Uncommon Sense

January 11, 2022

Why Are We Working So Hard?

It seems indisputable that Americans work harder now than ever before. Questions abound such as “why do we allow this?” and “what is it about our culture that makes this a positive?” and yada, yada, yada.

I remember reading an article in Scientific American quite some time +ago along the lines of “labor saving devices don’t” . . . don’t save labor, that is. When household appliances came around, like the electric vacuum cleaner, we ended up vacuuming more than we ever swept the same floors with a broom. The authors believe they identified the culprit: our standards changed. In the case of the vacuum cleaner our standards of cleanliness changed when a new level became available without large amounts of labor to pull it off. In that case, we were the cause of the additional labor. In this case. . . ?

Economists looked at post-war America and claimed that productivity gains would result in workers dropping from a 40-hour workweek to as low as a 15-hour workweek, well before now.

Well, what happened?

Greed happened.

For that prediction to have come to be, productivity gains had to be large, and they were. Check. Then those gains need to have been credited to the workers and their hours reduced at the same pay. Uh, that didn’t happen. What happened is the increases in income from the increases in productivity were pocketed by executives and owners. Call it the “Trickle Up Effect.”

Why any reputable economist would think that workers would benefit by their hours being reduced at the same pay is quite beyond me. In the after-war period, worker’s wages went up in lock step with worker’s productivity, but that was because labor unions fought tooth and nail to get those pay increases. There were more strikes post-war than I could count. But the oligarchs saw what was happening and bribed our politicians and judges to disempower unions, and as the number of strikes fell, so too did the pay increases. Those pay increases actually fell to almost zero (when corrected for inflation). And since you are probably not as old as I am, you probably don’t remember that pay increase came in pairs. One part was called a “cost of living adjustment” which corrected salaries for lost purchasing power due to inflation, and the other part were actual pay increases, aka “raises,” often based on productivity increases or flat out company performance.

And, it wasn’t enough that the fat cats took all of the wealth created by those productivity increases, they also chiseled workers wages, including outright wage theft, chiseled numbers of jobs, pushed jobs that lacked union coverage (by replacing union workers with contract workers), and then doubled down with the Big Kahuna of tax scams. They transferred tax burdens from corporations and the wealthy onto the middle class. Ronald Reagan bragged about pulling off a major tax increase without negative press in the form of “Social Security withholding.” We got a small tax cut (the fat cats got a bigger one) and at the same time we ended up paying that back and more as increases in SS taxes.

The US ranks near the bottom in taxes paid as a percentage of corporate income. Oh, and corporate profits are at an all-time high, setting new records every year if not every month for the past decade or so.

The lesson is clear. We can have our piece of the pie, but only if we are willing to fight for it. If we stay passive, it all slides uphill, against gravity, into the pockets of the already wealthy.

January 1, 2022

We Need to Fix Capitalism . . . Now!

Capitalism is quite flawed, but so are all of the other economic/political systems. Some countries have been good at reining capitalism’s excesses . . . this country isn’t one of those.

As I have said, often enough, capitalism’s Achilles’ Heel is that it doesn’t place any limits whatsoever upon greed. I suggest that a good start at reining in the greed woven into the warp and woof of capitalism is to eliminate speculation. There is no inherent good associated with speculation, although there are many associated evils in it; for example, people try over and over to manipulate prices, markets, whatever to make their speculations pay off, legally and illegally. Those are not what might be classified as productive labors.

We need to eliminate speculation as something that doesn’t contribute anything to our society, nor does it contribute anything to individuals. It is a form of gambling, pure and simple.

There is something called the “futures markets” in which prices are set now for sales that will take place in the future for various commodities. The buyers are hoping the prices go up and they will get a deal when that sale is triggered and the sellers are hoping the prices are going to go down, so they will get a fatter price for their goods. In an ideal world this process helps to moderate price changes, but in the world we live in, it is just another form of gambling.

The stock markets are dominated by secondary sales, making the story about the role of such markets in our economy we are taught in school to be a very, very minor form of providing capital for businesses. Instead these markets are very close to just being casinos where rich people gamble.

Let me explain how these capitalistic devices have taken over. If you go to the store and buy, say, a shirt in most states you will pay a sales tax, up to almost 10% of the price of the item (although a small number of states charge nothing, but I think there are just five of those). But if you buy a share of stock, what “sales tax” to you pay? The answer is nada, zip, zilch, no tax at all. Some items, such as alcoholic beverages, include what used to be called “sin taxes.” Extra taxes are levied upon alcoholic beverages to discourage their consumption (Get behind me, Demon Rum!). We do the same for gasoline in which there are substantial taxes, both federal and state, paid and then sales taxes added on top of those! We could do the same for stock transactions. This would discourage speculation, certainly the practice of buying a stock and selling in when its price went up a few cents, often just seconds or minutes after the buying transaction. (Amazing what you can do with computers!) If the profits from the sale didn’t cover the sales taxes, those sales wouldn’t be made.

Plus people who buy and sale and trade stocks contribute nothing to our society. Extensive studies show that stock markets are actually a drag on our economy (they extract funds from the economy without producing anything in exchange). We, at least, need to slow their roll.

Currently we have a patent system, a flawed system but it works . . . kind of, sort of. Drug companies have become adept at acquiring patents and then jacking up the prices for the goods produced under those patents. A current example is insulin. One vial of insulin lispro (Humalog), which used to cost $21 in 1999, costs $332 in 2019, reflecting a price increase of more than 1000%. The cost of manufacturing that drug has barely changed over that same time period. We could change patent laws to prevent such abuses. “What the market will bear” is not a limit upon greed. These same pharmaceutical companies have also taken to making very, very (very!) minor changes in their drug’s formulations to apply for new patents, extending their “right” to make as much money as they want. Patents were supposed to, were designed to, expire so that those things end up belonging to the commonweal. Often the public has already paid to research that drug in the first place through public universities and federal institutions and research funding. The same thing is woven into our copyright laws with written works and others eventually ending up in the public domain.

We have tools to rein in greed in capitalism but the current greedy class has acquired so much wealth that they are blocking access to the political gears of government to make such reforms. If we do not act soon, it will be too late. The only result of extreme wealth inequality is armed strife.

December 16, 2021

Equal Protection Under the Law

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 11:32 am
Tags: , , , ,

Conservatives, especially conservative SCOTUS justices, would like nothing more than to repeal Roe v. Wade and turn the issue over to the states.

They are claiming this is the “democratic” thing to do.

Political cartoonists are our modern court jesters, but that doesn’t mean they play fair.

But this is not the issue. The issue is whether there is equal protection under the law. If this issue is detailed to the states the following scenario is very likely to happen. In one hospital, a woman receives a safe abortion, paid for by her medical insurance, and is released into the care of her family. Twenty miles away, a doctor giving a woman an abortion is arrested and charged with murder. So is the woman who hired the doctor to do the procedure, so is her husband for driving his wife to her medical clinic.

The difference? In the twenty miles separating the two facilities is a state border.

The federal government has stepped in over and over . . . and over, to make policies consistent across state lines to ensure “equal protection under the law.”

There are only a few issues over which it has demurred, e.g. capital punishment, although it has restricted the methods by which capital punishment can be imposed.

Surely the legality of the procedure is a matter of interstate commerce, no? Can a legal procedure in one state carry a death penalty in another?

Instead of turning it over to the states, we would be much better off to do what Canada has done; it forbade legislation on the matter, declaring it a personal matter, not a public matter. Canada has no laws, other than the health and safety laws governing all medical procedures, on the topic . . . none. And I just can’t believe that all Canadians are going to Hell because of their sensibility.

December 11, 2021

Dear Diane Ravitch,

I wish I could contact Ms. Ravitch directly as she is a beacon of light in the gloom and despair surrounding public schools right now. If you haven’t noticed public schools are under attack by plutocrats who want to privatize them. (I have yet to hear why it is that extracting profits from a system makes it better, especially a system so necessary to the foundations of our democracy.)

So, I am writing to her . . . and you . . . on this very important point.

Dear Ms. Ravitch,
I have not seen this point argued by many others, even though I have been harping upon the point that education is a social process through which we learn how to learn and how to work with others, which makes computer-based instruction especially egregious. In support of this point I ran across this quote in one of the hottest books currently in circulation:

When we are capable of self-awareness, it’s usually for very brief periods of time: the ‘window of consciousness’, during which we can hold a thought or work out a problem, tends to be open on average for roughly seven seconds. What neuroscientists (and it must be said, most contemporary philosophers) almost never notice, however, is that the great exception to this is when we’re talking to someone else. In conversation, we can hold thoughts and reflect on problems sometimes for hours on end. This is of course why so often, even if we’re trying to figure something out by ourselves, we imagine arguing with or explaining it to someone else. Human thought is inherently dialogic. Ancient philosophers tended to be keenly aware of all this: that’s why, whether they were in China, India or Greece, they tended to write their books in the form of dialogues. Humans were only fully self-conscious when arguing with one another, trying to sway each other’s views, or working out a common problem. True individual self-consciousness, meanwhile, was imagined as something that a few wise sages could perhaps achieve through long study, exercise, discipline and meditation. (Source: Graeber, David. The Dawn of Everything (p. 94). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition)

So, now we are being sold that individual self-consciousness is something primary school kids can achieve interacting with a computer.

I don’t see computers as something that can hold up half of a dialogue with a human being. Well, maybe IBM’s Watson might be able to but I don’t see our eduformers offering to supply each student with a Watson.

Students need to interact with other students and with teachers and administrators, a large number of them for long periods of time to have a chance to develop their minds.

None of the eduformers seem to be offering a new learning process, just the benefits of profits extraction, whatever they might be. Most offer “choice.” If you have seen supermarket stores at all, does having a choice of eleven different mayonnaises actually improve your life? How about a half dozen brands of bottled water?

School choice is a scam. Especially if they are offering a “cyber-education” whatever the heck that is. Defend your public schools. Defend your school boards. The pirates are coming and they will only be satisfied when they have extracted all of the wealth from the ship of public education and burned it to the water line.

November 29, 2021

One More Time!

Note—This was written almost a decade ago but it seems worthwhile to repost it from time to time. SR

Campaign Finance Contributions:
A Form of Political Speech or Influence Peddling?

A White Paper by Steve Ruis
February 2012

Obviously the federal government is bought and paid for and, unfortunately, not by you or me. In the past 40 years the political deck has been stacked in favor of the very rich who have gotten very much richer and against the rest of Americans who have benefitted minimally in comparison. This is undeniable. So, the question of political corruption is a natural one and all such discussions quickly lead to its source: donations of political monies to campaigns. It seems like the wealthiest people and corporations have made greater contributions to our representatives than have we, so those officials are doing what they want rather than what we want. It is a proven fact of psychology that if someone gives you a gift, you will feel grateful and will feel a need to reciprocate. So, such “contributions” automatically generate the need to reciprocate if the system didn’t reinforce that need (which it does).

But when are such gifts “ordinary” a part of the political process and when do they constitute influence peddling, which is illegal? This is the core question.

One solution to the political money conundrum is a simple concept, namely that money for a candidate or an issue may only be raised from people who live in the affected jurisdiction. For mayor’s races, funds may only be raised within the city’s limits. Candidates for U.S. Senator may raise funds from anyone in their state. Presidential candidates my raise funds from anyone in the U.S. House of Representatives candidates may only raise funds in their districts. Water district commissioners may only raise funds from residents of their water district, and so forth. Opponents of a ballot initiative may only raise funds in the district that initiative, should it become law, would have an effect.

In this manner only the people who that candidate will represent or who that law will apply to may fund the political efforts that determine whether that campaign will succeed or fail. This is critical, because people who live in the jurisdiction will be represented by that candidate or affected by that initiative or legislation, and people who live outside that jurisdiction will not. This draws a clean line between ordinary political speech and influence peddling. Outsiders cannot justify political contributions as the person or issue at stake does not affect them directly, consequently all such donations of money, that is from “outsiders” (literally), are de facto attempts to buy influence and should be illegal.

Outsiders will still have their say. They will speak on the airwaves (television, radio, blogs, newspapers, etc.) and their speech is free. They could even rent a hall in the district and deliver speeches. All of this is free speech. But in any circumstances in which that speech isn’t free of cost and where political money comes into play, that must be regulated. There have been myriad efforts to determine the sources of the funding for such political efforts, but the laws, in effect, protect such anonymity. Groups are allowed to form with names like “Americans for Liberty” and “Moms for Apple Pie” and “Citizens United” who then become political actors. All efforts to require disclosure to date have been somewhat easily avoided.

But if we think like voters, the solution is straightforward. As a voter, I want to know whether the person(s) paying for the ad/brochure/event is/are a stakeholder or an outsider. If the ad doesn’t come from a group or individual in the jurisdiction using funds collected in the jurisdiction, it must be clearly labeled “Paid for by Outsiders.” If they want to go on and also state that the ad was paid for by “Americans for Freedom” they may certainly do so, as part of their free speech right, but the “Paid for by Outsiders” must come first and be more prominent than any other such identification. And such efforts may not be coordinated with official “in district” campaigns.

This gives voters the information they need. It also has an amazing array of secondary benefits. For one, the burden of raising funds for any political office, except for President, will be greatly lessened. Official or unofficial campaigns may only raise funds in a candidate’s district. Candidates do not need to be negotiating deals with all kinds of sources of out-of-district funds, as this would be illegal. In order to get constituents to donate, there must be communication explaining why the money is needed and what it is to be used for and what services the candidate is offering voters. This is clean and open politics.

Lobbyists would have much less influence because their speech would be in the form of just words and not money unless the ones hiring them came from a legislator’s district. (One cannot borrow or hire someone else’s primary residence for the purpose of making political donations just as one cannot buy someone else’s vote.)

This policy puts a burden on a candidate to build a base in the district in which they intend to run for office. No more, for example, would candidates from out of state be moving in short-term to establish residency and then using out-of-state funds to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, then moving to Washington with no connection whatsoever with the communities they represent. Candidates will probably need to build up a local reputation based on deeds to constituents in order to raise funds with them, all in all a good thing. Otherwise they won’t get elected to higher office in the first place.

The total amount of money involved in campaigns will decrease and so the money actually raised and spent will have to be spent more wisely (one hopes on higher quality communication than “attack ads”).

Sitting representatives will need to tend to constituents more closely as they are the only sources of funds for any re-election campaigns. This is to the good.

And, I am sure, more benefits will come to your mind as you consider this policy further.

The recent Supreme Court decision (“Citizens United”) to allow corporations unfettered political spending is certainly problematic. But if the Court thought it wise to take a business fiction (that a business can become a person) and apply it to politics, we need to carry that to its obvious conclusion. Just as individuals have a “primary address” that determines the districts they vote in and the offices they vote for, this should also be the case for “corporate citizens.” Let us say that the U.S. corporate headquarters shall be the “primary residence” of the corporation and this establishes the districts of residence that determine to whom they can donate political money. Of course, they can still form groups to get their “free speech” rights for topics of concern to them, but they cannot contribute directly to any out of district candidates or issue groups and any “free speech” messages beamed into those other districts must be clearly labeled “Paid for by Outsiders,” because that’s who they would be. Employees of the corporation who live in a particular district could make donations as they wanted but the corporation itself could not, unless that district contains the “primary residence” of the corporation. Nor could the corporations instruct employees to make donations or provide funds for them to do so.

This would apply to labor unions and all benevolent organizations as well.

Now some might claim that this could emasculate political parties as they couldn’t steer events by collecting money from whatever sources and then pouring it into wherever they wanted. Quite the contrary, what would be required of any such body: political party, PAC, Better Business Bureau, etc., is that they become better organized and that they develop local bodies of constituents in districts to collect funds for them and distribute them. Funds earmarked for national offices, like President, could flow through to the national office of the organization but for “in state” offices the funds would have to stay in state, etc. And funds collected for in-state candidates could not be funneled to other states.

Political parties and unions can still support their “people” with web sites, phone calls, advice from experts, etc, as long as everyone pays their own communication bills. If they call a candidate with advice, that is free speech, if they call voters with a message, it must begin with “This Message is Paid for by Outsiders.” Talk and written communication aren’t being regulated, political money is. Experts could give advice but not work for a campaign unless the campaign paid them for their work. (It is a fine line, but something is better than nothing. Advice is speech but having someone come in and organize one’s campaign office, set up their computers or phone bank, etc. is donated labor.)

Organizations who could not get people to work for them could not substitute money for bodies unless that money was local. Rich people and large corporations would still have a great deal of influence in their localities but would they want to pay very large sums of money for smallish elections? Probably not. Currently we have billionaires using large amounts of money to leverage entire national elections. Their influence would be greatly curtailed by this proposal. They could still pay for a great many communication pieces to exercise their free speech rights and as long as they were labeled “Paid for by Outsiders,” they would be within the law.

If one wanted to be really tough, a pre-election audit might be required but the spirit of this proposal is more in the line of post-election audits. If someone was found to have significantly (not trivially) violated this law, their election could be invalidated. This would encourage people to “do it right” from the beginning. (England has just recently invalidated an election to the House of Commons because a candidate lied about his opponent. Taking money from outsiders illegally and then claiming one did not is a very significant lie (and would be illegal) which should be punished.)

This proposal would require legislation to implement and since it affects everyone it can be expected to draw fire. Since it creates a level playing field but one which still greatly favors incumbents (Who else is in a better position to do good work for their constituents?) contrary arguments by sitting politicians would be hard to rationalize. Politicians who vigorously oppose such legislation would clearly be doing so because they are beholden to monied interests as the power of those interests would be greatly curtailed. That is where the major opposition will come from.

What is more American, more constitutional, more revolutionary than re-establishing the sanctity of “one man, one vote” and free speech? At the time of the creation of the Constitution, a secret ballot was considered highly objectionable. The people needed to know who voted for whom and for what. (This ideal still holds in our Congress where votes are all public.) Secret ballots only came in much later in our history, which makes our support for “anonymous” political money all the more puzzling. Anonymous political speech was practiced by almost every one of the “founding fathers” (by writing under nom de plumes, for example) but if someone were to have paid them for their “free speech,” they would have been strung up from the nearest tree.

It is time to control political speech/money as we control regular speech. It is considered illegal to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater with no fire involved. Such speech is not protected by the First Amendment. So, let’s clean up politics and simply by erecting a firewall between political outsiders who are not directly represented in an election and the candidates and constituents who are.

November 24, 2021

Driving the GOP into an Early Grave

The navigator-in-chief of the Republican Party sure seems to be Donald J. Trump. Let’s see how he has prompted the growth of the GOP since his elevation into that position.

  • The GOP has gotten tied ever more closely to Evangelical Christianity.
    • The GOP has become more anti-science based.
    • The GOP has become tied to alternative facts that they just make up
    • The GOP has become tied to news media that are estranged from decent journalism
    • The GOP has sought out voter suppression instead of expanding their base
    • etc.

There are some consequences to this. Here are just a few:
• Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020. That proportion has generally held steady since 2017 (15% in 2017, 2018, and 2019). There are some that argue that the politicization of churches has accelerated this drop in evangelicalism.
• But supporting anti-vaccination and anti-mask fringe groups, the GOP has put more of its members at risk, especially since currently the GOP constituency is quite old. These policies are disproportionally resulting in Republicans getting sick and/or dying. The GOP is killing off its own members.
• By refusing to expand their bases and focusing on voter suppression more, the GOP is undermining their future. As their membership gets older, whiter, and less connected with reality, joining the GOP seems more and more like joining a cult, so they are losing traction with young people.
• By undermining trust in societies institutions, the GOP is undermining their own ideology. And is members are trusting their doctors, teachers, local officials, etc. less and less, creating more and more disharmony.

As I watched this unfold, I thought Mr. Trump was driving the GOP into a ditch. Now it looks as if, by doubling down, he is driving the GOP into an early grave,

R.I.P. GOP.

November 5, 2021

Is the U.S. a Meritocracy?

Filed under: Culture,History,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
Tags: , , , ,

A couple of episodes ago, Ben Shapiro was on the Bill Maher show, Real Time. (For the life of me why people listen to Ben Shapiro is quite beyond my comprehension. He is a bigger blowhard than I am.)

Mr. Shapiro claimed in that show, and I assume elsewhere, that the U.S. was a “meritocracy” and had been since its inception. A meritocracy sounds like a good deal, people being rewarded on their merits, by Mr. Shapiro’s co-guest wasn’t having any of it. That person, I forget his name, was African-American and, according to him, his great-grandfather was a slave. It should be obvious that slaves were not allowed to participate in any meritocracy, if it indeed existed. And, it is fairly easy to prove that slaves created most of the wealth of the early colonies and the early U.S.

The claim that the U.S. is a meritocracy and has been, is ludicrous from the get-go. This is the claim that is made by people who have accumulated wealth, or personal esteem, or recognition in society, as a way to establish the righteousness of their rewards. They are wealthy because of their great talents, don’t you know. They are valued because of their merits as a whatever.

The classic case I can remember is Mitch Romney, when running for president, claiming that he was a self-made man, that he amassed his wealth on his own. He skipped over the two million dollars his father gave him as seed money to get started in business and the access to his father’s Rolodex, filled with contacts for the rich and famous galore. To put this in context, since Mr. Romney and I are roughly contemporaneous, I made in just less than forty years, as a college professor, about two million dollars. Mr. Romney was given an amount equivalent to my career earnings to “get started.” This is typical of the wealthy, whose parents were often also wealthy and who benefited from private schools, the best colleges, costly vacations, travel, etc. to get a head start on their “competitors.” (My family went on our first vacation when I was nine years old (and I was the “baby” of three children). We went camping in national parks using borrowed camping gear.)

Studies show that Americans rarely transcend the socioeconomic stratum they were born into. We love stories of folks who went from rags to riches and that does happen, just not very often.

You may have many good personal merits, but if others don’t get to see them, then they are hardly going to be rewarded. The aphorism is “it is not what you know, but who you know” . . . still stands. Sometimes it can be the case that impersonal rules affect your outcome. Consider children’s sports in which competitions are stratified by age groups, to provide “fair competition.” Often these groups are two year spans and the placement of kids into the groups is by setting a fixed date and using the child’s age at that date as the placing stat. But there is a problem with this. Kids who have birthdays shortly after the chosen date, will be placed as if they were a year younger and children with a birthday just before the date will be placed as if they were a year older. The kid who turns twelve the day after the placing date and the kid who turned eleven just before the placing date will both be placed as eleven-year olds, except that one has just turned eleven and the other is just turning twelve and is, effectively a year older.

Oh, pish-posh and tish-tosh you say, what effect can that have? A study of professional European soccer league players showed that close to all of them had birthdays just after the placing date and were effectively labeled as being a year younger than they were when participating in youth soccer play. The older kids are more physically developed, had superior skills and received more attention from coaches, more acclaim, more positive feedback, etc. There is even a name for the phenomenon, the Relative Age Effect; you can look it up.

Meritocracy, my ass.

John Ralston Saul has something to say on whether a meritocracy is even something to desire, in his 2001 book, “On Equilibrium:” (p. 7 of the paperback edition) “A meritocracy, on the other hand, is so busy concentrating on efficiently identifying who is best and pushing him to the fore that it shuts down its confidence in the rest of us – those of us turning our door handles and willing to contribute, each in her own way and at her own level. The whole idea of a society of winners – a place known above all for its best – leads with surprising speed to a narrow pyramidal social structure. And then to division and widespread passivity. That in turn leads to false populism and mediocrity; to a world obsessed by bread and circuses, Heroes and the need for leadership.

So, do you see why the very rich assholes and their front men, like Ben Shapiro, like the idea that we are a meritocracy? It reinforces the very polarized structure they have already created. The one that has them on top of the pyramid.

They have waged a class war . . . and won. Now what do we do?

October 18, 2021

Fixing Our Broken Society

The Great Experiment in Democracy that this country represents was focused upon its citizens living as citizens and not subjects. Unbeknownst to most of us, we have failed in that experiment. Currently the vast majority of us could be classified as subjects, subjects of corporations.

But, you say, you don’t work for a corporation, so how could that be. It be because of the corporations making all of the rules by which you exist in society. It is clear that the rich have captured our legislatures, our courts, the guts of our political structures. Nothing the rich do not like happens, period. Now, when you think of the rich, you make think of what is called “old money,” money handed down generation to generation. The Koch brothers, Donald Trump, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, etc. While these people do exist, the vast majority of the rich now are corporation executives. By pooling their money, they have bought off politicians in sufficient numbers to control the actions of our federal government and state houses. Corporations control our news media, our social media, our commerce (Amazon delivers in Hell, don’t you know).

Want our government to make voting easier? Not going to happen. Want our government to enforce the gun laws on the books? Ain’t gonna happen. Want fewer wars? Ain’t gonna happen. (The Afghan War lasted twenty years with no discernable objective, either met or progress made toward. The objective was billions and billions of dollars of defense contracts.)

So, what is wrong?

Well, it would be nice if representatives of citizens were back in the driver’s seat, rather than corporatist representatives. And there are some things we can do to make that so. Right now the middle class is being ground under the heel of the corporatists, who like high unemployment as it keeps wages down and these same people have been transferring the tx burden of government off of their corporations and onto the general population. (The poor pay few taxes, and the rich are avoiding taxes, so guess who pays the bulk of the taxes?) It seems everyone is okay with the pay-as-you-go culture we have created, but collectively there are really only two ways you can fairly support such a system. Either every citizen is given minimally adequate shelter, food, utilities, healthcare, etc. as a right of citizenship (and then anything else needs to be worked for) or every job has to pay what is called a living wage, enough to pay for those things mentioned previously. If the minimum wage of the 1960’s had be adjusted for worker productivity since then it would be near $22-24 per hour which is near a living wage (what constitutes a living wage depends on local conditions, urban New York City and rural Oklahoma have different costs of living, for example).

Both of these structures address the current failure of our systems, the loss of anyone, anyone at all, representing the common good. Everyone now represents the interests of some group, but no one represents the interests of us all, usually referred to as the “common good.”

The idea of the common good, like the ideas of unearned income and many more terms, have been driven our of our discourse by the corporatists who are just looking to advantage themselves above everyone else. As a military example, think of a battlefield general who doesn’t make sure that his troops are well-fed, well-rested, and well-motivated. If all that general is interested in is promotions, those may happen by sucking up to those higher up the ladder, but if you want to win battles, troops need to be fed, trained, supplied with weapons and ammunition, etc. For the common good of that general’s army, the people “at the bottom of the influence range” must be taken care of by those at the top,

Currently the corporatists at the top do not give a rats ass about those at the bottom. These are seen as the great unwashed. Their pet economists see worker education and support as a cost undermining profits, rather than an investment in future capacity. Workers are things to be sold off, turned into robots, gotten rid off as soon as possible. Corporations do not see themselves as a functioning segment of society, providing good jobs and benefits to citizens in exchange for their productivity which allows the corporation to prosper. And by providing those jobs, they are doing what they should. Instead the corporations have been turned over to management types who have been sold the bogus idea that the corp’s only obligation is to the shareholders, not to their community, or society at large, nope, nada, zip, zilch.

This did not happen by accident. Corporations used to have goals of being a contributing member of their communities and society as a whole, recognized workers as stakeholders in the corporation, etc. A few corporations still do, but for each of those, there are dozens that only do such “do-gooder” things as PR ploys to maintain a good image.

And, not being able to get the last word in my own post . . .

From nakedcapitalism.com (10-15-21)

“ . . . Taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making. Corporate America has enjoyed a stranglehold over policy, spending its profits on lobbying the government to ensure even greater profits at the expense of workers’ rights. At the same time, the power of unions has fallen—a trend directly linked to increased economic inequality.

But now, as workers are flexing their power, corporate America is worried.

In the wake of these strikes and resignations, lawmakers are actively trying to strengthen existing federal labor laws. Business groups are lobbying Democrats to weaken pro-labor measures included in the Build Back Better Act that is being debated in Congress.

Currently, corporate employers can violate labor laws with little consequence as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lacks the authority to fine offenders. But Democrats want to give the NLRB the authority to impose fines of $50,000 to $100,000 against companies who violate federal labor laws. Also included in the Build Back Better Act is an increase in fines against employers that violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

October 2, 2021

Business is In It For Itself

According to Diane Ravitch’s blog:

“Conservative groups are funding protests against ‘critical race theory.’ Now we learn, thanks to investigative reporting by the Washington Post that the rightwing libertarian Koch network is funding parent protests against mask mandates. Billionaire Charles Koch has blood on his hands by supporting and encouraging parent opposition to mask mandates in schools.”

If you are at all confused as to why the Koch Billionaire Network would do such a thing, consider that our corporatist citizens have conducted a class war over the past 50 years and have captured the reins of government. They did this because they have eliminated all other opposition to their actions (labor unions, church movements, youth crusades, etc.) and the only entity with enough power to stand in their way to do anything they damn well please is governments, so they had to be brought to heel, too, and they were.

The mechanism of bringing government to heel has been bribery and bullshit, to put it simply. Any issue that divides us and makes us less likely to engage in collective action, is a plus as far as the anti-government billionaire boys are concerned. True or bullshit doesn’t really matter, as long as it is divisive. Then they bribe our public officials to vote the way they wish. In our current politics, you will see a few congress people blocking the whole megillah. If you look at who is bribing them, er, making campaign donations to them, you will see why they are voting that way. The billionaires do not have to bribe all of them, just a few weak, immoral ones is all it takes. Keep us divided and then bribe the voting gap. It has worked like a charm.

Until we see the real game being played, we will continue to lose. As they say, if you have been sitting at the poker table for fifteen minutes and you haven’t identified the fish . . . it is you.

September 27, 2021

An Open Letter to Anti-Vaxxers

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 8:29 am
Tags: , ,

As background, there has been for over a year now a global pandemic causing a considerable number of “extra deaths” and even more hospitalizations, discomfort, and pain. The number of total COVID-19 deaths is about 3 million or about 7 million depending on whose numbers you are using. Almost a million of those are in the US. (The flu typically kills 60,000 people or so in the US each flu seasons, so this disease has the flu beat all to hell and gone.)

In any case, no matter where this disease came from, it has caused many deaths and apparently also has inflicted long term symptoms upon a large number of people (my brother-in-law being one of them).

Under political pressure and by providing governmental funding, vaccines were developed in record time that have been proved somewhat effective. They significantly reduce the number of people getting the disease at all, and those who do anyway (94% effectiveness is 6% ineffectiveness), rarely get hospitalized or get the long term repercussions, or die from the disease, so these vaccines seems to be a good deal. In my neck of the woods, these vaccines were provided free of charge.

But many people like you have refused to get vaccinated, mostly because you look at it as an infringement of your personal freedom. Most of the rest of us consider this a bullshit excuse. All y’all haven’t complained that driving on the right side of the highway is an abridgement of your personal freedom. Nor paying taxes. There are many things we do for the common good. Childless citizens pay taxes to have other people’s children educated, as another example.

The only way I can convey what this sounds like to many people like me is through scenarios. So, let me “reframe” your refusal.

Scenario 1
Your ocean liner has sunk and you are floating in shark infested waters. I am in a lifeboat and reach out and offer you a hand, to get you into the boat to safety, out of the water. But you refuse because this is an infringement of your personal liberties. In the boat, you will not be able to choose where you go, with whom you travel, and a great many other things. So, you refuse my hand and stay in the water.

Scenario 2
It is the early 1800’s and you have packed your family and all of your goods into a Conestoga wagon and have four oxen pulling your wagon from St. Louis to Oregon were you will make a new life for you and your family. Along the trail, you see a wagon train, off in the distance, traveling roughly the same route you are and soon a lone rider approaches from that direction. The rider identifies himself as a member of that train and asks if you are headed the same way they are. When you say you are, they offer to let you join the train because there is safety in numbers. You refuse because this would infringe upon your personal freedom to go wherever and at whatever rate you choose. The rider shakes his head and rides back to the wagon train.

Scenario 3
You are in Europe during the peak of World War 2 and you are almost surrounded by Nazi troops. Some allied troops who are retreating from the oncoming Nazis offer to take you with them and protect you, but you refuse because that would infringe upon your personal liberties to be the “baggage” of some band of soldiers. Being ordered around by soldiers is not your idea of freedom.

None of these scenarios include an actual surrender of your personal liberty but I’ll tell you what will eliminate all of your personal liberties! Getting eaten by sharks will do the trick. Or being killed by Comancheros out on the plains. Or being killed by the oncoming Nazis, except your womenfolk that they will keep for the use of their soldiers.

We all possess personal liberties, part of which we surrender to society collectively. You seem to not want to surrender any of your personal liberties, in which case you should not receive the benefits of doing so, things like police protection, the protections of the laws and courts, public transportation systems, the electrical grid, water and sewage distribution systems, etc. You don’t get the benefits of society without some sacrifices. (If you think you are paying your own way, think again.)

Some of you claim that you are not getting vaccinated because your haven’t yet done your own research, or worse, you did your own research which came up negative. This is also a bullshit claim, because the odds that you are capable of doing vaccine research is almost zero. I am not talking about the laboratory work, but the reading of the mountains of literature that apply while being able to understand it. What you call “research” is reading or listening to what are called “news” publications. The people writing those articles are also not qualified to explain things to you.

Most of what I read in such reports is nonsense and worse. Even if the reporters are reputable, they will publish fragmentary reports instead of saying “there isn’t a coherent picture yet so we can’t report to you. So you get a little bit of this and a little bit of that, some of which is wrong because it hasn’t been verified and, most of it is premature which you have no way of evaluating, some of which is wild ass opinion used to sell news reports.

Plus, do you seek out reliable sources or just take what comes to you from Facebook and your local news broadcasts?

I suggest that what is keeping you from the relative safety of getting vaccinated is fear. This is understandable. But some the fears expressed are beyond the pale, for example, there are microchips in the vaccines so your location can be traced. If you were paying attention at all, currently if you have a smartphone near you (it doesn’t even have to be on or being used) your location can be determined in an instant. In any case, you have never been hard to find. Now we are told that “they” are hiding the vaccine in salad dressing . . . as if salads were your favorite foods. And one claim is that the vaccines will prevent young people from getting pregnant, as if that has ever happened in all of history.

You need to ask yourself what is the source of your fear. From whom did it come? Fear is being sold as a commodity to use as a political weapon and unscrupulous people have no problem in making you afraid of something at the drop of a hat. These same people have terrorized old white ladies through the fear of having their homes invaded by young black men. As if young black men would like nothing better than raping an old white lady (Eww!). The statistics tell us clearly that old white women are almost never raped by young black men, so the fear is unfounded . . . but is useful to racist politicians who are serving racist financial backers. Ironically, the same people that created this false fear will tell you that most black crime is black-on-black crime. It used to be the case that “you couldn’t have it both ways,” but in modern politics they are showing that you can.

I think the people who are deliberately promoting vaccine fear fraudulently should be strung up by there thumbs and whipped to within an inch of their lives. They are endangering you . . . and me . . . for political gain.

Go around and ask people what happened to them when they got vaccinated. That is research you can do. See if they began to be followed by black helicopters or men in black suits. See for yourself whether your fears are real or not. Living a life of fear sucks the joy out of life and doing it for someone else, someone you don’t even know, is foolhardy.

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