When You Can’t Dazzle Them With Brilliance, or How Fascism Triumphed in a Cleveland Court

Today, Judge O’Donnell of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas rendered a pre-ordained verdict in favor of state-sanctioned murder on the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend. In 2012, after a 22 mile chase, Cleveland police riddled a Chevy Malibu with 137 bullets, killing the two unarmed occupants inside of it, who happened to be a black man and woman.

There were the usual excuses from the police. They thought they had heard gunshots fired from the car. They thought they had seen the female passenger brandishing a gun. They claimed that when the fleeing vehicle was finally cornered in a school parking lot, that the driver was using the vehicle as a weapon.

Officer Michael Brelo, an Iraq War veteran who happens to be white, jumped up on the hood of the vehicle and fired at least 13 shots through the windshield, claiming that he was so in fear of his life that he had to do it, and that the “firefight” was worse than being mortar-shelled in Iraq.

Yeah, right. So. We are supposed to believe that someone scared for his life is going to expose himself at point-blank range by jumping on the friggin’ hood of a car of someone shooting at one with a gun? What kind of idiot does that?

Much to the surprise and dismay of the Cleveland Police Department, District Attorney Timothy McGinty actually prosecuted Brelo for voluntary manslaughter and felonious assault. Brelo opted for a judge-only trial over the prosecution’s objections, but that’s anyone’s right under Ohio law.

I knew what the verdict would be when it was withheld for over three weeks and then announced on the Saturday morning of a holiday weekend. Judge O’Donnell took an hour–I know, I watched it live–to claim that first, he couldn’t find Brelo guilty of voluntary manslaughter because not all of the fatal shots could have possibly been fired from his gun.

That’s true, but this means that if enough cops fire enough bullets at an unarmed suspect, then whoever gets charged gets off scot-free.

I had hoped that Brelo would at least get a wrist-slap sentence for felonious assault. But NOOOOO.….the eminent Judge O’Donnell concluded that because Brelo perceived he was in danger, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that the use of deadly force was a positively cool thing for the cop to do. He was reasonable, you see.

Most of the hour-long decision consisted of the judge pointing to a pair of dummies with the trajectories of multiple deadly bullet wounds stuck into them with foot-long pins, and discussing when and where from the shots were probably fired. The verdict itself took less than a minute.

It’s just been announced that several bus routes and roads into downtown Cleveland have been closed by the police, no doubt an attempt to quell the almost inevitable riot. National Guard units have been reported downtown.

Of course, no one, not the authorities, not the families of the victims, not the media, not the Black Misleadership Class, and not the pseudo-left, is talking about the real reason for the spate of militarized police violence in this country that has been escalating ever since September 11, 2001. And that is that the ruling financial aristocracy of these United States is preparing the police to repress an increasingly restive working and middle class that has seen its standard of living visibly decline so that the top 1%, and top 1/10th of 1%(Hillary, that’s YOU) can plunder an ever-increasing share of the national wealth.

Only a broad-based working class movement that doesn’t focus on race can change this. Unfortunately, I don’t see too much of that around.

Atlanta Teacher Cheating Convictions: The Real Scandal Will Not Be Reported

Today, eleven Atlanta educators were convicted on racketeering charges for conspiring to cheat on mandatory standardized tests administered to their students over about a five year period. All face multi-year prison sentences. There will be two kneejerk reactions that will get a lot of corporate press, one that will get a little, one that will be mentioned rarely if at all, and a fundamental reason that will never be acknowledged.

Let’s start with the first two. What the Black Agenda Report calls the “black misleadership class” will bray that all of the convicted educators were black, that if they had been white, there would probably have been no convictions and definitely no prison time, and will do their best to reduce the issue to a strictly racial one. The thing is, they may well have a point about heavy-duty charges and prison sentences being levied against blacks and, if they’re smart enough to point it out, will compare the convictions to the mere financial slaps-on-the-wrist that college sports coaches and their employers received in the past for helping athletes cheat to meet academic requirements for staying on things like football teams.

The right wing response to that argument will be swift. Racism has nothing to do with it, they will bleat, cheating is cheating and should be punished harshly. Schools, especially public ones, and those lazy, worthless, selfish teachers must be held accountable. If the corporate press really plays it up, America’s Right-Winger in Chief, President Obama, will come down firmly on the side of the law, once again proving how wonderfully centrist, color-blind, and brilliant he is. Politicians like him will probably even find a way to tie in the convictions with upholding middle-class values or some such rot. Anyway, that “the law is the law” point will resonate with many Americans.

And under the radar, anti-black racists will whisper, “See? Those people think they can get away with anything just because they’re black, and cry ‘racism’ whenever they get caught.”

Finally, the teachers unions will decry yet another assault on public education, and they’ll definitely have a point. Whenever teachers bring up the real immediate reason behind all of this on any corporate talking head show, however, the subject will be quickly changed or it will suddenly be time for “We have to leave it there” and a commercial break.

That immediate reason is school funding based on standardized test scores, or the misnamed No Child Left Behind Act. At the trial, there was a lot of testimony that the superintendent of the Atlanta public schools, Beverly Hall, put immense pressure on teachers to make sure their students got high test scores, by any means necessary. Since she died of cancer before the trial, we’ll never know what her testimony would have been, but the allegations are almost certainly accurate.

In order to avoid cuts to government funding, public schools are scrambling to “teach to the test.” The problem is, the tests do little to reward critical thinking skills and actively discourage creativity(except, perhaps, creating new ways to cheat). Here comes the fundamental reason part.

Once upon a time, our capitalist ruling classes actually needed a large, educated work force in order for them to make profits. They don’t anymore. All they need now are a few well-educated technical, engineering, finance, marketing, and administrative types, and maybe a few pet scientists. What they definitely don’t need is a large class of people who are capable of analyzing and questioning how things like politics and economics are run, or people who can question and dissect the moral or “family” or “American” values to which they wish we would adhere for their own benefit and security.

They learned the lessons of the 1960’s and 1970’s well– if they allow teachers to teach young people how to critically think, those same young people just might turn around and critically think about them.

“Wouldn’t be prudent.”                                                                                                  –George H.W. Bush

That is why standardized testing was made mandatory, that is why liberal arts education is being systematically destroyed, that is ultimately why Superintendent Hall put pressure on her teachers to cheat the test results.

That is also why we’ll never hear the real reason on CNN, Fox, or any other corporate media network, and rarely on PBS or NPR, which are now beholden to corporate sponsors.

Bah!

Have a nice day, anyway.

The Demise of Fire Dog Lake?

After my experience at another website which shall remain nameless(don’t worry, it’s pretty dead now anyway), I promised myself I would never go online and bash another political website. Recent events, however, have persuaded me to make an exception. Just this once.

For the past several years I have been at least a semi-regular contributor and commenter at Jane Hamsher’s Fire Dog Lake(FDL). I really liked the place, in spite of its not-so-user-friendly format(IMHO) and its built-in sunset provision on how long comments could be posted on any one thread. I learned a lot there, and virtually met a lot of intelligent and thoughtful people, especially on the MyFDL section, where anybody could register and post their own thoughts on things political for years.

Lots of real leftists wound up there, posting about all sorts of things going on in the world that the American corporate media simply refused to publish or so badly slanted to fits its own political agenda that anyone who relied on them for their news was horribly misinformed. MyFDL clearly had a measurable impact in the political blogosphere in general, and even got Jane Hamsher onto a few corporate talking head shows, such as Morning Joe. It didn’t get as much attention as something like the Huffington Post, but it was much more welcoming to detailed expressions of real leftist American(and other) thought and opinion. FDL had value.

Starting last year, however, things started to change. More and more pop up ads which seemed to really slow the site down started appearing. Jane Hamsher and her moderators repeatedly asked for money, and for the last several months have been complaining about “denial of service” attacks on the site from nefarious enemies of free speech.

Then came a ban on all new MyFDL posters, though a select few somehow got on anyway. For the last several weeks, it has been impossible for me and others to even log on most of the time. For example, I tried to log on a few minutes ago and got this.

Yep, a blank screen. One post I made there, the same piece on Iran and nuclear weapons you can see on this blog, was made over two weeks ago, and is still in the MyFDL “most recommended” with zero comments. This would have been absolutely impossible just a few months ago.

I know that the FDL administrators claim that they have to move to a new server in order to blunt all of the alleged “denial of service” attacks. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe them. I’m no Information Tech guy, but I do know that it is possible to buy excellent protective software which will mostly stop such things. I also know that Jane Hamsher, who lives in the DC suburbs, can certainly afford to do so. If much smaller sites can avoid such things, FDL certainly can, especially with all of the revenue generated by those obnoxious pop-up ads.

Napoleon’s dictum, “Never attribute to malice what is more easily explained by incompetence or stupidity” is one of my favorites. In this case, however, it is difficult to apply. It is difficult for me to believe that the FDL administration is so incompetent or stupid that they can’t figure out how to block a shitload of spam, which is really what a denial of service attack is, from their website, and I know they’re not stupid. I doubt they’re that incompetent. So.

What follows is sheer speculation on my part. I suspect that Jane Hamsher wants to achieve a status in the political talking head world similar to that of Arianna Huffington. In order to do so, her website must be seen in the corporate media as some sort of acceptable “progressive” website. Real leftist perspectives are definitely NOT acceptable to the corporate media because they do things like, you know, call for the replacement of capitalism and things like that.

Real leftists also make it impossible for Democratic Party hacks to pretend that they are somehow to the “left,” or even progressive, whatever that means. Real leftists, you see, have this annoying tendency to use facts, reason, and logic to back up their arguments, in contrast to what the Democratic Party has become, which was beautifully summed up by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show a few years back:

When Democrats take on Republicans these days, their battle cry is “We suck less!”

Anyone who finds that point of view inadequate is labeled either a Republican provocative agent or mentally ill by the Democratic Party. The latter accusation was frequently used by Stalin, BTW; Democratic apologists get really upset if you point that out.

Anyway, over the last several years, those who I call Democratic Party cheerleaders were pretty much run off of FDL by real leftists. They just couldn’t hang because their vapid arguments could not withstand real scrutiny from the intelligent and informed left, which often appeared on the site.

Therefore, if Jane Hamsher wants to make any sort of splash in the political talking head world and reap the financial benefits thereof, her site must be purged of the Real Left. It must be made safe for Hillary supporters and thus, MyFDL as we have known it must be destroyed. It can’t be made public, though; wouldn’t be prudent. So just do a “server migration” and then quietly keep all those inconvenient leftists from logging in. So sorry, couldn’t be helped.

Am I right? I really don’t know for sure. Time will answer that question.

I would have posted something like this on FDL but, alas, I can’t log in. Haven’t been able to log in with that one exception I mentioned above for over a month. So I’ll do it here because this is my blog and I can. If you are, or were, a real leftist on FDL, feel free to vent freely on the subject here with the caveat below. But only on this particular post. I will NOT allow my blog to become a place dominated by people bashing another site, just as I will not allow myself to fixate on the subject for long, either. We all have bigger steaks to grill.

And have a nice day.

Note to any FDLers who want to comment on this: Click on the about thingie at the top of the blog FYI. Any new comment by someone new here must be moderated, by me, because I reserve the right to block spammers and trolls, and my time is limited. If you do comment, I might not be able to get to it until the following evening because I work all day. I’ll no doubt approve your comment and send you an invite to comment freely in the future. Apologies in advance for the delay.

Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble, or 1929 Starts to Rhyme

“History never repeats itself but it rhymes.”                                                                    –Mark Twain

One of my very favorite American authors certainly got that one right. And it’s happening again. Our financial sector-dominated economy, based on bubbles of financial speculation, free money from the government to the Wall Street investment banks, and austerity for most of the rest of us, is about to see some bubbles pop. Capitalist economists themselves are sounding alarms, as nicely described in this World Socialist Website article.

According to the article, no less a bastion of American capitalism than the US Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research warned that “the US stock market had entered a situation comparable to patterns seen in 1929, 2000 and 2007.” The Financial Times warned that “not since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the freezing of money markets in August 2007 has there been such widespread concern over the structure of fixed income [i.e., bond] markets.”

In other words, wealthy investors have been sucking virtually interest-free money created on computers by the big central banks such as the Federal Reserve and buying up bonds to hedge on the wild bets they are placing on various global stocks. This is faith-based economics at its worst; if bondholders fear that they will lose money if they hold the bonds until they mature, they may bolt that market, which could trigger another panic like the one that ensued after Lehman Brothers collapsed. Remember that? It wasn’t so very long ago.

Since then, the Obama Administration and the European Union have done virtually nothing to regulate out-of-control speculation because the speculators have used the wealth they really didn’t work for to buy political influence. Supply-side economic theory rules, in spite of the fact that reality has proven again and again it simply does not work for most people around the world time and time again. Demand-side Keynesian types have warned about this for decades, but even they maintain that capitalism works just fine so long as it is properly regulated, preferably by themselves, of course. I think they’re wrong, too; more on that later.

Now on to some of the individual bubbles and their great historical antecedent, the Crash of 1929. One great big one is the Student Loan Bubble in America. Student loan debt is now estimated to be at about 1.3 trillion dollars. Earlier this year, the American government said that the default rate had exceeded 50%, yet for-profit junk schools continue to pop up. Hell, you can hardly turn on the TV without seeing an ad for Briggs-Stratton or some other school telling you to start a lucrative career as a (low-paid) medical assistant or something by taking out tens of thousands of bucks in federally-guaranteed student loans and getting a certificate or associate’s degree. Reminds me of Countrywide ten years ago. Remember that? Refinance your house! Take that dream vacation!

For that matter, the cost of higher education in this country has skyrocketed in my lifetime. When I started at the University of Texas in 1976, it cost a whopping $6/hour in tuition AND fees. By the time I graduated four years later, it was up to $10, but still, I could work part-time at a gas station or convenience store and pay my way through to a bachelor’s degree.

My kid and stepkids can’t do that now, no way, no how. Neither can yours. There are several reasons why the cost of higher education has gone up, but I think a great big one is that our universities and colleges have become just more money-making machines for the wealthy and connected. Ever notice how they don’t have Chancellors anymore, but CEO’s? As for their students, they rack up tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, of dollars in student loan debt to get that Bachelor’s or Master’s or medical or law degree and then are saddled not only with paying back the principal, but also much higher interest than the Wall Street banks do.

Wages and salaries have been increasingly stagnant since at least the 1980’s, but the cost of a higher education has gone up literally astronomically. It is little wonder so many former students default on their loans, yet the corporatist propaganda machine is already swinging into gear, blaming the students for their “irresponsibility” in failing to pay the loans back on time if at all, and for accepting deferments at even higher interest rates to delay the inevitable. Just like the speculator-driven real estate bubble turned into a trap for tens of millions of “irresponsible” homeowners in 2008, the student loan bubble is a trap for tens of millions of Americans who only wanted an education so they could improve their standards of living, as they’ve been promised all their lives.

The student loan bubble will probably be the first one to go POP!, but there are other contenders. The stock markets are back to their old 1990’s and 2000’s tricks in spades–credit-default swaps, derivatives, the whole nine yards. The credit rating agencies which knowingly lied to investors back then got away with it almost scot-free. I remember Attorney Eric Holder crowing about a fine of a few hundred million dollars to which a credit rating agency had agreed to settle, which was the real financial equivalent of a traffic ticket to the likes of me. Not one banker, not one Wall Street titan, ever saw the inside of a jail cell or was reduced to the penury which they deserved. In fact, the government just created money and gave it to them because they were “too big to fail.”

So why should the Wall Streeters not do now what they did before? They obviously see no reason not to do so, and they are. Sooner or later, the Financial Times seems to think it’s sooner, there will be another stock market panic, and we’ll be looking at either severe deflation if the government doesn’t create more money or even worse than what we have experienced in the last seven years if it does. The latter means more austerity for us, and another casino for them.

In 1929, the prevailing economic theory was laissez-faire capitalism, where the government would absolutely refuse to intervene. The stock market crashed because stocks were being sold to more and more people for far more than they were actually worth in real terms, much like the Dutch spent fortunes betting on the price of tulips going up in the 1600’s. Eventually someone simply refused to keep placing bets and sold, which triggered a panic when other investors realized that their stocks or their tulip futures were worth less than their own shit. POP! The same thing happened to the mortgage-backed securities in 2008, when some investors refused to keep gambling on the price of housing rising forever when it was so obvious that most homeowners simply did not make enough money to keep paying off what they had already borrowed. In 1929, the Hoover Administration did nothing, the supply of money dried up, and the worth of money went WAY up.

Unfortunately, few people had much real currency left, and many lost everything they owned.

In 2008 and 2009, with much fanfare, fearmongering, and smoke-and-mirrors propaganda, the Bush and Obama Administrations simply gave away the treasury to the same people who had wrecked the economy in the first place. When the next crash comes, the Administration, Democratic or Republican, will do the same thing again, only this time they will “pay” for it by destroying what’s left of the New Deal and Great Society programs and demanding that We The People somehow survive on even less than what we have now.

There will be no FDR II riding to the rescue this time, though, because Keynesian economics isn’t going to make things right, either. At least I don’t think it can. Here’s why.

In 1929, the American and European economies were driven by the manufacturing sector. We made things that people could buy and use. Most of the real wealth in this country came from wages and profits from manufacturing goods and providing services that had real, tangible, visible benefits to most of the population. Now, not so much.

When FDR was around, there was still at least a potentially viable manufacturing sector around that could make things like cars and dams and roads with stimulus from the government. The New Deal sort of worked in the mid 1930’s and things slowly improved(mostly) until that same sector, employing literally tens of millions of Americans, really took off during World War II.

Now, most profits and the highest salaries go to people who place bets, gamblers who bet on whose stock will rise and whose will fall and often win either way. There are two problems here: One, these people make up a tiny percentage of the population, and Two, what they are profiting from isn’t real. It’s not tangible, it’s not useful, it’s just…imagination, really.

Why is this? The answer is quite simple: Capitalism. Capitalism is a system which has only one objective: the accumulation of more capital, or profit, soonest. Capitalists don’t care, hell, they can’t care if they want to be “successful,” about things like the Greater Good or social stability or the well-being of most people. Not anymore, anyway. Back in the day, Henry Ford wanted to be able to sell cars to his own employees, but he made his money by selling something tangible. Today, Jamie Dimon doesn’t give a good god damn whether or not his bank tellers can buy JP Morgan Chase stock, and HMO CEO’s don’t care that their own nurses can’t afford a stay in the hospitals in which they work.

That’s the key difference between a dominant manufacturing sector and a dominant financial one. There are those who think that the clock can be turned back, but why bother? Capitalism has to continually expand to survive, and it’s running out of planet. Exploiting more and more natural resources to keep making more and more stuff leads to its own problems. That’s a whole topic in itself. For now, look at what happened to the Mayans or to Easter Island.

We need another economic system altogether, but we won’t get one until most people realize in their guts that capitalism hasn’t worked for them, isn’t working for them, and never will work for them. I fear it will take a great calamity to wake them up, and that I and my family will somehow have to find a way to live through it. My own answer is some form of real socialism, or the kind of society Gene Roddenberry envisioned when he came up with Star Trek. That, too, is another topic in itself. Please feel free to offer any ideas you might have right here.

And on that optimistic note, have a nice day.

Why an Iran with Nuclear Weapons May Be the Best Hope for Peace in the Middle East

All of the fearmongering about the dire consequences of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons sounds very familiar to me. Back in the 1960’s the same thing was said about India and then Pakistan, or how a nuclear war between those two countries would be inevitable if they obtained them. I think someone would have noticed if that had actually happened.

It didn’t, of course, any more than Stalin’s Soviet Union obtaining The Bomb resulted in a nuclear war with the United States, or Mao’s China getting it lead into a war with either the West or Russia or India, all of which were rivals to China in one way or the other.

More recently, for many years, the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations all thundered about the disaster which would ensue if North Korea successfully developed an atomic bomb. Well, the North Koreans did, and what happened? Essentially nothing, that’s what, except maybe a little more stability in the region, not less. For one thing, all of the American blustering about the possibility of doing something to accomplish “regime change” in North Korea suddenly stopped.

It’s an accepted fact that Israel somehow obtained nuclear weapons, possibly as early as 1973, and it’s also common knowledge in the global military community that Israel has one or two ballistic missile submarines floating around somewhere. The Israelis have used these weapons exactly as many times as Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have used them: Zero. The only nation with the dubious distinction of ever actually using the gods-damned things remains the United States, and even the Americans have never dared to use them again. Why?

The answer is as glaring as a nuclear explosion: Mutually Assured Destruction(MAD). Perhaps the most appropriate acronym ever created in the English language, MAD is the doctrine that one can never dare risk using nuclear weapons against another nuclear power or its non-nuclear allies because if one does, then one will be destroyed as surely as one’s enemy. In short, it’s madness to use the things.

It seems that what happens whenever a nation acquires nuclear weapons is that all of the others say, “Welcome to the Nuclear Club. There’s only one rule–you can never use your new weapons. If you do, you will die. Got it?”

Nuclear-armed rivals have another mutual benefit: They become very reluctant to even use conventional weapons against each other out of fear that any real war between them could escalate to the nuclear level, either through accident or design. This is why Pakistan and India have not engaged in a full-scale war since they both got nukes, and why the Americans and Russians never turned the Cold War into a hot one with their own non-nuclear forces on any kind of large scale. Even after the Soviet Union broke up, not once has any of its nukes have actually been used by anyone.

MAD works. We are all alive today because it does work.

So what would happen if Iran did successfully test an atomic bomb, and how would this affect the Middle East? First, Iran would join the Nuclear Club and have the one rule explained to its government, though I’m damned sure the Iranians are already well aware of it. Second, no one, not the United States, not Israel, would dare mount an all out conventional attack on Iran, or even try to hard too overthrow its government by other means. They would simply have to learn to live with it.

As the Iranian government would simply have to learn to live with Israel. By the same token, Iran’s allies in the region would become less tempting targets to attack, and the Iranians themselves would act to restrain the former from escalating conflicts too much out of the very reasonable fear that any war in the region could escalate into someone using The Weapon Which Cannot Be Used.

So what’s all the fuss really about? I think it’s because America and Israel know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be able to successfully blunt their imperial ambitions in the region, and that Iran will probably get them sooner or later(after all, if the North Koreans did it, the Iranians can certainly do it), so they’re doing everything they can to get as much as they can before Iran actually joins the Nuclear Club, with all of the consequences I listed above.

It’s not really fear of the Iranians actually using nuclear weapons that is driving American and Israeli fearmongering, it’s the knowledge that American and Israeli options in the region will be much more limited after Iran acquires The Weapon That Cannot Be Used that is doing so.

I do find it interesting, however, that the Obama Administration has toned down its anti-nuclear rhetoric of late while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has increased his to frothing-at-the-mouth proportions in the middle of an Israeli election where the number one issues are the increasing costs of housing and growing inequality of wealth within Israel. Iran is barely on the radar in domestic Israeli political debate.

Maybe Obama’s been told by people who really do know that Iran will get nuclear weapons sooner or later, what it won’t do with them, and to just get over it. Pity those same people haven’t told our Congresscritters the same thing, or maybe they have and many of the latter are just too stupid to get it.

Anyway, my point is that a nuclear-armed Iran is NOT something to fear. If anything, it will bring more stability to the Middle East, not less, and surely more stability in that messed-up part of the world should be welcomed, not demagogued. There’s no need to panic here.

So I will finish here, listen to the returning cardinals and chickadees in northeastern Ohio, watch the snow continue to melt, and plan my first bar-b-que of the season tomorrow. Spring is coming.

And have a nice day.

The Barbarian’s Book Review: The Dragon and the Foreign Devils. Or Why the TPP is Doomed and Hope Survives.

I’ve been re-educating myself on China a little bit lately, and thanks to my favorite socialist institution, my local public library, I came across this pretty good book about how the Chinese interacted with foreigners. It’s The Dragon and the Foreign Devils: China and the World: 1100 BC to the Present, by Harry Gelber(London, 2007). The book is a pretty good overview, though the author drives me nuts sometimes by getting some of his dates wrong, like in what year some World War II battle took place.

Anyway, it’s not bad, is a pretty easy read, and it confirms some of my own conclusions. One is that the Chinese are beyond arrogance when it comes to their sense of cultural superiority, at least by any Western standard. They have this notion that just because their civilization has been around, more or less intact, for over 4000 years that that makes them just better than anyone else, and everyone else should just, well, know that.

Another is that the Western European concepts of democracy and inalienable individual rights is very, very alien to the Chinese. Due to the circumstances of their history and to the prevailing philosophy of Confucianism, the Chinese have this inherent loyalty to the family and to governmental authority most of the time.

Still another is that the Chinese empire expands to more or less the same limits it has now, and then collapses for one reason or another, only to rise again.

These three points are closely intertwined.

To be more specific, Chinese civilization started out as a series of “water empire” dynasties. Like the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, successful Chinese governments based their power on the control of water for irrigation, the food that was produced by it, the trade that successful agricultural communities engendered, and the abilities of those governments to protect all of the above both from “barbarian” attack and natural calamities.

This meant that the community as a whole, and the state, required loyalty and obedience from individuals for the sake of the greater good. Old Confucius came up with an entirely logical philosophical system to justify this point of view, and it has been applied very successfully for millennia by every dynasty, including the current Communist one according to Gelber. Individual rights are subordinate and, according to this tradition, should be so. In fact, the subordination of individual rights to those of the family and the state is just good morals. In that context, is Mao or any of his successors so different from the emperors of old? Surface ideology aside, not so much.

For thousands of years, the ruling dynasties considered themselves the “sons of Heaven,” whose job it was to provide food and physical security to the populace. Whenever the dynasty lost its way, there would be calamities sent by the gods to show that they had lost the “Mandate of Heaven,” and then the dynasty would collapse and be replaced by another created by more worthy people. The calamities could come in the form of either natural disasters, foreign invasions, or domestic revolt because the dynasty was failing most of the population, or all three.

Whenever this happened, a strong man would appear and lead his armies to victory and set himself up as the new emperor. Sometimes these men would be of the majority Han Chinese population, such as Qin Shi Handu(founder of the Han Dynasty in about 200 CE), Hongwu(founder of the Ming Dynasty in 1328) and Mao Zedong(founder of the Communist Party “dynasty” in 1949, according to the author). Others were foreigners such as Kublai Khan and the later Qing, who were Mongolian and Manchurian respectively, but ultimately adopted Chinese customs and ways.

All of them had a few things in common. They all believed in a strong central state in which all real power should be vested. They all demanded unquestioning loyalty to that state, with severe penalties ranging from imprisonment to torture and death for dissent. They all insisted that foreigners wishing to deal with them must acknowledge inherent Chinese superiority by proper deference or tribute, which they would return in kind with incredible generosity, at least from their point of view and quite often even from a Western point of view.

Gelber does argue for something I had never thought about before, and that is that “barbarian” or foreign legal concepts such as the sanctity of contracts, treaties, and other agreements only have validity so long as they serve the interests of the central government at the top of things and Chinese merchants themselves at the bottom. When some agreement no longer works in the favor of the Chinese, it can simply be ignored because, well, what good is it if it no longer benefits the Chinese? Why should they consider such a thing binding upon them when it is not in the greater Chinese good’s interests to follow it?

This attitude is quite consistent with everything else I’ve talked about here, and it’s not incomprehensible at all. It explains why the vast Chinese market to sell things to has never been fully exploited by foreign interests, and why Chinese foreign policy so often baffles everyone else. To the Chinese, it makes perfect sense. To me, it offers a bright glimmer of hope that the monstrosity of of the Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP) is doomed before it starts. If the Chinese refuse to sign on to it, the absence of a huge power on the Pacific Rim leaves a great, big, gaping whole in the whole framework.

Even if the Chinese government signs on to the TPP, it will simply ignore it as soon as it presents a threat to the stability of that government whenever that happens. If, for example, enforcing the terms of the TPP would cause social domestic unrest because it would piss off millions, tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions, of Chinese, the government will backpeddle quickly in order to maintain domestic stability. Otherwise, it would lose the Mandate of Heaven, no matter what the ruling Communist Party calls it, and therefore deserve to fall. They don’t want to fall, so they’ll try not to do so. Whenever they do fall, and they will, it won’t be because of outside pressure alone, it will be because of internal, uniquely Chinese, divisions as well.

And if China refuses to enforce the TPP, whaddaya gonna do about it, Wall Street? Huh? They got nukes, too. Can’t go there. Wouldn’t be prudent, you know.

We The People of the United States and other countries can learn a few things from the Chinese, like thinking the people running our government no longer deserve to hold power because they just aren’t doing their freaking job of providing basic physical and economic security for us, and that they deserve to be replaced by somebody else who can.

I’ll go one step further because, after all, as far as the Chinese are concerned, I’m just another barbarian(as are most of you reading this) and say that if the system that our so-called leaders are beholden to no longer works for us, then it doesn’t deserve to survive. It’s lost the Mandate of Heaven, you see. The English saw this in the 1640’s, the Americans in the 1770’s, the French in 1789, and the Russians in 1917.

Maybe we’re not so different from the Chinese, after all. Even if the Chinese won’t admit it.

On John Kerry, Tamerlane, and Genghis Khan

On ABC’s This Week today, American Secretary of State John Kerry said that the recent destruction of priceless Assyrian works of art by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq(ISIS) was a “rampage reminiscent of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan.”

Tamerlane? Genghis Khan? Wow. These ISIS guys must be really bad ass. But are they? Really? Let’s take a quick look-see here.

Just about everyone’s at least heard of Genghis Khan, which translates directly from the Mongol for “Great King.” Born Temujin, Genghis Khan united the Mongol tribes in 1206 CE and led them on incredible campaigns of conquest, establishing a Mongol Empire that stretched from northern China through Mongolia, Persia, and Central Asia all the way through Russia to the borders of Europe. His immediate successors completed the Mongol conquests of China, Russia, Ukraine, and even Hungary.

Ol’ Genghis was indeed ruthless. Acutely aware that there were only so many Mongol horsemen available to die in battle, he adopted a very direct strategy in persuading a targeted city to surrender. If it surrendered on the first day his army showed up and agreed to be a good, taxpaying part of his empire, no one was hurt. On the second day, the city’s surrender would be accepted only if its inhabitants gave up its leaders to the Mongols for execution. If it hadn’t surrendered by the third day, everyone in it would be killed by the Mongols once the city fell.

Talk about shock-and-awe. Genghis Khan very consistently used this tactic, and it was very persuasive. It helped him conquer a huge chunk of the Earth’s land mass. George W. Bush had nothing on Genghis.

Or Tamerlane, for that matter.

Tamerlane, or more accurately Timur the Lame, was a man of Turkic and Mongol descent who took over the Mongol khanate of Samarkand, now a city in Uzbekistan, in the late 14th Century CE. Using Genghis Khan’s tactics, he conquered Central Asia, Persia, Afghanistan, northern India, most of European Russia, Iraq, Syria, and most of modern Turkey. Timur was in the habit of chopping off the heads of a conquered city’s population and building a pyramid of skulls out of them. Shock-and-awe again, wouldn’t you say?

Even his tomb was bad-ass, for it had a curse that actually came true. An inscription read, “Whosoever disturbs my tomb will unleash an invader more terrible than I.” Soviet archaeologists excavated his tomb on June 22, 1941, the very day that Hitler’s Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Now that’s shock-and-awe from beyond the grave!

So how does ISIS really compare to these guys? Personally, I think both Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame would be quite rightly offended by John Kerry’s remark. No doubt many works of art were destroyed in their conquests, but they never destroyed anything out of any sense of religious fanaticism, as ISIS does. In fact, both were remarkably tolerant of different religious faiths. Islam, Christianity, Confucianism, and Buddhism all flourished under Mongol rule. So Genghis and Timur both waged war in a tremendous and terrible shock-and awe-fashion, but neither did it out of any sense of religious persecution.

ISIS may have dreams of a grand Islamic Caliphate, but in fact they control maybe a third of Syria and Iraq, and the regions they control are not even contiguous. They’ve chopped off some heads, but I have yet to see a pyramid of skulls built by them. In fact, the most recent pyramid of skulls I’ve heard about was a small one of Taliban heads erected by German forces in Afghanistan a few years ago. The strategy worked, too, as the Taliban left the Germans alone until their own government recalled them a few years later. No doubt the Taliban are familiar with Genghis and Timur.

John Kerry? Apparently not so much. ISIS, no matter how fanatical they are, has done nothing on any scale remotely reminiscent of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan. They’re just not powerful enough, and are never likely to become so. Their version of Islam is rejected by most Muslims around the world, and all their religious intolerance will do is piss other people off and generate sympathy for their opponents, like the Iranians, Syrian and Iraqi Shiite Muslims, Assyrian and Coptic Christians, and others.

Comparing ISIS to Tamerlane and Genghis Khan is like comparing  Al Capone to Hitler’s Gestapo or Stalin’s NKVD. It may be effective propaganda to the ignorant and incurious, but a click or two on the Google can quickly convince anyone with an ounce of intelligence of the colossal inaccuracy of Kerry’s comparison.

Speaking of intelligence, later in the same interview the corporate media reporter asked Kerry if “we,” as in the American government, had any intelligence related to yesterday’s murder of one of Vladimir Putin’s political opponents just outside the Kremlin.

Kerry replied, “We have no intelligence.”

On that, Mr. Secretary, I am in complete agreement with you.

Obama’s Latest Push for a Shiny New War

Remember just a year and a half or so ago when Barack Obama reluctantly asked Congress for Authorization for the Use of Military Force(AUMF) against the Assad government in Syria after the American people loudly wondered why the British Parliament got to vote on such a thing and voted it down? Remember how Congress balked after their email sites and switchboards crashed with the storm of Hell No’s from the American people?

Apparently, our corporate-owned, “mainstream” media doesn’t. Cynically using the death of a pretty young female aid worker in Syria who had been abducted by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq(ISIS) caused by what apparently was an American drone strike, Obama recently proposed a very broad AUMF to Congress. From what I saw on the Sunday talking head shows, some form of AUMF is taken as a given by both Congresscritters and the media.

Oh, there’s some squabbling. Some Democrats say it is too open-ended while some Republicans say it is too restrictive, which just goes to show that the old party divides are gone when it comes to advancing things like imperial war. This time, Obama will get his shiny new war.

The timing is very convenient. Obama has been outsmarted and outmaneuvered by Russian President Vladimir Putin at every turn on the Ukrainian issue. America and Germany both pushed for and got a neo-Nazi coup in Kiev, but ethnic Russians in Ukraine bucked, and fought. The largely ethnic Russian province of Crimea begged to join the Russian Federation and Putin obliged by simply annexing it.

Now, Russian separatists are holding their own in eastern Ukraine if they are not actually gaining ground. Comparisons of Putin to Hitler are nonsense. Even Henry Kissinger says that Russia will never, ever, allow Ukraine to become part of NATO or any other potentially hostile alliance, anymore than the United States would allow Mexico or Canada to do the same. They’ll invade if they have to, and what will America do?

Nothing, that’s what. The Russians, you see, have nuclear weapons. When I was in the Navy I met some people who had connections with, and some who eventually joined, Naval Intelligence. They told me there was this little informal agreement between the then-Soviet and American militaries that if some wackjob ever ordered a war between the two superpowers, that superpower’s military would make sure said wackjob was removed from power. It’s all part of Mutually Assured Destruction(MAD), the doctrine that kept us all alive during the Cold War.

There’s no reason to think it’s gone away just because Obama wants to push things in Ukraine. It won’t be allowed. But ISIS, now, they don’t have nukes. The defense industry gets to make big bucks, Obama can look tough in waging a war on the Evil Terrorists, and tens of millions of stupid Americans can wave the flag and cheer on our Heroes in Uniform. Rah, friggin’ rah.

And everybody quietly forgets about Ukraine while it slips back into the Russian orbit.