Friday, April 03, 2020

Our Sacrosanct Public Servants

It probably says something about our times and society when I note:  Dr. Fauci's status as a public servant is equivalent to that of J. Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles back in my youth.

My Sympathy to the Trump Administration

The bureaucrats in the Trump administration have my sympathy.  I've played a role in the FSA/USDA bureaucracy during times when we had to implement programs, new programs in a rush. What I didn't have to deal with was:
  • social media--telephones and email were bad enough.
  • the general public--only farmers and those who do business with them were paying attention, but that was more than enough.(The Senate minority leader was never on TV as he is now worrying about how we were going to implement.)
  • a heated political and partisan atmosphere..
  • IIRC 3 weeks was about the tightest time frame I had to deal with, which is a few days longer than those implementing the third stimulus act, signed a week ago.
  • I think they have to construct or reconstruct the bureaucratic infrastructure needed to support the programs.  Things like setting up accounting structures, finding office space and providing IT for the new hires, etc. etc.
  • the topper no. 1--doing this all in an environment where in-person meetings are dangerous and teleworking is new.
  • the topper no. 2--top leadership which is either missing (as in vacancies) or missing (as in Trump).
There's probably more differences but those are the ones coming to mind now.

In a crisis situation there are a lot of decisions to be made and people do the best they can.  It's easy for kibitzers to criticize because they don't have the same information.  They have different information, often misinformation, but sometimes valuable information about aspects of reality which the bureaucrats have missed or aren't aware of.  It's hard to distinguish between the good and the unfounded.

I'll try to remember these factors when I criticize the administration on their handling of the programs, which I'm sure I will.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Garrow on Obama

Just finished David Garrow's Rising Star.  It's only getting 3 stars on Amazon.  This piece gives a reasonable review.

It's the longest book I've read in a long time--1400+pages with footnotes and index, about 970 pages of text. Garrow seems to have talked to everyone who had significant dealings with Obama during his life up to 2004 and to everyone who remembered him. That means it's exhaustive and exhausting. Garrow vacuumed up everything, so he often reports fulsome compliments ("will be first Aftrican-American president") along with bitter feelings. After he's elected to the Senate the book speeds up a bit, ending with his election, with an epilogue which covers the presidency.

Garrow found a new lover--in addition to the two previous biographers had already identified, one from Obama's days as an organizer in Chicago.  He seems to have had a steady if not necessarily totally monogamous relationship at Occidental, in New York City, and then in Chicago before law school, before finally meeting and marrying Michelle after law school. As far as Garrow can tell he's been a faithful husband, surprisingly so in light of the atmosphere in Springfield, IL when he was a state senator.

Obama seems to have evolved into a person who greatly impressed most people he met and worked with, antagonizing a few along the way and leaving in his wake some more with ambivalence. Garrow sees the mature Obama as very ambitious and very private, rarely allowing people to see his core, sometimes leaving them with the feeling of being used or abandoned.  As his biographer Garrow doesn't penetrate that far, never resolving the apparent conflict between Obama's famous "cool" and his nicotine addiction.

Garrow''s extensive research turns up no skeletons in the closet, at most some evidence of of a toe or two of clay.  He does debunk anti-Obama stories popular on the right, not so much explicitly but by laying out the detailed sequence: these include the relationships with Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn, with Rev. Wright, and developer Tony Rezko.  As his fame grew, he minimized his ties to all of these.  Garrow notes the shading of the truth, but doesn't frame it as hiding lurid secrets, just a politician doing a hedge.

Garrow won a Pulitzer for his bio of M. L. King; he didn't win another for this book.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

ELS Cotton in Egypt

New Yorker had an article on ELS cotton grown in Egytpt.  The industry is in decline. 

I'd question some things in the article: the statement that the Egyptian cotton was superior to the American Pima, that it was discovered by a French scientist before the Civil War, that "Egypt's production  quickly eclipsed that of the U.S., and, by the end of the nineteenth century..." and the description of the history of cotton, etc.  All of them may be true, at least given their appearance in a magazine article where you can't expect scientific exactitude.  I wonder how the New Yorker checked the facts.

Monday, March 30, 2020

A Tale of Two Photos

Two photos in the Post told a tale. 

  1. One was a picture with an article on Gov. Guomo, lauding his leadership.  It showed him at a briefing, seated at a long table with another official about 10 feet away from him.
  2. The other was a picture of the vice president walking to the president's briefing with the members of the taskforce walking at his side, no one more than feet away.
Of course my interest was triggered by the contrast between Dems and Reps in observing social distancing.  On reflection, my initial reaction was unfair--people keep to old habits until they consciously override them.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Gas Lines, Flour, and PPE

I remember the gas lines in the 1970's when OPEC embargoed oil.  Everyone panicked.  Gas is essential after all. So we all got into lines at gas stations, and we filled our tanks. Every time the gas gauge got down to about half full, we got back in line again.  The effect was to aggravate the shortage, because the amount of gasoline sloshing around in car tanks increased, not to mention the gas wasted idling in long lines. The supply of gas had gone down but hoarding increased the demand.

We're seeing similar effects with Covid-19. People are stocking up  on flour and toilet paper. It's not quite as foolish as it might seem.  John Phipps has tweeted out his concerns that the food supply chains are adapted to supply restaurants and fast food chains with a sizable portion of our food consumption.  The dollars spent between home and restaurant are about equal, but of course it's more expensive to eat out. 

So flour mills would be supplying a large amount to the bakeries which supply hamburger buns and sub rolls. And since a good deal of our elimination of wastes occurs outside the home in normal times, the paper products people are set up to supply the middlemen. This means our current shortages in the supermarkets result from two causes: the fill-the-tank syndrome, stocking up for future disaster'; a slow change in the adaptation of supply chains. Obviously we don't need more food or toilet paper.

The medical community is dealing with shortages of  PPE (*personal protection equipment"), masks, gowns, etc. and other essentials like ventilators.  Here the cause seems to be; we do need more PPE., but countries and people are doing "fill-the-tank" hoarding.

Friday, March 27, 2020

What's in the Covid-19 Bill for FSA?

From Politico:
Special deal: The stimulus provides $9.5 billion in emergency aid for the agriculture industry and replenishes $14 billion in spending authority to the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corp., a Depression-era financial institution set up to stabilize the farm economy — the same USDA agency sending trade bailout payments to farmers. Producers ranging from dairy farmers and cattle ranchers to fresh fruit and vegetable growers are eligible.
How they got it: Livestock groups have been leaning on lawmakers for weeks to pony up funds for producers who have seen commodity prices plummet since January. Western senators including John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who chairs the Appropriations panel that oversees agricultural spending, made sure those provisions were part of the stimulus plan from the get-go. Then, top Democrats like Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, pushed to include language making specialty crop farmers — like Michigan’s tart cherry growers — eligible for the emergency aid.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

What's the Metaphor for the Covid-19 IMpact

I like metaphors, as I've said before.

The other day I ran across a metaphor used by someone, perhaps an economist, who said the course of the economy will be like driving a car on a highway--you run into a jam, a slowdown where all the traffic slows down, but once the jam is resolved you and the rest of the traffic resume their usual speed.

That's a reassuring image.  Let me offer a differ one, more realistic in my opinion;  In spring and fall you sometimes encounter fog banks on interstates.  In winter you sometimes get a storm which lays down some ice in an area where traffic isn't expecting it.  In these situations you can have a sequence of rear-end accidents, resulting in 20, 30, or more vehicles involved in some damage.  Some cars can run, but are blocked in;; some are a total loss.  Traffic is stopped for a time.

Now I'm not comparing the covid-19 impact to such an accident. Let's imagine a four-lane highway, like the Dulles toll road or the CApitol Beltway. There's a multi-car accident which blocks 2 or 3 lanes and damages some cars.  Rubbernecking slows the traffic in the unblocked lanes. 

That's my metaphor. It seems to me part of the question in sending people back to work is this: how many cars have been damaged in this accident--is the major problem a blockage of the lanes or the damage to the cars.

Damage to the cars in this example equates to impacts on employers and employees. If there's little damage, the economy could easily resume its speed. If there's lots of damage, it will take time to repair it. 

I'm thinking that the more damage we see, the greater the importance of getting the economy going again. 

No Light at the End of the Vietnam Tunnel

"Light at the end of the tunnel" was a phrase made famous during the Vietnam war.  Its initial use is not clear, but it grew to be used sardonically to mean the opposite--there is no way out of this mess.

This history seems to be forgotten by the Trump administration according to this post.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Why Trump's Ratings Are Up

My guess of the reason for Trump's approval ratings to be rising is three-fold:

  • he's no longer doing his rallies.  I'd guess independents and Democrats don't like his behavior during the rallies, so that helps.
  • he's talking from the White House in the press briefing room.  While he's still doing Trumpisms, there's a veneer of presidential behavior.
  • Republicans are feeling better about Trump, and Democrats are worried about the virus, which impacts willingness to respond to pollsters and how they respond.