Tuesday, December 31, 2013

This Year's Book List

Yes I really did read every word in every one of these:

A Trial of Generals, Lawrence Taylor

 The Last Hero:  A Life of Henry Aaron, Howard Bryant

Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863 – 1877
Eric Foner

Barack Obama: The Story, David Maraniss

Parting The Waters:  America In The King Years, 1954-63
Taylor Branch

Rag Top, Henry Gregor Felsen

Pillar of Fire: America In The King Years, 1963-65
Taylor Branch

The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth,
Leigh Montville

Fifty-nine In ’84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball & the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had
Edward Achorn
At Canaan’s Edge, America In The King Years, 1965-68
Taylor Branch

 The Imperial Cruise, A Secret History of Empire and War
James Bradley

One Punch From The Promised Land: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title
John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro

The Generals: American Military Command From WWII to Today

Thomas E. Ricks

, Michael Crichton

The Death of Santini, Pat Conroy

Where They Ain’t: The Fabled Life and Untimely Death
Of the Original Baltimore Orioles, the Team That
Gave Birth to Modern Baseball

Burt Solomon

That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory
John Eisenberg

Nothing Like It In The World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869

Stephen E. Ambrose

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Latest letter to editor:

A Sunday letter writer suggests (Emphasis on states' rights will improve nation) that we would be better served by having the individual states assume some of the governmental functions that he sees the Federal government as unconstitutionally and ineffectively performing.  He even asserts that the Founding Fathers had this "libertarian model" in mind when they wrote the Constitution.  While we could certainly debate the possible ramifications of delegating more authority to the states, the idea that the Founders had that in mind is curious.  They actually set out to strengthen the central government, not weaken it.  They already had a loose confederation of states with each claiming sovereignty.  What they created was a "more perfect union" with a stated purpose of, among other things, promoting the general welfare.  Probably what the author(s) of the Pledge of Allegiance were thinking when they wrote the words "One Nation, Indivisible."  No?

Friday, October 18, 2013

My Summer

I turned the wall thermostat up to 60 last night so I guess Summer must be over (though the furnace hasn't actually kicked on yet).  So what did I do (with my summer)?

Couple things.

Baseball.  I stopped playing on Sundays, after 15 straight seasons of playing pretty much every Sunday all summer.  So I got to three Sunday Brewers games which I enjoyed.  I saw fewer Home Talent League games then I had anticipated, however.  Only three, I think, including one post-season game.  Instead I went to several of my League's games, just to watch.

Also, I played Friday nights, regular, for the first time in almost ten years.  I wasn't sure if I shouldn't maybe take off the whole season as a player, I had begun to think of myself as manager more than player on Sundays (even though I was the only guy to play in every game, the last season) and maybe I was ready to stop playing.  Maybe even find some kids to coach/manage.  But  I decided I was too young to 'retire,' 53 when the season began, so I committed to being a regular with a team I was already loosely connected with.

I'm glad I did.  It was cool being able to just show up and play, without any extra responsibilities (though I enjoyed managing too, really more CO-managing, actually) and once I got 'acclimated' (I missed all but one of the pre-season practices and sucked for the first three games) I had a good season batting and fielding and a good time.  I'm sitting here on Friday night with no game for the first time (mostly, there's bye weeks) since May.  Bored.  ;  )

Reading.  I've always been an avid reader, ever since I first learned how, and this summer I stepped it up a notch.  I had become aware of and bought a 2,000+ page biography of Martin Luther King/History of the Civil Rights Movement in the Spring and started reading it sometime around the end of May.  It was my summer reading project and I finished it in early September.  I've written about it previously.  Also I read several baseball books including a biography of Babe Ruth and the story of Charles 'Old Hoss' Radbourn's 59 win season in 1884.  And, most recently, The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, by James Bradley (author of Flags Of Our Fathers) and The Generals, by Thomas Ricks. 

Bradley exposes the behind the scenes deals made with Japan by Teddy Roosevelt and his 'Assistant President' William Howard Taft, policies which, he argues, would lead the two countries directly into conflict thirty-some years later.

Ricks' thesis is that during WWII the Army swiftly removed/reassigned generals who performed poorly in battles and this was key to winning the war and that they abandoned this approach shortly thereafter, with measurably awful results.  His sub-theme is that the Army stopped expecting Generals to think in strategic terms leading to a series of conflicts (Korea, Vietnam, The Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq) that were very poorly resolved.  In his afterword he makes some recommendations which he admits we are unlikely to see and which would possibly even fail to achieve the results he would seek anyway.

And I worked all summer, progressively more as we hit Fall so that I've been sucking up some overtime pay. ;  )

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Breaking Bad

The AMC series Breaking Bad had its last episode last night.  Various people are writing various things about the various themes explored over the course of five seasons and about the character 'development' that went along. 

Something that occurs to me is that the whole thing can be viewed as a study in incrementalism.  The main character, Walter White, can be seen as a metaphor for the United States and their Vietnam policy in the 1960s.  Both went in with good intentions.  Both meant to get right back out, as soon as one simple objective was accomplished.  Both experienced unintended consequences beginning pretty much immediately and persisting.  Both, when faced with a rebuff, committed more resources to problem resolution and renewed pursuit of the objective. 

Both ultimately failed.  But not before horrifying themselves and witnesses with how low they could go.  One day you're pledging to 'protect Democracy' in a far away land, the next day you're dropping napalm on children.  And insisting that you're right to do it.

One step at a time.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

New Letter

Here's another one:

A Saturday letter (Pitts too often blurs Christian biblical values) expressed concern that our "moral envelope is about to break."  Essentially the writer argues that Pitts' ideas regarding what Jesus believed and taught differ from his own.  Which is just fine, of course, except that he also evidently believes that our society is based on these 'Christian biblical values.' 

He mentions only one specific 'moral' issue, that of 'gay rights,' and that while Jesus might "accept repentant sinners of all shades" he "wouldn't sponsor a gay rights rally."

While he doesn't believe society should condone "excess and deviant behavior," he apparently is more understanding of "individuals' violent acts which come from feeling helpless or powerless," which he sees as the result of 'confusion' arising from living in an "anything goes society."

So, condemn gays, or at least, blame them for society's problems, and forgive killers because it's not their fault?  Do I have that right?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

King For A Summer

It has taken me all summer, about 15 weeks, but I have finished a three volume biography of Martin Luther King/history of the Civil Rights Movement.  What an amazing era.  The trilogy covers 1954 - 1968; the last volume, At Canaan's Edge, 1965-68. 

The Vietnam War leaves its mark all over the last volume.  It dominated those three years, from the date the first ground troops hit the beach until the night King was struck down by an assassin's bullet.  It split King from LBJ as it divided the country.  King saw peace in Vietnam, peace on Earth, as inextricably linked with the struggle for equal rights, and had to speak out.  Johnson saw King disloyally turning on him, the best, most powerful friend the Civil Rights Movement ever had. 

Despite this split, both men achieved much in those three years, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in August being the culmination of a concerted years long effort.  Both men then turned their focus to LBJ's War on Poverty though both faced major distractions, Johnson with escalation in Vietnam, King with internecine movement politics and an expansion into the north, especially Chicago.  King was to lead a second March on Washington in the Spring of '68; Johnson was pushing Congress to build his 'Great Society.'  Instead a summer of bloody chaos began with King being shot to death in Memphis where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers.  There was no second, peaceful march on Washington.  Instead there were riots in 110 cities the night King was killed, and many more throughout the summer, including the chaos in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

NFL Predictions, 2014

NFC Championship Game:  Packers vs. Seahawks

AFC Championship Game:  Broncos vs. Texans

Let's get it on!

(I'll feel even better about this if the Packers can dump the 49ers tomorrow ... )

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More Black and White

Here's some official chatter over the police radios the day of the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery via the Edmund Pettus Bridge:

(Quoting from page 44 of Canaan's Edge)
  "There's three more cars of niggers crossing the bridge.  Some white bastards riding with them." 

This from the land of 'State's Rights' and 'We never had no race problem 'til these outside agitators started up.'

A couple hundred cops, 'possemen' and assorted hooligans attacked peaceful marchers with tear gas, clubs and homemade flails made of rubber hose laced with spikes.  All because a group of Negroes had decided to march peacefully from Selma to Montgomery to petition the Governor (George Wallace) for voting rights. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Black and White

I've been doing some heavy reading this summer.  Mostly Taylor Branch's trilogy on America In the King Years.  I finished volume two last night, Pillar of Fire (1963-65).  What stands out as the central theme of the book(s) is the absolutely entrenched racism of southern society in that period.  They start teaching that shit right from the cradle, I guess.  It's the only possible explanation.  The sheer brutality of it, the amazing audacity, the 100% compliance, it just blows the mind.  Groups of Negroes (they weren't Blacks yet) would go out to register to vote and be beaten, harassed, dog-bitten and sometimes even gun-shot and then arrested for 'disturbing the peace.'  Fuck.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Neverending Notion

My latest letter to the editor:
I see once again a letter, Sunday, asserting that the Founding Fathers based our nation on "biblical morality" and rooted our legal system in "biblical values."  (At no point does the writer actually quote the Constitution, or even the Bible.)

The Constitution begins with the phrase "We the People" for a reason.  The Founders were setting up the first constitutional democracy in the modern world.  They drew on many sources and certainly most had knowledge of the Bible and lived among 'religious' people.  However there are no references to 'God' or to 'scripture' and the only time religion is mentioned it is in the context of providing for its independence from government, and government's independence from it.

We the people are entitled to and must responsibly govern ourselves.  Those of us who wish to look to the Bible for guidance or inspiration may do so as may anyone look to any other source.  The Founders based our government on that right and responsibility, not on any single ancient source.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Latest Letter to Editor

Forty years after Roe v. Wade the abortion debate rages on.  Isn't it time for the two 'sides' to find their common ground and work from there?
Nobody is 'pro-abortion.'  Some people, however, are for abortion rights.  Instead of arguing over whether or not the right exists (as the Court has ruled it does, to a point) how about we start trying to reduce (ideally to zero) the number of abortions?  And can't we best do that by reducing (ideally to zero) the number of unwanted pregnancies?
Both 'sides' can promote their favored approach.  If you believe that abstinence from sex is the key, promote away.  Just don't expect the other 'side' to not have their say.  People that favor a more comprehensive approach aren't being ideological, they're being pragmatic, i.e. looking at results.  Stop fighting and work together.  (What a concept.)

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Human nature? Or 'sinful' nature?

After taking about nine months to complete Eric Foner's Reconstruction I have finished Barack Obama: The Story (David Maraniss) and moved on to Taylor Branch's three volume look at America In the King Years, the first of which is Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954 - 63.  I'll possibly post something about the Obama story but for now I want to address something that I read two nights ago.

King studied theology and philosophy at Crozer (a seminary in Pennsylvania) and at Boston U., which is where he earned his doctorate.  He read and was impressed by the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr during this time. 

Quoting, from page 81:

King already was aiming for further graduate study when he first read Reinhold Niebuhr during his last year at Crozer.  The experience did not change his plans, but it appears to have changed nearly everything else, including his fundamental outlook on religion.

Apparently what Niebuhr did for King was not steer him toward a particular philosophy of religion, but rather away from any one, including Niebuhr's.   Niebuhr, in 1932's Moral Man and Immoral Society anyway, attacked "classical liberalism" in American theology.  (p. 82)

This is the bit that I will comment on (still page 82):

His chief target was the eminent John Dewey, the last American philosopher to have a large popular following.  Niebuhr ridiculed Dewey's notion that ignorance was the principal cause of injustice, stating instead that it was "our predatory self-interest."

If he stops here I agree.  He goes on:

There was no evidence, said Niebuhr, that human beings became less selfish or less predatory as they became better educated.  War, cruelty and injustice survived because people were by nature sinful.

This is where I begin disagreeing.  He had it, then he went past it.  He was a theologian so I understand why he did it, but I disagree. 

Essentially, I agree with Niebuhr that war, cruelty and injustice survive because of predatory self-interest.  He and I agree that predatory self-interest is in the nature of humans.  He goes on, though, to brand it as 'sinful.'  This I see no use for.  What does the word tell us about human nature?  Anything?   Nothing that we can use, I suggest.  What does he mean?  That those behaviors are contrary to what 'God' demands from us.  So the idea is that 'God' created us and made us a particular way (our nature) and then demands (I won't say expects because he must know we won't) that we behave in a manner contrary to our nature.  Under threat of eternal punishment in 'the next life,' or at least denial of some eternal reward.  

This clearly had little mitigating effect on the course of human civilization.  The very 'Bible' itself is rife with stories of 'God's chosen people' slaughtering their enemies and acting in a very selfish manner regarding land and resources. 

Classical liberalism then, came along and 'freed' men from thralldom to Church and King.  We can create a better society, they said.  We will first recognize that all men are created as equals, with equal rights.  Then we will set up institutions to guard those rights from 'predatory self-interest.'  We will create a better society. 

Liberals, in fact, went so far as to expound on the 'perfectibility of man.'  All men, even those that have been slaves since birth, can be lifted up and made, if not perfect, nearly so.  It just requires opportunity and part of that opportunity was education. 

Naturally many of these liberals were still theists and needed, of course, to factor 'God' in.  Only 'God' is perfect, therefore, to approach perfection one must draw nearer to 'God.'  Unfortunately this only drags them back into the old trap of trying to determine the will of an almost certainly imaginary (at the very least inscrutable) being and setting up societal rules accordingly.  Which can only be argued over endlessly.  Whose ancient writings actually are 'God-inspired' and whose are blasphemous 'forgeries'?  (I'm quite convinced that none of them are even 'inspired,' much less 'God-inspired.')  

So if religion isn't the answer and education is not either (I believe Niebuhr had that right.  Lot's of very educated people practice predatory self-interest.) then what is?  The best answer, I believe, is western liberal society.  Democratic institutions.  People know what they 'should' do, almost always, but they're selfish.  So our institutions are set up to protect us from 'predatory self-interest,' from 'war, cruelty and injustice.'  Or, as the Constitution states it, 'to establish Justice, to ensure Domestic Tranquility, to provide for the Common Defense and to promote the General Welfare.'  And goes on to establish a legislature, an executive branch and a judiciary to promote those goals.
Classical liberals essentially walked away from the idea of man as perfectible and started on society as perfectible.  Or at least, constantly improvable.  If we could just get people to accept religion as a personal set of choices and not a philosophy around which to organize human society I think we might even have a chance.     

Monday, May 20, 2013

Holding It In

All over facebook people are 'sending thoughts and prayers' to the victims in Oklahoma.  Well yippee fucking skippy.  Yes, yes, I know.  It's just what people 'do' when they can't do anything.  They've still done nothing but now they feel better.  (To which I say, well yippee fucking skippy.)

OK.  I feel better now.  ;  )

Friday, May 17, 2013

2nd Amendment

My most recent letter to the editor speaks to what I believe the 2nd Amendment doesn't mean.  Space didn't permit me to say what, in my opinion, it does. 

When I learned how to write history papers, at school, I was taught that the first paragraph should clearly state a position.  They called it a thesis statement and the best advice I got, from a poli sci T.A. who was an English major, was to just come out and say it, no need to get all flowery.  "This paper will argue that ... "  Then begin to lay out your evidence in the ensuing paragraphs. 

Similarly, when I read the Constitution, especially when trying to determine the Framers' intent, I look to the first paragraph, the Preamble.  Their statement of intent, in just fifty-two words.  The three most telling are, arguably, the first three.  We the People ... Not we aristocrats, or we the smart people at this Constitutional Convention.  Not, On behalf of his royal highness, the King.  Not, We who are chosen by God.  We the People. 

They go on to lay out their mission statement.  In order to form a more perfect union.  To Establish Justice.  To ensure domestic Tranquility.  To Provide for the Common Defense.  To promote the general Welfare.  And to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. 

To me this means, first, that they are speaking of and for the People, as a whole.  They are setting up the citizens themselves as the true seat of political power.  The People as sovereign.  Not a King.  Not a ruling class.  The people themselves.  From the people will come the actual mechanics of government.  A bicameral legislature, a President, and a third, co-equal judicial branch.  But the people themselves shall rule (the meaning of the word 'democracy'), through these representatives (a Republic, if we can keep it, as Franklin famously said).

Next they elaborated what their purpose would be.  The people, on their own behalf and in their own interest, would seek justice, peace, the welfare of the whole.  The blessings of liberty.

So the people were empowered with the right of governance.  They then had to ensure that right.  A 'State' is typically defined as a political unit with geographic boundaries, within which the sole right to legitimate use of coercive force is reserved to the state and its designees.  Which brings us to the 2nd Amendment.

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."  To me this is a bit of a statement of the obvious.  If the people are the State, then of course they claim the right to arms.  This, to me, is a reminder to future presidents, congresses, whoever, that it is The People that are sovereign.  You guys are just office-holders.  You are temporary.  And you do not RULE us, you REPRESENT us. 

So what do I mean, then, when I say the intent of the 2nd Amendment is NOT so the people can overthrow the government?   

The people are the seat of political authority.  They ARE the government.  They have no need to overthrow that which is themselves.  The fear, apparently, is that one man, or a small group, will take control of the levers of power and impose tyranny.  (How, no one ever says.)  Turn our own government against us.  In my opinion this is not something that can happen.  At least, I would say, the odds against it are beyond enormous.  One man can't just start giving orders and have everyone blindly follow him.  Suppose Obama were to try it tomorrow.  'I hereby decree that I am president for life!'  Yeah, right!  Good one, Barry!

Also, we have a standing army now.  The Founders, especially Madison and Jefferson, from what I have read, wanted to avoid that.  (They also hoped to get along without political parties.)  But with 'globalization' and a couple of world wars, the American people went along with the creation of a permanent, professional military force.  The strongest, most expensive, best equipped (for the most part) military in the world.  No other force in the world could truly defeat it.  If some group could somehow seize power and turn our own military against us we could be in some serious trouble.  But it is also a people's army.  It draws on the entire populace for its composition.  Colin Powell was born neither rich nor well-connected yet he rose as high in the Army as one can rise.  And like every other American boy he was raised on the idea of democracy, of We the People.  Therein lies our strength.  We the People will not follow a dictator.  The Army won't, the police won't, the courts won't go along, the local leaders won't do it.  It's not going to happen. 

The courts have ruled that the 2nd Amendment contains an individual right to keep and bear arms.  This is in keeping with the whole We the People meme.  The courts have also ruled that Congress and lower level legislatures have the authority to pass reasonable regulations concerning who may own what.  Again in keeping with the We the People idea.  We the People want the use of guns but we don't want to be ruled by them.  We want the Army to have weapons of war, but most of us don't want our crazy neighbor to have them.

So what am I saying the 2nd Amendment means?  That We the People decide who can keep and bear what arms.  Military has one standard, police another.  We have granted them a certain monopoly of legitimate force, over the years.  Citizens in good standing have another standard.  Shot guns, semi-automatic rifles, pistols.  But not automatic rifles, hand grenades or shoulder-fired missiles.   And people with records of violent crime or people with documented mental health issues are held to another standard: they shall not be armed.  Not with guns anyway.  Legally.  So when new legislation is proposed it is NOT automatically a violation of the 2nd Amendment, but rather, We the People, through our elected representatives, doing what we have always done.  Self-governing. 


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Letter to the Editor, again ...

I ask one question of those of you who believe that the founders' intent with the 2nd Amendment was to allow the people to violently overthrow their own government.  Why didn't they just come out and say that?  "As it may become necessary for The People to overthrow their own government, the right of The People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."  They could have, right?  But they didn't.  Why?  How about because that wasn't their intent?
What they DID say was "A well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free State, The right of the people ... "  For the security OF the State.  Not FROM the State.  If 'The People,' collectively, want to 'alter or abolish' their government, they have that power.  They won't need guns.  Assuming, that is, that it really IS 'The People,' and not a handful of discontented individuals.  Right?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863 - 1877

I finished Eric Foner's Reconstruction last night (except for the ten page epilogue which I finished about an hour ago).  This took me forever to read.  I believe I started it last November; might have even been October.  At one point I even put it back on the shelf, figuring I'd start it from the start again sometime when I could devote more time to it, as I was in Spanish class at the time and reading one or two other things which were more riveting.  But it only stayed up on the shelf for a couple days.  I missed it.  So I pulled it back down and read a good sized chunk of it, thirty or forty pages.  And kept plugging away.

The book tells in great detail how Reconstruction became the official policy of the post-Civil War national government, how it was implemented, who was for it, who was against it, how the various political battles were contested, and, ultimately how it 'failed.'   Reading Foner's summary of what caused its ultimate failure reminded me a great deal of Robert S. McNamara's list in In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.  In a nutshell, the other side was more determined and more united and more willing to fight on than the 'good guys' were.  In the movies, 'Good' always triumphs over 'Evil.'  In real life it's a bit more complicated.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Church and State

A new letter to the editor has just been sent:

I believe that John Kass, in a column that ran in Saturday's WSJ, has unintentionally demonstrated the reason for and value of separation of Church and State.  He refers to a "stridently secular big-government West that regards Christianity as a competitor, an obstacle to overcome, if not an outright threat to squash."  Actually, there is no competition between them, as the two institutions have different missions.  

The Church's primary mission is to prepare its members to be judged by 'God,' at the end of their worldly lives.  The State's is to establish justice in THIS world.  Hence the Church's willingness to not punish members of its clergy apparently guilty of some of society's most heinous crimes, preferring to let 'God' punish or forgive as 'He' sees fit.  And the State's (usual) insistence on holding perpetrators to account.  

There is only 'competition' when one institution attempts to usurp the role of the other.  Nobody thinks the State should serve a religious purpose.  Why do some evidently think that religion should serve a governmental purpose?
  There is no need to 'squash' Christianity, only to remind various people of its mission, and its proper role in a democratic society.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Still reading Eric Foner's Reconstruction.  As often happens when I read history books, I am struck by the similarities between then and now.  Issues between capital and labor, voting rights, the role of the federal government, it's almost eerie.  I'll do a good long post soon.  ;  )

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Latest Letter to the Editor

I understand that Jonah Goldberg wants a president that governs from the pretty far right.  What I don't understand is where he got the idea that the current president maybe would.  In Wednesday's column he concludes that President Obama's nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department is "out of spite."  Apparently the idea that Sen. Hagel was selected because he shares the president's views on foreign policy and military matters hasn't occurred to him?

Goldberg criticizes the nomination because, he says, "Hagel is loathed, with ample justification, by many foreign policy hawks, Israel supporters and neocons."  Well maybe those are the right people to be 'loathed' by.  After all, it was 'foreign policy hawks and neocons' that got us into our current messes, including fiscal, and there are many 'supporters of Israel' who favor the approach championed by the current administration.  We the People elected Barack Obama for a number of reasons, and his more reasoned approach to foreign relations is a large one of them.  Sorry Jonah.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Why Should the 'Rich' Pay Higher Taxes?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Familiar, right?  Do we all accept this?  Can we use this as a starting point?  OK, good.

What does it mean?  Well, at the time that it appeared it didn't mean ALL men, certainly not all HUMANS; it, too, was only a starting point.  But it was progress.  It was written as counterpoint to the 'old world,' Europe, with its ruling dynasties and ubiquitous Church.  No men are born as superiors, no men are born as inferiors, is what they were getting at.  Each of us has a right to personal sovereignty, to go about our lives as we see fit, without having to please a lord or a Lord.  Unless it pleases us to.

At the end of the 18th Century America was largely an agrarian society, beginning to industrialize.  Any free man (we're going to ignore slavery in this piece) could work the land, raise a crop, feed himself and his family.  He didn't need much else.  The work was hard but it was sustaining.  Taxes were very low.  The population flourished, due both to natural increase and to immigration.  There was a continent to be tamed, roads to be built, manifest destiny!  Great stuff.  Which would require cooperation.  A government.  Taxes.  Also, with all those people, the chance for every man to have his own piece of land was gone.  But no matter!  We'll have something even better!  An industrial economy!  It was win/win.  A great country was built, people thrived, fortunes were made.  People didn't grow their own food anymore (mostly), they worked for wages and bought food from the ever more productive agricultural sector. 

America did this with, by and large, a free market economy.  Not truly 'free,' of course.  There were rules and conditions.  Even Mitt Romney recognizes the need for rules and conditions.  But for the most part the market spoke and the people heeded.  Prices rose and fell according to market conditions.  Old businesses died away, new businesses started up, everybody was happy.  Right?  Well, not perfectly.  It became evident, as time went by, that a market economy, while very useful, created some problems too.  Landless people could work for wages and feed themselves and their families, but what if someone got hurt and couldn't work?  What happens when they get old and can't do so much anymore?  Families took care of their own, as they could, and churches and neighbors provided some charity, but sometimes people were just out of luck.  Oh well.

Then came the Great Depression, and even young, able-bodied men were thrown out of work in extreme numbers.  Now what?  Not many families could absorb long-term unemployment, nor could neighborhood/church charities.  Capitalism didn't have an answer for this one.  "Wait it out," some people said.  "We've had downturns before.  It's never permanent."  Which was true.  Capitalism works cyclically.  But some of those earlier 'downturns' had been devastating to individual people and families.  And this time it was bigger than ever before.  World-wide too.  So a new President came in and declared a New Deal.  Some people, especially the ones with lots of money, screamed 'socialist!' but historians credit FDR with saving American Capitalism by seeing that it worked for all of the people, and not just some. 

Should the American people have given up on capitalism at that point?  Go back to every man a citizen farmer, responsible for his own small section of the earth, his own family and his own personal well-being?  Wasn't any real chance of that, right?  Too many people by then.  Plus, they had seen that an industrialized nation, a market economy, worked.  Just not perfectly.  It needed some safeguards built into it.  So the social safety net was born.  This of course meant new taxes.  Sucks, right?  But think of the alternatives.  Pull the plug on the whole thing.  Or let people get chewed up by the vagaries of the market.  Unacceptable, to most of the people, though certainly not all, true enough.  Remember 'Old Man Potter' in It's A Wonderful Life?

So we've had this new deal ever since.  Still, there are more Mr. Potters out there than there were in that movie.  Quietly some people simmered.  WWII united the country in a way that it never had been before or has been since.  And not only led America out of economic depression but into the greatest economic boom in its history.  For a while the economic pie was so large that everyone's piece was satisfactory, or better.  But as the other countries rebuilt and began to compete for market share again, corporate profits began to lag, a bit.  And old resentments began to resurface.  A new conservative movement began to coalesce toward the end of the 1950s.  Organized labor (Unions) had stood down during the war but came roaring back after it to win 'rights' for workers that built a large and strong middle class.  So the new conservatives had two targets: the social safety net and organized labor.  Initially they lost elections and were viewed as 'right-wing crackpots.'  But after the turbulent 1960s some of conservatism's more attractive candidates started winning national elections, and the 'conservative agenda' began to be enacted. 

First we started to see corporations relocating manufacturing operations outside the U.S., where labor costs were much lower.  Then we got the 'Reagan Revolution' and tax rates, especially on higher incomes, double especially if the income came from 'investments' instead of as wages, came way down.  At the same time, domestic spending was cut, slightly, in an attempt at balance, mostly on what would come under the heading of 'welfare,' but 'defense' spending soared.  Consequently we saw peace-time budget deficits at unprecedented levels.  (This from a man who campaigned on the importance of balanced budgets.) 

Still, for a while the economy improved, hummed even.  So people mostly kept quiet.  Until there was a Democrat in the White House.  Then, suddenly, the HUGE national debt was an issue.  A new, Republican Congress rode into Washington and went so far as to 'shut down the government' for about a day.  No more money going out, anyway.  Nothing.  We're broke, sorry, can't do it.  Of course the American people blamed the new Congress for this and not the President, so they relented.  Then an interesting thing happened.  The Democratic President decided to co-opt the Republican agenda, as a means of having a 'successful' presidency, and together they balanced the damn budget.  Even created a bit of a surplus, due to a booming economy, and were nicely positioned to start paying down the debt, which, the theory went. would lead to even more economic good news. 

So what happened?  Well, you all know.  A Republican got into the White House (I won't say that he stole it but he sure didn't 'win' it) and he decided that it was time for a big new round of tax cuts, especially on the upper income earners, again, double especially if the income was from 'capital gains' instead of wages.  And increased 'defense' spending.  And then had some bad shit happen but stubbornly stuck to his guns with the tax cuts, even calling for a second round, just after opening a new front in his 'Global War On Terror.'  And of course the deficit sky-rocketed.  But no matter.  To quote the new vice president, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter."  (Reagan was that first tax-cutter, in case you're new here.)  Well.  OK then.  Deficits don't matter.  How about that?  Until (wait for it) ... there's a Democrat in the White House.  And then, guess what?  It's a crisis!  Oh my God!  They're spending like drunken sailors!  They're mortgaging our kids' futures!  They're mortgaging our grandkids' futures!  We have to stop them! 

OK.  So let's undo the mistakes of the previous administration then.  I never believed that 'deficits don't matter' bullshit and neither did you.  Right?  Let's put taxes back where they were, end those ridiculous wars, scale back on 'defense' spending to something at least approaching sane levels and see what we've got, right?  Oh hell no!  We have to shred the social safety net, remember?  There are two targets for the new conservatives, right?  Organized labor, mostly out of the way.   And the New Deal.  Time to get rid of that. 

So here's where I answer the question.  Why should the 'rich' pay more taxes?  Because they have all the damn money!  Hello!  Did I forget to mention that their crazy deregulating sorta kinda crashed the economy, about five years back?   Pretty much completing the transfer of wealth from the middle class (what they had of it, anyway) to the top.  So the wealthy became the uber-wealthy.  And a very large percentage of the people are now just getting by. 

So, higher taxes.  But targeted higher taxes.  There can still be tax incentives, for things like employing American workers and paying them good wages.  Or for innovating and, for one example, pulling us into the 21st century regarding energy resources.  The higher taxes that do come in (say goodbye to offshore tax havens, by the way) will go to strengthening Social Security and Medicare (which will get some reforming of their own, while we're at it).  And to getting the budget back into balance. 

Remember, if people get paid well enough they can pay for stuff.  If not, they're going to be candidates for 'government programs.'  Which way do we want to go?

More to come ...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Trial of Generals

A Trial of Generals is the title of a book I just finished.  Written by Lawrence Taylor and published in 1981,  it tells the story of two Japanese generals who were tried for war crimes due to their alleged conduct in the Philippine Islands, one in 1942, as the Japanese took control of Luzon, the main island, and one in 1944, as American forces retook it.  

The author argues, persuasively, that these two trials, both of which ended with guilty verdicts and death sentences, were travesties of justice, for several reasons.  At the root of it all is General Douglas MacArthur, Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines.  MacArthur was viewed both in Manila and in Washington as nearly a demigod; policy for the Islands was left largely up to him.  For nearly forty years the Philippines served as a (very) forward base for the United States, establishing a military presence in the Asian Pacific and facilitating commerce between the U.S. and (mostly) China. 

As the global economic depression of the 1930s persisted, several countries sought to solve their national problems by raiding resource-rich areas nearby.  Japan was one of these countries.  They invaded Manchuria in 1937 and by 1939 they were looking hungrily at Southeast Asia and Indonesia.  Two countries stood in their way: England, which had colonies in Burma, India, Hong Kong and the Malay Peninsula (Singapore), and the U.S., which controlled the Philippines. 

MacArthur was charged with the defense of the islands.  Against the advice of many he scrapped long-standing plans and insisted that he had the islands ready to repel any Japanese invasion.  He badly overestimated his army's readiness and he was too slow to move once Japan launched its initial attack, costing him virtually his whole Air Force and Navy, which he had most likely overrated anyway.

Consequently he abandoned the Islands and withdrew to Australia.  During the successful assault the Japanese General in charge, Masaharu Homma, underestimated the size of the combined American/Filipino forces, preparing for up to 35,000 prisoners which he planned to transport by truck and train north to internment camps.  There were actually 100,000 men, nearly all of whom were already half-starved to death, poorly clothed and suffering from a variety of tropical diseases.  Complicating matters further was the Japanese high command's unrealistic expectations for the conquest (they allowed fifty days in their planning, for Homma to dislodge and conquer a numerically superior force) and Tojo's personal dislike for Homma.  Homma was twice given new orders which required him to develop a new strategy on the fly and was unable to do anything regarding the prisoners other than delegate the task of moving three times as many as expected to the internment camps.  His subordinates engaged in (or failed to prevent their subordinates from engaging in) some isolated atrocities, beatings and the like, as well as some outright murders, often by bayonet.  Most of the attrition was due to starvation and topical diseases, beri beri and the like.

Homma was recalled to Japan shortly after accepting the surrender of the U.S./Filipino forces, unaware of the Bataan Death March, as it would come to be known, and most certainly not the perpetrator of it.

Two and a half years later the U.S. had turned things around almost completely and was about to retake the islands, when General Tomoyuki Yamashita, another general who was in disfavor with the Tojo faction because of his pro-western views and non-aggressive attitude, was sent to Manila to defend it.  Yamashita had won acclaim by forcing the British surrender of Malaya.  He also had defeated a numerically superior force with a combination of cunning and audacity.  He was brought home to a hero's welcome but Tojo banished him to a remote outpost in China, 'training' the dregs of the Japanese army.  By 1944 Tojo was running out of options and he sent Yamashita in to defend Manila against the inevitable.  Yamashita was hamstrung by impossible orders and was eventually told to go ahead and withdraw to the mountains, barely ahead of the advancing Americans.  A naval force assigned to temporary land duty and ostensibly under Yamashita's command ignored orders to return to their ships and instead, under the actual command of one of Tojo's spies, spent four days drinking, raping and committing various atrocities, including slaughtering women and children as if they were vermin.  When Yamashita finally surrendered his mountain force, a month later, he was told he was being arrested and charged with war crimes he not only had not ordered or participated in but was not even aware of.

The author points out that there was no good reason to charge these two generals with those horrible crimes other than that they had won victories over MacArthur and one of his buddies in the early days of the war.  The 'trials,' then, were to be by tribunal, five American generals selected by MacArthur, a prosecution team selected by MacArthur, and poorly prepared defense attorneys (selected by MacArthur) who were given their charge just thirty days before the trial was to commence.  MacArthur created the rules for entering evidence, which would include hearsay and innuendo, and the standard for determining guilt, which would revolve not around whether or not the generals ordered or even knew about the crimes, but only if they 'should have known.'   In short order they were found guilty, condemned to death, and had those sentences executed upon them.

Throughout the book Taylor presents the two generals as models of military comportment, honorable men who would have been assets to any army in the world, as well as both being brilliant strategists and natural leaders.  (Homma was a bit aloof, at times.)  MacArthur we see as the vain bastard that he apparently was.  I'm glad I read it.  ;  )