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May 2011

Ways to Control Health Care Spending: Matthew Yglesias Criticizes David Wessel

There is a lot to be learned about controlling health care spending from the experiences of other countries, says Matt:

Yglesias » Only One Of The Major Approaches To Controlling Health Care Costs Is Unproven: David Wessel’s overview of the six think tank plans for long-term debt reduction offered yesterday is generally fairminded, but I think there’s a mistake in his description of the ideological divide on health care:

There are two fundamentally different approaches. One relies on market forces, making beneficiaries pick up more of the tab and relying on them to be discerning shoppers and on competition among providers and insurers to control costs. The other relies more on government muscle, enforcing aggregate caps on spending and shifting Medicare from fee-for-service to give providers incentives to care for the whole patient, not to sell individual services. In short, the debate isn’t only about how much savings to squeeze from Medicare, but also about which unproven avenue to restraining health costs is best....

[T]he world has a lot of examples of health care systems that are more statist than Americans.... [T]he statist approach does in fact succeed in pushing costs down lower than what we experience in the United States.... [N]on-statist approaches like the one they use in Switzerland lead to higher than normal costs for Europe.... [T]he super-statist approach of the United Kingdom leads to extremely low costs.... [W]e conveniently have a single-payer health insurance system for senior citizens, and a more market-oriented one for non-seniors.... Medicare is cheaper. The administrative overhead is lower, and the unit cost of services rendered is also lower.

The argument against a statist approach... is the idea that statist approaches make health spending too low.... A cheaper system would presumably end up with less equipment, or less R&D or less of something. But if the goal is to spend less money, there’s tons of evidence on the side of big government.

What Grade Does Glenn Hubbard Get for This Budget Column?

Glenn Hubbard tries to tell the Republican members of congress: STOP FRACKING AROUND AND RAISE THE DEBT CEILING!!

Unfortunately, he buries his message in a mass of verbiage so that I don't think his intended audience--the Republican legislators--will even understand it.

Glenn Hubbard in the Financial Times:

Forget the debt ceiling and focus on debt: On May 15, the US hit its “debt ceiling” of $14,300bn, covering publicly owned debt held by the Federal Reserve and government trust funds, and Washington is in a furore.... [T]he problem is not the debt ceiling per se. My wife and I don’t vote on whether we will pay our bills. Rather, we discuss whether our spending or income needs adjustment. So too must it be for our national “family”....

A good beginning. It should have been followed by a couple of paragraphs talking about how ludicrous it would be for a household to decide to spend in excess of its income and not to borrow. But Glenn then drops his opening paragraph theme and goes in a different direction:

Since 2008, the ratio of federal debt held by the public to GDP has risen from 40 per cent on its way to over 90 per cent by 2020, an alarming increase outside of major wartime experience. Today’s problem is not a past war, but ever-rising future debt burdens unless we take action.... Spending is set to increase dramatically, reflecting many causes. The discretionary spending binge of the past decade, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and spending related to the aftermath of the 2007-09 financial crisis are factors. But the bulk of growth occurs in the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programmes....

If this is the direction that Glenn is going to go, then "George W. Bush," "unfunded Medicare Part D," and "2001 and 2003 tax cuts" all belong in this second paragraph. I don't expect Glenn Hubbard to say: "I was a budget arsonist in government over 2001-2003 and now here I am wearing a fire chief hat" (although I would be very impressed were he to do so--that would definitely be a sign that he had a pair). But I would like something indicating that the "discretionary spending binge of the past decade" did not just grow up out of the ground like a mushroom. The omission of these makes it impossible to give him better than a C.

Continue reading "What Grade Does Glenn Hubbard Get for This Budget Column?" »

Department of "Huh?!": Can We Agree to Let Henry Aaron, Who Coined "Premium Support," Decide What Is and Is Not "Premium Support"?

Greg Ip got badly spun by Paul Ryan yesterday:

The politics of Medicare: I don’t fully agree with Mr DeLong. There is nothing profoundly stupid, in principle, with either vouchers (or premium support, as Mr Ryan calls it) for Medicare or block grants for Medicaid; as Alice Rivlin notes, the term premium support was coined by two Democratic economists, Henry Aaron and Robert Reischauer, and Mr Clinton converted welfare to block grants with good results...

True, he then went on to say that:

Whether either is in fact a viable alternative to the present structure depends crucially on how much money the block grants and vouchers are worth. Mr Ryan is too flinty on both. Republicans could have deflected some of this criticism by presenting the plan as the starting point for debate. Instead, by marrying it to unbending opposition to higher taxes, they turned the budget into a contest of wills rather than a negotiation...

But the overall impression Greg Ip conveys is the (false) one that Paul Ryan wants conveyed: that at the core of RyanCare is a substantive technocratic solution to Medicare that has substantial Democratic support--or would have, if not for partisanship.

Ezra Klein did not get spun:

Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan is not Bill Clinton’s fault: Paul Ryan has adopted the curious tactic of blaming his Medicare plan on Bill Clinton. Back in April, he said a version of his plan was “endorsed by everyone from President Clinton’s 1999 Medicare commission, chaired by Democrat John Breaux, to Bob Dole and Tom Daschle in 2009.” This week, he said his plan is “in keeping with the Bill Clinton bipartisan commission.” It’s a good argument. The only problem? It’s not true.... First, as says, “any attempt to cast the 1999 report as bipartisan or suggest it was Clinton’s commission is misleading.” The commission was created in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which was written by and passed through a Republican Congress. Clinton appointed just four of the commission’s 17 members — all of whom voted against the final plan. So it wasn’t “the Bill Clinton bipartisan commission.”

Second, the commission failed: It needed 11 votes and only got 10.... “The commission ended its work without endorsing any recommendations.” The Democrats by and large opposed the plan. And that includes President Clinton....

Finally, it was a very different plan. The idea of giving Medicare beneficiaries a choice of private plans in addition to traditional Medicare fee-for-service — in wonk parlance, “premium support” — does have Democratic backers. Some months ago, in fact, I interviewed Henry Aaron, a center-left health-care expert who is one of the idea’s creators. And he said the problem with Ryan’s plan is that it’s not premium support. Premium support, Aaron explained, was designed to create competition without allowing cost-shifting. The key feature was that payments kept pace with the cost of health care.... That’s not how Ryan’s plan works.... [I]t eliminates traditional fee-for-service Medicare. For another, Its savings come from capping the growth of federal spending at inflation — which is much, much, much slower than the rate of health-care cost growth.... That’s very different than a plan that holds the average contribution to 12 percent of the plan’s cost. But it’s absolutely central to how the Ryan budget saves money. It’s the core of his proposal....

President Clinton did not convene a bipartisan commission on Medicare, the bipartisan commission on Medicare that was convened didn’t endorse the plan, and the plan under consideration was very, very different from the plan Ryan has proposed. This talking point Ryan is trotting out just isn’t true.

Very different take, no?

Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo


Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo Buffalo.

"(Buffalo buffalo) [buffalo] (Buffalo buffalo)" I get, where () = NP and [] = VP.

But I really do not see how to fit the extra three "buffalos" in there and still make it comprehensible to any native speaker of English. So the claim that the full eight-buffalo sentence is "grammatical" seems to me to be wrong: if something is not comprehensible to any native speaker, it is not grammatical--for grammar was made to illuminate what we find comprehensible and what we do not. Grammar is our servant, not our master.


So the claim is:

"(Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo) [Buffalo buffalo] (Buffalo buffalo)."

The first "Buffalo buffalo" is the subject of the sentence: buffalo from Buffalo.

The second and third "Buffalo buffalos" are a noun--more buffalo from Buffalo--and verb phrase--these Buffalo buffalo in fact buffalo (in the manner of Buffalo) the first Buffalo buffalo.

Then the fourth "Buffalo buffalo" is the verb of the sentence: it describes what the first Buffalo buffalo do--they buffalo (in the manner of Buffalo) others.

What others do they buffalo (in the manner of Buffalo)? Buffalo buffalo, of course...

Can we get from ten to twelve buffalos somehow?

Simon Johnson Comes Out Against Christine Lagarde as IMF Managing Director

I agree. He puts the case well:

The Problem With Christine Lagarde : Lagarde is explicitly being put forward as someone who can represent the interests of the eurozone.... The founding assumption for the eurozone in 1999, which became a myth during the early 2000s, is that eurozone countries would converge in terms of productivity levels.... In that view of Europe, it did not much matter if some countries within the eurozone ran current account surpluses while others ran large deficits.  The deficit countries could finance themselves with loans from the surplus countries, the reasoning went, because they would use the money for productive investments and economic growth would allow them to keep their debt levels relative to GDP under control.

None of this happened.  The productivity gains were seen more in Germany and some other North European countries; unit labor costs, reflecting the net effect of productivity gains and real wage increases, rose sharply in Mediterranean Europe.  And French, German and other “core” banks facilitated this divergence with a surge in lending to both consumers and governments in the periphery – convincing themselves, shareholders, and regulators that this was low risk.

Most of this is not Ms. Lagarde’s fault, of course.... But the bigger issue that more recently she and the French authorities in general have been at the forefront of efforts to deny there is any deep problem and to resist a systematic solution. France worked long and hard to prevent increases in bank capital during the recently concluded Basel III negotiations.... Low bank capital creates serious systemic financial risk for Europe and the world.

Continue reading "Simon Johnson Comes Out Against Christine Lagarde as IMF Managing Director" »

Liveblogging World War II: May 26, 1941

The most cost-effective British weapon of World War II: the Fairey Swordfish biplane piloted by Sub-Lieutenant John Moffat of 818 Naval Air Squadron launched from Ark Royal:

fairey-swordfish_2.jpg 720յ17 pixels


Günther Lütjens - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: A British reconnaissance aircraft sighted Bismarck in the early morning hours of 26 May by following its oil slick. At this point, the Home Fleet and Norfolk following from the north were joined by HMS Rodney, while Force H and light cruiser HMS Dorsetshire approached from the south, and light cruiser HMS Edinburgh from the west. Bismarck's low speed and southeasterly heading away from its known pursuers made it very easy for the new attackers to the south to catch up.

At dusk on 26 May, Swordfish torpedo aircraft from HMS Ark Royal attacked. Though much of the damage was superficial, one torpedo jammed Bismarck's rudders and steering gear, rendering it largely unmaneuverable. Divers were put over the side but reported they could not clear the damage as the sea was then too rough. The crew was still able to steer Bismarck somewhat by adjusting the revolution speed of her propellers, but it reduced the ship's top speed to 7 kn (13 km/h; 8.1 mph) and effectively left it circling in the water. Throughout the night she was the target of incessant torpedo attacks by HMS Cossack, Sikh, Maori, Zulu, and Piorun.

Lütjens recognised the gravity of the situation. At 23:58 on 26 May, Lütjens transmitted to Group West, the Naval HQ:

To the Führer of the German Reich, Adolf Hitler. We will fight to the last in our trust in you, my Führer, and our firm confidence in Germany's victory.

Does Netanyahu Know What He Is Doing?

Matthew Yglesias thinks so. And so he acquits Netanyahu of Jeffrey Goldberg's charge that Netanyahu is "objectively" committing treason to Israel. Matthew Yglesias:

Yglesias » Assuming Netanyahu Knows What He’s Doing: Jeffrey Goldberg notes that Benjamin Netanyahu’s approach to the US-Israel relationship is inconsistent with the idea that he lives in terror of the Iranian nuclear weapons program:

For decades, Israel has been a bipartisan cause on Capitol Hill. It will remain so for a while, but Netanyahu is, through his pedantic and pinched behavior, helping to weaken Israel’s standing among Democrats. Why is this so important? Because Israel has no friends left in the world except for the United States (and in fairer weather, Canada, Australia and Germany). As it moves toward a confrontation with Iran, it needs wall-to-wall support in America. You would think that Netanyahu, who is sincere in his oft-stated belief that Iran poses quite possibly the greatest danger Israel has ever faced, would be working harder than he is to ensure Democratic, and presidential, support, for this cause. And you can forget Barack Obama and the Democratic Party in this analysis. It’s no secret that the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf are objectively aligned with Israel on the Iran question. Nor is it a secret that said governments can’t afford to be publicly seen as lining up with Israel as long as the Palestinian issue is an open sore. Substantial concessions to the Palestinians as part of an effort to build as broad as possible a coalition against Iran seems like a no-brainer.

Unless, that is, you really and truly on the merits don’t want to make substantial concessions to the Palestinians. When I went to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc it was clearly a very nice place. If I lived there, I wouldn’t want to give up that land any more than Americans want to give their houses back to the Native Americans. Route 443 through the West Bank is a very useful piece of transportation infrastructure, and the people who benefit from it don’t want to give it up any more than any other commuters around the world want to give up their infrastructure. The Israeli settlers in and around Hebron are clearly very committed religious believers, who no more want to give up than do the tens of thousands of deeply committed anti-abortion activists around America. “Lets keep this land” isn’t a crazy policy agenda. Reluctance to give up land won in a war is a very common national priority. But I think it’s time for Americans—and especially American Jews—who don’t agree with this priority to stop being puzzled by it.

Continue reading "Does Netanyahu Know What He Is Doing?" »

Peter Orszag on the Unwisdom of Destroying Medicare to Replace It with RyanCare for the Elderly


Sharing Costs Is No Way to Fix Medicare: Many Republican policy makers appear conflicted about... Paul Ryan... because they like its substance, but believe it is bad politics, especially among elderly voters. In truth, the substance is not particularly appealing either.

At the heart of the Ryan plan is a shift within Medicare toward consumer-directed health care -– which in turn is predicated on increasing beneficiaries’ "skin in the game" to make the health system more efficient.... [T]he plan would not live up to its billing.... The CBO found that the Ryan Medicare proposal would substantially increase total health-care spending.... [C]onsumer-directed health-care reform... may not be the panacea it’s often held out to be. The core problem is that health-care costs are concentrated among expensive treatments for chronic diseases and end-of-life care....

Perhaps the most famous research on consumer cost-sharing is the RAND Health Insurance Experiment, which was conducted with 2,750 families from 1971 to 1982.... The biggest reductions in the RAND study, though, came in moving from zero expense for families to at least some cost-sharing. As we already have some cost-sharing in our current system (co-pays and deductibles), that finding doesn’t suggest a new path to savings. And, unfortunately, the results from raising cost- sharing above current levels were generally more modest.... To save money in the short run, people tend to cut back on crucial medicines.... The CBO’s analysis of the Ryan plan confirms that federal expenditures would be reduced, by a lot. By 2030, payments for a typical beneficiary would be more than 20 percent lower than current projections.... On the critical metric of whether the Ryan plan would reduce total health-care costs, though, the CBO conclusion is shocking: The plan would not only fail to decrease health-care costs per beneficiary, it would increase them –- by an astonishingly large amount.... By 2030, health spending on the typical beneficiary would be more than 40 percent higher under the Ryan plan than under existing Medicare, according to the CBO report. Health-care costs would not be reduced on the backs of seniors; they would be raised on the backs of seniors.... The CBO points to two factors: Private plans have higher administrative costs than the federal Medicare program, and less negotiating leverage with providers.

Everything in life is relative. The CBO’s analysis of the health-reform act that was passed last year was, well, lukewarm on its potential to reduce costs. Compared with the Ryan plan, though, the health reform act comes across as an efficient cost- containment machine....

So here’s the message to those vacillating Republican policy makers: There’s no need to feel guilty about backing away from the Ryan plan for reasons of political expediency. If your goal is to reduce health spending significantly, you can safely retreat from it on its substance.

Built to Bust

BERKELEY – In the mid-2000’s, the United States had a construction boom. From 2003-2006, annual construction spending rose to a level well above its long-run trend. Thus, by the start of 2007, the US was, in essence, overbuilt: about $300 billion in excess of the long-run trend in construction spending.

When these buildings were constructed, they were expected to more than pay for themselves. But their profitability depended on two shaky foundations: a permanent fall in long-term risky real interest rates, and permanent optimism about real estate as an asset class. Both foundations collapsed.

By 2007, therefore, it was reasonable to expect that construction spending in the US would be depressed for some time to come. Since cumulative construction spending was $300 billion above trend, it would have to run $300 billion below trend over a number of years in order to return to balance.

Continue reading "Built to Bust" »

Friedrich Engels on Expansionary Fiscal Policy to Moderate the Business Cycle?

Julio Huato emails:

[I]n Anti-Duhring (part 3, Socialism), Engels kind of touches on the issue Brad raises (why didn't Marx note that public spending can prevent or alleviate a crisis?) Engels is arguing that the conflict between increasingly socialized productive forces and the capitalist form of appropriation flares up in recurrent crises. He then adds that the usual resolution of the crisis (de-valorization of productive wealth and further concentration of capital, leading to a further expansion in the scale of labor cooperation) is sort of a de-facto recognition of increasingly socialized character of the productive forces that capitalism promotes. Then, he says, the productive forces tend to rebel against the capitalist mode of production (I guess the idea here is that the conscious expression of this rebellion is the workers' class struggle), and that this rebellion "forces the capitalist class itself to treat them more and more as social productive forces, so far as this is possible under capitalist conditions."... But then, he adds... "the official representative of capitalist society — the state — will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. This necessity... is felt first in the great institutions for intercourse and communication — the post office, the telegraphs, the railways." Banks and other financial institutions? Car makers?... This indicates very strongly that Engels and Marx didn't exclude the possibility of the state intervening to dampen the effects of a crisis. From there, I find it hard to believe that Marx would have rejected the notion that the state could take preemptive measures in the face of large disproportions, etc. [But] at the end of the day, the measures taken by the state "under capitalist conditions" could only shift the loci of crises and conflicts...

Time to PANIC!!: Second-Quarter Real GDP Growth Looks Slow Enough to Put No Upward Pressure at All on the Employment-to-Population Ratio


Time to push the panic button.

Macroeconomic Advisers is revising their tracking forecast of real GDP growth in the second quarter. It now looks as though, come July 1, that there will have been no gap-closing in the six quarters since the start of 2010.

That means that it is:

  • Time for Quantitative Easing III...
  • Time for pulling more spending from the future forward into the present, and pushing more taxes from the present back into the future...
  • Time to use Fannie and Freddie to (temporarily) nationalize mortgage finance and fix the ongoing foreclosure crisis...
  • Time for a weaker dollar...

Teaching Large Classes

Tyler Cowen sends us to Jennifer Imazeki:

Economics for Teachers: Musings about Teaching Economics: Peer review with SWoRD: As I mentioned, I'm using SWoRD in my writing class for econ majors. SWoRD is a site that not only facilitates peer review, it allows for student grades to actually be determined by their classmates' reviews. For each assignment, the instructor creates both open-ended comment prompts and a numeric rubric (the SWoRD template requires a 1 to 7 scale, though you can sort of get around that by skipping some of the numbers). Students submit their papers to SWoRD and once the deadline has passed, papers are assigned to peer reviewers (minimum of three, maximum of six; the creators of SWoRD strongly recommend at least five reviews if the scores will be used for grading). Everything is anonymous.... After the reviews are completed, the authors have the opportunity to 'back evaluate' the open-ended comments, indicating how helpful the comments were, or weren't.... One of the coolest things about the SWoRD system is how it calculates grades. Students receive a grade both for reviewing and for writing. The reviewing grades are based half on 'consistency', which takes into account things like if a student just gives all high scores or all low scores, or scores that are really different from the other reviewers of the same papers, and half on the back evaluation 'helpfulness' scores. The writing grades are based on the numeric rubric scores from the reviewers but adjusted for the consistency of the reviewers.... Part of the reason I agreed to do this pilot is that I have always had students do peer review for this course anyway. So I already have many of the comment prompts and rubrics created (though they need some revising for SWoRD) and the fixed costs of getting things set up in the system seemed like they would be rather low while the benefits are potentially huge...

On the Next Managing Director of the IMF

I continue to hold that what is really at stake in the choice of the next IMF Managing Director is the need to get a smart person into the job who will be the voice of full employment, balanced growth, and low inflation. The problem is that the European candidates would all be the voice of the Euroausterian pointless pain caucus--and that would be bad.

Over at the Economist, S.C. begs for the BRICs to unite behind an alternative candidate:

The IMF and emerging economies: I must confess to feeling a bit disappointed with the BRICs.... At this point, it’s no good them railing against unwritten conventions. It’s time to start rallying behind a flesh-and-blood candidate. Agustin Carstens has been nominated by Mexico, of course. But he can’t even count on the support of the Brazilians.... The BRICs and other prominent emerging economies may feel they don’t want the IMF job badly enough to turn this into a real contest. To win a proper fight they would have to paper over some big internal rivalries and annoy some powerful European partners and allies.... Worse to have fought and lost, they must think, than never to have fought at all.... But not showing up has its own costs.... If the emerging economies rally round a candidate of their own, they may not prevail. But as Mr Virmani puts it, “there is still perhaps merit in saying that 'we tried'".

In a properly-run world, I think, the obvious choice would be somebody who had been out there warning about overleverage in 2005...

Mark Kleiman Was Snarky Last Night: Long-Run Fiscal Crisis and the Future of America Department


Civility Dep’t « The Reality-Based Community: On behalf of my fellow Democrats, I would like to engage in a bit of bipartisan good sportsmanship. While lots of people – starting with the candidate – deserve credit for Kathy Hochul’s convincing victory in a Jack Kemp’s old Congressional district, the bulk of the kudos belongs to Paul Ryan, without whose plan to destroy Medicare the result would not have been possible. The rest of the Democrats owe it to Mr. Ryan to carry on his good work, by making sure that every voter in American knows that voting for the Ryan budget means denying health care to old people. In the spirit of bipartisanship, we can do no less.

I am somewhat less happy.

Don't get me wrong--few things would please me more than the electoral collapse of the Republican Party followed by a recognition that the next opposition party to the Democrats needs to turn over a new leaf, return to a base in reality, and no longer try to lie to all the people all of the time--about global warming, about health care, about how to finance the federal government, about whether Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction, and so forth. The Ryan fiscal plan was cruel, stupid, and counterproductive: you do not try to improve health care by destroying Medicare and adopting the RyanCare plan of turning insuring the elderly over to private insurance companies whose first act is to hire more administrators and pay them $250 billion a year to try to screen the Medicare patients who will be expensive to treat out of their policy pool. And the claim that eliminating Medicare and replacing it with RyanCare for the elderly was essentially the same thing as FEHBP for members of congress is a lie of extraordinary magnitude and cynicism.

And we should not be worrying right now about the cost of Medicare in the 2020s and 2030s. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. And the 9% unemployment of this day is indeed evil. Government right now should be focusing on creating jobs now, not on potential deficits a generation hence--especially as no congress can bind its successors.

Continue reading "Mark Kleiman Was Snarky Last Night: Long-Run Fiscal Crisis and the Future of America Department" »

Washed-Up, Marginal, Authoritarian, and Unappealing Leftist Watch: "Castro Did Lots of Good and Humane Things, Despite Being a Dictator; but the Bottom Line Is U.S. Hatred of Castro Had Nothing to Do with His Being a Dictator..."

UPDATE: An awful lot of Castro love here. You know, I really would have thought that the claim that Castro's retirement should be celebrated rather than mourned would command universal assent. Silly me...

Brian Leiter emails:

Chris Bertram’s response to you was correct, and I don’t have much to add to it: Castro did lots of good and humane things, despite being a dictator; but the bottom line is U.S. hatred of Castro had nothing to do with his being a dictator, but with his being an anti-capitalist, unlike his predecessor, the fascist Batista.

This seems to me to be an elementary philosophical error.

People in the U.S. hate and hated Castro for many reasons. Surely some of them hate and hated Castro because he was an oppressive Leninist dictator? Surely their views had something to do with U.S. policy toward Castro? To say that "U.S. hatred of Castro had nothing to do with his being a dictator" and everything to do with his being an anti-capitalist seems to me to be wrong. A lot of people wound up in Miami hating Castro for a whole lot of reasons--including the reason that Castro was "anti-capitalist," but that was very far from being the only or in many cases the predominant reason.

To say that "Castro did many good and humane things, in spite of being a dictator" seems to me to whitewash his regime. Brian Leiter is not Walter Duranty, but he ought to know better.

Continue reading "Washed-Up, Marginal, Authoritarian, and Unappealing Leftist Watch: "Castro Did Lots of Good and Humane Things, Despite Being a Dictator; but the Bottom Line Is U.S. Hatred of Castro Had Nothing to Do with His Being a Dictator..."" »

Martin Wolf Is Uneasy at the Prospect of Christine Lagarde

From my perspective, the big problem with Christine Lagarde as head of the IMF is that she is very likely to step the IMF away from its current--correct--technocratic position that the global economy needs easier money and more government spending in the core and replace it with Euro-austeric policy nostrum snake oil, to the world's impoverishment. I think that this is behind Martin Wolf's worries too, but he focuses more on procedure:

Europe should not control the IMF: Gone are past promises of an open selection [for IMF Managing Director]. The Europeans insist on the principle that what we have we hold. The ancien régime survives. Mme. Lagarde is a perfectly respectable candidate. She is French, almost a requirement, it often seems, for the European head of an international institution.... [S]he is not a perfect candidate: her economics are limited. If she were to become head of the organisation she would have to rely on the advice of those around her. If she were to get the job, it would be essential for whoever replaces John Lipsky, the American first deputy managing director, who is due to depart in August, to be a first-rate economist.

Continue reading "Martin Wolf Is Uneasy at the Prospect of Christine Lagarde" »

Megan McArdle Really Hates "Sex at Dawn"

Christopher Ryan, 9/1/2010:

Megan McArdle Really Hates Sex at Dawn | Psychology Today: But still, every party has the red-faced, humorless, easily-offended type. Yesterday, at The Atlantic web site, Megan McArdle provided a stellar example. Her comments begin strangely, with the admission that she's "in the middle" of the book. Note the urgency to condemn it publicly, even before reading the damned thing! And boy, does she lash out:

"It reads like horsefeathers . . . like an undergraduate thesis," "breathless rather than scientific," "cherry-picked evidence stretched far out of shape to support their theory," "they don't even attempt to paper over the enormous holes in their theory."

Ouch! And that's just the first paragraph. But wait, it gets worse. The second paragraph is worth quoting in full, as it's really a perfect expression of the bug-eyed panic the book provokes in some people:

For example, like a lot of evolutionary biology critiques, this one leans heavily on bonobos (at least so far). Here's the thing: humans aren't like bonobos. And do you know how I know that we are not like bonobos? Because we're not like bonobos. There's no way observed human societies grew out of a species organized along the lines of a bonobo tribe.

Got that? Humans aren't like bonobos because we're not like bonobos. No way! So there! Case closed....

Ms. McArdle hasn't read even the first half of the book very closely. Pages 77 and 78 contain a table listing some of the major similarities between humans and bonobos, many of them unique to these two species. Hard to imagine how she managed to miss that. In the discussion of her article, she flatly states that chimps are genetically more closely related to humans than bonobos are, which is not only just plain wrong, it's something we explain very early in the book (along with a graph, no less, on p. 62).

Agree with our thesis or disagree with it, nobody who knows anything about primatology would argue that chimps are genetically closer to us than bonobos are (they're equidistant) or that humans and bonobos don't have a great deal in common—particularly in terms of our sexual behavior and anatomy. (The table appears below.)

Later in her comments, she writes, "If you're going to use evolutionary psychology, you need to deal with human jealousy, which is indeed pervasive. You can't leave it out just because it doesn't fit your model."

Chapter 10 of the book is called: "Jealousy, A Beginner's Guide to Coveting Thy Neighbor's Spouse." How does one miss an entire chapter in a book you're writing about publicly?

I'm not familiar with Ms. McArdle's work, but if she's got a gig at The Atlantic, which is one of the most respected magazines in the country, presumably this is far below her usual intellectual standard.

Wonderful as it would be if Ms. McArdle's opinion of our book were to change when/if she gets around to actually reading it, I'm not holding my breath because I don't think she's responding to the substance of the book at all; she's responding to what it makes her feel, which is something entirely different.

The Right-Wing Assault On The IPAB and on Sane Health Policy

Jonathan Cohn:

Here We Go Again, With the Death Panels: The... Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB... an independent commission, staffed by experts appointed by the president and Congress... to alter Medicare payments in order to make the program less expensive. The concept has been kicking around for a long time, on the theory that Congress shouldn’t be micromanaging Medicare reimbursement schemes. And something like the IPAB already exists. But the current version, called the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.... IPAB’s proposals to change Medicare will go into effect anytime the program's cost growth exceeds a certain threshold....

Republicans, meanwhile, have attacked the idea almost from the get-go, saying it would become an instrument of government-imposed rationing. It’s the IPAB that some conservative critics have likened to “death panels,” on the unfounded theory that it would cut off access to valuable, life-saving treatments. The House Republican budget calls explicitly for repealing the IPAB.... But now some Democrats are joining the calls for repeal.... The Democrat leading the charge against the IPAB right now, for example, is Allyson Schwartz, a self-proclaimed New Democrat....

Why does Schwartz want to get rid of IPAB? In a letter announcing her intentions, Schwartz said it was undemocratic to hand over that authority to a commission. And that's a legitimate (if, in my view, unpersuasive) argument. But a quick look at Schwartz's campaign finance history, from OpenSecrets.Org, shows that she receives a great deal of support from the health care industry. It’s her top source of political action committee contributions and her fourth largest source of contributions overall. It's the health care industry (hospitals, drug makers, insurers) that would feel the brunt of IPAB cost-cutting efforts.... [I]n the eyes of the Congressional Budget Office and many experts, the IPAB’s presence bolsters the Affordable Care Act’s ability to hold down the cost of health care. And it does so in a far more humane way than, say, giving seniors vouchers that would buy only a fraction of the coverage Medicare provides now.

Is that the sort of rationing that opponents of IPAB would prefer?

Are There Too Many Homes in America? Almost Surely Not

Modeled Behavior:

Are There Too Many Homes in America, Ctd «  Modeled Behavior: I sense that a bit of the blogosphere is warming up to the idea that there are not enough homes in America, but now they are saying: we have the wrong kind of homes. They admit there are not enough apartments in NYC but think that the rest of America is flush with homes. This would make a lot of sense if you have a core belief that urbanism is the future and that the big cities are set to boom even bigger. For my money urbanism is a potential future but I am starting to take the possibility of radical ex-urbanism more seriously....

Even as the US added millions of new residents over the last decade, multi-family construction stalled before falling off a cliff and manufactured homes have been on a steady downward trend. Population growth was matched – and mildly exceeded – by growth in single family homes. Now that single family has fallen of a cliff as well, we simply are not producing homes at the rate we are adding people. Unless living patterns shift dramatically, something has to give. That means a ramp up in construction. The longer home building is suppressed the larger the imbalance will become.

Headline Writers Who Don't Read the Articles Department: Slate Edition

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Slate's headline:

Little. Yellow. Dangerous. "Children at Play" signs imperil our kids. - By Tom Vanderbilt - Slate Magazine:

Tom Vanderbilt's conclusion to his article:

"Children at Play" signs may not be doing any good, but simply removing them isn't likely to do much more. What we need is lower speeds, and a more compelling way of achieving those speeds than signs that everyone has seen, and no one seems to mind.

Attention: Slate: U R doing it wrong.

Reality-Based Economists Write on the Independent Payment Authorization Board

Alice Rivlin, Hank Aaron, Judy Feder, David Cutler, Harold Pollack, et al.:

We write with regard to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), and the efforts by some in Congress to eliminate this body. We strongly oppose this effort, and encourage Congress to keep, and indeed strengthen, IPAB’s role.

The IPAB is a tool designed to help the Congress slow the rapid projected increases in health care costs in the federal budget and to improve the delivery of health care. Increases in Medicare, Medicaid and, the private sector could be slowed by giving providers greater incentives to adopt more cost-effective treatments and prevention interventions.

Public programs must be accountable to elected officials. However, to carry out its job effectively, Congress should mobilize the expertise of professionals who can assemble evidence on how payment incentives affect care delivery and suggest sensible improvements. The IPAB is constituted to make such professional expertise available to the Congress. Giving a body of experts the capacity to propose ways to slow spending growth will not diminish the power of elected officials, because Congress may approve, disapprove, or replace the IPAB’s proposals with alternatives that achieve the same objectives. Having the IPAB, however, will force debate on difficult choices that Congress has not thus far addressed.Professional judgment, grounded in evidence, is particularly important in an era where payment reform has become so critical to the quality of our health care and to our nation’s fiscal health. The Affordable Care Act sets up many demonstrations and pilot programs to learn how to structure payment to encourage more efficient delivery of quality care. As Medicare undertakes payment demonstrations and pilots, we must aggressively analyze their impact, replicate successes, and bring demonstrably better payment methods into national policy. To help accomplish these tasks, the Affordable Care Act established an independent, expert, evidence-driven body--the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Eliminating this board would severely hamper our ability to learn from experience, or to act on the lessons of experiments the Affordable Care Act seeks to promote.

We believe that an Independent Board is essential to promote, monitor and implement reforms that improve Medicare and the nation’s health care system. We urge Congress to act with this in mind.

I would like to add that this really should not be a partisan issue. If there is going to be a public insurance program, the least the public sector can do is run it well. Medicare is a public insurance program. IPAB--rather than leaving the setting of Medicare reimbursement policies in the hands of specialists on the one hand and overwhelmed legislators on the other--is a very important part of running the public insurance program well.

Debt Arithmetic and Expansionary Policy: Paul Krugman Vastly Understates His Case

Paul Krugman writes:

Debt Arithmetic (Wonkish): The whole tone of current discussion about deficits is one of urgency: deficits must be brought down now now now or crisis looms. Where is this coming from? Not from the arithmetic.... [D]eficits mean higher debt, which means higher interest payments, which can mean a spiral into bankruptcy.... If you put numbers to it, however, for countries that are not facing huge risk premia, the spiral is very, very slow.

Here’s a sample calculation. The latest IMF Fiscal Monitor predicts that general government in the US — that’s federal, state and local combined — will run a deficit of 7.5 percent of GDP next year, and that net debt will be 75 percent of GDP.... Suppose that we have 4 percent nominal GDP growth, which is actually low by historical standards. This shaves 3 percentage points off the rise in the debt/GDP ratio. So a year later, given those numbers, debt rises by 4.5 percentage points of GDP. What’s the interest burden of that rise? At minimum we should correct for inflation, so use the TIPS yield. That’s currently below 1, but let’s be pessimistic and call it 2. Even so, the added interest burden is less than one-tenth of one percent of GDP. So even with substantial deficits, the pace of long-term budget worsening is very slow. If it’s a debt death spiral, it’s a slooooowww motion death spiral.

But, say the critics, psychology can change suddenly, sharply raising those interest costs. The question then is why psychology should change. Investors can do the same arithmetic I’ve just done; why should they panic over a small rise in the interest burden? Now, investors might well panic over signs of political deadlock — but that could happen regardless of the current year’s deficit. Still, Serious People tell us that investors will turn on us unless we slash the deficit immediately — and they know this because, well, um...

As I’ve often written, we’re in a strange state now where people who actually take textbook economics and simple arithmetic seriously are seen as dangerously radical and irresponsible, while people who believe in invisible bond vigilantes and confidence fairies, who claim to know what the market will want even though there’s no sign of that desire in current asset prices, are viewed as Very Serious...

I think Paul Krugman vastly understates his case here.

Continue reading "Debt Arithmetic and Expansionary Policy: Paul Krugman Vastly Understates His Case" »

Paul Krugman on the Myths Republicans and Journalists Are Telling Themselves About the Ryan Plan

First point to hold on to: turning Medicare into inadequate vouchers is bad policy. It is not brave. it is stupid.

Paul Krugman is excessively polite when he writes:

The Ryan Mistake: Politico has an interesting piece... there are a couple of points that I don’t think come clear in the story. First, I suspect that there’s a legend in the making... which goes like this: Republicans were too noble. They committed themselves to a serious, well-crafted policy plan, but were oblivious to the political realities.... [T]he Ryan plan is, in fact, a self-serving piece of junk. It doesn’t add up — in fact, it would probably make the deficit bigger not smaller. And far from representing some kind of sacrifice of political interests in the service of the greater good, it’s a right-wing wish-list on steroids: sharp tax cuts for corporations and the rich, savage cuts in aid to the poor, and a gratuitous privatization of Medicare. And again, it’s technically incompetent.... So nobility and seriousness had nothing to do with it.

I don't think Politico merely fails to make a couple of points clear. I think--as is the case depressingly often--that the Politico's reporters work hard to obscure the story because telling it straight would make Republicans angry, and they can't have that.

Continue reading "Paul Krugman on the Myths Republicans and Journalists Are Telling Themselves About the Ryan Plan" »

Contractionary Policy Is Contractionary Watch: The United Kingdom

As I have said before, if m is the multiplier, t is the marginal tax rate, s is the share of the recession rise in unemployment that turns into a permanent rise in unemployment, r is the real interest rate on government debt, and g is the economy's growth rate, an austerity program of spending cuts makes the long-run deficit and debt outlook worse if:

mt > (r - g)/(r - g + s)

and makes the short-term debt-and-deficit outlook worse if:

mt > 1

Right now we are almost surely in the first regime. And it looks as though Britain right now may be in the second:

Continue reading "Contractionary Policy Is Contractionary Watch: The United Kingdom" »

The Republican Party: Budget Arsonists Wearing Fire Chief Hats

If this were a good world, all the reporters who have been talking about how the Republican Party is made up of deficit hawks would dress themselves up in sackcloth and smear themselves with ashes today...

Republicans and Their Debt Happy Policies

Jamelle Boule:

Republicans and Their Debt-Happy Policies: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities revises its widely-used deficit chart to reflect the chief drivers debt since the beginning of last decade.... Together, the Bush tax cuts -- and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- account for a huge chunk of current and projected public debt.... [I]t's amazing how much of this has evaded public conversation over debts and deficits. With few exceptions, Republican scaremongering on the debt has come from lawmakers who wholeheartedly supported the offending policies. Both Paul Ryan and John Boehner voted for the Bush tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicare Part D and deregulatory policies that contributed to the financial collapse. As director of OMB under President Bush, not only was Mitch Daniels chief advocate for the president's tax cuts, but he consistently lowballed the cost of the Iraq War, promising a $60 billion adventure instead of a trillion dollar quagmire. And now, we're treated to a host of Republican proposals that promise to increase debt over the next decade, cut taxes for the wealthy, and reduce the social safety net to tatters. Actual budget seriousness has evaded the Republican Party for at least a decade, if not more, but this has yet to make a dent in the public consciousness. It's baffling.

Continue reading "The Republican Party: Budget Arsonists Wearing Fire Chief Hats" »

Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Reading George Fitzhugh's "Cannibals All"

I have always been grateful to Judith Shklar for assigning Fitzhugh, and I have always read Fitzhugh as addressing the North, saying--yes, slavery here in the South sucks as a social system, but your system in the North sucks a lot more...

He is getting to Ta-Nehisi:

In Defense of Slavery Cont.: The really disturbing thing about George Fitzhugh, the antebellum's South cantankerous defender of slavery, is that his manifesto is genuinely provocative. This is not the fake counter-intuitive weak-sauce we see masquerading under the mask of political incorrectness. This is the profound site of a man who sincerely believes in a system, a system the present reader knows to be discredited, ardently and honestly stating his case, And because of that ardent honesty, there are these dangerous moments where you find that this dude is actually dropping gems. Man listen:

The reader will excuse us for so often introducing the thoughts and words of others. We do so not only for the sake of their authority, but because they express our own thoughts better than we can express them ourselves. In truth, we deal out our thoughts, facts and arguments in that irregular and desultory way in which we acquired them. We are no regular built scholar--have pursued no "royal road to mathematics," nor to anything else. We have, by observation and desultory reading, picked up our information by the wayside, and endeavored to arrange, generalize and digest it for ourselves. To learn "to forget," is almost the only thing we have labored to learn. We have been so bored through life by friends... who retain on their intellectual stomachs in gross, crude, undigested, and unassimilated form, every thing that they read, and retail and repeat it in that undigested form.... We thought once this thing was original with us, but find that Say pursued this plan in writing his Political Economy. He first read all the books he could get hold of on this subject, and then took time to forget them, before he began to write.

I read that, and had to stop for a second. It was that beautiful moment when you see something about yourself, or some value you hold, displayed in a way that you find familiar, and yet know that you could not have conceived.

In truth, we deal out our thoughts, facts and arguments in that irregular and desultory way in which we acquired them. We are no regular built scholar--have pursued no "royal road to mathematics," nor to anything else.

There is my mantra, the mantra for this blog. There are moments in this book, so beautiful, and so lucid that you almost forget that the guy is actually arguing that people should have the right to sell both their own children, and other people's children. Fitzhugh should be read in American lit classes in college. I'd love to teach a "Literature Of The Civil War" class.

The KMSS Bismarck and Ted Briggs Liveblog World War II: May 24, 1941

The Bismarck:

HowStuffWorks _World War II Timeline_ January 26, 1941-February 15, 1941_.png

Ted Briggs:

H.M.S. Hood Association-Battle Cruiser Hood: Crew Information - Remembering Hood - Excerpt from "Flagship Hood, The Fate of Britain's Mightiest Warship": I clattered up the ladder to the glass-screened compass platform and squeezed in through the door. In the dimness of the binnacle and chart-table lights I could make out a stage-Iike setting. On the starboard, facing forward, stood the robust figure of Commander E.H.G. 'Tiny' Gregson, the squadron gunnery officer, and Lieutenant-Commander G.E.M. Owens, the admiral's secretary. Alongside, centre of stage, in the captain's chair was Admiral Holland, with Captain Kerr on his right. Then on the port side were Wyldbore-Smith, Commander S.J.P. Warrand, the squadron navigating officer, eighteen-year-old Bill Dundas, action midshipman of the watch, Chief Yeoman Carne, who was attending the captain, Yeoman Wright, who looked after the demands of the officer of the watch at the binnacle, and myself, who was required to attend the flag lieutenant and answer voice-pipes. All the officers, except Holland and Kerr, were huddled in duffle coats, over which was anti-flash gear, topped off by steel helmets. Some had their gas-masks slung on their chests. It seemed incongruous to me that I, the most junior of all, should be wearing shoes and they sea-boots. The short, slim admiral preferred to emphasize his rank by wearing his 'bum-freezer' type of greatcoat. He sat bolt upright, with his binoculars' strap around his neck, his fingers somewhat nervously tapping the glasses themselves.

Holland, with whom I had not come into close contact before, activated my curiosity. He was smaller and milder-tempered than Admiral Whitworth, his predecessor, and rarely raised his voice. Whitworth had filled me with awe every time he approached, but the quieter attitude of Holland made me want to discover what made him tick and to find the key to his advancement in the navy. I had ambitions, too! Although he was only fifty-four, his hair was almost white. He appeared to be extremely shy and withdrawn, but officers put this down to the fact that his only son, an eighteen-year-old, who seemed to have a brilliant future as both poet and painter, had died of polio five years earlier. The tragedy had left its mark on both the admiral and his wife. Holland was a gunnery specialist and had invented gadgets to improve anti-aircraft control in warships. He was commodore of Portsmouth Barracks in 1935 and two years later became Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. At the outbreak of war he was put in command of the Second Battle Squadron. His only battle experience had been seven months earlier, when he had led five cruisers against the Italian fleet off Cape Spartivento. The Italians had not waited to give full battle, however, and fled before the British could get at them.

Holland had already signalled his plan for action to Captain John Leach in the Prince of Wales. With the Hood leading the way, both ships were to concentrate their fire on the Bismarck, with the Suffolk and Norfolk taking on the Prinz Eugen. Because we were maintaining radio silence, however, the cruisers did not receive these orders. Radar was banned unless action was imminent, in case the Bismarck picked up transmissions and changed direction. At midnight the enemy were believed to be a hundred miles away, and Holland deduced that if both squadrons continued on their courses at similar speeds the Hood would cross their intended track sixty miles ahead, at about 0230, or approximately forty minutes after sunrise in these days of long light.

After I had been on the compass platform about fifteen minutes, Holland stirred himself, as if he had forgotten an important factor. Then he commanded: 'Hoist battle ensigns.' The order was repeated and then passed on to the flag deck. The great flag rustled to the yardarm. At twenty-four feet long and twelve wide it was one of the largest in the Navy and whistled towards the stern to increase the anticipation of everyone who saw it. But it was anticlimax, for almost simultaneously the signal came from Suffolk: 'Enemy hidden in snowstorm.' Then silence. The news that contact had been lost was broadcast through the ship, and the crew were allowed to assume 'relaxed action stations'. Holland got to his feet and conferred with his flag staff around the plot. The product of this short conference was a reduction of speed to twenty-five knots and a change of direction to due north.

As I had been successful in questioning Wyldbore-Smith about the situation the previous day, I tried again, and during the next two hours my queries turned into a bombardment for information. He was extremely considerate and patiently gave me more details than it was necessary to disclose to a very junior rating. He explained that the admiral was in a quandary because of the cessation of reports from the shadowing cruisers and had to guess the movements of the enemy. Because Lutjens -of course no one knew he was the admiral in command -was aware his ships were being tracked, it was expected he would make a big divergence in course to shake off the pursuers. But a major switch towards the west was impossible because the edge of the Greenland ice pack was on the Bismarck's starboard side. Holland, therefore, had concluded that Lutjens would alter to a southerly course, or just to the east of it. The consequence of this tactical guess was a reduction in the speed of the Hood and the Prince of Wales and the alteration to due north. Now Holland intended to keep to this course until 0210, when we would turn about.

The strain of this game of hide-and-seek began to show on the face of the little admiral as he turned restlessly in his swivel chair. We thundered on through snow flurries, with spray coming over the forecastle, oblivious to the knowledge that we had no definite destination. Just after two o'clock Holland ended his dilemma by first ordering a turn to the south and then another to the south-east. Again Wyldbore- Smith interpreted this manoeuvre to me. If the Bismarck had successfully side-tracked the Norfolk and Suffolk by altering to the south, Holland wanted to consolidate his position on the enemy's bows. If the Hood and Prince of Wales had persisted towards the north, Holland's intercep- tion course would have put us too far ahead, and a great deal of the squadron's gun-bearing advantage would have been given away on the enemy pair racing south. To ensure that there was a British force searching to the north still, Holland spread the destroyer escort to this area.

Apart from the muttered comments of officers around me, the compass platform became a strangely somnolent citadel. The cold fingers of the Arctic draughts were whistling through the platform, and I was sent down to the galley to bring off a dixie of 'kiy' for the ratings, while Midshipman Dundas was ordered on a similar mission to the wardroom kitchen for the officers.

But at 0247 came another stimulant. The Suffolk, veering south at thirty knots, reported she was in touch with the Bismarck and her consort again. On our plot this put the Germans thirty-five miles to the north-west, with the Hood and Prince of Wales a few miles ahead. Unknown to foe and friend alike, the four ships had been on slightly divergent courses. We were on 200 degrees, and Lutjens' squadron were on 220 degrees. The difference was that we knew they were there now, but they were still unaware that two British capital ships were stalking them. As the Hood, still ahead of the Prince of Wales, swung back to the north again, the news was broadcast to rouse the sagging figures below from their attempted slumber. The Hood began to shudder more as speed was raised to 28! knots, the maximum she could attain from her engines after months of over-use. From the billows of blackish, purple smoke emitted from the stacks, there was no doubt that the' chief stoker was sitting on the safety valves'. She was at her fastest, and not another decimal of a knot could be coaxed from the ageing engines.

The next hour was to be the edgiest of my life, as the Hood screamed into battle. There was little for me to do in the build-up to action, and I became a somewhat frightened observer. Dawn had been at 0200, and now I could see great patches of cloud that threatened rain, if not more snow and sleet. There was a heavy swell from the north-east, which slapped the great ship and produced a haze of water that showered over the bows on to the long forecastle and beat against the side of A and B turrets. Under a grey sky on a grey sea we charged towards an enemy who threatened the lifelines to Britain. Even a technicolor film of this morning would not have brought out a brighter hue.

Momentarily I was snatched from my reverie by the message that the Bismarck had been picked up by our radar 'bods' and was twenty miles off to our north-east. This was no false errand now. If there were any doubts that a full-scale naval action was about to be fought, they were dispelled at once. In an hour we would be upon the enemy.

I could visualize how the mates I knew in other departments would be preparing. Ron Bell was on the flag deck at the other end of the voice-pipe I was manning. His voice did not betray any signs of funk, as I was sure mine did. Near him would be Tuxworth, helping to handle the halyards and still joking, no doubt. Alongside in charge of the flags I guessed that Yeoman Bill Nevett would be as outwardly calm as ever, despite the pallor of his face.

On the boat deck I knew another mate, Petty Officer Stan Boardman, would be readying the crew of Sally, the starboard multiple pom-pom. Would he be thinking of his adored wife and his newly born baby or would he be questioning what on earth he could do with his anti-aircraft guns against the Bismarck's fifteen-inchers? And what of the sick-bay, where I had spent the first few days of my life in the ship? There the 'tiffies' under Surgeon Commander Hurst and sick-Bay Petty Officer stannard would be sterilizing operating instruments, laying out blankets, making sure bandages were handy -God, don't let me be wounded. I guessed a lot of blood would be flowing there today, and it made my own feel colder .

Other shipmates would be under cover and unable to see - and some unable to hear -the impending action and relying on the chaplain, the Reverend R.].P. Stewart, who had now taken over from Commander Cross as broadcast 'com- mentator', to keep them briefed, and still uncertain of each movement of the ship. At least I had a grandstand view and would not die unknowingly in darkness. Death? I'm not, and never have been, a religious zealot, nor a churchman, but my last thoughts in these moments of inaction were of the peaceful little chapel under the flag deck. It reminded me of Nelsons own prayer, 'May the great God, whom I worship ...' and I offered up a pitiful silent prayer of my own for personal courage and stamina and for a British victory. I suppose it was rather like keeping your fingers crossed!

Dead on 0500 the imminence of a high-explosive fight sent a shudder of fear through me. 'Prepare for instant action,' Holland warned, although not a man in the Hood and the Prince of Wales could not have been ready by now. There was no friendly conversation on the compass platform. Everyone was staring into the steely blend of sky and sea towards the northern horizon. At 0535 the enemy were spotted from the Hood. The sighting was reported by voice-pipe from the spotting-top as' Alarm starboard green 40.' I did not have any binoculars, so I could not see the top-masts, which everyone else was focusing on, but the maximum visibility from our perch was seventeen miles at this time. Almost in a whisper Captain Kerr commanded: 'Pilot, make the enemy report.' Lieutenant-Commander A.R.]. Batley called Chief Yeoman Came to his side at the binnacle and dictated: 'Emergency to Admiralty and C-in-C., Home Fleet. From BC1 -one battleship and one heavy cruiser, bearing 330, distance 17 miles. My position 63-20 north, 31-50 west. My course 240. Speed 28 knots.' Came copied it on to his signal pad as: 'Y -2 -Admiralty, C-in-C. H.F., V.B. Cone, IBS ICH 330-17-632°N, 315°W, 24-28.' This message was repeated by Carne through the voice-pipe to the bridge wireless office. A few minutes later came the confirmation through the voice-pipe in my hand that the message had been sent.

Then the order went from Holland to the flag deck to hoist 'Blue 4'. This meant making a turn of forty degrees together to starboard and with it the knowledge that the after batteries of the Hood and Prince of Wales would be unable to bear on the Bismarck or the Prinz Eugen. Holland was concentrating on closing the range as rapidly as possible to make the trajectory of the enemy shells flatter and to reduce the chances of the Hood's being penetrated by plummeting shells where the armour was weakest.

All that could be heard now of human activity was the steering orders of the officer of the watch and the piped repetition from the quartermaster in the barbette under the foremost director. I whispered to Yeoman Wright: 'How long do you think this is going to last, Yeo ?' He answered this silly question with an equally vacuous answer: 'I think it'll all be over within the next couple of hours, Ted.'

Ting-ting, ting-ting, ting-ting -the weak chinking, yet shrilly insistent urgency of the fire gong came through the loudspeaker at the back of the bridge. Holland had already ordered the preparatory signal to the Prince of Wales to open fire, and flag 5 was bent on the halyards ready for hoisting. Normally flag signals are not executed until they are hauled down, but flag 5 gave captains of ships the right to fire immediately it was at the mast-head. I could see our A and B forward turrets' guns lift slightly. When the range was down to thirteen miles, Holland said in a quietly modulated and polite voice: 'Open fire.' Chief Yeoman Came shouted more peremptorily to the flag deck: 'Flag 5, hoist.' A minute earlier the gunnery officers of both the Hood and Prince of Wales had been ordered by the admiral to concentrate their fire on the Bismarck, which, he told them, was the left-hand ship of the fast-approaching enemy. In the background I could hear the helmsman repeating his orders, and the closing ranges from the gunnery control position above us being sung out. Captain Kerr then ordered: 'Open fire.' From the control tower the gunnery officer bellowed: 'Shoot.' And the warning gong replied before the Hood's first salvo belched out in an ear-pulsating roar, leaving behind a cloud of brown cordite smoke, which swept by the compass platform. Seconds later a duller boom came from our starboard quarter as the Prince of Wales unleashed her first fourteen-inch salvo.

The menacing thunder of our guns snapped the tension. All my traces of anxiety and fright left me momentarily. I was riveted with fascination as I counted off the seconds for our shells to land -20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25...then tiny spouts of water, two extremely close to the pinpoints on the horizon. Suddenly a report from the spotting-top made Holland realize he had blundered. 'We're shooting at the wrong ship. The Bismarck's on the right, not the left.' Our shells had been falling near the Prinz Eugen, which many hours earlier had begun to lead the German raiding force when the Bismarck's forward radar failed. Holland seemed hardly perturbed and in the same monotonous voice said: 'Shift target to the right.'

Within the next two minutes the Hood's foremost turrets managed to ram in six salvoes each at the Bismarck. I counted each time, expecting to see a hit registered. The first salvo pockmarked the sea around her, and the third appeared to spark off a dull glow. I thought we had got in the first blow, but I was wrong. Suddenly it intrigued me to see four star-like golden flashes, with red centres, spangle along the side of the Bismarck. But I had no time to admire them. Those first pretty pyrotechnics were four fifteen-inch shells coming our way, and deep, clammy, numbing fear returned. That express train, which I had last heard when the French fired on us at Oran, was increasing in crescendo. It passed overhead. Where it landed I was not sure. My eyes were on the two ships rapidly becoming more visible on the starboard bow. They were still winking at us threateningly. But the next salvo was not just a threat. Not far from our starboard beam there were two, no three, no four high splashes of foam, tinted with an erupting dirty brown fringe. Then I was flung off my feet. My ears were ringing as if I had been in the striking-chamber of Big Ben. I picked myself up, thinking I had made a complete fool of myself, but everyone else on the compass platform was also scrambling to his feet. 'Tiny' Gregson walked almost sedately out to the starboard wing of the platform to find out what had happened. 'We've been hit at the base of the mainmast, sir, and we're on fire,' he reported, almost as if we were on manoeuvres.

Then came a crazy cacophony of wild cries of 'Fire' through the voice-pipes and telephones. On the amidships boat deck a fierce blaze flared. This was punctuated by loud explosions. The torpedo officer reported by phone: 'The four-inch ready-use ammunition is exploding.' I could hear the UP rockets going up, just as they had roared off accidentally in Gibraltar a year earlier. Fear gripped my intestines again as agonized screams of the wounded and dying emitted from the voice-pipes. The screeching turned my blood almost to ice. Yet strangely I also began to feel anger at the enemy for the first time. 'Who the hell do they think they are, hitting our super ship?' I thought ridiculously.'

As the AA shells continued to rocket around, Captain Kerr ordered the four-inch gun crews to take shelter and the fire and damage control parties to keep away from the area until all the ready-use ammunition had been expended. But the bursting projectiles were making a charnel-house of positions above the upper deck. The screams of the maimed kept up a strident chorus through the voice-pipes and from the flag deck. I was certain I heard my' oppo' Ron Bell shouting for help. These agonizing moments did not appear to trouble Holland, Kerr or Gregson. Their binoculars were still focused on the enemy. I wondered how they could be so detached, with chaos and havoc around them. This, I supposed, was the calmness of command, and some of it transferred to me like a form of mental telepathy.

By this time the range had been cut down to approximately 8 miles. We had been under fire for just two minutes, which already had taken on the time-scale of two hours. It was the moment for Holland to try to bring our aft turrets, X and Y, to bear, because we were being hopelessly outgunned. 'Turn twenty degrees to port together,' he commanded. Chief Yeoman Came passed the word on to the flag deck, where surprisingly someone still seemed to be capable of obeying orders. Two blue -flag 2, a blue pendant -went up the yard-arm. I remember musing: 'Not everyone on the flag deck is dead then.' As the Hood turned, X turret roared in approval, but its Y twin stayed silent. And then a blinding flash swept around the outside of the compass platform. Again I found myself being lifted off my feet and dumped head first on the deck. This time, when I got up with the others, the scene was different. Everything was cold and unreal. The ship which had been a haven for me for the last two years was suddenly hostile. After the initial jarring she listed slowly, almost hesitatingly, to starboard. She stopped after about ten degrees, when I heard the helmsman's voice shouting up the voice-pipe to the officer of the watch: 'Steering's gone, sir.' The reply of 'Very good' showed no signs of animation or agitation. Immediately Kerr ordered: 'Change over to emergency steering.'

Although the Hood had angled to starboard, there was still no concern on the compass platform. Holland was back in his chair. He looked aft towards the Prince of Wales and then re-trained his binoculars on the Bismarck. Slowly the Hood righted herself. 'Thank heaven for that,' I murmured to myself, only to be terrorized by her sudden, horrifying cant to port. On and on she rolled, until she reached an angle of forty-five degrees. When everyone realized that she would not swing back to the perpendicular, we all began to make our way out in single file towards the starboard door at first. Then some turned towards the port door and attempted to break panes of reinforced glass in the foreport of the platform. But it was all done as if in drill. There was no order to abandon ship; nor was a word uttered. It just was not required. The Hood was finished, and no one needed to be told that.

I was surprised by my cold yet uncontrolled detachment, as I made my way to the door. 'Tiny' Gregson was in front of me with the squadron navigation officer. As I reached the steel-hinged door, Commander Warrand stood aside for me and let me go out first. I looked back over my left shoulder and saw Holland slumped on his chair in total dejection. Beside him the captain tried to keep to his feet as the Hood's deck turned into a slide. I began picking my way down the ladder from the compass platform to the admiral's bridge. Then the sea swirled around my legs and I was walking on the side of the bridge, instead of the ladder. I threw away my tin hat and gas-mask and managed to slip off my anti-flash gear, but my lifebelt was under my Burberry and I could not get at it to inflate it. There was no one else in sight, although I knew that at least two officers were nearby, as the water engulfed me with a roar.

Panic had gone. This was it, I realized. But I wasn't going to give in easily. I knew that the deckhead of the compass platform was above me and that I must try to swim away from it. I managed to avoid being knocked out by the steel stanchions, but I was not making any progress. The suction was dragging me down. The pressure on my ears was increasing each second, and panic returned in its worse intensity. I was going to die. I struggled madly to try to heave myself up to the surface. I got nowhere. Although it seemed an eternity, I was under water for barely a minute. My lungs were bursting. I knew that I just had to breathe. I opened my lips and gulped in a mouthful of water. My tongue was forced to the back of my throat. I was not going to reach the surface. I was going to die. I was going to die. As I weakened, my resolve left me. What was the use of struggling? Panic subsided. I had heard it was nice to drown. I stopped trying to swim upwards. The water was a peaceful cradle. I was being rocked off to sleep. There was nothing I could do about it -goodnight, mum. Now I lay me down ...I was ready to meet God. My blissful acceptance of death ended in a sudden surge beneath me, which shot me to the surface like a decanted cork in a champagne bottle. I wasn't going to die. I wasn't going to die. I trod water as I panted in great gulps of air. I was alive. I was alive.

Although my ears were singing from the pressure under water, I could hear the hissing of a hundred serpents. I turned and fifty yards away I could see the bows of the Hood vertical in the sea. It was the most frightening aspect of my ordeal and a vision which was to recur terrifyingly in nightmares for the next forty years. Both gun barrels of B turret were slumped hard over to port and disappearing fast beneath the waves. My experience of suction seconds before forced me to turn in sheer terror and swim as fast and as far as I could away from the last sight of the ship that had formulated my early years.

I did not look back. There was a morass of debris around me as I pushed through the sea, which had a four-inch coating of oil on it. Fortunately before we had left Scapa the ship had been equipped with three-foot-square rafts, which replaced the older and larger Carley floats. There were dozens of these around in the sea and I managed to lug myself half on to one. I held on face downwards and then levered myself to look round to where the H ood had been. A small patch of oil blazed where she was cremated. Several yards away I could see the stern of the Prince of Wales as she pressed on with her guns firing. She was being straddled by shells from the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, and I did not give much of a chance to her survival. As I watched her veer away, I began to wonder about my chances of survival, too. I knew, of course, that a ship in action could not stop to pick up survivors, but this did not prevent a feeling of deep and helpless frustration.

The oil fire, which was still burning, instilled a spirit of self-preservation in me. I feared that larger patches of fuel, in which my raft was swilling, might be ignited, and with both hands I paddled out of the brown, sickening coating. Although I still had on my Burberry, number three suit, lifebelt, shoes and socks and had been in the water only some three minutes, the cold was beginning to numb my arms, fingers, legs and toes. My frantic efforts to propel the raft away from the fire helped to circulate my blood, but soon I was out of breath. I looked back and saw that the fire was out. On the horizon I could just make out the smoke from the Norfolk and Suffolk. About fifty yards away I suddenly saw life from another raft. A figure on it began to wave at me. Parallel to this was another raft with a man flapping his arms. I tried to find other signs of life. There was none -just us. We all began to paddle towards each other. The two linked up first, and then I puffed towards them. On one raft was Able Seaman Bob Tilburn and on the other was Midshipman Dundas, who had been on the compass platform with me.

Dundas had managed to sit up on his raft. For some odd reason it infuriated me that he was perched comfortably and perfectly balanced. As I neared the other two, I was crazily determined that I would 'enter their water' sitting up on my raft, too. I hauled myself into a central position, knelt up and then toppled back into the sea. I tried again and the raft capsized. I clambered back and was bucked off for a third time. I was crying with frustration when six-foot Tilburn, who was now alongside, helped me back on and said: 'Come on now; you're all right, son.' I realized I was making a fool of myself and finally gave up. I stayed sprawled out after this as we clutched the ratlings of each other's raft to bind us together.

Dundas took command not because he was an officer - the most junior one at that - but through his cheerfulness. He kept us singing 'Roll Out the Barrel' to ensure that we stayed awake. After an hour my mind was as numb as my body.... Dundas was determined that we should not drop into a coma, and to prevent this he suggested we tell our stories of how we got out of the Hood. The escape of twenty-year-old Tilburn, who had been in the Navy for four years to this very day, was the most dramatic, and he related it something like this.

I was manning one of the four-inch AA guns on the port side, but when the shooting began, we were ordered to take cover on the boat deck. Some of the men took cover in the aircraft hangar. The first hit was a small one, right near the anti-aircraft rockets. It must have been a small one, because a bigger shell would have gone through the deck. There was a tremendous fire, all pinkish with not much smoke. It seemed as if the UP ammo had exploded, but it might have been the four-inch ammo lockers. Petty Officer Bishop, who was in charge of the four-inch guns, told us to put out the fire, but then the bridge ordered us to take shelter again until all the ammo had gone off. So we all lay face down flat on the deck as everything began going off like Chinese crackers. Just after we had turned to port, the whole ship shook like mad. Bits of steel showered down on us, and bodies started f aIling from above allover the deck. Apart of a man fell from aloft and hit me on the legs. Bodies without arms and legs were falling all around. One of my "oppos" was killed; another was blown away, and a third had a splinter in his side and his guts ripped out. I felt violently sick and rushed to the side to spew up. Then the ship began to vibrate even worse, and she seemed to stop. I first noticed that she was going down by the stern after listing to port. She began to tilt at such an alarming angle that I got up and jumped on to the forecastle, which was nearly under water. I ripped off my gas-mask, coat and helmet, and the sea washed me over the side. Just before I went in, there was a flash of flame between the control tower and B turret. As I was swimming, I looked back and saw her coming over on top of me. Some part of the mast hit me on the legs, and I was partly pulled down by a tangle of wires around one of my sea-boots. Luckily I still had my knife on a lanyard, and I slashed at my boot until it was loose and I could kick it off. When I came to the top, the Hood's bows were stuck out of the water, practically upright - and then she slid underneath.

Dundas, who was only a few feet away from me on the compass platform, was a keener observer than I, for this is what he told us.

I reckon that the Bismarck's first salvo fell off the starboard side and the second off the port bow. It was after the third that the cordite fire began on the starboard side of the boat deck. The fourth salvo seemed to go through the spotting-top without exploding, although bodies began to fall from it. It was the fifth salvo that really did for us. Wreckage began raining down again, and I saw a mass of brown smoke drifting to leeward on the port side. As we began listing heavily to port, I found I could not get to the door, where you and the others got out, Briggs. I scrambled uphill and kept kicking at the window on the starboard side until I made a big enough hole to squeeze through. When I was halfway through, the water came underneath me, and I was dragged down quite a bit. The next thing I knew was that I shot to the top, and I was swimming on the surface.

We were all still dazed by the sudden demise of the Hood, especially as none of us could recall hearing any loud or catastrophic explosion before she sank. I was the only one who had escaped without a scratch. Tilburn had wounded himself on the knee, where he had cut away his sea-boot, while Dundas had sprained an ankle when he kicked in the armoured glass window in desperation. What intrigued me was that Dundas and I had gone into the sea from the starboard side, yet I was the one who had emerged on the port side. I must have gone right under the ship.

All this talking had tired us, and our stiffened fingers involuntarily lost their grasp on the ratlings and we drifted apart, to four hundred and eight hundred yards. Through the sleepy mist that was snarling my eyes and brain I could hear the distant voice of Dundas, who had started up another chorus of 'RollOut the Barrel'. My mind urged me to listen, but then I thought: 'Oh why don't you shut up, man, so I can get some sleep.' Later Tilburn revealed that he believed he was about to die and remembered that the best way to go in extreme cold was to close your eyes and sleep the deepest sleep of all. Fortunately for him he stayed awake. Suddenly Dundas stopped his raucous singing and began to cry: 'There's a destroyer coming along. She's seen us.' I looked up wearily in disbelief, but Dundas was right. She was heading towards the rafts. I recognized the pendant number- H27. 'It's the Electra,' I screamed. Then I began to bawl crazily. ' Electra ! Electra! Electra !' The other two joined in, and we waved our arms desperately. She had certainly seen us. She cut her engines and began to steer in towards us. Men with hand-lines were stationed around her sides. Scrambling-nets were already rigged, so we had obviously been spotted before we had noticed her. In jubilation Dundas sang: 'Roll out the barrel, let's have a barrel of fun. ..' and began conducting an imaginary orchestra. As low in spirit as I was, I could not but admire his bravado.

Slowly the Electra approached my raft, on which I was prostrate. Then a rope sailed into the air in my direction. Although I could not feel my fingers, somehow I managed to cling on to it. A man yelled unnecessarily at me from the scrambling net: 'Don't let go of it.' I even had the heart to retort: 'You bet your bloody life I won't.' Yet I was too exhausted to haul myself in and climb the net. After nearly four hours in the sea my emotions were a mess. Tears of frustration rolled down my oil-caked cheeks again, for rescue was so close and I could not help myself. I need not have worried. Several seamen dropped into the water, and with one hand on the nets they got me alongside and manhandled me up to the bent guard-rail, which had been battered by the storm, and into the waist of the Electra.

The sheer thankfulness of being saved acted as a tranquillizer on me. I was laid out on deck, and gentle hands cut and eased away the frozen clothes from my body. I remember thinking: 'There goes my Burberry and number three suit.' Then someone forced a cup between my lips and said: 'Here, drink this.' I did, and although I had been in the Navy for three years, this was my first taste of rum. I vomited it up immediately. My idiotic attempts to sit up on the raft, which had led to my swallowing a mixture of brine and oil, made it impossible for me to keep anything down for the next few hours. Swathed in blankets and with the ship's doctor, Lieutenant W.R.D. Seymour, massaging my hands and then my feet, I was soon joined by Tilburn and Dundas, whom I heard say to the No.1 after he was hauled up to the main deck: 'Sorry I can't salute, sir. I'm afraid I've lost my cap.' It was his last show of cheeky cheerfulness. He immediately collapsed into a heap. He, too, was massaged and then bundled off protestingly to the wardroom. Tilburn and I were carried bodily to the sick-bay. I was helped into a bunk, and then a sick-berth attendant gave me a blanket bath. But sleep did not come easily after this, because as my circulation returned I was seized with a series of cramps, which made my body rigid again. The SBA tried to massage me back to suppleness, but even this did not ease my pain. Finally I fell asleep.

Chris Bertram Writes Something Smart

Buce sends us to Chris Bertram, and eschews snideness:

Underbelly: Chris Bertram on the Varieties of Leftism: Chris Bertram offers a brisk taxonomy of leftism which might be sound-byte-summarized as "market," "populist" and "pastoral."  He might have added another class: the cohort which take it upon itself to classify and evaluate the other classes.  I hope I do not seem snide here...

So let me jump in.

What caught my eye in Chris Bertram on May 22, 2011:

The fragmenting coalition of the “left”, some musings — Crooked Timber: the overt differences of aim and value between various currents calling themselves “left” are deep and irreconcilable. So what are those currents.... 4) The old Leninist hard left. Naturally they fancy themselves as the people strand 3) need to give them organization and direction. I don’t think so. Washed up, marginal, authoritarian and unappealing.

was how perfectly it condemned Chris Bertram. Consider his lament on the occasion of the retirement of the next-to-last Leninist dictator in the world, Fidel Castro, on February 19, 2008:

Castro retires: I’m reminded of A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other (reference please, dear readers?) that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate. Ditto Cuba, for a much smaller chunk. So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let’s hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid. Let’s hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who held off the US forces for a while on Grenada. Let’s hear it for Elian Gonzalez. Let’s hear it for 49 years of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!

To applaud the next-to-last Leninist regime in the world with a "hasta la victoria siempre!" out of one side of your mouth while condemning Leninism as "washed up, marginal, authoritarian and unappealing" out of the other reveals a degree of mental confusion rarely attained even in this fallen sublunary sphere...

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Recent and Worth Reading

Yes, Paul Ryan Is Wrong. Why Do You Ask?

Jared Bernstein:

Jared Bernstein | On the Economy: When I introduced this blog a week ago, I said that one reason for it was to help people sort out some of the extremely misleading assertions partisans are making these days. Rep Paul Ryan seems intent on keeping me very busy.... “Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient providers…their plan [Affordable Care Act] is to give government the power to deny care to seniors.”...

[I]t’s hard to know where to start.... To get why this “market solution” can’t work, you have to understand a bit about how Ryan’s plan changes Medicare.  As is by now pretty widely appreciated, including by many in his own party, the plan ends guaranteed health care coverage for seniors and replaces it with a voucher for them to shop for insurance on the street... the value of those vouchers start well below where they need to be to enable seniors to afford coverage comparable to Medicare today... their value falls increasing behind coverage costs over time.

Suppose you send me to the grocery store to buy you a gallon of milk.  Milk costs $3.50 a gallon but you give me $2.  I spend the whole day “denying business to inefficient providers”—i.e., grocers who all charge more than that—and at the end of the day, bring you back a pint. Now, instead of milk, where I’ve got the information I need to be a smart shopper, suppose you give me the same under-priced voucher but ask me to bring you back a plan for treating that strange pain you’ve been experience on your left side on humid days.

There’s no “denying business to inefficient providers” in the Ryan plan because there’s no market discipline that average folks with incomplete information armed with an inadequate voucher can enforce on a private health insurance market...

Liveblogging World War II: May 23, 1941

Adolf Hitler:

Führer Directive No. 30:

  1. The Arab Freedom Movement is our natural ally against England in the Middle East. In this context the uprising in Iraq is of special importance. This strengthens the forces hostile to England in the Middle East beyond the Iraqi frontier, disrupts English communications, and ties up English troops and shipping at the expense of other theaters. I have therefore decided to hasten developments in the Middle East by supporting Iraq. Whether and how it may be possible, in conjunction with an offensive against the Suez Canal, finally to break the British position between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf is a question that will be answered only after Barbarossa.

  2. In connection with my decision I order the following for the support of Iraq: (a) Support by the air force. (b) Dispatch of a military mission. (c) Arms deliveries.

  3. The military mission (cover name - 'Special Staff F') will be under the command of General [Hellmuth] Felmy. Its tasks are: (a) To advise and support the Iraqi armed forces. (b) Where possible, to establish military contacts with forces hostile to England outside of Iraq. (c) To obtain experience and intelligence in this area for the German armed forces. The composition of this organization will be regulated, in accordance with these duties, by the Chief of the High Command in the Armed Forces. Chain of command will be as follows: (a) All armed forces personnel sent to Iraq, including liaison staff in Syria, will be under the command of the head of the military mission with the proviso that orders and guidelines for the aviation units will come exclusively from the High Command of the Air Force. (b) The head of the military mission will be subordinate to the Chief of the High Command in the Armed Forces, with the proviso that orders and guidelines for the aviation units will come exclusively from the High Command of the Air Force. (c) The members of the military mission are, for the time being, to be regarded as volunteers (in the manner of the Condor Legion). They will wear tropical uniforms with Iraqi badges. Also, Iraqi markings will be worn by German aircraft.

  4. The Air Force: The employment of the air force in limited numbers is intended, apart from direct effects, to increase the self-confidence and fighting spirit of the Iraqi people and armed forces.

  5. Arms Deliveries: The Chief of the High Command in the Armed Forces will issue the necessary orders in this respect. (Deliveries to be made from Syria, in accordance with the agreement reached with the French in this matter, and from Germany.)

  6. The direction of propaganda in the Middle East is the responsibility of the Foreign Office, which will cooperate with the High Command in the Armed Forces, Operations Staff - Propaganda Section. The basic idea of our propaganda is: 'The victory of the Axis will free the countries of the Middle East from the English yoke, and will give them the right to self-determination. All who love freedom will therefore join the fight against England. No propaganda is to be carried out against the French in Syria.

  7. Should members of the Italian Armed Forces be employed on duties in Iraq, German personnel will cooperate on the lines laid down in this directive. Efforts will be made to ensure that they come under the command of the Head of the German Military Mission."

The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces

signed: Adolf Hitler

Most Important, Destroying Medicare and Replacing It with Magic Ponies Is Bad Policy

Duncan Black says that, surprise, surprise, it is turning out to be bad politics as well:

Eschaton: The Advantage Of Incompetent Pundits: [O]ur Villagers... truly think they speak for the great unwashed, the True Americans in the Heartland who don't know what arugula is and have never heard of green tea. Yet it doesn't occur to them that destroying Medicare (and, yes, getting rid of Medicare and replacing it with Magic Ponies called Medicare is destroying Medicare) would be, you know, unpopular.

Commute-Time Thoughts: Meditating on the Construction Bust


In the mid 2000s the United States had a construction boom.

Over the four-year period 2003-2006, annual construction spending rose to a level $150 billion above and then fell back to its long-run trend. Thus by the start of 2007 United States was overbuilt: about $300 billion had been spent building buildings in excess of the long-run trend.

When this construction was undertaken these buildings were expected to more than pay their way. But the profitability of these buildings depended on two shaky foundations: a permanent fall in long-term risky real interest rates, and permanent optimism about real estate as an asset class. Both these foundations collapsed.

By 2007, therefore, it would have been reasonable to expect that construction spending in United States would be depressed for some time to come. Since construction spending had run a cumulative amount of $300 billion ahead of trend, it would have to run $300 billion behind trend over a number of years in order to get back into balance. So everybody in 2007 was expecting a slowdown to be led by construction. But we were expecting a minor one: a fall in construction spending below trend of $150 billion a year for two years or $100 billion a year for three years or $75 billion a year for four years.

And starting in 2007 construction spending did indeed fall below trend. But we were expecting a minor one: a fall in construction spending below trend of $150 billion a year for two years or $100 billion a year for three years or $75 billion a year for four years. Instead, it fell $300 billion a year below trend. And it has so far stayed down for four years. And there is no prospect of rapid return to anything like normal levels.

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Winston S. Churchill and Ted Briggs Liveblog World War II: May 23, 1941


The Grand Alliance - Google Books-14.png

The Grand Alliance - Google Books-15.png



H.M.S. Hood Association-Battle Cruiser Hood: Crew Information - Remembering Hood - Excerpt from "Flagship Hood, The Fate of Britain's Mightiest Warship": The nervous tension of the night before had vanished. It was, after all, another unnecessary foray, another false alarm. We were all wasting our time here on the fringes of the frozen north. Routine was back to normal until 7.30 that evening, when I was playing a quiet game of solo with Frank Tuxworth, Ron Bell and Jimmy Green on the mess deck. The broadcasting system spluttered into life and ordered: 'Flag lieutenant's messenger report to the SDO at the double!' I did as I was piped and dashed to the signals distribution office, where I was told to rush a message to Lieutenant-Commander Wyldbore-Smith in his cabin. It always seemed laughable to me that I had to rush paper missives, even though the recipient had already been told by telephone of their contents. This particular signal was at least dramatic and deserved the classification 'rush' for it stated: 'From Suffolk -enemy in sight.'...

Able Seaman Newell, Suffolk's starboard after look-out, had sighted the two at a distance of seven miles. The time was 1922, but Suffolk's signal did not reach her co-searcher, the Norfolk, because of icing on her aerials. From that moment the shadowers of the Bismarck continued to send in a stream of amplifying coded reports. 'OCAs 240-25', for example, meant 'Enemy course 240 degrees and speed twenty-five knots.' 'OST A4 ' indicated that the enemy were altering course to forty degrees starboard.

By now Admiral Holland had decided to abandon his normal occupancy of the admiral's bridge and to conduct the operation from the compass platform in company with Flag Captain Kerr. As the dogs body messenger I was required to be close to Wyldbore-smith's elbow. The 1922 report from the Suffolk, which was plotted in the Hood, put the enemy due north of us and around three hundred miles away. This prompted Holland, who was at the chart table, to order at 1945 an increase of speed to twenty-seven knots and a course alteration of 295 degrees for the interception.

With this sudden diversion the ship's company were alive again to the realization that deadly action could be just ten hours away. The back of my neck began to prickle with excitement, and I found myself stuttering slightly, a nervous habit which until then I had managed to conquer since the age of ten. Although we had still to be called to action stations, most departments were preparing for the thunder of guns. The tension was heightened by Norfolk's report at 2032: 'One battleship, one cruiser in sight.' This was the first signal to reach Tovey of the position of the Bismarck in the Denmark Strait, because Suffolk's radio was still on the blink. The Norfolk, whose radar was inferior to the Suffolk's, had run straight into the enemy but had turned about at a range of six miles, had made smoke and, despite being straddled by the Bismarck's fifteen-inch guns, had managed to retreat into the murk to continue shadowing with the Suffolk.

By now the weather was roughening. We were bumping around a great deal as snow flurries began to whip into us, and I could see the destroyer escort disappearing in great troughs and then ploughing out of them like wounded porpoise. Their plight became apparent when the senior officer of the screen signalled: 'Do not consider destroyers can maintain present speed without danger.' At 2055 Holland replied: 'If you are unable to maintain this speed I will have to go on without you. You should follow at your best speed.' But the tenacity of the tiny vessels was tremendous; for the next half hour their skippers attempted to keep with us, and then gradually they were forced to accept the inevitable, reduce speed and drop astern.

The hubbub of activity between the compass platform and the bridge wireless office continued into the night, and at one stage I could not contain my nervousness and took the unprecedented step. for an ordinary signalman, of asking Wyldbore-Smith: 'What's happening, sir?' He should have admonished me; instead he took pity on my callowness and replied: 'It looks like definite action within the next few hours, Briggs.' His prediction became known to the rest of the ship's company around 2200 when Commander Cross confirmed in a broadcast that the Bismarck and a 'Hipper-class cruiser' had been contacted and were being shadowed by the Norfolk and Suffolk. 'We are expected to intercept at 0200 tomorrow morning,' he confided. 'We will go to action stations at midnight. In the meantime prepare yourselves and above all change into clean underwear.' This last sentence galvanized the mess deck, where I had returned to collect a cup of 'kiy' (cocoa). The only other time we had been warned to put on clean vests, pants and socks, in case dirty garments infected a wound, was at Oran, where we had fired our guns in anger, although reluctantly. Apprehension was heavy in the air. I think that most of my mates, like myself, were fearing not instant oblivion but the horror of being fearfully wounded or mutilated and screaming out in painful insanity. I had the depressing dread of being afraid of fear and showing it. Yet I was not feeling afraid -just wound up. I wanted the action to be hurried on, and yet at the same time I did not want it to happen. Wouldn't I wake up tomorrow in my hammock and find it was all a mistake? I could sense the feeling around me of quiet confidence in the ship's ability, but a bravado about one's own capability.

Just before midnight I changed into clean underwear and socks, put on my number three suit, tied up my lifebelt, or Mae West, over it, buttoned up my Burberry on top of this bulk and then completed the ensemble by donning anti-flash gear, with my gas-mask slung in front on my chest and a 'battle bowler' on my head. It was not yet time to report, but I did not want to miss anything. I picked up signals from the SDO and was on my way up the ladder to the compass platform when Tuxworth, one of my best chums, stopped me for a quick chat and a joke, which was to become indelible on my memory. 'Do you remember, Briggo,' he said, ' that when the Exeter went into action with the Graf Spee there was only one signalman saved ?' I laughed and cracked back: 'If that happens to us, it'll be me who's saved, Tux.' We were interrupted by the shrill bugle call summoning us to action stations right on midnight...

Robert Pear on the Manyfold Flaws of the Republican Party

Paul Krugman quotes Robert Pear:

The FEHB Deceptionm: Robert Pear:

House Republicans say their budget proposal would make Medicare work just like the health insurance that covers federal employees, including members of Congress. But a close examination shows the two plans are very different, and the differences help explain why the Republican plan has set off a political uproar.

And comments:

What Pear doesn’t quite say is how central this patently false claim — actually, it doesn’t take a “close examination” to see that it’s a lie, a quick skim is quite enough — has been to Republican talking points. Tell me again about how honest and serious Paul Ryan is?

Robert Pear continues:

Medicare Proposal Financing Differs From Federal Employee Plan: Under the federal employees’ health plan, which covers eight million people, the government pays a fixed share of premiums. So the federal contribution generally keeps pace with rising premiums, which in turn reflect rising health costs. No such guarantee exists under the Republicans’ plan to transform Medicare, approved by the House.... [T]he Congressional Budget Office says, under the Republican plan, Medicare would pay a shrinking share of beneficiaries’ total health costs, and seniors would pay a growing share. For a typical 65-year-old, that share would be 68 percent in 2030, more than twice what it would be under current law....

House Republicans have repeatedly likened their proposal to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, in which most lawmakers are enrolled.... Under their proposal, House Republicans say, Medicare would subsidize private health plans offered to beneficiaries, just as the federal government helps pay premiums for private health plans offered to its employees. But Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said the similarities ended there. “We keep hearing that Republicans are offering seniors exactly what members of Congress get,” Mr. Van Hollen said. “It simply is not true.”... [T]he government pays three-fourths of the premium for relatively inexpensive health plans and about two-thirds of the premium for those that cost more than the average....

Even so, Conor Sweeney, a spokesman for Mr. Ryan, insisted that the comparison to the federal employees’ plan was valid. “The model, the structure, the approach is inarguably similar: the government pays a share of the individual’s premiums” in both the employee program and the House Republicans’ Medicare proposal.

So Paul Ryan and his spokesman say, as long as Medicare pays even $1/year toward the cost of buying health insurance, the Ryan Plan is "inarguably similar" to FEHBP.

Hoisted from the Archives: Brad DeLong in Unctuous, Smug Pre-Great Recession Mode on the Varieties of "Keynesianism"

June 2, 2007:

On Keynesian Economicses and the Economicses of Keynes - Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality with Both Hands: With respect to, I think that there are two ways to understand the divergence of perspectives here.

The first is to note that Jamie Galbraith sees Keynes's General Theory as part of something bigger: combine it with John Kenneth Galbraith's New Industrial State, with Hyman Minsky's approach to financial crises, and perhaps with Piero Sraffa's Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, and you have an alternative theoretical framework for economics that owes very, very little to the Marshallian or even the Smithian tradition--and that owes nothing at all to the Walrasian tradition. Call this "East Anglian Keynesianism."

My macroeconomics teachers--Kindleberger, Eichengreen, Dornbusch, Fischer, Abel, Blanchard, Sargent--by contrast, see Keynes's macroeonomics (not just the single book that is the General Theory, but also How to Pay for the War, The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill, the Tract on Monetary Reform, and so forth) as part of a different bigger thing: they see, Keynes, Wicksell, and even Milton Friedman (though he would rarely admit it) as all groping toward an understanding of the macroeconomy that ends in the belief that limited, strategic, focused, yet powerful government interventions can create a situation in which the market economy could then work more-or-less along Smithian lines--that these focused government policies can, as I like to say, make Say's Law true in practice even though it is false in theory. Call this "MIT Keynesianism."

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From Noam Chomsky's Past of Misrepresentations, Evasions, and Lies...

Pierre Vidal-Naquet:: On "Faurisson and Chomsky," in Assassins of Memory (NY: Columbia University Press 1992):

Pursuing his crusade --whose theme may be summarized as follows: the gas chambers did not exist because they can not have existed; they can not have existed because they should not have existed; or better still: they did not exist because they did not exist-- Robert Faurisson has just published a new book.

This work is neither more nor less mendacious and dishonest than the preceding ones. I am not at the disposal of R. Faurisson, who, moreover, has not devoted a single line to attempting to respond to my dismantling of his lies in a text that he clearly is familiar with if we may judge from certain editorial details (such as the rectification of all too obvious cases of falsification). If every time a "revisionist" trotted out a new fable it were necessary to respond, all the forests of Canada would not suffice. I shall simply observe the following point: Faurisson's book is centered on the diary of the SS physician J. P. Kremer, a text I dealt with at length, showing that not once in the diary do the "special actions" in which the doctor participated have any relation with the struggle against typhus. Faurisson is unable, and for good reason, to supply a single argument, a single response on this subject. I have said as much, and will repeat it: his interpretation is a deliberate falsehood, in the full sense of the term. If one day it becomes necessary to analyze the rest of his lies and his falsifications, I shall do so, but such an operation seems to me to be of little interest and would be futile in the face of the sect whose prophet he has now become.

More troubling, because it comes from a man whose scientific stature, combined with the just and courageous fight he waged against the American war in Vietnam, have granted him great prestige, is the preface to Faurisson's book, which is by Noam Chomsky. An extraordinary windfall indeed: to maintain that the genocide of the Jews is a "historical lie" and to be prefaced by an illustrious linguist, the son of a professor of Hebrew, a libertarian and the enemy of every imperialism is surely even better than being supported by Jean-Gabriel Cohn-Bendit.

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The Unprecedented Inner Loneliness of the Hardline Protestant

Fred Slack Clark on missing the Rapture:

Disappointment, despair, and Harold Camping: I keep thinking back to a man I once knew. He was an old fundamentalist preacher.... If Pat Conroy, Flannery O’Connor, Barbara Kingsolver and Stephen King got together to write their ultimate stern father/religious zealot/ominously dour character, they might have come up with something like the chaplain.... He was not a man who invited fondness, but he was family, after all, and so we loved him. If that love tended to be more an expression of duty than of affection, it was also warmed by occasional bursts of pity. It was hard not to feel pity whenever he had one of his bouts of maudlin emotion and uncontrollable weeping. He was a lifelong teetotaler, but when these sudden moods struck him he became a sober version of a mawkish drunk, sobbing and proclaiming his deep love for strangers in the bar. The strangers in this case were his own daughters, grandchildren and family who would exchange nervous looks and do their best to comfort him as, one by one, we would each make and repeat the promise he would beg us to make him.

“Don’t worry,” we would say, “you won’t be cremated. I promise. No, no, it’s OK. We won’t let that happen to you.”

The old preacher, you see, was a “Bible prophecy” enthusiast. He was a devotee of John Hagee, and of TV host Jack Van Impe and of anyone connected with Dallas Theological Seminary and its premillennial dispensationalist obsession with the End Times as interpreted through their crazy-quilt re-editing of Revelation and Daniel. He eagerly devoured all of their books and many other, even stranger works — self-published volumes of cryptic numerology, cramped and fevered tomes identifying the Antichrist as Krushchev or Kissinger or Ted Kennedy.

And somewhere, in one of those fringe-of-the-fringe books, he had encountered and adopted the idea that cremation rendered a body immune to resurrection. When the last trump shall sound and the dead in Christ are raised, when the sea gives up its dead and every grave is opened, he believed, those who have been cremated would remain only ashes.... Those verses that spoke of the graves being opened ... said nothing about those who had no graves but whose ashes had been, instead, scattered to the winds. And the idea was fortified by whatever author or radio preacher promoted it with a diatribe against cremation as a supposedly unholy, “pagan” practice — as though it were some sort of evil anti-sacrament that trumped every means of grace.... And it terrified him. Constantly. He expected the Rapture to occur any day, any moment, but he also knew that he was an old man and that, if the End tarried another year or five or ten, he might well die before Jesus came like a thief in the night. Once he was dead, he would be powerless to prevent the living from having his body cremated and if that happened he would be eternally separated from God. This is what he believed and what he lived in fear of every day.

Witnessing that terror and hopeless fear, seeing the suffering that it brought, I stopped thinking of his “Bible prophecy” obsession as a kooky, but mostly harmless set of beliefs. I began to realize that it was a framework that burdened its followers with the inevitability of disappointment, false hope, denial and an inconsolable fear. Its adherents were its victims. There were other victims, too, but its main damage was wrought in the lives of those who most believed it...

In Union There Is Strength

Matthew Yglesias says that Penelope Trunk gets it wrong. Dominique Strauss-Kahn's past sexual assaults have been covered up not because the women he assaulted "had something to lose" but rather because the women he assaulted did not belong to a labor union.

Matthew Yglesias:

Yglesias » Harassment Incentives: Penelope Trunk:

These women have nothing to lose when they report men who cross the line sexually. So the maid reported. And then, it turns out, all sorts of women in higher up positions spoke up against Strauss-Kahn. The women wouldn’t report the harassment on their own. They don’t want to suffer retribution. But now there will be no retribution, so it’s safe to come forward.

This is why men are going to focus harassment at the higher ranks of the corporate ladder. These are the women who have to keep their mouths shut if they want to keep climbing the ladder.

But God help the guy who harasses a women with nothing to lose....

Is it true... that a maid has “nothing to lose”?... [I]f the economy operated at a permanent full-employment state... if you did get fired you could find some other hotel to clean in. But when unemployment’s 9 percent it seems to me a low-wage worker has a huge amount to lose.

Unless she’s represented by a strong labor union, which was the case for the maid at the Sofitel in question.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Jacob Weisberg Edition

Jacob Weisberg today, May 22, 2011:

Birtherism, the debt ceiling, climate change, evolution: Are Republicans losing their grip on reality?: The long-range forecasts in the Paul Ryan plan, which show spending falling to 3 percent of GDP to allow for additional tax cuts, express an impossible libertarian fantasy...

Jacob Weisberg, April 5, 2011:

Good Plan! Republican Paul Ryan's budget proposal is brave, radical, and smart: If the GOP gets behind his proposals in a serious way, it will become for the first time in modern memory an intellectually serious party—one with a coherent vision to match its rhetoric of limited government.... [M]ore than anyone else in politics, Rep. Ryan has made a serious attempt to grapple with the long-term fiscal issue the country faces. He has a largely coherent, workable set of answers...

We are pleased to welcome Jacob Weisberg back from the Gamma Quadrant to reality, and pleased that he recognizes--today, anyway--that impossible libertarian fantasies are not intellectually serious, are not a coherent vision, are not a serious attempt to grapple with the long-term fiscal issues, are not coherent and workable.

But Weisberg's oeuvre is missing something, no? Where is the "how Paul Ryan bamboozled me" column?

Winston S. Churchill and Ted Briggs Liveblog World War II: May 22, 1941


The Grand Alliance - Google Books-13.png


H.M.S. Hood Association-Battle Cruiser Hood: Crew Information - Remembering Hood - Excerpt from "Flagship Hood, The Fate of Britain's Mightiest Warship": As special sea duty men fell in this Thursday night, light rain and a thin mist turned the flow into a lacy veil. My station on the compass platform with the admiral's staff allowed me a commentary-box view of the fleet, and a little before midnight our destroyer escort slipped their moorings in Gutter Sound, formed a line ahead and paraded through the Switha Gate to wait for us on the edge of the Pentland Firth. When the procession had ended, the Hood was swung around on her engines and headed southwards to the Hoxa Gate. In our wake came the newly constructed Prince of Wales, still with dockyard civilians on board. At the gate the massive underwater mesh of anti-submarine netting was hauled aside by the crew of the boom vessel, and we glided through with the destroyers taking station ahead.

The wind was scything into us from the north already, and although it was a May night the cold soon began to penetrate into anyone not below decks. It was atypical, boring six-hours spell at sea, one which in two days time I was to yearn for. The next day, while I was breakfasting on the mess deck, Commander Cross's calm and carefully controlled voice briefed us over the broadcasting system. He revealed that the Bismarck and a Hipper-class cruiser -at this stage no one knew she was the Prinz Eugen -were expected to leave Bergen, and that our squadron were proceeding to Hvalfjord to cover an area to the north and close to Iceland, while Tovey in King George V and the rest of the Home Fleet guarded a section further south. Aircraft and a line of cruisers were patrolling the area affected, and we were assured there would be a definite warning of the approach of the Nazi raiders. The announcement did not cause a stir. We had heard it all before and nothing had happened. We were fairly confident it would not happen this time, and if it did, the Hood was capable of handling any 'jumped-up German pocket battleship'. What in fact we did not know was that the Bismarck, far from being a mini-battle cruiser was superior in every way to the Hood and also to the Prince of Wales, which had just left the dockyard, had not completed gunnery trials and was still having trouble with her turrets, on which civilian experts were working even at this moment....

We steamed on until 2230 on 22 May, when we were about to enter the approaches to Hvalfjord. Then I carried this signal from Tovey to the compass platform:

'Bismarck and consort sailed. Proceed to cover area south-west of Iceland.' Half an hour earlier the 'lost' ships were reported no longer at their anchorage by an observer in a Maryland of Coastal Command, which sparked Tovey, still biding his time in Scapa, to sail in the King George V, with the carrier Victorious, the cruisers Galatea, Hermione, Kenya and Aurora and seven destroyers, to take up covering positions to the north-west.

As soon as the Hood had altered course in accordance with the 2230 signal of the C-in-C, Commander Cross updated the ship's company.of the situation, and for the first time the nervous feeling of an approach to battle began to build up. 'Perhaps this is it.' I wondered. 'Perhaps this is the big one.' The feeling that I was hungry, yet did not want to eat, nagged at my stomach. Looking around me, I could see my mates yawning nervously and trying to appear unconcerned. We all knew it was an act, yet we did not discuss the possibilities of action seriously.

I slept undisturbed that night, surprised to awake in the morning to find that there had been no alarms...

The Economic Outlook as of May 2011: Yes, This Is Called the Dismal Science. Why Do You Ask?


Urban Land Institute Spring 2011 Conference, Phoenix, AZ:

When I was a child my grandmother lived here in Phoenix: we would always visit in July or August. We children would think that everybody living in Phoenix was completely insane. Now that I am an adult I visit in November, January, March, and May--and the place makes so much more sense.

Thus I was very happy for the invitation to come and speak. I was very happy to come because it is still May, and so the Arizona desert is still beautiful rather than Gehennaish. I am, however, less happy at having to speak. This is a bad time to be an economist. If you were fresh from the womb and had no past opinions to defend, if you had never said anything notable before, it might be a fine time to be an economist. If you are one of those soap-opera characters who has complete amnesia and no memory of anything that they ever said or did or any intellectual position they took before January 1, 2010, it might be a fine time to be an economist. But for the rest of us--we who are now looking back at our opinions and analytic judgments and statements and pronouncements of the past 15 years and thinking: "how could I ever have been so stupid; how could I have missed so much?"--it is a bad time to be economist?

Four years ago we economists were writing learned papers about the "Great Moderation": about how it looked as though the governing institutions of the world economy had finally learned how to control and moderate if not completely eliminate the business cycle--the epileptic seizures of the economy that leave us with pointlessly high unemployment, pointlessly idle capacity, and pointlessly rusting away machines in spite of there being no fundamental cause for machines to be idle, factories closed, and workers unemployed. In such an epileptic seizure of the economy, workers are unemployed and machines are idle because there isn’t the demand to employ them, and there isn’t the demand to employ because the workers are unemployed and have no incomes.

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Right Now a Weaker Dollar Would Be in America's Interest

I remember back in 1993 the garbage thrown at then-Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen when he said--quite reasonably--a stronger yen would be in America's interest...

We have not grown up at all in eighteen years.

Christina Romer:

A Strong Dollar Isn’t Always a Good Thing: AT a recent news conference, Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, was asked about the falling dollar. He parried the question, saying that the Treasury secretary was the government’s spokesman on the exchange rate — and, of course, that the United States favors a strong dollar.... Our exchange rate is just a price — the price of the dollar in terms of other currencies. It is not controlled by anyone. And a high price for the dollar, which is what we mean by a strong dollar, is not always desirable.

Some countries, like China, essentially fix the price of their currency. But since the early 1970s, the United States has let the dollar’s value move in response to changes in the supply and demand of dollars in the foreign exchange market.... [A]ll that “the exchange rate is the purview of the Treasury” means is that no official other the Treasury secretary is supposed to talk about it (and even he isn’t supposed to say very much). That strikes me as a shame. Perhaps if government officials could talk about the exchange rate forthrightly, there would be more understanding of the issues and more rational policy discussions....

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Winston S. Churchill and Ted Briggs Liveblog World War II: May 21, 1941


The Grand Alliance - Google Books-11.png

The Grand Alliance - Google Books-12.png


H.M.S. Hood Association-Battle Cruiser Hood: Crew Information - Remembering Hood - Excerpt from "Flagship Hood, The Fate of Britain's Mightiest Warship": It was my job to collect messages for the flag lieutenant and take them to his cabin after members of the wardroom had dined. At 8 p.m. on 21 May I looked at a signal addressed to Admiral Holland from Admiral Sir John Tovey, the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet. It seemed routine and read: 'Flying your flag in Hood and taking Prince of Wales, Acates, Antelope, Anthony, Echo, lcarus and Electra under your orders sail at 0001 on May 22 and proceed with moderate despatch to Hvalfjord.' I knew that it was only a confirmatory message and placed little importance on it. We had received dozens of similar signals in the last year, and generally they led to freezing watches at sea in northerly waters. 'Oh God, another cold, late night,' I thought.

The Hood was at scapa Flow, and it was obvious to harbour-watchers that soon we would not be there. In the early evening there had been an abnormal amount of comings and goings between the Hood and the King George V, Tovey's flagship. Soon after, ominous, blacker streams of smoke began to emerge from the funnels of the fleet, signifying the usual controlled urgency of wartime preparation for sea. Later that evening I was hurrying to Lieutenant-Commander Wyldbore-smith's cabin again with a confidential signal from the C-in-C. This urged: 'Raise steam with all despatch and be prepared to leave harbour 0001 on May 22...