Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Anarchist Federation Attacks Nuclear Power, Nanotechnology

The entire nuclear power program has been shut down in Japan, at least for now. Japanese citizens demanded it. Contrast that to the United States, where citizen demands to shut down nuclear reactors fell on Barack Obama's deaf ears. Not only has the President failed to shut down plants, he has authorized building new ones. Of course to a large degree any U.S. President is just a puppet of the corporate security state, which is heavily invested in nuclear power and weapons.

When democracies fail to act in a democratic manner there is going to be a reaction. Usually this is in the form of protests, like the anti-nuclear rallies of yore or the current Occupy actions. Some times incumbent politicians are successfully removed from office. Some times, however, a few people will actually try to do what it takes to stop evil in its tracks.

On May 7, 2012 the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front (a grand title for a group that probably has at best dozens of active members) shot Roberto Adinolfi in the leg as a warning to stop his activities. Adinolfi is the CEO of the Italian firm Ansaldo Nucleare, which specializes in engineering for nuclear reactors. The action took place in Genoa, Italy.

The American corporate security state long ago declared Earth Liberation Front (ELF) a terrorist group. ELF (actually autonomous individuals using ELF as a sort of trade name) has a non-violence code and has never harmed a human being, limiting itself to sabotaging equipment used to destroy the environment.
Without a doubt any extension of IAF-IRF to the United States will have broad repercussions. Against the slight possibility that the citizens of the U.S. will wake up and force their "representatives" to shut down nuclear power plants must be weighed the probability that the FBI, our national political police, will be used to hammer the entire anarchist movement.

Given human nature, some individual anarchists, or perhaps even small groups, are likely to imitate the IAF-IRF at some point. Given the nature of our government, the FBI will target mentally unstable individuals, entrap them, and declare they have earned their paychecks.

What is interesting about the United States is that it is very easy to obtain and carry ordinary weapons (guns and rifles) without violating the law. Explosives are another matter entirely. Only the government and corporations can legally possess and transport explosives.

Also, I would not assume any true believers in anarchism and environmentalism would choose to target the nuclear industry. Often local issues — the protection of local fauna, forests and streams — engender more passion than big issues like global warming or radioactive contamination.

It is notable that, as far as I can tell, only one IAF-IRF group, the Olga Cell, is fighting against the nuclear industry. The others have been fighting nanotechnology research. Others is a strong term here, as the only nation that has seen attacks is Mexico. Two bombing attacks against nanotech research centers there each resulted in one person being seriously injured.

The easiest way to ease concerns would be for President Obama to close all U.S. nuclear power plants. In individual states their governors or legislators could shut down the reactors. Since the Democratic Party has failed to take an anti-nuclear stance, those who participate in the electoral system will probably want to vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, this fall.

Nanotechnology is a tricky subject because it is so broad. Science-fiction nanotechnology tends to tiny robots eating bigger machines or turning humans into monsters. Since nano just means small, it encompasses everything from the processes used to produce the chips in the IPhone and IPad, to re-engineering naturally occurring viruses, to the production of tiny particles used in paints and inks. Opposing nanotechnology seems to be just a slant on opposing all technology.

The U.S. government and private corporations have spent a lot of energy targeting anarchist and environmentalist activists. The fact that anarchists and environmentalists have not shot back is probably due to our naturally non-violent nature and the semblance of democracy that always promises, and even occasionally delivers, reform. If lines harden everyone will need to chose sides. With the Republican Party, bankrolled by extremist capitalists, pushing our system ever to the right, I do not see a good outcome ahead.
Disclaimer: the author is an advocate of democracy, anarcho-syndicalism and eco-anarchism. The factual content of this story is derived from mainstream media sources, notably "Anarchists attack science" by Leigh Phillips, p. 561 of Volume 485 of Nature, May 31, 2012. The opinions are his own.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day for American Indian Warriors

On Memorial Day we honor all Americans who have died in wars. But we tend to remember, and honor, some more than others. I'd like to remind you of some of the others.

We have no records of the ancient battles that took place among the true natives of what is now the United States of America. There are some records of some of the age-of-heroes battles of Mexico and South America, but most have been lost or destroyed.

I would like to honor the almost forgotten heroes who, around 1000 A.D., died in a battle against the first know European would-be settlers, the Norse, led by Leif Ericson, even though that most likely took place somewhere in Canada.

There is the Calusa brave who shot the arrow who killed the Spanish pirate Juan Ponce de Leon in Florida in 1521. No one in their right mind would want to be conquered and ruled by the Spanish. The native tribes were in their right minds. As I recall they also managed to nearly wipe out a large military expedition by Hernando De Soto in 1542. Here's to any warriors who died defending America in that contest. Sadly, the Spanish eventually got a foothold in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565.

I just was reading a section in A History of Christian Missions by Stephen Neill in which he derided native Americans, before they were Christianized, as being too violent. I think they were not violent enough. If they had fought among themselves more, earlier, they might have had weapons and tactics (military and political) capable of keeping the Brits out. The Brits are synonymous with global terror. From a slow start on their own backward, pestilential island in 1600 they ended up conquering and enslaving about half the world by 1900. When the Brits first arrived in what are now called Virginia (in 1606, after the failure of 1584) and Massachusetts (in 1620), unfortunately the local native American peoples were led by weak or peace-loving chiefs. Once established, the Brits would never be dislodged. Here's to the Indian warriors who died trying in that early era.

The battles came frequently and furiously after that. One of the most important events to remember is King Philip's war of 1675-1676. The tribes of New England, unfortunately not fully united under their chief Philip, came reasonably close to driving out the British settlers. Instead the Indians themselves were defeated, massacred, and the remnant confined. On Memorial Day it is a good thing to remember the Indian warriors of 1676, because they were brave and in the right, yet lost anyway.

A lot of Indian warriors died defending their people, land, and way of life between 1676 and the defeat of the western tribes in the late 1800s. Here's to their collective memory.

The last brave American Indian warriors, so to speak, that we should remember on Memorial Day were actually in the Indies for which American Indians were misnamed. They were the people of the Philippine Islands who had finally defeated the Spanish and proclaimed their independence in 1898. Meanwhile the U.S. infamously declared war on Spain with no just cause, only the desire to seize Spanish colonies. The Spanish, who pretended to own the Philippines despite their defeat by the natives, "sold" the islands to the U.S. when the peace treaty was signed. In fact grabbing the Philippines and their sugar plantations had been a central reason that the U.S. had declared war.

The mopping up operations that made the Philippines a slave colony of the U.S. involved killing some 500,000 to 2,000,000 Filipinos, depending on whose count you use. On Memorial Day we don't need to remember them all. Only the soldiers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mitt Romney Would Fund Ignorance and Hate

Mitt Romney's education proposal sounds nice. It is called A Chance for Every Child, [Chance Report] and it is 35 pages long [full text: Mitt Romney, A Chance for Every Child]. It might be just campaign propaganda, like Barack Obama's 2008 promises of hope and world peace, but then again it might become public policy. You should probably read it, but how would you get anything done if you tried to judge political candidates by actually reading 35-page memos or 1600 page bills they have voted for or against?
I read it. I also know about the privatization (really Christianization) efforts already enacted at the state level. I also served on a public school board for a K-12 district for 8 years. Allow me to walk you through the essential points.

Romney characterizes American schools as failures, except private schools. In Jeb Bush's Foreword we are told that the U.S. spends "more on public education than virtually every other nation" which is so close to being a lie we might as well call it that. But he is correct in saying that American children lag behind their global peers, particularly in mathematics and science. Bush attacks Obama's education leadership, even though Obama has mostly just continued the education policies of Jeb's brother, former President George W. Bush.

The key initiative in the Romney education package is providing alternatives for "students trapped in bad schools." "Parents must receive clear information about the performance of their current school," so that they can know if their kid's school is bad. Yep, parents need federal help to know that. Without the guiding hand of the Feds, parents and professional educators are lost in the desert of education, following some half-mad Moses about, waiting for the day they can massacre the Palestinians and enroll the kids in good schools.
Federal funding goes with the child. If the parents take the child out of the public school and into a private school, the new school gets the funds.

Effectively Romney believes education will improve by defunding public schools, putting in their place private schools taught by non-union, untrained, uncredentialed, but cheap teachers. Really, Romney is specific about this: "Eliminate unnecessary certification requirements ... [which] reinforce hurdles that prevent talented individuals from entering the teaching profession." Talented individuals like science teachers who use Genesis as a text book. Or history teachers who say the Holocaust never happened.

This is called "building on the success of charter schools." Even though test results have shown charter schools, while varying greatly in quality, as a whole have done worse at educating children.

Profits for education corporations are also part of the plan: "welcome private sector participation in providing information, financing and education itself." That is, to the extent capitalists like Romney have not moved the formerly American private sector to China. Or maybe he means Chinese state-owned industries could take over teaching civics classes.

This seems to be at odds with another part of the plan: "Repeal confusing and unnecessary regulations." Many of the current batch of regulations were put in place by lobbyists for private industry. Guess which regulations will be repealed? Not the ones that need to be.

Many aspects of the plan, and its underlying analysis, can't even pass the smell test. We are told too many high school graduates who enroll in college require remediation. But because wealthier parents tend to use private schools and have their children attend college in disproportionate numbers, we know that this has to be a failure of the private school system.

The Chance Report laments the poor average outcomes for non-white children. It says that this is because the schools who serve these children are of poor quality. But privatizing ghetto schools is likely to make the situation worse, not better. Given equal pay, the better private school teachers will seek positions in the less difficult middle to upper class private schools, just as they seek the easier jobs within the public school system. The parents of a ghetto private school will still lack friends in high places, the money to create an educationally stimulating home environment, and the high-level education and business skills that the more successful children are exposed to by their privileged parents. If ghetto children infiltrate a "good" private school, middle class parents will flee, taking their children's federal dollars with them.

The real problem is economic and ethnic segregation, and the only real solution is one that directly integrates people from differing income levels and ethnic identities.

Yes, the report directly attacks the right of teachers to be represented by unions. Having been on a school board, I am not overly fond of teachers unions. But I will say the union's occasional abuses of power are nothing in comparison to the abuses of power by private corporations, school administrators, and politicians. Romney hates unions because he hates all workers. He smiles at them because as a politician he needs their votes. As a capitalist he needs their cooperation; he certainly is not going to do any actual, direct contact with clients or products, work himself.

Romney's Chance Report laments the high cost of college and rising burden of student debt. He claims, perhaps correctly, that the recent increases in federal funding (loans, tax deductions and grants) for college have only enabled colleges to raise fees. Yet Romney fails to offer a solution! In 35 pages all he can say is that students should get private loans, not government ones. Perhaps they can put their tuition and expenses on credit cards at 20% interest and spend an entire lifetime in debt to Romney's capitalist cronies.
All this plan really amounts to is a bid to fund religious education. Capitalists like their workers ignorant, and that is the main value of private schools with religious affiliation. Teaching religious ideas requires forcing children to rely on authority, not on their innate ability to think for themselves. Religious private schools are a horror where fiction is taught as fact.

The only horror that could possibly overmatch religious schooling is a for-profit school system. Children pushed by federal dollars and clever marketing would become profit centers. Children would be branded with corporate logos instead of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed or Buddha. They would continue to emerge from schools dazed and confused, not ready to excel in this modern world of evolutionary biology, quantum-physics based electronics, and knowledge-based creativity.

Religious schools teach hate (sorry, no exceptions, just shades of gray). The only reason to force a particular cult view upon a child is to differentiate them from the other cults and from modern, non-religious persons. Telling children what is right about their creed always involves knocking other creeds, and usually verbal and even physical abuse for even bringing up ideas that challenge or differ with those being promulgated by uncredentialed, faith-inspired teachers. We have seen how the capitalist elite has used religious hate over the American centuries to motivate mobs to attack any social or political deviation from the capitalist agenda. That is what Romney and his Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant capitalist cronies are about with their privatization plan: creating the next generation of their army of heavily-indoctrinated, emotionally bent, hateful Tea Party types.

The only realistic path forward in a democracy is to create the best public schools we can. We can't expect schools to truly equalize opportunities between children of working class or impoverished parents (increasingly, the same thing) and middle class or upper class students.

Public schools were invented in the United States. Many of them are actually quite good, regularly turning out better-qualified graduates than most private and religious schools. Those that are not good are sometimes suffering from unmotivated teachers, but in my experience the real problem is usually lack of parental support for the teachers, not the other way around.

The only thing I agree with in the Republican position is that bad teachers should be fired. The teachers unions could do a lot to restore public confidence in teaching if they would police their own members, rather than always working on the assumption that every teacher is a great teacher who needs to be defended by the union lawyers.

Ultimately Romney's Chance Report is just a political ploy, buying religious sectarian votes with public funds.

Disclaimer: I attended Roman Catholic schools K-8, then a private high school and private college.
See also: Romney Calls Education Civil Rights Issue, New York Times, May 23, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A graduation present: forgiving student loans

Are we in a student loan crisis? What should be done about it?

The overall consensus is that on the whole education in these United States is no longer globally competitive. That implies our society should be spending more on education, including college education. But should that be in the present form of privately made loans backed by federal government guarantees?

The Long Recession has meant that students graduating starting in 2008 and apparently continuing through at least this summer of 2012 have mostly not been able to get jobs of any kind, much less the higher-paying jobs that normally come with a college degree. Hence many regret about having taken out loans, and some have called for all student loans to be forgiven.

The American system of financing education is itself complex. There is a public sector that is typically fully taxpayer subsidized through high school. At the college level, how much taxpayer subsidy there is in public universities varies not just state by state, but in tiers depending on college (or junior college) attended. Private education exists to give children and families a competitive advantage over the uneducated and publicly educated. Despite that, it too receives public subsidies, though they tend to be tax breaks rather than direct subsidies. Student loans are a major source of income for private colleges, but are generally not available for private K-12 education.

All colleges, public and private, are supposed to offer a competitive advantage to their graduates. Most people do not have 4-year college degrees. In effect taxpayer money that goes to higher education helps the richest one-third or so of the population, which largely corresponds to adult citizens with college degrees.

Aside from, but not unaffected by student loan programs, we have the escalating cost of college educations. If college educations benefit society, and not just the money-seekers who buy those educations, then this can be a problem in itself. Within the sector janitors, professors and administrators may argue how to cut up the pie, but arguably the pie is expensive out of proportion to the benefits it provides society. It has been argued that when more loans and grants are made available by the government, the result is simply higher tuition charges, leaving us on a treadmill.

It should also be noted that degrees are also part of an important anti-competitive part of our national economy. Degrees are often a prerequisite to professional licensing. Thus those with certain types of degrees are able to, with their fellow professionals, engage in monopoly price-setting for their services. These segment monopolies, most notably in the health field, also drive costs to society in a way that is unbalanced and arguably unethical.

Thus talking about student loans, we should see that not everything should be lumped together. A $50,000 in loans to a Film Studies major does not have the same economic effect as $50,000 in loans to a medical student or to an accounting student. A loan to a student at a private college may just enable the cost of education to rise. A loan to a student at a public university may only shift the economic burden from taxpayers to the student, even if it does not cause the university to inflate its tuition and fees. A government-backed loan raises somewhat different public policy questions than purely private loans would.

We should probably look at the various state college systems for some insights into what works (defined as getting a good education to cost ratio). In general neither the state systems nor the private colleges have been immune to cost inflation. In the state systems wage inflation seems to be driven by unions, but caps on taxpayer support limit overall costs. In the non-system of private colleges costs seem to be driven by administrators and increased demand for student luxury. In both cases we have exceptions: private universities that keep their costs reasonable and pass that on in reasonable tuition, and public state systems where the public (taxpayers) and students get a better return for their money than in the average state. We should look at those exemplary colleges and use them as models. [I hear professors and administrators screaming: but that would mean a pay cut for me! And yes, that is what I am advocating: a life devoted to scholarship and teaching, an exemplary low-environmental impact, low luxury, no-frills occupation. Or at least in that direction, from where we are now.]

My back-of-the-envelope impression is that there are relatively few particular families who benefit from wealth transfers through taxation and the distribution of public education (including tax breaks & other subsidies of private institutions). If a student's parents can afford for the student to go to college, with or without loans, they probably pay substantial taxes. The middle and upper classes of the U.S. currently pay very little in taxes that subsidizes the children of the lower classes at the college level. If anything, those who do not attend college pay taxes that subsidize those who do.

Fixing the current system is different from designing a blueprint from scratch. The current system works for the powerful. The most powerful can send their children through college (and usually graduate school) without loans. These children start work where anyone else might aspire to finish life: debt free, with high-salary jobs and a "it's not what you know its who you know" safety net. But those who go through college on loans have little room to complain, given that, if they are not at the very top of the system, they at least have an opportunity to exploit the lower classes with their degree. They just have to work harder at it.

Banks may be essentially predatory, but I don't see why they should forgive student loans when the point of the loans was to try to get a leg up the economic ladder. There is even less ethical reason for the government, which is really the taxpayers, to rescue banks and debtors alike.

Stop government guarantees for student loans and the short-term economics side of the problem will resolve itself in a few short years. Banks will stop making the loans. Some parents will pitch in more, but many students will drop out. Colleges will face budget contraction. They will deal with it in different ways, some keeping tuition high, but many will choose to lower tuition. That, in turn, will make college more accessible, at least for the middle class. Degrees, being rarer, will become more valuable.

High tuition, with or without student loans, cuts off class mobility and causes talent to be misallocated. But lower tuition just changes the situation a shade of gray. There is no particular correlation between talent at birth and parental economic or academic status. Nurturing the academic and intellectual talents of children is good, but it is a limited good, grabbed by the same people who grab most goods in America, the entrenched elite of professionals and capitalists, large and small.

It follows that even if the states provided free college educations for those who qualify, many slots would end up occupied by "legacy" students, who only make it because of major parental support during their pre-college years. Private colleges like Stanford would continue to turn out new generations of predators that specialize in eating other kid's lunches.

Reforms should be supported. Tax the rich and use some of the taxes to make college free for those who qualify. Recognize that private colleges are businesses and should be taxed; discouraged, not encouraged.
The real goal should be a society in which the environment is respected, and all people are respected too, regardless of who their parents are, or what occupation they end up in. The only way we are going to realize that is "nationalization." In this case, however, it is the states that should take over the private colleges, enabled by national legislation.

Probably the single biggest educational mistake in American history was made in 1819 by the Supreme Court in Dartmouth College v. Woodward. The state of New Hampshire tried to turn Dartmouth from a private corporation into a state-run college. The Supreme Court said No. Thus we became a nation with two tiers of college, a private tier for the slave owners, professionals, landlords and (later) the industrial capitalists, and a public tier for the rest of us.

Making that change, short of armed insurrection, would be difficult. The current Supreme Court would have to be replaced in its entirety by some President representing a different set of values than those held by the Democratic and Republican parties.

The only viable long-term solution is to nationalize the nation itself. Think about that, graduates, especially those of you opting not to go to college.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Scylla and Charybdis

My favorite image from the classical Greeks is that of Scylla and Charybdis [pronounced sille and keribdis according to my dictionary, but I began pronouncing them wrong in childhood, and no one has ever corrected me]. Scylla was a rock, usually with a man-eating monster atop it. Charybdis was a whirlpool of sufficient size to suck in an entire ship of mariners. Together they were the hazards of a strait of ocean, the only possible passage between two land masses.

The most common comparison we have in American is between a rock and a hard place.
But Scylla and Charybdis is not about just any ordinary two bad choices. It is about running between two terrifying, deadly choices, with no real hope of survival. Why not just go some other way? Because, presumably, there is either a terrifying third choice chasing behind (say pirates, or a 160 foot squid), or something very important beyond the strait, like the Golden Fleece or Holy Grail or eternal life.

According to most environmental scientists, the big-picture Scylla and Charybdis of our era is a global catastrophic environmental meltdown caused by technology and overpopulation that will leave billions of humans, perhaps all humans dead of starvation on an almost-dead planet. Or ramping back the use of carbon-based energy (and other enviro-destructive technology) so severely that billions of humans will starve, but leaving a healthy planetary ecosystem. So you can feed either Scylla or Charybdis, but very few humans will make it through the straits.

Even more big picture is the state of the universe itself. According to Astrophysicists either the Universe is contracting or it is expanding. They are not sure which, they keep getting different answers over their decades of study. In the Charybdis of contraction the Universe will compact itself back into one big ultra-high-temperature fireball of the type that started the Big Bang to begin with. The other choice is the Scylla of slow cooling, stars and galaxies cooling and spreading out until the Universe is a really, really big dust bin. But don't worry, in either case you'll be dead, and your descendents will be dead, long before one of these happens.

The Greeks were a cheery lot. Homer has the hero Odysseus survive the ordeal. Having returned from a trip to Hades, he is apt to be put there permanently if his ship is sucked down by Charybdis. Following the advice of Circe, he steers clear of Charybdis and lets Scylla grab and devour six of his sailors, so that he and the others might escape. We remember Odysseus to this day, but not the extras, who are not allowed even a parting word lest they force the film over budget. For the survivors it is worth it as they "soon came to the fair island of the god."

Some humor in it can be found in Shakespeare, who uses the metaphor for familial relations. In The Merchant of Venice [Act III, Scene 5, line 17], Launcelot tells Jessica, "Truly then I fear you are damned both by father and mother: thus when I shun Scylla, your father, I fall into Charybdis, your mother."

Most people think the American economy, and even more so the Economy of Europe, is in a Scylla and Charybdis type of peril. Without fiscal and monetary stimulus it could be sucked into the whirlpool of depression, but that very stimulus will increase the size of Scylla, the national debt. Conservatives want to throw the old and the poor to Scylla to make a more efficient ship. Liberals would prefer to sacrifice to Scylla a few nice fat rich people instead. Neither side seems willing to make serious cuts to the military and homeland securities budgets, that make the ship so heavy in the water it is about to sink of its own accord.

The reality is that when confronted with only two choices, both of which are very bad, most of us just freeze and drift. It is no worse of a strategy than choosing one side or trying to run the rapids. The 19th century choice of starving on a farm or starving in a "Satanic Mill" has given way to the 21st century choice of getting fat and diabetic while on welfare or getting fat and diabetic at a desk job. Then there are the choices of old age: chemotherapy that is more likely to kill you in the short run than cancer, but that, if you survive it and the cancer does not, gives you almost enough years to work off the medical bills you ran up.

No one gets out alive, and all other things are never equal (guaranteed by the laws of Quantum Mechanics).
I like to think of Ferdinand Magellan, who is said to be the first man to circumnavigate the world. Actually the he was killed by natives of the Philippine Islands in 1521. I kind of like the idea that occasionally, at least, Odysseus dies and some of his sailors escape. Later the Spaniards enslaved the Filipinos. Just when the Filipinos defeated the Spanish and gained independence the United States marched in, bringing apple pie, a different version of Christianity, and a campaign of genocide that left 2 million Filipinos dead. The Japanese liberated the Philippines during World War II and granted them independence. The U.S. re-subjugated the Philippines in 1945, but then, trying to get some good propaganda going to pry loose the colonies of Britain, France, and the Netherlands, finally granted the Philippines independence on July 4, 1946. Follow the survivors and it seems like a happy tale.

The real lesson of Scylla and Charybdis is don't be greedy. Greed feeds on itself until it no longer can squeeze between the Law and Angry Victims. A person only needs so much to be happy. There is already enough trouble in the world to keep everyone busy who wants to be.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cicero, Hercules, and Taxes

This morning I was impressed by what Cicero said in De Officiis (On Duties):

"For a man to take something from his neighbor and to profit by his neighbor's loss is more contrary to Nature than is death or poverty ... [for] injustice is fatal to social life and fellowship between man and man ...

But this principle is established not by Nature's laws alone (that is, by the common rules of equity), but also by the statutes of particular communities ...

In like manner it is more in accord with Nature to emulate the great Hercules and undergo the greatest toil and trouble for the sake of aiding or saving the world, if possible, than to live in seclusion, not only free from all care, but reveling in pleasures and abounding in wealth ...

It follows that man, if he is obedient to Nature, cannot do harm to his fellow-man ...

If the individual appropriates to selfish ends what should be devoted to the common good, all human fellowship will be destroyed." [de Officiis, translation by Walter Miller, book III, sections V and VI]

First, an apology to women, for surely while Cicero speaks only of men the same observations apply to women.

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a product of his class, the Roman nobility, and of his times. He admits to mainly just putting into Latin what the wise men had written about in Greek. He writes this work after the fall of the Republic, which was a sort of very limited democracy, and which had given way to a dictatorship. He does not think the vast estates of his fellow Senators should have been seized, broken up, and given to ordinary Roman citizens. That is the particular theft he begins decrying. He does not worry about the thefts that led to those vast estates in the first place. He probably owned slaves.

Given that, I still think Cicero is speaking some core truths. You don't need the gods (whichever ones your culture believes in) to form basic ethical principles. You should work for your own good. You should not steal from, or defraud, other people.

People don't get rich from working. They can prosper (or not) from working, but to become wealthy one must either steal, defraud, or in the very least overcharge people.

Looking back through human history, the best way to cut down on the fraudulent acquisition of great wealth is through tax policy. When the U.S. was last truly prosperous, in the 1950s, we had a good tax policy. The maximum tax rate was near 90%, but that only applied to the richest Americans. CEO's of large corporation focused on running their companies for the benefit of everyone (shareholders, employees, and customers) because paying themselves millions or billions of dollars would have just meant a visit from the IRS. Despite that there was no shortage of rich people in 1961, when President Kennedy began his drive to lower tax rates on billionaires (coincidently, his father was a billionaire, and he would have become so by inheritance if he had lived longer).

Perhaps the 90% rate of the Eisenhower Era was a bit onerous, but would you rather make $30,000 a year and pay 15% in federal taxes, or $1 billion a year and pay 90% taxes? Unless you are real deficient in math skills, you'll take the 90% tax rate.

Hopefully, as a thoughtful person, you will support my Log Tax Plan. I hope to find some member of the House of Representatives who will introduce it after the fall elections.

Even our Founding Fathers, rich by colonial standards as some of them were, opposed the creation of a nobility in the U.S. They called it a titled nobility in the Constitution, but reasonable people realized that great wealth, even without a title like Baron or Duke, is a threat to a democratic republic like ours. The federal inheritance tax was implemented largely to prevent family fortunes of too great a size from spanning generations.

The corrupting influence of inherited wealth, and of rapidly accumulated wealth by robber barons like Jobs, Whitney, Gaits, Bezos, Page, Brin, and Zuckerberg, have overridden the safety features our economy and government formerly enjoyed. Taxes on vast inheritances can be as low as zero, taxes on capital gains are only 15%, and marginal rates on wages are lower than any time since the 1920's.

These low taxes on the rich have not resulted in job growth or economic prosperity.

Meanwhile the U.S. military and homeland security apparatus have run up vast debts that ordinary American workers, while struggling to keep a roof overhead and feed their dependents (often now including their senior parents), are expected to pay off.

The system is crazy. It is against Nature. If it is not fixed soon, expect it to crumble into Chaos.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Obama Pisses on California Before Primary

Barack Obama may be the first sort-of black President of the United States, but his political heritage is not much different than the entire line of Presidents starting with real-estate speculator George Washington. Barack will be the only choice on the Democratic Party Presidential ballot line for the June 5 election. The total corruption and march-in-line behind the leader mentality of the party is shown by the lack of even token progressive and anti-war opposition.

Knowing the Democratic Party nomination is locked up, and wanting to appeal to right-wing voters, Barack Obama ordered widespread, unconstitutional raids on our perfectly legal medical marijuana purveyors. It's a funny thing, the way almost all media sources keep the Obama name out of the stories about the raids. It is always the Justice Department. Like Obama is not head of the government. Like he could not order the stormtroopers to go after other crimes. Are there no Islamic teenagers who might be entrapped by agents offering them a chance to play with government-supplied C-4? Are there no criminals violating Disney's copyrights needing to be rounded up and put in concentration camps?

It is not just his Reaganesque marijuana policy that mocks California's enlightened citizenry. There's his anti-gay marriage stand. His ongoing military attacks on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, plus anti-Iranian saber rattling. His promotion of the very men who created the mortgage derivatives and banking meltdown to be his top economic advisors. His failure to vigorously protect women's reproductive rights. His half-ass reformulation of the healthcare for profit system.

But what is a Democrat to do? It is too late to send Him a message by re-registering Green or No Political Preference (the new Decline to State, known everywhere else as independent). You can do that after the primary.

All you can do is vote for your favorite local candidates (up to and including Congress) and then not vote for Barack Obama. Barack does not give a damn how you feel about him, as long as he is the head of the corporate security state. He's going to be the next President. What not voting for Obama will do is show, when the votes are counted, that you care about California and your fellow Californians.

According to my readings of John Steinbeck, pretty many California citizens were smoking marijuana long before the 1960s rolled around. Since the 1960s California citizens have almost all been tolerant of their neighbors who choose to smoke. Sure, there are occasional problems with stoned citizens, but they pale compared to the problems of drunk citizens, and they don't seem to be significantly higher than the problems we encounter with perfectly sober citizens, either.

We Californians are a nation of individuals, but we do mostly share some cultural values, like respecting individual diversity. We have a disproportionate number of agnostics and atheists among us, and even our religious citizens tend more to humanist spirituality and ethical conduct than to memorize-the-text orthodoxy. We believe in evolution, and are evolving, but are ruled by people whose brain capacities froze at Middle Ages levels of memory and compute capabilities.

There are about 38 million of us. There were less than 4 million people living in the original 13 states at the time of the American Revolution, and that included slaves and Native Americans.

We should demand some respect from the rest of the states. If they do not respect our ways and our values, including ending marijuana prohibition, we should began the process of (hopefully without a civil war) leaving other United States and governing ourselves.

Because we can govern ourselves a lot better than the eastern states can govern us.

We don't need the national parties, either. Even if we stay in the Union, California citizens should have their own political parties, subject to our own corrupt bosses and political machines, rather than to the corrupt national bosses and machines.

Let's make that a goal: at least one California-centric party by 2014.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Neutral Nations: 1812, 1942, and 2012

Barack Obama made a big election speech last night, one of the great post-1984 speeches of American history. He proclaimed himself a triumphant war leader, and yet someone who negotiated peace with victory in Afghanistan, in time for his presumed re-election later this year. The timing of the speech was suspect: while given on the anniversary of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, it allowed the corporate security state news outlets to avoid coverage of the increasingly revolutionary Occupy movement's activities the same day.

Pakistan would like to be neutral nation, at peace with all nations, at war with none. But the current U.S. global paradigm does not allow for that. How much the attitude of the United States of America has changed towards the concept of international neutrality can be traced through our history and corresponds closely with our shifting from being one of the world's newest, weakest nations in 1776 to being the imperialist thugs of our current era.

In American history books the War of 1812 is cast as mainly about America's thwarted desire to be a neutral nation, with the right to trade (and profit) with all nations during a time of global warfare. Ignore, for the purposes of this essay the true cause of the war, the desire of the U.S. to conquer Canada, Florida, and Indian nations. The Napoleonic Wars between Britain and France ran from 1803 to 1815, and the United States did not want to take sides.

Naturally, both the British Empire and its allies and France and its allies wanted to win the war. American entrepreneurs wanted to profit by selling whatever they could to both sides. The British wanted the U.S. to trade exclusively with them, and the French exerted similar efforts. In the U.S. political factions favored one side or the other: the Federalists preferred the British, the Republicans the French, but neither could prevail over the common wisdom to profit from neutrality.

The difference between the rival empires was that after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 the British really did rule the waves. Beginning in 1806 they stopped U.S. ships bound for French-controlled territories. They also began "impressing" U.S. seamen, capturing them and forcing them to work in the British Navy. If you are willing to listen to the British side, you might note that captured U.S. citizens had allegedly signed contracts with the British Navy, and had bugged out of them, and were not really U.S. citizens, except in cases of mistaken identity.

The right of neutral nations not to be caught up in more powerful nation's wars proved difficult for the United States to maintain. After trying a self-imposed embargo (refusing to export U.S. goods to any nation), probably the stupidest policy in U.S. history, and endless negotiation, the United States declared war on Britain in June, 1812. It was a controversial declaration of war, passing the House with a vote of 79 to 49, and the Senate 19 to 13.

Without being explicit about it, the U.S. was fighting side by side with the French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte. The U.S. failed to conquer Canada, and France lost the global war, so pretty clearly the U.S. lost the war. However, we did steal huge amounts of Indian Nation lands in the process, so the land speculation faction had a happy day.

Having fought alleged slights to it's neutrality, you might think the U.S. would honor the neutrality of other nations. That was true so long as it was some other nation that was having its neutrality trampled on, like Belgium during World War I. When neutral nations got in the way of U.S. war aims, however, a different story line emerged.

Cordell Hull, who was Secretary of State under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, documents this in excruciating details in his Memoirs. At the beginning of World War II the U.S. establishment planned to repeat its triumphant accomplishments of World War I: make a lot of money being a neutral nation, then join the war towards the end, on the victorious side, grab while the grabbing is good, and mask mercenary aims behind high-sounding peace and democracy rhetoric. Before the British, German, Japanese, and Russian empires could totally destroy each other, however, the Japanese made U.S. involvement in the war official on December 7, 1941.

The United States immediately ordered its Latin America puppet nations to enter the war on its side, and many did. A number of other nations were determined to be neutral, however. Cordell Hull recounts how starting in 1943 he pressured Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Argentina, Ireland and Turkey to either officially enter the war on the side of the United Nations (originally, and still really, a fighting organization of U.S./British puppets) or at least cut off crucial war materials to the enemy Axis nations.

Of course, Americans think: but was not Hitler really evil? Is it not okay to bash neutral nations when they are refusing to fight evil?

What, exactly, you might want to ask, made Hitler so evil that the rules could be broken by the U.S.? He was a racist. Oops, so were Franklin Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, their Democratic Party, and the British Empire. He conquered non-German territories, not allowing each nation of Europe to determine its own destiny. The U.S., in contrast, liberated the American Indians and bossed around Hawaii, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico through entirely peaceful means, and the British Empire was not built on the blood and bones of millions of citizens of defeated nations. Why were the Irish neutral? Are you kidding? Because as much as they would have liked to smash the British Empire, or at least kick the Brits out of Northern Ireland, actually declaring war against Britain would have just ended up with another round of genocide at British hands in Ireland.

Sure, Hitler was a bad guy. But you will notice the U.S. did not send troops to fight Hitler (or any other Catholic Four leader: Mussolini, Franco, Petain and Hitler) when war first broke out in 1939. Even after the U.S. declared war Roosevelt kept building up the U.S. economy by selling to the both our allies and, in many cases documented (and rationalized away) by Hull, to the Axis powers too! Churchill and Stalin begged the U.S. to actually send troops to fight. Twenty million Russians died defeating Hitler. Only then, when Hitler was clearly defeated in 1944, did the U.S. invade France and mop up the seniors and teenage conscripts who manned Germany's army on the eastern front.

The U.S. global empire does not like neutral nations today any more than King George or Napoleon did in their day.

Pakistan, in particular, is bashed for trying to remain neutral and at peace with its neighbors. Pakistan has plenty of problems of its own without the U.S. butting in with its political manipulations, its drones, its attacks on the army of Pakistan, and its threats. The U.S. puppet government of Afghanistan is not some shining light of the region. It is corrupt to the core. Those who doubt that billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars will be able to prop up this regime in the long run have history on their side.

President Obama plays the smiling predator game well. He's about as complex as Tony Soprano. He says the new agreement with Afghanistan will "build an equal partnership between two sovereign states." Within that equal partnership the U.S. has assigned our Afghan puppets the job of "patrolling its cities and mountains" to kill anyone who is not a U.S. puppet. "Others will ask why we don't leave immediately... our gains could be lost ... I refuse to let that happen." [Full Barack Obama Afghanistan Speech]

What gains? A higher national debt? The deeper entrenchment of the corporate security state in the U.S.A.? Gains for who? 99% of American citizens have lost a lot in this past decade, Mr. President. We lost it mostly to banks and speculators, not to the Taliban. If only you had declared war on investment banks, Mr. President, I might not be neutral. But of course they financed your 2008 election campaign, so you have directed us to look elsewhere for enemies.