Class Warfare Blog

January 7, 2018

If the Elites Might Benefit, Then Sure, They are For It

In today’s NY Times an article (Medical Research? Congress Cheers. Medical Care? Congress Brawls by Robert Pear) states that there is some bipartisan support for science in our Congress. Here’s the introduction:

“WASHINGTON — They cannot agree on subsidies for low-income people under the Affordable Care Act or even how to extend funding for the broadly popular Children’s Health Insurance Program — two issues requiring urgent attention as Congress returns to work.

“But a more exotic corner of the medical world has drawn rapturous agreement among Republicans and Democrats: the development of new treatments and cures through taxpayer-funded biomedical research.

“For the third straight year, lawmakers are planning to increase the budget of the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion. In the process, they have summarily rejected cuts proposed by President Trump.

“The push for additional funding reflects a fascination among legislators with advances in fields like molecular biology, genetics and regenerative medicine, even as they wage bitter battles over just how large a role the government should play in financing health care and providing coverage.”

When the shade the politicians have thrown is illuminated, it is clear why this support is bipartisan. New medical procedures, even those which prove to be very costly, will help keep the elites alive longer. The elites have told us over and over that “America affords us the finest medical care in the world.” What we didn’t focus on was the use of the word “us.” They were referring to the elites as only they can afford the finest. The fact that our medical care system only ranks somewhere near the middle of first world countries is irrelevant and they know it. Those results are based upon average health outcomes and the elites are paying for treatments and health outcomes that the top 1% get. They do not care much at all about the poor health outcomes that the poor and middle class can afford as those do not affect them directly. But there are many of us and few of them, which means they are more than willing to take our tax dollars to pay for their cures.

Everything you need to see is right in front of your eyes. We only need to believe what they are saying, what they actually are saying and not what we wish to hear.

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December 15, 2017

God is No Democrat

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:07 am
Tags: , , , , ,

There is a bit of word play in the title of this post, but the core meaning is clear. There is no place for democracy in the Bible. Adam Nicolson says in his book God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, “The condition in Eden had been one of obedience; a steeply raked social structure was ordained by God; and so crawling to the great could be holy in England too.”

This is not just a remnant of the Old Testament replaced by the New Testament by Christians. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans says quite straightforwardly: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers for there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist, shall receive to themselves damnation.” It is obedience all the way down. (If it were not, would Rome have made Christianity its state religion?)

There is no greater authoritarian than God himself. His will be done. Obey or suffer. There is no place for “one man, one vote.” Men do not get a vote, they get judged.

So, why do I bring this up now? There is talk about declaring this nation a “Christian Nation” and claims that “it always has been.” Evangelical Christians came within an eyelash of getting a completely reprehensible Republican elected Senator from Alabama. They did manage, again by another eyelash, to get a completely reprehensible Republican elected President of the United States. But Christianity and Democracy do not mix. Something has to give, and right now it is democracy that is giving. Our current federal administration wants to do away with the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits religious leaders from politicking from their pulpits. This sounds innocuous enough, but it violates a basic political principle, namely that political money is money that is subject to taxation. If religious organizations are allowed to politic and are exempt from taxation, what do you think is going to happen? (Why the religious cannot see the potential corruption of their churches is completely beyond me.)

Christianity is authoritarian by its very nature. The Grand American Experiment in Democracy eschews authority by requiring the rule of law (the law being the authority, not the law enforcer), by electing rather than appointing its leaders, and eschewing the inheritance of any office, and myriad other ways, of course. But what happens when the lawmakers are captured by Christian authoritarians?

God is surely no democrat, nor should He be a Republican or Democrat. The question now is “Are Republicans democrats?”

 

November 28, 2017

Why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats are Democrats

When this country was created “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” it was created by a fairly elite group of men. They made sure that a stable society and government was provided for by making sure that Indians, slaves, and women did not get to vote, nor did poorish men. You needed land to qualify to vote, meaning you had to be an elite or near-elite member of society to cast a ballot.

The Founders felt that the very best people to run the government were people just like themselves: well-educated, wealthy men who had the leisure time to reflect on the issues of the day and didn’t have to devote every waking moment to find food and shelter.

They were worried about the affect of wealth on their new government, so this reinforced their suitability for leadership as they were already wealthy and would, therefore be hard to bribe. (Ha! Just raises the price in my estimation.) They were concerned that the “middling” sorts (merchants, tradesmen,, craftsmen, etc.) would get involved and that they could be bought. (They would be proud to know that Congress is literally stuffed with millionaires now!)

In other words they were elitists. They created a government “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites,” no question.

Those of a conservative bent ended up forming political parties (the Whigs, the Republicans, etc.) that wanted to preserve society’s institutions and hence ensure a stable, secure society. They, like the Founders, thought that this would be achieved by the wealthy being wealthy and the poor being poor, and as long as everyone accepted his lot in life, all would be well. Since the poor were poor and had very few needs, they focused on serving the wealthy as their needs were so much greater. The wealthy needed a court of law and a set of laws to govern their business contracts. They needed trade laws and other laws of commerce. They needed government regulations of banks and markets. The poor made no such demands.

The Democrats had to necessarily differentiate themselves from these conservatives, so they had to adopt stances less favorable to the elites and more egalitarian, just to be different enough to attract votes.

Now I know that this is much more complicated, that there are and were cliques, and factors, and movements, oh my! But at the core, this is what the two major parties in this country stand for. (Or stood for, before the Democrats began selling out to wealthy interests.) If you look at any issue now, you can parse it for these stances. Take the current “Net Neutrality” issue. Current the Internet is quite egalitarian, on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is a movement afoot, to drop this policy so that certain streams of information can be favored while others disfavored. (Guess who gets to choose!). The people behind this are the wealthy leaders of the giant telecom industries. The people against are net rights activists, aka the Internet masses.

So, now that I have given you this information, which party is against net neutrality, in your opinion? If you guessed the GOP, you got it in one! Another way to look at this is, if the GOP is for it, it serves to maintain the elite in their current, or even elevated, status. The elites are the business owners, not its workers.

The founders believed in providence, that is if they were wealthy it was because they were superior to the others and the cause was divine providence. (God controls all things and wouldn’t make an asshole wealthy, now would he?) Today’s elites still have this belief: their wealth identifies them superior (even when they inherit it!) and if they are superior, who better to run things?

The secular and religious elites promote only programs/legislation that enhances their status and positions as elites. They are able to con ordinary folks into voting with them by advancing dishonest campaigns (They want to take away your guns! They are baby murderers! There is a war on Christmas!).

Consider the current administration’s “tax reform” plan. They started out saying they were going to simplify the tax structure and then offered a plan that made it more complex and, by all accounts, advantages the wealthy. (If the GOP is for it … duh.) Plus, they are willing to lie and cheat to get the bill passed, which the elites have always been willing to do, because, well, they know better what is needed.

So, pick any particular issue you want: if the GOP is in favor, then it favors the elites; if the Democrats are in favor, it disfavors the elites. It is that simple because the core motivations are that simple. This is changing as I write this as more and more Democrats are captured by the wealthy class to serve their interests. If the elites capture the Dems, then we might as well carve “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites” in stone in the capital and have done with it.

 

September 7, 2017

Clinton Versus Sanders, Round 2

In Secretary Clinton’s new book, she takes on Bernie Sanders as a source of her loss in the 2016 presidential election, “(Sanders) didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.” So? Did you get the message? Did you incorporate his policy suggestions? Did you co-opt his campaign? No? Oh.

People seem to be ignoring the obvious with regard to the election outcome. For one, Secretary Clinton indeed won the popular vote by a considerable margin, so it was not the total vote that caused her loss but the distribution of votes. This suggests her campaign did not emphasize the importance of a few states that could have won the day for her.

But the overwhelming elephant in the room is how a dirt bag like Donald Trump could even get close to a seasoned professional politician in the first place. The reason is obvious: under presidents Democratic and Republican for the last forty years, the middle class has been decimated over and over. The election provided a choice between “more of the same” and “something different.” While “more of the same” won the popular vote, “something different” pulled well enough that with strategic campaigning the Electoral College delivered the presidency to someone as ill-suited to the office as has ever been elected.

What would cause people to come out and vote for a clown, rather than just stay home and not vote, the traditional way to vote one’s displeasure or despair? There were a fair number of people who opted out of voting, especially young people who liked neither candidate, but the election was determined by a simple vote of “no mas,” against the status quo that had served ordinary Americans so poorly.

It doesn’t require a large stretch of the imagination to see Barrack Obama’s election to the office as another vote against the status quo. Mr. Obama ran as someone who would change Washington for the better, as someone who actually saw poor people, and middle class people, and spoke to them rather than around them. But the desire for hope and change turned fairly quickly into “more of the same,” resulting in an even larger vote against the status quo. If voting in a Black man to the office, in a nation still substantial afflicted with racism, didn’t work, how about a clown?

Get the message?

In Secretary Clinton’s case, the answer is “apparently not.”

February 28, 2017

Moving On Politically

Now that the Democrats have doubled down on their current corporatist party structure by electing Tom Perez as Chair of the Democratic National Committee, we have a definitive moment in the history of that party. President Obama and some of his team actually called DNC voters to make sure Mr. Perez got elected and not Keith Ellison, a representative of the “new wave” Democrats symbolized by Bernie Sanders.

It should be clear to Mr. Sanders now that the Democratic Party is not interested in its old base (unions, working people, people of color, …) and is committed to its new base (white collar folks, professionals, the wealthy, …) the very base that lost them the most recent election in a most embarrassing way. There will be no healing of the rift as the current Democratic Party is living in denial that there is one.

It is time for a new party, one committed to ordinary people and not subservient to the very rich.

Please Senator Sanders, throw your weight behind such a move. Surely that would mean there will be a splintering of the opposition to the Republicans, but the sooner it occurs, the sooner people can make known their choice as to which way they want to go. Three major parties will probably not exist for long, and the two we have now have been captured by the plutocrats. It is time for another choice.

Addendum Ian Welch puts it more bluntly here.

February 10, 2017

Democrats Retreat!

The Democrats had their annual (?) retreat recently and the major topic was . . . reframing their message?! WTF? That’s right, reframing, not reforming. Apparently they think all they need is a catchy slogan or two and they are good to go.

They apparently also cannot figure out why they lost to the likes of a Donald Trump. Let me explain. The two candidates running were the only two with any chance of winning. One candidate promised “more of the same.” The other promised to “drain the swamp.” And they are surprised at who won?democrat-donkey-with-head-up-ass

The Democrats need to dump their “corporate wing,” the one sponsored by Goldman-Sachs, and get back to pursuing what ordinary people want. It was the Democrats themselves who, without prompting, dumped organized labor and targeted “professionals” as part of their core constituency. This was apparently done because of arithmetic in that the number of union jobs had shrunk so much over the last 40 years. This may be news to the Dems but the reason the numbers of union jobs has shrunk so much is because of the relentless attack on unions by the plutocrats and conservatives and the total lack of defense put up by Democrats. (It didn’t happen in Canada where the numbers of union jobs has stayed a constant fraction of all jobs.) Is it any wonder that “working people,” including union working people, fled running from the Democrats message of “More of the Same, More of the Same.”

They would have been better off with “Four More Years, Four More years” but still lost.

January 28, 2017

Want a Democratic Party That Wins … For the People?

All over the mediasphere, articles are popping up proving that Democrats cannot find their own asses with even one hand let alone two. Most of these articles are suggesting approaches to opposing Trump but there is a deeper problem here: before trying to cut down a tree, check to make sure the saw is sharp first.

It was Will Rogers who said “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.” (He said this one so often, I couldn’t find when he first said it.)

But the Democrats did decide to get organized sometime near the late 1970s but that lead them to the New Democrat/Neoliberal disaster, the gutting of the middle class, full-time war making, the conservative counterattack and ascendancy, etc. and which recently culminated in the presidential election of Donald J. Trump. (Anything that leads your candidate to losing to the likes of Donald J. Trump has to be considered a total failure and a signal that it is time to reboot.)

But the Dems don’t need a reorganization, they need a savior. I wonder if they have noticed that the most approved of federal elected official is Bernie Sanders. They should slap a Democrat sticker on him and place themselves in Bernie’s hands, asking him to show them the way. There are a lot more approaches, but none that offer a better chance of success.

PS We should have paid more attention to Will Rogers (1875-1935). Here is some of his political wisdom:

  • What does the farmer need? Obvious: “He needs a punch in the jaw if he believes that either of the parties cares a damn about him after the election.”
  • What about a candidate’s image? Ballyhoo: “I hope there is some sane people who will appreciate dignity and not showmanship in their choice for the presidency.”
  • Our foreign policy is an open book – a checkbook.

Apparently our foreign policy model has been expanded to include domestic politics. And do you think he saw into the future to this election with his “dignity and not showmanship” quip?

December 21, 2016

Stock Market Games (for Fun and Profit!)

You all remember the story we were told about the stock market when we were in school: companies sell stocks to provide them with the capital they need to expand or whatever. Those stock certificates paid dividends, a bit like interest, and could be sold or given to other people. That’s the story we were told and from that it sounds like a good deal, a way to bolster businesses.

Let The Games™ begin!

From that humble beginning all sorts of “conventions” were created. One such is that companies had to report, honestly, their earnings for each year and they had to undergo “independent” audits by reputable accounting firms, like Arthur Anderson.

One of the key markers of a healthy stock is their companies earnings per share of stock for the year. Most people thought this would be a good metric because the more the company earned, the more they could invest in further growth and/or pay more in the way of dividends.

But then a number of folks in these companies realized that the fraction labeled “earnings per share” had a denominator. To get a larger “earnings per share” number you had to either bolster your earnings (increase the numerator) or … or diminish the number of shares (decrease the denominator). Enter the age of the “buy back.”

According to Wolf Richter (What the Heck’s Happening to Our Share Buyback Boom?):
Companies in the S&P 500 spent about $3 trillion since 2011 to buy back their own shares, often with borrowed money. It’s part of a noble magic called financial engineering, the simplest way to goose the all-important metric of earnings per share (by lowering the number of shares outstanding). And it creates buying pressure in the stock market that drives up share prices.

So when a company buys its own shares back, the number of shares available decreases which makes the “earnings per share” automatically higher. Also, the purchasing itself shows higher demand which leads others to pay more for that stock, making the CEO’s stock options worth ever so much more. What could be wrong with this?

Well, for one thing, these companies are not buying back their own stock with surplus cash (aka earnings) from previous years, they are borrowing money to do this. Mr. Richter continues:
And much of it is funded with debt. Over the past three years, aggregate debt of the S&P 500 companies has grown 1.7 times faster than aggregate cash and short-term investments, according to FactSet.

So, the company takes on more debt but the CEOs and other stockholders benefit in the short term. Isn’t this what Republicans say the federal government shouldn’t do: borrow money for current benefit, to be paid back later by other people? Apparently it matters who is the beneficiary of this kind of activity. If ordinary people benefit, like when the feds issue bonds to fix infrastructure, their against it, but when business want to do it, they become enablers. Again, Mr. Richter:
This is a nasty wrinkle in the buyback scenario. But there’s hope. Trump has pledged to change the corporate tax code, and/or give corporations a tax holiday on this “overseas” cash so that they can “repatriate” it, by selling their US Treasuries and other investments and using the proceeds to buy back their own shares. That’s what happened last time the government granted this kind of tax holiday in 2004. And everyone is hoping that it will happen again. I suspect that’s one of the reasons for the surge in stock prices since the election.

As long as the Fat Cats are for it, so are the Repubs, even including the guy who ran against the Fat Cats during the election.

December 13, 2016

Can We Ever Trust Our Institutions/Agencies Again … Even a Little Bit

This gets curiouser and curiouser. I recent blogged about the “Russian conspiracy” regarding manipulations of our elections (by leaking DNC emails to Wikileaks) and in part I said “I do not accept these assertions at face value as the sources are untrustworthy, but if more details were provided there might be something here.” and “The whole purpose of Wikileaks is to provide a place to “leak” information that cannot be traced back to you, even by Wikileaks itself, so it will be interesting to find out how we learned that the Russian government was responsible for things being leaked to Wikileaks.”

I then learned from my partner’s tech-savvy son, that all of the “protections” Wikileaks was supposed to offer leakers just never got implemented, so it is relatively easy to find out who sent what to whom, so my criticism of the report on that account is unsupported.

But, then … The Guardian (U.K.) reports that: “… WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange directly denies that he received the Democratic leaked emails from the Russian government and one of his associates, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, told the U.K. Guardian that he knows who “leaked” the Democratic emails and that there never was a “hack,” i.e. an outside electronic penetration of an email account.”

So, a presumably reliable ex-British ambassador claims to know that the docs were not hacked but leaked from the inside. Plus a group of former U.S. intelligence experts is backing up this claim “All signs point to leaking, not hacking. If hacking were involved, the National Security Agency would know it – and know both sender and recipient.” The CIA only points to “circumstantial evidence,” not any hard identifications. So, the CIA is claiming “the Russians did it” for what purpose?

I do not know whether we have ever had reliable news organizations. If we did, they certainly were not immune to lies and misconceptions. It just seems now that there are just lies and misconceptions being reported. It also seems that government agencies, like the CIA, have so many narratives they wouldn’t know the truth if it bit them in the ass.

November 22, 2016

Getting Some Perspective on Being Middle Class

In the last 35 years or so, the wages of middle class people have been basically stagnant. So, for a third of the last 100 years, while worker productivity and the cost of living have continued rising, the ability of middle class jobs to support a middle class lifestyle have not. The result is what we have now: a whole bunch of Americans kinda sorta hanging on to what they got.

If you go back a 100 years or so, you can get some perspective on how this came about. You will see that it is the same people who grossly inflated the cost of living in the U.S. who are currently suppressing the ability of U.S. citizens to afford a middle class life. In the 1910’s and 1920’s the vast majority of Americans did not take out a mortgage to buy their homes. There weren’t that many people who were buying their own homes, for one, and those who did often saved up the money or got it from relatives or borrowed from relatives. There was no large mortgage banking industry.

Then the Great Depression hit and home ownership got even farther from the grasp of the middle class. It was only after World War 2 that a series of factors combined to have home mortgages become a viable mechanism to acquire a domicile for those in the middle class. About a million working age American men lost their lives in the war and those who did come back wanted to resume a “normal” life as soon as was possible. Because of the manpower loss due to the war and the expanding economy, work was easy to get. There was a burgeoning industrial capacity that was turning from war material back to consumer goods and a sense of “we are all in this together,” that lead to a great deal of prosperity. Men and still some women had jobs and disposable income, so all kinds of things were made for this new market, including the development of housing developments (Levittown, etc.). The U.S. Government got in the business of helping to finance home purchases (although with built-in racist limitations for people of color) and with sureties being offered by the government, so too did a great many private lenders. So, through the rest of the 40’s and then the 50’s and 60’s, the middle class of this country boomed and the number of us in the middle class owning our own homes steadily rose.

Interestingly, during the Reagan years in California and during his presidency, things took a down turn. (You know, those family values of Republicans kicked in.) In order to support the kind of life middle class people were learning to enjoy, families had to see both Mom and Dad working. The influx of money into the family from working women helped maintain the new middle class lifestyle but also launched a housing price boom. Thanks to Elizabeth Warren’s academic research, it was discovered that when women started contributing more and more to the family’s income, they also had more say where it went and it was increasingly going for houses in “better” areas, the “better” being in school districts with good schools.

Housing prices increased rapidly, first in California and then throughout the U.S. Housing consumed more and more of the family budget, often costing up to 50% of family disposable income. Government supported these price increases by making interest payments tax deductible, which seemed like a good thing for home buyers but actually just inflated prices (“You can afford this more expensive house because of the large tax deduction you will get on the interest payments!” Remember that?) Rapidly escalating home prices lead to rapidly escalating property taxes because the rates were set “before” and the “assessed value” kept rocketing upward when each house changed hands. In California, a bellwether state, a tax payer revolt lead to a state-wide proposition that put severe limits on property taxes. Other states did something similar. These limits shifted responsibility for many services that were formerly based upon property values, like education, from those local sources of income onto other sources, often based in statewide government. This resulted in less local control and a greater tax burden on the state which doesn’t collect taxes based upon property but upon sales and income, more regressive taxes.

It was President Reagan who made sure that the wealthier citizens paid much less of those federal taxes and shifted the tax burden, especially through payroll taxes, off of the well to do and onto the middle class.

Then the federal government released the shackles of the banking industry and all kinds of high jinks take place. The final culmination is in the collapse of the housing mortgage industry in 2007-2008 based upon the ability of banks to bundle very sketchy mortgages into highly rated derivative securities, so anything went, at least until everything went up in smoke.

So, the banks got bailed out, their shareholders got bailed out, Wall Street got a minor slap on the wrist and homeowners, well they were told to suck it up and take their medicine.

So, where does this leave the middle class?

Well, with the wage suppressing activities of anti-union, anti-worker conservatives, helped by neo-liberal assholes who should have known better (when your goals align with blood sucking capitalists, you no longer have the right to call yourself a liberal, “neo” or otherwise), we have a middle class in name only. Most of us work longer hours for less compensation, have fewer government services available and less hope for the future and our children’s futures since 1950. (“You don’t need a retirement program. When you sell your house, you will have plenty to live on in your golden years.” They could have asked us to turn around and bend over because they had something to shove up our assess, but their sense of propriety didn’t allow for that.)

Those of us in the middle class who were conned into investing our futures in houses and then who lost those houses have basically had to start over. (I sold my last house in 2007, one of the very few sold in my county in that year and was very lucky to get out with my skin intact.)

Since the conservatives and neo-liberals are now in charge, I do not expect better jobs, more affordable housing, less expensive education for our kids, less expensive medical care or much of any real benefit to flow toward the middle class. I see … distractions … many, many distractions in our future. Progress? Not very much, no.

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