Thursday, April 16, 2015

Actively Engaged

The Coalition for Rural America comments on the proposed "actively engaged" rule:
However, the rule also takes two steps backward. The biggest failure of the proposed rule is that it only applies the new “actively engaged in farming” definition to farms structured of non-family members, leaving the loopholes wide open for farms structured solely of family members. We believe the rules should apply across the board regardless if the farm is structured of family members or non-family members.

The first sentence is rhetorical nonsense:  since in their reading the proposal makes no change for family members, it's neither an advance or a retrogression.  However, I hadn't picked up on that point--if I get ambitious I may look at it.

[Updated: yes, existing regs require "significant contribution" (roughly 50 percent and/or 1000 hours of labor) by lineal ancestor or descendant. I know I don't have the ambition to figure out how much tighter the proposed rules are on non-family members than the existing rules are on family members.]

What Ticks Me Off--Taxes

What really gets me is all the politicians, particularly Republicans but Democrats too, who pontificate about the need for a simpler tax system.  When they're given a good idea which would ease the paperwork burden, be optional for the taxpayer, and save money, they allow the lobbying of special interests (i.e., Intuit) to kill the proposal.  See today's NYTimes--Mr. Manjoo picks up an idea has pushed for some time now (having IRS set up taxpayer accounts with the 1099/W2 data preloaded).

And don't get me started on the idea of cutting the appropriations for IRS. Don't go there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Sign of the Future: Female Majority in Government SES?

I think this is a portent of the future:
"The Health and Human Services Department is the only major Cabinet-level agency that boasts more female than male senior executives, according to the latest numbers from the Office of Personnel Management.
Of the 420 total senior executives at HHS as of September 2014, women made up 53 percent of the corps, compared to 47 percent who were men. That’s 223 senior executive women compared to 197 senior executive men, based on OPM’s Fedscope data compiled by CEB, a member-based advisory company. The bulk of the Senior Executive Service’s members are career employees – a whopping 90 percent.
Women have shown they'll work for less than men, on average, and members of the Senior Executive Service earn less than people in private, for-profit enterprise.  The "service" ethos, such as it is, of non-profit organizations and the government is also likely to appeal more strongly to women than men.  Thus I'd predict HHS is the first (article doesn't say that but I imagine it's true) but not the last department to see women become dominant at higher levels.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What Happened to Piracy?

Idly looking at Blogger stats, I see one of the most popular posts was one from 2008 suggesting a convoy system to deal with piracy.  Seven years later piracy seems to be a non-issue, at least in terms of media discussions. (The wikipedia article has a paragraph headed "Collapse of Piracy in 2013".  I wonder what happened--Tom Hanks made a movie, Captain Phillips, and that scared all the pirates into law-abiding citizens.  Or Somalia gradually got more orderly?  Or something else? (The wikipedia article suggests a mixture of measures, including effective government.)

Farming the (Hydro)ponic

“I went to conventional lenders and I was turned down by all of them,” said Villari, who had little farming experience outside of helping her father raise livestock. “Then I turned to the Farm Service Agency (FSA). They took a chance on me when no one else would. They not only made the loan process easy, they also provided me with a lot of support and information once the loan was closed.”
Villari received U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) FSA farm ownership and operating loans to help get Fresh Water Greens off of the ground. FSA financing provided the assistance needed to build a facility and begin production. It was the first hydroponic operation funded by New Jersey FSA.

From the USDA blog 

Is this "mission creep" in programs or adapting to new realities?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Caro and Moses

Via Marginal Revolution, Robert Moses response to Caro's The Power Broker.

It's a long response, in which the author paints a picture of himself.  The defense is basically the defense of any bureaucrat/government official: I did my best in the circumstances and criticism is second-guessing and Monday morning quarterbacking.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Local Food Is Not Organic,Necessarily

The New York Times had an article the other day on a "vertical farming" project in Newark, NJ.  An excerpt:
Unlike urban vegetable gardens of the past that took advantage of empty lots or evolved in rooftop greenhouses, AeroFarms employs so-called aeroponics and stacks its produce vertically, meaning plants are arrayed not in long rows but upward. Because the farming is completely indoors, it relies on LED bulbs, with crops growing in cloth and fed with a nutrient mist.
 I've been critical of some vertical farming concepts, particularly the ones which rely on sunshine and ignore shade, or use fluorescent lights.  LED's are more efficient than fluorescents so it's possible that such setups are energy-efficient when you add in the energy savings on transporting produce to market.

Meanwhile Sec. Vilsack is pushing local food:
Local food gives consumers a chance to know the farmers producing their food, to access fresher food and an opportunity to keep food dollars in the local economy, he said. In short, “local and regional food systems create a better connection between people who produce and people who eat.”
 But the organic types have reservations:
A definition for local would help organic farmers make the case for why their often more expensive produce is worth the cost, argues Laura Batcha, director of the Organic Trade Association.
“There is definitely an issue with the public differentiating between local and organic,” Batcha said. “In many cases, both things happen together … but the public, I think, assumes that local is organic.”

Friday, April 10, 2015

Illinois on "Actively Engaged" Proposals

Illinois Ext. has posted an analysis of FSA's proposed rule on "actively engaged" in farming.

After summarizing the background and some of the egregious cases in the past, their own analysis includess:

"By limiting the use of farm managers to multiply payments, the proposed changes appear to address many of the concerns with the current rules. A few notable issues remain and are briefly discussed here for the reader's consideration. As an initial matter, the differential treatment of entity types when it comes to payments is not addressed here because it is provided for in the statute and may need Congressional action to change it. [by definition--my comment] The proposed changes create differential treatment for farm managers without much explanation or justification. USDA could provide more clarity on how the changes apply to the first farm manager. USDA may also want to explain or justify exempting the first farm manager from the new definitions applied only to the additional managers.
A similar issue arises with the recordkeeping requirement. Again, the proposed rule provides different treatment for the first farm manager than for additional managers. In addition to reconsidering treating all farm managers the same, USDA might also want to consider whether this recordkeeping should also come with a reporting requirement. The long-standing concerns about this issue would seem to counsel verification of compliance with the regulation."


As a bureaucrat I like forms, mostly.  Not this application to the KKK though.

The nicely printed form shows that the organization was big and/or had a good bureaucrat involved at the higher levels. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

GE Security Systems Violates Law

I really shouldn't use my blog this way, but I'm grumpy.  Got a recorded solicitation which claimed to be from "GE Security" (apparently an old General Electric division which got sold off from GE) offering a deal on security systems because of criminal activity in my area.

First, I'm not aware of any uptick in Reston crime.

Second, we're on the FCC's Do Not Call list, and it's a violation to call the number.