Huntsman 2016!

I've long believed that Jon Huntsman is running to position himself for 2016, not because he thinks he has any chance of winning this year. James Fallows says there's now proof positive of this. Here's what Huntsman tweeted yesterday after Rick Perry said global warming was a hoax and evolution was just a theory:

Fallows comments:

Good to see this "what the hell, I might as well keep my dignity" spirit taking hold on Team Huntsman! I hope it will still prevail the next time he's asked to raise his hand, along with everyone else in the race, and promise to reject a budget deal skewed 10-to-1 in favor of spending cuts rather than revenue increases. He could be the one who stands alone and says:

"I believe in a balanced approach, just like Ronald Reagan did. Call me crazy."

Maybe "Call me crazy" will become Huntsman's new campaign slogan.

The atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

There has long been a scholarly debate about whether it was necessary for the United States to use atomic weapons to bring World War II to an end. Traditionalists say yes: If not for Fat Man and Little Boy, Japan would have fought to the last man. But revisionists argue that by August of 1945: (a) Japan's situation was catastrophically hopeless; (b) they knew it and were ready to surrender; and (c) thanks to decoded Japanese diplomatic messages, Harry Truman and other American leaders knew they were ready. A Japanese surrender could have been negotiated in fairly short order with or without the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For various reasons I've always found the revisionist view unsatisfactory. After all, even after the Hiroshima bomb was dropped, we know there was still considerable debate within the Japanese war cabinet over their next step. Surely if Japan had already been close to unconditional surrender in early August—and for better or worse, unconditional surrender was an American requirement—the atomic demonstration of August 6 would have been more than enough to tip them over the edge. But it didn't. It was only after the second bomb was dropped that Japan ultimately agreed to surrender.

But although the revisionist view has never persuaded me, a new revisionist view has been swirling around the academic community for several years—and this one seems much more interesting. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, a trilingual English/Russian/Japanese historian, reminds us that the actual timeline of Japanese surrender went like this:

August 6: Hiroshima bomb dropped.

August 8: Soviet Union declares war on Japan and invades Manchuria.

August 9: Nagasaki bomb dropped.

August 10: Emperor Hirohito breaks the cabinet deadlock and decides that Japan must surrender.

So what really caused the Japanese to finally give up? Was it America's atomic bombs, or was it the Soviet Union's entrance into the Pacific war? Hasegawa, based on meticulous research into primary sources, argues that it was probably the latter. Gareth Cook summarizes Hasegawa's argument in the Boston Globe:

According to his close examination of the evidence, Japan was not poised to surrender before Hiroshima, as the revisionists argued, nor was it ready to give in immediately after the atomic bomb, as traditionalists have always seen it.…Americans, then and today, have tended to assume that Japan's leaders were simply blinded by their own fanaticism, forcing a catastrophic showdown for no reason other than their refusal to acknowledge defeat.…But Hasegawa and other historians have shown that Japan's leaders were in fact quite savvy, well aware of their difficult position, and holding out for strategic reasons.

Their concern was not so much whether to end the conflict, but how to end it while holding onto territory, avoiding war crimes trials, and preserving the imperial system. The Japanese could still inflict heavy casualties on any invader, and they hoped to convince the Soviet Union, still neutral in the Asian theater, to mediate a settlement with the Americans. Stalin, they calculated, might negotiate more favorable terms in exchange for territory in Asia. It was a long shot, but it made strategic sense.

On Aug. 6, the American bomber Enola Gay dropped its payload on Hiroshima.…As Hasegawa writes in his book "Racing the Enemy," the Japanese leadership reacted with concern, but not panic.…Very late the next night, however, something happened that did change the plan. The Soviet Union declared war and launched a broad surprise attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria. In that instant, Japan's strategy was ruined. Stalin would not be extracting concessions from the Americans. And the approaching Red Army brought new concerns: The military position was more dire, and it was hard to imagine occupying communists allowing Japan's traditional imperial system to continue. Better to surrender to Washington than to Moscow.

In some sense, the real answer here is probably unknowable. Two events happened at nearly the same time, and they were closely followed by a third. Figuring out conclusively what caused what may simply not be possible. Probably they both played a role. Still, aside from the documentary evidence that Hasegawa amasses, his theory accounts for other aspects of the war. Like the dog that didn't bark in the night, Japan didn't give up after the fire bombing of Tokyo. Nor did Germany surrender after the fire bombing of Dresden. And although it's undeniably true that atomic bombs are a more dramatic way of destroying a city than conventional weaponry, it's also undeniably true that simply destroying a city was never enough to produce a surrender. So why would destroying a city with an atomic bomb be that much different?

This is fascinating stuff. At the same time, I think that Cook takes a step too far when he suggests that Hasegawa's research, if true, should fundamentally change our view of atomic weapons. "If the atomic bomb alone could not compel the Japanese to submit," he writes, "then perhaps the nuclear deterrent is not as strong as it seems." But that hardly follows. America in 1945 had an air force capable of leveling cities with conventional weaponry. We still do—though barely—but no other country in the world comes close. With an atomic bomb and a delivery vehicle, North Korea can threaten to destroy Seoul. Without it, they can't. And larger atomic states, like the US, India, Pakistan, and Russia, have the capacity to do more than just level a city or two. They can level entire countries.

So, no: Hasegawa's research is fascinating for what it tells us about a key event in history. But should it change our view of atomic weaponry or atomic deterrence? I doubt it. It's not 1945 anymore.

Watching the world slide slowly back into recession without a fight, even though we know perfectly well how to prevent it, is just depressing beyond words. Our descendents will view the grasping politicians and cowardly bankers responsible for this about as uncomprehendingly as we now view the world leaders who cavalierly allowed World War I to unfold even though they could have stopped it at any time.

That is all. I just wanted to get this off my chest yet again.

In Texas, the Democratic Party is so weak that the only election that really matters is the Republican primary. But:

In the 2002, 2006, and 2010 votes in which [Rick] Perry was elected governor, only around 4 percent of the voting-age population turned out for the Republican primary.

That's....stupefying. But basically right, according to the Texas Secretary of State. In the 2000 Republican primary runoff (Perry's first gubernatorial race), 1.55% of the eligible population voted. In the 2002 primary, it was 4.01%. In the 2006 primary it was 3.94%. In the 2010 primary, turnout skyrocketed to 8.0%.

How unusual is this? I'm not sure, but I went ahead and looked up the primary turnout numbers for my state, California. We turn out about 24% of the eligible population in our gubernatorial primary elections, which are held on the same schedule as Texas. That's for both parties, so figure that's about 14% for the dominant party (Democrats, in our case), more than 3x the typical Texas turnout for their dominant party.

I don't really know what to make of this. At first I thought maybe it was because Perry was an incumbent for most of those elections, so the primary just didn't generate much excitement. But the turnout in 2000 was only 1.55%, and the turnout in the 1994 primary, when George Bush first ran, was 1.54%. Or maybe it's ballot initiatives that make the difference: we had lots of 'em and Texas didn't in those elections. But whatever the reason, Texas Republicans just don't vote much in their primaries.

Kinda weird. Harvey Tucker, professor of political science at Texas A&M, explains:

In Texas, the “people who vote in primary elections are unusual people,” Tucker stressed to me. “They are more extreme, further to the right.” In other words, Perry was able to repeatedly vault himself to the governorship largely not because he was a persuasive campaigner, but because he catered to the extreme views of a minority of die-hard conservatives.

Well, primary voters everywhere tend to be more extreme than the general population. But Texas does everything bigger, and I guess they do that bigger too. I wonder if Perry will figure that out in time?

Patrick Cahalan comments on NPR's list of the Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books:

The top twenty is not bad, slightly adjusted.....[Some adjustments duly made, opening up a few spots]....Both Jules Verne and H.G. deserve to be much higher than they’re ranked on this list, I’d probably push both The Time Machine and 20,000 into these spots.

For the record, these two are ranked 36th and 37th on NPR's list (which was the result of a listener poll). By coincidence, I read The Time Machine for the first time just a few weeks ago. So here's my question: does a book like this deserve to make a Top X list simply by virtue of being historically important? Because come on folks: unlike, say, Hamlet or Crime and Punishment, this is not a book that ages well. By contemporary standards it's sort of a toy piece of SF. It wouldn't make it off an editor's slush pile if it came in over the transom.

(On the other hand, it's short and the writing is perfectly sprightly. It's well worth reading solely for its historical importance. Still, that doesn't make it a great book.)

Anyway, as you can guess, this post isn't really here to piss off lovers of The Time Machine. That's just a bonus. Mostly it's an excuse to link to the list so everyone can argue about it. So then, a few comments. I was a little surprised that Lord of the Rings made the #1 spot but The Hobbit couldn't even break into the top 100. And Ender's Game at #3? Yeesh. I'm not a hater — I enjoyed the book a lot — but it just isn't top ten material.

What else? There's no Frederik Pohl on the list. That's a serious omission. Nor any Bester or Delany. No David Brin either, which is a little less surprising, but still doesn't seem quite right. And unless I missed something, there are precisely two novels on the list written between 1900 and 1940. That's quite a desert.

From Rick Perry, answering a young boy who asked him how old the earth is:

How old do I think the earth is. You know what, I don't have any idea. I know it's pretty old — so it goes back a long long ways. I'm not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how long ago the earth is.

Your mom is asking about evolution. You know, that's a theory that's out there; it's got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools — because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right.

For the record, the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and the geologic community is really, really sure of that. And Texas doesn't teach creationism in its public schools. I'm not surprised Perry doesn't know the former, but he really ought to know the latter. He is governor of the state, after all.

From the Philadelphia Fed's description of its most recent Business Outlook Survey:

The survey’s broad indicators for activity, shipments, and new orders all declined sharply from last month. Firms indicated that employment and average work hours are lower this month....The survey’s broadest measure of manufacturing conditions, the diffusion index of current activity, decreased from a slightly positive reading of 3.2 in July to -30.7 in August. The index is now at its lowest level since March 2009.

Via Karl Smith, who comments: "There is just no good way to look at this." We're nearly in the same territory we were in during the worst part of the Great Recession.

Is the media correct to mostly ignore Ron Paul? I say yes, and Will Wilkinson notes that several other folks agree:

They speak with one voice: Mr Paul is a marginal candidate with a proven base of highly-motivated supporters who turn out in droves for mock-electoral trifles, but he lacks the the broader base of support necessary to qualify as a contender worth covering.

Though I think there's something to this line of thought, I also think there's something insidiously circular about it. Perhaps the best way to grasp this complaint is to compare Mr Paul's coverage to Ms Bachmann's. Both serve in the House of Representatives, though Mr Paul's record of service is decades longer. Both are significant figures within the populist tea-party movement. Real Clear Politics's average of recent national polls puts Ms Bachmann and Mr Paul at 9.6% and 8.8% of the Republican vote, respectively. Of course, poll results aren't independent of press coverage. Ms Bachmann, for reasons known only to the gods, has been lavished with media attention, even before dipping a toe in the presidential water. Yet she remains at least as unviable a candidate as Mr Paul is said to be.

But Will — along with Jon Stewart and all the others who think the media is being unfair toward Ron Paul — is missing the single biggest difference between Paul and Bachmann: Paul has already run before. We don't have to guess about Ron Paul's appeal: we know exactly what it is, where it comes from, and how big it is. What's more, we also know whether it's changed since 2008, and unless I'm missing something, it hasn't. At all. He's basically got the same group of fervent followers he's always had, and nothing more.

It's not unusual for someone who ran and came close to run again (cf. Ronald Reagan, John McCain, Mitt Romney). But if you run a very distant fourth, winning no states and collecting 1.6% of the delegates, you really need to have a compelling story if you decide to run again. Ron Paul doesn't, and everyone knows it. Like it or not, he's a novelty candidate and he's had his 15 minutes. It's time to move on.

In my summary post yesterday about Texas job growth, I mentioned that one big factor in Texas's relative economic success during the recession was its strictly regulated housing market. Texas has long had strong mortgage regulations, and these regulations restricted the growth of both home mortgages as well as home equity loans during the go-go years of the aughts. As a result, Texas didn't have much of a housing bubble and Texans, as a whole, didn't go very deeply into debt.

But how big a role did this play? Debt overhang is a big factor in our protracted economic downturn: when overleveraged consumers cut back on spending, this reduces demand for goods and services and gives businesses no reason to expand production. So economic growth stagnates and unemployment stays high. Today, Mike Konczal updates his look at deleveraging across the country, and the chart below quantifies this story of deleveraging and unemployment. Texas didn't have a housing boom thanks to its strict mortgage regulation, its debt overhang has therefore stayed low, and its unemployment rate, far from being exceptional, is right where you'd expect it to be.

This isn't the whole Texas story, but it's a big part of it. The 2008 financial collapse was primarily a story of a housing bubble caused by mortgage lenders run amok, and Texas mostly avoided that. This means it's also avoided the worst of the unemployment crisis. No miracle. Just common sense financial regulation. Mike has more details at the link.

What's ironic about this is that most of the things that have helped Texas during the recession aren't really exportable to the rest of the country. Not every state can be in the Sun Belt, not every state can have lots of open land and low housing prices, not every state can have a thriving energy sector, and a regulatory race to the bottom doesn't do the country as a whole any good. But one thing that is exportable is tighter government regulation of the mortgage market. It works! Even though Texas is a fast-growing, warm-weather state, it avoided most of the housing madness. But that's the one thing you'll probably never hear from Rick Perry. Too bad.

Hating on the EPA

I've been watching over the past few months as the EPA has slowly but surely turned into one of this year's major right-wing demons, culminating in Michele Bachmann's suggestion that we should get rid of the entire agency, lock stock and barrel. But environmental protection has always polled pretty well in the abstract, which leads Steve Benen to say:

The very existence of the EPA has never been a partisan issue until now — Nixon created the agency four decades ago — and my fear is Republican activists will loathe the office simply because their national candidates tell them to.

I'm pretty sure this is wrong. Sure, Bachmann is (surprise!) more extreme than most, but the EPA has been #1 with a bullet on the corporate hate hit parade for a very long time. Also #1 (or close) on the list of agencies loathed by farmers and ranchers and other rugged individualists who vote Republican.1 And it's not hard to understand why: the EPA really does issue lots of regulations that really do prevent corporations and landowners from doing whatever they want with their land. And even if most of those regulations are pretty defensible, in a country our size there are always bound to be plenty of example of rules that are hard to understand, affect lots of people they weren't really aimed at in the first place, and seem to cause way more frustration than they're worth. That makes EPA a pretty inviting target.

If we lived in a different universe, I think my response to this would be: Yes, we should take a broad look at EPA rules, figure out where the barnacles are, and try to streamline them in ways that make sense. Unfortunately, in the real world we live in, this wouldn't prompt any kind of similarly moderate response from Republicans. They're ginning up their base to view EPA as history's worst monster, a bureaucratic octopus that's strangling the life out of our economy, and that's that. They have no interest in some kind of serious policy discussion of environmental rules, and any attempt to engage on that level merely gives them an opening for further demagoguery.

What to do about this? I don't know. For now, though, it unfortunately means just fighting back and not worrying about nuance. What other options are there?

1OK, fine. Maybe corporations actually hate OSHA more than EPA. And maybe farmers hate the Interior Dept. more. But EPA is pretty close to the top any way you cut it.