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Lon’s Blog

Thoughts on modern American Political History

American Politics Posted on Thu, January 02, 2020 11:27:20

As 2020 begins and we try as Americans to evaluate what has brought us to where we are there is good reason to look back at American history.

In the election of 1866, during the period known as Radical Reconstruction in the South (occupied, after the end of the Civil War, by Northern troops 1865-1877) over 80% of Republican voters in the South (all former slaves) easily won positions of power due to former Confederate soldiers not being allowed to vote at all — the whites that could vote in the South voted for the Democratic Party, perhaps because it was the pro-slavery party prior to the Civil War breaking out in 1861.

Today the Democratic Party in the United States is heavily dependent on the “Black vote”, and the Republican Party has few Black members. What happened?

One of my main sources for much of what follows is a relatively new History of the United States, published late in 2018, and written by a Harvard Professor of American History, Jill Lepore. Highly readable, even though it has some 930 pages.

book cover

As our memories are at times not to be trusted entirely, I’m using the Oxford University Companion to United States History for fact-checking purposes. Published in 2001 it is also too heavy to carry around in your pocket (940 pages).

The Democratic Party in the 1930’s, under the leadership of President FDR , implemented the New Deal based on Keynesianism – an economic theory derived from the writings of the British economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes, in response to the Great Depression, challenged the ability of traditional Capitalism to deal with mass unemployment and poverty. According to Keynes public (tax financed) investment would stimulate the economy and create jobs. Workers that had been involved in tax-financed employment would then move back into the private sector due to the greater demand for goods and services. According to Keynes this increased demand was caused by their getting income from tax-financed jobs. FDR’s New Deal policies were extremely popular with the working class and caused the Democratic Party to gravitate towards the interests of the Trade Union movement. Workers, usually men, became the party activists of the Democratic Party and were the infrastructure of the party. The rich were expected to pay higher taxes to ensure the survival of Capitalism.

We are seeing today how Keynesianism is making a comeback in the Presidential election with both Saunders and Warren seeing the benefits of a return to New Deal thinking and Public Works projects as a way of dealing with poverty in America today.

The Republican Party of the 1930’s did not agree with FDR, and denounced public spending as a source of corruption, maintaining that Keynesianism created welfare dependency making the poor unwilling to look for “real jobs” in the private sector. Instead, they promoted the importance of hierarchy and patriarchy and claimed to find virtue in austerity. The Government, according to the Republican Party, needed to cut back on taxes, stop spending money on welfare, and support the needs of the private sector, i.e., help provide access to cheap labor by making unemployment painful. Cultural changes, they maintained, caused cultural decline and should be avoided. Traditional Christian values (God, Country and Family) were promoted. From 1945 to 1955 church membership in American grew from 75 to 100 million members and much of that growth was due to Southern Baptist preachers, white conservative Protestants, such as my fellow North Carolinian Billy Graham. They found a home in the Republican Party. During the 1950’s a new group of women emerged, they were the housewives. For them Family, God and Country were a perfect fit and many joined the Republican Party and took over responsibility for making coffee, baking cookies, and ringing doorbells during elections. By the 1950’s a majority of party activists were women, they had become the infrastructure of the party. In 1972 Nixon began the process of making the Republican Party an anti-abortion party in response to the feelings of Republican women members. Barry Goldwater admitted that there would be no Republican Party without all those women. Nixon couldn’t stand them and said once “I will not go and talk to those shitty ass old ladies!” , but of course he did anyway as they were important for getting him elected.

Ronald Reagan, in 1981, said that “Government is not the solution to our problem, Government is the problem.” Trump agrees. Taxes for the rich need to be lowered and government spending on benefits for the poor must be ended. The poor need to be encouraged to get a job and that can only be done by making unemployment exceptionally painful.

After 9/11, the White Supremacist movement in America began to revive and regain strength based on their two main goals: they wanted to preserve the icons of the Confederacy and also stop all immigration of non-whites into the USA. When Trump started talking about the need for a wall in order to keep out Latino murders and rapists they became enthusiastic supporters of his election. Here we find many of his core supporters today, side by side with Christian groups that may feel uncomfortable with Trump as a person, but feel strongly that Trump has been chosen by God to do numerous Good Deeds, such as outlawing abortion and packing the Supreme Court with Christian Conservatives. The Christian Conservatives had a meeting with Trump during the 2016 election and gave him a list of their candidates to the Supreme Court. Two have been appointed already. They also presented a list of hundreds of Christian Conservative candidates that they wanted to have as federal judges. Trump has been appointing them and well over 100 are already appointed.

I feel that radical changes are needed in the United States, however I am doubtful about the probability of such changes taking place.

In the Democratic Party we have three potential Presidential candidates: Joe Biden, who represents “more of the same” and will not make any radical changes at all, and then we have Saunders/Warren that both represent middle of the road Social Democracy from a European perspective. Neither are “radical” from a German or Swedish perspective. It is understandable that the rich and super-rich in America fear having to pay any taxes, as they are not used to doing so, however the shrinking middle class should vote for Saunders/Warren with both hands and both feet.

If we get another 4 years with Trump we can forget about Democracy in America. Saunders/Warren, if elected in November, will need 10 years or more to repair the damage Trump has already done to American Democracy.



Vietnam Deserters in Sweden

Vietnam War Posted on Sat, December 14, 2019 13:19:32

Operation Chaos – The Vietnam Deserters who fought the CIA, the Brainwashers, and themselves
By Matthew Sweet, Picador 2018, UK

As I experienced the events covered by the book, at least in relation to the Deserters and Sweden, I opened it with some amount of eager anticipation. It was a little like watching the first movie version of The Hobbit after having read the book 3 times. I could glimpse the book in the film, but had an uneasy feeling that the director hadn’t read the book.
In the interest of fairness, Sweet wrote a highly entertaining and easily read book, oftentimes providing information and perspectives that I found of value.


Sweet promised a book about Deserters, CIA and Brainwashers. This should have been really interesting, however…

The CIA, as Sweet points out, was fond of shredding any and all documentation of issues that might cast a shadow on their activities, especially when such activities might be seen as clearly illegal. Sweet could therefore find nothing of value or interest in public CIA files relating to the CIA’s Operation Chaos, which was directed against the Deserters in Sweden. He did however find some limited mention made of the CIA operation in FBI files. Thanks to J Edgar Hoover, the FBI has an entirely different attitude towards the documentation and the saving of said documentation than that of the CIA. Unfortunately, the documentation Sweet found in FBI files only justified a few of the pages in his book. The CIA, he found, sent agents to Stockholm and most likely placed agents inside of the deserter/exile community, although their identities have not yet been revealed. Speculation as to their identity has been rife since 1968, both within the exile community and among the general public.

As Sweet mentioned, about 1,000 Americans came to Sweden 1968-1972 in protest against the Vietnam war. Only about 30% of these were actual deserters, i.e., active duty members of some branch of military service. The vast majority were resisters and had not left military service to come to Sweden. Sweet has several main characters that he follows throughout the book, the majority of them being resisters, not deserters. The main character, a kind of spider at the center of the net, Mike Vale, was neither a deserter nor a resister. What he was remains an open question even today.
The brainwashing turns out to have been Mike Vale browbeating a number of members of the exile community to make them his allies. Two such cases, a deserter named Bill Jones and a resister named Warren Hamerman become Vale’s hatchet men in the exile community.

A third close associate of Vale’s, Cliff Gaddy, is something of a mystery man and Sweet insinuates that Gaddy may have been the CIA mole in the exile community. Mike Vale, the spider in our exile community web, occupied a large apartment in central Stockholm where the exile community often collected during 1968. I spent a lot of time there myself during 1968 and yet I managed to miss out on all the brainwashing that Sweet said was taking place. I never even heard anyone mention it.

Oh well, that takes care of the Deserters, the CIA and the Brainwashers. What’s left in the book? Although some mention is made of a number of exile community participants, a great deal of the book’s contents deal with how a select (Vale, Jones, Gaddy, and Hamerman) became involved with a remarkable American political sect, the NCLC (National Caucus of Labor Committees) run by their a cult figure named LaRouche.

If you are interested in paranoid/nutty conspiracy theories then LaRouche is the man to study. Sweet uses far too many of the pages in his book dealing with the absurdities of the various LaRouche front organizations and following these members of the exile community as they wandered in and out of the LaRouchian Maze in Sweden, Germany, France and the USA.
Sweet is a talented writer.

I am looking forward to seeing him write a book about the Vietnam War Deserters in Sweden. Let’s hope he does that. When he does I hope he will take up some of the many success stories to be found in the exile community, as he had no place for them in this book.



What kind of EU do we want to have?

EU issues Posted on Sat, December 14, 2019 10:57:29

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a powerful Chinese warlord is said to have sent several wise men off on an important mission. They were sent to discover what an elephant was.

In order to avoid their being biased by what they might see, they were blinded. Upon their return the warlord was dismayed by their report.

One wise man said he had held the elephant in one hand, and it felt like a snake, while another said that that was nonsense, as he had felt it and found it to be round and thick like a tree. Yet another wise man said it was big and flat, like a wall. All were of course right, the elephant is all of these things and more besides.

People relate to the EU in much the same way. They are all looking at the same thing, but see different things depending upon their different perspectives.

One group is called the federalists. Another the confederates.

The federalists quote from various EU documents and maintain that the goal of the EU is the establishment of a United States of Europe with one currency, one government, one military establishment, a joint income tax, and so on.

And then we have the confederates, who maintain that the EU is a group of sovereign states that have agreed to do certain things together – nothing more or less than a system of cooperation between free and independent countries.

To make matters worse, they all quote from the same documents, albeit different passages. Wherein lies the truth of the matter?

As I see it the EU is in a state of permanent transition, a process of metamorphoses. Where this process of change will lead is still an open question. The EU is not “something,” it is many different somethings to many different people. This “thing” has a system of institutions that “do” stuff.

If you are a staunch federalist then you want the European Parliament to have a greater say in the workings of the EU, and you complain about a lack of democracy in the Union.

If you are a confederate then this does not interest you at all. Why indeed should some Eurocrats somewhere be allowed to vote on questions of vital importance for your country? Such questions ought to be resolved within the confines of your own national Parliament, and nowhere else.

At the heart of Brexit

The EU-Confederates in the UK felt that the EU had become too federalized and chose to leave as they didn’t want to be dominated by the other EU members.

Perhaps some of them wanted to make sure that their pints were not taken from them, and perhaps feared being forced to order a 440ml beer instead of a pint?

In times of turmoil

**source: a right-wing website: renagade.com

In times of conflict we usually seek to unite in order to better defend ourselves, and the same will probably apply for the EU. Conflict outside of and within our common borders will cause member states to want more of federalism, not less. We may see the emergance of a European Income Tax in order to finance a common European Union Army to defend the EU from external threats. If this is good or bad will depend upon your stance in the federalist/confederate debate.



Leap of Faith – The War on Iraq

History stuff Posted on Fri, December 13, 2019 14:12:27

While visiting my family in North Carolina in July of this year I ran out of reading material and found a small bookstore, The Country Bookshop, in downtown Southern Pines, located on 140 NW Broad St if you ever find yourself close by. There is really only one main street in the town, so you can’t miss it. My home town, Aberdeen, is even smaller and doesn’t have a bookstore.

To my great surprise, they had a relatively large section for history books, perhaps 4-6 shelf meters. There I found a new book (Leap of Faith – Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy), published in March 2019, and found it of interest as I’ve already read perhaps far too many books about American involvement in the Middle East and still can’t really understand how we screwed up so badly, to put it mildly.

As a child, growing up in North Carolina, I had assumed that we had the best possible leaders for our country and that they were both knowledgeable and talented individuals with high moral values. As I grew older I realized that the American historian Barbara Tuchman was probably right when she said in one of her books that we seem doomed to always choose the worst possible leaders of our countries. She was talking about the countries participating in the negotiations at Versailles in 1919 to establish the Peace Treaty to end WWI. Their thirst for vengeance created the soil in which the Nazis could grow to threaten world peace. Today’s leaders haven’t improved much. This morning I read in the on-line version of the Guardian about Boris victory in the UK elections, paving the way for Brexit on 31 January 2020. Our President in the US is busy getting impeached and Putin in Russia is busy trying to influence elections in many countries, not just in the US.

Before I bought the book I checked to see who wrote it. Michael J Mazarr is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and has previously served as the associate dean and professor of national security strategy at the US National War College in Washington, DC. With 95 pages of notes and bibliography it can be said to be well-researched. He had over 100 interviews with the decision makers of that time and ploughed his way through numerous memoirs written by government officials that were active then. Perhaps most importantly, he accessed every declassified document available, from both the US and British governments. As Mazarr was an employee of the Department of Defense (DoD) during part of his time working on the book, he submitted the draft manuscript for security clearance and was cleared by the DoD for publication.

So, what does he have to say in 500 pages? The short version is that we screwed up big time and that we risk doing it again and again in the future.

The longer version:

President George W. Bush was a born-again Christian that truly believed that he was on a mission from God. Before 9/11 senior government officials were already convinced that sooner or later Saddam had to go. The events of 9/11 functioned as a turning point or catalyst pushing the administration forward towards what was already seen as an inevitable war with Iraq.

After the end of the Cold War in 1989-91, the consensus of opinion within the US national security community was one of messianic purpose. God had made the US the chosen one, we were bringing civilization to the barbarians. If you were not for us, you were against God, and you would regret being on the wrong side of history.

Our American leadership actually thought that the Iraqi people would be so pleased by the arrival of American troops that they would welcome us as saviors, in much the way of the French when we marched into Paris after the D-Day invasion. They planned accordingly.

No plans were made for administrating a defeated Iraq, as it was assumed that our friends in Iraq would create a new pro-American government and take care of their country themselves. When that didn’t happen we had no plans for solving the chaos that followed. To make matters (far) worse, one of our first acts as an occupation force was to dissolve the Iraqi military and send them home to unemployment and frustration. We also blacklisted all Baath-Party members from participation in government and from holding positions of responsibility – effectively ostracizing the vast majority of educated and qualified Iraqis. Arms and ammunition dumps were left unguarded and frustrated Iraqis could collect the arms and ammunition needed to fight the foreign occupiers.

The US did not set aside any funds at all for civilian law enforcement and/or reformation after a victory in the war was won. We just assumed that the Iraqi police and courts would continue with business as usual. Unfortunately, their business, as usual, was administrating law and order in a single-party dictatorship, aided by 5 different secret police agencies that all used rape and torture as part of their SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). The police went home, taking their weapons with them. In many cases they joined the armed fight against foreign occupation.

Those within the US government that saw these problems did nothing to prevent them. Their usual excuse being that they assumed that the leadership knew what it was doing. Those that voiced a conflicting opinion were quickly silenced by a compact majority that “knew” we were doing the right thing. To criticize was seen as disloyal conduct in a time of national crisis.

Mazarr warns us that “It is the marriage of these two factors – the driving engine of the messianic sensibility in US foreign policy and the emergence of a specific moralistic urge to act in service of sacred values – that so often produces disasters.” (page 411)

He fears we will see more of the same in the future. I really wish I could say that he must be wrong about this, but I can’t.



Being a pensioner hasn´t worked out well

Rantings Posted on Fri, December 13, 2019 11:53:48

I became a pensioner (65 years of age) in December of 2013, however I was busy working as Principal of an International School at the time so I didn´t stop working.

In the summer of 2014, when I returned from Delhi after having been Principal of Amity Global School for three years, I had intended to retire ”for real” and take it easy.

It was not to be. By August I was teaching at a local High School in Stockholm (Snitz Gymnasium). Teaching is great fun and I love doing it.

In January of 2015 I found myself working as Vice Principal of a Swedish High School (Nyköpings Gymnasium) where I was responsible for one of their vocational programs until the end of March 2016. After that I returned to being a pensioner again, or so I thought!

By August of 2016 I was once again teaching in a local High School in Stockholm (Magelungens Gymnasium). I guess I would still be there today, however the unexpected happened – as it usually does, and I was recruited by a Headhunter in India to return again to that amazing country.

I was tasked with being the Director and Principal of a new International School in Aurangabad as of January 2017. By October I had the new school up and running and could return to my life as a pensioner in Sweden.

A few months later, in January 2018, I found myself teaching at another local High School (Rytmus Musik Gymnasium) as one of their teachers was off having a baby. She was due to return after the summer, so I could go back to being a pensioner.

Surprise! That didn´t happen.

I found myself teaching at another local High School, the school where I still am now (Mimers Gymnasium).

Perhaps I can become a pensioner this coming summer?

In any case, I´ve decided to wake up my blog now. There is so much going on in the world and I need to talk/blog about it.

If you are interested in what I have to say, then welcome back for more.

PS: The blog´s layout is a work in progress, so expect some changes over time.

Lon



70 years ago today

History stuff Posted on Fri, June 06, 2014 05:44:05

D-Day, 6 June 1944

During the buildup for the invasion many thousands of Americans invaded England. The British said at the time that there were three problems with having so many Americans in Britain.

The Americans are 1) over paid, 2) over sexed, and 3) over here

In general they were happy to have us on their little island as it signaled the beginning of the end of WWII for the beleaguered British. They had stood alone for far too long against an enemy that occupied most of Europe.

The D-Day attack was close to failure, perhaps too close for comfort. If the German Panzer reserves had been sent to the beachheads the troops landing would have never survived the attempt. Luckily enough for the Allies, only Hitler could give the order to use the Panzer reserves, and nobody wanted to wake him up and ask. Weird, but true.

My father was in the South Pacific at the time. He never spoke of his wartime memories, so I assume that they were painful.



Historical Distortions

History stuff Posted on Thu, June 05, 2014 09:26:09

All history teachers must have long lists of historical distortions on the part of students and fellow staff members, not to mention the “general public”.

As an American I keep hearing Europeans say that there are 52 States in the USA, and I’ve always wondered how they could possibly think so. There are only 50. If you doubt me, just count the stars on the American flag, there is one for every State.

Another (very) popular misconception has been related to the American Civil War. It is common in Europe, and even in parts of the USA, to maintain that the Civil War (1861-65) was fought to bring an end to the evils of slavery.

That slavery was an evil is beyond any doubt, however it was not the reason for the Civil War!

The short version is as follows, according to me at least:

The South was populated by plantation farmers and small farmers. The majority of all farmers had no slaves at all. A small minority of farmers had large farms with imported slave labor. Cotton was the main cash crop. Cotton was produced and shipped by boat to England where it was sold for use in the British textile industry. Money from the sales was used to buy manufactured goods (such as guns, boots, horse saddles, window panes and much else), and these goods were then sent back to the South for sale.

The prices were lower than for similar products produced in the industrialized North, due to economies of scale. A factory in England that makes 5,000 guns a year can price each gun lower than a factory in the North that only makes 100 guns per year.

The North was not suitable for extensive agriculture and was therefore settled by artisans, shopkeepers, and tradesmen of various kinds. Surplus population crossed the mountains and went on into the open plains areas in search of land to cultivate.

The small industrial enterprises in the North were very angry about the “unfair competition” created by the cheap imports from England, and demanded of their elected representatives that import taxes should be imposed so as to bring the price of the imports up to and hopefully above the prices they themselves were asking for their products.

The South found no reason to pay higher prices for industrial products and demanded of their elected representatives that no such import taxes be levied.

The North felt that their “way of life” was threatened by the South and the South felt that their “way of life” was threatened by the North.

In the Constitution of the United States it very clearly says that the participant States have joined freely, implying that they are free to leave whenever they choose.

When South Carolina chose to leave, and together with a total of 13 States chose to create a new country, “The Confederate States of America“, President Lincoln refused to accept it.

Legal historians are in agreement about Lincoln being in breech of the Constitution when he refused to allow the States in question to leave the USA.

In any case, Northern troops were “occupying” part of the State of South Carolina, an island off the coast of Charleston named Fort Sumter.

When the North refused to withdraw their troops the South attacked and threw them out. The Civil War had begun.

On 1 January 1863, after the North had lost numerous battles against the Southern forces, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln, freeing all slaves in the States in revolt. States that were not in revolt, such as Maryland, West Virginia and others, were allowed to keep their slaves.

The idea behind the freeing of slaves in the South was to encourage slave revolts behind enemy lines. It didn’t happen.

After the Civil War was over all slaves were freed in the entire USA, which was of course a good thing.

Between 1865 and 1877 the North occupied the South with military force. When they withdrew in 1877 they turned the political power over to the same people that they had fought against during the Civil War.

There is so much more to relate, however I promised the Short Version.



Life is magical

Rantings Posted on Tue, June 03, 2014 04:54:14

As I listen to the ancient Tibetan chant “Om Mani Padme Hum” it occurs to me that so few of us actually enjoy life in a spiritual sense.

The joy of living, experiencing, the joy of discovering the wonder of our potential for change.

Change is good, as is conflict — conflict and change give us new opportunities to reshape our lives and choose a better life for ourselves and for others. Those that do everything to avoid change and conflict are avoiding learning from life!

Randy Travis (Country music star) sings in one of his songs that “it is not what we take with us when we leave that matters, it is what we leave behind”.

We choose to have the life that we lead, although our choices are not always enlightened ones. Happily, if we make bad choices, we can also make better choices.

All too many older people tend to forget the magic of life, the exhilaration of doing something for the first time, the joy of making others happy. They sink down into contemplation of their bad choices, not understanding that they can make better ones! That is tragic.

Making mistakes in life is a good thing, if we learn from them.

As Lord Buddha said:

Learn from the Past
Plan for the Future
Live Now