Class Warfare Blog

August 9, 2017

A Modern Quandary

I have been reading “Sociology is a Martial Art: Political Writings by Pierre Bourdieu.” This is puzzling to me because I haven’t been having any trouble sleeping, so why would I want to read a sociology text? (Sorry, old joke.)

In a context different from the one I will address in this post ( his was the impact of television), Professor Bourdieu wrote “How can I reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number?” His concern was that the primary function of television seemingly was to dumb down even simple discussions. Here I want to address the topic of the anti-evolution crowd and the anti-climate change crowd.

Without specialized training, it is hard to follow the science in these fields. I have a graduate degree in chemistry and I am not versed in the nuances of either subject (although I guess I could create a small summary of each). So, without esoteric training, how are the citizens in a democracy supposed to assess the validity of such concepts.

We could start with having better basic education, explaining that a scientific theory is a mechanism that explains a great many facts as well as makes predictions available to expand out knowledge. Currently people use the word theory as a synonym for “wild ass guess.” “I have a theory about that …” they will say. No, they don’t. At best they have an hypothesis and more likely they have a guess that is poorly substantiated at best. To say one has a “theory” makes one sound better than to say “I have a guess as to….”

It also does not help that each topic has a cadre of sociopolitical opponents. If the Theory of Evolution is correct, all of fundamentalist Christianity and most of doctrinaire Christianity is off to a rubbish heap somewhere. Basically, if God didn’t created humanity magically, we couldn’t have “rebelled” against his authority, so there was no original sin, and hence nothing for the human sacrifice that was Jesus to absolve. (Bye, bye!)

Climate change has political opponents who have economic stakes at risk. The Koch brothers fund anti-climate change efforts to protect their oil refining, oil pipeline, and other industries, while David Koch supports NOVA science education programs on PBS, including programs on climate change (possibly as a suppressing maneuver?).

So, ordinary citizens are left to evaluate what appears to them to be a propaganda war. “Scientists” have lied to them before as have businessmen, so it is hard to decide which side of either of these debates is trustworthy.

I find the argument that climate change was invented for scientists to be able to secure grants for their work (It is a hoax!). Whoever invented this red herring obviously has never interacted with scientists, each of which has a big ego, and the first of them to discover such a plot would gleefully expose his colleagues to shame and humiliation for participating in it. Most scientists minored in gloating in college.

So, what’s a citizen to do?

I think part of the problem has to do with the evidence not being on display. I hear Christian apologists often ask the question: Where are the transitional fossils? This questions goes back to the time of Charles Darwin when there was a very sparse fossil record. The key facts that the public needs to know is that fossils do not form all that often, so are passably rare and that with regard to transitional fossils, fossils that show one species transitioning to another, there are large numbers of them available. Maybe a video (to reach the masses) needs to me made of the amount of evidence underlying the Theory of Evolution. The amount of evidence, from many, many different and unrelated fields of science is incredibly vast. Just a list of peer-reviewed articles supporting the theory scrolling on like the credits of a Hollywood movie (like they do on TV, at super high speeds) would take hours. Flashing photos of all of the fossils that apply to animals no longer in existence but which fit into the evolutionary family tree of Earth, would also take quite a long time (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 3008, 3009, …).

The same could be true for Climate Change. We could run publicity shots of the smiling faces of the scientists in the field who support the tentative conclusion that humanity is contributing to the current round of climate change (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 178, 179, …). Then the photos of those reputable scientists who oppose the current consensus on climate change could have their photos flashed (blink, blink, blink).

There is no way ordinary citizens could be brought up to speed on these topics through educating them, because even with the head start in such training I have, I do not want to put in the effort. Instead, I trust the scientists in their field to represent their findings correctly (to the best of their ability) and I trust the egos of their colleagues to prick any intellectual bubbles that are flimsy or unfounded.

Another route might be to create an independent evaluation board to provide basic explanations of science topics to legislators and citizens. The Town of Brisbane, Australia did this a while back (don’t know whether they still do) when they created the office of Town Scientist whose job it was to explain scientific topics to the town governing board and citizens of the Town of Brisbane. For the longest time the State of California had an independent political official whose job was to explain issues voters needed to address and that office was never politicized or demeaned, and it worked really well for quite some time (don’t know whether it still does).

This is a modern problem, because back when “governance” was by autocrats/monarchs, they didn’t give a fig about whether the people understood or not. Ironically, it was the advent of merchants (aka business people) who accumulated wealth (aka power) enough to make it important that a wider swath of a country’s population be made to understand governmental decisions. With the advent of modern democracy, issues are now submitted to the ballot and candidates for office are voted upon, too. We need to figure out how to “reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number” and we need to do it fast. Life ain’t gonna get simpler.

April 23, 2017

A Vision of Rational Decision Making Denied

In a comment on another site, I stated that I had an overarching goal for my teaching “career,” which was the promotion of rational decision making and that I retired from that profession a defeated man. In my last post I commented that “Currently scientists are seeing that we tend to think better in groups, that no individual has all of the puzzle pieces but in communication with others, clusters of puzzle pieces get formed, and then clusters combine to make larger clusters.” We are social animals; we work better in groups. Now we find that we even think better in groups.

My work on rational decision making lead me to this same conclusion. You see, we invested in “interest-based decision making.” This came about as an investigation of less confrontational collective bargaining processes, but we realized it applied to all collective decisions.

I will not bore you with regard to the details of this process but I will point out two of the keystones. The first is that at the beginning of every decision-making process was a complete investigation of “the problem.” Before a problem could be addressed, everyone needed to know what it was and understand it, so this took up much of the “decision-making time.” It also paid immediate benefits. Groups did come together to “address an issue” only to find out that when they tried to clarify it, all involved decided it was not a problem. In one case labor and management came together to solve a problem only to find out that for management, there was no problem, that the problem that labor had to resolve. Management offered support but felt it was not a “stakeholder” in the issue, so should not be making any decisions about it. Labor concurred.

The second keystone was before solutions to identified problems were explored, the “interests” of all of the people involved had to be shared. These were the conditions and reasons that any solution had to satisfy to be viable. Typically, all solutions had to be affordable, had to not break laws, etc. But when exploring the interests of a group, interests like “being seen to be playing fair” arose, as did “fulfilling fiduciary responsibilities,” and “displaying competence.” This part of the process was called “putting the why before the what.” This was especially important for people just “wanting to have a seat at the table,” to be involved. Many people want to be involved, but if the do not have any interests a solution needs to satisfy, they aren’t a stakeholder and do not need to be involved.

This process seems, from the outside, to be cumbersome and it can be but is actually very efficient over time. Over time, the interests of groups become clear and known. People show up to interactions having clarified their idea and have brought any data they think pertinent (usually sharing it ahead of time) as to what problems are so that phase can be addressed rapidly. The big plus is that the solutions that come out of this process are just better. they are more accepted by the decision-making group, who share their acceptance widely and that gets people on board and buying in more rapidly. And better solutions need less tweaking and last longer, a definite bonus. Plus, it was easier to recognize good solutions, because to get that label, an idea had to solve the problem and meet all of the interests of the parties involved.

One example of such a solution is that my last employer, a $150 million a year enterprise, never negotiated salaries with labor. The reason? Each labor segment of the enterprise received a percentage of the income of the business. If revenue went up, everyone got raises. If revenue went down, salaries could go down, but in reality, people were motivated to find cost savings so that did not happen but the process was in place if it had to. As a labor negotiator, I was shocked that labor gave up negotiating salary because that was our “big hammer.” We would always save salaries until last and negotiate working conditions, et. al., first. If we were denied any progress in the early stages, the wage demands would get larger and firmer. This was Negotiating 101. But here I saw management and labor jointly trying to solve problems without the “big hammer” hanging over their heads, because they honestly wanted to be good partners and be part of the solutions, not part of the problems. Go figure.

Contrast this situation with the way we “solve problems” politically. We start with a solution. This is often a proposal or a bill. Then we “score the bill,” that is try to figure out what the costs associated with the “solution” are. Then we assess the political viability of the bill. Will there be enough votes to pass it? Will the President sign it? Is a veto override possible?

At no point is there any effort made in sharing the problem or clarifying it for a wider audience. Instead, some simple homily is offered. Often the titles of the bills are telling, “The American Patriot Act” and “The Affordable Car Act,” or “No Child Left Behind.” And that is it. A great deal of scurrying around to get “support” from this group or that is done, but next a vote is taken (or not).

This is amazingly obfuscatory. Historically, communication was poor, so we assumed that our legislators had our best interests at heart and that they understood what the problem and the solution were and would do the right thing. Right. We quickly saw that political deal making and pandering and profiteering held more sway than some “having our best interests at heart.” But we still go about this in the same fashion even though mass communication is firmly embedded in our society.

Imagine that for any problem that legislation might be offered to solve, there were a period in which the problem had to be clarified and explained clearly and publicly. Plus the interests of all parties involved would have to be stated. If some private group, like the AMA wanted to chime in, it would have to state its interests. If that list did not include some obvious interests we know they held, then it would be clear to one and all that that group had “hidden agendas.” Those issues could then enter the public debate. (Anyone who thinks that the AMA does not have an agenda to protect the employment rights of certified doctors and prevent any doctor not so certified from working, needs to think again. All professional societies have these interests.) Then after these two phases have occurred a work group would be constituted to write the legislation. (We think better together than apart.) We would not have dueling bills, we would have one. That no one party would get all that they desire is probably the norm. That better solutions would be had than just taking the ideas of one or two people and ramming them through, would also be the norm.

Part of the listing of interests, of course, would be a listing of the “campaign contributions” from all parties affected by the legislation to the legislators.

I guess you can see why I feel defeated. I have participated in both processes. One builds relationships, increases job satisfaction amongst decision makers, and creates better solutions that last longer. The other … doesn’t. It is not as if we do not know how.

January 7, 2017

A Thought About the Universal Basic Income, Feminism, and “Family Values”

I just had a massive collision in my mind while reading about the possibilities of having a Universal Basic Income. It was caused by three things colliding simultaneously (a very rare feat, even in physics): the idea of a universal basic income, the feminist idea of a wage for “homemakers,” and a smattering of conservative family values.

As you may recall, conservatives have this ideal family meme that appears to be out of the 1950’s. Mom and Dad live with their two children, a boy and girl, in a lovely home with green grass and a white picket fence defining its perimeter. Dad goes to work, Mom stays at home, raising the kids and caring for the home and Dad. They go, of course, to a protestant church and the kids attend good schools and all is well.

This ideal had a massive dent put in it during the reign of … wait for it … President Ronald Regan. It wasn’t exactly his fault, but Presidents get more of the credit and so get more of the blame, so that principle applies. The lifestyle of middle class Americans had become so eroded and RR had increased taxes enough on everyone (to pay for the tax cuts for the rich)—many people forget about Reagan’s massive tax increases, especially in payroll taxes (which do not affect the wealthy much)—that many “homemakers” found themselves in the workforce and no longer “at home moms.”

Feminists, on the other hand, showed us that women were trapped in this model family, in a role of caretaker for husband and children, with little power over their own lives and family directions. (Studies showed that as women earned more and more money starting in the Reagan years, they had more and more say over the family money.)

So, if conservatives really wanted to support their so-called “family values” (that is, were that support not a scam), why not give all women who have “under 18” children at home, a Universal Basic Income? This would recognize important work the government, that is all of the people, want done well—raising the next generation of citizens. It would clear a lot of people out of the job markets who really would rather not work (at least during this time), which would expand employment opportunities for other people. It would provide for the possibility of the better raising of kids, and it would reduce the wear and tear on mothers, eliminating their need to work, while allowing them to work if they wish but not requiring them to work, if they wish.

This would be “universal” only in that it would apply to all mothers.

And, yes, I can hear the conservative’s heads exploding that such a system would incentivize the lazy and shiftless to keep popping out babies in order to continue on the dole. Obviously, some standards of care for children need to be applied to avoid obvious abuse, but such situations would be rare, very rare, and the idea itself is colored by the imaginations of conservatives, because when they think of such hypothetical people, they are invariably black or brown. They will need to get over this and come up with useful ways to avoid having children abused for economic gain, something conservatives reserve for their charter schools.

Make it work, people! You can do it!

August 7, 2016

Fighting Against the Obvious

It was recently pointed out that a noted economist (Dani Rodrik) has often argued that “markets and states are complements, not substitutes.” Well, duh. It is clear, at least to sociologists if not economists, that without governments there isn’t enough trust in societies to engage in any sort of extensive commerce. Before government control of markets (modern markets, not medieval fairs) most market transactions were more akin to how major drug deals are portrayed in the movies … <cue the edgy music track>: two men with briefcases approach one another, one stuffed with cash, one with drugs. They inspect both to make sure that it was what was agreed upon and not adulterated (e.g. counterfeit currency, counterfeit or diluted drugs). All the while each has guards in place in case anyone wants to pull a heist. Most transactions, even for bunches of carrots were like this: face-to-face with items of equal value being exchanged.

“An obvious conclusion is that for there to be globalization, an expansion of
economic markets to include ever larger groups of countries, you need
more government, not less.”

Even with governmental controls, most transactions had some of this flavor. As late as U.S. Revolutionary times, England had laws requiring some of the commodity being bought being necessarily transferred when the contract was signed (a sheep, a sheaf of wheat, whatever was being bought). This made international commerce somewhat restricted.

Only with governmental security of the contracts, with the force only a government could supply, could make modern markets work at all.

An obvious conclusion is that for there to be globalization, an expansion of economic markets to include ever larger groups of countries, you need more government, not less.

The Republicans and Corporate Democrats (Is there much left of those two parties when you pull out those groups?) are all backers of “globalization” because their paymasters are. (It has been claimed that if the plutocrats didn’t want globalization, the term wouldn’t even exist.) The latest effort to instill more globalization is the TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership which is a pact often compared to NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Act. The TPP which will be rammed home shortly on a tidal wave of corporate money actually says very little about trade but, of course, it is still is referred to as a “free trade treaty” between the Pacific rim countries that are involved. So, if it isn’t about “free trade” what is it about? It largely is a corporate rights document, empowering corporations and disempowering governments. (It was written by the corporations themselves, with no help whatsoever from the uncooperative “public.”)

So, what the corporate backers of the TPP, and their lackeys in the GOP and Democratic Party, are trying to establish is the equivalent to “more globalization with less government.”

As has been shown by economists, not overtly because they, too, receive their funding from the plutocrats, these “treaties” are “good” for the economies of the countries involved. What they don’t bother to point out is who specifically is the reaper of those benefits of the benefits of such deals that accrue. It turns out that these treaties are hugely beneficial to corporations and rich people and hugely harmful for the poor and middle classes.

We often hear about the millions of jobs that have been lost to Mexico because of NAFTA. What we don’t hear about are the millions of jobs Mexico has lost to us. Our cheaper agricultural goods have wiped out many Mexican farmers who have then tried to get across the border to find work in the U.S., thus straining our immigration systems. The jobs move quickly from place to place, but we don’t have the same mobility. If your job moves to Viet Nam, will you follow it?

The TPP is of the same ilk. The rich will get much richer, after all they are few. And the poor and the middle class will become even poorer. But that is their lot in life, no?

This is a form of redistribution of wealth of which conservatives approve. This is why they are willing to ignore the obvious (more globalization requires more government, not less). It is all about the money and really nothing else and the rich, they just don’t have enough of it.

In all such cases in which a tiny majority runs roughshod over a much larger majority, it ends poorly, often with the tiny majority trampled by the many. Can this turn out any other way? When will we begin? (Personally I would like to spare them. They have proven, though, that they cannot be trusted with so much wealth. If we want to save them, we need to tax them back to civility.)

July 30, 2016

Will Anyone Notice?

In this country we have a centuries long commitment to educational fads. We no sooner dump one fad than to embrace another. We have a kind of Pony Express approach to education reform, which unlike the Pony Express, doesn’t really go anywhere.

So, for quite some time here in the U.S. the fad has been “technology in the classroom” which has been recently boosted by a commitment to quite unnecessary group testing which is often computer-based, even though the students being tested often do not have sufficient computer skills.

Well, a recent OECD study (“Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection”) has found that despite billions of dollars of frantic government spending, where information and communications technologies are used, their impact on student performance has been “mixed, at best,” in the words of the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher. “In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools,” said Schleicher. “We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.” and “Technology in the classroom has so far had little positive effect on childhood learning.”

It also found that children may learn best with analog tools first before later adding digital platforms, and that a few hours per week of classroom screen time may be optimal for children, beyond which learning benefits drop off to diminishing, or even negative, returns (my emphasis).

I suspect that in this country, our politicians will listen more to the commercial hawkers of “education technologies” than they will researchers and that we will continue to waste billions of dollars and megahours of student effort, thus harming students, for decades to come.

The irony is the general recognition in this country of the superior educational system of Finland, which bases its educational practices on research, American educational research in the most. But we do not follow, we lead … because we are e-x-c-e-p-t-i-o-n-a-l! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

July 9, 2016

Why Are We Spending Billions to Get the “Bad Teachers” Out but Nothing to get the “Bad Cops” Out?

Filed under: Culture,History,Morality,Politics,Race,The Law — Steve Ruis @ 12:15 pm
Tags: , , ,

There is a false narrative, aka a lie, doing the rounds in our culture: our schools are failing because of “bad teachers.” As a consequence billions of dollars have been spent by our federal and state governments to create systems and testing instruments to identify the “bad teachers” so we can get them out.

I suspect that many, if not most, cops are decent people who have no more prejudices than average citizens, but there are more than a few who are racists and they are killing Black folks for trivial reasons (a common one is having a taillight out on your car, but then there is holding a toy gun in a toy store, playing with a toy gun in a public park (a child!), talking “sass” to an officer, driving while Black, and many more).

So, where are the billions in federal incentive money to get police departments to adopt uniform standards? Where are the testing services lining up claiming they can identify the bad apples so we can “get ’em out?” Where are the community policing choice programs? Where are the charter police departments?

Teachers aren’t shooting people, why are we so focused on them?

(Psst . . . follow the money.)

June 20, 2016

Running Government Like a Business and Delegation

It is a common trope in politics that we should “run our government like we run our businesses.” Since the GOP is putting up a businessman to run for president, maybe we should look at this idea.

Basically the idea has little, if any, merit. What do those claiming this chestnut is good advice mean? That we should make our government run at a profit? That we should sell shares? (This seems to have already been done, with politician’s votes substituting for stock certificates.) The U.S. government has run a loss on its accounts for the past century with only a few exceptions. No corporation could do that (although seemed to be trying). No corporation has the ability to print money, either.

A major aspect of business management is the art of delegation: one gives a task to another and steps back to allow them to do it. It is Republicans most often declining to use this technique. Oh, it should be emphasized that after good delegators delegate a task, they don’t go off to the side and close their eyes and plug their ears. They check on the project’s progress. In fact, you must check on a delegated task from time to time to see if it is going okay. Failing to do this often leads to disappointment. This is standard business practice.

Take, for example, the longest running school voucher program in the country. Republicans have touted “school choice” as an exemplary way to cure our failing schools, offering no evidence of either the failure or the reasons why vouchers should work (arguments, yes; evidence, no). This longest running experiment in school vouchers is in Milwaukee, WI.

According to a recent post on Diane Ravich’s Blog “Michael R. Ford, a professor of public administration at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, reports that 41% of private schools that received vouchers have closed their doors since the inception of the voucher program (my emphasis SR). Milwaukee has the nation’s oldest voucher program, and anyone looking for the miracle of school choice should look elsewhere. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Milwaukee continues to be one of the nation’s lowest performing urban districts. Milwaukee has had charters and vouchers for 25 years—two generations of students. If charters and vouchers were the answer to the problems of students and schools in urban districts, Milwaukee should be a shining star of student success. It is not.”

Ford writes: “Forty-one percent of all private schools that participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) between 1991 and 2015 failed. I do not mean failed as in they did not deliver academically, I mean failed as in they no longer exist. These 102 schools either closed after having their voucher revenue cut off by the Department of Public Instruction, or simply shut their doors. The failure rate for entrepreneurial start-up schools is even worse: 67.8 percent.”

So, have any of the legislative delegators in Wisconsin followed up to see if their Grand Experiment in School Choice has worked? Apparently not. Should not evaluation plans be included in all such authorization plans? If we were to run our government as a business, we would, now wouldn’t we? Running schools as if they were businesses mean they can fail and fail they do. And what happens to the kids in these failed schools? (Figure it out, it is not hard. After the money to educate those kids was spent by the failed charters and private schools, those kids were poured back into the public system without the funds to educate them.)

The GOP doesn’t want to run the country as a business. This is yet another smoke screen to distract our attention away from what they are actually doing: running the government as a Ponzi Scheme.

March 28, 2016

Further Notes on the Desire for a Christian Nation

Some of the religious in this country claim that we are a “Christian Nation” and should be declared to be so. To support their claim they argue that we were born as a Christian Nation. Were we “born” as a Christian nation? Just what do they mean, though? I have some further thoughts on this interesting claim.

It is undeniable that many of the colonies that became the United States declared themselves to be Christian states as did many of the cities residing in those states. Just what did this look like, though? Some of these states had laws requiring attendance at worship services, for example. Apostates were not allowed to hold public office. Many had laws making “blasphemy” punishable. Some had religious toleration laws, though, but they didn’t extend to Catholics or Jews. Being a dissenter was punishable in some states (if you weren’t burned alive in your church before the law got onto you). Some colonies and even some of the Constitutionally-created states collected “tithes” for distribution to the state religion. (Why “pass the plate” when you can use governmental confiscatory power?) All of these were eventually dispensed with for some reason or other.

The fly in the ointment and the eventual undoing of this sort of religious support was the problem of denominations. If the United States was to become a single political entity, which of the various denominations would become the “state sponsored religion?” Was it to be the Unitarians, or the Congregationalists, Quakers, Anglicans, Lutherans, or…. What about the Jews and Catholics?

If you were to take this practice into our modern era, what would it look like? Democratically, we could solve the problem of choosing which denomination of Christianity to support by choosing them all. Each would receive part of the government tithe according to the relative numbers of members of each of those sects. The first problem would be determining those numbers. We have an authorized process, the Census, that occurs every ten years to make such counts, but by what criteria? Do we allow people to self select? Then do we list the tens of thousands of Christian sects to choose from or do we narrow those choices? Do we let the religious groups themselves determine their own numbers of believers? That would probably end up with totals exceeding the entire population of the country by a large margin as Christians are well-known to be cheaters. (Hey, that is not an opinion, just a fact. Otherwise how can you have 98.2% of all Catholic women volunteering that they have used the artificial birth control methods banned by their church? How can you explain the overwhelming numbers of Christians in our prisons? I could go on; don’t make me.) I don’t think that would work as a way to determine each denomination’s share of the loot. I won’t even address how the various sects would want their denomination’s share to be distributed as that would be even more confounding.

The next problem would come when evangelicals find out that part of their tithes is going to Catholics. Catholics constitute the largest share of the membership in Christian churches, so they would get the largest share of the tithe. Mormons also claim to be Christians, so evangelicals would be supporting Mormons.

The history that shows that religions get fat and lazy and more autocratic when living off the government teat is another problem in that a religion that does not support the current government when receiving government funds will soon find their authority being nibbled away by offended bureaucrats and party loyalists. Anti-establishment religions would soon change their tune or fade away.

Now, what share of this government tithe should atheists and non-believers get? A great many Christian apologists claim that atheism is a religion, so…. And, of course, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Hindus, etc. are not Christians, so they would be frozen out (presumably along with the Atheists). And since this would not be “taxation without representation” as they have had representatives, just Christian representatives, they would have no gripe there or will there be a call for representatives by religion? And one might want to be a bit more respectful of American citizens who are not Christians. Do we really want to be undermining their loyalty to the USA?

Maybe we should limit the tithe to just the Christian citizens. But then you would see a mass exodus from Christian churches by people wanting to avoid the tithe. Ouch, that would hurt.

Hey, you religious, do you really want a Christian Nation?

Now about the changes we would need to make to our laws. What penalty should there be for taking the Lord’s name in vain? What exactly does that mean, anyway? If you pray for divine intervention and nothing happens, isn’t that prayer in vain? Should that be punished? I am getting confused here.

May 7, 2014

A Conservative Cultural Conundrum

In the U.S. we have created a “pay as you go” society. Every individual is supposed to “earn” enough money to pay his “bills” in support of his existence. Obviously we don’t extend this requirement to children or people with severe disabilities but able-bodied adults all have this requirement. (Anybody who is a child or is severely disabled must have a sponsor who earns enough to pay their way, though.) The conundrum is that if “pay as you go” is to be the basis for our society, everyone should earn their continuing existence, that is everyone should have a job. To deny anyone a job is to condemn them to a shadow existence or even death.

So, the conservative outlook should be embracing requiring folks to pay their own way through work but conservatives do not; they instead simply claim that people unable to find work possess a moral failing and tsk, tsk “those people.”

This is in sharp contrast with my upbringing. My parents (both Republicans) had each of their three children doing “chores” from quite an early age: school work had the highest priority, but household chores were not far behind. As a small child I had responsibility for assisting with the dinner table set up or break down (the dreaded “doing the dishes” but later cooking, too), which was expanded to include mowing the lawn and weeding the gardens, and while in high school I cleaned the common areas of the house (vacuuming and dusting, etc.) weekly in addition to keeping my own room clean and all of the rest. It was made clear that I had to contribute to the total effort of supporting the family.

Upon graduation from college I was gainfully employed for 35 years. Others are not as lucky. Through accidents of circumstances (such as poverty, lack of parental support, etc.) and mistakes such as failing to take their educations seriously or other big mistakes, their employment skill sets are such that they have fewer employment opportunities than others have. This is exasperated by the fact that our society is not post-racial in that hiring studies show that our black and brown citizens are hired less frequently, even with the same or even better qualifications than white applicants. And sometimes it is just crushing indifference in the system. An older worker loses his job in an economic downturn and then no one wants to hire them because they’d rather invest training in a younger employee who could serve them longer. The ultimate insult is to not be hired because you have been “out of work too long,” a logical position hard to support. Would not such a person be desperate for a job, be inclined to keep their head down for fear of losing their job, be loyal to the employer who gave them a second chance? Surely our experience with the Great Depression proved that. As just one example, my best friend’s father, having lived through the Great Depression, worked for forty years in a job he did not like because he had the attitude that having a job was a good thing. He did not take a single sick day in those forty years. Now he might be criticized for not looking around for a better job but he cannot be criticized for not doing the one he had.

So, conservatives are in the incredibly shaky moral position of wanting a “pay as you go system” but also in favor of large numbers of people being out of work so they cannot pay their bills. Would it not be a better conservative position to provide labor for these folks through useful public works? Surely our roads and bridges need a great deal of repair and I don’t see any corporations stepping up to volunteer to fix them for free. There is a great deal of work needed doing and would not all of us be better off if all were gainfully employed and paying taxes rather than stressing the abilities of charities and governmental safety nets?

Conservatives answer “no” to that because that is “socialism” which is just name calling. They don’t go further and explain why that is “bad,” it just is. What if we were to call it “workism” or maybe “pay as you go-ism” or “responsible work-ism?” or maybe “no freeloading-ism?” Would that help? Would it, conservatives?

April 4, 2014

I’ve Had All I Can Stands, I Can’t Stands No More!

Leave it to me to quote Popeye the Sailor, maybe I should have used the “I’m mad as Hell, and I won’t take it any more!” line from the movie Network, but Popeye is good, so….

Recently I have been involved in a project involving looking up a great many websites of summer camps. I am amazed at how many summer camps, often free of charge, are available for economically disadvantaged kids, kids with cancer, kids with physical disabilities, kids with mental disabilities, kids who were subjects of abuse, kids who have lost a parent, kids who have survived burns and amputations, etc. Most of these camps have a few paid staff and myriad volunteers.

At the same time my partner has become involved in a leadership institute designed to help young school kids develop leadership skills, skills that will help themselves and their fellow students. In looking around, this city is a hot bed of volunteer organizations.

So, why do people volunteer their time and also gift their money to these organizations? It seems to me these folks, this really huge number of ordinary citizens, are trying to make the world a better place for others, especially for kids.

Contrast that effort, of myriad very busy modern folks devoting their spare time and money in helping others, to the efforts of our current crop of plutocrats (Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson, Charles and David Koch, etc.) who are spending small portions of their fortunes, which are actually very large quantities of money, in getting the political system to do what they want: basically to allow them to make even more money.

Take Sheldon Adelson: his big issues are the future of the state of Israel, opposition to online gambling, and opposition to unions. Mr. Adelson is in the casino business, so he wants the politicians he bribes, er … supports, to oppose any expansion of online gambling as that would effect his bottom line. And because he is a big business man, he opposes unions (Nevada, the casino state, is a “right to work” state which is a strange euphemism for “unions are illegal state.”) Being against unions is basically opposing ordinary working people’s ability to share in the wealth being created by their labor. Over the last forty years, union membership has declined in the U.S. (but not at all in neighboring Canada; a coincidence, eh?) through various efforts lead by plutocratic money, and as union membership declined, so did middle class wages. Today the average middle class worker makes a bit over $50,000 per year. Forty years ago, the average middle class worker made a bit over $50,000 per year (corrected for inflation). In that same time period, the wealth and income of the business owners nearly doubled.

Mr. Gates has paid for the current “Common Core State Standards” effort as a reform of public schools. That these standards were not written by teachers and parents and students, but were written by people in the “ed biz” (textbook companies, testing companies, charter school management companies) tells you that, no matter Mr. Gates’s motivations, the motivations of the people behind that effort is to “make money off of the public schools.” Since the Great Recession of 2008, funding of public schools has dropped significantly and no one to date has explained how extracting even more money out of the formerly non-profit public schools system to pay for the goods these folks are selling (charter school management services, computer systems, free rent for charter schools, expensive testing systems, curriculum materials, etc.) helps make that system better. If you were to ask any struggling business owner whether they would prefer some real help or help that drains his company of needed resources while doing very little, how do you think he would respond?

On top of all that, you need to know that public schools, even with all of their “handicaps,” are outperforming private schools, charter schools, etc. The common knowledge that “public schools are failing; we all know that” is a big lie, part of a propaganda campaign to get the plutocrat’s profit-taking foot in the door.

The Koch brothers are against corporate welfare, they say so right out of their own mouths. (Good on them, mate.) But they are buying politicians right and left to make sure that no new climate change or environmental legislation gets through Congress or the state houses because the Koch brothers make the bulk of their profits by polluting the air, water, and ground we all share. If those abilities were restricted, then they might only make a few billion dollars a year rather than many billions more.

So, volunteers of the middle class are spending their efforts trying to make their worlds a better place for their friends and neighbors and the plutocrats are spending their time and effort and a great deal of money to make more money.

I’ve had all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!

I will no longer do business with the plutocrats: I will not shop at Wal-Mart, I will not buy products made by the Koch brothers (there are quite a few brands, Goggle a list). I will not vote for candidates who receive money from them or their surrogates. I will not watch any political commercials as I want them to waste their money spreading their lies.

We need to get the money out of our politics. We need to reduce the effect of money in our society. We must oppose the plutocrats at home, in the streets, and in the ballot boxes. If we do not, all of those volunteer efforts will be wasted as the big issues will overwhelm the small. Climate change is a hoax only in this country; have you ever wondered why? Could it be that there is too much money at stake in the richest country in the world to allow it to be real. Do we have to wait until the people of Miami are under eight feet of water to say “gosh, maybe there is something to this.” Wake up people, the opposition to Climate Change is funded by big energy companies (like Koch Industries and Duke Energy) and politicians who can barely spell climate change let alone survey the evidence to come up with a reasoned position. (Even if they did, they’re “agin it” as they have been paid to be so.)

If you volunteer some of your time to try to make the world better, try volunteering your time to oppose these plutocratic efforts to rob us and our children of a better future.

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