Saturday, September 21, 2019

Cowen on People

I follow the Marginal Revolution blog.  Sometimes, as here in Cowen's musing on Epstein, I read things which strike me:
I am now, at the margin, more inclined to the view that what keeps many people on good behavior is simply inertia. They are oddly passive in their core inclinations, but will behave badly if given an easy opportunity. And since many of these people probably are not active independent malefactors on a regular basis, their sense of risk may not be entirely well developed. Thus they themselves may have been fairly naïve in their dealings with Epstein, not quite understanding that their invulnerability in everyday life might not carry over to all situations.

  • For "inertia" I would substitute "habits".  I'm habit-bound, and I suspect most people are (except those suffering from war, displacement, natural disasters, etc.)  
  • "Will behave badly"--Cowen argues that rich men could have become Epsteins easily--they had the money--but didn't out of inertia, succumbing to temptation upon meeting Epstein.
  • "sense of risk"--this might be backwards--people who are not malefactors regularly may have a more highly developed sense of risk (even an exaggerated sense of risk) than do people who engage in risky behavior regularly.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Plum Tomatoes in Sicily

This NYTimes piece  interactive on the net) traces the shipping of tomatoes from Sicily to the UK, outlining how a hard Brexit might screw up the chain.

But what struck was the picture of tomatoes growing in Sicily.  The vines look to be about 12 feet tall, very thick, very very loaded with what look to be plum tomatoes (might be cherry tomatoes but I'm thinking plum).  I've never seen a row of tomato plants like that. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Lack of a Tape and Impeachment

One of the things lost in the current discussion over impeachment of the president is this difference from the Watergate era:  in Watergate, we started with a crime, a clear violation of law, burglars discovered red handed.  From that crystal clear focus the story expanded in multiple directions--before: why were they there, what was their aim, who commissioned them, who would have benefited and after: who paid for their defense, for their silence, who was covering up the facts, who lied.

By comparison in the current situation, as in the case of Clinton, we don't have a crime as clear as burglars caught in the act.  So the narrative starts blurry, and gets blurrier, because there's no foundational fact which no one can dispute.

And what was the fact in Watergate and not in the others: the tape on the door which guard Frank Willis discovered and removed, only to find the lock retaped.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Losing My Memory?

There shouldn't be a question mark on this--I know I'm losing capabilities.  I'm old, getting older, getting worse in most ways, perhaps all ways.  This interesting blog post shows I'm not alone.

What I find most problematic these days is my operating on "autopilot" as my wife and I call it; occasions when my habits are in control, habits established in youth when I was capable of multi-tasking, habits which lead to disasters when I can no longer multi-task. Unfortunately there's no switch I can touch to go from multi-task mode to "concentrate, you damn fool" mode.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

I Told You So--MFP/CCC Financing

The Rural Blog reports moderate House Democrats are willing to fund CCC, meaning it can continue to make MFP payments.

Actually my title is wrong, at least for this blog.  I know I had the thought, but I tweeted it.  Social media is too complicated.


Just finished this book, a 100-page summary of how Geithner, Bernanke, and Paulson (the authors) fought the Great Recession, and what should be done in the future.

Having read the separate books by each of them, nothing in it was particularly new.  And having read Tooze's Crashed, which focuses on the international crisis, I wish they had paid more attention to that area.  But it's a good summary, clear and quickly moving.

It's especially apropos today, because "repos" market seized up yesterday and the NYFed had to put in $53billion.  "repos" is a term familiar from the Great Recession and from Firefighting.  Of course, there's nothing on the top line news today about it. The media and politicians won't pay attention until late, and then we'll discover our politicians have handcuffed the financial institutions.

Monday, September 16, 2019

18 One-Year Wars?

The Washington Post Magazine has an article on Afghanistan by a correspondent who had been there several times.  A quote:
Brian Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth professor of Islamic history who worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan in the summer of 2009, witnessed how the rotation affected operations. He was working with an information operations cell in Kabul when half the team rotated out. “We had personal relations with the gray beards,” Williams said, referring to Afghan elders. “We sort of had a rapport with them. A rhythm. It took a long time to build up that institutional memory for our team. But part of my team switched to Iraq. You’re calibrated to work in one environment, and then they’re deployed to Iraq. All of that institutional knowledge was flushed.” The United States, in short, fell into a pattern of one-year deployments, meaning the war started over every 12 months. America’s longest war turned into 18 one-year wars.
Reading the article, particularly that paragraph, reminded me of how we lost the war in Vietnam, and didn't win in Korea.  The same mistakes, the same NIH bright new ideas and concepts, only to be replaced by the bright new idea of the next bright new big shot commander seeking glory.

(Can you tell I'm bitter.)

I wasn't blogging in Oct 2001, so I have to rely on memory.  I think I was dubious about going into Afghanistan, remembering all the history of that country. But I recognized the feeling in the country so doing something violent was inevitable.  I was surprised by the ease with which the military gained dominance in the country.  Foolishly, like the rest of the country and the Bush administration, I ignored the long term.

At this point I'm somewhat haunted by the memory of the Nixon-Kissinger negotiations over Vietnam and the eventual outcome there.  If the same occurs in Afghanistan, I only hope we're as willing to admit refugees from Afghanistan as we were from Vietnam.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Presidential Choices

Let me trun through Presidential possiblities:

Trump.  No way.
Biden. Too old
Sanders. Too old.
Warren.  Almost too old, almost too radical.
Harris. Okay, a bit blah for me.
Buttigieg  Too young., otherwise good.
Booker.  Suspect orators
Castro. Okay, a bit blah.
O'Rourke.  Charisma without substance?
Klobuchar. Right age, right positioning.
Yang. Too different.

Bullock.  Okay if he had a chance
Bennett.  Okay if he had a chance
Williamson, Too different
Delaney.  Not sure his experience works with Congress.  Okay if he had a chance
Steyer, Too different
Gabbard.  Too different
de Blasio. Don't like his NYC record
Ryan.  Okay if he had a chance
Sestak.  Not enough record.
Williamson.  Too different

So my preferences:
Second choices

My second choices are easily changeable.  I'm impaessed by Warren's life and ability to change, so she gets more of a look than her positions would otherwise rate. Bullock and Bennett could advance to my second choice group if they could get on the map.

[See Wash Post's ranking here]

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Re-upping CCC Money for MFP

Today the Post reports that Representative Lowery is not planning to include replenishing CCC's borrowing authority in the stop-gap continuing resolution   Depending on the timing, that means CCC will run out of money before it completes the full $28 billion in MFP payments.  (It's hard to find the current CCC balance.  The USDA website doesn't show it; you have to dig through the Treasury accounts to get an idea of how much is available of the $30 billion it's authorized by statute. The last time I did that, maybe 6 weeks ago, there seemed to be around $15 billion left.)

This is a followup to the Post story of a couple days ago on the rather unprecedented use of CCC for the MFP.. Unprecedented at least in terms of the size of the payments and also, IMO, in the basis for the use.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Renting Office Space from Members of Congress

I've a vague memory that back in the early 70's there was a flap about Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service county offices leasing office space from members of Congress.

Possibly it was an issue raised by Rep. Findlay of IL, who didn't much like anything that ASCS did, but I won't swear to that.

Anyhow, memory suggests that ASD (Administrative Services Division) issued notices to do a survey of how many instances of this we had and requiring the leases to end.  I don't remember that there was a statutory basis for the prohibition, just a policy one. 

I've done a quick look at the USDA manual on property and didn't find anything.  Apparently FSA has determined not to put their handbooks covering administration on the website so I haven't checked that.

Anyhow, I thought the issue of renting office space is a good parallel with the issue of renting hotel rooms from President Trump.