Class Warfare Blog

May 29, 2020

You Might Want to Wear Asbestos Gloves While Holding This Article

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:24 am
Tags: , , , ,

Regardless, the author is spot on about the “New GOP” having almost nothing to do with the “Old GOP” and now merely a subsidiary political arm of the filthy rich.

‘Here’s a bedsheet, make a parachute!’ Republicans say, pushing us out of a plane by Hamilton Nolan

May 28, 2020

Climate Change . . . Have We Been Too Optimistic or Too Pessimistic?

Some enterprising climate scientist went back to the early days of climate modeling and put the actual data involved into the models instead of the hypothesized data we used back then (we didn’t have all the data needed so we made up “reasonable” estimates). What they found was that those models were very close to being spot on. Their deviation from actual values of climate change parameters was mostly due to the faulty inputs, not the models themselves. Climate change opponents at the time were scathing in their “reviews” of the climate change model predictions as being premature, not capable of being done, being pie in the sky wishful thinking on the part of the scientists. Of course, the critics that were most prominent could barely spell climate change, let alone had mastered any of the intricacies.

As time went on the models were revised and we found a data consensus (based upon data from different sources indicating the same things). But for the critics, the predictions were “overblown,” “too pessimistic,” and neglected advances in technology that would mitigate much of the changes. Again, most of these objections were not science-backed, just economics-backed, aka they said “we are making too much money to change for you airy-fairy science types.”

Now we are finding out that the dire predictions we have been hearing for the past couple of decades have been far too optimistic, that is not pessimistic enough. More than a few effects of climate change that were predicted for years or decades in the future are happening now.

In short order, I expect the climate change deniers to start saying “How could we have known?” and “Who would have predicted this?” Assholes . . . greedy assholes.

May 26, 2020

Who Suffers?

We all tend to think of what is normal for us economically is the way it has always been, but today the economic deck is stacked, possibly more so than in any previous time. And it is not stacked in your favor. It is stacked in favor of those who lend capital.

For someone to lend you money, there has to be an almost iron clad guarantee that the lender will be paid back. You almost always have to put up collateral for your loan. Fail to pay the loan back and the lender takes the collateral. So, if you buy a house, the house becomes the collateral. If you fail to pay the mortgage payment for a few months and Wham! The lender forecloses on the loan and repossesses the collateral, aka your house. All of the payments you made now count as nothing. It does not have to be this way. The “collateral” could be held by a court and put up for sale and the proceeds of the sale be split  between the two actors: the lender and buyer with the split determined by how much money had been put up so far.

But that is not the way it is. In our culture, the lender has all of the cards with almost no risk.

Consider the “Great Recession” ca. 2008. The housing market collapsed due to bad behavior on the part of realtors and lenders and suddenly mortgages that could not be paid resulted in repossessions of collateral worth far, far less that the amounts owed. So lenders bore some risk, then . . . except they used a powerful Washington, D.C. lobby to get bailed out so that they did not lose any money (or at least not so much). Were the people buying the homes also bailed out? Silly person, of course, they were not.

Lenders are so used to not having any risk associated with lending that corporations are currently awash in bad debt. They know they are okay because if anything goes wrong their “friends” in Congress and the White House, Democrat or Republican, will bail them out again. This is why economists invented the term “moral hazard,” but they do not apply it to those who line their pockets.

I have been slowly working my way through Michael Hudson’s book on how debt was handled in days long gone. I will give a larger book review (I have offered tidbits before) when I finish it.

To hold you over, here are some tidbits of Michael Hudson’s research and thinking:

“The pedigree for “act-of-God” rules specifying what obligations need not be paid when serious disruptions occur goes back to the laws of Hammurabi c. 1750 BC. Their aim was to restore economic normalcy after major disruptions. §48 of Hammurabi’s laws proclaim a debt and tax amnesty for cultivators if Adad the Storm God has flooded their fields, or if their crops fail as a result of pests or drought. Crops owed as rent or fiscal payments were freed from having to be paid. So were consumer debts run up during the crop year, including tabs at the local ale house and advances or loans from individual creditors. The ale woman likewise was freed from having to pay for the ale she had received from palace or temples for sale during the crop year.

“Whoever leased an animal that died by an act of God was freed from liability to its owner (§266). A typical such amnesty occurred if the lamb, ox or ass was eaten by a lion, or if an epidemic broke out. Likewise, traveling merchants who were robbed while on commercial business were cleared of liability if they swore an oath that they were not responsible for the loss (§103).

“It was realized that hardship was so inevitable that debts tended to accrue even under normal conditions. Every ruler of Hammurabi’s dynasty proclaimed a Clean Slate cancelling personal agrarian debts (but not normal commercial business loans) upon taking the throne, and when military or other disruptions occurred during their reign. Hammurabi did this on four occasions.

“In an epoch when labor was the scarcest resource, a precondition for survival was to prevent rising indebtedness from enabling creditors to use debt leverage to obtain the labor of debtors and appropriate their land. Early communities could not afford to let bondage become chronic, or creditors to become a wealthy class rivaling the power of palace rulers and seeking gains by impoverishing their debtors.

“Yet that is precisely what is occurring as today’s economy polarizes between creditors and debtors.”

I think you will find that some of this applies to our current situation, no?

May 23, 2020

GOP Thinking—Fast and Slow

Maybe it is a fluke, but I think not, that some part-time workers who are now able to apply for unemployment insurance whereas before they were not and so are making more on unemployment than they were working.

Republicans are worried, deathly worried, that we are encouraging sloth. They are worried that people will not want to go back to work. Such are the moral hazards in the Republiverse.

These same people don’t seem to worry about the moral hazards when we bail out banks or shaky corporations, like Boeing. They don’t seem to worry that those companies would rather suck off the government teat than make good products. They also love to bail out stockholders who are elevating rent extraction above honest work as a profession.

Okay, I can solve this problem for my Republifriends. I start with a fable, maybe even a parable . . .

Let’s say that a friend, a good friend, of yours tells you about a job offer. “Dude, there is this job I think you ought to apply for. It is right up your alley . . . except, well, you will be working harder and get paid less than you are now. What do you think?” I know what you would think: “Are you effing crazy?”

If the GOP is worried that people are making more money off of unemployment insurance than working, the solution is obvious—pay better wages! Pay workers more than they can make off of unemployment payments (which are effing temporary in any case!).

If people were losing significant money while on unemployment, they would be dying to get back to their regular job. In fact, many, many problems would be solved if wages were to go up substantially. There would be less need of food stamps, other forms of welfare, charity, food banks, etc. People would pay more in taxes, lowering the annual budget deficit we always seem to run.

See, it is simple. Except there is this teeny-tiny bias the GOP has. It worries about moral hazards only when they involve the poor or middle class. That the billionaire class and corporations are raking in huge windfall profits from the government’s efforts to ameliorate the pandemic are just something that does not interest them, at least not after the scheme to funnel all of that wealth toward the billionaire class has been accomplished.

Mission accomplished! GOP!

May 11, 2020

Texas Governor Declares Texans Fit for Guinea Pig Role

The Governor of the State of Texas is allowing businesses, including barber shops, to reopen. Since barber shops can scarcely function with distancing controls in place, I assume this means without any such controls. Other states are to follow.

I guess we should thank the Republican governors supporting Donald Trump for volunteering to be guinea pigs for this pandemic.

Since (a) we still do not have enough test kits available to determine an accurate count of such cases and (b) I do not trust these shitweasel politicians to report accurate counts even if they were, we will only have the numbers of deaths in Texas as a measure of their success or failure. Shitweasel politicians are always willing to send the able-bodied into wars, disease hotbeds, etc. as long as they themselves and their families are not at risk.

Interestingly, someone looked up the normal range of deaths for the months of the pandemic, nationwide, and that number is definitely not normal, that is it isn’t in the range of the numbers of people who would die over such a period. Interestingly the “overage” is about twice the number of COVID-19 deaths, so either those deaths are being under reported or there are secondary causes for these “extra” deaths, such as medical facilities being full of coronavirus patients and not enough care is available to go around to everyone.

May 7, 2020

We Need to Unleash Businesses!

In the never ending battle with industry stifling red tape, only the GOP is seen as a stalwart in the effort to deregulate our industries. In the latest wave of deregulation by the GOP, they have decided the rules on where and how to dispose of radioactive waste are choking the nuclear industry.

What the flaming fuck?

Right, if it weren’t for those pesky regulations, our nuclear industry would be surging ahead. Forget about the Colorado corporation which disposed of tons of radioactive waste by just spreading it out on the ground instead of following those pesky regulations. That was clearly an example of why those regulations aren’t needed, because people aren’t obeying them. The fact that that corporation went belly up before their novel disposal techniques were discovered, leaving us with the cleanup bill, is irrelevant. In this day and age, corporations wouldn’t do something like that because it would damage their good reputation.

The GOP has given us so much. By demonizing young black males (thank you Dick Nixon, Ronald Reagan, etc.) we now apparently have an open season to hunt and kill young, male black joggers.

By demonizing regulations of all kinds, we now have the GOP lifting child labor laws and now radioactive waste disposal regulations. “Uh, regulation . . . bad,” one GOP politician was quoted as saying.

By demonizing taxes, the GOP has ballooned the budget deficit and therefore the national debt hugely, biggly even. This followed, of course, several efforts of the GOP to shut the federal government down because the deficit/debt was getting too high. That that was not a moral or even a principled stand has now been laid bare.

No one is in favor of unnecessary regulation of our society. That the GOP has declared that all regulation is unnecessary should chill you to the bone.

Oh, and you thought this would be about loosening pandemic business restrictions. Well, ’tis not.

March 31, 2020

The Class War is Over

The Class War is over. What we have left are crumbs tossed our way in a system ruled by savage class-rule capitalism.

Let me ask you this—here is a passage from the gospel we call “Luke” (in Chapter 4):”

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And he opened the book, and found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable Year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down: and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, Today hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears.

Do, you know what the Year of the Lord refers to? Isn’t every year a Year of the Lord? (As a child I saw many, many documents dated as such and such a date “in the year of our Lord XXXX.”)

Do, you know what this was?

It was what is often referred to now as a Jubilee year and Jesus just proclaimed this to be one (along with all of the other succor) promised but Jubilee years were usually only proclaimed by kings, often at the beginning of their reign. In the story, this proclamation supports the argument that Jesus thought of himself as a king, which the Romans preferred to exterminate, rather than work with.

In a Jubilee year, all public debts were canceled. This practice came about, not through any largess by the elites but for a practical reason. If private debt was allowed to continue without limit, compound interest, even ordinary interest would result in many people defaulting on their debts. If that debt were held by a private person, the person defaulting was obligated to pay of the debt with their land, and then their labor. well, and the labor of their wives in the bedroom of the debt holder, you know what I mean. But people in debt bondage didn’t pay taxes and they were available to be drafted for public works projects. The elites recognized that the primary debt holder almost everywhere in the region was the central government and the debt was because of unpaid taxes. A crop failure meant someone couldn’t simultaneously feed their family and pay their taxes, so. . . .

So, rulers would start their rule with a debt jubilee, thus making themselves popular and making their economy viable. It was not unusual to need one of these every so often. The Bible even speaks to debt forgiveness.

Now the Pharisees tended to be from the more prosperous segments of Hebrew society, so if Jesus had his way and a debt jubilee were proclaimed, how do you think they would respond? Hmm?

My main point is what Albert Einstein referred to when he was asked what the most powerful force in the universe was and he answered “compound interest.” Our system, however is no longer an autocracy, but an oligarchy. the debt holders are running the country. Do you think for one minute they would sit still for any kind of debt jubilee, even if just for college education debts? Do, you know understand why Bernie Sanders presidential campaign was deep-sixed by the powers that be in favor of a barely comprehendable Joe Biden? (If they would take it from Jesus, Bernie had no chance.)

These idiot oligarchs are acting out the parable of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg and are smiling through the entire thing, reflecting on their own cleverness.

 

Even More on GMOs

Filed under: Economics,Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 12:51 pm
Tags: , ,

I recently read that “Liberals are skeptical of well-established science when findings clash with their political ideologies, such as GMOs, nuclear power, genetic engineering and evolutionary psychology.”

I am a scientist and I am very cautious about GMOs. The existence of GMOs and some of their behaviors are “well-established science.” That is not what I am arguing about. Human beings have been artificially selecting traits of plants to serve us for thousands of years. We started by selecting which seeds to plant and went through a grafting-hybridizing stage and then into gene manipulation.

My quibble with GMOs is that the modifications skip over many, many viability tests that nature used to use to weed out problems (a snappy metaphor, no?). A plant geneticist might have to make dozens of not hundreds of “crosses” to get the outcome she wanted. Each step of the way, nature chimed in. If a cross-fertilization of two strains of plants was non-viable, there would be no seeds or plants to test in a subsequent generation of that approach. That was a dead end, so we had to back up and try a different route.

So, GMOs skip over some of these tests/road blocks, which could be a good thing or even a very good thing, but . . . and you knew a but was coming, didn’t you . . . when something goes wrong with a GMO it has the possibility of going very, very wrong.

And, yes, I said “when” because it is never “if” something goes wrong, because something always goes wrong. Help me count the ways! A virus could insert some of its DNA into a GMO’s DNA and voila, we have something very, very new on hand. The GMO could propagate with other plants in ways unsuspected. GMO animals, when they come around, might take over ecological niches we were unaware of and create situations we are unprepared to respond to.

There is an old saw that says “short cuts are always longer” which is an admonition of a craftsman to take the tried and true way and not some shortcut to a supposed better or just as good ending. Just as there was no Royal Road to geometry, there were no shortcuts to quality. Well, we have discovered that there are such shortcuts, but they are incredible hard to find and don’t always work as expected.

Since our food supply is under considerable pressure and we have created monocultures for much of “big” crops, a disaster will be a big, very big disaster when it happens (again, when, not if).

So, I am not anti-science, quite the contrary, I am pro-prudence. Especially when the primary efforts are made chasing profits and not meeting urgent needs. And as evidence for which I give you: Monsanto Crop System Damages US Farms.

March 22, 2020

Killed by Greed

I was looking up the career stats of baseball immortal (at least in Japan if not here) Ichiro Suzuki. (Don’t ask.) And baseball-reference.com provided something unexpected, Ichiro’s cumulative salaries. Now Ichiro played in Japan and didn’t come to MLB until he was 27 and still had a Hall of Fame career. He was a spectacular four tool player, who will end up in the Hall of Fame, I am sure.

So, even playing in Japan until he was 27, in his 19 seasons in American professional baseball, Ichiro accumulated $167,181,483 in salary. These are contract numbers and not corrected for inflation, so if they were that number would even be greater.

Even though that is a mind-boggling amount of money, it is not extreme. Alex Rodriguez, then of the Texas Rangers, had a single contract (for 10 years which as very long then and very, very long now) for $252 million. Of course you cannot just settle for old money so he had a later contract for $275 million. The top MLB contract, so far, is a 13-year $325 million contract of Giancarlo Stanton, an oft injured “star.”

Now, in comparison, I was a college professor and I totaled up my salaries over a roughly 40 year career and it came to around $2 million dollars. If adjusted for inflation, it is about $4 million. Now, Ichiro played in 2653 MLB games, so he made $6302 per game. So, he made as much as I did in my entire career in 317 games, or a just a little under two seasons.

All of this is just chump change, of course.

As I have mentioned before dozens of people have reported more than one billion dollars in earnings for a single tax year, some over two billion in a single year. And as I have also mentioned before, if you assume eight hour workdays, two weeks of paid vacation, and the normal federal holidays, those making one billion dollars per year were making $532,000 per hour. Those making two billion dollars per year made $1,064,000 per hour. These people “made” as much as my career earnings in one afternoon of “work.” And they made as much as Ichiro in his MLB career in about 157 hours or 20 work days, basically in a little less than one month.

Now, I don’t think of being a college professor is in any way an exalted job, but it wasn’t a shabby one either. These comparisons show there is something seriously out of whack in our capitalist economy. I am sure the capitalism defenders will rush to say, but they earned that money legitimately! And, I agree that that is true, but what is “legitimate” is determined by the system. Is it legitimate that the hedge fund manager making that two billion dollars in a single year paid a lower tax rate than I did? Why was that? I will tell you. It is because the “system” is rigged by the people benefiting the most from the system. So what is legitimate or legal isn’t really a justification.

The problem with capitalism is that greed has no controls over it. The countries currently making capitalism work better for their entire populations are social democratic countries with high taxes and large benefits associated with those taxes. We had a similar system for a short period after World War II. Taxes were sufficiently high that CEOs, movie stars, athletes, and the like were dissuaded from making obscene amounts of money. And, still, there were still plenty of rich people walking around. Rich working people had to settle for perks (aka perquisites) to show off their value to their employers (large offices, corner offices for lawyers working in skyscrapers, large desks, artwork in the waiting rooms, corporate cars, etc.). Now, status is determined by earnings, earnings, earnings and little else. In fact, the system now encourages greed.

So, if you were wondering why it costs over $200 for two of you to attend a MLB baseball game, now you know. To create large pools of wealth, “small” amounts from the many must be funneled to the few. And there is, of course, a limit to how many want an entertainment product, so the “how much” each of the many has to transfer to the few keeps going up, reducing the number of the many who can or are willing to afford those purchases. (I have stopped attending my beloved baseball games, for example.) A number of sports in the US are finding those limits: baseball for sure and surprisingly NFL football, too.

Our current electoral process seems hell bent in excluding any candidate for high office who would challenge the legitimacy of our economic system, which is quite predictable. Our plutocrats went to a lot of work and paid a lot of money to create a system to their liking, so why should they even consider any candidate who might upset their apple cart.

Why indeed?

We seem to have democracy only in being able to select from a small set of candidates acceptable to the plutocrats actually running the country. The American Experiment in democracy is definitely past its peak and now heading downhill. On its gravestone, its epitaph will surely include the phrase “killed by greed.”

Now if we only had a goose that laid golden eggs to use as a moral focus of a story. . . .

March 15, 2020

The Triumph of the Anti-Collectivists

A Robert Reich column on the Coronavirus pandemic contained this little nugget.

While we’re at it, let’s admit something more basic. The system would be failing even under a halfway competent president. The dirty little secret, which will soon become apparent to all, is that there is no real public health system in the United States.”

And Robert Reich is no one’s apologist for the Trump administration.

I have never felt that our public health system here in the U.S. was particularly robust. And I am old enough to remember standing in line on our high school football field as we were to receive the polo vaccine, along with everyone else in the country. And I do perceive that we have slid a bit during my life, more so in the last few decades.

This is hardly a surprise when one of our two, count ‘em just two, major political parties is adamantly anti-collectivist. The Republican Party, so you don’t have to guess which one, is against any and all collective actions of our people and especially our governments, except in a few small areas: national defense, police, and courts of law (primarily on contract law, property rights, criminal law, etc.). They are against all other collective actions. So far, they want Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to be privatized. They want the postal service to be privatized, they want the health care system to be entirely private, they want our public education system to be privatized, etc.

They want to do away with environmental protections, all regulation of businesses, everything they consider to be “red tape” limiting the actions of men of commerce. No minority protection laws, no legal social reforms, no labor laws, etc.

The motivation for this is simple. If people can bond together to form, say, labor unions, then many weaker people can become as strong or stronger than a few powerful people. If such collective actions be not allowed, then the strong can lord it over the weak, forever and ever, amen.

Remember President Obama’s “You didn’t build that (alone)” comment, alluding to the vast public contribution to all businesses in this country? (The public provides the roads, the power grid, sewers, water on demand, and other infrastructure, the court system, the permitting systems, etc.) Do you remember the scorn that comment was received with by GOP stalwarts. They immediately responded with incredulity because they believe in the “special man of history” theory, that history is created by special individuals, individuals like Napoleon, George Washington, and Hitler. Likewise, all business would not exist except for some, obviously smaller in scale, special person, the “Job Creator” who started the business up. No one was trying to deny that those people were key people in those efforts, but imagine what kind of businesses those would be if the owners had to train all of their workers in basic literacy, because the public schools didn’t exist. Imagine if they had to train even the most basic skills (typing, using hand tools, etc.) because workers did not come to them already prepared for such work. You do not have to imagine these situation because we can learn all about how workers were treated by studying labor history. Oh, you didn’t learn labor history in school? Hmm, could it be that efforts to include labor history in state school curricula have been blocked for at least half of a century? (It be.) I wonder who would do such a thing? Oh, and if you haven’t studied any labor history, it wasn’t pretty. (For a short course, just listen to Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition of the song “16 Tons,” the 16 tons alluding to a daily quantity of coal needed to be dug by a single coal miner to get paid.)

The GOP is against any expansion of collective action of private citizens and certainly government and is actively working to contract the rights to so act, because in a one-on-one battle between a rich man and a poor man, the rich man wins every time.

The GOP is a political party bought and paid for by the wealthy. The sad thing is that the Democratic Party, which used to be only partially bought by the wealthy, isn’t really far behind. If you want evidence for this, look to the recent rallying of support for Joe Biden against Bernie Sanders in the current presidential race. Which one of those two candidates threatens the status and power of the wealthy more (or at all)? Are you surprised that so many Democratic candidates cut and ran away all of a sudden, endorsing Biden as they exited the stage? I’m not. Threatening the wealthy is not an easy path to power. Sucking up to them is.

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