Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Agency of Subjects of Regulation

"Agency" is a big buzz-word, has been for a number of years.  Typically in liberal and academic circles it means that people have minds and wills of their own, particularly the enslaved, the poor, the marginalized.  But it's also true when bureaucrats try to regulate behavior.  Often the picture in the bureaucrat's mind does not match the reality, or at least the picture in the mind of the person being regulated.  That's a truth often ignored in discussions.

It's particularly nice for a liberal to find this mistake occurring when conservatives/libertarians are the ones designing the regulations.  That's the case in Kansas, where governor Brownback has pushed tax reforms and cuts, intended to prove the old supply-side theory that less regulation and lower taxes will encourage growth and fill the government's coffers.  Jared Bernstein has this quote from a Wall Street Journal article (behind pay wall):
The WSJ piece points out that the number of entities taking advantage of this new loophole [not taxing small business income "passed through" to an individual] turned out to be 70 percent above the state’s projections.
Steve Moore, a key trickler that pushed the plan in Kansas, didn’t see that coming:
“Sometimes it was legitimate, and sometimes it was a gaming of the tax system to pay the zero rate, so that loophole has to be closed,” he said.  “Unless you have some rules about this, people really will shift income and they’ll find ways to legally avoid paying tax, and that was never the intention.”

Friday, December 30, 2016

Luck Turns Against the Old

Based on a sample of one, I believe this is true: the older you get the unluckier you are.

In this statement I'm basically referring to physical luck, to accidents.  I see it in myself--I seem to be having more and more close calls.  For example, the other day I was on the sidewalk of Colts Neck Drive, near the driveway for one of the apartment complexes.  I just started to cross when I saw a car beginning to leave the complex.  Very quickly I calculated I was far enough (5-10') into the driveway that the car would stop and I should keep going.  The next second I found myself walking into the car, which had pulled out quickly without stopping before pulling onto Colts Neck.   (I assume what happened was the driver was looking to the left to check Colts Neck and never looked to the right at all to see me.)

That's the most recent of near accidents I've encountered, in many of which I would have been at fault.

This makes me think--all through my adult life I was lucky (only 3 car accidents, one of which was totally not my fault).  I should have been thankful then; instead I'm fearful now.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Habits and Back Pain

Interesting piece here on what our health dollars are spent on.
" The three most expensive diseases in 2013: diabetes ($101 billion), the most common form of heart disease ($88 billion) and back and neck pain ($88 billion)."

"only about 4 percent of spending on low back and neck pain was on pharmaceuticals. Generally, more spending is done on elderly people, but about 70 percent of the spending on low back and neck pain was on working-age adults"
Several years ago I was having low back pain.  Finally mentioned it to my doctor who gave me an exercise routine which takes 15 minutes a day.  No more back pain.  I wonder how much of the pain people suffer could be avoided with similar routines: 10 percent maybe? That's a bunch of money.

It requires access to doctors, establishing habits, and perseverance. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Contra Trump II

I blogged previously on how Democrats should view and oppose Trump.  To extend my thoughts, because Trump has few or no principles, he can be unusually flexible (can Teflon be flexible?).  Similarly his opponents must be flexible, meaning they should avoid confirmation bias. (See this New Yorker post on this and other ideas relevant to the Trump era.)

We shouldn't believe or argue that Trump is fascist, authoritarian, racist or inept.  I guarantee for every  ten examples we can point to over the next four years showing those qualities he will have a few counter examples. Our best bet is to attack him as inconsistent, unprincipled, hypocritical showman, of whom the American people will become tired and disillusioned and be willing for a return to Democratic sanity and steadiness in 2020.

The bottom line on Trump is he lost the popular vote by 2.8+ million and won the electoral vote with a lot of luck and a very unlucky opponent.  And demographic trends are still against the Republicans.  So a competent candidate in 2020 without 40 years of baggage should be favored, even against an incumbent president, assuming Trump will have as rocky a tenure as we Democrats have to believe he will have.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Historical Drinking Patterns

A piece here on current drinking patterns:  New England and Wisconsin the heaviest, northern Midwest and Northwest states next, the evangelical South, Utah, and Idaho the least.  There's a note that the patterns don't change rapidly, but the only data is 21st century.  I wonder about the origins:
  • Utah and Idaho would date from their settlement by whites--the Mormon church frowns on alcohol.
  • Wisconsin presumably dates back to the German immigrants who settled there with their beer, among whom were some of my maternal ancestors.
  • but how about the South?  Their current dryness is accounted for by evangelical religion. I'm not sure when that developed--George Whitefield did evangelical work in the 1740's.  I don't remember that he was particularly teetotal.  Did dryness develop along with the progress of evangelical religion?
  • and how about the North?  Evangelical religion, the second Great Awakening, was perhaps more powerful in the North during the early 19th century.  I'm thinking Prohibition saw a contest between the immigrant wets, the Germans with their beer, Italians with their wine, etc. against the WASPy religious types.  With the end of Prohibition the immigrants had won.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Miller and Smith--And the Course of History

The Times had a piece on changes in the most common last names, the hook being the fact that Latino last names are moving up.

What caught my eye, though, were two of the other most common names: "Smith" and "Miller".  (Jones and Williams and Johnson were also big).  Why?  They're occupational names. Back in the day when surnames first were assigned, the predominant occupation was farming, but we don't see "Farmer" as a big surname.  Miller and smith would be higher income occupations back in the 16th century.  It appears that higher income people had more surviving offspring then, and in the future.

On a related issue Megan McArdle has a piece on the inheritance of status, giving a brief summary of some work tending to show that socioeconomic status is very inheritable. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

NIHism in Government

FCW has advice to high ranking career civil servants who have to adjust to their new bosses in the Trump administration.  All good, but this recognizes the NIHism common in government.
" Don't let arrogance or intransigence alienate you from the incoming leadership team. It's crucial to focus on outcomes and not be wed to the name of an initiative or its current process. Change happens. President George W. Bush's administration had a number of shared services initiatives branded as "eGov initiatives" and "lines of business." Those named initiatives were set aside by the Obama administration and time was lost before a new wave of shared services efforts were launched. This is a normal occurrence. Be prepared for it and keep the goal in mind -- the outcome matters much more than the form or structure of a current program."
As I've written before, the Madigan "Infoshare" (GHWBush's USDA secretary) initiative limped into the Espy USDA tenure, lost momentum, then was sort of revived under Glickman, but changed/killed under the GWBush administration.  The problem is that special projects represent a way for the administration to make a difference, to put their own stamp on the agency.  But because they're identified with one administration, unless they're completed within the term of the administration, it makes them particularly vulnerable as targets for the next.   By contrast the daily work of the bureaucracy is more immune to change. 

Two-fer for USDA Secretary?

Chris Clayton discusses possible picks for Secretary, including a Hispanic woman from Texas with previous USDA experience.

USDA is vitally important to Trump--he's devoted one transition team member to the entire department!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Contra Trump

I think our new president will be a transactional one.  Mr. Trump seems to have few fixed principles or beliefs, so he's likely to be very flexible in approaching issues.

I also think this flexibility and his lack of government experience (along with that of his appointees) is sure to lead to fiascoes and scandals, as well as significant changes and accomplishments.  (See Cowen's  post on the latter.)

With that assumption, I don't agree with those who believe Democrats should be unfailingly confrontational, following the pattern of Republicans with Obama but going one better. I'd suggest a two-pronged stance:
  • take every opportunity to point out Trump's lack of principles and flip flops--he'll provide sufficient ammunition.
  • do deals when possible.  Given past partisanship such deals are likely to split Republicans.
So in 2020  our candidate should run against Trump based on a set of principles and a set of deals.

 My underlying assumption is that the deals Dems reach with Trump will be successful, at least as contrasted to the issues on which we attack.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Puzzle: Increasing Education and No Mobility

In recent days some seemingly solid articles/posts have reported the following:
  • over the past 40-50 years the average American has gotten more education (i.e., more people graduating high school, more people going to college, more people graduating college, etc.)
  • over the past 40-50 years the added income attributable to education, the education "premium", has increased.
  • over the past 40-50 years the earnings of the average American is no greater than his/her parents.
My knee-jerk reaction is that if the first two are right, the third can't be right.   There must be something else which I'm missing.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Originalism on the Electoral College

Electoral college voting today.  Some, mostly Democrats, now believe in originalism as it pertains to the college--should be a set of independent judges exercising their judgment.  Others, notably Republicans, now believe the college should vote according to the norms and precedents in history, disregarding the original intent. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A New Front for Animal Rights--Voluntary Milking?

Modern Farmer has a post describing the voluntary milking robot systems being installed on big dairy farms.

DeLaval has a set of photos -- sure don't look like dairy barn I grew up with. 

If I understand "voluntary" means a cow can walk into the robot and be milked whenever she wants.  While I've always believed dairies generally took good care of their cows, the voluntary aspect is something entirely new.  There would seem to a tension between the food movement, which likely disapproves of the size a dairy needs to be to justify such a robot system, and the animal rights movement, which should see a gain to animal welfare from the voluntary milking.

American Factoids--Declining Scots-Irish

German Federal States are, on average, about 8,600 square miles. East German states are about 7,000, west German ones are about 9,600. US states are, on average, about 74,000 square miles, so far from comparable.

That's from Lyman Stone also these:
Do you know what major American ancestry-group is declining faster than any other? Scotch-Irish. The vaunted origin-ancestry of Appalachia lost nearly 2.2 million self-identifiers from the 2009 ACS sample to the 2014 ACS sample, marking a 42% decline. The only ancestries to lose more people were German and English; much of the decline in those two groups was centered around Appalachia.
Want to guess the fastest-growing ancestry group in America? I bet you guessed “Mexican” or “Chinese.” Those are solid guesses; Mexican is #3, at 11% growth with 2.4 million new self-identifiers.
The correct answer, however, is “White/Caucasian.” The number of Americans self-identifying not as English or German or Scotch-Irish but “White” as their ancestry, as distinct from just their race, rose 47% from the 2009 ACS to the 2014 ACS, with 3.9 million new identifiers. The second largest grower was “American” as an ancestry; this is un-hyphenated American, mind you. There are 2.9 million new “Americans,” giving 15% growth.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

"LIfe After Cows"

Unlike crop farming, dairy farms can come to a sudden and abrupt end. I know.

Two kids can set a fire, the barn goes, and the herd has to be sold.  (Averaging 27,000 lb per cow--that's a figure unheard of in the 1950's.)

Or advancing age, low prices, a smaller dairy, no successors can make for a more gradual sell-off, as here.

Or a TB test comes out positive, and the bureaucrats order a "depopulation".  (Some great photos at this site, prairie Canada.

Or, as happened with my dad, there's a severe stroke, so the cows went the next day, a phrase I can't type without emotion, even though I never wanted to farm.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Dream of Online Access to USDA Operations

In 1992 we had the dream of permitting farmers online access to ASCS, SCS, Farmers Home applications.  In the initial Infoshare pilot we found very limited adoption.  As I've observed from a distance the different embodiments of that dream over the years, I've always been curious how many farmers were really getting online and making use of the capabilities USDA provided. But despite my suggestions over the years, I'm not aware of any Federal site which publishes usage figures, so there's no way for a member of the public to see whether progress is being made.

Recently I found a clue, at least for FSA/NRCS/RD, thanks to the requirement for public notice on data requirements.  (The first time in my life I've really seen a value for that procedural requirement.)

Here is the Federal Register document from USDA on the information collection requirement for e-Auth.
"The USDA eAuthentication Service provides public and government businesses single sign-on capability for USDA applications, management of user credentials, and verification of identify, authorization, and electronic signatures. USDA eAuthentication obtains customer information through an electronic self-registration process provided through the eAuthentication Web site. The voluntary online self-registration process applies to USDA Agency customers, as well as employees who request access to protected USDA web applications and services via the Internet. Users can register directly from the eAuthentication Web site located at The information collected through the online self-registration process will be used to provide an eAuthentication account that will enable the electronic authentication of users. The users will then have access to authorized resources without needing to reauthenticate within the context of a single Internet session."
 "Description of Respondents: Farms; Individuals or Households; Business or other for-profit; Not-for-profit institutions; Federal government; State, Local or Tribal Government.
Number of Respondents: 114,256.
 There's no breakdown given for how many of the respondents are actually farmers.  My guess would be about 80,000 to 100,000, which might be from 10 to 25 percent of potential users.

What's Wrong With Old White Men?

Bernstein comments that Trump's cabinet is old, other observers have said they're white, mostly, and mostly men (particularly if you omit what I'd call the "semi-cabinet--EPA, SBA,UN ambassador). It's notable there's little attention to their religious or ethnic diversity; the days when we paid attention to those parameters is long gone.  And everyone assumes they're all heterosexual.

As an old white heterosexual male I see nothing at all wrong with his selections.  :-)  By the same token, I understand why others might justifiably criticize the narrowness of his universe.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Taxing Sugar--Hypocrisy

The Post (Wonkblog) has a piece arguing the merits of taxing sugar, that is sugar instead of soda.

I'm sure one could find in back issues of the Post an attack on USDA's current sugar program, which sets import quotas for foreign sugar, as costing the American consumer millions of dollars in added costs for their sugar.  I'm also sure you won't find the food movement backing the sugar program as an instance in which government programs make Americans healthier.

(Note: I really have no brief for the sugar program; I just note the world is more complicated than advocates realize.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Our Blinders

Love to pick on economists:

Here's Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution:
"Animal rights will be the big social revolution of the 21st century. Most people have a vague feeling that factory farms aren’t quite ethical."
 I want to point out the blindness--the "most people".  With my background I don't really buy the argument, or maybe it's better to say the issue is more complex for me than the average brown bear. Anyhow, when I read it, I resisted the concept a bit.  But when you think about it--who are the people who Prof. Tabarrok has in his head?  They're likely people like him, members of the urban elite. I venture to say that most members of American society don't think about the ethics of factory farming at all. And I venture to say that most people in foreign countries have no opinion on the issue.

My point is it's easy to slip into a generalization which isn't true, particularly when it's a binary issue: is factory farming ethical or not? IMHO it's more accurate to talk about gradations and percentages: a majority of the urban elite (especially native white elites) who have an opinion would likely have questions about the ethics of factory farming.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mapspotting: Ithaca and Native Americans

One of the pleasures of being a know-it-all is noticing things the media/experts don't.  These days the Times, the Post, and websites display a lot of data using maps, often at the county level, enabling me to "mapspot".

For example, it's often easy to pick out Ithaca, NY, or rather Tompkins county.  It sits in the center of the state and with the presence of Cornell U. and Ithaca College it often stands out--it's an example of the "big sort", people separating themselves by money, lifestyle, and opinion.

On a darker note, there are counties in the west of North Dakota/South Dakota and around the Four Corners area of Arizona/New Mexico which stick out. Note the Vox maps on various causes and trends of mortality in this piece.  Why--because there are Indian reservations there--Sioux and Navaho.  Watch Longmire.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Trump and LBJ

I'm getting some echoes of LBJ in our current president-elect.  Like Trump, LBJ paid obsessive attention to TV, going so far as to have 3 TV's, one for each network going in his offices.  Like Trump, LBJ did a lot of feinting and faking, trying to build some drama and keep his adversaries off balance. (I'm thinking of his appointments and occasionally on policy.  He kept Hubert Humphrey in suspense for months before confirming his selection as Vice President.)  Like Trump, LBJ didn't relax, he drove himself and his staff relentlessly.  Like Trump, I don't think LBJ had many close friends. Like Trump, LBJ was unfaithful, though unlike Trump he stayed in his marriage.  Like Trump, LBJ didn't conform to the usual norms of gentility and political custom.  Like Trump, LBJ could be volatile and very thin-skinned.

Unlike Trump, LBJ's domestic policies were admirable.

The China Lobby--Traces of History

In the 50's and 60's we had something called the "China Lobby", a group of politicians and lobbyists who had long supported the Chinese Nationalists, before and after their move to the island of Formosa (Taiwan).  They had influence, ensuring the US did not recognize the existence of Communist China.  They tended to be right wing Republicans, although not completely so, and had alliances with hard-liners opposing the USSR, seeing a monolithic communist conspiracy for world domination.

Then Nixon went to China, and recognized the regime.  The China Lobby was aghast--IIRC George Will and William Safire were outraged.  Over time the outrage has diminished, partially because the members of the lobby have died (Madame Chiang Kai-shek, a fascinating woman), partly the passage of time has dulled passions.  But there's always been a group which supports more arms to China and resists initiatives of opening to China.

With Trump's tweets and phone call with the Taiwan president I'm wondering whether the China Lobby is still exerting its influence.  We'll see.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Results of Ending Fox Hunts in Britain

A That's the door of No. 10 Downing Street, according to this article.  
It only takes a few years for the foxes to take over. 

Reached from Kevin Drum's Friday cat blog post by following the link to the Sun.

Founding Fathers and Conflict of Interest

For those who believe in "originalism", a cautionary tale on the conflicts of interest between our first president.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Loving Trump

Just saw the movie "Loving".  Quite good, will be on some Oscar lists, but not up to last year's Spotlight.  That said, this thought struck me:

Richard Loving would have voted for Trump.

Why?  Because he felt powerless to take care of his wife, a feeling shared by many Trump voters.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

One Stop Shopping for Government Services

FCW has Steve Kelman's piece on a one-stop shop in China:
Some 20 different agencies are represented in the center. Lots of the work handled involves services for businesses, such as registration and approvals for establishing a new business, and various approvals related to construction. The center also provides a number of citizen services, such as applications for passports and work permits, and various transactions related to health insurance. Many, though not all, of the forms can be completed online. The in-person services are designed for people -- often the older and less-educated -- with questions or who need in-person assistance actually filling out a form.
Back in the 90's I had this sort of thing in the back of my mind.  InfoShare had that dream, and the Osage County office in Kansas was a step along the way.  I was ambivalent about the projects: moving to PC's and the Internet in county offices could only be justified by cost savings--good, which inevitably meant personnel cuts, but that meant a further decline in rural area jobs--not good.  One faint possibility would be a true consolidation of USDA services, where things like Skype (CU-SeeMe back then) could enable one employee to tap the expertise of others located in distant offices but then adding other services.  Problem was, government doesn't have that heavy of an impact on daily lives, particularly in rural areas.  Suppose the service center could handle social security--how many visits do the 2 or 3,000 residents of a rural county make to a distant social security office in a year?  And given the difficulty in getting USDA agencies working together, any further expansion at that time was a pipe dream.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Changes in DC

There's a piece in the Washingtonian on how the Obama administration changed Washington, DC.

Perhaps the single most telling stat on changes in DC during the past years is contained in this Post article on the stagnation in high school graduations.  There's a table with the data on VA, MD, and DC, showing a graph of rates from 2000 to 2031-2.  While white rates in both states are flat, the graph for white rates in DC soars above all others, reaching 500+ percent over 2000-1 by the end of the period.  (I'm guessing that the rate is already 200 percent of 2000-1, an increase paralleling the Hispanic increase, but the Hispanic rate levels off and then drops in the 2020's.)

Perhaps the Obama administration symbolized the demographic changes in DC, without actually causing them.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Waning Enthusiasm for Pro Football

I don't know about the rest of the world but I'm gradually seeing my enthusiasm for pro football wane.  A decade or more ago I would watch every play of every game on Sunday, particularly the Redskins.  And I would be very much into the game, yelling at great plays, rapid heartbeat, etc.

But over time it's become easier for me to miss parts of games, or even the whole game. Yes, when I'm watching and the team is doing good, I really enjoy it. And I still read the Post articles and check the stats.  But...

Why is it?  20 years ago or more, actually more, the Redskins were a good team.  Since then they haven't been--don't think they've won a playoff game the few times they've actually made the playoffs.  So there's that.  There's also the consciousness of injuries, particularly concussions.  And the game is slower, what with replays and challenges and more ads.  Used to be a 1 o'clock game would end before 4, but no longer.

There's also age--my supply of interest seems to be shrinking generally.  I no longer read every story in the newspaper, for example.

Age might be the determining factor.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Trump and Nondisclosure

Trump is famous for requiring his employees to sign nondisclosure agreements.  Apparently also when his lawsuits are settled, there's a no-publicity clause in the agreement.  So I posed a
question on this Post piece: could Trump issue an executive order requiring all Presidential appointees to sign a nondisclosure agreement modeled after the ones he requires employees of his businesses?   Don't know the answer.  

I do know that the Supreme Court back in the 70's limited the right of the executive branch to restrict employees' contact with Congress.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Knowing What You Don't Know; a Corollary

I may have blogged in the distant past about a time I discovered the importance of knowing what you don't know.  Briefly, I took a call from the Arkansas program specialist.  I hadn't been in my position too long, the specialist pressed for an answer on an issue, while clearly indicating which way he thought the answer should go.  I don't like conflict (might be an understatement) so I went along with him.

Some months later OIG filed a report challenging the rule the Arkansas office had applied, reporting that they had had approval from Washington for this dubious action.  Big embarrassment when I had to admit to my boss, a very nice guy, I was the one who had screwed up.  After that learning experience I tried to remember the lesson and to teach it to my employees when I moved back into management.

Long story short:  Evan Osnos, a very good writer in the New Yorker, has this paragraph on Trump's phone call with the president of Taiwan:

"For a piece I published in September, about what Trump’s first term could look like, I spoke to a former Republican White House official whom Trump has consulted, who told me, “Honestly, the problem with Donald is he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.” It turns out that is half of the problem; the other half is that he has surrounded himself with people who know how much he doesn’t know."

[The ability to spell diminishes with age, at least in my case.  Misspelled "correllary"]

Friday, December 02, 2016

Farm Bill Debates

A Think Progress post here farm bill issues: specifically will the Republican dominance lead to an attack on food stamps or on environmental regulations.

Illinois extension here has a discussion of the baseline for the farm bill's farm programs--perhaps $10 billion a year.  I believe that's higher than the current bill's baseline was.  ("Baseline" is, if I understand, the Congressional Budget Office's estimate of future costs, over 10  years, if all Congress did was to extend current farm bill provisions with no change.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Would You Buy Stock in a Trump IPO?

Not I.  Too afraid that any anyone anti-US would attack the hotels, damage the golf courses, whatever.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


A Japanese phenomenon, young men who don't work and don't play with others, instead withdrawing from social contact.  Hat tip: Marginal Revolution.

I've some sympathy with them--I wasn't that extreme but I also used to withdraw, at least outside work. 

It strikes me that it's something which can exist only in a wealthy society, where people have enough to support unproductive members of the society.  As such it's a bit related to the US decline in labor force participation by men in the prime working ages.  Whether it's society's safety nets or the informal workforce, it's a measure of how far we've changed from a rural agrarian society. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Where You Stand Affects Your Opinion

Because you see different things:  Ran across this instance this morning:
Every set I’ve been on has had an ethnically diverse crew. I see how directors might not clue in to the lack of diversity of their work because they look out onto an inclusive set. The principal actors onscreen are only a small percentage of the entire body of employees. What they forget is that the rest of the world only sees who is put in front of the camera, and they are hoping to look into a mirror.
From a Vox post by a Chinese-American actress.
This sort of thing occurs with race more generally, dating back to antebellum days:  Most blacks lived on large plantations with large numbers of other blacks and small numbers of whites; most white slave owners lived with small numbers of slaves; most whites weren't slave owners.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Trump Administration: Drama

Since I failed to predict Trump's win, why not predict what I expect from the administration?  Basically, I'm relying quite a bit on the Reagan history here:

  • Drama.  We'll go from "no drama, Obama" to the drama king himself.  Lots of t.oing and froing, changes of direction, suspense over decisions.  I expect this because Trump himself doesn't seem to have firm beliefs in a lot of areas, because he's new to government, and because likely many of his appointees will be new.  Compare this to Obama, whose big four appointees (State, DOD, Justice, and Treasury) were all old hands, with Clinton being the only one new to her responsibilities. 
  • Scandal. Despite the Republicans best efforts, Obama didn't have significant scandals.  Trump is likely to.  Think of Reagan: Interior, HUD, and Iran-contra spring to mind very readily. That's partly the same factors as for drama, but it's also appointing true believers who are more likely to follow their beliefs across the lines of ethics and legality.
  • Economy growth or inflation.  I can go a couple ways here:  I believe Trump is inheriting a good economy, one which likely would continue to improve.  So maybe he gets really lucky and has four solid years of growth despite himself (i.e., he doesn't carry out his promises).  Alternatively, he carries out promises which results in inflation and rocky economics by disrupting trade, increasing inflationary pressures, promoting inefficiencies in the economy.
We'll see.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Congressional Research Reports

This site has Congressional Research Service Reports.

A couple recent ones:

Farm Bill  "The new five-year estimated cost of the 2014 farm bill, as of August 2016, is now $466.5 billion for the four largest titles, compared with $484 billion for those same titles two years ago. This is $17 billion less than what was projected at enactment. SNAP outlays are projected to be $24 billion less for the five-year period FY2014-FY2018 than was expected in February 2014. Crop insurance is projected to be $4.4 billion less for the five-year period and conservation nearly $4 billion less. In contrast, farm commodity and disaster program payments are projected to be nearly $15 billion higher than was expected at enactment due to lower commodity market prices (which raises counter-cyclical payments) and higher livestock payments due to disasters. 

Conservation Compliance

Why Farmers Went for Trump

Modern Farmer has a post listing five reasons.

I've lost my memory of how the "waters of the US" issue might relate to swampbuster rules.  I know NRCS, EPA, and Corps of Engineers all get involved.  I also remember in 1991 getting an earful in Kansas about SCS handling of sod/swamp. I assume that's still a sore spot.

Friday, November 25, 2016

History and Jawboning

An excerpt from the Politico tipsheet:

"TRUMP’S AMERICA -- @realDonaldTrump: “I am working hard, even on Thanksgiving, trying to get Carrier A.C. Company to stay in the U.S. (Indiana). MAKING PROGRESS - Will know soon!” … @Carrier: “Carrier has had discussions with the incoming administration and we look forward to working together. Nothing to announce at this time.” … @justinamash (Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, one of the staunchest libertarians in Congress): “Not the president(-elect)’s job. We live in a constitutional republic, not an autocracy. Business-specific meddling shouldn’t be normalized.”
I remember JFK and LBJ, both believed in jawboning.  JFK had a famous blowup with a steelmaker, ending with something like:  My father told me businessmen were all SOB's but I didn't believe him until now.  LBJ of course gave the Johnson treatment to everyone, not just business.  

The difference is Trump is jawboning/dealmaking? presumably to help Carrier, where JFK and LBJ were usually IIRC working to keep down inflation and settle strikes.

How the Free Market Works

An article on how prices for chicken are set.  Not so much by the free interplay of supply and demand among willing buyers and willing sellers, but by negotiations between big consumers (supermarkets, fast food chains) and big suppliers (Perdue, Tyson), using a reference price supplied by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Sort of reminds me of the scandal over LIBOR, where a handful of bankers collaborated to set rates which didn't reflect reality.

Lesson:  just because something is denominated in money, doesn't mean the market economy is operating.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

To all.  Thankful for all the progress the world has made during my lifetime, despite the setbacks along the way. 

Also thankful for a body and mind not too much diminished by age, so I anticipate the events of the next 4 years with interest.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How To Evade Trump's Two for One Regulation Cut

One of Trump's promises is "so important" in his words--the idea of eliminating two regulations for every new one.  In my words, so stupid.

First, there's a lot of definitions to be written:
  • what's "new"? Is it a brand new subject area--would all the regulations issued to implement ACA be considered "new"?  Trump's not proposing many new programs, so that would cut the impact.  But he does have to implement his infrastructure bank and his replacement of ACA and..  Or when FSA issues new regulations or revises old regulations to implement the new farm bill, will those be considered "new"?  That definition would greatly expand the impact. What is the distinction between substantive newness and editorial newness?
  • who's the actor, at what level will the balancing have to be done?  In the case of USDA, is it at the agency level, FSA? How are cross-agency regs handled (like sodbuster/swampbuster applying both to ASCS and SCS)? Or will it be USDA as a whole?  Or maybe the government as a whole?
  • who's the enforcer?  Obviously if it's the government as a whole, then only OMB's regulatory shop can enforce, but if it's at a lower level you could also delegate the enforcement responsibility.  But with delegation comes discretion to interpret the rules.
  • when does a document become a regulation?  Is it when the final rule is published, or do you have to be identifying the regs to be eliminated back in the proposed rulemaking document? Or can you publish a final rule Z with the promise that reg X and Y are being eliminated?  
  • finally, what is a "regulation"?  Are we focused on the paperwork or the legal substance?  The two are not the same--one document may cover several parts (a "part" is a subdivision of the Code of Federal Regulations, representing some legal substance) or only a subpart or subsection of a part.  Or will the definition limit the applicability to "significant" regulations, the ones exceeding $100 million in impact (a threshold which has never been adjusted for inflation)?
Once you tell me how these definitions are written, then it's child's play to lay out a plan to game the system to do what needs to be done. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Our Heroes: Cowboys Versus Superheroes

Just saw "Dr. Strange", which was only redeemed by Mr. Cumberbatch and some humor. I think it counts as maybe the only superhero movie we've seen.  Got to thinking: back in the day our heroes were in Westerns.  They stood out because of courage and usually moral status and being fast on the draw.  Children, boys at least, could aspire to that status.

I don't know what lessons or models our modern superheroes present for children.

(My, I sound like an old fogey.)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

My Alternative for the Hamilton Cast

Much discussion about Pence's attendance at the Hamilton musical performance, some boos from the audience and a post-show statement from the cast.  My position:  no big deal, I wouldn't have done either, but it's within the realm of civil society.  But it is a bit too self-righteous for my taste.

I'd rather have seen the statement after the show say something like: " the cast members in the spirit of supporting diversity....blah blah.. in today's world, are donating their pay for the night to [some charity]."  That would have been a stronger statement IMHO.

The Romantic Virtues of Dirt

The NYTimes had an article on the definition of "organic": specifically can vegetables grown through hydroponics be considered "organic"?  There's different views, particularly the big hydroponic growers who can get premium prices for their hothouse produce as compared to the dirt based organics.

Back in the day there would have been no question:  the organic movement had IMHO a romantic view of the virtues of dirt: there was a magic in the dirt, perhaps embodied in the bacteria and organisms present in natural soil, soil which had not been denaturalized by the repeated applications of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.  (Though back in the 1950's it was mostly fertilizers, not so much herbicides and pesticides.)  The organic people had a faith in nature, usually "Nature", that exceeded their faith in man.  It's partly the old top-down, bottom-up dichotomy.  If you believe in human reason you think people can figure out anything and then improve on what's developed from the past.  If you have a less strong belief, either in the strength of reason or in current development of understanding of natural phenomena, or if you want to avoid the work of understanding, you trust in nature.

I see a similar dichotomy in the controversies over GMO's or the precautionary principle.  I'd generally expect the Trump USDA to go with the hydroponics people, but maybe I'm just using the stereotype of Republicans favoring business people.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Too Much Fear, Too Little Calm

My title could apply to many things, including the current agita over the Trump administration to be.

I want to note the election, specifically the lack of major problems at the polling place, as reported by this ProPublica blog post. All the fears of intimidation at the polls, etc. weren't borne out.  People have the ability to work themselves into a lather (a metaphor dating back to the horse age) over things which don't come true.

The reality is that Trump and his people will make mistakes, do some bad things, do some good things, and often kick the ball down the street.  They may well be as bad for the country as were Nixon and Reagan, but maybe not.  We'll see. 

Harry Potter and Bureaucracy

Any bureaucrat who's a fan of Harry Potter knows he's also a bit masochistic (the bureaucrat, not Harry).  Here's an old essay which makes that point, several times.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Benefits of Immigrants

Andrew Gelman writes about attitudes to Hungarian refugees in 1958.  I commented

One of the lesser contributions of immigrants to American culture is the soccer-style field goal kick. Yes, before 1959 all field goal kickers kicked straight on. It was Pete Gogolak and his brother Charlie who brought soccer-style kicking to the college level (Cornell for Pete), and then to the pros. They were Hungarian refugees.

An example of how we all benefit from the interchange of people and ideas.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I Was Wrong, Again

Sometime recently I believe I blogged about the difficulty in undoing regulations which had been finalized after the rule-making process.  The idea was, and is, that an agency needs to go back through the rule-making process in order to revoke a reg, a process which takes a while and can, in controversial cases, result in lots of comments to respond to.

That's still the case, but I'd forgotten Newt's baby, which is briefly referenced in this post.
It's the Congressional Review Act, part of Gingrich's Contract with America, which allows simple majorities in both Houses to nullify major regulations within 60 legislative days of promulgation. With divided government it hasn't been used, hence my forgetting about it.  Twill be interesting to see how many of the candidates the Republican Congress actually nullifies.  My bet is a minority, perhaps a small minority, unless some wiseass packages a number into one legislative act.

Spikes in Homicides and Traffic Deaths

Peter Moskos picks up on the same thing I did.  The only difference is he wrote about it: the increases in traffic deaths and homicides are roughly the same percentages, but the Times minimized one and not the other.

Not good, NYT, not good.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On Reconciliation With Enemies

Boston 1775 cites a letter by Jonathan Sewell, a Loyalist, regarding his old friend, John Adams, the Partriot.

Some Good from Trump?

Whatever else happens in the next four years, Trump's election and administration will act like a bowling ball (no, not a gutter ball), knocking the pins around and disturbing past patterns.  Any change of political party does that, but he will do so more.  In that sense, voters who wanted "change" will get it.

What do I mean:  take the farm bill, for example.  For decades it's been an omnibus that served the interests of those liberals who wanted food stamps (SNAP), the greenies who wanted conservation, and production agriculture who wanted farm programs and insurance.  This alliance has been stressed at times, most recently in the House during the consideration of the last farm bill.  This time around is likely to see more changes.

Another example: it looks as if the intra-party coalitions which comprise both parties are under strain. The Democrats are debating whether to change the Clinton/Obama formula to be more aggressively liberal and perhaps more class-conscious, a direction which may lessen their support from the professional upper classes.  The Republican coalition of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, libertarians is now figuring out whether it can accommodate a renewed appeal to the "Reagan Democrats".  IMO the original Reagan Democrats tended to be Catholic working class who left the Democrats as a result of social issues, mostly abortion, and resentment of blacks. The new working class seems to be more populist in tone, which doesn't work well with Wall Street Republicans.

So if Trump is successful as a change agent, does that mean he'll be successful as a President.  My answer--no.  But are these changes "good"?  I'd resist that term; rather I'd say the changes are somewhat inevitable.  We shall see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What's Wrong With California?

It doesn't matter this year, and may not matter in the near future, but what's the matter with California?  Suppose the election is such that California's electoral votes will be decisive.  Are we really willing to wait for weeks until they get through counting all their ballots?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Trump's Popularity

Matt Yglesias tweets reminding us that Trump is unpopular. But what do we think will be the future?

Personally I think during his term in office his approval rating will hit 65 percent and fall to 30 percent, perhaps not in that order.

Bitter Defeats: A Life Following Politics

Live long enough, and be into politics enough, and you'll have some bitter moments.  Two of mine:
  • Hubert Humphrey was a leader in civil rights from the time he spoke to the 1948 national convention, passionately appealing for Democrats to end racial segregation.  (No, the only thing I remember from 1948 was the sound of Alben Barkley speaking--my interest in government and politics grew in following years.)  Humphrey was the standout liberal during the 50's and the author of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 1965 was the best time to be a liberal, given the Dem's majorities and LBJ's mastery of Congress, even though it was also the year I got drafted.  In a just world Humphrey would have reaped the rewards of his endeavors by succeeding LBJ in 1968 by beating Tricky Dick Nixon and the demagogue George Wallace.  Alas, the world was not just.
  • I remember listening to Ronald Reagan on radio during the 1964 campaign, speaking on behalf of Goldwater.  I think I turned him off, his assertions seemed so ill-founded, and his speaking seemed so glib.  I had problems taking him seriously even after he beat Pat Brown for governor of California, nearly beat President Ford for the 1976 nomination, and ran again for President on a platform of keeping the Panama Canal and rigid anti-communism. I knew he was a genial lightweight, who talked well but glibly and with no regard to factual accuracy.  I fastened on every straw in the wind to believe Carter would beat him as he deserved.  
  • The deaths of JFK, MLK, and RFK.  We're lucky to have survived almost 50 years without more such killings.
  • .I was disappointed by the results in other elections, notably 1988 and 2000, but as I grew older I began to have more perspective. But I haven't gained enough perspective to make 2016 less than bitter.

Young Protestor: Write or Visit Washington

As a followup to my previous post, Emily Ellsworth has a set of suggestions for how people  should work to influence Washington. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Go To Washington, Young Protestor

The research shows that the way to have impact on politics is face to face.  So instead of marching in protests the protestors should plan on visiting DC to talk to their elected representatives. Granted that it doesn't provide the emotional release of marching, but it's more effective long term.

[Turns out the women are planning a march on Washington for Jan. 21.  Hope they plan on visiting their representatives as well as talking. ]

Trump and Reagan

Some comparisons between the Reagan administration and what may happen in the Trump administration:

Seems to me there were three power centers in the Reagan administration: the true believers (Reaganauts), the establishment (most notably Baker), and Nancy.  Over the course of the administration each group won some.  There may be a similar dynamic for Trump:
  • the establishment would be Priebus, Ryan and McConnell
  • the Trumpites would be Bannon, Giuliani, Sessions
  • the children would be Nancy.
In the Reagan administration over time the establishment outlasted most of the Reaganauts--Schultz, Baker, and Weinberger--and tended to have the major policy posts  The Trumpites like Hickel (Interior), Block (USDA) and Pierce (HUD) ended up with lesser posts and scandals and major snafus.  Nancy protected her husband's longrange image, which is the role I see for the children (their future is their name, their inheritance is their name).

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hypocrisy or Just a Matter of Time?

Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy notes it's time to turn our clocks back to before Obama, so liberals and conservatives will switch places on matters of principles.

Schadenfreude: Both Sides

I was going to label the first sentence of this paragraph of a NYTimes article as the best sentence of November:
Mr. Trump will have no immunity from lawsuits involving his corporate ventures, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling involving Paula Jones, one of President Bill Clinton’s accusers. And nothing will stop Mr. Trump’s family from continuing to run its vast international web of businesses. Federal ethics laws and conflict-of-interest statutes that apply to other federal employees and cabinet members do not apply to the president.
But fairness compels me to note that Obama did expand the scope of the President's powers, so we liberals will be mourning that in a few months. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why Rural Areas Went Trump

One factor I haven't seen mentioned (which was IIRC key to Truman's victory in 1948): bad economics for farmers.  Prices are down, land values are down.  For example, per bushel corn prices have declined from $6.89 to $3.61 in four years.

Good News for Some, Bad for Others

Gun maker stocks took a big hit after Trump's win.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What If? Immigration First?

Matt Yglesias asks somewhere what would have been the result if Comey's letter had come out earlier and Trump's video had come out later?  The moral is the effect of contingency.

Along somewhat different lines, what would have happened had Obama opted to put immigration reform first, and health care second back in the first days of his presidency?  I could argue that there was a deal to be made on immigration (almost had one in the last year of GWBush's presidency) that would have reduced the heat the issue had this year.  If he'd then failed to pass Obamacare, the Tea Party uproar in 2010 might have been less effective, meaning less energy for the populist resentment this year.  And having passed immigration reform might have improved the Latino support for Clinton this year.

Of course, with all those what-ifs, Trump might not have become the nominee. 

Social Media and the Government

Dan Drezner has a couple posts at the Post about the future.  I commented this way on one
which included a discussion of some of the structural constraints on Trump:

You fail to note one factor not present in the past: social media.  Is the government much more permeable and transparent because of it?  Remember Nixon's tapes were secret and only revealed by accident.  Clinton's emails were hacked. Anyone with a gripe, justified or unjustified, can now find a speaking trumpet. Or does social media tend to empower the more extreme partisans, further dissolving the moderate middle?

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Hidden Toll of Gay Marriage

Does anyone remember it's been just a year and a half since same-sex marriage became legal nation-wide?  I didn't, and was surprised when I looked it up.

I may be the only one, but it seemed to me that the nation had quickly moved on to other things so issue quickly receded into the rear-view mirror.  Is it possible that the "elites" have assumed that relative silence (except over issuing marriage licenses, photography, baking) means the nation had accepted it? 

What if that assumption was wrong? Even though President-elect Trump didn't talk about it that I remember, and the Republican convention didn't make a big deal of it (not that I watched the speeches), perhaps one of the (many) reasons whites and some African-Americans went more strongly for Trump than Clinton is resentment that the rules were imposed from the top, by the lawyers and the Supreme Court? 

I Was Wrong

See this, and should retire as a predictor but I'm still optimistic.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Voted in 5 Minutes

That may be an exaggeration,but we parked, walked up the sidewalk to the elementary school, picking up a Democratic sample ballot, walked into the gymnasium and up to one of about seven desks, handed in drivers license which was scanned, repeated my name and address, the poll worker repeated it into a recording device, gave me a card to take to another station where I picked up the ballot.  Was directed by another worker to a long line of cubicles, sat down, filled in the ovals, got up and went to the scanning station where my ballot was scanned and accepted.  No lines.

Of course this was at 1:12 pm. I took this as I waited for my wife.  The initial reception stations are behind the woman on the right, the cubicles to complete the ballot are behind the divider on the left, the scanning station is at the immediate left.  All in all it was a new system and impressive.

The Conservatives I Follow

I've three blogs I keep up with which are mostly conservative.  The Volokh Conspiracy is a bunch of law professors.  Powerline is four lawyers/scholars.  Ann Althouse is a law professor.  Althouse voted for Obama in 2008, don't think she revealed her choice in 2012, and is keeping quiet about her vote in 2016, though I'd say her posts tend to be pro-Trump and her readership definitely tilts to the right. (She tends to tease her views.)  Powerline contributors are torn, but my guess is they'll vote Trump or a write-in, never Clinton.  Orin Kerr at Volokh did an anonymous survey of contributors--only one voting for Trump, the rest for others.

Where I'm At: Optimistic

At noon on Election Day, I'm optimistic, both about the election and the country:
  • I want and expect Clinton to win.
  • Trump will concede, either graciously or at the behest of his family.
  • If the Dems take the Senate, they'll still be at the mercy of their conservatives: Manchin and Donnelly. If they don't, I expect the remnants of the Gang of Eight (or was it Sixteen) to help pass legislation.  (Republicans don't have many running in 2018 so Senators won't be pulled to the right by primary fears.)
  • Clinton will likely work from the center, both as a result of Congress being narrowly divided. She'll turn out to be a good president.
As always, I'd predict an extension of past trends (which is a sure way of being wrong--things stay the same until they don't)--growth in the economy, improvements in social trends (teen pregnancy down, crime low, lower obesity), and innovations which help and hurt (autonomous vehicles, health care innovations, etc.)

Monday, November 07, 2016

You Don't Get It Right the First Time: China's Carriers

If there are any long-term readers out there, you'll recognize the title as one of my rules from early on.

Robert Farley has an interesting take on the new Chinese carrier.  (Full disclosure: I was a long timer naval war addict.  Ballantine paperbacks had a series of WWII books back in the 1950's.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Terrorism in Vermont?

Beings with destruction on their minds destroyed a portion of the Internet yesterday--I'm sure it's just a taste of what will happen on election day.

Friday, November 04, 2016

That's Our President

Obama tells crowd to "respect" protester at Clinton rally: "We live in a country that respects free speech."

Sixty Plus Years Later--Appalachian Regional Commission

JFK got the Appalachian Regional Commission established as a result of campaigning in West Virginia and seeing the poverty.  For political reasons (gaining more support in Congress) they made Appalachia spread into NY, including Broome County. (I never thought of myself as living in Appalachia.) The ARC is still around, and The Rural Blog has a post on their latest status report.

A Sixth Hack--Mess With GOTV

David Sanger at the Times has a piece on five possible hacks of the election process. All very good, but he misses what seems to me to be the most significant hack: messing with a party's "get out the vote" (GOTV) operation. Unlike most of the election operation, this seems to be centralized, so if there's one central database it's a high-reward target. Screw up the database and the GOTV effort is wasted. Barring that, do a denial of service attack, and you have a similar effect.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Humans Are Strange

"Active and ambitious in a career notorious even among slave owners for its viciousness, Bacon Tait nevertheless married a free woman of color, Courtney Fountain, whose extended family were involved in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad."

From a book review at Dead Confederates, a reminder that history is stranger than fiction.  Book sounds good.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Times and GMO's--II

I blogged previously about the NYTimes article on GMO's,  Tyler Cowen links to another approach--the writer arguing that farmers are making rational decisions on which seeds to buy, which must mean that GMO seeds have advantages over nonGMO.

An Idea for Grain Elevators

This post from Life on a Colorado Farm caught my attention.  They are in the midst of corn harvest:
"One of the things she wanted to do was ‘Go with Grandpa to the Elevator’.  Terry left early…7:30 in the morning…he was 11th in line.  The Elevator opens at 6:00 a.m.  There were trucks there starting at 4:30 a.m.  The days are long during harvest. The wait is longer."
Not clear how long it was before he unloaded but at least 3 hours or more.  So with 11 trucks at 3 hours per that's a good bit of time.

How difficult would it be to do a software program to coordinate scheduling between farmers and grain elevators? It is, after all, just a scheduling problem:  you've got a resource that's time-bound just like a doctor's time, and you've got patients wanting service.   I suppose the reason there is no such program (if that's a true fact, maybe there is one used everywhere but in this Colorado county?) is that it's only a yearly thing, and maybe farmers enjoy the break and the chance to compare notes with the others waiting? 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Dairy: Supply Management Versus Organic

NYTimes has a story on Canadian dairy farmers and their relationship to the EU (remember the Canada/EU treaty which was delayed for a bit by Walloon dairy farmers (i.e., Belgium).  Their concern is that more cheese may be imported from the EU into Canada. Two paragraphs:
The way the country’s “supply management” system works now, Canadian dairy farms are almost guaranteed to prosper. Milk production is controlled by quotas, marketing boards keep prices high and stable, and import duties of up to 300 percent largely shut out competition from abroad.
But after the deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which was signed on Sunday, comes into effect, much more imported cheese will be allowed to enter Canada duty-free from the Continent. And farmers worry that this one dent in their defenses could be the beginning of the end for supply management.
Later the article cites an estimate of over $200 per year in additional costs for dairy products for the average Canadian farmer, or roughly $.50 a day.  Some speculations:

So the Canadian system probably maintains a lot of smaller family dairies, farms which have been lost in the U.S. as dairies got bigger and bigger.  (Maybe I'll get ambitious and research the point--looks like 11,000 farms averaging about 90 cows.  It's hard to get comparable data but a quick skim of this says my generalizations seem valid. This seems to say that there's proportionately more organic dairies/cows in the US..)  The food movement would like that.  But the dairy products in the grocery stores are likely rather generic; with supply management protecting a farmer's place in the economy, there's little incentive to experiment with organic milk, raw milk, or niche cheeses.  The food movement won't like that.

The bottom line, very tentatively, is: families can pay more to preserve family farms or pay more for choice of milk products (i.e., organic).  The downside of supply management is the higher prices apply to all; the upside of the US system is consumers can choose whether to pay the premium prices for organic.

FSA Aerial Photography Using Drones?

FCW has a post on USDA's IT budget requests.  It includes this paragraph:
Then there's the outright fanciful. When the Federal Aviation Administration issued permits allowing commercial drones to be used in agriculture, USDA set plans in motion for its own implementation. To plan for resource allocation and budgeting, the department will need big-data analysis of crop imagery and related data gathered by unmanned aerial vehicles.

So I go to the FSA website and search for "drones", get two supposed hits although I don't see the word within the document, but one of them discusses four-band aerial photography as being available in some states.  

Trump's Taxes

Kevin Drum as usual has a good post on the issue of how Trump handled his tax returns in the 90's, specifically how he avoided declaring forgiveness of debts as income.  I think I'm wrong in my comment on the post--this Trump issue occurred before the Republicans started hammering the IRS (in Congressional hearings during Clinton's second term).  So if the IRS accepted a dubious interpretation of law in the first term, it may reflect something other than badgering from Congress.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Those Damn Boomers

I'm a member of the silent generation (born 1941) so naturally I don't like the boomers. Turns out I'm right, as usual.  Two sentences from a piece on trends in incarceration:
"Multiple factors account for the rising proportion of older Americans in prison. First, ever the trendsetters, baby boomers are somewhat more criminally active in late life than were previous generations."

Alaskan Ag--The Reality of Climate Change

The skeptics of climate change challenge the accuracy of temperature graphs, so I like to find phenomena which can't be challenged, like the Northwest Passage or growing cabbages outdoors in Alaska.

(I remember back in the late 70's there were a few farms with bases or maybe normal crop acreages on record in Alaska. )

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Congressional Research Service on Payment Limitation

A new website has lots of Congressional Research Service reports (which are usually not made public, unless the member of Congress who requested the report releases it), including this one on payment limitation issues.

The Times and GMO Crops--Something Screwy

NYTimes has a front page article on the usage of GMO crops: comparing the yields and herbicide usage between US/Canada and Europe.  Not sure how I got this referral, but this commentary post 
seems quite on the point, pointing out some of the problems in the article.

One thing I haven't seen discussed; perhaps it's too elementary for these writers to explain, but it's straight line graph of yields. Turns out the Times sticks its graphics in a separate url--I've stolen it here:

The arrow points to the place where GMO's come into play and the graph covers early 80's to 2015 I think.  What I don't understand is what the lines represent.   If they show the average increase/decrease in national yield each year, each would be a jagged line, with an upward slope.  So it must be some average over the time period.  But obviously an average over the whole time period won't show any change for GMO adoption in the middle of the period.  It might be an average over the whole period for Western Europe and two averages for US/Canada--one up to the adoption of GMO's and one after, but it's certainly not labeled that way nor explained.

The unit of measure is "hectograms per hectare", which is a metric yield measure, like kilograms per square meter.  I read the graph as implying the corn yields for the US and Western Europe are the same, which can't be right. I know damn well corn yields in the US vary greatly, so there's got to be a big difference between countries.  I did a search and found this: "These analyses indicate that Western Europe started with a lower yield than the USA (29,802.17 vs 39,895.57 hectograms/ha) and managed to increase yield much more quickly (1,454.48 vs 1,094.82 hectograms/ha per year) before any use of GM corn by the USA." (The source is some Kiwi's blog working on the same issue back in 2013.  See this post.)

On a football Sunday I've now exhausted my energy on this issue--perhaps more later.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Weren't Abedin's Emails Synced?

If I understand, the FBI got a PC/smartphone from Anthony Weiner as part of their investigation of his texting and found some of his wife's emails also on the PC/smartphone.  I'm not clear:
  1. did Abedin have an email account on the PC or did she receive/send emails under her husband's account?
  2. if she had a separate email account (most likely) was it different than the account(s) for which she's already turned over emails?
  3. if it was different, was it associated only with the PC or their ISP account or was it a cloud account (i.e., hotmail/yahoo)?
  4. if it was different and unique to the PC/home, did she fail to reveal it to the FBI?
  5. if it was part of a cloud account (i.e., she had one email account which she accessed from different devices, which I assume is probably the most common configuration these days) was the account on the PC synced with the cloud account?
  6. if it was synced, then presumably the FBI should have already seen the emails.
Given the time lapse for Weiner's transgressions, I'm amazed the FBI is just now looking at the PC/smartphone.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Politics Back in the 18th Century

From Boston 1775 which has been running a series on the celebrations of Washington's birthday (first as president, then as historic man) and the controversies involved as Americans tried to figure out what sort of government and society they had, Albert Gallatin writes:

"The court [i.e., the Adams administration]is in a prodigious uproar about that important event. The ministers and their wives do not know how to act upon the occasion; the friends of the old court say it is dreadful, a monstrous insult to the late President; the officers and office-seekers try to apologize for Mr. Adams by insisting that he feels conscientious scruples against going to places of that description, but it is proven against him that he used to go when Vice-President."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

First the Truck Drivers, Then the Soldiers

Kevin Drum blogs about the threat to long distance truck drivers (and a commenter notes the follow-on impacts on restaurants, etc.) presaged by Uber's use of a self-driving truck (with driver on board) to ship Budweiser a long distance.

Meanwhile, the NYTimes discusses new developments in weapons, including autonomous drones.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GMO's in Africa

Technology Review has a piece on trials of GMO crops in Tanzania and the possibility African countries are becoming more open to them.  I think this is how change occurs--while humans may resist the new, usually there come times when the advantages of the new outweigh the resistance.

But the example of Japan's resistance to modern firearms cautions that it can take a long time for the advantages to become clear.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Unrealized Greatness of Cows

Cows as the answer to diseases?  See this Technology Review piece.

Politics Is Checkers Not Chess

Some of the bloggers I follow, particularly Althouse and Powerline on the right but also some on the left, sometimes fall into fancy theories about what the other side is doing.  IMHO they tend to be a bit paranoid, figuring that their opponents are smart enough to play a double game.  Unfortunately I don't have any examples to hand; maybe now I'm posting on the subject I'll remember to point out future examples as I come across them.

As you can tell by my description, I usually doubt such posts.  In my experience, it's often better to consider that people have tunnel vision and focus on the near than to expect them to be playing games.  My metaphor in the title then is people play checkers, not chess.  I suppose expert checker players can set traps, but even beginning chess players can come up with a knight fork, or a revealed check.

I'm blogging today because it seems to me that the Wikileaks of Podesta's emails tend to confirm my view--I haven't noted any fancy stratagems being revealed, just  day-to-day planning.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Small Gardens in the UK

The "allotment" in the UK is like a plot in a community gardens in the US, except with a much longer history..  It's a reflection of the difference in the two nations that a scholar is able to come up with estimates of the total number of allotments over more than a century, up to a million such gardens in a nation of maybe sixty million people.  Also in the UK, unlike the US, the national government had legislation on the subject, dating back to 1907, with allotment gardens dating back to the early or mid 19th century.

According to the linked piece, the evolution of allotments in the UK involved differing motivations and rationales: supplying the needs of the working class; serving as a hobby for middle classes; a focal point for socialization; and finally the trendy ecological concerns of recent times.

I show my prejudices by noting this long historical perspective should serve as a caution to US enthusiasts.

The Next USDA Secretary?

Speculation begins here.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Stone the Rich Economist

N. Gregory Mankiw has a piece here--he paid $2500 apiece for "Hamilton" tickets in NY and is reasonably happy about it.  As a market economist he sees it in terms of supply and demand, mourning only that the creators of the show get only the benefit of the $500 face price.

What's interesting to me is the comments: the most "liked" comments are those trashing the rich plutocrat who can afford such a price.  I'm not sure whether that's coming from the presumably liberal readers of the NYTimes or from those who support Mr. Trump.  Probably the former, that would be more consistent with the liberal ethos.  But it's a little straw in the wind which shows the support Clinton can get for "soaking the rich".

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Drum's Crystal Ball

Kevin Drum had a crystal ball post--how will Paul Ryan and Clinton work together after the election. He got a lot of comments.

All I know is it's going to be interesting.  One problem for the Democrats is the number of senators up for reelection in 2018, including a number from red states (Manchin, Heidtkamp, etc.).  So there's a strategic choice in the Senate: either go for broke on liberal issues (assuming you can get the Dems to buy it) and sacrifice your majority in  2018; or try to preserve your majority in 2018 by dodging the more controversial issues, at the risk of aggravating the left and laying the ground for a challenge in 2020.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What's a "Colorist"?

Did Bess Truman have one?

Apparently Michelle Obama invited a number of people to last night's state dinner based on their personal service to her over the last seven years.  I understood hairstylist and makeup artist, but "colorist"?  A brief check of  the Internet yields little that's helpful, unless Mrs.Obama has been dyeing her hair? 

We've come a long way as a society from the days when Bess Truman was "Boss".

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Consequence and Lab Girl

Was away on annual visit to Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck.  Two books to recommend, both as it happens by people raised in the Presbyterian church, which must be why I like both:

Consequence, by Eric Fair.  Memoir of someone who had tours with our military and our contractors, with the major focus on interrogations in Iraq and religion.

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren.  Memoir of a woman growing from a high school science lab (great evocation of the sort of lab I remember) through a career as paleo/geo/botanist.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Divisions in the GOP

I've been dubious of discussions of current events which see today as unique, without precedent.  One of my touchstones in electoral matters is 1964, when the nomination of Barry Goldwater caused big divisions in the Republican Party.  I remember Rockefeller being booed off the stage by the victorious AUH20 delegates so naturally I believe that was worse than anything we see today.

But maybe not.  I happened to do a Google search ("google" is redundant, isn't it?) for Republicans who supported LBJ in 1964 and found this Stu Rothenburg piece..

It seems that almost all Republican big shots supported Goldwater, at least on paper. Nixon, unlike Romney, campaigned for Goldwater.  Eisenhower, unlike the Bushes, supported Goldwater.  John Lindsay was the big name Republican to go for LBJ.  Who was he?  The Representative of the "Silk Stocking" district in NYC, identified as an up and comer, but also very liberal.  The current day parallel might be Sen. Rubio, though a senator is a bigger name than a mere representative, even one for whom the NYTimes is the hometown paper.

So it seems to me, very tentatively, that the GOP is more divided at the top these days than it was in 1964.  And, perhaps, the GOP was more divided, or rather less partisan, at the grassroots than it is today.  If that's true, maybe it's the result of a more national media,

Friday, October 07, 2016

Predictions: Senate

The Senate may be controlled by the Democrats, but likely by a very slim margin.  Based on our history, a 50/50 split or 51/49 split is going to be unstable.  Among the events which can affect passage of a specific bill and/or control of the Senate (disregarding the likelihood of a filibuster and the need for 60 votes)
  • any individual senator can hold out for his or her favorite project issue (we saw that in the ACA negotiations--the senators from LA, AR, and NE at different times held out for something special)
  • a senator may switch parties
  • special elections to fill vacancies (first of all--the VA seat Kaine now holds) from resignations or death. Note most governors are Republicans, in cases where they have authority.  Such elections will attract gobs of money.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Senior Moments, the Frequency of

Has anyone graphed the occurrence of "senior moments" during a life.  IMHO it probably follows a "power law", similar to this graph, where age is the horizontal axis and number of senior moments in a year the vertical axis. (Disregard the values on this graph--it's the best image I could find quickly.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Life Lessons from Kevin Drum

Kevin Drum had earlier blogged about the idea his cancer wasn't a particularly educational illness; no big revelations about life had followed from the discovery or treatment .

In this piece he muses about the idea that sharing one's personal experience can help others, even if it is only to say people are not alone. There shouldn't be the expectation that illness is life-changing; sometimes it's just something to work through, or not.

Vote to Preserve the WH Garden?

If you don't like the Democratic ticket you can at least vote to preserve Michelle Obama's White House Garden.  PBS Newshour covers a ceremony this afternoon which tries to preserve it as a permanent feature of the grounds.  Not quite comparable to Jackie's Garden, but something.

I think I've noted earlier my skepticism that the Obama children ever did much in it, despite their mother's naive hopes when it was first announced.  That's just as well, because I suspect Barron Trump won't be living in the White House and the Clinton grandchildren are too young.  So the Park Service will continue to care for it.

Given what happened to Carter's solar roof, I'd expect Trump to do away with all Obama innovations.  Indeed, I wish someone would ask him in the debates whether he plans to redecorate the White House to suit his tastes, maybe a nice gold color with "Trump" in neon above the portico?

The Clintons likely will continue with the garden, but without the fanfare.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Technology as Empowering, Even Dairy Cows

In some ways automated milking systems/robot milkers are the epitome of industrialized agriculture. It's easy to create an over-simplified picture in your mind of what's involved.   I won't venture to compare these systems with our practices with 12 cows in a stanchion system, but much of this extension article surprised me.  Some excerpts:
  • "cow’s attendance to the milking station is not only dependent on the PMR and pellets [feed] offered in the RMS [robotic milking system], but also on feeding management, cow comfort, cow health, and social interactions among cows."
  • "If forage moisture changes and rations are not adjusted promptly, visits may drop. The drop in visits will result in a decrease in milk production and an increase in the number of fetch cows. The increase in fetch cows may disrupt other cow behaviors, resulting in even bigger decreases in visits and milk production, leading to a downward spiral that creates much frustration for the producer. It is crucial to have consistent feeding in order to maintain high production and minimize the number of fetch cows[i.e. cows someone has to fetch and herd into the RMS]"
  • "Cows like consistency. This is even more important in a RMS herd."
The advice in this Progressive Dairy article by a "senior farm management support adviser." advoses letting cows do their thing.  (The "subtext" is the difficulty of changing one's behavior when new technology comes into the job site.)

Those Efficient Private Companies

MGM is building a casino in Prince Georges County, the National Harbor project.  Today's printed Post had an article on the opening plans.  What caught my eye was the subheading--a $500 million cost overrun--the whole project cost $1.4 billion, so that's probably a 33 percent overrun

This will go unnoticed, but similar inefficiency in government tends not to.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Japanese Self-Cleaning Ovens

From Andrew Gelman at Statistical Modeling we learn that the Japanese have no word for "self-cleaning oven".   That inspired me to search: inquiring minds wanted to know why?  Were all ovens self-cleaning, or what?  This led me to an interesting write-up on Japanese kitchen appliances.

It doesn't directly answer the question, but this is what I read between the lines:
  • kitchens are small and appliances are small
  • meals are physically small (no Thanksgiving turkey)
  • ovens are small (microwaves now)
  • ranges are gas (I presume given the size of Japan and population density fuel was never abundant, so no (i.e. "no" = "few') wood/coal stoves for cooking and no transition to electric stoves.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Book Recommendation: Rosa Brooks

The book is "How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon", the author is Rosa Brooks, the daughter of Barbara Ehrenreich, the leftish foodie and writer.  Interestingly, Brooks is now married to a colonel in the Special Forces, having spent time in the bureaucracies of the State Department (Bill Clinton admin) and Pentagon (Obama admin) as a human rights/law of war lawyer. 

The book is a little diffuse, but it gets blurbs from Gen. McChrystal and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former policy wonk in the State Department.  Brooks acknowledges her experiences have changed and undermined her inherited preconceptions, though you still get the idealism of the former human rights activist. To me, of course, the most interesting bits reflected the bureaucracies of DOD and State, and the tension between them, but Brooks' thesis is that the old paradigms of war and peace no longer work, we need to pay attention to the in-between, particularly as impacted by technology, and fashion new rules of law and social structures to deal with social conflict.   I was struck by her thoughts about the individualization of war--we can track and kill individuals now--what does that do to "war", which used to be anonymous mass versus anonymous mass?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Clinton and the Modern Age

Some sentences from Garrett Graff's writeup at Politico after reading the last batch of FBI reports of interviews of the Clinton people:
 "Together, the documents, technically known as Form 302s, depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology, working with a small, harried inner circle of aides inside a bureaucracy where the IT and classification systems haven’t caught up with how business is conducted in the digital age. Reading the FBI’s interviews, Clinton’s team hardly seems organized enough to mount any sort of sinister cover-up. There’s scant oversight of the way Clinton communicated, and little thought given to how her files might be preserved for posterity—MacBook laptops with outdated archives are FedExed across the country, cutting-edge iPads are discarded quickly and BlackBerry devices are rejected for being “too heavy” as staff scrambled to cater to Clinton’s whims."
 Secretary Powell tried to bring State into the modern age:
Powell invested in 44,000 new computers, giving every employee a computer on the desk, and monitored the adoption of the new systems as he traveled by conducting unofficial audits, sitting down at embassies overseas to check his own email and attempting to log into his account. As he told FBI agents, “This action allowed Powell to gauge if the embassy staff was maintaining and using their computers.” He also regularly checked the department’s internal “Country Notes” on the intranet to see if missions overseas were keeping their details up to date.  
 I come away from the long article, thinking more highly of Powell as a bureaucrat--at least he knew from his Army days about the need for solid routines and the likelihood that things will be Fubar.

As for Clinton, since I have a close relation who's never used the IPad Air she received, I shouldn't complain much about her technological incapacity.  I think the facts in the article fully support Comey's decision.  However, I'm bothered by the idea that nobody in Clinton's circle of advisers and support staff, except for the IT guy, seems really to have worried about the nitty-gritty.  It's a prevalent disease of big-shots, IMHO, but I hope as President she finds a Sherman Adams*.

* Ike's chief of staff who made the trains run on time.