Uncommon Sense

June 26, 2013

The Outrageous Costs of Higher Education

If you missed it, outstanding student loan debt now surpasses that of credit card debt in this country. College tuitions are skyrocketing. State governments and local governments are cutting back on what funding they provide. The rate of increase of college tuition over the last few decades has only been matched by the increases in health care costs, yet the health care situation was a national scandal and college tuition situation doesn’t seem to rate a “meh.”

I have commented before that my college education in California in the late 60’s and early 70’s was virtually free (the cost were trivial). Now, I couldn’t afford to go to college were I of that age and of similar circumstances to what I had then.

What happened?

We are a richer nation now than we were back in the 50’s and 60’s when college was almost free. Sure Harvard, Yale, and Stanford charged quite a bit but they were reserved for traditionalists who wanted a “blue chip education,” what we now know to be bragging rights. We are far richer as a nation now, but we can’t afford to underwrite higher education? A study done in, I think the 1990s, in California showed that the State recovered $13 for every dollar spent on the State University system (not the University of California system, the other, less well-known one). Cheap higher education was a driving factor in California’s post WWII economic boom. Highly educated workers were available in droves in the state, thanks to its accessible higher education system. So, shut it down, I say! WTF?

Check out our neighbors. Mexico is a poor country yet has a good educational system with free tuition. When the Mexican state wanted to raise tuition back in the 1990’s, there was a national student strike which had popular support and the government backed off. The situation in Canada is much the same. Germany is a rich country which has free tuition. Finland has the highest-ranked education system in the world and it is nearly free. The same is the case with Denmark.

These are poorer countries than the U.S. so it will be hard to make an economic necessities argument to explain the incredibly high increase in tuition in the U.S. A number of prominent folks have pointed to the Free Speech Movement, which appalled conservatives and even quite a few liberals. There was more than a bit of talk about students having “too much freedom.” Since student unrest (think Vietnam War protests) were centered on college campuses, some thought it necessary to rein in college student’s freedoms. One way of controlling students for the rest of their lives is simply by saddling them with debt. Of course, this is not the only force in play in this arena.

Conservative efforts to gut unions resulted in a severe reduction in high paying, high-skilled jobs. Instead of those, college graduates are now offered “service sector” jobs that pay so little they can neither support themselves nor can the service their college loans.

And somehow, one cannot declare bankruptcy and absolve oneself of student debt. It is perfectly all right to steal billions of dollars through the financial industry supported by government bailouts (not only free but actually had negative interest) but fail to pay off a college loan, no, you can not do that!

Who, in your mind is so greedy and shortsighted that they want to kill the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs—higher education? Go back and look at who sponsored the bills that were key and who still wants to raise rates for student loans and . . . and. . . . It shouldn’t take you long to find out who is mostly responsible for the futures of our children being severely truncated. Any other country would consider it an act of war if we were to do this to them.

February 22, 2013

Ideal GOP Presidential Candidate for 2016

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 8:06 pm
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Clearly the absolutely best GOP candidate for President in 2016 is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

To explain this a little history is needed.

In 2008, when President Obama was elected to his first term, the percent of Americans willing to call themselves Republicans sank to historic lows, almost down to 20%. At that point the majority of the remains of the GOP was their hard core base, the uber-conservatives that for years (and years, and years) had been told that they needed to vote for moderate Republicans to win elections and that they “would be taken care of.”

With a little lubrication, aka money, supplied by billionaires the Tea Party was born and the tail began to wag the dog. The right-wing of the GOP bird began to take control. In 2010 they were asendant, but in 2012, they were forced to accept another “moderate” Republican, Mitt Romney, and they lost again.

The Tea Party/Republican Base has been promised a “real conservative candidate” for decades and haven’t had one since Barry Goldwater in 1964. Their time has come. They should have their candidate.

Ted Cruz would be perfect, but if not Senator Cruz, then someone to the right of him, maybe Rand Paul. Republican uber-conservatives deserve their day in the sunshine and deserve their candidate.

Please. (Pleeeaase!)

August 23, 2012

Legitimate Christian Conservative Confusion or Maybe the Church Lady Got It Right

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:24 pm
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The Republican presidential campaign spent the entire week off message . . . again. This week they have been scurrying around denying that their abortion policy is not what they have always insisted it is. The Republicans feel there should be a federal law banning abortion with no exceptions. No, they don’t. Yes, they do. No! Yes! No! Gosh!

I commented on this in my last post with:

Your 13-year old daughter has been brutally beaten and raped.
While in the hospital an official of the government visited the family to explain that,
if the rape resulted in a pregnancy, your daughter would have to bear the child.

How would you feel if this were your daughter?

So the presidential and vice-presidential candidates have been saying that certainly they would allow exceptions for rape or incest, uh, this week, anyway. Unfortunately the Republican platform came out this week saying “. . . no exceptions,” as it did in 2008 and as it did in 2004. Romney has declared to be for a personhood amendment to the Constitution which automatically gets us to “no exceptions,” and Ryan has sponsored any number of bills in the House to the same effect.

Confusion, confusion about rapists, right here in River City!

One aspect of this problem no one seems to be talking about are the theological bases for their stringent requirement. They claim they believe in the “sanctity of human life” (this is also in the Republican Platform) and that the baby shouldn’t be punished for the crime of the rapist. They say that God has a plan for that baby. Except, in claiming this they are denying any real power to Satan, aka the Devil. Most folks would probably say that Satan was behind the rapist, not God. And if that baby is part of Satan’s plan, should it be saved?

But that baby is innocent, they say. Uh, no, not according to scripture. These folks, who are all hot to declare a fertilized ovum, a zygote, a human being in fact and in law, seem to forget that their religion is really big on Original Sin. That baby is not only not an innocent, in fact it is going to burn in Hell, unless it gets saved, and only a very, very few will actually get saved. It’s chances are at best one in a million, so why the fuss?

If they instead claim that God was the motivator of the rapist (in that if that baby is part of God’s plan, then it was a planned pregnancy) and if God motivates rapists, then it is hard to see that God isn’t the motivator of all other atrocities in life, which kind takes the fun out of worship services.

These folks are confused about rape, they are confused about the role of law, they are confused about individual rights, and they are confused about their religion. I guess it is no surprise that they are also quite confused about evolution, climate change, economics, and much else.

The Church Lady could identify the source of their confusion if only she were around to be asked. I am sure she would say “Could it be . . . Satan?”

November 9, 2011

A Great Puzzlement

Filed under: Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:14 am
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Yesterday voters in Mississippi defeated an act that would define a fertilized ovum as a “person.” This idea is wildly illogical. Consider the fact that if a women were to experience fertilization of one of her ova and then die, there is no chance that fertilized ovum could survive. No medical procedure, no “act of God,” no nothing could save that “person.” I have always felt that a person, even though they need extreme levels of medical help, has to be able to exist on his or her own to be considered a person. So, why is this bizarre measure being voted on or being prepared to be voted on in several states and in the U.S. House and Senate?

It is another end run on Roe v. Wade by the anti-abortion folks.

Ah, that explains a lot. (An abortion would become murder of a person under this law.) Abortion is still the hottest topic among Republicans. For example, the U.S. House of Representatives has banned the spending of federal funds for the purposes of abortion, which is already the law of the land, seven times since the beginning of the year. This “re-banning” apparently is why they have not had time to address the jobs issue.

What I find puzzling is that no one challenges the rationale for this stance. The current situation we have now is one finely balanced. Prior to advances in medicine a child became a person at birth (and often died shortly thereafter). But as premature births became more and more viable, abortions late in the gestation period have become less and less available. It was not that long ago that a baby born just one or two weeks prematurely had a low chance of survival. Now babies born one or two months premature can have a reasonable chance of survival. Our laws are adjusted to acknowledge these advances.

And the Republicans want to do away with them. Why? They claim they take this stance because “life is sacred.” This is quite puzzling because these self-same folks are also big advocates of the death penalty. “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord” . . . except in Texas where it is the Governor. That issue aside, let’s see if this rationale stacks up.

These folks are almost universally fundamentalist Christians. Their God created all men and women in his own image . . . apparently a fairly shallow image, because immediately after creating the first man and the first woman, they are cast out of Paradise because of disobedience of the house rules. They proceed to have three sons but not before one of the first two sons kills the other.

It gets so bad that the creator decides to kill all of the people, save a single family to start over with, and all of the animals except two of each, a genuine mass extinction event. No criticism ever touches their god for faults or errors made in creation as he “is perfect,” but somehow his creations are not, which seems at best contradictory.

As it turns out, though, all people are granted eternal life, which is some compensation I guess, but apparently the vast majority of people, aka non-Christians, spend eternity roasting in the fires of Hell. Actually, most Christians are destined to roast in Hell also, as the Gospels state clearly that lapsed Christians are not to be forgiven, plus these fundamentalist Christians seem not to think Catholics are actual Christians, and since Catholics constitute over half of all Christians, that means the majority of Christians are to roast forever, also.

I just don’t find any support for the idea that “life is sacred” in the sourcebooks of these folks. But, with just this justification, Republicans are on a jihad to prevent any woman from having an abortion, even in the case of rape, or incest, or if the life of the mother is threatened. (Apparently the sacredness of the life of an unborn child is more sacred than the sacredness of the life of the threatened mother.)

So, a woman raped would have no say in whether she will bear any child thus created to term.

The spouse of a woman raped would have no say.

The loved ones of the woman or spouse would have no say.

The family’s doctor would have no say.

The family’s clergy would have no say.

Only the Federal Government would have say.

And if the government establishes control over fertilized ova and fetuses, who is to say they won’t establish the right to do with them what they will, when they will it.

And this adamant position is from the same people who opposed the revamp of the nation’s health care system because they didn’t want the government interfering between doctors and patients. (Death squads, death squads!)

The great puzzlement is why anybody would vote for these people.

June 22, 2010

The Immorality of A Pure Profit Motive

Filed under: Economics — Steve Ruis @ 4:13 pm
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I am puzzled by the concordance between the very right-wing part of this country (the Tea Baggers, etc.) which are simultaneously pro-religion and pro-business, specifically pro-corporation. These folks claim there is no morality without religion and corporations can be trusted to do what is right. Both of these points are quite debatable, but what I want to address here is the second. Our corporations are, by and large, the most amoral institutions on the planet, so why would “morals” believers want to trust them?


I think one of the biggest problems we have in the U.S. is we have elevated “profit” to being an end in itself, actually we have elevated it to a near divine principle. Making a profit has become a moral principle. Almost all corporations say what is the equivalent of, “well, we have to make a profit,” as an answer to almost any question regarding the business of that corporation. Wall Street bankers defended their actions (the ones that triggered the recent financial meltdown) with “Our job is to do whatever we can to make a profit for the company.” Really?

Chip Conley in a TED presentation took Maslow’s pyramid and remade it so that it applies to businesses instead of individuals. Here it is:

Starting from the bottom, a business needs to earn a profit to survive. That seems obvious. If the business doesn’t survive all questions become moot. Actually I have seen a great many businesses violate this principle in that the founders drew quite nice salaries while on “start-up” money, then limply surrendered when the business didn’t make enough profit to attract more money from venture capitalists. They had “got theirs.” But, by and large, if a business wants to continue as such, they must make a profit. Even Amazon.com, whose business plan famously included “don’t worry about making a profit” for up to eight years needed to make one.

The next step up is “Success.” Nobody wants to be a part of a business that just survives, just limps along. Part of being considered a success in the “world of business” is making healthy profits. CEO’s of businesses making really good money get touted for better jobs, get written up in magazines, sell a lot of books with the title “The Way.” That kind of thing. Even the lowliest workers prefer working in a company that is “successful” as they think it means their jobs are stable. (Might even get a raise, what?)

The highest step “Transformation” is the equivalent of “Self-actualization” for an individual and this is mostly a state of intangibles.

So, trying to make a profit to survive: to meet your payroll, to keep your doors open, to be able to buy the equipment of production, all of that is quite understandable. In this profit is not an end in itself. It is “making a profit to survive.”

Once you get past that point, though, is where the dysfunction arises. Just when did making a profit become an end in itself. Often a company says things like: “Last year we made a 5% profit. This year we have set a goal for 8% profit.” Why? What was wrong with the 5% profit? The answer is typically, “Well, with higher profits, we can expand the business and make even more profit!”

So, let’s say you make the 8% goal, then 11%, then 12%, then 14% . . . so what?

Too often this is done to manage stock holders. If the stock holders think the company is doing better and better and that its dividends get larger and larger, they hang onto to that stock; it gets scarce and the price of that stock goes up. If the company needs extra money, it can then sell some of the stock it possesses to raise those funds.

So? Is this just a giant game? The one with the most profit wins?

I do not think that we can accept profit—in itself—as an end. I think we clearly must insist that it be a means to an end.

The goal of every business must be stated “to make a profit while. . . . ” I accept that a profit needs to be had, but to what end? A number of people have started businesses to provide jobs for their workers. “To make a profit while providing quality jobs for our workers.” That has a nice ring to it. It is prominent in Toyota’s mission, for example. Some companies have been started to make the world a better place. “To make a profit while producing clean, renewable energy to Americans so our children will inherit a cleaner, safer world.” Nice. Some companies have a smaller focus. “To make a profit while providing wholesome bread inexpensively.” Also nice.

I think we need our corporations to explicitly state what their “while” is and when they take actions to increase their profits, they need to make explicit how that affects the “while” part. I imagine it would take several PR firms to help BP come up with “We cut corners and endangered our workers and the entire population of the American Gulf Coast and all of the wildlife therein in a reckless pursuit of profit to . . . to. . . .

I’m waiting to hear from them on this.

June 18, 2010

Republicans Impaled Upon their Own Talking Points

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:45 pm
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Was I the only person who noted that the Republican’s position regarding the recession was that the only way out was by means of tax cuts? Ironically, possibly trying to curry favor with a few Republican legislators, the Democrats included almost $300 Billion in tax cuts in the Recovery Act of 2009. This was not small potatoes, being the largest tax cut in the history of the U.S. Well, the bill still got no Republican votes in the Senate (Got one in the House, though!) and later the Republicans claimed that the Recovery Act didn’t create one new job! If one ignores the fact the hundreds of thousands of police and teaching jobs were saved by the Recovery Act, and a few hundred thousand jobs were pulled out of unemployment for construction projects, you might be able to make that case (those jobs maybe weren’t exactly “new”). But the Republican claim of “total failure” of the Recovery Act skewers their claim that “the only way out of the recession was tax cuts.” Maybe they mean a Republican tax cut, as opposed to a Democrat tax cut?

Next up the Republicans, the party of “no government interference in business” is excoriating the Democrats for not doing enough to create jobs. Brilliant! If only tax cuts will work and the biggest tax cut in U.S. history has had no effect (or so they claim), just what is it the Republicans expect the administration do? Interfere in something? (Gasp!)

Actually these are just asides because the entire plethora of Republican “New Ideas” is bankrupt. Let’s see—they say that government needs to just get out of the way of business and let business do its job. Government regulations can only hurt progress, not help. Taxes need to be cut to the bone. (I think they must mean for the rich because they didn’t seem to think much of the middle class/small business cuts in the Recovery Act.) And, oh, we need to give up many of our personal freedoms for the sake of national security and let the government spy on us. Oh, wait, that was George Bush’s idea. Let’s just say, uh, be tough on immigrants, crime, and terrorists. That about sums it up.

Apparently the Republicans think we are stupid. And I am not even going to mention the mammoth economic crisis of 2008 from which we are still suffering and which was brought about by greed and . . . deregulation. And I am not going to mention the Gulf of Mexico/British Petroleum disaster brought about by deregulation and a complete lack of oversight by the Commerce Department’s Minerals Management Service. Surprised you, huh? (Oh, in passing I can’t refrain from pointing out that the MMS was created in the Reagan administration by then Commerce Secretary James Watt. Remember James Watt? MMS was set up from the beginning so that government and oil companies would have a bed to be together in.)

My point is simpler. All of the Republican proposals and more has already been tried in this country . . . (drum roll, please) in the late 19th century, the period that later came to be called the Gilded Age and which lead quite directly to the Global Depression of 1929-1945. During the late 1800’s, there was little to no government regulation and taxes were low, especially business taxes. Business leaders often called up Governors and even the President to tell them what they were to do. We are talking all of the current Republican talking points/programs/New Ideas, the whole magilla, was in force at this time.

What that American experiment in democracy gave us was an upper class (the rich) and a lower class (the poor—some working, some not), but no appreciable middle class. Rich people had lavish houses and because labor was dirt cheap, they had servants, lots of servants. People living in the cities were surrounded by disease and dangers. Wooden tenements were often packed with people. They also burned down, quite frequently with the people in them. Government did not take responsibility for fire departments. And there were no public health services and not much in the way of building codes. All of these subsequent governmental regulations would be considered superfluous and current Republicans would surely want to rid us of them.

Women and children were exploited in factories doing dangerous work. By 1890, one out of every five children had a job. There were no unions, no child labor laws, no 8-hour day, no OSHA, no government responsibility for education. All of these interfering regulations should probably go, too, as they fit the mold of actions that an overreaching government would take and make government “big” and not “small.”

Immigrants could come to the U.S. but we could herd them into jobs where they were forced to live in poor company housing and required to shop at the company store, getting deeper into debt as they worked. We also could have the police beat them up if they took umbrage and we could exclude them from voting because they didn’t speak English or pay a poll tax. They were able to be exploited as cheap labor, though. That was legal.

In a note of additional irony, it was out the misery of the late 19th century that the U.S.’s fundamentalist Christian movement grew. The abject poverty and misery of everyday life surely must have promised better treatment in Heaven. The irony is that fundamentalist Christians are avid supporters of the Republican agenda. So, they are in the position of trying to recreate the misery they were born out of and are sought to oppose.

Why is it that poor people and fundamentalist Christians support the Party of No (as in no rights for women, no rights for children, and no rights for workers, and no rights to a clean environment, or to a safe workplace, or a union to protect your rights)?

They want their country back, alright—unfortunately it is the U.S. of the Gilded Age.

May 8, 2010

Rabid Right Attack Dogs

Part of the strategy to dismantle America’s middle class is to attack any person or agency that wants to help poor and middle income folks. Hence President Obama, who is a center-left politician, is a flaming liberal, a socialist, a radical to the attackers. Unions are dangerous agents of socialism. Organizations designed to help the poor manage their lives and participate in our democracy, like Acorn, are targeted with dirty trick campaigns and forced to close. Straw dogs are so prevalent, they have become a fire hazard and if ignited they will burn our house down. The cornerstones of the misinformation campaign are the Internet and right wing radio and television. These are the people who have claimed “left wing bias” so loudly about our traditional media sources, a claim that cannot be verified by any independent study, that people have believed that big lie. If our current media have proven anything is that they are pro income—they will do almost anything for money. I happen to like PBS a great deal and when I was commuting to work, I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition regularly. I was also perplexed to hear that the lead story most days of the week concerned Israel. I understood that when there were big stories coming from the Middle East, but often when there was no significant change in anything going on in Israel, there would be some sort of story near the top of the show. NPR didn’t try to hide anything, they were getting fairly large grants to report the news from Israel which meant they had money to cover events in Israel even when they had little money to cover anything else. As a listened I had been lulled into thinking that stories occurred in order of their importance, which is generally true, but the story you have because a grant allowed you to acquire it always trumps the story you don’t because all you have is a wire service (or now web-based) report.

Back to the role of the right wing drum beaters. Calling Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck and their ilk “entertainers” is a little like calling hoodlums who have ransacked your house “decorators.” Paying these guys premium wages to destroy our democracy under the guise of freedom of speech is really going to puzzle the social archeologists of the 22nd century. “Did they know that these guys were inflaming hatred and bias?” “Why did they allow them to do that?”

I was actually a fan of the Limbaugh show in the early 1990s, until Bill Clinton got elected and Limbaugh started titling his show with the tag “America Held Hostage, Day XX.” Huh? What happened to poking fun at Femi-Nazis, and pointy headed intellectuals (my people). As I listened and paid more attention, Limbaugh’s bias became more vitriolic and more unhinged from reality. Several people reported calling his show to correct stories he had gotten wrong and no such corrections were forthcoming. That’s when I stopped listening. I firmly believe that “the truth shouldn’t get in the way of a good story,” but that only applies to fiction and jokes, not politics.

Glen Beck, Limbaugh’s successor, as the crown prince of right wing attack dogs is hard to watch. I can’t imagine Jonathan Swift or Douglas Adams inventing thoughts such as this man is capable of. Bizarre connections between the attacked and anything with the label bad on it (socialism, being weak, being un-American, etc.) trip off of his tongue. I don’t imagine anyone can actually follow his tortured arguments, they are left with just President Obama Something Bad as a conclusion. At least the magicians of my youth had the courtesy to say “nothing up this sleeve, nothing up this sleeve, and voila” when they pulled a rabbit out of nowhere, but Beck chugs along merrily as if he is establishing a rock solid chain of argument. Amazing. And these guys get millions of dollars to undermine our country.

So, Limbaugh begets Beck, Beck pushes Limbaugh to new heights. The Obama administration is now a “regime,” behavior that was lauded when George W. Bush was president is now condemned and, because these diatribes are so successful in mobilizing the Republican “base,” Republicans in Washington are borrowing from their playbook. Republican leaders in Washington refer to centrist policy offerings as “dangerous socialist” policies. The health care plan, centered on big business insurance companies, is “experimental” and “socialist.” The president is called a liar in open meetings by duly elected representatives who then use that fact to raise money for their re-election campaigns.

What ever happened to “My country, right or wrong?” What ever happen to “Country First?” What ever happened to civility? All of these used to be right wing clarion calls.

Apparently they don’t pay and they don’t polarize; that’s what happened. The fact that such behavior is un-American apparently escapes these people.

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