Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Why I'm a Liberal

Take two bloggers, one liberal, one conservatish, and give them the snafu at the Oscars to analyze.  What happens:
Now it could be just accident that Kevin is hard-headed and Ann is somewhat prone to suspect conspiracy, but I prefer to believe that these traits are strongly associated with the respective philosophies.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Washing Machines and Dog-Powers

Bloomberg has a piece on the long, long history of washing machines, as in 250 years + long.  (If I remember correctly, Hans Rosling credited the machines as one of the bigger improvements in our living standards.)  My mother would recall that the family dog would disappear on Mondays because that was wash day and he was expected to toil on the "dog power" to run the washing machine.  See this for an image and description.

Conservatives Surprise: Movie Reviews

Scott Johnson, a conservative at Powerline, is someone I rarely, perhaps never, agree with.  So his reviews of Fences, Hidden Figures, and Hell or High Water were surprising.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Old and the New Republicans

Back in my youth the lines of division in the Republican party ran between Bob Taft and Dwight Eisenhower.  Roughly speaking the former was more isolationist/nationalist/anti-communist/anti New Dealer and the latter was more international, more free trade, more open to talks with the USSR, and more willing to swallow hard and keep Social Security. In 1960 Nelson Rockefeller represented the latter (the Wall Street Republicans) and Richard Nixon the former (the Main Street Republicans). The Goldwater movement put the former on top, for a while, while Nixon in 1968 merged the two pretty well. Reagan also blurred the lines by the way he governed.

Jumping ahead to now, it's fascinating to look at the divisions Trumpery is creating.  George Will and Charles Krauthammer are anti-Trump, though Krauthammer's last column acknowledged possible benefits in foreign policy from a good-cop, bad-cop approach.  Some economists, like Don Beaudreaux of GMU at Cafe Hayek and Keith Hennessey, former CEA member, are somewhat horrified by Trump's trade and economic thoughts/tweets.

Friday, February 24, 2017

McArdle on "Authentic Food" and Church Suppers

Megan McArdle writes on "authentic food".  I agree with most of what she writes, except for the bit about "drying off" cows, which shows she didn't grow up on a dairy farm.  However there are times and places where "authentic food" is good eating, at least in memory.  For example, church/grange suppers in my youth.  The point there was each woman was bringing a dish which she was proud of, with which she wanted to impress the neighbors, hopefully even to field requests for the recipe. (I've still got my mother's card file of recipes, many gathered from her friends.) So the food was good.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fake Mustaches--Dangerous to Health

Margaret Soltan links to a wikipedia piece on the president of Argentina (perhaps he'll be a soulmate of ours?):

He wore a fake moustache and impersonated singer Freddie Mercury during the party. He accidentally swallowed the moustache, and Minister of Health Jorge Lemus performed first aid to save his life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I'm a Born Civilian

That's what I joke to my wife, as a description of my time in the Army.  With that perspective, may I offer a small caveat to the praise being heaped on the President's new national security adviser, Gen. McMaster?  I don't know when having a Phd became the automatic basis for being an intellectual?  I suppose it partly reflects our (liberals) general incredulity that a military man could earn one. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Deep State" Again

Benjamin Wallace-Wells has a good piece in the New Yorker on the "deep state", particularly ICE and the Border Patrol. Apparently "deep state" is now a thing, discovered by Ann Althouse, Rush Limbaugh and Chris Wallace--see Althouse's post.

A number of comments mention the great British comedy "Yes Minister" , which I recommend to everyone.  (It helps to explain some of the  errors of the Trump administration, as the new minister is educated by the permanent under-secretary.)  For those with a taste for more action, the Sandbaggers
combines secret agents with a good taste of bureaucracy.  For a more modern taste, the Americans 
also has a bit of bureaucracy thrown in.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Bureaucrat Becomes President

I'm always glad to see a bureaucrat get ahead in the world, as described in this Politico piece on Somalia elections.

Factoids: "this year, of Somalia’s 24 presidential candidates, nine held American passports"

" among the seven countries included in Trump’s attempted ban, most boast influential officials who spent time in the United States, usually to attend school. Former prime ministers in Yemen and Libya attended American universities. One of them, Shukri Ghanem, was a reformer who worked, with some success, to push Muammar Qadhafi toward reconciliation with the west. Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister who oversaw negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, went to a private high school in San Francisco and received a B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. An influential rebel leader from Sudan who was a key player in the country’s 2005 peace agreement, John Garang, attended Grinnell College in an Iowa town of 9,000 surrounded by cornfields."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Rape Is a Rape Is a Rape?

Not so.  This piece on the Swedish "rape crisis" explains why it's in the definition.

[Updated: Kevin Drum isn't a fan of the article's stats.]

Barney Frank: Say Thank You

Barney Frank writes on how to be effective in influencing your representatives.  Mostly common sense, but common sense can surprise, as in: when your representative's vote surprises you favorably, tell her "thank you".

Saturday, February 18, 2017

How We Get to 2020

The road to 2020 is obscured by fog.  What could happen:


There's some chance that Trump will not run for reelection in 2020--how:
  • He could die or be incapacitated by natural or unnatural causes.  We've had two presidents die in office from natural causes; four from unnatural and it's been 54 years since the last assassination. He doesn't have the healthiest lifestyle and he is 70, but his parents were long-lived (88 and 93)
  • He could be so unpopular that he bows to the inevitable and bows out, following the example of LBJ.
  • He could be denied the Republican nomination and not run on a third party ticket.
  • He could be impeached and convicted or resign.
  • He could be removed through the 25th Amendment.
The likelihood is that he runs:
  • Possibly with a divided party, perhaps one where the "Never Trumps" have been reinvigorated by scandals and fiascoes and/or where Trump's attempts to carry out his promises have proved ineffective.  Two dimensions to this: the domestic economy--does it continue plugging ahead for 4 years with no rejuvenation of coal and manufacturing employment, does it fall into recession or does inflation come back?  And foreign affairs--do we have have a major terrorism attack, one or more wars, a failure to build the Wall?  If the party is divided, he might have the Republican nomination but only after a primary challenge, like Carter and GHWBush,  Or the party might split, with a challenger Republican also on the ballot, such as Kasich or Cruz. Or an independent, like John Anderson running towards the center in 1980.
  • Possibly as the head of a united party, as Nixon and Reagan did. This assumes that he turns out to be a superb tactician, able to keep united support by a Chinese menu approach to governing: a couple things for the evangelicals, something for the nationalists, something for the populists, and the odd surprises for the moderates.  (This could be due to conscious calculation, deft guidance from his staff and advisers, or interaction of his personal short attention span and desire to please. Or it could be he ends up acting as a monarch, reigning without ruling, providing circuses to amuse the populace.)
 Odds: Trump doesn't run--10 percent, Trump runs with divided party--50 percent, Trump runs with united party--40 percent.

The party could be:
  • mostly united around one candidate, realizing that the only way to defeat Trump is to be united, and finding a candidate attractive to all segments of the party. (Michelle might fit these criteria, but I don't see any one with similar attractions on the horizon.)
  • split, with most of the Democratic party supporting a candidate on the left, leaving moderates to support a splinter party in the center. some Democrats allying with the Green Party or a new party or a faction of the Republican party. This would be the result of the Democrats getting so caught up in opposing Trump that they move the party way to the left. Think of George McGovern and the opposition to Vietnam and Nixon, though his nomination was perhaps mainly the result of Chappaquiddick knocking out Ted Kennedy and dirty tricks knocking out Ed Muskie and the 1972 third party was going to be George Wallace until Bremer knocked him out.
  • split with the Democratic party supporting a more centrist party, with the left merging with the Green Party.  
Odds: Democrats united--20 percent, Democrats split with left dominant--50 percent, (This is the alternative I fear the most.) Democrats split with right dominant--30 percent.

NOTE:  Nate Silver outlines 14 different scenarios, all of which are conceivable, even the one in which Trump turns out to be a great president (which roughly equates to my running with a united party..

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Deep State" and ICE

The NYTimes has two articles today:
  • in one, they discuss the concept of the "deep state" (i.e., the various institutions of the government, sometimes found in opposition to the ruler, as in today's Egypt) and whether it applies to the case of Trump and the US government.  They conclude there's dangers there.
  • in the other, Linda Greenhouse, former Supreme Court reporter for the Times, discusses the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) union and its support of Trump, possibly leading to pushing the envelope on immigration raids.
Put them together and they reveal a truth about the US government not mentioned in either: it's a big complicated mess, not a monolith with one aim.  The bureaucrats in one agency do not agree with the bureaucrats in another agency.  The bureaucrats in EPA no doubt trend liberal, green types; the bureaucrats in ICE no doubt trend conservative, law and order types. Both are capable of dragging their feet and leaking like a sieve; both are equally capable of being eager beaver apple polishers over anxious to do what they believe the boss wants, even if she doesn't say so.

Back in the day liberals worried about the bureaucrats in the FBI and the CIA, fearing J. Edgar's secret files and attempts to blackmail.  Before the election the media (probably the Times) ran backgrounders on Comey's decisions on the Clinton emails--the theme was that Comey was being pushed from below to go hard on Clinton and was afraid of leaks if he didn't stay ahead of his field agents.  Now it seems likely that some of the leaks being reported about the Russian contacts are from FBI bureaucrats, whether the field agents or supervisors. 

We shouldn't oversimplify is what I'm saying.  Within agencies there are different cultures and perspectives, and within different cultures there are different personalities.  Combine those differences with a given political situation, put people in the command chain, and you've an unpredictable mess.  Although sometimes it's not hard to predict: tell the CEA staff to cook the books when making up the President's budget and someone may leak to the Wall Street Journal, and Matt Yglesias write about it in Vox.

[Updated--see this New Yorker piece on the Border Patrol's relationship with anti-immigrant groups.}

Thursday, February 16, 2017

(Some) Founding Fathers Were Immigrants

J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 has a post listing all the founders (i.e. signers of the various documents) who weren't born in the colonies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Is To Be Done?

In the aftermath of the presidential election lots of people seem to be searching for ways to take effective action.  A few urls:
  • Emily Ellsworth, a former staffer in a Congressman's office (actually "constituent service manager") first tweeted tips then collected them  on how to be effective in calling your representative.
  • Congressional Management Foundation, a do-gooder outfit which tries to help members of Congress to have effective offices (good web sites, good response to constituents) switches sides and provides resources for citizens here.
  • The Indivisible Movement has issued a guide, and also tries to coordinate and report local action.

NBC Has the News Backwards

The headline on this piece is:  "Self-Driving Cars Will Create Organ Shortage — Can Science Meet Demand?"

That seems to me to be backwards--surely the most important thing about self-driving cars will the lives they save, not the lives they might cost because reduced accidents mean reduced deaths which means reductions in organs for transplant.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Important News of Feb. 14?

The White House tours are starting up again, beginning Mar 7.

Don't laugh--this is more important than Flynn.  Congress has few things they can give away these days now that the pork barrel is empty.  If your Congresswoman can't get her important visiting constituents a guided tour of the White House, what good is she--time for a primary

Monday, February 13, 2017

Farm Bill Stirrings

The first Congressional work on the next farm bill is starting.  This piece focuses on what the cotton growers want.  Here's the Economic Research Service's backgrounder (seems to me when I started work there were maybe 100,000 cotton farms, in 2007 it was down to 18,000, no doubt fewer now.

A quote: "Trade is particularly important for cotton. About 30 percent of the world's consumption of cotton fiber crosses international borders before processing, a larger share than for wheat, corn, soybeans, or rice. Through trade in yarn, fabric, and clothing, much of the world's cotton again crosses international borders at least once more before reaching the final consumer."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Seeing the Future

I've been working on a post outlining various possibilities for the next 4 years, but it's not ready yet.  But I'll mention this Politico piece, discussing the betting odds on a Trump impeachment.  Apparently the betting world thinks it's a lot more likely for Trump to be impeached or resign than I do.  I think most of that is wishful thinking, fed by our past history of Nixon and Clinton.  Back in the day impeachment was not mentioned--it took a long while for the Congress to reach that point with Nixon--that's probably why I make long odds on that result.

[Updated to add: "“Trump is the gift that keeps on giving,” Paddy Power’s Davey said. “We’ve got a bonanza of betting specials on The Donald. When Trump took to Twitter this week to defend [daughter] Ivanka after Nordstrom dropped her clothing line, we were out with a [betting] market on next retailer to drop the Ivanka brand next.” (The current favorites are TJ Maxx at 4-to-1, Walmart at 5-to-1 and Amazon at 6-to-1.)"]

The Economics of Growing Dairies

Dairy Carrie has a good interview with a dairy farmer (surprise).  It briefly outlines the reasons dairies keep expanding and why they use immigrant labor.   I remember my uncle's operation, I think in the neighborhood of 50 cows, which he ran mostly alone, though sometimes he had hired hands and/or a housekeeper (he was a German-American bachelor farmer).  Not much time for other things, unless your barn burns and you have a heart attack, which gives you an exit strategy.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

High Probability of New Terrorist Attack?

I'm not quite sure what Nate Silver is talking about here:  
natesilver: I mean, the probability of an actual or thwarted terrorist attack in the U.S. or in some  NATO country over the next year or so has to be quite high. I’m not talking about something on a 9/11 or a Paris scale or anything like that, but something scary enough for Trump to use it as a cudgel to try to expand his powers. [emphasis added]
The Paris attacks involved 3 attackers, the 9/11 19.   The Orlando attack involved one, but killed 49.

Certainly there's some terrorist attack which could prompt Trump to ask for/get expanded powers, but what would it be?

Some possibilities:
  • a multi-person attack by refugees admitted before 2017 from one or more of the seven countries
  • an attack which claims victims in the triple digits or more, particularly if multi-person.
  • an attack on a particular target, like a sporting event, a civic event, a notable politician or eminent figure.
Hindsight is 20-20, but I'm pretty sure in the months after 9/11 I was more optimistic than most about new terrorist attacks.  But I'm still surprised we've gone 16 years with only lone wolf (regarding San Bernadino as one) attacks, attacks with little innovation as to targets or methods. So my predictions for the future have very low confidence, but I'd still expect more of the last 15 years than anything which could be a pretext for more surveillance, enhanced interrogation, etc.  

Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Wonders of the Federal System: Hypocrisy

One of the things the Founding Fathers did to us was to make us all hypocrites.

Politico has a piece on liberals using the same constitutional tactics against the new administration as the conservatives did against Obama's administration.

As I grow older and more cynical, I begin to think one of the virtues of the system is this encouragement of hypocrisy; surely no thinking politician can take herself entirely seriously when she has to change her stripes  arguments every four or eight years.  But then, how many "thinking politicians" are we given?

Ethics Training for White House Staff

One little factoid caught my attention which now becomes relevant: on the Sunday after Trump's inauguration the White House staff spent the afternoon getting ethics training (and probably other routine training).  These sorts of required training sessions were, when I was employed, a pain in the rear.  After all, I was honest, didn't discriminate based on race or disability, sex or age, etc. etc.  I confess I sometimes failed to attend them, using some excuse or other.

I'm now wondering whether Kellyanne Conway, the gift who keeps on giving, attended the Sunday session or whether, like me, she thought herself too good for it, thus leading into her apparent violation of ethics standards?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

RIP: Hans Rosling

An article discussing him here.

In my younger days world poverty was a big issue:  could Europe and the US ensure the Third World developed fast enough, overtaking the "Population Bomb", the title of a popular book in 1968 and The Limits of Growth by the Club of Rome.  Such books inculcated a mindset which I still haven't overcome (nor, I think, have most other people), as was confirmed for me by a recent quiz on world economic statistics.  Anyhow, Rosling was very effective in publicizing the great improvements in world living conditions.  He will be missed.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Dealing With Congress, Dealing With Constituents

The Congressional Management Foundation is out with advice to Congresspeople on how to deal with the influx of phone calls and emails.  Emily Ellsworth is out with advice on how to call Congress.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Indoor Skydiving--It's a Thing

From Kottke.  (Using a vertical wind tunnel with transparent walls.)  Soon to be in the Olympics, no doubt.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Two for One Regulation EO

I blogged earlier about Trump's Executive Order on regulations.  Politico has a piece  raising some other questions about the order.  One is whether the President has power to govern the number of regulations--a neat question but one I'm sure lawyers can get around.

Why Small Dairies Vanish, or Turn Organic

From Modern Farmer, talking about a USDA survey of dairy farms:
The data will also be used to study the economy of scale in the dairy industry. Kings says that based on data from the 2010 ARMS, dairies with less than 50 cows had production costs twice that of dairies with 1,000 cows or more. “This cost-size relationship means that large dairies account for an increasing share of milk production and small dairies are going out of business, often as small producers reach retirement,” she says.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Why US May Never Be Majority Minority

Lots of projections that in the next 30 years or so, given present trends, the U.S. will have no majority ethnic/racial group, but instead assorted minorities will form a majority.

My title tries to be provocative, but here's the rationale:

Think of U.S. society as a giant amoeba-like monster, operating in a world of other smaller amoebas.  Occasionally it feeds by absorbing an amoeba.  Once it was the Irish, then the Germans, then the Jews, then the Poles, etc. etc.  Viewed from history, it's a process which does these things:
  • ensures the "white" majority stays in the majority.
  • gives a minority a chance to become (part of) the majority. Adopt cultural patterns and don't insist too hard on drawing boundaries and you're in.  Look at Jared and Ivanka Kushner.
  • leaves a segment of the minority to become the minority. ("Jews" today means something different than it did 70 years ago, as do all the ethnic/racial/religious lines we draw.)
My own prediction, and unfortunately I won't be around, is that cultural changes together with extensive intermarriage will mean that many Asian-Americans, Middle-Eastern-Americans, Latinos, and blacks will become "white" for cultural purposes.  For example, Malia and Sasha Obama are already white, just as many African-Americans say their father was and is.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Nattering Nabobs of Negativism

The title is a blast from the past, from the lips of the only Vice President to be forced from office because of criminal conduct. 

Agnew was mostly a mouthpiece for a gifted speechwriter, but he has achieved political immortality of a kind by so being.  I'm thinking Kellyanne Conway is on her way to joining him in that political Valhalla, over which William Safire presides. It's just two weeks into the administration and already she's given us "alternative facts" and "Bowling Green massacre", two terms with a decent chance of being converted by usage into permanent residence in the political hall of fame.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Trade Is NOT Simple: Vietnam Spinning for China

Lyman Stone tweets, but has a day job, which includes this piece on cotton exports to Vietnam, which are part of a complex web of relationships among cotton-producing country, yarn spinning countries, yarn consuming countries (i.e. China) and multilateral trade agreements. 

Some curious facts:
  • spinning yarn and weaving cloth don't necessarily occur in the same country--I wonder why--the one is simpler than the other and easier to outsource? 
  • US cotton shipped in bales across the wide Pacific is competitive with cotton grown in India. Our growers are currently more efficient than Indian, so able to handle transport costs?
  • China used to have reserves of cotton but are now reducing or eliminating them. Wonder why--moving to less government intervention, if so, why?
Stone's summary paragraph: "If duty-free access for yarn is driving increased spinning in Vietnam, then the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement could be pushing U.S. cotton exports higher.  Yarn spinning being shifted from producer-countries like India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and to some extent China, into duty-preferred importer countries like Vietnam bodes well for U.S. exports.  Because the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement does not require that raw cotton inputs be sourced within the area, U.S. exporters are able to derive an indirect benefit from China’s duty-free ASEAN access."

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Nixon and Bush Lessons for Democrats

Looking over the next four years, I think Democrats can learn from the history of the past, specifically from Nixon and George HWBush.  Two lesson to be specific:
  • we need to be united, going into 2018 and 2020 together, rather than divided, as we were by the Vietnam War and the liberalization of the party. We should avoid the sort of split which resulted in the McGovern fiasco.
  • we need to focus on dividing the Republicans, splitting the old "Never-Trump" faction off.  Ideally we want Trump to support primary challenges to establishment Republicans in 2018, and to face his own challenger, as Bush did with Buchanan in 1992.