Taking It to the Streets 6 August 2019.

When I’m in Easton, Pennsylvania on weekends, I take the dog for a walk.  He’s intrepid, so sometimes we go down to “The Circle.” From there up Northampton Avenue, there’s a lot of public assistance housing.  Nice—if unhealthy-looking—people to talk to on a Sunday morning.[1]

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 550,000 people are “homeless” in America.[2]  Geographically, the homeless are not evenly distributed.  About 25 percent (137,000) live in California, which has about 12 percent of the nation’s  population.  Another 65,000 people (or about 6 percent) live in New York City.  Even within California, the homeless are not evenly distributed.  About 45 percent (59,000 out of 137,000) live in the Los Angeles area, while 8,000 live in San Francisco.  However, the homeless population in Los Angeles has grown by 12 percent since 2018 and the homeless population in San Francisco has grown by 17 percent since 2017.

Economists point to a steep rise in prices for a limited housing stock in California.  Since 2013, the median rent in Los Angeles rose almost three times faster than did median income.[3]  Now, one-third of renters pay at least half their monthly income for housing.[4]  What is implied is that the “marginal” people get forced out of whatever ramshackle accommodations (called “flop-houses” in a less-enlightened time) they have found by rising property values/rents.

Substance abuse is a major contributor to homelessness and other things.  Among the Seattle’s homeless, for example, an estimated 80 percent have drug or alcohol problems.

Apparently, the “homeless” don’t want to be in city-provided “homes.”  New York City—with the abominable winter and summer climates (and delightful springs and falls) of the Mid-Atlantic states–provides shelter accommodation for 61,000 people, about 95 percent of its approximately 65,000 homeless population.  In contrast, Los Angeles—which has a temperate climate—has only 25 percent of its homeless population in shelters.  Building shelters or low-income housing may not appeal to the homeless.  Freeway underpasses are good enough for them.  Perhaps, what they’re after—other than getting high—isn’t offered by America?

Do cities entice homeless people to move there?  In 2007, Los Angeles announced that the city would no longer enforce a law against sleeping on the sidewalk in the 50-block “Skid Row” area.   Perhaps 10,000 people now live there.  So, IDK.

[1] Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Morning Sidewalk.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbqGWTxwZEA

[2] “Living on the Streets,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 11.  How many of them are illegal immigrants or “asylum-seekers” from Central America?  My money would be on none.  If I am correct, that might—or might not—say something about the nature of the problem.

[3] 67 percent v. 23 percent.

[4] In areas around Boston in the 1980s, rents were high.  Low-income graduate students had to scramble.  I shared a one-bedroom apartment with a South Korean couple; I shared a two bedroom house in Somerville  with another graduate student; and then I shared a three bedroom apartment above Oak Square with two other friends.  My then-future wife shared an apartment with a couple of friends, then moved to a big group house.  So, being “poor” doesn’t have to mean being “homeless.”  None of this has anything to do with the actual homeless.  “Homeless” people aren’t grad students.  My question is what “life-style” do the poor have a right to expect?  This is a poorly-articulated political dispute between Democrats and Republicans.  Part of the problem seems to be that Republicans admit that society isn’t fair, but believe that human ability can overcome those problems, while Democrats claim that society is so unfair that no amount of human ability can overcome these barriers.  IDK where I stand on this exactly.  Just being a jerk here, I realize.


The News 6 August 2019.

Pro-Trump News.

The Supreme Court (5-4) allowed the administration to—temporarily–shift $2.5 million from the defense budget to building border walls.[1]

Anti-Trump News.

During the first segment of the second round of the Democratic debates, rivals–of most of whom no one has ever heard–heaped abuse on Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for their “radical” proposals—like “VA for All.”[2]  According to the critics, their plans are too extreme for many Democratic voters and for all “swing” voters.  So, in sports terms, “Go Big AND Go Home.”  “Mayor Pete”—what were the Immigration clerks on Ellis Island thinking that day?—tried to sell a more middle-of-the-road plan: “Medicare for all who want it.”[3]

There was a strong backlash against President Trump’s criticism of Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD).[4]  Congressman Cummings had criticized the treatment of the large numbers of people being held in border detention facilities.  As with his criticism of “The Squad,” the president basically said “Go back where you came from [Baltimore] and fix that before you criticize me!”  The president described Baltimore as a “disgusting rat and rodent infested mess.”

As with his criticism of “The Squad,” Democrats denounced Trump’s attack as “racist.”[5]  So, what is “racism” in the liberal understanding?  Slavery was racist.  Jim Crow was racist.  “Red-lining” was racist.  Racial and religious real-estate “covenants” are racist.  Employment discrimination is racist.  Is “white flight” racist?  Are “bourgeois values” racist?  Is affirmative action racist?  Is criticism of individual persons of color, on whatever grounds, racist?

Still, is Donald Trump a “racist”?  Very likely.[6]  Michael Cohen, once his attorney, recalled riding through Chicago with Trump.  Not-yet-President Trump remarked that “only blacks could live like this.”  For how many American voters does Donald Trump speak?

[1] “Supreme Court accepts wall construction,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 6.

[2] Petty self-interest prompts a question.  If you wipe out all private health insurance, what will happen to the stock value of the companies that provide health insurance?  About half of American workers have 401k retirement plans.  Most of these include health insurance company stocks in their portfolios in various mixes.

[3] “Moderates vs. progressives in Democratic debates,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p. 5.

[4] “Baltimore: Why Trump called it ‘disgusting’ and ‘infested’,” The Week, 9 August 2019, p.6.  My guess would be that he took a break from “Fox and Friends” to binge-watch “The Wire.”  I can’t imagine him in a limo going north on I-95, then suddenly telling his Secret Service driver to “Get off here, go west on Pulaski Highway, and then look for a sign for “The Gold Club.”  Wait.  What am I saying?  Yes, I can.  See: https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-gold-club-baltimore?osq=Full+Nude+Strip+Club

[5] Prominent denouncifiers included Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times.  Apparently, Blow does not read the Times.  Back in March 2019, the NYT Magazine ran a scalding piece on the collapse of city government and public order in Baltimore after Freddy Grey got arrested-to-death by the BPD.  Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun confessed that Baltimore does have a problem with rodents.

[6] At least he is anti-African-American, anti-African, and anti-mestizo.  It isn’t clear what are his views on East Asian and South Asian people.  Trump pretty clearly isn’t an anti-Semite.  But is Philo-Semitism “racist”?  If so, a bunch of Americans are in trouble.  Does one have to think all races are inferior to one’s own race to be a racist, or is it enough to think that one race is inferior to all other races to be a racist?  On the other hand, the attack by both Mayor Bill DiBlasio and the Editorial Board of the New York Times on Asian students attending the elite high schools in New York City might strike some people as racist.

Japan’s Second World War 2.

Curtis LeMay (1906-1990) played a large role in defining the Japanese experience during the Second World War.  Born into poor circumstances in Columbus, Ohio, LeMay worked his way through Ohio State University.  After graduating with a degree in civil engineering, LeMay became a lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps.  He soon established a reputation as an expert navigator, long-distance pilot, and an enthusiast for rigorous training.  He (and many other younger officers) began a rapid ascent in rank once George Marshall became Army Chief of Staff.  In the air war in Europe in 1942-1944, he pioneered effective new tactics and enforced tough discipline on bombing missions.  From August 1944 to January 1945, LeMay commanded the American bombers flying from China.  Then he took command of the bombers flying from the Mariana Islands.

Against Japan, LeMay had to innovate.  A powerful jet stream wind blows across much of Japan.  High altitude bombers, flying at 20,000 feet, often had their bombs blown off target after release.  Japanese air defenses were rugged, so pilots often aborted their missions.  Even before the Americans began to hit Japan, the Japanese government had learned from their embassy in Germany what was coming.  They responded by dispersing industrial production from a few big factories to many small workshops scattered about cities.  The work-shops were hard to spot or to hit.  LeMay abandoned high-altitude, day-light precision bombing for low-altitude, nighttime “area” or “carpet” bombing with incendiaries.  Crews that achieved a high mission-completion rate early in their tours got sent home early.

Between March and August 1945, LeMay’s planes hit 67 Japanese cities with “fire raids.”  Huge areas—averaging 40 percent– of cities were destroyed and the dispersed work-shops with them.  Japanese industrial production fell off sharply.  His bombers also dropped many mines into the sea around Japan to sink merchant ships bringing in food and warship guarding them against American submarines.  The mines turned out to be far more effective than did the submarines.[1]  Japan could neither import the food and raw materials it needed, nor could it send men or supplies to Japanese forces over-seas.

The effects were terrible to see.  In contrast to stone and concrete Western cities, Japanese cities were built of wood.  They provided kindling for the American fire-bombs, rather than a tenuous protection.  The raids killed perhaps 500,000 civilians.  The 10 May 1945 raid on Tokyo alone killed perhaps 100,000 people.  During the Tokyo raid, fire swept over people jammed together on a bridge, producing a “forest of [upright] corpses.”[2]  The last wave of American planes, flying at 5,000 to 9,000 feet, could smell burned human flesh.

The American aircrews and commanders could not see the devastation they wrought up close.  The Japanese leaders could not avoid confronting it.  Yet the Japanese leadership refused to surrender.  In August 1945, planes from the 509th Composite Group flew from Tinian Island to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Finally, Japan surrendered.

Japan lost its overseas empire (Korea, Manchuria, Taiwan, the Pacific Islands).  The Americans occupied Japan.  They imposed many reforms that might be considered as a sort-of Second Meiji Restoration.  The Americans also helped create a world order that would allow Japan’s economy to flourish.

[1] The mines sank or damaged 670 Japanese ships.  Cargoes moving through the port of Kobe fell by 85 percent.  Trying making an exciting movie about mines, however.

[2] Richard B. Frank, Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (1999).

Japan’s Second World War 1.

During the Meiji Restoration, many “samurai” became officers in the new national army.  They and their descendants instilled many samurai beliefs about conduct in the Imperial Japanese Army.  Sakae Oba (1914-1992)[1] did not come from a samurai background.  His father farmed.  The son graduated from a teacher’s academy in 1933, and began working in a school.  Soon he married.  Within a year, however, he applied to be an officer in the army.

The IJA recruited soldiers into locally-based regiments.  Oba became an officer in the 18th Regiment.  The 18th had fought in the Sino-Japanese (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese (1904-1905) wars.  From 1928 on, it did much of its service in China.  In 1931, Japan seized the territory of Manchuria; in 1932, Japanese and Chinese troops fought each other around Shanghai.

In July 1937, Japan launched a major invasion of China proper.  The 18th Regiment engaged in two months of savage fighting.  Oba was promoted to Second Lieutenant in late 1937.  The 18th Regiment then fought in the Japanese campaign in central China.  Possibly, the 18th Regiment took part in the terrible massacres of Chinese civilians that accompanied these operations.[2]  In 1939, he made First Lieutenant. In 1941, he received command of a company.  In 1943, he made Captain.

Japan’s war in China bogged down.  In late 1941, Japan opted for attacks on the Western possessions in the Far East.  The attack on Pearl Harbor, and the conquest of the Philippines, British Malaya and Burma, and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) followed.  By early 1944, many of the large number of troops in China began to move toward the Pacific islands that blocked the American advance on Japan.  In February 1944, an American submarine sank the troop ship carrying the 18th Regiment.  Less than half the regiment survived, but Captain Oba was among them.  The survivors were taken to the island of Saipan.  Rather than being a coral atoll, the island is mountainous and densely forests.  The Japanese saw it as part of a last line of defense against the Americans.  Oba and his men joined the garrison.

Between 15 June 1944 and 9 July, the Americans conquered Saipan.  On 7 July, most of the surviving Japanese soldiers made a “banzai charge,” rather than accept the shame of surrender.  When the attack ended, Marines and soldiers counted 4,300 dead Japanese in front of their lines.  Almost 30,000 Japanese soldiers died on Saipan, as did about 20,000 civilians.

Captain Oba and 45 of his men were among the survivors.  They gathered up several hundred civilians and headed for the woods.  Oba’s intentions appear to have been to preserve the lives of his men and to protect the civilians.  Occasionally, they staged night-raids on American positions, but these may have been chiefly attempts to acquire food and medicine.  Perhaps he had seen enough of massacres and suicides.  Despite determined searches by the Marines, Oba held out until 1 December 1945.

Oba returned to Japan, where he found his wife alive.  After the war, he worked in a department store.

[1] Don Jones, Oba: The Last Samurai (1986).  Haven’t read it; just read about Oba.

[2] These include the Nanjing Incident/Nanking Massacre.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanjing_Massacre  Even before the Japanese atrocities of the Second World War, these events had created in the Western mind a reputation for ferocity and bestial behavior on the part of the Japanese military.

2020 Headlines I don’t expect to see 29 July 2019.

“VA for All.  Why shouldn’t your parents get the same care that Walter Reed Hospital offers to wounded warriors?”

“Single-payer media.  Think about it.”

“Just how much am I supposed to pay Jussie Smollett in reparations?”

“Did the Russians write the Steele dossier?  Durham investigation ponders the question.”

“China buckles–will reform trade rules AND massively cut carbon emissions.  Trump chortles; Environmentalists dismayed.”

“Iran buckles–will return to NPT and reduce support for Hezbollah.  Bolton tap dances the “Putting on the Ritz” segment from “Young Frankenstein”.”

“EU  buckles–will finally raise defense spending to long-agreed levels.  Poles eager to fight; Germans and French not so much.”

“Victory!  We’ve established a prohibition on abortion–just as with alcohol in the Twenties and drugs since the Seventies!  But gun-control will never work!”

“The EU blocked undesired immigration by paying Turkey, Niger, and Libya.  Now Trump has done the same with Mexico and Guatemala at a lower cost.  The “Squad” denounces agreements as “racist.”

“Illegal immigration de-criminalized!  120 million Chinese buy cruise-ship reservations for China-Hawaii-West Coast jaunts.”

“Oddly, the State Department appears to function just as before but with professional diplomats in most jobs, and without a bunch of courtiers from think-tanks.  Experts puzzled and Congress vows to subpoena the late George Kennan.”

“Congress approves Hudson River flood-gates to counter-climate change.  Mayor DiBlasio will reject federal funds: “New Yorkers would rather drown that accept money from a government that denies the reality of climate change!”


The Asian Century 26 July 2019.

Back in the 1990s many of the Asian economies were riding high.  People were talking about the “Asian tiger” economies, if that gives you some idea.  Japan, Taiwan, South Korea were all enjoying remarkable success at manufacturing and selling things.  In particular, they seemed to have mastered the industrial production of actual things that people all over the world would want to own: cars, computer hardware, televisions, and the music systems of the day.  Moreover, the other Asian economies all seemed to be taking off on remarkably similar and promising flight paths to prosperity.  Since all of these places had been late to adopt the Western economic model and because they had been leveled in the Second World War, this performance amounted to an extraordinary achievement that called out for explanation.  Moreover, the “Asian tigers” were generally out-performing the Western economies.  The Soviet Union had fallen flat on its face in 1989, so it was discredited.  Neither the United States nor Western Europe, however, showed a comparable dynamism.  The European economies were all growing slowly, thanks to what would later come to be labeled “Euro-sclerosis.”  The United States had already begun the habit of living beyond its means that continues to plague it to this day.

Under these conditions the Asian countries took a justifiable pride in their performance.  In discussions of the differences between Western and Asian economic performance, attention naturally turned to asking whether cultural differences might not make as much difference as did specific economic policies.  Ultimately, various people began to suggest that “Asian values” offered the best explanation.

What were the “values” which purportedly gave the Asian economies the bulge over the Western ones?  According to the proponents of the idea the Asian societies were the product of unique historical circumstances.  Confucian values had become deeply entrenched in the culture and could not be rooted out by any transient or imported political regime.  The key Confucian values were subordination of the desires of the individual to the welfare of the community (conformity); a preference for strong leadership over political competition; a commitment to excellence in academic and scientific pursuits; hard work; and thrift.

In essence, this doctrine is a denial of the ideal of universal human equality and universal human rights. (“We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal…”)  The West had argued that “free markets and free people” were the twin keys to human progress.  Lots of people in Asian countries had been attracted by this doctrine because it promised to improve their situation.  Others had reacted against what they saw as just another face of Western imperialism or which unsettled their own lives.  (Thus, kids having rights is fine if you’re a kid; it is more problematic if you’re a parent.)  In any event, the rising relative power of the Asian economies seemed to justify an assertion of cultural independence.  Hence, the 1990s witnessed much discussion of “Asian values.”

Then the Asian financial crisis of July 1997 put a stop to all the big talk.  The bugs scuttled back into the woodwork.  But does that mean that there are no distinct Asian values?  Are universal values more credible?  Watch “To Live” and decide.


For more on the financial crisis, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_financial_crisis

For criticism of the Asian values movement, see: http://www.brainsnchips.org/hr/sen.htm and http://academic2.american.edu/~dfagel/Markets&democracyfukuyama.html

My Weekly Reader 25 July 2019.

In 1940 there were 251,000 African-Americans living in Philadelphia, out of a total population of 1,931,000 or 13 percent of the population.  In 1970, there were 655,000 African-Americans living in Philadelphia out of a total population of 1,948,000 or 33.6 percent of the population. [1] Thus, Philadelphia’s African-American population almost tripled in both numbers and as a share of the population.  Much of the growth in the African-American population is explained by the “Great Migration.”[2]

The African-American immigrants in search of better lives received a frosty welcome in the City of Brotherly Love.  First, the white city had strong local ethnic identities: South Philadelphia was Italian; Pennsport, Gray’s Ferry, Kensington, Fishtown, and much of Northeast Philadelphia were Irish; Port Richmond was Polish.  During the Sixties and Seventies, these people felt themselves in crisis.  Many of them worked blue-collar manufacturing jobs.  In 1951, 46 percent of Philadelphia workers earned a living from manufacturing.  After the war, Philadelphia began to lose many of these jobs: by 1977, only 24 percent still worked in manufacturing.  During the Seventies, Philadelphia lost 100,000 manufacturing jobs.

Second, the cost of government rose dramatically, from over $100 million (1947) to over $500 million (1970).  Hence, from 1961 on, budget shortfalls led to repeated increases in both the real estate and wage taxes.[3]

Third, the national murder rate went up from the late 1950s through 1974.  In 1955 it stood at 4.5/100,000 people; in 1974 it stood at 10.2/100,000.[4]   This trend and other increases in violence, hit Philadelphia as hard as anywhere else.  Since the Forties, “the complexion of urban crime had changed…as big cities turned blacker, so did big city homicides.”[5]

Fourth, racism was a real force.  The early post-war out-migration by whites opened up housing for African-Americans in formerly all-white neighborhoods.  “Throughout the city and its suburbs, wherever blacks sought to move freely in the housing market there was community tension and frequently vandalism, intimidation, street riots, and evacuation of whole neighborhoods by whites.”[6]  For example, South Philadelphia and Kensington lost from 15 to 30 percent of their populations in the Seventies.  Also, African-American migration into previously white-dominated areas changed the composition of the public schools.  In 1961 there were 250,000 students in the public schools, about equally divided between whites and black.  In 1970 there were 291,000 students in the system, 63 percent non-white and 37 percent white.

Philadelphia’s white population hardly formed a single block.  To over-simplify, however, the blue-collar and lower middle-class “ethnics” wanted a campaign of resistance, while upper middle-class “elites” wanted change.  The former had the votes.  They twice elected Frank Rizzo, the tough former police commissioner, as mayor (1971, 1975).  Thus, majority opinion on integration in one Democrat-governed city in the Seventies.  A time of troubles.

[1] Timothy Lombardo, Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics (2019).

[2] Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land : The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (1991); Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010).

[3] Russell Weigley, Philadelphia, pp. 664-665.

[4] Roger Lane, Murder in America, p. 303.

[5] Lane, Murder, p. 273.

[6] Weigley, Philadelphia, p. 669.