Archive for June, 2022

Belief & Bucks

Decades ago, one of my political science professors made the statement that Christianity was a religion for slaves. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s in this world, but believe in Christ, and you will be rewarded in the next. It’s a wonderful way of keeping the slaves in their place.

He was right, and the political right has taken full advantage of this fact that still underlies Christianity.

Corporations have the right to drown out everyone else’s right to speak, because they are in fact de facto Caesar in our current society.

The church, aided by the evangelical right and moneyed interests, now has the right to rule pregnant women’s bodies, while corporations get government to allow them to destroy the environment and to impair the health of the multitudes in order to increase what Caesar gets. But it’s all right. True believers will receive their reward in the next world, and for those of you who aren’t true believers, well… tough shit.

The right to pray and to coerce others to pray cannot be restricted, but a woman’s personal right not to reproduce, even if she’s raped or if it could cost that woman her life, cannot be allowed. No matter how you put it, that’s a form of enslavement. And it’s based on a belief that, first, life is sacred, and second, that there’s a soul – even before conception, apparently. Both are without proof, and they’re a set of beliefs imposed on non-believers.

The right, especially the religious right, has fought and consistently opposed an equal rights amendment. It’s not an amendment to give women greater rights, but equal rights. Why does the right oppose it? Largely because too many men don’t want women to have those rights, even if most men won’t admit it, because, after all, faith declares women must be subordinate to men, and also because it will cost corporations billions if they have to pay women equally.

What the far right wants has nothing to do with what’s good for most people; it’s strictly to maintain control over people’s lives and maximize the wealth of the few – and, despite efforts and words of the Founding Fathers, they’re using a slave religion to boost belief and bucks.

The “Success” of the True Believers

The true believers in the U.S. political system are savoring their successes. They’ve furthered the ability to carry all kinds of firearms under any circumstances. They’ve arrogated, on the federal level, the near absolute right-to-life of a few cells over a woman’s personal control over her own body, and they’re aiming at enacting more absolutes into law, as well as further eroding the Constitutional separation of church and state.

While they’ve accomplished their immediate goals, citing both what the Constitution says and what it doesn’t, they’ve employed very selective readings that other scholars have disputed and ignored anything contrary to what they want to believe.

One of our great Presidents made the statement that the battle of Gettysburg was fought so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Right now, however, the true believers insist that government of the people, by the minority of the people, for the minority of the people, shall be their goal.

The majority of the people believes that some form of abortion should be legal. The majority believes that there should be some form of restriction on who should be allowed to carry firearms and under what conditions. The majority believes that the results of fair and free elections should be honored. The majority believes that the right to vote by all citizens should not be restricted.

The true believers on the right believe none of that.

That is because true believers cannot comprehend that there is any validity to anything in which they do not believe, even when the facts do not support their beliefs, and even when those beliefs are not shared by the majority of the people.

If one looks at history, societies governed by true believers have seldom endured, and when they have endured, they have become brutal tyrannies. And, interestingly enough, and contrary to both the rhetoric and beliefs of true believers, most tyrannies in history have risen out of conservatism, not liberalism, or even ultra-liberal radicalism.

And those are two other facts that the true believers on the right cannot understand or accept.

The ROI “Problem”

More than once, I’ve been critical of the business model that can be described as “maximizing profit at any cost, particularly when you can foist off as many costs as possible on someone or something else” [like the environment and/or public health].

This is scarcely new in the United States. For almost fifty years, big oil promoted cheap gasoline enhanced by tetraethyl lead, with adverse health impacts, particularly for the children of low income families who lived in cities filled with automotive exhaust. Big tobacco did the same with cigarettes… and still is.

For almost a century and a half, businesses just dumped wastes of all sorts into the nearest waterway, making most of the large rivers little more than toxic sewers. Even now, pesticide run-off from factory farms has created and continues to increase a massive area in the Gulf of Mexico that’s has little or no oxygen and almost no fish of any kind.

Big and small business have attempted to do the same with the minimum wage, keeping it as low as politically possible, and business continues to wonder why millions of people who have any option at all refuse to take many minimum wage jobs, even though it’s statistically and economically impossible to live on that wage in almost any city in the U.S.

But the profit/greed instinct runs strong in the human animal, as does the need to quantify how much more profit your business is making than are your competitors – or how much less, meaning that you have to cut costs to be “competitive.”

The standard measurement tool is ROI [Return on Investment]. The form is simple. Divide the gain from an investment by the amount of the initial investment. The result is ROI.

Right now, U.S. gross corporate profits, net corporate profits, and profit rates (i.e., ROI) are at an all-time high. In three industry sectors – information technology, real estate and financials – the average profit rate is above 20%. In big pharma, a Bentley University study found a gross profit margin of over 70%. But thanks to creative accounting, often high gross profits mysteriously turn into more modest numbers.

The problems involved with using ROI as a metric for business success are close to innumerable. First, how do you isolate/account for outside factors? The state of the national economy has an effect on all businesses. The same is true about state and federal laws and regulations. So does the amount and nature of competition. External economic factors also affect ROI, particularly interest and inflation rates.

Corporate internal factors also affect the return on investment. Have bad managers been replaced by good ones [and are higher salaries required by better management factored into the investment costs] or good ones by those less able?

For all these problems and difficulties, addressed time and time again in industry and scholarly articles over the past several decades, all too many corporations use simplistic or slanted versions of ROI that serve their purpose, either to boast or to show regulators how little profit they make. There are literally scores of articles on different forms of ROI, but in the end it’s all about how to maximize output from inputs and processes to keep costs low and profits high.

All that seems to matter is to meet the minimum regulatory standards, keep wages as low as practicable, products as cheap and shorted-lived as customers will tolerate, dividends or stock prices just high enough to retain investors, while maximizing ROI and upper executive pay.

Seldom does one see a different calculus, such as how can a business remain solvent, produce good products, satisfy customers, and fairly pay its employees and stockholders. It’s far simpler to trot out the single magic term – ROI – as if that explains and justifies everything.

And for U.S. business, that seems to suffice.

Still Falling for the Snake-Oil Salesman

As the House of Representatives’ hearings on the January 6th insurrection continue, and Republican after Republican testifies, and Trump campaign official after official testifies, and they all say that Trump lost the election, one thing is crystal clear.

A significant percentage of Americans will never be convinced that Trump lost the election, and they will continue pour money into fraudulent organizations that falsely claim they’re out to reverse “the steal” while Trump funnels the funds into his own pockets or to deceptive organizations set up by close Trump cronies. In fact, they’re so convinced he won that they won’t even look at the evidence to the contrary. Nor will they look at evidence that the January 6th insurrection was violent and inspired by Trump.

I can understand people supporting officials who claim to represent their views. What I have a hard time understanding is why they send often hard-earned dollars to support someone who’s continually demonstrated that he lies, who fires or drives out or turns on so many of those working for him, whose most ardent supporters appear to be white supremacists, and who is effectively pocketing money donated for “legal expenses.”

Trump reminds me of a combination of a frontier snake-oil salesman and a fire-and-brimstone preacher who inspires followers to give him money, and then leaves them with little but faded hope. The problem with this is that, because he’s so charismatic to his followers, they’ll blame everyone but him for the unsolved problems and difficulties in their lives, and they’ll keep sending him money under false premises. The more money they send without the results they want, the angrier they get at those who fail to support their snake-oil messiah.

Those followers are so angry that Republicans who have shown that they know he’s peddling lies now preach the same lies because they fear his wrath and the power of his followers.

And you wonder why I’ve always felt that “true-believers” of any kind, especially those whose beliefs deny reality, are the greatest danger to a free society?

Changing World, Unchanging Perceptions

Every year the world changes, but in the beginning of human culture the changes would have been few and slow. But technology, even stone age technology, increases the rate and scope of change, and humans now have more technology than ever, to the point where, at present, the world changes far more quickly than do the perceptions of most people.

Those changes create perceptual conflicts. The other day someone commented on this blog that most Americans don’t live in cities. For most of U.S. history, that was true – up until 1920. Since then the population in “urban areas,” which includes small towns, has increased from half the population to over 80%. Some might say that denser and larger cities still hold only a small percent of the population, but since 2010, the top 48 urban areas, i.e., the big cities, have held more than half the U.S. population, and the suburbs, while growing, only hold 25% of the U.S. population. Yet a significant large percentage of Americans still hew to a more rural or suburban perception of where people live, and that perception strongly influences their politics and voting behavior.

More than a few months ago, I made the observation that the substandard minimum wage was effectively a subsidy for corporations and for small businesses. I won’t say that observation was disputed, but it’s a fact that’s been ignored or minimized, and recent changes in habits and demographics support my observation. Why are there so many low wage jobs going begging? The direct reason is that not enough people want to work for those wages, and there are several factors.

First, legal immigration of people who will accept those wages has been reduced and greater emphasis on requiring legal credentials [real or forged] has reduced the number of illegal immigrants inside the U.S. who can and will work, because getting caught working illegally will result in deportation.

Second, fewer and fewer young Americans are willing to take such jobs, and the reason they won’t is that they don’t have to. When I was that age, to be able to do what I wanted to do required cash. Any form of entertainment required money – for movies, drive-ins, taking girls out on a date, gasoline and insurance for my old 1952 Ford, even for clothes because, back then, clothes mattered, and while prices were much lower, without income, I was essentially isolated, except at school. Technology has changed all that. Teenagers today don’t have to meet personally; they have cellphones. They have more access to almost costless entertainment on any given day than my generation had in total over their entire teenage years. They don’t date, for the most part; they hang out. They’re not as interested in clothes, and, in real dollar terms, basic clothing is cheaper. All those changes mean that they need far less money for their non-scholastic pursuits. Then, too, because the job market for skilled professionals is getting tighter, many college students opt for professional “internships,” rather than part-time jobs, to increase their attractiveness after graduation. All this means that far fewer teenagers and young Americans are interested in taking what they regard as shitty low-paying jobs.

Americans and small businesses, in particular, have come to depend on goods and services created by cheap labor, subsidized by the ever-decreasing real value of the minimum wage. But with automation and technological change, those small businesses often can’t afford either to pay more or to adapt. Larger businesses automate and hire fewer people at all pay levels, where real pay is lower, except at the very highest levels.

The growth of cheap and personally selective mass communications, as I’ve noted earlier, has reduced social cohesiveness and increased political polarization, and that polarization has resulted in zoning and political climates that reduce the amount of affordable housing for poorer Americans, and that often means they can’t afford to live where there are jobs because those jobs won’t pay for higher lodging costs.

The massive growth of fossil fuels has created increasingly negative environmental effects, but, until recently, despite scientists pointing out the problems, most people’s perceptions wouldn’t allow them to see or accept what was happening, particularly when the need to reduce pollution costs jobs in high-polluting basic industries such as coal and oil and where the jobs that do exist are fewer and require greater levels of skill.

The real danger is that people can’t or won’t mentally accept, adapt, and react constructively to the rapidity and scope of the changes created by our growing reliance on technology and that they’ll react angrily to those changes which affect them adversely and ignore or take for granted the hundreds of changes that have improved their lives – and those reactions are based on perceptions of a world that no longer exists… and one that sometimes never did.

And to top it all off, technology has also massively increased the production and distribution of highly effective firearms at a time when frustration and anger are increasing.

We’re seeing that anger everywhere, and I don’t see it vanishing any time soon.


Over the past few months, and even in the past few days, I read and heard a fair amount of Republican rhetoric about how the Democrats are all to blame for the current inflation and economic problems and that, when pressed, because Republicans seldom mention it willingly, how the Democratic House is making such an unwarranted big deal about this little demonstration on January 6, 2021.

Frankly, that disgusts me. When an outgoing President tries to overturn an election both parties at the state level agreed was fair and legitimate and something like 147 Republican U.S. Representatives support an attempt at a legislative coup supported by a large and violent demonstration and invasion of the Capitol Building, it is a BIG DEAL.

Republicans are always citing the Constitution, yet they were the ones trying to overturn the Constitution. I’d say that’s a very big deal. Yet with three or four notable Republican exceptions, they can’t even talk about it, except to minimize it. And the fact that right-wingers across the country continue to attack everything they don’t like as unconstitutional strongly suggests that they know little about actual Constitutional law, only what they think the Constitution says, and could care less about what it really means.

Not only that, but such statements and rhetoric convey quite clearly that the Republican leadership only believes in democracy when Republicans win elections. Election races that Democrats win are illegal and corrupt.

Fox News and other right wing news organizations won’t televise the January 6th hearings, most likely because doing so would cost them ratings and support because too many Republicans have swallowed the Trumpist Koolaid.

Oh, and about all that excessive federal spending that spurred inflation? Guess what? Most of it occurred under Trump’s watch, and, anyway, the Republicans supported everything that passed. But, of course, the Republicans can’t admit that, either. Or that the Trump tariffs also boosted that inflation.

A Few Questions

How did we as a society get where a woman wanting equal rights and control over her own body is an “ultra-liberal,” and where “traditional family values” mean legally subordinating a woman’s rights to government [usually male] control? And where those who trumpet “family values” the most strongly are the ones most opposed to programs for poor families and neglected children?

Or where the vast majority of “conservatives” are opposed to actual conservation and push for more fossil fuels development – or at the least oppose reducing dependence on fossil fuels?

Or where “fiscally-conservative” Republicans support as much federal spending for government programs as “spendthrift” Democrats and people don’t recognize it, especially Republicans?

Or where “progressive” Democrats seldom, if ever, can make any progress because they’re so scattered that they can never focus on the most important issues, like eliminating de facto discrimination and getting equal pay and equal rights? And why are there so many outcries about the “proper” pronouns and “improper terms” for ethnic groups and so few about poor pay and working conditions?

Why do parents and politicians focus so much on children getting into and paying for college when at least a third of those children haven’t been well enough educated to succeed in college?

And why do so many Republicans feel that teenagers who aren’t old enough to drink alcoholic beverages are old enough to be trusted with firearms capable of rapid-fire mass murder?

Why do so many businesses complain about the shortages of capable and trained workers when they routinely use downsizing and reductions-in-force to remove older capable employees? [Might it just be that the experienced and capable employees make more money, and businesses – especially in the computer, financial, and high-tech electronics fields – don’t want to train younger people and can’t find cheaper good workers?]

Why does the pharmaceutical industry get away with profit rates nearly twice those of similar corporations in other fields at a time when drug prices can bankrupt the average family? And why does Congress let Big Pharma manipulate formulations of established drugs solely for the purpose of forestalling generic competition?

Why are states with dominant political institutions and/or political parties most interested in reducing individual rights the very states most likely to cite “states’ rights” in support of such discrimination?

Overreaction to Overreaction

The long and often passionate reactions to the previous post provide a fair amount of support for its point.

I never advocated taking away guns, even AR-15s, but when I suggested that perhaps magazine sizes and modifications were excessive, there were accusations, an insistence that Americans needed to have mass-murder weapons as a last defense against domestic “tyranny,” and comparisons to gun control by Nazi Germany. But the plain fact was that Germany relaxed the gun control measures imposed by the Versailles Treaty of 1919 in 1928, well before Hitler came to power. In 1939, long after Hitler came to power, the Nazis did change the laws to forbid firearms to Jews.

And there was the straw man argument that other weapons kill – which they do, but not anywhere close to the continuing, persistent magnitude of death by guns, except, again, the domestic automobile, which we regulate heavily, with the result that the death rate has been more than halved since its peak in 1969. Yet no one seems to think that those life-saving measures have restricted their freedom that much.

Then there were the citations of law – most dating back a century or two – with claims that they support pretty much uncontrolled possession of firearms, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that some restrictions on firearms are Constitutional. All these also ignore the fact that in fact firearms were restricted at the time of the Constitution – restricted to white males, largely land-holding white males. The Founding Fathers also provided the mechanisms for change in what they wrought, which suggests rather strongly that they never intended the Constitution to be an unchanging iron-clad straightjacket.

Since that post, we’ve had yet another mass shooting by a man – and since virtually all mass shootings seem to be by angry men, perhaps we should just limit the possession of weapons of mass murder to women, except that would then create even more angry men with yet another motive to play self-appointed vigilante for grievances real and imagined.

I’m frankly getting tired of the hue and cry from the far right claiming that even comparatively minor restrictions on weapons and who can use them is some massive reduction of freedom. Those opposing some control of on such weapons are all too often the same crew that cite “right-to-life,” but somehow seem to think that massive restrictions on women are justified, but minor restrictions on gun owners are not.

I suggested a few restrictions on who could use what kind of firearms, and the reaction was, as I pointed out, an overreaction, the same kind of overreaction now occurring in Congress, with the likely and predictable result that no real change will occur and that the mass killings will continue.