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.