Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Validity of DNA Testing

Just received the "health" side of an ancestry.com DNA test.

Uniformly bland results, finding nothing which increases risk of anything (which is good, but they didn't cover the most significant area for me--Alzheimers--oh well).

The one correlation they did find is: increased likelihood of drinking coffee.

I'm rolling on the floor, laughing, since I've always drunk a lot of coffee.  These days I'm down to about 5 cups a day, about 2 of which are leaded.  I suspect if I had an obituary drafted by the group of people who have known me over the years, the lead sentence would be:  "Bill drank a lot of coffee..."

(On a more serious note, I'd be curious to see some statistics on the percentage of tests for different things actually show a result exceeding the average.  I suspect it's low, quite low, but because it's us and we worry about the bad stuff, a DNA test is an easy sell.)

Monday, December 30, 2019

Healthcare and Education Costs

Both healthcare costs and costs of higher education have soared over the past 20 years, as shown in this tweet.

One explanation often offered for the costs of healthcare is that providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.) are highly paid.  It makes sense to me--the comparisons of doctors salaries here and abroad which I've seen show our doctors to be much more highly paid.  If that explanation is right, then is it also the case that our education providers, professors and colleges, get more money than educators overseas?  That seems counter-intuitive somehow, but that may just be my erroneous impressions.

[update: saw a reference to the fact that average college debt for doctors is $200,000, so it's possible that the high cost of college plays some role in creating the high cost of health care??]

Thursday, December 26, 2019

In the Eye of the Beholder

From the Lawfare Blog
One of the striking features of the public reaction to Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation is just how many people of just how divergent points of view are claiming vindication for whatever positions they held prior to the document’s release.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Race Makes Me Crazy

The NYTimes had an article on LA and homelessness and blacks today.  It had a graphic with a heading that caught my eye.  The closest I can find in the online version is this sentence: "These maps show the loss of majority-black neighborhoods in Los Angeles County over the last 50 years."

Why did it make me crazy, at least most discombobulated than usual?

In the past the Times has run articles discussing the integration/segregation of our cities.

As a good liberal, I know integration is good and segregation is bad.

But I also take from the Times piece today that the "loss of majority-black neighborhoods" is bad.

So I'm left with two competing ideas.

To use a metaphor, it's like cooking, or baking.  Do you want a real smooth batter with no lumps of flour or do you want a fruit cake composed entirely of lumps?  I don't know, and that's why I'm crazy today.

Any how:  Merry Christmas. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

My Centrist Bias

David Leonhardt has an op-ed in the Times on "centrist bias".    His second paragraph cites John Harris:
Last month, Harris wrote a column that I can’t get out of my head. In it, he argued that political journalism suffers from “centrist bias.” As he explained, “This bias is marked by an instinctual suspicion of anything suggesting ideological zealotry, an admiration for difference-splitting, a conviction that politics should be a tidier and more rational process than it usually is.”
While I consider myself to be a liberal I must confess a centrist bias.  In my case, I think it's a matter of pragmatism.  I tend to doubt the ability of the political system to take big leaps and to believe that America is mostly a centrist country, so Democrats can best appeal to the electorate by taking a middle road.  I think that bias has generally been borne out through my life but it has meant I've not supported the civil rights movement or the LGBTQ movement as strongly as I could.  It could be that my bias also ties to my bureaucratic career, meaning I"m more concerned with the difficulties and pitfalls of implementing big changes than most.

These days my support for the 2020 election goes to Amy Klobuchar.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Great Times for USDA?

Someone got a bit mischievous on USDA's tariff website, and listed Wakanda as a country. (It's the home of the Black Panther.) USDA claims it was listed as part of some test data and should have been deleted before going live.

Meanwhile the annual survey of employee satisfaction showed USDA as just above HSD at the bottom of the ratings for departments, with ERS and NIFA plunging into the depths.  (OGC and the Asst Sec for Civil Rights were also in the bottom 10 of the "subcomponents" ranking.

Trump Viewed by a Civil Libertaruan

Conor Friedersdorf considers himself to be a civil libertarian, according to wikipedia.  From this piece on Trump
"It won’t be difficult for future generations to find specific examples of his lust, greed, wrath, envy, pride, adultery, fraud, cruelty, vulgarity, bigotry, and bearing of false witness. Yet even a complete catalog of his sins would be incomplete, because Trump is distinguished not only by his misdeeds, but by the dearth of redeeming qualities to offset them.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Three Reports and the Bureaucrats in Them

My wife liked the The Report so we're watching it again, Dec. 13, the same week the Washington Post is doing their "The Afghanistan Papers" rollout, and shortly after the IG's report on the Crossfire investigation was released.

I've not read the IG report yet, nor the report which The Report describes, and I am reading the Post articles on Afghanistan.

There may be some commonalities, as follows:
  • there are two groups of bureaucrats in The Report--the CIA people and contractors involved with the "enhanced investigation measures" (i.e., torture) and the Feinstein staffer, Dan Jones, and his assistants who did the research and prepared the report.
  • in Afghanistan there's military bureaucrats and civilian bureaucrats with many roles over many years.
  • in the Crossfire investigation there's FBI personnel.
For Crossfire, we're offered two choices--either the FBI agents were incompetent or they were biased against Trump.  I think there's a third choice: they were focused on a big task and developed the blinders almost inherent in doing the job.
I think in all of the above cases the bureaucrats thought their job, their objective, was important (people find ways to make that true), and devoted their efforts to doing it.  CIA wanted to stop terrorism; Dan Jones wanted to understand and reveal torture; the military and civilians in Afghanistan wanted to stop terrorism, build a modern nation, or at least not "lose Afghanistan" on their watch; the FBI agents wanted to prevent Russian subversion. That's an idealistic description: very likely on many days and for many people it was just a matter of getting through the day, putting one foot ahead of the other, but knowing when they wrote the story of their life it would have this idealistic sheen to it, ignoring the drudgery and the missteps.

But we shouldn't underestimate the addictive power of doing an important job.  The popular examples of this are from Silicon Valley, the nerds who work round-the-clock to develop software. As we learned in 2000 with the tech crash, very often their dedication was wasted on bad ideas, ideas that had no viable business model.  "Confirmation bias" is real, but it's only a part of what goes on in these cases.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Today''s Newspapers

Two pieces in the newspapers today 

  • in the Post, I think, a review of a book (which also mentions a Netfix documentary on the same high school) describing a Navaho high school using the device of following their basketball team to.  The basketball coach was most proud, not of the team record, but the fact that none of the students he counseled had committed suicide.
  • elsewhere a discussion of the effective tax rate of big corporations--declined from 21 percent to 11 percent.

Monday, December 16, 2019

"Family Farms"

ERS has its 2019 report on family farms out:
Family farms accounted for 98 percent of farms and 88% of production in 2018.
Large-scale family farms accounted for the largest share of production, at 46%.
Over 50 percent of farms are either retirement farms or run by persons whose primary occupation is not farming.

Note that "family farms" can be corporately owned, so long as one extended family owns the corporation.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Discrimination in SS

Been reading Eleanor Lansing Dulles' autobiography (it was recommended somewhere in a survey of memoirs by women).  She was the younger sister of Allen Dulles (CIA) and John Foster Dulles (Sec. of State).  Born in 1895 she had a varied career, meeting almost everyone, working mostly in economics in varied positions, from WWI relief, research in Europe, college teaching, service in the government with the initiation of Social Security through reconstruction of Austria after WWII and then the State Dept, which is where I'm at now.

Anyhow on page 152 she comments on exclusions from the initial social security setup ministers and teachers.That's a reminder that social security was an innovation for America, and it was focused on wage workers in industry and services.  Its limitations were, as I've argued before, not particularly intended to discriminate against African-American farm workers, but to enhance the chances it could be successfully implemented.

I may blog later about Dulles' and sex--she struggled with discrimination.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Revival of Supply Management

Two straws in the wind

this tweet links to an article on Russian wheat, including a desire to form an international wheat cartel, like OPEC, to do some supply management.  (We used to have an International Wheat Agreement).
There was also an article on Wisconsin dairy farmers expressing interest in supply management for dairy, as Canada still has.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Is Trump Scared Straight? NO!

I blogged the question here, citing lower twitter activity.

But here's a report on his record 88 tweets.

So much for me and my predictions.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Rational Choice and the FBI

Rational choice is a theory sometimes applied to bureaucrats. My laiyman's understanding is you view a bureaucrat as a rational actor, trying to maximize his or her power, salary, etc.; in other words, treating bureaucrats as humans, economic men.

How does it apply to the FBI in connection with Trump?

Let's imagine the FBI bureaucrats confronted with the allegation that Russians were working with Carter Page to influence the Trump campaign. The chief of counter intellignence in the FBI  might have these thoughts:
  • this is a big hot potato.
  • it's dangerous to ignore it--think of the people who ignored warning signals before 9/11.
  • it's dangerous to explore it--suppose Trump wins
  • but the odds are Clinton will win, so that means exploring it is less dangerous.
On the other hand, FBI counter intellignence works with the CIA, but can have strained relationships.  (Read about Robert Hanson and Ames.) So the sharing of info between the FBI and CIA may have had hiccups. 

One of these days I should read the OIG report.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Look Back at Afghanistan

IIRC, I was dubious of GWB's war in Afghanistan.  Memories of Vietnam and the "Man Who Would Be King", etc. were big in my mind. But the surge of feeling after 9/11, which I shared to some extent, meant it was easy to get caught up  in enthusiasm over the easy triumph over Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  That enthusiasm, plus the support of some writers whose names escape me now, led me to  very reluctant support of the Iraq.venture, though the skeptical articles in the Post also weighted heavily.  I regret I wasn't blogging then, so I'd have a written record against which to compare my memories.

Later my reservations on Afghanistan were raised by various books and articles, but there was never a clear decision point where politicians debated the issues.  And there was never a clear course, a way to reconcile my liberal desires for nation-building and women's rights and my doubts over the effectiveness of our strategies.

Now the Post is publishing the Afghanistan equivalent of the Pentagon Papers, documents from a "lessons learned" exercise by the special IG for the war.  

My bottom line, not having read the whole series yet, is this: most of the criticisms were valid, but it's one-sided, no answer to the question: "what was the alternative?"

I can only add this perspective: looking at Vietnam today and the status of US-Vietnam relations, the war didn't have lasting bad effects at the global level.  When you consider the deaths and injuries, particularly of Vietnamese, and destruction resulting from the 1945-75 conflict you have to deplore it.

Monday, December 09, 2019

The Decline of the Triple Cities

The Times has an article  discussing the increasing concentration of innovative industries and a proposal to encourage more new centers.
There are about a dozen industries at the frontier of innovation. They include software and pharmaceuticals, semiconductors and data processing. Most of their workers have science or tech degrees. They invest heavily in research and development. While they account for only 3 percent of all jobs, they account for 6 percent of the country’s economic output.
A few cities have gained most of the jobs in these industries (Seattle, SF, San Diego, Boston, Silicon Valley)  while many cities have lost jobs.

The article has a map showing the gains and losses in thousands of jobs. My home area, known as the "Triple Cities" (i.e., Binghamton, Endicott, Johnson City) is one of the big losers according to the map, though I don't find the specific statistics.

When I was growing up, the cities had Endicott Johnson (shoes, long gone) as the leading employer, but IBM was second,  Link (producer of  the Link Trainer) was there.  Scintilla was in Sidney.

I believe none of these companies are left--IBM deserting its ancestral home for the greener pastures of Poughkeepsie and other sites.

I don't know what the major employers in the area are now--I suspect education and health.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

A Tale of Two, No Three, Countries

Marginal Revolution reports Sydney has more foreign-born residents than all of mainland China.

Kottke links to a map of the 637 languages spoken in New York City.

My bet is on the future of the more diverse and welcoming society.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Abundance Enables Variation in Height?

One of the things I'm recurrently intrigued by, and have commented on in this blog, is the photograph of masses of people who have the same appearance.  Usually these days the photo is of North Korean dancers or military performing in unison.  (In older days it was the Chinese military.) Everyone is the same height and much the same physiognomy, though I'll quickly stipulate to a native of the country, everyone looks different, an individual.

The explanation I've heard for such uniformity, particularly of heights, is that when there are environmental constraints the phenotype is restricted, and the full potential of the genotype is not realized. But in an environment of abundance genes can exert their full influence. That could be an explanation why Americans come in such a variety of shapes and sizes and North Koreans don't.

I wonder: height and perhaps weight are the most evident characteristics, but are there other characteristics which are limited by the environment?  Certainly we know that the society means Shakespeare's sister never wrote a play, but that's not quite what I'm looking at.  Just a thought.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Is Trump Scared Straight?

Seems to me the president has been relatively quiet and subdued on his twitter account recently. That's just an impression which may be wrong because I don't follow him.  Instead I base my impression on the tweets of his that others retweet and comment on.

Anyway, if it's true, why?

  • one answer would, of course, be the prospect of impeachment which is not something an insecure person would  feel good about.
  • another possible answer, although it comes too close to a conspiracy theory for my comfort, is the possibility that his recent trip to Johns Hopkins was an indicator of some sort of health problem.  As self-absorbed as he is, he's got to be super conscious of his age and the end of life.  That might chasten even him.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Farmers Abroad Know How to Protest

I remember the times when farmers brought their tractors to the Mall to protest our agricultural policies.  (The description in the wikipedia article may not be the most accurate. I took a chance on "American Agricultural Movement", which was the sponsoring organization.  Wikipedia has a better post on it. 

It seems that both the French farmers and German ones have the same tactic.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

More on Hemp

Two articles on hemp in today's NYTimes:

  1. one in Business about the easing of some banking regs.  I'm not clear on the impact--it's apparently not clearing the way totally, because marijuana is still illegal for the Feds.
  2. the other on the problems farmers have in protecting their hemp fields from crooks, who might steal thinking they're getting pot, not hemp.
According to one of the pieces there were 300,000 acres of hemp planted this year--not FSA stats but some private firm.  Wonder how that compares with FSA's figures.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Simple J. Malarkey

Joe Biden is taking heat for putting "No Malarkey" on the bus he's using to tour Iowa.

I've fond memories of Walt Kelly's Pogo cartoon strip, which my sister introduced me to back in the day.

His caricature of Sen. McCarthy was named "Simple J. Malarkey" and was introduced this way (the second strip shown).

I don't know why we don't have good cartoon strips anymore.  Dilbert is usually tolerable but it's not Pogo.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

The Coming of World Government in Space

Technology Review has a piece on the influx of new space agencies, both in smaller countries (Luxembourg!) and by private enterprises.

Elon Musk is putting up thousands of satellites to provide Internet access.

Seems to me we're going to come to the point where the practicalities of managing space will force governments to agree to cede some control to an international organization.  Back in the day we were sure the UN was a steppingstone to a real world government.  That dream is long gone, but technology and the need to control the commons might revive it.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Produce Waste

The PBS Newshour is showing a piece on food waste, featuring an effort in California. It is part of a weeklong effort.  This particular one is laudable, featuring coordinators and software packages. 

But my contrarian side is present whenever I hear an estimate of "pounds of food wasted".  Looking at the produce shown, the pounds wasted include peach pits, watermelon rinds, etc.  I know measuring the "waste" is hard, and maybe there is a benefit to using fuzzy statistics: they stir up activism.  My instinct, however, is that better stats, more solid stats, are the way you build the base for a social movement, for changing norms. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

Technocrats and Bureaucrats

Interesting post here, arguing that Robert Moses represented the peak of technocratic government. As some of the costs of technocracy became apparent (see Jane Jacobs and Robert Caro) progressives turned against technocracy

Beneath America’s deep frustration with government is something else: a deep-seated aversion to power. Progressives resolved decades ago to prevent the public from being bulldozed by another Robert Moses—and the project to diffuse power to the public has succeeded. But the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. The left’s zeal to hamstring government has helped to burnish the right’s argument that government would mess up a one-car parade. The new protections erected to guard against Moses’ second coming have condemned new generations to live in civic infrastructure that is frozen in time.
The piece traces the history of attempts to reinvent Penn Station and the surrounding area, attempts led by a variety of strong-willed people, each with a piece of power, but none able to get past the veto points erected by post-1960 reforms.

As a former bureaucrat, I'm instinctively sympathetic to technocracy.  But I also recognize that power without restraints, like Moses', can result in misguided dreams and worse misdeeds.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Mystery of California Deaths

Articles today in the Post and Times on a new study of trends in US death rates.

Much information, including this:
Estimated Excess Deaths From Increasing Midlife Mortality, United States, 2010-2017

Note that while trends are terrible for the upper NE and eastern MW, California and Wyoming are going the other way with OR, NV, and NY not too bad. 

I'd like to know what's going on here, I skimmed quickly through the article and didn't pick up much.  Obesity and smoking are bad, recent immigrants and service industries are good. 

A guess--Asian and Hispanic immigrants might be particularly helpful.  But in the end it's a mystery.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Crime In DC

My title is a bit misleading--this is a report on a poll  asking whether people had, or knew someone who had, been threatened with a gun. 

Notably the results are broken down by DC wards, and as usual east of the Anacostia had the highest exposure/ 

Two things strike me:

  1. the difference between the best wards and the worst is not that great--46 percent versus 28 percent..  Yes, that's a big difference, but based on media reports I would have guessed maybe 85 versus 25.
  2. there's no difference between west of Rock Creek Park, stereotypically white, and the Northeast wards, more stable middle class black neighbors (my image, which may be outdated).
Bottom line: a reminder that one's picture of the world is likely to be wrong.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Rich and Donations

Here's a Vox post on the donations to charity by the most wealthy Amercans. As Dylan Matthews notes, there are a number of qualifications and cautions in interpreting the figures.  For my purposes,only three billionaires, Bloomberg, Gates, and Buffett gave more than 1 percent of their wealth in the last year.

I may have discussed this before in connection with Warren's proposed wealth tax.  Anyhow, retirees are told they can withdraw 4 percent of their savings and likely not exhaust them before dying.  I think maybe that's a reasonable target: once a person reaches retirement age, between taxes and charity the total should be about 4 percent of wealth.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Where's the House

MSNBC and others have a story that intelligence officials briefed senators on a Russian effort to blame the Ukraine for 2016 election meddling.

That's all very interesting, but what happened to the House.  I understand that protocol, and institutional rivalry, says what you tell the Senate you have to tell to the House.  Why wasn't that followed in this case?

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Hearings

Random points stemming from the now-ended impeachment hearings:

  • I took Fiona Hill as saying Russia interfered with our 2016 as a state project, directed by Putin (I'm intrigued by the possibility that the intelligence community has better sources of information than we know).  The project was hidden and had Russian resources behind it. The project included creating and spreading false information. Conversely, individual Ukrainians mostly openly opposed Trump's election. Their covert actions involved furnishing true information.
  • One of the attacks on the bureaucrats who testified was rooted in suspicion of their political views.  I've no information on that, but I do remember being a bureaucrat during President Reagan's tenure.  I called him the "senior idiot" (and my direct boss the "junior idiot".  I am now and was then a strong Democrat.  However, I reserved my epithets for the ears of my wife, and performed my duties to the best of my ability, getting some awards and some cash for my work, representing decisions by the Republicans heading our agency.  Granted my work was not as politically significant as diplomacy is, but I think it's very reasonable to believe that most bureaucrats, even those with strong political views, can keep their work separate.
  • I've some sympathy with those who aren't comfortable with impeachment based on the current evidence, because of missing witnesses (Bolton, Mulvaney, et. al.) (Also some questions not asked--like the usual process for authorizing and delivering military aid compared to that used for Ukraine).  But, on the other hand, I'm comfortable with the idea that circumstantial evidence can be enough for a guilty verdict in homicide cases.  And, I think circumstantial evidence is what we have here to fill the holes.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The South and Race Relations

Had an exchange the other day on twitter: the gist was someone was surprised at  a Southern city which was less segregated than common (I forget which city) . I remembered a factoid from long ago suggesting that Northern cities were more rigidly segregated than Southern cities. There was a logic to the pattern which I can't remember.

Anyhow, I ran into this quote today from Rajiv Sethi:
"Fifth, and this came as a surprise to us, many states in the South, including the secessionist states of the former confederacy, have smaller racial disparities in exposure to lethal force than states elsewhere. Many of these Southern states have approximate parity between rates of lethal force faced by black and white civilians in the Guardian data. This is true of Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, and Tennessee for example"
There's some caveats to the data, which is from Gunnar Myrdal's effort which produced American Dilemma in 194x. Interesting changes in patterns of homicide and police violence.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Guilty Fleeth

Daniel Drezner on twitter pointed out the significance of a question by Rep. Demings--Sondland asked President Trump: what do you want; Trump replied: "I don't want a quid pro quo".

The conversation came after the whistle blower report had come out, so Trump knew things were coming apart.  So it seems that Trump was fleeing before being accused.  My take.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Legalize Pot?

One of my most vivid memories from high school is my science teacher becoming very vehement and emphatic in warning us never to smoke pot.  I believe the basis was the "gateway drug" theory.

Some 20 years or so later, in the 1970's I was living in DC and got selected for jury duty.  At that time we reported to the judicial building every work day for a month and sat around waiting to be called.  One of the trials I was called for related to marijuana, don't remember whether it was for possession or sales.  I asked to be excused from serving on the jury, basing my request on an objection to our marijuana laws.  The request was granted.

I don't remember my views on marijuana laws.  I think I gradually came to support the downgrading of the penalties for possession to a simple ticket, like a traffic violation.  But I think I've always been reluctant to support legalization.  My puritan ethic cautions against it. 

Today it seems the nation supports legalization.  Certainly the Democratic candidates support it. 

Personally I'd feel more comfortable if we held off on national legislation, allowing the various states to do their thing, testing various approaches to legalization and control over the market, taation, etc.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Corporate Profits Up 66 Percent?

I think it was Kevin Drum who noted a big rise in US corporate profits--maybe 66 percent as a percentage of GDP.. If I remember right it was from 6 percent to 10 percent of GDP.  Don't find it now but here's  a chart from the St. Louis Fed showing after tax profits in non-adjusted dollars.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Stefanik and Partisanship

I had a knee-jerk reaction to Rep. Stefanik's actions in the Intelligence Committee hearings on Friday--I immediately followed her 2018 (and 2020) Democratic opponent.

I say it was knee-jerk, because Stefanik is the sort of Republican congressperson I'd like to see elected; that is, the sort I'd like to see the minority composed of.  Over the course of Friday her opponent picked up thousands of Twitter followers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions.

I don't know if we can continue to have a significant centrist representation.  Having said that, the reelection of Gov. Edwards in LA is welcome.  Even though his positions are not mine, he's  the most liberal that the Louisiana voters  will accept

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Laws on the Books Wouldn't Have Stopped It

Kevin Drum blogs against this meme as it relates to guns.  I'd expand the point
By definition, anything that happens wasn't stopped by the laws on the books.  The stock market setting a new record wasn't stopped by laws.  The 16-year old in Santa Clara wasn't stopped by the laws.  Trump wasn't stopped by the laws.

Do we conclude there's problems with our laws?  No, of course not. Most things the laws aren't intended to stop.  In many cases the laws can stop 90 percent of cases but not the last 10.  Needless to say, we never notice the 90 percent.

(There are also laws poorly written so they don't stop some cases and laws poorly enforced or implemented. )

For any specific case, you need to figure out  into which category it falls.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Who Knew: Marine Heat Waves?

Jstor has a short piece on a paper discussing marine heat waves. 

It's disappointing for the layperson because there's no basic explanation--I never thought of such a thing until 2:30pm Nov. 15, 2019.

Turns out NOAA does research into them and there's a whole organization dedicated to them.  From that site:

We know that heatwaves occur in the atmosphere. We are all familiar with these extended periods of excessively hot weather. However, heatwaves can also occur in the ocean and these are known as marine heatwaves, or MHWs. These marine heatwaves, when ocean temperatures are extremely warm for an extended period of time can have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and industries.​ Marine heatwaves can occur in summer or winter - they are defined based on differences with expected temperatures for the location and time of year.
It seems that El Nino is a related phenomenon.  And I assume that since the air and the water are both fluids, you could have some of the same sort of variations in temperature occurring in each.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Bring Technology to Baseball

Reports that the Houston Astros have been stealing catcher's signs; normally okay but not using binoculars.  The Post today had a piece on the methods the Nationals used to counter any sign-stealing. Very elaborate, five different sets of signals, methods to specify which signal of a set was the real one, and methods to switch the set being used at any times.  Sort of reminds me of the code-breaking eploits in WWII.

Someone on twitter today asked about favorite football players to watch.  I'm old enough that Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr would have been three of my top choices.  The two quarterbacks called their own plays; no mikes in the helmet for them.  Athletically I'm willing to concede that today's players are much more advanced and make more breath-taking plays, but seeing a veteran quarterback pick a defense apart is great.

But we've lost that with football and its mikes, so why not allow catchers a mike in the pitcher's cap so they can call the signal safely.  Might also speed up the game, since the messaging would be simpler and faster than using multiple sets of signals.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Learning in Naval Shipbuilding

It turns out there's a learning curve for shipbuilding, particularly as seen in going from building the first aircraft carrier with a new design to the second, as well as going from an experienced non-computer literate workforce to a younger, inexperienced but computer-literate workforce. 

The New Face of Farming

Farming is open to anyone with the ability to sustain 7 digit losses  year after year. It's called "lifestyle farming" in this Bloomberg article.

(I remember when IBM had its PC printer operation in Lexington KY (later sold to Lexmark), and farms were being subdivided into 5-acre farmettes, raising questions about handling of tobacco quotas.  Or consider the new money in the UK in the 19th century who bought country estates because of the prestige attached to the land. )

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Time to Put Teeth in Records Acts?

The responses say "yes" but there's no enforcement mechanism.   As it turns out, the Presidential REcords Act refers to amendments to the Federal Records Act, most recently  in 2014 to include electronic records on non-official accounts. Specifically: "The last provision forbids officers and employees of the executive branch from using personal email accounts for government business, unless the employee copies all emails to either the originating officer or employee's government email, or to an official government record system to be recorded and archived"

I'd love to see the Archivist of the US given police authority.  (My ex-bureaucratic persona speaking.)

Monday, November 11, 2019

It's Okay to Call Me "Boomer"

I'm at the age where it's nice to be considered as younger than I am.  So go ahead, say: "ok boomer".

Friday, November 08, 2019

Wake Up, Professional Transcription Service.

There's no excuse for continuing to use pica or elite type fonts in the 21st century.

The impeachment inquiry transcripts.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Parable of the Forms

As an ex-bureaucrat I'm always interested in forms.  Here's the link to an academic paper entitled "The Parable of the Forms". The author is trying, I think, to address some issues of legal procedure by translating them into the language of a university bureaucracy.  I was struck by some parallels in USDA history.

Very briefly, when the New Deal created the farm programs in the 1930's it seems each field crop had its own program and, sometimes, its own bureaucracy.  In addition, there were siloed initiatives for conservation, housing, rural regeneration etc.

Over the years there were a number of reorganizations of these basic elements.  Also, over the years and underway when I came on board was a drive to generalize the crop programs.  When I started we had wheat and feed grains, upland cotton, ELS cotton, producer rice, and farm rice. Over time the programs were changed so by the time I retired we just had "program crops" and "ELS cotton", but then we'd added oilseeds, and a number of other categories.

The paper's author argues there's an ebb and flow to the forms issue, and to his legal issue: sometimes focused on the differences in situations and sometimes on the commonalities.  Perhaps there's a similar dynamic with programs.  Or perhaps I'm full of it.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

You Know You're Getting Old When...

your fingers don't automatically find the correct keys on the home row of the keyboard.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Voting Today: One of the Fears of Some Trump Supporters

My wife and I just got back from voting in VA. Polls seemed busy, although it was a longer ballot than our June primary election so that might have skewed my impression.

Some photos taken from by the exit of the elementary school room (cafeteria) .

[Updated: who knew that Google photos can make a panorama for you without your asking:

The original photos below]


I could have made a pan around the room but that's not something I've learned yet.  I didn't notice the flags around the room at first.  Counted over 30, perhaps more hidden from me in the third picture.  I assume they represent the countries of origin of the students, which explains my reference in tthe title to the fears of Trump supporters.

I suppose in some sense many of the kids have a "dual loyalty".  My ancestors have been in country for 134-300 years or so.  Because I know where they immigrated from I've a bit more interest in Ireland/Ulster/Scotland and Germany than in other countries.  I've also a bit more interest in Vietnam where I served and in China where my aunt and uncle were in the YMCA than in other countries. That interest no doubt can affect my position on issues relating to the countries, as will the much closer ties of the students in this school to their countries.  But the bottomline is they're in the process of assimilating, of absorbing American culture even as the school recognies origins.

BTW, the ballot today had instructions in four languages: English, Spanish, Vietnames, and I think Chinese ideograms.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Farm Progreams: Insurance or Social Program?

I've likely written something on this before, but I'm too lazy to look it up.

There are multiple ways, "frameworks", for looking at farm programs:
  • as a social program. In this view payments should go to farmers based on their need, what they have to have to continue farming.
  • as a reform program.  In this view payments should reward farmers for doing "good" things, like sustainable practices, etc.
  • as an insurance program.  In this view payments should be like insurance, where the size of the payment is proportional to the size of the enterprise.  That is, when you buy homeowners insurance, the amount of coverage is tied to the value of the house.  The same when you buy collision/comprehensive coverage for a car.
It's usual, particularly among liberals, to use the first two frameworks. 

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Friday, November 01, 2019

Soaking the Rich--What's Triviial, What's Possible

I had an early response to Megan McArdle this morning--without doing a lot of work to reconstruct: she wrote that soaking billionaires as Sen. Warren now proposes as part of her financing of Medicare for All would contribute a "trivial" amount; I responded her definition of "trivial" must be different than mine.  Apparently (because I still don't understand Twitter fully) that became part of a bigger discussion.  Coming back to the exchange this afternoon, the points seem to be that billionaires may have between $2 and $3 trillion in wealth, and taxing them as Warren proposes would produce around 4 percent of the total cost. 

Meanwhile Kevin Drum has done a preliminary analysis of the proposal here.  It's a convenient summary but very preliminary.  Anyhow, over 10 years he shows total costs as $52 trillion, the contribution of a 6 percent tax on billionaires as $1 trillion.  That means a contribution of 2 percent of total, which would, I agree, qualify as "trivial".  (IMO 4 percent is a tad above "trivial".)

I should make it clear I'm as ambivalent about soaking the rich as I am about many things.  I've seen the reservations of many on the right, particularly about the difficulties in collection (bureaucratic efficiency is always a big consideration with me.)  But disregarding those issues, here's how I think of it today:

  • I'm told I can withdraw 4 percent of my savings (TSP, IRA) each year and likely maintain my capital.  Anything over 4 percent is likely to cause to me to exhaust my savings.
  • Based on that, it seems reasonable to hit billionaires with a 4 percent yearly tax--their fortunes wouldn't diminish, on average, and any especially productive or lucky entrepreneurs could increase them.
  • Going over 4 percent is killing the goose--you can be decreasing inequality, which is good IMO, but you need to plan to get an alternative revenue source (or finding savings) for the long run.
My opinions are subject to change, particularly as Drum updates his analysis.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Thank You Nationals

It was a great year.  Thanks, especially for the spirit of fun you displayed

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Is the Navy Going Sailor-less?

Is a sailor a sailor if she doesn't sail the seas?
"The Navy in its 2020 budget request asked Congress for the first installment on a $4-billion acquisition of 10 large unmanned surface vessels and nine unmanned submarines. Boeing is developing the robotic submarines, using its 51-feet-long Orca submersible as a starting point."
From this article, via Lawyers, Guns & money.

Interesting that Boeing is involved--an example of how new technology can disrupt established patterns?

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Bad Old Days--My Dead Cousins

I was the youngest of 8 first cousins, 2 children in my family, my paternal uncle had 2 children, one maternal aunt had one child, the other had 3 

Those figures are what I was aware of.  But in fact there were 3 first cousins who died young, 2 as babies and 1 at age 7.

My point: if I rely only on my personal experience life in the US looked good and safe, but that's misleading because I don't see my whole cohort, just the survivors.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Second-Generation Migrants Do Well

NYTimes reports on a study comparing the economic status of second-generation immigrants--the children of immigrants--to the child of comparable native Americans. Almost without exception the second generation from whatever country does better than the natives.

The study suggests that the difference relates to where the sons lived--living in urban and growing areas was an advantage over living in rural and stagnant areas.  That makes some sense, although as I comment, there's a big range in the results; I'd suspect a range too great to be explained only by location.

What's not emphasized in the article is the fact that immigrants are able to advance, better than natives.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Unpopulated United States

When we go up to Rhinebeck, NY for the Sheep and Wool Festival, we usually take US15 to Harrisburg and either I-78 or I-81/84 to I-87.  Either way, but particularly the latter, leads through sparsely populated areas, but even the more populated areas don't seem particularly densely settled.  

According to this site some of the counties have less than 100 people per square mile.  Reminds me of James Carville's crack about Pennsylvania being Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between. 

You can guess that all those sparsely settled counties vote Republican, then and now. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The End of the Clerk-Typist?

OPM is proposing to end job classifications where there are fewer than 25 occupants across the Federal government.  One of the occupations is "clerk-typist"!!

Once clerk-typist was a very common job--when I joined ASCS there were 2 or 3 in the Directives Branch.  Typically people would move to a secretarial position or a more specific position after they'd acquired some experience in the office.  Clerk-typist was an entry position, basically requiring you to pass a typing test.  IIRC 40 words per minute with minimal errors.

Duuring the early 70's there was a Work-Study program. Much is fuzzy here; I don't remember what the program objective was--"diversity" as we'd say today, perhaps, or maybe just opening a new way to recruit clerical employees.  And I'm not sure of the details at this remove--I think high school students, perhaps seniors, spent time on the job during the school year and particularly during the summer.  As I recall we had two students from DC, who happened to be dating, I think.  Both were good and we were short-handed so we wanted to make them both permanent, but to do so they needed to pass the typing test for the clerk-typist position.  Not to be sexist but of course the woman qualified easily, while the man had problems.  With the help mainly of the management technician in the office he took and retook the typing test until he finally passed, to the pleasure of his new co-workers.

They married a couple years later.  Over the years they advanced within ASCS, ending as professionals.

Friday, October 25, 2019

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves

That's the title of Jaon DEParle's new book.  It's an interesting read--DeParle moves between the saga of an extended Filopino family's travels and travails in working in the Middle East, in America, and on crruise ships, all the time sending remittances home to support and boost the living standards of those left behind, and a more abstract description of patterns of emigrant workers and migration since the 1965 changes in US immigration laws. 

Points stood out to me, as new and unexpected:

  1. the importance of the family network, emigrants providing money to those left behind, who in turn provide care for the children of those emigrant workers, possibly becoming closer to the child than their natural parent
  2. the significance of cellphone technology in vanquishing distance and maintaining family ties., 
  3. The variety of experiences, working all hours, getting involved in scams and means of making money on the side, or illegally, getting exploited by middle men and losing money through ill-advised expenditures (country rubes fleeced city slickers(.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Proud To Be "Human Scum"

My cousin identifies as a Republican, though she's recently voted mostly Democratic.  But she appreciates President Trump's calling his Republican critics "human scum". She's planning a t-shirt with that motto to fluaunt that honor to the world.

I don't qualify for it--rather like Americans can't really be knighted by the Queen, I'm left standing by the side, envious.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Updating Voter Lists

This article described the open process being used in Ohio.  They proposed to purge 235,000 inactive voters, but found that 20 percent should not have been purged.

They used an open process-generating a list, then making it public so interested groups could find errors.

Although liberals tend to be suspicious of these exercises, I had enough experience with maintaining name and address lists to be open to it.  These days bytes are cheap, and computers fast, so there's less need to keep the list clean and purged of old data.  But a clean list is still good:

  1. although the process of checking voter id against the list may be automated, as it is in Fairfax county, there will be times when a human has to get involved. When that happens the cleaner the better, so there's less likelihood of confusion and mistakes.
  2. although fraud--impersonating a voter--is vanishingly rare it can happen, and having dead people on the voter list is one vulnerability.
In my ideal bureaucrat's world, there would be a master register for all residents, so checking could be automated.  But that's never going to happen in the U.S., so this open process seems to me to be the nezt best thing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

It's All in the Spin: We Want Pence

One of the attacks the Republicans are using against the impeachment inquiries in the House is that it's an attempted coup, overthrowing an election.

Sounds good, so we Democrats need a counter:

Bottom line: we aren't trying to oust President Trump.  We have the highest regard for his abilities as an entertainer and businessman and would like to see him devote his great energy and supreme intellect to those pursuits.  It's a win-win, because a President Pence would continue to nominate conservative judges and make a great looking president, while Donald Trump could organize and create an entertainment/news network to take the flag which Fox News is in the process of dropping.

People who forecast the outcomes of elections say the Republicans should be favored to win in 2020 based on peace and prosperity, so there's no downside for Republicans in impeaching the President.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Contract Farming Versus Supply Management

Part of the logic of contract farming, as I understand it, is providing more stability to the industry.

That might be questioned, given a 30 percent drop in egg prices.

Contract farming means the farmer in the hen house doesn't determine how many hens to raise.  She forgoes the possibility of good egg prices and hefty profits for hopefully a more certain profit (assuming disease can be avoided etc.).  The company doing the contracting makes the decision to increase or decrease production. Because the company only has to track what the other companies are doing, a much easier job than reading the minds of thousands of small growers, the company can make better decisions.

What happened to the theory?  Cage-free eggs seems to be the answer.  As producers increase production of cage-free eggs, both because of state regulations and the premium prices for such eggs, they misjudged the effect on demand for eggs from caged hens, and didn't decrease production enough.  The article doesn't say, but I'd guess the contracts the companies had with their growers limited their ability to cut production quickly.  After all the farmers have a capital investment in their hen houses and their cages which they planned to amortize over the lifetime of the buildings and equipment.

I don't know how possible it would be for a cage grower to convert to cage-free operation.  If the change is simply providing more cage space per hen, the conversion might be doable, although the grower would need to add building(s) to maintain the same level of production. Going to entirely cage free would be harder.  And free-range would be even harder.

Canada has a supply management program for poultry and dairy.  I assume that Canadians are as intrested in cage-free egss as Americans, so it will be interesting to see if their plan will work better in handling the changes than our markets do.

Monday, October 14, 2019

On Columbus and Italians

Josh Marshall has thoughts on Columbus/

I'm old enough to remember when WASP's looked dubiously on Catholics (specifically and especially my mother)--they were subject to the rule of the pope, so weren't fully loyal to the US (somewhat as some even today see Jews and Israel), they were relatively recent immigrants and not fully Americanized. 

One Italian-American in my school for a while--don't remember whether Joe was set back or grade or whether  he was a grade ahead.--he didn't graduate with us I know that.  Pretty good athlete and ran with the jocks. Got teased about being a "wop".  At least in memory it was mostly teasing, as we had nicknames for others: "crotch", "piggy", and "spook" were others I remember.  The last one wasn't racial--he was very pale. 

Italian-Americans were climbing the ladder--Senator John Pastore was prominent as the first senator.

In memory at least JFK's election ended most that that prejudice--the Italians were honorary Irish by virtue of being Catholic, so when he won all the recent immigrant groups won.  ("Recent" referring to 30 years before).

Also on immigration--two of the three economics Nobelists announced today are immigrants, which isn't unusual--see this from 2017.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Top 25 Vertical Farms?

Here's a listing of the top 25 vertical farms, although it appears some are equipment providers for aeroponic or hydroponic setups.  There's some mention of LED's, particularly for marijuana. (Indoor farming of marijuana seems to make sense based on what's desirable for the plants, not just because it's easier to hide the plants from law enforcement.)  Mostly these farms are growing greens and herbs.

When I first blogged on vertical farms it was to mock the idea of sun-based vertical farms. That idea seems to have died a natural death; artificial lights are used, changing the economics.  The linked article talks of the possibility of a multi-billion dollar industry by 2022 or so.  Personally I expect there's a fair amount of froth and hype in its current state--at some point the market will sort out which designs and sets of technology can make money in which cities.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Contract Farming for Strawberries?

Contract farming made an early appearance with hens, putting the small farms like my mother's out of business.  It's spread to more and more areas of agriculture, but I wasn't aware that strawberries are now included.   See this Civil Eats story.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Trump's MFP Leads to WTO Violation?

That's the Congressional Research Service's tentative conclusion--US may be billions over its "amber box" limit in 2019.. Its conclusion:
According to the scenarios developed in this analysis, including a projected set of market conditions, the United States may potentially exceed its cumulative amber box spending limit of $19.1 billion in 2019. Excessive amber box payments in 2019 could result from the addition of large MFP payments to the traditional decoupled revenue support programs ARC and PLC.
However, this analysis found that U.S. compliance with WTO amber box spending limits was very sensitive to a change in market conditions and market valuations. Noncompliance hinges on many key market factors that are currently unknown but would have to occur in such a manner as to broadly depress commodity prices through the 2019 marketing year (which extends through August 31, 2020, for corn and soybeans). Another crucial uncertainty is how the U.S.-China trade dispute—with its deleterious effects on U.S. agricultural markets—will evolve.51 Resolution of the U.S.-China trade dispute and an improved demand outlook could lead to higher commodity prices and output values while lowering payments under countercyclical farm programs such as MAL, PLC, and ARC. Such a turn of events could help facilitate U.S. compliance with its WTO spending limits.

Count Me a Pollyanna

I know President Trump has support for his China policy from many Democratic politicians and in academia and the chattering classes.  The conventional wisdom today seems to be we need to be tough on China on intellectual property issues and other non-tariff issues.  That's not an endorsement of Trump's specific decisions on tariffs.

I may be naive, I think in the long run, maybe the long long run, that policy is ill-advised.  That feeling isn't based on much knowledge, but these are pointers:

  • Theft of intellectual property might be bad, but it seems also true that it's not always easy to exploit stolen ideas.  Ideas rely on a network, a specific environment for their implementation and and further development.
  • "theft" of ideas is applying a concept which applies to personal or real property to intellectual things.  Another way to look at it is that the "theft" means additional minds working on scientific and technical issues, coming up with new property which, if shared with the world, can help all of us.
  • In the bad old days of the cold war it was reasonable to worry about theft of weapons designs. These days there's no country with an ideology of world domination.
  • We used to dream of the US as a model for the world (see the Gettysburg Address).  We're losing that dream.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Note on Marijuana

Among the things I didn't know about marijuana is that it needs a Mediterranean type of climate--hot and dry and sunny, not the sort of climate we have in the East.  This Post story informed me.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

How To Do Big IT Projects

FCW has a post on how to do big IT projects, referring back to a study of 5 years ago.    There are four keys listed, but I can boil it down to one:
  • Get the right bigshot personally involved from start to finish and be sure she has skin in the game, as in will lose her job if the project fails.
Early on I was involved in a project to bring computers to county administrative actions (payroll and related services).  The big shot then was the deputy administrator, management (Felber) who brought people together from DASCO and DAM to do the project.

In the middle of my career I was involved with implementing the Payment-in-Kind program in 1983.  The big shot then was Seeley Lodwick, who was the Under Secretary (following service in a previous administration as exec assistant to the Administrator, ASCS)  He pulled together lawyers and program people and kept on us until it was off the ground.  

By contrast other projects failed because either they lacked bigshot involvement and/or the bigshots moved on with a change of administration.

The Obama administration did one thing right--put Biden in charge of the stimulus package implementation and one thing wrong--ineffective leadership in rollout of Obamacare.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Hemp and Tobacco (and Taxis) III

Reverting back to tobacco, in contrast to the article quoted in my first quote, there was at least some evidence that the benefits of the tobacco allotment/quota programs eventually benefited the owners of the quotas more than the actual farmers.  This article from the 1981 Washington Post discusses the issue, tied to the fact that Sen. Helms, a man for whom I had about as little respect as possible, was pushing the tobacco program while his wife was an owner of tobacco quota.

Note: IIRC over the years, maybe in the 1990's, the law was changed so that absentee owners of quota had to either sell the quota or become more actively engaged in farming.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Hemp and Tobacco (and Taxis) II

I never did get to the "taxis" part of my post yesterday.

The NYTimes yesterday had a piece on how New Yorkers had made inroads on the Chicago taxi industry.

To recapitulate the Times' previous articles on taxis in NYC:

  • to operate a cab you need a medallion, issued by the city.  IMO medallions are a way to limit entry, by restricting entry you're able to manage the prices/rates charged and limit turmoil.  That's very similar to supply management for tobacco in the US and dairy and eggs in Canada; also it's similar to the marketing co-ops for things like cranberries
  • NYC had a bidding war for the medallions,  which savvy investors used to manipulate prices and make exploitative loans to individual drivers hoping to gain an asset for their retirement..  With Uber and Lyft hitting, medallion prices have plunged, and drivers are unable to repay the loans, forcing them into bankruptcy.
  • in yesterday's article the same pattern was followed in Chicago by wised-up guys from NYC.
I've noted the parallel with agricultural supply management already.  While the medallion program likely worked reasonably well for many years, as did the tobacco program, with time smart people with money found a way to exploit the rules and make money, gaining their returns at the expense of those with fewer smarts and/or less money.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Hemp and Tobacco (and Taxis)

The Atlantic has an article using a history of the tobacco program to talk about hemp.

The history is accurate enough.  The professor points out that tobacco quotas were initially based on past tobacco production, so they tended to provide existing tobacco farmers with a guaranteed annual income (disregarding weather and similar hazards) for years.  That stabilized the regional economies.  When the program was ended there was immediate upheaval and consolidation of farms. By locking out new farmers (she doesn't note the limited provision for new farmers in the program, though the amount of quota available each year was small) it meant black and white sharecroppers lost a chance for upward mobility.

Her argument thus becomes:
"Instead of charging would-be cannabis growers for the privilege of growing, states should award licenses to a larger number of applicants from communities that have been hit hard by the War on Drugs. Much as small-scale tobacco farms anchored entire communities across the Southeast, cannabis cultivation on a human scale, rather than a corporate one, can build wealth within communities of color where opportunities to amass property have been denied—frequently at the hands of the government.
 The argument seems good, but as I've argued in other posts, the growing of hemp in the new world of legal pot (and industrial hemp) is subject to many hazards, even for experienced farmers trying to add a new crop to their operation.  If the argument was that people who had been growing illegal pot should be given licenses to grow it legally, I'd have fewer concerns.  But asking people from the inner city to grow hemp would be stupid. You'd have to have a new hemp producer program to offer financing, help gain access to land, and provide mentoring. ( I don't know the failure rate for new farmers of conventional crops, but I suspect itt's high.) That's not happening.

In the absence of such a program what would likely happen?  As in programs reserving government contracts for minority and female owned companies--you use a figurehead with the right attributes, while the real money goes to the men behind the curtain.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Hemp Problems Again and FSA/NASS?

The Rural Blog has this post.

I wonder if NASS and FSA are now taking acreage reports for hemp. A claim of more than a half million acres licensed for hemp means it's one of the mid-major crops.

And has it been added to the NAP list of crops?

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Interesting Questions on Foreign Investigations

When should an American official at any level suggest/request a foreign government investigate an American citizen?

I think the first question you have to answer is, what is the purpose of the investigation?  Is it because the official believes the citizen violated the laws of the foreign country?  Do we assume the country's judicial system is fair?  What is the US interest in seeing the citizen investigated and possibly convicted of a crime (or suffer civil penalties)?

Another set of questions around "investigate".  Is it okay for an American official to give incriminating information to a foreign government if the government is unaware of any offense?  What is the US interest is seeing the crime investigated?

How about trades of information--an intelligence operative trades info on citizen A for info on foreign citizen B?

How about cases where a crime/offense perhaps has crossed jurisdictional lines, so the start of an investigation in the foreign country might start dominoes toppling and permit an investigation in the US?

Without delving further into the issues, it seems to me possible circumstances in some cases could justify a request or a passing of information.  But, none of those would apply as I understand it in the case of Ukraine and the Bidens.

[update--addendum: I think the propoer course is to refer any suspicions to DOJ for an FBI investigation and possible grand jury.  If there's no offense under US laws but might be under foreign law, passing information from the FBI to the foreign country is possible.]

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Supply Management in Our Future?

There's a discussion of "supply management" in this twitter thread:

Canada has had supply management.  

The Farm Bureau didn't like the idea of a government program in the spring.

Here's a more recent article on it.

My own thoughts are:

  • I think supply management would slow the exit of farmers (perhaps fewer bankruptcies and more sell-offs when retiring) but aren't a magic bullet. There's value in slowing the exits, both in impact on the farmers and their communities and perhaps in allowing more time to find niche alerantives to the commodity milk market.
  • I'm not sure why alternative "milks" have gained so much market share--price or perceived health benefits or animal welfare concerns  If it's price, supply management would shift demand out of milk.. At least it improve the outlook for those alternatives.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Perdue on Small Farms

This Post article reports that Secretary Perdue said" Tuesday during a stop in Wisconsin that he doesn’t know if the family dairy farm can survive as the industry moves toward a factory farm model."

I don't disagree with his point, at least as far as dairy farms producing for the commodity market, as opposed to niche raw milk/cheese production, but it strikes me as similar to Hillary Clinton's  comments about putting coal miners out of work.  Both true, both reflecting the work of free market capitalism, both politically inept.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Hemp Problems

The "Harshaw rule"--you never do it right the first time--seems to be borne out by the experiences of hemp growers.

Latest instance--this big suit against a seed supplier.  Turns out hemp has both male and female seeds, and only the female seeds produce plants with CBD.. So it's a big deal if your supplier only gives you male seeds when you're trying to produce CBD.

I've also seen references to overproduction, harvesting problems., etc.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

It's Morning in America?

That was the theme for Reagan's re-election campaign.

I thought of that when I read Kevin Drum's post on social trends in America.  An excerpt:
Just about every social indicator you can think of has been moving in a good direction for the past couple of decades. Kids are better behaved. Crime is down. More people have access to health care. Divorce is down. Most indicators of racism are down. Income has risen considerably since the end of the Great Recession and is now significantly higher than it was when Bill Clinton took office. Etc.
Kevin had started with a chart on the decline in divorces in the last 10 years, then segued into  a discussion of why we don't realize all the improvements in the last 20 years.  I agree with almost everything.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What Did Zelensky Know and When Did He Know It

It has seemed to me to be important to understand the timing of events. This post has some of it, but I've some unanswered questions:
  • before Trump made the decision to withhold the aid to the Ukraine, were there any discussions in the US government about the possibility of doing so?  If so, did word of that possibility make its way to Zelensky?
  • when Trump made the decision, it appears it wasn't particularly quickly circulated within the US government?  True?  And there was no official rationale for the decision, or at least Trump offered two conflicting post hoc rationales?
  • when did Zelensky receive word of Trump's decision, and what explanation was given?
  • what did Trump understand to be happening after he made the decision?  Did he regard the decision as something for him to follow up, as in the phone conversation, or was he at all relying on the Pentagon and State Department to follow up (unlikely in my mind)?
  • when Trump was talking with Zelensky, did Zelensky know of the decision?  Did he understand any rationale for it (better investigation of corruption, versus specifically investigating 2016 issues and/or the Bidens?
  • when Trump was talking with Zelensky, did he think Zelensky knew of the decision and understand the rationale. or did Trump think it was his role to inform Zelensky of either or both.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Each for Himself--Watergate Redux?

A couple thought on the Ukraine mess, as compared with Watergate.

In Watergate we ended with people using leaks to take down their rivals and get revenge on their enemies.  (See Martha Mitchell for the most outrageous and most entertaining instance.)  It looks as if we're starting to see that dynamic here, with Guiliani and Pompeo pointing fingers.

One advantage Trump has over Nixon is his hisotry.  Nixon was the original uptight person.  Granted he was a skilled infighter in bureaucrat melees, but he was the President who usually followed the staid norms for the office.  So when the tapes were released, everyone was shocked at the profanity and the general tone of discussion.  I doubt there's much difference between Trump's discourse in public and in private/

This Post article is interesting in this context.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Adapting to the New: the Case of Weather Reports

Politico had this post on how the weather forecasting/reporting system developed and gained acceptance in Great Britain.

I'm convinced that any significant change in society, particularly in technology, requires a period of adjustment, as people  come to understand the change, and develop new norms and new habits to accommodate it.

One example was the advent of railroads, particularly passenger trains.  I've a vague memory of a discussion of this--one issue was class. IIRC stagecoaches had a class divider--the richer rode inside, the poorer outside.  Passenger trains made travel cheaper, increasing the number of poorer people traveling.  But at least initially everyone was thrown together in a coach.  That required people to adjust their habits and expectations (though I believe in Britain and France they soon instituted a class system, more universally than in the U.S.)

I think of it as social learning.  And I think it should lessen our anxiety over changes.  Remember the "crack" epidemic?  People learned the costs of crack, and the epidemic waned.  That's what happens in an open society where information flows readily.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Beating My Drum

The "transcript" of the POTUS-Zelensky phone call has been released.  I note the Trump White House still uses monospaced type fonts.  Don't they know better?

(My pet peeve is people who've stuck with elite or pica typefaces now we're into the era of laser printers instead of using the more readable proportional spaced fonts.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Our Vanishing Churches--a Miscellany

That's the title of John Phipps post on AGweb.  It's an eloquent analysis of the plight of small rural churches, getting smaller as the community shrinks, and as their religion seems less relevant.

The Post has an article on the vanishing churches of DC.  It attributes the decline to black congregations moving to the suburbs.  But the article notes that some congregations are moving into alternate spaces, rentals, homes, movie theaters, rather than the traditional church building.  (A building, which IMHO, often was a status symbol, displaying the wealth and therefore spiritual devotion of the congregation.

The Post has another article on Lutheran ministers riding circuit--a couple handling five churches. As is mentioned in the article, Methodists have often used the process--the church my parents married in was Methodist and by the time I arrived, it was one of three churches being served by one minister.

My grandfather at the end of his career as a Presbyterian minister was sort of a roving troubleshooter in the Dakotas, much of his time apparently dealing with the issues of declining membership.  That's a trend which has only continued.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Reminder from the Civil Rights Era

Breach of Peace has a post on an exhibit of the mug shots of the Freedom Riders.

The artist likes the part which shows 120 Riders  in profile, facing right.  A portion below, from the post.

I'm reminded by these pictures of the youth of the protestors and also by the number of whites included.

Real Money Versus Details

Sen. Dirksen had the famous quote: "a billion here, a billion there, soon you're talking real money." (Turns out he never really said the whole thing, but accepted it as his.  See this. )

Secretary Mnuchin has another definition for $140 million:  "details".

Sunday, September 22, 2019

NASS Needs to Publish Pot Prices?

This post popped up in my Reston Patch postings.  Pot prices in CO popping up, according to CO tax office.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Cowen on People

I follow the Marginal Revolution blog.  Sometimes, as here in Cowen's musing on Epstein, I read things which strike me:
I am now, at the margin, more inclined to the view that what keeps many people on good behavior is simply inertia. They are oddly passive in their core inclinations, but will behave badly if given an easy opportunity. And since many of these people probably are not active independent malefactors on a regular basis, their sense of risk may not be entirely well developed. Thus they themselves may have been fairly naïve in their dealings with Epstein, not quite understanding that their invulnerability in everyday life might not carry over to all situations.

  • For "inertia" I would substitute "habits".  I'm habit-bound, and I suspect most people are (except those suffering from war, displacement, natural disasters, etc.)  
  • "Will behave badly"--Cowen argues that rich men could have become Epsteins easily--they had the money--but didn't out of inertia, succumbing to temptation upon meeting Epstein.
  • "sense of risk"--this might be backwards--people who are not malefactors regularly may have a more highly developed sense of risk (even an exaggerated sense of risk) than do people who engage in risky behavior regularly.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Plum Tomatoes in Sicily

This NYTimes piece  interactive on the net) traces the shipping of tomatoes from Sicily to the UK, outlining how a hard Brexit might screw up the chain.

But what struck was the picture of tomatoes growing in Sicily.  The vines look to be about 12 feet tall, very thick, very very loaded with what look to be plum tomatoes (might be cherry tomatoes but I'm thinking plum).  I've never seen a row of tomato plants like that. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Lack of a Tape and Impeachment

One of the things lost in the current discussion over impeachment of the president is this difference from the Watergate era:  in Watergate, we started with a crime, a clear violation of law, burglars discovered red handed.  From that crystal clear focus the story expanded in multiple directions--before: why were they there, what was their aim, who commissioned them, who would have benefited and after: who paid for their defense, for their silence, who was covering up the facts, who lied.

By comparison in the current situation, as in the case of Clinton, we don't have a crime as clear as burglars caught in the act.  So the narrative starts blurry, and gets blurrier, because there's no foundational fact which no one can dispute.

And what was the fact in Watergate and not in the others: the tape on the door which guard Frank Willis discovered and removed, only to find the lock retaped.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Losing My Memory?

There shouldn't be a question mark on this--I know I'm losing capabilities.  I'm old, getting older, getting worse in most ways, perhaps all ways.  This interesting blog post shows I'm not alone.

What I find most problematic these days is my operating on "autopilot" as my wife and I call it; occasions when my habits are in control, habits established in youth when I was capable of multi-tasking, habits which lead to disasters when I can no longer multi-task. Unfortunately there's no switch I can touch to go from multi-task mode to "concentrate, you damn fool" mode.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

I Told You So--MFP/CCC Financing

The Rural Blog reports moderate House Democrats are willing to fund CCC, meaning it can continue to make MFP payments.

Actually my title is wrong, at least for this blog.  I know I had the thought, but I tweeted it.  Social media is too complicated.


Just finished this book, a 100-page summary of how Geithner, Bernanke, and Paulson (the authors) fought the Great Recession, and what should be done in the future.

Having read the separate books by each of them, nothing in it was particularly new.  And having read Tooze's Crashed, which focuses on the international crisis, I wish they had paid more attention to that area.  But it's a good summary, clear and quickly moving.

It's especially apropos today, because "repos" market seized up yesterday and the NYFed had to put in $53billion.  "repos" is a term familiar from the Great Recession and from Firefighting.  Of course, there's nothing on the top line news today about it. The media and politicians won't pay attention until late, and then we'll discover our politicians have handcuffed the financial institutions.

Monday, September 16, 2019

18 One-Year Wars?

The Washington Post Magazine has an article on Afghanistan by a correspondent who had been there several times.  A quote:
Brian Glyn Williams, a University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth professor of Islamic history who worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan in the summer of 2009, witnessed how the rotation affected operations. He was working with an information operations cell in Kabul when half the team rotated out. “We had personal relations with the gray beards,” Williams said, referring to Afghan elders. “We sort of had a rapport with them. A rhythm. It took a long time to build up that institutional memory for our team. But part of my team switched to Iraq. You’re calibrated to work in one environment, and then they’re deployed to Iraq. All of that institutional knowledge was flushed.” The United States, in short, fell into a pattern of one-year deployments, meaning the war started over every 12 months. America’s longest war turned into 18 one-year wars.
Reading the article, particularly that paragraph, reminded me of how we lost the war in Vietnam, and didn't win in Korea.  The same mistakes, the same NIH bright new ideas and concepts, only to be replaced by the bright new idea of the next bright new big shot commander seeking glory.

(Can you tell I'm bitter.)

I wasn't blogging in Oct 2001, so I have to rely on memory.  I think I was dubious about going into Afghanistan, remembering all the history of that country. But I recognized the feeling in the country so doing something violent was inevitable.  I was surprised by the ease with which the military gained dominance in the country.  Foolishly, like the rest of the country and the Bush administration, I ignored the long term.

At this point I'm somewhat haunted by the memory of the Nixon-Kissinger negotiations over Vietnam and the eventual outcome there.  If the same occurs in Afghanistan, I only hope we're as willing to admit refugees from Afghanistan as we were from Vietnam.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Presidential Choices

Let me trun through Presidential possiblities:

Trump.  No way.
Biden. Too old
Sanders. Too old.
Warren.  Almost too old, almost too radical.
Harris. Okay, a bit blah for me.
Buttigieg  Too young., otherwise good.
Booker.  Suspect orators
Castro. Okay, a bit blah.
O'Rourke.  Charisma without substance?
Klobuchar. Right age, right positioning.
Yang. Too different.

Bullock.  Okay if he had a chance
Bennett.  Okay if he had a chance
Williamson, Too different
Delaney.  Not sure his experience works with Congress.  Okay if he had a chance
Steyer, Too different
Gabbard.  Too different
de Blasio. Don't like his NYC record
Ryan.  Okay if he had a chance
Sestak.  Not enough record.
Williamson.  Too different

So my preferences:
Second choices

My second choices are easily changeable.  I'm impaessed by Warren's life and ability to change, so she gets more of a look than her positions would otherwise rate. Bullock and Bennett could advance to my second choice group if they could get on the map.

[See Wash Post's ranking here]

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Re-upping CCC Money for MFP

Today the Post reports that Representative Lowery is not planning to include replenishing CCC's borrowing authority in the stop-gap continuing resolution   Depending on the timing, that means CCC will run out of money before it completes the full $28 billion in MFP payments.  (It's hard to find the current CCC balance.  The USDA website doesn't show it; you have to dig through the Treasury accounts to get an idea of how much is available of the $30 billion it's authorized by statute. The last time I did that, maybe 6 weeks ago, there seemed to be around $15 billion left.)

This is a followup to the Post story of a couple days ago on the rather unprecedented use of CCC for the MFP.. Unprecedented at least in terms of the size of the payments and also, IMO, in the basis for the use.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Renting Office Space from Members of Congress

I've a vague memory that back in the early 70's there was a flap about Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service county offices leasing office space from members of Congress.

Possibly it was an issue raised by Rep. Findlay of IL, who didn't much like anything that ASCS did, but I won't swear to that.

Anyhow, memory suggests that ASD (Administrative Services Division) issued notices to do a survey of how many instances of this we had and requiring the leases to end.  I don't remember that there was a statutory basis for the prohibition, just a policy one. 

I've done a quick look at the USDA manual on property and didn't find anything.  Apparently FSA has determined not to put their handbooks covering administration on the website so I haven't checked that.

Anyhow, I thought the issue of renting office space is a good parallel with the issue of renting hotel rooms from President Trump.