Monday, March 31, 2014

Feinstein and Brown Fuel Drug Corruption

There are many forms of political corruption, and some are worse than others. Ordinary corruption might be when an office holder, in return for some consideration, awards a government contract to a specific contractor. Or when a legislator includes a line or two of text in a bill that creates a tax break or regulatory loophole for a supporter's business.

Then there is systemic corruption, where the law itself is corrupted by a corrupt society, as in the racist laws the Democratic Party wrote and upheld from the time of its founding by Andrew Jackson until the laws were finally changed in the late 1960s.

Money from black market profiteering has an ancient role in corrupting governments. In the last century the key black market has been in illegal drugs. A vast framework of corrupt police and politicians have been fueled by drug money, including here in California.

You can tell which politicians are corrupt by their stands on efforts to legalize these drugs. We supposedly live in a democracy. People want drugs for fun, for energy, for relief from pain. Sure people injure themselves with meth and heroin and other drugs, but it is highly obvious that the bans on these drugs just make them highly profitable.

Most drug-associated crime is because the drugs are artificially expensive because of the costs of running a black market, evading law enforcement and fighting other groups for business. So besides the criminal enterprises that manufacturer and distribute the drugs, the main beneficiaries are political machines like the Democratic Party and Republican Party.

When a politician is against legalizing marijuana, he or she is just protecting the black market rackets of their racketeer friends, and their own "juice."

Lately the top two political figures in the State of California, Governor Jerry Brown and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, have spoken against legalizing marijuana (beyond the current legal status of "medical" marijuana.) Governor Brown asked "How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?" The kind of nation that can topple 3rd world governments at will, keep the wages for most workers artificially low, and make sure that every poor boy and girl can look forward to a life of selling illegal narcotics.

Diane Feinstein has been politically bullet-proof since most women in California decided to vote for Democratic Party female candidates without looking beyond the issue of reproductive rights. She recently came to Brown's rescue, saying "I saw a lot of where people began with marijuana and went on to hard drugs." Some people start as relatively harmless city council members and go on to become Senators, but does that mean we should abolish city councils?

The depths of Feinstein's corruption and misgovernance are difficult for the average Californian voter to fathom. Unfortunately, the corrupt two-party system in California means her only serious electoral opposition has been from Republican Senatorial candidates who are also anti-drug.

What distinguishes Feinstein is she has a voting record in Congress. She apparently hates animals. She was the co-sponsor in the Senate of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which makes anyone protesting cruelty to animals a terrorist.

She hates Palestinians, as shown by her constant, vocal support for U.S. taxpayer subsidies for Israeli ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Many California Democrats who think the U.S. wastes a lot of money on war would be surprised at how Feinstein has consistently supported inflating the homeland security and "defense" budgets.

Senator Feinstein's husband is Richard C. Blum, a capitalist, investment banker, and real-estate tycoon (he owns much of San Francisco). There we have at least the appearance of ordinary corruption. One of Blum's many holdings EG&G won a $600 million contract from the U.S. military. Because he is so wealthy he also controls or helps control a number of prestigious non-for-profit (but run by profiteers) groups, notably The Wilderness Society.

There is probably nothing to be done about Senator Feinstein except to wait for her to die from old age. However, California voters will likely have a chance to legalize marijuana in a future referendum.

Illegal drugs generate vast sums of money that corrupt society and our political structure. Because of black-market drugs sales in the U.S., Mexico has become a drug lord's playground. Did no one learn any lessons from the U.S. experiment with alcohol Prohibition?

When you hear a politician tell you marijuana should be illegal, remember they are on the take. When they ask to be re-elected, just say no.

Disclosure: I don't smoke marijuana (but I did when I was younger).

Friday, March 28, 2014

Windows XP, Goodbye

Tomorrow a non-profit that specializes in recycling electronics devices is coming to my remote rural community. As part of my recycling effort, I am finally getting rid of a lot of old stuff. Most of it died, some of it just became obsolete and so was put into storage.

In my office is a HP Pavilion desktop that I bought for a few hundred dollars in July of 2003. It runs  Windows XP. I just fired it up again; it works fine. It has an old version of Office on it, and it has old versions of some specialty software I used for publishing and to create book indexes.

I understand that as software is improved, or at least changed, it becomes increasingly difficult to make old hardware and operating systems work with the newer, more sophisticated software. And I have not actually used the computer in years; it is a backup to my other backup computer. The backup computer runs Windows Vista; the new computer runs Windows 8.1.

I note that most people don't need a desktop at home, and never did. I need a desktop because of the applications I use for work. I am not a mobile guy. I work from my home office. I commute from my bedroom. But most people can get by with a smartphone or tablet. They don't need to be tied to a desktop, or even a laptop, except perhaps at work.

I do like using my Kindle Fire to read in the living room or in bed.

The HP/Windows XP combination got a lot of use in its day. It enabled me to start two businesses (freelance, no employees but me).

So thank you Microsoft and HP. I have had computers and software that broke down or became obsolete much faster than this particular computer. I complain about corporations quite a bit, but it this particular case I got great products at very fair prices and they directly helped me earn a living.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Gardening Within Mendocino

My wife and I are planning a move to a less remote area. Our realtor friend was here yesterday to discuss whether the house could be sold. There are a lot of issues with selling a remote rural home. The particular issue I'll discuss here is my peculiar landscaping and gardening style. It might not be attractive to potential buyers.

We came to the coastal area of southern Mendocino County, California in the early 1990s. At the time I had been active with Earth First! for about 5 years. The earth was already dying then, and it is dying faster now, and so when we bought a small piece of land (with the help of a mortgage company), I wanted to treat it in a manner consistent with my views. Which is not consistent with how most people, around here or anywhere, treat their land.

But let's go back even further, to a time when there were a lot less people (by about 50%) living on this earth, the 1960s. After 6 years of growing up on or near various Marine Corps bases, I was moved to suburban Florida. The lawns were mowed green grass. At my family's first home there were a few shrubs and 2 palmettos on either side of the driveway, but no trees. The second home had some nice trees: a hickory, an oak, a pine and a holly. But my mother was determined to grow some sort of grass species that did not like it there. Another, coarser grass wanted to grow, plus the usual weeds. For ten years at intervals I worked on the lawn project, pulling out undesirable grasses and weeds and raking up leaves (my older brother got the mowing job).

I cast a dim eye upon the entire Florida lawn project, and not just because of the mosquitoes, horseflies, deer flies and biting gnats. I cast a dim eye on a lot of stuff. Not as dim as my mother's famously dim eye, which was very conventional in its tastes and hatreds. But pretty dim. Why was the world watering and fertilizing grass, then cutting it, raking the cuttings up, and sending them away in the trash? Hadn't anybody read a biology book? Didn't they know that in nature you don't need bags of fertilizer to keep grass growing? But my mother's lawn was a precious symbol of middle-class respectability (she had grown up on a tenant farm). We had a grass lawn, but it was not to be played on. It was for looking at. And for weeding.

Nature has its cycles, its wheels within wheels. The land I now "own" is on the first ridge above the ocean. Almost certainly it was overgrown with redwoods and other large trees until the first logging took place sometime in the 1800s. Because it was a ridge, the soil was not thick, and the trees were not as big as the ones on the slopes below. But they were easy to cart to mills and then to San Francisco, and so they were cut. Then heavy rains eroded the soil. When the trees grew big enough, decades later, they were cut again. By then the soil would not sustain a redwood, so other species came to dominate: manzanita and madrone, bishop pine and rhododendra. Brush, not forest. Apparently there was a big fire in the 1950s, which was followed by more erosion.

So there I am, in 1995, with a parcel of land dominated by dying bishop pines (an at-risk species local to the area), covered with brush, and with only a couple of inches of mostly sandy soil in most places. Sucking up water from the septic lines there were some pretty big sequoia (the kind found around Yosemite) planted by the prior owners and there were a couple of coast redwoods, the bigger ones being less than a foot in diameter, and the smaller ones, also planted by the prior owners, stunted for lack of soil and water to mostly under two feet high.

People kindly made suggestions. The most common one was to buy a truckload or four of "good" soil and dump it on the land. Brilliant. Buy soil, which means ripping it up from somewhere and burning a bunch of petrol to place it somewhere else. That'll put a stop to global warming.

Instead, I started caring for the land, and under my care it has begun to heal. When a tree or shrub dies, which happens a lot since they grew up too close together and it usually does not rain between May and October, one of two things happens. It gets cut up for firewood, so that we don't have to burn propane of use electricity (much) for heat in winter. Or it gets left (perhaps after some chopping) to turn itself into mulch, which eventually turns into a tiny bit of soil. The mulch helps hold moisture in the soil. It furnishes nutrients. It is just what happens in a natural forest. If a dead tree is left standing, it attracts insects and then woodpeckers.

With regard to land care three kinds of people irritate me. I don't criticize them, but if they ask me why I don't do as they do, I explain my alternative practice. They rarely ask.

Burn Pile People. For some reason people in the country, including most people who move in from the suburbs or cities, love burn piles. They have the same appeal as fireworks. When a tree dies or just does something irritating like blocking the sun or an ocean view, it gets thrown in a burn pile. Sometimes people bulldoze brush (also known as rare California native plants) and small trees from a good sized area into a burn pile. Then they set it on fire. Construction scraps and garbage may to in to. Creating air that is as bad as you might find in Beijing or Mexico city. It gets the dead wood out of sight, but then they don't have mulch, so their soil gets thinner, with less organic matter. Burn pile people expect to dump bags of fertilizer on their land or haul in soil to get anything to grow. When those external inputs are turned into plant material, eventually they chop it down and burn it. It is a way of rural life.

English Garden People. I use English Garden in a general sense for a garden that is extremely orderly. I do find such gardens to be pretty: they are eye candy. But natural they are not. It does not matter to me if an English Garden is organic or heavy with pesticide: what you won't see is a decaying log or tree stump. I like decaying logs. I like lines that are not straight. I like wildflowers coming up in odd places. However, when I walk in an English Garden I just say "Those are pretty roses. What variety are they?" and the like. The better English Garden people don't say, if they see my garden, "why don't you move that decaying log?" They say "that pear tree seems to be doing really well!" I wish they would ask about the decaying logs, because I long to tell them how decaying logs are mini-ecosystems that support large numbers of species and, eventually, become the complex soil that makes my pears so wonderful.

Fire Hazard Paranoids. These are often also burn pile people. They are afraid their house will burn down if they leave a tree or shrub within a hundred yards of it. They look at my land and they say "But the fire hazard!" Now, as in most paranoia, it is true there is such a thing as fire, and there are forest fires (and brush fires), and occasionally a house burns down as a result. But of all the houses that have burnt down around here since I've been in the neighborhood, exactly zero have burned down because they caught fire from an external forest fire.

Your house is the fire hazard! There are three major sources of fire in a typical country home. There is the electrical system, the usual culprit. There is the gas (natural or propane). There is the woodstove or fireplace. I know of homes that have been destroyed by each of these. Another source of fire is vehicles: if you car or pickup or tractor catches on fire, there is a good chance your garage or barn is going to light up and take your house with it.

I'm not saying I pile up dry wood against my house. My house already consists of dry wood! I keep the area immediately around my house clear of dead brush, and I water the trees that shade my house, if necessary, to keep them green. Green trees can burn, but not easily.

So I have my ways. I don't use a chain saw, a lawn mower, or a weed whacker. I use my hands, my back, some simple tools, a wheelbarrow, and mulch. You might say that while I don't mind a good apple or pear or plum or snow pea, what I have spent nearly 20 years doing is growing mulch. It isn't for everyone.

And in another 25 years, this land will look great. Except I am likely selling it, and it will be up to the next person to decide how to treat it.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Why America Can't Afford Another Cold War

Russian national debt, 2012: $253 billion [source:]

U.S. national debt, end of 2013: $17 trillion

A trillion is a thousand billions. Russia's debt was about 1/4 trillion.

America's debt is (or was recently) about 68 times as large as Russia's.

The American economy is also larger, so could service more debt.

Russian GDP (gross domestic output), was $2 trillion in 2012, per the IMF.

U.S. GDP was 15.7 trillion in 2012 so about 8 times as large as Russia's.

In other words, in relation to the size of their respective economies, the U.S. had about 8 times as much national debt as Russia.

Using other statistics, the debt of the Russian government is just 11% of its annual GDP. The The debt of the U.S. government is 101% of its annual GDP. [per Wikipedia, economy of Russia and economy of United States pages]

By my figuring, the U.S. government is already bankrupt, but no one wants to admit it. It cannot raise taxes significantly, its budget can't be cut further without widespread social unrest, and it cannot pay down the national debt, and won't even be able to pay the interest if rates rise to normal levels.

The U.S. is not exactly a paper tiger, but it is a deeply indebted tiger. If anyone blows a few U.S. aircraft carriers out of the water, there would be no money to replace them. Russia is one of the few nations that can blow U.S. vessels out of the water. The carriers should be saved to bully developing nations, their traditional role.

We can't even afford military posturing or a buildup in our number of troops. We have to keep the peace.

This essay is in response to Why Russian Can't Afford Another Cold War by James B. Stewart in the New York Times.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Obama: Crimea Doesn't Need Any Stinking Election

United States President Barack Obama is against having an election in the Crimea to determine whether that peninsula (practically an island) should rejoin the Russia it had been a part of until it was switched to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by communists who thought it would be easier to administrate through Kiev.

Obama called the plans for an election a violation of international law: "And that includes standing up for the principle of state sovereignty. The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law. Any discussion about the future of Ukraine must include the legitimate government of Ukraine. In 2014, we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders." [March 6, 2014 Statement by President Barack Obama on the Ukraine]

This is a President who supports a fiercely anti-woman and anti-religious freedom regime in Saudi Arabia [See Dictator of Saudi Arabia]; who pays for mercenaries for a half dozen nations to rape Somalia [See Rape of Somalia]; who executes American citizens without trial; and who comes from a long line of Presidents who have acted like global dictators, installing puppet governments and overthrowing democratically elected governments whenever that furthered the purposes of the U.S. corporate security state.

The "democratic leaders" Obama refers to in his statement are an interim government put in place by a mob after the mob forced the elected government of the Ukraine to flee the capitol.

Perhaps someone should remind President Obama that our nation is based on illegal elections. The Founding Fathers held elections against the will of Parliament and the King of Britain.

I thought our ancestors had established that it is the people, not the rulers, who get to decide when an election is appropriate.

A majority of people in Crimea don't like being part of the Ukraine, especially now that right-wing thugs organized by neo-Nazis have overthrown the legitimately elected government. Let me be clear that I understand that many of the people who protested the former government were not right-wing thugs. People have a right to protest. But they don't have a right to overthrow an elected government that plans to continue to hold elections. They could have waited for the next election; if the government were that unpopular, it would have fallen peacefully.

The situation in the Ukraine looks like Algeria, Palestine, and Iran all over again (and many more national elections if you look further back in history, particularly in Latin America). In each of those cases the people elected anti-American governments. In Algeria the U.S. backed a military coup; in Palestine we backed a coup by the PLO, favoring them over Hamas; and in Iran we simply demonized the regime, shot down a civilian airliner, paid Iraq to attack and kill millions of Iranians (including using poison gas and mass electrocutions), and organized illegal international economic measures to try to strangle the regime.

In the U.S. it is illegal for a foreigner to donate to a political campaign (though of course it happens on occasion). But the U.S. funnels vast sums of money to parties it likes in foreign nations. If Obama really cared about sovereignty, he would stop interfering in so many nations' elections. He'd stop using military donations to bribe leaders. He'd shut down the CIA torture centers and fix the massive problems of the U.S. instead of keeping 12 aircraft carriers and their fleets circling the oceans as floating bullies.

I am not a fan of Vladimir Putin or Russian society. But it is their society. If people in the Crimea want to try being part of Russia instead of the Ukraine, it is their inherent human right. In the words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence: "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it." The "Ends" mentioned are, among others, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

If the people of Crimea think they will by happier and more free as part of Russia, it is their inalienable right to take action on that Pursuit.

If any other oppressed or misgoverned group, wants autonomy, or independence, or to merge with some other nation, that is their right as well.

Citizens of the U.S. should think about their right to "alter or abolish" the government of the United States of America, because it sure as hades could stand some major improvements.

Monday, March 3, 2014

National Self-determination, Crimea, and Ukraine

What ever happened to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's principle of national self-determination? Shouldn't President Obama being standing up for this right for the people of Crimea and the eastern Ukraine?

Geopolitics is complicated. Ethnic (and religious & other) minorities within a nation are often majorities within a smaller region, and often aspire to have their own nation-states. Right now the Scots are getting ready to vote on independence from Great Britain, the Palestinians want independence from Israel ... the list is quite long.

Who gets a nation, and who does not? The strong get nations; the weak do not. But often the strongest nations, like the United States, do a lot of the decision making. Right now Russia looks like it is determined to help do some decision making in parts of the Ukraine, particularly in Crimea. To have a fair position on this specific application of the principle of national self-determination, it helps to have a historic perspective. Tweets from 3 microseconds ago are hard to interpret if you don't know the history of the past hundred years or so.

After making sure the British Empire won World War I (thereby protecting U.S. banking loans to London and Paris), Woodrow Wilson went to Europe with a lot of big ideas about permanent world peace. Best known for advocating the creation of the League of Nations, President Wilson proposed the principle of national self-determination. His specific territorial recommendations made in his Fourteen Points were supposed to derive from this principle.

Self-determination, the right of people to choose their sovereignty and political status, to be "governed only by their own consent," got off to a bad start. Woodrow Wilson himself was the architect of modern racism in the United States and within the Democratic Party. This was reflected in his attitude towards non-white people. He wanted self-determination for Poland, a state that did not exist before World War I, because that would weaken both Germany and Russia. But when the Japanese proposed that national self-determination should mean all the colonies of Britain, France, Belgium, Italy (and presumably the Japanese colony of Korea) should be granted independence if they wanted it, Wilson blocked that proposal in a committee which he chaired.

Putting aside Wilson's personal hypocrisy, consider the problem of trying to apply national self-determination to the real world, with its actual real human beings on the ground. Consider some 20th century examples.

Wilson did not grant independence to the American colonies of Puerto Rico or the Philippines. While Puerto Rico is still a possession of the United States, the Philippines became independent under Japanese tutelage during World War II. Then the U.S. recaptured the Philippines in an exceptionally brutal campaign notable for the massive execution of POWs by U.S. soldiers, a war crime. Only when the Philippines leaders agreed to permanent U.S. military access to the islands did the U.S. grant independence, of sorts, in 1946.

The basic principle the U.S. has operated under is democracy and national self-determination is fine as long as pro-U.S. governments end up in control. If anti-U.S. people want independence, or win an election to control a nation, that is another matter entirely.

Vietnam is perhaps the best example, although it is just one of many. Vietnam was a French colony [actually 3 colonies, collectively French Indochina] starting before World War I. It had an independence movement throughout its colonial history. Japan took over Vietnam during World War II, but the French [who were controlled from fascist France] continued to work with the Japanese. The Vietnamese independence movement fought for national self-determination during World War II, and tried to convince the Allied Powers (notably the U.S.) to support Vietnamese national self-determination.

American policy makers (ultimately President Truman) flirted with the idea of an independent Vietnam. Then they decided keeping France happy was more important. The French re-conquered Vietnam. The Vietnamese fought a bloody war for independence, and won. As part of the peace & independence deal the French and those Vietnamese loyal to them (mainly Roman Catholics) concentrated in southern Vietnam. They then refused to allow for national elections because they knew the Viet Minh, who had fought the French, would win. Instead, with U.S. backing, the French set up a regime in South Vietnam that was universally despised from its inception. The U.S. fought the Vietnamese War to try to keep Vietnam from being united and independent.

Even as President Obama scolds Russia for using military intervention in Crimea rather than diplomacy, the U.S. is paying anti-gay rights nations like Uganda to fight in Somalia. The U.S. has not even withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan. France has troops in several African nations, helping to decide who will rule there.

So why is the Ukraine so special? Well, first of all it is white people. Second of all, it has a large pro-Western following. But the pro-Russian faction won the last election. Why are the people violently protesting the last elections, including many young men who admit to being nationalist thugs, given the Democracy label? Can't Americans just admit that our leaders are not for majority rule democracy, they just want the Ukraine to join the European Union and be allied with the U.S. and NATO? Why can't we just wait for the next round of elections to see if sentiment has shifted and power can be transferred peacefully?

Why are Russian police actions bad, but U.S. and French and Brit police actions good?

Because Americans, the vast majority of them, or us, have a misinformed sense of right and wrong.

Is Vladimir Putin an asshole? Sure. But that is not the issue for Obama and the American corporate security state. The only question they ask is: Is Putin our asshole? As long as he is our asshole, as Saddam Hussein once was, and as Osama bin Laden once was, being an asshole is no problem. In politics Putin can be a friend of the U.S. on one issue, an enemy on another.

Self-determination for the Crimea would mean an election to see if the people of Crimea prefer to be part of the Ukraine or part of Russia. Or maybe even independent. I hope such an election is held so the rest of the world can know what Woodrow Wilson would think.

And how about independence or statehood for the U.S. possession known as Puerto Rico? What about Kurdistan for the Kurds, and ... list almost every ethnic minority that does not have its own nation here. There are literally hundreds of them.