Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dracula, Hitler, and Washington

I am reading a nice new vampire novel, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and it is the best I have read in a while, so far (I reached page 120 last night). It is a bit wordier, with unnecessary descriptions, than I like, but I know other readers like that sort of thing, so I skim when necessary to keep my brain alert. The central characters are history professors. The theme is that the past holds horrors, and that investigating that past may provide clues to the horrors of the present. It is a good theme.

Doubtless he did not invent the idea, but Plutarch is noted for comparing one political figure against another in his Lives of Illustrious Men (better known as Parallel Lives). Lysander compared to Sylla; Pompey compared to Agesilaus; often a Greek compared to a Roman. For centuries Plutarch was required reading for educated Europeans. Unfortunately he has not been required reading for the latest round of Presidents of the United States.

The favored person of modern times to compare politicians to is Adolf Hitler. This is usually more to label a politician as someone you don't like than to do a serious comparison. In the United States today political parties and their most rabid partisans hold any President of the opposite party in absolute contempt. President Clinton was hated for being too liberal when in fact he was the most right-wing President from the Democratic Party since Woodrow Wilson. My lefty Democratic Party friends have convinced themselves that George W. Bush is the worst American president ever elected and comparing him to Hitler is entirely appropriate. This is because they are emotional and ignorant of history. I don't like the politics of George W. Bush, but he is no Hitler.

And I don't think any American President, fairly assessed as a political leader, can make a sensible comparison with Dracula, the most Catholic former Prince of Walachia, also known as Vlad the Impaler. Except maybe George Washington. And maybe Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party. Well, maybe General Grant, known to some people as "The Butcher."

First, in case you have forgotten, Vlad the Impaler. At that time, the mid-1400's, the Turks were the world's great power. Europe feared them. Their armies were better-organized and had better weapons than those of Europe. They had taken over the south-east corner of Europe and wanted more. Vladimir was inducted into a Catholic group called the Order of the Dragon and sent to Walachia (right next to Transylvania) to fight the Turks. First he put his own house in order: he impaled anyone who showed the least bit of disagreement with him. In battle he put the fear of the Lord Jesus Christ into the Turks. We would probably all be in the peaceful brotherhood of Islam today if it were not for Vlad. By the time he died in battle the Turks were getting soft and concentrated more on extracting tribute from their extensive line of subjects rather than fighting crazy Christians leading suicide charges. [See also Sixteenth Amendment]

So was Adolf Hitler some light weight? Depends on how you weigh things. Like Vlad the Impaler, Hitler was a Catholic. His mission was to stop the advance of Godless Communism. I know of no instance in which Hitler was personally cruel. Even though he was known for flying into rages, his abuses were verbal. But he sat at the head of a state that was far more powerful than Walachia had been. Germany was an industrial state; Hitler's wishes were carried out on a massive scale. Concentration camps supplied cheap labor and later turned into extermination camps. In Russia (then the USSR) alone ten million civilians died and ten million Russian soldiers died pushing back Hitler's mechanized armies.

So for magnitude Hitler is the champ; only in personal cruelty and personal bravery could Vlad hold up in a comparison.

What about George Washington? Hey, wait a minute, wasn't he the founder of our Country? Wasn't he a good guy?

Note that I have not said anything good about Hitler or Vlad. In a longer work listing their good deeds and qualities would be appropriate. Of course if you consider Catholicism good then both of them might seem blessed. Given that Vlad, or Dracula, is known to have appeared to people after his death, veritable proof of resurrection, you would think they would have made him into a Saint.

You may not be able to think of anything Hitler or Vlad did that was good, but you know some good things about George Washington. Some of them are even true. But in comparing him to Vlad the Impaler and Adolph Hitler, we must seek out his evil side.

Which is not too hard to find if you have a good heart and a few hours for research. George showed a penchant for cruelty fairly early on. Of course he grew up in a cruel environment, that of the ruling class of Virginia, men who owned slaves. The cruelty of the destruction of families in Africa was of no consequence to these men; out of site, out of mind. What was of consequence was Native American Indian land, which had to be taken by force. George Washington made his mark as a soldier, officer really, in wars to kill Indians. In his diary he records the day to day humdrum and occasional hot fighting. He also records how his men killed a French soldier and scalped him. Washington was pleased to ask the Legislature of Virginia if he could not have the same bounty for the Frenchman's scalp as for an Indian one. [And why are we more appalled by that than by the ordinary practice of Virginia of paying a bounty for Indian scalps?]

Washington was supportive of the Committees of Correspondence that led eventually to the American Revolution. That is usually listed in the "good" column. But only because a great deal of trouble has been take to keep us from knowing about the Somerset [or Somersett] Case. This case, which declared slavery illegal on English soil, took place in 1772. Lawyers in Virginia saw it might end slavery in the British Empire (they were wrong, at least in the short run) and set up the Committees of Correspondence. While the causes of the American Revolution were complex, for Washington, Jefferson and their friends they were fairly simple. The Revolution was about slavery; liberty was the liberty to own slaves. Everything else was glossy propaganda.

Many scholars and patriots will take issue with that, but consider what followed. Slavery was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, one that George Washington approved of and became the first President under.

But there is more. The Revolutionary War is presented as glorious; the rule of England as tyranny. But those who fight wars always have excuses. Vlad the Impaler did not want to become a Moslem or underling of the Sultan of Turkey. Hitler did not want Germany to be a second-rate nation. Was Independence for the American Colonies really worth killing a bunch of English soldiers and American loyalists? Would not change have come over time through less violent methods?

George Washington was a violent man who had no problem using violence to get what he wanted. If his violence was not on the same scale as Hitler's, it was not for want of will. Like Vlad the Impaler, it was for lack of resources. As the United States of America gained resources George Washington's successors killed Indians and then anyone else who thwarted their aims.
As to personal cruelty, I suspect, but can't be certain, that if George Washington had impaled his enemies on the White House lawn we would have heard about it. But General Washington did have deserters from his army shot. Was that necessary or cruel?

The cruelest thing Washington did was at Yorktown. The British army had freed a large numbers of American slaves. Among them were some that "belonged" to Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. Washington accepted the slaves back into slavery and handed them over to their "owners," including Thomas Jefferson.

Only because Washington, for all his faults, did not make himself dictator, but instead helped establish a republican system, can I rate him as a better man than Vlad the Impaler or Adolf Hitler.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

And the War Goes On

At what point does a nation, in particular the civilians of a nation, take on the collective responsibility for the evils ordered by their leaders?

The War in Iraq goes on. No doubt there will be suffering if U.S. troops leave. No doubt there was suffering before U.S. troops got there. But there is also no doubt that the starting of the war was a War Crime; that Democratic Party politicians, with extremely few exceptions, supported it along with Republican politicians. And there is no doubt that hundreds of thousands of people have died, both Iraqi military and civilians. The sum total of suffering rose because of American action, and it will subside when our troops leave.

The Democratic Party politicians want to wear their peace symbols and have their war too, and they have succeeded. They allowed the Republican minority to vote with substantial minority of Democratic congressmen to pass, 280 to 142, the funding needed to continue the war crimes without any significant restrictions or a timetable for withdrawing the troops. Complex maneuvers were required: the actual vote, on roll call 425, was to concur in a Senate amendment to H.R. 2206, which makes "emergency supplemental appropriations" for the 2007 fiscal year. The Senate passed H.R. 2206 as amended too, so now George W. Bush will sign it.
To stop the war in Iraq the Congress would have had to just pass no funding at all. That would not please their donors and the people whose votes are bought with your tax dollars.

The guy from my district, Representative Mike Thompson, is a good illustration of how this vote had to be engineered. Mike is popular, known for his work on the Wine Caucus, but of course against drunk driving. He states he is a Catholic, but in this northern California district he finds it best to be pro-Choice. To this day he derides the Peace Movement from the Vietnam War era; he fought in the war and will not admit he committed war crimes. But vast majority of voters here want out of Iraq, and not in 2008. So Mike supports our troops, but voted against the appropriation because he was assured that it would not pass. He's tired of those peace protests outside his office. I hope he is having nightmares, I hope the ghosts of the Vietnamese are prioritizing haunting his dreams at night. Maybe that is why wine is so important to him.

But we are collectively responsible for allowing this to happen. I don't want to go too far with the idea of collective responsibility. The Democratic Party, headed by President-for-Life Franklin D. Roosevelt and his successor Harry Truman, decided collective responsibility made it okay to firebomb German and Japanese urban centers. Then they committed the most famous war crimes in history, the vaporization of the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If the Islamic fundamentalist warriors hold the U.S. collectively responsible for supplying military aid to Israel, does that justify an attack on a basically civilian target like the World Trade Center?

I don't expect the American people to do much thinking. It would be nice, but historically it is not a trend. But to the limited extent that thought takes place that is not the mere echoing of stupid TV shows (and YouTube), I think we all should think about collective responsibility.

The communists of Vietnam may not be my cup of tea from an ideological standpoint, but I think they got it right as far as national responsibility. They had a responsibility to throw out the French. They had a responsibility to throw out the Americans. But they did not need to attack the French in France or Americans in actual United States territory.

Self-defense, or collective self-defense, should not be waived as a right and duty. But using it as an excuse for aggression is an old trick, used by petty criminals and Presidents of the United States alike.

Iraq is not about self-defense. Afghanistan is not about self-defense either.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Accountability Tales I

I am thinking about writing an essay titled, "Holding Teachers Accountable." Some times I hash over such ideas in my mind for some time before writing. Some times the article never gets written. I've been on my local public school board for eight years now. I have written very little about it despite good intentions. At least I know that if I had written much before being on the board, or say after only a year or two on the board, I'd have to be retracting quite a bit in the current round of essays.

When one writes an article of this sort it is tempting to think that everyone has been in school, so everyone will agree with you if you just make a good case. But while accountability sounds good (to most people), it is a tricky topic.

Teachers like to think they are holding kids accountable, and not just on accademics. There are rules for classroom behavior. Perpetrators get punished, just like on a police TV show. Except that the kid acting out is sometimes being provoked by another kid who has learned to maintain the appearance of innocence. But what is a teacher to do? Not have rules of behavior?

My first "real" job, one that actually required a college degree to get, was in the retirement bureau of the Civil Service Commission in Washington, D.C. The Social Security system that most folk in the United States have to depend on is not good enough for federal government workers. They have their own far more generous pension system, not unlike what corporations used to provide for their favored workers. The office I was in helped administer that government pension system. I was, briefly, that most-hated of all things, a bureaucrat. I got my feet wet immediately because I missed the 6 week training course given to new hires. Instead I began to help with the task of approving pensions for former government workers. This was in 1977. They called the rank of beggining admistrators GS-5.

Everyone in the cavernous, flourescent-light bathed, New-Deal era furnished office I was in did the same thing. There really was an in box on one side of each desk. Thick personnel file folders went there. On the other side of the desk was an out box. You processed the folder, then put it in the out box. There was a huge wall of filing cabinets on one side of the room, but they did not seem to be part of the ordinary flow of folders.

Someone, probably at a higher level of management, at some point, whether in Abraham Lincoln's reign or just a couple of years before I was hired, decided to make my fellow-administrators more accountable. It seems that not enough work was getting done. It took too long from the day a federal bureaucrat (all of whom are in the Civil Service) retired to the day that first fat, taxpayers' blood pension check arrived. Probably someone wanted to save some money as well, this being when the debt from the Vietnam War and the Great Society programs and a spike in gasoline prices was worrying economists.

How had the administrators been made more accountable? Their promotions, in effect their pay, were now based on how many pensions they successfully processed. So that meant you could still take two-hour coffee breaks at tax payer expense; they could not fire you; but no more promotions just for putting in (sort of) time.

The results were the usual mixture of good and bad. Most of the workers decided they needed the salary-enhancing promotions rather more than they wanted to goof-off. But even they found that the files of certain retirees presented a problem. Some files took much longer to process than others. If a file came in complete, with all the necessary information for appoving a pension, the administrator could be done with it in about an hour. Eight such completed files a day meant regular promotions and the good life.

But some files were missing information or had other complexities in them. Such a file might mean an extra five minutes, an extra hour or two, or even entire days to get complete. If one such file was dumped in your in-box each day and you worked on it until it was complete, it was the same as if you had been goofing off. You might only average six completed pensions a day, instead of the required eight. No promotion, no good life.

There were a lot of these "bad" files because a lot of records had been lost. A bunch had disappeared in fires; others had been shuffled to warehouses without insufficient tracking. [Note to young people: paper records were the rule then; computers existed, but did not yet store all information].

So what the now-accountable administrators did, when they got a bad file, was make a list of the things that were missing from it (usually, it turned out, a partial list), put a paper to that effect on the outside, and send a form letter asking for the required records. Then the file went into the wall of file cabinets. On to the next file, hoping to make your eight per day, hoping to become a GS-7, then a GS-9 with a house in the suburbs.

Maybe someone somewhere got one of those form letters, found the information, sent it back. This could happen if the last department the employee worked in had a competent personnel department, especially if it had made a simple admission. Then the records needed came to Washington, the file was pulled from the wall, the admistrator finished processing it and got credit for that, the former employee's pension checks started arriving, and the administrator was still in line for promotion.

On the other hand maybe the records had been destroyed in a fire or misplaced. Or at the other end an unaccountable bureaucrat could not be bothered with finding the information. Then ... into the valley of death. Pension checks did not arrive. Rental and mortgage payments could not be made. There was nashing of teeth and eventually a call to my bureau.

No one wanted to answer those calls. We had more important calls to answer. The ones from the staff members of Congressmen whose constituent had worked for 30 years for the good old U.S. of A and what the hell was going on down there?

Fortunately, there was me. I was not trained. I was not being held accountable. I had nothing to do all day but try to hunt down the information and talk to sad and mad former bureaucrats. After three days I was bored. After four weeks, two pay checks, I was in the money (because I was broke when I arrived in Washington I ended up, of necessity, with very low rent in a slum building.) After five weeks I began to have nightmares. I lasted six weeks before resigning.

I have many more accountability tales to tell, which will have to be shortened somehow to fit into a narrative about holding teachers accountable.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Dem Pols Just Can't Stop the War

Power to do good eludes Democratic Party members of Congress. Whether they are in the House of Representatives, or in the Senate, they just can't stop the War in Iraq. Some of them say they would like to stop the war. They would prefer peace. But they just don't have the power to stop it. If only there were not a Republican President. If only there were a few more Democrats in the Senate. If only the people of Iraq would stop fighting the U.S. soldiers and the U.S. installed puppet government. If only the Shiites and the Sunnis would stop their 1300 year-old feud.

Of course the Democratic Party members of Congress could stop the war. They aren't willing to make the sacrifices necessary. They are not willing to risk their careers. They are not willing to risk a backlash that might put a Republican in their own job, or a pro-war Democrat, or that might tip the 2008 Presidential election into the hands of pro-choice, pro-gay former New York Mayor Rudoph the-red-state-reindeer Giuliani.

Because what is it to Hillary, Obama, or Nancy Pelossi if a few more U.S. troops die, or a whole bunch of Iraqi rebel nationalists or even a few hundred thousand more innocent Iraqi civilian women and children? Nothing is more important than a career in politics. Nothing is more important than being able to reward your campaign contributors, and being in turn rewarded by them.

The real job of the Federal Government of the United States of America is economic allocation. The real job of the Democratic Party is to tax the middle class and give enough of the taxes to corporate America to keep the campaign contributions coming, and give enough of the money to poor Americans to keep them voting for Democratic Party politicians.

Iraq is a distraction for the Democratic Party politicians, but it has begun to really bother the activist base of the Democratic Party. That base might ask itself what it is doing registered in a Party that was founded on the principal of Slavery by Indian Killer hero Andrew Jackson; what are they doing promoting the Party of War Crimes like Hiroshima and the U.S. invasion of Vietnam; why do they think the party that gave birth to the political-military-industrial complex under Franklin Roosevelt is going to become a peace party?

Democratic Party peace activists believe the lies and are trying to hold the liars to their word. From what I gather there is a pretty sophisticated campaign for peace going on that is separate from the kinds of peace rally activity promoted by the Green Party and non-partisan activists. Lots of Democrats in Congress are feeling they have to find ways of voting for peace, without actually gaining the reality of troop withdrawal. That they are doing a good job of.

This week presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (the Senator from Wall Street) and Barack to-the-barricades Obama voted on a motion in a way that was considered anti-war. This will help them, particularly Hillary, with Democratic volunteers in this primary season. But of course it did not stop the war. [See Obama and Clinton Back Ending Iraq Combat by March 31, New York Times, March 16, 2007]

People who have not studied political science often don't know about the vote-visibility shuffle. This is an old, well-worked out technique. The parties allocate the votes that can be on the losing side to the politicians who need them the most to impress their constituencies. It is done all the time, in all fifty state legislatures and in Congress. The outcome is decided in advance; everyone gets re-elected, most of the time, under this system.

So there are two ways to stop the illegal and immoral U.S. War Against the People of Iraq. It could be stopped by the Democrats in Congress if they were willing to refuse to pass any appropriations of money. End of story: it won't happen. Too many Democratic voters and contributors depend on that money.

The war will end, more or less, after a new President is sworn in, which would be January 2009. Rudolph Giuliani is a pragmatic guy. No matter what he promisses to who in this campaign, as President he will say he doesn't care who wins the civil war in Iraq, so what is the point of keeping troops there? The oil sitting in the ground just gets more valuable as the years pass; the U.S. should not care who gets the royalties for allowing it to be pumped.

See also:
Brief History of the Democratic Party

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hawaii, Iraq, War and Peace

What does Hawaii have to do with the U.S. War Against Iraq?

This morning I posted the draft chapter The U.S. Conquest of Hawaii and Other Pacific Islands, which is part of my larger work The U.S. War Against Asia. I probably will not include the Iraq War I and Iraq War II or the War Against Terrorism or Afghanistan in the Asian War book. But I could, since technically Iraq and Afghanistan are in Asia. That goes back to those crazy Greeks, who defined Asia as all the lands to the East of their homeland.

In the U.S. war against Asia it is important to note that the broader context of the war is political, economic, and cultural. Before the Hawaiian Islands were invaded by the U.S. military they were invaded by U.S. Christian missionaries. Several of the major figures in the U.S. seizure of Hawaii were children of those missionaries who were born on the islands and became lawyers or businessmen.

While Hawaii was desirable as a way station for U.S. merchant shipping, it also began to produce an important crop, cane sugar. I am indebted to Luzviminda Bartolome Francisco and Jonathan Shepard Fast whose book Conspiracy for Empire details the role of the sugar industry in the Spanish American War and seizure of Hawaii. It is a sad commentary on the American book publishing industry that this book is quite rare, having never been published in the U.S. and being out of print in the Philippines, where it was published by the Foundation for Nationalist Studies in 1985.

At times the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans saw "missionary" efforts as a prelude to colonization by European nations or the United States. The same is true of commercial relationships. Yet closed door policies proved to be even more disastrous than trade and cultural exchange. The military weakness of the Asian nations encouraged military aggression by, in turn, Portugal, Spain, Holland, England, Germany and the U.S.

The tragedy of Japan's westernization is a sad, related tale. To resist the Europeans the Japanese decided they had to control, and eventually conquer, their Asian neighbors.

Iraq too has been a victim of a system where all roads lead to failure. The collapse of the Turkish (Ottoman) Empire during World War I, while it liberated many subject states, meant that no single subject state could successfully resist Great Britain, Germany, France or the U.S. At best the Islamic nations could hope to play one off against the other. Iraq was at first a client state of Britain and then of the United States. Saddam Hussein started as a socialist, but became a U.S. puppet. While he did the U.S.'s dirty work invading Iran, he led a military and economic buildup of Iraq that also followed Turkey's lead in creating a secular, non-Islamic culture. He thought he had grown strong enough to cut the puppet strings, but he was wrong.

The key to solving the problems of the world is disarming the United States of America. It is true that some other evil empire might emerge, but disarmament is a likely course to a peaceful world. Sadly, Japan is now run by politicians who want to re-arm.

I hope that countries like Japan, China, Iran, Korea and Japan will only use their armies and navies for self-defense. But military establishments grown powerful create their own dynamics, as we have seen in the U.S.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Korea: Time for a U.S. New Policy

When most Americans think about Korea the first thing they think about is North Korea, with its likely atomic bombs, definite missiles, and reputation for being governed by an evil genius. Second on the list is South Korea; few American households don't have at least one device made by Samsung (we have 2 that I know of). Third is probably the Korean War, a bit of cold war history that lingers until today because there are still U.S. troops in South Korea.

I knew very little about Korea six months ago beyond those basics. I began thinking about it when I outlined my The U.S. War Against Asia writing project. I wondered how the Korean War (we Americans call it that because it is the war in Korea we were involved in; Korea has been involved in many more) fit into the big picture. At our local Point Arena library I found a book on Korea that indicated the Korean independence movement was happy to see the Japanese go after World War II, but did not want the Russians, Americans, or Chinese to intervene. I am looking into what extent it is fair to say that the U.S. illegally invaded Korea after World War II. Preliminary results are that it is pretty darned fair to say that.

Knowing the past can give perspective on the current situation, but in itself almost never presents solutions. It appears that in the north of Korea there is a dictatorial, impoverished communist nation, but there is no foreign occupying power. North Korea has China and Russia for allies. Both are geographically close enough that they could send in troops to either aid or subvert the current regime on short notice. South Korea is still occupied by U.S. troops, but whatever the historical origin of that fact, most South Korean citizens don't want to be united by being subjugated to North Korea. South Korea is one of the world's more economically prosperous countries. But sacrifices have been made to achieve that. Friends who have traveled to Korea report levels of air pollution, for instance, that are considered unacceptable in the U.S. Dissidents in South Korea are not very happy with the government's subservience to industrial corporations and their western clients.

Self determination is a good process to fall back upon when not everyone can agree on exactly how things should be. But there are some points of agreement, I believe, among reasonable people in Korea and with those of us outside who care to take a position.

First of all, Korea is a nation. No nation should have to be involuntarily subjugated to some other nation. No nation should have to suffer military occupation or even military pressure.

Second, Korea's division into North and South Korea is artificial. It was created by the needs of cold war rivals, not by the needs of the Korean people.

Third, Korea has a right to self defense. Korea has been invaded in the past by Japan, China, the Mongols, Russia, and the United States. It has been pressured by other Western powers. A self-determined Korea should be able to choose to keep nuclear weapons for self defense as long as its traditional predators have them available.

I believe that most people do not like to live under a dictatorship. I also believe that most people don't want to be second-class economic citizens, even in a democracy.

So I think the ball is in the U.S. court. The first step to getting Korea to where it deserves to be would be the withdrawal of the U.S. military. Since we have bases nearby, in Japan and the Philippines, we would not be at any particular disadvantage compared to Japan, China, and Russia.

At that point we need to see the kind of process in North Korea that brought other communist dictatorships to an end, but without the corruption. Allowing South Korea's predatory capitalists to grab what is of value in North Korea is a bad idea.

Once Korea is a united, self-determining nation, I would hope that the Korean people would strive to be model global citizens, rather than ardent nationalists.

For more information on Korea try:
Basic Korea information at Wikipedia
South Korea (Republic of Korea) official site
North Korea (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) official news site
Korean Friendship Society (adds insight even if you don't want to be friendly with the North Koreans)

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Corruption in the U.S.A.

Every once in a while there is a newspaper headline about an elected official in the U.S. being indicted for corruption. In contrast if you read articles about life in third-world countries you are told corruption is rife there. Cops and bureaucrats ask for bribes every time you encounter them.

One of today's headlines, Doctors Reap Millions for Anemia Drugs [New York Times, registration required], tells of a different type of corruption. Legal corruption. Amgen and Johnson and Johnson developed and now sell drugs for anemia that are used mainly for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, which tends to reduce their red blood cell counts. These are good drugs: Aranesp and Epogen from Amgen; and Procrit from J&J. But being good is not, apparently, good enough. Doctors are being paid to prescribe the drugs, and we are talking small fortunes here. In one example 6 doctors split $2.7 million in 2006 for prescribing $9 million in drugs. And here is the kicker: it is totally legal.

Totally legal is the defining nature of corruption in the United States of America. And it is no accident. Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington, had observed that men where, by and large, corrupt. Positions of power, he had noticed, attracted the most corrupt men. Rather than trying to change human nature Hamilton advocated institutionalizing the corruption. Three branches of federal government meant that corruption would have to be shared, a sort of consensus effort. Corruption would lift all ruling class yachts if structured properly. Otherwise it would be ruinous to business.

He was right, but the price American's pay is high. We began paying that price right away. Slavery, which steals people's dignity and labor, was written into the Constitution; it is the systematic essence of corruption. Hamilton did not invent it, but it is why slaveholders fought the American Revolution. He did corrupt the first Congress of the United States under the new Constitution by getting them to pay off revolutionary war debts on par, but only after they and their friends had bought up all those paper debts at heavy discounts. The members of the first Congress made themselves richer, in many cases far richer, overnight by a simple vote. They also simultaneously created the national debt, which was part of Hamilton's plan.

So today, and over the past two-hundred plus years, corruption is done systematically and effectively in the U.S.A. You generally don't have to bribe policemen. Instead the police lobby has assured that police are paid a good ordinary salary. The government takes their salary out of your taxes and fines.

The rich are different. Their money comes from capital gains, dividends, and inheritance. They have made sure the Democrats and Republicans tax these sources of money minimally, if at all. For the most part the reporting of capital gains by individuals and income by businesses is semi-voluntary. If you are an employee both Social Security and income tax are deducted from your wages. You have to apply to the Feds to get your money back if you overpay. Businesses and rich individuals write checks to pay their taxes, such as they are. True, they fear auditing, but a lot of taxes can be avoided between audits. Special tax breaks keep their taxes minimal.

If you are rich enough and want something in the U.S., you don't bribe a beaurocrat or elected official. You make a campaign donation; you bundle campaign donations from your associates and make sure you are noticed handing them in. When laws are written your donations are remembered. You have shown an interest in the law. Your lobbyist may be invited to draft the law or amend the draft proposal.

Mostly we don't think about it. It is the water we swim in, with currents swiftly stripping the working people of assets and heading them for the sewers, while warm gentle currents caress the rich. Think about it too much and the African pay-as-you-go systems begins to look attractive.

Once a lawyer who made his money off fees on probating estates boasted to me how he and a group of other probate lawyers recommended that the State of California set maximum probate fees lawyers could charge. They always charge the maximum. It was passed without opposition; it was sold as a reform; but in fact the level of probate fees they set was higher than was previously customary for lawyers to charge.

I'll be writing quite a bit about institutionalized corruption in this blog, over time. Tales from history, tales from the recent past, and analysis of the rare news article on the subject.

If I ever get enough people coming to this site to support myself and a few crack reporters, I'd like to do a section that specializes in reporting on corruption of the legal kind. It takes a lot of research to do that kind of story and you have to be prepared to withstand legal threats and even criminal threats. That is why you see so little of it in America's "free press."

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Sunday, May 6, 2007

About My Mother, for Mothers' Day

My mother has held many secrets during her lifetime. She is well into her 80's now. She was born in 1923; only during these last few years she has told me a few of these secrets. I know it is not unusual for parents to keep secrets from their children; doubtless many take their secrets to the grave.

The first time I learned one of my mother's secrets I was still a child. A man called and asked for Bessie Juanita Meyers. This threw me, but I realized he was talking about my mother Bess Meyers and took down a message. Upon receiving the message, which was from a potential employer, my mother said that her middle name was Juanita and said that I was never to use that name. I never have, but of course I could not forget it. Since I went to Catholic schools at the time I had a few Hispanic friends and thought nothing of it. But at the time my mother was a segregationist. We lived in the deep south, in Jacksonville, Florida. The Catholic schools were segregated: there was a particular school the "colored" or "Negro" children attended. But light-skinned Hispanic children were allowed at the white Catholic schools. This was in the 1960's.

My mother could certainly pass for Hispanic with her complexion and dark hair. But back then being Hispanic meant being discriminated against. So Mother only used Juanita for her middle name when a document did not allow her to use just a middle initial. My brother, my sister and I never considered ourselves anything but white Americans. Neither did our teachers.

When my mother was able to get a job as a secretary. She worked for Fiat and later at Jacksonville University. She had worked as a secretary when she was young, as well. She worked until she was almost 80 years old. I think she liked going to work, but at the back of her mind was the Depression. She was just 6 when the Depression began in 1929.

What I did know about my mother, when I was growing up, was that she got A's in school and after high school joined the Marine Corps. Women Marines were mainly secretaries back then, so after training she was shipped off to Hawaii to work in a secretarial pool. That was where she met my father, who by then had risen to the rank of sergeant. They had a romantic affair, which was against the rules. When World War II ended Bess was mustered out and stayed in California, waiting to see if my dad would show up. He did and they got married.

What I did not know about my mother was that she did not actually graduate from high school. This closely guarded secret was finally shared with me a couple of years ago. A few others, too. Like that her father had been a tenant farmer (I had thought he was a farmer of the type that owns a farm). Like that she was embarrassed to go to school sometimes because she did had to go barefoot.

So she was quite a gal, back when. Started working as a secretary without a high school diploma. Joined the Marines. Went out with my dad in San Francisco to see jazz musicians in the late 1940's.

She felt that my father would have done better in the Marine Corps if he had gone to college before enlisting. Not having college, he was snubbed by the college types, especially the Annapolis types, at least in Mother's mind. My job was to go to college, preferably the Naval Academy, and redeem the family honor. No possibility of having Hispanic, African American, or Native American ancestors was to ruin my resume. Hence ancestors on both sides of my family were relegated to the dustbin of history. If anyone asked my ancestors were pure German on one side and pure Scottish on the other.

So it was not just the Depression that kept her working. She considered it an embarrassment to not have a job or money to spend. She was embarrassed at her lack of education. It was a question of dignity for her.

My mother and father ran our family just like a miniature Marine Corps. Later in life that would both help me and hurt me.

All in all, I was lucky. I did not go to the Naval Academy. I became a draft resistor and an opponent of the U.S. government. The toughness that required, and the willingness to leave my family behind and make a different life, are characteristics I got largely from my Mother.
So here's to you, Mom. Happy Mothers' Day.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Evolution of Republican Presidential Candidates

Music evolves. Housing design evolves. Anyone who has studied the history of the Republican Party knows that even the Republican Party has evolved over the decades.

But three out of the ten major Republican Party Presidential nomination candidates does not believe in Evolution. That is, they don't believe in Darwin's theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Maybe they believe that animals and plants evolved over the ages by some other means, such as their God's direct engineering efforts. Maybe they believe the Universe and earth were created in 7 literal days. They did not get a chance to elaborate last night. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas all raised their hands to signal that they did not believe in Evolution.

Well, former Democratic Presidential candidate (and three time loser) William Jennings Bryan did not believe in evolution either. There is some evidence that Bryan was a good man, but then he was never elected President.

You have to wonder about Sam, Mike, and Tom. Was their anti-evolution stand genuine, or a desperate plea for the votes of those who failed to get a decent education in America's public, private, or religious schools?

The current big three, John McCain, Rudolph Giuliani, and Mitt Romney, are not nutcases. They are fairly good representatives of the people who have already made it in America. They are going to keep the burden of taxation from the all-too-overloaded backs of the rich. They might even ease that burden for those whose incomes are a mere $100,000 to $200,000 per year. To a large extent they represent corporate America and international corporations as well. They are not against science, which has made their friends a heck of a lot of money. Rudolph Giuliani was even kind of pro-choice on the abortion issue. Which is not a bad tactic, considering that most of the other candidates are fighting over the hearts and minds of the Pro-Fetus voters.
Rudolph Giuliani wants the estate tax abolished. Like the old Republicans who campaigned for the abolition of slavery, he has some passion there. If the estate tax were abolished then people who inherit billions of dollars from their ancestors can just pay tax on the dividends (there is currently no tax on capital gains until an asset is sold) and pass along the whole bundle tax free to their descendents. The truly rich can live a nearly tax-free existence. No pesky 15% social security tax, none of that un-American income tax, and if you buy your stuff in the right states you can avoid sales tax too.

The Republican policy on illegal immigration varies but it seems to amount to another profit maximization scheme. As long as there are illegal immigrants there is a source of cheap labor. The only real problem with illegal immigration for them is if some terrorists slip in with the job-hungry or if their voter base gets disgusted and votes for an anti-immigrant Democrat.

It is sad that the Republican Party can't live without its aristocratic backers and the deluded poor peasants who dwell on their modern-day plantations. I kind of like the idea of the small-town era Republicans: honest, civic-minded and open-minded small business families who really were proud to be in the party that ended slavery and stood against the racist Democratic Party regime. They were the original backers of Planned Parenthood, national parks, and a de-politicized civil service. But those families have been wiped out by international corporations and Walmart, leaving behind a gang of irrational fools who worship money but overcompensate for that by refusing to see big picture realities like global warming, evolution, and the equality of men and women regardless of race, creed, or economic circumstance.

See more of my political analysis at www.iiipublishing.com

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

We Know You Want a Revolution

Being a child of the 60's (despite my parent's best efforts to "protect" me) I have been around revolutionaries quite a bit. I have thought of myself as a political revolutionary and been a member of revolutionary organizations. May 1 is the traditional Workers Day, celebrated (back when) in the communist nations, but shape-shifted to Labor Day in the U.S.A.

Today industrial capitalism has triumphed not only over the workers of the world, but over nature itself. Mankind, as organized by international corporations, has become the biblical plague of locusts, sucking the rivers dry and stripping the land of its corn.

The only political revolution that happened was the fall of communism. Many of us thought the fall of capitalism was imminent after the U.S. lost its war against the people of Vietnam. We were way too optimistic.

Somewhere along the line I realised that socialist dogmas, whether Leninist, social democratic, or anarchist, where incomplete without taking into account man's relationship to nature. If socialism had fulfilled its promise to make the average family better off we would almost certainly have the same overpopulation, global warming, and other ecological problems we have now.

I argued for ecological positions within the anarchist movement, as did many others, and most anarchists came around. But in the meantime the rebirth of anarchism as a trend after the collapse of the Soviet Union never really went anywhere. The anarchist movement has done some great things, from Food Not Bombs to helping to stop the World Trade Organization's nefarious plans, but we are no closer to an anarchist revolution than in 1950.

Instead of anarchism the most dynamic political movement in the world today is radical Islam. While there are some good aspects of Islam, this is not what the world needs.

The Industrial Revolution which started in the 1700's has proceeded apace, and we had a Service Revolution in the last half of the 20th century. The service sector comprised 76% of the U.S. economy in 2006.

Meanwhile most American minds remain Medieval at best. Religions that looked stupid to the ancient Greek philosophers predominate in the U.S. At the other end of the spectrum many non-religious people, as well, are consumed by greed, alienated from nature, and unable to abide by any system of ethics. The Scientific Revolution has proven to be not a two-edged sword, but the sort of multifaceted virus described in William Gibson's Count Zero. It's main result has been an unsustainable population boom. The Internet seems to be serving as a general accelerator, like adrenalin or methedrine in a human body.

Most likely candidate for the next revolution: the weather. Take a gander at Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather for what might lie ahead.

I believe the real revolution that is needed now is in philosophy. Getting people to change their philosophy is no easy task, especially when religious faith gets in the way. But we are in the Era of Global Warming. It is time for a change.

A revolution in Philosophy cannot take place without a revolution in practice. I will keep doing my part to protect nature. I will do my part for social justice and within-the-system political change. But I'll be doing more writing and lecturing about philosophy too.