Thursday, July 18, 2019

Marching Season and Remembering the Past

Here's a report on Marching Day in Northern Ireland.

The Protestant Orange Order is able to muster a lot of people, including a 6-mile long parade, ostensibly to celebrate a battle 330+ years ago.  I write "ostensibly" because it's really an assertion of community identity, at least incidentally in opposition to their Catholic neighbors.

Compare that to the remembrance ceremonies of the white South, celebrating the Confederacy of 158 years ago.  I'm sure there are some scattered around, but they aren't significant enough to warrant much attention. Why the difference?

You suggest one is celebrating a victory, the other an ultimate defeat?

That might logically make a difference, but where are the big parades celebrating the Union victory?  The closest we can come is the Juneteenth observances of recent years. And, more importantly, there's no organization dedicated to the celebration, as well as agitating for the cause now.  We had one such organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, but the GAR ended with the last vet, in 1956.

So why do Americans forget the past more easily than those in Northern Ireland? 

I suspect part of the answer is immigration: we've added millions of people who've no live interest in the fight for the union or the abolition of slavery.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How Do Small Farms Survive?

Here's the piece from which I stole the heading:
The answer: renting out a minihouse through Airbnb

Another piece in the media suggesting comfort animals, as in those with big brown eyes, aka "cows", is the answer.

The real answers, of course, are:

  1. off-farm income, as has been the case for decades.
  2. drawing down capital (i.e., the value of land and buildings)   (My mother used to fuss about farmers who would be better off selling out and investing the proceeds in bonds.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Farming: the Definition

I follow Cam Houle on twitter and was struck by his T-shirt in this tweet.

Turns out the t-shirt is available on Amazon.

It seems even in Canada with its supply management setup, dairying is a losing proposition.

Monday, July 15, 2019

President Carter and the Courts

Slate has an interesting piece on President Carter's approach to filling judicial vacancies: Some points:

  • he was able to persuade Sen. Eastland to support a judicial commission to pick appeals court judges.
  • the result was diversity:
When Carter took office, just eight women had ever been appointed to one of the 500 federal judgeships in the country. (For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to the district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court.) Carter appointed 40 women, including eight women of color. Similarly, before Carter, just 31 people of color had been confirmed to federal courts, often over Eastland’s strenuous disapproval. The peanut farmer from Plains appointed 57 minorities to the judiciary. (He also had more robes to fill: A 1978 bill expanded the federal judiciary by 33 percent, or 152 seats.)
Justices Breyer and Ginsburg were Carter nominees for appeals courts.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

FL Olmsted: Bureaucrat

Reading a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted: "Genius of Place"

He's known as the creator of NYC's Central Park, his first big project just before the Civil War,.   But judging by his career through 1863 when he resigned from the United States Sanitary Commission, which he had serrved as executive secretary through its creation to Gettysburg, his true calling was as a bureaucrat.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Amish Vacations

"Amish vacations" seems like an oxymoron; dairy farmers don't get vacations. 

But the Amish have been moving into other occupations, and they still have big families, meaning someone can be in line to do the day-to-day work even of dairy farms.

So it seems that the Amish do take vacations, as shown by this Kottke post., linking to some photos and older articles.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Farewell to Cokesbury

My sister was a devoted patron of the Cokesbury book store in Syracuse.  It closed in 2012 as part of the closure of its 57 physical stores, shifting to online only.

I suspect the closure reflects both the decline of mainline Protestantism and the impact of Amazon on bookstores. 

Slate has a long piece on the decline of the religious bookstore here, and John Fea links it to evangelical religion.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

On the Filibuster and Policy Flip-Flops

Just replied to an Ezra Klein tweet about ending the filibuster.

If the Democrats can win the presidency, and if they can win control of the Senate, they've not won too much, at least not when compared to the stack of policy proposals the candidates, especially Warren, are coming up with.  The fact that the Senate majority will likely be composed of Sens. Manchin, Rosen, Jones, Kelly (AZ), Gideion (ME) and whoever, all centrists whose seats aren't the most secure, means the most liberal proposals won't get considered in the Senate, regardless of the filibuster.

The filibuster means even somewhat bipartisan measures (say 51 Dems plus 7 Reps) won't pass.

Removing the filibuster means a Dem majority can change policy (if they can agree, which is a big "IF").  My reservations here can be seen in the Mexico City policy on abortion--see my discussion below.

Two considerations might make me change my mind:

  1. suppose ACA is deemed unconstitutional by the Supremes next fall.  Obviously the Dems will want to pass some new healthcare legislation, but what can be passed that will not also be invalidated by the Supremes? I'd like to see some discussion of this.  Is it possible to change ACA enough to get past the 5 conservatives on the Court?  If so, we might need to kill the filibuster to get it done.  Pass it, and hope 8 years of a Dem administration gets it solidly entrenched enough to withstand Rep control of Congress and the Presidentcy.
  2. the other issue is the Congressional Review Act, which has been used extensively by the Reps to kill Obama's regulations.  The Act includes this provision:
(2)rule that does not take effect (or does not continue) under paragraph (1) may not be reissued in substantially the same form, and a new rule that is substantially the same as such a rule may not be issued, unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of the joint resolution disapproving the original rule.
That provision hasn't been tested in the courts, but what it could mean is there's no way for a victorious Dem party to reinstate Obama's regulations.  That's my interpretation, though one should never underestimate the ingenuity of lawyers.  If that's its meaning then we may need to kill the filibuster to permit bare majorities to pass the new laws needed to reauthorize the regulations.

 As Wikipedia describes:
First implemented in 1984 by the Reagan Administration, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has enforced the policy during all subsequent Republican Administrations, and rescinded the policy at the direction of all Democratic Administrations.[3] After its initial enactment by President Reagan in 1984,[4] it was rescinded by Democratic President Bill Clinton in January 1993,[5] then re-instituted in January 2001 as Republican President George W. Bush took office,[6] rescinded in January 2009, as Democratic President Barack Obama took office[7][8] and reinstated in January 2017, as Republican President Donald Trump took office.

That's no way to run a railroad, much less a country, if applied to all major policies.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Big Sort and Actblue

Gave money to Ms. McGrath via Actblue yesterday in the vain hope she'll be able to beat Sen. McConnell.

Something this morning ( likely reading about the Republicans struggle to come up with their own version of Actblue) triggered this thought: over time our politics have become more partisan, our parties more unified, our legislative bodies more cleanly divided; has Actblue been a cause?

Back in my childhood parties were local--you had Tammany Hall dominating NYC politics, various state houses and state bosses controlling how state delegations voted in the national conventions.  National lobbies were groups like Farm Bureau and the Grange, National Association of Manufacturers and Chamber of Commerce, AFL and CIO,  American Bar Association and American Medical Association.  Dollars for national ads weren't important (Ike did the first TV ad in 1952 I believe.

Anyhow, these days individuals can easily give to campaigns across the country, and candidates can fly to New York or LA to raise money from the rich based on their policy positions, not their ability or commitment to do their best for their constituency (a la Sen. Robert Byrd).

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

My Political Thinking on 2020

A couple of Never Trumpers-Megan McArdle and Jennifer someone (forgot her last name) have argued on twitter that Democrats expect too much of them. If I understand they feel Dems want them to vote for any Democrat we nominate, in spite of a leftish platform which violates all conservative principles.

I tweeted replies a couple times to McArdle.but let me be more considered:

  • if you're a Never Trumper, then logically you need to NOT vote for Trump.  Vote libertarian or don't vote, but don't vote for Trump. Yes, that means you're saying Trump's personal and presidential deficiencies, the damage he's doing to our institutions and our world standing, outweigh policy considerations, especially the chance to add two more conservative justices to the Supremes.  If that's your judgment, okay.
  • Consider this, however. Suppose Warren is the candidate and you like only one of her 1,000 plans. If she's elected with your vote, the odds are that she is at best governing with the support of a Democratic House, where the "majority makers" of 2018 are still worrying about their jobs in 2022, and a nominally Democratic Senate, where the balance of power is held by Joe McManchin, Kristen Sinema, Jackie Rosen, Doug Jones, and the winning candidates in ME, CO, AZ, and ?.  In other words, in neither House will there be majority support for the Warren plans which most deeply offend conservative sensibilities.   
In light of the above, my suggestion for Never Trumpers is to vote strategically--if it's close for the presidency, vote for the Dem, knowing we're likely to have split government for the next four years. If it looks good for the Dem, vote libertarian.  If it looks good for Trump, pray.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Aging, Savings and "Crashed"

Reading "Crashed" raises questions about interest rates and the amount of capital in the world.

I'm sure it's been observed before, but the world is getting older.  Japan and the US are examples, but China's another one.  I'll be foolish and apply my own experience to the rest of the world.  The older I get the more I save, partly because it's more important to have security for the future and partly because my desires are less.  Or in other words, I'm more set in my ways.

Extrapolate that pattern world wide and maybe we have more savings, more capital than investment opportunities and thus lower interest rates. 

Saturday, July 06, 2019

The Problem of Gig Workers, Farm Workers

Strikes me that the infamous "gig workers" and farm workers share some problems, though their situations are different. (Before I proceed, apparently there's at least confusion or  doubt over how significant the sign economy is.)

As I understand gig workers, they may be working for larger companies, like Uber or Lyft, or for smaller ones.  Farm workers, except in the case of the large fruit and vegetable outfits, are usually working for smaller employers.

In both cases, the worker is unlikely to get fringe benefits--health and disability insurance, minimum wage protection, etc.  The problem for farmers is the paperwork burden.  The problem for the workers is the power situation--almost impossible to organize.

I wonder if a state-mandated broker setup might work. 

Friday, July 05, 2019

On Reading Adam Tooze's "Crashed"

I'm currently reading Adam Tooze's "Crashed, How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World". The Amazon blurb is:"An intelligent explanation of the mechanisms that produced the crisis and the response to it...One of the great strengths of Tooze's book is to demonstrate the deeply intertwined nature of the European and American financial systems."--The New York Times Book Review."

That's the aspect of the book I'd highlight--I've read Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner's books on the crisis, but they give a US -centric view of the Great Recession and its aftermath.  So Tooze provides a more complete picture. 

He's not a great stylist, and I was disappointed by the Introduction, but he does the narrative well, and the book grows on you.  Some of the discussions are over my head.  Lots of the financial details go by too fast for me to deeply understand, but I get enough out of it.  Tooze is critical of decisions made by many of the leaders,  but I think fairly so. I recommend it.

But all that's not why I'm moved to post about it.

Tooze reminds me of the turmoil and tension of those days, the uncertainty over how things would turn out.  And that brings me back to today, and our current President.

Bottom line: we should thank our stars and stripes that Obama was president then and not Trump.  It's impossible to imagine the damage he would have done.

On the other hand, the existence of the crisis and perhaps the mistakes made in handling it and the aftermath might well have been a necessary condition for Trump's victory in 2016.  A question to consider in the future.

Boundaries Are Important, as Are Perspectives

From the Foothill Agrarian blog:

"From a predation perspective, our lambing season comes at a time when the coyotes and mountain lions don’t have many dietary options. From a dog’s perspective, lambing season offers all sorts of gastronomic and maternal delights. Our dogs love to clean up afterbirth! We’ve had young female dogs that decided they should care for newborn lambs - their maternal instincts drive them to steal lambs from the ewes. Both predilections can create problems. Ideally, we need a dog that is attentive but respectful of lambing ewes. We need a dog that gives a ewe her space while lambing, but that keeps the predators at bay."

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Super Delegates and 2020

Seems as if the Democrats change their rules for nominating much more often than the Republicans.

Back in the 50's the nomination was a combination of primaries and favorite sons and smoke-filled rooms.  The 1968 convention with the Mississippi controversy over seating the black Democratic delegation resulted in changing to dominance by primaries.  Then in the early 80's the pendulum swung back by creating the super-delegates to provide more "adult" guidance to the party.  Now, after 2016, the pendulum has swung again towards primaries.

It's interesting to me, as a supporter of Amy Klobuchar, to note she does a lot better in accumulating endorsements from party figures than she has done in polling.  That leads me to speculate that the switch away from super delegates may wind up depriving her of the nomination.

How Some on the Right Befoul Our History

The Post had a collection of short pieces (2-3 paragraphs) today from different writers entitled Nine Things to Celebrate This Fourth of July.

Hugh Hewitt arouses my ire by excerpting and linking to an old essay on the "Price They Paid", recounting the sacrifices made by the signers of the Declaration.  I'm mad because it's been debunked  (in 2005) by  Some of the facts are correct, but the interpretation is off.  The signers didn't suffer because they signed the Declaration as the essay claims; they suffered because the Revolution was a time of danger and hardship.

The essay represents to me the sort of right wing mythologizing which undermines patriotism and the value of history.  It's popular because anyone who reads it says OMG and feels awestruck.  But it's not true. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Democrat Predictions

I see Nate Silver predicting Biden, Warren and Harris as equally likely to win the nomination, with Sanders behind them.  Jonathan Berrnstein doesn't think Sanders is that likely.

As of today I'd take the field against those four, but I'd be willing to lose my money.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Stretching History

From a Dylan Mathews interview with Edgar Villaneuva on his book on the dominance of whites in philanthropy:
"Many families and many institutions that have amassed wealth have done so on the backs of people of color and indigenous people. One example I often share is my first job in philanthropy was in North Carolina, and it was all tobacco money. My office was on a plantation.
The R.J. Reynolds family had amassed all this wealth through the tobacco industry. Clearly, slave labor was a major part of that and helped to build this family’s fortune.  [Emphasis added.] There are multiple Reynolds foundations that now exist. I think that [money] should be given in a way that sort of centers and prioritizes giving in communities of color that helped amass that wealth.
The only problem with the statement is this: R.J. Reynolds was, according to wikipedia, born in 1850 and formed his company in 1875. 

It's sloppy work and tends to cast doubt on the book.

Soybeans and the Trade War

From an ERS report on the soybean trade among Brazil, China, and the US.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Space Is Getting Crowded

Technology Review counts up the upcoming Mars missions. I'm aware of EU and US missions in the past, but who knew these nations would go to Mars:

  • Russia!
  • China!!
  • UAE!!!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Purchasing Fertilizer in 1880

Turns out the 1880 Agricultural Census schedule recorded the cost of fertilizer purchased for the farm.

I'm not sure what fertilizers were available then--guano certainly.. The US had passed the Guano Islands Act in 1852.  The wikipedia article on guano suggests perhaps saltpeter was replacing it.

Friday, June 28, 2019

My Perception Gap (Flawed Test)

I just took the "Perception Gap Quiz". which has been in the news recently.  It's very brief, and my result is flawed because I've read about the results and adjusted my responses accordingly.   My gap was -9%, when the average Dems is 19%.  I gave the Republicans too much credit in judging Trump to be a flawed person and in worrying about climate change.

I suspect even if I hadn't read about the quiz before, I likely would have had a smaller perception gap than the average Democrat.  I do scan the Washington Times website each morning, though I rarely click through to the story, and I follow the Powerline Blog, staffed by four conservatives, and the Althouse blog.  Althouse may have voted for Obama in the past and hide her 2016 choice, but she tends to be right of center.  And my background growing up means I can be more understanding of Trump voters, at least if I'm reminded to be understanding.  (My knee-jerk reactions may differ.)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Peach Is a Sometime Thing

Ate a peach this afternoon, perhaps the fourth one I've bought this summer. 

It was not a peach; the flesh wasn't yellow but had a reddish cast; although the peach had lost moisture so the skin was loose the flesh didn't taste ripe.  All in all it was a far cry from the peaches I remember from growing up.  I suspect because a ripe peach is a sometime thing the breeders have been hard at work, trying to extend the shelf life in the store, laudably trying to reduce the waste of food involved in trying to sell peaches in grocery stores.  But in doing so they've change peaches for ever.

The peach of my childhood was ripe for a couple days at most.  Who knew that the peach of my childhood would vanish forever at the hands of earnest scientists trying for improvement?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


Which groups of armed men get to be called "militias" and which don't?  Could the Black Panthers have called themselves a "militia"? 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Wave of the Future

NYTimes reports on refugees from Africa coming to Portland, ME.  Part of the reason for their selection of Portland is prior immigrants have settled there and say it's safe and welcoming.  This is the sort of "chain" immigration pattern which has long been a feature of American life.

When you look at the world today, the countries with the highest birth rates and youngest populations are in Africa. Afghanistan looks to be the first non-African country in the ranking, and it's 23rd.  What that means to me is that Africa will be the primary source of migrants over the next few decades.  The migrants may go to Europe and the Middle East based on geography (although I saw a discussion of the Nigerian community in China today) but a good number are likely to come to the U.S., since we already have the connections, the first links in the chain.

I wouldn't be surprised in 20 years or so the children of today's Hispanic and Asian immigrants find African immigrants to be a threat. Maybe I'll live that long.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Economist Discovers Social Norms

The issue Scott Irwin, an economist, is considering is how farmers decide(d) either to plant corn late or to go with prevented planting.  The earlier tweets in this thread all considered rational calculations of return, but this tweet is his final thought:
I view myself as a rational human being, but over my life I've often not acted as such.  I'm not sure whether social norms, habit, or psychology were at work

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Reparations as Honey Pot

Under some designs of reparations we might see a "honeypot" effect.  I wanted to write "honeypot", but I find by google that's used in computing for a trap for hackers. What I mean is the effect where something of value is free, or easily accessible, thereby attracting all sorts of con-men who exploit it. We see in the Oklahoma land-rush.

We also see, again in Oklahoma, as described by Daivd Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon., an National Book Award finalist. Briefly, oil was discovered on the Osage Native American reservation in the 1910's, enriching the members of the tribe.  Immediately the new wealth attracted a wide variety of people seeking to exploit this new resource:

  • merchants selling luxuries at exploitative prices.
  • "guardians" appointed to manage the money of "incompetent Indians". 
  • murder
Unfortunately in cases where government action or inaction creates opportunity for illicit gain, we don't lay the traps in advance; we try to recover after the fact.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

AFIDA Reports and Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land

I posted earlier this year on the issue of foreigners buying agricultural land.  At that time I found an obsolete link to FSA AFIDA reports (last updated in 2012).

The other day I saw a hysterical tweet on the same subject, with Tamar Haspel (a good writer on food issues) countering.

This morning for no reason I decided to Google AFIDA and found the active list of FSA AFIDA reports. The last report on this one is for 2016.

It starts with:
Foreign individuals and entities reported holding an interest in 28.3 million acres of U.S. agricultural land as of December 31, 2016. This is 2.2 percent of all privately held U.S. agricultural land and approximately 1 percent of all land in the United States (see fig. 1 for State-level detail).

The Resurgence of Whole Milk?

I've been buying 2 percent milk at the grocery for decades.  In recent years, as I've noted before, the amount of cooler space devoted to milk of different fat levels has decreased.  When I picked up milk the other day I realized the amount of space devoted to 2 percent milk was down, and the proportion devoted to whole milk was up.

I'm vaguely aware of some research supporting the consumption of whole milk.  Googling found this piece, along with others with titles pointing both ways.

Meanwhile I see this post. showing the dairy industry pushing for whole milk in schools.

Friday, June 21, 2019

About Joe Biden and Dealmaking

I'm not sure of the relationship between Biden and Southern Democratic senators back in the 1970's and 80's.

What I do believe is that an effective President must be willing to make deals with anyone.  In this connection I want to recall one of my all-time favorite movies: Kelly's Heroes and Crapgame.

At the climax of the movie Don Rickles, as Crapgame, tells Telly Savalas, the wise old sergeant to make a deal.  What kind of deal?  A deal deal.   The deal is made, and the Americans and the Germans split the gold in the bank.  (You have to see the whole picture to understand the plot.)

Seriously, in my mind LBJ was the most effective president of my lifetime, and he was a dealmaker. I only regret he couldn't find his way to make the deal with the Chinese that Nixon did.

The point is, a deal usually brings together people whose interests conflict to some degree.  I go to buy a car, I want the best car for the lowest price, the deal wants the highest price for the cars she has in stock.  If we meet in the middle, we find the minimax, a deal which represents the best possible outcome for us both, even if it doesn't satisfy our maximum desires. 

Bottom line:  it bothers me to see Democratic candidates setting up barriers to dealmaking.  Hopefully it's all or mostly political positioning, not to be taken seriously.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

How Soon I Forget--Reparations

I'd forgotten I'd actually posted my views on reparations this spring. I haven't changed my mind since, just forgot I'd written it.

I do have more thoughts on the difficulty of administering such a program, which I might get to in the future.  I have to say the history of the Pigford suit doesn't increase my confidence in the ability of the government to run such a program

I also have some reservations about Coates' Atlantic article in 2014 which raised the profile of the issue, which I might get to.

There's also a question: if we can design a program which would effectively raise the wealth of blacks, what basis would we have to deny other minorities access to such a program? Or even poor whites?

Black Swans and Just Plain Errors

I just revised my post of yesterday to observe that it's difficult to predict the future. 

Obviously the tendency is to project trends of the present into the future: in 1960 South Korea is a dependency of the US, in 2020 South Korea will be a dependency of the US; in 1950 the Red Chinese were a horde of indistinguishable people wearing Mao jackets; in 2020 the Chinese will continue to have no individuality and dress alike; in 1950 Japan makes cheap children's toys (still remember a metal airplane toy which made a noise when you pushed it along the floor; in 2020 Japan will still be behind the curve of technology.

Mr. Taleb of "Black Swan" fame has a theory of why we fail; a theory I forget the content of.  It's possible we just err.  Or it's possible we like the comfort of the known and dislike Rumsfeld's "unknown unknows".

It would be an error, I think, to assume that President Trump is doomed to be as unpopular on election day 2020 as he is today.  Things may happen, or they may not. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

This Kind of War

This Kind of War is by T.R.Fehrenbach.  The Kindle version was on special the other day, so I bought it.  The Korean War was the first war I experienced, through the newspapers, the newsreels, and magazine articles.  The book was written in 1963, long enough after the war's end for some perspective, long enough ago to offer some insights.  (Fehrenbach was an officer in the 2nd Division, a unit which features prominently in the book, but he doesn't cite his experience explicitly.) I've read something about the war since, especially a bio of the general commanding the 1st Marine Division focused on the battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

He alternates between a focus on individual battles and individuals and a broad general picture of the war.  It's still recommended by figures like Sen. McCain and Gen. Mattis.

Some things which struck me:

  • the learning curves of the various militaries involved. The North Koreans, Chinese, South Koreans and US all came into the war with different backgrounds; the first three were able to learn  from the experience while the US was handicapped by the rotation policy.
  • the writer's surprise at the ability of Japan to rehabilitate American equipment, a reminder of how far Japan has come since my boyhood when they made cheap toys.
  • serious omens for our experience in Vietnam.
  • [updated: the author's prediction South Korea would forever be a basket case dependent on US, although that's more definitive than his actual words--a reminder of how limited our vision of the future can be]

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

NYTimes Articles

Today the Times had one article on projections of world population.  The projection for max population is lower than before because of falling birth rates.

The Times also had an article on research into new crops, which said it was very important because of the "rapidly growing population." 

I find it a bit inconsistent.

What was interesting in the second article was scientists finding ways to plant and harvest multiple times during the year, up to 6 plant/harvest cycles for wheat.  That permits more rapid development of  new varieties.  Norm Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, was a pioneer in this, moving to Mexico where he could do two crops of wheat a year. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Effect of (Some) Government Programs

From the Rural Blog's post on tobacco, specifically moves raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21:

"The [tobacco] industry has shrunk since the federal program of production quotas and price supports ended in 2004, and consolidated into larger farms. Pratt estimated the number of burley growers has plummeted from 175,000 to 3,000. And that has reduced the political influence of the crop that once had a powerful hold on Congress and state legislatures."
In other words, in 15 years the number of farmers has dropped to 2 percent of its starting level.

Side comments:  there's still the meme on the left that farm programs help the big guys, which drastically oversimplifies by lumping all farm programs together.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Gains in Government Productivity?

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has a series of posts on the increased cost of higher education and health services in the US over the past years.  On first reading they're convincing. 

Briefly it's Baumol's  disease--it's hard to raise productivity in service industries because it requires people's time--the time for musicians to play a live performance, a doctor to examine a patient, a surgeon to do an operation, etc.

So how about government?  That's a question I'll try to get back to.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Now and Then: Watergate Remembered--Profanity

While I've never set up a label "Watergate", I find I have referred to it several times in the context of Trump's actions.

One thing which hurt President Nixon was the revelation of the contents of the tapes.  What he said harmed his cause;eventually it sunk it when the "smoking gun" tape showing he planned the coverup. Another aspect diminished his reputation and support: profanity.

Remember in 1973-4 standards were crumbling under the determined attack of the baby boomers.  By standards I mean definitions of "propriety".  (A google ngram for the word shows its usage had been fairly steady for 40 years or so, but dipped significantly in the 70's.)  Nixon represented the people who still believed in propriety, who upheld standards of decorum, who were stiff in public.

So it was a shock to his supporters to find he actually swore in private.  And it's revealing that in the transcripts, his words were replaced by "expletive deleted".

Those were the days.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

No Impeachment in Second Term

Query: imagining the worst, if President Trump wins reelection there's no way to impeach him?

The argument would be that all his faults were known to the voters in 2020 (which is what Fred Hiatt argued in the Post recently, except with reference to 2016). 

I think it's possible that something could happen after 2020, or some revelation about events before then (recordings of him conspiring with Putin or taking money from Russia during 2016 perhaps) which might change the situation, but you'd have to regard any impeachment as very unlikely.

What that means for people like me who support Pelosi's stand on impeachment is we have to work even harder to defeat Trump in 2020.  The people who support impeachment can logically, if mistakenly in my opinion, say they have two bites at the apple--impeach and if the Senate doesn't convict defeat him in 2020.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Animal Identification and Traceability

Years ago, two administrations ago, Walt Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm was active in a fight against an animal identification scheme.  The opposition echoed some of the standard American memes: anti-big government, pro-local, anti-technology,anti-big boys, pro . They were successful in killing the birth to dead ID plans, called NAIS.

The other day I saw a picture of a cow in a tweer.  The cow had tags in both ears, plus an RFID device hung around her neck.  I expressed some surprise; the owner explained the reasons, including "traceability", which led me to google the term.  That led to this article in Beef Magazine, which brought me up to date.

Apparently the stopgap compromise solution was to identify for those animals crossing state lines the start point and the destination point.  But now they're looking again at a more sophisticated  plan.

Walt Jeffries is no longer actively blogging so I don't know what his take on this is.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Did Trump Shoot Himself in the Foot

I wonder whether President Trump didn't shoot himself in the foot on immigration.  This Post article has this graph of apprehensions., showing the big surge in 2019, going back to the apprehensions in the GWBush administration.

The difference between now and then is Bush saw an influx of people aiming to work; Trump is seeing an influx of families claiming refugee status.  Because claimed refugees surrender to the first US official they see, Trump's wall is a case of fighting the last war.

But why the surge?  I'd blame it on Trump.  He came into office having made a big deal out of immigration and his wall.  For a while the apprehensions ran about the same level as in the Obama era; Obama having made a big deal out of discouraging immigration as well.  But Trump couldn't get support for his wall.  Doing what he is so very good at, he generated lots of publicity by attacking "migrant caravans".  That was counter-productive.

By publicizing migrant caravans Tump informed Central American citizens that they didn't have to pay a coyote to smuggle them into the U.S. and incur the risk of dying in the desert; they could travel as a family and claim refugee status.  That changes the whole cost-benefit calculus.  Trump might as well have advertised--"here's the loophole by which you can live in the U.S. for years, and maybe even become legal." 

Now no doubt if Trump had never mentioned immigration people would have learned to take more advantage of the refugee rules, and there would have been a transition to it as well as an increase in net apprehensions.  But while Trump's bluster about immigration early in his administration may have discouraged some migrants, it's now created a crisis.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

A Thought for FSA Personnel

Chris Clayton of Progressive Farmer has tweeted asking USDA for answers on prevented planting.

I  expressed doubts as to whether leadership could make fast, good decisions.  That's not necessarily a criticism of Sec. Perdue and his team--I wouldn't have had great confidence in the capability of any of the leadership teams during my time at agriculture.  It seems to me the prevented planting issue has spun up very quickly, more quickly than I can remember situations in the past.  With MFP1 there was a longish lead up, during which the analysis people could get their acts together and the implementation people in DC and KC could get prepared.  MFP2 is different, although to the extent it covers 2019 production there won't be that much impact.  Where it's key is on the plant/no plant/change crop decision.(

Another factor is FSA doesn't have recent experience with prevented planting.  Back in my early days in the agency the disaster program included PP. Then, as FSA  was phased out of the disaster business in favor of crop insurance, we lost that institutional memory.  The inclusion of PP in crop insurance policies means the implementation process is going to be more complicated than it was in the old days.)

(Can't resist noting that the combination of Trump's trade war and flooding has undercut the idea that crop insurance could mean the end of ad hoc disaster programs.)

Bottom line: FSA personnel in DC trying to implement whatever decisions are made are having a bad few weeks.  FSA personnel in the field are in worse shape: face to face with farmers desperate for information to make their decisions and lacking the direction from DC.   

My sympathy for both groups, but particularly the field.

More on the Disaster Aid Bill and Payment Limitation

From the text of the bill:

"Sec. 103. (a) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), a person or legal entity is not eligible to receive a payment under the Market Facilitation Program established pursuant to the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act (15 U.S.C. 714 et seq.) if the average adjusted gross income of such person or legal entity is greater than $900,000.
(2) Paragraph (1) shall not apply to a person or legal entity if at least 75 percent of the adjusted gross income of such person or legal entity is derived from farming, ranching, or forestry related activities.

(b) In this section, the term “average adjusted gross income” has the meaning given the term defined in section 760.1502 of title 7 Code of Federal Regulations (as in effect July 18, 2018)."
So someone whose gross income combines farm and nonfarm sources has an additional hoop to jump through.  My impression is that FSA enforces the basic AGI limit by passing the appropriate ID to IRS and gets back data (likely just a flag) on whether the $900,000 limit is exceeded or not.  Now they'll have another determination to make, after that.  I'm sure FSA welcomes the additional work (NOT).

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

What's in the Disaster Aid Bill for Farmers

Here's the Senate summary of the contents of the just-passed disaster aid bill (emphasis added, given my post of yesterday).

Farm Disaster Assistance: $3.005 billion is provided for the USDA Office of the Secretary (OSEC) to cover producers’ net exposure to losses stemming from 2018 and 2019 natural disasters. Assistance is also provided to cover blueberry and peach crop losses resulting from freezes and hurricanes in 2017 and producers impacted by Tropical Storm Cindy. USDA would administer funding through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) under OSEC.

Emergency Forest Restoration Program: $480 million is provided for the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) for non-industrial timber restoration.

Emergency Conservation Program: $558 million is provided for the Emergency Conservation program (ECP) for repairs to damaged farmland.

Emergency Watershed Protection Program: $435 million is provided for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP) for rural watershed recovery.

Rural Community Facilities: $150 million is provided for Rural Development Community Facilities grants for small rural communities impacted by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019.

 Nutrition Assistance for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI): $25.2 million is provided for disaster nutrition assistance for the CNMIs impacted by typhoons.

Market Facilitation Program AGI Waiver: Language is included to waive the average gross income requirement for producer eligibility under the administration’s Market Facilitation Program. 

Puerto Rico Nutrition Assistance: $600 million is provided to supplement disaster nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico stemming from 2017 hurricanes.

Puerto Rico Nutrition Study: $5 million is included for an independent study, including a survey of participants, on the impact of the additional benefits provided through disaster nutrition assistance.

American Samoa Nutrition Assistance: $18 million is provided for a grant to American Samoa for disaster nutrition assistance.

Hemp Crop Insurance: Language is included to ensure crop insurance coverage for hemp beginning in the 2020 reinsurance year.

Rural population waiver: Language is included to provide eligibility to designated communities impacted by a natural disaster for certain Rural Development programs.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Payment Limitations in the News Again

Been a busy day so I didn't get a chance to follow up on this piece.

What strikes me is the idea that the payments were on a US Treasury database.  I assume it's a result of the more general law requiring transparency on US payments  Wonder how EWG and the farm community will react.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Incredible Stat: Spending on Trump Security Versus Mueller

The end of an Anne Applebaum piece in the Post:
"The British state will spend 18 million pounds (about $22 million) on his security; the U.S. taxpayer will spend many multiples of that sum; hundreds of hours will have been wasted on planning. And all so that one man’s fragile ego can be boosted for another day."
The total cost of the Mueller investigation might be around $34 million.

For a short week's trip the UK may spend up to 2/3 the cost of the Mueller investigation.  Toss in the US costs and we're about even

(Note: the BBC article Applebaum links to is more fuzzy on the estimate than she is.)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Re FBI; Barr Has a Point

Saw in surfing that AG Barr said something to the effect the FBI should not have investigated Trump.

I suspect my fellow liberals and Democrats will be aghast at the idea: no one should be above the law, etc.

But I'm old enough to think he has something of a point.  Apparently the FBI transcripts from their wiretapping of Martin Luther King have just been released, which should serve as a reminder of the power J. Edgar had in his heyday through the suspicion he had files on everyone in DC. 

My point is that investigations are power, and we should have checks and balances applied to the FBI when they investigate possible misdoing by high official, or candidates for high offices.  From what I understand of the background of the FBI investigation into Russian meddling and the involvement of the Trump campaign it was conducted well and had some oversight.  Certainly President Obama was aware of the proceedings and tried to take action.  But that seems to have been based on the judgment of the officials involved, not the operations of any particular legal structure.

To me, the whole Trump-Russian mess raises big questions: what sort of help can/should campaigns accept from noncitizens, from nonresidents, from citizens of friendly nations, from citizens of  possible adversaries, or members of the government of adversaries?  How is that defined in relation to the First Amendment?  To the extent we now have laws against such help, or decide to add them in the future, how should investigations of possible breach of such laws be handled?  We can't leave it to the FBI director--J. Edgar proves that.  We can't leave it to the appointed heads of Justice or the elected head of the government, can we?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Reestablishing Proper Standards of Behavior

A question raised by the Mueller Report is what are acceptable standards of behavior:

  • should political actors in the US accept money from noncitizens/nonresident?
  • should they accept valuable information from nonresidents?
  • should they accept advertising on their behalf paid for by nonresidents?
  • should they report attempts provide the above assistance to the FBI?
  • should they make public the above assistance?
  • should they lie about receiving such assistance?
There have been defenses of the Trump campaign arguing that searching for dirt on the opponent is standard campaign procedure.  Is that true, and if it is, should it be?  Where do you draw the lines?

Even as a devoted opponent of Trump's presidency I recognize that, with the First Amendment and the SCOTUS decisions in this area, the answers to these questions may not be what I'd like. But it does seems possible that there could be bipartisan agreement on some standards.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

NPR and Furriners Buying Our Land

NPR had a piece on foreigners buying up agricultural land.  It's not clear where the correspondent's data comes from, but I'd suspect it's reports under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act..

I remember when the law was enacted in 1978.  That was when foreigners were rolling in dollars, partly because OPEC had successfully raised the price of oil, Nixon had taken us off the gold standard, and Japan was starting to sell cars (bought my first Toyota in that year) to us.  Those dollars were being used to buy land, causing concerns in the U.S.  That resulted in the act, requiring buyers to report their ownership to ASCS/FSA.

The regulations to implement the act were always questionable--basically it was a stand-alone requirement to report in its own little silo, with no interface to the rest of ASCS functions.  That meant there was no real enforcement, except the good will of the buyers and the conscientiousness of the county office.  But we had no way to ensure the buyers knew the requirement.. And we had no way to get data on sales by foreign buyers.

As a result, when someone looked at the AFIDA database in 2014, they found problems.  I'd have my doubts that it's been fixed since.

In the back of my mind I wanted to integrate AFIDA into the farm records system as we re-engineered it from the System/36 to the new platform.  But it never happened, never became important enough to devote the people to it, and I got fed up and retired.  I strongly suspect in the 20 years since no one involved in the redesign of FSA operations was conscious enough of AFIDA to include it in the redesign.  Such is the fate of silos; they don't have enough significance to attract attention.

I did a search on this blog to see if I'd written on AFIDA before.  I did a couple times in 2008, but using the FSA label.  One post did refer to FSA's AFIDA reports.  They're available here. But the web page hasn'te been updated for 5 years, a fact which supports my overall take on the subject.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Drills of Today and Yesteryear

Conversing with a relative, older than I, this morning.  She remembered the newsreels of the Capitol being lighted up again after the end of WWII (maybe VE day?).  She'd lived in the DC area until about 1943-4.  I asked if she remembered air raid drills--she did, many of them, in fear of German air raids.

My memory for some things is not the best, so I'm sure we had some a-bomb drills in school, but I don't remember a lot of them, or indeed any specific one. Those drills were in fear of a Soviet nuclear attack. 

Today students get active shooter drills, many of them.  Unfortunately the chances of their ever encountering an active shooter, although minuscule, are significantly greater than the chance of a German air raid on DC, but perhaps not as great as a Soviet attack on DC was (except I lived 300 miles from DC).

Drills--the ones I really remember are the penmanship ones, perhaps another drill destined for the wastebasket of history.

Friday, May 24, 2019

MFP II Addenda

Via Farm Policy News further details on MFP II--based on the USDA big shots' discussion.  The key point I take from it:

"Referring to the market facilitation program, Undersecretary Northey indicated that, “So these payments are not designed to be a market loss payment. They are a market facilitation payment. It’s not going to perfectly reflect what some producers feel the loss of these markets have been.”
FWIW I don't know what the words "market facilitation" mean, at least not as applied to the $14.5 billion part of the program. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

MFP II Announced

NY Times writes about trade policy and Trump's trade war, including the announcement of $16 billion in MFP II.

Chris Clayton's article at DTN  has the details on the program, which has three tranches and uses county payment rates among other differences from MFP I.  He also notes Trump's lie about the history of farm income:
"President Trump reiterated, falsely, that farmers have seen a 20-year steady decline of income, despite farm income peaking in 2013. As a key part of the president's rural base, Trump reiterated, "They [farmers] are patriots. They stood up and they were with me. They didn't say 'Oh we shouldn't do this because we're going to have a bad year. They have had 20 bad years if you really look."
The county payment rate will be new and a challenge to implement. [Update: When I wrote this, I was wrong.  I was thinking county/crop payment rates, which I never dealt with back in the day, but the fact is FSA has had experience with them, both through price supports and the new 21st century programs which I don't understand.  However, the idea is one country price for all crop acreage, regardless of the crop planted.  That, I think,  raises new problems.  If all farmers in the county raise crops in the same proportion, it could work.  But that's a big "if".  Say a country produces corn and soybeans 50/50, so the county rate is based on that proportion. But take a farmer who plants only corn, which I'm assuming is less affected by the trade war, she will get a higher rate than she "deserves".  Conversely the farmer who plants only soybeans will be screwed.  (Obviously I'm using extreme examples.)]

Who Gets Chosen as VP?

Scott Adams blogged this:
"VP candidate traditionally boring, watered-down version of POTUS
  • Biden was more boring than President Obama
  • Now Biden has to select his own VP, that’s even more boring"
I'm afraid he needs a course on American history.  Traditionally the vice presidential candidate is different than the presidential candidate--it's called "balancing the ticket".  There's even a wikipedia page for it.

To go over recent history:

  • Trump chose a VP who had extensive DC experience and personally was very different and was from a different region.
  • Obama chose a VP who had extensive DC experience and personally was very different (old, white, ebullient, not buttoned up)and was from a different region..
  • GWBush chose a VP who had extensive DC experience and personally was very different (older, buttoned up) and was from a different region..
  • Clinton chose a VP who was indeed of the same age and region but who had extensive DC experience.
  • GHWB chose a VP who presented a fresh face  from a different region.
  • Reagan chose a VP who had extensive DC experience and personally was very different and was from a different region.
  • Carter chose a VP who had extensive DC experience and was from a different region.
  • Nixon chose a VP who was a fresh face and was from a different region.
I think Mr. Adams just went for a cheap attack on Biden. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Women in Government--the Rate of Social Change

We're coming up on the 100th anniversary of the passage of women's suffrage in the U.S.

My cousin noted that yesterday the voters of Ipswich, MA elected women to fill 3 of the 5 seats on the town's select board, a first for the town.  The Post, I think, had an front page article on the Nevada legislature which is the first in the nation to have a female majority.

I think it's worth reflecting on the 100 years as an indicator of the limits of legislative change.  It's a caution to liberals

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A New Market Facilitation Program?

Lots of talk about a new and bigger program to compensate for depressed prices due to Trump's trade war with China.

Will it just be the MFP for 2018 updated for 2019?  Maybe, maybe not.  There's talk of including prevented planting because of the widespread flooding and the very slow progress of corn planting.  We'll see.

[Updated--see Clayton's piece.]

Monday, May 20, 2019

Countervailing Judicial Power

Ezra Klein has a piece on Vos about "countervailing power", a concept from John Kenneth Galbraith. Briefly, he saw "big labor" as countering "big business", and "big government" as an essential balancing player.  So Klein summarizes his argument:
" If the [political] question is framed as socialism or capitalism, it’s difficult to state the obvious: We may need a bit more socialism now, even if that may create a need for more capitalism later.
But if it’s framed as the balance of countervailing powers, that truth becomes more obvious. There is no end state in a liberal democracy. There is only the constant act of balancing and rebalancing. The forces that need to be strengthened today may need to be weakened tomorrow. But first they need to be strengthened today."
I've always liked the Galbraith's concept.  I'm struck by a tweet from Orin Kerr, suggesting that if conservatives become dominant in the judiciary, it will evoke a countervailing response from legal academia.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

National Service Concerns

Some discussion these days from Dem candidates about "national service".

I guess I'm generally favorable to the idea, but with reservations, based on my experience with the draft.

The draft was good for:
  • getting me out of a rut (different people have different ruts, but I suspect the recent decline in American geographical mobility is partly the result of the ending of the draft).
  • exposing me to people from across the country and diverse backgrounds
  • challenging me to endure and master new experiences: like basic training, like serving as an instructor.
Those benefits came because the draft was not voluntary.  I'd worry that a non-military national service would not have the diversity nor the challenges.  Once you allow the person to choose, you start to lose some of the necessary difficulty.  Even in the Army, once I was past basic my cohort and co-workers were much more similar to me. 

The other vulnerability of a new national service program would be, I think, the difficulty of finding a purpose to the program's work.   While we draftees disliked the military, we knew it was important and/or significant.  But we were essentially unskilled labor, cannon fodder, and weren't qualified for much more than that.  And we got paid accordingly, so we were cheap.  So what work requires cheap unskilled labor  and is self-evidently important?

If the proponents can come up with an answer to that question, we can then talk about instituting "national service".  Until then, we need more focused things like Job Corps and Americorps.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Powerline and Althouse Wouldn't Qualify as Immigrants

Nor would almost all liberals blogging and tweeting.   See this NY Times calculator.

I scored 18 points, where 30 is required.  (The key, of course, in my case is age, income, and my college major.)

(Updated: I'm referring to the people behind the two blogs I follow which are on the right, although Ann Althouse might quarrel with that categorization.)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Another Round of MFP Payments?

There's been discussion this week, and a promise by the President, that farmers will receive more money to compensate for losses due to the trade war with China.

That's well and good, but I'm not sure of the nitty-gritty.  Let me backtrack:

For the first MFP I initially thought USDA was tapping Section 32 funds.  Did a bit of research on that possibility.  (Roughly, Section 32 provides authority for USDA to use a portion of certain tariff revenues for certain aid to agriculture.  It dates back to the New Deal days.)  But that turned out to be a mistake of mine.  Instead USDA tapped CCC's borrowing authority, which also dates back to the New Deal.  CCC has authority to borrow up to $30 billion from the Treasury and spent it to aid agriculture in certain ways..

I've tried, half-heartedly, to find out how much borrowing authority CCC has left.  When it's tapped out, CCC has to stop its operations until Congress passes legislation to replenish the authority.  (I'm skating on the edge of my comprehension of these matters, but I do have a clear memory of a time when CCC ran out of authority just before we were to make deficiency payments, notably because my screwup cost the taxpayers a few million dollars. (A story for another day.)

Bottom line, I didn't find the answer. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What 5G Can Do for: Dairy

Technology Review has a short post on a test of 5G and cows, in Britain.  Cows wear 5G collars which transmit biometric data and open gates to milking parlors.

(I'm not clear why 4G wouldn't work for this, but connecting fancy technology and cows has a certain reader appeal. )

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Return of Foreign Policy Issues

For the first two years most foreign policy issues didn't rouse much domestic concern.  That may be changing these days, between Trump's trade issues and the rising tension with Iran.  Looking at it from a political perspective, which Democratic candidate benefits? 

I'd suggest Biden does.  None of the other candidates have much background in foreign policy, but Biden has 8 years worth. Definitely the younger candidates are at a disadvantage.  Pete may speak seven languages (he'd might be only the second most multi-lingual president--I've seen a reference that J.Q. Adams spoke more, though that's not supported by wikipedia, though it does show a surprising number of presidents who were multi-lingual) but that won't count for much.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Another Error by a Harvard Professor

Making slow progress through "These Truths" by Jill Lepore. See my previous post.

On page 172 she writes of Jefferson: "As late as 1815 he was boasting that, as a result of the embargo, 'carding machines in every neighborhood, spinning machines in large families and wheels in the small, are too radically established to ever be relinquished.'  That year, cotton and slave plantations in the American South were shipping seventeen million bales of cotton to England...."

That's flat wrong.  We've never exported that much cotton, never grown that much cotton.  The statement is sourced to Sven Beckert's history.

I'm having fun with this, so I've added "Harvard" to my lables.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Driverless Cars: Setting the Bar Too High

Technology Review has a discussion of three factors impeding the adoption of driverless cars:

  • safety--cars being safer than human drivers (who don't drink or text)
  • useful--cars that aren't slow because too cautious, perhaps requiring regulatory changes.
  • affordable.
To me it seems they're setting the bar too high.  Going back to the Innovator's Dilemma new technologies evolve by finding a niche from which they can expand gradually, making use of the learning curve to reduce costs so existing technology can be undersold and to become useful in new ways.  I think that applies here, as I've said before:
  • a geezer like me isn't as safe a driver as the average person, even though we know enough not to drink or text.
  • a geezer like me is already a cautious driver, so making a driverless car that abides by the speed limits is not disrupting the norm (for us).
  • a geezer like me values driveability higher, highly enough to pay a premium to preserve the ability

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Those Who Ignore History: the F-35 and the TFX

The F-35 is our latest and greatest(?) fighter.  Apparently the lessons learned from its development will cause DOD to go a different direction for the next one.

As a layman I understand the key feature of the F-35 is its use by both the Air Force and the Navy.  After all, both need fighters so why not build one to serve both needs?

It's dream we've had before, most notably in the 60's, with the TFX program..  Back then Robert McNamara was blamed for the decision to go for commonality. The TFX was very controversial and, in my memory, it was never deemed a success, though judging by the wikipedia article it was more useful for longer than I remembered.

The lesson I took away from the TFX episode was twofold:

  • it's hard to do a project that meets the needs of two different organizations
  • be cautious when trying to do innovation top down.
The continuing mystery is why I forgot those lessons when applied to projects trying to eliminate USDA silos, like ASCS and SCS.

[Update:  see this GovExec piece on the next fighter after the F-35.]

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Rural Fatties

My mother would be sad at the news that world-wide obesity is more of a problem in rural areas than urban ones.  Her basic belief was in the superior virtue of rural people and the better life in rural areas.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

TFW You Find a Harvard Professor Wrong

Jill Lepore is a Harvard historian, New Yorker writer, and prolific author. 

Her most recent book, These Truths,, is an ambitious attempt at a one-volume history of the US. (I wrote she is prolific, so prolific that she has another book out this year.)

I've just completed her section on the Constitutional Convention, in which I found the error.  Discussing the conflict over the treatment of slaves, as persons deserving representation or as property supporting taxation, she writes: "The convention was very nearly at an impasse, broken only by a deal involving the Northwest Territory--a Northwest Ordinance...[prohibiting slavery north of the Ohio and not south] This measure passed on July 13.  Four days later, the convention adopted...the Connecticut Compromise [the 3/5 count for both representation and taxation]."

What's wrong here?  All the facts are right, so maybe "wrong" is too strong.  But the implication, and I suggest the meaning people will take from the passage, is that the Constitutional Convention passed the Northwest Ordinance.  Not so--Congress operating under the Articles of Confederation enacted the Ordinance. Because both bodies were meeting in Philadelphia the passage of the Ordinance may have been relevant to the proceedings in the convention, 

Monday, May 06, 2019

What Happens If We Win--the CRA

Commented in a twitter thread today or yesterday about what would happen if a Democrat wins the Presidency next year.  Part of the discussion was to the effect that the new administration would reverse a lot of the Trump administrations regulatory actions.  The impression was that it would relatively easy.

Not true, at least for those regulations which were killed by Congress using its authority under the Congressional Review Act.  The reason is the wording of the act--once a regulation is killed by Congress the agency is prohibited from issuing a substantially similar regulation, forever.  The out is that Congress can authorize the agency to regulate again. 

The problem I see for a new Democratic administration is presumably such a Congressional authorization would require 60 votes in the Senate to be brought to the floor for passage (assuming the legislative filibuster is still available.   For some regulations such authority might be included in a budget reconciliation act, but others wouldn't.

The alternative for a new administration is to kill the  legislative filibuster, at least with respect to CRA actions.

The bigger problem, of which CRA is only part, is a decrease in stability of laws and regulations.  If citizens can assume that laws/regulations are permanent, they can act on that basis.  If they assume the next administration of the party in opposition will undo what the current party has done, there's less stability, less certainty.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Progress Being Made?

Back in the 50's and 60's whites were fighting to keep their neighborhoods white.  "White flight" was the predominant tactic, but rougher ones were used against the first one or two black families.

I'm often otpmistic, sometimes too much so, but I read this NY Times article  as saying those days are mostly behind us.  That's good.  Some thought we'd never get here.

I can read articles on gentrification as the market working as it did in white flight.  To do this I need to suggest that many whites fleeing from a block where blacks were buying were concerned more with their pocketbook than race.  The working of the market meant that if someone feared blacks, they would sell their house at a discount, especially if their fears were exploited, as they usually were, by the unscrupulous realtors.  One below-market sale could persuade market-oriented owners that to preserve their wealth they needed to sell, which of course started to destroy the value of their homes.

I think it's true that often the switching from all-white to all-black blocks meant property values ended up going way down, partly because people over-extended themselves, because they had to take in renters and subdivide the structure, and because they didn't have the money for maintenance.

Gentrification works through the market as well.  The first white pioneer who has no problems with blacks finds a bargain.  The owner, who may be black, sells at a profit, at least compared to prior years. So both white home buyers and existing home owners can see financial gains over what they had before gentrification started.  However, as property values increase taxes increase and the owners can have problems keeping their property.

It seems to me the key variable in inner-city blocks being gentrified is: who owns the property?  Do we think the owners are mostly the heirs of those who originally bought from the white flight?  Or are they the heirs of the exploiters, white and black, who profited by the white flight? Or has the property changed hands multiple times?  If the heirs of the original buyers there's a chance that what they lost by the block turning black is being made up through gains in value as gentrification increases.  More likely the score card over time shows red ink for blacks, black ink for whites.

My thoughts have now dimmed my pleasure at the message of the article, but we've still progressed  from 1968.

Friday, May 03, 2019

As a Country, We're Idiots

In 1953 I was 12 and there were roughly 150 million in the country.  Now I'm 78 and there are something over 300 million in the country.  The IRS today has roughly the same number of auditors as in 1953. See this ProPublica piece.  In real dollars our GDP has increased six times since 1953.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Changing Standards: Tight Versus Loose

I think I've mentioned this book before.  It ties into my post of yesterday.  My memory is the writer believes there can be systematic differences in how tightly or loosely societies adhere to social norms.  To apply it to our history:
  • my memory is in the 40's-60's white middle and upper class Americans adhered quite tightly to a certain set of social norms, and as a counterpoint, we looked askance at those who didn't fit that description, either not being white middle class or not adhering to the norms.
  • over the next years that changed, partly the norms changed, partly the tolerance for non-conformity broadened.
  • more recently we've become more concerned about non-adherence to the norms, less tolerant of the less tolerant among the white middle and upper classes, still tolerant of those excluded from that universe. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Changing Standards

Over my life standards of behavior have changed, a lot.

In my youth both cancer and homosexuality were not fit topics for discussion, cancer being just a bit more acceptable because more prevalent.  One addressed one's elders with Mr. and Mrs..' There were standards of propriety, at least for the white middle and upper classes.  Teenagers were viewed with alarm, as they/we got into Elvis and rock and roll and discovered the privacy of cars.  Everyone, at least every boy, wanted a car.  For any couple in a car the man was driving. College students still faced a hierarchy of classes and at least informal rules on dress.  Campus life still involved panty raids.  Serious students were concerned about nuclear war, though as the 60's started  some got into civil rights movement. And the remnants of "loco parentis"

The boomers started establishing new norms.  The Berkeley Free Speech movement seems in retrospect a turning point.  Notably the movement was still the Silent generation; the very first boomers were just starting college. The Cuban missile crisis was another, and the third was Mississippi Summer. In my memory the 60's meant the undermining and dissolution of old standards of conduct, of hierarchy, of dress, of how people could express their views and obtain some power.

Fast forward to the present.  It seems most of the changes have stuck, have been deemed valid and useful in our society.  What does seem different to me is what the conservatives call "political correctness". I could trace the idea back to the student left, perhaps imitating their parents, who had fierce debates over what ideological stances were proper.  But that was a minority view; more common was live and let live, chill, mellow.  Now however,, many, perhaps most, people believe there is something that's proper, and people should embrace it.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Four Somes Rule

Musing about reports on educational reform and progress.  My interest dates back to high school when "Why Johnny Can't Read" was a best seller and concern about education shortfalls skyrocketed after Sputnik went up.  More recently Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler, Megan McArdle, and Kevin Drum have often commented on reforms. 

I've come up with the "four somes" rule: some teachers in some institutions using some techniques can effectively teach some pupils.  The implication is some pupils won't learn,some teachers can't teach, some techniques don't work, and some institutions are the pits.  But innovations in one place will work some of the time, but may not apply across the board.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Guantanamo: 1800 for 40?

According to recent reports there are now 40 prisoners left in Guantanamo, an installation which has 1800 personnel.  The way the Times report was worded it sounded like therywere all military and all devoted to the prison but that seems absurd.

If the facts are true, in my opinion we should either do as Obama wanted, move the prisoners to max security prisons in the US which presumably wouldn't require extra personnel at all.  Or, if you don't like that, let's just release the prisoners.  They've been detained for 17 years. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Wittes on Mueller

"I see a group of people for whom partisan polarization wholly and completely defeated patriotism. I see a group of people so completely convinced that Hillary Clinton was the enemy that they were willing to make common cause with an actual adversary power at a time it was attacking their country to defeat her. To me, it matters whether the conduct violated the law only in the pedestrian sense of determining the available remedies for it—and in guiding whether and how we might have to change our laws to prevent such conduct in the future. 

Ben Wittes on Mueller

Friday, April 26, 2019

Taxes--the Rise of Intermediaries

There have long been tax-preparation services.  H&R Block was an early one.  One of the brothers who founded the firm, Henry Bloch, died recently.  His obituary in the Post says this:
business boomed in the mid-1950s as the Internal Revenue Service began discontinuing its free tax-preparation services, and the Bloch brothers began advertising their discount tax service in a local paper.
Who knew the IRS once did returns for free?  Now of course H&R Block is one of the firms lobbying Congress to be sure that IRS doesn't resume the service,.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Slaves in the North

Discussing with a relative the existence of slavery in the North.

I mentioned the idea/fact that New England settlers sometimes swapped Indian slaves (captured in war, particularly IIRC King Philips War) for black slaves by sending the former to British Caribbean colonies.   

On a  practical if very cynical basis, it makes sense.  Society recognized that when you won a war people were part of the booty.  Women to rape, men to work as slaves if they weren't killed.  (No conventions about treatment of prisoners of war back then.) But the problem with captures in the wars between the colonists and the Native Americans was it was relatively easy for the captives to escape and return to their people.  White colonists often did this, so would Native Americans.  The practical answer was to ship your war captives away to someplace where they were foreigners, where society was foreign.

(I suspect some part of the dynamic accounting for the capture and sale of black slaves to the slave traders was similar.  Keep your captives with you as slaves and they escape; sell them to the European trader who could provide weapons, etc. and it was a win.  Not for the slave.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Fruits of the Garden

Got my first planting in the garden in around March 15.  Spent a lot of time last fall trying to get spinach started and thriving.  Now we're being inundated with spinach (fall) and scallions (spring) and the spring lettuce is now big enough to eat the thinings.  

Thinking about my garden got me wondering about the White House garden.  Turns out it's still in operation, and you can tour it, though you've missed the spring one. You can see photos at Instagram, whatever that is, although very few of the photos there show the vegetable garden.  Here's one, though.  I suspect neither Melania nor Barron spend much time there--the regularity of the planting suggests a good Park Service bureaucrat is caring for it.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Thanks for a Beautiful Day

Today was about perfect: sunny, low 80's, low humidity, the trees are green.

The garden is doing well, although we've got a surplus of spinach from the plants which over-wintered and over which I sweated last fall.

I'm in no mood to discuss Trump, or impeachment, or bureaucracy.


Monday, April 22, 2019

The Proliferation of Popular Culture References

My wife and I subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime and watch regularly.  Maybe I'm just feeling out of it these days, but it seems to me there are more and more popular culture references in what we're watching, more and more of which I don't get.

Sometimes it's musical, which since I've not kept up with popular music since the Beatles it's understandable I'll miss them.  Often it's what critics like to call "homages" or "call-outs" to other programming.  Those I miss as well.

I think it's "Billions", the third season of which we just finished, which made me particularly aware of this.  It's possible it's just the writers of that show who are especially into references to other pieces of popular culture, but it seems more pervasive.  Although there are fewer directors' commentaries these days now that Netflix is shifting from DVD's to streaming, they're another way I become conscious of things I'm missing.

It seems a logical trend in our culture: the more time people spend watching and listening, the more likely creators will cross-reference things.  I suspect the trend also means fewer references to the older sources of reference material: the classics and the Bible. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Continuing Effects of the Irish Potato Famine

Stumbled across a piece on the Irish potato famine.  Its effects varied in different parts of the island, hitting particularly hard in the south and west, areas which were much more dependent on the potato and had fewer other resources.

While many died and many left, others moved within Ireland, moving north and east to Belfast and Dublin.  For the former, the writer observed that where Belfast used to be almost entirely Protestant, because of the internal migrants being Catholic it became a more divided place. (I'm not sure whether Catholics also moved to other places in Ulster.)  Those divisions led to the "Troubles" of the last pat of the 20th century, which led to the importance of the peace agreement in British and Irish politics, which led to the Brexit conundrum   Incidentally, it reminds me of the anecdote about the horse who get hung up jumping a fence.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Dilemma of Trump's Appointees

The Mueller report has shown the tightrope which Trump's appointees must walk, particularly in the case of Don McGahn.  It's a question of how far you go in appeasing your boss, versus compromising your own ethics. 

As an ex-bureaucrat who had some people among my superiors whom I didn't much respect, I've some empathy for the McGahns of the current administration.  That perhaps leads me to undeserved sympathy for AG Barr.  He's gotten criticism for his summary of the Mueller report, spinning the conclusions to be the most favorable to his boss.  That's deserved.  But we need to remember that he did succeed in getting the Mueller report released, although with redactions.  That's not something I would have predicted back when he was nominated.  It's possible he regards the release as serving the public interest, a release important enough to justify his tactics in getting the release past his boss.  (Will Trump start blasting Barr for the release?  Maybe.)

Vertical Integration for Dairy?

A comment in this twitter thread suggested that some form of vertical integration would be coming for the dairy industry, as it has for poultry and hogs.

That makes sense to me.  Dairy is under more and more pressure--the other day I found not 3 but 5 thermos of "milk" at the Starbucks counter--to the usual nonfat, milk, and half and half they'd added soy and another "milk" which I forget now.  

With the divorcing of cows from pasture and the proliferation of robotic milkers the capital cost is only going up.  

And finally there seems to be closer ties between outlets, like Walmart, and their suppliers. 

Maybe another 15 or so years there will be only smaller, "truly organic" dairies feeding a niche market and perhaps encouraging tourists who experience nostalgia, and the big operations with 5 digits worth of cows.  

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Answer Is Google, Always Google

Supposedly intelligent people still aren't current with the modern world.  Two instances:

  1. Mr. Kushner tried to find out the name of the Russian ambassador to the US (that's in the Mueller report) in late 2016.  So he called someone who might know.  
  2. Scott Adams tweeted out a reward of $100 to the first person who could tell him how to change the footnotes in a Word document from "i, ii, iii..." to "1, 2, 3".
In both cases simply typing the question into Google would have produced the answer in a matter of seconds.

I hope our young are learning this lesson better than their seniors (both of whom could be my children, God forbid).

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Score One for Neustadt

One conclusion from the Mueller report is that prof. Neustadt, author of the classic book on Presidential Power, wins again.

His thesis was that presidential power was not automatic, not like starting a car and driving it, but it was a matter of respect and reputation.  Certainly Trump has little of either, hence his attempts at obstruction were foiled by resistance of his subordinates to carrying out his orders.  Nixon had his "Germans", Erlichman and Haldeman, who'd carry out his orders.  Not so Trump.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Paul Coates

I followed  the blog Ta-Nehisi Coates hosted for several years and read his first book, a memoir.  So I found this interview with his father quite interesting, particularly as he's about my age.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Controlled Environment Agriculture

Quartz has this entitled "The Urban Farming Revolution has a fatal flaw. (see the source at the end of this post).

I'm sorely tempted to write "I told you so", since I've been skeptical of vertical farming and similar efforts in cities.   On a fast read it seems the drawbacks are: cost of urban real estate, cost of energy for lighting, low nutritional content of the greens usually grown, and the premium prices charged.  The study was of New York City "controlled environment agriculture" (CEA) farms, which gives me a new term for a label. 

I would think some of the factors are more serious than others.  Roof top farming in NYC might be susceptible to competition from other uses, like leisure  and recreation  I'm not clear how much cheaper and more efficient LED lights can be, but I'm hesitant to rule out further innovation.  The ability and willingness of people to pay premium prices is likely growing.

In a larger sense, CEA is what farmer have been doing since the dawn of agriculture: arrtificially changing the environment  for plants and animals to grow faster, better, more disease free, etc. etc.  Outside the city it looks as if "precision agriculture" (PA) is the approach taken. 

Will the CEA and PA sets of innovation start to merge at some point?  Stay tuned.

Source: Goodman et. al. “Will the urban agricultural revolution be vertical and soilless? A case study of controlled environment agriculture in New York City.” Land Use Policy. 2019.
This piece was originally published on Anthropocene Magazine, a publication of Future Earth dedicated to creating a Human Age we actually want to live in.