Uncommon Sense

June 30, 2016

Maybe If They are Cute We Will Let Them Live

Filed under: Morality — Steve Ruis @ 8:32 am
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The news of late has had quite a number of stories about “dangerous” animals who have had interactions with human beings and then gotten killed for their temerity. In one case a child dropped into a gorilla enclosure (in a zoo!) and the gorilla decided it was a new toy. Instead of seeing this as a Darwinian moment for the humans involved, the gorilla, of course, was shot.

Today there is a report from Montana that a grizzly bear attacked and killed a cyclist riding in the Flathead national forest just outside Glacier national park. They are now looking for the bear. I suspect it is not to pin a medal on it for defending its territory.

So, humans invade the natural habitat of dangerous animals and when the animals behave as they are wont to do, they are “put down” (nice euphemism) for their actions. Even when we put animals in walled enclosures for our own amusement, if we violate the walls of the enclosure the animal dies.

Why don’t we put down the humans as being “too stupid (or unlucky) to live” and improve the species by culling the incompetent? At least that would make sense.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, we did the exact same thing to the Native Americans and if we will do it to our own species, why would we have compunctions about doing it to other ones?

June 27, 2016

Giving the Lie to GOP Desires for “Original Intent” Constitution Interpretations

The GOP has a desire, embodied previously in the person of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for the U.S. Constitution to be interpreted only on the basis of what the Framers intended when they drafted the document. This, of course, ignores the numerous times the Framers mentioned that they didn’t want to tie the hands of future generations, even providing the mechanism to amend the document and which they availed themselves of immediately with ten, count ‘em, ten amendments right off of the bat!

The Southern Baptist Convention has supplied a recent form of this desire for original intent in the form of a resolution:

RESOLVED, That we strongly urge the President to nominate strict constructionist judges who seek to make decisions based on the original intent of the United States Constitution and, therefore, faithfully interpret rather than make law or impose their political views on the nation . . .

This desire is just a smokescreen or, worse, it indicates the ignorance of the speakers. Too often, people in politics are perfectly happy to let others do their thinking for them and this yearning for a country defined by the “original intent of the Framers” may be one of them.

Ironically, the actions of this age’s neoliberal conservatives is acting in direct opposition to the intent of the Framers of the Constitution. Note I said “neoliberal,” not liberal. Neoliberals are acolytes of the “Free Market” who favor privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. This is clearly a philosophy in service to oligarchs and the already wealthy.

The game plan of the neoliberals is to diminish collective actions and thinking on the part of U.S. citizens by convincing us that we are the sole determinant of our future, that we are individual actors, not groups or a society as a whole. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the U.K. and Robin to Ronald Reagan’s Batman (The roles might have been reversed in the U.K.), had the grace to state that idea in a straightforward manner when she said: “… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

Clear enough?

Does the phrase “divide and conquer” ring a bell?

Now, contrast this approach with that of the Framers of the Constitution. The Framers educated themselves on the life cycles of republics because it was clear to them from the beginning that we would be some form of self-governing republic. They were very focused on the death throes of those republics (“Half our learning is their epitaph.” Thomas Dawes, Jr.) All of the examples of republics available to them to study were, of course, failed republics (Greece, Rome, etc.). Most of the countries around the globe in the later 18th century were monarchies with kings and queens having some form of divine right to rule. There were no grand republics to model the U.S. on, all had failed at that point. So, they studied the source of the failures and tried to protect their creation from that. The lifeblood of a republic was, in their estimation, public virtue. By public virtue, they did not mean religious virtue (which may be the source of the Southern Baptist’s confusion) by public virtue they meant this:

“Public Virtue entailed firmness, courage, endurance, industry, frugal living, strength and above all, unremitting devotion to the weal of the public’s corporate self, the community of virtuous men.”
(Novus Ordo Seculorum, p. 70, my emphasis)

If I may quote John Adams (from a letter to Mercy Warren), “The must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the people, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty.” The public passion, he wrote, “must be superior to all private Passions. Men must … be happy to sacrifice … their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.”

So, the GOP, whose policies are in direct contradiction to the intent of the Framers are claiming the direct opposite. The Framers wanted us to put the needs of society over individual desires, the GOP wants you to put your and your family’s needs at the top and fuck the rest, they are on their own.

It is a Brave New World indeed!


June 24, 2016

Structural Changes are Needed

We need to re-form our political system. How we do that is questionable, whether we start from the rubble of our old political culture of we use it as a ladder to reach higher is entirely up to us. I suggest that we may need to start with baby steps. Here are a few I recommend

Redistricting by Neutral Means Whether by nonpartisan commissions or computers we need to have a way to redistrict our governments by a process other than letting the politicians do it, aka letting the foxes guard the hen house. Gerrymandering should be a thing of the past. The only thing the partisan politicians need to argue over is the criteria to be used every ten years to do the redistricting.

Separate Politicians from the Money Taking politicians out of the fund raising process makes quid pro quo money donations marginally more difficult. Since our Congress people spend more time on the phone asking for money from people than they do on almost all of their other duties combined, this is needed for legislative efficiency if nothing else. Politicians or candidates for office shouldn’t be involved in the money coming into their campaigns, period. Let surrogates do it.

Limit Donations to Constituents Candidates for political office should not be accepting money from people they will not represent. What possible service could a congressman provide to someone who lives outside of their district? Even if it were not a quid pro quo bribe, serving an out-of-district “donor” takes time and effort away from serving his actual constituents. The same goes for initiatives and policy referenda. If you are not affected by the policy in question, you should not be giving money to its supporters or detractors. Speech is free, so fly into the district in question and rent a hall and speak to your heart’s content, but no money or other structural support should be allowed.

Others? What other “baby steps” would you recommend we do?


June 20, 2016

Running Government Like a Business and Delegation

It is a common trope in politics that we should “run our government like we run our businesses.” Since the GOP is putting up a businessman to run for president, maybe we should look at this idea.

Basically the idea has little, if any, merit. What do those claiming this chestnut is good advice mean? That we should make our government run at a profit? That we should sell shares? (This seems to have already been done, with politician’s votes substituting for stock certificates.) The U.S. government has run a loss on its accounts for the past century with only a few exceptions. No corporation could do that (although Amazon.com seemed to be trying). No corporation has the ability to print money, either.

A major aspect of business management is the art of delegation: one gives a task to another and steps back to allow them to do it. It is Republicans most often declining to use this technique. Oh, it should be emphasized that after good delegators delegate a task, they don’t go off to the side and close their eyes and plug their ears. They check on the project’s progress. In fact, you must check on a delegated task from time to time to see if it is going okay. Failing to do this often leads to disappointment. This is standard business practice.

Take, for example, the longest running school voucher program in the country. Republicans have touted “school choice” as an exemplary way to cure our failing schools, offering no evidence of either the failure or the reasons why vouchers should work (arguments, yes; evidence, no). This longest running experiment in school vouchers is in Milwaukee, WI.

According to a recent post on Diane Ravich’s Blog “Michael R. Ford, a professor of public administration at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, reports that 41% of private schools that received vouchers have closed their doors since the inception of the voucher program (my emphasis SR). Milwaukee has the nation’s oldest voucher program, and anyone looking for the miracle of school choice should look elsewhere. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Milwaukee continues to be one of the nation’s lowest performing urban districts. Milwaukee has had charters and vouchers for 25 years—two generations of students. If charters and vouchers were the answer to the problems of students and schools in urban districts, Milwaukee should be a shining star of student success. It is not.”

Ford writes: “Forty-one percent of all private schools that participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) between 1991 and 2015 failed. I do not mean failed as in they did not deliver academically, I mean failed as in they no longer exist. These 102 schools either closed after having their voucher revenue cut off by the Department of Public Instruction, or simply shut their doors. The failure rate for entrepreneurial start-up schools is even worse: 67.8 percent.”

So, have any of the legislative delegators in Wisconsin followed up to see if their Grand Experiment in School Choice has worked? Apparently not. Should not evaluation plans be included in all such authorization plans? If we were to run our government as a business, we would, now wouldn’t we? Running schools as if they were businesses mean they can fail and fail they do. And what happens to the kids in these failed schools? (Figure it out, it is not hard. After the money to educate those kids was spent by the failed charters and private schools, those kids were poured back into the public system without the funds to educate them.)

The GOP doesn’t want to run the country as a business. This is yet another smoke screen to distract our attention away from what they are actually doing: running the government as a Ponzi Scheme.

June 17, 2016


Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:37 am
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A Republican strategist, along with many others, has claimed that the candidacy of Donald Trump for President of the United States is “killing the GOP.” Good riddance. If it were to fold its tents, maybe a party that could truly represent conservatives could form in its absence.

Remember conservatives? Those folks who want to preserve fundamental institutions of our culture as a way of creating stability. These are people who supported our public schools and postal service, for example. Today’s Republicans want to privatize them because … there’s money to be made! True conservatives supported things like Medicare and Social Security. even though they were created by Democrats; they voted for them and also voted to expand them. The reason? Both of those government programs pulled a vast number of senior citizens out of poverty. Today’s Republicans are for privatizing these programs because, well … there’s money to be made.

True conservatives supported corporate responsibility, the idea that corporations owed good behavior toward the communities they were embedded in. Today’s Republicans believe that corporations only owe fealty to their shareholders. True conservatives listened to our military leaders, today’s GOP only listens to military contractors and manufacturers, at least those who make political campaign donations. Many times today’s GOP provides military weapons the Pentagon has said it didn’t want or need.

If the GOP were to collapse, a real party representing conservatives could rise from the ashes and that would be a better thing. Then we’d have to root for the Democratic party to do the same, so that a true progressive/liberal party could form. Both of the current parties have been captured by wealthy interests and only serve their paymasters. The rest of what they do is just illusions and distractions. And as the band plays on, the middle class continues to slowly circle the drain.

June 11, 2016

Ignorant, Ignorant, Ignorant

In an op-ed piece in today’s N.Y. Times (What ‘Hamilton’ Forgets About Alexander Hamilton, by Jason Frank and Isaac Kramnick, June 10, 2016) the authors decry what the writers of the super-smash hit musical “Hamilton” left out. Here is how they put it: “But the musical avoids an equally pronounced feature of Hamilton’s beliefs: his deeply ingrained elitism, his disdain for the lower classes and his fear of democratic politics.”

First, it is a fricking musical for Pete’s sake. Does one expect historical accuracy from Evita? from Peter Pan? Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat? Sheesh!

Second, Hello?

Apparently the authors were unaware that all of the framers had these opinions. Shopkeepers and farriers, even printers, were considered “middling men” and were not trusted to be part of the reins of government. The framers spoke frequently how to protect the fledgling republic from the participation of the middling sort, should they ever decide they should be involved. They all assumed that the government would be of the elite, the men (yes, men) most capable of rising to the various occasions that were sure to occur. Why, it should be men like themselves!

Is this a shock? Is this a character flaw in Hamilton? If it is, it was in all of the rest, also.

They all feared unbridled democracy, in fact democracy, a true democracy, was off the table almost immediately in their considerations. They assumed that were a democracy to be formed the “have nots” would tyrannically confiscate the wealth of the “haves.” Nope, not a democracy; a republic, yeah, that’s the ticket! If you look at the work they did, you can see that their concern for property (slaves, wives, children, land, etc.) was greater than their concern for liberty, that they felt that the elites, like themselves, were better as leaders and so should lead, and elections are best left to the elites. They created the Electoral College after all.

The authors of this op-ed were, I suppose, trying to arouse some sentiment that Hamilton wasn’t really a good guy, but all they did was to demonstrate their own ignorance.

June 10, 2016

Ask and Ye Shall Receive … Sort Of

In a post yesterday I suggested that a way forward for supporters of Bernie Sanders was to create a Democratic Socialist Party. Yes, I already know there is one of that name, but it is run much like the Vegetarian Party and other fringe parties. I am talking about a real party, one that can achieve 20+% support from voters. If Bernie were to take that step and create a New Democratic Socialist Party, he might bring a sizable number of people into it, something none of the fringe parties currently have.

Well under the “ask and ye shall receive” category, I encountered Two Tyrants: The Myth of a Two Party Government and the Liberation of the American Voter by A. G. Roderick (City of Gold Publishing. Kindle Edition). This tome is focused not on bashing the two major parties we have, but in offering pragmatic solutions to resolve the tyranny imposed by two powerful private corporations who do everything in their power to stifle competition (along with democracy), so I bit on it and started reading.

Things started fairly well. here’s is a quote that seems to be in the vein being delved:Two Tyrants Cover

Both parties deal with corporate corruption in vastly different ways. Republicans sing the praises of corporations, and then turn a blind eye to corporate corruption in exchange for campaign donations. Democrats, on the other hand, publicly complain of the unfair influence and inherent evil of corporations. Only then do they turn a blind eye to corporate corruption in exchange for campaign donations.

But then I read this:

A 2012 report on 15-year-olds from 65 nations yielded the following sobering results: American students scored below the average in math. They were not quite average in science and reading. US students ranked 30th, 23rd and 20th in math, science and reading, respectively. What’s worse, the United States spends more money per student than any other country in the developed world. Our children are ill prepared for the global competition they will increasingly face. These shameful statistics have some of their roots in the absolutism of our two-party politics. The linchpin of the education policy debate in America is the role of teachers unions. Teachers unions are a wildly wealthy and powerful lobby in America. The majority of their political contributions go to Democratic candidates. As such, Democratic minds become clouded by union cash. The Democratic Party structure is built on the foundation of monetary support by unions. Therefore, for Democrats to maintain the influx of union money, the good of the unions must be paramount to the good of the students.”

Oh, boy.

This meme is totally false and emblematic of what has become of our political discourse. Disinformation is created and then echoed in “safe” media outlets for years and then proffered as a known truism. Memes can be true or false. This one is quite false.

Unions have no real power in Democratic Party politics anymore. All they can expect is lip service. Notably, President Obama pissed all over the union movement by not pursuing pro-union legislation from day one of his presidency. (Then there was the Caterpillar Tractor episode, etc.) Also, “union cash”? really? Corporations outspent unions 10 to 1 in the last presidential election. In this one, I expect that ratio to be even higher.

Now, let’s get to the core of the argument the author is making “Our children are ill prepared for the global competition they will increasingly face.” This is true but it isn’t due to any failure of the educational system. The biggest problem facing our future is poverty. Of all of the educational comparisons that can be made internationally, we rank in the middle … and have since the 1960’s! … because we have rich and poor students. The rich do very, very well. (If you just put Massachusetts’s international test scores against the rest of the world, they are near the top, for example.) The poor do, well, poorly. It has been shown over and over again that poverty trumps education as far as predicting how well “students” will do. Another false meme currently being constructed is that education cures poverty. This is a Horatio Alger supported piece of wishful thinking. You can support it only with anecdotes of people who transcended their poverty and education was involved. But if you look at the whole picture and not cherry-picked examples, poverty is a huge barrier to a better future.

And, since we have been scoring the same on these international tests since the 1960’s how is it we have remained the dominant economy in the world for the last 50 years? Might it have something to do with the fact that we don’t need all students to excel, that we only need enough? The fact that we have STEM graduates who cannot find jobs, for example, tells us that we are creating a surplus of those highly educated graduates. Is the author saying we need “more” to be competitive?

I have only scratched the surface of this book and my hope is there are viable, useful suggestions as to how to proceed with a third party movement. A full report will come later.

Oh, and the real reason “Our children are ill prepared for the global competition they will increasingly face” is that the oligarchs and the bought and paid for political parties have decided that they will use “global competition” to restrict wages and to control workers. When jobs are at a premium, especially good jobs, workers who get them will not rock the boat by making demands or, Heaven forbid, form a union. The bulk of our economy is domestic, but corporations are taking our jobs overseas and then importing the same goods back into the U.S. that could have been made here. Their profits have soared and the number of good jobs has shrunk substantially (and actual wages with them). They have transformed our children from citizens to consumers. They will have no role to play in government, other that the mummery of choosing between candidates who aren’t really any different. They will have just enough income to buy stuff the corporations want them to buy. But to inherit a better future than their parents, naw, that is gone … for now … unless we change the system.

June 9, 2016

A Way Forward for Bernie-ites

Currently the largest political party in the U.S. is “Independent” which is equivalent to “no party.” Like those in the Republican Party who left that party to become Democrats or Independents, members of both parties now can claim “I didn’t leave the party, it left me.” The Democratic Party now seems just as bad as the GOP. The Democrats are neoliberal and anti-union and anti-democratic in many of its policies. Are the Dems further left than the GOP? Sure, there are but so is Attila the Hun.

“We need a Democratic Socialist Party!”

Since it is hard to go somewhere when there is nowhere to go, we need a new political party to represent the large number of Americans who resonated to the call by Senator Bernie Sanders to start a new revolution. We need a Democratic Socialist Party, a party that combines a commitment to democracy and a commitment to all of the people in its makeup.

Bernie, if you build it we will come.

Hell, if you just get it started, we will build it.

I will not longer vote for oligarchy-supporting Democrats or Republicans. We need candidates we can vote for. We already have too many we can only vote against. We need a new way.

GOP Finds Common Ground with Hitler

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 7:45 am
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After decades of excoriating Adolf Hitler, former Chancellor of Germany and architect of the Second World War and the Holocaust, and using his name as a synonym for evil, today’s GOP has found common cause with some of Der Fuhrer’s ideas. “Not all of his ideas were entirely bad,” said a GOP spokesman. “We are, for example, incorporating his views on labor unions into our 2016 presidential election platform.” Today’s GOP, the party of Ronald Reagan and in a previous incarnation the party of Lincoln, expressed solidarity with the former strongman and left open the possibility of additional policy endorsements in the future.

Hitler on Unions

June 8, 2016

The Problem of Evil and Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:34 am
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The topic of free will is being much discussed of late. Partially this is because of new scientific findings, but which is all to the good as it helps us understand who (or what) we are. However I am somewhat dismayed at the level of thinking employed. For example, one common use of the concept of free will is to provide room for “god” to wiggle out from under the Problem of Evil.

The Problem of Evil, if you are unaware, is this argument: if God is good (the Perfect Good), why does evil exist? It was given a strong voice by Epicurus as: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?

This argument is one of the strongest against the existence of a Judeo-Christian type god.

The wiggle room provided by religious apologists is that evil exists because their god wanted us to have free will. I will explore the motivation for that later, but currently the argument is: if we are not to be automatons, we must have free will and if we have the freedom to do good, then we must also have the freedom to do evil. (This is a variant of the “blame the victim” approach of many religions.)

This argument is quite bankrupt. Why, if their god was good and perfectly so, would he go out of his way to invent evil? Consider what the world would be like if the choice to do evil things were not available to us. Would we be deterministic puppets? Instead of us having myriad choices every day, half good and half evil, we would only have myriad good choices, no? Is this being a puppet? I would venture to say that you actually know some people like this. These are kind, gentle people who would not hurt a fly, are willing to help anyone in need, and never have an ill word to say about anybody. The idea of them making a choice that is evil is unthinkable. And they have the freedom to do anything that comes into their little minds, evil things not being among them.

Were the world to be so constructed, would we bemoan the lack of opportunities to do evil? I do not think so. There would still be any number of unfortunate happenings: forest fires, earthquakes, floods, landslides, shark attacks, dogs digging holes in your new lawn, etc. Misery and pain would not disappear. (Some apologists argue that pain has a biological function and if evil were not to exist, we would be imperiled because of the lack of pain as a guide. This is blazingly idiotic.) Compassion and generosity would still be choices we would need to make. Deliberate acts of humans to cause unnecessary pain and anguish, though, would not exist.

So, how would this diminish “God’s Plan”?

The inherent problem here is obscured by the apologists, partially because, I think, they find the missing part quite natural. The missing piece in the discussion is actually the unnatural part: according to them humans were created to worship their god, full stop, end of story. Some obscure this by saying, no we were created to “give God glory.” Of course, “glory” means “praise of a god or goddess.” In simple terms, we were created to be cheerleaders by a god with low self-esteem. We are needed to buck up the sagging ego of an all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural entity! And, we need to be able to choose to do that because if their god had created us to do that with no choice being involved on our part, well that would be too narcissistic! OMG!

My argument is simpler. we have free will (not limited to conscious decision making) because it is demonstrably one of our faculties. Why we have free will is kind of a silly question. Why can we think? Why can we fart with gusto? Why do Claussen Deli Style Hearty Garlic Dill Pickles taste so damned good? The unfortunate thing about philosophy is it is basically thinking about thinking (an inevitable consequence of sentience?). What we choose to think about is up to us. The fact that many cannot think their way of a wet paper bag is lamentable, though.

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