Monday, December 31, 2012

Reforms And Other Illusions

Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.
- Pudd'nhead Wilson (Mark Twain)

There is talk of reform in the air.

Hang onto your wallets.

Based on experience of the last couple of decades, there's nothing so harmful to ordinary working people as "reform."

Remember the song about the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer?" That was about reform.


Tax reform. Translation: Rich people pay less tax. Workers pay more.

Welfare reform. Translation: Mothers go to work. Who raises the children? TBD.

School reform. Translation 1: Take money and resources from public schools, divert them to charter or private schools. Translation 2: Blame problems on teachers.

Entitlement reform. Translation: Reduce entitlement programs.

Social Security reform. Translation: Reduce benefits.

Election reform. Translation: Make it harder for poor people to vote.

You get the drift.

Happy New Year!

Bad Bargains

It can be well nigh impossible to undo a bad bargain.

Slavery was a bad bargain in 1787/1789. It took three quarters of a century and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives to undo that bad bargain.

Would it have been better to let the slave states go their own way? Possibly.

The settlement of the disputed election of 1876 (Hayes/Tilden) was a bad bargain. It ended reconstruction prematurely and left the former slave states free for nearly another century to do as they wished with their own citizens. It took the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's and the loss of yet more lives to undo that bad bargain.

The Second Amendment was a bad bargain. It sought to limit the coercive power of the federal government by depriving it of a standing army in lieu of state militias. In the end, we got both.

Unification of the armed forces was a bad bargain. A classic case of a solution in search of a problem. Coordination between the Army and the Navy was quite good throughout World War II. Coordination between the Army and the US Army Air Forces was not so good. USAAF wanted to go off and fight wars on their own. That was not ever a really good idea. It is even less so now. But we'll never be able to undo having a separate independent Air Force. Even if no one any longer remembers who Douhet was.

Deregulation was a bad bargain.

The Bush tax cuts were a bad bargain.

Deregulation and tax cuts together have enabled the super rich to redistribute wealth upward from working people to wealthy plutocrats.

Pardon me if I fail to salute the idea of a grand fiscal bargain.

Seventy Years Ago: War In The Pacific

December 31, 1942. The Japanese military high command decides to evacuate forces from Guadalcanal. It will be a complex and challenging undertaking to withdraw forces, and will take more than a month. There will be more battles.

USS Essex, lead ship of a more powerful class of aircraft carriers, is commissioned today.

On New Guinea, after more than two months of jungle fighting against well-defended Japanese positions, the US Army I Corps was nearing victory at Buna on the north coast of New Guinea. Victory here will relieve pressure on Port Moresby.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Seventy Years Ago: Pacific Fleet Carriers

December, 1942, the US Navy's force of aircraft carriers was depleted. Of the seven carriers in service at the time of Pearl Harbor, only USS Ranger, smallest and slowest of the seven, remained undamaged. She was also the only one of the seven serving in the Atlantic Fleet.

The Pacific Fleet had lost Lexington, Yorktown, Hornet and Wasp. That left only Saratoga, twice torpedoed and repaired and Enterprise, damaged at the Battle of Coral Sea,and bombed six times later in the year.

Relief was at hand.

USS Essex, prototype of a newer, more powerful class of carriers, was to be commissioned in two days - December 31, 1942. Two weeks later, USS Independence, prototype of a smaller carrier built on a cruiser hull, was to be commissioned. Independence carried fewer aircraft, but was as fast as the larger Enterprise and Saratoga.

There would be nine new Independence class carriers in service by the end of 1943, almost one a month entering service. Only one, USS Princeton, was sunk in combat.

But the backbone of the Pacific Fleet was to be the Essex class. Thirty-two were ordered. Twenty-four were completed by war's end.None was lost in combat.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Seventy Years Ago: Women Auxiliary Territorial Service

On the home front in the US, women were tending their victory gardens, saving tin cans, riveting aircraft together and such like. In the U.K., it turns out some young women were drafted into various auxiliary services. This included manning antiaircraft artillery.

Some gave their lives. Here is one story.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Seventy Years Ago: "I'll Be Home For Christmas"

My father left home in February, 1942. He had just returned to Tallahassee from the Carolina Maneuvers on December 5, 1941, two days before Pearl Harbor. By March he had been transferred to Mobile, Alabama to prepare for overseas movement. We didn't see him for over three years.

He missed three Christmases with his family. He was gone "for the duration" as we said it in those days. No one ever finished the phrase: duration of what?

A lot of fathers, brothers, sons, and even daughters missed a lot of Christmases in those years. We were all in it together.

"I'll be home for Christmas," one popular song put it. After dragging the story line out, the song closed "If only in my dreams."

Today we have soldiers who keep going back into combat. In 1942, it may have been a long time at the front, but usually only once. Today, the tours are shorter, but repeated.

We have had soldiers and marines in Afghanistan for twelve Christmases. Three times as long as World War II.

Don't forget our troops. It's time to bring them home.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Gift!

In former times, across much of America, the expected greeting on Christmas morning was "Christmas Gift!" This was true especially in the South, but also in parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere. The Dictionary of American Regional English provides details.

I never heard it used myself, but learned about it in the mid-40's from a book a great aunt gave me: Miss Minerva And William Green Hill. The book was written around 1900 by a Memphis schoolteacher, and described a child's life in Southeast Missouri.

The effect of greeting someone with "Christmas Gift!" was not unlike "Trick or Treat!" That is, the person greeted had to give a gift to the person who first uttered the phrase as a greeting. My father, born in 1915, remembered the custom from the 1920's. It had fallen into disuse by the time I lived in Mississippi in the 1940's, replaced by "Merry Christmas" as a greeting.

But the game of catching the other person first and thereby getting a present, had disappeared.

Christmas Gift!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Good Guys And Bad Guys

I'm always a little uneasy when I hear young soldiers talking about "good guys" and "bad guys." How, I wonder, do they tell the difference, especially in someone else's civil war. Our guys weren't very good at it in Viet Nam, though I remember the time an airborne spotter called off a gunfire mission. He could tell the villagers weren't acting like bad guys.

All of us who grew up watching cowboy movies could easily tell the good guys from the bad guys. Good guys wore white hats and light-colored clothing. They were straight talkers.

Bad guys not only wore black hats, they sneered and bullied people.

Back in the 1950's, John Steinbeck wrote an essay about good guys and bad guys. He described the conventions of the cowboy movie in great detail. It was his young son who decoded the art form for him.

During the Army-McCarthy hearings, he asked his son if he had watched the hearings on television. He had. Could the son tell who was the bad guy? Yes. McCarthy was the bad guy. He wasn't clean-shaven and he sneered at people and bullied them.

Watching Congressional Republicans on TV, I think they didn't get Steinbeck's memo. Most of them seem clean-shaven enough, but they haven't dropped the sneering and bullying.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Hanger

I say, again: we have a persistent economic crisis, but right now that crisis is jobs, not deficit. The deficit is a consequence, not a cause of job loss.

The looming 'fiscal cliff" is itself a consequence of a disastrous agreement last year to persuade Republicans not to throw the country into renewed, deep recession by refusing to raise the debt limit - essentially refusing to pay our bills.

No one disputes that, in the long run, we must reduce deficits. Reduce them back to the levels of the last two years of the Clinton administration.

But first we have to put people back to work. But Republican obstructionists don't want the economy to succeed. They will continue to obstruct economic progress.

At the state level, further obstruction will proceed apace in every state whose government is dominated by Republicans. We are about to enter that category here in North Carolina.

I don't make this stuff up, but I do read a lot of what is said by the best economists.

One of the economists I follow is Jared Bernstein. He's a very clear writer and thinker. Today he examines the question of what the last year has taught us about economic beliefs that have not served us well. Here's his summary.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Valentina Lisitsa - Concert Star

Marvelous concert this evening at Oriental's Old Theater. World class pianist Valentina Lisitsa played Rachmaninov, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Shubert, Liszt. Absolutely virtuoso playing. Marvelous acoustics in the old movie theater. Attendees treated to Champagne afterward and a DVD viewing of Valentina's recording session with the London Symphony Orchestra.

 A cause to celebrate.

Friday, December 21, 2012

An Economist's Take On Guns

It's hard these days to have a rational conversation about guns. We mostly seem to share views with those who share our views. I have posted a couple of things on my facebook page, and mostly don't hear anything from my gun nut enthusiast friends.

But here are some thoughts by an economist:

I'm not sure what I think about his ideas, but guns are certainly a good example of economic externalities. A Pigouvian tax? Interesting idea. Maybe liability insurance as a practical way to implement the idea. It works (mostly) with cars.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Former Chief Justice Warren Burger: Second Amendment

Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States (1969-86) had this to say in an article in Parade Magazine, January 14, 1990, page 4:

"The Constitution of the United States, in its Second Amendment, guarantees a "right of the people to keep and bear arms." However, the meaning of this clause cannot be understood except by looking to the purpose, the setting and the objectives of the draftsmen. The first 10 amendments -- the Bill of Rights -- were not drafted at Philadelphia in 1787; that document came two years later than the Constitution. Most of the states already had bills of rights, but the Constitution might not have been ratified in 1788 if the states had not had assurances that a national Bill of Rights would soon be added.

"People of that day were apprehensive about the new "monster" national government presented to them, and this helps explain the language and purpose of the Second Amendment. A few lines after the First Amendment's guarantees -- against "establishment of religion," "free exercise" of religion, free speech and free press -- came a guarantee that grew out of the deep-seated fear of a "national" or "standing" army. The same First Congress that approved the right to keep and bear arms also limited the national army to 840 men; Congress in the Second Amendment then provided:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
"In the 1789 debate in Congress on James Madison's proposed Bill of Rights, Elbridge Gerry argued that a state militia was necessary:
"to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty ... Whenever governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia in order to raise an army upon their ruins."
Plainly the goal of the Second Amendment was to prevent the establishment of a large standing army. That endeavor failed more than a century ago. We now maintain the second largest standing military force in the world. Only China's is larger.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Way Ahead For Europe - But Europe Won't Like It

Yesterday I posted a speech by professor Galbraith. He was speaking in Berlin.

The Eurozone problem is a German problem. Not a Greek problem or a Spanish problem or an Italian problem.

Professor Galbraith understands this and explains a lot about debt, especially international debt.

Here's a very illuminating interview.

Robert Bork: 1927-2012

Robert Bork was a brilliant professor and one of the most divisive figures in recent American history.

He also has been described as a person with a large brain and a small mind. Conservatives who mourn the fact that Bork was not confirmed as a justice on the Supreme Court don't often point out that six Republican senators voted against his confirmation. And two Democratic senators voted for. That was on the floor vote. In the committee on judiciary, Republican Senator Simpson also voted "no."

Here is a link to a segment of Bork's senate confirmation hearing. The exchange is between Bork and Senator Kennedy. The intellectual level of exchange far exceeds anything we hear these days.

Lawyer, author and legal analyst Jeff Toobin expresses a less-favorable picture of Robert Bork.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Economic Changes - Existing And Prospective - Mostly Europe

Professor James K Galbraith made a really fine presentation December 6th at an IG Metall conference in Berlin. Conference theme: The Good Life. Thanks to Mark Thoma for the link. The title of professor Galbraith's presentation is "Change of Direction."

Professor Galbraith draws attention to the existence of one overarching worldwide crisis. "Yesterday," he says, "Professor Nouriel Roubini give a magisterial and very high speed tour of the world situation making it clear of course that the promised recovery has not occurred. But if Nouriel is Sir Isaiah Berlin’s fox, who knows many things, let me try this morning to be the hedgehog who knows one big thing, and that one big thing is that what we are experiencing is a single, unified, global crisis of the economy and of the financial system. It is not a cluster of distinct and separated events; a subprime crisis in the United States; a public debt crisis in Greece; a bank crisis in Iceland; a real estate bust in Ireland and Spain; nor are there distinct U.S. and European crises, nor can the financial be separated from the real, nor is Germany a country to which crisis has not yet come with the suggestion that there might be some separate way out. There is one crisis, only one crisis, a deeply interconnected crisis of the world system. This crisis has, I think, three deep sources going back not twenty years but forty years to the early 1970s and the end of what we sometimes call the “golden age,” the “glorious thirty” years in the immediate aftermath of the second World War."

This calls to mind Noah Smith's observation that "something big" happened  early in the 1970's. Smith doesn't know what.

Professor Galbraith has some ideas.

"The first of the three deep sources is, I think, the rising real cost of the resources that we use, of energy and of everything that we use energy for. This was a problem that emerged in the 1970s and was then submerged again; it was deferred by new discoveries, by the geopolitical situation, and by the financial power of the western countries, which because of the debt crisis in much of the rest of the world had the effect of suppressing demand for these core resources. But this is a problems that can no longer be avoided or deferred. The cost of energy is roughly twice of what it was a decade ago and the future is far more uncertain. Both of these factors, cost and uncertainty, place a squeeze on the surplus or profitability in regions, continents, and countries that are importers of these resources. And as we confront, as we must, the problem of climate change and as we begin, as we must, to pay the price of climate change this problem is going to become more difficult. That’s just an economic reality that we have to cope with as we face the imperative before us."
"The second great underlying issue technical change, the particular character of which in our time is quite different from ... before. If you take the digital revolution together with globalization, the ease of transnational manufacturing and ... the outsourcing of services, we ... live in an era where technology ... supplants workers. ...[T]he computer and ... associated technologies ... are now doing to the office worker what a century ago the internal combustion engine did to the horse."
"And the third great source of our problem is ideological. It is the neo-liberal idea that has given us deregulation and de-supervision; that has given us the notion that markets can function on their own without breaking down or blowing up. It is this notion as applied especially to finance. This is the great illusion of the last generation, and it fostered a form of economic growth that was intrinsically unstable and unsustainable. Why? ... [I]t was based on declining standards for loans and ... lax accounting standards, it was based upon financial fraud, on the most massive wave of financial fraud that the world has ever seen.... It was known to be such to the lenders at the time. This was true of housing loans in the United States made by the tens of millions that were known to the lenders as “liar’s loans,” as “ninja loans,” no income, no job, no assets; as “neutron loans” destined to explode leaving the building intact but destroying the people. This was known at the time. These were loans that had to be refinanced or they would default.
"It was also true of loans to the public sector, for example Greece....The fact that Greece had a weak public sector and a weak tax system was not a state secret before the crisis...." 
"Rising inequality is often linked to these phenomena. But I think we should be clear about what the linkage is. It is not the case that inequality rose and people compensated for it by borrowing more so they could have a higher standard of consumption. This is not what happened. It certainly did not happen in the United States. What happened was, is that the lenders went out to find new markets often fostering fraudulent loans on low-information borrowers, poor borrowers, inner city home owners, for example, forcing those loans to be refinanced so that the recipient only saw a fraction of the debt with which they were ultimately saddled. And the inequality arose from the booking of fees on those loans. This is how bankers get rich. They make their money in this way. And you can see this in their tax statements and you can see it in the geographical distribution of income gains in the United States."
 Professor Galbraith goes into more detail. You will find it rewarding to read the entire presentation.

You may not find it reassuring.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Are We Totally Helpless?

Where is the outrage? Where is the agony? Where is the will?

December 14, 2012, is a date that should live in infamy. But there have been too many such dates.

We are all heartbroken that such a thing can happen.

Now is the time to grieve for the senseless deaths of 20 young children and six of their teachers and administrators.

Tomorrow is the time for action. And anger, but a focused anger.

Anger at whom? It does no good to be angry at Adam Lanza, a troubled soul not given the healing he needed. In any event, he is now beyond our anger or our healing.

We should seek out and focus some of our anger on those who arm unbalanced people and set them loose on ourselves, our families and our children. Who could do such a thing? Look in the mirror. We have all looked the other way as pusillanimous politicians too frightened to stand up to extremists in an industrial lobby (the NRA) refused to focus on protecting our children.

We have averted our eyes from those who fail to provide adequately for treatment of mental disorders. A glance at Adam Lanza's eyes in the most widely published photo would suggest to any viewer that something is not right. But research, diagnosis and treatment are expensive. So all too often we pass the cost on to the families of those afflicted or to fellow citizens in their vicinity when they lose touch with reality.

What was wrong with Adam Lanza? Some say he suffered from a form of high functioning autism. Others say he could not read body language - another way of saying the same thing. He plainly lacked empathy with his victims - yet another way of saying the same thing.

A word some use to describe such behavior is "Asperger's syndrome."

In general, psychologists don't associate Asperger's with violence, but research seems sparse. Here is a link to one very brief study. Asperger's has only been recognized since about 1994 and is about to be reclassified as part of a larger class: "autism spectrum disorders." This case cries out for a more complete study.

Public safety is at stake.

Guns are too readily available. That is often used as a reason for inaction. We will not be able to achieve perfect success. Too hard.

Let's get the issue out of the "too hard" file.

Perfection need not be the goal. Any improvement will help.

Another group to focus on are those who denigrate our teachers. Remember: six teachers and administrators went into harm's way to protect their children. Why would anyone believe the same teachers were any less dedicated to the education of the children in their charge than to their safety? Who among our self-appointed education "experts" or elected officials know anything about how to educate children but the latest fads among people of their own political persuasion?

 I said focus our anger. What I really mean is focus our determination. In particular, focus on our elected officials who follow aggressive policies of arming everyone with concealed weapons.

Americans are said to own around 270 to 300 million guns. What for?

Gun laws vary from state to state. In California guns can be sold only through licensed dealers. Would-be buyers must wait ten days to get their hands on a gun so they can be checked out.These laws were put in place under Governor Ronald Reagan, largely in reaction to fears of the Black Panthers.

In Arizona adults without a criminal record can go to a dealer with ID and get a firearm on the spot. Who are Arizonans afraid of?

Many states relaxed gun laws in recent years. Virginia and New Mexico now let people take guns into bars. Texas and Utah allow citizens to carry concealed weapons in schools. Wyatt Earp would never have allowed that.

Last Friday — the day Adam Lanza killed 26 students and teachers in an elementary school, Michigan passed a law allowing concealed weapons in schools, churches and hospitals. What, we want to turn our schools into "gunfight at the OK corral?"

On a typical day in America around 100 people are shot. American children are 13 times more likely to be killed with a gun than those in any other country. Do we love our children? Let's control our guns. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Since Obama became president, there have been eleven large scale mass shootings:

November 2009, Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot 13 people dead at Fort Hood, Texas.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was one of 17 victims of a mass shooting in January 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. She survived. Six others, including a nine year old girl, died.

In July James Holmes killed 12 and injured 58 at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado.

And Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But there are others. This year alone, there have been 13 multiple murders, including Sandy Hook.

The killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday were in a class by themselves. Connecticut’s chief medical examiner said the children he examined had been shot between three and 11 times. He added: “I have been at this more than a third of a century. This is the worst I have seen.” Police found the bodies of 14 children and teacher Lauren Rousseau huddled together in a heap.

Maybe we can't completely end such occurrences, but we have to try.

Here are some things we can do:
1. Reinstate a permanent assault weapons ban; 
2. Create a federal registry for licenses and gun ownership, contingent upon safety training and proper storage education (currently prohibited by the Firearm Ownership Protection Act of 1986);
3. End the “Gun Show Loophole” to the Brady Law, mandating that every gun purchaser be subject to mandatory background checks and wait periods;
4. Oppose concealed carry laws;
5. Mandate permanent gun serial numbers – end gun trafficking;
6. Mandate ballistic fingerprinting– this means being able to trace a bullet back to a specific gun, not just a make;
7. Encourage universal child-safety locks – we child-proof our Tylenol and our cars, why not our guns?
8. Limit purchases to “one gun per month” or “one gun per three months” laws –prevent traffickers from stockpiling guns for the black-market;
9. Most important of all - do away with the fiction (former Chief Justice Warren Burger called it a "fraud") that the Second Amendment protects a personal right to own firearms. "To bear arms" is a term of art that means "to serve in the military." The purpose of the Second Amendment was to prevent establishment of a large standing army.It failed in that purpose long ago.
Regulation of firearms is properly a political issue, not a constitutional issue. There was a time when the NRA understood that. A time before NRA adopted the doctrine of Huey Newton.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Renovated Town Hall

The renovated Town Hall is looking good. I think Bob Maxbauer has done a good job. We will enjoy the improved facilities for many years.

I'm really anxious to attend the first Town Board meeting in the new facilities.

Europe Is In Trouble

It looks like Europe is going into recession again. Not only is Greece suffering from 25% unemployment, so is Spain. The austerity measures forced on those countries aren't working. Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy, the technocrat appointed to that office at the behest of Eurocrats in Brussels, largely responding to Germany.

Last year, things were really looking bad, but Mario Draghi, the new president of the European Central Bank, has managed to slow the deterioration. But there is a growing perception that in the long run, in the absence of greater European political integration, prospects for the Euro and the Eurozone are not good.

A book by Harvard professor Dani Rodrik, published last year, explains the problem:

"The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, W.W. Norton, New York and London, 2011, forthcoming.
Surveying three centuries of economic history, a Harvard professor argues for a leaner global system that puts national democracies front and center.
From the mercantile monopolies of seventeenth-century empires to the modern-day authority of the WTO, IMF, and World Bank, the nations of the world have struggled to effectively harness globalization's promise. The economic narratives that underpinned these eras—the gold standard, the Bretton Woods regime, the "Washington Consensus"—brought great success and great failure. In this eloquent challenge to the reigning wisdom on globalization, Dani Rodrik offers a new narrative, one that embraces an ineluctable tension: we cannot simultaneously pursue democracy, national self-determination, and economic globalization. When the social arrangements of democracies inevitably clash with the international demands of globalization, national priorities should take precedence. Combining history with insight, humor with good-natured critique, Rodrik's case for a customizable globalization supported by a light frame of international rules shows the way to a balanced prosperity as we confront today's global challenges in trade, finance, and labor markets."

In summary, by creating a common currency before political integration, Europe has put the cart before the horse. Probably because the horse simply wasn't going to happen.

In a recent interview with the Swedish journal Respons, Rodrik explains his views in detail. This is the best and clearest explanation of the European dilemma I have read. For anyone interested in European affairs, I recommend reading it.

After reading the article, I conclude that the best solution is to do away with the Euro. There plainly is no risk-free approach to a viable future for the Euro. Better to do away with it sooner than later.

Why does this matter to Americans? We export a lot of goods and services to Europe. Another European recession is not good news for the US economy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Laura Tyson's Advice

Today's Laura Tyson article in New York Times' Economix blog spells out in much more detail than my earlier post just why we don't have more jobs and what to do about it.

What's wrong?

Insufficient aggregate demand. In other words, not enough people have enough disposable income to buy stuff.

What to do about it?

Hire more people. Build more roads and bridges. Government spend more money.

What not to do about it right now?

Reduce spending.

What else not to do?

Don't raise taxes on poor and working people.

Can we raise taxes on anybody without crashing the economy?

Yes. Raise them on our richest people.

Why? They'll never notice. Won't reduce their spending at all.

Why else? The economy will work better.

Top Priority: Jobs, Not Deficit

It's a mystery to me how, during the greatest sustained employment crisis since the Great Depression, our national political class remains focused on the deficit instead of putting people back to work. Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, takes a stab at explaining why the obsession should be with jobs.

Read Reich's article. Here's my take on it.

The deficit is caused by unemployment. When people are unemployed, all manner of safety net expenses go up. Unemployment insurance payments increase. Medicaid takes over more of the cost of medical care. Food stamp use increases. Revenue goes down as fewer people earn income. At the state level, people buy less and pay less sales tax.

All of these add to the deficit. With respect to the safety net, the deficit isn't a bug - it's a feature.

The safety net isn't just to help individual citizens. It helps businesses, by making it possible for the citizens to keep buying food, shelter and clothing. Wal-Mart thrives on the safety net.

The safety net also helps regions. Concealed by the fact that safety net programs are paid to individuals is the reality that these are enormous transfers from the more prosperous to less prosperous regions of the country. Without these transfers, Mississippi would be like Greece.

To get out of this fix, the federal government needs to spend more, not less.

Right now, the focus needs to be on putting people back to work.

The safety net is not a form of charity to individuals, though it does help keep people alive. More importantly, in a cold-hearted way, it keeps the economy alive. It keeps businesses going in bad times by sending customers through the door.

Without safety net programs, a major downturn would feed on itself and the economy would have no natural bottom to it.

Right now, only the federal government has the power to put people back to work. And there is clearly work that needs to be done. Fix our crumbling roads and bridges, for one. Bury our electrical distribution system, for another (to at least mitigate damage from future Sandys). Put teachers, firemen and policemen back to work. All of these measures would put money back in people's pockets and put people back in stores, increase orders to factories, reduce safety net expenditures, increase tax revenue and reduce the deficit.

Jobs first. The deficit will follow.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Right To Work For Less

Those of us who have studied 20th Century history, especially the history of authoritarian or fascist dictatorships have observed a pattern. Dictators seek to control the media, control the schools and control or destroy the labor unions.

I was reminded of this during the past week as the Republican government in Michigan pressed during a lame duck session to destroy unions in Michigan. Michigan is not alone. They are now one of twenty-four states with so-called "right to work" laws.

"Right to work" as many observers have noted, really means "right to work for less." The term itself is an example of Orwellian language which means the opposite of what it seems to mean. Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post does a very good job explaining the historical background. Meyerson shows the similarity in the aim of "right to work" and efforts by the Communist leadership in China to control and benefit from the profits of improved productivity.

In our country, it isn't the government, but those who control the finance system, who have stolen the lion's share of increased productivity for themselves.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Another Interesting Post On Technology, Jobs And Salaries

Here is an interesting post by economist Tim Taylor, reposted by Mark Thoma.  It addresses issues of manufacturing productivity and suggests the only bright spot is computers. And that sector isn't doing much for jobs. Capital rather than labor scarfs up the profit.

I think this fits in with my previous post on technology, jobs and salaries. Taylor's post clarifies many of the issues involved in assessing manufacturing productivity. The picture may not be as rosy as government statistics indicate. Taylor explains: "Our statistical agencies try to measure price changes, but they miss them when the price drops because companies have shifted to a low-cost supplier. So because we don’t catch the price drop associated with offshoring, it looks like we can produce the same thing with fewer inputs—productivity growth. It also looks like we are creating more value here in the United States than we really are."

"Suppose," Taylor explains, "an auto manufacturer used to buy tires from a domestic tire manufacturer. Then it outsources the purchase of its tires to, say, Mexico, and the Mexicans sell the tires for half the price. That price drop—when the auto manufacturer switches to the low-cost Mexican supplier—isn’t caught in our statistics. And if you don’t capture that price drop, it’s going to look like, in some statistical sense, the manufacturer can make the same car but only needs two tires."

Figures don't lie....

Lobbyists And Why They Make The Big Bucks

Very interesting new report from economists at the University of Warwick in the UK.

The study, by economist Mirko Draca, confirms that pay is based not on "what" the lobbyist knows, but on "who" the lobbyist knows. This is not earth shattering news, but the study learned that lobbyists who were former congressional staffers receive on average a 24% cut in pay when the member of Congress for whom they served leave Congress.

The researchers were actually impressed that US law makes it possible to find out such information. It would not be possible in the UK.

I might add that in the UK, unlike in the US, lobbyists concentrate on the political parties more than individual members. Party discipline tends to make the lobbying of individual members relatively unproductive.

Even so, I believe this report lends support to my concept of improving responsiveness of the House of Representatives by tripling the number of members. To do so without increasing total number of staffers might reduce the market value of individual staffers' contacts.

Can Government Ever Do Things Better And Cheaper? Yes

Los Angeles Times business reporter Michael Hiltzik addresses the question of whether government can ever do things better than private enterprise. His answer: Yes.

"Here's a rule of thumb to consider," Hiltzik writes,  "for when government should take a role in providing a service: When it's cheaper." He means, cheaper for the country as a whole.

He examines in particular the consequences of raising the age of eligibility for Medicare. It would save 5.7 billion in the federal budget this year alone. "Of course," he points out, "it does horrors for the budgets of everyone else."

Hiltzik summarizes: "Put it all together, as health economist Austin Frakt did, and you find that saving that $5.7 billion on the federal books would cost society as a whole $11.4 billion. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, this is how you save money in the Bizarro world. It does nothing to improve Medicare. It does nothing to hold down healthcare costs. It does nothing to improve the health of the target population."

And "by the way, the higher costs would hit middle-class seniors especially hard."

As we used to say in the Pentagon: "that's dumb - let's do it!"

Speaking of the Pentagon, if the trend in recent decades of outsourcing military functions to private industry is cheaper and better than having the military do it, those results aren't apparent.

Hiltzik provides many examples of good, efficient government programs.

Worth reading.

Seventy Years Ago: Japanese Carrier Ryuho

At 0915, December 12, 1942, Japanese Light Aircraft Carrier steaming near Hachijo Jima off the coast of Japan, was torpedoed by USS Drum. Ryuho had left the previous day on her first mission, loaded with 20 light bombers on a ferry mission, her very first operation. She was a converted submarine tender, whose conversion was completed November 30.

It was the second time Ryuho was damaged by US forces. April 18, 1942, during the Doolittle raid on Japan, one of the B-25's hit Ryuho with a 500 pound bomb and some small incendiary weapons. The ship was in drydock at Yokosuka naval base. The damage delayed her completion.

Technology, Jobs and Salaries

Something is going on in the world of economists.

Some are beginning to question their deeply entrenched assumptions about prosperity.

Some even doubt whether improved technology might sometimes make things worse rather than better for people who work for a living. Such questions are stimulated by graphs like this one:

The New York Times
December 12, 2012    

Close Window

Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company

Yesterday economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee addressed the problem in a New York Times article. While both productivity of the economy and employment surged in the 1990's, they report, "as shown by the accompanying graph, which was first drawn by the economist Jared Bernstein, productivity growth and employment growth started to become decoupled from each other at the end of that decade." Bernstein himself calls the gap between the trend lines “the jaws of the snake.” They show no signs of closing.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee attribute the decoupling to technology, particularly robots and computers. Their article presents a pretty glum picture for the future of jobs except for those who "tell computers what to do."

Economist Paul Krugman, on the other hand, suspects the problem is not only robots and other technological advances, but that "robber barons" have succeeded in changing the rules to the benefit of capital over laborNoah Smith looks for answers in the more remote past (early 1970's), using graphs posted by Paul Krugman to ask the question "what happened in the early 70's?" Smith's conjecture is that the big thing that happened might have been the oil shock or maybe the end of fixed exchange rates under the Bretton Woods system.

Others round up the usual suspects of "offshoring" of jobs to developing countries, globalization, disappearance of strong unions, and alleged educational failures.

Arin Dube and Ethan Kaplan take a different look at it in a paper published last March:

"During the 1990s and 2000s, most economists viewed the growth in the upper-tail inequality as largely representing the same phenomenon as the growth in wage inequality elsewhere—primarily a change in the demand for skills through technological change, with some role for policy ...  Missing from all this was a discussion about how upper-tail earnings inequality could be better understood as an increase in the power of those with control over financial and physical capital. The exceptions were mostly outside of mainstream economics (e.g., Duménil and Lévy 2004)." They point to three pieces of evidence:  "a broad decline in the labor share of income from around 66 percent in 1970 to 60 percent in 2007." But that figure includes compensation going to top executives. Exclude their compensation, and it would show an even greater drop in labor's share. Most of the growth of executive income has been capital-based, e.g. stock options, but appears in the statistics as labor income.

But by far the biggest factor in upper-level income- whether capital or wage-based was the financial sector. The exorbitant level of compensation was based on financial sector profits. Even if that sector drove the overall economy into the ground.

The financial sector, by the way, creates few jobs. 

It's also good to remember Jim Hightower's observation that it isn't about jobs - "even slaves had jobs"- it's about wages and salaries.

What we need is a fair share of the nation's productivity going to the people who actually do the work rather than the handful who do the deals. But increasingly the dealmakers have the power and influence to change the rules in their own favor. And to intimidate or purchase the press and media outlets.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Unfreedom Of The Press

Dan Froomkin of Huffington Post interviews two of the most trusted neutral political observers, Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas Mann of Brookings.

Ornstein and Mann severely criticized press coverage of the recent election, particularly the effort to blame both parties equally for political lies and extreme language.

"I can't recall a campaign where I've seen more lying going on -- and it wasn't symmetric," said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who's been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, "but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top."

Ornstein and Mann don't just criticize. They also point out the mechanism whereby journalists are intimidated and prevented from writing their real assessment.

Their comments lead one to wonder whatever happened to the free press?

Come to think of it, the timidity of reporters who don't want to speak truth to power, who are reluctant to do their jobs "without fear or favor," is an affliction in other lines of work as well. It isn't necessary to go to the mat on every issue, but if you let yourself be intimidated at every turn by those with wealth and power, you are not truly free.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Seventy Years Ago: General Patch Takes Command

December 9, 1942. Major General Alexander Patch, US Army, commander of the Americal Division, assumed command of all army and marine forces on Guadalcanal, replacing Marine General Vandegrift. Admiral Halsey remained in overall command of the South Pacific Area from his flagship at Noumea.

By February, 1943, Patch had expelled all Japanese from the island.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Robots And Jobs

Paul Krugman has finally figured out that computerization and robotization (if there is such a word) might create a problem for jobs.

I'm glad he has decided this is a problem that merits study. I suggested this in a comment a couple of years ago to one of his blog posts. This is the first time he seems to take the idea seriously.

I'm not sure that at the present time fiscal efforts to expand the economy won't work. It also seems worthwhile to encourage manufacturing to return from foreign exile. The fact that Apple intends to bring some manufacturing back to these shores may be a harbinger  of good tidings. But not all that good, since most associated manufacturing is highly automated.

Jobs may consist largely of servicing robots. I mentioned this a couple of years ago, and suggested this may no longer be just a theme for science fiction.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Seventy Years Ago: First Year Of The Pacific War

The war had been going on for a year. It was mostly a naval war.

If the war were scored like a game of checkers, you would conclude that Japan was ahead. But Japan had made no significant advances since the early weeks. Repeated attempts to take control of Papua New Guinea had failed. Japan was hanging on to Buna, Salamaua and Lae on the northern coast by their fingernails.

Japanese soldiers on Guadalcanal had been unable to expel US Marines. The Japanese navy was unable to supply troops with food, much less with ammunition.

But fierce battles at sea had been costly to both sides. The score in ships sunk:

Warship losses in the First Year of the Pacific War.

U.S.    Allies Japanese
Battleships 2 2 RN   2
Fleet Carriers 4 -   4
Light Carriers - 1 RN   2
Heavy Cruisers  53 RN , 1 Aus    4
Light Cruisers 2 2 Dutch, 1 Aus     2
Destroyers 23 8 Dutch, 7+3 RN. 2+2 Aus   26
Submarines 7 5 Dutch 21

Seventy Years Ago: 27th Air Depot Group Leaves Brisbane

Ten weeks after arriving in Australia, the 27th Air Depot Group has loaded up and shipped out from Brisbane. Destination: Port Moresby, New Guinea. The voyage will take six days.

The equipment they brought with them, designed to rebuild airplanes, was supplemented with all kinds of heavy equipment. Who would operate the equipment? The soldiers. My dad, M/Sgt J. Cox, was recruited to operate a bulldozer. He had operated road graders, bulldozers and other heavy equipment since he was a teenager. He would bulldoze landing strips, areas to pitch tents, build hangars, warehouses, aircraft taxiways, for example.

The soldiers had to build their own hangars, barracks, mess halls and other structures. But there was no lumber. Not to worry. There were plenty of logs in the jungle and the ships carried a complete sawmill. Among the aircraft mechanics, welders, electronic technicians and other specialists, there were soldiers who had operated sawmills.

Some of the 900-odd men were carried by truck for miles into a desolate area covered by fibrous waist-high Kunai grass laden with mosquitoes. Their camp was in a valley nicknemed "death valley" between two existing airfields.

It was mid-January before they began major construction. In the meantime the soldiers had only their barracks bags and field packs. Other supplies and equipment had to be brought from the ships and uncrated before field kitchens and tents could be set up. Forty percent of the soldiers spent their first weeks on site building the depot.

Among the wooden boxes were some marked "tools" and "aircraft parts;" "Attention M/Sgt Cox." When opened, they proved to contain sturdy cots, mosquito nets and air mattresses for greater comfort in the jungle.

In the Navy, we call it "forehandedness." 

Post Election Poll: "Republicans Not Handling Election Results Well"

Public Policy Polling (PPP), a Raleigh, NC polling firm, reports results of a national post-election poll.

PPP summarizes  that Republicans are taking the outcome hard and also declining in numbers.

Nearly half believe ACORN stole the 2012 election for Obama. (ACORN ceased to exist in 2010.)  55% of Romney voters believe Democrats committed voter fraud and 25% want their state to secede from the Union because Obama was reelected.

The PPP summary has a link to a printable pdf file of the complete poll. PPP conducts its polls with robocalls and does not contact cell phone numbers.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fourteenth Amendment And The Fiscal Cliff

The fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified in July, 1868. Section 1 was aimed at preventing former slave states from enforcing "black laws" that sought to return former slaves to a condition very similar to slavery. Section 2 provided a possible sanction against states that prevented former slaves from voting. Section 3 prohibited former officials who had sworn to uphold the US Constitution and subsequently took part in the rebellion from holding public office.

The most interesting provision is Section 4 that "the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned." It also provided that neither the United States nor any state could pay any debt incurred in support of the rebellion. That referred to a fairly large number of Confederate bonds purchased by British and French investors during the Civil War.

The obvious concern of the "public debt" provision was that states of the former Confederacy might be able to prevent the United States from repaying debt that had financed Union conduct of the war, thus paralyzing the government. We now have a similar possibility if Republicans in the House of Representatives refuse to authorize an increase in the debt limit.

Some argue that the debt limit itself violates Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment, though that has never been adjudicated. Will Republicans push the country to the brink once again? Stand by.

For what it's worth, I find the argument persuasive that Congressional refusal to increase the debt limit to allow the Treasury to pay obligations already authorized by law would violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

14th Amendment

Amendment XIV

Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2.

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.

Section 3.

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4.

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5.

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Public Trust Lands: Public Trust Waters

A good op-ed article in yesterday's New York Times addresses the problem of building up and developing our shorelines in the context of the shore as a public trust. How this is handled varies from state to state, even though the public trust doctrine was brought here from England as a feature of common law.

Interestingly enough, the article holds up Texas as a favorable example of a state that protects the public trust shoreline very effectively. Who knew? Texans know.

The New York Times piece stimulated economist Matthew Kahn, who specializes in Environmental and Urban economic issues, to post his thoughts here on what economists refer to as the "tragedy of the commons." Professor Kahn contends that the large scale of the destruction by Hurricane Sandy reflects the privatization of the shoreline and consequent destruction by owners of natural environments defenses.

Another way to put it is that we have privatized the benefits of living along shore, but socialized the risk. How this works has been revealed anew as "gated communities" in and around New York City, whose "private streets" have been damaged now want the city and the state to help them with repair, even while they wish to continue excluding the public from their developments.

We see a similar development along the North Carolina shore, especially the outer banks. Waterfront property owners naturally want the government (taxpayers) to pay to restore facilities (roads, bridges, houses, piers, groins, etc) damaged by hurricanes. And, by the way, to prevent the outer banks from moving.

Lewis Carroll in his poem The Walrus and The Carpenter described the task facing those who live along the shore:

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

Dave Brubeck: December 6, 1920 - December 5, 20012

Americans asked to name great Swiss-Americans might (if they hail from North Carolina) remember Cristophe de Graffenreid, founder of New Bern.

They would probably not think of Dave Brubeck, whose father was of Swiss heritage.

What a giant of the world of jazz! Dave Brubeck enriched the lives of all jazz lovers.


Where Do Republicans Troll For Votes?

I've been watching this for a long time, so I thought I'd share some observations.

In the past year, I have read a number of articles by Republicans emphasizing that the Democratic party was the party of white supremacists. I admit that used to be the case, at least in part. The "solid south" was dominated by a racist party of white supremacy.

Not all southern democrats were obsessed with race. But those who ran for public office had to make an accommodation with racists. In those days, a southern democrat (all white people were democrats) would describe a particularly hot day by saying "I'm sweatin' like a n****r at a white folks' election." In fact, there were "white folks' elections" at least until 1944 when the US Supreme Court ruled against party primaries that excluded black voters.

The Democratic party "big tent" began to fray in the 1940's. First, President Truman integrated the armed forces by executive order. Then, northern progressive Democrats like Hubert Humphrey began speaking out. This led, at the 1948 Democratic convention, to defection of progressives (former Vice President Wallace's Progressive Party) as well as southern racists (Strom Thurmond and the States' Rights party).

That still didn't lead to Republican victory in the presidential race, but led to a concerted effort by Southern Republicans to recruit southern democrats to their party banner. That move, initiated by the chair of the Virginia republican party had only modest success, but the move expanded. By the time Richard Nixon ran for president, the "southern strategy" had already been underway for a decade.

This "southern strategy" got a boost from Brown v. Board of Education, wherein the US Supreme Court rejected the principle of "separate but equal."

Passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act led to massive defections from the democratic party, as Lyndon Johnson foretold. But it was the right thing.

Even so, the southern democratic party didn't become the minority party in the South until after integration of public schools began to really happen. That's also about the time we first heard widespread alarm at the "failure" of public schools and the creation of private, usually "Christian" "academies" unaffected by Brown.

Until that time, the Republican party had been largely a regional party confined to the North and Midwest and widely understood to favor the interests of northern industrialists and financiers.

How could Republicans become a truly national party? Elementary. Play the race card. In a recently uncovered audio recording of a 1981 interview, Lee Atwater, the Carl Rove of his generation, candidly revealed the strategy:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

There were dangers with this strategy. Many Republicans genuinely relished identification with the party of the Great Emancipator - the party of Abraham Lincoln. But the challenge facing the party was in many respects similar to the challenge that faced the Federalist Party as the electorate expanded: how to get voters from the lower classes when the organizing principle of the party was to further the economic and political interests of the wealthy and powerful?

The answer? Play the race card.

Ronald Reagan did it in 1980 when he opened his campaign for the presidency at a rally in Philadelphia, Mississippi, site of the lynching of three civil rights workers seeking to register blacks to vote. When he attacked "welfare queens," everyone got the message. It was Lee Atwater's message.

More recently, when Mitt Romney inveighed against the "47%" and talked about "moochers" and "dependency," it was the same theme: "the Democrats want to tax you hard-working white workers for the benefit of those lazy, shiftless blacks and hispanics and other aliens."

That was the message. It was heard loud and clear by many of Romney's supporters. It was also heard loud and clear by all citizens of color and other groups (e.g. Jewish citizens) despised by white racists and militant evangelical Christians.

It didn't work, at least for president.

It did work in North Carolina, for state offices. But the resulting victory for voters answering to the racist dog whistle, will work to the detriment of working people across the state.

Well before the election - in fact, last September - Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates focused his gaze on the "welfare queen" idea and how this is becoming a losing proposition for Republicans.  Not only because of racism, though it is clear that African Americans, Hispanics and Oriental Americans have no trouble decoding the racist message of Republican candidates.

Then, too, there's the demography thing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Political Contributions To Presidential Candidates

Washington Post's Harold Meyerson has put together an analysis of the major groups of contributors to the Obama and Romney campaigns.

The results are very interesting. Meyerson summarizes:

"Obama won overwhelming backing from the most productive and innovative sector of American capitalism. Romney won the backing of finance and casinos, whose contributions to American productivity and well-being are more difficult to discern, and which are industries based on reshuffling resources in games the house almost always wins. Obama, if you will, won the makers; Romney, the takers."

That observation is based on where serious money came from. It is quite a different matter to analyze where the votes came from and why.

I'll save that for later.

Public Opinion

A new survey revealed that 39% of Americans have an opinion about the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.

Good news that so many are paying attention and giving these weighty issues careful thought, right? As it turns out, they also seem to be following the Panetta-Burns plan. Twenty-five percent of voters either support or oppose Panetta-Burns.

Problem is, there is no Panetta-Burns plan.

By the way, if you are a little hazy on Simpson-Bowles, here  is a good summary.

Buying Representation

On a more local note, at last night's meeting of the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners, the commissioners voted unanimously to hire a lobbyist to represent the county in Raleigh.

Excuse me? Didn't we elect a state senator and a state representative last month to do that very job?

Oh, I forgot. The person we elected as state senator has explained on more than one occasion that he represents all the people of North Carolina, not just those who elected him to represent them. Never mind that this theory of representation seems similar to the theory held by the British Parliament in 1776. We rejected the theory at that time. Have we forgotten?

As for the person we elected to the state house, Ann Holton, chair of the county commissioners, reminded everyone that he has never been elected to any public office and is therefore very inexperienced. That's putting it kindly.

So we have to spend county money to hire a person to do the job.

We never had to do that when we were represented by Alice Underhill.

Republicans Are Nuts

Maybe I should amend the title: Some Republicans are Nuts. Rick Santorum, for example.

Today's headline:

Senate rejects treaty to protect disabled around the world

 The article: here.

As far as I can tell (it's just a guess), Santorum is afraid some black helicopter is going to swoop in from UN headquarters and take his tin foil hat away.

Jon Kyl seems to oppose it on the theory that some of the signatories are bad people and won't comply, even though they have signed

It is embarrassing to the country and should be embarrassing to the Republican Party that 38 senators voted against an international version of Senator Bob Dole's signature accomplishment, the ADA.

 Update: A Washington Post op-ed explains why the 38 Republicans who voted against the international treaty to protect the disabled were not only wrong (nuts), but also cowardly. They tried to hide their votes not only from constituents but also from Senator Dole, to whom many had promised support. They knew it was nuts, but were afraid to oppose the crazies. Does that make then "chicken nuts?"

Bruce Bartlett On Republican Extortion

Eminent Republican Bruce Bartlett (senior policy adviser in Reagan and Bush I administrations, staffer for Congressmen Kemp and Ron Paul) has this to say about the real fiscal cliff:

"Much of what passes for fiscal-cliff concern is actually anxiety about whether Republicans in Congress will force a default on the nation’s debt in pursuit of their radical agenda."

Bartlett goes on to explain:

"In short, the debt limit is a hostage that Republicans are willing to kill or maim in pursuit of their agenda. They have made this clear ever since the debt ceiling debate in 2011, in which the Treasury came very close to defaulting on the debt." In Bartlett's view (and mine) " the debt limit is nuts. It serves no useful purpose to allow members of Congress to vote for vast cuts in taxation and increases in spending and then tell the Treasury it is not permitted to sell bonds to cover the deficits Congress created. To my knowledge, no other nation has such a screwy system."

Bartlett's solution: "when faced with an extortion demand from a political party that no longer feels bound by the historical norms of conduct, the president must be willing to do what has to be done." In other words, ignore the debt limit.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Who Benefits And Who Pays: Fiscal Cliff Version

At last, House Republicans have made a counteroffer to the President's proposal. That's the good news. The bad news is that they still speak in vague generalities. Hard to score those.

It was already clear that the proposal intends to reduce federal assistance to states for safety net programs. Republicans also want to do away with deductibility of state and local taxes. Just incidentally, this would hurt blue states in particular. So pay careful attention.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Republican Extortion

Now it's out in the open. House Speaker John Boehner promises to hold the national economy and the welfare of millions of Americans hostage to the selfish benefit of the top 1% (or less) of earners. Those who, in fact, have been siphoning off the majority of national income from increased productivity for forty years.

Here is the promise.

I have addressed this issue before here. And here. And here. And here.

By the way, a good way to "get our financial house in order" might be to pay our bills rather than default on them. All that raising the debt ceiling does is to allow the Treasury to pay our bills.

Seventy Years Ago: 27th Air Depot Group In Australia

The 27th Air Depot Group had set up a temporary headquarters at Amberly Airfield, west of Ipswich not far from Brisbane. The Group refined their organization, conducted training and unloaded and sorted equipment in preparation for their planned move to New Guinea. They obtained heavy equipment to use for building their own warehouses, camps and hangars once they arrived in New Guinea. They were even to build their own airstrips.

But things were still unsettled in New Guinea.

During the early days days of September the Directorate of Air Transport had pressed every available plane, whether civil or military, into service to ferry an Australian regiment from Brisbane to Port Moresby. By 15 September, the exhausted troops facing the Japanese in the ridges above Port Moresby had been reinforced by three fresh Australian battalions; and on that same day the first American infantrymen to reach New Guinea, Company E, 126th Infantry of the 32d Division, landed by transport plane at Seven-Mile Airdrome. This had been a test flight to determine the feasibility of moving units by air transport, and by 24 September the 128th Infantry Regiment, less artillery, had been flown to Port Moresby, where the remainder of the 126th Infantry came in by water on 28 September. On that day the reinforced Australians launched an attack which broke the enemy's defenses on Iorabaiwa Ridge and then in the face of tenacious resistance forced their way back toward Kokoda. Though it would take over a month to reach that place, with its useful airfield, the turning point in the Japanese attempt to take Port Moresby from the rear had come. Bitter fighting lay ahead, but the battle soon would be for Buna instead of for Moresby.

It had been necessary for army air force leaders to divide their attention between operations and reorganization. General Kenney had been preceded to Australia by Brig. Gens. Ennis C. Whitehead, an experienced fighter commander, and Kenneth N. Walker, expert in bombardment aviation; Brig. Gen. Donald Wilson, whom Kenney proposed to use as chief of staff, soon followed. Plans, on which General Kenney had been briefed in Washington, called for organization of American units into a distinct air force that would be largely free of obligations for the immediate defense of Australia in order to concentrate on support of a rapidly moving offensive to the north. On 7 August, three days after Kenney assumed command in Australia, MacArthur requested authorization for an American air force and suggested the designation of Fifth Air Force in honor of his fighter and bomber commands in the Philippines. This request was promptly granted, and the Fifth Air Force was officially constituted on 3 September. Kenney immediately assumed command, retaining in addition his command of the Allied Air Forces.

Problems of maintenance loomed large. In August Kenney described maintenance on his B-17's: "We are salvaging even the skin for large patchwork from twenty millimetre explosive fire; to patch up smaller holes we are flattening out tin cans and using them. Every good rib and bulkhead of a wrecked airplane is religiously saved to replace shot up members of other airplanes. Lack of bearings for Allison engines grounded many fighters; requisitioned in August, the bearings were not available for shipment until October, by which time main bearings in five out of six engines needed changing. Improper tools for Pratt & Whitney engines delayed repair of grounded B-26's and transports. Most discouraging of all was the difficulty getting the P-38's ready for combat. By October approximately sixty of these fighters had reached the theater, but none had seen combat. First, the fuel tanks began to leak, requiring repair or replacement, and then superchargers, water coolers, inverters, and armament all required major adjustment or repair. As a consequence, it was not until late in December that P-38's flew a major combat mission over New Guinea.

While preparing for the eventual move to New Guinea, the 27th Air Depot Group, trained and organized to rebuild aircraft, joined in the effort to keep the aircraft flying. 

Social Security And The Deficit

I listened to about as much as I could take of Meet The Press this morning. The conversation about negotiations over the Fiscal Cliff was particularly inane.

Worse than that, it was dangerous for the future of American working people.

Let me try to put it clearly:

1.  Our budget deficits have not caused a loss of jobs;

2.  Our loss of jobs has caused the budget deficits;

3.  Job one is jobs;

4.  Reduced federal spending right now will increase unemployment;

5.  The super rich don't create jobs;

6.  Spending by ordinary citizens does create jobs;

7.  Republicans do not now and never have been concerned about deficit spending - their concern is that ordinary people rather than the super wealthy might benefit;

8.  Social Security does not contribute to the deficit.

Here are some recent blog posts that address the issues. Rather than attempt to summarize them, I'll just post the links:

Read them all. There are more, but these are enough to get the idea. From the Republican point of view, the only proposals that qualify as "serious" are those that hurt poor and middle class citizens and benefit the well off. They and their supporters are willing to spend big bucks promoting such ideas and opposing ideas that benefit working people.

The only way ordinary working people can stand up to the plutocrats and their stooges and dupes is to use the vote.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Sixty-Eight Years Ago: Buried Spitfires

In August, 1945, Royal Air Force troops in Burma had received perhaps as many as 140 brand new Spitfires in shipping crates. No longer needed for the war effort, and with faster aircraft coming off the production lines, what to do with them?

Apparently it was decided to bury them in their shipping crates.

Nearly seventy years later, following British abandonment of Burma as a colony and decades of political turmoil, improving relations have led to discovery of some of those aircraft after a sixteen-year search by a British farmer and aviation enthusiast.

There are various versions of the story and a number of curious aspects. For example, apparently the burying was done by the US Army. The project was helped along by the intervention of the British Prime Minister with Myanmar officials.

It is expected that excavation will begin after the first of the year. Only then will the presence of the aircraft be confirmed. The first site excavated will be near the runway at the Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) international airport. There may be other burial sites as well.

Stand by for further news.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Seventy Years Ago: Battle Of Tassafaronga

Japanese Army forces on Guadalcanal were desperately short of food and on November 26, 1942, radioed pleading for more. The previous three weeks, only submarines had been able to deliver supplies. Each submarine delivered about a days' supply, but the difficulty of offloading and delivering the food through the jungle reduced what reached the troops. The troops were living on one-third rations.

Japan had resorted to submarines because they were unable to rely on surface ships. A combination of US aircraft operating from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, US PT Boats operating from Tulagi and US surface warships had prevented Japanese resupply operations by ship.

The Japanese developed a new plan. Resupply by high speed destroyers carrying floating drums of food and medical supplies. The drums, connected to each other by line, were to be carried on the decks of six destroyers, escorted by two more. The destroyers would approach at high speed, drop the drums overboard and return to base. Soldiers would swim out and recover the drums.

Following the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Admiral Halsey, Commander of the Southern Pacific Command, reorganized his surface warfare forces, forming a new Task Force, TF 67, at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, about 580 miles from Guadalcanal. The Task Force, initially under RADM Kinkaid, was reassigned to RADM Carleton H. Wright on November 28.

TF 67's job: intercept and destroy any Japanese surface force coming to the aid of Japanese forces on Guadalcanal.

The U.S. victory at the Battle of Guadalcanal had cost Halsey 18 ships sunk or so badly damaged that extensive repairs were required. With the exception of destroyers, Halsey's only available surface units were the carrier Enterprise, the battleship Washington, and the light cruiser San Diego at Noumea and the heavy cruisers Northampton and Pensacola at Espiritu Santo.

Several other ships were en route to the South Pacific. By 25 November, as intelligence was piecing together a clearer picture of Japanese plans, Halsey had assembled a force adequate to counter the expected offensive. At Nandi in the Fijis lay the carrier Saratoga, the battleships North Carolina, Colorado, and Maryland, and the light cruiser San Juan. The heavy cruisers New Orleans, Northampton, and Pensacola, and the light cruiser Honolulu were stationed at Espiritu Santo. These last two, together with the heavy cruiser Minneapolis which arrived on the 27th, had come from Pearl Harbor. Here also on the 27th were the destroyers Drayton (which had accompanied the Minneapolis), Fletcher Maury, and Perkins.
On 27 November, these 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers at Espiritu Santo were grouped in to a separate task force, Task Force William, under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, with general instructions from Halsey to intercept any Japanese surface forces approaching Guadalcanal. Admiral Kinkaid prepared a detailed set of operational orders for the Force, but, before he could go over them with his captains, he was ordered to other duty. He was replaced by Rear Admiral Carleton H. Wright, who had just made port in the Minneapolis.

Task Force William consisted of four heavy cruisers: Minneapolis, New Orleans, Northampton and Pensacola. Admiral Wright was embarked in Minneapolis;
One light cruiser: Honolulu, with RADM Tisdale embarked; Four destroyers: Drayton, Fletcher, Maury, Perkins. USS Fletcher was the fleet's newest and most powerful destroyer. Her CO, Commander William M. Cole, was in charge of the destroyer unit.

On 29 November the Task Force was moored at Espiritu Santo on 12 hours notice for getting underway. Admiral Wright held a conference, attended by Admiral Tisdale and the commanding officers of the 9 ships, at which the operation plan drawn up by Admiral Kinkaid was "briefly discussed."

At 1940 Admiral Wright received orders to prepare to depart with his force at the earliest possible moment, and to proceed at the best possible speed to intercept an enemy group of 6 destroyers and 6 transports which was expected to arrive off Guadalcanal the next night. He directed Task Force WILLIAM to make all preparations necessary to get under way immediately, and advised COMSOPAC that his ships would be ready to sortie at midnight.

Three hours later COMSOPAC ordered Admiral Wright to proceed with all available units, pass through Lengo Channel (between Guadalcanal and Florida Islands), and intercept the Japanese off Tassafaronga on the northwestern shore of Guadalcanal. Later, Admiral Wright received information that enemy combatant ships might be substituted for the transports, or that the Japanese force might consist wholly of destroyers, and that a hostile landing might be attempted off Tassafaronga earlier than 2300, 30 November. He received no further advices respecting the size or composition of the opposing units.

Admiral Wright promptly put into effect, with minor modifications, Admiral Kinkaid's operation plan, and set midnight as the zero hour for his ships to sortie. Actually the destroyers got under way at 2310, the cruisers at 2335. The whole Force cleared the well-mined, unlighted harbor of Espiritu Santo without incident and shaped its course to pass northeast of San Cristobal Island.

 Task Force WILLIAM cleared Lengo Channel at 2225 at a speed of 20 knots. Its average speed made good from midnight, 29 November, when it left Espiritu Santo until it entered Lengo Channel at 2140, 30 November, was 28.2 knots. The cruisers steamed in column, 1,000 yards apart, while the destroyers in the van bore 300° T., 4,000 yards from the Minneapolis. The night was very dark, the sky completely overcast. Maximum surface visibility was not over 2 miles.

Admiral Wright had prepositioned sea planes from the cruisers at Tulagi. Their instructions were to take off in time to patrol the area between Cape Esperance and Lunga Point starting at 2200. They carried flares to drop at Admiral Wright's command. The rest of Admiral Wright's plan depended on using the Navy's new SG surface search radar to gain the advantage of surprise. The four destroyers were in the van (ahead), followed by the cruisers steaming in column 1,000 yards apart. Two additional destroyers, Lamson and Lardner, joined the force at 2100, bringing up the rear. Lamson's CO, Commander Abercrombie, was senior to Cole, but had no copies of the plan, no surface radar, and no knowledge of what was going on. He was therefore unable to assume command of the destroyer force.

At 2306, Minneapolis' SG radar picks up two objects off Cape Esperance. At 2316, Cdr Cole, in accordance with the plan, requested permission to launch torpedo attack on enemy formation of 5 ships, distant 7,000 yards.

About 2321, Admiral Wright ordered ships to commence firing star shells (for illumination) and explosive shells. Apparently TF 67 had caught the Japanese by surprise. The force engaged eight Japanese destroyers or cruisers using fire control radar for aiming. After a few minutes, four of the radar targets disappeared from the radar and some were visually seen to explode and sink.

There was some confusion in attempts to correlate ranges and bearings of Japanese ships, but as of 2326, it appeared that TF67 had won a great victory.

At 2327 a Japanese torpedo struck Minneapolis', blowing off her bow. The ship kept firing until her engineering plant failed and lost power. At 2328, New Orleans was torpedoed, losing her bow as far aft as Turret II. At 2329, a torpedo struck Pensacola on the port side aft, the ship erupted in flames, and fire raged for hours. At 2348, Northampton was torpedoed. Despite valiant efforts to save her, she finally sank about 0300.

Thus, within a few minutes, what had seemed a great victory turned into a resounding loss. One US heavy cruiser sunk, three out of action for months, 395 sailors killed.

As it turned out, only one Japanese destroyer was lost and 197 killed.

Even so, TF67 succeeded in preventing Japanese resupply of their troops on Guadalcanal.

The battle revealed continuing shortcomings in the use of radar.

The surface force was not yet aware that reliability problems affecting submarine torpedoes also applied to those launched by surface ships. Corrective action was many months away.

But damage control and firefighting crews performed magnificently. It is almost inconceivable that Minneapolis, New Orleans and Pensacola were saved and lived to fight another day.
New Orleans at Tulagi

 Minneapolis at Tulagi

 The US Navy still did not know how powerful and effective Japanese type 93 surface-launched torpedoes were. Admiral Wright, in his after action report, still thought the sips had been torpedoed by undetected submarines. There were, after all, no Japanese surface ships within what we believed to be torpedo range.

We would not learn of their technological superiority until later in 1943, when intact torpedoes were captured.