Monday, September 15, 2014

Slipping the Stiletto In: AP History

J.L. Bell who blogs at Boston 1775 has recently raised his head from his researches into Boston Revolutionary history to note the Republican's recent attack on revised Advanced Placement history standards.  His approach in past posts impresses me as fair and balanced.  Today he tackles a response to his criticism. Apparently there's some profit in writing guides on how to game the tests: don't worry about understanding history, just focus on the areas most often the subject of questions. Understandably changing the standards could require the guides to be revised, and if the standards make people think, rather than memorize, the guides might be less useful.

Anyhow, read the post, and I particularly savor the last paragraph and the last sentence as evidence that good manners and reasoned debate don't have to exclude the lethal thrust:
Krieger’s economic interest in seeing the A.P. U.S. History test stay the same for another few years is apparent, but that’s not necessarily what motivates his animus toward the new guidelines. Similarly, all evidence suggests that Thomas Hutchinson would have supported enforcing the Tea Act of 1773 even if he didn’t have thousands of pounds invested in his sons’ tea-importing business, and that George Washington would have supported U.S. expansion to the west even if he didn’t own vast tracts of land in those territories. Still, the conflation of public good and personal economic interests never looks good.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

General Ross, the Irish, the Star Spangled Banner, and Memory

A relative forwarded this link to me--Irish Ulster schoolkids with a US flag at the General Ross memorial in Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, set to the music of the Star Spangled Banner.

Some points:
  • who was Ross?  -- the British general who commanded the forces which won the Battle of Bladensburg, leading to the burning of public buildings in DC in late summer 1814. He was killed by a sniper during the attack on Fort McHenry, hence the connection to the Star Spangled Banner/flag.
  • the comments on the video show that some in Ulster/Ireland have a long long memory and bear grudges--Ross was from the landowning class.
  • from the video, I guess that drones have now a place in public ceremonies.
  • the 200th anniversary of the writing of the song has gotten Francis Scott Key a good bit of notice, but little comment on his ownership of some slaves, his freeing of some, his prosecution of cases against and for slaves as an attorney in DC and sometime district attorney for the district.  Does this mean Americans, unlike the Irish, have a shorter memory or don't like to dwell on the gloomy and complicated?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Land Rights and Water Rights

From time to time I've griped about our federal system, which makes it difficult for us all-wise bureaucrats to make things go systematically and wastes loads of taxpayer money.

Here's another example, which I never knew until today.  While the US government holds title to all the land in the country which has not been deeded to individuals, corporations, etc., it doesn't own the water in the West.  According to this article, because water was so critical, the settlers saw to it that the territorial and then state governments established systems of water rights.  So while the government owns a lot of rangeland, which it leases, it doesn't own the water rights.  And a judge has decided that if a rancher has his cows within a half-mile of his water, he has a right to graze the land, regardless of whether BLM has given him a lease or not.  See the story at the link for details.

Seems completely crazy to me, but then I'm not only an Easterner but a retired bureaucrat.

The Growth of Trust: How We Sign

Once upon a time in a faraway land the process of authenticating a document was labor intensive.  Those who generated documents were few, and communication slow, so a document which arrived at your doorstep had to be examined with due suspicion:  was it signed in the proper format, was it sealed with a seal which bore the imprint of a signet ring, or for monarchs perhaps the great seal.  All of this reflected a prudent lack of trust; people were loosely connected and individual transactions were rare but very important so fraud was tempting.

Even 55 years ago, a rite of passage was determining what my legal signature would be: William David Harshaw, William D., W. D., W. David, or Bill.  And I took a little care in practicing the signature, before beginning to sign checks and college applications and such.  Early on I was proud of my signature and theoretically the bank could examine the signatures on my checks to determine whether or not they were forged.

But today you watch people at the checkout counter using a credit card in the card machine--they stick in the numbers or slide the card, then scribble a signature, very often in my observation just a squiggle which is almost a straight line.  Even when you go to the bank these days, signing some bank documents, you use the same technology.  From my limited experience it's impossible to use the technology to sign legibly.  I'm sure the variations in signatures from one time to the next are much greater than when signing with pen on paper, so the likelihood of an expert being able to authenticate such a signature is much lower than in the past.  But that's okay, because we do so many transactions which don't really matter much.  The effect on society is to make us less suspicious and more trusting.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Implementing Laws--The Case of APH

Previously I noted that RMA is not able to implement a provision of the farm bill, allowing bad years to be excluded from the calculation of APH.  The UofIL has a post discussing the pros and cons and tradeoffs of the provision.  As is often the case, something which sounds simple isn't really when the poor bureaucrat has to translate the legislative language into regulations and computer algorithms.  Notably, if the producer excludes a yield, she has to pay a higher premium reflecting the increase risk. Pardon my cynicism, but I suspect that provision wasn't highlighted when Congress was considering the provision.

The good professors come up with 12 questions which should be answered.  (A sidenote: there is a recent book which argues that the "administrative state" is unconstitutional.  Haven't read it, but if I follow the argument, Congress should have written answers to those questions into the farm bill.  IMHO that's totally impractical--Congress barely has the capacity to write the basic provision and definitely doesn't have the capacity to answer most of these questions.)

They conclude with this:
The 2014 Farm Bill appears to make a substantial change to the crop insurance program through an amendment that permits farmers to elect to exclude yields from their APH if they are in a county (or contiguous to a county) where the county's average yield is below 50 percent of the average county yields for the previous 10 consecutive crop years. The provision raises many questions about how it will operate and what impact it will have on producers who elect to drop a yield. It also raises questions about the impact this change could have on producers in the county where such an election can occur and for the actuarial soundness of the crop insurance system as a whole. These are not insignificant questions considering how many producers rely on crop insurance as the cornerstone of the farm safety net. At the very least, FCIC must adjust the premiums paid by producers making this election to reflect the increased risks associated with the change, but many other questions remain.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

WaPost on Small and Large Farms

Compared to her peers, Ms Haspel does pretty well in considering the pros and cons of small and large farms in this piece in the Post today.

Another Washington Deadlock: 6 Years of Policy Riders

From Farm Policy, quoting Chris Clayton at DTN:
"The House funding bill for USDA blocks the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from finalizing livestock and poultry marketing rules stemming from the 2008 farm bill. As the senators wrote, ‘The legislative rider is attempting to thwart rules that, in part, allow farmers to request documents showing them how their pay is calculated, ensures that they are given adequate notice of a halt in animal deliveries, and ensure they can exercise their right to speak with their congressional representatives without fear of retaliation.’
“These provisions have been the subject of policy riders ever since GIPSA began trying to implement them. The 2014 farm bill did not change the provisions in the law. Yet, the policy riders continue to get slapped onto the appropriation bills for USDA, blocking GIPSA from implementing those rules.”
13 senators wrote a letter asking that the riders be dropped. Of course they won't be. It's not a partisan deadlock, it's a deadlock between senators representing different interests: farmers versus meat processors (assuming I understand the issues correctly).

(Interesting that Sens. Gillibrand, Harkins, and Grassley don't have the letter posted on their home pages yet.)

Monday, September 01, 2014

And What's Your Definition of Catastrophic?

This isn't, according to scientists studying the possible effects of an eruption from Yellowstone:
"While a supereruption hasn't occurred at Yellowstone since 640,000 years ago, in the event that one happens again in the next few centuries, sleep soundly knowing that the effects would not be catastrophic. The worst you can expect is reduced traction on roads, shorted-out electrical transformers and respiratory problems, as well as damage to buildings, blocked sewer and water lines, and disruption of livestock and crop production.

3 feet of ash within 300 miles of Yellowstone, only an inch in NYC.

Friday, August 29, 2014

How Agriculture Has Changed

Once upon a time, back when AAA was young, I understand the pattern was for the Administrator to come from one section of the country and the Associate Administrator from another: usually the pattern was for one section to be the midwest (corn) and the other the south (cotton/tobacco).

That pattern has now changed: the new FSA administrator is from  California.  Don't know the numbers but there have been several from that state recently.  That suggests the rise of Californian agriculture and the diminishing importance of the farm programs for the major field crops in FSA's portfolio.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's Up--ACRSI

I've seen a recent jump in page views on the blog.  A popular page is the one I did in 2011 on the Federal Register request for comments on the Acreage Crop Reporting and Streamlining Initiative (being able to share data between RMA and FSA). I hadn't noticed much activity since, at least not enough to get me motivated to blog about it again, but my curiosity is aroused so I googled.

Two points--the 2014 farm bill requires ACRSI be implemented and this FarmForum article of a month ago.  I quote from Farmforum:
For example [of private enterprise coming up with advanced systems faster than FSA], MyAgData is already being used by Authorized Insurance Providers (AIPs) this crop year for acreage and production reporting in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota. But test programs in Illinois and Indiana at local Farm Service Agency offices this year didn’t quite work as efficiently as one might hope. The data was collected and matched to the common land units required for USDA acreage and production reports, but then was printed and had to be hand-entered at the local FSA office.
My heart bleeds (very easily--I'm a bleeding heart liberal) for those bureaucrats who've had to work on this effort--it's amazing how long it's taken to get action, though I see Congress has gotten USDA's attention by attaching money--FSA gets $10 million additional if they can show progress by Sept. 30.