Class Warfare Blog

July 11, 2018

Donald Trump, Our Lame Ass Wheeler-Dealer

Our President, Donald Trump, is currently meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, a real wheeler-dealer. Mr. Trump insisted all through his campaign that he would “Make America Great Again” because he was such a good negotiator, that he would negotiate much better “deals” for the U.S. and reverse the trend of “bad deals” we had been making. So far it seems that the deals he is capable of making are pulling out of negotiated agreements with a “so sue me” shrug (the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, NAFTA, no embassy in Jerusalem agreement, etc.).

His evidence for his expertise was lodged primarily in the fact that he wrote a book with the title “The Art of the Deal.”

Now that you have seen his writing ability via his Twitter tweets, you can see that he did not really write that book, a ghostwriter did, a gentleman by the name of Tony Schwartz. If you are unfamiliar with ghostwriting, a ghostwriter is a writer for hire. A person provides information in the form of written notes and memorabilia or whatever or does oral interviews and then the ghostwriter bangs out a book that can be claimed to have been written by that person, “the author.” Easy peasy.

So, what kind of deal did Mr. Trump cut with his ghostwriter? Easily it is the worst ghostwriting deal ever made. It is simultaneously the best ghostwriting deal made … for the ghostwriter.

First, Mr. Trump got a $500,000 advance for the book. Schwartz was given half of that. Half! (Unheard of.) Trump also gave Schwartz half of the royalties … half! (Unheard of.) And then when you look at the cover, Schwartz’s name is on the same line as the author’s and is the same size! (Unheard of!)

Here’s a cover of a random book on Amazon.com that was ghostwritten. The ghostwriter is usually listed appended to the author’s name in smaller, less prominent print, in this case it is “Jason Turbow with Michael Duca.” I had to struggle to actually read the ghostwriter’s name as it doesn’t exactly jump out at you. Now look at Trump’s book cover again.

So, the Supreme Commander of Deal Making made the world’s worst deal with the ghostwriter of his book. If you offered the same deal (without details) to any current ghostwriter now and ask them if they would take it ($250,000 advance, half the royalties, equal billing) they would say “Yes, … hell yes! If you went on and asked “Do you care what the book is about?” the answer would be “No, why?”

And this idiot is sitting down to “make deals” with Vladimir Putin, former KGB officer, master politician, etc. Can you spell Manchurian Candidate, boys and girls?

PS If you want the gory details on the book deal, The New Yorker did the long form piece on it. You should be able to find it.

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It Figures

When the Trump tax cuts were imposed (you remember don’t you: the small temporary tax cuts for us and the large permanent tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy) it was claimed by the Repubs that the money saved by the corporations would end up spurring growth, even result in raises for workers. (Right, those results were to be delivered via unicorn, I believe.)

It was pointed out that the last time such a tax cut was implemented, corporations spent the bulk of the savings in buying back shares of their own companies. Well, surprise, surprise, the same thing happened this time. (Who’d have known it could be this complicated?) In a post on the Naked Capitalism web site (Michael Olenick: Update Confirms That Share Buybacks Are Still Corporate Suicide) extensive studies on the effects of such buybacks show that “not only do buybacks not lead to growth in a company’s market value, they are strongly correlated to a declining market value.”

In other words, the effect of their behaviors is not to “grow” the companies but actually to “shrink” them! To quote from the piece:

Corporate executives and directors are apparently bereft of ideas and the confidence to make long-term investments. Rather than using record profits, and record amounts of borrowed money, to invest in new plants and equipment, develop new products, improve service, lower prices or raise the wages and skills of their employees, they are “returning” that money to shareholders. Corporate America, in effect, has transformed itself into one giant leveraged buyout….

And since “everyone” is doing it …

The most significant and troubling aspect of this buyback boom, however, is that despite record corporate profits and cash flow, at least a third of the shares are being repurchased with borrowed money, bringing the corporate debt to an all-time high, not only in an absolute sense but also in relation to profits, assets and the overall size of the economy.

This not only burdens those corporations, but also drags down the entire economy.

So, if these buybacks are not what anyone might call the best use of those tax savings, why are they being done?

Okay, boys and girls, whenever anything political happens what are we supposed to do? (Follow the money!) That’s right! So, who benefits from these buybacks the most? It turns out that … wait for it … it is the corporation executives who actually benefit the most. You see the buybacks inflate the prices for the corporation’s stock. CEO’s and their ilk are now being remunerated largely via stock options. And, corporation executives constitute the largest segment of the 0.1% of “earners.” And that class of “earners” is the one making the bulk of political contributions currently. Does the picture now come together for you?

Think of the corporation executives as sort of modern pirates. (Can you see the eye patches and hear the “aaaarghs”?) These executives started out as treasure ship captains but, well the temptation was too great, and they stole their own ships. Well what is the government’s politicians to do? When they sailed into action to recapture the ill gotten gains, they received handsome “gifts” from the pirates to the extent that they have become dependent upon those “gifts” and now seek to facilitate the pirate’s behaviors. The government stopped pursuing the pirates for taxes and actually invited them to submit their ideas on how the government could be run better.

And all of the rich assholes lived happily ever after.

When are we going to wake up? Stock buybacks should be illegal or strictly regulated (as they used to be). They are tools to manipulate the stock market by insiders, for Pete’s sake! But when we ask our politicians what the intend to do all we get is “Arrgh!” and a wink from under an uplifted eye patch.

July 10, 2018

The Effing Elites Do Not Care About You or Me … Unless We are Making them Money … and Possibly Not Even Then

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:25 pm
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Read it and weep.

https://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-epa-and-the-pentagon-downplayed-toxic-pfas-chemicals?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter

How Stupid Are We?

Are teachers taking “penny wise, pound foolish” to a new extreme? Not long ago we were treated to a display of anti-worker politics in the state of Wisconsin by its newly elected Republican governor and its republican dominated state houses. According to OurFuture.org, there were consequences for state workers “One Wisconsin labor organization representing teachers lost 60 percent of its members. Overall in Wisconsin, the percentage of union members in the workforce declined from 14.1 percent in 2011 to 9 percent in 2016. Simultaneously, pay and benefits declined. For teachers, salaries sank 2.6 percent and benefits dropped 18.6 percent.”

Now, consider that union dues are somewhere around $100 per month, working ten months per year so the total cost is about $1000. By “saving” that money by dropping their union membership or refusing to pay “fair share fees” (which BTW by law cannot include charges for political representation, which makes the SCOTUS ruling based upon free speech a farce), this is what the total cost was: apparently those unions lost $3000 per year in fringe benefits right away (https://money.cnn.com/2017/11/17/news/economy/wisconsin-act-10-teachers/index.html) and then they lost even more in salary reductions and missed salary increases. Save $1000 to lose $6000-$10,000 or possibly your job! What a bargain! Sign me up … not!

Boy, all of you teachers fleeing your unions or refusing to pay fair share fees are really showing them!

Politically teachers need to wake up. The people behind these political moves are anti-union, pro-business plutocrats. They are not your friends. You do not have access to them. Your union, on the other hand, is made up of your colleagues, who you do have access to, and if you do not like the direction your union is going, you can run for office and change it from within!

I learned this lesson the hard way also … but I did learn it.

Support your local union or start counting your food stamps because that is where you are going.

 

 

 

July 9, 2018

The Truth About Tariffs

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:27 pm
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I ran across a Wisconsin cheese maker (Jim Sartori, chief executive of Sartori Cheese) making this comment recently:
“I’m not an expert but I have never found an example where tariffs have been used as an effective trade policy.”

Yep, he is not an expert.

Now, please note at the start, I am not supporting President Trump’s trade tariffs, quite the contrary. Throwing tariffs around like a drunken sailor, imposing them on former enemies, long time allies, and random other countries makes no sense at all. There is no defense for his actions whatsoever. The supposed justification, that we are being played like chumps surrounding trade, is ludicrous on the surface and ludicrous all of the way down. If anything, we have been the trade bullies extraordinaire (in our historical time). Ask Hawaii about being a trade bully. The U.S. government got behind some rapacious pineapple farmers and staged a coup to make their business efforts more successful. Hawaii was a sovereign nation, and then we “annexed” it. (That is government speak for invaded and overthrew the rightful government.)

But “tariffs as an effective trade policy” Holy moly! Tariffs have been the primary positive factor in creating all of the major global economies existent. I can’t think of a country’s economy that got to any size without a strong program of tariffs.

Mainstream economists, you know the deluded kind, have pushed the “law of comparative advantage” for ages. According to this law, an undeveloped country is better off selling a developed country its raw materials and then buying back the goods manufactured by the more developed country, paid for from the receipts from the sale of their natural resources. Everyone sticks to what they are good at. Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? Of course, the economists don’t point out that using their own concepts, the “value added” to the raw materials makes the manufactured goods more expensive than the raw materials and the less developed country cannot afford much of the good stuff. It also means that the less developed countries will never have the capacity to make their own stuff as the other countries are always better at what they need done. This is exactly the way the developed economies want it; no more competition please. All of you undeveloped stay just the way you are, please.

Take, as an example, the Japanese car industry. Japan makes as many cars now as any other country does (save China I believe) and is notorious for their quality. But right after World War 2, they had hardly any industrial capacity at all, because most of what they had had been bombed into dust. If they had taken the economists advice, they never would have gotten their car companies going because other countries made them better and more efficiently than they could right after World War 2. But the Japanese were smart, they realized that all great economies developed from protected roots and they protected their nascent car companies until they could stand on their own feet. Now they are preeminent, all because of the protects of tariffs.

An Aside I have to mention that when the Japanese started making a dent in our car market, we imposed tariffs on them. When we put a tariff on the prices of the cars, they shipped a zillion inexpensive, yet good quality cars in and they sold like hot cakes. Then we imposed a limit on the number of cars they could import here, and they instead started selling luxury cars in large numbers and making huge profits. It is ad it the U.S. didn’t learn anything from the soviets regarding running a controlled economy. End of Aside

Sometimes the Japanese protected native industries like rice growing because they do not want to be dependent upon others for this important staple. Other times their tariffs were to protect growing industries, just like everyone else.

Pay attention, people, every country does this! It is only sensible. It should be standard economic theory, except that the economists and the economics curriculum has been bought and paid for by plutocrats.

Still, what Trump is doing is incoherent, a wailing against the wind, and will be shown to be very ineffective … and then Trump will blame Obama. If he had a better thought out plan, the Wisconsin cheese makers wouldn’t be quaking in their boots right now as the tariffs being imposed upon us are not in the same areas that Trump’s tariffs are: they are in areas very sensitive to Mr. Trump’s base, so mainstream America, brace for the impact of Mr. Trump’s tariffs; they won’t be felt by Mr. Trump but they will be felt by you.

 

July 4, 2018

Republicans (Gasp!) Tax Churches!

Well, the Tax and Spend Republicans are at it again, this time accompanied by the howling from their evangelical Christian supporters. In their latest omnibus tax bill, you know the one in which they gave temporary small tax breaks to you and me and permanent large tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, they also included this tidbit: churches, hospitals, orchestras and other historically tax-exempt organizations are to begin paying a 21 percent tax on some types of fringe benefits they provide their employees!

I am sure the Republicans will blame this on the Democrats because those organizations don’t pay income taxes, consequently lawmakers couldn’t take away fringe-benefit deductions, so instead they created a 21 percent tax on the value of some of nonprofit employees’ benefits.

The main benefits affected are transportation-related, like free parking in a lot or a garage and subway and bus passes. It also targets meals provided to workers and, in some circumstances, may affect gym memberships.

Apparently this is just the camel’s nose under the tent. Next up the major fringe benefits of parsonages, vehicles, and other benefits provided to clergy. And then, churches will have to pay property taxes because, well, fires aren’t satanic, so there is no freedom of religion distinction applicable to fees needed to support fire departments as well as police departments (needed to protect Christians from atheists and lesbians trying to take away their religious freedoms).

Ah, sweet progress! Let the sacred cow harvest begin!

July 2, 2018

Can Christians Lie?

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:03 am
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Note On rare occasions I get new viewers so I feel compelled to explain why religion pops up so often on a Class Warfare blog. Simply it is the case that religions do not survive, let alone thrive, unless they function to coerce the labor of the masses to serve the benefit of the religious and secular elites. This has been true since the dawn of civilization, some 5500 years, and I am not the first to recognize this. Religion is a weapon used in the Class War by the rich and powerful against the rest of us.

A post on Religion Dispatches asked the above question although it appears to be akin to click bait as the answer is tossed off as “Of course.” but goes on to detail fundamentalist dissembling. The post (Can Christians Lie? How Conservative Evangelical Bible Interpretation Has Shaped ‘Truth’ by Christopher Douglas, Jun 29, 2018) goes on to address several instances where lying might be claimed. (This clarification may end up being the one positive contribution of Donald Trump to American society.)

In one segment of the article the young Earth creationist Henry Morris, was addressed as someone who actually believes what he espouses. The article states:

“Is Morris lying? Not really, since he really believes evolutionary science is wrong. He isn’t really or obviously insincere or duplicitous. Does he use his considerable scientific literacy disingenuously, to muddy the evidence and cast doubt on relatively accepted science? Yes—but he believes, with apparent sincerity, that this science is wrong and that his views are true. It’s not a lie if one has already convinced oneself of the truth of one’s stance.”

It’s not a lie if one has already convinced oneself of the truth of one’s stance. . . .

This claim is based upon the assumption that intention to deceive is necessary for a lie to be told. But I think this is not so straightforward. Mr. Morris co-authored with John C. Whitcomb the book The Genesis Flood (1961), so he is somewhat of an expert on what he claims, but his claims have all been filtered through presuppositions, primarily that the Great Flood happened. The key words here are “convinced oneself.” Mr. Morris wrote a researched book about the Great Flood, primarily I suspect, because the information in it, certainly some of it, hadn’t been disclosed before. If that is so, where did Mr. Morris get the idea that there was such a flood? (Hint: take a guess. Basically if you weren’t convince there were such an event, would the evidence jump out at you and cause you to go looking for more?)

As human beings we are fully capable of convincing ourselves of all kinds of things that are not true. For example, any time I infer someone’s intentions from something they said or did, I automatically assume I am wrong. Why? Because I have been wrong almost every damned time I was able to check on my inference! I therefore often take a step back to ask “What do we really know here? And is almost always a lot less than anyone thinks.

So, if someone makes an extraordinary claim, say that a worldwide flood occurred that caused all of the land to be submerged in water, you have to ask: who told you this? Then you can begin to see if there is anything real there. The first thing to ask is: is this source trustworthy? If the person who told you this is trustworthy then you have to ask whether they could have gotten it wrong from their source or whether the people who told them were lying, etc.

If the sources aren’t available, such as the authors of the Great Flood story, then you have to look at the documents themselves. Are these documents the original documents? Are the authors known (to be able to judge their truthiness)? In the absence of these, we are only left with “Could such a thing happen? With regard to the Great Flood story there are a great many holes in the story, discussions of which you can read in multiple places. Here, the only one I will address is the big problem of all of the water needed. Currently water covers three quarters of the globe to a maximum depth of six miles, although the average depth is much less than that. To cover the entire surface of the Earth to a full height of six miles (Mt. Everest, you know) would require far more water (at least double) than there is in the world’s repositories of water now. Where did this water come from? Where did it drain away to? How long would it take for that amount of water to drain away? I have already addressed that the survivors would have nothing to eat nor would that have timber to built structures for years after such an event (submerging all living things in brackish water for a year kills them dead, dead, dead). So, how does one “convince oneself” that this event truly happened?

It seems that the vast majority of people who believe such things believe them because the written source of the story is certified by a deity. If this is the case, they have identified who told them, but then they have to then ask whether the source is trustworthy (the book, of course, as the deity is not to be questioned), etc.

So, with regard to “It’s not a lie if one has already convinced oneself of the truth of one’s stance.” I might accept this premise but it needs to be expanded, maybe to “It’s not a lie if one has already convinced or deluded oneself of the truth of one’s stance.” To the authors of this post credit, they get there also.

 

June 21, 2018

Parsing Romans 13

Many people have chimed in on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim last week that separating children from their parents was a biblical gesture, citing Romans 13 of the New Testament supporting his administrations policy of separating parents from children when people cross our border without permission. Some critics claim to prove that Sessions’ use of Romans 13 is theologically incorrect. What most people seem to ignore is the question of why Romans 13 exists at all, being an unnecessary theological statement, and a purely political one.

“Romans” was written in the late 50’s CE as best we can figure such things. This was well before Christianity was adopted as “a” state religion of Rome in the early 300’s CE and then as “the” state religion of Rome in the later 300’s CE. After Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire, the greatest persecutor, by far, of Christians was other Christians. Prior to that point, there were occasional persecutions of Christians by the Romans. These persecutions were exaggerated by the early Christians for effect, but they did occur. (Please keep in mind that the Roman empire was not a glitter and glitz parade that it is often portrayed as in movies, but a rather brutal authoritarian regime, one in which a blow to the face was the expected result of questioning authority.)

So, Christians of the time of the writing of Romans were trying desperately to not be singled out by the Romans for more extensive persecutions, examples of which abounded. So, the attitudes of Christian leaders were basically: keep your head down, obey the rules, pay your taxes, etc. not because the Romans had the right to rule but that they had the might to rule and exercised it regularly.  The only way Christians could be convinced to do this was to establish that they had the right to rule given to them by the Christian’s god, hence Romans 13 (which was a novel invention with no prior support in scripture … and before you start writing comments, consider that the Israelite and Judean rulers were “authorized” on as extensions of their god and only as long as they did God’s will; piss off the priests and you might be an ex-king in just a few days; the Romans were a pagan run civilization). Christians, however, had some real problems trying to fit in under this scheme as their religion forbade them from worshipping the Emperor, pagan cults, etc., all of which made them “trouble makers.”

It is not unfortunate that we are finally beginning to get a real grasp on the well-established conservative Christian view that modern government has outgrown its natural boundaries by usurping both the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency. This is bullshit, of course, because when you look back at how schools developed, they developed out of groups trying to provide a better education for their children than they could provide themselves. The bucolic view of fathers teaching their sons and mothers their daughters is all fine and good as long as all of these people were in the same place, but when fathers started leaving the home for work, as opposed to farming their own piece of land, this system no longer worked. Dad was “at work,” son was at home (and, of course, the girls didn’t count) so how much teaching could be done? So, groups of people, often springing out of church relationships found “teachers” and solved their problem by division of labor. These schools were “government” as much as anything was governmental when they were created but they weren’t governmental as we now look at things. They were merely collective. (This practice continues today, by the way.)

As warm and fuzzy as things sound, this system founded upon “the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency” would be about as well received today as a fart in an elevator. Basically, this is the libertarian view that we are all alone in this world, that we cannot depend on anyone else. Under this viewpoint, doctors are busybodies who should mind their own business and public transportation (buses, streetcars, trains, run by the government) is anathema. (Hey, if the Koch brothers are against it, you know it isn’t part of the Libertarian future.) Under this viewpoint collectivism is a dirty word.

But, then Christianity isn’t democratic in any way. It is the most authoritarian of systems, and all of the effing plutocrats want in on the power involved as recipients of the authority as middle men.

These people are dangerous, dangerous to any idea of collective behavior. It is astonishing that they even approve of church bake sales. Basically I think that religion is the horse they rode into town on and they will ride it until it drops, so anything goes when it comes to religion as long as it toes the line with regard to the authority structure in families and society in general (power needle points to men, white men, unquivering).

All hail the Libertarians!

 

 

Will Science Ever Solve the Mysteries of Consciousness, Free Will, and God?

The above title is that of an article in Scientific American (July 2018) by no one less than the inestimable Michael Shermer. The subtitle is “Are consciousness, free will and God insoluble mysteries?”

Even more fascinating is Mr. Schermer’s answer: yes!

Actually, this answer is quite puzzling. In his piece Mr. Shermer quotes British biologist and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar who wrote: “Good scientists study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them.” This, I think is correct. The scientific ego is boosted by actual results and so scientists shy away from problems deemed intractable, unsolvable. But, until one tries to solve a problem, how does one know whether it is beyond them? And, even if it is beyond us now, how can we know it will be beyond us forever?

I am of the camp that we will understand all three and, in fact, have good starts on all three questions. The problem is not the issues themselves completely (labeled as “final mysteries” by Shermer), but involves the attitudes of the audiences receiving the conclusions.

For example, if you came up with an ironclad proof that the Christian/Jewish/Muslim god did not exist, how many people would say “Well, dang, and all along I though God was real. Foolish of me, don’t you think?” And how many would say “I don’t not believe such secular nonsense!” (Go ahead, guess; I dare you!)

The audience here has a different standard of proof than scientists have. If you accept something as proven only when it reaches the standard of a mathematical proof, no scientific proofs could be had at all, but if you establish the level of proof to be as good as “the sun will come up tomorrow,” then the Christian, etc. god is proven to not exist already (in short, the claimed supernatural powers are in conflict with one another). This level of proof is good enough for scientists who use no divine mysteries in their works, even though they may still participate in their local church communities (which may have absolutely nothing to do with the existence of any god or gods).

Similarly, the general public will never accept the idea of a deterministic universe as they feel, that is feel in the first person, that they are “free” to make their own decisions. The idea that we are not free to do just that undermines all religions, social justice structures, etc. so do not expect the general public to accept that there is no such thing as free will. (I do not accept the deterministic arguments at this juncture as there are any number of problems with the current deterministic interpretations, including a signal-to-noise problem of immense size.)

It is rare that I find myself in disagreement with Michael Shermer, but one of the rock bottom principles in science is that authority has no place. So, in this case, our opinions differ.

June 19, 2018

GOP Family Values in One Photo

Filed under: Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:57 pm
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Maybe “Family Values” applies to White Families Only in the GOP universe. At least now we know who to vote for.

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