Sunday, July 31, 2011

Republicans, Loaves and Fishes

It's one of the those rare moments when I find myself in (temporary) alignment with Wall Street. A bunch of crazy Republicans with guns want to kill the Government so badly they are willing to take the whole economy down with them.

Wall Street Republicans have always been aligned with Main Street Republicans, but the corporate assault on Main Street thinned the ranks pretty well. At some point Wall Street strategists (of course I'm generalizing here: some, not all of them) and conservative corporate strategists decided they needed reinforcements if they were going to run the nation to their liking. Those reinforcements came mainly in the form of Conservative Christians. This started in the 1960s, and would be more important in the long run that The Beatles or LSD.

The alliance went pretty well (for Wall Street) for a few decades. Wall Street and the corporate elite supplied the money. To the Christians they offered rhetoric about abortions and prayer in public schools. The Christians got to worshipping Free Market Capitalism almost as if it came out of the Bible. Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush illustrated how well the system could work when it was working.

But as deluded as Christians are, they are not quite unthinking zombies. They have lively egos, and many started thinking they should actually be in charge, not the Wall Street boys. They are pushing economic ideas that would have seemed primitive to Jesus himself, like returning to using Gold as money.

They tend to be Old Testament guys, because the New Testament contains a lot of messages they don't want to here. Like loving people [John 13: 34], paying your taxes [Luke 20: 25], wolves in sheep's clothing [Matthew 7: 15] and holding all things in common [Acts 4, 32].

In short, they forgot the Loaves and Fishes [Luke 9: 12-17]

  • But he said to them, "Give them more to eat". They said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fishes." ... For they were about five thousand ... He took the five loaves and two fishes, and looking to the sky, he prayed over them, and broke them, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude. And they did eat, and were all filled.

Medicare and Social Security are the loaves and fishes of modern America. If you can provide them, you can get by with all kinds of other kinds of business and government folly. You can talk up the Republican God, Free Market Capitalism, all you want, but people want jobs with good pay, homes, and a safe environment. Republican experiments this last decade with free markets have led to homelessness, joblessness, and hopelessness.

Having forgotten to bring out the loaves and fishes, Republican politicians, and particularly Tea Party pea brains, will be abandoned by the crowds, and crucified in the next round of elections. I am guessing they will lose ten seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in California alone in 2012, the way things are heading.

Hopefully the Republican Party will implode. If America remains a two party system, hopefully the new 2nd party will be based on sane, pragmatic, modern thinking. We still have to save the environment, which is going downhill at a rapid pace. We have to make things right for ordinary working people. That means disassembling the corporate security state and the concentrations of wealth that have emerged since President Kennedy started cutting the top tax rates on the wealthy back in 1962. We would not need to tax the rich at such high rates if they used their profits to hire more workers at better pay, but they have shown over and over again that they (as a class) are incapable of behaving responsibly.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Somalia Famine: There's a History

I read an article today at the Christian Science Monitor, U.N. Declares Famine in Somalia: How to Help. While Somalis may need some help, the article claims in the drought region "Somalia is worst-off because of perpetual government instability and the threat of [the] Islamist militant group Al Shabab." That is probably believable to people who read only U.S. propaganda, which is most Americans.

Somalia was not a nation in 1400, but it was a prosperous area with many wealthy, high-civilized city states. Roman Catholic pirates from Portugal began destroying those cities after Vasco da Gama discovered them in 1498 [See also Portuguese Catholics destroyed peaceful Islamic societies in eastern Africa in 1500's].

Intermittent warfare between native freedom fighters and their Portuguese would-be masters lasted for centuries, with the Portuguese often enslaving port cities. In the later half of the 1800s the British tried to add Somalia to their vast empire of slave nations in Africa. Muhammad Abdullah Hassan rallied the Somalis against the British, but in 1920, when his Dervish state collapsed, it was fascist Italy that turned northern Somalia, or Somaliland, into a colony. As usual, the Somali peoples resisted, the Italian armies sometimes suffered heavy casualties, and the British held southern Somalia more in name than in substance. When World War II began the Italians conquered British Somalia, but the British won it back in 1941.

After World War II the victorious nations gave part of Somalia, Ogaden, to Ethiopia. The U.N. gave Somalia back to Italy in 1949! After all, Catholic Italy was now an ally against the atheist Communist block of nations.

Finally, in 1960, Somalia was granted independence. But the lines had not been drawn around a nation, but around a diverse group of people. In 1969 a coup installed a socialist president and declared an end to "tribalism, nepotism, corruption, and misrule." The regime eventually made itself unpopular and finally fell from power in 1991. The United Nations, led by the U.S., invaded in 1992, only to face fierce resistance and withdraw in early 1995.

Since 1995 there has been anarchy, that is no central government that ruled the entire country. While life went on, American presidents and the CIA plotted. They really, truly hate people they cannot control. At one point the Somali people themselves set up a judicial system, the Islamic Courts Union. It seemed to be working well, bringing peace and justice, ending war between clans. That really ticked off the U.S. corporate security state. So the U.S. paid the government of Ethiopia to invade Somalia and destroy the Islamic courts in 2006. A lot of people died, the economy was again destroyed, and a U.S. puppet government was again established. The Somali people, at first overrun by Ethiopian tanks, drove the invaders out by 2009 (See War in Somalia, 2006-2009).

Not happy with that outcome, the U.S. government paid the African Union to invade Somalia. The actual troops were mainly "donated" by the nation of Uganda. That did not work either. The U.S. puppet government and the AU troops typically control little except themselves, though they do divert aid money sent to Somalia into the hands of their leaders.

So how can you help with the famine in Somalia? You can donate money for food, or for medicine (which I do through Doctors Without Borders), but the real problem is the leaders of the United States of America. Which means the real problem is the people of the USA. We are responsible for the leaders we choose. We are responsible for allowing them to bankrupt our nation with vast military expenditures and schemes to put and keep puppet governments in power.

If anyone running for office does not pledge to withdraw all U.S. troops to back inside U.S. territory, don't vote for them. Don't worry about their other campaign positions, which tend to be lies anyway. If they aren't for a peaceful America, they are war criminals, and should be imprisoned, not elected.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

When the GOP Was Still Grand: the Republican Platform of 1884

"The Republican Party has gained its strength by quick and faithful response to the demands of the people for the freedom and equality of all men; for a united nation assuring the rights of all citizens; for the elevation of labor; for an honest currency; for purity in legislation, and for integrity and accountability in all departments of government, and it accepts anew the duty of leading the work of progress and reform."

That is from the opening of the 1884 Republican Party Platform. It might be dismissed as rhetoric, except that the Democratic Party, in opposition, was doing its best to relegate African Americans to renewed slavery. The Grand Old Party (GOP) still was dominated by men who had fought for the Republic in the Civil War. The farmers and working men far outnumbered the business men, and the men with small businesses outnumbered the genuine capitalists in the party.

They weren't the bitter, tiny-souled Republican leaders of today who would allow most Americans to starve rather than make the rich pay taxes or cut the bloated military and homeland security budget.

Let's return to the Grand Old Platform:

"We therefore, demand the imposition of duties on foreign imports shall be made, not for "revenue only" but that, in raising the requisite revenues for the government, such duties shall be so levied as to afford the security of our diversified industries and protection to the rights and wages of the laborer, to the end that active and intelligent labor as well as capital may have its just reward and the laboring man his full share in the national prosperity."

My god, isn't that ... Socialism? The government protecting industry and workers? Were the conservative Republicans of 1884 to the left of not only today's Republicans, but to the left of today's Democrats? But there is more ...

"The principle of the public regulation of railway corporations is a wise and salutary one for the protection of all classes of the people, and we favor legislation that shall prevent unjust discrimination and excessive charges for transportation, and that shall secure to the people and to the railroads alike the fair and equal protection of the laws."

OMG, when something went wrong with the economic system, the GOP dared to use the federal government to do something about it. They took on the most powerful capitalists of their era, the railroad barons.

The Republican Party Platform of 1884 also called for federal civil service reform, for "the establishment of a national bureau of labor, the enforcement of the eight-hour law, [and] a wise and judicious system of general education by adequate appropriation from the national revenues wherever the same is needed." It called for legislation to "secure to every citizen, of whatever race and color, the full and complete recognition, possession and exercise of all civil and political rights."

But we live in an age of ignorance. Basic lessons in good government and economics have been forgotten. Congressmen (and women) spout an economic faith that is as lunatic as medieval physics, biology, and theology. Republicans do not know their own history (neither do Democrats). They believe that Moses wrote the Constitution and that free market capitalism is based on the Ten Commandments. The only thing they are experts at is taking money from rich donors and using it to manipulate the equally ignorant.

When the Republican faithful are taught to treat Mitt Romney as a left wing nut case, there is something seriously wrong. A tragedy is unfolding. What Al-Qaeda did to the American people is nothing compared to how we have been done in by our own corporate security state. Our only hope is that the tragedy will shake the lethargy of good, ordinary people, and that they will aspire to a government by political parties and independent politicians that truly represent their interests.

Saint Peter Died in Beijing

Chinese scholars announced that Saint Peter, the leader of the 12 Disciples of Jesus Christ, ended his life in Beijing. A tomb containing his bones and a manuscript with the story of his life was unearthed during an excavation for a new skyscraper near the old royal palace. "It dated to approximately 85 A.D., when Beijing would have been the stronghold of a local warlord."

Christian scholars have always suspected that the idea that Saint Peter died in Rome was a 3rd century fabrication by the bishops of Rome. There is no record in the New Testament of the apostle Peter ever visiting Rome. The only letters in the Bible purported to be written by Peter were written from Babylon, which is a few days journey from Jerusalem. Acts of the Apostles has Peter living in Jerusalem long after the Christian religion had spread to other cities in the Roman Empire.

The Life of Peter, now being prepared for publication, appears to have been partly written in his own hand and partly written by an assistant who joined him in his trip. It records his three years with Jesus, then several decades of living in or near Jerusalem. Finally Peter decided to take the word of Jesus East. He stayed for two years in Babylon, then traveled through India, stopping and founding Christian communities which later disappeared. Finally he sailed to southern China, then worked his way up the coast to Beijing, where he died of natural causes. His assistant arranged with the local rulers for his tomb.

The Vatican immediately called the Chinese scientists and scholars, "A bunch of liars. The timing of this hoax, when the Church is trying to exert control over Chinese Catholic bishops, is particularly suspicious."

The Catholic Bishop of Beijing said it is too early to declare himself Pope. "We will need further confirmation by a wider team of archeologists and specialists in ancient languages. However, if God puts this responsibility on my shoulders, I will accept His burden."

Hillary Clinton reacted strongly to the news. "It's as if someone claimed Jesus, after he rose from the dead and departed Jerusalem, came to the Americas and preached among the Indians. If is just a fabrication to assert Chinese Communist power in the religious sphere."

Professor Moriarty, speaking for the Southern Baptist Convention, said "of course our scholars would be interested in anything that sheds light on the early Church. However, it has always been the position of Protestants that the Church should be governed by its members, not whichever anti-Christ happens to be Bishop of Rome at any given moment."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Capitalism Death Watch

The Republican Party Faithful are doing their best to stop the government of the United States of America from functioning. They believe the government deducts from their prosperity by taxing, spending, and borrowing. The problem is they have a simplistic view of capitalist economics that is out of touch with the real world.

Already in the 19th century a number of economists noted free-market capitalism's self-destructive tendencies. Their theories were based on observations of capitalist accumulation (of money and property in the hands of ever fewer people) and cycles of boom and bust. There are other factors in business cycles, but it was apparent to anyone looking objectively at the data that letting capitalism run wild created booms followed by depressions, of which there were a number of between 1850 and 1940.

Let me repeat: experimental evidence showed that unregulated capitalism tended to destroy national and global economies. The reason we have only had one Great Depression is one was enough for most people: government intervention is required.

Of course, you can also have too much government in specific cases, and counter-productive programs, but I've noted that Republicans are just as resistant to killing their pet government subsidies as Democrats are, maybe more so.

What happens if the Congress, a combination of Republicans and Democrats, fails to raise the debt limit? Capitalism dies. The U.S. will go down, and we will take the whole world with us, even China.

A little sense would go a long way here. Congress could wait to cut spending until, say, U.S. unemployment drops to 7%. That would reassure just about everyone, and save our regulated system of capitalism.

If the U.S. government stops paying its debts, in August, the economy will start falling. There will be nothing and no one capable of breaking the fall. We are in a slow upward cycle, but will be thrust into a rapid downward plunge. Tax revenues will decrease, making it even more difficult to achieve a balanced federal budget. More layoffs will mean less consumpition, meaning evern more layoffs. Bonds will become worthless unless taxes are greatly increased or the whole government (except of course, homeland security and the military) is shut down to make the escalating interest payments.

If the debt limit is raised (substantially) but with no tax increases, no cuts in military spending, and major cuts in future payments to seniors and other low-income persons, the outlook is grim, but the economy might muddle through.

Here's the deal: truly free-market capitalism concentrates all wealth in the hands of a few people (in a nation of over 300 million, that might be about 3 million). No one else has money to spend, so demand drops, the economy collapses, and people realize how dumb they have been and elect a government that resistributes wealth. Then we rebuild, and ideologs eventually forget the facts of life.

I hope the Congress is really just bluffing. I hope the debt limit is raised, but that federal spending is gradually reduced until we can repay some of the national debt. But I fear a lot of stupidity has been concentrated in Congress right now. The death of capitalism might offer the hope of a new social order, but it could be a very, very unpleasant transition.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Where are the Jobs?

Yesterday a friend called up, highly distressed. Her last short term job had been as a census worker in 2010, and her jobless benefits ran out this May. She is about to become homeless, although that probably means she will start couch surfing, not living in the street. I know she has not been diligent looking for work. Like some of my acquaintances, she enjoys a prolonged, taxpayer-funded vacation from the stress of work. Nevertheless, she has done some looking, and if jobs were more plentiful here is California, she would probably being going to work on Monday instead of facing an eviction notice.

Multiply that by about 14 million, and you have a nation filled with capable people who are not employed. The lucky ones are getting unemployment compensation. State benefits typically last six months; the Federal government extends that to a full two years during times of high unemployment.

There is no one cause of unemployment, but there are a few key factors at play. There are two big holes in the economy right now. One is construction, with its attendant employment of realtors and of workers that produce products that normally go into building like wood, cement, glass, and metal.

The other is government, particularly state and local governments. Ever since the economy turned up from the depths of the recession, private employers have been hiring, if not as quickly as we would like. June brought another wave of layoff notices for public employees like teachers, bureaucrats, and police. The net has been very few jobs.

In 2008 the Republicans and Democrats united briefly to save Wall Street, the banking system, and the big American automobile manufacturers. That done, they fell to quarrelling. The Republicans quarrel among themselves, Tea Party people against the old school. Almost no one listens to Barack Obama, whose lack of leadership qualities were disguised by his rhetorical abilities until he actually became President.

But high unemployment is not Barack Obama's fault. It is not anybody's fault. It evolved over time, and our politics have not yet evolved to the point where we can deal with the new reality.

Let's start by putting on our thinking caps. Why not use the money that is paid out in unemployment to pay people to do real work? In the most appalling cases, public school teachers are laid off, so they can sit on their butts for two years while the few remaining teachers take on ever more students. Can you spell S-T-U-P-I-D? But the same is true in the private sector. Some people get worked to death during a depression and almost wish they had been lucky enough to be aid off.

The problem is that our economic rules and regulations, and even business culture, are "fighting the last war." That is, they were designed to fix problems that might be the same on the surface, but that have different causes than in the past. So the fixes don't work any more, at least not as well as they should. We are feeding leaded gasoline to cars designed for unleaded, then acting surprised when the engines die.

Most of the programs we now have to deal with recessions and unemployment were initiated during the Great Depression (with bipartisan support, I might add. Go look at the Congressional Record if you don't believe me). Some pre-date that, like the Federal Reserve System. The Great Depression itself had no one cause; it was the perfect storm of changes in the global economy and American culture and politics. Hoover did not have the tools in place to deal with it, and even the New Deal did not work well. If Hitler had not started World War II (causing everyone to start ordering arms and grain from the U.S.), the Depression might have lasted even longer than it did.

Some people thought that war spending was the ticket, after that experience. The problem is that while the U.S. benefited economically from the war, the economies of Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, China and Japan were essentially destroyed. The U.S. make out best when other nations fight. Other nations make out best when they remain neutral and the U.S. fights the evil villain of the decade. The only defense spending that really helps the U.S. economy is when it is just a fig leaf for civilian spending, like the Federal Defense Highway System. Built to move tanks around the nation quickly and make road contractors rich, that defense effort is now what we call Interstate Highways.

Some people think China is to blame (two decades ago they said the same about Japan). As late as 1750 China had the world's largest economy, then it was ripped to shreds by the Great Powers (including the U.S.) and had a third world economy by 1950 when the Communists took over. I don't see how we can honestly blame China for unemployment in the U.S. In fact, if not for China buying U.S. products, we would have even more unemployment. China would buy more products if we produced them. We don't produce more products because over 10% of our workforce are loafing when they'd be willing to work if they were offered a job and their unemployment checks were cut off.

Unemployment insurance was designed to provide temporary relief to workers, allowing them to find new jobs and stay productive. During recessions it also answers as a counter-cyclical measure, keeping demand up until the business cycle gets going again. It is not a jobs program. We had no real jobs programs during the Great Recession. Some extra money was spent on infrastructure, but infrastructure work is highly mechanized and the money goes for cement and diesel fuel for bulldozers and cranes. Only a fraction is used to hire workers.

Aside from government stupidity, which is ageless and unlikely to change, the root cause of joblessness is inefficient allocation of capital, which is a function of capitalist stupidity. Let me be clear: American capitalists are rapidly becoming world class idiots, and I don't just mean Donald Trump. Not all of them are dysfunctional, there is a spectrum, but a significant proportion of our capitalist class are seriously screwing things up for all of us.

There have always been some stupid capitalists, in particular heirs to capital have a way of regressing towards not being much smarter than the average joe. Over time that sort of ordinary ineptitude sorts itself out, as their heirs of the Carnegies and Fords lose their dough to the up and coming Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs.

Nevertheless, the American capitalist class as a whole has seriously ossified during the last 30 years. They want sure things; they are risk averse. Hiring people for existing businesses is a risk. Starting a new business is very risky. Sure there are people who still do that, like venture capital firms, but they are the exception.

Government could do something about joblessness, but won't. It isn't that the Republicans are standing in the way of the Democrats. Ever since George McGovern failed to get elected President the Democrats have been quite capable of standing in their own way.

The good news is that we are still at the beginning of an economic up cycle. As the economy improves, our capitalists will feel safer, and want to use their money to make more money, rather than just hoarding it. To do that, they will have to hire more store clerks, maybe even begin making housing loans again, and paying workers to repair homes so people can move back into them.

If the capitalists were really smart, they would fire their $10 million + a year corporate CEOs and hire equally competent, probably more competent men at a fraction of the cost. The fact that they can't be bothered to do that shows just how bad they have become at allocating capital.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Crazy Republicans with Guns and Presidential Aspirations

The right to own a gun (rifle or handgun) is a perennial favorite talking point of political candidates. The Democratic Party was founded by a gun enthusiast, Andrew Jackson, who began life a child warrior. To the extent that the Republican Party, founded in part by pacifists who wanted to abolish slavery, might have been less gun-happy, that went out the window when the Civil War began.

Of the Republican Presidential candidates, without a doubt the best shot is Sarah Palin, who could doubtless outgun Annie Oakley, were such a match up possible. Michele Bachmann, however, favors the heavy firepower of the fully automatic Uzi, which she learned to strip and reassemble blindfolded as a teen in Israel. Unlike President Jackson, however, neither of these candidates has actually shot anyone, unless it was covered up. The most recent shooting of a human by a near-President was in 2006 when Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney shot Harry Wittington. Cheney favored a shotgun, which is fine for certain types of hunting and which Michele recommends for brushing back juvenile delinquents in the home.

Of course many former U.S. Presidents besides Andrew Jackson had experience in the military or actual wars.

We have to go back a bit in history, however, to find the best example of a crazy Republican with a gun and Presidential aspirations. His name was Charles Guiteau. He receives little attention in standard U.S. history books because his actions cut against the current of U.S. propaganda.

Charles was born in 1841 but apparently managed to avoid serving in the Civil War, in which the Republican Party defeated the slaver masters of the Democratic Party. He pursued religious writing and journalism, then became a lawyer. He was a Republican, and when 1880 rolled around he supported the comeback of former President Ulysses S. Grant. At the time the Republican Party had two factions, the "Half-Breeds" led by James Blaine, and the Stalwarts led by Roscoe Conkling. The Half-Breed favored filling civil service positions based on non-political criteria. The Stalwarts wanted to continue to use civil service positions to reward supporters.

Presidential candidates of political parties were not chosen in primaries back then, but at party conventions dominated by elected officials. The Republican convention of 1880 saw a standoff between supporters of Blaine and of Grant. Finally, a compromise was reached, with James Garfield, a moderate Half-Breed nominated for President and Chester Arthur, a moderate Stalwart, nominated for Vice President.

Given the lack of ideological differences between the factions, you would not think anyone would get too worked up about the compromise. Charles Guiteau supported Garfield, giving speeches in his favor and even handing out copies of the speeches. When Garfield won, Guiteau thought he would be rewarded with a civil service job.

Garfield, however, had no office he wanted to give to Guiteau (who wanted to be an Ambassador, but probably would have been happy to be appointed a Postmaster or Customs official, those being the only major national bureaucracies back then). Thank God for the Second Amendment. Charles went out and bought a handgun, then practiced up. He shot President James Garfield twice on July 2, 1881.

Garfield probably would have lived, the wounds being serious but probably not deadly, but doctors intervened and he died on September 19th.

At his trial Guiteau's defense lawyers argued he was insane. Charles Guiteau considered himself a hero of the Stalwarts and began to plan a campaign to be President. "Guiteau went so far as to ask all those who had benefited politically by the assassination to contribute to his defense fund." His aspirations were cut off by a hangman's noose on June 30, 1882.

So please, no more lefty complaints that the current crop of Republican candidates are crazy. I don't care if Michele Bachmann thinks God created the world in 1776 or that Sarah Palin believes she shot Bigfoot or that Mitt Romney swears he emerged from Massachusetts untainted by liberal ideas. Those thoughts are no more crazy that the Lefty idea that we can all collect disability and be artists if only taxes on CEO pay were higher. Republican Presidential aspirant ideas may not match up to reality very well, but we are talking politics, the art of telling voters what they want to hear, their own crazy ideas. As long as the Republicans don't start shooting at each other, our republic survive despite whatever the politicians throw at us.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Looking Forward on the Fourth

I have not posted much to my blogs lately. Yesterday, though, I turned in an index for a technology book. Now I am looking forward to enjoying the Fourth of July in Point Arena, while fitting in the usual accumulated errands like taking out the trash, watering the garden, and cleaning up a bit.

You can look forward to my writing more this next few weeks. I have a bunch of ideas for this blog. I'll be commenting on Norman Solomon's run for congress at Mike Thompson Watch. I have some overdue things to say about machine understand. If you care about the economy, I'll have a bunch of new material over the next few weeks at Dissecting the Bull. Of course I also plan to keep adding chapters to my Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson, which is about half complete at this point.

But today there is the Fourth of July Parade in Point Arena. I am looking forward to the Golden Retriever Peace Walk and other favorite groups. No Poodles for Peace this year, but Hugo (actually, a Mexican Water Dog) and other poodles will be joining the celebration. Have a great long weekend.