Friday, March 30, 2012

More Thoughts On Trayvon Martin

Here's a thought-provoking op-ed from the New York Times tying the Trayvon Martin killing to the rapid growth of gated communities and the fear that feeds them.

The author, Rich Benjamin, suggests taking a broader view than just race toward "stand your ground" laws. "Those reducing this tragedy to racism," he observes,  "miss a more accurate and painful picture. Why is a child dead? The rise of “secure,” gated communities, private cops, private roads, private parks, private schools, private playgrounds — private, private, private —exacerbates biased treatment against the young, the colored and the presumably poor."

But it is clearly about fear - unreasoning, irrational fear, fed by clever marketing.

Earlier, I referred to "stand your ground" as a lynch law. Some seem to think of lynching as a racist phenomenon. I don't. Out West, there were many lynchings of alleged robbers, horse thieves, rapists and other miscreants who were white.

Henry Fonda's "The Ox-Bow Incident" is only one of many western movies depicting the theme.

What is common about lynchings, whomever the victims, is that private citizens take the law into their own hands. More to the point, lynchings demonstrate a contempt for the rule of law itself. "Stand your ground" laws are founded on contempt for professional law enforcement.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Case Of Serious Planning

When twenty-two B-25 aircraft left Eglin Field on March 25 seventy years ago, the Doolittle raid had been in planning since December 21, 1941, two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On that day, President Roosevelt met with his Joint Chiefs of Staff and expressed the desire to bomb Japan as soon as possible.

Both Army and Navy planners went into high gear. Three weeks later, a navy captain proposed launching Army twin-engine bombers from a navy aircraft carrier. The question became: which bomber? The two services considered the B-18, an obsolescent medium bomber, its successor the B-23 Dragon, the Martin B-26 Marauder and the B-25B. The B-25B, though untried in battle, met the requirements best.

Even so, the B-25 needed extensive engineering modifications to meet the range and bomb load requirements for the mission.

February 3rd, 1942, two B-25's successfully flew from the flight deck of USS Hornet (CV-8).  It was not quite two months since Pearl Harbor.

Less than a month later, two dozen crews and modified aircraft began three weeks' intensive training in simulated carrier deck takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low-altitude bombing and over-water navigation. This training in itself was a major accomplishment. When the 22 remaining aircraft flew to California, it had been three months since President Roosevelt charged the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the mission.

In the meantime, USS Hornet was preparing for a voyage halfway around the world, into hostile waters.

Hornet left Norfolk March 4 for the Panama Canal and then on to Pearl Harbor to join Yorktown, Saratoga and Enterprise in the Pacific. Her immediate orders were to head to San Diego. She arrived on March 20, mooring at the carrier berth on North Island. She had steamed more than 6,000 nautical miles from Norfolk.

Preparing for combat, Hornet's  Air Group 8 squadrons were provided with upgraded aircraft. Fighting 8 (VF-8) received the F4F-4 Wildcat. Bombing 8 (VB-8) and Scouting 8 (VS-8) received the SBD-3 Dauntless. Torpedo 8 (VT-8) remained stuck with the antiquated TBD-1 Devastator due to a delay in the delivery of the new TBF-1 Avenger. Hornet spent the next week qualifying the pilots for carrier launches and landings.

On March 28, Hornet tied up at North Island again to give her crew a final weekend of liberty in the US mainland. Captain Mitscher received a new set of Top Secret orders that would take the brand new ship on a very circuitous route to Pearl Harbor. Two days later Hornet sailed north, heading towards Alameda Naval Air Station, where she arrived on March 31 and moored at pier 2.

The Doolittle Raid

Meanwhile, twenty-two USAAF B-25 Mitchell bombers arrived at Alameda. On March 31 and April 1, with Hornet’s aircraft stored in the hangar deck, sixteen of the bombers were craned aboard and tethered to the flight deck. Shortly thereafter, 134 Army pilots and aircrew, led by LtCol Jimmy Doolittle, boarded the ship and Hornet slipped out to a mooring in SF Bay to spend the night. At mid-morning on April 2, Hornet and her escorts (Task Force 16.2) steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge, beginning the legendary mission known as the Doolittle Raid.

It was less than four months since the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Two dozen aircraft had been re-engineered. 

Two dozen Army air crews had been trained in new techniques.

A brand new aircraft carrier (USS Hornet) had changed from one ocean to another, loaded newly delivered modern aircraft, qualified pilots and aircrew to operate from the new aircraft carrier.

16 B-25's were tied down on the flight deck of a ship for which they were not designed.

The sixteen Army air crews had never taken off from an aircraft carrier.

It would be five thousand miles before Hornet would reach  the launch point.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Economic Consequences of Republicans

There was a major Republican takeover of state governments in 2010. Subsequent job losses were most severe in a handful of GOP-controlled states. North Carolina is among the states with severe job losses among government workers. The losses would not have been so severe and unemployment would have been lower, except for the legislature's override of Governor Perdue's budget veto.

That same budget attacked Pamlico County by imposing ferry tolls on our highways.

The Nation has an excellent article analyzing the economic consequences of the takeover. Well worth reading.

Rents Are Too D**n High

We keep hearing charges that "Oriental needs to be more friendly to business."

The truth is that the biggest obstacles to businesses in Oriental are:
1. Real estate is too expensive, resulting in business rentals that are too high;
2. We don't have enough customers - a permanent population of 900 just doesn't support many businesses.

Still, one of our present commissioners has emotionally charged a previous board with failure to adopt "the one thing" that would allow us to recruit more businesses, namely conditional zoning.


Actually, when I first read the provisions in North Carolina General Statutes about conditional zoning, I thought it was worth investigating. We arranged to have a professional urban planner from the Easter Carolina Council brief us on the purposes and procedure. All of his examples came from larger towns and cities.

It pretty quickly became apparent to me that conditional zoning may be a good thing in towns with a number of specialized business districts with restrictive zoning categories. That isn't characteristic of Oriental.

We have only five zones, three of which are residential and two multi-use zones, with both business and residential uses. Scrutiny of the allowed uses within MU and MU-1 reveals that neither is very restrictive. For that matter, neither are our three residential zones. We allow business use in residents, so long as the use does not exceed 400 square feet.

So why the push for conditional zoning? The only possible use of such zoning would be to convert some portion of our residential zones to commercial use. Do we have such a critical shortage of commercial space that we need to expand into our residential zones?

I just rode my bicycle up Broad Street to the town limits. back down Midyette Street to the water and across Hodges. That route takes one along most of the area set aside for MU and MU-1 uses.

What did I find? At least four dozen properties for sale or lease and vacant lots. We seem to have no shortage of places to do business.

What we need are more customers. And lower rents.

Long Range Planning For Town Of Oriental

About five years ago, the Town of Oriental's Board of Commissioners established a Long Range Planning Committee. I suggest that it is time to abolish the LRPC. Or, perhaps rename it the Long Running Planning Committee. Or perhaps the Interminable Planning Committee.

It may be time for the Town Board to declare the LRPC victorious and return all of its functions to the Town's Planning Board, to which they properly belong, anyhow.

It has been two and a half years since the original Long Range Planning Committee (of which I was a member) created its Long Range Vision Statement. The Town Board approved it October 9, 2009. A summary of the vision statement is posted on the wall at Town Board meetings. It is fine, as far as it goes. In fact, it is a good basis for planning, though I think it leaves out a thing or two.

What was supposed to happen next is that the town would work from the Vision statement and prepare a Comprehensive Plan.

North Carolina General Statutes stipulate that the town must have a comprehensive plan, but does not spell out exactly what that is. For at least one statutory purpose, the town's Growth Management Map meets the requirement for a Comprehensive Plan.

The effort for a more elaborate Comprehensive Plan has evolved into a kind of search for the Holy Grail of planning.

More than two years ago, Planning Board member Jim Barton made an excellent start to the preparation of a Comprehensive Plan. That effort fell apart for reasons that have never been entirely clear.

What is clear is that recent efforts of the LRPC II have detracted from planning efforts that need to be undertaken. For example, the Town needs to replace its decades-old Thoroughfare Plan (which is certainly a component of the elusive Comprehensive Plan) with a Comprehensive Transportation Plan. The reason is, that a CTP is necessary should the town seek Department of Transportation funding for bicycle paths, pedestrian pathways, etc. It would be best to task the Planning Board with development of a CTP (in conjunction with the DOT transportation planning department) and get on with it.

I think a long range plan without any specific mention of annexation does not meet the planning needs of the town.

What the town doesn't need the LRPC to do is to keep bringing up certain solutions in search of a problem as, for example, "Conditional Zoning" and "Smart Growth." Neither makes any sense without a plan for growth through annexation.

I'll have more to say about Conditional Zoning in the future.

Monday, March 26, 2012

ALEC Target: Public Schools

ALEC doesn't like public schools. "The mission of ALEC’s Education Task Force," their web site proclaims, "is to promote excellence in the nation’s educational system, to advance reforms through parental choice, to support efficiency, accountability, and transparency in all educational institutions, and to ensure America’s youth are given the opportunity to succeed." Of course, their principal target is public school teachers and their unions.

Speaking of transparency, last year I was able to view the titles of ALEC-sponsored legislation drafted to achieve conservative goals in state legislatures. It was pretty easy to see, for example, which of the many bills pushed through North Carolina's legislature by the new Republican majority had originated in ALEC, because they used the same title. "Faithful Presidential Electors," for example, absorbed a lot of legislative attention. When was the last time you heard of a presidential elector not voting for the presidential candidate to whom he was pledged? It's pretty rare.

Anyhow, a lot of Alec's bills deal with public schools and particular the charter movement. After all, "our schools are failing and we have to do something." Today I wasn't able to find ALEC's list of bills.

Fortunately, the Center For Media And Democracy has established a web site to expose ALEC's legislative agenda:
The site provides a road map to ALEC's agenda. It verifies, for example that voter ID laws came right out of ALEC's game plan. As did Wisconsin's anti labor provisions, its assault on public workers, and the rest of Governor Walker's radical agenda.

A lot of this session's bills in the North Carolina legislature likewise had nothing to do with the concerns of North Carolinians - and a lot to do with the concerns of ALEC's corporate sponsors.

National Lobbyists At NC Legislature

I have mentioned the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This innocuous-sounding organization is working assiduously to transform our form of government through changes to state laws.

It turns out that ALEC actually drafted Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law that has become so notorious in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing.

NY Time columnist Paul Krugman informs us in today's blog, Lobbyists, Guns and Money, how such things happen.

Has he been reading my blog? Probably not, but regular readers will recall that I called attention nearly a year ago to ALEC's influence on the newly-elected North Carolina state legislature here and here and here.

Apparently this legislature is interested mostly in serving their constituents at ALEC's headquarters instead of in their own districts.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Doolittle Update - 70 Years Ago

In February, 1942, the US Army Air Corps ferried two dozen B-25 medium bombers to a factory in Minneapolis to be modified for a very secret and hazardous mission. Everyone from the squadrons wanted to go, but only 24 crews were picked. The 24 crews selected picked up the modified bombers in Minneapolis and flew them to Eglin Field, Florida, beginning 1 March 1942.

They went through three weeks of intensive training in simulated carrier deck takeoffs, low-level and night flying, low-altitude bombing and over-water navigation. Lieutenant Henry Miller, USN, from nearby Naval Air Station Pensacola supervised their takeoff training. and accompanied the crews to the launch. One aircraft was heavily damaged in a takeoff accident and another scratched from the mission because of a nose wheel shimmy.

On 25 March 1942, 70 years ago today, the remaining 22 mission-ready B-25s took off from Eglin for McClellan Field, California. Two days later, they touched down at  Sacramento Air Depot for final modifications.

The North American B-25 Mitchell (named in honor of Air Power pioneer, Army General Billy Mitchell) was an untried aircraft. None had ever flown in combat. A total of 16 B-25s flew to Naval Air Station Alameda, California, on March 31.

The aircraft would push their design capabilities to the limit:

B-25B Specifications and Data:
Manufacturer: North American Aviation
First Flight August 19, 1940
Number Built: 119 (actually it was supposed to be 120, but one crashed before delivery to the US Army Air Forces)
Powerplant(s): Wright cyclone R-2600-9 14 cylinders each
Weight (empty) 20,000 pounds
Maximum Horsepower (per engine) 1,700
1,350 HP at 13,000 feet
Maximum Speed 322 mph
300 Miles per Hour at 15,000 feet
Initial Rate of Climb 1,704 feet per minute
Ceiling 23,500 feet
Maximum Range 1,300 miles (with 694 gallons of fuel and a 3,000-pound bomb load)

   [These planes had been modified, increasing fuel to 1,141 gallons and a 2,000-pound bomb load]
Gross Take-off Weight 26,208 pounds
Maximum Take-off Weight 28,460 pounds
Span 67 feet 7 inches
Wing Area 610 square feet
Length 52 feet 11 inches (without broomsticks :-) )
Height 15 feet 9 inches
Normal Bomb load 2,400 pounds
Various combinations of bombs could be carried. Total weight depended on amount of fuel carried and other variables
Normal range 2,000 miles
Crew: 5

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Foreseeable Consequences Of Bad Law

A couple of days ago, I called Florida's "stand your ground" law a "lynch law" and took issue with the idea that Florida's legislators couldn't have foreseen such events as the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Now we have explicit confirmation from the then Chief of Police in Miami that he and other police chiefs in Florida opposed the law and explained the reasons to the legislature. "Trying to control shootings by members of a well-trained and disciplined police department," former Chief John Timoney explains, "is a daunting enough task. Laws like “stand your ground” give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster"

I don't believe my characterization of the law as "lynch law" is inaccurate. You don't have to have a mob to have a lynching. What you do need is one or more citizens who decide to take the law into their own hands. It seems I wasn't the only person to make the connection between "stand your ground" and lynching. Here are some cartoons that make the point better than I did.

This law gives victims no protection, either through criminal or civil law. It needs to be revoked. In the meantime, why would any tourist visit Florida and risk an encounter with an armed person?

I wonder if the State of Florida even has the power under its own constitution or the US Constitution to deprive injured citizens from the ability to seek redress in the courts.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Are Liberals And Conservatives Different Species?

In 1960, F.A. Hayek, one of present-day conservatives' favorite economists, published an essay entitled "Why I Am Not A Conservative." Bottom line: conservatives fear change and welcome authority; liberals are open to change and oppose coercion.

Hayek seems to be on to something deeply embedded in the character of conservatives and liberals. Recent research seems to show that young children who are easily startled usually grow up to be conservative. In fact, both fear and revulsion seem to feed into what I think it is fair to call the conservative syndrome. Two years ago, Nicholas Kristoff called attention to research tending to show that the roots of political judgment may lie in the way our brains are wired.

"Researchers have found, for example," Kristoff reports, "that some humans are particularly alert to threats, particularly primed to feel vulnerable and perceive danger. Those people are more likely to be conservatives." Here is a link to research by professors Smith, Oxley, Hibbing and Alford. More recent research seems to indicate that attitudes toward moral issues are likewise built in to our personalities. A recent book by Professor Haidt of the University of Virginia lends further weight to such research.

I admit I have always thought that when Republicans and other conservatives tell us we should be afraid of something, they are cynically preying on people's irrational fears. Maybe I've been wrong. Maybe they are genuinely afraid and think everyone else must be, too. Domination by fraidy-cats.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Elections Matter

Elections are a necessary condition for a thriving democracy. But elections aren't enough. Democracy needs citizen involvement.

Our ongoing controversy over ferry tolls illustrates that elections matter.

We are beginning this year's election season. Nationally, the focus is on the election of a president. That is clearly important. But let's not let the election of a president suck all of the political oxygen out of the air. Local and state elections are where the rubber meets the road. Or tolls the ferry, as the case may be.

This is also an Olympic year.

Just keep in mind that if politics were an Olympic event, it would be a team sport, not an individual event.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Modern Republican Economics

Bruce Bartlett, senior policy advisor in the Reagan and Bush I administrations and staffer for Jack Kemp and Ron Paul, describes the origin of modern Republican fiscal policy in the Economix section of today's New York Times.

Bartlett makes it pretty clear what former Vice President Dick Cheney meant when he said "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." That comment didn't refer to the economic effect of deficits, but the political effect. Bartlett's article provides detailed background to the "two Santa's" theory of Republican politics.

Irving Kristol, who was well-connected in Republican circles, immediately embraced the "two Santas" idea - that the GOP needed to be the "tax-cut" Santa. "I was not certain of its economic merits," he later confessed, "but quickly saw its political possibilities."

Bartlett's article doesn't address the related "starve the beast" policy. I look forward to future revelations on that score.

Lynch Law

Trayvon Martin was lynched last month in Sanford, Florida. He was 17.

Trayvon's offense: he was in the wrong neighborhood. Oh, yes, he was black.

Trayvon's killer claimed he was acting in self defense. That might have ordinarily been hard to claim, since Trayvon Martin was unarmed, was walking on foot and George Zimmerman, Trayvon's killer, stalked him first in an SUV and later on foot, armed with a 9-mm pistol.

Zimmerman is apparently claiming self-defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law, passed in 2005. The New York Times' Andrew Rosenthal excuses Florida's lawmakers. "I doubt the legislators who passed Stand Your Ground," Rosenthal observed,  "had this scenario in mind, or at least I hope not." He quotes Florida state Senator Oscar Brayon, now demanding hearings into the law, who said: “I don’t think they planned for people who would go out and become vigilantes or be like some weird Batman who would go out and kill little kids like Trayvon.”

Excuse me? That's exactly what they had in mind. And it's been working. In the first five years of the law,  according to the Tampa Bay Times, "justifiable homicide" has tripled, and was invoked in 93 cases, involving 65 deaths.

It was the obvious intent of the law (though maybe not of everyone who voted for it) to empower private citizens to arm themselves and act as policeman, judge, juror and executioner with impunity. We should call such laws by their proper name: Lynch Law.

What's unusual in this case is that there is a recorded conversation between Zimmerman and Martin, heard over a cell phone, as well as recorded conversations over the 911 system. Still, it may be hard to get a conviction.

By the way, the code words surrounding this issue don't fool me. I grew up in the South. My grandparents' home in Holmes County, MS was a regular armory, with a loaded firearm behind every door. My grandfathers, at least one of them a KKK member, both took part in lynchings and race riots in the 1920's.

We need to get beyond our tribalism, our fears and insecurities, and be Americans.

I don't doubt that Zimmerman had worked himself into a state of apprehension, fear and anger. All the more reason to rely on professionals instead of vigilantes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Three Weeks' Training For Thirty Second Attack

Seventy years ago, while my father's outfit was being organized in Mobile to be shipped overseas, a smaller group was preparing at Eglin Field Florida (about a hundred miles to the east) for a different overseas movement.

Under command of LCol Jimmy Doolittle, a small group of US Army aviators was learning how to take off from an aircraft carrier. Twenty-five B-25 medium bombers, each with a crew of five, were put through their paces by a Navy lieutenant. The task: launch fully-loaded B-25's with a 2,000 lb bomb load on a 2,400 mile mission.

Details to be disclosed later.

All of the aviators were volunteers. The training began three months after Pearl Harbor.

DOT Ferry Toll Hearing Footnote

Tonight's DOT public hearing on ferry tolls is the second such public hearing in Pamlico County.

We almost didn't have any.

Until Town Dock intervened.

Melinda Penkava, who can be very insistent, called DOT to get an explanation as to why DOT was holding no public hearing in the county most directly affected.

"There's no place in Pamlico County large enough for a crowd of 200," she was told. "Oh, yes, there is," she replied.

So DOT, whose planners developed Pamlico County's Comprehensive Transportation Plan, including addressing public transportation requirements associated with Pamlico County Community College, apparently knew nothing about the college's Delamar Center.

What else don't they know about Pamlico County?

Thank Goodness for Melinda Penkava.

Monday, March 19, 2012

DOT Ferry Hearing March 19, 2012

Do you know what a "Senior Public Involvement Officer" is? I tried to find out this evening on the NC DOT web site, to no avail.

Why do I want to know? Mr. Jamille A. Robbins, who chaired tonight's DOT public hearing on "NCDOT Proposed Temporary Rules Changes for Ferry Tolling" is one.

I was unsuccessful in finding a job description or explanation of Mr. Robbins' title.

But he must be powerfully influential. When the last questioner of the evening asked Mr. Robbins what DOT had done to carry out the governor's direction to seek economies within the DOT budget to equal the legislature's directed $5 million in revenue and then directed the question to the four DOT "suits" in the front row, Mr. Robbins explained they (the "suits") were present only as "observers" and couldn't speak. The four remained silent as Mr. Robbins attempted to explain the difficulties in figuring such things out while disgruntled attendees headed for the exits.

It reminded me of a mobile that a colonel of my acquaintance hung over his desk. The mobile consisted of a collection of fingers pointing in various directions, shifting with the wind. It looked something like this:

What was the hearing for? "To solicit comments regarding the request to amend, adopt or repeal portions of the NC Administrative Code per the temporary rules process."

What next? "Following the hearing and comment period, the NCDOT must adopt the proposed temporary rule change." In other words, nothing said tonight will have any effect whatsoever on the rule.

After the temporary rules are adopted, then the Rules Review Commission (RRC) will review the proposed changes. The RRC can either approve or object (not reject). If the RRC objects, NCDOT can either rewrite or not rewrite. If they do not rewrite and resubmit the rule, it will not become effective.

More importantly, if the RRC approves the rule, people opposing the rule may file an action for declaratory judgment in Wake County Superior Court.

I hope someone has started drafting such an action. Several of tonight's public comments included observations pertinent to a request for declaratory judgment, including an interesting account by Jim Barton of the legislative history of NC 306.

Representatives of other affected counties, including Beaufort, Craven and Hyde counties, provided very powerful inputs to the hearing.

A number of speakers pointed out that this ferry tax was enacted by Republican state legislators. The consensus seemed strong that Republican legislators had thrown Eastern North Carolina under the bus. The entire region east of I-95 knows what has happened and from what was said, they intend to remember that in November.

Is It Enough To Follow The Money?

A few days ago, I suggested that following the money is a good way to determine what is really going on in the political process. The key question, I suggested is "who benefits and who pays?"

Yesterday's New York Times offered a different analysis. In his article, "Forget The Money, Follow The Sacredness," Jonathan Haidt offers an alternate explanation of the American political process. He explains politics as a "competition among coalitions of tribes."

"The key to understanding tribal behavior," Haidt explains, "is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness."

I don't deny that Haidt has a good point regarding voter behavior. On the other hand, how does it come about that a particular person, place or thing becomes viewed as sacred?

Sacred things don't necessarily become that way by growing organically from grass roots. The idea of sacredness is usually planted, watered, fertilized and nurtured by forces with a lot of money and power.

The mechanics of how this is done are examined in today's New York Times  in an opinion piece, "The Uses Of Polarization."

The central question seems to be whether our admittedly flawed political process can be improved. I am reminded of Winston Churchill's observation that Democracy is the "worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

So what is to be done?

Once again Churchill has a suggestion: "What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Preparation For Overseas Movement - Spring 1942

Here is a picture of my dad during the organization of the 27th Air Depot Group, US Army Air Corps at Mobile, Alabama, spring of 1942. This picture was framed and sat on the mantel over my grandmother's fireplace during the war.

Look closely and see the backward writing. The photographer flipped the negative when he printed the photo, so it was backward when Daddy signed it. I flipped it back in photoshop.

Of course, I had to have my own uniform, complete with rolled-up sleeves.

Just a few weeks earlier, we had moved on the base at Tallahassee. Here is a photo of me and my then six or seven month old brother, John.

This is the house we moved into in Greenwood, Mississippi, in February of 1942 before Daddy went on to Mobile. No dependents were allowed once preparation for overseas movement began. These are my grandparents, parents, me and my little brother (sitting in Mother's lap). We wouldn't see my dad again until the summer of 1945.

This was seventy years ago.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cut And Run Strategy - History

It's a bit disconcerting to hear various leaders talk about how important it is to leave behind a stable government in Afghanistan.

Just how are we going to do that?

Our record of accomplishment in nation building (in other people's nations) isn't all that sterling. We ran the Philippines for half a century, for example, and more than six decades after we turned the government over to the Philippinos, the country has yet to become a showcase of democracy.

That wasn't President McKinley's promise when we decided to occupy the country.

Take Vietnam. We decided in 1946 to assist France in its reoccupation of French Indo-China (as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were then called). That didn't turn out well. In 1954, at the time of Dien Bien Phu, President Eisenhower decided against direct intervention, but we provided advisers and lots of equipment. In 1961 Kennedy sent even more advisers and equipment. By 1965, we owned the war.

In 1973, President Nixon withdrew the last American troops. In 1975, North Vietnamese forces conquered the entire country.

Upshot: after thirty years of war, loss of nearly 60,000 US servicemen and millions of Vietnamese lives, we achieved the same outcome that had been available in 1946 at virtually no cost.

There are times when it is best to stop throwing good money (and lives) after bad. But deciding to do so after the nation has made a commitment is hard to do.

Still, withdrawal always has to remain an option. It was Senator Aiken of Vermont, I believe, who advised President Johnson to just "declare victory" and bring the boys (they were mostly male warriors then) home.

Good advice.

How To Hold Water

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water. \

John W. Gardner

Per Capita Growth In Government Spending

Economist Mark Thoma has an interesting post today on his blog. He has done an analysis of real per capita growth in government spending under every president since Lyndon Johnson.

It turns out that the most austere was Bill Clinton and next most austere is Barack Obama. Spending growth was less under Jimmy Carter than it was under Nixon-Ford or under Reagan. Here is Thoma's graph:

Friday, March 16, 2012

On Taxing The Rich And Other Options

I want to share some thoughts I recently sent to a relative concerning taxation.

This was triggered by a recent spate of what I view as mean-spirited comments about how lucky poor people are, since they don't have to pay income tax. Of course, if they have a job, they pay payroll tax and Medicare tax, as well as state taxes like sales tax and property taxes (if they own anything at all).

The discussion has become more heated since the disclosure that many super wealthy individuals pay income tax at a lower rate than their secretaries.

A frequent question is, "what's fair?" This may be the wrong question. I think a better question is, "what taxation policy leads to greater general prosperity?" That is, "what works best?" But we need to keep the goal in mind - improved general prosperity.

I shared the following thoughts:

There is, of course, a whole literature on taxation issues. Some of it is even interesting. I commend to your interest the article at this link and the ensuing discussion.

I find the idea of taxing the superrich at a marginal rate of 70% intriguing. Some things I know because I have lived a long time and have been paying attention for most of that time. I know, for example, that the period of greatest general prosperity in this country (say, 1946 to 1976) was also a period of high marginal income tax rates and a very progressive tax structure. It was also a period of powerful (or at least influential) labor unions.

In that period, banking was a pretty boring activity. Bankers were generally stolid and unimaginative, but reliable. Interest rates were low. Regulations to insure a stable banking system were pretty strict. Savings and Loans played an essential role in expanding the nation's housing stock at affordable prices.

There was great concern after the war over the possibility of high inflation, but also over the possibility of a postwar depression. Neither happened, in part because we had a skilled bunch of economists working to bring us in for a soft landing. Elements of the solution: GI Bill took millions of returning GI's off the labor market during a crucial period; the Marshall Plan provided the wherewithal to foreign countries to buy industrial and agricultural products from us (anti-depressant); great pent up demand for housing and automobiles as well as other durable goods, plus significant savings accumulated during the war (war bonds, etc) when there was little to buy, anyhow and what there was was rationed.

These were all practical measures, mostly driven by what works.

My view of economics is that it should continue to be driven by what works, not by theories (or conjecture or assertion) divorced from reality and unsupported by real world data.

By the way, if you are looking for a country with low (or no) taxation, little regulation, etc. I can think of several.  Somalia comes to mind.

I have no problem with the idea that people with little income should pay no income tax.

I do have a problem with measures favoring one kind of income over another. Why shouldn't we value wages and salaries at least as high as dividends and capital gains?

How about a flat income tax deduction? Same for everybody. You want to buy a mansion? Fine. You get the same housing deduction as the guy who rents. 
Just a thought.

Follow The Money

That was the advice of "Deep Throat" in the movie, "All The President's Men" about Watergate. It's actually good advice most any time. It helps answer the questions "who benefits" and "who pays."

Take energy policy. Discussions in that arena tend to generate more heat than light, but the heat is against exploring alternative "green" or other sources of energy and in favor of relying more on increasingly expensive (and difficult to recover) petroleum.

Most recently, the US Senate rejected a one-year extension of a tax benefit for alternative energy, including wind energy. The ostensible reason: oh, that's a subsidy. And we have to pay for it.

Well, we already subsidize oil to the tune of $4 billion per year. World wide, oil companies are subsidized about $409 billion annually.

One way to cover most of the cost of alternative energy would be to do away with the existing US subsidy of the petroleum industry, which clearly doesn't need it. But every time progressive legislators try to take away that subsidy, we see an outcry from Republicans and the few remaining oil state Democrats.

Could that have anything to do with the fact that the Koch brothers (who got their wealth the old-fashioned way - by inheritance) are the principal funders of conservative Republican candidates, think tanks and movements?

A frequent objection to subsidies for solar, wind and other non-fossil energy sources is that they are more expensive than oil and natural gas. Beside, global warming was made up by Al Gore. Pay no attention to the melting ice caps and resulting sea level rise.

But costs of wind and solar are coming down. Quickly. Partly because China is investing heavily in alternate energy.

Here is an analysis in Scientific American of recent developments in the field of solar energy. In short, we may be within three years of equality between the cost of coal-fired and solar power generation.

But the sun only shines about half the time. Wind, on the other hand, can blow any time of the day or night.

And North Carolina has the best location on the entire East Coast of the United States for offshore wind generation. A serious effort to develop our wind power resources in Pamlico Sound as well as offshore could provide a major economic engine for Eastern North Carolina.

It might also contribute to slowing global warming and sea level rise.

This would be a win, win, win for Eastern North Carolina.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

General Prosperity Or Particular Prosperity?

Along the same lines as yesterday's post by Robert Reich is an interesting examination of why business leaders aren't calling for economic stimulus. As this article points out, in the 1940's business leaders joined together to press for a substantial federal stimulus to protect against a postwar depression.

It worked.

Even in an earlier period, Henry Ford recognized that if his workers couldn't afford to buy his products, his factories wouldn't prosper. So he paid well and prospered greatly himself.

But in today's world, executive compensation is divorced from the overall performance of the economy. For that matter, it seems divorced from executive performance in any normal sense.

This needs attention.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Public Morality

It seems like every even year, we have a flurry of political rhetoric about SEX. For many, it seems that morality = SEX and associated discontents.

There is a different view: public morality has to do with questions of who benefits and who pays. Government's principal activity is to make the rules that control economic outcomes. Members of the public who believe the deck is being stacked against them should see this as the moral issue of our day.

There are those who spend a lot of time thinking and analyzing such issues. Foremost among them is Robert Reich.

I commend to your attention his latest article, "The Difference Between Public And Private Morality."

The heart of his argument: "There is moral rot in America but it’s not found in the private behavior of ordinary people. It’s located in the public behavior of people who control our economy and are turning our democracy into a financial slush pump. It’s found in Wall Street fraud, exorbitant pay of top executives, financial conflicts of interest, insider trading, and the outright bribery of public officials through unlimited campaign 'donations.'"

That hits the nail on the head.

Monday, March 12, 2012

White Man's Burden II?

I spent my adult life in defense of democracy. Not because our own democracy is perfect, but because it has the chance of standing up to various forms of authoritarianism and despotism. I was not an anticommunist crusader. I did support the late George Frost Kennan's approach of defending American interests by containing Soviet power.

At the same time, I agreed with the late Marshall Shulman's view of the Soviet-American conflict as a "limited adversary relationship," not an apocalyptic one.

Through all of the Cold War period, I never thought the United States had an obligation to establish democratic regimes in other countries. Not our job. Beyond our power.

My entire life has been spent against a backdrop of war and rumors of war. But the most important efforts in defense of democracy have been right here in the USA.

Authoritarianism and despotism continually lurk in the wings. And they have deep pockets.

The overwhelming question was raised by Abraham Lincoln: can a nation "of the people, by the people and for the people" long endure. The "existential threat" so frequently mentioned by the G.W. Bush administration, comes not from abroad, but just as in 1861, it comes from ourselves.

These thoughts are pondered in the somber light of the actions by an American sergeant in Afghanistan. That sergeant's systematic murder of sixteen Afghan citizens in their beds for no apparent reason highlights the tensions between our servicemen and local residents in Afghanistan.

Here, in an article by David Rieff, is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking examinations of our proper role in the world I have seen recently. It's worth reading and pondering. 

Maybe it's time to bring our forces home.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Throwing Eastern North Carolina Under The Bus?

Today's article in the News and Observer about possible tolls on I-95 should be a wake-up call. Tolls for Pamlico County commuters may be just the beginning.

Is there anyone out there who thinks tolls on I-95 won't shift traffic across North Carolina further inland? Say, through Raleigh and Charlotte?

Will that be good for business in Eastern North Carolina? Not likely.

I know that I-95 is projected to become congested along its entire link by 2030. But toll booths are likely to increase, rather than alleviate, congestion.

Contributing to the problem is that both the US Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of transportation are really just the same old highway departments of old. They love pouring concrete and building bridges. They don't yet (and may never) address transportation as a system. The function of the system is to move goods and people from where they are to where they need to be.

Roads and highways aren't the only way to move people and goods around. Rail, for example, is much more energy efficient than trucking. Most energy efficient of all is water transport. We have lots of water here in Eastern North Carolina. Here's a plan to use it to alleviate congestion on I-95.

Let's have no tolls on any North Carolina highways.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Blame Game

When Oriental resident Greg Piner wrote Phil Berger, President Pro-Tem, NC State Senate about the ferry toll issue, Mr. Berger answered:

“Unfortunately, the financial mismanagement of our predecessors in the legislature created a staggering $2.5 billion budget deficit – the worst in state history."

Mismanagement? Has Mr. Berger noticed that, beginning in 2008 the United States suffered the greatest economic downturn since the great depression? There were a lot of reasons leading to the collapse of our financial system and the "great recession" that followed, but financial management actions of the North Carolina legislature are not among them. As any elected official well knows, but some refuse to admit for partisan reasons, financial crises cause reduced revenue and increased safety net expenditures.

Mr. Berger continues: "It [the deficit] forced us to make tough decisions to fill that hole and balance the budget – including implementing a minimal user fee to offset a small percentage of the cost of coastal ferries, which are funded by every taxpayer in North Carolina."

Not exactly. The deficit was large, but it didn't force any particular measure. Governor Perdue submitted a balanced budget to the legislature that did not include tolls for commuter ferries and did not include the massive cuts in education funding contained in the legislature's bill that the governor vetoed.

The tolls were not necessary. Nor do they contribute measurably (or perhaps even at all) to balancing the budget. The tolls, as well as massive cuts in funding for public education, resulted from decisions made under Mr. Berger's leadership. They represent his priorities and those of Mr. Tillman in the House.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What You Don't Know Won't Hurt Us

Judging from the current primary campaigns as well as what has happened in many states when Republicans take over, the new operative slogan might be, "what YOU don't know won't hurt US" (with apologies to Paul Krugman for my blatant plagiarism).

Alternatively, "billions for defense but not one cent for public education (let the kids fend for themselves)."

Another possibility: "we don't need no stinkin'" (pick one or more)
1.  Early Childhood Education;
2.  Higher education;
3.  Research;
4.  Free highways;
5.  Facts (facts have a known liberal bias);
6.  Foreigners;
7.  Diversity;
8.  Stimulus;
9.  Economic Development ("REAL Enterpreneurs spend their OWN money");
10.Networks (except for Fox). 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

All Hat And No Horse

(And not much under the hat, either).

Where is Molly Ivins when we really need her?

In 1776, my ancestor Roderick Rawlins was born in Guilford County, NC.

He didn't stay there. He migrated to Tennessee, Kentucky, across the Ohio to Indiana and Illinois. In 1845 he and his extended family moved by wagon train to the Republic of Texas. Many of his descendants are still there.

If I had been born in Texas instead of Oklahoma, I would count as a seventh generation Texan. Come to think of it, I once lived in Texas, so I can still claim that.

I know about the posturing that goes on in Texas and the foolish policies that result.

Here's one: Texas has cut funding to Planned Parenthood by two-thirds, leaving poor women without affordable health care clinics for themselves and their children.

Texas could, of course, pick up that function itself.

Fat chance!

This is the Texas corollary to the doctrine of less government. Target: women.

But you can buy a firearm with no waiting period, no registration and can carry a rifle or shotgun into any establishment without hindrance. Need a machine gun? No problem.

Religion is really big in Texas.


I attended last Friday's STEP II forum at the Pamlico Community College's Ned Delamar Center. It was a bit discouraging.

The point of the STEP effort is to develop an economic development plan. As I have said before, the difference between economic development and business development is that business development seeks a bigger piece of the pie for a business owner. Economic development seeks to bake a bigger pie.

The criteria for a successful economic development program is increased economic activity, particularly jobs.

STEP II has decided the most promising areas to focus on are:

1. Tourism;
2. Agriculture;
3. Marine Trades.

Personally, I would reverse the order. I think our most valuable asset is the water, and the most promising area for economic activity that brings jobs. Working waterfront, including seafood industry, is already a more substantial economic engine in Eastern North Carolina than tourism.

Still, last Friday's discussion was interesting. The conclusion I drew about tourism is, we don't have enough attractions for tourists and, if we did, we don't have enough accommodations.

I think a more promising approach is to seek "Lone Eagles," but this requires better high speed internet access.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

County Board Of Elections

Ms. Judy Smith, who has for the past two years served as the Republican member of the Pamlico County Board of Elections, submitted her resignation to the State Board of Elections, effective today.

I want to thank Judy for her contributions to our work over the past two years. We regret her departure.

Ms. Smith has been a particularly diligent and hard-working board member, who has made a strong contribution to the Board's work. Administration of elections is a complex and challenging part of doing the people's business - in fact, it is essential to a democracy.

I wish all the best to Judy and to her husband, George in the years ahead.

Thank you, Judy.

The Economics Of Global Warming

Those who want to read a scholarly, dispassionate examination of the alleged controversies over global warming, may wish to read an article by the Yale economist, William D. Nordhaus in the March 22 edition of the New York Review of Books. In his article, "Why The Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong," Nordhaus takes an economist's perspective in analyzing an article in the Wall Street Journal by sixteen scientists.

This isn't as strange as it may seem. GW skeptics often base their opposition to mitigation efforts on the alleged economic effect, as well as on statistical arguments. When you take on statistics, you are playing on an economist's home field.

I won't try to summarize Nordhaus' article, but I strongly recommend you at least take a look at his statistical graphs. Bottom line: the global warming trends of the past century track very closely with mathematical models that include greenhouse gas emissions as well as natural causes. For the past half century, the models that exclude greenhouse gas emissions do not track with actual rises in temperature.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

Once again at last night's county commissioner meeting, one of the commissioners bragged that NC-20, the lobbying organization funded in part by taxpayers of the 20 coastal counties, had successfully persuaded the Coastal Resources Commission not to adopt the report of the CRC science committee forecasting a sea level rise of as much as one meter (39 inches) by 2100.

She explained that adopting the report might withdraw 1.3 million acres in Eastern North Carolina from future use. She also explained that it might raise insurance rates.

My problem with that is, I am about to raise my house 36 inches. Before doing so, I would like access to the best available scientific assessment of sea level rise. That extra three inches could be crucial, if not to me personally, at least to my heirs.

Is ignorance better than knowledge? I don't think so.

If we build on 1.3 million acres that shouldn't be developed, who pays the damages when the water rises? Is NC-20 going to pick up the tab?

I don't think so. The rest of us will.

Yesterday's New York Times printed a very illuminating article about sea level rise, hurricane damage and the outer banks. Read it here.

Whenever a significant hurricane hits the banks, it makes new channels across the islands, severing roads and destroying bridges.

One sensible suggestion by scientists (who keep telling us that the outer banks aren't stable) is to replace the bridges with ferries.

It would be cheaper and more reliable.

By the way, there is no bridge to Okracoke and the tourist industry there does just fine.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Power Of Wind

Tonight's meeting of the Pamlico County Board of Commissioners received an information briefing from the Wind Capital Group concerning their planned wind farm in Pamlico County. The briefing also addressed issues concerning technical developments in wind generation of electrical power, power distribution, costs and environmental effects.

Wind Capital Group has built and operated wind farms elsewhere in the country, mostly in the mid west. The company's information addressed issues including the percentage of time the wind turbines will produce electricity (about a third of the time); cost per KW to generate electricity (less than nuclear, a bit more than coal, but in the general ballpark and costs keep coming down); noise (45-50 dBA - about the same as a conversation at home in a quiet suburb); adverse effect on the atmosphere (none to speak of - in same ballpark as hydroelectric power).

Tonight's briefing contrasted greatly with that of Dr. John Droz, who briefed the commissioners a month ago. Whereas tonight's briefing presented actual verifiable facts, complete with numbers, Mr. Droz provided a rant. There were no facts that could be verified - only strongly worded opinions. Don't take my word for it - read one version of the Droz briefing on his own site.

If you find any actual facts in the Droz briefing, please let me know.

As for me, I don't quite understand what the fuss is about. Anyone who believes or claims to believe that wind power can replace fossil fuels is either a fool or a liar. But no one promoting wind power or solar power or for that matter nuclear power, claims that it can solve our power generation problem.

A lot of foolish assertions are made.

Last week, for example, I came across an attack on electric automobiles. "What they really are," the author asserted, "is coal-powered automobiles." OK. Some might be. They also might be powered by natural gas. Or water turbines. Or by the tides. Or by the sun or the wind or nuclear power.

When you plug your car's charger into an outlet, you don't know how that particular power was generated. It doesn't matter. It's a game of percentages. Anything we can do to reduce the percentage of our transportation powered by high pollution sources is a plus. Even using better insulation.

Wind powered automobiles? Pretty neat idea.

Friday, March 2, 2012


I've been thinking about the ongoing flap about ferry tolls.

So has Greg Piner, who has done an excellent job of clarifying the issue for Representative Frank Iler of Brunswick County.

Representative Iler, from his statements, seems to be an adherent of the YOYO philosophy: "You're On Your Own."

But the central idea of public assets is that we get together as a people, take up a collection, and commonly fund the infrastructure that holds us together as a state both socially and economically. After all, as Mr. Piner points out, "We're All In This Together." So Mr. Piner seems to be a WITT.

Count me as a WITT.

I've already explained about TROLLs.

Do not ask for whom the trolls toll - they toll for us.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Social Security

I don't read the obituary pages. But one can't escape the headlines. One message comes through loud and clear:

A lot of people my age are dead.

But a lot of them aren't.

Which brings up today's column by Gail Collins and the forthcoming anniversary of William Henry Harrison's inauguration in 1840.

What does this have to do with Social Security and the current presidential election?

Read Gail Collins' column and find out.