Class Warfare Blog

January 7, 2019

But Who Is the Magician?

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

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

Just askin’.

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January 6, 2019

As an Authoritarian Trump is a Piker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 27, 2018

Fear Mongering for Fun and Profit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 25, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

December 21, 2018

Update on Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:29 am
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Currently I am reading two books by authors with similar names neither of which I had heard before. I have already commented on Sam Pizzagati’s The Rich Do Not Always Win, an history of the early twentieth century that resulted in the largest middle class in American history. I strongly recommend this book as the rhetoric on both sides of the “wealth inequality” debate is quite illuminating.

The second book is by Michael S. Gazziniga entitled Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. This book is fabulous as it is written by a neuroscientist, one who is taking his fellow scientists to task in the free will debate.

I have previously argued that it is far too early in the scientific investigation of free will to come to any conclusion, certainly not one with such large ramifications as whether we have free will or all of our decisions being determined by physical causes. This author provides a piece of this discussion that I had not heard before and it is a lollapalooza.

He starts with addressing free will in the context of responsibility, the primary question is “Can we hold people responsible for their decisions?” (If not our criminal justice system is far worse off than it already is.) This is enough of a foothold on free will to proceed. After going over the neurological research that seems to apply to the question he makes the following argument: consciousness is an emergent property of brains possessing enough connections. This is not a revelation, most people buy into this conclusion. He then goes on to claim that emergent properties represent a disconnect from the basic physical conditions that create the property in the first place! If this holds up, then determinism is done for, toast, kaput, won’t apply, because there are quite a few layers of emergent mental properties stacked up that the basic physical entities (atoms, molecules, DNA, genes, etc.) will not be able to get through.

He gives as an example the building of a car. A careful designer can create a car with its engine, transmission, differential, wheels, tires, electronics, etc. that will perform pretty much exactly as designed. (I have just finished reading a book on the design of the most recent iteration of the Ford GT race car. It was designed to win the 24 Hours at Le Mans race … and did. This is an example of determinism, the whole being the sum of its parts.) But … you knew that was coming, didn’t you? … but none of a car’s physical parameters, its specifications, can explain … traffic. When you take automobiles and roads, traffic shows up as an emergent property and traffic cannot be predicted from nor can it be determined by any car’s design! And if this weren’t enough, the author claims that the emergent properties affect the original vehicles through feedback. For example, this souped up race car might overheat badly in beep and creep traffic, so has to have to be modified or just garaged and not driven on normal roads. (I haven’t finished this second part of his argument but basically he argues “that the mind, which is somehow generated by the physical processes of the brain, constrains the brain.” The mind constrains the brain. Think about that. (There are many examples of this happening, but like I said I haven’t finished this part yet.)

This argument about emergent properties blocking deterministic causes seems to blow the argument of free will v. determinism out of the water with determinism the loser. We have to wait and see if it holds up.

So, what do you think? Is consciousness and therefore free will determined such that we actually have only the illusion of free will and making our own choices, or is making conscious choices an emergent ability not determined by physical inputs to our brains? (The author explains why we all have the perception of an “I” making decisions by the way, even though “I” does not exist.”

 

More on GMO’s (Gosh, What Could Go Wrong?)

Filed under: Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 8:46 am
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I have written about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from the position that these genetic modifications, unlike the ones our artificial selection processes have been created, skip over steps that may produce non-viable results and, therefore aren’t “vetted” by nature. In John Hively’s blog is a report on one case of “what could go wrong” by the generic engineer inventor himself. I think this is must reading for anyone concerned about GMOs, bees, our future survival, corporate bad behavior, etc.

GMO Potato Scientific Founder Says GMO Potato’s are a Pandora’s Box of Troubles

PS I am not saying we shouldn’t investigate GMOs; I am saying we should go slow because the safety protocols needed are immediately obvious.

 

December 13, 2018

Dichotomist Nonsense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 12:58 pm

I ran across a Harlan Ellison quote today: “I know that pain is the most important thing in the universe: greater than survival, greater than love, greater even than the beauty it brings about. For without pain, there can be no pleasure.” He is an author whose work I have read a lot, although he is not necessarily one of my favorites. (He is a brilliant and fabulous writer.) I plucked out this quote because it demonstrates erroneous dichotomous thinking. Dichotomies are two “opposites” such as pleasure and pain, good and evil, smart and stupid, etc. And a common argument is if you didn’t have the one, you wouldn’t also have the other. An example is that we all can’t be rich, so “the poor will always be among us.”

This is bullshit of course.

Let me give just one example: eating an ice cream cone. Is it good? (Assume it is your favorite ice cream, favorite cone, etc.) Is it good? You bet your ass it is good! How do you know? Must you compare that pleasurable sensation with poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick? (Doesn’t that sound silly?)

The reason these dichotomies are stupid is that the argument only works if there are only two possible states, that is they are alternatives. Either you have one or you have the other. But most things are not like that; in fact, very few are. Most things are parts of continuous ranges of values. So, the good of a favorite ice cream cone is immediately comparable with “normal” meaning “no ice cream cone.” Pain is not necessary to make a definition of pleasure. Everything can be compared to the “norm” or the status quo. So pain is not necessary as a framer of pleasure: non pleasure does that quite well.

This false thinking is behind all kinds of foolishness, such as happiness quotients. “Happy” and “Sad” are not two states. In between are unhappy and unsad in large manifolds. And happiness is not something to pursue. At best it is a marker. Short stints of feeling happy are a good sign that you are well balanced. The rest of the time things like contentment, gratitude, etc. are much more worthy states to be in.

False dichotomies are rampant in political argumentation. I have written often enough about the false dichotomy of “moral” and “immoral.” The vast majority of the time we are amoral, that is we act in ways that do not impinge upon morals or ethics. So, washing your car, driving to work, making the kids lunches: are these moral acts? And aren’t many of our actions a tiny bit immoral, even though we claim to be moral actors, by and large? Have you ever driven over the speed limit in a school zone, endangering members of the next generation? Have you ever been a scofflaw by walking against the pedestrian traffic lights? Have you ever been given too much change for a purchase and not returned the excess? Do any of these make you immoral or even the acts immoral? They are all matters of degree. They are all on a wide spectrum of behaviors. So why do we always pursue the false dichotomies that litter our thinking: liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, capitalists and socialists, believers and atheists? I suspect that it is because thinking is hard … and slow … so we would rather take the shorter, faster route to a position. I wonder of our democracy (being different from other democracies) can survive such laziness?

“The majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.” Alex de Tocqueville (observing U.S. citizens)

 

December 8, 2018

The President Has an Opinion (Breaking News?)

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:20 pm
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The President has opinions. He shares them mostly through social media channels, primarily Twitter. Because he is President, people pay attention and discuss his opinions … but, should we?

There was once a series of commercials for a financial advice firm (E.F. Hutton). The basic trope involved two business types discussing their investments and one of the two would say “Well, my advisor is E.F. Hutton and he says …” which was a cue for everyone nearby to be quiet and lean in to hear this advice because “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” The message was that that firm’s particular opinion was valuable.

So, what makes an opinion valuable? The good ones seem to help us understand the topic, in its context, and see it for what it is. They explain, clarify, and help us make decisions about their content.

So, are President Trump’s opinions considered, well-reasoned, based upon basic truths, helpful, clarifying … ?

No.

Mr. Trump seems to understand very little. The helpful questions he has advanced came from others and he shows no ability to actually do anything regarding those topics. He seems to have no depth of understanding of even simple issues, let alone complex ones and seems to be addicted to lying frequently. He seems to be unaware and uninterested in how our government is structured and how it works.

So, why would this person’s opinions be of any note at all?

Just asking.

December 5, 2018

The Rich, They Are Not Like Us

The Republicans like to frame the rich as “job creators.” Well, one of the very rich, Alice Walton, reclaimed the crown as the richest woman in the world, as her fortune leapt from $33.8 billion to $46 billion over the past year. In September 2016, she was reported to own over US $11 billion in WalMart shares alone.

So, did she earn that money? Did she make that money? What did she contribute to society that so much money came to her? Is she creating jobs?

Owning stocks and investing in stocks has been shown to be the sham it really is. We are taught in school that selling stock is a way for businesses to finance their growth. This is clearly poppycock. Stocks are purely speculative instruments. The Apple corporation acquired $95 million in its initial stock offering. It hasn’t issued stock or gotten money from a new sale since. It has paid out billions to its stock holders in dividends. Imagine a bank load for $95 million that required billions of dollars to be paid back and the loan is still out!

Alice’s father, Sam Walton (founder of WalMart) made the money, she has simply played money games to expand the quantity.

The Founding Fathers comment often and long, as have many other prominent Americans since, that allowing accumulated wealth to accumulate by inheritance is un-American and counter to democratic principles. Yet, our inheritance taxes have been reduced to pure vapor under the guidance of bribes from rich people to Republican and Democrat politicians. This is what the rich like to call a “good investment.” They offer bribes of a few hundred thousand dollars here and there and they benefit by the many millions, if not billions.

Did you notice that Alice Walton’s net worth went up $12.2 billion in just one year? The Republican tax cuts played a big part in that. And, in case you are wondering, to spend that additional $12,200,000,000 in one year, she would have to spend $6,500,000 every hour of every work day of the year! How much money is enough? Apparently in a capitalist system there is no upper limit.

December 2, 2018

The Real War on Christmas

I play on the Quora website from time to time and the number of questions trolling atheists is truly astounding. Here is just one of them: “If atheists don’t believe in God or Jesus, why do they celebrate Christmas and Easter, the day Jesus Christ was born in the day he rose from the dead … ?” This brought to mind the War on Christmas promoted by Fox (sic) News and leads me to this post.

Which Christian saint is this?

Both the holidays mentioned in the Quora question were highjacked by Christians, that is they existed before and Christians took them over. This was a part of their strategy to obliterate other religions. Christian church buildings were constructed on the foundations of pagan temples, Christian calendar dates were moved to coincide with dates on pagan calendars, and pagan holidays were supplanted by Christian holidays by highjacking the festivals associated with them.

If you look at the iconic aspects of Christmas (feasting, decorated trees moved indoors, gift giving, Santa Claus, etc.) or Easter (egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, May pole dances (archaic), etc.) none of them are associated with Christian practices. Those two holidays were associated with the winter solstice and spring equinox festivals of antiquity. The eggs and rabbits of Easter were fertility symbols associated with the beginning of a new growing season. The word Easter is derived from the name of a fertility goddess (Eostre) and has no Christian roots.

Christmas is supposed by Christians to be a celebration of the birth of the Christ even though the dates do not match up nor do the celebrations. And think about it. If the creator of the Earth and the Heavens and Adam and Eve wanted to create a human representative to spread the good news, why would he impregnate a human girl and make his new “creation” go through diapers, puberty, school, deprivation, hunger, disease, and all of that for a mission that wouldn’t start until the guy was 30 years old? Is that how you would expect an all-powerful, all-knowing god to behave? Nothing that Jesus is claimed to have done prior to the age of thirty has anything to do with the so-called salvation plan. When Yahweh wanted humans in his garden, he made them post haste, as fully formed adults. So, the Christian claim that Christmas celebrates the birth of a god, it is celebrating a 30 year waste of time by a assumed to be perfect god.

So when Christians harp on “remembering the reason for the season,” please do. It had nothing to do with Christianity, so much so that the Pilgrims in America would have nothing to do with it. This should be meaningful to all of you original intent constitutionalists. And it takes a lot of chutzpah for those who highjacked such a celebration (not a holy day) to criticize those who celebrate it the way it was originally intended.

 

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