Is this Really Class Warfare?

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Lately some of the discussion about taxation has labelled as “class warfare” proposals to tax the wealthiest Americans at at a higher rate than others. Is this a valid objection to a progressive income tax? I reviewed the history to see how this stacks up. If you’re interested in this debate, please listen.

A Look at Allegations Regarding the CIA

The recent controversy over Attorney Eric Holder’s decision to launch an investigation into 12 cases of the alleged use of torture by CIA agents against those accused of operating as terrorists leads one to the historical question of: are there any precedents for such allegations?  In a word, yes.

The CIA, coupled with the Israeli Mossad, is credited with having trained agents for Shah Reza Pahlavi’s SAVAK in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Given that SAVAK soon became known for its brutal interrogation techniques, it has been alleged that the CIA, or at least some of its agents, bore some responsibility for training SAVAK to carry out these techniques.  There is no doubt that SAVAK used barbaric methods to try and suppress any significant domestic opposition to the Shah.  Such methods included attaching electrodes to sensitive areas of a suspect’s anatomy and pulling out fingernails.

We may never know the full truth about the CIA’s involvement since some of the evidence remains out of public view.  What is known publicly seems suspicious in terms of what the CIA did for SAVAK under President Eisenhower.  There is an ethical question here.  Should any U.S. agency be involved in working with an organization like SAVAK?  The CIA also worked with rather reprehensible Latin American regimes.  These were common behaviors in the Cold War.

One finds a very similar ethical issue involved with the Bush administration’s use of renditions.  Terrorist suspects were handed over for interrogation to Arab countries in the Middle East whose secret police were well known for their frequent use of torture (see the movie Rendition).  The Bush administration could claim that we didn’t torture.  But, the CIA had to know that turning over suspects to such dreaded secret police forces meant that the suspects would be roughly handled, to put it mildly.  So, was the CIA an accessory to torture?  How effective were those methods?  Even if effective, could the information have been obtained by less unsavory methods?  And, of course, there’s the related controversy over the CIA’s use of waterboarding.

Vice President Cheney has consistently stated that such methods were effective and helped insure that the U.S. did not have another 9/11.  The CIA’s own Inspector General’s publicly released report leaves such statements open to debate.  Yet, even if effective, is that a sufficient defense for their use?

What do you think of this issue?

Art Pitz, www.professorshouse.net

The Health Care Debate: A Look at the Past

The health care debate has brought about understandably a great deal of debate.  Charges and counter-charges have been made.  Fear-mongering has been rampant.

Did any of this take place during the efforts to bring about Medicare in 1965?  Yes.  Conservatives coupled with the AMA warned that Medicare, as “socialized” medicine, would undermine the physician-patient relationship, bring government bureaucrats into even routine health decisions, bring down the high national standards in our health care system, and harm personal freedoms.  Opponents launched one of the most expensive lobbying campaigns in history up to that point.

On the other side of the scale, LBJ saw health care reform for the elderly as his top priority.  He pointed out that the U.S. was the only industrialized country to not have some kind of a national health care program.  More problematic than that, less than half of America’s workers had any kind of health insurance for when they retired.  This amounted to a crisis especially since American longevity was increasing.

Of all of the charges made against Medicare, little turned out to be true in practice.  What no one really anticipated, however, was the escalating costs that Medicare would bring about.  Not surprisingly, cost containment is a major part of the contemporary debate on health care.

As one looks at the arguments made against Medicare, one can readily have a sense of deja vu when one looks at the current situation.  Very similar arguments are being advanced today.

There are some important differences, however.  First and perhaps of greatest importance, the AMA is a leading proponent of health care reform this time around.  Further, there is a general consensus that something needs to be done.  Few are in favor of maintaining the status quo.  The Senate’s “Gang of Six” (3 Democrats and 3 Republicans) have been charged by the Senate with the responsibility of crafting a bipartisan health care reform bill and they are making steady progress.  Little public debate has focused on that fact–being more distracted by charges that the Democrats would institute “death panels” for poor old grandmas and use public funding to support abortions.

Such is the situation.  I hope it helped you to take a look backwards as you follow and maybe participate in the health care reform debate.  What do you think?

Art Pitz, www.professorshouse.net

Financial Crisis in Illinois: Any Precedents?

Finances in Illinois: a look at the past

The current financial crisis in Illinois is multifaceted and obviously connected to national and international trends.  Nonetheless, the state has faced at least one occasion where it had promised more than it could deliver financially.

The year was 1837.  The nation was involved in a mania of internal improvements inspired by the huge success of New York’s Erie Canal.  Illinois was no exception to this fever.

Led by the “Long Nine” (a group of very tall Illinois legislators including Abraham Lincoln), the state committed itself to a large vision of internal improvements.  This included moving the capital to Springfield (more centrally located) along with building railroads and canals to be greatly subsidized by the state treasury.

There was only one small problem.  The proposed expenditures would have run the state’s debt way up beyond the state’s ability to pay.

Sound familiar?  We face a similar crisis now.  The state’s obligations have expanded beyond the state’s current ability to pay.

The national panic of 1837 soon made it clear that the vision could not be fulfilled unless one of two things or took place.  The state could raise revenue to pay for its plans or not carry through on the program of internal improvements.  If the state carried through with all of its proposals, it would face bankruptcy (which did happen to other states).

Illinois faces the same kind of choice today that it faced in 1837.  Then, the state’s leaders elected to not carry through on most of the internal improvements.  The capital was moved.  However, only one railroad was completed and it had to be auctioned off within a relatively short time at a huge loss.  The Illinois and Michigan Canal was not completed until 1848 and never achieved the lofty goals set for it mainly because of the development of vastly improved transportation technology—the railroad.  The state did avoid bankruptcy—barely.

Today, the state can either scale back its budgetary commitments or raise taxes or opt for some combination of both.  There isn’t any other long term choice.  What should the state do?  I look forward to receiving your comments.

 Art Pitz

www.professorshouse.net

“Bull” Connor and Iran’s Ayatollah

While the huge protests in Iran were in full swing, I was in Birmingham, Alabama visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  I was struck by the idea that police chief Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor’s response to the civil rights protests in Birmingham bore some similarity with how the Islamic regime was dealing with the protests in Iran.  What’s the connection?  Let’s take a look at Birmingham, first.

Rev. Martin L. King Jr. carefully selected Birmingham, Alabama as a target for a campaign of nonviolent protest.  Why?  He understood that one of the best ways to destroy segregation was to expose just how awful and hateful it was.  He and his advisors calculated that the public pressure resulting from a violent response to peaceful protests would lead to an end to legal segregation in the United States.  To add to this strategy, children would be encouraged in large numbers to be part of the protests.

This was to be controversial to both sides of the ensuing confrontation.  However, King anticipated that the massive arrests of so many children would overload the criminal justice system of Birmingham.  He also figured that Sheriff “Bull” Connor was the ideal foil for this campaign.  He was right.  The Institute has a source indicating that JFK indeed thought that Connor probably did more for civil rights than any president since Lincoln.

Sheriff Connor had a well deserved reputation for violent repression of anyone who attempted to ameliorate segregation.  He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and proud of it.  Beyond that, Birmingham, sadly, had earned the title “Bombingham” for the kind of tactics that the Klan was prone to use to try to stop those interested in civil rights for blacks.

So, Project “C” (for confrontation) was launched in 1963.  And, it worked.  Connor used almost every kind of force available to him to try to stem the protests.  What especially caught the public eye (and I remember watching it myself on the evening news) was his use of police dogs and water cannon (which could rip the bark off of trees).  King and large numbers of others were arrested leading to one of the great pieces of literature in American history—King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

These horrendous tactics, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, horrified the country.  They led President JFK to introduce into Congress what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which would effectively put an end to legal segregation in the United States. 

Connor played his role to the hilt, as expected and beyond, and this helped lead to one of the most meaningful pieces of legislation in American History.  The tactics helped convince Republican Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois that it was time for this change and he helped smooth the way for this legislation to pass. 

So, what’s the connection to Iran?  By what available sources we have, the Iranian regime used large degrees of force and widespread arrests to put down the protests rather as Connor did in Birmingham.  Will those actions lead public opinion around the world to make Iran a pariah amongst nations and thus help lead to the moderation, or even overthrow of the regime?

It is true that the regime’s actions undermine Ayatollah Khamenei’s claim to above-the-fray certitude.  But, the use of force seems to have succeeded at least in the short term.  The regime was able to prevent foreign journalists from reporting what they were doing, which Connor was unable to do.  The evening news in 1963 showed vivid pictures of the use of water cannon and police dogs.  We weren’t able to get that to nearly the same degree with Iran.  Further, Connor’s actions happened in such a way that the Kennedy administration and Congress were motivated to take action.  In Iran, the regime runs things and will see to it that it stays in power.

So, while the methods bear similarities, the results probably won’t—though one wishes fervently that this rather evil regime would be shaken to the point of its collapse.  The one hope is that the battle taking place between various factions in the Iranian regime will bear some positive fruit.

That’s my take on this issue, but what do you think?

Dr. Art Pitz
The Professor’s House
Know the History–Understand the Choices

Why Worry about Ahmadinejad’s Apopcalyptic Vision?

We are in the “end times” or so goes the thinking of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  It’s important to understand this because this thinking influences his foreign policy, and this is what the U.S. is dealing with and why Iran’s program to develop nuclear weapons is such a threat.

To understand him and the ideas of the ruling Shi’ite ulema (educated elite), we have to begin by comprehending that Iran has had Shi’ism as the state religion for several centuries.

Well, just what is that?  The Shi’ite faith split from the majority Sunni branch of Islam originally over who had the right to rule the Islamic world as Muhammad’s successor.  Sunnis believed that the Caliph (Islamic ruler) could be chosen by a select group of Sunni ulema from the best qualified candidates.  Shi’ites believed that that ruler had to be a linear descendant of Muhammad from within his family.

Like almost all splits, this one soon took on a dynamic of its own and the split widened due to new ideas that grew up.  Now, I should point out that there are several branches of the Shi’ite faith with each one disagreeing over just which one of those descendants is the right ruler. 

For our purposes, we will look at the main branch known as “twelvers”.  They believe that the 12th descendant of Muhammad was also named Muhammad and he disappeared from the earth.  In other words, he didn’t physically die.  He was translated into the hereafter and he rules in the name of Muhammad and the Qur’an.  He is called “the Hidden Imam”.

Well, of course, this raises a problem—how do we know what he is saying?  At any one time, there are a number of individuals who earn the right of interpretation because of the strength of their character and their scholarship.  These individuals earn the title of Ayatollah (Sign of God).

Ah, now does this begin to make sense?  You’ve heard of the term Ayatollah but maybe the term has never been explained to you.  In theory, anyone who governs any state should listen to their advice.

Since the U.S. is the most powerful nation that does not give credence to their directions, the U.S. is known as “the Great Satan”.  Since Israel is the most powerful nation in the Middle East that also doesn’t take to this kind of theology, they are the lesser Satan.

Such nations will be in for big trouble.  Why?  At some point, the Hidden Imam is going to return to this earth to rule.  He will judge all at that point.

Ahmadinejad believes we are in the last days before his arrival and it is his task along with the leadership of Iran to hasten his coming.  Well, of course, we have to wonder just what will he and this regime do to accomplish this?  And, how does this effect our ability to negotiate with Ahmadinejad and Iran’s theocratic state?  What do you think?

Dr. Art Pitz
The Professor’s House
Know the History–Understand the Choices

Collapse of the Shah’s Regime: White Revolution and Nixon Doctrine

To understand the situation in Iran today and the difficulties of U.S. relations with Iran, it helps to look at the role the U.S. played during the Shah’s regime and why the regime, which appeared strong, collapsed like a house of cards. The Shah’s “White Revolution” and the Nixon Doctrine are important to the story. The U.S. was comfortable working with a totalitarian state as long as it was anti-communist, and as a result huge, amounts of military hardware flowed into the Shah’s arsenal. Please watch the video and let me know what you think.

Thanks for watching. I would like to know your thoughts or questions. Please leave a comment. Just click the title of this post and scroll down to the comments box. You can also leave a private message.

Dr. Art PItz
The Professor’s House
Know the History–Understand the Choices

U.S. Overthrow of Mossadeq Government of Iran

In 1953, the U.S. along with the British engineered the overthrow of the democratically-elected Mossadeq government. Almost every Iranian remembers this, but very few Americans do.

In my last post, I described the positive role of Americans in the development of modern Iran. This video picks up the story with a look at international relations under Shah Reza Pahlavi and his son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi leading up to the election of Mohammed Mossadeq and U.S. actions during the Eisenhower administration. These actions demonstrated the U.S. preference for stability over democracy, which has had longterm consequences. Please listen to the story and let me know what you think.

Thanks for watching. I’d like to know your thoughts. To leave a comment, click the headline of this post and scroll down to the comment box.

Dr. Art Pitz
The Professor’s House
Know the History–Understand the Choices

American Roots of Persian Nationalism and Modern Iran

At the time of  the Kajar dynasty, the U.S. had  very positive relations with Iran, and individual Americans played important roles in the development of Persian nationalism and modern Iran. For example, American land grant colleges were the model for Iranian education.  Americans like Dr. Samuel Martin Jordan and Jane Doolittle created a very positive image of Americans. At the Tehran Conference, FDR helped guarantee the territorial integrity and political sovereignty of the government of Iran.  It’s worth remembering that until the 1950’s, the U.S. enjoyed good relations with Iran. I hope you’ll take time to watch this short video with more of this story. I’ll get to the story of how things fell apart next time. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Thanks for watching.

Dr. Art Pitz
The Professor’s House
Know the History–Understand the Choices

Ayatollah Khamenei is not Mr.Gorbachev

A critic of President Obama recently stated that he wishes that Obama would stand up to Ayatollah Khamenei as President Reagan did when he made the famous statement: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”.  One can certainly understand this person’s wish, especially as it is a very American trait to tell someone off.  We are not known as a patient people.

However, we had diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R., and Reagan knew his audience.  He had built up a good relationship with Gorbachev and could say what he did while knowing that Gorbachev would not take offense.   And, Gorbachev did allow the wall to be torn down.  Further, Gorbachev had made it a policy to open up discussion and debate in the Soviet Union.  It had to be heady times in that nation as a result.

We do not have diplomatic relations with Iran and Obama has not had any opportunity to build up a relationship with Ayatollah Khamenei and his entourage–even assuming such a thing is possible.  Further, Iran has many real and some imagined issues with the U.S. dating back to at least when our CIA helped orchestrate the overthrow of the democratically elected government in Iran–arguably the last real democratically elected government they have had.  Iran is known for not trusting the U.S., and not just because of George W. Bush.  Iran does have a penchant for believing in bogus conspiracy theories.  And, Khamenei has certainly not indulged in anything like perestroika.

So, unfortunately, as good as it may feel to beat our chests and say our piece to Iran, it is likely to have exactly the opposite effect of what we might wish.  We do, as Obama has done, want to condemn the violence and the undemocratic tendencies of this regime.  But, we’d be wise to not strongly take the side of the protestors publicly.  The Iranian government would use that as a club over the heads of the demonstrators–as if they needed any excuse.  There is precious little that we can do to effect events in Iran.

Having said that, I have serious doubts that “engagement” is in any way going to get this regime to moderate, let alone give up any nuclear weapons resolve it may have.  Our options are indeed limited.  The best that can be said about engagement in my view is that we might try it as a way to justify using harder measures in the event that engagement fails.  The problem here is do we have the time to let this play out before they get nukes?

Sanctions are also not likely to work well since there are other nations that are not likely to make those sanctions stick.  If sanctions could work, this would be a good strategy as Iran’s economy is indeed vulnerable.  They may have great oil reserves but they lack refineries and the regime has seriously mismanaged their economy.

I am not a military expert, but a military attack is problematic.  Why?  Apparently, Iran has scattered and hidden underground its nuclear facilities.  Further, Iran is capable of working through its terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah to do serious damage especially to our ally Israel.  And, we don’t have adequate forces available for any large attack on land since we are tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This all argues in favor of a containment policy.  Try engagement, but be ready if it doesn’t work. What do you think?

Dr. Art Pitz
The Professor’s House
Know the History–Understand the Choices