Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 2010 Wrap-up

Barack Obama is opening up offshore America to oil drilling. Except where it would cost the Democratic Party its hold on the gravy train, I mean the government, like California, Oregon, Washington, and politically sensitive areas of the Atlantic and Gulf seaboards.

He's pushing nuclear power plants too. Can we change the definition of environmentalist? Yes We Can!

Meanwhile some poor stupid Christ-crazed slobs were arrested in Michigan for plotting against the government. They are accused of teaching themselves how to make bombs. That is what the U.S. Army and the Internet are for. Not to mention Burn Notice. Bet the FBI is not going to arrest the director or producers or writers of Burn Notice. That would be unamerican.

Apparently the Stone family and friends and the Feds agree on one thing: people are so angry with the government right now, just one incident might set off a violent revolution. It would be a right-wing revolution because leftists in the U.S. are mostly pacifists for gun control. Right-wingers are pretty well armed, from what I have seen. But I guarantee you, except for the Obama fans, who are centrists no matter what the Tea Party folk say, nobody is very fond of the government right now. Prosperity is the friend of incumbents; newly impoverished people are the most dangerous revolutionary element since they still have middle-class skills.

The Stone family arrests are bull, and it would be the same if any leftist were arrested on similar charges. Our Founding Farters were rebels, and they thought a government should be careful about driving people into armed rebellion. They wrote a bit into the U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States shall consist only in waging War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Which is to say, you can't commit treason by grumbling about the government. You can't even commit treason by talking about committing treason. You have to wage war against the government to commit treason.

Of course weasels will argue that the Stones were not arrested for Treason. But of course they were. They had stockpiled weapons, yes, but 18.3% of Americans are guilty of that.

Maybe the Stones would have gone through with their plans, but 99% of the time people who are not professional criminals find an excuse for chickening out. Which is probably a good thing, unless your government is being run by Nazis. Since the Gestapo, I mean Stasi, I mean FBI had an agent in the ranks of the Stone family, they had plenty of time to see if the twits were really going to wage ware against the United States. All they had to do was say "We are Watching You" and the Stones would have crumbled like badly written iPhone code.

In fact, the militia folk did not have any explosives of their own. Those were going to be provided by a paid informer. Paid by the FBI. The informer's identity has not been released, and the Stone's defense attorney has not been allowed to question him.

Meanwhile, our non-Nazi, pseudo-environmentalist Peace Prize winning President is repeating former President Richard Nixon's Vietnam mistake in Afghanistan exactly. He thinks by sending more U.S. troops there he can pressure the Taliban (here used broadly, meaning everyone in Afghanistan who hates the U.S., which is just about everyone) into peace negotiations. Nixon believed the same thing about the North Vietnamese. The results in Afghanistan are being kept quiet, but apparently on the average day the U.S. nows has two of its gunmen killed by the Enemy, and another eight wounded. It isn't exactly the battle of Stalingrad, but it is sad and it is expensive. Whether the Taliban negotiate or not, they'll be there long after the U.S. is gone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Texas and the Marco Polo Bridge Incident

What does the State of Texas have to do with an incident at a Chinese bridge in the 1930's?

Once there was no Texas. The area was inhabited, probably sparsely, by groups of Native American Indians. Then the area became part of the Spanish colonial possession Mexico. The Spanish settlement was also relatively sparse, but included notably included the town of San Antonio. The Spanish traded the Louisiana Territory, excluding Texas, to France, who immediately sold it to the United States. Disputes about boundaries between this territory and Spanish Texas were supposed to be settled in 1819. The United States wanted all of Florida as a slave state. Unable to defend Florida against the slaver-predator Andrew Jackson (later founder of the Democratic Party and President of the United States), Spain gave Florida to the U.S. and received, in part, undisputed title to Texas in return. In 1821 Mexico became independent of Spain, and included Texas. Few Mexicans wanted to move to Texas, but many Americans did. In 1835 and 1836 the Americans in Texas revolted against Mexico and became an independent nation, the Republic of Texas. With the consent of the government of Texas, the United States annexed them in 1845, and Texas on January 1, 1846 became a state of the United States. A state where slavery was legal.

A problem was that the border between Mexico and Texas was disputed. Another problem was that greedy men in the United States coveted Mexican lands, in particular California. The United States needed a pretext for war with Mexico so it could grab the disputed lands of south Texas, plus New Mexico, Arizona, California, etc. Mexican troops, a few of them anyway, were stationed between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers. President of the United States James Polk, claiming Texas extended to the Rio Grande, in 1846 purposefully sent a patrol of U.S. troops into the disputed territory, where they clashed with the Mexican army and lost the initial skirmish. The United States and Mexico then declared war on each other. (See the Thornton Affair at Wikipedia)

Polk claimed Mexicans "shed American blood upon American soil." Thus, in the American version, it was not a war of aggression, even if the U.S. "won" about 1/3 of Mexico through the war.

Now consider the Marco Polo Bridge incident, which occurred in China, near Peking (or Beijing), in 1936. Here began the war between Japan and the head of a coalition of Chinese war lords, Chiang Kai-shek, that eventually merged into the war between U.S. and Japan that ran in parallel to World War II. The American interpretation of the incident and war is that the Japanese were aggressors, that Chiang Kai-shek's government was the legitimate representative of the Chinese people (although no one was ever allowed to vote on that idea), and that the U.S. acts of war that proceeded the battle of Pearl Harbor were justified by Japanese aggression in China.

To put the incident in context, you need to understand a little about the history of Manchuria, an area in the extreme northeast of modern China that had become part of China when the Manchus conquered China back in the 1600's. Attacked throughout the 19th century by imperialist powers including the both the U.S. and Japan, by 1910 China was in a state of anarchy, with only nominal national governments, the reality being rule by local war lords. Russia, China, and Japan all wanted to control Manchuria, and of course at least some of the Manchurians would have preferred independence from all three powers. So Texas can be seen as a sort of American Manchuria, an area that was fought over by the U.S. and Mexico, but that also had a independent streak.

Two Japanese colonels, Kanji Ishihara and Seishiro Itagaki, with leftist and democratic views tried to turn Manchuria into a utopia starting in the 1920's. They used the Japanese army there, known as the Kwantung Army, to gain control of Manchuria without the permission of army headquarters or the Japanese government. The reality already was that under Japanese guidance the area was prospering economically and attracting many immigrants from China, Japan, and Korea. In 1931, with a name change to Manchukuo, the area became independent.

Unfortunately Ishihara and Itagaki lost control of the Kwantung Army, and were replaced by Kenji Doihara, who wanted to rule China, and who was backed by the expansionist, right-wing Control Clique of the Japanese army. He was able to create another autonomous, self-governing area south of Manchukuo. Chiang Kai-shek was mad that the war lords of this area were cooperating with the Japanese instead of with his southern-China based gang of war lords.

Which brings us to the Marco Polo (Lugou) Bridge, located 8 miles southwest of Beijing, and within the northern autonomous area. Japanese troops were in the area under the usual excuse of protecting the lives of Japanese citizens in the area. Accusations vary, but apparently Chiang thought he was strong enough to kick out the Japanese, so he had his local war lord Sung Chi-yuen, or perhaps some select group under Sung, attack the Japanese without provocation. It took a while for things to escalate. At first the Japanese government thought it was merely sending a punitive expedition of the type the U.S. sent to China during the Boxer rebellion. But the situation turned into an all out war between Japan and the two main government groups in China, the communists and nationalists.

I tend to side with the Mexicans and Chinese on this one. The Japanese had their points, including that Japan and Japanese occupied areas were better governed and more economically successful than the areas of China ruled by Chiang Kai-shek and other war lords. But they were acting as aggressors in a foreign nation. Invitations from local Manchu and other Chinese leaders existed, but that has been a fig leaf for aggression all to often in history. The situation was similar when an American puppet in South Vietnam invited the U.S. to attack North Vietnam decades later.

I see no mitigating circumstances at all regarding the start of the Mexican American War. The disputed area of Texas was, in fact, disputed, and grabbing it would have been one thing. But it was not really the area the U.S. government wanted to grab. It was a pretext for grabbing a vast area that had nothing to do with the disputed area.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Healthcare Diagnostics

If you read my columns, you know I favor single-payer health insurance, which is to say, government run insurance. Getting that from Congress would have been a major benefit to the American people. I see no downside to universal single-payer insurance. In addition, I would like to try a health care services system run by the government (state or federal). Even though I see some potential downside to that. But as anyone who has experienced our private, profit-motivated system, there is a lot more downside to the current system. Doctors recommending unnecessary procedures or branded drugs when effective generics are available are just two examples. Hospitals buying expensive capital equipment, then running patients through it whether they need it or not, is another. Just plain incompetence being covered up by colleagues - probably get that in a government system too.

In any medical system you will have human error. Diagnostics can be tricky; some times the most probable explanation for a set of symptoms turns out to be wrong. A good system would minimize human error and diagnostic error, but would not be able to eliminate them.

But what of the new health care bill [H.R. 3590] signed into law by the chief administrator of this nation on Tuesday, March 23, 2010?

Frankly, no one can be sure what its real effects will be. Most of its provisions don't come into effect until 2014. That means there are two elections between now and when it takes effect, so it could be changed or even deleted from the books.

One could also see this as a first step towards a government-run insurance system or health care system. I doubt that is the case. The public option was dropped. Supervision of the insurance companies by the government will be minimal. We will all still be at the mercy of the "free market." Imagine an outdoor market. Now imagine there are no police there, and half the people walking around, and three quarters of them behind the stalls, are thieves or con artists. There you have a good picture of the "free market" in health care services and insurance.

The thieves are not having their hands cut off for past practices, but at least they are being told that certain forms of theft are no longer acceptable. You can't drop someone who has been paying insurance just because they get an expensive illness. Why was that ever allowed? Isn't it just plain fraud to sell insurance that you have no intent to pay on?

It should be easier to find and transfer insurance under the plan. The pre-existing condition redlines should go away.

I worry about the idea of forcing people to have insurance. I suppose it is not so very different than forcing them to have a birth certificate, social security number, and a drivers license, and automobile insurance. But forcing people to buy from private, unregulated insurers seems like the government is just helping herd the sheep towards the wolves.

I have not read the bill, and don't intend to. Often what appears to be plain language in bills turns out to be an excuse for a special interest group to rape and pillage.

In 2014, those of us who are still alive can see what actually happens. We can get mad or be glad. In the meantime, let's get the hell out of Afghanistan, and close all of our military bases overseas. We need the money that is wasted on them here at home.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Equinox Thoughts: Philosophy, and the Pope

Today is the spring equinox, a day all we warm-blooded animals in the northern hemisphere should celebrate. Things seem to be getting warm for the Pope (Benedict XVI), who is being linked closely, for the first time, to the failure of the Roman Catholic Church to protect its own children from its own priests. The increased web traffic to this site from my censorship by the Alpine School Board has worn off. The censorship was partly because of my summer solstice essay musing that it makes more sense to worship the Sun than to worship the Son. Apparently there are limits to compare-and-contrast essay topics in schools in the state of Utah.

By way of contributing to sanity on earth, yesterday I copies two brief articles on Common Sense philosophy from an old (copyright expired) encyclopedia. Apparently some of the arguments used by the Common Sense school (in Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries) against ultra-skeptical and illusionist philosophies are similar to those I am using in Natural Liberation philosophy. However, I have not yet been able to get their original publications, much less read them. Curiously, in my technical work I am working on a model for the human brain that demonstrates, on a computer, how accurate knowledge of material things and causes can be constructed out of noisy, fragmented sensory information (see in particular Hierarchical Temporal Memory, Part 8, Specific Memories). Even more curiously, last night, viewing an episode of Numb3rs, they talked about obscure notions I have been studying recently: Bayesian probability and Markov chains. They even wrote out an equation for conditional probabilities that I recognized.

So on the one hand we have the Pope and the majority of the Catholic Church hierarchy trying to send the earth back to the Middle Ages (the technology of which would only support perhaps one-tenth of today's human population). The problem is not just Catholic child abuse of the newsworthy sort. The Catholic Church abuses the minds of children, filling their heads with lies, punishing them for any challenge to church authorities. Most organized religions do the same, but I am not looking for kindler, gentler religions peddling the same basic lies about Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Moses and their lot.

An equinox is a tipping point. Hopefully the trend away from ill-founded religions and philosophies will lead to a world where people understand their relationship to nature and behave appropriately. More likely we are just headed towards an ecological apocalypse, which the religious crazies will fit into their scheme of things as best they can.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Commodore Perry

I posted my notes on the book Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan by Francis L. Hawks earlier today (See Commodore Perry Notes).

Isn't it interesting that Matthew Perry, representing the United States of America, demanded that Japan trade with us? When they did not want to. They politely refused. He threatened them with his armada of cannon-bearing ships. They politely accepted.

How did the war between Japan and the United States start (part of World War II)? The United States, along with Britain and the Netherlands, said the Japanese could not trade with anyone.

Since the United States was willing to go to war with Japan in order to force it to trade, why was it wrong later for Japan to go to war with the U.S. in order to continue the trading. Of course it is always wrong to go to war, unless it is the U.S. going to war, in which case any excuse will do.

The United States and its current gang of allies is doing the same thing to Iran right now. We want them to stop doing something that we and our allies do (making atomic weapons), so we refuse to trade with them. Except we do allow them to export their precious petroleum.

In 1854, when the Japanese and the U.S. signed their first treaty, the Treaty of Kanagawa, the U.S. was not considered to be one of the top world powers. Great Britain, France, Russia and Germany were all clearly more powerful. But rapid population growth combined with the industrial and agricultural revolutions changed America's internal strength, while staying out of World War I and II long enough gave Great Britain, France, Russia and Germany the time to exhaust each other.

America's military-industrial-political complex has forgotten the lessons of the first half of the 20th century. Staying out of war is what makes you strong. Bleeding slowly in Afghanistan while nations like China focus on building their economies is a plan for self destruction.

In 1600 China was arguably the most powerful nation in the world. By 2020 it probably will be so again, if it can have one more decade without a civil war or an external war. Perry was powerful because the U.S. economy could easily build steam ships and could mass produce guns. Let us hope the Chinese will be nicer to the U.S. than the U.S. ever was to China or Japan. It is a reasonable hope: the Chinese have been civilised for thousands of years. They know the value of peace and harmony.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Funding Act of 1790

In the "as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined" department, I found the article reproduced below in The University Encyclopedia of 1902, volume 8, page 5701. The Funding Act of 1790 is often mentioned, but never explained in any great detail. It does not currently have its own page at Wikipedia. Here's the article (you can skip to the last sentence if you get confused):

Sinking Fund, First National. Everything was done by the 1st Congress of the United States that could be to raise and sustain the public credit. For this purpose a sinking fund for the reduction of the public debt was provided for. The Funding Act required the interest on the public debt to be converted into capital. This left a considerable unappropriated sum to accumulate in the national treasury. Congress provided that all the surplus in the treasury on the last day of December 1790, after payment of the appropriations of the current session, should be applied to the reduction of the public debt. This sum, with $2,000,000 more which the President was authorized to borrow, was made to constitute a fund to be employed under the management of a board composed of the Chief-Justice, the president of the Senate, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Attorney-General, in the purchase of the securities of the United States at their market value, if not above par. The securities so purchased were to be vested in the board, and the interest thereon, by the provisions of the subsequent act, was to be applied to the purchase of further securities, with a reserve, however, toward the discharge of the borrowed $2,000,000, principal and interest. This measure was intended to raise the stock market so as to prevent the transfer of securities to Europe at Depreciated rates.

Yes, that was complicated. The more-commonly told story is that many if not most Congressmen, knowing that the Revolutionary War notes were going to be paid off in newly issued dollars, sent out agents to buy up the old notes at about 10 cents on the dollar. I've never seen the sinking fund mentioned elsewhere. The next time I'm near a major library hopefully I'll be able to get a copy of the Act of Congress in question.

Today the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve said they would keep interest rates they charge to banks near zero for the foreseeable future. Banks promptly announced that they would, in the interest of stability, keep credit card interest rates to the peons at steady levels too.

At this stage of a recovery normally the Federal Reserve would be raising rates. Four quarter point rises in 2010 would only raise rates to 1%, which is far lower than is normal even in pretty bad recessions.

I think the Fed is keeping interest rates low because that keeps interest on the national debt low. There is no Sinking Fund to pay off the national debt. What we have is a sinking government, sinking under an out of control military-industrial-financial complex.

The first Congress was as corrupt as the current Congress, but they inherited a lot of land stolen from American Indian tribes that could be developed. The entire population of the U.S. was only 4 million, and people were breeding as fast as they could. Within a couple of decades by taxing alcohol, selling stolen lands, and establishing customs duties (taxes on imports and exports) the early government managed to pay off the national debt.

Now we tax everything but imports. And inheritances [See estate tax rate]. You can see who really rules a nation by the way tax burdens are distributed. In America, trust fund kids rule.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Coffee, Tea, or Me?

My wife was aghast that, after her and all her (and my) friends working for years to talk to people about democracy issues (See, Alliance for Democracy), someone with little apparent knowledge suggested coffee parties to counter tea parties and suddenly, if probably momentarily, is famous, via Facebook. A funny thing is most of our democracy activist friends also have facebook accounts, and try all sorts of ways to spread their ideas.

I think the tea parties are a good thing, even though some of the stances taken by tea party people don't agree with me. People should talk to each other, share ideas, and even argue. To the extent that coffee parties provide that for people who are not already politically engaged, they will also be a good thing.

Across the country, without a doubt, Democratic Party strategists and paid flunkies are getting ready to attend coffee parties the same way Republican paid staff have tried to capture the tea party movement. And vice-versa: if the coffee parties amount to anything, people will think they can capture the Democratic Party.

Sorry folk. The most basic lesson of American politics is that the Democratic Party belongs to the military-industrial complex. They created it, they own it, and they have the resources to maintain control of it. (See Brief History of the Democratic Party)

The other basic less of American politics is that the Republican Party belongs to the military-industrial complex. They re-created it for the Civil War, they own it, and they have the resources to maintain control of it. (See Brief History of the Republican Party)

Has anyone besides me noticed that both coffee and tea are imported? Where is the Americanism in either of them?

Wine and cheese parties, as effete as they may be, at least can be supplied with American products. Or beer and pretzels. Or root beer and hog's feet.

I'd like to see a California Party. I think the main problem with the Democrats and Republicans in California is that they are tied to national parties run from states that have almost nothing in common with California. States like Mississippi and Texas and Illinois.

California grows a lot of cool crops, but as far as I know, none of them is made into hot beverages. Are we doomed to oblivion because we have no California-specific hot beverages?

California does grow righteous strawberries, and we have a healthy dairy industry. Perhaps we should skip the hot beverage and go straight to strawberry yogurt. What it is lacking in caffeine, the Strawberry Yogurt Party might make up for in nutritional wholesomeness.

I really should get a Facebook page. But the idea of constantly hearing trivia from a myriad of Internet friends, well, that still repulses me. I hate feeds. I'd rather just get information when I go looking for it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Big Love in Congress, 1899

Brigham Henry Roberts was "an American jounalist; born in Washington, Lancshire, England, March 13, 1857. In the summer of 1866 he emigrated with his parents to Davis, co. Ut. At 17 he was apprenticed to the blacksmith trade, at which he worked four years; subsequently attended the University of Utah. Soon after his graduation he was called by the Mormon Church to its missionary service. After laboring for some years as a missionary he was elected to high office in the Church. He was also engaged in journalism and was for a time editor-in-chief of the Salt Lake Herald. In 1894 he was elected to the State Constitutional Convention. At the first State election he was the nominee of the Democratic party for Representative to Congress, but was defeated. In 1898, however, he was elected by a large majority. His election created widespread agitation throughout the country, and on Jan. 25, 1900, the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority voted to exclude him as constitutionally ineligible, as a polygamist, to a seat in that body."

Quoted from The University Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Knowledge, New York, The Co-operative Publication Society, copyright 1902. Volume 8, page 5169

I don't think highly of polygamy, but what one thinks of polygamy is often a result of one's religious beliefs. So in effect the other Congressmen threw a properly elected fellow out of the House of Representatives for belonging to a different religion. Given the number of Congressmen who had both wives and mistresses at that time, they were probably wanting the public eye taken off their own private lives.

What is particularly strange is that the most rigid and rabbid religionists in the U.S. tend to be big on the Jewish Old Testament, in which polygamy is practiced. None of the commandments is against polygamy. In the New Testament I have seen nothing against polygamy.

The U.S. Congress should apologize to the voters of Utah and to the memory of Brigham Henry Roberts. If the voters elect you, and you are a polygamist or bigamist or hold any religious beliefs you like, the Congress should seat you and put up with you as long as the voters of your district want you to serve them.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Okinawa, Commodore Perry, and the Lew Chew Raid

The ramifications of the U.S. War Against Asia are ever present, and of course the U.S. could resume the war at any time. In fact, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq are in Asia, although my work-in-progress is devoted to wars in East Asia.

The United States occupied Japan after World War II and still has bases on the island of Okinawa. Apparently there is a Marine Corps base and a Marine Corps air station. The new Japanese government would like the U.S. to remove its bases, but for now is asking that the air base be smaller. Barack Obama would like to keep the bases, hoping for a change back to a more U.S. sycophantic government. [See, for instance, Japan Offers New Plan in Okinawa Dispute,]

Recently I read Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan, and much of the book is about the adventures prior to actually ordering Japan at gunpoint to give the U.S. bases there. A big section of the book is on the visit, or raid, to Lew Chew island. It turns out Lew Chew and Okinawa are one and the same. American's don't know about the Lew Chew incident, but I am sure Japanese historians and well-educated Japanese in general do.

Matthew Perry and crew had first sailed around Africa to China. They stopped at Okinawa on their way to Japan. They came originally in four large (for the time) vessels [Susquehanna, Mississippi, Supply, and Caprice], all heavily armed, two run by steam power, two by sail alone.

Okinawa was a possession of Japan. Perhaps it could be said to be naturally part of the Japanese islands geographically, and that the central government of Japan had extended its sway there around 1609, though actually a clan from the island of Kyushu did the sway extension.

We can only try to imagine the thoughts of the Japanese upon seeing the great war ships in their harbor in 1853. They sent out a couple of officials to greet the Americans. Commodore Perry refused to see them. He did see a missionary, Bettelheim, and got intelligence about the island from him. The next day the Japanese brought gifts of food, but were again declined. Two of Perry's officers were sent ashore (with interpreter) to talk to the mayor of Napha (Naha), the harbor town. When the regent of Lew Chew came to Perry's ship, he at last was received.

What followed was a preliminary to the tactics Perry used in Japan. He would ask the Lew Chew officials for permission to do something. They would say no and explain why. "There was evident opposition on the part of the authorities, at first, to visits on shore from the ships." Perry would say it would be done anyway, and then do it. The Okinawans were afraid of the obvious military power of Perry, so they did not oppose his visit, more of an invasion, with force. Perry did not conduct the usual U.S. raid on Asia, complete with killing people. He had the island surveyed and insisted on meetings with officials, and a house to stay in, and the construction of a building to be used to store coal for future U.S. steamship visits. Just in case, he had the American flag planted on a mountaintop, the traditional symbol of conquest. He planned a fuller conquest of Okinawa if the Japanese government failed to grant the U.S. the right to set up bases in Japan proper.

One amusing aspect of the book, which probably reflects the attitudes of both the author, Francis L. Hawks, as well as Perry and his crew, is that they suggested that Lew Chew was badly governed. The peasants seemed poor and mistreated. How much better off they would be if they were part of the United States. Of course, good government in the 1850's in the United States included a slave work force who were far worse off than the Lew Chew peasants. Perhaps Perry was already thinking of putting the Asians into reservations and populating the island with white Americans.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Invitations, War Crimes, and Obama in Somalia

There are a whole bunch of behaviors that constitute war crimes, down to using artillery on areas where civilians are present (even when enemy soldiers may also be there); also burying enemy soldiers without recording their identities and burial locations and giving that information to an international agency like the Red Cross.

But the most basic of war crimes is to make war on another nation. So leaders of nations like the United States have devised a number of scenarios that give them fictional cover for their war crimes. "We were attacked first," is a standard one, and was also used by Germany when it attacked Poland, launching World War II. This was the excuse used when the U.S. launched its attack on North Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. Which for the most part took place only in the minds of Lyndon Johnson and high-ranking Pentagon types who were looking for an excuse to launch a war.

The other big, common excuse, most used by imperialist nations, is the "we were invited" excuse. You find some faction that does not like the current system of government in a nation, and you get them to invite you in. Voila, you are not committing a war crime, you are aiding what you quickly prop up to be "the legitimate government."

In the Vietnam War, this was the excuse for U.S. troop deployments in South Vietnam prior to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. In the present war against the people of Afghanistan, this was part of a dual-excuse for war crimes strategy. We were invited by the Northern Alliance to help them overthrow their enemies, the Taliban.

Contrast President Franklin Roosevelt's behavior during the civil war in Spain (1930s), where he refused invitations to intervene on the side of the elected, democratic government because he did not want to alienate the powerful Catholic voting block within the Democratic Party of the United States. The Catholic Church supported General Franco.

Jeffrey Gentleman (a pseudonym?) wrote an article, "U.S. Aiding Somalia in its Plan to Retake Capital", published in the New York Times March 5, 2010, stating that the Obama administration plans to escalate the war in Somalia. The U.S. already provides substantial military aid to the "government" of Somalia. Gentleman quotes an unnamed U.S. official as saying that U.S. Special Ops troops will be involved on the ground.

The situation in Somalia is both complex and obscure. A few years ago the Islamic Justice Courts were set up and were very popular with a people tired of crime and war lord rule. The Bush administration overreacted to the Islam word. It set up an unpopular government of war lords which then called in an invasion from Ethiopia. This just led to the spreading of more radical, more militant Islamic groups. So today the U.S. is supporting a "moderate" Islamic government against Islamic enemies, some of whom are certainly influenced by Al-Qaeda. And why should they not be? Was not Al-Qaeda's central political thesis, that the U.S. is at war against Islam, clearly proven in Somalia?

The U.S. has no business in Somalia. Its 30-some years of meddling have consistently made matters worse. An invitation from Sharif Ahmed, whose government would collapse in three days if it were not a puppet government for the U.S., is not an invitation from the Somali people. Strangely, Sharif Ahmed is the former commander of the Islamic Justice Courts.

Al Shabab, who control the capital, Mogadishu, are the de facto government of Somalia. I don't like Al Shabab; I don't like religious fanatics. Within the context of better governance for Somalia, I liked the Islamic Justice Courts. But it is up to the people of Somalia to decide their own affairs. President Barack Obama will be committing a war crime if he uses U.S. soldiers in Somalia, or even supplies air support for the Ahmed faction. It is Barack Obama (and his predecessor George W. Bush, and pretty much the entire U.S. military industrial complex) who needs to be arrested and tried for his crimes.

Both the Democratic Party of Barack Obama and the Republican Party should be banned as war crimes organizations. Because that is what they are.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Barack Obama, Vietnam, and Afghanistan

Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961. President John F. Kennedy (Democratic Party) had been in office only a few months, but he had already shown that his liberal domestic policy posture was for getting votes. On foreign policy he was not going to be out-anti-communism ed by anyone. His predecessor, President Dwight David Eisenhower, as a former military commander, had not been someone the generals at the Pentagon could easily push around. But Kennedy was the son of a billionaire who had been a mere lieutenant before entering politics.

Eisenhower, who had been on General MacArthur's staff in Asia before becoming Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, had no desire to waste U.S. troops in Vietnam. But Kennedy allowed himself to be talked into escalating American troop presence in what was essentially a civil war, and one that was not even really about communism.

An awful lot of dead people later, Vietnam was united and the imperialist powers France and the United States and their local allies were fully expelled. That was 1975. Barack Obama was 14 years old, attending a private prep school. It can hardly be doubted that growing up during the Vietnam War must have had some impact on the young Obama.

Yet Barack would not have worried about being drafted into the military because conscription ended in 1973, when he was 12 years old. He did not need to make a choice that would have real consequences for himself.

Despite getting a B. A. in political science from Columbia University in 1983, Barack failed to learn the basic lessons of the Vietnam War. Not the ethical lessons, not the political lessons, not the economic or military lessons. And since he did not learn those lessons, the Marines and the Taliban will continue to duke it out. America may even win the war, that is unlikely but not impossible, but it does not matter. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was ethically, politically, tactically and strategically wrong; the U.S. has already lost so much, a mere victory, however defined, cannot make up for the losses.

Eisenhower was a general; Kennedy a lieutenant; Barack was never even a private. If he had been a war resister, that might have given him some backbone to resist pressure from the military-industrial complex and its hawkish political friends.

President Lyndon B. Johnson (a Democrat) was responsible for almost all the escalation of the Vietnam War. President Richard M. Nixon (a Republican) was responsible for getting the U.S. out of the war. I don't think parties matter much in this kind of situation. Timing matters. If Kennedy had not been assassinated, if Johnson had lost to Goldwater in the 1964 election, or if Humphrey had won in 1968 instead of Nixon, the trajectory would have been about the same.

Afghanistan, like Vietnam, has its various ethnic groupings, but none of them really want to be ruled by the United States. The allies of the U.S. in Afghanistan today are mainly the same people who allied with Russia (aka the USSR) in the prior war, and they are allies for mostly the same reasons. If there are six Taliban left in the country when the U.S. finally does declare a victory, within five years of the withdrawal of U.S. troops the Taliban, or their rough equivalent, will have regained control of most of the country.

The only way to keep Afghanistan under U.S. control is to keep U.S. soldiers there permanently. And even that may not work. As with Vietnam, the U.S. will probably end up controlling only its own military bases.

It was not just propaganda, leaders in the U.S. were genuinely worried that if they did not defeat the Vietnamese communists (who were really nationalists), the entire globe would be thrust into darkness. In reality once they kicked the U.S. out, the "Communists" behaved pretty much like everyone else. They did intervene in Cambodia, but they had good reason, and they withdrew as soon as they could. The Vietnamese have proven to be a peaceful, productive people. They did not cooperate much with the Chinese or Russian communists. They liked communism for its own sake, not because they wanted to be subordinate to China or Russia.

The people of Afghanistan are not the enemies of the United States. And in a large way, the people of Afghanistan are the Taliban. Leave them alone, and they will leave us alone. Al-Qaeda extremists should have been dealt with by other methods than invading an entire enormous country.

Instead of doing the right thing, President Obama succumbed to pressure from the Pentagon. Like Kennedy and Johnson and even Nixon, he will go down in global history as a war criminal. If the histories are written by honest people.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Democracies, Republics, and School Boards

When I wrote America: Republic or Democracy?, I wrote in terms of generalities, but used the federal government of the United States of America as the main example. Also when I wrote the essay (in 2002) the ultra-conservatives were not pushing so hard at their idea that America should be a republic where only a few (presumably self-selected) citizens will be allowed to vote for their representatives. I certainly did not expect that school boards would need to decide whether my essay could be used at their schools.

One great thing about school boards is that they are perfect illustrations of the fact that governance can satisfy both democratic and republican forms at the same time. The larger the proportion of the population that is allowed to vote, the more democratic the form of government. Post the collapse of discrimination against African-Americans (and Hispanic, Asian, and native Indian-American) who wanted to vote, in the 1960's, every American public school board has been subject to election by potentially all of the adult population of their respective school districts. Yet the system is not direct democracy, where every person can vote on every issue at every meeting.

The Republican form means that the actual government (at least the legislative branch) is elected, or representative. In an undemocratic republic only a select group of people are allowed to vote for the elected officials. In a democratic republic everyone can vote for the officials. At the edges of the definitions of republic and democracy there are some strange fish. For instance, if there is only one official, who is thereby basically a dictator once elected, in theory if there is a free election and everyone could vote, you could still call it a sort of democracy. On the other hand, you might have a thousand people elected to parliament or a House of Representatives, but a tiny number of voters (say the district's ten wealthiest men), and technically it would still be a republican form of government.

However, another factor is the size (mostly in population) of the school district. There is a big difference between the operation of the Point Arena, California school district where I served and the San Francisco school district, for instance. We don't have a word for it, but in my view Point Arena, precisely because of its small size, is more democratic. If even 10% of the citizens wanted to lobby a school board member for assorted changes in the curriculum in San Francisco, for instance, how much time could each person have with their elected representative? Not much. But in Point Arena it was no problem for me to take a phone call at home, or see someone out in the street, or listen to them at a board meeting. If they cared to tell me what they thought, they could tell me. If they wanted to know why the district was doing something, I could explain it to them.

There is a tendency to want to merge school districts together for administrative purposes, and I suppose that sometimes is a bit more, or even a lot more efficient. But if you want democratic control of the school board and schools, you want a small school district.

This also opens up the topic of the hierarchical structure of government in the United States. The Point Arena schools get bossed around quite a bit by the state of California and the federal government, and for the most part they are not very helpful, as far as I can tell. I can see how their bossiness might be good for the kids in a school district that had an incompetent school board, administration, and teaching staff. But bossing everyone around from Washington is like making everyone eat at McDonald's Corporation. Sure, you know what you are getting, and you won't starve, but wouldn't cooks with a little autonomy be likely to do better rather than worse?

So hurray for the Alpine School District in Utah. They censored my essay and crumbled before a crazy person who does not understand basic political theory and practice [See Republic or Democracy Essay Censored in Utah]. But to me, that is just a risk of democracy. It beats the risk of having the crazy people take over with no way to vote them out, as they did in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, Fascist France, and General Franco's Spain.

As an added benefit I learned that they actually allow teaching evolution at Brigham Young University (see also their nematode evolution page). The Mormon Church theologians are not keen on the idea of evolution through natural selection, but the funny thing is that Joseph Smith and Charles Darwin were contemporaries and both were innovators. I wonder what Darwin would have thought of Big Love?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Commodore Perry, Japan, and Hypocrisy

Reading in detail about Commodore Perry's mission to Japan in 1853 and 1854, I could not help but be struck by the astonishing level of hypocrisy in the account. Perhaps this is because Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan was written by a minister, Francis L. Hawks, but more likely it simply and accurately reflects ruling class Amerian attitudes of that day.

The United States already had an extensive trade with China, and its whaling ships regularly operated in the seas around Japan. The U.S. had first been extended to the Pacific Ocean in the aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. You'll recall that Napoleon Bonaparte claimed France owned extensive lands that were in fact the sovereign tribal lands of native American Indians. He sold this dubious title to the United States, led by slaver President Thomas Jefferson, for $15,000,000. The Oregon area was disputed by Spain, Russia, and Great Britain, but by1818 the U.S. had the upper hand and in 1846 the current border was settled by treaty, again without input from the Indians.

The war of aggression against Mexico starting in 1846 was largely designed by U.S. expansionists to get California and the port of San Francisco. American colonists moved rapidly into California, where their new government raised taxes on land just long enough to force most Mexican landholders to sell their holding.

Racism against the Asiatic peoples known as American Indians of course carried over to Euro-American attitudes towards Asians in China and Japan. But another matter that looms behind the Perry expedition is slavery. In the 1850s the U.S. nation practiced slavery, although slavery had been banned in the British Empire.

So if you believe the constant protestations by Perry and his gang that his expedition was about extending the "friendship" of the United States to the nation of Japan, you are naive.

The Japanese were not naive. They had already had considerable experience with the Christian and European meanings of friendship. They had closed off Japan to almost all intercourse with Europeans since the 1600s, in self-defense. Even their traditional trading partner, China, was allowed to trade only at the port of Nagasaki. The one European power the Japanese traded with was the Netherlands. But the Japanese government used the Dutch (also confined to Nagasaki) not so much for physical trade as to keep up on world events. When Perry came knocking at their door they knew about the United States, and they knew about the history of Europeans colonizing Asia. They also knew about many of the inventions of the West, like steam engines, although they had prohibited their actual importation. They had translators that read or spoke Dutch, Chinese, English, and probably other foreign languages. They knew the U.S. had successfully rebelled against Great Britain, and that Franklin Pierce was its President.

And they knew about the First Opium War. The government of China had made opium illegal for the obvious reasons. British (and also some American traders) had insisted on their right to profit from selling opium into China, and the British government defeated the Chinese in 1842, just ten years before the Perry expedition. In the aftermath of the Opium War the U.S. signed a rather one-sided treaty with China, one of the Unequal Treaties, the Treaty of Wanxia of 1844.

While protesting friendship on his mission to Japan (commanding a battle fleet capable of flattening Tokyo), Perry presents the U.S. treaty with China as a model of the sort of treaty the U.S. wants with China.

Even the summaries of the treaty sparring in the book can be tedious, but both sides knew what was really going on. The Japanese certainly knew about the imposition of the Unequal Treaties on China after the Opium War, and certainly had a copy of the treaty. Matthew Perry pretended the Japanese did not know, but he knew they knew. He kept threatening to send for more ships (with more cannon, and soldiers) if the Japanese would not make a treaty. The Japanese said they understood the need of the U.S. to take on coal (the petroleum of that era), water and food, and wanted to allow it at Nagasaki. Perry, representing American merchants and industrialists, wanted free trade, the right to trade anything anywhere. Politely, no one mentioned opium.

The Japanese were not in a position to defend themselves and their way of life, and knew it. They signed the Treaty of Kanagawa with the U.S., and soon signed similar treaties with the European powers. Within a decade the rulers of Japan had decided that to defend themselves they needed to rapidly modernize, at whatever cost to their traditional ways.

In the 1850's Japan looked to some Americans like the next California, a place that could be grabbed, where the native peoples could be put on reservations and left to die.

By 1900 the Japanese were ready to withstand an attack from the imperialist powers. They expanded their vision. They would eventually free all of Asia from colonial slavery to Germany, France, Russia, Britain, the U.S. and the Netherlands.

And that really angered the U.S. ruling class and its global allies.