Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It Worked Before

Okay we’re going to play that dumb little game where you complete the sentence.

If it worked before...___________.

That’s right, it will probably work again. Insert my standard lecture about how old sayings got to be old because they are true. And let’s move on. The reverse of that saying is that if it didn’t work before, it probably won’t work this time either. Okay, now all you airplane people stick around for a second and I’ll get back to you. First, we have to take a trip to England.

Those blessed with a memory longer than a month might remember that I chose the United Kingdom as my economic testing ground.

Krugman vs The United Kingdom

”The United Kingdom is acting early. No one really knows if it is right or wrong. We only have our opinions. I think it’s wrong. But if you think it’s the right thing to do for America -- cutting government spending and raising taxes to pay off the deficit -- you now have a test case to watch.”

If you don’t won’t to go back and read it, you need to know that was in June of 2010. Krugman updates us on the situation in his blog today.

Bleeding Britain

”And yet what’s happening in Britain now is that depressed estimates of long-run potential are being used to justify more austerity, which will depress the economy even further in the short run, leading to further depression of long-run potential, leading to …

It really is just like a medieval doctor bleeding his patient, observing that the patient is getting sicker, not better, and deciding that this calls for even more bleeding.”

In short, austerity (slashing spending) didn’t work. And it probably won’t work this time either.

Now, back to the airplane business. I’m guessing most of you heard that American -- the last of the non-bankrupt Mohicans -- declared bankruptcy yesterday. Now, keep in mind...if it didn’t work before, it probably won’t work this time and if it did work before, it will probably work again.

In Chapter 11, a Bid to Cut Costs at American Airlines

”After resisting for a decade, the parent company of American Airlines announced Tuesday that it would now follow a strategy that the rest of the industry chose long ago: filing for bankruptcy protection so it can shed debt, cut labor costs and find a way back to profitability.”

Now, how did that work for other airlines? That, of course, depends on who you are. If you’re an airline CEO, it works great. If you’re an airline employee, not so great. (Here’s where I caution you to read the story before you jump to conclusions. The resigning CEO at American -- Gerard Arpey -- is evidently a horse of a different color.)

”“This is not a defensive move, but an offensive bankruptcy where they go after their labor groups to reduce costs,” said Bob McAdoo, an airline analyst at Avondale Partners. “They have a great franchise and a lot of cash. They are not being forced into bankruptcy here. They have a problem with their cost structure that they want to tackle.””

So, we all know what this is about. It’s time to put the screws to the employees. It’s time for American Airline employees to join the race to the bottom of the barrel. Does anyone think that CEO pay (I’m sorry, compensation) will be cut? Don’t be ridiculous.

Now, let’s put CEO and employees aside. Has this play worked out for the airline business -- the stockholders? Just a quick look at the 10 year graph of stock prices for airlines shows the tale.

Airline stock anyone?

Okay, I think we’ve determined that the current model doesn’t work for hardly anyone. (Same song for the consumer trope. Consumers have to have a job before they can enjoy “cheap” airfares.) And yet, we -- like England’s bankers/politicians -- keep doing the same thing. If it didn’t work before, it probably won’t work this time.

On the other hand, we have seen what works before. Massive government spending of borrowed money got us out of the Great Depression. Regulation gave us a healthy, vibrant airline industry. We had new planes with well-paid employees. It wasn’t perfect. But it was better than this.

No one is saying we need to resurrect Franklin D. Roosevelt or William P. MacCracken. We can’t recreate the men or the times. We just need to acknowledge what has worked and what hasn’t. Deregulation hasn’t.

Don Brown
November 30, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Occupy America II


Don Brown
November 29, 2011

The Herman Cain Art Project

I heard this a few days ago and it just won’t leave me alone. Rachel Maddow makes a very compelling case that Herman Cain is having a great time at our expense. Call it what you will, I’ve never heard of anything as strange as quoting Pokemon and getting an economic plan from a video game (Sims) in a Presidential campaign.

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I have to agree with The Angry Bureaucrat, what must the rest of the world think of us -- the greatest empire in history? Unreal.

And as crazy as all this’s not nearly as crazy as Newt Gingrich.

I can only hope Jon Huntsman gets his 15 minutes of fame.

Don Brown
November 29, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Today’s Photo 11-27-11

Yeah, that will do.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

If I had paid attention to the weather report I would have never gone out this morning. You’ve got to show up.

Don Brown
November 27, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Occupy America

No commentary necessary. Watch it.

Don Brown
November 22, 2011

Open the Express Lanes!

Uh oh. There’s bad weather brewing for the day-before-Thanksgiving travel.

Severe Storms May Disrupt New York Holiday Travel Into Tomorrow

”Heavy rains and strong winds are expected to sweep across New York City late today and tomorrow, which may hinder air traffic in one of the busiest travel periods of the year, according to the National Weather Service.”

Quick! Somebody tell President Obama about those holiday express lanes that President Bush invented.

Just in case you forgot. (I also took the time to find it in James Fallows’ archives.)

Pack plenty of food and water. I’m sure the airlines have their checkbooks ready. (Check out the stock photo used in the article. TW who? A Saab 340?)

Airline fined $900,000 for keeping anxious passengers waiting on tarmac more than 3 hours with no food or water

You might want to save the water bottles for later use. You know...for when it comes time to get rid of all that water you drank.

Don Brown
November 22, 2011

Bad Comparisons

Even as I write these words, I know I am headed down the wrong path. I have stumbled upon Wikipedia’s List of U.S. States by GDP and I am fascinated. I already knew about Wikipedia’s List of Countries by GDP. And, of course, I can’t help comparing the two. Which is probably wrong of me to do. But I can’t help myself.

For instance, if my State, Georgia (the U.S. Georgia, not the European Georgia) were a country we’d have an economy the size of Iran’s. Just think, Nathan Deal (Governor of Georgia) could cause as much commotion at the UN as Ahmadinejad. He could threaten to wipe Louisiana off the map. Because Louisiana’s economy is the size of Israel’s.

See, I told you I was going down the wrong road. I mean, if Louisiana had the influence in the U.S. Congress that Israel does, we could get New Orleans rebuilt.

You know how you’re always hearing that India is right behind China and poised to become a superpower? California’s economy is bigger than India’s. I say we cut California loose and let them become a superpower. Please notice I didn’t say that about Texas. Texans would take it seriously. And their economy is bigger than Australia’s. I can’t figure it all out. Canada’s economy is bigger than Australia’s and Russia’s. It’s only slightly smaller than India’s. But nobody talks about Canada becoming a superpower. Hey?

I have to be honest, I was shocked to find Georgia was the 11th largest economy in the United States. I don’t think of Georgia as a rich State. I doubt if you do either. But Massachusetts is 12th and we do think of them as a rich State. What gives? Is it the population differences? I don’t know.

But it does make me wonder about all the State’s Rights stuff. Down here, I know it’s a code for racism. But there are some people that legitimately believe that States should exercise more power. That the States should exert more independence from the Federal Government. If Georgia has an economy the size of Iran’s -- and we’re not spending our money developing and nuclear weapons capability -- you would think we’d be able to educate our kids. But no, we’re 48th in the States. Kentucky is 11th in education. And Kentucky has an economy the size of Romania’s.

Oh well, like I said, these are probably all bad comparisons anyway. I mean, after all, everybody is Europe is spooked because nobody is big enough to bail out Italy. California has an economy the size of Italy -- is functionally bankrupt -- and nobody over here seems worried about it. So it has to be a bad comparison. Right?

Don Brown
November 22, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

It’s Not Going to Work

Doesn’t anybody in a position of authority remember the 1960s?

Maybe the folks in power need to talk to history professors more often than they talk to police chiefs. I know I’ve written about it before (but I can’t find it) -- during the last Depression, President Hoover sent in Dugout Doug and the Army to break up the Bonus Army camps. A year later -- when the protesters regrouped and reformed their camp -- FDR sent in his wife. (Non-original, I read it in a book. “Hoover sent in the Army. Roosevelt sent in Eleanor.)

I knew when the NYPD maced the women penned on the sidewalk that this movement was going to grow. The-powers-that-be need to be careful. There are a lot of war veterans coming home to unemployment. They’re going to be a little tougher to intimidate than late-teen college students.

Evidently, 84-year-old grandmothers aren’t push overs either.

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President Obama has a decision to make. Does he want to be Hoover or Roosevelt?

On another level, these images become iconic. Here are a couple of other images that come to mind. You might want to think about how the larger events turned out from an historical perspective.

The Tet Offensive -- South Vietnam

Kent State Shooting

Don Brown
November 19, 2011

ERAM Discussion Video

While I was messing with the NATCA video, I happened to notice the video of the ERAM panel discussion in Las Vegas, back in March 0f 2011. Some folks might want to watch it.

For the non-controllers, it’s dry as dust. It’s full of acronyms I don’t understand. There’s nothing exciting to see. But as reference material, as historical documentation, as enlightenment -- I think it is valuable.

I do have to mention one thing (okay two things) to note. First, notice that the guy that dominates the discussion -- the one that really seems to know what he is talking about -- has a handwritten name plate. Typical irony. (Yes, he’s NATCA.) Second, the white-haired guy in the background when Sean (from Memphis) asks his question is me.

Communicating for Safety will be in Atlanta this year. I will be there. You can be too.

Hey! I just had another thought. My friend Spike (aka Stephen Ramsden, aka “The Sun Guy”) is one of the people that makes these videos possible. Somewhere in the mountain of titles he has earned is the one that says member of the NATCA Communications Committee. I bet Spike will be at CFS too.

I like to point out the awesome talent that the FAA overlooks (if not outright rejects) whenever I can.

Don Brown
November 19, 2011

NATCA Guides You Home

Most of you will never have any idea how much a video like this means to someone like me. You see, over 25 years ago it was just me and a half dozen other guys sitting in somebody’s living room trying to figure out how to make things like this happen. Then we found out about some guys in Florida that were doing the same thing. And a couple of dozen in New York. And Boston. And Chicago. And Seattle. And L.A.

Next thing you know, we had a union. And people started paying dues. And ever so slowly (it seemed like at the time) we started getting things done. A few of us stuck our necks out, we spent some money we didn’t have to spend and lo-and-behold, other controllers started supporting what we were doing.

You have no idea what it was like to build a union as others watched theirs decline: To try and improve our corner of the government while others were trying to destroy it: To build a lasting career while others were saying careers -- good ones with security and benefits -- were a thing of the past.

And I hope you never do know.

(I give up. I can’t get the video to embed. Click on the link and click on the “play” arrow. Geez, why can’t people leave well enough alone?)

Don Brown
November 19, 2011

A Sunny Salute

Remember my friend that isn’t busy enough being an air traffic controller -- he has to run the world’s largest solar astronomy outreach program too? The program named for an air traffic controller? Come on, you know. The guy that wears the crazy Sun suit. Yeah, my friend “Spike”.

He had a picture published at National Geographic yesterday.

”A giant wall of heated gas rises from the sun's surface in a false-color photograph taken by solar observer Stephen Ramsden last Friday. ”

How awesome is that? The best way you can tell Stephen how awesome it is would be to go to his other site -- the solar photography site -- and click the button that says “Donate”. It takes money to haul all his gear to 70 elementary schools a year.

Don Brown
November 18, 2011

They Grow Up So Fast

Good Lord, remember when Delta Mike was the new kid on the block? Now he sounds as jaded as the rest of us.

Ignored on so many levels.

”I bet IBM would love to get their hands on a couple of billion dollars worth of taxpayer money to start working on a system they don't know how to create just yet, and I bet controllers will be ignored throughout most of the process. ”

(I’m not rewriting the rest. Sorry.)

Don Brown
November 17, 2011

Time “Challenged”

Mrs. Brown had knee surgery Monday.

All the leaves fell out of the trees on Tuesday.

Mrs. Brown came home on Wednesday. (She’s fine, thank you.)

I had a flat tire on Thursday.

Mrs. Brown started therapy (physical) on Friday.

Google decide to change Blogger somewhere in the middle of all that. I haven’t made a picture since Tuesday morning on my way to the hospital. Oh, woe is me.

I wonder how the poor cope. The only thing I lack at the moment is time. I have a very good life.

Don Brown
November 19, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Google has changed something on Blogger (the program I publish the blog with.) I'll get around to figuring it out what I'm doing wrong shortly. But today I'm jammed up. I'll get to it eventually.

Don Brown
November 18, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Okay, I Love My iPad Too

We’ve already established I’m not an “early adopter”. But for fellow slow learners, I feel compelled to say I love my iPad. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t “get it” when the thing came out. And I only got around to buying one because I haven’t bought a “smart” phone yet and...and I wanted a way to show folks my digital pictures. Sheeze.

But yesterday, while my wife was still in the hospital recovering from her knee surgery, there was a tornado warning. They had to pull all the patients out of their rooms (away from the windows) and shelter them in the hall. During all this, I was able to watch two separate radar feeds and post to Facebook all at the same time. While everyone around me was tapping on their tiny phones, I was reading, playing games and watching the weather. And the best thing about it to me? The battery seems to last forever. I know that’s just in comparison to laptop batteries but I used my iPad for around 12 hours yesterday and I still had 20+% battery power when I plugged it in for the night.

For a first-generation replacement of a laptop, it’s a wondrous device.

I had the same thought on the drive home from the hospital. If you had told anybody in 1975 that they would have a satellite navigation system steering them down the road while talking on two separate phones in their car, they would never have believed it. Forget the iPad and the TV screen in the back. It’s amazing how fast all this is happening.

Don’t get too smug about it. All this stuff hasn’t solved traffic jams. Just like NextGen won’t solve the overscheduling of runways.

Don Brown
November 17, 2011

Who? Us?

Everything I know about about geopolitical, strategic thinking I learned playing Risk. Which is to say, I don’t know much. But I know geography matters. Words might enable confusion. Maps bring clarity. At least for me.

A Marine Base for Australia Irritates China

”For China, the week’s developments could suggest both an economic and a military encirclement. ”

”The president said the moves were not intended to isolate China,...”

Just so you don’t have to look them up, the map markers are (starting from the south) Darwin, Australia, Taiwan, Okinawa and Yokosuka, Japan. I think the map makes it pretty obvious the strategic importance of, say, the Philippines. Or Vietnam.

It is only these geopolitical thoughts that keep me from writing a tirade about our continued involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe geopolitik is a game for big minds -- and ultimately a game for fools. One might call it “encirclement” -- others “containment”. (If you bother to follow that link, be sure to read the next section on Kissinger as well.) I call it trouble.

By the way, the map was drawn with the help of this site. It’s also worth noting the enormous distances. The line draw is almost 4,000 miles in length.

Don Brown
November 17, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Today’s Photo 11-15-11

This is probably as close as you’re going to get to a self portrait. This morning’s sunrise. (And, yes, it’s been a long day.)

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
November 15, 2011

1 Percent Speaks

This will look different. I'm attempting to write this on an iPad. One letter at a time.

Go read this from Marketplace:

If the 1% had less...

Don Brown
November 15, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

It’s a Time Shame

My long-time readers might remember that I’ve been reading Time magazine for over 25 years. Most of that time (if not all of it) I’ve been a subscriber. It’s an outstanding magazine, especially if you have the lifestyle of a controller, where you can’t catch the news every night at 6PM.

I recently bought an iPad and a friend told me that Time had a great ap for the iPad. I spent today reading the latest issue on my iPad and my friend was right -- the ap is well done.

I’d love to let you read the story I was reading, but Time has decided to hide all but the first few paragraphs of their stories behind the pay wall. That’s a shame. Because I can tell you about them but you can’t read them. And they really are worth reading.

The one in this issue was about how the military is being slowly segregated into their own society -- apart from the one they are sworn to defend. Great story. You can read mine for free. Theirs is much better -- better researched, investigated and written. It is much surer of itself than mine. I’ve got a bad feeling. They got actual reporting. But a lot of good it will do you if you can’t read it.

It’s like their graphics in last week’s issue. It blew away the myth that less regulations make for a better business environment. Great stuff to go along with Fareed Zakaria’s piece and the great work done by Rana Foroohar. But you’ll never get the insight the graphics provided because you can’t see them.

Well, unless you go to the public library and read them. Or maybe you can read a copy at your next dentist appointment. That business model worked for a lot a years -- a few bought the magazines and a lot of people got to read them. And as far as the advertisers are concerned -- the more the merrier. Subscription holders or not. It’s a shame Time can’t figure out how to make that business model work in the digital age.

Don Brown
November 14, 2011

Today’s Photo 11-14-11

Not that it’s that great of a photograph or just don’t see one of these everyday in Middle Georgia. From last night on the lake...

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

It’s an American White Pelican -- a mostly-Western-freshwater bird. Most of you will remember that there are swans on the lake. They didn’t take too kindly to this interloper. Here they are, all puffed up and in attack formation.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Last I saw of them, they were still chasing the pelican around the lake in the gathering dark. I didn’t get to go back to the lake this morning so I’m not sure we’ll ever know how this story turns out.

Don Brown
November 14, 2011

(A new first, the wi-fi provider at where I was stuck today had Blogger blocked so I couldn’t upload this blog. Hmmmm.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Today’s Photo 11-13-11

All you’ve got to do is show up.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
November 13, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Today’s Photo 11-12-11

A little white-on-white for this morning’s picture.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
November 12, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Hangnail in My Life

One of my sisters went to college in Nashville. She brought home an album (am I showing my age?) from some friends that were just starting out. (Hello? Music City.) I really liked that album a lot. It had one quirky/silly tune on it with a great line;

You’re the hangnail in my life, and I can’t bite you off.

Evidently, I’m not the only person that feels this way about Newton Leroy Gingrich. From Salon:

Newt Gingrich, book-shilling faux candidate, surges

”In last night’s hallucinatory GOP presidential debate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did his usual blustery free-associative word-barrage routine that for years convinced numerous reporters and pundits that he was somehow an intellectual statesman.”

And a little later...

”A book plug, an assertion of unparalleled expertise, and a hilarious proposal that makes no sense — all in one answer? He’s still got it.”

I can’t say as I’ve ever noticed Alex Pareene (the author) before but that’s a couple of great lines. You’ll have to go read the closing paragraph for yourself. And you’ll have to endure Newt Gingrich for a little longer. Even worse -- if his tactics catch on (Hello Herman Cain) -- you’ll have to endure a bunch of people (Sarah Palin) that became famous by running for President -- or just threatening to run. We used to think people like that were funny. Now, they just seem crazy.

Don Brown
November 10, 2011

Writing History -- Reagan

Immediately after Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the movers and shakers started trying to make Ronald Reagan a historical figure -- in a good way. Unfortunately for them, the truth always comes out. It may take a while. It may take a long while. But it always comes out.

Listening to Rachel Maddow this morning, I learned that the CIA had made videos to brief President Reagan. I, of course, wanted to know more.

The first video is to educate you on how The Great Communicator -- aka Ronald Reagan -- was briefed about national security and foreign affairs. (Sorry about the commercials but it’s CNN. What can you do?)

This video is fromYouTube and was one of the actual videos used to brief President Reagan. First, you can judge for yourself the level of sophistication (or lack thereof) used to reach the target audience. Second, if you have the time to watch all of it, you might wind up asking yourself why we decided to stay there after toppling the Taliban. No one has substantially changed Afghanistan in over 2,000 years. We won’t either.

If you’re young and wondering -- yes, the films do have a 1950’s propaganda feel to them. There was a brief shot of William Casey -- then Director of the CIA -- in the CNN story. If you don’t know about William Casey, you might want to learn a little about him. Some think Ronald Reagan wasn’t a very worldly, sophisticated man. Nobody thinks that about William Casey.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a PATCO video somewhere in the White House archives. I don’t suppose the CIA would be involved in that briefing, so probably not. Pity.

The more you learn about Reagan, the more he pales in comparison to a truly historical figure like George Washington. I know some might think this a small thing, but small things matter. Washington National Airport was renamed to honor Ronald Reagan. A few people saw the wisdom in keeping “Washington” in the name. I suggest it should be the name air traffic controllers continue to use to identify the airport -- “Washington National”. History has found George Washington worthy of memorializing. The jury is still out on Ronald Reagan.

Don Brown
November 10, 2011

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Two Thoughts on Taxes

Some might not like an argument about politics but, lately, I’ve been enjoying them. I learn from them. It’s helpful practice to sharpen my arguments. I really don’t consider them political arguments (I think of it as public policy) but most other people do. And in that our political positions seem to be so fixed these days, we might as well consider them political arguments. Whatever.

During one of these debates arguments, my conservative friend said that we (the United States) should lower our corporate tax rate. I asked what the current rate was -- 30 something percent. (35% is the highest rate.) I asked what was typical in other countries -- no idea. (They’re all over the place. And complex too [duh]. China is 25%, Germany 29.8%, Norway 28%, UK 20-26%, Hong Kong 16.5%. Hong Kong seems to hold some magical place in conservative dogma. I forget why.) I asked what we should lower our rate to -- no idea. I suggested 10%. That seemed agreeable to my friend.

But then I had a question. If we lower our corporate tax rate from 35% to just 10% -- in order to make the United States more “business friendly” and to promote growth -- will corporations then pay taxes? Come now. Everyone knows that GE didn’t pay any taxes last year (along with 30 others including Boeing.) GE’s tax department is legendary. If a corporation is paying 0%, does it really matter if the tax rate is 35% or 10%? I’m sure a tax lawyer will tell you it does. After all, his job depends on it.

From there the argument tacks into how complex tax laws are and that we should simplify them. I agree. Let’s start over. Let’s wipe the slate clean. My friend didn’t think I was doing a very good job of arguing. What’s to argue about? We all think that taxes should be fair, equitable and understandable. Supposed we wave our magic wand and do just that? The slate is wiped clean. You (that means you the reader) can implement whatever tax system you think fair. Poof! It is so.

What happens the next day? You and I both know that there will be a herd of K Street cows shoving their way to the feeding trough on Capitol Hill. And we shall just start the whole process over. Again.

Perhaps this sums it up best, of all the articles I’ve read for this blog.

Simplifying tax code? It's as easy as 1-2-3

”When the U.S. imposed a national income tax in 1913, the law enacting it covered 400 pages. Today, the U.S. Tax Code requires an estimated 15,000 pages spread across 20 volumes.

Amazing, considering that most of the additions of the past 90 years have been loopholes.”

Just how many of those loopholes did you go to Washington and lobby for? Don’t dismiss that question so lightly. I’ve been to Washington and lobbied Congress. NATCA even used to call it “Lobby Week” before they thought better of it. I lobbied for better air traffic controller training. More controllers. Better equipment. I (somewhat famously, in a safety-geeky way) gave a few Congressmen handmade controller pens. That’s not like handcrafted luxury. It’s like homemade-because-we-couldn’t-do-any-better pens. Our two-ended controller pencils (one end red, the other black) wouldn’t write on the new strips so I (and others) took to making our own pens. A 10-billion-dollar budget and controllers had to make their own pens. But I’m drifting off course...

I never lobbied for a tax break. How about you? I’m betting you haven’t. And even the tax loopholes breaks you think are for you (mortgage deductions anyone?) were most likely written for a corporation or industry (house building, mortgage lending, bankers).

The point is, taxes are one of those things that won’t stay fixed. It’s a constant process. And currently, the system is geared so that corporations have the upper hand in how that process works. Your average U.S. citizens didn’t make it “complicated”. Corporations and rich people made it complicated.

To recap, a high tax rate is contrivance if no one is paying it. Corporations can scream that they are taxed at 35% -- “We pay our fair share!” -- while they pocket the money flowing out of the loopholes. (That works for that infamous 90% personal tax rate Reagan used to complain about too, by the way.)

The tax laws are complicated because the people with power want them that way. Nothing being offered in the political realm these days will change that. And even if it is changed (through some miracle) it won’t stay changed.

Don Brown
November 9, 2011

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Today’s Photo 11-8-11

It’s a good thing I get to take pictures right at dawn. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d have time for it. Enjoy. The next three weeks are going to be busy. I’ll post when I can.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
November 8, 2011

Monday, November 07, 2011

Power to the People

Pretty impressive for a bunch of homeless, radical, unemployed, lazy, pick-your-pejorative, do-nothing do-gooders. Powering “Occupy Wall Street” with bikes charging batteries. We wouldn’t want all that energy (pardon the pun), creativity and ingenuity put to work in our economy.

Stick around for Lemony Snicket. He’s pretty funny. Interesting too.

Don Brown
November 7, 2011

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

Intellectual Cat Fight

I just finally got around to watching last week’s episode of Global Public Square. If you want to see the core debate in America right now -- or if you just want to watch an intellectual cat fight -- this is the video to watch. (I don’t know what’s going on with CNN’s site. The video won’t display with Safari but it does with Firefox. If the video isn’t displayed below, click on the preceding link and read the transcript.)

I’ve read a few books by Niall Ferguson. I liked them all and found them very thought provoking. I have no idea when he turned into the guy that you see here. Perhaps it was when he joined the John McCain’s Presidential campaign. Perhaps it was when he got into an argument with Paul Krugman on economics. In hindsight, neither one of those moves looks very smart.

In short, Mr. Ferguson is a seemingly-good historian with a bad habit of arguing with liberal economists. (Jeffery Sachs is also an economist.) His final argument was somewhat ridiculous from my vantage point.

Niall Ferguson: Well, I'm sure the Chinese are listening to this debate with glee thinking, well, there are still academics in the west who think that the route to salvation is to expand the role of the state because that's certainly not what is happening in China. It is not what is happening in India. It is not what is happening in Brazil. The most dynamic economies in the world today are the ones which are promoting market reforms and reining in the rule of the state, which in those countries grew hypertrophically in the 20th century and that is a big problem in Jeff Sachs' argument.”

The Chinese -- the communists -- are becoming more successful because they are moving away from the extremes of communism. In the meantime, we embraced the extremes of capitalism. The Chinese have learned from their mistakes. The have left the ideological extremes of Mao and have embraced the practicality of capitalism. The jury is still out on us.

We know what works. President Franklin D. Roosevelt showed us the way by regulating capitalism. In doing so, he saved capitalism from itself. And it worked just fine until we started deregulating the banking industry in 1980.

If you look behind the curtain, the economies that are doing so well -- “the most dynamic economies” (Mr. Ferguson’s words) -- are the ones that are indeed “catching up” (Mr. Sachs’ words). They are the ones that were so far down they had no place to go but up. Fareed played right into this thought with the rest of the show about Argentina, and even with the weekly quiz that highlighted how fast Estonia was growing. Argentina was an economic basket case at the beginning of the century. And Estonia is one of Krugman’s poster-child economies.

The last word -- of course -- belonged to taxes. It takes money to run a government. I don’t know which the rich hate more -- paying taxes or knowing that those very taxes will be what pays to regulate their greed.

Don Brown
November 6, 2011

Saturday, November 05, 2011

When In Rome

Pardon the light posting. I’m in Rome. That’s Rome, Georgia. Beautiful town. But I’m here for a convention so, unfortunately, I won’t get to spend much time seeing it.

Rome, Georgia is named for Rome, Italy. There is a river that winds between the hills here, just like Rome. There’s even a statue of Romulus and Remus, nursing from a wolf. It’s a bit uncomfortable to remember that the statue came from Mussolini.

Life is like that. You never know who will be a winner or loser ahead of time. Empires come and go. Legends live on.

Always keep in mind that we really aren’t that different than the people that came before us. Every generation marvels at the latest technology. Every generation is impressed with the power of the latest empire.

That will have to do for thinking this morning. It’s time to hop on the hamster wheel.

Don Brown
November 5, 2011

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Down On the Farm

Some of you might remember that I once mentioned a book entitled The Omnivore's Dilemma. It was written by Michael Pollan and I still consider it one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. Once you read it, you’ll marvel that we think so little about something that is so important -- Food. Is anything more important?

Anyway, one of the characters Mr. Pollan introduces us to is a farmer named Joel Salatin. Mr. Salatin is a character. One of his most memorable lines (and I’m paraphrasing), “When everyone left the farms to go work in the cities, we were left with a lot of “D” students doing the farming". Mr. Salatin is definitely not a “D” student. Since the book, Mr. Salatin has become somewhat famous. (Actually, before. That’s how Mr. Pollan found him after all.) There’s a story in Time about him. (Sorry, but it’s subscribers only.)

This Land Is Your Land

”In his new book, “Folks, This Ain't Normal”, the 54-year-old farmer-philosopher emerges as a true American throwback: an agrarian libertarian who wants both Food Inc. and Big Government out of his fields. He thinks the ills of America--unemployment, obesity, disaffected youth--can be cured by going back to the land and its values, a return to what he likes to call "normal." It's about better food, yes, but what Salatin is really calling for is responsibility: a declaration of independence from corporations and bureaucracy. He wants us to be full citizens of the food system, like the Jeffersonian citizen-farmers who founded the country.”

I’ve read a few other things about Mr. Salatin to know I don’t want to endorse all of ideas whole hog (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), but the basic concept keeps tugging at my brain. Could we deindustrialize our farms and go back to family-owned farms? Farming is hard work. Really hard work. That’s the reason we hire illegal aliens to do the work. They’re the only ones that will work that hard for poverty wages. But if a man is working on his own land for himself...

The idea just won’t leave me alone. I know people that would love to live in the country. I know people that do, and grow so much food -- as a hobby -- that they wind up giving most of it away. Could we do it? I don’t know. But if we did, we’d have to make significant changes to our public policy. After all that is what gave us corporate farms -- the policies of “Get Big” Butz. (Come on, you have to admit that was a slick turn of a phrase.)

Earl Butz -- former Secretary of Agriculture

”In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed Butz as Secretary of Agriculture, a position in which he continued to serve after Nixon resigned in 1974 as the result of the Watergate scandal. In his time heading the USDA, Butz revolutionized federal agricultural policy and reengineered many New Deal era farm support programs. For example, a program he abolished paid corn farmers to not plant all their land. This program had attempted to prevent a national oversupply of corn and low corn prices. His mantra to farmers was "get big or get out," and he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm.”

If you have read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’m sure the reference to corn got your attention. People are astounded when they find out corn is in virtually everything we eat -- from corn-fed beef to high fructose corn syrup. Maybe if deregulation, industrialization, corporatization and all those other phrases don’t get our attention -- maybe, just maybe, the coming diabetes epidemic will.

”"Unless we develop better programs for detecting people with elevated blood sugar and helping them to improve their diet and physical activity and control their weight, diabetes will inevitably continue to impose a major burden on health systems around the world," Danaei added in a joint statement.”

It may turn out that the physical labor of farming is just as important as the food.

Don Brown
November 3, 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Today’s Photo 11-1-11

Okay, this is an experiment and a notice rolled into one. I put this photograph on my personal Facebook page and it didn’t look very good. It looks great when it’s shown at full resolution and full screen. But that’s just another hazard in photography -- what looks great on one screen might not look so hot on another. And if you think that’s bad, you ought to try printing photographs. Oh boy.

Anyway, in case you haven’t noticed, when you click on the picture (like the one below), Google has changed the background to black. Hallelujah! That weakened my resolve to get a Flickr account. Photographs almost always look better on a black background. At least those that appear on a computer screen. Try it out with my old photos here.

This morning’s photo is of the Big Dipper, hanging above the fog on the lake. I hope it looks at least half as good here as it does on my computer.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

Don Brown
November 1, 2011

The Commanding Heights, Too Big to Fail and Deregulation

The first thing I did when I sat down to write this blog was to go back and see what I said about it all before. It might be illuminating for you too. It is important to note the date (as always) -- February 22, 2009.

Historically Significant

”In my most humble and amateur opinion, this may be the most significant quote of year;

”It may be necessary to temporarily nationalise some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring.”

Alan Greenspan
February 18, 2009”

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember the uncertainty of the past -- the uncertainty while you were in the moment. In the middle of a crisis, clarity is difficult to find. Here’s former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan -- The Wizard -- Ayn Rand’s disciple -- saying that the government might have to take over the banks.

The banks, of course, are part of “The Commanding Heights” of the economy. Along with the one we controllers are concerned about -- transportation. Finance, Energy, Transportation and Heavy Manufacturing. Not only was the phrase (The Commanding Heights) part of a speech from Lenin -- it was also an excellent show on PBS. I read the book -- and can highly recommend it.

I can’t think of a faster way for young people to understand the “big picture” in terms of how our economy changed -- and where we went wrong. And we did go wrong. Keep in mind that we blew up the world’s economy. Over and over and over, we come back to the same point in time where we -- as a nation -- changed. From the PBS page entitled “Key Events”:

”1981 United States -- President Reagan introduces supply-side economics, breaks air controllers' strike, deregulates markets ”

That’s it -- in a nutshell. And air traffic controllers were in the middle of it.

Supply-side economics has been discredited. History has proven PATCO had a point -- and American wages have declined in lock step with the decline of unions. Deregulated markets have given us stolen airline (et al.) pensions, the Savings and Loan Crisis, Enron and The Great Recession.

In my opinion, the case could not be clearer against what I will call Reaganism. It has been a complete and utter failure. The greatest failures can be placed under a single term -- laissez-faire.

”In economics, laissez-faire describes an environment in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention, including restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and enforced monopolies.”

Regulations -- specifically the banking regulations like Glass-Steagall.

Taxes -- Cutting the tax rates of the wealthy has not only created the social havoc of income disparity, it has indebted the nation. The gutting of “the death tax” -- more properly defined as the Estate Tax (emphasis on “estate”) -- has allowed a modern-day feudalism to take root in America. Not unsurprisingly, the inheritors of great wealth have used that wealth to buy political power to protect their wealth -- at the expense of the rest of the country’s citizens and the country itself.

Tariffs -- Although I don’t delve into this area much just a quick peek at the surface tends to confirm my deeper suspicions. Look at NAFTA. The Cato Institute loves it. The Economic Policy Institute hates it. (Krugman mentioned the EPI just yesterday.) The unions were against it from the beginning. If you think about what has happened to U.S. wages in the last 18 years, you have to wonder where the benefit to the U.S. worker is.

Which brings us to the point. You have to question the old saw, “What’s good for GM is good for America.” More broadly, is what is good for American corporations good for America? In recent times, that answer has been a decided “No”. Look at our current state of affairs. GM used to promise a lifetime career, good pay and good benefits. All three of those promises have been broken. Yet, America has been good to GM. And I must toss in (as I have before), is it even useful to think of corporations as “American” anymore?

Just as corporations have gone “multi-national”, this problem of balancing their power has gone worldwide. The problems that Europe is having aren’t that different than what we in America are experiencing. And the root of that shared problem -- at the moment -- is the banking sector. Our Ronald Reagan was actually following Margaret Thacther’s lead. She cut regulations, broke the unions and bet on banking being “the next big thing.”

Banks were the next big thing -- because government allowed them to be so. They not only got big, they got too big. And three years after they blew up the world’s economy -- they are still too big. As a matter of fact, they’re bigger than ever. As Robert Reich said, “I don’t often agree with Alan Greenspan but he was right when he said last week that “[i]f they’re too big to fail, they’re too big.””

It is high time our government broke up the big banks. It is high time we reregulate not only them but the other industries of the “commanding heights” too. (And yes my friends, that does include the airline industry. ) The balance of power in our country is seriously out of whack. We need bigger unions and smaller banks. Balance is the objective.

We must get the obscene amounts of money out of our political elections. The ones that have the power will not give it up willingly. We will have to take it. Right now, that can still be done with your vote. The season is upon us. Get registered to vote now. Get involved. Get loud. The country you save might be your own.

Don Brown
November 1, 2011