23 September 2014

Anti-Interventionism

What do you do when some foreign power wages war against you in an unorthodox manner?  Here I am thinking of Ho Chi Minh and his attempt over a quarter century to conquer all of Southeast Asia.  Yes, he did try to do that, but for all the blood and destruction he managed only Vietnam and Laos.  He was stopped at the Mekong River.

What do you do when some group of imports, that are the residue of some past imperial days, are busily waging war against your culture, your history, and your values?

I am betting that the Goths, Visigoths, Huns, and all the rest never bothered to declare war on Imperial Rome; they simply showed up and went to work with what became, I guess, creative destruction.

Sure as Hell, ISIS (or ISIL or whatever they now call themselves) don't fit into a pattern that might be deemed a formal declaration of War; they simply show up, start lopping off heads, and impose their macabre form of justice.

08 November 2013

Operation Chrome Dome

In 1960, Strategic Air Command began an operation called Chrome Dome; it was a plan that kept a number of nuclear-armed B-52s on airborne alert.  The logic for the plan was that it would discourage the Soviet Union from even contemplating, let alone carrying out, a surprise nuclear attack against the United States and its allies.  About a year later, in 1961, another operation to supplement Chrome Dome was begun:  operation Hard Head.  Operation Hard Head called for a nuclear-armed B-52 to orbit in the vicinity of Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, so as to keep a visual watch on the Thule BMEWS site, which was located some six nautical miles east-northeast of Thule AFB.  If the Thule BMEWS site were to be attacked, the B-52 crew would make a report to SAC Headquarters by any electronic means available.

Operation Chrome Dome itself involved several B-52s flying sorties about 24 hours in duration along two routes.  The Northern Route ran up the eastern coast of North America, through the Nares Strait between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, up to about 85º north latitude and then southwestward to Barter Island, Alaska.  The B-52s took air refuelings just off the eastern United States in the vicinity of Cape Cod and
again over eastern Alaska in the vicinity of Fort Yukon.  From there the B-52s flew a route along the western coast of North America and returned to their departure bases.  Another route, the Southern Route, departed the eastern United States on a route that took the B-52s to the northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula, where they received air refueling, and then on into the Mediterranean Sea to the Adriatic Sea; the return route took the B-52s over the southern coast of Spain for a second air refueling, and then a return to their departure bases.

Air Refueling
The air refuelings were conducted by KC-135s temporarily deployed to Eielson AFB, Alaska, about 26 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska.  There were also KC-135s deployed to Torrejon Air Base and to Moron Air Base, both located in Spain.  Early on, the first air refueling on the Northern Route was conducted by KC-135s deployed to Griffiss AFB, New York, but that practice was abandoned and the air refueling was simply conducted by permanently assigned KC-135s in the northeastern United States.

I supported Operation Chrome Dome from both Eielson AFB and from Torrejon AB.  I also deployed once to Griffiss AFB in January 1962.  The deployment to Torrejon was a pleasure trip; the deployment to Eielson was, in the summer months, tolerable duty; however, winter flying from Eielson was a test of men and equipment.  During the winter months the air temperature routinely hovered around -25º F.  Everything was cold soaked and it was hard to warm the aircraft up after they had sat idle for more than a few hours.  Hydraulic leaks were common as seals hardened and cracked.  Windows, especially cockpit windows often broke as the intense cold caused the aluminum window frames to contract and overstress the window panes.

The routine for deployed tanker crews was to conduct several air refuelings on the Cold Coffee route, which ran from Fort Yukon straight south to a point abeam Big Delta, Alaska.  The B-52s would receive an onload of about 100,000 pounds of fuel in about 20 minutes.  The bombers would then proceed along their planned route to their home base, after some six or seven hours more of flying time.  The tankers cleared the Cold Coffee air refueling track to the right and made an immediate descent and landing at Eielson AFB.  If the pace of operations warranted, the tanker crews could make one or two more air refueling sorties on the Cold Coffee Route before calling it a day.

There was also at least one Hard Head sortie, which meant that the tanker crew would fly to the vicinity of Thule Air Base, Greenland and refuel a B-52 assigned to keep watch on the Thule BMEWS radar site.  It was a boring job.  If for any reason the B-52 was unable to take on sufficient fuel or had other problems that warranted aborting the sortie, the tanker crew was required to perform the Thule Monitor mission until relieved by the next B-52 coming from the United States.  I flew exactly two Hard Head sorties on my two deployments to Eielson; the first, done in daylight, went as planned.  The second, done in the February darkness of mid-winter was not quite as smooth but we got the fuel offloaded and didn't have to fly the Thule Monitor mission.  Those who did fly Thule Monitor told me that it was one of the most boring things they have ever done.

The Hard Head Route
The Hard Head route was flown twice daily:  the first takeoff was at 0800 Alaska time and the second one departed twelve hours later at 2000 local time.  The sortie lasted about 8½ hours.  The outbound route involved flying out to Fort Yukon VORTAC and then direct to Thule TACAN; it was pretty much a great circle line of flight from Eielson to Thule.  Once in the vicinity of Thule the bomber and tanker made a point-parallel rendezvous and the tanker offloaded about 85,000 pounds of fuel to the bomber.  The tanker return route to Eielson was slightly offset from the outbound route and flown at an altitude of 41,000 feet in order to extend the tanker range to maximum.

The route was pretty easy navigation in the summer months.  That far north, we had to use grid navigation techniques to steer, since the route of flight took us almost over the North Magnetic Pole; thus the magnetic compass was unreliable.  The route was over the Canadian Arctic islands, which are pretty rugged, and most of the islands stood out well against the various inlets and straits that are part of the Arctic Ocean.

Navigation was mainly by ground mapping radar with only a 45 minute over water leg between Herschel Island on the Canadian coast and Banks Island, which was a radar checkpoint.  Then it was just a matter of fixing off of the islands all the way to Thule.  Not only that, but it was daylight all day long that far north so even if the radar failed you could still visually identify the islands passing below.  There was lots of open water and everything appeared as it was depicted on the navigation charts.  That was in the summer.  Winter time was a different story.  The next time I flew that route was the following February and the islands mostly disappeared in the frozen expanse that the Arctic Ocean became in mid-winter.  It took some careful radar scope reading and maybe a bit of imagination to pick the shape of the islands out amid all the sea ice of the now frozen inlets and straits.  It was also dark for all but a couple of hours of twilight at Eielson; further north on the Hard Head route the only light at any hour came from stars and aurora borealis.

The Real Deal
My first Hard Head sortie came on August 15, 1962; we were the 2000 launch.  All Chrome Dome and Hard Head sorties were heavy weight takeoffs; the objective was to give the receivers as much fuel as they needed to complete their missions.  That meant a takeoff roll of around 10,000 feet on a runway with a total length of 14,400 feet and a sluggish rate of climb until the KC-135 accelerated to best climb speed.  That was no time to have a problem with the engines.

My flight records show 8½ hours of flying time – all in daylight.  Since it was daylight I had my 35mm camera along and took several shots of the terrain that we flew over.  I wish I had shot more pictures, especially of the Humboldt Glacier which begins some 140 nautical miles north of Thule.  Several large icebergs were visible in the waters of Nares Strait.  It was an impressive sight looking out of the copilot's side window; on radar, I estimated the face of the glacier to be some 70 nautical miles wide.  Digging out my slides from over 50 years ago I find that I have some shots of the Canadian Islands on our outbound leg and some more shots of the Canadian part of the Brooks Mountain Range on our return to Eielson.

Melville Island
Melville Island south coast on a summer day
After passing over the northern edge of Banks Island the next checkpoint was Melville Island.  Banks Island is a roughly rectangular land mass about 200 by 100 nautical miles.  There aren't many prominent terrain features to fix off of.  Melville Island is just the opposite with deeply cut fjords and a rugged coastline.  And then there was two curious features on the northern end of the Sabine Peninsula that looked for all the world like impact craters.  I discovered decades later that they are, in fact, naturally occurring salt domes that had collapsed.

Bathurst Island
Lots of open water with some sea ice in the straits
Bathurst Island and its adjoining smaller islands, all separated by narrow straits, are every bit as rugged as Melville Island and just as deeply cut with fjords.  Some low clouds hung over part of the island as we passed by.

Ellesmere Island
After passing over the extreme northwestern tip of Devon Island our route of flight took us over the southern end of Ellesmere Island and our last radar checkpoint before making our rendezvous and air refueling with the B-52 out there somewhere keeping watch over the Thule BMEWS radar.  We were already in UHF radio contact the receiver while still over
The Nares Strait
Ellesmere Island and completed our rendezvous some 60 nautical miles west of Thule Air Base.  Then it was a twenty minute flight up the Nares Strait offloading fuel to the receiver.  Having completed the key part of our mission, the B-52 went on its way and we began a climbing left turn the took us on our return route to Eielson AFB.

RTB (Return to Base)
The flight back was pretty much the same scenery we had seen on the way out, just oriented 180º from the view we had of it two or three hours earlier.  All during our sortie the Distant Early Warning (DEW Line) radar sites had been silently monitoring our progress.  The DEW Line sites were in communication with US command centers via land lines, and Headquarters SAC was one of the command centers on the communications network.  The system was known as Green Pine.  The radars at Cape Parry and Tuktoyaktuk were the closest sites to our route of flight.  As we passed Banks Island we were back over open water and the nondescript Canadian coastline had few discernible features to fix off of so the pilot called the Cape Parry site and requested a position.  After a few minutes Cape Parry came back with a set of coordinates and a time they were taken.  The position from Cape Parry agreed pretty much with where I calculated our position to be.
The Brooks Mountain Range

Closing in on the Canadian coastline, we could see the eastern end of the Brooks Mountain Range where it extended into Canada.  They were white with snow and the coastline was a jumble of ice floes stacked up for a few miles out to sea.  It is about 0400 in Fairbanks when the picture was taken; the sun is low on the horizon and east is to the left.  Winter soon would be back to that part of the world.  On the south side of the Brooks range it was still summer with all the mosquitoes and
The Yukon River
muskeg.  The Yukon River became visible and we were given clearance to begin our descent into Eielson.  It was 0430 on August 16 and the sun was shining brightly above the mountains to the southeast of Eielson.  I was sitting in the jump seat between the two pilots, watching the world go by as we descended.  I happened to be looking out the pilot's windscreen when something struck the windscreen with a loud THUMP.  I glanced at the pilot's altimeter and saw that we were passing through 25,000 feet.  The spot on the windscreen was a smear of blood and feathers and about the size of a golf ball.  I still wonder what kind of bird flies at 25,000 feet over northern Alaska.

Just past midsummer, the air temperature around Eielson was well above freezing, although the nights required a light jacket.  Looking down on terrain as we descended to final approach altitude, the small fishing villages stood out on the banks of the Tanana River and you could see
that preparations for winter were in full swing as the local tribes worked to gather fish to feed their dogs over winter.

10 December 2012

Ashcan 01

On this day in 1971 the Wild Weasel squadron at Korat lost one of their aircraft to North Vietnamese SA-2 missiles.  One man survived.  One did not.  His remains have never been recovered.

I had arrived at Korat only a little over two months before Ashcan 01 was shot down near Mu Gia Pass.  I had completed my theater orientation and had pretty well gotten used to the routine of supporting B-52 strikes against the Ho Chi Minh Trail and trolling for radar signals up and down The Trail.  It was a time of relative quiet in the war in Southeast Asia (it never was just about Vietnam).  Things were about to change, however.

The war I came to know was almost exclusively in the part of Laos known as Steel Tiger.  It was the part of the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail that fed war materiel to the North Vietnamese divisions prowling around southern Laos and South Vietnam.  The 42nd TEWS, to which I was assigned, flew the EB-66E and EB-66C.  Mainly, we provided jamming against the SA-2 SAMs and radar directed anti-aircraft guns the North Vietnamese used to protect their Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line.  Some of those radar directed guns could reach above the altitudes the EB-66s flew at.  Tchépone, also known as Muang Xépôn, was a kind of materiel depot in the middle of nowhere and it was one of those heavily defended spot on The Trail.

The passes leading from North Vietnam into Laos were just as important as any way point in Laos.  Mu Gia, Ban Karai, and Ban Raving passes all were major roadways along the route into South Vietnam and southern Laos.  The passes were defended not just by anti-aircraft guns; SAMs also covered those critical passes.  There were other passes that led from North Vietnam into Laos, Nape and Barthelemy passes, but they were conduits that the North Vietnamese used to conduct another aspect of their war in northern Laos.

As the winter of 1971 approached the North Vietnamese began asserting themselves around the passes.  A few EB-66s supporting strikes around the passes were fired on by SAMs.  There was sufficient warning of missile launches and all aircraft evaded the SAMs by performing "SAM breaks" down and away from the direction of the attacking missile site.  At the same time, the Wild Weasel crews engaged the SAMs because they had to transmit in order to guide their missiles; that made them vulnerable to counter-attack by the missiles the Wild Weasels carried. We flew as a coordinated support package with the F-105G Wild Weasels, also based at Korat.  Our job was to jam SAM and gun radars; the Wild Weasels were there to provide some muscle to the package.  They were armed with one AGM-78 Standard ARM (Anti-Radiation Missile) and two AGM-45 Shrikes.  The Standard ARM was a more sophisticated version of the Shrike.  We were supposed to remain outside the 20 nautical mile "kill ring" that the SA-2s were deemed to have.  The Wild Weasels, however, could and did fly right down the throats of any SAM crews they had to defend against.

What follows is an account of events by Wild Weasel pilot extraordinaire, JD Cutter.  I had known JD when he was a copilot on a KC-135 six or so years earlier.  Somewhere along the line since those early days, he had slipped loose from SAC via a program called Palace Cobra and had gotten a fighter slot.  Our paths crossed again when I got to Korat.  JD had already been there for several months:
******************************************************
 I think Marty Noel was my wingman and we stirred up a hornets' nest at Mu Gia Pass.  After the first BUF (B-52) drop at Ban Raving we made a pass north through Route Pack I and exited NVN north of Mu Gia Pass.  There were nibbles of Fan Song (missile fire control radar) but they didn't stay on the air long.  Eventually I wound up with, as best I can recall, three Fan Songs tracking me sequentially.  They went off the air (stopped transmitting) just as I was about to fire a Shrike.

We exited to the north of Mu Gia for a Cherry or Peach tanker and passed words to Cricket or Hillsboro (Airborne Battlefield Command Control Center, aka, ABCCC) about the nibbles of Fan Song.  After getting a top off from a tanker, we came back to the DMZ and trolled northbound to see if we could get any activity before the BUF drop at Mu Gia.  Nothing.  All was quiet.  The BUFs were dropping in 'Alpha' box (Mu Gia Pass) so our run was in-trail from the west, eastbound,  over the mountains.  I was in the lead, Marty was maybe 5 miles behind me, and the BUFs were offset about 5 miles to the south on a parallel track.  Just past their time on target (TOT) the first Fan Song came up with a SAM in the air almost immediately.  The BUFs went ballistic and went into a SAM break down and to the right (south).  Somewhere in the melee I fired two Shrikes and dodged two SAMs.  There was a low overcast and I saw the SAMs come through the clouds tracking me.  My SAM break was more of a high 'G' turn because of the short range to the site rather than a classic SAM break that let me avoid the SAMs.  I remember the SAMs going by which let me get my head back outside quickly...good thing.

Somewhere in the melee Marty jettisoned everything.  We were now headed west and RTBd (Returned To Base).

As we walked into Ft Apache (wing headquarters at Korat), we met the two crews of Ashcan flight (Ashcan 01:  Maj Bob Belli/Lt Col Scott McIntire and Ashcan 02:  Capt Jimmie Boyd/EWO unknown) who were heading out to their jets.  We stood there in front of the latrine and told them what happened, frequency, PRF, location, and as much other information as we knew.  Their tactics supporting the BUF strike consisted of flying through Mu Gia pass from the north (Belli) and from the south (Boyd).  Belli got zapped by SAMs right off...end of story, except for the SAR (rescue effort).  Belli was extracted the next morning.  Scotty was killed.  Belli had a broken arm and leg, along with numerous other injuries. He reported the SAM had rendered him unconscious, and when he regained consciousness he was in the surface based clouds, and punched out immediately. His chute reportedly never did fully deploy but finished deploying from the bag as he was going through the top of the jungle canopy. He was lying on the ground, badly injured, partly in his parachute harness; the harness had burst open as he fell through the trees. When the PJs got to him he needed assistance to get to and get on the penetrator.
****************************************************
That morning I happened to be working one of the first shifts in my additional duty at what was known as the Frag Shop.  The wing command post, which was just a door and a wall away, rang our hotline to inform us that Ashcan 01 had been shot down and SAR was under way.  Things evolved quickly with reports from the SAR effort around Mu Gia Pass.  Ashcan 02 reported "Winchester" (all ordinance expended) and was going to RTB.  The two EB-66s on station were reporting multiple SAM launches at the rescue force.  They needed additional air refueling support to remain on station so we in the Frag Shop worked out a tanker rotation and passed it along to Blue Chip (7th Air Force Command Center at Ton Son Nhut Air Base, Vietnam).  One of the EB-66s landed at NKP (Nakhon Phanom Air Base, Thailand) to refuel and return to the SAR.  The weather wasn't good that day and low clouds and high winds were hampering the rescue effort.  Finally, it was reported that one of the OV-10 Pave Nail FACs had gotten a position on Belli.  Belli was the only downed crewmember they had radio contact with.  Belli reported that he was pretty badly injured and partly out of his parachute harness.  He could not move and would need a PJ to get him out his predicament.  Belli reported hearing noises of what he assumed to be North Vietnamese soldiers.  Finally, late in the afternoon, it was decided to continue the SAR at first light the next morning.  The SAR forces "put the survivor to bed" and "sanitized" the immediate area around him with area denial munitions.

I was back in the Frag Shop the next morning.  Word came in that Belli had been rescued and that McIntire had been spotted hanging in his parachute harness in a tall tree.  The word we had was from the flight surgeon who was on the JollyGreen that pulled Belli out.  After the PJs got Belli into the chopper, they spotted Scotty close by hanging limp in a tree.  The flight surgeon, looking at McIntire through binoculars, said, "In my professional opinion that man is dead."  The Jolly Green left in really bad weather conditions.  Later in the day, two of the Jolly Greens from NKP did a low pass over our runway at Korat and landed.  From what I was told, Belli was on board.  He would eventually be tranferred from Korat to a better equipped hospital.

When they tried to recover the remains the next day or so, Scotty was gone.  From the report I recall reading, the entire tree that McIntire had been hanging in had been cut down.

07 December 2012

A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Like the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery, the Memorial to the Battleship Arizona is one of those places you should visit if you can. Many years ago I saw it the first time when I was passing through Hickam AFB on my way to duty in the Western Pacific. Back then the US Navy ran the whole show. There was a pilot boat that could take a small number of visitors out to the Memorial. Even though all of us were active military the sailors who took us out stressed that this was a tomb and a solemn place. Reverence was in order.

Nowadays the shore facility is run by the National Park Service and is a quite elaborate pavilion with memorabilia from the USS Arizona, along with several displays and dioramas depicting the scenes of that day, now sixty-eight years ago. Just before you are taken out to the Memorial, now on a much larger boat than I rode out on the first time I saw it, you are shown a fifteen minute video explanation of the events that lead up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and other military bases on Oahu.  Then you are taken out to the Memorial.


While the National Park Service runs the on-shore part of the Memorial, the US Navy still owns Pearl Harbor, and it is a Navy operated boat that shuttles visitors to and from the Memorial.  They still stress that this is a tomb and a solemn place, but the reverence is not what it once was, especially among the numerous Japanese visitors to the site.  The sailors who run the boat shuttle do what they can to maintain decorum, and the tone among visitors is generally subdued and reverent.

The Memorial spans the USS Arizona at about where the bridge once was.  There are the remains of the 16" gun turrets at or just above the water line on either side of the Memorial.  Looking down into the water on just about any day, you can see globs of bunker oil from the ship still slowly oozing to the surface.  It is feared that some day, when the ship has decayed enough, whatever fuel remains inside the ship will spill into Pearl Harbor. 

At the far end of the Memorial is a shrine, literally, to the men who died on the Arizona.  Their names are carved on white marble slabs that line the far end of the chapel.  A low marble railing separates visitors from the slabs themselves, unlike the Vietnam Memorial where visitors can walk up and touch the slabs.  In the tradition of Hawaii, there are many leis left as a kind of personal offering to those who are entombed there.  If you look carefully at the names on those slabs you can get a glimpse of the scope of the tragedy some families endured that day.  Back then it was Navy custom to allow family members to serve on the same ship simultaneously, so you see a list of brothers, and sometimes, fathers and sons, who went down with the USS Arizona.

There is even a tradition, if you will, that the survivors of the Arizona's death that day can be buried with their ship mates when their days are done.  Their cremated remains are lowered into the hulk.


In recent years another ship that played a large part in the Pacific War now sits at anchor in Pearl Harbor.  It is the USS Missouri.  When you look out from the on shore pavilion it is almost as if the Mighty Mo is standing sentry over the Memorial.  The Missouri is operated as a museum by a private foundation.  Lots of retired US Navy and retired military people from other services volunteer to work there and support the visitor traffic that pass through that ship.  Access to it is from Ford Island, and that is US Navy property.  There still are sensitive things going on around there, so the Navy is sensitive about people shooting pictures of anything and everything in the area.  Still, it's hard to miss something like an attack boat that is headed out to sea.

In 2004 we took our daughter and her family with us on a winter visit to Hawaii.  We made sure that visiting the Arizona Memorial was on the list of things to do.  The two granddaughters were not yet teenagers, but they took in everything about the Memorial.  Looking at the dioramas and models, the youngest granddaughter, especially, had lots of questions.  We went through the pavilion, saw the fifteen minute video, went out to the Memorial, and returned to shore.  As we were walking off the boat youngest granddaughter told me that she didn't like those nasty Japanese.  I told her that all those events took place a long time ago and that things were different now.  Then I took her over to where we could see the Memorial and the Mighty Mo together.  I told her that in another day or so we were going to take a trip out that big gray ship out there and she was going to see where Imperial Japan surrendered, ending World War II.

28 September 2012

Social Security

At least once a week I get an e-mail with claims about the Social Security System.  Almost invariably the claims are so far from reality as to be ludicrous.  But people believe the claims because they don't know any better.  With that thought in mind, here are some pertinent facts about "Social Security."

Social Security is, and always has been, a wealth transfer system.  It takes wealth from the working young and transfers it to old farts like you and me.  There is no investment aspect to Social Security; whatever taxes are taken in from FICA are immediately paid out to all the old farts (and some not so old farts).

The Social Security Trust Fund is an accounting gimmick.  It is a myth.  The Social Security Trust Fund was created to justify increasing the FICA tax rate to, allegedly, fund expected future shortfalls in Social Security funding.  That's a crock.  The federal government did a simple trick:  The Treasury issued a special issue of bonds to the Social Security Administration to account for the extra FICA revenues not used by the Social Security Administration and added the excess tax collected to the general fund.  That, of course, was spent.  That special issue of Treasury bonds is nothing but IOUs.

Contrary to common belief, Social Security is not just the Old Age benefit that is usually referred to.  There are four components to Social Security:  (1) The Old Age Benefit; (2) The Disability Benefit; (3) The Survivors Benefit; (4) Medicare.  The FICA taxes collected go out as payments to all four of those components.  The main problem is that over time the federal government, SPECIFICALLY, THE US CONGRESS, has gotten more and more generous (but then that's what happens when you're spending other peoples' money).  Worse than that, the number of recipients of the Disability Benefit has ballooned as lawyers have gotten into the business of suing on behalf of people who don't really qualify for the benefit.  The simple definition for the Disability Benefit used to be that the disabled person was unable to do ANY USEFUL WORK.  Lawyers and judges have corrupted that and driven the system deeper into insolvency.

The FICA tax rate has not always been 15%; it used to be much lower.  It has crept up over the decades as THE US CONGRESS has gotten more and more generous with other peoples' money.  In addition to that, since Social Security payments are based employment, the employers pony up another 15% payment into FICA.  If you happen to be self employed you get to pay BOTH sides of FICA.

Comments about Social Security payment not being benefits are totally false; the claim is being made by people who knows nothing factual about the Social Security System.  Social Security payments are technically indemnification because they were originally intended to be part of an insurance scheme.  Ever wonder what the acronym FICA stands for?  It stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act.  Note that second word:  Insurance.  The system was designed from the start to be indemnification for the risk of growing too old to work.  The other components came later to cover the risks of becoming permanently disabled and dying during one's working years.  The justification for Medicare is a lot more murky, but politicians being what they are, in 1965 (when Lyndon Johnson was president and Democrats ruled Congress) the US CONGRESS came up with the justification that most medical care goes to those who are old and not very capable of working.

Note that indemnifications are not supposed to be taxed.  Indemnifications restore one to an economic position before a loss occurred.  Therefore they are not taxed.  Note that you don't pay tax on any insurance payments made to you after you suffer a loss., whether the indemnification is from an auto policy, a homeonwers policy, a life insurance policy, or any other kind of private insurance.  The Old Age Benefit of Social Security used to be that way.  Politicians, Democrats in particular but some Republicans also, decided in the 1980s that the Old Age Benefit should be taxed.  That action may have started the notion that Old Age Benefits are earned income.  They are not.

Finally, the Social Security System, in case you missed it before, is a pay-as-you-go system.  The FICA revenues collected go right back out again as benefit payments of Social Security recipients (except for whatever excess goes to the Treasury general fund).  If this were a private plan, THE US CONGRESS would demand that it be FULLY FUNDED.  The term FULLY FUNDED means that there must be sufficient funds available at all times to be able to pay the present value of all legitimate claims on the system.  Not so the Social Security System.  The justification for the initial setup was that, first, the federal government can use its taxing power to cover any shortfalls, and, second, there were a lot more workers than beneficiaries of the Social Security System.  That is no longer the case.  The UNFUNDED part of Social Security grows larger every day.

Once, during the ten years or so that I taught the subject of Social Security at University of Nebraska, Lincoln, one of the former chief actuaries of the Social Security Administration came on campus and gave an hour long discussion on the Social Security System.  He focused on how it originated and how it was set up.  A lot of actuaries from the insurance companies in/around Lincoln Nebraska were in attendance.  The revelations made in that hour stunned those actuaries.  When they walked out of the hall I heard several actuaries talking among themselves.  They kept saying, "It's pay-as-you-go!"  They were stunned because to them a pay-as-you-go system was not only not acceptable under government rules, it was unthinkable from an actuarial point of view.

That is what THE US CONGRESS has bestowed on us.

12 September 2012

The Burden of Knowing Everything Important

They teach the Keynesian B.S. in college macroeconomics courses, if for no other reason than to make students aware that such a line of reasoning actually exists.  What those economics professors fail to say, much less emphasize, is that Keynesian economics does not work.  Worse than that, people who become politicians get degrees in all kinds of fields, including economics, and come away believing in the Keynesian B.S. because no one told them it doesn't work; all the while professors of history were telling them the legends of how FDR saved the USA, if not the world, by applying Keynesian theory.  Worse than that, the true believers of Keynesian B.S. figured that when they got that message there was no point in pursuing economics any further, so they went off to things like ethnics studies, women's studies, the theory of LGBT, and who knows what other productive line of inquiry.

 Worse than that, the people who went on to careers in economics believe the Keynesian B.S. and try to apply it at every opportunity.  So we have the spectacle of Keynesians like Christina Roemer, placed in positions of some considerable authority, making predictions of how things would turn out with and without a government bailout, aka The Stimulus Plan.  Just to make things easier to read, the chart below, when Christina Roemer originally presented it in a press conference had only the two blue lines.  The DARK BLUE line was a prediction for how the US unemployment would recover with the Obama stimulus plan; the LIGHT BLUE line was a prediction of unemployment would recover without the Obama stimulus plan.  The red dots at the top of the chart are actual unemployment experience -- with the Obama stimulus plan.  Now, you can explain that outcome in one of two ways:  1.  Keynesian economics applied to a real world situation does not work, or 2.  it's Bush's fault.  What does the rational mind conclude?

 

 

11 September 2012

11 September 2001

The day started out like any other for me. I got up, had my morning coffee, started my computer, and went about seeing what had happened in the world over night. Just one small problem: I couldn't connect with any of my favorite sites which, eleven years ago, included the MSNBC web site. I tried other sites; no luck. I tried any site; still no luck. I kept reloading the MSNBC site and finally got a message that said something to the effect that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I ran downstairs, turned on the TV, and went to the local NBC channel. Tom Brokaw was in the midst of informing his audience that both towers of the World Trade Center had been struck by large aircraft; the clip of the second aircraft to strike was being run over and over.

Shock. What the hell was going on? As the morning progressed more news came in. The Pentagon had been struck by a large aircraft; United flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania. All aircraft in US airspace were being directed to land; those that had not yet entered US airspace were being diverted to other countries. I heard the term "Air Defense Emergency" being announced. That probably didn't mean much to civilians, but having been in command and control in the Air Force, it meant one thing me: WAR. It was the only time I have ever heard that declared in real life. Again, what the hell was going on? More announcements: President Bush was on Air Force One and had landed at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Another announcement: Air Force One had departed Barksdale; destination unknown. By that time my wife was up and was watching with the same disbelief that I felt. I finally had enough of the constant reiteration of known events; they were filling time until the next new thing was announced. I went outside into our back yard.

I hadn't been there long when I heard a large aircraft approaching Offutt Air Force Base. I looked out to the north, toward the approach path to Offutt. It was Air Force One on final approach; there was an F-16 flying escort. At some point I heard the F-16 execute a missed approach and then come around and land. So the President was at Offutt. I was now ahead of the TV news people; I came inside to tell my wife. Not long after that the talking head (Brokaw, I think) announced that President Bush had landed at Offutt Air Force Base.

After a little thought,it became clear why the President had landed at Offutt: as an alternate military command center, Offutt had all the secure communications needed for a presidential briefing. President Bush must be in the StratCom underground command post getting a briefing on events that had occurred and what plans there were to do something about it.

Editor's Note: Critics of the Bush Administration would later claim that "Bush was cowering in a bunker" when the country needed him, but that was just another cheap shot by a political party whose reputation for things like that dates back to before the Civil War.

I later confirmed that the President did indeed go to the StratCom command post for a briefing from someone, probably all the key cabinet members, and probably at the National Military Command Center near the Pentagon. Someone by the name of Jim Schiefelbein snapped a picture of Air Force One sitting in the NEACP parking area at Offutt, on "hot alert," engines running, hooked up to a ground communications network. I have a copy of that image, along with a short description of the circumstances.

The rest of the day was spent filling more time with announcements as more information came in about United 93, that this was a hijacking by Muslims, who some of the hijacker's were, and a myriad of details I have long since forgotten. It was announced that all flights inside the US had safely landed. Outside that was pretty obvious. Even military flights, except for air defense sorties, were grounded. I recall some talking head in/around the New York City area talking in an outdoor setting when the sound of a jet fighter penetrated his commentary. The young man actually ducked and wondered aloud whether "it was one of ours." Did he actually think that a bunch of hijackers who had committed suicide and murder also had their own air force? My daughter heard the sound of jet fighters flying around the Ann Arbor/Detroit area.  She told me that she had friends who said they felt uncomfortable with the fighter jets flying around.  Being an Air Force brat, her recollection is that of familiarity and comfort since it is not a sight often seen around the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, where she lives.  One of her friends told her that she was worried about the military aircraft.  My daughter told her that they were doing their job keeping us safe and it wasn't something to worry about.  Such is the ignorance of the civilian populace.


We watched along with everyone else as the twin towers collapsed in a huge cloud of dust and debris. After that it seemed like most of the imagery was of the smoking holes where the World Trade Center had stood that morning.

Toward evening we decided to go out and eat; neither one of us felt like cooking. As we drove to a nearby Thai restaurant we were amazed to see cars lined up at all the gas stations waiting to fill up their tanks. What were those people thinking of? Did they think that there would be no gasoline to be had the next day? Did they think were being invaded by screaming Muslim hoards? How far did they think a tank of gas was actually going to get them? Where were they going to go anyway? It was an amazing sight.

For the next three days, if I recall correctly, all flights in US airspace were grounded, except for air defense flights. There were armed fighters flying over New York City and Washington DC, at least. It was unusually quiet in our neighborhood. The training sorties that Offutt Air Force Base flew most days were grounded too. The airlines were busy inspecting their aircraft, trying to assess the potential for other aborted takeovers and making sure their aircraft were safe to fly. I heard that there was at least some evidence that other flights had been targeted.

Not long after 9-11 I received a rather odd e-mail message from someone who appeared to be in Oregon; he had a name that suggested someone from the Middle East. He had seen an on-line article I had written several years before. He wanted to know if I could teach him how to fly. I forwarded that message to the Omaha office of the FBI. The FBI never acknowledged receipt of that message, but some time later I heard on the evening news that a Muslim militant group had been broken up in Oregon.  In retrospect I have little doubt that if a Democrat knew of the fact that I had assumed the worst with that e-mail I would be branded a "racist" or even a "fascist."  Such is the state of the Party of the Democrats now.  It wasn't that way sixty years ago.