Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pray you do not get sick, Deplorables II

So the nominee for secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Tom Price, thinks Obamacare interferes in a bad way with the doctor-patient relationship. Price is a surgeon.

I wonder what he thinks about the current system.  Earlier this month I had to make 3 time-consuming and costly trips downtown to pick up and return a recording oxygen meter for my wife. Her doctor thinks she needs oxygen; she thinks she needs oxygen.

Their opinion counts for nothing. The decision whether her insurance (not Obamacare) will pay for it is made by a clerk with no medical training.

1. The Republican Party does not support a minimum wage of $15; it is not clear whether the tea party wing (of which Price is an ornament) believes in a minimum wage law at all.

2. Price's alternative to Obamacare is tax credits for purchasing private medical insurance.

3. As Mitt Romney famously complained, close to half of Americans make so little money (see point 1 in this summary) that they owe little or no tax.

4. A tax credit for a person not subject to tax is worth $0.00. (For people like Price it will be worth anything up to $1.00 per $1.00; a pattern emerges.)

Enjoy paying all your medical bills out of current income or savings, Trumpeters.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Is an itch a tickle?

Humor is hard to do. Consider the 2016 Ignobel Prize in Medicine, which went to German scientists who discovered (in 2013) that if an itch is induced in one forearm, having the sufferer watch himself in a mirror while scratching the like spot on the other arm will bring substantial relief.

While the idea is amusing the implications seem serious enough. Really, the only funny part was the speculation as to the mechanism:

This effect might be due to a transient illusionary intersensory perceptual congruency of visual, tactile and pruriceptive signals.

Saturday, November 19, 2016


In 1985 I was in Manhattan for a convention. The people I was with were anxious to look at Trump Tower, which was fairly new. They also wanted to see Bijan, a shop in the tower that sold $250 neckties.  I had no interest in either but went along with my group.

If I had any expectations, they were for, at least, an impressive interior space like the ones John Portman had introduced in the '70s in Atlanta. I was surprised to find that the entrance room to the tower was so dinky. Other than that, I have had no contact with Trump taste in building.

Now it cannot be avoided. news photographs of Trump's meeting with Prime Minister Abe show us his living room.

Garish doesn't begin to describe it. I thought, where have I seen the like for a political leader? Oh, yeah, Saddam Hussein.

However, when I looked up a photograph of Saddam's living room it was, comparatively, a model of taste and restraint.

I feign no hypotheses, but it is surprising.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

'Transparent flapdoodle'

I regret I never used that phrase in any of the stories I wrote in my newspaper days. Bravo, Michael
Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times.

He is exactly right about the 'Spirit-ualization' of the airlines, especially United.  Fortunately for me, my travel patterns have changed and I won't have to fly United any more. Not such good news for Hawaii tourism, however, which still depends a lot on United.

It makes you wonder whether American business managers understand who gives their businesses money.

Although I believe that good ol' 'Murican racism accounts for about 98% of Trump's electoral success, I also believe that a part of his personal -- as opposed to his policy -- appeal came from his habit of stiffing people who he hired. Democrats, who believe in an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, thought those stories would hurt him.

What they didns't get was the boiling rage of the American consumer who has a choice of buying crap from China or other crap from China, and if it breaks on the second use, there's no one to complain to. Or, if it's a service business (like his cable provider), he has to endure the humiliation of complaining to a brown person in India who speaks 'Murican with a lilting accent and reads from a script and is prevented form actually doing anything for him.

What the individualistic 'Murican wants to do is to tell all those businesses that don't give a hoot about him or his satisfaction to stuff it, he ain't payin'. Of corse, he's afraid to do it. Credit rating and all.

But he likes to watch Trump do it.

But he loves to see Trump do it.

Who is most likely to murder you?

1. A Muslim terrorist

2. A Christian terrorist

3. The gun nut boyfriend that your co-worker just broke up with.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Pray you do not get sick, Deplorables

The most unhappy of all Americans following Trump’s victory will be Republican congressmen who for the past 7 years have been declaring Obamacare a disaster and voting every two months to repeal it.

Now they can and replace it with something better, as so often promised.


Trump suggests health savings accounts, a favorite idea from the ‘70s that never worked. (I had a version of one once.)

I realize that Trump voters are lost when higher mathematics kicks in (anything beyond what they can count with their socks off), but consider this:

One day in a hospital room costs upwards of $15,000.

The average family in Oxycontinland makes maybe $600 a week.

Let us say they save 10% of their gross pay.

Solve for how many weeks they must save (each week incurring no medical expenses to draw down their savings balance) in order to afford one day of hospital care. Express your answer in years.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Book Review 375: Bankrupting the Enemy

BANKRUPTING THE ENEMY: The U.S. Financial Siege of Japan before Pearl Harbor, by Edward S. Miller. 323 Pages, illustrated. Naval Institute

Edward Miller’s  “Bankrupting the Enemy” has gained in relevance since it was published in 2007 because since then the attempt to control state actors with sanctions has become more and more common, more desperate and, usually, less successful.

It isn’t that sanctions have only just come into use. Miller noted in 2007 that they had been tried 75 times since World War II. Everybody knows that sanctions failed against Italy after it invaded Ethiopia because the key ingredient, oil, was not included. Sanctions had spotty effects on the Spanish Civil War, although that episode offered perhaps history’s strangest caution about unexpected consequences, when members of the Mother of Parliaments stood and cheered the news that German planes had bombed British ships.

Unexpected consequences seem to be the norm with sanctions. See Cuba. But the July 1941 sanctions against Japan resulted in the exact opposite of the intended effect, at least if you take Franklin Roosevelt at his word that he hoped sanctions would bring Japan to its senses, not to its knees. As we will see, this may have been a very good thing.

Half-hearted arms sanctions since 1931 had had no effect on Japan’s aggression in China, and ramped up sanctions in 1940 were no more effective. But a financial freeze in July 1941 quickly drove Japan to the most desperate response — war with America, Britain, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

Miller does a masterly job of setting the scene, and we learn a great deal about such unexpected subjects as why women dislike cotton stockings. The bottom line, which Japan’s militarists should have considered but did not, was that Japan’s most valuable export, raw silk, was used entirely for American women’s stockings. Such was the disparity of the two economies.

It was also crucial that America controlled gold — it made the only market — and that the dominance of the dollar meant that Japan would have no alternatives if America stopped buying Japan’s gold and also froze its dollars.

Yet Roosevelt and his cautious secretary of state, Cordell Hull, were hesitant to use that power. It was already known before Miller’s work, through Jonathan Utley’s “Going to War with Japan,” that midlevel bureaucrats had administratively toughened the commodity sanctions imposed when Japan moved into Indochina beyond what Roosevelt had intended. However, using secret documents not available to Utley, Miller shows how Japan managed to mitigate those impacts.

By subterfuge at the Yokohama Specie Bank in New York (exactly like what we have seen since with many banks, such as BNP Paribas, when the United States and/or the United Nations have tried to impose financial sanctions on, eg, Iran), Japan hid enough foreign exchange to finance necessary military imports for years. (In a minor aspect, the United States considered selective sanctions not against Japan generally but against certain companies but rejected that as impossible to administer; a lesson recent administrations have declined to accept.)

With money to spare, Japan could laugh at wimpy American commodity sanctions on aviation gasoline (87 octane) by importing 86 octane gas and blending it.

Officially and no doubt actually, Roosevelt intended the financial freeze as a carrot-and-stick method. As Japan showed signs of conforming to American wishes, shipments of petroleum or other materials would be selectively allowed.

One branch of government continued to license exports but an ambitious and opportunistic hawk in the State Department, assistant secretary Dean Acheson, simply clamped down on all access to frozen accounts. The licenses were useless.

It is unclear what Roosevelt was thinking. Perhaps he thought a sharp blow would quickly bring Japan around. His only comment in the archives is a note on a memorandum: “SW (acting secretary of state Sumner Welles) OK FDR.”

So Acheson had his way. Like Roosevelt, he wanted most to stop Germany and had little rational reason to force Japan into war against America in the Pacific. Or perhaps he thought that if he could get a war started anywhere, it would become a world war, as did happen.

Acheson’s memoirs are unhelpful.

So one lesson is that America is hard to govern and even presidents don’t always get what they want.

But another conclusion can be drawn, although Miller does not draw it.

It is clear that Japan’s divided leadership was itching for new military adventures in late 1941. Japan could neither win in nor withdraw from China, so to saber rattlers a new front offered a hope of upsetting things with hoped for good results.

The army wanted to conquer Siberia. That was its familiar area; it had already attacked the USSR in 1938 and 1939. And in its perpetual war with the navy, a land war would entitle it to a greater share of national resources.

The navy, we know, was unenthusiastic about war with Russia but could not control the army and, absent a shutdown of imports, had few good reasons to argue for an adventure in the south.

It is thus likely that, if Roosevelt had not acted and if Acheson had not overacted, Japan would have invaded Siberia. The Red Army had, we now know, defeated Germany in September by imposing the 900,000th casualty on the Germans.

Germany could replace only 900,000 casualties, so from that point on, all the Red Army had to do was keep fighting. But it was on a knife’s edge; a serious Japanese attack would possibly have reversed the decision in eastern Russia and would certainly have prevented the transfer of Siberian units to the Moscow front where the Russians just barely managed to save their capital and most important industrial center in December.

If Russia had been knocked out, the combined strength of America and Britain were insufficient to reconquer Europe, so it may be that the dysfunctional and dithering American policy toward Japan was, in the end, better than anything any of the feudists in Washington could have devised.