Uncommon Sense

July 31, 2021

OMG, We Are That Stupid?

According to surveys and modeling by The Economist magazine, the single greatest predictor of whether an American has been vaccinated is whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump last November.

Is there a better sign that we have taken a public health issue, a basic nonpartisan issue, and politicized it?

Are we that stupid?

Yes, we are.

Of course, a massive dose of demagoguery was involved but that is the direction our politics have been turning for quite some time.

Where were all of the anti-vax people when we developed the vaccination scheme for our children? For example, here are the common vaccinations that U.S. children are supposed to get:
Chickenpox
Diphtheria
Hib (protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b)
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Influenza (Flu)
Measles
Meningitis
Mumps
Pertussis (whooping cough)
Polio
Rubella
Tetanus
And for Chicago School Children
In addition to the above:
Invasive Pneumococcal Disease
Varicella
I assume your local community will have similar standards.

There were anti-vax people before, some screaming “religious exemption!” but they were a very small minority, not 40% of the population.

While researching the Chicago school vaccination requirements I found that religious exceptions are granted. So I downloaded the form and lo and behold, they require documentation! Here are the relevant sections on how to fill out the form:
How to complete the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form
• Complete the Parent/Guardian sections, which include key information about the student and the school the student will be entering, and the immunizations or examinations for which religious exemption is being requested. Provide a statement of religious belief(s): for each vaccination/examination requested.
• The form must be signed by the child’s parent or legal guardian . AND the child’s health care provider* responsible for performing the child’s health examination
• Submit the completed form to local school authority on or before October 15th of the school year, or by an earlier enrollment date established by a school district.
• The local school authority is responsible for determining whether the information supplied on the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form constitutes a valid religious objection.
Religious Exemption from Immunizations and/or Examination Form Process:
• The local school authority shall inform the parent or legal guardian, at the time that the exemption is presented, of exclusion procedures, should there be an outbreak of one or more diseases from which the student is not protected, in accordance with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) rules, Control of Communicable Diseases Code (77 Ill. Adm. Code 690).
• Exempting a child from health, dental, or eye examination does not exempt the child from participation in the program of physical education training provided in Section 27-5 through 27-7 of the Illinois School Code [105 ILCS 5/27-5 through 105 ILCS 5/27-7]. A separate request for exemption from physical education, if desired, would need to be presented.

The key part of this exception in my mind is: The local school authority is responsible for determining whether the information supplied on the Certificate of Religious Exemption to Required Immunizations and/or Examinations Form constitutes a valid religious objection.

So, the anti-vax people seem to be signing up to be home schooling parents, no? Oh, goody, the transmission of ignorance codified.

There are Always Consequences
The state of Montana recently passed what they, euphemistically, called their “Human Rights Act,” which does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or against trans children, but now protects a class of people who don’t want to get vaccinated, whether against COVID–19 or the measles. Yes, Montana’s “small government” Republicans have mandated by law that Montana’s citizens cannot refuse to hire unvaccinated people to work in their homes, or as caretakers for their elderly parents, or they will be in violation of the state’s human rights law. O . . . M . . . G!

Okay, let’s consider a hypothetical. Let’s say that a massive number of cases of leprosy break out in Montana and there is a vaccine. Who do you think would be first in line to get that vaccine? Those same assholes who passed this law and others like it under the false flag of “personal liberty,” which is a joke coming from the party that waved the flag of personal responsibility as a protection against government meddling in our public and private lives. Now they are employing government meddling to avoid having to recommend personal responsibility. That they consider COVID-19 and its variants to be basically a case of the flu, and a health basket case like Donald Trump pulled through it quickly telling them it ain’t so much, allows them to play fast and loose with the issue, milking it for political gain. But a nasty disease, such as leprosy, or one that makes your dick fall off, would have those very same Republicans trampling over other people to get their shots.

July 16, 2021

Outstanding in Their Field . . . Not!

Filed under: Morality,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:04 am
Tags: , ,

U.S. farm workers lives are in jeopardy from the intense heat in the West. The Guardian ran a piece with the title “We’re not animals, we’re human beings” and subtitles of “US farm workers labor in deadly heat with few protections” and “Advocates want OSHA to issue federal heat standards, requiring water, shade and rest breaks.”

About twenty years ago my partner and I got a recreational archery gig at an Air Force base in Japan. It was summer and it was quite hot. There were also restrictions on how many minutes one could work outside before retreating to an air conditioned rest area (not just shaded), based upon heat and humidity. If I remember right, at the most extreme conditions we encountered, it was a little as 15 minutes outside at a time with a long respite to follow.

Since we were running a recreation program for the dependent kids on the base, we were informed of these restrictions with no “ifs, ands, or buts.”

So, the concept of restricting exposure to extreme heat and humidity conditions isn’t exactly one foreign to the U.S. government. I guess the Congress people responsible for dealing with such things are way too busy to consider the plight of the people who put food on their tables or really any other need of ordinary Americans.

July 13, 2021

Paul Krugman Accidently Stumbles Upon Truth

In a blog post addressing, in part, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, Professor Krugman pointed out our long history of being suspicious that something was going on behind the scenes.

“. . . there has always been a streak in our political psychology that sees elite institutions, from government to education, as secret fronts for a vast global conspiracy.”

Yes, and your point is?

That we are conspiracy-minded or that the elites are always working in the background to shape the world to their benefit and to screw the rest of us?

Take, for example, Professor Krugman’s field, economics. A 2014 survey showed that the political interests of the people had zero chance of being addressed by Congress. Even if we got in line behind the wealthy, the line would be so long that the term would expire before we reached the front. So, the current U.S. economy is set up so that people of wealth can get very much wealthier (e.g. Trump Tax Cuts) but ordinary people struggle in poorly paying jobs with few fringe benefits.

And, oh, climate change? This is a serious concern of a majority of Americans. So, look at this graph and indicate where it shows how our political actions bent the curve in our favor.

What, you see no bending of the curve in our favor (downward)? Hmm, I wonder why that is? All of our governmental efforts to curb climate change have failed? What, you say there have actually been no governmental efforst to curb climate change? Hmm, could it be that the wealthy have been protecting their interests in becoming even more filthy rich and the rest of us can go fuck ourselves?

Yes, I think people think there is something going on behind the scenes. The people are spot on. I just wish they wouldn’t make up bullshit things like Jewish Space Lasers because what is really happening is so fucking obvious.

July 3, 2021

Education is Not What They Think It Is

Filed under: Culture,Education,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 12:32 pm
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I was intrigued enough  to read the following offering on the Medium.com website: Here Are The Jobs That Will Disappear In The Next 10 Years.

One of the jobs that will be eliminated or greatly reduced, according to this guy, is “Teachers (expect more and better online schools like iTunes U)”

Once again, the idea that an education is merely the acquisition of knowledge is promoted. Any tiny amount of thought about this would show it to be nonsense. For example, I used to draw a number line on the board in my beginning chemistry classes. The whole line represented 100% of chemical knowledge. Right next to the 0% end, I put a mark which represented their acquisition of knowledge. Just past that mark, getting close to 1% on the line, I put another mark. That mark represented my acquisition of chemical knowledge (which was prodigious). My point was that no one has even a tiny fraction of all of the chemical knowledge in their mind. And, since I retired, the total amount of chemical knowledge has doubled, probably twice.

At the very same time, students were becoming aware of the prodigious amount of knowledge available online. Their whine (it was not a lament) was “I don’t need to learn all of this stuff, I can just look it up online!” My response was to ask how do you find the spelling of a word if you can’t type it into your computer. (This was the same complaint about looking up spellings in dictionaries; to find something in the dictionary, you needed to be able to spell it.) And, as more and more stuff is available online, more and more stuff can be found, but the trustworthiness of what is found is more and more in doubt (Fake knowledge, fake knowledge! Quiet, please, Mr. President.).

So, what are we teaching if not knowledge?

I contend that education is a social process, one in which we learn how to learn and learn how to work together. Teamwork makes the dream work is the operative aphorism. No one is preaching a “you can go alone and make it” approach to modern work. We work in teams, with each team member having different resources, but all needing to learn and work together.

While there is some store of knowledge that is transmitted during an education, that is not the primary focus. We ask that students learn something, but there is complete lack of agreement as to what that knowledge is. If that knowledge were so important, you’d think there would be some agreement as to what it is. There isn’t.

Back in the last millennium, I was part of a team of professors from the three major public higher education systems in my state and we needed to find what the education standards for high school science courses were. The state provided guidelines but did not mandate them, so each county had its own version of those standards, so we had 58 sources and no one had thought that having all of these summarized in one place would be a good idea. Even though these resources are now available online, I still do not think there is any place that gathers them together to simplify comparisons, etc.

And then there are the other 49 states.

So, what are we teaching if not knowledge? We are teaching how to learn and work together in a social context. If you think online “social media” is a valid social context for this purpose, think again. Social media are currently distorting our society rather than reflecting it. (Think of the forces trying to profit from the existence of social media and what they are doing to reap those profits.)

Social media leave out the majority of the interpersonal communication individuals have in face-to-face encounters. When you speak to another face-to-face and deeply offend them, they might haul off and punch you in the face. That does not happen online. Any equivalence between online relationships and face-to-face relationships is minor.

We need to get students together to learn to interact with one another and learn how to learn and work together. Having a human guide for this purpose, a teacher, will not be going away any time soon.

What I fear is that the rich have an agenda and they are fine with us proles getting an “education” online, while they will still pay to have their kids taught by real, live teachers. Think how much money we will save! Yes, I am being sarcastic; a comment necessitated by the inability of this computer to deliver affect, possibly the biggest source of information between two humans communicating face-to-face. (If you want a lesson in affect, view the movie “My Cousin Vinny,” especially the part where the court clerk quotes Vinny saying “I did it.”)

June 25, 2021

U.S. Billionaires Don’t Pay Taxes

I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you!

Recently a federal government official leaked the fact that over the past decade, U.S. billionaires effectively paid no federal tax. The response from the government was swift: a veritable thunderstorm of condemnation . . . of the leaker, with threats of FBI investigations into the leak, jail sentences, etc. Condemnation of the billionaires for “rigging the system?” Not so much.

Was there any difference between the Republican and Democratic Party’s reactions? A slight difference in style, maybe, but in content no. Gee, I wonder why that is?

Both political parties have been captured by the “rich donors” who fill party coffers. Since these “donors” are in the cadre of wealthy assholes paying few to no taxes, is this situation surprising to you?

Just another sign that the elites, the wealthy and powerful elites, are on their side of a line and the rest of us are on the other. And they are defending their privileges tooth and nail.

When the whistleblower law was enacted, it was framed as a protection for government officials and corporate officials who “leak” information that the public needs to know.

Isn’t this something we need to know? That the recent Republican tax cuts reduced already small tax burdens on the very rich down to no tax burden at all? And, guess who is going to make up for the lost revenue? (And you don’t get three guesses!)

I wonder how these rich assholes can complain about U.S. tax policy when they are paying no federal taxes at all. Chutzpah personified.

June 11, 2021

The Rent’s Too Damned High

Economic myths dominate our political belief systems. Cory Doctorow recently addressed a number of them (on renting and home ownership) here.

Very much worth reading!

Here’s a taste:

The American middle class didn’t emerge thanks to property ownership — property ownership came about as the result of wage gains due to strong (and hard-fought) labor rights, and as a result of public subsidy for private homebuilding (the GI Bill). Homeownership is a good way to covert gains from the a worker-friendly labor market into something durable and insulated — but it’s no substitute for workers’ rights.

It only took a generation for the dream of homeownership to become a nightmare. Trading labor rights for asset appreciation meant that guaranteed pensions became market-based 401(k)s, turning American workers into the suckers in the financial markets’ casino. As these older workers retire, they are forced to supplement their wholly inadequate pensions by liquidating, remortgaging or reverse-mortgaging the family home. Social Security helps, but not much — without a powerful organized labor movement to defend Social Security, the program has withered, offering a sub-starvation cushion.

December 15, 2020

Important: Before You Line Up for the Pfizer Vaccine . . .

Filed under: Economics,Reason,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 8:25 am
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I think it is imperative that you read this article. The hand waving going on in the news media, even scientific publications, is of the kind magicians use: to distract you from what the other hand is doing.

An Internal Medicine Doctor and His Peers Read the Pfizer Vaccine Study and See Red Flags [Updated]

September 9, 2020

Trickle Down Economics . . . and What to Do About It

I begin with an interesting quote:

Williams Jennings Bryan said: “There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.”

He said this in 1896. Eighteen effing ninety-six!

Trickle down economics was not a new invention during the Reagan presidency, it is the tried and true instrument of the rich to retain and expand their wealth and also, they believe, their status in society.

We are in yet another Gilded Age of wealth accumulation. The filthy rich have bought the courts, the governments, and the news media and now those instruments of our society only bleat what they are told to bleat. And what they bleat is support for the position of the plutocrats, the wealthy elites.

Those elites have sold the idea that how much wealth you have is a measure of your social status, your worth as a person, so much so that religions have cropped up to support just that, e.g. featuring prosperity gospel preachers of the like of Joel Osteen and the perfectly named Creflo Dollar.

If we are to ever have a chance at real democracy, on in which “you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it,” then we need to take action. One thing under our control is to socially ostracize the very wealthy.

Is there any good reason that Jeff Bezos should have $200+ billion dollars of wealth? Could that degree of wealth be accumulated without the rules being bent to allow it? Think about this. If Mr. Bezos were to give you one billion dollars . . . if . . . if you could spend it in one calendar year, do you think you could do it? To do this, you would have to spend an average amount per hour of every eight-hour day, five days a week, fifty weeks in that year. (You’d get two weeks vacation, after all what good is being rich if you don’t get to enjoy it?) Do you know what that amount would be? It is $532,000 per hour! Think about how hard you’d have to work to spend just $532,000! Sure, you could go out and buy a house. So, now you have a house and you need to spend 532,000 more dollars in the next hour, and the next, and the next.

And Mr. Bezos has accumulated over two hundred billion dollars for himself.

Do you think Mr. Bezos thinks this is enough, that from now on he will take whatever he earns and share it with all of the Amazon workers who work so hard under trying conditions? Gratitude is important, right? Plus Mr. Bezos could spend $532,000 per hour of every working day for the next 200 years and not spend all of his accumulated wealth . . . not making one more penny.

Do you think he thinks enough is enough? No?

I do not, either.

Start the shame campaign. Impugn the patriotism of the uber-rich. Impugn their commitment to democracy. Shame them for their Greed. Unleash the Lash of the Mortal Sin of Greed upon their backsides.

Being wealthy is fine. Being filthy rich no longer is. Stop looking up to them, admiring them. Stop thinking of the Mitt Romneys and Donald Trumps of the world as “self-made men” when their fathers gave them millions of dollars of seed money. (I worked almost forty years as a college professor and earned about two million dollars of salary. Donald Trump was given five million dollars to “get started.”)

Repeat after me: Boo! Hiss! Every time one of the uber-rich appears in public, let them know their true social status: as greedy bastards who will grind armies of ordinary people under their heels to make themselves richer than Croesus.

Need Ammunition?
So, Bill Gates is a nice guy, right? Personally I think this is correct. Professionally not so much. Consider all of the lawsuits over shady business practices that Microsoft lost. The Internet Explorer scandals. The European anti-trust prosecutions, in essence, etc.

Jeff Bezos created and owns a large part of Amazon.com and all of its spin-offs. Amazon has been running commercials lately, highlighting employees who think working for Amazon is just swell. Have you seen these?

Have you seen similar commercials for Costco? No? That’s because they don’t exist. All you need to know what working for Costco is like you can see on the badges of its workers. many say “Employee since 1997,” others show 10 and five years served. People don’t stay with an employer unless they are treated . . . and paid . . . fairly. Costco has a reputation of being a good, even a very good employer. People stay with them. (And no, they are not perfect, just good.)

Amazon runs commercials to offset the bad press they have gotten from mal-treated and disgruntled employees. You, know, for canceling the health insurance of part-time employees at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, things like that. The amount of money saved doing that to be put in Jeff Bezo’s pocket wouldn’t make a rounding error in his net worth. That’s how Mr. Bezos thinks wealth is created.

Do your research. Every time you feel yourself slipping into admiration for a very wealthy plutocrat, do some research and find out how they got all of that money. If they appear on a radio show, call in and tell them what you really think. If they appear on a TV show, change channels, so their ratings will go down. If a local news program shows a gushing puff piece for one of these bastards, call in and give them a piece of your mind.

I hope that booking an uber-rich asshole in the future will be about as popular as booking an avowed racist is now. Make ‘em bleed.

August 4, 2020

A Pandemic Rude Awakening?

The GOP and to some extent the Democrats have been suppressing wages of working people for decades now. Worshiping at the altar of profits, the route to greater and greater profits has been to lower taxes on businesses (in essence transferring them onto individuals) and reducing the cost of production, which is dominated by wages paid to workers. So, wage suppression has become a fine art in corporate circles.

A consequence of this approach is that people, aka “consumers,” have less and less disposable income to buy the output of American businesses. American companies have taken the strategy to the max. Many jobs that could be kept here have been exported to “low wage” countries, which now turn out to be not so low wage because the wages in those countries have been rising (It’s the demand, idiot!) and transportation costs, obviously, went up a great deal, management, too.

The Pandemic Recession, looking to morphing into the Pandemic Depression, is showing the short-sidedness of the short-term pursuit of profits, profits, profits. Here is an excerpt from a Naked Capitalism post on small businesses:

“It’s depressing, but not exactly surprising, to see a major New York Times story about one-third of the small businesses in the city have died or expected to shutter. Needless to say, it’s not just restaurants.” How’s Your Economy, Small Businesses Death Watch Edition

Small businesses in NY City, it is reported, constitute 98% of the employers and account for 3 million jobs in the city. The businesses close, the employees are without jobs, and while jobless, they will be having trouble paying their bills. This will crater other small businesses and away we go . . . spiraling down the economic toilet.

So, I am told (by Dwight Eisenhower, no less) that one shouldn’t criticize unless one has a better alternative. (It is far too easy to tear something down and much harder to build something up. Take that you “creative destruction” purveyors.) So, what is the alternative? Easy peasy. Be patriotic. Keep jobs here, pay higher wages, make less profits.

What was that? I just saw a Republican running past me with his hair on fire, sputtering “Higher wages . . . less profits . . . Arggghhh!” Please do realize that many believe that in our “pay as you go culture,” a business must make a profit to continue to exist. But even this dictum is soft. I had a fellow professor leave teaching to set up his own business. His first major mistake was he didn’t pay himself enough. At the end of his first year, he had profits, which he paid business taxes on, which he then paid to himself, which he then paid income taxes on and thus got double taxed on what he had made. He learned to pay himself everything that might be considered to be a business profit, and paid income taxes on those sums but no business taxes. His business happily perked along make no profits to speak of . . . but I digress.

The titans of commerce have taken the “We have to make a profit,” an acceptable dictum, to “we have to maximize our profits over every other consideration we can conceive of.” This is dubious at best. There is no limit to how much profit can be extracted from a business (as a percentage, not in absolute terms) consequently using “we have to maximize profits” as a motivation is an incentive without any boundaries whatsoever. This is a fatal flaw of capitalism: there is no limitation on greed.

What if corporations considered one of their “products” to be “reliably good jobs for people in our community,” or “creating healthy lives for our employees,” or even “creating happiness for our employees.” Don’t laugh, all of these have been stated by corporations as goals in the past (or their equivalents).

No one begrudges companies or corporations reasonable profits. Everyone should begrudge corporations who make obscene profits by grinding their employees under their heels to make them.

June 26, 2020

Government: To Trust or Not Trust?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:27 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I have written often enough that part of the Republican political strategy over the past 40 years or so has been to shrink the reach of government. They attack Big Government, while expanding it off camera. They undermine branches of the federal government as often as they can.

In the Era of Trump this has become the wholesale business of the party. They are actively undermining the military, the security agencies (CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.), the electoral process, everything they can get their grubby little hands upon. Incompetents have been placed in charge of various departments, e.g. Betsy DeVos heading the Education Department, doing their best to dismantle those departments.

The cornerstone of these activities is the placing of judges who support their worldview in various positions. Recently, the GOP has discovered that a lifetime appointment often confers immunity to further influence over those judge’s decisions, but still, their viewpoints dominate judicial proceedings all over the country.

So, Mr. Trump appears to fit into their plans to discredit government at all levels and reduce people’s belief in it’s ability to make their lives better. Although incompetence wrapped in a GOP flag may turn around and bite them, instead of just proving that “government is not competent and you can’t trust it.”

So, why is the GOP doing this? It is simple. The plutocrats have so much wealth and power, the only institution that has the ability to stand against their dominance is government, therefore it has to be brought to heel. It has been almost a century since the New Deal was implemented, a deal in which government stopped being the tail and became the dog who wagged it. The fat cats of that time are all dead at this point, but the New Deal is still mentioned with venom by the current crop of oligarchs. They are still railing against it, and still working to dismantle the governmental power that accrued behind it.

 

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