Thursday, September 27, 2007

Somalia: Bush Backfires Again

Making the world worse for everyone to live in seems to be a hobby for the Bush administration. Reports from Somalia just keep getting worse. Famine, fighting, and fear are the new rulers of Somalia. The CIA-created puppet government (the Provisional Government in mainstream media speak) controls a few key assets, mainly because of the presence of thugs known as the Ethiopian Army.

Not that solutions in Somalia have ever been easy. The ancient Egyptians traded with whoever the natives of the Horn of Africa were as early as 2800 B.C. It may never have been much of a country, but in the middle ages the cities carried on a healthy trade. Then the Portuguese Navy came a plundering, murdering those who resisted and cutting off trade. When Somalia finally won independence after World War II it consisted of rival clans and its economy was in tatters. A dictatorship held it together for a while, but then warlords, one or more per clan, came to dominate. Even then trade and a sort of an economy were carried on.

Finally, some time after the year 2000, some people set up something called the Islamic Justice Courts. The idea was to follow the Koran (which has a code of law borrowed from the Jews and Christians), put clan rivalries aside, and prosper in peace and justice together. It probably surprised George W. Bush and the CIA, but Somalis actually liked that. Every few months the people wanting to take their troubles to the Islamic Justice Courts grew; the people who supported the war lords or the "Provisional Government" dwindled.

The Islamic Justice Courts were not set up by Al-Qaeda. They were not particularly radical as Islamic things go. True, once they got going some radicals tried to influence them, but no one was much interested in the radicals. People wanted peace, justice, and a bit of prosperity, which in Somalia had come to mean going to bed alive and not hungry.

That really pissed off the Bush/UN/CIA drunken sailors. How dare someone set up a government without their permission? They appealed to the most Christian dictator of Ethiopia, who had a modern army and used it to invade Somalia. The U.S. supplied some covert operations types and air cover and even a little naval bombardment as well.

So now a few Ethiopians sit in Mogadishu protected by Ethiopians and, of course, some thugs now well-armed by the CIA. Forget peace; they only thing they know how to do with an opposition is shoot at it. Forget prosperity, except for those who can divert U.S. taxpayer dollars into their own pockets. As to justice, I believe they eventually hope to implement the American Plan, in which the law says that them that Have, have the Law to serve them as well.

I don't know that the Somali people can defeat the U.S. and its puppets. Reports of suffering are a terrible thing. As if Allah is commenting on the situation, a drought has reduced food production.

And lest you join the "anybody but Bush crowd," please note that there was not a word of objection raised by the leadership of the Democratic Party to the U.S. interference. They were too busy arranging to further fund the war against Iraq to be bothered with Somalia.

But suppose you really think Al-Qaeda should be stopped? Isn't what Bush did great? Actually, having seen that Christian Ethiopians and Americans have united to destroy their country, now radical Islam, related to Al-Qaeda or not, is finding it quite easy to recruit in Somalia.

I hope when these bullies fall they fall really, really hard.

For more info on Somalia see my Somalia page.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Harry Truman's Memoirs, 2

It is pretty terrifying to see someone as basically good and competent as Harry S. Truman commit war crimes, but that is what I've just watched, so to speak by reading some more of Harry's Memoirs. My first installment on the memoirs was in the September 21 posting to this blog. If you want to see what Harry wrote for yourself, his Memoirs are not to hard to find in used bookstores or new or used at Amazon (Memoirs of Harry S. Truman: 1945 Year of Decisions).

But other interesting issues are there as well. On many issues Truman points out unethical behavior by the Soviets or Japanese, but has no problem overlooking it for British or American interests. For instance Joseph Stalin imposed regimes favorable to him in Eastern Europe, which Truman did not like, even though the U.S. was imposing regimes favorable to us in Western Europe, China, and elsewhere. Apparently, pointing out his opponents' hypocrisy, Stalin criticized Britain for unilaterally seizing the ex-Italian colonies of Libya, Cryneaica, and Tripoli. Churchill basically said, well, we conquered them. Stalin said (my paraphrase), exactly as we conquered Eastern Europe.

Another our puppets v. your puppets argument occurred over Italy. Since the Italians attacked Russia with the Germans, as did several Eastern European fascist allies of Hitler, the soviets thought they should have some say about the post-war governance of Italy. Truman's answer: well, we set up a government and now they are our allies.

I already knew that Japan went to great lengths to try to secure a peace treaty with the U.S. and its allies before Pearl Harbor. Truman repeatedly makes it clear that Tokyo offered to negotiate a peace after Truman became President. But the U.S.'s war aims had always been to control Japan, China, and Korea, so we simply refused to negotiate and instead demanded that the Japanese just surrender and let the U.S. take their colonies and their homeland. That is called the Potsdam Declaration, the text of which is included in the book. After the declaration on July 13 the Japanese again offered to negotiate a peace. But our atomic bomb had its first successful test on July 16.

There is a list of the other war criminals who advised Truman on the decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. He makes it clear that civilian casualties were not an accident. There were purely military targets the U.S. could have dropped the bombs on; they chose to drop it on cities. The other war criminals were War Secretary Henry L. Stimson, George L. Harrison, James F. Byrnes, Ralph A. Bard, William L. Clayton, Vannevar Bush, Karl T. Compton, Arthur H. Compton, Dr. Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, E.O. Lawrence and James B. Conant

Don't think it was a war crime? Suppose Germany had made an atomic bomb and had it ready just before it collapsed militarily. Suppose Hitler had dropped it on a city in England in an attempt to get the British to surrender. Do you think this would not have been treated as a warm crime at the Nuremberg trials? Of course it would have. Dropping an atomic bomb on a city is a war crime. No matter who drops it. (And don't forget Truman was a Democrat; the Democrat Party is a war crimes organization).

We also find more about the process leading to the U.S. invasion of Korea. China, Russia, the U.S. and Japan all wanted Korea. The Koreans wanted independence. The U.S. invasion of Korea was planned before the Russians had a chance to invade Korea. We set the 38th parallel as a line south of which the Japanese troops would surrender to the U.S. North of that they were to surrender to the Soviets.

Chiang Kai-Shek's role as a U.S. puppet is also colored in at points. The U.S. demanded that Japanese troops surrender to Chiang's war lord regime, and not to the communist government. Truman did not want the communists to get Japanese weapons. The claims of Chiang's nationalists to be fighting the Japanese during the war, against the counterclaims by the Communists that the fought the Japanese while the nationalists cowered, need to be examined in the light of a statement by Truman. "The Chinese Communists had the advantage of having their military forces located where Japanese troops could be reached." [page 445] Well if Chiang Kai-Shek could not reach them for surrender, how could he reach them to fight them?

Chiang was enough of a nationalist to demand that Hong Kong become Chinese territory. He was enough of a puppet that the U.S. backed him on this demand. For a moment, until the British made it clear they would not give up Hong Kong. Giving up colonies was for those war-mongering Japanese, Germans, and Italians. Britain's colonies empire was all about peace. Right.

As you doubtless know, Japan was at peace with the world when Commander Perry sailed up to Tokyo and played gangster diplomacy in the 1850's. Symbolizing the triumph of gangster ethics, Truman made the Japanese surrender their homeland to the U.S. on the battleship U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

More soon.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Truman Show

I'll probably be writing a fair amount on former U.S. President Harry S. Truman during the next few weeks. I picked the two-volume Memoirs by Harry S. Truman and a used book sale recently. Many people, including myself, have overlooked the Truman era. Mostly we know he became President when President-for-Life Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12 1945. He ordered the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Everyone thought he would lose to Thomas Dewey, who ran with future liberal Supreme Court justice Earl Warren as the Republican Presidential candidate.

I picked up the book because I wanted to know more about the period of Truman's presidency on three counts. I am writing a book, The U.S. War Against Asia, and want to know more about the circumstances of the U.S. invasion of Korea and support for the Nationalist government in China. President did some good, even some brave things, but he is best known for being the war criminal, the only political leader who used atomic weapons. I want to know more about the circumstances of that decision. And I want to know more about the civil rights situation in the U.S. and the Democratic Party's ongoing failure to support civil rights for African-Americans during the New Deal and until Lyndon Johnson became President.

But my book is accumulating sticky tabs, some about these issues but mostly marking facts that give the lie to typical U.S. mythology. Memoirs is very detailed, with practically daily ramblings on who Harry met with and what they said. In this entry to my blog I'm going to mention some of what I found. In future entries I hope to follow up in detail on some of the issues raised.

Adolph Hitler died on April 30, 1945, just 18 days after Roosevelt. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Roosevelt became President on March 4, 1933, just 32 days after Hitler became Chancellor.

Biggest surprise to Harry when he became President: the atomic bomb project. Even though he had been vice-president and had been on the Senate committee that had oversight of the astronomical funds for the project, he had never been told the nature of the project.

Neither Roosevelt nor Truman had any problems meeting face to face with Joseph Stalin to divide up the world. Funny that Americans are not allowed to go down to Cuba and talk to non-Communist people. But then big fish make different rules for themselves.

Stalin and his Russian Communists supported Chiang Kai-shek in the closing days of World War II. That surprised me. Apparently they underestimated Mao's Chinese Communists. But then everyone did. It was noted by Truman that the Japanese were being forced to give up their colony in China, but Winston Churchill and the British were not willing to give up Hong Kong.

Truman, by his own light, was neither a corrupt politician nor a nobody when Roosevelt selected him for the vice-presidential spot. Harry had been chair of the U.S. Senate committee that had investigated fraudulent and wasteful practices in the U.S. military, and did a good job at that. He always supported Roosevelt's New Deal legislation.

My favorite Truman quote so far: "When the underdog gets power, he too often turns out to be an even more brutal top dog."

There is a lot of discussion of the creation of the U.N. The main take away so far is that it was designed as a mechanism for the Big Three victors of World War II (Britain, United States, and Russia) to get their way. True, they wanted peace, but only if they could keep their colonies and spheres of influence. The veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council was set up to insure that.

Truman was against colonialism and pushed for the independence of the U.S. colony of the Philippines. However, there was no question of giving up U.S. bases in the Philippines.

I have found only one case of a clear-cut lie by Truman so far. Japan had suffered some setbacks in the war at this time, but was nowhere near defeat. Truman writes, "There was no way for us to get troops into China to drive the Japanese from the Chinese mainland. Our hope was to get enough Russian troops into Manchuria to push the Japanese out." But by then the U.S. had naval and air superiority plus control of the Philippines. A glance at the map shows there should have been no problem with conveying U.S. troops to the south China coast. Elsewhere Truman reveals that he and Winston Churchill hoped to avoid English and American casualties by letting Russians die, just as had been done against Germany.

Again, in May, soon after taking office, with Hitler dead and mopping up going on in Germany, Truman notes that the "Russians have 2 Korean divisions trained in Siberia." Koreans had been fighting guerrilla warfare against the Japanese since the turn of the century. They had a pro-west government-in-exile in China and a large underground network in Korea itself. In U.S. and South Korean history books it is stated that the Russians invaded what would become North Korea, so to prevent them from grabbing all of Korea the U.S. had to invade what would become South Korea. Now I'm wondering if it wasn't actually Koreans who invaded North Korea. They were certainly communists, trained by the Russians, but Koreans invading Korea with Russian advisers looks a lot different than an invasion by Russians with a few token Korean communist hacks.

There is more, but clearly I'll have to do another installment just to hit the high points. So far I've noted the grabbiness of France, as pointed out by Stalin; attitudes towards the fascists in Spain and Argentina; how the same standards of ethics were not applied by Truman to the British and the Russians (one of my notes says "our puppets v. your puppets"). I'm sure there will be more because I am only two months into the Truman regime (but about 1/3 of the way through the Memoirs by volume).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Catholic Violence in Argentine Dirty War

I have been exploring the largely untold story of the relationship of the Catholic Church to modern Fascism (see Catholicism and Fascism). This modern history seems to be an extension of the period when the Church depended on kings to violently enforce its one-religion-fits-all model, and in turn the Church propped up the kings.

While official Catholic Church policy has been against violence since its politicians (Franco, Hitler, Mussolini) were defeated in World War II, many members of the Church hierarchy did not hear that message (or were told to ignore it). Today the New York Times reported on the trial of a priest who aided the Argentine government during its "dirty war" against democrats between 1976 and 1983 (See Argentine Church Faces ‘Dirty War’ Past). While specific to the trial of Father von Wernich, the article might serve as a template for the Church's support for dictators in central and South America after World War II.

News articles need to be placed in context. Many Catholic priests and laypersons have rejected the hierarchy's and Popes interpretation of the Christian faith over the nearly 2 millennia the Roman church has existed. In the past some times these movements were co-opted by the hierarchy (the Franciscans are a good example). At other times they were declared heretics and murdered (the Hussites, for example). The main Protestant sects (Lutheran, etc.) took the path of splitting from the Roman church.

While the hierarchy helped identify, pressure, torture and even exterminate economic and political democracy movements in the Americas, another trend developed that so far has stayed within the Catholic fold. Their gospel is called Liberation Theology, which identifies Jesus with the poor and powerless, rather than accepting the standard Catholic Model that Jesus is a King who protects the interests of Kings, the wealthy, and South American torture junkies. Under the present and prior Popes, bishops and priests who sympathised with Liberation Theology, or even just American style liberal interpretations of dogma, have been systematically replaced with conservative theologians.

In my book democracy is the best system of government. If citizens are sick of capitalism and want to try socialism, they should be able to do that through their political institutions. If someone sets up a dictatorship, or an oligarchy, people have a right to overthrow it, whether it is right-wing, left-wing, or not on that spectrum. If people in a democracy get tired of socialism, they can vote to try capitalism again, or at least move the needle on the dial to a setting they think will work.

Religion and politics is a dangerous mixture that almost always results in violence. Religious groups are intolerant by nature. We forget that in the United States of America because no one group has ever dominated here.

I hope the Catholic Church is fading away into history. But it is still a huge institution and the many Catholic nations only recently accepted the principle of freedom of worship, or freedom not to worship. I do worry that some nations, if not the world, could backslide into promoting state religions. I hold that critique for Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish states. I am also against state enforcement of atheism or agnosticism.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Give the Iraq Money Back

Billions were stolen by the Bush administration and friends - and now we aren't talking contracts for Halliburton or a few federal dollars for church-based proselytizing. In Billions Over Baghdad former Time reporters Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele tell the story of how money that had been seized from Iraq was given away to well-connected corrupt friends of the Pentagon and CIA.

Oh, it is not the first time in American history. As early as the Revolutionary War money that was supposed to go for one thing went into dishonest men's pockets. In every war since then taxpayer money has disappeared or been traded for shoddy or even phony goods. Harry Truman documented the wasteful spending just before the U.S. entered World War II.

But in this case it was not American taxpayer money that was grabbed. It was Iraqi money. Taking the money was an act of genocide. I don't trust the Democrats to investigate, because though they might like to make the Republicans look bad, they have a long history of corruption themselves and are probably just mad the money ended up in the other guy's pockets.

Maybe a special prosecutor could do the job, given enough resources. But again, this isn't ordinary stealing, this is the moral equivalent of genocide. So I think the best institution for conducting the investigation could be the World Court.

Better still, let's really go for justice this time. Let's empower a group of Iraqi clerics noted for their incorruptible nature to investigate and determine punishment. While I am against the death penalty as a matter of general principle, I think beheading would not be inappropriate for anyone who dipped into the Iraqi cash fund or looked the other way while it was happening.

So we would lose much of the senior Bush administration, campaign donors, Pentagon contract boys and CIA we-can't-buy-heroin-without-front-money spooks. I guarantee you that if this is pursued far enough, the Republican Party and probably the Democrats too will collapse like the House of Usher. Apparently the Federal Reserve was originally in charge of the money; how safe is the rest of our money system?

Okay, enough said. Let's end the war and start behaving like a civilized race. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Korea: Brotherhood of War Review

Speaking of quagmires (in Iraq), most people forget we (United States citizens) are still bogged down in Korea. We've been in that bog since 1946. Even though South Korea is one of the richest nations in the world and has taken many jobs away from American workers, we still pay a small fortune in taxes each year to keep American troops stationed there. How did this come about, and is change possible?

Most Americans have seen films set in the Korean War. U.S. Soldiers are the good guys, communist North Koreans or Chinese are the bad guys. Some films of this genre are Pork Chop Hill, The Bridge at Toko Ri, Retreat Hell, Men in War and Mash. The historical context is simple: bad people (communists) attacked good people (South Koreans) and the U.S. cavalry rode in to the rescue, with much heroic sacrifice.

I have been studying Korean history lately, and find it fascinating. The Korean film industry makes first class films these days, and one of the best I have seen so far is Brotherhood of War (Tae Guk Gi). We see the war through the eyes of two brothers in South Korea who are "drafted" when the war breaks out (they are captured and forced to fight the North Koreans). They are apolitical; their concerns were about the economic survival of their family. As they fight and fellow soldiers are blown to bits around them (beware, it is hyper-real, along the line of Private Ryan) the older brother becomes a vehement anti-communist. The younger brother toughens up into a good soldier, but loses it after watching his squad murder POWs in cold blood.

What is only slightly unbelievable is that such animosity between the north and south Koreans would have existed in 1950, only four years after an occupation by allies Russia and the U.S. ended a five-decade long occupation by Japan. In 1945 most Koreans were united in opposing the Japanese and believing that if Japan lost the war Korea would be "free at last." The brutal occupation and political suppression (the U.S. had communists, socialists, nationalists, and anarchists suppressed in the south; the Russians promoted communists, who quickly put the screws on everyone else in the north) of 1946 probably pleased very few Koreans.

I thought the war was going to be just another propaganda film, glorifying the South and denouncing the North, but it grew more complex as the plot unravelled. By the end it was hard to sympathise with anyone but the dead.

The acting was top-notch, as was the directing. The pace good and I had only occasional difficulty keeping track of the characters. Brotherhood of War can be watched by war movie enthusiasts, but mostly it illustrates the old adage that war is hell.

I think Korea could be reunited. I believe North Korea has no foreign troops helping it. South Korea is a rich country. It should defend itself until reunification.

For more information on Korea see my Korea page.

For more of my film reviews see my Film page.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Charities of the Rich, and a Suggestion

My parents sent me to Catholic schools in Jacksonville, Florida, but I was spared the torture of Bishop Kenny High School when I won a scholarship to The Bolles School. My dad had a military pension plus his pay as a school teacher; he could afford Catholic school, but the private Bolles School would have been beyond his means without the scholarship.

Last week I received a postcard from the Bolles alumni office that reminded me of a scam of major proportions that is seldom talked about (because it is not in the interest of the rich to talk about it). This is the income tax deduction for charitable donations, which are often not really charity at all.

The postcard notified me that two different people gave $1 million donations to Bolles. For a new boat house. Seems the crew (rowing) facilities are inadequate at Bolles. The tennis courts are okay, the swimming pool is state-of the art, the parking lot for the rich kids SUVs is adequate. But the old dock on the St. Johns River is a disgrace.

Me, my mother went to school bare foot and Bolles was where I started learning about the winsome ways of the ruling class. I learned my clothing being clean and within the guidelines was not adequate. One particularly class-insensitive twit (son of a powerful man who would later sit on the Federal Reserve Board) told me a thousand dollar stereo (back then that was half a year's work at minimum wage) was an absolute necessity. I listened to music on a $7 AM radio. But hey, that was all okay, mostly people were very nice to me and I was there to learn. I learned English (funny, I thought I knew it before I arrived there), French, math, and a fair degree of science. Definitely worth the occasional insensitive ridicule.

But what I want to ask you hear is this: what really is a charitable donation? What should be considered a self-serving donation? And as public policy, what should be tax deductible?

I would submit that giving rich kids a boat house is no more charity than giving them allowances for cocaine, although it might be a better use of the money.

In fact, when it comes to private schools, getting a tax deduction means you are taking money away that could potentially be used for public schools. I ccould go along with a tax deduction for money that goes into a scholarship fund, maybe even a library if it were also open to the public.

I've heard this problem riddles the upper classes. Many prefer to give donations to private hospitals that serve the rich, while ignoring the hospitals that serve the poor. Should that rate a tax deduction?

I also have a problem with so-called educational tax deductions, right and left and middle-of the road, for groups that are really political. I'll go into that in more detail in a later blog.

I don't think that a donation to a religious group is, in itself, charitable. If you are donating to build a church, and you are going to attend the church, I don't see how that is different than building yourself a private home. To get a charitable deduction I would require that the end serve the poor: feeding, housing, healing, clothing, teaching them job skills, or otherwise helping them.

The charitable tax deduction, for the most part, is a scam, and it is a scam that the rich benefit the most from.

People should give to charity because it is the right thing to do, not to get praise and a tax deduction.

My favorite charity? Doctors Without Borders.

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