Class Warfare Blog

March 15, 2017

Apparently It Is Never Enough

The oligarchs running our government could just rest on their laurels as they have won on every front, but apparently that is not enough. If you think things could not get worse, read this “Right-Wing Billionaires Have a Project to Rewrite Our Constitution, and They Are Shockingly Close to Pulling It Off.”

March 14, 2017

Betsy DeVos and The Christian Right’s “Big Ideas”

In Rolling Stone there is a big article on our new U.S. Education Secretary (Betsy DeVos’ Holy War by Janet Reitman). (How did Rolling Stone get from being an “entertainment” magazine to the only U.S. magazine with the balls to publish the truth?”)

Here is a condensation of one part of that article:
A staple in modern evangelical teachings is the concept of Christian spheres of influence – or what the evangelical business guru Lance Wallnau dubbed the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society: business, media, religion, arts and entertainment, family, government, and education – all of which urge the faithful to engage in secular culture in order to ‘transform’ it. The goal is a sweeping overhaul of society and a merging of church and state: elevating private charity over state-run social services, returning prayer to school and turning the clock back on women’s and LGBTQ rights. It would also be a system without a progressive income tax, collective bargaining, environmental regulation, publicly funded health care, welfare, a minimum wage – a United States guided by a rigorously laissez-faire system of ‘values’ rather than laws….

More than a few people have questioned my writing about religion in a Class Warfare blog. I tend to write mostly about fundamentalist religions, such as the DeVos family beliefs, because they are seriously at odds with reality. Tell me if you don’t think these people have a political agenda.

For example, look at the list of “features” of our society the DeVos family would rather we did without: a progressive income tax, collective bargaining, environmental regulation, publicly funded health care, welfare, a minimum wage, etc. Notice how these are all ideas that conflict with basic Christian ideology. These are very rich people, Ms. DeVos’ father created Amway, but I don’t expect them to sell all of their worldly goods and go follow Jesus any time soon. The Bible is full of regulations, pages and pages of regulations, including one to be a good steward of the land, hardly in line with the elimination of environmental regulations. Did not Jesus tell his followers to go forth and heal the sick and did he not complain when someone else did likewise (as long as it was in his name)? This is hardly compatible with the elimination of publicly funded health care. People don’t realize how much poverty and ill health there were in our senior citizens before Social Security and Medicare were implemented. These two government programs alone are responsible for pulling massive numbers of old folks out of poverty and desperation.

What the DeVos family and their ilk have done is made a new religion
out of being  politically conservative and rich.

What the DeVos family and their ilk have done is made a religion out of being politically conservative and rich. They are dead set against progressive income taxes and estate taxes as a form of “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” Again, this is hardly Christian, but it is right out of the rich man’s plutocratic playbook.

And we now have that new time religion at the highest levels of the US federal government with an attitude of “Well I’m rich and if you aren’t, you can go suck eggs,” the embodiment of Christian charity.

March 13, 2017

We Have Met the Enemy … and It Isn’t Us

We have met the enemy and it is … our corporations. Consider first a couple of examples:

You have heard, I am sure, of the so-called “skills gap,” which is that American workers just do not have the skills needed for “today’s marketplace,” so we need to issue more foreign worker visas to fill the necessary jobs. One of the fields clamoring for more of these visas has been Information Technology (IT). IBM, a quintessential American IT company, hid the facts for many years but now it is clear. Between 2003 and 2010, IBM fired so many American IT professionals and hired so many engineers and computer programmers in India that the workforce of IBM India is now larger than that of IBM USA. IBM India had a mere 6,000 workers in 2003 but by 2010 had somewhere in the range of 100,000-130,000 workers. How did IBM manage this into the teeth of the worst global recession ever? It did it by firing over 30,000 workers here in the U.S.

IBM calls this “cross border job shifting,” which sounds ever so much more like a transfer than people getting fired here and others getting hired there. And IBM is not alone in doing this, so how can there be a shortage of IT workers in the US when there are so many Americans who used to hold the very same jobs that are claimed are “going wanting?” What is the real rationale for the demand to be issuing more visas for foreign workers? There is no shortage of highly qualified IT workers. This is simply a classic wage-suppression tactic. Bring in foreign workers and pay them less than you would American workers with the same qualifications. This makes it very much harder for Americans to get wage increases here and also harder to form unions that would look into such practices. Foreign workers do not want to anger their employers because if they lose their job, they lose their job sponsor, and it is back to India for them. They will not join a union, period.

Now, consider another quintessential American company, Ford. Can there be a more American story involving business that the creation of the Ford Motor Company from scratch? But in the late 1990’s, Alex Trotman, Ford’s then CEO, admitted “Ford isn’t even an American company, strictly speaking; we’re global.”

And if American companies like these do not consider themselves “American companies,” how much can we expect them to act on our behalf? When I was a young man, many corporations had multiple stakeholders. These corporations considered their customers to be one, along with their workers as another, and their communities, too. And, of course, also their shareholders. Modern business practices, spurred along by quack economists like Milton Friedman, had reduced the number of corporate stakeholders to one: the shareholders. Well, just one stakeholder if you do not count the executive’s self-interest in their own remuneration, which has skyrocketed while worker wages have been experiencing trickle-up growth.

As a union officer in the 1980’s and 90’s I participated in an experiment with management of our enterprise ($150 million annual budget) on creating a more cooperative governance structure. Part of that effort was coming to an understanding of relationships between and among the two groups. One facet of that learning was that “workers” (we all worked for the company) we all tended to imbue our work relationship with trust, that is we put our trust into our employer to some extent. This was not earned trust but, basically, we trusted our employer because we wanted to have a job in which we could trust our employer. This wishful thinking trust usually had no repercussions, but when something happen that a worker or workers did not like, they felt betrayed by someone they had trusted (trusted to do what was never specific, usually it was “the right thing”). Such “betrayals” existed in collective memory for decades. (I know this as when I was hired into this company I heard “stories” from other employees. I found out later that some of them were almost 30 years old.)

We are making that mistake now. We are told by representatives of these “American companies” that we should “trust the marketplace” and “trust them.” But their actions indicate that not only are they untrustworthy but they are not even American companies. Imagine how you would feel if a foreign company, say from China, wanted to come into your community and build a plant, one with a bit of pollution associated with it. Then think how you would view that intention were is an American company? Would your response be the same? Yet, these American companies no longer consider themselves to be American, and have acted accordingly for decades now, but we still “trust” them more than we do others.

These companies have no issue with firing you and hiring a replacement from overseas and ask you to train your cheaper replacement (happens all the time, happened to my ex-wife). These companies have no problem with going through bankruptcy to eliminate their obligation to pay into their worker’s pensions. These companies have no problem with manipulating our tax laws so that they pay no taxes, with the burden to make up the difference shifted to you and me. These companies have no problem in bribing our public officials to do their bidding instead of the people’s. And if you want to know why our recovery from the Mother of all Recessions was so weak, with employment struggling to get back to anything approximating normal, realize that business leaders see every crisis as an opportunity and in this crisis they used the opportunity to outsource even more jobs. They were hiring, just not in the U.S. That is how much loyalty they have to their bottom line and how much they have to you and me.

Ironically, we have just elected a corporate businessman President to fix this mess (drain the swamp). If this were not so ironic, so funny, I would be crying. When are we going to wake up? When are we going to invest our passion and our votes in organizations, like labor unions, that have proven track records for countering these un-American corporate interests?

Wake up people! It is very close to “too late.”

March 10, 2017

When They Told You “You Can’t Trust the Government” They Really Meant …

The GOP and corporate interests have waged a propaganda campaign over the past few decades with one of the primary messages being “You can’t trust the government.” They expanded from there to include “You can’t trust experts.” (What do they know about anything?) and “You can’t trust schools” (They are all failing.) and “You can’t trust teachers.” (They are just in it for the money. They need to be easier to fire.) and “You can’t trust government employees.” and many, many more of our social institutions. They didn’t even bother with “You can trust labor unions,” because they had already sold that trope to workers. Imagine that, working people were convinced that labor unions, the only force that could oppose the wage suppression efforts of corporations and their hired government, were not to be trusted. Amazing. Equally amazing is that these people are referring to them selves as “conservatives,” you know, those people who support our basic institutions and social structures over most anything else.

But, when they said “You Can’t Trust the Government” what they really meant was ““You Can’t Trust the GOP to Run the Government.” A case in point, one of many, is the Secretary of State of Mexico was visiting and had meetings scheduled at the White House. A member of “The Media” (Oh, “You Can’t Trust the Mainstream Media.”) called the U.S. State Department to find out why the Mexican Sect’y wasn’t meeting with our SOS; they were told “We were unaware he was visiting.”

Think about this: a political organization which has a platform that you cannot trust the government gets in charge of said government, which do you think they are more likely to do:
a. perform their duties to the best of their ability, or
b. mess everything up so people will be more disgusted and more untrusting of their government.

If you think the answer is “a” then the “best of their ability” is woefully short of the mark and constitutes a danger to all of us. If you thought the answer is “b” then we have elected gremlins to our highest offices.

In either case, boy, are we fucked.

March 8, 2017

As a Nation of Free Men?

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!—All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Abraham Lincoln

Is this it? Are we in the throes of a national suicide, our suicide as a democracy? We have let the rich run the country for their own benefit and thereby set us one against the other. We elect a buffoon in an attempt to throw off the yoke of the rich, but he is also rich and only knows the way of the rich … which is not democratic.

Should we leave a note for those who follow so they will not make the same mistakes?

More Run the Government Like a Business BS

We have elected a “businessman” as president and we often hear a campaign trope that we “ought to run our government as a business.” This is inherently stupid. How many businesses do you know which have an army with nuclear weapons and which can print money? Government is not a business and while some business methods do apply, many more do not.

Consider the recommendation of the Trump administration to cut the budget of the IRS. Imagine a business take over artist, taking the reins of a troubled business and the first action he takes is to cut the budget of the Accounts Receivable department. This is guaranteed to reduce the company’s income for no benefit whatsoever. Reducing the budget of the IRS is no different. Increasing their budget would make more sense, even for the GOP.

Opponents of the IRS have an acute case of “shoot the messenger syndrome.” The IRS does not make the tax laws, it does not set tax rates. Congress does. The IRS only does what Congress tells it to do. To cut the budget of the IRS is Congress telling the IRS to not do what Congress says. This is at best bizarre.

When one examines this most recent budget proposal, one is reminded of the movie Dave in which an impersonator of the President (played brilliantly by Kevin Klein) asks his friend Murray, an accountant, to help him find budget cuts that allow for a program near and dear to the First Lady’s heart receive funding. The cuts in the movie are patently ridiculous (e.g. a program to make people who have already purchased autos feel good about their purchases) which reinforces the public’s idea of “stupid government programs,” but in the Trump budget, programs which are inherently valuable are being axed to fund tax cuts for the rich and a budget increase for the Pentagon that was neither requested, nor is it needed.

This is not running government like a business, it is running a government via a bizarre ideology that rewards militarism (as long as it is profitable to GOP donors), diminishes succor to the poor and enriches those already rich.

We really need to have a serious conversation about the ideology of the GOP, being a manifestation of the mind of Scrooge McDuck at best and a national tragedy at worst.

March 7, 2017

The GOP on the Move!

Slow to begin, the GOP legislative onslaught is picking up steam. Here is a partial list of some of their coming hits:

HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education — (The bill also repeals basic nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs.)
HR 899 Terminate the Department of Education
HR 785 National Right to Work (aimed at ending unions, including teacher unions)
HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife
HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act
HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood
HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
HR 808 Sanctions against Iran

Actually, I can get behind the HR 899 effort. The Federal Department of Education has been either an embarrassment or a front for the privatization of public education (Arnie Duncan!). So this is no great loss. But what do the other bills have in common? Oh, if the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 610 Vouchers for Public Education The rich have been trying for decades to get the private religious school educations they provide their children and currently pay for out of pocket to be paid for by the public. That and they also want to send their kids to lily white schools, preferably one with Country Day School in its name. And even the little touches are precious: with the repeal of the basic nutrition standards for school meals, ketchup is finally a vegetable again.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 785 National Right to Work This is famously anti-union legislation. The GOP is financed by corporate employers who wish to suppress worker’s wages. They have been doing a fabulous job of just that for the past 40 years, but still any opposition to their wage suppression scams is not to be countenanced. The plutocrats have pulled the fabulous rhetorical trick of getting their white, working class base to hate unions, the sole power player that can help them against the tyranny of the corporations.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 861 Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency Who needs the EPA? Clearly businesses do. When Ronald Reagan called in William Ruckelshaus to tame the EPA’s burgeoning bureaucracy, Mr. Ruckelshaus was astonished to receive encouragement to strengthen the EPA from none other than several chemical industry chief executives. Their message was that “the public, they told me, was spooked about the turmoil at E.P.A. Americans didn’t believe anything was being done to protect their health and the environment. They didn’t believe the E.P.A., and they didn’t believe the chemical industry. These executives had concluded that they needed a confident, fair and independent E.P.A. They knew that an environmental agency trusted by the public to do its job gave their businesses a public license to operate.” But the GOP just can’t help themselves, can they? All of those burdensome regulations hinder the American genius for making money (for plutocrats). Who needs air to breath and water to drink, we need jobs! (Remember the Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs?)
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HJR 69 Repeal Rule Protecting Wildlife Hey, they have tooth and claw and don’t they have their own law about those? Let ‘em protect themselves. Under other new GOP legislation they will be allowed to buy firearms with no background checks, just like everybody else.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 370 Repeal Affordable Care Act The rich get a tax cut, the poor get early graves, a “win-win” situation for the GOP.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 354 Defund Planned Parenthood First they complain that people of color are having too many babies, now they want to make it so they have to have them. Don’t expect any consistency here. This was a campaign promise (not of Donald Trump’s) and a promise is a promise, even if the Planned Parenthood “issue” is another straw dog, like “Acorn.”
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 83 Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill Hey, we said “state’s rights” not “cities’ rights.” Local control? Nope, not while the local control guys are in power.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 147 Criminalizing Abortion “Doctors, lock ‘em up!” According to the GOP, those babies must be born before they can be abused and legally executed. It is a matter of the rule of law.
If the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

HR 808 Sanctions against Iran The GOP cannot help itself, it has to “poke the bear.” The Big Bear is Russia but Iran is an ally of Russia, so close enough. The neocons and apocalyptic proselytizers (Steve Bannon, et. all.) want war now because it will only get harder to wipe out those enemies of Christ as time goes on and the MIC says “There are no profits like war profits.”
Oh, and, if the GOP is suggesting it, it favors the rich!

 

March 6, 2017

GOP Plans to Repeal Dodd-Frank Legislation

Why do we need legislation that prevents big banks from undermining the whole world’s economy with overly risky investments? We can trust them. They are our friends.

Granted the Dodd-Frank legislation didn’t go nearly far enough (millions of dollars per day were spent lobbying against the law in the first place and weakening it and then against its implementation after it was passed). The Glass-Steagall law should have been re-enacted verbatim, plus a whole lot more, but “burdensome regulation” is undermining progress in this country (whine, whine, sniff). This is why the big banks circumvented the existing regulations, corrupted regulators, and invented unregulated shadow banking in the first place.

We will only be free when big banks can wreak havoc as much as they desire … and, of course, our government bails them out every 6-8 years when it all crashes into ruin. Heck, the last time only cost us $2,000,000,000,000 (yes, that is two trillion dollars plus or minus a few billion or so) plus several trillion more in lost property values, but that only affected ordinary citizens (they got no bailout, don’t you know).

At this point, I am starting to root for the GOP’s bad ideas. The party has so desperately wanted to do all of these things for years! And they are going to own the repercussions of each and every one of them.

March 5, 2017

The Man Who Cried Wolf

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:14 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

I read yesterday that Donald Trump had accused Barack Obama of “wire tapping” his offices in New York City before the presidential election in November last year, claiming the former president had overseen a “Nixon/Watergate”-style caper.

The idea is not particularly absurd but with some thought, no, it is absurd. Since Mr. Trump bleats out everything he is thinking on line, why go to the trouble of tapping his phones?

What this brought to mind more importantly was the fairy tale of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” These “children’s stories” were designed as training aids to teach kids the kinds of behaviors that will get them into trouble and which will get them out. If you can recall this one, a mischievous child cries “Wolf, wolf” a number of times just to get a reaction. The adults who respond each time with axes and pitchforks soon came to ignore the child’s cries as being bogus, and when a real wolf showed up, well it didn’t end well. The moral of the story, kids, is to not make false claims and thus lose credibility. If you do, no one will believe when you make a true claim.the-boy-who-cried-wolf

Fast forward to Mr. Trump and you can see my concern. He has made such a number of false claims, the reasons for which I will leave up to others, that a time will come when he will be frequently ignored or patronized (Oh, that’s just Donald being Donald.”). But we play the part of the alarmed villagers in the fairy tale, not the childish shepherd. And rather than the child being at risk from a single wolf, we all may be at risk from a rather larger predator.

Many are noticing that Mr. Trump’s penchant for making false claims and the Republican’s ideological disdain for facts that do not fit their narratives undermines the foundations of the American Democratic Experiment. As Sam Harris says, “We either have conversation or violence.” And conversation is impossible if neither side in an argument can accept the “facts” of the other. One can only converse productively when looking at the same facts, which can be interpreted differently but not made to disappear.

We can now add to this a concern that Mr. Trump may soon become “unbelievable” to a large fraction of the populace and not in a good, yuge way.

March 3, 2017

The Utter Failure of Economics and Politics to Prevent the Ravaging of the Rich

I ran across this rather incredible graph recently:

20-year-annualized-productivty-growth-in-the-uk

The data are from the UK so I looked to see if I could find any similarities to data from the US, and yes, they are there.

The graph shows the growth of worker productivity from the years 1800 to 2010. Since all of the values are positive, productivity has trended upward in general. But you can see four distinct trends on this graph: first there is a strong increase in productivity from 1800 to about 1870, then a general decline in the rate from 1870 to about 1900 (while still being positive, the amount of increase dropped period by period). Then there is another long period of productivity increase improvements from roughly 1900 to the mid 1970’s, followed by another decline in the rate of increase from 1970’s to the present.

What do these periods in which productivity changes steadily decline in magnitude correlate with? Ah, the period 1870-1900 is often referred to as the “Gilded Age.” And the mid-1970’s to the present started with Reganism/Thatcherism and is the second great period of wealth transference to the few in this entire time period.

We have been told over and over that the accumulation of wealth by the few in our society is a good thing. The wealthy are the “job creators,” the movers and shakers who get things done. But the reality is exactly the opposite. The people who have been telling us that wealth inequality is a standard feature of capitalism and a “good thing” are just the PR men for the wealthy, trying to avoid pitchforks and torches showing up in the gated communities of their rich paymasters. That so many of these flacks are economists should be appalling to the intellectual community. (Maybe we should disbar them and transfer academic economic departments to become part of the marketing programs of schools of business.)

All of the data show that periods of extreme wealth accumulation by the few devastate economies instead of facilitating them. The steepest upward portion of this graph takes place between the end of World War 2 and the arrival of Reganism/Thatcherism and anti-unionism. Productivity grows the fastest when the wealth is shared more fairly.

Please note that there were rich people during this post-war period. There were many people getting rich for the first time. They weren’t, however, getting filthy rich by distorting the political systems in their favor. Becoming rich through your own skills is one thing. Becoming obscenely rich by hook or crook, though, hurts all of us.

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