Uncommon Sense

January 31, 2017

Why Conservatives Hate Unions, Part 3451

So, which state in the U.S. has the largest, most thriving economy, right now? Silly question! It is California. Governor Brown has eliminated their massive budget woes, while dealing with a massive drought (a really big problem in an agricultural state), and dealing with the after effects of the Great Recession. Employment is way up. Wages are up. All is good.

One other thing that California leads the country in is … wait for it … union jobs. The number and percentage of union jobs lead the country.

But … but … wait, conservatives have been telling us for years that unions are bad for the country, bad for us, bad, bad, bad … and they still are saying it (the President never fails to mention how bad teacher’s unions are when he addresses education).

Gosh, do you think they might have a hidden agenda?

Golly, I guess I am kinda curious about why they would oppose in a blanket fashion, organizations devoted to helping working people. All unions are bad, they say, there are no good unions and bad unions, all unions are bad, bad, bad.

I wonder what they could possibly have against working people?

May I suggest one answer to that particular question: they dislike the fact that they have to pay workers for their labor. They would be much happier if they did not. And failing the return of outright slavery, their idea of a minimum wage is just that: wages should be the minimum that could possibly be paid. The idea that it be illegal to pay below the minimum wage makes them cry. And the idea of raising the minimum wage makes their head’s explode. Why, why … paying more to laborers would reduce profits and you know how bad that would be!

Really, how bad? Maybe the Walton kids would have one billion less to split. Or the Koch brothers wouldn’t be able to afford all of the Congressmen and senators they wanted to buy. It would be really bad!

And California? Don’t look there, say the Conservatives. They’re all freaks. They even like unions!

A Pop Quiz That is Telling

Quickly: Which U.S. President presided over the creation of:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
The Consumer Product Safety Commission
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The Mining Enforcement Safety Administration
and expanded the powers of the Federal Communications Commission
as well as launched the Employee Retirement Income Security Act?

Got it?

Times up.

That would be Richard Milhous Nixon, a self-proclaimed conservative Republican.

Did Mr. Nixon actually give a rat’s ass about any of these things from an ideological standpoint? Apparently not; he was an almost pure political animal. He appointed William Ruckelshaus, a safe Republican, as the first administrator of the EPA with the warning that he was “not to be captured by that bureaucracy.” Ruckelshaus reported that Nixon was neither knowledgeable of or even curious about environment issues. “He never asked me the whole time I was at the EPA: ‘Is the air really dirty? Is there something wrong with the water? What are we worried about here?’” said Ruckelshaus.

Nixon did not give a rat’s ass about the environment but he did care about votes. He was much more conservative when an election wasn’t on the horizon.

Fast forward to today. Unlike in Nixon’s America, the GOP no longer has ultra-conservative and liberal “wings” attached to a stolid conservative center. All of the liberal Republicans as well as the stolid centrist Republicans have been purged or morphed (for survival purposes) into what then would have been called ultra-conservatives. A similar process has occurred in the Democratic Party, except there the liberals weren’t purged they were just told to sit down and shut up.

So, if you combine all of this with GOP voter suppression (Democratic voters anyway) and gerrymandering of the Congressional districts, the only barrier to election for most Republicans is now getting nominated, which means the votes of any but the now wholly right-wing Republican Party do not count. And voila. The fear of the voters has been eliminated. Behavior like Nixon’s has been eliminated. Compromise has been eliminated.

And we allowed this to happen through our apathy and clinging to myths. (I do not exclude myself in this condemnation.)

So, when are things going to improve?

Guess, just guess.

Trump’s Advisors Strategies

Why all of the furor? Why all of the teeth gnashing? Most of President Trump’s executive orders are toothless, but the immigration ban is not only equipped with teeth, but it is patently illegal, violating not only our own laws but international agreements that are very fundamental to who we are as a people (Geneva Conventions, etc.). So, is the new administration that incompetent or is there another game being played?

Ah, this makes sense. If you combine the slowness with which the new administration is placing people into positions in the government, they are now, by their immigration actions, smoking out those who will act to oppose their will later, so they can be culled. Keeping many agencies short on manpower and/or short on leadership will weaken those agencies, a longstanding goal of the GOP being to create “smaller government.” Finding out the identity of potential opponents in government positions for culling … priceless!

Oh, why do I imply that this strategy is of Mr. Trump’s advisors? Simple. Mr. Trump is not bright enough to have pulled this off himself.

January 28, 2017

Want a Democratic Party That Wins … For the People?

All over the mediasphere, articles are popping up proving that Democrats cannot find their own asses with even one hand let alone two. Most of these articles are suggesting approaches to opposing Trump but there is a deeper problem here: before trying to cut down a tree, check to make sure the saw is sharp first.

It was Will Rogers who said “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.” (He said this one so often, I couldn’t find when he first said it.)

But the Democrats did decide to get organized sometime near the late 1970s but that lead them to the New Democrat/Neoliberal disaster, the gutting of the middle class, full-time war making, the conservative counterattack and ascendancy, etc. and which recently culminated in the presidential election of Donald J. Trump. (Anything that leads your candidate to losing to the likes of Donald J. Trump has to be considered a total failure and a signal that it is time to reboot.)

But the Dems don’t need a reorganization, they need a savior. I wonder if they have noticed that the most approved of federal elected official is Bernie Sanders. They should slap a Democrat sticker on him and place themselves in Bernie’s hands, asking him to show them the way. There are a lot more approaches, but none that offer a better chance of success.

PS We should have paid more attention to Will Rogers (1875-1935). Here is some of his political wisdom:

  • What does the farmer need? Obvious: “He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a damn about him after the election.”
  • What about a candidate’s image? Ballyhoo: “I hope there is some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency.”
  • Our foreign policy is an open book – a checkbook.

Apparently our foreign policy model has been expanded to include domestic politics. And do you think he saw into the future to this election with his “dignity and not showmanship” quip?

January 25, 2017

Why Lies Matter

Apparently our “intelligence agencies” are concerned with the frequency with which President Trump tells obvious lies, you know the kind of lie that is so obviously a lie that even Fox (sic) News admits it. The reason that the intelligence agencies (Fedburin, CIA, NSA, etc.) are concerned is that they need us to believe their lies when they have the President deliver them. What good is a president to them when a majority of people in the U.S. have no faith in whatever he says. They need presidential credibility to sell their future lies and that has to be built up over time.

January 23, 2017

White Privilege on Display

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 11:16 am
Tags: , , , ,

Over the past long weekend I indulged in an old passion. I watched, on and off, for hours the 2017 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, AZ. Yes, I like cars. And there were about 1700 cars auctioned off this last weekend. (This is the largest of these affairs but not the sole auction sponsored by this company and there are quite a few other companies doing this.)

These cars were all over the map as to kind: race cars, classic cars, novelty cars, muscle cars, vintage cars, you name it. Some were newer, others older. Some were restored, others were “survivors.” I was astonished at the prices, but these cars are not something one needs but are something one wants. There were not many “daily drivers” changing hands this past weekend.

I looked online to see if there were any statistics associated with past auctions and … yes! A recent comparable year was 2015 in which 1617 cars were sold for a whopping 132 million dollars. (I don’t know whether that total include the auction fees, which were 10% added on top of whatever was bid.) Dividing those two numbers results in the average sale in 2015 being just under $82,000 dollars. Since I have never paid as much as $20,000 for a car, this appears to me a display of a great deal of extravagance.

I was, therefore, attracted to the people signing the paperwork for these purchases. Who were they? They were older. No surprise there. And they were men. Again, no surprise there. But they were almost exclusively all white men. The auction starts with cars estimated at lesser value, reaches a crescendo on Friday and Saturday and tapers off on Sunday. The buyers of these lesser value cars were almost universally older white men. Much silver hair on display. When the prices got up well over six figures, the buyers became younger: middle-aged, I’d say.

Now I didn’t watch all of the coverage as there were hours and hours and hours broadcast, on two different networks (Discovery and Velocity), but I saw several hundred of those cars rolled across the block. And I saw one person of color buying. One.

I can imagine what this appears like to a viewer who is Black or Hispanic as one or another nonessential bauble gets sucked up by old white guys who have six figures of room in their checkbooks this month. Some of them seemed to have even more than that as they bought several cars, so maybe they had seven figures of slack in their check books.

Even though I live from paycheck to paycheck as apparently most Americans do now, I do not begrudge the rich their money, if they came into it in a fair and equitable way. As a member of a minority which had been economically exploited over decades if not centuries, I might just want to puke at the display of ostentatious wealth.

The Constitution and American Foreign Affairs

Filed under: History,Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 10:36 am
Tags: , ,

There is almost a constant cry about what the U.S. should “do” about China, or ISIS/ISIL, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or … or …. Quickly, what does the Constitution say about conducting “foreign affairs”? Go ahead, look, I’ll wait <waiting …>.

So, you found out it says very little. According to one source:
The Constitution., has certain explicit passages dealing with the foreign affairs power. Specifically, the President is given authority to make treaties, to which the Senate is given the authority to advise and consent (Article 11, Section 2). The President is made Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy (Article II, Section 2); but the Congress is given the authority to raise and support armies, and to provide and maintain a Navy (Article 1, Section 8, Clauses 12 and 13). The Congress alone is given the power to declare war* and—in a much overlooked provision—the Congress is given authority to define offenses against the law of nations and to set punishments for them (Article I, Section 8, Clause 10).
Source Thomas J. “An Understanding of Constitution’s Foreign Affairs Power” (here)

So, the Constitution says very little about foreign affairs. In fact, the founders wanted us to have very little interaction with other countries except in the form of trade. They saw Europe’s intermingling alliances and treaties as a source of almost continuous conflict and war. They felt that if we were “neutral” and treated with one and all the same in trade (no “special nation” scheme status for them), that we would escape the trap of “foreign entanglements.”

Mr. J. continues:
In addition to these explicit provisions, there are also certain powers that flow merely from the fact that the United States is a sovereign nation. Justice Sutherland, writing in United States v. Curtiss-Wright E2Mort Corp., 29 U.S. 304, in 1937, observed that “The investment of the federal government with the powers of external sovereignty did not depend upon the affirmative grants of the Constitution.”

Uh, oh.

In essence the “law” gives the President the power to meddle in “foreign affairs” to their heart’s content as long as he doesn’t start a war or enter into a treaty without Congressional approval. And the Congress passed the War Powers Act and then looks the other way when it is violated. Oh, and President Bush declared a War on Terror (never authorized by Congress except in that it keeps allocating funds for it) and President Obama didn’t change that “policy” with the minor fact that the battlefield is the entire globe.

And … Trump.


January 22, 2017

Fueling the Economic Engine of the U.S. … Not

The U.S. emerged as a major economy in the later 1800’s and then grew from there. A certain source of that economic growth came from having a capable workforce. Consider the following points:

During the mid-nineteenth century, America surpassed the impressive enrollment levels achieved in Germany and took the lead in primary (grammar, elementary, or common) school education (Easterlin 1981). But by the turn of the twentieth century, various European countries had narrowed their educational gap with the United States (Lindert 2004). As the high school movement took root in America, however, the wide educational lead of the United States reappeared and was expanded considerably to mid-century.”

“In the first several decades of the twentieth century, the United States pulled far ahead of all other countries in the education of its youth. It underwent what was then and now termed the “high school movement,” a feat most other western nations would achieve some 30 to 50 years later. We address how the “second transformation” of American education occurred and what aspects of the society, economy, and political structure enabled the United States to lead the world in education for much of the twentieth century.”

“From 1910 to 1940, America underwent a spectacular educational transformation. Just 9 percent of 18-year olds had high school diplomas in 1910, but more than 50 percent did by 1940.

Quotes are from “Why the United States Led in Education: Lessons from Secondary School Expansion, 1910 to 1940” by Claudia Goldin (Harvard University and the NBER) and Lawrence F. Katz (Harvard University and the NBER)

Now, in addition, in the 1960’s in what is certainly a third transformation of American education, the U.S. expanded college attendance hugely at both four-year institutions and in a fast growing population of two-year colleges. We now find in a major report issued last week (available here) that many colleges are engines of moving students out of the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder to higher up that ladder.

Gosh, could American schools be like, you know, a major cause of economic prosperity? If so, what should we do?

According to the neo- and ordinary conservatives, we need to cut education funding. Heck, students don’t vote and all those teachers are pigs at the public trough, locked slavishly to their unions, and mostly vote Democratic, too. So what if we diminish a major driver of economic success, rich people will still be rich and as the majority of Americans get poorer, they’ll look even richer.

January 19, 2017

But When We are Wealthy …

But when we are wealthy … well, the song has the same notes but the lyrics change when countries go from poor to rich.

I have made the point in previous posts that “free trade” is a weapon used by the “haves” against the “have nots.” (Free Trade’s basic function is to prevent the have nots from competing with the haves by selling them our more cheaply made stuff so they cannot develop a capacity to make that stuff for themselves and become our competitors.) China’s President just stated that China is committed to free trade. Therefore China has left the Club of Have Nots and entered the Club of Haves.

A similar dichotomy occurs within nations between those who are now “rich” and those who are “poor.” One often hears from the plutocrat’s representatives (pretty much all elected representatives now) that we can’t solve our problems by printing money. To do that would cause rampant inflation! Plutocrats do not like inflation because they are debt holders and they do not want those debts being paid with dollars worth less than when the debts was created.

And while simply adding dollars to the nation’s balance sheet can cause inflation it doesn’t have to, consider the $16 – $29 trillion the Federal Bank “printed” in the wake of 2008 financial sector meltdown to fix the frauds of the financial sector. Have you noticed the rampant inflation caused by this? No? Neither have I because there was none.

This yuge amount of money is four to seven times what Social Security would need to remain solvent … forever (depending on whose estimates you choose to use). Or a similar amount of money could have been printed to bail out all homeowners or student with onerous loans, but if one were to suggest any Social Security insolvency to be solved this way (there is no such thing currently, of course) or an effective homeowner/student bailout this way, you will hear the plutocrat’s representatives cry loudly that “We can’t solve our problems by printing money. To do that would cause rampant inflation!”

In other words, to solve their problems, it is okay. To solve our problems it is absolutely forbidden.

Note The money isn’t actually printed as $100 bills or any other kind of currency. Here’s how it works. If the Fed gives a bank $10,000,000 and it is required to keep a 10% “reserve” by law, then most dweebs like you an me think that the bank can load $9 million of the $10 million, keeping one of the ten in reserve. No, fool, that $10 million becomes the ten percent and the bank issues $90,000,000 of loans. So, $10 million just became $100 million. Note that the bank never handles any printed money in these transactions, they just add numbers electronically to accounts. Easy peasy.

January 15, 2017

You Have to Ask “Why?”

Have you ever heard of the High School Movement? I certainly had not, so I looked it up in Wikipedia, which provided the following:

The high school movement is a term used in educational history literature to describe the era from 1910 to 1940 during which secondary schools sprouted across the United States. During this early part of the 20th century, American youth entered high schools at a rapid rate, mainly due to the building of new schools, and acquired skills “for life” rather than “for college.” In 1910 19% of 15- to 18-year-olds were enrolled in a high school; barely 9% of all American 18-year-olds graduated. By 1940, 73% of American youths were enrolled in high school and the median American youth had a high school diploma. The movement began in New England but quickly spread to the western states. According to Claudia Goldin, the states that led in the U.S. high school movement (e.g. Iowa and Nebraska) had a cohesive, homogeneous population and were more affluent, with a broad middle-class group.

“The United States exceeded Europe in mass secondary education. The American system of education was characterized as open to many (mostly white) students, forgiving, lacking universal standards, and academic. On the other hand, the European system was closed, unforgiving, with uniform standards, and academic for some and industrial for others. Secondary schools in America were free and generally accessible, while in most of Europe they were costly and often inaccessible with difficult entrance exams. In the United States, schools were provided by small, local districts. Because decentralized decision making system rose competition among districts for residents in the United States, the U.S. moved quickly in building schools initially. In contrast, schools were provided by the central government as a national decision in Europe. Further, high school was designed to be the terminal degree rather than a pre-college diploma of office or skilled blue-collar workers in the United States. By 1955 80% of United States youth had graduated from an academic high school. In this setting general skills and social mobility were emphasized, not specific training or apprenticeships. Even by the 1930s, America was virtually alone in providing secondary schools that were free and accessible; however, this accessibility was limited to white students. While in Europe the rate of those graduating from academic high schools was only 10%-20%. Most Europeans, 40%-50%, attended full-or part-time vocational training.

“From the viewpoint of economics, this movement led to the increase of women’s labor force from 1930 to 1950 in the United States. Knowledge and skills women gained in high school helped them attain better jobs outside the home.

I didn’t know this. I did know that the transition the country was in from a farming-based economy to one less involved in farming made a great many farmers job’s superfluous. In the late 19th century, 40% of all jobs were in farming; now it is closer to 2-3%. As labor required more expertise to be effective, it became smart to keep kids in school longer. It also kept the kids out of the job market for non-farm related jobs.

So, greater prosperity for all and greater opportunities for women. Wow! But, wait, there’s more!

In the early 1960’s a combination of events lead to a similar expansion, this time in U.S. citizens going to college. In the mid-1800’s there was a tremendous growth in the number of four-year colleges, mostly in the western states. But, still, the number of colleges was relatively small. Also, the entrenched eastern colleges had different ideas regarding the purpose of a college education from the newer western colleges. The western colleges were more pragmatic, teaching subjects like engineering and mining and animal husbandry. The eastern colleges were more traditional, emphasizing philosophy, the arts, as well as the law and medicine. We have remnants of those disputes still today: in many eastern colleges the BA degree is considered superior to the “more pragmatic” BS degree. In the west, it is the reverse.

As few people went to high school as there were in the early 1900’s, the demand for students to take slots in U.S. colleges and universities was still being met. But in the early 1960’s there was a huge explosion in the number of community colleges. These were colleges which only addressed subjects that were addressed in the first two years of a tradition four-year program, hence their label as “two-year colleges.” At one point in California in the early 1960’s, a new community college was opening about one per week. Even though many derided these colleges as “high schools with ash trays” and pointed to programs in cosmetology and welding as being inappropriate topics for colleges, this expansion lead to a number of things: for one it lead to a great many students being able to afford a college education (I was one of those) and it allowed a great many more to attend college due to having one in close proximity. The State of California credits the expansion of the college-educated workforce for a great deal of the expansion of its economy, especial in areas like aerospace, electronics, and high tech (Silicon Valley, etc.).

As a community college professor (later), I remember entertaining delegations of Chinese educators coming to this country to see our colleges and universities and especially they wanted to see our two-year colleges. Nowhere else in the world was attendance in college being offered to so many citizens as was being done in the U.S.

So, since the expansion of education to a greater and greater share of the U.S. population has lead to unprecedented prosperity and well-being, you have to ask why are our public schools currently under attack? “Entrepreneurs” have high jacked the voucher school and charter school movements expanding those offerings substantially by siphoning off funds from public schools to do so. Of course, there was a disinformation campaign involved (a major weapon in the plutocrats arsenal). Our public schools were described as failing, not up to international standards, etc. “Evidence” was cherry-picked to support these false claims. And people have offered almost no resistance to these efforts resulting in the dismantling of our system of public schools and colleges. Why is this being done?

Oh, greed. Well, that explains it. There is money to be made in opening these “schools.” So much money that new stories of mismanagement and malfeasance at charter schools are now a daily occurrence. These schools, being offered as a promise to do better than the “failing public schools” are, of course, not doing better, most are about the same but many are far, far worse and many only do as well as they do by excluding “difficult” students: those “of color” and/or disabled.

This is another example of the Killing the Goose that Laid Golden Eggs Syndrome. You know how the parable goes: a goose is discovered that lays golden eggs. After extensive discussions, the owner of the goose is induced to kill the goose and harvest all of the eggs inside of it. (This is a terrifically stupid story in that anyone ever having lived on a farm knows that fowl take a day or more to create one egg; they aren’t egg dispensers having many eggs inside and just dispensing one a day.) Of course, killing the goose reveals no more eggs and now that the goose is dead, there will be no more eggs.

The Great American Economy was built not on capital and entrepreneurship, but on educating American workers so they became the most productive workers in the entire world. We are now in the process of destroying that educational base. I remember when “public education reform” was something done to make education better, not just more profitable for the rich.

Let me requote the above “The American system of education was characterized as open to many (mostly white) students, forgiving, lacking universal standards, and academic. On the other hand, the European system was closed, unforgiving, with uniform standards, and academic for some and industrial for others.” Why are we trying to take the system that worked so well and transforming it into the one we superseded?

Oh, greed, I forgot for a second.

And, you will notice that we denied this opportunity to people of color, to whole we offered only substandard educations. Why are we continuing this practice, a practice that has worked so poorly and not offered them what worked for white people?

Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Is this how you want to go out?

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