Posts tagged ‘WWII’

The Map Every Intelligence Analyst Should Have on His Wall, For Humility

I have been playing around with this DVD, which is a collection of high resolution situation maps from the European theater of war after D-Day in WWII.  The maps are really interesting, though the interface is awful.  Like something from the AOL era.  I would play with this much more but it is just too kludgy.

This is probably my favorite map (click to enlarge)

click to enlarge

 

Of course, on the very next day, the last great German attack on the Western Front came right out of that empty red circle.

click to enlarge

In the software, one can zoom very deep into these maps, deeper than these images allow.  So it's a shame that the interface is so bad.

PS - The Bulge is deservedly a part of American military mythology but we should remember that in many ways it was a small battle compared to any number in the East.  This is one of those facts that always perplexes this libertarian, because there is no way the Western Democracies could have ever defeated Germany IMO.  Only Stalin's willingness to soak up astounding losses really defeated Germany.  German army casualties on the Eastern Front were nearly three times their combined casualties in Africa, Italy, France, and Benelux.

The flip side of this is that no one else other than the US could have defeated the Japanese, though again the Soviets would have given them real troubles in Manchuria.  That war was more about projecting power across great distances than pure numbers.  We did bravely soak up absurd casualties in short bursts.  But again, the Russians were soaking up Bettio-level casualties every few hours, and sustained it day in and day out for years.

Differing Perspectives

I have been taking a course in World War I, something I know little about relative to the rest of the 20th century.

We often think of WWI as a horrible, wasteful, pointless war that solved nothing and WWII as an expensive yet "good" war that achieved positive aims.  But as we approach the 75th anniversary of the Munich conference, it is interesting to note that if you ask someone in Eastern Europe, you are likely to get the opposite answer.  Most Eastern European countries can date their modern statehood from the end of WWI, while WWII led to 50+ years of Soviet subjugation.  WWI was their good war.

For the Left, Do Asians "Count"?

I was filling out my EEO-1 forms the other day (that is a distasteful exercise where the government is leading us towards a post-racial society via mandatory reporting on the race of each of my employees).  For each employee there are five non-white categories:  Black, native American, native Hawaiian, Hispanic, and Asian.  I started to think how interesting it is that the Left supports numerous government interventions in support of the first four, but never mentions Asians.

This can't be solely due to lack of past discrimination.   Watch a movie from the 1930's or 1940's and you will see Asians shamelessly stereotyped** as badly as any other race.  And generations who lived and fought WWII had many members, even a majority, that harbored absolute hatred against one Asian people, the Japanese.  We only sent one group to concentration camps in the 20th century, and it was not blacks or Hispanics.  Of course "Asians" is an awfully broad categorization.  It includes Chinese, with whom we have had a complicated relationship, and Indians, for whom most Americans until recently probably have had little opinion at all one way or another.

One problem for many on the Left is the fact that Asians are considered a serious threat (both as immigrants and as exporters) to the Left's traditional blue collar union base.  Another is that they are an emerging threat to their little darlings trying to get into Harvard.  I have heard the squeakiest-clean, most politically correct liberals utter to me the most outrageous things about Asian kids.  Which is why I was not really surprised that white parents in California who claim to support merit-based college admissions immediately change their tune when they find out that this will mean that far more Asia kids will get in.

I have been working with some data on state voting and voter registration patterns by race in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision vis a vis the Voting Rights Act.  The Left went nuts, saying that blacks and Hispanics would again be discriminated against in the South, and the Obama Administration vowed to get on the case, saying that it would begin with Texas.

By the way, Texas may make perfect sense politically for Obama but is an odd choice based on the data.  Minority voter registration and voting rates as compared to the white population are usually used as an indicator of their election participation and access.  In the last election, according to the Census Bureau in table 4B, blacks in Texas both registered and voted at a higher rate than whites.  In Massachusetts, by contrast, in that same election blacks registered at a rate 10 percentage points lower than whites and voted at a rate about 7 points lower.

But if you really want something interesting in the data, look at the data and tell me what group, if we accept that low participation rates equate to some sort of covert discrimination, deserves the most attention (from the same table linked above):

US Voter Registration Rates (Citizens Only)

White:    71.9%

Black:    73.1%

Hispanic:     58.7%

Asian:     56.3%

US Voting Rates (Citizens Only, last Presidential election)

White:    62.2%

Black:    66.2%

Hispanic:    48.0%

Asian:    47.3%

 

** Postscript:  I am not an expert on discrimination, but I watch a lot of old movies and read a lot of history.  To my eye, stereotyping of Asians has been more similar to anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews than to stereotyping of blacks or Hispanics.  Blacks and Hispanics have most often been stereotyped as lazy and unintelligent.  Asians and Jews are more frequently stereotyped as scheming, plotting, and intelligent-but-evil.  Frank Capra, who directed a lot of good movies also directed a series of heavy-handed propaganda movies for the government during the war.  The one on Japan is interesting -- your gardener's quiet mien is actually masking a nefarious scheme.  Even in the 1940's Japan was portrayed as economically frightening to us.

Update:  Over the last couple of elections, Asians have shifted to voting fairly heavily Democratic.  So a cynical person would suggest that they might suddenly "discover" this group.  We shall see.

War and Stimulus

I had an argument about the (economic) stimulative effect of war the other night.  As usual, I was not entirely happy with how I argued my point in real time (which is why I blog).  Here is an attempt at an improved, brief answer:

One of the reasons that people often believe that war "improves" the economy is that they are looking at the wrong metrics.  They look at unemployment and observe that it falls.  They look at capacity utilization and observe that it rises.  They look at GDP and see that it rises.

But these are the wrong metrics.  What we care about is if people are better off: Can they buy the things they want?  Are they wealthier?

These outcomes are hard to measure, so we use unemployment and GDP and capacity utilization as proxies for people's economic well-being.  And in most times, these metrics are reasonably correlated with well-being.  That is because in a free economy individuals and their choices guide the flow of resources, which are dedicated to improving what people consider to be their own well-being.  More resources, more well-being.

But in war time, all this gets changed.  Government intervenes with a very heavy hand to shift a vast amount of the resources from satisfying people's well-being to blowing other people up.  Now, I need to take an aside on well-being in this context.  Certainly it is possible that I am better off poor in a world with no Nazis than rich in one dominated by Nazis.  But I am going to leave war aims out of the concept of well-being.  This is appropriate, because when people argue that war stimulates the economy, they are talking purely about economic activity and benefits, and so will I.

What we find is that in war time, unemployment is down, but in part because young people have been drafted (a form of servitude) to fight and die.  Are they better off so employed?  Those who are left find themselves with jobs in factories with admittedly high capacity utilization, but building things that make no one better off (and many people worse off).  GDP skyrockets as government goes deeply in debt to pay for bombs and rockets and tanks.  This debt builds nothing for the future -- future generations are left with debt and no wealth to show for it, like taking out a mortgage to buy a house and then having the house burn down uninsured.  This is no more economically useful than borrowing money and then burning it.  In fact, burning it would have been better, economically, as each dollar we borrowed in WWII had a "multiplier" effect in that it destroyed another dollar of European or Asian civilian infrastructure.

Sure, during WWII, everyone in the US had a job, but with war-time restrictions and rationing, these employed people couldn't buy anything.  Forget the metrics - in their daily lives Americans lived poorer, giving up driving and even basic staples.  This was the same condition Soviet citizens found themselves facing in the 1970s -- they all had jobs, but they could not find anything to buy.  Do we consider them to have been well off?

There is one way to prosper from war, but it is a terrible zero-sum game -- making money from other people's wars.  The US prospered in 1915 and later 1941 as Britain and France sunk into bankruptcy and despair, sending us the last of their wealth in exchange for material that might help them hang on to their existence.  Ditto in 1946, when having bombed Japanese and German infrastructure into the stone age. we provided many of the goods to help rebuild them.  But is this really the way we want to prosper?  And is this sort of vulture-like prosperity even possible with our inter-woven global supply chains?  For example, I can't see a China-Japan war being particularly stimulative for anybody nowadays.

Lernaean Hydra

I continue to be dumbfounded by the Obama Administration's escalating drone war in Pakistan and other nations.  On the one hand, we have a President who argued persuasively that our war on terror, by its ham-handedness, was actually creating more terrorists than it eliminated by giving people more reasons to hate America.  On the other hand, we have the exact same administration  escalating Bush's drone war by a factor of six.  The same children of the sixties that likely marched against the bombings in Cambodia are now bringing random, robotic death from the sky to countries we have not actually declared war on.  

Washington Postinvestigative report published last week raises questions about whether bureaucratic "mission creep" has cut the program loose from its original justification. "Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing," the Post's Greg Miller writes, "transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war." He reports "broad consensus" among Obama terror-warriors that "such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade."

I could be convinced to use drones to knock off a few top managers with irreplaceable impact on the war, sort of like taking out Patton or Rommel in WWII.  But now we are taking out corporals, or the terrorist equivalent.    And ever time we kill one (with a few innocents thrown in the mix, which Obama has relabeled as combatants by definition)  we are probably creating two new terrorists.

This targetted killing is an expansive and scary new power.  The Administration owes us a reckoning, a justification which demonstrates that these drone strikes are really having some sort of positive effect.  Right now, it is hard to see, with Libya, Mali, Egypt, Syria blowing up and Afghanistan no closer to peace than it was four years ago.  What are we getting in exchange for president taking on this dangerous new authority?

PS-  the report linked notes that the death toll from drone attacks is approaching 3,000.  What happened to the press, which was so diligent about reporting all these grim milestones under Bush.  It is just amazing how far the press and the Left have gone in the tank, against their stated ideals, for Obama.

Update:  Killing of 16-year-old American in drone strike blamed on his ... having a bad father.  It was his fault!

ADAMSON: You said it is important for the president to do what needs to be done in terms of members of al Qaeda and people who pose a threat. Do you think that the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s son who is an American citizen is justifiable?

GIBBS: I’m not going to get into Anwar al-Awlaki’s son. I know that Anwar al-Awlaki renounced his citizenship…

ADAMSON:…His son was still an American citizen…

GIBBS:…Did great harm to people in this country and was a regional al Qaeda commander hoping to inflict harm and destruction on people that share his religion and others in this country. And…

ADAMSON:…It’s an American citizen that is being targeted without due process, without trial. And, he’s underage. He’s a minor.

GIBBS: I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business. [emphasis added]

And this practically qualifies as Nixonian:

ROBERT GIBBS, Obama advisor: This president has taken the fight to Al Qaeda.

LUKE RUDKOWSKI, We Are Change: Does that justify a kill list?

GIBBS: When there are people who are trying to harm us and have pledged to bring terror to our shores, we have taken that fight to them.

RUDKOWSKI: Without due process of law?

GIBBS: We have taken that fight to them.

Update 2:  here is an interesting quote

Counterterrorism experts said the reliance on targeted killing is self-perpetuating, yielding undeniable short-term results that may obscure long-term costs. 'The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,' said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counterterrorism adviser. 'You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.'"

 

Mixed Feelings About These Photos

I had never seen Ansel Adams series of photos from a US internment camp for Japanese-Americans during WWII.  I had mixed feelings about them.  Adams said that he wanted to portray the resiliency of those imprisoned, showing how they made the best of a bad situation.  And certainly I have great respect for that, and the cultural strengths we see at work are a prelude to how Japan itself was rebuilt after the devastation of WWII.

But at another level I find these photos incredibly creepy.  They look too much like the fake photos staged by Germans and Russians of various eras to airbrush the horrors of their concentration camps.   I am willing to believe we Americans were better jailers, but none-the-less I was disturbed that these looked a lot like propaganda photos.

Shock of the New

Jackalope Pursuivant takes off from my post yesterday about Pearl Harbor.  If I were to give it a theme, I would call it "shock of the new."  From time to time folks, for example in the military, may say that they understand a new technology, but the fact that a few smart staff officers "get it" does not mean that the military has really adjusted itself to it.  Like any large organization, it has a culture and set of expectations and people who have been successful based on the old model of things.   They may say they understand that naval aviation has changed things, but they don't really adjust themselves until Pearl Harbor and Clark Field and Guam and Singapore are full of smoking ruins of planes and ships.

Dan's observation about how quickly the US dusted itself off and recognized that the world had changed is a good one.  One could argue that no one did this in WWI.  The Europeans had every chance to see what the machine gun could do even before the war in a few African wars.  Heck, the final year of the American Civil War around Petersberg was a preview of WWI, as was the ill-fated charge of the light brigade.  But armies were still dominated by cavalries and plumed hats and bayonet charges and elan vital. Even in 1916 and 1917, when they should have learned their lesson, commanders were still obsessed with making full frontal charges.  The Americans had the chance to watch the war for four years before they entered, and then promptly began committing the exact same mistakes based on the exact same faulty assumptions as in 1914.  (Neal Stephenson has a great take on American flexibility to craft radically new combat doctrine based on new facts in WWII in Cryptonomicon, absolutely one of my favorite books).

As for Pearl Harbor, I am reminded of a quote that was attributed to Frank Borman (at least in the From the Earth to the Moon documentary) when he was testifying about the Apollo 1 fire.  He called it "a failure of imagination" -- no one was even thinking about danger on the ground, all the focus was on space.  At the end of the day, the ultimate answer for Pearl Harbor's negligence in readiness was a failure of imagination.   They may have had war games and studies discussing Pearl Harbor attacks, and they may have addressed the possibility intellectually, but no one in command really believed that a couple of hundred aircraft would suddenly appear over peacetime Honolulu dropping bombs and torpedoes.

Post Hoc Prioritization

For a while, there has been a contrarian school of thought in historical study of WWII that FDR, wishing to have the US enter the way against a strong isolationist streak in the general population, purposefully ignored evidence of an impending Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor in order to create a casus belli.  A few historians have used some intelligence warmings combined with the insane un-preparedness of Pearl Harbor as their evidence.   Instapundit links to a new declassified memo that warns of Japanese interest in Hawaii just three days before the attack.

This is a fun but generally foolish game.  The same game was played after 9/11, pointing to a few scraps of intelligence that were "ignored."  But the problem in intelligence isn't always lack of information, but too much information.  In late 1941, the US government was getting warnings from everywhere about just about everything.   It is easy as a historian to pick out four or five warnings and say they were stupidly (or purposely) ignored, but this fails to address the real point -- that those warnings were accompanied by a thousand false or misleading ones at the same time.  The entire Pacific theater had already had a whole series of alerts in the months leading up to Dec 7, one false alarm after another.  It is Monday morning quarterbacking that strips the intelligence problem of its context.  To prove that something unusual happened, one would have to show that these warnings were processed or prioritized in a manner that was unusual for the time.

And sure, the readiness issue at Pearl Harbor is inexcusable.  But while historians can always find a few people at the time who argued that Pearl Harbor was the most logical attack target, this ignores the thousands in and outside the military who thought the very idea of so audacious an attack that far from Japan was absurd.   Historians are failing in their job when they strip these decisions of context (if you really, really want to get on someone about preparedness, how about McArthur, who allowed most of his air force to be shot up on the ground despite having prior notification of the Pearl Harbor attack hours before).

Wow

Holly Fretwell of PERC discusses the huge leap in agricultural yields since WWII

Not only does this mean that we have have billions of people on Earth and not starve, but it also has freed up labor for more productive and value-enhancing activities.

As an aside, remember this chart when global warming alarmists argue the the warming trend of the last 50 years is reducing crop yields.  (If the linked article seems simply bizarre given the chart above, realize the NYT is saying that crop yields are down from what they might have been.  This is the same kind of faulty logic that was used by Obama to credit his stimulus with job gains when in fact the economy was losing jobs.  They posit some unproveable hypothetical, and then say reality diverged from that hypothetical because of whatever factor they are trying to push, whether it be CO2 or stimulus).

The problem with food prices is not production, its the fact that we take such a huge percentage of our food grains and, by government dictat, convert them to automotive fuel.

Silly Economic Plans

Via Kevin Drum, from Dylan Matthews

Second, the president should do more to help the American worker. He should establish a jobs program. Do the simple math: We are spending more than $110 billion annually in Afghanistan. Stop it. Or scale it back to the sort of covert operations and drone war that is warranted. Savings? Perhaps about $100 billion—per year. Use that money to create up to 5 million jobs at $20,000 each....Just as FDR did during the Great Depression, put these Americans to work in states, counties, schools, parks.

Even Drum considers this unrealistic, though for the wrong reasons (i.e. the evil Republicans in the House would never let us do it).  I have a series of thoughts on this

  1. FDR had low paying jobs programs in part because this was the only form of relief -- there was not welfare or food stamps or medicaid or unemployment or EITC or social security.  A $20,000 dig-a-hole-and-then-fill-it-in government make-work job would likely just displace about the same amount of other government transfer payments.  I can't see this doing squat.
  2. We are really going to kick-start the consumer market with $20,000 jobs?
  3. The Left needs to get its story straight on the stimulative effects of wars.  Democrats blame Bush for the current economy in large part because of his wars, and the author here implies that moving spending out of wars would be a net plus.  But Keynesians believe WWII ended the Great Depression and Krugman wrote just the other day that what we really need is a war with space aliens (I kid you not) to end the Great Recession.  So which is it?

By the way, I think wars are a total economic waste and drag on the nation.  Dedicating scarce resources to blowing stuff up is the worst possible use of capital.  However, diverting this into politically correct, politician-selected make-work projects is not really a lot better.

Worst Chart of the Day: Political Rather Than Mathematical Calculation of Trend Lines

Update:  Make sure to see bottom of post, I have run the numbers from the source and the chart below is proven to be totally BS.

In an effort to paint the current budget deficit as a tax shortfall (ie we don't take enough of others people's money) rather than a spending problem, Kevin Drum offers this chart:

OK, I was going to talk about how they cherry-picked the start date (which is the peak of spending at that time since WWII) and the end date (the left off the ugly 2011).  But I just can't bring myself to talk about anything else except those trendlines.  Not sure what algorithm Drum uses to create the trendlines -- they seem suspicious but surely someone in the science-based, reality-based community would not just draw them on by eye!

It is just incredibly disingenuous (and ballsy) to try to portray 2009 and 2010, which represented the highest numbers since WWII, as a declining trend line falling faster than revenues.

Postscript: Here is the longer view, from here, with projections which I presume come from the Obama budget.  I think if I took 1950 as a start point I would get pretty different trend lines.

Update: Here is the data right from the Federal web site with Excel adding a linear trend.  Sure looks like Drum is wildly exaggerating.  Just as in Drum's chart, red is outlays as a percentage of GDP, blue is collections.

So lets look at the longer trend.  WWII was obviously an anomaly, so we will jump to 1950 to make sure we are well past it.  And we will go through 2012, because those projections are probably pretty good (though optimistic on the spending side).

Here is Drum's chart, with the longer trend and actual mathematically rather than politically calculated trend lines.

 

Hmmmm.  Revenue or spending problem.  You make the call.

Greece: Where Default is, err, the Default State

One might think a line like about Greek finances was printed just this week

What followed could only be described as a comic progression of populist pandering [and] the spread to the national economy of a series of parasitic labor unions and cabals

But in fact it is describing Greek conditions circa 1944.

A while back I observed that the difference between Greek and US finances is that the US needs to return to a spending level circa 2007, while Greece has no similar default state of relative fiscal sanity it can return to.  This article in Finem Respice reinforces this premise by discussing the absolute insanity of Greek fiscal management before and after and even during WWII, which was characterized by all the exact same problems that have driven the current crisis.  Good background reading.

Greece, then as now, was dominated by an expensive public sector funded insufficiently by a tax system that did not work.  As may happen soon, Greece was not able to borrow, so all they could do was print money and inflation soared.  Only one man was able to stop the inflation, and I won't spoil the ending by the humorous way he did so.

Scenes From My Son Studying For His AP Exams

Scene 1, History AP:  My son asked me how WWII ended the Depression.  I said that the draft soaked up a lot of excess workers, which reduced unemployment, and British buying for the war helped our economy but that the war generally destroyed rather than created wealth.  He said, "Dad, you can't tell it to me that way.  The guy grading the AP is going to be a Keynesian."  So we talked multipliers and aggregate demand.

Scene 2, Spanish AP:  My son hands me a list of Spanish words he is trying to learn.  They are the Spanish words for things like "social justice,"  "poverty", "exploitation", etc.  I told him it was an odd selection of words.  He said that nearly every Spanish essay in every Spanish textbook he had ever had were about revolution and stopping the rich from exploiting the poor and fighting global warming.  So he wanted to be prepared for a similar topic on the AP.    After the test, I remembered this conversation and asked him what the essay was.  He said the topic was "show why the government of poor countries should give free bicycles to the poor to fight global warming."

Post Office: Mail Delivery or Welfare?

The management of the Post Office is a joke, and it is hardly worth the electrons to write more about it.   But I did find this factoid in Tad DeHaven's commentary on the Post Office's hopeless efforts at cost reduction interesting.

Traditional post offices, which number about 27,000, cannot be closed “for solely operating at a deficit” and the closure process is burdensome.

Wow, that is a bad law (though no worse than 10,000 others like it).  This sounds similar to the military base problem, where every facility that needs closure has a Congressperson desperately trying to keep it open against all economic reality, merely as a jobs/welfare program once its true utility is over.   Apparently, the Post Office has an overcapacity problem that rivals the US Military's after the Cold War (and really to be honest after WWII)

Full post offices are more costly to operate than other means of serving customers. The average post office transaction cost 23 cents per dollar of revenue in 2009 while the average transaction at a contract postal unit cost just 13 cents. Post offices used to generate almost all postal retail revenue, but 29 percent is now generated online through usps.com and other alternative channels.

In 2009 post offices recorded 117 million fewer transactions than in 2008. Four out of five post offices are operating at a loss. However, the postal network’s overcapacity has drawn little corrective action from Congress. In fact, legislation introduced in the House with 102 cosponsors would apply the burdensome procedures for closing post offices to other postal outlets as well. Congress is actively working against the modernization of the U.S. postal system.

The amazing thing is that they have tons of extra capacity and still provide poor service.  Just compare the process of mailing a package UPS vs. USPS.  I have a UPS account, I can print my own labels, I get billed automatically, I get package tracking, and I can send the package from the drop box downstairs in my building.

It is almost impossible to do this with the USPS.  To mail anything larger than 13 ounces, to buy postage without an expensive meter, to get a greatly inferior sort of tracking -- all require a grim trek to the post office.

My guess is that just like Pemex is not longer really about producing oil, the USPS mission is no longer primarily about delivering mail, its a welfare program.

PS - my USPS delivery guy is great.  Nicest guy in the world.  The mistake for years in criticizing the USPS has always been about criticizing the people.  Not only is that wrong, but it distracts from the problem.  By implying the problem is bad, surly people, it implies the problem is fixable with new people.  But in fact, the problem, as with all government, is information and incentives .... and in this case Congressional meddling in their mission.

Kevin Drum Is Still Repeating This Absurd Claim About Social Security

From Kevin Drum

Bob Somerby is following the latest Social Security chatter and hopes that Paul Krugman can explain how the trust fund works in an understandable way:

The trust fund is just an accounting fiction "” a pile of worthless IOUs! Generations of voters have been misled by such skillfully-wrought presentations.

....Krugman is our most valuable player by far "” our only player at the top of the press corps. Can he disentangle the trust fund scam in a way average people will understand? We don't know, and it isn't his job; no player should be expected to carry the ball on every play from scrimmage. Tomorrow, we'll offer our own ideas at how the "there-is-no-trust-fund nonsense" might best be approached, in a way average people can follow.

Well, hell, I'll take a crack at it. Here's the simple version.

In 1983, when we last reformed Social Security, we made an implicit deal between two groups of American taxpayers. Call them Groups A and B. For about 30 years, Group A would pay higher taxes than necessary, thus allowing Group B to reduce their tax rates. Then, for about 30 years after that, Group A would pay lower taxes than necessary and Group B would make up for this with higher tax rates.

This might have been a squirrelly deal to make. But it doesn't matter. It's the deal we made. And it's obviously unfair to change it halfway through.

This is an incredible fantasy.  Absolutely no one thirty years ago (Drum dates the "deal" to 1983) explicitly or even secretly crafted any such deal.  Seriously, is Drum really positing that a Democrat-dominated Congress led by for-god-sakes Tip O'Neil really said "lets have poor people pay some of rich people's taxes for thirty years?"  Just last night I was reading a quote from Hitler late in WWII that asserted he actually let the British escape from Dunkirk on purpose because he wanted the British to know he had no real quarrel with them.  While it certainly is true Hitler never really wanted a war with Britain, this is just a self-serving rewrite of history.  Drum is doing the same thing.  Its amazing to me that an obviously intelligent person can convince himself of this.

Here is the real, simple explanation of the Social Security trust fund:  Social Security was spinning off huge piles of money and no Congress person of either the Coke or the Pepsi party could resist grabbing it and spending it in a way that would support their reelection.  They ended up spending it all.  Every bit of it, all gone.  The Social Security trust fund is the Enron 401K plan stuffed with Enron stock.

Drum gets to his bizarre theory because he believes the fiscal discipline problem over the last 30 years was all due to tax cuts rather than spending, and that all these tax cuts were for rich people.   Of course, throughout the last 30 years, the share of taxes paid for by the rich have steadily risen, so the claim is absurd on its face, but the false assumptions it is built on are ones that every progressive accept as holy writ.

This paragraph is particularly a howler:

The physical embodiment of this deal is the Social Security trust fund. Group A overpaid and built up a pile of bonds in the trust fund. Those bonds are a promise by Group B to repay the money. That promise is going to start coming due in a few years, and it's hardly surprising that Group B isn't as excited about the deal now as it was in 1983. It's never as much fun paying off a loan as it is to spend the money in the first place.

It would be some exercise to try to define groups A and B in a non-overlapping manner.  The fact is everyone is in group A, as almost everyone overpays into Social Security on a return on capital basis -- the retirement income most people get represents generally a negative net ROI on the "premiums" paid.  And it is amazing to me that I have never heard that we now have government bonds that must be paid back only by a specific sub-section of the population.  It may very well have been a progressive assumption that only rich people would be on the hook for every dollar of government debt run up over the last 30 years, but that fact will likely be a surprise to just about everyone else in the country.  Here is his conclusion:

But pay it off they must. The rich have been getting a loan from the middle class for decades...

Delusional.

The Ever-Predictable Sheriff Joe

Via Valley Fever, Sheriff Joe is expanding his outdoor jail whose conditions are substantially worse than those at the nearby WWII POW camp where German prisoners were held.

In the words of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, 17 years ago today, "on a swelteringly hot day in 1993, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio opened the doors to the nation's largest canvas incarceration compound. Tent City, as it became known, would prove to be one of Sheriff Arpaio's best known and potentially most controversial programs."

Today, Arpaio's celebrating the anniversary by unveiling a new section of the compound: "Section 1070," specifically designated for those arrested under Arizona's controversial, new immigration law.

The new section can hold an additional 100 inmates but Arpaio says he expects that number to grow.

"Citizens here sincerely hope that SB 1070 will result in large numbers of illegal aliens being captured and arrested by local law enforcement officers," Arpaio says. "I'm not so certain that will actually happen. But on the assumption it does, then as the Sheriff of this county, I am ready. Tent City is ready. There will never be the excuse that this jail hasn't enough room for violators of SB 1070."

Post-War Devastation

We associate photos like this one with the devastation of post-war Europe.

02394a.preview

In fact, this is a post-war photo, but it is of Charleston, South Carolina after the Civil War.   We seldom think of such scenes as being relevent to the US, but the South was at least as destroyed after the Civil War as Germany was after WWII.   Sherman's march to the sea in Georgia was famous for its devastation, but in their letters, many of Sherman's soldiers say they were particularly ferocious in South Carolina, the state that they most associated with the war and its start  (though much of the devastation in Charleston was self-inflicted, as a fire to burn the remaining cotton and keep it out of Yankee hands spread to the rest of the city).

Full sized image at Shorpy

Still Missing the Point

Discussions about Guantanamo still seem to focus on moving the prisoners to another facility.  This is exactly the danger I warned about several years ago -- that focusing too much on Gitmo itself as a facility was missing the whole point.  The problem was indefinite detentions without due process, not the facility per se.  But since so much of the press latched onto Gitmo itself as the problem, it as allowed the administration to say that it is solving the problem by eliminating Gitmo and moving the prisoners  (either to Illinois or Afghanistan, the plan keeps changing) while still clinging to the position that it should still have the power to detain people at the President's pleasure.

Dhalia Lithwick has a good article on just what a mess we have created at Gitmo.  Are there potential, even past, terrorists there?  Probably.  But I could probably say that there are current or past criminals in any random 1000 people I might sweep off the street.  That doesn't justify locking them up  -- as a country, we have always said that it is better to free the innocent at the cost of potentially missing some of the guilty.

And please don't hammer me again in the comments with "there is a war on and these are just POW's."  Sorry, they are nothing like traditional POW's.  They were not caught on the battlefield, were not in uniform, in many cases were just turned in by other people for a bounty.  I think I would accept that maybe slightly different rules apply to these folks than to a person arrested on 5th Avenue in New York, but on the other hand supporters of their detention need to admit that some extra scrutiny needs to exist vs. traditional POW rules, as in this case their very combatant status is unclear, something that was not the case in, say, with most POW's in WWII.

My Problem with the KSM Trial

I have been saying for years that some sort of due process needs to be applied to Gitmo detainees.  I am not knowledgeable enough to know if this should be a civilian trial or military tribunal or what, but just the fact that they are non-citizens does not give us the right to detain them indefinitely without due process.  Yeah, I get the POW/battlefield analogy, but one also has to reasonably admit the nature of this process today is different than in, say, the defined battlefields with combatants in uniforms in WWII.    The very question of who is a combatant is unclear, so it merits more due diligence to make sure these assertions are made correctly.

Anyway, I suppose I am happy KSM is getting some sort of due process.  But I must say I absolutely hate the precedent being set here -- no, not the one the Conservatives are worried about, bringing a terrorist to trial in a civilian court.  I don't like the precedent of a trial where the government promises that there is already a pre-determined outcome.  US Attorney General Holder seems to be saying there is no possibility of acquittal, but a trial without a possibility of acquittal is not a trial.

Things I Didn't Know

As both a computer geek and a WWII buff, I of course know something of Alan Turing's incredible contributions to both.  I also knew he was gay, but didn't think much about it.  What I didn't know was how horribly he was abused by the British government, actions for which the government has now appologized:

In 1952, he was convicted of "˜gross indecency' -- in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence -- and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison -- was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

A lot more at the link.  I am constantly amazed at how we tend to elevate the mediocre while treating the truly great so shabbily.

Postscript: The most entertaining way to learn something about Turing, albeit in fictionalized form, is to read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, one of my favorite books.  The story is good (not great, but good) but the writing is just fabulous.  Who else could entertain one for page after page on the physics of eating Cap'n Crunch cereal?

The 41st Worst Jobs Report Ever

This was sent to me by a reader:  Much as looking at percentage moves in the Dow is much more meaningful than looking at nominal points moves (500 points means a lot less when the average is at 10,000 than when it is at 1,000), it is useful to look at the recent jobs report in the same way.  While 553,000 lost jobs is certainly a lot, it is only the 41st worst loss since WWII when looked at as a percentage of the workforce  (and it would be much further down the list if we had similar metrics back into the 1930's and 1920's).  Via Bespoke Investment Group:

jobloss

This tends to confirm the statement I made last week, that this recession is likely worse than anything a 20-something Obama supporter can remember, but is not yet even close to some of the problem years of the 1970's, much less the 1930's.

By the way, it is interesting to see all those 1950's dates in there but no dates in the last 25 years, given there are many who have been writing about the current economy being so much riskier for workers than the 1950's.

Exaggerated Security Threats and Civil Liberties

From Eric L Muller's "Hirabayashi:  The Biggest Lie of the Greatest Generation" which studies the Supreme Court decision upholding race-based civil rights restrictions (eg curfews) in WWII.

This Article presents new archival evidence of an enormous lie that Executive Branch officials presented to the Supreme Court in the Japanese American litigation of World War II, one that impugns Hirabayashi at least as much as it does Korematsu. The lie concerns what might be termed the "external" component of the national security threat in early 1942 "“ the danger that Japanese military forces posed to the West Coast of the United States.  The government's brief in Hirabayashi did not mince words about that external threat: The "principal danger" that military officials "apprehended" was "a Japanese invasion"  which "might have threatened the very integrity of our nation."  With the Japanese "at the crest of their military fortunes," the brief maintained, military officials found it "imperative" to "take adequate protective measures against a possible invasion of the West Coast."  The nighttime curfew on Japanese Americans was one such measure.

This depiction of the external Japanese threat found a sympathetic audience in the Supreme Court in Hirabayashi. Chief Justice Stone, writing for the unanimous Court, accepted that the men "charged with the responsibility of our national defense had ample ground for concluding that they must face the danger of invasion," a danger that concurring Justice Douglas insisted was "not fanciful but real." Singling out Japanese Americans for curfew was reasonable because of their "ethnic affiliations with an invading enemy."

Archival records now make clear that all of this talk of a threatened Japanese invasion was a massive distortion of the actual military situation in the eastern Pacific in early 1942. There was at that time no danger of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast. The army and navy viewed any sort of Japanese invasion of California, Oregon, or Washington as impracticable. They were neither anticipating nor preparing for any such event. Indeed, during the key time period of early 1942, the Army was more concerned with scaling back the defense of the West Coast from land attack than with bolstering it.

Wow.  Exaggeration of a security threat as an excuse to curtail civil rights.  Gee, I'm sure glad that doesn't happen anymore.  HT:  Jonathon Adler

Down With DST

I think that Arizona's decision not to go on DST is a great one.  Being outside in the summer sunshine in Phoenix can be miserable, but the desert cools very quickly once the sun goes down.  The earlier the sun goes down in the summer, the better as far as I am concerned.  Within an hour or two after sunset, it is pleasant to sit and eat and play outside.

A new study seems to show that DST increases electricity use, rather than reducing it.  DST was, if my memory serves, a WWII innovation to save electricity.  It does so quite well if electricity demand is driven mainly by lighting.  It lets one read and function by sunlight in the evening hours.   However, as air conditioning has become a larger element of electricity demand, that equation is changing.  DST can lead to higher air conditioning loads in the evenings.

Our main finding is that"”contrary to the policy's intent"”DST increases
residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase range
from 1 to 4 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant
throughout the DST period. There is some evidence of electricity
savings during the spring, but the effect lessens, changes sign, and
appears to cause the greatest increase in consumption near the end of
the DST period in the fall. These findings are consistent with
simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for
lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling. Based on the
dates of DST practice before the 2007 extensions, we estimate a cost of
increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $8.6 million per
year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions
that range from $1.6 to $5.3 million per year.

Most Pathetic Interview Ever

I don't know if this has made the blog rounds yet (I have been out of touch and have not gotten through me feed reader today) but this is perhaps one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.  It's a 40 second interview with a woman named Geri Punteney in Iowa about Barack Obama on the left of this page  (ironically, NPR makes you listen to a brief commercial before you hear the clip).

You really, really need to take the time to listen.  I will include an excerpt below, but you won't get the full effect of the woman absolutely in tears through the statement, crying because she had gotten to touch someone she had seen on TV.

A few weeks ago, at the home in Oelwein, Iowa, she shares with her mother, Punteney said she'd been inspired to see Obama when he came to the area.                        

"I'd seen the commercials," she said. "And he just seemed sincere, like he's for people like my mom, my brother and me."                        

Many people feel politicians may not be the first place to turn when in dire need of help. But Punteney said she was confident Obama could do something to make her feel better.                     
"I never had anyone pay attention to me and my needs "” and he held my hand," she said.

He can do something to make me feel better?  Barf.  Can it really be that my future freedom and prosperity depend on how this woman votes?  Have we really given this woman so much power over the rest of us?  Have we really throttled back the most productive in society so this woman can feel like she is keeping up?  Have I really become the sacrificial lamb to this woman's need to feel better?

And, oh by the way, in case I have not gone off on this rant in the last five minutes or so, Obama can care because he can promise you whatever you desire, and then he can force me to pay for it.  Unlike people in private life who really do care, politicians don't actually pay for their promises because they can force other people to do it for them.  Worse, politicians like Obama reap the praises of women like this for being caring, while vilifying people like me who are productive and make his caring possible.  It just makes me sick.

Oh, and how much did Obama really care?  Not much, it seems:

I brought a tape recorder to Punteney's house and played her moment
with Obama back for her "” and his suggestion that he'd write her
brother a note. He never did.                        

"He
didn't have time, I guess," she said. "I understand. You know, he was
bombarded by so many people. But just knowing he knows "” that's more
important than a note."

So here it is:  Cares enough to spend Coyote's money:  Yes.  Cares enough to actually expend some effort himself:  No way.

Indeed, Punteney seemed to get just what she wanted from Obama. She got noticed.

How about a trade, Ms. Punteney?  If I promise to get you to an Oprah show, will you promise not to ever vote?

Update: Yeah, I know, her brother has leukemia, which is sad.  The lack of portability of his health insurance is also pain, a result of WWII wage control policy and subsequent tax policy that encouraged the practice.    Sorry, but this need to be touched and noticed by a second or third term Congressman is pathetic. 

Remembering East Berlin, With a Thought about Health Care

I remember in about 1978 going on a bus tour into East Berlin through checkpoint Charlie.  It is hard to describe to my kids what a creepy experience this was.  The state-run tour was clearly run by the propaganda ministry, and they really pulled out all the stops to convince you that life was great in the East.  The interesting part is that all this propaganda failed miserably.  No matter what streets they took you down, you couldn't help but notice the stark contrast in prosperity between East and West.  East Berlin was full of buildings in 1978 that still had not been rebuilt from WWII bomb damage  (this actually might have been a plus, since much of West Berlin was rebuilt in that hideous 50's European public architecture).

The most amazing statement was when the tour guide bragged, "And over 70% of everyone in the city has running water."  It was just so clueless and pathetic, to be so out of touch that what Westerners considered a statistic indicating poverty was hailed as one they thought indicated wealth.

I was reminded of this story when I read the British NHS response to an article that over 70,000 Britons a year travel abroad for health care.  Their response was:

A Department of Health official said the number of patients seeking
treatment abroad was a tiny fraction of the 13 million treated on the
NHS each year.

Waiting times had fallen. Almost half of patients
were treated within 18 weeks of seeing a GP. Most people who had
hospital care did not contract infections.

I had exactly the same response as I did to the East Berlin tour guide.  Half within 18 weeks?!  That's PATHETIC.  Again, what we Americans know to be awful service is being bragged about as a sign of excellence. 

The really creepy part, though, is that America is the last place on Earth that people understand that a medical system can do much better than 18 weeks.  But we are likely to elect a President in the next election whose goal is to bring our system down to the level of the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, someday our grandkids may not know any better.