Monday, July 30, 2018

Implementing the Trade War Payments I

Agweb has the announcement of the CCC programs, which include these details (from Jim Wiesemeyer, who was a pain in the neck  back in 1983 during the the implementation of the Payment-in-Kind (PIK) Program).
“USDA says it will take some time to develop the needed rules and regulations for the efforts and there will be a Federal Register notice published,” Wiesemeyer said. “There will be a relatively simple signup —producers will need to tell USDA what their 2018 production is for the crops targeted, and that level of what they actually produced times a payment rate and producers would get a payment based on that formula.”
Specific details for how the program will work, how the program will be implemented and how farmers can sign up for payments have not been announced. According to USDA undersecretary, Greg Ibach, the details will be released closer to Labor Day when USDA plans to fully implement the program.

“Payments are expected to start going to producers in September and will be also dictated by when the producer actually harvests the crops where the direct payments will be made,” Wiesemeyer said. “That would signal most wheat producers would be first up to receive the payments along with pork and dairy producers.”
I suspect there's some parallels with PIK--USDA and FSA have been working on the program for a couple months.  And they'll be working even harder now the announcement is out.  Based on my experience with PIK and other programs, the biggest problem will have been figuring out what decisions need to be made, specifically things like which commodities will be included and the economic logic for computing payment rates. How long do you assume the trade war is going to last is a big one.  Maybe you can compute an impact on prices for the 2018 crops of wheat, corn, soybeans, etc and assume that the trade war will be over in time for the 2019 crop?  But for dairy and pork the exact duration is more important.  Or maybe you set up a continuing program so you can do multiple computations and multiple payments?

Those are policy issues for the big shots in USDA and OMB--I hope Sec. Perdue's policy team is well staffed and works smoothly, much more smoothly than the administration's foreign policy team.

The bureaucratic issues are of more interest to me.  Developing the signup forms and procedures, writing the regulations, and getting OMB clearance on the forms and regulations are big jobs. In 1983 we didn't have all the tools they have now--IIRC Wordperfect was our major tool.  I know for sure we were still printing forms and procedures then. And those had to be shipped to state and county offices and arrive before farmers could sign up for the program.

 My big question on this program is how Trump's EOs on reducing the burden of regulations and the number of regulations will come into play.  I'm sure at the beginning of the year USDA and OMB didn't plan on having at least one brand new regulation, and more likely three new ones, to fit under the Trump rules.  Three new rules would mean having to do away with six old ones.  My cynical take is OMB will waive the rules and no one of any consequence will notice.

I'm also curious how FSA in DC will train the states and counties.  I know they're doing a lot of training online.  In 1983 DC had to train the states and the states would train the counties.  Preparing training materials when issues are still in up in the air is fun.  Getting up in front of 100 state people who are impatient to get going and nervous over the jam they're in is great fun.  The reality though is that "training" is more complicated than simply passing on information and procedures.  In-person training is an opportunity to find out the holes and flaws in what you (the DC specialist) has done.  And it's an opportunity over the long run to build trust--if you promise to get an answer from the big shots and are able to deliver, people trust you more.  And I think that trust ultimately pervades the whole network of people from DC specialist through to the farmer applying for benefits.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Succesion on the Farm

NYTimes has an op-ed on Trump's trade war, focusing on the emptying of the rural landscape.   His example:
A friend, a small-town Iowa banker who specializes in working with farmers, offered a local example. It’s time for Mom and Dad to retire, get off the farm and move to town. Much of the time, if no heir is interested in continuing the operation, the farm is auctioned to the highest bidder.
This time, one son wanted to take over the farm. But there were other children entitled to their share, so the farm went up for auction.
But now they had to compete with larger farm operations. The son “did the best he could,” said my friend, but a big operation “bid it up more than it was worth, some guy from out of town no one knew — probably from one of the big operations up north. The kid didn’t have a chance. It was heartbreaking.”
It's wrenching, but good planning might have saved the day:  the parents establish a legal entity (not a lawyer but likely a corporation of some ilk) in which all the children share equally, with the son who wants to farm an employee/owner.  Over time, if the operation is profitable the son buys out his siblings, assuming they don't want any link to the farm.

A couple things of note:

  • this proposed sequence means converting a "family farm" into a "corporate farm" even though there may not be much change in the day-to-day operation.  Although likely the son who wanted to farm was bearing much of the workload when his parents decided to throw in the towel.
  • the "big operation" is unknown, unspecified.  It could well have been a neighbor who has the greater access to capital than the aspiring son has.  It's logical it's a bigger operation: with everything else equal, the bigger operation will have lower per-acre operating costs than the smaller operation
  • the succession problem is one reason why the median farmer is old.   

Friday, July 27, 2018

Five Out of Six Elections Lost--Learn From the Past

Joe Scarborough had an op-ed in the Post this morning. He wrote "Republicans would win the White House in six of the next seven presidential elections [after 1964]. I don't think the math works: 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988, ?? I count it as five out of six elections (which is even better for his point--that the Republicans recovered fast after the Goldwater disaster).

Naturally, being a nitpicker, I leaped on the statement.  But thinking more broadly, I was reminded of the 1972 election and George McGovern.  To me, and others who supported McGovern such as the Clintons, that was a cautionary lesson.  The lesson: the first rule of politics is you have to win the election.  While I've a good deal of sympathy for many of the proposals now being floated by Democrats, I'll always support that rule.  

Thursday, July 26, 2018

USDA in a Best Seller?? Maybe in a Movie?

Improbable as it seems, it's possible, not certain but possible, that USDA will be featured in a best selling book available for its bureaucrats to give as Christmas presents to their family members.


Michael Lewis has a new book coming out in October, described in this NY Times piece.
“The Fifth Risk,” which W.W. Norton will publish in October, paints a dire picture of the chaos and mismanagement in the departments of Energy, Agriculture and Commerce during the transition from President Barack Obama to President Trump. Within these seemingly dull, benign bureaucratic systems, Mr. Lewis encountered devoted public servants struggling with understaffed and neglected agencies while confronting potentially catastrophic risks.
Lewis has a good history of hitting the best seller list.   And several of his books have been made into movies ("The Blind Side", "Money Ball").

I've already added it to my Amazon wish list.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thoughts on the Trump Bailout

Apparently the Market Facilitation Program payments will be tied to actual production:

  • I wonder how the program provisions will interact with other farm programs, particularly the crop insurance policies for whole farm revenue?
  • I wonder whether they will apply a payment limitation on the benefits.  Under the legislation authority they're using I don't believe they would have to, but might be criticized if they don't.  I've already seen a query on Twitter about payments to big farmers.
  • On the fraud end, it would seem that cross-referencing insurance production data and MCP data would be necessary.  Fortunately FSA and RMA have ironed out all the differences in their databases so that will be a piece of cake (won't it-- :-)

The Post, Farmers, and the Trump Bailout

Via Tamar Haspel on twitter, the Washington Post has a page asking farmers for their input on the Trump bailout program, including contact information so reporters can follow up.  The approach is new to me.  Worth trying IMHO but while the Post's audience may have expanded and diversified with the impact of the internet, I'm not sure how much attention it will attract.

BTW Haspel is maybe the best Post reporter they've had since Ward Sinclair, which is going back a bit. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Ted Williams

I'm old enough to have followed Ted Williams during the end of his career and then when he was manager of the Washington Nationals. I was a Yankee fan, not the Bosox, though my aunt was an avid follower of that team.

Williams was the greatest hitter ever.  Losing 5 years to the military during his best years means his career statistics are only Hall of Fame worthy, not Greatest of All Time. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sport and Video Games

As a followup to my post on the decline of sports in Reston the NYTimes had a piece on "esports" getting together with the IOC.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Haspel on Greenberg's Mistaken Times Op-Ed

Tamar Haspel should be followed by anyone interested in food policy. Here she offers good criticism of a Paul Greenberg op-ed in the Times.

I do want to comment on Greenberg's idea that specialty crops should return to the Midwest from the South and the coast.  The problem I see is that the South and coasts (and Central and South America) have natural advantages for growing fruits and vegetables--specifically their growing seasons are longer and/or opposite to the season in the central U.S.  Transportation, specifically the interstate highway system and air, has obliterated the advantages of growing locally. 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Where I'm at on Trump

The Helsinki summit and its aftermath has caused me to change my perceptions of the Trump administration, somewhat.

For background, let me recall Watergate.  I followed the scandal avidly, being a good liberal Democrat.  But given my preference for Murphy's Law as the best first explanation for mishaps in human society, I gave Nixon a lot of slack for a good while.  It was conceivable that Henry II (who will rid me of this tiresome priest vis a vis Becket) was a good historical reference.  In other words, no  top-down plan being executed, but a messy tangled web of interactions.

This general approach was gradually eroded: John Dean's testimony, the tapes, and the revelation of the tape contents.  So now I believe, that while there were messy elements, Nixon was the impetus and responsible for the coverup,  if not certainly for the initial breakin.

Helsinki caused me to remember this progression and to see the parallels with Trump and Russia.  I don't think there's proof of collusion, but I do think Trump set the climate of an unconventional campaign not concerned with past norms.  As an underdog the campaign was willing to do anything that offered promise--witness Donald Jr's reaction to the offer of dirt.

Without tapes and/or witnesses flipping, I don't think there's a case for impeachment, not a case strong enough to be prosecuted.  The Democrats should only pursue that if it's likely the Senate would convict. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Thomas Burrell Is Back in the News

Thomas Burrell and his Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association is back in the news. This time the suit is over seeds which didn't perform up to expectations.

I write "back" because he was described, not favorably, in this NYTimes article on the Pigford litigation. An excerpt:
Last October, a court-appointed ombudsman wrote that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people had given money to individuals and organizations in the belief that they were reserving the right to file a claim under the second settlement for black farmers, only to learn later that their names had never been forwarded to the authorities. People familiar with that statement said it was directed in part at Thomas Burrell, a charismatic orator and the head of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, based in Memphis.

Mr. Burrell has traveled the South for years, exhorting black audiences in auditoriums and church halls to file discrimination complaints with his organization’s help, in exchange for a $100 annual membership fee.

In an interview last month, Mr. Burrell said he had dedicated his life to helping black farmers after biased federal loan officers deprived him of his land and ruined his credit. He said his organization had misled no one, and had forwarded the names of all those eligible and willing to file claims.

“I have never advocated anybody file a false claim,” he said. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Gottlieb Got Milk

Don't say the Trump administration has never done anything for dairy farmers.  His FDA head, Scott Gottlieb, says he'll crack down on "milks" from vegetative sources.

Taking the Bad With the Good

We've been dry for 3-4 weeks, meaning the perennials are browning and the vegetable garden requires watering.

So a storm rolled through an hour ago, causing a power surge which set off a shrill continuous tone and seeming to fry half of my backup power/surge protector bought many years (20?) ago after losing a PC to a power surge. It took flipping all the circuit breakers in the breaker box to finally kill the sound, with the quiet permitting a more considered analysis of what happened.

It's interesting--with the smart phone available, I no longer feel a need for backup power, so my replacement will just be a surge protector.

The dugouts at National park, where the All Star game will be played tonight, are flooded, along with some roads.  But at least we got some water.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Median Farmers Aren't?

Saw an interesting chart today on Twitter, which I was able to find again by using the search function:


What's amazing to me is the disparity between the farm and nonfarm income. The bottom line would seem to be that median farmers get their income from nonfarm sources, so why call them farmers?

(I've some thoughts on the age of farmers which I'll stick in another post.  I think my logic there will somewhat undermine the picture above.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Ups and Downs of Sport

When I moved to Reston in 1976, tennis was big.  There were a number of recreation areas with multiple tennis courts, tennis leagues, and tennis coaches.  That soon declined.  The Southgate area which had 4 courts, converted two to basketball.  I've not noticed anything on the leagues and teaching in recent years and seldom see anyone playing on the one set of courts I pass with some regularity.

Horse riding was a part of the early Reston, but when I arrived the stable was on its last legs.  The building finally collapsed a few years after I arrived, which led to a long fight within Reston Association about whether to rebuild or convert the stable and riding area to other uses.  The other uses finally won, so a parking lot, two basketball courts, and a soccer field went in, a sign of the sports which were popular then.

By the early 2000's construction was booming and so was soccer.  The soccer field, by which I pass on the way to my garden plot, was very busy.  Youth teams, and teams of young men, probably mostly Hispanic immigrants, were were omnipresent on the weekends and I suppose in the evenings.

Then came the recession and the collapse of construction and then the recession of immigration from the area.  First the men's teams were no longer evident, then the youth teams dwindled away.  While in the early years the maintenance people had problems keeping the grass growing, especially in front of the goals, there's no problem now.

As a capper, this trend has been confirmed by the media authority, the NYTimes, in this article

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Guns and Drones and Second Amendment

I wonder, with drones becoming more and more capable and technology advancing on other fronts, how long will it be before we run into some constitutional questions?

For example, the Second Amendment confers the "right to bear arms".  These days that means literally carrying a gun around, and pulling the trigger.  Suppose we get drones with lethal capacity.  Will the person who controls the drone be considered to be "bearing arms"? 

Friday, July 13, 2018

An Arms Race in Robocalls?

My wife and I were being annoyed by robocalls.  Saw something about Nomorobo and signed up for it.  It's free for landlines (which all we needed).  The way it works requires the phone to ring once, but before it can ring again Nomorobo figures out it's a robocall and intercepts it.  So the ring-once is still a bit annoying, but at least you don't have to pause the movie, move the cat out of your lap, and get up to answer the phone, only to find it's robo.

So we've been happy with it; only the occasional call has been getting through.

But this morning two calls got through, one was even masked by seeming to come from someone in our telephone exchange (at least if we still had telephone exchanges).  So I wonder whether the robocall people have started to figure out Nomorobo's algorithms and begun to change  to counter them?

Skewing the Stats--A Greenie Crime

I wrote a letter to the NYTimes on an article in last week's NYTimes magazine:

When I read Brook Larmer’s article: “E-Waste Offers an Economic Opportunity as Well as Toxicity”Image” I was very surprised.  According to the article the US generates 42 pounds of e-waste per person per year.  For our 2-person household, our PC, laptop, cellphones and TV would barely amount to 100 pounds.  We don’t replace those items very often.  Something seemed off.
 So I did a little googling on the UN University site, finding this: “The weight of e-waste generated worldwide in 2016, including used refrigerators, TVs, personal computers and cellphones, was up by 8 percent from 2014, when the previous study into the problem was conducted.”
Turns out UNU defines e-waste as anything that uses electricity, not just electronic gear. (

Including all kitchen appliances, lamps, etc. in “e-waste” certainly gives a bigger headline figure, but are the problems in recycling appliances really the same as in handling cellphones and laptops?
In answer to my question--I don't think so.  Maybe in the future when everything is on the internet, but not now.

I should also note that this isn't peculiarly a failing of the environmentalist movement; everyone and her brother do it.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

How Far Ahead Are Democrats Thinking?

There's lots of comments about the impact of Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.  There's also Democratic proposals for what they want to do if and when they are elected in 2020.  I wonder though about  this issue:

Given the decision on Obamacare (this name seems to be fading in favor of ACA--not sure why the change) by SCOTUS, what sort of constitutional basis can the Dems use for future health care legislation?  Can they fix ACA in 2021 by reviving the provisions Trump is killing?  Would such revivals find support in SCOTUS?  There would still be the 5 Justices who supported its legality but on divided opinions.  Would the Dems need to redo ACA to base it more firmly on the authority to tax?  Would they want to?

And how about the next bridge further--legislation to provide Medicare for All?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Who Runs in 2020

My cousin asked me about my opinions on who the Democrats should nominate for 2020.

I found it difficult to answer.  So far there's no one head and shoulders above the crowd.

If I had to choose, maybe Hickenlooper, the Colorado governor, but that's based on almost nothing. My feelings now are somewhat similar to my feelings in 1969-71.  We have a president I can't stand, who's not a likable person.  What the Democrats ended up doing was choosing McGovern, a very fine man, but too easily caricatured as out of the mainstream and Nixon won by a landslide.

That's my fear this time: our dislike of Trump and Republican/Trump positions will be so strong we end up with a candidate who can't win.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Why No Americans in Thai Rescue?

This is (not) serious:  I understand while we had American military--Seals--on the site of the rescue of the Thai soccer team, they didn't go into the cave.

Why not?

Could it be they're too big--Accu-weather said the tightest opening was 15 inches, which is smaller than the 2 feet I'd heard before.  Seems to me likely that Americans would usually be too big to fit through the smaller opening. 

Bottomline: we need more immigrants in the smaller sizes so our military can be ready for any eventuality.

Monday, July 09, 2018

One of the Mysteries of the Economy Is Solved

Economists are moaning about how the U.S. economy isn't increasing in productivity as fast as it used to.

There's an observation, given a name I don't remember at the moment, that increasing productivity in services is difficult: it takes roughly the same number of people and time to perform Beethoven's Emperor piano concerto now as it did 200 years ago.

But some critical areas of the economy are declining in productivity.  Back when I was young one reporter would write one article in a newspaper.  But these days, as described here, on the recent rash of stories on Alan Dershowitz,  it takes two reporters to write an article.  In the good old days, the subject wouldn't have rated one story.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

The Importance of SCOTUS

Someone in the Times today wrote to the effect that the importance of Trump's choice for the Supreme Court is beyond calculation.   That's bunk.

The choice is important, but but not that critical.  There was a review in the Times of a book on the Opium War between Britain and China.  The reviewer, Ian Morris, described the writer as believing historical actors were very important, the influence of accident and personal quirks often determining how events turned out.  And that's the way the author told the story of the war.  The reviewer liked the book, but was more in the camp of historical forces.

I probably tend to be in the latter.  A metaphor: society is a big balloon filled with water.  You can shape the balloon, but only within limits.  The same applies to constitutional law and society.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

The Russians Are Coming

Over the last few months I've been mostly absorbed in trying to help my cousin with her forthcoming book, "Dueling Dragons: The Struggle for Ireland 1849-1875".  That work is coming to an end, hence a recent uptick in the words published on this blog.

The lower level of activity has resulted in a decrease in readership.  Never particularly high, it's probably been down by a third or more.  That is, until a couple days ago.  All of  a sudden my daily views have jumped 3-400 percent, all of the increase seeming to come from Russia.

Easy come, easy go, is my motto.

Friday, July 06, 2018

FSA and NAP--Catching Fraud

The Rural Blog has a short piece on this:
Dexter Day Gilbert, who has farms in Alabama and Florida, pleaded guilty recently to submitting false applications under his name and others to the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. He submitted 14 false claims of loss between July and November 2016. Court documents say he began submitting the applications in March 2016. He will be sentenced in September.
Digging a bit further, the fraud (almost a million, which I find amazing) may have been in collusion (to use a currently popular term) with an FSA employee.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Liberals Love America, Conservatives Don't

The heading is click bait.

I responded to a Brit Hume tweet, later deleted, about how liberals don't love America.  I'll expand it a bit here:

IMO most liberals, like me, aren't terribly proud of America's past.  We tend to see the dark side, and there is a dark side: the ruin of Native American tribes, slavery, imperial misadventures, etc.

But most liberals, again like me, love America for its future, believing that the "arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice"; the future will redeem the past.  For the Christians among us it's a postmillennial vision, the idea that if Christians do Christ's work on earth, the world will get better and better, leading up to the eventual return of Christ.  (I'm channeling what I think were the beliefs of my minister grandfather and missionary aunt.)

On the other side, conservatives see America as having been a model for the world, the establishment of the government under the Constitution as being the great event in world history.  So they love America for its past, but are concerned about its future, as liberals thoughtlessly destroy the fabric of society which accounted for its greatness.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Do Away with ICE?

I believe it was Noah Smith or Matt Yglesias who asked for a piece on whether we need a federal internal police force focused on immigration.

This is the way I'd analyze it:

Question:  do we want federal laws on immigration or not?

Answer: if we do, then you have to deal with the situation where people violate the laws and are inside the U.S.


  1. Have the laws but don't enforce them (similar to laws on prostitution, speeding, etc.)--not acceptable to public opinion now, though it might work in a less frenetic environment.
  2. Have state and local police enforce the laws--as long as immigrant is a fraught issue probably not a good option because you'd have great variation in enforcement (i.e., sanctuary cities) 
  3. Have the FBI or other existing federal police body enforce the laws.  This would shake things up, but in the long run the causes that ICE may have developed into an organization with a culture and standard operating procedures some, like liberals, find offensive likely would recreate the same problems.  (IMHO, any situation where there's power on one side and no power on the other is very likely to devolve into something bad--"power corrupts, etc."
  4. Reorganize ICE under new authorities and new leadership.  That's what will happen if the Dems win in 2020.

Monday, July 02, 2018

"Impeach Earl Warren"

Just tweeted to Orin Kerr on the impact of the Earl Warren court on American life.

The cry of "Impeach Earl Warren" was likely more widespread in the 1960's than any slogan of more recent years.   It's memories like that which make me think we were more divided then than we are today.