Monday, April 30, 2007

Impeach Bush and Cheney?

A lot of my friends, the ones who are Democrats and Greens, want Congress to impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Now that there is a Democratic Party majority in Congress they are pushing this line of reasoning really hard. Wikipedia has a good description of the basic argument.

Well, I don't like George W. Bush or Dick Cheney one bit. They represent interests opposed to my interests; they are War Criminals; like the Clinton administration before them, they have done nothing about global warming. They are from the rape-and-pillage class.

But you could say that about just about any past President and Vice-President of the United States. It is hard to find a president who did not invade a native American Indian nation or some other county; they were almost all war criminals. Most of the early ones were slave owners and after Ulysses S. Grant none of them could be bothered with civil rights for African-Americans until Eisenhower came along. They certainly all lied to Congress and to the rest of us whenever it seemed convenient. During the 20th century most of them where happy to preside over a system of spying on, and sometimes murdering, dissidents.

Okay, you can argue they should have all been impeached. Clinton and Gore should have been impeached for their real crimes, not for the bologna the Republicans went after them for.
But who is going to impeach them? Congress? The likes of Diane (subsidize the machine-gunning of Palestinian children) Feinstein, my own Representative Mike Thompson (a war criminal from the Vietnam era), and the others who are against war once it becomes unpopular and hence a way to extend their own political careers.

Bush lied to Congress? And they are so used to being honest with their constituencies, they just naturally never considered at the time that George might be lying. And what about the American people? Did they vote out of office all the people in Congress who voted to invade Afghanistan? No. I recall Democrats telling me this was different, we had been attacked. All the Trade Center terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, but why not mow down civilians in Afghanistan to send the people of the world a message that American Democrats are sacred? I recall Democrats who are now demanding that Bush be impeached telling me how they supported invading Iraq.

How about leaving the war crimes parties. That would be the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. When you join (register for) a war-crimes organization (and what is a war-crimes organization other than one that has a history of committing war crimes?) you are aiding and abetting war crimes. It does not matter if one war-crimes organization is pro-Choice and the other is anti-abortion. If your ethics allow for large-scale murder, what does that make you?
Impeachment should be reserved for situations where the President is in clear defiance of the people, as expressed by clear legislation by Congress, or is in clear violation of the Constitution, as voted upon by the Supreme Court.

There is also a tactical political down side to demands for impeachment. To those citizens not infected with partisan fever, the Republicans looked like lunatics for trying to impeach Bill Clinton. The same is true of impeaching Bush. The man is out of office soon, and for the most part had the support of a majority of Americans when he invade Afghanistan and Iraq, no matter how wrong those policies were. Impeachment is overkill. When he first took office many lefties I know said he would establish a dictatorship. That he has not done.

The office of President was not meant to be a policy-making office. Congress is supposed to make policy; the Executive Branch, managed by the President, is supposed to carry out policy.
But the real problem is not the politicians, slimeballs and liars though they may be. The real problem is with the American people. We elect the politicians. We could elect good ones. But we never will when party insiders determine who will win primaries. We never will elect good politicians as long as the choices are between Democrats and Republicans.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Korea, Buddhism and Violence

I am writing a "book" tentatively titled The U.S. War Against Asia. I have already drafted chapters on that you can read on Japan and the Philippines. I am currently drafting a chapter on Hawaii and other island territories conquered by the United States, but looking down the road I realized I did not know very much about Korean history or U.S. involvement there. After some preliminary research confirming that the U.S. invaded Korea after World War II, against the wishes of the Korean indpendence movement, I decided to buy a book on the subject. I bought A New History of Korea by Ki-baik Lee, used, for a pittance. It is translated by Edward W. Wagner with Edward J. Shultz, published in English by Harvard University Press, and it is a beautifully bound book with exquisite endpapers.

I have read the first few chapters now, plus the bits on the independence movement before and after World War II. I have been rewarded by some information about another area of interest, the relationship of religion to violence and war. I had noted over my years of reading history that Buddhists, and Buddhist sects, had been very involved in violent feuds and in wars. I also suspected that, like Christianity, Buddhism was spread by getting powerful men to adopt it to be enforced upon their subjects as a means of social control. But I have no notes to use to start writing about that.

In the U.S. Buddhism is often portrayed as a peaceful religion, in opposition to Christianity. Educated people in the U.S. tend to know about European history, and hence about religious wars. But we tend to be ignorant of Asian history, and hence of wars associated with asiatic religions.

I don't doubt that many Buddhists, like many Christians, are sincere advocates and practitioners of peace. But our evaluation of Buddhism, overall, should be based on facts, not wishful thinking. I have some problems with Buddhist philosophy which I will take up elsewhere. Here I am just going to note some indicators of Buddhism from Korean history up to about 800 A.D.

In the early 600s the famed Korean Buddhist monk Wongwang laid out five secular injunctions for young men: loyalty to the king; respect for parents; friendship; to never retreat in battle; refrain from wanton killing [Ki-baik Lee p. 55]. The battle-hardened monk was already a phenomena in China; Tibetan monks would terrorize much of Asia from time to time; and in Korea we see little evidence of pacifism. But there were many Buddhist sects, just as there were many Christian ones; maybe some found the practice of war to be against Buddhism.
Buddhism arrived in stages from China, but also evolved inside Korea. But "In all of the Three Kingdoms the principal initative for the acceptance of Buddhism was taken by the royal houses" [Ki-baik Lee p. 59]

The most popular form of Buddhism, Pure Land, was designed as opium for the masses. It said that life is suffering (a Buddhist tenet), it is a "sea of torment" but that simply by chanting the name of Buddha (Nammu Amit'a Pul) daily, after death rebirth would take place in the paradise called Pure Land. Meanwhile the aristocracy was not suffering; they were living very nicely off the labor of the peasants. They had more complex versions of Buddhism to entertain their minds.

It should be noted that the arrival of Buddhism in Korea did not lessen the steady drumbeat of war that existed pre-Buddhism. Nor did it seem to increase it. The states warred when it seemed advantageous, just as they did under the Catholic Church in Europe during the same era.

As I write more on Buddhism I'll centralize links to the essays at my Buddhism page.

See also my Nonviolence and Its Violent Consequences for my views on reducing violence and war.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Music Musings: Apple iTunes, MP3s, and Troubadours

Jan and I went up to Caspar (a tiny, unincorporated California community) to see David Rovics play. There were about 40 people in the audience in at the Caspar Community Center to hear David and local favorite Chris Skyhawk. Admission was $10 and I am pretty sure some of the attendees were volunteers who got in free. David is doing a tour that started in Houston and end in Portland, and moving his household furnishings at the same time. You do the math: David is not getting rich.

Apple has made a bag of bucks over the last few years, but otherwise things are tough in the music industry. Most of the independent music stores and even chains that sold music CDs have gone bankrupt in the last few years, notably Tower Records and Wherehouse. A company that operates the f.y.e. stores is the last music chain. Despite branching into video games and movie DVD's, this company is on the ropes. Music CD sales have plummeted year after year in this new millenium. Radio stations that play music are a bit healthier because they have mostly eliminated live DJs by using automated playlists; advertising revenues pay their bills.

Even in the heyday of the big music entertainment companies the class system within the world of musicians was appallingly skewed. Only so many hits could be sold, so only so many musicians could become rich. The rest had to make do with thin royalties, low-paying local gigs or grueling road tours, and day jobs. Skill helped, but it was not enough: you needed connections or luck to make a living. The same with any art that has more people who love it than the market really needs.

Now the big entertainment companies are not as flush as they were a few years ago. They always need fresh material and faces, that is part of the game, but they can't afford as much of the new as they used to.

This is mostly, but not exclusively, because of computer audio files. The first popular format was called MP3. You know the routine now: take a music CD. Used to be to pirate it you used a computer to copy the whole CD. But now you can rip it so that each song becomes an MP3 file. Then you can share that file with a few friends. Or, if you post it on a file sharing network (originally that was Napster; now BitStream is popular, but there are many choices), with thousands of people you don't even know.

Musicians who had not been "made" by the big music companies released music straight to MP3s. These could be played on computers. Then the portable MP3 player was invented. Several companies made these, notably Creative Zen. Liberation from the corporate music system was in the air.

Then came Apple. Apple was on the ropes. Its predatory practices and bad dealings with customers and retailers had made it into a shadow of its former self. Steve Jobs went to the music majors and said: I have a plan to save your asses. Apparently they did not do a background study of Steve. If they had, they would have known it was not their asses Steve was going to save.

The music majors would not release MP3s. They wanted to protect their practice of charging consumers high prices, pocketing most of the money, and giving a small percentage to musicians. Apple's iPod / iTunes system would allow them to sell electronic music files that could not be copied. They hoped revenue from that would make up for declining CD sales.
Steve Jobs got rich as the wealthy elite of America bought expensive iPods and paid $1 per song to download music. But you also have to hand it to Steve's employees: they designed and built a system that was easy for customers to use. It was also impossible for competitors to use. Earlier MP3 music player makers did not have access to the music majors' catalogs. iTunes file format was designed to work nowhere but on an iPod. Apple captured the market and so far has kept it captured.

Which was great for Steve Jobs and Apple stockholders. Apple stock has gone up by a factor of 10, yes 10, since the iPod was introduced. Meanwhile the music majors have done very poorly, DJs are out of work, and stores have gone bankrupt. Because the dark secret of the iPod is that it will play MP3 files. So most music played on the iPod is "stolen." No one makes any money but Jobs and Apple shareholders. Musicians get zilch. The people who record and distribute the music get zilch. That includes the tiny independents who keep most musicians alive and motivated.

In a new twist to maximizing Steve Jobs' life style he is now trying to sell "premium" song tracks from EMI that don't have digital rights management (DRM) copy protection for $1.29 rather than the old $.99. And get this: the more expensive files are higher quality. For years music lovers have complained about the low quality of iTunes music downloads. Apple vigorously denied the quality problems. But now for $1.29 per song they will solve that problem.
So does that mean if a friend buys an EMI copy-protection free song they through iTunes they can share it with you if you have a player from Creative Zen or Samsung or Sony? Oh, no. Because it will still be in Apple format. It won't be a true MP3 file.

I can't believe EMI fell for it. Signed a second contract with Steve Jobs while standing at the crossroads. EMI will make even less money, but all those zoners with iPods won't be able to "give" their non-copy-protected songs to anyone who does not own an iPod. Peer pressure, anyone? Apple gets richer, everyone else starves.

How much can we starve the music industry before it becomes impossible for even the best musicians to make a living? I don't know.

What should you do? As usual, the big decisions are being made by big corporations; you will not be consulted. But if you have a $10,000 music collection that you paid nothing for (the average teenager does, these days), consider being generous to musicians. Treat yourself to some live performance in your local pub. Hire a local band to play at your birthday party.

If you appreciate music, find ways to give back to the musicians. Ways that don't involve iTunes.