Thursday, October 31, 2013

This is for the other johngault

Since johngault didn't like RtO's statements about Obamacare, claiming they were not factual, here's some facts.

Nut grafs:

When people want to demonize single payer systems, they always wind up going after rationing, and more often than you’d think with hip replacements…
It’s not true.  They don’t deny hip replacements to the elderly (in Canada).  But there’s more.
Do you know who gets most of the hip replacements in the United States?  The elderly.
Do you know who pays for care for the elderly in the United States?  Medicare.
Do you know what Medicare is?  A single-payer system.
Please read the whole thing, as poster Aaron Carroll has something important to say about health costs.

Then there's this takedown of rightwing scare tactics.


    Private Sector
    Hello, I’m the private sector.

    And I’m Obamacare!

    Private Sector
    Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!

    Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.

    Private Sector
    Wait, what?


And another epic failure of a "news" organization to find someone harmed by Obamacare.  (Fox does good job, shoots Roger Ailes in foot, basically. Will wonders never cease?)

Private Sector
Hello, I’m the private sector.
And I’m Obamacare!
Private Sector
Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!
Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.
Private Sector
Wait, what?

Private Sector
Hello, I’m the private sector.
And I’m Obamacare!
Private Sector
Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!
Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.
Private Sector
Wait, what?

Private Sector
Hello, I’m the private sector.
And I’m Obamacare!
Private Sector
Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!
Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.
Private Sector
Wait, what?

Private Sector
Hello, I’m the private sector.
And I’m Obamacare!
Private Sector
Obamacare, I have to tell you about the sweetest, bravest little girl I met. Her name’s Chloe, she’s eight years old, and she was born with a heart condition that has meant surgery after surgery just to keep her alive. She’s spent so much of her life in the hospital, but she is just the brightest, cheeriest girl you could imagine. She has this big stuffed bear she called “Mr. Bear,” and she takes it everywhere. They’re best friends! Oh, and here’s the best part. Her family just reached their lifetime cap on coverage, so I don’t have to pay their bills any more. They were getting pretty expensive!
Yeah, you can’t do that anymore.
Private Sector
Wait, what?


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Next, Mr. Ed rejects socialized veterinary medicine

They say laughter is the best medicine, and after the latest rightwing attack on Obamacare, we're all laughing so hard we'll never get sick again.

Since it is a journalistic disaster, I like all of it, but I think the best part is where the Rupert Murdoch-run Wall Street Journal mistook a dog for a horse:

 Also, the cover of a Maclean’s magazine issue in 2008 showed a picture of a dog on an examining table with the headline “Your Dog Can Get Better Health Care Than You.” An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the photo showed and headline referred to a horse.
That's some correction. (RtO particularly enjoyed this one because I once worked for an editor who had produced "The Wall Street Journal Book of Animal Stories." Really. He grew up in Iowa and probably could recognize a horse if he saw one, though I never tested him on that.)

But back to cases. The Journal, which even before Murdoch bought it was trying to be a real paper with sections on what to do on the weekend, even though it did not publish on weekends, has a section called Experts, where experts get to opine on their specialty (as opposed to the editorial page, where ideologues opine about everything, with comic results, although not as comic as what's coming next).

 So, no domestic issue is more salient than Obamacare, which was so important the national government was shut down over it; and the Journal needed to get the very most expert expert there is to tell us all about it. So they got:

Yes, they did.

With results you might expect. More corrections:

An earlier version of this post contained a quotation attributed to Lenin (“Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state”) that has been widely disputed. And it included a quotation attributed to Churchill (“Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens“) that the Journal has been unable to confirm.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review 301: Catholicism & the Roots of Nazism

CATHOLICISM & THE ROOTS OF NAZISM: Religious Identity & National Socialism, by Derek Hastings. 290 pages, illustrated. Oxford

Although numerous Catholic apologists have been concerned to deny it, it goes without saying that a mass political party organized in 85% Catholic Bavaria must have been, in some sense, compatible with Roman Catholicism.

And so it was. In “Catholicism & the Roots of Nazism,” Derek Hastings shows precisely how this worked and, following the failed putsch of 1923, how Nazism left Catholicism behind.

Bavarian Catholics before 1914 were deeply divided between “politicals,” allied to the Center Party and the Vatican; and “religious,” nominally non-political and nationalist. The religious Catholics were Jew-haters while the politicals were Jew-dislikers.

Obviously, the religious were likely adherents of a racist-nationalist political grievance party, of which there were many in Germany. Of these, only the DAP (later NSDAP) was overwhelmingly Catholic. Hastings persuasively traces the symbiotic growth of the alliance, dominated by the once-central figure of the Catholic Jew-hater Franz Schronghamer-Heimdal.

But it was not until 1923, when numerous priests became active recruiters in a hugely successful membership drive, that Nazism took off. Hitler then overreached, and the party went into temporary eclipse.

His alliance with the Lutheran bigot Ludendorff, combined with political failure, drove Catholics out of the revived party from 1924; but in the only real failing of Hastings‘ impressive account, this is not described as what it was -- the abandonment of Catholicism by Nazism, rather than the other way around.

The Nazis briefly (through 1926) allied with Protestant anti-semites, then gathered self-confidence and  abandoned dependence on confessional politics altogether.

The conflicts between Nazi politics and German religion, however, were never concerned with the two great crimes we revile the Nazis for -- violent conquest and Jew-murder. The religions never objected to either. Schronghamer remained a popular, locally revered Catholic publicist up to his death in 1962.

Hastings asks -- as writers of dissertations have to do -- what is the significance of his research; and his answer is thoughtful.

But for an American reader in the 21st century, there is an additional significance to his thorough inquiry into the (one imagines) turgid files of Bavarian religious publications of the early 20th century. We are now told by American rightwingers that Nazism learned racism from Darwinism.

This is improbable. Bavaria was saturated in Catholicism not Darwinism. Hastings shows (without drawing  attention to his feat) that justifications for anti-Jewish racism in the publications of the nascent Nazi party, and in non-Nazi publications by its allies, never mentioned Darwinism but derived their Jew-hatred entirely from traditional and ancient folk and religious sources.

This archival excavation goes back far before Drexler started the DAP, and even before Hitler moved to Munich.

In his introduction, Hastings reviews other scholars who have inquired into Nazi racism, and gives the back of his hand to Daniel Goldhagen’s thesis of a pre-existing “eliminationist” German Jew-hatred. This is strange, since Hastings’ own excavations find numerous eliminationist and even exterminationist statements from Bavarian Catholic apologists from before 1914.

In 1919, for example, Schronghamer wrote: “The salvation of the world can only come through the extermination of the world poison whose destructive capacities we recognize in the intellectual foundations of Jewry.” The word Hastings translates as extermination is unequivocal: Vernichtung, and many other Catholic apologists used it, too.

Goldhagen has been disparaged by many academics, but “Catholicism & the Roots of Nazism” goes far to show he got it right.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

A mass murder without a gun

RtO is referencing this story just for the gun nuts. Otherwise, it has no significance, just a mental breakdown tragedy, with 5 people knifed to death.

But can you remember the last time 5 people were slain using something other than a bomb or a gun? Yes, you can. Arson also allows killers to easily snuff out several lives at a time.

But admit it. If I say 5 people are slain in New York City, your first thought is guns.

But this is the usual, isn't it? Not really a mental breakdown tragedy, just a nut with a gun. Another 5 dead.

(Reuters) - A man who killed four members of a neighboring family and their two dogs with a shotgun before taking his own life over the weekend in Arizona may have been sent into a rage by the dogs' barking, police said on Sunday.
But police said what drove 56-year-old Michael Guzzo of Phoenix to carry out the shooting frenzy may never be known for certain, as both he and his victims, who ranged in age from 17 to 66 and lived next door, were dead before officers arrived.
"It appears he had some issues with barking dogs," said Phoenix police spokesman Sergeant Tommy Thompson. "If true, it does not justify killing four people."

Mens sana

According to a widely-reported study at the University of Rochester:

Brains flush toxic waste in sleep, including Alzheimer’s-linked protein, study of mice finds

 My cat's brain must be the cleanest thing in the universe.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The gun nut paradox

Outstanding commentary by Francis Wilkinson at Bloomberg News on open carry. It's so obvious, I wish I'd written it.

A complete mystery

So, somehow or other, a semi-automatic rifle disappeared from the home of rightwing kook Congressperson Renee ("I need my paycheck") Ellmers.

What the well-dressed congresswoman packs

According to the Raleigh News & Observer:

The weapon had been left leaning against a gun locker in an unlocked garage on Kingsway Drive, the report said.
 The Ellmerses are, of course, responsible gun nuts. The Congresscritter's official spokesman said:

“Gun safety is of the utmost importance in their household, which is exactly why she’s so upset and doesn't understand how this happened,” Doheny said.
I count three whoppers there in fewer than two dozen words.

The gun belonged to Ellmers' teenage son. RtO is going to speculate that he was not arrested and handcuffed because the clerk doubted he could afford to buy this useless item (retail price around $1,000), the way this other, not white teen did when he tried to buy a totally non-lethal belt (retail price $350), which was at least useful in holding up his pants.

Renee Ellmers was endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

Read more here:

Read more here:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why workers need unions and regulations

Because bosses can be jerks. In this story from Maine, it does not appear that the worker had a union,  but she was able to find a lawyer (no doubt on contingency) who helped her.

And national (not local) regulations provided the tools for redress.

I used encounter religious nuts like Officer Pease all the time in the South, sometimes at work.

“[Pease] told Plaintiff Carnot that he believed that single women should not date, but should court” because “dating involved ‘sexual intercourse,’ ” states the U.S. District Court complaint filed by Carnot in Bangor after she was fired in January 2011.
The Maine native also claimed in the lawsuit that Pease said that a woman should not be involved in any capacity in law enforcement and had a duty to obey her husband in accordance with the Bible. He also repeatedly invited Carnot to attend his Protestant church, even though he knew she was a Catholic, and said “she was not going to go to heaven because she had been divorced,” the complaint states.
The lawyer is right on:

 “The lesson I think needs to be learned from this settlement is you need to check your religious and personal beliefs at the door,” Young said Tuesday. “You do not have the right to impose those beliefs on your colleagues and co-workers.”

And then there's this.

Do you remember how the big retailers were shocked into action when a factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed over 1,100 poor workers? Well, they hope you don't because they were lying. Nothing has changed.

RtO has said before, if the market thinks you are worth more dead than alive, it will arrange for you to be killed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

ID and the vote suppressors

Dukes up for stupidity

Here is a roundup, should anyone at this late date still need one, about how the racists and sexists in the Republican Party are trying to defend Americans' sacred right to vote by making it really hard for some Americans to vote.

Not everybody has a birth certificate. I was surprised to learn, a few months ago, that one of them is my mom, the faithful watcher of Bill O'Reilly.

She's 89, and while the anti-Republican vote suppression meme (plenty of further links at first link) is that the phony voter ID laws being pushed in the cow states are aimed at poor blacks or Mexicans, my mom is neither black nor Mexican nor poor.

She was born at home, though, in a Southern state that hadn't bothered to collect vital statistics in 1924.

The Dixiecrats might actually want her to vote, since she's in the swing state of Florida, where every vote means something. Or ought to.

Her congresscritter is the ridiculous Ted Yahoo, er, I mean Yoho, and it would amuse me no end if he were to lose his seat next year because my mom wasn't allowed to vote by the Republicans.

 (RtO found that link by searching for yoho + idiot. Sometimes the Internet emits a cosmic horselaugh or possibly in Dr. Yoho's case, a cowlaugh.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review 300: McCarthyism

MCCARTHYISM, edited by Thomas C. Reeves. 143 pages. Krieger paperback

The first time I encountered Ted Cruz, I thought: McCarthy (see “Republican Entrails,” Oct. 6). Many others had the same reaction; see, for example, Peter Lewis’s  Words & Ideas blog,  “Just Sayin’,” Sept. 25.

Lewis and I know a lot about Joe McCarthy, and I am just old enough to remember the fear that suffused the room when his name came up; and the enthusiasm for him at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. But, at Maui Friends of the Library Friday, I noticed an old copy of Thomas Reeves’s guide for undergraduates, “McCarthyism,” and I wondered, what do younger people, with no direct input from people who were affected in the days of McCarthyism, know of him?

For most, McCarthy is just a word of abuse, they don’t know any more about him than they know about  John D. Rockefeller or Shipwreck Kelly. But for a minority, with at least enough interest to have taken a course in modern American political movements, the essays collected by Reeves are likely to provide a good Idea of what the politically active person knows of McCarthy.

I was impressed by the amount of material that Reeves, author of a massive biography of McCarthy, got into so few pages. The first half of the book includes essays about McCarthy’s career. The second, essays about how to interpret that.

It is telling that, 50 years after his death, political thinkers are still uncertain about what made McCarthy go, and what drew people to him. What repelled them is obvious enough.

Nothing here calls into question the idea that Cruz is another McCarthy. The only real difference is that McCarthy was said, even by reporters who detested his politics, to have been charming when he wanted to be. Nobody says that about Cruz.

I have read a great deal about McCarthy, and his charm entirely escapes me. The biggest defect of Reeves’s “McCarthyism” is the absence of McCarthy. Except briefly in a memoir by James Wechsler of being interrogated by McCarthy, the man and his voice are absent from this book. A couple of pages devoted to one of his speeches or press statements would have been helpful.

There is a split of opinion about McCarthy’s ambition. I hold that for a brief moment he was almost persuaded that he could have replaced Eisenhower in ’56. But his life was too chaotic, he was too addicted to carousing for the job of president to have appealed for long to either his sensible or his dreaming self.

He was a power monster but had no program to apply that power to. Cruz also is a power monster, and while he talks as if he has a program -- negative and destructive but a kind of program nevertheless -- it is far from clear that his real program extends beyond the aggrandizement of Cruz.

Many commentators have noted that while he trashed his party this month, he himself got a huge mailing list and a lot of money. But he does not play well with others, which, in normal circumstances, would limit his political career, as it did McCarthy’s.

The big difference between McCarthy and Cruz, it seems to me, is that McCarthy was accidental.

In his annotated reading list, Reeves says that Donald Crosby “attempts with some success to challenge the belief in a close association between McCarthy and the Roman Catholic clergy and laity.” Having been there, i can attest the link was tight.

In the ‘40s, the church was desperate to reclaim its lost status and property east of the Elbe. Our hero was Mindzenty for whom we prayed incessantly. I take it as well established that the church was anxious to find a paladin in the American government to act as its repo agent.

McCarthy was hardly its favorite choice. An unsuccessful, abrasive, whoring drunkard best known for fretting over the treatment of Nazi murderers, the bishops went to him only after being rebuffed by all the respectable Catholic politicians. Though accidental, he was unexpectedly and brilliantly effective, briefly, in attracting attention, though the church was disappointed in failing to get the government to initiate a new world war on its behalf.

Cruz’s path seems carefully plotted.

Among the essayists collected by Reeves (including Reeves himself), it is a consensus that McCarthy never presented an existential threat to the American political system, because he never set up a party organization of his own, and he was opposed by an effective establishment in his own party.

Cruz is out to remedy the first by taking command of the Tea Party, and spokesmen for the TP are talking about supplanting the Republican Party. Cruz is being opposed by an establishment in his party, but it remains to be seen whether it will be effective.

In any event, on deeper examination, the quick apprehension that Cruz is another McCarthy proves to be correct in many respects.


Going hog wild

The baby luau (see "Pigging Out," Oct. 13) last night was fine, but the kalua pig was a surprise. The meat came from wild hogs.

Reheating the wild pigmeat
It was delicious but far less greasy than domestic pork. Enough fat for flavor.

Baking a hog in an imu is the purest form of pork. Except for salt, it's all pig. It's even simpler than North Carolina pit-cooked barbecue (the highest form to which hogdom can aspire), which gets flavor from salt, pepper, vinegar and hickory smoke.

For RtO, which exists to celebrate delectable pork, it was a memorable night.

All the protein was wild except the chicken. The fried fish, smoked venison ("smoked Bambi" according to the rundown I got from Keoki), barbecued tako, squid luau, 'opae (freshwater shrimp, a rarity) and opihi.

The fish came out crispy as potato chips
A good time was had by all but especially me.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Zakaria cuts heart out of Tea Party

In The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria has an outstanding commentary on "The dark side of conservatism." The title is controversial, since the piece is aimed primarily at Tea Partiers, who are not, in any meaningful sense, conservatives.

Worth reading all but here are the nut grafs:

The current fear derives from Obamacare, but that is only the most recent cause for alarm. Modern American conservatism was founded on a diet of despair. In 1955, William F. Buckley Jr. began the movement with a famous first editorial in National Review declaring that the magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” John Boehner tries to tie into this tradition of opposition when he says in exasperation, “The federal government has spent more than what it has brought in in 55 of the last 60 years!”

But what has been the result over these past 60 years? The United States has grown mightily, destroyed the Soviet Union, spread capitalism across the globe and lifted its citizens to astonishingly high standards of living and income. Over the past 60 years, America has built highways and universities, funded science and space research, and — along the way — ushered in the rise of the most productive and powerful private sector the world has ever known.
I don't agree that the US destroyed the Soviet Union; it destroyed itself by failing to have a workable agriculture. But the general statement is correct; there's just no satisfying some people.

Now, why are Tea Partiers not conservatives? They say they are conservatives. But a conservative has to conserve something. The Tea Party vision embraces something that never was.

So they are not reactionaries either.

They are radical revolutionaries.

If "tea party" can be reduced to two words, they would be "small government."

Is it necessary to state the obvious: the men who wrote the Constitution were not interested in small government. If they had been, they would have returned to the situation before the Revolution, when they were governed by 13 separate jurisdictions, each with its own history, customs, constitutions, legislatures and courts.

What they were interested in was representative and effective government. The Tea Party, as it just proved, is not interested in effective government; and the evangelical wing of the Republican Party is not interested in representative government.

The two threads, which sometimes seem to be separate, are braided together by the ideology of Cleon Skousen, a Bircher (and, according to Mitt Romney, the most influential teacher he had at BYU -- so much for Romney representing moderate Republicanism).

Skousen wrote the text that informs teahadism, but while the teahadists tend to venerate the parts that celebrate small government, his books (such as "The 5000 Year Leap") equally demand an exclusively Christian polity.

The Constitution does not demand an exclusively Christian polity. It is secular and national, with national courts, a national army and a national navy, a national legislature and executive and national elections.

While it was firmly national, it was not, in 1789, comprehensive. It was written for white men.

Today, women and all races have been included. That made our government more national, not less.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Exploiting Native Hawaiians

Over on my other blog (, I have a short post linking to an Ian Lind report on the Hawaiiloa Foundation trial.

You should read it (both, my post and Ian's), because the Maui News has not reported on this trial. No surprise, it's being held on Oahu and the News is stretched thin, although I believe it will be following as the trial proceeds.

Lind examined some of the documents being used to persuade Hawaiians to fork over cash and real estate, and he finds them to be "gobbledegook." I did, too, some years ago when they first came to me when I was reporting at the Maui News.

One of the things that disturbed me then was that several people that I respect in the Hawaiian community were endorsing these sales pitches. I do not believe they had read the documents. As Lind proposes, the con was wrapped up in an attractive package of sovereignty and redress of indigenous wrongs.

And people were desperate, thanks to the Incurious George crash.

I was in Iowa during an earlier GOP-engineered crash, one that wiped out a lot of farmers. The kind of people the Tea Party claims to be representing. (Go here for an acerbic and leftwing take on the TP and its constituency, based on a Democracy Corps analysis of some Republican soul-searching. There are other reports out there on the Democracy Corps piece, but ThinkProgess has the best wrapup I've seen.)

Iowa farmers are not indigenous Americans, even if the TP uses that sort of rhetoric, but they reacted just the same as Native Hawaiians when caught in a similar trap not of their own devising.

Instead of a mythical Native Hawaiian bond fund, the con in Iowa involved nameless Arab oil sheikhs who, oddly as it would sound to you or me, wanted to lend individual Iowa farmers $1,000,000 each at no interest and -- this was the best part -- also didn't want to be paid back.

He wants to give you $1,000,000

Such a deal.

You might think that nobody could fall for that, but desperate people don't think straight (consider John Boehner, for a current example). And if that person was also the inheritor of land that had been farmed by his family for three or four generations, any expedient to keep the land from being taken was a good one.

In that respect, they were exactly like Native Hawaiians who believe their land was stolen.

Unlike the targets of Hawaiiloa Foundation, who were for the most part ordinary working folks who were good for a couple thousand bucks, owners of Iowa farms, even insolvent ones, could often come up with considerable scratch. The going rate for access to sheikh money was $30,000 -- cash.

As we watch the Tea Party push 300 million Americans into the ditch, it is worth thinking about a profound comment I saw today at Bloomberg News. (I am sure it's not new, but it was new to me).

Humans are the only animal that can be skinned more than once.

(That is attributed to, of all people, Jimmy Durante.)


My other hero

Bloomberg News reports on a study finding that it costs about $7 billion a year in various forms of welfare to bring fast-food workers up to poverty status.

Next time some Tea Party whinger gripes about having his taxes used to support layabouts, throw that in his face.

At a $9 minimum wage and 40 hours a week, a burger pusher would gross $360 a week. Actually, not bad compared to many millions of working Americans who do a lot worse.

I used to work in the fast-food industry, picking up opala in the parking lot of a Shoney's Big Boy. It was a part-time job during school, and I would have liked full-time hours during the summer vacation. I didn't get that very often.

I walked to work -- it was about 6 miles. It didn't bother me then, but it would have later.

As RtO once said, time is the heaviest tax we put on the poor. (There were days when I worked a split shift and walked 24 miles.)

Conditions have changed in fast food since I got my 75 cents an hour and 75 cents a shift meal money. There are more workers who are not hungry school boys and girls. Even in 1963, there were 75-cent-an-hour adults working at Shoney's.

They were not mentally capable of doing anything much more complicated than busing tables. A decent society exerts itself to provide dignity and health and respect to such people.

Here let me honor the Northern California/Hawaii division of Safeway stores and its checkers union for giving that sort of respectable and respectful work to baggers, many of whom have Down syndrome. And, retrospectively to the father of my school buds Pat and Mike Ivey, who hired those dullards at Shoney's -- and me.

If Safeway food costs a little more (and I haven't noticed that it does), then I don't mind.

Follow the link and read the comments to see another reason to despise Tea Partiers. Nasty stuff.

Watching the watchers

My hero

The old newspaperman in me notes that in "continuously" updated coverage of the congressional debt talks, the online New York Times has its latest update time at 3:52 PM (Eastern time) today, while the Washington Post has not updated since before 10 AM.

As for RtO's guess that the Republican suicide bombers would blow up the government ("Out of the Market," Sept. 19), the markets have performed a death-defying aerial act, bravely, if foolishly refusing to panic.

As of now, the stocks I sold a month ago are trading higher, not lower. I am not greatly disturbed. Like General Grant, I intended to stick it out if it "takes all summer."

It is looking grim for the grownups, and I still expect, like John D. Rockefeller, to "pick up attractively priced securities" before this is over, though not as many as he did after the GOP-engineered crash of '29.

UPDATE, about 6 pm in DC, the Post reports (very hastily, with many typos):

Just prior to the postponement, the conservative outfit Heritage Action said it opposed the measure, and rank-and-file lawmakers normally supportive of leadership expressed alarm that they had shut down the government and would get nothing for it except a punitive measure hurting their own staff’s healthcare, according to GOP chiefs of staff.
I don't know if any of my readers are fans of the Firesign Theater, but I immediately thought of Mrs. Presky. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review 299: The Holocaust Chronicle

THE HOLOCAUST CHRONICLE: A History in Words and Pictures, by the Spertus Institute. 765 pages, illustrated. Publications International.

Today thousands of American colleges offer a course on the Holocaust (up from two in 1973), but only a small proportion of students take it. A film like “Schindler’s List” might have reached a different audience, but even the most popular movie is seen by only a small percentage of the population. The Holocaust Museum attracts several million visits a year (no doubt many on school trips), but in a nation of 300 million, even 5 million a year for 15 years yields only a small minority of everybody.

It is safe to say that the “Holocaust” is something almost everybody knows of, but (like a lot of other important concerns like, say, the uses of genetically-modified organisms)  not many know about.

“The Holocaust Chronicle” was a worthy attempt to provide a (subsidized) introduction to the full depth and breadth of the horror, but only an introduction. A mere 700 pages, heavily illustrated, is not big enough (but too big and heavy to read comfortably). And probably many fewer will spend time in its pages than saw “Schindler’s List,” and even then -- since it is something of a coffee table book -- it is doubtful many will sample much of it.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent book. The more arrows in the quiver, the better.

The book can be read three ways. Straight through (the way I did it). As a collection of brief reference entries contained in 250 “sidebars” on subjects such as American immigration policy or the government of Slovakia in the Nazi era. There is a timeline running along the bottom of all pages, so that a reader can easily find out what was happening during say, January 1943.

(Danish collaborators organize; Pope Pius XII announces no help for Jews; Jews in the Warsaw ghetto begin building bunkers for an eventual revolt; putsch by officers in the  German army comes to nothing; the pope refuses a request by the president of Poland to denounce murders of Jews, for good measure he also refuses to condemn murders of Polish Catholics; and much more.)

Reading just the timeline straight through can be a powerful experience, particularly starting in 1942.

On almost every page, there is an entry such as this one for Aug. 15, 1942: “One thousand Belgian Jews, including 172 children, are deported to their deaths in the East.”

For Americans who know their own history (another small minority) and who are aware that the largest one-day killing in our history took only 3,000 lives (no, not Sept. 11, 2001, but the murder of Irish Catholics by a Protestant mob in Cincinnati), the relentless repetition of 2,000 killed here, 4,000 there begins to put some perspective on the totality of the crime, the way reading that 30,000 were slain at Babi Yar does not (at least for me).

Big numbers are hard to comprehend at the personal level.

Then, if you think that the Holocaust was equivalent to 2,000 Cincinnatis, just for Jews; plus hundreds more “Cincinnatis” for gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Polish intellectuals, homosexuals, mental patients and, especially, Soviet prisoners, the magnitude of the crime takes shape. The total of Red Army men murdered was nearly as high as the total of Jews.

Clearly, this was a phenomenon worth studying with some care.
The editors are fair-minded. Though in the summing up they are clearly sympathetic to the feeling that, say, erecting crosses to Christian Polish victims at Auschwitz does in a way detract from the specially Jewish character of the crimes there, in the text and timeline, they expend much space covering the exterminationist crimes against various groups of gentiles (skimping, perhaps on Serbs, though).

This makes for uncomfortable moments for American readers, as the refusal of American public and political opinion to give a damn about dead Jews is hammered in. And the editors make it clear that it was not just a few rich, stupid Jew-haters like Charles Lindbergh but a majority.

President Roosevelt, with his sensitive political antennae that prevented him from embracing unpopular causes, comes off badly here.

But not nearly as badly as Pope Pius XII. For the record, the editors say that consensus on the Roman Catholic Church’s role will always remain unresolved, but the facts in the timeline tell another story: whatever Pacelli’s motivations -- cowardice, calculation, Germanophilia or Jew-hated -- his attitude toward the Jews was, let them burn.

Harsh as the “Chronicle” is toward Pacelli and the church, it could have been more so. There were valid (and invalid) reasons urging a reticent policy toward German Nazism, but there was one place in Europe where the Roman church was dominant and which the Germans chose to ignore: Croatia.

Croatia was also one of the most murderous and cruel spots on that cruel continent. There is no doubt that a quiet caution would have tempered the Croatian Holocaust, and that Pacelli could have passed it without risk. Not only did he not, the church was complicit in the murders and active in helping the murderers afterward.

The Chronicle does not assess this at all.

There is one other serious failing in the book: Throughout, the German Resistance is taken as real. It never was, with the partial exception of Staufenburg’s personal heroism. 

And even the phony Resistance was not, as the Chronicle tends to portray it, anti-Nazi. There were a few pathetic anti-Nazi groups (like White Rose) and one big one that was, however, largely ineffective except in spying, the communists. What is usually thought of when German Resistance is mentioned was the aristocratic, conservative, nationalist opposition to Hitler.

And that was all it was. Rich upper crust Germans sat around drinking stolen wine and grumbling about that uncouth foreigner with the hick accent. They did not, however, intend to cancel the gains of Nazism, which they were enjoying a lot, by, for example, withdrawing from Russia or restoring the independence of Poland.

It hardly matters, except morally, what they thought since they had no intention of doing anything. Across Europe, millions of people -- almost none of them Germans -- grabbed whatever weapon they had, even if it was only a stick, and fought the Germans. The so-called Resistance, with access to the second-largest military force in history, fought nobody.

Their cowardice and greed and indifference to murder got them nothing. While they showed no resolution, the Nazis were implacable and killed them even though they presented not the slightest threat to the regime.

It is some justification for the book’s editors, all academics, that historians have all taken the German Resistance seriously, too.

For me, the most important item of all is a picture on page 527. It shows, from behind with no faces visible, a grandmother, stooped over, walking with three grandchildren, ages about 3 to 6, toward the gas chambers in May 1944.

Pigging out

It might surprise new readers, but the original purpose of RtO was to praise the delectable greasy hog and to lament her passing in the era of the Other White Meat.

American exceptionalism was built on hogmeat. When Sherman's bluecoats were marchin' through Georgia, they carried slabs of bacon stuck on their bayonets. For centuries, in the farm belt hogs have been called "mortgage lifters" because of their ability to turn garbage into salable pork chops. The stories don't mention it, but Mike Fink, the legendary keelboatman, was floating kegs of pickled pork down the river to New Orleans.

Yet the hog has never been the icon of American culture that his usefulness deserves. That has been handed over to the cow, as if America was the spiritual cousin of the Hindus or the Masai. Big successes in America have never been called pig barons, and the the romantic example of the asset-free, endlessly roaming working stiff has never been the pigboy. When city slickers strike it rich and aspire to move up in social class, they never call the real estate agent and ask him to find them a nice pig spread.

'Taint fair.

So it was a red-letter day when RtO was invited to a baby luau next week.

Aside for Mainland readers: The baby luau is a Hawaii custom marking the first birthday of each child. Along with high school graduation, it is the most significant milestone in a Hawaii child's life. Each is marked by a huge meal -- "enough to feed everybody three times" as a radio announced described it recently -- and, at least in the country, by baking a pig in an imu, underground oven.

I have been told that the first birthday was chosen (rather than, say, christening) because in the old days infant mortality was so high that families wanted to celebrate the infant's passage of the most dangerous first year. Maybe. It might also be because, in the old days, a big luau required a lot of food chasing and accumulating, in the sea and the forest. Also, it's a lot of work for everybody, including the mother and mothers of newborns are hardly fit to throw a party for hundreds of people.

A proper kalua pig must be fat and greasy. The modern, svelte hog would come out of the oven dry and inedible. Another signature dish of the imu, laulau (a piece of pork and a piece of butterfish wrapped in taro leaves, then wrapped in ti leaves and steamed), also requires greasy pork -- a lump of pork fat about the size of the pork is included to make it tasty.

Unlike on the Mainland, where hogs are mostly raised in confinement by the hundreds and bred to be lean, in Hawaii pig-farming is small-scale, outdoors, and the pigs are the unmodified sloppy fat descendants of sloppy fat forebears.

But the reason next Saturday's luau for Alyssa is remarkable is that her tutu-kane (grandfather), who has always cooked a 250-pound hog for his many grandchildren, decreed (for reasons unknown but welcome to me) that this time there will be two 250-pounders in the pit.

I have seen that many pigs (and more) go into the imu before; at my younger daughter's high school graduation, the seniors cooked many pigs. But that was for a crowd of hundreds, with dozens of workers to dig and watch the imu. A quarter-ton of greasy, delicious pork for a private family party takes us back to (at least) Territorial days before Hawaiians started moving in to condos.

The absence of progress is wonderful.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Found Sounds 17: Rev. Billy C. Wirtz

I dunno how I missed Rev. Billy C.Wirtz until a few weeks ago. Well, part of the reason is that I left the South before Billy began his musical career, and he's definitely a Southern musician (even though he sometimes makes it as far west as Santa Cruz, which he calls "the land that time forgot").

He is, I suppose, a novelty act, although like some other Southern novelty acts (notably Ray Stevens), once you stop listening for the jokes and pay attention to the music, it turns out he can really cook.

The recipe is not easy to describe -- I have seen it called variously barrelhouse, blues, R&B, boogie woogie. A lot of it is pastiche, and I love musicians who mine all the veins of American music. I wish he would put out an album of straight piano blues.

As it is, he has chosen to parody Southern rednecks. His ear is perfect. Unless you grew up within a couple hundred miles of Rev. Billy's hometown of Aiken, South Carolina, you will not get the full blast of his wit, but even at half-blast he's awfully funny.

This despite the impossibility of parodying Southern folk religion. No matter how wild and uninhibited your imagination, the real thing is wilder and less uninhibited than you. But Rev. Billy is as uninhibited as anybody I can think of, except maybe Robert Crumb.

But the thing that lifts Rev. Billy up is his deep sympathy for rednecks. He is a complete master of that Southern specialty, the ghostly ballad of doom. Not even Ralph Stanley ever did it better than "The Visitor" (on "Unchained Maladies" which unusually has a full backup band, the Polyester Prophets). Elvis and a perfectly balanced serving of schmaltz; who could resist?

"Room 309" (on "A Turn for the Wirtz--Confessions of a Hillbilly Love-God") is nearly as good, although Rev. Billy cannot resist roughhousing here, as also in one of his best-known songs, "Waffle House Fire" (on "Backsliders Tractor Pull").

If all there was to Rev. Billy was full-tilt jeering, he'd be hard to take, although as he likes to say, one man's sushi is another man's bait.

But then he presents "Uncle Cupcake's Got the Blues" (on "Songs of Faith and Inflammation"), and you think, this is what Harry Chapin was trying to do and never quite achieved.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

'Confusion to the French'

During the Napoleonic wars, English sailors used to toast: "Confusion to the French." A fine sentiment for war between nations but not so fine inside a democracy.

At MSNBC, Steve Benen asks:

Let's say the default deniers are right. They're not, but let's just say they are for the sake of conversation, and the consequences of the United States ignoring its financial obligations would be minor. If that's true, why should President Obama and congressional Democrats pay a steep ransom to let the hostage go?
That supposes there are default deniers in the Republican Party, which on its face seems unlikely.  Isn't the GOP supposed to be the party of businessmen, the ones who have "met a payroll," who worry about balancing income and outgo?

The MSM (mainstream media), however, are reporting that there are GOP default deniers, and that they are distributed pretty widely, too:

A surprisingly broad section of the Republican Party is convinced that a threat once taken as economic fact may not exist — or at least may not be so serious. Some question the Treasury’s drop-dead deadline of Oct. 17. Some government services might have to be curtailed, they concede. “But I think the real date, candidly, the date that’s highly problematic for our nation, is Nov. 1,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee.
Others say there is no deadline at all — that daily tax receipts would be more than enough to pay off Treasury bonds as they come due.
Where is Bob Taft when we need him?

There is a deep confusion in the Republican Party. Obamacare is bad because it will bankrupt the country, which would mean it couldn't pay its bills sometime in the future; but not paying its bills next month is nothing to be concerned about.

It seems obvious that the default of the world's biggest creditor would be a bad thing, just as it used to seem obvious (back in Taft's heyday, around 1950) that a nation could not run deficits (either fiscal or current account) indefinitely.

And the United States has been running both kinds regularly.

Sometimes, it is not possible for this blog to restate the obvious, because no one has ever stated it before. (Well, except in earlier posts at RtO.) It turns out that no matter how obvious it seems that a nation cannot run deficits forever, it isn't true.

We may look to England or Holland, the two countries with the longest histories of modern government finance. Let's take England.

First, current account. England ran a current account deficit with the eastern Baltic for 500 years, because it needed the timber, tar, pitch,  hemp and herring of the Baltic for its wooden navy and merchant navy, up until the time that iron ships and steam engines began to reduce the necessity of obtaining "naval stores."

Follow the money

At that time, around 1850, England was the richest country in the world (with Holland right behind), and the Baltic area was very poor -- Sweden was the poorest country in Europe, worse off even than Greece.

Next, fiscal deficits. England has run a steady deficit (papered over with "Consols," the model for our "Treasuries") since 1690. Nevertheless, it is among the world's most prosperous places (despite no longer having colonies to rob) and was strong enough financially even to absorb the failure of all its big private banks in 2008.

So, the bedrock economic assumption of the old, "fiscally responsible" Republican Party is a myth.

What about defaults? Leftists have been pretty insoucient about deficits but never about defaults. They reacted to warnings from the right by saying they could raise taxes. Tax-and-spend liberals. And they were right. Even with the Incurious George tidal wave of deficit spending, there was never any difficulty in "meeting payroll." (To a degree, this was accomplished not by taxation but by inflation. Leftists do not mind moderate inflation; it appears modern economies cannot function without some inflation; it is deflation that cannot be sustained.)

England hasn't defaulted since the time of Richard the Lion Heart. Not even in the grim days after World War II, when war debts burdened the fisc so cruelly that Britons couldn't afford to import eggs (though they were able to start up their magnificent National Health Service and dazzle the world with breakthroughs in government-funded medicine and astronomy).

Today's left and centrist certainty that a government default would be a catastrophe is not so obvious. Argentina has defaulted every few years since 1890, and nobody cares. Argentina has not even had difficulty raising new loans. This demonstrates that there are plenty of people with more money than brains and they work in banks. (Today, trillion-dollar deficits are routine; but in the '70s, when a trillion was real money, banks lent and lost a trillion dollars to what it was then trendy to call "the South," a lot of it in Argentina (and in pre-socialist Chile, I threw that in to irritate all the people who deplore the fiscal policies of Allende but admire those of Pinochet).

Defaults certainly can cause catastrophes. And not only defaults by governments. It was the default of Jay Cooke & Co. that started the very bad Panic of 1873; and the default of the Credit Anstalt (the biggest bank in a very small country) that is conventionally blamed for igniting the Great Depression (unfairly, but that is a story for another day).

But even biggish defaults can be absorbed, in some cases. Russia, for example.

The reason some defaults don't matter is that they are small, or the creditors are not highly leveraged or governments and international institutions step in (thank you, FDR!).

But there's never been a default by the biggest creditor, which is, moreover the creator of the world's reserve currency. So, yeah, the leftists and the centrists are correct, it is obvious that a US default would be a catastrophe.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Historical precedents

Anyone interested in the debt crisis should read a series of posts by Peter Lewis at "Words and Ideas," including "The 'I was misquoted' defense," "Why this stuff matters" and "The Dunning-Kruger Effext and Fremdschan."

I wish Lewis would open comments, but he hasn't.

He is not the first person to locate the rightwing of the controversy in Southern sentiments. Colbert King in the Washington Post touched a nerve Friday with "The rise of the New Confederacy." But Lewis's look at the actual words and ideas of the last existential crisis of the American republic is far better grounded than King's.

We have been this way once before.

This morning on NPR's "Morning Edition," Shankar Vedantam analyzed the crisis with the help of game theorists. He reaches bleak conclusions, likening it to a game of chicken in which irrational gestures are "rewarded," at least up to the point of impact.

I was reminded of what I consider one of the most dangerous rightwing books ever pushed on America's young people (it is used as a text in many supposedly liberal schools), Bruce Patton, William Ury and Roger Fisher's "Getting to Yes."

This book was heavily promoted by the Wall Street Journal when it came out several decades ago, and why not: Its premise is that no dispute cannot be compromised in the "middle." Obviously power and money holders love that: the middle is always over near them.

Abraham Lincoln, a great compromiser in most instances, knew better. Perhaps he learned that when he was attorney for the Illinois Central (at the time, the biggest, most powerful American corporation). He won a case in which the railroad wanted to build a bridge over the Mississippi. If it did, then river traffic would be blocked. It was.

Lincoln was a man who gained wisdom from experience. Lewis quotes from a letter he wrote that fits today's situation perfectly:

“We have just carried an election on principles fairly stated to the people. Now we are told in advance, the government shall be broken up, unless we surrender to those we have beaten, before we take the offices. In this they are either attempting to play upon us, or they are in dead earnest. Either way, if we surrender, it is the end of us, and of the government. They will repeat the experiment upon us ad libitum. A year will not pass, till we shall have to take Cuba as a condition upon which they will stay in the Union…”

Where are the customers' yachts?

If you have discretionary assets -- most Americans do not and you can stop reading here unless you enjoy true-crime stories -- you pretty much have to put them in paper of one sort or another.

You could just accumulate gold and gems, and I know one man who does that (but he spent a lot of effort learning about gems). You can make yourself illiquid by buying real estate. I know a man who did that. In early 2008 he owned 12 houses. Today he lives in his van.

But most people will invest in securities. If they are not careful, they will fund a lavish lifestyle for someone else.

From Bloomberg News:

Clients jumped in. During the decade ended in 2012, more than 30,000 investors entrusted Morgan Stanley with $797 million in a managed-futures fund called Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Spectrum Technical LP. The fund already had $341.6 million invested during the previous eight years.

Top fund managers speculated with that cash in a wide range of asset classes. In that period, the fund made $490.3 million in trading gains and money-market interest income.
Investors who kept their money in Spectrum Technical for that decade, however, reaped none of those returns -- not one penny. Every bit of those profits -- and more -- was consumed by $498.7 million in commissions, expenses and fees paid to fund managers and Morgan Stanley.
I had never heard of a managed futures fund, but that's because I pick my own securities, thank you.

Here's a money quote if I ever heard one:

Morgan Stanley’s chief investment strategist, David Darst, who has written a book on managed futures, declined to comment on his firm’s fees.

Manipulating people

My mother often advised me to remember that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Whenever my brother and I get together, we exchange stories about how that works in practice.

My alltime favorite from Tom:

An auto assembly plant had 4% no-starts: One car in 25 came off the end of the assembly line but wouldn't run. A large shop existed to diagnose the problems and correct them.

A new manager called in his engineers and announced that in the future, there would be 0 no-starts. The engineers nodded, said they could do that, and what budget was he allocating for it?

Nothing, said the manager. Rebellion: Look, we can correct this but we need an appropriation.

Instead, the new manager had the correction shop moved to the other side of the storage parking lot, meaning somebody had to push the no-starts 100 yards to be fixed.

No-starts dropped to 0.

Today at Bloomberg News, Cass Sunstein has a column on that theme, "How Changing a Form Can Change People's Lives." I recommend reading the whole thing. A sample:

In 2009, Congress enacted the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act.  . . .
The CARD Act contains a series of seemingly modest provisions designed to limit credit-card fees. For example, companies are forbidden to impose fees on cardholders who go over their credit limit unless the cardholders agree to “opt in” to authorize that practice. . . .
What is the effect of these provisions? The answer is that they have produced substantial decreases in both over-limit fees and late fees -- thus saving U.S. credit-card users no less than $20.8 billion annually. Notably, cardholders with low credit scores appear to be the biggest beneficiaries.
At this point, every economist will emphasize that there is no such thing as a free lunch. We might speculate that while some consumers are benefiting from the fee limits, others are picking up the tab, perhaps through increases in interest rates, or perhaps by decreases in the availability of credit cards.
But Agarwal and his co-authors are unable to find any such effects.
This should come as no surprise to RtO readers, who may remember my favorite example of free lunch: the opening of the Black Ball Line packet service between Liverpool and North America in 1817, which without spending a farthing released an immense capital that was used to build the Erie Canal which opened the Northwest Territories.

What Sunstein does not address, except by implication, is the undesirable behavior induced by ill-conceived (or sometimes evilly-conceived) design. Oscar Newman and his students at the New York University conducted remarkable experiments showing how crime can be reduced dramatically at no cost (and without arming anybody). His book, "Defensible Space," is on RtO's short list of books that everyone should read, along with "Eyewitness Testimony" by Elizabeth Loftus.

I expect that Obamacare will pay for itself manyfold by the same mechanism, by multiplying the value of America's human capital. It won't be free lunch, but it will be cheap.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Republican entrails

I am going to reprint a Facebook piece by my former Maui News colleague Rick Chatenever here. At the end, he asks what readers think. Should you care to tell him, go to his FB page.

Like Rick, I grew up as an outsider (Italian Catholic in Georgia). Rick has spent his lifetime watching and thinking about movies, and I cannot think of a better way for an outsider to obtain insights into mainstream thinking than that. I always thought he understood Mr. and Mrs. Mass American better -- or at least, more sympathetically -- than I did. (Though neither of us watched television; there is a bottom stratum that it takes a strong stomach to dig into.)

I had not thought of the angle Rick presents at all, which is why I am relaying it. There may be something to it, although not, I believe, with Cruz.

Cruz is (as many, many people instantly recognized as soon as he came on the scene) a McCarthy. The key insight into McCarthy is that he was not an anticommunist, or indeed an anti- or pro- anything. McCarthy was a pure power monster. So is Cruz. If the theme of Rick's insight is currying favor to worm one's way inside an establishment, then Cruz hasn't done that.

Many people think Cruz is brilliant, smartest guy in the room. McCarthy came across that way, too; with his tremendous memory of facts (not all his numbers were invented) and events.

McCarthy was brilliant at co-opting an establishment, and so has Cruz been. But McCarthy had no staying power, in part because he was a drunk. It remains to be seen whether Cruz has. But I think Rubio is the smarter politician. Notice how he has kept relatively quiet recently. Unlike Cruz he is not going out of his way to antagonize the main party.

If Cruz and the Tea Party can really take firm control of the Republican Party, then Cruz rakes in all he chips. Clearly, the TP wants to. The invention of the word "to primary" as a verb proves that. But if the old party proves resilient, then Cruz disappears. Less than two years after he reached his peak, McCarthy was refused entrance to a Republican dinner and was found outside on the sidewalk weeping and blubbering.

Should the old party survive, then Rubio will be placed to be its leader. Not a suicide bomber but with some credibility with the salafist wing of the GOP, he will be the uniter. A Reagan, if you will.

Anyhow, Rick's statement follows:

I have a theory.

Keep in mind that my grandparents were Jews from Russia who wound up in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. I myself grew up as a motherless son to an atheist father in Bible Belt Oklahoma in the 1950s. So I know a little bit about wanting to fit into a society where you sense you really don't belong.

Which, I think, explains politicians like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and even Eric Cantor, who are doing their parts to undo American democracy as we know it.

At the risk of being politically incorrect and insensitive, it's all about assimilation. It's about desperately wanting to be accepted by a certain group, even though you know in your heart that they're bigots and bullies. It's wanting to prove yourself one of them.

Barack Obama is your nemesis. He's the one who overcame all the obstacles with almost otherworldly wisdom and grace. You will always hate him for that.

Your, uh, issues fit right into the old-fashioned, more genteel form of country club Republicanism that still can't believe that someone like Barack Obama is the smartest guy in the room  . . .  no matter what room.

Together, you have paralyzed the American political process into a something unrecognizable. Watching a member of the House of Representatives try to bully a female park ranger on TV last week, I found myself thinking he wasn't worthy of wearing that American flag so prominently displayed on his lapel.

This is not what America is all about.

Unfortunately, the discussion is so polarized that my words will only be read by those who already agree with them (and have the patience to read a screenful of words). We can't even agree to disagree any more.

American democracy was born with a pamphlet called “Common Sense.” I think its time has come again.

What do you think?


Why we call them gun nuts

Read this.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Negotiable instruments

I am not paying close attention to the justifications of the Teahadis, since they are not honestly offered. However, thanks to some of my friends, the more stupid ones do get filtered up to me. Peter Lewis at Words & Ideas ( spotted this from Sen. Cornyn:

“House Republicans have repeatedly sent over legislation that would fund federal operations, but Senate Democrats have rejected each and every bill. They’re effectively arguing that the House bills are simply illegitimate because they contain policy measures that the Democrats don’t like. But what normally happens when the two parties disagree on a policy is a negotiation. It’s become disturbingly clear that the Obama-Reid shutdown is no longer about health care or spending or ideology. It’s about politics plain and simple.”
I note that some of my more backward friends (judging from their Facebook comments) are falling for this sort of twaddle. Well, jeering at twaddle is what RtO was bred to do, so let's state the obvious:

Dear Dimwit Senator:

     The time for bipartisan negotiation comes before final passage of a bill. The Affordable Care Act has been passed and (in part) adjudicated. It has been submitted to the ratification of the voters in an election in which, had they wanted to, they could have fired the people who passed the Act.

While Cornyn's nonsense may be expected to play well among the mouth-breathers of Texas, it is somewhat surprising to find better-educated people proferring the same sort of guess-which-nutshell-hides-the-pea claptrap.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Where did the hurricanes go?

When they realized their phony stories about global warming were not selling, the alarmists changed their tune to "climate change." Safe enough. Though amazingly stable over the long term, climate does change noticeably over the span of a human lifetime.

We were promised that "climate change" would bring more and bigger storms. It didn't happen.

As we wrap up September, there have been just two short-lived Category 1 hurricanes in the Atlantic. Yet seasonal forecasts predicted an extremely active season. What’s going on?
Before diving into the seasonal forecasts, let’s take inventory on where the season stands.
In an average season,  8 tropical storms, 4 hurricanes, and 1 major (category 3 or higher) hurricane form by this date. This year, we’ve experienced 10 tropical storms, 2 hurricanes, and no major hurricanes.
Though we’ve had close to the average number of total storms, most have been short-lived and/or weak. If you went out for a cup of coffee at any time this hurricane season, you would’ve missed many of them.
The author, Brian McNoldy of the reliably alarmist weather blog at the Washington Post, then goes on to explain away the missing weather. Then he asks, if the weather prophets can get it so wrong, why bother?


The answer he gives is that they are getting better, although the evidence he just presented says they aren't. He brings up the concept of "skill" in climate prophecy. This word in this sense was introduced into the discussion by the Hansenites to describe how, if their prophecies were somewhat better than shooting dice, that validated their methods, because the difference demonstrated "skill," (that is, accuracy).

Well, no. It never did. The argument mirrors, conceptually, the argument of the parapsychologists, who claim that if a subject does "better than chance," that means he/she is calling on psychic powers.

Is it necessary to restate  the logical error here? Yes, I believe it is. In a series of trials where nothing (foretelling the future) is happening, some guessers will guess a bit better than average and some will necessarily guess a bit worse. On average, they will follow the dice.

Picking out the lucky streaks does not demonstrate "skill."

Now, weather prophecy is not exactly like cherry-picking parapsychological card tricks. The parapsychologist charlatans can run infinite numbers of trials at guessing the turn of the cards. Going forward each day, the climate charlatans are assigned a result: Weather happens.

Now, what do the weather prophets predict? Year after year, they predict around a dozen storms, with a few strong ones and a few coming ashore. In other words, they predict that each year will be close to average. Some years will be a little under, some over.

But as McNoldy helpfully notes, some years are way out of average.

The low activity so far this year is not unprecedented, but unusual.
According to meteorologist Ryan Maue’s Web site, only four other years have had lower ACE totals as of this date (since 1950): 1962, 1977, 1983, and 1994.  The highest end-of-season ACE among those years is just 35.6.
ACE is accumulated cyclonic energy, and McNoldy presents a graph showing that it ranges over an order of magnitude, from around 25 in low years to nearly 250 in high years.

You know what would demonstrate "skill": Correctly predicting a couple of years that were going to end up near the low or the high end of the range would demonstrate skill.

It is only stating the obvious to say that if you always predict close to average years, you will never demonstrate that kind of skill.

Prior to 2013, the prophets went about as far out on a limb as they ever do, predicting a season on the high side of average. What they got was one of the lowest years ever.

Negative skill.

The parapsychologists have an advantage here. When one of their subjects shows unusual "skill" in not hitting the right card at least an average number of times, he is said to be showing a different kind of paranormality, "psy-missing," or a kind of pathological parapsychological shyness.

This is a cop-out not available to meteorologists. Fact is, when it comes to storms, they are no more reliable than the Old Farmer's Almanac.

Book Reviw 298: On the Irish Waterfront

ON THE IRISH WATERFRONT: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York, by James T. Fisher. 370 pages, illustrated. Cornell

The movie “On the Waterfront” presented a simple tale of evil and redemption. The real waterfront was much more complicated.

At midcentury there were almost a thousand piers in New York Harbor, some worked by African-Americans, some by Italian-Americans, some by “Austrians” (dock talk for immigrants from east and southeast Europe). But power and corruption centered in the Irish-American zone on the West Side of Manhattan and the International Longshoremen’s Association and the corrupt alliance of Tammany Hall and the “Powerhouse,” the residence of the vicious and corrupt Cardinal Spellman.

The Catholic Church claims to be centrally directed and hierarchical, but the American branch especially was fragmented by the differences among the Catholic immigrants of different origins in Europe or Latin America; and by the partly autonomous religious orders that could, up to a point, create their own  policies (apostolates is the term used by James Fisher).

The Jesuits created a labor ministry, with labor “schools” to try to raise the political skills and consciousness of the dockers. It was ineffective, so Spellman, who was antilabor and also one of the biggest and most exploitative employers in New York, let it alone.

“On the Irish Waterfront” is the story of Father Pete Corridan, who after World War II began to have some impact. Other things were changing as well. Returning war veterans were more independent-minded than their fathers and uncles; and various secular reform organizations were active.

The action that snapped the first key support in the structure, however, came from a brave widow (who gets only one sentence in this book), Maisie Hintz. After her husband was murdered, she and her son broke the omerta of the Irish waterfront, a code of silence that unlike the more famous Sicilian omerta, had never been breached.

It might even be said that the first breach was created by gangster “Cockeye” Dunn, who murdered Andy Hintz. Murder was done on the piers but it was never usual. The savage beating was the preferred method.

Once Maisie Hintz lighted up the dark, outsiders took a look inside. Crucially, the writer Budd Schulberg began hanging out and drinking with Corridan.

Here is where an already complicated set of urban political and economic interests becomes unbelievably  entangled. Schulberg and the director Elia Kazan had testified as friendly witnesses to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, which ought to have made the reformers more vulnerable. Spellman and ILA president Joe Ryan were always ready to use the Commie smear to cover up their own crimes.

Leftists have sometimes hijacked the dockers’ story to portray the movie as a justification by Kazan and Schulberg for snitching, but Fisher demolishes that trope -- and who cares anyway? By reading the many drafts of Schulberg’s script, he shows that the testimony angle was there before Schulberg was called before HUAC.

More historically significant is Fisher’s persuasive demonstration that the “shape-up,” the dramatically evil institution used to exploit the longshoremen, was obsolete by the time Schulberg and Corridan began using it to whip the gangsters. No matter, it remained effective.

More controversially, Fisher claims Schulberg (a Jew) “helped move Roman Catholic activism away from obsessive anticommunism.” That would have been a good thing, but I was being raised Catholic in those days, and obsessive (and thoroughly dishonest) anticommunism was dominant.

Fisher, a lay historian, is a professor of theology and American studies at Fordham, and his book is published under the auspices of the Cushwa Center’s Studies of  Catholicism in Twentieth-century America. I have learned to be wary of historiography about Catholicism from Catholic academies, but Fisher presents a rare (unique in my reading) combination of deep understanding of various currents of Catholic thought, sympathy and a hard-hitting willingness to call a spade a spade.

He needed all three, because his subjects refused to play their conventionally assigned roles.

Kazan, raised Orthodox, despised Roman Catholics (for good reason, it seems), but directed the most effective pro-Roman Catholic movie. Corridan, the Jesuit apostle to the dockers, angered them so much he could not meet them. Harry Bridges, the leftist dockworker from the Left Coast, allied with Ryan in the end. The New York communists were recognized by Corridan as the only group working for the welfare of the dockers while their priests were selling them out.

In a final irony, the fate of the docks had been determined before “On the Waterfront” was released. It created an enduring, positive, largely false image of the dockers in the American mind (so much so that “dockers” is the name of the best-selling brand of trousers).

The film was received with raves everywhere except on the docks. “Those directly affected,” writes Fisher, “took a different view.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Crash test dummies

Longtime readers of RtO know that the most important principle of economics was stated 80 years ago by Harry Hopkins: “People don’t eat in the long run, they eat every day.” Any policy that doesn’t enable that goal is bad policy.

There are two other pithy statements that explain the most significant parts of American economic activity since 1980. They are of similar vintage to Hopkins’s encapsulation of the big goal, and they. too, are about goals.

The first came from Treasury Secretary Andy Mellon, who did not regard the collapse of the economy under Hoover as a bad thing. As Hoover wrote, Mellon advised him to "liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate . . . it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people.”

This was delusional. American farmers had been working hard all through “Coolidge Prosperity” and -- according to many a Republican Fourth of July oration -- were the bedrock of American morality and virtue, unlike those wet Catholics and Jews in the city. But farmers were not prospering under Coolidge and Mellon. They were not even eating every day.

The other quotation (coming from memory because I read it in books but cannot find it online today) is from John Rockefeller Sr., and it explains what Mellon was up to: As the stock market swooned, Rockefeller was asked to issue a statement that would calm the nerves of the rich. He, like Mellon, welcomed the crash, because it gave him and his son “the opportunity to purchase attractively priced securities.”

And, really, once you understand those three statements, you can work out the rest for yourself.

Unless you’re an “Austrian.”

 Reaganomics is based on the Mellon-Rockefeller view of virtue: The goal of markets is to transfer more wealth to the worthy: We know they are worthy because they are wealthy. If you worked in one of Mellon’s coal mines, you were unworthy because he did not pay much, and he charged you more at the company store ($1.29 for a bag of flour that the A&P was able to sell profitably to non-Mellon employees in the same town for 75 cents) because that was the tax the wealthy imposed on the immoral. We know they are immoral because god has not deigned to make them wealthy.

The idea is that the wealthy are entitled to appropriate all the labor profit of the workers, because wealth should -- must, even -- flow toward virtue. Here is how that shows up statistically:

Here, from my reporting days, is a small example of how it works in practice in a particular system, in this case Hawaii, where for reasons dating back to the kingdom, most of the land in the desirable commercial districts is in the hands of a few owners, who will not sell to entrepreneurs, although they will lease:

Commercial leases for retail are typically for 10 years, with a reopener to negotiate an extension. As a tax imposed by the wealthy on  the immoral, landlords appropriate the profits of the lessee during the previous decade by demanding such things as “key money” for a renewal.

I first encountered this concept in October 1987, at the end of a long boom on Maui, where a lessee was griping to me that his landlord was demanding $300,000 key money to renew a lease on a small shop on the tourist strip of Front Street. He paid, having no choice; there were no empty spaces on Front Street he could have moved to.

His lease had expired at the end of September. An identical shop, across an alley, owned by the same landlord was up for renewal at the end of October. In between, the stock market crashed, and the second tenant was able to renew without paying any key money.

This is how markets hollow out and destroy the middle class. As an example, it is atypical in two ways: In most states. owning business property in fee is an option for operators; and the crash worked against the aggrandizement of the rich guy.

Usually, crashes work to transfer wealth from workers to the rich. as Rockefeller knew, and that is why rightwingers oppose market regulation. As RtO says, unsupervised markets crash. And the rich then appropriate a greater fraction of all wealth. It is how Ricardo’s Iron Law of wages works in finance capitalism.

It is not true as the “Austrians” and Mellon say, that crashes weed out the less efficient and redeploy capital to more effective sectors. If markets worked -- and to a degree they do -- the thinning occurs during stable and expansionary times, when more efficient firms tend to swallow less efficient rivals.

(This was the subject of the first business story I ever wrote, more than 43 years ago, when I asked why people kept opening small, undercapitalized banks that had no chance of making an operating profit. The story was inspired by my friend Brown Carpenter, who wondered why there were bank branches on three of every four corners at busy intersections.  

(It turned out that three big banks in Virginia were jockeying for dominance, and you could make a quick killing by starting a hopeless bank and selling its corner and accounts to one of the big banks for a heapin’ helpin’ of goodwill.)

That was an aberration of the more benign state of business in which firms with an advantage of location, skill etc. overwhelm less favorably situated firms, often continuing most or all of their operations.

In a financial crash, by contrast, the healthy as well as the sick are carried off. In the Great Depression, a lack of liquidity forced tens of thousands of solvent firms  (all small) to close for inability to collect their receivables. This is less of a problem now, because the New Deal taught the government it could create liquidity and save good businesses. But the healthy as well as the mismanaged are still carried off in a modern crash.

The principal effect of a crash is that people with liquid assets -- rich people -- can buy up assets from the distressed poor for pennies. Thus you get the expansion in one slice of the pie in the chart above.

For example, in 1989 you could buy preferred stock in Dillard’s, the department store, for $2. The stock pays a quarterly dividend of $2, and before and after the crash it sold around par, $25.

That’s a dramatic transfer of wealth, and obviously it does not require any special virtue, skill or hard work on the part of the transferee. All it requires is a pile of free cash.

You will live a loooong time before you hear a rightwinger object to this kind of income redistribution, but eventually, you end up with a wealth allocation similar to that of Russia in 1916 or France in 1788.