Uncommon Sense

December 1, 2022

Democrats are Pro-Labor . . . Aren’t They?

Not for the last 40 years or so, no. I remember when Mr. Obama was elected. A piece of legislation dearly sought by unions had been stalled and when he was elected, well, it would be pushed through by the Dems, right? The legislation was to go back to the labor law when a union could essentially gather membership cards from a majority of a workplace’s workers and that would give the union standing to represent those workers in negotiations. Card campaigns were cards that stated that a worker wanted a union to represent them, just as a lawyer has a client sign a contract that states that they are representing them as a client. That was the law for many, many years. Mr. Obama ignored that legislation and it died on the vine.

Many other instances of labor being ignored have occurred, I am sure, but most recently President Biden showed the Dems true colors by forcing a labor settlement to avoid a railroad strike. The railroad workers were negotiating to get paid sick leave. Do you have paid sick leave? Can you imagine what your life would be without it? Railroad workers were told they could use paid vacation time if they needed to see a doctor or had to go to hospital. How would you feel if that were the case in your job?

President Biden, along with all of the other Dems, has stated clearly that the Dems, like the Repubs, are behind their rich donors and not you and not me.

As one wag put it, the Dems look union people straight in the eye and say “You’ll never get anything you want if I don’t win; but once I win, I can’t do the things you need, because then I wouldn’t be able to win again.” (Hamilton Nolan in The Guardian) Gosh, they couldn’t possibly offend the rich, now, could they?

* * *

Last year, adjusted operating margins for the five largest US railroads were 41 percent. Ten years ago, they were 29 percent. Two decades ago, they were 15 percent. Even compared with other transportation companies (which are doing extremely well)— trucking, parcel, air freight, maritime shipping, airlines – today’s railroad profits are humongous. (Robert Reich)

Railroad workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in fact, railroad employees are approximately twice as likely to die on the job as the average American worker. The risk is shared by conductors, signalmen, track laborers and others, and even non-fatal injuries can be serious, leading to chronic pain and other debilitating issues. (Arvin J. Perlman)

November 29, 2022

The Education Voucher Program Scam

Filed under: Business,Education — Steve Ruis @ 9:04 am
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There is a rule of thumb I apply when researching over-the-counter drugs and medical devices. I do an Internet search basically asking “does XYZ really work?” or the equivalent. If the top ten hits are mostly websites clearly sponsored by the creators, I know it is a scam. Those sites are part of their marketing plan. If the reviews by the general public are largely negative, these “positive” reviews dilute them down. They basically are guaranteeing that positive “reviews” are the first thing that comes up in such a search.

If you do a similar search for information on educational voucher programs, you will get a similar response, all heavily positive data and reviews. Unfortunately, the vast bulk of the “data” and reviews are bogus, paid for by the rich assholes taking financial advantage through such programs. (It sure isn’t the students because independent research shows that students using vouchers perform more poorly that students who do not. “There is credible research on one side—that vouchers are largely a negative force for student outcomes—and politically oriented reports on the other. That’s it.”—Josh Cowen)

If this is a topic that interests you, here are the specifics:

Josh Cowen: A Citizen’s Guide to the Researchers and Funders Behind Vouchers

November 16, 2022

Won’t Voters Ever Ask Government to LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE?

The above question was used as a title for a online column by a Mr. John Stossel on Nov 9, 2022. I assume he is a right-wing commentator as he states that he is “the author of Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

His post doesn’t have much to say about answering that question, it was more about wanting Republicans to defeat Democrats and “take control.” And, as we all know, Republicans are renowned for getting government to leave people alone.

The passion shown in the question, indicated by all caps being used (which is shouting in print), indicates a heartfelt desire to be left alone by government. But that is rather stupid. Allow me to explain.

We are what biologists call a social species. We bunch together in groups to our advantage. So, over the years we created things like fire departments to assist us when fires attack our homes or places of business. We created police departments to handle sociopathic members of our societies. We established rules under which people can do business so that people aren’t cheated or businesses unfairly competed with. We established . .  . I think you get the idea.

The “government” has been turned into some sort of bogyman that came from Mars to attack us by these very same people, or they are trying to convince us that is so. Instead, government is “We the People” acting collectively. None of us would survive more than a few weeks entirely on our own. Without using banks, paper money, credit cards or any of the other systems created by “government,” how would you acquire food to eat? Would you try to barter with the clerk at your local supermarket? Would you go hunting in your nearby national park? Would you gather nuts and berries from your local parks? Fish in the local streams?

How would you get around? Surely you wouldn’t deign to use “government roads” to drive on, besides how would you pay for gas to operate your vehicles?

The “government,” aka We the People, is interwoven in our culture and society. The people bemoaning this fact are actually bad actors who want to take advantage of the absence of government. Business are hell-bent on creating monopolies, so that they will dominate the markets they are invested in, and thus make all the money they want screwing over their “customers.” They don’t want government anti-monopoly functions interfering. They want “free markets,” which is code for markets free of government manipulations, so that they are the only ones manipulating them. They want government to “leave them alone,” but are working assiduously to get government officials to grant them special privileges, subsidies, special tax statuses, etc.

We are a social species. We thrive when we take care of one another. The only discussion should be “how” and not whether to do that or not.

These people are telling us who they are. We need to listen to them and act accordingly.

November 12, 2022

Contrary to the Evidence

You thought this was going to be about religion, didn’t you?

Actually it is more about economics and other things. The theoretical structure of economics is built mostly out of self-serving bullshit. For example, they refer to the human beings interacting in our economy as a particular kind of human: Homo economicus. Homo economicus is an hypothetical person who behaves in exact accordance with their rational self-interest. Using rational assessments, Homo economicus attempts to maximize utility as a consumer and economic profit as a producer. Ta da. Recent studies show that such beings do not exist and never have. (Think of economic Vulcans.)

Economists also base their theoretical structures on “economic transactions” involving buyers and sellers who both have complete information. Have you ever heard of such a ridiculous thing? If this were ever the case economists would be advising clients that not only is advertising not needed, but that it was a distortion of the economic system and should not be done.

In the U.S. we are obsessed with having a pay-as-you-go culture. Everyone needs to pay for everything as you proceed through life. Anything that is just handed to you is “Socialism!” leading to the destruction of freedom, motherhood, Chevrolets, and apple pie. A consequence of this is that 40% of all jobs are “bullshit jobs.”

A bullshit job is “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as a part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend this is not the case.” David Graeber

According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.” David Graeber

What is doubly ironic about this is that the bullshit jobs rarely pay a living wage. Living wages and minimum wages, etc. are Socialism! In order for us to have a pay-as-you-go culture, people have to make enough money to pay for their needs (not necessarily their wants, but food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, etc.). That is what a living wage is. If you are making a living wage, you can “afford” to live; if not you are dying or at a bare minimum spiraling down to an early death. All to maintain the illusion of a “pay-as-you-go culture.”

The cost of everyone receiving a living wage for their labor is that there may be a few fewer billionaires and the billionaires still in existence may have a few less billions of dollars in their money bins. But this cannot be because . . . Capitalism, the only god Americans actually worship.

Even that social troglodyte Henry Ford understood this. He paid his workers almost a dollar more per day than other manufacturers. This caused workers to flock to the Ford plants and those already there worked hard to keep their jobs as they paid so much better than elsewhere. But was that Ford’s reasoning? No, he wanted his workers to make enough money to be able to buy a Ford car. And they did, with money Ford paid them as wages. So, he got “his” money back. If he had starved his workers, like his fellow plutocrats, he wouldn’t have sold near as many cars.

November 10, 2022

If You Aren’t Yet Convinced that Our Enemy is the big Money Corporations and the Uber-rich . . .

Please read this:

Amazon and Apple have an illegal price-fixing conspiracy

October 30, 2022

The Software Curse is Falling on Meta, aka Facebook

Filed under: Business,Culture,Reason,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
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I was responding to a post on Nan’s Notebook, and this is what I wrote:

Re “Years ago, pundits assumed the internet would open a new era of democracy, giving everyone access to the truth.” (Robert Reich)

“Sure . . . and you weren’t suspicious of a messaging app that originally limited messages to 140 characters (not words, characters). What democratic statement can be made in 140 characters? This “service” wasn’t designed for democratic discourse, it was designed for snark and sneers. Would the world be a better place or worse if Twitter were to disappear?”

What this brought to mind is a concept I call the software curse. For example, the first “word processor” I used on the Intel platform, was WordStar, then came Microsoft Word, then came version 2 of Word, then version 3, then version 4, . . . , I don’t know what version they are up to now (upwards of 16, so 17, 18?). In any case, each version promised cool new features that you were somehow able to live without. It wasn’t long after I realized that I needed none of the “new, improved features” in each upgrade. I am, for example, typing this on the version of Word that came with Microsoft Office 2003 (Word v. 11.8xxxxx) and never run into a problem that my word processor can’t handle. I am only using that version because I got a special deal on it way back when.

Now Word is notorious for implementing “new features (Yea, hurrah!)” that nobody wants. Remember “Clippy”? Remember how they changed all of the menus in 2007? Here’s one reviewer’s experience with the changes:

“What the fuck was Microsoft thinking when they built this piece of shit?? Every damn function that I use I have to go on an expedition to find it! Nothing is where I would expect it to be. There’s a toilet in the middle of the living room and the kitchen sink is out in the garage. I still haven’t figured out which light switch controls that big honking’ huge crystal chandelier that’s in the broom closet.”

I bought a copy of Word 2007 for instances where it seemed I needed it, but I avoid it like the plague because I can’t find anything in the menus. Microsoft also changed the file format for Word files, for somewhat good reasons, and there was such an uproar that they released a free (yes, something free from Microsoft) program that would translate the new and old Word formats back and forth.

This is the software curse. You pay for an “upgrade” and what you really get is confusion and a steep learning curve. The axiom they violate is the software you know how to use is much more valuable than the software you do not. So, people stop upgrading and the software companies are finding new and novel ways to force you to do so.

Currently Adobe has adopted the policy that they have stopped “validating” installs of their older software. If you are unaware, the “activation” or “validation” process was implemented at the publishers behest, not yours. It was there way to stem piracy. But by no longer verifying installations of their older programs, owners of the older programs cannot install those programs, even if they originally bought them from Adobe. They own the software. They have the right to use it. Adobe refuses to allow them to use the software. Instead they insist that you upgrade to a newer version.

Imagine of your car manufacturer, implemented a kill switch that stopped your car from working and when complaints came from people with cars that no longer worked they told people they would have to buy a newer model to get a working car. Yeah, like that.

So, the software curse is that when considerable changes are made in the software, people prefer the software they can use and don’t upgrade. Meta, aka Facebook, is finding this out first hand. Their “transition” to a suite of virtual reality spaces is going over like a lead duck, in other words, it isn’t flying. The people on Facebook now know how it operates and are comfortable with it the way it is. Zuckerberg and his staff geniuses are trying to make Facebook into something it is not, and people are not buying it. Why buy into a steep learning curve when the “upgrades” aren’t desired or even conceivable.

Since Facebook is just a large data collection factory for our corporate overlords (they buy scads of Facebook “data” and that is how Zuc gets paid for his “free” service) if it were to go away, would the world be a better or worse place?

October 21, 2022

Government Handouts—Bad?

There are conservatives who believe that all “government handouts” are bad and lead to laziness on the part of ordinary people. They seem to overlook the dwarfing handouts given to American businesses and focus in one the trivial ones given to ordinary citizens. Here is but one example.

Elon Musk, the nation’s richest man, is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. Musk’s net worth is somewhere about $210 billion. Yet he goes where the government money is.

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

“He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”

The figure compiled by The Times comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.

(From Diane Ravitch’s blog)

October 11, 2022

Republicans Are Against Redistribution of Wealth

Well, the title of this post needs a clarification: they are against redistribution of wealth towards you and way from their paymasters, redistribution the other way is fine, just fine.

A recent study by the RAND Corporation (https://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WRA516-1.html) came to the conclusion that “the cumulative effect of four decades of income growth below the growth of per capita gross national income and estimate that aggregate income for the population below the 90th percentile over this time period would have been $2.5 trillion (67 percent) higher in 2018 had income growth since 1975 remained as equitable as it was in the first two post-War decades” This in essence means that 2500 billion dollars of wealth was redistributed from the bottom 90% of our economy to the very top. The median worker should be making $102,000 per year instead of the current value of about half of that.

A Fast Company blog post outlines the findings quite well (https://medium.com/fast-company/we-were-shocked-rand-study-uncovers-massive-income-shift-to-the-top-1-a4970c2e0863).

Now I have heard some say that if we had received those funds all along, it would have just inflated prices so much that we wouldn’t be any better off, which misses the point entirely. It is not so much that our money left our control, it is that it went into the oligarch’s pockets and was under their control, and they are using that money to buy politicians, judges, news media and more to in effect gain control over the entire country!

While both parties were bribed to help pull this off, the GOP is by far the worst perpetrator. When you hear a Republican say “we are against redistribution of wealth” realize they are saying we don’t want to give you your money back and we want to keep stealing more. When you hear a Republican saying “We don’t want government regulations, what they are really saying is “we don’t want government competing with our manipulations of the markets and the environment.”

The GOP used to be the Party of Big Business. Now they are the Party of Big Money, and the Democrats are lining up behind them. We desperately need to start throwing some of these bums out and electing candidates like Bernie Sanders.

October 9, 2022

The Difference Between Having an Opinion and Having a Say

My topic is politics. Recently the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS), in its infinite wisdom, has declared two bizarre things: one is that money is a form of political speech and the other is that corporations are “people” in the political arena.

This has led to the current situation in which corporations are able to make unlimited donations to political campaigns, despite the fact that there is no aspect of a corporation that possesses a political identity. If the CEO determines the political identity of a corporation, does that mean if the CEO is an atheist or Christian that the corporation is an atheist or Christian entity? If the CEO is a Republican, does that make the corporation a Republican? If the corporation hires a new CEO, are the new CEO’s politics and religion examined as part of the hiring process, to see if the CEO candidate is aligned with the corporations identity? If so, the law is being violated.

There is a broader problem in these matters and the SCOTUS seems to be oblivious to it. In a corporation, say one giving heavily to the Trump campaign, if an employee feels differently, what about their position? Well, in that case the employee has a right to have an opinion, but he has no say in the matter, because the CEO (or Board, or . . .) has the say as to the political stances of the corporation. SCOTUS seems to think that free political speech belongs to everybody, when it clearly does not, and declaring money to be a form of free speech complicates the Hell out of the situation.

If you come to a political discussion and espouse your opinion, I have the ability to evaluate your position. If you say “Don’t elect so-and-so because he is a filthy Jew.” I can see clearly that you are an anti-Semite. “If you says “Don’t elect so-and-so because he is a tax and spend Democrat,” or “Don’t elect so-and-so because he is anti-guns,” I can evaluate your opinion. If you say “so-and-so” is an atheist and the guy goes to my church, I might even speak up and provide that counter-evidence and undermine your speech. But if all he does is send money to the opponents of “so-and-so” I have no idea what his opinions are. (He may be donating so he can suck up to his boss; I can’t tell!)

Now expand your thinking to “the guy with the opinion” is from another state and he is arguing against voting in a candidate for governor. He attends the political discussion and says “I am not from here, I am from California, and I don’t think you should elect “so-and-so” as your governor.” Now your reaction is different. You might ask why he is butting in on your debate time, because all he has is an opinion, he doesn’t have a say. The people who have a say have a vote in that governor’s election. The people with just opinions do not. By showing up and identifying himself as someone who doesn’t have a say changes your opinion of the value of his speech. But political donations aren’t things we can evaluate, in fact often we cannot identify from whom they come. They are a form of “free speech” (Not!) that cannot be categorized by the “hearers” of said speech.

Our political system would have a much better chance of surviving is we limited political free speech to those who have a say, those people in the district of the candidate. They have a say or could have, not voting is a say, but outsiders can’t even protest by not voting; they are forbidden to vote outside of their electoral districts.

This should be applied to political money as a start. Candidates can only collect funds from people they will represent, no others. If a corporation doesn’t have its headquarters in a candidate’s district (as an approximation of its “permanent address”) it cannot donate money to those candidates because they are practicing influence peddling pure and simple. (Studies show that big donors are served more readily by politicians no matter where their interests lie.) Corporations may have outlandish power in the places their headquarters are located, but that is better than allowing them outlandish power in every state in the union. That is the equivalent of letting people establish a post office box in each state and use that as a permanent residence to have “a say,” even to vote in that state.

Oh, and if you are wondering where our current path leads, all you need do is look at the current crop of national politicians and candidates for those offices. In the history of this country we have had a long, slow increase in the social standing of politicians and in the quality of people in those offices, except of late when a great deal of regression along those lines has occurred. All the oligarchs need from politicians is obedience to their needs. They do not need or want politicians who care about people, who carefully research issues and craft public policies that benefit all citizens. For example, other civilized countries have institutionalized health care. e.g. Canada. We do not. Why? Because the oligarchs are making obscene profits from selling insurance and pharmaceuticals to desperately sick Americans. As another example, a large majority of Americans want better regulation of gun purchases and usages, either by enforcing the laws already on the books that are not currently enforced, or by writing new laws. No such efforts are currently being made. Why? Because the oligarchs are currently making obscene profits selling guns to anxious Americans, anxious because there are so many guns floating around to be used by who knows who.

The oligarchs have all the government they desire right now and are grinding away to have less of it. Government is the only entity capable of standing up to the massive influence and wealth of the oligarchs and they want it out of the way. Their fifty year campaign is almost complete. If we don’t take a stand soon, I am afraid the Great American Experiment in Self-governance will be over.

September 20, 2022

You Don’t Need a Ladder to Get Off Your High Horse

Filed under: Business,Culture,Morality,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 8:31 pm
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I was watching a televised MLB baseball game the other night and I realized that in large chalked letters running up the first base side of the field was the name of an online gambling site, an “official gaming partner” of the team.

Apparently now that all major sports in the U.S. have endorsed gambling we know what had kept them biased against gambling was that they were not getting a cut of the action (now they are). Of course, the purists will talk about how gamblers were at the fringes of their sport, trying to bribe players to affect the outcomes to favor their bets, but, that no longer seems to be a problem, now that the sports are getting a fair share of the loot involved and, well, the players are making more than the gamblers are.

So, can MLB and the Baseball Writers Association (and the Veteran’s Committee) stop blocking Pete Rose’s entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame? Yes, I know the HOF is a private organization, which has its own rules, but being flaming hypocrites shouldn’t be one of them. The man accumulated more hits than any other player in the history of MLB, for Pete’s sake.

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