Uncommon Sense

May 29, 2014

Are Capitalism and Democracy Compatible?

On paper, capitalism and democracy seem to be compatible. The two large forces at play are, well, on one hand human and corporate greed, tending to redistribute wealth and privilege upward and on the other hand the voting majority of the poor and middle classes which tend to favor redistribution of wealth and income downward. So government spends a great deal of effort to support the “general welfare” and the plutocrats spend a great deal of effort to concentrate wealth in their own hands. The question is, do these forces balance?

If they do, then democracy and capitalism can coexist healthily.

But what if the plutocrats wage a campaign to get the less well off to vote against their economic interests and to create a mistrust of government supports? Both of these efforts are clearly in play as conservatives (with wealthy backers) are using social issues to mask economic votes and are bringing government into disrepute by making it “the problem” instead of “the solution.”

Does no one else see this? Hello?

Can you not also see that this has to end badly, that the efforts of the current crop of radical conservatives is destroying the balance that allows capitalism and democracy to coexist. And the result will be . . . ?


May 28, 2014

Six Conundrums the Left Can’t Answer … Really?

Allen B. West, the deranged GOPer from Florida has posted the following:

Six Conundrums the Left Can’t Answer

1. America is capitalist and greedy – yet almost half of the population is subsidized.
2. Half of the population is subsidized – yet they think they are victims.
3. They think they are victims – yet their representatives run the government.
4. Their representatives run the government – yet the poor keep getting poorer.
5. The poor keep getting poorer – yet they have things that people in other countries only dream about.
6. They have things that people in other countries only dream about – yet politicians (mostly progressive socialists) claim they want America to become more like those other countries.

These, he claims, are conundrums that the Left can’t answer.

I don’t know about the “Left” as there is not much of one remaining in the U.S., but I can answer them.

#1 America is capitalist and greedy … uh, yes. But the estimate that half of the population is subsidized is too low. It is much closer to 100%. Every corporation, they are people, too, you know, is on the take. They get tax breaks, etc. from their bought and paid for politicians, so every one working for a corporation is also being subsidized. (Consider just the benefits Wal-Mart’s employees get to support their substandard wages.) Then all of those people getting Medicare, all of those people getting Social Security, all of those people getting a tax deduction to buy their homes (the greedy takers), all of those taking education expense deductions, etc. It would be hard to find anyone in this country not getting a subsidy.

The problem here is the amount of the subsidies. The corporations get billions. The rich get millions. The poor get peanuts and bad mouthed at the same time.

#2 The only people claiming victimhood are Fox (sic) News commentators. I’m sorry, the poor don’t have mouthpieces, or blogs, or paid PR flaks to make their point. Where do you get this idea that the “poor think they are victims?” Oh, you just made it up? Well, I can prove that the poor have been victims. Just compare the wages of the poor, go on, use the minimum wage, and compare it to the pay of CEOs whose companies hire workers for minimum wage jobs. Anybody who thinks that corporations are not using an economic downturn to hold wages down or are virulently anti-union to keep their workers wages down isn’t playing with a full deck of cards.

#3 The poor have representatives? Really? All those K Street Lobbyists the poor hired are having an effect, eh? Are you effing crazy? Our elected officials serve only their wealthy donors. Study after study proves this. On what planet did you grow up that has poor with effective political representation? Has this ever been the case in human history? When the minimum wage law was enacted in the 1930s, there were two groups of workers excluded; do you know which those were? They were farm workers and servants, i.e. black people. Did you see all of the black people’s lobbyists swarming Washington, D.C. to get that fixed? No? Neither did I.

#4 The poor’s representatives run the government? You mean like in the House of Representatives in which the average personal wealth of members is over $1,000,000? Rich people are just lining up to represent the interests of poor people, . . . uh, not. This idea runs counter to your other idiotic idea that government is transferring wealth from ordinary folks (really rich people) to the poor (the shiftless and lazy, really, you know “dem folks”). If there were such massive transfers occurring, would the poor still be getting poorer? See #3 for more.

#5 Yeah, our poor have things people in other countries just dream about, people in countries like Chad and Bangladesh. Our poor are really living a life of luxury … as victims, too. The “socialist European” countries you sneer at have better health care outcomes for far less money spent, often to no cost to their citizens than do we. What kind of price to you put on your health? Is having a wide-screen TV or a pickup truck better? Is there a reason that black folks in this country live lives so much shorter than do others? Could it be they often can’t afford health care because they want to, you know, eat or stay warm? You would not get any of the citizens of those “socialist” countries willing to trade places and be “poor” in the U.S.

#6 Hell, even I want the U.S. to be more like those other countries. Countries that care about people and who provide support to citizens in the form of health care and child care. What is so effing special about “everybody is on their own?” Surveys of whether or not people are happy show Canadians are far happier than Americans. They have fewer worries. They have a banking system that didn’t melt down like ours did because they regulated greed out of their banking system, for example. And they have the dreaded “single payer” health care system (falsely maligned with made-up stores by the U.S. Right). I know the bubble that just opened in your head: if you think Canada’s so great, why don’t you go live there? Am I right? As if my wanting to live near my family and friends had no bearing nor does whether Canada wants people like me. Let me flip that around and say “if you think “everybody is on their own” is so great, like in Afghanistan or Somalia, why don’t you go live there?

Stop making asinine claims you can’t support. They are not even original, but that is not surprising as I suspect you have no thoughts of your own.


Aw, shit!

According to the AP:

The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that it had reached an enforceable deal with Duke Energy to clean up its mess from a huge coal ash spill into the Dan River. The Feb. 2 spill coated 70 miles of the river in North Carolina and Virginia with toxic gray sludge. The E.P.A. will oversee the cleanup in consultation with federal wildlife officials under provisions in the Superfund law. Duke will reimburse the federal government for its oversight costs, including those incurred in the emergency response to the spill. Coal ash, the byproduct left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity, contains numerous toxic substances, including arsenic, selenium, chromium, thallium, mercury and lead. The agreement makes no mention of any fines imposed against Duke.

The key words are “Duke will reimburse the federal government for its oversight costs” (my emphasis) meaning that others will pay for the actual cleanup costs, while Duke, which caused the mess, will pay whoever watches the cleanup to make sure it is done right.

Crony capitalism wins again!

May 27, 2014

The Tragedy of the Loss of the Common Good

The American Experiment in self-governance is being undermined. The attacks are subtle but observable as a shift of political focus from the collective good to individual rights. This trend in this country to “individualize” everything, is evident in gun rights and in higher education among other areas.

The framers of the Constitution stated their focus thusly: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The phrases “common defense” and “general welfare” and “our Posterity” were collectivist as was most of their focus in the rest of the Constitution. How could it be otherwise? We were establishing how we would govern ourselves without kings or other dictators.

Some of the framers went on to establish the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The awkward phrasing of this new article of the Constitution has given modern people no end of pause but not the legal system. For about 200 years, the courts interpreted this “right” as one that pertained to militias being employed to provide for the “common defense” and not as the right of an individual to possess firearms. This was written thus as the framers had no intention of having a standing army as that was, in their opinion, the first step toward tyranny. No, individual citizens must come together to form militias and they must provide their own firearms more often than not, so there could be no restriction on these militia-related activities. The scant discussion recorded over the debates of this amendment mention nothing but militias: no hunting arms, no personal protection firearms, just militia. In fact this was so self-evident that there was little debate about the Second Amendment at all. This situation was true up to and through the Civil War but thereafter we moved down the road to having a standing army, making the entire Second Amendment in its original meaning moot.

In 1977, the National Rifle Association was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists who developed a plan to change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense. In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned those two centuries of settled law in the Heller decision. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, a self-proclaimed “originalist intent” jurist in that he believes that the Constitution should only be interpreted as to what the framers and their generation intended in 1789!

Currently, the Second Amendment to the Constitution is interpreted as an individual right and not a collective one, resulting in unrestricted gun ownership and almost unrestricted gun use.

In higher education and public education in general, education came to be looked at as something to promote the general welfare. Study after study showed that the more educated the populace, the better off the country as a whole. But in the 1970s and ‘80s, some began to view higher education more as a private good benefitting individual students than as a public good helping the nation prosper by creating better educated citizens. This is clearer nowhere else than the requirement that all children be compelled to go to school at the state’s expense. Whether you had children or not you paid taxes to educate all U.S. children “for the common good” not just to educate your own children (the complete antithesis of “pay as you go”). Prior to that time, public universities enjoyed almost total support from government, and tuition at some of the country’s best universities was free or nearly free. (I remember my “fees” at San Francisco State College in the late 1960s were about $75 per semester and those were described as paper processing fees, not tuition. A later study showed that the State of California got back $11-13 for every dollar they spent on my education there.) But Republican governors like Ronald Reagan argued that states should not subsidize frivolous educations, while economists like Milton Friedman advocated against the entire notion of free education (he didn’t think the government should have national parks either), claiming that students seeking a “private advantage” should pay for it themselves. So, tuition in California’s state universities and colleges: free in 1960 for a California resident, costs in excess of $12,000 not counting room and board today. And, of course, those free-loading individual students cannot discharge educational loan debt in bankruptcy. The rabid individualists made sure of that.

Having gotten their way in higher eduction, they have turned on public education in general and are rapidly privatizing our public schools . . . using public funds!

These are but two of the anti-common good efforts in our current society. None seem to be “American” in their outlook, all seem to be steeped in Social Darwinism which is surprising because no conservatives, the tips of the plutocrat’s spears in these efforts, think positively of Darwinian evolution. This is not a surprising contradiction from a group which loves to wrap itself in patriotism and the flag but is doing its utmost to unravel the American Experiment in self-governance. Their message: you are on your own; there is no collective good.

May 23, 2014

Cognitive Dissonance? Nope. Nothing to See Here, Move Along

The GOP insists upon a number of principles that are completely contradictory to reality for anyone to be a true believer. A the top, you must believe in the supremacy of free markets, that all government regulation of such is bad. This, of course, flies in the face of a steady stream of corporate bad/illegal/destructive/careless behavior. Think about Enron, the subprime mortgage disaster, the price of gasoline going up while demand was going down due to speculators, Monsanto, the Koch brothers trying to eliminate government support for alternative energy in Kansas, the Wall Street banks gambling with other people’s money and cheating their own customers, the fracking companies (What earthquakes? Water doesn’t burn. We don’t contaminate your water, no. All we want are laws that send people to prison for describing what we are doing.), railroad tank car fleet operators (What explosions? Our cars are perfectly safe.), General Motors (That’s not a defective ignition switch, you must have bumped the keys with your knee. Problems, there are no problems.), . . . , I forgot about the nuclear fuel company that buried its waste “out back” instead of processing it according to the law. (Okay I am done, wait, …)

So, if the free market would correct all of these things, why did they happen in the first place? Did government regulations cause all of these things? Was it too expensive to do things the right way, so they took forced shortcuts, knowing their parent corporation could “disincorporate” if things got really bad?

“The free market ideology is actually just an economic manifestation of human greed.”

Free markets are driven by greed, no matter their original attentions. Manipulation of “free” markets is the quickest path to wealth and so attracts greedy people. (Free markets are by nature based upon all parties having perfect information, free from anything manipulative, like advertising.) What aspect of free markets protects us from those greedy people? There is nothing.

Government taxes upon corporations are a way of charging those corporations for their externality costs (their use of the roads, communication networks, etc., their pollution of the air and water and land, and other things we share) but those same corporations have bribed government officials to eliminate or reduce their corporate taxes to a bare minimum, leaving their externalities to be paid for by others (us). They also make sure all of the laws benefit them and not the general citizenry. As just one example, college students cannot expunge college loan debts (to corporations) through bankruptcy, but corporations can avoid a massive toxic waste cleanup that way.

So, what is it about free markets that will “correct” for these corporate failings and manifestations of greed?

The answer is short—nothing. The free market ideology is actually just an economic manifestation of human greed. “Leave us alone to make as much money as we can and maybe you will benefit sometime down the road. Don’t interfere. Ignore that man behind the curtain.”

Is it just a coincidence that anytime we get close to their ideology that the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer accelerate? I don’t think so.

Since these zealots claim that anything that smacks of regulation of free markets is socialism, well, then I am in favor of socialism, at least in so far as it is practiced in Scandinavia. There the reins on human greed, er, free markets, are held tightly by public interests.

May 22, 2014

Karl Rove is Relevant Again, uh, How?

Karl Rove is a political operative who only works for Republicans. Last seen, he was incredibly wrong about the 2012 election. Mr. Rove resurfaced recently saying something incredibly snarky, and as it proved out incorrect, about a potential Democratic candidate for President.

And this is news?

Uh, hello News Media. Hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and find another reason to exist please because when it comes to speaking truth to power, the only reason your sorry asses are justified, you are an abysmal failure.

Karl Effing Rove’s blathers are news . . . amazing.

May 20, 2014

GOP Electoral Strategy—Effing Amazing

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:30 am
Tags: , , , ,

Under the orders from their plutocratic masters, the GOP has helped created a system in which corporations have legally shipped a great many (millions actually!) of high quality jobs overseas, forcing Americans downward in the job quality spectrum, which displaces other workers downward, etc. until we have “entry-level” jobs that used to be the jobs teenagers cut their working teeth on filled by thirty-somethings with families to support. So, fast food workers are now people with families instead of kids with zits.

Next, you blame those “low wage” workers for their lot in life, in that they didn’t prepare better for the jobs that no longer exist unless they moved to a foreign (low wage) country. You oppose minimum wage increases even though inflation has reduced the last min wage to have a real value of about one-third of its nominal value. Why, because it is “bad for business!” But you don’t say that, you say “raising the minimum wage will reduce jobs” all of the evidence to the contrary be damned.

Businesses are more important that the people making them up.

And this is their electoral strategy, designed to win them elections far into the future.

Amazing, effing amazing!

Tail Trying to Wag Financial Dog . . . Again

The Anglo-Swedish drug company AstraZeneca has rejected the £69,ooo,ooo,ooo takeover bid of U.S. rival Pfizer. You would think that would be the end of things, but no. AstraZeneca shareholders are up in arms over the rejection of the deal.

Do the shareholders know the intricate details of the deal? No.

Do the shareholders know whether the deal will be good for AstraZeneca’s brand? No.

Do the shareholders know what the firm’s management’s full thinking was? No.

So, what did the shareholders know?

They knew that they would have made a major profit on the value of their shares.

So, as far as they are concerned, any deal that makes them money is a good deal? Or are they believers in the lie that the only reason for the existence of a corporation is to create value for its shareholders?

Whatever the case, it is extremely bad management on somebody’s part whenever the shareholders decide they want to run things. In this case it seems to be bad management on the part of the shareholders.

Ah, the stock market. Why do we still think this is a proper way for business to take place?

May 19, 2014

Republican Economic Experiments: Failed and Ignored

The “trickle-down” economics theory has been tested again and has failed again. According to Think Progress:

“In a time of slack economic growth and high unemployment around the country, Kansas lawmakers thought they had the solution: massive tax cuts for the wealthy would lure economic activity and jump-start the state’s economy. But after Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed $1.1 billion worth of tax cuts into law over the past two years, the state is behind the national average for economic growth.

“A new forecast from Kansas’s budget officials projects that “personal income in Kansas will grow more slowly than U.S. personal income in 2014 and 2015,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) writes. The projections come from Brownback’s own Division of the Budget, which expects personal income growth of 3.8 percent this year and 4.2 percent next year. The state’s overall economic growth is now projected to fall behind the nation’s after two decades of keeping pace, the think tank adds.”

“Another treasured GOP theory is that “free markets” will solve all of our economic problems. Markets, to be “free” must be unregulated, that is no government regulation. And, as the false meme goes: “we haven’t tried that yet.”


In my next post “Milton Friedman and America’s Shame” you will see that we did indeed try implementing a completely free market ideology, of course, not in our own country (NIOOC, a relative of NIMBY). The result: failed state after failed state.

May 16, 2014

Incredibly Stupid Questions

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:18 pm
Tags: , ,

Apparently my former profession (education) attracts the dumbest ideas. The latest is clearly defined in an on-line debate in the pages of the N.Y. Times. The debate question was “Should Young Children Learn Coding?”

What a purely idiotic idea. Move it into any other field: should children learn automotive mechanics before being allowed to drive? Should children learn how food is grown before being allowed to eat? Should children learn how to write computer code before being allowed to use computers?

Did we ask students to learn how typewriters work before allowing them to take typing? No, learning how to type comes first.

Dumb, dumb, dumb. A computer is a tool. Craftsmen learn how to use their tools. Later they might be interested in how they work, but that is a different sort of desire, an academic desire, from learning how to use them. The useful learning is in how to use the tool. The work a computer does is far removed from the coding. We tap keys and stuff happens on the screen. Learning what keys cause what to happen in what software package is useful learning. Learning to write code that will be totally useless in ten years is just stupid.

Plus, do you know what a job in computer coding pays? I’ll tell you: squadoosh, squat, zippety doo doo. Most of the coding jobs are low paying because they are tedious and repetitious. The ones who make money are the software designers and the software sales people.

The only thing a child could learn from learning how to code is that we can control what a computer does. I learned that by accidentally kicking the electrical plug out of its socket for a teletype terminal that was rattling off uncontrollably. They all stop when the plug is pulled. That’s real power, real control.


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