Uncommon Sense

April 29, 2014

Why is Canada’s Middle Class Doing Better than Ours?

The chattering class has been chewing over the bombshell revelation that regarding the economic strength of the middle class, we are longer No. 1. Canada is. According to The Guardian:

“Median after-tax income for a family of four in both Canada and the United States hit $75,000 in 2010 and as later income surveys show that Canadians have earned larger wage gains than their counterparts south of the border in the years since then, Canadian income now is ahead of that in the US. The gap is even wider further down the wealth ladder.”

Setting aside the irony that the conservative tongue waggers who have lauded the income and wealth inequality in this country are also shocked (Shocked!) that our middle class could no longer be No. 1, most of the comments are on Canada’s sensible use of collective action (Socialism! Socialism!). Canada has subsidized college fees, single payer health care, limitations on executive pay, rational control of the banks and financial and housing markets,etc. The fact that the taxes necessary to support all of those collective actions haven’t crushed ordinary Canadians further perplexes the conservative punditry. The fact that reasonable regulation of these industries resulted in there being no financial collapse in Canada as there was here (the Great Recession) also puzzles them. I mean those regulations aren’t supposed to work.

“Canadians are doing better with unions than we are doing without them.”

What most haven’t mentioned, and I wonder why, is the primary lever in moving middle class wages up: labor unions. In the 1960’s both Canada and the U.S. had about a third of its jobs as union jobs. Union wages are higher than nonunion wages and put upward pressure on the wages of nonunion employees as their bosses want to avoid unionization. The situation in Canada is unchanged, while the proportion of union jobs in this country has shrunk drastically. If you think this reduction in union jobs was an accident, think again. Now, if you are a regular Fox (sic) News viewer and think this is indicative of labor unions being rotten at their core, or some socialist plot, you have to stop smoking what you are smoking until your head clears. Canadians are doing better with unions than we are doing without them. Unless, of course, your definition of “better” has nothing to do with people in the middle and at the bottom of the economic spectrum.

April 25, 2014

Republicans Racist? Surely Not!

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:20 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

There are some making the argument that the Republican Party is not really the party of racism. They point to the facts that black people overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama and white people for Mitt Romney as being two sides of the same coin. They don’t seem to bother to compare the 90% Democrat voting of blacks for Barack Obama to the 90% Democrat voting of blacks for white presidential candidates much either.

Now, I am not one to say that Republicans are primarily motivated by racism, but I do believe it is a major thread of the Republican fabric of politics, that it is a significant motivation in Republican politics. Consider their voter suppression activities: they simultaneously disadvantage blacks, Hispanics, and Democrats. All three of which is just fine with the Republican rank and file. And look at the kind of criticism our first black President has garnered from the rabid right: Obama bin Laden, Obama as a monkey, Obama as a witch doctor, Obama as a non-citizen (When did we make blacks citizens anyway? I don’t believe in the federal government in any case.), Obama was born in Kenya, “You lie!,” etc.

None of these are racial, I am sure. (Sarcasm alert, sarcasm alert!)

Richard Nixon’s southern strategy coupled with Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts resulted in all of the racists in the South become Republicans (they used to be Democrats!). Yes, there are racists in the North. Yes, there are racists in the Democratic Party. But the vast majority of Southern racists took up residence in the Republican party and are still there. And the South is the regional bastion of the GOP.

If you want evidence as to whether this is true, all you need to look for are the usual dog whistle comments. Most recently we heard from Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in support of Cliven Bundy. When Bundy got lathered up and started on his favorite topic of “the Negro” both of those Senators denounced his comments, well actually their press secretaries did, in written statements, so there will be no video or audio record of the two Senators denunciations but their prior approval of Mr. Bundy’s antics will be widely available in those formats.

This is how the race card is played, without race being brought up. And Republicans, especially ambitious Republicans, better learn how to curry the favor of racists, even if they are not racists themselves, because a significant fraction of their base is.

Why All of the Lies on the Right?, Part 2

When I wrote the post “Why All of the Lies on the Right?” (Part 1) a couple of days ago I left an important bundle of lies out because it would have made that post way too long, namely those were the attacks of the right going back several decades on public education. I believe that free and public education (of the people, by the people, for the people) is a cornerstone of our democracy and if we lose it, we might well be doomed as a viable political entity, so this is a very important topic.

So, what are these lies? Here is a partial list:

1. Student achievement in American primary schools has recently declined.

2.  American college students’ performance has likewise declined.

3.  The intellectual abilities including abstract problem-solving skills of American young people have recently declined.

4.  Schools in the U.S. come in far behind the performance of some schools in other countries.

5.  The U.S. spends a lot more money on schools than other countries do.

6.  Investing in schools has not brought success; actually there is no relation between spending and performance.

“Why are these lies being repeated over and over such that many people now believe they are true?”

7.  Recent increases in school spending have been wasted on administration and raises for teachers.

8.  The productivity of American workers is deficient which reflects the inadequate training they receive in our public schools.

9.  The U.S. produces far too few scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to meet its needs (the so-called STEM crisis).

10.  Our teachers aren’t qualified and/or are incompetent.

11.  Our textbooks teach immorality.

12.  Private schools are inherently better than public schools\13. Private schools outperform public schools.

13. Poverty is not an excuse, good teachers can overcome the effects of student poverty.

… there’re more, but I think my point has been made. All of the above statements are false (yes, even the STEM crisis one). I won’t go into why or how they are false as these can be easily researched with simple Google searches. I call them lies because these have been used over and over by politicians on the right, even after they have been discredited by studies. If you, as a politician, are going to advocate education policy, you damned well better know the facts.

Why are these lies being repeated over and over such that many people now believe they are true?

“How can a chronically underfunded non-profit effort (even more so because of the Great Recession) be made better by extracting profits from that enterprise?”

Since the effort is politically motivated, we must follow the money. There are billions and billions of dollars to be made by private entities (charter schools, private schools, textbook companies, testing companies, etc.) replacing public ones. This has already begun in several states when the public coffers have been opened wide to the raiding of corporations to solve problems that do not exist. Many of these efforts have been made immune to labor laws and public accountability laws (meaning they don’t have to account for the money they spend). And I have yet to hear a viable answer to my question: how can a chronically underfunded non-profit effort (even more so because of the Great Recession) be made better by extracting profits from that enterprise?

So, in the morality of conservatives includes “lies are fine as long as money can be made off of them” and “undermining our democracy is okay as long as a profit is made in doing so.” Maybe it is not the textbooks that are undermining the morality of our students, maybe it is the Conservatives.

Amend the Second Amendment?

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has come up with a new book, containing six ideas of how to amend the U.S. Constitution. The one that drew my attention most was he wanted to change the Second Amendment (I guess you can you amend an amendment) to read thus (the new words in italics):

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed.

And as the Justice points out, up until very recently the Second Amendment of the Constitution was interpreted by the Supreme Court as a collective right and not an individual right. When the Court changed its tune is when we got into our current “gun nuts in charge” phase.

I have no doubt that the learned Justice knows more about the law than do I but I find this puzzling. First it would throw gun control basically back onto the states or it would allow the federal government to regulate the heck out of the use of firearms by individuals.

Having the states more in charge of gun control would result in a huge variety of regulations from state to state. We have some of that now; for example, consider Georgia’s new law that makes it okay to take concealed guns into bars, and airports, and churches, and public buildings so you can defend yourself and your property. Step across the state line, though, and you may just get arrested for the same behavior. So, it might be better to have consistent laws by having the federal government create the laws, the federal government being an arm of the people of all of the states.

I see only one problem with Justice Stevens’ idea. He offers no definition of “militia.” As soon as this amendment were enacted, the number of militias would skyrocket as gun nuts from all over would be seeking immunity from federal gun control laws by joining one. I am sure that the NRA would become the sponsor of a militia in each of the fifty states in a hot minute.

I think the end result is better served through a political process. Currently the radical NRA policies carry political clout not because of the many rabid members of the NRA who vote, but because of the amount of money the NRA gathers from the shooting sports industry to shill (aka lobby) for them. In this manner, only the NRA has “dirty hands” and not the gun and ammunition manufacturers. Ex-NY Governor Bloomberg is forming an organization to counter the NRA’s political money. If enough people donate, Mr. Bloomberg is donating $50 million as seed money, it may offset much of the power the NRA currently wields.

In addition, if the radical conservative majority on the Supreme Court can be broken, we may get the court to reverse its radical shifts in judgments back to what they were before they went collectively insane (corporations are people, campaign finance limitations restrict free speech, the second amendment is an individual right, etc.)

So, politics may be a better way out than trying to amend the Constitution in a way that will be ineffectual and hence convince people that the status quo can’t be changed.

April 24, 2014

The Cliven Bundy Conundrum

If you haven’t been following the news or are from out-of-country, Mr. Cliven Bundy is a cattle rancher in our state of Nevada, who has been grazing his cattle on federal land for 20 years without paying the required “grazing fees.” He has been taken to court numerous times and each time he has lost. His defense is that he doesn’t believe in the existence of the federal government. (Really!) Most recently, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) showed up to confiscate his cattle but they were met with armed resistance, not only from the Bundy family but by hordes of right-wing militia toting guns. The BLM officers wisely backed down from a confrontation to pursue other efforts. Maybe this would be just another odd news note about an odd happening out in the wild West, but for some reason the “issue” got picked up by the right-wing media machine (Fox (sic) News, Rush Limbaugh, etc. but strangely not Glenn Beck). They made Mr. Bundy out to be some sort of patriot instead of the violent radical scofflaw he clearly is.

Clearly the conservative media have lost their minds because the law Mr. Bundy is flaunting was put in place by none other than the GOP saint, Ronald Reagan. Which makes it even stranger that U.S. Senators (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, etc.) got involved on Bundy’s behalf, one of whom referred to Mr. Bundy as a “patriot.”

Now, let me put this in perspective. Would the right-wing media gone to bat for a deadbeat scofflaw like Mr. Bundy, if he . . .
. . . were African American?
. . . were Hispanic?
. . . were a Muslim?
. . . were an Indian?
. . . were a woman?
Anybody? Really? It seems that the population of aggrieved white people is ever growing. (I grieve for my people.)

And the small community near Mr. Bundy’s ranch is now overrun by pickup trucks full of members of right-wing militia groups sporting loaded AK-47s. Would you want that in your community, Mr. Hannity?


My evil mind says that the BLM officers should fly over the federal land he is using illegally and shoot all of his cattle, then send him notice to remove the remains of his cattle which were trespassing on our land (yes, federal land is land owned by the people of the United States). But I rarely give in to my evil mind and why should those poor cattle have to pay with their lives for the bad judgment of one asshole not even of their species.

April 23, 2014

Inequality BS

The GOP’s take on income and wealth inequality is that it is basically a “good thing” which tells you everything you need to know about who is paying the GOP’s bills.

Their basic argument is that the wealthy are the “job creators” and so having the wealth in their hands means that jobs are created and people get to work, pay their bills, and everybody is happy. Now, they are not arguing that the wealthy are all creating jobs directly, many of the wealthy these days turn out to be corporate executives and they are not going to use their own money so their companies can hire more employees. Instead they invest that money in, for example, the stock market so other people can use that capital to hire folks and build things.

It is a nice story, but how is it actually playing out.

Let’s see: businesses are sitting on almost two trillion dollars worth of cash they aren’t using to build stuff and hire people.

Why is that?

Apparently there is not enough demand.

The wealthy are not good at spending money.”

Why is that?

Well people are in debt up to their necks and many don’t have jobs and those who do haven’t seen much if any growth in their income in decades while their expenses have gone up and up and up.

Why is that?

Basically it is because of the wealthy. You see they are very good at making and hoarding money but not so good at spending it. Do they spend their money by buying stocks in companies that are hiring and building? Not so much. Instead they invest in “securities” (such irony) trying to make as much money as possible and those “securities” are tied to activities that are more speculative than constructive, that is nothing real is created. And the return on investment in the form of tax breaks secured by bribing, uh, donating to the campaign funds, of politicians is undeniable.

The wealthy are not good at spending money. The poor and middle class are: they have no choice but to spend all they make. So, as wealth has been transferred from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, it has had the effect of increasing “savings” and decreasing “spending” which has created the lack of demand that created a stalled economy.

Why is that?

The wealthy think that their wealth makes them “special.” They don’t realize that they are “special” only in the sense of the Church Lady (look it up). They are using their wealth to rig the game to enable them to increase their own wealth because to them that is prestige. The fact that the other 99% of us think of them as just rich assholes is irrelevant. The only thing that counts is their ability to increase their own wealth and therefore their own prestige among their peers. And if they have to fuck over all of the rest of us to do that, well, so be it.

Why All of the Lies on the Right?

When I was younger I don’t remember conservatives peddling lies all the time, but that was then and this is now. There are enough examples of political exaggeration on all sides of issues to go around. Gross exaggerations by environmentalists in the early days of the environmental movement undermined the credibility of some of them when the abuses became more visible, for example. This is not an unusual practice as getting the attention of an information addled populace is not easy. (I have always suggested that the truth is the best approach because, if for no other reason, it is easier to remember.)

But of late Conservatives (yes, the capital “C” conservatives of today) have found that lies and overt deceptions are important tools, so important that they use them willy-nilly. As just a few examples:

Climate change is a hoax. A hoax, really? On what planet can a hoax be perpetrated with the willing participation of thousands of people in dozens of different countries?

Evolution is a lie. Again, you could have fooled me. On what planet can you get thousands of the most rational human beings to believe a lie upon which their credibility and income are contingent?

The wealthy are our job creators. Yeah, if you want to work for minimum wages. The real job creators are called “customers.” Without them, there are no jobs. Customers pay the bills and salaries of those hired, not the wealthy.

Benghazi is a scandal. Really? Not the eight embassy attacks and all of the deaths that occurred during the Bush administration, but the one attack and four deaths in Libya, of all places?

The IRS is targeting conservative groups. Gosh, I hope so, in that they are lying about their tax exempt status in droves. The fact that the IRS targeted progressive groups apparently doesn’t matter and, well, the fact that that is their job. And, the GOP instigated cuts in the IRS’s budget seem to have been the cause of the IRS needing to take shortcuts due to a lack of manpower may have had something to do with it. Oh, well, any sort of lie that undermines the IRS’s integrity is good for the GOP’s paymasters.

The President isn’t a citizen. That birth certificate is a fake!

Obamacare will result in “death panels!” Oh, for Pete’s sake.

Corporations are people. Somehow the Supreme Court has gone out of its way to convert a somewhat useful business fiction (that corporations have some aspects of people, mainly that they live and die) into a political nightmare is beyond comprehension.

I could go on (and on) but I won’t. I am sure you have some of your favorite Conservative Lies you can add to the list. Their approach to creating these is a fascinating one. In general, the propaganda arm of the GOP, Fox (sic) News, throws out lies rapid fire. Those that “stick,” that is resonate with the conservative base, are the one’s embraced by Conservative Politicians. having a “lie factory” as an industrial model is somehow fitting.

It is pure speculation, but I suspect that all of these overt lies have replaced the subtle lies of the past because a diminishment of the creative and logical powers of the conservative class. Any conservative worth his salt and with half a brain has fled the field. When I was young, the GOP had a liberal wing and a moderate wing. These folks overlapped with the more conservative democrats (like the Blue Dog Dems) and common ground was created, drawing the extremes of both parties toward the center. The flight of the GOP’s liberals and conservatives took not only that common ground with them but they took more than the average number of IQ points, too. The Bubbas remaining don’t have the sophistication to engage in subtle “untruths” and are much more comfortable with flat out lies.

April 22, 2014

Poll Shows Lack of Public Support for “The Big Bang”

Aw, c’mon, pollsters. This is stupid. A recent Associated Press (AP)-GfK poll came up with the following two responses (among others):

“The universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang.” 51% of the respondents answered with: “Not too/Not at All Confident” that this statement is true.

“The universe is so complex, there must be a supreme being guiding its creation.” 54% of the respondents answered that they were Extremely/Very Confident that this statement is true.

According to many in the commenting class these responses say a lot about Americans. But they don’t really say what. I am not so timid.

The Big Bang Theory is a relatively young theory and if an adult were not a fan of popular science programming on TV, just where would they acquire any information about what that theory was and whether it were true? The vast majority of Americans are not in a position to access or evaluate the data supporting this theory. So, for Americans to believe that “the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang” would require an act of faith, faith that many scientists believe it to be so, which must make it so.

On the other hand, many, many Americans are brought up in schools, in churches, and summer camps, and colleges wherein the message is repeated over and over that “in the beginning, God created, etc.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that phrase, but it is a very large number. You can also see this reinforced on TV programs, even on “science” channels.

So, what would you expect ordinary people to believe?

Is there any serious discussion of the contrast between these two “messages?” Does anyone ever ask why the phrase “in the beginning” is used when clearly God is already there? Does anyone ever ask why God addresses no one in particular and uses the word “us” when he creates Adam and Eve? There is no public discourse on the contrast between these two opposing memes, so is it any surprise that the message hammered home over and over and over is the one people favor?

It is somewhat dismaying, though, to hear the trite comments fostered by creationist apologists coming from educated people. For example, in the AP story they say:

Jorge Delarosa, a 39-year-old architect from Bridgewater, N.J., pointed to a warm 2012 without a winter and said, “I feel the change. There must be a reason.” But when it came to Earth’s beginnings 4.5 billion years ago, he has doubts simply because “I wasn’t there.”

Did anyone ask the gentlemen about his belief in “in the beginning, God created, etc?” I do believe he could also state that he wasn’t there either.

Until there is some rational discourse in this country, those with the best marketing will dominate public opinion. It seems to be true in our politics and it is certainly true in our religions.

April 18, 2014

Russia’s Long Game

Filed under: History — Steve Ruis @ 7:28 am
Tags: , , ,

During the current crisis in Ukraine (fomented by the west or not) history should not be forgotten. As the Iranians don’t forget our role in the overthrow of their elected government in 1953, Russia has not forgotten that a coalition of western powers invaded Russia after the revolution. Japan and the U.S. invaded from the east, European powers from the west. (Yes, we had troops on Russian soil.) Also, you need to know that when Russia took so many countries into its embrace after World War 2, it did everything it could do to “Russianize” those “satellites.” It made Russia the national language of those states and the only language to be taught in schools. And it moved a very large number of ethnic Russians into those states as they had earlier moved large numbers of other ethnicities out of them. Because of this, Russia always had a sizeable minority, at the very least, of ethnic Russians “on tap” in those states, to oppose internal revolutions or external invasions.

Anyone shocked by Russia’s current tactics of smuggling in its own troops to blend with the ethnic Russians already in Ukraine or Russia’s honoring plebiscites in areas dominated by ethic Russians miss the point that they prepared those strategies a long time ago.

April 16, 2014

Calling Bullshit: GOP Wants to Abolish the IRS

When there are so many real issues that need our attention, why are Republicans going around the country defaming the Internal Revenue Service? They have succeeded in cutting that agency’s budget and crippling it in various other ways. The GOP opposed a major computer upgrade when the IRS’s computers were about four or five generations behind being “modern.” And they continuously beat the drum with how wicked and evil the IRS is, and how bloated the tax code is.

This is abject idiocy. First, the IRS is not responsible for the tax code, Congress is. So, here we have the picture of Congressional Republicans going around the country blaming the IRS for the bloated state of the federal tax codes which is actually their responsibility. WTF?

So, do Republicans want tax code reform? I say “no,” and there are myriad reasons supporting this. The first is simply to watch their actions, instead of their words. Between 2001 and 2006, the GOP had control of the White House, the House, and the Senate. Anything they wanted to do they could. Did they even attempt any tax reform? No.

That could be the end of my argument … but wait, there’s more! How many pages of the federal tax code do you think are necessary to cover all of the rules needed for you to file your tax return? Fifty? One hundred? So, why are there thousands and thousands of pages in the tax code? They are there to provide tax loopholes for rich people and corporations, you know, so that hedge fund managers making billions of dollars annually never leave the lowest tax bracket (15%) while middle class folks making $50K-60K make it at least into the 28% bracket. People talk about tax havens in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands like they were the idea of those countries. when actually, they were created by the U.S. tax code. I wonder how those codes got written, hmmm?

Now we are getting a sniff of what the GOP’s minions are really doing: they like the bloated tax codes because they wrote much of it (Democrats, too) to give their rich patrons tax breaks; they just don’t want the IRS enforcing any of the more punitive parts of that code. Their approach is the same as with environment regulations: corporations don’t need environmental regulations; we can trust them to respect the environment. For the rich: we don’t need to enforce any of those tax laws that cause the rich to pay more taxes than they are now; we can trust them to pay their fair share of income taxes. (“These are not the “Droids you are looking for. There is nothing to see here.”) Of course, this is with all evidence being to the contrary: corporations regularly rape the environment (dump radioactive waste in holes in the ground and leave it for others to clean up, spill huge quantities of oil and not clean it up, leave toxic coal ash dumps out in what effectively are basins that fill up and overflow with rain water, oops, and rich people evade taxation, legally and illegally on a daily basis).

Most people, especially when having just confronted how much they have paid in taxes, aren’t happy about that, but if they are given a scale upon which they place their taxes on one pan and all of the services they receive for those taxes on the other they aren’t particularly unhappy or have buyer’s remorse, etc. (And if they are it is over matters of fairness, not that they are paying taxes at all; only GOP wingnuts think they shouldn’t be paying taxes at all.) But that momentary disgruntlement we all feel when we pay our taxes can be fanned into an anti-government feeling and that serves the GOP’s paymaster’s will. But, how many times have tax measures been passed by the GOP only to find out that the major beneficiaries are the rich even though they were pitched as to how they would affect your taxes, not theirs? And even if the rich don’t benefit all that much, as long as “the government” (which is just “us” acting together for the common good) is further starved of funds, the less it can do to oppose the will of the rich and the corporations.

Currently, tons of GOP political cash is being stored illegally in “charities” prohibited from doing much politically. Because they are “charities” they need pay no taxes and need not disclose their “donors.” The fact that these organizations spend all of their monies on politics is a minor peccadillo that the IRS should not be looking into, so we see the GOP cutting the IRS’s budget, reducing the number of IRS agents, pumping up false claims that the IRS is biased against conservative groups, etc.

So, I call bullshit on the GOP’s efforts to “rein in the IRS.” It is just another ploy in its support of the rich and corporations being allowed to do any damned thing they want. Of course, they include themselves in that group because to continue their effective support of the rich and powerful, they need to be rich and powerful, too.

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