Tag Archives: history

September 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • Fueled by supercharged sea temperatures, the 2017 hurricane season was a terrible, terrible season for hurricanes devastating coastal regions of the United States. One reason is that these storms not only were powerful and hit densely populated areas, but they set records for rapid intensification. Beyond all the human suffering, one thing I find disturbing is that I feel desensitized at this point when I think back to how I felt after Hurricane Katrina. The first major city destroyed is a shock, but later you get numb to it if you are not actually there. Then finally, a remote island territory is all but wiped out in what should be shocking fashion, and the public and government response is decidedly muted. This is what the age of climate change and weapons proliferation might be like, a long, slow process of shifting baselines where the unthinkable becomes thinkable over time.
  • In a story that U.S. media didn’t seem to pick up, China seemed to make a statement in its  official state-run media that it would defend North Korea in case of an unprovoked attack by the U.S. and its allies. John Bolton  and Lindsey Graham made comments suggesting they think any number of Korean dead would be a price worth paying for an unprovoked U.S. attack. The Trump administration is openly using Nazi propaganda.
  • During the Vietnam War the United States dropped approximately twice as many tons of bombs in Southeast Asia as the Allied forces combined used against both Germany and Japan in World War II. After the Cold War finally ended, Mikhail Gorbachev made some good suggestions for how to achieve a lasting peace. They were ignored. We may be witnessing the decline of the American Empire as a result.

Most hopeful stories:

  • It’s possible that a universal basic income could save the U.S. government money by replacing less efficient assistance programs.
  • There are also workable proposals for a U.S. single-payer health insurance program, although this one would somewhat obviously mean the government spending more money, which it would have to collect in taxes. People would come out ahead financially if the taxes were less than the premiums they are paying now, which doesn’t seem that hard, but of course this is politically tough given the incredibly effective propaganda the finance industry has used to kill the idea for the last 50 years.
  • Utility-scale solar energy cost dropped 30% in one year.

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • The FDA has approved formal trials of Ecstasy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • I learned that the OECD Science, Technology and Innovation Outlook named “ten key emerging technology trends”: The Internet of Things, Big data analytics, Artificial intelligence, Neurotechnologies, Nano/microsatellites, Nanomaterials, Additive manufacturing / 3D printing, Advanced energy storage technologies, Synthetic biology, Blockchain
  • In automation news, Tesla is testing automated truck platoons. And there’s a site that will try to predict whether robots will take your job.

rise of fascism in the U.S.?

Openly fascist attitudes are undoubtedly more visible in the media and on the street over the past year or so. I have been reading the headlines, but hadn’t seen a whole lot of photos or footage until recently. What I see now that I am looking, for example in this video and article from The Intercept, is pretty shocking. It definitely has echos of semi-official street gangs that did the bidding of Hitler and Mussolini early on, with the government not yet openly involved in the violence but choosing to look the other way. The next step after this is traditional elites outside the government, like business, organized labor and organized religion, choosing to align themselves with what they perceive as the winning side, because they think that will lead to the largest personal gain. Eventually, all these groups unite based on a narrative of internal and/or external enemies, agree that the threat is great enough to abandon traditional political institutions, and our republic is no more.

Or not. We seem to have taken some steps down this slippery slope of an openly fascist movement with significant popular support, and some government, business, and political elites looking the other way. We can hope that the right wing movement isn’t actually growing in membership but is simply more visible and emboldened by events over the past few years. One thing on the side of the republic is simple demographics – outside of an absolute fascist state taking power by sheer force, the angry white men do not have the numbers to dominate the rest of our society. I think that may be the case, but it is not safe to count on it. The vast majority of reasonable people need to resist, not through violence because that only fans the flames, but by taking full advantage of our still semi-functional political system to get this thing under control. That means actively recruiting and supporting rational politicians, fighting for a system where one person gets one vote and money gets no votes, and nonviolent protest actions if and when it becomes clear that is the only thing that can get the attention of our politicians and elites.

Trump’s Russian Laundromat

The New Republic has a long history of Trump’s ties to Russian mobsters. At the absolute minimum, he is guilty of taking their money and not asking any questions.

The very nature of Trump’s businesses—all of which are privately held, with few reporting requirements—makes it difficult to root out the truth about his financial deals. And the world of Russian oligarchs and organized crime, by design, is shadowy and labyrinthine. For the past three decades, state and federal investigators, as well as some of America’s best investigative journalists, have sifted through mountains of real estate records, tax filings, civil lawsuits, criminal cases, and FBI and Interpol reports, unearthing ties between Trump and Russian mobsters like Mogilevich. To date, no one has documented that Trump was even aware of any suspicious entanglements in his far-flung businesses, let alone that he was directly compromised by the Russian mafia or the corrupt oligarchs who are closely allied with the Kremlin. So far, when it comes to Trump’s ties to Russia, there is no smoking gun.

But even without an investigation by Congress or a special prosecutor, there is much we already know about the president’s debt to Russia. A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money. Some ran a worldwide high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower—in a unit directly below one owned by Trump. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics. “They saved his bacon,” says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration who investigated ties between organized crime and Trump’s developments in the 1980s.

It’s entirely possible that Trump was never more than a convenient patsy for Russian oligarchs and mobsters, with his casinos and condos providing easy pass-throughs for their illicit riches. At the very least, with his constant need for new infusions of cash and his well-documented troubles with creditors, Trump made an easy “mark” for anyone looking to launder money. But whatever his knowledge about the source of his wealth, the public record makes clear that Trump built his business empire in no small part with a lot of dirty money from a lot of dirty Russians—including the dirtiest and most feared of them all.

Congo

This disturbing article in The Week reminds us that there is still a nasty war going on in Congo, and that part of the driver is fighting over minerals used to make smart phones.

A brutal civil war in Congo has displaced more people in the past year than the wars in Syria and Iraq…

The government of President Joseph Kabila appears to be behind some of the atrocities. After the rebel faction Kamuina Nsapu rose up last fall against Kabila’s government, both the Congolese army and the rebels engaged in atrocities. But the most horrific attacks in recent months have been the work of a new militia, Bana Mura, which the U.N. says was created and armed by Kabila’s government. Bana Mura militants, of a different ethnic group than the Kamwina Nsapu, have slaughtered whole villages, going door-to-door and killing everyone they found — babies, parents, grandparents…

Impoverished Congo has $24 trillion worth of mineral wealth in the ground, including cobalt, diamonds, gold, and coltan — a highly valuable ore containing the heat-resistant element tantalum, used to make the circuit boards in smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices. The proceeds, often made off child labor, fund the rebel factions and the Congolese military — much as “blood diamonds” did in Sierra Leone. U.S. companies participate indirectly, by buying tantalum and circuit boards, and directly, by investing in Congolese mining: Just last year, U.S. hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management was hit with a record fine of $412 million for bribing Kabila for mineral concessions.

 

Saudi Arabia and Qatar

Here is a professor of Middle East history at UCLA explaining some of the history between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The Saudi-Qatari quarrel can be traced to back to the conquests that led to the founding of Saudi Arabia in 1932. Only the fact that Qatar was a British protectorate at that time dissuaded the emerging Saudi state from swallowing up the small spit of land on which Qatar is situated.

In the years following Qatari independence in 1971, Qatar and Saudi Arabia quarreled over boundaries. Qatar also struck out on its own in foreign affairs in an effort to wriggle out from under the thumb of its neighbor.

Then, in 1995, Sheikh Tammin bin Hamad, the current ruler of Qatar, took power from his father in a coup d’état. Monarchs in Saudi Arabia and the UAE viewed the coup as a dangerous precedent and plotted a countercoup. The sheikh was to be assassinated. Tammin caught wind of the plot and crushed it, but the bad blood remained.

Fast forward to 2010-11. During the Arab uprisings, Saudi Arabia and Qatar again found themselves at loggerheads. Qatar became a cheerleader for the uprisings through its news empire, al-Jazeera, and through financial and even military assistance to a number of opposition movements. Saudi Arabia became the epicenter of the counter-revolution.

The Allure of Battle

This is a new book arguing that winning battles is not enough to win a war. From Amazon:

History has tended to measure war’s winners and losers in terms of its major engagements, battles in which the result was so clear-cut that they could be considered “decisive.” Cannae, Konigsberg, Austerlitz, Midway, Agincourt-all resonate in the literature of war and in our imaginations as tide-turning. But these legendary battles may or may not have determined the final outcome of the wars in which they were fought. Nor has the “genius” of the so-called Great Captains – from Alexander the Great to Frederick the Great and Napoleon – play a major role. Wars are decided in other ways.

Cathal J. Nolan’s The Allure of Battle systematically and engrossingly examines the great battles, tracing what he calls “short-war thinking,” the hope that victory might be swift and wars brief. As he proves persuasively, however, such has almost never been the case. Even the major engagements have mainly contributed to victory or defeat by accelerating the erosion of the other side’s defences. Massive conflicts, the so-called “people’s wars,” beginning with Napoleon and continuing until 1945, have consisted of and been determined by prolonged stalemate and attrition, industrial wars in which the determining factor has been not military but matériel.

Nolan’s masterful book places battles squarely and mercilessly within the context of the wider conflict in which they took place. In the process it help corrects a distorted view of battle’s role in war, replacing popular images of the “battles of annihilation” with somber appreciation of the commitments and human sacrifices made throughout centuries of war particularly among the Great Powers. Accessible, provocative, exhaustive, and illuminating, The Allure of Battle will spark fresh debate about the history and conduct of warfare.

U.S. a “flawed democracy”

The Economist Intelligence Unit has downgraded the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy”.

According to the 2016 Democracy Index almost one-half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies of some sort, but the number of “full democracies” has declined from 20 in 2015 to 19 in 2016. The US has been downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” because of a further erosion of trust in government and elected officials there.

The “democratic recession” worsened in 2016, when no region experienced an improvement in its average score and almost twice as many countries (72) recorded a decline in their total score as recorded an improvement (38). Eastern Europe experienced the most severe regression. The 2016 Democracy Index report, Revenge of the “deplorables”, examines the deep roots of today’s crisis of democracy in the developed world, and looks at how democracy fared in every region.

Last time I thought about this I thought the U.S. was a republic. A flawed one, perhaps. Is this the end of the U.S. Republic, or just a hiatus? Who gets to decide? The Economist Intelligence Unit? Where was the Economist Intelligence Unit the day the Roman Republic ended? Did it end in a day, or was it a long slow slide that historians were only able to pinpoint later?

The Plot to Kill King

William Pepper, a lawyer who has investigated the King and RFK assassinations in detail, has a new(ish) book called The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Pepper represented the King family in a civil suit. From Wikipedia:

Following Ray’s death, Pepper represented the King family in a wrongful deathlawsuit, “King family vs. Loyd Jowers and other unknown co-conspirators”. During a trial that lasted four weeks, Pepper produced over seventy witnesses. Jowers, testifying by deposition, stated that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat and not involved in the assassination. Jowers testified that Memphis police officer Earl Clark fired the fatal shots. On December 8, 1999, the Memphis jury found Jowers responsible, and also found that the assassination plot included “governmental agencies.” The jury took less than an hour to find in favor of the King family for the requested sum of $100.

Perhaps the most disturbing claim in Pepper’s book is this (from an interview he gave to globalresearch.ca):

The hospital story was told to Pepper by a man named Johnton Shelby, whose mother, Lula Mae Shelby, had been a surgical aide at St. Joseph’s that night. Shelby told Pepper the story of how his mother came home the morning after the shooting (she hadn’t been allowed to go home the night before) and gathered the family together. He remembers her saying to them, “I can’t believe they took his life.”

She described chief of surgery Dr. Breen Bland entering the emergency room with two men in suits. Seeing doctors working on King, Bland commanded, “Stop working on the nigger and let him die! Now, all of you get out of here, right now. Everybody get out.”

Johnton Shelby says his mother described hearing the sound of the three men sucking up saliva into their mouths and then spitting. Lula Mae described to her family that she looked over her shoulder as she was leaving the room and saw that the breathing tube had been removed from King and that Bland was holding a pillow over his head. (The book contains the entire deposition given by Johnton Shelby to Pepper, so readers can judge for themselves whether they think Shelby is credible – as Pepper believes he is.)

Hiroshima

Should the U.S. apologize for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima? Certainly the Japanese government of the time committed horrible atrocities, but I still think dropping the bomb was a mistake, and not coming to terms with what we did leads to a callous attitude toward the dangers of our (much larger, much more powerful, in many more hands) nuclear weapons almost 70 years later.

Even if you have never been to the place, you know the place. The mountains that form the background in all the old photos are still backstopping the city. A lot of newer, tall buildings now, but the Ota River delta, where thousands drowned trying to cool their bodies and extinguish their burning flesh, is right there. You’ve seen the pictures. Most of the bridges and streets were rebuild [sic] right where they’d been before the Bomb. Same for most public buildings. You could see where you were in 2017 and where you would have been in 1945 because they are the same place…

Outside of Japan, most people feel the Japanese government has yet to fully acknowledge its aggressiveness in plunging East Asia into war. Indeed, the museum inside the Peace Park has been chastised as focusing almost exclusively on a single day, out of a war that began over a decade earlier and claimed millions of innocent lives before the bomb fell on August 6, 1945. The criticism is particularly sharp, given the rise in militarism occurring under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Now, as in decades past, China watches to see what Japan will do with its armed forces…

There are others with things to atone for, and much to reconcile. The U.S. remains unrepentant. It was only on the 60th anniversary of the bomb that the first American ambassador came to Hiroshima on an August 6th morning to pay respects. There has never been an apology for the first use of a nuclear weapon, and against a civilian target at that. Ask most Americans about the bombing, and it would be surprising not to hear the phrase “they deserved it.” A few elderly survivors with disfiguring burns still suffer today. Yet there is not enough vengeance for some, even seven decades later.

– See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165741#sthash.Ii0iS7fh.dpuf