Sunday, February 20, 2011

Presidents Day, Remembering Their War Crimes

In my theory of democracy, Presidents of the United States are executive officers. Congress writes the law; Presidents are not supposed to be policy makers.

In looking at history, however, it is easier to remember the relatively limited number of Presidents of the United States of America than to remember all the Speakers of the House, Senate Majority leaders and committee chairs, much less the other members of congress. In reality, too, Presidents have been makers of policy.

When I remember the Presidents of the United States, what I mostly recall is that almost every one of them started at least one war against another nation. I include Native American Indian nations among the nations.

The pattern of the Indian wars became the pattern for later wars. Every war had its pretext, but in every case the U.S. was in the wrong. Indians nations engaged in self-defense against the depredations of white settlers. That self-defense was labeled aggression, and used in every case for the United States to expand at the expense of the Indian nation or nations involved.

We have a modern term for this, which is war crimes. It is a war crime to start a war of aggression. There are other war crimes besides, likely engaging in war where civilians are in harms way, killing soldiers who surrender, etc. Legalistic minds would argue that early American Presidents did not commit war crimes because they had not been established in the 1700s or 1800s. That is a deceptive argument, since both religious and secular reasoning about the criminal nature of aggressive war goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks.

Codifying war crimes at the beginning of the 20th century did not stop U.S. Presidents from committing them. Wars of aggression continued to be characterized as wars of defense. For the smaller wars, the U.S. could always find some South American or Asian puppet to pretend to be a national government and then have that puppet invite in U.S. troops.

Most Americans don't know about most of the small wars the U.S. engaged in. Despite reading extensively about them, I can't remember details of most the the wars to steal real estate from native Americans. U.S. invasions of nations in the Western Hemisphere have happened so often that, again, it is difficult for me to connect individual wars to individual Presidents. I keep meaning to make a cheat sheet.

Americans usually know enough history to recall a few big wars: the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War (actually, there were several), the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan. These big wars are all blamed on the other party, even though it takes minimal research to find that the U.S. either started them, if they were bilateral, or joined in without good cause, if they were general wars.

I would suggest we rename Presidents Day. Let us call it Apology Day. Let us apologize to the remnants of the native american nations. Let us apologize to the Canadians (the War of 1812 was actually declared explicitly to conquer Canada), the Mexicans, Spanish, the Latin American nations, the Hawaiians, the Philippines, the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Laotians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Palestinians, Iraqis, and Afghans.

Before setting up Apology Day, we should also stop our current war and reduce the U.S. to a peaceable military posture. We should turn our current crop of war criminals over to fair and impartial international tribunals to be condemned and hung until dead.

With Apology in place, I think I could start to emphasize some of the good things U.S. Presidents have done. George Washington established that Presidents in a democracy should only serve two terms. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Grover Cleveland refused to annex Hawaii. The nation did indeed prosper under Harding and Coolidge. Lyndon Johnson did put his prestige on the line to give all Americans full civil rights. Richard Nixon did create the Environmental Protection Agency and recognized the legitimate government of China.

But not yet. First we need to know our true past, admit it was immoral, and change our institutions so that the people of the United States can stay on the moral high road, the road of peace, in the future.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ruinous Competition: Doctors and Healthcare

According the free-market theorists, the best of all possible economic worlds is one in which there is no government regulation. First developed coherently in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, this theory was based on practical observations of a society, England, that had been high regulated by a monarchical government working with feudal institutions that tried to determine most people's occupation by their status at birth.

Business men and trade-guilds that had done quite well for themselves in the past found it hard to make a profit, or even a living, once anyone could compete with them. In a free market, if a profit can be made in a certain occupation, new people will enter that occupation until competition for customers results in profit levels becoming unattractive. We call that ruinous competition.

Certain industries require quite a bit of capital to enter, so even back at the dawn of this new era, around the time of the American Revolution, profits could be made in those industries without the help of government restrictions on entering the business. Just as a beggar cannot enter the farming business without the price of at least a down-payment on a piece of land, so a laborer or small merchant would not have the capital to set up an iron-mill or buy a coal mine. So even under the growing free market system, larger enterprises had some shelter from ruinous competition.

The United States of America began as a sort of natural free-market area, and people generally benefited from that (neglecting here the use of slave labor and violent capture of Native American Indian real estate) for some time.

In the course of the 1800's, however, mainly at the level of individual states, those who did not want to be exposed to ruinous competition developed a strategy. Aside from the practice of the law, which was always limited by the government, it was argued that professions having a direct impact on the health and safety of the public needed to be vetted by the government. For instance, it was argued that not anyone could simply declare themselves to be a medical doctor. And again, there was some truth to it, although in the 1800's it appears that trained medical doctors were so ignorant of basic biology that many were just as dangerous to the public as the so called fake doctors, or charlatan (originally, sellers of Roman Catholic indulgences, but a term that came to be applied to untrained healers).

Allowing only doctors licensed under the authority of the government, and making sure there was always a shortage of such licensed doctors, would allow the group to charge more than the free market value of their medical services. In short, to overcharge the sick. This was the purpose of the American Medical Association, formed in 1847. The AMA did some good things, which don't concern us here. What they did on the economic front was require that medical practitioners be licensed (and they set up boards of their own members to decide who would qualify for a license) and they also licensed medical schools. In licensing such schools they carefully studied the demand for doctors and made sure that not enough doctors were graduated to meet the demand.

Now of course practically every profession, from cutters of hair to real estate agents to accountants and carpenters, requires a license. Some professions have not been as successful at keeping their numbers small and profits high as the doctors have done, but the general idea is there. Barriers to entry, no free market, no ruinous competition. Those who work without license are sucked dry by the fees of those who are licensed to work.

Those doctors who scream for free markets and against "socialist" government health care plans should take a good look at themselves and their ill-got millions. Because of the government preventing the operation of free markets in doctoring, in the 1950's and 1960's the term millionaire-doctor was synonymous with doctor.

If doctors don't want socialized medicine, we should open up doctoring to anyone who feels they can heal. Pharmacists should be able to make diagnoses and sell basic drugs without a doctor's prescription. For that matter doctors should be able to sell drugs in their offices, rather than having to write a prescription. People should be able to self-diagnose, if they wish to take that risk, and get any legal drug without a prescription.

If someone puts out a shingle and causes harm, they could be sued for malpractice. If they claim to have graduated from a medical school, but did not, they could be charged with fraud. If the government wants to certify people, or the AMA wants to identify their members, that is fine, but there should be no rule that you have to go to the AMA men or government men.

What do you say, Republicans and Tea-Party people? Are you really ready to give free markets a chance? I'm certainly ready to hang out a shingle, if the Republican run government is willing to let me. I'll start a medical insurance company too, a coop that benefits the members. That should put some pressure on Anthem et. al.

Note: many doctors have come out for Universal Health Care. For instance see Physicians for a National Health Care Program.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Republican Cuts: Loud Bark, Tiny Bite

I don't agree with the Republican consensus on much, but I do agree that the national debt and deficit are a problem that needs fixing. Unfortunately the Republicans on the House of Representatives Budget Committee have now revealed their real plans for fiscal 2011. They are not trying to cut a trillion from the $1.5 trillion deficit. They are not even cutting a tenth of that, $100 billion, as they had originally promised. They are down to cutting just $32 billion. Maybe they are hoping most people who did not go to sleep after the last election have trouble keeping the difference between a billion and a trillion clearly in mind.

Rhetoric is a campaign circus designed to delight voters. Then there is the reality of being in Washington and realizing you are just a $200,000 per year clown surrounded by trade associations that dwarf billionaires in the amount of money and clout they can heave around. Consider, too, who really gets hurt by budget cuts.

The Republicans worship, as the sacred cows in their Trinity, the Free Market, the Pentagon, and Homeland Security. So most of the imperialist bloat is off the table as far as budget cuts. That leaves what is called Domestic Spending.

Congress does not spend money unless someone lobbies for it, so every bit of spending has its defenders. Republican rhetoric is that spending goes mostly to welfare bums and to bureaucrats who spend their days sharpening pencils for writing more regulations.

Consider Food Stamps. That's just a taxpayer give away to welfare bums, right? Wrong. It is a direct subsidy to two big, Republican-dominated, corporate industries. Grocery stores love food stamps. Corporate agriculture loves food stamps. Food stamps don't amount to much for any given family on welfare, but aggregate them over say a chain of Safeway stores or Archer Daniels Midland, and those billions become uncuttable.

And so the mostly middle-class angry men of the Tea Party and their leader Calamity Jane can elect all the prayer-obsessed idiots they want to Congress. Without food stamps the Free Market degenerates into ruinous competition. Same for funding science. Same for funding just about everything.

The $32 billion in cuts were so small the New York Times article did not even bother to mention exactly where they would come from.

Keeping up the rhetoric, the Democrats on the Budget Committee said the almost nonexistent cuts "will harm the economy and put more people out of work."

My guess is by the time the budget is actually passed, if it gets passed at all, another $100 billion in pork will be added in. Maybe $50 billion could be used to form a Department of Tea Party, Constitutional, and God Studies. Give all those Tea Party guys and gals good paying Federal jobs, and soon they will be singing a more harmonious tune.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jacksonian Democracy and the Egyption Rebellion

One could argue that Egypt already is a democracy. After all, they do have elections from time to time; the last was in 2005. Certainly it is a republic, the Arab Republic of Egypt; let the advocates of making America a pure, non-democratic republic take note. [See democracy v. republic]

Some people say that in reality it is a one-party and personal dictatorship of Mohamed Hosni Mubarak and his National Democratic Party. Other parties are either suppressed or only allowed as window dressing for the leading party.

The United States of America was not intended to have political parties as such as all. They are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Also not mentioned in the Constitution, but discussed at length in the Federalist Papers, were factions. Basically, the founders were afraid that government would be used by a poor majority to confiscate, through taxation or inflationary money schemes, the property of the wealthy. They did their best to prevent that.

Fast forward to what historians (apologists, really) call the age of Jacksonian Democracy. This is an era when masses of Americans were mobilized against the establishment. That establishment was represented in the Presidential elections of 1824 by four candidates all of the same Democratic-Republican Party. John Quincy Adams became President, but Andrew Jackson received both the most electoral and popular votes.

Andrew Jackson was basically a thug; it is only a coincidence that he came to embody the new Democracy. What was new about it was that, in most states, by 1824 any white male of age 21 or older could vote. This had been a gradual trend. Pennsylvania had adopted universal manhood suffrage (what it was called, if you excluded non-whites from the ranks of men) just before the Constitution was written. Rich men, mostly plantation owners but increasingly a class of capitalists, preferred the old system where only men with property were allowed to vote. Often the democratic process involved lowering the property requirement, which brought in enough lower-class voters to create majorities that could abolish that requirement.

The Democratic Party was organized around Andrew Jackson because he was the "hero of New Orleans." [See battle of New Orleans]. Andrew Jackson, in addition to being a cold blooded killer, was a slave owner, and was rich by the standards of the times. The new party was being organized by men who wanted to control the government in order to enrich themselves. They had been unable to break into the ranks of the Eastern establishment.

Andrew Jackson did not lead the fight for universal (white) manhood suffrage He was the beneficiary of it. The Democratic Party was based on four principles: slavery, Indian removal, federal public works, and desire for federal jobs. It was strong in the western states (the most western state was Missouri) and weak in the eastern establishment states, particularly in New England.

What were the aspirations of the masses of white male voters who put Jackson in office in 1828? Of course they varied, but they can be summed up in a Democratic campaign slogan (pardon the language): "niggers for the niggerless." In other words, the 90% of white farmers who did not own slaves could hope to become slave owners and expand their land holdings as Indians were slaughtered. It was the tried and true method for social advancement in the U.S.; it was how the Jefferson Family advanced itself until Thomas Jefferson became President. But Jackson's personal appeal was as a military leader.

The Democratic Party is still highly tied to the public service sector. Indians ceased to be an issue in the late 1800s. The Party gave up its love of slavery only when it suffered military defeat in 1865, but then became the party of racism until 1965.

What kind of revolution will Egypt have? It depends on what the people will settle for. The ability of elites to manipulate masses of voters is very sophisticated. Already we see the elites trying to pacify the people of Egypt by re-arranging deck chairs. The Egyptians seem to want freedom, but they also want more money. Pleasing everyone will not be easy.

Jacksonian Democracy, despite its flaws, was important in the development of the United States. It moved the nation from being a nearly pure Republic to being a somewhat democratic Republic. With all white men allowed to vote, factory workers would eventually gain clout. Women would demand the right to vote, and of course the Civil War resulted in non-whites gaining voting rights, at least in theory. After the civil rights acts of the 1960's essentially every adult gained the right to vote.

Twice in recent memory, in Algeria and non-occupied Palestine, elections were held that resulted in Islamic parties coming to power. The United States then backed anti-Islamic factions that established dictatorships. It seems that radical Islamic influence in Egypt is not all that strong, so this may not be an issue in Egypt. The situation may be more like Turkey, where a moderate Islamic party has done an excellent job of governing democratically.