Uncommon Sense

August 9, 2022

We Need to Get Organized

The oligarchs in this country have stolen our lunch money and we just stood by and watched them do it. They are few and we are many and they have won their class war by distractions and dishonest dealings, and lying through their teeth.

The GOP has led the charge, but the Democrats sold out organized labor and working people in general in the late 1970’s when they decided that they were the party of working professionals, glibly saying “where will the union members and working people go, but to us.” Well they found out. Many went to the GOP.

I was disappointed when Bernie Sanders, whose presidential campaign had been tanked by his own party, didn’t start up a new party. He stayed in, tried to reform from within, and then the DNC tanked his second run for president by propping up a failing campaign of one Joe Biden.

Georgia is showing the way. They are organizing, organizing, and organizing, from the roots on up.

We need to heed the lesson of Georgia.

June 3, 2022

The Path We Are On

If you are concerned about why so much progress in our society is deadlocked, you may want to read this: The Singularity — How the American Techno-Oligarchy Will Fail

Here is a taste:

The primary problem for oligarchs is that the rich and powerful have no perspective, no way to obtain it, and a high level of greed and arrogance. We see evidence of this every day in the media that they own. Becoming an oligarch is mostly the result of key variables that have nothing at all to do with vision or ability: exploitation of public funding and a highly unjust economic system, being born at the right time in the right place, and a whopping dose of luck.

To put things in perspective, lets start by admitting that Jobs, Gates, Musk, Thiel, Ellison, etc. are not remotely visionaries. They are talented businessmen selling other people’s decades-old visions in a wide range of colors and sizes. The visionaries that actually made their business empires possible are people like Ferraris, von Neumann, Gellius, Engelbart, and Anderson. Poorly-regulated capitalism, greed, corruption, an unreasonable belief in competition, and extreme wealth concentration have hindered the realization of their visions by decades — to the detriment of all.

March 5, 2022

The Real Reason Teachers Are Leaving the Profession

Filed under: Business,Culture,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:54 am
Tags: , , , ,

I just finished reading yet another article on why teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers. It is an oversimplification, but not much of one, that the job has become untenable for many: too much work, too little reward, too little social approval. It is my opinion that teaching is a lower pay profession because it attracts people who do not want to fight for their positions. They are in authority in their classrooms because the system placed them there with those powers. The pay was low, sure, but the benefits were secure, and the social standing of teachers was high. This is no longer the case.

And, it is a standard business practice, when confronted with an employee that the company wanted to get rid of, but couldn’t fire for reasons of face, or relationships with customers, or whatever, was that you made the person’s job untenable and they quit.

I suggest that while it is not the primary tool in use in many of the efforts now being attempted to take over public education, it is part of the pattern: make teachers quit and then they will have to be replaced by temporary workers, or Teach for America dupes, or heaven forbid, computer software. (Those parents trolling their kid’s school libraries for books they don’t like should really be looking at these software packages. A simple examination would leave one with the thought that there is no way I would allow my kid to be “taught” by such drivel.) Each of these elements of “the plan” enhances the potential profits to be made.

An Aside And, I do not believe there is an actual plan, sitting on a table in a secret Colorado mountain retreat used by the plutocrats. This is as much of a plan as there is for a feeding frenzy of sharks. Once the plutocrats scent blood (aka easy money), they all want in on the action, inventing ways to “get them some of that” before it is all gone.

This whole thing has arisen because the plutocrats have gotten their way to lower tax rates, better legal protections, and rule changes (bye-bye Glass-Steagall Act), and those changes have lead them to dominant positions in finance, the markets, weapons procurements, etc. and there just weren’t any additional horizons to conquer. But, then someone looked at the immense pool of money spent on public schools every year and said “I want me some of that!” and the games began. Public Sector Unions got banned. Teachers were blamed for the lack of learning in many schools, ignoring the obvious roles of poverty, hunger, crime, violence, and drugs in the student’s neighborhoods, politicians were enrolled in cockamamie “reform” plans (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, etc.) in the belief that incentives and punishments would cause improvements (which cannot be proved even in business), and so on. The Charter School Movement was morphed into a vehicle for setting aside union contracts and public regulations.

That teachers are leaving the profession in large numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it is part of the plan of the scum-sucking greedy plutocrats who can’t seem to get enough money, when they already have many millions or even billions and can’t or won’t spend those.

I do not suggest violence against these plutocrats, yet, but the next time you see Bill Gates or any of that ilk pontificating on education, how about we chant “Shut the fuck up; shut the fuck up!”

October 21, 2021

Why It Is Better to Be Pissed Off than Pissed On

We possess emotions that were designed to have short-term effects. Stretching them out over long periods of time can have very detrimental effects. This is why I think “happiness” is a bad goal. Happiness is a transitory emotion, not meant to be long-term.

Another emotion designed for the short-term is fear. When we are fearful, we get what is called the “fight or flight” response. We gear up to fight or to run away. But that was never meant to be a long-term effect. A lesson in this comes from human pre-history. When you compare human beings to other predators we come up short, way short. We do not possess speed, like cheetahs, or power like lions and wolves, or the vision and razor sharp talons of an eagle, etc. But we have a super power and that is stamina. We often hunted using this evolutionary advantage. We would, in a small group of hunters, spook our prey, which would run away, but just a short distance. Then we would follow that animal, spooking it again and again, until finally, the poor animal is nervously and physically exhausted from being in this fight or flight situation too long. Occasionally a hunter could walk up to the quivering animal and slit its throat or spears or arrows could easily bring the animal down.

Fear is a powerful emotion and so is anger, again one not intended for long-term use. Both of these emotions are “in the news” because they are playing a role in our politics. The elites running this country for their own personal gain are ruining any chance of us forming a more perfect union. They are very wealthy and have a great deal of power because of that wealth. They are few and we are many which makes them far easier to organize than us, so our power of numbers is muted.

To overcome this handicap, we need righteous anger . . . “I am mad as Hell and I won’t take it anymore!” . . . to get us off of our couches and into the streets. But the elites are prepared for this. They promote fear and anger as if they were daily specials at the supermarket. Fear of Critical Race Theory indoctrinating our students; anger over the stolen election; fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants (legal and otherwise); anger over losing job securities, heck losing jobs.

The result of all of these fears and angers is that we all are experiencing the fatigue of prolonged emotions along these lines. Because of that fatigue we can’t get it, righteous anger, up or if we can, it doesn’t last. And those damned wealthy elites are in the process of politically cutting our throats.

We must stop being riled at the latest “outrage,” (Outrage over Mr. Potato Head for Pete’s sake!) and stick to the agenda. The oligarchs running this country are trying to control you and our governmental process. Whether you are a liberal or conservative is irrelevant. Whether you dwell in the country or a city is irrelevant. Whether you are for or against gun control, abortion, or whatever, is irrelevant. You must learn to discern those fronting for the wealthy elites and oppose them and not be distracted by side issues. If we do not, well the next time we meet will be on the dinner table of the fucking elites.

October 18, 2021

Fixing Our Broken Society

The Great Experiment in Democracy that this country represents was focused upon its citizens living as citizens and not subjects. Unbeknownst to most of us, we have failed in that experiment. Currently the vast majority of us could be classified as subjects, subjects of corporations.

But, you say, you don’t work for a corporation, so how could that be. It be because of the corporations making all of the rules by which you exist in society. It is clear that the rich have captured our legislatures, our courts, the guts of our political structures. Nothing the rich do not like happens, period. Now, when you think of the rich, you make think of what is called “old money,” money handed down generation to generation. The Koch brothers, Donald Trump, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, etc. While these people do exist, the vast majority of the rich now are corporation executives. By pooling their money, they have bought off politicians in sufficient numbers to control the actions of our federal government and state houses. Corporations control our news media, our social media, our commerce (Amazon delivers in Hell, don’t you know).

Want our government to make voting easier? Not going to happen. Want our government to enforce the gun laws on the books? Ain’t gonna happen. Want fewer wars? Ain’t gonna happen. (The Afghan War lasted twenty years with no discernable objective, either met or progress made toward. The objective was billions and billions of dollars of defense contracts.)

So, what is wrong?

Well, it would be nice if representatives of citizens were back in the driver’s seat, rather than corporatist representatives. And there are some things we can do to make that so. Right now the middle class is being ground under the heel of the corporatists, who like high unemployment as it keeps wages down and these same people have been transferring the tx burden of government off of their corporations and onto the general population. (The poor pay few taxes, and the rich are avoiding taxes, so guess who pays the bulk of the taxes?) It seems everyone is okay with the pay-as-you-go culture we have created, but collectively there are really only two ways you can fairly support such a system. Either every citizen is given minimally adequate shelter, food, utilities, healthcare, etc. as a right of citizenship (and then anything else needs to be worked for) or every job has to pay what is called a living wage, enough to pay for those things mentioned previously. If the minimum wage of the 1960’s had be adjusted for worker productivity since then it would be near $22-24 per hour which is near a living wage (what constitutes a living wage depends on local conditions, urban New York City and rural Oklahoma have different costs of living, for example).

Both of these structures address the current failure of our systems, the loss of anyone, anyone at all, representing the common good. Everyone now represents the interests of some group, but no one represents the interests of us all, usually referred to as the “common good.”

The idea of the common good, like the ideas of unearned income and many more terms, have been driven our of our discourse by the corporatists who are just looking to advantage themselves above everyone else. As a military example, think of a battlefield general who doesn’t make sure that his troops are well-fed, well-rested, and well-motivated. If all that general is interested in is promotions, those may happen by sucking up to those higher up the ladder, but if you want to win battles, troops need to be fed, trained, supplied with weapons and ammunition, etc. For the common good of that general’s army, the people “at the bottom of the influence range” must be taken care of by those at the top,

Currently the corporatists at the top do not give a rats ass about those at the bottom. These are seen as the great unwashed. Their pet economists see worker education and support as a cost undermining profits, rather than an investment in future capacity. Workers are things to be sold off, turned into robots, gotten rid off as soon as possible. Corporations do not see themselves as a functioning segment of society, providing good jobs and benefits to citizens in exchange for their productivity which allows the corporation to prosper. And by providing those jobs, they are doing what they should. Instead the corporations have been turned over to management types who have been sold the bogus idea that the corp’s only obligation is to the shareholders, not to their community, or society at large, nope, nada, zip, zilch.

This did not happen by accident. Corporations used to have goals of being a contributing member of their communities and society as a whole, recognized workers as stakeholders in the corporation, etc. A few corporations still do, but for each of those, there are dozens that only do such “do-gooder” things as PR ploys to maintain a good image.

And, not being able to get the last word in my own post . . .

From nakedcapitalism.com (10-15-21)

“ . . . Taken together with mass resignations, such worker strikes reveal a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of American work that has been decades in the making. Corporate America has enjoyed a stranglehold over policy, spending its profits on lobbying the government to ensure even greater profits at the expense of workers’ rights. At the same time, the power of unions has fallen—a trend directly linked to increased economic inequality.

But now, as workers are flexing their power, corporate America is worried.

In the wake of these strikes and resignations, lawmakers are actively trying to strengthen existing federal labor laws. Business groups are lobbying Democrats to weaken pro-labor measures included in the Build Back Better Act that is being debated in Congress.

Currently, corporate employers can violate labor laws with little consequence as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lacks the authority to fine offenders. But Democrats want to give the NLRB the authority to impose fines of $50,000 to $100,000 against companies who violate federal labor laws. Also included in the Build Back Better Act is an increase in fines against employers that violate Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

January 10, 2019

They Want It Both Ways

A common trope among the vocal rich is that handing out money to the “poor” will make them lazy. “Handing out” and “handouts” refer to welfare, food stamps, a higher minimum wage, you name it. On the flip side, they also claim that “redistributing” money from the rich to other where through higher progressive taxation will remove all of the incentive to invest and innovate.

So, at one end of the spectrum, allowing the poor to keep more of what they make or bumping their wages up to a bare subsistence level will result in them opting out of their jobs (more money = laziness) but allowing the rich to keep more of their income will encourage them to work harder, innovate more (more money = initiative).

Obviously this is merely a reflection of the class disdain the rich have for the poor. The poor are poor because of character flaws, moral weakness, lack of intelligence. The rich are rich because of their sterling character, moral strength, and brilliance. (Donald Trump … uh, is the exception that proves the rule?)

Also, is there any indication either of these “narratives” has any merit?

There is a well known phenomenon in business that as businesses grow and become larger, they tend to grow stagnant. They innovate less and their managers become more interested in milking the cow they have rather than finding new cows. In the recent tax giveaway to businesses, were the billions saved in taxes used to innovate, used to upgrade production, used to compensate workers, any of the things it was claimed it would do? Apparently, the funds were mostly used to buy back stock, which drives up the price of the stock, enriching shareholders and executives with stock options (you do get what you pay for).

Another economic “natural experiment” was the 1950’s and 1960’s economies. Marginal tax rates were sky high from the necessity to acquire funds to pursue World War 2. President Eisenhower refused to lower them, even in the peacetime following. Unions were empowered and laws were passed to provide some leveling of the playing field between labor and capital. So, were people enjoying the good times on welfare? Was there any laziness to be observed? Was innovation stifled because the rich were starved of the funds they needed to fuel the innovations? I think you know the answers to all of these (no, no, no).

So, what is with these narratives?

They aren’t new, they have been around for a century or more. They are, like religious apologies, arguments that sound reasonable but have no basis in reality. They have become memes among the rich folks, repeated often enough to be transferred from generation to generation. They are even sold to ordinary working people because they do sound reasonable and are repeated over and over. The rich are the job creators! Bah, customers create demand, demand creates jobs, and demand in our economy is mostly domestic demand which is stifled due to wage suppression activities on behalf of the rich.

The code word in use is “redistribution,” by which they mean that the rich are taxed and that money is “given” to the poor. The fact that much of the wealth the rich have accumulated is due to “redistribution” through other means is never mentioned. (Look up the history of the oil depletion allowance to see where the majority of the oil barons in this country came from.) The rich are in the business of bribing their politicians (not ours, we can’t afford them) to pass laws that benefit them. Our “representatives” do favors for the rich and nothing for the poor. For example, President Trump’s lackeys rolled back Obama-era regulations that prohibited coal companies from dumping toxic waste into the streams and rivers we draw our drinking water from, redistributing the consequences from the coal company executives to ordinary people. (1. Don’t get sick. 2. Die quickly.)

September 8, 2018

Artificial Intelligence—The Promise

I am a big fan of digital technology and someone who is hopeful of the future. It is harder and harder for me to maintain that stance, however.

Currently there seems to be a widespread debate regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Since we know so little the positions staked out are quite broad. At one end is a new future where machines take over dangerous and boring jobs and human beings have more leisure. At the other end, autonomous drones are the first step toward Skynet (the “bad guy” in the Terminator movies) and the extermination of human beings by intelligent killing machines.

There seems also to be many opinions in between the two extremes.

Something I do know is that it will not be the machines that determine the outcome. In every case of new technology impactful enough to change the course of history, the tech has been used to coerce and oppress the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the elites.

Consider the following photograph.

This is an Amazon warehouse. Amazon is a tech company. So, how do those who work in Amazon’s warehouses fare? Amazon uses personal monitoring algorithms to make sure that its employees do not waste time taking short breaks to catch their breath or go to the bathroom. They are to stay on task as long as Amazon wants them to … or else.

Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, makes huge profits by paying his warehouse employees wages that are so inadequate that many of them need public assistance just to get by. Thousands of Amazon workers are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing because they can’t survive on the wages they receive. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is now worth $158 billion, and his wealth increases by leaps and bounds. (And who pays for the public assistance subsidizing Mr. Bezos’ wealth? You and I do, of course.)

If you think back to the first powered looms to make cloth, it was the workers who had to get along with the machinery, not the other way around. Same was true with the assembly line to make automobiles, etc.

I do not argue that there were no benefits from technology that actually accrue to ordinary people. Henry Ford, no friend of workers, paid more than anyone else as a daily wage to pursue his dominance of the auto market. But that was then and now, wage suppression is the favorite tool of the captains of industry. Much of the advanced tech of today is not available to us because, well it is very simple, we cannot afford to pay for it. We don’t make enough money.

As much as people will squander $1000 on a new iPhone, the really impactful tech, such as a liver transplant, is not available to you … unless you can afford to pay for health insurance and many, many people cannot.

So, AI in and of itself will not necessary oppress ordinary people, coercing our labor for the benefit of the elites, but if rich people have any say in the future, my bet is that a sizable amount of AI will be used for just that purpose. (Jeff Bezos has already begun the application.)

April 28, 2018

Give Me the Child …

Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.
Jesuit maxim widely attributed to Ignatius Loyola;

In a blog post on the website of The Institute for New Economic Thinking (The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools by Lynn Parramore—April 6, 2018) the author summarizes part of the opinion of Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, thus:

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research shows that the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits.

She went on to say: “In the words of Noam Chomsky… ‘students will be controlled and disciplined.’ Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.”

While reading this I am also reading the book “Why We Do What We Do: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy” by Edward L. Deci. I reached a point in that book in which a long standing question of mine got answered. That question is: why do kids in kindergarten and the early stages of their educations show so much curiosity when that is no longer in evidence when they get to middle school and high school?” It seemed to me that education had the effect of beating the curiosity out of kids. I wondered why. According to Deci “It is truly amazing, as pointed up by our (research) findings, that if people are ongoingly treated as if they were either passive mechanisms or barbarians needing to be controlled, they will begin to act more and more that way (p. 84).” Controlling behavior includes structuring the environment, establishing the rules, enforcing the rules, defining the rewards, etc.

When Chomsky says “students will be controlled and disciplined” he is saying “more than they are now,” the effect of which is to stifle curiosity, creativity, political will to resist the “rules,” etc.

The oligarch’s effort to dismantle public education and remake it under their “leadership” is motivated by a desire for worker drones that will shut up, do what they are told, accept whatever salary and benefits they are offered, and not make problems.

It seems that 1984 is coming, just 30 years later than predicted. And there is no Big Brother;  there are, however, quite a number very wealthy men, old white men, who are auditioning for the role.

August 12, 2017

I Don’t Get It

If you look at the updated somewhat notorious graph below, you can see that worker productivity has been detached from worker wages starting in the 1970’s. This was the result of a concerted campaign by the very wealthy to suppress wages by suppressing labor unions, getting tax code changes in their favor which transfer tax liabilities off of them and onto other Americans, even by suppressing voting.

This has created a great deal of economic distress in the bottom 90% of economic Americans and will result in a backlash. What I do not understand is the strategy. Going from astonishingly rich to fucking rich changes the lifestyles of those rich people exactly how? Is it just getting their way, at least for the while until the backlash, that makes this worth doing?

Even Henry Ford understood that if you paid better wages, you would get much of that back through one’s employees becoming one’s customers. Hell, these rich people invented the company store, where laborer’s wages got sucked back to the employer through required purchasing of the goods to survive. Those stores are no longer allowed, but Henry Ford knew that his employees, once they had the wherewithal to purchase a car, were going to buy one of his because of loyalty generated through his paying better than normal wages to his workers. (It is called gratitude.)

But, the current crop of rich bastards would rather strip away the ability to buy the goods their companies produce and, what, sell those goods overseas? When the pitchforks and torches finally end up circling their gated communities, will the plutocrats wonder why their employees aren’t more loyal to them? Are they that stupid? Do they think we do not see what they are doing?

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