Class Warfare Blog

January 10, 2019

They Want It Both Ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is with these narratives?

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

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

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January 6, 2019

As an Authoritarian Trump is a Piker

Filed under: Culture,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

You really have to go to the church to find real authoritarians. Take for example Pope Pius IX. I quote from a fascination book Prisoner of the Vatican: The Popes, the Kings, and Garibaldi’s Rebels in the Struggle to Rule Modern Italy, by David I. Kertzer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Kindle Edition).

“In December 1864, as part of his effort to combat liberalism, the pope issued what may well be the most controversial papal document of modern times, the encyclical Quanta cura, with an accompanying Syllabus of Errors. While the encyclical itself received relatively little attention, the Syllabus— listing the eighty propositions associated with modern life that no good Catholic could subscribe to— was another story. It held that no Catholic could believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion. Catholics were forbidden to believe that the pope could live without a state of his own or that there could be a separation of church and state. The last proposition attracted the most attention, for it rejected the view that ‘the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself to progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.’”

“The pope soon followed this gathering with a much more ambitious event, summoning all of the world’s bishops and cardinals for a grand Ecumenical Council. The first such council to be held in Rome in over 350 years, it had two goals: to endorse the Syllabus and with it the pope’s condemnation of the modern age, and to sanctify the principle— not previously an official part of Church doctrine—that the pope was infallible.”

Old Pius IX got his infallibility … by vote (although he threatened to proclaim it himself if it were not voted in).  but it was somewhat truncated only to Ex Cathedra pronouncements and so didn’t include encyclicals like Quanta cura.

Can you imagine The Donald proclaiming himself infallible and publishing a list of what Real Americans must believe? I can imagine it but that would be quickly followed by the appearance of a straightjacket as Mr. Trump was being lead away.

“It held that no Catholic could believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, or freedom of religion.” Amazing. We were still licking our wounds from the Civil War so I suspect that U.S. citizens barely noticed and it does make some sense of the bias against Catholics felt in various parts of this country.

Oh, and Pius IX was all for religious tolerance … for Catholics … but not for anyone else and stated so outright. His point was that the One True Church™ should not be treated like all of the imposters.

They just don’t make authoritarians like they used to.

December 27, 2018

Fear Mongering for Fun and Profit

The Atlantic magazine published an article this last April with the intriguing title “The Last Temptation,” subtitled “How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.”

I didn’t finish the article but it started in the same vein as so many others, with Donald Trump and his high percent of the evangelical vote. The article did suggest, though, that there had been some kind of sea change in evangelical attitudes over the past half century. One paragraph summed up their opinion:

“The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.”

Finally, we get to the crux of the matter. Things changed when some “elites” decided to convert Christian conservatives into a political force. Believe it or not, early on most American Christians thought that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling was a good thing, that such decisions should be left to families in consultation with clergy and health professionals, that government shouldn’t be involved. Abortion did not become a “wedge issue” until it was forged into one.

Similarly, as in all other political “mood shifts,” the usual motives involved were: money, power, and fear. In the case of mobilization of evangelicals as a political force, fear was the chosen tool. Evangelicals were and are taught that the world is becoming an ever more sinful place, when that conclusion is far from the truth. They are taught that there is a “war on Christianity,” that morals are sinking fast and that something must be done! Older citizens living in suburbs came to fear Black criminals over the much greater threats to their safety.

All of this was perpetrated, of course, by religious and secular elites, to serve their interests, not the interest of ordinary citizens, Christians or not. George W. Bush is famous (infamous?) for brushing off the Religious Right’s demands for “more” from him by saying “those people are never satisfied.” All they had gotten was a paltry office and a president-appointed officer.

The only resolution of this awful set of circumstances is for all of us to admit that we have been “played” by our political leaders. They all need to be replaced, based upon their records. While it may not be possible to expect complete honesty (within some limits) from our leaders, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we got some? Certainly fear mongering and lying continuously need to be shamed out of existence.

December 8, 2018

The President Has an Opinion (Breaking News?)

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:20 pm
Tags: ,

The President has opinions. He shares them mostly through social media channels, primarily Twitter. Because he is President, people pay attention and discuss his opinions … but, should we?

There was once a series of commercials for a financial advice firm (E.F. Hutton). The basic trope involved two business types discussing their investments and one of the two would say “Well, my advisor is E.F. Hutton and he says …” which was a cue for everyone nearby to be quiet and lean in to hear this advice because “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” The message was that that firm’s particular opinion was valuable.

So, what makes an opinion valuable? The good ones seem to help us understand the topic, in its context, and see it for what it is. They explain, clarify, and help us make decisions about their content.

So, are President Trump’s opinions considered, well-reasoned, based upon basic truths, helpful, clarifying … ?

No.

Mr. Trump seems to understand very little. The helpful questions he has advanced came from others and he shows no ability to actually do anything regarding those topics. He seems to have no depth of understanding of even simple issues, let alone complex ones and seems to be addicted to lying frequently. He seems to be unaware and uninterested in how our government is structured and how it works.

So, why would this person’s opinions be of any note at all?

Just asking.

November 4, 2018

Life in the Alternate Universe

Politics today seems to be based almost entirely upon straw man arguments. In such an argument, one creates a “straw man” in the form of a political opponent or political idea and then attacks it. The straw man, of course, does not exist, and so anything you say about it cannot be wrong.

The “migrant march” currently making its way through Mexico is the source of many of these things. Setting aside the ridiculous claim that it is in invasion, there are some really strange political stances being taken. Quite a few Republicans are arguing forcefully against the idea of “open borders.” Of course, there is no one making this proposal. Nobody wants open borders with no controls as to who passes and who does not. No body. But by attacking the promoters of “Open Borders!” the idea that there actually are some people recommending this crazy idea. Then the Open Borders “movement” is stood up as what is being battled with whatever our immigration policy is now. (Does anyone really know? Is it just whatever the president wants today?)

Consider the following argument by the ever vicious Michelle Malkin:

It’s insane to argue we should turn a blind eye to the health status of law-breaking aliens (Michelle Malkin on Oct 31, 2018) “We live in bizarro times. Suddenly, it is controversial to state obvious, neon-bright truths. This week, it has become newsworthy to observe that illegal border-crossers who circumvent required medical screenings are a threat to America’s public health and safety.”

This is a valid point, but this was in the context of the “Migrant March,” and I don’t think any of those people are planning to sneak in as “illegal border crossers.” If they are, they are doing a lousy job of being invisible so as to not be caught trying to sneak in. (Elmer Fudd had more subtlety than that: “Be wery, wery, quiet … there’s a wabbit around here!”)

I suggest that those people will present themselves at the border and apply for asylum. If they do that, they will be processed according to the protocols established, which includes a health assessment. So, is the “Migrant March” a cause of concern regarding communicable diseases? The answer is a clear no, as they present no greater danger than any other crowd of people of equal size. But raising the specter of a disease ridden horde approaching our borders, who are going to just run across does have a certain affect on public opinion. GOP allied pundits and the President have an agenda. It is fear. A fearful polity is a manipulable polity, plain and simple.

So, when the President says that the “horde” approaching our southern border is an invasion of ISIS members, rapists, robbers, and disease carriers, and maybe the woeful Cleveland Browns, we have to take it as another brick in the wall he is building around any coherent thinking. He should have a button on his desk which screams “Fear, fire, foes, awake! Fear, fire, foes, awake!” any time the button is pressed … and he would be pressing it many times a day.

October 28, 2018

So Is Trump Responsible … for Anything?

In an article in The Guardian, Heather Cox Richardson compares the recent attempted bombings with the political atmosphere at the end of the Civil War which lead to assassination attempts on leading politicians. Here are some excerpts:

When Trump demonises opponents, unhinged partisans take their cues
by Heather Cox Richardson

“When a president, as Trump does, demonises opponents as an un-American mob trying to destroy the country, it is not a lunatic who tries to harm them, it is a patriot.”

“By the 1990s, Republicans held on to power by manipulating the system. They claimed Democrats won elections through “voter fraud” and that they were protecting democracy. They deliberately kept Democrats from the polls.

“Voter suppression in Florida in 2000 helped put Republican George W Bush into office despite losing the popular vote and the targeting of state legislative elections in 2010 enabled Republicans to gerrymander states out of Democrat reach.

“Meanwhile, from the 1980s, Republicans insured themselves against Democratic legal challenges by packing the courts. Always, they argued that their machinations were simply protection against Democratic plotting with undeserving minorities to destroy America. By 2018, the Republicans’ president had demonised minorities as criminals and rapists and had embraced the idea that America was a white man’s land.

“Since 1980, Republicans have monopolised resources for a few wealthy Americans and have retained power by skewing the media, manipulating the system and convincing white followers that dangerous minorities threatened their very existence.”

“When a president, as Trump does, demonises opponents as an un-American mob
trying to destroy the country, it is not a lunatic who tries to harm them, it is a patriot.”

 

September 24, 2018

A Failure to Communicate

I read just now the following:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez … was on Jake Tapper’s show on CNN the other day, the host grilled her about how she would come up with the forty trillion dollars needed to fund Medicare for all, housing as a federal right, a federal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, and canceling all student loan debt.

She apparently could not answer the question … <sigh>.

Let me just address funding “Medicare for All (MFA)” for the nonce. Currently, the average family of four pays in excess of $16,000 per year for their health insurance. Mostly this goes unnoticed because these payments are made by their employers as part of their compensation. How much do you think the actual value of that insurance is? If you compare it with costs in other developed countries and look at how inflated the costs are and consider that the insurance companies providing the “insurance” are quite an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy (Medicare has a 3% overhead. If private insurance companies likewise have a 3% overhead, where do all of the handsome profits those companies make come from?). Basically that $16,000 represents a quite unnecessarily inflated cost. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the actual cost is $9,000 for that family of four. If MFA is invoked, the employers will be required to pay that $16,000 directly to the family and then that family will pay, say $10,000 in taxes (a bit more than their own costs to be able to cover the unemployed, etc.) and pocket the other $6000! (Note: these are not the actual numbers, but even if $100 ends up in your pocket, you would be making money on the deal.)

Once we have Medicare for All, we also have group buying of pharmaceuticals, something Big Pharma has spent billions to avoid (why they are opposed to such a system is it would squeeze its profits down from the astronomical to merely lavish). This will reduce the cost of medicinals, at least to what other countries are paying (for the same drugs from the same companies … yes, they are gouging the Rich Gringos because they can). Similarly there are a multitude of large cost savings that can be wrung out of the system (e.g. there would be only one billing process, not hundreds, for doctors and hospitals to contend with).

Currently the US spends about double what any other rich nation spends on health care per capita. This means we could spend 10%, 20%, or even 30% less and still be spending more than any other country on health care. If you remove the costs of private health insurance companies, we can save even more.

Conservative pundits always focus on the cost/taxes and never mention the cost savings. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez should be better prepared if she is going to go on camera to defend our ideas.

PS The Federal Reserve “printed” several trillion dollars to bail out the banks and Wall Street firms during the Great Recession and these same pundits didn’t blink. Plus that “forty trillion dollars” is not for just one year and they are careful not to mention that.

September 9, 2018

Another Approach (The Nike Ad Campaign)

Recently, the shoe company (amongst their other products) Nike featured Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign with one of its tag lines being “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Mr. Kaepernick is famous for protesting police brutality against people of color by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem at NFL football games. (Kneeling is a form of respect and submission, but not the form that Mr. Kaepernick’s detractors want.) He paid a price of many millions of dollars in that he lost his job as an NFL quarterback.

Several police organizations have protested this ad campaign as being a fallacious smear against the police who risk their lives daily. This is a bit much but also ignores the many, many incidents in which police officers have shot and or killed people of color with no repercussions other than occasionally an officer losing his job. The idea of a police officer being prosecuted for excessive force is almost ludicrous in this country.

Interestingly, police officers and their organizations, supposedly taught how to diffuse tense situations have instead poured fuel on the flames. There is available to them another approach.

They could have, without agreeing to anything, stated that a police officer using excessive force is unacceptable. They could go on to state that while the vast majority of officers do their jobs safely and with respect, even one bad officer is unacceptable. Consequently, the XYZ Police Association asks for more training funds and … blah, blah, blah. They could even have asked Mr. Kaepernick to sit with them and discuss options to move forward to a safer future. All of these things would defuse some of the issues involved.

Several things that come to my mind are the removal of the feeling of fear as a justification for a policeman to use deadly force. According to the police organizations, policemen face death daily, which just has to be associated with fear (and courage) which means that deadly force is always a reasonable approach for these officers … on a daily basis. This is unacceptable. I suggest that the level of force should never exceed the penalty for the infraction involved. If pulled over for a traffic violation, the worst thing to happen is a ticket and a fine. If somebody, once stopped, speeds away, there is another ticket and another fine, not an excuse to shoot at the miscreant or the miscreant’s car.

Allowing the feeling of fear to be the justification for the application of deadly force is ludicrous. We cannot verify such a fear, we can only sympathize. And even if the fear exists, we are asking officers to lower the fear level, not extinguish it. (Note The same thing goes for stand your ground laws.)

August 18, 2018

Why Are We So Afraid?

On Quora, this question was posed: Why are so many Americans “tough on crime”?

One of the answers started this way:

“Americans are terrified.

“The United States of America is a nation of the coward, by the coward, and for the coward. Americans are the most frightened people you will find anywhere in the world.

“We are scared of everything. We’re scared of terrorists. We’re scared of immigrants. We’re scared of criminals. We’re scared of GM food. We’re scared of Muslims. We’re scared of brown people. If you come from any other industrialized country, and you’ve never lived in the US, it’s hard to understand the pervasive sense of fear that Americans live in.

“Americans are frightened, and this fear makes us cruel and mean.”

I immediately thought of the campaign to criminalize being a Black male (not just “driving while Black,” but existing while Black). As Jim Crow laws lost their footing in this country, some way had to be created to control Black people, especially Black men (just had to). After emancipation, one strategy was to criminalize the state Black people found themselves in. Vagrancy laws alone caused a great many Black men to be incarcerated and because they were poor and couldn’t pay their fine, they had to work off their fine … and room and board in the county jail. Voila, de facto slavery all over again. When these laws because unacceptable to society at large, the approach became “lock them up” on a much larger scale. Crimes that Blacks might commit had much longer penalties than if whites committed them. (Remember the crack cocaine sentences that were ten times longer than if powdered cocaine were involved? Guess which “possession crime” Blacks were more likely to be caught for.)

It has become our habit, through long exposure, to motivate ourselves to do anything politically by using fear. The message is “we must change because, if we don’t, something really bad will happen.”

Consider education: the report A Nation at Risk, claimed (erroneously) that our poor education system was dooming our country to second tier status … gasp, or worse! Also in education, the fear that girls were falling behind boys in math was promoted heavily at the exact moment at which girl’s math test scores had become equal to those of boy’s. (No mention was made of boy’s English language scores being much lower than girls, that was just “boys being boys.”)

The early environmental movement went to inflated extremes to gain attention. We were told we needed to “save the planet” as if it were at risk and not us.

Our “news media” haven’t helped one bit. They are not in the business of putting things in perspective, rather they are in the business of selling their wares. And the wares that sell are often the most alarming, most lurid, and most outlandish of stories.

Fear mongering is a booming business in this country.

And we are all paying for this by having fear dominate our lives. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was based solely upon fear. The slogan “Make America Great Again” implies we were great once, but are no longer …. but we could be again, just vote for me. Was there any analysis of this opinion? If a survey of world citizens were to ask the question “Which nation is the most powerful currently?” do you not think the USA would be voted to the top? (And if you didn’t so vote, would you expect to be invaded?)

When was the last time something was done politically because it was the right thing to do, rather than via a fear mongering campaign? Obamacare? The opposition to it was loaded with fear mongering, e.g. Death Panels! The national debt will skyrocket! The “safety net” will become a hammock! If not that, what?

If we insist that we will not do anything unless we are terrified, then all we are doing is waging a terror campaign upon ourselves. We are also letting the fear mongers and those who control the message in our news media to lead us around by the nose.

Welcome to the Twenty-first Century!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 16, 2018

Ask Yourself “If They Really Believed …”

More than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up, according to a sweeping grand jury report released Tuesday. Since Pennsylvania has about 4% of the nation’s population, we can expect that the numbers of victims and perpetrators for the country as a whole are 25 times worse. One of the editorial responses to this abysmal situation was this:

Now, ask yourself: if those Catholic priests and other clerics really, truly believed, as Christians claim to believe their religion (down to the bone, etc.), that they were destined to everlasting Hellfire, that they would have done what they did? This is surely evidence that they did not so believe, that they would not be subject to everlasting torment because of their actions.

Either the Catholic Church is selling absolutions, in which case God’s judgment is not really God’s judgment, or a major segment of the Catholic clergy in the U.S. (and presumably worldwide) doesn’t believe in the fairy tales they tell about the “afterlife” to control the behaviors of their “flocks.”

I also wouldn’t put it past the Catholic hierarchy to double down by claiming that God will punish the miscreants (so they do not have to). Maybe they were waiting for capital punishment to be banned before coughing up the criminal clergy … naw.

The Catholic Con is slowly unraveling. I pray that that process is accelerating.

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