Uncommon Sense

July 2, 2022

The Two Party Choice—Between Despicable Republicans and Impotent Democrats

I have been thinking about the stolen seat on the SCOTUS recently, During this debacle, the Senate Republicans refused to do their duty, advising and consenting to President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, Merrick Garland, and the Democrats sat by the side wringing their hands. So, what would I have done?

Here is a description of the role of the Vice-president of the U.S. with regard to the U.S. Senate: the Constitution names the vice president of the United States as the president of the Senate. In addition to serving as presiding officer, the vice president has the sole power to break a tie vote in the Senate and formally presides over the receiving and counting of electoral ballots cast in presidential elections.

Hmm, “in addition to serving as presiding officer.” At the time, the VP of the U.S. was Joe Biden, a long-term Senator who knew the rules of the Senate inside out. I would have sent the VP up to the Senate every day that it was in session to take up his job as “presiding officer.” Sure, that has never been done before, but the Senate has never refused to consider a Supreme Court nomination like that before.

Biden’s job then would be to declare every topic the Senate chose to address as being out of order, until the president’s SCOTUS nominee was addressed. The Senate might have responded by doing absolutely nothing for that year plus and whining about the Democrat’s blocking any action being taken, but the reason for the Democrats “blockade” would have been in the news every single day. Their meme would be “Senators, do your job!” Americans are required to do their jobs to earn their salaries. How far would an average American get by picking and choosing what they will and won’t do out of what they were hired to do? Two weeks notice?

Everyday, day in and day out. “Out of order!” is the mantra of the Presiding Officer of the U.S. Senate. Maybe this would not work, but at least the Democrats would be seen as at least fighting unfair behavior on the part of their opponents.

Consider now that the GOP has stacked the court with incompetents who will vote their way. (I say incompetents because they find it necessary to lie and misrepresent situations, ignoring provided facts, to have their way.) They have just got what they claimed was the goal 50 years ago, the repeal of Roe v. Wade. And the Democrats have responded to questions of what will they do now with “What can we do?” The GOP spent 50 years plotting and working to reverse Roe v. Wade and when they finally do, we find out that the Dems have spent that 50 years doing what? Fund raising on the threat? Wringing their hands? Having only 50 years to prepare has left them flat-footed, unable to respond.

It is clear that we need two new political parties: one not steeped in lies and deceit, the other focused upon being effective for the American people they represent.

I imagine the wealthy people actually in charge of this country are welcoming the distraction from their real interests, their economic instructs. While we are bemoaning a rogue SCOTUS’s actions, the plutocrats are trying mightily to blame the current state of inflation on wages that are too high and employment that is too high. It is based upon neither, but facts are not important now in political battles. They only need to get the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates excessively, which will slow growth (and probably create a recession) but that will slow hiring and reduce wage increases, which makes it okay with the plutocrats.

June 20, 2022

What Is In a Motto?

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am
Tags: ,

On July 30th, 1956  we dropped the unofficial motto of the United States, E Pluribus Unum (translation “from many, one”) and adopted the motto, In God We Trust.

How has that been working out, do you think?

Well, a recent Gallup poll showed that 81% of U.S. adults say they believe in God, down six points from 2017 and the lowest percentage since the poll first asked the question in 1944.

On the unity front, we seem to be hearing many comments that the nation is more divided now than at any time since the Civil War period (1860-1865).

Gosh, do you think the changing of the motto caused all of this?

Oligarchs in Charge Now—Oligarchs in Charge Then

I think I have hammered away on my position that the wealthy are currently in charge of this country. Nothing happens of which they do not approve. They have bought the legislatures, the executives, and the courts. Whether I have convinced you of that I do not know, but I am going to expand upon my point by recognizing that each new generation (I am a Baby Boomer, the leading edge mind you) thinks they invented everything. My recognition that currently this country is run almost exclusively by the wealthy has been expanded. I now know that this country has always been run by the wealthy.

I have just started a fascinating book “Founding Finance” which has the subtitle “How Debt, Speculation, Foreclosures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation.” I have barely begun but have swallowed already their main point. The “Founding Fathers” were the oligarchs of the day and were determined to shape the country to their liking.

There were signs I recognized earlier but hadn’t put together. For example, the FFs were terrified of actual democracy, possibly with good reason, and included many anti-democratic elements in the Constitution. For example, voters were, of course, white, male, and property owners. They saw themselves as the logical class to steer the nation, rather than the “middling sort.” The term “middling sort” referred to artisans, craftspeople, etc. People who worked with their hands but not doing simple labor. The fact that the term existed at that time exposes some of the thought processes of the elites who ended up crafting the rules by which we operate. Those of the middling sort might own their smithy, or their print shop, but that was not enough property to get into the club.

That to vote, you needed to own a nontrivial amount of property made sure that property ownership would be protected. Many of the FFs and later “heroes of the republic,” e.g. Davy Crocket, were land speculators. Many of the immigrants who came to this country in search of land to farm, etc. found that almost all of the available property had been scooped up by wealthy Americans, leaving them to work for wages if they could find work. (Europe had been “worked out” mostly in that there was barely enough arable land under cultivation to feed the population, so the idea of a vast land, open for exploitation was intoxication to many thinking of emigrating. But alas, all the lands were already deeded to said wealthy men.

How slaves were treated was at the behest of the wealthy. How the economy and banking was to be handled was determined by the wealthy. How justice was to be served was at the behest of the wealthy.

Oligarchs now, oligarchs then.

Oh, and many of the FFs were wealthy enough to loan substantial amounts of money to the fledgling republic. They were determined to have their debts repaid, so no debt absolution was in the offing. Also, debt was raised into an unassailable position in our economic culture. (Debts must be paid!)

Everything crafted by the FFs supported their position in the new government and culture. Anything capable of challenging their pre-eminence, e.g. religion, was defanged.

And today, we worship the Constitution as if it were some sort of secular sacred literature. The worst are the “strict constructionists” of the legal sort. This attitude is self-serving . . . if you represent the oligarchs . . . because if you want things the way the FFs wanted things, you want things the way oligarchs want things.

As I have criticized Christians for not reading their “inspired by God/word of god/holy scriptures” I think we, as American citizens have failed if we haven’t grappled with who it was who created the Constitution and what their motives were when they did that.

June 3, 2022

The Path We Are On

If you are concerned about why so much progress in our society is deadlocked, you may want to read this: The Singularity — How the American Techno-Oligarchy Will Fail

Here is a taste:

The primary problem for oligarchs is that the rich and powerful have no perspective, no way to obtain it, and a high level of greed and arrogance. We see evidence of this every day in the media that they own. Becoming an oligarch is mostly the result of key variables that have nothing at all to do with vision or ability: exploitation of public funding and a highly unjust economic system, being born at the right time in the right place, and a whopping dose of luck.

To put things in perspective, lets start by admitting that Jobs, Gates, Musk, Thiel, Ellison, etc. are not remotely visionaries. They are talented businessmen selling other people’s decades-old visions in a wide range of colors and sizes. The visionaries that actually made their business empires possible are people like Ferraris, von Neumann, Gellius, Engelbart, and Anderson. Poorly-regulated capitalism, greed, corruption, an unreasonable belief in competition, and extreme wealth concentration have hindered the realization of their visions by decades — to the detriment of all.

June 2, 2022

The GOP’s Climate Change Strategy

The GOP has a simple strategy regarding any action to be taken to stem climate change: it is too expensive! Basically, they claim it will cost too much (and besides the scientific data are weak). Well, the scientific data are not weak. And, yes it will be expensive. But allow me an analogy to explain why “it will cost too much” is not an adequate defense.

Let us say that you noticed a strange odor in your basement and when you investigated you found what looked like a leak in your sewage pipes. So, you called a plumber and got an estimate and who boy! That was way too much money to pay for a repair. So, you decided that you would do nothing and hope for the best.

I assume you can guess what happens, sooner or later. A major sewage leak causes your entire basement to need cleaning by a professional service, along with an even higher plumbing bill.

Dealing with climate change now will be expensive. It will require some changes in our lives. But it will never be cheaper in the future. And, if you think that a techno-fix will solve the problem easily in the future, you haven’t been paying attention. Any number of techno-fixes have been suggested to date. None have been implement. Why? Take a guess . . . they were too expensive.

Remember the car repair commercial in which the greasy mechanic drops the line “Well, you can pay me now or pay me later”? The implication is that if you don’t fix your car now, it will cost more later. A transmission service now could stave off a transmission replacement later. A valve job now may stave off an engine replacement later, etc.

The cost of dealing with climate change just keeps going up. Waiting will not make dealing with it any less expensive.

So, the GOP’s rational for doing nothing is bogus, so why are they doing it? Well, their paymasters are making so much money under the current system to allow the boat to be rocked. So, like the NRA, they nix any legislation that will fix all or part of the problem.

May 9, 2022

Conservatives No More

I was reading a Medium post on the SCOTUS opinion leak and I ran across this: “In case you haven’t noticed, for the last six years, it has been conservatives consistently disrespecting all our treasured national institutions, precedents, and traditions, not liberals.”

Conservatives, going back to Edmund Burke, were originally trying to conserve things: things like foundational institutions, traditions, social structures, etc. They were inherently against change. They supported churches, the police, “Our Country Right or Wrong,” the military, prisons, schools (yes, schools). I remember arch conservative William F. Buckley saying “A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Occasionally I miss William F. Buckley; he was an honest conservative.

But as the original quote alluded to, recent conservatives seem only to be trying to conserve their political power, and the tool of choice is “the end justifies the means.” So, Republicans stiffing President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee, Merrick Garland, for no reason other than they wanted the power to appoint that replacement, was pulled out of their hat (or ass).

Then there was the Supreme Court, not yet at its full conservative packing level, declaring a number of nonsensical things. It declared certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act were no longer necessary. Sure those states had passed racial voter restrictive policies in the past, but that was the past and this is now. We can trust those states not to do those things again, because well they haven’t done those things in a long time. (Apparently the SCOTUS conservatives were ignoring that the courts didn’t allow those states to do those things as they violated the Voting Rights Act.) So, they abolished those silly, no longer necessary rules and within just days (hours?), a number of states started restricting the voting rights of minority groups. (Texas is nothing if not dependable.) So, did SCOTUS recognize their mistake and admit “Our bad!” and promise to fix it right away? No, what we got were <crickets, crickets, crickets>. What they did was launch a nationwide voter restriction effort by the GOP.

This same court declared corporations to be persons with political rights! Corporations were declared to be corporal entities for business purposes alone (in the nineteenth century). A corporation in trouble could die, thus absolving it of all of its legal problems (oh, and labor contracts), and then be reborn as a new corporation, even though it had all of the same management, employees, etc. The court went further and declared that these corporations had the right to donate unlimited funds to political bodies, because well, money was free speech, right? Right?

So, whether it worked or not, American institutions had to cave to Republican (not conservative) ideology.

Oh, and don’t forget how the SCOTUS, in Bush v. Gore, claimed the right to declare winners of elections, even when there was no precedent and their “winner” did not win the popular vote.

SCOTUS is showing disdain for precedents, even massive ones, and is becoming quite regal in its pronouncements, something the conservatives railed against when there was a fairly liberal court. They called it “judicial activism” and called it the work of the devil. Now that the SCOTUS is packed with conservatives, I hear no complaints from the GOP about judicial activism, even though this current court is far more “judicially active” than those past courts.

And, as to the leak of the SCOTUS opinion re Roe v. Wade, the author of that quoted post felt that it will prove out to have been a conservative leak, weakening those who wanted to soften the opinion, because it would look as if the court softened it in response to public outcries, and was not independent. Sounds like something a conservative, a modern conservative, would do. The end justifies the means, the end justifies the means, repeat after me. . . .

May 5, 2022

Wage Suppression Results in . . . Inflation?

So, we are told that the current episode of significant price inflation is due to “wages being too high”?

What the fuck?

The fat cats have been suppressing wages for over four decades now, and the result is that they are too high?

All you need to look at is the relationship between the so-called inflation and corporate profits. The economist’s story, which is wearing very thin at this point, is that due to “supply chain issues,” and other “market forces,” the costs corporations have to pay for their “inputs” went up, forcing the corporations to raise their prices, aka inflate their prices, to offset those increases. (Note The War Against Ukraine had not begun until inflation was quite evident, so it can have added to rising costs of raw materials, etc. but is not the primary cause of such things.)

If this were a true story, then one would think that the price increases would offset the cost increases and the corporations profits would stay roughly the same. But they aren’t. Corporate profits are soaring, and the corporations are too full of themselves to hide why this is so. They basically admit that inflation being news means that they have cover to raise their prices whether there is a need or not. And if just a little increase is okay, why not push for a larger one and pump up our profits. And the greedy asshats are stating this publicly! (Plutocrats need to learn that gloating is unbecoming.)

I don’t know how much of the current inflation is driven by corporate greed but I suspect it is not a tiny percentage.

Suppressing peoples wages for 40+ years and then claiming that the inflation we are experiencing is due to wages being too high is asinine and clearly hubristic. We may need to start bitch-slapping these idiots into line. And that goes for their bought and paid for politicians . . . and economists.

May 3, 2022

Why Most Prices Will Never Come Back Down

I ran into a blog post with the title above. The answer they came up with is off the mark, however.

Prices and costs are two different things. Prices go up and continue to go up because that is the way we designed the system. If we were to have designed it differently, we could have had prices that always went down or even stayed the same.

So, why do prices go up? It is obvious that they do. I remember buying whole loaves of bread for 25 cents, even 10 cents when killer sales took place. I also bought gas for my car at 25 cents per gallon when the price wars raged. Now whole loaves of bread cost $2-6 but the pricier breads are way better than the schlock breads we had available way back when. (Our grocery was in a WW2 surplus Quonset hut.) And gas prices are spiking way up now, but were in the high $2 to low $3 range before the most recent round of price gouging began.

But, when bread was 25 cents per loaf, the minimum wage was less than $2 per hour. In other words cents then were different from cents now. I got into the habit of always bending over to pick up pennies on the floor or sidewalk; I no longer bother doing this (isn’t worth the effort).

You see, the system adjusts. The average American income is about $55,000 now. When I was a child, that income would have made you one of the “rich.” That was back when $10,000 bought you a very nice house, indeed. If you made enough in a year to buy a house in those days, well, you were doing pretty well. The average (median) house price sold around here is now $325,000. As a college professor, I never made more than $75,000 per year (corrected for inflation, that would be about $120-150,000 now, so a college professor now makes enough in a year to buy half a house.

If you go back in time, the buying power of people’s wages held fairly constant from WW2 to roughly 1980. Then the wage suppression efforts of the conservative/wealthy types kicked in and real wage increases stalled from that point onward.

It used to be the case that as price increases occurred there was pressure to raise wages. I remember when wage increases were broken down into two parts: one was for “inflation” (aka price increases) and the other was above and beyond that, aka a real increase. This was because people figured out that if their salaries were increased only enough to deal with price increases, then their “raise” was not a real raise, as their buying power was unchanged.

What is shocking to me is that the wealthy folks continue their efforts, some quite underhanded, to increase their wealth, when that “extra wealth” doesn’t affect anything other than their egos. They already have enough income, enough houses, cars, vacations, etc. Piling another billion on top of what is already in their Money Bins doesn’t change their lives in any ways, but actually . . .

Their wealth hoarding is a transfer of wealth, real wealth, not inflated wealth, from the rest of us to them. They don’t feel their increase but we feel our decrease. As our lives become more and more diminished, the lives of the wealthy become more and more precarious. Since we do not have the money to buy the goods the factories of the fat cats are making, they move their sales over seas. But those markets aren’t as favorable as our rigged markets (rigged for our wealthy, that is). China is notorious for accepting factories of American corporations, then within a few short years, there is a native Chinese production facility in competition with them, and not just in competition with yours in China but in Europe and other places as well. China backs active espionage of “intellectual properties,” and protects startups from predation as they build up speed and capacity. (Hey, don’t get snooty, we did the same to Great Britain after our Revolutionary War.)

And the fat cats can’t fall back on the American domestic market (which used to be huge) because we Americans do not have the disposable funds we used to have. What we do have is debt. It is debt that enslaves us. At least we don’t have to go to work houses anymore, but our jobs have become much like those workhouses. We work and we work and we work and we don’t get ahead.

And, of course, the conservatives (and their political party, the GOP) are Social Darwinists. That they are wealthy is an indicator of their superiority on all fronts (business, political, religious, moral, etc.). That we are poor and massively in debt is an indicator of our inferiority on all of those same fronts. And they are not inclined to serve you via our government. You are not worthy.

So, prices will continue to go up, that is the way the system works. Unfortunately, your ability to pay those prices will shrink and shrink, and shrink. The system worked somewhat better in the past, but when the plutocrats bought our governments they no longer work for us, they only work for them.

If you do not believe me, look up what the 1960’s minimum wage would be worth today if it had been corrected just for inflation. Compare that with what the minimum wage is today.

The irony, of course, is that the plutocrats do not understand that if they hadn’t transferred all that unnecessary (to them wealth) out of our pockets, we would still be buying all the things they are selling, and they could continue to be “players” in “the game.” As it is is, they seem intent on destroying the game and most of us in the process.

Afterword The people on their side of the fence believe that there are only four things that can reverse wealth inequality: mass warfare, violent revolution, lethal pandemics, or state collapses. And those aren’t guarantees! The collapse of the Soviet Union (with meddling by U.S. by the way) caused a great deal of new wealth inequality. But World War 2 wiped out a great many monarchies and fortunes of the then rich and famous.

I am not fond of any of these but if they don’t listen to common sense advice, maybe a violent revolution is a quick fix. Or maybe someone will figure out how to target the uber-wealthy with a virus.

April 26, 2022

Separation of Church and State or Separation of the Rich and Poor?

I am just finishing “. . . And Forgive Them Their Debts” by Michael Hudson which is about what its subtitle proclaims “Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year.” This is quite an academic tome and I don’t recommend it to those of you who do not enjoy reading academic works. (They can be tedious.)

After reading about our millennia long battle between the accumulators of wealth and various governments, secular and religious, opposing them, it seems clear that the U.S. founding fathers, who were so deathly afraid of religion corrupting politics, and vice-versa, that they erected a wall of separation between church and state, should have been equally concerned with separating the rapacious wealthy from the wealth of ordinary citizens.

Professor Hudson shows in meticulous detail how throughout history the wealthy have leveraged their wealth into vast holdings of land and people’s lives. The pattern is usually simple: the rich lend money to the poor, and the poor who from time to time cannot repay their loans and so their land becomes forfeit. Often enough the labor of the original landholder goes with it, including spouses and children, which is effectively slavery.

Early governments tried one solution, a royal proclamation forgiving all such debts. Originally these were debts to the government (taxes, etc.) and often enough excluded businessman to businessman debts, but these “Jubilee years” were proclaimed often enough to point out the problem. And as nongovernmental lenders became dominant, the debt forgiving included private debts.

The Bible is full of attempts to prevent the wealthy from taking control of most of the land of Judah and Israel. (Note If your version of the Lord’s Prayer includes “. . . and forgive us our trespasses . . .” realize that it originally read “. . . and forgive us our debts . . .” Uh, guess who objected to the original wording?) In fact, it is implicit in Jesus’s claim that the Kingdom of God is nigh, that there would be such a Jubilee declared (often enough these were declared every time a new king took over). So, all of the “money changers” who were also money lenders and were looking at their loan debts being canceled with no repayment had a massive reason to get rid of Jesus ASAP.

This “cycle” has happened over and over and over, yet the current powers that be are exerting themselves to make sure that the tool of “forgiveness of debts” is forgotten and stays forgotten.

Here is one of the last paragraphs in this book:

“Mainstream ideology now denies a positive role for government policy to constrain the large-scale concentration of wealth. Purporting to explain the history of inequality since the Stone Age, for instance, Stanford historian Walter Scheidel’s 2017 book The Great Leveler downplays the ability to substantially reduce it without natural disasters wiping out wealth at the top. He recognizes that the inherent tendency of history is for the wealthy to win out and make society increasingly unequal. But the only “solutions” to inequality that he finds that work are the four “great levelers”: mass warfare, violent revolution, lethal pandemics or state collapse. He does not acknowledge progressive tax policy, debt write-offs or return of land to smallholders as means to prevent or reverse concentration of wealth in the absence of external crisis.” (. . . And Forgive Them Their Debts” p. 460

Gosh, now who would benefit from the long history of debt forgiveness not being known to many? Is it the poor people? No. Is it the middle class? No. Is it the rich? Got it in three, Bubba. If the wealthy don’t like a word or term it is gone, like unearned income, or changed, like liberal and socialist. They even decry “redistribution of wealth” when they are getting richer by doing exactly that. They just don’t want their wealth to be redistributed. They don’t mind your wealth being redistributed.

The rich buy economists like candy bars and once bought they say what the rich want them to say. So, when an economist claims that wealth inequality is inevitable and “the only solutions are mass warfare, violent revolution, lethal pandemics or state collapse” and otherwise we are helpless, you now know who paid for that message. There should be a statement attached to such books with a photo and the statement “I am a wealthy person and I approve this message.”

April 25, 2022

Wanna Know What’s Wrong with the American Economy?

From “Life in the Real Economy” by Harold Meyerson, April 19, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Chrysler devoted 27 percent of its 1960 revenues to its 105,000 employees, and just 10.5 percent to its 192,000 employees in 2019, while the share going to holders of Chrysler stock increased seven-fold. The pressures presented by non-union automakers in the South and imports from lower-wage countries greatly weakened the United Auto Workers over the ensuing 60 years, which clearly is a major factor in the falling employee share.

Union Pacific Railroad had almost an identical number of employees in 2019 as it had it 1960, but the share of company revenues they received plummeted from 47 percent in 1960 to 21 percent in 2019.The share going to stockholders, by contrast, rose from 7 percent to 39 percent. The amount going to reinvestment (new equipment, R&D, etc.) fell from 6 percent to -11 percent (that’s negative 11 percent).

As more Americans traveled by air, the number of United Airlines employees rose from 22,000 in 1960 to 96,000 in 2019. The share of revenues going to employees, however, dropped from 47 percent to 21 percent over that time, while that going to shareholders rose from 7 percent to 39 percent, with a decline in reinvestment identical to that at Union Pacific.

What went wrong is American corporations became solely focused upon increasing “shareholder value.” Oh, and did I mention that CEOs began to be paid in stock and/or stock options during this period, making them shareholders? And I must note that what they were really talking about was “share value” as in shares of stock. Shareholder value would be to provide value to the holders of the stock, which is best served by a strong corporation organized to last a long time, providing benefits to the shareholders for that long time. It is relatively easy to manipulate share prices, it is very difficult to manipulate share value. Guess which ones the CEOs practice the most? (examples are rife: consider stock buybacks (which used to be illegal manipulations of stock prices but are no longer consider to be so due to helpful politicians) being used to manipulate stock prices, and corporations like the Enron scandal, a major con based upon artificial inflation of stock prices, by the simple expedient of lying.

Basically American corporations have spent decades redistributing wealth from their workers to their shareholders. And here I thought conservatives were opposed to redistributions of wealth.

What’s wrong with the American economy is that we are not part of it. It is being run by the rich, for the rich, and politicians get rich facilitating that process.

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