Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Bachelors Degree in Janitorial Engineering: A Real Look at the Higher Education Bubble

John Leo of the Daily Beast takes a look at the inflated state of American higher education through a recent Sallie Mae report, and leavens and connects it by referring to Professor Glenn Reynolds (the iconic Instapundit) and his work on the “higher education bubble”.  This bubble, in all seriousness, describes how recent college graduates have obligated themselves to $100,000 in college debt in order to secure, as best they can, a $25,000 a year job, which is not entirely unlike the disastrous housing bubble of so many people stuck with debt because their mortgage is under water with no chance of getting out of it.  Leo also adds a welcome fillip to the topic with an article by the estimable George Will.  Some examples of Will’s succinct observations:
The government decided that too few people owned homes/went to college, so government money was poured into subsidized and sometimes subprime mortgages/student loans, with the predictable result that housing prices/college tuitions soared and many borrowers went bust.  Tuitions and fees have risen more than 440 percent in 30 years as schools happily raised prices – and lowered standards – to siphon up federal money.
"Oh Rapture!  I got a diploma!  How can I thank you enough?!" ... "You can't."

And how are universities conducting themselves as the stewards of all this student loan money?  Some examples:
The budgets of California’s universities are being cut, so recently Cal State Northridge students conducted an almost-hunger strike (sustained by a blend of kale, apple and celery juices) to protest, as usual, tuition increases and, unusually and properly, administrators’ salaries.  For example, in 2009 the base salary of UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion was $194,000, almost four times that of starting assistant professors.  And by 2006, academic administrators outnumbered faculty.
The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald notes that sinecures in academia’s diversity industry are expanding as academic offerings contract.  UC San Diego, while eliminating master’s programs in electrical and computer engineering and comparative literature, and eliminating courses in French, German, Spanish and English literature, added a diversity requirement for graduation to cultivate “a student’s understanding of her or his identity.”  So, rather than study computer science and Cervantes, students can study their identities – themselves.  Says Mac Donald, “‘Diversity,’ it turns out, is simply a code word for narcissism.”
Leo recites a few statistics from the Sallie Mae report, and they are grim:
Almost 54 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed or unemployed, even in scientific and technical fields ….  The study said college grads under the age of 25 were more likely to work at Starbucks or a local restaurant than as engineers, scientists, or mathematicians.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that as many as one out of three college graduates today are in jobs that previously or historically have been filled by people with lesser educations or none.  The U.S. now has 115,000 janitors with college degrees, along with 83,000 bartenders, 80,000 heavy-duty truck drivers, and 323,000 waiters and waitresses....
Current and former collegians now owe more than $1 trillion in student loans – and only 26 percent of the debtors are currently paying anything back, down from 38 percent five years ago.  (These loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, a reform imposed to stymie borrowers who would graduate and promptly file for bankruptcy.)
The cost of college rose 440 percent between 1982 and 2007, compared with cost of living increases of 106 percent and family income growth of 147 percent over the same period.
If the federal government has been profligate with offers of increasing tuition assistance to colleges, the administrators are just as likely to scoop it out of the trough.
“The regnant phrase was ‘Don’t leave money sitting on the table.’” … Where does all that money go?  Much of it to lavish spa-like facilities and grand new construction, including $100 million or so for multicultural centers and sports stadiums.  The debt taken on by colleges has risen 88 percent since 2001, to $307 billion.
[A military variation that I saw (to paint a picture) was the introduction of the Variable Housing Allowance (VHA) in the early 1980s, created for service members assigned to high-cost areas (like Washington DC or San Diego) to provide extra pay to augment their Basic Allowance for Quarters (BAQ).  I found myself on a visit to CINCPAC Headquarters in Honolulu several months thereafter, and the topic of conversation was how the rents in the area had increased by an amount equal to the VHA.]

Further, Donald Sensing of Sense of Events provides as usual a welcome analysis as well.

There is much more.  If you think the housing bubble was devastating, stand by for the second whammy.  These articles are well worth reading in their entirety.  Please do so, whether you have any connection with college education – it will affect you one way or another.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bloomberg to City: Drop Dead

The ‘Drop Dead’ line is by now a classic, after the New York Daily News was miffed in 1975 about President Gerald Ford telling New York City that it would not be bailed out – again – from the results of its profligate fiscal mismanagement.  (In actuality, he did eventually sign authorization for federal loans to the city.)  The headline spawned a series of like captions through the years, but none have come so close to the mark, or actually struck it, than Mayor Bloomberg’s comments on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight last evening. 

"We're not going to protect you."

To set the explanation, let me set the stage: Piers immediately starts the interview by registering how aghast he is, in reference to the shootings in Aurora, Colorado:

Every time one of these things happens – Gabrielle Giffords last year, this shooting here – there’s an outrage and then very quickly it dissipates.  The American people quite quickly go back to their normal lives and they don't demand action in a way that I would expect them to.
Why do so many Americans not feel angry enough to demand further gun control?
Here he pulls a classic bait-and-switch: initially, there is outrage – (1) by the public about the act itself, and (2) by some politicians about the act and also the fact that more gun control hasn’t already been enacted despite the Second Amendment to the Constitution.  Here the politicians see an opportunity to push for more gun control while the emotions are high, in the same manner that so many of the Left use for whatever they perceive as a problem: proclaim that it is a ‘crisis’ and react accordingly, push through a bill and demand quick action, without the bother of actually reading it or considering the consequences, unintended or otherwise.  There is no poetic license in that statement – bills are literally voted upon by legislators who literally have no idea about the content, and that certainly applies to the public at large, thus Nancy Pelosi’s statement about how Congress will have to pass ObamaCare before the public “can find out what is in it”.  (Yet another of Obama’s 2008 campaign promises broken.)  This is yet another iteration of the legal maxim that big cases make bad law.

These politicians and the Commentariat (particularly Mr Morgan) are perplexed that the hoi polloi are not in lock-step accordance with their Anointed viewpoints.  And yes, the public outrage does continue, but it exists rather in the direction of demanding more attention to criminals and the mentally unstable walking our streets, instead of trying to eliminate guns from the American public, rendering us even more vulnerable to these crimes at the hands of those who would ignore a gun ban, just as they ignore any other law that gets in their way.

The kernel of the story is Mayor Bloomberg’s stupefying reply to Morgan’s proffered complaint about the American people:
Well, I would take it one step further.  I don't understand why the police officers across this country don't stand up collectively and say, we're going to go on strike.  We're not going to protect you.  Unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what's required to keep us safe.
What an absurd and dangerous statement.  It is bad enough that the mayor banned salt in restaurants (the government will tell you how to eat) and Big Gulps in all sources (though he simultaneously extolled doughnuts), but now he reaches heights that even Aristophanes would reject.  He literally called on police officers to abandon their moral responsibility to protect the public until the people knuckle under and surrender their weapons.  (It is only a moral responsibility, because the "police have no duty to protect individuals".)  The criminals, being criminals, will simply continue to use guns, but now with a more target-rich environment, since the public will have no protection.  Without police protection, this is a literal call for the public to rise up in their self-defense, a levée en masse.

Remember, the police only show up after a crime is committed.  Even in the case of the Aurora shootings which resulted in this ludicrous exchange, the police, who were already on the scene when the shootings began, did not respond to the shooter until after he had exhausted his ammunition (his rifle apparently having jammed) and he had retired to his car outside, possibly to re-load.

The Left has strongly criticized the Right when it can glean what it insists is violent or “eliminationist” comments when they were clearly metaphorical.  Here the mayor literally says “We’re not going to protect you.”  But the following morning, Hizzoner tried to walk back the comments: “I didn’t mean literally go on strike.  In fact, in New York, they can’t go on strike.  There’s a law against it.”  He went on to say that he is only thinking of protecting the police, “Because they get killed, and they have families.”  Well, wouldn’t you think that the same reasoning would apply to the public as well?  

Bloomberg also complained about lack of help from the candidates for President, and the federal government as a whole as it pertains to protecting the citizenry: “We’re not getting any help from Washington.” 

Really?  I expect that Governor Rick Perry will be seeking Mayor Bloomberg’s comments about protecting the border then.

I previously have made known my fondness for some of the poetry of Bertolt Brecht, but here it seems that Bloomberg and others are echoing, only in an actually serious vein, his short 1953 “The Solution”, an ironic criticism of the morally corrupt East German government:

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts.  Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Jon Stewart Nails Brian Ross on Rush to Judgment (Update)

In a follow-up to the still-unfolding story of James Holmes, mass-murderer of the Aurora theater slayings, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" (the main source of news – I am not making this up – for a significant number of viewers under 30) takes on one of the more egregious examples of press bias in the form of Brian Ross, the Chief Investigative Correspondent (for Pete’s sake) for ABC News, who jumped the shark by linking the killer, however carefully, with a Tea Party member in the area.

Left unsaid is why Ross, apparently as enthusiastic about the idea as George Stephanopoulos who introduced him, would seek out the name on a Tea Party list of names in the first place.  Did he think to check out the name from the arrest records for Occupy Denver or the ACLU, for example?  This knee-jerk reaction (“Hmm … mass murderer … Tea Party”) is just assumed as a reasonable connection within the Commentariat.  It is bad enough that Ross, the Chief Investigative Correspondent (did I say that already?) made such a bone-headed mistake that would get a freshman journalism student tossed out of class (one should have two sources for confirmation: he had zero, over and above just wishful thinking); he has shown the collective fourth estate posterior in this rush to judgment.

It is one of a kind, allow me to say, with the early reports that Holmes did not seem to be a military veteran (later confirmed that, sure enough, he wasn’t).  Again, a member in good standing of the MSM, whose first reactions to hearing of a mass murderer is to go to (1) military veteran?, then (2) Tea party member?

Will Ross be held to account?  Well, as the Chief Investigative Correspondent, what would he do if one of his underlings pulled such a faux pas?

Yeah, I don't think so either.

Update:  It seems that the clearance for the video above has been yanked by Viacom International, but Newsbusters has preserved it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mass Killing in Colorado Theater (Updates)

The reaction is still unfolding, but reports are that a gunman opened fire in a crowded theater in Aurora, Colorado late last night, at a midnight showing of the new "Batman" film.  Current figures show that 12 people are dead and 59 wounded.  The gunman, identified as James E Holmes of San Diego, California, surrendered on the scene to police who responded to the shooting within less than two minutes, some of whom were already at the scene for crowd control. 

Student photo of James Holmes

Holmes was reported to be dressed in black with his hair dyed bright red, with protective armor including a helmet and throat, groin and leg protectors, wearing a gas mask, and used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a .40-calibre Glock handgun.  A second identical handgun was available.  He started his attack by tossing what was apparently tear gas, or military CS, cannisters at the audience.  While the police (as I write) have traced the weapons to various dealers in the area, I am curious about where he obtained the cannisters. 

Holmes told police upon his arrest that his apartment nearby was booby-trapped.  Police and firefighters who responded there confirm that there are trip-wires connected to 2-liter soda bottles, containing an unknown liquid, though some police call it a "flammable or explosive material".  They are proceeding to process that scene with all necessary precaution.  There are unconfirmed reports that he told the police that his red hair is a reference to a fictional Batman character named the Joker. 

More details are forthcoming and I will leave that to other reports, but there are a few items that strike me off the bat.  I was immediately curious about how he was able to enter the theater with so much gear and weapons, but there is indication that he entered the scene through a rear exit door.  That would be locked to the outside, which tells me that he disabled the lock on that particular door in advance, which speaks more to premeditation, just as setting booby traps in his apartment.  'Experts' will often speak of perpetrators like this as having snapped, but this is rarely the case.  Mental instability of this sort is a behavioral disorder, and these examples speak to someone who knows exactly what he or she is doing.  They are fully in touch with the consequences to others.

There are also reports that his parents (who understandably request some space for the time it will take to process this tragedy), when told by phone that their son was in custody for this mass-killing, responded that the police probably had the right man.  This would also indicate a known background of mental instability, though of course it is practically impossible to predict conduct of this sort.  (I deal with mentally unstable criminals in my current vocation.) 

The press yielded to their stereotypes when they initially inquired about whether Holmes was a veteran.  He is not.  He was, however, a medical student at the University of Colorado Medical School, and holds a Masters Degree in Neuroscience.  Perhaps in the future, the press will include medical students in their list of likely suspects for killings.  There are reports, however, that two sailors and one airman, presumably from nearby Buckley AFB, were wounded in the attack, and one sailor is still missing.  Witnesses attest to at least one service member trying to assist with the wounded.  Perhaps the press will include this information in their reports once their knees stop jerking.

There is another report from ABC News, with George Stepanopoulos eagerly introducing Brian Ross with the news that Holmes could be a member of a local branch of the Tea Party.  That is also untrue, and has been repudiated in no uncertain terms by a spokesman for the Tea Party, with a subsequent apology by Brian Ross. 

Expect, as we have frustatingly seen before in these circumstances, further attempts to try to attach this to the Right and conservatives in general.

On the political scene, both President Obama and Governor Romney suspended campaign events and gave brief comments about the tragedy, with Obama saying "such evil is senseless" and how it is important how we treat each other, and Romney calling it an "unspeakable tragedy" and a "hateful act", quoting from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 about the comfort of God and how we should comfort others,and how a wounded community lives in goodness and compassion, and is "lifted up in prayer by people in every part of our great nation". 

I hope such sentiment on both sides continues, but experience tells me that it will be short lived.  I pray that I'm proven wrong.  Likewise the opportunities for tightened gun control, as if the gun is at fault (and passing by questions about why nobody shot back), while dropping statements about how we have to "understand" the compulsion of the killer.  Also, there are already reports of shutting down the Batman movie in places, which is probably as effective as pulling "Helter Skelter" from the Beatles' White Album after the Manson Family killings.

Expect to hear declarations, and soon, about how this event should spur further laws in favor of gun control, as if that device or tool has a soul or some capability in the decision process.  Yet these same critics will likely say nothing (unless it is in favor) of the large mass of people living amongst the community at large, who are seriously unstable and capable of such acts of violence.  We previously were able to be more active about securing such potential threats to others and themselves, but that has fallen by the wayside because of concern for their 'rights', as opposed to the rights of the community.  The present system sees such threats (and I have dealt with them) being commited to community health centers in hospitals for observation and stabilization, only to be turned out as soon as possible to make way for another of the horde that needs the same.  It is a revolving door process that just delays the inevitable.

Update:  And so it begins ....  Also, he could be a Democrat, or not.  Or maybe he listens to Rush Limbaugh.  (H/T to Donald Sensing at Sense of Events.)

For what should be the humiliating attempt by ABC to implicate the Tea Party, Rick Moran of PJ Media explains it well.
And what made Ross make a beeline straight for the Tea Party website in the first place?  Did he also check the Occupy Denver page?  Somehow, I doubt whether it even crossed his mind. 
There used to be a time when journalists had a rough integrity about what they said over the air and took pride in striving for accuracy.  Who could ever forget ABC’s Frank Reynolds, ABC News anchorman, who, after receiving and announcing word that James Brady had been killed in the Reagan assassination attempt only to discover the press secretary was still alive, got visibly angry and to no one in particular barked on air, “Let’s get this right.  Let’s nail this down.”
Today, Stephanopoulos thanked Brian Ross for smearing the Tea Party by reporting a lie.  Ross should be suspended or lose his job for this attempt to inject politics into a national tragedy.
And we can add CNN's Piers Morgan, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to the list of those who never let a crisis go to waste.

Update:  The explosives at Holmes’ apartment have finally been disarmed.  I was concerned about how long it has been taking.  I’m not an explosives expert per se, certainly not at the EOD level, but I have dealt with them in the military.  My guess (dealing with so little information from the scene) was that a military EOD team would have done it more quickly, but I’m sure there were many other considerations.  Now comes news that the set-up in the apartment was stupendously complex, and it took this long to investigate all the trip wires and circuits.  The police, I’m sure, were determined to get at the solution without having to destroy the building. 

One item that keeps making me wince is the number of times I have heard from reporters that the chemicals involved inside the apartment are likely to be ‘hyperbolic’.  I have made reference before to Michael Crichton’s Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, which helps to explain why the public is so gullible about the press, and here we see an excellent example.  The actual term is ‘hypergolic’, with a ‘g’, which refers to any combination of chemicals (typically two) which when combined, spontaneously ignite.  This is normally seen when speaking of rocket propellants, but other more typical combinations exist.  The most common one that comes to mind is potassium permanganate and glycerin.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

European Economy in Death Spiral?

The Daily Telegraph reports on the IMF’s latest Global Financial Stability Report.  Perhaps it should be re-named the Instability Report.  (Again, the Telegraph goes where the American media apparently fears to tread.)

This particular chart from the IMF details the steadily increasing drain of assets from Spain and Italy (up to the end of January, and as the article suggests, the situation has worsened considerably since then):

[Click to enlarge]

Likewise, this chart from Credit Suisse details much the same:

[Click to enlarge]
Anyone who can has been getting their money out.  Likewise, any foreign company doing business in Spain and Italy removes the money as soon as they get paid, driven both by concern over the safety of the domestic banking system and the possibility that these countries might end up leaving the euro.  This has been pretty much one way traffic.
So where does this money go, and why hasn’t this already had a catastrophic impact on their economies?  The description involves a round-about trading off between banking systems:
The process thereby becomes something of a money go round.  The foreign investor withdraws his money from the Spanish or Italian bank and deposits it with an apparently "safer" German bank, which in turn lends the money to the Bundesbank, from where it finds its way back through the [European Central Bank] … to the original Spanish or Italian bank.
It sounds like Alice in Wonderland, but in fact is no different from what happens in the money system within national borders.
True enough, but with a sharp distinction (as the article explains).  Within a country, it can struggle with its economy and is only responsible for the welfare and electoral respect of its own constituency.  Despite the utopian idea of a single European currency, the reality of different countries and their cultures simply cannot be whisked away by a bureaucratic decree from the EU 'capitol' in Brussels.  It is thus not so much of a money go round as it is a massive game of musical chairs, with a dwindling number of successes and in the end, instead of a winner there is just the last player holding the bag.  Rather than a circle, it is a downward spiral.

Many years ago, I predicted (not that many of you gentle readers would know, but some of you do) that the Federal Republic of Germany, upon its unification with (actually, absorption of) East Germany in 1983, would essentially check out of the system for some ten to fifteen years, keeping enough contact to maintain viable trade, in order to dedicate itself to getting its house in order by reviving the economic corpse of the formerly communist major sector of its country.  Afterward, Germany would come roaring back into the Eurozone and exert a commanding presence in the European economy, at a time when the euro would be set and widely accepted as a viable currency.  Historically (at least since unification under Bismarck in the mid-1800s, recovered from the lethal devastation of the Thirty Years War some 200 years before), Germany has had the potential of dominating Europe economically – during the last century, they twice almost pulled it off militarily, and during the short reign of the Third Reich throughout most of Europe in World War II, a little known and researched fact was its massive re-organization of the European economy that was actually quite effective (notwithstanding, of course, the severe moral consequences of domination by the Nazis, and all that entailed).

The twist in this story is not so much how Germany has come to command the European economy, but to what extent some of the other countries have willfully prostrated themselves to curry favor with their voters and their demand for a profligate lifestyle by buying them off with borrowed German money.  (Not entirely unlike the current relationship between the United States and China.)
In Germany and other creditor nations, there is growing concern over the consequent build up of contingent liabilities.  Deposits made through German banks are in essence funding Spanish and Italian assets on an ever expanding scale.  If these countries left the euro, then Germany would face massive, unfunded liabilities.  What's building up is as much a disaster for Germany as everyone else.
The flight to safety has prompted a collapse in yields on government bonds in Germany, the US, Switzerland, Sweden, and to some extent the UK too.  Naturally, this has also driven up their currencies, except in the case of Germany, where because of the single currency, no such thing can happen.
With the natural remedy of exchange rate adjustment ruled out, Germany thus becomes a deflationary doomsday machine for the rest of Europe, a leviathan which sucks the life blood out of everyone else.  It hardly needs me to say it's completely unsustainable. [emphasis mine]
To a great extent, the prediction for the Spanish and Italian economies has already happened in Greece, though at a greater rate yet on a smaller scale.  The Greek situation is already enough to cause a mild panic (but a panic nonetheless) in the Eurozone.  And this without a mention of the similar situations in Portugal and Ireland.

(H/T to Donald Sensing at Sense of Events)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Taxes Drive Out French Wealth, and Tax Revenues (Update)

The Daily Telegraph reports, as if this actually would be news, that the upper-income French are fleeing the country in anticipation of the newly elected French President François Hollande’s spike in income tax for the rich, defined as any French citizen with income of over €1 million (that would be about £780,000, or $1,230,000), taking the rate from 45% to 75%.  The reaction to this confiscatory tax by Marine Le Pen of the National Front, in typical Gallic fashion, was "Why not 100%?"  (I am uncertain to what extent, like here in the US, French 'personal income' also means income for small business endeavors.)

Monsieur le Président (Everywhere but in America, red is associated with Socialists and Communists.  The Press in the US decided that red should be associated with Republicans, because to associate it with Democrats was too obvious a connection.)

M Hollande, a dedicated member of the French Socialist Party (and only the second Socialist President of France, after François Mitterrand), made the severe tax rate increase a major plank of the party in the last elections, in contrast to Nicholas Sarkozy’s echo of Winston Churchill’s promise of "blood, toil, tears and sweat" in regards to trying to get the French economy under control.  Apparently the French electorate decided to party hard until the very end, maybe hoping for an eventual rescue from Germany, just like the hopes of the other staggering economies of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland.  (Like the great Margaret Thatcher said, "The problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.")

The new Committee of Public Safety -- "Choses gratuites!"

The stories that detail the super-rich tax level unfortunately draw little attention to many other aspects of rent-seeking tax revenue, such as an increase of the withholding tax rate, an increase of VAT on many items from 5.5% to 7.0%, a sharp increase in the Death Tax, a 5% corporate tax surcharge on large corporations, and, perhaps in anticipation, an Exit Tax of 31.3% on "any unrealized gains on assets" for those citoyens (residents of six years or more) who move abroad.

More importantly, the income tax increase is not just applied to the upper bracket.  The tax on incomes of €72,000 ($88,450) or more goes from 41% to 45%.

The Telegraph cites reports from the real estate markets (where one would expect to see the initial impact) in Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Gilles Martin, a Swiss tax consultant, reported the same trend. "Since the socialists came to power in France, I have been deluged with inquiries from rich French people who would rather pay their tax in Switzerland.”….
Inquiries from wealthy French for London homes worth more than five million pounds soared by 30 per cent in the first three months of this year, UK estate agency statistics showed. 
The French commentariat is particularly dérangé at British Prime Minister David Cameron for his welcoming comments (perhaps spurred by an earlier added French tax on British rental properties) to French firms and citizens who are seeking shelter.
I think it's wrong to have a completely uncompetitive top rate of tax.  If the French go ahead with a 75 per cent top rate of tax we will roll out the red carpet and welcome more French businesses to Britain and they can pay tax in Britain and pay for our health service and schools and everything else.
Perhaps PM Cameron is taking a French version of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin on the news of even higher taxes in neighboring Illinois: “Nous sommes ouverts pour les enterprise!”

Unfortunately, the United States is unable to presently take advantage of the outbound flow of French revenue, seeing as how Obama is a spiritual brother to M Hollande.  Perhaps a new President Romney will open our shores to the possibility for French business to re-locate here, with lower corporate taxes (currently the highest in the world) to encourage business development.  And we would do well to finally move on the idea of a Silver Card (instead of green) for retirees who wish to settle (and spend their retirement funds) in the US.

Update: Found on Real Clear Politics, the reaction of actor Will Smith during an interview on French television on the subject, when he realises that sentiment has come up against reality.  Yes, it’s in French, but you can hear Mr Smith’s comments through the translation.

Will Smith: I have no issue with paying taxes and whatever needs to be done for my country to grow.  I believe very firmly that my ability to sit here – I’m a black man who didn't go to college, yet I get to travel around the world and sell my movies, and I believe very firmly that America is the only place on Earth that I could exist.  So I will pay anything that I need to pay to keep my country growing. . . .
Interviewer: Do you know how much in France you would have to pay on earnings above one million euros?  Not 30%.  75%. 
Smith: 75?!  Yeah, that's different, that's different.  Yeah, 75.  Well, you know, God bless America.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

June Jobs Report Even Worse Than Headlines State: Disability Claims Outpace Job Creation

John Merline for the Investor’s Business Daily reports on an IBD study that dug into the June jobs report, and compared the figures with information gleaned from other reports from the Social Security Administration, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Agriculture, and Sentier Research.  The jobs report (among other things, unemployment still remains at 8.2%) was already bad enough – again – but the figures, taken in conjunction with the other data, paint an even bleaker picture.

Obama has already drawn heavy criticism for his remarks, speaking after the release of the jobs report, that the private sector economy was “doing fine”, along with his statement that the June report that indicated job growth for the month, at 80,000 instead of the expected 130,000-150,000 (again – ‘unexpected!’), was “a step in the right direction”.  There are cracks in the wall of media protection that show the flaccidity of the Obama campaign’s full-throated attempt to shift from the news of the economy (‘nothing to see here – move along, move along’) to ludicrous accusations of commission of a felony about Romney’s association with Bain Capital during the time he was in charge of the Salt Lake City Olympics.  Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post:

The divergence between what the Obama campaign and the media (I repeat myself) are talking about (Bain, Bain and Bain) and the most important economic (and hence political) news of the year is breathtaking.  To put it bluntly, we are looking at economic contraction.  In laymen’s terms, that is a recession....
The political media’s failure to grasp the import of the economic news is as embarrassing as Obama’s economic policy failure.  Both expect the public can be bamboozled by rhetoric.... Right now they are acting as if the real world and the prospect of a literal recession (which would be two quarters of negative growth) is [irrelevant]. As we approach zero percent growth, so do Obama’s chances of reelection.  The rest is just smoke and mirrors.
Even the wildfires in Colorado can’t provide that much smoke.  The IBD report now includes the news that for the first time, disability claims have outpaced new jobs.  As we added only 80,000 new jobs, some 85,000 workers dropped out of the workforce to enroll in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  [Click to enlarge]
More workers joined the federal government's disability program in June than got new jobs, according to two new government reports, a clear indicator of how bleak the nation's jobs picture is after three full years of economic recovery....
The disability ranks have outpaced job growth throughout President Obama's recovery. While the economy has created 2.6 million jobs since June 2009, fully 3.1 million workers signed up for disability benefits.  
In other words, the number of new disability enrollees has climbed 19% faster than the number of jobs created during the sluggish recovery.
It gets worse:
In addition, while hiring has been very weak during the recovery, the number of people who have dropped out of the labor force entirely has exploded by 7.3 million since June 2009, an IBD analysis of BLS data show.  Some aged into retirement, but most either signed up for disability, stayed in school, moved back in with parents, or just quit looking for a job.
As a result, the "labor force participation rate" – the number of people who have jobs or are actively looking for one compared with the entire working-age population – is now 63.8%, down from 65.7% in June 2009.  This participation rate is at the lowest levels in 30 years.  In previous recoveries, the participation rate has almost always risen, not fallen....
The unemployment rate has been above 8% for 41 consecutive months.  In the previous 60 years, the jobless topped 8% in a total of only 39 months....
The median length of unemployment is 19.8 weeks.  Throughout Obama's recovery, it has averaged 20.6 weeks.  Prior to Obama, that number had never exceeded 10.5 weeks.
The poor recovery has also driven people to sign up for food stamps in record numbers.  From June 2009 to April 2012, food stamp enrollment surged 11.3 million, or 32%....
In addition, the soft jobs market has driven median household incomes down more after the recession ended than during the recession itself, according to Sentier Research, which tracks monthly household income.
After adjusting for inflation, median annual household income tumbled 5.3% from June 2009 to May 2012.  In contrast, median incomes dropped 2.6% during the 18-month recession, Sentier found.
As to the original question of the spike in disability claims, Ed Morrissey of the Hot Air web log discussed the topic with economist John Lott (whose most recent work is Debacle: Obama’s War on Jobs and Growth):
Lott explains that as people run out of jobless benefits after the two-year cycle, they look to transfer to a more permanent subsidy.  These people have given up hope of finding any kind of work in the future, and probably for good reason; two years without a job makes skill sets erode, and creates anxiety among employers who are definitely in a buyer’s market in terms of labor needs.
John Hinderaker at Power Line picks up the story too, reporting that, while the increasing number of the “disabled” has been a factor since before the Obama administration, the rate of increase has accelerated:
[Click it]

Given the immense amounts of money that are spent on medical and vocational rehabilitation, it is hard to believe that the number of Americans who are physically incapable of working has grown.  The causes of the increase must be sought elsewhere.  Note that the percentage of working-age Americans living on disability has more than doubled since the Reagan administration.
At this rate, SSDI trust fund will be depleted within only four years.
One more thing – after two years, anyone receiving SSDI benefits is automatically eligible for Medicare.  So the burgeoning ranks of the “disabled” contribute to the Medicare crisis.  The CBO report says that in 2011, Medicare costs for SSDI recipients added up to $80 billion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thoughts and Notes on Foreign Military Camouflage

My previous post on the subject of camouflage started with the news that the US Army has admitted that its idea about what was supposed to be the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) was a flop, and is attempting to develop a replacement.  It also discussed the development of camouflage in the US military in recent times.

US soldier in MultiCam pattern

That post received a lot of attention (there are many camouflage enthusiasts out there, for a variety of reasons) and I received some questions about foreign patterns.  I can’t begin to fully cover the subject – there exists a huge number of variations around the world now, though many patterns are shared, but the variety is increasing at an accelerated pace.  I will provide some limited information and anecdotes on the subject, based entirely on my own current knowledge, because that is a voluminous subject that can be, and is, pursued in whole web logs.

In terms of general history, the idea of camouflage began to be investigated by the French in World War I, but not really applied to uniforms.  The word 'camouflage' is French, rather obviously, and is derived from a slang term for playing a practical joke.  The Italians actually were the first to field early camouflage patterns but these were first limited to shelter halves and ponchos, starting in the late 1920s.  These items became more prevalent once World War II started in earnest, and some German units picked up on these ponchos quickly, particularly after the Italian official capitulation in 1943 (though a civil struggle continued within Italy until the end of the war) and Italian material became available to German units in Italy.  The same Italian design continued in use with the Italian military up into the 1990s, with small variations depending on units.

 Italian camouflage (1930s - 1990s)

I mentioned previously that I was assigned or seconded to various foreign units over my military career, but this mostly took place in the 1970s and 1980s, when camouflage was not so extensive as it is now.  (Practically everyone then still wore some variation of an olive green, brown, tan or grey field uniform, so camouflage was still rather exotic.)  The most significant of my foriegn assignments was with the Italians, primarily the San Marco Battalion (now a regiment) – their Marines – in the mid- to late-1980s.  I often became, for obvious reasons, the liaison with American units when they were involved in bi-lateral training with the Italians (most often with my original service of the US Marines) while the US military was by then clothed in standard woodland pattern camouflage. 

Italian San Marco pattern of the 1980s

San Marco retained a version of the Italian camouflage that had a sort of slate bluish-grey in place of green, and a darker tan, and some US Marines remarked that it seemed an odd coloration to them.  But I soon found myself one cold pre-dawn morning sitting atop a high terrain elevation at Capo Teulada on the southwest coast of Sardinia, an Italian military training area that was also used for amphibious landings.  I was with a few US Marines as part of the Advance Force Operations (as the name implies, we were some of the folks who came in advance of the main attack), as we gazed down at the awesome sight of a joint US/Italian Amphibious Task Force sailing into the anchorage and conducting an assault across the beach, as the skies slowly became lucent.  I pointed out to the Americans how the Italian Marines quickly blended in quite effectively to the flora in the area, but the Americans looked like little bits of the Black Forest moving through the brush.  As I mentioned before in my previous post, the idea of a universal pattern is unfeasible (barring some new technique or system), and this recollection is one that first comes to mind, among other examples, when I think on the subject.  (The Italian military at the time was divided – well, they are Italians after all – about whether they were strictly limited to potential operations only within Italy, such as in the case of an attack across Europe by the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact, or whether they might actually be used for operations outside Italy.  In the meantime, their camouflage system worked well for their purposes.)

In the early 1990s, the Italians shifted to a variation of a woodland pattern for a period of some ten years or so, before shifting to the present Vegetato pattern, which at first glance would appear to be similar to the idea of CADPAT or MARPAT pixilation, but it is instead digitized at the borders of the color splotches, rather than pixilated, and is thus a somewhat simpler idea.  This design is becoming popular in a number of countries, such as a Chinese woodland version, and I look at it as one of the main basic variations used around the world.

Italian Vegetato

With the typical Italian flair for fashion, the San Marco and the COMSUBIN (Italian Naval Commandos, who have dressed in a traditional green which always brought to my mind British Racing Green) have opted for a different pattern for the field:

San Marco and COMSUBIN pattern 

As for the Germans and their uniforms, they were quite taken with their World War II experience of using the Italian camouflage, as well as their limited use of their own Splittertarn pattern and some designs used by the Waffen SS, such as the Platanenmuster.  (The Germans had previously experimented and introduced a lozenge-type camouflage on their aircraft toward the end of World War I.)  The Germans ended up with a variety of some ten or so small-issue experiments with camouflage toward the end of the war.


Platanenmuster (summer) 

After World War II, the new, reconstituted German army reverted to a variation on its historic feld-grau field uniforms, but their fondness for camouflage was slowly revived with trials held in the 1970s to select a new pattern for the Bundeswehr, which resulted in the popular Flecktarn pattern, another category of its own of basic camouflage design.  (They weren't able to actually introduce it for wide-spread use until the 1990s.)

German Flecktarn

The idea has been copied by several countries, including Japan and China (used in a Plateau or 'Tibet-tarn' design, for example).

Chinese 'Tibet-tarn' or Plateau pattern

A slight variation on the design, and a large variation in terms of color, is the Swiss Leibermuster introduced in the 1950s.  It struck me as somewhat startling for a camouflage pattern, with its stark red splotches, but it seemed to work well with the fallen leaves of the country.  The pattern was largely replaced in the 1990s by the same design using more woodland-type colors, though some Swiss units still retain it.

 Swiss Leibermuster

The British used a variation of woodland-colored camouflage with some units in World War II, particularly their parachute and commando troops, and the design continued with those units in their field smocks into the 1970s, but the British began to introduce the Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM) in the 1960s. 

British Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM)

This incorporates basic woodland colors but the design has a more slashing effect to it, as contrasted with the US woodland splotches, and has evolved through some small variations over the years.  Desert variations appeared in the 1980s with several desert-tone colors, but this was simplified to two colors by 1990 – just in time for Operation Desert Shield – because some Arab militaries, like Iraq, had picked up on the older version.  While I saw primarily the new simplified British version during the subsequent Operation Desert Storm, there were a few of the older examples on British troops in Saudi Arabia.  The DPM pattern has been widespread, particularly in Commonwealth countries.  Like the Americans, though, the British have picked up their own very similar version of MultiCam, called in their case the Multi-Terrain Pattern, for use in Afghanistan, as I discussed in my previous post.

One cannot address the topic of famous camouflage without including the classic French contribution of the 'Lizard' pattern.  Initially developed in 1947after the reconstitution of the French army, it was issued as a standard uniform pattern for elite troops in 1953, and made famous in America (at least to my mind) after the release of the classic movie Lost Command in 1966, dealing with a history of the French Paras in Indochina and Algeria, and based on the great novels The Centurions and the lesser-known The Praetorians by Jean Lartéguy.  (Both book and film were well respected among unconventional American military thinkers in the 1960s and 1970s, and has a resurgence now.  Unfortunately, both books have been out of print for years, though perhaps there is cause for hope.)  The design is based on shadow patterns in canopy jungle, a series of horizontal slashes of green and brown on a dungy khaki background.  (Yet even the French were slow to extend its use throughout other special units.  I worked with a variety of those units in the 1970s and 1980s, and they still used olive field uniforms.)  A variation is still in use by the French, after a good recent SOFREP article on the new Polish special forces unit AGAT (a Ranger-like complement to the better-known GROM) in jungle training in French Guyana shows their instructors clad in a lizard-pattern field uniform.

Original French Lizard pattern

The pattern became more well known later with the 'Tiger Stripe' pattern of the Vietnamese special units (particularly their Marines) and their US advisors.  Other countries to pick it up include the Portuguese starting with their colonial wars in Africa, Lebanon (though I wouldn’t call any of their units particularly special), Greece, Cuba (a grey version), and some Russian units (the Russians are seen sporting a variety of different camouflage types these days).

Vietnamese-style Tiger camouflage

Another distinctive design is from Australia, independently designed when the Australians dismissed the British DPM pattern as not adaptable to the area.  Their Disruptive Pattern Combat Uniform (DPCU) includes a nod to the US camouflage in use in the Pacific Theatre during World War II.  Aussie troops that I’ve worked with nicknamed it ‘frogskins’ or ‘jellybean’.  A later desert coloration (DPDU) in use in Afghanistan has been referred to as ‘hearts and bunnies’.  Due to complaints about this desert variant, the Australians have announced that they will also be using the MultiCam version by Crye Associates (as will the Polish units).

Australian Disruptive Pattern Combat Uniform (DPCU) pattern

Australian Disruptive Pattern Desert Uniform (DPDU)

As I said, this post is just my quick take on the groupings of different approaches to camouflage in the world militaries.  Take note, though, that the industry is becoming increasingly focused on new pixilated patterns that have been first introduced by Canada in its CADPAT (copied with their assistance by the US Marines in their MARPAT), but such corporations as Hyperstealth and Crye are producing a larger number of variants, concerned with concealment not just within the visual spectrum but infra-red as well, that can be fine-tuned and spot-produced to specific areas.

Update:  Congress attempts to make sense of the kaleidoscope of US combat uniforms, and MultiCam expands to other countries.