Uncommon Sense

December 1, 2022

Democrats are Pro-Labor . . . Aren’t They?

Not for the last 40 years or so, no. I remember when Mr. Obama was elected. A piece of legislation dearly sought by unions had been stalled and when he was elected, well, it would be pushed through by the Dems, right? The legislation was to go back to the labor law when a union could essentially gather membership cards from a majority of a workplace’s workers and that would give the union standing to represent those workers in negotiations. Card campaigns were cards that stated that a worker wanted a union to represent them, just as a lawyer has a client sign a contract that states that they are representing them as a client. That was the law for many, many years. Mr. Obama ignored that legislation and it died on the vine.

Many other instances of labor being ignored have occurred, I am sure, but most recently President Biden showed the Dems true colors by forcing a labor settlement to avoid a railroad strike. The railroad workers were negotiating to get paid sick leave. Do you have paid sick leave? Can you imagine what your life would be without it? Railroad workers were told they could use paid vacation time if they needed to see a doctor or had to go to hospital. How would you feel if that were the case in your job?

President Biden, along with all of the other Dems, has stated clearly that the Dems, like the Repubs, are behind their rich donors and not you and not me.

As one wag put it, the Dems look union people straight in the eye and say “You’ll never get anything you want if I don’t win; but once I win, I can’t do the things you need, because then I wouldn’t be able to win again.” (Hamilton Nolan in The Guardian) Gosh, they couldn’t possibly offend the rich, now, could they?

* * *

Last year, adjusted operating margins for the five largest US railroads were 41 percent. Ten years ago, they were 29 percent. Two decades ago, they were 15 percent. Even compared with other transportation companies (which are doing extremely well)— trucking, parcel, air freight, maritime shipping, airlines – today’s railroad profits are humongous. (Robert Reich)

Railroad workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in fact, railroad employees are approximately twice as likely to die on the job as the average American worker. The risk is shared by conductors, signalmen, track laborers and others, and even non-fatal injuries can be serious, leading to chronic pain and other debilitating issues. (Arvin J. Perlman)

November 26, 2022

All You Need is Love, Wait . . .

Christians of the evangelical sort are told frequently that all they need is faith, but actually that is not true. They are also told that they need to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior — that if they didn’t they weren’t “saved,” and they would go to hell. (Someday I am going to have to write about accepting someone as one’s “lord.”)

Then I ran across this statement on my Quora feed:

Christianity is a set of incentives that erode our own internal resources. And minimizes our access to them. In return, the only “resource” we are provided with is faith. Faith to me is something much more toxic even than a faulty epistemology. It is a gateway drug to an addiction to being right. (Vincent Downing)

Wow! “Christianity is a set of incentives that erode our own internal resources. And minimizes our access to them.” I should have realized this before, that Christianity of the evangelical sort is a system that makes people dependent upon the religion by reducing their own abilities. The phrase “Jesus take the wheel” sums up this belief. Jesus never passed his driver’s test, so this is not meant literally. It is meant that Jesus is to take control of one’s life and steer it, brake it, speed it up, etc. It means that control over one’s life is to be placed elsewhere. (Of course Jesus is nowhere to be found, so the church steps in as his general factotum.)

If you look at the skills a modern adult needs to thrive in our culture, they are myriad. One needs patience, resilience, grit, persistence, intelligence, intuition, reasoning ability, logic, . . . , compassion, love, empathy, hand-eye coordination, a sense of direction, etc.

But these Christians are taught that when then need a little help that they are to trust in God/Jesus for that help, and they need not learn and practice the life skills needed to thrive.

It is all about creating a dependence upon the church.

The church, of course, cannot be seen to be unreliable or untrustworthy, or even incorrect, which is why they deny vehemently any wrong doing, even when caught with their pants down (literally), and this is where the second part of the above quotation comes in “It is a gateway drug to an addiction to being right.”

So, churches need to emphasize why they are “right” and the others are “wrong” otherwise they could lose adherents, aka paying customers. They just cannot say that other faiths/religions are okay as that would be marketing suicide. This explains why there are between 30,000 and 40,000 different sects of Christianity. Each one has to insist that about some point, be it minor or major, they are right and the others, all of the others, are wrong.

For example, evangelicals have a hard time calling Catholics “Christians.” According to them, Catholics aren’t “saved.” Apply this thinking to the vast number of Christian sects and you arrive at only one of them being “correct” and all of the others are leading their congregants to Hell. Imagine that, the vast majority of Christians are going to Hell, and that is according to other Christians.

Outside of theological matters, we can see what this level of thinking is doing to our (American) politics. Rather than seeking out compromises as was done for generations, modern pols insist they are right and that the others are not only wrong, but they are evil and should be destroyed. Egad! Where did this extreme political rhetoric come from? (You know now, don’t you.)

November 16, 2022

Won’t Voters Ever Ask Government to LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE?

The above question was used as a title for a online column by a Mr. John Stossel on Nov 9, 2022. I assume he is a right-wing commentator as he states that he is “the author of Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

His post doesn’t have much to say about answering that question, it was more about wanting Republicans to defeat Democrats and “take control.” And, as we all know, Republicans are renowned for getting government to leave people alone.

The passion shown in the question, indicated by all caps being used (which is shouting in print), indicates a heartfelt desire to be left alone by government. But that is rather stupid. Allow me to explain.

We are what biologists call a social species. We bunch together in groups to our advantage. So, over the years we created things like fire departments to assist us when fires attack our homes or places of business. We created police departments to handle sociopathic members of our societies. We established rules under which people can do business so that people aren’t cheated or businesses unfairly competed with. We established . .  . I think you get the idea.

The “government” has been turned into some sort of bogyman that came from Mars to attack us by these very same people, or they are trying to convince us that is so. Instead, government is “We the People” acting collectively. None of us would survive more than a few weeks entirely on our own. Without using banks, paper money, credit cards or any of the other systems created by “government,” how would you acquire food to eat? Would you try to barter with the clerk at your local supermarket? Would you go hunting in your nearby national park? Would you gather nuts and berries from your local parks? Fish in the local streams?

How would you get around? Surely you wouldn’t deign to use “government roads” to drive on, besides how would you pay for gas to operate your vehicles?

The “government,” aka We the People, is interwoven in our culture and society. The people bemoaning this fact are actually bad actors who want to take advantage of the absence of government. Business are hell-bent on creating monopolies, so that they will dominate the markets they are invested in, and thus make all the money they want screwing over their “customers.” They don’t want government anti-monopoly functions interfering. They want “free markets,” which is code for markets free of government manipulations, so that they are the only ones manipulating them. They want government to “leave them alone,” but are working assiduously to get government officials to grant them special privileges, subsidies, special tax statuses, etc.

We are a social species. We thrive when we take care of one another. The only discussion should be “how” and not whether to do that or not.

These people are telling us who they are. We need to listen to them and act accordingly.

November 15, 2022

Religious Dogma Begets Political Dogma

The article below was reported in the magazine Freethought Today. One has to question what value a repetition of a pledge has. Do marriage vows expire? Do they need to be renewed? If so, how often. (I remember a player for the NBA’s Sacramento King’s basketball team that renewed his wedding vows annually (including a full wedding ceremony and reception). Yes, most people thought it odd.

When a politician or a soldier makes an oath to his country, does that wear out? Need it be reinforced?

I remember being a school child and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every damned day, first period. That practice lead to an undermining of the substance of that pledge as students created variations because of the boring repetition, e.g. “I pledge allegiance to the United States of Asparagus . . .”

Let’s see, 185 school days per year from the age of five to 18. Let’s see . . . carry the one . . . that’s over 2500 repetitions of that pledge, not counting assemblies and special sessions, etc. I wonder what happened over summer vacation. That pledge couldn’t last more than a couple of days (because weekends), so two plus months away from school and the pledge not being reinforced, why we must have become commie pinko socialist Marxists every summer!

There is no social value for repeating such a pledge at each and every damned meeting of a school board. Maybe at the first meeting of every academic school year, but even then, it is debatable what value it has.

apparently the god-fearing Christians, steeped in repetition of Bible stories and sermon talking points are reassured by such repetitions because they have been taught that the ceremony is more important than the substance.

Oh and “disgusting things” and “”threats” are now part of the Christian playbook. I am sure they have Biblical support for their tactics.

Fargo Reinstates Pledge After Public Backlash

Following a public outcry, the Fargo (N.D.) School Board voted 8-1 to resume reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of board meetings.

The decision, made during a special meeting Aug. 18, was prompted by the backlash that followed a decision by the board on Aug. 9 to stop reciting the pledge. Board President Tracie Newman recommended the board reinstate the pledge.

Prior to the vote, several board members mentioned they had received hateful and sometimes threatening calls and emails from all over the country.

Board member Nyamal Dei, who cast the lone “no” vote at the meeting, shared a voicemail recording in front of the board. The recording contained vulgar, hateful and racist language throughout.

Board member Katie Christensen, who attended the meeting by phone, said she had been called disgusting things and received threats. She said she had reported some of the threatening messages to the police. (Source: Freethought Today, October 2022)

School Voucher Systems—Another Subsidy for the Rich

I am sure you have heard of the various school voucher systems being implemented around the country. In them, parents of school-aged children can opt out of the public school system in their community and receive a voucher they can use to have their child attend the private school of their choice. How can this not be a good thing? Sounds like a win-win-win all the way around, except it is just another boondoggle used by the wealthy to their advantage.

For example, 80% of the “voucher students” in Arizona were already enrolled in a private school, so there is not much choice involved in the voucher as the choice had already been made. The voucher was just a way to recoup some of the tuition they were already paying. Oh, In New Hampshire, the number was 89%; in Wisconsin it was 75%.

To make things worse, students who were formerly in public schools and left to go to a private school with their “voucher,” generally did substantially poorer academically than they did before. How much poorer? On par with the education impact of having a disaster hit their community, like a hurricane or a pandemic (yes, worse than the COVID shutdown of the schools impact).

So, why are these programs so popular? Well, they are very popular with people who already have their children in private schools, aka the wealthy. (When we moved to Chicago, our first condo was butted up against Chicago Day School. Tuition for the primary school children going there was in the neighborhood of $40,000 per year. I am sure it helped those little nippers get a good job later in life. And they didn’t have to rub elbows with “ordinary” children!)

School voucher programs could have been structured to help the poor (as they are claimed to do but don’t) or any number of configurations, but the vast majority of them are structured to line the pockets of wealthy people.

I am old enough to remember the arguments back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Wealthy people whined that they had to pay taxes to support the educational system, and they also had to pay tuition at their kid’s private schools. It is unfair, they said! Their arguments were summarily dismissed at the time with the counter argument of “we all benefit from having an educated citizenry.” In addition, childless couples pay education taxes, and they have no children who will take part in the public school system. The taxes paid are not to educated one’s own children, but to educate all children.

The wealthy and their primary political party (hint—The GOP) are working hammer and tongs to support the current status quo (No change, no change, no change . . . starting to sound like a Conservative Woodstock!) because the current status quo is slanted so heavily to benefit the already wealthy. And the Democrats are buying into the same program, trailing the Republicans in just small ways now.

Support the Rich! Provide School Vouchers Now! (Repeat after me!)

Want more details? See here (The Hechinger Report)

November 12, 2022

Contrary to the Evidence

You thought this was going to be about religion, didn’t you?

Actually it is more about economics and other things. The theoretical structure of economics is built mostly out of self-serving bullshit. For example, they refer to the human beings interacting in our economy as a particular kind of human: Homo economicus. Homo economicus is an hypothetical person who behaves in exact accordance with their rational self-interest. Using rational assessments, Homo economicus attempts to maximize utility as a consumer and economic profit as a producer. Ta da. Recent studies show that such beings do not exist and never have. (Think of economic Vulcans.)

Economists also base their theoretical structures on “economic transactions” involving buyers and sellers who both have complete information. Have you ever heard of such a ridiculous thing? If this were ever the case economists would be advising clients that not only is advertising not needed, but that it was a distortion of the economic system and should not be done.

In the U.S. we are obsessed with having a pay-as-you-go culture. Everyone needs to pay for everything as you proceed through life. Anything that is just handed to you is “Socialism!” leading to the destruction of freedom, motherhood, Chevrolets, and apple pie. A consequence of this is that 40% of all jobs are “bullshit jobs.”

A bullshit job is “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as a part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend this is not the case.” David Graeber

According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.” David Graeber

What is doubly ironic about this is that the bullshit jobs rarely pay a living wage. Living wages and minimum wages, etc. are Socialism! In order for us to have a pay-as-you-go culture, people have to make enough money to pay for their needs (not necessarily their wants, but food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, etc.). That is what a living wage is. If you are making a living wage, you can “afford” to live; if not you are dying or at a bare minimum spiraling down to an early death. All to maintain the illusion of a “pay-as-you-go culture.”

The cost of everyone receiving a living wage for their labor is that there may be a few fewer billionaires and the billionaires still in existence may have a few less billions of dollars in their money bins. But this cannot be because . . . Capitalism, the only god Americans actually worship.

Even that social troglodyte Henry Ford understood this. He paid his workers almost a dollar more per day than other manufacturers. This caused workers to flock to the Ford plants and those already there worked hard to keep their jobs as they paid so much better than elsewhere. But was that Ford’s reasoning? No, he wanted his workers to make enough money to be able to buy a Ford car. And they did, with money Ford paid them as wages. So, he got “his” money back. If he had starved his workers, like his fellow plutocrats, he wouldn’t have sold near as many cars.

October 24, 2022

The Right Wing’s Pitch

From the US to the UK to Italy, their pitch is the same:
If you work ridiculously hard for significantly less wealth than you create for your corporate overlords, we’ll do our best to devalue your money, cut the public services you’re paying for, sell off all your public assets, cut taxes on your bankers and land-lorders, let monopolies spawn like mold spores, and ensure your children have absolutely zero hope of owning a home or ever being free of colossal amounts of compounding interest-laden debt.” (Jared A. Block)

Nail, meet hammer!

The writer is a Brit, I suspect, but it seems that he understands American politics better than many of us.

October 11, 2022

Republicans Are Against Redistribution of Wealth

Well, the title of this post needs a clarification: they are against redistribution of wealth towards you and way from their paymasters, redistribution the other way is fine, just fine.

A recent study by the RAND Corporation (https://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WRA516-1.html) came to the conclusion that “the cumulative effect of four decades of income growth below the growth of per capita gross national income and estimate that aggregate income for the population below the 90th percentile over this time period would have been $2.5 trillion (67 percent) higher in 2018 had income growth since 1975 remained as equitable as it was in the first two post-War decades” This in essence means that 2500 billion dollars of wealth was redistributed from the bottom 90% of our economy to the very top. The median worker should be making $102,000 per year instead of the current value of about half of that.

A Fast Company blog post outlines the findings quite well (https://medium.com/fast-company/we-were-shocked-rand-study-uncovers-massive-income-shift-to-the-top-1-a4970c2e0863).

Now I have heard some say that if we had received those funds all along, it would have just inflated prices so much that we wouldn’t be any better off, which misses the point entirely. It is not so much that our money left our control, it is that it went into the oligarch’s pockets and was under their control, and they are using that money to buy politicians, judges, news media and more to in effect gain control over the entire country!

While both parties were bribed to help pull this off, the GOP is by far the worst perpetrator. When you hear a Republican say “we are against redistribution of wealth” realize they are saying we don’t want to give you your money back and we want to keep stealing more. When you hear a Republican saying “We don’t want government regulations, what they are really saying is “we don’t want government competing with our manipulations of the markets and the environment.”

The GOP used to be the Party of Big Business. Now they are the Party of Big Money, and the Democrats are lining up behind them. We desperately need to start throwing some of these bums out and electing candidates like Bernie Sanders.

October 9, 2022

The Difference Between Having an Opinion and Having a Say

My topic is politics. Recently the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS), in its infinite wisdom, has declared two bizarre things: one is that money is a form of political speech and the other is that corporations are “people” in the political arena.

This has led to the current situation in which corporations are able to make unlimited donations to political campaigns, despite the fact that there is no aspect of a corporation that possesses a political identity. If the CEO determines the political identity of a corporation, does that mean if the CEO is an atheist or Christian that the corporation is an atheist or Christian entity? If the CEO is a Republican, does that make the corporation a Republican? If the corporation hires a new CEO, are the new CEO’s politics and religion examined as part of the hiring process, to see if the CEO candidate is aligned with the corporations identity? If so, the law is being violated.

There is a broader problem in these matters and the SCOTUS seems to be oblivious to it. In a corporation, say one giving heavily to the Trump campaign, if an employee feels differently, what about their position? Well, in that case the employee has a right to have an opinion, but he has no say in the matter, because the CEO (or Board, or . . .) has the say as to the political stances of the corporation. SCOTUS seems to think that free political speech belongs to everybody, when it clearly does not, and declaring money to be a form of free speech complicates the Hell out of the situation.

If you come to a political discussion and espouse your opinion, I have the ability to evaluate your position. If you say “Don’t elect so-and-so because he is a filthy Jew.” I can see clearly that you are an anti-Semite. “If you says “Don’t elect so-and-so because he is a tax and spend Democrat,” or “Don’t elect so-and-so because he is anti-guns,” I can evaluate your opinion. If you say “so-and-so” is an atheist and the guy goes to my church, I might even speak up and provide that counter-evidence and undermine your speech. But if all he does is send money to the opponents of “so-and-so” I have no idea what his opinions are. (He may be donating so he can suck up to his boss; I can’t tell!)

Now expand your thinking to “the guy with the opinion” is from another state and he is arguing against voting in a candidate for governor. He attends the political discussion and says “I am not from here, I am from California, and I don’t think you should elect “so-and-so” as your governor.” Now your reaction is different. You might ask why he is butting in on your debate time, because all he has is an opinion, he doesn’t have a say. The people who have a say have a vote in that governor’s election. The people with just opinions do not. By showing up and identifying himself as someone who doesn’t have a say changes your opinion of the value of his speech. But political donations aren’t things we can evaluate, in fact often we cannot identify from whom they come. They are a form of “free speech” (Not!) that cannot be categorized by the “hearers” of said speech.

Our political system would have a much better chance of surviving is we limited political free speech to those who have a say, those people in the district of the candidate. They have a say or could have, not voting is a say, but outsiders can’t even protest by not voting; they are forbidden to vote outside of their electoral districts.

This should be applied to political money as a start. Candidates can only collect funds from people they will represent, no others. If a corporation doesn’t have its headquarters in a candidate’s district (as an approximation of its “permanent address”) it cannot donate money to those candidates because they are practicing influence peddling pure and simple. (Studies show that big donors are served more readily by politicians no matter where their interests lie.) Corporations may have outlandish power in the places their headquarters are located, but that is better than allowing them outlandish power in every state in the union. That is the equivalent of letting people establish a post office box in each state and use that as a permanent residence to have “a say,” even to vote in that state.

Oh, and if you are wondering where our current path leads, all you need do is look at the current crop of national politicians and candidates for those offices. In the history of this country we have had a long, slow increase in the social standing of politicians and in the quality of people in those offices, except of late when a great deal of regression along those lines has occurred. All the oligarchs need from politicians is obedience to their needs. They do not need or want politicians who care about people, who carefully research issues and craft public policies that benefit all citizens. For example, other civilized countries have institutionalized health care. e.g. Canada. We do not. Why? Because the oligarchs are making obscene profits from selling insurance and pharmaceuticals to desperately sick Americans. As another example, a large majority of Americans want better regulation of gun purchases and usages, either by enforcing the laws already on the books that are not currently enforced, or by writing new laws. No such efforts are currently being made. Why? Because the oligarchs are currently making obscene profits selling guns to anxious Americans, anxious because there are so many guns floating around to be used by who knows who.

The oligarchs have all the government they desire right now and are grinding away to have less of it. Government is the only entity capable of standing up to the massive influence and wealth of the oligarchs and they want it out of the way. Their fifty year campaign is almost complete. If we don’t take a stand soon, I am afraid the Great American Experiment in Self-governance will be over.

October 4, 2022

Our National Motto

As many of you know E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One) is the traditional motto of the United States, appearing on the Great Seal of the United States (its inclusion on the seal was approved in an act of the U.S. Congress in 1782). While its status as national motto was for many years unofficial, E Pluribus Unum was considered the de facto motto of the United States from its early history. Eventually, the U.S. Congress passed an act in 1956 (H. J. Resolution 396), adopting “In God We Trust” as the official motto.

As you probably also know “In God We Trust” was promoted by President Dwight Eisenhower to combat godless communism. Well, anybody see any communism around any more? No? Apparently that campaign worked and it is time to go back to our original national motto. (Hey, maybe we can get the Supreme Court to chime it! They are big fans of “history” and “original intent.”)

“Out of many, one” speaks volumes. It refers to the states welded into a country, the United States. It speaks of the myriad different voices in this country, which are mixed together to make one voice. And myriad peoples: Protestants, Catholics, Germans, Irish, English, men, women, Black, White, and Brown and on and on merged into one body politic.

“In God We Trust” is idiotic. If this were so, would we expect this God to protect us? (Think about how well it did for the Jews during the Holocaust.) If so, we could dismantle all of the armed forces. Think of the money we would save! Do we expect this god to unite us? Which of the 45,000 sects of Christianity would become “the One”? (Actually, there aren’t that many in the U.S., only several hundred.) Can we expect this god to protect us from predatory capitalists? If so, it is doing a shitty job of that. Just what can we “trust” this God for? Anything? Apparently not. It doesn’t even protect His Christians from the rampant persecution claimed by the evangelicals in this country, how can we expect it to protect us all?

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