Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Before the U.S. was engaged in the war President Franklin D. Roosevelt criticized the conduct of Japan (in China) and General Franco in Spain. He dispatched messages to all belligerents urging them to refrain from the “inhuman barbarism of bombing civilians.” But his preparations for war included a massive expansion of the bombing capabilities of the United States.
Roosevelt built a reputation on caring for the common man, but his record is mixed. He was an imperialist in the mold of his relative, President Theodore Roosevelt, at an early age. As President, FDR challenged Japan's incursions into China, but refused to grant independence to the U.S. colony of the Philippines. He supported French retention of Indochina and the Netherlands retention of Indonesia. Still, in his calm moments he probably understood ethics and compassion as well as the average man he claimed to represent, so his pre-war anti bombing statements were doubtless sincere, at the time.
Long before World War II broke out it had been well established, as international law, that artillery was to be used only against enemy soldiers. Bombarding civilians is a war crime. By extension aerial bombardment should only be used against soldiers, not against civilians.
In war itself, however, passion combine with the cold logic of seeking military victory to change how Roosevelt and Americans saw attacks on civilians, when it was American bombers that were doing the attacking.
For American citizens and soldiers, this is often attributed to beliefs that Japanese soldiers were merciless to civilians and POWs. There were plenty of incidents that supported this view, but for the most part Japanese officers, with a few exceptions, restrained their men as best they could. There were some cultural differences: Japanese soldiers (or at least officers) were trained to prefer to die than be captured, which leads to contempt for surrendering enemies. It is wise to remember that many if not most of the Japanese generals and admirals Americans were told to hate had received some schooling in the U.S.
But the central event of American anti-Japanese propaganda was the Bataan Death March. The problem with the propaganda is that it blamed the Japanese for the actions of President Roosevelt. American troops (including Filipinos) in the Philippines were essentially starved to death on orders by Roosevelt. He believed their resistance in Bataan would slow the Japanese advance elsewhere, giving the U.S. time to rebuild the invasion fleet that had been sunk at Pearl Harbor. While some Japanese soldiers acted cruelly during the march (they too had been fighting, had seen their comrades killed, and were tired and hungry), for the most part the Japanese failed to save many American lives, despite considerable effort, because commanding officers did not realize how seriously starved the American soldiers were before they surrendered.
Numerous witnesses have recorded the widespread killing of Japanese POWs by GI's during World War II, in particular during the campaign to recapture the Philippines (which lost their independent nation status when MacArthur reconquered them). This was not simply a matter of men gone mad. According to Toland, posters were printed urging GI's to "have no mercy on yellow bastards."
No mercy at all.
Then came General Curtis LeMay's plan to firebomb Japanese cities. President Roosevelt approved it. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, mostly women, children and elders, died.
When Roosevelt died the atomic bomb was almost ready for testing. President Truman heard arguments about whether to use it against the Japanese or not. The Japanese were trying to negotiate a surrender, but Truman wanted an unconditional surrender.
Asked later if it was difficult to make the atomic bomb decision, Truman said it was just like deciding to use a more devastating artillery. If you have it, you use it, the objective is to win the war.
So much for international law about the use of artillery against civilians.
See also: Notes on Rising Sun by John Toland
Read the book:
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Shabab is labeled as a terrorist group by the US. Big deal. Allies of the U.S. who use armed force to create governments are labeled freedom fighters; any group not allied with the U.S. that uses armed force gets the terrorist label. Let's look past the propaganda and consider the reality.
The U.S. has tried to install a variety of governments in Somalia over the past two decades, using force and economic aid. That is more than terrorism: that constitutes war crimes. Every attempt to install a pro-U.S. government has failed, including the U.S. financed invasion by Ethiopia in 2006 (major war crime authorized by President George W. Bush).
The recognition of de facto governments is an ancient and almost universal practice. One nation is not obliged to like another nation. Diplomatic recognition is a pragmatic affair. It does not involve an alliance with the nation or government recognized.
The United States of America has a bit more of an uncivilized, brutal history in this regard than the more civilized nations. Most notably, the U.S. failed to recognize the government of China from 1950 until 1972.
On the other hand, the United States has not only recognized, but has propped up, a wide variety of unsavory regimes over the centuries. At first these tended to be South American kleptocrats allied with American business interests. Later, during the cold war, they included any brutal but aspiring military officer who promised to kill communists, socialists, democrats and freedom of speech in general. In other words, neither lack of elections nor brutality precluded American recognition of governments — as long as they were our governments.
There are dangers to leaving the Somalis to themselves, but they are outweighed by the advantages and the likely cultural trajectory. When idealistic groups like Shabab come to power they usually start off with a puritanical regimen. Their subjects will pretend to also have become puritans, if only to escape punishment. But having achieved power, the leaders will begin to relax over time. With an orderly regime trade and industry will pick up again, and Shabab will start growing fat on taxing that. In other words, after 10 years or so they won't be much different than any other government. They are unlikely to develop a military that can successfully invade their neighbors. Somalia has neither the wealth nor the industrial base for that sort of thing.
There are so many examples of this in history, let me remind you of a couple. In the American Revolution terrorist tactics were used against the pro-British Tories. But as soon as Washington & crew were accepted by the international community they calmed down and lived peacefully happily ever after. Except for attacks on American Indians. And the attempt to conquer Canada in 1812. And grabbing half of Mexico in 1848. Well, maybe the U.S. is not such a great example.
But we could always declare war on Somalia later, or engage in yet another undeclared war. Right now the best way to relieve the suffering in Somalia is to withdraw African Union troops, recognize the de facto governance by Islamic fighters, and leave them to stew among themselves. Maybe even Shabab won't be able to govern Somalia. But if, say, the Saudis offered to build a mosque or two to celebrate the great Islamic victory, and threw in some luxury snacks and free trips to Mecca, pretty soon the government of Somalia would not look very different than any other government. Meddlesome and incompetent, but slightly better than living in an ongoing civil war.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Meyers: Certainly. And I agree that now is that conversation's later.
Child: I don't want to die.
Meyers: Of course not. You are like me, you like life.
Child: But everybody dies. Only they don't really. They go to heaven, so they don't really die, at least if they are saved.
Meyers: Another belief system that denies the reality of death postulates reincarnation instead of heaven and hell. In reincarnation the soul, at death, moves into the body of a creature being born. Reincarnation is associated most closely with Hinduism and Buddhism. But let's focus on the death of the human body, and worry about heaven and reincarnation later. Okay?
Meyers: How old are you?
Meyers: Then thirteen, or certainly fourteen, year ago you were not alive. Any problem with that?
Child: No, I guess not.
Meyers: And you would agree the past is real. Yesterday was as real as today, and the day you were born was a real day, and before you were born real things happened, like the births and deaths of your ancestors in say the 19th century?
Child: Of course.
Meyers: I only make the point because some religions and philosophies, like Buddhism and extreme forms of skepticism, insist that the present is an illusion, and the past must be an illusion too. We'll talk about the idea that the world is an illusion at some other point, or else we'll lose track of this death question.
Child: So what does the past being real have to do with death?
Meyers: Let's suppose you live for a really long time. Just say 80 years. Now imagine we are both dead, let's say a hundred years from now. Go ahead, try to imagine being someone else, a hundred years from now, who maybe has heard about you or me, and is thinking about the year 2010.
Child: I guess anyone could do that. Anyone alive then. Just like I can imagine my great grandfathers during World War II. Two of them fought, one was too old, one was too young.
Meyers: So it is pretty simple. People are born, live some length of time, and then die. After they die their life is in the past. Can we see the City of London right now?
Child: No, but I could get web cams to come up if you wanted to see.
Meyers: Surely you could. And there are still archives about your soldier ancestors, we could see them if we wanted to. But we can't be in two geographic locations at once, and we can't be in two times at once. Our present is your ancestors' future and your descendents' past. It is all real.
When someone dies their life is simply in the past, to the people whose life goes on. But their life is still real. The common phrase "he passed away" really should be "he's in the past now."
Child: But what about heaven? Your body could be in the past, and your soul could go to heaven.
Meyers: People are sad when their relatives and friends die. They wish they were still alive, in the present. So a long, long time ago people invented the idea of ghosts. They would dream they saw their dead friends, so they thought they were still alive in some form. Then the professional religious racket got a hold of the idea. They encouraged people to think that ghosts are real, and they invented a home for them. At first it didn't sell well, because the home was pretty gloomy. Then some priests realized that inventing a happy ghost home, heaven, made living people happy. They wanted their dead to be alive in a happy home, and they wanted to go to a happy home themselves when they died. But it is just a story. The truth is dead people are in the past.
Child: I don't know. Seems you could have both.
Meyers: Sure. Some time when you have some time to put to use, you could read some about the Greek and Egyptian religions that were around before Christianity. You get an idea of the trajectory, of how religious and philosophic ideas developed. Sorting out what is true from what is false is no easy task. A lot of people want you to believe what they believe. And a lot of people choose that, to go along, to pretend to believe, just to get along with their friends and family.
Child: I want to know the truth.
Meyers: I think that's good. But the truth is not always beautiful, at least not in detail. Ugly things happen in this world. Hopefully you'll avoid the worst of them.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Meyers: I have a positive system of knowledge called Natural Liberation Philosophy. But yes, in your parents' culture that makes me a kind of atheist.
Child: I don't see how you can say there isn't a God. How did everything get here? God created everything.
Meyers: When we humans create something we make it from things that are already here. We use the phrase "create a cake" to mean "bake a cake from ingredients." Except for what people make, things don't need to be created. They just are. We don't create trees: they just grow. Scientists say everything is made of matter and energy, and matter and energy can't be created or destroyed.
Child: But God had to create something in the first place.
Meyers: People say things like: God created the Universe out of nothing. But pretend for a moment the Universe needs a Creator. The theory behind that would be that a Creator is necessary for the Universe to exist. But what created the Creator? The Creator would need to be self-creating. And once we allow for something to be self-creating .. do you think we should allow self-creation?
Meyers: Then we might as well allow that the Universe itself is, or at some time was, self-creating. Do you see how much of your problem comes from applying the word "create" in a context where it does not apply?
Meyers: Let me help you here. Do you think there would be nothing, if God or the Universe had not been self-creating!
Child: Maybe God is the Universe, but there would be nothing if something had not been made!
Meyers: Some would argue that nothing can beget only nothing. But consider how we use the word "nothing." It makes sense in everyday use. What did you bring home from the store? Nothing. What are your plans for the day? Nothing. What did you accomplish on your hike? Nothing. Nothing is a lot like zero.
Meyers: Nothing is a sort of counter. It is the absence of things to count. But I can count billions of people, 10 or so planets in the solar system, millions of stars in the sky, million of galaxies in the Universe. Reality is something. The Universe is something. They are not nothing.
Child: But they were nothing before the world was created.
Meyers: You are applying a human word where it should not be applied. You are using it out of context. Nothing is a contrast to the existence of particular things. You are trying to make it contrast with Everything, or the Universe.It only makes sense within a system of things. You can try other language constructions. Here is one: outside our system of reality. Outside reality, in short. You can make what sounds like a sensible sentence: outside of reality is nothing.
Child: Exactly. Outside of reality there is nothing. And before reality there was nothing. So you still need God to create everything.
Meyers: For there to be before, there has to be time. Time would be something. Not nothing. The nothing of time would be No Time. That makes sense in everyday life: no time to do my homework! But no time at all, or a time before the Universe began, those are just misapplying the English language.
We might say, take away the entire universe, and there would be nothing. But the universe can't be taken away. Parts of it can be wrecked, but it can't be destroyed. The absence of the entire universe is an impossible construct. Nothingness, in the absolutely nothing sense, is a misconception.
Child: So what is the point of all this bull about God and philosophy?
Meyers: Exactly. You are in a very real world. Learn all you can about it. Do what you think is right within it. And beware that many humans have become very confused over the course of civilization by using the same word to mean two or more things, or by extending an analogy way beyond its reasonable context.
Child: Maybe. But what happens to people when they die, if there isn't a God?
Meyers: I think you can figure that out for yourself. Run along now. I need to check my text messages.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
The Tea Party is diverse; I don't mean to say that they all think alike on every issue by making some generalizations here. However, I believe it is fair to say that in general they are for low taxes, a decreased role for federal government, and a rolling back of the U.S. Constitution to its fundamentalist form, still including its first ten amendments. They also favor a republican form of government over democracy.
I find it strange that they are so in love with the U.S. Constitution and act as if it was written by their God, however they imagine that entity. Historical reality clearly indicates that the Tea Party folk of the Constitutional Convention era were in favor of keeping the Articles of Confederation, and with good reason. They did not like taxes imposed on them for other people's benefit either.
Who is a conservative? The word conservative is a tricky word to use in the era between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the imposition of the Constitution upon the early peoples of the United States of America. Conservatives in 1776 could be defined as those who wanted to remain a set of colonies of England; the signers of the Declaration of Independence were radicals. Yet most of the 1776 leaders were economic conservatives within their communities. Were those who wrote the Constitution radical because they broke with those who wanted to keep the Articles (including Patrick Henry), or were they conservative men who felt that radicals were getting the upper hand under the Articles and in their respective sovereign States? I favor the later interpretation, but when using labels like conservative, one has to know what era one is talking about.
Now, take taxes. It is true that by going back to the original Constitution the Federal Government would lose its ability to collect income taxes (granted in the XVI Amendment). But that does not mean the government would collect or spend less money. It certainly would not stop the military industrial complex. Taxes could be raised by a Congress that "shall have the power to collect Taxes, Posts, Duties and Excises" (Article I, Section 8) constrained only by the phrase "No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the Census." (Article 1, Section 9). Instead of paying income tax, you would pay more for goods and services. So for low federal taxing power you need to go back to the Articles.
Now consider the idea that the Constitution was explicitly undemocratic. It was not written by the people themselves, so it is not surprising that its democratic elements are minimal. The various states were, on the whole, more democratic in structure. The Constitution was largely written because of concerns that the people of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were pushing too hard for democracy and justice for all.
Yet the Federal Government under the original Constitution had strong democratic elements. Those elements were shored up by the growing idea that all people really are created equal and should have an equal say in government. The trend towards perfecting what was mere propaganda in the Declaration of Independence would lead to a lessening of the republican Constitutional elements, and increasing of the democratic elements, over the next two centuries.
First, the House of Representatives "shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States." Chosen by the people. That is democracy, especially when you admit that every human is a member of the people, not just property-owning white males.
Second, "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives;" note they did not give this, the taxing power, to the Senate or President or Courts. That is because the historical experience then, as now, is that it is the fat cats who want to raise taxes to enrich themselves. To keep taxes low for most people it is safer to keep that power in the democratically elected lower house of Congress. It isn't fool proof, but it is better than allowing the Senate to run amok with that power.
But no constitutional framework can, in and of itself, guarantee justice and prosperity. People can, and some will, act badly within any system. We reached a point in after 2000 where business and political ethics just about completely disintegrated in the United States. People where so angry at a few dozen crazy Islamic militants that they took their eyes off what was happening in the U.S. We can't all be governing all the time; we need elected officials. But the people need to keep a close watch on their officials and the jackals (mostly corporate lobbyists) who beguile them.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
This event is driven by high temperatures and drought. That in turn may be driven by global warming, but specific events are hard to attribute to slow, general trends.
The wheat situation is a reminder that the Earth is overpopulated with humans. Food production is a tricky business. Drought has tended to have the largest impact on food production since the invention of pesticides, but fungus, viruses, insects, weeds, and even rodents still compete with humans for the crops we try to raise. There are multiple points of failure available, and where there are multiple points of failure, failures will occur.
The United States is no longer a net food exporter. True, we are far from endangered in the short run. Over half of Americans are fat, so calorie intake could probably be cut something like 25% for our population as a whole before any widespread detrimental health effects set in.
Looking ten to twenty years down the road, however, the situation could turn far more serious as both the global and U.S. populations continue to rise. As food prices rise (after a century of low prices by most measures) more land may be brought into production, and yields would be expected to continue to show technology-based increases. But it is hard to plot out a scenario where food supplies grow as fast as the population.
We can count on global warming, but we don't know where and when its local effects will strike. If multiple major grain exporting nations are hit by simulaneous droughts lasting two years or longer, we could see famines on a global scale.
The only real long term solution is a global population policy. Let me be clear: over the next century the human global population should be reduced to about 3 billion people. Carbon dioxide is not the problem. Too many people is the problem.
More on the global population problem:
Food and Population [January 31, 2007]
Population and Global Warming [January 25, 2007]
Population Incentives [January 6, 2007]
Population, Population, Population [December 13, 2006]
China's Population Issues [link to People's Daily Online]
Monday, August 9, 2010
Having dissected the real nature of the Taliban and the politics of Afghanistan on many occasions, here I want to focus on how the system is "fixed" [as in a crooked gambling game]. Most people remember that most Obama voters thought they were voting to get the U.S.A. out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Was Obama lying from the start, or did he really change his policy once he became President?
Now, of course, Obama claims that he never promised to withdraw from the war on terror. He offered "hope" and "change." It is like game of blackjack in a casino. The house always wins, but a new shuffle or pack of cards always offers hope to the chronically deluded gambler.
Barack Obama was a very confident man long before he became President. It is conceivable that during the campaign he imagined he could finesse his way out of Afghanistan. After all, the success of President Bush's surge strategy in Iraq, and the clear sentiment of a majority of Americans that we do not need to wage a large scale war to deal with the few dozen dingbats who actually are in Al-Qaeda, seemed to provide a lot of leverage against the national security establishment. Obama knew better than most Americans that Presidents don't make the laws, or even foreign policy: they only enforce them. But he probably thought that he would have the cooperation of the Democratic Party members of Congress. He may have even thought the Republican Party would be happy if the issue went away, and any blowback, like successful terrorist acts in the U.S., could be blamed on the Democrats.
But probably he knew how Washington D.C. really works: some policies can change with changes of the popular will, but most change comes only with the permission of, and when it is to the benefit of, a set of power brokers. The military-industrial complex, with its secretive national security, black-ops adjuncts, knows all the tricks of power. The election of Barack Obama did not diminish its power one inch.
Recall that during the electin the nation was in a deep economic crisis, caused primarily by the Bush tax cuts for the rich and the incompetence of the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan. This made it possible for small groups of Senators and Representatives to hold the nation hostage to their special interests.
One of those small, but certainly not tiny, groups were the committee and subcommittee chairs who were (and are) in the pockets of the security establishment or the military contractor corporations. Progressive Democrat like to assume that these men and women are mostly Republicans, but the group has been dominated by Democrats ever since President Franklin Roosevelt began the largest military buildup in American history in the late 1930's with the objective of conquering Japan. In the Senate this included Joseph Lieberman chairing the Homeland Security Committee, Carl Levin chairing Armed Forces, and Diane Feinstein chairing Intelligence. Levin, Feinstein, and Liberman have always favored U.S. funded aggression against Palestinians and other Moslems. All are Jewish. Levin is also chair of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security.
In the House of Representatives, on the all-important Appropriations committee the Defense subcommittee is chaired by Norman D. Dicks, while the Homeland Security subcommittee is chaired by David E. Price. The Armed Services Committee is chaired by Ike Skelton; its Terrorism subcommittee is chaired by Loretta Sanchez. The Foreign Affairs Committee chair is Howard L. Berman. Committee on Homeland Security chair is Bennie G. Thompson. Its subcommitte chairs are Jane Harman for Intelligence, Sheila Jackson Lee for Transportation Security, Henry Cuellar for Border and Maritime, Christopher Carney for Investigations, Yvette Clarke for Cyber & Science, and Laura Richardson for Emergency Communications. The Judiciary Committee also has a Terrorism subcommittee chaired by Robert C. Scott.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is chaired by Sivestre Reyes. Its numerous subcommitteees are headed by Mike Thompson, Anna Eshoo, Dutch Ruppersberger, and Janice Schakowsky.
Traditionally almost ever congressional district was given some sort of military base or factory with a defense contract, giving the military the ability to put pressure broadly on Congress. Thus the servants become the masters, while preserving the illusion of civilian control of the military.
Barack Obama was an Illinois State Senator representing the 13th District, basically Chicago's South Side, from 1996 to 2004 [he ran unopposed in the Democratic primary because he successfully challenged the nomition petitions of 4 other candidates]. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and served their from 2005 until 2008. Chicago and Illinois are bloated with defense contracting industries, including the corporate offices of the world's largest defense contractor, Boeing. Obama would have worked closely with his state's defense contractors while holding his U.S. Senate seat.
To get anything done after becoming President, given that he was unlikely to pick up Republican votes in Congress, Barack Obama needed a Democratic Party that was 100% behind his program. Even one defecting vote in the Senate could derail any agenda item, as we have seen several times. But with important Democrats demanding the continued expansion of homeland security and Pentagon spending in their districts, Obama folded almost immediately. He took credit that was due to George Bush for winding down the war in Iraq, but bought into transferring troops and budgets to the Afghan war. Exaggerating the power of Al Qaeda and vilifying the Taliban became necessary to provide political cover for Obama's lack of balls. The problem is that if Obama had the balls to take on the Pentagon, they would have made his domestic agenda impossible.
No one person, not even a President, can change the system. Many Presidents have tried to put the Pentagon on a modest diet, only to find Congress injecting all the pork they can think of into the budget.
It is a little house of horrors scenario. At some point the Pentagon, CIA and homeland security will eat every living thing in America. Then the have two choices: eat up other nations in a more openly imperialistic manner, or collapse with the rest of the American economy.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
I started working on some blog posts while I was away, but they need more work, so expect to see them start appearing here in the coming days.
Along the drive I saw an extraordinary amount of construction work being performed on the highways. Some is probably the usual summer work, but a lot is doubtless funded by the federal deficit. So look to a higher tax load or even lower services some time later this decade. It takes time for stimulus funds on construction projects to get rolling, but in this case it has taken longer to get out of recession mode than usual.
Whidbey Island was beautiful, I am glad I was able to visit. I saw a lot of old friends and made a few new ones, I hope. Evan is a theater tech person and Tess is an opera singer, so the wedding was a bit of a performance. Held at a friend's farm, it featured fantastic singing and music by Evan and Tess's friends.
I loved strolling on the beach with Hugo (and sometimes Jan joined us!). There were many sea birds and a heron to view, plus a variety of clam and other shells. The long days began with fog, but there was sun in the afternoon, so it warmed up to just about perfect. It was hard to imagine the heat wave hitting much of the rest of the nation. On the other hand I lived in Seattle already for a couple of years, and the dark, moist winters are not appealing.
Now I am rolling up my sleaves. I have a lot of work to do around my home, from watering plants to starting to cut up wood for winter heat. Another election is upon us, and Mendocino County, the State of California, the U.S.A. and the globe seem just as misgoverned as ever. The economy is improving, but with that I worry that the rate of environmental destruction will ramp up again. Religious fanatics, Roman Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and even atheist, are ever ready to make stupid faith-based decisions, including to kill people who don't share their faith.
It is a mad but beautiful world. Keep coming here to share thoughts on it.