Saturday, June 25, 2011

Obama Withdraws Slowly from Afghanistan

Ah, to relive my youth, when President Richard Nixon slowly withdrew U.S. troops from Vietnam.

The Bush-Obama plan to impregnate Afghanistan with American values has failed, at least in the short run. No one in Afghanistan cared much for industrialism, capitalism, Christianity, free public secular education, or pork hot dogs. Most of the nation will go back to lamb, poppies, pomegranites, and melons. Why go through industrialization when it's just the painful, pre-apocalypse phase before non-mechanized agriculture?

Once the troops are gone, most Afghanistan families will remember one thing: their dead relatives. The carnage was fantastic. Towards the end Obama's weaponized drones attacking weddings, funerals, and hash fests gave the nation a real Terminator 3 feeling.

Why the slow withdrawal, with its implied ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity? Did anyone tell President Barack Obama that the Nobel Peace Prize medal is not a get out of war crimes trials free card?

The slow withdrawal is Obama's trademark. He has always been a politician without substance, ever since he first ran for office backed by the Democratic Party of Chicago. Like most politicians, he knows he can't please all the people all of the time, and if he took solid positions on important issues, he'd displease most of the people some of the time. He is an artist, for sure, at saying what swinging voters want to hear. "You never wanted me in, baby? Why didn't you say so? I'm pulling out, but slowly, because I don't want it to hurt."

His core Democratic Party voters have been against the war in Afghanistan since at least 2006. He has to withdraw to please them if he wants a second term as President. But he does not want to p.o. the corporate security state people who really run things now. Those drones will be used against the American people, I guarantee you, but not until they are fully tested in Afghanistan. So instead of getting the hell out, which is what most people thought they were electing Barack to do in 2008, he rammed the U.S. in even further during his first two years in office.

Now he can pull out a few troops. The war is over! We won! Stop that media coverage! Barack Obama is both the Victory President and the Peace President.

The truth is in 2012 there will be more U.S. troops (and paramilitary types) in Afghanistan than there were when George W. Bush left office in January 2009.

What could be sicker than that? "Progressive" Democrat Party activists. They will repeat the mindless slogans of the corporate security state as long as there is a Democratic administration. They will do anything for a Democratic Party electoral win. They are a herd of ... I don't want to disgrace any mammal species here ... canaries that sing of disaster in their gilded cages, but just keep going along with the program.

When Nixon withdrew from Vietnam, he was afraid of revolution in the United States. The left in 1972 did not mean the middle of the Democratic Party. To be on the Left in 1972 you had to be at least in Democratic Socialists of America. Preferably you were an Anarchist. If your personality was bent out of shape enough you could be a Marxist, Trotskyist, Maoist or even Stalinist or SLA. We have no significant equivalent to that "New Left" of the 60s and 70s today. Maybe that is just as well, all the groups were too dogmatic to be much good at revolution, much less actual governance. But they made you feel like there were alternatives to snakes like Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

Then again, we can always hope that between the idiot Republicans and idiot Democrats the U.S. government will reneg on its debts real soon, and implode. I'm sure the corporate security state has its contingency plans for that situation, but they probably won't need them, because the real plan is to order the right people to make the right compromises and muddle through a couple more years of American capitalism in decline.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chaos in California: Brown Vetoes Democratic Budget

It almost defies parody. It is like trying to do a parody of a nuclear disaster or of a mass murder.

The Democratic Party members in the California State Senate and Assembly put together a budget without Republican help. The Republicans wanted to help by pitching welfare babies in the street and closing the public school systems. Or maybe charging tuition to attend.

I don't like to say nice things about Democratic Party politicians in the legislature. They have mainly helped bring California to the brink of disaster. Yet since I complained in the past about budgets not being passed on time, I have to say: they got it together and passed the budget on time. It is not the budget some might like, but that is the fault of the business situation in the state. Demand is low; people are not working; tax revenue is not sufficient to give folks on disability and welfare a truly middle class lifestyle. Given that a bunch of people had to agree on the budget, even if they are all Democrats, it is miraculous they forged one, and on time.

But Jerry Brown vetoed it. He wants to extend some taxes that were put in as emergency fundraising measures during the late recession. He would use those taxes to either (depending on your point of view): pay off the all-powerful public employee unions or help the kids get a better education.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would have signed the budget, even though he was a Republican and not a single Republican elected official voted for it.

But not Jerry Brown. This is madness. This is not what people thought they would get when they voted for the guy last November.

Despite California's still high unemployment rate, the economy has been slowly recovering from the depths of the recession. Tax revenues should be up significantly in 2011 over 2010. Throwing the government into chaos is not going to help anyone right now. Muddling through is what is needed right now. Taxes should grow in 2012, too. Eventually we might restart the construction industry. Then the revenue would roll in and a lot of public service workers could be rehired. Soon workers would be sought after, new cars would roll off the lots, and we the taxpayers could even afford to give the disability fakers another $50 a month for their drug habits. Which adds to the colorfulness of California, brings in federal dollars, and makes it a tourist mecca.

But maybe this is what Brown planned all along. Maybe he really is one of those Earth First! type environmentalists who want the economy to collapse so people abandon California and let the Redwoods grow and the salmon run again.

Recall, anyone?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Yet the War Goes On

It is a strange day when the leading contender for the Republican Party nomination for President puts himself firmly to the left of a Democratic President on the issue of national security. In yesterday's Republican debate Mitt Romney did just that. Of course he hedged a bit, saying that the war was expensive, we had killed Osama bin Laden, and not exactly calling for a total, immediate withdrawal.

Big Brother is indeed watching, and laughing. In 2006 the Democratic Party captured control of the House of Representatives largely by pretending to be against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the war went on. In 2008 the housing bubble popped, so in the election that year the economy was the central issue. Barack Obama won, playing the typical politician who implied he was against the war without saying so. In the meantime President George W. Bush's troop surge in Iraq did have its intended effect, allowing a basically democratic government to function their. President Obama was able to withdraw troops from Iraq, forgetting to give the ex-President credit for the situation.

Attention centered on Afghanistan in 2009, and Obama decided to try his own troop surge their, largely using veterans of the Iraq war. The Taliban has been beaten back in some areas, only to pop up in others.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has a little debt problem on its hands. Between the Bush Tax Cuts (supported by most Democrats in Congress back then, though they would like to only remind their wealthiest donors of that fact), the economic suicide after the bubble burst, and the ongoing hundreds of billions spent on wars, the U.S. has become the world's beggar.

Some Republicans (and here I even include some Republican politicians, for instance Mitt Romney) realize there is a relationship between war spending, national debt, and their own fortunes. Only a few months ago they thought they could just cut back on services (welfare, food stamps, Medicare, Social Security) for Democratic Party constituencies and achieve a balanced budget. Now they are looking at two formerly untouchable gods: taxation and defense spending.

It is simple. Mitt Romney is no pacifist. He is no Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern. But he would rather cut military spending that raise taxes. The easiest way to cut military spending quickly is to get the hell out of Afghanistan.

If the vote were today, I'd vote for Romney, not Obama. I know Romney might be lying, he might continue the war if elected President. But Obama has already shown himself to be a liar, a fraud, and a war criminal.

Hopefully a strong Green Party or Independent contender will emerge, because Romney is far from my ideal candidate. Or maybe there is a Eugene McCarthy out there somewhere, and Barack will get what he deserves: a one term Presidency.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Prairie Dogs and Global Warming

I just read a great article in the February 2011 issue of Earth First! Journal. It is by Lierre Keith and it is called "It takes a Village to Raise a Prairie."

Unfortunately the Journal does not seem to have a copy of this article up at their web site. Lierre's web site seems almost non-functional. But wait, a search reveals that it can be read here: It Takes a Village to Raise a Prairie. That is at Mother Earth News.

Lierre calls for whole villages of eco-friendly people to take over the prairie regions. She claims that "Grass is so good at building soil that repairing 75 percent fo the planet's rangelands would bring atmospheric CO2 to under 330 ppm in 15 years or less." Remarkable, if true.

This made me think of the importance of sequencing in the processes of creating complex things, and of dismantling them. Pick the wrong sequence for a project and the project may never get done.

I was looking at a giant sequoia (not a coast redwood, though some are nearby) in my back yard yesterday, wondering how much carbon is holds. When I arrived here is was about 1 yard in diameter; now it is approaching 2 yards in diameter. Does that make up for all the driving, using fossil fuel, my family does, living at such a remote place? I don't know.

Can 7 billion people live on this planet without destroying it? I think not. But dismantling the situation in a humane manner is no easy task. Sure there are ways to discourage reproduction, but the political will is not there, not yet. As Warren Buffet said, (but not about population) we have a global "political system that rewards legislators with reelection if their actions appear to produce short-term benefits even though their ultimate imprint will be to compound long-term pain."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Writing about Andrew Jackson

I have not been posting as many blog entries as I might lately because I have been writing the Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson. President Jackson's life has been divided into web page sized chunks, beginning with his life as a child-soldier.

Today I posted Andrew Jackson for President, Act I. This was a crucial point in American history, as it marks the inception of the Democratic Party (not called that quite yet) and the modern two-party, one oligarchy system.

That puts me more than halfway through Andrew's life, but he does not become President until 1828, and of course his presidency will take up much of the biography.

Tomorrow on my to do list is writing up the draft results of the political redistricting process for California. That will be in my California Democracy blog.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Afghanistan War Loses Support in Congress

“If we’re going to cut programs for children who need milk in the morning, if we’re going to cut programs for seniors who need a sandwich at lunch, if we’re going to cut veterans benefits, then, for God’s sake, let’s bring back our troops from Afghanistan.” Thus said Representative Walter B. Jones in a recent speech in Beaufort, North Carolina. Jones is not a Democrat. He is a Republican, and a very conservative Republican on most matters. His district is likewise very conservative, and includes one of America's largest Marine Corps bases, Camp Lejeune (where I was born and raised).

Congress is beginning to rebel in earnest against Barack Obama's war policy in Afghanistan. Recently Jones and Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts sponsored an amendment to H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2012, to speed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region. The vote on H. Amdt. 344 (follow the link to see how your Rep voted) to require from the President "A plan and timeframe on accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities." That is pretty tame by my we should have never gotten in standards, but 8 Democrats joined 207 Republicans to vote against it. 26 Republicans and 178 Democrats voted for it. The amendment failed.

What is going on? Why is the Community Organizer President wasting U.S. blood, and $10 billion a year or so in taxpayer money, on occupying Afghanistan? Why are otherwise ideologically pure Republicans turning against the occupation?

I have observed that whether people are left, liberal, moderate, conservative or right-wing, some reality will seep in through ideological filters some of the time. Mostly people buy into ideological and (filtered) factual bundles because they have limited time and knowledge; it is the easy way to go. But push their noses close enough to manure, or roses, and most people can tell the difference, regardless of ideology.

Right-of-center is a bundle of people, but beware of over-generalizing. No every right-of-center person fits the leftist view of being a biblical fundamentalist war mongering anti-immigrant anti-environment racist. Very few, in fact, fit that description. Avoid talking about the Bible and even the fundamentalists can be pretty astute about real world issues.

The people of the United States of America has been in a new world of hurt since the Great Recession began. A good many people who were middle-income learned suddenly what it is like to be at the bottom. To want to work, but to have not jobs available. To need to patch something, but be unable to afford the patching material. To lived crowded in with relatives that, truth be told, they would just as soon see once a year at a family reunion.

The Afghanistan war never made sense to me and my peace movement friends. The U.S. could have saved over $100 billion and many lives by sending in the CIA, not the Marines. In the end it was the CIA that got Bin Laden.

So what is wrong with President Obama? We aren't in community organizing mode anymore. Barack is now in the eye of the corporate security state. He has not visited the grieving parents of the children the U.S. military has "accidentally" killed in Afghanistan. He has not stood as a soldier and watched people watching him, hoping he would step on an IED. He lucked into the Presidency without having any real accomplishments before arriving in that esteemed office. He wanted to be President, and for that he was more than happy to become the most important piece on the military-industrial complex chess board.

Community Organizer has lately shown willingness to take lunch away from American children to appease two bullies, the Pentagon and the super-rich Americans who are happy to deduct heavy taxes from their employee's payrolls but don't want to (and mostly don't) pay taxes on inheritance, dividends, and capital gains.

If you can't smell what's happening here, you have lost your sense of smell. In a contest between Barack Obama and Walter B. Jones, I'd vote for Walter. Hopefully more Republicans will join Jones in the next vote on funding Afghanistan that comes before Congress. After all, the Constitution says Congress is supposed to make policy. The President is only supposed to carry out the laws and policies enacted by Congress.

See also the NY Time article, An Antiwar Republican, No Longer His Party's Pariah

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Entangled in Spooky Science

Spooky science sells better than serious science, especially when science requires mathematics beyond 99% of the population's knowledge. The June 2011 Scientific American issue includes an article by Vlatko Vedral, Living in a Quantum World, that emphasizes one spooky corner of reality, quantum entanglement. This is also a favorite topic of New Age purveyors of spooky religious viewpoints, as if it might provide a physical basis for ESP and other tricks of the trade.

We are spooked by the unfamiliar. Familiar things that should be totally amazing, like transistor radios and lasers, which rely on quantum mechanical effects, don't faze us at all these days. We don't have to understand new technologies to stop being spooked by them, we just need to see them in action for a while.

I would argue that quantum physics has few new philosophical implications. It is no where near as revolutionary as what we now call Classical physics.

Classic is one of those words we need to be careful about. It used to allude to the culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans, let's say from 500 B.C. to before the Christ cult took over in the 4th century after Augustus Caesar. In physics it means, roughly, how the world was conceived of by scientists from the era of Galileo and Copernicus until Albert Einstein's four famous papers of 1905.

Classical physics was pretty darned spooky stuff. Not really believable, unless you looked at nature with a great deal of care. Before classical physics there was ordinary human intuition based on experiences in the world, and there was the physics of Aristotle and his cohort of Greek geeks. Today seven year olds know about dinosaurs and galaxies, but no one knew about them in 1400. Except for a very few people who studied the Greek classics (and the equivalents of other civilizations, notably the Arabs, Indians and Chinese), experience was limited. Water flowed downhill, the seasons were reliable, the stars rotated around Polaris, and no one had built a decent sewer system since the fall of the Roman Empire.

For Aristotle objects moved only when under the influence of a continuous force. People familiar with Newton's first law of motion (previously stated by many others, especially Islamic scientists), that an object's velocity remains constant unless acted on by an external force, may laugh at Aristotle. But in the everyday real-world Aristotle is right and Newton is wrong. Aristotle correctly believed there is always friction; he argued that vacuums, required for friction-free maintenance of velocity, cannot exist. The best modern car running on a flat road need gas, and the force from its engine, to maintain a constant speed to overcome friction. For Newton's version of the law to work you need essentially imaginary conditions: a perfect vacuum, which you can't find even in inter-galactic space.

The idea of continuing motion without a force behind it was spooky; it still is if you think about it too much. But it was not as spooky as the revelation that the earth revolves on its axis. We seem to be relatively motionless, hugging mother earth, but we are not.

Electricity and magnetism are part of pre-1905 physics. Talk about spooky. Both were believed by religious types to be the physical basis for ESP and hypnotism (called personal magnetism). Both exerted force at a distance. It took decades of experimenting and thinking to figure out their basic laws. But people got used to them. They got used to the telegraph, electric lights, and telephones.

Other people, including scientists, had trouble with Albert Einstein's work on relativity. Einstein himself had lots of trouble with the concepts of quantum physics, even though he was one of the inventors of the inventors of the field. He called quantum entanglement "spooky action at a distance." This from a guy whose father and uncle had a successful 19th-century electromagnetics business. (Which is why doing well in elementary school was not all that important to his future success.)

Context is as important in the natural sciences as it is in philosophy or dealing with various human cultures. Vedral's "Living in a Quantum World," makes the case that quantum effects can show up in our macro world. In particular he wrote about quantum entanglement. It is interesting stuff, and I applaud those who have figured out how to extend our knowledge of this subtle phenomena. But be forewarned, this is the stuff New Age con artists use to bamboozle their soft-brained victims.

Beware of physics writers over generalizing. Vedral uses the phrase "Quantum mechanics says ..." Quantum mechanics does not say anything. Physicists say things, and they often disagree with each other, especially about quantum mechanics and its philosophical interpretations. As a group they like to say that quantum mechanics has a long history of making correct predictions as verified by experiments. But in fact, as illustrated in, for instance, Abraham Pais's Inward Bound: Of Matter and Forces in the Physical World, quantum mechanics has a long history of missing on as many predictions as it hit. Today's quantum mechanics is not the quantum mechanics of 1940. The math has often been fudged after the experimental results were known. That is fine, fixing a theory is part of the process of science.

It does not serve science, however, to pretend that a theory developed in the 1920's accurately predicted all the results known today.