Saturday, February 27, 2010

America: Republic or Democracy Essay Censored in Utah

Yesterday, Friday the 26th of February, suddenly a lot more people started viewing my web sites. Not a tidal wave, but about 10x my normal rate. Looking at my web statistics, I found the site that had been sending people to my sites.

It turns out my essay America: Republic or Democracy? had been linked to from the Alpine School District web site in Utah. "Educating All Students to Ensure the Future of Our Democracy," a staff member had added the link in response to parents who have been influenced by the radical right-wing view that democracy is a bad thing.

An angry parent who does not think his children are smart enough to stand being exposed to ideas other than his own attacked the district, and the controversy went to a school board meeting. Rather than summarize that second hand, I'll let you read "District Parents Parents Angry Over Radical Web Link" at the Utah Valley Daily Herald.

The angry parents, or their leader anyway, had navigated from my site where the essay in question is posted, to As regular readers know, III Publishing began as a publisher of satire. And there is still a great deal of satire at this site. As the home page says, "This site includes a mix of serious, carefully researched factual matter, fiction, satire, and opinion, just like the major news sources." He lied to the other parents and school board (lying is a classic when the truth leans against you) saying the districts site linked directly to where I advocate "radical socialism, limiting families to two children, abortion to term, homosexuality, worshipping the sun instead of a 'dead Jesus,' saying that Mary was just an unwed pregnant teenager, and many other socialist political views." I think he must feel I advocate homosexuality because I did take a position in favor of marriage rights for gay couples, back in 2004 when that was more controversial even in California.

Since I myself served on a public school board, I know what it is like to be in a room with a potential lynch mob. Probably the board had more important things to do (like teaching kids to read, write, do math, and think critically) than spend the next year defending my essay to a lunatic who believes that Jesus rose from the dead, that God wrote the U.S. Constitution, and that democracy is a bad thing. The link had already been removed, and the Board said it had been a mistake all along. Since I am a critic of religion, they could have said (had they done some research, and been capable of critical thinking themselves) that the link violated the separation of church and state. That would have probably have put angry leader in a bit of a bind.

The story might have gotten lost, but a scientist blogger picked it up and defended me. He has a similar last name, PZ Myers, and his blog is called Pharyngula. The actual entry is I am offended! There are lots of good comments to the blog entry.

I think America: Democracy or Republic? stands up to criticism pretty well. That is why American fascists hate it. It does take a pro-democracy position, but the framework is factual. I think conservatives are correct in saying that the U.S. Constitution established an undemocratic republic. What is scary about a tiny-but-vocal minority of conservatives is that they advocate returning to a republic where only people owning substantial amounts of property (and even then not women or non-Europeans) would be allowed to vote.

There is always a danger when you use irony or write satire that you will be mistaken for the nut case, rather than the guy who is illustrating the nuttiness of other people. I accept that. Vampires or Gods? is written in the style of a serious, non-fiction book, which is why it is such a good satire.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bundling Immigration, the Economy, and the Environment

A few personal notes before getting onto the topic of the day:

I am now getting abusive email from a neo-Nazi who objects to my America: Republic or Democracy? essay. He favors republics over democracies. And presumably dictatorships over republics. I am sure conservatives who prefer a republic with minority rule by the rich are really glad to have neo-Nazi protection of their flanks on this issue.

Volunteers collected enough signatures to put me on the ballot for the state assembly race as the Green Party candidate (1st Assembly District, California), but not enough that I could be on without paying a filing fee, and not as many as I said I would require to show that it was worth running. The incumbent Democratic Party guy raises hundreds of thousands of dollars every cycle. If I had governed California as bad as he had I would fall on my sword, but this guy just has staff members collect his signatures and pay his filing fee. Even if I coughed up the filing fee, the expense (time and energy as well as money) of running a campaign is not the best use of me this year. On the other hand I have until March 12 to make a final decision.

My spring garden is well underway. Fava bean plants are about 4 inches high, radish sprouts are visible, and the earliest apple and plum trees have already started blooming. My tea plants were devastated by a rabbit or other rodent a few weeks ago, so I put wire cages around them and am hoping for a recovery.

I did a lot of good thinking about an Assembly campaign. How would I answer a question on immigration? Immigration is a great example of bundling issues, and the problems that causes.

The left, including the centrists who call themselves liberals, like to be pro-immigrant. The right is mainly anti-immigrant.

But the left also tends to be environmentalist, and most environmentalists will admit that we have an unsustainable global population. The population of the U.S. is too large too. My district is traditionally forested, so we could probably convert more forests to food production and sustain a larger local population, but lefty environmentalists are against that. You would think environmentalists would be against immigration, even legal immigration. It not only raises the population (and stress on the environment) in the short run, but immigrants tend to have a lot of children, so it leads to even more stress in the long run.

For many conservatives the bottom line is not "unborn babies," but the economy. That is why taxes are so important to them. They want economic expansion, the environment be damned. Low taxes are a priority. So you would think they would favor unlimited immigration, at least for middle-class to rich immigrants. Think how fast housing stock would be dried up if anyone who would buy a house would be allowed to immigrate legally and immediately.

So why is pro-immigration sentiment bundled with contradictory leftist views, and anti-immigrant sentiment bundled with contradictory rightist views?

Emotionally leftists can identify with immigrants; conservatives see immigrants are foreign in a scary way. Other issues feed into these basic emotions. Liberals and conservatives both say they care about human rights, but the rights they care about differ in subtle ways. I think the liberal-left feeling is that you really need to treat all individuals equally, so if someone is physically present in the U.S., even after illegal entry, they should be treated like citizens, who are citizens precisely because they are phyiscally present.

Conservatives feel no similar obligation. Human rights are largely property rights, and property rights have a history for each individual. To the extent citizenship is a property right, you can't just get it by standing on American soil. You need to establish title.

Would it be possible to change the bundling? I have seen it tried several times. I have seen environmentalists argue against illegal immigration (trying to get large organization like the Siera Club to take a sensible position). They get screamed at as being racist neo-nazis for even trying to discuss the subject. On the other hand I have seen many attempts by Republican business men to try to get fellow Republicans to show some sense about the business benefits of immigration. Even former President George W. Bush tried to make this argument. The only result was that Republican politicians learned to keep any pro-business, pro-immigration ideas out of their campaign rhetoric. The rank-and-file will not stand for it.

Locally (Humboldt County and Mendocino County, California) the talk is usually in terms of development. Liberals and environmentalists are usually anti-development but pro-immigrant, which is contradictory. Conservative are pro-development and anti-immigrant. Also contradictory.

I would like to see the immigration issue unbundled from the liberal v. conservative fight so that we can talk about it rationally. There are economic benefits to high level of immigration, and there are environmental consequences to immigration. There are also legitimate human rights issues involved.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dating a Religion

Suppose you have a woman friend, Ann, who is dating. She meets a guy who is handsome and has money and pays attention to her; he sweet talks her. Let's call him Adam.

But you know Adam's history. You know he has three former girlfriends or wives, abandoned with children, who talk of how cruel a man he was, after those first few sweet dates.

Being a good friend, you decide you have to rat out Adam. You tell Ann about Adam's exes.

You know what happens next. Most of the time Adam gets the girl. Why? Because Ann having already made a decision in favor of Adam, the new information gets rationalized away. Plus Adam is skilled in subjugating women.

You can understand a lot about the spread of religion from understanding this fact of human nature (and it is a gender-neutral fact, as far as I can tell). Once people commit to a religion, for whatever reason, new information seldom causes them to change their minds.

In the United States of America, we know that people change their religious affiliations relatively often compared to other cultures. But the number of conversions is limited. At the end of each generation, so far anyway, most people who are religious are in the same religion they were born in. The overall religious statistics of 2000 are not much different from those of 1900.

History is filled with examples of mass religious conversions. Most were forced by governments, as when most people in the lands around the Mediterranean Sea became Christian Orthodox in the Fourth Century A.D. under advisement from the Roman Emperors. These last couple of days I started reading Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan
by Francis L. Hawks, which looked tedious but so far has turned out to be a delightful travelogue of the Marco Polo sort. This reminded me to look up histories of Sumatra (part of Indonesia) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), as part of my studies for my work-in-progress The U.S. War Against Asia. But the history of changes in religious affiliations on those islands reminded me I have wanted to try writing a Dating a Religion essay. This is the first draft.

When a missionary or local proselytizer dates a potential convert, they don't usual start with a history lesson. In my experience, they don't even know the true history of their own religion. They start with a well-worked-out line. They treat you as if you are important to them. They tell you things that amount to spiritual flattery: you are immortal. Your life will improve if you join our community. They may use the stick, too: convert or go to hell.

The history of Christianity in Japan and of Japanese brands of Buddhism in the U.S informs the story well. The first Christians in Japan were Catholics from Portugal. The Portuguese were major league pirates and imperialists in that era (the 1500's), but the Catholic missionaries did not mention that. They converted quite a few people at first. As the Japanese rulers started worrying about being conquered by the Portuguese, they also learned about other imperialists powers and other versions of the Christian religion. The Catholic missionaries presented their religion as one of peace, but the real world facts did not match that fantasy (see, for instance the Thirty Years' War). That rulers of Japan decided to expel the missionaries and ban Christianity. That goes against our modern, American, tolerate-all-religions and hope they all calm down ethic. But it makes sense if you consider that the Christians were lying. The ruler of Japan were simply excluding a new brand of liars from their kingdom.

Buddhism (which with Shinto, was one of the two major religions of Japan) was known and even admired by some European, and later American, intellectuals, at least as early as the 18th century. But the big invasion of Japanese Buddhist sects into the U.S. started during the 1950s. Americans like Alan Watts and the Beatniks got a lot of people started in Buddhism. Later, specific sects from Japan saw the economic opportunities in setting up churches (usually called centers) in the U.S.

There was a time when I was young that I thought Buddhism was way better than Christianity. But now I realize that I was being fed a Zen pablum specially designed to attract Americans. Like Christian history, Buddhist history is filled with violence. The theology is different, but like Christianity it is a mixture of good observations that can be kept as folk wisdom, and ridiculous metaphysical speculations.

Once the hook is in the fish, the fish starts rationalizing it. I have met serial converters, but most people only change once in their life, perhaps twice. The most common oscillation to note is when those raised without religion decide they need one, and when those raised in a religion decide that rather than switching to another, they will just drop the matter.

I hope the development of a more coherent, reality-based philosophy and system of ethics will supplant the old faiths. In the mean time, the best I can do is urge those who are dating religions to look at their histories.

Histories are better predictors of future behavior that the sweet lies of courtship.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Green Party Food Fight

A subcommittee of the Green Party I am on recently considered a platform plank called "Ethical Treatment of Animals". The discussion brought up a number of interesting points about ethics as applied to humans and animals. At the core of controversy was the unstated assumption that any human use of animals is unethical, as is any killing of animals by humans. The entire proposed plank is reproduced below, as well as the plank it would replace.

The key parts I want to discuss here include the definition of animal and the assumption that all animals are sentient beings; banning the use of animals in science and medicine; banning animal foods; closing zoos and aquaria, and not allowing animals in classrooms; and encouraging a vegan lifestyle.

Vegan lifestyle is not defined, but my understanding is that vegans neither eat nor wear anything that is an animal product (See also veganism at Wikipedia).

I think we can apply human ethics to the treatment of animals by humans, but the first thing to remember is that they are human ethics, not the ethics of animals. Carnivores do not eat vegan diets, and carnivores are crucial components of ecological systems. Recall that carnivores do not just include large mammals like wolves and tigers; carnivores come in all sizes, right down to the microscopic level.

Just as animals can be classified as herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores, there are many classifications of animals. I have no problem with arguing about how sentient specific species of animals are, but I find calling a tick or nematode sentient to border on ludicrous. The most basic problem with this plank, and vegan philosophy (which is derived from a branch of the Hindu religion), is that it allows thinking only in terms of broad moral absolutes. Fact-based knowledge of the world is excluded. Vegans want all animals, including wild animals (and pests that exist in large numbers because they have accommodated well to humans) treated as if they were pets. No argument is allowed. By the vegan gospel humans should not be allowed to treat (kill) animal parasites like worms and malaria.

Which is a major difference between my Natural Liberation Philosophy and many of the doctrines that are current among environmentalists. We need to be able to apply our ethics and philosophy to specifics. Deep Ecology also appreciates the importance of carnivores.

The proposed plank sees a future in which all human food is plant material. How much more unecological could you get? This proposal eliminates not just carnivores, but also all herbivores from the equation. No cows, sheep, goats, or pigs. Just wall to wall soy and carrots.

Even the allegation that the plank stops cruelty to animals (and that those of us who voted against the plank are cruel, by implication) does not stand up to scrutiny. The plank wants children to go to schools where there is not an animal, dead or alive, to be seen or studied. What kind of children would that produce? And since it would ban all dissections, there would be no way for veterinary students to learn to do surgery. Nor could scientists find new cures for animal diseases.

In fact, the plank really advocates a total separation of the human world from the animal world.

I do believe that some scientists, both private-sector and academic, have abused their power over animals. I have no problem with setting up animal ethics committees to deal with these questions. But I also don't believe that simply raising an animal in a laboratory is inherently cruel, and I do believe we have a right to weigh the value of what is learned.

I was surprised that many people on the subcommittee could not handle gray areas. They wanted absolutes. In that way they resembled the anti-abortion, anti-contraception movement. I can see that an egg and sperm are not a human being, and that a one-year old child is. People can have all the facts about fetal development and still disagree on the ethics of the timing of when a fetus or baby gains a right to life. But when they say "The Bible says ..." they are no longer arguing about either the facts of development or the fine points of ethics. And vegan absolutists do not argue about ethics or cruelty, as I learned in this discussion. They try to use environmental concerns ("cows cause greenhouse gas") to support what is essentially a religious, moral position. They refused to make reasonable compromises, and mainly because of failed to get their plank out of our committee.

I think healthy farms include animals that produce eggs and milk, and even meat. A truly valuable animal byproduct is manure, which is indispensable to keeping the vegetable part of a farm thriving. I would rather legislate that farms must start be more diverse in what they create than that they can't raise animals.

People are mortal. Accepting the mortality of people and of all life forms is crucial to developing a sound philosophy and a sound society. To a large extent a vegan lifestyle is an attempt to deny death. It is a lifestyle based on fear and denial.

A little honey won't hurt anyone. Bees seem to like to make it. And bees will sting their enemies. I hope Green Party members will become more like bees, and less like walking ghosts, too busy being afraid of breaking imaginary rules of karma to actually get anything productive done.

Proposed new Green Party U.S. Ethical Treatment of Animals plank

Cruelty to animals is repugnant and unacceptable. The mark of a humane society lies in how we treat the least protected among us. Our species does not have the right to exploit and inflict violence on other animals simply because we have the desire and/or power to do so.

We call for an intelligent, non-hierarchical and non-exploitive relationship with other animal species and the natural world. We reject the belief that nonhuman species exist only to serve the needs of the human species.

There is a moral equality between humans and nonhuman animals in that we are all sentient beings. Such an ethic not only upholds the value of biological diversity and the integrity and continuity of species, but also the value of the lives and interests of individual animals.

The Green Party advocates the following policies:

1. Redirect nationally-funded research away from animal experiments and towards health care, preventive medicine, and biomedical research using non-animal procedures determined to be scientifically valid. Halt wasteful public funding of unnecessary or duplicative animal experiments. Establish procedures to develop greater public scrutiny of all animal research.

2. Phase out the use of animals for consumer product testing, tobacco, alcohol, drug and psychological testing, classroom demonstrations and dissections, weapons development and other military programs. Ban pound seizure of animals for research.

3. Mandate clear labeling of products disclosing whether or not they have been tested on animals and if they contain any animal ingredients.

4. While we recognize our current laws are not sufficient to end the abuse of animals, in the meantime, we support amending the Humane Slaughter Act and the Animal Welfare Act to cover those animals currently excluded in agriculture and research.

5. Phase out as a matter of urgency the most egregious examples of animal cruelty practices in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) at the federal and state level. We ultimately envision a time when U.S. public policy recognizes CAFOs to be inimical to the interests of a healthy human population and to the promotion of environmental and animal protection.

6. Ban the transport of live horses to other countries for foreign consumption.

7. End international and national trade in wildlife. Ban the use of goods produced from exotic or endangered animals, and promote the use of non-animal, sustainable materials in all manufacturing.

8. Prohibit the use of inhumane and indiscriminate wildlife control methods to address human-wildlife conflicts.

9. Prohibit large scale commercial breeding facilities, such as “puppy mills,” mandate spay and neuter laws, subsidize spay and neuter clinics, and discourage further breeding of companion animals by incurring breeder fees such that they fund no-cost spay and neuter clinics.

10. Ban the exploitation of animals in entertainment, gambling and sports, including, but not limited to, dog fighting and cock fighting, rodeos, horse and dog racing, American bullfighting, circuses, zoos, aquariums and theme and roadside parks. We advocate converting zoos, wildlife parks, aquariums, and similar facilities into sanctuaries for rescued animals.

11. Ban canned hunts and the corresponding trade in animals from zoos and other commercial “entertainment” industries. Ban other hunting and fishing for sport.

12. Eliminate free-trade laws that weaken or revoke efforts to end animal cruelty in commerce.

13. Ultimately, we acknowledge that it is not possible to treat farm animals in an ethical manner given that the end result, in most cases, is to send animals to slaughter. In the interests of ecological sustainability, health and non-violence, we support transitioning from an animal-based agriculture system to a plant-based system, and encourage more individuals to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

14. As a world view that respects animals as fellow sentient beings expands within our society, it will lead to a future kinship with them that we currently do not have. In such a society, the "use" and killing of animals as resources for humans will naturally be phased out and a more cooperative ethic between species will take its place.

Currently written 2004 Ethical Treatment of Animals plank (that the above plank would replace)

Cruelty to animals is repugnant and criminal. The mark of a humane and civilized society lies in how we treat the least protected among us. To extend rights to other sentient, living beings is our responsibility and a mark of our place among all of creation. We call for an intelligent, compassionate approach to the treatment of animals.

We reject the belief that our species is the center of creation, and that other life forms exist only for our use and enjoyment. Our species does not have the right to exploit and inflict violence on other creatures simply because we have the desire and power to do so. Our ethic upholds not only the value of biological diversity and the integrity and continuity of species, but also the value of individual lives and the interest of individual animals.

The Green Party advocates humane treatment of animals with the following policies:

1. Redirect the funds that are disbursed annually by the National Institutes of Health away from animal experiments and more towards direct health care, preventive medicine, and biomedical research using non-animal procedures such as clinical, epidemiological, and cell culture research.

2. Phase-out the use of animals for consumer product testing, tobacco and alcohol testing, psychological testing, classroom demonstrations and dissections, weapons development and other military programs.

3. Mandate clear labeling of products to tell whether or not they have been tested on animals and if they contain any animal products or by-products.

4. Establish procedures to develop greater public scrutiny of all animal research. These should include the welfare of laboratory animals, and a halt to wasteful public funding of unnecessary research such as duplicative experiments.

5. End the abuse of animals, including farm animals, and strengthen our enforcement of existing laws.

6. Ban the use of goods produced from exotic or endangered animals.

7. Prohibit large scale commercial breeding facilities, such as “puppy mills,” because of the massive suffering, overpopulation, and ill health such facilities produce.

8. Subsidize spay and neuter clinics to combat the ever-worsening pet overpopulation problem that results in the killing of millions of animals every year. Where unwanted companion animals are being killed in shelters, we advocate mandatory spay and neuter laws.

9. Ban the exploitation of animals in violent entertainment and sports.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Medical Insurance Death Spiral

Private medical insurance seems to be going into a death spiral. While Congress and state legislatures failed to act, Adam Smith's Invisible Hand decided to act on its own.

Even before the headlines came out, I got my family (Jan and my) medical insurance bill from "Anthem Blue Cross," which is really WellPoint once you break through the corporate unaccountability firewalls. It went up to $541 per month, from $408 per month, a 33% increase. It is a pretty minimal plan, far worse, for instance, than the one our local public school teachers have (I know from past service on the local school board for 8 years). We've had it around fifteen years, and it has never actually paid for anything, but it does limit how much we get reamed by medical service providers. In my case part of my increase may be because I recently had my 55th birthday.

Jan and I are fighting now about what to do. I am for dumping the insurance entirely, she wants to see if there is an even-higher deductible option. But she can't find out because it is a three day weekend.

The recession was the initial cause of the problem, apparently, but that does not mean that as the economy recovers rates will go back down.

Two things happened. With so many people unemployed, or trying to reduce their monthly budgets even if employed, many simply dropped their insurance. Of course, healthy people dropped; sick people did not. So there is a smaller pool of fools like me paying in to cover the sick people. In addition, many people already had the talk Jan and I had today, and already increased their deductibles. In the short run that just means WellPoint has less dollars coming in, without any significant decrease in immediate expense.

Of course the WellPoint management is not willing to forego profits for a year to break the downward cycle. In 2009 WellPoint made $2.7 billion in net income (profit for shareholders) on insurance premium revenues of $14 billion, per their January 27, 2010 press release.

But what about the future? You can depend on the politicians to do nothing. You can figure that numerous people like Jan and I are going to drop or diminish our coverage. WellPoint will increase their rates again as soon as possible. Then more people will drop out. At some point only the sick will no longer be subsidized by premiums from the well. WellPoint will take out 30% for profits and administrative costs, the maximum allowed by the state of California. So even the sick, as a group, will need to pay premiums 30% of their collective costs of care just to keep WellPoint in business.

I would not think WellPoint would be in business much longer; a few years at most. Except they have at least one other option: stop paying claims. Start rejecting claims for any and all reasons. Or, the more systemic equivalent, send out policy renewals redlining out most benefits. "For a claim to be valid, the patient must first see a doctor in our Paris, France office. Surgery is now classified as Acupuncture and is not covered if it requires sharp cutting instruments other than acupuncture needles."

In other words, a wise person would now plan for paying for your medicine as you go, unless you are a welfare bum on Medicaid or a senior citizen on Medicare. Expect nothing from the Democratic Party or the Republican Party except heartache.

Once enough of those of us who have tried working for a living, and failed, are on Medicaid, that system will collapse too. If not of itself, with the inability of the Federal Government to endlessly increase the national debt.

Of course, you could try to figure out a way to put me in charge. I would execute a few insurance company executives and owners. I would take pack all the payouts to stockholders WellPoint has made in the past ten years as fraudulent transfers, and use that money to get medical services started again. What would you do?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Micro v. Macro: Credit and Debt

I have two conflicting feelings, or corresponding scenarios, about the economy. The happy feeling is that we are just going through the normal economic cycling the world has known since the industrial age began. When I got out of college in 1976 there was a recession with no jobs, and I got used to the idea that there would only be brief periods when jobs were available.

The concern is that now that I have finally gotten my economic life together by building a micro-business and saving and investing carefully, is that the U.S. government is going to sink the entire economic ship. Even well-built life boats could be sucked down with the ship.

Within the the worst case scenario is its own best-case scenario. The U.S. will not sink entirely, but will be thoroughly globalized. There could be even larger numbers of people barely surviving than there are today, but the rich will (mostly) survive. Some of us, workers and middle-class types, will be closely enough tied to the global means of production to get by in what we now think of as a civilized style.

Almost everyone admits that the current crisis was caused by too much credit creation in the years 2004 to 2007. You have to remember that for every credit, there is a debt. So it is just as accurate to say that there was too much debt creation. There was not enough real productivity to support the level of credit and debt. Once debts could not be repaid, giving further credit was no longer in the interest of the banks.

Allegedly to prevent another Great Depression, the federal government stepped in. The rhetoric was save the American people, but the reality was to use taxpayer funds to save most of the capitalist class. A few capitalists were tossed to the sharks; not enough, in my opinion.

But the rescue created its own problems. Most Americans have tried to be thriftier since the recession began. That in itself caused reduced demand, which could also spiral into a more severe recession. So the government started spending money like mad.

Which means that since early 2008, while Americans have been saving (except for the unemployed, who have been exhausting their savings), the government has been spending money for us.

On crap I would never buy for myself. Like new highways. Like a war in Afghanistan, and the continued U.S. military occupation of most of the world. On special deals for all sorts of special interest groups that do not include me.

Yesterday the House of Representative just raised the federal debt limit $1.6 trillion dollars. Rounding to 300 million citizens, that is over $5000 of debt each. Thats on top of trillions already owed (See U.S. National Debt Clock, for instance)

The credit is being extended, in this case, by fools who are buying government-backed bonds and getting less than 4% interest for the risk they are taking. If the economy does revive, interest rates should go back up (unless kept artificially low by the Federal Reserve, as they were during the last bubble), making the current bonds worth far less. If the economy does not revive, these bonds could become worthless.

People are pretty used to the idea that the Federal government is never going to pay the principal on its debt, just the interest. Just like the mortgage loans of yesteryear, which are now illegal.

If the economy continues its gradual up cycle, the Fed and Congress should be able to gradually remove the stimilus measures. But don't expect them to. Once the Federal govenment starts giving away money, the special interest groups who receive it (typically corporations) decide they can't live without it, even during the good times. Look at agriculture subsidies, which have been with us since the days of Herbert Hoover. Look at the anti-poverty programs from Lyndon Johnson, that were supposed to lift everyone out of poverty, and instead trapped generations of families.

Republicans scream about socialism, but what we have is called state-capitalism (which, oddly, was what the Soviet Union had become by the 1970s, before it switched to just plain capitalism). Most of the benefits of both thought-out socialism and free-market capitalism are being eaten by the need for a global military occupation combined with politics based on keeping incumbents in power through special deals for donors and voting blocks.

I hope for a gradual recovery, because I am too lazy and not violent enough by nature to live comfortably if there is an economic collapse. My objective analysis, however, is that even if we have a recovery all the old debt will linger, and the next down cycle really will be more of a collapse than a recession.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Seattle Days

I spent a long weekend in Seattle. That brought back memories of the Left, when the left in the United States still consisted of socialists, communists, and anarchists. True, these types can still be found here and there in tiny numbers, but in 1983 and 1984 there were some twenty coherent leftist organizations in Seattle. If nothing else, this provided a lot of political cover for the "left of center" politics that pose as the left today. Except the center has itself moved far to the right. Most of the leftists I knew then were five to thirty years older than I was, so most of them are probably retired or dead now. Events never produced a new generation of such leftists in the United States. Marxism has largely gone out of style since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Anarchism has fared better, but is largely a self-serve fringe phenomena, not an organized movement capable of laying and executing plans.

In 1984 it never occured to me that 25 years or so later we would be fighting what amounts to religious wars. They are also wars of imperialism. I guess if you grew up while the Cold War was on, you thought imperialism was always opposed by national liberation movements with essentially Marxist theology.

If I had been more perceptive I might have realized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would some day split the world in a new way. I had a conversation with two young Palestinians who were Maoists at the time. They told me they saw Maoism as the best alternative for getting justice for the Palestinian people. They were not really committed to Maoism. The did not like the PLO, which you might recall at least pretended to be a Marxist organization, Soviet camp. But they were open to joining up with a Moslem group (Hamas would not be founded until 1987) if that was what would mobilize their country to fight for their freedom. I never saw them after that. Since they were students in the U.S., probably they just grew up, got jobs, and never joined any fighting organization.

Hamas, of course, won elections in Palestine in 2006. The U.S. promptly decided Democracy was not such a good idea. So it came down to fighting again, and Hamas ended up with Gaza and the PLO ended up being West Bank jailors for Israel and the U.S. Situations do not get much sadder.

In the U.S. the Democratic Party has again proven that it is just as much a front for the capitalist, ruling class as the Republican Party ever was. The war against the people of Afghanistan goes on, and we constantly threaten Iran, Somalia, and everyone else who disagrees with America's idea of how the world should be run.

I am still deeply anti-religious, but that does not make me want to join up with ruthless bitches like Hilary Clinton to kill Taliban sympathisers. If I were an Afghan, I might not let the Taliban push me around. Just like I don't want Christians bossing me around with their lifestyle legislation in the U.S. But what goes on inside Afghanistan is not my business, and it is not the business of the United States government. Every politicians who votes for the war in Afghanistan is a war criminal, and both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are war crimes organizations, whatever else they might be.

On the whole, things are a whole lot worse than they were in 1984. It is hard to believe that a government, and a bunch of hard-nosed capitalists, could run an economy even worse than they were doing in 1984, but apparently they can. While destroying what is left of the environment at the same time, and involving just about everyone in the stupidist global war in human history.

I looked for a couple of buildings I where I worked in Seattle. They were still there, though obscurred by new skyscrapers. I spent a considerable amount of time learning about just how dangerous nuclear power plants were, working on the mess left by the Washington Public Power Supply System's attempt to build five of them.

Now Obama wants to start building nuclear power plants again. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there is a devil. Maybe everyone who wants to be President has to sell his (or her) soul to the Devil. Certainly Obama had his crossroads, probably back when he saw how shitty the pay was for "community organizers." Maybe the Devil is a metaphor. But I don't think Obama would be making such horrendously bad decissions if he had worked some real jobs before seeking political office. The kind where the bosses treat you like dog leavings, so you get to smell the reality really, really good. It is a smell you should never forget.

I'm not betting on it, but what with the budget deficit the way it is, and Californians tired of being bossed around by a bunch of demented halfwits in the Old South, I would not be very surprised if some day the United States became the Untied States of America.