Class Warfare Blog

February 16, 2018

The “Right-to-Try” Scam

There seems to be a movement to disrupt or remove “regulations” on pharmaceuticals. I mean why should those poor companies have to jump through all of those hoops to get a drug to market? This is called the “right-to-try” movement. Even President Trump has heard of it (ergo Fox (sic) News reported on it).

So, would people who are in need of some medical help be given the right to try unproven pharmaceuticals? This has been on option for richer citizens for quite some time. At the peak of the AIDS epidemic, people who could afford the effort were heading for Asia and Mexico to try all kinds of “therapies” to save their lives. I am unaware if any of these proved a source of drugs that ended up actually helping people so afflicted.

Or, is this just a cynical scam of “let’s try out drugs on desperate poor people?”

I’ll guess I’ll believe it when these assholes suggesting this shortcut to the clinical trials needed to verify a drug’s effectiveness line up to test out those drugs themselves. I suggest that what they see in this future is unproven pharmaceuticals are “tried” and then anecdotal evidence of cures is available (or fabricated) and sales soar through the roof. When problems occur (ineffectiveness, horrific side effects, deaths, etc.), the companies can pleas “How could we have known? They had a “right-to-try” and exercised it. We thought it would work. It is sad; our thoughts an prayers go out to the afflicted.” Typical of plutocrats it is: heads I win, tails you lose.

Assholes.

(Try a key word search for thalidomide.)

 

 

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More on Civilization

In recent posts I have been parsing the claim that, if I may use Karen Armstrong’s words again, “… historians argue, without this cruel arrangement that did violence to the vast majority of the population, humans would not have developed the arts and sciences that made progress possible. Civilization itself required a leisured class to cultivate it, and so our finest achievements were for thousands of years built on the backs of an exploited peasantry.

If one accepts this argument as being valid, then I must ask: why is it necessary that the coercion and exploitation of the masses continue as it has? Isn’t it time to say, well now that we have civilized societies all over the globe and extended the benefits to all people, poorer people should no longer be exploited.

Basically, I am asking if this coercion/oppression is the driver of civilization, will it ever end?

Will it? Will we say “Enough!” loud enough to get the elites to drop the whip? Or do we need to, as Charleton Heston once inferred, “Pry it from their cold dead hands.”

The answer to this question may revolve around crafting a new role for the elites. If we, for example, were to laud “Stewards of Humanity” enough, might it become attractive enough to elites to have them stop the exploitation and start helping people instead or would people, like the Koch brothers, think “that’s what we have been doing all along.” Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt any more, and I suspect that we would need to be very, very clever to pull something like that off.

Have any ideas about what attributes someone would have to have to qualify as a Steward of Humanity?

February 14, 2018

Did Civilization Have to Be the Way It Was (Is)?

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
Tags: , , ,

 

This is a follow-up to my recent posts on civilization, whether it has been “driven” by a desire for immortality (I think not) or greed (I think so). The basic story of civilization shows elites coercing the mass’s labor at agriculture (first), skimming the benefits off for themselves. Karen Armstrong, author of many really good books on religion, says it better than I can:

But robbed of the fruits of their labors, the peasants were little better than slaves: plowing, harvesting, digging irrigation canals, being forced into degradation and penury, their hard labor in the fields draining their lifeblood.” Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

Here is the scholarly argument, then, that it had to be this way, again from Karen Armstrong (same source):

Yet, historians argue, without this cruel arrangement that did violence to the vast majority of the population, humans would not have developed the arts and sciences that made progress possible. Civilization itself required a leisured class to cultivate it, and so our finest achievements were for thousands of years built on the backs of an exploited peasantry. By no coincidence, when the Sumerians invented writing, it was for the purpose of social control.

This is not just this simple argument, there is quite a bit of scholarship behind this position. Again from the same source:

But the (Sumerian) aristocrats had begun to study astronomy and discovered regular patterns in the movements of the heavenly bodies. They marveled at the way the different elements of the natural world worked together to create a stable universe, and they concluded that the cosmos itself must be a kind of state in which everything had its allotted function. They decided that if they modeled their cities on this celestial order, their experimental society would be in tune with the way the world worked and would therefore thrive and endure. The cosmic state, they believed, was managed by gods who were inseparable from the natural forces and nothing like the “God” worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims today.”

But I note that various justifications are also being put in place. Again from the same source:

For these pioneers of civilization, the myth of the cosmic state was an exercise in political science. The Sumerians knew that their stratified society was a shocking departure from the egalitarian norm that had prevailed from time immemorial, but they were convinced that it was somehow enshrined in the very nature of things and that even the gods were bound by it. Long before humans existed, it was said, the gods had lived in the Mesopotamian cities, growing their own food and managing the irrigation system. After the Great Flood, they had withdrawn from earth to heaven and appointed the Sumerian aristocracy to govern the cities in their stead. Answerable to their divine masters, the ruling class had had no choice in the matter.

Aw, they had no choice! The poor, poor, elites.

Here is her summary of the whole magilla.

“It seemed like an iron law because no society ever found an alternative. By the end of the fifteenth century CE, agrarian civilizations would be established in the Middle East, South and East Asia, North Africa, and Europe, and in every one— whether in India, Russia, Turkey, Mongolia, the Levant, China, Greece, or Scandinavia— aristocrats would exploit their peasants as the Sumerians did. Without the coercion of the ruling class, it would have been impossible to force peasants to produce an economic surplus, because population growth would have kept pace with advances in productivity. Unpalatable as this may seem, by forcing the masses to live at subsistence level, the aristocracy kept population growth in check and made human progress feasible. Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers who eventually brought our modern civilization into being. As the American Trappist monk Thomas Merton pointed out, all of us who have benefited from this systemic violence are implicated in the suffering inflicted for over five thousand years on the vast majority of men and women. Or as the philosopher Walter Benjamin put it: ‘There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.’”

Okay, do you buy this? That “Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, inventors, artists, and philosophers who eventually brought our modern civilization into being.” That you owe your refrigerators, iPhones, TV sets, bath tubs, etc. to the elites who were basically forced by the gods to do what they did?

I have no qualms with the “Had their surplus not been taken from the peasants, there would have been no economic resource to support the technicians, scientists, …” part, but there are some holes in the argument. The concern that the masses would breed out of control and eat up the surplus is based in science (biologically, populations expand up to the limits of their food supply) but not history. These early civilizations were always, it seemed, starved for labor, resulting in widespread slave raiding to acquire it.

I also do not accept it was necessary to be done the way it was. Every step of the way, the elites lived better than the masses, usually very much better. Some might argue that using the greed of the elites was the only reliable pathway to get to where we are, but that is just a justification. The elites were interested only in creating civilization for themselves and this is the flaw in this whole process.

Was there ever a time that even just one elite chose to live as his/her “subjects” did? Was there ever an elite who worked harder to improve the lot of his subjects lives harder than his/her own? Was there ever an elite who didn’t husband his/her own power for his/her own sake rather than for the “good of the people”? If there were, it is hard to find evidence for it and it was, I suspect, very temporary. So, the argument distills down to basically the elites operated out of greed, using secular and religious power to make their lives better: more secure, healthier, better fed, housed, clothed, etc. And civilization for the masses … happened by accident.

I wonder how scholars, like Karen Armstrong, determine that “Answerable to their divine masters, the ruling class had had no choice in the matter.” How can you read intentions from 5-6 millennia in the past distance. Were their written records, diaries perhaps? She is writing about a time when writing was a rare thing. The elites basically invented writing as a method for accounting for their confiscations. Writing was not a skill widespread in early civilizations. Scribes were trained to work for the elites. Ordinary people did not have the wherewithal to afford the services of a scribe, not did they have the wherewithal to deliver a message once written. Only the elites had the capacity to place things into written records. So, I think it is no stretch of the imagination that the earliest non-accounting forms of writing were done at the behest of the elites, to serve the interests of the elites, and that those writings would be “self-serving.” Only much later did writing become something that could actually serve to undermine the interests of the elites (usually in the form of plays that conveyed messages to a largely illiterate population). So, how do these scholars “know” that the elites felt that they had “no choice in the matter” of how they organized society?

Isn’t it just like us humans, that “shit happened” and later we determine the “meaning of it all.”

To too many people, religion is a real thing in their lives. (Karen Armstrong flunked out of nun school.) They seem to think that religion is more than a tool, a vehicle to move some into the elite column of society and to keep others out of it. Some are inclined to give religion a pass as the religious elites were just trying to satisfy the dictates of the gods.

I do not.

I see very greedy people on the make for anything they can use to advantage them and their immediate family and disadvantage everyone else, especially those who competed with them for their oversized share of the pie created by the coerced labor of the masses. There was an uneasy alliance between the secular elites and the religious elites; sometimes these were merged but often enough they were not. (Why? Because their separation allowed for more elites and more elites allowed for more coercion.) The secular elites used religion’s rules to control the masses. The religious elites used secular force to enforce religious authority. Hand meet glove.

This is still the case, even though some of the benefits of civilization have “trickled down” to the masses (to the great profit of the elites who consider the masses to be “consumers” now).

As to the question “did it have to be this way” I answer, well it was that way (and still is), but it could have been different. Imagine a society in which the “aristocrats” consider themselves to be stewards of the lives of the masses (in democracies we call them “public servants”). These stewards spend all of their time trying to improve the lot of the masses, while simultaneously urging the masses to do the labor necessary to support that work. These stewards earn the trust of the masses by sharing the surpluses in ways unforeseen by the masses and by living austere lives themselves. Ordinary people saw the benefit of these wise leaders and bought into the better lives they could organize and didn’t begrudge their labor to serve the whole effort.

Under such, albeit imaginary, leadership civilization could have been something done for the people rather than to the people.

It still could.

 

 

 

 

 

February 2, 2018

Do You Buy This Argument?

Clearly our educational system is failing, heck it has failed. In the last 100 years, the average IQ of Americans has been stuck at 100 and if we are going to solve the problems of the future, we need to get smarter!

Is this a valid argument?

Do you accept it?

You should not.

IQ tests are “re-normed” every year, that is the average IQ test score, whatever it is, is defined to be a score of 100. Studies have shown that actual IQ scores are 10% higher now than they were 100 years ago, which means that a tester with a score of 100 (aka “average”) now would have had scores 110 back then or a tester back then who scored a 100 would score a 90 now.

So, this “complaint” about “the system” is taking what is actually a positive result and making it sound negative. This is not a new practice. People have been cherry-picking evidence since the dawn of making arguments. Often this is exacerbated by ignorance but possibly as often this is done with full knowledge of such distortions. The unfortunate thing for us is this practice is becoming acceptable to large swaths of the American people.

We see it in politics and we see in religion. For example, Christian apologists keep trotting out arguments that were disproved centuries ago as if they were new. I can’t believe all of them are ignorant to the facts, so some of this is done deliberately. What happens to an apologist who is caught out, basically telling an “untruth”? The answer: nothing. Similarly, in politics, politicians who lie and are shown to have known the truth ahead of the lie suffer no ill effects. We used to have a joke from many, many years ago that went: Q: How can you tell a politician is lying?, A: His lips are moving. This was considered funny and was based partially upon the fact that politicians are not allowed to tell the truth in many cases due to security issues (it is illegal to release “top secret” info) or they have been ordered by political superiors to not tell the truth yet (timing issues), etc. Now, lying is so commonplace that politicians don’t even bother responding to journalists who catch them lying. It is almost as if they are saying “Of course I was lying … didn’t you see my lips move, fool!”

If we are to save our democracy, we need to become better participants as citizens. We need to make sure there is a penalty for lying. To do this we need to stop trying to be universal experts in every political issue that comes up as that is a Herculean task and we are not demigods. Pick a topic (climate change, dark money, gerrymandering, whatever) and set out to become educated about that topic. Heck pick two topics, but whatever topics you pick, learn about the nuances. Then fire away.

In the absence of an educated citizenry, we will fall victim to arguments that sound valid, such as the one above, created by those wanting to manipulate the process and do not care for the truth, the people as a whole, or democracy in particular. We are many, they are few. No matter how many of us chose to become “experts” in a particular topic, we will still be many and they will still be few. But if we continue to flounder and, watching the “news,” bounce from topic to topic we really know nothing about, we will fail. We are many and they are few … and it is easier to organize a few than many.

Oh, and the answers you seek are not available on the “news.” In fact, I am not sure there is anything of value any more in the “news,” so if you think you are keeping up on current events because you watch “the news” on TV, you are being duped. I never watch TV “news” and when I stopped, I became much better informed on the issues I care about.

January 12, 2018

Oh, If Someone Else Will Pay For It, Sure

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said on Thursday that it would raise its starting wages, give bonuses to some employees and vastly expand maternity and parental leave benefits for its army of more than one million hourly workers. The retailer said that it would use some of the money it expects to save under the recently passed Republican tax bill to pay for the raises and enhanced benefits.

Walmart said it would increase its starting hourly wage from $9 to $11, and provide one-time cash bonuses of up $1,000 to hourly workers, depending on how long they have been with the company. The wage increase brings Walmart in line with some of its other retail-industry rivals amid a tightening labor market. Target raised its base pay to $11/hr last fall.

So, Walmart is struggling to keep up with Target? WTF?

Within hours of its self-serving announcement, Walmart undercut its triumphal message when news leaked that it was closing 63 of its Sam’s Club stores.

So, was the wage increase a smoke screen? Some “good news” to cover the “bad news” to follow? Otherwise why make the announcements on the heels of one another?

And, since Walmart is using its “tax cut” to pay for some of these employee benefit increases, how much of it we do not know, are they saying “Gee, now we can afford it?” Walmart has made huge profits for its owners and investors for decades, large enough that they could have been a leader in how to treat their employees. But no, Walmart would rather their primaries get to become billionaires than their workers to have a living wage.

And if anyone claims that Walmart is paying the “market price” for its labor, I will scream! The “market” is not magic, in fact it is a political construct that has been manipulated to create the lowest possible labor costs for its participating companies. The “market” is something that is a lousy guide for any endeavor. Worse are “free markets.” Any decent economist can tell you that unregulated markets doom the sectors they serve. In fact markets cannot thrive without regulation. So, why is one of our major political parties campaigning on a “regulations are bad, we must get rid of them” plank? Ask the people who are paying for those opinions to be espoused and actions taken. (Hint: it ain’t you or me.)

As to who will actually pay for those raises, look forward shortly to the Repubs to cut benefits to poor people. Why? Because the tax jiggering they have pull off is going to lower federal tax receipts and “we won’t have the money” to pay for such frivolous expenditures. Look for Walmart employees, a class of workers who benefit from the government programs lined up for haircuts by the GOP, even with their raises and bonuses to be less well off a year from now than they are now.

Three Billion = Not Enough

Today, Carrier, the profitable heating/ventilation/air conditioning company, owned by United Technologies Corporation, a federal contractor whose climate, controls, and security division, of which Carrier is a part, reported three billion dollars in operating profit in 2016—is letting go of more than two hundred employees in its second and final wave of Indiana-based layoffs, which began last July. In total, the company will be laying off more than five hundred employees as it moves manufacturing jobs to Monterrey, Mexico. Many of those employees voted for Donald Trump, who made saving Carrier’s “big, beautiful plant” one of his most repeated campaign promises. It was part of his broader pre-election claim that “A Trump Administration will stop the jobs from leaving America.”

Do realize that careful analyses of such moves often show the savings are minimal. Because the jobs are no longer near the U.S.-based managers, another level of managers has to be hired. Then there is transportation costs, and…. One thing you can be sure will be affected is their stock price. “Shareholders” love these moves, why no one knows. I suspect it is the choir praising the minister as both managers and shareholders belong to the same church, the Church of Greed.

Three billion dollars in profits in just one year and a sterling reputation for quality and … oh, we have to move to save the company? WTF?

January 8, 2018

Pigs at the Private Trough

I have written before about CEO compensation, mainly that it is being manipulated by the CEOs themselves and their hand-picked boards of governors (often made up of other CEOs). This largess isn’t supported by history in this country and now a major study by Bloomberg researchers has driven a stake into any argument that these overpaid CEO’s are worth what they are paid. A post on OurFuture.org stated: “The Bloomberg researchers looked worldwide at major corporations of similar size and heft. In all, the researchers examined corporate pay records in 22 nations. In not one of these nations, Bloomberg found, do the executives of top-line firms make anything close to the paychecks of America’s corporate execs.

“In fact, America’s top corporate executives are taking home, on average, quadruple the average CEO pay that comparable top execs in the rest of the world are making.

“If this huge pay difference simply reflected a “marketplace” judgment on the sheer talent of America’s top execs, top U.S. corporations would be totally dominating global markets, outselling their foreign rivals by wide margins in everything from cars to computers.

“U.S. corporations are doing no such thing, of course. In one key global market sector after another, foreign corporations that pay their CEOs much less than U.S. CEOs are running neck and neck with their U.S. counterparts — and often leading the pack.”

CEOs and their cohort (business executives) are the largest growing segment of the 1% and are major drivers in the efforts to establish even greater wealth and pay inequality through manipulations of the government. If they were insects we would not hesitate to spray them out of existence for the pests they are.

I have suggested a way to dial back these bloated CEO salaries. It is relatively simple. If you like your current CEO, renegotiate his contract around a salary 50% of whatever they are currently making. If they say that they will “take their ball and go home,” say “fine.” Go to the Vice-CEO and offer them the job at 50% of what you were paying your current CEO. In all likelihood they will jump at the opportunity to improve their resume, but if they do not, go to the next most senior executive and offer him/her the job. You will find a taker and your company will not suffer much if at all. If you are in favor of a “kinder, gentler” process, you can make the reduction to 75% or whatever you deem appropriate. If the subordinates to your current CEO are also making bloated salaries, the same process should be applied to them. We certainly would not want the top executives making less than their subordinates! (Hey, the top guys used this to ratchet their salaries up, we can use it to ratchet the others’ salaries down.)

The fact the foreign companies that are doing as well or better than our companies are “getting by” with CEO pay one fourth of what we are paying says something. Heck, if you can’t find anyone in your corp who will take the job at 50% of current CEO pay, offer it to one of those foreign executives. To them the job will come with a pay raise.

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.

January 5, 2018

Our Current Crop of Economists” Wrong, Wronger, or Wrongest?

Filed under: Economics — Steve Ruis @ 8:30 am
Tags: , , , ,

If you want a completely different take on what economics could be, showing us why the current path we are on is one to oblivion, this is a must read. And it makes a lot more sense than the gibberish we are currently being fed.

More Power to the Workers: Seymour Melman on Extraction by the Military, Managers, and Finance

If you want to understand the modern world, the Naked Capitalism site is an absolute help.

January 1, 2018

How Could We Have Known?

Filed under: Business,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:12 am
Tags: , , ,

I can hear it now, the energy executives who express wonderment at the extent of the damage caused by climate change while looking bewildered for the cameras: “How could we have known?” They will say this.

Well, help me count the ways…. Here is a warning given in 1959, almost 60 years ago, during an institute called by, of all people, the energy executives.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jan/01/on-its-hundredth-birthday-in-1959-edward-teller-warned-the-oil-industry-about-global-warming

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