Populist movements don't build themselves ...

... It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who do the UK and Spain intend to Invade?

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun,
posted from My Left Wing

Earlier this month, the BBC covered a growing debate in the UK on its defense stance, and in particular on its £10b ($16.5b at current FX rates) program to build two aircraft carriers displacing about 70,000 tons ... over three times the size of their current "cruiser" carriers, and larger than anything but the ~100,000 ton US behemoths.

The BBC said, with its typical understatement:
But it is not just that. Perhaps more than any weapons except nuclear ones, aircraft carriers tend to be seen as a statement of how a country views its military role in the world. And therein lies a lot of the controversy which seems to surround them.

Bringing back to my mind the question ... who exactly are the EU planning to invade?

Crossposted to Docudharma, to be cross-posted from MLW to Agent Orange circa 5pm EDT, 2pm PDT

Last year, while following up a subthread in the European Tribune commentary to How will the EU manage the pending collapse of the US Empire? ... and thanks to the contribution from JakeS ... I came across some peculiarities in the national navies of EU countries.

I was looking at the "EU navy" idea, and following up on vessels in the fleets of EU nations that would qualify as "Sea Control Ships", in the modern parlance. From the Wikipedia:
A Sea Control Ship (SCS) is a type of small aircraft carrier designed and conceptualized by the United States Navy under Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt in the 1970s.[1] The SCS was designed due to severe cuts in Navy spending, requiring a cheap, flexible platform that could provide convoy escorts and deliver limited air power to the field without tying up an enormous aircraft carrier during times of conflict.

Given that for defensive purposes, Europe would be an enormous aircraft carrier, in my view the Sea Control Ship encapsulates precisely what it is that the EU might want an aircraft carrier to do ... protect shipping from pirates plaguing a sea lane, or from aggressive militants in one or another cause in small boats with high explosive on board, provide helicopter support for a humanitarian crisis, anti-submarine defense, and et cetera.

I was thinking of two in an EU Navy, the HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal, slated for decommissioning in the Teens. However, I was ignoring the Spanish and Italian Navies (see note 1) ... with the Príncipe de Asturias and the Giuseppe Garibaldi (and the larger Cavour to come).

Except ... joining the Príncipe de Asturias in the Spanish Navy will be the Juan Carlos I amphibious assault vessel, and replacing the UK Invincible-class light carriers will be the Queen Elizabeth class heavy carriers.

The proposed Queen Elizabeth Class

What is the Queen Elizabeth for?

What are these ships for? Well, according to Navy Matters:

The Invincible-class of carriers were designed for Cold War anti-submarine warfare operations, with an airgroup of mainly ASW helicopters plus a limited air defence capability provided by a small number of embarked Sea Harriers. This essentially defensive role is no longer appropriate and the emphasis with the Future Aircraft Carrier (CVF) is now on increased offensive air power and an ability to operate a wider range of aircraft in a variety of roles.

The CVF mission statement has been officially defined: "The CVF is to be a joint defence asset with the primary purpose of providing the UK with an expeditionary offensive air capability that has the flexibility to operate the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles."

It is expected that CVF will be tasked:
  • As an early coercive presence that can promote conflict prevention through deterrence;

  • As a flexible and rapidly deployable offshore base during expeditionary operations when airfields may be unavailable or denied, or when facilities ashore are still being established; and

  • Contributing to the support of peacekeeping forces, and, when necessary, initiating offensive military action.

They are for fighting wars, or for "promoting peace" by (ahem), posing the credible threat of fighting a war. In other words, what is the "problem" with a "Sea Control Ship"? They are not what you want when you want to invade a country or fight somebody else's navy.

Of course, this is all described in a very generic way, but it also had the support of the Pentagon Foreign Policy. From the Wikipedia:
Giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee, the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West explained that interoperability with the United States Navy was a factor in deciding of the size of the carriers as the firepower of the carrier's airwing:
[for a] deep strike package, we have done ...quite detailed calculations and we have come out with the figure of 36 joint strike fighters ...that is the thing that has made us arrive at that size of deck and that size of ship, to enable that to happen. I have talked with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) in America. He is very keen for us to get these because he sees us slotting in with his carrier groups. He really wants us to have these, but he wants us to have the same sort of clout as one of their carriers.

What is the Juan Carlos I for?

The Wikipedia, again:

Juan Carlos I (L61) -- a strategic projection vessel (Buque de Proyección Estratígica (BPE)), -- is a planned multipurpose warship for the Spanish Navy (Armada Española), similar to American LHDs of the "Wasp" class.

And what is the role of the LHD's of the Wasp class? From GlobalSecurity.org:

These ships conduct prompt, sustained combat operations at sea as the centerpiece of the Navy's amphibious strategy of "Forward ... From the Sea." They provide the means to deliver, command and support all elements of a Marine Landing Force in an assault by air and amphibious craft. In carrying out their mission, the ships have the option of utilizing various combinations of helicopters, Harrier II (AV-8B) Jump Jets and air cushion landing craft (LCAC), as well as conventional landing craft and assault vehicles, illustrating the LHD's flexibility. In addition to embarked landing craft, the ships carry four LCPLs and two utility boats. Off the landing beach, the ships can ballast more than 15,000 tons of seawater for trimming during landing craft launch and recovery operations in the well deck.

I don't see any record of a U.S. Chief of Naval Operations saying they would like the Spanish Fleet to have an amphibious assault vessel as its flagship, so that it can slot in to a group of Wasp-class USN vessels ... but I really don't think its necessary. After all, it's just the one.

There's no point spending the extra for all that amphibious assault capability for a vessel that is going to be restricted to a Sea Control Ship role ... a second ship of the Príncipe de Asturias class would not only be cheaper to build and equip, but its also cheaper to maintain two ships of the same class than two ships of two different classes.

And its an amphibious assault vessel. You bring one amphibious assault vessel into a hot spot, and you can expect the locals to get ready for an amphibious assault. Even the Ozzies, who are buying an amphibious assault vessel of the same design (under the cover name "Helicopter Dock"), went with two of them.

Of course, it doesn't have to be with the American fleet. The French have two Mistral class amphibious assault ships, and three smaller landing dock ships, the British have the HSM Ocean amphibious assault ship and two smaller landing dock ships ... underneath the offensive air power of a naval carrier group formed around a Queen Elizabeth class heavy carrier, its entirely possible for an EU-only force to put on a fairly scary amphibious assault task force.

So, who you gonna invade, again?

Which brings me around again to the question I posed at the European Tribune last year ... who is the EU planning to invade?

The US, that I can understand. After all, we have an overseas base network of 700+ bases. Maintaining that many points of presence in so many countries overseas requires interference with local affairs. Interfering with local affairs in that many countries ensures that large numbers of people and large number of groups of people are going to be pissed off at the US. And we have had thirty years to cope with the decline of our crude oil energy production by developing renewable sustainable energy sources, but instead we have just amped up our oil addiction ... and when an addict fights to hold onto a weapon, a natural presumption is they are holding it in case they need it to feed their addiction.

So, except of course for the central insansity of the base network itself and the refusal to fit our consumption to our biocapacity, it makes perfect sense for the US to pursue massive carriers capable of supporting offshore air strikes deep into a large continent, and amphibious assault groups for going in and coercing nations into being willing participants in the base networks.

But ... why does Europe need amphibious assault capabilities? Why does Europe need carriers better capable of supporting an attack role, rather than carriers that are "merely" good for defense?

I'm missing something here? Or perhaps these ships don't really make sense after all?


(Note 1. For the Italian Navy, I have an excuse ... until the 90's, the Italian Navy was not permitted to operate aircraft carriers. For the Spanish Navy, no excuse at all ... the Príncipe de Asturias is not even the Spanish Navy's first light carrier.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Looking Past the End of the End of the Recession

Bonddad at the Daily Kos has YERRD (yet another reclisted Rosenberg diary) up, on the issue of whether the recession is coming to an end, or the sky is falling and we face an unending recession from now through to the visible horizon.

But the Great Depression was not made of a recession that did not end for ten years. It was, indeed, made up of one and a half complete business cycles ... the post-Crash Recession, from late 1929 to 1932, the New Deal Recovery, from 1932 to 1937, the Roosevelt Recession of 1937/38, and then the recovery that merged with the start of WWII, which was the government spending program substantial enough to actually bring us back to a full employment macro equilibrium.

So the question of whether or not we face another Depression is not, "will this Recession ever end?" ... but rather, "After this recession, what comes next?"

Indeed, that is the important aspect of Rosenberg's analysis ... we have played the "consumers borrow us out of recession" card too many times, and its no longer in our hand to play.

At the same time, Rosenberg may well be too optimistic, since there is evidence relating oil prices to oil production (Oil Drum) that we are on a "reverse L" oil supply curve, and since production capacity will be lower next year than it was in 2008, it will not take as much economic activity to generate the same crude oil prices.

And our economy is far more exposed than the Japanese, European or Chinese economies to crude oil price shocks.

So putting two and two together, we need an investment-led recovery, and we need a sustained crash program to address our oil addiction.

That adds up to a Brawny Recovery in pursuit of Living Energy Independence as the alternative available to us that can possibly offer a recovery that can last long enough to generate substantial employment gains.

And if NIMBY's and some misguided environmentalists try to get in our way (California HSR blog), we have to organize to run right through their opposition.

What are the "Seed" Projects to Drive an "Brawny" Recovery

I call an Investment-led recovery a "Brawny" recovery, because the idea is that our capacity to do things increases, in line with the spending of money in the short term.

However, finding these projects is not the problem. The problem is shaking off the dead hand of Reagan Framing and understanding that if there is a $1T+ gap between our current GDP and our full-employment capacity, that means there will be $100b's of gap for the next six years ahead. Especially given that the "easy" aggregate demand of consumer-debt-fueled growth is not going to be available to us over the next decade.

So, we can spend $75b per year over the next six years to electrify the Dept. of Defense "STrategic RAil Corridor NETwork - STRACNET. That requires capital funding, but only when oil is cheap ... in the context of expensive oil, bonds to electrify STRACNET are readily self-funding through user charges. A form of crude oil import tariff that slides off as crude oil approaches $80/barrel would suffice to "fund" that. Or else, we can simply deficit spend for that ... since cutting off 10% of our demand for petroleum imports is an investment that pays for itself in multiple ways.

We can spend $75b per year over the next decade to build local electric transport corridors ... from trolley buses and Rapid Streetcars through conventional Light Rail and commuter heavy rail all the way to the mass transit niche for the biggest cities. Fund those projects on an 80:20 federal match, include both direct and indirect impacts on Energy Independence and Congestion Relief, and there will be no difficulty finding projects that justify the public investment. And, again, we can simply deficit spend for that ... if we can spent $1T+ on trying and failing to gain access to the last big pools of cheap crude oil in the world, we can definitely spend $750b on permanent alternatives to crude oil based transport.

We can spend $5b a year over six years on Electricity Superhighways to connect our main regional consumption grids to renewable resource areas. We can spend $20b a year on electric inter-urban transport over the next decade, from Express HSR through Regional and Emerging HSR to electric stopping trains. We can spend $25b a year on interest subsidies for Connie Mae finance for decentralized CO2 emission reduction and energy efficiency improvements, repaid out of the reduction in operating costs, on an ongoing basis.

My, word, $200b over the next six years, $120b over the next decade. The Deficit! My God! The Deficit! screams the ghost of Reagan.

Yeah, What About the Deficit?

We are so heavily indoctrinated in this frame that its normal for people to think they have escaped it, when they have just escaped from one part of the frame into another part of it.

Now, look around at State Governments. Look at Medicaid funding and Unemployment Insurance funding. Look at Federal tax receipts. How's the biggest recession since the Roosevelt Recession (itself generated by giving in to "balanced budget" ideology) working for creating budget surpluses?

Now, think about what happens next after this recession is over. "Recession" is a term that just means changes in economic turnover, focusing on sales of newly produced goods and services. And while unemployment is directly related to GDP growth:
  • GDP growth around 1% per year implies falling employment

So, suppose that we just stand up and cheer when the recession is over, and do not do anything about the massive mess we have made of the economy over the past thirty years by abandoning the industrial development approach we followed for most of the period from the 1790's to the 1970's and adopting Reagan's Do-Nothing-Republicanism instead.

We are going to muddle along, perhaps for years, without any employment growth.

Then, somewhere in the world, someone will get their act together, and get some substantial economic growth going. And the price of crude oil will zoom up and the United States will slide into an oil price shock recession.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

What's that going to do for our "deficit" ... especially with $500b+ a year in government spending on military production dragging down our trade account ... especially considering that if we do not get our act together and someone else does, that'll spell the end of the US dollar as a global reserve currency.

Indeed, we could be treated to the wonderful prospect of a currency collapse inflation in the middle of an oil price shock recession.

Contrast that with the prospect of making serious investment in housing and transportation that can withstand an oil price shock, while generating economic growth sufficient to generate employment growth.

And remember that the key comparison is not the dollar value of the national debt, but the national debt compared to the size of the national economy.

$200b is under 1.5% of a $14T economy ... and the difference in growth rates between the Brawny Recovery policy and the Republican Après Moi, Le Déluge policy approach will easily be 2% or more.

Now, if we put together tricks and gimmicks to "pay for" $200b in Brawny Recovery spending over the next six years and $120b in Brawny Recovery spending over the next decade, and those tricks and gimmicks help the politics of getting it passed, fine.

But, between you and me, the argument that we cannot "afford" to invest in programs that will directly generate hundreds of billions in private investment and will start to close the massive bleeding hole in our trade account ... its pretty moronic. We have followed that policy of not being able to invest in the things we need for the future for thirty years, under Democratic and Republican Presidents and Congressional Majorities ... and the results of that policy are in.

We have already relinquished the title of highest income nation on the face of the planet, when you look at median rather than average incomes. Our claim to be the "wealthiest" nation on the face of the planet will collapse if our currency does.

Before that happens, time to try going back to the policy of substantial investment in infrastructure that brought the US from one among many developing nations to the highest income, wealthiest economy on earth.

And on it goes

It goes without saying that no matter how heavily the "sustainable" in Sustainable Energy Independence is stressed ... its only one dimension of a big, complex problem. Join the Daily Kos Environmentalist group for a multi-dimension look at all sides of an ecologically sustainable economy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The New Hooverism versus High Speed Rail

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Dan Walters in the Sacramento Bee asks:

Is this the time to launch construction of a high-speed railroad line between Northern and Southern California that will cost at least $40 billion, much of it from bonds to be repaid from a state budget that's already gushing red ink?

Yes, say its fervent advocates, contending that a bullet train, similar to those in Europe and Japan, will reduce air and auto congestion, reduce greenhouse gases and generate many billions of dollars in economic benefits.

Dan Walters then throws all the complaints about HSR he can find into a big pot, and stirs. Underneath the individual "points", lies the main New Hooverist thesis ... in hard times, we cannot afford to invest in the future.

Robert Cruickshank at the California HSR blog debunks Dan Walters exercise point by point, but starts out by taking aim at the New Hooverist thesis and landing a bulls-eye:
What do the Golden Gate Bridge, Shasta Dam, and the Central Valley Water Project have in common? They are all products of the Great Depression. At a time when both California and the federal government were strapped for cash and suffering the effects of a major economic downturn, government decided to use infrastructure projects to provide economic recovery in both the short and the long term. Each project continues to provide economic activity 70 years later. Each has paid for itself many times over.

In other words, as Robert's blog title says, Now is the Perfect Time to Build a Railroad.

Now, I am one of those advocates of HSR ... at all three levels ... that Dan Walters is arguing against. But the plain fact is, you don't have to be an advocate of a particular project to see the point that now is the time to find big infrastructure projects to build the New Energy Economy. You only have to look at the current account ... the trade and income balances between the United States and the Rest of the World. The collapse of household spending and calming of oil prices has pushed the US balance of trade (and overall current account deficit) to just about its lowest level since we opted for the corporate-profit-oriented version of NAFTA.

And we still have our structural dependency on energy imports. We still remain exposed to the risk that if the rest of the world recovers before we do, the oil price spike that follows will prevent us from seeing robust recovery until we fix the problem.

Even though the "top notch" economists believe that in the "long run" the economy will automatically tend toward full employment (dKos comment) ... that is only belief. Since it is built into their models rather than emerging from the empirical evidence, there is no reason to trust them as opposed to the lessons of economic history (which, it should be noted, "top notch" economists are no longer required to study), that economic downturns can indeed be followed by extended periods of high unemployment, unless government takes action to address the critical economic challenges facing the nation.

And, yes, we have to keep debunking both those dedicated to the New Hooverism and their fellow travelers, like the fervent contra-advocates of investment in the most energy efficient commercially viable form of inter-regional transport for a transport task over the distance separating the Bay from the LA Basin ... electric Express HSR. Such as "Morris Brown" at the California HSR blog, who jumps in with a comment including this rhetorical gem:
Now Robert is quite willing to claim that SJ was being effectively by-passed with Altamont, but what about Sacramento being effectively being cut off from SF by the Pacheco routing.

Those are two cities that are 79 miles apart as the crow flies ... even an alignment that doubles that distance leaves them a "mere" 160 route miles apart. That is, after all, why the current Capital Corridor route is successful in attracting ridership.

Now, this certainly is a distance that will benefit from trains traveling faster than 79mph ... but 110mph or 125mph is fast enough to reap most of the benefit. Pretending that 220mph trains are required to prevent Sacramento from being "cut off" from San Francisco ...

... well, as I replied at the California HSR blog:
How can you pretend to be writing about a HSR project while ignoring differences in distances between locations? Sacramento and San Francisco are not far enough apart to require 220mph trains to yield trips of under two hours, let alone under three hours. 110mph and 125mph is plenty fast enough for that transport task.

By contrast, effectively linking the LA Basin and the Bay by rail, which is more capital efficient than the equivalent air and ground inter-regional transport capacity under current energy costs, and less exposed to the risk of crude oil price shocks, requires 220mph Express HSR rail technology.

So "cutting off Sacramento from San Francisco" is just an empty rhetorical flourish, and using it brands the user as either ignorant or willing to deceive in pursuit of his objectives. Misled or misleading ... the only third option is "or both".

The New Hooverism is well entrenched in the vested interests of the large transnational corporations, and supported by a broad network of lackeys, paid henchmen, and those who have fallen for the frames of argument that they have invested so much time and effort in putting into place.

If we hope to bring about the Brawny Income-led Recovery, we must find ways to cooperate in uprooting the New Hooverism.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Waddya know ... some people saw the meltdown coming. UPDATED

(h/t ChrisCook)

Click for full size table image

As a commentator ARGeezer said at the EuroTrib:
No one saw it coming? More like no Serious PeopleTM listened to those who did see it coming. Our society currently is not organized in such a way as to allow any significant prior constraint on the machinations of the big money boys, and they own enough of the system to veto any attempt to change this fact. Hell, we can't even get enforcement of existing laws that should constrain them.

In terms of the "football team" filter of American governance, the "Democratic Team" has a majority and the "Republican Team" a minority ... but in terms of power politics, its a Corporate Majority, who have had to swing their focus in terms of what lies to tell to which party base in order to get what they want.

It is, IOW, like a swing in the balance of power between the Whig Lords and the Tory Lords in pre-Reform England. There are, indeed, policy differences between the Oil Patch Republicans and the Hedge Fund Democrats, but they have far more in common in terms of their basic support for the status quo.

UPDATE: Senator Dorgan 1999: