Class Warfare Blog

July 16, 2018

SCOTUS: Fair and Balanced?

Since the Supreme Court is floating in the discussion air, I am reading more and more comments like this:

And just when we thought SCOTUS was done trying to unravel the moral fabric of America, Justice Kennedy gently whispered, “Hold my beer” and announced his upcoming retirement, thus simultaneously signaling the end of an era of a [kind of] fair and balanced Supreme Court. I won’t use his name.

Fair and balanced my ass.

Again, reasonable journalists are giving sops to the status quo to suck up to all segments of their potential audience and doing us all a disservice. Judge Kennedy is being called a “moderate,” because he voted with the liberal wing a couple of times. But he is solely responsible for the “Citizens United” ruling and voted with the conservative wing far more often (way more often) than he voted with the liberals. That makes him a milder conservative, but in no way was he a moderate.

And, “fair and balanced?”

The current court, minus Justice Kennedy, has 4.5 Catholics on it (Gorsuch was raised a Catholic but now is part of an Episcopal church. Episcopalians consider Catholics to be catholic in name only, they being considered back sliders.)

Three of Trump’s four finalists for Kennedy’s seat on the court were Catholic as is the one he finally “chose,” Brett Kavanaugh. The remaining three Justices are Jewish. So, if Kavanaugh gets confirmed that will make three Jews and six Catholics as the representation of the court. Fair? On occasion. Balanced? In no way.

Catholics represent 22% of the U.S. population and Jews represent 2%. What about the other 76% of Americans? The Protestants, the Atheists, the Agnostics, the Muslims? What about them? And please don’t try to tell me that their religious worldviews have no effect on their decisions. Give me a break. (Freaking Scalia believed in the literal existence of the Devil!)

I guess candidates from the “out groups,” don’t get chosen off of lists created by the like of The Federalist Society, the strongly Catholic organization that prepared the list from which Trump got to choose “his nominee.” (The Federalist Society is already responsible for placing three justices: Alito, Roberts, and Gorsuch on the high court.)

Fair and balanced my ass.

And, if you are wondering why so many Republicans are scoffing at the idea of the “Deep State,” you might want to consider that they are protecting their benefactors, like the Federalist Society, part of the Deep State.

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We Can Trust Corporations … Right?

I often heard the trope from the Republihooligans that “we can trust the corporations, that they wouldn’t do anything illegal or immoral as that would affect their reputation which would ultimately hurt profits.”

I haven’t heard that line repeated much lately, especially since there has been a conga-line of disclosures of corporate wrong doing and illegality that has been unending before, during, and after that line was fed to us.

The latest example of corporate abuse involves a court case lost by Johnson & Johnson over one of their flagship products: baby powder. Surely J & J would never include a chemical in any of their products that would knowingly harm its customers (baby customers!), why that might damage their reputation. So would a $4.7 billion dollar award against them.

“Thursday’s massive verdict was handed down in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis. It was comprised of $550 million in compensatory damages and $4.14 billion in punitive damages.

“The women and their families said decades-long use of baby powder and other cosmetic talc products caused their diseases. They allege the company knew its talc was contaminated with asbestos since at least the 1970s but failed to warn consumers about the risks.”

OMG, do you think corporations could do such things?

Asbestos. Gosh, we all have know that asbestos is a health hazard for decades now. We have watched TV shows where house remodelers have to call in hazardous waste disposal teams to remove asbestos products before they can remodel their homes. Our public buildings have had to have “asbestos abatement” services in to make expensive extractions of the stuff.

Gosh, could J & J have not known? The judge who issued the $4,700,000,000 award thought not.

And what about the “we can trust the corporations” bullshit purveyors? I say, identify them and get them out of office and out of power, if for no other reason than gross stupidity but more likely because of political and moral corruption.

If You were Unsure that the Effing Rich Were in Charge

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:02 am
Tags: , , , ,

Here are some basic facts regarding the Class War.

The rich were acceleratingly richer as the last century ended:

  • Between 1973 and 2000, the nation’s most prosperous 1 percent tripled their incomes, after taking inflation into account. The top tenth of that 1 percent did quite a bit better. Their incomes more than quintupled between 1973 and 2000, rising 414.6 percent.
  • The other 90 percent of American’s incomes rose 2.6 percent. Something went horribly wrong over the last quarter of the 20th century.

The Founding Fathers were horrified by actual democracy; they felt that freedom stemmed from property. According to James Madison (James Madison!) in Federalist No. 10, who argued that democracies were “spectacles of turbulence … incompatible with … the rights of property.” Democratic governments gave rise, Madison felt, to “factious leaders” who could “kindle a flame” among dangerous masses for “wicked projects” like “abolition of debts” and “an equal division of property. … Extend the [geographic] sphere [of the U.S. republic],” and it becomes “more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength and act in union with each other.”

There is much, much more in this vein from all of the FFs. Basically if you owned property (aka were very well off to rich) then you were free, otherwise you were lazy and shiftless and deserving of your lot in life. The purpose of the government they created was to preserve freedom (= property).

So, instead of the rapacious masses confiscating the wealth of the rich (Oh, the horror!) we have the rich confiscating the wealth of the masses. How? Well so far in this new century, our decision makers in Washington have done their best to make things even worse with a temporary minuscule tax cut for the masses and a permanent massive tax cut for the rich and corporations. (Because they wanted it, not needed it!)

All told, only 3 percent of this century’s tax cut savings have gone to America’s poorest 20 percent. Taxpayers at the other end of America’s income spectrum, those fortunate souls in the top 20 percent, have grabbed 65 percent of those savings, nearly two-thirds of the total.

Remember “We have met the enemy and he is us (Pogo)?” We are not talking about a foreign enemy. If the American rich had been satisfied with their wealth level of the 1960’s and 1970’s (check it out they were doing very, very well, Mitt Romney got $2 million from his father to “get started in the late 70’s/early 80’s—I made the same amount over almost 40 years as a college professor) none of us would be complaining now. But too much is not enough for this class and they had to go to extremes (they always do; it is predictable; it has happened several times in our history alone).

We can no longer just “level the playing field” to right the wrongs having been done. This would be like finding a bicycle racer had cheated by using a motorized bicycle, requiring him to switch to an unmotorized bike, but allowing him to keep his lead in the race. We are going to have to confiscate the wealth so foully collected and then level the playing field.

Step 1 Throw the plutocrat’s minions out of office and replace them with progressive politicians.
Step 2 Raise taxes upon wealth accumulated and transfers of wealth.
Step 3 Establish a maximum wage.

The alternatives to these corrections is real class war, no longer with pencils and electrons, but with violence.

July 12, 2018

Randi Weingarten: The Right-Wing Assault on Unions Won’t Win: It Just Makes Us Angrier

We are in a race for the soul of our country. But if we really double down, if we fight not only for what’s right but for what the vast majority of Americans believe, working people—not Janus’ wealthy funders—will emerge as the real winners. Randi Weingarten

Lovely comment by Randi (Randi is the President of the American Federation of Teachers, my old union), but apparently she hasn’t been watching. The union movement has been taking it on the chin for the last 40 years and it has only gotten worse. If the recent offenses are what it takes to get the union movement to wake up, well, “better late than never” comes to mind.

I am fearful that the response will be too little, too late. It is already significantly too late. This feeling of mine seems to be partly due to the current composition of U.S. labor unions. So, who are these union members, now? They are teachers, nurses, “service workers,” and so on. In the hey day of labor unions, the people in unions were iron workers, construction workers, garment workers, auto workers, many, many men and women who worked with their hands. They needed those hands to support their unions because their oppressors brought clubs, knives, even guns to union rallies. There was literally blood in the streets.

The gains made by unions were made by sheer insistence, yes with a threat of violence, but typically in response to violence. A lot of luck was involved. World War 2 happened with Franklin Roosevelt in office was the biggest stroke of luck. (Roosevelt was called “a traitor to his class” for his pro union efforts and high taxes. His “class,” of course, was the “wealthy.”)

From my youth I remember picket lines, strike funds, strike kitchens and food sharing, shoving matches, dirty tricks, and this was well after the major battles had been fought (which were pre-1960). I had colleagues I was trying to recruit into our teacher’s union who told me they could not because they remembered their father coming home from Detroit union meetings bloodied as if from war. There was indeed some memory of what had been fought over and for.

I was anti-union myself until I experienced a work-related problem I couldn’t solve alone and I received unsolicited help from a union member, who was a colleague, not a “union thug.” I decided that something was wrong there, so I read several books on union history and I was stunned at what the union movement was about. The rapacious greed of the “industrialist” class. The disdain they had for working people. The tactics employed by the people in power (got a strike, have your friends in government mobilize the National Guard to protect your company and brutalize the strikers, or if you didn’t have friends in government hire “strikebreakers” who did just what their name implies).

I also found out that every time a state’s unions urged that labor history be taught in high school, an immense backlash from the rich and powerful occurs. They know that if people knew the real story, unions would be perceived very sympathetically. Instead there has been an unrelenting anti-union propaganda campaign resulting in ordinary American workers being quite anti-union. And we in the union movement have allowed this to happen.

It will be a long slog to get anywhere near back to where we were. And I wonder if people who don’t get dirty from their work are up to the task.

 

 

July 11, 2018

It Figures

When the Trump tax cuts were imposed (you remember don’t you: the small temporary tax cuts for us and the large permanent tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy) it was claimed by the Repubs that the money saved by the corporations would end up spurring growth, even result in raises for workers. (Right, those results were to be delivered via unicorn, I believe.)

It was pointed out that the last time such a tax cut was implemented, corporations spent the bulk of the savings in buying back shares of their own companies. Well, surprise, surprise, the same thing happened this time. (Who’d have known it could be this complicated?) In a post on the Naked Capitalism web site (Michael Olenick: Update Confirms That Share Buybacks Are Still Corporate Suicide) extensive studies on the effects of such buybacks show that “not only do buybacks not lead to growth in a company’s market value, they are strongly correlated to a declining market value.”

In other words, the effect of their behaviors is not to “grow” the companies but actually to “shrink” them! To quote from the piece:

Corporate executives and directors are apparently bereft of ideas and the confidence to make long-term investments. Rather than using record profits, and record amounts of borrowed money, to invest in new plants and equipment, develop new products, improve service, lower prices or raise the wages and skills of their employees, they are “returning” that money to shareholders. Corporate America, in effect, has transformed itself into one giant leveraged buyout….

And since “everyone” is doing it …

The most significant and troubling aspect of this buyback boom, however, is that despite record corporate profits and cash flow, at least a third of the shares are being repurchased with borrowed money, bringing the corporate debt to an all-time high, not only in an absolute sense but also in relation to profits, assets and the overall size of the economy.

This not only burdens those corporations, but also drags down the entire economy.

So, if these buybacks are not what anyone might call the best use of those tax savings, why are they being done?

Okay, boys and girls, whenever anything political happens what are we supposed to do? (Follow the money!) That’s right! So, who benefits from these buybacks the most? It turns out that … wait for it … it is the corporation executives who actually benefit the most. You see the buybacks inflate the prices for the corporation’s stock. CEO’s and their ilk are now being remunerated largely via stock options. And, corporation executives constitute the largest segment of the 0.1% of “earners.” And that class of “earners” is the one making the bulk of political contributions currently. Does the picture now come together for you?

Think of the corporation executives as sort of modern pirates. (Can you see the eye patches and hear the “aaaarghs”?) These executives started out as treasure ship captains but, well the temptation was too great, and they stole their own ships. Well what is the government’s politicians to do? When they sailed into action to recapture the ill gotten gains, they received handsome “gifts” from the pirates to the extent that they have become dependent upon those “gifts” and now seek to facilitate the pirate’s behaviors. The government stopped pursuing the pirates for taxes and actually invited them to submit their ideas on how the government could be run better.

And all of the rich assholes lived happily ever after.

When are we going to wake up? Stock buybacks should be illegal or strictly regulated (as they used to be). They are tools to manipulate the stock market by insiders, for Pete’s sake! But when we ask our politicians what the intend to do all we get is “Arrgh!” and a wink from under an uplifted eye patch.

July 10, 2018

How Stupid Are We?

Are teachers taking “penny wise, pound foolish” to a new extreme? Not long ago we were treated to a display of anti-worker politics in the state of Wisconsin by its newly elected Republican governor and its republican dominated state houses. According to OurFuture.org, there were consequences for state workers “One Wisconsin labor organization representing teachers lost 60 percent of its members. Overall in Wisconsin, the percentage of union members in the workforce declined from 14.1 percent in 2011 to 9 percent in 2016. Simultaneously, pay and benefits declined. For teachers, salaries sank 2.6 percent and benefits dropped 18.6 percent.”

Now, consider that union dues are somewhere around $100 per month, working ten months per year so the total cost is about $1000. By “saving” that money by dropping their union membership or refusing to pay “fair share fees” (which BTW by law cannot include charges for political representation, which makes the SCOTUS ruling based upon free speech a farce), this is what the total cost was: apparently those unions lost $3000 per year in fringe benefits right away (https://money.cnn.com/2017/11/17/news/economy/wisconsin-act-10-teachers/index.html) and then they lost even more in salary reductions and missed salary increases. Save $1000 to lose $6000-$10,000 or possibly your job! What a bargain! Sign me up … not!

Boy, all of you teachers fleeing your unions or refusing to pay fair share fees are really showing them!

Politically teachers need to wake up. The people behind these political moves are anti-union, pro-business plutocrats. They are not your friends. You do not have access to them. Your union, on the other hand, is made up of your colleagues, who you do have access to, and if you do not like the direction your union is going, you can run for office and change it from within!

I learned this lesson the hard way also … but I did learn it.

Support your local union or start counting your food stamps because that is where you are going.

 

 

 

June 16, 2018

Lies, Damned Lies, and Economics

Apologies to Mark Twain for stealing his phrase and twisting it to make my title. (His line was that their were “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Here are a couple of paragraphs from a recent post over at Naked Capitalism:

“A standard recommendation given to late-industrializing economies by the economic advisors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has been to refrain from imposing regulations on the labor market, or if such regulations are already in place, to abolish them.”

“In this view, labor rights and labor protection are more likely to create additional unemployment and informal-sector under-employment, particularly of unskilled workers or labor force entrants, than lead to higher wages and better working conditions. Right? So, esteemed policymaker, what you should do is simple: reduce already existing employment protection, resist those siren’s calls to higher minimum wages, and curb regulation. Later, once your economy has developed, you can bring back some of those “European-style” luxuries. After all, they are good for social peace.”

“Well, this story is as wrong as it is ubiquitous.”

If you want to learn more see Who Says Labor Laws Are “Luxuries”?

If you want to know who economists serve today, I urge you to follow the political dictum: Follow the Money. As to who the World Bank and the IMF serve, well that has been apparent from the get-go. They are like the charter schools who are saying they are serving minority children when all they are really doing is lining their pockets.

Oh, and while the WB and IMF are prattling their twaddle about the dispensability of labor protections, you might want to take notice that that is the program being executed here in the U.S. for the past 50 years. The abolishing of labor protections is not just for “late-industrializing economies,” it is good for all! Follow the money. The money going into the pockets of economists is coming primarily from one source: those who already have a great deal of money and for whom that is not enough and are willing to step on the necks of anyone in their way to even greater wealth.

 

 

June 3, 2018

Another “Truth” of the Recent Tax Cuts Bites the Dust

Another “truth” (aka lie) that was used to sell the Republican tax cuts has been laid to rest. That “argument” was that corporations will take their tax savings (the really large ones as compared to the pittance you got) and use it in part to increase the wages of their workers. Wages have either been stagnant or gone down for working class people for decades. I quote one of the post’s quotes: “….The moderator asked the panel whether there would be broad-based wage gains again. ‘It’s just not going to happen,’ [Troy] Taylor, [CEO of the Coke franchise for Florida,] said. The gains would go mostly to technically-skilled employees, he said. As for a general raise? ‘Absolutely not in my business,’ he said.”

The gains from the tax cuts went to executives and to shareholders in stock buybacks (which raise the value of the shares still being held) and the bulk of all stocks are help by the wealthy.

Read all about it: More Evidence of Increasing Deflationary Pressure on Wages

May 31, 2018

The Insidiousness of Neoliberalism

aka The Empire Strikes Back

It may end up being a great irony but the grand American Experiment, the first major attempt at modern self-government (We don’t need no stinkin’ royalty.”), may end up having been created under a misapprehension.

When the U.S. Constitution was created the “founders/drafters” assumed (there’s that word again) that the “people” in power, running the government for “the People,” would be folks just like them: wealthy landowners who had the education and the time to apply their experience and powers of thought to the enterprise. I imagine that it was quite a shock to them when in short order, the propertied, wealthy (male) class was eschewed for politicians of the “middling” sort (merchants, craftsmen, you know “middling” types). I love the sheer disdain embedded in the term middling.

Well, never mind, the natural superiority of the wealthy class will win out, plus there was money to make in expanding the borders of the country and reaping the harvest provided by their god. Just clear off the Indians and bring in the salves and voila! When that was fairly well done, the wealthy got back to wealth accumulation in the forms of gold and property resulting ultimately in the Gilded Age of the late 1880’s–1890’s. Labor was oppressed, racism was rampant, women were subdued, and technology was creating opportunities to make money hand over fist. There were so many immigrants seeking work that wages were so low that the wealthy had servants galore. Gosh, can it get any better than this?

A small hiccough fell into the process of elevating the rich, and keeping them elevated, in the form of the Great Depression and World War II, the aftermath being a common understanding in ordinary Americans that “we were all in this together” and paying attention to the common good as opposed to solely individual rights was “a good thing.” That couldn’t be allowed to continue, of course, as that attitude was blocking the return of the rich to their rightful place of guiding society (for their own benefit, of course). The New Deal had to be remade into the “No Deal” of Donald Trump.

Then along came neoliberalism (beginning slowly in the early twentieth century, a horse the rich could ride where they wanted to go (back to the top). Neoliberalism exalted the individual, eschewed any kind of collective action by citizens save the military and police (to protect wealth from theft) and courts (to protect contracts). Free markets were the mechanism that would deliberate societal concerns, those and the innate actions of individuals as economic actors with free will (and greed). Think Ayn Rand here. Think the Koch brothers.

“Realize that the neoliberals are not working toward their ideal world, they are putting the finishing touches on it right now.”

Neoliberalism involves the elevation of individuals and the diminishment (or elimination) of collective action and any responsibility to the environment, the future (our children), the body politic, or people in general. Corporations that used to have major goals like “to be good citizens in their communities,” now are guided solely by the goal of increasing shareholder value, a concept that is bogus in the first place but serves the goals of neoliberalism, so it was elevated.

This is becoming hardwired into our culture. While I am very grateful for all that has been done to make my life what it is, via a quite inexpensive education down to a system of roads that encourages me to travel, the idea of gratitude is being reduced to “acknowledgement of a debt,” something only losers would acknowledge. The idea of debt forgiveness has been eliminated from many branches of our culture, especially Christianity (a long term effort). Consider the Lord’s Prayer. The specific variants I address are those which say “and forgive us our debts” versus those who say “and forgive us our trespasses.” In the ancient world debt jubilees were quite common, a period at the end of which all debts had to be settled or forgiven. It was hard-wired into Judaism but struggles to find any footing in Christianity or the modern world. Debt forgiveness was eliminated along the way in favor of debtor’s prisons and “pounds of flesh” and the IMF.

Neoliberals prefer the version of the Lord’s Prayer that uses the word “trespasses” (surprise, surprise), but I remember my mother saying the prayer in church, using the word “debts.” A 2000 year old argument that neoliberals have come down on one side of.

Since individuals are paramount, only the “deserving” warrant government help and there are very few of those in neoliberal minds. Blacks are shiftless and dangerous “takers.” Hispanics are lazy and untrustworthy, etc. Both breed too much.

In neoliberalism capitalism is exalted while removing all obligation of capitalists to the larger society (via the cult of shareholder value) as mentioned. “Free markets” and “competition” are promoted but the neoliberals really prefer market capture (think of Microsoft in its boom days, not quite a monopoly but close enough, and all of its anti-competitive actions) with government protection thrown in (think of the bank bailouts of 2008-9).

The foot shoulders of this movement have primarily been Republicans, you know, the “Family Values” proponents. To them, though, a family is lead by an individual, a man of course, making the family an extension of an individual. All of their “family values” stem from there … well as long as the individual men acknowledge the authority of a higher power, for whom the wealthy are a stand in and for whom all of the major religions work.

“The neolibs claim to want to shrink big government, yet they never actually do it. Governmental power is how they will enforce their will over the masses. They do not want less of it, no matter what they say.”

Privatization of public enterprises (schools, post offices, military, etc.) were initially lauded because “government = bad” but when that argument didn’t fly, they carried the water on this effort claiming the government was inefficient, that private ownership and competition would make for a more efficient effort. They ignored the fact that competition creates winners and losers and when it came to our children and delivering the mail, we didn’t want winners and losers. All of the data, so far, have shown the efforts to privatize schools have been less than successful, more costly, and worse, rife with corruption, so evidence is being ignored over ideology (and campaign contributions). The point of strategies like privatization, though, are not just about a preference for the private sector over the public sector, the goal of these strategies is to radically alter power relations, weakening pro-public forces and enhancing the lobbying power and commitment of the corporations that take over public services and resources, thus advancing the plans to dismantle democracy and make way for a return to oligarchy. The majority will be held captive so that the wealthy can finally be free to do as they please, no matter how destructive.

Neoliberalism is, at its core, anti-democratic.

And if you want to see the world as these oligarchs see it, all you need do is open your eyes. When Black citizens in Missouri protested police brutality, they were met with riot police and tear gas and arrests and dogs and prosecutions. But when white supremacists staged a protest rally, the police attacked those opposing the protest. Neoliberals definitely see things in black and white terms. Similarly there are myriad examples of polls of voters identifying things like laws requiring universal background checks to buy guns, but on which Congress still acts to benefit their donors, like the NRA lobbyists. The chances of getting legislation passed that was requested by poor people is zero and by rich people, near 100%. But realize that the neoliberals are not working toward their ideal world, they are putting the finishing touches on it right now.

As additional proof, look at state power being used to reduce state power. If the Republicans are in charge, they use the federal government’s power to restrict the state’s powers and the state’s powers to restrict local government’s power. In Oklahoma, fracking was causing hundreds if not thousands of earthquakes. Several local governments passed rules that limited the rights of frackers in their municipalities until the science of the earthquakes could be pinned down and fixed. The response? The Oklahoma legislature (and Texas, and …) passed a law forbidding the local governments from intervening and the frackers kept working. Localities pass a $15 minimum wage and some states respond by withdrawing the power of the munis to do that.

Neoliberalism is a-n-t-i-d-e-m-o-c-r-a-t-i-c, boys and girls.

The neolibs claim to want to shrink big government, yet they never actually do it. Reagan didn’t do it. G.W. didn’t do it and D.T. won’t do it. Governmental power is how they will enforce their will over the masses. They do not want less of it, no matter what they say.

If I may quote a recent book author:

The United States is now at one of those historic forks in the road whose outcome will prove as fateful as those of the 1860s, the 1930s, and the 1960s,” writes Duke Historian Nancy MacLean. “To value liberty for the wealthy minority above all else and enshrine it in the nation’s governing rules, as Calhoun and Buchanan both called for and the Koch network is achieving, play by play, is to consent to an oligarchy in all but the outer husk of representative form.

Neoliberalism is a cult of the individual in a collective enterprise (one man, one vote, no?). It is no surprise that those who advocate “we each go it alone” are those best equipped to do so (the wealthy). The bigger question is: will we let them get away with it? We have so far.

May 28, 2018

Socialism … Bad! Part 2

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 7:19 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I rest my case. (Note the license plate.)

 

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