Friday, May 26, 2017

Canadian Dairy and the Effects of Supply Management

This is an interesting piece by a Canadian dairy farmer, which shows how differently that country manages dairy industry.  Canada uses a supply management system, which sounds similar to the system ASCS managed for our tobacco industry until this century.

To me the bottom line is that supply management can work for a number of years, as it did for Canadian dairy and American tobacco and peanuts, if "work" means maintaining smaller producers. It doesn't work if the priority is innovation and efficiency over the long range.

How To Influence Congress: Townhalls

The Congressional Management Foundation has a helpful post.

An Understatement of the Month?

Keith Hennessey (GWB's former economist) is commenting on the Trump budget and apparent disagreements between OMB Mulvaney and Treasury Mnuchin:

"Two trillion dollars is a lot of money..."

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ukrainian Skippers--Really??

The operation of the human mind (at least my mind) is a puzzle.  I was reading this NYTimes piece this morning, which describes how richer people can hire boats and skippers to smuggle them into Europe:
"The family of six had paid about $96,000 to travel from Afghanistan to Turkey. The last leg of their journey, a cramped week’s sail through the Aegean and Mediterranean seas aboard a cerulean 15-meter yacht, the Polina, piloted by three Ukrainian skippers, cost $7,000 a head. It dropped them in Sicily in relative style."

What struck me was the "Ukrainian" bit, which was the only nationality of skippers described in the article.  I was sure that the Ukraine was this land-locked country, so how in the world would they have people with expertise in navigating smaller boats?  

The short answer is: the Black Sea.  Ukraine is one of six countries with ports on the Black Sea.

I don't know whether I was confusing Ukraine with Belorussia, which is indeed landlocked, or just had a poor mental image of the map of Eastern Europe.

Factoid: did you know you can sail from the North Sea to the Black Sea (Rhine-Danube canal).

Post Readers Are Knee-Jerk Liberals?

Not so, at least on this evidence.  The background: Christine Fair is an activist who was at an exercise club where she saw Robert Spencer also exercising.  She raised a stink and the club banned Spencer. Today she has a post in the Post defending her actions.  When I checked about 1 pm she had drawn more than 450 comments.  When looking at the comment threads sorted by "likes", the top threads (maybe 5 or 6, didn't bother to scroll down through all of them) were all anti-Fair.

Count me in their camp--as long as Spencer was lifting according to the club rules, he should be left alone.  You want to protest his views, which are terrible, fine, but do it at his office or his speeches, etc.  And even his speeches, I'd follow the recent Notre Dame precedent, attend then walk out, or vocally protest for 10 minutes, then allow him to talk. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Is Perdue on Board With Trump Budget?

The answer, it appears, is "no", according to this piece on his testimony today to the House appropriations.

Beer in Chinese Tanks Via Erie Canal

Via Northview Diary, here's a newspaper piece on the travels of Chinese beer tanks.

Apparently the US can no longer fabricate the large fermentation tanks needed for an expansion of a brewery, the Genesee brewery in Rochester.  So they were made in China, shipped through the Panama Canal, up to Albany, then on the Erie Canal (where the Northview blogger took photos) to Rochester.  The tow, carrying 2 tanks, is over 400 feet long. In total there are 12 tanks, which will make a lot of beer. 

Drink Genny.  Be a real man.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Trump Budget for USDA

Tim Mandell at the Rural Blog copies the gist of Chris Clayton's early analysis of the Trump budget--big cuts, including  payment limitations on crop insurance and farm programs.  USDA takes a 20.5 percent cut in discretionary, the biggest of any agency except State.

Dead on arrival and already starting to smell.

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Always More Complicated

That's my rule in approaching generations about humans--society or history, at least it's the rule I try to remember.

Lyman Stone has a post here in which he challenges and complicates the story of immigrant groups outearning whites, which Mark Perry of American Enterprise Institute has pushed based on census data.

You need to read it all, if you're at all interested in the subject, but a quick and possibly flawed summary has two points:
  1. "ancestry" and "race" are separate categories and shouldn't be used in the same comparison because of the way the data are collected. 
  2. for many ancestry groups the comparison being made is flawed because it's based on "household income" and there's wide variation in the size of households among the different groups.
Based on some calculations Stone did it seems the best generalization is that immigrant Russians do have an exceptional record in earning, but otherwise it's complicated.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Overstaffed Congress

" "People think Congress has all these resources and staff. In fact Congress hasn't increased its resources since 1974, and the House of Representatives cut its budget by 20 percent since 2011 for each Member office."

From Congressional Management Foundation 

Part of the problem is the (mostly Republican) Congressional desire to be seen as responsible trustees of the taxpayers' dollar. The one thing they can control is the staff and their salaries.  And then they complain about lobbyists and the power of the bureaucracy. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Importance of Height

I speculated to Ross Douthat that height was important, that Comey's 5 inch margin on Trump was significant in his firing.

Sometime later Kathleen Parker agreed with me.

(If he can select people based on looks, he can fire people who make him feel uncomfortable.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Future Is Now: Amphib Warfare

Born before US entry into WWII, I grew up with a lot of military history available.  I didn't like the military when I served, but retain some interest.  Here's an excerpt from a Bloomberg piece on Trump's problems with our new aircraft carrier:
Last week, at Camp Pendleton in California, I watched a Marine landing exercise. First, drones came in to map out what was on shore. Then an amphibious landing vehicle hits the shore, but the first thing off it was a machine-gun-armed robot, not a human. Then the human Marines arrive. But they are being resupplied by drones. One quadricopter drone comes down to drop an MRE. Then, a Marine changes that supply drone into a strike one, by now putting on board it a grenade and flying it off to hit the enemy. Sounds science fiction? Islamic State is doing similar things with jury-rigged drones in Mosul, Iraq, right now.
 Back in the late 19th century the new thing for navies was the torpedo.  So we had torpedo boats intended to launch them.  And then the navies developed "torpedo boat destroyers", to counter torpedo boats, a name then shortened to "destroyers".  The article notes that our new destroyer is now comparable to a heavy cruiser of WWII.

How soon will we have "drone destroyers"--inquiring minds want to know?

Monday, May 15, 2017

Comments on USDA REorganization

An article at Progressive FArmer.

Majority-Minority: Love When I'm Right

Herbert Gans has an op-ed on the prospect for a majority minority nation by 2050.  He doubts it, as did I in this post.

Getting Customer/Client/Citizen Feedback

Sens. Lankford and McCaskill introduced " the bipartisan Federal Agency Customer Experience Act (S.1088), a bill to roll back a federal requirement that makes it difficult for agencies to get feedback from the public concerning their satisfaction with agencies’ customer service."

That's from the press release  but it seems to me the bill does something more and different.  I think I've seen agency websites use a standard web feedback form (from Foresight, or some such company) and I doubt they've cleared such collection of data through OMB.  No doubt the clearance requirements for public data collections are an obstacle, but the more important thing they require is annual publication of the data collected.  Way back in the early days of this blog I think I recommended a similar process, though I was suggesting a running total, like the data Google Analytics gave to bloggers. 

The missing piece though in the Act is something explicitly tying the data back to Congressional oversight--it's fine to collect data but if the bosses (i.e. Congress) don't use it, it's simply an exercise. 

Hattip: FCW

Friday, May 12, 2017

USDA Reorganization

A post here on it at ThinkProgress.

The USDA report to Congress on the proposal.

Basically it would move NRCS, RMA, and FSA under one new Undersecretary, leaving FSA and FS each with their own Undersecretary.

This sentence from the USDA post perhaps hints that there will be more attention to the consolidation/cross-agency work that has been going on over the last 26 years:
Locating FSA, RMA, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service under this domestically-oriented undersecretary will provide a simplified one-stop shop for USDA’s primary customers, the men and women farming, ranching, and foresting across America.
 The proposal gives more prominence to the FAS and international trade, which is strongly supported by the ag interest groups, which may be enough to overcome concerns among the conservation types over a possible/perceived downgrading of conservation.

We'll see.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cottonseed Again

Illinois extension has a post on the cottonseed issue.  As it says, in greater detail than I have the brain cells to waste on, it's complicated, involving both the base acreage/"generic base" issue and WTO.  From the conclusion:

Much depends on the final details of any Congressional response but cotton farmers are currently receiving significant assistance from the 2014 Farm Bill and adding cottonseed may provide a windfall to them, including one recoupled to cotton planting decisions. Congress, if considering adding cottonseed, may also have to consider further revisions to the 2014 Farm Bill such as precluding payments on generic base acres for any covered commodities planted on them.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I May Be Wrong

On the Comey-Russia thing:

I doubt there's much going on between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Most likely the Russians wanted to undermine Clinton and Trump wanted to beat her, but I doubt any real collusion.  People in Trump's campaign might have been more aware of Russian hacking than the general public, but I don't see them colluding.

As for the firing, I'd expect an investigation but the major effect will be a continuing distraction from other issues, no impeachment or anything similar.  Trump had the authority to fire the FBI director, however poorly it was handled.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Habituation II

I've suggested that maybe over time we'll get bored with President Trump.  In that spirit:

"From fiveThirtyEight

10 percent

During President Trump’s first 50 days in office, 62 percent of his tweets got more than 100,000 likes. In the following 51 days, just 10 percent of his tweets passed that benchmark. [Bloomberg]"

Monday, May 08, 2017

Billy Beer and Kushner

"Billy Beer".  That's an American icon, symbolic of the long time problem presidents have had with their relations.  Jimmy Carter's younger brother Billy got himself into trouble several times, most notoriously by endorsing Billy Beer.  Just within my memory, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, all had problems with siblings or children.  Going further back, Lincoln had in-law problems and Adams had children problems.

So all in all I don't take the problem of Jared Kushner's sister pitching EB-5 visas in China too seriously. It's unseemly, but we can't expect saintliness.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

What Happened to Make Some Conservatives Smart?

For some strange reason I'm finding the reasoning of some conservatives much more impressive these days.  People like George Will, Charles Krauthammer in the Post and Kevin Williamson in the National Review actually can write columns with which I agree, or at least engage with.

There was a science fiction story in my younger days, something about a dumb person becoming smart, then reverting.  Flowers for Algernon, that's the story.   Did these conservatives have that operation last fall?  Will they revert back to their unenlightened ways at some time in the future?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Dirty Cows

Seen a couple pictures of dairies recently.  Always interested in them.  Here's a tweet, leading to a Post article on the Canadian dairy flap, but the article doesn't have the tweet's photo.

IMHO the cows shown are dirty.  Since it's a conventional setup and the focus of the article is Wisconsin dairy, and it's only April, my guess is that the cows mostly stay in the barn, as our cows did, and that's why they are dirty.  But our cows would get dirty because they lay down, got their tails in the gutter with the manure, and spread the manure to their flanks and legs.  In the setup shown, the cows are raised up on a platform, so the manure can spread across the lower driveway behind them.  (Likely have a skid-steer small tractor to doze the manure.)

Do I have a point?  Not really.  Given the realities, cows are going to get dirty part of the time. Perhaps for the big dairies where they never get to the pasture they're going to be dirty all the time.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Paragraph of the Day: Mirengoff

At Powerline, Paul ends his commentary on the passage of the 2017 spending bill with this:
Candidate Trump liked to say that under his presidency, he would win so much on behalf of America that we would get tired of winning. As yet, I don’t feel remotely tired.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Big Chickens: Taste and the Globe

Interesting piece in today's Times on chickens.  Scientists are trying to develop a chicken which tastes better and grows more slowly, and also is more active:
Today’s conventional broiler chickens have been bred over the years to produce the most amount of meat in as short a time as possible, reducing a farmer’s costs and increasing profits. In 1935, the average broiler chicken reached the slaughter-ready weight of 2.86 pounds in 98 days, according to the National Chicken Council. Today’s broilers are an average of 6.18 pounds at the time of slaughter, when they are about 47 days old.
 My uncle was a research scientist at the ARS Beltsville MD center, working on nutrition, which adds to my youthful exposure to chickens on the farm.

The food movement faces a conflict here:  on the one hand this fits the current emphasis on moving from "industrial agriculture" to more focus on taste and nature; on the other hand a slow growth chicken means a bigger impact on the environment because it eats more grain over its lifespan.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Trump's Achievement?

Trump will end with at least one undeniable achievement--he is disrupting institutions and norms.  He may and likely will become less disruptive as time goes on, but disruptive he has been.

The economists have a favorite concept for market economies: "creative destruction".  Among the things it means is the corporations and technologies dominant in 1950 are mostly gone by now: United States Steel, Bethlehem Steel, AT&T, Kodak, A&P, Sears and Montgomery Ward, etc. etc.

There's an easy parallel to make: creative disruption.  Is Trump triggering a political realignment?  We'll see.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Difference a Job Makes for Marriage

That's a tweet which I probably could have better incorporated in this post.  Anyhow, the graph shows the marriage rates for whites, Hispanics and blacks, divided between "ever enlisted" and "civilians".  What caught my eye were the rates for enlisted blacks, very much the same as enlisted whites, and enlisted Hispanics, significantly higher than enlisted whites and blacks.  The rates for all enlisteds were significantly above those for civilians.

What I take from this is that secure jobs enable marriages.  I may be wrong, there may be significant differences between the men and women who enlist and those who don't.  But I like the idea that a steady salary leads to marriage.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Habituation in Everything

AP reports a study of interest in Trump's tweets:
"His "FAKE NEWS" tweets don't rocket like they once did. His exclamation points (!) don't excite quite the same old way.
Donald Trump's 140-character volleys helped define the first 100 days of his presidency. But the traction on his medium of choice has slipped a bit as his tone and button-pushing tendencies have cooled."
Psychologists have the concept of "habituation" , meaning our (i.e., animals) response to a repeated stimulus diminishes over time.  We get bored. We look for the next new thing.

Is it too much to hope that process is operating with Trump's tweets, and that declining responses will lead to fewer of them?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Saint Jimmy and Bad Barack

Barack Obama is taking some heat from the left for giving a speech for $400,000.  As usual I've mixed feelings:

On the one hand I wish the Obamas had followed the example of the Carters in sending their daughters to a public DC school.  They didn't.   I also wish the Obamas would follow the example of the Carters in "rarely" giving paid speeches.  They won't.

On the other hand where do you draw the line?  Is a $10,000 fee for a speech at an alumna mater okay while $400,000 would be wrong?  Or is the issue who the speech is to?  We don't want the Obamas talking to "bad" people but it's okay to talk to "good" people?  Won't "bad" people benefit more by listening to them?

On the third hand, I disdained Reagan's speeches in Japan.

My bottom line is while I wish we were a nation of saints, and I wish the president were the highest-paid, best compensated American executive, neither is true, so we live in the world we have.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Dirty Jeans

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline repeats and expands on the Nordstrom dirty jeans (for $425), which Sen. Ben Sasse has called the end of the American experiment.
"Nordstrom advertises the jeans this way:
These heavily distressed medium-blue denim jeans embody rugged, Americana workwear that’s seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you’re not afraid to get down and dirty.
Sen. Ben Sasse tweeted that selling dirty jeans signals the end of the American experiment. Mike Rowe describes the dirty jeans as “a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic.”

Paul's not a whippersnapper, but Sasse is, so he doesn't know the true end of the American experiment was not selling dirty jeans, but pre-washing jeans, particularly stone-washing, where people paid a premium for jeans with an artificially shortened life. It's been down-hill ever since.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Influence of the Past

Social scientists, usually not historians, are investigating the influence of the past on the present.  More accurately, they're finding correlations between conditions in the past and current conditions.  A couple examples are the beer/wine division of Europe and the influence of past slavery on current political institutions (i.e. the US South).

Here's another in a tweet.--tracing the vote division in France to 12th century political divisions.

It's an interesting subject; I'd like to see something theorizing about the mechanics of such influences.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Learning Who You Are

I blew it.  Had a nice quote, I think from the novelist Zadie Smith, quoting something from I think Salmon Rushdie, to the effect that we learn who we are from our actions. But I lost the citation, by which we can conclude that my identity is partially that of a slapdash reader with poor note-taking skills and worse memory.

Still I'll riff a bit on the idea: 
  •  Identity comes after we act.
  • As I grow old, I discover more things about myself, as I reconsider my memories, including whether they can be trusted.
  • Or maybe it's not "identity" but constructing the narrative of your life, like a childhood puzzle with a bunch of numbered dots on the page, where if you drew lines linking them in order you'd see a picture.
  • Perhaps typically "American", focusing on action, the pragmatism of acting as if you believe, which creates belief.
[Updated: found it at the World Bank, of all places.  Here's the post.  The Bank is actually linking to a Financial Times report.  The text:

“There is a line of Salman Rushdie’s, I think it’s an essay, where he says: our lives teach us who we are.| And I think that’s the case. It’s not that you have a set identity, it’s that by your actions you find out what sort of person you are. And the news is not always…lovely.”  ]

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nostalgia: Small Pot Farms, Lesbian Bars, and Segregated Schools

Nostalgia is a seductive emotion, often the result of remembering a past with more niches than today's society/economy, even when the niches result from social barriers, like discrimination and prohibition.  See:

lesbian bars
industrial pot
segregated schools

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Rural Life: Improvements

The Rural Blog has a post on seven ways rural life has improved. The items:
  • water service
  • trash service
  • private phone lines
  • paved roads
  • satellite TV
  • Internet
  • Apple, Amazon, Netflix
I agree with the items, though they may not be present in all rural areas.  For example, some roads in the Mid West are reverting to gravel because there's not enough traffic and taxes to support asphalt. And I'm sure pumped wells are still common in many places.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Tale of Two Lakes

"Syracuse water comes in a gravity-fed line from Skaneateles Lake, a Finger Lake about 30 miles southwest of the city, and is considered by some to be one of the cleanest lakes in the U.S. Miner’s press secretary Alexander Marion notes that newcomers are offered a glass of “Skaneateles on the rocks”—tap water, in other words.
A quick reality check, though: Syracuse is also adjacent to Lake Onondaga, which the New York State Department of Energy and Conservation has named the “most polluted lake in America,” thanks to industrial waste related to the city’s salt-mining history and years of untreated sewage dumping."
From Politico

The article is about an effort in Syracuse to record data on underground utilities, water mains, etc. and use data analysis ("big data") to predict problems and improve the process of maintenance.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Blast From Past: Tractor [Cades]

Interesting piece here from FiveThirtyEight, comparing the upcoming science march with other collective action protests, especially the "tractors on the mall" protests.  I remember them well.  This was the time period when I moved from directives to programs, specifically the "normal crop acreage" concept (i.e., a base for the whole farm rather than crop specific, intended to give more flexibility to farmers) and a disaster payments program which was, in effect, competing with crop insurance to see which approach would become the one for the future (crop insurance won over the next 15 years).

It's significant, I think, that the 538 post links to the American Agriculture Movement website; the AAM was the organization behind the tractor cades, but in fact the website is defunct, with nothing updated since 2015. While commodity prices are down and have been down for the last few years, the farmers who are left aren't in as bad shape as they were at the end of the 70's.

[Tweaked the title and fixed the link]

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Decompressing from Taxes: the Draft

Just finished doing taxes, so a few random thoughts:

There's a survey out showing that Americans have a sense of social cohesion from doing their taxes.
There's also a theory about the benefits of national service, including a thread today on Twitter.(I'm not  sufficiently up on it enough to include a url but this tweet from Lyman Stone may help:"@tylercowen @dylanmatt @hyperplanes 1. it's not inherited, 2. you get paid a market wage, 3. it's temporary, 4. you can't be sold, 5. you can't be bought, 6. working conditions") 

As someone who was drafted and didn't like it, I do recognize some benefits from it: in a sense it's creative destruction, disrupting established patterns and possibly promoting social mobility.  It also might promote social cohesion, giving people a shared experience. 

Unfortunately for its promoters a good bit of the possible benefits is bound up in the military aspect: the social cohesion bit derives from the pain the military inflicts, the basic training and the regimentation.  It's like a fraternity, conventional wisdom probably says that the greater the hazing, the greater fraternal feeling.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Kudos for Carson

Not for his policy views nor for his managerial expertise at HUD, but for setting an example, as noted by Politico's Daybook:

" HUD Secretary Ben Carson sitting in a middle seat in coach from Palm Beach to DCA Sunday evening"

Examples aren't the only thing, but they are a thing.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Is Our President Learning II

Trump has reversed his positions several times this week, suggesting that maybe he is learning.(See this previous post.)  At least he got a 10-minute history lesson from President Xi, which caused him to become more sympathetic to China's position on controlling North Korea.

Maybe another question is whether he starts to learn what he doesn't know, as in considering the idea there's another couple hours of discussion to go before he truly understands 2000 years of Korean/Chinese history?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Farm Bill--Cotton Issues

Cotton producers are pushing for changes in the program when the 2018 farm bill is written.  Oilseed coverage for cottonseed production, which was denied by Sec. Vilsack as being beyond his authority, is an issue, as is converting "generic" base acreages to cotton acreages to provide a basis for a new program.All this according to Keith Good's post here.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Blast from the Past: Beyer Car Ads

Don Beyer is now a Representative from Northern Virginia, pushing science.

Way back when, he was a car dealer featuring some of the most unique radio ads I've heard.  His brand was Volvo, so to appeal to the sort of eggheads who might buy such vehicles, his ads specialized in word play, an announcer reading a script which made its points but by an unending series of puns.

Every thing is not on the Internet: I've searched for the ads and can only find this , a TV ad of a different sort which ran on The Americans recently.  The ad's fine, but the radio ads were great.

[Updated: This ad has some of the word play I remember, but it's not the same.]

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

George Washington's Meager Salary?

The NYTimes blew one today, in an article discussing the renumeration clause of the Constitution, the authors wrote:
"But in a brief expected to be filed this month, Justice Department lawyers will counter that the framers of the Constitution meant only to rule out gifts and compensation for services, not ordinary, arm’s-length commercial transactions with foreign governments. Otherwise, they argue, the framers would have had to confront the potential effect of the ban on the nation’s earliest presidents, including George Washington, who supplemented his meager presidential salary partly by exporting flour and cornmeal to England and elsewhere."
 Problem is, George got $25,000 a year in 1789.  Depending on what measure you use, that's $694,000 or millions of dollars in today's values, hardly a "meager" salary.  By most measures he was one of the wealthiest of Americans, perhaps nearer the top than our current president (comparing wealth is the only way in which the two can be put in the same sentence) and his salary was certainly the highest (not many people drew a salary then--they drew profits from their enterprises).

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Those Stupid Middle East Autocrats

<tongueincheek> I can't understand why rulers in the Middle East can't understand the thinking of our Presidents, which seems to me to be entirely logical and eminently comprehensible to anyone. First Saddam Hussein thought he could bluff his regional enemies by pretending to have chemical weapons without affecting Pres. Bush's thinking.  Now Assad thinks he can intimidate his rebellious subject by using chemical weapons without affect Pres. Trumps thinking [sic]. </tongueincheek>

Seriously, it's always good to remember that other people don't understand you as well as you do, which assumes you understand yourself, which can be an erroneous assumption.

Wind Farm Off Mar-A-Lago? Definition of Zero

What's the chances that the Interior Department will permit an offshore wind farm in viewing distance of Mar-A-Lago?  (The link discusses the administration's leasing of areas for such farms.) I think the answer to the question is "zero".

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pulitizer for Ag/Water Editorials

2017 Pulitizer Prize for editorial writing in Storm Lake Times (IA) on nitrates in the water.

The UK's Approach to IT

I've posted before, but not recently, about the differences between British and American governmental use of IT.  Briefly, as would be implied by the UK's civil service setup, the Brits are much more uniform, much more top down, while the US is (excessively) fragmented and siloed, much more bottom up.

Here's the website of the Government Digital Service:

Sunday, April 09, 2017

FSA Reg Writers Breathe Sign of Relief

From an OMB document on procedure for the 2 for 1 regulation:

" In general, Federal spending regulatory actions that cause only income transfers between taxpayers and program beneficiaries (e.g., regulations associated with Pell grants and Medicare spending) are considered "transfer rules" and are not covered by EO 13771. Additionally, an action that establishes a new fee or changes the existing fee for a service, without imposing any new costs, does not need to be offset; nor does an action that establishes new penalties or fines or changes those already in existence."
 The way I read this most if not all FSA regulations are excluded.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Prediction for a Democratic Congress: Reverse Congressional Review Acts

This article on the President's accomplishments notes that several of the bills he's signed into law are revocations of regulations as provided by the Congressional Review Act. The CRA provides if the Congress revokes a regulation, the agency cannot later issue a new regulation on the same subject.  There is an exception, however: Congress can specifically authorize the agency to regulate the subject.

My prediction is this means that CRA revocations will become like the Mexico City rule (no federal money for population control info):  each new administration (change of control of Congress) will result in legislation switching the revocations.  That is, when the Democrats regain control of Congress they'll pass a law(s) authorizing agencies to reissue the regulations killed this spring by the Republican Congress.  An interesting question: under the Administrative Procedure Act would the agencies be able to bypass the proposed rulemaking process if the regulation is reinstated verbatim?

Friday, April 07, 2017

Farm Bill Time

Congressional Research Service has a report apropos of the 2018 farm bill.  This is an excerpt from a table of the projections and actual expenditures under the current law.

Farm Bill Titles (sorted)

Projection for FY2014-18 Share Actual FY14-16; Proj. FY2017-18 Change since enactment
IV Nutrition 390,650 79.9% 364,837 -25,813
XI Crop Insurance 41,420 8.5% 30,533 -10,887
II Conservation 28,165 5.8% 24,378 -3,787
I Commodities and Disaster 23,555 4.8% 36,040 +12,485

Thursday, April 06, 2017

And What Do You Really Think?

"In short, the problem is Trump’s personality. His presidency doesn’t suffer from a failure of ideas, but a failure of character."

That's from an article in the National Review--color me dumbstruck.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Organic Dairy

Extension has a long and detailed study of an organic dairy operation, favorable in most respects, but this jumped out at me:
"Compared to when he was farming conventionally, Joe finds that organic farming requires 50% more labor and twice as much management. Describing his farm as organic by design, Joe continuously evaluates and adjusts his farming practices, striving to design a system where everything works together."
Does conventional production agriculture substitute capital (i.e., machinery and inputs) for management?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Not Truly a Divided Country

Three of the blogs I've followed for a long time are: Kevin Drum, Life on a Colorado Farm, and Northview Dairy.  

They're in California, Colorado and New York; Kevin's a liberal, the two farm women are more conservative (though they don't mention politics much).   Kevin seems to be urban, the other two rural.  So you assume they don't have much in common?

Wrong.  All three of them like photography and photography of hummingbirds, as you can see by the links above.  Kevin, however, has the advantage of  a new and expensive camera, but all three appreciate the same thing.

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Possible Impacts of Autonomous Vehicles

Via Technology Review here's a good review of these impacts from Ben Evans.

The Wooing of the Powerful: Swamp Creatures Attack

Too lazy for links today but two comments on the wooing of the Trump administration:
  • the Pentagon is wooing Jared Kushner by one of the best tricks in the book: take him on a trip to Iraq.  The academics say the way to create friendship is for people to engage together in an effort towards a common objective.  Nothing better than a trip to create togetherness, which is one reason why teleconferencing can never fully replace the real thing.  Remember that Clinton and McCain bonded together when as senators they went on trips and drank vodka together?
  • the Chinese are wooing both Kushner and Trump, partly through the vehicle of Henry Kissinger.  A comment in the Post story this morning was to the effect that Chinese knew about dynastic politics, since President Xi is himself the son of a founder. 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

No Purity Here

I agree with Jonathan Bernstein's lecture to Democrats on what their priorities should be, notably creating primary challenges to Heitkamp and Manchin as lowest.

I've no problem if my senators Kaine and Warner support Gorsuch--if you can't win a fight, IMHO there's not much point in fighting.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Government Reorg: Nixon and Taft

A nice recap of past efforts to reorganize the goverment the Monkey Cage by Andrew Rudalevige

I've a particular fondness for the Nixon effort, but hadn't known about Taft's effort (William Howard, that is). Why fondness for Nixon, a man good liberals loved to hate?  May have written this before, but my boss at ASCS was able to get the Directives Branch into IBM MT/ST's (Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriters) fairly early.  Somehow the people at the White House learned about the capability, and we were drafted into typing and retyping a document for the proposal.  IIRC it was 100-200 pages, describing the reorganization of cabinet offices into four big departments.  Very hush-hush, and something of a let-down when it fizzled.  I wrote "we"--actually at the time we had two male typists, both good, but who soon left, one for the Army, the other for greener pastures.

Anyhow, the lessons of history do not portend great success for Mr. Kushner.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tiger Teams and SWAT Teams

Jared Kushner is to be head of an Office of American Innovation.

In my RSS feed I've got a bunch of stories which came in the last few days on the general theme of government reorganization, etc.  I keep thinking I'll gather them all into one piece, but no, this is it.

Back in my Infoshare days the rather charismatic leader of the effort liked to talk about "Tiger Teams", and talented technologists, and other buzzwords of the day.  These days "SWAT Teams" are mentioned more often, but the function is the same: pie in the sky promises of a magic bullet (how many more cliches can I stuff into this post?)

My own feeling is people are bound by habits.  Some things can change habits, as WWII changed German and Japanese habits, or Katrina changed the New Orleans school system but mostly people are slow to change and are very inventive finding reasons why a particular change is ill-advised, or just plain wrong.  Now good P.R. can dress up results.  There's a NYTimes piece today which gives Al Gore's Reinventing Government effort some praise.  Me, I don't believe it, not fully  One of his biggies was reducing layers of supervision, which was mostly accomplished in ASCS by paper changes or ignoring the mandates.

So, as to Mr. Kushner, count me skeptical.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Fun of Polarization

Vox reports on a study of our polarization into blue and red nations, a study which seems to say that social bubbles on the internet aren't the big cause.  Those with lesser access to the internet are more polarized, meaning especially the old geezers among us are especially partisan.

I can sort of understand that; although I don't interact with my high school classmates (I  should but don't) I see what some of them post on Facebook and they're mostly on the right, the far right.

The person who ran the study suspects that polarization is " result of deeper divisions within American society" as the piece summarizes his views.

I wonder though.  Maybe the bottom line on polarization is simple: it's fun.  After all, affiliating with one of the parties provides people with someone to idolize and someone to hate, and an unending flow of stimuli to elicit feelings of hate and love.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Make Love, Not War?

Kottke has a post with this timeline map of the global median age from 1960 to 2060.  It's interesting to see the various countries aging at different rates, until many of the OECD countries are median age of 50+.

But what's also striking is the correlation of young countries with unrest and war.  For example, today the media age of Iraq, Afghanistan and a country in Central America (likely Guatemala) is in the teens.  The other such countries are in central Africa.

So maybe the slogan of the 60's should have read: "make love and war", or "make love amidst war"?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Drum's TrumpamaCare Compromise

I hope my fellow liberals are not so stuck in opposition that they wouldn't be open to a compromise on healthcare similar to that outlined by Kevin Drum.  I fear though that we are, though my fears are somewhat assuaged by the idea that Trump will never go for it. But maybe I underestimate him?

Why Big Farms

This Successful Farming piece on big farms:
A quarter-century ago, small farms generated 46% of U.S. agricultural production. Today, the powerhouse of production is the large family farm with more than $1 million a year in gross cash farm income (GCFI). They represented 2.9% of the U.S. farm total in 2015 but were responsible for 42% of ag output, say USDA economists James MacDonald and Robert Hoppe.
 And the midpoint for cropland has moved from 589 to 1234 in the 30 years from 1982 to 2012.

Why is that?   Illinois extension has interesting graphs, relating the cost of machinery per acre to the size of the farm; in other words the way increasing the land farmed spreads machinery costs over more land.

This has been true since farming began, and more so the more farmers invest in equipment.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tax Reform Easier Than Obamacare Repeal?

Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin is optimistic about getting tax reform done by August--he says:
""We're able to take the tax code and redesign things, and I think there is very, very strong support," he said. "I think in healthcare, it's [a] much, much more complicated issue, where you start out with ObamaCare, which had all these issues, and you're trying to kind of get rid of it and make changes simultaneously.""
Minority Leader Pelosi was talking "rookie day" yesterday, mocking the difficulties the Republicans were having with healthcare.  I'd call Mnuchin another "rookie", given his optimism.  I remember the problems Reagan had in the 1980's with his tax reform, back in the days when he had Sen. Bill Bradley and Rep. Danny Rostenkowski in Congress to get the necessary Democratic votes.  Even with those advantages there was a lot of cliff hanging and logrolling and the final package came up short of the initial promises.

Remember, while healthcare affects 1/6 of the economy, taxes affect the whole thing.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Immigrants and Produce Production

When I was young during the summer when we'd drive to Greene for livestock feed, we'd see an old bus parked by the fields bordering the Chenango river, fields in which grew green beans, a bus which provided transport for those Negroes (as we said then) who picked the beans.  It was a moment of quickly passing contact with another world, strange to a child of dairy/poultry farmers. I've no idea where the pickers spent the night, presumably a tent or the bus.

These days the people who harvest our fruits and vegetables are almost all immigrants, mostly undocumented.  That leads to multiple issues, as described in this good Tamar Haspel piece for the Post.  If undocumented immigrants are deported and Trump's wall is built and is effective (big "ifs"), will citizens fill their places?  Could higher wages attract enough workers? Or would innovation come to the rescue, providing machinery and robots to do the harvesting, perhaps at the cost of changing the nature of the produce?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Virginians Steal Pennsylvanian Glory

I've a ggggrandfather who served in the Revolution in the Pennsylvania militia.  While other researchers have come up with the idea he was at Valley Forge, the best I can determine is he may have commanded a company of York militia guarding prisoners from Burgoyne's army. 

Kenneth Roberts wrote some popular historical fiction about the Revolution, and Washington Irving wrote a two-volume bio of George Washington, both of which praised the "Virginia riflemen", often under Morgan.  But J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 suggests cautiously that history may have gotten it wrong, that there were more Pennsylvanian riflemen than Virginians.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Innovation in Farming: Software and Tractors

Farmer populism shows its face in a revolt against John Deere's attempt to protect its software running its tractors.  See this piece.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Moving as a Metaphor for Budget Cutting

In my view of government, legislation is a compromise among different interests and people, assembled by politicians to get a majority of votes.  Some laws are narrow in focus and effect, often driven by one or a few politicians under the stimulus of a narrow and small group of fervent believers.  Think perhaps of an earmarked program for research by NIH on an uncommon disease.  Call these the laws of passion. Other laws are broader in focus, meaning more politicians came together in a compromise, often through judicious backscratching and logrolling. Call these the laws of interest.

Once legislation is enacted, and appropriations made, there develops the familiar iron triangle, of  bureaucrats who administer the law, the interest groups supporting it, and the legislators who derive votes from passing and maintaining it. 

As time passes, technology changes, and society changes, some laws lose their relevance, or become a misfit with the environment. But because people are creatures of habit, it's easiest not to rock the boat.

I can argue that there's value to having a Trump come along with a drastic budget proposal simply because it forces the reevaluation of existing laws.  Is there still a valid coalition backing the law--does the old combination of passion and interest still live, does it still have the clout it had back in the days of creation?

I'd compare the situation to moving: a family buys a house and gradually fills it with things.  Time passes and they need to move, to downsize to an apartment. Then you discover which things are useful enough to take to the new place and which are not.  Or maybe instead of moving to an apartment you need to move to a McMansion.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Chevron and Regulations

One of the big things about Judge Gorsuch as he tries to be confirmed by the Senate is his position on
Chevron, not the oil company but the Supreme Court case which determined how much deference, if any, should be given to an executive agency's interpretation of laws which resolve ambiguities in the language of the law. The majority opinion said courts should defer; Judge Gorsuch says "no deference" (very short summary there).

As a bureaucrat you know I come down on the deference side.  One of my reasons isn't much discussed: the reality of Congress and politicians.  For a given issue politicians have to come to some consensus, some resolution, else they'll get blasted as "do-nothing" by Harry Truman or the Dems in 2018.  But the reality is resolution is hard in a democracy--there's no magic sauce to make everyone happy.  The result is that Congress cobbles together something to show the voters.  That "something" is often a law which straddles both sides of the issue, or fuzzes the issue with vague language or lawyerisms such as "as appropriate", "reasonable", etc. etc.In other words, Congress often doesn't make decisions, it kicks them over to the poor bureaucrats in the agency who have to implement the law.

IMHO the people who agree with Gorsuch are living in a dream, one where ambiguities in legislation are mistakes by Congress, mistakes which can easily be fixed if the Court, instead of going along with the agency's fix by regulation, kicks the problem back to Congress for an easy and expeditious fix. 

In my view ambiguities aren't mistakes, they are features of the democratic process of legislation.

Judicial Vacancies: More Than You Want to Know

Ballotpedia has a piece today.  Incidentally, I recommend the site.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Immigration: Surprising Facts

From a post originating from the National Academy of Sciences report on immigration:
" Indeed, today’s immigrants are more likely to have education beyond college than the native-born."
"We are a debtor nation — that’s what the existence of the widely discussed budget deficit means. This in turn means that the “average American” is a fiscal burden, receiving more in benefits than he or she pays in taxes."  [so both new babies and new immigrants cost the government more than they contribute in taxes.  However, that's true only if you give each person a per capita share of defense and interest payment costs, which don't actually increase with each new addition.]

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Future Is California

An excerpt from a David Brin post:

From the Los Angeles Times: Californians are 30% less likely to die a violent death today than other Americans. Since 1980, California’s rate of reported crime overall has fallen by 62%. The state’s criminal arrest rates, too, have fallen considerably, by 55% overall, and by 80% among people younger than 18 — a population, it is worth noting, that is now 72% nonwhite. 

Violent crime in California has fallen by an impressive 50% in the same period. This includes drops in robberies (65%), homicide (68%), and rapes and assaults (more than 40%). That last figure is even more remarkable when you consider that the legal definitions of both assault and rape were expanded during these years.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Americans Share What?

Pew Research has a recent report on what people in different countries see as the keys to being of their nationality--is it shared language, birthplace, shared customs and values, faith, etc.  Interesting variations among the different countries surveyed, mostly Western countries plus Japan

I saw a reference to this earlier, then was struck by a talking head on Fox arguing that we should only admit immigrants who share our values.

Some random thoughts:
  • there's no universal rule applicable.  Canadians believe you need to speak either English or Franch, but Americans wouldn't agree to an English-Spanish rule.  Greeks are strong on religion, but that's no longer that important in most other countries.
  • adding some other countries, such as China, Russia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, etc. would have further expanded our horizons.
  • in the past, many didn't believe that Irish Catholic immigrants could be good Americans: they shared neither birthplace, religion, nor customs with the then-current Americans.  That was even more true when the time came to admit immigrants from eastern Europe and Italy. 
  • when we look in detail at current "Americans" we find groups which don't share our customs and values but share the language (i.e. Old Order Mennonites,Hasidic Jews) and some which don't share the language but are somewhat closer in values, if not customs (some Latinos)
My bottom line is--if the adults work and pay taxes, and abide by the laws, fine.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Remote Mountain Villages

I've lost the date and newspaper but there was an interesting photo and article the other day describing something in a "remote mountain village"; the photo seemed to show a third world hut but with an internet connection.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Late 60's Were a Different Time

Just reading the Meacham biography of George H.W. Bush--very readable.  A couple bits from where I've gotten to:
  • Bush served two terms in Congress, 1966-70. During that time he supported LBJ on 55 percent of votes.
  • Bush wanted to reorganize the Interior Department to cover  Environment and Population.  In fact, he was so pro-population control that the Chair of House Ways and Means nicknamed him: "Rubbers".

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Laws Need Enforcers

Congress can pass laws and the President can sign them, and the supporters applaud and then....

If there's no bureaucrat taking action, nothing happens.

The latest case of that: a revision in FOIA law:
"Among the new law’s requirements are giving those seeking information at least 90 days to file appeals of denied requests, not charging inappropriate duplication fees and informing requesters of their rights to advice from agency or governmentwide FOIA ombudsman offices"
 The GovExec article says a number of departments haven't implemented the law 9 months after signature, including USDA.   The lead office is in Justice.  I'm going to guess that there won't be 100 percent compliance by this time next year.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Why America Will Be "White" Forever

It's common to see predictions like the U.S. will become majority minority 30 years or so from now, just as California and Texas as majority minority now.  I've no problem with these predictions, or with the reality when it arrives (I'll be scattered molecules by then), but I want to note that the validity of the prediction depends on the definition of "minority" not changing between now and 2050.

But definitions of ethnicity and race are socially constructed.  Just ran across an interesting proof of this:
 This BBC News site is on the gender pay gap in the UK.  But what interests me are the ethnic breakdowns (because the gap varies by ethnicity):
  • White Irish
  • White Other
  • White British
  • Black Caribbean
  • Black African
  • Indian
  • Chinese 
  • Pakistan/Bangladeshi
To me it's a reminder that ethnicity/race is socially constructed.  Note that there are three "races" represented--Caucasian, Asian, Blacks, but that's imposing American categories as of 2017.  There's no discussion of the categorization, and I'm making the possibly wrong assumption that the UK often uses these categories.  Apparently for the UK the differences among the ethnicities are big enough to force race into the background. I'm certainly aware that the Brits were more prejudiced against the Irish than the U.S.  And because the U.S. has more immigrants from different countries (i.e., Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea) we don't usually divide Asians by country or religion (i.e. the Pakistan/Bangladeshi versus Indian and Chinese distinction.)

What I predict will happen over the next 30 years is this: the definition of "white" will change so that it includes the majority of Americans, regardless of their heritage.
  •  In part this will reflect the confusion caused by intermarriage.  In the Washington Post magazine an Indian-American woman writes: "But in 2017 America, my particular jambalaya of “features” frequently has me mistaken for Ethiopian. Trinidadian. Colombian. African American. It depends on which city I’m in, what I am wearing and, more often than not, who is doing the asking."  That's an example.
  • In part this will reflect the logic of discrimination--what is the purpose of a "minority"?It's to define the majority, meaning that a "majority-minority" nation loses the inestimable virtues of being discriminatory, of defining the "other".  So the solution will be either to shift the definition of "white" so it includes the majority (you can see that in attempts to define Obama as not really black) or to bring to the fore another term which applies to most Americans. I can't think of one now, which is why my bet is on "white".
This is what we've done before, successively redefining "us" to include more than Anglo-Saxons, more than Brits, adding Germans, Eastern Europeans, Southern Europeans, etc.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Is Our President Learning?

Despite my druthers, I've been a tiny bit open to the possibility our president will do okay in his four years.  This is based mostly on the idea that people learn, and surely the presidency is an intensive educational institution. Trump has a notoriously thin skin, which perhaps makes it more likely that he will learn, that the pain of public opprobrium and criticism will cause him to change his ways, maybe even adopt different ideas and goals. As they would have said in the days before political correctness took over: to teach a mule sometimes you have to go upside his head with a 2 x 4.

We don't know the answer to my question today; we just need the patience to wait and see, meanwhile administering 2x4's as appropriate.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Revisionists of the One-Third Thesis

I learned relatively early, perhaps even in high school some 60 years ago, that one-third of the white American colonists supported independence, one-third supported Britain, and one-third were confused moderates.

From this review of a book on the American Revolution comes a counter, arguing that the support for the Revolution was only about one-sixth and:
In their light, the Revolution looks less like a popular uprising than a coup d’etat. The always-mystifying questions of how a band of ragtag rebels dared challenge the mightiest martial power on the planet and how they succeeded in doing so loom even more mystifyingly in the light of such modest popular support. And the role of coercion and violence in the maintenance of the war effort seem more than ever in need of serious examination.
Looking at the Revolution in the context of modern use of violence, maybe one-sixth is more accurate.  Certainly a lot of revolts seem to have been the work of minorities (i.e., the "Troubles" in Ulster, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, etc. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Obama Versus Trump

Obama hired a personal photographer; Trump hired personal security staff .

Both men have big egos, but the contrast is IMHO telling.

Our Laws So Weak

Virginia has a thriving export trade, a trade in guns. The Brooklyn district attorney announced indictments of 24 people according to the Times:
 "The indictment of 627 counts charged 24 people, some of whom have violent criminal records and ties to the Bloods street gang, with conspiracy and illegal weapons sale and possession. In all, the authorities recovered 217 guns, including 41 assault weapons like AK-47s, AR-15s and a Thompson submachine gun."

Wiretaps recorded comments such as:

“There is no limits to how many guns I can go buy from the store, you know what I mean?” he said."

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Delay on Perdue II

I blogged earlier about the delay in getting Sonny Perdue's nomination for Secretary of USDA to the Senate.  Today the Times had an article suggesting he has less than sparkling clean ethical history.

Terrorists Capture Building Blocks from White House

John Kelly writes a local column for the Post.  Today he excavates a page from ancient history, 40 years ago today, the takeover of the DC Municipal Building, past which I'd walk home every night, up to a year before, and two other buildings by the Hanafi Muslim group.

It's a reminder of the turmoil of the late 60's and 70's, and a caution not to take current times too seriously.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Specialty Crops and Technology

A good piece on produce which avoids the usual crunchy critique that produce and specialty crops are so expensive because they haven't  been subsidized by the government.

The idea that junk food is cheaper than produce because of farm subsidies is so often repeated by food movement leaders like Michael Pollan that almost everyone assumes that it’s true. But the reality is more nuanced.
Subsidies on their own don’t explain why processed foods are cheaper than produce, calorie for calorie. Fruits and vegetables, first and foremost, are highly perishable, which makes everything about growing, harvesting, storing and shipping them infinitely more complicated and expensive. Many of these crops also take a ton of labor to maintain and harvest. Economists who’ve crunched the numbers have found that removing agricultural subsidies would have little effect on consumers’ food prices, in part because the cost of commodities like corn and soybeans represent just a tiny share of the cost of the food sold in the grocery store.

Mainly the piece is about the technology which is impacting the harvesting and marketing of these crops, kicking off with the recent advent of packaged spinach.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Delay on Perdue

A piece on AGweb notes the delay in getting Sonny Perdue's nomination to the Senate, but doesn't explain why he hasn't gotten his act together.

[Update:  Here's another piece which suggests either it's Perdue's fault or the Office of Government Ethics is snowed under in clearing the paperwork.]

Today's Great Sentence

" if there's anything we native-born Americans excel at, it's crime."

Kevin Drum in a long discussion on the statistics of immigrant crime rates.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Contra Free Market From Israel?

Conservatives tend to be more supportive of Israel these days.  The nation has long since put the kibbutz behind them and is now a booming economy, with particular expertise in IT, high tech and military equipment.  The World Bank has a piece on how that's happened, including this:
Hasson highlighted the key role played by public-private partnerships over the last 40 years. Those partnerships have resulted in the establishment of an innovation infrastructure — including educational and technical institutions, incubators and business accelerators —anchored within a dynamic national innovation ecosystem built around shared social goals.

Specifically, to reduce the risk for investors, the government has focused on funding technologies at various stages of innovation — from emerging entrepreneurs and start-ups to medium and large companies. Strengthened by that approach, the Israeli ecosystem is maturing: according to Hasson, mergers and acquisitions have increased and exit profits have almost tripled over the last three years, with more and more new projects being started by returning entrepreneurs.

What Scares You?

For Dan Drezner:

What scares me the most about the Trump administration isn’t what the federal government will do to me. What scares me is my own ability to look away if the federal government does things to more marginalized segments of the population.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

CrowdSourcing the Self-Driving Car

NYTimes had an article on the problems of creating the very detailed map needed by self-driving cars, which led to descriptions of the use of crowdsourcing to solve the problem.  

The idea is simple: have the equipment in each self-driving car update the imagery in the database that guides all self-driving cars.  To me it's a similar idea to my bottom-up car, or trainable car: the data from traversing a route at time A is available to be used to help traverse the same route at time B.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Stockman and Mulvaney

This Politico piece on Republican libertarians such as Amash and Mulvaney brought back memories of another bright young congressman who knew all the numbers in the federal budget and took a job as OMB director: David Stockman, the inventor of the "magic asterisk".   One can only wonder whether he too will write a memoir entitled "The Triumph of Politics, Why the Trump Revolution Failed".

Amazingly his wikipedia article doesn't mention the asterisk.

Friday, March 03, 2017

A New Farm Bill on the Horizon

Chris Clayton has a report on Rep. Conaway, chair of House Ag, and his outlook for a new farm bill.

My initial reaction is it's likely that Trump's budget outline will call for deep cuts in farm programs.  If not, people who want to defend other existing programs against Trump's cuts will start asking: "what about agriculture"?

But then I remember the Reagan administration. That's many years ago and my memory has faded.  IIRC the White House didn't really like farm programs and cut back where and when they could.  But their supporters, particularly conservative House Democrats whom they needed because the Republicans were still in a minority in the House, were able to make deals and fight drastic rollbacks. And the farm situation was rapidly going downhill, as farmers had overextended themselves during the boom years of the 70's and were now facing bankruptcy.  That led to one of the worst years ASCS ever had--1983 and the Payment-in-Kind Program: a jury-rigged program to use CCC-inventories to finance the biggest land diversion program we'd had, perhaps in our history.

And of course there's the freeze on federal employment, something Reagan also had.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

A Successful Four Years? Our President Learns?

Here's how Trump has a successful four years:
  • give cabinet members leeway to do their own thing
  • dominate the news media using his time-tested schtick
  • make proposals which sound good but which may not come to fruition
  • have a handful of real accomplishments
So lots of sound and fury which appeals to the Republican base while the executive branch handles the daily stuff, mixed with some real accomplishments to appeal to those outside the base.  This is somewhat like the Reagan formula.  He was never very involved in detailed policy or administration, and was more flexible than expected.

Newt Gingrich said something in the paper in morning about Trump being a good learner.  Others, including Gail Collins in the Times today, say he's very curious in small meetings and asks a lot of questions.  So here's a hypothesis:  Trump gets good reviews from acting Presidential Tuesday night.  That represents the "swamp" (aka the established political order) rewarding him for conforming to its norms.  If Trump truly does learn, which is to be proven, and he truly does crave praise, which seems well proven, then he will gradually alter his behavior so he's more like a conventional president.  So what we're seeing now is a process where the establishment is punishing and rewarding Trump for his behavior.

I think the hypothesis is reasonable.  However how likely to change is a 70-year old man?  Not very, I'd say.  On the other hand, he doesn't have a long history as a political actor, so maybe more likely than Nixon, who tried to change every few years.  There's also incentives to stay the course, maintaining faith with his supporters, and close associates. 

Conceivably if the hypothesis works, and Trump is lucky with the economy and foreign policy he'll have a successful presidency. 

Anti-Missile Defenses and Modern Ag Technology

We liberals had a long and eventually unsuccessful fight against various anti-ballistic missile systems. Back in the 60's it was the Nike-Zeus system which eventually got cancelled.  Then it was Reagan's Star Wars and finally it's the system now in place.   Part of the argument was that the technology couldn't work, wouldn't work, or at least could be overwhelmed by counter-measures.

These days we seem comfortable with the idea it works, perhaps because our faith in technology is greater these days?  That faith is boosted by reports such as this, which describes the test of a system of cameras and laser beams for zapping insects, specifically psyllids which attack citrus. Somehow that seems more impressive to me than attacking ballistic missiles, which as the name states have a path determined by gravity (though modern ICBM's launch maneuverable warheads so are no longer solely ballistic.)

Donal Trump Wants Me to Work

As a retiree, I'm included in the 93+ million people he considers to be unemployed.  NOT.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Oscars and Butterfly Ballots

Vox has a good piece by Benjamin Bannister analyzing the design of the Oscar card.  It, along with the infamous "butterfly ballot" of 2000, shows the importance of design.  I won't say the Oscar card is a bureaucratic "form", but I won't say it isn't.

When I joined ASCS in 1968 it had a strong form design shop, with Chet Adell, Tom Sager, and Linda Nugent.  I remember Chet's pride in some of the forms they'd designed, particularly the Farm Record Card (ASCS-156) which moved historical data to a farm-based form from a series of listing sheets, so the clerk, as they were known then, could refer to one document for a farm rather than several. 

As someone has said, the "devil's in the details", and good forms designers sweat the details.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why I'm a Liberal

Take two bloggers, one liberal, one conservatish, and give them the snafu at the Oscars to analyze.  What happens:
Now it could be just accident that Kevin is hard-headed and Ann is somewhat prone to suspect conspiracy, but I prefer to believe that these traits are strongly associated with the respective philosophies.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Washing Machines and Dog-Powers

Bloomberg has a piece on the long, long history of washing machines, as in 250 years + long.  (If I remember correctly, Hans Rosling credited the machines as one of the bigger improvements in our living standards.)  My mother would recall that the family dog would disappear on Mondays because that was wash day and he was expected to toil on the "dog power" to run the washing machine.  See this for an image and description.

Conservatives Surprise: Movie Reviews

Scott Johnson, a conservative at Powerline, is someone I rarely, perhaps never, agree with.  So his reviews of Fences, Hidden Figures, and Hell or High Water were surprising.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Old and the New Republicans

Back in my youth the lines of division in the Republican party ran between Bob Taft and Dwight Eisenhower.  Roughly speaking the former was more isolationist/nationalist/anti-communist/anti New Dealer and the latter was more international, more free trade, more open to talks with the USSR, and more willing to swallow hard and keep Social Security. In 1960 Nelson Rockefeller represented the latter (the Wall Street Republicans) and Richard Nixon the former (the Main Street Republicans). The Goldwater movement put the former on top, for a while, while Nixon in 1968 merged the two pretty well. Reagan also blurred the lines by the way he governed.

Jumping ahead to now, it's fascinating to look at the divisions Trumpery is creating.  George Will and Charles Krauthammer are anti-Trump, though Krauthammer's last column acknowledged possible benefits in foreign policy from a good-cop, bad-cop approach.  Some economists, like Don Beaudreaux of GMU at Cafe Hayek and Keith Hennessey, former CEA member, are somewhat horrified by Trump's trade and economic thoughts/tweets.

Friday, February 24, 2017

McArdle on "Authentic Food" and Church Suppers

Megan McArdle writes on "authentic food".  I agree with most of what she writes, except for the bit about "drying off" cows, which shows she didn't grow up on a dairy farm.  However there are times and places where "authentic food" is good eating, at least in memory.  For example, church/grange suppers in my youth.  The point there was each woman was bringing a dish which she was proud of, with which she wanted to impress the neighbors, hopefully even to field requests for the recipe. (I've still got my mother's card file of recipes, many gathered from her friends.) So the food was good.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fake Mustaches--Dangerous to Health

Margaret Soltan links to a wikipedia piece on the president of Argentina (perhaps he'll be a soulmate of ours?):

He wore a fake moustache and impersonated singer Freddie Mercury during the party. He accidentally swallowed the moustache, and Minister of Health Jorge Lemus performed first aid to save his life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I'm a Born Civilian

That's what I joke to my wife, as a description of my time in the Army.  With that perspective, may I offer a small caveat to the praise being heaped on the President's new national security adviser, Gen. McMaster?  I don't know when having a Phd became the automatic basis for being an intellectual?  I suppose it partly reflects our (liberals) general incredulity that a military man could earn one. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Deep State" Again

Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a good piece in the New Yorker on the "deep state", particularly ICE and the Border Patrol. Apparently "deep state" is now a thing, discovered by Ann Althouse, Rush Limbaugh and Chris Wallace--see Althouse's post.

A number of comments mention the great British comedy "Yes Minister" , which I recommend to everyone.  (It helps to explain some of the  errors of the Trump administration, as the new minister is educated by the permanent under-secretary.)  For those with a taste for more action, the Sandbaggers
combines secret agents with a good taste of bureaucracy.  For a more modern taste, the Americans 
also has a bit of bureaucracy thrown in.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bureaucrat Becomes President

I'm always glad to see a bureaucrat get ahead in the world, as described in this Politico piece on Somalia elections.

Factoids: "this year, of Somalia’s 24 presidential candidates, nine held American passports"

" among the seven countries included in Trump’s attempted ban, most boast influential officials who spent time in the United States, usually to attend school. Former prime ministers in Yemen and Libya attended American universities. One of them, Shukri Ghanem, was a reformer who worked, with some success, to push Muammar Qadhafi toward reconciliation with the west. Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister who oversaw negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, went to a private high school in San Francisco and received a B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. An influential rebel leader from Sudan who was a key player in the country’s 2005 peace agreement, John Garang, attended Grinnell College in an Iowa town of 9,000 surrounded by cornfields."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Rape Is a Rape Is a Rape?

Not so.  This piece on the Swedish "rape crisis" explains why it's in the definition.

[Updated: Kevin Drum isn't a fan of the article's stats.]

Barney Frank: Say Thank You

Barney Frank writes on how to be effective in influencing your representatives.  Mostly common sense, but common sense can surprise, as in: when your representative's vote surprises you favorably, tell her "thank you".

Saturday, February 18, 2017

How We Get to 2020

The road to 2020 is obscured by fog.  What could happen:


There's some chance that Trump will not run for reelection in 2020--how:
  • He could die or be incapacitated by natural or unnatural causes.  We've had two presidents die in office from natural causes; four from unnatural and it's been 54 years since the last assassination. He doesn't have the healthiest lifestyle and he is 70, but his parents were long-lived (88 and 93)
  • He could be so unpopular that he bows to the inevitable and bows out, following the example of LBJ.
  • He could be denied the Republican nomination and not run on a third party ticket.
  • He could be impeached and convicted or resign.
  • He could be removed through the 25th Amendment.
The likelihood is that he runs:
  • Possibly with a divided party, perhaps one where the "Never Trumps" have been reinvigorated by scandals and fiascoes and/or where Trump's attempts to carry out his promises have proved ineffective.  Two dimensions to this: the domestic economy--does it continue plugging ahead for 4 years with no rejuvenation of coal and manufacturing employment, does it fall into recession or does inflation come back?  And foreign affairs--do we have have a major terrorism attack, one or more wars, a failure to build the Wall?  If the party is divided, he might have the Republican nomination but only after a primary challenge, like Carter and GHWBush,  Or the party might split, with a challenger Republican also on the ballot, such as Kasich or Cruz. Or an independent, like John Anderson running towards the center in 1980.
  • Possibly as the head of a united party, as Nixon and Reagan did. This assumes that he turns out to be a superb tactician, able to keep united support by a Chinese menu approach to governing: a couple things for the evangelicals, something for the nationalists, something for the populists, and the odd surprises for the moderates.  (This could be due to conscious calculation, deft guidance from his staff and advisers, or interaction of his personal short attention span and desire to please. Or it could be he ends up acting as a monarch, reigning without ruling, providing circuses to amuse the populace.)
 Odds: Trump doesn't run--10 percent, Trump runs with divided party--50 percent, Trump runs with united party--40 percent.

The party could be:
  • mostly united around one candidate, realizing that the only way to defeat Trump is to be united, and finding a candidate attractive to all segments of the party. (Michelle might fit these criteria, but I don't see any one with similar attractions on the horizon.)
  • split, with most of the Democratic party supporting a candidate on the left, leaving moderates to support a splinter party in the center. some Democrats allying with the Green Party or a new party or a faction of the Republican party. This would be the result of the Democrats getting so caught up in opposing Trump that they move the party way to the left. Think of George McGovern and the opposition to Vietnam and Nixon, though his nomination was perhaps mainly the result of Chappaquiddick knocking out Ted Kennedy and dirty tricks knocking out Ed Muskie and the 1972 third party was going to be George Wallace until Bremer knocked him out.
  • split with the Democratic party supporting a more centrist party, with the left merging with the Green Party.  
Odds: Democrats united--20 percent, Democrats split with left dominant--50 percent, (This is the alternative I fear the most.) Democrats split with right dominant--30 percent.

NOTE:  Nate Silver outlines 14 different scenarios, all of which are conceivable, even the one in which Trump turns out to be a great president (which roughly equates to my running with a united party..

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Deep State" and ICE

The NYTimes has two articles today:
  • in one, they discuss the concept of the "deep state" (i.e., the various institutions of the government, sometimes found in opposition to the ruler, as in today's Egypt) and whether it applies to the case of Trump and the US government.  They conclude there's dangers there.
  • in the other, Linda Greenhouse, former Supreme Court reporter for the Times, discusses the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) union and its support of Trump, possibly leading to pushing the envelope on immigration raids.
Put them together and they reveal a truth about the US government not mentioned in either: it's a big complicated mess, not a monolith with one aim.  The bureaucrats in one agency do not agree with the bureaucrats in another agency.  The bureaucrats in EPA no doubt trend liberal, green types; the bureaucrats in ICE no doubt trend conservative, law and order types. Both are capable of dragging their feet and leaking like a sieve; both are equally capable of being eager beaver apple polishers over anxious to do what they believe the boss wants, even if she doesn't say so.

Back in the day liberals worried about the bureaucrats in the FBI and the CIA, fearing J. Edgar's secret files and attempts to blackmail.  Before the election the media (probably the Times) ran backgrounders on Comey's decisions on the Clinton emails--the theme was that Comey was being pushed from below to go hard on Clinton and was afraid of leaks if he didn't stay ahead of his field agents.  Now it seems likely that some of the leaks being reported about the Russian contacts are from FBI bureaucrats, whether the field agents or supervisors. 

We shouldn't oversimplify is what I'm saying.  Within agencies there are different cultures and perspectives, and within different cultures there are different personalities.  Combine those differences with a given political situation, put people in the command chain, and you've an unpredictable mess.  Although sometimes it's not hard to predict: tell the CEA staff to cook the books when making up the President's budget and someone may leak to the Wall Street Journal, and Matt Yglesias write about it in Vox.

[Updated--see this New Yorker piece on the Border Patrol's relationship with anti-immigrant groups.}

Thursday, February 16, 2017

(Some) Founding Fathers Were Immigrants

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 has a post listing all the founders (i.e. signers of the various documents) who weren't born in the colonies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Is To Be Done?

In the aftermath of the presidential election lots of people seem to be searching for ways to take effective action.  A few urls:
  • Emily Ellsworth, a former staffer in a Congressman's office (actually "constituent service manager") first tweeted tips then collected them  on how to be effective in calling your representative.
  • Congressional Management Foundation, a do-gooder outfit which tries to help members of Congress to have effective offices (good web sites, good response to constituents) switches sides and provides resources for citizens here.
  • The Indivisible Movement has issued a guide, and also tries to coordinate and report local action.

NBC Has the News Backwards

The headline on this piece is:  "Self-Driving Cars Will Create Organ Shortage — Can Science Meet Demand?"

That seems to me to be backwards--surely the most important thing about self-driving cars will the lives they save, not the lives they might cost because reduced accidents mean reduced deaths which means reductions in organs for transplant.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Important News of Feb. 14?

The White House tours are starting up again, beginning Mar 7.

Don't laugh--this is more important than Flynn.  Congress has few things they can give away these days now that the pork barrel is empty.  If your Congresswoman can't get her important visiting constituents a guided tour of the White House, what good is she--time for a primary

Monday, February 13, 2017

Farm Bill Stirrings

The first Congressional work on the next farm bill is starting.  This piece focuses on what the cotton growers want.  Here's the Economic Research Service's backgrounder (seems to me when I started work there were maybe 100,000 cotton farms, in 2007 it was down to 18,000, no doubt fewer now.

A quote: "Trade is particularly important for cotton. About 30 percent of the world's consumption of cotton fiber crosses international borders before processing, a larger share than for wheat, corn, soybeans, or rice. Through trade in yarn, fabric, and clothing, much of the world's cotton again crosses international borders at least once more before reaching the final consumer."