Class Warfare Blog

August 17, 2017

Indoctrinating Children

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:01 pm
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As I mentioned in my last two posts, I have been reading a fascinating book (Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life by Louise M. Antony, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition.) which has already prompted a number of posts including this one (for now). All were prompted by ideas read in that very book. (I recommend that book to you if you are inclined to read philosophy/philosophers.)

This post comes from my response to a statement in Chapter 6: Overcoming Christianity by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. Obviously this snippet is only a small part of a much larger essay but I found it striking. Here it is:

My point is just that Christianity was so pervasive that any child who grew up in such an environment would be susceptible. Religious thoughts would become automatic. If someone had asked me if I believed in God, I would have answered, “Of course,” not because I had thought about it, but because I had not thought about it.

The author is describing his upbringing in one of the more Christianity-steeped regions of this country, one in which Jesus is woven into the culture down to the phrases people use when speaking. He points out that every child wants to please or appease these immensely powerful beings who are his/her parents and their adult companions. He describes a religious indoctrination that assumes what his beliefs will be because a religious instruction, unlike a secular one, is not designed to teach a child to think for himself, it is designed to instruct what one is to think, not how.

So, when such a child goes off to get schooling in even a different Christian community, well, things get learned and things get unlearned. In this case a great deal was unlearned.

Why do we allow children to be subjected to such indoctrinations? I tend to believe that even apostates and atheists have been trained not to speak up and the push back on these practices. It isn’t “nice” or “civil.” It is rude and an attack upon people who do a lot of good. (I have written separately on how little charity is done by religious institutions, much of which occurs in mundane circumstances, e.g. is a Catholic hospital a charity when they charge for services just like any other hospital?) Think about any nasty cult you have in memory: Moonies, scientologists, the People’s Temple and Jim Jones, etc. Would you want your children subjected to their indoctrination? Do you want any child subjected to such? Why are some indoctrinations acceptable but others are not?

I suspect fundamentalist Christians would disapprove of all Muslim or Hindu indoctrinations, socialist or communist indoctrinations, but be okay with Christian and conservative political indoctrinations. It all depends on whose scared cow is on the barbecue.

August 15, 2017

I’m An Atheist and I’m Okay ♫ (A Sing Along!)

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:50 pm
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There is some benefit to having what is called a “cartoon mind.” In the midst of yet another tedious discussion initiated by a Christian troll, aka Internet Christian apologist, I hear in my mind’s ear the baritone voices of the Monty Python Flying Circus troupe singing not “I’m a Lumberjack and I’m okay,” but “I’m an Atheist and I’m Okay.”

The standard trope of these apologists is that without a belief in a god (their god, of course), our lives have no meaning, with no moral compass, leaving us depraved and adrift in society. Our standard response is that because we know our lives are limited, we enjoy them more and work harder to create something of value to us and those around us. The end result of this exchange of position statements is, of course, no greater understanding or appreciation. It is like a set piece, a joseki in a life. (How’s that for an obscure reference? Go ahead; look it up.)

So, I felt I owed it to my sense of fairness to examine the position of the apologists to see what I am missing, if anything. So, here goes. Their view is rooted in the belief that they possess something called an immortal soul. This, apparently, is one kind of “soul,” an entity which does not seem to be definable, not is there any evidence of its existence. All of that aside, this immortal soul lives on after they die. It doesn’t stay here apparently, but moves to one of two places: Heaven or Hell. Heaven is a place of indescribable joy and Hell a place of indescribable torment. I capitalize these place names to differentiate them from more mundane uses of the words and I say indescribable in each case because there is no coherent description of either place, nor are there locations for them other than vague references to “above” for Heaven and “below” for Hell. I believe these “directions” are based upon a common axis available to human beings. Because of gravity, we all possess a common reference direction of up and down. Left and right are much more confusing as they depend on which direction we are facing, not so for up and down. So, we map all kinds of things onto up-down axes. We say things like “I am feeling up today!” and “The Stock Market is down today!” when both of these things have nothing to do with up or down directions. Also, our social hierarchies are mapped so, therefore as we “elevate” our position in society, we find more people beneath us and fewer above, so the ultimate is being on top. Conversely as we sink down to depravity, we find fewer people beneath us, so the worst situation is to be at the bottom. Heaven equals top, Hell equals bottom, emotional responses are built in to these directions and locations.

So, how would I act if I believed in these things: immortal soul, Heaven, Hell, etc? If I truly believed these were real, I would be desperate to avoid an eternity of torment. I would spend every waking moment trying to figure out how to get to Heaven and avoid Hell. We are told, in addition to this, that their god has “a plan” for each of us. Some argue that this individualized plan directs us to both places for eternity, that the names of those destined for Heaven, and hence also Hell, are already known. This makes no sense whatsoever. If this were true, then I would have to do nothing, I could do nothing, to affect the fate of my soul. In addition, as much as I wanted to I could not convince myself that I knew where I was headed. Most Christians seem convinced that they and their loved one’s are going to Heaven, but if the list of names has already been written and no one knows who is on that list, this seems to be wishful thinking at best and delusional bullshit at worst.

So, such a system is unlikely and it is immensely cruel. To have a god who creates sentient beings but who also relegates some to eternal bliss and others to eternal torment, before they are even born, is not only bizarre but it is also deranged. So, I am going to assume that those particular Christians got that wrong.

Another group of Christians tell us that the path to Heaven is determined only by whether one believes that Jesus, a character in a passion play in the Christian’s book, is their god playing a role. If you believe that, you are going to Heaven. If this is true, why is there also a plan for each and everyone of us? Why should we strive to discover and fulfill that plan, should we not instead focus on believing in Jesus? Still others tells us that good works and deeds are the way to Heaven, but again these deeds/acts aren’t specified, just vaguely referred to as these are apparently part of the damned plan, again.

If I were to believe one of these variations, I would be terrified that there are competing variations and that I may have picked the wrong one. (They can’t all be correct, can they? What does it say about the deity of they are?) In this worldview, our lives are an eye blink of time, and eternity unimaginably long. Some of these religions claim there are mortal sins, unforgivable mistakes we can make, but do not counter this with a list of approved “acts” that will advance one’s position in line to go to Heaven. But then that group, at one point, sold “get into Heaven” licenses and “get out of Hell” licenses for money, so they do not seem all that believable.

When I observe ordinary Christians in our culture, do I see them scurrying around, desperately trying to determine their own soul’s fate? They have a few short decades at best to do this, so there is no time to waste. But, I do not see this. I see them complacently leading the same kinds of lives we atheists do. They have jobs, homes in the suburbs, they have kids (even though they know their children will be subject to the same cruel system), they worry about politics and taxes, and wonder whether their football team will win this year. So, there is a disconnect between what the officials of these various Christian religions claim is the case and what Christians actually believe (and act upon). The “believers” either don’t believe in all of “that stuff” or they believe they have a Get Into Heaven card they can play when they die. (I have yet to meet a Christian who believes they are going to Hell, have you?) So, is it “grab a Get Into Heaven card and then go about your life as you will”? Is that what I am seeing?

Now, that sounds cynical … because it is. It is taking an honest look at the behavior of these groups and comparing it with what is claimed as their beliefs. I wonder what they actually do believe? Is anyone aware of surveys of what the various sects of Christianity actually believe (or claim to believe)? If so, I would like to see those.

In any case, I am glad I do not have to live in the constant or near constant terror of the world as they see it. I do not have to spend every waking moment studying the Bible to see if I can figure out which acts are safe and which are not. I do not have to try to determine their god’s “plan” and follow it. I am glad to be an atheist because ♫ I’m An Atheist and I’m Okay,… ♫

August 6, 2017

The Invisible Lesson of Martin Shkreli

The New Yorker described Mr. Shkreli as “A former hedge-fund entrepreneur and drug-company C.E.O., Shkreli came to prominence while he was running a company called Turing Pharmaceuticals. During his tenure, Turing bought a drug called Daraprim, which is used to treat rare but serious parasitic infections in AIDS patients, and Shkreli raised the price per pill from thirteen dollars and fifty cents to seven hundred and fifty dollars, sparking public condemnation and outrage.”

That guy. He just lost a lawsuit, brought by the government, that accused him of fraud.

What’s missing here is something you should not mistake. In all of the current discussions regarding freedom, religious freedom, political freedom, campaign finance freedom, etc., Mr. Shkreli’s was the freedom they were talking about, not your idea of freedom.

The plutocratic cabal, now in charge of our governments, by and large wants the freedom to pursue their interests (primarily involving getting as rich as they may) without collective opposition. They do not want laws being passed, or movements recognized, or any group activity whatsoever being recognized. They want labor unions gone, they want government limited to very basic basics, they want their right to do business as they see fit unfettered. If indentured servitude were to be promoted now, they would not be opposed.

According to them, Mr. Shkreli’s freedom to change the price of a pill from $13.50 to $750 is his and his alone and everybody else should butt out. For some of this, I tend to agree. I do not think people should be sent to jail for being assholes (too expensive, would need to build too many prisons, etc.) but capitalism is and has been our problem for a very long time. Unregulated, capitalism leads to doom, just like any other economic ideology (communism, socialism, etc.). The people collectively need to confine ideas that have this much scope and reach.

The idiots promoting this “freedom” think that competition is an absolute good, yet they do not really believe this, otherwise their children would be thrown into the public schools to compete and excel and survive and not sent to “country day” schools and then Harvard and then given a lofty position in their family’s company.

The plutocrats are definitely in a “this is good for us but not you” cadre and they need to be restrained from harming the rest of us. Instead they have gotten the upper hand in restraining us from causing them any harm. Look to see Mr. Shkreli’s verdict overturned in a higher court. (The plutocrats own the Supreme Court and a few of the federal circuit courts at this point.)

August 2, 2017

Medicare for All: Let the Hand Wringing Begin

Filed under: Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:34 pm
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Now that a “Medicare for All (MFA)” movement is gaining steam, it seems a day can’t go by without a great deal of angst being proffered by various and sundry columnists. I think this attitude is professional in nature as a “happy days are here again” attitude doesn’t sell papers, as they say.

There are all kinds of “problems” with MFA that are brought up. How will we pay for it? What happens to the insurance companies? How will businesses now providing health insurance cope with the issues?

I am reminded of a story of a very good friend of mine who remembered setting the dinner table with his young daughter one time and started mumbling to himself “wine, wine, wine,…” as he contemplated what bottle to open and his daughter burst out in tears saying “I can’t help it….” Like that young lady, these columnists can’t help but whine.

Yes, there will be massive institutional problems involved … so what?

Consider: How to pay for it? Currently most Americans receive health insurance as a fringe benefit through their work. Instead of that money going to health insurance companies directly from their employers, those funds will have to be paid to the employees. With those funds, they will be able to pay the taxes necessary to pay for the MFA plan. Those taxes will not be anywhere near as large as the cost of that private plan. For one reason, the Medicare folks have about a 3% overhead and 0% profits while the private insurers overhead and profit taking are closer to 20%. Also, if you haven’t noticed, Medicare doesn’t pay 100% of all medical expenses, it pays about 80% (at least on paper—my co-pays have been almost zero as most practitioners accept my Medicare payment as payment in full).

The rest of the money employees receive in lieu of employer provided health insurance will go to a supplemental policy to add to the basic coverage provided by Medicare. I hope that the government will make an adjustment to our income taxes and not confiscate a substantial portion of the “new income” that the direct payment to employees constitutes and allow us to deduct all taxes and payments for medical treatments, insurances, etc. I also hope that MFA continues to be basic and not get blown up into some “Cadillac version” by pandering politicians. Possibly the system could be run by a nonpartisan commission, much as many public pension system are.

The insurance companies will be very busy providing supplemental policies from minimal to lavish in scope, I am sure. Their profit margins will go up because they will not be spending so very much money researching the best ways to get away with denying honest claims.

So, will there be transition problems if we opt for MFA? Yes, of course. Only an idiot would think otherwise. Are those problems so daunting to have us consider not going down that road? Only an idiot would think that. The founders of this country basically created a representative democracy from scratch. Creating a modern health security system should be a much lesser task and is quite worth doing. Will the rich still have it better than the poor? Are you fucking crazy? Of course they will. They will spend quite a bit of money to guarantee that whatever the best care is, they will get it. (Their Medicare Plus plans will be Medicare Plus Plus (Platinum), I am sure.) The poor will have to settle for pretty damned good care, which is far, far better than they have ever had.

July 17, 2017

Hulk, No, God Smash!

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:13 am
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I quote Persedeplume (of MyDoorIsAjar):
I’d like to meet the god who isn’t angry, or coming back angry, or about to wreak retribution on some massive scale. I’d like to think we can get along without unnecessary suffering. I’d like to think life is hard enough and the “rite of passage” where we’re all accepted as adults is to have done it with grace, dignity, help from our friends and family, and love.”

We seem to prefer such angry gods, even angry gods with the label “the god of love.” One philosopher points out that we respect power and anytime a god does something massively powerful, we respond to the exhibition of power, even if we bear the brunt of that power.

The dominant religion in this country is basically incoherent … except that the believers believe that their god has immense power to grant boons and to punish. If a boon is granted, then we are supposed to be grateful. If we suffer from some such display of power, then we are being punished for being bad. (Pat Robertson blamed the tsunami in Indonesia on homosexual sinners.) So, no matter what happens to us, it is due to their god’s actions.

This very same religion claims that a son of their god was sacrificed to absolve us of our sins (sins being disobedience of their god’s wishes). Later they claimed that the “son of god” was really their god himself (in disguise?). I have yet to see how this human sacrifice has any effect on anything. Was the suffering of the crucifixion equal to all of the suffering of all of the innocents up to that time? Apparently not. It was merely symbolic. So, how does symbolic suffering of an innocent person wipe away the criminal records of all of us? While the symbology is painted vividly (our sins were “washed away” by the blood of Christ, etc.) it still makes no sense. How did this action pay our fines, or serve our sentences for us?

And, as I have argued before, the god Jesus could not die, only his human wrapper could, and what is one more human sacrifice to the God of Abraham, who once directed King David to take a census of his men and when David did that, his god upbraids him and punishes him for counting what is not his (they were his god’s soldiers, not David’s, don’t you see). So, David is punished by his god slaughtering 70,000 of his soldiers! I suspect David also had to go to bed without supper that night. There seems to be no record of what the 70,000 felt, nor do we know what happened to them in the afterlife. (Are they still burning in the Lake of Fire or shambling around in the dark of Sheol?)

So, if David’s “crime” of following his god’s directives was salved with 70,000 deaths, what could one death do for all of humanity? Especially when you consider that neither the god nor his offspring died, just the human wrapper. Plus, even after this “real death” experience, that wrapper got to live again. What happened to it when the son of god rose to Heaven isn’t explained. Is Heaven air conditioned? Is there food for a human body? Does Jesus have to inhabit the body 24-7 and does it just stand idle when he does not? There are just so many issues not covered by scripture.

July 5, 2017

Why Don’t Atheists Just Run Amok?

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:38 pm
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One of the claims of god-fearers is that atheists are dangerous because they have no basis for their morals. Without a god to dictate what “being moral” is, and enforcing that moral code, there is just nothing stopping atheists from raping, looting, and killing, now, is there? I propose to explain why this is not the case, so that the god-fearers can understand.

This is just one point of many that can be made, like “It isn’t any fun,” but the primary reason that atheists don’t just run amok is that is just isn’t safe. Has anyone ever seen atheists run amok, specifically because their is no divine retribution, anyway? I have never heard of such a thing. I have read about numerous cases of bad treatment of people because they weren’t considered real people by the appropriate religious experts, but no amok running, per se.

Getting back to my main point: running amok ain’t safe. Let’s start with a hypothetical situation: a beautiful woman lives on an atheist’s block. If he were to go rape her, I mean, what could go wrong? For one, she may be a martial arts or MMA expert and she may beat the shit out of him. Or she may have a brother, father, uncle or other relative who owns a baseball bat and they may beat the shit out of him. (We have made this an element of society in the form of law enforcement. In Chicago, cops regularly beat the shit out of people, and shoot them, and then drag what’s left in for a trial.)

Obviously there is a great deal of downside to this running amok. When word got around, you could lose your job. Other people would shun you for being an asshole, etc. So, let’s say you embrace the badass nature of amok running, plus you are not a dumb atheist, but a smart one. You realize that to be able to run amok without negative consequences, you need a gang of atheists. There is safety in numbers, it takes a village, etc. So, you gather a gang, all ravening atheists, who form a mutual protection society. You go rape some woman and a male relative of hers takes offense and a baseball bat and comes looking for you and … Bob’s your uncle, you have a dozen guys there to greet him when he shows up. Easy peasey. But the problem with this approach is there is nothing stopping the aggrieved members of society from forming an even bigger gang and beating the shit out of your gang and you, of course.

Such behaviors: bullying, running amok, etc. only “succeed” in the short turn. Eventually you get the shit beaten out of you, or dead. (Ask Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.)

So, the real reason why atheists just don’t run amok is that running amok is a lot of work and it just isn’t safe. Get along with people, treat them well, and you will lead a better life. This running amok idea may sound good to you, but it sounds miserable to us. It just isn’t any fun, you see.

Christian Think Tank Opposes Scripture?

The Guardian (U.K.) had a piece on an alarming (to them?) new trend in Christian goings on (‘Spiritual abuse’: Christian think tank warns of sharp rise in UK exorcisms). In that article they stated:

“Exorcisms are a booming industry in the UK, partly driven by immigrant communities and Pentecostal churches, according to a report from a Christian think tank, Theos.

“However, the vast majority of people being exorcised have mental health problems that require psychiatric assistance, says the report, published on Wednesday by Theos.

The report calls for an analysis of “the burgeoning exorcism scene in the UK in the light of concerns over how it is being used and its possible negative consequences”.

“It says the “astonishing increase in demand” has arisen “in defiance of any actual rules or procedures put in place by any church”. In 2012, the Church of England reissued guidelines on “good practice in the deliverance ministry”.

“The Theos report – Christianity and mental health: theology, activities, potential(PDF) – does not reject the possibility of demonic possession. It says: “Certainly there is a biblical warrant for the dangers of demonic forces, and Jesus’ great commission to the disciples includes the explicit command to ‘cast out demons’. However, there is also need for serious caution.”

“One danger was “Christian over-spiritualising” – a “tendency to ascribe anything and everything to spiritual causes when other medical ones may exist”. Another was a possible overlap between “demonic possession” and mental health issues.

“One chaplain who described themselves as a “Bible-believing evangelical” told Ben Ryan, the report’s author, that “in all their experience with a mental health trust they had ‘never seen anything I would say that looked like demonic possession, but I’ve seen plenty of people who have been told that’s what they’re experiencing by other Christians’.”

“The report says: “One of the frustrations of medical professionals with Christians comes from accounts and anecdotes of people with medical health issues going off their medication because they’ve been told that prayer is enough, and relapsing as a result.

“This is a classic example of well-meaning initiative with the potential for serious harm. It runs the risk of becoming a sort of spiritual abuse – which can be understood as psychological abuse inflicted upon the victim by members of their own religious group.”

As much as the article’s author’s words speak for themselves, we have an interesting clash here. “Real Christians,” who understand the Bible and act accordingly, should acknowledge only two sources of disease: sin and demon possession. There are no other sources of disease mentioned in the New Testament. Consequently, Real Christians shouldn’t be going to medical doctors and psychologists to treat their physical and mental diseases, they should be going to church to get proper treatment. But the author of the article claims that “the Church” hasn’t established proper protocols for demon outings and whatnot, so what’s a fellow to do?

As a side note I think we should just stop acknowledging all these different varieties of Christians: Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Pentacostals, whatever, I say they are all Christians and should be painted with the same brush. By dividing themselves up based upon miniscule differences, each of these “denominations” claims innocence whenever Christians get caught acting badly. “That’s not us, that’s them other people. They aren’t ‘True Christians,’ like us.” Bollocks. I say a Christian is a Christian and when one errs, they all need to be called to account.

Now about these Christians claiming people should be going to medical doctors and psychologists … really! What is to be done with them? And to be alarmed by proper Christian behavior, what is up with that?

 

July 3, 2017

NRA Changing Spots?

Filed under: Culture,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 8:01 am
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In a recent and controversial ad, the National Rifle Association’s spokesman, Dana Loesch accuses “their” ex-president of endorsing “the resistance,” a movement of demonstrators who “smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports — bully and terrorize the law-abiding.”

I never thought the NRA would turn against the Bundys (Cliven, et. al.) like that. Is there no steadfastness in that organization?

May 22, 2017

Terrorism: A Battle Between Good and Evil?

Filed under: History,Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:13 pm
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Recently President Trump characterized the terrorism surrounding the disputes between the West and Muslim countries this way: “This is a battle between good and evil.” I guess I should confess that I do not believe there are such things as good and evil, other than as amorphous words we use to vaguely describe how we feel about events.

And terrorism is not such a battle, terrorism is a tool used by the weak against the strong, just like guerrilla warfare. In the American Revolutionary War, we Americans used Guerrilla warfare because we were weak and England was strong. You use the tools you have.

Terrorism is not something used by the strong. Strong entities use overwhelming force (Shock and awe, baby! Shock and awe.) and even brutality to impress their will. This is not an option for weaker countries or weaker groups. So, they use terrorism and guerrilla warfare to intimidate and dissuade. The Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War was a clear indication of the threat that no one could be safe anywhere in the country, a brilliant tactic by a weaker country against a more powerful one. “You have B-52 bombers, Agent Orange, and Vulcan cannons; we have soldiers with a rifle and a few rounds of ammunition and you will never be safe.”

So, is terrorism a “battle between good and evil”?

No.

Actually, anyone who uses that phrase, “a battle between good and evil,” is being manipulatory and disingenuous. They are trying to lay the mantle of “good” on their shoulders and the mantle of “evil” on the other guy’s. They are inviting simplistic thinking in the extreme. Me good, you bad; that kind of thinking.

When you hear that phrase, hold on to your wallet and back away; the person uttering it is not to be trusted.

May 20, 2017

An Argument for a Minimum Wage

There have been myriad studies about the impact of having a minimum wage. Some indicate that there is no particularly strong linkage between creating a higher wage for low wage workers and some indicate that a rise in the min wage causes unemployment.

The politicians arguing against a min wage use a very simplified argument: namely that if employers have to pay their workers more, they will only be able to hire so many workers, mostly fewer. This is way too simple in thinking this. For one, if people are paid more money, they then spend more money (what goes around, comes around) which is good for business. There are many more facets to this issue.

If labor costs go up, and they have myriad times due to labor contracts, etc. how, oh how, do companies cope? (Yes, I am being sarcastic.) The amount of money that goes to labor in any company is not a fixed amount or even a fixed percentage of the company’s budget. There are many, many ways that those increased labor costs can be offset. For one, you can raise prices for the goods created. You could decrease profits. You could find other ways to reduce operating costs (reduce energy costs by going solar, etc.).

Knee jerk responses to these actions abound, of course. “If we raise prices, we will reduce sales!” Really? Companies never raise prices, then? C’mon, get real. Just raising prices alone, of course, is the lazy way to deal with increased labor costs; a combination of actions would be better.

Most of these minimum wage discussions are shallow and politically motivated. Basically, the opponents of min wage increases give minimal arguments and only add to them if we don’t accept (aka we reject vehemently) their overly simplistic argument.

Let me explain a real reason for min wage increases. Minimum wage increases are justified for the simple reason is that business interests (aka the plutocrats) have conspired to suppress wages for a long, long time. This involves bribing politicians to undermine union powers and privileges, delaying minimum wage increases, changing the laws in favor of employers over employees, etc. They have been particularly effective over the past 40 years (see the chart below as to the effectiveness of wage suppression over the past 40 years). The only power source of ordinary people to oppose these powerful business interests is government. The cabal wants wages low (too low) and so government must set a floor on wages. It is not simple but at least that is the political dynamic.

If you want to see this playing out right now, consider the current stance of the GOP. The GOP has been the champion of local rights for a long time. Education, for example, should not be a federal issue, but should reside in the states, with the states deferring to local communities and their school boards. So, what has been the GOP response to cities who have enacted their own min wage increases? GOP dominated states are passing laws to roll back those democratically achieved minimum wage increases and to bar such local increases in the future. Local control doesn’t mean a fig when the GOP’s paymasters issue directives (You will keep wages down, or else).

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