Class Warfare Blog

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.)

 

 

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February 2, 2018

Do You Buy This Argument?

Clearly our educational system is failing, heck it has failed. In the last 100 years, the average IQ of Americans has been stuck at 100 and if we are going to solve the problems of the future, we need to get smarter!

Is this a valid argument?

Do you accept it?

You should not.

IQ tests are “re-normed” every year, that is the average IQ test score, whatever it is, is defined to be a score of 100. Studies have shown that actual IQ scores are 10% higher now than they were 100 years ago, which means that a tester with a score of 100 (aka “average”) now would have had scores 110 back then or a tester back then who scored a 100 would score a 90 now.

So, this “complaint” about “the system” is taking what is actually a positive result and making it sound negative. This is not a new practice. People have been cherry-picking evidence since the dawn of making arguments. Often this is exacerbated by ignorance but possibly as often this is done with full knowledge of such distortions. The unfortunate thing for us is this practice is becoming acceptable to large swaths of the American people.

We see it in politics and we see in religion. For example, Christian apologists keep trotting out arguments that were disproved centuries ago as if they were new. I can’t believe all of them are ignorant to the facts, so some of this is done deliberately. What happens to an apologist who is caught out, basically telling an “untruth”? The answer: nothing. Similarly, in politics, politicians who lie and are shown to have known the truth ahead of the lie suffer no ill effects. We used to have a joke from many, many years ago that went: Q: How can you tell a politician is lying?, A: His lips are moving. This was considered funny and was based partially upon the fact that politicians are not allowed to tell the truth in many cases due to security issues (it is illegal to release “top secret” info) or they have been ordered by political superiors to not tell the truth yet (timing issues), etc. Now, lying is so commonplace that politicians don’t even bother responding to journalists who catch them lying. It is almost as if they are saying “Of course I was lying … didn’t you see my lips move, fool!”

If we are to save our democracy, we need to become better participants as citizens. We need to make sure there is a penalty for lying. To do this we need to stop trying to be universal experts in every political issue that comes up as that is a Herculean task and we are not demigods. Pick a topic (climate change, dark money, gerrymandering, whatever) and set out to become educated about that topic. Heck pick two topics, but whatever topics you pick, learn about the nuances. Then fire away.

In the absence of an educated citizenry, we will fall victim to arguments that sound valid, such as the one above, created by those wanting to manipulate the process and do not care for the truth, the people as a whole, or democracy in particular. We are many, they are few. No matter how many of us chose to become “experts” in a particular topic, we will still be many and they will still be few. But if we continue to flounder and, watching the “news,” bounce from topic to topic we really know nothing about, we will fail. We are many and they are few … and it is easier to organize a few than many.

Oh, and the answers you seek are not available on the “news.” In fact, I am not sure there is anything of value any more in the “news,” so if you think you are keeping up on current events because you watch “the news” on TV, you are being duped. I never watch TV “news” and when I stopped, I became much better informed on the issues I care about.

January 12, 2018

Oh, If Someone Else Will Pay For It, Sure

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said on Thursday that it would raise its starting wages, give bonuses to some employees and vastly expand maternity and parental leave benefits for its army of more than one million hourly workers. The retailer said that it would use some of the money it expects to save under the recently passed Republican tax bill to pay for the raises and enhanced benefits.

Walmart said it would increase its starting hourly wage from $9 to $11, and provide one-time cash bonuses of up $1,000 to hourly workers, depending on how long they have been with the company. The wage increase brings Walmart in line with some of its other retail-industry rivals amid a tightening labor market. Target raised its base pay to $11/hr last fall.

So, Walmart is struggling to keep up with Target? WTF?

Within hours of its self-serving announcement, Walmart undercut its triumphal message when news leaked that it was closing 63 of its Sam’s Club stores.

So, was the wage increase a smoke screen? Some “good news” to cover the “bad news” to follow? Otherwise why make the announcements on the heels of one another?

And, since Walmart is using its “tax cut” to pay for some of these employee benefit increases, how much of it we do not know, are they saying “Gee, now we can afford it?” Walmart has made huge profits for its owners and investors for decades, large enough that they could have been a leader in how to treat their employees. But no, Walmart would rather their primaries get to become billionaires than their workers to have a living wage.

And if anyone claims that Walmart is paying the “market price” for its labor, I will scream! The “market” is not magic, in fact it is a political construct that has been manipulated to create the lowest possible labor costs for its participating companies. The “market” is something that is a lousy guide for any endeavor. Worse are “free markets.” Any decent economist can tell you that unregulated markets doom the sectors they serve. In fact markets cannot thrive without regulation. So, why is one of our major political parties campaigning on a “regulations are bad, we must get rid of them” plank? Ask the people who are paying for those opinions to be espoused and actions taken. (Hint: it ain’t you or me.)

As to who will actually pay for those raises, look forward shortly to the Repubs to cut benefits to poor people. Why? Because the tax jiggering they have pull off is going to lower federal tax receipts and “we won’t have the money” to pay for such frivolous expenditures. Look for Walmart employees, a class of workers who benefit from the government programs lined up for haircuts by the GOP, even with their raises and bonuses to be less well off a year from now than they are now.

Three Billion = Not Enough

Today, Carrier, the profitable heating/ventilation/air conditioning company, owned by United Technologies Corporation, a federal contractor whose climate, controls, and security division, of which Carrier is a part, reported three billion dollars in operating profit in 2016—is letting go of more than two hundred employees in its second and final wave of Indiana-based layoffs, which began last July. In total, the company will be laying off more than five hundred employees as it moves manufacturing jobs to Monterrey, Mexico. Many of those employees voted for Donald Trump, who made saving Carrier’s “big, beautiful plant” one of his most repeated campaign promises. It was part of his broader pre-election claim that “A Trump Administration will stop the jobs from leaving America.”

Do realize that careful analyses of such moves often show the savings are minimal. Because the jobs are no longer near the U.S.-based managers, another level of managers has to be hired. Then there is transportation costs, and…. One thing you can be sure will be affected is their stock price. “Shareholders” love these moves, why no one knows. I suspect it is the choir praising the minister as both managers and shareholders belong to the same church, the Church of Greed.

Three billion dollars in profits in just one year and a sterling reputation for quality and … oh, we have to move to save the company? WTF?

January 8, 2018

Pigs at the Private Trough

I have written before about CEO compensation, mainly that it is being manipulated by the CEOs themselves and their hand-picked boards of governors (often made up of other CEOs). This largess isn’t supported by history in this country and now a major study by Bloomberg researchers has driven a stake into any argument that these overpaid CEO’s are worth what they are paid. A post on OurFuture.org stated: “The Bloomberg researchers looked worldwide at major corporations of similar size and heft. In all, the researchers examined corporate pay records in 22 nations. In not one of these nations, Bloomberg found, do the executives of top-line firms make anything close to the paychecks of America’s corporate execs.

“In fact, America’s top corporate executives are taking home, on average, quadruple the average CEO pay that comparable top execs in the rest of the world are making.

“If this huge pay difference simply reflected a “marketplace” judgment on the sheer talent of America’s top execs, top U.S. corporations would be totally dominating global markets, outselling their foreign rivals by wide margins in everything from cars to computers.

“U.S. corporations are doing no such thing, of course. In one key global market sector after another, foreign corporations that pay their CEOs much less than U.S. CEOs are running neck and neck with their U.S. counterparts — and often leading the pack.”

CEOs and their cohort (business executives) are the largest growing segment of the 1% and are major drivers in the efforts to establish even greater wealth and pay inequality through manipulations of the government. If they were insects we would not hesitate to spray them out of existence for the pests they are.

I have suggested a way to dial back these bloated CEO salaries. It is relatively simple. If you like your current CEO, renegotiate his contract around a salary 50% of whatever they are currently making. If they say that they will “take their ball and go home,” say “fine.” Go to the Vice-CEO and offer them the job at 50% of what you were paying your current CEO. In all likelihood they will jump at the opportunity to improve their resume, but if they do not, go to the next most senior executive and offer him/her the job. You will find a taker and your company will not suffer much if at all. If you are in favor of a “kinder, gentler” process, you can make the reduction to 75% or whatever you deem appropriate. If the subordinates to your current CEO are also making bloated salaries, the same process should be applied to them. We certainly would not want the top executives making less than their subordinates! (Hey, the top guys used this to ratchet their salaries up, we can use it to ratchet the others’ salaries down.)

The fact the foreign companies that are doing as well or better than our companies are “getting by” with CEO pay one fourth of what we are paying says something. Heck, if you can’t find anyone in your corp who will take the job at 50% of current CEO pay, offer it to one of those foreign executives. To them the job will come with a pay raise.

January 5, 2018

Our Current Crop of Economists” Wrong, Wronger, or Wrongest?

Filed under: Economics — Steve Ruis @ 8:30 am
Tags: , , , ,

If you want a completely different take on what economics could be, showing us why the current path we are on is one to oblivion, this is a must read. And it makes a lot more sense than the gibberish we are currently being fed.

More Power to the Workers: Seymour Melman on Extraction by the Military, Managers, and Finance

If you want to understand the modern world, the Naked Capitalism site is an absolute help.

January 1, 2018

How Could We Have Known?

Filed under: Business,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:12 am
Tags: , , ,

I can hear it now, the energy executives who express wonderment at the extent of the damage caused by climate change while looking bewildered for the cameras: “How could we have known?” They will say this.

Well, help me count the ways…. Here is a warning given in 1959, almost 60 years ago, during an institute called by, of all people, the energy executives.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jan/01/on-its-hundredth-birthday-in-1959-edward-teller-warned-the-oil-industry-about-global-warming

December 30, 2017

The Only Way to Less Inequality?

Here is a devastating assessment of the actual cost of the GOP’s recent tax bill. It is by Bill Honig, who I have met and consider to be a smart and honorable man.

http://www.buildingbetterschools.com/2017/12/26/faq-for-gop-trump-tax-bill/

Much of the GOP tax bill has been labeled as “bad news,” so I do not think you will be surprised to find out the news is worse that we thought. I bring this up because a new book has come out that addresses the history of inequality and the only forces that seem to reverse it for even small periods of time. The book is “The Great Leveler” by Walter Scheidel. Here is part of the description of that book (from Amazon.com):

How only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout world history
Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes. Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return. The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality. The “Four Horsemen” of leveling—mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich. Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century. Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.

This book supports my view that the fundamental purpose of civilization is to create inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity, for the benefit of the elites, both secular and religious, with the costs to be born by everyone else. And I have advocated, sometimes tongue in cheek, that it was time to get out the pitchforks and torches, but if this author is correct only “mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich” we are in quite dire straights. We have been making war on other countries for over 200 years of our existence, and it is a very rare occasion for war to intrude on our shores, and a “mass mobilization” for war means the war has to be very, very large indeed. That is a path, in this age of nuclear weapons, I do not wish to take. State collapse and catastrophic plagues aren’t appealing, so that leaves “transformative revolutions” to us. Such revolutions can be non-violent (rare) or violent and considering the polarization of the U.S. and our massive personal stockpiles of weaponry, it looks like a peaceful revolution will be a very good trick to pull off, indeed.

I do note, however, that the only way to avoid the toxic effects of wealth is to make sure great amounts of it either do not occur or are reduced when they occur. This means that a major function of a democracy is to … wait for it … wait … redistribute wealth away from the wealthy. Unfortunately, our governments have been captured by the wealthy who have been busy redistributing wealth to the wealthy for the past 40 years.

My only hope to avoid large scale violence is that the GOP’s paymasters will so overplay their hand that there will be a quasi-socialist revolution that will give power back to the people and defang the wealthy elites now running the show. My preference is for new political parties (two at least) as the ones we have have failed miserably and have too much baggage to carry into the future.

December 22, 2017

I Wonder … Is This Another GOP “Oops Moment”?

In the recent discussions of business taxes people kept quoting the, now old, marginal business tax rate of 35% when they compared our business taxes with those of other countries. Our marginal rate, that is our highest rate, is indeed higher than most all other comparable countries when you do that comparison. But if you compare our effective tax rates with those countries, the amounts that actually get paid (after all of the loopholes and “special tax credits” and … are factored in) we tend to be lower than most. Under the old system, the rate started at 15% and climbed to 35% as the taxable income rose. (This was exactly parallel to the personal tax bracket structure that also started at 15%, then rose up to 39.5% on income over about a quarter of a million dollars.) But do note that a business was taxed at the 35% rate only on earnings in excess of $10,000,000, so you are not talking about Mom and Pop operations paying anything at that rate. (Constantly referring to small businesses as if they were Mom and Pop businesses (they are not) and only quoting that 35% marginal rate is a form of lying, in my opinion.)

Under the new law, just passed, the business tax rate has been made a flat rate at 21%, that is anything over $1 (one dollar!) will be taxed at the single rate of 21%. I thought they had just reduced the marginal rate to 21% (from 35%) and kept the lower brackets leading up to that, which would mean the 21% only applied to earnings over ten million dollars, but apparently they did not. I am shocked at this because the effective tax rate has been lower than 21% for quite some time. For example, 288 “big and profitable” Fortune 500 corporations paid an average effective federal tax rate of just 19.4% from 2008 to 2012. This new rate of 21% represents a tax increase on those businesses (if there are no other compensating changes).

I wonder if the Repubs made a mistake in framing this that way. I wonder if they think they got a “two fer” in getting a big business tax rate deduction plus a flat tax, two Republican wet dreams of the recent past, and just fucked it up out of good, old fashioned American incompetence.

If this is true, life is good!

 

December 20, 2017

We Have Morons Running Our Governments

One of the responses from those in the federal government who were told they could no longer use certain wordsand terms, such as fetus, science-based, climate change, or evidenced-based, responded with “Can we still use moron?” One of the functions of a bureaucracy is to resist change. Ours seems to still be working.

The Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, has stripped away its bureaucracies in favor of … what? The GOP seems now to be run under the influence of deep thinkers, such as Murray Rothbard, an inspiration to many, including the Koch brothers. Rothbard has asked “What is the State anyway but organized banditry? What is taxation but theft on a gigantic, unchecked scale?” According to this intellectual giant, we need to finance all of our collective efforts with bake sales or maybe “I’ve got an idea, gang; let’s put on a show!”

In their world, a person works as an individual and pays all who help him/her, being indebted to no one and then accrues wealth in the form of a pile of gold in the corner of his living room. But they also believe that if they were to die unexpectedly, that their wives and children should then “own” that wealth. But the wives and children didn’t earn that wealth, why should they have any claim to it at all? These conservative savants believe in inheritance, you see, which is a legal thing and immediately their personal philosophy is in trouble. I remember a very wealthy man who left almost all of his wealth to charity when he died, because he didn’t want to deprive his children of the experience of having to work for a living.

Is there any evidence of a culture or society in which there was no form of tax or extracted labor? I do not know of one. If we have collective needs, they must be paid for collectively. Even the libertarian radicals recognize collective needs in the form of the militaries and courts, so how are we to pay for these?

The government is “us” acting collectively. In order for it to work we, collectively, have to have respect for individuals … and individuals, individually, have to have respect for “us.” One of our major political parties has bought into the first, but not the second part of that statement, which means our democracy is in peril. (Guess which one, go ahead, guess …)

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