Class Warfare Blog

October 16, 2020

They Will Have to Pry the Money Out of My Cold, Dead Hands

Filed under: Economics,History,Politics,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 1:01 pm
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You may remember when Charlton Heston was president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). He is famous for delivering, quite theatrically, the old saw “They will have to pry my gun out of my cold, dead hands.” Basically he was stating that he would defend, even violently, his right to “bear arms.” But physical violence is on the decline and now it has been replaced by economic violence. The rich have acquired more wealth (as a percentage) than they possessed in the previous greatest episodes of U.S. history. The Robber Barons had less, the Gilded Age tycoons had less.

A major book by Walter Scheidel, The Great Leveler, claims that there are but four causes of reversals of this trend: mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues. These are the only thing that have reversed the “normal” trend of wealth accumulation by the wealthy, by the simple expedient of repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich and, well, the rich themselves.

The 20th century, with two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the immense communist revolution created the greatest redistribution of wealth (and power) ever seen. Unfortunately, all of the wealth redistribution that occurred after WW2 has been reversed at this point and the “normal” state of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer has been reinstated.

What is at work here is greed, pure and simple.

Before you start to believe that there is some “invisible hand” at work here, there is not. What is at work here is greed, pure and simple. The dynamics at play here are these: the rich are few and the rest of us are many. This gives the rich a large advantage in organization. The power of the rich’s money is leveraged by buying politicians. I am sure that you have seen the studies that show that the rich get the attention of politicians to a very large degree, despite they being few and the poor get zero attention from politicians despite they being many. Apparently votes do not matter and money does. This is because money buys votes and the system is biased toward the elites. The two party, winner take all, system requires that the rich only need to influence, aka bribe, the two leading candidates for any office. Both current candidates for President, for example, are both acceptable to the rich as they have been vetted and supplied with suitable leashes. (Those of you who think that Mr. Trump’s wealth insulates him from their greed need to examine his tax returns. Mr. Trump only appears to be wealthy. There are lots of people, as Chris Rock says, who are rich, but few who are wealthy. Basically, star athletes and star performers, are rich . . . the people who sign their paychecks are wealthy.

The only way to solve this problem is for the many to tax the few: that is tax the rich so that they do not accumulate distorting amounts of wealth. The problem, of course, is this is a political solution, and they are few and we are many. Of the four actual forces that affect the wealthy the only that is even mildly attractive is “transformative revolutions.” Maybe we can learn from South Africa and do this bloodlessly, with a “forgive them they know not what they have done” attitude. But I suspect they know full well what they are doing, certainly the Koch Brothers did, so this will be a hard sell at best. Maybe lynching the uber-wealthy is the way to go, but that isn’t exactly non-violent.

October 8, 2020

The Limits of School Choice

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:28 pm
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I have written before about the “school choice movement,” a thinly disguised privatizing campaign seeking to suck up some of those public dollars being spent on public education. Basically, once “financiers” had ravaged all of the private economic segments, they decided that the vast untapped market of “education” was the last frontier for their rapaciousness.

Lets look at the idea from a cost benefit basis.

Suppose you live in a smallish town which supports a number of grade schools, maybe a middle school or two and a single high school. Your community does it best to create good schools with the highest community standards they can muster but, of course, there are limitations. This high school cannot offer every possible course that might serve a small cluster of students, so they focus on offering courses that will serve the majority.

So, is having a second school even an option for such a community? The answer is clearly no. Dividing the communities funds into two pools to offer the same curriculum doesn’t make any sense at all. This would involve and increase in infrastructure costs with no increase in capacity. So, could not each of the two schools focus their efforts, such as one being an arts magnet school and the other a science magnet school (just for example)? Again, this is problematic. What if the two clusters are of unequal size with the arts school having twice the number of students as the science school? And why spread them out? Why not have schools within the original school, so that classes in both areas could be available to all students? Why deprive the science students of the art classes being taught at the other school? (Scientists are often drawn to music; one of my chemistry professors was a performing cellist.)

Okay we now move up a notch. Our community is now large enough to support two high schools. Should competition between these two play a role in the running of these two schools? For example, let’s say that one school is clearly superior to the other, and you decide to let the parent’s choose which school to place their kids in. (I have seen this happen in public schools through the simple expedient of parent’s lying about where they lived, using an aunt’s address for example to get their kid into a desirable school.) In this case, knowledgeable parents will sign their kids up to the “good” school and desert the “bad” school. The “good” school will suffer from overloading issues (large class sizes, teacher burnout from trying to interact with too many students, wear and tear on facilities, etc.) and the “bad” school will suffer from small class sizes (limiting student interactions), inability to field sports teams, inability to offer classes in advanced topics due to low enrollment, etc.

Plus, you have to ask how it is that parents determine which school is good and which is bad. If we take how well they are informed when it comes to voting as an example, their education “decisions” won’t be as informed as we all might wish them to be.

Currently, schools are set up, mostly, to serve geographic communities. This does have some advantages for racists, of course, with the whole school busing movement testifies to, But there are legitimate reasons for this also. Would you want your child taking a one-hour bus ride, each way, every day for school? Would you want to drive them to school and back this way (four hours per day driving for you)? Such schools also can be more community oriented. Schools in farming regions can teach agriculture courses, for example. (I lived in a rural community in which the high school had a gunsmithing course.) Schools near technology centers can teach more tech classes, etc. That is these schools can teach topics that lead to employment in their community, which helps keep communities together, instead of kids drifting away from the community to find work. Community colleges exemplify these goals.

So, now let’s look at large school districts, having multiple high schools. Is competition between any of them at all good (outside of between student athletic or academic teams)?

To engage in competition that is considered healthy and which leads to superior “products” you have to ask whether or not the “competitors” are equipped to compete. In the major metropolitan area I now live in (Chicago), the athletic teams are segregated by school population. The really large schools don’t compete against tiny schools. The large schools have all of the advantages and would just crush the smaller school teams. The same issues apply to school academic issues. Large schools have thousands of candidates for any sport or academic team (e.g. debate, Math Olympiad, etc.). The really small schools may have only dozens. This is why they make sport movies, e.g. Hoosiers, about a small school team beating a large school team for a championship. Just through sheer numbers, the larger schools have great advantages.

So, let’s say that schools do compete. Do they have control over the tools of competition? Control over things like budget, coaching, teacher quality, etc? Largely they do not. In wealthier areas, there are alumni support groups who donate funds to support athletic teams. In poor areas, the parents cannot afford such things. In rich areas, the tax base is greater and financial support is better. In rich areas, teachers have better living conditions. School districts, no matter how much they recruit, do not determine who applies for teaching jobs at their schools, the teachers make those decisions.

Once teachers are hired, is there an infrastructure in place to determine which are really good, which are adequate and which are so poor as to deserve being fired? The answer is kinda sorta, unfortunately. Unlike in business, there are no production or sales parameters that can be used to determine which people are pulling their own weight. (My own experience is that the vast majority of teachers are “competent.” Very few are brilliant or exemplary and also very few are so bad as to need their contracts terminated.

Now, are their any examples of what competition does for the schools? It turns out there is. A recent survey determined the highest paid “state employee” of each state of the US. Who do you think it turned out to be highest paid state employee most frequently? The governors? The presidents of university systems? The heads of public healthcare networks or public utilities? In most states, the highest paid state employee . . . drum roll, please . . . was one of the state’s university’s football coaches. This is what competition gets you . . . vastly overpaid employees . . . which always have vastly underpaid employees elsewhere as a compensation. In a university system where Nobel-prize winning academics can only hope for a salary as high as $200,000 annually, football coaches make five, six, seven million dollars for the same term.

So, we must be very careful in determining who reaps the benefits of competition as it isn’t always the people being served.

I cannot fathom a scenario in which school competition benefits the students most. We have seen charter school after charter school close business, some do this before they have officially opened. In business this is acceptable, but in educating the youths of our community, this is unacceptable. Those students are required, by law, to be educated. The money spent to educate those students at the closing charter schools is gone. But those students will be lined up for admission at the public schools the very next day and they cannot be turned away . . . no “Sorry, you have already spent your allocation of public education money, you will have to wait until next year to continue your education.” Imagine having been sold a lemon of a car and then dumping that and lining up at a government office for free public transportation. Is that happening anywhere? Does anyone actually want that kind of “education insurance”?

The charter school movement is sucking the funds out of our public schools systems. They are enabled in this effort by supportive politicians which make up supportive laws just for them . . . and these politicians receive “campaign donations,” aka bribes, from the charter operators to do this, often using public funds they were given for other purposes. (Any public school system doing that would result in people in jail.) The charter operators claim to offer “school choice” . . . but do they? Testing shows that charter schools are little different from public schools in educational outcomes. They differ solely in their ability to go out of business, which they do at alarming rates. So, what kind of choice is this? It is a bogus choice. It is like a restaurant making extravagant claims about the quality of their food, so you go and find out that their food is awful. The restaurant doesn’t care because they already have your money and they aren’t dependent upon repeat business. This is the Achilles heel of the “competition” argument. Modern marketing allows people to be hoodwinked into buying what they are selling. When they don’t deliver, you have no recourse. And, they are not dependent upon you being a repeat customer.

There is a word for this kind of business, several actually: scam, con, Ponzi scheme, etc.

Now, I do not deny that there are some reputable charter schools, who serve students adequately. But are these really a “choice” that makes anything better? Imagine a community that has a dozen different car dealerships. Then someone opens up a second, say, Chevrolet dealership which offers the same models at the same prices as the one already there. Do you really have any additional choice or are you and the other car buyers just spreading your car buying money around into more hands?

A Fix for the Current Debate Problems

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:13 pm

What are called presidential and vice-presidential debates are not really debates. At best they are joint news conferences, so I don’t bother watching as they are neither a good source of political information nor amusement.

But there is a simple technofix to the Gish Galloping presidential debate style displayed by Mr. Trump.

At the start of the debate, candidates are told that they have a total of say, 40 minutes of speech. If they speak, their microphone starts their countdown timer. When they run out of time, their microphone shuts off and a Cone of Silence descends over the candidate’s head.

So, if one candidate wants to talk over another, his timer just keeps running. When he runs out of time, all of his opponent’s time can be spent, speaking freely, with the interrupter turned into a stage prop.

An alternative to this, that might be even more entertaining, is to give each candidate a kill switch to their opponent’s microphone. If one candidate is answering a question and gets interrupted, he can “kill” the other’s mic. If the interrupter retaliates by killing the answerer’s mic, all timings stop and we wait out the situation. Everyone will see who the interrupter was and who was stopping the debate from proceeding. Eventually, the candidate who is on the timer will have to be allowed to speak, and the longer he cannot, the more petty and small will be the interrupter sitting on his kill switch be seen as being.

Now, it gets interesting. You are in a “kill switch deadlock” and the person on the clock (having the right to speak uninterrupted) can let off the kill switch (lights can be rigged to see when these switches are activated, so this can all be followed. So, the interrupter’s mic is made live and if the interrupter speaks, his mic is killed again. If he continues to sit on his kill switch, depriving his opponent of the chance to speak, this “defense” can be repeated over and over. Each time the interrupter tries to speak out of turn is another rules violation.

To make it really interesting, you could combine these two in which the time spent interrupting could be transferred to the other candidate when a “kill switch deadlock” occurs through interruption.

Let the games begin!

Hey, if we are not to be informed at least let us be entertained. Even flies know this simple fact.

October 6, 2020

Everchanging Evangelicals

Filed under: History,Politics,Religion,Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 11:53 am

If you were to inform American Evangelicals from the past about what their brethren are doing now, they would be appalled.

During the debate over the adoption of the new Constitution, guess who supported church-state separation? Evangelicals.

During the abolistion period prior to and after the civil war, who was anti-racism, and anti-slavery . . . vigorously? Evangelicals.

What’s that rumbling sound, you ask? That stems from those evangelicals rolling over in their graves at the Chrsitian nationalist, racist Evangelicals of our age.

October 3, 2020

Let the Comments Begin!

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:26 pm
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I have no personal comment about Mr. Trump falling victim to COVID-19, but I see comments, yes I do.

  • One comment said that the Distracter in Chief is pulling another fast one to shove his miserable debate performance off of the front page of the news media.
  • Another comment suggested that Mr. Trump did contract the disease in the hopes he would die before the election because he hates, absolutely hates to lose.
  • This is his “October Surprise” hoping the sympathy generated will take him to victory in November.
  • The Deep State deliberately infected the president to undermine his re-election . . . right.
  • “I don’t want Fat Donnie to die right away. I’d prefer that he suffer for a while.” (Egad!)
  • The whole thing is fishy . . . symptoms usually develop two to 14 days after exposure to COVID-19. If Trump and everyone around him are actually being tested daily, how could he have been showing notable symptoms on Wednesday, but not received a positive test result until the wee hours of Friday?
  • One of the many bizarre things QAnon advocates believe (without any foundation) is that COVID-19 is a hoax designed to deflect attention from a Satan-worshipping pedophile ring operated by Hillary Clinton and liberal elites. Trump, their reasoning goes, is pretending to have COVID-19 as part of a grand plan to arrest Clinton.
  • Donald Trump is pretending to have COVID-19 so he can use his miraculous “recovery” to claim the virus isn’t a big deal.

If you live by the conspiracy theory . . .

September 28, 2020

When it was ’54 …

Republicans are often characterized as wishing our country would be restored to what it was like in 1954.

So do I.

 

September 27, 2020

Should Amy Barrett’s Faith Be Part of Her Qualifications?

An op-ed in today’s The Guardian is entitled “Amy Coney Barrett should be judged on her ability, not her faith” (by Kenan Malik) The article could have been written identically for any of the other recent nomination processes.

This article and this attitude misses the point, however.

The point is not just her qualifications but the court’s qualifications to judge legal issues. If seated on the court, the court would be made up of six Catholics, two Jews, and one half Episcopalian-half Catholic. Is this representative of this country? Is this a court that can decide political issues that have religious undertones, fairly and in accord with precedent’s, etc.?

The question is not “Should her faith be part of her qualifications?” but “Should the court be packed with members of minority religions?”

There are more protestants than Catholics, yet not a single one of those could be found who is qualified to sit on that court?

Trump, Master of Distractions

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:18 am
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Upon what criteria would Mr. Trump base a nomination for a new associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States? I believe there was exactly one. Create a ruckus, a distraction that, if possible, makes his opposition look bad. (“See, they can’t even support another women on the bench.”) The Ruckus distracts from the real failings of the President. He has fulfilled his duty in this matter (nominating a person to fill a vacancy on that court) and now he is done. The rest of us get to whirl around the distraction for weeks when we should be concentrating on getting rid of his sorry ass.

And, another Catholic? He couldn’t find a qualified Evangelical, or even a Protestant? (Repeat after me. Repeat after me. Rinse and repeat.)

September 23, 2020

We Are Oh-So-Kind . . . to Ourselves

I was reading an article about some Native American archaeology and came to this statement “In the 1800’s, European settlers drove ancestral Wichita people from their native lands, leading to the destruction of their villages and communal traditions.”

I have made this point before but am still struck by the terminology.

If someone invaded your community and forcefully ejected you from your homes and farms, killing many of you in the process, would you refer to them as settlers . . . or invaders? Was not this land already “settled?” In this instance they are talking about a “city” of possibly 40,000 Native American inhabitants.

But European “settlers” “drove” the people off. It sounds like they are referring to cattle or buffalo which could be “driven” to another location.

By what right were these things done? Oh, God told them it was okay for the Europeans to make war on the indigenous peoples they encountered, in order to bring Christianity to the natives. Gee, you’d think this was an educational mission instead of a land grab.

At the time, Europe had recovered from the repeated decimation of the population of Europe due to the Black Plague and other plagues and was overpopulated. The “European settlers” were searching for land, land that could be tilled, land that could be mined, land that could make them rich. They came as soldier-farmers. They didn’t work in their fields without their guns nearby, because the people they stole the land from wanted it back.

These were not settlers. They were an army of invaders. And we are descended from them.

And President Trump wants our schools to teach that we did nothing wrong. Sure we took their land, but we gave them the Bible. From Mr. Trump’s perspective, this was a great deal, and American deal, an exceptional deal.

And the winners of the deal get to write and re-write the history any way they want. Mr. Trump’s way is what we will get if he is re-elected.

 

 

Will Trump’s SCOTUS Nominee Be Another Catholic?

Filed under: Politics,Religion,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:14 am
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Before Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, the current SCOTUS contained five Catholic justices, three Jewish justices, and Brett Cavanaugh who was raised Catholic but claims to be Episcopalian now (Episcopalians have been described as wannabe Catholics, so we will count him as half of a Catholic).

In the history of the Supreme Court there have been 114 Justices, only 13 of which have been Catholic, about 11 per cent. Catholics currently make up 22% of Americans but that is counting newborn babies, children, etc. An estimate of the percentage of adults is “about one fifth.” This seems an over estimate as currently 78% of Americans are adults and any large sub group would probably have this same proportion of adults. So, a 22% total count translates into a 17% adult count, so “about a fifth” is an exaggeration.

So, a proportional number of Supreme Court Justices would be about 1.5, so 1-2, but we currently have five (and a half) and are considering six (and a half) if Mr. Trump’s favorite is nominated.

The religions supporting Mr. Trump bigly are the Evangelical Protestants. Many of these people do not believe that Catholics are even Christians, let alone correct believing Christians.

So, why wouldn’t his base howl if he didn’t nominate an Evangelical Christian?

Currently there are no Protestants on the court, certainly no Evangelicals. Historically 80% of Justices have been Protestant of some stripe. Currently there are none.

Pass the word, our evangelical brothers and sisters need to know that Mr. Trump is selling us all to the Papist Cult!

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