Middle class takes another hit

Your news item of December 10 tells us that the University of Virginia is increasing tuition fees in the coming year to $13,682 for Virginia students, and $44,724 for out-of-state students, in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Curry School of Education.

Most of us are generally aware of rising college costs, but these figures are stunning. In the 1940s, my out-of-state fees were less than one-fiftieth of the new cost, and my colleagues from Virginia paid less than one-hundredth of the amount they will soon be charged. Even when my son attended George Mason University, in the late 1970s, his costs had risen little more than 10% above mine.

Inflation can account for only a small part of the rise in costs.   Incompetence among the state and local officials controlling the University’s budget would hardly account for such monumental increases. No, the culprit is crass neglect and indifference to the hardships that such increases place upon families of middle and lower income. This is further evidence of the ongoing impoverishment of the middle class that has been evident as a result of Republican policies since the mid-1980s. Only the elite can afford the education that opens the doors to their own ranks.

Situations like this had much to do with the populist waves that dominated the 2016 election. Virginia then held firm as the only “blue” state in the Southeast, but we cannot be sure that this will continue in the face of such aggravations as these tuition costs.

JIM BURNS
Waynesboro

Note: This letter was published in the Waynesboro NEWS VIRGINIAN on December 17, 2017.

Workers need to be considered, not just profits

This letter was published in the Waynesboro, Virginia News Virginian on May 20, 2016

Thanks and a special “Hurrah!” for Brian Carlton’s editorial of May 18, “Value of a
workforce.”  It supports a lesson I learned long ago, before Corporate
America became so adept at concealing and denying it.  The lesson is this:
Wealth is created by a vital partnership of capital, labor, and government.
This theory was severely tested during events like the Great Depression, but
the American Dream flourished apparently better than it does today.  The old
theory deserves revisiting as we wrestle with current economic difficulties.
For those who forgot or never learned it, the gist of the theory is:

Capital provides investment needed to establish enterprises and furnish the
land, facilities, and equipment they need to do their work.  Fair return on
investment is an essential incentive for obtaining capital, given the risks
involved.

Labor acquires knowledge and skills, and devotes personal time and energy,
sometimes risking life and limb, to perform human tasks.  A fair share of
rewards provides incentive for professionalism and innovation, and enables
labor to purchase the products of business.  Labor shares the risks of
capital, but at a personal level where adapting to change is more difficult.
Sweatshop-level competition deters professionalism, innovation, and denies
labor the ability to purchase products of business.

Government supports capital by providing infrastructure, supports labor
through education and social safety nets, and supports the entire enterprise
by providing regulatory guides, defense, and domestic law and order.  The
Interstate Highway System, air transport facilities, the Internet, and
aerospace research and development are recent examples of enormous
opportunities for wealth creation that resulted from government action –
undertaken at times of higher taxes than we complain about today.

Support of this threefold partnership brought us the world’s strongest, most
innovative economy.  It raised our standard of living.  It created a sense
of national unity, of people working for common cause.  All are sadly in
decline today.  When we diminish labor and government, seeing them only as
costs to be minimized, we endanger the vitality of our economy and of our
republic.

JIM BURNS
Waynesboro

Unions are necessary

This letter was published in the Waynesboro, Virginia News Virginian on May 18, 2016

Your article of May 17, “Strike vote is on tap,” may have attracted the interest of only a few who are interested in labor union activities.  However, it deals with bread-and-butter issues vital to most of us.  I quote only the key items concerning Kroger’s current proposal for a new contract with its employees:

“Kroger’s current proposal offers employees a 25 cent raise effective immediately, with one personal day that wouldn’t begin until 2019.”

“…employees would only be eligible for raises every four years, as opposed to the one year cycle currently in place.”

“…the company would also eliminate healthcare benefits for all retired employees.”

“A big issue for employees is the fact they see those higher up in the company getting much larger raises. CEO Rodney McMullen, for example, saw a 17 percent raise in the fiscal year that ended Jan. 30, bringing his total compensation package to $11.2 million…”

“’Walmart raised their minimum wage to 10 dollars an hour, where Kroger is continuing to pay their employees eight dollars an hour,’ Robin Hall, a Kroger employee in Waynesboro, said.”

Unions have lost popularity since President Reagan initiated his war against them. Kroger employees have a union, and it is their main support in these contract negotiations. What would the company propose if there were no union?  Could we seriously wish that the employees had no such support?

Jim Burns
Waynesboro

P.S. I’d like to think that  this letter added a drop or two to the bucket that resulted in the following headline and subhead on May 26, 2016:

Kroger rethinks ‘last best offer’
The union’s bargaining committee voted unanimously
to accept Kroger’s newest offer

 

My Introduction to Politics

After retiring from the Civil Service, where my political activity was restricted, I continued for some years to have only a limited interest in politics. Most of the professionals in that field seemed unimpressive, and some downright lacking in integrity.  So I chose to give little attention while they went on doing their thing.

That changed during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. For the first time it became clear to me just how much damage the politicians were doing to people’s lives and welfare.  I didn’t use such a sharp term as class warfare, but I saw a growing suppression of the middle class under the policies of Reagan and his Republican successors.

The labor unions were weakened. Sharp limitations were put on governmental benefits – through lids placed on the existing benefits, proposals for privatization, and sharp opposition against new benefits.  A combination of technological advances and forced gains in productivity managed to reduce available jobs and to cap the growth of wages beneath the growth of inflation. The previously strong influence of Corporate America in politics has been expanded enormously.

To me, these developments were directly related to our lingering economic problems involving unemployment, declining tax revenues, and growing national debt. The reduced purchasing power of the middle class reduced demand for domestic products and services, from which the other problems were spawned.

Since the 1970s, I have never voted Republican, because I realize that their policies are against my interests as a member of the middle class. Unfortunately, many of my class continued voting Republican because they supported that party’s “cultural warfare” on such issues as abortion, gay rights, tax reform, climate change, and immigration.  This was warfare in name only, but it was an effective bait for voters.  The groups under Republican attack have consistently gained ground.  Middle-class Republican supporters were not only deceived about the warfare, but they have also seen their own economic situation shrink under Republican policies.

Business interests have repeatedly claimed that the solution to our economic problems is to get government out of the way and to minimize labor costs. They say that only capital can create wealth. This gave rise to my first published political utterance, a letter to the editor titled Capital, Labor, and Government Create Wealth.  Writings such as this became easier once the feet were first wetted.  And so, over the following years, I wrote more letters as more issues came into view.  Only those letters that met the test of publication have been featured in this blog.

I believe these political issues are so serious that I cannot simply rest after voting. I feel a further need to apply my skills as best I can, and to date this has been through writing and publication.

Something to consider

As leaders of many nations agree, the attacks on Paris were an act of war.  Not just against France, but against humanity.  Many nations have tasted the wrath of Muslim extremism; this will continue until we stop it.

We need to relearn proper responses to acts of war.  The Iraq campaign was no example; it was an opportunistic adventure based on lies and different purposes.

Proper response requires that we identify the enemy and his active supporters, pursue them into their homeland and havens, and destroy their ability to continue making war.

Given the hatred in ISIS, I believe the only way to destroy their ability is to kill them, not through criminal cases, but through swift military action.  I’ve long teetered on the brink of working to eliminate the death penalty, but this is no time for improving our justice system.  It’s a time for self-defense in war.

One might hope and expect that all the threatened nations would unite in a response to this act of war.  Russia is acting but, while acting alone, might well see opportunity for empire-building.

What is needed for the U.S. to act?  Congress needs to end its long silence and vote on measures directing and authorizing proper action.  During their silence, Republicans enjoy the luxury of condemning Mr. Obama for whatever he does or doesn’t do.  If he responds without Congressional support, he could be hounded the rest of his life for illegal action.  We shouldn’t expect that of any president.

Jim Burns
Waynesboro

The letter above was published in the Waynesboro, Virginia News Virginian on November 18, 2015.

A HISTORIC LETTER

Our country is undergoing a painful reassessment of attitudes regarding its Civil War, which concluded slightly over 150 years ago.  Focus is particularly on the continued display of the Confederate battle flag and on the honoring of Confederate heroes through monuments and by naming schools and other institutions after them.

Pertinent issues, on which there is much disagreement, include the attitudes and purposes for which the war was undertaken. I believe it is appropriate and helpful to examine whatever reliable evidence we have concerning these matters.

One piece of such evidence is the following letter, written by one educated Southerner to another just before the War began. The letter was published in 2013 in the book Gale Hill: The Story of an Old Virginia Home, by Jasper Burns.

This letter was written by William W. Minor of Gale Hill, Albemarle County, Va., to Prof. John Barbee Minor of the University of Virginia, on February 16, 1861 – just two months before Virginia seceded from the Union and the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter took place:

Dear John,

…I shd. like especially to have seen & talked with you in these “piping times of” war, (for it is so near war that, I am almost afraid it will be the next thing we hear of) for I confess that I feel if possible more drawn toward my friends in the prospect of war (& especially of Civil war) than in ordinary times, when we can afford to differ & quarrel about politics as much as we please, & there are no bones broken & no blood is shed however high the words may rage, – but in times like these, when the “irrepressible conflict” of black Republicanism is at our very doors, it does appear to me that all the calls of patriotism & friendship & kindred too, should unite us John, & all true Virginians against the aggressive policy of our Northern enemies, who have defrauded us of our property, our equal rights under the Constitution, & who are preparing (so far as we can see) to coerce us to submit to them as our superiors, unless we speedily humble ourselves to their unjust & unrighteous demands. I do trust & hope John that you & I & all my other friends will be united in our opposition to the policy Demands of these truce-breakers (our Northern enemies) who even deny in the last remedy of the oppressed & downtrodden, – the right of self-defense: altho at present not able to take the field for the rights of my country, I do hope that my back will soon be well enough to enable me to shoulder my musket & join you, if need be, in the shock of battle, against the invaders of the rights of Virginia & the South…

Sincerely yr. friend,

Wm. W. Minor

Wm-W

William W. Minor

JohnBMinor

John B. Minor

 

Quinn’s letter off base

In his letter of October 10, Bob Quinn expresses his disagreement with an earlier letter by Richard White titled “We don’t need to support Republicans.”

Much of Quinn’s letter is devoted to his own opinions as they clash with those of White, a subject that’s not really disputable, and to his own personal background, which is clearly commendable. He does make three points, however, that can be weighed because well-known facts are involved.

He points out that the national debt has doubled under President Obama. Close enough, but White’s letter didn’t deal with who is responsible for the debt. He requested merely that presidential candidates be required to answer questions about the debt during their campaign debates.

He claims that White’s estimate of sea level rise, 7 inches, is false and that the correct figure would be in fractions of an inch. White’s letter clearly referred to his estimate as “during the 20th century.” In that context, the best data I could find comes close to White’s estimate. Rises in fractions of an inch apply only to averages for single years. Incidentally, yearly data since 1992 show a substantially faster rate of sea-level rise than during the 20th century overall.

Finally, concerning Quinn’s claim that the vote recount in 2000 was not stopped: On December 12, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped it by ruling that the recount could not be completed in time for a “safe harbor” date, and that a lower court’s requirement for the recount was unconstitutional. Perhaps the recount continued informally, but not in any legally valid sense.

Jim Burns    
Waynesboro

The letter above was published in the Waynesboro, Virginia News Virginian on October 12, 2015. Text of the October 10 letter by Bob Quinn follows. Readers may note that the title on Quinn’s letter preempts a title that could well have been used by me to describe Quinn’s letter. 

Writer’s rage ignores facts, decency

Richard White’s letter in Thursday’s paper is so full of inaccuracies it could have come from the White House.

Where to begin? In attack­ing Republicans, he first laments the outrageous na­tional debt that has doubled under Barack Obama. Talk­ing about climate change, he claimed that sea levels have risen 7 inches. False. The best scientific measure­ments are in fractions of an inch

The vote count in 2000 was not stopped, it went on until every hanging chad had been examined as reporters hung on watching till the end but their liberal editors did not report that, preferring to let the big lie of cheating remain in play.

His most egregious slan­der, however, is categoriz­ing the conservative voters of 2013 as “religious bigots and gun nuts.” How far have we fallen when America’s Christians can be called big­ots and gun owners “nuts” implying mental illness.

I spring from an intact Christian home trained in honesty, respect, charity and reverence for God, my par­ents have been married 70 years this month and remain faithful worshipers.

As for myself, I took firearms training in the U.S. Marine Corps and put my life on the line in Vietnam to preserve his right to his opinions. Keeping a firearm in my home for self-defense (getting too old to fight or run) endangers nobody but prospective burglars. I have no criminal record nor any problem with mental illness except deep annoyance at Richard White’s miserable ignorance.

He has swallowed the pathetic lies of the left with little or no thought and is in­fecting all around him with his slander and hateful rage.

                                                                                                          BOB QUINN
Crimora