All posts by Art Pitz

When was the decisive moment for the U.S. in making a lasting commitment in South Vietnam?

It took place during and after the Geneva Conference of April 26 to July 20, 1954.  We’ll focus on that part of it that dealt with a resolution of the conflict in French Indochina which had lasted eight years at the instigation of the French.  The agreement temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Viet Minh rebels who had defeated the French, and a southern zone to be governed by the temporary State of Vietnam, then headed by former emperor Bảo Đại, who had been put there by the French. A Conference Final Declaration, issued by the British chairman of the conference, provided that a general election be held by July 1956 to create a unified Vietnamese state.

The U.S. took a unique approach to this conference that still seems a bit bizarre.  We sent a delegation to the conference.  But, they were instructed to not participate, in fact to not say anything. They were there just to observe.  Try to imagine being in that delegation’s shoes.  Observe and do nothing?

Why?  So that the U.S. government could do whatever it wanted to do.  Here was an opportunity to just let the Final Declaration be implemented.  The U.S. could have done that and then there likely would not have been a Second Indochina War.

But, instead, we ignored the Declaration and helped set up Ngo Diem as the ruler of South Vietnam. That regime never had a good chance of being able to work.   He had played no role in defeating the French and could never get past being set up by the U.S. and thus being dependent on the U.S. for his survival.  He was part of a corrupt elite, though he was not corrupt, that never had built any strong constituency of its own in Vietnam.  He was Catholic, a minority in Vietnam, and set up his regime to marginalize all others.  That was bound to fail.  He was the Eisenhower administration’s candidate, not Vietnam’s.  The Viet Minh had won and felt cheated of its likely victory in the forthcoming election which was never held.  Why not?  Ho Chi Minh would have won.

By setting up and sustaining a South Vietnamese government with American advisors, that made it quite difficult for any of the succeeding US administrations to withdraw or win (winning meant having a sustainable South Vietnamese government that could survive without being dependent on the U.S.). 

The U.S. turned a local conflict into a much bigger one.  Did Ho Chi Minh deserve better?  See below:

HO CHI MINH LETTER TO TRUMAN ASKING FOR U.S. HELP

Ho Chi Minh letter to Harry S. Truman, 16 February 1946.

I avail myself of this opportunity to thank you and the people of United States for the interest shown by your representatives at the United Nations Organization in favour of the dependent peoples.

Our VIETNAM people, as early as 1941, stood by the Allies’ side and fought against the Japanese and their associates, the French colonialists.

From 1941 to 1945 we fought bitterly, sustained by the patriotism of our fellow-countrymen and by the promises made by the Allies at [the summits in] YALTA, SAN FRANCISCO AND POTSDAM.

When the Japanese were defeated in August 1945, the whole Vietnam territory was united under a Provisional Republican Government which immediately set out to work. In five months, peace and order were restored, a democratic republic was established on legal bases. and adequate help was given to the Allies in the carrying out of their disarmament mission.

But the French colonialists, who had betrayed in war-time both the Allies and the Vietnamese, have come back and are waging on us a murderous and pitiless war in order to reestablish their domination. Their invasion has extended to South Vietnam and is menacing us in North Vietnam. It would take volumes to give even an abbreviated report of the crimes and assassinations they are committing every day in the fighting area.

This aggression is contrary to all principles of international law and to the pledges made by the Allies during the World War. It is a challenge to the noble attitude shown before, during and after the war by the United States Government and People. It violently contrasts with the firm stand you have taken in your twelve point [January 1, 1942, United Nations] declaration, and with the idealistic loftiness and generosity expressed by your delegates to the United Nations Assembly, MM [James] BYRNES, [Edward] STETTINIUS and J.F. DULLES.

The French aggression on a peace-loving people is a direct menace to world security. It implies the complicity, or at least, the connivance of the Great Democracies. The United Nations ought to keep their words. They ought to interfere to stop this unjust war, and to show that they mean to carry out in peace-time the principles for which they fought in war-time

Our Vietnam people, after so many years of spoliation and devastation, is just beginning its building-up work. It needs security and freedom, first to achieve internal prosperity and welfare, and later to bring its small contribution to world-reconstruction.

These securities and freedoms can only be guaranteed by our independence from any colonial power, and our free cooperation with all other powers. It is with this firm conviction that we request of the United States as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence.

What we ask has been graciously granted to the Philippines. Like the Philippines our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.

_______________________________________________________________________________

There is NO evidence that President Truman ever saw this letter or anyone else of any major consequence.  Would he have paid attention? We can not know that.

Some modest suggestions for dealing with poverty

  1. Why have there been such a high rate of out of wedlock births for Hispanics, whites and blacks?

The Center for Economic Opportunity Feb. 26, 2020 report found that illegitimate-birth rates “vary considerably by race and Hispanic origin.” The percentage of out-of-wedlock births for non-Hispanic whites is 21.9 percent, but for non-Hispanic blacks it’s 69.3 percent. For Hispanics it’s 41.6 percent, and for American Indians 59.3 percent.  Center for Economic Opportunity Feb. 26, 2020 report based on 2018 stats.  I’m not at all afraid of telling the truth here.

If we know anything about causes of poverty, this is definitely a major cause as it results in single moms trying to raise children.  Why have the rates increased?  Not because of welfare, contrary to myth.  Gingrich and Clinton took care of that.

Want to guess why?  Primarily two causes: 1) disappearance of “shotgun weddings” or the stigma of having unmarried children.  2) the ready availability of contraception and abortion has not accomplished what its advocates believed: that that would reduce the number of out of wedlock births.  It had the exact opposite effect.  Why?  Too many males no longer felt they had to stay in the house to take care of their offspring.  Pro choice meant males too often were left out of the decision.  A third factor for blacks, of course, would have been the impact of the anti drug laws resulting in mass incarceration.  Those issues have been addressed such that the main remaining discrepancy has been in the length of sentences that blacks received compared to whites for the same offense.  What jobs are available to convicted felons?  Not many good ones though that is being addressed.

I’ve taught in prison and visited county jails for quite some time.  If there was any commonality among the males there it was that few whites or blacks or Hispanics had ever had anything like a decent male role model.  Single moms, black or white, have a rough time raising children and making ends meet especially in today’s fractured economy. Most of them have to live in poor neighborhoods where violence is more common, the schools are not as good as in non-poor neighborhoods, and there’s a relative lack of public services including health care.

OK, so what can be done about this? Shotgun marriages aren’t going to return.  Contraception and abortions are still available. Trying to force the sperm donors to support their children has not worked well.  More integration of poor with the not so poor.  How do you do that?  Do away with the zoning rules that prevent affordable apartments in better neighborhoods.  In other words, the children don’t have to grow up in systemic poverty.  As it stands right now, federal assistance is by a lottery where winners can get the subsidies needed to live in such apartments while the losers get nothing.  Right now, most subsidized apartments are in areas with an average poverty rate of 26.3%.  That just ain’t a good situation

Besides any subsidies, the feds or states or local governmental agencies or NGOs could provide assistance in terms of finding affordable accommodations and dealing with landlords.  Our son does this routinely in his rapid rehousing efforts in D.C. on behalf of a good NGO.

2. Education.  Schools in poor neighborhoods need good teachers and teaching resources.  But, too many get the most inexperienced instructors with little financial encouragement, not to mention mentoring assistance from more senior teachers, to stay in those schools.  I think of what happened to our oldest daughter in her practice teaching assignment to a very poor school and was not provided with a mentor or any aid.  She gave up on her dream of being an English teacher as a result.  Some municipalities have made it possible for parents to send their kids to the better schools.  Dare I say this? Properly regulated charter schools often deliver much better outcomes in poor neighborhoods.

How to keep poor college students in college?  It doesn’t help to just let them in the door.  That is a road map for failure.  You have to have community colleges that can and do deliver the kind of advising, small cash grants for work study students, support services, and metro tickets to those students.  Modest amounts can make big differences in graduation rates, double in fact for those who are poor.  Don’t send poorly prepared students to four-year colleges.  They are usually not set up to help those students adequately.

3. Child poverty.  There are two changes that can make a huge difference.  Canada did these two and it took just two years to reduce child poverty by a third.  1) Expand the earned-income tax credit by up to 40% which tops up the wages of working low income single or even married couples.  (2) a universal child tax credit of $2,700.  These two would cost maybe up to $110 billion BUT will results in better tax revenues and less expenses in incarceration, health care and homelessness.

Expansions of cash welfare grants and health coverage ARE not likely to go far in Congress.  Better to improve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Those tend to be politically acceptable since they are universal benefits.

A significant portion of this blog was aided by information provided in The Economist’s July 11-17th issue entitled The New Ideology of Race and What’s Wrong With it. Excellent analysis.

Why tear up the past?

https://images.app.goo.gl/FiFcHrXXYQbssj3D6

A destroyed statue of Ulysses S. Grant, why?

We’re in the midst of a rapidly changing reaction to perceived and actual police violence against unarmed black males which has gone beyond its original purposes to protest against that violence.  It has morphed into protest against many features from our past that were connected in one way or another to the issues of slavery and race in our history and present.

All dramatically changing  movements will include excesses, an example from the 1960s includes: https://sites.google.com/a/lakewoodcityschools.org/womensrights_1960/home/women-s-protests

Freedom trash cans were places set up by some women to dispense of women’s garments and included bra burnings.  In 1968, radicalized women protested the Miss America pageant as exploitive of women.  Some of us remember those days.  Those protests didn’t last long, but the fact that they took place illustrates the point made in this blog.

Now, we have statues, monuments, and place names associated with the Confederacy and/or racism being torn down or changed.  This has gone too far, in this author’s view.

Why was a statue of Grant torn down?  Allegedly because his wife’s family owned slaves.  The folks who did this displayed their ignorance of what Ulysses S. Grant did as commander of all the Union Armies to destroy slavery.  Later as President, he helped push for the 14th and 15th Amendments to protect the rights of African Americans.  He also used federal power to break the KKK.  He did what he could.

The alleged defacing of the Lincoln Memorial is a hoax.  See: https://www.factcheck.org/2020/06/statue-in-lincoln-memorial-was-not-defaced-by-protesters/

Why tear down or deface statues and monuments of Confederate leaders?  Because the great majority of them were put up usually by white women’s organizations who raised the funds and then got permission from public authorities to put them in public squares to help enforce white supremacy in the 1880s into the 1920s and again in the 1950s.  They were not put up primarily to honor those leaders.  General Lee, for example, specifically opposed any statues or monuments to supposedly honor him.  His explicit wishes were later ignored.  That was dishonorable.

Here, we MUST draw a distinction between those statues and monuments as opposed to those put up on Civil War battlefields to honor the men who fought there.  Surely, we can make that clear. Those put up much later should be moved to museums or at least used as teaching devices where they are; or, perhaps moved to Civil War battlefields to join those already there.  They ought not be destroyed as they ARE part of our history that should be remembered.   My long experience in college teaching has been that few of my students were aware of when and why and by who these statues were created. What do you think?

Well, what about President Woodrow Wilson?  Here, it gets complicated.  He segregated the U.S. Government and had the White House host a showing of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation which was designed to show that the KKK redeemed the South and with it the nation from radical reconstruction and blacks.  It is a false narrative (though an innovative film in its techniques), but Wilson believed it and said so.  There is no question that he was a racist. His legacy has been seriously debated at Princeton more than once before the current discussion.

And, yet, he was a Progressive Reformer.  He eventually pushed for women’s suffrage though only under pressure to do so.  See the film Iron Jawed Angels but with serious caution: https://teachinghistory.org/nhec-blog/25483.  But, he helped get it done. 

His lasting legacy is hard to quantify but it has been immense.  Please consult: https://millercenter.org/president/wilson/impact-and-legacy.  Also:   https://www.biography.com/us-president/woodrow-wilson.

Do we toss him into the dustbin of history and change key parts of Princeton named after him?  Try this from Princeton’s current President: https://www.princeton.edu/news/2020/06/27/president-eisgrubers-message-community-removal-woodrow-wilson-name-public-policy.

This author issues a qualified dissent.  If you look at his academic career, it was stellar and had a lasting positive impact on Princeton.  Overall, after his stay at Princeton, his legacy is without question of great significance.  So, which is more important?  His impact on Princeton?  His overall legacy?  His racism?  The changes made to remove his name at Princeton strike this author as a bit of an overreaction, but what do you think? Teach about his legacy.

I’ll end with a food for thought from our experience in Presov, Slovakia.  Suzanne, my wife, and I were teaching at Presov University in 1996-7 while on leave from Black Hawk College in Moline.  Of course, we noticed the hammer and sickle memorial in the town center.  What was that Soviet emblem there to represent? 

It turns out that after Communism fell and the Soviet tanks left there was a serious discussion on whether or not to tear it down.  The decision was to leave it as is because it was part of their history since the Red Army had liberated Presov from the Nazis, at great cost in lives at Dukla Pass  https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/tank-battle-dukla-museum-at-svidnik.html. 

Yes, Soviet communism was awful, but that emblem needed to be taught about, and it has been.

Suzanne and I think that’s a good role model.

STATUS OF SEVERAL OF TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICIES

STATUS OF TRUMP’S MAIN FOREIGN POLICY INITIATIVES

NAFTA REVISED TO THE USMCA—accomplished with bipartisan support, without Speaker Pelosi it would not have passed.  Was NAFTA completely revised?  No, it didn’t need to be, but it did need to be updated. Its main goal was to integrate Mexico into the highly developed world of the U.S. and Canada.  It did that. Mexico went from an underdeveloped nation to one of the top twenty in the world, currently ranking 15th and that is the main reason why few illegals come from there to the U.S. Here’s a reasonable analysis of NAFTA’s pros and cons: https://www.thebalance.com/nafta-pros-and-cons-3970481

Another analysis comes from: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/nafta-and-usmca-weighing-impact-north-american-trade.

And, finally, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/business/economy/usmca-deal.html

Trump can claim ½ credit for USMCA and Pelosi the other ½.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS—accurate figures are not easy to come by since most who are illegal don’t want to be known, still try this: https://www.brookings.edu/policy2020/votervital/how-many-undocumented-immigrants-are-in-the-united-states-and-who-are-they/

It is important to note the main source of illegals since 2010 has not been from those coming into the U.S. illegally, it has been those who have overstayed their visa requirements.  Suzanne, my wife and I, know how this works. Trump’s wall and its supporters either are unaware of this or choose to ignore it. I’m not going to touch the issues related to the wall except to say there was no serious security threat that required it.  It is significant that when the GOP controlled both Houses of Congress they did not fund it.

For Trump’s promises and the realities they face try this: https://www.brookings.edu/research/hitting-the-wall-on-immigration-campaign-promises-clash-with-policy-realities/  Most of the land on the TX side of the border is privately owned and Texans are very loath to accept eminent domain. https://www.revealnews.org/article/this-land-is-our-land-many-property-owners-wont-sell-for-trumps-wall/

Trump has had part of his wall built, however.  On the other hand, he has made it much more difficult for asylum seekers to get here.

NORTH KOREA—While Trump’s efforts gained much publicity, little of substance has transpired as a result: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/11/north-korea-decries-stunted-us-ties-after-historic-summit.  It appears his efforts granted legitimacy to the North Korean dictator with nothing to gain from it except photo ops.  It has not stopped North Korea from testing its weapons. It does not appear that Trump’s objectives have been met.

CHINA—Again, a great deal of publicity but not that much of substance has been accomplished.  The Chinese Communist Party was formed with a goal of never again agreeing to “unequal” treaties and Trump’s efforts appear to have convinced China that that is what he has in mind.

America First clashes with Chinese First.  https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45899310.  Some progress was made: https://www.china-briefing.com/news/the-us-china-trade-war-a-timeline/.  But: https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/19/economy/us-china-trade-war-resume-coronavirus-intl-hnk/index.html

Another look: https://www.ft.com/content/6124beb8-5724-11ea-abe5-8e03987b7b20

Trump has shifted to re-election mode and believes it is advantageous to attack China’s reputation.   That is not going over well in China.  He seems to believe the U.S. alone can bring China to heel, but that won’t happen.  Again, he has no international support for his efforts.  The first phase deal is but a start, yet it is a start.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is breathtaking in its reach, and its implications.  Suzanne and I have been on the Old Silk Road and got some of the implications of this vast new initiative.  https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative

TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership)—The TPP was designed originally in large part to deal effectively with China, but Trump withdrew from it arguably because it was negotiated by Obama and not whether or not it was a good idea.  https://asiasociety.org/video/tpp-current-state-trans-pacific-partnership.  By withdrawing, now Americans must pay TPP tariffs.  That has been mitigated some by a new trade deal between Japan and the U.S. The TPP is working well for those in it. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11120#:~:text=On%20October%207%2C%202019%2C%20after,expansions%20to%20improve%20market%20access.

Trump’s withdrawal has not aided American interests.

The E.U.—For all the emphasis on China, this is the main economic relationship for the U.S.  See: https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/united-states/

The E.U. offered to work with the U.S. to deal with China but were rejected by Trump.  So, the E.U. negotiated its own strategic deal with China: http://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/china/docs/eu-china_2020_strategic_agenda_en.pdf

The E.U. also offered to work with the U.S. to improve the Iran deal, but Trump also rejected that offer and despite the serious efforts of Macron and Merkel, Trump withdrew from the Iran deal.

Trump’s relations with the E.U. has not been helped by his praise for Hungary’s dictator Orban: https://balkaninsight.com/2019/08/05/why-trumps-role-model-is-hungarys-viktor-orban/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/13/donald-trump-says-hungary-prime-minister-viktor-orban-doing-tremendous-job/1190060001/

This fits with a pattern of Trump’s praise for dictators such as for China’s Xi, Russia’s Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jung-un, the Philippines Duterte, Egypt’s el Sissi, Turkey’s Erdogan (a phone call with Erdogan led to a precipitous withdrawal of US troops that stood between Turkish and Kurdish forces leading to a bloodletting on the Kurdish side); and the long dead Mussolini—see Madeline Albright’s book Fascism..  He has been publicly proud of their praise of him.  By the same token, he has been known for criticizing democratically elected leaders such as Macron, Merkel, Trudeau, and others.  According to Carl Bernstein’s sources, he has been especially obnoxious personally to former PM May and Chancellor Merkel.

His relations with the EU have not improved.

WITHDRAWING FROM THE IRAN DEAL: This simply has not worked out as Trump had imagined it would.  He has had no support from any of the other signatories of this deal for his withdrawal and its consequences.  https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-status-iran-nuclear-agreement

Trump complained the deal did not include provisions to halt Iran’s development of ICBMs, but neither Russia nor China were supportive of such provisions.  Russia had already sold its state-of- the-art antimissile system to Iran and China is Iran’s main weapons supplier.  He also complained the deal did not touch Iran’s penchant for proxy wars.  True, but the signatories could not agree on doing that.  Why not? Iran’s support for Assad’s regime suited Russia’s efforts to keep him in power.  In actuality, Iran’s commitment to proxy wars has increased since U.S. withdrawal from the deal.  Pompeo’s 12 demands of Iran are perceived by Iran to mean forced regime change and that just isn’t going to happen.  Even if it did, the U.S. might eliminate the mullahs, but the power would then go to the Iranian Rev Guards and all would suffer from that.  Iran’s domestic critics are not united and lack a common agenda. 

At any rate, Iran has a host of internal problems that existed before Trump and have only gotten worse.  Iran was not a good candidate for investments and trade.  Iran is not an existential threat to the U.S. or Israel.  The main threat of Iran getting nuclear weapons would be its Sunni rivals would then want theirs. 

Having unilaterally withdrawn from the Deal; and applying severe sanctions on Iran have not achieved Trump’s objectives and don’t seem to be likely to in the future.

OVERTHROWING THE MADURO REGIME.  No doubt about it, the Maduro dictatorship is wretched, but Trump’s efforts have not been nor are they likely to be successful.  Why not?  Support for the regime by Russia, China, Iran and Cuba.  Trump’s recognition of Juan Guaido as the actual President of Venezuela have not been successful.  Juan has been unable to gain the internal support of enough potent interest groups to carry out his potential presidency.  Nor, is he likely to do that.  The good news is that Trump has wisely avoided military intervention.

NATO—Trump has consistently complained about the relative lack of European countries as members of NATO.  He has a point there, but they agreed already in 2014 for all to meet the 2% of GNP spending each should supply by 2024 as a result of Putin’s acquisition of the Crimea.  He tried to get them to increase their giving but got in return only a recommitment to their existing agreement.  Further, see: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2019-03-20/nato-thriving-spite-trump.

Recently, he, unilaterally without consulting NATO, began the process of withdrawing 9,500 troops from Germany.  This naturally reinforces doubts about his commitment to NATO.  And, there are good reasons for those doubts: https://qz.com/1585911/does-the-us-need-nato/

This fits a pattern of Trump just not liking international treaties and organizations that the U.S. has been the main party within them.   He appears to want only bilateral agreements where possible.  That would undermine the post WWII world the U.S. created.  He has withdrawn from a significant number of international agreements already.  He has significantly frayed our relations with NATO.

Overall, there is a mixture of plusses and minuses in his initiatives.

A Bay of Piglets? Americans attempted to overthrow Maduro in Venezuela

It is still hard to believe such a half assed attempt was made to overthrow Venezuela’s awful, wretched government. But, one was made not long ago.

It has been compared, naturally, with the ill fated Bay of Pigs operation. But, I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. The Bay of Pigs operation was designed under Ike and carried out by CIA backing under JFK. It had over 1,400 Cuban exiles accompanied by a handful of American agents with the purpose of overthrowing Castro’s regime. It had dreadful consequences for those involved and later.
But, this recent effort had nowhere near that kind of numbers and support from the U.S. It did have the signed backing of Juan Guaido, who has had Trump’s support as the legitimate head of state of Venezuela. Trump’s backing has not worked for multiple reasons.

What we can say is that it is unlikely that the Trump administration agreed to this effort. However, the Trump administration created the kind of atmosphere that encouraged it to carry out “Operation Gideon” which maybe had around 60 armed supporters (maybe as many as 300 depending on who you read). Maybe the Trump administration knew something about it and did nothing to stop it.

But, it miserably failed. Dictator Maduro, who reportedly gets instructions in part from his very dead predecessor and from the long ago dead Simon Bolivar—there has been a Bolivar Cult there, had infiltrated it, knew about it, and his admin easily put it down. It was more farce than a serious effort to get rid of Maduro.

But, even if this had had U.S. support, it was unlikely to have succeeded contrary to Pompeo’s claims. Why? Maduro has support from Cuba (whose secret police has trained his and have a significant presence in Venezuela), Russia, Iran, and China. Those are formidable obstacles to an overthrow being successful. Their support has been perhaps decisive in helping Maduro’s Venezuela with dealing with Covid. They have advisors present in multiple capacities.

An American invasion, as threatened by Trump, could kill some of those advisors. That could lead to direct conflicts we do not want or need. Iran has been sending oil tankers to help Maduro out as well as a way to get around the Trump administration sanctions on the Maduro regime. Indeed, Iran and Venezuela have developed a strategic partnership.

With all of this there is a long history of American interventions in Latin America that have harmed our relations. Against this background, this latest attempt bears resemblance to the “filibustering” expeditions pre-Civil War in Central America and the Caribbean. As a reminder for the readers, these were private military attempts to subvert and hopefully rule a Central American nation without U.S. government support.

Narcisso Lopez, starting in 1849, led three efforts to boot the Spanish out of Cuba. None worked; the Spanish captured the perps in the last one and had them executed. This all led to the Ostend Manifesto as a circular written effort by American diplomats in Europe to encourage the U.S. government to buy Cuba and if that didn’t work perhaps to take it. That died still born.

The most successful, for a time, was William Walker’s efforts to take and rule Nicaragua. He succeeded and his rule was recognized officially by President William Pierce in 1856. His rule ran afoul of Cornelius Vanderbilt who had his rule destroyed. Walker tried two more times and on the coast of Honduras the Brits captured him and executed him by firing squad.

The Civil War brought an end to these escapades. But, this latest effort in Venezuela reminds me of them. All in all, this history has not led to a good U.S. reputation in Latin America.

What now? Maduro’s regime is in serious trouble. Mismanagement, corruption including collusion with the drug cartels, have all led Russia to reconsider its support. If Russia backs out, his regime becomes vulnerable. But, does the opposition have “the right stuff” to take advantage of these issues and lead to a successful domestic (U.S. aided) coup? Maybe, but they didn’t do well at it before and there’s no guarantee they will.

An American “invasion” would be unwise to say the least. It would almost certainly lead many who don’t like the regime at all, to resist the American led invasion. It is unlikely to get Congressional and American public approval. Better to bet on a domestic takeover. It might succeed, but don’t count on it. A Bay of Piglets was not the way to get it done. What would you recommend?

Bay of Piglets? Americans attempt to overthrow Maduro in Venezuela

It is still hard to believe such a half assed attempt was made to overthrow Venezuela’s awful, wretched government.  But, one was made not long ago.

It has been compared, naturally, with the ill fated Bay of Pigs operation.  But, I don’t think that’s a fair comparison.  The Bay of Pigs operation was designed under Ike and carried out by CIA backing under JFK.  It had over 1,400 Cuban exiles accompanied by a handful of American agents with the purpose of overthrowing Castro’s regime.  It had dreadful consequences for those involved and later.

But, this recent effort had nowhere near that kind of numbers and support from the U.S. It did have the signed backing of Juan Guaido, who has had Trump’s support as the legitimate head of state of Venezuela.  Trump’s backing has not worked for multiple reasons. 

What we can say is that it is unlikely that the Trump administration agreed to this effort.  However, the Trump administration created the kind of atmosphere that encouraged it to carry out “Operation Gideon” which maybe had around 60 armed supporters.  Maybe the Trump administration knew something about it and did nothing to stop it.

But, it miserably failed.  Dictator Maduro, who reportedly gets instructions in part from his very dead predecessor and from the long ago dead Simon Bolivar—there has been a Bolivar Cult there, had infiltrated it, knew about it, and his admin easily put it down. It was more farce than a serious effort to get rid of Maduro.

But, even if this had had U.S. support, it was unlikely to have succeeded contrary to Pompeo’s claims.  Why?  Maduro has support from Cuba (whose secret police has trained his and have a significant presence in Venezuela), Russia, Iran, and China.  Those are formidable obstacles to an overthrow being successful. Their support has been perhaps decisive in helping Maduro’s Venezuela with dealing with Covid.  They have advisors present in multiple capacities.

An American invasion, as threatened by Trump, could kill some of those advisors.  That could lead to direct conflicts we do not want or need.  Iran has been sending oil tankers to help Maduro out as well as a way to get around the Trump administration sanctions on the Maduro regime.  Indeed, Iran and Venezuela have developed a strategic partnership.

With all of this there is a long history of American interventions in Latin America that have harmed our relations.   Against this background, this latest attempt bears resemblance to the “filibustering” expeditions pre-Civil War in Central America and the Caribbean.  As a reminder for the readers, these were private military attempts to subvert and hopefully rule a Central American nation without U.S. government support.

Narcisso Lopez, starting in 1849, led three efforts to boot the Spanish out of Cuba.  None worked; the Spanish captured the perps in the last one and had them executed.   This all led to the Ostend Manifesto as a circular written effort by American diplomats in Europe to encourage the U.S. government to buy Cuba and if that didn’t work perhaps to take it.  That died still born.

The most successful, for a time, was William Walker’s efforts to take and rule Nicaragua. He succeeded and his rule was recognized officially by President William Pierce in 1856.  His rule ran afoul of Cornelius Vanderbilt who had his rule destroyed.  Walker tried two more times and on the coast of Honduras the Brits captured him and executed him by firing squad. 

The Civil War brought an end to these escapades. But, this latest effort in Venezuela reminds me of them.  All in all, this history has not led to a good U.S. reputation in Latin America. 

What now?  Maduro’s regime is in serious trouble.   Mismanagement, corruption including collusion with the drug cartels, have all led Russia to reconsider its support.  If Russia backs out, his regime becomes vulnerable.  But, does the opposition have “the right stuff” to take advantage of these issues and lead to a successful domestic (U.S. aided) coup?  Maybe, but they didn’t do well at it before and there’s no guarantee they will. 

An American “invasion” would be unwise to say the least.  It would almost certainly lead many who don’t like the regime at all, to resist the American led invasion.  It is unlikely to get Congressional and American public approval.  Better to bet on a domestic takeover.  It might succeed, but don’t count on it.   A Bay of Piglets was not the way to get it done.  What would you recommend?

Black America in Peril

The most recent issue of The Economist on p. 25 carried the headline Black America in peril.  The article begins with a quote from Dr. W.E.B. Dubois in 1899: “The most difficult social problem in the matter of Negro health…” was why were so few whites bothered by that problem.  He carried out a pioneering sociological study of “Negro health” in Philadelphia.  His research indicated that: “The Philadelphia Negro” lived and suffered in the worst sections of the city with abominable health care.

Regarding the police murder recently in Minneapolis by a white officer against a black unarmed citizen, one really should see if the issues Dubois identified are still in essence true?  The answers point to YES they are.  Take a look at D.C., for example.  In the two poorest black wards the black residents have little access to decent food and health care.  Thus, it should not be surprising that the group most impacted by Covid-19 are blacks.  If they contract the virus, they are 2.4 times more likely to die from it than whites.  Covid-19 was bound to especially harm those in tightly compacted neighborhoods with high poverty rates coupled with obesity and diabetes issues.

President Obama made a serious effort via the ACA to address these issues by extending Medicaid.  The 20 million Americans who received health care thanks to that act were most likely blacks or Latinos.  As The Economist pointed out, this helps explain why the opposition to the ACA came primarily from whites especially connected with the GOP.  This conclusion was reached earlier by Dr. Kevin Fiscella in The American Journal of Medicine in August, 2015: “In summary, opposition to ACA is largely by white Americans. This opposition seems to be associated with increasing political polarization surrounding the Obama presidency, perceived self-interest, and racial attitudes.”  It is noteworthy that President Trump has been shrinking the act’s reach through technical changes.

If you add to the Covid-19 results the unemployment rate, due to the various shutdowns, is twice as high among blacks as it is for whites then you are in a better position to understand why there are so many protests and with that riots.  Further, there is likely to be a rental crisis regarding payments for those who have lost their jobs or are on layoff.  That is especially likely to hit blacks.  In Minneapolis, black home ownership was much less than white home ownership. 

Finally, we come to perceptions of police relationships with blacks and whites.  The gap is large between blacks and whites.  Close to 81% of blacks believe that police are far more likely to use deadly force against them than 61% of Hispanics and 33% of whites.  Research shows that DWB (driving while black) IS a reality.  Many blacks are certain they are more likely to be followed in upscale stores than whites.

Perhaps the most significant current disconnect is the gap between who certain elected politicians blame for the riots and those who actually did cause them.  The politicians are quick to blame “outside agitators” (sound familiar to those involved in the Civil Rights movement?) such as Antifa on the left; or, right wing white hate groups.  In fact, the evidence suggests that the majority of the perpetrators are local, not from outside.  The CBC news team reported that the majority of those arrested, for example, in Minneapolis, came from that region.  They have also reported that it appears that too many PDs have not learned the lessons from Ferguson, MO. 

In short, we live in a racially divided society and have done so for a long time.  Dr. King’s Dream has yet to be fulfilled.  So, what will you do about that?

Forced Uighur Assimilation: Deja Vu?

OK, reader, let’s assume that you were forcibly taken from your family and home to a residential school by age 6. There, you would not be able to speak your native language or practice your native religion. You couldn’t wear your traditional clothing and would be thoroughly regimented. You would not be able to leave the school voluntarily. What actually took place in your new residence and school would be mostly kept from public view. The public would be told that you are being well taken care of and are learning useful vocational skills. You are not allowed to complain about what happens to you. The government is finding ways to settle people on the lands so long used by your families.

You are at a “reeducation” camp. You are being forced to assimilate; or, to put it another way, forced to participate in the genocide of your culture.

So, who are you and where are you?

Your choices are: (1) boarding schools for Native Americans; or, (2) boarding schools for Uighurs currently living in Xinjiang Province in China.

Actually, you could be at either one. Maybe that helps explain why there isn’t that much outrage over what is happening to the Uighurs in China? Whenever the U.S. complains, which it seldom does, about what China is doing to its Uighurs, the Chinese government will bring up what the U.S. did with its Native Americans. V.P. Pence and Sec. of State Pompeo have condemned Chinese policies towards the Uighurs. But, has President Trump applied sanctions on China for these policies?

No. He has several times expressed praise for China’s strongman Xi Jinping without expressing reservations about Xi’s human rights abuses which have become worse over time.

The Chinese will cite that there have been terrorist activities carried out by Uighurs. And, there have been as part of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group that uses violence to set up an independent East Turkistan. That movement is considered by the U.N. Security Council and by the U.S. government, post 9/11, as a terrorist organization. One could argue that the U.S. and the U.N. have provided the Chinese government with a rationale for their above described policy though, in fact, there have been but a few Uighurs who have conducted terrorist attacks.

Well, how about the “hostiles” among our Native Americans who resisted, by force, being placed on reservations on land that no white man wanted?

Are there significant differences between the two choices noted above? Yes, (1) the Chinese have implanted a thorough going surveillance system to track residents wherever they go using facial recognition cameras and DNA samples tied to a database. But, those kinds of technology were unknown in the later 19th century in the U.S. (2) The Native Americans were NOT U.S. citizens whereas the Uighurs are Chinese citizens. But, does Chinese citizenship entitle the Uighurs to anything like our Bill of Rights? Only in theory. (3) the Uighurs are Muslims while the Native Americans had their own religions. (4) The ETIM is tied to terrorist groups outside of China including the Taliban and Al Qaeda whereas the Native Americans had no such support.

Given our own history with Native Americans and more recently with those detained near our border, what should President Trump do about the human rights abuses carried out against the Uighurs?

from thoughtco.com

China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Far More Than the Old Silk Road

Suzanne, my wife, and I have been on the old silk road in Kazakhstan.  If there is a “middle of nowhere” this had to be it!  The photo below is a caravansary which was a welcome place to stay on the way to and from China to the Middle East on the old silk road.  Its origins dated to the second century BCE and was an important trade route until the end of the 14th century.  While it was known for the transport of silk, it had other purposes as well.

As important and exotic it may have been, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is much more sweeping in its purposes and connections.  As the map here shows, its Belts (actually the roads) and the Roads (actually the sea routes) connect multiple cultures and nations, 71 by recent count.  It encompasses over half of the world’s population and a quarter of the global BDP.  It meets China’s needs for markets to its excess capacity while open for trade from many nations.  China has already invested $210 billion in it, chiefly construction of infrastructure and will amount to at least $340 billion for those purposes.

Art and Suzanne Pitz on a Caravansari on the Old Silk Road

It has proved controversial since a number of the impacted nations now owe half of their foreign debt to China.  The list includes Djibouti, Kyrgystan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.  This “debt trap diplomacy” understandably worries many about Chinese economic imperialism.  In response, China has forgiven substantial amounts of that debt perhaps to curry favor.  There have also been concerns that the belts for trade could also be belts for the Chinese military though China has yet to exhibit much interest in doing so outside of developing a port/base at Djibouti.

So, what is China up to?  Much of it is Xi’s vision for China. He has been heavily influenced by studies of the rise and fall of the Qing Dynasty.  Its crises came to a bloody height in the 1860s rather like the U.S. has been so influenced by its own Civil War.   That era included a series of “unequal” treaties begun with Great Britain’s successful efforts to force China to accept the importation of opium.  China had a huge army and a decent sized navy with cannon, but the British cannon outranged the Chinese.

Gunboat diplomacy worked and China paid the price.  Xi is not about to have China give in to any more unequal treaties.  Instead, his vision for China’s return to greatness is hinged on the Belt and Road Initiative.  It is more than about hard infrastructure.  It includes China setting up international courts to resolve commercial disputes relating to this Initiative based on models established by Dubai and Singapore that have been accepted.  Will those courts indeed be independent of Beijing?

As an example of its importance, the map makes clear that Iran is essential for the initiative’s success.  Hence, China has become Iran’s main weapons provider and co-conspirator in finding ways to evade Trump’s sanctions on Iran.  It does not appear that President Trump is sufficiently aware of Xi’s motivations and goals.  How should the U.S. deal with this Initiative in your view?

South China Sea: Overlapping Claims

Take a look at the map of the overlapping claims in the South China Sea.  Why should we pay attention?

from southchinasea.org

For one, close to 30% of all of the world’s trade goes through it.  Most are aware of the importance of the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, Gibraltar, and the Strait of Hormuz; however, not so many know about the strategic location of the Strait of Malacca which helps make Singapore a wealthy city state.

Secondly, it is the second most important choke point for the transport of oil, the first being the Strait of Hormuz; yet, it is first for two thirds of internationally traded LNG (liquified natural gas).  This Strait is VITAL for Japan, Korea, AND China as so much of their energy comes via that route.  It is the shortest sea route between Persian Gulf suppliers and key Asian markets. China has astoundingly built islands from scratch from the ocean floor with facilities such as air fields and port facilities potentially to control the sea routes.

Third, the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates that the South China Sea holds about 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves, most of which lie along the margins of the South China Sea rather than under disputed islets and reefs.  See the map provided to see the locations of the artificially made Paracel Islands and the Spratley Islands. An old principle of real estate ownership applies here: location, location, location. How does their location impact the region’s trade?

All of this highlights how important it is to have dominant sea power located there, thanks to the dictums set down by Alfred T. Mahan so many years ago. Thus far, that sea power is in the hands of the U.S. Navy though China is enhancing their’s with the apparent goal of surpassing the U.S. Navy in that region. China is not yet committed to building a world wide high seas navy, only to have a navy to protect their interests in the South China Sea and Djibouti in the Middle East.

Artificial Islands in the South China Sea (from Wikipedia)

Actually, as the second map discloses, some claims have been solved.  It is the rest that are problematic. In 2016, a South China Sea arbitration tribunal of the Hague attempted to resolve China’s claims to resources and ruled that their claims were incompatible with the UN Convention on the Sea’s ruling of that region’s high seas open to all.    China has yet to accept the results. How that is to be resolved is still unclear.

Finally, the Strait of Malacca IS essential for China’s Belt and Road Initiative to be carried out.  Will China attempt to control it?  And, if so, what can be done about that?  China may intend to control the South China Sea; but, the Strait of Malacca is probably out of its reach for some time.  At the very least, we can expect growing tensions within the South China Sea between the various nations, especially China, laying claim to substantial portions of it. 

It is a potential flash point. What do you think can be done about their claims?