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Clinton communicated, and little thought given to how her files might be preserved for posterity—MacBook laptops with outdated archives are FedExed across the country, cutting-edge iPads are discarded quickly and BlackBerry devices are rejected for being “too heavy” as staff scrambled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.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Census Bureaucrats and Immigration Laws

I think I stumbled on an interesting bit of bureaucratic history today.  In trying to help a relative decipher a 1910 census listing for a Fanny Cohen in New York City.  The census form is confusing, apparently because it was worked over two or three times.  The initial listing showed her and her parents as being born in Russia, and Yiddish was her first language.

The confusing parts were additional notations, possibly made by the census taker, but more likely done later.  The notes aren't clear.  Our best interpretation at the moment is that they are classifications perhaps required by the Immigration Act of 1924, that is, what was "Russia" in 1910 becomes Poland or Lithuania  after WWI. Because the Act imposed quotas based on the national origins of those already in America, the Census bureau seems to have had to come up with those statistics.

I'm curious whether this is true, and if so how they went about it.  If you have someone going over the 1910 census in 1924, how do they know which part of the Russian Empire, now defunct, Fanny Cohen came from?

Trump's Economist

Prof. Don Boudreaux, of George Mason U. blogs at Cafe Hayek. He seems to be a classical economist, i.e., someone with whom I would agree only once in a blue moon.  Frankly, I don't understand the issue with the Trump economic plan, but I find this pussyfooting around without saying what you really think most distressing: (from an "open letter" to Trump's economist):

"Tipped off by Scott Sumner, I read Trump economic advisor Peter Navarro’s analysis of Trump’s economic plan.  Words fail me.  Nearly everything Navarro writes about trade is not only wrong, but foolish.  A good economist setting out to write a spoof of bad trade analysis could not have done a better job of mimicking complete cluelessness about trade."


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Chinese Exchange Rate

 From Feb 2015 economist:

CHINESE officials tired of defending their exchange-rate policy can at least appreciate the irony in the latest charges levelled against them. For years foreigners [including Donald Trump in the debate on Monday] accused them of keeping the yuan artificially weak to boost exports. Now, domestic critics say, they are doing just the opposite: keeping the currency artificially strong and, in the process, wounding the economy. Some predict China will soon change course and engineer a devaluation. But just as the Chinese authorities did not resort to a big one-off appreciation when the yuan seemed too weak, they are unlikely to embark on a dramatic devaluation now that it is looking strong

Qualifications for President: Not Quite the Most Versus the Least

From a piece challenging Obama's description of Clinton as the most qualified person to be president,  a few sentences:
With the sole exception of Henry Wallace, she is the most qualified person to seek the office since Reconstruction. Moreover, she is the most qualified Democratic nominee since Lewis Cass and since the first American women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. By contrast, Donald Trump, having never held public office nor served in let alone commanded the US military, is the least qualified presidential nominee in American history. However, Trump is tied for this distinction with another dark horse corporate executive. In the 1930s, Wendell Willkie was CEO of the Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, an electric utilities holding company known today as Southern Company (the parent corporation of Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, and Mississippi Power).
 (The analysis is based on different types of positions held and years of service.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Asking [Debate] Questions

This site for submitting and voting on questions from the public for use in the second debate is, on the face of it, a good idea.  But I'm skeptical.  The Obama administration tried something similar.  My impression is they found many, perhaps mostly, crackpot issues--I'm using a broad definition of "crackpot".  It's IMHO a populist idea.  We shall see what questions actually come out of the process, hopefully not the ones with the most vote.

I spent a little time there and voted for one issue (legalizing pot, not because I think it should be, but because it's a valid issue and probably not one which would be asked in the usual way.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Questions for Clinton Which Won't Be Asked

What one thing did Bill do in the transition to the Presidency or in the organization of the executive branch which you will try to avoid?

Same question but with Obama?

Will you work with your Secretary of State as Bill did with Christopher, as Bill with Albright, or Obama with you?

Questions for Trump Which Won't Be Asked

The White House is smaller and less lavishly decorated than the homes you own and use now. Do you plan to live there when elected or in your homes or the Presidential suite in your DC hotel?

If you live at the White House will you redecorate?

Will your airplane become Air Force 1?  Will you continue to charge the Secret Service for their travel in it?

Do you intend to replace the White House staff with your personal employees?

Will you require the White House staff to sign the confidentiality agreements you require of your employees?

Will you protect the rights of whistle blowers?

Will you paint the White House gold?

Will you convert Camp David to a gold golf course?

Will you tell the IRS to end its audits of your tax returns and then promptly release them?

What arrangements will you make for Presidential records--will you continue to release records of visitors to the White House?

If I Were Clinton

I've never debated, but if I were the Democratic candidate in tonight's debate, I would counter Trump's lies very simply:

"that's wrong".   Repeat over and over as necessary.  Have your staff ready to post documentation on each time you say it.  Then segue into "What I would...(say, do, propose,).

Don't engage in factual disputes, focus on positive plans.

[updated: so much for my advice on debating.  :-( ]

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Bambi's Mother Is Dangerous

I apologize, I sullied the reputation of the Internet for factual accuracy by my mistaken post the other day alleging that bees were the deadliest non-human animal in the US. It turns out that's wrong. Bees do kill many more people on average than terrorist (yearly average over the years since 2001).  But it turns out the true villain is that adorable, big-eyed denizen of the edge lands, whose population keeps growing: deer.  I hope the debaters tomorrow night will take a firm position with respect to this growing threat to the lives of our citizens.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Medicare Scams: Braces

I'm old.  I'm on Medicare. I see ads on Accuweather for knee and back braces covered by Medicare.  I get phone calls offering free braces. 

When I google "Medicare scam braces" I get a long list of hits.  Apparently some scams can work by getting access to your Medicare number, then billing Medicare for stuff, which may or may not be delivered, but never is prescribed by a doctor.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Urban Density Versus Urban Farming

Many people, Matt Yglesias  for one, believe in urban density, arguing that it's efficient, supports interesting lifestyles, helps the environment, etc. etc.  Many of the same sort of people (i.e., highly educated types) believe in the food movement, some of whom believe in urban farming.   There's tension between the two principles.  This piece in Modern Farmer on the battle over converting an urban garden to an urban hospital shows the tension.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Granary of the Roman Empire

In my memory that's what Egypt was--why Cleopatra had wealth--Egypt grew wheat and exported to Rome.

This from a Keith Good Farmpolicy post on export issues:

Meanwhile, Emiko Terazono and Heba Saleh reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “For the world’s wheat farmers already reeling from decade-low prices due to bumper crops around the world, it is the last thing they wanted.
Confusion surrounding quarantine rules in Egypt has effectively taken the world’s largest wheat importer out of the international market, depressing prices, which are already weak from plentiful harvests.

Volatility in Farm Incomes

One thing non-farmers never (almost never) understand is volatility in farm income.

Illinois extension's website has a post on their sample of farms in the state:  in 2012 the average net labor and management* income per operator was almost $258,000, in 2015 it was -$1,700.

Of course, on average these farms had over 1,100 tillable acres.  Without looking up the average value per acre that means probably $10,000,000 in (owned and rented) land and equipment.  (On average the farmer owns about 25 percent of the land she farms.)

These are field crop farms, returns on livestock, fruit, and vegetable farms not farmed under contract would have different rates of volatility and in different years.

* One thing I learned from my high school ag class was you need to count both the return on labor and the return on management when looking at income.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Beware of Innocent Seeming Names

Someone, I suspect on Powerline but I'm not sure, included a link to this site, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.   It seems be an okay organization, but a skeptical eye might note this mission statement:
"Since 1943, AAPS has been dedicated to the highest ethical standards of the Oath of Hippocrates and to preserving the sanctity of the patient-physician relationship and the practice of private medicine."
 The "private" is a give-away, to me at least.  Back in the day the American Medical Association was a pillar of the fight against socialized medicine.  But my suspicion is that they didn't fight strongly enough, so a splinter group founded the AAPS to be more stalwart.

(I swear until I started writing this 10 minutes ago I hadn't checked the wikipedia entry.)

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Art of Persuasion

I don't expect to see Government Executive run an article like this, 
discussing the philosopher Pascal.  He wrote this, as quoted in the article:
"When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.
Pascal added:
People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others."

Editing Common Land Unit

A QandA from the notes of the NASCOE convention:
": Are there discussions regarding allowing NRCS to edit our CLU layer?
A: Brad Pfaff: Yes those discussions are happening to have NRCS edit the CLU and SCIMS. Darren Ash: They are looking at the impact it could have allowing other agencies to have that type of access.  The goal is to have agencies be able to share information since we have common customers, but they are looking for an appropriate way to administer this."
I'll suppress some emotions here by making a couple points:
  1. the "Common" in the CLU refers to the idea it would be shared between FSA and NRCS. I've a vague memory that we made some compromises or changes in the business rules for it in order to support NRCS data.  Essentially it's the lowest common denominator between ASCS acreage data and NRCS. 
  2. the dream of enabling one change to update both ASCS and SCS databases for name and address and land data dates back to the late 1980's, as a result of the impact of the sodbuster/swampbuster rules in  the 1986 farm bill.  So thirty years later we're still struggling with the issue.
  3. as a liberal, I usually support government programs, but sometimes I wonder how capable we bureaucrats really are.  (Of course, I quickly turn to blaming Congress for many of the failures. :=))

Scholarships for Black Ag

Apparently the National Black Farmers Association linked up with Chrysler to sponsor scholarships for students in agriculture.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Geezer Meets the Smart Phone

I've been easing myself into the world of smartphones.  Started cheap, with a Lumia 435, relying mostly on my WiFi network but no carrier so no real GPS.  When that phone failed, I jumped on an offer for Google FI, using a Nexus 5X (an offer I wouldn't have taken had I fully understood the terms--did I mention I tend to be cheap). That means I can use its GPS capabilities.  That's become handy in the last few days.

My sister's death meant I inherited a number of paintings and photographs passed on from my aunt and uncle, who worked for the YMCA in China in the 1920's, and who also had inherited tintypes from my grandparents.  Recently I've been contacting people to work on these objects, conservators to restore the paintings and digitally restore the tintypes.  That's led me into the maze of streets in suburban Washington.  Rather than the nice gridwork of DC the inner suburbs inside the Beltway are very confusing, a bunch of cul-de-sacs, really unfamiliar to me, just the sort of situation in which a GPS becomes very valuable.

Naturally at first I didn't try it, it was new, and I had spent years being able to read maps, so who needed it. Being old has impaired my judgment though.  The other day was telling. I thought I knew to take the first turn from I-66 after getting on in Fairfax City.  I did, and found I was totally confused, because the intersections I saw didn't match what was on Google.  (I should have waited and taken the second turn.) In desperation I turned to the GPS function.  Over the next few minutes I learned to accept the GPS voice enough to accept her directions to get back on I-66, and then to get off at the right exit.  Live and learn.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Politicians Pander

Fallows has a long piece on the candidates and the upcoming debates.

Politicians pander. That's what you do.

I've done just enough public speaking (definitely not my forte--I drone) to occasionally experience the thrill of reading your audience and responding to their response.  It's like making love.  And that's what politicians, the ones who have thrived enough to have a national presence, do.  Throughout Fallow's piece you can see the techniques analyzed.

In this episode the Kentucky governor gets carried away by pander. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Should I Leave Wells Fargo?

Consider the title of this post :

Remember this when people complain about waste and fraud in government. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Privatizing Pensions--Chile

I'm old enough to remember when the right was pushing the idea of privatizing pensions, pointing to the success of Chile's system.  (They'd been advised by Chicago-school economists, 
and see this.)

But the NYTimes today reports that the system is under fire, because the benefits received under the system don't replace more than 36 or so percent of wages and for other reasons.

We liberals will doubtless say "we told you so", which is always fun.  But the better lesson might be to always be careful of reforms sold as panaceas, from whatever side.  Humans tend to run from one side of the boat to the other, whether under the grip of enthusiasm or despair.

(I wonder how New Zealand's economic reforms, particularly of the agricultural economy, are faring these days?)

Different Platforms

From a piece at  Monkey Cag:
The [Democratic] platform mentions whites only in the context of their greater wealth, lower arrest rates and lower job losses.
In contrast, the Republican platform never refers explicitly to Latinos or people of color, and refers to African Americans or Hispanics only once and then in the context of seeking to reduce federal expenditures on primary and secondary education. It refers to women only in the contexts of the military and the pro-life position on abortion. In short, the Democratic platform takes an implicitly negative position on the relative economic fortunes of white males, while the Republican platform takes a neutral one.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Terrorism, What I Wrote 10 Years Ago

vIt's not quite 10 years since I (very tentatively) ventured a prediction on terrorism.  My complete post of Sept 30, 2006:

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What Does The Future Hold?

The Times has an analysis of the new legislation on terrorism which includes these thoughts:
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.
The last paragraph is what I'm inclined to think.

Obviously we've had terrorist attacks since.  I think, however, if you'd told the US in 2006 that deaths in the US from terrorism would be low, we'd have been very happy.  (Can't find a handy up-to-date source for these deaths, but I'm going to say 2006 through 2015 saw fewer than 30 such deaths per year, at least for deaths from terrorists with some affiliation to Islam.)

Number of Nuclear Test: the Country Which Is Sixth

North Korea, according to this Vox piece.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Terminology: Clinton Versus Hillary

It seems to me when this presidential campaign began, the customary reference was to "Hillary" or "Hillary Clinton" and usually a reference to "Clinton" meant her husband.  These days though I think I see a presumption that "Clinton" will refer to Hillary; that's the default these days.  Maybe it's like "mail"--it's almost like you should use "snail mail" if you mean USPS.

Clinton and the Good Old Days

“I hope I will be the last American president who can ever say that when I was a small child, I spent some time on a small farm that didn’t have indoor plumbing. In the wintertime, the outhouse is way overrated. "

From Atlantic report on Bill Clinton and the campaign trail. Some more:

The idea of hope—as in The Man From Hope, rather than the Shepard Fairey poster—kept coming up. “Growing up in a post-9/11 America, there’s a lot of cynicism and vitriol,” Jay Rora told me. “The Clinton administration was a time when people had hope.”
For an older observer, the idea that the era of Monica, government shutdowns, and Dan Burton’s backyard demonstrations was an age of optimistic comity in politics might seem peculiar. For Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, these rosy impressions are highly welcome, even if they come at the expense of thinking about the Big Dog as a mummified relic.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Lesson of Self-Sufficiency in Food: Boredom

Modern farmer describes an attempt by a man to eat only food grown on his land.  Some caveats: some grocery items and the trial lasted only 100 days.  His family was less enthusiastic.   The big downside: boredom.  100 broilers were to provide meat for a year, but his kids got tired of a chicken and veggie stir-fry after 3 days.

That's the point of our modern food system: incredible variety.  Back in the day we ate lots of potatoes, a lot of roast beef, and a lot of overcooked vegetables.  No more.  No more that is unless you voluntarily trade variety for other benefits.

Schafly: Losing the War?

I first became aware of Phyllis Schafly from her anti-LBJ diatribe.  Needless to say, I was not impressed.  She is widely credited with stopping the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70's, and pulling the Republican Party to the right.  Corey Robin has an interesting take here.

I won't speak ill of the dead, but I'll muse on the significance of the ERA defeat.  It seems to me that American society has essentially evolved to where it would have been had ERA been passed. Yes, it's been a piecemeal progress, but progress it has been.  If I'm correct, it makes you wonder about the circumstances under which a constitutional amendment is vital, and when it's not.   

Monday, September 05, 2016

Notes of a Political Pollee

I was polled yesterday by one of the national pollsters, a rather interesting process.  Obviously the polltaker was being paid by how many people she could work through, because she was a very fast talker, which combined with some deafness on my part meant I didn't catch the full name of the poll (not Gallup, etc. but somewhat familiar) nor could I catch some of the options.  That was particularly true when she rattled off a list of issues and asked my top one. I thought she wanted one, but maybe she was open to more.

I've talked to pollsters in the past--I suspect they pass around the list of <s>suckers </s> people willing to talk to them.  Some of the pollsters were obviously just trying to identify whether I was going to vote and who for; a few were more consumer-oriented, including one which took 40  minutes or so, putting me off the process for some time.  But yesterday I was in a good mood so I answered. It was thorough, getting a lot of data, both demographic and political.

Containers for Pregnant Cows

James Fallows writes on Eastport, ME, which does an export business in pregnant cows, which are shipped in hay-filled containers, apparently.  But those exports have stopped, pending the restoration of some calm to the cattle areas of Turkey, which are feeling the effects of Syrian conflict and the Kurdish PKK.  It's an interesting take on the complexity of the global economy (including wood pellets for the EU and kraft paper wood pulp for China).
"“I guess I’ve learned to be careful what you wish for,” Chris Gardner told me at the WaCo. “It’s been a big part of our program to put Eastport on the map. We’ve done that—but one thing it means is that this place is much more at the whim of global trends and upheavals. As I said about the PKK, I guess I take a strange satisfaction that we are sitting here in eastern Maine and talking about how stuff on the other side of the world is going to affect us.”
 There's also a link to an interesting piece on the changing wood industry globally.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Voting With Your Feet

. Some of us believe that immigrants are voting with their feet when they choose to come to the US rather than stay where they were born (we usually ignore people who choose other nations than the US to migrate to). Some conservatives believe in "voting with your feet"; the idea that people will move from heavily taxed and regulated states to more lightly taxed and regulated ones.  They point to the gains the southern and western states have made over the years as evidence this works.  And some point to migration from California to Idaho or Texas as examples.

Given the continued disparities among states on many measures, and my liberal bias/skepticism of low tax/regulation policies I'm not convinced. Recently the NYTimes did a piece on a subset of migration: the migration of college students from one state to another.  Lyman Stone picks up on that study and expands into an interesting  discussion here.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Down With Honeybees, the Deadliest Animal

Did you know that not only are honeybees dangerous, killing up to 100 people a year*, more than any other non-human animal, but they aren't even native Americans; they're an invasive species.  I learned the last fact from a very good book I'm reading: A Sting in the Tale, by Dave Goulston, who is a British entomologist focused on bumblebees.  As I say, it's recommended (and no, I don't really want the honeybees to die off).

* together with wasps.

Friday, September 02, 2016


I've blogged often enough about John Boyd to have a tag for him.  He lives near Boydton, VA, formerly a tobacco growing area.  Now it's servicing another addiction, the Internet addiction as noted by Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Climate Change Is Real: The Northwest Passage Cruise

Lawyers, Guns, and Money  has a post which covers an article on a cruise ship cruising through the Northwest Passage.

I follow Powerline, which is skeptical of climate change, along with some liberal sites which accept it pretty much without question.  Though I've a knee-jerk reaction that things are probably more complicated than the public discussion makes out, it seems to me this is unambiguous proof of global warming.  Real people, not scientists, are venturing real money to cruise through the Northwest Passage, the object of centuries of exploration. 

IMHO the rate and extent of climate change may be debatable, but not the fact.

[Updated:  Here's a discussion from Politico on how far behind we are in icebreakers--I guess Congress is assuming the ice will vanish on its own.]