Monday, July 21, 2014

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Stupid, Simple)

So, Gene Simmons becomes (I believe) the first Mauian to be the subject of the Washington Post's truth squadding, for his claim that the 1% pay 80% of the taxes and half the population pays no taxes.

Simmons scores "4 Pinocchios," which is the Post's way of saying: Big fat liar.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The right side of history

NOTE: I began writing this post on July 3, then set it aside while on a trip to Nevada. Just as well. I have been advocating a free and independent Great Kurdistan for a long time -- long before RtO began in 2008 -- and no one agrees with me. So rushing isn't the issue.

But delay allows me to reference the opinion piece by Zalmay Khalilzad, which confirms -- if it needed confirmation -- the intellectual sterility and practical foolishness of the Bush foreign policy team. Not that the rest have been better, as this post will show:

It isn't always possible to have your political principles and be a practical politician, too. I suppose the most dramatic example in our history (setting aside the initial question of slavery and nationhood vs. antislavery and several nations at the Constitutional Convention) was the choice between the violently anticommunist Germany and the would-be subversive and antidemocratic USSR in the late '30s.

President Roosevelt chose to oppose the Germans, because Germany was an aggressor state, and the USSR was not.

Neutrality, or even standoffishness, was not a possible alternative, although millions of Americans wanted it to be.

Many rightwingers disagreed. They thought communism was the worst -ism there could be and wanted to fight alongside Germany to overthrow Bolshevism. Among well-known Americans who felt this way was George Patton. However, he followed orders and fought the Germans. But he was never reconciled to the idea.

In the foreign policy apparatus of the time, there were several influential voices who considered war with Germany both inevitable and the proper course of action; but their voices were unheard by the public. Among people who did speak out to influence public opinion, there was no agreement.

Newspapermen who had reported from Germany were almost united in understanding who the lead enemy was, but politicians were not nearly so united. Political opinion ranged from pure pacifism to admiration for Hitlerism to admiration for the Soviet Union. The latter required switches in direction depending upon whether Russia and Germany were allied or not. Very very few advocated war before war began.

Most controversies regarding foreign relations are less clearcut than Hitlerism, so it is not surprising that, for example, Americans were always uncertain about the best approach to take regarding Irish independence or the status of the Panama Canal.

In retrospect, and using Panama as a good example, it appears that the United States would have been better off supporting autonomy and local self-determination most of the time. Most of the time, though, it did not. At worst, by refusing to support nationalism in Vietnam, we ended up losing a good-sized war, killing millions of innocents and damaging the reputation of America in most of the world.

Nationalism won anyway.

It is usually claimed that the Kurds are the most numerous national group without a state of their own (this may not be true, as there are some obscure but numerous non-Han groups inside China). For some reason, the status of the Kurds does not resonate with Americans. I have never seen a Free Kurdistan bumper sticker like the Free Tibet stickers you sometimes see (at least in the hippie zones).

Yet the Kurds have never done anything to irritate us. They have never picked the "wrong" side in an international dispute, and they have been cruelly persecuted.

Why don't we care about Kurds?

At one time, advocating a free and independent Great Kurdistan would have caused resentment in Turkey, a state the United States was concerned to conciliate and strengthen because it was on the border of the USSR. This continued despite Turkey's genocidal policy towards the Kurds within its borders.

But for more than 20 years there has been no good reason to conciliate Turkey. The other three states that need breaking up to create Kurdistan are no friends of the United States and have never been.

Breaking up Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey is going to happen if southwest Asia is ever to be organized on national, rather than colonialist principles; and reorganizing southwest Asia is a requirement for establishing stability there, if that can ever be done.

As far as I know, no one in the American government, under any administration, has advocated a free Kurdistan. Nor have any academics nor any of the policy providers in the think tanks.

It would have been cheap and easy to have backed the Kurds. If we had asked and given them some modest help, they would have bumped off Saddam for us and them.

Now even Khalilzad is wagging his finger through the opinion pages of the New York Times and admonishing the government to prepare for a breakaway Kurdistan in Iraq. Why couldn't he have suggested that to Incurious George when he was ambassador in Baghdad?

He still doesn't get it. He prefers the colonialist structure of Iraq, although our invasion made that impossible to sustain.

It may be bloody -- it probably will be -- but circumstances are moving in favor of a Kurdish state. There is nothing America can do to stop it, and, sadly, nothing now it could do to support it.

History was on the side of the Kurds, and America could have been on the side of history.

And of what we often claim -- without much evidence to show we are sincere; think of East Timor -- to be our founding principles.


The only issue in the mayor's race

It is raining this morning, refilling the reservoirs and forestalling worries about an Upcountry water shortage till next year. Yet water is still the only issue in local politics. If we don't fix water, it won't matter what else we do.

The county is, at last and much too late, replacing Shaft 33, which is the immediate problem.

The long-term issues are moving to groundwater and, somewhat paradoxically, acquiring the Brewer watershed.

The Supreme Court's decisions on Waiahole Ditch and other water cases make it clear that over time, more and more surface water is going to be withdrawn from public uses. This is not a practical problem, as there is plenty of groundwater.

But it is a financial problem, since groundwater is more expensive. Not more expensive than we can bear, but more expensive.

On the plus side, it is more reliable, once we have it.

But it will probably be decades before drastic reductions in access to surface water are ordered. The county must acquire the Brewer watershed in West Maui.

If water is a public trust, and the court says it is, then watersheds are a public responsibility. There is no urgency in removing well-managed watersheds run by stable companies to public ownership, and besides, most of the East Maui and Molokai watersheds are already public lands.

But the West Maui watershed is owned by a non-operating company with almost no income, no financial strength and no staff to look after the forest.

Birds spread miconia, and so far all that attention has been focused on East Maui. What happens when miconia (or some other plague) arrives in the Brewer watershed?

Nobody is minding the store.

Alan Arakawa is probably going to be re-elected, although the memory of Bernard Akana beating Dante Carpenter proves there are no sure things in local politics. He does not understand the Brewer watershed.

I do not believe he understands water issues, period. Sixteen years ago, when he was running for mayor the first time, we happened to meet at a high school graduation party and had a long talk about water. I learned his ideas about it were far different from mine.

So far as I can tell, he hasn't learned anything about it since.

Recall he wanted to control the Brewer water intakes but did not want to spend money on the land that fed the intakes.  There really was -- and is -- no advantage to controlling the intakes; the water, so long as it exists, will come out of them and go into the ditches. Where else could it go?

In the end, he got neither and between his blunders and the County Council's thrashing around trying (and failing) to get a piece of the play, the taxpayers were mulcted of over half a million dollars. For nothing.

The last asking price I heard for the watershed (including the intakes that Arakawa was once willing to pay $7 million for) was around $20 million -- 4 elementary school cafeterias or a quarter of an airport access road. Cheap at the price.

The history of county water has been penny wise and pound foolish all along.

As far as I can tell, water is not an issue for any of the 6 or 7 candidates, most of whom are off on luddite drives against agriculture.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Being schooled

I have started reading Adrian Goldsworthy's "How Rome Fell," and while I haven't gotten to Chapter 1 yet, his discursive and chatty introduction contains some statements so provocative, it seems worthwhile to stop and think about them.

Goldsworthy is an English classicist, but that makes him, to a degree, an internationalist, what was called "an Atlantic man" (spending a lot of time on planes between Europe and North America) a few decades ago.

Fifteen years ago, he was one of six historians on a panel sponsored by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment and paid for by the American taxpayer (through the Office of Net Assessment, which I had never heard of). They were to discuss grand strategies, apparently with a view to heading off the American empire (which Goldsworthy does not believe exists) from going the way of the older empires.

A few months later, some real imperialists drove planes into the World Trade Center, and ended the "hugely encouraging" feeling Goldsworthy had had that "a government agency (was) genuinely trying to learn lessons from history."

Incurious George and his handlers were among the least likely people in the entire world to care about learning lessons from history. They were out to teach history a thing or two.

It seems unlikely that even without the Muslim attack, and even if some different set of politicians had been in office, the taxpayers would have ever realized any benefit from this sort of confab, but that is not the provocative statement of Goldsworthy's I want to draw attention to.

No, what Goldsworthy, an Oxford man, said that startled me was, "In shaping the new country, the Founding Fathers consciously hoped to copy the strengths of the Roman Republic and avoid its eventual downfall. [And, no, despite lefty fantasies, they were not inspired by nor trying to copy the political structure of the Six Nations confederacy.] These days, it is also fair to say that the different university systems tend to make educated Americans broader in the range of their knowledge than the British. Plenty of engineers or medical doctors in America will at some point have taken a course or two in history or even the classics, something which is unimaginable on this side of the Atlantic."

This does not entirely surprise me, as in England engineering is still pursued in the old manner of industrial training; some of England's best-known engineers never went to college. And in the better American engineering schools, undergrads get a strong serving of humanities. Not so much in the average schools.

And, of course, in the liberal arts schools Americans learn nothing of science or engineering, which helps explain how SHAKA could gather 18,000 signatures for its crackpot petition.

Still, I was startled to be told that Americans have a "broad" view. This has never been my experience. Politically -- and that is the context of a study of how Rome fell -- the only segment of the active population that show any interest in history are the Tea Partiers, and they study the crazy imaginary history of the Bircher Cleon Skousen (reportedly, Mitt Romney's favorite college teacher).



Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Florida diamond mines

The reason RtO has been silent this past week was that I was at the National Pawnbrokers Association convention, a full-time job.

One of the speakers was Martin Rapaport, a titan in the diamond trade, publisher of Rap Report of current diamond prices and buyer and seller of 2 million carats a year.

Reviewing the state of the diamond industry, Rapaport got a stir from his audience when he said, "More diamonds are coming out of Florida than Botswana."

He said he was not exaggerating, and a minister of the Botswana government told him they were worried about competing with the Florida diamonds, which are already cut and polished.

Baby boomers accumulated good quality diamonds in the '60s and '70s, and now, "A 75-year-old woman decides she doesn't need that 2-carat ring, plus she has grandchildren to help through college."

If she's 75, she isn't a baby boomer, but we got the point. He delicately did not say that the boomers are also starting to die off.

Some of the Florida diamonds of old-fashioned cut will have to be recut, and that will happen in India, where 500,000 cutters are training in the ancient gem center of Surat.

Opportunity for pawnbrokers, but he also said most will have to improve their diamond knowledge to take advantage.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

But I have to find time for this

CORRECTION: A reader tells me the link was bad. I was traveling and unable to check it. By now, everybody will be aware that RtO was referring to the Spring massacre. It has been nearly 3 days now and no report (that I have seen) how the killer got his guns. Here is a link to an early report.

How having a gun in the home provides security.

UPDATE: So let's review the situation up until the time the gunman shot seven and killed six of his own family:

He attacked his wife. He attacked his mother. He scared his brother enough to call the police. A divorce court judged him to be a threat to his children.

There is no mention in this story -- it is early yet -- whether the shooter was formerly a good man with a gun, or if he first acquired his gun after he was becoming known as a violent, but in a legal sense, not very violent person. No firearms or other weapons are mentioned in the early violent encounters. There is no mention of surrender of firearms under terms of a protective order, which is sometimes a condition in some jurisdictions. There is no mention of firearms or other weapons in the order of the divorce court.

It is hard to see, based on this limited information, that the "system" failed. Under our system, you get (at least) one free homicidal attack before you are tagged as "dangerous."

It is also hard to see how his victims would have been safer if they had had guns. Is a 15-year-old girl going to answer the doorbell at her home with a gun loaded, cocked and held in shooting posture? And even if she does, how likely is she to win a shootout with a homicidal, armed man already in attack mode?

But something did fail here. Or, rather, something worked exactly as the gundamentalists want it to work: Either a violent man was allowed to keep his gun; or a man well-known among those close to him to be not only a violent talker but also a violent actor was allowed to get a gun.

Since he was in Texas, he could have walked around waving that gun, and it would have been a violation of his "Second Amendment rights" to have stopped him, questioned him or excluded him from a public space, like the public road leading up to his in-laws' house.

Result: 4 more child sacrifices plus a couple of innocent adults.

Every gun owner in the country gets to own a piece of this legacy.

Blogging will resume Saturday

Because RtO is preoccupied with other stuff at the moment.