Class Warfare Blog

May 25, 2018

Money in Politics … Again

We are less than a year away from a national election, so it is election season again (as if it were ever not election season). As a consequence of the “important” elections (as if they were ever not important), I have been receiving requests for funds from politicians from all over the country.

I must ask, in all seriousness, what right do I have to try to influence elections I do not get to vote in? Why is being a political busybody so acceptable to our system? Since the SCOTUS has declared money to be political speech, I am free to speak, but why am I encouraged to involve myself in determining other people’s representatives through monetary donations?

Would it not be more sensible to leave a state or political district alone while they select the people they want to represent them, while not having to wade through the opinions (aka dollars) of those who are not stakeholders, those who will not be represented by whoever gets elected?

As is often quoted, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, but why should my opinions have any weight at all in an election in Utah, for Pete’s sake? If I am rich, why should I be allowed to buy amplified speech in a senatorial election halfway across the country? Those who put up the money, and most of it comes from corporations and the wealthy, well, they get served first. In our system, they are currently the only one’s getting served at all.

So, why do we allow money to flow freely across political boundaries? This is not a foreign idea. We do not allow foreign governments or corporations to send money across our national borders into politician’s election coffers. We should extend this to all political districts’ boundaries, not just the country’s borders.

Money is not political speech by definition, it is only when it is used in a certain context that this applies. We are allowed to establish those contexts. We had better do it soon because the wealthy have bought up most of the politicians, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch of the federal government as well as most of the state house representatives. If we cannot do this, then our “votes” merely give cover to the plutocrats running the country for their benefit and we should just stop voting because we are doing more harm than good.


May 24, 2018

Socialism … Bad

We are hearing incredibly bad stories about what is going on in Venezuela, a nominally socialist state. Comments extend about as far as “Socialism … bad!” When anyone brings up the option of socialism as a governing structure in general, opponents bring up the USSR, another failed state. This is clearly propaganda.

Whenever capitalist states experience chaos, no one in this country says “Ah ha, capitalism … bad!” One has to ask whether Venezuela’s current woes are because of socialism or in spite of socialism. I suggest that they are due to bad management, just as our ups and downs are created.

None of socialism’s detractors claim that Venezuela’s fate will soon come to the democratic socialist states in Scandinavia, as in “As goes Venezuela, so goes Denmark!” Socialism has become a “failed ideology” … in the minds of capitalist cheerleaders, aka the wealthy. Neither capitalism nor socialism is a political system complete; they are barely economic systems. Once you get past the basic definitions, disagreements abound. The arguments pro and con rarely get beyond the No True Scotsman Fallacy. The successful socialist states are claimed to have governments that are “not true socialism.” Only the failing or failed states are “real socialism,” according to the dyed in the wool capitalists.

This propaganda campaign is visceral and aimed at making sure that the masses are unaware of any acceptable alternative political systems. It also provides a handy shortcut to smear anything unappreciated by the rich. Whenever Bernie Sanders recommends policy, it is quickly labeled “socialist” so that it receives at least as much negative attention as positive. Well. I hate to tell you, but the post office is socialist, Medicare is socialist, the public schools are socialist, and the military is socialist. The “people” own “the means of production” in each case. Of course, the hidebound anti-socialists don’t hammer away at these things as being socialist, instead they decry “guvmint” as being unfit to operate such enterprises and urge their privatization (for a profit, of course). This is what it comes down to. The capitalists are profiting from almost every possible endeavor, including the acts of people getting sick and dying. They cannot abide the idea that no one (ahem, them) is making a profit from teaching our kids to be good citizens, or from our soldiers making war around the world.

In the case of war making it is “enough profit is not enough.” Even with the excessive billions spent on war making every year, including providing the profits of war materiel manufacturers, think about how much profit could be made if soldiering were contracted out! My favorite example was the contractors for kitchen services in Iraq during our invasion of that country. In one report, the contractors billed twenty dollars a day for a cook’s aide to peel potatoes and whatnot, a job previously done by soldiers, and the contractor hired a local to do the job for a few dollars per day and pocketed the rest. Now think of that kind of practice applied to the entire effort. The opportunity for god-fearing profits boggles the mind! And all of those profits are going to waste because of our commitment to a socialist army!

I look upon the democratic socialist states in northern Europe with envy. I was taught in grade school that our political system was the best of all possible systems. I learned as an adult, that the political parties are “opponents” in name only and that both compete for campaign donations from the wealthy conservatives who provide the bulk of all donations to politicians. Consequently we have a center right political party and a far right political party contesting for the donations from conservative donors. Both parties ignore the desires of the population at large and serve the interests of the wealthy only. I just do not see this as “the best of all possible systems” unless you qualify it as “the best of all possible systems for the wealthy.”

May 20, 2018

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

I read a comment the other day that set my head spinning. The comment pointed out that up until around 1970, the only way to increase agricultural output significantly was to put more arable land into production. Basically that had been done to all effective extents by well before 1970. We now note how people are trying to put very marginal lands into production with predictable disastrous results. (Hey, let’s cut down that jungle and raise crops! … jungles have notoriously poor soils.)

But right about that time came the Agricultural Revolution, sometimes called the Green Revolution. We managed to increase crop yields for our staple grains (rice, wheat, corn, barley) by the simple expedient of growing these grains on shorter stalks. Shorter stalks are stronger and they can support heaver seed heads without falling over from being too top heavy. We practically doubled our yields per acre of these grains.

This I already knew. What the comment pointed out that the old “acreage limited” model of agriculture, which took about 10,000 years to run out, supported a global population of about three and a half billion people. The Green Revolution doubled our grain supplies and, if you are not aware, those grains also feed our cattle and other livestock, so represent fairly well the entire food supply of the world. (You will find grain of some type in 90% of the foods you can find in a local market.)

So, we doubled our food supply starting in 1970 or so and now the world population is about seven billion people. It is an axiom of population biology that organisms expand their populations up to the limits of their food supplies. The fact that our doubled food supply (from 1970 levels) matches our now doubled population (3.5 to 7 billion) supports the idea that we are at the end of the effects of the Green Revolution.  This second phase took less than 50 years. (Think about it! Three and a half billion more people in just fifty years.)

So, what is next?

Since there is no intelligence in charge of humanity, it is likely that corporations that are exploring the genetic engineering of food crops will work up a solution. I have written before that these shortcuts to different organisms have more risks associated with them than the procedures used before (up to and including the green Revolution). But let’s say they whip up something that works and it again doubles the yields of these grains, what then?

Well, history and biology indicate that we will double our population again, this time to 14 billion people. Imagine the impact on food distribution and electricity distribution networks, on transportation systems (cars and roads, subways, air travel, on the lives of us all.

What is really scary is that the reliance on the plants created under the Green Revolution has shrunk the number of species under cultivation to a very small number. When there is a much wider diversity of crops, crop failures are not widely catastrophic, but when they are but a few kinds of crops being depended upon, well, think of the Irish Potato Famine.

Nobody predicted the Bubonic Plague, otherwise know as the Black Death. This disease killed over a quarter of the population of Europe. So, what happens if some new agricultural blight, on the order of a plague, wipes out rice or wheat. Since there are only a few types of rice or wheat under cultivation it means that such a blight may wipe out all of the rice or all the wheat or very large fractions of those crops. The repercussions would not be pretty: massive famines, food riots, insurrections, whole countries destabilized, etc. (Take a look at what is happening in Venezuela currently, being a manifestation of just bad management.)

I guess my question is not “what is next?” so much as “to what end?” We haven’t developed enough political maturity to determine a fair and equitable distribution of resources. We still operate on a “get what you can” basis. (Exhibit No. 1 President Donald Trump) Is there any upside to doubling our food supply again, other than corporate profits for Big Ag Science corporations? Do we need another seven billion people on this planet? Are we prepared to handle the changes associated with such an event?

All of the answers to these questions are, of course, no. Herds of lemmings running off of cliffs is a societal meme we created. Lemmings are not so stupid as to do that. So, basically we, as a people, are projecting that behavior onto those animals. And, we seem quite capable from doing just that.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Note The word stupid is used as a pejorative meaning lacking in intelligence. Rather, it means “slow” as in “slow on the uptake” or slow to learn (it has roots similar to those of stupor). Really bright people can distract themselves in sophisticated ways so that what is glaringly obvious gets missed for a long, long time. That stupid, that’s the one I mean.

May 3, 2018

First Civilizations—Religion

Filed under: Entertainment,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:56 am
Tags: , , , ,

PBS is airing two new series, one called “Civilizations (BBC created)” and the other “First Civilizations (PBS & BBC created).” I saw fragments of both and programmed my DVR to record episodes. Last night I started viewing an episode of “First Civilizations” with the episode title of “Religion.”  I settled in with a bucket of popcorn looking to become enlightened … which lasted all of ten minutes. I will finish the episode, I guess, but here is some of what I saw in just the first ten minutes.

In the intro they said “When people share beliefs they are more likely to be cohesive … which allows a civilization to form.” This is basically true but is said in such a passive way. It could have been put ‘When people are forced to believe the same things, they are more likely to be able to be controlled … which allows a civilization to form.” Their verbiage makes it sound as if people spontaneously got together and said “Hey, gang let’s share beliefs so we can make a civilization.”

Then they ask a rhetorical question, a rather good one: Religion is the glue that binds us together (they slipped in “religion” to take the place of “shared beliefs”) … but how did people come to this conclusion? Again, this is on the right track but it makes it sound as if “the people,” as in “We, the people, …” were the actors, the deciders here. I think not. I think people are told what to believe and are usually threatened with negative consequences if they do not.

They began their answer to that rhetorical question above with the claim that by and large we were animists for the vast bulk of our existence, that gods and spirits were all around us. This was short but, I think, fairly accurate. They went on to say, “Switching to herding changed the viewpoints of animists. They started building sacred spaces. (Their example is rock jumble in Egypt that predates Stonehenge by a couple of millennia.) By building them, they were saying that the gods were to worshipped in these spaces and only there. They went on to point out that a number of these rocks weighed over one ton, so cooperation was needed to move them into place. They concluded that the stones must have some spiritual significance (emphasis added).

Click. (That’s me changing channels.)

There are more than a few problems with their claims. For one, if there were gods or spirits everywhere, how would anyone be convinced that they could only be accessed in one place? That the stones were moved into place apparently has been established and the conclusion that cooperation of a lot of people was required is valid, but ask yourself, what reason would people have to drop the productive labors they were engaged in (herding, cooking, weaving, etc.) and enter into nonproductive labors, strenuous labors (moving rocks)? The creators of this program are selling these actions as “spiritually motivated,” but in reality this doesn’t play out this way. All religions are based upon threats. That may sound harsh but bear me out. Imagine some shaman of one of the herding clans telling the herders they have to leave their flocks and move some really heavy stones around the desert. Most of the herders would respond with the equivalent of “WTF?” Would the shaman plead or just ask? Would the shaman argue how much better things would be with the rocks moved? I don’t think so, the shaman is in a position of power. To keep it he needs to exercise that power. He would threaten the tribe, as he always had, with the terrible things that would happen if they didn’t do his bidding. Since terrible things happen with some frequency, everyone has these things in mind and the idea of placating the gods for these terrible things has already been established. The shaman has “protected” the tribe in the past and “knows” which gods need to be placated. I am sure this is the variant of the “Elephant Repellent Spray” con. (There are no elephants around here! See, it works.)

So the tribe’s members are threatened with repercussions if they do not do as the shaman asks. The more “religious,” aka the more fearful, help coerce the less fearful and there you are. The labor was not spiritually inspired, it was coerced through threats of retaliation from gods or spirits.

Another problem is: where would the idea of a scared space come from? These are animists, the gods are all around. Lift up a rock and there is a god there. If the gods are everywhere, you do not need special places. (This same question could be asked of Christians who go to their churches to light a candle and pray, while at the same time arguing their god is everywhere and can hear their voice no matter where they are.)

What might motivate the creation of “sacred spaces?” Here is a counter narrative: when we became pastoral, which is not a sedentary lifestyle like agriculture creates, even so we become somewhat restricted in our movements. Like the skateboarding kid taking selfies, it seems as it he is stationary with the rest of the frame moving (because he is stationary relative to the camera), if you want to find a herder, look for the herd. The herd keeps moving (to find forage) but the herders are always next to the herd, so they are unlike hunter-gatherers in that their movement is more restricted. And herders follow patterns: there is winter pasturage and summer pasturage and the routes in between. They don’t migrate into unknown lands too much, who know what dangers might be there, so they make loops. By the time they get back to a spot they previously inhabited, the grass has had time to grow back, etc.

These pastoralists were not isolated from one another. Groups traded with one another, stole cattle, stole brides, arranged for marriages, etc. There were spaces where these groups met for such transactions and these spaces became “truce” spaces where it became bad juju to pull any fast ones. The shamans in each of these tribes would quickly learn in these trading spaces that they had “competitors” in the form of other shamans. Each shaman, not knowing what bullshit was being purveyed in the next group, was inclined to disparage the other shamans as weak or false. But what if another shaman’s message gets overheard by members of your tribe and they like it better than your spiel, what then? I’ll tell you: trouble in River City.

At some point, as a power ploy, one of the shamans has what he thinks is a good idea, the idea to create “a sacred space.” None of the others would have one of these. But he needs to get his tribe to build one. He does this and other tribes take notice. What is going on over there? Why are they dragging rocks around uselessly. When their own shamans can’t answer the question, the entrepreneurial shaman gains prestige.

Interestingly, the Stonehenge-esque site in Egypt shows a large number of small rings of stones scattered in a much larger circle. Could it have been that when the first tribe built their sacred space, the next tribe built a bigger one? (Sound familiar?) Soon you have a half dozen of the damned things surrounding the former “safe trading space.” The shamans, realizing that if they stay in conflict with one another there will be winners and losers, come to a tacit agreement over what the sacred spaces mean.

Now, I cannot “prove” my narrative, not do I want to try, but which narrative do you think is more likely? The one powered by spiritual feelings of “the people” or the one coerced by shamans seeking power? (In a court of law you can win a case not by proving the other side is wrong but simply by supplying a more likely narrative.)

These programs, at least the ones produced most recently by the BBC, have a reputation for sucking up to the religious. So, they start from “religion is a good thing” and “religions wouldn’t use fear and ambition to shape humanity’s future,” and well, I am sure you get it. So things are framed to cut religion a lot of slack, a whole lot of slack.

In reality, the religions we know are all based upon fear and threats. The Abrahamic religions have a god who says straight out that “I am a vengeful god.” Isaiah 45:7 in the King James Version reads, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” This god is then described as being “all-good” and above criticism.

Believers are to be rewarded, nonbelievers get horribly punished. If you don’t want to be punished, you had better do as you are told. Threats. Many such threats permeate the Bible. (They do not care if you truly believe and will accept you if you fake it. If you think this is harsh just read the stories of people who lost their faith. They lose their faith but nobody notices, as long as they act as they always have. You will see this over and over. Then, if they don’t just run away, if they actually tell their fellow parishioners that they have lost their faith, the threats and punishments begin.)

The role of religion in the creation of civilization is simple. Religions are organized systems of coercion to get the masses to behave so that they serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Mostly this is in the form of coerced labor. Coerced labor that accomplishes nothing of value to the religious (making circles of standing stones) is a display of power: “See what I can make them do? They placed all of these rocks in a circle at my behest.” It is no mystery that the first three civilizations in the “Cradle of Civilization” that is Mesopotamia, were ruled by religious elite cadres. So were Egypt’s. The earliest story ever recorded is that of Gilgamesh and Gilgamesh was originally ruled over by religious elites.

Fear and threats … coercion … what do you want to bet that these topics are not touched upon in the other 50 minutes of that program?

April 29, 2018

Wither Public Education?

I was reading a comment recently that in the U.S. no one expects to be given housing or food and drink or medical care, but all parents expect their children to be given a good education. The “why” of this was immediately apparent … because we have already paid for it. Education is funded through property taxes and state taxes with a smidgen of federal funds thrown (but always with strings attached, so those are not funds to support ongoing efforts). If you are a homeowner and say that you are unfairly singled out for these taxes, please realize that those of us who do not own our homes (of which I am one) pay rent, which is used by the rental unit’s owner to pay his property taxes. And we all pay income taxes or other taxes to our states. We are also not paying just for our own kid’s educations, but everyone’s, as part of the commonweal.

So, in our “pay as you go” culture, we have paid for the “go” but it is currently under attack.

As a scientist and a trained meeting facilitator and a sports coach I know that the most important part of solving problems is the careful elucidation of what the real problem is. If you misidentify the problem, the odds of you solving it plummet.

With regard to public education, the problems have been misidentified for years. Starting roughly in 1983 with the publishing of a major (and very flawed) study given the title of “A Nation at Risk,” which launched the false narrative that American public schools were failing, a systematic false narrative about “the problem” was being proffered. The nation, at the time of that study, was in the throes of a recession, and the authors of the report blamed the schools, which is patently stupid because the lag period between youths being in public schools and being out in society where they can have a major impact on the economy has to be measured in decades. Nothing happening now could be caused by the state of schools now; twenty years ago, maybe.

In any case, since that time a major disinformation campaign has been continuously waged against public schools (they are failing and the sky is falling, too). The current object of that campaign is to “privatize” public schools so as to extract profits from them. The justification for the profits is as spurious as the disinformation about what is wrong with our schools. The justification is that “market forces,” aka “school choice,” will solve all of the problems. This is a belief in what I call “market woo” and really should be advanced by “experts” dressed up as witch doctors because it has as much value as does spiritual medicine. The real justification for the profits is the profits themselves. Being able to extract profits from the huge pile of money set aside to educate our kids is the primary motive and it has the oligarchs drooling.

As to the “real problem” with public schools I offer the following: if you segregate out public schools in relatively wealthy parts of the U.S., you will find that they perform at very high levels. Massachusetts public schools, for example, perform on international tests higher than the current darlings of those tests, e.g. Singapore, Finland, etc. This fact alone obliterates the claim that government cannot do public schools well.

Now, if you think I am going to follow this up with a claim that schools are underfunded, you will be quite wrong. They are often underfunded and that is part of the problem, but school funding alone will not make the schools that are not performing at a high level do so. (The wealthy cannot claim that school funding is not an issue when they are sending their own children to schools that have very high levels of funding.) Careful studies show that there are real roadblocks to performance in schools. (Hint: teacher competence is not a major concern here, even though that has been part of the misinformation smear campaign of the oligarchs.) The roadblocks are poverty, racism, and violence. In school districts where the students are chronically hungry and receive threats of violence on a frequent basis, we now have solid research showing that almost nothing else can be done to raise performance up to the levels of schools in which these forces are absent. Asking the schools to fix these problems is stupid. We can ameliorate them a little. We can escort students to and from schools, but they are being preyed upon in the neighborhoods as well. Fear for one’s physical safety is an all-consuming distraction. We can provide school breakfasts and lunches (and I recommend we do that for all students) and by so doing that we can ameliorate the effects of hunger on being able to concentrate in class. (My son wrote a history of school lunch programs, so we have a great deal of history with regard to what does and does not work in that, plus we have examples in other countries as to what is possible.)

It is now clear that the “reformers” claims of the value of vouchers and charter schools are bogus. These “solutions” were proffered as solutions for “the problem.” Since the problem was a false construct in the first place, the solutions were hardly likely to work and have been proven not to. They also have unleashed a tide of corruption as fly-by-night charter operations which have bilked states out of many millions of dollars. This has become such a common event that a premature closing of charter schools has become commonplace.

This is a con, pure and simple. The con artists (in order to extract our money) established “the problem” and “the solution.” (Any time the problem and solution come from the same source, you know it is a con.) The con artists did a good job of obfuscating who is behind the scam, but we can see it all now. And politicians, who are receiving “campaign donations” from charter schools(!!), are always willing to “serve the public” by giving us what we want: “school choice.” But we don’t want school choice, that is their solution. We want the good education for our children that we have paid for.

A careful consideration of the real issues shows that the “crisis” in our schools was not there in the first place. The real problems center on inconsistency. We demonstrate, on a daily basis that we can “do” public schools very, very well but we also demonstrate that we are willing to accept a very much lower standard of performance in some schools. Much of this attitude is racist and some is politically and religiously motivated, but it does not solve “the problem.”

If we want to continue the “pay as you go” system we have created, with all of its incentives, what is the incentive in crippling some of our citizens with a poor education, so they cannot earn enough to pay for a decent life for themselves and their families? The answer is that there is none, that the effort to undermine the education of the poor is fueled out of animus and this just has to stop.

We can start by “calling bullshit” on the public education reformers. If you need any ammunition, any of Diane Ravitch’s recent books will do (Reign of Error or The Death and Life of the Great American School System, etc.) And do realize that our democracy is teetering. While we should be making efforts to strengthen it, it is being undermined by authoritarian rich assholes and one of their leverage points is public education. Privatize that, let public schools wither away, and our democracy is in extreme peril.

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.

April 26, 2018

Consequences of 24 Hour “News” Cycles

Filed under: Politics,Sports,The News — Steve Ruis @ 8:28 am
Tags: , , ,

I will start with a comment about sports reporting. Yesterday, the Cleveland Cavaliers won a game in dramatic fashion over the Indiana Pacers in the NBA playoffs (basketball). The Cavaliers now have a 3-2 advantage in a best of seven series. One more win and they move on to the second round of playoffs. The other team goes home with a “better luck next year” wreath. All of the yada, yada, yada surrounding the game, though, shows a lack of appreciation for the basic situation.

The Cleveland Cavaliers were supposed to win that game and should be described as being very lucky that they did not lose it. At the end of the “regular” season, the top eight teams are placed onto a playoff grid based upon their won-lost records. Then the first ranked team plays the eighth-ranked team, the second-ranked and the seventh-ranked teams play, etc. So, an advantage is built in for the better teams in that they are given weaker opponents (at least initially). Additional advantages are given to the higher ranked team in that four of the seven games are scheduled to be played in their home stadiums, with the first two games being played on their home turf, giving them the ability to get a “good start” to the series. This is the basis of what is called the “home field advantage” or “home court advantage.”

The team with the advantage gets to play at a site in which they get to sleep in their own beds, eat home-cooked meals, drive their own cars, practice in their own practice facility and compete on a field/court with which they are more familiar than anyone else. (The Boston Celtics old home court, the infamous Boston Gardens, was so irregular that a ball dribbled from one end to the other would not make the same sound on any two bounces. The floor had dead spots, live spots, unlevel spots, you name it. It was never repaired because the Celtics players knew what to expect everywhere on that court, but their opponents did not. Why give away such an advantage?)

The “visiting” team had none of those advantages. They sleep in hotel beds, eat restaurant food, practice in unfamiliar surroundings and compete at a disadvantage on the opponent’s favorite court.

And then there are the fans. The word “fan” is short for fanatic and there are stories that would curl your hair about what fans will do to give their team a further advantage. I leave that topic up to your own research.

In a seven game series in basketball or baseball, the home field advantage is significant. Teams are compared on their records “home” v. “away.” Good teams almost always have a better record at home rather than in other venues. This is due to the “home court advantage.”

So, the “home team” is supposed to win! Cleveland was supposed to win that game last night as it was in their home arena and had every advantage in doing so. Cleveland is the higher-ranked team. Cleveland is supposed to win their series. That they had to struggle so heroically on their home court to win a game they were supposed to win is not a good sign. Instead the focus is on how brilliant their star was, how well he performed, how he won the game for them.

So, why are these things not emphasized as they were in my youth?

I think it is a consequence of the 24-hour news cycle. If you turn on a TV at any hour, you can find sports programming. When I was young, that was not the case. (When I was young, there was nothing on TV from 12 midnight to 6 AM; all you would get was “snow,” the visual noise of your TV trying to process no signal at all.) The sheer volume of reportage has increased many fold. For example, the first NFL Super Bowl had a 15-minute introductory show. Currently, every NFL game during the ordinary season has two to three hours of introductory material, provided by multiple channels! The Super Bowl is hyped for two weeks, almost nonstop. This is typical of modern sports reporting.

And with that much time to fill, you cannot just repeat the basic parameters of a series. So, those basic “truths” get diluted, diluted, and diluted some more. And what do they get diluted with? Necessarily, they are diluted with less important details. For example, human interest stories abound … now. What impact do these have upon the outcome of the game being covered? Answer: none.

The “basic truths” of sports competitions are being buried in oceans of irrelevancies.

We can also fault the shallowness of the reporting. Whenever the Olympics comes around, we are inundated with stories of Olympians, of how at a young age they decided to “go for the gold” and then we are shown “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” in all of its drama. Why, at no point, do these reports put things in perspectives? Why do they not point out that a huge majority of those with “Olympic Dreams” did not even make their teams and are nowhere to be seen? Why do they not point out the unfairness of the competitions staged to make the teams and the myriad of other political issues surrounding those sports. They will point out Olympic organizing committee corruption because it is now part of the genre, but little else of what goes on behind the scenes is shown. Oh, and cheating gets reported, somewhat.

So, this is a bit of the impact of the 24-hour news cycle on sports reporting.

My whole purpose in laying this out is to ask: “What is the impact of the 24-hour news cycle on political reporting?” Instead of sports reporting in which nothing is really at stake, in politics lives and livelihoods are at stake. There are real consequences in the political arena. What basic truths are being buried in irrelevant details? Could a politician, latch onto this as a modus operandi, and bury us in irrelevant details to hide what is really going on? Deliberately feed “The Beast” (the reporting media) what they like to eat and to hell with the public’s need to know. The salacious sells, so the heck with in-depth economics reporting or business reporting.

Could somebody do this?

Yes, his name is Donald Trump.






April 17, 2018

Taxing the Rich: A Good Idea or Not?

To those whom much is given, much is required.

The standard narratives regarding not taxing the rich are quite bankrupt but are still used, much like the tired old arguments of religious apologists (there is always a new audience to whom these arguments make sense). The usual thing touted is that the rich are the job creators and if you tax them (at all?) they won’t take risks and start new companies which hire workers and we all suffer thereby.

As a counter narrative consider the story of Toys R Us, a huge entrepreneurial success story, which ended in a financial meltdown. The company, however, made its owner rich when individual and corporate taxes were ever so much higher and met its demise in a time when those taxes became ever so much lower.

Read this fascinating story here.

The “standard narrative” of the rich about the rich is they made their money “themselves,” so they “deserve” the rewards. But in reality, does anyone make it themselves? Or is it like personal gifts one is born with and developed, in which we deserve some credit for the development but much of what happens to us and because of us depends upon things like genetics, luck, externalities (like available electricity and good roads provided to all), circumstances of birth (being born into a rich family is a strong marker for “becoming” rich)?

April 16, 2018

Why Labor History Is Not in Our Schools

Filed under: The Unions — Steve Ruis @ 2:01 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I remember a years long battle to get labor history included in high school curricula. It failed miserably. It continues to fail miserably, not because that history isn’t relevant to today’s world, but because it is.

Allow me to share some quotes from an article in Appalachian Magazine:

In 1921, black, white and immigrant mineworkers took up arms to battle the coal companies that controlled and exploited every aspect of their lives. United, they wore red bandannas to identify each other in battle. They called themselves the “Redneck Army”.

The West Virginia mine wars were the bloodiest labor conflict in American history. Culminating in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, more than 10,000 miners marched from the Kanawha valley toward Mingo to join other striking miners in protest. In their way stood the Logan county sheriff, Don Chafin, who was in the pocket of big coal – a $32,000 payoff each year, roughly $400,000 in today’s dollars.

Chafin commanded a private army of more than 2,000 mercenaries and multiple airplanes equipped to drop bombs on workers. Siding with Chafin and the coal bosses, President Warren G Harding sent federal troops too, armed with gas and more planes (the fourth time that troops had been called in to squash organized miners in the mountain state).

The miners proved what we know today: there is nothing more frightening to a coal boss or corrupt politician than a courageous, united, multi-ethnic coalition of working men and women.

In the coal camps, black people found segregated housing and schools, and lower pay. Operators preferred to break strikes by importing black workers, to sow discord among the races. But by the 1910s, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) was fighting for pay equality, and requiring an oath from every member not to discriminate against any fellow member by “creed, or color, or nationality”.

Its first paid organizer in West Virginia was a black man. Miners swore an oath to each other, across “class or creed”. An early planning committee consisted of three officers: one white person born in West Virginia, one Italian immigrant and one black person.

One miner remarked: “I call it a darn solid mass of different colors and tribes, blended together, woven together, bound, interlocked, tongued and grooved together in one body.”

Do you see why “certain people” will not allow our youths to learn about the labor history of the last century? And as was not said at the end of LooneyTunes cartoons “And That’s Not All, Folks!”

April 8, 2018

The U.S. Constitution is Based Upon Christian Principles … Really, Again? Still?


President Trump is beloved by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians because he uses their methods (aka “He understands us.”). The prime method they share is to state propaganda points over and over to the point that everyone accepts them as being the case, if not being true.

One such claim is that the U.S. government is built upon Christian principles. I was tempted to call this a lie, but for it to be a lie the people making the claim need to understand that it is false and state it any way. It is possible they haven’t reasonned it through, because, well, reason is not their long suit. It is none the less untrue, false, wrong.

Some start by claiming the Constituion is based upon the Ten Commandments or at least incorporates them. Let’s look at that. Here, in short form they are …

The Ten Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
    2. You shall not make idols.
    3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
    4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    5. Honor your father and your mother.
    6. You shall not murder.
    7. You shall not commit adultery.
    8. You shall not steal.
    9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
    10. You shall not covet.

And here is their relation to the Constitution:

  1. Not addressed. In fact, God is not mentioned in the Constitution. And the First Amendment to the Constitution strictly forbids the U.S. Government from creating or sponsoring a religion or forbidding any religious practice of any kind. (The states can, however.)
    2. Not mentioned.
    3. Not mentioned.
    4. Not mentioned.
    5. Not mentioned.
    6. Not mentioned.
    7. Not mentioned.
    8. Not mentioned.
    9. Not mentioned. Perjury is illegal in most senses, otherwise the legal system would fall apart, but it is not part of our federal government structure.
    10. Actually, the assumed economic system, capitalism, is based upon coveting things, so this is 100% assbackward.

Okay, here’s the Consitution, again in short.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure … etc.

Article 1
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Article 2
Clause 1. The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen …

Article 3
The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the suprem…

Article 4
Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which suc…

Article 5
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several Stat…

Article 6
Section 1. All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

Article 7
The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.

The Bill of Rights may well be the most celebrated part of the Constitution of the United States, the home to long-cherished guarantees of Americans’ most fundamental rights and freedoms. Here they are (in short):

  1. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition.
    2. Right to keep and bear arms in order to maintain a well regulated militia.
    3. No quartering of soldiers.
    4. Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.
    5. Right to due process of law, freedom from self-incrimination, double jeopardy.
    6. Rights of accused persons, e.g., right to a speedy and public trial.
    7. Right of trial by jury in civil cases.
    8. Freedom from excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishments.
    9. Other rights of the people.
    10. Powers reserved to the states.

Anything even remotely Christian there? Nope. Christianity claims that the only proper form of government is a theocracy, in which their god calls all of the shots. God makes and enforces all of the rules (often through others). The religious elites decide who gets to speak for god (the Catholics do this when they elect a Pope, but the common people do not get a vote). So, no voting, no courts, no three branches of government, none of that is in the Christian Bible. The Bible does not and would not approve of democracy: represenative, direct, or otherwise.

So, where is this influence?

Many say that the framers were all Christians, so they had to include Christian principles if for no other reason it was woven into their psyches. I guess we need to be thankful that all of the framers, or most, weren’t poker or whist players. Can you imagine the whist influence on the Constitution?

Since many, if not most, of the framers were deists, we can accept that they were “god believers,” although their definition of “god” may be at variance with that of today’s believers. Since they were all god believers, then if the logic of this argument holds, we should see god in the Constitution. Do you see any god in the Constitution? I do not.

Consequently this claim (“the U.S. government is built upon Christian principles”) is, in effect, a big lie, one told over and over often enough that a great many people believe it. Call it a big untruth if you will, it just ain’t so.

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