Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I blame global warming

From the Guardian:

A beaver has attacked a 60-year-old fisherman in Belarus, slicing an artery and causing him to bleed to death.
It was the latest in a series of beaver attacks on humans in the country, as the rodents, who have razor-sharp teeth, have turned increasingly aggressive after wandering near homes, shops and schools.

Why regulation is good

Bloomberg's Craig Torres has an excellent little history of the demand to create a national reserve bank.

It was one of the sorest political points in early United States history, with populists against it, but eventually they bowed to reality. This is the reality they bowed to:

America was caught up in an industrial revolution that its banking system couldn’t sustain, as the letter from Gleason emphasizes. Glass and his Senate partner on the bill, Robert Latham Owen Jr. -- a lifelong friend and Oklahoma Democrat who, like Glass, was born in Lynchburg -- would watch the banking system trip the economy time and again.
Between 1890 and 1914, there were eight recessions lasting an average of 18 months, including banking crises in 1893 and 1907. Shopkeepers, factory owners, farmers and even bankers had identified the U.S. financial system as a matter of national importance.
Teaconomists please note: in a low-debt, no regulation, small gubmint environment, the economy failed to grow, it crashed every seven years and it did not rapidly recover if left to itsself.

After the New Deal, the economy grew steadily, it never crashed. That's why I'm a New Dealer. The New Deal made capitalism work.

Quite apart from the conspiracy theorists (who when examined under a lens often turn out to be Jew-haters) who think the Federal Reserve and other reserve banks are private enterprises secretly controlling the world, the only slightly less eccentric Teac nomists for some reason want to go back to the pre-1913 condition.

And they pretty much have the Republican Party in a headlock.

I sometimes hear it said that there is no impersonal "market," only real people running businesses and households. True enough so far as it goes. But if you insist on looking at it that way, it puts a dfferent light on Andy Mellon's advice to Herbert Hoover in 1930 to "liquidate labor" etc.

Few if any 21st century rightwingers are as honest as Andy Mellon was, but that's what they were advocating in lae 2008 and 2009.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Evolution of a song title

It occurs to me that Bob McDill's song title "Good Ole Boys Like Me" is more ambiguous in the age of all-comers marriage than it was when Don Williams sang it in 1979.

Miss Atomic Energy of 1948 turns 90

She outlived the nuclear power plant construction business.

(Hat tip:

Book Review 279: The World of Herb Caen

Herb caen

THE WORLD OF HERB CAEN San Francisco 1938-1997, edited by Barnaby Conrad. 128 pages, illustrated.  Chronicle, $35

Newspaperman Herb Caen is the one who nicknamed San Francisco “Baghdad-by-the-Bay.” In the 21st century it sounds like an insult.

It wasn’t meant so then, when Baghdad was associated with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Sindbad.

How long ago it seems now.

When I was a young newspaperman in the East, I used to envy Caen. How wonderful it would be,  I thought, to have readers feed me such lines.

I’m older now and I suspect a lot of those reader lines originated with Caen. He sure could get a lot into a few words.

Just a few years separate the young Caen from F.P.A., but Caen sounds as fresh today as he did when he died, at an extremely youthful 80 years of age, in 1997, while Franklin Pierce Adams (what lout of a parent would name a son after Franklin Pierce, anyway?) seems as antique as the Augustan penmen of the 18th century he used to imitate.

Caen, though, was an antique in a way, the last American boulevardier.

This book offers a tiny but amusing sample of Caen’s output, with lots of pictures.

I was only an occasional reader of Caen in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, usually when some provincial scribe lifted one of his items. Copies of the Examiner or Chronicle didn’t make it back east too often.

I was surprised and slightly disappointed to find that, when it came to so-called national tragedies like the shooting of Jack Kennedy, Caen was as mawkish almost as the columnists in the provinces.

Sodom and Go-Moore-ah

I was looking for the nation's noisiest and most disgusting religious bigots to declare that the tornado that swept Moore, Oklahoma, clean was the work of a righteously angry deity, the way Pat Robertson and Bryan Fischer did when Sandy flooded that den of iniquity New York.

But no. Not a peep out of either of those pus-filled charlatans, so far as I can find with the help of Mr. Google or Rightwing Watch.

Why is that?

Could it be that Oklahoma is the home of the 900-foot Jesus and a lot of pharaisaical Christians ? And one brave atheist.

Truly, the Moore tornadoes are the gift that keeps on giving to RtO. Never has one event so neatly skewered so many of the people RtO detests.

Hypocritical, money-grubbing preachers? Check

Hypocritical, money-grubbing Republican senators? Check

Hysterical climate alarmists? Check

Anti-regulating, small government Tea Party nuts? Check

Of course, it doesn't take am F5 tornado to knock down their houses of cards, but I couldn't have written a better script to expose the fallacies of the right wing.

Turns out, the Moore storm was not the first to hit the town. It wasn't even the first F5.

F5 tornadoes are slightly more numerous than Category 5 hurricanes, but there are only a few each year, spread over a vast range from Ontario to the Gulf Coast. For 2 to hit the same 10-square-mile spot in less than 15 years is remarkable (and to miss all the trailer parks still more remarkable), but Moore can claim to be the heart of Tornado Alley -- apparently it gets about 2 tornadoes every 3 years.

You may have heard somewhere that true blue rightwing Americans take responsibility for their own affairs and don't need any meddling bureaucrats to tell or even encourage them to look after themselves. So naturally, most Moore-ites had tornado shelters or safe rooms, and the buildings put up with grudgingly given tax dollars were both built to take a punch and provided with safe places for the children?

Of course not. Dollars are way more valuable than children in Moore. You can always make more babies.

But perhaps they are now having second, third or fourth thoughts? No.

Moore, Oklahoma, could obviously easily have afforded to protect its children. Moore is rich. No trailer parks.

But at least the Moore-ites intend to pull themselves back up by their own bootstraps without any meddling from the hated national gubmint? Well, no, of course not.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why are Republican lawyers so dumb about the law?

There is no IRS scandal (see "Mass nervous breakdown over IRS review," May 21) but there is a little mini-scandal about the grandstanding congressional inquiry into the imaginary scandal.

A Republican congressman who claims to be a former prosecutor, and therefore, one would suppose, someone familiar with the rules of court procedure, thinks Lois Lerner abandoned her Fifth Amendment protections by stating to Rep. Darrell Issa's witchhunt squad that she had not done anything wrong. She did not say what she had done. That is an important factoid.

The volkisch view of the 5th, absorbed by older Americans via noir detective films, is not anything like the actual, legal meaning of the Amendment. If you are a witness in court, even if you have not been charged with anything, you have to invoke (a more proper term than the usual "plead") the 5th at the start.

Give your name and address and invoke the 5th. Do anything further, and the judge will likely direct you to answer the prosecutor's questions.

This is to protect the boundaries of cross-examination.

Issa, no lawyer though he's had a lot of time in court as a miscreant where he might have picked up a notion or two, at first rejected Rep. Cordray's plea for doing cross. Later, realizing he'd missed a chance to smear someone, he said he might change his mind.

Informed, as opposed to congressional, opinion, is trending toward the actual, legal use of the 5th.

A full-throated liberal statement is here. But even libertarians (a libertarian is a Republican who has read a book) are kinda, sorta OK with the traditional view of the jurisconsults.

On the other hand, a certified liberal with a long memory says Lerner can be put in the calaboose, because it is a well-established (by the Warren Court, no less, those leftists) that a witchhunting congressperson can throw you in durance vile anyhow, and the Constitution be damned.

RtO is with rightwingers like Professor Orin Kerr on this one: Lerner's statement does not contain anything she could be cross-examined on (because there are rules about cross procedure, too).

But in a practical matter, we're betting the liberal Professor Alan Dershowitz is correct and Lerner will become another martyr to neo-McCarthyism.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A good little girl, but without a gun

So much for the idea that keeping your home full of guns will allow you to cope with a bad man -- 2 bad men, in this case -- with a shotgun and a pistol.

From the sheriff's sergeant said:

:“The shooter outside the window was literally two or three feet away, maximum, from this girl,” said Sacramento County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Ramos. “And pumped four rounds in a very tight group.”
In a 4-year-old girl. Outside the window, firing by the light of the TV. So, no chance for mamma to grab the ol' hogleg and shoot back.

The neighbor said:

“In my day, there used to be some standards,” Larry Ellis, a neighbor of the Campos family told the Bee. “You didn’t go mess with someone’s family.”
Yeah, but that was before gun-olatry was amped up by a multimillion-dollar disinformation lobby and a million-man army of delusional gun nuts.


Mass nervous breakdown over IRS review

No one could be surprised by the reaction of the Teadiots to the revelation that they were being asked, just like anyone else, to support their application for a tax exemption. The whining of the Teadiots is as much a part of summer as the whining of mosquitoes. That they think that being asked to perform the duties of ordinary citizens has "singled them out" just reinforces the obvious fact that Teadiocricy is all about me, me, me and my rights and nothing ever about us, us, us, Americans with duties to each other. But it is surprising, a little, that most of the reality-based community has bought into this nonsense. True, no one wants to be seen as a friend of the Infernal Revenue Service, except RtO. RtO thinks taxes and tax compliance made this country great. Teadiocrity made Greece Greece and Italy Italy, as least as regards the public fisc. So, regrettably, RtO cannot restate the obvious about the imaginary IRS scandal. It will have to state the position as if it were new, although it really isn't. The key points are: 1. The Teadiots and conservatives were not singled out. Other, evidently leftish groups, also had to demonstrate their fitness for the 501(c)4 exemption. For example, Progress Texas. The difference is, the leftists have not been caterwauling about it. 2. What the IRS did was completely ordinary and necessary. In 2010, there was an explosion in new groups, partly, probably, because of the egregious Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. These groups had no history, no evidence of past activities to indicate what exactly they did. Of course the IRS demanded evidence in justification of awarding a valuable exemption. The fact that, on the face of it, the Tea Party was entirely political and was proudly and loudly claiming it was going to sweep its partisans into office at the coming election would have raised the suspicions of anyone that perhaps a Teadiot or related organization might not really be primarily an educational group. Let me restate this obvious fact: The Tea Party 502(c)4 applications were prima facie suspect of being fraudulent. There was before the public no evidence -- zero, nil, nada, not any -- that Tea Party groups were non-political. It is not true that more Teadiots were audited than other political groups, although even if this were true, it would hardly be surprising. Teahadism was something new, at least in a political organizational sense. Most other -isms had been around and organized long enough that they were not applying for exemptions de novo. Yet even so, Teahadis were a smallish minority of those chosen for close review. All the above is so obvious that it shouldn't need comment, though of course, it does. The next is speculative: It may be (though I doubt it) that not all the Teadiot applications were fraudulent. Some may have been the result of mere ignorance of the law. The fantasy levels of the Tea Partiers I was talking with at that time were at RED ALERT levels.

Friday, May 17, 2013

How many rights are enough?

I am hardly following the dispute about why the government demanded Associated Press phone records, although it may be that it was unwise for the government to have done so. Here's why: I do not think newspapermen should have more citizen rights than anybody else. So, no shield laws. When I was a newspaperman, I was content to have the same civil liberties as my brother, who is not a newspaperman. There is, of course, an inherent tension, sometimes boiling over into bitter conflict, about the proper duties of government and the proper duties of a free press. The press is weaker but over the centuries, as the government evolved and became more self-aware, it tended to compromise more with journalists. The excesses of the first Adams administration were reversed, and the excesses of the Wilson administration were later seen, even by those in government, to have hurt even government's interests. It has not always been a one-way path to free expression. Think Nixon. But until recently, the public was doing better and better about being informed of what its government was doing, and fewer and fewer people were being punished for their opinions. The press, at its best, practiced some self-restraint in the interests of the wider benefit of society. This sort of negotiation of competing and, at some point, irreconcilable interests, is possible only when grown-ups are involved on both sides. In late years, grown-ups have in too many cases been chased off the field by the likes of, on one side, Roger Ailes, and, on the other, by Dick Cheney. We can see a like takeover of the childish in the field of the Second Amendment as well.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The follies of austerity

In The New York Times Review of Books, Paul Krugman writes an elegant piece demolishing the fantasies of the Teaconomists. (It is not much of a book review, however, barely mentioning the books supposedly under scrutiny, although I liked to see David Stockman ridiculed as a know-nothing goldbug.) Nut grafs:
How decisive was the turn in policy? Figure 1, which is taken from the IMF’s most recent World Economic Outlook, shows how real government spending behaved in this crisis compared with previous recessions; in the figure, year zero is the year before global recession (2007 in the current slump), and spending is compared with its level in that base year. What you see is that the widespread belief that we are experiencing runaway government spending is false—on the contrary, after a brief surge in 2009, government spending began falling in both Europe and the United States, and is now well below its normal trend. The turn to austerity was very real, and quite large.
Clear evidence on the effects of economic policy is usually hard to come by. Governments generally change policies reluctantly, and it’s hard to distinguish the effects of the half-measures they undertake from all the other things going on in the world. The Obama stimulus, for example, was both temporary and fairly small compared with the size of the US economy, never amounting to much more than 2 percent of GDP, and it took effect in an economy whipsawed by the biggest financial crisis in three generations. How much of what took place in 2009–2011, good or bad, can be attributed to the stimulus? Nobody really knows.
Three years after the turn to austerity, then, both the hopes and the fears of the austerians appear to have been misplaced. Austerity did not lead to a surge in confidence; deficits did not lead to crisis. But wasn’t the austerity movement grounded in serious economic research? Actually, it turned out that it wasn’t—the research the austerians cited was deeply flawed.
(As RtO has observed more than once, business confidence is a bad thing. When is confidence highest? Right before a crash.) I recommend reading the whole thing. There is one part of it, however, that I cannot accept. Krugman says nobody saw the crash of 2008 coming or if they were nervous, knew it was going to be so bad. RtO did. I recognized the problem around December 2007; this blog did not open for business until a few weeks later. From the start, and over and over, RtO recommended getting out of securities and into cash. I think I was getting strident about it by May. The crash came in October. I do not pretend that I saw it in spreadsheets. I saw it in history; to be specific, I was persuaded that the insolvency of Bear Stearns must mean that all the big financial houses were insolvent, since the so-called rationalization of financial markets had required that all players operate purely as hot-money banks. That that was unsustainable was obvious to anyone who had studied the Great Depression or, for that matter, paid attention to the way the S&Ls worked in the Reagan crash. If you think I'm breaking an arm patting myself on the back, well, the early posts of RtO are still up. Read 'em and weep (but you'll have to go to The Maui News blog; this mirror site did not start until 2012). When it comes to austerians, as Krugman calls them, both RtO and Andy Mellon advised liquidating securities. The only difference was that RtO recommended doing it before they had lost two-thirds of their value.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Racism found in rightwing; who knew?

It turns out that, in accord with leftwing suppositions, rightwing economics is all about stupid racism, ain't it? See, for example, Jason Richwine, rightwing Harvard Nazi, forced by the light of publicity to resign from Heritage, although I have not seen that Heritage is also withdrawing his disgusting "study" of immigration. Somebody named Berkeley Bear sums up the situation better than RtO can: "When I first heard this story, I was sure the bombshell allegations were buried somewhere in Richwine's PhD, or were tangential to the main argument. But nope - the Abstract is a love letter to the Bell Curve, only with Messicans for African Americans. He even gives a sloppy shout out to Charles Murray in the Abstract. "Harvard continues to prove that the easiest path to prominence in academia is to be a committed contrarian right wing dick. Because somehow it would be less than fair for the critic of Murray on his committee to torpedo the little shit for being a racist nut, instead of going along and signing off on the slanted ravings of a guy utterly unqualified to comment on psychology because they were dressed up in the right terms to satisfy academic discussion. Irony is he'd have had a lot less chance getting a degree at a 'lesser' institution, one that can't afford to keep a little subsect of reactionary and largely worthless faculty around to the help provide 'balance.' "Never mind that all that effort is for naught, as these assholes go on to work at AEI, Heritage and all the other rightwing 'think tanks' that then attack Harvard as a commie cell."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Free lunch tomorrow!

A long tome ago (I meant to wrote time but tome works also), RtO set out to learn how economics works. In terms of insihs gained vs. time invested, it was one of the most unprofitable investments ever, ad RtO never found an equation that was not, like the famous Drake equation in exobiology, all unknowns. But one line stuck, and it is as relevant today as in 1933. Objecting to the fantasies of the invisible handers, who promised we would all be better off in the long run if we would just take a dose of their snake oil today, Harry Hopkins said, "People don't eat in the long run They eat every day." The preposterous public statement of the star long-ender Niall Furguson (see previous comment) has produced a lot of comment, including this very good one from Lord Skidelsky, biographer of J.M. Keynes:
The principle of not sacrificing the present for the future can be seen in Keynes’s intolerance of persistent mass unemployment — sacrificing the current generation of workers to secure long-term improvements in the labor market. It emerges in his rejection of “debt bondage” — the imposition of crushing long-term obligations on borrowers, undermining their prosperity. “The absolutists of contract,” he wrote, “are the real parents of revolution.”
But please read the whole thing. That pretty much sums up where Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz have adopted their critique of the beggar-they-neighbor policies of Teconomics. (Stiglitz got his education in how tha works while watching the destruction wrought by the World Band and IMF and is, to my mind, more persuasive for that reason than the academically-oriented Krugman.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A last Naill in the coffin of rightwing economics

The Tea Party has been quiet on Maui for a while. Now I know why. A letter to the editor of The Maui News today from local Tea Party hostess Rhonda Glass says she has shaken the red dust of Maui from her feet and moved to the "Republic of Texas," which she likes way better, because of no income tax. Good, she can use that money to rebuild her house when the fertilizer plant next door blows up, because no zoning and no regulation, either.

It's been a bad week for Teaconomics. Not only is oil acting funny (see previous post), Niall Ferguson made such a stupid remark about John M. Keynes that he had to apologize, but everybody is calling him a creep anyway.

Matthew Klein has an outstanding commentary on the hoof-in-mouth disease of rightwing superstar  Ferguson. Read the whole thing, including the comments, which are by no means all pro-Klein.

However, RtO wants to add a historic footnote to this. Klein quickly switches his fire over to Greg Mankiw, who was George Bush's Teaconomist and teaches at the same rightwing academy in Cambridge as Ferguson.

Klein, in defending, basically, the New Deal, cites some economists who, unlike Ferguson and Mankiw, do not get the vapors over a little deficit spending. For example: "Gary Gorton and Guillermo Ordonez have even argued that 'government bonds are net wealth' because they can always be used as collateral." Unless they are tsarist bonds.

However, the point RtO wants to make is, do you know who else used to make that argument? Ronald Reagan's economists, that's who. The Internet does not reach far back enough for me to dredge it out, but when Reagan was running up the national debt, the Wall Street Journal was describing the deficits as "savings."


I don't think many leftwingers can be found describing borrowing as "savings," but it was the coin of the Republican realm back in the dear dead days of Ron. We were also assured then that the Savings and Loan collapse was really a great opportunity, because the money had been used to build all these empty office buildings, and while the notes behind the construction had been magickally disappeared, the buildings were still there, ready to accommodate an expanding economy.

And you know what? For once, the rightwing economists were right. Houston at the time had empty Class A office space equal to ALL the office space in Des Moines, Iowa. (The reason I know this extremely obscure factoid is that I was writing business news in Des Moines but visiting my father-in-law in Houston at the time.)

Sure enough, in not too many years, the empty skyscrapers of downtown Houston were pretty full.

Of course, the original owners were no longer owners and were probably mowing the lawns of the current owners (just kiddin', of course they weren't. Immigrants do that in Texas.)

MORAL: The eternal verities of rightwing economics are neither eternal nor veracious, but they can be surprising.

Peak oil

We were assured that US oil production has passed its peak, never to recur. Then this:

U.S. crude inventories probably rose from a 82-year high as domestic output remained near the most in two decades and demand fell, a Bloomberg survey showed.
Meanwhile, gasoline demand is way down.

However, although demand is way down, and production is way up, "Imports jumped 602,000 a day, or 8 percent, to 8.17 million barrels, the most since Jan. 4."

That old invisible hand works funny.

RtO is not looking for $10/barrel oil any time soon, though. Robert Precter was, as recently as August 2009:

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil may plunge to less than $10 a barrel in the next decade after surging to a record $147 last year, said Robert Prechter, who achieved fame for cautioning on Oct. 5, 1987, that stocks would crash.
Oh, well, at least we won't have to go to war for oil again, although RtO doesn't recall that a) we got any oil the last time; or b) Syria has a lot of oil.

There are different ways to measure inflation. Measured by what reporters are paid at The Maui News, oil that was $10 in 1987 would be around $18 now, in constant dollars. Today's crude price is around $95. Hmmm.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Golden boys

When it comes to sex, the Air Force is descending rapidly into territory that had been owned by the Catholic Church.

Today in Washington was a twofer, first,  the newly appointed commander of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response command was arrested:

A police report says that the 41-year-old Krusinski was drunk and grabbed a woman’s breast and buttocks. Police say the woman fought him off and called police.
Hours later, another three-star general was revealed to have arbitrarily overturned the conviction by court martial of  another fighter jock/rapist.

RtO will forbear to restate the obvious on this one, as no doubt you've already seen it several places and thought of it yourself. It's that obvious. However, there is something else obvious about these cases, and so far as I get around, I have not seen it stated, so let's go on with it.

The reason lieutenant generals won't uphold a conviction of the pilot of a hot fighter plane is that the USG cannot afford to replace experienced fighter pilots. Although you will never hear Lindsey Graham of the Judge Advocate General corps (reserve) say so, a veteran fighter pilot is about as expensive for the taxpayers as Solyndra.

It costs at least tens of millions and probably hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a fighter pilot with, say, 2,000 hours flight time in hot jets. Those hours don't come cheap. If the military started washing out pilots just for being drunken rapists, the Fed couldn't print bonds fast enough to pay for replacements, not to mention that it takes some years to replace a lieutenant colonel, even if he was a straight arrow.

You would think this would be obvious, but apparently not. Perhaps it wouldn't have been obvious to me had I not subscribed to I.F. Stone's Bi-Weekly back in the late '60s.

For those youngsters who never heard of him, Stone was a widely admired commie reporter (and also a capitalist small businessman, publisher of I.F. Stone's Bi-Weekly out of his Washington apartment).

He was admired not for his communism -- despite what you've heard, the average American newspaper reporter is and always has been anticommunist -- but for what he discovered.

Stone went deaf. Although newspaper publishers believed that reporters could get all the calories they would ever need from the free lunch counter of the saloon that lay just outside the newsroom door in every city and town, reporters have to eat regular.

When deafness foreclosed Stone's career as an interviewer, in desperation he began reading government reports. He learned, as he used to later teach us cubs, that the government does not have any secrets. It publishes everything it knows, somewhere. You just have to find it.

Stone was soon exploding bombshell after bombshell under the government, and although he could  be and was ignored by the people who owned the big presses, he couldn't be contradicted. He was, after all, just quoting official sources.

Stone was perhaps the only American reporter who understood the Vietnamese. In particular, there was a time in 1968-69 when those paladins of morality, the Nixonians, were denouncing the Viet commies as moral lepers for refusing to an exchange, even up, man for man, of prisoners of war.

Few if any newspaper editorialists of the time thought that was anything less than fairplay and humanity. In the Bi-Weekly, Stone, ever market-oriented, revealed the truth of the matter.

The US was paying $600,000 to train a combat pilot (here Stone way underestimated the ability of the Air Force and Navy to spend money), while a Vietnamese infantryman cost approximately nothing. Being poor, the Vietnamese wanted to bleed the US Treasury dry, so that we would give up, which they did and we did.

The sums are different today but the calculus is the same.

This also explains why the Navy was unwilling to do anything real about the Tailhook scandals.

Parking, parking, who's got the parking?

North Market Street is an intreresting place to do business in many ways, but it was even better before the county started eliminating parking spaces. It's got the old Main Street vibe that old folks like me recall before the rise of malls.

(I spent my early teen years living about 2 miles from the first shopping mall in the country, Lennox Square. Unlike real Main Streets, malls empty out when the management makes the stores close.)

Saturday,I went out to see what more parking means for business. The locale: the Upcountry farmers market.

The market used to be held at the Eddie Tam Community Center in Makawao, near my house, which has maybe a dozen parking stalls. And it used to attract about 6 vendors and perhaps two dozen customers over the course of a couple of hours every Saturday morning. 

If somebody was setting up the meeting room in the center for a baby luau or birthday party, which was usually the case, there was even less parking.

Over a year ago, for reasons unrelated to parking, the market was moved to the private parking lot next to Longs at Kulamalu Town Center. 

It took a while for people to get used to it, but nowadays, the farmers market draws at least 5o vendors and I don't know how many customers. But last Saturday, the parking lot -- RtO didn't count, but it has probably 300-400 stalls -- was full. Overfull. 

People wanting to get at the locally-made jellies, just-picked avocados, fresh greens and sausage biscuits (among many other things) had to park along the access road, and the overflow of cars reached nearly to Maikalani (the offices of the Institute for Astronomy).

I cannot think of a clearer example of what you need for business stimulation.

Whatever the anticar people think, Americans are not going to start riding bicycles to work and shop. Ain't gonna happen as long as they want to go to Costco and come up with 240 disposable diapers, 48 rolls of toilet paper and 6 gallons of picante sauce.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Invisible hands

I'd like some free marketeer to explain to me why the following statement could be made:

Any continued improvement in working conditions will depend on companies working with the Bangladeshi government, said Ferdows, the Georgetown professor. A March decision by Walt Disney Co. (DIS) to stop production in Bangladesh was “wrong- headed,” he said.
It's from one of Bloomberg News' excellent explanatory reports, this one on factory conditions in Bangladesh.

It was inspired, of course, by the collapse of Rana Plaza and the 600-plus dead workers, mostly poor women.

Also from the story, there is this:

 “If you look at industrial history across the world, for better or worse, this is what early industrial revolution looks like,” said Pietra Rivoli, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and author of “The Travels of a T-Shirt in The Global Economy.” Bangladesh is “still a desperately poor country, and we shouldn’t minimize what a steady job with a steady paycheck means to a poor woman.”

No, we shouldn't. We should emphasize the workings of the untamed market and how it -- according to Professor Rivoli, and anyone who knows economic history will agree with her -- always yields this result.

Why is that?

If you read the rightwingers, you will often find references to an "invisible hand." Never, or very seldom, to the invisible hands who are immolated in the name of efficiency.

Why cannot the invisible hand take care of the invisible hands?

Some not so obvious opinions

At least one reader of RtO noticed the outbreak of reviews of books about the Russo-German war. There will be more, and all readers who don't care are invited to skip over and wait for more Found Sounds or something.

Here's what's behind the outbreak.

My real interest is not the war itself. In fact, I find a good deal of the interest in the Eastern Front kind of creepy. Too many readers (who leave their spoor) seem to be too excited by the skill and victories of the Germans.

But, I am a baby boomer, raised on Cold War hysteria. It is my opinion that the Cold War cannot be understood until you understand the position of the Bolsheviks. My opinions about this were formed when I was around 25 years old, starting from a remark in one of Alan Taylor's essays and carrying on from there. I discovered that the narrative I was taught at Catholic school, and later, was wildly different from what appeared to be the facts.

Of course, in the '50s and '60s, facts about Bolshevism were hard to verify, due largely to the secretiveness of the regime, but secondarily to the deliberate falsehoods of the 100% Americans.

Now, in retirement, I have leisure to revisit my opinions. When I first studied the matter, some of the official histories of the western countries had not been completed (for example, Harry Hinsley's important history of British intelligence was only partly published). Now they have been, and, even better, at least some of the Soviet archives have been opened and some memoirs that were suppressed have been rewritten or published at last.

I have been reading and studying the tsarist and Bolshevik eras off and on for all these 45 years. Now I have a 3-foot stack of books about the Russo-German war to work my way through. (I've gone less than a foot so far.)

Here are the propositions that I came up with that I want to test:

1. The United States had no impact on the outcome of the war in Europe. The British pinned the Germans and then the Reds beat them, but before the US became a combatant,.

2. It was reasonable for the USSR to occupy the former aggressive fascist states for its future security.

3. The Bolsheviks were, unlike the tsars, not militarily aggressive. Between their defeat before Warsaw in 1920 and invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Red Army showed great reluctance to step outside its own borders. Only pressure from aggressive fascist states got it to do so.

4. Although the Bolsheviks would happily have subverted as many countries as they could manage (or what else was the Comintern for?), they were unwilling to export communism by military force. Time after time, the Russian communists stood by while foreign communists were slaughtered.

5. Since there was no aggressive foreign policy, it must be that domestic issues drove the actions of the USSR government and Soviet Communist party. The Number 1 issue was agriculture. It was the failure of Soviet agricultural policy that brought down the system.

6. Taking a long view, the Bolshevik revolution hardly happened. The preoccupations of tsarist Russia and its policies (aside from external military aggression) were the preoccupations of the Bolsheviks, and the policies were about the same, too.

I actually started this review about 10 years ago, concentrating on the security policies of the European states in the '30s. That was the last time I had to make a large adjustment in my views of Bolshevism.

I had, until then, accepted the common view that Stalin was taking advantage of the turmoil of the fascist aggression to grab provinces. Call this the doughty-little-Finland view.

I learned, from two obscure books by a Scottish Communist lawyer, what you will not learn in the conventional histories: That before it invaded Finland, the USSR attempted to buy Hango.

This was intended defensively, because the Russians were worried about the danger to Leningrad.

That was when, for me, the penny dropped and I realized that the Red Army was so far from being an aggressive instrument that it was reluctant to go outside its own borders. The scrupulous return to old borders after repulsing the Kwantung Army in Mongolia about the same time nailed it down.

Once you get that, the American Cold War narrative falls apart.

More crap from China

The United States has imported food from China since we have been a country, beginning with tea.

Contamination has always been a problem. China lost the tea market to Japan and India  because of quality issues.

Around 1900, when Petaluma was the center of western egg production, Chinese eggs were being imported to San Francisco for a penny for six dozen. My source -- Jack London, of all people -- did not mention contamination, but at that price there's reason to be suspicious.

An astonishing proportion of America's food now comes from China -- despite American agriculture's claims to be so efficient -- from apples to honey to dog food.

We are told by the free traders that this is good for consumers because competition is good, right? It's crap but, hey, it's cheap crap.

The latest Chinese food scandal has gotten minimal attention in the US press. The New York Times ran a skimpy story on May 3 based on a government press release and a couple of meaningless Chinaman-in-the-street quotes. Other papers did less, and the story of rat passing as lamb appeared on Yahoo! and a few sensationalistic websites.

The Guardian did by far the most complete report, but it leaves much to wonder about. But, here's news you can use: How to tell rat from lamb.

But even the Guardian's three stories leave plenty of questions whose answers are far from obvious.

First, authorities seized 20,000 metric tons of fake lamb, or 44 million pounds. That's what was in the pipeline, no word on how much of this stuff had already been eaten.

How do crooks manage this? They must have been splendid managers. I figure that 44,000,000 pounds of rat cutlets would require something on the order of 150,000,000 rats. The campaign against the Four Vermin was supposed to have knocked down the rat population.

So, first, how do you come by 150,000,000 rats without anyone's noticing? Where do you process it and who does it? There must have been thousands of rat butchers who took their renminbei without gossiping.

Hard to believe.

And where do you dispose of the skins and bones? As the video linked by the Guardian shows, there was quite a bit of labor involved. The scraps of rat were assembled with something the Chinese government calls "white meat" but appears to be fat. Where did that come from?

Was it hand labor that assembled the marbled rat cutlets, or did some ingenious Chinese engineer mechanize the fraud?

I have long advocated a market-based solution to pollution: If you can convince old Chinese guys that X will improve their sex drive, they will not only get rid of X for you (like rhinocerous horn), they will drive X to extinction. And make you rich to boot.

The flip side of this is, where is the profit in rat meat? Wouldn't it be easier just to raise a sheep?

I get where the scammers obtaned their fox and mink meat. The fur-farms probably were happy to give it away or even to pay to have it taken off. But rats seem more trouble than they are worth. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review 278: Thunder on the Dnepr

THUNDER ON THE DNEPR: Zhukov-Stalin and the Defeat of Hitler's Blitzkrieg, by Bryan Fugate and Lev Dvoretsky. 415 pages, illustrated. Presidio paperback, $22.95

My usual practice is to read a book completely before reviewing it, but rarely one is so bad that it isn't worth finishing.

Such is the case with “Thunder on the Dnepr.” I got 100 pages into this ridiculous work before quitting.

That was more than sufficient to understand the thesis of Bryan Fugate and Lev Dvoretsky: They believe that Stalin, who had been committed to defense by an offensive into the enemy's territory, was converted by three war games in January-February 1941 to a concept of defense in depth – great depth, about 500 miles.

There are more than a few problems with this concept, even before looking at Fugate and Dvoretsky's evidence. For one thing, it meant giving up about three-quarters of the USSR's productive capacity.

The evidence presented is both thin and silly.

We are to believe that everything turned on a war game conducted in February at some unknown location. This produced a map which (on page 65) we are told was so closely held that no one (except the 10 officers at the war game) saw it for 56 years; although (on pages 66-67) we are told that the Germans obtained not just one but two copies, including one that was, curiously, stored in a “Komsomol House” in Ukraine.

In fact, defense in depth would have been a good strategy, and it was used successfully in 1943. Even with two years hard experience, the Russians were so unskilled that their victory at Kursk in 1943 cost them four times the casualties of the Germans.

Fugate is pretty close to tinfoil hat territory.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Coverup among the rightwingers

This would hardly be worth mentioning, except that rightwingers cannot draw 2 consecutive breaths without claiming that the MSM is suppressing the real story.

Well, not in every instance. Not, for example, when LA's favorite Republican host -- until very recently he ran something called Republican Party Animals -- is exposed as Holocaust denier David Cole. Let's let the Guardian relate how the rightwing treated this news:

Some of Stein/Cole's erstwhile friends are media figures with blogs, newspaper columns and syndicated radio shows. They put a lid on the story. Not a word has been published or broadcast. "When people found out it was, 'Oh my God, get the fuck away from him.' There was debate about whether everyone would look guilty by association," said one entertainment industry artist, a member of Republican Party Animals, who requested anonymity. "The reason we were all so pissed at him is it plays into every horrible stereotype about the right."

Why am I not surprised?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Down with public money for religion

I will vote against the state constitional amendment, when it comes up in 2014, that would give public funds to private preschools.

I have no objection to public preschools, they are probably a fine idea, especially in this state where a high immigration rate and long hours on the job for parents means lots of children get to school age without much preparation.

And I don't mind private preschools, so long as they are paid for by the people who want them.

But to hell with using my money to fund the superstitions of whatever religion sets up these schools. And you know that's who'll do it.

The amendment, passed overwhelmingly by the State Senate, would require that the preschools not discriminate on  the basis of religion. But it does not say they would not teach religion.

I have abandoned most of the things the Roman Catholics taught me at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, such as McCarthyism, but back in those days the church was proud to remain independent of government.

Of course, in Tennessee there was no chance that the Catholic-hating Christian bigots who then (and still) dominate the Tennessee legislature were going to provide tax subsidies to the Whore of Babylon. So the Whore could take a high moral stand at no cost.

Times change. As soon as the RCs saw the chance of getting tax money they forgot all those sermons about independence. Even a Whore has her price.

RtO misunderestimates American innovation

RtO spoke too soon when it dissed America for failing, as alleged by the FBI, to have produced an Elvis-impersonating terrorist who signed his real name to his threatening letters: "A comforting familiarity" April 27.

It turns out it was a Wayne Newton impersonator. Wouldn't you have to be real tall to impersonate Wayne Newton? RtO didn't even know there are Wayne Newton impersonators. Is this a great country or what?

RtO also notes that the Wayne Newton impersonating terrorist (if we can assume the FBI got its man right this time) is a city boy, even if the city is only Tupelo, Mississippi. He appears to have bought his castor beans on eBay.

If there is one thing Mississippi has got, it's castor beans. They grow everywhere. (They grow on Maui, too, you see them pop up on just about any bare patch of earth around this time, thanks to the birds, who apparently are resistant to ricin.)

Foreign intelligence

So, Ted Cruz, Canadian, for POTUS?

Fo' real, according to the National Review Online.

This gushing piece does not raise the issue of Cruz's Canadian birth until the 13th paragraph, and then dismissively:

Cruz isn’t worried that his birth certificate will be a problem. Though he was born in Canada, he and his advisers are confident that they could win any legal battle over his eligibility. Cruz’s mother was a U.S. citizen when he was born, and he considers himself to be a natural-born citizen.
Unlike that other guy, the one from Kenya. Why isn't he also a "natural-born citizen," since his mother was a U.S. citizen?

Now, it's true that National Review has been uneasy with Obama birtherism, but you cannot say the same about the Republican Party as a whole. Some polls show a majority of Republicans believe Obama was not born in the United States.

I don't necessarily believe those polls are precise, but they are, hmmmm, suggestive. How far wrong could they possibly be?

That rightwing nutcases think Cruz's Canadian birth would not be a problem sort of proves the embedded racism of today's GOP, doesn't it? Whoever Cruz's father was, it would be a stretch to speculate that he was an African-American Communist.

RtO was not the first and is far from the only observer to see a new Joe McCarthy in Cruz. A reach for the Oval Office from a Senate career of thin achievement would be another parallel.

A dismissive attitude toward the original intent of the Constitution would be another.

If NRO is accurate. RtO will not vouch for that.