Uncommon Sense

December 30, 2016

The Productivity Paradox

From a N.Y. Times column by Neil Irwin (Faster Growth? Two Things Trump Supporters Won’t Like, 12-28-16) the following excerpt was taken:

The Productivity Paradox
Low productivity growth has been one of the chronic problems of the economy in the last decade, and an important contributor to the low growth rate, even if economists aren’t entirely sure why it’s happening. If we want living standards to rise over time, we need productivity to rise.
But the connection between productivity gains and higher incomes can take time to play out. Often it means short-term disruption — job loss — for workers whose jobs are rendered unnecessary.

Apparently the low productivity growth of the last ten years puzzles the author. It shouldn’t. Here’s why.


Since higher and higher productivity over the last 40 years hasn’t resulted in higher wages, just what is the incentive for workers to produce greater productivity? I am sure the economically inclined could point to the earlier years described by the data on this graph as one in which workers produced more because of the salary incentives, precisely  because productivity and wages were linked and had been for quite some time. In fact, I can remember UAW negotiations for new labor contracts with Detroit automakers specifically mentioning that for higher wages to be part of any new contracts, higher productivities must be produced. It was a common discussion.

But now, all of the benefits of higher productivity go elsewhere than into worker’s pay envelopes, so what did Mr. Irwin think was going to happen? Does he thing that 40 years is an appropriate amount of time for “the connection between productivity gains and higher incomes … to play out”?

December 28, 2016

If You Think The System is Not Rigged … Read This

We will have Mr. Trump as our next president precisely because voters thought that the economic and political systems are rigged against them. That this “feeling” is based in fact should give pause to those currently excoriating Trump voters for voting against their own financial interests.

A Financial Times (London) report on a Lancaster University Management School study, said in part:

The correlation between high executive pay and good performance is “negligible”, a new academic study has found, providing reformers with fresh evidence that a shake-up of Britain’s corporate remuneration systems is overdue.

Although big company bosses enjoyed pay rises of more than 80 per cent in a decade, performance as measured by economic returns on invested capital was less than 1 per cent over the period, the paper by Lancaster University Management School says.

Our findings suggest a material disconnect between pay and fundamental value generation for, and returns to, capital providers,” the authors of the report said.

In a study of more than a decade of data on the pay and performance of Britain’s 350 biggest listed companies, Weijia Li and Steven Young found that remuneration had increased 82 per cent in real terms over the 11 years to 2014.

Much of the increase was the result of performance-based pay. But, the report’s authors say, the metrics used to assess performance — such as total shareholder return and earnings per share growth — are unsophisticated and short-termist, acting against the interests of long-term investors. The research found that the median economic return on invested capital, a preferable measure, was less than 1 per cent over the same period.

What is true in the UK is more than true in the U.S. as we are the leaders of this “the CEO is King/Emperor” movement. Like all of the other propaganda, black is white (and vice-versa). CEOs claim their compensation is “performance-based,” which it clearly is not as they have rigged the system by defining “performance” in a way that results in raises for themselves but no one else. When people hear that CEO salaries are “performance-based,” they assume the huge salaries and retirement programs CEOs “earn” are warranted because they don’t think to ask for the details. Well, the details are now out in the open and “the King/Emperor has no clothes” or any other kind of protective cover.

I am declaring that it is not open season on CEOs (no, not the Second amendment kind), but let’s see how many we can take down.

Since the CEO’s aren’t doing much for those gaudy salaries, one approach would be to fire them and ask the First Vice-CEO if he would like the job at half of the current CEO’s salary. I suggest no one will hear the word “no” to these offers. If the performance of that CEO is as abysmal as the one’s now, then fire that replacement and ask his second in command if he would like the job at half of his superior’s salary. If this doesn’t result in superior performance, it will certainly reduce overpayment of the CEO.

And, this is just a manifestation of the “disruption” all of the business experts say is so good for the growth of companies, just applied to top management … for once.

December 26, 2016

The Conservative Playbook: Blame Others for What You Are Doing

Conservatives have repurposed the term “fake news” to continue their effort to undermine any opposition to their own chosen narratives. A column by Jeremy W. Peters in today’s N.Y. Times (Wielding Claims of ‘Fake News,’ Conservatives Take Aim at Mainstream Media) addresses this now typical play from the conservative’s playbook.

One quote tells you everything you need to know:
Rush Limbaugh has diagnosed a more fundamental problem. ‘The fake news is the everyday news’ in the mainstream media, he said on his radio show recently. ‘They just make it up.’

Instead of fake news being politically directed disinformation, as has been the case up to this point, that is fake news is political propaganda, the conservatives are morphing this term into another cudgel to undermine the news media, so that there can be no credible opposition to conservative lies fictions narratives.fauxnews_450

Not all conservatives have bought in on this effort as indicated by this quote from the article:
‘Over the years, we’ve effectively brainwashed the core of our audience to distrust anything that they disagree with. And now it’s gone too far,’ said John Ziegler, a conservative radio host, who has been critical of what he sees as excessive partisanship by pundits. ‘Because the gatekeepers have lost all credibility in the minds of consumers, I don’t see how you reverse it.’

But, in the past, conservatives have gotten into line quickly with any promising disinformation campaign and since so much has already been invested in this effort, including an entire news network (Faux Fox News), I expect there to be unity shortly … and another pillar of democracy continues to crumble under the onslaught of the conservatives at the behest of their paymasters.

Holiday BS

At one time there were but three professions: medicine, the law, and the clergy, that is, to be called a professional one had to be a medical doctor, a lawyer/jurist, or a priest/minister/etc. Apparently the expansion of the ranks of professionals has diluted the ranks of these worthy occupations, especially the clergy.

In a N.Y. Times column (Humanizing Jesus, 12-23-2016) by Peter Wehner, the author makes the somewhat offhand remark, quoting a clergyman:
The Incarnation also underscores the importance of relationships, and particularly friendships. The Rev. James Forsyth, the winsome and gifted pastor of McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia, which my family attends, says friendship is not a luxury; it is at the very essence of who we are. The three persons of the Christian Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — speak to the centrality of community. When we are in a friendship, according to Mr. Forsyth, we are ‘participating in something divine.’

Now, conflating the Incarnation and the Trinity aside, friendship is not something I would ever denigrate, but “The three persons of the Christian Godhead — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — speak to the centrality of community”? WTF? This is another instance of Christians seeing a parade going by, rushing to the fore, and then claiming they are leading the parade.

The Trinity are not a community. This is not three separate individuals that form a committee/group/barbershop quartet (–1)/etc. This is a little like claiming Batman and Bruce Wayne or Superman and Clark Kent are having a meeting. Is this … clergyperson …. claiming that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are friends? OMG!

This does not speak well of the scriptural erudition of the “winsome and gifted pastor of McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia.” It also doesn’t speak well for Christianity, peddling such obvious BS. Christianity’s messages are not at all warm and fuzzy. They are not reassuring. They are threatening. We are told to abandon our parents and siblings and to follow Jesus instead. We are told that many priests don’t belong in Heaven (“I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”) We are told that murderers and rapists do belong in Heaven, etc.

And, instead of delivering this core message, clergymen focus on questionable warm and fuzzy occurrences, like the miracle at the wedding in Cana (also mentioned offhand in this piece), at which Jesus is supposed to have transformed water into wine. If you can recall the circumstances, Jesus and his mother were at a wedding and disaster struck, the hosts ran out of wine! The wedding traditions of the time called for a wedding feast for all of the guests, including unlimited food and wine. To run out was very embarrassing. (Why embarrassment was a valid reason to perform a miracle and many other more important events were not, is puzzling.) In any case, Jesus goes around pouring water into the guests drinking vessels and when they taste it they are at the minimum wondering what the heck was going on. Jesus simply looks them in the eye and asks “It is good wine, no?” (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean). All of the guests would quickly figure out what he was doing and go along to prevent embarrassment to the hosts. Any charismatic person could pull this off. Heck, I could pull this off. Yet, a miracle has occurred! (I imagine this started off as a very good story, told sotto voce to one’s intimate friends, but that story had legs and, of course, got embellished. A good story should never be hindered by details.) In any case, this “miracle” was used as an example in this article of “There was joy and purpose to be found in the commonplace.” And, I suppose, great fun in casting demons into a herd of wild pigs, and … oh, well.

I remember at the funeral of an uncle of mine, an avid golfer, that the presiding clergyman claimed that my Uncle Bob was up in Heaven playing golf at that very moment. And, I thought “Wouldn’t the sand traps fall through the clouds?” and other uncharitable thoughts. I understand being a BS artist (I am a bit of one myself) but to do so as a official representative of a very large organization is appalling to say the least. (Are you listening Donald Trump?)

December 25, 2016

… Because the Bible Tells Me So … ♫

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:00 am
Tags: ,

The United Nations Security Council has condemned the building of Israeli settlements on territory captured by Israel in its 1967 war with its Arab neighbors (including the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem). This is quite an unusual occurrence because the U.S., a permanent member of that Council, has traditionally vetoed any such criticisms of Israel but did not this time. Israel, in response, is “re-evaluating its relationship to the U.N.” including a few million dollars it pays to support U.N. activities. That support made possible, we presume, by the hundreds of millions of dollars given to Israeli annually by the U.S.

One news report stated “Most countries view Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing a biblical connection to the land.

WTF? “… a biblical connection to the land”?

The Israelis are still playing the Bible card? After all Jewish scholars have basically conceded that the Pentateuch and other early “history” books of the Bible are basically fiction and “biblical archaeologists” have found no evidence for the conquest of the “Holy Land” described therein. Without that “conquest” then Israelis have an argument that they have been inhabitants of that region for a long time, but not an argument for being the sole inhabitant or ruling faction in order to support a sole right to possession of that land.

My guess is that the “Bible card,” like the “race card” in this country, will continue to be played as long as it has the desired affect, regardless of whether there is any merit to it. For those who ask “What’s the harm in believing the Bible?” you can add Israel’s intransigence in making peace with their fellow men because they are “special.” Hmm, I wonder if Israelis describe themselves using the term “Israeli exceptionalism?”

December 24, 2016

Yes and No?

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:59 am
Tags: , , ,

A N.Y. Times columnist had a column with the provocative title “Pastor, am I a Christian?” in which the author expressed some doubts about the standard theology of Christianity. The theologian he interviewed on these doubts gave him pretty much the party line so there was little of interest there, but the comments … the comments, now they were interesting.

One such comment said the core of Christianity was Jesus’ mission, basically to sacrifice himself to save all of us from Original Sin. (Basically, He sacrificed Himself, to Himself, to save us all from Himself—Thank you, John Zande!) The very next comment said “Wrong.” Another comment said that the important part of Christianity was not the superstitious mumbo-jumbo but “Jesus’ teachings.”

I have already posted ad nauseum about the “mission” aspect of  Christianity but I have said little of Jesus’ teachings, that is his philosophy. What about that?

It seems that most Christians honor the teachings of Jesus by ignoring them. These “teachings” are relatively sparse, being mostly repetitions of prior scripture, hence not original to Jesus. So, there is little to discuss, as most of that was already in evidence before the Jesus story was written.

Of the new stuff, Jesus told a fellow to sell all of his worldly goods and give what he made from that sale to the poor. I do not see this advice being followed all that much. Most apologists indicate that this advice was only for that man alone and was not meant to apply to every one. I guess they didn’t think he was serious when Jesus said that a rich man had as little chance of getting into Heaven as a camel to go through the eye of the needle. (This term may have been in common use, the “Eye of the Needle” being claimed to be a gate in Jerusalem, which opened after the main gate was closed at night. A camel could only pass through this smaller gate if it was stooped and had its baggage removed. So, it wasn’t impossible, just quite unlikely.) Since, in this country, the goal of every rich person seems to be getting richer, my guess is none of them are Christians.

Jesus also told people to disavow their families and to follow him, presumably not to the point of becoming human sacrifices, but in this context to follow his teachings, I guess.

He also said that Jewish laws were all intact and were to be followed to the letter. I don’t see any Christians doing this, either.

So, “following the teachings of Jesus” is something almost no one is doing even given the fact that Jesus said almost nothing new or novel. (I say “almost” because right now it is truly nothing new or novel, but you never know when some new document might be discovered.) Basically, Jesus said “Be a Jew and meet me in Heaven.” The rest is quite debatable.

In another piece in the Times a day later (today) quotations and photos of many artists who died in 2016 were offered. One that struck a chord was from Umberto Eco:
I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
This kind of explains everything. Our brains are pattern recognition engines. We see patterns everywhere and when we do not see patterns, we make them up. So, we are constantly trying to see patterns as they allow us to predict future events and, hence, be safer. If we notice that when a tiger is sneaking up on us through the grass, there is a certain movement in the grass, then we equate “specific grass movement = tiger” and get the heck out of there. There is no penalty if we are wrong, such as when the grass was moved by the wind instead of a tiger, but a severe penalty is possible if we ignore or do not see the pattern and heed it.

So, we run willy-nilly asking “God” (a pattern) to show us a “sign” (also a pattern). And, lo and behold we see them! (Surprise, surprise.) If you combine this very understandable aspect of human brains with a penchant for making shit up, religion is explained quite well, including beliefs in the teachings/philosophy of Jesus when there is really no “there” there.

PS For those of you who wonder why I write about religion in a class warfare blog, religion has been and is being used to oppress those who would oppose the oligarch’s plans for our future. We are told to be meek and mild and that our reward will come after we die. This is so the rich people can have their reward while they are still alive.


December 23, 2016

A Time of Year for Worshiping … What?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 2:10 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Creationists seem to think that there is only one process of dating antiquities: carbon-14 dating. Actually the list of techniques that can be used to date materials is rather long, too long to list here (with explanations, names wouldn’t mean much). And the interesting thing is that there is rough agreement between all of these. Realize, though, that all of these do not overlap with one another. Counting tree rings, for example, only goes back a few thousand years, which overlaps with all of the others, but just for a few thousand years. Carbon-14 dating can only go back about the last 50,000 years (modern humans have been around longer). Others go back billions of years which overlap with just a few of the others, so the amount of deep time these techniques covers differs quite a bit.

And what have we learned from these techniques?

If we were to use the age of the Earth as measure, which is about 4.5 billion years, and we were to go back from now to about one sixth of that time, we would find a world containing only single cell organisms. Studies keep pushing the first occurrence of such organisms back and back but let us just say that they first appeared fairly early in this entire time period, much lass than the first billion years of earth’s existence, so “life on Earth” was only single cell organisms for over three quarters of its time in existence.

During that last one-sixth of the Earth’s existence, as we go back from “now” to “then,” life gets simpler and simpler and less diverse, meaning that during this period of hundreds of millions of years, life became more and more complex.

These are just a few of myriad things we have learned about our planet of origin. Once living organisms formed, then the process of evolution mindlessly made life more and more complex. Creationists say this violates the laws of thermodynamics with is incredibly stupid. All the laws of thermodynamics say is if a chemical process involves the creation of more complicated chemicals from less complicated chemicals, then it will cost some energy. And where might that energy have come from? I don’t know … maybe the sun, gravity, lightning, heat from inside the Earth pouring out in volcanic eruptions, etc. There were many sources of energy available to make more complicated things from less complicated. We are still paying this cost. To prevent the collection of very complex chemicals that is each of us from degrading too quickly, we must eat food quite regularly to provide the energy needed to remake complex chemicals to replace those falling apart. This is done by a chemical process called metabolism (scientists have learned about that, too). If we refrain from eating for a month or two, we might die from that (it depends on how much food energy we have stored before we begin).

Creationists, aka Intelligent Design advocates, deny all of this knowledge (from fields of biology, geology, paleontology, etc,) a quantity of denial that is astoundingly large, all because it conflicts with their Bible. The Earth cannot be as old as it is measured to be. Man was created fully formed and all of those fossils of early “men” were really just from apes. The fact that none of these apes show up in our history books or stories is because they all died in the Great Flood of the Bible. They claim that there are “holes” in the scientific story (there are, there always are) but the holes they claim are there were filled decades ago. (Creationists know this, they are just being dishonest, using arguments they think you might buy out of ignorance.)

Basically Creationists/IDers are claiming that God could not have made the Earth … and us … the way we actually demonstrably are because the Bible says differently. They do not believe God is powerful enough to have made the Earth … and us … as our lying eyes show us quite plainly. They do not believe in God so much as they believe in the Bible, a form of idolatry they were warned against by the Bible itself.

A recent blog post asked the innocent question: what if … what if we taught Creationism rather than the massive scientific knowledge that contradicts the claims of the Bible? What would change? Well, I would contend that nothing would change as human beings are pragmatic beings and we tend to ignore and then “forget” nonsense we learn in school. Would people with sick children take them to church to have their demons exorcized or would they take them to the hospital for modern medical treatments? Would people no longer buy automobiles because they contradict the teachings of the Bible? Would cell phones be considered demonic and non-Biblical and hence have to go back to the pit of Hell whence they came? Would we stop exploring space because God gave us dominion over this planet and well, when it is used up, it is time for us to all die?

I think you can answer these questions.

Basically, what the Christian Creationists are denying is that the Bible is man-made, like every other book in existence. The fact that the various books of the Bible were written at vastly different times, indicates that there was more than one author, as does the various viewpoints expressed, the various writing styles, and literally dozens of other facts, etc. Many Christians are unaware that none (zero, zip, zilch) of the original biblical manuscripts are available. Of the earliest copies we have found, there are more differences between those manuscripts than there are total words in the entire Bible. And there were literal battles about what materials should go into the Bible, with people being killed, not just intellectual battles. These, of course, proceeded alongside the battles over how the scriptures were to be interpreted. The book literally screams “man made.”

But Creationists insist that with regard to their special interest, the Bible has no mistakes and is the actual word of god. There are, of course, hundreds of such mistakes/contradictions in their book. These are denied or just waved away with nonsensical arguments.

The real effect were Creationism were to be taught in our schools, either alongside the science or in place of the science, should be the increase of all forms of denial. After all, anything you practice that much should make you good at it. So Climate Change Denial and Evolution Denial would be just the tip of the iceberg, metaphorically.

And, if you get really good at it: denial, that is … why you might just become President of the United States some day!



The Back Story on the Bogus “Russia Hacked the Election” Claim

Finally a competent journalist has put together the information necessary to tell whether or not we should believe this and similar claims.

Check it out: http://www.vox.com/world/2016/12/22/13982102/russia-putin-trump-hacking

December 22, 2016

The Final Tally is In And …

2016 Presidential Election Final Vote Tally

Hillary Clinton 65,844,610

Donald Trump 62,979,636

Others 7,804,213

Trump wins! Trump wins!

… WTF?

When we vote for, say, U.S. Senator, all of the votes in the state get counted, but not any from other states. It doesn’t matter which county or city your are in as long as you are a resident of the state. Ditto, for U.S. Representative: all votes within the district are counted. It doesn’t matter which county you are in or city.

So, explain to me why this is not so for the most important federal office of them all? Do not explain to me why the Electoral College at one time had merit, explain to me why it has merit now.

And, if you argue that the Electoral College has merit, should the concept not be applied to all federal offices?

December 21, 2016

Stock Market Games (for Fun and Profit!)

You all remember the story we were told about the stock market when we were in school: companies sell stocks to provide them with the capital they need to expand or whatever. Those stock certificates paid dividends, a bit like interest, and could be sold or given to other people. That’s the story we were told and from that it sounds like a good deal, a way to bolster businesses.

Let The Games™ begin!

From that humble beginning all sorts of “conventions” were created. One such is that companies had to report, honestly, their earnings for each year and they had to undergo “independent” audits by reputable accounting firms, like Arthur Anderson.

One of the key markers of a healthy stock is their companies earnings per share of stock for the year. Most people thought this would be a good metric because the more the company earned, the more they could invest in further growth and/or pay more in the way of dividends.

But then a number of folks in these companies realized that the fraction labeled “earnings per share” had a denominator. To get a larger “earnings per share” number you had to either bolster your earnings (increase the numerator) or … or diminish the number of shares (decrease the denominator). Enter the age of the “buy back.”

According to Wolf Richter (What the Heck’s Happening to Our Share Buyback Boom?):
Companies in the S&P 500 spent about $3 trillion since 2011 to buy back their own shares, often with borrowed money. It’s part of a noble magic called financial engineering, the simplest way to goose the all-important metric of earnings per share (by lowering the number of shares outstanding). And it creates buying pressure in the stock market that drives up share prices.

So when a company buys its own shares back, the number of shares available decreases which makes the “earnings per share” automatically higher. Also, the purchasing itself shows higher demand which leads others to pay more for that stock, making the CEO’s stock options worth ever so much more. What could be wrong with this?

Well, for one thing, these companies are not buying back their own stock with surplus cash (aka earnings) from previous years, they are borrowing money to do this. Mr. Richter continues:
And much of it is funded with debt. Over the past three years, aggregate debt of the S&P 500 companies has grown 1.7 times faster than aggregate cash and short-term investments, according to FactSet.

So, the company takes on more debt but the CEOs and other stockholders benefit in the short term. Isn’t this what Republicans say the federal government shouldn’t do: borrow money for current benefit, to be paid back later by other people? Apparently it matters who is the beneficiary of this kind of activity. If ordinary people benefit, like when the feds issue bonds to fix infrastructure, their against it, but when business want to do it, they become enablers. Again, Mr. Richter:
This is a nasty wrinkle in the buyback scenario. But there’s hope. Trump has pledged to change the corporate tax code, and/or give corporations a tax holiday on this “overseas” cash so that they can “repatriate” it, by selling their US Treasuries and other investments and using the proceeds to buy back their own shares. That’s what happened last time the government granted this kind of tax holiday in 2004. And everyone is hoping that it will happen again. I suspect that’s one of the reasons for the surge in stock prices since the election.

As long as the Fat Cats are for it, so are the Repubs, even including the guy who ran against the Fat Cats during the election.

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