Tuesday, February 21, 2012

President Obama's Gasoline Problem

Just when it looked like the economy of the United States of America was recovering, and Barack Obama was well on his way to joining the second term Presidents club, the price of gasoline started shooting up. If gas prices go significantly higher and stay high they could derail both the recovery and Obama's re-election.

Naturally the Republican candidates, thought to be dead in the water just a week ago, are perking up and blaming the President for the high price of gasoline. As usual, Republicans are good at identifying problems while offering solutions that would make matters worse. Newt Gingrich, who has not won a primary since South Carolina (citizens of which mostly believe they are not even legally part of the U.S.A., but an independent, sovereign state occupied by a foreign power since the end of the Civil War), says he would lower the price of gasoline by drilling everywhere in the United States and occupying Iran.

Allow me to point out that the big oil companies are not interested in drilling everywhere. Drilling for oil is an expensive and chancy proposition. There are only so many drilling rigs available. They want to drill in just a few particularly lucrative American places they have been excluded from because those places are particularly environmentally sensitive. It would take three to five years to get a major drilling program underway, and what would be the result? The price of gasoline, and of oil, would go down. Which means the U.S.-based international oil companies would be losing money five years out. That is not their idea of a sound investment.

Then you have Rick Santorum, who attacks the demand side of the equation. He wants to go back to the Dark Ages, when the Pope was an emperor, birth control consisted of one Roman Catholic army invading another Roman Catholic nation and slaying its maidens after raping them, and you were lucky to own a donkey or a horse.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is still trying to figure out how the Tea Party got control of the Club House. He keeps painting himself with Tea Party camouflage, but they won't forgive him for his past bouts of sanity. He will let us know what he thinks when he his aides figure out what the Tea Party thinks.

Finally, there is Ron Paul. He has a more workable plan than Santorum. His way back machine would take us to 1928, before the big crash, when unfettered capitalism and the gold standard looked like they might actually work out. Gasoline then was something like $0.21, but then again the minimum wage was $0.00, so go figure.

The real problem is that the oil companies and corporate security state are lying to us, with Barack Obama as their front man. Right now they are saying Iran is the problem, Iran is the cause of high gas prices. But Iran would be happy to get back to the Republican ideal of Free Trade. It is willing to trade its oil to anyone, and wants a bunch of things it can't produce itself. Like parts for nuclear weapons and reactors. Iranians just want parity with Israel, which has had nuclear weapons and reactors for decades.

Here's an idea, Mr. President: push back a little at the war hawks. Pretend to be nice to Iran until you have won a second term. Ship some of that good Iranian crude to California so our Prius fleet does not run out of gas.

Wait. I take that back. There is the Jewish vote in Florida and New York to think about, two swing states with a lot of Electoral College votes. I guess the rest of us are going to have to pay through the nose for gasoline until after the election.

So I'm voting for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. Her plan is to cut back U.S. military spending slightly and then use the money to buy Toyota. The whole company. She'll move all the Toyota factories to the U.S. and hire all American workers. They will all build Prius variants, and everyone over the age of 17 would get one on a sliding-scale basis. We'll have full employment and the price of gasoline will drop to $1.50 a gallon. Of course, that would be socialism.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rick Santorum for Pope?

Republican Party presidential hopeful Rick Santorum clearly believes that he has a good chance to beat out Mitt Romney for the nomination. Then, presumably, he plans to rally American voters around him to defeat the incumbent, Barack Obama. Mr. Santorum is now polling well among Republicans, despite being almost unknown 6 months ago, before other rivals of Mr. Romney imploded.

Aside from knowing he was not all that popular in his home state of Pennsylvania, where he lost a re-election bid to the U.S. Senate in 2006, and knowing he was "conservative," like most of the public I paid little attention to his positions or record until lately.

Rick Santorum is not conservative: he is reactionary. Conservatives may argue against same-sex marriage (which is an innovation) and abortion (which is an ethical dilemma). They may deny the reality of global warming, which after all as a science theory is less than 100 years old. Santorum goes further. He wants to prohibit birth control, and abolish the public education system. Given his public agenda, it is fairly easy to surmise what his hidden agenda is: to restructure the United States of America to resemble European nations during the Dark Ages.

I hope that shining the light on Santorum's unstable mental world will insure that his campaign implodes like Herman Cain's, Michelle Bachman's and others before him. On the other hand, the issue may not be decided by the time of California's presidential primary this June 5th. It is time for California Republicans to consider whether they really want an to undermine what remains of American industry and military might by destroying public education.

Do California Republicans really want to risk a socialist revolution by making it impossible, rather than merely unlikely, for our working class children to have decent economic opportunities?

People used to say that Santorum was looking for the Vice President slot. I think, given the age of Pope Benedict XVI, who is 85, that Mr. Santorum would do us all a favor by declaring he is a candidate for Pope. If successful, he would be the first American Pope.

Whereas in America even our Founding Fathers would have found Rick Santorum to be an unenlightened reactionary, in the Vatican he would fit right in. Benedict XVI has been a staunch advocate of taking the Roman Catholic Church back to the Dark Ages, with Latin as the language of choice and burning scientists as good moral instruction and monarchy as the only practical form of government.

Rick Santorum does not even seem to realize he is unbalanced in a way that even most Tea Party activists should find disturbing. Rick Santorum's program is not within the American tradition of freedom (and liberty, and justice) for all.

Adolf Hitler (who was a Roman Catholic) used his power to force (while he was alive) the Lutheran Church in Germany into a unified organization with the Catholic Church. That one-religion-fits-all view really is the inevitable end of the line of logic Santorum espouses. There is only one way to think, and that is Santorum's way, the Roman Catholic way.

Protestant Christians beware. You may think that Santorum is an ally against secularism, and for a while he may be. But you will find that if he defeats the modern, secular Americans with his crusade, he will not be satisfied. He will put pressure on Protestants to submit to the authority of the Pope. With five Roman Catholic judges already forming a majority on the Supreme Court, in a nation where only 1 in 5 citizens is even nominally Roman Catholic, you may wish you had worked harder to preserve the separation of church and state, rather than trying to bring it to an end.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Unfair China

Hating the Chinese has become as American as apple pie. It unites Democrats, Republicans, independents, and even more than one Green Party member I have talked too.

But, we are asked to pretend, we are not prejudiced against Chinese people. It is the Chinese (communist) government's economic policies that are driving us, the best, sweetest, and least prejudiced people on earth, we Americans, to do battle with the Chinese.

All we demand is fairness. We just want some stability. We don't want to work hard for our pay. We are not used to it. So the Yuan (or Renminbi, if you use the more modern term for Chinese money) has to float. And it has to float upward against the American dollar. It has to make American goods cheaper in China, and Chinese goods more expensive in the U.S. Like an iPod, iPad or Mac could possibly be more expensive.

A quick recap the history of relations between the United States of America and China is in order. China was the wealthiest and most civilized nation in the world in when English settlers first started grabbing land in what is now the U.S.A. in 1607. On the other hand, the Chinese ruling class were mostly complacent and uninterested in modernization. Viewing (correctly) Europeans as predator-pirates, the Chinese allowed only limited intercourse during the 17th and 18th centuries. Americans started trading with China while we were still part of the British empire, but the trading was trivial to the Chinese.

In the early 1800's the imperial nations began seeing China as a great prize to be devoured, but its government was still strong enough to repel the predators. U.S. trade with China increased, and U.S. merchants participated in the illegal opium trade. That is where the Delano side of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt got their fortune (the Forbes fortune, too.) The Chinese government clamped down on opium, which was destroying Chinese culture and its economy. Parliament, the device by which a small number of British voters bullied half the world, resulted in the launching of the Opium Wars by Britain, which China lost. Britain got Hong Kong and America and other nations got the right to "free trade" with China.

The Chinese next resisted being gobbled up by America and friends with the Boxer Rebellion. The U.S., Japan, Britain, France, Russia and Germany ganged up on China and essentially got control of the Chinese government. Eventually the Chinese people rebelled, overthrew the monarchy, and formed a Republic. But America and friends preferred a weak China, and so backed a number of warlords, most notably Chiang Kai-shek.

Starting in the 1920's Japan, which had been more successful at resisting U.S., British and Russian bullying, decided that the only way Japan and all Asia would not get gobbled up would be by Japan taking the leadership of Asia. The Chinese warlords sponsored by the Euro-American imperialists did not like that idea. The Japanese, unfortunately, resorted to force to install modern, enlightened (capitalist), pro-Japanese regimes in China. This eventually led to open, declared war between the U.S. and Japan. Chiang Kai-shek's warlords also fought Japan, as did a new Chinese government set up in north-west China by the Communist Party.

America won the war, but not before Japan had encouraged most east Asian nations to declare independence. The Philippines declared independence from the U.S., Vietnam from France, Indonesia from the Netherlands, and Burma and India from Britain.

As the Japanese withdrew from the mainland, a civil war erupted between the Communist Party and the U.S. financed warlord Chiang Kai-shek. The Chinese won the civil war, but by then the Chinese economy was totally wrecked. In a mere 100 years China had gone from still being one of the wealthiest nations in the world to being one of the poorest. Chiang, helped by America, moved China's silver and gold, as well as what was portable of its industries, to the island of Taiwan, where he set up a dictatorship protected by the U.S. navy.

It took the Chinese decades to rebuild their nation. The U.S. refused to trade and pretended Chiang still ruled China. Although Nixon made peace in the 1970's, only in the 1990's did the Chinese start to have sustantial trade with the U.S. The U.S. gave the Chinese no breaks. We treated trade as a form of economic warfare, extracting as much from the Chinese in return for whatever modern technology we were willing to export to them.

So what do the Chinese owe the U.S. What is the standard of fairness that should apply to this situation?

Here's what I think: Americans have not been being screwed by the Chinese. We have been being screwed by Americans, by our own capitalists and their political subsidiaries. They want to direct our anger at the Chinese when it should be directed at ourselves and our economic lords.

So now the exchange rate of the yuan does not float against the dollar, and we buy more from China than they buy from us. First of all, as former Secretary of State Cordell Hull used to pontificate, global free trade can't be balanced on a bilateral (2-nation basis). Goods flow in all directions. China does not have a trade surplus with every nation. Because the U.S. economy is now so consumer oriented, we suck the blood of the entire world. China is just the assembly point, where quick hard-working hands turn raw goods and parts from the global economy into crap that you buy at Walmart because you don't have the good sense to save and invest your money.

If the yuan floated, then China would have a small lower trade surplus with the U.S. They would not take in so many billions of U.S. dollars. They would not buy so many U.S. government bonds to get rid of those dollars. The interest rates on bonds would go up, and the federal government would be stuck paying a lot more interest. So the national deficit would get worse, unless government spending were cut back further. In any case, that won't be good for the U.S. economy.

The way to balance things out with China is for the U.S. to compete on a fair basis, rather than whining and asking for special treatment. We could also increase import duties, which would lower demand for Chinese goods and help the U.S. Treasury. We could teach our children math and engineering and business practices instead of English, Art, and Film Studies.

Oh, things are pretty fair already. We could compete. But our American capital has been concentrated in the hands of a very few people because we no longer have meaningful taxes on inheritances and capital gains. This wealthy elite has become very lazy. They do the easy thing, aided by a bunch of well-paid technocrats, advisors, and lawyers. They invest in China or developing nations when they could invest in the U.S.

I just don't get how we can blame the Chinese for Steve Jobs and crew's failure to invest in the U.S. We don't even have to destroy America the Beautiful to create new factories. There is plenty of empty factory space in Detroit and other American cities.

Let's renovate those empty factories, and stop blaming the Chinese for our problems. I think the success of the Chinese is a great thing for humanity. They are a very civilized people, so far. If they become the number 1 economy in the world again, it will probably make the world a better place.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Defend Democracy from Republic Advocates

Most Americans assume that Democracy is still a central American ideal. It may not work as well as we might like, but one of our jobs as citizens and as a nation is to perfect Democracy.

A dangerous movement exists in our nation to take away voting rights from most citizens so as to turn back the clock and return America to being a Republic run by a limited set of people having full citizenship. They are able to confuse many honest citizens because the terms Democracy and Republic are not necessarily opposites. A Republic in which every adult person has recognized rights, including the right to equal treatment and the right to vote for elected officials, is called a Representative Democracy. The history of the United States of America, under the U.S. Constitution, is largely a history of moving from a corrupt Republic to a shining Democracy. [See America: Republic or Democracy?]

This anti-democracy movement started on the fringes of the far right, but in the last few years has gained traction among the Tea Party and even among some mainstream conservative Republican Party members. To make headway it lies about the differences between Democracies and Republics. It purposefully conflates the Democratic Party with democracy and the Republican Party with republicanism (of the type it espouses). It revises American history to deceive the American people about the genesis of our nation, our liberties, and the creation of our Constitution.

The Republican Party was not named for the idea that only rich white men should vote, as was the case when our Constitution was written. It was called the Republican Party because the best name, Democratic Party, was already taken. There is nothing wrong, or inherently bad, in the concept of a Republic. If anything, a key concept of the Republican Party when it formed in the 1850's was that the Democratic Party was not democratic enough. The Democratic Party was the party of slavery.

The Democratic Party arose when property requirements to qualify for the franchise were being reduced and eliminated in the early 18th century, allowing all white male citizens to vote for elected officials. This was a critical turn in U.S. history, and within the racialist and sexist thinking of that era meant that our republic was becoming more democratic. Andrew Jackson and his cronies saw the potential in becoming leaders of these newly enfranchised voters [See Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson] and so created the Democratic Party.

The Republicans did not advocate taking away rights from poor white males. They advocated eliminating slavery and extending the right to vote (and other rights) to non-white ethnic groups, notably African-Americans. Thus, in their early history, Republicans also helped to forge our democracy out of the entirety of our citizenry.

Both Republicans and Democrats later supported the right of women to vote, extending our democracy further with the 19th Amendment. In the 20th century the Republican Party championed the right of African-Americans living in the old south to vote. In the 1960's the Democratic Party finally overruled its segregationist wing and joined in making our nation one where every adult could vote and was equal in the eyes of the law.

Two Big Lies are being told right now by the anti-democracy demagogues. One is that only Republics protect human rights. They claim democracies mean majority rule and the ability of majority to take away rights (and private property) from individuals. Yet we have a democracy that protects individual rights better than most real Republics ever have. Republics typically are run by minorities that trample on the rights of majorities. Communist Party leadership of Soviet Republics is one recent historic example. More commonly in Republics voters and rulers have been limited to a small class of rich people. In American history our early republic was run by slave masters who refused to treat slaves (and American Indians, and even middle class white men) as having the rights listed in our Bill of Rights.

The other big lie is that God, through our Founding Fathers, embodied in our Constitution, mandated that the United States would be a republic with a limited franchise. They point to where the Constitution ensures that state governments are to have "a republican form of government." They conveniently forget that a Republic can be democratic or undemocratic, and still have a Republican form (elected officials instead of a monarch). They failed to note that the most powerful branch of government in the new Federal constitution was the House of Representatives, which was constituted according to democratic, not merely republican, ideals. The House may exhibit all the imperfections of humans and politics, but it successfully accomodated the extension of voting rights to all adults.

Don't think this issue will go away. There is money behind it and forceful evil intent. Advocating disenfranchising American citizens may be protected speech, but it verges on treason.

These people need to be stopped. Their ideas must be soundly refuted. Help create a body of public opinion that will reject their poisoned mind set. Forward this essay, speak out, or write your own commentary on this critical issue.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ban Armed Drones

Armed drones have been used extensively by the United States to target alleged enemy soldiers in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and probably other places around the world. Other nations have developed armed drones, so it is just a matter of time before they are deployed. Without a doubt private, criminal, religious and ideological groups will soon be able to obtain drones.

Killing others from a vantage of complete safety has always been a highly sought goal, from Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals down to the ordinary person who sees some advantage in killing someone else. Many modern weapons have given some sense of this: artillery, machine guns, air forces, submarines with their deadly torpedoes, and missiles, for instance.

Armed drones give a new level of immunity. The ability of Afghan tribal warriors to strike back against helicopter gunships, bombers, or even artillery was already minimal. Striking back against a drone operated from a command center that can be at the other side of the world is possible only to those who have ICBMs. Not many nations have ICBMs, yet.

The predecessor of the drone is the cruise missile, which really is a drone designed to strike a pre-designated location. Drones give video or other feedback to the operators, allowing more flexible targeting.

Should deploying, or even manufacturing armed drones be designated as a war crime? Or is a drone just another form of artillery or fighting aircraft, to be distinguished by its use, rather than by its lack of an onboard, human pilot?

The idea of chivalrous or just warfare is of course an old one, but the idea of the need for civilized rules of war (and hence war crimes, the breaking of those rules) became widely discussed in Europe after 1850. The main ideas that came out of the discussion before World War I were: avoid killing civilians; treat captured soldiers humanely; and the aggressor nation's leaders are criminals.

The theory is there for anyone to look at. A good place to start is "war crime" at Wikipedia. Unfortunately there has never been an impartial, global system of justice to put war criminals on trial. Thus for instance, after World War II of the many Japanese convicted and sentenced to death for war crimes, a number are now generally thought to be innocent. Despite widespread commission of war crimes by the government of the United States of America and its allies, no victors were convicted or even tried for war crimes. The most obvious and terrible war crimes (aside from the acts of aggression that started the war), the fire bombings of German and Japanese cities and finally the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ordered by President Harry Truman (Democratic Party), were treated as legitimate acts of war (by the victors) even though civilian casualties were far higher than military casualties.

Limits on the use of types weaponry have been made largely based on their secondary effects on civilians. Poisoned gas was banned after World War I, really because of the sheer horror of it, but excused by the possible drifting of poison into civilian areas. Biological agents have also been banned, and civilized nations (though not the U.S.) have banned or limited the use of landmines (See Ottawa Treaty).

Aerial bombardment has always been a problem for both theorists and militarists. Dropping a bomb on an enemy battalion in the countryside might kill some sheep or an unlucky civilian or two, but it is generally considered acceptable. Since firing artillery shells into urban (or presumably suburban) areas was designated a war crime before World War I, most honest people thought dropping bombs on cities was a war crime, by reason of analogy. Franklin D. Roosevelt (Democratic Party) and Cordell Hull said as much (criticizing Japan for some use of the tactic in China against ally Chiang Kai-shek's troops who used cities as fortresses) making speeches as late as 1939 calling on all nations to not drop bombs on cities. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they did not attack urban areas, only military bases. But when Roosevelt struck back the complete and merciless destruction of Japanese cities was one of his priorities.

We powerless theorists would prefer not to have to classify drone attacks as either legitimate executions of war (when they hit military targets) or war crimes (when they hit civilians). When a nation is at war against an occupying imperialist power, as Afghanistan is now, the average citizen-soldier often stays very close to his family. Deaths of civilians from drone attacks are predictable.

In practice U.S. drones have killed a lot of women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan; many of the adult male casualties were probably civilians too. For me that is reason enough to ban them.

Consider, however, what could happen when drones are more plentiful and are used in a war between two advanced nations. Foot soldiers and probably even soldiers in armored vehicles will be subject to slaughter. Other men will enjoy snacks and hot coffee as they sit in deep bunkers playing playing video games in which real people die.

War itself should be banned. That could be achieved through a disarmament process. Adding new, lethal toys for uncivilized boys will help no one.

In teaching the world to use fighting drones the U.S. has certainly created a monster that will come back to haunt us. Perhaps that is the strategy of the corporate security state. When others start using drones, it will require drone escalation by the U.S., putting more and more power (and money) into the hands of fewer and fewer decision makers.

There is nothing to be gained with armed drones. They have not stopped the Taliban; they just make the survivors madder. The United States should call an immediate halt to the use, manufacture, and development of drones while working on a global treaty to ban their use.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Week Unreviewed

The number of blog entries I mentally outlined and should have written really piled up this week:

An analysis of Barack Obama's state of the union address, probably compared to those of Democratic Party founder Andrew Jackson.

A victory over U.S. imperialism blog, since the Obama administration essentially admitted this week it can't subjugate Afghanistan forever, and will speed up its withdrawal of combat troops. Obama, the peace candidate, yet again. Mitt Romney making a fool of himself by saying he would stay in Afghanistan until the U.S. is bankrupt, or longer.

Why I am not supporting Norman Solomon in his bid to become a congressman representing the northern California coast.

A proposal to ban the use of drones in war, that is to make the use of drones for anything other than observations a war crime. Not that the U.S. or other imperial powers ever get tried for the innumerable (an exaggeration: obviously the number of war crimes committed by the U.S. could have been enumerated) war crimes they have, do, and will commit.

Why the new rural zones forest fire taxes in California are on a per structure basis. Because if they were on a acreage or potential value of losses basis, the timber corporations would have to pay them. Instead rural homeowners will have to pay them. Thanks, Wes Chesbro, timber company pawn.

How the U.S. government policy (often violated) of non-interference in foreign nations became a policy of constant interference in foreign nations, with a nod to Cordell Hull.

How the Obama administration decision to refuse to allow Somali-Americans to send funds back to relatives in Somalia amounts to a crime against humanity.

Why did I miss such stellar writing opportunities? A combination of work and distractions with the fact that on any given day only about 1000 people read my blog. Eliminate the other analysts and pros (CIA, FBI, homeland security, foreign agencies, comedians, political science guys, etc.) and the number probably falls to more like 500 ordinary citizens. The pros never click, it is against policy. It requires about 100,000 daily readers to make a minimal living as a blogger. If I had that many readers, I would probably write every day, and drop the other work I do.

But actually I had a good week. The Last Days of Christ the Vampire kindle edition is now available. My Biography of Andrew Jackson is starting to sell. David Cobb of MoveToAmend.org visited and spoke to a good sized crowd in Point Arena.

I might even get around to writing up some of the above ideas. Next week.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Buddhist Illusion Joke

Three Buddhist monks were walking along a mountain path.

The leading Buddhist stopped suddenly and announced, "That looks like dog shit on the path."

The second, middle monk leaned over the pile and announced, "It smells to me like dog shit."

The third monk poked the pile with a finger, then licked his finger. "It tastes incredibly foul. It must be dog shit."

The leading Buddhist monk proclaimed. "The world is an illusion. We must continue on our path to enlightenment. This dog shit, too, is an illusion."

They proceeded. The second monk was unable to avoid stepping in the dog shit.

A few steps further he commented: "I have the illusion of dog shit sticking to my sandals."

Commentary: For a relatively neutral introduction to the subject, see the Wikipedia Buddhism article. However, note that article leaves out the long history of violence and oppression practiced by Buddhists. For my more serious writings on the subject, see my Buddhism page.