Class Warfare Blog

February 28, 2017

Moving On Politically

Now that the Democrats have doubled down on their current corporatist party structure by electing Tom Perez as Chair of the Democratic National Committee, we have a definitive moment in the history of that party. President Obama and some of his team actually called DNC voters to make sure Mr. Perez got elected and not Keith Ellison, a representative of the “new wave” Democrats symbolized by Bernie Sanders.

It should be clear to Mr. Sanders now that the Democratic Party is not interested in its old base (unions, working people, people of color, …) and is committed to its new base (white collar folks, professionals, the wealthy, …) the very base that lost them the most recent election in a most embarrassing way. There will be no healing of the rift as the current Democratic Party is living in denial that there is one.

It is time for a new party, one committed to ordinary people and not subservient to the very rich.

Please Senator Sanders, throw your weight behind such a move. Surely that would mean there will be a splintering of the opposition to the Republicans, but the sooner it occurs, the sooner people can make known their choice as to which way they want to go. Three major parties will probably not exist for long, and the two we have now have been captured by the plutocrats. It is time for another choice.

Addendum Ian Welch puts it more bluntly here.

February 27, 2017

What Are Your Views on Abortion?

A recent piece in the N.Y. Times pointed out that in a recent survey of views on abortion, just over half of all American women want to see further restrictions on abortion. The piece also chastised “feminists” for ignoring this fact.

As far as I am concerned, both parties and their opinions can go take a flying leap.

In my opinion, having an abortion … or not …. is an intensely personal decision and the opinions of the rest of society just do not matter. In order for them to matter, the issue would have to involve one in which there was a profound societal interest. We are talking about birthing new citizens here. If we had a profound worker shortage or a severe lack of people available to serve in the military, I would recognize a significant societal interest. But we are up to our assess in people and no such interest exists. The only reason there is an abortion issue is that there is a morality issue.

There is an axiom that “you cannot legislate morals,” but we keep trying, idiots that we are. The danger here is if we do insist that there is a profound societal interest, we open a box of snakes. The only form that interest could take would be a population based one (morals aren’t addressed in the Constitution). If we take “action” in the form of policy, say an anti-abortion policy, we are essentially saying we have the right to force women to bear children. A short step away are laws restricting the uses of contraception. Neither of these kinds of policies touch the American experiment where it lives. These are totalitarian policies and are supported only by totalitarian religions.

If a pregnant woman is considering an abortion, the decision is a very emotional, personal decision. She is not deciding to “never have children.” She is not deciding to restrict the number she will have. But if we collectively were to force her to have this baby after she decided she did not want it, the emotional scars from that action may affect those possibilities and how would that serve the societal interest? And who wants there to be more unwanted children in the world? The impact on the child is rarely mentioned by the anti-abortion zealots, other than to describe an abortion as a murder. Once the child is brought to term it can go fuck itself for all of the anti crowd cares.

Much of the anti-abortion fever, I believe, is fueled by people wanting “others” to be responsible for their actions. The punishment for a young girl exploring sex and getting pregnant (made unsafe by the same politics as the antis espouse) is to be forced to bear that child and raise it, possibly forestalling any hopes she had for her own life and possibly truncating any positive future for that child. “That will teach her not to be promiscuous.” (Is there any evidence that this form of “discipline” works?)

If a woman is contemplating an abortion, the best thing we can do is get out of the way. If we are close to her, offer support, share your opinion if that is requested, but get out of the way. And stop recommending laws to restrict peoples actions in these personal decisions.

How would you like it if you are told you have heart disease, but the procedure that could cure you and save your life has been condemned as immoral and made illegal. (It involves the use of stem cells.) How would you feel if laws were passed that operations were immoral as they denied the healing powers of God? Do not let totalitarian religions determine our social policies. Only when there is a demonstrated significant societal interest should we intervene. Child abuse, spousal abuse, poverty, hunger, homelessness: there are so many problems of this sort that have societal interests and citizens involved that deserve our attention. In the absence of such an interest, as in the case of the “legality” of abortions, we should get out of the way and reinforce our belief in individual action. To do otherwise is to extend the totalitarian aspects of these religions to our collective agreements with one another.

PS Pop Quiz Can you tell from the graph what year abortion was made legal in the US? (If not legal abortions do not affect population growth and there can not be a societal interest in them.)

united-states-population

(Answer to Pop Quiz: It was 1973.)

February 26, 2017

The Real Danger from Association with Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon is a close advisor to President Trump. He has a very impressive résumé and he is clearly “one of the smartest guys in the room,” any room. Lately he has been characterized as being all kinds of things: a while supremacist, an anti-Semite, etc. All of these characterizations miss the point. Mr. Bannon does pose a threat, but not in the ways these authors propose. It stems from Mr. Bannon’s idée fixe that Western Civilization is facing an ideological showdown, including war … with Islam.

It is unfortunate that also on Mr. Bannon’s team are the likes of Betsy DeVos, who along with Ted Cruz’s father and host of others, have the idea that the best way to forestall such a future is to marry Christianity with our government. Those of us who think that secularism and assimilation are desirable are, I guess, just wrong-headed. These people like to claim that this is the only way to head off Sharia law and Islamism building up in our society. I guess those Muslims are following the same playbook the Irish followed when they took over the U.S. in the 1800’s. The same plan was followed by the Germans, and then the Chinese and the Japanese and then Hispanics. It is a tried and true approach to subversion of the country. Move in and then take over. Apparently these “Christian nation” people don’t have enough faith in the corrupting power of Coca-Cola, blue jeans, and iPhones.

But Mr. Bannon is truly dangerous. He, like many others of his ilk, is focused on external enemies. Those “others” are easy to characterize as “bad guys.” Consider ISIS/ISIL. This group is absolutely no threat to the U.S. but people are running around screaming “We have to do something; we have to do something!” because any bad guy is too precious of an opportunity to waste.

The problem with these external threats is they ignore the greatest threat to our democracy, greater than all of the external threats combined: the total capture of the reins of government by plutocrats, basically the rich, corporate and otherwise.

By the time Islam gets around to storming our borders, the pickings will be nonexistent because the plutocrats have picked over the carcass of the Great American Experiment in democracy until it is almost clean. Both major political parties represent only the interests of the rich. As do the courts and the military, which doesn’t seem to have a mission but to protect the plutocrats foreign economic interests. The Islamist invading forces will have to storm the tax havens to get at the wealth of Americans as the plutocrats will have almost all of it.

I wonder if the conservatives opposition to alternative energy sources simply stems from the fact that if we kick our addiction to oil, what use will we then have for the military.

February 24, 2017

Stop with the Theories!

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 1:47 pm
Tags: , ,

I read widely across quite a few topics. I suspect I am not alone in this practice. I am fascinated by particular tidbits of science that are far from any level of expertise I might have. Recently an article caught my eye; the topic was that the ambient temperature we experience affects our emotions. When we feel warm we tend to be more open and generous. When we feel cold we tend to be more suspicious. Interesting.

The article then continued with “The big question, of course, is why? Why are physical and psychological temperatures linked in the first place? There are two theories …

Can you see the word I have a problem with? Yep, the word theory. What the researchers had as the result of their work were: hypotheses, guesses, hunches, whatever, but theories, no. The word I prefer is “conjectures” as a better word than “speculations” in a case like this but I wouldn’t quibble much over speculations.

This happens in ordinary conversations: someone asks “Why is President Trump acting that way?” and you answer “Well, I have a theory….” No you don’t. The best you have is a wild ass guess. But this is a game you cannot lose which is why you play. You espouse your “theory” and if it turns up being right, you get props from your fellow travelers later. If it turns out to be wrong, there is no penalty.

I suggest that if anyone wants to propose a theory, they should be willing to put money on it.

A theory has to do one of two things to qualify as a theory: it has to be able to predict yet unknown facts or it has to make good sense of what we already know, aligning the topic of the theory with other fields of investigation, for example.

If you want it to be a scientific theory, there are additional requirements. To make a scientific theory, you have to make testable predictions. There have been any number of beautiful theories that turned out to be non-testable, e.g. God created the Earth. Since the claim is not testable, it is not a scientific theory. It is a claim, an supposition, a conjecture, etc. but it is not a theory.

So, the next time you hear someone ask “Why …” and you want to answer, you might say “I have a hunch …” or “I have an idea …” or the equivalent, but unless you have a full-blown scheme that makes complete sense out the source of the question or can make predictions, you do not have a theory.

So, please just stop with the theories.

February 23, 2017

Why Do Conservatives Want to “Let the Markets Rule?”

It is axiomatic that conservatives want there to be as little government regulation of economic markets as possible, because they claim that “the Invisible Hand of the Marketplace (Adam Smith)” guarantees the best possible outcome and the more we interfere with that, the poorer the outcome will be.

Conservatives say this as if it were a fundamental truth of economics.

Recently a prominent economist died (Kenneth Arrow) and his work is often held up as part of said proof of the infallibility of markets. As the obituary writer put it “Professor Arrow proved that their system of equations mathematically cohere: prices exist that bring all markets into simultaneous equilibrium (whereby every item produced at the equilibrium price would be voluntarily purchased). And market competition puts society’s resources to good use: Competitive markets are efficient, in the language of economists.” (Amen!)

But to prove that particular economic theorem a certain number of “assumptions” had to be made. Here are some of those:
•  all markets are perfectly competitive (all buyers and sellers have perfect information, no buyer or seller is big enough to influence prices)
•  markets in different locations are different/separate markets (so the market for milk in California doesn’t affect the market for milk in Illinois)
•  all markets contain “forward markets” as futures markets in which you can contract to buy anything, for example pork bellies (to make bacon, we hope), for any future year … forever
•  plus, of course, everyone has perfect foreknowledge of those futures markets, too.

This work is considered foundational in economics, earning the authors Nobel Prizes, etc.

Now, what that work actually proves is exactly the opposite of what is claimed. The work shows that markets are perfect and benefit society only with those pre-conditions. Of course, no such markets exist or can exist with those elements in play. What they proved was that the conditions for the trust people place in markets to “do the right thing” are only available in Never-Never Land.

Think about it. If one had perfect information of the future of the prices of pork bellies or any other commodity, why would trades be made? Currently, futures buyers buy future goods because of price uncertainty. The thinking is “I am going to buy now when the price is reasonable because I think the price is going to go up.” You certainly wouldn’t “buy now” if you knew the price was going to go down. And why would a seller sell to you at the current low price if he knew he could get a higher price by just waiting?

All of these assumptions are bogus. You cannot say that the local market for celery in California is unconnected with the local market for celery in Illinois when virtually all of the celery in the U.S. is grown in California. Similarly (and if you hadn’t been around for the past 50 years or so) we couldn’t get tomatoes or fresh fruit in the winter months (or lettuce, etc.) and we made do with substitutes (cabbage for lettuce, etc.) until the fresh, local harvest came in. Now, all winter long we get produce from Mexico, Peru, Southeast Asia, etc. We can have tomatoes and lettuce all winter long. Many of these markets are global making them most definitely not local.

And, then we have advertising to make sure that seller and buyer do not have the same information. (If you think advertisers are trying to share information, wake up!) And so, in no market is there “perfect information” for both buyer and seller.

So, getting back to the original question: why do conservatives want to “let the markets rule?” They actually do not want this. What they want is minimal or, better, no regulation of what they are allowed to do to make money. The “free markets” economics is just a smokescreen for “Do not tell me what I can do!” Further proof of this is the fact that these same people are trying to get advantages for their business written into law: tax breaks, labor favors (labor unions are disadvantaged in “right to work” states), and if they can pull it off: monopolies. Of course, these people say “competition is good,” but basically they want none of it.

If you want a case history of this in action, look at the U.S. automobile industry over the last 50 years or so (post WW2). At the beginning of that period the U.S. car market was dominated by Detroit Iron, mostly in the form of huge, heavy vehicles that got very poor gas mileage (even into the single digits of mpg). Foreign imports began to trickle in in the form of small, gas thrifty cars like the Volkswagen of Germany and Japanese imports (Honda, Subaru, Suzuki, etc.). The major U.S. manufacturers looked down their noses at these vehicles: they were small, had little power, and even less chrome details. But then there were the gas crises of the early 1970’s. All of a sudden, having a gas thrifty car was quite desirable. Sales of “imports” skyrocketed and American manufacturers started bringing out “economy models” to compete. But if “competition was good” Detroit was having none of it. It sought and got protection from the federal government which limited the numbers of cars that could be imported. Japan, previously content to be sending smaller, cheaper cars to the U.S. saw an opportunity. If it could import only so many cars, those cars should provide more profit than the small economy models, so they started importing higher end vehicles (still not luxury models, like the Lexus, but higher end vehicles). These vehicles were much better made that U.S. vehicles and offered much better gas mileage, too, so people snapped them up in droves. Having their numbers restricted also drove up prices because there were only so many around. (This resulted in the cars available being snapped up close to ports of entry, so people in Middle America didn’t notice this at first, but the coasts were bristling with imports.

So, the reaction of Detroit? Going back to Congress and asking for more protection.

At the same time, automotive safety standards were being introduced at the federal level. I remember watching the hearings regarding having a “5 mph bumper.” Detroit’s “Big Three” auto makers said such a requirement (that a car would survive a 5 mph collision with little or no damage—5 mph is a brisk walking speed) would bankrupt them. All of these manufacturers supported this claim. Then a witness, a “shade tree mechanic,” testified that he had a 5 mph bumper, all tested, and available for license that he had made that cost just about the same as what Detroit was paying for bumpers then. These whinging, uncooperative titans of industry certainly lost credibility in front of Congress, which hurt their efforts to get protection from their competition.

So, these claims of markets and competition are “good” are just smokescreens for what they really want: a guaranteed path to make as much money as they wanted to with no interference, certainly not regulations on fuel economy or safety. They preferred to compete on the basis of which cars had the most shiny bits, so as to impress your neighbors when the car sat in the driveway.

Granted, there are some conservatives who probably believe the economic BS (they aren’t a particularly bright group) but that doesn’t make their beliefs true. The real problem is the public has been brought to a similar belief because of the repetition of the false claims over and over and over. I used to carry a spray can of bullshit repellent for just such utterances, maybe I should produce those for sale. The market should be strong.

February 22, 2017

Straw Dogs to the Left of Me …

The N.Y. Times is running a series on wealth with the subtitle of “Articles on Managing Fortunes, Improving Lifestyles, and Finding Financial Security.” (Somehow sucking up to the wealthy qualifies as all of the news fit to print.) Today’s contribution is “Why You Might Not Want to Take Away a Billionaire’s Money” by Jeff Sommer.

Mr. Sommer begins his article thus:
There is a problem with billionaires: They’ve got way more money than any human deserves.

But if you were simply to take it all away from them, you would, in many cases, be doing more harm than good.

WTF? Who is calling for taking away all of the money from the rich? Anybody? Nobody I know. Then he uses John D. Rockefeller as an icon of philanthropy to support his thesis (all of those museums, and scholarships, and schools, oh my). He doesn’t mention Mr. Rockefeller’s rapacious business practices or any of his other negatives, he just mentions parks and museums and schools, etc.

His point is the same as many others: billionaires know better what to do with money than you do, no matter how they managed to acquire it. I have written about this before in “Bill Gates Ideas Are Better than Yours.” But the current point still has no basis in reality. The only way you could test this hypothesis, is to give an ordinary person a billion dollars and ask them how they would donate it to good causes, then compare the performances of the rich and poor philanthropists. Basically the article’s argument is that billionaires spend their money better than a guy who would pile it all up and burn it. (No, duh!) This argument is a version of the comedian Gallagher’s dog food commercial which goes “Look how much friskier the Alpo dog is than the dead dog over there.”

Also, it stacks museums, etc. on one side of the ledger and doesn’t place anything on the other, other than “non-museums.” I think if you were to do the most draconian thing, take away 80% of a billionaire’s money and give it to the poor, that money would vanish from human sight. (It would get spent.) But what value do you place on being able to feed your children, send them to school, or afford medical care for your spouse. No one could visit those things sometime in the future but the benefit would be very, very tangible to the people afforded those things, the hundreds of thousands of people afforded those things.

And what about the billionaires, like the Koch brothers, using their wealth to make sure that ordinary people have no say in our government, that their ideas get implemented and the poor, well they need to go get a job. These people have amassed great wealth by commercially taking small amounts of money from many, many people. Then they used that wealth to rig the game to make even more wealth. Consider the Bush tax cuts that transferred large amounts of money to the very wealthy in the form of taxes not needing to be paid, with the shortfall in federal receipts being made up by smaller amounts collected from millions of Americans. Because of this, if the wealth were to be transferred back, it would only involve a small amount to each individual American, but the point is that wealth should never have been accumulated in the first place. (I will blog about this shortly.)

And before I hear from droves of apologists for the wealthy, you can stick your globalization and free trade arguments where the sun doesn’t shine. The same factors affect all of the world’s economies and in none of those other countries has wealth inequality anything even approximating what it is in the U.S. The rich have captured our government and are running it for their own benefit, which proves my second point: the damned billionaires can’t be trusted with the power that comes with that wealth. For every benign billionaire, like Warren Buffet, there are a dozen rapacious assholes, like the Koch brothers.

Also interesting is how such poorly-argued propaganda for the rich got past the editors of the N.Y. Times. Oh, I forgot, the Times is owned by the wealthy, as are most of the rest of the news media. Sucking up to the boss is so very easy to do.

February 20, 2017

Why, Oh, Why?

I read way too often, that there is an anti-science attitude coming from Christians and other highly religious fellows (Islamists, etc.) because <fill in the blank here>. Most of the reasons sound reasonable but they all miss the mark.

The anti-science attitude stems from this itsy-bitsy problem. If science contradicts the Bible or other religious scripture in the least little bit, then those scriptures become untrustworthy. Each religious pronouncement would then have to be evaluated and interpreted and, well, there goes the baby out with the bathwater.

This is obvious in the statements of Christian fundamental literalists; they are against the teaching of “god-less” evolution; they are against science that shows that the Earth is way older (actually 766 thousand times older) than can be deduced from the Bible; they are against the Big Bang Theory because it isn’t mentioned in the Book of Genesis. For those religionists who are not fundamentalists, the threat is the same but more subtle. They think that morals, for example, come from their god (all evidence to the contrary), and so when science contradicts religion, it is a slippery slope leading directly to science refutes religion. And then there goes morality and all human beings become ravening beasts, just like we see in the movies (a well-known scriptural source for the White House apparently).

The fascinating thing is that the religionists insist their religion is based upon faith, yet they spend time and massive amounts of money trying to prove their view of the world is true. Biblical archeologists prowled the Near East looking to prove the events of the Old Testament happened, only to prove the exact opposite. Adventurers have gone looking, even to the point of scouring satellite images looking for the remains of Noah’s ark, even though the same story was told many centuries before the Noah story was told (and “borrowed” several times prior also) and is probably just a convenient vehicle used to take over another religion’s turf. (Rome did this by equating conquered people’s gods to their own, thus bringing the “new believers” into their fold.) Jerusalem is the most excavated city on the planet, with many people looking for confirmation of David’s and Solomon’s kingdoms, only to end up with vague bits that mighta coulda come from then.

So, faith apparently is not good enough, conformation is desired, but when confirmation doesn’t come, when contradiction comes instead, the science then must be wrong.

This, of course, is wrapped in a culture in which “having faith” is considered a “good thing” but being gullible is not. Poker players will do very strange things and actually lose money rather than to allow themselves to be “bluffed” by another player. No one wants to know they could have gotten an article they just bought at a better price. So, what better example of being gulled is believing in a false religion? Denying that falsity is far easier than admitting one was taken in by fancy words. It is even easier to deny science than to admit being taken for a ride.

February 19, 2017

Has Our Logic Function Been Disabled?

There has been quite a flutter about a comment coming from Kyrie Irving, the All-Star guard of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. According to Mr. Irving: “This is not even a conspiracy theory,” he said. “The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat. It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.

Why this is upsetting to many is beyond my comprehension. My thinking goes like this:
#1 Mr. Irving makes well over $1,000,000 for less than a year’s work and has for quite some time.
#2 That makes Mr. Irving a Republican.
#3 Therefore Mr. Irving believes:
• the Earth is flat
• Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists
• the Earth is only 6000 years old
• autism is caused by vaccinations, and that
• Donald Trump is a bright, successful businessman.
All of the facts being to the contrary, all of these must be true because “they” lie to us.

This is believable because … Fox News. (Apparently “they” does not include Fox News.)

So, why are people shocked? I do not understand.

 

 

February 17, 2017

So, Now It Is Obvious?

From the Naked Capitalism web site (“Grantham: ‘Twas Capitalism That Killed Capitalism” posted by Yves Smith, text attributed to Jeremy Grantham):

An extraordinary, large exit poll run by Reuters/Ipsos in which 45,000 people participated took place in the early evening on election day in the US. To say this was a detailed poll is an understatement. The spreadsheet for each question in small print runs the length of a generous dining room table, 11 feet! … The critical statement polled, in my opinion, was this: ‘America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful.’”

The response to that question: 74% agreed.

“The lack of class war or economic war in the US has always been a fiction,
but it has been mostly hidden, and deliberately so,
by the side so completely winning the undeclared war.”

By this time some readers may be asking for a profile of the 74% of the final 45,000 who voted against the rich and powerful. Who are these people? Well, they are us. All of us. I have never heard of a vote so uniform: whether Republican 72% or Democrat 77%; Male 74% or Female 75%; White 75% or Black 74%; Rich 70% or Poor 79%; Christian 74% or Muslim 72%; Graduates 68% or not 76%; they all agreed. They have all had it with the rich and powerful. And as for me, I don’t blame them. I think capitalism has lost its way. And has badly diluted the value of democracy along the way. We can only hope it is very temporary.

“I think capitalism has lost its way.
And has badly diluted the value of democracy along the way.
We can only hope it is very temporary.”

The lack of class war or economic war in the US has always been a fiction, but it has been mostly hidden, and deliberately so, by the side so completely winning the undeclared war.

This is what got us our current President. It was either him or Mrs. Status Quo. Unfortunately the biased selection process got us the wrong man. We needed Bernie Sanders to even begin the correction process.

If our current President believes he has a mandate, can you see anything in the actions of the current administration that equates to “taking the country back from the rich and powerful?”

No? Neither do I.

February 13, 2017

Mr. Bannon’s War

Apparently Steve Bannon, Breitbart News jefe and current Senior Advisor to the President is concerned with the coming war … with Islam. Mr. Bannon feels that Western Civilization (of which we are the peak) is almost prostrate before the ideological assault of Islam. (All of our Christian values are being abandoned; I mean, when is the last time a heretic was burned at the stake?) So, we need to gird our loins and get prepared for this religious apocalypse.

It is clear that Islam is in the same position Christianity was 1500 or so years ago, the religion of the oppressed. Now that Christianity is the religion of the oppressors, though, it is ripe for conquest. So, I do think Mr. Bannon has a point, but I think the war is ideological and he apparently wants to solve the problem militarily. Well, I offer up Afghanistan and Iraq and Somalia and ask “How’s that going for you, Steve?”

If we left the Middle East to those living there, how effectively would you think they would be in combating us? Are you afraid of an Islamic State invasion any time soon? Do you see pickup trucks with really high snorkels waving ISIS flags, coming out of the water on Florida beaches?

Please realize that This Administration is one of distraction. All of our current problems are based in the simple fact that the monied interests in this country have subsumed all of our government agencies. It is they who are running the show and we no longer have anything approximating a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” … certainly not for the people. Our government is currently being run for the plutocrats. Ordinary people need not apply.

One of the surest ways to distract people from concentrating on internal affairs is to point to foreign affairs and wars are really exciting, newsworthy, and profitable even with “enemies” half way around the world.

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