Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kshama Sawant and Leon Trotsky

Kshama Sawant, an avowed socialist, was recently elected to the Seattle City Council. I think this is a healthy event; I applaud Ms. Sawant's peaceful route to the extremely limited power one has as a city council person. But Ms. Sawant is a member of a Trotskyist Party. Most American's don't know much about Trotsky or the parties that carry his flag, mainly because they are small and usually quite obscure.

Americans are not likely to take to any party that idolizes a foreign political leader. Ms. Sawant and Socialist Alternative have not chosen one of the many American socialist leaders or parties to idolize. So why Leon Trotsky?

Leon Trotsky is a lot like Thomas Jefferson. I don't mean that in a positive way. I mean that his rhetoric is attractive to idealists, but his life betrays his rhetoric. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, it which he talks of freedom and the equality of man (mostly plagiarizing British writers). He owned slaves. When the British freed his slaves during the American Revolution, he demanded their return (he got a number back when the British surrendered at Yorktown). He supported his spendthrift habits (fine wines, fancy horses and the endless expansion of Monticello) partly by forcing child-slaves to spend their days in his nail factory.

Leon Trotsky was a Russian Marxist revolutionary running his own political party until the Russian Revolution. Then he joined up with the Bolshevik Party to stage a coup that both killed the Czar (who by then was only a figurehead) and overthrew the government established by the workers and peasants and their political parties. He was then assigned the task of organizing the murder of anyone Left, Right, or Center, who disagreed with the new dictatorship of middle-class intellectuals led by Lenin. He headed the Red Army that murdered hundreds of thousands of opponents during the Civil War. He did not object to the killing of socialist opponents by the brutal Leninist political police.

So why would a nice, thoughtful person like Kshama subscribe to the ideology of such a madman? After Lenin died a new leader, really dictator, was needed. Naturally Trotsky thought that with so much blood on his hands, he was the natural choice. But Joseph Stalin outmaneuvered him, eventually forcing Leon into exile.

By then Trotsky had a large following both in the Soviet Union (Russia plus places Trotsky had conquered, notably the Ukraine, where anarchists had tried to set up a non-dictatorial socialist system) and within the many communist parties around the world. He changed his tune. He began to use the rhetoric of democracy to improve his chances of eventually becoming a dictator. He criticized Joe Stalin, saying he (not the entire bunch of Leninists) had perverted the Russian Revolution, transforming it into a bureaucratic dictatorship.

For radicals of a certain mindset Trotskyism has a deep appeal. You can be a revolutionary and imagine that you are in a vanguard party in the line of Marx and Lenin, while talking about freedom and democracy. In the United States since around 1970s the numerous (but each small) Trotskyist parties have been particularly adept at recruiting LGBT radicals.

Their inability to see the contradiction between Trotsky's rhetoric and the factual historic record, or worse still their acceptance of it, is a key to understanding activists like Kshama. The world is a bright and shiny place just needing some nice rhetoric to wake up "the masses" to complete the glorious worldwide Leninist revolution that went astray when Stalin got his grubby hands on it.

If a socialist party wants to succeed in the United States, it should reject Trotsky.

If socialism is the best system for running society, it should be so on its own merit. It should not need the "blessing" of some Marxist saint like Lenin, Stalin, Mao or Trotsky.

If an American socialist party wants some saints, it could at least use American socialists. There have been plenty of them, and their example is much better than that of any of the Russian leaders, even if they did not bring a socialist revolution to the U.S.A. [note no Trotskyist political party has ever come to power anywhere in the world]. Look to Mother Jones, the Industrial Workers of the World, Daniel De Leon, or Emma Goldman for inspiration.

Over the decades I interviewed many leaders of American Trotskyist parties. They all lacked the confidence to speak out about the historical reality of Trotsky's life. Their tiny cults trapped them in error: to renounce Trotsky, after building their parties around worshipping him, would have meant being ostracized.

If Kshama Sawant wants to graduate to being a socialist leader herself, she needs to denounce the legacy of mass murder that is the life of Leon Trotsky. If she can't do that, she is a moral cripple who cannot be trusted to build a genuine popular socialist movement.

See also: A Rare Elected Voice for Socialism Pledges to Be Heard in Seattle [New York Times, December 29, 2013]

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Learning from Ho Chi Minh

Like most of my fellow Americans, I associate Ho Chi Minh with the Vietnam War. Having recently completed William J. Duiker's rather detailed biography of Ho [Ho Chi Minh, A Life], I found much that is worthy of study by Americans, indeed by anyone in the world who thinks politics should be about positive change.

Ho was the son of a peasant-scholar. The closest American equivalent to his father would be someone with a tiny farm that produced food but not money, and a teaching (or tutoring job) that provided middle-class status without the money that accompanies it in the U.S. Because his father continued to pursue his studies (in the only topic considered worthy in 19th century Vietnam, Confucian philosophy), he migrated to the city of Hue and Ho was exposed to the reality of French control of his country. It was a grim picture. After failing to convert the Vietnamese with Roman Catholic priests and commerce, the French had come in with guns blazing. They taught a few people their piggish language and culture, but were mainly there to extract wealth, no matter how many Vietnamese died in the process.

If did not matter who was in charge of the government of France over the decades: conservatives, moderates, liberals, progressives, fascists (Petain and the Vichy regime) and even Socialists all insisted that once conquered, the Vietnamese had to remain in the French empire.

Ho Chi Minh, of course, was not the only one to revolt against French rule. The story of his becoming the leader of his country has some resemblance to that of George Washington in the U.S., but Ho started with less, worked much harder and longer, and accomplished more.

While in theory Ho could be said to be a Marxist, a Leninist, even a Stalinist and a Maoist, he compares well to those men of totalitarian bent. While the Vietnamese did fight the French and eventually the Americans, Ho was by nature a peaceful guy. He negotiated continuously with his friends and enemies alike. Constantly gave both the French and the Americans (and domestic opposition parties) an easy out: withdraw peacefully, and let us govern ourselves, was his only message.

Duiker sums up how Ho operated: "be thrifty, be friendly but impartial, resolutely correct errors, be prudent, respect learning, study and observe, avoid arrogance and conceit, and be generous."

To be thrifty means resources are available for the good of others, or for a good cause. Ho lived in what only could be called poverty for his entire life. Unlike Washington, who was rich and owned slaves, and Mao and Stalin, who lived luxuriously after obtaining power, Ho really just did not feel a leader should live better than the people he served.

To be friendly but impartial is a difficult dance, in my experience. Friends want you to give them breaks you would not give to non-friends. But impartiality is important for many reasons, including that it keeps you from being deluded by your friends. People who hold your impartiality against you are corrupt. They are the problem, not the impartiality.

To resolutely correct errors is a bit more than learning from your mistakes. A lot of people don't even notice when they are making mistakes. In the corporate world the quality control principles used at Toyota, which have spread to many other manufacturers, are a system for resolutely correcting errors. In politics people tend to stick to positions no matter how counterproductive they are in reality. That is how you get organizations like the Democratic Party and Republican Party, and for that matter the dysfunctional communist parties of the 20th century.

Hopefully the benefits of prudence and respecting learning don't need to be explained, though they are often absent or minimally present in American life.

"Study and observe." How often have you seen someone fly off the handle because they misunderstand a situation? How many disasters have occurred because people oversimplify something complex, or don't bother to understand the materials they are working with at all? In particular, Americans don't know their own history, much less world history, and not knowing history, cannot see what will result from various actions or inaction.

"Avoid arrogance and conceit." Not only are these characteristics off-putting, but they prevent you from learning from others. I would note, however, that pretending to be ignorant in order to avoid being accused of arrogance is also a no-win situation for everyone.

Finally, be generous. Generosity can take many forms. I don't think Ho had a lot of money to give away at any point in his life. He was generous, however (considering the circumstances) with people who disagreed with him politically. In retrospect his whole life might have seemed like an endless meeting in which he tried to persuade people to do the right thing. He tried to persuade the French and Americans to give the Vietnamese their freedom. But he also spent countless hours trying (and to some extent succeeding) to get his younger, more ideological communist comrades to not think their job was to boss peasants (or intellectuals, or even business people or other party members) around.

Duiker's book fleshes out how Ho Chi Minh tried to put these guidelines into action. It also sheds a lot of light on the psychology and workings of imperialism, which is still a problem in the world today. Leninist-style communism may no longer be the best way to fight (or peacefully oppose) imperialism, but the lessons from Ho's life are now our common human heritage.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pearl Harbor, the Cadiz Raid, and War Crimes

Americans are more likely to know the fictional histories of Middle Earth or of Westeros than actual world history. Most, however, have at least a vague idea of the Battle of Pearl Harbor, memorialized every December 7. So too it is hard to miss the story of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. But few know of the Raid on Cadiz. When it comes to issues of war and war crimes, you should consider Cadiz along with these other historic events.

The Cadiz Raid of 1587 was part of the struggle between Spain and England (which was partly a religious struggle between the reformed Christian churches and the Roman Catholic Church, which is not important to the context of this essay). Sir Francis Drake can be fairly said to have been a pirate operating under license from Queen Elizabeth I. The Spanish Armada was assembling in a number of ports, preparatory to the invasion of England, following the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots in February 1587, which made a Roman Catholic (and pro-Spain) succession to Elizabeth unlikely. Leading a fleet of only four vessels, Drake surprised the Spanish fleet at Cadiz and destroyed 37 ships in April 1587.

The Raid on Cadiz, in both English and American history, is a glorious moment. The following year Drake and the English navy and a fortuitous storm repelled the Spanish Armada, saving England from the Spanish Inquisition.

But what if you stop and think about whether the Cadiz Raid was right or wrong, or a war crime?

Is building an army or navy the same as actually waging a war of aggression? What if the intent is to wage war? What if the intent is to bully, so obtain some advantage without actually waging the war?

Would the Cadiz raid be legal because the English knew Spain was planning a war? Or was it illegal since negotiations were taking place that might have averted war?

[300 pages of legal and ethical discussion later...] Let's look at some other historical events using our Cadiz decision [(1) it was an act of aggression and war crime, or (2) it was an act of defense, and not a war crime] as a legal precedent.

Fast forward a few hundred years to the Battle of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. First, you need to know some important facts that are not in most U.S. history books, where Pearl Harbor is characterized as a "surprise" attack. The U.S. and Japan were already fighting in China, with the U.S. air force thinly disguised as a volunteer unit under the dictator Chiang Kai-shek. In addition, the U.S. commander in the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur, had been given permission to attack the Japanese, and a large U.S. invasion fleet was steaming towards the Philippines. The U.S. had broken the Japanese cryptographic codes. The declaration of war by Japan, simultaneous with the attack, was no surprise to Cordell Hull or President Franklin Roosevelt. Though it seemed horrific, the actual attack did relatively little damage to the U.S. fleet. The U.S. was in a massive naval construction program, and had over 10 times the industrial capacity of Japan. The good new battle ships at Pearl Harbor had mysteriously sailed out to sea, well away from the battle. The Japanese sank mainly easily replaceable World War I relics.

So, back to your Cadiz choice. Maybe Pearl Harbor was Japan's Cadiz Raid. The Japanese government knew that its plan to drive the White Race out of their Asian colonies was about to lead the U.S., with its astonishing industrial capacity, to initiate a war allowing the U.S. to fulfill its dream of ruling China and Japan (and maybe take Indochina from the French, too). Pearl Harbor was defense. If you believe Francis Drake should be treated as a hero for his Cadiz raid, then you should treat the Japanese fleet as heroes too.

But what the hey, Cadiz was a long time ago, and Drake was a Brit, not an American, so maybe to preserve the "day of infamy" status of Pearl Harbor you want to go with Cadiz was an act of aggression and a war crime, as you already believe Pearl Harbor was. Then if one nation is planning to attack another nation, even a weaker nation sure to lose a war, the small nation has no right to a pre-emptive strike. They have to wait until the big bully starts the war before they can defend themselves. Like in the recent Iraq war: if Saddam Hussein had shot first, he would be a war criminal. Even though his fight with the U.S. was purely defensive, somehow he was still the war criminal.

American Presidents and most citizens actually prefer to toss out logic. America is always right! If we initiate an attack, we are right! If we are attacked and retaliate, we are right! If we kill civilians in ways that are clearly war crimes under the Geneva Conventions, we play the Americans get out of war crimes free card. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's pontificating against aerial bombardments of cities, and calling those actions war crimes, when the U.S. was not yet in World War II, did not mean his later ordering the obliteration of Japanese and German cities was a war crime.

Apparently international law is not really something peacefully agreed upon. As a man who knew something about killing people who disagreed with him once remarked, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." One nation's hero is another nation's pirate. As long as America has chumps stupid enough to buy our bonds, we can keep our guns and our national debt and our freedom from prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Other People's Imperialism: Roosevelt, Hitler and Ho Chi Minh

Americans, the citizens of the United States of America, have a long tradition of anti-imperialism. After all, our 13 original colonies rebelled against the British Empire in 1776 and established a "novus ordo seclorum," in which, in theory at least, all men are created equal.

Hypocrisy, however, was in no shortage among America's founders, who went off a conquering as soon as they got the rabble they whipped up for the Revolution back under control. Jefferson, Jackson and the lot did not consider Native American nations to be real nations, hence there was nothing imperial about taking their land. Nor was there anything imperial about trying to take Canada in 1812, since the Canadians should have had the good sense to toss off the Brits all along.

Well before World War II began the U.S.A. had become one of the great imperialist powers, behind Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands, but ahead of Spain, Italy, Germany, and Japan. We ruled the Philippines, Hawaii and Puerto Rico directly, and maintained puppets in many Western Hemisphere nations. Despite that many Americans, including presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), made good anti-imperialist speeches.

FDR and crew were against British, French, Dutch and Japanese imperialism. Those imperialists prevented U.S. commercial penetration of their domains. It is possible FDR's rhetoric even fooled Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Vietnamese struggle for independence.

Before World War II what we now call Vietnam was divided into three parts [if you must know: Tonkin in the north, Annam in the center, and Cochin China in the South], but all were essentially one big colony run by the French, who also ran Laos and Cambodia, the whole region being referred to as French Indochina. The French were vicious in their exploitation of Vietnam, killing and starving people to death in numbers that, had the French been Communists, would have got them in big trouble with both yesterday's and today's American propagandists.

Ho Chi Minh, aiming at independence, was dealing with a remarkably complex situation. Although he was a communist, he was also a nationalist whose first goal was to kick the French out. There were also Vietnamese nationalists who were not communists; most allied with Ho, but some saw themselves as future rulers, and so either fought the French separately or even put energy into sabotaging Ho's organization, the Viet Minh. The nationalists bickered among themselves, but there was a lot of bickering in the Viet Minh as well.

Before World War II the French kept alternating governments between conservatives, who had no sympathy at all for the Vietnamese, and socialists, who in theory had sympathy but who nevertheless opposed independence for Vietnam. Ho and his diplomats negotiated with all of them. Ho was willing to accept independence within a French federation. He was a moderate and worldly guy who had lived at times in France, the United States, and the Soviet Union, before setting up his headquarters in southern China.

Where and when World War II began depends on who you ask. Japan started styling itself the America of Asia in the 1930s. Japan was one of the few independent Asian nations, it had a democratic and militaristic government (just like the U.S.), and it asserted its own equivalent of the Monroe Doctrine. Monroe told the European imperialists to keep their hands off the New World (western hemisphere). But later U.S. presidents grabbed as much territory as they could and frequently sent in the Marines to "restore order," often by appointing a dictator.

Japan told the European imperialists it was time to get out of Asia, and Japanese leaders were very interested in the restoring order game. The most disorderly nation in Asia was China, where a combination of internal weakness and predatory tactics by Europeans and Americans had left a state of chaos characterized by warlord rule, famine, and economic distress. Communists had set up their own Chinese state in the northwest, while in theory Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party "governed" the nation as a whole. To describe the mess in detail is beyond the scope of this essay. The Japanese, on the other hand, had built up industrial and military capabilities sufficient to defeat both China and Russia in earlier wars.

The Japanese went about restoring order in China, meeting the same kind of resistance the U.S. met when restoring order within the Monroe Wall. No American President liked the Japanese out-competing the U.S. in China, but in particular FDR did not like it. The "Delano" side of his family had made its fortune running illegal opium into China, and Roosevelt backed the Open Door Policy, which allowed every imperialist nation to pillage and rape China's economy, as long as new official colonies were not established. Roosevelt berated the Japanese and sometimes even British, French and Dutch colonialism in Asia, but note he did not grant independence to the Philippines, a U.S. colony.

Pretty soon there were 3 major governments of China (many more, if you count the war lords who ran with Chiang but obeyed no one but themselves): the communists, the Japanese puppets (one in Manchuria, one in Coastal China), and the increasingly irrelevant Kuomintang. FDR decided to prop up Chiang, who had married a Christian, American-educated banking princess. Money flowed and ammunition flowed to Chiang, but most of it was diverted by his corrupt cronies or Madam Chiang's family. So FDR sent the U.S. Air Force to fight the Japanese. In order to avoid going to Congress to ask for a declaration of war (the Republican Party was opposed to war back then, and enough Democrats were for peace to kill such a request) the U.S. Air Force in China pretended to be volunteers in the Chinese air force. They were known as the Flying Tigers.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Adolf Hitler's German army had defeated the French Army. The French fascists, led by Petain, made a deal to rule much of France and all its colonies from Vichy. The Japanese then demanded and got the right to station their troops in Vietnam.

No one was helping Ho and his comrades very much. After Pearl Harbor, Chiang and the Americans were willing to give Ho limited support as long as his ragtag guerillas fought the Japanese. The Russians were too busy with their own problems to help. The Chinese communists provided some training, but they had to fight both Chiang and the Japanese, so their support was minimal.

Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh did the best they could during the war years. They organized a vast underground network and a Provisional Government. The French killed as many Viet patriots as they could, and the Japanese did too. [Many native leaders in the Philippines cooperated with the Japanese, as did Indonesian and Burmese leaders, and in turn these nations were granted independence. It is not clear why that strategy was not followed in Vietnam.]

When FDR died and President Truman vaporized Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Vietminh thought the time for Vietnamese independence had finally come. Instead, since the U.S. was busy occupying Japan (a goal of U.S. imperialists from at least 1850), the allied imperialists somehow decided that the Chinese would occupy northern Vietnam and the British would occupy southern Vietnam. They were to ship the Japanese soldiers home, but what would come next?

The French wanted Vietnam back! The Chinese considered keeping North Vietnam, but Chiang could not really spare the troops since he was planning to wipe out the Chinese communists. The Cold War was already on, with the U.S. and British Empires demanding free elections in Eastern Europe (held by the Russians after defeating Hitler) and the Communists demanding free elections in France and Italy, plus the deposing of General Franco from power in Spain. Similarly, free elections were all the rhetorical rage in Vietnam, but just in case the imperialists refused to cooperate, the Viet Minh seized what territory they could, which included most of Tonkin. The local remnants of French fascism not being up to the task of fighting, they encouraged the Japanese, who were now POWs, to fight the Vietnamese independence forces!

To wrap up an already long story, while Ho negotiated with the new government of France organized by Charles de Gaulle, the French got enough material from President Truman to put together an army and reinvade Vietnam. Truman felt that French imperialism was better for the U.S. than Vietnamese independence probably leading to communism.

So the Vietnamese had to fight a long war with the French, and when they won they only got North Vietnam (the deceitful French agreed to nationwide elections, then used an interval of peace to set up a puppet regime in South Vietnam, which the U.S. soon came to equip, finance, and generally pull the strings of).

Sadly, although imperialism has taken on forms different from the colonies of the past, it is still a major part of the world order today. As I write this the French are "helping" African nations by sending in the Foreign Legion again. America has never given up the imperialist game; Barack Obama has approved plans to establish U.S. military bases in almost every country in Africa.

Inside the U.S., the anti-imperialist movement is weaker than it has been at any time since the American Revolution. People just don't care, they don't know the present day facts or the historical facts. American citizens don't understand how imperialism enriches our elite, sucks the blood out of our working class (and even the middle class), and is largely responsible for the impossible-to-pay-back federal debt.

But hey, won't Apple being coming out with a new phone next year? Shouldn't that be what we are focusing our attention on? Or Lady Gaga? Or World of Warcraft?

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Deregulation Era

Just a note that I saw the term "deregulation era" for the first time just now. That does not mean it is the first time it has been used, just the first time I noted it.

It is used by New York Times business columnist Floyd Norris in a article called A Trading Tactic is Foiled, and Banks Cry Foul. Floyd pins the ear as lasting from 1980 until 2008.

Note this was an era where sometimes the Democrats controlled Congress, and sometimes Republicans. It covers the following presidencies: the last year of Jimmy Carter, then all of Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. As far as I know the most important piece of deregulation, the killing of the Glass-Steagall Act, was engineered by Bill Clinton and his Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Man, Oh Man: Turkey Zombie Apocalypse

If you have some of the friends I have on Facebook, you know the west coast of the United States is about to be abandoned. People actually believe that the Fukushima nuclear disaster is going to cause the whole coast to glow in the dark. Danger! Danger! Run Away!

I have long advocated shutting down every nuclear reactor in the world, but try to keep my distance from hysteria as well. There is something called background radiation, which was around before scientists started trying to make critical masses. It varies according to where you live, and it is tolerable. You need a lot more radiation exposure than background radiation to suffer any immediate or even long-term harm. Fukushima is bad, but the only people who need to get hysterical about it are the Japanese.

People still live in the Marshall Islands. Their main zombie apocalypse concern these days: rising sea levels from global warming. But in a single incident in 1954, Castle Bravo, the Bikini Atoll was exposed to a 15 megaton nuclear explosion. Way worse than Fukushima. In fact the United States of America tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958. Not a good thing, but not quite the end of the world. Or a reason to abandon California.

Me, I am more worried about the Butterball Zombie Turkeys. You will find it difficult to purchase a fresh, large, Butterball brand turkey this year. Frozen, yes. Small, yes. Other brands fresh and large, yes. But something is amiss in Butterball land, and either corporate spokespeeps are covering up, or corporate scientists don't know the cause. The turkeys did not bulk up. A tiny signal, but isn't that the way zombie movies start? Just a hint, a bad cold, if you will. Then by Thanksgiving 2014 only the rich can afford turkeys. A month of food stamps for a turkey? Maybe it is a Tea Party plot.

Reading an old book about the Holy Roman Empire helps keep a detached perspective. People actually used to believe that the Pope was the spiritual emperor of Earth. Wait ... about a billion people still believe the Pope is the spiritual emperor of earth. More than believed it in the Dark Ages. What is the difference between a Roman Catholic at Sunday Mass and a zombie? A rosary.

The economy is recovering, creeping up on the poor slobs who would really, actually, collect unemployment and stay at home and watch TV, than work. My proposal is too build a giant tomb for President Obama. It would have a square base, one mile by one mile, and would be built of stone. Every unemployed person in the country would be employed cutting stones out of quarries and carrying the stones - no heavy equipment allowed because that would contribute to global warming - and placing them in a roughly pyramid shape.

What really, really worries me is that we are spending so much money occupying foreign nations with troops and private contractors when we need to prepare for the federal debt apocalypse. What's the point of imperialism if we can't tax the other nations and pay off our debt and have a better life? It just doesn't make  any sense. Must be that Tea Party again. They recognize the debt problem (unlike Liberals, who think the problem is imaginary), but they are against new taxes, even on South Korea and Afghanistan and Israel. We protect them, they should pay protection money!

Jeepers! Man of man! My pyramid idea is going viral in progressive Democratic Party circles ...

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Charlemagne, Hitler, and the Holy Roman Empire 2.0

I have written a number of articles that mention how Adolf Hitler's differences with the Pope were similar in nature to prior differences between Holy Roman Emperors [who were almost always German] and Popes. [See my Adolf Hitler page for a list of articles]

Here I want to go into more detail, expanding the thesis that Adolf Hitler was Holy Roman Emperor 2.0. This is not a trivial exercise. Hitler's armies came perilously close to winning World War II. If they had, there would only be one official religion today: Roman Catholicism. It would likely be a Nazi-modified, Catholicism. The extent of modification would depend on how the power struggle between the Pope (who had engineered Hitler's rise to power) worked out. Then, there would have been the power-struggles between their successors.

Nor are we today free of the prospect of another attempt to revive the Holy Roman Empire. There are also parallels with other religious zealots, such as militant Islam and, in the United States, militant Protestantism.

I also think that it is important to closely associate Hitler with Roman Catholicism in the public mind. I have yet to meet a Roman Catholic in the United States who even knew, before I told them, that Hitler was a Roman Catholic. And they pretty much go into denial after they are informed of the fact.

As in the analysis of all things complex, historians differ somewhat on where they place the beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire. All distinguish the Holy Roman Empire from the older Roman Empire, although there was a chain of continuity between them. The old Roman Empire had become Christian as it fell into decline after the capital was moved from Rome to Constantinople. The Bishop of Rome was, in the era between about 200 A.D. and 600 A.D., prestigious but not widely considered to be the head of the Church. While various legends were concocted to increase the power of the Roman bishop (including the idea that the Apostle Peter started a chain of succession of universal church dictators in Rome) over the centuries, what really resulted in the assumption of power was the destruction of the more-ancient African and Middle Eastern churches during the Islamic conquests of the 7th century.

[for details of the evolution from the old Roman Empire to the Holy Roman Empire see The Holy Roman Empire by James Brice]

The creation of the Holy Roman Empire was marked by the crowning of its first Emperor, Charles the Great a.k.a. Charlemagne, by Pope Leo III. There are two points about this that are missed by modern commentators. First, Charlemagne, leader of the Franks, was a German, and a very successful militarist German at that. Second, Leo III was the first Bishop of Rome to be able to assert, with Charles's army at his back, that he was the supreme leader of all Christians, thus making the term catholic factual. Needless to say the bishops of the more-ancient Orthodox churches like Constantinople and Antioch did not accept this assertion. They had their own, better-documented, stories of apostolic succession.

The Holy Roman Empire is also called the First Reich. It is generally accepted to have ended in 1806. It was always Roman Catholic. Its history was punctuated by often bitter disputes between the Emperor and the Pope, sometimes involving clashing armies.

The Second Reich, or German Empire, was not officially Catholic, was more clearly German, and lasted just a few decades, from 1871 to 1918. There was less pretense to the right to global domination, although the Germans had defeated France in 1870 and did build up a set of colonies, though they were dwarfed by the British Empire.

Adolf Hitler was born near the German border in Austria in 1889, in a Roman Catholic family. After trying his hand as an artist, he volunteered to join the German army during World War I, and became a German citizen.

Hitler's focus was on restoring Germany to power through the National Socialist, or Nazi, party. The two largest religions in Germany at the time were the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church, with northern Germany tending to the Lutheran and southern Germany tending to the Catholic. Conveniently described after his defeat as an atheist, in fact Hitler was the champion of most people opposed to atheist Socialism and Communism.

Although the Nazis became the largest electoral party in Germany, the one thing the other political parties could agree on, until 1933, was that the Nazis should be excluded from power. But Pope Pius XI, along with the future Pope Pius XII (who was then the papal representative in Germany), thought otherwise. They needed a new Holy Roman Emperor to fight modern ideas like atheism, socialism, and even Protestantism. Mussolini did not seem to be up to the task. They cut a deal, through the Catholic electoral party in Germany and one of its leaders, Franz von Papen, who was a Papal Chamberlain and had been Chancellor of Germany in 1932. Under the agreement Hitler became Chancellor with Papen as his Vice-Chancellor. As part of the deal Hitler quickly agreed to Papal demands for a Reichskonkordat.

Hence the Third Reich. But Charlemagne had not been made Holy Roman Emperor just for inheriting the Frankish throne and being a good Christian (if, like most Christians, you think war and your religion are compatible). No, Charlemagne defeated a bunch of weaker tribes and kingdoms, and then defeated a specific enemy of Leo III, the Lombards, before he was worthy of the imperial crown.

Hitler had some work to do first. He got Germany's economy back on track (this was during the Great Depression), the real reason Germans were so fond of him. He built up an army and air force. Then he used diplomacy and the threat of force to get back areas taken from Germany at the end of World War I.

Meanwhile, General Franco seized Spain in a bloody civil war, leaving France as the only basically Roman Catholic, but non-fascist, nation in Europe. A generation of Popes had schemed to re-Catholicize Europe, and the dream seemed to be coming true.

Later, Catholic propagandists would point to arguments between Hitler and some Catholics, including Pius XI and Pius XII. But these were arguments within the budding new Holy Roman Empire; not really different (and in some cases remarkably identical) to arguments between earlier Emperors and Popes. Either pope could have tried to order Hitler around by threatening excommunication. But neither did. Hitler remained officially Catholic until the day he died. The Pope certainly did not object when Hitler forced the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches in Germany to unite.

Hitler frequently said things critical of the Church or specifically of some of her clergy. Again, later apologists would say that he was not really Catholic, whatever his official status. But go back to Charlemagne and you will find the same details. In fact, Charlemagne bossed around the Catholic clergy, and even the Pope, far more than Hitler ever did. And yet no historian today would say Charlemagne was not Catholic. In fact, he was made a Catholic saint.

The reason Hitler is not a Catholic Saint today is because the communist-atheists defeated him, with surprisingly little help from the British Empire. The United States only fought enough in Europe to grab what it could towards the end of the war.

The ideal of the Roman Empire was the rule of law under one man, the Emperor. The idea of a Universal religion was added to create the Holy Roman Empire. What Hitler and Pius worked out was a plan to globalize the church-state combo.

If you don't know enough about Adolf Hitler to judge the validity of my argument here, I would encourage you to start with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. Then read about the close relation of the fascist movement to the Roman Catholic Church.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Doctors Who Refuse Medicare or Medicaid Should Lose Licenses

There is a simple and fair solution to the increasingly common problem of doctors refusing to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients.

What point is there to giving seniors, the disabled and the insolvent Medicare and Medicaid if many doctors refuse to accept them as payment?

What kind of person refuses to accept Medicare and Medicaid? An anti-social person. A person who entered the medical profession driven by greed, not by the desire to help people. A person who does not even care about other doctors, whose own incomes are hurt when they have to take too high of a ratio of Medicare patients to make up for sociopath doctor behavior. In short, a criminal, but a white collar criminal who can do far more harm to people through negligence than an ordinary street criminal can do through theft.

Before going further, let me say that, on the whole, Medicare and Medicaid pay scales are fair. When a doctor or hospital says they are losing money when they accept Medicare or Medicaid, in truth they are saying they cannot ream these patients, and the taxpayers, the way the ream private insurance companies and the poor saps who come in without any bargaining power over the price of services. Medicare payments are enough to cover costs and provide an upper middle-class standard of living for doctors and fair wages to other health workers. If some payments for some services need to be raise a bit to be fair, I have no problem supporting that.

What happens when a doctor refuses Medicare patients? A senior will likely end up on a long waiting list, their health deteriorating while they wait. In some cases there may be no similarly qualified specialist in their area. Turning away a sick person because Medicare will pay for their treatment is a form of malpractice.

The solution is obvious. Any doctor who refuses Medicare/Medicaid patients should lose their license and pay a hefty fine. There should be a regular system to check for these abusers of our system.

In writing legislation to include good social behavior as a licensing requirement, there does need to be care taken to be fair. For instance, the Medicare load differs by location and specialty. It would not work to set a specific percentage of Medicare patients all doctor must see in order to keep their licenses. An individual doctor might reject a new patient because they are truly already fully booked, perhaps even mostly with Medicare patients.

The current Medicare bureaucracy should be sufficient to monitor physician compliance and take into account variations in locality and specialty. Some parts of America have a high percentage of seniors, others low percentages. That should not be hard to take into account with a formula that would flag potential bad eggs. Area doctors can be surveyed. If, of ten in the same specialty, nine complains that 70% to 90% of patients are on Medicare or Medicaid, while the tenth is near 0%, it should be clear what is going on.

Of course the first thing the bad doctors will do is stop saying why they are refusing patients. They might also try seeing patients, charging Medicare, but not actually treating patients, something that already happens all too much.

We all (or almost all) pay into Medicare throughout our working lives. To be denied care in our old age by a doctor is a crime. We should be able to call an authority to report such criminal behavior, and they should be happy to end up with only a suspended license, not behind bars with the other criminals, where they really belong.

It is difficult to get a slot in medical school, and so the number of doctors is limited. With a license to practice comes the responsibility to practice fairly, including taking a fair load of Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Massacre in Mogadishu: July 12, 1993

When the rapacious European empires divided (or re-divided) Africa at the beginning of the 20th century, the British empire grabbed Somalia proper and the Italian empire grabbed Somaliland (north Somalia) to add to its holdings in Eritrea and later Ethiopia.

Independence came in 1960, and of course Somalia became ensnared in the Cold War maneuvers of the American empire and the Russian (Soviet) empire. In a military coup Mohamed Siad Barre set up a socialist government in 1969. The American empire stirred up a rebellion against Barre as the old Russian empire collapsed. Barre went into exile in 1991.

Barre was a member of the Marehan Darod clan, and relied heavily on the clan for support towards the end of his reign despite his Marxist-Leninist ideology. Somalia divided up into areas controlled by clans, often headed by warlords. The second-most powerful clan in Somalia were the Habr Gidr, who led the rebellion against Barre. They were led by General Mohamed Farrah Aidid who had earlier served in Barre's cabinet and who had received military training in the Soviet Union.

The U.S. and its allies thought that the Somalia should become another U.S. franchise, complete with free-market capitalism. General Aidid was not interested in being a U.S. puppet, and the Darod clan and other clans were not interested in subordinating themselves to Aidid, and the country was already shot to hell from the rebellion against Barre.

To enforce U.S. rule President Bill Clinton sent in the stormtroopers. Under the fig leaf of the United Nations, forces attacked Aidid and the Habr Gidr. The clan had the audacity to fight back, with some success. Clinton also sent in a peace negotiator, Jonathan Howe, a former admiral who, like Clinton and all U.S. Presidents, believed in negotiations backed by plenty of firepower.

Responding the the peace offer from Howe, the Habr Gidr decided to call a meeting to talk it over. They would meet on July 12, 2013 at the house of Abdi Hassan Awale in Mogadishu. Almost every important civilian in the clan attended, along with militia leaders. This included businessmen, lawyers and other college educated men, religious leaders, traditional elders and even the clan's best-known poet. Many supported the peace initiative, or were ready to abandon General Aidid.

We'll never know the outcome of the meeting. Learning that the leadership of the clan would meet in one place, the U.S. security apparatus decided to go for decapitation. Eventually Bill Clinton and Admiral Howe signed off on the plan.

TOW anti-tank missiles slammed into the house. Sixteen missiles in all blew up, delivered from helicopters. Then Cobra and Black Hawk helicopters poured machine-gun fire on the survivors. Casualty estimates vary, but mostly likely 73 died and another 175 were wounded. The casualties were mostly civilians, and mostly adult men, but included women and children.

If Americans had not done it, the act would be labeled a war crime. In any case it was incredibly stupid, even from the point of view of furthering U.S. imperial dominance of the globe. The entire Habr Gidr clan rallied around Aidid, and even rival clans were shocked. Who could trust a nation that would do such a thing?

So when stormtroopers went to grab two Aidid senior officials (or Somali government officials, if you can look at it that way) on October 3, 1993, it is really not that surprising that half the city of Mogadishu rose up to fight the Americans. That battle (in which tactics used by Afghanistan veterans to fight the Russians were used by the Somalis ...) is generally known as Black Hawk Down.

Neither Bill Clinton, nor George W. Bush, nor Barack Obama has shown any real learning curve. With Afghanistan winding down (and moving towards a restoration of the Taliban, or of another warlord regime), Africa is an increasing American focus, with Somalia still a center of attention. Every nation in Africa has or is scheduled to soon have an American military presence.

The tactical change is the U.S. is now paying Africans to fight Africans. U.S. troops are still so universally hated in Somalia that they are very rarely used, and only for brief raids. Instead Obama pays a variety of African nations to try to put chains on the people in Somalia.

Note that it has nothing to do with brutality, or the usual propaganda about women (in which we hate the Taliban but love the Saudis, even though they treat women exactly the same.) Obama & crew have no problem with brutality as long as the leader practicing it is pro-American. History has shown the U.S. corporate security state will not put up with the most kindly of governments, if they are not pro-American.

Look at our ally Kenya. It has troops in Somalia, trying to prop up the latest in a series of U.S.-appointed puppet governments. Meanwhile Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. President Obama, ever polishing his image while seething with inner corrosion, has refused to meet with Kenyatta in public, but has no problems with training and funding the Kenyan military.

My prediction: more of the same. Hillary Clinton may not have joined Bill Clinton in ordering the Mogadishu Massacre (though she might have whispered in his ear), but she's been around the imperialist block plenty of times, including during her 4 years as Secretary of State. Since most Republican voters always support American war crimes, and since most Democratic Party voters support war crimes if committed by a Democratic President and Congress, you can bet who the imperialist security czars will be backing in 2016.

The only thing that will stop the madness is the national debt, and only if interest rates rise enough. Strangely a strong economy could sink the entire ship, since interest payments would increase faster than tax revenues, leading to a death spiral. Only then will the troops come home and leave the various peoples of the world to sort out their own societies without the threat of U.S. military intervention.

[Much thanks to Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, particularly pages 71-74 and 94-95]

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Churchill's Gold, Rand Paul, and Janet Yellen

Senator Randal "Rand" Paul has threatened to hold up the confirmation of Barack Obama's nominee for Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank, Janet Yellen.

Rand Paul is suspicious of the Federal Reserve, and I don't blame him for that. The Federal Reserve is not very transparent about what it does, and it is not very accountable to Congress or even the President.

Rand Paul, on the other hand, is pretty transparent. He wants to be President, and he needs the Tea Party to support him in his bid for the Republican Party nomination. Like most Tea Party members, Rand Paul seems to be a primitivist with regard to economics. When the economy fails, that is always blamed on Socialism, even though there was precious little socialism to be had in the United States when the economy failed in 1929.

Rand Paul and other primitivist free-market faithful also tend to believe in the Gold Standard, the idea that only the metal gold is real money. Rand Paul's father, Ron Paul, is a famous proponent of gold. Which is to say, he ignores history when it interferes with his ideology.

Winston Churchill (best known to Americans for his leadership of the British Empire during World War II) was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer by Conservative Party Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in late 1924. On April 25, 1925 he proposed that Britain would return to the gold standard, and it did. Unlike many people, Winston was able to learn from experience. In September of 1931, Churchill said:

"I accept my share of the blame for restoring the gold standard in 1925. We were promised reality and stability by our financial experts. We have had neither. The price of gold has increased by 80 per cent. That is as though the foot rule had become twenty-two inches and the pound weight twenty-eight ounces. Think what that means in terms of debt—the extra production demanded to satisfy existing mortgage indebtedness. This financial condition amounts to a hideous oppression." [quoted in A History of England by Goldwin Smith, third edition, page 747]

The Federal Reserve may need better over sight by the public, but nothing, like imposing a gold standard, should be allowed to compromise its historic mission. Modern economies need an elastic money supply. We are long past the era of paper money. Money now consists of electronic accounting book entries.

Even when the Federal Reserve is doing its job, things can go wrong. The main problem with the modern (post-Depression) Fed is that it has been too lenient about asset bubbles. Such bubbles (the Internet stock bubble and the Housing prices bubble) cannot grow to a dangerous size if the Fed keeps the money supply inside of reasonable bounds.

I don't think there is any doubt that the way the Fed is set up favors banks (in particular the banks that it uses for its bond trades), and works on a trickle-down system. As Rand Paul and others (including Democrats and independents like myself) have pointed out, at the very least we deserve transparency.

Holding up Janet Yellen's nomination confirmation as a tactic to pass a particular bill the Federal Reserve Transparency Act is inappropriate. Congress should make sure the act is really about having a full annual public audit of the Fed (changing nothing else) and pass the bill, and Barack Obama should sign it.

The American economy is big and complicated, and many parts of it are rotted to the point that a small-scale collapse should be expected from time to time. The Fed needs to encourage growth while discouraging bubbles. It needs the power and the tools to do that. In my opinion it could use some reforms beyond the Transparency Act. But they should be carefully considered, and should be in the interest of the economic welfare of the citizens as a whole, not the wealthy Wall Street aristocracy.

William Meyer's work in progress is The Accounting: Your Fate is in the Cloud

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Beyond the Debt Ceiling: the Death Spiral

But if investors lose confidence in the federal government (which they should have by now) and the interest on the debt rose to an average of 10% (admittedly higher than it has been yet), the scenario of the death spiral would occur at $14.5 trillion dollars.

That is right. A death spiral is possible, if enough investors lose confidence, at below the current $16.7 trillion debt limit.

So where the real debt limit lies depends on where real investors, as a group, draw the line.

It would be interesting to ask a few people like Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, Lawrence SummersBarack ObamaJacob Lew and John Boehner exactly what they think the real debt limit is.

Even the GAO thinks "Debt held by the public at these high levels could limit the federal government's flexibility to address emerging issues and unforeseen challenges such as another economic downturn or large-scale natural disaster. Furthermore, in both the Baseline Extended and Alternative simulations, debt held by the public continues to grow as a share of GDP in the coming decades, indicating that the federal government remains on an unsustainable long-term fiscal path." [GAO Long Term Outlook]

I predict we are in for stormy fiscal weather. Today the government pays interest at a rate from practically zero on short term notes to 3.75% on 30 year bonds. I believe the Federal Reserve has gone to great lengths to keep interest rates low not just because that encourages an economic recovery, but because it puts off the day of reckoning on the real cost of the national debt.

The Republicans are right, we need to cut spending. But we have to cut spending in a way that minimized the hurt to both people and the economy. That means cutting subsidies to the rich, the upper middle class, and in particular military spending and foreign aid. But the Republicans want to cut payments for seniors and the poor.

The Democrats are right, we need more revenue, which means more taxes. We need a higher tax rate on people earning more than $50 million per year and on large inheritances. We need to close every loophole. We need to legalize and tax "street" drugs. But tax increases do result in less spending and less capital deployment, so they should be reasonable. And the Democrats, too, have been reluctant to cut military spending.

The American economy has been badly hurt by both parties and both branches of Congress and by the President these past few years. By protecting their turfs, including the Pentagon budget, they are weakening the long-term viability of the United States.

Both parties should agree to balance the budget in fiscal 2015 and start paying down the national debt in fiscal 2016. The pain will be shared by everyone, but to the extent it can be targeted by law, it should be dished out to those who have benefited most from the American economy.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Republicans, Democrats, and Zombies

I am busy with freelance work, but thought I would write a brief note or rant on some topics of the day.

Saw Warm Bodies, the zombie comedy, last night. It only had 2 stars at Netflix, so I was ready for disaster, but actually it was quite good. I'm guessing the low star rating is because either it pissed a key reviewing group off, or it is not genre-specific enough. It is a zombie movie, but without enough gore to satisfy horror movie fans. It is a Romeo and Juliet, but probably repulsive to lovers of romance. It is a political and social allegory, but not strident enough for leftists. It has a happy ending, which is especially disappointing to certain types of people.

Meanwhile the Democrats and Republicans are holding the nation hostage, and why not? They've owned us since the two-party system solidified after the Civil War. While I sympathize with the social concerns with which the Democrats use taxpayer dollars to buy the votes of the people that the Democrats allow the corporations to underpay or underemploy, I agree with the Republicans (who are secretly big spenders, having been born into big-spending families) that the national debt is a problem. I dislike much of the Affordable Care Act, but I am in the under $75,000 per year, over 55 but too young for Medicare crowd that the Act helps so much. My cost for insurance will go down, and the Sickness Industry will continue to overcharge just about everyone for their services.

Will the Republicans force the U.S. to default on its debt? Was a time when cutting back spending or raising taxes would at least allow the U.S. government to muddle through. No longer. The interest on the debt, if combined with the inability to issue new debt to repay old debt, is looking to spiral out of control. And if there is danger of default, interest rates will skyrocket. Only fools hold U.S. federal bonds now. Mostly the same fools who sold all their stock market holdings at the bottom in 2008.

The silver lining would be the rest of the earth would be released from bondage to the U.S. There would probably be a world-wide recession or depression, but at least U.S. imperialism would be over. No pay, no work, even for soldiers. Oh, wait, maybe not, the contract U.S. soldiers sign does not allow them to negotiate for pay. They can be kept until the end of their enlistment even without pay.

The big business guys, as greedy as they are, are (mostly) not entirely irrational. They have been pressuring the non-Tea Party republicans to raise the debt ceiling. Then the budget bickering can continue.

And the new, non-happy ending info I picked up from my freelance work this weekend is that solar and wind energy require massive amounts of copper. The copper is mostly dug out of huge open pit mines and results in major pollution issues. The energy needed to mine the copper comes from mining coal ...

Too much, too many people, too much. But I have a pleasant life, for now, with the apples nicely ripening, the pears all picked, and an apple pie I made last night waiting to feed my face, should the zombie apocalypse cut off food supplies. Or should the politicians hurl us back into the pit of the war of each against all.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Defund Republicare

Republicans in the United States House of Representatives are using the federal deficit and national debt, and coming need to authorize a higher ceiling for the debt, as an excuse to try to defund Obamacare (Affordable Care Act).

How about a little fight from the Democratic Party side? How about a little offense, instead of the usual half-hearted defense?

How about defunding Republicare, the vast system of federal spending and tax breaks that is the millionaires' equivalent of the Food Stamp program?

How about refusing to fund the debt ceiling unless the military budget and homeland security budgets are cut by, say, 75%? How about a mean, lean, U.S. force that just defends U.S. territory and leaves the rest of the world to mind its own business?

How about defunding the capital gains tax break. Rich people, truly rich people, get almost all of their money through inheritances and capital gains. When they can't evade capital gains taxes altogether, they only pay 15%. Is that fair? Is that right, when working people making $50,000 per year pay 30%, and families making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year pay a much higher tax rate?

Why do the Democrats always fail to stand up to the rich bully boys who fund the Tea Party and even the mainstream Republican politicians? You know why. Democratic Party politicians use rhetoric to get working class and middle class votes, but they are almost all on the business lobby payroll.

How about defunding the agriculture programs that were set up to help Depression Era small farmers and now funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to corporate farmers, many of whom actually just sit in urban penthouses, collecting government welfare checks?

How about defunding DEA anti-marijuana operations? They just drive up the price of marijuana, creating black market profits, a sliver of which are sufficient to bribe Republicans and Democrats alike to keep Marijuana Prohibition on the law books.

How about defunding Israel? Why are American taxpayers sending vast sums of money to a weathy nation that abuses women, subsidizes a vast welfare scheme for ultraconservative cults, takes the private property of Palestinians without due process of law, and generally causes about a billion people in the world to hate the U.S. government?

There are a lot of other smaller programs that waste money subsidizing America's richest citizens, and even foreigners. Each program should be looked at. And no matter how loud the campaign donors scream, the subsidies should be eliminated. In many cases, like the federal transportation program, the same dollars could alternatively go much further if the profits of contractors were limited to a fair rate.

But Democratic Party politicians are as bad as Republicans when it comes to protecting their own rivers of corruption. Democrats like to call something a program to help the poor, then use it to subsidize giant construction and real estate companies that kick back to urban Democratic Party machines. So while we're in liposuction mode, let's eliminate all but the regulatory functions of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Unlike most Democrats, I believe the nearly 17 trillion dollar federal debt is a serious problem, and is going to be more of a problem going forward. History shows that nations that overburden themselves with debt eventually fail. [See Bankruptcy and Beyond]

But don't expect Democrats to show any backbone. The Democrats have used their backbone to help ordinary citizens for only 8 years of the 200 year history: 1932 to 1936 and 1964 to 1968. Barack Obama and most of his faithful are politically to the right of Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower. The main use of Democratic Party backbone between 1824 and 1964 was to protect slavery and then segregation.

But the real problem, perhaps, is not the politicians. Like thieves, they mostly just get away with whatever the citizens leave laying around loose and unguarded. The American working class is lame. The high hopes of the Marxists for the class came to naught. A surprising number of working class people spout Tea Party nonsense, often because their minds are rotted out by Christian doctrines. But even those who see the problems won't fight for their rights, and are mostly afraid to speak out. They are afraid to unionize, they are afraid to vote for better democrats in primaries or leftist parties when the Democratic candidate is useless.

And what of the middle class? Normally a reservoir of energy and intelligence, the American middle class was corrupted by easy living during the golden age of American imperialism. People expect to inherit a middle class lifestyle. That isn't going to happen much anymore. You are going to have to fight for your living, and not just in the economic arena, or by getting a college education. And if the middle class does not learn to fight in the political arena, and fight the right people (the robber barons, not the working folk) this nation's historical descent will be even more rapid than its rise.

Defund Republicare!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bankruptcy and Beyond, Federal Style

The federal government of the United States is bankrupt. Only the irrational willingness of investors to lend money by buying federal bonds and treasury notes is preventing the recognition of bankruptcy.

So, bankruptcy will happen, even if they try to call it by another name. In a bankruptcy creditors do not get paid in full. But even in a normal corporate bankruptcy there is a struggle about who gets shafted the worst. In the federal case there will be many options. Most likely the federal government will muddle on, in a greatly weakened form. Sadly, the negative effects on people will spiral outward far beyond those most at risk, long-term federal bond holders.

While there are many historical precedents for the bankruptcy of nations, including the recent Greek writedown of public debt, the closest historical example was the situation in the British Empire after World War II.

The British Empire was the largest, most brutal empire in the history of the world. Over a half billion people and a quarter of the world's landmass suffered under the British jackboot by the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The British in their home island were filthy rich from centuries of looting. They had a powerfor military and a large industrial establishment. Even the working classes in England enjoyed a high standard of living. But the cost of two World Wars, largely financed by loans from the United States, left the Brits in a fix in 1946.

The Empire was in revolt, and Britain could not afford to keep it in chains. The American Empire, which governed through puppets and business relationships, muscled in on the British colonies. Food and other necessities were rationed in Britain until 1950. While the British economy (in Britain itself, not the Empire as a whole) recovered slowly during the 1950s and 1960s, Britain has never been able to regain its global dominance.

The United States is the only major industrialized nation that did not have its factories maimed by bombing in World War II. This led to the Golden Age of the American economy, which lasted roughly from 1940 until the 1973 oil crisis. Americans of all classes grew lazy and (both literally and figuratively) fat.

During most years since World War II the U.S. national debt has grown. In other words, despite the prosperity up until 1973, the federal government spent more money than it collected in taxes. According to Keynesian economic theory, this was not a problem, as long as the growth in debt did not greatly outpace the growth in economic output.

But the growth in debt has greatly outpaced the growth in economic output. As I write the national debt is approaching $17.0 trillion. A trillion dollars is a thousand billion dollars. A billion dollars is a thousand million dollars.

Nothing to worry about, according to (mostly Democratic Party) politicians. Why that is only $53,500 per citizen. [But it is twice that per person in the work force, and the median wealth of people in the work force is near zero] Why, once we get the economy revved up again (despite the efforts of the Republican Party), we will reduce the annual federal budget deficit to a tolerable level. Anyway, it's just money we owe ourselves, right?

A U.S. bond is a promise to pay interest and principle on a given date. If the government does not pay, it is admitting to bankruptcy. The interest rate on the debt is set in auctions. Since 2008 interest paid on bonds and bills has been very low compared to historic levels. On federal securities issued for under 2 years, the interest paid is near zero. If interest rates go up the interest on the debt will put the U.S. in a death spiral.

U.S. federal spending is running at an annual rate of about $3.5 trillion. Interest on the debt is currently running at only a quarter of a trillion dollars. If the overall interest on the current debt increased to 5% per year, (not a record) the interest would be $0.85 trillion per year. The current run rate of the federal deficit is about $0.8 trillion per year, though that is trending down as the economy improves. A fair guess is that the national debt would continue to expand at about a trillion a year.

Aside from a magically booming economy that somehow did not coincide with high interest rates, the only way to even put a cap on the debt would be to raise taxes substantially or cut spending substantially, or some combination of both. Politicians talk about that, but they always put actually doing it three to five years in the future.

In reality we are not going to see any further major tax increases or spending reductions. The higher interest rates will be financed by issuing even more debt.

The music will continue until enough investors refuse to get stuck holding federal debt.

The other practical solution to the problem is engineering a high rate of inflation. While that would make new debt expensive to issue (high interest rates) it would allow increased tax collections to (perhaps) balance the deficit and even pay off the old debt. It probably would not work, however, because Social Security payments are indexed to inflation.

No one knows when, but the end of debt expansion will cause an economic crash. No one knows how bad of a crash, but probably at least as bad as the one in 2008. Which of course makes it even harder to pay the national debt. The government will have to either repudiate the national debt or dissolve itself. My guess is it will repudiate the debt. It will continue to collect taxes, and it will continue to spend money to keep people (particularly rich people) from rioting too much, but bond holders will be left with paper of dubious value. There will be promises that payments will resume, some day. Some day will never come. The only alternative would be crushing tax hikes. Even crushing the rich with a 90% tax on millionaires would not do the trick.

For the majority of American citizens who have no economic or political power the best thing to do is to get as economically prepared as possible. Pay off your debts and keep them paid off. Be very careful where you keep your savings (I don't believe gold or silver will hold value during a meltdown, but that is another whole essay). Strengthen your private infrastructure, and keep on good terms with your community. People survived the Great Depression, and you can survive what is coming, if you are prepared.

Like Britain without the British Empire, America will somehow muddle through the transition. We may have to sell Alaska to the Chinese to pay our debt to them. We may have to give promissory notes to Yosemite and Yellowstone and some Aircraft Carriers to American bond holders to keep them calm until they realize there is nothing they can do put accept whatever scraps the politicians throw them. But we will still grow food and make things and engage in commerce. Eventually, when enough politicians have been hanged ... out to dry ... things will pick up again, with a smaller, more efficient federal government and a vastly lowered set of economic expectations.

Unless people really freak out and start shooting at each other. Then all bets are off.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Free Will, Genes, and Environment

I have concluded that while both genes and the environment (cultural and physical) are major determinants of human behavior, every human still has, at least in certain circumstances, what is traditionally called free will. I reject the totally deterministic, and especially the atomic-deterministic interpretation of reality. My rejection of the deterministic hypothesis is not because I find it repugnant, but because I find it to be (partially) misleading and counterproductive.

I am not rejecting causality. My understanding of causality is complicated, not simplistic. To the extent that human decisions are subject to free will, they would also become part of the chain of causality.

Our typical modern picture of the deterministic universe comes from classical, Newtonian physics. In the simplified version of this causality is like a well-constructed set of falling dominoes: once set in motion, it never veers off course. Atoms crashing into atoms form the air, and their micro-movements form the local weather: everything happens because of strict rules of mass, momentum, electricity and other forces.

I do not base my rejection of strict determinism on quantum physics. Causality in quantum physics (the kind studied by scientists, not the new age pseudoscience, pop culture version) is more complicated than classical causality. In some situations the causality is probabilistic. This is related to my free will argument not because it shows Newton was wrong, but because it shows you have to be careful about thinking about our complicated universe. Generally speaking, quantum causality only is an issue in the sub-nano end of the size spectrum.

The common, mistaken view of decision making posits that atoms, molecules and larger structures of the brain are deterministic from the atomic level up. It follows that "making a decision" is simply a name humans give to the compulsions that come from their atomic programming. Unlike mystics and spiritualists, I do believe this atomic viewpoint has some explanatory value. The brain is made up of atoms, molecules, neurons and other cells, and importantly the synapses between the neurons. Sometimes human activity can be attributed to causes from below, as when a clogged blood vessel leads to neural malfunction or death and the kind of strange behaviors sometime seen in people suffering from a stroke.

But causality also comes from outside the brain. It mostly comes from outside the brain. Without sensory experience the brain would learn nothing and do little. Without cultural input the behavior of humans would be the behavior of animals.

Cultural input from other human beings is (almost always) the main driver of behavior of any particular human being. Put two genetically identical babies in two different cultures (whether two families, or two nations) and they will grow up to reflect their cultural background. There are vast chains of transmission in human cultures, both horizontally in the present time and going back in time to the dawn of language and differentiation from the apes.

Humans make such a wide variety of decisions that lumping them all together can be uninformative. I want to focus on decisions that illustrate free will, even though those are also a large, diverse group of different kinds of decisions.

The (pre-Newtonian) classic exercise of free will was characterized as the decision to commit or not commit a specific sin. I am not concerned with divine punishment, but a religious person making such a choice could be. Religion is a learned culture. Drop a baby among the Islamic faithful, and (in traditional cultures were no other choice was available) the adult would be Islamic. Drop the identical baby into a Hindu culture and an adult Hindu would emerge. In diverse cultures like the United States, where children are almost always, at some point, exposed to other religions, free will might be exercised by the choice of another religion, or of no religion.

Suppose a person needs to make a decision, and that there are two clear choices. One involves a clear personal advantage, say not being hungry. The other involves a sin (or ethical breech), say taking food that belongs to someone else, the loss of which could cause them to go hungry.

We know that in this situation some people will steal and eat the food, and others will go hungry, perhaps even to the point of starving to death. The cultural restraint will have been imprinted in the brain from outside, over a period of years. If it is followed, it makes sense to say that behind the atoms in the neural synapses correspond to causation that can fairly be described as a system of culture. On the other side, of the person who steals and eats, we could say that hunger, which is some sort of impulse to eat arising in the neurons, overcame the fear of breaking the taboo against stealing. But excepting for the impulsive case, where little thinking is involved, in most cases there will be a weighing (by the person, the brain, or if you prefer, the synapses) of factors that determines the outcome. This weighing relates cultural inputs to the feeling of hunger, and may involve some amount of thinking, conscious or unconscious. Fear of punishment by gods or by legal authorities may be met with rationalization (say, "but a good God would want me to eat, and has provided this opportunity to eat. It is just food, it is not like robbing a bank or stealing an automobile.")

To say this complicated process is determined by atoms and electrical forces instead of culture, including language, rules of ethics, and metaphysical beliefs, is itself a culturally determined opinion.

A strict determinist (of the simplistic type) would argue that whatever cultural experience the individual had, the resulting structure of the brain atoms would still determine the outcome. But suppose someone else steps into the scene: the owner of the food, or a policeman, or a former schoolteacher, or a hungry, dying son or daughter, or a stranger who may or may not care about what happens. Behavior may change in that case. Perhaps the potential thief no longer feels that free will can be exercised. But in any case it is clearer that atoms, as atoms, are not the sole causal factor in the decision. Something very complex has become part of the chain of causation. Only the most obstinate, idiotic strict atomic determinist can claim that complex objects or humans cannot affect a human decision in such a situation.

Free will derives from the fact that the decision making process takes place. Decisions are not always about ethics. An artisan might have trouble deciding between two tools or approaches that could be used to achieve a goal. A writer might choose between two ways of expressing an idea or describing an event. Choices, thinking, and decisions are everyday human activities.

It is arguable that free will, or decisions made using free will, can cause material objects, or at least human muscles, lips and limbs, to move. A riot may start, and a kingdom may crumble, when one member of a crowd decides to throw a stone, turning the crowd into a mob, and unrest into a revolution.

Determinism is (or should be) a complex idea, and free will can be part of it. Our free will determines the future, usually in small ways, but sometimes in large ways.

The early Newtonian view was not about atoms. In Newton's universe planets, which can be idealized as masses, hurled around the greater mass we call the sun. The parts of the planet, including the atoms and atomic particles and subatomic particles, were just along for the ride.

The key here is to not let one metaphor blind you to the complications of reality. In some cases it makes more sense to say the planets and the force of gravity determine the future. In other cases it is fair to say DNA or cell structures, atoms or quarks determine the future. But for most cultural interactions, culture determines the future, and free will is there to make the call when choices need to be made.

Nature and nurture are both important, but what makes us truly human is free will.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Bombing Syria, War Crimes, and Marijuana Priorities

Politics is first of all about lying, followed by deceit, then corruption, with the public good seldom coming in better than fourth in the list of politicians' priorities.

Two seemingly unconnected events happened this week. The Obama administration (but not Obama himself) announced it would issue instructions to federal officers and prosecutors that set new priorities for the federal enforcement of marijuana laws. This is largely the result of 21 states (if you include the city of D.C.) having legalized medical marijuana, with two, Washington State and Colorado having also legalized recreational marijuana.

It took Barack Obama only six years to figure this out. The preponderance of voters are now for marijuana legalization, and the Democratic Party has been taking a lot of heat on the issue for years. The new priorities for busting people are: when the weed crosses state lines; when it is sold or given to minors; when the proceeds are used to fund other criminal enterprises; when the entrepreneurs have not made donations to the Democratic Party. In theory at least medical marijuana gets a pass in the states where it has been legalized, as does recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington State.

Then there is Syria. Some group of people there (the lone gunman theory not being bought by anyone in this case) used some type of nerve gas agent on a sufficient scale to kill hundreds of people, who are usually described as civilians. It is generally agreed this happened to a neighborhood of Damascus that is pro-Rebel and anti-President Bashar al-Assad. But Bashar denies giving the order, and a U.N. investigation team has not formed conclusions yet.

Nevertheless, former law professor, now President Barack Obama wants to bomb Syria. It won't be to help the rebels, supposedly, especially since the rebels are now led by Sunni Islamic fundamentalists. It's just a sort of international spanking, grounding (economic embargoes) having not done the trick, so far. If Syrians just go back to killing each other with small arms, artillery and the occasional beheading, Obama will be alright with that.

War crimes are a funny (odd, legally peculiar) thing. War itself is a war crime, since all wars have to be started, and starting a war is a war crime. Once a war is started there are a set of rules both sides are supposed to adhere to. If the war has a winner, the winner usually prosecutes the losing side for war crimes. Winners usually don't prosecute themselves for war crimes, though in a few cases low-level soldiers or officers have been prosecuted.

Obama can't easily try Bashar for war crimes, not without a successful invasion of Syria. But there are all sorts of war criminals he could prosecute. He has simply not chosen to make that a priority for the Justice Department.

There are the Vietnam era war criminals, many of whom are still alive. They started a war with North Vietnam, which was a war crime. They killed vast quantities of civilians both in South and North Vietnam, which was a war crime. They used chemical warfare in the form of napalm and Agent Orange, which was a war crime. They also invaded Laos and Cambodia, also war crimes. They supervised the South Vietnamese murdering civilians and POWs, which was a war crime. These war criminals would be easy to arrest and not too hard to prosecute. But it isn't a priority.

Among the other war criminals milling around Washington, D.C. and the various united States are those who initiated wars on Grenada, the states formerly known as Yugoslavia, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Libya. I probably left out a few.

Perhaps this illustration of the importance of prioritization is a mere coincidence. After all, Obama did not time the nerve gas incident, unless it was the work of the CIA. You may not realize it, but for those who plan ahead, like politicians and their stockholders, this is the gearing up time for the 2014 elections. One-third of the U.S. Senate seats will be up for grabs, as well as the entire House of Representatives. While incumbents almost always win, you can never be sure. Fundraising is in full swing and potential opponents are calculating their odds. Primaries are only a few months away.

Here in Mendocino County, where Republicans are distinguished mainly by their having enough money to smoke more than their fair share of the dope, there will be a backlash against both of Barack Obama's policies. Only the most loyal of Obamacrats want him to bomb Syria. More important, everyone is nervous about the price of marijuana. It is bound to drop as more people enter the market. To some extent that can be compensated by growing more, but at some point trying to sell marijuana will be like trying to sell houses in 2008.

Some people might have to actually make money with their real jobs, instead of just using them to launder cash.

But it is not Mendocino County that the Democratic Party bigwigs are worried about. It is the districts where the two war crimes organizations known as political parties are about evenly balanced. The competitive districts that determine which party gets to spend the loot gathered from taxpayers.

Bombing Syria makes Obama look tough, which is generally considered to be a positive thing with the voters. But it might alienate the peace-loving wing of the Democratic Party. The new marijuana policy is meant to placate that wing.

Its hard to tell what dose will work out best. Just enough dope to get people to calm down and forget about all the ways Obama has disappointed the hopes they had for him. Not so much dope as to be too out of it to vote the Democratic Party ticket come election day.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Gold Asteroid Frightens Republican Science Committee Members

The vote seemed nearly inexplicable, even to the New York Times [See Plan to Capture an Asteroid Runs Into Politics]. NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) wants to capture a small asteroid, less than 10 meters in diameter, and haul it back into an orbit around earth where it can be examined closely, perhaps by astronauts. The original unmanned mission was planned for 2018.

Republican members of the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to kill the idea. It was not part of the bill they passed (the Democrats' bill included the NASA-recommendations). They prefer a focus on lunar landings, followed by a Mars mission. There are always arguments about how to use NASA's large but not limitless budget, so this might seem to be just another argument about priorities.

A deeper look depends on knowing what scientists might find if they do capture an asteroid.

Mining asteroids is a science fiction theme from last century. Today it is approaching reality, with at least one private group looking for a way to do it and make money at it. [See Tech Billionaires Plan Audacious Mission to Mine Asteroids]. While platinum is a more likely target, the group certainly would not turn away a gold asteroid if they found one.

Asteroids are believed to be quite varied in composition. They fall into three classes: carbon rich, stony, and metallic. The assumption is their composition is fairly reflected in meteorites (meteoroids that fall to earth). Metal meteorites are less common than stony and carbon rich ones, but they are not rare (about 6% of the total). The most common metallic meteorites are iron mixed with nickel.

There is a subgroup of meteorites which have a percentage of gold in them. It is likely that there are meteorites and asteroids which consist mostly or entirely of gold. In fact a current theory is that most or all of the gold in the earth's crust came from asteroid or meteorite impacts, since the planet's original gold would have sunk to the core of the planet. [See Huge Asteroids Brought Gold to Infant Earth]

It would be possible to select an asteroid that is mainly of the metallic type (M-type asteroids) by studying the spectra of various candidates. With advanced surveying gold bearing asteroids could be distinguished from the more common iron-nickel ones.

Why is this a political problem for Republican members of Congress? Because many (but not all) in the party now want to return to the Gold Standard for money. Many wealthy Republicans, and even middle-class Republicans, have spent the last decade accumulating investments in gold.

They say that Gold is the only real money (despite there being no Biblical evidence for that). But they suspect that if gold were more common, it would behave like other commodities: it would lose value. Behind their outward confidence in gold, they fear change. They fear the laws of supply and demand and free markets.

Suppose NASA captures a 10 meter cube of gold and got it back to earth safely. How much gold is that? Gold has a density of 19.3 grams per cubic centimeter. There are a lot of cubic centimeters in a 10 meter cube. There are 100 x 100 x 100 cubic centimeters in a cubic meter, and 10 x 10 x 10 cubic meters in a 10 meter cube. That is 1,000,000,000, or 1 billion cubic centimeters.

At a price of $1300 per ounce (gold bugs would say we should measure the value of dollars in gold, not the value of gold in dollars), 19.3 grams of gold, which is 19.3/28.35 or 0.68 ounces, is worth $884.

So the asteroid would be worth $884 billion dollars. Which would not pay for the estimated $2 to $3 billion needed to collect the asteroid.

Still, it would be a lot of gold. And it would mean that for all practical purposes, there is all the gold you want in space.

Only it would not be worth $884 billion, because who would buy it? Especially when even more gold goes whizzing by the earth once in a while, just needing a nudge to capture it?

A gold asteroid of very modest size would cause the value of gold on earth to plummet. This is partly because most gold already mined here is not used for anything, not even jewelry. It is in the hands of speculators, who hope it will go up relative to the U.S. dollar, so that they can buy things they really want, like more handguns, bigger mansions, fancier cars, and the more expensive Senators.

Who exactly voted for the bill [H.R. 2687] that left out the asteroid capture mission? Lamar Smith of Texas, Paul Broun Jr. of Georgia, Larry Bucshon of Indiana, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Steven Palazzo of Missouri, Chris Steward of Utah, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Ralph Hall of Texas, Randy Hultgren of Illinois, Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Michael McCaul of Texas, Randy Neugebauer of Texas, Bill Posey of Florida, Dana Rohrabacher of California, David Schweikert of Arizona, James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, Steve Stockman of Texas, and Randy Weber of Texas. Lots of Republicans from Texas on the Science Committee.

And for those of you who love details, here is the Text of H.R. 2687

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

87th Miracle of Saint Franco confirmed

The following article is reposted from the Vatican Rag:

From deep in the catacombs under the Vatican comes a leak: Saint Franco has his 87th miracle on record. Despite that his official sainthood remains delayed.

There are several odd things about the situation. The most obvious is how difficult it is for the Roman Catholic Church to come by miracles in our times. The Church normally requires only 2 miracles for sainthood. None of the miracles needs to be of the type that we read about in the New Testament. The typical modern Catholic miracle consists of a "miraculous" healing of someone who is ill.

Stop your scoffing right this instant. Recovering from a head cold after a couple of weeks of prayer to a dead Pope is not a miracle. The event has to be an unusual, medically unlikely healing. Like the spontaneous remission of a cancer, only instead of being spontaneous, caused by prayer.

Given cancer spontaneous remission rates, and the tendency of Catholics to try to pray their way out of trouble, you would think the Vatican could certify more miracles. But since 1983 only 2 miracles have been necessary to qualify someone as a saint. Pope John Paul II has managed 2 miracles since he died in 2005, so he is to be sainted later this year.

Meanwhile, Francisco Franco knocked his 87th miracle out of the park, but his sainthood is being held up. Why? Politics.

Saint Franco was born in Ferrol, Spain on December 4, 1892 and baptized a Roman Catholic on December 17. His family had produced officers for the Spanish navy for over two centuries, but President McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. Navy sank most of that Navy in the Spanish-American War while grabbing Puerto Rico and the Philippines. So Francisco entered the Infantry Academy and became an Army lieutenant in 1910. He rose quickly through the ranks killing Moroccans fighting for independence from Spain in the Rif War. He became the youngest general in the Spanish Army in 1926.

Saint General Franco became was a monarchist, but the people of Spain set up a Republic in 1931 (not for the first time). Francisco supported the elected government while it was dominated by right-wing Catholic and centrist parties, but in the 1936 election the center-left won. A group of generals and right-wing supporters, including most of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, decided to stage a coup to install a Catholic, fascist government. General Franco assumed command of the Army of Africa. When the coup did not bring an immediate victory, Franco brought this army to Spain where it became the shock troops for the right-wing in the Spanish Civil War. Franco soon became the supreme right-wing leader.

The real miracle of Saint Franco was that he saved the Roman Catholic Church in Spain by killing everyone lacking in faith. Counts vary, but probably 300,000 to 500,000 non-Catholics were killed by Franco's troops. They even killed Catholics, including priests and nuns, who supported the republican government. Over and over they performed the Miracle of the Return of Faith. Franco's troops would enter an area after defeating the Republican army or its allied militias. The local priest would give hand the victorious soldiers a list of people who had not been attending mass. The unfaithful would be rounded up. The men would be shot, the women doled out, and the children also sent out to be adopted by Good Catholics. Pope Pius XI praised Generalissimo Franco repeatedly, and his pals Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini sent troops and weapons to help the Roman Catholic cause in Spain. Saint Franco won the civil war.

Saint Franco and Spain stayed out of World War II, mainly because the Franco's army, while excellent at killing poorly armed and trained militia, was no match for either the army of the British Empire or that of Adolf Hitler. You might have thought the Allies would have gotten rid of Prime Minister Franco, who had become the fascist dictator of Spain in early 1939. However, American Catholics used their leverage in the Democratic Party to keep Franco safely in power. The "democratic" allies did not even require Saint Franco to hold an election. They did not even require him to stop imprisoning and killing non-Catholics. They just wanted to start a new war against Communism, and to have Spain and the Pope on their side.

Francisco Franco ruled Spain until he died on November 20, 1975. The miracles he performed while alive are, of course, legendary. But since he was closely associated in world opinion with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and since the international conspiracy of non-Catholics prevented the miracle from being publicized outside of Spain, he has been denied official Sainthood.

Our Vatican source says that, unofficially, Franco recently was certified for his 87th miracle. In 2007 a Mrs. Donna Carlos of Madrid became aware of an atheist living in her apartment building. When the apartment supervisor refused to evict him, Mrs. Carlos started praying to a shrine of Generalissimo Franco, and invited other Catholics in the building to pray there as well. Only six weeks after their prays began, God granted their wish. The atheist died in his bed while sleeping. The coroner was not able to find any cause of death; the man's heart and lungs were fine, other than having stopped. The Vatican has declared this (secretly) as yet another triumph over atheism, of which Saint Franco is now the (unofficial) patron saint.

While Franco can't be recognized in the current anti-Catholic social climate, a number of Catholic priests who died during the Civil War have been declared martyrs and are slowly accumulating their own miracles in preparation for sainthood. They are known as the 498 Spanish Martyrs.

See also:

Francisco Franco page
Fascism page
Pius XI page
Pius XII page