Class Warfare Blog

May 25, 2018

Money in Politics … Again

We are less than a year away from a national election, so it is election season again (as if it were ever not election season). As a consequence of the “important” elections (as if they were ever not important), I have been receiving requests for funds from politicians from all over the country.

I must ask, in all seriousness, what right do I have to try to influence elections I do not get to vote in? Why is being a political busybody so acceptable to our system? Since the SCOTUS has declared money to be political speech, I am free to speak, but why am I encouraged to involve myself in determining other people’s representatives through monetary donations?

Would it not be more sensible to leave a state or political district alone while they select the people they want to represent them, while not having to wade through the opinions (aka dollars) of those who are not stakeholders, those who will not be represented by whoever gets elected?

As is often quoted, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, but why should my opinions have any weight at all in an election in Utah, for Pete’s sake? If I am rich, why should I be allowed to buy amplified speech in a senatorial election halfway across the country? Those who put up the money, and most of it comes from corporations and the wealthy, well, they get served first. In our system, they are currently the only one’s getting served at all.

So, why do we allow money to flow freely across political boundaries? This is not a foreign idea. We do not allow foreign governments or corporations to send money across our national borders into politician’s election coffers. We should extend this to all political districts’ boundaries, not just the country’s borders.

Money is not political speech by definition, it is only when it is used in a certain context that this applies. We are allowed to establish those contexts. We had better do it soon because the wealthy have bought up most of the politicians, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch of the federal government as well as most of the state house representatives. If we cannot do this, then our “votes” merely give cover to the plutocrats running the country for their benefit and we should just stop voting because we are doing more harm than good.

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May 24, 2018

Socialism … Bad

We are hearing incredibly bad stories about what is going on in Venezuela, a nominally socialist state. Comments extend about as far as “Socialism … bad!” When anyone brings up the option of socialism as a governing structure in general, opponents bring up the USSR, another failed state. This is clearly propaganda.

Whenever capitalist states experience chaos, no one in this country says “Ah ha, capitalism … bad!” One has to ask whether Venezuela’s current woes are because of socialism or in spite of socialism. I suggest that they are due to bad management, just as our ups and downs are created.

None of socialism’s detractors claim that Venezuela’s fate will soon come to the democratic socialist states in Scandinavia, as in “As goes Venezuela, so goes Denmark!” Socialism has become a “failed ideology” … in the minds of capitalist cheerleaders, aka the wealthy. Neither capitalism nor socialism is a political system complete; they are barely economic systems. Once you get past the basic definitions, disagreements abound. The arguments pro and con rarely get beyond the No True Scotsman Fallacy. The successful socialist states are claimed to have governments that are “not true socialism.” Only the failing or failed states are “real socialism,” according to the dyed in the wool capitalists.

This propaganda campaign is visceral and aimed at making sure that the masses are unaware of any acceptable alternative political systems. It also provides a handy shortcut to smear anything unappreciated by the rich. Whenever Bernie Sanders recommends policy, it is quickly labeled “socialist” so that it receives at least as much negative attention as positive. Well. I hate to tell you, but the post office is socialist, Medicare is socialist, the public schools are socialist, and the military is socialist. The “people” own “the means of production” in each case. Of course, the hidebound anti-socialists don’t hammer away at these things as being socialist, instead they decry “guvmint” as being unfit to operate such enterprises and urge their privatization (for a profit, of course). This is what it comes down to. The capitalists are profiting from almost every possible endeavor, including the acts of people getting sick and dying. They cannot abide the idea that no one (ahem, them) is making a profit from teaching our kids to be good citizens, or from our soldiers making war around the world.

In the case of war making it is “enough profit is not enough.” Even with the excessive billions spent on war making every year, including providing the profits of war materiel manufacturers, think about how much profit could be made if soldiering were contracted out! My favorite example was the contractors for kitchen services in Iraq during our invasion of that country. In one report, the contractors billed twenty dollars a day for a cook’s aide to peel potatoes and whatnot, a job previously done by soldiers, and the contractor hired a local to do the job for a few dollars per day and pocketed the rest. Now think of that kind of practice applied to the entire effort. The opportunity for god-fearing profits boggles the mind! And all of those profits are going to waste because of our commitment to a socialist army!

I look upon the democratic socialist states in northern Europe with envy. I was taught in grade school that our political system was the best of all possible systems. I learned as an adult, that the political parties are “opponents” in name only and that both compete for campaign donations from the wealthy conservatives who provide the bulk of all donations to politicians. Consequently we have a center right political party and a far right political party contesting for the donations from conservative donors. Both parties ignore the desires of the population at large and serve the interests of the wealthy only. I just do not see this as “the best of all possible systems” unless you qualify it as “the best of all possible systems for the wealthy.”

April 29, 2018

Wither Public Education?

I was reading a comment recently that in the U.S. no one expects to be given housing or food and drink or medical care, but all parents expect their children to be given a good education. The “why” of this was immediately apparent … because we have already paid for it. Education is funded through property taxes and state taxes with a smidgen of federal funds thrown (but always with strings attached, so those are not funds to support ongoing efforts). If you are a homeowner and say that you are unfairly singled out for these taxes, please realize that those of us who do not own our homes (of which I am one) pay rent, which is used by the rental unit’s owner to pay his property taxes. And we all pay income taxes or other taxes to our states. We are also not paying just for our own kid’s educations, but everyone’s, as part of the commonweal.

So, in our “pay as you go” culture, we have paid for the “go” but it is currently under attack.

As a scientist and a trained meeting facilitator and a sports coach I know that the most important part of solving problems is the careful elucidation of what the real problem is. If you misidentify the problem, the odds of you solving it plummet.

With regard to public education, the problems have been misidentified for years. Starting roughly in 1983 with the publishing of a major (and very flawed) study given the title of “A Nation at Risk,” which launched the false narrative that American public schools were failing, a systematic false narrative about “the problem” was being proffered. The nation, at the time of that study, was in the throes of a recession, and the authors of the report blamed the schools, which is patently stupid because the lag period between youths being in public schools and being out in society where they can have a major impact on the economy has to be measured in decades. Nothing happening now could be caused by the state of schools now; twenty years ago, maybe.

In any case, since that time a major disinformation campaign has been continuously waged against public schools (they are failing and the sky is falling, too). The current object of that campaign is to “privatize” public schools so as to extract profits from them. The justification for the profits is as spurious as the disinformation about what is wrong with our schools. The justification is that “market forces,” aka “school choice,” will solve all of the problems. This is a belief in what I call “market woo” and really should be advanced by “experts” dressed up as witch doctors because it has as much value as does spiritual medicine. The real justification for the profits is the profits themselves. Being able to extract profits from the huge pile of money set aside to educate our kids is the primary motive and it has the oligarchs drooling.

As to the “real problem” with public schools I offer the following: if you segregate out public schools in relatively wealthy parts of the U.S., you will find that they perform at very high levels. Massachusetts public schools, for example, perform on international tests higher than the current darlings of those tests, e.g. Singapore, Finland, etc. This fact alone obliterates the claim that government cannot do public schools well.

Now, if you think I am going to follow this up with a claim that schools are underfunded, you will be quite wrong. They are often underfunded and that is part of the problem, but school funding alone will not make the schools that are not performing at a high level do so. (The wealthy cannot claim that school funding is not an issue when they are sending their own children to schools that have very high levels of funding.) Careful studies show that there are real roadblocks to performance in schools. (Hint: teacher competence is not a major concern here, even though that has been part of the misinformation smear campaign of the oligarchs.) The roadblocks are poverty, racism, and violence. In school districts where the students are chronically hungry and receive threats of violence on a frequent basis, we now have solid research showing that almost nothing else can be done to raise performance up to the levels of schools in which these forces are absent. Asking the schools to fix these problems is stupid. We can ameliorate them a little. We can escort students to and from schools, but they are being preyed upon in the neighborhoods as well. Fear for one’s physical safety is an all-consuming distraction. We can provide school breakfasts and lunches (and I recommend we do that for all students) and by so doing that we can ameliorate the effects of hunger on being able to concentrate in class. (My son wrote a history of school lunch programs, so we have a great deal of history with regard to what does and does not work in that, plus we have examples in other countries as to what is possible.)

It is now clear that the “reformers” claims of the value of vouchers and charter schools are bogus. These “solutions” were proffered as solutions for “the problem.” Since the problem was a false construct in the first place, the solutions were hardly likely to work and have been proven not to. They also have unleashed a tide of corruption as fly-by-night charter operations which have bilked states out of many millions of dollars. This has become such a common event that a premature closing of charter schools has become commonplace.

This is a con, pure and simple. The con artists (in order to extract our money) established “the problem” and “the solution.” (Any time the problem and solution come from the same source, you know it is a con.) The con artists did a good job of obfuscating who is behind the scam, but we can see it all now. And politicians, who are receiving “campaign donations” from charter schools(!!), are always willing to “serve the public” by giving us what we want: “school choice.” But we don’t want school choice, that is their solution. We want the good education for our children that we have paid for.

A careful consideration of the real issues shows that the “crisis” in our schools was not there in the first place. The real problems center on inconsistency. We demonstrate, on a daily basis that we can “do” public schools very, very well but we also demonstrate that we are willing to accept a very much lower standard of performance in some schools. Much of this attitude is racist and some is politically and religiously motivated, but it does not solve “the problem.”

If we want to continue the “pay as you go” system we have created, with all of its incentives, what is the incentive in crippling some of our citizens with a poor education, so they cannot earn enough to pay for a decent life for themselves and their families? The answer is that there is none, that the effort to undermine the education of the poor is fueled out of animus and this just has to stop.

We can start by “calling bullshit” on the public education reformers. If you need any ammunition, any of Diane Ravitch’s recent books will do (Reign of Error or The Death and Life of the Great American School System, etc.) And do realize that our democracy is teetering. While we should be making efforts to strengthen it, it is being undermined by authoritarian rich assholes and one of their leverage points is public education. Privatize that, let public schools wither away, and our democracy is in extreme peril.

April 17, 2018

Taxing the Rich: A Good Idea or Not?

To those whom much is given, much is required.

The standard narratives regarding not taxing the rich are quite bankrupt but are still used, much like the tired old arguments of religious apologists (there is always a new audience to whom these arguments make sense). The usual thing touted is that the rich are the job creators and if you tax them (at all?) they won’t take risks and start new companies which hire workers and we all suffer thereby.

As a counter narrative consider the story of Toys R Us, a huge entrepreneurial success story, which ended in a financial meltdown. The company, however, made its owner rich when individual and corporate taxes were ever so much higher and met its demise in a time when those taxes became ever so much lower.

Read this fascinating story here.

The “standard narrative” of the rich about the rich is they made their money “themselves,” so they “deserve” the rewards. But in reality, does anyone make it themselves? Or is it like personal gifts one is born with and developed, in which we deserve some credit for the development but much of what happens to us and because of us depends upon things like genetics, luck, externalities (like available electricity and good roads provided to all), circumstances of birth (being born into a rich family is a strong marker for “becoming” rich)?

January 12, 2018

Oh, If Someone Else Will Pay For It, Sure

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said on Thursday that it would raise its starting wages, give bonuses to some employees and vastly expand maternity and parental leave benefits for its army of more than one million hourly workers. The retailer said that it would use some of the money it expects to save under the recently passed Republican tax bill to pay for the raises and enhanced benefits.

Walmart said it would increase its starting hourly wage from $9 to $11, and provide one-time cash bonuses of up $1,000 to hourly workers, depending on how long they have been with the company. The wage increase brings Walmart in line with some of its other retail-industry rivals amid a tightening labor market. Target raised its base pay to $11/hr last fall.

So, Walmart is struggling to keep up with Target? WTF?

Within hours of its self-serving announcement, Walmart undercut its triumphal message when news leaked that it was closing 63 of its Sam’s Club stores.

So, was the wage increase a smoke screen? Some “good news” to cover the “bad news” to follow? Otherwise why make the announcements on the heels of one another?

And, since Walmart is using its “tax cut” to pay for some of these employee benefit increases, how much of it we do not know, are they saying “Gee, now we can afford it?” Walmart has made huge profits for its owners and investors for decades, large enough that they could have been a leader in how to treat their employees. But no, Walmart would rather their primaries get to become billionaires than their workers to have a living wage.

And if anyone claims that Walmart is paying the “market price” for its labor, I will scream! The “market” is not magic, in fact it is a political construct that has been manipulated to create the lowest possible labor costs for its participating companies. The “market” is something that is a lousy guide for any endeavor. Worse are “free markets.” Any decent economist can tell you that unregulated markets doom the sectors they serve. In fact markets cannot thrive without regulation. So, why is one of our major political parties campaigning on a “regulations are bad, we must get rid of them” plank? Ask the people who are paying for those opinions to be espoused and actions taken. (Hint: it ain’t you or me.)

As to who will actually pay for those raises, look forward shortly to the Repubs to cut benefits to poor people. Why? Because the tax jiggering they have pull off is going to lower federal tax receipts and “we won’t have the money” to pay for such frivolous expenditures. Look for Walmart employees, a class of workers who benefit from the government programs lined up for haircuts by the GOP, even with their raises and bonuses to be less well off a year from now than they are now.

Three Billion = Not Enough

Today, Carrier, the profitable heating/ventilation/air conditioning company, owned by United Technologies Corporation, a federal contractor whose climate, controls, and security division, of which Carrier is a part, reported three billion dollars in operating profit in 2016—is letting go of more than two hundred employees in its second and final wave of Indiana-based layoffs, which began last July. In total, the company will be laying off more than five hundred employees as it moves manufacturing jobs to Monterrey, Mexico. Many of those employees voted for Donald Trump, who made saving Carrier’s “big, beautiful plant” one of his most repeated campaign promises. It was part of his broader pre-election claim that “A Trump Administration will stop the jobs from leaving America.”

Do realize that careful analyses of such moves often show the savings are minimal. Because the jobs are no longer near the U.S.-based managers, another level of managers has to be hired. Then there is transportation costs, and…. One thing you can be sure will be affected is their stock price. “Shareholders” love these moves, why no one knows. I suspect it is the choir praising the minister as both managers and shareholders belong to the same church, the Church of Greed.

Three billion dollars in profits in just one year and a sterling reputation for quality and … oh, we have to move to save the company? WTF?

December 18, 2017

Rigged, Rigged, Rigged … for the Elites, Of Course

The elites learned long ago that if you have to coerce people through physical threat, they were in jeopardy immediately. If a strong man in a tribe tried to bully all of the others, well all you needed were three people with clubs willing to take eight hour shifts and, well, the strong man has to sleep sometime and when he does … bam, his brains get used for decorations.

The elites learned that it is far easier to use another tool of oppression: culture. (Note Please do not think I am claiming that culture is only used to oppress. I am merely claiming it can be.) We use “tradition” to defend the status quo, for example. What is tradition but a claim that “we have always done it this way?” In more primitive times, when we didn’t have the ability to determine the best of a large number of options, sticking to the “tried and true” was a good strategy, but this strategy doesn’t allow for any positive innovations while disallowing negative changes. Religion is also a powerful coercive tool, being based on obedience … solely.

Consider the situation in the U.S. in which the elites have manipulated the system to their and only their advantage. For example, for the period 1950 to 2009, if you adjust the S&P 500 for inflation and account for dividends, the average annual return comes out to exactly 7.0%. This is a rough measure of what the wealth of the elites gets in the way of a “return on their investment” (ROI). Have you been getting 7% on your saving accounts? No? I get about 1.2% on mine because they are ordinary savings accounts. Even special savings accounts don’t get much more than 3%. So, is the elite’s money special or something? Yes, it is.

The elites money has an artificially inflated ROI in that they have created a new culture in the corporate world around “shareholder value.” Many corporations now claim that their sole reason for existing is to maximize shareholder value. If you had suggested this to corporation executives in the 1960’s, they wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. Corporations used to have a manifold of reasons they existed. Creating a return on the investments of their shareholders would be one of them, but not the most paramount. They might have listed expansion of the business No. 1, or a transformation of the business to serve a changing market as No. 1, or quality as No. 1, and they certainly would have had goals portraying the corporation as a steward of their properties and as good citizens in their communities. Many of these could have been lip service only, but at least they were there. Now, goal one is “shareholder value” and there is no goal two or three.

Gosh, who would this benefit? Obviously shareholders, but who are those people? Oh, they are the elites, right? They own the vast majority of the stocks. So, the stock market has been captured by the elites to serve the elites and now only the elites.

This was pulled off by a change in corporate culture. How was this pulled off? Well, you start with a leashed economist who produces a “theory” that corporations are more efficient/profitable/whatever if they have that goal and that goal only. This was not a theory by the way, but it was called one. The rest of us would call it a “guess,” or and “idea,” or an “argument,” at best an “hypothesis.” It was never proven, just used as support for a culture change that was driven by prominent “shareholders.” (Please note that CEOs are now the largest segment of the elites and that taking much of their remuneration in the form of stock options was not their idea, but once it was, they became more accepting of the “shareholder value” focus of their corporations.)

Now it is a matter of “normal” business that the elites get a 7% ROI on their much larger amounts of wealth and we get ca. 1% ROI on our saved wealth. They start with more money than us and get a higher ROI, so their wealth “lead” keeps expanding because of the rigged system (7% of a larger number grows much faster than 1% of a much smaller number).

And this is just one aspect of the rigging of our systems. The stock market, as a whole, no longer plays the role you were taught in school. It is basically a rigged speculation market now, one that extracts wealth from corporations and funnels it to the elites, who use that money to buy more political and cultural changes. And guess who those changes favor …

December 17, 2017

The Insanity of the New Tax Bill

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:23 am
Tags: , , , ,

In the GOP’s new tax bill (they wrote it; they own it) there is an attempt to diminish or eliminate the current federal tax subsidies for wind and solar power. One must ask why they are doing this as it is particularly insane.

The GOP is not against such subsidies. In 1918, the federal government created subsides for the then new petroleum extraction and refining industry. Those subsidies are still going, to the tune of 8+ billion dollars a year, to … what, help a struggling new industry develop? This is one of the most profitable industries worldwide at this point and we are still subsidizing them? Attempts to repeal them have been voting down over and over, alwasy with the help of the GOP.

The current wind and solar tax credits were introduced in 1992 and those industries are still getting their legs under them.

The GOP also wants to slash tax credits for electric vehicles. I wonder if they also want to bring back coal-fired train locomotives? Maybe coal-fired automobiles are in our future?

November 21, 2017

We’re No. 1 … We’re No. 21! Wait … WTF?

The new 2017 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report helpfully calculates median net worths of countries. Switzerland and Australia top the global list. (Reminder: a median is the value in the middle, not an arithmetic average.) The median Swiss adult has a net worth of $229,000. The typical Australian, $195,400. And the typical American? A mere $55,876. Twenty nations in all have higher median adult net worths than the United States. So, we are No. 21.

Wait, we’re the richest country in the world, how come we are 21st in median wealth?

The really rich, those with at least $50 million in net worth, have multiplied five-fold since the year 2000 globally. About half of these, 49 percent, reside today in the United States. Credit Suisse counts 72,000 of these ultra-rich Americans. In context: China, the host to the world’s second-highest collection of $50 million-and-up personal fortunes, has only 18,100. The United States hosts more ultra-rich individual fortunes than the nations with next nine highest ultra-rich totals combined.

So, here in the U.S. the rich are getting richer, but the rest of us are falling very far behind.

Let’s consider the Australians, as we have a bit in common.

Australians used to see their nation as a relatively equal society. They don’t anymore. Rising inequality has become a major Australian political issue. But Australia remains far more equal a society than the United States. The top 1 percent in Australia only holds an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s wealth. (In the US, it is 38.6%.) So we are the wealthiest country in the world but we don’t have the wealthiest citizens as most of the wealth has flown into the pockets of a very few people.

And this is not a matter of that they are wealthy, it is what they do with the wealth they have accumulated. Basically, they don’t spend it. Poor people spend all of their money. Middle class people spend almost all of their money. That money goes to buying things from companies who provide jobs for people. The rich don’t spend anywhere near as much of their income. If they buy anything, it is investments which increase their wealth even more. None of that activity positively affects the economy.

Teachers Unions? Bah, Who Needs Them?

Six years ago, the state of Wisconsin passed the highly controversial 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, which virtually eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public-sector workers, as well as slashed those workers’ benefits, among other changes.

As Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) argued, “We no longer have seniority or tenure. That means we can hire and fire based on merit, we can pay based on performance. That means we can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and we can pay them to be there.”

Well, did they?

What do you think will happen to an employer who slashes wages and benefits? People will leave their employ. Who leaves first? The people who have the most confidence they can find another job, that is the best workers. Who stays. The sluggards, the unimaginative, the fearful … not all, of course, but a higher concentration of these stay. (Studies have shown this to be the case.)

Action Reaction
An analysis of the effect of Act 10 has found:

  • In the year immediately following the law’s passage, median compensation for Wisconsin teachers decreased by 8.2 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, with median benefits being cut by 18.6 percent and the median salary falling by 2.6 percent. Median salaries and benefits continued to fall during the next four years so that median compensation in the 2015-16 school year was 12.6 percent—or $10,843 dollars—lower than it was before the passage of Act 10.

  • The percentage of teachers who left the profession spiked to 10.5 percent after the 2010-11 school year, up from 6.4 percent in the year before Act 10 was implemented. Exit rates have remained higher than before, with 8.8 percent of teachers leaving after the 2015-16 school year— the most recent school year for which data are available.
  • The percentage of teachers with less than five years of experience increased from 19.6 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 24.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year.
  • Average teaching experience decreased from 14.6 years in the 2010-11 school year to 13.9 in the 2011-12 school year, which is where it remained in the 2015-16 school year.
  • Interdistrict moves—when a teacher leaves one Wisconsin district to teach at another the next school year—has increased from 1.3 percent before the passage of Act 10 to 3.4 percent at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

Are you surprised?

The False Narrative
The core of the false narrative is in plain sight; it is “That means we can hire and fire based on merit, we can pay based on performance.” This is a business model. The problem is that in a business, the “boss” owns the company (or the boss’s boss or the …). The owner has the right to hire and fire inherent in his ownership. In a public school, the “owner” is the public, the taxpayers of the school district. There is no mechanism by which those owners can fire anyone (by state law). Prior to Act 10, the “owner” of each school district elected a school board which carried out negotiations with the employees to determine wages and working conditions. In no school district of which I am aware are teachers getting rich. When you think of employees getting rich, you think of doctors, lawyers, stock brokers, high level executives, but teachers … not so much. Having high educational attainment did not result in abnormally high wages for teachers, but there were tradeoffs: instead of higher salaries, better benefits and working conditions were offered and accepted, through negotiation. Act 10 chopped the head off of local control and took it over at the state level. (Republicans in favor of local control? Not so much.)

So, how did the minions of the schools (principals?) do in hiring the best and the brightest? How did they do in paying for performance? How did they do with getting the bums out of the racket? Aren’t these business types always talking about how important good management is? Was there any effort to improve the quality of the people in charge? No? (No.)

As usual, the actual motives for Act 10 was not in the bullshit offered by proponents. The Koch Brothers-fueled politician, Scott Walker, was executing a typical anti-union action for the billionaire class. Unions are the only organization with enough power to resist the oppression of workers by employers, hence they have to go. (Plus they tend to vote Democrat.)

But actions have reactions. Too bad Scott Walker doesn’t feel any of the reaction … just the teachers and the students and the “owners” of the school district. The Koch Brothers, in reaction, kept pouring money into Scott Walker’s presidential candidacy and into his gubernatorial re-election campaign coffers. If you want quality workers, you gotta pay them!

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