Class Warfare Blog

May 24, 2018

Socialism … Bad

We are hearing incredibly bad stories about what is going on in Venezuela, a nominally socialist state. Comments extend about as far as “Socialism … bad!” When anyone brings up the option of socialism as a governing structure in general, opponents bring up the USSR, another failed state. This is clearly propaganda.

Whenever capitalist states experience chaos, no one in this country says “Ah ha, capitalism … bad!” One has to ask whether Venezuela’s current woes are because of socialism or in spite of socialism. I suggest that they are due to bad management, just as our ups and downs are created.

None of socialism’s detractors claim that Venezuela’s fate will soon come to the democratic socialist states in Scandinavia, as in “As goes Venezuela, so goes Denmark!” Socialism has become a “failed ideology” … in the minds of capitalist cheerleaders, aka the wealthy. Neither capitalism nor socialism is a political system complete; they are barely economic systems. Once you get past the basic definitions, disagreements abound. The arguments pro and con rarely get beyond the No True Scotsman Fallacy. The successful socialist states are claimed to have governments that are “not true socialism.” Only the failing or failed states are “real socialism,” according to the dyed in the wool capitalists.

This propaganda campaign is visceral and aimed at making sure that the masses are unaware of any acceptable alternative political systems. It also provides a handy shortcut to smear anything unappreciated by the rich. Whenever Bernie Sanders recommends policy, it is quickly labeled “socialist” so that it receives at least as much negative attention as positive. Well. I hate to tell you, but the post office is socialist, Medicare is socialist, the public schools are socialist, and the military is socialist. The “people” own “the means of production” in each case. Of course, the hidebound anti-socialists don’t hammer away at these things as being socialist, instead they decry “guvmint” as being unfit to operate such enterprises and urge their privatization (for a profit, of course). This is what it comes down to. The capitalists are profiting from almost every possible endeavor, including the acts of people getting sick and dying. They cannot abide the idea that no one (ahem, them) is making a profit from teaching our kids to be good citizens, or from our soldiers making war around the world.

In the case of war making it is “enough profit is not enough.” Even with the excessive billions spent on war making every year, including providing the profits of war materiel manufacturers, think about how much profit could be made if soldiering were contracted out! My favorite example was the contractors for kitchen services in Iraq during our invasion of that country. In one report, the contractors billed twenty dollars a day for a cook’s aide to peel potatoes and whatnot, a job previously done by soldiers, and the contractor hired a local to do the job for a few dollars per day and pocketed the rest. Now think of that kind of practice applied to the entire effort. The opportunity for god-fearing profits boggles the mind! And all of those profits are going to waste because of our commitment to a socialist army!

I look upon the democratic socialist states in northern Europe with envy. I was taught in grade school that our political system was the best of all possible systems. I learned as an adult, that the political parties are “opponents” in name only and that both compete for campaign donations from the wealthy conservatives who provide the bulk of all donations to politicians. Consequently we have a center right political party and a far right political party contesting for the donations from conservative donors. Both parties ignore the desires of the population at large and serve the interests of the wealthy only. I just do not see this as “the best of all possible systems” unless you qualify it as “the best of all possible systems for the wealthy.”

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May 9, 2018

Marx Was So Right, So Often

Filed under: Philosophy,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:52 am
Tags: , , , ,

Even though I am a philosophy nerd, I read no works of Karl Marx when I was young because, you know … psst, he was a communist. When I was growing up (1950’s and 1960’s) if you wanted to defame someone you called them a communist, even though most people didn’t know what that meant, it was just an euphemism for “bad guy.”

Now that I know better I have decided to see if there is anything there and so I started reading some of Marx’s works. The first thing I picked up has the title of “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843-4).” Here a few excerpts:

  • For Germany, the criticism of religion has been essentially completed, and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.
  • Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
  • The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.
  • Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.
  • What a sight! This infinitely proceeding division of society into the most manifold races opposed to one another by petty antipathies, uneasy consciences, and brutal mediocrity, and which, precisely because of their reciprocal ambiguous and distrustful attitude, are all, without exception although with various formalities, treated by their rulers as conceded existences. And they must recognize and acknowledge as a concession of heaven the very fact that they are mastered, ruled, possessed! And, on the other side, are the rulers themselves, whose greatness is in inverse proportion to their number!
  • Luther, we grant, overcame bondage out of devotion by replacing it by bondage out of conviction. He shattered faith in authority because he restored the authority of faith. He turned priests into laymen because he turned laymen into priests. He freed man from outer religiosity because he made religiosity the inner man. He freed the body from chains because he enchained the heart.

Is any of this not still true today? The phrase “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature” resonates strongly with what I see as the role of religion in coercing our labor to serve the interests of the elites. And “He (Luther) turned priests into laymen and laymen into priests” clearly shows that Marx recognizes the transition of the outward imposition of the shackles of religion into an inward one. No guards are needed anymore because we become our own slave masters under Protestantism.

I will continue to read up on Marx, who apparently has a bad reputation, not because of his ideas, but because of what certain autocrats did with them.

May 2, 2018

Why Capitalism Creates Racism

This is a “must read” post on the Naked Capitalism site.

Why Capitalism Creates Racism

Here are some excerpts:

“In the current era, when NAFTA was passed, Mexico was flooded with American industrial corn. Its lower cost destroyed the peasant economy in Mexico by rendering locally grown corn ‘uncompetitive.’ This cut the peasants whose livelihoods depended on selling their corn out of the cash economy. Millions of suddenly ‘freed’ peasants went to work in maquiladoras or fled North in search of work as undocumented workers. Without racial or national animosity, NAFTA created a new sub-class of industrial labor.”

“In the context of labor coerced through manufactured circumstances (work for us or starve) and control of government by the industries doing the employing, the idea of market wages is nonsense. And therein lies the point. The ‘free-market’ way to entice labor is to pay the wage that people are willing to work for— without coercion. The ‘capital accumulation’ theory behind NAFTA— that sacrifice is required to accumulate the capital that makes capitalism function, (1) begs the question: function for whom and (2) was also used to justify slavery.”

“By the time NAFTA was fully implemented the powers-that-be behind its central policies busied themselves creating explanations of Mexican immigration to the U.S. In their telling, NAFTA had nothing to do with the millions of Mexicans leaving Mexico for the U.S. or for the rapidly declining fortunes of American workers who suddenly faced competition for their paychecks from people willing to work for whatever they could get. ‘Criminals’ and ‘freeloaders’ were coming for American jobs went the carefully-crafted storyline.”

“Of current relevance: (1) different classes of workers were created and placed in competition with one another to benefit a tiny ruling elite, (2) the interests of this elite were / are centered around pecuniary and political gain, (3) after implementation racialized explanations were put forward in lieu of the original economic explanations used to sell these programs and (4) these explanations followed the creation of the racialized ‘facts’ they were conceived to explain. The temporal sequence is important— mass immigration from Mexico and the destruction of the American working class were well-underway before racialized explanations were put forward to explain it.”

“The argument was made at the time, and is still made today, that ‘everyone’ benefits from massively disrupting the lives of millions of people with trade agreements. Theoretical proof is put forward in terms of dollars / pesos of GDP gained. Left out is that the Mexican peasant economy wasn’t monetized and therefore its loss wasn’t counted. Even on its own terms NAFTA was a loser. And imposing these outcomes from above makes them profoundly anti-democratic. In other words, even if the outcomes were as promised, the decisions were made by its largest beneficiaries, not those whose lives were disrupted.”

April 29, 2018

Wither Public Education?

I was reading a comment recently that in the U.S. no one expects to be given housing or food and drink or medical care, but all parents expect their children to be given a good education. The “why” of this was immediately apparent … because we have already paid for it. Education is funded through property taxes and state taxes with a smidgen of federal funds thrown (but always with strings attached, so those are not funds to support ongoing efforts). If you are a homeowner and say that you are unfairly singled out for these taxes, please realize that those of us who do not own our homes (of which I am one) pay rent, which is used by the rental unit’s owner to pay his property taxes. And we all pay income taxes or other taxes to our states. We are also not paying just for our own kid’s educations, but everyone’s, as part of the commonweal.

So, in our “pay as you go” culture, we have paid for the “go” but it is currently under attack.

As a scientist and a trained meeting facilitator and a sports coach I know that the most important part of solving problems is the careful elucidation of what the real problem is. If you misidentify the problem, the odds of you solving it plummet.

With regard to public education, the problems have been misidentified for years. Starting roughly in 1983 with the publishing of a major (and very flawed) study given the title of “A Nation at Risk,” which launched the false narrative that American public schools were failing, a systematic false narrative about “the problem” was being proffered. The nation, at the time of that study, was in the throes of a recession, and the authors of the report blamed the schools, which is patently stupid because the lag period between youths being in public schools and being out in society where they can have a major impact on the economy has to be measured in decades. Nothing happening now could be caused by the state of schools now; twenty years ago, maybe.

In any case, since that time a major disinformation campaign has been continuously waged against public schools (they are failing and the sky is falling, too). The current object of that campaign is to “privatize” public schools so as to extract profits from them. The justification for the profits is as spurious as the disinformation about what is wrong with our schools. The justification is that “market forces,” aka “school choice,” will solve all of the problems. This is a belief in what I call “market woo” and really should be advanced by “experts” dressed up as witch doctors because it has as much value as does spiritual medicine. The real justification for the profits is the profits themselves. Being able to extract profits from the huge pile of money set aside to educate our kids is the primary motive and it has the oligarchs drooling.

As to the “real problem” with public schools I offer the following: if you segregate out public schools in relatively wealthy parts of the U.S., you will find that they perform at very high levels. Massachusetts public schools, for example, perform on international tests higher than the current darlings of those tests, e.g. Singapore, Finland, etc. This fact alone obliterates the claim that government cannot do public schools well.

Now, if you think I am going to follow this up with a claim that schools are underfunded, you will be quite wrong. They are often underfunded and that is part of the problem, but school funding alone will not make the schools that are not performing at a high level do so. (The wealthy cannot claim that school funding is not an issue when they are sending their own children to schools that have very high levels of funding.) Careful studies show that there are real roadblocks to performance in schools. (Hint: teacher competence is not a major concern here, even though that has been part of the misinformation smear campaign of the oligarchs.) The roadblocks are poverty, racism, and violence. In school districts where the students are chronically hungry and receive threats of violence on a frequent basis, we now have solid research showing that almost nothing else can be done to raise performance up to the levels of schools in which these forces are absent. Asking the schools to fix these problems is stupid. We can ameliorate them a little. We can escort students to and from schools, but they are being preyed upon in the neighborhoods as well. Fear for one’s physical safety is an all-consuming distraction. We can provide school breakfasts and lunches (and I recommend we do that for all students) and by so doing that we can ameliorate the effects of hunger on being able to concentrate in class. (My son wrote a history of school lunch programs, so we have a great deal of history with regard to what does and does not work in that, plus we have examples in other countries as to what is possible.)

It is now clear that the “reformers” claims of the value of vouchers and charter schools are bogus. These “solutions” were proffered as solutions for “the problem.” Since the problem was a false construct in the first place, the solutions were hardly likely to work and have been proven not to. They also have unleashed a tide of corruption as fly-by-night charter operations which have bilked states out of many millions of dollars. This has become such a common event that a premature closing of charter schools has become commonplace.

This is a con, pure and simple. The con artists (in order to extract our money) established “the problem” and “the solution.” (Any time the problem and solution come from the same source, you know it is a con.) The con artists did a good job of obfuscating who is behind the scam, but we can see it all now. And politicians, who are receiving “campaign donations” from charter schools(!!), are always willing to “serve the public” by giving us what we want: “school choice.” But we don’t want school choice, that is their solution. We want the good education for our children that we have paid for.

A careful consideration of the real issues shows that the “crisis” in our schools was not there in the first place. The real problems center on inconsistency. We demonstrate, on a daily basis that we can “do” public schools very, very well but we also demonstrate that we are willing to accept a very much lower standard of performance in some schools. Much of this attitude is racist and some is politically and religiously motivated, but it does not solve “the problem.”

If we want to continue the “pay as you go” system we have created, with all of its incentives, what is the incentive in crippling some of our citizens with a poor education, so they cannot earn enough to pay for a decent life for themselves and their families? The answer is that there is none, that the effort to undermine the education of the poor is fueled out of animus and this just has to stop.

We can start by “calling bullshit” on the public education reformers. If you need any ammunition, any of Diane Ravitch’s recent books will do (Reign of Error or The Death and Life of the Great American School System, etc.) And do realize that our democracy is teetering. While we should be making efforts to strengthen it, it is being undermined by authoritarian rich assholes and one of their leverage points is public education. Privatize that, let public schools wither away, and our democracy is in extreme peril.

April 28, 2018

Give Me the Child …

Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.
Jesuit maxim widely attributed to Ignatius Loyola;

In a blog post on the website of The Institute for New Economic Thinking (The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools by Lynn Parramore—April 6, 2018) the author summarizes part of the opinion of Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, thus:

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research shows that the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits.

She went on to say: “In the words of Noam Chomsky… ‘students will be controlled and disciplined.’ Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.”

While reading this I am also reading the book “Why We Do What We Do: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy” by Edward L. Deci. I reached a point in that book in which a long standing question of mine got answered. That question is: why do kids in kindergarten and the early stages of their educations show so much curiosity when that is no longer in evidence when they get to middle school and high school?” It seemed to me that education had the effect of beating the curiosity out of kids. I wondered why. According to Deci “It is truly amazing, as pointed up by our (research) findings, that if people are ongoingly treated as if they were either passive mechanisms or barbarians needing to be controlled, they will begin to act more and more that way (p. 84).” Controlling behavior includes structuring the environment, establishing the rules, enforcing the rules, defining the rewards, etc.

When Chomsky says “students will be controlled and disciplined” he is saying “more than they are now,” the effect of which is to stifle curiosity, creativity, political will to resist the “rules,” etc.

The oligarch’s effort to dismantle public education and remake it under their “leadership” is motivated by a desire for worker drones that will shut up, do what they are told, accept whatever salary and benefits they are offered, and not make problems.

It seems that 1984 is coming, just 30 years later than predicted. And there is no Big Brother;  there are, however, quite a number very wealthy men, old white men, who are auditioning for the role.

April 17, 2018

Taxing the Rich: A Good Idea or Not?

To those whom much is given, much is required.

The standard narratives regarding not taxing the rich are quite bankrupt but are still used, much like the tired old arguments of religious apologists (there is always a new audience to whom these arguments make sense). The usual thing touted is that the rich are the job creators and if you tax them (at all?) they won’t take risks and start new companies which hire workers and we all suffer thereby.

As a counter narrative consider the story of Toys R Us, a huge entrepreneurial success story, which ended in a financial meltdown. The company, however, made its owner rich when individual and corporate taxes were ever so much higher and met its demise in a time when those taxes became ever so much lower.

Read this fascinating story here.

The “standard narrative” of the rich about the rich is they made their money “themselves,” so they “deserve” the rewards. But in reality, does anyone make it themselves? Or is it like personal gifts one is born with and developed, in which we deserve some credit for the development but much of what happens to us and because of us depends upon things like genetics, luck, externalities (like available electricity and good roads provided to all), circumstances of birth (being born into a rich family is a strong marker for “becoming” rich)?

March 1, 2018

The Tax Cut Was for the Rich? Really?

If you are in the U.S. you should have gotten your tax cut by now. This is in the form of revised withholding tax based upon new tables. Since taxes will be lower, then less needs to be withheld from your paychecks each month and the withholding tables were adjusted beginning in the month of February.

I checked my withholding and voila … I had $164.88 less withheld last month. Multiply by twelve and that means I have $1978.56 more money available for the coming year. Now, I do not trust these calculations. That is just what is being withheld, it is not the actual tax which I will not learn about until a month or so into 2019, so I am squirreling away some of that windfall just in case.

So, my taxes, presumably, are being cut almost $2000. I wonder how well some of the rich folks did?

Warren Buffet, of Berkshire-Hathaway fame, reports that his company made $29 billion dollars the same way, wait … twenty-nine fucking billion dollars!

Okay, well that is a very wealthy company, how does that stack up against its earnings otherwise? The company’s annual statement declares:

“But 2017 was far from standard: A large portion of our gain did not come from anything we accomplished at Berkshire. The $65 billion gain is nonetheless real — rest assured of that. But only $36 billion came from Berkshire’s operations. The remaining $29 billion was delivered to us in December when Congress rewrote the U.S. Tax Code.”

So, this very successful company made $36 billion dollars through its own efforts … and then $29 billion more in the form of a GOP handout. But, we can be sure that B-H will spend all of that money to boost the economy … or maybe issue bonuses to its few employees … or maybe raise the wages of those few employees. But wait, B-H owns a whole bunch of companies and, in toto, they have 367,700 employees. With that $29 billion they could give each of them $7887, but my guess is that that won’t happen. I won’t be holding my breath for any such miracle as large corporations are doing exactly what they did the last time they got a tax cut. They are buying back their own stock, which raises the price of said stock, which benefits shareholders (84% of all common stock is owned by members of the top 10%), especially a subgroup of shareholders called “corporation executives.” Yep, the people who directly benefit from this action are the people deciding on that action. Anyone surprised at this needs to get a reality check done.

Oh, and the GOP is expecting the “tax cut” to win them the next election. Ha ha ha ha ha … I guess that could happen if the opposition were total morons … oh, wait …

 

 

 

February 16, 2018

The “Right-to-Try” Scam

There seems to be a movement to disrupt or remove “regulations” on pharmaceuticals. I mean why should those poor companies have to jump through all of those hoops to get a drug to market? This is called the “right-to-try” movement. Even President Trump has heard of it (ergo Fox (sic) News reported on it).

So, would people who are in need of some medical help be given the right to try unproven pharmaceuticals? This has been on option for richer citizens for quite some time. At the peak of the AIDS epidemic, people who could afford the effort were heading for Asia and Mexico to try all kinds of “therapies” to save their lives. I am unaware if any of these proved a source of drugs that ended up actually helping people so afflicted.

Or, is this just a cynical scam of “let’s try out drugs on desperate poor people?”

I’ll guess I’ll believe it when these assholes suggesting this shortcut to the clinical trials needed to verify a drug’s effectiveness line up to test out those drugs themselves. I suggest that what they see in this future is unproven pharmaceuticals are “tried” and then anecdotal evidence of cures is available (or fabricated) and sales soar through the roof. When problems occur (ineffectiveness, horrific side effects, deaths, etc.), the companies can pleas “How could we have known? They had a “right-to-try” and exercised it. We thought it would work. It is sad; our thoughts an prayers go out to the afflicted.” Typical of plutocrats it is: heads I win, tails you lose.

Assholes.

(Try a key word search for thalidomide.)

 

 

More on Civilization

In recent posts I have been parsing the claim that, if I may use Karen Armstrong’s words again, “… historians argue, without this cruel arrangement that did violence to the vast majority of the population, humans would not have developed the arts and sciences that made progress possible. Civilization itself required a leisured class to cultivate it, and so our finest achievements were for thousands of years built on the backs of an exploited peasantry.

If one accepts this argument as being valid, then I must ask: why is it necessary that the coercion and exploitation of the masses continue as it has? Isn’t it time to say, well now that we have civilized societies all over the globe and extended the benefits to all people, poorer people should no longer be exploited.

Basically, I am asking if this coercion/oppression is the driver of civilization, will it ever end?

Will it? Will we say “Enough!” loud enough to get the elites to drop the whip? Or do we need to, as Charleton Heston once inferred, “Pry it from their cold dead hands.”

The answer to this question may revolve around crafting a new role for the elites. If we, for example, were to laud “Stewards of Humanity” enough, might it become attractive enough to elites to have them stop the exploitation and start helping people instead or would people, like the Koch brothers, think “that’s what we have been doing all along.” Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt any more, and I suspect that we would need to be very, very clever to pull something like that off.

Have any ideas about what attributes someone would have to have to qualify as a Steward of Humanity?

February 15, 2018

Why Fundamentalist Christians are More Likely to Be Political Conservatives

I won’t be coy here; fundamentalist Christians and Conservatives find themselves in bed because they share an ad campaign. There are areas in this country in which Christians cannot believe one of their fellows is a registered Democrat, that is how closely the two categories have become entwined. This is not an accident either. This also tends to go unnoticed by the coastal elites who are in pretty much the opposite polarities.

Both fundamentalist groups, Christians and Conservatives, proffer a “the world is going to hell in a hand basket” worldview and blame their fictitious accelerating slide into mediocrity, immorality, and doom on the failure of us, their audience, to embrace their values and beliefs.

There is only one thing wrong with this: they couldn’t be more wrong … both of them. Not just wrong, but Titanically wrong. (Unfortunately, there is no iceberg to show them how off course they are.)

The thing I find amazing is how willing these people are to lie to establish that these memes of theirs are true. Lying and politics go hand in hand, so I guess that is not surprising, but the religious lying through their teeth, when the message is a slackening of morals, is rather jarring.

A recent book by Steven Pinker shows that violence has been declining for centuries … not total violence because the population has been increasing, but per capita violence. The earliest memory I have of a mention of the U.S. population was when I was in high school and the number was 148 million. Currently we are somewhere near 325 million, so I suspect everything has more than doubled since then. The number of cars on roads has doubled, the number of miles of roads has probably doubled, too. The number of postal workers, the number of pet dogs, all of those must have grown substantially. But when we are talking about social issues, the frequency is more important than the absolute numbers because of this population growth. The incidents of per capita violence have been dropping for centuries … even including the world wars and killing fields and all of that. This is one of the main topics of Professor Pinker’s book.

Crime in the U.S. has diminished substantially over the past 50 years, even in absolute terms. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, there is just no support for the declining morals/values whine from these two groups.

If you want to read more about the state of the world as it actually is, I recommend Dr. Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature. I am about to open his most recent book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, which is in the same vein. You can continue to listen to the utterances of President Trump, but I consider them to be worse than noise at this point and only pay attention to the official actions of his minion horde, drawn from the dregs of the Republican Party. Those actions aren’t noise and should be kept on lists so they can be reversed (better: improved upon) as soon as the clown and his circus are out of office.

There is one message and one message alone that the election of Mr. Trump demands be heard: people are fed up with the status quo. Mr. Trump is acting against that state, but in the direction opposite to how the people want to go and in the direction dictated by the wealthy elite in this country.

Addendum R.I.P. GOP, there seems to be nothing left of that party’s integrity, morals, and values.

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