Monday, May 30, 2011

Beauty Queens, Heroes, and Presidents

I have changed my mind about what would be the most important amendment to the U.S. Constitution, were it possible for me to obtain such a boon. I'd amend it to lengthen election cycles. Let the House of Representatives be elected every four years, and the President every six years, with Senators staying at six. Elections under our current corporate security state system seldom change anything meaningful, but they waste a lot of time. Politicians are distracted from governance, while the entertainment value to the public is minimal.

In my Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson I am about to write the first chapter in which he is being taken seriously as a candidate for President. Back then, in 1821, owning and trading slaves, fighting chickens and dogs, and shooting acquaintances when they won't apologize for alleged slights to your honor were not considered to be disqualifications for the Presidency. Especially when you were the general who won just about the only American victory of any importance in a war in which basically the British kicked U.S. ass from Canada to the Carolinas. Even so, Jackson did not win the office until the election of 1828.

The last war heroes to win the office of President of the United States were Dwight David Eisenhower and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Eisenhower, like Jackson, had been a general. Kennedy had been a mere Lieutenant, but he made getting his ass kicked (but not killed) by the Japanese seem romantic and heroic.

Since that time heroes have been out of style. Jimmy Carter had been a submarine officer, but joined up after World War II ended and never saw combat. John McCain, the Republican Party nominee in 2008, had been a war hero of sorts (shot down while bombing North Vietnam in an illegal and undeclared war), but he was beaten by Barack Obama, who grew up between wars. George W. Bush was elected despite dodging the dangers of the Vietnam War.

Nor are heroes lining up to run in 2012. The closest thing is Sarah Palin. If she did not serve in the U.S. military, at least she braved beauty pageants and a husband crazy about snowmobiles. She is not as pretty or as smart as Michele Bachmann, but while both are from the frigid northern regions of our nation, Sarah is about as civilized as Genghis Khan. Elect her President and we might just end up with Canada and Mexico both.

While hardly heroic, current President Barack Obama is still the odds on favorite. His famous lack of political backbone has not prevented him from toughening up since 2009. He increased troop levels in Afghanistan and does not seem to mind killing civilians in that undeclared and illegal war. He has kept military spending up. He even bravely challenged the progressive wing of his own party by keeping taxes on the richest Americans at their lowest level since the Great Depression.

Most of the time a Presidential election is a beauty contest. The corporate security state does not care, very much, who they break bread with. A woman in the White House would be a novelty, but I doubt that would bring any fundamental changes in policies.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hitler, Obama, and Netanyahu

President Barack Obama's call for a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders provoked an infantile response from Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel. Republican politicians, always eager to snatch Jewish political donations from the hands of Democrats, frothed at the mouth against Obama's message as if they were getting ready to develop land in the West Bank themselves.

That is the way the State of Israel and its Jewish supporters in the United States have always (since 1946) worked. No American taxpayer subsidy to the wealthy Jewish settlers in Palestine is every enough. No peace is possible. The Jewish state of Israel will not be complete until the (probably imaginary) vast empire of King David is restored.

The goal of Israeli policy is simple: no Palestinian state.

Hitler is the model for all modern Israeli right-wing politicians. Of course he hated Jews the way they hate non-Jews. There the dissimilarity ends. Screaming and frothing at the mouth is a given. Taking Palestinian private property is no different than Hitler's taking Jewish property in his day. Nazi's beating up Jews is no different than Jews beating up Palestinians.

There are Israeli Jews and American Jews who see that in asking to be treated respectfully themselves, they are obligated to treat Palestinians with respect. That includes returning to them that which has been stolen since 1946. That includes land. If someone has land returned to them, they should have the option of living on it, without further harassment. If they are residents, they should have full citizenship rights, regardless of their religion and ethnicity. Any backing off these basic principles amounts to endorsing crimes.

The Republican Party likes to proclaim that it upholds private property rights. It should uphold the private property rights of Palestinians. The Tea Party in particular should uphold the private property rights of Palestinians. Instead, in response to President Obama's remarks, have said that Israel's borders have been set by the right of conquest.

What is the right of conquest except the "right" to take private property by force? What distinguishes the Republican Party from organized crime, or Hitler's National Socialist Party, when they promote such ideas?

Barack Obama's position is only a baby-step in the correct direction. If the State of Israel does not agree to a Palestinian state soon, the U.S. at the very least should cut off all funding to Israel.

Jews should have the same civil and property rights that every human person in the world deserves. They should not have ever had to move to Israel to feel safe. But if they want respect, they should respect other people's rights as well. If Jews want to settle in the West Bank, they need to let Palestinians settle on the East Bank. That is what is fair and just.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bribes, Corruption and Lost Wars

Corruption, the taking of bribes by politicians and government employees and the theft of public funds, is a nearly universal practice. But it is also a spectrum, with come governments having very little corruption, and ranges to governments that exist almost exclusively. South Vietnam (the Republic of Vietnam) during the 1960s is noted for its high degree of corruption. It is generally agreed that government corruption was one of the main reasons the government eventually collapsed and the south was unified with North Vietnam, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

I am reading Understanding Vietnam by Nilm L. Jamiseson and a section on the cultural aspects of corruption in Vietnam explained what happened in a way I had never considered. This contrasts with other histories I read that described the corruption, but implied it was simply due to defects in human character. This new understanding also sheds light on the collapse of the Chiang Kai-Shek regime in China in the late 1940s. It also explains a lot about many of today's regimes, including, on a smaller scale, the behavior of all too many individuals in local government in these United States of America.

It fits in too with what one of my political science professors told me about the Rhode Island state legislature, back in 1974. He said the salaries of the legislators were kept low so that only wealthy businessmen or corrupt political hacks could afford to hold office. To be a full time politician, to server the people full time, elected officials needed major supplements to their incomes. Those could only come from illegal donations, diversions of campaign funds, or outright bribes.

In Vietnam (I will call South Vietnam just Vietnam from this point forward) traditional status was highly dependent on wealth. However, leaders were supposed to show their wealth by providing feasts for their villages, and through other forms of ostentation public distribution of their wealth. In a village economy men competed for status by sharing with the less fortunate. Their families had priority, of course, but it was not too bad of a system.

When the U.S. invaded (invited by puppet governments) in the 1960s the shock to the Vietnamese economy was profound. Government employees, including military employees, changed in a few years from being highly respected and decently paid members of a mainly traditional society to among the poorest citizens.

American privates had higher salaries than Vietnamese generals. For that matter, call girls whose clients were American enlisted men made more money. The influx of American money drove inflation, but while America paid for military supplies and all sorts of economic programs, no one thought to make payments to the Saigon regime to increase the salaries of soldiers and bureaucrats. High-ranking military officers would moonlight as taxi drivers to try to make enough pay to keep their families from losing face due to poverty.

Their wives came to the rescue, and that was also due to cultural traditions. In Vietnam women had traditionally done the marketing and small scale craft making that kept families afloat. Men, mostly, did not engage in business. While men went about their hierarchically controlled, government-dictated lives, women had to do more than make ends meet: they had to maintain their family's status in society. "During the late 1960s and early 1970s it was often impossible to be a dutiful and virtuous family man and a dutiful and virtuous military officer or civil servant ... his womenfolk kept reminding him that prices were up again in the market and the children needed new shoes." Women ran the free market show, which largely consisted of diverting American-donated goods into the black market. "As Madam General called Madam Colonel who called Madam Head Clerk ... the daily flow of money and of goods throughout the country was anticipated and careful plans were formulated for diverting some percentage of this bounty."

This looking deeper contrasts with A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan, which is better at providing insight into the American side of the war. Americans were concerned about the corruption of Vietnamese officials and military men, but their answer was classroom training about the importance of good governance standards. That they paid their girlfriends more than they paid men they expected to die fighting communists did not seem to cross anyone's mind.

In America now there is an argument that public sector workers are paid too much, particularly because they get pensions and medical benefits far more generous than those most ordinary workers get. I think it comes down to individual cases. We want government employees to make enough money to motivate them to come to work every day, work effectively all day, and be immune to bribery. We want there to be enough employees so that the work gets done. Such a system cannot be perfected, only worked toward. We need to keep pay fair. Some want it on par with the private sector, but in the private sector fairness is not an issue. The system favors underpaying those lowest in the hierarchy and overpaying those highest on the corporate ladder. It all comes down to specifics, which vary by locality and job title.

Corruption has its own cultural momentum. Simply raising pay is not a sure way of stamping out corruption. Lowering pay somewhat is not likely to cause most honest civil servants to suddenly be selling their souls. Nevertheless, poor pay in the long run does breed corrupiton and incompetence.

A single word, corruption, encapsulates a wide variety of social pressures. Americans thought that the corruption of Vietnam was due to weak ethical values in the national culture. American soldiers did not need to steal food from peasants to fill their bellies. Their corruption was at a higher level, the corruption of an entire nation by wealth from industrial production and imperialist domination.

That era of American global economic supremacy is coming to an end. The corruption (lack of self-control and external control) of the banking sector and Wall Street almost brought the entire nation to its knees in 2008. The same gang funded Barack Obama's presidential campaign, just like they funded Clinton and Bush before him. So we have had much talk of reform, but very little reform.

Millions of people died violent deaths in Vietnam during the French and American interventions and civil war. Corruption was problem, but it was also a symptom of the larger problems of that era. The problem now is we still have an American economy and government built for imperialism. The cracks in that system will continue to widen as the imperialist overhang continues to crumble.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Extradition, Canada, and War

Maybe the U.S. won't go to war with Pakistan, maybe we will be too busy in our war with Canada.

The pretext for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was that the government of the country, controlled by the Taliban, refused to extradite Osama Bin Laden when the U.S. government demanded that after the successful al-Qaeda attack on September 11, 2001. I don't believe refusing to extradite a criminal is grounds for war, but the United Nations failed to protect Afghanistan from U.S. aggression, or even to condemn the U.S. Thus the de facto standard for international relations seems to have become that refusing to extradite is an act of war.

Given that, expect war between the U.S. and Canada soon. According to the Associated Press, on Friday the Canadian Court of Appeal confirmed a lower court decision to not extradite Abdullah Khadr to the United States. Mr. Khadr was wanted on the same charges as Osama Bin Laden, terrorism, specifically supplying al-Qaeda with weapons used to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Of course, the U.S. will not actually go to war with Canada over the issue. Nations refuse to extradite people to other nations all the time. It usually is no big deal. The United States itself harbors many people convicted of crimes in other countries. Some times we extradite them, some times we don't. For instance, if some one had been found guilty in Iraq of murder, but the murder had been an act of resistance to the Saddam Hussein regime, the U.S. would certainly have refused to extradite.

If if refusal to extradite a government's allies is not a pretext for war (my position, and seemingly one in accord with international law), then there was no legitimate pretext for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. George Bush and crew, and Barack Obama and crew, are simply war criminals.

If it is okay to fly a few troops into Pakistan to capture a criminal wanted in the United States, why was that tactic not used in Afghanistan in the first place? The CIA could have located Osama while the U.S. engaged in endless negotiations with the Taliban. Then would could have grabbed or killed Osama. We would have violated international law, and the Taliban would have been mad, but we would not be in an endless ground war in a nation not worth conquering.

We went to war against Afghanistan because we are ruled by a cabal of people who profiteer from war. George W. Bush was a failure as a manager of an oil company, but by attacking Afghanistan while most Americans were too emotional about the September 11 attacks to think clearly, he made himself popular. The price paid by the American people was the destruction of America from within by greed running out of control. We did not pay the price until the economic collapse of 2008.

The last time we fought a war with Canada, in the War of 1812, Canada was part of the British Empire, and we lost the war. We lost it rather badly, truth be told (see Life of Jackson: Battle of New Orleans). We launched the War of 1812 with the idea of grabbing Canada and Florida to add to the United States.

So the real question is, does the U.S. ruling class want Canada at this point of our history. If they do, the Abdullah Khadr decision can be used as a pretext for war. Otherwise, it will simply be forgotten.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

One Less Terrorist in The New World Order

Imagine if Russia, when it was still the Communist U.S.S.R., had sent a couple of helicopters with commando teams into U.S. territory to capture or execute a couple of U.S. sponsored "terrorists." That is, violent anti-communist militarists, which the U.S. harbored and trained on a regular basis during the Cold War. That would have been considered an illegal act of war by the U.S. It probably would have started World War III. The communists, of course, trained their own "cadre" of criminally violent political opperatives.

Symmetry, who framed thy unlawful impertinence? But even if the U.S. raid on Pakistan was illegal under international law, I see no reason to weep for Osama Bin Laden. He was a practitioner of total war, where nothing, not even the lives of women and children, was sacred. I note that total war addicts are not rare in this world. They included U.S. illuminaries such as former Presidents Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. If one war criminal kills an opposing war criminal, I don't see much bad in that.

Alas, Pakistan is not a symmetric power versus the U.S. It is a semi-dependent state in the U.S.A.'s global empire. They did not attempt to defend Osama. They would probably have captured him and sent him to the U.S. for trial if asked. The problem for the Obama administration was not that Pakistan could not be relied on. We long ago sorted out who we can and cannot rely upon to betray Pakistan if the U.S. asks. The problem was Osama Bin Laden might have decided to talk. Imagine the embarrassment for oh so many powerful families and institutions if Osama testified at his own trial, or even in depositions made available to the public.

It is arguable that Osama won before he died. How do you defeat an empire like the former U.S.S.R. or the U.S.A. if you can only lead a bunch of impoverished, poorly armed citizen soldiers? The answer was never simply to force an imperialist power to withdraw its military from the isolated failed state known as Afghanistan. The U.S.S.R. collapsed because its culture and economy collapsed. Its military was still strong when the empire crumbled. In fact, spending too much on the military and not taking care of ordinary citizens was one of the causes of the collapse of communism.

Corporate security state spokespeople like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have already made it clear that the U.S. ruling class intends to make the same mistake the U.S.S.R.'s rulers made. They are not cutting military spending now that Iraq is pacified and Osama is dead. They are not cutting back on internal security measures that feed the corporate security apparatus and starve schools, hospitals, workers and even the managerial class.

In four or five years no one in their right mind will be willing to loan the U.S. government any more money. Osama may have been a madman when it came to religion, but he grew up in the same economic circumstances of a Kennedy or a Bush. He understood business and economics. He understood bankruptcy. A bankrupt company is a powerless company, and a bankrupt nation is a powerless nation. A thousand bases scattered around the world won't be able to keep the locals in line once the money is coming from China, India, or Europe. The rulers of the British Empire learned that lesson after World War II. They should have learned it after World War I, but the British were led by obtuse people from an inbred ruling class.