Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Origin of the Two Party System, Pt 2

The 'First Party System' is a term used by political scientists to refer to the politics of the period from 1792 to the 'Era of Good Feeling' during the James Monroe administration. As previously noted in 'The History of the Two Party System, Pt 1', the first true American political parties were Alexander Hamilton's Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Federalist Party was pro-business, pro-bank, and in favor of a strong national government. The Democratic-Republican Party was against taxes and a national banking system and strongly advocated states' rights. The Federalists advocated a rapprochement with Great Britain, the leading economic power of the world, for the trade benefits this would bring the United States. The Democratic-Republicans favored a policy of strict loyalty to the American Revolutionaries' ally, France.

The two parties came into being during George Washington's first term and would fight bitterly throughout Washington's second. While Hamilton's economic policies largely passed as he had envisioned them, the Democratic-Republicans were more successful at building a national party. In the first great partisan election in the United States, Democratic-Republican George Clinton defeated Federalist John Jay for the position of governor of New York. Clinton used the immense political patronage available to the governor of an important state to strengthen the Democratic-Republican party.

The rematch came with Washington's decision not seek a third term as president. Vice President John Adams became the Federalist candidate while party leader Thomas Jefferson would represent the Democratic-Republicans. It should be noted that while the party apparats endorsed these candidates, however, that there was no nominating system as exists today. Other candidates ran for president as well, and most them were Federalists and Democratic-Republicans who served to divide the votes of the party's leading candidates. Candidates during this phase of U.S. history ran as individuals, not as the nominated representatives of a political party.

The Federalists won this first national clash, but the Adams administration would sow the seeds of the Federalists' destruction. The French Revolution was at its height. Many Democratic-Republican leaders saw the revolution in France as a spread of 'American' ideals to its ally and were strongly in favor of the revolutionaries. The leading Federalists, however, saw the French Revolution as a complete social and political breakdown and a threat to other nations. Democratic-Republicans wished to aid the French republic in its clash with Great Britain, while Federalists saw French Republican trade policies as hostile and wished a war with France.

Neither side got their way. John Adams was determined to have peace and to keep the United States neutral in European conflicts. Despite the outbreak of the Quasi-War with France in 1798, Adams firmly resisted declaring war and resolutely pursued a diplomatic solution to the
tensions between the two countries. This angered the dominant Hamilton faction of his own party. When Adams and Jefferson faced each other in a presidential election for the second time in 1800, Hamilton's so-called 'High Federalists' (the hard-core wing of the party) backed vice-presidential candidate Charles C. Pinckney (the hero of the so-called 'XYZ Affair' that led to the Quasi-War and the official Vice-Presidential candidate of the Federalist Party) for the presidency and the divided votes led to Adams' defeat and the fracturing of the Federalist Party.

The Democratic-Republicans were also badly damaged, however. Jefferson ended up in an electoral tie with his Vice-Presidential candidate, Aaron Burr. The decision was sent to the House of Representatives, where disgruntled Federalists who had lost their seats in the election initially began voting for Burr at a rapid clip to block Jefferson from the presidency. Hamilton, who was more afraid of a Burr presidency than even of Jefferson, used his personal influence to rally votes to ensure Jefferson's election. This was merely one sordid chapter in a political feud between Hamilton and Burr that ended with Burr shooting Hamilton dead in a duel in 1804. Hamilton's death was the final nail in the Federalist Party's coffin. Though they limped on as a regional party in New England, the Federalists never again made a serious bid for either congressional or presidential authority and in 1820's presidential election they could not even muster party unity behind a single candidate. As a result, in many states incumbent President James Monroe was the only name on the ballot.

With Monroe's re-election, the Federalist party was officially dead. A new system, however, was already forming within Monroe's own party. It would result in the birth of the Democratic Party and begin a desperate quest for effective and unified opposition to the Democrats.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Why I Respect William F. Buckley

You Live With It

In all the discussion of morality in politics, all the heated argument about what is or isn't 'right' or 'wrong', and (most of all) all of the refusal by those who hold opinions and whose profession it is to share those opinions to depart from the bracket in which they 'belong', William F. Buckley has consistently said what he really felt and believed was right even when other conservatives would take issue with it. I don't agree with his politics, but he's a good and sincere man of intelligence and moral fiber. Read the article, please.

How Much Help Do They Need?

" You don't have to be a Harvard University researcher to figure out that the media is infected with liberal bias — or to realize that some left-wing journalists will use any means necessary to create ideological narratives that fit their worldview. The Rathergate debacle at CBS News involving faked National Guard memos to smear President Bush was an extreme example. But if you look closely, you'll find everyday examples of Serious Journalists manufacturing the news and concocting social crises.
Amazingly, they always manage to make conservatives look racist, intolerant and evil. Funny how that works."

-Michelle Malkin, Punked: Faking the Hate, Manufacturing the News

With all due respect to Ms. Malkin, many modern social conservatives do just fine making themselves look racist and intolerant on their own. Let's also not forget that the 'Rathergate' expose turned out to have been 'managed' itself. Rather's story was legitimate and it was the conservative blogger-journalist 'debunkers' who were making it up as they went along. Yet Fox News (for whom Malkin frequently stints as a talking head when she's not writing) are the only people not to have figured it out and their ignorance has somehow made the rest of the news media mention it only in passing and without the bullet it deserves. Maybe, though, it wasn't to help Fox News save face. Maybe it was to help CBS save face after replacing Dan Rather on the word of bloggers claiming to be journalists.

(As an aside, I am not a journalist. I am a blogger and I write my opinions and items I think of historical interest. Sometimes I get my facts wrong. In Does It Matter Who The Frontrunners Are? I mistakenly noted that Dick Gephardt came in second in Iowa. He came in third, after Kerry and Edwards. The point is, I don't claim to be a journalist. The bloggers who 'debunked' Rather's story on Bush's National Guard service did.)

I digress. The topic is racism and intolerance, not to forget contemporary conservatives. In Equality OR Freedom or Equality AND Freedom? I made reference to an article by Pat Buchanan which first extolled the great personal freedom of the Jim Crow era and then suggested that homosexuality should be a crime rather than a civil rights issue. It doesn't look like he needed a lot of help from me, in the so-referenced article, to look racist and intolerant. Fox News recently ran pieces on 'Girl Power' and 'Religious Intolerance' that were webcast on Yahoo. The 'Girl Power' story was a commercial for the so-called 'Global War on Terror' and the 'Religious Intolerance' story was Sean Hannity condemning Muslim extremists in Sudan for demanding the execution of a British teacher who was convicted of insulting Islam. The problem is that in the United States, the people practicing religious intolerance believe much the same as Mr. Hannity and he doesn't speak out against them.

Ms. Malkin is likely, in a hypothetical argument on the subject, to point out her own racial heritage and the racial heritage of such noteworthy conservative spokespeople as Larry Elder and Alan Keyes. They are embraced by the conservative community and they are obviously non-white. So where is the racism?

The answer to that question is that modern American conservatism is a very special club. Anyone who agrees with the basic thesis is welcome and those who do not are stupid, cowardly, atheistic, or immoral. Those who disapprove of the legislation of fundamentalist Christian values in a pluralistic society are persecuting fundamentalist Christians, or 'elitists' who think they are better than fundamentalist Christians. Those who want to see biology taught in the classroom with scientific accuracy are 'elitists' whose view of education is 'undemocratic.'

We live in a modern, pluralistic society and many modern social conservatives have a problem with that. They see the teaching of accurate science, social tolerance of alternative lifestyles (Say that without smirking if you're anything but heterosexual and vanilla, eh?), and legal legitimacy for abortion as an assault on their beliefs. They really do see themselves as persecuted and as 'losing the culture war.' In their minds, Jim Crow laws banning evangelicals from school drinking fountains are the logical next step after teaching scientifically accurate biology. The institution of Christian marriage really is under attack from the idea of state-sanctioned gay marriage.

I am going to agree with the reactionaries on one important issue: social morality is on the decline and not just in the United States but around the world. Even more, to some extent the reason for that is the secular willingness to reject Christian values. Unfortunately, I disagree wildly with the modern social conservative on the definition of the problem. The Christian values being rejected are brotherly love for mankind, peace, the embrace of fellow human beings regardless of cultural differences (the very first Christians were a polyglot group of Jews, Greek-speaking Middle-Easterners, Greeks, and Romans), and forgiveness. 'Turn the other cheek' and 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you' are replaced by sociological moral relativism married to political realism. The real enemy is not gay marriage or the teaching of evolution, the real enemy is Realpolitik. The real enemy is nationalism. The real enemy is the capitalist economic system that allows one part of the world to live in relative wealth and security while the rest lives in poverty and squalor.

In Michelle Malkin's defense, she's right about one thing. Schools should teach math, not 'the concept of math.'

Monday, November 26, 2007

Equality OR Freedom or Equality AND Freedom?

For many years conservatives and communists have been telling us that we can't have both equality and freedom. Even conservatives who themselves were genuinely not racist and who had taken significant steps in end discriminative practices (Barry Goldwater, who helped desegregate the Arizona Air Force National Guard while a general in same, for example) have believed that the government taking action to forbid racial discrimination in the private sector was a violation of individual rights and a threat to personal freedom. They have argued that such legislation served to strengthen government control of people's lives and reduce liberty. They have cited government regulation of business practices as irreconcilable with the economic freedoms of capitalism since Theodore Roosevelt started busting trusts. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the argument, it has cogency. Government power, as the Bush administration has demonstrated repeatedly since September 11 of 2001, can be a threat to individual liberty. This was demonstrated during the Red Scare and the self-promoting demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy.

To argue that government has to be a threat to freedom, however, is to ignore basic historical facts. It was government that ended the brutal cultural genocide of slavery in the United States of America. President Abraham Lincoln began the process with the Emancipation Proclamation and the post-war Republican congress completed the process with the Thirteenth Amendment. Since the early 1800s, when the majority of northern states abolished slavery, only two states would voluntarily abolish slavery prior to the Thirteenth Amendment: West Virginia in 1863 and Maryland in 1864, both of which abolished slavery in state constitutional conventions. Certainly, there has been no greater act on behalf of freedom in the United States before. Since, the only possible rival is granting women the right to vote.

Conservatives argue that in the absence of government interference, free enterprise will promote liberty through the natural forces of competition. It should be remembered that it was free enterprise in the form of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the textile industry, and the commercial plantation economy of the Southern states that established slavery in the first place. As long as it was profitable, free enterprise was not about to shoot itself in the foot to dispose of it.

Now Pat Buchanan, whose motives can hardly be called as pure as those of Goldwater on the issue of civil rights, claims that legislating to end workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation would lead the United States toward tyranny and trample civil rights.;_ylt=AgVWb.EkB0V_N6cGea.uItn9wxIF

Mr. Buchanan even goes so far as to extol the freedom that men and women of all races enjoyed during the days of segregation. He agrees that racism and discrimination were terrible things, but finds that government action to end segregation violated the rights of all Americans and curtailed their freedoms. He claims that ending discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would be equally damaging to the rights of all Amnericans. His idealistic nostalgia for the loss of restricted clubs and signs reading 'Whites Only' and 'Colored' somehow fails to move.

Yes, despite the arguments of many of my fellow liberals, this country's legal system and mores were constructed on a Judeo-Christian base. Male homosexual sex (lesbianism is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, it should be noted) is a violation of Old Testament law and was considered a sin by the Catholic and Protestant churches extant during the American Revolution and the early days of the republic. Contrary to popular argument, the morality of the Deistic faith professed by some of the Founding Fathers did not differ significantly from the Christian morality of the time.

That said, the Founding Fathers were not perfect. The men who drafted the laws of the first thirteen states were not omniscient and morally pure. They distrusted the artisan, small farmer, and laboring class and wished to keep the 'right people' in charge of the nation. Their ideal model, whether they sought a mercantile or agricultural nation, was the timocracy of the Roman Republic where the value of one's citizenship was determined by one's land ownership. They denied women the right to vote and they owned slaves. In nearly all cases, those free blacks of the time were not allowed to vote either. There's a possibility they were wrong about the issue of homosexuality as well.

What the Founding Fathers were right about was the importance of both personal liberty and equality before the law. While we do not have economic equality in this nation and likely never will, we are supposed to believe in the ideal of equality of economic opportunity. This ideal is incompatible with any kind of discrimination not based on merit. Denying a man or woman the ability to work, to support themselves, to support any family they may build is an act restraining their personal liberty.

It's this simple: the government isn't the only threat to personal liberty in the society of the United States. In the system of checks and balances that society relies upon, when another agency threatens individual liberty the government is duty bound to act against them.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Origin of the Two Party System, Pt. 1

In my last essay I covered the effects of the American two party system of politics, most importantly the lack of real choice in presidential politics after WWII (when voters essentially had a choice between a center-right moderate and a center-left moderate until the move to the left by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and the nomination of conservative Senator Barry Goldwater by the Republicans in 1964) and today (when voters have the choice of a reactionary 'conservative' party who wish to undo all social reforms across the board and let corporations and religious fundamentalists run the country and a conservative 'liberal' party whose leaders wish to protect programs under attack by the right but have very few new ideas they are willing to pursue with vision and vigor). In this column I will begin to describe the process by which the system in place today evolved.

The very first 'party line' dispute in the history of the United States was far from inconsiderable or irrelevant, to be fair. The first 'political parties' in U.S. were the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. For a period of one year (1787-1788), with no 'election' as we understand it involved, they disputed the single most important issue the country would grapple with for many years. The Federalists advocated the ratification of the United States Constitution and the Anti-Federalists opposed said document.

The Anti-Federalist argument is quite familiar today, even still quite in vogue in conservative political circles. The Anti-Federalists were opposed to the Constitution for one simple reason: an organized, centralized national government could grow strong enough to threaten the individual liberty of its citizens. When one considers the Patriot Act, the theory in the Bush administration that the President can do as he likes without consequence because he is President, and the rapid encroachment of federal law enforcement on personal freedoms during the Clinton era and states' right to legislate for themselves in the Bush era one starts to seriously see the Anti-Federalists' point. A powerful government is certainly very capable of threatening our liberty.

The Federalist argument, however, was crushing to any opposition. At the time of the debate over the Constitution, the United States had no genuine central national authority. The consequences were battering the country. The fiat currency issued by the Continental Congress had little to no real value. As a result, it was ignored in favor of money issued by the various states (which was worthless when one crossed from Massachusetts to Connecticut) and hard British currency (which was extremely rare and in very short supply); the results were brutal hyperinflation. The country's economic chaos meant that even those whose income and labor would have entitled them to a middle class or upper class lifestyle in England were living in effective poverty in the United States. A strong central government would have the power to take steps to end the economic crisis by minting coinage and issuing money with real value. Likewise, a strong central government would have the power to organize a military defense against any renewed attempt by outside powers to conquer the United States by force.

The Federalists won, the Constitution was ratified, and (in the only 'non-partisan' election in the history of the United States) George Washington was elected president. With the ratification of the constitution and Washington's elections, there were no longer 'political parties' in the literal sense of the word.

There was, however, a growing and divisive spirit of factionalism that would lead to the creation of the first true political parties in United States history. Alexander Hamilton, Washington's dynamic Secretary of the Treasury (who enjoyed something very close to a father-son relationship with the first president) had a broad and sweeping vision of what government could be and could accomplish. Hamilton was not a 'liberal' in the modern sense of the word. At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 he had made an eloquent but irrelevant speech in favor of a parliamentary monarchy on the British model. It did little to affect the final product of the convention, but served to cement his image in the minds of others as an 'aristocrat' and a 'monarchist.' He believed that interesting the wealthy in the succes or failure of the nation was critical, and that available capital would lead to a more diverse economy. Rather than the government subsidizing the rich, as the modern 'pro-business' politicians often appear wont to do, Hamilton's vision was of the rich investing in the government and the interest on the debt would generate capital that would keep the wealthy active in business for the good of all. His belief in the idea that 'what was good for business will be good for the country' was comparable to many of the neoconservatives and moderate Democrats of today. All the same, Hamilton's vision of government and his belief in a credit based economy driven by a funded national debt would become the basis of modern American political liberalism in the future.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, on the other hand, were very much alarmed by Hamilton's economic vision. They were southerners and they saw a credit-based, money-driven economy as a threat to the land-based economy of the southern states. It is ironic that the aristocratic, landed slave-owners of the South would attack Hamilton's economic policy as 'seeking to create an aristocracy' and his use of government power to establish his economic vision as 'monarchist' and launch their own political opposition in the name of 'the common man.' They believed, firmly, in limited government, literal interpretation of the Constitution, and states' rights. They saw the states as independent, sovereign entities and the federal government as a forum in which these separate entities agreed on common policy. They did not believe the central government had power over the internal affairs of the states (beyond that articulated in the Constitution) and their vision of a nation of yeoman farmers was incompatible with Hamilton's economic agenda. While the vision of the states as independent entities to which the federal government is subordinate ended with the Civil War, the Jeffersonian idea of limited government would become the cornerstone of American political conservatism for many years. This is the conservatism advanced by Herbert Hoover, Robert Taft and Barry Goldwater in their days and the conservatism of Ron Paul today. Its resemblance to the tide of religious and social reaction labeled 'conservatism' in the modern era can be debated both ways.

It should be noted that the aristocratic planters of Virginia and the rest of the South were anything but 'yeoman farmers' and that the self-made Hamilton, born illegitimately and into poverty, was anything but an 'aristocrat.' However, self-image and political perception can be very different than reality. Both sides very likely saw themselves as campaigning to save the country from the folly of the other and each certainly saw themselves as the champions of 'ordinary Americans.' Neither was entirely right. While Hamilton was certainly more of a 'common man' than Jefferson or Madison, his policies could easily be interpreted as favoring moneyed wealth over craftsmen and farmers. While Jefferson and Madison embarked on their crusade against today's conservatives call 'big government' in the genuine desire to protect what they saw as the rights of ordinary Americans, their vision of what the 'ordinary American' really was happened to be warped by their own experience as aristocratic scions of Famous Families of Virginia.

The pro-business, pro-bank, pro-national government party that grew up around Hamilton would take the name of the faction that had promoted the Constitution: the Federalists. The pro-agriculture, anti-bank, states' rights party founded actively by Jefferson and Madison would take the name 'Republican' and would eventually become known as the 'Democratic-Republican' party. The modern Democratic party's roots can be traced directly back to the Democratic-Republican party of Jefferson through clear lines of descent, but its modern ideological basis as developed by Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson is in the vision of Alexander Hamilton. The Republican party's origins are more difficult to accurately trace, but the bulk of their modern ideology as developed by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan owes its existence to the vision of Jefferson and Madison.

George Washington, in his famous Farewell Address, warned Americans to forsake the spirit of party. They didn't listen. The spirit of party would rule American politics for the administrations of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Its short term conquest in the 'Era of Good Feeling' of James Monroe's presidency would be proven to be a lull before the storm. That, however, is for a future essay.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Why Only Two Parties?

A lot of people talk about our 'two party system' in the United States without really understanding exactly what it is, what it means, or that it wasn't always that way. What has become the modern 'two party system' grew up primarily by chance and happenstance, and then became institutionalized by those very two parties in order to protect their own control of the political process. Law requires Federal Election Committee members to be an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, thus mandating that only Republicans and Democrats can serve on the FEC at all. In the name of giving neither party an advantage over the other, both parties are given a collective advantage over all other potential challengers to their position in American politics. Public fascination with Ross Perot and Democratic ire at Ralph Nader aside, both of our political parties have become ingrained into the system and the system has been redesigned around them.

During the post-WWII period dating from 1945 to the nomination of Barry Goldwater by the Republicans in 1964, the country possessed a 'center-left party' in the Democrats and a 'center-right party' in the Republicans. The bogeyman in the closet, Cold War Communism, made it imprudent for liberals to swing too far to the left, while the improvements that the New Deal had brought to many Americans' lives made a swing far to the right by conservatives equally imprudent. Even the 'right wing' candidacy of Robert A. Taft, which Eisenhower sought the Republican nomination to block, was centrist by the standards of today's conservatives. Yet the mainstream of the Republican party saw a Taft nomination as a disaster. Today, the 'mainstream' of the Republican party is so far to the right that Taft would poll in the single digits in a presidential primary. Eisenhower would be a liberal in today's political world, and to get on the ballot anywhere he'd have to run as a Democrat.

There was very little choice, because there were only two parties with a genuine chance of winning. The States' Rights Democratic Party was unable to even tilt the national election against Truman in 1948 and entirely dissolved in the wake of Truman's victory. The South voted for Adlai Stevenson, Truman's hand picked successor, twice in his two unsuccessful bids for the Presidency. There were no significant third party challenges and the Eisenhower administration ended up incorporating many of the Stevenson campaign's ideas. The historical difference if Stevenson had won instead of Eisenhower appears negligible. The same can be said of the famous 1960 race between Nixon and Kennedy.

Third parties did appear again, in the form of the American Independent Party candidacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace in 1968. Their platform, opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and government run welfare programs, bears strong resemblance to the Republican Party of today. The AIP still exists, but hasn't had a nationally recognizable candidate since Wallace. Parties like the Peace and Freedom Party and the Libertarian Party have had even less success.

The chinks in the armor of the two party system apparently shown by H. Ross Perot in 1992 soon disappeared. Perot made quite a splash in the '92 election, and in its wake and preparatory to the 1996 election he established the Reform Party. Initially planning not to run again, he ended up running against his own party's candidate in 1996 and essentially wrecking his own nascent political organization to little result.

Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy was accused of turning the 2000 election in favor of George W. Bush. He polled two million votes with national media attention given his run. While most people failed to notice, Nader had been the Green Party candidate for President in 1996 as well. The main difference was the media ballyhoo connected to his run in 2000. Lacking the recognizable Nader or similar ballyhoo, the Green Part polled less than 120,000 votes in 2004.

There are two reasons for the current two party system in the United States. The first is the aforementioned institutionalization of the Democratic and Republican parties, which is the result of a long and awkward period of evolution. This will be covered in my next entry. The second is the media and how it covers elections. Third party candidates given equal media treatment (Wallace, Perot, Nader in 2000) with the major parties attract a surprising number of votes from those who share their views, even when those views are fringe views. They can even affect the election, taking votes from one party or the other. However, when the media ignores them, the voters ignore them as well.

Is the current system what best serves the United States voter? Probably not. Today we have a right wing party and a center-right party posing as a liberal party. The Republicans have become the party of evangelical Christians afraid of the complexities of the modern world and unwilling to bow to the realities of science and social change. They are not conservative, they are reactionary. The Democrats cling to the programs and doctrines of the past in a manner that can only be defined as 'conservative.' Unfortunately, the institutionalization of the parties into our election system means that they are unlikely to be replaced in the near future.

Perhaps someone should sue, challenging the law dictating who can sit on the FEC?

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Is Fascism?

fas-cism (fa-shi-zem, also fa-si-zem)


1. often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control

- Merriam-Webster Online

The 'fasces' was a symbol of authority in Republican Rome. The senior magistrates of Rome, praetors (who served as supervisory over courts dedicated to specific criminal or civil proceedings, and often as provincial governors and army commanders), provincial governors during their term, and Rome's consuls (the elected heads of government) were escoted by lictors (ceremonial bodyguards) who carried the fasces. It was a bundle of sticks bound together, symbolizing that the magistrate had the power to chastise offenders. The primary means of judicial punishment in Rome, at the time, was corporal punishment. The primary implement of this was the switch. Hence the fasces, a bundle of switches symbolizing judicial authority. Outside the city limits of Rome (also in times of war), if the magistrates jurisdiction so extended, the fasces included the head of an axe. This served two distinct purposes. The first was symbolic, it served to show that the magistrate had the judicial power of execution. The second was practical. In dangerous situations, it was best the bodyguards have a real weapon to hand.

Centuries later the fasces (axe included) would be adopted by Mussolini as the symbol of his 'Fascist' Party. Fascist Party ideology was straightforward, and yet slightly more complex than the above dictionary definition. Mussolini's philosophy (though he did not originate the political theory, to be sure) was that the individual by himself was weak and easily broken; a single stick. A society, organized in pursuit of the common good, was unbreakable; a bundle of sticks tied together. Mussolini's fascism meant the corporatization of society; the government, the citizenry, and business would all work together to achieve the goals of the state and all would benefit. The government would have a single leader, because rule by committee never ends well, and his ministers would advise him and carry out his instructions in a strict hierarchy of power. Business would act as an extension of government, advising the leader on economic matters but also carrying out government needs in the economy. The citizenry would provide the military and economic manpower to meet the goals of the state. All would work together and all would benefit from success.

In the wake of World War II, 'fascism' became the word applied to all of the defeated Axis governments. It wasn't strictly accurate in the case of the Japanese government (which was, despite the relatively significant level of power enjoyed by its leaders and the universally acclaimed but ceremonially circumscribed absolute power of the emperor, much more democratic than given credit for being) and Hitler's imprint of racism on the Nazi party was no part of the fascism articulated by Mussolini. Still, the name stuck and the word has been used to describe far right dictatorships ever since.

Today the word is being thrown around a lot, again. Liberals (as well as libertarians and anarchists) throw the word around on blogs describing right wing governments that aren't quite dictatorships yet but appear to some to be heading in that direction. Conservatives speak in strident tones about 'Islamo-fascism' when they cite causes for 'global terrorism.'

The word comes close to being accurate in the case of the current administration. We were called to fight the 'Global War on Terror' as a nation, pulling together to achieve this overriding national goal. Dissent, reluctance, or concern has been denounced as 'Anti-American' and differing opinions have been pushed out of government circles whenever possible, to be replaced by cronyism and the spoils system. Corporations have been brought into the administration and have become de facto extensions of government policy, or perhaps the government has become a de facto extension of corporate policy. It's not always clear. Central authority, the antithesis of conservatism, has become strengthened under neoconservative rule. We are told that the government and its experts know what is best and that if we all stick together and win the GWOT, then things will be great.

In the case of Islamic extremism, the word is less accurate. While religion can be a powerful tool of fascism, it is not integral to fascism nor is it, in itself, a goal of fascism. The goal of fascism is a strong, streamlined, corporate state working like a machine in the name of prosperity and stability. The goal of Islamic extremism is a return to the days when 'the commander of the faithful' directed an Islamic empire from a position of both political and religious supremacy. Islamic extremists are theocrats, not fascists, and their ideal government system is theocracy, not fascism. Iran's government, as an example, could be called an excellent example of working democracy... were it not for the fact that the religious authorities control the military and the police and can arrest government officials at will. During the liberal presidency of Mohammad Khatami (elected by a huge popular margin, especially among young people eager for reform), government ministers were frequently arrested and imprisoned by the military on orders of the religious leadership. Definitely not fascism, though every bit as bad. Worse than anything happening in the United States right now, as serious as our own problems are made by immediacy.

The antidotes for fascism are already inherent in our constitution. Federalism, the system of checks and balances in the American government, is supposed to prevent any one branch from gaining absolute power. Republicanism, the system under which we elect our leaders and have the power to vote them out when their term ends, allows us to exert control over who makes the important decisions for us. Democracy, the universal adult participation in the voting process, is meant to assure that the government serves the needs and wishes of as many people as possible. They are the things that make us free. Without them the freedom that our current administration wishes to spread to Iraq and Afghanistan means nothing. As citizens, we need to remember that. As our elected representatives, our government needs to remember that.

Fascism only succeeds when enough people buy into it to make it work.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Myth of Global Terrorism

Republican presidential hopeful Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado would like you to believe that someone is already in this country, just waiting for his chance to blow you up, and that only he can save you.

Really. The Mexican border is just letting terrorists in by the bushel. Really.


Interesting how it's never the Canadian border that is discussed in scary tv spots, always the Mexican. Of course, Tancredo's Mexican border paranoia isn't new. He's been obsessed with the issue since before 9/11. The contemporary fear of terrorism and terrorists just allows him to make his pet issue a national security matter.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani says he's best equipped, of all the Republican hopefuls, to win the Global War On Terror and keep you safe. He cites how safe he made you feel on 9/11 and how he 'cleaned up' New York. He promises to continue and improve the Bush administration's police state tactics and assault on human rights in the name of keeping you safe. Police state tactics are nothing new to Giuliani. He used them rigorously in his campaign to 'clean up' New York. There was no terror threat then.

Both Tancredo and Giuliani are using the current obsession with terrorism, in its sixth-going-on-seventh year now, to advance issues which have always been their own obsession. Terrorism allows them to make their issues relevant to you in your mind, whether they really are or not.

They aren't the only ones. Neoconservatives in the Republican Party (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Armitage, and Paul Wolfowitz all come to mind immediately) have advanced a unilateralist-interventionist global policy for years. By imposing American capitalist values on the rest of the world, by force if necessary, they would maintain America's alleged economic dominance and make the world a 'better' and 'safer' place. This plan, including the invasion of Iraq and remaking of the Iraqi government, has existed since the first President Bush decided not to remove Saddam Hussein from power. It wasn't new when the current Bush administration decided to invade Iraq, the obsession with terrorism merely furnished the perfect reason.

'9/11 changed everything.' This is repeated over and over. Except, in most senses, it didn't. The invasion of Iraq wasn't a new idea and had nothing to do with 9/11 or Al-Qaeda no matter how hard the Bush administration worked to convince us it did. The Bush administration's first reaction, in fact, had been to blame Iraq for 9/11. Before any facts were in or any evidence gathered, they put that accusation out in the media because the convenient excuse was suddenly present.

It doesn't stop with Iraq. The 'Patriot Act' included a provision covering 'domestic terrorism' that allowed the government to considerably broaden the definition of terrorism and to label nearly any criminal or dissident a 'terrorist' and violate their civil rights. The same civil rights violations have been practiced by government law enforcement agencies in the drug war and crackdowns on hate groups in the past, but now the 'domestic terrorism' label makes them legal.
There hasn't been a single verifiable act of foreign terrorism on American soil since 9/11. The Bush administration rushes to take credit for this while Bush opponents ignore it and say the administration isn't doing enough. However, there wasn't a single verifiable act of foreign terrorism on American soil before 9/11 either, dating back to the World Trade center bombing in 1993. Before that there weren't any significant, verifiable acts of foreign terrorism on American soil.

This isn't to say that terrorism isn't real, that people don't genuinely hate America, or that the forces of right-wing Islam aren't exerting a dangerous influence on the Muslim world. However, reaction is setting in across the entire world and has been for some time now. Since the 90s, right wing Christianity has steadily grown in strength in the U.S. and Europe. In December of 2001, the leaders of the right wing Jewish Defense League were arrested for allegedly conspiring to blow up a prominent Los Angeles mosque and assassinate an Arab-American congressman. Right wing forces have been gaining strength in Israel since the Oslo Accords in 1993. In a host of other less prominent countries, reactionary passions are enflamed. Most of these forces are clearly not aligned together, and in many cases (right wing Christianity against right wing Islam and right wing Judaism) they are directly opposed.

'Global terrorism' was a convenient label for a multitude of entirely independent and often opposed organizations that range from entirely unrelated governments in Iraq (now defunct), Iran (directly opposed to the Iraqi government), North Korea (certainly a potential threat but never linked to terrorism) to insurgent movements in Indonesia, the Phillipines, and all across Africa and the Middle East to leftists in Latin America angry at the exploitation of their labor markets by American corporations. In a move of supreme cynicism by an administration so outspokenly dedicated to the spreading of 'freedom', the Bush state department included the persecuted Falun Gong sect on the list of 'dangerous terrorist organizations' in order to win the support of China and Chechnyan rebels in order to win the support of Russia. The genocidal right wing Islamic government of Sudan, however, was left off the list. So were the illegal military governments of Myanmar and Nepal, the latter of which took power after a particularly bloody slaughter of the royal family. So were pro-American militias in breakaway regions of Georgia.

'Global terrorism' consists of the political enemies of the United States and of the countries from which the United States wanted support. While terrorism is a real phenomenon and terrorists are real, the 'Global War on Terror' consists of the not-even-half-finished attempt to make a country out of Afghanistan, the botched occupation of Iraq, and a constant bombardment of reminders of how much danger we are in and how much we need the government to have the power to violate our civil rights. That's the only way they can protect us.

Yeah, and some illegal alien in a hooded sweatshirt is going to blow up my local mall.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Does It Matter Who The Front Runners Are?

'The Primaries: Duel to the Death'

- Title, Chapter 4 (The Making of the President 1964, Theodore H. White)

In the very long 2004 campaign for the Democratic nomination a great deal of pressure was placed on candidates considered not to have a 'serious' chance at winning to drop out and endorse the perceived front runner, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont. My personal first voting choice, former Senator Carol Mosely Braun of Illinois, succumbed to these pressures and did indeed drop out and endorse Dean. It was a foregone conclusion in everyone's mind, up until the actual moment the results of the Iowa caucuses came in, that Dean would be the nominee. The DNC was already planning his campaign against George W. Bush and everyone thought he was guaranteed victory. Likely, someone was already planning the inauguration ceremony. Certainly, for much of 2003, Dean was seen by nearly everyone but his opponents as the obvious Democratic nominee and by many as the future president.

Then a funny thing happened. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts won in Iowa and Former House Majority Leader and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri came in second. In New Hampshire, then still the first primary of the election, Kerry won again. Though it was some time before he officially dropped out of the race, the chief contenders for the Democratic nomination soon became Kerry and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. Dean was stuck in third place, and while it was a competitive third place it was fairly clear that he was not going to be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. I can't help but wonder how Carol Mosely Braun felt about having "done the right thing for the party" after it became clear that the party's voters had their own ideas.

Right now, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York is the perceived front runner in the Democratic campaign. Media attention is given her nearest rivals, Edwards and Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Interesting and intelligent candidates Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and Governor Bill Richardson are given less media coverage and labeled "second tier." All three have more experience than Clinton, Edwards, or Obama and Biden and Richardson (formerly the US ambassador to the UN) have foreign policy experience that all of the other candidates sorely lack. They deserve attention they aren't getting because of Clinton's perceived status as the presumptive nominee and Edwards' and Obama's perceived status as her nearest rivals. The two candidates who most offer genuine change to the American people if actually elected president, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska, are ignored entirely, dismissed as "fringe candidates", or treated as jokes.

I can't help but wonder how long it will be before pressure is exerted against the other candidates (particularly the "second tier" and "fringe" candidates) to drop out and endorse Clinton. I can't help but wonder who among the Democratic field will do so. Richardson is a good bet, despite his interesting ideas and significant experience in foreign policy, due to the fact that it was President Bill Clinton who appointed him to the positions of Ambassador to the U.N. and Secretary of Energy. I find Richardson's energy policy proposals interesting and I want to hear more of his ideas, so I would regret this. Gravel is also a possible target for "get out and endorse Hillary" pressure. He hasn't been in office since the 1970s and is in his 70s. Most Americans of my generation don't know anything about his reading excerpts from "The Pentagon Papers" into the Senate record during the Vietnam War, so he sadly lacks political relevance despite having the strongest anti-war chops in an anti-war field for the nomination of an anti-war party. He's already protested one war, pretty successfully. This is his second. I'd say he has more credibility than Hillary, who voted for the Iraq war resolution and whose explanation of that vote lacks resonance and credibility to me. Kucinich won't drop out. He stuck it out until the bitter end in '04 and I expect the same from him now, and I'm glad. He offers a consistently sincere voice for radical change in American policy and a genuine moral compass many Democratic candidates have lacked in the past.

Gravel and Kucinich almost certainly won't be nominated, which is a shame. They offer the most sweepingly radical platforms among the Democratic field. Biden and Dodd have had trouble getting much notice thus far, they aren't as exciting as the three leaders. Richardson has done a little better. The question is this: could Edwards, Obama, or Richardson surprise us all the way Kerry did in 2004? Does all of the ballyhoo about Clinton's front runner status really mean anything?

In 1964 the Barry Goldwater campaign had already gained commitments from all the delegates well in advance of the Republican convention. His primary opponent, Nelson Rockefeller, might have been able to upset Goldwater if he had won all fifteen of the primaries that existed in that era. When Goldwater, mortally wounded and not even knowing it, emerged from the round of primary voting with a Pyrrhic victory over Rockefeller it was too late for emergency alternative Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania to gain traction and carry the day for the then moderate-to-liberal Republican base.

Today the primaries determine everything. Dean was a lock. Everyone said so. Bang. He was politically dead. Could there be a magic bullet waiting to kill Hillary Clinton's candidacy? Bill Clinton came out of nearly nowhere to win the nomination in 1992. Could Biden, Dodd, Gravel, Richardson, or Kucinich do the same now? Can Edwards or Obama win an early upset and ride that momentum to party victory the way Kerry did in 2004?

I believe the attention given to the perceived front runners in both parties (Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani) and their nearest rivals (Edwards and Obama for Clinton, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, and Senator John McCain of Arizona) distracts the public from the fact that there are five other national candidates running against the Democratic front runners and another five running against the Republican front runners. By giving them less coverage or slanting that coverage to cast doubt on their chances, the media gives them a stiff handicap that they don't need running against bigger names.

I'll be honest. I don't want either Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani to be president. The Republican alternatives to Giuliani, with the possible exception of McCain (who is at least against torture and the maintenance of an unconstitutional prison at Guantanamo Bay) or Congressman Ron Paul of Texas (who is at least against torture, Guantanamo Bay, the Patriot Act, and the war in Iraq), are even worse. The only candidates who completely agree with me on the national security issues are Gravel, Kucinich, and Paul. They are the only three candidates who are against the Patriot Act, torture, illegal detention in unconstitutional prisons, and our occupation of Iraq. Obama sounds too much like a Republican to me, and he always has. That was my objection to Edwards in 2004, but he has moved solidly to his left now. Biden, Dodd, and Richardson have more government experience than any of their Democratic opponents and Biden and Richardson more foreign policy experience than anyone else in the race on either side.

Does it matter who the front runners are? I hope not, but I'm not certain the alternatives are any better. My dream is Gravel vs. Paul or Kucinich vs. Paul. Either would be the best presidential race the country has seen in years. Sadly, the chances are slim.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Did The Founding Fathers Know?

The U.S. House of Representatives, in a gesture empty of all but symbolic meaning, has passed a $50 billion war funding bill that is a direct shot at the White House. It would set timetables for bringing troops home, requires the White House to certify to Congress that a unit is 'fully mission capable' 15 days before the unit goes onto the line, and require all government interrogators (including other branches of service and civilian interrogators such as CIA officers) to use the guidelines in the Army Field Manual. The last is nearly as big a sticking point with the White House, it would appear, as the timetable for troop withdrawals. You see, the Army Field Manual's rules for interrogations are based on the Geneva Convention and specifically forbid torture of any kind. In 2006 the manual was updated to specifically forbid 'aggressive interrogation techniques' that the White House insisted were not torture, like water-boarding. Now, John McCain thinks water-boarding is torture and he's someone who has some experience in that area so I trust his judgement. Considering the widely differing war records of Senator McCain and President Bush, I consider McCain the greater authority on this matter.

The White House said, in its official response to the passage of the bill, that the Geneva Conventions should not apply to "captured terrorists who openly flout the law."The phrase "who openly flout the law" makes it sound like the White House wants to pass the capture of Iraqi guerillas off as a law enforcement matter instead of recognizing them as prisoners of war. Let's forget for a moment that the U.S. military invaded and is occupying Iraq and that, while the White House officially claims the Iraq war is over and this is merely the 'mopping up', the Iraqis and foreign jihadists fighting the United States military certainly believe they are at war. Let's say that this is a police action and that the jihadists are criminals. If we accept this argument, then the White House is correct and the Geneva Convention doesn't apply. Instead, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids the military from participating directly in "search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity unless participation in said activity is otherwise authorized by law." When the U.S. Army occupied Japan and Germany after WWII, the occupation authority set up separate police forces authorized directly by Congress. If the fighting of insurgents in Iraq is truly a law enforcement matter, then the government should do the same now. Due process, habeas corpus, and other basic law enforcement practices should be followed. Prisoners would be suspects innocent until proven guilty rather than "captured terrorists who openly flout the law." If this is not done, if the current guerilla actions in Iraq are a military matter, then Iraqi insurgents are prisoners of war and the Geneva Convention applies. The White House would like to create a shadowy middle ground, exclusively for those they label terrorists, in which they can do as they please with no consequences.

Neither the Geneva Convention nor the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 existed during the American Revolution. Yet the military occupation of the colonies by the British army, the use of the British army as a police force to politically control the populace, illegal search, seizure, and arrest by the British army, and the suppression of public protests by the British army were all explicit grievances of the Founding Fathers. Protection from illegal search, seizure, and arrest, protection from self-incrimination, and the right to legal representation were all specifically envisioned by the Founding Fathers and enshrined in our Constitution.

Stop, you say. We're not talking about the United States, we're talking about Iraq. These aren't American citizens. They don't have constitutional rights.

We are, according to Giovindini Murty (co-founder of the Liberty Film Festival, columnist, and Fox News Expert Interviewee), "a just America spreading freedom overseas." A just America spreading freedom overseas would start by spreading the rights Americans enjoy under the U.S. Constitution. They would start by obeying the treaties they had signed, such as the Geneva Convention, and by following their own laws, such as the Posse Comitatus Act. They would act with integrity, justice, and mercy toward their friends and their foes in order to bravely spread the ideals of a free and pluralist society.

Maybe the White House thinks the Founding Fathers were full of crap.

What Do I Mean By 'Radical'?

Merriam-Webster has a very lengthy defintion of the word radical as an adjective and another as a noun. The definitions most applicable in the political sense follow.

radical, adjective - 3. a: Marked by a considerable departure from the usual or traditional b: tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c: of, relating to, or constituting a political group associated with views, practices, and policies of extreme change d: advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.

raidcal, noun - 3. One who is radical.

Let's start with a. Do I depart considerably from the usual or traditional? That's a complicated question. There are certainly American traditions for which I have a great deal of respect. The right to vote, the right of individuals to freely own property, free speech, a free and independent press, equality of all citizens under the law, separation of church and state, and representative republican government. On the other hand, I believe that the right of individual economic freedom is not the same as allowing powerful corporate entities to run amok with minimal consequences. A free and independent press is not a bloated media machine drunk on its own power to make or destroy public figures. Equality of all citizens under the law has to mean equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, religion, political views, sexual orientation, economic condition, or police record or the words are empty and the meaning of the word 'citizen' cannot be warped to mean what the government wishes it to mean. We are all citizens of the world. Separation of church and state should be real enough to prevent a religious faction from imposing its moral values on the legal process and persecuting those with different beliefs by forcing them to adhere to its religious law.

b: tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions

Damn right. The United States (and the world for that matter) has serious issues that need to be dealt with directly and courageously and the existing views, habits, conditions, and institutions are not able to do so. The most obvious culprit is the Republican Party with its muscular attempt to turn the American political clock back to the late 1940s and early 1950s so we can once again enjoy a Golden Age of moral American culture and global American supremacy that really only ever existed in their minds. In the process, they would disenfranchise all who oppose them to whatever degree they can manage. The religious right is a big part of the current power bloc of the Republican Party and obviously their weight with many Christians is a great source of Republican political power. However, the Democratic Party has to share the blame at least equally. While Republicans are unable or unwilling to prevent rational solutions to America's problems, and in many cases unable even to admit those problems exist, Democrats cling desperately to their own supposedly glorious past instead of seeking to find this generation's New Deal, New Frontier, or Great Society. We need new thinking, ideas, and programs of our own, and they needs to be genuinely new. We need to examine our current thinking, ideas, and programs and abandon what has failed, improve what could be more successful, and keep what works. We need to accept that other nations have made more progress in solving some problems than we ourselves have and use what we can gain from their successes while learning what we can from their failures.

c: of, relating to, or constituting a political group associated with views, practices, and policies of extreme change

I wish. At the moment, no such viable political group exists. I am a registered Democrat, but I recognize the deep flaws in the Democratic Party. I was once a registered Republican, but left because I found their evolving philosophy of Christian supremacy, corporate exploitation and trampling of the very 'individual rights' they claim to support over 'group rights', and neoconservative global ambition disconcerting to say the least. At the same time, America's two party system is so entrenched that there may not be a way create such a political group unless one of the two major political parties genuinely recognizes the need for extreme change and seriously embraces the concept of working to reach the American ideal rather than clinging to its illusion in one form or another.

d: advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.

Clearly not. That's the whole point. We need serious changes in the political state of affairs.

I fit two and a half of the subsets of this definition, then. Fitting those criteria I also meet with the definition of 'radical' as a noun: one who is radical.

Perhaps, if you take a good look at our country and the world, you'll find you are far more radical than you ever believed you could be.

Monday, November 12, 2007

'None Dare Call It Treason' Pt. II

'If Tokyo Rose were alive today, she wouldn't get jail time - she'd get a three picture deal.'

-Govindini Murty

My last little essay was about the parallels between the GWOT and the Red Scare of the early Cold War, specifically pointing out a truck sized hole in the web of patriotism and fear being woven by neo-conservatives. I said that the Plame Wilson outing was very close to treasonable, if not an open act of treason, and that under very different circumstances it would have been called such by the very people responsible for it. In this little rant I'm going to comment on the parallel between the GWOT and the Red Scare once again.

The quote above is from the following opinion column in the New York Daily News:

The author is co-founder of the 'Liberty Film Festival', which itself sponsors the blog 'Libertas', which is described in its header as 'a forum for conservative thought on film.' The blog is an interesting combination of nostalgia for Hollywood's 'lost greatness' and typical neo-conserative pseudo-patriotic pro-war ballyhoo and the usual potshots that neo-cons take at those who disagree with them. The general consensus opinion of the posters appears to be that Hollywood is evil and anti-American. This isn't a new idea. During the Red Scare, also a significant part of the period of the same Hollywood greatness to which they pay tribute, Hollywood was accused of being evil, anti-American, and subversive in the cause of Communism. Now, apparently, Hollywood liberals are on the side of the terrorists. Apparently, if you have a point to prove and a right wing slant, you can always score points by giving Hollywood a good pimp-slap.

Now, I actually happen to agree with one of the major arguments of Libertas' posters. The quality of the bulk of the movies coming out of Hollywood is not particularly high. However, I'll let them in on a secret. It never has been. Great movies are declared great by history, not by the era in which they first screened. 'Citizen Kane' bombed at the box office. So did quite a few other movies now considered all time greats. On the other hand, musicals starring ice skater Sonja Henie and swimmer Esther Williams made fortunes despite being incredibly bad. In our own era we have garbage like the Saw and Hostel franchises and disappointments like the mediocre (The Bourne Identity)-to-trash (The Bourne Supremacy) movies based on the highly entertaining and exciting (if not literarily profound) classic thrillers by Robert Ludlum. Great movies were rare in the 'golden age of Hollywood' and they are rare now. That's how Hollywood has always been and how it always will be.

That said, I can't help but remember the investigations of Hollywood during the Red Scare and the condemnation of the victims of these investigations in the media and in Washington. Ironically, one of the victims of this witch-hunt, screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo, was the writer of patriotic war movies such as 'A Guy Named Joe' and 'Thirty Seconds over Tokyo'. But his movie 'Tender Comrade' was labeled as Communist propaganda (it was about communal living on the homefront during WWII, and had no connection to 'Communism' in the Soviet sense) and he went to jail for just under a year.

Of course, in this modern society, an actual witch-hunt against Hollywood on a HUAC scale is unlikely. Still, the efforts of neo-conservative 'patriots' to dredge up a war against Hollywood and the 'liberal' media in their own political press and media represents the same paranoia on a lower scale of intensity. Anti-war idealism is equated with anti-Americanism and a lack of patriotism and all those who oppose their 'crusade' (in the words of President Bush) to Americanize the Muslim world are 'America bashers'. There are truths about war and peace that should always be told and remembered and truths about this particular war that need to be told.

The following is offered in the name of truth:

There was no Tokyo Rose. Tokyo Rose was the invention of the American wartime propaganda machine. There were some twenty anonymous female broadcasters of Japanese propaganda in English during the war. None of them used the name 'Tokyo Rose' in broadcasts. The woman convicted of treason for the non-existent 'Tokyo Rose broadcasts' was Iva Toguri D'Aquino, a Japanese American visiting family in Japan at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack and subsequently trapped in Japan. When she refused to renounce her American citizenship, she was treated by the Japanese as an enemy alien and denied a war ration card. To support herself she went to work as an announcer on a Japanese radio program called 'The Zero Hour' and used the names 'Ann' and 'Orphan Ann' in broadcasts. She refused to broadcast anti-Allied propaganda and the American POWs forced to produce the radio program kept such propaganda out of her broadcasts.

After the war, she was investigated by both the FBI and US Army Intelligence and released. No evidence that she had broadcast Japanese propaganda was ever found. When she applied to return to the US so her child could be born on American soil, Walter Winchell lobbied against her and accused her of being 'Tokyo Rose'. While waiting for a visa her child was born and then died, and soon after she was brought back to the United States and charged formally with treason largely due to the publicity created by Walter Winchell's smear campaign. D'Aquino served six years of her ten year sentence and moved to Chicago after her release. A reporter for the Chicago Tribune, Ron Yates, identified her in Chicago and his investigation of her trial and conviction revealed that the two most damaging witnesses against her had lied under oath due to coercion by the FBI and the U.S. occupation forces. In 1977, she was pardoned by President Gerald Ford.

A three picture deal would go a long way toward redressing this injustice. Unfortunately, Mrs. D'Aquino died in 2006.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

'None Dare Call It Treason'

I was watching last week's Bill Maher again and something really hit home for me.

Back during the 1950s, during the infamous Red Scare, distinguished experts in all branches of the government and many areas of the media were called on the carpet for their alleged Communist ties and for suspicion of espionage and even treason related to those Communist ties. Joe McCarthy, a minor senator from Wisconsin whose career was entirely undistinguished before the Red Scare, rode this tide of suspicion to fame and acclaim before it finally discredited him and in many ways was responsible for much of it. There were, it should be noted, real Communist spies during this period and during the immediate post-war period. The problem is that very few of those accused by McCarthy were those real spies.

The point is this: during the Red Scare, every emphasis was put on defense and national security. Most notably, this period led to the rapid expansion of the CIA under Dwight Eisenhower and CIA director Allen Dulles. This was considered essential for national security, an argument still considered debatable in many quarters and which I could argue for or against (or even perhaps write both sides of the argument) at length in another post.

Today, in the form of the Global War On Terror of the Bush administration, we experience our own version of the Red Scare. Where, during the 50s, liberal politicians and those opposed to the growth of the military industrial complex (which Eisenhower himself warned our nation about in his last presidential speech) were labeled 'soft on Communism' or even outright Communism themselves they are now labeled as 'soft on terrorism' or 'unpatriotic' when they oppose the war in Iraq or the reckless foreign policy of the Bush administration.

That said, the most serious 'treason' of the GWOT has been committed by the Bush administration.

We're talking about the Republican party. The people who, under Reagan, put the CIA back in business. The people who, under George W. Bush, have made it more powerful than it's been since the days of Allen Dulles. The tough guys, the patriots, who preach national security and 'let's go get 'em' with righteous fervor.

Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson were on Bill Maher on 11/2. Rather than appearing via satellite feed or via prerecorded interview, they appeared live on the stage before the panel. The purpose was to plug Valerie Plame Wilson's new book, but of course much comment was made on her outing as a CIA officer by key members of the Bush administration. These are the people who score their big points selling us that they will make us safe, but they deliberately and maliciously blew the cover of a CIA officer whose job was to investigate Ira's nuclear program. The very nuclear program they were supposedly so dead centered on quashing. Why? Because her husband had investigated alleged purchases of uranium in Niger by the Iraqis and came back saying said transactions did not appear to be happening or to have happened, that the reports were false. Thus unfolded the drama.

I'm not going to recount all of that drama here. It's gone round and round again in the media and on the talking head shows. What I'm going to talk about is how small a deal this appears to be to everyone.

Despite being a registered Democrat, I don't have a lot of respect for the Democratic party. They veer repeatedly to the center, run away from their own principles in every presidential election, and cave in to Republicans every time the GOP raises its voice. Worse than that, however, is their unwillingness to call the administration on its worst excesses. Criminal mismanagement of the crisis in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has been swept under the rug. The fact that the war in Iraq appears to be a combination of Bush's personal grudge against the country on his father's behalf, the desire of the neoconservative branch of the GOP to test their theory that a country like Iraq could be remade in the image of the US, and the desire of the 'pro-business' faction of the same party to subsidize 'security contractors' that are essentially mercernaries. The Plame Wilson outing.

The Plame Wilson outing strikes me the hardest because it is exactly the sort of thing that would have Republicans screaming if a Democratic administration had done it. It is the sort of thing that would have all Americans outraged if officials of any presidential administration of either party had sat around the table with a Russian or Chinese or even French journalist and sold out a covert CIA officer. Yet the Democratic party has largely ignored the issue, save for a brief flare up by the usual anti-war activists when the incident first occurred. It is a serious argument for a massive criminal investigation of the Bush administration, and yet the Democratic Congress has ignored it since being elected. Despite the fact that some of these congressmen and congresswomen campaigned on promises to impeach Bush. 'Cooler heads' have prevailed in the interest of 'achieving Democratic goals working with the President.' As if this president has any interest in helping this Congress achieve Democratic goals.

None dare call it treason, indeed.

The question is, who are the worst traitors? The corrupt administration that sold one of their own down the river to advance their political cause or their frightened opponents who are unwilling to take the steps necessary to right the wrongs committed by this corrupt, criminal administration?

The Wrong Kind of Radical

It's actually embarassing, after labeling myself a radical, to make a post that will be taken by most as moderate. Still, I feel strongly about it and have to make comment. I just can't let it pass. So everyone knows what all the fuss is about, read this first:;_ylt=AvJmXsLeHHdFVTlc5an6XI.yFz4D

Once you've read that, tell me if you're also wondering whether some people in the U.S. Congress want to start World War III. I am entirely in favor, mind you, of proper independence and free republican elections for Taiwan and Tibet. All the same, foreign policy is a delicate art and one of the old rules of that art is 'one crisis at a time.' Bush meeting with the Dalai Lama officially and publically already had to make China unhappy. If this bill were to be passed (and while I don't believe it possible in this Congress, it could very well be brought back by a future Congress) then it would be straight-forwardly challenging the People's Republic of China to a game of paper-rock-scissors in the Taiwan straights and this game would have potentially nuclear consequences. I don't believe that Bush is in favor of this, he's on record as warning Taiwan not to push right now.

There is a long, unpleasant history here and that history should be carefully studied and clearly understood when considering any action in this region. The corrupt and dictatorial regime of Chiang Kai-Shek fought a civil war against equally corrupt Communist revolutionaries under Mao Tse Tung. The best example of the ambition and selfishness of both would-be leaders of China was during the Japanese invasion of China that preceded and lasted through WWII. Both Mao and Chiang received Lend-Lease aid from the United States in order to fight Japan and both sides continued to focus their efforts on fighting their own civil war even as the Japanese army brutalized their people. Chiang was defeated and retreated to the island of Formosa, present Taiwan, and declared himself still the rightful leader of the Republic of China where the United States propped him up in its efforts to 'fight global Communism.' Mao became as dictatorial as Chiang had been after his declaration of the People's Republic of China. The Chinese people suffered, regardless of the 'republic' in which they lived. Until the early 70s, both governments proclaimed they were the only legitimate government of China and Taiwan had the 'Chinese' seat at the UN. In the early 70s, the PRC took the seat and the ROC (Taiwan) lost it. Mao and Chiang were succeeded by collegial ruling groups no longer autocratic but every bit as repressive. In fact, until 1987, Taiwan was under martial law with the army serving as the police force. Hardly a 'republic'.

Since 1987, the government of Taiwan (always capitalist) has become slowly more representative. During roughly the same period of time, China's economy has become slowly more capitalist. Taiwan no longer claims to be the legitimate government of China and now seeks its own recognition and independence as a nation. China is diametrically opposed to this, their policy is that Taiwan is a Chinese province. US support for Taiwan has carefully avoided either recognizing Taiwan as an independent country in its own right or recognizing China's claims to rule the island. The US has walked a high wire, agreeing that Taiwan is part of China but defending the island's autonomy.

This bill, if passed, would end that and openly recognize an independent Taiwan. Such recognition might very well be a worthy goal, but at this point it means nothing unless backed by military action. I don't see even the Bush administration starting a war in the Taiwan straights, certainly not while fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. So even if Congress were to pass the law at this time, it would serve no purpose but to slap China in the face for no concrete gain. Some pragmatism is required in foreign policy, and this is anything but pragmatic.

If we really want to anger China, why not do something constructive like intervening in Darfur (China buys oil from Sudan, and their opposition is the major bar to UN or NATO action in Darfur) or tightening the legal restrictions on American business shipping its labor costs to China? Wouldn't either of those choices actually accomplish something, if we're not concerned with hurting China's feelings?

On the other hand, if China's reaction is important to us, then we shouldn't be pissing them off over Taiwan independence and shake a very insecure status quo that could turn into war at any moment.

Either way, whether China's reaction is important to us or not, this action is simply stupid.