Monday, December 20, 2010
“We do not see compelling evidence they have renounced, in practice or in theory, the idea that they can use force against their opponents,” James F. Jeffrey, the United States ambassador to Iraq, told reporters. They in this case are the followers of Moktada al-Sadr.
It must be a common practice in the world for political parties and governments to renounce, in theory or in practice, the idea that they can use force against their opponents.
I must have missed the news that the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the U.S. government have renounced, in theory or in practice, the idea that they can use force against their opponents.
Tell it to the Marines, Ambassador Jeffrey.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Where is the public outrage? Workers are happy to have a slight reduction in the Social Security tax in 2011, and seniors already on Social Security are not too worried. The crisis is probably still about a decade away. Everyone is too worried about the short term to worry about the long term. Retired workers will starve some time in the future, but they have no political representation to speak of. Certainly the Democratic Party gave up representing workers decades ago.
Everything is going according to plan, if you are rich. The rich shall pay no taxes. And I really mean no taxes, because even though rich people in theory pay a 15% long term capital gains tax, in reality they can delay payment forever. The other taxes rich people pay, the ones that everyone pays like sales tax, are trivial to them.
A lot of government spending is ongoing, but no one wants to pay for it. Current Social Security taxes pay for current Social Security recipients. In turn current payers are supposed to have their retirements subsidized by future payers. But once erosion begins (and it has now officially begun) no one wants to be there when the levee breaks. So younger current workers will join the rich in calling for reducing the SS tax even further. Until the cycle is complete and we are back to 1929.
Social stratification is growing. The traditional conveyor belt from the working class to middle class, the low-cost college education, is drying up faster than roadkill on a desert highway at midday in summer. Talented people will be trapped in the working class, no-talent rich kids will increasingly become the decision makers of this nation. They will decide to tax the workers and repeal the minimum wage laws. If you want work your options will be the Army, homeland security, and mopping the floors of their yachts.
The working class is not just unorganized, it is disorganized. Socialist parties and revolutionary groups have all but disappeared. The Democratic Party and most unions are rotten or at best incompetent. Even the middle class seems paralyzed by free-market rhetoric.
In the next year or two the economy will continue its normal business cycle recovery. It would have even without the new tax cuts. Given the depth of the recent recession, a recovery cycle might even last five to ten years. The cycle will end when the national debt it too big to repay and interest rates on that debt start spiraling out of control. The rich will be so powerful you can count on both the dismantling of any remaining social programs and the imposition of higher taxes on everyone who is not tax-sheltered.
Of course, other scenarios are possible. But they would take effort. The real problem was the New Deal and the Great Society combined with American global economic dominance post World War II to create an imperialist working class. No one complained about getting $30 an hour to make the steel and explosives dropped on rebellious peasants. Remember when the unions organized workers to attack peace protesters during the Vietnam War? Our unions thought they were indispensable, but they were wrong. Surprise, steel can be made anywhere. Factories can be dismantled and put together somewhere else.
Hopefully Barack Obama will put himself out of his misery and not run for President in 2012. I admit that Obama may have proven to be a better President if he did not have the Republican Party to deal with. But the President can veto any bill passed by Congress, and there should be enough Democrats in Congress to sustain a veto. He could have stopped the tax cut extensions for the rich. He could have gotten a much better deal for the American people in return for those cuts, if he had wielded his veto.
Imagine it being, say, March 2011, three months into taxes going back up to pre-Bush levels. Who would be hurting, who would be willing to make a deal? The rich and their wholly owned politicians. This whole "we have to do it in December" bit was another Big Lie.
What did Barack Obama get in return for himself? Two years of cooperation with Republicans in Congress?
Forget the old deal. Welcome to the Screw Deal. Next Act: Return to the Dark Ages.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
It became apparent to me that God must be sending the drought as a message to the Christians of the Bible Belt. But why? Surely no homosexuals, abortionists, or prostitutes live in the Bible belt anymore, not once they can afford a bus ticket out. While surely some people in the Belt don't pray as much as they should, that is even more true of areas of the United States that are not suffering from drought.
I talked to several preachers who claimed in the past earthquakes in California are God's punishment for allowing homosexuals and abortionists to live, but none of them thought the drought was anything other than a natural La Nina related weather pattern.
Then I took a big step. I decided to try to get an interview directly with God.
True, the bureaucracy was daunting. No one seemed to believe that I really wanted to know God's opinion. But I was persistent, and suddenly a void opened before me (I appeared to be in a multi-dimensional quantumized relativistic field space, but more on that some other time) and I heard the voice of God.
"Speak English!" I shouted back at him.
"There, is that better, insignificant germ on an insignificant planet in an insignificant galaxy in a botched universe creation experiment that I had almost forgot existed?"
"So you are saying you did not visit the drought on the Bible Belt of the United States of America on the planet Earth?"
"Not exactly. Let me have one of my minions examine the database. Huh. That drought is a punishment, although it is also a natural La Nina related weather pattern."
"Fine. Then people on Earth would like to know what the punishment is for, so that they can do better and escape punishment?"
"The punishment is partly for being conscious beings who only do what's right to escape punishment. But more specifically, I don't like them attacking people who are Moslems. I'm not all that fond of Islam, but that camel trading artist Mohammed did hear one thing right. I am the one and only God, and I don't like my creation worshipping made-up Gods, including people whose followers claim they are God on earth."
"So no false gods. Anything else?"
"Did I ever say that because the earth is insignificant that humans have the right to destroy it? Start taking care of the environment or I'm cutting off your food supply. Breed less. Open up more Planned Parenthood centers. Use condoms. Use the brains I gave you to make intelligent decisions! Stop reading the Bible and the Koran so much. They are out of date! Didn't people get the messages I sent through Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein?"
"Well some did, and some did not. A lot of people seem to be hard of hearing in these matters. Especially in the Bible Belt."
"I've tolerated the Bible Belt long enough. I'm turning it into a desert for a few decades. After that, with some rain it might be a nice place again. It was a regular paradise before Christians arrived."
"But if people stop reading the Bible, would you stop the drought?"
"Ha! Maybe it will stop by itself. Maybe it is a natural cyclical phenomena! Next!"
At that point I was blown out of the interview space, back to my natural home in coastal northern California, where it is raining. Where it is okay to believe in Special Relativity and Natural Selection. Where people are friendly, and mostly see no need to go to Afghanistan to kill people.
But I was a little bit miffed that the interview ended so abruptly. I thought the tradition was that when God gives you an interview, and you get back to spread the Word, everybody is thankful and gives you ten percent of their income. Next time I get an interview, I'm starting with fee negotiations.
Monday, December 13, 2010
The basic idea of the soul arose in pre-historic times. Once history starts (with the invention of writing) we start to see ideas mentioned that correspond in some way to our more modern ideas of the soul. Animism, the belief that all things, including mountains, rivers, and trees, have a spirit, is likely to have pre-dated civilization, much less history. As religions developed this basic idea (dualism, the idea that a spirit is necessary to animate a material body) was refined.
Ghosts are associated closely with the ideas of soul and spirit. Some people still believe in ghosts, and some honest research still goes into trying to "find" ghosts, but for the most part the concept is now maintained by horror movies rather than religious belief. Reports of ghosts doubtless are based on the human mind's ability to remember the dead, including in dreams and in waking dreams. Dismissing our modern concept of ghosts simply sharpens the religious definitions of soul.
Like a ghost, a soul is supposed to live after death. The ancient Egyptian view of the soul was quite complex. In Hinduism and Buddhism the soul also exists in a complex state before any particular life, and goes from a dead person or animal into a a new baby person (transmigration or reincarnation). In Christianity, while there are differences of opinion within sects, for the most part humans at conception or birth are given a newly-manufactured soul, pre-corrupted with original sin. In both cases the soul carries, or remembers, the good and bad deeds of a person. In is sort of a sin accounting sheet.
The soul is associated with life (as opposed to dead corpses) and in particular with the mind and consciousness. The mind and consciousness are real enough. However, every indication are that they start functioning around the time of birth and cease functioning at death. The concept of soul extends that functioning to before and after an individual's life. This seems to be mostly a function of fear of death. People fear their own deaths, they mourn the death of people they love, and are frightened by the deaths even of people they do not love. It is also a result of valuing the present over the past.
That type of soul, the kind that is conscious and thinks and holds memories and lives after death, is simply imaginary. If such a soul were real we would not need so many nerve cells in our brains to function, and lesions in the brain would have no effect on our behavior. The body animates itself, when it is healthy.
Another aspect of the soul concept that is appealing to many people is its cleanliness, its theorized inability to be stained by the less pleasant facts of life. The soul does not urinate, defecate, or have bad breath. It appeals to people who fancy that cleanliness is next to godliness. This also pairs up well with many people's desire to think of themselves as "spiritual" rather than greedy and materialistic, even when they are not otherwise religious. It is strange that the opposite of greedy is considered by people to be eternal life, rather than mortality.
But what if we do go looking for eternity, or at least something that does last longer than a particular human brain? There are some soul-like substances worthy of discussion. The main ones are the genes, which provide biological continuity, and culture, which provides a continuity beyond our animal existence.
The one thing intrinsic in us that definitely exists prior to conception and that animates human life is our biological ancestry. I'll use DNA here not just to mean the molecules that code our genes, but the complex fabric of life, including the non-DNA parts of the ovum that contribute to the development of fetuses.
DNA is shuffled quite effectively each time a new human is conceived, so unless a community is highly inbred an individual is not identical to the father or mother, and is not likely to be identical to any particular ancestor. Yet most DNA is shared with all humans, and no individual has any unique DNA unless they have a new mutation or are the last of some line, usually meaning they have a life-threating mutation inherited from an ancestor.
Our DNA is a record of our past, of over a billion years of choices and interactions with the the rest of nature. It is the soul of each new human. There is no guarantee that an individual will reproduce, but our DNA is a result of a common ancestry we share with all humans. Unless all humans die, all the DNA in you will be passed on to the next generation even if you don't reproduce personally. Whether this is as reassuring to you as the false idea of a ghost-soul that lives after your death depends on your attitude. Life goes on, but not your particular individual life. That said, I don't think DNA, in itself, is conscious. It is the blueprint for the body, which is conscious.
Culture goes on too, and it existed and developed for hundreds of thousands of years before your birth. Culture is more flexible and tolerant than DNA; it is more capable of experimentation. Culture includes art and ethics, language and technology, religious and social beliefs. Without it, you might survive, but you would be very animal like. You would not be able to think in the sense that people who know a language think.
Language, in particular, is a soul-like substance. It penetrates from the adults caring for a baby and wells up within, naming the things of the world and describing their relationships. Language has been described by philosophers and poets alike as a living thing, a vast edifice of spirit that possesses and shapes us throughout our lifetimes.
When someone argues that humans have souls, I want to know exactly how soul is defined by that person. Since most of the religious definitions of soul make no sense or are clearly make believe, I prefer to avoid using the term except in a poetic sense. I am more interested in mind, intelligence, empathy, and consciousness, which while also sometimes vague or difficult to define, clearly have their role in our natural reality.
See also: God, a Confusing Concept
For a rundown of how many religions define the soul, See Soul at Wikipedia.
Friday, December 10, 2010
"It's shocking" said biologist Eve Migratorius. "As late as this October we had widespread sightings of Deficit Hawks. In December it's as if they all fell out of the sky. We are hoping there are a few hiding in more remote areas, enough to repopulate the species. But we have not been able to spot any yet. If there are any still alive, we can begin the process of adding them to the endangered species list."
Unofficial Republican Party spokesperson Sarah Palin, on hearing the news, said "If elected President I'm going to mow down any and all species that interfere with creating more sub-minimum wage jobs for Americans or further tax breaks for the rich."
Speaking for the White House, Robert Gibbs said, "No comment."
An anonymous source in Congress said,"Given the choice between actually cutting the federal deficit and cutting taxes, most American voters and in particular campaign donors strongly prefer cutting taxes. Ecologically speaking, the Deficit Hawks flew into a vacuum and croaked."
I think it is more complex than that. The Tea Party Pigeon, Columbidae credulus, had a population explosion in 2010. It occupied Deficit Hawk habitat, often mimicking the hawk's mating call. This resulted in female hawks laying infertile eggs, and the decline of the species in December when the prior generation of true deficit hawks died of old age.
Monday, December 6, 2010
We are supposed to remember it was what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called a "Day of Infamy" because the Japanese military attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, without having declared war first. Actually, the Japanese had declared war first, and if they had declared war the previous day, or the previous week, it would not have mattered. The American Navy was looking for an attack on Hawaii from the southwest. The Japanese attack was a surprise because it came from the northwest. The idiot in command of Hawaii had not bothered to send out submarines, surface ships, or even scout planes to warn of an attack from the northwest. Look at a map of the Pacific, look at the relative positions of Japan and Hawaii, and think about how stupid this guy [Husband Edward Kimmel] was.
There are larger issues involved in the Asian-American war that we should remember. They are far more important to remember than the specifics of one particular battle. They address the question: what causes wars? Another larger issue is, if the Japanese attack without declaring war was so bad, why has the U.S. fought so many undeclared wars?
The Japanese attacked the U.S. armada at Pearl Harbor because the two nations were already at war. In addition, President Roosevelt had previously sent orders to General MacArthur in the U.S. slave colony of the Philippines giving him further permission to attack the Japanese, without waiting for Congress to declare war. MacArthur was a fine general, but he wanted more planes and ships at his disposal before making his attack. In addition to the invasion fleet at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. had a huge fleet sailing for the Philippines on December 7, and an even larger fleet under construction. The U.S. in 1940 had ten times the industrial capacity of Japan, and Roosevelt was hell bent on conquering the world with it, which he did. You don't conquer the world by accident.
Japan and the U.S. were already fighting a proxy war in China. The Japanese intervention in China, I believe, was wrong, but Japan was not doing anything the U.S., Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands had not done in China or East Asia. If Japan was wrong, they were all wrong. And the Japanese argument for intervention, while self-serving, was really quite strong. China had been misgoverned for over a century. Japan had, everyone admitted, largely caught up with the White racist powers because she was well-governed (and was, in fact, about as much of a Democracy as any of the other great powers). Japan's leadership sought to bring good governance to China, but instead their crazed military had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The U.S.A. was also deeply involved in using military force, and crimes against humanity, to gain control of China. While Chiang Kai-shek had been a courageous fighter for the independence of China in his youth, by 1940 he and his Kuomintang Party were corrupt puppets of the United States, with little or no actual support from the Chinese people. Chiang was sustained by American money and American armaments. He always had an excuse for not holding elections and for backing up his war-lord partners in crime. In the summer of 1941, long before Pearl Harbor, Claire Chennault began leading "volunteer" American pilots, flying American-made fighters, in attacks on the Japanese and their Chinese allies. This force, the Flying Tigers, was formally incorporated into the U.S. Air Force in 1942. That is war, if by deception.
The Japanese declaration of war accurately describes the reasons for its campaign to liberate East Asia from the colonial powers, including the United States:
Although there has been reestablished the National Government of China, with which Japan had effected neighborly intercourse and cooperation, the regime which has survived in Chungking, relying upon American and British protection, still continues its fratricidal opposition. Eager for the realization of their inordinate ambition to dominate the Orient, both America and Britain, giving support to the Chungking regime, have aggravated the disturbances in East Asia. Moreover these two Powers, inducing other countries to follow suit, increased military preparations on all sides of Our Empire to challenge Us. They have obstructed by every means Our peaceful commerce and finally resorted to a direct severance of economic relations, menacing gravely the existence of Our Empire. Patiently have We waited and long have We endured, in the hope that Our government might retrieve the situation in peace. But Our adversaries, showing not the least spirit of conciliation, have unduly delayed a settlement; and in the meantime they have intensified the economic and political pressure to compel thereby Our Empire to submission. This trend of affairs, would, if left unchecked, not only nullify Our Empire’s efforts of many years for the sake of the stabilization of East Asia, but also endanger the very existence of Our nation. The situation being such as it is, Our Empire, for its existence and self-defense has no other recourse but to appeal to arms and to crush every obstacle in its path.
How does that compare to declarations of war by the United States of America? Even excluding wars to exterminate native American Indians and seize their private property, the U.S.A. has fought in well over 50 wars (defining wars as American soldiers fighting on foreign soil) during our brief history.
The Congress of the United States of America (the Constitution does not allow the President to declare war) has declared war precisely five times. Admittedly, these were the big wars of U.S. conquest:
War of 1812 (Our attempt to conquer Canada; we got Florida instead)
Mexican-American War (We grabbed New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California)
Spanish American War (We grabbed the Philippines and Puerto Rico, but gave back Cuba)
World War I (We charged interest on loans to our allies and became the worlds leading industrial power)
World War II (We grabbed South Korea and Japan and world economic control since everyone else's factories were destroyed)
How does the Japanese declaration of war against the United States stack up? On the whole it is in the same ballpark. In the War of 1812 we had similar complaints about embargos by Britain and France, as well as Native Americans not obeying white men, much as some Chinese were not keen on obeying the Japanese, even discounting the American puppet government of Chiang Kai-shek.
Bringing us back to the present, I don't think very many Americans want to hate the Japanese any more. In that sense we should forget Pearl Harbor. But I don't think the current agreement of the U.S. and Japan to pretend that Japan is not a colony of the U.S. can last too much longer. General MacArthur, by almost anyone's reasonable standards (Stalinists excluded) did a very good job as American viceroy after World War II. The quasi-independent status of Japan has even had some real benefits for the Japanese, as they have been able to focus their economy on production. As the U.S. spins into the whirlpool of war-related debt, if I were Japanese I'd be thinking of cutting loose at the first opportunity. Getting the offensive U.S. military bases off Okinawa would be a good start towards true independence.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
You probably don't recall that under President Dwight David Eisenhower the top margin income tax rate for the richest Americans was near 90%. Starting with President John if-I-just-live-until-pop-dies-I'll-be-a-billionaire Kennedy, the top tax rates have been lowered at regular intervals.
Also keep in mind that most rich people are not like you and me. If you consider a $1 million per year lawyer rich, you don't get around much. He's just a highly-paid working stiff, a member of the middle class. No, a rich person gets most of their increase in wealth through investments. They own things. That means their income-like substance is actually classified as interest, dividends, or capital gains. The best are capital gains, because you (or rather they) don't have to pay capitals gain tax until the gain is "realized." Allow me to illustrate.
You own Apple stock, a lot of Apple stock, and are known for yelling at employees and selling commodity products to consumers for designer product prices. Your stock was priced at $13.87 on, say December 31, 1990 and today it is worth $317.44 per share. You own 5.6 million shares. Your capital gains during the period is (317.44 - 13.87) x 5.6 million, or $1.7 billion.
How much federal tax has this particular rich person paid to the federal government on the $1.7 billion increase in wealth during this period, classified as capital gains? Nothing. Zero. I kid you not. No one pays taxes on capital gains until the asset that has increased in value is sold.
It's true, I know it's true, not just because every financial advisor can tell you this, because a few years ago I began building my own retirement fund, buying some stocks. I only report capital gains (or losses, in my case) when I sell a stock. The IRS would not have it any other way.
Multiply this by about 1 million people whose increased wealth mainly comes from capital gains, and you have a capitalist love fest.
And (this is a very big And) capital gains, if actually taken by sale of stock, are taxed at a special extra-low, friend of Congress and Presidents rate. As are dividends (sort of like interest on a savings account, but paid on stocks).
And no Social Security or Medicare tax is paid on capital gains, dividends, or inheritance.
So what are Obama, the Democrats, and the Republicans arguing about? Exactly how deep the feather beds of the richest Americans will be after January 1. Do not be deceived. Yes, the payroll taxes, including the Federal Income Tax, are important. But what the truly rich are really worried about are the capital gains tax, the tax on dividends, and the estate tax.
The second-tier rich people, the ones with actual incomes who pay income taxes, are of course pretty powerful as a class, and numerous compared to those whose main concern is capital gains tax rates. They care about the income tax rate on incomes over $250,000 per year. They contribute heavily to candidates for congress.
It sounds like Hawaii Obama is going to trade a tax cut extension for the rich in return for being allowed to extend Federal unemployment payments to the unemployed. The Republican Party voted trillions to bail out the likes of GE, Citibank and Goldman Sachs, but a few hundred dollars a week for a long-term unemployed person, why, that's socialism! It is un-Christian, the work of the devil.
Which leaves us with the astonishing federal deficit in place. Which means (and I know you knew this already) the Tea Party Republicans and the Regular Republicans were using the deficit as a phony political issue. They did not care about Bush era deficits that financed the Islamic Wars and the hyper-expansion of the police state (Homeland Security). They would like to throw poor people off unemployment and Medicaid and Social Security, but that is just a matter of principle. Deficits are fine as long as the federal dollars go to the military industrial complex and special projects to enrich government contractors for civilian projects.
Here's what is going to happen: the rich will get what they want. Having a Democratic Party majority in the Senate and the first Hawaiian President in American history are not going to prevent that.
And if history is any indicator, the American worker is just going to take it on the chin. Because we have the weakest-spined workers in the world. American workers (and I include the unemployed) won't march, won't riot, won't even organize a union at their work place, much less register and vote Green Party or for a socialist party. They won't even try to make the Democratic Party work for them.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
by H. McKean), the entire White House was redecorated by Louis Tiffany during Chester Arthur's presidency. Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States in 1901 when William McKinley died after being assassinated by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Roosevelt did not like Tiffany, or his art, considering both to be decadent. Theodore Roosevelt thought putting up stuffed heads of big game animals he killed was decoration enough. He ordered all the Tiffany art objects, which were mostly glass, to be removed and smashed. He refused Tiffany's offer to buy them back. My guess is if he had just put them in storage, we could auction that stuff off for roughly $500 million today, to help pay down the national debt.
There are many instances in history when art has been destroyed for political reasons. Art has often been destroyed when a new religion took over. The early (and later) Christians destroyed a lot of fine statuary because it depicted pagan gods. Just as war should not be excused because there has been a lot of war, Roosevelt's wanton destruction of the art owned by our government should not be excused. But his behavior is not surprising considering the general destructiveness of the man. Most notably, more than any other single person Theodore Roosevelt was responsible for genocide against the people of the Philippines [See The U.S. Conquest of the Philippines].
Why then, is Roosevelt always pawned off as a progressive politician and even an environmentalist? American history-as-propaganda paints a pretty face on Roosevelt's actions during his lifetime, mainly by highlighting a few good features and masking a lot of details. Unlike today, in 1900 large numbers of Americans looked to social cooperation and ethical values to create a better American society. People were demanding economic reforms, women's rights, civil rights, the right to unionize, and the right to use the government to regulate and punish criminal business activities. Many were socialists of one form or another.
Theodore Roosevelt got a name for himself as a reformer early in his life because he took on certain corrupt politicians in New York State. But he had no problem with corrupt practices when he or his friends stood to benefit. While President he did little for the American people. In 1903 he grabbed the Panama Canal zone, but that was because he loved to use the U.S. Navy to bully other nations. Oh, his rhetoric was a fine thing; he called his class of people the "predatory rich," but his reforms were designed to keep particular sets of capitalists, like the railroad corporations, from strangling capitalists as a whole. Trusts (colluding corporate organizations creating monopolies) were attacked rhetorically, but little was actually done about their practices. "The harsh truth is that more trusts were formed under Roosevelt than under the combined administrations of his predecessor (McKinley) and his successor (Taft)." [Bailey, American Pageant]
Roosevelt did increase the size of the national park and forest system, but that was because he like to blast wild animals with guns.
Roosevelt reigned during the age of Reform, but very little reform got done. To distinguish a group of reforms (including women's suffrage and Prohibition) from the more radical socialists and anarchists, the term Progressive came into use. Most of the Progressive politicians were Republicans, notably Fighting Bob La Follette, who became governor of Wisconsin in 1901 and Hiram Johnson, elected governor of California in 1911.
Theodore Roosevelt missed the power of the Presidency after he retired in 1908. President Taft was quieter but more effective, bringing 90 legal proceedings against trusts during his term. But there was no political room to the right of Taft without becoming a Democrat, so Roosevelt tried to get the Republican Party nomination in 1912 by feinting left. When he failed that he formed his own party, which he called the Progressive Party. In effect the Republican Party was split, and the arch-racist Democratic Party nominee, Woodrow Wilson, won with a plurality of the vote. Roosevelt came in second.
Thus the name Theodore Roosevelt became closely associated with the Progressive Party and the progressive movement. So we need to forget the genocide against the Filipino people, and the smashing of Tiffany's glass art, and the unending suffering of American workers and farmers (and African-Americans, and women, and ...) during his era.
Monday, November 29, 2010
One of my favorite literary passages is chapter 13 of Count Zero
by William Gibson. Bobby, a teenager from the bottom-of-the-pit New Jersey suburbs, is sitting talking with his new adult friend, Beauvoir. For reasons of his own, Beauvoir is gently enlightening Bobby about certain apsects of how the real world of cybercrime works.
After a brief discussion of how the Voodoo religion compares to Scientology, Beauvoir explains how Bobby was being used as a sacrificial pawn in a larger game. Bobby had been encouraged to try to steal valuable data, and had twice narrowly escaped being killed in the past 24 hours because this had pissed off powerful people. Bobby wanted out of the suburbs badly, he wanted adventure, and suddenly his life had become a pretty unpleasant action thriller.
Beauvoir explains how cybercrime syndicates work, in very general terms. The basic idea that the vast majority of the risk is dumped on grunts, with layers of middlemen acting to minimize risk for the money guys at the top. Just like the U.S. Marines, just like urban gangs that specialize in selling recreation drugs.
After describing how an expendable is recruited — by telling them they have what it takes to be part of something bigger, something important — Beauvoir asks Bobby, "Sound like anybody you know?"
Even as Bobby puts the picture together, he is seeing just one tiny facet of reality. My own introduction to big league predators was more gentle. I studied my way out of a Marine Corps family into a slot at an Ivy League University. At seventeen I thought nothing could stop me (that was in 1972). I had figured out that the Catholic Church was a pack of liars, that the U.S. was an aggressor nation, and that science, which I loved, was being used for bad ends (mass murder of Vietnamese and other non-Americans) by the U.S. government, which seemed to be owned by capitalists. I volunteered in the McGovern for President campaign in the fall of 1972, then veered off sharply to the left, with occasional forays into psychedelic spaces. The economic advantages a Brown University education usually bestows on working class comers like myself were lost on me. After graduation, I just wandered in the wilderness for years, observing people and thinking about how things could be set to right. Some how I survived.
Mohamed Osman Mohamud has not been so lucky. Teenage boys get angry a lot, and when you add that to their ignorance and their need to prove that they are men, you can get some sad outcomes. Doubtless Mr. Mohamud was a pretty smart teenager, as he studied engineering at Oregon State University. For some reason he did not come to reject Islam (a lot of science/engineering kids reject religions as stupid. Because they are). He must have read up on the history of U.S. attacks on Islamic states. He must have had a hothead side to him.
Instead of hooking up with a kindly Mr. Beauvoir, or with a kindly non-violence activist, Mohamed Mohamud was treated kindly by the FBI. They needed a Wilson, a loser to be part of their big plot to keep the Homeland Security and Pentagon budgets high. FBI agents pretended to be Islamic extremists, and they double dared Mohamed to become a terrorist. They encouraged him, they showed him real explosives, and they stroked his ego.
I don't know how many people the Obama Administration has going in these games at any one time; hopefully some of them have the sense to refuse to actively participate in violence against civilians.
I know that with the right mentor Mohamed Osman Mohamud could have become a constructive member of global society. Perhaps he could have figured out how to make Israel respect the private property rights of Palestinians. Perhaps he could have just been a good engineer, or family man. We will never know.
Because the organization that was originally founded to be the American Gestapo (the FBI was created to disorganize labor unions, particularly the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), got a hold of Mohamed Osman Mohamud. And they burned him but good. One wonders what kind of child-rearing these guys are up to when they aren't taking taxpayer money to create problems designed to take more taxpayer money.
I have no problem with the FBI fighting genuine organized crime. Someone has to do it. I might even applaud if they took down Goldman Sachs, or arrested war criminals like George W. Bush. But if we want to live in a safe and secure world, in a safe and secure America, we don't need the FBI creating phony terrorism scares. We need to do what is right in the greater world, and mainly that means doing nothing where for centuries we have done wrong. A just nation has no need to station its troops on foreign soil. A just nation has no need to install its puppets to rule over other nations like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Great Britain.
We know George W. Bush was mentored by his father, former President George H. W. Bush, and his CIA, oil, and Pentagon cadre of big fellows. We might ask, who mentored Barack Obama, and why did his policies on homeland security and international aggression turn out to be identical to Bush's? I know why. They taught me in my Political Science classes at Brown University. The short answer is that we live in an oligarchy, which has done a fine job of social engineering. What looks like democracy is really just a tuned set of safety valves that sings like a real organ but lets off just enough steam to keep the oligarchy in power. The organist has to keep on his toes. Because complacent oligarchies crumble. They would not want that.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Thank God (the Christian God, not that Allah fellow) America this past decade has been led by President George W. Bush, a Yale graduate, and President Barack "Hawaii" Obama, a Harvard graduate.
Talking to my secret source at the NYT, I learned the Times has been saving this literay gem of a putdown for months. It was originally to be used to characterize the Tea Party, but then Sarah Palin assumed leadership and the Times editors thought "barely literate chicks from the countryside" might offend its largely feminist readership.
Boy, if I were Obama, all proud as a peacock about being the first Hawaiian elected President of the United States, I would hate getting my ass handed to me on a sling by a bunch of barely literate clerics from the countryside.
The NYT, known for its neutral journalism, especially for its unwavering criticism of the State of Israel's crimes against (Palestinian) humanity despite having a large Jewish readership, apparently secretly gave literacy tests to the Taliban leadership. Their English was very poor.
What do you call the leader of a nation that uses high tech fighter jets, bombers, cruise missiles, drones, body armor and satellite imaging against a people fighting for their nation with aging inaccurate rifles and recycled fertilizer?
President Theodore Roosevelt said it all: "Bully!"
Sunday, November 21, 2010
The Puritans tried socialism in 1620 and were starving because there was no incentive for anyone to work if the food produced would be divided up. They came to their senses, probably through direct revelation from Free Market (God), and changed to a private property system in 1621. Like magic, the crops that year were abundant and so they gave thanks and even invited the local Indians.
We have a more recent Thanksgiving informing the parable told by liberals:
The false god Free Market failed in 1929, but his priests, the Republican Party, let Americans starve until the Democratic Party took power in 1933. The New Deal fed those Americans who had not already died of starvation. People really had something to give thanks for at Thanksgiving in 1933, and even more so in 1934. As a result, people learned that a giant, benevolent government, led by the Democratic Party, was needed to intervene in the free markets on occasion.
Both parables have a germ of factual truth in them, and both summarize complex circumstances by leaving out a lot of facts that don't fit into the parables.
To liberals and leftists it may seem strange that what was obviously a Free Market failure in 2007 and 2008 should have been turned by Republicans and the Tea Party into an assault on government. If the government made a mistake (and remember it was a mixed government after the election of 2006, with the Democratic Party controlling Congress under Republican President George Bush), it was that it did not intervene in the markets early enough.
Thanksgiving in Plymouth was no simple historical event either, although the number of people involved were few enough. The ideology of the free market had not been invented in 1620. The Pilgrim Puritans were mainly concerned with religious freedom. Their idea of freedom was simplistic: they did not want to be told by the British government how to worship their version of God. They had not advanced to the point of understanding that they should not try to force their version of religion on others.
The rise and fall of Puritanism in England is worth a good deal of study. Its rise led eventually to civil war, the beheading of King Charles I, and the eventual triumph of Parliamentary democracy and religious tolerance over a Monarchy heading a single national religion. This was a long complex process, however, that began before Martin Luther (with John Wycliffe) and never quite reached a full conclusion even in the 20th century. It is just one historical example of societies cycling between puritanism and tolerance in history.
The Pilgrims reached America a generation before the English Civil War broke out in 1642. The spread of Puritanism in Great Britain began in reaction to the widespread corruption of English society, which ranged from economic, religious and legal corruption to public drunkenness and an assortment of vices, notably gambling. Puritanism can be characterized as a cultural paradox, an overreaction to overindulgence and unethical behavior. Puritans were good (they believed Godly) neighbors who dressed plainly, dealt fairly in business, and got their Christianity directly from the Bible. They tended to prosper not because they had a more correct version of Christianity than Catholics or Anglicans, but because they worked more, saved, invested, and where trusted by their fellow men.
A Puritan society, however, can be a grim society to live in. The rules tend to be set by zealots, who are not content to set a good example by their own behavior. The Puritans inflicted hard punishment on citizens for such perversions as card playing, dancing, pre-marital sex, and theft.
Sound familiar? It should be. The Taliban in Afghanistan are a Puritanical phenomena very similar to the Puritans who founded Massachusetts. The Taliban were mostly sons of men who had died in the Soviet-Afghan war, brought up in Islamic orphanages. In an Afghanistan filled with rapists and extortionists, the puritan goodness of the Taliban appealed to women especially. They seemed like they really were a gift from Allah. They punished men for raping women, and took no bribes themselves. But once in power they also stoned to death women who committed adultery, and stopped people from playing music.
When puritans are successful in restoring social order, people forget why they put the puritans in charge in the first place. They sneak out for a beer, some music, perhaps an illicit kiss. They begin to grumble. Often, when in power, the former puritans feel they have earned a bit of compensation for all their hard work for the general good. They losen up, perhaps even become corrupt. It is difficult to maintain a truly puritan society for more than a single generation.
The best societies avoid the extremes of the puritan vs. corruption cycle. They also avoid the extremes of the socialism vs. free markets debate. Both private businesses (including corporations) and government have a mixed record getting things done. Free markets can lead to local, national, and global catastrophes, but so can bad government. The secret sauce of success, presuming an organization has a good mission, is the attitude of the workers and managers, whether public or private. But in this complex world, anything can fail, including local coops, global corporations, and government programs.
Some times crops fail and famine ensues despite the best of human efforts. For Thanksgiving I would like to thank all the people who have kept records, including the Pilgrims, because I enjoy reading those records.
If there is food on your table give thanks, whether you won it through free markets endeavors or paid for it with socialist food stamps. It is all good to eat.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
It is very, very clear that the U.S.A. has not prevailed in Afghanistan.
There is a fundamental reason for that. Except for a few Afghans on the American payroll, no one in Afghanistan likes the American occupation. That does not mean they like the Taliban, the group most likely to rule Afghanistan when, or I should say if, America ever exits.
It is getting to be a rather long war. In 2002 the U.S. dropped in a load of weapons to the Taliban's enemies in Afghanistan, an assortment of tribes and warlords who did not fancy some other group giving them orders. With some air support and occasional support from U.S. troops, these allies were able to destroy the Taliban government. The puritanism of the Taliban had made it unpopular with many Afghans; puritans always do that.
That was under President George W. Bush. Except that it is important to keep in mind that important matters are not decided by U.S. Presidents, they are decided by a permanent military-industrial complex that supplies the very information even Presidents use in their decision making. Having "won" in Afghanistan, Bush then invaded Iraq.
Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, it only took a couple of years for U.S. allies to make themselves unpopular. The Taliban were not some elected party that quickly fell apart when the campaign donations ceased to roll in. Afghans are a pretty astute people, on the whole. As bad as the local Taliban can be at government, they are mostly preferred to war lords. And even the war lords are to be preferred to rule by the United States, Russia, or NATO.
So the Taliban administered justice, and let up on some of the puritan stuff. U.S. allies administered corruption and injustice. The Taliban, by 2006, were the de facto real government of much of Afghanistan.
That year the Democratic Party ran many of its campaign for Congress on the idea that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. A few candidates were probably sincere about this, but most just wanted votes and knew quite well they were not willing to take on the military-industrial complex. Plus if they used their majority in Congress to cut off funds for the wars, they would not be able to recycle the campaign issue in the 2008 elections.
In 2008 many American voters thought that a vote for Barack Obama and for Democratic Party candidates in general was a vote for peace.
Instead, Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress expanded the war in Afghanistan.
Don't think they, and their Republican Party allies, are stupid. All of them know that no imperial power has ultimately won a war of occupation in this last century. They know they cannot win in Afghanistan. They don't want to win in Afghanistan. They want to serve the military-industrial complex. And the military-industrial complex wants to serve itself. It does not want to admit that it no longer is backed by sufficient economic muscle to tell everyone in the world what's what. But it does want to test its old weapons, buy new ones, and give the troops combat experience. The industrial part of the complex never saw a taxpayer dollar it didn't like.
In 2009 Barack Obama said he would send more troops, and that would allow the U.S. to withdraw most troops in 2011. He was buying time for his masters, the military establishment.
The people of Afghanistan are still going to be in Afghanistan in 2014. Some will be willing puppets, but not enough to keep themselves in power if the U.S. withdraws its support.
Just figure the 2014 date is meaningless. Except that it is 2 years after the 2012 election. Expect both military-industrial complex owned parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, to pledge to get out of Afghanistan by 2014 during the 2012 elections.
How can you tell when a politician is lying?
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
While I appreciate the amount of work Mr. Cornell did researching and writing his book, I think he missed some major points because he was too focused on Eugenio Pacelli (aka Pope Pius XII), Germany and Adolf Hitler.
Fascism was a particular combination of political, social, and economic attitudes. Specific attitudes were shared with other ideologies and types of government. Most notably, fascist governments are headed by men who are, for practical purposes, dictators; but not all dictators are fascists.
One dimension that is seldom talked about by mainstream historians is the religious underpinnings of fascism. In fact, there are often deliberate distortions of the record induced by focusing on minor facts while ignoring the preponderance of evidence. Mussolini is said to have been an atheist, Hitler a promoter of the German pagan revival.
The fundamental truth is that all the major fascist rulers of European nations during the fascist crest were communicants in the Roman Catholic Church. Adolf Hitler was born Catholic and died Catholic. Mussolini, dictator of Italy, was raised an atheist, but converted to Catholicism shortly after he seized power. Antonio Salazar, Portugal's dictator, was Catholic. So was Spain's, General Franco. Marshal Petain, France's dictator, was Catholic. Before Hitler took over Austria, its fascist leader was Catholic. When Croatia was set up as an independent, fascist nation, its leader was Catholic.
That is not to say that all Catholics were fascists, or supported fascism. Nor were all fascists Catholics. But there was a very strong correspondence between Catholicism and fascism.
I don't think it is correct to simply attribute this to the kind of mindset that the Catholic Church creates in its communicants: ignorant, intolerant and obedient. The evidence is that the Catholic Church created and promoted fascism. Cornell does a good job showing how Pacelli used his influence to bring Hitler to absolute power in Germany. True, Hitler might have come to power without Pacelli's help, but then again he might not have.
Would Pacelli have liked someone other than Hitler to be dictator of Germany? Sure. Because the Vatican's plan (I say that because a series of Popes worked on the plan, in particular Pius XI, who was Pope when Hitler came to power; Pacelli became his successor, as Pius XII) was to establish a Catholic dictatorship over the entire globe. Take overs in Catholic-majority nations could only go so far: the Popes wanted a war on the Soviet Union. Hitler was picked as the most likely German leader to rearm Germany and fight the U.S.S.R.
Hitler was less than ideal because he was a German supremacist. That meant he believed the Pope should be subservient to the German emperor. If you know European history, you know the so-called Holy Roman Emperors not only had this view over a period of about a millennium, but that they indeed often saw that their puppets were appointed Pope.
Those who try to defend Pius XII, casting him as an opponent of Hitler, fail to add that perspective. Sure, Pacelli and Hitler had heated disagreements. But they were disagreements over who would be top dog, not about the importance of the dog being both fascist and Catholic.
That is more obvious when you look at the Pope's relations with other fascist dictators, and at what Adolf and Eugenio fought about. Franco, Petain, and Salazar were happy to let the Catholic Church run their nation's schools. Hence, the Pope loved them. He had nothing bad to say about them, even when Franco murdered over a million non-Catholics (before World War II even began). But Hitler and Mussolini wanted the government to control education, because they wanted to create a certain type of citizen, and knew the schools were key. They wanted citizens loyal to themselves, or to their respective national governments. The Pope wanted young citizens loyal to him.
World War II (excepting the war in East Asia, which was mainly anti-colonial in character) was about many things, including economics and the egos of political leaders. It was also a war of Catholics against everyone else. This has been forgotten mostly because the truth did not serve the political purposes of the powerful after World War II. In particular, the Catholic Church was influential enough in the U.S. to protect the Pope (and General Franco and Salazar).
Does this matter? Today a former Nazi is Pope Benedict XVI. His program does not seem to be to re-create the Nazis. But he has taken Catholic dogma back to the Dark Ages and expelled most progressive Catholics from the religious hierarchy. His attitude towards women is akin the Taliban's. He has sought to influence U.S. politics by urging his bishops to attack nominally Catholic, pro-choice politicians. In Italy and other Catholic majority nations the Church is actively trying to turn back the clock on religious tolerance and cultural diversity.
If allowed, there will be political repercussions if the Catholic Church continues to promote its social agenda. At some point the Church will try again to suppress other religions and philosophies; to do that it will need dictators.
Currently the Church is losing members to the modern, secular culture. It is not as powerful an influence as it was before World War II. It seems that, right now, a lot of the Catholic rank-and-file does not want to return to the Dark Ages. But the Church still has a vast organization that can act in a unified manner on a global scale. If people are distressed by economic or cultural turmoil, some could turn to the Church for leadership again just as they did in the 1930s. Just as some people have turned to fundamentalist Islam in this past decade.
Friday, November 12, 2010
This government is sanctioned by the United Nations and African Union as well. It controls, in the vast territory of Somalia, a few square blocks of the city of Mogadishu, in concert with Ugandan troops. By some standards, it is not a bad lot of people. But almost no one in Somalia wants to support a puppet government set up by the United States and other foreigners. Most of the nation's territory is now controlled by fundamentalist militant Islamic groups, notably Al-Shabaab.
There is no better example on earth on why the United States, or any other nation for that matter, should not try to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. Both under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, American interference has consistently made the situation in Somalia worse (if by worse you mean more radically Islamic. If you like fundamentalist Islam, I guess you could say the U.S. has really helped the people of Somalia).
The United States has assassinated politicians, dropped in bundles of money for bribes, and paid Ethiopia and Uganda to invade Somalia. U.S. policy has only served to discredit moderates, like the old Islamic Courts Union that restored some semblance of order to Somalia in 2006. The U.S. has made Somalia an Al Qaeda poster child. The U.S. comes off as brutal and stupid ideological thugs. Which is about right, if you look at our history.
I have to wonder if this is really just an extremely stupid CIA and "Defense" cadre, or if it was done on purpose. By destabilizing Somalia the CIA has created a permanent threat to the U.S. that did not exist in 2006. That guarantees nice fat budgets for the CIA, Pentagon, and Homeland Security apparatcniks.
One could argue, I guess I am starting to argue, that Somalia is a textbook case of creating an enemy where none previously existed. A reasonable conclusion is that someone was following a textbook in this operation. So it was done on purpose. I can't prove it, but I sure would like to get my hands on the archives.
Here's a sound policy: seal the borders of Somalia, withdraw all foreign troops and operatives including aid groups, and let the Somalis work things out among themselves. Recognize any government that seems to have the support or control over, say 50% of the population. Then restore normal trade and diplomatic ties. My guess is that culturally Somalis are moderate people and won't support puritan versions of Islam for long.
Meanwhile, hold tribunals to try George W. Bush and Barack Obama for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Somalia. With those two guys in jail, the rest of the people of the world might feel safer and act friendlier towards Americans.
More Somalia articles by William P. Meyers
Thursday, November 11, 2010
An early draft of her speech on the subject says National Health Prayer will not "interfere with doctors or private health insurance companies." Instead it will eliminate Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal subsidies to "false, science-based health schemes."
"God invented the free market to scourge the lazy and reward the diligent. He invented disease to punish people for their sins. Tax payers should not be penalized for other people's sins."
While the details of the National Health Prayer system remain to be worked out, Palin's vision involves a computerized system of matching sick people to the local church of their choice. "It is a rewards based system for faith healers. Those who are cured will be required to give 10% of their incomes for the rest of their life to the church that cured them."
"God created free markets; the devil created safety nets and socialism," according to Palin. "When you interfere with free markets, you interfere with God's plan for us." The savings to taxpayers would be substantial. The Medicare tax, currently 2.9% of wages would be eliminated.
"Employees will have the equivalent of a 2.9% wage increase. What better gift could the Republican Party give to the voters of the United States of America? However, we do plan to lower the minimum wage to a new global fair wage scale of $1.88 per hour. At that wage level we believe the United States will hit full employment within 2 years of my taking office."
A number of groups are already planning responses to the Palin plan, soon to be known as the Prayer Deal. Commented Roberta Hell of the Flaming Atheist Alliance: "Sarah Palin knows prayer is ineffective, otherwise she would be Vice-President right now. Seniors who rely on Medicare will have their medical care rationed by their limited ability to buy private insurance or at soak-the-patient private doctor prices. That is what this is all about: rationing. Under Palin, America will become one big forced labor camp with monopoly corporations rationing out food, shelter and medical care."
An anonymous source close to Barack Obama said, "The President is aware of the Palin Health Prayer Plan and wishes he had thought of it first. If the Republican Congress presents such a bill to him, the President will look at the specific provisions of the bill before deciding whether or not to sign it."
I asked a local senior about the Palin National Health Prayer Plan. "But I've been paying Medicare tax all my life! It's not fair to cut me off now," she commented. "I'm going to pray that Sarah Palin beats me to the grave, [the rest of her comment was unprintable]"
Sadly, life is not about fairness. It is about free markets and politicians who worship money and power. Not even prayer can change that.
See also Sarah Palin Blasts Health Care [MiamiHerald.com, November 11, 2010]
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Just in case you haven't heard about two of the greatest events of the 20th century, the expulsion of Great Britain from India, which Gandhi helped with, and the end of racial discrimination in the United States, which King helped with, let me just say that both Gandhi and King advocated nonviolent direct action as a strategy to achieve their goals. Nonviolence meant just that: no violence should be used to achieve political or social goals. Elsewhere I and many others have critiqued this idea, and have pointed out that success in these two cased hinged largely on a great deal of violence taking place in parallel with nonviolent protest.
Here I want to remind you of Barack Obama's interpretation of Gandhi and King.
Obama's interpretation of Gandhi's teachings involves escalating a war against the people of Afghanistan. Sure Obama inherited the war, but the vast majority of those who voted for him for President thought he would quickly withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.
The people of Afghanistan did not attack the United States. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was a war crime, and every wounding or killing of any Afghan citizen is a war crime. Barack must be smarter than me because he can square trying to control the Afghan state with hyperviolence with Gandhi's nonviolence. I can't.
President Obama has also used missiles to attack people in Pakistan. The missiles are pretty indiscriminate: they kill women, civilian men, and children as well as their intended targets. But more important, the local militias that the U.S. attacks have never attacked the United States. So this is also a war crime. If you hang pictures of Gandhi and King on the wall, then kill people, do you get a war crime exemption?
I believe Obama does believe in nonviolence, for his enemies. He wants the oppressed people of Kashmir to practice nonviolence. He wants the Palestinians to practice nonviolence. He wants newly impoverished Americans to practice nonviolence. He wants Iran and North Korea to practice nonviolence. He wants the Taliban to practice non-violence. But his military allies like France, Great Britain, and Israel get a pass.
As to the American state he runs, he is bankrupting it with military hardware purchases, a bloated Homeland Security bureaucracy, and his wars against Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I believe Barack Obama's version of nonviolence came around and bit the Democratic Party on the ass on election day. Just two years ago America was filled with hopeful Obama fanatics. They hoped for peace, a universal national healthcare plan, and a jobs program that would quickly bring America out of the great recession. Instead they got war, a health care bill that made no one happy except the insurance companies, and bailouts for billionaires and bureaucrats, but no jobs for ordinary people.
So Obama's base, which is the Democratic Party progressive base, mostly just sat out the 2010 elections. In my county, Mendocino County, the Democratic Party vote [the number of people who voted mostly for the Dem slate] dropped by over 50% from 2008 to 2010. The Republicans did not rally actually many more voters with their idiotic economic and social ideas. They rallied their base, which rallied ordinary Republican voters. Obama and the Democrats alienated their base.
But they don't care! Because basically the same class of rich people finance both parties. Are you a former congressman? You can get 10 times your old salary working as a lobbyist.
The only party in the U.S. that actually advocates nonviolence is the Green Party. When you register Democratic Party (or Republican), you are indicating you believe war crimes and crimes against humanity are okay, as long as an American flag is being waved while the crimes are being committed.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Unfortunately we can't toss out lobbyists every two years. The same lot of bloodsuckers is there in Washington (and in State capitals) no matter who is President or which party controls Congress.
Obama is beginning to remind me of Herbert Hoover, and certainly reminds me of the ancient Greek adage that you don't know whether a man has had a lucky or unlucky life until he is buried. Herbert Hoover was a great guy and swept the nation in his Presidential bid in 1928. He had served less than a year in office when the stock market crashed. The Democrats won the House of Representatives in 1930 after roughly the first year of the Great Depression, except that no one knew in 1930 that anything was much wrong beyond a rather sharp drop off in the business cycle. Everyone thought the economy would start back up in 1931.
By the time Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, blame for the Great Depression had firmly stuck to Hoover and the Republican Party. As far as I can tell, nothing they did caused the Depression and nothing they could have done could have prevented it. Even though the economy did not get much better under Roosevelt during his first term in office, most people failed to shift blame from Hoover to Roosevelt. World War II ended the Great Depression, not Roosevelt or the New Deal. I like some of the provisions of the New Deal, and some were helpful to people at the time, but it is false to give it credit for ending the depression.
Obama's timing, like Hoovers, was just bad. By the time Obama was elected in late 2008 the economy was falling apart. George W. Bush was not to blame; he did not create the housing bubble. Keep in mind that most American's don't follow politics or economics closely. It takes time for reality to sink in. Reality was real clear for all but the most obtuse by mid-2009, but by then Obama was President. Also, he made big promises to get elected, and some fools believed him.
Federal money that could have been used to create temporary jobs for people had to be used for banking and auto-industry bailouts. Those bailouts probably did save us from a depression-style crash, but the average voter doesn't worry about what might of happened. They know what happened: if they did not lose their job, people they know did. And almost everyone had their hours of work cut back in 2009, and so felt poorer. Small businesses in particular were driven to the wall.
Another difference between Roosevelt and the 1934 Democratic Party and Obama and the 2010 Democratic Party is that there was no safety net to speak of in 1932. So between '32 and '34, people were just happy to be fed and sheltered. The safety nets were in place in 2008, so people wanted more. They wanted their jobs back.
The Republican Party has no solutions available. They want to cut the Federal budget, but they won't cut where the fat is: defense and homeland security spending. Cutting the federal budget means cutting jobs. Their idea of creating jobs is giving rich people tax breaks; job creation does not work that way, and tax breaks for anyone will just add to the federal deficit. The Tea Party and Republican ideology advocates do-nothing government. That may be a fine thing in some ways, but it does not create jobs.
But it probably does not matter. We are in an upswing of a business cycle, helped by robust demand from better-managed nations like China, India, and Brazil (all socialist, more or less). I doubt the Republicans in Congress will be able to do anything that would help or hurt the economy in a major way. But that won't keep them from taking credit for the improving economy. Of course, with Obama in the White House, he'll be working hard to take credit for the improving economy too. So maybe his luck will change again.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
If you are in your house and someone enters it without an invitation and begins to steal or engage in violent acts, you have a right to defend yourself using force, up to and including killing the aggressor (in theory you aren't supposed to kill a thief unless they are also threatening, but most people won't second guess your feeling threatened).
If you are trespassing in someone else's house and they shoot at you and miss, you don't suddenly gain the right to self-defense. You have the right to run for your life or beg for mercy.
On the other hand, if a thief has surrendered and is no longer a threat, you have to wait for the police to arrive. You can't kill them legally, even though you could have just a few seconds before the surrendered.
Most people see the analogy to prisoners of war. The moment a soldier has surrendered, even if they were trying there best to kill you just a few moments earlier, they are protected under law. Killing them becomes a war crime. In the heat of battle this rule can be hard to remember, but it is a basic standard of civilization.
Other attempts to extend the basic concepts of self-defense to larger bodies, including nations, have not gone well to date. Nationalist perspectives tend to warp any interpretation of factual events. Nations that have long histories of going to war with each other often use past wars as justification for why present aggressions are "self-defense." We want to allow nations to defend themselves against aggression, but of this has freuqently resulted in aggression being characterized as defense.
Two issues that complicate international matters are divided houses and third parties; they often go together. Imagine a family where two spouses are quarrelling and heading towards divorce. One spouse calls on outside friends to come over and throw out the other spouse. The other spouse grabs a gun and starts shooting. From the shooter's view the situation is self-defense, but the families of the people who are shot will feel there relatives got a legitimate invitation, and so will see it as murder.
Now imagine a much bigger house with a whole bunch of quarrelling families or ethnic groups or classes. That would be a nation. If one group feels it is losing a power struggle, or a civil war, it may call in outside help. Is the third party nation that helps a losing faction aiding in their self-defense, or are they an aggressor invading someone else's house? People usually judge this based on which faction they like. I believe any interference by an outside nation has to be counted as aggression, and therefore as a war crime. Otherwise there is always a pretext for aggressive war. A nation wishing to attack or absorb another nation can always find some discontented people in the victim nation to issue the invitation.
The Vietnam War is a good example of why nations should never interfere in the internal affairs of other nations, at least not by force of arms. To summarize a much more complicated situation in the context of this discussion of third parties and self-defense, before World War II Vietnam was a colony of France. There was a Vietnamese independence movement. After Marshal Petain set up a French Catholic fascist regime to cooperate with Hitler, Vietnam was turned over the the Japanese, mainly because they were going to take it anyway, but some French troops remained.
After World War II the English, Americans, French and Dutch mainly reneged on their rhetoric about national self-determination and ending colonialism. Vietnamese nationalists were not just upset when the French returned with their Parisian arrogance. They kicked their butts in war, even though the U.S. aided the French. But the imperialists had made some Vietnamese allies, who were mainly Catholics. After the French lost they declared they were really nationalists too. The Catholic friends of America and France set themselves up as the government of South Vietnam. The North Vietnamese regime, twice betrayed by the United States, leaned to the communist nations of China and the Soviet Union.
When the U.S. started fighting against Vietnam (with soldiers in the South and bombings of both the South and the North), it was by invitation to President John F. Kennedy. The Northern branch of the family was winning the family argument even in South Vietnam. The invitation came from Ngô Đình Diệm (Ngo Dinh Diem), the first self-appointed ruler of South Vietnam.
The U.S. soldiers were in the Vietnamese house, but were they aggressors? They had been invited, but by a minority-based government with no popular support beyond its Roman Catholic cadres (the majority of people in South Vietnam were Buddhist).
In retrospect, the U.S. should have refused the invitation. The U.S. lost the war and in the process ruined its own economy and lost a vast amount of international prestige.
Winning, of course, would not have made things right. A successful thief and murderer is still a thief and murderer.
What about when bad things are happening in a nation, like genocide? That certainly adds another variable to the argument. The analogy might be a woman calling the police to help deal with a murderous spouse. The problem is that this argument puts you on a slippery slope. Hitler argued, when taking over an assortment of territories before World War II got into full swing, that he was protecting the ethnic Germans living in those territories. The argument opens the door to all sorts of other arguments for invading other nations. Including invasions based on religion or political ideology.
So I'll stick with the general rule that no nation ever has the right to invade another nation. Nations have the right to defend their own borders; that is all. That is my analysis of the ethics of these general situations.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Warming to her topic like arctic sea ice, Palin suggested that if the Democrats want to sell a state to pay off the national debt, it should be California. "We could pay off the entire national debt of $14 trillion dollars if we sold California to the Chinese. Plus socialist baby-murdering nature-lovers like Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein and Arnold Schwarzenegger would become ineligible to run for President. Let them see how they like Peking style socialism with its rapid economic growth, jobs, and lack of Christianity."
Questioned by a reporter from Foxy News Network, Palin denied she opposed selling Alaska because it would make her ineligible to become President. "This constant campaigning is not about me," she said. "America is becoming a second rate power because of socialist government programs like the interstate highway system, socialized senior services, and a government owned military system. I am campaigning to save America from Socialism."
The growing controversy about the Federal Reserve's now not-so-secret contingency plan to sell Alaska (known as "geographic easing") to the highest bidder is coming too late to be a major factor in the November election . The Obama Administration is apparently not entirely united behind the Alaska Plan. President Obama feels that selling Alaska would be a mark against him in the history books, but he has to weigh that against the possibility that he would also be blamed if America goes bankrupt.
People are saying that, anyway.
Monday, October 25, 2010
I have been meaning to read some detailed history of Hawaii to clarify this issue, but in the meantime I picked up a general history of the northern Pacific Ocean, Walter A. McDougall's Let the Sea Make a Noise, which covers quite a bit of Hawaiian history. Having said that in 1882 Hawaiian plantation owners petitioned Japan to allow emigration to Hawaii because the Japanese were the best workers, on page 391 McDougall begins covering the events leading directly to annexation. Annexation was all about preventing democracy, not creating it.
American planters (mostly sons of missionaries) had already established that only white people and people who had a minimum amount of property (mostly the few native Hawaiians who had not sold out to whites) could vote in their banana Republic. In the United States at that time the Democratic Party was both openly racist and, for the most part, against imperialist adventures. In addition the party represented sugar plantation owners in Louisiana and Florida who did not want Hawaiian sugar to be inside U.S. tariff walls. So while Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was President, the annexation of Hawaii was delayed. William McKinley, a Republican president elected in 1896, was willing to annex, but Japan stood in the way.
In 1897 the Japanese government sought to protect the independence of Hawaii after the (still independent, but wanting to be annexed white elitist) ruling junta barred Japanese immigration. Japanese Consul Shimamura protested, so Secretary of the Navy John Davis Long sent a cruiser, the Philadelphia, to Hawaii. Again in April Hawaii's President Sanford Dole (yes, like the pineapple company) formally requested annexation by the U.S. The Japanese countered by sending their own cruiser, Naniwa. How about a little democracy fellas? "If the Republic of Hawaii were forced to grant Japanese residents the vote, the Japanese would take over! McKinley now overcame his doubts and ordered the State Department to draft an annexation treaty." [page 392]
"In December 1897 the Meiji cabinet blinked, declared itself satisfied with a small indemnity, and ordered the Naniwa home."
I'll also note that the annexation of Hawaii broke previously signed treaties with the sovereign nation of Hawaii guaranteeing its eternal independence.
It is an old game. The easiest way to win at democracy is to allow only your own side to vote. The U.S. still plays that game, more recently for instance in unoccupied Palestine and in Algeria. When political parties the U.S. does not like, for instance Hamas, win elections, the U.S. simply installs someone else and teaches them how to run crooked elections. Just like in California now, where the publicized debates between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown have shown they are just two faces of the same incompetent regime. Third party candidates like Laura Wells are simply not allowed to join in public debates.
Democracy, even when truly democratic, is no guarantee of good governance. But the minimal ingredients for democracy are: allowing everyone to vote, and allowing all candidates fair access to the voters.