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]