Class Warfare Blog

January 23, 2017

White Privilege on Display

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 11:16 am
Tags: , , , ,

Over the past long weekend I indulged in an old passion. I watched, on and off, for hours the 2017 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, AZ. Yes, I like cars. And there were about 1700 cars auctioned off this last weekend. (This is the largest of these affairs but not the sole auction sponsored by this company and there are quite a few other companies doing this.)

These cars were all over the map as to kind: race cars, classic cars, novelty cars, muscle cars, vintage cars, you name it. Some were newer, others older. Some were restored, others were “survivors.” I was astonished at the prices, but these cars are not something one needs but are something one wants. There were not many “daily drivers” changing hands this past weekend.

I looked online to see if there were any statistics associated with past auctions and … yes! A recent comparable year was 2015 in which 1617 cars were sold for a whopping 132 million dollars. (I don’t know whether that total include the auction fees, which were 10% added on top of whatever was bid.) Dividing those two numbers results in the average sale in 2015 being just under $82,000 dollars. Since I have never paid as much as $20,000 for a car, this appears to me a display of a great deal of extravagance.

I was, therefore, attracted to the people signing the paperwork for these purchases. Who were they? They were older. No surprise there. And they were men. Again, no surprise there. But they were almost exclusively all white men. The auction starts with cars estimated at lesser value, reaches a crescendo on Friday and Saturday and tapers off on Sunday. The buyers of these lesser value cars were almost universally older white men. Much silver hair on display. When the prices got up well over six figures, the buyers became younger: middle-aged, I’d say.

Now I didn’t watch all of the coverage as there were hours and hours and hours broadcast, on two different networks (Discovery and Velocity), but I saw several hundred of those cars rolled across the block. And I saw one person of color buying. One.

I can imagine what this appears like to a viewer who is Black or Hispanic as one or another nonessential bauble gets sucked up by old white guys who have six figures of room in their checkbooks this month. Some of them seemed to have even more than that as they bought several cars, so maybe they had seven figures of slack in their check books.

Even though I live from paycheck to paycheck as apparently most Americans do now, I do not begrudge the rich their money, if they came into it in a fair and equitable way. As a member of a minority which had been economically exploited over decades if not centuries, I might just want to puke at the display of ostentatious wealth.

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June 7, 2014

What Ever Happened to Progress?

According to David Cay Johnson in Aljazeera America, the “recovery” from the Great recession isn’t so great, for example:

What about the average hourly wage for private sector workers? The 2014 Economic Report of the President shows that it rose in 2013. But the increase, after inflation, was just 12 cents an hour—a blip of about six-tenths of 1 percent.

More revealing, the average hourly pay of $20.13 last year was smaller than in 1972 and 1973. Back then, the inflation-adjusted hourly average was about 6 percent higher. In other words, people in 2013 worked 52 weeks to make what they would have made in 49 weeks back in 1972 and 1973.

Wait, it gets worse.

The presidential report shows that in 1972 and 1973 the average private sector worker was paid for 36.9 hours of work per week, but in 2013 this was down to 33.7 hours because a growing share of people can find only part-time jobs.

Combine lower pay with fewer hours, and the average weekly gross pay in the private sector dropped by 14 percent in four decades. That’s the equivalent of working 52 weeks in 2013 to earn 45 weeks’ worth of wages in 1972 and 1973.

What ever happened to “progress?” When I was a schoolboy (in the 1950’s) there was an intense focus on progress. General Electric’s slogan was “Progress is Our Most Important Product,” for example.

For working people, there has been not only no progress but just the opposite—regress—for the last 40 years.

When will working people stop voting against their own economic interests and insist that they share in the increase in wealth in this country? It is our huge productivity gains over that 40 years that created that wealth. Waiting for the fat cats to “share” doesn’t seem to be working. The “trickle” in “trickle down economics” is flowing the wrong way. Politicians are working for the rich, not the poor and the middle class any more.

Wake up people, you are being robbed and you are approving of it!

February 14, 2014

GOP Preaches Individualism as an Act of War

The GOP is all about individualism right now: if you are poor it is your fault; there is no War on Women, it is all about individual choices women make (bad ones typically); if you are doing poorly in this economy you need to borrow from your parents and start a business; and so on. All freedoms are defined as individual freedoms and collective action is bad, bad, bad. Unions are bad. Bleeding heart social programs are bad. The social safety net is bad, and so on.

The other day, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas screwed members of his own caucus by filibustering the debt limit bill. Consequently members of his party trying to get re-elected had to vote “yea” on a bill unpopular with their conservative bases. Why did Cruz do this to his own Party? His reasons are due to his personal (individual) ambition.

What is driving all of these displays of support for individualism.?

Just maybe it is part and parcel with the 40-year campaign to reshape this country to one more to the liking of the very rich. There are very few very rich people investing in politics. To counter their prestige, power, and influence would take a great many ordinary citizens working together to have any effect at all. So is “working together” now the target? It seems so.

College students used to demonstrate in the streets for issues of social justice. Four decades into the Conservative Class War and students have huge financial debts hung around their necks, debts that make them beholden to the system and less likely to oppose the plutocrats plans. Unions, especially teachers’ unions, used to support progressive agendas and candidates with both the cash and their bodies. Four decades into the Conservative Class War and teachers have had their social positions eroded substantially (all education woes are due to bad teachers, if we could just get rid of the bad teachers, et. al.) and their unions are under duress in state houses in red states.

The success of these efforts have lead to the battle plan of taking the idea of the “Me Generation” and embracing it in the form of more and more focus on “you” as an individual. Narcissism is promoted (Take another picture of yourself and post it on Facebook; it is all about you!). Collectivism is pooh-poohed. We aren’t all in this together. You have to think about yourself. You have all of that debt to pay off. Keep your nose to the grindstone and shoulder to the wheel. There is nothing to see here, just move along.

November 12, 2013

Bizzarro Court Rulings, More to Come?

Okay, apparently the Supreme Court will be hearing a case in which someone is trying to establish a ruling that corporations have religious beliefs. Hey, a court which can take a business fiction that corporations have the rights of persons and turn it into a political reality that corporations have the political right of free speech, they could decide anything, right?

In a number of lower court cases, Catholic business owners have asked for relief from the provision of Obamacare that requires the provision of birth control services in employee provided health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act.

Hello? Where in the Catholic catechism does it sat that Catholics are opposed to insurance policies covering birth control services? How is this even a conflict? Even if the insurance policy covers things like birth control pills, no good Catholic would use that service, so where is the conflict?

Oh, you don’t suppose that the Catholic Church is trying to get the government to enforce a piece of their dogma that they themselves cannot enforce do you? Since 92% of American Catholic women have admitted to using birth control in their lives, either the Church’s restriction is invalid (Catholics have voted with their feet) or the Church is trying to get the government to enforce a piece of their dogma that they themselves cannot enforce. And that would violate the separation of church and state principle in the Constitution (specifically we would have a state sponsored religion if we are enforcing Catholic Dogma). Either way, their position is untenable.

Which is probably why they are trying to use the courts to pull off this bit of legerdemain, as there are so many fewer people you have to con to get a favorable ruling.

I can’t wait to hear Justice Scalia’s position on this case, as he is the guy arguing that the Constitution means what it meant to the drafters/adopters in 1789, no modern “interpretations” please. Yet this guy voted for Citizen’s United and, you know, he believes in, you know, … , sssh, the Devil.

October 28, 2013

You Didn’t Build It! Part 2

In a recent article addressing the power of individuals P. L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Education, Furman University, wrote: “Consider Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, George W. Bush, Bill Gates, and Mike Krzyzewski. What if these five men had lived in the early to mid 1800s? How would their lives have manifested themselves in that era? It is without a doubt that two of these men would have had quite different lives—and not because of their talents, character, or determination. Social norms are powerful and are primary when considering the individual talents of people.”

The Randites in the Republican Party seem to think that each person is entirely responsible for their own success and while no one argues that individuals aren’t to a large measure responsible, there are a lot of other circumstances. In general, people can only respond to the opportunities that are available to them. Making millions of dollars per year playing professional sports is not an option if there are no professional sports. making personal computer software to make millions is not an option if there are no personal computers.

Behind every successful person is a social structure, a physical infrastructure, and a culture. Too many people at the opportunity rich end of the spectrum extrapolate their experience to everyone. Ex-presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a classic example. He said he was a self-made man and nobody helped him on the way up (justifying his wealth). He apparently didn’t count the million dollar loan his father gave him. (I worked for almost 40 years and didn’t quite make two million dollars in toto.) “Poor” Mitt Romney is a person who thinks that a million dollars of seed money is no big thing, hardly worth mentioning.

Currently there are corporate educational “reformers” who are claiming that education is the cure for poverty because an education gets you a better job when means you will have more to eat. Their thinking doesn’t include the fact that poverty is the biggest barrier to getting an education in the first place. You see: they have never been poor.

Any personal success I or any other individual has achieve is not due to just my or their efforts. Major contributions were made by a great many other people.

And, if you realize this is true then you must ask yourself why it is we are wasting mountains of human capital by not extending more opportunities to the poor. They are only monetarily poor, they are not poor in spirit, nor are they poor in ability. If we offer them opportunities and they succeed, then they are in the position to offer such opportunities to another generation. Denying opportunities to the poor (Hey, gang, let’s cut food stamps!) doesn’t make you noble, it makes you short-sighted, mean, cruel and, well, assholes.

September 24, 2013

Hey, Rich People—

Since you have bribed our legislators to make sure that we, the middle class, pay most of the taxes (including some $6000 per family per year for corporate welfare), the simplest way to eliminate the annual deficit and national debt is to . . . raise our wages. Raise middle class wages; raise the minimum wage while you are at it and then we pay more taxes (more than you do) and “poof” the deficit is gone. Also, since we are middle class and living very close to the bone, we will spend every dime of our post tax income on something your blood sucking corporations are selling and you . . . will . . . make . . . even . . . more . . . money.

I call this theory “trickle up economics” and recommend it highly to you.

June 6, 2013

Jesus Was a Socialist!

I ran across a claim, a poll result actually, that young people (18-30) see socialism more favorably than capitalism. Of course, this would cause a major uproar with Republicans and their major supporters, especially Christian Evangelicals, which I find puzzling because Jesus was a socialist, you know.

Once again, Christians show a shocking lack of knowledge about their book and about history in general. Early Christianity (early first century) was split into two camps. One resided in Jerusalem and was lead, ostensibly, by Jesus’ brother James (“the Just”). Included in this sect were essentially all of the remaining disciples and the rest of Jesus’ brothers and sisters and his mother.

The other sect was that lead by Saul of Tarsus, the “Paul” of the New Testament, who never met Jesus nor did he ever speak a work to him.

As these things go, the Jerusalem sect was basically wiped out in the uprising of 77CE (James having been offed a bit sooner) which left the playing field to the machinations of “Paul.”

All we know of these supposed activities, as most know, comes from the Book of Acts because none of these events, if they were real or not, merited comment in any other source from that time.

According to Acts:

All that believed were together, and had all things in common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

(Acts 2:44-45)
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
(Acts 4:34-37)

Does this sound like a foundation for capitalism to you? Do you think Jesus’ family and the remaining disciples would betray the wishes of Jesus and behave in this socialist manner if it weren’t strongly urged by Jesus? Amazingly Evangelicals do.

What Jesus taught, basic socialism, is abhorred by these folks as the work of Satan himself. These same folks want the U.S. to be labeled a Christian Nation, which by any reading of the Book of Acts would turn us toward socialism, but forgive them, they know not what they do.

June 5, 2013

The New Face of Higher Education?

Filed under: Education,History — Steve Ruis @ 10:25 am
Tags: , , , ,

The embedded graphic below (thanks to Allison Morris) shows what is happening with Massive Open Online Courses or “MOOCs.” The question here is “is this the future of higher education?” (More text below.)

MoocMinds_OnlineCollegeCourses-2.com_1
Courtesy of Allison Morris (www.onlinecollegecourses.com)

While I will not play the role of a modern Luddite and say there is no role for online learning in the future, but there are any number of questions that need to be addressed before these things “grow like Topsy” and become a force in and of themselves before we have considered those questions. The foremost is: are these courses “loss leaders” and, if not, how do they get paid for? (A “loss leader” is an item advertised at a ridiculously low price to get you into a store where you will buy other stuff.)

In effect these are free college level courses and a number of states, including my home state of California, are considering whether to give normal college credit for them. Please realize that I basically had a free college education growing up in California. I went to a community college for two years and then finished my undergraduate degree at a state college. My fees and books were under $250 per semester (under $100 at the CC), which compared to the current situation was practically free. But that was government-supported education. The state and county of my residence paid for my education (I certainly did not) but then I paid those entities back through higher tax receipts based upon my higher earnings as a college graduate. This was a good deal for both the governmental agencies and for me.

But these MOOC’s aren’t a product of a government program. So, who is paying for them? Good question! A better question is who will be paying for them? Ask yourself: what other businesses (yes, higher education is a business) gets the grand idea “Hey, let’s give away our product!” And this in a business which has been raising prices about as fast as the health care sector, so inclined to give anything away . . . not.

In order to make good online instruction, it takes several hundred hours of work to make a one hour online presentation. Of course, that hour can then be “duplicated” a zillion times. But here’s the rub. All of the research shows that such courses cannot be given in isolation: they need to be accompanied by chat rooms, Q&A sites, actual physical meetings with tutors and/or professors, etc.. And, these courses grow stale in short order. (There is nothing funnier than watching old movies made for school audiences, e.g. Gosh, Mr. Wizard, that’s complicated!). So, including the server costs, the site building and maintenance costs, the production costs, the monitoring and customer servicing costs, these courses are not “free” to create and offer. So, who is creating them and why?

A major study of online courses in Colorado a while ago showed that a large chunk of online courses were being taken by students already in residence at the colleges (almost half). The reason those students were taking those courses was primarily convenience. Instead of getting out of bed and to an 8 o’clock class, they could sleep in and take their lessons at 2 AM. In other words, a large number of course takers had the option of taking the courses in a physical classroom but chose not to. Now, for colleges severely cramped for classroom space this may be a boon. For others it may be a gigantic waste of money (creating duplicate versions of courses for no reason other than student convenience).

One aspect I have raised over and over is that education is a social phenomenon. Interaction with others is needed to help process information and generate understanding and skills in argumentation, logic, presentation, etc. The history of education is replete with all kinds of “distance learning” efforts. Courses were delivered by mail (Correspondence Courses), by television, by audio tape, by radio, and self study, and now via computer. The results have been disappointing by any measure, certainly disappointing with regard to the hopes and dreams of the instructional creators.

The primary reason there has been disappointment in the distance learning biz is because such systems require the student to not only take the course, but also to manage their own progress, time, effort, etc. While “distance lessons” can include instructions like “read Chapter 3” and “do all of the problems in Section 4B,” the program simply waits for the student to come back to the material; there is no time pressure. (Our waggish comment when we did this kind of work was “Self-paced is a euphemism for slow.”) Traditional classes have tests on specific dates, homework due in a specific period, readings to be finished by certain dates, due dates for papers, etc. It is basically peer pressure and the structural support provided by course structures that sweep students along.

It is a valid question as to whether the students should adjust their tempo to the tempo of the courses or the courses adjust to the tempo of the students. Consider the “old structure:” a baccalaureate degree was considered a “four year degree.” In my tenure in higher ed that was the “norm.” My degree took four and a half years, which was the norm for a BS degree which had higher requirements than a BA degree. But many students would take as long as six years to get this degree and “reformers” pointed out this “flaw” in the system. Of course, it was not a flaw, but a feature. The system was set up so that a student could take 15 credit hours per semester, resulting in 30 credit hours per year and after four years could have 120 credit hours on the books. The typical number of credit hours for most baccalaureate degrees was 120 or so, so this could be accomplished in four years.

But this was also predicated on the fact that you took all of the right courses, that you didn’t change your major after two years, that you passed all of your classes, that you took the classes in the right order. In my case I could not get into trigonometry in high school, so I wasn’t ready for calculus as a first semester freshmen. So, I took trigonometry and then tried to sign up for calculus in the spring semester, but that wasn’t allowed, so I didn’t get into calculus until my sophomore year and some of my major courses required that as a math prerequisite, so I had to postpone certain of my major’s classes. Getting a four year degree done in the nominal four years requires a good deal of good fortune and some management skill. Then you find out that some of the courses you were told would transfer from your community college to the university didn’t, so you just lost some credits, and . . . etc.

The biggest problem for students is that that 15 credit hour load equates to a 45 hour per week study load (1 hour in class + 2 hours of study outside = 1 credit hour). But many students have to work to support themselves. A consequence is they can’t handle a “full load” of 15 credit hours. (The system was set up so that that 45 per week study load was for the average student taking courses of average difficulty and resulting in average grades. If your courses were of above average difficulty and you wanted above average grades, even if you were an above average student, you might still need 50-60 hours per week for your studies.)

A student working half time and going to school half time will need eight years to complete a four year degree and that is with no mistakes being made managing their programs. Currently, even if the cost of going to classes is low, one still has to cover living expenses while being tied down getting an education. This is why I am for heavily subsidized college educations through state institutions. To pay for a top tier university education plus living expenses while not being able to work results in the situation we have now: students buried under mountains of debt.

So, MOOC’s … who is going to pay for them. Right now, it looks like students, either through an inferior educational experience, or an educational experience that doesn’t drive them toward completion of the goals, or through costs that will somehow magically appear once the students are “hooked.” Drug dealers are known to give away free samples, at least at first.

April 10, 2013

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words: Here’s 2000—Why Corporate Profits Are at an All-time High

There is a graph (a picture) showing after tax corporate profits as a fraction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP):

Profits-GDP

Here is a graph (another picture) of compensation of employees as a fraction of GDP:

Compensation-to-GDP

In 1980, corporate profits were about 6.5% of GDP, now they are about 11.5% of GDP.

In 1980, employee compensation was roughly 59.5% of GDP, now it is 54.5% of GDP.

Hmmm, as employee compensation shrunk by 5% of GDP, corporate profits rose by 5% of GDP. This has to be a coincidence, no? I mean corporations wouldn’t profit by squeezing their own employees would they?

Gosh.

March 18, 2013

A Generation Uniquely Poised

I told a joke (admittedly a lame one) when I was a young adult that my generation was uniquely poised to be an embarrassment to both our parents and our children. It is quite normal for a generation to be an embarrassment to its parents as there is always enough youthful rebellion against parental mores to account for that. My parent’s generation didn’t invent statements beginning with “Kids nowadays. . . .” It was my generation, for example, that decided it would be a good idea to throw overboard everyday manners (remember the 60’s?), so people have few guidelines regarding how to act in ordinary situations. (My generation invented the college course in how to behave at a business luncheon. Amazing.) We responded by learning how to decline both the noun and verb forms of “dude.” Dude? Dude! Dude- Oh, dude?!

And Americans are longstanding overachievers in excess. Give us a task to chop down a tree and we will cut down an entire grove. What I thought was going to be the major source of that irritation in the generations behind and ahead of us was that propensity elevated to an industrial scale. We were polluting the skies and the land and the waters before, but my generation elevated the scale to disastrous proportions. And while much of the responsibility for the scale of the problem you may lay at the feet of prior generations for having so many children (environmental problems are at their hearts population problems) we sure as heck didn’t do much to change that trend.

Another source was, I suppose, the elevation of greed to astronomical levels. Our parents invented the largest and strongest middle class ever seen. My generation has done its best to dismantle it and elevate the rich back to where they were over a century ago. That the poor and much of the middle class has to go without food, shelter, and medical care, meh and it was all done in the name of Freedom, Justice, and the American Way (aka greed).

But I was wrong about this. Many of the problems my generation did so much to exacerbate we also found ways to ameliorate. Air and water pollution were reduced in places and for a while (the Cuyahoga River no longer bursts into flames, for example). The gas mileage of cars was greatly elevated. The global population problem was (remember the Population Bomb?) mostly solved through the expedient of educating women (go figure). Environment regulations greatly reduced all kinds of pollution. Socially, the rights of racial minorities, women, children and other repressed groups were expanded and lives were bettered, so why have we turned our backs on these movements?

Where we blew it was not in substantive areas, we blew it in, of all places, politics. Politics used to be a place where mildly greedy busybodies could actually do some service while making more money than their skills would have provided them doing honest work. During our watch, we have elevated their greed to making really good money (most congresspersons end up millionaires if they stay in office for a decade or so, way more money than they would make doing honest work) for the mild expedient of serving only the needs of the powerful, the rich, and the corporations. As a consequence, governments at state and local and federal levels are spending as much time working against the needs of the people as for them. At the federal level, absolutely nothing is being done to address the problems of the scale that only the federal government can address. Nothing on Climate Change, nothing on the Jobs Deficit, nothing on poverty or hunger, nothing on national infrastructure. And this inactivity is likely to continue for many, many years to come. The “powers that be,” aka the monied interests, have things they way they like them and if there is no change, that is fine with them. If there is any change at all, they would prefer it to be for their behalf. After all the poor will always be among us.

My generation fucked up politics. And as a young person, I didn’t think it could get any more fucked up than it was. Since my generation dumped manners, I can’t even come up with an apology other than, maybe, “my bad.” Quite probably we allowed this to happen because we turned away from the tawdriness of politics and allowed the most recent crops of politicians (certainly not our best and brightest) to hold sway while the forces of the monied interests gathered armies of lobbyists with wheelbarrows full of money to tempt them with.

It will now take a greater personal investment to elect public servants the caliber of, say, Elizabeth Warren to clean up this mess (if it can be), so the question is: are you in, or are you out?

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