Saturday, December 30, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
Over at Greg Mankiw's blog there's a big discussion, sparked by Tyler Cowen's NYTimes column from yesterday, on whether poverty is the fault of the individual or the system. The discussion seems to split two ways--one side says the poor are unwise and don't save, the other says it's the system.
What's interesting is both groups tend to take extreme positions. It's one or the other, but not both.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
The core idea is simple. The federal government creates tax-free retirement accounts for lower-income Americans, supplementing private accounts where they already exist, and matching personal contributions to those accounts. The amount of the match would depend on the income of the family and how much they save.He seems sympathetic, but points out the likelihood of creating two classes of poor--the one that uses the savings in the 401K wisely, the other that gets sucked into misusing the money. I think that's true. Even for the EITC, which both liberals and conservatives agree is a good measure, there is a problem. Or rather two problems: one of fraud--people claiming the credit who aren't entitled; one of nonuse--people who qualify not applying.
This leads to the age-old question: is a liberal more concerned for equality of opportunity or equality of result. Typical American liberals have mostly said the first; many radicals, either of the Marxian or Christian variety, have said the second.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
The problem with farmer production co-ops was that they were subject to "free riders". If the cotton growers tried to limit production to raise prices, any grower who stayed outside the arrangement could grow all he wanted and benefit from any increase in prices. So a lot of the early New Deal farm legislation was putting the power of the federal government behind such arrangements--hence the agricultural marketing orders for fruits and vegetables and the marketing quota programs for tobacco, peanuts, cotton. The economists call such arrangements "cartels". (They don't call the Federal Reserve System a cartel, but that's what it is--it fixes the supply and price of the commodity known as money.)
IMO over the years the focus for the major field crops and now dairy has moved away from adjusting production to demand and setting prices and towards direct subsidies.
For example, another old boss of mine was an assistant to Huckaby, or maybe House Ag--Parks Shackelford. He moved from Congress to USDA in 1993. This is a good piece in Gov. Executive from 1998 on the overall background, including the problems of combining agencies. Googling his name reveals that he now has twin daughters and a son on the way. His father-in-law is chancellor of Arkansas State U, and his wife is general counsel to the American Farm Bureau. He himself is working for a Florida sugar company after serving as President of American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
It's way too difficult to Google "William Penn", for obvious reasons. He first came to ASCS as a deputy director in the area office, indicating good Republican connections (he might have been a State executive director in Michigan before), showed his talents and moved up to Asst. Deputy Administrator. Moved to the field of law and Arents Fox around the early 90's, focusing on payment limitation, then back to Michigan for a farmers organization.
The same sort of thing goes on with all administrations and both parties: the ambitious come to Washington, move among Congress, the executive, lobbyists and legal firms until they become satisfied or reach their level of incompetence. Then they're shunted to "turkey farms" to live out their days.
The Post article closes with discussion of prospects for the 2007 Farm Bill.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I note a couple of articles relevant to the debate over Social Security. Sen. Sessions of Alabama puts my back up. But he has an op-ed piece in the Post
suggesting a bipartisan approach to SS reform. What's new, on a fast reading at least, is the acceptance of the pattern of the Thrift Savings Plan (the Federal govt's 401K equivalent) to give people individual accounts without going through Wall Street. In the past conservatives have used the bogeyman of the government controlling the economy through vast stockholdings to oppose this idea. Apparently Sessions, perhaps honoring the populism sometimes found in the South, is ready to abandon Wall Street. (Actually, the TSP system gets competitive bids from a financial firm to run its 6 funds; I think Barclays had the account for a while.)
The reason I'm encouraged by this concession is shown in a NYTimes article on the Chilean system. Apparently some in Chile have found their privatized system wanting, and propose some reforms. I was particularly struck by this paragraph:
In hopes of stimulating competition, the reform plan would let banks and insurance companies form pension funds. The six existing funds, down from a peak of more than 20, object. They appear especially fearful that the state bank will jump into a business that has yielded them a return on assets of as much as 50 percent annually.With Wall Street getting record bonuses this year (an average of $600K per employee in one firm) I'm in no mood to give them any more business.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
It's fair, although using John Phipps, who has an interesting blog, as an example might be a stretch, but he gives good quotes. There's the usual blurry (from a biased viewpoint) language. Discussion of "corporate" farming. I think it's true that most "corporations" involved in farming are composed mainly of farm families (and their city relatives). But I doubt that's the image evoked in people's minds. There's also mention of "income", but no description to say whether this was the gross income of the farming operation or the net income the farmer got, two very different things, particularly for someone like a dairy farmer.
"Today, most of the nation's food is produced by modern family farms that are large operations using state-of-the-art computers, marketing consultants and technologies that cut labor, time and costs. The owners are frequently college graduates who are as comfortable with a spreadsheet as with a tractor. They cover more acres and produce more crops with fewer workers than ever before.The very policies touted by Congress as a way to save small family farms are instead helping to accelerate their demise, economists, analysts and farmers say. That's because owners of large farms receive the largest share of government subsidies. They often use the money to acquire more land, pushing aside small and medium-size farms as well as young farmers starting out."
And as my ag teacher pointed out many years ago (my high school actually was phasing out its ag instruction--the teacher took over driver's ed, which was inappropriate inasmuch as he was the most nervous man in the school (may have been after effects of war service)), income can be ambiguous for other reasons. Dairy farmers (IMHO the only "true" farmers) in particular have lots of capital invested in land and equipment and animals. When you're accounting for the invested capital on your books, you should really charge the operation for the interest the capital could be earning. In other words, if a man has 600 acres of land worth $4,000 an acre, he has $2.4 mill capital. If he sold, and bought bonds he could earn a comfortable 5 percent on his money, or $120,000 a year just clipping coupons (except that they've done away with coupons on bonds and only us old fogies understand it). But if Gaul, Cohen, and Morgan say the guy has $150,000 income, they don't point out that he's only earning $10 an hour for his labor (using a 3,000 hour year).
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Imagine you're a dairy farmer. Twice a day [warning--this is based on information 50 years old] you milk your cows and put the milk in the cooled storage tank. You know the milk truck has to come to empty the tank, because the cows have to be milked or they'll go dry and there's no way to use the milk on your farm. You can't store it. You have to sell it or dump it.
Who do you sell it to--your local processor. Maybe you have a choice; maybe there are two processors within driving range. But even if you have a choice, you can't auction your milk off daily or weekly to the highest bidder. The processor will take all the milk you produce, knowing that cows produce soon more after calving than 6 months after, that quantity can vary by time of year (though I suspect less so now than 50 years ago when most cows still calved in the spring). So you choose your processor once and change very seldom.
The bottom line is that you've no leverage, no market power. Your processor doesn't have much more. If there's more milk than can be sold as fluid, it can be processed into butter, cheese, or powdered milk. That permits a temporary surplus to be stored.
So what do you do if you've no market power--you combine. It's a time-honored American tradition, whether it's a farmers cooperative, a labor union, an oil trust, or a steel cartel. You get yourselves together to pursue your common self-interest. That's why dairy farmers swim.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
- there's a fervency of belief in organic agriculture that can lead to mythology. The iodine article reminds us that just because we eat foods from nature doesn't mean that they're sufficient for our nutrition. We need to add iodine to our diet in most parts of the world because the food doesn't contain enough for mental development.
- some of the marketing of organic food (full disclosure, I own stock in Whole Foods) is the developing of tastes that have nothing to do with good nutrition or even with good taste. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Vodka is just another example of it. Farmers in developed countries should push this all they can, as the vineyards have. Most of us could care less about wine tasting, but we spend more money for the higher priced bottle for special occasions anyway.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I'm jumping to conclusions, but it sounds fishy to me. At worst, any word processing package can generate canned letters--you simply write a paragraph(s) for each code, then enter name and address and codes and you get the letter. Even better, possibly the program can create a file of this information. At any rate, it sounds like FEMA is more interested in defending their turf against judicial intrusion than in working out a solution to the problem.
"Leon [the judge] ruled that FEMA mishandled the transition from a short-term housing program to a longer-term program this spring and summer. Instead of explaining why funding was being cut, FEMA provided only computer-generated and sometimes conflicting program codes, Leon said.
The judge ordered FEMA to explain those decisions so thousands of evacuees can understand the reasoning and decide whether to appeal.
"I'm not looking for a doctoral dissertation," Leon said. "I'm looking for a couple of paragraphs in plain English."Sitcov [FEMA's attorney] said FEMA's eight-year-old computer system is set up only to produce program codes. "
(In the interests of fair play, I should note that the software program was designed in the Clinton administration. Even 8 years ago a good system designer should have provided for letters of explanation from the system.)
From the Hillsboro Free Press.
From the Murray County News.
The other is to a Christopher Hitchens piece in Vanity Fair on why women aren't as funny as men. Amusing.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I wonder whether they may not be more successful than American dairy farmers simply because they have a fresh start--a son (or daughter) taking over an existing dairy farm is bound by all sorts of tangible and intangible things and finds it harder to change and innovate.
Monday, December 11, 2006
So two big issues are who is in the "pool" and whether production can flow from one pool to another. Hettinga was outside the pool, because he was both a producer and a processor. Long story short, through complex maneuvering on the Hill, he got forced into the pool. Such maneuvering is an old story--Nixon got dairy cash and Hillary and Leahy worried about milk pools, etc.
I can't cry any tears for someone with a private plane and his own lobbyist and Congressman. I'm more sympathetic for the 30 cow dairyman who is no longer operational. The problem is, dairies in the West are more efficient than in New York and big dairies with confined feeding are more efficient than small dairies with pasture. So you can't fight Progress.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I can't resist quoting the last paragraph:
"Dairy price supports will be phased out by 2000, thanks to the 1996 farm bill. But throwing programs that were ill-conceived and illegitimate to begin with out of the federal realm and into regionalized cartels is no improvement. As states and localities step forward to shoulder formerly federal burdens, they need to ask not just who should manage a given program but whether it should exist at all. For now, regional cartels seem prepared to make sure that famous milk moustache continues to hide the sly grin of agribusiness as it milks the public."Of course, they were prematurely optimistic about the end of price supports. Indeed, the Republicans (and Democrats) in the 2002 Farm Bill seem to have added programs. In the old days (tell it, grandpa) FSA/ASCS had little direct contact with dairy farmers, except for cost-sharing for liming or farm ponds under ACP. The dairy program operated through the processors, not directly with farmers. That's changed.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
The Times has an article today (Post had one yesterday) on the Coast Guard's ill-fated Deepwater program for getting a new fleet of ship and planes. One thing I learned in the 1970's when I was programming (in COBOL). The computer does not hiccup. It may be frustrating, but when you're writing and testing a program, it's not the computer's fault when it doesn't work, it's yours. An excerpt:
That excuse is worse than: "my dog ate my homework". Any professional organization would have its power supply regulated.
"In September 2004, more serious flaws in the boat conversion program became obvious after the first one, the Matagorda, was launched. As it traveled in relatively heavy seas from Key West to Miami, large cracks appeared in the hull and deck.
Giant steel straps that looked like Band-Aids were affixed to the side of the boats, and the vessels were barred from venturing out in rough water. But cracks and bulges continued to scar the Matagorda and other converted ships, followed by a series of mechanical problems.
Bollinger, it turned out, had overestimated how much stress the modified boats could handle, a miscalculation it cannot fully explain. “The computer broke for some reason,” said T. R. Hamlin, a senior Bollinger manager. “Whether it was a power surge or something, who knows?” The cursory oversight by the Coast Guard meant the mistake was not caught in time."
Overall, the article is cautionary. If memory serves, the former deputy of Homeland Security was the admiral who used to head the Coast Guard. He got good ink from the media, which seems now to have been undeserved. To make a long story short: the Coast Guard lacks sex appeal so it's had trouble getting money to maintain and replace its equipment. So someone (the admiral? or an eager staffer) came up with an idea: package all its needs in one package that big contractors would bid on, spreading the work around to locations that would pull in enough members of Congress to get approval for the appropriations. It worked, except the contractors (a partnership of Lockheed and Northrup (and I'd cynically believe that the partnership in itself contributed to problems)) contracted out much of the work (i.e., to Bollinger) and the Coast Guard trusted its contractors. They forgot Reagan's advice about verifying.
Friday, December 08, 2006
'I'm Not Turnin' Loose of It Until We Get It Right'
At first glance you might think it was George W. talkin' about Iraq.
Then you read the article and this quote:
"It kind of tears me apart," [he] said in an interview. "In life I've had other times like this. You ask yourself: 'How did I get here? How do I get back? And how do I learn from this?' You have to face where you are. Don't be blind to the truth. Otherwise, you can't fix it."and you know it's Joe Gibbs about the Redskins.
Joe Gibbs for President.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
The most prominent advocate of the “more immigrants, less crime” theory is Robert J. Sampson, chairman of the sociology department at Harvard. A year ago, Sampson was an author of an article in The American Journal of Public Health that reported the findings of a detailed study of crime in Chicago. Based on information gathered on the perpetrators of more than 3,000 violent acts committed between 1995 and 2002, supplemented by police records and community surveys, it found that the rate of violence among Mexican-Americans was significantly lower than among both non-Hispanic whites and blacks.If I follow the argument, immigrants, at least some groups of immigrants, bring social capital, incentives, and relationships to the U.S. that makes them less likely to commit crime. That is, legal immigrants have their families and a strong family culture; illegal immigrants want to keep out of sight of the police because the consequence is going back home. (So much for locking them up.) The bad side of the argument is that as their kids grow up American, they commit more crime. It's interesting, though I'm not totally convinced.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Despite the title, I understand it's based on the diaries of James Harshaw, a Presbyterian in Ulster during the middle of the 19th century. For more, see here.
I'm getting it for Christmas and will report on it when I've read it. But family loyalty says it's unfortunate the timing is too late for the NYTimes books of the year list.
It's always been my assumption, being the young and naive person that I am, that Israel's schoolbooks showed Palestine. Wrong. Israel always called the PLO a terrorist organization with which they could not negotiate so they got themselves into a map trap of their own. Today's Washington Post has an article showing that a minister in the government is trying to change the policy, but meeting resistance:
Israel's policy of not marking the West Bank began soon after it captured the territory from Jordan in the 1967 war. Most school maps now evoke Jewish history by labeling the territory by the Biblical terms "Judea and Samaria."
In defending her order in interviews with Israeli reporters Tuesday, Tamir [the minister] noted the difficulty in pressuring Arab countries to mark Israel on maps when the Jewish state does not designate the West Bank as a separate entity on its own maps. She told Israel's Army Radio that "if we don't show these borders, we will turn out very confused children."
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
IMO "contracting out" works okay when the agency doing the contracting understands what's going on and doesn't need to learn anymore (like peeling potatoes). If you don't understand how to do the job successfully or it's too difficult to learn, then the contract is just passing a hot potato; it's bad for the agency, bad for the taxpayer, and bad for the recipient of the service.
Monday, December 04, 2006
When you research on http://www.thomas.gov, the bill referred to in the piece is HR 6193, Eat Healthy America Act. Most of the bill looks to be extensions and tweaks of provisions attractive to various constituencies, explaining why a whole mess of representatives joined in sponsoring the bill back in September (i.e., before the election--surprise!). The stuff for specialty crops looks mostly to be expansions of existing programs (for example, the 2002 farm bill had $2 million for technical assistance for exports of specialty crops, the new one bumps it up in stages to $10 million. ) There's also interesting language changes. Usually legislation authorizes
expenditures subject to the money being actually appropriated. If I understand section 802, in at least one instance they're trying to bypass the appropriation process and just use Commodity Credit Corporation funds. That's significant, because it's not unusual for Congress to authorize $20 billion for education (as an example) and just appropriate $5 billion. They've also included a $9 million transfer from CCC each year for AMS and market news services.
If you can judge the coalition's publicity by the Times article, it's people (like now defeated Rep. Pombo trying to convince farmers they're being helped rather than convincing the American public of the worth of the program.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
I don't, not really. Yes, there's problems because the system was set up years ago and they just got around to publishing the required FR notice on "systems of records". That was wrong. But the basic idea is okay by me--tracking someone's history is a good and valid way of assessing them and the data captured doesn't seem particularly sensitive to me.
I do have problems with the Privacy Act itself--it should be updated in the light of the Internet to require government agencies to make accessible, ideally notify people, of the information they have on file. (It was written in the 70's.) Look at the credit scores that credit reporting bureaus keep. We've finally advanced to the point where people are entitled to a free credit report yearly. Social Security gives you a yearly report summarizing the wages they've recorded for you. Why shouldn't other agencies do similar things? If HSD were doing that, they'd have a lot more support and a lot less paranoia in the country. IMO transparency is key.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
The most important recommendation of the 9/11 commission was for Congress to redo its oversight structure. Currently there are the House and Senate Intelligence committees to provide oversight, but there are also subcommittees of Ways and Means and Senate Appropriations who provide the money. So Negroponte, Hayden, et.al. have 4 different bodies to deal with. The commission recommended a consolidation, the Democrats during the campaign promised to implement all the recommendations (which the Republicans had failed to do), but now they're backing off. Why--because someone would lose power.
Getting Congress to reorganize itself is almost hopeless. The structure of committees overseeing USDA still reflect struggles back in Theodore Roosevelt's day. Maybe someday people will realize how little effective oversight Congress provides. And maybe someday people will live to 110. Bet on the latter before the former.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
John Hinderaker at Powerline posts on Iraq statistics, arguing the situation is not as bad as the media says and does not constitute a civil war. (See also here.) His arguments have included the idea that the casualty rate is less than in the U.S. Civil War, that most of the country is peaceful except for Baghdad, and that the violent death rate in Bagdad is close to or only a small multiple of the murder rate in American cities at some times.
I'd make some counter arguments:
1 The Iraq population today is about 26.7 million; the US population in 1860 was 34.3 million. Over the course of the Civil War, the killed in action averaged 3,846 a month, the October Iraq figure was 3706. See this LSU site on the Civil War.
2 Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address famously said: "We draw deep comfort from the fact that in July of this year, the country was peaceful except for small areas around Vicksburg, Mississippi and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania."
3 Lawyer Hinderaker should realize violent deaths within a legal system, however much the criminal justice system was challenged in DC in the past, damage the social fabric much less vigilante justice than the sort of militia violence we see in Iraq.
An additional note: I bolded "killed" because it helps my argument. Most of the deaths in the Civil War were from disease, not bullets. Whether the appropriate comparison for Iraq is KIA or military deaths is debatable, but I'd lean to KIA.
Monday, November 27, 2006
I started out long ago by reading the bill, getting my checkbook, writing the amount into a check and signing it. There were multiple sources of error: I could forget to pay the bill; I could fail to complete the check; I could misread the amount; I could lose the envelope on the way to the mailbox, my writing could be illegible so the check wouldn't be accepted.
A big step in improvement came as I bought a PC and Quicken software (and as Quicken made their yearly improvements in software). The software reminded me that the payment was due and ensured that I completed all the entries.
The next step was electronic payments--I could cut out the mail and send the payment electronically, thus cutting out the dedicated public servants of the USPS.
Then electronic billing--I can receive the bill electronically. And the final step is automatic payment by authorizing the power company's computer to deduct the amount from my checking account. (I've not taken the last two steps yet, but I expect to.)
FSA/USDA has followed a similar route from its beginning in the New Deal. The sequence was roughly: typing checks based on manually prepared payment documents with humans calculating the amounts; typing them in OCR font so the carbons could be sent to Kansas City for scanning and validity checking; having a computer print them; going upstream by getting the farm, crop, and producer share data into the computer to compute the amounts and print the checks; the next tributaries were getting data like payment limitation allocations and sod/swamp and "person" determination data into the computer after the forms were signed and determinations made so the computer could validate eligibility and handle special cases (claims and assignments). That's about where we were when I retired.
The problem with the 10 percent of "improper" (or as I prefer "defective" payments) is that the manually prepared supporting documentation, the forms the farmer signs to affirm his or her compliance with certain provisions or the accuracy of information, were found to be incomplete or inaccurate (at least, that's my understanding). So how does the agency go upstream from here?
[The following may well be erroneous, given the time I've been away.) The key is FSA's move to Internet (technically intranet) based software to update farmer data. Instead of an FSA employee showing the farmer how to complete a form, then updating the computer to reflect the completion (the current process), now the farmer could complete the form on line so software can ensure that she makes all entries and the data can be captured without human action. Theoretically FSA could have had their employees completing the forms on the county computer, which would at least ensure that they were completely and consistently filled out. But that's not much bang for the buck unless you can flow the completion of the form into the payment process.
Note however there's still the problem of matching "reality" with what's in the computer which is designed based on pictures in our head. Just because we have a consistent set of data in the computer that passes all validity checks and seems to match what Congress wrote into the legislation does not ensure a match with what's happening on the farm and nor that the program helps the farmer and his community.
But the common theme here is the imperfect relation between the physical reality and the pictures in our head as evoked by the words we use. (See Walter Lippmann's "Public Opinion".) When Libby Quaid of AP writes the government "acknowledged improper payments", the headline writer who wants the hottest and sexiest title he can justify uses the stronger "admits", and some people discussing the piece on Yahoo jumped to waste, corruption, etc. etc. because they know the government and/or Bush is wasteful, corrupt, inefficient. Similarly, with Iraq each group has its own take on what constitutes a "civil war" and how closely or remotely the situation in Iraq matches that picture.
From what I've seen, "defective payments" would have been a better term, but "erroneous" is in the law and "improper" is being used as a synonym by the enforcing agencies.
Now, what's the relation to reality? That's a long story, because the legislators who wrote the laws authorizing the payments had pictures in their heads of farmers and how the programs should operate. (I hope they had more accurate pictures than I did when I wrote rules for them: I used to always use a farm with 100 acres of corn and a 100-bushel yield, just because it was easy to understand.) The short answer is that some of the payments that are not identified as "improper" are really fraudulent, while most of the "improper" but "defective" payments are not fraudulent.
[More to follow]
Friday, November 24, 2006
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Happy Thanksgiving (and check Washington Monthly for cat blogging)
and Buddy's bemusings for a livelier take (except for Bailey).
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
But I'm not convinced.
What Kinsley misses is the capitalist hidden toy game. For example, back in time (maybe late 60's) the craze was for conglomerates--assembling companies under one roof added value. That lasted for a while, then the conventional wisdom decided that more conglomerates were failures and they needed to be split up. That's just an example of the constant churn of capitalist deals. Remember GM used to own EDS? Sears owned a stock brokerage? GE owned many things, until Jack Welch decided he only wanted to be 1 or 2 in a field? Even today, Altria (i.e. Phillip Morris) is preparing to spin off Kraft Foods. But that's just one side. On the other you have the whole merger and acquisitions area of finance; so popular that it's known as M&A and doesn't have to be defined in stories.
It's the old story of boys and their toys. You hide a boy's toy for a while, then bring it back out and it seems new and different and worth more. There's nothing more attractive than a "deal", whether it's taking a company private, doing an IPO, doing a merger, or doing a spin off. Each is a "deal", a deal to publicized, exploited, envied, finagled, conned. It's all a part of "finance", which good old populists love to rage against.
Monday, November 20, 2006
The author says after the Nov. 1964 election the administration set up a committee to develop options. It came up with three. From page 182:
Momentum formed behind Option C. George Ball observed that the committee had developed options on the 'Goldilocks principle'. Option A was 'too soft,' Option B was 'too hard,' and Option C was 'just right'.Monday's Post has a lead article by Thomas Ricks beginning:
"The Pentagon's closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials.
One of the three authors of the review Ricks discusses: Col. H. R. McMasters, the author of "Dereliction of Duty". (As a captain, McMasters led an armored cavalry troop in a significant early battle of the Gulf war. He then went off to study and teach history at West Point, writing his book as a major. In the current war, he commanded armored cavalry at Tall Afar, and briefed in January on the results of his operation (Secretary Rice was promoting this as a model operation.)
Insiders have dubbed the options "Go Big," "Go Long" and "Go Home." The group conducting the review is likely to recommend a combination of a small, short-term increase in U.S. troops and a long-term commitment to stepped-up training and advising of Iraqi forces, the officials said."
Of course, the Goldilocks principle is well accepted in bureaucracy. When developing an options paper, you always include options more extreme than the one you favor. Option C in the Vietnam War was not a wise course; hopefully "Go Long" will be a better choice.
I realize that he's justified in his language, at least in terms of common usage in the circles in which he moves, and he may well be a nice guy. And how can I be opposed to anyone who got fired for a warning about Iraq? Historians have a concept called "producerism", which the old Populists and my mother fiercely believed in. That ideology said that those who produced things were morally superior to those who just sat around on their rears. You couldn't feel proud of earning a living by talking or writing, you had to do. That may be why Dr. Lindsey's piece touches a sore spot.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Saturday, November 18, 2006
This is all by the way of referring to a Washington Post series, running occasionally, on being a black male in America. The most recent article focused on three entrepreneurs who'd founded an IT shop and were scrambling for business contracts. The main "suit" suffered from his suspicions--did he fail to get the contract because of an honest evaluation or because of discrimination? So I can empathize with the feeling.
Friday, November 17, 2006
"Depending on one’s perspective, the Bluegrass Institute [one of the institutes] view of liberty can seem either steadfast or extreme. Walking to his car after a recent event, Jim Waters, the policy director at the institute, mentioned how he had recently survived a head-on collision thanks to his car’s airbags. A few moments later, describing the institute’s priorities, he said the Bluegrass Institute was fighting tougher seat-belt laws, which he called an intrusion on liberty. Car safety laws “did save my life,” he conceded when asked about the apparent contradiction."Sen. McCain delivered separate speeches to GOPAC and the Federalist Society, telling them:
" 'I think they rejected us because they felt we had come to value our incumbency over our principles, and partisanship, from both parties, was no longer a contest of ideas but an even cruder and uncivil brawl over the spoils of power,' he said. 'I am convinced that a majority of Americans still consider themselves conservatives or right of center. They still prefer common-sense conservatism to the alternative.' " [In other words, the public thought Republicans had become hypocrites.]And finally, House Democrats chose their Majority Leader--with many voting for an ethically impaired Represenative and the majority for a well-connected friend of lobbyists.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
"As we now debate torture, or domestic spying, or other dubious methods that will allegedly help us defeat radical Islam, it's worth remembering that the West won the Cold War not by matching the nastiness of Markus Wolf—though some certainly tried to do so—but by being, and remaining, a more open society. "
There's a "what-if" scenario that intrigues me. If I remember Secretary Cohen was waving a 5 pound bag of sugar around on TV during the Clinton administration. And he and Albright were pushing an aggressive line until they ran into a buzz saw of questions at some college that they didn't have good answers to. So just suppose that on the final days of the Clinton administration George Tenet had completed the National Intelligence Estimate that was done in the fall of 2002? In other words, say the Clinton Administration on January 20, 2001 was where the Bush administration was on November 1, 2002. Then the Bush people come in. What happens?
There's a parallel in 1961--Ike leaves JFK the Bay of Pigs operation. JFK modifies it but goes ahead. A difference--JFK had hit Nixon for not being hard enough on Castro; Bush never mentioned terrorism. Another difference--there probably was more comity, more "establishment rule" in 1961 than in 2001.
So does Bush go ahead with the flawed intelligence and missing plans? Or does his team say--Not Invented Here--and tear it apart? I suspect, given today's atmosphere, the latter.
You know you're senile when it takes you 2 days to compute.
Monday, November 13, 2006
We should have, it's logical. This is just another instance of the general principle: you put any group of people to talk among themselves and they develop their own accent, or jargon, or language, depending on the circumstances. The mechanisms are the same as outlined here: the need for fast, clear communication among the in-group; the desire to mark off the difference between the in-group and the out-group. This is a simpler, clearer example than, say, the difference between the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and the Soil Conservation Service (circa 1960-1994 USDA) or between FBI and CIA circa 9/11.
I'd predict that the effort will fail--there's too much geographical specialization and not enough times where integration is needed. That will sap the will of the people pushing the change, the bureaucrats will comply pro-forma, but when the change-pushers go, so will the move towards English instead of codes. (Reminds me of a piece I saw today--polygamy is coming back in Muslim parts of the old USSR--the Communists suppressed it, but it's now gradually returning.)
Aardvark comments on the parallels with other technology.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
- the visitor center had material on the place of women in American culture, including a 3-dimensional graph (the best description I can think of) comparing the numbers (percentages?) of men and women in various occupations over the years. The problem I have is the last figures shown were for 1990, almost 16 years ago. Women have gained in that time, in the professions and in ranking. (Since politics is timely, look at this boasting by Emily's List, which hasn't been updated to reflect the two additional women Senators just elected.
- the web site (see above). It's "under construction", with the last performance plan posted being for 2003.
I repeat, it's not a unique problem. It's a version of NIH (not invented here)--as time passes the first blush of enthusiasm pales and the founders move on to other things, the people who inherit don't devote the same time and energy to maintaining the project.
The same applies to Veterans Day. The 11 minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month can never mean the same to us as to those who fought in the trenches in WWI.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
blog saying that until we have paper trails on voting, we won't have fair elections, I get real tired. I learned to vote on lever machines. I saw JFK, LBJ, and RFK elected on lever machines. I saw RMN elected on lever machines. I never saw a paper trail on any lever machine, nor was there the prevasive questioning of the electoral mechanics we have now. People should chill out and enjoy the fall colors (currently just past their peak in Reston).
(Why am I so glum after the Dems finally retook Congress?)
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
I've no idea what's right, but I'd offer another analysis, looking at it as a bureaucratic message. Hughes says she's visited field offices and promised them guidance on what they could do. I've been there, done that. It's easy to forget the distance there is between DC and Bangkok or whereever. We may think that fast communications resolve issues, but people don't work like that (witness all the marriages that break down over "communications" issues). So I project my own experience into Hughes' text: she got hit with questions from the field, particularly from people who know her reputation for tight control and for being tight with Bush, so really, really don't want to get on her wrong side (and are therefore likely, in the absence of written guidance, to over react).
So Hughes gets back to DC and writes down rules, mostly to reassure people that they do have some leeway. There's also a subtle tug-of-war going on: Hughes is pushing PR, public advocacy. But she's a staff person [I assume], not in the line organization of State. Anything said in public at the local level can raise a stink, so the line organization is going to want to restrict the message to what's safe. No head of an organization (Condi or Bush) wants people making waves. But Hughes knows that safety is not the end-all. So in her directive she offers freedom from "clearance" [meaning running it up the ladder] for some things and help in getting clearance in others. The fact that she has the clout to put out such a directive is good.
(I regret the article didn't refer to the recent episode where someone at State "misspoke" (i.e., said the truth that didn't agree with the official line), I think in an interview on Al Jazeera. State pulled it back, but with support for the official.) Of course there's mixed messages, and control from the center--that's the way bureaucracy operates. But at least she gives something in writing. The able can take some initiative protected by some of the contents; the more cautious will rest easier.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
I've read his book on the Scots-Irish, being half S-I myself (though my forebears went to New York and Illinois, not the southern Appalachians) and would give it a lukewarm recommendation. I'd suggest David Hackett Fischer's book, Albion's Seed, over Webb's, if you're only interested in the S-I.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Anyway, my thanks to all of the doctors and staff, particularly Dr. Cora Foster, the surgeon, and Kathy Hauss (sp?), a nurse.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
So why the outrage? Maybe buried beneath the rhetoric and the political spinning is the feeling that it shouldn't be this way, that equality in a democracy means the burden of defending the nation should be allocated, not on economics, but on citizenship. I'd refer back to Cass Sunstein's "The Cost of Liberty" which made this argument. He said (as I remember) that a good polity needed the allegiance of all, therefore it needed to be fair and to seem fair in allocation of burdens like taxes and military service.
Friday, November 03, 2006
It's strange how "gradual" change comes not to be noticed. You have to get outside the frame to identify it. I spent the last week in Tompkins county, NY (Ithaca). What was very noticeable were the people who were maids in hotels, workers on construction, etc. They were almost all white (and presumably native-born Protestants). It seemed strange and not in the "natural order", as I've become used to Fairfax county where those jobs are filled by immigrants, especially Hispanics. It's a reminder that while the material culture of the country has become more uniform (witness the same chains of stores and hotels everywhere, the same cable TV channels), the people culture is not.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
On coming home after 2 weeks I find a stack of WPosts and NYTimes, which I feel bound to read or skim, at least, before recycling. I don't know why--it's an ingrained habit since I was a child. Things like the A-bomb, H-bomb, Korean war, etc. were first reported in the paper.
I saw a report that newpaper circulation is down significantly during the last reporting period--a significant downtick from the previous slow erosion of readership. Seems to me there may be correlation between the rise of cellphones and the fall of newspapers.
I remember the old days when the paper was the source of news. Radio was just the headlines and TV wasn't available. The paper served to filter and highlight items of interest, as well as providing the detail that we needed. Now the functions are separated. I first learned of 9/11 sitting at my computer reading a brief bulletin about a plane striking the WTC--I think it may have been Yahoo picking it up. Today people are most likely to learn of interesting news through their cellphone, then the Net, then TV, so the filtering function is gone.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
People are, after all, the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The good news is buried towards the end of the Electoral Vote site where there's a list of the Senate seats won in 2002, and therefore up for grabs in 2008. Republicans defend 21, Dems 12. That looks as good to me as current prospects look gloomy.
Mr. Craig [an American hiree/student], who still calls home nearly every day, says he has made an effort to teach himself a few things about his new, temporary home. He has learned how to conduct himself properly at a Hindu temple. He makes an extra effort to be more courteous. He has learned to ignore the things that rattle him in India — the habit of cutting in line,[emphasis added] for instance, or the ease with which a stranger here can ask what he would consider a deeply personal question.Although the Post gets lots of mail complaining about commuters who cut into line on the road, generally we Americans observe line etiquette. What does it say about a culture where they don't--they're into unfettered individualism and disregard of others?
Monday, October 16, 2006
"Another aspect of Xavier's work, however, should appeal to those on the left: In his model, high CEO salaries are pure economic rents. CEOs are paid what they are worth to their companies, and their high pay reflects the extraordinary value of their talent, but the supply of talent is inelastic, and the allocation of talent would not be affected if everyone faced high tax rates.If I understand, CEO's aren't that good, but because they have great leverage, they earn the big bucks. That is, when you have a corporation doing $20 billion, you don't want some George W. running it, so you'll pay just a bit more than $400K for someone who's a little better.
Xavier's model encourages people to think of CEOs as similar to Tiger Woods. Woods makes a lot of money because he is really, really good at golf. He is not stealing from those companies that pay him millions for endorsements. To the people paying Woods for his services, he is worth every penny. Yet if Woods were taxed at 50 percent, rather than 35 percent, he probably wouldn't give up golf or forgo the lucrative endorsements. (Response from the right: On the other hand, at a higher tax rate, Woods might play fewer tournaments each year. He might retire earlier. He might take more compensation as untaxed fringe benefits, such as a cushy private jet to fly to tournaments. And so on.)"
The idea of talent as "economic rent" is intriguing. Resurrecting the old-time religion, men were intended to be stewards of the earth they inherited. Suppose we say that people are stewards of their talents? That might bring us around to Andrew Carnegie, who's an interesting study. (New bio just out I mean to read.)
[Back to Mankiw] What's a CEO going to do except CEO? Woods can cut back on his playing and probably increase his gross, because he'll win a higher percentage of those he does play. CEO's can only retire. (Of course, if you consider a CEO as a multi-talented person, then she can find something else to do, so there is some point at which taxes would become too high.)
It's not partisan--Sens. Clinton and Conrad do the same sort of thing that Sens. Grassley and Hagel do.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
From an Agweb post (note the last paragraph):
USDA will soon begin issuing first partial 2006-crop-year counter-cyclical payments for producers with base acres enrolled in USDA's Direct and Counter-cyclical Program (DCP). The 2002 Farm Bill requires that these payments be made in October.
The 2006-crop-year projected first partial payment rates, equal to 35 percent of the total projected amount, are $0.0481 per pound for upland cotton and $30.45 per short ton for peanuts
First installment payments are not available for producers who have wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, rice, soybeans and other oilseeds base acres because the effective prices for those crops equal or exceed their respective target prices.
The point is that commodity prices are still volatile.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Gallup didn't ask if we were ready to elect an Italian-American, Greek-American, Polish-American--apparently these ethnicities have lost their power and fall into the general category of acceptable white. (I haven't done research, but I think Jackson was our first "non-English" President, being Scots-Irish and we've still to elect someone from outside the British Isles.) Gallup also didn't ask about Catholicism or Islam. (I understand that Taft was a Unitarian, which was controversial in the day.) Nor did it ask about divorce (which was a weapon against Adlai and Rockefeller).
Gallup should have asked about single--Rep. Foley wasn't out of the closet, but I doubt, unless Father Drinan were permitted to serve again, that there's any single man over the age of 35 who could get elected senator, much less President. No more Buchanans for the U.S. So much for the idea that we grow more tolerant as the nation gets older.
The "lumping" is interesting--are we as eager to elect a Hmong President as a Japanese, a Korean as a Filipino? Is Obama more acceptable than a descendant of American slaves? And Hispanics--aren't there differences among the Cuban-Americans and the Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans and Peruvians, Brazilians and Mexicans? The answer, I think, is the immigrant process creates arbitary groupings, which then become our reality. In an alternate universe maybe we'd discriminate against a Salvadoran and for a Puerto Rican, but in the world we've got, once we're halfway ready to consider a Hispanic, we'll disregard nationality and go right to consider the merits and demerits of the individual. (Just as now we care more about whether Rudy is too liberal for the Republican base than his religion or ethnicity.)
We've also forgotten some of the balancing--look at Kennedy's cabinet A Jew, a Pole, an Italian, and no women. When Clinton tried for a cabinet that "looked like America", he didn't care about East Europeans and religion, he cared about blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and women.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Oxfam, Cato, the Environmental Working Group, Environmental Defense, American Farmland Trust and Bread for the World helped form the Alliance for Sensible Agriculture Policies, an ad hoc, politically diverse coalition preparing to fight the farm bill. Oxfam, along with Yum Brands, the Louisville, Ky.-based company that owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants in 100 countries, decries subsidies' impact on free trade. So, too, does the Food Products Association, the nation's largest food and beverage trade group.The problem of farm programs and big farms is built into the program's genes: if a program intends to help "farming", then it starts off favoring those who do more "farming" than less. I remember when I started with USDA, the cotton allotment program had a special 10-acre provision. I think it worked that people who usually farmed less than 10 acres got program benefits without having to reduce their plantings in the years that plantings were reduced. The provision was dropped--few people farmed only 10 acres (which probably had originated as a sharecropper's share).
It seems a general principle that you can be equitable to people either by capping at the top end (payment limitations in farm programs, "progressive" tax rates for the wealthy) or by focusing on the low end (the earned income tax credit). But if you focus on the low end, you create inequities. The inequities might be lessened if you do a sliding scale, as EITC does. And with computers we might now have the bureaucratic capacity to administer such a program.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
"Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate - Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here - all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a 'Band of Brothers' who will die for one another. They found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps. [Italics added]The last sentence struck me. It's a reminder of how long the war has lasted. [Pause to digest thought.]
It's possibly also mistaken. My wife's uncle was a Marine whose service spanned WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. (He wasn't in combat but I'm sure there are Marines who were.) So a Marine who served on Guadalcanal with the First Marine Division might have had several other landings, then the Chosin reservoir in Korea and then engagements in Nam.
Still, the Marine's points are worth noting--he finds O'Reilly a buffoon and the Iraqi police surprisingly resistant to terror so it's not a simplistic letter.
Monday, October 09, 2006
- "weaning" farmers away from farm programs (implying farmers are babies sucking on the teat of government programs)
- "small family farms" replaced by "large commercial farms" (blurring the fact that the smaller farms of the 1930's were also commercial while the large farms of today are also family-owned and run)
- playing "agribusiness" and "rich farmers" against "small family farmers" (blurring the fact that, given the increased specialization of modern agriculture, much of this is apples and oranges.) Small family farmers who have been growing field corn for the last 40 years get government checks; large operations who grow sweet corn for the last 5 years don't.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Slate summarizes the situation described by Woodward's book, but neither the 9/11 commission nor previous books highlight the meeting--why?
I think the answer lies in the workings of humans and bureaucracies. Remember these things:
Pages 49–52: On July 10, 2001, George Tenet and his top terrorism expert, Cofer Black, visited Condi Rice and warned that a major terrorist attack was coming. "It's my sixth sense, but I feel it coming," said Tenet. "This could be the big one." They felt like the then-national security adviser blew them off.
Page 79: "Rice could have gotten through to Bush on the bin Laden threat, but she just didn't get there in time, Tenet thought. He felt he had done his job, laid it on the line very directly about the threat, but Rice had not moved quickly. He felt she wasn't organized and didn't push people as he tried to do at the CIA." Rice has said the July meeting was not as dramatic as Tenet remembers. Woodward quotes Cofer Black: "The only thing we didn't do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head."
- Tenet and Black have been focused on bin Laden for years. Rice has been on the job for less than 6 months. She was the foreign policy guru for a campaign that never mentioned bin Laden.
- There's no good solution to the bin Laden problem.
- Tenet and Black have been out of the administration for years, Rice is still in it.
- People like to make their stories consistent.
So, Tenet and Black rush off to see Rice with a hot potato for which they've no clear solution. But Rice knows her boss isn't good on coming up with solutions, and certainly doesn't want to do anything Clinton did before him. She also knows Dick Clarke and other bureaucrats are trying to put together an overall plan to drain the swamp (which they'll have ready in early September). So, at best she may have sent Tenet to Ashcroft (Freeh has left, I think, and Mueller won't come on board until September). So much for the meeting--just another case where the linkage between career types and political types breaks down during the transition.
How about the new prominence of the meeting? People are loyal to their fellows. Woodward's earlier books and the 9/11 commission were working right after Tenet and Black had retired. I suspect their residual loyalty to the administration meant they didn't highlight the "blowoff". Now, though, it's 2 more years later. Rice is still loyal to the administration but Tenet and Black have had more time to nurse grievances. Rice's story is consistent: because she took no action, she couldn't have been given any information that should have caused her to act. That tends to shift the onus back to the CIA, which rubs T and B the wrong way. So now they start to highlight the urgency of the meeting and the failure of Rice to act. No one says there was a failure of imagination or a lack of capacity to act.
There may not be any lying going on and, absent any tape recording or contemporaneous notes, we may never know the truth.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
I had to register to see this article, but not the earlier article.
It's a complex story, with USDA's Inspector General, FSA's county, state, and DC offices, the Senator who leads the Ag Committee, and Justice all playing a role. The bottom line is:
- if there were no payment limitation rules, McNair would be farming the same crops on the same acreage but without the superstructure of paperwork and fake accounting. ("Fake" is pejorative, I know.)
- if his neighbors thought he were cheating on his income taxes they wouldn't be as likely to condone the schemes. But since it's FSA bureaucrats depriving hard working farmers of money, McNair will be at least tolerated by the community.
- because McNair and his fellow farmers (on the county committee) are pillars of the community, they pack a lot of political clout. So Congress isn't really serious about enforcing payment limitations (ask Senator Grassley). Can you imagine how dispirited Jim Baxa might feel about the task? (Full disclosure--I used to be his wife's boss.)
And to be fair to Sen. Chambliss, Clinton's first Secretary of Agriculture had his chief of staff convicted of an offense because of mishandling of payment limitation cases.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
He farms 3,000 acres, which probably means that there used to be 15-20 families, each with a quarter section, farming where he is now.
Saturday, September 30, 2006
The difference between Bill and I is that I never headed the project. Well, there are other differences.
In 2003, government investigators found that the Risk Management Agency of the USDA had incomplete information on ownership of 21,000 of the nation's largest farms, so it lost a valuable tool to determine whether farmers falsified production figures to file unwarranted claims.
"It's really a shell game ... to show a loss that probably didn't occur," Bertoni said.
Another branch of the USDA had the ownership information but didn't provide it to the RMA. Up to $74 million in possible false claims resulted.
The Times has an analysis of the new legislation on terrorism which includes these thoughts:
The last paragraph is what I'm inclined to think.
How the measure will look decades hence may depend not just on how it is used but on how the terrorist threat evolves. If a major terrorist plot in the United States is uncovered — and surely if one succeeds — it may vindicate the Congressional decision to give the government more leeway to seize and question those who might know about the next attack.
If the attacks of 2001 recede as a devastating but unique tragedy, the decision to create a new legal framework may seem like overkill. “If there is never another terrorist attack and we never obtain actionable intelligence, this will look like a huge overreaction,” said Gary J. Bass, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Perhaps it was a generational thing: the sons of policemen who went to college wanted to follow in the steps of their fathers and do law enforcement. Perhaps it was a prejudice thing in that early graduates of Catholic law schools (Fordham, Notre Dame?) found it easier to get admitted to the FBI than to existing WASP law firms?
- Both are robed in the rags of former romantic glory: fighter pilots as the gallant solo aces of one on one combat; farmers as the gallant son of the soil fighting nature.
- Both have strong, bipartisan lobbies on the Hill
- Both get taxpayer money for programs of dubious value (a jet designed to outclass the Soviet jets; direct subsidy programs that do little for conservation or production adjustment)
- Both are wedded to past methods that are fast losing potency (I predict the manned fighter jet will be successfully challenged by pilotless drones; individual farmers are being replaced by contract farmers (as in poultry and hogs).
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
In the House, "there was a bit of a snafu with this particular document," said a spokesman for Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the intelligence committee chairman. "We had a massive computer failure on our classified side." The first that the committee knew of its existence was late last week, when "it was requested specifically by a member. That was when it was found and scanned into our system."If the Republican administration can't communicate with the Republican-led House, what hope is there for the CIA and FBI to communicate with each other? The failure must be both systemic and political.
Whether the document was ignored or disappeared into cyberspace, however, it seemed to have made little impact on Capitol Hill at the time. No one in either chamber, on either side of the aisle, requested a briefing or any further information on its conclusions until now, the sources said.
- Systemic because even the USPS offers "return receipt requested" service. Any electronic transmission system should have the same sort of safeguard to ensure that recipients have received the transmission.
- Political because surely any new/updated NIE on the war on terror should have been discussed between the Congressional staffers and Negroponte's office, who should have been waiting for the report to arrive and raising flags when it didn't.
A final nod to a Republican--the NIE has revived the Rumsfeld question of a couple years ago--are we capturing and killing more terrorists than we are creating. It was the key question when he wrote it and it's key now.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
"Whether abstainers choose not to be as social or whether organizers of social occasions involving drinking exclude abstainers is unclear. Abstainers may prefer to interact with other abstainers or less social people. Alternately, abstainers might not be invited to social gatherings, work-related or otherwise, because drinkers consider abstainers dull."The argument is that drinking benefits one's social network and the paper is one of two that show a correlation, at least for male drinking. A separate stereotype says females tend to be more social than men, perhaps meaning men rely more on crutches. For me at least that's true--I use(d) drink as a social lubricant, depressing my sense of social unease while participating in a social ritual. So drink is both an indicator of my social participation and a facilitator of it.
I wonder though whether this is as true today as it used to be. My impression is that drinking, at least liquor, is down. Certainly the bars at the Kennedy Center don't seem to be doing the business they used to. Maybe someone should do a study of coffee drinking?
Monday, September 25, 2006
"In offices across Iraq, a ritual plays out every morning during the hottest months. Haggard employees drag themselves into the room, mumble a pleasantry or two and slump into their chairs, moaning about what a bad night’s sleep they had: the power went out, the backup generator was broken, the heat was unbearable, the baby would not stop crying, mosquitoes were everywhere.
Inevitably, these grievances, like hornets, will gather in a single cloud of fury and swoop down on one target: the generator man, probably the most vilified figure in Iraqi society after Saddam Hussein."
I was a "generator man" in the Army. We had power (a pun).