Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Ike Eisenhower, Business, and War

Imagine if former President Dwight Eisenhower ("Ike") had been around to advise President George W. Bush during the 2001 crisis, instead of Dick Cheney.

General Eisenhower ran for President in 1952 and assumed office in early 1953. He was conservative, but he was a calm conservative who was willing to leave most of the New Deal intact. He was anti-communist, but unlike many Republicans of his era he did not believe that Democrats were communists, or that it was impossible to negotiate or even cooperate with communist governments. After President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed him Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the European theater during World War II, Eisenhower had worked with communists, including Joe Stalin himself, to defeat Nazi Germany in battle.

Senator Joe McCarthy, Ike's own vice-president Richard Nixon, and other Republicans (and quite a few democrats, notably John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey) had made anti-Communism the center of both domestic and foreign policy. The Korean War was basically in a stalemate, with North Korea and the U.S. facing off near the 38th parallel, roughly where they had been when the war began. Red Scare politicians wanted Ike to conquer the whole peninsula.

Although the U.S. refused to officially recognize the then-popular new regime in China because it was communist, Eisenhower opened secret lines of negotiation. After a couple of false starts, sabotaged by South Korea's fascist leader Syngman Rhee, on July 27, 1953 a truce was signed.

Meanwhile the French were unable to muster sufficient military force to crush the Vietnamese independence movement (which had been pro-U.S. until Harry Truman decided to allow the French to re-colonialize Vietnam after World War II). They wanted Eisenhower to bomb the Vietnamese, and almost all of Eisenhower's advisors thought that was a good idea. But Eisenhower, and General Matthew Ridgeway, thought Vietnam was lousy terrain to fight on.

Eisenhower was a big-picture guy who was willing to let subordinates handle details, unlike most recent U.S. presidents. He understood that Communism had an appeal to some people; it was not just something imposed by Joe Stalin. He did not want to bleed America to death fighting peasant rebellions. He also understood that, even at a time when the U.S. economy was riding high (the only major rival at that time being communist Russia, the U.S.S.R.), military spending had a dark side for any economy.

Even so, Eisenhower allowed the French $385 million in military aid specifically for Vietnam, and the continued use of 200 U.S. Air Force advisors authorized by President Truman.

When Joe Stalin had died, Ike had said:

"The jet plane that roars over your head costs three-quarters of a million dollars. That is more money than a man earning ten thousand dollars a year is going to make in his lifetime. What world can afford this sort of thing for long? We are in an armaments race. Where will it lead? ... to robbing every person and nation on earth of the fruits of their own toil."

So here is what Ike would have told Bush: send in the CIA. Back them up with Special Forces if necessary. But don't increase the military budget, and don't get involved in a ground war in Asia.

Instead Bush listened to Dick Cheney and crew, the spiritual and mental descendents of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. He enlarged the military budget and invented the Homeland Security boondoggle. At the same time he cut taxes on the highest income Americans to the lowest level since 1933, resulting in the highest annual budget deficits ever. Combined with the Clinton-era banking "reforms," this set the stage for the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The thing was, because Americans saw General Eisenhower as one of the greatest military leaders of the era, he was able to resist pressure for military expenditures and unwinnable wars.

Now we are in the second term of the Barack Obama administration, and another weak President has neither the backbone nor the gravitas to do what is right for America. In 2006 U.S. citizens voted to end the war in Afghanistan. Obama bought peace with the Pentagon by staying at war with the Islamic world. He has extended the war to North Africa. He is even looking to evade his won 2014 deadline for Iraq.

Now "everyone" of importance in Washington, Democrat and Republican alike, believes that more economy-crippling military and homeland security spending is justified. Damn the free markets, what business people really want is guaranteed profit government contracts.

I like Barack Obama's speeches, mostly. When it comes to actually doing the job, I Like Ike.

Agree? Disagree? You can leave feedback below.

Note: The Eisenhower quote above is from page 807 of William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream, to which I am also indebted for many of the historic details used in this essay.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pray for Freedom in the Vatican

The New York Time's Christmas day edition (Web edition) has a front page headline: Pope Prays for Freedom in China and Peace in Syria.

I always wonder: is this just another NYT contribution to corporate security state propaganda, or does someone there really think it is news? Do they believe the Pope's hypocrisy is so blatant they don't need to point it out to their readers?

In the accompanying picture Pope Benedict XVI looks like a horror story cutout from the 1930's, which the former Hitler Youth member pretty much is. He is flanked by two very fruity looking middle aged men I would not trust to leave alone with a child under any circumstance.

Focus on China. Religion is not illegal in China. The only real limits on religion are sensible: it can't be used for fraud or to foment rebellion or to conduct criminal activities. Pretty much every religion in the world has people living and worshipping in China, no problem. That is possible because the vast majority of people in China are reasonably Modern atheists or agnostics who don't mind some lost souls playing make believe, as long as they don't use it as an excuse for criminal behavior.

Contrast the Vatican City state. What religions are tolerated there? Only one.

The Vatican does not even tolerate dissent in its own ranks. For the past 30 years it has purged priests and bishops for crimes like sympathizing with the poor, pointing out there is little or no Biblical authority for much of Roman Catholic doctrine (including the dictatorship of the Pope), and suggesting that women and homosexuals should be treated as equals. At the same time it has protected priests and bishops who sexually assaulted children.

The same article notes the Benedict has excommunicated Chinese Catholic bishops who were elected by their fellow bishops, rather than appointed by dictator Benedict himself. Talk about tyranny and attacking freedom of religion.

The Pope tries to cover a lot of his global criminal activity by publicly praying for peace. Apparently either God does not listen to the Pope, or does not have the power of peace, or does not exist. Peace, like war, is a human endeavor, and the gods help those who help themselves.

The Pope and his archbishop henchmen should stop and read the New Testament before running down the more enlightened leaders of our world. Mathew 7:3, "And why beholdest thou the the mote that is in they brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" I quote from the King James Version of the Bible, the possession of which in Catholic Spain during the reign of Francisco Franco resulted in imprisonment. And yet Benedict wants to make many of Franco's minions into new Catholic saints.

When the Pope opens his mouth, evil has a voice. A dictatorial voice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Second Amendment Needs Amending

When the first ten amendments, or Bill of Rights, was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1791, there were more slaves in the United States of America than there were white male voters (most states required men to own a substantial amount of property to qualify for the franchise).

The Second (II) Amendment stated: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

In 1791 arms were all muzzle-loaded. Pistols, rifles, and cannon required a lengthy procedure to reload and fire. Troops often fired by thirds, so that two-thirds could be reloading and preparing to fire at any one time. Massacres were a team effort: a single man could not reload fast enough to overcome a determined group of defenders.

Much has been made over the centuries of the combining of the phrase about militia with the strong phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." Remembering the Revolutionary War, men who emphasized the importance of freedom and democracy worried that a central government controlling centrally-stored militia weapons might more easily establish a tyranny. If citizens held their own weapons, they would be better able to respond to an attempt to establish a monarchy or other dictatorship. A militia itself might be used to establish a dictatorship, as had happened with Cromwell in England only a bit over a century before our own revolution.

I believe "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms," was about personal protection and economic security, not just trying to ensure a republican form of government. A muzzle-loading firearm was a family treasure, especially in rural and frontier areas.

Times have changed. Every adult citizen has had the right to vote since the mid 1960s. We have 220 years of continuous operation of our democratic-republic. It has been 150 years since our only full-scale Civil War. The 4 million inhabitants of 1790 have become 330 million. Guns and rifles are mass produced in factories and even semi-automatic weapons can fire many rounds in a single minute. Automatic weapons can mow down crowds in less than a minute.

We need to ask ourselves, what do we really need out of the 2nd Amendment? And we need to write a new one.

I don't buy the hunting argument against gun control. While a tiny minority of Americans still hunt for food, most hunting is a sport. A game, in which any food production is secondary. I see no reason that hunters should not go back to muzzle-loading rifles and even bows and arrows. I don't see how blasting a squirrel, deer, or wolf with a semi-automatic weapon is much sport. Load your muzzle, tramp throught the wild, try aiming instead of pointing, and if you miss your shot, you have an opportunity to do more hiking.

The same for target practice. Shoot once and reload should be fine.

People have a right to self-defense, but even if you carry a concealed semi-automatic weapon someone can put a bullet in your head before you can pull it out. With semi-automatic weapons eliminated, each of us has a far better chance of surviving an attack. Carrying a one-shot pistol should be adequate for almost all self-defense needs. Having a well-trained, effective police force is a better idea.

That leaves the police, the National Guard, and the federal military forces. They will have modern weapons. That means they will be in a position to abuse their power. But the real power to oppose corrupt police has never been in shooting back. It has always been political. Corrupt police cannot exist without corrupt politicians.

When we say "the security of the State" we mean not just its physical security, but that the government functions in the interest of the people. Preserving the rights of minorities while promoting the general welfare no longer relies on winning a revolutionary war or a civil war. Citizen participation in government is the key to good governance in our modern world.

My candidate for a replacement for the Second Amendment is simple: "The right of the people to self-defense shall not be infringed. The right of the people to democratic control of police, militia, and other armed forces shall not be infringed."

Conservatives, who are more likely to be pro-gun than Moderns, in many other cases have argued for the Original Constitution. They argue that the powers of government should be limited to what was written in the Constitution in 1789. Moderns typically believe the phrases of the Constitution should flex to deal with the real situation on the ground. In this case watch the arguments go into reverse.

I believe it is fair to use the Original Constitution style argument to conclude that the Second Amendment only gives the people the right to keep and bear arms that were available when the amendment was passed in 1791. That should be the standard of the Supreme Court and state courts while we are in the amendment process.

Conservatives will argue the contrary, thereby undercutting their whole bundle of doctrines based on refusing to see that times have simply changed. Technology has changed, commerce has changed, knowledge has changed, culture has changed, and people themselves have changed. So too must government change and the Constitution interpreted in light of developments.

If we try to enact more gun control without amending the Second Amendment, we bring the very nature of the Constitution itself into question because the wording of the amendment is so clear. Amending the Constitution is difficult, but it is the right way to proceed in a nation that uses a Constitution as the basis of law.

Let's amend the Second Amendment. It should have been done long ago.

[This essay first appeared as a Mendoday editorial]

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Were the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bombings War Crimes?

The United States of America exploded an atomic bomb over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and over Nagasaki on August 9th. While both cities in Japan hosted military bases, the vast majority of causalities were civilians. An estimated 150,000 died at Hiroshima including 20,000 soldiers and 20,000 Korean laborers. About 80,000 died at Nagasaki, and while military manufacturers were destroyed, relatively few soldiers died there.

One of the most basic ideas of war crimes law is that the purposeful killing of civilians is a war crime. Yet most Americans believe that the atomic bomb use was justified in this case (the only use of atomic bombs other than for testing, ever, in world history.)

The typical American defense against charges of war crime is that it saved the lives of large numbers, potentially millions, of American soldiers who would have died if Japan had been conquered by conventional means. Is it therefore not a war crime to kill civilians if that achieves military objectives like decreasing military casualties? Other, often better, defenses against the war crimes accusation will also be considered here.

Some background information will be useful in this discussion. The war between Japan and the United States began in 1854 when a U.S. fleet of warships under Commodore Perry seized Okinawa and then used the threat of further force to induce the rulers of Japan to end their long commitment to isolation and peace [See Okinawa, Commodore Perry, and the Lew Chew Raid]. Relations varied over the following decades, then disintegrated in the 1930s when the U.S. continued to support the right of itself and European nations to have colonies, economic spheres of influence, and puppet governments in Asia, while denying that Japan should be able to play by the same rules.

Before the war began President Roosevelt gave numerous speeches condemning nations that dropped bombs from warplanes into cities. He demanded that all nations refrain from targeting civilians.

Rather than capitulating to demands from the U.S. that Japan become a third-rate power again, and watching the rapid building of a vastly superior navy, air force, and army in the U.S. in 1940, the Japanese military and the government they controlled decided to gamble on a first strike, which took place at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941 [See Pearl Harbor, China, and The Cable].

There is no denying that, before the atomic bombs were dropped, Japan was losing the war. Yet President Harry Truman and most U.S. military leaders did not feel the war was going particularly well. While the U.S. had overwhelming sea and air power, the Japanese had adapted their ground defenses to minimize that advantage. At the Battle of Okinawa alone the U.S. had lost 49,151 soldiers. Estimates of U.S. deaths from conquering Japan started at around 1 million, and that was probably a very conservative number. While nothing compared to the 11 million Communist soldiers who had died fighting Adolf Hitler's army, it was a dismaying number to Americans who were tired of war.

Politically, President Truman's hands were tied. His predecessor, Democratic Party kingpin President Roosevelt had demanded unconditional surrender from Japan. When the a-bombs were ready Truman repeated that demand in the Potsdam Declaration. The Japanese had always been open to a negotiated peace, even before the war began, but had never been willing to surrender unconditionally. Up until then no nation in Japan's position (still holding its mainland, many Pacific islands the U.S. military had "hopped" over, most of China and all of Korea) had ever been expected to surrender unconditionally. It was against the basic understanding of the laws of nations and what it means to lose a war.

The well-documented Japanese military's position was they would surrender if they could disarm themselves, withdraw their troops from China, and try their own war criminals. The peace faction in Japan, including the Emperor and his civilian advisors and even a significant portion of the military, were willing to surrender with one condition, that the Emperor remain the official sovereign of Japan.

Truman and his advisors (all Democratic Party leaders) were aware that if the bombs worked there would be significant civilian casualties. Their reasoning was simple: they did not want to fight the Japanese in what had always been the honorable method. The war might go on until 1948, or the U.S. might suffer a reversal and never win. Or the citizens of the U.S. might have urged their congressmen to negotiate a peace. For the record, two Republican Party generals, Dwight Eisenhower, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, and Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, were against using the atomic weapons on cities as they correctly believed it would be a dishonor to U.S. military forces.

The disposition of colonies was also a prime consideration. If the U.S. had fought a long war with Japan while the British Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire, and other European nations had a chance to rebuild their commerce, the U.S. might not have been able to dominate the world stage in the 1950s and 1960s.

There is no loophole in the official war crimes laws allowing the purposeful killing of civilians. Even collateral damage, the incidental killing of civilians when fighting enemy soldiers, is supposed to be minimized. If you argue that, for instance, it is okay to kill civilians in order to reduce the deaths of one's own soldiers, there is no line that can be reasonably drawn to protect the innocent. Civilians always provide the economic support for soldiers in war, willingly or unwillingly. Wipe out a work force, and no one is around to build tanks. To subscribe to the theory of total warfare is to say that there is no such thing as a war crime.

Is there a permissible level of killed civilians? Killing civilians accidentally is considered a hazard of war, but at some point should it be clear that accidental is really on purpose. If one civilian dies in an engagement where 100 soldiers are killed, that is not good, but unless the civilian was specifically targeted we tend to not see a war crimes. But where do we see a war crime? A ration of 10 to 100? 50 to 100? 200 to 100? At Hiroshima the ratio was closer to 750 to 100, at Nagasaki even higher. A reasonable person can only conclude that the point was to kill massive numbers of civilians, and the military targets at the city merely provided a pretext. U.S. records support that interpretation.

Truman and crew did not honestly subscribe to the theory that the war crimes laws are ridiculous. They prosecuted and executed a few Germans and a lot of Japanese for war crimes after the war. They turned the Rule of Law into the Gruel of Law: the war crimes of victors would not be war crimes, only losing nations had committed war crimes.

An alternative defense is that only aggressor nations should be subject to war crimes law. This position creates much trouble. It is a not always clear which nation is the aggressor. Often two nations or sets of nations are eager for war, and the incident that sets of the war is almost irrelevant, as in World War I or the War of 1812. But again, you need to ask: is it okay to kill women and children, even of an aggressor nation? And when nations have been at war at intervals for centuries, is the aggressor label awarded based on the latest round, or is there some more complex calculus that should be used?

If aggressor nations are the only ones that must obey the rules of war, the whole exercise in war crimes law is probably pointless. Starting a war is itself a violation of the rules of war (although as usual, there are economic acts of war, like blockading a nation, that might justify calling a war defensive, or a war of survival). Having violated that rule, why follow any of the rules, unless they offer some sort of advantage?

Finally, there are racial arguments. U.S. relations with Japan had a huge racist component from the very beginning. Official discrimination against Japanese was a constant of U.S. domestic policy until after World War II. Destroying (perceived) subhuman lives in order to spare (white) human lives was a significant factor in World War II, but it should be no excuse in a war crimes tribunal.

Conclusion. A fair and impartial person should be able to identify the atomic bombing attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as war crimes. The excuses given for the war crimes should be rejected as based on racism, nationalism, cowardliness, and a criminal mindset. The war criminals responsible should have been tried and sentenced. The organizations the war criminals led should have been disbanded.

Further, the failure to fairly uphold the war crimes laws subsequently led to contempt for those laws by the political and military leaders of the United States of America and their allies.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Right to Yacht Goes Wild

Inspired by the recent expansion of the Right to Work movement, Right to Yacht groups have been springing up across the nation, especially in the Right to Work states where yacht clubs are common.

Florida has seen the most Right to Yacht actions so far, but there have been also been Right to Yacht actions in Texas and Virginia, and preliminary Internet organizing and discussion in several other states, including Michigan. [See Limits on Unions Pass in Michigan].

In one Florida incident a yacht owned by a Miami area hedge fund owner was illicitly used for a party. Right to Yachters simply snuck by yacht club guards and had a party in the boat, emptying its liquor cabinet and "generally making a mess of it." The party goers snuck out before police or security guards became aware of the situation.

Right to Yacht
An Anonymous Right to Yacht person explained. "If you don't have to pay union dues to work in a unionized work place, why should you have to pay dues to get any privilege? Why should I have to pay yacht club fees to enjoy a yacht? Next time I'm taking a crew out into the bay."

According to postings on Internet bulletin boards, there are already two trends in the Right To Yacht movement. Some believe that only politicians who vote Right to Work laws, and their financial backers, should have their yachts targeted. These yachting excursions would take on the air of political protests against a specific law.

But the Eat the Rich trend seems to be more popular, at least in rhetoric. This trend seems to have a total disregard for the private property rights of the rich in general. They believe the rich deserve nothing they have grabbed. They talk of not just having floating parties, but of the right to take whatever they need from any rich person any time, from mansions to limousines to wallets. One online diatribe called for crowds to swoop into fancy restaurants and eat the food off the plates of the diners, calling it the Right to Eat.

Others talk of refusing to pay all forms of dues, rather than just union dues. Dues are a form of payment for a service. They want services without payment, just like workers who take advantage of the Right to Work laws to live like parasites. They even talk of creating homes for people without paying for permits or following building codes.

But the real purpose of the Right to Work laws is to keep wages and benefits unfairly low. In turn, this keeps profits high, and enables the business class to keep their yachts, mansions, and club memberships. What the people of America really need a way to Share the Wealth, and not just with the welfare class. It is the ordinary workers who get up in the morning and staff the stores, build the yachts, mansions, and malls, and do all the sundry things that allow us all to live who deserve better. They need more than the right to unionize. They need to get their share from what is owed to them for past labor, one way or another.

Check out the Internet for a Right to Yacht party near you, or Occupy a Michigan politician's home and see how they like it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pearl Harbor, China, and The Cable

When I was a child (I was born in 1955) the Japanese attack on U.S. military facilities at Pearl Harbor loomed large in my limited view of history. In addition to being of international historic importance, it was of great personal interest to my family.

My father was already in the Marine Corps on December 7, 1941. He had enlisted in Chicago in 1940 and was serving state side at the 2nd Marine Division headquarters. He would later serve in the Signal Corps at Guadalcanal and other Pacific Island battles, where he contracted both malaria and amoebic dysentery. Recovered he met my mother at Pearl Harbor. She had escaped tenant farming by first working in a factory manufacturing military uniforms and then joining the Women Marines. They did not get married until after Mother left the Corps at the end of he war and my father was stationed in California.

Of course I loved the Marine Corps when I was five years old. My father was a Captain, which seemed a grand thing. He had been stationed in Japan when I was younger and had made his own peace with the Japanese. We had a few Japanese art objects in the house, and my prized possessions were the postcards he had sent from Japan. 1960 was a slow year for the Marine Corps. My father had no college education, he did not qualify to move up in the ranks, so they forced him to retire.

How dare the Japanese attack us at Pearl Harbor? Well we showed them, didn't we? That was my childish attitude. To the extent that anyone in America cares about World War II anymore, that is the common attitude. Yet in exploring the history leading up to the Battle of Pearl Harbor, I found that in fact, it's complicated.

The Hawaiian islands had been a bone of contention among the Great Powers since not long after they were discovered by a British Empire naval officer. When the United States finally overthrew the sovereign, native-led government of Hawaii in a complex series of events in the 1890's, it violated a set of treaties solemnly sworn with other great powers, including Japan. The Japanese had been thrown on the world stage by U.S. military aggression in the 1850's, and had quickly emerged as a Pacific, if not global power.

The largest ethnic group in Hawaii when the U.S. grabbed it were the Japanese, with Chinese second, Hawaiian natives third, and American-Hawaiians a distant fourth. By treaty [Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1871 between the Kingdom of Hawaii and Japan] right the Japanese (or France, Germany, or Great Britain) could have fought to throw out the Americans and restore the native Hawaiian government. The Japanese did send one of their modern military vessels there in the hope that the U.S. would honor its treaty obligations. When the U.S. made it clear Japan would have to fight a war to keep Hawaii free, the Japanese backed off. As a result a relatively large number of ethnic Japanese became U.S. subjects. Because of race laws, they were not allowed to travel to California or elsewhere in the U.S. Which is a crime against humanity and another pretext for just war.

U.S.-Japanese relations were not always bad. Both nations joined together to destroy Chinese independence during the Boxer Rebellion. The U.S. allowed Japan to grab Korea in return for not helping the Philippines in their fight for independence against U.S. aggression.

By the 1930s the rivalry was outpacing occasional attempts at friendship. The Japanese realized that after America, France and the British Empire finished digesting China they would come at Japan. They decided if China was to be ruled by warlords and puppet governments, they might as well be Japanese-owned warlords and puppet governments. The U.S. devised a plan for the conquest of China, Korea and Japan called War Plan Orange. The Japanese made their own plans. They studied the successful aggressions of the United States and the British Empire with keen, inquiring minds.

In 1932 the U.S. Navy held war games off Hawaii, simulating a Japanese attack. In the Japanese role "an American aircraft carrier, slipping past picket destroyers northeast of Oahu, attacked Pearl Harbor in a dawn raid and 'sank' the warships anchored there." [William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream, page 81]. The Japanese learned the lesson, the U.S. Navy forgot it.

By 1940 the U.S. and other colonial European powers were crippling the Japanese economy with an embargo. Both the U.S. (or at least President Roosevelt) and Japan wanted a triumphant peace and threatened war if they did not get their way.

In 1941 the U.S. was at war with Japan. The fighting took place in China, where U.S. airmen volunteered to fly in an all-American air force nominally under the control of Chiang Kai-shek, whose coalition of war lords was kept loyal with U.S. aid.

Cordell Hull, who was Secretary of State to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, throughout the year warned that State Department sources in Japan confirmed an attack on Pearl Harbor was planned if peace talks failed. Roosevelt and Hull were as determined on war as were the war faction in the Japanese government.


A reasonable interpretation of The Cable, given the situation, was that MacArthur was being encouraged to attack the Japanese Navy and possibly even its air bases in Formosa (now called Taiwan). In other words, no declaration of war needed if the U.S. started the fighting. MacArthur decided that since Roosevelt and Hull were his political enemies, and he hoped to become President of the United States, this might be a trap and he would wait for a direct order to attack.

He also thought the Japanese were military incompetents who he could easily beat once the war began. He had already been reinforced by the 4th Marines who had retreated from Shanghai. A earlier in December a huge invasion fleet had set out on its way across the Pacific to reinforce MacArthur and join the attack force from Pearl Harbor. With that force the conquest of Formosa, China and even Japan would have been much easier, but the fleet turned back mid-ocean. Roosevelt decided to use it against the German Navy first.

And so brave little Japan took on an industrial giant ten times her size. From a purely military perspective the attack on Pearl Harbor was brilliant. It should also be noted that the attack was purely military, with no bombing of civilian areas. To claim that it was a war crime because a glitch prevented the U.S. from being officially informed in advance would make all kinds of U.S. military attacks on other nations into war crimes, because we have bothered to declare war in only a few instances.

Were the Japanese militarists and capitalists a nasty lot? Certainly, they learned from the best, our American militarists and capitalists. Still, given the desire of U.S. capitalists to take over Asia, I don't see any real choice for the Japanese. They were slated to become part of the U.S. empire, and would have capitulated earlier if they had not adopted a strong warlike stance.

In the end, the blood of the Japanese was spilled so that the Chinese could be free of U.S. and British dominion. The Japanese committed war crimes in China, but they were mainly at the expense of Chiang Kai-shek. When World War II ended it was the Communist regime that finally liberated China from foreign interference. U.S. aid to Chiang just poured into a black hole of corruption, like U.S. aid to Afghanistan today.

It was foreseen. In arguing that Japan should be allowed to "restore order" in China, the Japanese had invoked the threat of a Communist takeover if they failed.

Pearl Harbor galvanized the American people, but only because they had not been paying attention and FDR had no interest in helping them to understand what had happened. Did FDR know about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance? His own Secretary of State said he did. What FDR did not know was how successful the attack would be.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

President Hoover, Depression, and the Fiscal Cliff

According to William Manchester, writing in The Glory and the Dream, our typical beliefs about Herbert Hoover need some expansion. After nearly a decade of post World War I prosperity in the 1920s, which the Republican Party was happy to take credit for, Herbert Hoover won the Republican Party nomination for President in 1928. He was considered to be liberal best known for his role in supervising food relief efforts to Europe during the war; he was berated by Republican business leaders and right-wing politicians.

In 1929 the stock market crashed, and in 1930 the U.S. economy went down hill. Hoover, who was in many ways a very smart guy, simply did not understand what was happening. He thought American commerce would bounce back, and he had a lot of economists to back that view. He thought the problem was mainly one of psychology: "He himself had chosen the word "Depression" because it sounded less frightening than "panic" or "crisis.""

Despite President Hoover's hard work, happy talk, and genuine efforts to revive the economy, things got worse each year, and in particular in the election year of 1932. Later, from the 1940s to the end of the century, economists mostly agreed about what caused the Great Depression. Since the turn of the century much of economic "science" has become mere politics again. The Fiscal Cliff talks in particular are long on rhetoric and short on genuine understanding of our current predicament. I've written about aspects in earlier blog posts, and have seen some fairly good explanations from the like of Robert Reich and others. But Manchester's description is both short and telling, so I am going to reproduce it at length here, from pages 36 and 37 [I added some paragraph breaks to make it easier to read]:

"The real blame lay in the false underpinnings of the Coolidge-Hoover "New Era" prosperity. Seen in perspective, the Depression appears to have been the last convulsion of the industrial revolution, creating a hiatus before the technological revolution. In the aftermath of the World War, the techniques of mass production combined to increase the efficiency per man-hour by over 40 percent. This enormous output of goods clearly required a corresponding increase of consumer buying power—that is, higher wages. But the worker's income in the 1920s did not rise with his productivity. In the golden year of 1929, Brookings economists calculated that to supply the barest necessities a family would need an income of $2000 a year—more than 60% of American families were earning.

"In short, the ability to buy did not keep abreast of the volume of goods being turned out. It was part of the foolishness of the time to argue that the surge in production was no problem, that "a good salesman can sell anything." In practice this meant that while the rich (and many who weren't rich) were speculating in stocks, zealous salesmen were encouraging a kind of mass speculation. Customers of limited means were being persuaded to take products anyhow, the exchange being accomplished by an overextension of credit.

"The stock market, honeycombed with credit in the form of broker's loans, crashed of its own weight, calling into account the million so little deals consummated by commercial travelers who had sold anything and everything to people lacking the means to pay for it. The panic followed, and the country couldn't cope with it. The last extended economic crisis had been in 1893; since then America had become so industrialized that a massive return to the farm was impossible.

"There was a certain rough justice in Herbert Hoover's ascent to the Presidency on the eve of the catastrophe, for as Secretary of Commerce he had been fascinated with productivity and indifferent to the dangerous lack of buying power. Long after he left the White House, he realized what had happened and wrote: "A margin of some thousands ... got too much of the productive pie for the services they performed ... Another margin of some 20% got too little."

So old Hoover, when he had time to sit back and calmly analyze what had happened, came to an understanding diametrically opposed to most Republican businessmen and politicians today. The Rich took more than their share of pie, the workers got less than their share, and the economy came tumbling down.

What goes around comes around, but today there are some significant differences from 1932. There was almost no national debt in 1929, and despite some depression-driven annual deficits, not much in 1932 either. But computer technology has put all kinds of people out of work, while the monetary benefits of it have accumulated in the hands of a tiny number of people.

Last year's Republican rhetoric was that serious national deficit reduction would be good for the economy. When they saw that the only way to achieve that was to raise taxes and cut the military deficit, they changed their tune to singing "the fiscal cliff is bad for you."

What is needed to save the economy is redistribution of wealth. You don't actually need a socialist government to achieve that. If profitable companies would just pay their workers more, the free market system would probably work out, and a better economy would produce more tax dollars. But Steve Jobs (now a capitalist deity) hoarded his money and paid his workers in American stores (and Chinese factories) starvation wages, the same as they would have gotten working the hamburger machines at any fast food joint. Multiply the same behavior by perhaps 2000 large corporations, and a bunch of "small" greedy business guys, and ice that cake with Wall Street shenanigans, and you have our current serious problems.

Barack Obama, meanwhile, is taking a "let them eat cake" position. He wants to keep the "middle class" tax cuts, while restoring the pre-Bush tax rates for the rich. Thus angering a minimal number of voters with tax rises. But those who have jobs now, and especially those who kept jobs during the Great Recession, have benefited from low tax rates while millions lost their homes, or have been mostly unemployed, or are still hoping for any kind of job.

The employed middle class can pay more taxes, and should not gripe about it. Some of that money might be used for deficit reduction, but some should go to hiring the people that are needed to make society and the economy work in the long run. I'd like to see the IRS expanded to make sure there is less tax dodging. I'd like to see the Department of Labor actually help working people get unionized and bargain for higher wages and benefits. And I'd like the Republicans to read the section of the Constitution that says "Congress shall have power to ... establish Post Offices and post Roads;" in other words, the Post Office should get direct federal subsidies with priority over the many expenditures now made for items that are not even mentioned in the Constitution.

There is no cliff. The economy would get better right away if Republican business people would stop praying to Jesus for tax cuts, sold their government bonds, and invested in their work forces. [See Where Have All the Capitalists Gone?]

To the extent a fiscal cliff needs to be avoided, all we need to do is limit spending cuts to the military budget. Watch the "compromise" in which Democrats agree to not cutting the defense budget, and instead create more misery for the people who made the mistake of voting for them.

One last Herbert Hoover note: the U.S. had done well by lending a lot of money to European belligerents during World War I. Hoover allowed for repayment to be suspended, which helped keep world commerce running.

And which nation's economy did best from 1929 to the beginning of World War II? Russia's, then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. American historians and economists have a way of forgetting that fact, and everything we learned from the Great Depression.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Saint Adolf Hitler

The creation of saints has been one of the Vatican's best propaganda tools. Saints encourage national or ethnic affiliation with the Roman Catholic faith, and they may also represent vocations or other attributes people can identify with.

It takes a while for a dead person to achieve sainthood. partly this is because Rome requires three "miracles" to be attributed to a person. In ancient times the miracles usually occurred before death. In our times the miracles are almost always cures that sick people achieve after praying to the potential saint. The Vatican has rules for what is a medical miracle and what is not, and they seem to follow the rules, so it may take quite a few decades of pretty many sick people praying to someone to build up the case for sainthood.

Right now Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day is being promoted as a potential saint. She would have been appalled at such nonsense. She would have had a thing or two to say about Spanish-Civil War era Catholic fascists priests who are in line for sainthood, too.

A rather large number of miracles have been unofficially attributed to Adolf Hitler, the former Chancellor of Germany. The Vatican is keeping them under wraps for purely political reasons. Hitler was the boy wonder of the Catholic Church in the 1920's and 1930's. When the Catholics lost World War II they had to do an abrupt about-face on Hitler. Most Americans think Adolf was a pagan, so effective has the re-write of history been effected.

You have to understand the Hitler, the American political establishment, and the Pope all had a common enemy back then: atheistic communism. Their epitome of evil was Joseph Stalin, leader of the openly communist Soviet Union (USSR, essentially Russia). But people were falling away from Catholicism in droves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The system of simply killing Protestants, agnostics and atheists had broken down even in Spain and Italy. Fascism, Pope Pius XI realized, could be made into the ideal tool to insure that only one religion was allowed in the world.

Benito Mussolini only converted to the Roman Catholic faith after he had achieved power in Italy, but most of his supporters were Catholic and the Pope was willing to work with anyone who could crush the secularist and socialist movements after World War II. Mussolini and the Pope were willing partners.

Adolf Hitler was raised Catholic and first rose to prominence after World War I in Bavaria, which had (and still has) a Catholic majority. His first miracle might be said to be surviving World War I unscathed, despite constantly being on the frontline, except for a leg wound and later temporary blindness from poison gas used by the British near the end of the war. His party, the National Socialist (Nazi) Party was just one of many tiny parties created in the chaos after World War I, and it used Socialist in a sense opposite to its common meaning..

The Nazi Party was not officially Catholic: its membership also admitted Lutherans, a few pagans who wanted to restore the worship of pre-christian German gods, and even modern, non-religious members. The Catholic Center Party was the main Catholic party, but the Pope did not feel it was aggressive enough and in the end pushed to have Hitler as German Chancellor. So perhaps it was not a miracle that Hitler, the leader of the largest party legally elected to the German Reichstag, was given the position of Chancellor on January 30, 1933. The Pope did not feel that his friend Franz von Papen was sufficiently iron-willed enough to destroy socialism and atheism, but as second in command von Papen was supposed to watch out for the Pope's interest.

Hitler's next miracle was a pretty impressive one: helping General Franco establish a purely Roman Catholic, fascist regime in Spain by killing everyone who believed in religious freedom and democracy, even including a large number of Catholics. The Pope was very happy with Hitler and Mussolini about that. Priests killed in the fighting on Hitler's side of Spain's Civil War have been nominated for sainthood. Priests killed on the pro-democracy side have been ignored, but then maybe no one prays to them, and hence they are unable to show their miraculous healing powers.

Hitler and the Pope did quarrel quite a bit from time to time. Each wanted to be top dog. But the Pope was more than happy that Hitler forced German Lutherans into a "unity church" with Catholics. He was thrilled when Hitler's armies defeated the French Republic and replaced it with the Roman Catholic, Fascist, Vichy Government. Most of all, the Pope was thrilled when Hitler's bombers and tanks went for the heart of the Russia.

What was president-for-life Franklin Delano Roosevelt doing about Saint Hitler? At first not much, because he needed American Catholic votes to stay in power. While Catholics were, and still are, a religious minority in the United States, they had power beyond their numbers because of their political and geographic concentration. They were almost all in the Democratic Party, and they were almost all in the northeastern states. The Democrats needed them as badly as they needed white segregationists in the southern states. Thus President Roosevelt refused to allow the Republican (democratically elected) side in the Spanish Civil war to buy arms from the United States.

Roosevelt may have shed a tear for France, but he actually did nothing because he knew the French empire would be up for grabs. He planned for the British Empire, Soviet Union, and Germany to chew up each other in Europe, and for Japan and China to chew up each other in Asia, so that in the end he could conquer the world. Roosevelt was smarter and more patient than your average dictator.

American Catholics would probably have kept this nation out of World War II if it had not been for the war between the Japanese and China, which had much to do with colonialism but nothing to do with religion. When Japan and Germany declared war on the U.S.A., suddenly Catholics here put aside their religion in favor of American nationalism.

The atheists in Russia, while losing about 20 million dead (see Atheist Holocaust), defeated Hitler, and apparently would have even if the U.S. had stayed out of the war. When Stalin's soldiers started marching towards Berlin, the Pope began to hedge his bets. He flipped when U.S. troops invaded Italy. Suddenly he could only remember the fights he had had with Hitler, not their love affair. When Hitler was no longer producing miracles, the Pope needed a more practical basis for the long-term survival of his church in Europe. America made a natural ally because at its core it was anti-communist and pro-capitalist. While the Pope preferred the fascist economic system (with God's blessing, as enshrined in Papal encyclicals that they don't want you reading anymore), given the choice between communism and capitalism, the Pope went with the U.S. and Britain. The Cold War started before Hitler had even died.

Hitler died on April 30, 1945. On his death certificate his religion was marked Roman Catholic. He had run out of miracles.

But he fought the good fight, doubtless went to Catholic heaven, and is due for a revival. Now may not be the time. But be assured, the Vatican is keeping a list, and when the time is ready, the miracles of Saint Hitler will be revealed.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Barbaric California Keeps Capital Punishment

Proposition 34, which would have abolished the death penalty in California if it had passed, received 5,550,896 Yes votes, or 47.8% of those who voted on the issue. No voters prevailed: 6,061,701, amounting to 52.2% of the vote.

Compare those results to the Barack Obama win in California: he received 7,262,836 votes to Mitt Romney's 4,580,933, or 59.8% to 37.7%. While neither Obama nor Romney made an issue of the death penalty, presumably most anti-death penalty voters were Obama voters, excepting the 78,123 who voted for Jill Stein, and the 49,981 who voted for Roseanne Barr, who both belong to parties (Green and Peace & Freedom, respectively) that oppose the death penalty. I point this out because it shows there must be a substantial portion of Democratic Party voters who are for the death penalty.

While the death penalty is the legal practice of barbarians (primitive, violent, uncivilized people), it is an ancient and comprehensible practice. None of us are too far removed from barbarism. I am tempted to approve of the death penalty if defined to my liking. I might impose it on war criminals, including the present and most past Presidents of the United States.

I see no reason to impose the death penalty on common murderers. War is the greatest crime of all. No American war criminal has ever suffered the death penalty (although U.S. soldiers many have been executed for refusing to obey orders), and only a few have ever been reprimanded.

In war, it is a war crime to kill a soldier who has surrendered or been captured. After World War II the U.S. executed hundreds of Japanese soldiers for this war crime, among others. It is a strange contradiction that the penalty for killing a prisoner of war (POW) involves the victors killing POWs. More notable is that the preponderance of evidence is that far more captured Japanese soldiers were killed by American soldiers during World War II than the other way around. At least partly this can be explained by the fact of U.S. victory; a lot more Japanese soldiers were captured than the reverse. No American soldier was prosecuted for war crimes resulting from World War II actions.

If a captured soldier, who may have already killed hundreds of his opponents in war, is sacrosanct, why is an ordinary California murderer subject to the death penalty? It is ass-backward thinking. It is barbarian thinking.

If you voted to retain the death penalty, you are a barbarian. I am not sure what would civilize you. Maybe you have some deep-seated anger, and need to work on replacing it with a greater understanding of humanity.

I thought California was a progressive state. We are not even qualified to join the European Union, which prohibits the death penalty. Even Turkey is considering abolishing the death penalty as part of the process of joining the European Union. But then Turkey has been civilized a few thousand years longer than California.

We think of radical Islamists who interpret Sharia as requiring the cutting off of thieve's hands as being barbarians (most interpretations of Islam do not subscribe to this). We think of England, or Great Britain, as civilized, but just two centuries ago petty thieves were sentenced to hanging there. Civilization is a process. It is also a balance, because there may be barbarians outside the gates. In California, the barbarians are already inside the gates. We need to civilize them, to help them understand that their primitive gods and culture are no good here.

Hopefully some day soon California will catch up and join the ranks of civilized governments. Canada abolished the capital punishment in 1976. They seem to be doing well without it. Perhaps some day the United States of America will become as civilized as Canada, Europe, Mexico and other nations that have abolished the death penalty. Meanwhile we are in bed with Saudi Arabia and China, as well as Pakistan and North Korea.

This article originally appeared as Barbarians Inside the Gates: California Keeps the Death Penalty at

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Poisonwood Congo, Imperialism, and Diamonds

"Two hundred different languages," he said, "spoken inside the borders of a so-called country invented by Belgians in a parlor." — The Poisonwood Bible

A few days ago the United Nations announced it was attacking rebels in the Congo with modern attack helicopters. Imagine thousands of bullets per minute flying at you. You would think that would stop a rebel.

Instead the army of the Congo disintegrated and U.N. peacekeepers stood down while the rebels, known as M23, triumphantly entered Goma. The government of the Congo, and the U.N., claim that M23 is being aided by the army of Rwanda. The U.S. is being careful about criticizing Rwanda, at least for the moment.

The prize? Minerals, potential land for international corporate farming, and geopolitical positioning.

To the extent that Americans are interested in the Congo, they don't have the factual background to understand the situation. Consider this a primer on what your governing corporate security state does not want you to know about the Congo and Africa in general.

First, a bit of illuminating fiction, and I don't mean what will be coming out of the mouths of Hillary Clinton and other professional story tellers. If you have not read it already, you might want to read Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Poisonwood Bible. In it an American preacher takes his family to a remote village in the Congo and tries to convert the natives to his version of Christianity.

The preacher, and his suffering wife and daughters, cannot translate their American beliefs into Congolese. The preacher's barking translates poorly into the native tongue. Among other mistakes, he pushes the villagers to baptize their children in a river that is dangerous because of crocodiles. "'Tata Jesus is bangala!' declares the Reverend every Sunday at the end of his sermon ... Bangala means something precious and dear. But the way he pronounces it, it means the poisonwood tree." While the family is there Congo gains independence and its first elected leader, Patrice Lumumba, is murdered in a CIA and Belgian plot.

It is important to recall that the United Nations was formed as a military organization during World War II and has always been controlled by three imperialist powers: the United States of America, the British Empire (now just Great Britain), and France. The Congo was a Belgian colony, but the French had major interests there and of course after World War II the American jackals moved in for the feast. Oh, wait, that's US. After independence honest U.S. business men helped the Congo by introducing more efficient methods for extracting minerals and other forms of wealth and shipping them back to America. It must be the lack of Christian go-getter culture that has kept the natives impoverished these last five decades. [Sarcasm alert]

But you can't just look at the biggest parts of the picture, the U.S. global business and governance system, of which the U.N. is a cog. You need to see the role played by Rwanda and Somalia, or rather U.S. strategic interests in those nations, at the very least.

U.S. equipped armies from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Ethiopia are currently operating in Somalia, trying to bring that nation back into the U.S. fold, and aiding a government of warlords also backed by the U.S. They are fighting Shabaab, who may have degenerated into a nasty lot, but at least they are a nasty Somali lot. Shabaab would not have amounted to anything if the U.S., its local bribe-taking warlords, and the Ethiopians had not ousted the prior, grassroots-built, moderate Islamic government known as the Islamic Union or Islamic Justice Courts.

Rwanda, of course, is mostly known for the genocide that happened there. It is a small, overpopulated nations of 12 million, or over 1000 per square mile, despite being mostly rural. It is bordered by both Uganda and Burundi, both also important to U.S. plans to dominate Africa, as shown by their willingness to send their soldiers to die for U.S. pay in Somalia. Rwanda was colonized late by the Germans, who because of its remoteness were mainly content to be puppet masters. After World War I the Belgians grabbed it. Gaining independence in 1962 coincided with the splitting off of Burundi.

It is a delicate set of dominoes the U.S. seeks to keep in line. U.S. objectives in Africa are to minimize Chinese inroads, stamp out Islam and native pagan beliefs in favor of Christianity, and covert small freeholders into agricultural slaves on giant corporate farms. In addition to controlling the mineral wealth. But Africans have their own issues, including ethnic, religious, and economic rivalries.

Note that all these nations are members of the African Union, which was formed in 2002. While ostensibly a goal of the AU is "To defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its Member States," the problem is its governments are easily bribed and corrupted, including by military and "humanitarian" aid from the United States.

Back in the Congo, the U.S. is particularly interested in the supply of cobalt, an element with many uses and critical to making jet engine parts. The Congo contains 80% of the world's cobalt ores. It produces large amounts of copper, industrial diamonds, tin, and tantalum, which is particularly important to the electronics industry. Its agricultural potential is enormous. Hence the U.S. is training an elite Congolese military force, and the U.N. has a major military presence.

Why was a small group of rebels able to defeat the Army of the Congo backed by U.N. forces with advanced helicopter gunships in the fore? Because the government of led by Joseph Kabila is corrupt and incompetent, but also because the Congo is not really a nation, but is really just lines on a map. Kabila is corrupt partly because he has to be to survive.

Best historical parallel? The "government of China" under Chiang Kai-shek. No matter how much money the U.S. poured into the "Nationalist" Chiang regime in China between 1932 and the communist takeover, it went into luxuries for warlords, not bullets to fight the Japanese or communists. What the U.S. called the "democratic" regime of China was so hated in the end that entire armies simply turned on Chiang Kai-shek and joined the communists.

It seems likely now that the Shabaab will be defeated in Somalia and the pro-U.S. regime will survive as long as the U.S. keeps providing money. The problem with this form of imperialism is that it does not build up the strength of the fatherland. It gradually sucks the home nation dry, as the British Empire learned.

U.S. imperialism is in an advanced stage of collapse. Let's just hope the collapse does not take down our economy with it. The Phony Fiscal Cliff negotiations. should be about the cost of imperialism, but instead will be worked to the benefit of investment bankers and the military industrial complex.

The Poisonwood Congo is difficult for people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to understand. Do they even remember that Joseph Kabila himself was backed by Rwanda and Uganda when he overthrew Mobutu? The problem with the U.S. trying to buy clients is that such people may not stay bought. China will soon be able to outbid the U.S. What then?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Barack Obama's Darkest Africa

"Two hundred different languages," he said, "spoken inside the borders of a so-called country invented by Belgians in a parlor." — Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

What can we expect following another ruling class victory in the U.S. elections? Just enough relief for the (upper) middle class to keep it aligned with the capitalist corporate security state.

Deception is at the heart of American governance. Want to fight a war that is none of your business? Elect a peace candidate for President, like Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, or Barack Obama.

The ignorance of the American electorate is so vast that the databases that keep track of it are a major contributor to global warming. Among the darkest of dark areas is U.S. policy in Africa. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama seemed to talk about African policy when they debated about the successful assassination of U.S. embassy officials in Libya. The candidates agreed that while it is a fine thing for the U.S. to kill anyone who disagrees with us in Africa, it is a horrible crime for anyone in Africa who disagrees with the U.S. to fight back. That is the level of sophistication that the typical undecided voter can comprehend.

Your average African citizen, of course, is no better informed than your average American. By all accounts many if not most Africans love Barack Obama, or at least love the concept of an ethnically part-African man running the most powerful nation in the world.

Africa, of course is a big place. It has many nations, and most of those nations were carved up by European colonial powers with no regard to ethnic lines or even natural geographic boundaries. Africa includes the ancient city of Alexandria and numerous new cities that have arisen in the past hundred years, as well as vast rural areas, some of them densely populated, while others are nearly deserted.

What is U.S. policy in Africa? Aside from killing anyone who disagrees with U.S. policy in any way (which is only a means to an end) our policy is to maximize corporate profits while gaining as much political control as possible. Right now there are three concrete objectives being pursued.

The most visible objective is the destruction of Anti-American forms of Islam. Islam is the new communism. It is important to realize that President Obama and friends do not care about the degree of radicalness. Radical Islamists who support the American agenda, like the dictator of Saudi Arabia, are fine. Moderate Islamists, or even secular cultural Islamists, are not fine if they support a local nationalist or anti-corporate business agenda. Nor is brutality, in itself, considered to be anti-American. Brutal pro-U.S. regimes, like the U.S. puppet government of warlords in Somalia, are promoted. The former, moderate, peaceful Islamic Courts Union of Somalia was considered insufficiently pro-America, and so was destroyed.

One item of this week's African news is a threat by Uganda to pull out of Somalia. As if Somalia did not have enough problems, the U.S. has paid the brutal governments of Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Kenya to invade Somalia. Uganda has, nevertheless, been accused of aiding a rebellion in the Congo. The brutal warlords who rule the Congo are considered pro-U.S., so aiding a rebellion against them is not allowed.

Extracting wealth from the Congo is an age-old game, with a history well worth studying, though I can't take the time to recount it here. Today Americans think we are a generous people who send our excess food to starving people in Africa, to nations like the Congo. But the U.S. no longer has food surpluses. Our over 330 million citizens slurp up more food than the U.S. can produce, even in the eco-damaging manner used here.

We need our diamonds and our minerals, which traditionally have been dug out of Africa with little benefit to the natives. Controlling mining and oil extraction remains the second U.S. objective. The third, and newest, objective is to create giant American-style farms where ever possible in Africa. These farms will not feed hungry Africans. They will employee a few native workers, while throwing many more off their land. The food will be sold to the highest bidder in international markets, which means to the United States, Japan, China or Europe.

Let any African stand in the way of U.S. businessmen, be they a local war lord, national dictator, or democratically elected Prime Minister, and the United States Department of State and its adjuncts, the CIA and Marine Corps, will treat them like a pothole in the road that needs to be paved over. Bribes are always tried before bullets. We can even show dictators how to have elections they can be guaranteed to win, with opposition parties that seem to offer a choice but really don't. We borrowed those skills from the British Empire in 1776 and have honed them for over two centuries now.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Four Troop Surges: Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan

Today some U.S. troops are coming home from Afghanistan, following the troop surge the Obama administration started there. This followed the successful troop surge in Iraq initiated by the Bush administration. Before that we had the spectacularly unsuccessful troop surges in Vietnam during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations.

Apparently it all goes back, in American history, to the troop surge during the U.S. conquest of the Philippines (usually called either the Philippines War or hidden under the rubric of the Spanish-American War). Following the ratification of the Treaty of Paris with Spain on February 6, 1899, in which Spain sold a nation they did not possess, the Philippines, to the United States of America for $20 million, the government and people of the Philippines launched a war upon occupying American troops. The Filipinos were poorly armed (most had only bolos, a sort of machete) and had little military training, else the Americans would have been wiped out. Despite their ability to defeat the natives in any set battle, the U.S. troops (Army and Marines) were not able to hold any territory outside of Manila.

As told in Honor in the Dust by Gregg Jones [p. 165], the engineer of the original U.S. attack on the Philippines, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, was already angling for the Republican Party presidential nomination late in 1899. After talking to officers who had seen fighting in the Philippines, Roosevelt decided that a troop surge was necessary. He wrote to Secretary of State John Hay urging the surge and predicting political catastrophe in the 1900 elections if his advice was not followed.

At first President McKinley ignored Roosevelt's advice, but the "rebellion," or national liberation struggle, continued. Roosevelt became McKinley's Vice-presidential running mate. Many Americans opposed the U.S. becoming an imperial nation, so McKinley and company had to mischaracterize the Philippines independence movement and lie about U.S. aims in the Philippines. [Jones ignores two issues: the needs of the sugar trust and the desire of the Roosevelts & friends to use the Philippines as a domino on the way to conquest of China, Japan, Indochina and the East Asian island]

Roosevelt got his troop surge in the Philippines. Uncounted numbers of Filipinos, including non-combatants, were killed by U.S. troops, who burned whole villages and crops. Torture was used during interrogations, notably water-torture. Enemy combatants — Philippines freedom fighters — were often executed as criminals instead of being treated as prisoners of war. McKinley and Roosevelt defeated William Jennings Bryan in the 1900 election. McKinley died at the hands of an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, in September 1901. Theodore Roosevelt became President.

However, the troop surge had worked. The same parasites in Manila who had sucked up to the Spanish were quick to suck up to their American conquerors. While the insurgency never went away, morphing and splitting to this day, by 1902 it was possible to drawn down most of the surge troops.

So far we have only one good instance of a troop surge not working: the Vietnam War. The two of the main differences between Vietnam and the Philippines were that Vietnam had a long tradition of nationalism long before the attempted U.S. takeover, and the Vietnamese independence soldiers were able to procure large quantities of decent-quality arms from the Chinese and Russians.

If looks, however, like the troop surge in Afghanistan will ultimately be a failure. The Taliban have not been defeated, and almost everyone in Afghanistan now hates the American occupation. There remains to be seen who will come out on top after American troops complete their exit, scheduled for 2014. It may be that the nation goes into another war-lord era, with no central government that is truly in control of the entire country.

President Obama likes to speak of how well things have gone in Iraq, how he brought peace to that nation, and always leaves out that it was George W. Bush who made the unpopular decision to use a surge of troops to give the new, democratic-style government time to get on its feet.

In 2006 the Democratic Party won Congress with a promise of bringing our troops home. In 2008 candidate Obama indicated that those of us who hoped for peace should vote for him. He has managed to make himself both the war candidate and the peace candidate. Expect the war to expand, in the name of peace, in his second term. He will find excuses to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan and continue to use your taxpayer dollars to buy foreign mercenaries to fight U.S. wars against many of the world's peoples.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kateri Tekakwitha, New Patron Saint of Suicide

Saints have not been hard for the Roman Catholic Church to come by even in this modern era of fact checkers and scientific scrutiny. Pope Benedict XVI announced seven new, official saints on Sunday October 21, 2012, all of them with a pedigree of the minimum of three official miracles. None of the miracles seem very miraculous to me, but that is not the point. The point is to keep the Faith alive in communities that had been sadly lacking in recognized saints.

Top of the list, as far as Americans are concerned, is Kateri Tekakwitha, "Lily of the Mohawks." She is the new Patron Saint of Suicide, with a minor in self-flagellation. She is the first American Indian to become a saint (fact checkers: no Mexican or South American Indian saints? Or are we using American in the narrow, Indians almost whipped out by Anglos and French sense?)[Fact checker reply: you are right. 3 Mexican Indians were already saints.]

Benedict XVI said: "Saint Kateri, protectress of Canada and the first American Indian saint, we entrust you to the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America." That is a pretty heavy load to dump on a long-dead 24-year old suicidal virgin.

I would think the story of Kateri would repulse American Indians, or anyone else. Kateri Tekakwitha was born when the Mohawk nation was still substantial, in 1656. Her mother had been converted to Catholicism and then captured by a Mohawk chief. After a smallpox epidemic killed her parents and the French defeated the Dutch, Jesuit missionaries came recruiting. In 1675 Kateri began the conversion process and she was baptized the next year. Spurned by her unconverted village, she moved to Kahnawake, south of Montreal, under Jesuit supervision.

Along with other converted women Saint Kateri decided to practice "mortification of the flesh." She claimed Jesus as a husband. She inflicted so many wounds up herself that she died on April 17, 1680, on the Wednesday before Easter. Allegedly her skin turned white and her smallpox scars disappeared when she died, which was her first official miracle.

That sounds like suicide to me. Sounds like Child Protective Services should have rounded up Kateri and turned over the Jesuits to the police to be hanged.

Her miracles were that friends, shocked by her death, imagined she appeared to them and told them she was going to heaven, and later the usual people recovering from diseases (that people sometimes recover from) after praying to her. You can find better miracles in any psych ward.

Here is the miracle I am looking for: and end to this plague of crazy people. Crazy Catholics and Protestants, crazy Islamics and Buddhists and Jews and what-have-you.

It is not surprising that Pope Benedict XVI would encourage young Catholic women to commit suicide. He has rejected them as potential priests. His anti-female program within the Catholic Church is probably inherited from his volunteering for Hitler Youth when he was a child.

We have enough problems with troubled children in these United States without the Catholic Church glorifying self-mutilation and suicide.

See also: Kateri Tekakwitha at Wikipedia
Pope Canonizes 7 Saints at New York Times

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Exceptional Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism has been a topic of Presidential campaign speeches and debates recently. Candidate Mitt Romney says he believes in Exceptionalism. Candidate Barack Obama seems to prefer the term "indispensable," which is a more diplomatic term.

The United States of America is hardly the first nation to think that it is exceptional: that it is blessed by God above all other nations, and that therefore it can do no wrong. Famously the Jews, in the ancient nations of Israel and Judah, made the same claim. That did not prevent them from being enslaved in Babylon. A few centuries later the Romans kicked them out of Jerusalem. Those remaining in Palestine mostly converted to Islam by 700 A.D.

Americans have done a lot better than the Jews, so far. Our founding fathers preferred to see us as a future Roman empire, only with as a Republic. By 1776 generations of Euro-Americans and African-Americans had died in this "new" continent. The survivors were a healthy, aggressive, rapidly breeding lot that eventually got us to where we are today.

The problem with Exceptionalism is that it glosses over real causes and effects. If America is exceptional, why? Could we lose our exceptional status?

Education, in the most general sense of preferring knowledge to ignorance, was a key generator of the wealth of this nation. Many of the founding fathers were highly educated men, and among other things they saw to the founding or expansion of a number of colleges and lower schools. Federal lands were set aside specifically to finance schools in the new territories to the west. Free public schooling became a foundation of both our democracy and our economy. By the 1850's Americans were among the world's best educated people. Between 1850 and 1910 American inventors, educators, and scientists joined with workers and businessmen to create the first economy that was not powered mainly by human sweat.

In the 1990's however, the U.S. education system began slipping into a steep decline. Can America remain exceptional if it has a sub-par education system?

Look at other nations that thought they were exceptional if you want to learn a thing or two. The prior most exceptional nation before the U.S. clawed its way to the top during the aftermath of World War II was Great Britain, aka England or the British Empire.

The Brits were sure they were favored by God. Their soldiers and bullets made the idea hard to argue with. The Sun never set on the British Empire. Until it did.

A promoter of American Exceptionalism might want to ask: how did the Brits loose their exceptional status? Idiots may think a capricious God just decided to punish the Brits for some slight, but policy makers should look for real world causes.

The main obvious difference between the British Empire and the global dominance of the United States was that the Brits ruled over people through colonies, while the U.S. has largely maintained a business empire in which we depend on puppet governments to rule our "allied" nations.

You might argue that God, or macroeconomics, favors the American System over the more old-fashioned British Imperialism. But I think you would be wrong. The baton was not passed from the British to the Americans because we perfected "soft" imperialism.

America took over the British Empire, and it was a well-planned maneuver, executed over decades. We did it with what can only be called exquisite timing. We encouraged the European great nations to fight each other, and we even encouraged the Japanese and Chinese to fight each other. [As my dad, a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, liked to say: "Let's you and him fight."]

In both World War I and World War II the U.S. lent money to the belligerent nations so they could buy U.S. goods (including weapons). Then when they were weakened and indebted to us we chose a side (the Brits in both wars), went in, and with the loss of relatively few men became leaders of the victory camp. More importantly, our economy was strengthened by each war, while those of the other nations were weakened.

In particular, in World War II the Germans destroyed British and Russian factories. The British destroyed German factories. The Japanese destroyed Chinese factories, and the U.S. destroyed Japanese factories (and helped destroy German factories).

At the end of World War II, we had the factories. We had mines, and we had a vast agricultural system. We also had the atomic bomb. We did not need God on our side. We just needed the British Empire to close up shop. After India and Pakistan became independent in 1947, we really just had to use our economic power to mop up. We also mopped up most of the colonies that had belonged to the Netherlands and France, and we sent Douglas MacArthur to play God in Japan.

The Communists tried to ruin it for us, and ran some nice nationalist revolutions here and there, and even defeated America's military might in Vietnam. But America's empire gave us so much economic muscle that the Soviets just ran themselves into the ground. They sought world dominion, but could not even conquer Afghanistan. Their economy choked on their vast military machine.

The dark reality is that you have to work hard to be exceptional. It isn't a gift from the gods. If you have years of drought, your agricultural output will not be exceptional. If you teach Genesis instead of Evolution in the schools, your engineers and scientists will not be exceptional. If you don't have air superiority, your armies will not be exceptional.

And if China or Germany has more and better factories than the United States, then like the British Empire and the Dutch Empire (and Ottoman Empire and French Empire, and Spanish Empire) before us, the larger our military is, the less exceptional we will become.

Personally, I am looking forward to a Return to Normalcy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1882 and 2012, Egypt and America

Famous events of American history will likely be invoked in tonight's debates between President Barack Obama and would be President Mitt Romney. I will take any odds that neither of them will invoke the U.S. Marine Corps excursion into Egypt of 1882. They should, it is a good topic for comparing and contrasting past United States foreign policy to present day practice and rhetoric.

In 1882 Egypt was not yet exactly a colony of Great Britain, which is a bit surprising. The British Empire of the time was the largest and most brutal the world had ever seen, and was still expanding. Being crushed under British boots was a way of life for about one-quarter of the world's population. Egypt was a great prize in the global competition between European powers, and the result had been a strange system called Dual Control. On paper Egypt was an autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire ruled by a local dictator, Ismail the Magnificent. But the real bosses were British and French: Major Baring and Monsieur de Blignieres.

The Egyptian government owed a lot of money, especially to French and British investors. It was as if, in return for its current holdings of U.S. bonds, China demanded the right to appoint one of its citizens to be Secretary of the Treasury or Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Egyptian nationalists rebelled against foreign rule starting in September of 1881, and by June 1882 the nationalists had seized control of most of the nation. The British did what they did best back then: they attacked, starting at Alexandria and the Suez Canal, which had been opened in 1869 by the French, who constructed it with Egyptian slave labor.

The U.S. Navy was ordered to Alexandria in June 1882 to protect American citizens and their Consulate. Where the Navy goes, so go the Marines. On July 11 the British fleet started pouring 16,000 artillery shells into the city (bombing cities where civilians had not been evacuated would later by declared a war crime). Three days later 124 Marines and armed sailors from the Nipsic, led by Tony Waller, walked over the corpses to the American Consulate.

The Marines were congratulated for their help by the British army and press. They returned in September "in time for Waller to witness the victorious conclusion of the British offensive ... When Arab forces decapitated captured British Bengali cavalrymen and displayed their heads on lances, the British began summarily executing enemy captives. Years later, Waller would cite the British actions at Alexandria as justification for his own harsh treatment of enemy prisoners." [Honor in the Dust by Greg Jones, pages 34-35]

No wonder the typical Egyptian nationalist does not trust the British, French, Turks, or Americans. They probably know their own history a bit better than we do. For all the American propaganda about democracy and national self-determination, the United States did nothing while Egypt remained part of the British Empire from 1882 until 1953.

A lot of water has flown down the Nile since 1882. The U.S. government now arms the Egyptians and until recently supported the dictator Hosni Mubarak and his pro-Israel policies. The U.S. did not openly oppose (or support) the democracy movement that led to Mubarak's overthrow and the establishment of a (so-far) democratic government.

The Marines have not stormed in Egypt recently, but they did storm into nearby Yemen [See Obama Grabs Yemen].

Embassies and consulates are supposed to be inviolate under international law. The U.S. Marine Corps has traditionally guarded U.S. embassies abroad; there is nothing wrong with that. But the Marine Corps has a long history of being the brutal enforcers of American policy.

The best way to protect American embassies is to establish a foreign policy that is peaceful and non-interfering. People get mad at U.S. officials for because they are mistaken, but more often they get mad because they, or their country, has been mistreated.

Treat all people right and there is little need for battalions of Marines to protect American embassies. Getting all U.S. troops back to the United States and closing all our extraterritorial military basis would be a good start.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I Hope You Don't Mind Greek

Riots in Greece, riots in Spain. Greece of course, was the cradle of civilization over well over 2000 years ago. Spain built the world's first global empire in the 1500s before being muscled out by the Dutch, English, French, and eventually we Americans.

Americans have already gotten a taste of Greek Tragedy, starting with the burst of the housing bubble in 2007. It's complicated: there are a lot of characters in our tragedy. No one thought they were doing anything wrong, they just thought they were honestly trying to get rich, or richer. The key criminal mastermind, Robert Rubin, was U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton. Few remember he engineered the repeal of Glass-Steagall, a banking reform act from the early days of the Great Depression. It was like letting all the felons out of prison at once, on promise of good behavior.

From the Great Depression until about the turn of the millennium it was well understood by economists, politicians, and even the public that government spending could act as a counterbalance to the natural, chaotic cycle of pure free-market economies. Free market capitalism tends to boom then collapse. By increasing spending during recessions the federal government could prevent depressions. It borrowed to do that, which was alright as long as it also damped booms by cutting spending and increasing taxes. Bboom-year surplusses then reduced the national debt to tolerable levels.

The resurgence of the "greed is good" crowd, with its bizarre idea that taxes on the rich should be minimized, was a long time coming. In a normal nation the Internet Stock Bubble that burst just in time for the presidency of George W. Bush would have served as a sufficient warning against the new, faith-based economics. Instead the foolish just switched asset classes. After a brief recession, unregulated lending led to the Housing Bubble.

During the bubble tax revenue skyrocketed, especially for local governments that have real estate taxes as their primary source of income. Politicians like to be generous when they can, it tends to get them reelected. They doled out the real estate tax revenue to local, county, and state employees, and promised generous pensions.

Meanwhile, we had the Bush Tax Cuts, not just on income, but on inheritances and capital gains. While the national economy was in a bubble, that seemed fine to most people. We also increased military spending for the "War on Terror." That led to federal deficits during the bubble greater than we would normally have during a recession.

When the bubble burst unemployment skyrocketed. Construction workers and bankers lost their jobs first. Some stimulus was provided by automatic government mechanisms, like food stamps and unemployment benefits, but it was not enough to break the fall. Local governments, suddenly running big deficits, laid off workers. Pretty soon, by late 2008, just about everyone was either out of work or afraid they would be laid off. Barack Obama was elected President.

Up until 2000 or so the government would have fixed the post-bubble mess by borrowing money and spending it until the economy recovered. The additional debt could be paid back when the economy recovered by adjusting taxes. Federal and local spending would have decreased during the recovery because there would not be so much money needed for food stamps, etc. If a recovery were strong enough, and the tax system had not been gutted by the Bush Tax Cuts (which, you should recall, Democrats in Congress went along with at the time), tax increases might have been minimal. But not this time around.

Now we (and don't just blame the bankers and politicians) are up sh-- creek without a paddle. We, the United States, are still running huge deficits, and have a rather significant national debt. If there is a recovery, and interest rates climb, the interest on the national debt would quickly become the largest item in the national budget. There is still stimulus: the annual federal deficit. But sooner or later bond buyers will wise up, as in Greece in Spain, and refuse to buy. Then there can be no stimulus. Even if the economy is growing at that point we would need to raise taxes to pay off the debt and interest.

Taxing the rich, within reason (say up to 70% on incomes or capital gains or inheritance over $1 billion) does not hurt the economy. Keeping taxes on the rich low is like giving welfare checks to the poor. It demotivates them. They are people who need to make and spend money; that is their identity. If someone needs to make a million dollars after taxes to be happy, if they only pay 10% taxes they will hustle to make $1.1 million and then loaf. Increase their taxes to 50%, and they will hustle to make $2 million, so they would still have a million to spend.

The only way out of the current mud trap requires getting people back to work. That will only happen if taxes on the rich are increased. Rich people do not make their own money. They make money by exploiting their workers. To make more money, to compensate for tax increases, they will need to hire more workers. They say it ain't so, but they are lying because they are, as a class, really quite lazy.

But increasing taxes significantly on the rich won't happen, because both major political parties are controlled by the rich and the nearly rich. What will happen is military spending will be increased, because while that is the stupidest economic policy, it is the most politically defensible. As interest rates rise the government will issue more bonds to fund the interest payments, until the bond buyers rebel.

I think U.S. government bonds are worthless, or nearly so. They pay no interest, and if they did start paying interest the government would not be able to redeem them without essentially closing down.

If, like me, you did not get any or much pie during the feeding frenzy, you should be mad. But you should also prepare for Greek style austerity. Don't expect to slide by on unemployment or disability or even Social Security during the next economic downturn. The Tea Party Republicans have been chewing at the public safety net, and the next time it is heavily weighed it will simply disintegrate into chaos.