Friday, November 26, 2010

The Bush Tax Cuts -- History



I don’t really want to provide an analysis of the “Bush tax cuts” but I find the history interesting. For the record, the real name is the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003.

”The Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 ("JGTRRA", Pub.L. 108-27, 117 Stat. 752), was passed by the United States Congress on May 23, 2003 and signed into law by President George W. Bush on May 28, 2003. Nearly all of the cuts—individual rates, capital gains, dividends, estate tax—are set to expire after 2010.

Among other provisions, the act accelerated certain tax changes passed in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, increased the exemption amount for the individual Alternative Minimum Tax, and lowered taxes of income from dividends and capital gains.”


These are the tax cuts that are set to expire unless Congress does something in its current lame duck session.

The thing I found so interesting was the original vote in the Senate. To spare you from having to decipher it, all Republican Senators voted for it and all Democrats against it except...

Zell Miller (D-GA) and Ben Nelson (D-NE) voted for it.

Lincoln Chaffee (R-RI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) voted against it. Along with...wait for it...John McCain (R-AZ) voting Nay.

By the way, the vote was a 50/50 tie broken by Darth Vader Dick Cheney, who, of course, voted for it. It will be interesting to watch the vote on this one.

Don Brown
November 26, 2010

P.S. As ever, thanks to Paul Krugman for providing a research starting point.

Liabilities and Assets



I’ve been waiting for Krugman to weigh in on Ireland’s current troubles. As a bonus, he included an update on Iceland too. Remember what happened to Iceland? In researching the subject, I was surprised to find Ireland and Iceland tied together in my own blog -- as the only two countries with lower taxes than the U.S. Hold that thought for a moment. I don’t want to get too far away from Krugman’s column.

Eating the Irish

”O.K., these days it’s not the landlords, it’s the bankers — and they’re just impoverishing the populace, not eating it. But only a satirist — and one with a very savage pen — could do justice to what’s happening to Ireland now.”

Essentially, the Irish Government has agreed to pay its bank’s private debt. The Irish taxpayers will pay for the errors in judgment (not to mention greed) of private bankers. It is a crushing burden for the people.

”Now what? Last weekend Ireland and its neighbors put together what has been widely described as a “bailout.” But what really happened was that the Irish government promised to impose even more pain, in return for a credit line — a credit line that would presumably give Ireland more time to, um, restore confidence. Markets, understandably, were not impressed: interest rates on Irish bonds have risen even further.”

In America, you hear Conservatives squawking about mortgaging their children and grandchildren’s future with “out-of-control government spending”. You could say the same thing about Ireland (they have a very generous welfare system) but you need to look deeper -- both in Ireland and America. The debt is there. What is disastrous is that -- by panicking about the debt and insisting it be paid NOW NOW! NOW!! -- the ability of the future generations to pay the debt is being compromised.

In other words, by firing the government-paid school teacher in order to balance the budget, you are ensuring that the children they were supposed to educate will never have a decent job -- a job that produces enough to service the debt.

While comparisons can be instructive, they have their limits. Comparisons aren’t a substitution for clear thinking. The current worry is that investors are fleeing Ireland, Portugal and Spain. (They pretty much already fled Iceland and Greece.) Some want to worry that they will flee the United States -- to which I ask, “Flee to where?” The U.S. isn’t Ireland. Or Spain. The investors fleeing those countries have to go somewhere. Where will they go?

For all those that watch too much TV and are currently saying “Gold”, I’ve got news for you.

”The United States holds more gold bullion than any other country, with about 2.39 times that of the next leading country, Germany.”

(I can live with the fact that the two different Wikipedia entries seem to disagree about the #2 slot. The #1 slot is occupied by the U.S.)

Those that grasp the concept that the flip side of scary liabilities is assets might be interested in this article in the Financial Times by Martin Wolf. (Free subscription required.)

The less-emotional-than-GOLD! answer to the question is that scared investors flee to safety. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. Capitalists giving their money to Communists (China) for safekeeping is just plain crazy. Oh, they’ll dip their toes in the water. They will certainly try to get into the consumer markets to make money. But when push comes to shove -- when there is a world economic crisis -- they bring their loot home to Mama. And Mama is married to Uncle Sam.

Never, never, ever forget. The United States has biggest, baddest, safest asset around.



And that’s just the Navy part.

Don Brown
November 26, 2010

Who’s Wagner?



Funny how you never take the time to look some stuff up.

Robert F. Wagner

”The National Labor Relations Act, perhaps Wagner's greatest achievement, was a seminal event in the history of organized labor in the United States. It created the National Labor Relations Board, which mediated disputes between unions and corporations, and greatly expanded the rights of workers by banning many "unfair labor practices" and guaranteeing all workers the right to form a union. ”

At a time of massive unemployment and declining wages, you wonder where the Senator Wagners of our time are.

”The Wagner-Hatfield amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, aimed at turning over twenty-five percent of all radio channels to non-profit radio broadcasters, did not pass.”

Did you ever wonder why the Republican Party -- the Party of Big Business -- wants to defund National Public Radio? The truth is, they don’t. (Okay, the crazies do. The rational don’t.) It’s just a political ploy.

”Wagner and Edward P. Costigan sponsored a federal anti-Lynching law. In 1935 attempts were made to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support the Costigan-Wagner Bill. However, Roosevelt refused to support the bill, not wanting to alienate Southern Democrats in Congress and lose their support for New Deal programs. There were 18 lynchings of blacks in the South in 1935, but after the threat of federal legislation the number fell to eight in 1936, and to two in 1939.”

I think I’ve mentioned the split between Northern “liberals” and Southern “conservatives” before. I think I’ve also mentioned that FDR wasn’t perfect.

President Obama isn’t either. And just because he hasn’t been as forceful on some issues as I wish, doesn’t mean I won’t support him and vote for him again. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop pushing him either. Ditto for the Democratic Party.

We -- as a country -- are making history, even as you read this. Just as we talk about the Great Depression still, in 50 years our children will be talking about the Great Recession. Hopefully, they won’t be talking about how it started World War III.

Don Brown
November 26, 2010

Today’s Photo 11-26-10



I haven’t stopped taking pictures. I’ve just been otherwise engaged with family matters. This is the best I’ve managed to squeeze in during the last week. It’s raining and windy today. I’ll look forward to tomorrow.





© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
November 26, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

For Guys Only

(Note: This post will stay at the top of the blog for a few days. Scroll down to see any newer entries.)


Yeah, I know the women will read it too. But they know how to shop and don’t need my help. Guys, on the other hand, don’t ever know what to buy their moms, wives, girlfriends or other assorted females in their lives. Now they do.

My daughter, the artist, has started making jewelry. Women love jewelry. They’ll love the fact that it’s hand made, one-of-a-kind jewelry. Face it, you don’t ever know what to buy anyway so you might as well buy a piece of art now and save yourself the panic that will set in the week before Christmas. And you can do it all from the comfort of your own recliner. Have a look.







My regular readers know that I don’t have much commercialism on my blog. Daughters have a way of changing a father’s mind. Not to worry though. I’ll put a link over on the right side and pretty much leave it alone. But while I’m here, I will say this; If you ever want something really grand, you should hire her to do a drawing of your Mom, wife, girlfriend, whatever. Just in case you don’t remember her work...





(an art class sketch from a painting by Tony Ryder)



Don’t ask me about what it would cost -- I’d charge you triple what she will. Ask Kaitlin.

Don Brown
November 20, 2010

Youth Wasted



The Republican Party still wants to hand out pain instead of compassion and make us wait for the rich people to spend their money to save us. I’m not the only one that sees it. The kids coming along see it too. You might want to pause and reflect on that social dynamic for a moment. Think about a young man (or woman) that just graduated from college -- or Iraq and Afghanistan -- and can’t find a job.

From The Baseline Scenario

How Are the Kids? Unemployed, Underwater, and Sinking

”Currently, even after a slight boost in jobs growth, unemployment for 18-24 year olds stands at 24.7%.”

Just as a comparison (in case you’re not familiar with the statistic), unemployment reached a high of 25% in the Great Depression.

“However, the U.S. did not return to 1929 GNP for over a decade and still had an unemployment rate of about 15% in 1940, albeit down from the high of 25% in 1933.”

Back to the article:

”Without adequate education and careers for students, we will never be able to balance the budget. In the long run, it makes more fiscal sense to create jobs and collect tax revenue than to rely on a model that merely waits for the private sector to invest.”

Hmmm. It seems as if the kids have the Flick. I wonder why the Party of the Confederacy can’t seem to get it?

Don Brown
November 22, 2010

I Like This



It’s one of the few times I have to disagree with Fareed Zakaria. He pointed me towards this article by Joe Klein in Time magazine by saying he disagreed with Mr. Klein (during Fareed’s show GPS.)

I like the article. In addition, I like that Mr. Klein scored a triple -- a great article, a great point and a great phrase.

Obsessed with the Deficit — and Ignoring the Economic Mess

”One imagines that if Hubbard was so concerned about deficits, he might have resigned in protest from an Administration dedicated to creating them. But, no, he's here to speak truth to the powerless — to the middle-class folks whose major asset, their home, was trashed by financial speculators, thereby wrecking their retirement plans and creating the consumer implosion we're now suffering. Hubbard is telling them they now have to take yet another hit, on their old-age pensions and health insurance, for the greater good.”

Every writer likes to be able to turn a phrase -- or turn it around: “truth to the powerless”. I like it.

Part of this conversation was started when The New York Times put up an interactive web application that allows you to decide how to balance the U.S. budget.

I found it surprisingly easy to balance the budget. I think you will to. Which leads me to believe that it isn’t the decisions that need to be made are so tough (they are consequential) but that it’s the political process that is difficult. As always, it is difficult to find the political compromises.

Here’s Fareed Zakaria’s budget solution.

And here’s mine.

Give it a try.


Don Brown
November 21, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Mica Twitch



People do remember that al-Qaeda went 4 for 4 against private security screeners don’t they?



GOP's Mica: Ditch TSA, Hire Private Contractors

”This month, Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida wrote letters to 100 of the nation's busiest airports asking that they request private security guards instead.”

Let’s not forget this part.

”Companies that could gain business if airports heed Mica's call have helped fill his campaign coffers. In the past 13 years, Mica has received almost $81,000 in campaign donations from political action committees and executives connected to some of the private contractors already at 16 U.S. airports. ”

Mica hasn’t even taken the reins of power yet and he’s already twitching to privatize Federal employees. Anybody remember the phrase “fetish for privatization”? Nothing has changed.

Tell me again -- all you Republican-voting controllers -- what were your reasons for voting Republican? You know he’ll be coming after you next, right?

Don Brown
November 21, 2010

Be Afraid



I’d love to rub my hands together in glee about the corner the Republicans have painted themselves into. Except I’m afraid we’ve lost our collective minds and that “President Palin” isn’t as insanely implausible as it ought to be. Read this from Frank Rich at The New York Times.

Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha

”But logic doesn’t apply to Palin. What might bring down other politicians only seems to make her stronger: the malapropisms and gaffes, the cut-and-run half-term governorship, family scandals, shameless lying and rapacious self-merchandising. In an angry time when America’s experts and elites all seem to have failed, her amateurism and liabilities are badges of honor. She has turned fallibility into a formula for success.”

Be sure to note the enabling power.

”The Fox spotlight is only part of Murdoch’s largess. As her publisher, he will foot the bill for the coming “book tour” whose itinerary disproportionately dotes on the primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. The editorial page of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal is also on board, recently praising Palin for her transparently ghost-written critique of the Federal Reserve’s use of quantitative easing.”

Be afraid.

Don Brown
November 21, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Depths of Politics



My wife was incredulous that the Republicans blocked an extension of unemployment benefits. She runs a charity and knows how truly desperate some people are. And that more Americans are joining them every day.

She really couldn’t believe it when a lone Republican Senator threatened to sink a nuclear treaty. I know how she feels -- but I also know better. I told her one of my favorite tales to illustrate the depths of politics and I was surprised to find I hadn’t ever put it on my blog. Let me rectify that.

In 1942, President Roosevelt summoned the Congressional leadership to brief them on the Manhattan Project. Senator Kenneth McKellar (a Democrat from Tennessee) was running the Appropriations Committee at the time and was part of the delegation. After hearing Roosevelt’s plan -- and his need to hide the 2-billion-dollar cost in the budget -- Senator McKellar allegedly said,” Mr. President, I agree that the future of our civilization may depend on the success of this project. Where in Tennessee are we going to build it?”

(There are several versions of the story. Personally, I like Lamar Alexander’s version better. It’s more straight to the point.)

That’s just something for the younger controllers to keep in mind if they ever get to talk to a Congressman. They deal with a lot scarier things than getting a planeload of people killed -- and still remember to play politics while they’re doing it. Don’t go into total despair about it though. Congressmen are the ultimate frequent fliers and, like normal people, are into self preservation. They’ll pay attention to you. It just might not be for the reasons you believe they’re paying attention. Airports generate a lot of jobs. And, as I tried to convince my coworkers once, there’s not a Congressman worth his salt that wouldn’t like to have an ARTCC in his district.

Think about it: 500+ high-paying jobs. No pollution. No noise. Low key. What’s not to like? I proposed this place. Why only have two Senators fighting for you when you could have six?

Don Brown
November 19, 2010

Krugman vs. Simpson



The remarks of (former) Senator Alan Simpson and (former) White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles made about Paul Krugman are getting a lot of play. Both men were on NPR, pushing their plan, as co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Quoting Senator Simpson....

”I’d love to meet Paul Krugman, because, i think, sometimes he just looks like he’s lost his marbles,...”

It just goes downhill from there. I thought you might appreciate some context (that I haven’t seen anywhere else.) This is a title from Krugman’s blog -- 3 months ago.

Fire Alan Simpson

”When you have a commission dedicated to the common good, and the co-chair dismisses Social Security as a “milk cow with 310 million tits,” you either have to get rid of him or admit that you’re completely, um, cowed by the right wing, that IOKIYAR rules completely.” (You’ll have to read the blog if you don’t know the acronym.)

And another thing while I’m here, Senator Simpson and Mr. Bowles both make a common prelude when trying to refute Professor Krugman...

“Well, Paul Krugman is a smart guy with a Noble Prize but...”

It’s almost like a twitch. You hear it over and over again. At the risk of overstating it -- lots of people have Noble Prizes. Not many people have a column in The New York Times. The Noble Prize doesn’t intimidate them nearly as much as the column -- and the fact that he has such a record of being right. The Times has almost 1 million subscribers and has 18 million visitors a month to it’s web site. Thousands upon thousands of people read Krugman’s blog every day. Everybody gets to “take their shot” at him. Every day. For over 10 years. And yet, he still stands.

If he is never right about another thing in his life, he was right about the Bush Administration and stood up -- forcefully -- when few dared. (You’re either with us or against us. Don’t you love freedom too? Are you a “real” American? Don’t you support the troops?) That alone makes him worthy of respect.

As far as Senator Simpson, he’s been a grumpy old man longer than I have. And that’s saying something. Besides, what else is he going to say when a Nobel Prize winner tells him he has “errors of fact.”?

Zombies Have Already Killed The Deficit Commission


”OK, the immediate problem is the statements of Alan Simpson, the commission’s co-chairman. And what got reporters’ attention was the combination of incredible insensitivity – the “lesser people”??? — and flat errors of fact.”

”Specifically, Simpson has resurrected the old nonsense about how Social Security will be bankrupt as soon as payroll tax revenues fall short of benefit payments, never mind the quarter century of surpluses that came first.

We went through all this at length back in 2005, but let me do this yet again.”


”So what does it mean that the co-chair of the commission is resurrecting this zombie lie? It means that at even the most basic level of discussion, either (a) he isn’t willing to deal in good faith or (b) the zombies have eaten his brain. And in either case, there’s no point going on with this farce.”

And that was 6 months ago.

Don Brown
November 19, 2010

Say Hello to Chairman Mica



Here’s a short segment where you can learn a little more about your new House Transportation Committee Chairman, John Mica.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



I know most of you don’t have time to research all these things. Let me just say that the most interesting thing I found out during my trip through the internet was that, Lawrence O’Donnell (the host of The Last Word), used to be a writer on The West Wing. I loved that show.



(Thanks for the pointout TC.)

Don Brown
November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Truth Always Comes Out



Even if you saw the original segment on The Daily Show, you need to watch this unedited version. Bethany McLean (Vanity Fair) and Joe Nocera (New York Times) have written a book on our economic collapse. Listen closely to what they have to say.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Bethany McLean & Joe Nocera Extended Interview<a>
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity


I was struck by Joe Nocera’s statement about Goldman-Sachs, “...they did it by screwing all their own clients...” (It’s at the 2:55 mark on the video.)

Joe Nocera is a professional journalist with a long and distinguished history. He is damning the top Wall Street firm -- Goldman Sachs. You just don’t do that lightly. Goldman Sachs has enough lawyers to tie him up in court for the rest of his life. I’d bet money Mr. Nocera has the facts to back his claim. And the last thing Goldman Sachs wants is for those facts to come out in a court of law.

By the way, the “idiots” Jon Stewart kept referring to are you and me. If you own a home, a 401k, any kind of stock, a pension -- the banksters are the ones that stole your money.

“We fell for our own scam.” When I say “stole” I mean stole. But stealing your money wasn’t the worst part. They also stole your future. To understand that, go to Krugman’s blog and start reading.

Don Brown
November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another Aha! Moment



Sometimes I feel so slow.

But if you are the rich people in a democratic society where most people believe in reduced inequality, what kind of tax code do you want? You want to start with an overall progressive structure (so the people won’t revolt), and then you want a boatload of exceptions to that structure that (a) favor the rich and (b) can be individually defended on plausible (and sometimes even reasonable) grounds.

It’s one of those things you know, but you didn’t realize it could be put into one paragraph. Don’t worry if it’s still a little vague for you. Read the list of deductions in the blog entry and it will all make sense.

I bookmarked this site after reading the first entry (and the above wasn’t it.) You might want to do so also. It comes from The Baseline Scenario and the entry above is ”Why Our Tax Code?”

Don Brown
November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Two-Faced Leader



I heard this today while I was listening to The Rachel Maddow Show podcast. You probably didn’t. My ears really perked up when Rachel interviewed James Carroll from The Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY. Senator Mitch McConnell is from Kentucky. And, as Mr. Carroll pointed out, Senator Mitch McConnell’s wife was the Secretary of Labor -- Elaine Chao. But back to the main story.

Bush memoir says Mitch McConnell wanted troop cut to aid GOP candidates in 2006

”In September 2006, with the midterm elections looming, then-Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell went privately to President George W. Bush to plead for a troop reduction in Iraq to help the GOP's political prospects.”

Mind you, this was while Senator McConnell was trying to tag Democrats with the “cut and run” label -- in public. Maybe you would like to watch the video. Skip forward to the 8 minute mark if you’re in a hurry.

“Cut and run”. “Flip flop”. “Drill Baby Drill”. How many of these nasty little slogans are going to come back and bite the Republicans do you think? Can you imagine what Fox News would do to Nancy Pelosi if the tables were turned? Speaking of which, guess what Fox News has to say about all this? That’s right, nothing. I looked. Earmarks, welcoming the freshman Senators and more earmarks. (It appears Senator McConnell has “flip flopped” or “cut and run” on the subject of earmarks. I didn’t bother reading it.)

Let me return to the most-cited phrase from my fellow controllers that vote Republican; “There are more important things than just our jobs.” Indeed there are. And, once again, it’s a noble thought -- one that I applaud. I hope the conduct of our wars wasn’t one of those “things” on your list. If so, your why-I-vote-Republican list just got a little shorter.

Don Brown
November 16, 2010

Automation Degrades Skills (Duh)



First, let me give credit where credit is due. AvWeb sent me to the Wall Street Journal which wouldn’t let me read what I wanted so I searched and went here, which sent me here. If I sound irritated, the reason is in the story headline.

FAA study finds serious flaws in pilot training for handling automation

”Inadequate crew knowledge of automated systems was a factor in more than 40% of accidents and 30% of serious incidents between 2001 and 2009, delegates at the 2-5 November Flight Safety Foundation International Aviation Safety Seminar in Milan, Italy, were told.”

Any controllers out there want to expound upon their own lack of ”knowledge of automated systems ”?

Everybody knows this is my interest so there’s no point in being sly about it. The ATC system depends on Flight Progress Strips as a back up to URET and we all know that the knowledge needed to operate with strips (much less the physical skills) is already all but gone. Think about it as we move along.

”Presenting progress in her research toward the new report, FAA human factors specialist Dr Kathy Abbott catalogued the evidence of disharmony between crews and their highly automated aircraft. The study is based on accident and incident data and line operation safety audits over the period 2001- 2009. Abbott adds the caveat that she is presenting raw data at this point, and there is much more work yet to do to understand it fully.”

Can you just imagine the phone calls and visits being made from these automation providers to the FAA right now? Trying to provide a little “help” on the final report?

”There are many failures with which pilots have to deal with little or no help from checklists or training of any kind, observes Abbott. These include failures or malfunctions of air data computers, computer or software failures, electrical failures, and uncommanded autopilot disconnects or pitchup for which the reason is not known. Of all these problems pilots face Abbot delivers the judgement: "Failure assessment is difficult, failure recovery is difficult, and the failure modes were not anticipated by the designers."”

Let me highlight that last one for you. Because is you think programmers don’t have any imagination about airplane failures, just wait to see what they don’t think of in something as obscure as air traffic control. ”failure modes were not anticipated by the designers.”

”Despite the sometimes fickle nature of the automation, she observes, pilots frequently abdicate too much responsibility to automated systems. The reasons for this, she found, include: a perceived lack of trust in pilot performance by the airline; policies that encourage use of automated systems rather than manual operations; and insufficient training, experience or judgment, the result of which is that "pilots may not be prepared to handle non-routine situations".”

Am I making my point? You need to read it. Otherwise you’ll miss this, near the end. “...encourage flight crews to tell air traffic "unable to comply" when appropriate;...”

Just remember -- one day into the future -- when you, your union and the FAA have let the automation become so deep and wide that you can’t possibly swim to shore, you’ll have to swim anyway. Somebody’s life is going to depend on you being able to swim. And instead of a life vest, you’ll find they’ve given you an anchor. When that happens, be sure to compare the number of airplanes LGA can land in an hour today (44 max) with the number of airplanes it can land in an hour then. And ask yourself if it was worth it.

Don Brown
November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

“A Time to Fight”



I’ve finished reading Jim Webb’s A Time to Fight and wanted to tell you all what an interesting book it is. Mostly, it is because Jim Webb is such an interesting character.

For those that don’t know of him, Jim Webb is now the senior Senator from Virginia. He started off as a Marine Corps officer in Vietnam, worked in the Reagan Administration, made a living as a writer and then wound up as Secretary of the Navy. Believe it or not, that leaves out a lot of other interesting things about him -- perhaps the most interesting of which is that he’s a Democrat.

He’s held a lot of unpopular positions but they seem to only enhance the feeling that he is a Genuine Joe. With a brain.

”For a variety of reasons, the American economic system is more skewed today than it has been since Teddy Roosevelt’s time, when he faced down the so-called Robber Barons more than a hundred years ago. The freewheeling internationalization of corporate America in the age of globalization has resulted in the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs to overseas locations, even as the executives of American corporations have been rewarded with historically unprecedented compensation packages. Massive immigration and the weakening of organized labor have combined to lower the ability of the average worker to negotiate his or her own combination of fair and meaningful wages, medical care, and retirement. And, it is painful to say, an uncaring amorality has seized much of America’s business community, allowing a separate society to grow that in too many cases has lost a sense of conscience about the well-being of other Americans.”

This might be a good time to point out that this book was published in May of 2008. Lehman Brothers collapsed in September. Barack Obama was elected President in November.

”Nowhere is the immense growth of the military-industrial complex more troublesome, both in practical terms and in our national self-image, than in this use of “defense contractors” in today’s operational environment, and particularly in the vast quasi-military force that has grown up in the shadow of our regular military. This trend, which existed before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, expanded exponentially in their aftermath. Part of it has been fed by congressional limitations on the size of the Army and Marine Corps, which forced Defense planners to rely on outside “contractors” to perform functions that historically have been carried out by the military. Another part of the costly trend is political in nature, designed to meet the requirements of America’s involvement in place like Iraq and Afghanistan without having to create vast political dissent by invoking the draft.

It’s easy for a politician to pick on the military-industrial complex . It’s not so easy to talk about the draft. And I think that is what I found so compelling about this book. Senator Webb will delve into the issues that don’t have a political upside.

Most of this is pretty easy for a Democrat to handle. This isn’t.

”And thus there is a deep but often quiet divide between the Democratic Party and the American military not only as it relates to history, but also in the way that past human conduct affects attitudes and modern-day crises such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democrats who came of age during the Vietnam era, and many others who have grown up under their tutelage, have erred greatly for many years in not understanding the positive aspects of military service. And in so doing, in the eyes of those who have served, the Democrats became not simply the antiwar party but also the antimilitary party.”

This is a complex issue. As complex as it is uncomfortable. The book would be a good book without it, but this is what makes it a great book. But before my Republican readers get too comfortable, remember, the Senator is a Democrat.

”The historical tables have turned. It is now the Republican Party that has populated the Defense Department with a cast of unseemly true believers who propelled America into an unnecessary and strategically unsound war; the Republican Party that has most glaringly violated its stewardship of those in uniform; and the Republican Party that continually seeks to politicize military service for its own ends even as it uses their sacrifices as a political shield against criticism for its failed policies.”

You get the feeling that Senator Webb puts the military -- and the people that serve in it -- above partisan politics. Which, of course, is where they ought to be.

It’s a good book. Read it.

Don Brown
November 15, 2010

Something for Everyone



Several months ago, the Earth-bound Misfit shared a link that I have found very useful -- for aviation and photography. We all know that aviation is ruled by weather. To a large extent, so is photography. At least outdoor photography.

I think most of the aviation crowd can handle the nomenclature on this web site but let me say a few words about it for the photography folks. First, let’s take a look at the site.

CWSU National Map



This is the Center Weather Service Unit map of the United States. The “Center” is an Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) like the one I used to work in. Each Center has its own staff of National Weather Service people -- the Center Weather Service Unit. The map is an interactive map and various text boxes will pop up as you move your cursor around the map. Here’s how I use it.

First, I get it down to a useful scale. At the top of the page you’ll see the “Select ARTCC Map” button. I use “ATL” for the Atlanta Area. Currently, it’s O’dark-thirty and I’m wondering if there will be a decent sunrise this morning. You can’t tell much about the sky at night. It’s either clouds or stars. Currently it’s clouds. But what kind of clouds? That’s where this site comes in handy.

If you’ll roll your cursor over an airport symbol, the National Weather Service will tell you about the clouds. The closest airport to me (with a weather station) is Falcon Field (FFC) in Peachtree City (a suburb south of Atlanta.) Here’s where it gets tough for the non-aviation folks. You have to be able to read the code.

You get the name, elevation, temperature dewpoint and relative humidity at the top of the pop-up box. Next is:

Visibility -- 4.00 (miles)
Weather -- BR (that stands for Mist)
Clouds -- FEW024BKN041OVC055 (that’s the tough part)
Altimeter -- (I don’t think photographers care)
1 hr Precip -- 0.03 (how much rain in inches)

To decode a weather report like this, you can refer to this site. It will tell you that SN is snow, BR is Mist, HZ is haze and all sorts of things you don’t want to know (like VA is Volcanic Ash.) I want to concentrate on the cloud section. FEW is simple -- few. Less than 2/8ths of the sky is covered by this cloud layer. And that is what the numbers are about. It tell you the altitude (or height) of the clouds.

FEW024BKN041OVC055

There are a few clouds at 2,400 feet, a “broken” layer at 4,100 feet and an “overcast” layer at 5,500 feet. You can read about it in more detail at the same site as linked above but that is probably all you need to know for photography purposes.

To sum it up, to the north it’s raining and there are a lot of low clouds. It doesn’t sound like much of a photography morning. But to the south and southeast, Thomaston (OPN) is reporting 10 miles visibility with 8,500 overcast and Macon (MCN) has 10,000 foot overcast. I wonder if that’s high enough for the Sun to sneak under and light up the clouds? You’ll never know unless you show up.

By the way, take notice that the pop-up boxes also give you the local sunrise time at the bottom of the box. It’s really nice to have all that info when you’re on the road, photographing a different area.

Don Brown
November 15, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Today’s Photo 11-12-2010



I could spend the rest of the day figuring out the best crop for each of these. And I have dozens.


© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)





© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

There are more on Facebook.

Don Brown
November 12, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Name That Tune



There’s one thing you can say for the FAA -- they’re consistent. Anybody that has ever butted heads with the FAA will probably recognize this tune.

David Pardo: Attorney, Pilot and FAA Whistleblower

”So the FAA has interpreted this to mean that whoever is employing these people can force them to work up to 24 days in a row, provided they get a block of four days off, in each calendar month. Pardo thinks this schedule is "insane," but his opinion regarding pilot, mechanic and dispatcher fatigue didn't cause him to blow the whistle. "My objections were legal and procedural," he says.””

"That's what started my whistle-blowing action—when I realized I was being asked to sign off on an unlawful legal interpretation. I objected because the DC Circuit says that, when an agency decides to reverse a long-standing interpretation, it needs to involve the public via Notice-and-Comment procedures.”

That’s just a teaser, of course. It’s a complicated issue. But the FAA’s response is the same as ever. You should read it.

I hope I’ve said this a hundred times before for the people that care about ensuring safety; The FAA has some good rules, written by some good people. It just has trouble following them. If there’s a situation in the FAA that needs attention, usually, the best way of addressing it is forcing the FAA to follow its own rules. You’ll find that the good managers can live within the rules. It’s the bad managers that have a problem with it.

Don Brown
November 10, 2010

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Conservatives Are Coming



Keep in mind that the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom just took power a few months ago in a split-by-a-third-party election. In addition (just because I like history), remember that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were big buddies. She’s the politician that gave life to privatization.

”She became a very close ally, philosophically and politically, with President of the United States Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980.”

That would be the guy that fired the air traffic controllers.

”According to the BBC, Thatcher "managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation."”

And here’s an interesting little side note:

”The Thatcher government encouraged the growth of the financial and service sectors to replace Britain's ailing manufacturing industry. Susan Strange called this new financial growth model, flourishing in Britain and America under Thatcher and Reagan, "casino capitalism" – as speculation and trading in financial claims became a more important part of the economy than industry.”

Ahhhh, the things I find while researching blog entries for you. But I’m getting off course. Here’s the stuff for my aviation-minded friends.

Exclusive: Government Hires Bankers For Air Traffic Control Sale

”I'm told that Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, has authorised the appointment of Bank of America Merrill Lynch to advise the Government on a process that could see National Air Traffic Services (NATS) floated on the stock market as soon as next year. Ministers will also consider the sale of part or all of its 49 per cent shareholding to a single buyer, although the reduction of its stake below 25 per cent would require new legislation.”

The 2012 elections really aren’t that far away.

Don Brown
November 9, 2010

The Stig



No not the Top Gear guy. I mean Joseph Stiglitz, one of the world’s top economists. On occasion, when some crackpot says Krugman is a little too shrill, I check the news to see what Stiglitz is saying. Call it a reality check.

Stiglitz: We need more stimulus, not quantitative easing

”All the literature about how monetary policy operates in normal times is pretty irrelevant to this situation.”

”But all the evidence is that as government spending went up during the last two years, interest rates didn’t go up, and are not likely to go up now.”

”The point is the stimulus did work. They made a very big mistake in underestimating the severity of the downturn and asked for too small of a stimulus, and they didn’t do enough in the design. About 40 percent was tax cuts, and we all knew that wasn’t going to be very effective. But it worked; without it, unemployment would’ve peaked between 12 and 13 percent. With it, it peaked at 10 percent, and that was an achievement. A better, bigger stimulus would’ve gotten it still lower. The severity of the recession was too big to be dealt with by a stimulus of that size.”

I’d love to quote that entire last paragraph. But in fairness to The Washington Post, I’ll send you there to read it.

Wrap it all up -- quantitative easing isn’t the tool of choice, more stimulus is needed because the first stimulus wasn’t enough, the tax cuts were ineffective and the States would be (will be) in real trouble without the stimulus -- and...I’m back to reading Krugman.

Don Brown
November 9, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010

No, They Won’t



The truth hurts. I’ve said before that Fareed Zakaria gets closer to the non-political truth than any other pundit/analyst I know of. Put your political blinders on. Take them off. It doesn’t matter to me, it still sounds like the truth. (And that’s hard for me to say when he credits Gingrich.)

(Watch the first segment with Fareed talking. We’ll get to the rest in a minute.)



Now that that is over, I’ll predict this. The Republicans won’t “close” the deficit. They’ll cut taxes (if the Democrats won’t stop them) and they’ll blame the failure to cut spending on the Democrats in general and Obama in particular. And the American Public -- mostly older, white people -- will be more than happy to believe them. Check out the graph in this article from Ezra Kline and you’ll see what I mean.

Fareed says that surely Americans will finally say to the Republicans, “Fool me three times, shame on me” for not getting our finances under control. No, they won’t. The sad truth is they want to be fooled.

If you keep watching the show, you’ll see Paul Krugman face off with some guy from the University of Chicago (a conservative stronghold for those that don’t know.) If you take the time to view it, watch the body language of both. They look troubled to me. Scared. You should be too.

Don Brown
November 8, 2010

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Today’s Photo 11-6-10



The lake was all fogged in this morning so I kept driving. The time warp is courtesy of the Peachstate Aerodrome.


© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)


© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)



Don Brown
November 6, 2010

Republican Logic



Where’s Spock when you need him? He could have pieced this together in 3.61 seconds.

The Republican leaders now have to implement their own false narrative -- that government doesn’t work. They have to make that true regardless of facts. It’s their promise -- their mantra -- their rationale for the modern-day Republican Party. It is their everything.

Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem. -- Ronald Reagan

As the majority party in the House now, the Republicans have to govern. Except they can’t. Their ideology won’t allow it. Government doesn’t work. It can’t. Government is the problem, not the solution. The Republican Party has adopted an election-winning strategy (let’s all hate the government) that leads to it’s logical conclusion -- their own failure as the government.

Unfortunately, they’ll take America down along with their Party. Again.

Don Brown
November 6, 2010

A Joyful Noise



Hey! It’s one of the perks (for me, hazard for you) of a non-commercial blog. I can write about anything that strikes my fancy.

Long-time readers know I sing in a choir. I wish I sang in this choir. Cool.



Now, let’s see if I can get a decent picture this morning. It’s going to dip below freezing, any moment now, for the first time this year.

Don Brown
November 6, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

Today’s Photo 11-5-10



First light on Fall color.


© Don Brown 2010 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
November 5, 2010

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Why It Matters



I’ve been trying to think of a way to show people the enormity of the loss of Congressman James Oberstar in this week’s election. It isn’t easy. I consider the man a giant of Congress and his accomplishments are many. Specifically to my audience, Congressman Oberstar knew more about aviation than anybody in Congress. I remember watching him speak at some event and, without notes, go through aviation’s entire history and how the Federal government had played a role in it. He was amazing.

But most of government isn’t amazing. It’s just one detail piled upon another as many different forces/parties/entities try to figure out a course of action to take and a way to govern. I’ve chosen to show you one of those details. You can skim through this file now or later. It doesn’t matter when. It’s a .pdf file and it’s 36 pages long. I’ll pull out some pertinent (to me) excerpts for you to read if you want to wait until later to read it.

But first and foremost -- for today’s purposes -- this is the most important detail.

”At the request of the Chairmen of the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure and Subcommittee on Aviation, we examined FAA’s plans for implementing ADS-B. ”

That request would be from one James L. Oberstar. It matters, who is Chairman of a Committee.

FAA FACES SIGNIFICANT RISKS IN IMPLEMENTING THE AUTOMATIC DEPENDENT SURVEILLANCE – BROADCAST PROGRAM AND REALIZING BENEFITS

”Specifically, our objectives were to (1) examine key risks
to FAA’s successful implementation of ADS-B and (2) assess the strengths and weaknesses of FAA’s contracting approach.”


You may safely assume that “contracting” is a Republican-inspired initiative. Without a savvy Democratic Chairman, the Inspector General wouldn’t be asked to look into it.

”The greatest risks to successfully implementing ADS-B are airspace users’ reluctance to purchase and install new avionics for their aircraft and FAA’s ability to define requirements for the more advanced capabilities.”

Interpretation: A lot of people don’t want or need it and the FAA isn’t even sure how it’s going to work.

”Most new capabilities and benefits, such as enhancing airspace capacity, rely on “ADS-B In” and the display of information in the cockpit.2 However requirements and costs for ADS-B In may not be mature for at least 2 years. ”

Interpretation: The FAA has no idea how much it will cost. By the way, “enhancing airspace capacity” doesn’t do anybody much good without more runways.

”Specifically, while FAA’s contract includes controls and
analytical tools to measure progress with cost and schedule baselines, FAA did not conduct a comprehensive financial analysis before deciding that a service-based contract would save the Government more money than the traditional method of owning and operating the system. ”


There’s a boatload of information in that blurb. You might want to read it again. Interpretation: The decision to contract out this system wasn’t driven by “analysis”. It was driven by the Republican ideology that business can always do a better job of things than the government. Just ask AIG. Paying attention? The Federal Government won’t “own” the “backbone of NextGen”. The FAA won’t own the system that our entire National Airspace System is built upon.

”FAA is in a difficult position with ADS-B because it is managing the parallel development and implementation of the air and ground components of a new satellite-based technology. Implementing ADS-B is a high-risk, complex undertaking that will require coordinated, billion-dollar investments from FAA and industry over the next decade. ”

Does anybody remember the Advanced Automation System? Enough said.

”...a lack of clearly defined benefits for enhancing capacity and reducing delays.”

You can’t read that enough times. If I thought I wouldn’t lose you, I’d print it out a hundred times. Speaking of which, let’s cut to the end before I do lose you.

”FAA does not yet have the in-house expertise to effectively oversee ADS-B. ”

That’s in bold in the report. It ought to be that way in your brain.

”Further, much of the ADS-B infrastructure will be embedded in commercial equipment and networks. FAA knowledge may diminish once contractors assume sole responsibility for operating and maintaining the satellite-based system. The key personnel skills that are needed for effective ADS-B oversight include telecommunications, signal processing, and knowledge of the GPS constellation. However, FAA has not assessed the in-house skills it needs to oversee the ADS-B ground infrastructure. Without this information, we are concerned that FAA could find itself in the unenviable position of knowing very little about a system that is expected to be the foundation of NextGen. ”

I hope you find that as stunning as I do. If we were on Facebook it would be an !!!!OMG!!!! moment.

The FAA is giving the keys to the kingdom to private entities -- contractors. You’ve heard me mention “institutional memory” before. This will be like the United States Army having to ask Haliburton how to build a base. There will be no institutional memory. The contractor will own the equipment, the software and the expertise. In other words, they’ll “own” the FAA.

Can you remember how we started? The man that asked for this report will no longer be Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure. He won’t even be on the Committee. He won’t even be in Congress.

This guy will.



That’s why it matters.

(Thanks to the reader that sent me the report. You know who you are.)

I know that hardly anyone will bother but I’m going to mention it anyway. If you believe in public service, take 20 minutes to listen to Congressman Oberstar’s concession speech. The story about the light keeper and the story about Mr. Oberstar’s father are priceless. The man is a class act and that’s the way he went out.

Don Brown
November 4, 2010

P.S. I see that Harris’ stock is up. HRS

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Man In the Middle



Oh well. Here we go again.

The only thing I’ve noticed in all my reading this morning? Barack Obama is going to be very lonely man in the middle of the political spectrum. I know the rabid Republicans would have you believe he’s a socialist -- just like what they said about Clinton Klinton -- but the truth is that Obama is in the middle. Just like Clinton was. There is no other way to explain the left’s disappointment with President Obama. But unlike President Clinton, there are no moderate Republicans nor Democrats left to work with.

G.O.P. Captures House, but Not Senate

”A number of ousted incumbents were centrists, including fiscal hawks in the Blue Dog Coalition, leaving the Democratic caucuses not only diminished but more liberal.”

Let the political calculations begin. It is going to be a really interesting session for the lame duck Congress.

Oh, and speaking of ducks, congratulations all my flying friends. Say hello to Chairman Mica.

Mica rolls to easy win for Congressional seat

”His victory comes as Republicans across the country made major gains in the U.S. House of Representatives, a move that will propel Mica into the chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee, he said.”

To all my Republican-voting-controller friends...

May you live in interesting times.

May you come to the attention of powerful people.

May your wishes be granted.


Don Brown
November 3, 2010

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What Did You Vote For?



By the time anyone reads this, most of you will have voted. Some of you may have voted days ago. I’d like for you to pause a few seconds and think about what you voted for. If I can talk you into it, I’d like for you to write it down and put it away for safekeeping.

I’m voting for higher taxes -- at least for people as comfortable as I am and better off.

I’m voting for a government that makes its citizen’s lives better -- healthier, safer and stable.

I’m voting for a government that provides a level playing field for businesses, both big and small. A government that will allow the best parts of capitalism to flourish while regulating the worst parts. A government that says yes to innovation, service and research and no to pollution, worker exploitation and usury.

Some of you think you’re voting for smaller government and less taxes. I hope you understand that means you’re voting for fewer teachers, longer response times from emergency services and a social safety net with holes so large that many people will fall through.

To give you an idea of what I’m aiming at, let’s think about a subject I don’t think I’ve touched yet -- tort reform. The message corporations would like you to hear is frivolous lawsuits filed by unscrupulous lawyers for clients gambling on a sort of legal-system lotto. I’m sure there are cases out there to prove the point. Just as I am sure there are cases out there that show callous corporations that have done real harm to employees and/or customers and are trying to limit citizens access to redress through the courts.

Which side do you think has the big money behind it, selling its message? I think it would be the same side spending all the money trying to convince you that labor unions are bad for the U.S.

Please, write down what you voted for. Let’s check it against reality in two years when it’s time to vote again.

Don Brown
November 2, 2010

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cut If You Must



It’s your own throat.

Labor Unions Fear Rollback of Rights if G.O.P. Wins

”So it should be no surprise that Republicans, who appear to stand a good chance of winning control of the House or the Senate, are signaling that they plan to push bills and strategies to undermine labor’s political clout and its ability to grow.”

I really don’t know which they consider more important -- killing labor’s political clout or eliminating unions from the workplace. In the end, it’s all the same to people that work for a living. Corporations win and workers lose.

Repeat after me, “Hi there! Welcome to Wal-Mart!”

Don Brown
November 1, 2010

The Smartest Man on TV

That’s Rich



Frank Rich is worth reading this morning, before tomorrow’s election.

The Grand Old Plot Against the Tea Party

”Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Wall Street Journal have been arduous in promoting and inflating Tea Party events and celebrities to this propagandistic end. The more the Tea Party looks as if it’s calling the shots in the G.O.P., the easier it is to distract attention from those who are actually calling them — namely, those who’ve cashed in and cashed out as ordinary Americans lost their jobs, homes and 401(k)’s. ”

I was listening to Marketplace Morning Report while waiting for the sun to come up and Allan Sloan (from Fortune Magazine) believes that the “Fraudclosure” mess is “a threat to capitalism”.

”SLOAN: No, absolutely. People are catching on that there's a double standard. There's one standard for you, and you're supposed to meet all of your obligations. And then there's another standard for the banks which is they're supposed to meet their obligations, but if they don't, well, that doesn't matter because we'll give them a do-over.”

While I agree with that part, I disagree with this.

”SLOAN: What you see in the election campaigns through the elections tomorrow is you see all of these demands for ending the Fed or ending all bailouts or ending this or ending that, which is never going to happen. The idea that you have to change the rules and break up some of the big institutions that are too big to fail, or change the incentives -- this is a little subtle, and it doesn't fit into a three second sound byte, which is why you're not hearing it now.”

A good sound bite isn’t a problem. “If they’re too big to fail they’re too big period”. There. Now you have a sound bite. No, I’m not that good with making up a sound bite. I stole it from Robert Reich. He’s been saying it since this mess started back in 2008.

Don’t you find it amazing that there isn’t any talk about antitrust enforcement?

Six months from now, when the truth comes out about who was funding this election, it will all be too late. We will have slipped a few feet further down the slope to chaos.

Vote.

Don Brown
November 1, 2010