Class Warfare Blog

April 7, 2021

And Now You Know Why the Rich Defend the Status Quo

This blog was named the Class Warfare Blog for a reason. I will be renaming it because that war is over . . . and we lost. If you weren’t paying attention, the status quo ante just prior to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that is threatening millions of jobs and millions of people’s lives has resulted in tremendous wealth gains for the very rich.

Form an article in The Guardian on Forbes magazine’s latest list of billionaires:

“Forbes annual billionaire poll includes a record-breaking 2,755 billionaires, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once again topping the list. Elon Musk, zoomed into second place with a $151bn fortune, up $126.4bn from a year ago, when he ranked No 31 and was worth “just” $24.6bn.”

“Elon Musk, zoomed into second place with a $151bn fortune, up $126.4bn from a year ago.”

“Together the plutocrats added $5tn to their wealth for a combined fortune of $13.1tn, up from $8tn on the 2020 list. A record 493 people joined the list this year – one new billionaire every 17 hours. The majority, 205, were in China. But the gains were widespread with gains across the world.”

“But it was the incredibly wealthy who made the biggest gains. The 0.001% did even better than their lesser peers. The top 10 richest people on the list are worth $1.15tn, up from $686bn last year.”

Gee, do you think the time is ripe for a wealth tax? Well, that won’t happen because the very rich own our Congress. Every fat, white ass in a seat in Congress knows which side of the bread the butter is on and will not betray their rich paymasters.

“ . . . up $126.4bn from a year ago.”

And as I continue to remind you, to spend a billion dollars in any year, one has to spend $532,000 per hour of every working day, of every work week of that year. For Elon Musk to spend off half of his gain from the past year, he would have to spend $33,000,000 every working hour of every working day of a year.

The flaw of capitalism is that there is no limit upon greed. The only check on greed is from governments and people power (labor unions, mostly) and the rich have defanged labor unions and captured the government. So, Gordon Gecko has proved to be a prophet: Greed is Good, at least for now.

April 6, 2021

Getting Shot in Chicago

Filed under: Medicine,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:37 am
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Claudia and I walked a couple of blocks to a local field house today and got our first vaccine shot (Pfizer). I have read a couple of people’s experiences but mine seemed different. We were greeted by the ward alderman himself (he is the one responsible for setting up the event) and every volunteer, paid or not, was cheerful, efficient and helpful. Lines were long but moved along smartly. There was a volunteer every few feet to answer questions. It was nice to feel a community coming together to help one another. (I wonder how that felt to staunch Republicans or Trumpsters?) No fights, no squabbles, just good vibes and gratitude flowing.

We can do this, so why can’t we do it more often?

Also, I wonder how many of you had a first thought that “getting shot” meant by a gun?

April 5, 2021

Why Are the Rich So Hot For School Choice?

Everywhere in this land the rich, the 1%, are finagling for more charter schools, more vouchers, more support for private schools and less, ugh, public schools. Why?

I think the answer is multifaceted.

Back when I was a youngin’ it was an unvarnished truth that free public schooling was a pillar of our democracy. What would we have if citizens went uneducated? By this logic we accepted public schooling as a “collective responsibility,” not just an individual responsibility. But, also in my childhood, I heard from people arguing: “I don’t have any children, so why should I be paying school taxes?” This argument confused individual and collective responsibilities. We all benefit from the education of the citizenry, so we all pay for it (unless you are a church). Some of the rich expanded upon this argument and asked “I pay a great deal of money to have my children educated in the finest private schools, so why should I also have to pay for the public schools. Again, this argument confuses individual and collective responsibilities. I do not actually think they were confused on that issue, I think they were just making an argument, any argument, that might reduce their taxes. (It is interesting that those with the most money, worry about how much money they have more than others do.)

Some of the very richest consider all taxes to be “theft.” These extremists got their wish when a town out in the boondocks (of Montana? Idaho?) voted in a cadre of people who thought like that. They thought being a low tax zone would attract all kinds of businesses, but when they reduced or eliminated the vast majority of taxes, they lost their police department, their fire department, their road maintenance department, and even their city hall. (The town council, in fact the whole city government, now works out of a single wide trailer.) Businesses not only didn’t flock to their city they ran, screaming, the other way.

More recently, the filthy rich have recognized that they have cornered almost all of the sources of wealth in this country: mineral extraction, construction, communications, financial “instruments,” etc. and then turned their gaze upon the pile of money spent every year on public schools. This amount of money dwarfs the revenues of many of the other wealth sources in the US combined. So, there was money to be made in supplanted the “public schools.” They even figured out how to extract large profits from “non-profit charter schools.” It was ridiculously easy. First create a school. Then hire a “management company” to run it, a company which has no restrictions on making profits at all. Often the two entities were the same people. Have you ever wondered why there are so may charter school scandals? The answer is easy: the founder’s motivation was greed and with little to no oversight (aka guvmint regulayshun) greed overwhelmed any restraint every time.

It is somewhat amazing how it is that ordinarily intelligent business people can decide to create a business in a certain place because it has a “large pool of quality workers” and then turn around and undermine the process that produces those workers.

I think all this is based upon the rich man’s fallacy: namely that their wealth is a sign of their superiority. That they were able to become rich is their qualification. The “other people” are lesser beings, not worthy of their attention. This meme is so entrenched in the minds of the rich that they all consider themselves to be “self-made men.” I laughed at Mitt Romney making this claim. You see when Mitt graduated from college, his father gave him $2,000,000 of seed money and access to all of his contacts (his father was President of American Motors and a heavy hitter in the Republican party). Do you know how much money I made in my almost 40 years as a college professor (at about the same time span)? It was $2,000,000. Mitt Romney was given, in effect, the amount of my career earnings to “get started” in business. But Mitt Romney did it all himself. He even dialed his own phone from time to time, I am sure.

March 31, 2021

Finally, American Politicians Are Taking Pollution Seriously

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:44 pm
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It wasn’t enough that our water is polluted, rainwater on mountaintops is polluted, our air is polluted, and the land is more and more polluted. Air pollution has led to Climate Change with massive negative impacts on human societies . . . but still our politicians did nothing. Well, not nothing, they continued to cash checks written by the polluters.

Well, all of a sudden rapid massive action is taking place in the halls of Congress and in statehouses. This is, apparently, due to a blockbuster of a disclosure first reported in The Onion newspaper in an article entitled “Pollution Shrinking Human Penises, Warns Scientist.”

March 29, 2021

Repost—A Novel Way to Regulate Corruption and Campaign Financing

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:18 am
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This post is from 2010 but the topic has come up again, so I thought it is worth reposting. It is still an issue because our legislators are serving their wealthy donors rather than all of the people they are supposed to be representing. SR

Currently (in 2010) Wall Street banks are shelling out $1.4M per day trying to block the federal government’s effort to regulate their business. Some legislators have gone so far as to say outright “Sure, we will block that legislation. Now are you going to donate to my re-election campaign?” This is plain and simply corruption in our government and it’s legal! If we do not correct this flaw in our government, will just be accelerating our decline as a nation. The flaw is that we have made influence peddling legal and we have to make it illegal to save our representative government from the distorting influence of money. There are a great many approaches one could take. This one is simple and could very well succeed.

Previous attempts to regulate political campaign financing have run afoul of the constitutional right of free speech and the right to petition the government. Time and again Congress has passed promising reform legislation only to have it declared illegal/unconstitutional.

Since the recent Supreme Court decision to allow corporations unlimited spending on political campaigns, the need for some limitations on campaign financing has become even greater than it was. And ordinary people were complaining about the influence of rich people’s and corporations’ money on the political process long before the Court’s decision. Elected officials complain about the need to do nonstop fundraising. And now, taking the fiction that a corporation is a “person” for business purposes and extending that fiction into political arenas, the Supreme Court has aggravated the situation.

In some ways, the Supreme Court decision is a log jam breaker. Unless we want corporations to be running the country (more than they do now, in any case) we need some limitations on political spending. This is the impetus for the following proposition.

The founders of the country established that each of us had the right to petition the government and to speak freely. (These, after all, are the rights of individuals.) The Supreme Court has ruled that spending money on political campaigns is a form of free speech and that corporations have the same rights as people when it comes to spending on campaigns. But, it is still illegal to “peddle influence.” Influence peddling is to sell one’s influence in government in the form of “you give me money, I give you a political solution to your problem.”

What I contend is that any government official who asks for money from a person they do not represent is peddling their influence and that this should be illegal. When they do this they are essentially saying “give me money and even though I do not represent you, I will make it worth your while.” The flip side of this idea is if I offer a government official money and that official doesn’t represent me, I am soliciting that influence illegally. If this principle is followed to its logical conclusion, a great deal of good can be had. Basically such a new regulation would restrict the passage of political money only to between those people who have a representative relationship.

All U.S. citizens have a primary residence which determines who their state and federal representatives are. For example, each of us has a congressman and two senators on the federal side based on the state and congressional district in which our primary residence is located. These are the people who represent us and we should be able to petition them freely (which is why they maintain offices in their districts) and we should be able to support their campaigns or their political challengers campaigns financially. The same restriction should apply to “corporate people” if the Supreme court continues to persist in their opinion that corporations are not only persons for the purposes of business but politics, too. I suggest that the location of the corporate headquarters of a company should establish who the representatives of those “individuals” are.

Anyone offering money to an elected official or candidate for office who is not (or will not become) their representative is trying to buy influence, so those contributions should be illegal. Candidates for President of the United States would be able to solicit funds from everyone insofar as the President represents all citizens, but U.S. Senators would only be able to solicit and accept funds from legal residents of their states and U.S. Representatives would only be able to solicit and receive funds from people (corporate and otherwise) who live in their districts. The same restriction would apply to all local and state office holders and candidates for office.

Many also decry the influence of corporate lobbyists. Their influence under this plan would be greatly diminished because, while under this plan a single lobbyist could still represent the interests of a corporation to, for example, all of the members of a Senate committee under the free speech provisions of the constitution, but money could only be given to the representative of the state which houses the corporate headquarters. The reason there are so many lobbyists in Washington is the same reason given by the bank robber for why he robbed banks (“That’s where the money is.”); in this case Washington is where the influence is that can be bought. We have allowed our centers of representation, state and federal, to become clearinghouses for influence peddling. And while these lobbyists could still make the points their sponsors want them to, they couldn’t back up those points with unlimited “campaign donations.”

This approach is not an infringement on free speech because individuals would still be able to write, call, email, and speak to any member of any state or federal legislative body they chose. We are just making a distinction between political gifts of funds, one of which says “I want you to represent my interests instead of any of the other candidates in my district for whom I can vote,” and another which says “You don’t represent me but I want you to do me a favor anyway.”

The right to petition the government is not infringed because everyone has their representatives who are reachable in local offices and because campaign funds can only be solicited from people one represents there is a strong incentive for these representatives to listen to “their” people rather than to others. The courts and other systems of government are also represented locally and can be petitioned. By letting rich people and corporations unlimited access to all of our local, state, and federal officials, we are undermining our form of representative government. Currently, if I am poor or even of ordinary means, I have a few representatives, but if I am rich I have hundreds or thousands of representatives.

Foreign corporations with just one American subsidiary corporation would not have unfettered access to the entire political system, their money could only flow directly to candidates in the districts of the subsidiaries’ headquarters and not to every other office in the land.

This regulation will not totally right the campaign financial ship: the monied interests will be likely to create “separate” PACs in each state to be able to donate to all U.S. Senators’ campaigns and other subterfuges, but these will be easier to regulate than the current system. Using a PAC to “launder” donations to representatives not one’s own, should also be illegal, though, because it is a longstanding legal principle that one cannot eliminate one’s legal culpability by just using a middleman.

The question is: do we want to save our representative governments from the corruption of “legalized” influence peddling?

March 28, 2021

What People Really Want

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:13 am
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I have read recently more than a few articles about how one can transform themselves from being a “wage slave” into a free person who doesn’t have to “go to work” or “attend a meeting” or “do this or that task.” In such articles there seem to be these extremes and little in between. Wage slaves work in a cubicle and have no control over their tasks or schedules. Their “bosses” seem to be either assholes or tyrants or both. At the other end of this spectrum are those with “eff you money” who do what they want when they want. While I do not doubt these extremes exist, I tend to think that there are many other states between them that are desirable.

In my case, I followed Joseph Campbell’s advice and “followed my bliss.” Without a lot of calculation involved, I became a college teacher. In this job, I did have a schedule I had to follow; I was assigned classrooms and times and courses and students to teach, but I had some say into what those were. Inside my classroom, I had objectives to meet, but how I went about my business was largely up to me. Yes, I was evaluated by managers and peers fairly regularly but the processes involved were mostly reasonable, and I had some input on those processes, too. In short, I had a fair amount of autonomy in my work. As it turns out this is very high on the list of desirable attributes for people’s work situations.

People want to feel as if they have some control over their lives, even while being willing to surrender some of that autonomy to the others in a work group. The middle ground between those who are wage slaves, who have no autonomy, and those who have “eff you money,” are all of us who have a little bit of both.

This is what I see is the major axis of our culture: deciding what we have individual responsibility to do and what we have collective responsibility to do. Any sentient social species would have the same axes of decisions.

In our past, people wanting total autonomy could leave any group and live a solitary life as a hermit or backwoodsman or what have you. Those who needed to have a structure to anchor their existence could join a military cadre or religious order that proscribed all of their actions. I suspect that most people want something in between: some structural support, so that some responsibilities could be offloaded to the group and some autonomy, so we could have “our way” from time to time.

It is interesting that American politics has this constant tension between these two states. We still are frequently debating whether, for example, healthcare is a collective or individual responsibility. We have decided that national defense is a collective responsibility and our religious practices are an individual responsibility. But, curiously, the debates over the unresolved issues are not framed as “individual responsibility vs. collective responsibility.” They are framed with hidden stereotypes instead. Those who favor collective responsibility for healthcare are characterized as “big government advocates” or “socialists.” Those who favor individual responsibility for healthcare are characterized as “rugged individualists” or “small government zealots.” Our course, embedded in such issues are party politics, racism, classism, and many other things, but I argue that we should be arguing from questions such as “are we all better off with healthcare, for example, as a collective responsibility or an individual responsibility?” This gets us to cost benefit-analyses and a cleaner decision, which is why the politicians avoid it, as they are representatives of their rich constituents first and foremost (and rich non-constituents, too—Why do we allow people from out of state to donate money to US senatorial elections? What has that election to do with those people? I have written about this at length, so back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .)

I just saw a quote that said “If you think you are too small to have an effect, try sleeping with a mosquito.” So, as “little people” we can use the language of “collective vs. individual responsibility” and ask questions addressing the costs and benefits of either and inject that into our discourse. Maybe it will irritate our current debaters enough to scratch our itch.

All we want is a little autonomy and we are willing in sacrifice some of ours to the good of us all. Now go throw open your window and shout “I am mad as hell and won’t take it anymore!”

March 25, 2021

The Esteem of Teachers

Filed under: Education,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:12 pm
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I have been reading Milton Mayer’s book “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945” and I ran across this:

In the years of the rise the movement little by little brought the communities attitude toward the teacher around from respect and envy to resentment, from trust and fear to suspicion. The development seems to have been inherent; it needed no planning and had none. As the Nazi emphasis on nonintellectual virtues (patriotism, loyalty, purity, labor, simplicity, “blood,” “folkishness”) seeped through Germany, elevating the self-esteem of the “little man,” the academic profession was pushed from the very center to the periphery of society. Germany was preparing to cut its own head off. By 1933 at least five of my ten friends (and I think six or seven) looked upon “intellectuals” as unreliable, and among these unreliables, upon the academics as the most insidiously situated.” (p. 112)

I am quite aware of Godwin’s law (Invoke the Nazis and you’ve lost the argument.) but I plow on fearlessly. The Nazi’s were a totalitarian authoritarian bunch. And if you are just going to rule by giving orders, you do not want a bunch of credible naysayers arguing the other way. Fascists just don’t like opposition, so they either eliminate it or marginalize it.

Fast forward to today and we see some startling parallels. When I was young, teachers were held in high esteem, but over the past twenty or so years, teachers have been criticized as being pigs at the public trough, earning way too much money. They have been criticized as being the reason for failing schools. They have had collective bargaining rights stripped from them. Their unions have been demonized. Their role in the classroom undermined by “systems” that insist on approved classroom scripts being read instead of anything the teacher might have thought would be helpful. And when testing results of their pupils do not show progress, they are blamed as the sole cause.

I must also point out that during the social unrests of the 1960’s and 1970’s college students and teachers were much to the forefront. The revision of the bankruptcy laws disallowing student loans from being discharged (with no evidence for the claim such loans were being abused) has effectively chained students with a ball of debt they drag around with them through much of their working lives. Such people do not jeopardize their careers by falling behind on their debt payments, so they keep their heads down and just keep doing what they are told.

So, now that teachers and students have been defanged, we see a veritable war on science and the pointy-headed intellectuals behind it. We have become suspicious of experts, you know the people who kind of know what they are talking about. Gosh, would any American political party find this acceptable? Apparently both do to some extent. Joe Biden was a major force behind the student loan bankruptcy legislation. And the Republicans have been full bore on a “Let’s Get Ready for Fascism” campaign.

March 21, 2021

Who’s a Humanitarian?

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:33 pm
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I have seen people called “humanitarians.” I know vegetarians are people who eat only vegetables, but I suspect that humanitarians are not people who only eat other people. We already have a name for them. So, what is a humanitarian? What are the qualifications? Can you get advanced degrees in . . . humanitarity?

This, I suspect, is one of those labels rich people apply to themselves as part of the gas lighting of the other 90+% of the population of this country who have the moral failing of not being rich, or even “well-to-do.”

Any rich person who does something generically “good” will have this label slapped on them by the marketing machine of the rich and famous. They will refer to their actions as “humanitarian gestures” and what they did as being in “the best tradition of philanthropy” and whatnot. On the other hand, if you aren’t rich, you have almost zero chance of acquiring this status. This last Christmas I saw an article saying that because of the pandemic, the food banks (Food banks in a rich country!) were struggling to keep their shelves stocked, so I went online and donated $100 to my local food bank. I did it anonymously, which rich people don’t do. If they are going to give away a chunk of change, they want visible credit for doing so. On a global scale I am a “rich American” but in America, I am a retired school teacher, so . . . middle middle-class. That $100 was a significant amount of money to me, being several percent of my monthly income (most of which is committed before I get paid, so a much larger part of my “disposable income”). How does that compare with Jeff Bezos, who apparently has added $637,000,000,000 to his net worth during the pandemic? If he were to give a million dollars to my food bank, that would constitute a significantly smaller fraction of his income that was my contribution. But Mr. Bezos, a twenty-first century Robber Baron, would be labeled a humanitarian and I will never be.

Putting on airs is a college course rich people take, I am convinced. They are better than us, just ask them. They are convinced that their riches are an indicator of their superiority. I think that when these people die, a wall should be put up where people can write what they really thought of those people when they were alive. They and their survivors should know what we really think. I would have to bring multiple pens to label Mr. Bezos.

March 15, 2021

The Anti-American Big Corporations

When it became clear to corporate leaders that the rest of the manufacturing world was catching up, what was their response? If you believed their rhetoric, it would have been to double down on American workers. These leaders would have reached out to labor unions and partnered with them to devise ways to shove American productivity, then the highest in the world, even higher. This was necessary, it is said, because while other workforces were nowhere near as productive as ours (most were not even close), the low cost of the labor in many of those countries allowed for that lack of productivity and still allowed for very healthy profit margins.

So, the segment of our society we call “corporate leaders” saw the writing on the wall and did . . . what? They lifted up themselves on their own ideology (“My Country Right or Wrong” “This is the greatest country in the world!” “American exceptionalism is what guides commerce.” etc.), rolled up their sleeves . . . and moved their factories to countries with cheaper labor.

Not long after this “movement” swept the bulk of American manufacturing jobs overseas, it was shown that the lower productivities, the difficulty of managing factories from far away, and the increased transportation costs (for both raw materials and finished goods) ate up all or most of the so-called savings harvested by moving production facilities overseas.

So, why did they do it? Mostly, it was for purposes of tax avoidance. Tariffs were low, so not much had to be paid to import those “American Made” goods (yes, they still claimed they were American made because they were made in American owned factories). But by running their “earnings” through shell corporations in low tax countries they could reduce the taxes they paid substantially.

So, this country was still their country, right or wrong, but they didn’t want to pay for any of it in either case.

We tend to exalt these corporate tycoons, but based upon their behaviors, they should be seen as pariahs instead. The taxes they avoided have been picked up by others (the rest of us and in the form of national debt). They have used political power, through bribes, er campaign donations, to gut American labor laws even after hiring new labor forces in other countries. They hate unions, just hate them. It used to be that corporate power was opposed only by labor unions and the government (remember anti-trust actions?). They eliminated the labor unions by changing the laws protecting them and protecting workers. They eliminated the government opposition by bribery, er campaign donations, and co-opting regulators (who often go to nice jobs in the industries they regulated after they leave government).

We could eliminate tax havens with a stroke of a pen, by changing the tax laws that allow for them. That does not happen because the legislators have been bought off. We could disadvantage companies who move overseas, but we don’t (guess why).

All we have the power to actually do is to change their social standing. Instead of idolizing the Jeff Bezoses and Elon Musks of this country, we should call them out on their abuses of their workers and our tax laws. These are far from nice people, we shouldn’t give them elevated social status to further inflate their already inflated egos. We should, instead, elevate what they owe to the culture and country that made what they have done possible. We should demand a higher level of civil virtue the bigger they get (. . . from those according to their ability . . . , btw this is not just to be found in Marx, but also Christian scripture). Instead we expect them to only manifest the worst of us . . . greed. Corporations have been sold the bogus idea that they should direct their efforts only to maximizing shareholder value. (Gee, I wonder who promoted that bogus idea? Step One: Find an economist needing a bit of money. Step Two: have them promote your bogus idea. Step Three: Spread a bit more cash around in economic circles to get the idea discussed. Done.)

These are the same corporations that have been making money hand over fist during the pandemic and who supported a government approach to the problem that guaranteed that the pandemic would last longer than anyone thought. Never let a good catastrophe, er opportunity, go to waste.

We are reaping what we have allowed to be sown.

February 20, 2021

Should We Treat Texas’s Self-Inflicted Wound?

In 2011, Texas faced a very similar storm that froze natural gas wells and affected coal plants and wind turbines, leading to power outages across the state. A decade later, Texas power generators have still not made all the investments necessary to prevent plants from tripping offline during extreme cold, experts said. These changes were not required of energy producers, merely recommended.

Other states can buy power from surrounding states to meet spiking demands. That’s because the continental US is powered by two big, highly connected grids: the Eastern Interconnection and the Western Interconnection. Texas, however, has insisted on having its own grid with little connection to the other two grids. It’s a point of pride for politicians there, who claim the state has “energy independence.”

So, even after seeing what can happen and being warned that extreme weather events are going to be more common dues to climate change, Texas took no action. Texas is also a conservative state that hammers home the principle of individual responsibility.

So . . .

So . . . the question is, should we, in the form of the federal government, bail out the state of Texas for their own bad behavior or should we insist upon individual responsibility of the state as a whole. This is a classic case, often used by conservatives, of a moral hazard. If we bail them out, we are rewarding their bad behavior. Heads they win, tails we lose.

This is compounded by the fact that the same thing happened ten years ago and all of the solutions to the problems then exposed were and are available and not particularly expensive.

Conservatives often say that we can “trust corporations as they would never do anything that would harm their reputations.” Apparently not.

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