Class Warfare Blog

May 22, 2019

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Snappy Comeback Contest!

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:27 pm
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The President has told Congress that “they can’t legislate and investigate at the same time.” While the President may have never heard of multi-tasking, this comment just begs for a snappy comeback, so I will offer mine and then open the floor.

Snappy Comeback #1
The President seems have confounded his problem regarding chewing gum and walking with how the Congress functions.

The floor is yours!

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May 19, 2019

Hello? What About the Emoluments Clause?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:11 pm
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When he issued a subpoena week before last, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said he was seeking six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns to aid a committee investigation into whether the IRS was doing its job properly in auditing a sitting president and whether the law governing such audits needed to be strengthened.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied the “request” saying that the subpoena was “unprecedented” and “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Hello?

First of all, the Treasury Secretary does not have a say in this. He does get to decide whether a congressional subpoena is appropriate or not. The law simply says such returns will be provided upon being subpoenaed.

Second, audits? WTF? What about the emoluments clause of the Constitution, also called the foreign emoluments clause, which is a provision of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8) that generally prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives? If Mr. Trump has been making money off of his presidency, and he apparently has, and the sources of those funds are foreign, wouldn’t his tax returns show that income? Wouldn’t this be a way for Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities as no other body has that responsibility?

Hey, they got Al Capone on tax fraud, didn’t they? Might work again!

We Are Using the Wrong Economic Indicators

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:08 pm
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Currently our “news media” (whatever the heck that is now) are trumpeting things like the US GDP (Gross Domestic Product), unemployment statistics, average wages, and Dow Jones stock index levels as indicators of the “health” of the economy. And, boy is the economy strong!

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

These indicators were chosen by the elites to serve the elites.

Consider the Gross Domestic Product, a measure of how much we produce in goods and services. How does that reflect on the welfare of the nation’s citizens? It doesn’t. It indicates how “productive” the economy was . . . but in service to whom? If all of the nation’s output was shipped overseas, the GDP wouldn’t change, but the indicator would indicate how well we were serving overseas customers, not Americans. Shouldn’t economic indicators indicate how well our economy is serving our citizens? (We the people, etc.)

Maybe a Gross Consumption Index would be a better measure. No matter how much we are producing, Americans won’t buy things when they are feeling economically insecure. So, it is more important how much Americans are consuming than they are producing. Is there such an index? If so, you couldn’t tell from the news organizations.

And don’t get me started about unemployment statistics. The number of full-time jobs with benefits is still shrinking, only to be replaced by part-time jobs with no benefits and shit wages. But unemployment is at a record low! Oh, and we don’t count people who have officially stopped looking for a job.

Average wages? Give me a break! Median wages, the wage at the exact middle of the wage spectrum has been decreasing! This means that there are more people making less and just a few making much, much more than that number.

The whole purpose of these misleading “economic indicators” is to convince us that the politicians are doing their jobs. Unfortunately, they are doing it for only the wealthiest among us.

May 10, 2019

Trump’s Business Losses

Filed under: Business,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:22 pm
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The New York Times is reporting that IRS records show Donald Trump’s businesses lost approximately $1.15 billion dollars during the decade from 1985 to 1994. That sounds like a lot of money and was. But it is not in current terms. I picked the year 1990 at the center of this period as a form of averaging and used an inflation calculator to convert those dollars into what they would be today.

In today’s dollars, Trump’s losses would be . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . .

$2,240,000,000.

This raises schadenfreude to whole new levels!

May 8, 2019

The Bullshit Scam that Are FICO Scores

We have all been told that FICO credit assessment scores are important. There are even services that will help you improve your FICO score, so you will have more credit opportunities.

It is all bullshit and a scam on the public.

I am a responsible person (IMHO of course). I pay my bills on time with rare exceptions, usually based upon forgetfulness. In any case, I have run up quite a bit of credit card debt, not unlike many Americans. But I was paying them down assiduously. I paid off one card and closed the account, a sign of a good faith borrower, I thought . . . and then my FICO score went . . . down. WTF? I still have plenty of accounts, but if I close one I am less credit worthy? WTF? How does that make sense?

I then paid off a car loan! Woo hoo, I paid off my car and I owned it free and clear . . . and my FICO score went . . . down! Again, WTF?

All of the signs of being an honorable borrower cause my credit score to be decreased?! So, I kept my head down and just paid down what I owed. I paid more than the minimum payment on my credit cards every month, and my FICO score climbed up to 700 and beyond! I was so proud!

But, I wasn’t making enough progress on reducing my credit card dept, so I applied to my Savings and Loan for a signature loan (that had a lower interest rate than my credit cards) and paid off my all of my credit cards (Balance = $0)! Note that I replaced my CC debt with an unsecured loan debt of the exact same amount in this process, so my indebtedness did not change even $1. So what happened?

My FICO score soared from ca. 700 to ca. 800! I was now much more credit worthy than I was before, even though my indebtedness was exactly the same! Also, I did not prove my ability to pay off loaned funds at all! But, now I was an “excellent” credit risk where before I was only a “good” credit risk.

Ironically, my S&L checked my FICO score to assess whether I was worthy of the signature loan (aka no collateral loan) when they processed my loan application.

So, what do I conclude from all of this?

I conclude we have been conned. FICO scores (created by a private credit scoring concern . . . I wonder what their corporate values are?) are part of an institutional effort to make sure we are indebted to the system to the max. They are designed to make sure that we can borrow much more than we are prepared to repay in any one year or even one decade. They are a tool of the lending institutions and the financial elites who are now running the whole fucking show!

That Donald Trump is one of their minions doesn’t help one fucking bit. I feel I want to go around the world apologizing to people in all of the countries of the planet for electing the abomination who is Donald Trump and for supporting an American system that oppresses so many people, including our own.

 

May 3, 2019

Some Have More Equal Rights Than Others

No, we are not talking Animal Farm here, we are talking about Republican court packing which has created a Supreme Court consisting of five Justices wedded to the Religious Right. If the Republicans win the next presidential election and retain control of the Senate, it is quite likely that Justice Ginsberg will retire from the Court and be replaced with a sixth Justice wedded to the Religious Right.

The consequences of this are huge. We are faced with avoiding taking cases on church-state separation to the Supreme Court out of fear as to how they might rule. (Look what they did with Citizens United.) And, once the federal courts indicate that they favor religious exceptionalism, look to the more conservative states to be making laws favoring religious groups by the score.

Right now, the recent history of the court has provided exclusions for religious groups from obeying the law. They say, everyone must obey the law . . . except . . . if you have a profound religious belief, you do not have to. Consider the Obamacare contraception coverage situation, as just one example. You must obey the law, they do not.

The whole idea of the separation of church and state was to keep religious squabbles outside of government . . . and . . . to not have government bodies deciding religious issues. It protects the government from religion and religion from government. Once that barrier is broached (and there are already holes in the dike) then where is the line to be drawn as to how much the government can favor the religious over the non-religious? There is no natural divide, so as the metaphor goes, the flood gates will be open. Once that happens, how long will it be before states pass laws favoring one religion over others? (You will only need a stopwatch to measure how long that will take.)

Any number of current justices believe that the religious can be favored over the non-religious under the Constitution. This leaves the non-religious in a second class status, with only the freedom of speech provision of the Constitution to protect us.

And so many of the religious wonder why atheists are so “hostile” to religion! Even when religious people, some–not all, are actively working to get the law to favor them over us. That’s one reason for the hostility. (D’ya think?)

Elections have consequences. If you want to continue the Repubs court packing practices, then indeed vote for Republicans for Senate and President. Ruth Ginsberg cannot live forever. If the Supreme Court gets packed with even more adherents for the Religious Right movement, then the GOP will have its fondest wish, for trickle down religiosity incorporated into our governments, to become the state of this country for decades to come.

April 28, 2019

The Purpose of Religion: A Follow-up

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:03 am
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Salon.com recently re-published an article that originally appeared on Raw Story. Here is a taste of that article:

Scientists establish a link between religious fundamentalism and brain damage
Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be
by Bobby Azarian

study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

Now, before all of you snarkmeisters (My people, my people!) jump on the obvious points, the point I want to address is not that. It is “They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.” And it is not the “fixed and rigid” part but the “promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group” part.

When humans gathered together into larger than family groups, society was formed in a process I am sure took some time to hammer out. In all herd animals there are behaviors of both the individual and the group that promote survival. Sometimes they clash but if they clash too much, neither the herd nor the individuals survive. We are not herd animals but we are social animals. “Society” exists to get us to conform to rules that result in greater survivability of both us as a group and us as individuals. Once a society is formed, it is not hard to see that it can be hijacked by individuals who mold society more to their advantage, survivability be damned. Books and movies are rife with such scenarios, where groups are betrayed by individuals to their benefit. These betrayals can be direct or through changing the societal rules to benefit just themselves.

Currently there is a subset of very wealthy U.S. individuals who are reshaping our society for their benefit and their benefit alone, the rest of society left to suck eggs. Religion is a major tool in creating and maintaining a “stable” society. It has lost much of its power in this country over the years and since a power vacuum doesn’t exist long, that power has been sucked up, in this case by wealthy financial types with their own priesthood (economists).

In any society there are those who produce the needs for direct survival (food, water supply, housing, transportation, etc.) and those who produce “other things” (art, politics, music, books, etc.). Those who produce the food, etc. need to have the respect of those who do not and vice versa. In this country, this mutual respect has been lost (not by accident, mind you) as it has been elsewhere around the world. In powerful church hierarchies, the elites offer little in the way of respect for the masses as they “manage their brands” and, they think, husband their power. The same goes on in centers of political power. Studies indicate that a prerequisite for getting any idea through Congress is being rich. If you are poor or middle class your ideas and opinions will be ignored. (Polls? What polls? Polls are “fake news.”) And, monumental issues like climate change are ignored because the wealthy do not want to accept any uncertainty in their wealth accumulation schemes (business opportunities my ass!).

As a consequence, ordinary people, who are engaged in serving the needs of these elites are in various states of rebellion. They are attending church services less. They are voting less. They are paying less attention to those who pay no attention to them or they are attending but responding with anger and resentment.

I thought if we could revive labor unions that they could apply some leverage in the interests of ordinary people, but unions have powerful opponents who have shut that door.

So, what is the way out of this existential problem?

Really, do you see a way out?

April 21, 2019

Jail Birds Fly Free … Well Some Do

One of the parents who conspired to get their kid into an elite college the old fashioned way (cheating, bribery, influence, etc.) has been on trial and that trial is in the sentencing phase. The prosecution wants something a little less than a year in prison and the defense wants something closer to a month in prison.

So, this is the justice system we have. People go to jail for cheating on college admissions requirements, for possession of small amounts of marijuana, etc. but if you do something really big, like bring down the financial system of the U.S. and the world, or defy the orders of a federal judge, you get swept under the rug as being “too big to fail” or, gosh, you get a presidential pardon. I understand that some banks might be too big to fail but are they too big to be broken up and sold off? Are the executives too big to go to jail? Do we need bigger jail cells? We used to send bankers to jail and did so as recently as the savings and loan debacle in the 1980’s. But now, gosh, it would be just so sad to do that, so let’s just give those executives a bonus and let them retire or, heck, just let them keep doing what they have been doing.

Obviously justice in this country has always been predicated upon the color of your skin and your socioeconomic status. If Bernie Maddoff had bilked a bunch of poor people or a bunch of people of color, would he have gone to jail? He had the bad taste to bilk white people who had been rich, so his fate was sealed.

This is sad.

April 6, 2019

Are We Violating the First Amendment?

The first amendment to the Constitution begins with the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” and then changes the subject. This “law” has been declared to apply also to state governments.

Currently, the IRS and state taxing authorities generally exempt churches from paying taxes. As a consequence, I must pay more in taxes to make up that shortfall. Therefore, I am being forced by the government to support those churches (even Scientology!). This seems like a violation of the spirit of the First Amendment at the very least and the letter of Constitutional law at the most.

I know some will object and say that churches are charitable organizations and qualify for tax-exempt status thereby. A study I read indicated that just a few percent of most churches incomes (<5%) goes to charity (most going to costs such as utilities, employee salaries, etc.), so that doesn’t hold water. Others claim that churches are non-profits and that doesn’t hold water, either. How is a church, an institution that gives out advice (some for fee, some pro bono) any different from a tax accountant or financial advisor? Granted they may not make much profit to be taxed but they could not sustain continuing losses, so they must make some profit, and some of the large property owning churches make scads of money. And taxes on profits are not the only taxes. Dentists are taxed upon their dental chairs and offices if they own them (property taxes). Financial advisors are taxed likewise. Churches? Not so much.

(And don’t get me started on prosperity churches and their jet plane owning pastors.)

April 5, 2019

AOC Derangement Syndrome

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she is referred to, is a new member of the House of Representatives. Since she stands for all things abhorrent to the status-quo loving GOP she is the target of amazing stretches of logic. Take, for example, this cartoon:

In the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, what was the greatest economy mobilizing force? That would be the American government, not capitalism. In the Great Depression, the business types (the Capitalists) insisted that it was a normal “business cycle” and that things would recover by themselves and that we should do nothing to help the struggling people.

This is what Democratic Socialism is all about, the government as representatives of the people, in control of the economy. Control in the sense of setting the rules, not running it as in totalitarian socialism. Currently, the capitalists have captured the government and are running the economy for their benefit and screw the rest of us. That is what capitalism offers unless it is restrained by government by the people … or a divine king if you want to try that again. (Donald Trump has volunteered for the position.)

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