Class Warfare Blog

May 20, 2019

A Moral Tale

As I have mentioned I have been working my way through the book The Moral Animal (Why We Are The Way We Are; The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology) by Robert Wright. I was planning to do a book report when done, but there is so much in this book that that is probably futile. If you are interested in where morals really come from, get this book! It is by no means the final word on the topic but it is an excellent start!

What I am writing on now is based upon a comment made in a chapter on ethics. Here it is:

“Why should we have a moral code? Even accepting the basis of utilitarianism—the goodness of happiness—you might ask: Why should any of us worry about the happiness of others? Why not let everyone worry about their own happiness—which seems, anyway, to be the one thing they can be more or less counted on to do?

“Perhaps the best answer to this question is a sheerly practical one . . . everyone’s happiness can, in principle, go up if everyone treats everyone else nicely. You refrain from cheating or mistreating me, I refrain from cheating or mistreating you; we are both better off than we would be in a world without morality. For in such a world the mutual mistreatment would roughly cancel out anyway (assuming neither of us is a vastly more proficient villain than the other). And, meanwhile, we each would incur the added cost of fear and vigilance.”

This resonates on the political stage in current American life. A small minority of wealthy individuals has decided to run this country for their benefit alone and to hell with the rest of us. To claim that legislatures around this country are motivated by expanding the happiness of their constituents is to make a rather bad joke. They seem to be motivated only to please their paymasters.

That issue aside, this quote brings up the utilitarian ideal of each of us treating the others well (not necessarily as well as we treat ourselves, mind you, just well), that this can be a source of greater happiness in all of our lives and that brings me to my tale.

Back in my working days, I was part of a training group. We trained people in our enterprise (a community college district) in the process of interest-based decision making. Our first few attempts at doing these trainings was fraught with anxiety . . . on the part of us trainers; the trainees apparently didn’t notice our discomfort.

To allay these feelings, we spent a great deal of time (a really great deal of time) creating a master training schedule for each training. On this schedule, every presenter, every volunteer, was listed as to time and task, for example: At 10 AM on Thursday Steve goes to Room XYZ and does Task W or on Friday at 3 PM, Steve presents Topic A in the Main Training Room. Every task was supported with instructions; every presentation had a list of key points that was monitored and if any were skipped over, the Monitor doing that task would bring it to the attention of the presenter.

This went swimmingly . . . and then I noticed something happening. Following the master schedule, I (at time X in Room Y) was expected to go set the room up in a particular fashion. At that time, I went to that room, only to find my job already done! This was a gift from an anonymous volunteer. Since I now had nothing else to do, I looked down the list of tasks to find something worth doing and went to do that instead. Before long, in our daily debriefs, we discovered that everyone was doing the same thing, doing someone else’s job for them. When we teased this out we didn’t look at this practice as undermining our Master Plan for our trainings. Instead, each of us felt that we had received gifts, gifts of other peoples’ time and attention and work. This became an unscheduled practice for all of the subsequent trainings I participated in.

Interestingly, the same amount of work got done, but instead of us just wading through mundane tasks, each of us felt like we were giving a gift of our better self, and that we were receiving gifts, anonymous gifts, that left us feeling respected and, well, very happy indeed. In our end-of-training debrief sessions, volunteer after volunteer claimed that this work was the best and most satisfying work they did in their job! It was on their own time and sometimes on company time, but in no case were their job expectations lessened. It turned out that others voluntarily filled in for them while they were away at our trainings.

So, if you take author Wright’s point, that treating each other well is superior (for all) than the libertarian ideal of “every man for himself,” then there is another level of additional happiness available if we treat others more than just “well.” Not oppressing people, or taking advantage of an other, is one form of treating others “well.” But if you go beyond that, as the volunteers in our training group did, and actively treat others very well indeed and we all pay it forward, as the saying goes, a level of happiness unthought of before becomes available to us.

And if you immediately react with “what about the freeloaders” just taking and not giving, read the book. That topic is covered, too.

Advertisements

May 19, 2019

Hello? What About the Emoluments Clause?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:11 pm
Tags: , , , ,

When he issued a subpoena week before last, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said he was seeking six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns to aid a committee investigation into whether the IRS was doing its job properly in auditing a sitting president and whether the law governing such audits needed to be strengthened.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied the “request” saying that the subpoena was “unprecedented” and “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Hello?

First of all, the Treasury Secretary does not have a say in this. He does get to decide whether a congressional subpoena is appropriate or not. The law simply says such returns will be provided upon being subpoenaed.

Second, audits? WTF? What about the emoluments clause of the Constitution, also called the foreign emoluments clause, which is a provision of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 8) that generally prohibits federal officeholders from receiving any gift, payment, or other thing of value from a foreign state or its rulers, officers, or representatives? If Mr. Trump has been making money off of his presidency, and he apparently has, and the sources of those funds are foreign, wouldn’t his tax returns show that income? Wouldn’t this be a way for Congress to exercise its oversight responsibilities as no other body has that responsibility?

Hey, they got Al Capone on tax fraud, didn’t they? Might work again!

We Are Using the Wrong Economic Indicators

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:08 pm
Tags: , , ,

Currently our “news media” (whatever the heck that is now) are trumpeting things like the US GDP (Gross Domestic Product), unemployment statistics, average wages, and Dow Jones stock index levels as indicators of the “health” of the economy. And, boy is the economy strong!

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

These indicators were chosen by the elites to serve the elites.

Consider the Gross Domestic Product, a measure of how much we produce in goods and services. How does that reflect on the welfare of the nation’s citizens? It doesn’t. It indicates how “productive” the economy was . . . but in service to whom? If all of the nation’s output was shipped overseas, the GDP wouldn’t change, but the indicator would indicate how well we were serving overseas customers, not Americans. Shouldn’t economic indicators indicate how well our economy is serving our citizens? (We the people, etc.)

Maybe a Gross Consumption Index would be a better measure. No matter how much we are producing, Americans won’t buy things when they are feeling economically insecure. So, it is more important how much Americans are consuming than they are producing. Is there such an index? If so, you couldn’t tell from the news organizations.

And don’t get me started about unemployment statistics. The number of full-time jobs with benefits is still shrinking, only to be replaced by part-time jobs with no benefits and shit wages. But unemployment is at a record low! Oh, and we don’t count people who have officially stopped looking for a job.

Average wages? Give me a break! Median wages, the wage at the exact middle of the wage spectrum has been decreasing! This means that there are more people making less and just a few making much, much more than that number.

The whole purpose of these misleading “economic indicators” is to convince us that the politicians are doing their jobs. Unfortunately, they are doing it for only the wealthiest among us.

May 10, 2019

Trump’s Business Losses

Filed under: Business,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:22 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

The New York Times is reporting that IRS records show Donald Trump’s businesses lost approximately $1.15 billion dollars during the decade from 1985 to 1994. That sounds like a lot of money and was. But it is not in current terms. I picked the year 1990 at the center of this period as a form of averaging and used an inflation calculator to convert those dollars into what they would be today.

In today’s dollars, Trump’s losses would be . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . .

$2,240,000,000.

This raises schadenfreude to whole new levels!

May 8, 2019

The Bullshit Scam that Are FICO Scores

We have all been told that FICO credit assessment scores are important. There are even services that will help you improve your FICO score, so you will have more credit opportunities.

It is all bullshit and a scam on the public.

I am a responsible person (IMHO of course). I pay my bills on time with rare exceptions, usually based upon forgetfulness. In any case, I have run up quite a bit of credit card debt, not unlike many Americans. But I was paying them down assiduously. I paid off one card and closed the account, a sign of a good faith borrower, I thought . . . and then my FICO score went . . . down. WTF? I still have plenty of accounts, but if I close one I am less credit worthy? WTF? How does that make sense?

I then paid off a car loan! Woo hoo, I paid off my car and I owned it free and clear . . . and my FICO score went . . . down! Again, WTF?

All of the signs of being an honorable borrower cause my credit score to be decreased?! So, I kept my head down and just paid down what I owed. I paid more than the minimum payment on my credit cards every month, and my FICO score climbed up to 700 and beyond! I was so proud!

But, I wasn’t making enough progress on reducing my credit card dept, so I applied to my Savings and Loan for a signature loan (that had a lower interest rate than my credit cards) and paid off my all of my credit cards (Balance = $0)! Note that I replaced my CC debt with an unsecured loan debt of the exact same amount in this process, so my indebtedness did not change even $1. So what happened?

My FICO score soared from ca. 700 to ca. 800! I was now much more credit worthy than I was before, even though my indebtedness was exactly the same! Also, I did not prove my ability to pay off loaned funds at all! But, now I was an “excellent” credit risk where before I was only a “good” credit risk.

Ironically, my S&L checked my FICO score to assess whether I was worthy of the signature loan (aka no collateral loan) when they processed my loan application.

So, what do I conclude from all of this?

I conclude we have been conned. FICO scores (created by a private credit scoring concern . . . I wonder what their corporate values are?) are part of an institutional effort to make sure we are indebted to the system to the max. They are designed to make sure that we can borrow much more than we are prepared to repay in any one year or even one decade. They are a tool of the lending institutions and the financial elites who are now running the whole fucking show!

That Donald Trump is one of their minions doesn’t help one fucking bit. I feel I want to go around the world apologizing to people in all of the countries of the planet for electing the abomination who is Donald Trump and for supporting an American system that oppresses so many people, including our own.

 

April 28, 2019

The Purpose of Religion: A Follow-up

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:03 am
Tags: , , , ,

Salon.com recently re-published an article that originally appeared on Raw Story. Here is a taste of that article:

Scientists establish a link between religious fundamentalism and brain damage
Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be
by Bobby Azarian

study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

Now, before all of you snarkmeisters (My people, my people!) jump on the obvious points, the point I want to address is not that. It is “They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.” And it is not the “fixed and rigid” part but the “promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group” part.

When humans gathered together into larger than family groups, society was formed in a process I am sure took some time to hammer out. In all herd animals there are behaviors of both the individual and the group that promote survival. Sometimes they clash but if they clash too much, neither the herd nor the individuals survive. We are not herd animals but we are social animals. “Society” exists to get us to conform to rules that result in greater survivability of both us as a group and us as individuals. Once a society is formed, it is not hard to see that it can be hijacked by individuals who mold society more to their advantage, survivability be damned. Books and movies are rife with such scenarios, where groups are betrayed by individuals to their benefit. These betrayals can be direct or through changing the societal rules to benefit just themselves.

Currently there is a subset of very wealthy U.S. individuals who are reshaping our society for their benefit and their benefit alone, the rest of society left to suck eggs. Religion is a major tool in creating and maintaining a “stable” society. It has lost much of its power in this country over the years and since a power vacuum doesn’t exist long, that power has been sucked up, in this case by wealthy financial types with their own priesthood (economists).

In any society there are those who produce the needs for direct survival (food, water supply, housing, transportation, etc.) and those who produce “other things” (art, politics, music, books, etc.). Those who produce the food, etc. need to have the respect of those who do not and vice versa. In this country, this mutual respect has been lost (not by accident, mind you) as it has been elsewhere around the world. In powerful church hierarchies, the elites offer little in the way of respect for the masses as they “manage their brands” and, they think, husband their power. The same goes on in centers of political power. Studies indicate that a prerequisite for getting any idea through Congress is being rich. If you are poor or middle class your ideas and opinions will be ignored. (Polls? What polls? Polls are “fake news.”) And, monumental issues like climate change are ignored because the wealthy do not want to accept any uncertainty in their wealth accumulation schemes (business opportunities my ass!).

As a consequence, ordinary people, who are engaged in serving the needs of these elites are in various states of rebellion. They are attending church services less. They are voting less. They are paying less attention to those who pay no attention to them or they are attending but responding with anger and resentment.

I thought if we could revive labor unions that they could apply some leverage in the interests of ordinary people, but unions have powerful opponents who have shut that door.

So, what is the way out of this existential problem?

Really, do you see a way out?

April 21, 2019

Jail Birds Fly Free … Well Some Do

One of the parents who conspired to get their kid into an elite college the old fashioned way (cheating, bribery, influence, etc.) has been on trial and that trial is in the sentencing phase. The prosecution wants something a little less than a year in prison and the defense wants something closer to a month in prison.

So, this is the justice system we have. People go to jail for cheating on college admissions requirements, for possession of small amounts of marijuana, etc. but if you do something really big, like bring down the financial system of the U.S. and the world, or defy the orders of a federal judge, you get swept under the rug as being “too big to fail” or, gosh, you get a presidential pardon. I understand that some banks might be too big to fail but are they too big to be broken up and sold off? Are the executives too big to go to jail? Do we need bigger jail cells? We used to send bankers to jail and did so as recently as the savings and loan debacle in the 1980’s. But now, gosh, it would be just so sad to do that, so let’s just give those executives a bonus and let them retire or, heck, just let them keep doing what they have been doing.

Obviously justice in this country has always been predicated upon the color of your skin and your socioeconomic status. If Bernie Maddoff had bilked a bunch of poor people or a bunch of people of color, would he have gone to jail? He had the bad taste to bilk white people who had been rich, so his fate was sealed.

This is sad.

April 5, 2019

AOC Derangement Syndrome

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she is referred to, is a new member of the House of Representatives. Since she stands for all things abhorrent to the status-quo loving GOP she is the target of amazing stretches of logic. Take, for example, this cartoon:

In the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, what was the greatest economy mobilizing force? That would be the American government, not capitalism. In the Great Depression, the business types (the Capitalists) insisted that it was a normal “business cycle” and that things would recover by themselves and that we should do nothing to help the struggling people.

This is what Democratic Socialism is all about, the government as representatives of the people, in control of the economy. Control in the sense of setting the rules, not running it as in totalitarian socialism. Currently, the capitalists have captured the government and are running the economy for their benefit and screw the rest of us. That is what capitalism offers unless it is restrained by government by the people … or a divine king if you want to try that again. (Donald Trump has volunteered for the position.)

April 2, 2019

And Forgive Us Our Debts

Michael Hudson is writing a series of books on the topic of debt forgiveness as a necessary component for capitalism to work. This topic evoked in me a memory of a conversation I had with my mother when I was a lad. She commented in church that the original version of the Lord’s Prayer included the phrase “… and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” but this was not approved of by the wealthy so it was transformed into “… and forgive us our trespasses as we also have forgiven our trespassers.” (By sixteenth century Anglicans?) There are a number of variations of these “translations,” but whatever was come up with (trespasses, sins, etc.), it was to get debt forgiveness (part of Mosaic law) out of that prayer.

A bit of this history is to be had at Naked Capitalism in the form of:

The Delphic Oracle Was Their Davos: A Four-Part Interview With Michael Hudson About His Forthcoming Book The Collapse of Antiquity (Part 1)

Highly recommended.

Some Enticing Teasers:
• “Rome was turned into an oligarchy, an autocracy of the senatorial families. Their “liberty” was an early example of Orwellian Doublethink. It was to destroy everybody else’s liberty so they could grab whatever they could, enslave the debtors and create the polarized society that Rome became.”
• “That’s why you don’t have any history of economic thought taught anymore in the United States. Because then you’d see that Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the “Ricardian socialists” and indeed most of the 19th century had a completely opposite idea of what constituted a free market … (o)pposite from the neoliberal idea that freedom means freedom for the wealthy to indebt and destroy the economy. Opposite from the liberty of Brutus to overthrow the Roman kings and establish an autocratic oligarchy.”

February 7, 2019

Finding Meaning in Life

Many theists argue that without their god(s) life would have no meaning. This, of course, belies the efforts of many to establish their bona fides in their lives for themselves.

The current era of plutocracy in the U.S. shows the wealthy over and over acting upon the belief that they are rich for a reason, that their wealth makes them worthy, worthy of providing guidance (by funding philanthropic endeavors … of their choice, of course), and in funding political movements, e.g. the Koch brothers, because they know what is best for us.

All of these efforts bring to mind a quotation from a giant of social commentary: “The fortunate man is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he ‘deserves’ it, and above all, that he deserves it in comparison with others … good fortune thus wants to be legitimate fortune.” (Max Weber, 1915)

In this I am reminded that for those “fortunate” enough to make over one billion dollars per year (there have been as many as over a dozen in recent years) that making a billion dollars of income in one year equates to making $532,000 per hour for every working hour of the year. This means one of these “worthies” made more in one afternoon than I did in almost 40 years as a college professor. I do not think of this as compensated labor as no one’s labor is worth that much. The only way one can “make” such an income is by scamming the system. If we need a name, we could call it “legitimized theft.”

So, if the theists are right and the meaning of our lives is granted by their god, why are these plutocrats scurrying around “cementing their legacies” or “managing their brand” or all of the myriad things they are doing to legitimize their wealth? These legitimized businessmen all claim that capitalism is based upon competition, but have acted to reduce the amount of competition in their area of business like beavers (think Bill Gates and all of his European monopoly law suits). I guess saying one thing while doing the opposite comes easy to those “of wealth” which is what they seem to have in common with the theists who support them.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.