These plutocrats say that we are jealous of their wealth and power, that we envy them. Interesting because I don’t recall ever having met any of those people and I am someone who really, really likes hanging out with rich people. I like it when somebody picks up the check for dinner and says “Think nothing of it” and means it. I am neither envious nor jealous of their wealth.

Instead they say they are rich because they studied harder in school. That they are smarter. That they work harder.

Really? Just stop.

Are you smarter than a theoretical physicist? I doubt it. Smarter than a brain surgeon? I think not. Did you really study harder in school? I think not. I studied chemistry. At no time did I take the minimum number of units required in a semester or fewer in my first four years (and played basketball all four years). Did you study harder than two of me? If so, you are superhuman and you would deserve two or even three times what I made as a chemistry professor. (I made about $2 million in my forty years of work.). And, you say you work harder. Harder than three bus drivers pulling eight hour shifts? If so, you’d have to work over 24 hours per day. And then you’d deserve to earn over three times what a bus driver makes. But you don’t do you?

In 2011, for example, eleven hedge fund managers made over one billion dollars that year which put them into the top 0.1 Percent, no? That, in case you aren’t a regular reader of this blog and would know this already, is over $500,000 per hour of income (based on a 40 hour work week, normal holidays and two weeks of vacation per year).

What we are criticizing you for is not your wealth but for your extremely bad behavior. Realize that to blow through a billion dollars, you would have to spend over $500,000 per hour to get it done in a calendar year. That amount of money would do for anybody for their entire lifetime but it was not enough for you, now was it.

It wasn’t enough that you played games with other people’s money, you took your gains (of which we were neither envious nor jealous) and parlayed them into even greater wealth . . . by gaming the system. You bribed public officials to change the rules (aka tax laws, investment laws, etc.) to favor you over others. You encouraged others through your securities purchases and manipulations to screw their employees by shipping their jobs overseas and by suppressing their wages while you saw to it that your bribed politicians made it harder and harder for labor unions to defend the interests of workers. You financed Republican and Democrat campaigns to make sure all were beholden to your interests.

You have gutted the middle class, your best customers by the way, and undermined American Democracy just so you could make a second (or third, or sixty-eighth) billion dollars. And for what? Just to prove you are a bigger asshole than the other billionaires?

We aren’t jealous or envious of your wealth. Most of us would look at your money and say “if to get this I have to be as big an asshole as you are . . . it’s just not worth it.”

So, really, just stop. If, like your predecessors, you took your money and ran, no one would be saying boo to you. It is because you just have to screw with the rest of us that you are hated.

March 17, 2014

Cosmos Crushes Creationists, Round 2

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
Tags: , , , , ,

If you expected a long, drawn out battle pitting Science against Creationism, guess again. Science wins by a knockout in the second round of the new science series Cosmos. In this episode the program focused upon evolution and mass extinctions. The tree of life was the main metaphor and the challenges were direct. The host stating that he could understand why people might want to separate themselves from our nearest relative on the tree of life, the chimpanzees. But, he continued, what about the DNA we share with oak trees, and bacteria, and many other creatures. In fact, as far as life on this planet goes, “we are one” in that we are all related . . . through evolution.

They even tackled a number of the hoary old creationist objections to evolution and natural selection. One was the evolution of the human eye. Even Darwin himself couldn’t see how eyes evolved, but that was 150 years ago and all of the intermediary steps in the evolution of eyes have been found, even to the mutation that has given us color vision rather than duo chrome vision like most other animals.

The coup de grâce was delivered toward the end of the show with host Neil deGrasse Tyson saying (I am paraphrasing here as my memory isn’t perfect) “Science exists on the border of knowledge and ignorance. There is no shame in not knowing all the answers. The only shame would be pretending to know all of the answers.” For you creationists who might no know, one definition of “faith” is “pretending to know things you do not know.”

Now, how many “e’s” are in erudite?

Note: Also posted on “Equiries on Atheism

March 15, 2014

Why Is It the Koch Brothers Can’t Find a Real Obamacare Victim?

Every time the Koch brothers, through one of their many false front organizations, create another “Victim of Obamacare” political ad, it usually takes less than a day to find out the victim was just a D.C. actress who was not a real Obamacare Victim, just playing one on TV, or a numb nuts who couldn’t figure out that he or she was getting better insurance for less money.

I thought all of these plutocrats were filthy rich because they were smarter than us, because they worked harder than us, because they had more grit and gumption than us.

If Obamacare was such a disaster you should be able to find a real victim by swinging a cat in a not very crowed room with your eyes closed. (No animals were hurt in the writing of this blog!)

It isn’t bad enough that the plutocrats are driving our democracy into a ditch of their digging, but it is the stupid and lazy plutocrats doing it.

We should be ashamed of ourselves for letting them fool us for even one minute; the damned plutocrats will never feel any shame at all.

March 14, 2014

GOP Governors Eschew Free Markets in Favor of Protectionism

The transformation of the GOP from a conservative party to a radical party is almost complete. In the latest move, three Republican governors (in Texas, Arizona, and now New Jersey) have unilaterally kicked Tesla Motors, the electric car company, out of their states. In New Jersey, Chris Christie’s order was to prevent direct sales of automobiles in the state, now all automobiles must be sold through independent dealers.

The corruption evident is that such protectionism isn’t being done to protect a native industry. New Jersey is not what anyone might call an “auto producing state,” instead what is being protected are the donations to their campaign funds from auto dealers, oil companies, the Koch brothers, etc. Sound familiar?

March 12, 2014

My Religious Freedom vs. Your Religious Freedom

There is a lot going on under the label of “religious freedom” currently, including what could be some landmark Supreme Court cases. But it seems to me that a great many people are trying to drag all kinds of things not really aspects of religious freedom under its banner so as to strengthen their cases. This is wrong and I hope it gets squelched.

The idea of religious freedom in this country is the ability to practice your religion without the interference of the government or, really, other religions. This is extended to include practicing no religion at all. When this country was founded, you will note that religious freedom was not in the Constitution. In fact, religion wasn’t really mentioned. It took an amendment to the Constitution to forbid the federal government from endorsing any religion by giving it special favors, etc. Also forbidden was inhibition of any religion. Originally this meant only the federal government and quite a few states had their own sponsored denominations. Over time the wisdom of this was challenged and people finally came to the point that any state-sponsorship of religion was a bad idea and all of the states complied with this idea of government non-interference and non-support. (The argument the religious bought was “sure it would be nice to have the state collect a tithe for you, but what happens if another religion becomes dominant and takes over that state sponsorship? You are then out in the cold.” Today consider about what would happen if a very small state were to have a large influx of Muslims. Would people be happy having a Muslim state? Would that mean Sharia law could be imposed? Sorry, just trolling for Fox (sic) News viewers.)

Here’s the deal. If the government(s) have a law that effects religions, they must exercise it without prejudice. So, it is entirely appropriate for the federal government to impose a tax upon religious groups. There is no basis for not taxing them that makes any sense. But they cannot tax any such religious group any differently that the others. This is what religious freedom means under the law.

Note that Utah was told it’s petition for statehood would not be accepted by the Congress unless they outlawed polygamy, something promoted by the dominant religion of the state. This was acceptable in that Utah was not yet a state in the “United States” and did not receive full consideration or application of all of the federal laws.

Clergy who commit crimes are not immune to prosecution under the banner of “religious freedom.” They do not have the equivalent of diplomatic immunity to local prosecutions.

But, because there is a culture of “hands off” with regard to religions, various people interpret that in various ways.

A current case before the Supreme Court involves whether or not an employer can be required to provide health insurance that includes contraceptive coverage if that conflicts with the religious convictions of the owners. Churches, per se, are exempted from the requirements of this law, for no good reason other than political expediency, but to exempt everyone who has a “religious conviction” will open up a legal can of worms, a very large can of worms. There is no protection for these people under current “religious freedom” legal doctrine. We’ll have to wait to see if the Supreme Court decides to invent something whacko like its “corporations are people” doctrine.

For those of you who disagree with that last statement, consider this: employers provide their employees with a voucher that enables them to purchase contraceptives, pay for abortions, solicit prostitutes, buy illegal drugs, or drink one’s self into oblivion or with any other manner of vice the employees wish. It is called a paycheck. Once the employer transfers that voucher to the employee, they lose control over what the employee does with the funds it is worth. So, a business that employs even only good Catholics can be required to provide insurance that includes hospitalization, out-patient care, and contraceptive services and not have to worry because no good Catholic would avail themselves of the contraceptive services. Because no person can impose their religious beliefs upon another and neither can the government. That’s the law.

It’s Time to Rein in the CIA

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:03 am
Tags: , , , , ,

In a shockingly public manner, the Senate’s intelligence oversight committee has taken the gloves off in a dispute with the CIA. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Diane Feinstein (DiFi to us native Californians) went on the floor of the Senate and called out the CIA for various aspects of its misconduct. The bulk of that misconduct still has not been revealed in the form of former CIA Director Leon Panetta’s review of the agency and the Senate’s current review, but the recently disclosed misconduct is enough to potentially trigger a constitutional crisis.

The CIA has been in “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission” mode for generations now and its misconduct is clearly visible even from the dribs and drabs only occasionally in view: torture, operating drone programs, keeping secrets from Congress, spying upon American citizens, etc.

Some of this might be forgivable if the CIA had been at all competent during this time. Consider a short list of the things the CIA has missed predicting:
•   the fall of the Berlin Wall
•   the fall of the Soviet Union
•   9-11
•   the Russian incursion into Georgia
•   the Russian incursion into Crimea/Ukraine (reportedly the CIA told the Senate oversight committee that the likelihood was nil the day before it happened)
and there are many, many more things they could have foreseen but didn’t.

Why we should condone illegal behavior because it provides us with gross incompetence is beyond me. In fact, it calls into question the validity of the organization as currently constituted.

March 10, 2014

Let Me Guess . . .

Some pseudo-historian in Louisiana was asked to comment about slavery during Black History Month. His main point was “that was then, this is now; we are past all of that.” He did feel compelled to throw in “if slavery were so bad, why did 90% of the slaves stay in Louisiana after they were freed?”

Let me make a wild-ass guess to answer this “gentlemen’s” question. Let see: slaves were forbidden, by law, to learn to read or write. Since they were slaves, they had no money. The local code said it was “okay to lynch niggers.” And the only place they knew was a radius of several miles from where they were at that moment.

I can just imagine their thought process. It probably went something like this: “Hey, I’ve got an idea! I got no money. I can’t read or write. White people would as soon see me dead as look at me. I think I will take off walking and head out to a new state where things will be, I don’t know, . . . different. Now which way is that other state, maybe I’ll just ask the next person I see.”


“Maybe the Devil I know is better and I’ll hunker down right here where I know a few people and check out the lay of the land first.” Now that seems more like it.

Folks, racism against Black people is alive and well. If it is nowhere in your sight, just look on the Internet. Google up “nigger” or “dumb nigger” and see how many hits you get.

The amazing thing to me is the source of this racism. Let me take a number of other wild-ass guesses: When this country was being founded, most people considered anybody who didn’t look like them to be a barbarian and inferior. (Think about how we treated the indigenous people who were here before we came.) That’s kind of normal. But along came a number of innovations. Indentured servitude was one. People in England (white people!) signed away their lives for a number of years to finance a trip to the new lands. They essentially became slaves but with a time limit and some cultural boundaries as to what they could be asked to do. Then, the next thing you know there were people being sold off of ships from Africa, wherever that was. Those people did not speak English or any other civilized tongue. Clearly they were subhuman barbarians, so buying them as a form of less-expensive labor seemed reasonable. Plus the Church and the Bible okayed this, heck the Bible endorsed and and provided rules for treating slaves.

So many people became slave owners. I believe a majority of our Founding Fathers were slave owners. George Washington famously freed his slaves. Thomas Jefferson famously did not (fuck them, yes; free them, no). It was a common syndrome in the South, where there were the greatest numbers of slaves and the smallest white population, of being fearful of a slave revolt. (I wonder why slaves would revolt if their lives were so wonderful? Who can tell what goes on in the mind of a subhuman; that is if they have minds.) At the beginning of the Civil War (not the War of Northern Aggression; it was the South that was the aggressor) the greatest fear at the start of the war was that Lincoln was going to free the slaves (Lincoln being a well-known “nigger-lover;” you can read all about it in the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL).

So that war got fought, some of the slaves (only those from secessionist states, now) were freed and low and behold, white folks became prejudiced. Jim Crow laws (including those wonderful vagrancy laws) were created to control all of those freed slaves who were slavering for revenge upon honest, God-fearing white folks.

And so it went. Animus piled upon animus, all based in fear. Because if you yielded to it and really looked you’d know that those slaves were real people who just happened to have darker skins than yours. And what was done to them was an abomination and you approved of it either explicitly or implicitly. They started out as captives in wars but then ended up “sold down the river” in Africa only to be “sold down the river” in the U.S. Their languages were stripped from them. Their cultures were stripped from them. Their religions were stripped from them. Their families were stripped from them. They were treated woefully and with great violence.

If you really stopped to think about how you would feel if that had been done to you, or any member of your family, you would feel outrage, immense outrage, too. And to be the sponsor of all of that misery would be unthinkable. So, you, who are a good person (you know this in your heart, bless your heart) don’t think about that; you think about how subhuman “they” are, how unlike us they are, how “shiftless and lazy” they are, how undeserving they are.

And if you, like that moron in Louisiana, think we are past that, think again. Our  politics is punctuated with words like “lazy” and “hammock” and “Kenya” and “Muslim” and “birth certificate” to tap into that current of fear, that current of racism.

The U.S. is post-racial, my ass.

A Response to “Cosmos,” Episode 1

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:52 am
Tags: , , ,

A fundamentalist theist viewed the first episode of the new “Cosmos” television series. His response was “Wrong, wrong, wrong, because . . . uh, because . . . Bengazi! Uh, no, because Bible!

March 9, 2014

Money is Not Speech

The Supreme Court was wrong to declare that “money is a form of speech.” This violates the “one man, one vote” spirit of our experiment in self-government. If money is speech, those with many dollars have more speech than those who have only one.

Speech is speech, it is nothing else.

Money on the other hand is not speech, rather it is: power, the root of all evil, something that cannot buy happiness or health, something you can’t serve and serve god also. Money is an enabler, a medium of exchange, not a thing in itself. In itself it is worthless.

Can you imagine the Founding Fathers creating an amendment to the Bill of Rights that said “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of money. . . ?” Money is regulated up the yin-yang; if it is speech we are making myriad laws restricting free speech.

If people with money want to speak, they should speak, not spend copious amounts of their money to say things for them (while hiding behind curtains like the Wizard of Oz).

If the Supreme Court won’t repent, we need to outlaw this foolishness.

If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” ― Dorothy Parker

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