Monday, January 26, 2009

Saint Peter Denied Jesus; Pope Denies Holocaust

"Saint" Peter famously denied knowing Jesus three times just prior to the Crucifixion [Bible, Mark 14:66-72], yet according to Roman Catholic lore he went on to become the first bishop of Rome, or Pope. The Catholic Church maintains that God made Peter and his successors His representative and Monarch on earth.

This week Benedict XVI, who was a teenage Hitler Youth, "healed a schism" in the Catholic Church by welcoming back four Bishops who are part of an ultra-conservative group that split from the Church in 1970 with archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Pope Benedict has not offered to reconcile with "liberal" Catholics that he and his predecessors expelled from the Church for the heresy of Liberation Theology, or even milder advocacy of reforms such as allowing female priests.

In the news media, the controversy is centered on Bishop Richard Williamson, who basically denied that the Holocaust was a purposeful attempt to exterminate Jews.

What is wrong with this picture?

Saint Peter denied Christ thrice. Apparently God forgave him and made him Pope. But ever since the Christians (later to split into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox divisions) obtained state power (became the sole church of the later Roman Empire) they have not been forgiving. They have killed everyone who disagreed with them that they could get their hands on. That is how the old Pagan religions were exterminated in the late Roman empire. You could even believe that Jesus was God, and just split a theological hair or two, and the Catholic Church would burn you at the stake if they did not kill you in war. They exterminated the Christians known as Arians (not related to the aryan racial concept), the Cathars (See also Albigensian Crusade), Hussites, and Wycliff's followers in England. They tried to exterminate the Lutherans and failed, thus giving rise to the modern forms of Christianity known as Protestants.

Maybe the Jews killed Jesus, maybe not, but the Christians recorded only a handful of the followers of Jesus were killed by Jews. Christians, and Roman Catholics, have killed tens of millions of Christians over the last 2 thousand years. Of course, they have also slaughtered millions of non-Christians.

This pattern did not cease in the 20th century. In Spain the Catholic Church's loyal son General Franco killed some 2 million non-Catholics in the late 1930's. Then the Catholic fascists Adolf Hitler and Mussolini started World War II. The Catholic Church was more than happy when Hitler improved on Mussolini by exterminating atheists instead of just beating them up. Many minority groups were exterminated or slated for extermination by Hitler besides the Jews, including Gypsies and Poles.

The insane horror of all that is what is really brought back by bringing Bishop Richard Williamson back into the Catholic Church. In the 1960's the Church did not admit its past wrong doing, but at least it tried to reform itself. In contrast John Paul II and Benedict XVI are evil men who are trying to bring back the fanatical terrorist church of the Dark Ages.

Look deeper at the Holocaust and Fascism and you find the true engineers: Popes Pius XI and Pius XII. A look at the facts (See series Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism) compels any reasonable person to see that Fascism, World War II, and the Holocaust were purposeful creations of the Church.

But Roman Catholics will deny that. After all, their sect was founded by the king of denial.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Same as the Old Boss: Barack Obama Bombs Pakistan

Will the administration of President Barack Obama be characterized by imperialism light? Just enough kindler, gentler crusading to keep peace-loving Americans trapped in the Democratic Party?

It is hard to predict the actions of someone whose election campaign was characterized by unprecedented massive spending, vagueness on policy issues, and emotional manipulation. But in the opening days of his presidency we have seen two early indicators of how things are going to work. The prison at Guantanamo is supposed to be closed within a year (but we'll keep the base we stole from Cuba). That is good. It really is not much, but it is good.

The bombing of Pakistan this week, allegedly using unmanned drones operated by the CIA, is bound to please the security people. Barack has shown he can order people to be murdered in foreign countries. As far as I can tell, we (I am a citizen of the United States of America, and must accept some collective responsibility) invaded Afghanistan without any reasonable pretext for war. We overthrew the government of Afghanistan and installed a puppet government that has been characterized by the usual ineptness and corruption, and which exists mainly to profit from the poppies to heroin trade. Anyone who fights against the American occupation is in the right; every American bullet just does further wrong. It does not matter if I like the American way of life better than I like the radical Islam way of life. America has no military business in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

What will imperialism light look like? Most likely it will simply mean a more economical application of resources. Regimes that don't march to U.S. orders will get the usual carrot and stick treatment. There will be greater reliance on the CIA and Air Force, as opposed to use of ground troops. Regimes we don't like will be destabilized. Regimes we like will be propped up no matter how undemocratic or intolerant they are.

The Taliban's big mistake was not understanding how the game is played. They should have become a pro-U.S. band of Islamic fanatics, like the Saudis. That's fine. The U.S. does not care if women are oppressed, as long as the government that oppresses them caters to U.S. military and economic interests.

Or maybe the Taliban understood perfectly well how the game is played, and unlike "moderate" Islamic leaders, decided it was wrong to play that way. Just as there are always a few U.S. citizens, very few usually, who show some spine and actually do their best to prevent our government from committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. The way you get ahead in the U.S. in politics is you join one of the two major parties and work hard for the capitalist class. When that class screws up badly, as they did in 2008, you help a section of the class to make slight policy changes that will insure the survival, political and economic, of the class.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nature Marvels at Obama Inauguration

Let it be recorded by good and faithful scribes that the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as President of the United States was accompanied by many natural marvels. Let this confirm that a new era of peace and justice is dawning on the world.

In California, south of San Jose, three small earthquakes the night before the inauguration heralded the coming of the new day.

In Point Arena, California, at the break of day, a hiker found that two Point Arena Mountain Beaver had constructed an eight-foot tall pyramid of wood and gravel. The pyramid was perfectly aligned on east to west lines.

In the war-torn region of the eastern Congo, the Sun flashed green before rising for the day.

Texas, not to be outdone, reported that thousands of rattlesnakes near Houston gathered and shook their rattles in time while a mockingbird chorus sang "Midnight Special."

At a toxic waste site near Birmingham, being cleaned up at tax-payer expense, for the first time in 20 years a flower bloomed.

In Pittsburgh an entire neighborhood reported that they heard no noise when the garbage was collected, and so got a full nights sleep.

In Bulgaria a stream changed its course, revealing a pure gold, probably pre-roman statue of Venus with the face of Hillary Clinton.

In the remote village of Tlaxiaco, Mexico, a tortilla being prepared for breakfast was discovered to have browning marks that suggested Barack Obama's profile.

Two scientists surveying coral bleaching in the reefs of Micronesia reported that living coral was found to have resurrected itself.

Scientists at NASA, studying automated satellite data, reported that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began to fall at precisely noon, Eastern Standard Time.

Other natural marvels have been reported, but not yet confirmed.

Let any person in the future who refuses to believe these eye witness testimonies be thrown into the dark halls of despair and hopelessness.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Constitution and Commerce

I just learned about the "dormant commerce clause" from Jane Anne Morris's recently published Gaveling Down the Rabble. Morris presents difficult material in a witty and insightful manner. Her book is about how the commerce clause was used to create a free trade zone in the U.S.

The Commerce Clause, of course, is in the Constitution of the United States of America. Most national law in America is enforceable inside the States because it is tied ("pegged") to the Commerce Clause. This is the full extent of the clause, from Section 8 of Article I:

"Congress Shall have power ... to regulate commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;"

According to Morris, in legal jargon "dormant commerce clause" does not just mean that Congress is not exercising its power to regulate commerce. The theory of the dormant commerce clause went through three phases. In the first phase, starting in 1829 with a Supreme Court decision, dormant did mean Congress had made no law about a particular commerce issue. The Court ruled that if Congress did not act, individuals States were free to act to regulate their own commerce as they saw fit.

In Phase II, running from 1851 to until 1876 (a period of time when corporations, monopolies and trusts came to dominate the American economy), the Supreme Court ruled that when Congress was silent, it was up to the Supreme Court to decide whether states could act. The Court wanted to help corporations reach national markets. It started interpreting free trade to mean not just that goods were not taxed when they moved across state borders, but that local laws and regulations that impeded any business operating from out of state were unconstitutional.

In Phase III, starting in 1876 and running up to the present, dormancy and the Constitution were turned on their head. The Supreme Court ruled that when Congress was silent, the states could make no law regulating trade (or a particular article in commerce). States could only regulate trade to the extent Congress specifically allowed to them.

With that turn the power granted to the federal government to regulate commerce "among" the states became the power to regulate all commerce, including commerce that stays in any particular state.

In the 1960's civil rights legislation needed to go beyond asserting the right for all adults to vote (until then Democratic Party denied non-white Americans the right to vote in the former states of the Confederacy). The Federal Government wanted to say that a black American could go anywhere a white American could go. If the owner of a particular restaurant in a particular state did not want to serve food to blacks, the federal government wanted to be able to prosecute the owner.

Rather than basing such legislation on the 14th Amendment, it was based on the Commerce Clause. The idea was that Congress can regulate all commerce, so it could regulate commerce at a particular restaurant, so it could say black Americans could eat, or work, at that or any other restaurant or establishment.

Racist segregationists asserted "states' rights," correctly pointing out that the commerce clause was not meant by the writers of the Constitution to allow the Federal Government to boss around the owner of a small store.

Civil rights activists and sympathizers defended the federal interference with local business people, and thus defended the dormant commerce clause. For decades anyone who mentioned "states' rights" was assumed to be, at least secretly, a racist.

Yet the right to abolish slavery in a state, before the Civil War, had been states' rights. The infamous Dred Scott Decision (brought to you by the Democratic Party) declared that northern states had no right to make slavery illegal inside their borders.

Powers are two edged swords. Most people are for states rights when that gets them what they want; against states rights when that would go against my desires. The Supreme Court is no different. There was a fear that the current conservative court might be generally sympathetic to states rights arguments. Instead they have favored states only when that helped their conservative agenda. With respect to the commerce clause, they have no interest in states rights.

See also states' rights at wikipedia

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Somalia and Barack Obama: Prelude

What will Barack Obama do? Will he continue the disastrous United States policy of imperialism in Somalia?

This week the U.S., or at least the George W. Bush Administration, was pushing in the U.N. for further military intervention in Somalia [See US Calls for Decision on UN Force in Somalia, Associated Press, January 12, 2009].

You will recall that the U.N. (United Nations) is the successor to the League of Nations, which was formed during World War I to maintain the global power of the white imperialist nations (See Barack Obama and Woodrow Wilson). The U.N. is not a democratic organization, but has always been controlled by the United States, its allies, and puppets. It has never protected a small nation against U.S. (or English, or French, or even Russian) military or covert interference. It has been used by the U.S. to give international sanction to military adventures in Korea (See The U.S. Conquest of Korea), Vietnam (See Vietnam notes), the former nation of Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, among others.

So it should have surprised no one that the U.N., a war crimes organization, sanctioned U.S., Ethiopian, and African Union military invasions of Somalia this past few years. This remarkable example of human viciousness and stupidity has largely gone unnoticed even by peace activists in the United States because of the ongoing wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Somalia adopted a tribal, non-centralised form of governance in the 1980's. There is nothing illegal about that. The Somalians invaded no foreign nation, so there was no legitimate pretext for any other nation to make war upon Somalia.

Throughout the 1990's and the new millennia the U.S., working mainly through the CIA, supported one of more factions in Somalia. It even got the world press to call the factions it supported a "Provisional Government." A few years back the people of Somalia, tired of fighting between tribal war lords, decided to set up a just, democratic, trans-tribal but decentralized governmental structure called the Islamic Courts. This system was based on Islamic Law. Not how I'd do things, I prefer a just non-sectarian government, and but note they did not attack any foreign nation. They were trying to bring peace and justice to their nation.

The Bush Administration went ballistic. Why weren't the people supporting the perfectly good CIA-trained puppet government in Baidoa? Time to invade. The Ethiopians (Christians) were hired to do the job, but the U.S. shelled Somalia from battleships and with high-tech fighter bombers, and dropped in some special ops guys to do some wet work.

The Islamic Justice Courts were unable to immediately repel Ethiopian tanks and heavy artillery. For about 3 months. Somalians just hated the U.S. puppet "Provisional Government" even more after the occupation by the Ethiopians. The Islamic Courts (often now called "moderate Islam") and new, more radical Islamic factions, soon began eating away at the CIA's tenuous hold on the country. Come December 2008 and the Ethiopians were in full retreat back to their homeland.

Now the CIA wants to get the moderate Islamic Justice Courts that they overthrew a few years ago to cooperate with the "Provisional Government" to prevent the "radical" Islamic factions from gaining power.

How about this: we hold war crimes trials. We hang every U.S. policy maker who is found to have made it a policy to use military force against Somalia.

Oh yes. We stop interfering in Somalia. In any way.

Will this just policy that might make Americans think twice before committing war crimes and crimes against humanity be pursued by the Obama administration? Will he usher in a New Era of Hope and Peace and Justice? What do you think?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Ten Commandments: Israel Scorecard

Citizens of the state of Israel (or occupied Palestine) seem to have a lot of trouble with "Thou shalt not steal." According to my Gideon Bible, that would be in the Old Testament, Chapter 20 of Exodus, verse 15 [Exodus 20:17]. In fact, Israelis seem to have left the Ten Commandments, or the majority of them, behind in Germany or Poland or Russia or wherever they came from before they invaded Palestine after World War II.

There were a lot of Jews in Palestine before World War II, and as far as I can tell they were about as law abiding as people are in general in the world. Occasionally in history Jews have occupied or ruled bits of Palestine for brief periods of time. Even then they always shared it with other ethnic groups: Canaanite, Philistines, Egyptians, Greeks, other Arab tribes, etc. The Romans kicked the Jews out of Palestine in 132 A.D. An Islamic ruler, Caliph Umar, let them back in after 638 A.D., but the majority of Jews still live outside of Palestine even today.

Up until about 1948, Jews migrating to Palestine bought land from willing sellers. There were some problems even with that, for instance peasants found themselves turned out of their lands when whichever Arab patriarch held the title decided to cash in and live the good life somewhere else. Sad as that might be, it was no different than similar land deals elsewhere in the world.

The Jews, or the Jews in Palestine known as Israelis, started massive land thefts beginning with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. This theft took many forms. In all too many cases for a particular piece of land some Palestinians were murdered and the rest fled; title to the land was worked out later. In other cases after Palestinians fled they were unable to pay the real estate taxes imposed by the Israeli government, so they lost their land, which Israel gave or sold to Jewish settlers. This process has ebbed and flowed but never stopped. Fraudulent conveyance continues to this day. In a recent case investigated by the Associated Press, land newly settled by Jews in the West Bank had been ruled legally transferred by Israel even though the documents were forged. The guy who supposedly signed the deed transferring title had been dead for over two decades. [See also West Bank Sites on Private Lands]

Maybe God should have made it more specific: using lawyers and courts to steal is still stealing. Most of the land that now constitutes Israel is stolen land. But if you talk to Jewish fanatics (which I have on more than one occasion) none of this is theft. No, it is the Palestinians who are thieves. God gave the land to the Jews. It is okay to take away land, or lives, from Palestinians because they are "animals." Devoid of human rights, presumably created by a different God than the one worshipped by Israel. Throw in the "terrorist" word and you can justify anything.

Let's take a quick trip through the other Commandments. The stealing one is number 8 [See numbering the Ten Commandments; I am following the Catholic system, but quoting from the Protestant King James Bible].

1. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." I think the Israeli nationalists have made the actual land of Israel their false god. They are willing to break all other commandments to attain it.

2. Don't misuse God's name ("Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord they God in vain). I think they are okay on this one, or at least about the same as other groups.

3. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." It seems to me the Israelis have been raining terror on the Palestinians, including on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, lately. Killing on a Saturday seems to break two commandments at once.

4. Honor your father and mother. Jews are probably no worse than at this than any other people.

5. "Thou shalt not kill." I'll admit, this is a difficult one, most people allow an exception for killing for self-defense. But Israel is an act of aggression. The right of the Jews to defend themselves against the Catholic Church and its fascist minions in the 1930's and 1940's should not have been perverted into a license to kill Palestinians every time an Israeli had a bullet to spare.

6. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Fine, as far as I have observed Jews are not the chosen people compared to any other religious or ethnic group when it comes to adultery.

7. Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor. That would seem to preclude forged land transfer documents. But perhaps some logic Rabbinical excludes non-Jews from the concept of "neighbor."

8. Is discussed above.

9. You shall not lust after your neighbor's wife. I know of no objective evidence that Jews or Israelis lust more or less than other people.

10. Thou shall not covet they neighbor's property. Again, most of Palestine belonged to non-Jewish Palestinians, and the state of Israel is the manifestation of desire for other people's property.

So I would give the Israeli Jews, as a society, a failing score of following only 4 of the 10 commandments. Of course individuals vary, and few people have the time to break all of the commandments every day.

If I recall my Old Testament, some very bad things happen to Jews who do not keep the commandments. Worst case scenario: an army expels them from the Holy Land.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Is America A Democracy?

Is America a democracy? Is it a republic? As I explained in America: Republic or Democracy?, a nation can be both. In broad terms I think it is fair to say the the United States of America is a republic that is also a democracy. Call it a democratic-republic (but also recall that some 20th century nations that styled themselves "The Democratic Republic of ..." looked suspiciously like dictatorships).

Here I want to go a bit deeper into the idea of whether the United States of America is a democracy. The long-term historical trend has been to give more groups of people the right to vote in elections. In the 20th century women and people not of European descent gained the right to vote. The voting age was also lowered to 18. This would strengthen the democratic element of our republic. However, this broadening of the right to vote does not insure that the majority view on a particular issue becomes law.

It might be fair to call America a careful, conservative democracy. Suppose a minority position becomes a majority position, as determined by polls. It may take a long time for the majority's view to become policy or law. It is possible that elected officials may realize public sentiment has changed and make appropriate changes quickly, but that seldom happens. Representatives tend to remain loyal to the groups of people that got them elected. So those who oppose the change, or at least some of them, must be voted out of office.

Elections are held every year, but most terms of office have a two year minimum. Let's focus on the national level. The House of Representatives is re-elected every even-numbered year. To get a new majority, in tune with changed public opinion, could take up to two years, depending on where in the election cycle the change of opinion took place.

But only one-third of the members of the U.S. Senate are elected every two years. Each Senator is elected for six years. So it could conceivable take six years for the new majority to emerge in the Senate. And the President can veto the work of a mere majority, so a sympathetic President would be needed, which could take four years.

Even then, as we have seen in U.S. history, the Supreme Court could find reasons to block change. Since the Supreme Court is not elected, but members are given life time appointments by the President, it can easily take a decade for a change to take place if the Supreme Court opposes it. On the other hand, on some occasions the Supreme Court, in deciding a law case brought before it, has made sweeping changes in the laws by a single ruling. These rulings may or may not reflect the sentiments of the majority of citizens.

Even the above scenario assumes an issue is important enough to be the deciding factor in elections. But issues are bundled together so that the voters cannot always get what they want. You can vote for only one person in the House of Representatives. Generally, the set up is that the choice is between a Republican Party candidate and a Democratic Party candidate. Perhaps neither candidate is willing to work for the majority opinion on a particular issue. Or voters, and those seeking their votes, prioritize a different issue (taxes, abortion rights, immigration, etc.) over the one where opinion has changed.

In fact, because of the necessity of bundling issues when voting for candidates, even when there is a clear majority on a particular issue, there may never be appropriate legislation passed on that issue.

Does that mean that the process is not democratic? I think that would be too harsh of a criticism. To a large extent it is an unintended consequence of the republican (that is, representative) structure of our government. Some states get around this problem by allowing for referenda (votes on a particular issue by all of the voters). But there is no mechanism for a national popular vote on a single issue.

Knowing that bundling is part of the mechanics of government in the United States, special interests have every reason to thwart the will of the majority by affecting how issues are bundled. Take "wasteful government spending." One person's wasteful spending is another person's job or profits. If you ask Americans if they want to "eliminate wasteful spending at the Pentagon," they will almost all say yes. But no defense contractor thinks his profit centers are wasting the taxpayers' money. You can't run for Congress with eliminating Pentagon waste as your main issue. The other candidate will just say she's against waste too. There is no election advantage in it. So it never rises to the top of the agenda of elected officials. The same is true, most of the time, of waste at other agencies. It is true that public interest groups are sometimes successful at exposing waste. Before he became President, Harry Truman is reputed to have done a good job with his Senate committee to investigate and eliminate wasteful military spending. But generally speaking, waste is part of the package.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the least democratic, most conservative of our institutions. Of course the Supreme Court couches its decisions based on its interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, which is quite difficult to amend. In reality the Supreme Court has a long record of interpreting the Constitution to suit itself. That is why the appointment of a new Supreme Court judge or two can have greater affects on American law than almost any other event. But it is important to remember that the U.S. Constitution can be amended. In the past, amending it has often had a greater affect on government than electing whole new Congresses, Presidents, or even Supreme Courts. It is surprising that so little effort is put into amending the Constitution. There are many reasons for this, but mainly it is not a priority for the major political parties. It requires a lot of hard work to get a Constitutional amendment passed, and most attempts to amend the Constitution fail.

After the Supreme Court, the national institution that most resembles an undemocratic Republic rather than a Democracy is the U.S. Senate. There are two major problems with the U.S. Senate, if the goal is democracy. One is that there are so few Senators and so many Americans. At the time I am writing the population of the United States is about 305 million, so on average each Senator could be said to represent 3 million people. In California two Senators represent 36.5 million people. When you represent that many people, who do you listen to? At the other end of the spectrum is the state of Wyoming, with a population of just over one-half million people. That means that the Senators from Wyoming can be in closer contact with their constituencies. It also means that special interests operating at the national level can put unduly significant amounts of money into the election of Senators from states with small populations. Even without interference by special interests, small-population states tend to be rural. In the U.S. Senate rural populations have far better representation per voter than urban populations. This violates the basic rule of democracy: each citizen's vote should count the same.

Finally, there is the question of money. Citizens may know very little about the citizens who are seeking public office beyond what the campaigns choose to tell them. Usually, but not always, in the United States the candidate with the most money wins. Therefore campaign donors may influence policy more than voters. Both nationally and in some states there have been attempts, broadly called campaign finance reform, to lessen this distortion of democracy. Some have been relatively successful, for instance limiting how much money any one person can give to a campaign for Congress. Others have failed, in particular the idea of publicly financing campaigns. Special interest groups try to kill or maim these laws, and if they are passed set to work to do end-runs around them. The ability of some candidates to raise more money than the other candidates could get from public financing also tend to make these laws irrelevant.

Democracy in itself accomplishes nothing. In a democracy we may have eliminated political violence, but in the struggle for control of government there can be the equivalent of an ongoing, but very civil, war. Those who work the hardest, or have the money to hire the hardest election workers and lobbyists, have an advantage over those who merely have an opinion.

There are specific structural reforms that might make America even more democratic, such as electing the Supreme Court, or recasting the Senate so that each Senator represents the same number of voters. However, already democracy is a big playing field. Individuals and groups of people have many opportunities to push for what they want. If you feel you are in a majority and yet not getting your way, the thing to do is to push harder. If you are in a minority, but feel you are in the right, you need to work harder to bring your views to others.

If you find that a wealthy minority is bribing (perhaps legally, with campaign donations or perks from lobbyists) your representatives, you should probably get yourself another representative. If a wealthy minority is bribing both major parties, help elect independent third party candidates that share your views of the problem.

Democracy is a big notion. No one institution or marker determines whether a nation has a democratic form of government, or the reality of democratic self-rule. Even in a democracy there may be widespread injustice, environmental destruction, bad cultural values, violence, economic disarray, and just plain bad decision making by fully democratic institutions. But compared to dictatorships and other forms of minority rule, democracy puts people in the best position to reform their society and governance in a peaceful way.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Two Free Trades

I am reading Gaveling Down the Rabble by Jane Anne Morris. It is an important book; I'll review it when I am done reading it [buy it already: Gaveling Down the Rabble].

Jane uses the word "free trade" a lot, and so do other people. This word might seem to have a precise definition, but it does not. It can mean many things, and that causes confusion.

The obvious meaning of "free trade" is to trade for free. This actually happens to some extent in the United States. When a train or truck with goods passes between two states, there is no tax (aka tariff) on the goods. No, they wait to charge the tax until you buy the goods retail. There is no free trade between me and Walmart; I am taxed on the transaction.

The less obvious meaning of free trade is what Jane Anne Morris decries in her book. It is really about preventing local communities, states, and even nations from having regulatory control of their economies. This also means no local control of our way of life. Usually this kind of free trade involves negotiating low tariffs when goods pass between one nation and another, but it almost never reduces tariffs to zero. Instead its main goal is to allow global corporations to maximize profit by manufacturing goods (or growing food) where labor and other costs are lowest. These trade policies, which should be called trade deregulation, not "free trade", are encompassed in the World Trade Organization (WTO), NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), and similar treaties and organizations.

One effect of both types of "free trade" is to shift tax burders from corporations to consumers, which means from the relatively rich to the relatively poor. Back in the ancient days of the United States there was no income tax. How was this done? True, there was a tax on alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. But the main tax was the tariff on goods entering and leaving the country. That tax was paid by the merchants who engaged in international trade. Of course there was no massive Pentagon budget back then either.

So keep in mind: when you see or hear the phrase "free trade," be sure to find out which definition is being used.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Approaching a Political State of Nature

In 1774, in September, on the second morning of the first meeting of the Congress of the British states in America, Patrick Henry shocked his colleagues with an observation. He stated that the colonial societies represented in that Congress had returned to a state of nature.

In political theory then, as now, a state of nature did not refer to living harmoniously with the ecosystem. It meant that the bonds of government, and even of society, were dissolved. It meant anarchy, as was most notably examined by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. It was generally regarded as a bad thing. What good people were supposed to do when they found themselves in a state of nature was create a new social order including a government to their liking. Thomas Hobbes liked monarchs, but English society favored a republican form of government with a limited role for the monarch.

Patrick Henry was an interesting guy. He is best known to American's for crying, "give me liberty or give me death!" He owned a bunch of slaves at the time, so "me" should be emphasized. He did not want freedom for all. He wanted the liberty to own slaves, in which he felt he would be hampered by the Somerset Decision of the English court. However, he was consistent about keeping government close to, and controlled by, the (white male) people. He did not want to replace a tyranny based in London by one based in some American national capital.

What was probably most shocking about his statement that the colonies were already in a state of nature, was that it was not really true. The colonies were not in a state of anarchy. They were not exactly in a state of rebellion. The leaders of the colonies did not like taxes and they did not like their own power being limited by the British government. But life went on in 1774 in a manner little different than it had in 1770.

Henry was opening the door to a more subtle argument. He was giving a philosophical ground for the idea of a change of governments. He did not believe that you should have to pass through a state of anarchy to get to a new, improved government.

Anarchy and anarchism have the same language root and are often confused in the public mind. Anarchy is the absence of government. Anarchism is the political theory that society can be well organized without a government. In other words, anarchists believe that the "state of nature" can be transformed into a cooperative, peaceful society. In fact, they argue that government, even in its republican form, tends to become organized crime. Anarchists believe that governments do not prevent violence, they cause it. Most anarchists a peace-lovers.

I want to raise the question in your mind: are we in, or moving into, a state of nature in the United States? I thought we might be moving rapidly in that direction during the economic crisis of 2007-2008. Now it looks like the government and economy will muddle through, for the time being. But even the muddling through has greatly increased popular discontent. Why were bankers saved, and automobile executives and workers, while other businessmen and workers were given no help at all? Why spend so much on useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan when the money is needed in the United States? Why help spendthrifts who bought McMansions, but not those who saved up 20% down payments to buy modest houses?

If Barack Obama's campaign did nothing else, it raised popular expectations. He promised everything to everyone. If he even delivers on the minimal promises, by the end of the first year of the Obama administration the national debt will have risen by over 2 trillion dollars from where it stood before the election campaign season began. Nothing is planned to stem the growth of the population of the United States or the world; global warming will continue; the fish in the sea that have not been caught, will be caught soon enough.

I believe we are, for all practical purposes in a state of nature. We have the right to set up a society and maybe even a government that suits us. California, in particular, needs a whole new government, including the complete destruction of the Democratic and Republican parties. We need to annul many of the stupid, in fact reckless, policies that have been forced on us from Washington, D.C.

If Obama and the new Congress do the right things, then anarchy and global ecological collapse might still be avoided. I'll believe it if I see it.