Class Warfare Blog

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.

July 26, 2020

Those Death Panels . . .

Those “death panels” the Republican opponents of the Obamacare legislation warned us about have finally popped up . . . in the Republican state of Texas!

Texas hospital forced to set up ‘death panel’ as Covid-19 cases surge

 

July 25, 2020

With Apologies to Lerner and Loewe

Musical theatre for 2020 and possibly the campaign song for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign:

Why can’t the poor be more like rich?
The rich are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair.
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Why can’t the poor be like that?

Why does every one do what the others do?
Can’t the poor learn to use their heads?
Why do they do everything their parents do?
Why don’t they grow up, well, like the rich instead?

Why can’t the poor take after the rich?
The rich are so pleasant, so easy to please.
Whenever you’re with them, you’re always at ease.

One rich man in a million may shout a bit.
Now and then, there’s one with slight defects.
One perhaps whose truthfulness you doubt a bit,
But by and large we are a marvelous sort!

Why can’t the poor take after the rich?
‘Cause the rich are so friendly, good-natured and kind.
Better companions you never will find.

Why can’t the poor be more like the rich?
The rich are so decent, such regular chaps;
Ready to help you through any mishaps;
Ready to buck you up whenever you’re glum.
Why can’t the poor be such chums?

Why is thinking something the poor never do?
And why is logic never even tried?
Applying for welfare is all they ever do.
Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?

Why can’t the poor behave like the rich?
If I were one of the poor who’d been to a ball,
Been hailed as royalty by one and by all;
Would I start whinging like a jilted lover,
Or carry on as if my home were in a tree?
Would I run off and tell no one where I’m going?
Why can’t the poor be like me?

Adapted from “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” from My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe.

July 12, 2020

The Rights of Kings

I just finished watching a documentary “Charles 1—Downfall of a King” (available on Amazon Prime Streaming Service) which covered a mere 50 days of British history that had rather profound ripple effects. Basically a deliberative body, the English Parliament, ousted a sitting monarch, Charles 1. Since this was in a time period ripe for copycatting, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and modern democracy can be claimed as children of this period.

British history is often interesting, but in this instance, the primary reason that Charles came a’cropper was that he believed in the divine right of kings, which he interpreted in his case to be that he rule according to his conscience and nothing else . .  by God’s will. (Interestingly all of these kings knew God’s will, but the priests did not because “no one can know the mind of God.”)

I wonder where old Charles got that idea? As with all matters religious he was brought up with that mindset and was indoctrinated from an early age (which he, in turn, did for his son).

Note that the idea, of course, came from the church but was welcomed by the royals. Both of those powers realized that if they fought for the ultimate power, one or both of them could be severely damaged. But if they became partners in power, they could reinforce one another and no institution or person could possibly be strong enough to oppose them. But, a monarch claiming the Divine Rights of Kings had better well be showing support of the clergy or he/she could be in for a rough ride. Similarly, a religion wanting state power had better get it or they could opt for another set of leaders.

So, this is a bit of a “lady and the tiger” situation. (Both the royals and the clergy considered the other the tiger, I believe.)

Charles was taking the laziest approach by ruling by divine right based upon his own counsel/conscience. If he had tried a more direct route, he would have to explain why Jesus, the God of Love, wanted him to kill all of those Irishmen, and all of those Scots. Sure, he could have had a whole crew of lackey spin meisters on tap to supply reasons why Jesus wanted him to take the actions he did, but at least he would have to justify his actions to someone/something.

I also found it interesting that the documentary’s host took umbrage on the part of Charles’s queen, who was accused of infidelity (indirectly) and the host thought this was foul play, even though at the time it was pointed out that Charles II, their son, was tall, had jet black hair and broad shoulders. Charles was short, with sandy hair and narrow shoulders. The queen’s suspected lover was tall, had jet black hair and broad shoulders and was constantly by her side.

Now, this may have been an unfair criticism at the time, but it was a criticism of that time and an historian is supposed to report the facts and not defend the honor of an aggrieved woman. And what wasn’t pointed out in this defense was that if anyone criticized the king or the queen directly, politically, factual, it was consider treason and would result in their immediate imprisonment and likely decapitation. The royals, being in power, got to make up rules that are illogical but protective of their “honor” and “dignity” that are capital offenses. I do not considered it unfair if ordinary people fight back with propaganda and fake news when direct criticism isn’t allowed.

Charles made an appalling string of bad decisions, most of them based upon his belief that his mere presence would awe any opposition and cow them into a defensive position, being God’s Own Agent Upon Earth, don’t you know. He actually believed he was ordained by god to rule over other people.

I don’t think there is a better argument for getting rid of all of the royals and the clergy they have conspired with to oppress ordinary people with their invented “special statuses.”

Also interesting was that part of the propaganda campaign used by the parliamentarians in this fight was the bogus claim that Catholics were preparing to invade England and impose their religion up the English.

It was pointed out that Charles’ French (and Catholic) queen was brought up in France where the concentration of Protestants, as a minority, was far greater that the concentration of Catholics in England and there was no persecution of the Protestants in France at that time. In this the historians committed the historical sin of leaving out context. The time we are talking about was 1642-43. Do you know what happened in 1517 and the following 130 years? It was called the Protestant Revolution. The protestors, starting with Martin Luther, were trying to reform the Catholic Church from its many corruptions. The result was entire new churches (Lutherans, Calvinists, etc.) instead, because the Catholic Church made little effort to reform itself. What it did do was make war. The Church was a major contributor of money, troops, political pressure, and what have you to make war on countries that harbored Protestants. (Realize that the Catholics had to believe that those who left God’s One True Church were going to Hell, but they just couldn’t wait, apparently.)

These religious wars were so vicious that they significantly lowered the population of Europe, so many people were killed. Catholic troops would ride through a village and act as court and executioner and if they felt there were many heretics in that village, rampage through and kill all of the civilians living there. This was not just a war of army against army.

England experienced the great joy of being a Protestant country, then a Catholic country, then a Protestant country again all because the ever changing monarchs decreed it so and then persecuted the priests of the out of favor flavor of Christianity. The residues of these wars led to this country’s Constitution being drafted with church and state being separated as the recent history of the religious wars fought in Europe were still on people’s minds and nobody wanted a part of that. Oh, and please do realize that for the entire time, all of the countries of Europe were Christian countries with state sponsored religions. The wars were between different varieties of the Christian religion. So, please, all of you “the United States is a Christian country” people can just fuck off.

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.

 

June 8, 2020

WTF? The Powers of the Attorney General

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:07 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I read on the Vox blog site, the following:

Monday evening, law enforcement officers gassed and used rubber bullets to clear peaceful protesters from an area near the White House — President Trump soon emerged from the White House so that he could have a photo op at a nearby church. Subsequent reporting revealed that Attorney General Bill Barr personally gave the order for law enforcement ‘to clear the streets around Lafayette Square just before President Trump spoke Monday.’” (Emphasis mine.)

Here is a summary of the powers of the US Attorney General: “As the chief officer of the Department of Justice, the attorney general enforces federal laws, provides legal counsel in federal cases, interprets the laws that govern executive departments, heads federal jails and penal institutions, and examines alleged violations of federal laws.”

When the office was instituted in 1789 the original duties of this officer were “to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments.” And they hadn’t changed in my lifetime that I can find..

So, how is it that Bill Barr is now in the chain of command of local law enforcement? Why wasn’t Mr. Barr told by the local police to go fuck himself?

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!

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