Class Warfare Blog

June 25, 2017

American Principles or ?

Filed under: History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 7:01 pm
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I am finally getting around to reading Gordon W. Prange’s wonderful history of the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 (At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor). There is an incredible amount of detail in this book, less than was actually available as the book was written for a lay audience.

One detail jumped out at me regarding a meeting between Cordell Hull, our Secretary of State and the new Japanese ambassador, Adm. Kichisaburo Nomura. The plans for the attack on Pearl Harbor were well under way but the Ambassador was ignorant of that fact as he could have been a security leak. Japan was, however, very aggressively pursuing a larger sphere of influence and had its eye on the oil and other resources of Southeast Asia. The two men decided to meet informally to see if they could improve the relationship between Japan and the U.S.

On April 16, 1941, Hull presented Nomura with a set of principles that Hull felt had to underlie any such negotiations. Here are those points:

  1. Respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of each and all nations;
    2. Support of the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries;
    3. Support for the principle of equality, including equality of commercial opportunity;
    4. Nondisturbance of the status quo in the Pacific except as the status quo may be altered by peaceful means.

When I read those points, they seemed an innocuous set of points, a definition of how a free democratic state should behave … and then I realized that I couldn’t recall any point in our history in which we ourselves exhibited those behaviors.

We are constantly using economic and military force to meddle in other country’s affairs. We put the Shah of Iran back on his throne in 1953 after destabilizing the government of a democratically-elected progressive president of Iran. We have assassinated politicians all over South and Central America. We trumped up a reason for war in Viet Nam (The Gulf of Tonkin episode) and trumped up a reason for war with Spain in Cuba (Remember the Maine!). We are currently pursuing a global assassination campaign using drone aircraft (Thanks, President Obama!) and we wage economic warfare almost continuously.

The irony of these “negotiating points,” is I read them in a book centered on events in Hawaii, an independent country that we took over based upon phony claims by wealthy businessmen, for whom the coup would be financially very beneficial. The overthrow of the legitimate government of Hawaii violated all four of the principles, laid down by Secretary Hull.

Is that what the U.S. stands for? Bullshit and smokescreens for doing whatever the Hell we want? Seems like it is. President Trump is not an anomaly in this case.

June 24, 2017

Call Them Scum and See them Flock to Your State!

Who said “ye shall reap what ye sow?” (That particular phrase is not in the Bible, but equivalent phrases are, many times.)

Republicans have been beating on teachers for years, calling them “pigs at the public trough,” and undermining their collective bargaining rights, as well as blaming them for all of the ills of our public schools. (The last complaint is like blaming auto workers for the bad designs of General Motors cars in the late twentieth century.)

The law of unintended consequences applies, though, and Nevada, a leading Republican bastion, is facing a 22% shortage (!), that’s one in five, in qualified teachers in their schools (see here). Who needs ‘em, you ask? Ask the kids in classes that have one of the bodies plugged into place in their stead. The qualifications for teachers were not established by teachers, they were established by democratically-elected school boards and democratically-elect law makers to set minimum standards of competence for teachers. What does it say when your schools boast of having one of five teachers not up to minimum standards?

But then, many in the GOP are in favor of doing away with democratically-elected school boards anyway. Replace them with corporate boards. They are much more responsible to their communities needs.

Missing in all of this is the reason the GOP and their conservative backers have gone after unions: basically teachers tend to vote democratic and had the temerity to form unions which not only work for better benefits and rights for teachers, but also advocate for students. Them students should learn to sit down and shut up and be happy with whatever paycheck they end up with.

Too much democracy is not a good thing. This is also why GOP state governments are disempowered local jurisdictions (cities, counties, etc.) wholesale.

This is not “alt-right” stuff but alternate universe stuff. Sheesh!

We Don’ Need No Regyoolayshuns … Education Edition

Check out “Multi-state investigation alleges Akron-area charter school founder bilked millions from parents, students, taxpayers” (Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com).

The “pro choice” education lobby seems to be more of a “pro-corruption” advocacy group as more and more of these scams are popping up. Politicians, paid for by the scammers, insist no public oversight is needed. After all it is just money we are giving them, and the responsibility to teach our children. Nothing to see here, move along.

June 23, 2017

Details of California’s New Single Payer Health Insurance Plan

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:32 am
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My original home state, California, is moving ahead with a plan to create a single-payer, state-run health insurance program for all Californians. If California pulls this off, with over a tenth of the entire population of the U.S.,  it will be a massive demonstration project to use as a model for the whole country. (If it does work, expect the Republicans to drop their line about the states being the laboratories of democracy.”)

The difficulty, so far, is to how pay for this service. According to the Los Angeles Times “How would California cover this $331-billion bill? For the most part, much the same way it covers healthcare spending right now. Roughly 70% of the state’s current spending is paid for through public programs, including Medicare and MediCal. This funding — totaling about $225 billion — would continue, as is required by law. It would simply flow through Healthy California rather than existing programs.
“The state would still need to raise about $106 billion a year to cover the cost of replacing private insurance. This could be done with two new taxes.
“First, California could impose a gross receipts tax of 2.3% on businesses, but with an exemption for the first $2 million of revenue. Through such an exemption, about 80% of all businesses in California — small firms — would pay nothing in gross receipts tax, and medium-sized businesses would pay an effective tax rate of less than 1%.
“Second, the state could institute a sales tax increase of 2.3%. The tax would not apply to housing, utilities, food purchased for the home or a range of services, and it could be offset for low-income families with a 2% income tax credit.

Something doesn’t add up here, but I do not have all of the details. What doesn’t add up for me is the money currently being paid for health care as a “fringe benefit” to workers. In my last job, my health insurance benefit constituted about 7% of my wages. Since employee costs for my company constituted 80% of the total cost of doing business, this means that those benefits cost about 5.5% of the entire enterprise’s budget. If the state supplies health care for a 2.3% tax, businesses are getting a windfall of about 3% of their total expenditures. What happens to that money? Does it go to employees (it is their benefit) or does it revert to employers (as a windfall)?

I know this is a simplistic approach, but my thinking was that employed people were already paying from $6000 to $17,000 per year for their insurance (either as a benefit or out-of-pocket). Note these are rough estimates based upon individual and “family of four” values I have read. Those monies are currently being spent and if those insurance policies became moot and a cheaper state-sponsored policy (cheaper because overhead would be lower, a la Medicare), there would be no need for additional taxes, etc. for those folks, who are still the largest segment of the market. In other words, instead of paying for a business-based fringe benefit or a separate policy, those monies go to the employees and then are paid in taxes to provide the state-run health insurance. There would be no need of a sales tax per se.

Of course, it all depends on the numbers, but I think the drafters of these plans need to provide some information regarding the disposition of the amounts of money currently being paid by employers for health insurance benefits.

Addendum
According to Zane Benefits “In 2015, the average company-provided health insurance policy totaled $6,251 a year for single coverage. On average, employers paid 83 percent of the premium, or $5,179 a year. Employees paid the remaining 17 percent, or $1,071 a year.

“For family coverage, the average policy totaled $17,545 a year with employers contributing, on average, 72 percent or $12,591. Employees paid the remaining 28 percent or $4,955 a year.

Note that when they say “Employers paid,” this actually constitutes part of an employee’s compensation as agreed or negotiated into the employment contract. The question is: what happens to these negotiated sums when another entity takes over the health insurance function? Should the employers keep the money previously paid for private insurance and pay a tax or should the employees get that money and then pay a tax for the service.

Does this make a difference? Hell, yes. If we get the money and then pay the tax, then we can see how much of our tax money is actually going out in taxes. If the businesses pay it, it is hidden from us, plus the businesses have lobbyists who would be chiseling against that tax continuously.

June 22, 2017

Trumpcare Will Remove Drug Addiction Treatment Because …

According to Nicholas Kristof’s NY Times column today:

A Times investigation published this month estimated that more than 59,000 Americans died in 2016 of drug overdoses, in the largest annual jump in such deaths ever recorded in the U.S. One reason is the spread of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is cheap and potent, leading to overdoses.

About as many Americans are expected to die this year of drug overdoses as died in the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”

Read that last sentence again and then line it up with the GOP plan to remove addiction treatment from insurance policy requirements.

Now you know where their hearts are: the GOP is only interested in tax cuts for the wealthy. The rest of us, very, very little.

Bad Polling Leads to …

Note I have been very busy lately, so haven’t been posting much. Should be back to normal soon. Steve

I am a regular reader of Religion Dispatches, which I recommend to you. In today’s article, “GOP ‘Stealthcare’ Bill Reveals Catholic Bishops’ Priorities,” the topic is, of course, the GOP healthcare bill. (I didn’t say “new” healthcare bill because there hasn’t been an “old” healthcare bill since Medicare.) Foregoing a discussion of the main topic as we still do not know what is in that bill, I was struck by this section:

“A new Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows just how successful the effort to forge the church’s opposition to reproductive and LGBT rights into a new political wedge issue to motivate right-leaning religious voters has been. According to the poll, which probed the political divide between urban and rural voters:

“Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack, compared with just over half of suburbanites and fewer than half of urbanites. When personal politics is taken into account, the divide among rural residents is even larger: 78 percent of rural Republicans say Christian values are under attack, while 45 percent of rural Democrats do.

“This particular divide, and this widespread sense of Christian persecution, is relatively recent. As Julie Ingersoll noted here on RD, while evangelical leaders had tried to gin up a sense of Christian persecution going back to the mid-1990s, as late as 2005, “the argument that Christians were a minority in need of protection was not persuasive in the broader religious right.” But a “little over a decade later, conservative Christians across the country … now see themselves as targeted by powerful elites, one step away from imprisoning and executing people for their faith.”

I find such polling to be destructive as it asks people questions like “Do you feel Christian values are under attack?” without defining what Christian values are. According to Wikipedia, “The term Christian values historically refers to the values derived from the teachings of Jesus and taught by Christians throughout the history of the religion.” What comes to my mind are: give away your possessions and follow Jesus (Renunciation of Worldly Goods), the poor will always be among us, so the need our help, turn the other cheek (Renunciation of Violence), love your enemies (Unconditional Love), along with a few other things.

If you were to ask U.S. citizens if they should give away their wealth and sell their worldly goods, what do you think their answer would be? And couldn’t taxing the rich be seen as a way to help the rich get into Heaven? Didn’t Jesus say a rich man had about as much chance of getting into Heaven as … well, you know?

And, if the poll takers were thinking about one thing as being paramount: belief in a Protestant Christian god (not the Jewish one, not the Muslim one, not the Indian or Asian ones), I can see how they might think that their religion is “under attack.” Atheists are bold nowadays, are we not?

But I recall that in the 1960’s, my high school and college years, some wags did a poll in an interesting way. They tried to get people to sign a petition. The petition, word for word, was the Bill of Rights, Amendments 1-10 of the Constitution. But the typeface was one clearly made by a computer, using no “old timey” script as a give away. They struggled to find anyone willing to sign their petition! Hey, details matter in polls.

More recently, polls have shown that approval rates for Obamacare were much lower than approval rates of the main features of Obamacare, that is if asked “Should pre-existing medical conditions allow insurance companies to raise the price of your insurance or to refuse to insure you?” The answer was a resounding “no.” Obamacare? Boo, hiss!

The religion issue of Christians feeling persecuted is relatively recent as was pointed out in the article and mainly made up out of whole cloth by conservative radio talk show hosts and the like of Fox (sic) News. Since people in rural areas get larger doses of this propaganda, it likely has a greater effect.

If the poll questions were to ask things like “Should we collectively do more for the poor and less unfortunate?” the answer would likely be a high percent yeses. If it were phrased as “Should the government do more for the poor and less unfortunate?” I suspect the answer would be more to the “no” end of the spectrum. This is because our “governments” have been characterized as something other than “we collectively” by conservative propaganda (something evil, bwa ha ha).

How you phrase these questions determines to a large extent how people answer them.

June 6, 2017

And the Cure for Immorality … Jesus!

Over the last century and a half, the impact of evangelical protestant Christians on our culture has only grown. Their basic message was and is that the immorality riddling our society can only be cured by accepting Jesus into your heart. (Our current Vice-president and former president George W. Bush are both of this ilk.) They have risen into the political stratosphere of this country to the extent that they are determining policy efforts in major ways to put their ideology into the form of laws governing us all.

But, is their claim correct? To test it, I decided to check some numbers. If they are right, then the prisons should be populated with heathens, pagans, and members of all of those other non-Christian misbegotten religions. The wonderful people at www.fivethirtyeight.com supplied some data, to wit:

This chart compares the population of prisoners to that of the general population. For example: atheists are roughly 10 times more likely to be found in the general population than in prison. Huh, maybe being an atheist  leads to a crime-free life. With Catholics, it seems to be a push, the percent of prisoners reporting to be Catholics is the same as reported by the general populace.

Protestants, which would include the evangelicals are very close to 1:1, maybe 2:1?, indicating that, if Jesus is the cure, apparently it doesn’t work so well, certainly not as well as being an atheist. Of course, the Evangelicals have prepared spin for this situation which is that those people in prison have not truly accepted Jesus into their hearts and, thus, “are not true Christians.” This, of course, is not based upon knowing anything about the prisoners, just that their ideology proclaims that “true Christians” cannot do illegal things, by definition.

If they were looking for a cure, look at the Pentecostals. Very few of them run afoul of the law, so these Evangelicals should be selling Pentecostalism as the cure for society’s immorality, not evangelicalism.

For those wanting to paint Pagans, Muslims, and Native Americans as “real bad guys” and blame their religious affiliation, we need to look in a mirror. We have been locking up non-White people for a very long time for, well, not being white. If a white person had committed their crimes, they would more likely be in county jails for a shorter time or get off scot-free.* The surest way to avoid a murder wrap is to kill someone while wearing a policeman’s uniform. We do not want to believe our police are capable of irrational killings, so they don’t. Our faith is indeed strong.

* So as to prevent illiterate criticism of my use of the term scot-free, please be aware that “scot,” in this case, is from the Old Norse word “skot” meaning something to the effect of “payment” or “contribution.” In English, “scot” initially just meant “tax.” The phrase scot-free was first used in reference to municipal tax levies. It does not refer to a Scot, which is a person of Scottish descent. Currently, only rich Republicans seek the phrase as a descriptor.

May 30, 2017

If the Universe Is So Vast, Where Is Everybody?

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:29 am
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The question in the title is a variant of “Are we alone?” Are there other sentient life forms in our galaxy? Enquiring minds want to know.

This post is prompted by a review of a new book (ALIENS: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, edited and with an introduction by Jim Al-Khalili).  I have not read the book and do not intend to. The reason? The discussion is premature.

One of the powers of human minds is to imagine (possibly the greatest of human powers) but it has a gigantic flaw: garbage in, garbage out. If our imagination has little to no data to work on we come up with quite fallacious outcomes. This is how we got demons and gods and unicorns and leprechauns.

So, what evidence do we have regarding the universe? We have optical and EMR evidence for the existence of billion upon billions of stars in our galaxy and billions upon billions of galaxies in our universe. But realize we have not known this for long. One hundred years ago, we knew that the Milky Way was a manifestation of other stars in our “neighborhood” but we though that that represented the totality our universe, too. We had observed fuzzy spots in those star fields but hadn’t acquired the evidence to recognize them as other galaxies. And while we had speculated that many of those stars would have planets about them, we had no direct evidence that was so until quite recently. The first actual planet circling another star was identified in … wait for it … 1992. So, we have been aware that there are other planets “out there” for all of 25 years. We have subsequently identified hundreds of others.

Do we have any evidence that life exists on those planets? No, but we do not have any evidence that life does not exist either. At this point, we are not yet ready to make those discoveries (although we are close).

The question in the title implies that since there are so many stars, there must also be unbelievably large numbers of planets, and if life is not an isolated accident, or divine bit of magic, occurring here and only here, then where are those other peoples? There is a mistake embedded in this question though, leading to flights of imagination fueled only by fairy dust. The universe is indeed vast, but the primary constituent of our universe is empty space, aka nothing. The next closest star to us is about four light years away from us. To go there to get direct evidence of what exists there, we would have to travel for four years at the speed of light. Since the fastest speed ever achieved by a man-made object is about 25 miles per second, and the speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second, at that speed (as an average), a trip to Alpha Centauri would take a bit under 35,000 years. If we could get their magically and then sent data back to Earth, it would take four years to get here and when it arrived the information would be four years old.

The universe is unimaginably vast, but this is also misleading because it is also vast in time. A civilization could have arisen around Alpha Centauri, to the point that it was capable of building spacecraft capable of very high speeds who could have made the trip in under 20 years, let’s say. But if this occurred 100,000 years ago, there wouldn’t have been anyone here to notice. (That doesn’t stop the imagination, of course, … Ancient Aliens!)

The universe is vast in time as well as space. In order to generate a signal that we could interpret as synthetic instead of natural, that civilization would have to exist within a small radius in space and time. If it is over 100 years out of phase with us now, we wouldn’t have a chance of detecting it. So, 100 years in time is our bubble. How many years has the universe been around? That number is 14,000,000,000 years, roughly. Our “time” as a species capable of detecting another sentient species in our vicinity is therefore about 0.0000025% of the time that has occurred to now. Considering that our spatial bubble is roughly 100 light years wide and the universe is roughly 28,000,000,000 light years wide, we have in out neighborhood, 0.0000012% of the universe’s space. Consequently, we have a combined fraction of the universe’s space and time of  3 x 10–14%. In other words, 99.99999 … 9999% of the universe is outside of our purview, either existing in the past or so far away as to be unattainable.

Something you need to know. Those extra-solar planet hunters … when they “find” evidence of yet another such planet, if that planet is, say, 540 light years away, when the light gets to us it is showing us what was going on 540 years ago. Even if there were a planet with a civilization what could produce radio waves or some such we could detect, that information is 540 years old. What is to say what will happen to us in the next 540 years? Right now our prospects of existing that long do not look good. At the rate we are shitting in our own food bowl, we might not have much of a civilization to be found by aliens.

May 24, 2017

A Picture is Worth …

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:53 am
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Which of these men is happy to be there and which is not? Which stands off to the side so as to not be too closely associated with the others? Which of the women looks happy to be there?

Joy, oh joy, is only felt by the vacuous one.

May 22, 2017

Terrorism: A Battle Between Good and Evil?

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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