Thursday, December 31, 2009

Next Year's Resolution

Dear Old Self,

What gives you the right, presumptuous resolution maker, to bind me with your oaths? Is it possible that you have not yet learned that a promise poisons everything? Well! Permit me to spread the poison evenly! I will make a promise to you as recompense for your hubris and conceit in thinking yourself qualified to command me, your self-evident superior: I will foil all your best laid plans and break in pieces all your pretty pictures! 'Your' New Year belongs to me. Do not forget it!

Sincerely,
Your Ghost of Ego Future

Friday, December 4, 2009

Santa Loves Freedom

I have been on vacation in Washington, D.C. for a couple of weeks to visit my sister Neicy. On Thursday, at her invitation, I attended a Christmas party hosted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she is currently working as in intern in their Occupational Therapy program. I wore a shirt from the Mises Institute with a picture of Jean-Baptiste Say on it and the subtitle: Markets Clear.

The party was going nicely. There was food and karaoke. Neicy and I had eventually ended up in a corner talking with some of her co-workers, when I noticed that Santa was working his way across the room in our direction. He stopped in front of me, and exclaimed, "Jean-Baptiste Say! Mises.org! Fantastic!" I was shocked. I had no idea that Santa loved freedom.

I suppose I should have known. All the clues were there. Could it be mere coincidence that Santa's workshop is located at the North Pole, in an area where - under international law - no state can claim ownership over the territory or the region of the Arctic Ocean surrounding it? Would it not require a regulation-free environment in order to produce the staggering variety and output of toys required by his international operation? Who better than this man without a country to understand the idiocy of statism and patriotism? Indeed, could any living individual possibly be better acquainted with the human condition than Santa himself, intimately acquainted as he is with the secret actions and desires of all, whether asleep or awake? I learned that Santa has two sons who both work as videographers - one for Reason and the other for the Cato Institute. Santa "cut his teeth" as a young man on the works of Albert Jay Nock and cited as his favorite works from that author his 1935 book, Our Enemy, the State and his 1936 essay, Isaiah's Job.

Curious to learn more, I asked Santa about his political views and got a surprisingly refreshing reply. Santa told a story about a man named Otanes in Persia in the 6th century BC, mentioned in Herodotus' Histories in Book III ch 80-83. It seemed that Otanes took part in a coup, along with Darius and five others, to overthrow the king of Persia. Following the murder of the king, the conspirators argued amongst themselves over what kind of government should be established. One, named Megabyzus argued in favor of oligarchy. Darius argued for monarchy, and the other four conspirators agreed with him. Otanes was opposed to all of this. Herodotus quotes him as reasoning,

"How can monarchy be a fit thing, when the ruler can do what he wants with impunity? Give this power to the best man on earth, and it would stir him to unaccustomed thoughts."

Still, the call for a monarchy carried the day. Otanes, seeing he was defeated, then addressed the others,

“Fellow partisans, it is plain that one of us must be made king (whether by lot, or entrusted with the office by the choice of the Persians, or in some other way), but I shall not compete with you; I desire neither to rule nor to be ruled; but if I waive my claim to be king, I make this condition, that neither I nor any of my descendants shall be subject to any one of you.”

To these terms the six others agreed. Otanes did not participate in the contest to rule others - content to rule himself - and Herodotus noted that to the day of his writing, the house of Otanes remained free.

Added Santa: "That's about as close to anarchy as you can get."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On The New Idol

From "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" by Friedrich Nietzsche
Translated by Walter Kaufmann

Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not where we live, my brothers: here there are states. State? What is that? Well then, open your ears to me, for now I shall speak to you about the death of peoples.
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it tells lies too; and this lie crawls out of its mouth: "I, the state, am the people." That is a lie! It was creators who created peoples and hung faith and a love over them: thus they served life.
It is annihilators who set traps for the many and call them "state": they hang a sword and a hundred appetites over them.
Where there is still a people, it does not understand the state and hates it as the evil eye and the sin against customs and rights.
This sign I give you: every people speaks its tongue of good and evil, which the neighbor does not understand. It has invented its own language of customs and rights. But the state tells lies in all the tongues of good and evil; and whatever it says it lies--and whatever it has it has stolen. Everything about it is false; it bites with stolen teeth, and bites easily. Even its entrails are false. Confusion of tongues of good and evil: this sign I give you as the sign of the state. Verily, this sign signifies the will to death. Verily, it beckons to the preachers of death.
All-too-many are born: for the superfluous the state was invented.
Behold, how it lures them, the all-too-many--and how it devours them, chews them, and ruminates!
"On earth there is nothing greater than I: the ordering finger of God am I"--thus roars the monster. And it is not only the long-eared and shortsighted who sink to their knees. Alas, to you too, you great souls, it whispers its dark lies. Alas, it detects the rich hearts which like to squander themselves. Indeed, it detects you too, you vanquishers of the old god. You have grown weary with fighting, and now your weariness still serves the new idol. With heroes and honorable men it would surround itself, the new idol! It likes to bask in the sunshine of good consciences--the cold monster!
It will give you everything if you will adore it, this new idol: thus it buys the splendor of your virtues and the look of your proud eyes. It would use you as bait for the all-too-many.
Indeed, a hellish artifice was invented there, a horse of death, clattering in the finery of divine honors. Indeed, a dying for many was invented there, which praises itself as life: verily, a great service to all preachers of death!
State I call it where all drink poison, the good and the wicked; state, where all lose themselves, the good and the wicked; state, where the slow suicide of all is called "life".
Behold the superfluous! They steal the works of the inventors and the treasures of the sages for themselves; "education" they call their theft--and everything turns to sickness and misfortune for them.
Behold the superfluous! They are always sick; they vomit their gall and call it a newspaper. They devour each other and cannot even digest themselves.
Behold the superfluous! They gather riches and become poorer with them. They want power and first the lever of power, much money--the impotent paupers!
Watch them clamber, these swift monkeys! They clamber over one another and thus drag one another into the mud and the depth. They all want to get to the throne. Often mud sits on the throne--and often also the throne on mud. Mad they all appear to me, clambering monkeys and overardent. Foul smells their idol, the cold monster: foul they smell to me altogether, these idolators.
My brothers, do you want to suffocate in the fumes of their snouts and appetites? Rather break the windows and leap to freedom.
Escape from the bad smell! Escape from the idolatry of the superfluous!
Escape from the bad smell! Escape from the steam of these human sacrifices!
The earth is free even now for great souls. There are still many empty seats for the lonesome and the twosome, fanned by the fragrance of silent seas.
A free life is still free for great souls. Verily, whoever possesses little is possessed that much less: praised be a little poverty!
Only where the state ends, there begins the human being who is not superfluous: there begins the song of necessity, the unique and inimitable tune.
Where the state ends--look there, my brothers! Do you not see it, the rainbow and the bridges of the √úbermensch?
Thus spoke Zarathustra.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fall of the Berlin Wall

Beginning with Poland in 1989, soviet states began to refuse to cooperate with the centralized oppression of Moscow, setting off a series of largely bloodless revolutions which spread within months through Eastern and Central Europe. Today is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is often viewed as the culminating event signifying the fall of the old Soviet Union.


I would to God that we could see a similar revolution take place on our own soil. But who will be our Poland? Could it be Texas, Vermont, New Hampshire... Alaska? And what shall we tear down in place of the Berlin Wall? Perhaps we could topple the Washington Monument. Still, it must be said that if such a rebellion of states from centralized authority were to be consistent in principle, it could only properly end with the abolition of all forms of state oppression - an end to statism itself - and it does not seem to me that the people of the United States are anywhere near to being prepared for this.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Poland

At the recommendation of a friend, I have been reading James Michener's 'Poland'. For those of you unfamiliar with Michener, his books are renowned for their meticulous research and attention to detail. 'Poland' has so far been an educational and engaging work of historical fiction covering eight centuries of Polish history.

A persistent theme in 'Poland' so far has been the plight of the Polish serfs. One passage in particular caught my attention this morning as I read in chapter six, which covers the political and social upheavals that took place in Poland during the late eighteenth century. The following exchange takes place on page 260 between twenty-two year old Feliks Bukowski (a fictional character of minor nobility on a wife-finding tour of Poland) and the historical Princess Lubomisrka in her palace at Lancut. Feliks, himself the owner of peasants, had for the first time become aware of the difficult life faced by the Polish peasantry, and in a private moment with the older, well-traveled and evidently very well socially networked princess, he expresses his troubled conscience:

"But Feliks persisted: 'Will your peasants be set free?' and she replied evasively: 'Wolfgang von Goethe was the most brilliant man I ever met, master of the universe. But Ben Franklin was the wisest, master of the human soul. I never liked Tom Jefferson much - too revolutionary, too scientific and inhuman. And each one of these exceptional men told me that for the present, some kind of serfdom was inescapable; slavery in America, peasants in Poland. If America thinks it can end its slavery, it will perish. The day when serfs are set free in Poland, it will perish.'"

Reading this, I thought about how the present mode of doing things, even when patently incorrect or unjust, often seems inescapable and irrefutable to those engaged in it. We get used to things the way they are, and in short order it seems impossible to imagine doing things in any other way. The intellectual strategy used by oppressors to justify their actions throughout the course of human history has most often been to make oppression seem inevitable - so that even if it is resented as inequitable, it will be met with passive resignation and tolerated.

Monday, September 7, 2009

We the People of the United States

I recently had a conversation with a good friend at work who had just finished Glenn Beck's book, 'Common Sense'. He asked if I would be interested in borrowing it from him. When I told him that I didn't agree with Beck's message, he sounded surprised and asked, 'Why not?' I replied: 'I don't appreciate the reverence he pays to the Constitution, among other things.' An incredulous look came across his face and he asked: 'But don't you think that the Constitution holds the key to recovering the individual liberties that have been lost in this country?' We discussed the issue briefly - I explained why I felt that the Constitution was no guarantor of freedom and he explained why he felt it was - and then we each went our separate ways, neither of us much closer to being convinced of the truth of the other's case than when we started, which seems to be typical of any debate. I have had several such discussions concerning the Constitution during the past few months, and the conclusion of each has left me feeling not quite satisfied that I had explained myself sufficiently. In this post I would like to give a fuller explanation of why I feel the way I do.

In June of 1776 the Second Continental Congress of the United States assembled a committee to prepare a document which would govern the land following the cessation of British rule. The resulting Articles of Confederation, based on the principle of unanimous consent by the various state legislatures as a prerequisite for action, immediately became the de facto government of the United States and was ratified in 1781. The Articles formed a nation and created a form of central government, but proponents of centralized power and control, many of whom later coalesced to form the Federalist Party, were not satisfied. They wanted a strong central government with power to enforce taxation among the States and increased ability to incur national debt. Counted among the proponents of strong central government were Northern merchants who longed for tariffs on finished goods imported from overseas and Southern gentlemen who craved official recognition of the institution of slavery and the extradition of slaves who had escaped to northern States. The Articles of Confederation, with its limited grants of power to Congress and concept of strong State sovereignty, was of no use in enforcing such matters. Legislators in the North could not force the South to obey any tariff which robbed Southern citizens to enrich Northern merchants, and legislators in the South could not force Northern populations to officially recognize the practice of slavery, which many felt was an abomination. With almost no federal bureaucratic positions created under the Articles, those who aspired to lofty positions of power were similarly disappointed.

Inevitably, a crisis occurred which provided a pretext for a renewed assault on individual liberty along federalist ideological lines. In 1786, an uprising of veterans and farmers in Massachusetts led by Daniel Shays organized to oppose the confiscation of their property and imprisonment for failure to pay the taxes which were being collected to remunerate speculators who had financed the revolutionary war effort. An army privately financed by wealthy Boston merchants[1] put the movement down, but the practice of using any threat to the existing power structure as a pretext for a further extension of power and erosion of individual liberty was a well known tactic even in the 18th century and would be put to good use.

One year later, in May 1787, a gathering of American elites met in Philadelphia to discuss what they perceived to be the weaknesses of the Articles. Each delegate came with the particular vested interests of his home state in mind. Most of the delegates from the various states (Rhode Island delegates did not attend) were in favor of further centralizing power, with the name "Shaysite" being applied to anyone who was not. After a month of heated debate they came to the only conclusion which could possibly meet the demands of the majority of those present: the government of the United States of America would be abolished. A new federation would replace the Confederation of States outlined under the Articles, and a constitution would be drawn up to enumerate its powers. Further months of vigorous and vitriolic debate followed before a final draft was adopted on September 17th. By this time, many of the delegates, so displeased with the results, had returned home. Several others refused to sign, but in the end, 39 of the original 55 delegates appended their names to the document which would be sent to the several States for the process of ratification - ultimately completed June 21st, 1788. Following is an overview of the major points in the new constitution:

Article I - Established a bicameral Congress of the United States, and gave it the power to:
  • Establish representation and levy direct taxes in proportion to population among the States, implicitly recognizing the institution of slavery with the "three-fifths" clause
  • Borrow money and establish a national debt
  • Regulate commerce, as it saw fit, excepting taxes on exports
  • Set standards for the naturalization of citizens
  • Coin money and fix the value therof, as well as the value of foreign coin
  • Monopolize the delivery of mail
  • Grant monopolies in the form of intellectual property rights
  • Declare war
  • Raise and support an army and navy, with certain limitations
  • Provide for calling forth state militias to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions
  • Make laws necessary and proper for the execution of all powers granted the Congress
  • Suspend Habeas Corpus when required for "public safety"
  • Forbid individual States from forming compacts with each other or declaring war without the consent of Congress

Article II - Established an Executive Branch of the United States, with power vested in a President of the United States of America and gave him power to:

  • Command the army and navy of the United States, including the militias of the several States
  • Grant reprieves and pardons for any offence, except in cases of impeachment
  • Make binding treaties, with the approval of the Senate
  • Appoint ambassadors, public ministers and consuls, Supreme Court Judges, and other officers, with approval from Congress
  • See to it that all laws be faithfully executed

Article III - Established a Judicial Branch with power vested in a Supreme Court and in such inferior courts as the Congress saw fit and gave it the power to exercise dominion over disputes within the territory of or concerning the United States of America. The right to trial by jury in all criminal cases was established. Acts of treason were defined along with subsequent punishments to be carried out by Congress.

Article IV - Further established the subordination of individual States to federal power, giving Congress the authority to prescribe laws concerning the interrelationships of States and ensuring the extradition of slaves and criminals. The process by which new States were to admitted into the Union was outlined, republican government within each state was stipulated and the federal government was given the explicit responsibility to protect against invasion and domestic violence.

Article V - Outlined the process of amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Article VI - Established the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and prohibited religious tests as a qualification for public office.

Article VII - Outlined the process of ratification.

The Constitution of the United States of America, so composed, represented tremendous growth in the centralized power of the American government. At the conclusion of the Philadelphia Convention, as the delegates stepped forward to sign their names, Benjamin Franklin, a delegate from Pennsylvania, remarked to a colleague that he had often noticed the half-sun insignia on the Convention President's chair and wondered to himself if it were a rising, or a setting sun. He was now sure, he said, that it was a rising sun[2]. Franklin's interpretation was certainly correct, for the signing of the Constitution was a beginning, and not an end to the centralization of power and the monopolization of justice by America's political caste.

I contend that the liberality with which the federal government has over the years interpreted its enumerated powers is a natural consequence, and not an aberration of the principles which were engrossed upon parchment that summer in Pennsylvania. Those who wish to restore principles of individual liberty must realize that reform within the existing framework of the Constitution cannot effect lasting change, for a step back is of no ultimate consequence to the marcher who is not induced to face a different direction. Once accepted, all principles march on until they reach their inevitable conclusions. The central principle which justified the creation of the U.S. Constitution is that it is acceptable to use force to centralize power in the hands of the few, so that the many might be protected from themselves. No doubt the majority of men and women in the world today believe this; yet I choose to be among those who are of the opinion stated by Thomas Jefferson in his 1801 inaugural address:

"Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question."

Yet, the irony implicit in Jefferson uttering these words as he prepared to sit upon his throne does not escape me -- perhaps it would be best if instead I allow Henry David Thoreau to conclude my rant against the law of this great land with words from his 1854 essay, "Slavery in Massachusetts":

"The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free... I would remind my countrymen that they are to be men first, and Americans only at a late and convenient hour... The question is, not whether you or your grandfather, seventy years ago, did not enter into an agreement to serve the Devil, and that service is not accordingly now due; but whether you will not now, for once and at last, serve God - in spite of your own past recreancy, or that of your ancestor - by obeying that eternal and only just CONSTITUTION, which He, and not any Jefferson or Adams, has written in your being."

Sources

1. Subscription list for paying and supplying a militia, 4 January 1787, Massachusetts Archives Collection, Records, Vol. 189: 64, MA.

2. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, debates in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 17, 1787.James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott, p. 763.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Education for Freedom

I traveled to Steamboat Springs, CO this weekend to attend my Dad's wedding and stayed a couple of nights at the house of his new bride, DonEla. DonEla is a wonderful lady - kind, funny, devoted to the LDS church and possessed of a fantastic gospel library with many titles that are no longer in print. While browsing the shelves, to my delight I found a title that I had heard much about but had never actually held: "An Enemy Hath Done This" by Ezra Taft Benson (Parliament Publishers, Inc. 1969). The table of contents promised that the book would be a veritable time capsule, with titles such as "Victory Over Communism", "Disarmament - Blueprint for Surrender", "Vietnam - Why Not Victory", and "Civil Rights - Tool of Communist Deception". Other chapters tantalized me with titles like, "Deficit Spending and Inflation", "Gold and the Balance of Payments", "Taxation - A Power to Destroy", "Social Security - Fact and Fiction", and "Education for Freedom".

Nearly every chapter in this book is worthy of a post, but I would like to focus today on the stance taken by Elder Benson in the chapter titled "Education for Freedom", where he states his fear on page 229 that,

"should the educational system ever fall into the hands of the in-power political faction or into the hands of an obscure but tightly-knit group of professional social reformers, it could be used, not to educate, but to indoctrinate."

The indoctrination he fears is that of creeping socialism, which he backs up by sharing a quote from Khrushchev:

"Like every other form of state-directed activity in the Soviet Union, education is conceived as a weapon serving the interests of the Communist Party and dedicated to a single objective - the victory of the Soviet system."

Benson concludes by giving his opinion that,

"Obviously, the best way to prevent a political faction or any small group of people from capturing control of the nation's educational system is to keep it decentralized into small local units... Secondly, and by no means of little importance, there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution which authorized the federal government to enter into the field of education."

Not surprisingly, this opinion of Elder Benson - then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles - mirrored the stance taken by then church president David O McKay in 1964 when he stated in the November 2 edition of the Deseret News, p. 378,

"As a matter of general policy, the BYU Board of Trustees has long adhered to a position opposed to general federal aid to education. We have always objected to the Church or any of its branches or agencies receiving any subsidy or 'gift' from the government... We have steadfastly refused to participate in any federal educational program which is based upon the subsidy principle."

Almost exactly one year after that article was published, in November of 1965, congress passed and the President signed the Higher Education Act, which established grants, scholarships and federally subsidized student loans to colleges and universities nationwide which met federally established school policy and curriculum guidelines. I'm not sure how long BYU continued to steadfastly oppose federal subsidy, but my guess is that it was not for very long (BYU students click here to check the status of your Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

The reasons for the church's decision to accept federal aid seem obvious to me. If the LDS church rejected federal subsidy, the cost to maintain educational standards at BYU would skyrocket as changing market conditions (due to the influx of federal funds) allowed other institutions to offer higher faculty salaries and a lower real cost to students. This increased cost would fall upon the members of the church, who while voluntarily supporting church education would be forced through involuntary taxation to support private universities that chose to accept federal subsidy. Though I understand the reasons for the change in policy, I have to wonder: Does creeping socialism no longer pose a threat to the American way of life? Does reliance upon federal subsidy no longer challenge the integrity of the church-sponsored educational system? I believe that the answers to these questions are still worthy of sincere consideration.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chain Letter

I recently received a chain letter marked with almost 1000 signatures from people rightfully concerned about the way government is spending our money. I have included the text from that letter and my response to it.

The letter:
SOCIAL SECURITY CHANGES
It is already impossible to live on Social Security alone. If the government gives benefits to 'illegal' aliens who have never contributed, where does that leave those of us who have paid into Social Security all our working lives? As stated below, the Senate voted this week to allow 'illegal' aliens access to Social Security benefits. Attached is an opportunity to sign a petition that requires citizenship for eligibility to that social service. Instructions are below. If you don't forward the petition and just stop it, we will lose all these names. If you do not want to sign it, please just forward it to everyone you know. Thank you! To add your name, click on 'forward'... Address it to all of your email correspondents, add your name to the list and send it on. When the petition hits 1,000, send it to comment@whitehouse.gov

PETITION for President Obama :
Dear Mr President: We, the undersigned, protest the bill that the Senate voted on recently which would allow illegal aliens to access our Social Security. We demand that you and all Congressional representatives require citizenship as a pre-requisite for social services in the United States . We further demand that there not be any amnesty given to illegals, NO free services, no funding, no payments to and for illegal immigrants. We are fed up with the lack of action about this matter and are tired of paying for services to illegals.

My response:
I actually am not concerned with what Congress decides to do with the laws governing Social Security. I do not pay into the Social Security system voluntarily. If a thief takes my money, I do not trouble myself based on whether he spends it on groceries or blows it in a pool hall. Any expenditure is objectionable to me since the funds were obtained without my consent, through the use - or threat - of force.

This letter also seems to address Obama's 2009 economic stimulus package by demanding "NO free services, no funding, no payments to and for illegal immigrants." A lot of people have made a big deal about wanting to make sure that construction jobs subsidized as a result of the stimulus package would only go to firms that can prove through the E-Verify system that they do not hire "illegal" workers. Again, I am not concerned with how Congress decides to allocate the funds from this bill, but if it is to be spent on infrastructure, then the intelligent thing to do would be to give it to firms that can provide the best service at the lowest cost, regardless of who they hire.

Henry D. Thoreau once observed,

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."

I don't care to strike at the branches of the Social Security problem or Obama's stimulus package. As long as both parties have accepted the "root" philosophy that government has the right to redistribute individual wealth, meddle in the market for goods and services, and assault national prosperity by debasing our currency and incurring unsustainable debt, I would prefer that the branches of the tree blossom forth with all possible absurdity. That is perhaps the only way people will realize where the road ends when you start down the path of state-sponsored entitlement programs, protectionism, and interventionism. Thanks for forwarding this email on. I won't sign it, but it was fun to think about!

Brad

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Intellectual Property Rights

I have been thinking about intellectual property rights (patents, copyrights and trademarks) a lot lately. I instinctively doubt that intellectual property laws have any legitimate role to play in a free society.

I have found two highly recommended books that oppose the legitimacy of intellectual property. Both are fairly short and are (of course) available for free. I will be reading them over the next month or so, and I will probably post some reviews.

Against Intellectual Property by N. Stephan Kinsella
Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine

Being willing to lead the way in this great revolution, I hereby renounce my own copyright claim to the renowned poem, "Gayser" (was supposed to be "Geyser"). Any party interested in this literary masterpiece may fairly consider themselves unfettered by the restraints of law or conscience regarding its replication or distribution for personal or commercial use.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Vietnam War

The conclusion of World War II saw the United States and the Soviet Union attempting to carve out separate spheres of economic influence. The political future of Vietnam became an open question. French and Japanese occupying forces had fought bitterly for control during the war; Japan’s defeat allowed France to regain control of much of Southern Vietnam. National forces under the command of communist leader Ho Chi Minh had sought to liberate Vietnam from both French and Japanese colonialism and held power mostly in northern rural areas, filling the power vacuum left by the retreating Japanese. A new struggle in Vietnam developed between French colonialists and nationalist communists, who came to be known as the Viet-Minh.

After a bitter struggle in Korea against communist-backed North Korean forces ended in stalemate, U.S. President Harry Truman determined to take a more stringent and proactive interventionist course in Southeast Asia. The United States naturally hoped that French colonialism and occupation would last in Vietnam. Communism and Capitalism were incompatible economic systems, and Vietnam was an important market for natural resources, including tin and rubber. Truman supported the relatively impotent French occupation against a home-grown communist nationalist movement which swelled its ranks with each passing day. By the time French forces finally collapsed in 1954, Washington was financing nearly 80 percent of France’s war costs against the Viet-Minh. After 8 years of fighting, France eventually signed the 1954 Geneva Accords, recognizing the end of French colonialism and the independence of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Vietnam was temporarily divided at the 17th parallel, pending an internationally supervised national election to be held within 2 years.

The United States refused to acknowledge the provisions of the Geneva Accords and established a puppet government in South Vietnam, led by anti-communist dictator Ngo Dinh Diem. Backed by billions of dollars in U.S. aid in addition to millions distributed by the CIA to bribe detractors, Diem initially enjoyed wide support. Yet over the next 5 years, Diem’s oppressive domestic policies and suppression of communist and non-communist political rivals alike triggered another guerilla revolt among disaffected South Vietnamese. These insurgents came to be known as the Vietcong, and allied with the northern Viet Minh to unify their country in the continued struggle against western colonialism. The CIA supported a coup in 1963 to overthrow Diem, with hopes that a more pliable leader could be found; yet as Washington's influence over South Vietnamese government policy increased, Ho Chi Minh's efforts to portray South Vietnam as a U.S. puppet dictatorship were bolstered.

Kennedy became the first U.S. President to intervene in Vietnam with direct military action, using Green Beret Special Forces to conduct covert warfare. By 1964, the U.S. regularly patrolled the Gulf of Tonkin and occasionally attacked North Vietnamese coastal installations. In July, North Vietnamese patrol boats fired on a U.S. destroyer. U.S. fighter planes returned fire, and operations ceased. In August, the navy reported a second “unprovoked” attack. Recently unclassified documents show that this attack never actually occurred. Nevertheless, President Johnson used the false report to urge Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which granted the President broad powers to escalate military action in Vietnam. Johnson initiated a massive aerial bombing campaign and ordered 100,000 additional soldiers into Vietnam. Growing resentment of foreign interventionism galvanized the Vietcong movement, while the bombings - though overwhelmingly destructive - failed to neutralize the Viet Minh. Troop commitments continued to escalate until by 1968 over 500,000 U.S. soldiers were embroiled in a full-blown Vietnamese civil war, supporting an unpopular, corrupt and militarily ineffective regime against grass-root rebels in South Vietnam, supported militarily by northern Viet-Minh Communists. Early in 1968, the Vietcong launched assaults on every major population center in South Vietnam. The Tet Offensive, as it came to be known, confirmed the fears of the American public that ultimate victory in Vietnam would not be attainable. Public support of the war diminished further when newspapers published photos of the My Lai massacre; 347 unarmed peasants, mostly women, children and the elderly, had been slaughtered by U.S. troops under the command of Lieutenant William Calley. Calley alone was convicted of murder, but his sentenced was reduced by President Nixon and he was paroled, later receiving an honorable discharge after serving only 3 years of house arrest.

Searching for an exit strategy amid mounting anti-war sentiment and protests, Nixon settled on a strategy of “Vietnamization”, where the U.S. would continue to provide air support and munitions assistance while Southern Vietnamese forces gradually took over ground operations. Nixon’s power to implement this strategy was weakened by the Watergate Scandal. Reacting to public pressure, Congress set a deadline of August 1973, after which no more support would be given to fund combat activities in Indochina. The last U.S. combat troops were withdrawn the same year. In 1974, Nixon resigned the Presidency. Without U.S. support, the South Vietnamese government was unable to stop communist advances. On April 30, 1975 North Vietnamese troops marched into the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City. The war had cost the lives of at least 1.5 million Vietnamese and more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Johnson's Great Society

President Lyndon B. Johnson skillfully harnessed a mourning nation’s unity in grief to seek wide-ranging and comprehensive reforms following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. On November 27, 1963, just 5 days after assuming the presidency, Johnson stood before a joint session of Congress and passionately argued for the acceptance of his agenda, stating, “No memorial or eulogy could more eloquently honor Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill for which he fought so long.” His landslide re-election victory in 1964 was run with the campaign slogan, “let us continue”. Johnson’s political astuteness combined with a new two-to-one majority of Democrats in Congress to facilitate the passage of many pieces of legislation that have significantly increased the power of the federal government to regulate the affairs of its citizens.

Civil Rights
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the culmination of a request for new legislation by Kennedy in a 1963 national address. The act outlawed many forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Title I barred unequal application of voter registration requirements. Title II outlawed discrimination in hotels, restaurants, theatres and other places open to public access. Titles III and VI prohibited State, municipal and federal institutions from discrimination or segregation when providing access to facilities or granting subsidies. Title VII prohibited private employers from discrimination in hiring.

Education
In April of 1965, Congress passed The Elementary and Secondary Education Act granting federal funding to primary and secondary schools. In November of the same year the President signed the Higher Education Act, which established grants, scholarships and federally subsidized student loans. If federal guidelines were not met, funding could be cut off, giving the government tremendous power to dictate school policy and curriculum. These acts sounded the death knell for southern racial segregation in education.

Health
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act of 1935, there were no special provisions for health care. The Social Security Act of 1965 established national health insurance for the elderly (Medicare) and for the poor (Medicaid), to be funded through payroll taxes. In the name of protecting free enterprise, conservatives included provisions ensuring that the federal government would not be able to control service fees.

War on Poverty
The Economic Opportunity Act was the centerpiece of Johnson’s War on Poverty. The act established the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) which oversaw several newly created federal programs designed to alleviate poverty. The Head Start program was initiated to offer wide-ranging aid to low-income families with young children aged 3 to 5, years seen as critical to development. The Job Corps. program provided vocational training to low-income youth. More than a 1600 Community Action Agencies (CAAs) were established nationwide to provide myriad social services to specifically targeted low income communities. The Economic Opportunity Act was a notable departure from prior federal aid programs, as Congress bypassed State and local governments to fund impoverished communities directly.


Although Great Society programs were heralded by the majority of the public, conservatives lamented the growth of federal power and the development of pervasive federal bureaucracies. Johnson defended his programs with ardor, hoping to establish a legacy as a caring and compassionate President, but the cost of domestic social engineering would combine with commitments in Southeast Asia (soon to escalate into full-blown War in Vietnam) to stretch the viable limits of Keynesian deficit spending. The “guns and butter” – the war in Asia and the War on Poverty – of the 1960’s set the stage for the burgeoning federal debt of the succeeding decades, the final consequence of which has yet to be seen.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Presidential Profiles: John F. Kennedy

The presidential election of 1960 saw a change in the national mood. Despite his extensive meddling in domestic economic and international political affairs, Eisenhower had inexplicably come to be viewed as a “do-nothing” president by the American public. Kennedy, a forty two year old Massachusetts Senator who exuded strength, youth and vigor, seemed to be everything that the grandfatherly Eisenhower was not. In his campaigns, Kennedy emphasized his commitment to “New Deal” domestic activism and cold-war foreign interventionism. The presidential contest focused on the issue at the forefront of the American consciousness: the global fight against communism. Though holding nearly identical foreign policy positions, Kennedy’s perceived vitality - communicated to national audiences via the first-ever televised presidential debates - won him a narrow victory against his opponent, Vice President Richard M. Nixon.

Domestic Policy
Kennedy, disparaging the importance of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility, embraced the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, who preached the desirability of short-run gains achieved through deficit spending. Kennedy combined large military budgets and increased domestic spending with large corporate tax cuts, resulting in large deficits and unprecedented immediate prosperity. The resulting increase in the national money supply triggered a fresh round of inflation, which Kennedy attempted to suppress with federal wage-price “guideposts”. Corporate America resented regulation, but reliance on federal subsidy made it difficult to respond naturally to the forces of supply and demand. In 1962, steel industry leaders attempted to increase prices by 3.5%. Kennedy responded by directing the Department of Defense to purchase steel only from companies who retained pre-1962 prices and ordering price fixing investigations. When U.S. Steel Corp. relented under the pressure and rescinded the price increase, the rest followed suit.

Civil Rights
The 1960’s continued to be a time of social upheaval. In 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) instituted interracial “freedom rides” in an effort to desegregate interstate commerce and travel. Following embarrassing televised violence against the riders, the Kennedy administration petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission, and interstate travel segregation was ended in 1961. When the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began voter registration drives among blacks in southern states, local whites fought back with terror and murder. In 1963, Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) instituted civil rights marches in Birmingham, Alabama. Local police chief “Bull” Connor ordered violent arrests that resulted in televised brutality as police assaulted demonstrators with fire hoses, clubs and vicious attack dogs. Southern political leaders continued to oppose school integration, epitomized by Governor Wallace’s defiant 1963 stand in the door of the University of Alabama to prevent the enrollment of two black students. Kennedy responded to these events with a televised address to the Nation on June 11th 1963, urging racial integration, protection of voting rights, and encouraging much legislation that would eventually become realized with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Rising female employment also challenged social mores. In 1963 Congress responded to perceived injustice in the labor market by passing the Equal Pay Act, which imposed "equal pay for equal work" standards for female employees.

Foreign Policy
True to his campaign pledge, Kennedy continued the foreign interventionist policies of his predecessors. He continued to attempt to purchase U.S. influence in less developed countries by expanding the foreign aid policies of the Eisenhower administration. In 1961 Kennedy instituted the Peace Corps, encouraging American youth to serve as missionaries of democracy and capitalism around the world. Kennedy also engaged in more direct acts of foreign interventionism. In 1961, Cuban exiles trained and organized by the CIA attacked socialist revolutionary Fidel Castro’s forces at the Bay of Pigs. The attack was poorly coordinated and all 1400 exiles were killed or captured. Castro turned to the Soviet Union for protection. In 1962, Soviet troops began secretly installing nuclear missile bases on the island. When U2 spy planes revealed the existence of the missiles, the President reacted dramatically. In a televised address, he apprised the Nation of the possibility of nuclear war and imposed a naval “quarantine” to "keep offensive weapons out of Cuba". Kennedy informed the world that any attack upon the United States from the island of Cuba would be interpreted as an attack directly from the Soviet Union and would be met with appropriate reprisals. Fearing nuclear holocaust, Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev struck a bargain: nuclear weapons in Cuba would be removed in return for assurances that Cuba would not be invaded by U.S. forces and in exchange for the removal of U.S. missiles in Turkey. Kennedy agreed to the terms, avoiding global catastrophe, but continued secret CIA programs to assassinate Castro and topple his regime. Failure to stop the advance of communism in the Caribbean strengthened Kennedy’s resolve to oppose it in Asia. The U.S. increased covert military operations against the North Vietnamese Vietcong and bolstered military aid to seceding South Vietnamese governments. By the end of 1963, Kennedy had over 16,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Vietnam.

Assassination
On November 22, 1963 the President was shot and killed by sniper fire while riding in his presidential limousine in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Shock and sorrow swept the nation. Most Americans watched the same coverage of the events surrounding the assassination over the course of three days while the networks canceled all advertising. The death of the President mitigated prior widespread criticism of his foreign and domestic policies, and a national sympathy emerged for his unfulfilled political agenda at home and abroad. The consensus which had eluded Kennedy in life would ironically be accomplished with his death. Two hours and eight minutes after Kennedy was shot, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in aboard Air Force One. Five days later, he stood before a joint session of Congress and pleaded, “Let us continue.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Presidential Profiles: Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general and Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II, was well known and admired by the American public. Sought by both Republicans and Democrats to represent their parties in the 1952 presidential election, Eisenhower chose to align himself with the Republican Party. Though opposed to traditional conservative principles of non-interventionism in foreign affairs, he valued fiscal responsibility and did not agree with the liberal social agenda of the Democratic Party.

Domestic Policy
While expressing a belief that individuals should be mostly free to regulate their own affairs in a free-market economy, Eisenhower distanced himself from Old Right Republicans who favored laissez-fare ideologies. Eisenhower believed that government “must do its part to advance human welfare and encourage economic growth with constructive actions.” Thus, Eisenhower tried to steer a middle course on domestic economic issues. He retained major New Deal programs like Social Security, even creating a new cabinet-level Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1953, but opposed new legislation such as national health insurance. Most of the price controls re-instituted by Truman during the Korean War were ended, but the federal government continued to subsidize farm commodities, though Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson did persuade Congress to lower the level of supports. Eisenhower opposed federal control of utilities, labeling as “creeping socialism” and blocking the construction of large government dams across the Snake River and Hell’s Canyon, yet he supported the development of an interstate highway system with the Interstate Highway Act of 1956. In response to the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957, Eisenhower approved the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with billions of dollars in appropriations. Substantial grants to universities and private business for research and development, along with large military contracts given to aeronautics, electronics, and computer industries helped to develop a corporate culture of reliance on government favor and taxpayer money.

Civil Rights
The 1950’s were a time of great social upheaval. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregation in state schools was a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the constitution. This decision overturned a pattern of almost 60 years of federally sanctioned segregation enthroned since the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., helped the fight for legal equality by utilizing the power of non-violent protest and civil disobedience to sting the conscience of segregationists. In December of 1955, local NAACP worker Rosa Parks was jailed after refusing to give up her seat on a public transit bus in Montgomery, Alabama. A citywide bus boycott, led by King, lasted for a year before the Supreme Court intervened once again, desegregating busing. Eisenhower disagreed with these federal encroachments on what he viewed as State’s rights, declaring, “The final battle against intolerance is to be fought – not in the chambers of any legislature – but in the hearts of men.” Still, when Governor Faubus of Arkansas mobilized the National Guard in 1957 to prevent 9 black students from attending Central High School in Little Rock, national outrage prompted the President to order the National Guard and other federal troops to enforce the Supreme Court’s decisions.

Foreign Policy
Despite campaign promises to pro-actively defeat communism worldwide, Eisenhower's foreign interventionist fervor was tempered somewhat by public discontent over bloated military budgets and the loss of American lives overseas. Eisenhower decided to save money and manpower by cutting back U.S. reliance on conventional ground forces and instead developed air and nuclear superiority as a deterrent to perceived communist aggression. Eager to bring the war in Korea to a close, Eisenhower used this nuclear superiority to escalate threats of attack against China and North Korea, pressuring them to agree to a truce in 1953 that established an armistice and political boundaries between the north and the south at approximately the 38th parallel. This action in effect continued the "communist containment" policy of President Truman, and spurred China to begin to develop their own nuclear capabilities.

The CIA was transformed by Eisenhower into a covert interventionist force, capable of acting outside of public scrutiny or congressional approval. With its multi billion-dollar top-secret budget, the CIA launched disruptive operations world-wide in violation of international law. In 1951 the democratically elected premier of Iran, Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, attempted to nationalize Iranian oil wells. Two years later, the CIA instigated a coup d’etat, providing crucial military support and enabling the hereditary Shah to return to power. The Shah returned the oil wells to international control, of which U.S. corporations held a 40% share. In Guatemala in 1954, popular leader Colonel Jacobo Arbenz instituted national land reform, nationalizing the holdings of the U.S. United Fruit Company. The CIA overthrew Arbenz by training invasion forces in Nicaragua and Honduras which installed a new president who returned the holdings of United Fruit and gave special tax breaks to U.S. businesses. Vast foreign aid programs were used as a means of tying other nations economically to the United States, especially in South America. In 1959, toward the end of Eisenhower’s presidency, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba. The administration - opposed to Castro because of his nationalization of private U.S. holdings - cut off aid to Cuba, discontinued importations of Cuban sugar and began training Cuban exiles in Guatemala for a U.S. backed invasion. The decision of how to ultimately deal with the “rogue” dictator would be left to Eisenhower’s successor.