Uncommon Sense

December 1, 2022

Democrats are Pro-Labor . . . Aren’t They?

Not for the last 40 years or so, no. I remember when Mr. Obama was elected. A piece of legislation dearly sought by unions had been stalled and when he was elected, well, it would be pushed through by the Dems, right? The legislation was to go back to the labor law when a union could essentially gather membership cards from a majority of a workplace’s workers and that would give the union standing to represent those workers in negotiations. Card campaigns were cards that stated that a worker wanted a union to represent them, just as a lawyer has a client sign a contract that states that they are representing them as a client. That was the law for many, many years. Mr. Obama ignored that legislation and it died on the vine.

Many other instances of labor being ignored have occurred, I am sure, but most recently President Biden showed the Dems true colors by forcing a labor settlement to avoid a railroad strike. The railroad workers were negotiating to get paid sick leave. Do you have paid sick leave? Can you imagine what your life would be without it? Railroad workers were told they could use paid vacation time if they needed to see a doctor or had to go to hospital. How would you feel if that were the case in your job?

President Biden, along with all of the other Dems, has stated clearly that the Dems, like the Repubs, are behind their rich donors and not you and not me.

As one wag put it, the Dems look union people straight in the eye and say “You’ll never get anything you want if I don’t win; but once I win, I can’t do the things you need, because then I wouldn’t be able to win again.” (Hamilton Nolan in The Guardian) Gosh, they couldn’t possibly offend the rich, now, could they?

* * *

Last year, adjusted operating margins for the five largest US railroads were 41 percent. Ten years ago, they were 29 percent. Two decades ago, they were 15 percent. Even compared with other transportation companies (which are doing extremely well)— trucking, parcel, air freight, maritime shipping, airlines – today’s railroad profits are humongous. (Robert Reich)

Railroad workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in fact, railroad employees are approximately twice as likely to die on the job as the average American worker. The risk is shared by conductors, signalmen, track laborers and others, and even non-fatal injuries can be serious, leading to chronic pain and other debilitating issues. (Arvin J. Perlman)

November 22, 2022

Which Issue is the Newly Republican House Be Most Focused Upon?

Republicans were elected to office promising to do something about crime, inflation, high taxes, etc. but the first thing announced to be at the top of their agenda, is . . . well, you guess, from this list:
1. crime
2. inflation
3. high taxes
4. abortion
5. Russian war sanctions
6. the new IRS hires
7. the President’s son, Hunter Biden.

Well, what do you think? Yes, it is Hunter Biden! If you correctly guessed that is the case, your winner’s prize will be shipped to you within the next 30 days. This is the greatest issue on the Republican political radar facing this country.

But Republicans are multi-taskers! While they are busy investigating a private citizen, they will also be busy trying to rescind the funding for the 87,000 new IRS agents recently authorized. So, their first crime legislation is making it easier for tax cheats to evade paying taxes. (And since those new agents were to specifically target rich tax evaders, we are not at all surprised, are we?) I am sure those rich criminals will be grateful and pony up campaign donations with the money they save from cheating on their taxes.

Oh, remember the rapid anti-communists of the GOP’s past? The “New Republicans” will also try to prevent any more aid being provided to Ukraine in its defense against invading Russian armies. I guess they learned that “Aid to Putin” was a good thing from Donald Trump.

November 15, 2022

School Voucher Systems—Another Subsidy for the Rich

I am sure you have heard of the various school voucher systems being implemented around the country. In them, parents of school-aged children can opt out of the public school system in their community and receive a voucher they can use to have their child attend the private school of their choice. How can this not be a good thing? Sounds like a win-win-win all the way around, except it is just another boondoggle used by the wealthy to their advantage.

For example, 80% of the “voucher students” in Arizona were already enrolled in a private school, so there is not much choice involved in the voucher as the choice had already been made. The voucher was just a way to recoup some of the tuition they were already paying. Oh, In New Hampshire, the number was 89%; in Wisconsin it was 75%.

To make things worse, students who were formerly in public schools and left to go to a private school with their “voucher,” generally did substantially poorer academically than they did before. How much poorer? On par with the education impact of having a disaster hit their community, like a hurricane or a pandemic (yes, worse than the COVID shutdown of the schools impact).

So, why are these programs so popular? Well, they are very popular with people who already have their children in private schools, aka the wealthy. (When we moved to Chicago, our first condo was butted up against Chicago Day School. Tuition for the primary school children going there was in the neighborhood of $40,000 per year. I am sure it helped those little nippers get a good job later in life. And they didn’t have to rub elbows with “ordinary” children!)

School voucher programs could have been structured to help the poor (as they are claimed to do but don’t) or any number of configurations, but the vast majority of them are structured to line the pockets of wealthy people.

I am old enough to remember the arguments back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Wealthy people whined that they had to pay taxes to support the educational system, and they also had to pay tuition at their kid’s private schools. It is unfair, they said! Their arguments were summarily dismissed at the time with the counter argument of “we all benefit from having an educated citizenry.” In addition, childless couples pay education taxes, and they have no children who will take part in the public school system. The taxes paid are not to educated one’s own children, but to educate all children.

The wealthy and their primary political party (hint—The GOP) are working hammer and tongs to support the current status quo (No change, no change, no change . . . starting to sound like a Conservative Woodstock!) because the current status quo is slanted so heavily to benefit the already wealthy. And the Democrats are buying into the same program, trailing the Republicans in just small ways now.

Support the Rich! Provide School Vouchers Now! (Repeat after me!)

Want more details? See here (The Hechinger Report)

November 12, 2022

Contrary to the Evidence

You thought this was going to be about religion, didn’t you?

Actually it is more about economics and other things. The theoretical structure of economics is built mostly out of self-serving bullshit. For example, they refer to the human beings interacting in our economy as a particular kind of human: Homo economicus. Homo economicus is an hypothetical person who behaves in exact accordance with their rational self-interest. Using rational assessments, Homo economicus attempts to maximize utility as a consumer and economic profit as a producer. Ta da. Recent studies show that such beings do not exist and never have. (Think of economic Vulcans.)

Economists also base their theoretical structures on “economic transactions” involving buyers and sellers who both have complete information. Have you ever heard of such a ridiculous thing? If this were ever the case economists would be advising clients that not only is advertising not needed, but that it was a distortion of the economic system and should not be done.

In the U.S. we are obsessed with having a pay-as-you-go culture. Everyone needs to pay for everything as you proceed through life. Anything that is just handed to you is “Socialism!” leading to the destruction of freedom, motherhood, Chevrolets, and apple pie. A consequence of this is that 40% of all jobs are “bullshit jobs.”

A bullshit job is “a form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as a part of the conditions of employment, the employee feels obliged to pretend this is not the case.” David Graeber

According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.” David Graeber

What is doubly ironic about this is that the bullshit jobs rarely pay a living wage. Living wages and minimum wages, etc. are Socialism! In order for us to have a pay-as-you-go culture, people have to make enough money to pay for their needs (not necessarily their wants, but food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, etc.). That is what a living wage is. If you are making a living wage, you can “afford” to live; if not you are dying or at a bare minimum spiraling down to an early death. All to maintain the illusion of a “pay-as-you-go culture.”

The cost of everyone receiving a living wage for their labor is that there may be a few fewer billionaires and the billionaires still in existence may have a few less billions of dollars in their money bins. But this cannot be because . . . Capitalism, the only god Americans actually worship.

Even that social troglodyte Henry Ford understood this. He paid his workers almost a dollar more per day than other manufacturers. This caused workers to flock to the Ford plants and those already there worked hard to keep their jobs as they paid so much better than elsewhere. But was that Ford’s reasoning? No, he wanted his workers to make enough money to be able to buy a Ford car. And they did, with money Ford paid them as wages. So, he got “his” money back. If he had starved his workers, like his fellow plutocrats, he wouldn’t have sold near as many cars.

November 10, 2022

If You Aren’t Yet Convinced that Our Enemy is the big Money Corporations and the Uber-rich . . .

Please read this:

Amazon and Apple have an illegal price-fixing conspiracy

November 5, 2022

How Can You Atheists Be Moral Without God?

Catholic Diocese Totally Screws Up Handling Sexual Abuse

Get back to us when you have figured out how to be moral with your god.

November 3, 2022

Grubbing for Respectability

The study of economics has been searching for respectability for many decades. Most recently it has been mathematized in order to make it more sciency and references to the “economic sciences” (sic) abound.

I noticed that today the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences had been awarded, and as a lazy news agencies reported it, it was the Nobel Prize for Economics. There is no Nobel Prize for Economics. This prize was named to imply that it is but it is not. They even announce the “winners” at the same time the real Nobel Prizes are awarded to complete the illusion. Pathetic. Almost as bad as the award shows, like the Oscars, et. al. in which an industry rewards itself.

No matter how much respectability grubbing proponents of the study of economics claim it is, economics is not a science. Yes, math can be used, graduate courses in economics now require Calculus where they did not in the recent past, and money can be calculated to fine precision, but the “laws” governing the topic aren’t scientific laws and, in most cases are little better than conjectures.

Take, for example, the concept of market equilibrium. A market is said to be at equilibrium when supply and demand for a good or service balance each other, and as a result prices become stable. If something changes this situation, once breached, the market opposes these changes, moving back in the direction of equilibrium. It is a nice concept and, as a rule of thumb, is a description of a small part of the behaviors one can observe in economic markets. But it is not a scientific law. There are no natural forces behind it. The major users of economics, businesses, are striving fang and claw to create monopolies for their businesses, so that have complete and total control of their market. There is no “market force” or “economic force” that opposes these attempts at “market domination.” Such “economic laws” (sic) are just crude descriptions of how markets can perform under a small set of circumstances.

The whole idea of free markets was built upon the myth of market correction forces. The myth is that politicians should leave markets alone because markets function best when unregulated. This is a baseless, self-serving claim that is not supported by any facts. Those promoting free markets, that is markets free from government regulation, really want governments not interfering with their market manipulations. They want to be the regulator of their markets, not the representative of all of the people, governments.

There is no such thing as a “free” market, which is a good thing because markets do not work without some regulation. Consider pharmaceuticals. Would you want to have a market for pharmaceuticals that was completely free, meaning that anyone could claim anything as an outcome of taking their medicinals and, well, anything goes? No FDA interference? No requirements for effectiveness interference? We have had a glimpse of what this would be like when in 1994, Congress removed “herbal supplements” from the purview of the FDA. What we got were herbal concoctions claimed to cure everything from the common cold to cancer with no requirement that such claims be proven in clinical or any other studies.

An AsideI have a method of determining when a “herbal supplement” is bogus. If you are temped to try the XYZ herbal supplement, do an Internet search along the lines of “does XYZ really work?” If the first ten websites you find are websites that are bogus, set up by the purveyor of the supplement, you know it is bogus. The practice for such bogus supplements is to put up a dozen or two websites seemingly independently studying your product, but usually just having long lists of testimonials, from people like Tom T. from Philadelphia, or Theresa W. from Portland, Oregon. None of these people can be contacted for verification because not enough information was been supplied, but that would be a waste of your time because they and their commendations are fictional. These website dilute out any honest evaluations of the XYZ supplement.

If you see such sites listed at the top of your search, well, now you know.

Does anyone want “anything goes” markets? I don’t think so. The “free market” bandwagon is just a vehicle to oppose government regulation that protects citizens from phony claims and phony products. Like a dog chasing cars, if it actually caught one it wouldn’t know what to do with it. Any economist who touts the virtues of free markets is a charlatan. Some economists don’t even know they are charlatans. Every course in economics they took in college had the same nonsensical presuppositions built in and then quick raced past to play with more “advanced” topics. Never to the go back and check their original suppositions.

Then they take their suppositions and double down on then, an example of which is Walras’s “law” which says that excess supply in one market must be matched by excess demand in another, so that in the larger picture there will be a general equilibrium. Can any causal connection be made between the demand in one market and the supply in another? I don’t think so. But the concept of “equilibrium” has run away with these person’s common sense. In the physical sciences, a system can only be in a state of equilibrium if it is isolated completely from the rest of the universe, excluding all other matter, energies, forces, etc. As a consequence a system in physical equilibrium is detached from the rest of the universe and has no effect on it or it on the system.

Now, there are systems that are near equilibrium all over the place in nature and those systems show some of the behaviors of equilibrium systems, for one they oppose changes in the distribution of matter and energy in the system, but those near-equilibrium systems are limited in such responses and can always be shoved off of the tracks, so to speak. Economic systems are somewhat like physical near-equilibrium systems but only under very constrained circumstances.

The key point is if you want them to behave as if they were near-equilibrium systems, you would have to regulate the situations they apply to. Certain “market stimulations” would be forbidden, etc. If you want an example of this look at the U.S. stock markets. The “players” in the markets for stocks invent ways to manipulate the markets in their favor on almost a daily basis. The markets, though, are heavily regulated (there are hundreds of pages of regulations adopted by each market) and most of these manipulative practices never get implemented. But every once in a while corrupt players get some control and you end up with high priced worthless “financial instruments” that crash the system, sometimes worldwide, like what happened in 2008. And these morons still preach “regulation is bad!”

I think economists should be required to dress for their profession, witch doctor garb would be appropriate.

October 22, 2022

Humanity’s Achilles’ Heel: Absolutism

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Social Commentary — Steve Ruis @ 12:13 pm
Tags: ,

The term “absolutism” tends to be hijacked by political scientists who reserve the word for political systems with an absolute monarch or other absolute entity at the top. But the word has a broader definition, still standing for a belief in and support of absolute positions.

Humans are “all or nothing” believers. Other people are either “bad” or “good,” there is no nuanced position. Obviously everyone has their good and bad points, even Hitler did. But as absolutists, we don’t want to acknowledge Hitler’s good points, we want him to be “all bad.”

And our god cannot be just really, really powerful but all-powerful and not just the creator of the Earth, but the creator of a universe consisting of many trillions of galaxies. Sheesh.

This tendency toward absolutes is often ascribed to our unwillingness to embrace ambiguity and complexity, but I find that argument unsatisfactory. Listen to any sports nut talk about the statistics of their sport or, better, the odds of sports bets now open to them. Baseball Sabermetricians give the lie to this idea. Afraid of complexity, no way!

It seems to me that women are often obsessed with family dynamics. They keep track of every family member’s relationships and have stories to tell about all of them. Men’s eyes tend to glaze over when they get into details but not because of an avoidance of complexity, but from a lack of interest. Similarly when men get into the details of a construction project, women tend to drift away, again from a lack of interest, not because they cannot handle complexity.

Our being wedded to absolutes may be an outcome of our social behavior. Because we are a social species, we interact with members of our social families and on occasion are asked to contribute to decisions. When one approaches such discussions with nuanced positions, one sounds wishy-washy. When one has a firm, simple position, people sound convicted and more truthful. In our current political environment I hear things like “Joe Biden is evil” and “Democrats want to destroy Christianity.” In our current religious environment I hear “atheists are evil” quite a bit. All of this stems from pushes to the extreme to make an absolutist argument. But once you get to such an absolutist position, there is almost no road back, away from that position. This is why Christians insist that Christians who become atheists must not have been “True Christians™.” In their minds, once you get to that absolute position: “He is a Christian and he is saved,” it is impossible in their minds that he could move away from those positions. So, religiously and politically, the discourse is pushing, pushing people to these absolutist positions. (Insisting “You can’t be a Christian and vote Democrat” . . . even though the majority of Democrat voters are Christians.)

And since we are all absolutists, it is oh so easy for us to move that way. Unscrupulous people use lies and deceit to achieve their goals because they are absolutely convinced the ends justify the means. There is even a meme in circulation: “Liars for Jesus,” which tags people who just make stuff up and pass on known lies to push people where they want them to go.

So, the only end point to this progression is two groups of people in opposite corners of a room with a freshly painted floor in between, and no doors out. The only way to resolve such extreme positions is to fight it out and there are already many, many calls for having a civil war. (Hey, gang, I have an idea! Let’s put on a war!)

Of course, the call for another civil war is yet another absolutist position. Do those calling for such a war feel that the last civil war really cleared the air and resolved all of the problems that caused it in the first place? I wonder.

And of course, organized religion has prepared the fields of discourse by training people to believe in absolute absurdities.

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” (Anonymous)

October 21, 2022

Government Handouts—Bad?

There are conservatives who believe that all “government handouts” are bad and lead to laziness on the part of ordinary people. They seem to overlook the dwarfing handouts given to American businesses and focus in one the trivial ones given to ordinary citizens. Here is but one example.

Elon Musk, the nation’s richest man, is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. Musk’s net worth is somewhere about $210 billion. Yet he goes where the government money is.

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

“He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”

The figure compiled by The Times comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.

(From Diane Ravitch’s blog)

October 11, 2022

I’m Shocked, Shocked I Tell You!

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

In the linked post, Spike Dolomite calls out the Republican politicians who called the Democrat Infrastructure bill “wasteful spending, government over reach, radical and socialist” yet are lining up with their hands out to receive funds from that bill for their states.

Lauren Boebert called the bill “garbage” and then asked for $33 million for a new bridge in Colorado.

“I was surprised to see so many socialists in the Republican caucus,” President Biden said. He could have said “I was surprised to see so many hypocrites in the Republican caucus” instead but that brush could paint the Dems as well.


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