Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Invicible Sun Day Chistmas!

The Winter Solstice (December 21 this year) has a certain gravity to it. Most human civilization evolved north of the equator, and until recently the most obvious natural phenomena, besides the phases of the moon, was the shortening of days in the Fall.

Con artists, having observed the sun cycle, they began telling people that the sun would, indeed, sink forever out of site if "priests" were not given "sacrifices" starting around the solstice. Many ancient religions were centered on the solstice or on the resurrection of green plants in the Spring, or both.

No one knows what day of the year Jesus of Nazareth, aka Jesus Christ, was actually born on. Apparently he was not an important man at birth. The data is not given in the Gospels, nor are there clues in the narrative that would help guess it. Stranger still, there is no record of when Christians adopted December 25 as Christ's birthday, or Christmas. They apparently started keeping written records not too long after Jesus's death, but probably no one wanted to admit they did not have a firm grasp on God's birthday. Or where they borrowed it from.

Scholars, of course, have tried to research the question. Here is my favorite scholarly guess, by the Very Reverend W. R. Inge, D.D., in the chapter The Rival Religions in Universal World History, Volume Four, pages 1123-1124 (1935):

"The Christians were both puzzled and annoyed by the resemblance of the Mithraic religion to their own. Not only did Mithras have his high pontiff [pope], his priests vowed to celibacy and his consecrated virgins, but there is to be a second coming of Mithras, preceded by great plagues. The dead will rise from their tombs to meet him... Finally, the [Christian] Church paid Mithras the great compliment of annexing his chief festival on December 25, the birthday of the "Invincible Sun," and turning it into the feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ."

The Invincible Sun. If you need a local god or prophet, why worship some Jewish rabbi or Indian prince or Arabic camel trader or American polygamist when the Invincible Sun is available? Resurrected daily, with an additional annual bonus show around the solstices.

The United States of America has recast Christmas in a modern light. December 25th marks the end of the consumer buying frenzy season.

If there is anything to thank Nature or any god for, it is the end of the modern Holiday season.

Enjoy the holiday, but don't get too drunk, too stoned, too high, or too sad for your own good.

Friday, December 12, 2014

American Prosperity 3.0 Coming Soon

"Cripple our senators, that their limbs may halt
As lamely as their manners!"
William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene I

There are more job openings listed today in the United States of America than there are (officially) unemployed people. That does not mean it is super easy to find a job, but it is certainly a lot easier than it was in, say 2010.

There is no obvious bubble in the American economy. Sure, houses in some areas of California have become pricey again. Sure, a few stocks like Tesla stand out like sore thumbs. But on the whole housing is priced reasonably and so are stocks.

Even at the bottom there are glimmers of brightness, as a few states and cities raise their minimum wages.

But don't worry, if Congress or the Fed does not screw things up, at some point some group of greedy, shortsighted people will. Enjoy Prosperity 3.0 while it lasts. Tuck some savings away, if you are smart.

Looking at American history, you would almost believe that Americans prefer a roller coaster economy to steady improvement. It is a manic depressive economy. It was so manic depressive during the 1800's that the Great Powers — bankers and politicians and friends — set up the Federal Reserve in 1913 to try to dampen the economic cycles.

That did not work, as illustrated by the economic boom of the 1920s, followed by the Great Depression. Millions died in the Great Depression, although you won't hear mention of that from the Hoover Institute, which is too busy blaming Mao for every death that took place in China when he was in power. The New Deal probably helped, at least at first. In many ways the New Deal resembled Fascism as much as it resembled Socialism, but in any case it kept the economy going until World War II.

World War II was the best thing that ever happened to Americans. President Roosevelt wanted to get us into the war early, but between the Catholics in the Democratic Party (who liked Roman Catholic leaders like General Franco, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Marshal Philippe Petain) and the Isolationists (some Democrats, mostly Republicans), we waited until it was optimal. By the time the Battle of Pearl Harbor forced us to admit we were already fighting Japan (in China) and Germany (in the Atlantic), the old empires were in trouble. Our farms and factories fed their war effort; their farms and factories were mostly destroyed.

World War II was great if you were an American worker. My high school drop out mother got a job in a war industry, and even my poker-losing lazy-ass grandfather deigned to take a job.

Which led to the 1950s and 1960s, the high tide of America relative to the rest of the world. It was a party! African-Americans were allowed in, even in the Democratic South, and not just to play banjo and serve drinks.

Sadly, while America was on a cocaine binge, the rest of the world mostly still had their belts tight and were rebuilding their factories and economies.

Which brings us to the 1970s. They sucked big time. In many ways they were as bad as the Great Recession. After the U.S. helped Israel beat up the Arab countries again, we had the Oil Embargo, an astonishing increase in fuel prices, and Stagflation, and Disco. Jobs were scarce. Factories started moving overseas.

Some of us muddled through to the 1980s, many died along the roadside. But the Hoover Institute doesn't rant about Ronald Reagan being a mass murderer for turning the mentally ill out into the streets. After the 70s the later 80s felt prosperous. The stock market began to go up as capitalists and their politicians began pushing more and more of the economic pie into their own mouths. Oh, and PCs (just spreadsheets and word processing back then) made people more productive, which meant lots of them got laid off, then retrained as part-time big box store employees.

The PC and Internet thing seemed to be turning out well by the late 1990s, as the usual gang of privileged college grads were hired into the dot com boom. Followed very quickly by the dot com bust. Followed by the housing boom, as the Federal Reserve failed to take the dot com money out of circulation, even after the companies themselves zeroed out.

Which led to the Great Recession, which unless this blog is being read more than 20 years from now, you know about.

You would think the American people would boot out both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, hang the people at Goldman Sucks, and stop wasting their money on iPhones and AT&T contracts.

But no. We are about to have Prosperity 3.0. Grab what you can while you can, because if history teaches us anything, the party will come to an end when the alcohol and blow run out. No one is likely to be around to help you when this party is over, unless you are a major political donor.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Why the Great Recession was Unnecessary

I believe the Great Recession of 2007-2009 was unnecessary, even given the bursting of the housing bubble. I said so at the time. Almost everybody is a critic of the government's policy during that recession, but most of the criticisms fit into standard ideological frameworks. As a result economists, politicians and bureaucrats, business people and ordinary people learned little useful from the experience. They simply had their own previous ideas confirmed.

I am not calling the recession unnecessary simply because I believe policies leading up to 2007 could have prevented it, though they could have. I believe that government policies enacted in the Clinton administration, notably deregulation of banking, combined with actions or inaction by the Bush administration and the Federal Reserve did lead to the housing bubble, and then to the crash of the economy. But in this essay I will explain why the collapse of the housing bubble did not need to lead to the Great Recession.

This is largely a critique of Capitalism, the real world capitalism of 2007. This is about how business people who control capital act, individually and together. As far as government policy goes, it is about how policy should have been used to prevent capitalists from harming themselves and practically everyone else in the nation. Like mental patients, capitalists sometimes need external restraint, for their own good.

First a bit of a test, a warm up exercise for atrophied minds: in which nation did the economy grow fastest between 1922 and 1932, communist Russia or capitalist America?

Before answering, keep in mind that Americans are constantly trained to believe that capitalism always trumps communism, and that America is exceptional even for a capitalist nation. Also think about the particular years chosen.

Between 1922 and 1932 the American economy shrank, as 1932 was the worst year of the Great Depression. The Russian economy, in contrast, grew quite a bit in that period if only because its economy hit bottom in 1922 or so, in the aftermath of its civil war. Among the world's nations, Russia was likely the least affected by the stock market crash of 1929 and ensuing economic mayhem. That should not be surprising, since Russia did not have a stock market, but a (brutal) command economy hell bent on catching up with capitalist industrialization.

What does that have to do with 2008? Only a pointer: the capitalist boom bust cycle is what you get when no one regulates it, or it if is poorly regulated. By picking different points in a boom bust cycle, you can get different growth (or shrinkage) rates for an economy. By picking particular nations and time intervals you can make capitalism or socialism or command economies like fascism and communism look good, or not. In other words, as they say about investing in mutual funds, past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. Economies are complex. There is no guaranteed winning policy, except perhaps being pragmatic, which is no policy whatsoever.

While the housing market was way overpriced in 2006, driven by foolish lending policies and foolish home buyers, the overall economy was not. The stock market was not. True, the building of new homes had become a driver of the economy, but it was hardly the only industry going on in the United States.

So what could have been done different in 2007 and 2008, aside from using taxpayer money to prop up banks, and in 2009, rather than using taxpayer money to fund greatly expanded welfare and "shovel ready projects?"

I just happened to be watching a representative section of the capitalist class in that period. I call what happened the "capitalist firing squad." In case you don't know the joke, a "leftist firing squad" is a group of people who form a circle to, presumably, execute a capitalist, and instead end up shooting each other. This speaks to the tendency of leftists to focus on being the new Lenin, using their energies to discredit rivals rather than uniting to win over the nation to socialism (or communism, or environmentalism, or whatever).

The capitalist firing squad was literally firing people, laying off round after round of workers. In the house building industry this was necessary. There was no point to building new houses; no one wanted them. And the secondary effects of that were hard to avoid too: much lower demand for plywood, 2x4s, appliances, and etc. That alone would have slowe the growth rate of the economy. But the economy could have kepts growing around the new housing market.

At previous times in history one sector or another took a hit without taking the whole economy down with it.Why didn't it in 2008? The firing squad was the crucial difference.

Could we just admit that for the most part our capitalist class in America is a bunch of degenerates? Of economic cowards? Instead of figuring out how to sell more of their stuff, perhaps even taking advantage of the end of the housing frenzy, pretty much every CEO, in line with the fears of the major shareholders, decided to fire employees even before demand actually shrank. Each rationalized it the same way: they believed demand would drop, and wanted to get ahead of the curve to keep up profitability.

Worse still, each of the CEOs saw a chance to squeeze the remaining workers. They made the remaining workers work harder. This included middle management in particular. 2008 to 2009 was a reign of terror for middle management. Had they been working 50 hour weeks? 70 hour weeks were the new norm. And management is not paid by the hour. Often managers found themselves spending a considerable portion of their week doing jobs their subordinates used to do, before they were laid. Off. And middle management was supposed to be happy about this; "Thank you, master, for not laying me off."

The macroeconomic effects of one bad CEO's decisions are usually minimal. But when the 3000 or so CEOs of the nation's largest companies all did the same stupid thing, the macroeconomic effects multiplied. A small hole in the economy, new house construction, with the attendant banking fiasco, turned into a giant vortice of unemployment. With 5% of the workers laid off, the same craven CEO's decided they had to lay off another 5%. Lemmings would make better CEOs.

Government policy, which was to spend vast sums of taxpayer money and borrow vast sums of money, saved our collective ass. Despite CEO behavior the economy ran on food stamps, unemployment checks, Social Security and Medicare, and infrastructure investment. Eventually CEOs regained confidence, stopped laying off people, and even started rehiring as burnt-our middle managers and workers died of heart attacks, strokes, or just melted into unusable jelly.

Free market ideologues and tax-and-spend liberals are both in denial of what happened and why. The Free Market guys say private enterprise saved the day, ignoring the beneficial effects of what little New Deal and Great Society legislation had not been dismantled. The Liberals deny that there was any downside to a vast expansion of the national debt, and act like the layoffs were natural, not a result of bad decision making.

On the whole, I would say we were lucky the Great Recession did not turn into another Great Depression, or worse. And if we do not make some fundamental reforms, the next time we may not be so lucky. In particular, the next time around the world's investors may not chose to fund our national debt.

CEO's do fine when times are good. A few do fine when times are bad. But at certain times they clearly need supervision. Unfortunately their usual supervisors, stockholders, are often as even more inclined to making bad, panicky decisions than CEOs.

There are two obvious sources for supervision. It should be discrete supervision, exercised only in times when CEOs have a collectively bad history of decision making. But it should be in place to be used the next time it would help. The two sources of supervision are the government or the employees of the businesses. I am hesitant to go with an NRA type of supervision, which seems too much like the fascist program for supervising industry. I'd prefer the workers to have some supervisory power, perhaps by being guaranteed board seats on all publicly listed (in stock markets) corporations.

Given the known cyclical nature of free market capitalism, I would make the corporations pay the real long term costs of labor. If an industry or a particular corporation goes into decline, I don't see layoffs as a problem. Workers can be rehired by other corporations and industries. But if a decline in demand for labor is just cyclical, then corporations should just keep cash on hand to keep workers employed until the down cycle ends. That in itself would minimize recessions and should prevent depressions.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Attention to Detail

A lot of things sound good as generalizations, but when you start applying them to the real world, it gets complicated.

Consider paying attention to detail. Being a detail-oriented person is usually a plus when applying for a job. When there are flaws in products we buy, or when a service is inadequate, we fault a lack of attention to detail. We don't like sloppy. Most of us try to not be sloppy. The point is most of us have to try to pay attention to detail. In repetitive jobs that can become mind-numbing.

There are people who just naturally pay a lot of attention to detail. But if they go too far in that direction, we label them as obsessive-compulsive. These people may be good or not so good at doing things, depending on exactly what kinds of things need that level of detail.

Consider the practice of retail stores known as "fronting." If you are one of the rare citizens who has never worked retail, fronting is the process of lining up the products, cans or boxes or whatever, in neat rows at the front of the shelf. Apparently this encourages people to buy things. When an item, or store aisle, is not fronted, it gives a store a run-down look. So clerks spend considerable time fronting the products, in addition to restocking.

For fronting purposes there are three types of employees: messy employees who front badly (and often nevertheless slowly), good employees who front well and reasonably rapidly, and employees who pay too much attention to detail.

Perfect fronting is the natural goal of those obsessing on details. Have the items been lined up to within a millimeter of perfection? Well, why not shoot for a tenth of a millimeter? Why not a hundredth? Are they perfect? Why not start the whole process all over again, just to be sure? In the meantime, all the other things needing to be done in a store, including fronting all the other shelves, don't get done.

At some point in the real world you have to decide on an acceptable error rate. Otherwise everything takes too long to be practical. Acceptable error rates vary greatly across and within industries, and even within items. No one wants an obvious scratch on the exterior paint or glass of a new car. But no one cares if the muffler got scratched when it was installed.

Most kids get this intuitively when struggling with parental expectations for school grades. Spend all your time studying and you might get an A+, but by dropping down to an A- or a B or C, you can have time for other things.

Failure to pay attention to detail can have dire consequences. In the rush to provide medical care, failure to review records can lead to tragic consequences. In cars we know that failure to get the details right on ignition keys, brakes and airbag systems can lead to deaths. On highways we are highly dependent on everyone else paying attention, at least enough to stay within the lines when hurling past us at combined speeds of 120 mph and more.

Business experience, of workers, managers, and owners, is largely a matter of learning how much attention to detail need to be paid to different aspects of the business.

There is another thing to worry about, even when paying attention to detail is in the helpful to harmless range. It should not impinge too much on attention to strategy, priorities, and the bigger questions of life. The obsessive-compulsive computer programmer may be working on a project, or an aspect of a project, that is useless. The big picture is important. The resources of the world are limited.

Also, while you are just following orders, trying to pay enough attention to detail and yet work fast enough to keep your job, someone else is plotting to grab your share of the pie, if they have not already.

In our highly class stratified society workers are told to pay attention to detail and let the bosses (political and economic) worry about the big picture.That is why we are in such trouble today. During the heyday of American imperialism (roughly 1940 to 1970) most workers who did what they were told for 8 hours a day, five days a week, had enough money to enjoy the rest of their time. That is no longer true. So after perhaps a hundred years of struggle before 1940, and 30 years of prosperity, we now live in an era of precarious existence.

In this era the circus never stops, so the owners don't even have to throw more than crumbs of bread to the working class. The intellectual worker has become an increasingly rare thing in the 21st century. Enough propaganda is thrown into the Internet &TV entertainment mix to keep most workers from seeing the big picture.

Details can add up to big pictures. Charles Darwin was a detail-oriented guy, and the details pointed him to the fact that life is ancient and evolved over time. But in America apparently half the population wants to engage in wishful thinking, and ignores the vast store of details that prove evolution by natural selection is the right big picture to work within.

So do pay attention to detail, to the degree appropriate to the task at hand. But also use some free time to make sure you are not living your life based on false big-picture ideas.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Gone Girl Politics and Politicians

Last night I did my usual volunteer stint at the community-operated Arena Theater and then watched Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Because my wife Jan had read the novel by Gillian Flynn, I knew the gist, which only detracted a little from empathizing alternately with the main characters, Nick Dunne and Amazing Amy.

Naturally it reminded me of the current state of political affairs in the United States. Nick Dunne could represent the Democratic Party, and Amazing Amy could represent the Republican Party. Or maybe a better fit is Nick Dunne represents the Republican Party, and Amy represents the Democratic Party.

The citizens and voters of the United States are represented by the people of the smallish town in Missouri where the happy married couple has moved after losing their respective high-powered writing jobs in New York City. At times they sympathize with Nick, when they think his wife Amy was kidnapped. At times they hate Nick, when they think he killed Amy.

This is a story of multiple levels of deception. That is pretty much politics in a nutshell. Many Democrats believe their party has been hijacked. They voted for Nick (not Hillary), peace and prosperity in 2006, got a Democratic Party controlled Congress starting in 2007 and had full control of Congress and the Executive Branch after Barack Obama won the election of 2008. But instead of peace and prosperity, by then the nation was in the Great Recession, and Obama kept finding reasons to keep killing people in the Middle East and even extended the war to much of Africa.

Obama and Democratic politicians may have made a vow of marriage to Democratic voters, but marriage is not so easy. With the Pentagon waving its tits about, no wonder the boys (and the girls too, Pelosi and Feinstein et al) got distracted. No money! Just run up the credit cards and hope that sooner or later something will come up to keep the nation's head above water. And if a few million, well tens of millions, of Americans lose their jobs and life savings before things get straightened out, that is not because Nick was not trying to be a good husband.

Amy could also represent the Democrats, waving her Ivy League degrees around and refusing to get pregnant, but she is from a rich, cunning family that reminds me of the Bush clan. She was all sex and laughter and wit when her money was mostly inherited, but she turns vicious when she has little to do but play MacHousewife in a MacMansion in the kind of boring small city that breeds your typical Republican voter.

Amy and the Republican leaders, are all about deception. Many Republicans believe their party has been hijacked. The Tea Party types feel the Grand Old Party was hijacked by crony capitalists (it was formed in the late 1850s by a coalition that included crony capitalists). The mainstream Republicans feel the wackos in the Tea Party cause them to lose elections. Worse, if elected, Tea Party Republicans won't vote to spend the money so important to a wide variety of business men who have learned that the government market is much more profitable than the ruinous competition one sometimes encounters in the free market. In American politics everyone liked building roads until the Tea Party came along.

And who needs Al-Qaeda to cripple the economy by blowing up a bridge (in America) or two when Amazing Amy will just deny funds for its repair, until it eventually collapses?

You can't trust any politician. Or the media, or the police. Yet you have to some trust people. That is called society. Choosing who to trust, or how much to trust, is the most important skill you can develop.

"Therefore since the world has still,
Much good, but much less good than ill ...
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good"
— A. E. Housman, A Shropshire Lad

Saturday, November 1, 2014

House of Cards, 2014 Deal

Deadlock has characterized the Government of the United States since the midterm elections of 2010. Not much got done during 2009 and 2010, either, despite Democratic Party control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress. In 2009 the Great Recession was in full swing. The national deficit was unprecedented: tax receipts were low and payments for social services hit record levels.

Now the economy is back to something approaching normal, and so is politics. Armies of people who thought they were getting rich in the real estate market, and then lost their life savings, are no longer marching around with pitchforks threatening to tar and feather, or at least un-elect, incumbent politicians.

No one noticed the resilience of the system that was set up as the result of the compromise between free-market capitalism and socialism that is still known as the New Deal. The Federal Reserve probably should have done more to prevent the crisis, but in the end muddled through. Congress should have done more, but in the end muddled through. Businesses mostly muddled through. Workers got the shaft as usual, but are a tough lot and mostly muddled through.

Deadlock does not mean there is no policy. It means federal policy will remain the same as it has been since the Democratic Party, led by Bill Clinton, tried to destroy the welfare state, figuring it was no longer needed to elect Democrats to office. What choice did the welfare bums and working poor have, voting Republican?

For 2015 and 2016 we can expect business as usual. Obscene amounts of money will be spent on the War on Terror. A new federal Highway/Transportation deal will be made, because both parties get paid off by the contracting companies. Food stamps won't go away, but as employment rises less people will get them. The Affordable Care Act won't go away, because the Insurance Companies are making more money than ever, as are the doctors and hospital administrators.

The only real difference is Fracking. Complain about water pollution if you will, but Fracking has given the U.S. post-imperialist economy a second wind. The first effect of fracking was a big increase in incomes in the gas and oil states. That helped local economies and even the federal deficit. Now, after a few years of ramping production, everyone is benefiting from lower gasoline and natural gas prices.

Meanwhile, Chinese workers got big raises every year between 2008 and 2104, so now the cost of labor is not that big of an advantage for China any more. Their advantage is that almost all of the factories were moved to China in the meantime. We are not going to see many factories move back to the U.S., although new ones are already opening here to take advantage of the proximity to oil production and a huge consumer base.

After the election the Keystone Pipeline will be approved. Environmentalists will be mad, but soon they won't have Barack Obama to kick around any more. And why, really, was the Keystone different than any other pipelines? Why not demand existing pipelines be torn up, or people just move so they can huddle around North Dakota for warmth?

Immigration policy won't change much either. People will continue to come here illegally. No matter how much overpopulation hurts the environment, the Democrats will turn a blind eye to illegal immigration because they need the votes. No matter how much illegal immigration helps the rich (by creating cheap labor and increasing overall demand) the Republicans will remain anti-immigration because that is one way they keep American workers' anger focused on ethnic issues, rather than on the exploitive economic system.

And war will go on. For the time being Ultraconservative Islam seems to be willing to play the enemy, despite the consequences. But if necessary new enemies can always be found. Turning taxes into the satisfying feeling of being the biggest bully in the world is just too satisfying to too many people for us to ever Hope that situation will Change.

People talk about the Internet of Things. They should talk about the Internet of Lies. All lying, all th time, the art of politics in America.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dead 13 Billion Years, but Okay

I fear death much like anyone else. In fact, much like most mammals.

Fear of death is a good thing. It keeps I, even us, out of a lot of trouble.

But humans are nothing if not complicated. Society and culture go along with giant brains that can create mental virtual realities that sometimes cause us to lose touch with the world.

Religions have long appealed to people by promising "life after death." The idea of an afterworld or heaven has competed with the idea of reincarnation for at least 2000 years.

People don't like the feeling of fear. That is the whole point. People have good memories, they see people die, and instead of getting on with life they start dwelling on death. Religions calm some people down: they don't feel they need to worry so much about death as long as they follow their religion's rules for getting into heaven.

Yet religions have many negative consequences, including making people gullible about all sorts of issues. Religious contempt for life can even lead to war, as when the Roman Catholic Popes encouraged Europeans to conquer the Middle East in the Crusades, with a promise that anyone who died in the crusade would be admitted to eternal life in heaven.

I fear death, but I don't want to be paralyzed in life by my fear of death. It is one thing to run away from an immediate, life-threatening circumstance, it is another thing to hide from life itself.

The way I figure it is that scientists say the universe is about 13 billion years old. They might change that figure from time to time, but I'll use it here. I was born in the mid-1950's. Before I was born I did not exist, not in any meaningful way. That was being not-alive, which is to say dead.

So I was dead for 13 billion years. And what of it? No big deal. I did not know I was dead. Nothing to worry about.

I am pretty sure I have just about 3 decades of life ahead of me at maximum. After than I will be dead for as long as the universe, or the space-time continuum, continues to exist. I won't be conscious, so I won't know I ever existed.

That is just the way it is for living organisms. We have our time, then we die. The important thing is to have a good time (defining good however you like) while alive.

Just in case you are missing the idea of scale here, reflect on the number one billion, or 1,000,000,000. Few humans live more than 100 years. 10 times one hundred is one thousand. String together a thousand thousands and you have a million. Then string together one thousand millions and you have a billion.

So I am just a meteor burning in the night. My entire life seems long to me, because I am in it, but to the Universe I am pretty close to nothing.

And I am fine with that. When I die other people will continue to live, animals will continue to live, stars will continue to shine. That is life after death. I won't be there. But as long as humanity endures, people like me will be there. Just as I am here now, long after my ancestors have died.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Intelligence without Intelligence

Intelligence, like most words, can be used as a descriptive for many things.

In the title above, the first instance of the word intelligence means information gathering. Now there are a lot of different reasons to gather information, and I don't mean seeing what discounts are available for shopping at the mall. I mean spy stuff. National Security Intelligence. FBI, CIA and NSA intelligence. Finding out what people are up to and whether that is a danger to the American People, or at least our Ruling Class. [Even referring to the ruling class got you classified as a likely Communist back in J. Edgar Hoover's day.]

The second instance of the word intelligence in the above title means something like "accurate analysis of the situation" or perhaps wisdom. It could mean using good judgment in deciding what is important to protect about the American People, and how to do it.

The U.S. government has spent vast sums of money over the decades gathering intelligence. Yet the second form of intelligence, displaying wisdom based on the intelligence gathered, has been sadly (but not completely) lacking.

The 911 fiasco, in which the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were destroyed or damaged by hijacked civilian airliners on September 11, 2001, are the best known example. An army of FBI, CIA, and NSA agents had been gathering intelligence on Islamic jihadist groups, including Al-Qaeda, for years. Many of the operatives had been tracked to the U.S. and were known to the FBI to be attending flight schools. Yet no one stopped them except the passengers on Flight 93.

There has been little improvement since then. In fact, under the leadership of President George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the situation has grown into a tragic farce. The Homeland Security and National Security budgets since 2001 have essentially bankrupted the nation. The few hundred members of Al-Qaeda and similar groups have expanded into an international army of at least 100,000 with tens of millions of supporters and sympathizers.

There are so many factors leading to the lack of an intelligent approach to protecting America that I can only touch on some of the major and more interesting ones in this essays.

George Washington was a terrorist. Andrew Jackson was a terrorist. Jefferson Davis was a terrorist. So was Harry Truman. So is Barack Obama. The inability to reflect accurately on America's past, and on its current internal situation, creates a fog of stupidity and moral laxness that makes it essentially impossible to accurately distinguish friends from foes and to sort out the most dangerous foes.

Terrorism (or political violence, if you will) works, sometimes, as George Washington, Lenin, Muhammad himself, General Franco, and many other founders of governments have demonstrated. But it doesn't always work, for as many reasons as there all variables in the world. Psycho Killers do not usually become heads of state. Terrorism works best when it is part of a larger agenda that includes something that a majority of people like, or at least are not willing to risk dying to oppose.

Nationalism, religion, and political partisanship are three large scale value sets that power-seekers, including terrorists, can use to further their agendas. But entirely peaceful people may use these to further their agendas too. But there are other nuts and bolts that don't involve violence and can be used by the power hungry to expand their organizations. Hitler's Nazis helped unemployed World War I veterans and sold their own brand of cigarette to finance their party. Eliminating other forms of crime (theft in particular) is another winner, used by the Taliban and the many political parties, left right and center, to gain popular approval.

But beyond the big picture stuff that helps us understand human nature and social dynamics, there are the institutional flaws that have characterized U.S. intelligence services since their inception, and seem to multiply the more money they are given. Some of these are described in detail for the FBI in Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Time Weiner.

The FBI was created to fight the working class, and particular any socialist, syndicalist or communist manifestations of working class power. It largely ignored the threats of organized crime and right-wing ideologies like fascism. Switching to fighting Islamic radicals after nearly a century of fighting communism is a big switch. How many FBI agents understand Islam? How many have bothered to read the Koran, or the folk tales that are associated with it? More important, how many can spot the difference between loose, angry talk, and the quieter people who actually do operations?

The NSA was created to spy on other military commands and spy agencies. You would think it would be a piece of cake for them to spy on groups who are armed with second-hand AK47s. But apparently it isn't.

Don't even get me started on the CIA. The Agency often has good analysts sitting at desks, but seems to have a disconnect between good analysis and any kind of operations that would slow down groups like Al-Qaeda or the self-styled Islamic State.

The Special Forces are good at killing people, as long as they have technical superiority and overwhelming force. But they panic when the going gets rough, as in the Black Hawk Down incident.

The real lack of intelligence is in our national leadership, and here I include Congress, military leaders, top bureaucrats, and corporate leaders as well as whichever puppet happens to be playing President at the moment. The whole system is get-along go-along, backslapping, unable to change to meet the requirements of the times. The only analysis most Congressmen are good at is how to raise enough money for the next election campaign. There may be occasional shows of real intelligence by any of the American leadership, but they are usually vetoed by the rest of the lot.

Here is a simple to do list that would eliminate 90% of the terrorist threat and cost almost nothing:

1. Make peace with Iran. End the embargo unconditionally. Same with Syria.
2. Guarantee human rights for Palestinians and allow them to set up their own state independent of Israel.
3. Release all political and religious prisoners.
4. Support a global non-sectarian agenda.
5. Stop meddling in the sovereign affairs of other nations. Recognize all governments on a de facto basis. Be as friendly as possible.
6. Hold trials in the U.S. for our own war criminals. Join international conventions to police all war crimes and crimes against humanity.
7. Allow Iraq and other artificial states to fragment or join together according to their own wishes. An international peace conference in the Middle East and recognizing people's right to national self-determination could accomplish this.
8. Reduce the homeland security budget by 75% and focus on actual human agents and analysts gathering human intelligence, rather than trying to spy on every American all the time.
9. Focus on fixing the potholes in the U.S. Return to the Jeffersonian ideal of a coastal navy and a minimalist armed forces.

Well, that isn't going to happen. So how about this: find good people and befriend them. They are your best defense, at home and abroad, against religious crazies, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist.

Ultimately, no matter how much information the spies' computers pick up, real human beings need to interpret that data. If higher-ups dismiss important information while concentrating on the trivial, as happened with the 911 disaster, having massive amounts of intelligence gets the same result as having no intelligence at all.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Woodrow Wilson, Eugene V. Debs, and Bashing Bashar

Double standards are the norm in propaganda, including history as propaganda. Barack Obama regularly has "terrorists" and innocent civilians near them executed without trial (and in many cases based on poor intelligence). Most U.S. citizens don't think twice about it. It is a small price to pay in order to not have to accept God (Allah), and Mohamed as his final prophet, and some self-styled Caliph as as their sole interpreter in present time.

The refusal of President Obama to work with the President of Syria, Bashar Assad, against a common enemy, ISIS, is typically rationalized by declaring that Assad is a dictator, and a brutal dictator who imprisons Syrians who oppose him. Perhaps he has executed some without trial, or at least without the kind of trial you can get in the U.S. if you are not just gunned down in the street, and if you can afford a good lawyer.

Is there a qualitative difference between leaders like Bashar Assad and American Presidents who have arrested and executed their opponents? If so, what are the factors that make the difference qualitative? Is there a meaningful difference between imprisoning or killing peaceful opposition, as opposed to armed opposition in a civil war?

Here I will examine these question in the context of World War I. That will give some historical distance. Yet it was the greed displayed by France and Great Britain during World War I that led to the Middle East being politically unstable since that era.

Woodrow Wilson was elected President of the United States in 1912. It is difficult today to imagine the politics of that era. Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party had liberal and conservative wings; on the whole I think the Republican Party was still the more progressive of the two. William H. Taft was President and ran for re-election as a Republican. Taft had been Vice-President under Theodore Roosevelt, who ran on the Progressive Party ticket after he failed to get the Republican Party nomination. These were the results:

1912 Party Popular Votes Electoral College Votes
Woodrow Wilson Democratic
Theodore Roosevelt Progressive
William H. Taft Republican
Eugene V. Debs Socialist
Eugene W. Chafin Prohibition
Note that even though Woodrow Wilson was pretending to be somewhat progressive, and Roosevelt ran as a progressive, the Socialist Party candidate, Eugene V. Debs, received a very substantial number of votes, about 6%.

Woodrow Wilson is arguably the intellectual architect of modern segregation. So it should not be surprising that he won every state in the racist, conservative Old South.

Woodrow Wilson was not just a white supremacist, he was a true believer in the supremacy of Anglo-Saxon culture. When World War I broke out in Europe he favored backing the British Empire, which then oppressed about 1/3 of the world's people. But domestic politics, including large numbers of Irish-American and German-American voters in the Democratic Party, kept the President and the United States in a state of neutrality.

Socialism was meant to be an international movement for peace and justice, and before the war Socialist parties in Europe opposed their respective governments militarism. However, after the war started, each nation's Socialist Party tended to rationalize supporting their own nation's efforts.

President Wilson ran again in 1916, rallying voters to the slogan "He kept us out of war." Anyway, he was too busy invading Mexico and a variety of Latin American nations. But the voting went back to the normal Democrat vs. Republican split:

1916 Party
Popular Votes
Electoral College Votes
Woodrow Wilson Democratic
Charles E. Hughes Republican
A. I. Benson Socialist
J. F. Hanly Prohibition
Then Woodrow Wilson asked the U.S. Congress to declare war on Germany. The vote in Congress on April 6, 1917 was 82 to 6 in the Senate, 373 to 50 in the House; hardly unanimous. Thus we entered the war on the side of the evilest empire in history, the British Empire. We did not fight for democracy; most people in the British empire were not allowed to vote.

Unlike in Germany, France, and Britain, the Socialist Party in the United States did not give up its peaceful and internationalist stand. It opposed the war, as did the IWW and other organizations and individuals. Wilson's reaction? He ordered massive arrests of those who opposed him.

One of those arrested was Eugene V. Debs, who had opposed him as a Presidential candidate in 1912. In 1918 Wilson was arrested. He was found guilty on September 12 and was thrown in a dungeon. The Supreme Court of the United States, in Debs v. United States (249 U.S. 211 (1919)) ruled neither Debs nor any other American's right of free speech included the right to be for peace during wartime.

Debs ran for President in 1920, from his jail cell, and received 919,799 votes.

So how different is that from Assad putting one of his critics in jail?

Wilson is not alone among Presidents and other powerful Americans in his crimes against humanity. George Washington executed soldiers for desertion even before he was elected President. Every U.S. rebellion has been brutally put down, most notably in the Civil War. Ronald Reagan ordered peaceful demonstrators to be shot dead even before he became President. The list is finite, but large.

I might sympathize with rebels in certain cases, but I don't expect anyone in power to hand over the keys to the government without a fight. Deciding to rebel, as the American slave masters did in 1776, is a hazardous course, not to be undertaken lightly.

Bashar Assad's crime, from Obama and the American Establishment point of view, is not that he has held on to power, or how he has held onto power. His crime is not becoming a pro-American puppet. His crime is doing what he thinks is best for Syria.

Some times there are happy endings. When Warren G. Harding was elected President in 1920 he tried hard to undo Wilson's worst deeds. He made peace with Germany, and he released Eugene V. Debs from prison. Harding was a Republican, and he made the mistake of letting his corrupt friends run the nation. But I'll take him for a better U.S. President any day over Woodrow Wilson.

And I'll take Eugene V. Debs over any elected President in U.S. history.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Modern, Orthodox and Ultra-orthodox Groups divide the world

Everyone has heard the terms "modern," "orthodox," and "ultra-orthodox," but I am now using them as important categories for analysis. To emphasize that I will use initial capitals: Modern, Orthodox, and Ultra-orthodox.

Dividing the earth's current 7 billion or so people into these categories necessarily involves quite a few gray areas. First I'll give my general impressions of the central characteristics of each of these groups of people.

Ultra-orthodox refers to people who are part of a group, often religious but sometimes not, that is both highly resistant to change, unfriendly to those who do not share the group's beliefs or practices, and based on some relatively ancient belief system. In the United States perhaps the most obvious example is Ultra-orthodox Jews. The now nearly global phenomena of Ultra-orthodox Islam would be another point of reference. In fact most religions have some practitioners who are Ultra-orthodox. Ethnic groups, however, could also be Ultra-orthodox. New cults often have many of the characteristics of the Ultra-orthodox.

Orthodox refers to people who maintain traditional cultures, but are not necessarily unfriendly to outsiders. Orthodox people are typically selective about adopting new technology or ideas. The terms Orthodox and conservative may approximate each other. An orthodox person can describe their views rather simply by referring to their type of orthodoxy: "I am Roman Catholic" or "I am evangelical Christian" or "I am Sunni." Occupying the center of this scheme of categories, on one end Orthodox people may approach being Ultra-orthodox, and at the other end may approach being Modern.

Modern people have been strongly influenced by the intellectual and social trends of the 20th century. Whether non-religious or aligning with some religious group, they generally tolerate other religious groups. They accept the idea of science, if not necessarily all of its particulars. They generally accept the basic equality of males and females, individual freedom, and the idea of equal justice under the law. Modern people are otherwise quite diverse, choosing from the smorgasbord of modern and traditional cultures.

In general the trend over time has been towards more people shifting to the Modern group, but this is not always the case in any particular location, or over shorter time spans. The "southern" (former slave states) region of the U.S. is an example of an area where Orthodox people have become prominent after a period of modernization in the 1960s and 70s. In more conservative areas of the world the balance lately has been more between Orthodox and Ultra-orthodox than between Orthodox and Modern.

Does it matter? Certainly when the Ultra-orthodox turn to violence in order to try to impose their world view on those who are not orthodox. Equally so when Moderns try to modernize the Orthodox or Ultra-orthodox by force, as was attempted in some Communist nations and capitalist-imperialist nations in a variety of contexts.

In the U.S., the Democratic Party can serve as an example of how complex these general classifications can be. Many if not most people registered with the Democratic Party would best be classified as Modern. Yet they are Orthodox in the sense that they have stabilized in a party that is almost 200 years old and has many non-modern aspects. In contrast the Republican Party is clearly Orthodox in its willingness to deny scientific facts like Evolution and Global Warming, while it is Modern in that most of its members don't want to fight with their neighbors over religion or ethnic affiliation, despite their general intolerance of Islam.

Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq, was Modern and tried to modernize his country. That did not save his regime from the wrath of either the Democratic or Republican Parties of the United States. His regime was replaced by one that is Orthodox leaning to Ultra-orthodox. American foreign policy strategists have not yet fully adopted to the new world order where the orthodoxy spectrum is often more important that the capitalist to communist spectrum, or even the pro-America to anti-America spectrum.

This is an introductory essay. I'll be writing more specifically about how these categories affect the world.

This essay appeared originally at

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Barack Obama's Idiotic Foreign Policy

"For Every Sad Fly, There is a Happy Spider "

You might think from the title of this essay that I am a right-wing hater of President Barack Obama. I don't hate the President. If you have read enough of my opinion pieces you might categorize me as "leftist" if you had too, but you know "left," "right," and "center" have all become pretty meaningless terms. "Modern," "Orthodox," and "Ultra-orthodox" are the three big categories of people in the 21st century.

I am "Modern." And as a Modern, I think Barack Obama's foreign policy is idiotic. It is a product of a man, and an establishment, that are trapped in the Orthodox political webs they have spun. The flies they were supposed to catch have mutated into zombies that multiply faster than they can be killed. Except they are really human beings, endowed by nature with all the rights of human beings.

I am beginning to think that Barack Obama was too busy studying law, trying to get ahead, to crack open a history book before he became President. Well, actually, to learn enough history to be an effective President, which might require careful study of 50 to 100 history books.

Let's start with the American Revolution. In 1770 most American colonials wanted to remain part of the British Empire, even if they had some complaints. The more Americans complained, the more the idiots in London tried to use the force of law, and then military force, to remain in control. How did that work out for the Brits? Not too well.

True, revolutions have been successfully put down by force more often than not. And nations have been conquered by force. But mostly force has not worked out as an option since the colonial era blew up into World War I and World War II. Force can be used to install a puppet when manipulation and bribery fails, but if the puppet is to obviously a foreign stooge, sooner or later nationalists seize power. Example: how well did America's puppets in the "nation" of South Vietnam work out? Not too well.

More recently, how did the overthrow by military force of the old regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq work out? It looks like Afghanistan will become another kingdom of warlords by the end of 2015. In Iraq the nation is now mainly divided between anti-U.S. ( and anti-Modern) ISIS/Sunnis and pro-Iranian Shia tribes.

Elections? Obama and the U.S. establishment don't need no stinking elections when they elevate Orthodox or Ultra-orthodox Islamic parties to power, as happened in Algeria, Palestine, and Egypt. And how well did the deposing of the old Libyan government work out? And if we are against Ultra-orthodox Islamic dictators, why don't we help the internal opposition to the Saud dictatorship?

To some extent President Obama and some of the establishment know this. They know using force just pisses people off. The force option only works if you exterminate people or ethnically cleanse areas. Obama may execute people without trial, but he is no Hitler, or at least would want to hear back from the pollsters before building ovens for tribes aligned with Islamic radicals.

So, using force to kill Islam is not going to work. Justice, kindness, education, and some economic relief would probably work in the long run to lure people towards the Modern end of the social-political spectrum, but that would take time. What about the short run?

In the short run, the first thing the President could do (if he could get the establishment to go along with him) is to end the various punitive economic measures that have been imposed on various states, notably Iran and Cuba. I'm not saying sell fighter jets or plutonium to either country, I'm saying just resume ordinary trade with everyone. Even North Korea.

Second, stop the obvious interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. We don't want foreign nations stirring up trouble in the U.S.; we should reciprocate.

Third, recognize the State of Palestine. Just do it. Let the Palestinians govern themselves. If Israel objects, stop using U.S. taxpayer money to supply them with fighter jets and plutonium.

Fourth, let's get our own house in order. Let's make sure there really is liberty and justice, including economic justice, for all Americans. Let's prosecute our own war criminals, rather than running around the world accusing others of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Oh, the list is long, I won't repeat the details here, you know the details (unless you are in the oblivious 1%). Instead of pretending to be a shining light, let us actually do the work needed to shine brightly.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Madness, Propaganda, and War

"And what has hands and is not mad?"

Historians who are not too nationalistic in their outlook generally concede that World War I was not started by any one country. Almost everyone concedes the war was madness, though various people ascribe the madness to various causes. Despite the academic analysis, most ordinary Americans have a shallow, uninformed view: America and Allies good, Germany and Central Powers bad. Implicit in that view is the misinformation that Germany was a military dictatorship that started the war because Germans wanted to conquer the world. The confusion is partly with what happened in World War II, when Adolf Hitler & friends really did come pretty close to conquering the world.

In our befuddlement it is hard to recall that the world had already been conquered. Allied powers tend to leave out that tiny fact when looking at the World Wars.

Most of the world in 1914 lay in colonial slavery to the British, French, Dutch (Netherlands), Italian, Belgian, and American Empires (especially if you add in Latin American nations run by puppets to the official U.S. colonies of the Philippines and Puerto Rico). Germany had a few colonies. Russia was an empire unto itself. The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire had been falling apart for over a century, and tearing it to pieces was a chief war aim of the British, French and Russian Empires. Japan's empire did not amount to much yet, just Taiwan and Korea.

To get to some points about World War I propaganda and the madness of World War III, the current situation, I'll assert that greed, nationalism, militarism, and imperialism drove all the major players, including the U.S. World War I was started by a common global mad mindset. As to the level of madness, the answer is an estimated 10 million dead, 21 million wounded, and 8 million missing in action. That does not include civilian casualties, though those were trivial compared to World War II, when numerous cities were bombed, firebombed, and vaporized.

Whole books have been written on propaganda in World War I. I'll focus on how poor German propaganda was compared to Allied propaganda. A main propaganda point was that Germany was the aggressor nation because it had invaded "poor little Belgium." But Belgium was neither poor nor peaceful. It was little, but it ruled the Belgian Congo, where some 10 million natives had been exterminated or worked to death in the two prior decades. As a result Belgians were among the richest people in the world. French and British Empire propaganda claimed that German soldiers were systematically killing Belgian children with bayonets. It was simply a lie. But Belgians had two decades of experience killing Congo children with bayonets. That was not propaganda.

Kaiser Ravishes Belgium, World War I cartoon
You just can't believe what your own government tells you. I remember when I was first out of college, during the late 1970s, by night a punk rocker but by day working in a room full of old press association documents in the basement of the Pan Am building in New York City. There was a lawsuit about gender discrimination, and we had to read through every personnel folder of every wire service worker, marking anything suspicious related to the case (we were given guidelines. There were about 10 of us.) Of course a lot of the stuff was from Vietnam, and I did find a consistent pattern. If anyone sent to Vietnam to cover the war between 1960 and 1970 wrote a story that described American war crimes, or showed our "allies" in a bad light or the Viet Cong and their allies in a good light, a message went back. The message said, essentially, if you want to be an international war correspondent, instead of being sent back to cover high school football games in small towns, don't submit this shit. There would be another message going up the ladder, to where the government censored the news service, saying we censored this, so you don't have to.

And yet you need information to make decisions. Well, you and I don't get to make any important decisions. Political machines still pick candidates in the U.S. and then sell them to voters, mostly. The machine politicians get to make decisions. The ones their big doners tell them to make.

But they, the policital, economic, and military establishment, are in a constant state of psychosis, paranoia, and neurosis, feeding on the establishment's own misinformation machine. Has anybody besides me noticed that radical Islam was a minor problem in 1999, but after 15 years of war is a major problem? The U.S. destroyed regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, etc. and inspired a whole new generation of young people to join the Jihad, and is probably going to lose most if not all of those states to radical Islam in the near future.

A long, long time ago the U.S. did not like the European powers interfering with us, and so our leaders (whatever their other faults) proposed the idea of non-interference. A nation should not meddle in the internal affairs of other nations. But later, as America grew powerful, the lust for money corrupted our entire business, political, and even religious establishment. We had to interfere in Mexico, the Philippines, Cuba, and later just about every country in the world, so that our business guys could extract wealth from them. Also so that rival powers could be kept away from the carrion.

Now we reap the whirlwind. We may not be able to defeat ISIS. And if we do defeat ISIS, that will just give the anti-U.S. resistance another throw of the dice, and an even more proficient opposition will emerge. Like Roundup unready monster weeds. Ask a farmer at a farm near you. Will they stop with the current generation of monsters, or will they add new pesticides (and gene alterations) to the mix, and start the next round of survival-of-the-fittest weeds?

ISIS is radical Islamic, but other groups are already studying its recipe for success. Like the slavers who used the American revolution to come to power as the United States, and the Leninists who came to power when the original soviets were trying to set up a workers' democracy in Russia, the first ingredient is chaos. If you bring order to chaos, people will put up with quirks like having all men grow a long beard, or spouting quotations from Chairman Mao. And the chaos: that comes from bad government. Like how the U.S. Congress refuses to take care of U.S. infrastructure and refuses to deal with global warming and other creeping ecological disasters. That will bring chaos. Just give it time.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

ISIS Thrives after Demonizing Assad Backfires

Why do we think of kings as better than dictators? Could it be too much Disney, or the old tradition of upper-class Americans sucking up to the Queen (or King) of England? What differentiates an elected President-for-life like Franklin D. Roosevelt from a dictator like Adolph Hitler or Saddam Hussein?
Americans don't ask themselves these questions, but they should. While this essay is focused on Dr. Bashar Assad [or al-Assad], the current President of Syria, this is just one example of how Americans fall prey to propaganda created by the government of the United States of America. And how lying, especially systematic lying, backfires.

[Note that the U.S. government, with cooperation from Microsoft and Google, has hidden or blocked access to official Syrian government web sites. Try searching "government of syria official web site" or any variation on it if you don't believe me.]

In the Dictator column place the fact that Bashar Assad became President when Hafez Assad, his father, died. On the other hand, we have had two father-son presidencies in the U.S., Adams and Bush, and have come close to having others (Taft).

The U.S. considered Hafez Assad an enemy because he was a leftist, and therefore pro-Soviet, back when we demonized anyone who dared to not let their country become a U.S. colony. But within the leftist — everyone get up in the morning and have a nice day instead of slaving for some capitalist boss — countries, Hafez was a pretty decent leader. Richard Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger's, description of Hafez is worth quoting at length:
"Withal, I developed a high regard for Assad. In the Syrian context he was a moderate indeed. He leaned toward the Soviets as the source of his military equipment. But he was far being from a Soviet stooge. He had a first-class mind allied to a wicked sense of humor. I believe that I was the first Western Leader with whom he had dealt consistently. He grasped the opportunity for some free tutorials on Western political systems. During the Syrian shuttle, almost every bargaining session began with an hour or so of perceptive questioning on the institutions and personalities of the Western democracies."
The quote is direct from Years of Upheaval [page 781], and is about negotiations in the year 1974, the year Nixon was hounded out of office.

Why did the end of the Soviet era not result in the un-demonization of Hafez Assad, which would have meant that Bashar Assad might have been viewed factually, rather than demonized?

Syria, not just the Assad family, had reason to be anti-U.S. aside from being socialist. Syrians know Syrian history. Add that to the ability of the state of Israel to look covetously upon any lands adjacent to their own, and the enormous pro-Jewish bias of America, and you have your answer. It never had anything to do with Islam, though it will pretty soon if ISIS adds all of Syria (except that part already occupied by Israel) to its new Caliphate.

Syria is in the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of civilization, as far as we know. It has had its ups and downs over the past five millennia. When industrialization gave the western European powers the ability to take any colonies they wanted, starting around 1800, for a long time Syria was "protected" by the Ottoman (Turkish) empire.

Contrary to popular mythology (taught as history) in the U.S., World War I was started by England (the British Empire), France, and Russia mainly in order to grab the lands governed by a weakened Ottoman empire. France had already grabbed Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1881, and after the war grabbed Syria (sending in troops to depose Faisal I in 1920), with the fig leaf of calling their colony a League of Nations mandate. This is despite the fact that the British Empire had promised that a united Arab nation would be created, which would have included present-day Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

France, of course, was allied with the United States. France became Vichy France during World War II, a Roman Catholic dictatorship allied with Nazi Germany. A sucked-dry Syria gained independence in 1946, unlike other French colonies like Vietnam and Algeria. American support for the continuation of the French and British empires led not just Syria, but most newly-independent nations, to be rightfully suspicious of the United States.

And so Syrians were not pro-American, and had to be demonized, long before the first Assad came to power in 1971. But it is political suicide for anyone in a position of power in the U.S., like Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, or members of Congress, to stand up and say "Bashar Assad is okay." The other dogs would rather use such an incident to rip their rivals apart, rather than change U.S. policy to reflect reality.

Not to mention Zionist Israelis and Americans. Say anything nice about Bashar and money just would drain from the campaign funds, and the slush funds, and the other indirect bribes that make America a pseudo-democracy.

American foreign policy has a way of shooting itself in the foot. We helped France grab its former colony of Indochina after World War II, and ended up fighting the Vietnam War. We helped radical Islamists throw a modern, Soviet-backed regime out of Afghanistan, and they morphed into the Taliban and Al Qaeda. We talk about democracy, but when the people of a nation decide not to elect American puppets, we back military coups. We are allied with the Dictator of Saudi Arabia, but opposed to a democratic regime in Iran.

We, led by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, decided to encourage the overthrow of the Assad regime in Syria. Instead of just demanding elections, the pro-U.S. faction, which would have lost elections, started a civil war. This provided an opening for radical Islam, which before had been minimally present in Syria. Not only has ISIS grabbed much of Syria, but it used Syria as a base for grabbing much of Iraq.

President Obama is befuddled. If he helps Assad, the Republicans will accuse him of helping Iran, another unfairly demonized nation. If he helps the non-ISIS rebels against Assad, most likely ISIS will take over the entire country. So Obama's best domestic political bet is to do as little as possible and hope that Assad's popularity will enable him to defeat ISIS, and of course the pro-U.S. rebels, without U.S. assistance.

The Israelis are stone-cold crazy too. If they had any sense they would let the Palestinians have their rump independent state in the West Bank and come to the aid of Bashar Assad. ISIS is the equivalent of the Jews after the Holocaust: it has come through the fire, and if it has the resources of both Iraq and Syria at its disposal, it will probably take over Jordan and Saudi Arabia too and then drive Israel into the sea.

Hillary will likely be our next President. Despite the liberal gloss, Hillary is America's Margaret Thatcher, a cold-hearted imperialist who will kill anyone who gets in her way, including women and children. That is why everyone is trying to get their battles won before January 2017. No one who knows her expects any mercy or humanity from President Clinton II.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Should the U.S. Arm Syria to fight ISIS?

ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is no ordinary group of rebels bent on becoming a new government. ISIS is ultra-violent and ultra-orthodox, and worse still, ultra-competent in both military and economic matters.

Sometimes the least bad choice is the best choice. ISIS is clearly (from our secular, freedom-and-equality oriented American perspective) the worst choice for governance of the Arabic/Islamic nations.

It could be argued that Saudi Arabia is a U.S. ally, and that the rulers of Saudi Arabia are as religiously oppressive and dictatorial as ISIS. We believe the U.S. should not be allied with the Saudis, but then again they have grown soft on their oil money and don't represent a regional threat. We should continue to recognize the de facto, if democratically illegitimate, government of Saudi Arabia.

When it come to ISIS we have choices, both short term and long term. In the short term the only realistic choices are supporting the de facto governments of Iraq and Syria.

The Syrian government has long opposed U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, but for good reason. The Arabs have been beat up by European nations and the U.S. for about two centuries now. People are angry, and that anger has now been distilled into ISIS.

The Syrian government is headed by Bashar al-Assad, and in some ways resembles a dictatorship. But opposition parties are allowed to participate in elections, and Assad seems to be genuinely popular among much of Syria's population. In particular, when it comes to religion Assad has been non-sectarian, more so than most U.S. politicians.

ISIS was able to grow in strength in Syria because of the civil war against the Assad regime that broke out after the Arab Spring. That civil war has devastated the country, but it has not lead to the pro-U.S. rebels replacing the current government. At this point in time the pro-U.S. rebels are rapidly being squeezed between ISIS and the government of Syria.

President Obama, in consultation with those few members of Congress who are not suffering from hardening of the brain, should make a dramatic change in U.S. policy.

By giving support to Assad, including both military and economic support, the U.S. could put a stop to ISIS before it gets further out of control. ISIS running Syria, or Iraq, or Syria and Iraq, would be a disaster and would probably lead to an ISIS takeover of Jordan and then Saudi Arabia. With all those resources, global Islamic jihad would certainly be on the agenda.

U.S. support for Assad could be contingent on his government pardoning the pro-U.S. rebels and encouraging them to participate in the next election. The U.S. could give economic aid to compensate for the damage done. U.S. military aid would go a long way towards defeating ISIS. Done right, this might even eventually swing Syria into the U.S. camp, or at least into a tolerant neutrality.

Human rights activists will protest that the Assad regime has committed crimes against humanity. That might be true, but in a civil war it is hard to separate out civilians from resistance fighters. The U.S. failed to make that separation in its wars against Vietnam and the Philippines, and when it dropped firebombs and atomic bombs on the cities of Japan, and many, many other times. When the big fish have been fried, including George W. Bush, perhaps then we can go after the small fry.

If Assad defeats ISIS without U.S. aid, that would be fine, but it would create a long-term dynamic where Syria remains unfriendly to the U.S.

I simply would not bet on Assad' crew beating ISIS. It is too dangerous of a bet.

[Originally published at Mendoday]

Monday, August 11, 2014

Palestine, Israel, and U.N. Resolution 181

When tempers are high people tend, even more than normal, to discard any evidence that anything is wrong with the side they have chosen. They rally around the flag.

Add that to the tendency for history to be treated as propaganda, rather than a true record of the past, and it is not surprising that many people are confused by the history of Palestine as told by its partisans, which appears have very little in common with the history of the modern nation of Israel, as told by its partisans. Voices in the middle tend to get drowned out.

Here I want to take a look at the myth that the United Nations (U. N.) sanctioned the creation of the nation of Israel, and that the non-Judaic Palestinians were opposing a fair and just plan to create that nation. To do that I will be referring to the original 1947 document, available from Yale University at this link:

I highly recommend you read the document first, and think about it, before I walk you through how I see it. You may not agree with my analysis.

The key word to look at, in distinguishing historical propaganda from what actually happened, is the word "state." The document uses the word "state" frequently. It is a word that can mean "nation" or a government. But as we know from our own United States, the word "state" can mean a level of government different from (usually subordinate to) a national government.

Everyone agrees that a majority of non-Judaic citizens in the British Mandate of Palestine, possibly a majority of all citizens, rejected the U.N. resolution. They preferred the better-established international standard for transitions from imperial dominance to local freedom: national self-determination. Under that system all the voting-age citizens would elect representatives, mainly by geographic units, and those representatives would then write a Constitution for the nation, then have another election, and start writing the laws of the nation.

The Zionist Palestinians and their foreign supporters (but not all Judaic Palestinians) preferred a Jewish-majority, explicitly theocratic and ethnically defined Nation of Israel. They did not want to have a merely Jewish-majority "state" within a Palestinian nation.

How do we know that the U.N. did not intend to set up a sovereign Nation of Israel through Resolution 181?

In propaganda Resolution 181 is usually called the "United Nation Partition Plan for Palestine" which implies a two-nation solution. You can see that it is actually an attempt at a a one-nation solution from the text in the very first paragraph, which bears repeating: "for the consideration of the question of the future Government of Palestine."

The word Partition comes from the phrase "plan of partition with economic union" which first occurs in paragraph 6. Some relevant U.S. history is the partition of the various areas taken from Native American Indians and partitioned into a variety of states. Partition does not, in itself, imply nation. If historians focussed on the word "union" and minimized the word "partition," people would think about the events of 1948 dfferently.

The words "Jewish State" first appear (Part I, A., para. 3) in the context of withdrawal of British troops. After that the terms Jewish State, Arab State, and City of Jerusalem are used frequently, and they are described as "independent."

But Palestine is not really granted independence. Instead a U.N. commission is to take over the power formerly exercised from the British. The commission is empowered to make the final lines of demarcation of the Jewish, Arab and Jerusalem sectors.

Rather than holding elections, the commission is to appoint Provisional Councils for each of the "states". Among other responsibilities, each Provisional Council is to recruit an "armed militia." Even then "general political and military control, including the choice of the militia's High Command, shall be exercised by the Commission."

Then there are to be elections, and illegal immigrants (who would be mostly European Jews) can vote simply if they "have signed a notice of intention to become citizens of such State."

Neither elected government is supposed to discriminate based on religion or ethnic origin. There is to be freedom of transit, and you can see that a peculiar lapse in language consistency by a referral to "the other State in Palestine, " where elsewhere the term Arab State is used.

The three States are to establish "the Economic Union and Joint Economic Board." Recall that the original call in the United States to go beyond the Articles of Confederation was for an economic union between the 13 states, to be planned at the Annapolis Convention.

Resolution 181 even provides for Arabs living in the Jewish State and Jews living in the Arab state to have the option to vote instead for representatives in the state they are ethnically aligned with, and to be considered citizens of the State which they have opted to vote for. (Section C., Chapter 3)

You can see both the ambiguity of the word "state" and that the Resolution did not intend to create a Nation of Israel most clearly in Section C. Chapter 3, Subsections 2 and 3 where the overall state is again called "Palestine." The phrasing, "These obligations shall be fulfilled through participation in the Joint Economic Board in respect of those obligations applicable to Palestine as a whole, and individually in respect of those applicable to, and fairly apportionable between, the States" is particularly telling.

I'm figuring that is about as much information as anyone can be expected to absorb in one blog post.

I conclude that while Resolution 181 is somewhat ambiguous on the question of whether it authorized a Jewish nation in Palestine, the ambiguity results from the complicated political balance it seeks to impose. The most reasonable reading is that the intention is that a Nation of Palestine is to have three subordinate States, and that each state is to guarantee the usual generally accepted freedoms to all of its inhabitants. It is an attempt to guarantee some protection for minorities, in particular the Jewish minority, rather than to set up two or more racially supremacist or theocratic nations.

My own opinion is that the United Nations had no right to impose a solution on Palestine. The people of Palestine should have been allowed to go through the usual national self-determination process without United Nations (or any other outside) interference.

Although it begins a more complex topic (the history of the conflict), I would also add that the evidence is that a majority of Palestinians would have rejected the dictation from the U.N. had they been allowed to vote on it. However, the actual armies that opposed the creation of the Nation of Israel in 1948 were not Palestinian. The Palestinians had no army. The opposing armies were from other, pre-established Arab nations. In addition, the State of Israel, really a new nation, was declared on May 15, 1948, well before the August 1, 1948 expiration of the British occupation.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 2014 Gaza Uprising

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place in 1943. Essentially, some of the Jews who had been trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto took up arms against the German army. They were aware that Jews from the Ghetto were being systemically taken to death camps.

This essay is about comparing the current militant movement in Gaza, and more broadly among non-Jews in Palestine/Israel, to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. There are some similarities and many differences. A lot can be learned about people by noting how they interpret this data.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place in the context of World War II and the Holocaust, which was Adolf Hitler's plan to exterminate the Jews. The situation in Gaza today is in the context of the aftermath of the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, known as Israel, and the contemporary U.S.-led "War on Terror."

While Adolf Hitler was raised as a Roman Catholic in Austria, where anti-Semitism (more properly, anti-Judaism) was virulent among the Church hierarchy, his stance towards Jews was essentially racist, not religious. While Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church agreed on many things in the 1930's (notably the need to exterminate socialists, atheists and communists), they disagreed on the disposition of the Jews in Europe. The Catholic Church sought to convert them.

Hitler, who had added racist doctrines to the Church's anti-Judaism, thought the Jews were genetically inferior (actually, different in a dangerous way). Converting them would simply allow their genes to mix more with his beloved concept of the Aryan race. Hitler and his more radical followers within the National Socialist Workers Party (Nazis), decided to exterminate the Jews in the midst of World War II.

Anti-jewish laws came first, in the mid 1930's, but they were not much different than similar anti-Negro laws in the U.S., or discriminatory laws common in most of the world's nations at the time. Then came concentration camps, at first used to house political prisoners (atheists, socialists and communists), and then increasingly to use Jews for slave labor. Ultimately some of the concentration camps became death camps.

The Warsaw Ghetto, created in 1940, was effectively a concentration camp within a city. Perhaps 300,000 Jews were packed into about 1.25 square miles of city. Gaza is much less densely populated, currently estimated to have a population of 1.8 million enclosed in an area of 139 square miles. However, because Gaza is desert terrain, most of the population lives in Gaza City and other urbanized areas. In both the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza the citizens were (or are) not free to travel outside of the designated limits.

The Warsaw Ghetto was meant to be temporary; its residents were meant to be deported to death camps beginning in 1942. The residents of Gaza have been there, for the most part, since 1948 and have hereditary refugee status. They are being confined, not exterminated.

The "uprising" began around January 18, 1943. Only a small percentage of Jews, perhaps 1000, appear to have fought the Germans. This may have been partly due to a shortage of weapons. Still, the German army needed only about 2000 troops to regain enough control of the ghetto to continue the deportations.

The same is true of Gaza. While people, when given the opportunities in elections, voted for Hamas, and to a lesser degree for the PLO, the number of active Hamas militants is estimated at about 10,000 (estimated by Israel), but that includes irregular volunteers. The other resistance groups in Gaza appear to be much smaller than Hamas.

Tunnels played a crucial role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Tunnels were used to bring in food and weapons. Without tunnels, the earlier death rate in the ghetto from malnutrition and consequent disease would likely have been higher. In the end, many of the fighters used the tunnels to escape the fate of those who did not fight: transit to a death camp.

The various groups in Gaza did not build tunnels because the like to dig. The were dug for the same reasons the Jews had in Warsaw: to get supplies. And both some of the Jews and some of the Palestinians used the tunnels to get the weapons they needed to fight the army of the nation that had put them in their respective ghettos.

Very few German soldiers, officially just 17, were killed by the Warsaw Jewish resistance, and it is unlikely that the real total was over 100. The Germans disproportionately killed civilians, most of whom died from fires or smoke inhalation.

The army of Israel, and its air force, have elected to fight in a manner that kills far more civilians in Gaza than actual Hamas militants.

In both cases the resistance fighters were poorly armed compared to the army they fought. The Polish Jews had only one machine gun and a limited number of small arms. Gaza is confronted with an Israeli army far better armed than the German army was. In addition, Israel conducts much of its war on non-Jewish Palestinians from the air. The use of (mostly inneffective) rockets launched from Gaza is also a new phenomena.

So we have a paradox. In matching the contenders up, Hamas gunmen match up well with ZOB and ZZW, the Jewish Warsaw gunmen. The civilians of Gaza match well with the civilians of the Warsaw Ghetto.

And the Israeli state matches the Nazi German state well. And the Israeli Army matches the German army quite well.

But once racism, religious intolerance, or even nationalism enter the picture, this obvious way to connect the dots goes out the window. Racism makes it impossible to do a rational analysis of who is in the right, and who is being wronged. See my recent essay Ethical Asymmetry [July 22, 2014] for a treatment of the ethical problems resulting from bias.


Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Friday, July 18, 2014

Facebook Ate My Bandwidth

Sorry, Facebook friends, I will no longer be looking at Facebook.

Facebook Ate My Bandwidth.

I get Internet through a satellite dish. I get a daily bandwidth allowance that is good for ordinary purposes. Occasionally a big software update will blow through it.

But lately (about a week now) Facebook has been downloading video endlessly when opened. If either my wife or I open Facebook, it goes through about 25% of the day's bandwidth in 10 minutes. It does not ask permission. It just eats.

I need my bandwidth for other things. We do get unlimited bandwidth from 11 PM to 4 AM, but those are my sleeping hours, and I need my sleep.

Its the techno 1% at work again. They have unlimited, incredibly fast bandwidth. They don't live in a rural area. They don't think. They code.

However, I think I can post to Facebook by writing in place like this and hitting a share button. If anyone needs to send me a message, send me an email.