Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Corporate Personhood, Islamic Rebellion, and the Philippines Occupation

The Philippine Islands are numerous and cover a large area. Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1521 the islands were not united under a single government. People on the various islands belonged to a number of ethnic groups and spoke a variety of languages.

The Spanish forced their Roman Catholic religion on the conquered, but of course many held to their pagan beliefs. In some of the southern islands Islam had already taken hold. Only a few centuries earlier Spain itself had been mainly Islamic, so getting rid of Islam was a priority. But despite centuries of effort the Catholics were not able to drive the "Moro" (Moors) out of the southern Philippine Islands.

In the 1800's nationalism took hold in the Philippines. Just as a weakened Spain lost its colonies in the Americas, the towards the end of the century Filipinos defeated their Spanish occupiers. Only their timing was bad. U.S. sugar growers wanted the Philippines. Theodore Roosevelt saw to it that a U.S. Fleet attacked the few surviving Spanish armed forces in the Philippines when the Spanish American war began. The Spanish Army in Manila preferred to surrender to white Americans than to the Filipino nationalist army that had them surrounded. In the peace negotiations after the war was over the Filipinos were not invited. Spain sold what she did not own to the United States.

Having an army, the Filipinos set up their own government in opposition to the U.S. By now Theodore Roosevelt was President, and showed himself to be a genocidal maniac [See U.S. Conquest of the Philippines]. The war never really ended, even when the U.S. granted the Philippines nominal independence in 1946. (The Japanese, having kicked the U.S. out, had granted independence on October 14, 1943 [John Toland, The Rising Sun, page 573]).

According to Eliza Griswold in The Tenth Parallel, today's Islamic insurgency in the Philippines is rooted in U.S. conquistador policy. The U.S. failed, for the most part, to convert Catholic Filipinos to Protestantism. But they "employed a policy of shipping Filipino Christians from the Catholic north to the Muslim south." [p. 254]

In a classic example of granting personhood rights to corporations, while denying them to people (especially people who were not wealthy white male protestants), "To further break the Moro ancestral land rights, the United States pushed forward laws stipulating that only individuals and corporations—such as Dole, B. F. Goodrich, Del Monte, Weyerhaeuser, and Goodyear—could own land, not Moro tribes or clans." [Griswold p. 254]

This is a policy that went back to George Washington and his gang of "investors" with claims in the Ohio country. Tribes don't own lands, even if it does take a bit of militia muscle to ensure that corporations can turn those lands into their private property.

The rights of corporate persons is a big deal right now, with the recent ruling in Citizens United v. FEC and a number of new corporate personhood cases on the upcoming United States Supreme Court docket.

It is also another example of the Gruel of Law. Caviar law for the corporate elite, eat bullet lead law for the indigenous people.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Indonesia's Atheist Holocaust

The last few days I have been reading Eliza Griswold's well-written, detailed yet fascinating account of the modern proselytizing competition between Christians and Moslems, The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam. My wife Jan heard Eliza interviewed on NPR, got the book from our local library (that paragon of government-in-business socialism), and allowed me to grab it. I'll have to buy a copy; I want it in my permanent collection.

It reminded me of another "incident" in history that can be characterized as an atheist holocaust. The largest atheist holocaust I know of was run by the Catholic Church's and Adolf Hitler (with help from General Franco and less Catholic fascist leaders like Petain) [see The Atheist Holocaust.]

This one, which took place in Indonesia from about 1965 to 1966 after Suharto made himself an American-friendly dictator.

Some of the victims of the holocaust were without a doubt Communists, which means they were atheists. Most American historians would therefore classify their murders as political, not religious. Okay, legitimate killings, as the only good communist (or anti-U.S. rebel of any kind) is a dead communist.

But of course it could not be that simple, even at the height of the Cold War, when President Lyndon Johnson (the Democratic Party leader) and the United States of America had its hands full committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Vietnam.

According to Griswold (and confirmed by other sources) "militant Islamists manned Suharto's death squads." Further "Since converting to a state-approved religion prevented people from being charged as godless Communists, many Indonesians did ... the state outlawed the Chinese practice of Confucianism; most Chinese turned to Christianity instead."

Any murder is abhorrent for any reason, but in sorting these mass murders out it is important to understand what is going on. Communism angers Capitalists, and vice versa, that at least seems natural. But Christian socialism and Islamic socialism don't inspire the kind of hatred in Christians and Moslems, respectively, as atheistic socialism does. The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was participating in the government under Sukarno and had some success getting land redistributed to poor Indonesians. The rich landowners being Moslem, they were able to combine self-interest with religious fervor. Estimates of atheists killed range from a low of about 500,000 on up.

The Wikipedia article, Indonesian Killings of 1965-1966, has a good level of detail.

Comparing this to Hitler's more famous actions against non-Christians, begin with the political element. Hitler's Nazi goons started killing communists and socialists before they started killing people just for being Jewish. Many communist and socialist leaders were Jewish by descent, but not religious Jews. They were atheists; all good Marxists were. That is why the Catholic Church led by the two fascist Popes, Pius XI and Pius XII, engineered Hitler's rise to power. He was the Church's tool to destroy atheism. The biggest group of atheists were in Russian, which just happened to be communist, which the Church did not like much either.

The Tenth Parallel mainly chronicles the battle between Christianity and Islam. The danger of both groups to modern, pagan, agnostic and atheist people is something of a side story.

The Tenth Parallel also reinforces my view that the U.S. government remains anti-atheist and anti-Islamic. Officially, of course, it is impartial. But with a variety of Christian and Islamic (and Jewish) groups killing each other, why is it that essentially all of the groups designated as terrorist by the U.S. are Islamic? Groups that do the same thing, if they are Christian, are not considered terrorists. If you want to give to Christian charities abroad, no problem. Try giving to Islamic charities, and Obama's FBI thugs will be at your door step.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Obama Raids Peace Activist Homes

The FBI, acting on orders from President Barack Obama, raided the homes of eight antiwar activists on Friday, September 24, according to the New York Times [see FBI Searches Antiwar Activists' Homes]. The homes were ransacked, but rather than arresting suspects they were asked to report to a Grand Jury. The victims appear to be highly respected peace activists. The office of the Minneapolis Anti-War Committee was also raided.

Doubtless President Obama felt empowered to attack his leftist critiques because of the failure of civil rights activists to defend right-wing militia members who were previously arrested on phony charges. Any failure to respond to the current provocation will doubtless lead to Obama trying to use further arrests and intimidation to prop up his failing presidency.

Over the years the ruling elite of the United States, including the national security apparatus and every President and Congress, Republican and Democrat, has tried to use "national security" as a rational to limit citizen's rights of free speech and assembly. I assert another right: to give material support to anyone I feel justified to give it too. The elite's enemies are not my enemies. I may not like the religious fervor of Hamas, for example, but if I want to give to a Hamas charity, that is my human right. If the U.S. government tries to deny that right, I say they have no right to govern me.

Of course I don't know the particulars of the case the FBI is prosecuting. "The warrant said agents were gathering evidence related to people “providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support” to terrorist organizations, and listed Hezbollah, the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia." I have no fondness for any of those three organizations, but I see no reason why each American citizen should not make his or her own judgment. The activists say they were just protesting U.S. foreign policy. Is that now grounds for harassment, as it was during the Vietnam War?

The judgment of the security apparatus, and their current puppet Obama, is bad. The U.S. security apparatus like the rulers of Saudi Arabia, even though they are dictators pushing radical Islam and oppressing their women subjects in particular. They love Israel, even though it ignores the private property rights of Palestinians. They hate Cuba, because that government ignored the private property rights of American organized crime syndicates and allied itself with Stalin's apprentices. I could go on and on, but the point is: what is the point of freedom of speech if we can't differ with the Federal Government on foreign policy? The U.S. government used to be allied with Joseph Stalin's regime (from 1940 until 1946); it has supported and even installed numerous right-wing dictatorships over the decades. That is good judgment? That represents the American people?

At times the U.S. has insisted on elections in other nations, only to overthrow elected governments when the voters chose leaders the U.S. did not like. It happened in Algeria in 1991, and more recently it happened in Palestine. If the Taliban won an election in Afghanistan, what would Barack do?

I don't have very much material support to offer to any group out in the world that I think will make the world a better place. Nothing that would begin to counter the billions in aid the U.S. gives annually to Israel, for example. But I repledge myself to dismantling the security apparatus of the United States and our mis-ruling class. It is a long shot, but it's what is right.

The only U.S. foreign policy worth pursuing is the complete withdrawal of all U.S. military forces back into the United States. At least if they waste our taxpayer dollars in the United States, it would provide some local employment for civilians.

I am thinking I am going to, if I can get the "free" press to turn out, put a dollar bill in an envelope and send it to Hamas through the U.S. mail. Will Obama's thugs arrest me over a dollar? Will anybody join me? I'll supply both the dollar and the stamp!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Equinox: Balance and Life

The equinox is a twice-yearly, worldwide event. Because of the way the earth axis of rotation tilts, on these two days each year the days and nights are almost equal everywhere in the world.

This balance between day and night is most notable at the extremes, the north and south geographic poles. Near the equator the days and nights are roughly equal in length year-round.

Balance is something we do not think about or act upon enough, perhaps because so much balancing is done automatically. We humans learn balance as infants and graduate from crawling to walking. Most animals are quicker at the skill, learning to walk within minutes or at most hours of birth.

Our bodies are full of balanced biochemical dances, insuring that there is the right amount of salt, oxygen, sugar, amino acid, in fact just about everything, in our blood. In our cells proteins and other simple and complex molecules are constantly created and destroyed in order to keep the right balance and get the cells' job done.

Out of balance means sickness and death.

In the world at large there must be a balance between predators, herbivores, and the plants the herbivores eat. Too many predators is bad even for predators; too many herbivores is bad even for herbivores.

The mind, too, is best when balanced. To have an unbalanced mind is to be insane, to be helpless or even harmful to society.

Balance can also be a mere point of transition. The fall equinox gives way to the cold of winter (in the northern hemisphere); the spring equinox to the heat of summer. A little oscillation may be built into all sorts of systems, biological and cultural as well as physical. We might say such a system is balanced if it is within its normal range of variation.

It appears that the human population of the earth has gotten out of balance. The prime culprits are medicine and agricultural improvements, which we normally think of as good things. Perhaps the balance of nature has permanently changed. More likely at some point our human population will swing back to either its old normal or a new normal.

Human life is a tricky thing. The most difficult of all, I think, is to keep an ethical balance. The world is filled with incentives to stray from an ethical course. Ethics is largely the matter of treating people fairly, which sometimes means giving up some self-interest. But giving up too much self-interest means allowing, even encouraging, others to take advantage of you, and of others. Such generalizations are easy to make, but many situations may not be easily to fit into this general picture.

Balance. Not too fast, not too slow. Not too calm, not too nervous. I think it might be a nice place to be.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Herodotus: the Histories

I am reading, for at least the second time, the Histories by Herodotus (hērŏd`ətəs or hə rŏd`ətəs), which was written before 420 B.C. I don't claim to be much of a Greek and Roman classics scholar, nor do I think there is much of a need for assigning classics from that era to school children. But contrast the level of debate on the Internet today to what Herodotus did almost four centuries before Augustus Caesar and Jesus Christ walked the earth, and modern discourse is not, in general, an improvement.

Herodotus had a simple method. He talked to a lot of people, seeking out the most knowledgeable about particular subjects, which involved a lot of walking and travel by sea. He compared the different stories people told him. He looked at things. Then he chose the version of events, or explanation, that seemed most probable.

He was a Greek from Halicarnassus in what is now Turkey. He is called the father of history, but clearly history had gone through a considerable development by 420 B.C. Chronicles had been kept in many nations. What Herodotus claims is that he is careful about what he thinks and writes. He has a clear idea that the truth is what actually happened, not a story you make up to make you feel good about yourself. He even admits that he could be wrong and sometimes presents multiple versions of an event.

Herodotus, by observing and reasoning, anticipates a number of ideas that we consider more modern. He anticipates the problem of estimating the age of the earth when he discusses the Nile delta. "Suppose, now, that the Nile should change its course and flow into this gulf — the Red Sea — what is to prevent it from being silted up by the stream within, say, twenty thousand years? Personally I think even ten thousand would be enough. That being so, surely in the vast stretch of time which has passed before I was born, a much bigger gulf than this could have been turned into dry land by the silt brought down by the Nile ... I have seen shells on the hills and noticed how salt exudes from the soil to such an extent that it effects even the pyramids ... " He goes on to compare the native soil of the desert near the Nile to the deposits brought down from the river, concluding that they originated in Ethiopia.

I feel like if Herodotus were magically moved into my living room we could have a rational discussion of whether or not Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, who is to blame for the recent Recession, and what should be done about global warming. Herodotus was not alone in his day, thriving in his adopted Athens at the time of Pericles and fellow historian Thucydides. In his era there was no shortage of people mired in superstition and unable to see a point of view beyond that of their family or clan. But you would think that 2400 years later, after the scientific revolution, with public education available for over a century now, that the culture of Herodotus would have more influence and that of ignorance much less.

What did Herodotus have that people who mindlessly believe lies told by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, the Pope and Sarah Palin (and for that matter lies told by Democrats, who deny their party has a long history of committing war crimes) are lacking? Why do some people care about what is true, and others work so assiduously to create beliefs that do not correspond to reality? Of course we all have a mixture of such traits. Most people who hold onto outrageous religious ideas can cope pretty well with the issues of ordinary life. They can be good employees or even manage and run businesses. They are often good at solving practical problems, when they have no other choice.

We live in an age of specialization. This means you can survive, usually, by learning one relatively simple thing. It could be managing a franchise, prosecuting criminals, smiling while taking orders, or digging into a remote corner of academia. You could learn to design electronic circuits but be a fanatical Moslem or Christian; you can be a good carpenter and not know basic electric circuit practices, or write C++ computer code and know nothing about, or even refuse to believe in, evolutionary biology.

It is so much simpler to just believe what makes you feel good about yourself and angry about imagined enemies than it is to walk a lot, listen to many people, and sort things out in a fair and impartial manner.

So here's to Herodotus and the occasional retreat into the comfort of the Greek classics, and the occasional long walk.

The Histories by Herodotus e-text

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

They're Rioting in Kashmir

Ask an American about Kashmir and they'll usually assume you are talking about Cashmere wool sweaters. The wool for which now mainly comes from Cashmere goats raised in China and Mongolia. But the rioting reported in recent days in the news is in an area governed by India, more formally known as Jammu and Kashmir.

Most recently, the rioting was triggered by the famed threat to burn Korans by America's most famous (for now) religious bigot, the Reverend Terry Jones. That is an easy idea for Americans to dismiss: Islamic religious zealots misbehaving because they heard the words of hate directed to them by a Christian zealot.

I doubt the rioting in Kashmir has much to do with Reverend Jones. It has much more to do with the basic problems of Kashmir that have changed very little since the British Empire was forced out of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. While I believe that the U.S. should mind its own business, which has not been going well of late, Kashmir is a matter that should be better understood by every American citizen because it is part of a pattern of injustice that ties in with Palestine, Afghanistan, Somalia and overall Moslem perception that they are not being treated with respect.

The nation of India is a modern creation from a portion of the British occupation of the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan (later dividing into Pakistan proper and Bangladesh) was the other portion, and the two new states were designed to have separate religious identities: Pakistan Islamic, India Hindu. In addition to a few modern-minded people who do not subscribe to religious myths, each of the two nations not only had a number of minority religious groups (India is still 13.4% Moslem), but encompassed a patchwork of ethnic groups as well. In particular Pakistan included many in the Pashtun ethnic group, which is also the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. There are even 11 million Pashtuns in India.

Relations between India and Pakistan got off to a bad start when ethnic (really religious) cleansing resulted in large scale atrocities as millions of Hindus moved from Pakistan to India and Moslems moved from India to Pakistan in 1947.

Kashmir occupies a special place in this mosaic. The British had not conquered India all at once. Along the way they made a variety of deals with the various local rulers. When they left the subcontinent [See also Partition of India] the recognized principalities that had never been fully incorporated into the British Empire were given the option of joining India, joining Pakistan, or becoming independent, but those that did not join India voluntarily or under pressure were later occupied and incorporated by military force. By Independence Day only Kashmir, Hyderabad, and Junagadh were still independent.

Contrast what happened in Junagadh with what happened in Kashmir. "Junagadh was a small seaport state on the coast of Kathiwar with a Hindu population and a Muslim nawab. The Nawab opted for Pakistan but after a few weeks Indian troops occupied the state and a plebiscite declared for Indian union. Pakistan took no action ..." [Percival Spear, A History of India, Vol. 2
page 241] Hyderabad also had a Muslim ruler over a Hindu majority population; India's tanks rolled in to take control in 1948. [Take note, Ghandi-freaks].

"There remained Kashmir which was in a class by itself. It was a fringe state, adjacent to both the new states, and could reasonably have joined either. It was also a mixed or conglomerate state, a state as it were by accident, formed through the chances of recent political history. It had a Hindu ruler; to the east it had a Hindu majority centre at Jammu, in the Vale of Kashmir itself the population was overwhelmingly Muslim ... The Hindu ruler played for time and still had not acceded to either side in October when a Pathan irregular force ... raced towards the capital Srinagar. In a panic the ruler acceded to India." And so a Moslem majority, Hindu ruled state was formed. "Pakistan called for a plebiscite to which initially Nehru agreed in principle. But he was never able to accept any proposals for carrying it out. A brief war flared up ... settled by a United Nations truce in 1948." [Spear p. 241-242]

Americans who often think its no big deal to be friends with people of many ethnic backgrounds, religions, and levels of wealth, have trouble comprehending that in other nations tribal, ethnic, religious and even caste identifications can remain very strong. They often overrule otherwise good people's ability to think fairly about human relations. But we do know that powerful people seldom want to give up power, and so governments almost never voluntarily cede territory no matter how right and just it is.

My hope would be that oppressed people in Kashmir can see that, in demanding their civil rights, they should uphold the civil rights of every person. Americans need some further work in that regard too. I am glad we stopped Terry Jones from burning the Koran. I believe that criticizing religions is part of our cherished freedom of the press and free speech. But if Mr. Jones is so sure Christianity is superior to Islam, he might try his luck and befriending Moslems and explaining what he sees as the difference. The real winner is the person exposed to two or more religions and modern rational thought who then makes a choice based on free will, not social coercion.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Paul Krugman's Blind Eye: 1938

Paul Krugman's September 5, 2010 New York Times Op Ed, 1938 in 2010, turns a blind eye on many of the economic and political realities of both 1938 and 2010. I don't think this is because space in an op ed column is short, and the realities were (and are) two complex to cover completely in a short essay. He ignored what contraindicated the pie he is selling. Paul Krugman is a pretty astute guy, even the Nobel Prize committee thinks so, so let's take a look at his blind side.

Krugman's basic thesis in 1938 in 2010 is that in 1938 the Great Depression had a comeback because of lack of federal deficit spending. He goes on to say that the massive deficit spending during World War II (the U.S. officially entered the war in December, 1941, but began re-arming seriously in 1939) led not only to the end of the Depression and prosperity, but also to the long-term success of the U.S. economy during the second half of the 20th century.

Economic cycles are not really simple downward or upward slopes. Even in aggregate (on the macroeconomic level) they exhibit short-term changes of speed and direction. If you look at sectors (for example housing, or medical services, or steel production) they are typically not fully synchronized, and each sector has its ups and downs on a monthly or even weekly basis.

In the 1930s two command and control economies were growing: the communist economy of the U.S.S.R. and the German economy under National Socialism. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal failed to produce similarly spectacular results mainly because it was not as centralized or as well thought out. Of course command economies do not always do well; sometimes they fail spectacularly. Same for capitalist free-market economies, and even for mixed economies. But in the late 1930's the global economy was reviving mainly because of the expanding German and Russian economies, which were about as command-control as you can get.

Germany was also re-arming. Eventually other European nations felt they also had to re-arm, and eventually even the U.S. re-armed. This stimulated the economies of the re-arming nations. But the nation that benefited most was the United States. The British Empire, that cruel monster, borrowed money from the U.S. and bought armaments or the makings of armaments (steel, in particular). This external stimulus, plus the fact that the U.S. economy was already in a late-Depression natural economic upswing, is what caused the U.S. economy to be clearly in an up cycle in 1940.

Of course the massive U.S. debt run up during World War II stimulated the economy. But the debt was not what was responsible for postwar prosperity. Our global imperialist-industrialist rivals had their factories bombed to smithereens. Or in the case of Japan, vaporized.

If anyone in the world wanted to buy anything made of metal, after World War II essentially the only source would be the U.S. Even to rebuild their own factories Japan, Germany, Italy, and France had to buy machine tools and steel from the United States. Only the U.S.S.R. retained significant industrial capacity at war's end, and they had lost 20 million people in the war, which knocked back their economy but good.

If Mr. Krugman wanted to engage in historical re-enactment arguments, he could urge Obama to bomb factories in Germany, China, Japan, Korea ... That would be a lot more effective than even greater deficit spending.

Krugman used a false historical analogy, but he still could be right when he says the U.S. economy would benefit from more federal stimulus. On the other hand, maybe when you have economic rivals that are not prostrated by war, stimulus backfires because it almost always uses resources inefficiently. The argument will go on. But using 1938 as a 2010 comparison is comparing two very different situations.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Republicans Try to Keep Recession Alive

The Recession is dead. Gone. Passed away. Kaput.

But the Republican Party has elections to win in November. They, and the media outlets they control, are trying to keep the recession alive, constantly throwing out the terms "slowdown," and Double Dip.

I'm not saying the Democratic Party deserves very much credit for ending the recession. Many of the measures put into place to save the economy during the crisis are fairly attributable to the administration of George W. Bush. Of course, the awful policies that caused the crisis were put in place by "consumers are fair marks" politicians from both sides of the aisle and powerful cronies of Bush and Clinton. But the downturn also had the usual cyclical components, and the upturn has been a fairly typical story of the upward rebound part of the cycle.

Usually the business community, which is largely Republican, likes to talk about the resilience of free markets and the American economy. They like government handouts, tax breaks, and low interest loans too, but that is just human nature. Most of them believe the Great Depression would have ended more quickly if FDR had not created the New Deal.

But Fox News and company, even spilling over to NPR, have been harping on a double dip recession for six months now. Where is it? Despite trying to scare businessmen out of making new hires, consumers out of consuming, and everyone out of buying a home despite rock bottom prices and interest rates, the recession just is not showing any signs of life. The big European crisis fizzled when Germany reported its economy is growing quickly. China is doing great, so are Austrailia, Canada, and India. Russia is in a bit of trouble, but that has done wonders for the U.S. agricultural sector.

It could be that bond traders are more powerful than you think, since the main financial market to benefit from this "catastrophe is just around the corner" thinking is the bond market (think Goldman Sachs). But I think it is mainly political.

The Democratic Party just happens to be sitting on its collective ass right now, holding the Presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives. The economy is turning up. Normally that would be the makings of sure-fire electoral victory in November. But if there is widespread perception that the economy is going to fail again, even if that is not true, it will help Republican candidates in November.

Are there problems ahead of us? There always are. Global warming is more serious and its effects are coming sooner than most people think? Do Americans now have to earn their jobs in the global marketplace, as Carly Fiorina says? Yes, after having it way too easy after World War II, in which everyone's factories except our own were destroyed, this is only getting back into balance. There is a lot of room for improvement in the U.S. economy, and mostly that has to come from people working hard, being creative, and taking risks. The government won't do it for us, and won't do it as well as we can.

If you are still unemployed, best to redouble your job search efforts. Talented but unable to find a position as lofty as the one you had? Get in at the ground floor somewhere. Buy or manage a franchise when you learn the business. Stop whining. (Even Greens like me can only take so much whining from people who have had so much past privilege and can't cope with a little adversity.)

There are a bunch of things local, state, and federal governments could do to help, but they won't, so I'll discuss those topics later.

The recession is over. Do the best you can in this up cycle, be more careful what you spend your money on. If you own long-term bonds get out of them before they decline in value. There will be another recession somewhere down the road, sure, so shore up your finances and make sure that the next time executives have to lay off workers (and management), you are one of the indispensable people who is kept.