Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Modern Navy

Another new littoral combat ship has been rendered “hors de combat” on a long term basis, the third one in a year, and while the article does not say so, this one appears to be one of at least two where the issue was crew maintenance failure. The USS Freedom lost a main engine when “seawater entered the engine oil lube system through a leak in a seawater pump's mechanical seal.”

It’s hard to follow that description, because normally the mechanical seal on a seawater pump would be sealing the shaft that connects the electric drive motor to the pump, and it would be sealing the pumped content from the atmosphere of the ship, or from the electric motor. Freedom must have some pretty funky mechanical systems to allow the failure of such a seal to dump seawater into the lube oil system. Either that or the government is doing one of its infamous tap dances again.

And yes, seawater pumps cooling diesel engines is something I know quite a lot about. Look at the picture at the top of this blog. Granted, I was an electrician, but those pumps are driven by electric motors, and I have actually changed the mechanical seals in question. Seawater did not get into our engine lube oil when the seal failed; it sprayed into the electric motor, creating a bit of havoc, and then went into our bilge.

In any case, allowing the leak (whatever it was) to develop is bad enough, but apparently it was not discovered for quite a long time, because the entire engine is having to be replaced due to interior rust. That means a lot of seawater got into the lube oil, a hell of a lot, and it stayed there for a long time without anyone noticing. Seawater in lube oil is not that hard to notice, and regular inspection should have caught it long before it did any damage.

USS Fort Worth was crippled when it tried to operate with no lubricating oil in its main propulsion reduction gears because the crew had forgotten to put it in after draining the gearbox for maintenance. Again, I thought it was pretty remarkable that a ship that new would already be changing the gearbox oil, but that the crew would overlook something so basic as replacing the oil is mind boggling.

This incident happened in Japan, and the ship is having to be towed all the way back to San Diego for repairs, which raises the question of why they were performing this level of maintenance in a foreign port.

The USS Milwaukee suffered a disabling breakdown when a clutch failed to disengage, but she had been in commission for less than a month so it's hard to draw any conclusions from that. Although, from other events in the news it would not surprise me that a Navy crew could screw up a new ship in less than a month.

Later in the article an admiral actually comes to the defense of the ships as if these failures were the fault of the ships themselves. He refers to them as “teething problems of the class.” So the Navy has massive leadership and crew incompetence problems and doesn’t even recognize what it is looking at.

The Navy in which I served was certainly not perfect, but this is astonishing. We had ships that were twenty years old and we took good care of them. We paid attention to our jobs. We took pride in our service. Today’s Navy seems to incorporate none of that, being given brand new ships and simply trashing them.

Friday, August 26, 2016


Dean Baker, a couple of days ago, offered a rather odd explanation of why the Obamacare healthcare exchanges are failing in many states, with major insurers losing money and pulling out of them. He says that the exchanges are, “attracting a less healthy group of patients.”

He goes on to say that insurance companies “are happy to insure relatively healthy people,” which seems fairly obvious, and suggests that the states can “require that insurers commit to insuring less healthy people on the exchanges as a condition of insuring the more healthy people on the individual market.”

Let’s see if we can parse what he’s saying here. People who are healthy buy expensive policies outside of the exchanges, while people who are sick buy cheaper policies in the exchanges. No, that doesn’t sound right.

People who buy health insurance on the exchanges rather than in the mass market do not do so because they are sick, they do so because they have lower income and receive a subsidy when using the exchanges. That subsidy applies to sick people and healthy people, but the healthy people don’t want to buy health insurance.

Obamacare was supposed to assure that healthy people would buy health insurance whether they wanted to or not, but has not delivered on that promise because the penalties are far too small. Healthy people have figured out they are better off paying the trivial penalty than they are spending a vastly larger sum on insurance they don’t want. Pundits universally claimed that no one would ever think that way, but

As for Baker’s suggestion that states require that insurance companies remain in the exchange as a condition of remaining in the mass market, yes, they could do that. The result would be an increase in rates for the mass market to offset losses in the exchanges, which might not be too popular, especially given that popular pressure is to reduce health care cost rather than increase it.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Biden Barking

Watched a film clip last night of Joe Biden in Turkey barking with great indignation about how the United States would never, ever, never, under any circumstances support the evils of a military coup. He apparently has already forgotten about Egypt and Honduras, both of which happened during his watch. Whatever shred of credibility this nation might once have had is long gone now.

Missing the Point

Clinton is accused of doing government favors for donors to the Clinton Foundation because of memos as Secretary of State and because more than half of the meetings she has had as a candidate were with Foundation donors; says she met with them but never actually did them any favors.

Opponents say she’s lying, supporters say she’s telling the truth, and both of them are missing the point. The problem is that, favors or not, such access to government officials is a problem in itself. Ordinary people, people who are not filthy rich, do not get to meet with people in power and express their views.

Opponents also say she’s lying about the email server thing while supporters say she’s telling the truth but, in reality, why should any of us pay the slightest attention to anything she’s says about it? Not because she’s crooked, but because she’s not stupid. If she did do something wrong, is she going to admit that to a reporter? The reporter is actually pretty damned stupid to ask the question.

“Mrs Clinton, did you send secret material on an insecure email server?”
Do you really think that she is going to answer in the affirmative? So why bother to make such a big deal about her giving the only possible answer and saying that she didn’t do it?

I’m not claiming that she did any of these things; I’m just asserting that her denials mean nothing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A "Still Small Voice"

I’m leery of “Wall Street experts,” but James Grant makes, I think, an interesting point when he discusses the wisdom of investing in government treasury bonds.

“Sovereign debt is my nomination for the number one overvalued market around the world. You are earning nothing or less than nothing for the privilege of lending your money to a government that has pledged to depreciate the currency that you’re investing in. The central banks of the world are striving to achieve a rate of inflation of 2% or more and you are lending certainly at much less than 2% and in many cases at less than nominal 0%. The experience of losing money is common in investing. But where is the certitude of loss even before your check clears? That’s the situation with sovereign debt right now.”

He does not go into the perfidy of governments paying less than 1% on the money you lend them while deliberately devaluing that money at an annual 2% rate. Who is served by such a policy? Yes. Bankers.

The whole thing is worth reading, especially the part about the Swiss National Bank buying American equities using Swiss francs which they “create from the thin alpine air where the Swiss money grows.” Unlike the American Fed money which is created from the humid, heavy air at sea level.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Effect of Taxes

The media is not talking much about what the two candidates are promising for income tax changes. They don’t offer much detail, and they don’t say how the changes offered by either candidate will affect taxes paid by average working class Americans.

Trump, we hear, proposes to change the brackets and have only three tax rates of 10%, 20% and 25% with increase in the standard deduction to $25,000 for single filers and $50,000 for married couples. The media stresses that such a scheme would result in the rich paying lower taxes.

Clinton says that she will add a new rate at the top, percentage unspecified, which the media quotes her repeatedly as saying will, “finally make the rich pay their fair share for a change.”

Trump doesn’t say what the wage brackets are for his three rates, but since under the current tax plan the 10% bracket tops out at a mere $9275, there is no 20% bracket and the boundary at which we begin paying 25% is below average wage of $39,156, it’s safe to say that income on which you are now paying 15% will be taxed at 10% and income on which you are paying 25% tax will be taxed at either 10% or 20%. Not to mention that the standard deduction, for the 82% of people making average wage who do not itemize, is quadrupled.

In other words, Trump’s proposal will significantly reduce the tax liability for average working class men and women. The media carefully does not point that out.

Clinton’s proposal does not change the taxes paid by the working class, but does raise taxes paid by the rich by some unspecified amount. The media, then, is persuading working class voters to reject a tax reduction for themselves in favor of a tax increase to punish the rich. What kind of sense does that make? How does the working class benefit from making the rich just a tiny bit less rich?

They would, perhaps, rather feel good about kicking someone else’s ass than having some extra income for themselves? Have we really deteriorated to that?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Uber Gets A Beating

Bill Mitchell had a discussion Tuesday on why progressives (damn, that is starting to sound to me like a dirty word) should not be swanning over the likes of Uber, explaining the ways in which that business model resembles sharecropping. He goes on at some length about the evils of sharecropping, and of Uber.

He does not, at least, refer to “the sharing economy,” a term which seems to have lost momentum lately. Thank God. That term was always nonsense. If you’re charging money for it, you’re not “sharing” it. Anyway…

I have noticed lately that Uber is running television commercials for drivers. They ran them for riders for a long time, but then there was nothing for a while and now it’s for drivers. I’ve been wondering what that means, but now I read that Uber also does car financing and I think I know. Ugh. That’s not a pretty picture.

I agree with much of what Mitchell has to say, although I’m less sympathetic than he with the taxi industry. I have a little different slant than he does on the history of the taxi industry persuading (bribing) local governments to limit the number of licenses. He sees that as opportunity for impoverished taxi drivers to realize capital gains on taxi licenses, while I see it as a method of enriching taxi owners through the limitation of competition. Either way, seeing them suffer from competition now because their bribes were overtaken by events doesn’t really bother me much.

Way down in the comments section someone mentions that sharecropping is not intrinsically evil; that it provides entry into farming without the need for capital to purchase land, for instance. Which raises an interesting point. Most systems, either in government or business, are intrinsically neither good or bad. What matters is the manner in which that system is implemented.

The modern generation of “progressives” are ranting on the evils of capitalism, and notably not offering to say what should replace it, but capitalism is what produced the boom times and almost utopian living standard of the 1960's and 70's. What changed about the way our systems have been implemented between then and now is for another discussion, certainly Uber is part of the change and part of the problem, but the problem is not the system itself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Pearls of Wisdom

A talking head commenting on the women's eight rowing team said that they dominate the class because, "They have established their own identity and are rowing to their potential."

The women were in command from the opening horn and won gold by a bit over two seconds, so I'm sure this female commentator was pretty excited, but what does that even mean? Their own identity? Yes, they wore team uniforms, as did all the other teams. Rowing to their potential? Yes, I dare say they were, as were seven other teams in that competition. I'm no rowing expert, but I suspect that their winning probably had a lot to do with strength training and many hours of practice to get their timing just right, and very little to do with "establishing their identity" etc.

I once told my father when I was a kid that I needed to "find out who I am." I won't tell you what his response was specifically. He sent me on a journey, but it was very short and it wasn't about self discovery.

Yes, I sometimes engage in snark when I pick titles.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Say What?

In the comment section on an NBC article about Joey Bosa's holdout with the Chargers a fan writes, "As much as I think Bosa should accept the reasonable terms set by the team I still hate that the Chargers always seem to find ways to crap on their players."

So, making a reasonable offer to a player which he does not accept is "crapping on the player" these days?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

They're Back!

imageThis is even better news than the return of Twinkies! Archway only had one facility, which went bankrupt several years ago, and now they are back. These are the real deal, too. They are crispy, crunchy and you can taste the molasses. So far Vons is the only store I've seen that has them.

Twinkies, Windmill cookies and football season only days away. I am almost giddy. Well college football and the NFL regular season is still four weeks away, but the NFL preseason will tide me over until then.

Now if we can only get Chase Elliott to quit doing stupid things on the race track.

What is Progressive?

In a comment on another venue a commentor referenced polls showing that "younger people are overwhelmingly progressive." Someone has a different definition of "progressive" than I do.

"We want to receive a free college education and a higher minimum wage, and we want the rich to pay for it," is not progressive.

"We want to build water systems and develop clean energy and are willing to pay taxes to cover the cost," is progressive.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

What Is Democracy?

I don't get it. Republican voters select a presidential nominee, and no fewer than fifty members of Republican "leadership" say that they will reject the choice made by the voters and will vote for the Democrat. Not that I hold any brief for Donald Trump, but who do these "leaders" think is supposed to be in charge in a democracy?

Barack Obama and others say that Trump is "temperamentally and intellectually unfit," apparently not caring that in doing so they are insulting millions of citizens who chose him to represent them. To disagree with policies is one thing, but a campaign that abandons persuasion for this flood of personal character assassination is divisive and, in the end, accomplishes nothing useful.

Does anyone seriously think that you are going to get me to vote for your candidate by personally insulting mine? Do you really think that by telling millions of people that they voted for a man who is "temperamentally and intellectually unfit" you are going to change their votes to Clinton?

What are we doing? What is all this rhetoric about?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Sky Is Falling

Democracy Now warned us on Thursday that, “First Evidence Surfaces of Foreign Money Pouring into U.S. Elections After Citizens United.”

Citizens United, you may recall, is the Supreme Court decision based on the premise that a) corporations have the same rights of free speech as persons, and that b) money is the same as speech and that therefor corporations may donate money to the campaigns of politicians. It caused all sorts of alarm to the effect that money would corrupt our elections beyond redemption.

Democracy Now is sounding the alarm over the contribution of some $1.3 million by a Chinese couple to the campaign of Jeb Bush, six years after the court decision in question

But, Jeb Bush? Given the nature of Jeb Bush’s campaign, Democracy Now seems to have missed the point just a bit. If Bush’s campaign was an airplane, it not only would not have gotten off the ground, it would not have gotten to the runway. It never, as it turned out, even left the gate.

If the Jeb Bush campaign is what results from the influx of foreign money, then I think we should encourage a vast flood of foreign money and destroy a few more campaigns.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Nature Can Be Interesting

Lawn TreeWe have an African Tulip tree in our front yard, which is supposed not to be deciduous but is – sort of. It stays fully green and lush all winter, but then in May or so it produces a prolific and dramatic crop of reddish orange flowers and sheds about 80% of its leaves. It is native to Africa, southern hemisphere, and that may have something to do with the timing, although I’m inclined to doubt it.

So far this is not all that interesting, nor is it particularly interesting that in late July the tree starts vigorously putting out new leaves. What’s interesting is the degree to which that new leaf growth initially occurs on the top and South (sunny) side of the tree and not on the North side.

The top and South side of the tree right now are covered with new growth, and not just buds but fully developed leaves, while the North side is not even setting buds yet. If you think that the angle of the Sun (which is much higher here than it would be in, say, Minnesota) doesn’t make a difference, think again.

And Somewhat Less Interesting

Comes from ESPN.COM which tells us that (are you ready?), "Danica Patrick continues to amaze us with her yoga skills." There are pictures. Of her doing yoga. Go look if you want, but be warned that if you do you cannot unsee them.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Pop Goes Another Bubble

Dean Baker yesterday refutes a claim made by the New York Times, and in doing so pops a bubble that is a favorite of Paul Krugman. That’s the problem for economists. Their little theories are such exercises in fantasy that when they prop one up, they always manage to do damage to another one.

The Times claims that the federal deficit is projected to increase by 2020 “as increasing entitlement costs for retiring baby boomers take their toll on federal coffers." Dean Baker says that is untrue and that the projected deficit increase is due to the “Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) projection that interest rates will rise.”

He seems to have no argument with the CBO’s projection that payments of interest will rise to about $800 billion per year just four years from now. That’s a pretty big jump from the $223 billion we spent on interest payments in 2015, and it should be receiving a lot of discussion in the presidential campaign. It’s not mentioned at all, of course.

Anyway, Paul Krugman is fond of repeating that the government should be borrowing a lot of money right now because interest rates are low and “debt is cheap.”

Borrowing money merely because the interest is low is a stupid move under any circumstances. My family doesn’t, for instance, need a new car; we don’t want a new car; we can’t afford a new car; we can’t afford to put gas in a new car; but we buy a new car because we are offered one at a good price. Stupid.

But borrowing money merely because the interest rate is low is particularly stupid when the interest rate is not going to remain low.

The government secures debt in the form of fixed rate bonds, but many of them are short term bonds and none of them are of indefinite term. All of them must be either repaid or rolled over into new debt at whatever interest rate prevails at the time. Since Krugman also promotes the theory that governments “never pay off debt” (which is another discussion), and our government has not done so in any meaningful amount since World War II, that means in effect that the government has a variable rate loan.

Remember all those people in 2000 through 2006 who bought houses using the wonderful adjustable rate mortgage loans? They were so happy that, because the interest rate was only 2%, they could afford to buy a much bigger house. Right? They must all have been reading Paul Krugman.

Government, that is taxpayer’s, payment of interest on the debt was $223 billion last year and is objectively forecast to increase to $800 billion in just four more years, even if the government does not borrow any more money. That’s a 259% increase, or more than tripling the expense. Somebody please ask Paul Krugman if that borrowing still sounds like a real bargain.

Monday, August 01, 2016


How do Democrats reconcile their new "America is already great" mantra with their claim to being the country's "progressive party?"

Dean Baker is an Idiot

Dean Baker repeated yesterday the absurd claim which Keynesians are fond of repeating that, “We got out of the last Great Depression by spending lots of money on fighting World War II.”  He obviously wasn’t around during that war, as my parents were, or he would know that World War II merely changed the form of depression from one where many people had no jobs to one where they had jobs but there were no goods to buy with the income they were making.

He would also know that we actually got out of that depression by rebuilding a world destroyed by war, and that we had no competition while doing it because we had bombed our competition into rubble. We also provided college educations for much of the generation which fought that war.

He goes on to say that, “the economy doesn't care what we spend money on, it responds in the same way.” Actually, that’s not even close to being true, because when the money winds up being spent on consumer goods manufactured in other economies, that spending merely increases the trade deficit and does essentially nothing for our economy. When we spend it on fighting wars in foreign countries it is money gone forever and we have nothing to show for it.

When, on the other hand, we spend it on building roads, bridges, water and sewer systems and energy production and transmission, we grow our economy, provide meaningful employment for our working class, and we still have the money in the form of infrastructure because we have invested the money instead of merely spent it. We have not, however, done anything meaningful in this arena in more than fifty years.

Hopefully that spending is done in a manner which reduces our impact on the planet, but that’s a different topic.

Dean Baker is an idiot, as are all economists by definition, because we cannot grow our economy from within like some sort of self licking ice cream cone, we can only do so from without by means of a positive trade balance as we did from the end of World War II until the 1970’s, and when we do spend money it matters very much how and on what we spend it.