Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

Feminist Vegan Restaurant Closes

October 3, 2019

Here is a wacky story from Down Under.

A lesbian-owned, vegan restaurant that charged an 18% “man tax” has closed its doors after less than two years of business in BrunswickAustralia.

Handsome Her, a small restaurant billed as “a space by women, for women,” made international headlines in 2017 after announcing upon its opening that female customers would get priority seating and men would be charged an optional 18% tax “to reflect the gender pay gap.”

Less than two years later, the cafe’s owners announced that they would be closing up shop in order to continue their mission with more “hands-on work.”

“When we opened Handsome Her in 2017, we expected that perhaps we might make a stir through our brazen public discussions of structural inequality and oppression,” the cafe said in a Facebook post. “The man tax blew up the internet, an idea that we didn’t think was all too radical, yet the way the world responded showed us how fragile masculinity is and solidified the necessity for us to confront and dismantle patriarchy.

The idea of charging a “man tax” seems radical to me and I wonder how this man tax did not run afoul of Australia’s anti-discrimination laws. It certainly seems to be discrimination based on sex, but perhaps discrimination against men doesn’t count. Maybe the fact that the tax is optional is enough to keep them out of trouble. I also wonder how these women expected to stay in business when they were alienating half of their potential customers. More than half really, since I am sure that many women did not appreciate the discrimination against the men they loved.

It is easy to make fun of these foolish women with poor business sense, but I think there is an important lesson for more established businesses here. The reason that any business exists, whether it is owned by a single proprietor or a great multi-national corporation is to make money for its owners. Any business must make a profit or it will eventually go out of business. The only way for any business to make a profit is to please its customers by providing goods or services they desire in a manner they desire. If the owner or manager of a company decides to pursue any goal besides making a profit by pleasing its customers, such as pursuing social justice, it will cease to please its customers and will eventually go out of business. This is particularly true if the pursuit of virtue-signaling results in policies that alienate customers. Yes, I am looking right at you and your new gun policies, Doug McMillan, CEO of WalMart. Trying to impress the social justice warriors, who despise WalMart and would never willingly shop there, while alienating gun-owning customers is simply not a good business policy.

Ultimately, the CEO of any corporation works for the stockholders, the owners, of the corporation. It is his or her job to serve the interests of the stockholders by pursuing policies that legally and ethically maximize profit for the corporation. As I stated above, any company can only make a profit if it provides goods and services that customers want to buy. If the CEO of a corporation decides that impressing his elite peers with virtue-signaling is more important than providing customers with the goods and services they want, he is not pursuing policies that will maximize profit and therefore is not serving the stockholders. He is in the same position as any of his employees who pursue outside interests while on the job.

Businesses should concentrate on the business of making money and pleasing their customers, not engage in political activism or pursue social justice. When I decide to buy something from Walmart or some other store, the only thing I want to consider is whether I am getting a good deal. I don’t want to have to be in the situation of having to consider whether the money I am spending is going to serve a bad cause. I don’t want every decision in my life to have political considerations. Not everything has to be about activism.

 

The Yellow Jackets

December 17, 2018

I have been following Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast for the last year or so. It is interesting and informative and I highly recommend it. The subject of Revolutions is, of course, revolutions, specifically those revolutions which have shaped our own revolutionary age. While learning about the great revolutions of the past, it is a little exciting to witness what might be the first days and weeks of a revolution in France and perhaps throughout Europe. The gilets jaunes or yellow jackets, the workers who wear hi-viz vests, are fed up with high taxes and limited economic prospects and seem to be poised to play the role of the sans-culottes of the first French Revolution.

I read a great article about the gilets jaunes and their reasons for protesting in QuodVerum, a blog I might want to look at more frequently.

Mon, December 10, 2018

Millions of French citizens have been violently demonstrating across France for the last month.

They are known as the gilets jaunes, or “yellow jackets”. The protestors wear the yellow high-viz jacket, that is common on building sites and airports.

It’s a powerful totem for the French deplorables, a unifying symbol of ordinary, working class folk across the nation.

France is no stranger to organized protests, or as they are called, manifestations. These are a dime-a-dozen in France. Typically they are union-engineered strikes, used as a weapon in the never-ending negotiation between organized labor and the French state.

Forget what FakeNews is telling you. This is no ordinary manifestation.

This is a genuine uprising by millions of city and country folk, young and old, crossing different ethnic and cultural lines.

Macron’s diesel tax hike wasn’t the cause of the gilets jaunes movement. It was the spark detonating a bomb, that has been building for decades.

Why are the French Deplorables revolting? For one thing, France’s economy is absolutely stagnant and has been for some time. The article lists a few pertinent statistics.

  • • The French state has been bankrupt since 2004. A minister finally admitted it in 2013.
  •        • French GDP hasn’t risen above 2% in 50 years. Yes – FIFTY. The average annual GDP growth rate between 1949-2018? 0.78%.
  •        • In 2018, 14% of the population in France live below the poverty line (they earn less than 60% of the median income).
  •        • Worse, more than 50% of French people have an annual income of less than €20,150 a year (about $1,900 US per month).
  •        • The ‘official’ unemployment rate is 10% – about 3.5 million citizens (in reality, it’s much higher).
  •        • The youth unemployment rate is 22%. Yes, you did read that right.
  •        • Astonishing but true: the French government employs 25% of the entire French workforce…and it’s impossible to fire them.
  •        • Because the citizens make such little money, they pay no tax. Less than 50% of French pay any income tax at all; only around 14% pay at the rate of 30%, and less than 1% pay at the             rate of 45%.
  •        • The government can’t deliver services without taxes, so it borrows money. France’s debt-GDP is now 100%.

This would all be bad enough, but it gets worse. If you want are ambitious and want to get ahead in France, there is really only one way to do it. You have to graduate from one of three or four elite colleges. If you haven’t had the chance to go to one of these schools, well, too bad.

Many still understand France through the lens of Vogue magazine covers: a nation of affluent, happy people who live in elegant homes, with endless holidays, wine and food.

A 24/7 utopia of chic, elegance and style.

Important to note: that France does exist. It is the world of the French ruling class, less than 1% of the population.

This small group of citizens have dominated the business, banking, legal and political scenes for decades.

The ruling class comes from a small group of grandes ecoles, or elite colleges. There are only 3 or 4. The top of the top? L’Ecole d’Administration Nationale (ENA).

Emmanuel Macron’s journey is typical of the ruliing class. He completed a Master’s of Public Affairs at Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris(called “Sciences Po”), the #2 elite college, before graduating from ENA in 2004, age 27. He then worked as a senior civil servant at the Inspectorate General of Finances (The Treasury), before getting a high paid gig ad an investment banker at Rothschild & Cie Banque.

See how fast Macron worked his way into the senior civil servant position in the Treasury, before flipping into an exclusive investment bank? That is normal in France. It’s a never-ending protected cycle of patronage, promotion, favors and cronyism.

Here’s another French word: parachutage. It is normal for young ENA graduates to be “parachuted” into senior civil service positions at a very young age, some as young as 25 years of age, without even interviewing for positions.

ENA has a complete stranglehold on the French state. Only 100 students graduate every year.

Set up by de Gaulle just after WW2, the original concept was sound – to pool students of extreme talent and ability in one place, in order to create a new civil service that could re-build France.

It worked. Very talented patriots flocked to enter ENA and within a decade, the new French civil service had successfully rehabilitated France as a leading nation-state. From 1946 through 1973, France experienced what they describe as their trente glorieuses, nearly 30 years of economic success.

But by 1970, ENA’s meritocracy had become a self-replicating elite caste – and a ticket to the French ruling class. Astonishingly, every French President since de Gaulle has been an ENA graduate, excepting Georges Pompidou, who attended Sciences Po. Eight of the last ten French Prime Ministers have been enarques. All key civil service/government departments are run by enarques. How about business? 84% of the 546 top executives in France’s 40 biggest companies are graduates of a handful of elite colleges. 48% come from ENA and Sciences Po.

This ought to look at least a little familiar to us in the United States. We don’t have the problem of a small ruling elite running everything nearly as bad as France does, but the same sort of pattern is developing. How many people at the top levels of government and politics graduated from the same elite Ivy League universities? How many CEOs? How many intellectuals?How do these people feel about the ordinary people who make up the population in middle America? Isn’t a great deal of the elite hatred for Donald Trump and his supporters class based?

The article’s description of the arrogance and insular ignorance of the French elite could easily be applied to our own elite.

Notice Macron’s age, when he became a senior civil servant – 27 years of age. That’s important.

The French elites are young men and women, who have been told that they are not just the intellectual creme de la creme, but morally superior. Better human beings, than their inferiors.

These people are arrogant. But they are also ignorant. Raised in very wealthy families and cosseted in the networks those families are part of, they have no understanding of ordinary people and their real lives.

Arrogance and ignorance is a very toxic mix. Macron’s tone-deaf appeal to climate change to justify the rise in diesel taxes, as well as his outrageous suggestion that ordinary French folk must drive less, is a classic example of the problem.

Just 27 years old.

Young people without life experience, are suggestible. They believe what they are told by superiors and haven’t yet had time to test their opinions, against reality.

Macron simply doesn’t have a clue.

What makes the gilets jaunes protests unique?

Their main gripe? Elites blaming ordinary people, for problems that the same elites have caused.

Elites never being held accountable for their incompetence. And elites never having to experience the conditions, that their failed ideas cause.

French people are sick of being held in chains by a ruling class. They are sick of being poor and unemployed.

They want a new direction, for their beloved nation.

Sound familiar?

There is an obvious parallel to the France of 1789, but I don’t think that even the aristocrats of the Ancien Regime were quite as arrogant and stupid as the new aristocrats who rule France and Europe. In fact, more than a few of those aristocrats were the ones pressing for reforms in France. I hope that the new aristocrats in Europe and America find the wisdom to listen to what the people are saying instead of dismissing them as deplorables or they could find themselves losing their heads.

Who Wants a Parade?

February 11, 2018

President Trump does according to NPR.

President Trump, apparently inspired by the Bastille Day parade he witnessed last summer during a trip to Paris, has asked the Pentagon to look into staging something similar — but naturally bigger and better — for Washington, D.C., the White House confirmed Tuesday.

A U.S. official confirmed the request to NPR. On Tuesday evening, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared in a statement that “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe.” She added, “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”

On Wednesday at the White House briefing, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis addressed the president’s request for a military parade:

“I think we are all aware in this country of the president’s affection and respect for the military. We’ve been putting together some options. We’ll send them to the White House for a decision.”

I don’t know about that. It is all very well for France to have this kind of parade showcasing their military might, but we are not France. We are the United States of America, and in the United States of America, we try not to give the impression that we are a militaristic and aggressive country, even when we are, in fact, militaristic and aggressive. America is the mightiest nation in the world and it just wouldn’t do to rub that fact in everyone else’s face.

U.S. presidents have long shied away from such displays of military prowess — which typically include tanks, missiles and, in some cases, goose-stepping soldiers — for fear of being compared to Washington’s Cold War adversaries, where such displays have traditionally been potent symbols of state power. Those countries include Russia (and, formerly, the Soviet Union), China and North Korea.

Leave the parades with tanks, missiles and marching soldiers to lesser nations, who feel they have something to prove. Besides, I am sure we have better things to spend our money on.

Still,  it might be fun to watch the reactions of the Democrats and the media to Trump’s suggestion. They are sure to go out of their minds once again with insane comparisons with Trump to Hitler or North Korea. That might be worth the cost of the parade. Maybe that’s the reason Trump is talking about a military parade. He does seem to delight in trolling his enemies to make them over-react and look foolish, We’ll have to see.

 

Retired Emperor

August 22, 2016

Japanese Emperor Akihito may be thinking of abdicating his post because his age is making it difficult to fulfill his duties as emperor. The BBC has this story.

Japan’s Emperor Akihito has strongly indicated he wants to step down, saying he fears his age will make it difficult to fulfil his duties.

The revered 82-year-old emperor’s comments came in only his second-ever televised address to the public.

Emperor Akihito did not explicitly say he wanted to abdicate as he is barred from making political statements.

PM Shinzo Abe said the government would take the remarks “seriously” and discuss what could be done.

“Upon reflecting how he handles his official duty and so on, his age and the current situation of how he works, I do respect the heavy responsibility the emperor must be feeling and I believe we need to think hard about what we can do,” he said.

It is not as easy as that, though.

Why can’t the emperor abdicate? Abdication is not mentioned under Japan’s existing laws, so they would need to be changed for the emperor to be able to stand down. The changes would also have to be approved by parliament.

Emperor Akihito

Emperor Akihito

I am actually a little surprised that there is no provision for an Emperor abdicating under current Japanese law. There was a time, during the Heian period, in which the Emperor was not only permitted to abdicate, but was actually required to step down in favor of his successor.

The period of time from 794-1185, when the court at Heian ruled over Japan is known as the Heian period. This was a remarkable period of Japanese history, in which the Japanese fully absorbed the influences from China and made them part of a a uniquely Japanese culture. During the Heian period, Japanese arts, literature, and philosophy reached a peak seldom equalled in the centuries since. The influence of the Heian period on Japanese culture is something like that of ancient Greece and Rome in the West, the basis of everything that followed.

The earlier Heian period is also one of the few times in Japanese history in which the Emperor actually wielded political power, following the example of the all-powerful Chinese Emperors. Over time, however, the Imperial house began to decline in power and vigor, just as the various Chinese dynasties had. The powerful Fujiwara clan began to gain power at the expense of the Emperors. The Fujiwaras monopolized the top government posts and were the regents when an Emperor was a minor. They married their daughters to the Emperors so that a Fujiwara was always the Emperor’s father-in-law, with the filial obligations that brought. Eventually, the Fujiwara regents began to compel the Emperors to abdicate as soon as they were old enough to rule on their own. These Retired Emperors often became Buddhist monks and were referred to as Cloistered Emperors. By 1000, the Fujiwara regent was the emperor of Japan in all but name, while the reigning Emperor was a figurehead.

In any other country, it is likely that the people who had the power behind the throne would have grown weary of the pretense and seized the throne themselves, as the Frankish Carolingians had overthrown the Merovingians and were overthrown in their turn by the French Capets, or the succeeding dynasties of China had overthrown one another. In Japan, however, this was unthinkable. One of the ideas that the Japanese had not taken from Chinese politics was the concept of the Mandate of Heaven. The Japanese Emperor was the direct descendant of the Sun Goddess and thus always had the Mandate of Heaven, whatever the failings of his person or his line. The Fujiwaras had to be content with being regents.

In time, the Fujiwaras declined and the Imperial House began to reassert itself. In a characteristically Japanese fashion, the reigning Emperors, themselves, did not attempt to regain power. Instead, the Retired Emperors took power. This was the known as Cloistered Rule. So, during the period of Cloistered Rule, Japan was ruled by an all-powerful Emperor, who was in fact, a figurehead, with a Regent or Chief Minister from the Fujiwara Clan who was supposed to be powerful, but was another figurehead, while the real power was held by a former emperor who was in theory, merely a monk. It seems unnecessarily baroque and complicated, but the Japanese have generally preferred rule by consensus rather than by a single strong man. The system seemed to work well enough.

Then again, perhaps it did not. The members of the Imperial Court at Heian always had a strong contempt for common people and the outer provinces of Japan, what we might refer to as flyover country. For the court nobles, the common people were little better than domestic animals, while the military aristocracy who fought off the northern barbarians were themselves semi-barbarians. The Imperial Court became more insular and isolated from the concerns of the provinces. The members of the court became more concerned with their rank and position at court than with administrating the country. As a result, the military leaders in the provinces began to gain power and by 1185, after a series of struggles between several Retired Emperors and military clans related to the Imperial Family, a warlord named Minamoto no Yoritomo took power as the first Shogun (Supreme General), ending the Heian Period, and establishing the military dictatorship of the Shoguns that lasted through several dynasties of Shoguns until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Imperial Court and the court nobility continued as before except they had no power and depended on the Shoguns for funds.

Emperors still occasionally abdicated in favor of their successor, but the custom of Cloistered Rule ended with the end of the Heian Period. The last Emperor to abdicate was Kokaku who reigned from 1779-1817. His position as Retired Emperor caused some trouble with the Tokugawa Shoguns, and it is perhaps not coincidental that from his reign, and retirement, the Imperial Court began the process of asserting itself against the Shoguns.

I don’t know when the laws about abdication were changed or whether the current law in Japan actually prohibits an Emperor from resigning or whether there is simply no provision for abdication. Judging from the article, it would seem to be the latter case. If so, than I can’t imagine there would be any reason to deny Akihito’s wish to abdicate, especially considering his age and health. There is, after all, ample precedent in Japanese history.

Trump and NATO

July 25, 2016

National Review Online‘s Kevin Williamson wrote an article criticizing Donald Trump for his latest really bad idea, having the United States not necessarily follow up on its treaty commitments to our NATO allies. I might as well say that while I vastly prefer a Trump presidency over a Hilary Clinton presidency and I do not think that Trump will be the disaster in the White House that some are predicting, his tendency to shoot off his mouth, along with his apparent ignorance of the nature of international trade, cause me to have serious reservations about Trump’s fitness for the office he seeks. Unfortunately, he seems to be the lesser evil by a long shot. I might as well also state that even when Trump seems to be saying something stupid or unacceptable, it often turns out that he is making a good point after it has been stripped of its populist rhetoric. It may be that this is the case with his statements about NATO.

First,  here’s what Williamson has to say.

Trump, whose nickel-and-dime gestalt could only have come from a repeatedly failed casino operator, is a creature in search of petty advantages and small paydays. As such, he suggested yesterday that the United States might forsake its commitment to NATO — our most important military alliance — because he believes that our NATO allies are not carrying their share of the expense. Trump’s mind processes information the way a horse processes oats, and the product is exactly the same.

 

It is true that the United States spends more in both absolute and proportional terms than do other NATO members, but here the United States is the outlier. It spends a great deal more on national defense than other NATO members do, and more than non-NATO members, and pretty much every country on the face of the Earth. That has nothing to do with NATO; that has to do with political decisions made in Congress and by presidents of both parties going back to Franklin Roosevelt. It may very well be that the United States spends too much on the military — I believe that it does — but that isn’t because some other country spends too little. The myth of the free-riding Europeans, diverting domestic tax dollars from national security to welfare programs, is not supported by the evidence. They don’t have unusually small militaries; we have an unusually large and expensive one.

Since 1949, there has never been any serious doubt that the United States would fulfill its obligations to the North Atlantic alliance. That is a big part of why we had a Cold War instead of an all-out (probably nuclear) World War III in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a big part of the reason there is no longer a wall running through Berlin, and why the people who hold Bernie Sanders’s political philosophy were able to murder only 100 million innocent human beings instead of 200 million.

 

Thanks to Trump, the heads of government and defense ministers of the other NATO powers must now consider that the United States will welsh on its obligations the way Donald Trump welshes on his debts. He isn’t the president yet, of course, and he probably won’t be. But the chance isn’t zero, either. If you are, say, Lithuania, and you suspect that the United States will not actually have your back — a suspicion fortified by Trump’s man-crush on Russian strongman Vladimir Putin — what do you do? Maybe you try to get ahead of the curve and go voluntarily into the Russian orbit.

All of these are good points and Williamson is probably correct is asserting that our European allies are not really taking advantage of us when it comes to funding NATO. He is definitely right that NATO played a role in seeing that the Cold War did not become World War III and that the alliance helped us to win the Cold War. But, I think that Williamson, and maybe Trump himself, misses the larger point. Why does NATO still exist?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 in order to combat potential aggression from the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe. NATO was conceived of as a alliance of mutual defense among the free nations of Western Europe and North America. In many ways, NATO has been one of the most successful multi-national alliances in history, and although the NATO allies were never called into joint military action against the Soviet Union, the alliance was surely a deterrent against any Soviet plans to extend Communism into Western Europe.

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The whole reason for NATO has not existed for a quarter of a century. Why is NATO still around? Who are we defending against?

There are still threats in the world. Vladimir Putin seems to be intent on restoring as much of the Soviet empire as he can ,but Putin’s Russia is only a pale shadow of the old Soviet Union. Russia is still a strong country, but it is not the superpower that the Soviet Union was. Putin can stir up trouble in the Ukraine, but he lacks the global reach of the Soviet leaders. The leaders of the Soviet Union were inspired by a militant, millenarian ideology, Communism, that had some appeal and supporters in West and elsewhere. These days Communism is discredited everywhere except on American college campuses and Bernie Sanders rallies. Putin’s appeal to Russian nationalism is not something to inspire people in Europe and America. There is also the threat of Islamic terrorism and other threats around the world that clearly call for coordinated action by the United States and its allies, but a framework for fighting the next world war may not work so well against a more diffuse enemy.

Looking over the Wikipedia article, I find that NATO has made many changes in its command structure, etc in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union, but it seems to me that it is an organization that is seeking a role to play, particularly since NATO has been permitting Eastern European former Soviet satellites such as Poland to join the alliance, pushing the alliance all the way up to the Russian border. This may not have been wise. The Russians must surely see this as a threat. How would we feel if Mexico and Canada joined in a political and military alliance originally created to counter the United States?

Kevin Williamson mentions Lithuania in his article. Lithuania joined NATO in 2004. Obviously, under the terms of the alliance, if Vladimir Putin sent tanks into Vilnius tomorrow, the United States would have to respond as though it were an attack on American soil. How credible is that, really? Would the United States really fight a war against Russia over Lithuania? Are American interests really served by threatening war over Lithuania? It would be unfortunate if Lithuania had to return to its previous role as a province of Russia, but is it really America’s job to keep that from happening.

I am not an isolationist. I believe that America, like it or not, has to be the world’s policeman, both for our good and the good of the whole world. These peacekeeping actions we keep finding ourselves in are expensive, but not nearly so expensive as a full scale war would be, and I have no doubt that that is exactly what we would have if we let things go. But, I think we need to be a lot smarter about how we use our influence in the world and we need to understand that we cannot get involved in every single quarrel, nor can we bring democracy to people who have known nothing but despotism for centuries. The next president, whether Trump or Clinton, should probably begin a complete reappraisal of our foreign policy to determine what serves American interests and what does not, and this reappraisal must include considering whether relics of previous decades should be kept, reformed, or abolished.

Brexit

June 24, 2016

I am glad to see that the British people have retained their English good sense and have voted to leave the European Union. They ought never to have given up their national sovereignty by joining it in the first place.

Britain

The results were closer than I would have liked to see; 51.9% voted to leave versus 49.1% opting to remain. The article I linked to breaks down the results by nation, which I thought was interesting enough to copy and paste. I wasn’t able to include the colorful graphics.

England

Leave 53.4%
15,188,406 VOTES
Remain 46.6%
13,266,996 VOTES
Counting complete
Turnout: 73.0%

Northern Ireland

Leave 44.2%
349,442 VOTES
Remain 55.8%
440,437 VOTES
Counting complete
Turnout: 62.9%

Scotland

Leave 38.0%
1,018,322 VOTES
Remain 62.0%
1,661,191 VOTES
Counting complete
Turnout: 67.2%

Wales

Leave 52.5%
854,572 VOTES
Remain 47.5%
772,347 VOTES

I notice that the sentiment to remain in the EU was strongest in Scotland where they voted to remain by a larger margin than any other region voted to leave. Northern Ireland also voted to remain by a closer margin. The results were closer in England, and Wales where only a slimmer majority voted to leave, but England’s greater population was enough to make up for the more lopsided results in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I wonder why the Scots want to remain in the EU, especially when they had a referendum last year on independence from the United Kingdom. They want to be independent of Britain but not of Europe? Perhaps they feel that Scotland will have more autonomy as one of many nations in the EU than they do as a part of Great Britain where they will always by outvoted by the English. Then too, Scotland has traditionally been a stronghold of the Labour Party and I believe that the Labour Party has been in favor of increasing European integration.

The European Union is not actually a bad idea in itself. After two devastating wars in a century and the continuing threat of a nuclear war between the superpowers during the Cold War, the Europeans were understandably eager to take steps to promote peace and cooperation between the European nations. A common market and free trade zone can only benefit the people of Europe, as can various international institutions designed to promote the common welfare of Europe. A common defense, either under the auspices of NATO or not is needed to keep the peace in Europe and promote the common interests of the European nations.

The problem with the European Union is that given the great diversity in languages, cultures, and economic development among the twenty-eight  members, probably the best way to unite Europe would have been to adopt a loose confederation on the Swiss model in which each canton has considerable autonomy under a federal government. The Swiss system is very responsive to the will of the the Swiss people as it includes referenda and other elements of direct democracy to influence legislation.

The founders of the European Union did not follow that model. Instead, they decided to create something like the United States of Europe with a government more centralized than the present USA with component nations considerably more diverse than the thirteen original British colonies. In the European Union, sovereign nations like France, Germany, or Italy actually have less control over their destiny than one of the states in the United States. To make matters worse, the founders and current leaders of the EU tend to be the sort of elitist social engineers with little respect for what the people they rule actually want. There are democratic elements in the government of the EU, an elected legislature etc, but the real power is with the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats at Brussels. The EU system of undemocratic rule devoted to imposing one set of laws and policies on a whole, diverse continent, regardless of what the citizens of each nation and region actually want can only lead to tyranny in the end. Not the hard, Stalinist tyranny of the former Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, to be sure, but the soft, insidious, Delores Umbridge style of tyranny by the self-styled do-gooders which is, in its own way, just as odious and inimical to liberty as the more obvious forms of tyranny. Great Britain is well to break away from such a system and I hope more European nations follow its example.

As to what happens next, no one can say. The elites in Britain and the rest of Europe will not  passively accept this loss of power. Maybe they will push for another referendum, and another until they get the result they want and then declare the matter closed. Maybe they will simply ignore the results, it is after all it is only what a majority of the British people want, and who really cares about that? There will probably be a whole slew of articles denouncing the newly discovered racism of the British people, racist being one of those words used when the common people get uppity, along with fascist and populist. I have a feeling that the British will be punished for their effrontery. Maybe we should embrace the spirit of Brexit here and reject those of our leaders who put the welfare of the American people last.

We do live in interesting times.

Update: That didn’t take long at all.

The Rise of Adolf Hitler

June 8, 2016

In my last post, I described how this internet meme was particularly ignorant because Donald Trump is not anything like Adolf Hitler and the social and political circumstances of Weimar Germany is nothing like contemporary America.

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It is also ignorant because the creator seems to know next to nothing about the rise of Adolf Hitler. The conventional idea about the rise of Hitler is that he was swept into office by a tidal wave of popular enthusiasm. That is certainly the story told by Nazi propagandists who were eager to cast Hitler as the embodiment of the Aryan racial will. The truth is somewhat different. Hitler gained power in Germany by taking advantage of certain features of the Weimar constitution which made it possible for someone like him to seize power and of the foolishness and timidity of his opponents who consistently underestimated him.

For most of the 1920’s the Nazis were very much a fringe party in German politics. Although a great many Germans essentially agreed with Hitler’s ideas about Jews, Aryans, the Versailles Treaty, and other matters, the Nazis seemed to be too lawless, violent, and, well, extreme, to appeal to the German middle class, especially after the hyper-inflation of the early Weimar years had ended and Germany shared in the general prosperity of the roaring 20’s. The Nazis were lucky to get 3% of the vote, when they were allowed to run at all. The Nazi Party was actually banned in many parts of Germany after the Beer Hall Putsch and because of the violent antics of the SA Stormtroopers.

This changed after the stock market crash of October, 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. Germany was as hard hit by the Depression as every other industrialized country and as the German people became increasingly desperate, they were more willing to listen to people thought extreme only a year before. In addition, the increasing strength of the German Communist Party among the working class frightened many members of the middle class, who feared that a Communist victory would lead to a Soviet style dictatorship. Many Germans came to believe, perhaps rightly, that Hitler was the lesser evil.

In the September, 1930 Reichstag election the Nazis won 18.25% of the vote, going from 12 to 107 of the 577 seats, making them the second largest party in the Reichstag. The third largest party was the German Communist Party which had won 77 seats. Germany was in the peculiar position of having two of the largest political parties in its parliament dedicated to overthrowing the government and unwilling to join any coalition or participate in the cabinet. Both the Nazis and the Communists tried their best to disrupt the functioning of the government both in the Reichstag and in battles in the streets. Curiously, this policy of disruption helped rather than hurt the Nazis. With the quasi-military discipline of the SA and their well organized rallies, the Nazis were able to give the impression that they were the only people who had their act together in a nation that was falling apart.

The incumbent Chancellor, Heinrich Bruning, had the support of President Hindenburg and was able to put together a coalition composed of his Catholic Center Party and some other conservative parties. Bruning did not have a majority, however, and it became increasingly necessary for the president to use his emergency powers to permit the government to continue to function.

Hindenburg’s seven year term was set to end in 1932. Hindenburg was 84 years old and did not really want to serve a second term as president. He only decided to run for reelection because he feared that Hitler, who he detested, might be able to defeat any other candidate. The first round of the presidential election was held on March 13, and Hindenburg won, but with only 49.6% of the vote, necessitating a second round which was held on April 10. This time, Hindenburg won with 53% of the vote. Hitler was second with 36.8%.

Bruning’s government fell on May 30 and Hindenburg appointed Franz von Papen to be Chancellor. Papen had almost no support in the Reichstag, even from his own Catholic Center Party which regarded him as a traitor, but he did have the full support of President Hindenburg and using Article 48, was able to rule as a virtual dictator. Papen lifted Bruning’s ban on the SS and SA and indicated that he was willing to work with Hitler and the Nazis. This appeasement worked about as well for Papen as it later would at Munich, Hitler would not cooperate or join in any coalition unless he were named Chancellor. New elections were called for July 31.

In the July 31, 1932 election, the Nazis got 37.27% of the popular vote, the most the Nazis would ever get in a fair and free election. This was enough to get them 230 seats in the Reichstag, out of the total 608, making the Nazis the largest single party. The Communists were third with 89 seats, so the majority of the members of the Reichstag now belonged to parties dedicated to overthrowing the Weimar Republic. This made forming any coalition impossible and Papen continued to govern with the use of presidential decrees. Papen was not popular either in the Reichstag or with the German public and in September 1932, he was obliged to have Hindenburg dissolve the Reichstag and call for new elections on November 6.

The Nazis lost seats in this election. They got only 33.09% of the popular vote and dropped to 196 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazis were still the largest party, but it seemed as though they were beginning to lose momentum to the Communists who now held 100 seats. The party treasury was depleted and it is possible that if another election had been called within the next few months, the Nazis would have lacked the resources to maintain their position. However, the Nazis were to be saved by good fortune and the weakness of their opposition.

Papen resigned as Chancellor and was replaced by his defense minister, Kurt von Schleicher on December 3. Schleicher proved to be incapable of governing and resigned on January 23. Meanwhile, Papen had approached Hitler, proposing to convince President Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor in return for Papen being Vice-Chancellor. Hitler agreed and Papen was eventually able to persuade a reluctant Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor on January 30, 1933.It might seem to unwise for Papen to allow a dangerous demagogue like Hitler to have any position of power and Papen may be justly condemned for enabling Hitler’s rise to power, but Papen believed that Hitler would be in a weak position as Chancellor. The Nazis did not have a majority in the Reichstag and only held only three posts in the eleven member cabinet, the Chancellorship and two relatively unimportant posts. Hitler did not possess, as Papen did, the confidence of President Hindenburg. Hitler would be a figurehead, useful for rallying the masses behind the government’s policies, but contained, while Vice-Chancellor Papen would be the real power, or so he thought.

Hitler had no intention of being contained. What Papen and others did not understand was that Hitler did not wish to become Chancellor only to work within the system. He planned to overthrow the Weimar Republic. Hitler’s experience in the Beerhall Putsch had taught him that it was useless to fight a revolution against the power of a modern state. Instead, Hitler planned to use the German state to make his revolution.

The Reichstag had been dissolved when Hindenburg had appointed Hitler Chancellor so new elections were called for March 5, 1933. These latest elections were held in the wake of the Reichstag fire on February 27. Although the Nazis probably didn’t start the fire, as many suspected, the Nazis quickly made use of the arrest of a deranged Dutch Communist to instigate a national panic of an imminent Communist revolution. The next day, President Hindenburg issued the Decree for the Protection of the People and State, granting Hitler emergency powers to deal with the supposed insurrection. Hitler did not ban the Communist Party and any other opposition to the Nazis but they were harassed and their leaders arrested. The Nazis and their allies were backed by the full power of the state by the next election and the Nazis got 43.91% of the popular vote giving them 288 out of 647 seats in the Reichstag. The Nazis still did not have a majority, even though they were in control of the electoral process and had used the Brownshirts to provoke violence on the streets and at opposing parties’ meetings. The Nazis formed a coalition with the German National People’s Party and with the support of the Catholic Center Party was able to pass the Enabling Act, giving all legislative power to the Chancellor on March 24, 1933.

Hitler quickly established a totalitarian dictatorship over Germany, outlawing all political parties except for the Nazis and imprisoning anyone who dared to oppose the new order. By the next elections in November 1933, the Nazis won in a landslide 92.11% of the vote gaining all 661 seats in the Reichstag. Considering that the Nazis were the only party permitted to run and it was hinted that voting against the Nazis, or refusing to vote at all might have unpleasant repercussions, the surprising thing is that 7.89% of the German voters actually submitted blank ballots in protest.

The 86-year President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934 and Hitler arranged to abolish the office of President and assume its power in his own person as Führer and Reich Chancellor. The Weimar Republic was over and the Third Reich had begun.

Al Jazeera America Shutting Down

January 17, 2016

I was a little surprised to learn that Al Jazeera America is shutting down its cable news network. Here is the story from the BBC.

Al Jazeera America will shut down its cable news channel despite spending heavily to break into the US market.

CEO Al Anstey said the business model “is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges”.

Al Jazeera America launched in 2013 vowing to be a more serious and in-depth alternative to CNN and Fox News.

The Qatar-based broadcaster spent millions of dollars hiring top US journalists but struggled to bring viewers to its news programmes.

Al Jazeera promised to expand its coverage of the US online after the channel shuts down in April.

The network replaced Current TV, a network founded by former US Vice President Al Gore.

The Qatar-based broadcaster bought Current TV for around $500 million (£308 million).

Al Jazeera America was available in about 60 million American homes. Politiconotes that the channel reached an average of 19,000 viewers each day in 2015, far fewer than its competitors.

The channel struggled with internal turmoil, as well, including multiple discrimination lawsuits that ended up ousting its founding CEO.

I wonder why Al Jazeera found it so difficult to break into the US market. Part of the reason might be that many American viewers did not believe that a news network funded by the Qatari government to be a trustworthy source of news. The Arabic name might not have helped. Al Jazeera sounds as if it could be the Osama bin Laden News Network. I think, though, that Al Jazeera’s main difficulty was simply that the North American market for TV news is saturated. We already have Fox, MSNBC, CNN, not to mention ABC, NBC, and CBS, and the BBC from across the Pond. There is probably simply not enough room for another news network. I also believe that the audience for TV news is declining, just as it as been for newspapers. I am too lazy to look up the ratings right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shift towards the internet as the major source of news for many people, particularly for younger people. I notice that Al Jazeera is maintaining their online activities.

In a way it’s a shame, though. American news badly needs more diversity of viewpoints. Most of the news we get here in America is increasingly superficial and celebrity oriented, not to mention biased to the left. Fox is perhaps more evenhanded than most, with a bias to the right, but one right center network and a host of leftist networks, all based in the US hardly makes for much diversity. At least, we have the internet.

Mein Kampf in Germany

January 3, 2016

Hitler’s best-selling book Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, will soon be published in Germany for the first time since the end of World War II. After Hitler’s death at the end of that war, his estate, including the German copyright to Mein Kampf, was taken over by the Bavarian government and it, along with the federal government of Germany has not permitted the publication of Mein Kampf in Germany. It is not actually illegal to own a copy of Hitler’s book, but the German government has tried its best to limit its availability.

As German copyright law permits a book to pass into the public domain seventy years after the death of the author, Mein Kampf will soon be available for publication once more and some scholars are taking advantage of this development by releasing a new, annotated version to the German public.

For 70 years since the Nazi defeat in World War II, copyright law has been used in Germany to prohibit the publication of “Mein Kampf” — the notorious anti-Semitic tome in which Adolf Hitler set out his ideology.

That will change next month when a new edition with critical commentary, the product of several years’ work by a publicly funded institute, hits the shelves.

While historians say it could help fill a gap in Germans’ knowledge of the era, Jewish groups are wary and German authorities are making it clear that they still won’t tolerate any new “Mein Kampf” without annotations.

Under German law, a copyright expires at the end of the year 70 years after an author’s death — in this case, Hitler’s April 30, 1945, suicide in a Berlin bunker as the Soviet army closed in. That means Bavaria’s state finance ministry, which holds the copyright, can no longer use it to prevent the work’s publication beyond Dec. 31.

The book has been published in several other countries; in the U.S., for example, Bavaria never controlled the copyright.

In Germany, many argue that holding back “Mein Kampf” merely created mystique around the book. The idea of at least a partial version with critical commentary for the German market dates back as far as the late 1960s. The Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History, which is behind the new version, sought and was denied permission to produce the book in the mid-1990s when it published a volume of Hitler’s speeches.

Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf” — or “My Struggle” — after he was jailed following the failed 1923 coup attempt known as the Beer Hall Putsch. Millions of copies were printed after the Nazis took power in 1933.

The rambling tome set out Hitler’s ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-communist ideology for his National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi party, airing the idea of a war of conquest in eastern Europe.

“The book should not be underestimated as a historical source and also as a key to understanding the history of National Socialism,” the director of the Munich institute, Andreas Wirsching, said ahead of the new edition’s mid-January publication.

“Among serious historians in Germany, you won’t find one who is against a commented edition and hasn’t been calling for one for years,” said Sven Felix Kellerhoff, a journalist with the daily Die Welt and a historian who has written about “Mein Kampf” himself. “That goes from conservatives to the left.”

Jewish opinion varies. The head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, says that knowledge of “Mein Kampf” is important in explaining Nazism and the Holocaust — so “we do not object to a critical edition, contrasting Hitler’s racial theories with scientific findings, to be at the disposal of research and teaching.”

One of his predecessors is more critical. Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor who heads Munich’s Jewish community, says she trusts the expertise of the institute’s researchers but doubts that the new edition will achieve its aim of “demystifying and taking apart ‘Mein Kampf.'”

It is likely to awaken interest “not in the commentary, but the original — and that remains highly dangerous,” Knobloch said. “It could still have an impact because both of the core ideas are timeless: ultranationalism and racism.”

 

This shouldn’t really be controversial. Mein Kampf did play a role in recent German history and I don’t think there is any real harm in publishing an annotated edition of the book. In general, I think that trying to ban a book or a movie only draws attention to the material the censor is trying to ban. Human nature being what it is, that which is forbidden automatically becomes more attractive. Since private ownership of Mein Kampf was never illegal and since Germans could find copies online for the last two decades, making a fuss over Hitler’s book seems counterproductive.

Anyway, I doubt if this new and annotated version of Mein Kampf, will lead to a revival of Nazism in Germany. I don’t imagine that many of the Germans who originally joined the Nazi party were convinced by reading Mein Kampf. Hitler wasn’t a particularly original political theorist, though he did prove to be a genius in propaganda and mass psychology, and most of the ideas presented in Mein Kampf were similar to views held by many educated Germans. Hitler himself did not take Mein Kampf all that seriously. Writing the book was largely a means to get needed income while he was in prison. The rise of Hitler was due more to his charisma and the economic and social conditions of Weimar Germany. For many Germans, it seemed as if the more mainstream political parties did not care about their welfare and were eager to sell Germany out to its enemies. If the German authorities are concerned about the rise of extreme nationalist movements in Germany, they might want to study the lessons of Hitler’s rise to power and take care not to make the same sort of mistakes the Weimar authorities did with Hitler.

  • Switzerland Asserts its National Identity in Right-Wing Election Victory (safehaven.com) We are going to see more of this in the next few years. If the mainstream French, German or British political parties cannot convince their people that they care about France, Germany, or Britain than foreign refugees or the increasingly unpopular and unworkable European Union, the people will turn to the extremists.

Some Thoughts on ISIS

November 22, 2015

There has been a lot written lately on what should be done with the growing threat of terrorism sponsored by the Islamic State and about Islamic radicalism generally. I don’t imagine I have anything significant to contribute to this discussion but here are some thoughts, for whatever they are worth.

One reason for the appeal of Islamic radicalism in the Middle East that doesn’t seem to get much attention is that the recent history of the Islamic world, particularly at its Arabic speaking core is largely a history of repeated failure. Generally, the Middle East has had a very difficult time adjusting to the modern world. With the exception of Israel, which doesn’t really count since it is a Western transplant, the countries of the Middle East are backwards and poor with repressive, corrupt governments. They produce almost nothing the rest of the world wants in trade, except for oil. They contribute little to the progress of science and technology. Their militaries may be well equipped with purchases from the United States and Russia, but they are ill trained and not very effective, particularly against any Western power. It must be very humiliating, since Islam promises that the Muslims are the best of men who enjoy Allah’s favor, to see the infidel West enjoying success and prosperity while they languish in poverty and powerlessness, especially for proud, young men.

This may be part of the reason there is so much hatred of Israel among the Arabs. Israel is in the same part of the world, has much the same resources and geography though without oil, and even some of the same culture among the Jews from the Middle East, yet Israel is a vibrant, prosperous country that has contributed far more to the world than one might expect from a country of its size, more than the entire rest of the Middle East combined. There might be a good deal less hatred of Israel if Israel were just another third world sewer.

It is not that the Muslims haven’t tried to modernize. For most of the twentieth century,

various Muslim countries have attempted modernize, secularize, and westernize themselves, with varying degrees of success. Kemel Ataturk in Turkey, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran, the Communists in Afghanistan, and others such as Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi all tried to transform the states they ruled. Unfortunately, these Muslim leaders picked up all the worst ideas that the West had to offer,  such as socialism, communism, militant nationalism, and others, combined with traditional Middle Eastern despotism created nothing but a series of  repressive failed states. Modernization and westernization didn’t seem to work. It is not too surprising that many people began to believe that the Middle East was going in the wrong direction. . Maybe the failure of the Islamic world was due to them abandoning the ways of Islam.Maybe instead of becoming more Western, they should become more Islamic. One by one these secular dictators have fallen, to be replaced by Islamic rulers. Turkey is something of an exception since it has long had the forms of democracy if not always the realty. However Ataturk’s secular legacy has been increasingly challenged over the last decade with the rise to power of the Justice and Development Party.

It is also worth noting that all these twentieth century efforts to modernize the Middle East were largely the top down efforts of a small, educated, westernized elite and enacted by force, while the more religious and traditional majority have been indifferent or actively hostile to efforts to modernize and westernize their countries. It doesn’t seem as if the westernized elite spent much time or effort trying to educate or change the minds of the masses in the Islamic world nor to try to achieve some sort of synthesis between Islamic and Western values. They have remained nominal Muslims while trying to undermine the influence of Islam in the people’s lives. It should not be surprising that the majority of people throughout the Middle East have tended to resent these efforts as an attempt to force an alien, irreligious culture on them. To make matters worse, the secular modernization efforts don’t seem to have worked. Countries like Egypt, Iraq or Iran have not become as wealthy and powerful as Western nations despite any attempts at westernization. The Westernized elites and despots have failed them.

Considered this way, the rise of radical Islam in the Middle East is not really that different from the revolts against the elite in the West. ISIS and al-Qaeda are not that different in principle from the TEA Party in the United States or the UK INdependence Party in Britain or any of a number of other populist movements throughout the West. ISIS and the TEA Party both seek to revive a former greatness by going back to fundamentals. What makes all the difference is that Tea Partiers study the constitution and run for office. Radical Muslims study the Koran and engage in terrorism. What makes this difference? In the West, we have learned to settle our differences more or less peacefully. In the Middle East, they seem to have not.

It is often said that the Middle East is a tribal society and that is the cause of so much violence in the region. Maybe, but the West is tribal too. Look at a map of any major city in the United States and you may still find neighborhoods labeled “Chinatown”, “Little Italy” or the like, a relic of the days when immigrants came and settled among people of their own nation, or tribe. Every human society is prone to factions. Why is it that in the West the tribes have somehow managed to learn to live in peace and even to blend together while in the Middle East old hatreds continue for generations to the detriment of the common good?

Part of the appeal of Islamic radicalism, as well as the original appeal of Islam in Mohammed’s time, is that it promises to surmount these petty differences between tribes and nations carved out from colonial empires and create a united kingdom under the rule of God. No doubt many Muslims feel that the disaster began when the Islamic community began to fracture into competing sects and empires. In the twentieth century, there was a strong pan-Arab nationalist movement promising to unite the Arabic people. If Arab nationalism didn’t unite the Middle East, perhaps Islamism might.

I don’t think it is very useful to blame one president or another or one policy or another for the rise of ISIS. Something like ISIS would have happened regardless of what we have done. It is tempting to believe that a superpower is the cause of everything that happens in the world but much is beyond our control. The cultural attitudes and societal trends that have led to present conditions have been occurring for a very long time and much depends on how the people in the region resolve, or fail to resolve their problems. Ultimately, we cannot solve their problems for them.

The West has had a violent, tumultuous history on its path to to liberty and democracy, and perhaps some parts of Europe have not quite completed the journey. It took periods of terrible bloodshed, the Wars of Religion during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Napoleonic Wars of the nineteenth century and the World Wars of the twentieth century to make Europe what it is today. It maybe that the Middle East must go through a generation of bloodshed to convince the people to live in peace. If so, than the only thing we can or should do is leave them alone to fight it out, taking care that the conflicts do not spill over outside the Middle East. It  may also be that allowing a generation of Muslims to live under an Islamic State is the only way to sour them on the whole idea. The people in Iran do not seem to be very enthusiastic about Islam these days. They have lived under their own Islamic State and they are sick of it. We would like to think that we can solve the world’s problems, but maybe this time we can’t . Maybe the best we can manage is to protect ourselves and hope for the best.

 


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