Uncommon Sense

January 24, 2023

Modern Day Villains

We, as a society, consume a great many entertainments, many of which are visual: videos, shows, concerts, etc. In the “movies” many plots require some dramatic tension and a good guy-bad guy axis. Someone to root for, someone to root against. And the villains fall into somewhat nice categories: we have sociopaths and psychopaths, whose thinking is bizarre to us, but fascination, currently we have quite a few zombies who have no personality but pose an existential threat nonetheless. (Nobody tries to figure out why the zombies are doing what they do, they just run.) And the usual coterie of “bad guys” includes drug dealers, people who cheat on the spouses, etc. It is rare that a new bad guy, like Hannibal Lecter comes along.

By far the most common bad guy in today’s videos is . . . drum roll, please . . . corporations, evil corporations, not just corporations that run over you because they didn’t see you in their driveway. Corporations that are driven only to make profits and to Hell with any opposition to those efforts.

Here is Bernie Sanders chiming in on one such corporation (Cal-Maine Foods):

Bernie Sanders (Twitter)
@SenSanders
Corporate greed is the producer of Egg-Land’s Best, Farmhouse Eggs & Land O’Lake Eggs, increasing its profits by 65% last quarter to a record-breaking $198 million while doubling the price of eggs & reporting no positive cases of avian flu. Yes. We need a windfall profits tax.
11:37 AM · Jan 15, 2023·
2.4M Views

And these corporations haven’t exactly been subtle about their machinations: the CEOs of America’s largest companies got on their quarterly investor calls and chortled about the willingness of “consumers” to blame inflation for the prices they were jacking up . . . because they could.

Republicans stickered gas-pumps up and down the country with Joe Biden “I Did That” stickers, even as gas companies declared record profits and boasted to investors about how they were able to tap directly into drivers’ wallets under cover of inflation.

It doesn’t look like any other villain will knock corporations out of their #1 spot at all soon. They just can’t help themselves, reinforcing their “bad guy” image over and over and over.

As I had said often enough, the Achilles’ Heel of capitalism is that it places no restriction on greed.

December 30, 2022

OMG, Making Trump’s Tax Returns Public! It is an outrage!

No.

It is not.

These are government documents and citizens have a right to see those not marked Top Secret or above.

In an actual civilized country, Sweden, any citizen’s tax return can be acquired by any other Swedish citizen who goes to a local tax office, fills out a form, and pays a small fee (for duplication costs). In Sweden, all tax returns are public documents, as they basically are here, except in the minds of those who want to hide their crimes. Or who want to lie about how much they make or about how much wealth they have.

Think about it. We are asked by our government to fill out extensive forms to determine how much tax we should pay. Why would those forms be secret to all other taxpayers, who may be suspicious that fraud is occurring elsewhere in the system? The answer is short—they should not.

Oh, did you see where Trump wrote off a $70,000 “business” expense for “hair care”? Any claim of him being a good businessman should end at that fact right there.

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 29, 2022

The Education Voucher Program Scam

Filed under: Business,Education — Steve Ruis @ 9:04 am
Tags: , , , ,

There is a rule of thumb I apply when researching over-the-counter drugs and medical devices. I do an Internet search basically asking “does XYZ really work?” or the equivalent. If the top ten hits are mostly websites clearly sponsored by the creators, I know it is a scam. Those sites are part of their marketing plan. If the reviews by the general public are largely negative, these “positive” reviews dilute them down. They basically are guaranteeing that positive “reviews” are the first thing that comes up in such a search.

If you do a similar search for information on educational voucher programs, you will get a similar response, all heavily positive data and reviews. Unfortunately, the vast bulk of the “data” and reviews are bogus, paid for by the rich assholes taking financial advantage through such programs. (It sure isn’t the students because independent research shows that students using vouchers perform more poorly that students who do not. “There is credible research on one side—that vouchers are largely a negative force for student outcomes—and politically oriented reports on the other. That’s it.”—Josh Cowen)

If this is a topic that interests you, here are the specifics:

Josh Cowen: A Citizen’s Guide to the Researchers and Funders Behind Vouchers

November 22, 2022

Which Issue is the Newly Republican House Be Most Focused Upon?

Republicans were elected to office promising to do something about crime, inflation, high taxes, etc. but the first thing announced to be at the top of their agenda, is . . . well, you guess, from this list:
1. crime
2. inflation
3. high taxes
4. abortion
5. Russian war sanctions
6. the new IRS hires
7. the President’s son, Hunter Biden.

Well, what do you think? Yes, it is Hunter Biden! If you correctly guessed that is the case, your winner’s prize will be shipped to you within the next 30 days. This is the greatest issue on the Republican political radar facing this country.

But Republicans are multi-taskers! While they are busy investigating a private citizen, they will also be busy trying to rescind the funding for the 87,000 new IRS agents recently authorized. So, their first crime legislation is making it easier for tax cheats to evade paying taxes. (And since those new agents were to specifically target rich tax evaders, we are not at all surprised, are we?) I am sure those rich criminals will be grateful and pony up campaign donations with the money they save from cheating on their taxes.

Oh, remember the rapid anti-communists of the GOP’s past? The “New Republicans” will also try to prevent any more aid being provided to Ukraine in its defense against invading Russian armies. I guess they learned that “Aid to Putin” was a good thing from Donald Trump.

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 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.

November 10, 2022

If You Aren’t Yet Convinced that Our Enemy is the big Money Corporations and the Uber-rich . . .

Please read this:

Amazon and Apple have an illegal price-fixing conspiracy

November 3, 2022

Grubbing for Respectability

The study of economics has been searching for respectability for many decades. Most recently it has been mathematized in order to make it more sciency and references to the “economic sciences” (sic) abound.

I noticed that today the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences had been awarded, and as a lazy news agencies reported it, it was the Nobel Prize for Economics. There is no Nobel Prize for Economics. This prize was named to imply that it is but it is not. They even announce the “winners” at the same time the real Nobel Prizes are awarded to complete the illusion. Pathetic. Almost as bad as the award shows, like the Oscars, et. al. in which an industry rewards itself.

No matter how much respectability grubbing proponents of the study of economics claim it is, economics is not a science. Yes, math can be used, graduate courses in economics now require Calculus where they did not in the recent past, and money can be calculated to fine precision, but the “laws” governing the topic aren’t scientific laws and, in most cases are little better than conjectures.

Take, for example, the concept of market equilibrium. A market is said to be at equilibrium when supply and demand for a good or service balance each other, and as a result prices become stable. If something changes this situation, once breached, the market opposes these changes, moving back in the direction of equilibrium. It is a nice concept and, as a rule of thumb, is a description of a small part of the behaviors one can observe in economic markets. But it is not a scientific law. There are no natural forces behind it. The major users of economics, businesses, are striving fang and claw to create monopolies for their businesses, so that have complete and total control of their market. There is no “market force” or “economic force” that opposes these attempts at “market domination.” Such “economic laws” (sic) are just crude descriptions of how markets can perform under a small set of circumstances.

The whole idea of free markets was built upon the myth of market correction forces. The myth is that politicians should leave markets alone because markets function best when unregulated. This is a baseless, self-serving claim that is not supported by any facts. Those promoting free markets, that is markets free from government regulation, really want governments not interfering with their market manipulations. They want to be the regulator of their markets, not the representative of all of the people, governments.

There is no such thing as a “free” market, which is a good thing because markets do not work without some regulation. Consider pharmaceuticals. Would you want to have a market for pharmaceuticals that was completely free, meaning that anyone could claim anything as an outcome of taking their medicinals and, well, anything goes? No FDA interference? No requirements for effectiveness interference? We have had a glimpse of what this would be like when in 1994, Congress removed “herbal supplements” from the purview of the FDA. What we got were herbal concoctions claimed to cure everything from the common cold to cancer with no requirement that such claims be proven in clinical or any other studies.

An AsideI have a method of determining when a “herbal supplement” is bogus. If you are temped to try the XYZ herbal supplement, do an Internet search along the lines of “does XYZ really work?” If the first ten websites you find are websites that are bogus, set up by the purveyor of the supplement, you know it is bogus. The practice for such bogus supplements is to put up a dozen or two websites seemingly independently studying your product, but usually just having long lists of testimonials, from people like Tom T. from Philadelphia, or Theresa W. from Portland, Oregon. None of these people can be contacted for verification because not enough information was been supplied, but that would be a waste of your time because they and their commendations are fictional. These website dilute out any honest evaluations of the XYZ supplement.

If you see such sites listed at the top of your search, well, now you know.

Does anyone want “anything goes” markets? I don’t think so. The “free market” bandwagon is just a vehicle to oppose government regulation that protects citizens from phony claims and phony products. Like a dog chasing cars, if it actually caught one it wouldn’t know what to do with it. Any economist who touts the virtues of free markets is a charlatan. Some economists don’t even know they are charlatans. Every course in economics they took in college had the same nonsensical presuppositions built in and then quick raced past to play with more “advanced” topics. Never to the go back and check their original suppositions.

Then they take their suppositions and double down on then, an example of which is Walras’s “law” which says that excess supply in one market must be matched by excess demand in another, so that in the larger picture there will be a general equilibrium. Can any causal connection be made between the demand in one market and the supply in another? I don’t think so. But the concept of “equilibrium” has run away with these person’s common sense. In the physical sciences, a system can only be in a state of equilibrium if it is isolated completely from the rest of the universe, excluding all other matter, energies, forces, etc. As a consequence a system in physical equilibrium is detached from the rest of the universe and has no effect on it or it on the system.

Now, there are systems that are near equilibrium all over the place in nature and those systems show some of the behaviors of equilibrium systems, for one they oppose changes in the distribution of matter and energy in the system, but those near-equilibrium systems are limited in such responses and can always be shoved off of the tracks, so to speak. Economic systems are somewhat like physical near-equilibrium systems but only under very constrained circumstances.

The key point is if you want them to behave as if they were near-equilibrium systems, you would have to regulate the situations they apply to. Certain “market stimulations” would be forbidden, etc. If you want an example of this look at the U.S. stock markets. The “players” in the markets for stocks invent ways to manipulate the markets in their favor on almost a daily basis. The markets, though, are heavily regulated (there are hundreds of pages of regulations adopted by each market) and most of these manipulative practices never get implemented. But every once in a while corrupt players get some control and you end up with high priced worthless “financial instruments” that crash the system, sometimes worldwide, like what happened in 2008. And these morons still preach “regulation is bad!”

I think economists should be required to dress for their profession, witch doctor garb would be appropriate.

October 30, 2022

The Software Curse is Falling on Meta, aka Facebook

Filed under: Business,Culture,Reason,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
Tags: , , , ,

I was responding to a post on Nan’s Notebook, and this is what I wrote:

Re “Years ago, pundits assumed the internet would open a new era of democracy, giving everyone access to the truth.” (Robert Reich)

“Sure . . . and you weren’t suspicious of a messaging app that originally limited messages to 140 characters (not words, characters). What democratic statement can be made in 140 characters? This “service” wasn’t designed for democratic discourse, it was designed for snark and sneers. Would the world be a better place or worse if Twitter were to disappear?”

What this brought to mind is a concept I call the software curse. For example, the first “word processor” I used on the Intel platform, was WordStar, then came Microsoft Word, then came version 2 of Word, then version 3, then version 4, . . . , I don’t know what version they are up to now (upwards of 16, so 17, 18?). In any case, each version promised cool new features that you were somehow able to live without. It wasn’t long after I realized that I needed none of the “new, improved features” in each upgrade. I am, for example, typing this on the version of Word that came with Microsoft Office 2003 (Word v. 11.8xxxxx) and never run into a problem that my word processor can’t handle. I am only using that version because I got a special deal on it way back when.

Now Word is notorious for implementing “new features (Yea, hurrah!)” that nobody wants. Remember “Clippy”? Remember how they changed all of the menus in 2007? Here’s one reviewer’s experience with the changes:

“What the fuck was Microsoft thinking when they built this piece of shit?? Every damn function that I use I have to go on an expedition to find it! Nothing is where I would expect it to be. There’s a toilet in the middle of the living room and the kitchen sink is out in the garage. I still haven’t figured out which light switch controls that big honking’ huge crystal chandelier that’s in the broom closet.”

I bought a copy of Word 2007 for instances where it seemed I needed it, but I avoid it like the plague because I can’t find anything in the menus. Microsoft also changed the file format for Word files, for somewhat good reasons, and there was such an uproar that they released a free (yes, something free from Microsoft) program that would translate the new and old Word formats back and forth.

This is the software curse. You pay for an “upgrade” and what you really get is confusion and a steep learning curve. The axiom they violate is the software you know how to use is much more valuable than the software you do not. So, people stop upgrading and the software companies are finding new and novel ways to force you to do so.

Currently Adobe has adopted the policy that they have stopped “validating” installs of their older software. If you are unaware, the “activation” or “validation” process was implemented at the publishers behest, not yours. It was there way to stem piracy. But by no longer verifying installations of their older programs, owners of the older programs cannot install those programs, even if they originally bought them from Adobe. They own the software. They have the right to use it. Adobe refuses to allow them to use the software. Instead they insist that you upgrade to a newer version.

Imagine of your car manufacturer, implemented a kill switch that stopped your car from working and when complaints came from people with cars that no longer worked they told people they would have to buy a newer model to get a working car. Yeah, like that.

So, the software curse is that when considerable changes are made in the software, people prefer the software they can use and don’t upgrade. Meta, aka Facebook, is finding this out first hand. Their “transition” to a suite of virtual reality spaces is going over like a lead duck, in other words, it isn’t flying. The people on Facebook now know how it operates and are comfortable with it the way it is. Zuckerberg and his staff geniuses are trying to make Facebook into something it is not, and people are not buying it. Why buy into a steep learning curve when the “upgrades” aren’t desired or even conceivable.

Since Facebook is just a large data collection factory for our corporate overlords (they buy scads of Facebook “data” and that is how Zuc gets paid for his “free” service) if it were to go away, would the world be a better or worse place?

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