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 here.at 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:

Republicans

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.
Democrats

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."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Seeing the Future

I've been working on a post outlining various possibilities for the next 4 years, but it's not ready yet.  But I'll mention this Politico piece, discussing the betting odds on a Trump impeachment.  Apparently the betting world thinks it's a lot more likely for Trump to be impeached or resign than I do.  I think most of that is wishful thinking, fed by our past history of Nixon and Clinton.  Back in the day impeachment was not mentioned--it took a long while for the Congress to reach that point with Nixon--that's probably why I make long odds on that result.

[Updated to add: "“Trump is the gift that keeps on giving,” Paddy Power’s Davey said. “We’ve got a bonanza of betting specials on The Donald. When Trump took to Twitter this week to defend [daughter] Ivanka after Nordstrom dropped her clothing line, we were out with a [betting] market on next retailer to drop the Ivanka brand next.” (The current favorites are TJ Maxx at 4-to-1, Walmart at 5-to-1 and Amazon at 6-to-1.)"]

The Economics of Growing Dairies

Dairy Carrie has a good interview with a dairy farmer (surprise).  It briefly outlines the reasons dairies keep expanding and why they use immigrant labor.   I remember my uncle's operation, I think in the neighborhood of 50 cows, which he ran mostly alone, though sometimes he had hired hands and/or a housekeeper (he was a German-American bachelor farmer).  Not much time for other things, unless your barn burns and you have a heart attack, which gives you an exit strategy.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

High Probability of New Terrorist Attack?

I'm not quite sure what Nate Silver is talking about here:  
natesilver: I mean, the probability of an actual or thwarted terrorist attack in the U.S. or in some  NATO country over the next year or so has to be quite high. I’m not talking about something on a 9/11 or a Paris scale or anything like that, but something scary enough for Trump to use it as a cudgel to try to expand his powers. [emphasis added]
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-really-matters-from-trumps-first-3-weeks/
The Paris attacks involved 3 attackers, the 9/11 19.   The Orlando attack involved one, but killed 49.

Certainly there's some terrorist attack which could prompt Trump to ask for/get expanded powers, but what would it be?

Some possibilities:
  • a multi-person attack by refugees admitted before 2017 from one or more of the seven countries
  • an attack which claims victims in the triple digits or more, particularly if multi-person.
  • an attack on a particular target, like a sporting event, a civic event, a notable politician or eminent figure.
Hindsight is 20-20, but I'm pretty sure in the months after 9/11 I was more optimistic than most about new terrorist attacks.  But I'm still surprised we've gone 16 years with only lone wolf (regarding San Bernadino as one) attacks, attacks with little innovation as to targets or methods. So my predictions for the future have very low confidence, but I'd still expect more of the last 15 years than anything which could be a pretext for more surveillance, enhanced interrogation, etc.  


Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Wonders of the Federal System: Hypocrisy

One of the things the Founding Fathers did to us was to make us all hypocrites.

Politico has a piece on liberals using the same constitutional tactics against the new administration as the conservatives did against Obama's administration.

As I grow older and more cynical, I begin to think one of the virtues of the system is this encouragement of hypocrisy; surely no thinking politician can take herself entirely seriously when she has to change her stripes  arguments every four or eight years.  But then, how many "thinking politicians" are we given?

Ethics Training for White House Staff

One little factoid caught my attention which now becomes relevant: on the Sunday after Trump's inauguration the White House staff spent the afternoon getting ethics training (and probably other routine training).  These sorts of required training sessions were, when I was employed, a pain in the rear.  After all, I was honest, didn't discriminate based on race or disability, sex or age, etc. etc.  I confess I sometimes failed to attend them, using some excuse or other.

I'm now wondering whether Kellyanne Conway, the gift who keeps on giving, attended the Sunday session or whether, like me, she thought herself too good for it, thus leading into her apparent violation of ethics standards?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

RIP: Hans Rosling

An article discussing him here.

In my younger days world poverty was a big issue:  could Europe and the US ensure the Third World developed fast enough, overtaking the "Population Bomb", the title of a popular book in 1968 and The Limits of Growth by the Club of Rome.  Such books inculcated a mindset which I still haven't overcome (nor, I think, have most other people), as was confirmed for me by a recent quiz on world economic statistics.  Anyhow, Rosling was very effective in publicizing the great improvements in world living conditions.  He will be missed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Dealing With Congress, Dealing With Constituents

The Congressional Management Foundation is out with advice to Congresspeople on how to deal with the influx of phone calls and emails.  Emily Ellsworth is out with advice on how to call Congress.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Indoor Skydiving--It's a Thing

From Kottke.  (Using a vertical wind tunnel with transparent walls.)  Soon to be in the Olympics, no doubt.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Two for One Regulation EO

I blogged earlier about Trump's Executive Order on regulations.  Politico has a piece  raising some other questions about the order.  One is whether the President has power to govern the number of regulations--a neat question but one I'm sure lawyers can get around.

Why Small Dairies Vanish, or Turn Organic

From Modern Farmer, talking about a USDA survey of dairy farms:
The data will also be used to study the economy of scale in the dairy industry. Kings says that based on data from the 2010 ARMS, dairies with less than 50 cows had production costs twice that of dairies with 1,000 cows or more. “This cost-size relationship means that large dairies account for an increasing share of milk production and small dairies are going out of business, often as small producers reach retirement,” she says.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Why US May Never Be Majority Minority

Lots of projections that in the next 30 years or so, given present trends, the U.S. will have no majority ethnic/racial group, but instead assorted minorities will form a majority.

My title tries to be provocative, but here's the rationale:

Think of U.S. society as a giant amoeba-like monster, operating in a world of other smaller amoebas.  Occasionally it feeds by absorbing an amoeba.  Once it was the Irish, then the Germans, then the Jews, then the Poles, etc. etc.  Viewed from history, it's a process which does these things:
  • ensures the "white" majority stays in the majority.
  • gives a minority a chance to become (part of) the majority. Adopt cultural patterns and don't insist too hard on drawing boundaries and you're in.  Look at Jared and Ivanka Kushner.
  • leaves a segment of the minority to become the minority. ("Jews" today means something different than it did 70 years ago, as do all the ethnic/racial/religious lines we draw.)
My own prediction, and unfortunately I won't be around, is that cultural changes together with extensive intermarriage will mean that many Asian-Americans, Middle-Eastern-Americans, Latinos, and blacks will become "white" for cultural purposes.  For example, Malia and Sasha Obama are already white, just as many African-Americans say their father was and is.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism

The title is a blast from the past, from the lips of the only Vice President to be forced from office because of criminal conduct. 

Agnew was mostly a mouthpiece for a gifted speechwriter, but he has achieved political immortality of a kind by so being.  I'm thinking Kellyanne Conway is on her way to joining him in that political Valhalla, over which William Safire presides. It's just two weeks into the administration and already she's given us "alternative facts" and "Bowling Green massacre", two terms with a decent chance of being converted by usage into permanent residence in the political hall of fame.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Trade Is NOT Simple: Vietnam Spinning for China

Lyman Stone tweets, but has a day job, which includes this piece on cotton exports to Vietnam, which are part of a complex web of relationships among cotton-producing country, yarn spinning countries, yarn consuming countries (i.e. China) and multilateral trade agreements. 

Some curious facts:
  • spinning yarn and weaving cloth don't necessarily occur in the same country--I wonder why--the one is simpler than the other and easier to outsource? 
  • US cotton shipped in bales across the wide Pacific is competitive with cotton grown in India. Our growers are currently more efficient than Indian, so able to handle transport costs?
  • China used to have reserves of cotton but are now reducing or eliminating them. Wonder why--moving to less government intervention, if so, why?
Stone's summary paragraph: "If duty-free access for yarn is driving increased spinning in Vietnam, then the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement could be pushing U.S. cotton exports higher.  Yarn spinning being shifted from producer-countries like India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and to some extent China, into duty-preferred importer countries like Vietnam bodes well for U.S. exports.  Because the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement does not require that raw cotton inputs be sourced within the area, U.S. exporters are able to derive an indirect benefit from China’s duty-free ASEAN access."

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Nixon and Bush Lessons for Democrats

Looking over the next four years, I think Democrats can learn from the history of the past, specifically from Nixon and George HWBush.  Two lesson to be specific:
  • we need to be united, going into 2018 and 2020 together, rather than divided, as we were by the Vietnam War and the liberalization of the party. We should avoid the sort of split which resulted in the McGovern fiasco.
  • we need to focus on dividing the Republicans, splitting the old "Never-Trump" faction off.  Ideally we want Trump to support primary challenges to establishment Republicans in 2018, and to face his own challenger, as Bush did with Buchanan in 1992.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Calm Down II

Don Kettl says to calm down.  

I've commented to Dan Drezner as follows:
"I think you all are too easily dismissing Murphy's Law. We Dems have a good motive to see machiavellian scheming--the more intelligent our adversaries the greater our victory when we triumph, as we surely must. No--simple screwups trying to do too much and please a boss who has a gnat's attention span will explain it all."
 And I said elsewhere that I was reminded of the Clinton administration--their kerfuffles with gays in the military and getting a female Attorney General. Like Clinton, Trump doesn't have a chief of staff cracking the whip.  The question is, how long will it take before Trump brings in a "savior" (like David Gergen was supposed to be for Clinton) and who will it be--Christie?

Monday, January 30, 2017

Two for One Order

The President has issued his order on regulations--do away with two regulations each time you do a new one.  I discussed it previously here and argued against a similar proposal of Senator Warner's back in 2010.  Cass Sunstein back in November argued it might work in limited cases.  He ends:
"In theory, “one in, two out” is silly, and in practice it’s likely to be a bit of a mess. It’s hardly the most sensible approach to regulatory reform. But with a little flexibility, and a lot of determination, executive branch officials might be able to make it work."
The two for one is the headline grabber, but the order also mandates "zero incremental costs" for regulations.  OMB is given this authority:
  The Director shall provide the heads of agencies with guidance on the implementation of this section.  Such guidance shall address, among other things, processes for standardizing the measurement and estimation of regulatory costs; standards for determining what qualifies as new and offsetting regulations; standards for determining the costs of existing regulations that are considered for elimination; processes for accounting for costs in different fiscal years; methods to oversee the issuance of rules with costs offset by savings at different times or different agencies; and emergencies and other circumstances that might justify individual waivers of the requirements of this section.  The Director shall consider phasing in and updating these requirements.
The zero incremental costs creates another dimension to evaluate regulations by, possibly a conflicting one.

My own two cents: by the time OMB gets through writing and rewriting its guidance to the agencies and the agencies get through with their meetings to understand the guidance and train their people, this executive order will have cost the government millions of dollars.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Stepping on a Stick on a Stone

Sometimes you can walk along and step on a stick, or a board, which happens to be in a seesaw position, sitting on a pivot point.  Your foot goes down on the board, and a short time later the other end of the board flies up and hits you in the face.  Our federal legal system sometimes operates that way in history.

Prof Somin says Trump's sanctuary cities EO is unconstitutional.  One of the ironies of history in our federal system is the way decisions spring back to strike people.  In this case a Supreme Court decision on part of Obamacare which liberals disliked may come back to support liberals.  See Somin's post for the details.  This is another example of how federalism works--James Madison would be happy.

Another outcome of federalism is the promotion of hypocrisy--politicians may be on one side of a federalism issue while in power, the other side when not in power. 


Friday, January 27, 2017

Marches Might Cut Both Ways

Five Thirty Eight estimates the total number of participants in all the Saturday marches was about 3.2 million, total in the Tea Party marches of April 2009.  I can read this two ways:
  • Republicans should be ten times more fearful of the passion against Trump than Democrats feared passion against Obama.  That is, the Tea Party was effective in limiting Obama to 2 years, instead of 8, so it's likely the Womens March will be more effective in limiting Trump.
  • Democrats should be ten times more fearful of the passion against Trump than Republicans feared passion against Obama.  That is, the Tea Party disrupted the Republican party, moving it further to the right, so it's likely the Womens march will also move the Democratic party to the left.

Records and Security Orientation for Trump Staff?

On Sunday the White House staff appointed by Trump had their orientation on ethics. Please tell me that the staff, and all department heads, are also going to receive an orientation from National Archives and Records Administration  and IT on records management, email management, and cybersecurity?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump's White House Stuck in the Past

Powerline blog reproduces Trump's Executive Orders on immigration.  Based on the images, his staff is still stuck back in the typewriter era, using Courier or Elite typefonts.   I don't know how many times I have to repeat this: proportional spaced fonts are easier to read.  (Presumably if and when published in the Federal Register they will appear as proportional spaced--I'm assuming the Powerline image is the document Trump signed.)

Cataract Followup

I blogged the other day complimenting Kaiser on its cataract surgery setup.  Very good, but...

My mother-in-law had cataract surgeries about 10 years ago, in the office of her ophthalmologist, with the staff just a nurse, the receptionist, and the doctor.  Her results were good.  I'd assume Kaiser does a better job by devoting more people and better routines (i.e., checklists, etc., everything Atul Gawande would approve of). But "better" is at the margins, an incremental improvement.  Now when it's my eyes, I want every little increment I can get, but as a society we might be better off if one of the Kaiser staff was employed as a home-visiting nurse.  Might be, but there's no way in our society to get there from here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Calm Down

That's my general attitude to the transition to the Trump administration.

See Brad Plumer's tweets this afternoon, just as an indicator:
I dunno. Stories about EPA frozen grants, deleted websites, media blackout… seems like they've all been smaller than first thought, no?

Is that because the initial coverage was overblown — or because the initial coverage was right and Trump's team backed down? Hard to tell.
[Updated:  This indicates agencies are being cautious in their Federal Register publications.]
 I remember similar stuff happening in previous administrations.  Two things to remember: we're disrupting old political habits, the new administration doesn't know what they're doing and neither does their opposition, so opportunities for mistakes and misreading are great; because we're in new situations emotions run high leading to further exaggeration.

Once we (the administration and the public) get accustomed to our new roles we can start identifying what is going wrong and which policies are bad.

[All of the above doesn't mean I've taken back my endorsement of the demand to release Trump's tax returns.]

The Last Mile Versus the Last 1 Percent

The old saw (Pareto) says 80 percent of the cases can be handled with 20 percent of the effort.  An extrapolation would be: self-driving cars can handle 80 percent of the driving very easily but it's the last 5 percent, especially the last 1 percent of the time which is difficult.  Which I find to be rather like the old "last mile" problem in cable: easy enough to move data across country in a flash, but getting it the last mile was difficult. 

Nissan has an answer, whether it's workable remains to be seen.  They're using a telecenter to handle the unexpected problems (like a emergency road crew patching potholes or something).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cataract Surgery

Had my second surgery yesterday. Apparently I haven't mentioned it.  It's time to recognize the capabilities of modern medicine and medical technology, and the good people at Kaiser Permanente Tysons Center who performed the surgery.  The mix of backgrounds of the people there warms a liberal's heart (as does the diversity of the people at the Reston Kaiser center where my internist and optometrist work).  

[Updated: Dr. Slack performed the operation and some of the people involved  were Dominique at reception,  Melita in Pre-op, Rizza Bernard and Reagan Jerome in the operating room, and Erin C. in recovery--I hope I've got the names right and there were others whose names I don't have.) Thank you all.]

Sunday, January 22, 2017

FSA Makes the NY Times

Usually it's bad to be mentioned in the national media.  So it is this time, when an article on bald eagles killing chickens on a Georgia farm includes how FSA administers the Livestock Indemnity Program. Under the program farmers suffering loss of livestock can be compensated.  The loss is roughly calculated by determining the dead divided by the total herd/flock.  But the compensation is not for the total loss, it's for the loss over the normal, the usual.  The usual mortality rate for chickens is 4 percent, but that's for conventional flocks, living indoors.  The Georgia farm is part of the food movement, so his chickens are free range.  So what's the usual mortality rate?  40 percent was FSA's first try; 18 percent was the second, the third is still pending.

(I'm assuming the Livestock Indemnity Program, included in the 2014 farm bill, was intended as an alternative to a crop insurance policy, which livestock producers have been asking for.  The indemnity approach dates back at least to the 60's, when occasionally there was DDT contamination of milk, and we had indemnity payments for that.  Of course DDT was the reason that bald eagles were an endangered species and why there's still stiff laws protecting them.)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What Next for Women's Marchers?

That's a question being widely asked.  A modest suggestion:  if one out of every hundred marchers is inspired to seek elective office in the next election cycle, whether local, state, or federal office,  and half of the marchers work to support such candidates, they'd make a major increase in the number of women in office.  (Looks like about 2,000 women in state and federal office; if a million marched today that's 10,000 candidates, assume a quarter win that's 2,500.)

Women's Health in Nineteenth Century

The Jstor blog has a piece on de facto first ladies.  What's telling is that the list ends in 1915, with Woodrow Wilson's daughter (his wife died and there was a (short) time before he remarried).  There are 13 daughters, daughters-in-law, and nieces listed for the 19th century, but only one for a bachelor (Buchanan).  (The list does omit Anna Roosevelt, who often acted for FDR because her mother was out doing good works.)  That factoid shows two things:
  • life was hard for 19th century women
  • life, particularly because of public health improvements, was better for 20th century women.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Petition Trump

As of 3:24 today the Whitehouse petition site was still up, with petitions for Trump to divest assets and release tax returns.

Seattle WTO Protests and Today's of Trump

I wonder at the background of the protestors in DC today, the ones who destroyed some windows.  Were they perhaps the children, actual or ideological, of the WTO protestors of 17 years ago in Seattle?  And how do they relate to Trump's inaugural speech, which certainly was anti-global institutions and anti-elite? Or is it just the violent impulse present in all of us, using whatever materials are available to rage against the world, a world weighing too heavy on them?

Days of Hope

Reading this NYTimes piece from 8 years ago sparks memory of another era.  Briefly, Obama held, or spoke at, dinners honoring John McCain and Colin Powell on January 19, 2009.  (I was prompted to do a search by a tweet comparing photos of Trump's crowd at the Lincoln Memorial and Obama's.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Loving Hidden Figures?

I've now seen both Loving and Hidden Figures. I enjoyed the latter more, I think more highly of the first.

Why?  Hidden Figures has Hollywood touches.  More significantly, I lived through the space race and a number of things struck me as off, though in fairness I may simply be showing my ignorance.  Loving on the other hand covers the same time period, but I claim less familiarity with the context. It seems realistic, as Manchester by the Sea is realistic, but Hidden Figures less so.

On the other hand, I find Hidden Figures to be more interesting.  In some ways it's the other side of the coin from what seems to be the standard modern criticism of liberal government during the New Deal and later.  When you combine government and new technology, there are chances for change I think are less present in business.  Unfortunately, often the advances aren't sustained.  I suspect the African-American women in NASA who changed from "computers" to "feeding" the IBM 7090 computer were not the tip of a significantly growing programming force.