Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Poor Die Young

The political posturing and debating engulfing the land is touching on just about everything but the continuing slaughter of young Americans and our allies in Afghanistan. 

I make note of Afghanistan war deaths because this blog honors those from my home state of Michigan who give their lives.  A lot more are not being honored.  Lives are being sacrificed at the rate or more than one per day. Why is there no national outrage about this horrible waste?  At best, our politicians, except for maverick Republican candidate Ron Paul who stands no chance of being elected, are content to let the pointless conflict continue for two more years.

Throughout our recent military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, a few small voices have pointed out that the affluent and best educated  among us are sending the poor and least educated off to die. Several of those voices, which didn’t get much of a hearing, suggested we should restore the draft that was ended after the conclusion of the Vietnam War. The reasoning is that, in a democracy, important sacrifices should be shared by all.

One counter argument, insensitive as it may be, is members of our all-volunteer forces knew what they were getting into when they signed up.  They agreed to put their lives on the line; therefore we have little reason to be overly concerned when they are killed. I have heard such awful statements made by otherwise seemingly caring and thoughtful people.

I also have heard claims that our forces constitute a cross-section of the American public because reserves and National Guard units have been called to active duty frequently during the wars in the Middle East.  The call-ups are a fact.  That they resulted in a cross-section of society being involved in the conflicts is not.  Several analyses of the death counts support the idea of an unfair assignment of risk.

Nine years ago, when the Iraq War was young, a newspaper consultant in Texas studied backgrounds of more than 300 U.S. soldiers who died in the conflict.  The dead were 39 percent more likely that our total population to live in counties with less than 100,000 people.  They were 16 percent more likely to have lived in a county with below-average levels of college graduates and 16 percent more likely to live in counties with below-average incomes.

The dead soldiers who came from large cities were disproportionately Hispanic or African-American.  Very few came from prosperous urban areas—high-tech centers such as San Jose, Seattle, Austin, or Dallas.  Those who died largely grew up in cities with declining older manufacturing economies or in rural regions, places with low levels of technology and innovation and high levels of unemployment.

The consultant who conducted the study concluded: “This may be America’s war, but it is being fought by only a part of America.”

A much larger study (of 3,100 deaths) in 2007 conducted for the Associated Press showed that almost half the American war fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan were young people from small towns and rural areas where employment opportunities were limited.  The half came from towns with populations under 25,000 and 20 percent of them had a hometown where less than 5,000 people lived.

The study report said, “Many of the hometowns of the war dead aren’t just small in population, they’re poor.” Nearly three-quarters of those killed in Iraq came from towns where the per capita income was below the national average.”

With Iraq behind us and warfare in Afghanistan allegedly winding down, would current statistics show the same results?  Probably. Here are the hometowns of the ten service members killed in Afghanistan last week:

Crystal Lake, Illinois; Centerville, Iowa; Colonia, New Jersey; Palatka, Florida; Ferndale, Washington; Willis, Texas; Glendale, Arizona; Norwood, Massachusetts; Wilder, Idaho; Pahrump, Nevada. 

The Geezer believes if the draft had been in effect we never would have launched the second Iraq invasion and would have ended our participation in Afghanistan hostilities years ago.  Without a draft, it has been too easy for our highly educated, affluent politicians to send less educated, poor young men and women into combat. And the rest of us failed miserably to force common sense upon our leaders because those sent forth to risk death really weren’t “our kids.”

The draft was ended in the aftermath of an extremely unpopular war.  That action has produced several, probably unintended, negative consequences. Was ending the draft a colossal mistake?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Oh, Brother!

Reading the latest Sigma Nu national magazine, I learned that Eli Manning and I are fraternity brothers.  That should have taken some of the sting out of what he did to my beloved Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

But it didn't. 

Go, Niners!

Kicking a Statistic Around

Politicians of various stripes and their backers delight in kicking each other around.  They’ve become so accomplished at mud slinging and twisting facts one would think they spend some time practicing.  Perhaps they do.

For the last several years, our pols appear to have been warming up for the big 2012 campaigns by kicking a statistic around.  A great many have been putting the boots to the National Unemployment Rate. 

A while back, Democrats claimed unemployment was much higher than the indicator showed, and thus painted an unrealistic picture of the horrible economic conditions created by George W. Bush.  A bit later, the blame game diminished in effectiveness as a tactic, but Democrats kept blasting away with the same theme to support the idea that we need more stimulus money and government job creation to pull out of our economic funk.

Republicans now are singing the same song—the monthly unemployment statistical reports are grossly understated—but for a different reason. The contention is that President Obama is falsely claiming economic achievements based on the unemployment indicator dropping slowly over the past few months. They are saying exactly what the Democrats have been claiming—discouraged job seekers are leaving the labor force in large numbers, and thus skewing the indicator. 

Usually, the Geezer would pass all this off as typical political posturing unworthy of serious attention.  However, a recent editorial in The Washington Times raised my ire. The headline read: “Obama Cooks the Unemployment Books.”

The last line in the opinion piece says a calculation posted on a web site, “ . . . exposes what the government statistics are intended to do: Get Barack re-elected.”

From start to finish, the editorial was an unwarranted insult to civil servants who work to provide useful statistics to policy makers and the American people, especially those employed by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Of course, it also insulted Obama, but there is nothing particularly noteworthy about the Times doing that.

I worked with civil service statisticians for many years.  It is hard to envision any group of people more dedicated to getting things right.  They are especially diligent about trying to develop controls to minimize or eliminate bias from any source. 

Even if President Obama was unethical enough to try to influence the work of the Census and Labor Statistics people, he certainly is not dumb enough to try.  Any high-level politician attempting to “cook the books” in this arena would touch off a storm of protest he or she could not survive. 

The National Unemployment Rate, a product of the Current Population Survey, is derived from statistics collected by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  It is based on a sophisticated, carefully designed sampling of households throughout the U.S.  It does not count every unemployed or employed person.  Thus, it is inappropriate to claim the rate is either right or wrong.  The questions should be: “Does the rate reasonably portray the situation in the nation? Is it comparable to rates for previous months and previous years, and thus useful in showing trends?

No indicator based on sampling is perfect.  Government employees have been calculating unemployment rates since the 1890s.  From time-to-time they have sought to improve the accuracy of the rates by changing sampling methods or adjusting underlying assumptions when there is a consensus that newer assumptions are more valid. Thus, looking at rates for different time periods easily can result in “apples and oranges” comparisons.

For example, it would be folly to try to make a precise comparison between the current 8.5 percent unemployment rate and the 21.7 percent rate in 1934.  For one thing, before 1948 the data included people aged 14 and up; since then only those 16 and older are included.  However, the historical data have some value as long as the survey framework is generally the same. Any reasonable person would conclude that employment conditions were pretty awful in 1934. Exactly how awful compared to today’s conditions we cannot tell.

Reasonable people also could see that conditions were very good in 1952 when the rate was 3 percent.  Certainly those of us who lived back then know times were much better than they are now.  Again, however, the two rates are not strictly comparable.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics made a major reform in the calculation system in 1994.  There have been minor adjustments since, but no big change. Matching our present 8.5 rate with the 4.6 percent calculated for 2006 before the Great Recession started thus is very close to an “apples to apples” comparison.

The Times editorial writer casts aside the work of civil service statisticians and analysts over many years and cites statistics from an obscure web site claiming the “true” unemployment rate currently is 11.4 percent.  Oh?  There is no such thing as a statistically derived “true” unemployment rate for the United States.    

Saying any numerical value is better than the one the government provides is irrelevant when considering the important reasons an indicator was developed in the first place.   We should be interested in a rate that gives a decent portrayal of the unemployment situation and is the best available indicator of trends.  The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics give us useful numbers. The Washington Times does not.

The Geezer has deep sympathy for anyone struggling to find satisfactory employment and strongly supports efforts by both business and government to create new jobs. An 8.5 unemployment rate is not good any way you look at it. But directly or indirectly bashing those who work diligently to bring us the best rate data they can assemble does no one a service.

Friday, January 13, 2012

They Pack 'Em In

Perhaps still basking in the glory of last years' Super Bowl title, the Green Bay Packers seem to be moving slightly upscale.  While preparing for Sunday’s playoff game, management announced that volunteers who show up with their shovels to clear the snow away from seating areas will be paid $10 per hour rather than the customary $8.

Not Plush
Lambeau Field is a very nice stadium, but in some cases tradition continues to trump luxury.  The team spent several hundred million dollars on improvements in 1998.  Knowing that, one of my golfing buddies, a Raiders fan, was amazed to learn that most of the Packers faithful are assigned bleacher-type plank seats.  Only relatively small areas of the stadium are equipped with comfortable individual seats with arm rests and backs, such as those found throughout most big-time sports venues.

My friend observed that it might get pretty crowded at Lambeau when the weather dictated wearing heavy coats over multi-layers of clothing.  “What happens if they all sit down at once?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “They never have.”

When I attended the first game at Lambeau Field in 1957, the uncomfortable seats didn't matter to me.  I went solo.  Because of the unused ticket for the seat next to me, I had plenty of room.

For the second game I attended, I had a date with a pretty little Dutch gal.  That was nothing unusual.  At the time, the biggest section in the Green Bay phone book started with V.  The bench seating was just great for snuggling up in the cold weather.  It didn't help, though.  She ditched me a week or so later for a local baseball star.

You can be sure of one thing on Sunday.  Every seat in Lambeau Field, in a luxury box or on a plank, will be filled.  They always are.
No, it's not me. Just a typical geezer warming up for the playoffs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Fearless Forecast

The Geezer is getting a bit tired of reading and hearing about election politics, and the silly season has barely worked up a head of steam.  It seems everybody with a keyboard, mouth, or touch pad has issued some sort of forecast.  So, here is mine:

I think Mitt Romney’s solid win (39.4 percent in a large field) in yesterday’s New Hampshire primary ensured he will be the Republican nominee for president.

Ron Paul finished second in New Hampshire with 22.8 percent.  No one else came close. I think Paul’s supporters, a strange mix of libertarians, young Republicans, and independents who learn rightward, eventually will decide to push Paul’s views by convincing him to set up a new third party, or run as a Libertarian.

I think Paul’s third party candidacy will siphon off enough votes to do Romney in this November in a close election, just as Ralph Nader’s candidacy did Al Gore in not long ago. Thus, Barack Obama will win reelection in 2012.  

I think the Democrats will gain a majority in the Senate, but they will not take enough seats for a House majority. We will be in for another four years of frustrating stalemate in Washington.  

Stop by at the end of November, and we will review this set of opinions to see if the Geezer’s views have become reality.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In Grateful Memory

Tech. Sgt. Matthew Schwartz (U.S. Air Force), 34, Traverse City, Michigan. Killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, January 5, 2012.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Another Merry Birthday

This topic is revisited annually.  Why?  Well, it happens every year, and as long as it keeps happening all is well with the Geezer.

New Years Day is my birthday. “Ah,” say many of those who first learn of this, “your parents were lucky.”

Those who make this type of observation usually envision front-page news stories and tons of presents showered by various businesses seeking some free advertising on the mother and father of the first child born every year.  Even medical folks get into the act.  Parents of the first child born at one of the major area hospitals this year got extra diapers and gift cards good at a local restaurant and movie theater from the hospital staff.

Note the hairline resemblance
It didn’t work that way for my parents.  I didn’t appear until about 7 p.m. on Jan. 1. A half-dozen babies were born earlier on New Years Day that year in my hometown.  The prizes and gifts were long gone when I arrived. 

Sympathizers then sometimes remark that at least my coming gave old Dad another income tax exemption. That didn’t work, either. At the time, toward the end of the Great Depression, Dad didn’t earn enough to have any income tax liability.

The timing of my birth was not only financially disappointing; it ended a family tradition that might have provided the Klade clan some measure of fame.  My father, Fred J. Klade, was born on Christmas Day, 1891, in Wausau, WI.  His father, Fred C. Klade, was born on Christmas Day, 1855, in Germany. We don’t know the birth date of my great-grandfather or previous male ancestors.  Had I appeared as “scheduled,” it would definitely have been three Christmas boys in a row, with a slim possibility of four or more.  My mother said I was too stubborn to conform to the family pattern.

In tough times, a holiday season birthday can be a distinct disadvantage.  A good number of my father’s Christmas presents were labeled “Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.” The gift givers cut their costs in half, but Dad’s gift-receiving pleasure suffered equally, although he never complained.  In better economic times, there apparently is no problem.  I have yet to receive a single gift or card in honor of both Christmas and my birthday.

The lasting advantage of my “1/1” birth date is that friends find it very easy to remember, and good things happen because they do. This year was no exception. Once again, my birthday celebration started with congratulations via e-mail from Jake Jirschele, a high school pal I haven’t seen for some 50 years.  After many years of mystery as to how Jake knew my birth date, he admitted remembering it from a conversation in a bar in 1955! (see the Jan. 6, 2011 post, “The Consistent Mystery Every New Years Day,” in the archives).

Shortly after reading Jake’s annual message, the Geezer was treated to a telephone call that began with a “Happy Birthday to you” song accompanied by some giggles and chuckles.  The song leader was Jim Shea, another chum from long ago who I haven’t seen for many years.  He recalled visiting our house on Christmases past to partake of some “shaum tort,” a special dessert whipped up (literally) by my Mom in honor of Dad’s birthday.  Jim remembered both of the notable Klade birthdays, and quite a few other events from years gone by.  His call was among the many things that made my 2012 birthday something special.

I also finally cashed in with a special first-day gift from a business.  Denny’s restaurants e-mailed a coupon good for a free birthday breakfast. Nothing pleases me more than an occasional escape from healthy fare in favor or a good old American breakfast featuring lots of fried, high-calorie stuff.  Denny’s does that sort of meal well. 

Soon after beautiful wife Sandy and I settled into a booth at Denny’s a gray haired couple somewhat older than me (and that’s pretty old!) sat down in an adjacent booth.  The man exchanged a hearty “Happy New Year” greeting with the waitress.  The two chatted pleasantly throughout their meal.  I noticed the waitress bringing a plate of pancakes to their table.

As I was checking out, the elderly couple stood close to me waiting their turn. They were all smiles and exchanged pleasantries with everybody in the area.  Sandy waited nearby while I made a restroom stop after I settled our bill.  The couple had gone when I returned.  “I heard what their bill was,” Sandy said when we were in our car.  “They paid $4.24 for two breakfasts. The cashier confirmed the statement with the man. I heard the old gent say he had two pancakes, and the lady had one. They had nothing else but water.”

We’re guessing of course, but we both got the impression that the elderly couple was starting their new year treating each other to a restaurant meal they could barely afford.  They did it with dignity and good cheer.  Just seeing them made our morning more pleasant. They reminded us that material wealth is not necessary to create a celebration

May 2012 will be a happy year for you, full of the little pleasures that really matter.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Recent Results

Green Bay Packers junior varsity 45, Detroit Lions 41. (Aw shucks, I just couldn't resist)