Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Often Americans tend to think that our government is somehow far better than anyone else's, because "we've never come close to a coup of any kind in the last one hundred years!"

Disturbingly, this may quite possibly not be the case. In 1934, during the height of the Great Depression, the McCormack-Dickstein Committee convened by the United States House of Representatives concluded, after weeks of investigation and testimony, that there existed a plot devised by business leaders to overthrow the Roosevelet Presidency. The plot was uncovered when Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, a popular war hero, came forward and informed Congress that he had been approached to head a half million man army to march on Washington, with $30 million in financial backing from the DuPonts, Al Smith (noted opponent of FDR), and various Wall Street clientele. After the military had seized Washington, supposedly Butler was to have recieved the position of "Secretary of General Affairs," and assumed most executive authority while the President was coerced into a mere figurehead role.

The most commonly agreed motive behind this was fear that FDR's move away from the gold standard to create some economic stability and support of the American banking system would instead cause an even greater financial collapse. The plotters supposedly felt that Butler was popular enough to serve as a rallying point for revolt, while simple-minded enough that he could be manipulated.

More information on this entire episode, including what is available of the Congressional testimony on this, can be found in the wiki article on the "Business Plot," and sourcework for people to go and form their own opinions on how dangerous this plot might have been can be found here. Even if the plot did not exist, the frameworks proposed during the testimony highlight how truly fragile democracy can be when under stress... and why we need to constantly fight to ensure that our freedoms are not stripped away, no matter how good the intended motives might be.
Reportedly, Iran is in the process of reconstructing its military to fight more along the lines of guerilla warfare. This doesn't bode well for the hawks who would love to invade yet another Middle Eastern country.

For those who are new, here's a quick primer on the Iranian military. The core of the Iranian ground forces, the Iranian army, is based on traditional lines designed to fight traditional warfare. However, the Iranian military also has an arm called the Revolutionary Guards; they are in some ways comparable to our own National Guard, save that one, they are far more lightly equipped, and two, they are designed to fight a "people's war:" in a traditional conventional conflict, they will fight as 'human waves,' using sheer numbers to overwhelm the enemy. When they isn't possible, they break down into individual cells to fight a guerilla war. There are far more Revolutionary Guards than regular army personnel, and undoubtedly the Revolutionary Guards would form the core of any Iranian resistance to a foreign invasion.

So now the counts against invasion are: 1
1)Larger opponent (Iran has 3 to 4 times as many people as Iraq)
2)Popular resistance in the target
3)Harsher terrain (most of Iran is mountainous)
4)Even thinner reasoning for military action
5)Lack of international support for an invasion...

Maybe these are odds even our administraiton can understand...

Monday, May 29, 2006

I was rummaging through news sites this morning, and I came across this interesting article in Newsweek regarding the effect the internet might have on the electoral process. While some of the ideas inside are rather hackeneyed (like, for example, assuming the two main parties won't gobble the possibilities of the internet for their own use), overall I found it a thought provoking piece.

Of course, that lead me to Unity '08's website. Unity '08 is a bipartisan effort to establish and run a credible third party candidate in the 2008 election. While the site acknowledges the chances of a third party winning are slim, their main hope is to gain enough votes to have centrist views become crucial to the election. Among the participants is Angus King, who to my knowledge remains outside of Jesse "the Mind" the only independent governor in recent memory.

Who knows how much effect they might have, but I've put them on my "watch" list of potentially influential groups...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Warning, mini-rant alert coming.

Indiana State Senator Jeff Drozda wants to ban gays from adopting children. To me, this seems like utter idiocy... potential parents need to be evaluated on an individual basis, not lumped together in groups. Grr.

Now, before you go off dismissing me as an idealist cloud-hopper, consider the recent rash of news reports in the last week weeks of adoptive and foster parents abusing the children in their care. My argument is that, simply, tangibles such as how well the child will be treated, etc. depend on the individual that is the adoptive parent... not which group the parent belongs to.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

According to a new article, an emerging and frightening threat facing the United States is the possibility of terrorists using unmanned vehicles (like our own Predator drones) to launch attacks. More frightening is that drones like these can be built on the cheap. One New Zealand gentleman was building a cruise missile in his garage with a multi-hundred kilometer range and a cost of less than $5000 before the Kiwi government put a stop to his antics.

Maybe instead of partying with hookers and playing poker, our CIA chiefs need to be looking into this.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Kudos to ABC's "Nightline" for asking Congressmen to put their money on the line. If you haven't heard, there's been a debate recently with all the immigration arguments going on, whether the National Anthem should be sung exclusively in English. Our Fearless Leader, as well as most of Congress, have said the song belongs only in English (despite Bush singing the song in Spanish during the 2000 election). Yet, most of them weren't able to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" in English.

As a friend of mine said just now... the message to Congress is "quit yer bitchin'."

Saturday, May 06, 2006

I confess it. I'm an NBA fan, and a Bulls basketball nut. So if sports isn't your cup of tea, this blog post might not be for you.

Even though the Heat beat the Bulls in the first round of this year's NBA Playoffs, I think Chicago's sitting pretty... as long as they don't do the obvious greedy thing and try to snatch up a free agent this summer with their cap room. I know its tempting and easy to try to snag a big name free-agent, but with the contracts of Deng, Nocioni, Hinrich and Gordon all coming up quickly, I think our lovely team needs to just sit pat and draft well. Keep those four together and add a decent pick from this years draft and I think we'll be seeing Bulls playoff basketball for a long time to come.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ok, so while I'm here, I thought I'd post this too. I have a minor (ok, maybe not so minor) interest in metereology and storm-chasing... I've actually gotten a tornado on camera, though ironically it wasn't during a chase (appropriately, the storm was chasing me to my home). For all of you who complain constantly about the weather forecaster getting something wrong,
this test is for you.

Its a prototype simulator of severe weather, where you get to be the poor metereologist in charge of issuing warnings. Your score is based on how much lead time you give people before a severe even happens, and how many false alarms you sound.

As for how I did? Let's just say the world should be glad that I'm learning to be a historian, rather than trying to warn you there's a tornado about to come through your window...
Ok, and this was just too funny to pass up, and quite appropriate considering the previous post.

http://www.engrish.com/image/engrish/gods-favored-coffee.jpg
I got to thinking today... and the following news story prompted my thoughts (making me start thinking is always a dangerous thing):

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4969296.stm

Yeah, I know this story seems kind of remote from the United States and our lives here, but it touches me uniquely... I'm a grad student in Russian history, and I'm black.

Yes, that's right... you can go find your grandma and tell her that its true... some of us study things outside African-American history. I remember when I first decided I wanted to do Russian history, I was actually called a traitor and a "snowflake" by a few other blacks since I wasn't going to study "my own people." That's the start of a completely different rant that will have to wait for a later day.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that at some time in the near future, I'm going to not only have to go to Russia to compile documentary evidence for my dissertation, but I'm likely going to have to remain there for several months to a year... so naturally this spate of racist violence is... just a tad worrisome.

I've been to Russia before, as well as Belarus, and I didn't experience anything remotely close to having my life threatened, but everyday the fact is shoved on you in one way or another that you are definitely not in a chocolate-friendly environment. For example, I remember little kids staring at me and calling me chorny (literally, dark), and the Belarussian police especially thinking that since my skin was darker than theirs, that I had to be a Chechen terrorist who needed to be stopped (A matter of fact, in four weeks I was stopped thirteen times by the cops... quite a record, I say). People stared, people pointed, and I missed the U.S.

True, racism still exists here... I've seen it first hand. I had a romantic evening come to a crashing halt once because my date (a blind date, I might add) informed me that while hispanics are alright, dating blacks is "impossible, because they're so thuggish and violent." I think the rest of the date lasted five minutes, and since I stormed out, I got a free meal. Something for the investment, I guess.

Once again, I digress. Racism is still alive and well, as is ignorance. But as much goading as I'd love to put in some of my fellow Americans to not be idiots, I'm not openly stared at here, and even when driving through the most rural, red-neck, hicked-out parts of this country, the worst I had was a cop follow me for a bit as I was driving. I certainly wasn't whispered about in my presence, and I certainly wasn't stopped.

The point of this, I suppose, is that while things can improve here, it takes going someplace else to realize what you have back home. That, and make sure when someone sets you up on a blind date, that they know whether your date is a racist idiot. Two more life lessons that will get you ahead... or at least, get you to avoid Belarus.