Class Warfare Blog

March 8, 2017

GOP Plans to Repeal Dodd-Frank Legislation

Why do we need legislation that prevents big banks from undermining the whole world’s economy with overly risky investments? We can trust them. They are our friends.

Granted the Dodd-Frank legislation didn’t go nearly far enough (millions of dollars per day were spent lobbying against the law in the first place and then against its implementation after it was passed). The Glass-Steagall law should have been re-enacted verbatim, plus a whole lot more, but “burdensome regulation” is undermining progress in this country (whine, whine, sniff). This is why the big banks circumvented the existing regulations, corrupted regulators, and invented unregulated shadow banking in the first place.

We will only be free when big banks can wreak havoc as much as they desire … and, of course, our government bails them out every 6-8 years when it all crashes into ruin. Heck, the last time only cost us $2,000,000,000,000 (yes, that is two trillion dollars) plus several trillion more in lost property values, but that only affected ordinary citizens (they got no bailout, don’t you know).

At this point, I am starting to root for the GOP’s bad ideas. The party has so desperately wanted to do all of these things for years! And they are going to own the repercussions of each and every one of them.

Advertisements

More Run the Government Like a Business BS

We have elected a “businessman” as president and we often hear a campaign trope that we “ought to run our government as a business.” This is inherently stupid. How many businesses do you know which have an army with nuclear weapons and which can print money? Government is not a business and while some business methods do apply, many more do not.

Consider the recommendation of the Trump administration to cut the budget of the IRS. Imagine a business take over artist, taking the reins of a troubled business and the first action he takes is to cut the budget of the Accounts Receivable department. This is guaranteed to reduce the company’s income for no benefit whatsoever. Reducing the budget of the IRS is no different. Increasing their budget would make more sense, even for the GOP.

Opponents of the IRS have an acute case of “shoot the messenger syndrome.” The IRS does not make the tax laws, it does not set tax rates. Congress does. The IRS only does what Congress tells it to do. To cut the budget of the IRS is Congress telling the IRS to not do what Congress says. This is at best bizarre.

When one examines this most recent budget proposal, one is reminded of the movie Dave in which an impersonator of the President (played brilliantly by Kevin Klein) asks his friend Murray, an accountant, to help him find budget cuts that allow for a program near and dear to the First Lady’s heart receive funding. The cuts in the movie are patently ridiculous (e.g. a program to make people who have already purchased autos feel good about their purchases) which reinforces the public’s idea of “stupid government programs,” but in the Trump budget, programs which are inherently valuable are being axed to fund tax cuts for the rich and a budget increase for the Pentagon that was neither requested, nor is it needed.

This is not running government like a business, it is running a government via a bizarre ideology that rewards militarism (as long as it is profitable to GOP donors), diminishes succor to the poor and enriches those already rich.

We really need to have a serious conversation about the ideology of the GOP, being a manifestation of the mind of Scrooge McDuck at best and a national tragedy at worst.

March 7, 2017

The GOP on the Move!

Slow to begin, the GOP legislative onslaught is picking up steam. Here is a partial list of some of their coming hits:

HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education — (The bill also repeals basic nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs.)
HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
HR 785 National Right to Work (aimed at ending unions, including teacher unions)
HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
HR 808 Sanctions against Iran

Actually, I can get behind the HR 899 effort. The Federal Department of Education has been either an embarrassment or a front for the privatization of public education (Arnie Duncan!). So this is no great loss. But what do the other bills have in common? Oh, if the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education The rich have been trying for decades to get the private religious school educations they provide their children and currently pay for out of pocket to be paid for by the public. That and they also want to send their kids to lily white schools, preferably one with Country Day School in its name. And even the little touches are precious: with the repeal of the basic nutrition standards for school meals, ketchup is finally a vegetable again.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 785 National Right to Work This is famously anti-union legislation. The GOP is financed by corporate employers who wish to suppress worker’s wages. They have been doing a fabulous job of just that for the past 40 years, but still any opposition to their wage suppression scams is not to be countenanced. The plutocrats have pulled the fabulous rhetorical trick of getting their white, working class base to hate unions, the sole power player that can help them against the tyranny of the corporations.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency Who needs the EPA? Clearly businesses do. When Ronald Reagan called in William Ruckelshaus to tame the EPA’s burgeoning bureaucracy, Mr. Ruckelshaus was astonished to receive encouragement to strengthen the EPA from none other than several chemical industry chief executives. Their message was that “the public, they told me, was spooked about the turmoil at E.P.A. Americans didn’t believe anything was being done to protect their health and the environment. They didn’t believe the E.P.A., and they didn’t believe the chemical industry. These executives had concluded that they needed a confident, fair and independent E.P.A. They knew that an environmental agency trusted by the public to do its job gave their businesses a public license to operate.” But the GOP just can’t help themselves, can they? All of those burdensome regulations hinder the American genius for making money (for plutocrats). Who needs air to breath and water to drink, we need jobs! (Remember the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs?)
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife Hey, they have tooth and claw and don’t they have their own law about those? Let ‘em protect themselves. Under other new GOP legislation they will be allowed to buy firearms with no background checks, just like everybody else.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act The rich get a tax cut, the poor get early graves, a “win-win” situation for the GOP.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood First they complain that people of color are having too many babies, now they want to make it so they have to have them. Don’t expect any consistency here. This was a campaign promise (not of Donald Trump’s) and a promise is a promise, even if the Planned Parenthood “issue” is another straw dog, like “Acorn.”
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill Hey, we said “state’s rights” not “cities’ rights.” Local control? Nope, not while the local control guys are in power.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion “Doctors, lock ‘em up!” According to the GOP, those babies must be born before they can be abused and legally executed. It is a matter of the rule of law.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 808 Sanctions against Iran The GOP cannot help itself, it has to “poke the bear.” The Big Bear is Russia but Iran is an ally of Russia, so close enough. The neocons and apocalyptic proselytizers (Steve Bannon, et. all.) want war now because it will only get harder to wipe out those enemies of Christ as time goes on and the MIC says “There are no profits like war profits.”
Oh, and, if the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

 

March 6, 2017

GOP Plans to Repeal Dodd-Frank Legislation

Why do we need legislation that prevents big banks from undermining the whole world’s economy with overly risky investments? We can trust them. They are our friends.

Granted the Dodd-Frank legislation didn’t go nearly far enough (millions of dollars per day were spent lobbying against the law in the first place and weakening it and then against its implementation after it was passed). The Glass-Steagall law should have been re-enacted verbatim, plus a whole lot more, but “burdensome regulation” is undermining progress in this country (whine, whine, sniff). This is why the big banks circumvented the existing regulations, corrupted regulators, and invented unregulated shadow banking in the first place.

We will only be free when big banks can wreak havoc as much as they desire … and, of course, our government bails them out every 6-8 years when it all crashes into ruin. Heck, the last time only cost us $2,000,000,000,000 (yes, that is two trillion dollars plus or minus a few billion or so) plus several trillion more in lost property values, but that only affected ordinary citizens (they got no bailout, don’t you know).

At this point, I am starting to root for the GOP’s bad ideas. The party has so desperately wanted to do all of these things for years! And they are going to own the repercussions of each and every one of them.

All Kids Need to Learn is Great Teacher … Right?

Filed under: Education,Morality,Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am
Tags:

I strongly recommend you read the article this post is based on (here). It was published in The Guardian (U.K.), translated from a Dutch source.

We have been told by conservatives and Neoliberals that the only thing kids need to learn is a great teacher, well that and a charter school, or a voucher system. All of these claims are not only bogus but they mask their true purpose and that is to extract private profits out of public coffers and, secondarily, to disenfranchise teachers unions and teachers, who tend to be and vote liberal.

For many years educational researchers have been arguing that the real cause of the bulk of the performance gap between groups of students is poverty. That if you were to fix poverty, then the education system would work for all (and it is working well, maybe not as well as we would like, but well).

This Guardian article brought up some new information that applies to this “argument.” (I hesitate to use the word argument to an issue in which one side is simply taking stances with little to no evidence to back them up, maybe disagreement is better.)

Here is a sample of that article:

“It all started when I accidently stumbled on a paper by a few American psychologists. They had travelled 8,000 miles, to India, to carry out an experiment with sugar cane farmers. These farmers collect about 60% of their annual income all at once, right after the harvest. This means they are relatively poor one part of the year and rich the other. The researchers asked the farmers to do an IQ test before and after the harvest. What they discovered blew my mind. The farmers scored much worse on the tests before the harvest. The effects of living in poverty, it turns out, correspond to losing 14 points of IQ. That’s comparable to losing a night’s sleep, or the effects of alcoholism.”

The effects of poverty are substantial and show up quickly. These are not some effects that take decades of poverty to occur.

“A few months later I discussed the theory with Eldar Shafir, a professor of behavioural science and public policy at Princeton University and one of the authors of this study. The reason, put simply: it’s the context, stupid. People behave differently when they perceive a thing to be scarce. What that thing is doesn’t much matter; whether it’s time, money or food, it all contributes to a ‘scarcity mentality’. This narrows your focus to your immediate deficiency. The long-term perspective goes out of the window. Poor people aren’t making dumb decisions because they are dumb, but because they’re living in a context in which anyone would make dumb decisions.”

So, the drop in IQ stems from an evolutionary principle: if you want to survive, you must focus your attention on what you need to do so. If you are very, very thirsty, you can only think about finding water, etc. (Maybe this is another reason conservatives are against these findings; because evolution?)

So, what if people didn’t have the option of being poor by providing a universal basic income? Neoliberals respond to this idea with the claim that the poor will still make stupid decisions; they will fritter away any money we give them, so it is a waste of money. But, what if this had been tried? What really happened? Well it has been tried  … on people just like us up in Canada. (And is being repeated in Scandinavian experiments right now.)

“The experiment had started in Dauphin, a town north-west of Winnipeg, in 1974. Everybody was guaranteed a basic income ensuring that no one fell below the poverty line. And for four years, all went well. But then a conservative government was voted into power. The new Canadian cabinet saw little point in the expensive experiment. So when it became clear there was no money left for an analysis of the results, the researchers decided to pack their files away. In 2,000 boxes.

“When Forget (a researcher) found them, 30 years later, no one knew what, if anything, the experiment had demonstrated. For three years she subjected the data to all manner of statistical analysis. And no matter what she tried, the results were the same every time. The experiment – the longest and best of its kind – had been a resounding success.

Forget discovered that the people in Dauphin had not only become richer, but also smarter and healthier. The school performance of children improved substantially. The hospitalisation rate decreased by as much as 8.5%. Domestic violence was also down, as were mental health complaints. And people didn’t quit their jobs – the only ones who worked a little less were new mothers and students, who stayed in school longer.”

Wow! Just because a universal income worked there doesn’t mean it will work everywhere but it seems to address the problems effectively and is “feasible.” The author concluded with this:

“The costs of child poverty in the US are estimated at $500bn (£410bn) each year, in terms of higher healthcare spending, less education and more crime. It’s an incredible waste of potential. It would cost just $175bn, a quarter of the country’s current military budget, to do what Dauphin did long ago: eradicate poverty.”

I might add that the scales are never loaded correctly in these arguments. The Neoliberals are always loading the costs on one side of the balance and then decrying “We can’t afford it!” These are the same people who talk about the costs of environment regulations but never look at the benefits.

The $175 billion needed to implement this policy in the U.S. is chump change compared to the costs of not doing it. Consider that the U.S. government recently ponied up over 2 trillion dollars to bail out large financial institutions because of their patent malfeasance. We do not have to raid the Defense Department (I am not opposed but Neoliberals are), we can just get the money from the same place that 2 trillion dollars came from. Think about it like this: you get a $500 billion return for only $175 billion. That’s a hell of a discount.

The final point the author makes is “Poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash.” This is a problem for conservatives because their ideology insists that poverty is a character flaw.

And … just stop with the “all kids need to learn is great teacher” bullshit, please!

March 5, 2017

The Man Who Cried Wolf

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:14 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

I read yesterday that Donald Trump had accused Barack Obama of “wire tapping” his offices in New York City before the presidential election in November last year, claiming the former president had overseen a “Nixon/Watergate”-style caper.

The idea is not particularly absurd but with some thought, no, it is absurd. Since Mr. Trump bleats out everything he is thinking on line, why go to the trouble of tapping his phones?

What this brought to mind more importantly was the fairy tale of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” These “children’s stories” were designed as training aids to teach kids the kinds of behaviors that will get them into trouble and which will get them out. If you can recall this one, a mischievous child cries “Wolf, wolf” a number of times just to get a reaction. The adults who respond each time with axes and pitchforks soon came to ignore the child’s cries as being bogus, and when a real wolf showed up, well it didn’t end well. The moral of the story, kids, is to not make false claims and thus lose credibility. If you do, no one will believe when you make a true claim.the-boy-who-cried-wolf

Fast forward to Mr. Trump and you can see my concern. He has made such a number of false claims, the reasons for which I will leave up to others, that a time will come when he will be frequently ignored or patronized (Oh, that’s just Donald being Donald.”). But we play the part of the alarmed villagers in the fairy tale, not the childish shepherd. And rather than the child being at risk from a single wolf, we all may be at risk from a rather larger predator.

Many are noticing that Mr. Trump’s penchant for making false claims and the Republican’s ideological disdain for facts that do not fit their narratives undermines the foundations of the American Democratic Experiment. As Sam Harris says, “We either have conversation or violence.” And conversation is impossible if neither side in an argument can accept the “facts” of the other. One can only converse productively when looking at the same facts, which can be interpreted differently but not made to disappear.

We can now add to this a concern that Mr. Trump may soon become “unbelievable” to a large fraction of the populace and not in a good, yuge way.

March 3, 2017

The Utter Failure of Economics and Politics to Prevent the Ravaging of the Rich

I ran across this rather incredible graph recently:

20-year-annualized-productivty-growth-in-the-uk

The data are from the UK so I looked to see if I could find any similarities to data from the US, and yes, they are there.

The graph shows the growth of worker productivity from the years 1800 to 2010. Since all of the values are positive, productivity has trended upward in general. But you can see four distinct trends on this graph: first there is a strong increase in productivity from 1800 to about 1870, then a general decline in the rate from 1870 to about 1900 (while still being positive, the amount of increase dropped period by period). Then there is another long period of productivity increase improvements from roughly 1900 to the mid 1970’s, followed by another decline in the rate of increase from 1970’s to the present.

What do these periods in which productivity changes steadily decline in magnitude correlate with? Ah, the period 1870-1900 is often referred to as the “Gilded Age.” And the mid-1970’s to the present started with Reganism/Thatcherism and is the second great period of wealth transference to the few in this entire time period.

We have been told over and over that the accumulation of wealth by the few in our society is a good thing. The wealthy are the “job creators,” the movers and shakers who get things done. But the reality is exactly the opposite. The people who have been telling us that wealth inequality is a standard feature of capitalism and a “good thing” are just the PR men for the wealthy, trying to avoid pitchforks and torches showing up in the gated communities of their rich paymasters. That so many of these flacks are economists should be appalling to the intellectual community. (Maybe we should disbar them and transfer academic economic departments to become part of the marketing programs of schools of business.)

All of the data show that periods of extreme wealth accumulation by the few devastate economies instead of facilitating them. The steepest upward portion of this graph takes place between the end of World War 2 and the arrival of Reganism/Thatcherism and anti-unionism. Productivity grows the fastest when the wealth is shared more fairly.

Please note that there were rich people during this post-war period. There were many people getting rich for the first time. They weren’t, however, getting filthy rich by distorting the political systems in their favor. Becoming rich through your own skills is one thing. Becoming obscenely rich by hook or crook, though, hurts all of us.

Neoliberal Roots

I was reading a very good piece on the privatization of public education posted by the wonderful Yves Smith (Dismantling Public Education: Turning Ideology into Gold by Alex Molnar)—which I highly recommend—when a particular section struck me. Here it is in full:

“The major education reforms of the past 35 years — education vouchers, charter schools, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts — all seek to remove public schools from the control of elected bodies; to subject them to the ‘laws’ of the ‘market’; and to put them at the service of the economic elite. The world being called into existence is based on the belief that anyone, but not everyone, can succeed—a world of winners and losers, each of whom has earned his or her fate. Thus, as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, one of neoliberalism’s foremost champions, proclaimed: “’There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.

“This is a world in which the poor must be judged by the rich to be ‘deserving’ of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare.”

That final sentence rang a bell for me. It connected in my mind the current neoliberal disdain for the poor with the efforts of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration to address the ravages of the Great Depression. At that time (the 1930’s) the Roosevelt’s New Deal administration wanted to get money back in people’s hands by the shortest possible route. Many Americans were reluctant to admit they need the help but finally, driven by desperation, they applied for “relief.” But the rate at which the funds allocated to this were being disbursed was impossibly slow and Roosevelt ordered his right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, to look into it. It turned out that the people hired to distribute the funds were spending most of their time ensuring that the poor felt shame for their current state. So, before you could get a little money (it was a pittance), you first needed a heap of humiliation and shame just for asking. Hopkins put an end to then standard practice of shaming the poor and the money soon flowed much faster and people felt positive effects sooner.

So, what could be the source of this need on the part of large swaths of the American people to make sure that poor people feel shame associated with their economic state? Are Americans uncharitable? No, quite the contrary. So, what is it? A clue may be in the phrase quoted above “the poor must be judged by the rich to be ‘deserving’ of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare.” Americans tend to honor wealth as a sign of hard work and industry and business smarts. That honor conveys a certain rectitude as well as high social position. So, rather than Americans striving to be pigs at the public trough as they are oft portrayed by Neoliberals, they are just the opposite.

There is one more strain woven into this attitude and I think it is the Protestant Work Ethic which emphasizes that hard work, discipline, and frugality are a result of a person’s salvation in the Protestant faith. Taken to an extreme, the people wedded to this ideology condemn the poor because they obviously lack “hard work, discipline and frugality” otherwise they wouldn’t be in need of assistance.

This is yet another example of religion tainting otherwise worthy collective attempts to assist those less fortunate, especially in an age when the rich have transferred so much wealth out of middle class and poor pockets into their own.

« Previous Page

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.