Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fifty-Four Years

A personal note: Fifty-Four Years ago today, Elizabeth and I were married in California. I was in the navy, and it was during the Quemoy-Matsu crisis. I couldn't go on leave to Texas, so she came to California.

We have had many adventures since then, but it seems like yesterday.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Raising The House

A new tropical wave appeared today off the coast of Africa. Designated Invest 99, the new wave has the potential of developing into a tropical depression.

Which serves to remind us that it was about eleven months ago when Hurricane Irene descended upon Oriental, bringing the highest storm surge in recent memory. Some of us have not yet completed repairs and mitigation measures.

This afternoon a contractor elevated our house high enough to escape likely storm surges for the future. At least if sea level rises no more than a foot or two.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Let's Fix The Deficit?

Headline in today's Los Angeles Times tells you all you need to know about the so-called deficit problem:

Deficit debate driven by the wealthy

The Simpson/Bowles plan bills itself as a road map to deficit reduction, but it's really a guide to cutting services and benefits for the working and middle class while protecting the interests of the wealthy.

I like the opening paragraph of the article by Michael Hiltzik, as well:

"There must be a reason that every time I hear the term "fiscal cliff," the image that comes to mind is of Wile E. Coyote pumping his feet in midair just before plunging into the valley below.
Is it that the debate over when and how to cure the federal deficit has reached new heights of cartoonish inanity? That we are now being treated to finger-wagging about the need to get our fiscal house in order by corporate CEOs like JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon (trading loss $5.8 billion and counting, potential cost to ratepayers from alleged manipulation of the California electricity market $200 million and counting).
Or is it that the remedies for the deficit always seem to involve cutting taxes for the top 1% of U.S. income earners while cutting Social Security retirement benefits (average monthly check: $1,230) for everyone else?"

 As I have said before, the real question in politics is, "who benefits and who pays?"

For the past four decades, the answer has been that the top 1% benefits and the rest of us pay. Time to wake up.

Killing Oriental's Golden Egg Goose

I've been listening to a recording of the Town's public hearing of July 3rd concerning closure of streets and the related contract between the Town and Chris Fulcher. Very confusing.

There were some interesting passages during the discussion. At one point, Commissioner Summers observed:

“Grace Evans brought up something that I think is really important here.  One of the reasons we have a problem now, with our anchorage, is because of the five acres that was sent out there with Oriental Harbor Marina… We have killed the goose that laid the golden egg for Oriental… That’s what we did and I absolutely believe that."

What I believe Commissioner Summers is talking about is the Town Board's decision, several years ago, to abandon the public's riparian interests in a very attractive anchorage area that enticed many boaters to visit the Town, and to cede the area to use by the private developers of Oriental Harbor Marina.

The Town let marina developers steal the public's riparian waters, which the Town is supposed to protect in trust for the public.

Under normal riparian rules, the boundary between the public waters extending from the terminus of the South Water Street public right-or-way (ROW) and those of the marina developers is a line running at right angles to the center-line of the channel.

The developers plat below, however, shows the southerly limit of the marina's riparian rights as running along a line extended from the northern edge of South Water Street out into the harbor.  On the plat this line it is labeled as "Riparian Line / Extension of Water Street Right of Way" - it is hard to read, so I have drawn a red dash-dot line over it, labelled "Extension of limit of Water St. ROW."

The Town Board either did not understand, or did not care, or (even worse) did care, that the Riparian border line platted by the developers was incorrect and bit heavily into the remaining riparian area extending from the public trust ROW.

About twenty of Oriental Harbor Marina's slips are actually within the public's riparian waters extending from the South Water Street terminus.  About five more slips are within the "15' buffer zone," from which the Town could have excluded marina construction had the Town been willing to assert the public's riparian rights.

This was outright theft by the developers, aided and abetted by the collusion or gross negligence of the Town Board.

It is what can happen if the Town's citizens don't pay careful attention to how the Town Board manages public trust assets.

Who is protecting the public?

(Click on Map for Larger View)

Here is the un-retouched detail (except for my pencil-marks) :

(Click on plat for larger view)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Do We Really Want Government Off Our Backs?

A good, though by no means complete, history of the positive influence of government programs on American economic life can be viewed at the Boston Fed's web site. By the way, the web itself is one of the positive results of a government program.

Take a look at http://www.bostonfed.org/education/ledger/ledger.htm Click on "complete issue" for summer 2012.  Younger readers may be surprised. Older ones should not be surprised, but maybe they just never paid attention.


The first time I saw London was 1955. The rubble of the blitz had been arranged in city blocks behind brick walls that stood waist high. The center of the city looked ok, but all around St. Paul's cathedral was a wasteland.

Rationing ended just the year before.

It was the second year of Queen Elizabeth's reign.

Ninety-Eight Years Ago: War Declared

July 28, 1914, the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

It was an entirely just war under international law. A month earlier, Serbian operatives had assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, and the archduke's wife Sophia. Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia to turn over the miscreants. When Serbia failed to comply, Franz Joseph declared war.

Three days later, Russia, an ally of Serbia, mobilized. The next day, Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary, mobilized and declared war on Russia. France, allied with Russia, mobilized. On August 3, Germany declared war on France. The following day, Germany declared war on neutral Belgium and invaded that country. England declared war on Germany.

It was all very correct.

The ensuing war destroyed the German, Austro-Hungarian and Tsarist empires and left France and England in a shambles.

But it was correctly done.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Economic Policy Debate - Entirely Political

Earlier this week an analysis in Bloomberg News assessed the current debate on economic policy as being entirely phony.  I recommend the article.

Real economists, Bloomberg reported, are in remarkable agreement about economic conditions and about what should be done. The debate, the article contends, is entirely political. That is to say, it is being undertaken on the part of Republicans for entirely partisan ends.

The same could be said, by the way, about the phony "debate" on global warming and sea level rise and many other "debate" topics.

The problem is, so far as Congress is concerned, the "debate" is accompanied by entirely cynical efforts to obstruct any measures to make the economy better.

Republican businessmen understand as well as anyone else that the main problem with the economy at present is lack of aggregate demand for goods and services. We know how to fix that. But Republican politicians believe any improvement in the economy would only benefit the president's party, so Republicans in Congress oppose anything that might improve the job situation.

Is this the face of patriotism?

On Economic Laws - Not Like The Law Of Gravity

"Our Republican leaders tell us economic laws--sacred, inviolable, unchangeable--cause panics which no one could prevent. But while they prate of economic laws, men and women are starving. We must lay hold of the fact that economic laws are not made by nature. They are made by human beings."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Nomination Address, July 2nd, 1932, Chicago, IL)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Weekly Reader

Sad news last night on the network news. The Weekly Reader, source of national and world news for countless schoolchildren since its founding in 1928, is ceasing publication.

In 1946, 47 and 48 I learned from the Weekly Reader about DP's (displaced persons) in Europe, conflict between Iraq and Iran, Civil War in China, the occupation of Japan and Germany, and American elections.

Most memorable was Weekly Reader's coverage of the 1948 presidential election. A week before the election, Weekly Reader printed a two-page spread of all the political parties, their nominees, their official symbols, and a brief explanation of party goals. The list included the Democratic Party (symbol: rooster); the State's Rights Party (nominee Strom Thurmond); the Progressive Party (nominee: former Vice President Henry Wallace); Republican Party (Thomas E. Dewey); Socialist Party; American Communist Party; Democrat Farm-Labor Party; Prohibition Party and Vegetarian Party, among others.

My contemporary, Senator John McCain, resurrected the Vegetarian Party for one of his best lines in his stump speech of 2000, when he asserted that he sought support from all political beliefs, including the vegetarian party.

I would bet that, as a fifth grader reading his Weekly Reader, the young John McCain was struck with the apparent absurdity of a political party dedicated to vegetarianism. I certainly was.

But I paid attention to the 1948 election.

Weekly Reader: Requiat in pacem.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

South Avenue Closing: Financial Folly?

It may be financial folly for the Town of Oriental to own waterfront property in fee simple instead of in trust for the public.

The Town should review North Carolina Administrative Code Title 15A, Chapter 7, Coastal Management. The Town should also review its own CAMA land use plan, adopted five years ago. Taken together, both the policy of the State of North Carolina and the plans and policy of the Town of Oriental support public access to public trust waters through dedicating access points to the public. State policy strongly and explicitly encourages use of street ends as water access points.

CAMA/SeaGrant funding to acquire water access points requires the points to be dedicated to the public in perpetuity.

CAMA grants for improvement of water access facilities that are not so dedicated must be repaid on a proportional basis if the property is ever sold. For property with a cost basis of zero, the repayment might be very high indeed.

The effect of the Town's stubborn insistence on fee simple ownership instead of public dedication may be that the Town won't be able to get CAMA/SeaGrant funds for improvements to or maintenance of Municipal-owned property that is not dedicated to public use, or that the Town may find conditions of such funds prohibit accepting them.

Has the Town Board looked into this possible consequence of actions they are about to take?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Joe Paterno's statue has gone.

Maybe we shouldn't erect statues to men (or women) while they still live. Might not be a bad idea to wait a decent interval (say, twenty-five years or so).

Might be good to wait awhile before renaming streets, buildings, ships, etc. as well.

Could save us all from embarrassment.

Remember Stalingrad.

Even Russians are embarrassed by Stalin.

Who Benefits? Who Pays?

I have said it before: it isn't how big government is that matters, but who benefits. Conservatives rail against redistribution. That's a smokescreen. For four decades, redistribution has been upward.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research posted an excellent article yesterday making the point better than I. The argument isn't over government size. The argument is over rigging rules to benefit the wealthy.

As Dean Baker explains: "[Conservatives] don't object to big government, they object to government programs that help poor and middle class people."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rules Are Rules

Got carded this evening. I just wanted a 12-pack of beer. Nothing exotic. "What's your birthday," the Dollar General cashier asked.

"April 20," I answered.

Wasn't good enough. I had to give her the year.

Don't think I can pass for 20. I'm old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, but not old enough to remember the Maine.

Not sure I really wanted the beer all that much.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Character And Society

New York Times columnist David Brooks sometimes calls attention to the work of social critics with whom I am not familiar. Last March, he published an interesting column centered on the work of James Q. Wilson.

I don't know Wilson's work, but I am intrigued. Some of Wilson's observations focus on what I would call the collective aspect of character. For example: “At root,” Wilson wrote in 1985 in The Public Interest, “in almost every area of important concern, we are seeking to induce persons to act virtuously, whether as schoolchildren, applicants for public assistance, would-be lawbreakers or voters and public officials.”

How can we do this? As Brooks describes Wilson's writings, "When Wilson wrote about character and virtue, he didn’t mean anything high flown or theocratic. It was just the basics, befitting a man who grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1940s: Behave in a balanced way. Think about the long-term consequences of your actions. Cooperate. Be decent."

Follow the dictates of Miss Manners.

Wilson, Brooks explained,  did not believe that virtue was inculcated by prayer in schools. It was habituated by practicing good manners, by being dependable, punctual and responsible day by day. He emphasized that character was formed in groups. “Order exists," Wilson wrote in 1993, "because a system of beliefs and sentiments held by members of a society sets limits to what those members can do.” 

Wilson's views in this respect remind me of the power of what I learned as a young naval officer was "customs, tradition and usage." Very powerful, indeed.

I think this is exactly what Hillary Clinton had in mind in her 1996 book,  It Takes A Village. The book was, of course, roundly condemned by conservatives.

"No, it takes a family," the conservative choir rang out, led by Bob Dole and Rick Santorum.

One of the things I learned from tracing my own genealogy is that, for most of our history, it was impossible to tell where the family ended (parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, grandparents, grandchildren, etc.) and the village began. They were all part and parcel of the same social setting and were mutually reinforcing.

That reinforcement is a major reason families and children under stress were able to survive depression and war in the 30's and 40's. 

But that's another story. I'll pick up the thread sometime soon.

Taxes: Who Benefits And Who Pays?

Most of us don't like to pay taxes. But that's how we pool our resources to do things for our community, county, state and nation that wouldn't be done by individuals. The "magic of the marketplace" won't educate all of our children, build roads and bridges, eradicate diseases such as yellow fever and smallpox, build the foundations of a national economy, operate police and fire departments or defend the nation.

So how to devise a fair, effective, efficient and sensible system of taxes?

Yesterday National Public Radio's web site published a summary of a panel discussion on last Tuesday's Planet Money radio show. The title: "Six Policies Economists Love (And Politicians Hate)."

The proposed policies:
1. Eliminate mortgage interest deduction;
2. End deduction companies get for employee health care;
3. Eliminate corporate income tax;
4. Eliminate all income and payroll taxes, replace with consumption tax;
5. Tax carbon emissions;
6. Legalize marijuana.

There you have it. The summary provides some rationale. The piece is worth reading. I'm not convinced, but it can't hurt to reexamine how we do things.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Are Most New Jobs Created By Small Businesses?

Not exactly. It turns out most new jobs are created by large firms (500+ employees). But as economist Jared Bernstein explains, some data series refer to the size of "establishments" which might be the local outlet for a large business, and some refer to "firms," in which employees of the local outlet would be included in the larger entity. Think, for example, Wal-Mart.

Bernstein explains: "So, the question is, do any of these size classes contribute disproportionately to job growth?  In fact, they do, and the winner is…not small firms.  Whether is business cycle expansions or the full run of these data, large firms — 500+ employees — contribute disproportionately to job growth.  The small firms — less than 50 workers — in fact, contribute proportionately less than their share."

Neither Bernstein nor I have anything against small businesses, we just want the discussion and any resulting policy to reflect reality.

Government Austerity At The Present Time: Bad Idea

Economist Mark Thoma provides a link to an interesting posting by Simon Wren-Lewis once again refuting arguments by the Austerians. The key passage:

"....let’s just go through the economics one more time. Macroeconomic theory is as clear as it can be that austerity in the current situation will reduce output and raise unemployment. ... The evidence is also about as clear as it ever is in macro."

Wren-Lewis offers another thought as well. Worth reading.

Capabilities Vs Intentions And South Avenue

In matters of military intelligence, a common admonition is that evaluation should be based on capabilities rather than intentions. For example, rather than guess that in late 1941 Japan would attack in southeast Asia, we should have known that they had the capability of attacking Hawaii and prepared for it.

I have a problem with that concept. At least in the short run, the only thing that matters is intentions. We assumed, for example, that Great Britain had no intention to attack the United States, though they had the capability. Same with France. So we wasted no time and resources planning to defend against their forces.

We focused our intelligence gathering on countries that might plausibly become enemies. And we did our best to find out the specific intentions.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, we succeeded beyond expectations at uncovering specific plans, schedules, order of battle, and other details. And we used the information. That's why our forces were in the right position to succeed at Coral Sea and Midway. It helped us track down German submarines. It helped win the Battle of Britain.

In some contexts, though, it makes sense to focus on capabilities rather than intentions. Intentions change. When planning for the future and developing policies, it makes sense to focus more on what CAN be done rather than what WILL be done.

This is especially so when developing public policy.

When writing laws, drafting regulations, putting policies in place, it does not matter what the present intentions of office holders may be. Elections may change who is in office. In this context it makes no sense to ask how incumbents plan to use their authority.

My advice: always assume that if law and regulation allow something to be done, then at some point it will be done.

That's why I oppose Oriental's effort to exchange the South Avenue right of way which can't be sold for a waterfront parcel owned in fee simple which can be sold. Assume that if it can be sold, at some point it will be sold. Once the waterfront is in private hands, the public will never get it back.

So the public's interest in any such acquisition must  be protected.

Yes, I want to tie the hands of future town boards.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dump The Runoff II

Two years ago I suggested that NC should join 42 other states in the union and abolish the runoff primary. I haven't changed my mind.

Some reasons:
a. Runoff primaries are expensive. They cost nearly as much to administer as a regular primary, nearly doubling the cost to taxpayers of administering the party nomination process (which is what the primary is);
b. Turnout is abysmal. In Pamlico County, turnout for this year's second primary was three percent of registered voters; across the state it was three and a half percent;
c. Runoff primaries are a holdover from the time when southern states had only one effective political party - the Democratic party, and whoever won the primary had won the election. That is no longer the case;
d. Runoff primaries seldom change the outcome - the leader after round one usually wins, anyhow;
e. A runoff primary delays the election process - results aren't final until after canvass. This year, County Boards will canvass on July 24 and State Board a week after that, delaying the start of down-ballot campaigns;
f. It isn't more democratic to have a tiny fraction of the electorate determine the outcome.

One way to accomplish the same purpose as a runoff is to hold some sort of instant runoff vote by ranking voter choices. We tried that for a judicial race two years ago. Voters found it confusing, our voting machines aren't certified for such a procedure, and the state board had to develop a work around.

Other states just award the nomination to the candidate with the most votes on primary day. Simple and effective.

While we are on the subject of primaries, I have also concluded it is inappropriate to vote on ballot measures during a primary. Ballot measures should be voted on at a general or municipal election, not an election designed for nominating party candidates.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Second Primary Results

All across Pamlico County, alarms went off at what military veterans refer to as "Oh Dark Hundred," meaning very early in the morning. No sign of dawn.

Election officials: Chief Judges, Judges, Director of Elections, Board of Elections and other officials washed their faces, dressed, ate a quick bite and found their way to their respective assignments at Pamlico County's ten voting precincts.

They turned on the voting machines, posted the required signs, made final arrangements of chairs, tables and other equipment, and at 0630 Monday, July 17, 2012,  one of the judges opened the front door and announced: "the polls are now open."

At Oriental precinct, the announcement was heard by two voters already waiting outside to cast their ballots. At other precincts, the announcement was heard only by a passing mockingbird or cardinal.

The occasion: phase two of the party nomination primary election of May 8. In a handful of races, no candidate received 40% of the votes cast. In those cases, a second or runoff primary must be held.

The runoff has now been held and all nominees for the November general election have now been chosen. Here are the results.

Three percent of Pamlico County's registered voters cast ballots.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Second Primary

Tuesday, July 17, 2012, is the second or runoff primary.

Polls open at 06:30 and close at 7:30 PM.

Don't forget to vote.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Booker Wright: Greenwood, Mississippi 1965

Meet Booker Wright. He was filmed for a documentary in 1965 by a white movie maker trying to present Mississippi's story from the point of view of Mississippi's whites. The movie maker thought to interview a waiter at a popular white restaurant in Greenwood, Mississippi. The waiter's name was Booker Wright and the movie maker got more than he bargained for. Here is the clip of what Booker Wright said.

The interview of Booker Wright was shown on NBCTV in May of 1966. Mr. Wright was beaten, lost his job and lost his business. But he apparently never regretted what he said.

I know Mississippi. I was three when I first visited the state in August, 1940. I started to school in the first grade in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1943. The summer before first grade, I had a vivid lesson in the fact that black people didn't like how they were treated by white people.

To white people who grew up in the state, though, this was unwelcome news. So unwelcome, they refused to believe it.

A decade before the film was made, fifteen year old Emmett Till was lynched in Money, Mississippi, not far from Greenwood. I was a student at the University of Mississippi at the time.

Many fine people have grown up in Mississippi. Most of them left it.

I don't know anyone who lived in Mississippi in the 1930's. 40's, 50's and 60's who wasn't bent.

Some have overcome the experience.

Tax Or Fee?

The Strip | By Brian McFadden

July 15, 2012

Getting A Bit Warm Lately?


For those who believe global warming is a hoax invented by Al Gore, it might be worth looking at data collected and published by NOAA.

Then there are those who believe it will cost too much to try to do anything about it. On the other hand, here is some current information about how much it costs to do nothing (from Econbrowser):

"Well, not to panic. We can easily adjust to the temperature changes. Just change what we're planting and where. And crank up the air conditioning. Or will it be so easy? From WSJ:
A year after historic flooding brought the Mississippi River up to record levels, the severe drought hitting the central U.S. has caused water levels along parts of the waterway to plummet, disrupting barge traffic from Cairo, Ill., to Natchez, Miss.
Barge operators have sharply reduced their loads to get through tightening river passages. They say major rain is needed soon or they would have to reduce commerce even more, causing shipment delays and driving up transportation costs. With forecasts showing little prospect of significant rain, hydrologists see no relief in sight for the giant inland waterway that also includes the Ohio River.
Some river ports have been forced to close temporarily or shut down parts of their operations because of the low water levels. At the port of Rosedale in the Mississippi Delta, port director Robert Maxwell Jr. said water levels are about 50 feet below what they were last year, when flooding shut down the port. If the water falls any lower, there was a "high likelihood" he would have to close, he said. One of the port's public loading docks is inoperable, with equipment normally in the water now hanging the air. The Army Corps of Engineers is supposed to come this week to dredge, where heavy equipment is used to dig out sediment from waterways to make them passable for shipping.
"This is absolutely not normal," Mr. Maxwell said.
Crops are also being hit hard [1].
Here is a meta-analysis of the scientific consensus on the reasons why global climate change is happening."

By the way, what will the costs be in our neck of the woods if the sea level rises one meter (39 inches) by the end of the century? Might be time to start planning how to deal with it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Seventy Years Ago: Pearl Harbor

My earlier posts haven't analyzed what has been frequently characterized as the "failure" of military commanders at Pearl Harbor and the failure of naval and army intelligence.

Over many years of reading the literature, I long ago concluded that the main failures were in military headquarters in Washington. Those failures were suppressed by powerful defenders within the services. To get a more complete picture, I recommend the book And I Was There by RADM Edwin Thomas Layton, completed shortly before his death. 

Layton names names.

Another source I have just found is a brief summary of US Navy and Army intelligence efforts between the wars. It is on the internet, and no doubt will prove ephemeral. I provide a link, because the author's judgements are very similar to my own. Here is the heart of his conclusions:

"It is important to emphasize the lack of any formal distribution procedures to inform responsible fleet commanders of the intelligence information being gleaned from decrypts of Japanese communications.  In the Navy, this was complicated by the self appointed intelligence expert of then Captain Richmond K. Turner known as “Terrible Turner”, the new head of the Navy’s War Plans department of CNO.  The weakness of Admiral Stark as CNO let Turner completely usurp the functions of ONI and DNC to fulfill their responsibilities to properly warn fleet commanders of the impending Japanese actions based on the Purple diplomatic decrypts and other indicators.  More serious war warning messages and a more accurate picture of the current situation as indicated by Japanese decrypts that were advocated by Captain Laurence Stafford as OP-20-G, Admiral Noyes DNC, and the acting Director of Intelligence (DNI), Captain Kirk, were forestalled or greatly watered down by Turner.  One excuse Turner tried to give for such perfunctory warnings was that Pearl Harbor had all the Japanese diplomatic decrypts, which was false.  Earlier, Captain Turner was convinced Japan would only attack Russia and just before Pearl Harbor he convinced Stark that Japan was not ready to attack the U.S. only the British.  The new DNI Theodore S. Wilkinson refused to challenge Turner’s rebuff of a further specific war warning drafted by Captain Arthur H. McCollum on 5 December.  Again on 6 December, Stafford tried again but was dismissed by Noyes so as not to antagonize Turner.  On the Army side, General George G. Marshall and intermediaries vetoed similar requests made by Colonels Rufus S. Bratton and Otis K. Sadtler.  Later, Marshall denied receiving the related decrypts.  As Washington politics go, both Stafford, Bratton and Sadtler were relegated to rather minor posts and discredited, while Noyes and Turner were given prime advancement billets and promotions.  Although General Marshall was held to have been derelict in his duties by the first Army board of inquiry on the Pearl Harbor attack, the subsequent congressional investigation only found Admiral Kimmel and General Short at fault for the Pearl Harbor disaster.  Marshall had the backing of both Secretary of War Stimson and President Roosevelt.  Stimson instigated a fierce campaign to reverse Marshall’s prior dereliction finding.  During the latter hearings, none of Turner’s subordinates would break ranks and reveal Turner’s derelictions due to his great wartime achievements and rank as Vice Admiral.  Only subsequent revelations have verified Turner’s and Marshall’s responsibility for impeding more appropriate and timely warnings urged by intelligence professionals based on Purple decrypts."

So my nominee for the leader most responsible for the surprise at Pearl Harbor is: (drum roll) - Terrible Turner.

Read And I Was There to learn how and when E.T. Layton expressed his displeasure with Turner.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Arms Export Control Act

Interesting and somewhat disturbing article in today's New York Times reporting alleged refusal of Apple store employees to sell iPads and iPhones to Iranian Americans because of concern that such sales are the same as selling to Iran. Apparently Apple employees have been spurred by US government efforts to increase enforcement of the US embargo against Iran.

Apart from the injustice of abusing Americans who just want to make a purchase, the allegations remind me of some of the dumbest decisions made during the Cold War.

The two examples that come to mind are the decision to prohibit export of the Intel 80286 or any computer products made using the chip. The 80286 at that time (early 1980's) is what powered the central processing unit (CPU) of the IBM AT-class computers and their clones.

We also prohibited export of Xerox and other photocopiers.

I thought these particular uses of the Arms Export Control Act were foolish in the extreme. What made more sense to me was to flood the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe with as many 80286 computers and copy machines as we could smuggle in.

These very subversive machines in the hands of freethinkers would have allowed engineers, economists and other researchers to crunch their own data. Hierarchical organizations have a hard time dealing with independent sources of analysis.

And copy machines? Oh, my!

Russian and East European intellectuals and dissidents had to exchange prohibited books by laboriously typing them on mechanical typewriters with many layers of carbon paper. This was known as "samizdat" from the Russian for "self-publishing.)
Copy machines could have speeded up distribution of subversive works by daring men and women.

Eventually, someone in Washington apparently saw the light. When Lech Walensa led the Solidarnost uprising in Poland, organizations willing to upset the status quo received substantial material help against communist regimes in Eastern Europe. It was said that US labor unions contributed computers (including AT-class), copy machines, satellite TV receivers, digital still and movie cameras and other embargoed electronics to Solidarnost in large quantities. This wouldn't have happened without US Government help.

The floodgates were opened. And not long afterward, the wall came down.

Modern telephone communications, internet, twitter, facebook, etc. were essential tools for the Iranian "Green Revolution" of two years ago. The pro democracy movement didn't succeed, but sometimes such efforts need time to take firm root.

And they need tools. IPhones and iPads among them.

I hope our government is flexible enough to see this.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Greatness

"There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet."

- Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, USN


Tax policy is complicated. If the actual policy weren't complicated enough, understanding tax policy becomes almost impossible because of unsupported assertions and fear mongering.

Yesterday economist Robert Reich posted an article attempting to cut through the often complicated rhetoric and describe the proposal that is actually on the table.

By the way, the Congressional Budget Office has a new study out on income and taxes. The study shows that in 2008-2009 average federal taxes paid for all households reached the lowest level in thirty years. As for income distribution, the top 20% of the population received more than half of total before tax income. The bottom 20% received five percent of total before tax income. Probably not good for aggregate demand.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

South Avenue Special Meeting July 9

Monday evening's special meeting of Oriental's Town Board opened at 5:30 PM, then immediately went into closed session to "consult with the attorney." Both the Town Attorney, Scott Davis and the Town Manager took part in the closed session. About an hour and a half later, the Board came out of closed session and adjourned. In response to a question after adjournment, Mayor Sage stated that no action by the Board is contemplated before the next regular meeting in August.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thoughts On Today's South Avenue Meeting

 Today's special meeting of the Board of Commissioners of Oriental at 5:30PM (Monday, July 9, 2012) at First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall on Broad Street, is for Town Board to consult with counsel concerning the South Avenue Street end transactions and the Fulcher contract with the Town. The Board may go into closed session during the meeting.

It isn't clear what the meeting intends to accomplish, but the Town has already held the required public hearing. The Board can close South Avenue at any time, though they seem inclined currently to do more research before taking such an irrevocable step. 
This would be a good time for residents to make their views known to the Board.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Rent Seeking

Economist Joseph Stiglitz in a recent interview attributes many of our economic problems to rent-seeking.

"The people at the top are not the people who made the most contributions to our society. Some of them are. But a very large proportion (is) simply people I describe as rent-seekers -- people who have been successful in getting a larger share of the pie rather than increasing the size of the pie.  ...[W]e don't understand the extent to which our economy has really become a rent-seeking economy."

This runs counter to a view I often see in conservative commentary - the people with a lot of money are the "winners," who should be exalted and people who actually work for a living (and especially those who lose their jobs in an economic downturn) are "losers" and "freeloaders."

I think the biggest freeloaders are those who siphon off money from the productive work of others.

Stiglitz' take:

"Much of what goes on in the financial sector is this kind of rent-seeking.
"The most dramatic example was the predatory lending and the abusive credit card practices, which took money from people on the bottom and the middle often in a very deceptive way, sometimes in a fraudulent way, and moved it to the top.... 
"And what is interesting to realize is that our tax structure not only is unfair, but actually distorts our economy. It lowers growth and increases inequality. If you tax speculation at less than half the rate you tax people who work for a living, what you do is you encourage speculation. You weaken the economy. Speculative activities are activities associated with high levels of inequality. And that way you increase inequality. We tax in a sense a lot of the rent-seeking activities at a lower rate because they get under the rubric of the capital gains tax. ... "

Stiglitz' aim is an economy that works better. For everyone.

Polarized Politics

I have from time to time offered the view that in understanding political controversies, it is helpful to seek the answer to two questions: who benefits? and who pays?

Today I came across a review of a book by political scientists who have studied and sought to explain polarization. Political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal present their findings in Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches (Walras-Pareto Lectures).

The review summarizes their findings: "[The authors] succeed in cutting through the seemingly crazed rhetoric of conservative extremists in and out of Congress and reveal what it's really all about: protecting the economic interests of the wealthy....
"What is really interesting about this analysis is that it implies that the sizzling rhetoric coming from the right -- personal attacks on the President, anti-gay rants, renewed heat around abortion and contraception -- is just window dressing. By the evidence of voting records, what the right really cares about is economic issues favoring the affluent -- tax cuts, reduced social spending, reduced regulation of business activity, and estate taxes. This isn't to say that the enraged cultural commentators aren't sincere about their personal belief -- who knows? But the policies of their party are very consistent, in the analysis offered here. Maybe the best way of understanding the extremist pundits is as a class of well-paid entertainers, riffing on themes of hatred and cultural fundamentalism that have nothing to do with the real goals of their party."

Who benefits? Who pays?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why Wasn't The Higgs Boson Discovered By America?

A serious/humorous take on the issue by New York Times columnist Gail Collins in today's on-line issue here. Worth reading.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Special Meeting Oriental Town Board Mon. 5:30

Posted this afternoon at the Town of Oriental Web site:

"Friday, July 06, 2012 at 1:20 PM
The manager is requested to distribute this notice to all appropriate parties.

"I hereby call a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners of Oriental for 5:30PM on Monday, July 9, 2012 to First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall on Broad Street. The purpose of the meeting is to consult with counsel concerning the South Avenue Street end transactions and the Fulcher contract with the Town. The Board may go into closed session during this meeting."

"Bill Sage, Mayor"

We have no idea what the meeting intends to accomplish.

Worth remembering: The Town has already held the required public hearing. The Board can close the street at any time.

Oriental Croaker Fest 2012

A bit hot, but the opening of the Croaker Fest at 4:00 today went well and was enjoyed by all. Good music. Tasty food. And I loved the root beer floats (they benefit Hope Clinic, but they are not just morally good - they taste great!)

South Avenue

Last Tuesday night, Oriental Town Attorney Scott Davis at one point said he's convinced there's a legal way for the Town Board to close South Avenue and other streets and obtain the waterfront parcel on Raccoon Creek that Chris Fulcher offered to donate the Town. So do I and for the past six months I have been quietly feeding information to the Town Board along those lines.

But the Board seemed committed to the existing contract which barters rights of way held in trust for the public for property rights held in fee simple which the Town can sell at any time. I remain opposed to that scheme, as I wrote in yesterday's County Compass.

There are signs at least some commissioners may be rethinking the issue. I hope so.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Big Science And National Security

Remember the scenes early in "2001: Space Odyssey" when the fictional troubleshooter sent to the moon encounters Russians along the way? Any contemporary update to that movie would have to encounter Chinese in space.

Why are they there and what does it mean for us? Here is a good article in today's New York Times with one answer. It need not be the only answer.

Big science is expensive. Nations will have differing priorities for their scientific endeavors, but be assured of one thing: their first priority will not be to compete in markets. It will be to gain a security advantage.

There are different ways to accomplish this. When the Space Station project became too expensive for an increasingly parsimonious America, we turned it into the International Space Station. Today, without Russian participation, we wouldn't be able to get astronauts to the station.

In the early 1990's as the Superconducting Super Collider was running into problems with Congressional appropriations, an effort was made to internationalize the project. The effort proved too little and too late.

It might be better to think "international" at the outset. Now, at the Large Hadron Collider, we are the tail instead of the dog.

Higgs Boson

The recent cautious announcement that scientists at Europe's Large Hadron Collider may have found the elusive Higgs boson reminds me that this important step in high energy physics could have occurred in the United States except for partisan and regional politics.

More than twenty years ago, at a project in southern Dallas County and Ellis County, Texas, the United States had dug an enormous circular tunnel deep underground near Waxahatchie, Texas, for what was known as the Superconducting Super Collider. This was to be the showcase of US high energy physics, and was a project of the Department of Energy.

I was briefly involved as a contractor working for SSC's project management office.

When completed, the SSC would have been three times as powerful as Europe's Large Hadron Collider, and would have been in operation more than a decade ago. The Higgs Boson would have been old hat by now, and Waxahatchie, Texas rather than Geneva, Switzerland, would be the research center drawing physicists from all over the world.

But by 1990, US research budgets became tighter, other massive projects such as the International Space Station and other scientific communities competed strongly for the dollars. Each of those projects also had supporters in Congress. Just at that time, the Texas Congressional delegation became particularly vocal about balancing the budget. As a result of all of that, coupled with resentment by other members of Congress, support for SSC evaporated.

The project was cancelled in 1993.

An enormous hole in the ground remains under Ellis County, Texas.

No one knows what discoveries the SSC would have achieved by now. Almost certainly the Higgs boson would have been among them.

Since I posted this observation July 5, NYTimes  columnist Gail Collins on July 6 posted a set of more humorous observations about the Higgs, Waxahatchie and American Politics. Worth reading here for a chuckle, but a serious thought as well.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Patriotism

This fourth of July, Robert Reich has published a thoughtful piece here on patriotism.

There's nothing I can add to it, so I won't try.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

South Avenue: Heart Of The Matter

Last night I received an e-mail from Mayor Bill Sage responding to earlier e-mails from me. What I learned from his e-mail is that he and the commissioners seem bound and determined to be able to sell the parcel the Municipal Corporation will receive from Chris Fulcher in exchange for the public rights of way the town holds in trust for the public.

The mayor's mantra: "Don't tie our hands."

My mantra: "Don't violate your trust."

Here is the heart of my letter in response to the mayor:


"Thank you for your reply. I am pleased the Town is in contact with David Lawrence, and I look forward to reading the written exchange with him. I am interested in his response to your questions and any citations he provided. I would also appreciate copies of any correspondence with other professors contacted at the School of Government, and with the Legal Services Department of the North Carolina Department of Justice....

"Please bear in mind I am neither opposing nor defending the Wisdom of the transaction. I am questioning the Rightness of the contract.

"Each Town Board must make decisions concerning the Public streets based solely on the long-term traffic use interests of the Public.  In this case, the long-term interest that matters most to me is public access to public trust waters. You and the Board clearly intend to close the South Avenue Right of Way which you hold in trust for the public and to replace it with a private asset not held in trust, but free to be sold by the municipal corporation at any time. I conclude from your e-mail that this is not just an unintentional result, but has been central to your deliberations. That violates the responsibility of the trustee. That is wrong.

David Cox"

Here is the heart of Mayor Sage's e-mail to me:

"Thank you for your letter and materials concerning the South Avenue transaction.  I am sorry that you feel compelled to oppose a transaction that I believe will benefit the town and its citizens and visitors immensely.  You are correct that process is important and the town attorney has consulted at great length with several of the professors (and retired Professor David Lawrence) at the UNC School of Government.  All agree that the end result under the contract is legally achievable, but they disagree on the best procedure to follow to get there.....

"You now seem to be taking the position that this board has a duty to “tie the hands” of all future boards, no matter the circumstances.  Will a town board 50 years hence be thanking us for “tying their hands”  if the circumstances then facing them (which we cannot possibly foresee) make it imperative that the property be closed as public access to Raccoon Creek.  Should it then revert to the Fulcher heirs because we didn’t trust future boards to be as sensitive to the public good as we are?....

"We cannot judge from this vantage point the circumstances they may face in making those decisions in the future.  I know there is often a strong urge to “carve things in stone,” but I truly believe that most of the time the urge should be resisted for the good of all.
"I have long been impressed by your thoroughness and seriousness of thought.  I simply and respectfully disagree on this matter.  Thanks again for your input.
"Bill Sage
  My original e-mail:

"From: David Cox
To: bob maxbauer ; Bill Sage ; Warren Johnson ; cechele@yahoo.com; barbara venturi ; larsum@aol.com
Cc: letters@towndock.net; Maureen Donald < editor@pamliconews.com >; Charlie Hall < chall@freedomenc.com >
Sent: Sat, June 30, 2012 11:27:55 AM
Subject: contract between town of oriental and chris fulcher
Some of you know I have been uneasy with certain aspects of the contract between the town of oriental and Chris Fulcher. I have been especially uneasy over what appears to be a sale of town rights of way, contrary to the law of streets. I am also concerned that acquisition of waterfront property under the contract provides no protection to the public interest comparable to the status of a right of way.

"I intend to speak on the subject at Tuesday's public hearing.

"In the meantime I wish to share my thoughts and some relevant information with you in advance of the meeting. I will deliver a hard copy to Town Hall Monday morning.

"Many years ago when Ben Hollowell was town attorney and the issue of South Avenue arose, he consulted with David Lawrence of the school of government and received Professor Lawrence's views in writing. Those views remain a matter of record at Town Hall. Likewise, Mr. Hollowell contacted the attorney general concerning some legal aspects of a right of way leading to the water. The attorney general responded with an advisory opinion, which is also on record at Town Hall.

"I strongly recommend the town board table consideration of the contract and intended street closures pending written consultation both with the School of Government and with the North Carolina Attorney General.

David Cox"


Second Primary: One Stop

As of noon today, nineteen voters have voted at our one-stop site in Bayboro for the North Carolina Second Primary (runoff) election.

Monday, July 2, 2012

South Avenue: Don't Sell Our Streets

If you want to understand the legal issues surrounding the proposed closing of South Avenue, here is a thoughtful though detailed discussion of the issues.

South Avenue: New Stuff

Today at 3:15 the Town of Oriental published a set of significant amendments to the contract with Chris Fulcher. The public hearing is tomorrow night at 7:00. Not good.

Show Me Your Papers?

I'm a bit bemused by some of the rhetoric about the Affordable Care Act. A member of my family links to some of it on his Facebook page. "Today marks a sad day in the history of America. With the Supreme Court's decision, Americans have lost the right to be left alone..." one of the links announces. As opposed to when? I wonder. As opposed to 1792 under the Militia Act? As opposed to the Alien and Sedition Acts? As opposed to the Civil War draft, both North and South? As opposed to being required to register for the draft and with the Social Security Administration?

A big question in all this is whether government is to be effective or not. The "Real ID" Act is what computer programmers call a "kludge." That is, a clumsy work around.

There is a way to provide a national ID card, used for all purposes. If effected, it would provide useful tools for keeping track of immigrants, tourists arriving on tourist visa, students on student visas, and all the other ways Foreign citizens arrive here. Every advanced European country has such a system. It can even be used to show eligibility to vote. It would sort out domicile for purposes of state taxes, child custody, eligibility to run for office, license plates, replace draft registration (except for the draft physical) and keep track of where potential draftees live, etc.

Good article on the concept by Bill Keller in today's New York Times. If we were really serious about immigration, voting, driver's licensing, etc. We might institute such a system.

But the present mish-mash serves many purposes. Among others, "libertarians" and other brands of conservatives want the government out of their business but into everyone else's.

It reminds me of Mississippi's former tax on illegally sold beverages. Baptists and others of their ilk could point with pride to statewide prohibition of distilled beverages. Those who sold such beverages paid the state tax and bought federal liquor licenses. Both of those entities were happy. The State Tax Collector collected the tax but was prevented by law from blowing the whistle on those who paid the tax. It was no more illegal to sell to high school and college students than to anyone else. Sheriffs had to get their share of the take under the table, but they were used to that. They might schedule a show raid near election time. Just a cost of doing business.

Something like that is going on with foreigners. If we kept effective track of everyone, what would the "view with alarm" crowd do?

Boat Names

Who would name a boat Yoknapatawpha? And why? A good brief essay on boat naming, history and literature explains.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Poem For The General Assemby

I think that I shall never see,
A billboard lovely as a tree.

South Avenue: Just DO Right

For the past six months I have hoped the Oriental Town Board would just DO right. No luck so far.

It's not right to sell or barter a right of way, which the town doesn't own - it holds it in trust for the public. Once dedicated and accepted, a right of way is forever.

It's not right to obtain waterfront property to improve public access to the water and not protect it with deed restrictions, conservancy or some other method (example: Lou-Mac Park) to remove temptation from future town boards to sell it.

It's not right for a town board, faced with a contract of dubious legality (towns can't sell or barter streets - contract looks like a sale) without seeking written advisory opinion from experts, such as School of Government and Attorney General.

If, for the sake of argument, the Attorney General advises that the contract is legal, it's still not right not to follow scrupulously the provisions of North Carolina General Statutes (Section 160A, Article 12 - Sale and Disposition of Property). Waving arms and repeating "the right of way is worth NOTHING" doesn't hack it.

It's not right to sell or barter a public trust for purely private interests.

It's not right not to tie the town's hands. Hard as it may be to grasp, ownership of property by the Town is a private interest - the Town is a proprietor like any other concerning real estate parcels, but is only a trustee of streets and other dedicated public amenities. Town ownership doesn't make a lot a public interest. That's why citizens sometimes need to insist that town-owned property intended for public use have that use protected by deed restrictions or otherwise.

It's not right to focus on the outcome of a transaction and pay no attention to process. It is right process that makes a transaction legal, transparent and in the long-term public interest.

It's not too late to make it right.