Thursday, September 28, 2017


The New York Times notes a silence in the District. The deficit hawks in the Republican Party are not screeching at the new deficits in the president's tax proposal.

WBD promises a "middle class miracle." In a comment I submitted to the Times (not yet accepted as I write this), I promised something better than a miracle. Miracles don't happen.

But magic is real. You just have to know the trick. RtO knows it. Here is what I wrote:

 Growth is in reality very large. As a percentage of all activity, it is low, but that's because output is YUUUGE. Growth could be even better, but increases by whole percentage points are improbable under any policy.

Reaganomics has directed nearly all of the increases in the past 30 years to the tippy top. Sending more there will not goose growth. The overlarge administrative costs in our healthcare trainwreck are so YUUUGE that if they were reduced to the levels paid by, eg, Canada, so many people would be thrown out of work and so many monetary transfers would be X'd out that the economy would go into recession.

But a great deal of capital would thereby be released so that any growth objectives desired by cutting taxes would follow automatically without cutting taxes. Money is fungible, after all. Growth and deficit hawks should adopt single-payer. It would be like magic.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

We used to welcome immigrants and refugees

Once upon a time, when America believed in itself, before it was taken over by frightened,  incompetent nativists, we used to welcome immigrants and refugees.

Like the Forty-eighter Carl Schurz, who became a Civil War general and later an influential United States senator. He was a refugee. Or Alexander Graham Bell. No one contributed more to the expansion of the United States economy than he did. He was an immigrant.

In 1904, Alton Parker, Democratic candidate for president, said:

"The display of great military armaments may please the eye, and, for the moment, excite the pride of the citizen, but it cannot bring to the country the brains, brawn and muscle of a single immigrant, nor induce the investment here of a dollar of capital."
An immigrant of that period -- a Dreamer since he entered at the age of 5 -- was Irving Berlin, who wrote "America the Beautiful." Refugees included Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard, who patented the atomic bomb.

Here on Maui we couldn't survive without the inventions of Luis Alvarez, grandson of an immigrant to Hawaii in Kingdom days who later emigrated to California. His grandson developed Ground Control Approach radar. Without that, we'd all have to take ships to Las Vegas. An immigrant who settled on Maui was George Harrison.

What have the slobbering racists in their MAGA hats contributed?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Coming out party

This week the Republican Party, which has been genteelly racist since Nixon's time, came out as openly and proudly racist. I'll speculate as to timing in a moment, but the key event got little attention:

Nigel Farage will speak in Fairhope, Alabama on Monday night, in support of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The Guardian has learned that the former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) will join former White House advisor Steve Bannon and Duck Dynasty TV star Phil Robertson at an election eve rally.
(An aside: The Guardian has become a strange news outlet, an English paper that is trying to migrate itself to the United States, digitally. It is well worth reading, because it has stories about our politics that American papers overlook, and because it has an outsider perspective that expands the discussion.)

Farage is Britain's most prominent racist. American candidates seldom, almost never, invite foreigners to campaign for them. I've never heard of it during a primary election.

Moore has not been primarily known as a racist, since he's made his career as a theocrat, but it's Alabama, the vacated seat was held by the career racist Jeff Sessions, so ginning up the racist vote should pay dividends in the polling booth.

Nobody missed the other shoe dropping: Trump's Huntsville Decree. That was Trump in his brown shirt, pressing, pressing, always looking for openings to see how far Americans will accept Nazi policies.

His Huntsville Decree that football players who do not worship the flag should be dismissed mirrors Hitler's Law for the Restoration of the Civil Service, and his demand that citizens boycott the National Football League mirrors the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses.

I do not suggest that Trump consciously modeled his racist tirade on German precedent. It was instinctual, but there are only so many channels a politician can direct his discourse into. Trump is a natural nazi.

The invitation to Farage, reportedly engineered by the neonazi Breitbart News, looks much more consciously racist, especially since it is a step in an electoral strategy:

The Bannon ally said a win in Alabama would set the stage for primary fights in 2018 in states including Nevada, Mississippi, Tennessee and Arizona.

As for the timing, I suggest it was accidental. There are at least three factions in the Grand Old Party: the old-line regulars, who would not wave treason flags and are insulted to be called racists although they are; the Bannonites, who have no aloha for the party and are just using it to develop a new party; and the Trumpeters,  who are on board with only part of the old-line program but are yearning to let their racist feelings out.

I suspect that Trump didn't plan this kerfluffle; he was carried away by his crowd. But overnight, when he saw that knees pushed everything else off the news, he ramped up. Otherwise, this week the news would have been dominated by Trump and Republican disasters: no wall, no Obamacare repeal, no Muslim ban, no Middle East strategy, no Afghanistan strategy, failure at North Korea, rejection at the UN, no infrastructure stimulus, no trade renegotiations, no tax changes.

That's the most comprehensive failure of a party in our history and while some of it is beyond the control of any American politician (Afghanistan), the failure to write a tax policy or an infrastructure policy is mere incompetence.

The Farage invitation must have been in process before, so the near simultaneous, open appeal to racists was accidental.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Health-care fraud

I have not seen it stated explicitly, although the fact is implicit in analyses of the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare Repeal Bill, but it's a short-change scam.

If the bill were an actual repeal-and-replace effort, then it would have to provide more money than Obamacare does, not just a redistribution of the current amounts. That is because Obamacare resulted in a very uneven distribution of benefits.

About three-quarters of the states chose to expand  benefits through Medicare, thus drawing more money out of the national fisc. If Graham-Cassidy were evenhanded, then it would either provide less for the nonexpansion states, or more in order to bring benefit levels up to an even level throughout the country.

The Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds an overall reduction in funding, but even if funding were at the same levels, it would be  a reduction for most Americans.

If it were labeled the Graham-Cassidy Health Care Erosion Bill, that would be accurate, but then it's a rightwing plot.

Additionally, some critics of Obamacare made much of the claim that it amounted to rationing. I have not heard  even one of them complain about the greater rationing in the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Screech of the chicken hawk

Trump is the first antiAmerican president. Let's allow the waspish eunuch of Roanoke to explain:

The military parade which meets the eye in almost every direction  excites the gall of our citizens; they feel a just indignation at the sight of loungers, who live upon the public, who consume the fruits of their honest industry, under the pretext of protecting them from a foreign yoke. They put no confidence, sir, in the protection of a handful of ragamuffins.

From an address by Representative John Randolph to the first session of Congress

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Echoing history

There are several problems with using history to illuminate the present.

First, there's too much of it. Second, no two of us learned the same history. Third, most of us never learned any of it. Fourth, the more we need to know history, the less time we have to do so.

Nevertheless, I keep trying.

In the Sept. 7 issue of the London Review of Books, Michael Wood reviews a volume of letters between Alfred Dreyfus and Marie Arconati Visconti, the most recent of which was written in 1923, and in French. Wood never mentions Trump. Yet so much of it sounds instructive.
  ‘The moment they can’t persecute anyone, they consider themselves martyrs’
That's Madame Arconati Visconti, daughter of a famous anticlericalist, writing about Catholics. Here in America, we don't even have any anticlericalists, we have to import them from Europe, like Christopher Hitchens.  But it sounds like it was written about our evangelicals.
The Dreyfus Affair teaches us, among many other things, that evidence is easily faked, and that when the fakes don’t work or you don’t want to use them, you can plead national security: you can claim to have documents you can’t show.
That's Wood, summing up. L'affaire Dreyfus was all about fake news, and even after the reality was clearly exposed, there were many who preferred to believe the fake version. As Wood says,
Who do you have to be to believe X? And what else are you likely to believe if you do?
I don't know that recognizing that the Trumpeters' embrace of  falsehoods galore -- an embrace deftly summed in today's Washington Post by Greg Sargent -- had a nearly exact analogue among French rightwingers 120 years ago tells us anything useful about how to deflect political discourse into honest streams, but in fact Dreyfus was exonerated.

He always thought he would be. Wood writes:
 ‘As for those who have made themselves my executioners,’ Dreyfus wrote in his diary while still on Devil’s Island, ‘ah, I leave their consciences to them as judges when the light is shed, when the truth is revealed, for sooner or later, everything in life is revealed.’ 
But, Wood adds,  "Not quite everything, perhaps." We do, after all, have a birther who whips up his followers by whining about fake  news.

(Wood's review is behind a paywall. It will be worth your while to go to the public library and read the review on paper, and, while you're at it, also look at Malise Ruthven's article "The Saudi Trillions" and Amia Srinivasan's review of books about octopuses.)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Book Review 397: The Battle of the Casbah

THE BATTLE OF THE CASBAH: Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in Algeria 1955-1957, by Paul Aussaresses. 185 pages, illustrated. Enigma paperback

Paul Aussaresses claimed to have taught the U.S. Army his methods of countering terrorism by means of indiscriminate arrests, torture and murder. He certainly taught the Army, and later the Brazilian army and other rightwing Latin American despotisms.

And the U.S. Army certainly used methods much like his in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

But whether the Americans had to learn such skills from Aussaresses is less certain.

“The Battle of the Casbah” was dictated when Aussaresses was old, and it was not welcomed in France. He claimed that the highest government officials had known and, indeed, instructed him to do what he did. They denied it and stripped Aussaresses of his right to wear the uniform of the French army and of his Legion of Honor.

The truth of that is obscure but no one at the time was unaware of the atrocious nature of the Algerian fighting.

The interest of the book in 2017 resides in the fact that Aussaressses sounds just like Trump and his loudmouthed terrorism advisers. One difference is that Aussaresses was actually a soldier, with, apparently, a good record against the Germans.

Aussaresses was unrepentant when his book was condemned. It reveals a naive, stupid racist who was easily manipulated and deceived by the Algerians. He could not possibly have known what was going on, given the limited time he himself says he had to devote to assembling information.

He justified his murders on the grounds, which will be instantly familiar to anyone observing the fascist government in Washington, of defending western values. Perhaps he was.

The question is, were his values worth defending?

One instance will answer the question. Following a series of murders by Algerian nationalists, a group of powerful pieds-noirs (French colonists) came to Aussaresses and his commander, Massu, to threaten that they were ready, if the army would not act brutally, to park a convoy of gasoline tankers on the heights of the Casbah and flood the crowded old town with gasoline, which they would ignite.

Aussaresses says he believed them and thought it would have killed 70,000 people. 

Did he and Massu arrest these westerners? Of course, not. They raided the Casbah and arrested and murdered thousands of Muslims.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book Review 396: The Last Full Measure

THE LAST FULL MEASURE: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers, by Richard Moe. 396 pages, illustrated. Henry Holt

Richard Moe wrote “The Last Full Measure” 25 years ago, but it has some surprising resonance in today's pro-nazi political environment.

Moe has been admired for telling the history of the regiment through the words of the soldiers. That, in turn, was possible because for the first and last time, the soldiers were literate (though not much at spelling, despite the adulation of Noah Webster’s blue-backed speller), had a cheap and efficient postal service and were not censored.

Some of the men seem to have written almost every day and they were uninhibited, although, at least in Moe’s selection, not about sex. (Other soldiers did write about that, and Thomas Lowry tracked down some of their letters in “The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell.”) Sex —even in the most genteel forms of longings — is notable for its absence since the men were so young. One enlisted at age 15.

They freely criticized their officers, and some (usually lawyers or newspaper publishers in civilian life) served as correspondents to hometown papers, which freely printed their complaints. Some officers’ lives were made much harder by this. As we learned during recent wars, army officers do not listen to criticism and will use force to prevent it.

What they wrote about were chow, the weather, marching (endless), interactions with the locals and sightseeing.

Minnesota was the far frontier in 1860, and few of the men had ever encountered a black person, slave or free. Surprisingly, although the endemic racism of Americans of the time is on display, the Minnesotans were, often, respectful of the black people they met — usually referred to as “contrabands” (if liberated slaves) or “servants” (if still enslaved). The cruder names ware mostly absent.

They liked to visit the capital and one, gawking at the White House, was shooed away by a guard. The Minnesotan said he had just stopped by to see President Lincoln. Lincoln opened the front door, came out, shook the man’s hand and chatted a moment. It was a simpler time.

Our main interest is in the descriptions of the fighting, so hard to convey to those who have not done it.

As to current relevance: Over 40% of the volunteers were foreign-born. They didn’t seem to have any difficulty in assimilating to American values, and the man acclaimed to be the best soldier of the regiment was a former Prussian army officer.

Terrorism was also relevant. In 1862, Sioux Indians raided Minnesota’s southern counties, killing  hundreds of white settlers. The men of the 1st Minnesota did not panic. In fact, although they were well informed (via letters from home and newspapers, of which they were avid readers), they seem not to have had anything to say. (Possibly Moe left that out.)

The 1st Minnesota was one of the most famous regiments of the war. They fought nearly every battle from Bull Run to Gettysburg, where the 262 effectives (the regiment had been badly shot up at Fredericksburg) were ordered to charge a Confederate brigade to gain a crucial five minutes for Union reinforcements to come up. Outnumbered probably five to one, and facing artillery besides, they did their duty. Somewhere between 60% and 80% were killed or wounded, the highest rate of the war for a Union regiment.

The  bayonet charge of the 1st Minnesota on the second day pf the battle and the bayonet charge of the 20th Maine Volunteers on the first day are reckoned to have saved the battle for tho Union.

Donate your eyesight to capitalism

The Fireproof Hotel phenomenon has been a frequent theme at RtO. Some readers deny it exists. Hah! Take this, skeptical readers.

It is unclear how many people will go blind from using phony eclipse glasses, but it is clear that capitalists care as little about blinding you as they do about burning you alive.

The Times report also turns up an additional reason -- as if saving your eyesight were not sufficient -- for regulation: by a kind of Gresham's Law of retailing in a litigious society, vendors of legit eclipse glasses got dinged as well as the criminals. In fact, perhaps more than the criminals.

In a statement to The New York Times, an Amazon spokesman said:
“Out of an abundance of caution and in the interests of our customers, we asked third-party sellers that were offering solar eclipse glasses to provide documentation to verify their products were compliant with relevant safety standards. After reviewing the documentation, the offers from sellers with compliant eclipse glasses remained available to customers. The listings from sellers who were not approved were removed and customers who purchased from them were notified.”

Mr. Panjwani said he submitted proper documentation three times. He said that Amazon did reinstate the page, only to pull it again, and then reinstate it again, leaving him with an inbox full of confused and angry emails.

As for the usual alternatives to government advanced by the libertarians:

1. Testing the glasses yourself was not so easy, and, in any case, you would have to buy them first.

2. Suing for compensation. Lots of luck with that.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Neonazis in the woodpile

It has been several days (and several crises) since Trump's pro-nazi remarks about Charlottesville. Various people have weighed in, pro and con.

If anyone was uncertain just what was going on, there has been plenty of what used to be called "values clarification."

So you really have to be a very dense kind of a nazi to wait until now to attack the antinazis.You'd have to be like Wilbur Ross.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ecrasez l'infame!

Patheos reports Texas churches are suing to become eligible for FEMA relief despite the fact that they do not pay taxes.

Regretfully, they are being assisted by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. I used to have aloha for Becket, which up to 25 years ago did good work supporting non-Christian and oddball Christian cults being harassed by mainstream Christians and local governments.

Since then, however, Becket has changed from supporting religious liberty to suppoting religious dominance. One way you can tell is the speed with which Becket jumped into this dispute. As a smallish organization, it used to spend a long time debating which disputes to intervene in. It looks like it had the papres drawn up and was just looking for an occasion.

Again, we see Christians in America claiming to be persecuted when it never happens.

Nut grafs:

Using Trinity as a starting point here also seems to stretch the limits of that decision. Five of the justices who ruled in favor of the Missouri church made clear the ruling applied only in cases like a church playground, where the benefits were secular.
We haven’t seen that decision applied at the federal level, but the FEMA case isn’t a natural consequence of Trinity. It’s ridiculous for anyone to argue taxpayers should fund the rebuilding of churches — which would obviously benefit religion — when no one would ask taxpayers to fund the building of those churches in the first place.
One correction to Patheos. It is not true that no one is asking that taxpayers fund building churches from the start. The Catholics do.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Bloomberg reports that small companies have taken up a large portion of Florida's home insurance business after the giants,  disliking their losses during 2005 when many storms hit Florida, pulled back.

This is a subset of the 'Fireproof Hotel' problem that RtO has so often commented on.

You can make a lot of money with a bit of luck -- an investment in Universal Insurance Holdings since 2005 has returned several times what an investment in Apple would have. However, eventually the unprotected hotel burns down and you're left with nothing.

People in Hawaii have forgotten, for the most part, but that's what happened in 1992. HEI had written a huge portion of local hurricane insurance. After Iniki,  it simply refused to pay.

Universal claims it has resources and reinsurance to cover any losses. I have not looked at its books, but I can recognize a company violating normal boundaries of prudence in insurance underwriting, and I am ready to bet that will turn out not to be correct.

Jeff Sessions, racist

RtO once said that Jeff Sessions is always about race. It's true. Everything that comes out of his mouth is dog-whistle.

Now.,thanks to the anger generated by the assault on the Dreamers, various left voices are publicizing what may have been his most open racist statement. It was made in 2015, and publicized in January when he was nominated to become attorney general. (I did not learn about it then.)

In it he tells a receptive audience -- the neo-nazi Steve Bannon -- that the 1924 immigration law "was good for America."

As everyone knows, the act was pure racism.

I happen to be reading Richard Moe's "The Last Full Measure," the history of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment, one of the most honored formations in the Union Army.

Over 40% of the volunteers were immigrants, most had been in America just a few years. They understood American values well enough. Better than the first unit of traitors they fought, at Bull Run, the 4th Alabama.

The people who bray about American values or western values neither understand nor behave as if they honor those values.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review 395: The Fifties

THE FIFTIES, by David Halberstam. 800 pages, illustrated. Villard

W.H. Auden famously labeled the ’30s “a low, dishonest decade,” but the ‘50s were as low and a whole lot meaner. There were men as mean as Hoover, McCarthy, the Dulles brothers, LeMay and Nixon in the ‘30s but they were nowhere near as influential or as close to the center of power as the evil men of the ‘50s were.

This is superficially odd. The United States came out of war and depression on top; it should have been a happy, confident decade. Halberstam writes about how it was not — race and anticommunism soured the mood — but never comes to grips with why.

A former newspaperman, he does have a good deal to say about how the press misled the public, although he does not spend much time with the gravest malefactors. There is nothing but respect, for example, for Time.

Of the two irritants, he deals better with race. “The Fifties” does give a pretty good sense of how much the dominant culture just wanted to ignore racism, and why the dislocations of the ‘30s and ‘40s made that increasingly unlikely.  But there is very little about antisemitism and absolutely nothing about the racism directed at smaller minorities. The bile spewing out of Congress during the drive for statehood for Hawaii, for example, is never mentioned. Nor is the racism directed at Indians and Latinos.

It is not as if there was no sense of that at the time. This was the decade of the success of “West Side Story.”

When it comes to communism, Halberstam fails completely to grasp what happened. This is in part because of his misunderstanding of World War II (as especially exemplified by his admiration for MacArthur, the most incompetent professional soldier in our history).

He is equally clueless about the contribution of Eisenhower and America generally to the defeat of Nazism — nothing, as the defeat had been accomplished by the USSR before we came in. If Americans had recognized that the spread of Russia into central Europe was nothing more than an oscillation in the European balance of power, then there would have been no talk of giveaways at Yalta and Potsdam and accusations of treason against men like Marshall would have resulted in the accusers being sent to the looney bin. Instead they took control of Congress.

The rot was deep. Halberstam often refers to the “essential decency” of Eisenhower. That was the man who would not stand by Marshall, the way Acheson stood by Hiss.

I was a young boy at the time. Even I could sense the fear. In the 2000s, we made jokes about how if we abandoned this or that common activity “the terrorists will have won.” In the ‘50s, they did win.

The one area where Americans conquered their fear was the civil rights movement, and Halberstam does a poor job of depicting that.

In the political arena, the part Halberstam gets best is the turn away from democracy in international affairs. He lingers over the overthrow of democratic regimes by the CIA (with the approval of essentially decent Ike) in Iran and Guatemala and the defense of colonialism in Southeast Asia, leading to the failure of American-sponsored fascism in Cuba and (after the end of this book) Vietnam.

For the rest of American society in the ’50s, Halberstam’s review is spotty. There is a great deal about Elvis Presley, not a word about Leonard Bernstein, and Mitch Miller is mentioned only because he happened to be present at an event early in the ‘50s, long before he became a phenomenon.

It is hard to believe anyone could write 800 pages about American life in the ‘50s without mentioning the move of two of the three big league teams from New York City to the West Coast, but Halberstam manages it. If you didn’t know better, you would think the only parts of America west of the Mississippi were Little Rock, Arkansas, and California — and not much of California.

It is also hard to imagine anyone writing a serious review of the ‘50s without mentioning Billy Graham and his crusades, but Halberstam manages that, too.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Big number

According to a Los Angeles Times story about a legal dispute between Apple and Qualcomm "the workings of today’s smartphones involve an estimated 250,000 patents."