Class Warfare Blog

March 5, 2019

SCOTUS … Wandering … Wandering

Filed under: Politics,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
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The US Supreme Court decided to stay out of a case from New Jersey about taxpayer funding of the historical preservation of churches. This leaves in place a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court that held the denial of state funds to religious establishments did not violate the church’s free exercise rights.

Of course, the unwise and unwary justices couldn’t leave well enough alone:

“At some point, this court will need to decide whether governments that distribute historic preservation funds may deny funds to religious organizations simply because the organizations are religious. … [B]arring religious organizations because they are religious from a general historic preservation grants program is pure discrimination against religion.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh

He says “discrimination” as if it were wrong. In this case discrimination is right. The word “discrimination” has taken on as a primary meaning of discriminating for illegal reasons, such as racial or age discrimination in hiring. But the word just means being able to recognize a distinction; to differentiate. In the justice’s case, he is supposed to discriminate between actions the government is legally allowed to take and actions the government is not. If I may quote from the First Amendment to the Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;. . .”

Since the adoption of that amendment, the courts have ruled over and over that the government cannot use funds in support of any religion and that this rule applies to the states as well as the federal government. So, according to the Constitution, the SCOTUS is supposed to discriminate between funds spent legally and funds spent illegally, in this case “in support of any religion.”

So, in response to Justice Kavanaugh’s “is pure discrimination against religion.” Yes, thank you, for recognizing what the Constitution stipulates we must do. You have finally recognized your duty and my hope is that you continue to discriminate for the Constitution as you have sworn to do.

 

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February 26, 2019

An Establishment of Religion?

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:29 am
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In the religious news today is the “Bladenburg Cross Memorial,” a mammoth 40 ft tall Roman cross erected with private funds as a memorial to those who lost their lives fighting World War 1 (although it was rededicated in honor and memory of all veterans decades ago). At some point or other it became public property and is now being adjudicated as a “government establishment of religion” before the Supreme Court. As someone who advocates that it is a not a good idea to place sensitive body parts on an anvil and handing out hammers, this problem could be solved without making a court case out of it.

Solutions are quite easy to come by. For example, if those favoring keeping such a memorial are earnest, allow them to buy back the monument and place it back in private hands. Selling it to a veterans organization for $1 to maintain in perpetuity would be a nice gesture.

Possibly the reason why a veterans organization would not accept the deal above is the fact that the concrete cross is crumbling, with the government paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair it over the years. Since it is on the verge of collapse, instead of repairing it, it should be lovingly dismantled and replaced with a secular monument to honor the service of all veterans of all religions. This should be less expensive than continuing to pour money down a rat hole for repairs (which haven’t worked by all accounts).

The last thing we should do is make a federal case out of it with the current set of clowns on the Supreme Court, looking to rewrite the Constitution more to their liking and to Hell with the rest of us.

 

January 14, 2019

Why Would Teachers Strike?

The teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are going to strike. Why would they do that? As all union officials know (I was one previously), strikes are “lose-lose” propositions, so their only justification is that without one, the losses will be much greater.

In reasonable school districts, teacher strikes just do not happen, that is because of mutual understanding and respect. On the other hand LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who came to the job with no background in education, commented to a reporter regarding the strike that “There are ways to educate kids that don’t rely on a physical body.” In other words, teachers are not necessary.

I wonder if the good superintendent would have the same attitude were he to need a substantial surgery, or were facing a threatening lawsuit, or whose tax forms were in terrific disarray? Would he have said “There are ways to operate on people’s bodies that don’t rely on a doctor.” or “There are ways to defend yourself in court that don’t rely on a lawyer.” or “There are ways to straighten out accounting messes that don’t rely on accountants.”?

Were this gentleman a skilled negotiator he would have realized that uttering such a statement, especially to a reporter and no matter how much he believed in it, had no “up-side.” It not only doesn’t produce any positive effect for “his side” but it mobilizes those on the “other side” against you. If you want labor peace, start with respect (it is easy to grant, not so easy to earn) and understanding (The rule for negotiators is: “seek first to understand before being understood.”).

I am not totally opposed to non-educators being selected for these positions, but I am against stupid people being hired for such positions.

January 10, 2019

They Used to Hijack Airplanes, Now It Is The Government

President Trump is trying to hijack Congress. Congress was given the purse strings of the nation, not the Executive branch. This was one of those old-fashioned “checks and balances” things. But Mr. Trump is telling Congress, pass the legislation I want (authorizing the expenditures I want) or suffer the consequences, Basically he is saying that he won’t do his job (faithfully execute the laws of the US of A) unless Congress gives him what he wants. “So, give me I want or I shut the government down.” <signed> Donald J. Trump If this were being done by a foreign agency, it would be considered an act of war.

I wonder where he got the idea?

Oh, I remember, it was back when the Republican Congress tried to hijack Mr. Obama’s Presidency. Basically they said “give us what we want or we will not extend the national debt limit.” The consequences of not extending that limit was that the government couldn’t pay its bills and employees and could default on the payment of its debt obligations, ruining our credit rating. The final such tantrum by the GOP cost many billions of dollars as I suspect that Mr. Trump’s tantrum will, too.

Does no one else see this as an infringement on the powers granted the Congress by the Constitution? Does no one else see that refusing to “faithfully execute the laws of the US of A” is an offense that could result in the removal of Mr. Trump from office?

I mean, there is a saying that “all is fair in love and politics,” but it is just a saying. It isn’t the Constitution, for pity’s sake. Mr. Trump seems to think that not paying “his employees” is an ordinary bargaining position. If would be is he were still a scummy slum lord in New York, but now he is playing with the big boys and I hope someone hands his head to him.

They Want It Both Ways

A common trope among the vocal rich is that handing out money to the “poor” will make them lazy. “Handing out” and “handouts” refer to welfare, food stamps, a higher minimum wage, you name it. On the flip side, they also claim that “redistributing” money from the rich to other where through higher progressive taxation will remove all of the incentive to invest and innovate.

So, at one end of the spectrum, allowing the poor to keep more of what they make or bumping their wages up to a bare subsistence level will result in them opting out of their jobs (more money = laziness) but allowing the rich to keep more of their income will encourage them to work harder, innovate more (more money = initiative).

Obviously this is merely a reflection of the class disdain the rich have for the poor. The poor are poor because of character flaws, moral weakness, lack of intelligence. The rich are rich because of their sterling character, moral strength, and brilliance. (Donald Trump … uh, is the exception that proves the rule?)

Also, is there any indication either of these “narratives” has any merit?

There is a well known phenomenon in business that as businesses grow and become larger, they tend to grow stagnant. They innovate less and their managers become more interested in milking the cow they have rather than finding new cows. In the recent tax giveaway to businesses, were the billions saved in taxes used to innovate, used to upgrade production, used to compensate workers, any of the things it was claimed it would do? Apparently, the funds were mostly used to buy back stock, which drives up the price of the stock, enriching shareholders and executives with stock options (you do get what you pay for).

Another economic “natural experiment” was the 1950’s and 1960’s economies. Marginal tax rates were sky high from the necessity to acquire funds to pursue World War 2. President Eisenhower refused to lower them, even in the peacetime following. Unions were empowered and laws were passed to provide some leveling of the playing field between labor and capital. So, were people enjoying the good times on welfare? Was there any laziness to be observed? Was innovation stifled because the rich were starved of the funds they needed to fuel the innovations? I think you know the answers to all of these (no, no, no).

So, what is with these narratives?

They aren’t new, they have been around for a century or more. They are, like religious apologies, arguments that sound reasonable but have no basis in reality. They have become memes among the rich folks, repeated often enough to be transferred from generation to generation. They are even sold to ordinary working people because they do sound reasonable and are repeated over and over. The rich are the job creators! Bah, customers create demand, demand creates jobs, and demand in our economy is mostly domestic demand which is stifled due to wage suppression activities on behalf of the rich.

The code word in use is “redistribution,” by which they mean that the rich are taxed and that money is “given” to the poor. The fact that much of the wealth the rich have accumulated is due to “redistribution” through other means is never mentioned. (Look up the history of the oil depletion allowance to see where the majority of the oil barons in this country came from.) The rich are in the business of bribing their politicians (not ours, we can’t afford them) to pass laws that benefit them. Our “representatives” do favors for the rich and nothing for the poor. For example, President Trump’s lackeys rolled back Obama-era regulations that prohibited coal companies from dumping toxic waste into the streams and rivers we draw our drinking water from, redistributing the consequences from the coal company executives to ordinary people. (1. Don’t get sick. 2. Die quickly.)

January 8, 2019

E Pluribus Unum

I like to watch “reality” TV shows, as opposed to the unreality TV shows marketed as reality TV shows (like The Apprentice, Survivor, etc.). The shows I like are those in which people show off their crafts. I have always enjoyed watching the choreography of a short order cook while in diners, so I like cooking shows. I used to do a bit of wrenching on my own cars, so I like auto repair and customizing shows and I ran across a delightful show the other day, “Barnwood Builders.” This is a work crew, located in West Virginia that fell into the profession of dismantling log barns and houses for reassembly (Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle). These are very likable people. They are hard-working, fun-loving, and honest Americans who refer to themselves as “hillbillies.” And I guess they are, some of them even live in “hollers.” (For the foreign-based readers of this blog a “holler” is vernacular for a hollow in the land, a plot of land with gentle hills around it.) They also show a deep respect for the original builders of these erections, who usually used little more than an axe to shape the logs stacked to make the buildings. The modern crew uses traditional tools but modern ones too.

Their self deprecating humor and pun throwing is quite refreshing in its playfulness (and cleanliness). For example, in discussing finding workplaces for which the directions were a little … vague, shall we say (such as “over thataway a fur piece”), the line is “throwed out” that “Those people believe hillbillies don’t have GPS.”

These folk are typical of the Americans I have run into in my travels. I haven’t been to every state but I have been to the four corners and visited much in between and most of the people I have encountered seemed very likeable, nice people, hard working, honest.

So, what has happened to us? We seem now a nation divided. On the coasts we have pointy-headed intellectuals who don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain and in the middle we have “deplorables,” whatever that means. Why is there all of this misperception and mistrust. I suspect it is because we have all been conned for far too long politically, but still.

Back when I was a youngin’, the nation’s motto was E Pluribus Unum, a lovely Latin phrase that means “out of many, one.” It spoke to the Grand American Experiment in self governance whereby we would govern ourselves, that “we didn’t need no stinkin’ kings or popes” to govern us. And we would do it by forging one will out of many. This was accomplished through disputation and diplomacy politically through the “go along to get along” facility of compromise, thus we could get to a single place for all Americans. That didn’t mean we all got what we wanted, but each component of American society got something close to what they wanted from time to time and not too far from what they were comfortable with most of the time. However, in many conservative circles today, compromise is a dirty word, something never to be entertained and we are now in a win at any cost political culture.

In 1956 we jettisoned E Pluribus Unum, in favor of “In God We Trust” and look at how that turned out. Seems “God’s Children” love making war with one another. Since it has been that way for a very long time I guess that is what we can trust this God fellow for. Maybe we should go back to our former motto. It conveys a goal worth getting.

January 7, 2019

But Who Is the Magician?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
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Most people know that performing magicians use gestures with one hand to attract attention from their other hand which is busy doing the trick. In national politics, Donald Trump is the Distracter in Chief, the waving hand that draws our attention away from the Republican machine which is doing its best to eliminate environmental regulations, consumer protections in the law, health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, miscellaneous favors for the rich, and many of the other gains made by the people over the past forty years or so. Mitch McConnell is doing his best to pack the federal court system with people who are not representative of the people (very, very conservative white guys).

So, if Mr. Trump is the distracting hand, and the GOP usual suspects are doing the tricks, just who is the magician? (Ignore than man behind the curtain!)

Just askin’.

January 6, 2019

As an Authoritarian Trump is a Piker

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:42 pm
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You really have to go to the church to find real authoritarians. Take for example Pope Pius IX. I quote from a fascination book Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes, the Kings, and Garibaldi’s Rebels in the Struggle to Rule Modern Italy, by David I. Kertzer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Kindle Edition).

“In December 1864, as part of his effort to combat liberalism, the pope issued what may well be the most controversial papal document of modern times, the encyclical Quanta cura, with an accompanying Syllabus of Errors. While the encyclical itself received relatively little attention, the Syllabus— listing the eighty propositions associated with modern life that no good Catholic could subscribe to— was another story. It held that no Catholic could believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion. Catholics were forbidden to believe that the pope could live without a state of his own or that there could be a separation of church and state. The last proposition attracted the most attention, for it rejected the view that ‘the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself to progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.’”

“The pope soon followed this gathering with a much more ambitious event, summoning all of the world’s bishops and cardinals for a grand Ecumenical Council. The first such council to be held in Rome in over 350 years, it had two goals: to endorse the Syllabus and with it the pope’s condemnation of the modern age, and to sanctify the principle— not previously an official part of Church doctrine—that the pope was infallible.”

Old Pius IX got his infallibility … by vote (although he threatened to proclaim it himself if it were not voted in).  but it was somewhat truncated only to Ex Cathedra pronouncements and so didn’t include encyclicals like Quanta cura.

Can you imagine The Donald proclaiming himself infallible and publishing a list of what Real Americans must believe? I can imagine it but that would be quickly followed by the appearance of a straightjacket as Mr. Trump was being lead away.

“It held that no Catholic could believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion.” Amazing. We were still licking our wounds from the Civil War so I suspect that U.S. citizens barely noticed and it does make some sense of the bias against Catholics felt in various parts of this country.

Oh, and Pius IX was all for religious tolerance … for Catholics … but not for anyone else and stated so outright. His point was that the One True Church™ should not be treated like all of the imposters.

They just don’t make authoritarians like they used to.

December 27, 2018

Fear Mongering for Fun and Profit

The Atlantic magazine published an article this last April with the intriguing title “The Last Temptation,” subtitled “How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.”

I didn’t finish the article but it started in the same vein as so many others, with Donald Trump and his high percent of the evangelical vote. The article did suggest, though, that there had been some kind of sea change in evangelical attitudes over the past half century. One paragraph summed up their opinion:

“The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.”

Finally, we get to the crux of the matter. Things changed when some “elites” decided to convert Christian conservatives into a political force. Believe it or not, early on most American Christians thought that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling was a good thing, that such decisions should be left to families in consultation with clergy and health professionals, that government shouldn’t be involved. Abortion did not become a “wedge issue” until it was forged into one.

Similarly, as in all other political “mood shifts,” the usual motives involved were: money, power, and fear. In the case of mobilization of evangelicals as a political force, fear was the chosen tool. Evangelicals were and are taught that the world is becoming an ever more sinful place, when that conclusion is far from the truth. They are taught that there is a “war on Christianity,” that morals are sinking fast and that something must be done! Older citizens living in suburbs came to fear Black criminals over the much greater threats to their safety.

All of this was perpetrated, of course, by religious and secular elites, to serve their interests, not the interest of ordinary citizens, Christians or not. George W. Bush is famous (infamous?) for brushing off the Religious Right’s demands for “more” from him by saying “those people are never satisfied.” All they had gotten was a paltry office and a president-appointed officer.

The only resolution of this awful set of circumstances is for all of us to admit that we have been “played” by our political leaders. They all need to be replaced, based upon their records. While it may not be possible to expect complete honesty (within some limits) from our leaders, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we got some? Certainly fear mongering and lying continuously need to be shamed out of existence.

December 25, 2018

Plutocrats! You Have to be Really Dense to Not Understand This!

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:35 pm
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Happy holidays, y’all! This is my gift to you on this Christmas day!

I have lauded Sam Pizzagati’s book “The Rich Don’t Always Win” already and have a fuller comment to make based upon things found in that book (highly recommended by me!).

Basically, what needs to be done is rather simple, but the plutocrats don’t see it this way. Here are a couple of quotes to get the ball rolling: “The outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and income.”

I am sure the plutocrats would label this speaker as a communist if not a socialist. I am willing to bet that all of the plutocrats think that capitalism is the best economic system known/available/possible and are committed to it 100%. I also believe that almost all of these people believe in a “pay as you go” society. People should work, earn money, and pay for all that they need or want that way. Period.

Given those two beliefs allow me to state my second quote “Let us suppose that 1 percent of the population were to receive 95% of our entire national income, with the remaining 5 percent spread among the rest of us. Could our system—any system—work on that basis? One percent of the people couldn’t possible consume 95 percent of all of the goods and services which the rest of us could produce.” And failing to consume all of that output “they would have no reason to use their savings to produce more and more goods that they couldn’t consume either.” In such an unequal, unbalanced economy we would never see enough jobs for people to pay as they go, a consequence that “demonstrates the nonsense of the contention that the way our national income is divided among us has nothing to do with how much we produce or how many of us have jobs.”

Not to keep you on pins and needles, the first quote is from John Maynard Keynes, a mainstream economist … in 1936 … and the second was from Chester Bowles, a wealthy business man … in 1946.

Now, the plutocrats will counter argue that people paid “too much” according to their lights will become shiftless and lazy. Let’s see if that happened. After World War II, the American middle class burgeoned. More people had more disposable income than ever before. More owned houses, etc. Did you notice anyone buying hammocks for the long haul? Was there a run on foot stools for people to put their feet up? I was alive then and I didn’t see any of that. It always shocks me that plutocrats assume that when “ordinary people” get enough to live on they will become lazy and stop working. Of course, this is coming from a class of people who thought when they made their first million dollars, “How am I going to make the second?” This disdain for the motivations of ordinary people is larded throughout their positions.

Plutocrats also argue against equal distribution of wealth and income, saying that do not have enough wealth to make everyone rich. This is being willfully obtuse. The word “equal” should only be used with opportunity. In the 1950’s did you see people rioting or striking because they were not getting “equal” incomes to those of rich people? The idea is ludicrous. What is wanted is a fair distribution of the wealth created. Nobody is advocating equal distribution of wealth or income, so this is a straw dog argument.

The so-called “Great Compression” occurred after WW2 due to high marginal tax rates on the most wealthy and union power, and governmental power improving the lot of those at the bottom (hence the compression—economic forces applied downward from on top, upward from the bottom). This was fought tooth and nail by the rich and, after WW1, the plutocrats managed to reverse all of the “similar corrections” made to the system during that war. But after WW2 the plutocrats didn’t succeed in rolling back all of the New Deal and other wealth redistribution mechanisms (they do, however and after all of these years, still speak scornfully of the New Deal as a marker of their social class). Why was that? Simply put, the plutocrats were scared stiff with regards to the communistic “workers’ revolts” in Russia and elsewhere. If keeping an underclass under their thumbs could lead to that kind of revolt, well…. So, they were inclined to live with high marginal income tax rates and with unions. (But not the U.S. Socialist and Communist political parties. After WW1 they were decimated over and over and then obliterated after WW2 by using Red Scare tactics.)

That was then, this is now. The problem is endemic as we are back where we started  at the beginning of the twentieth century (Thanks capitalism!) and we may have to find another way to deal with plutocrats. They get Donald Trump in the White House and the biggest item on their agenda is a huge tax cut, that they claimed would help ordinary people but by and large went into the pockets of the plutocrats. (I’m shocked, shocked I tell you! Have I mentioned that their tax cuts are permanent and our, much smaller, ones are temporary?)

This is so incredibly stupid that I am flabbergasted. These people are making so much money that they are giving it away or promising to give it away when they die. So, why do they so desperately need it while they are alive? They can’t spend but a fraction of it on themselves or their families. Were they to increase the wages of the workers they employ they would reap many benefits, help create a world they feel is the best (a “pay as you go” capitalistic society), and be appreciated far more than they are now. Why do they continuously rig the rules of the game to favor themselves and make sure that the bulk of new wealth flows into their pockets? The only answer that comes to mind involves dogs and mangers.

 

 

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