Thursday, February 28, 2019

Deja Vu All Over: India vs Pakistan

It was 40+* years ago that India and Pakistan last fought a war,, but in my youth such conflicts, and the rumors and threats of conflicts, were a constant in international affairs. 
*  It turns out it's just 20 years, at least according to Wikipedia--there was a 1999 conflict in Kargil.  They count 4 wars, and innumerable confrontations and conflicts of a lesser nature.
It seems there are fewer such conflicts since the end of the Cold War--not sure there's any causal relationship but 1989 is a convenient date.  Obviously there's Iraq I and Iraq II and Agfhanistan forever but I buy Steven Pinker's thesis of a gradual decrease in violence over the ages.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Korean War--Who Fought

Feeling nitpicky today so this Times piece upset me.  It's a discussion of Vietnam and Korea relationships, quite good in most resspects.  But this:
Vietnam’s ties with North Korea were strengthened during the Vietnam War, when North Korea dispatched dozens of fighter pilots to combat the Americans. At least 14 North Korean military personnel were killed in action in Vietnam. (About 300,000 South Koreans fought on the American side.)
What's wrong? The last sentence.

Those of us old enough to remember know that technically the United Nations fought against the North Koreans and later the Chinese.  (The Soviets had been boycotting the Security Council so were not around to veto a resolution authorizing UN action against the invaders.)   It was a UN coalition fighting, including British and Turkish troops as I remember it.  (Wikipedia) 

But what really jars is the idea that South Korea fought on the American side.  The war was sold to the U.S. and UN as a fight against the North Korean invaders in which the UN was coming to the aid of South Korea, so we were fighting on South Korea's side.  Since then there have been challenges to that narrative by some historians, but I think the consensus still generally supports the original take on the situation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Nixon: China::Trump: North Korea?

"Who lost China?" was a cry of right wing politicians in my youth.  It referred to the Chinexe Communist victory in their civil war with the Kuomingtaing, which eventually fled to Taiwan to rule there for some decades.  The allegation was that communists and pinkos in the State Department had undermined the the Chiang Kai-shek regime and weakened our support for him.

After the Communists took over the mainland we refused to recognize their regime, and kept them out of the UN.  That was a cornerstone of American foreign policy for 25 years.  No Democratic president or candidate could afford to propose to recognize the Reds, for fear of being "soft" (much like being "soft on crime" in a somewhat later time frame.

Then came Nixon, and Kissinger.  Despite much criticism from the right (Bill Buckley et. al) they were able to recognize China simply because Nixon's history gave him credentials as anti-communist.  Jimmy Carter completed the job of de-recognizing Taiwan and exchanging ambassadors with the People's Republic of China.

I wonder wherher there is a parallel between Trump and Nixon vis a vis North Korea.  As with China, our North Korean foreign policy has been mostly frozen in stone for 65 years. There have been attempts at breakthroughs; Clinton came the closest but he couldn't get enough support to fully carry out his agreement so it teetered and then collapsed, with GWBush finally killing it. 

As with China, there's a vocal group attacking any attempt to normalize relations.  Also as with China, there are geopolitical game-playing reasons not to deal; I mean the idea that a deal undermines policies (non-proliferation and human rights) we generally support and can't be seen to back away from.

Trump in many ways is Nixon's opposite in terms of style and decision making process, but it's possible that he ends up making a poor deal with North Korea, "poor" at least in the view of the policy establishment who've spent their careers on the issues, but a deal which over a period of time turns out to be acceptable to the US and the world.  If "period of time" is less than 18 months, such a deal might be enough to re-elect him.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Wisconsin Dairy

Here's a good  piece on the Wisconsin dairy situation, more in detail than many media reports. Many farmers going out of business, other farmers expanding their herds so the number of farms is way down (close to half in 4 years) but the number of cows is about even.  What strikes me is even though herds have doubled in size, they're still below 200 cows per herd average.  None of the Wisconsin counties are in the top 13 counties in the US in production (most are California), likely mostly because the big dairies (1,000+ ) aren't  in Wisconsin.

I suspect from a birdseye view the same forces which are leading to the big increase in the income of the top 1 percent and the top 0.1 percent are also leading to the big increase in the size of dairy herds and the big increase in the value of the top companies in the US.  That's just a hunch, without supporting arguments now, maybe later.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Brazil Grows Two Corn Crops?

Who knew that?  Saw a reference to it, probably from John Phipps or Chris Clayton's feed.  Here's the brief description:
Brazil’s second corn crop, or safrinha, has gained attention in world markets because this year’s dry growing season likely hurt yields. Safrinha corn accounts for about 65% of the country’s corn production.
It's planted in January to March after early-crop soybeans are harvested.  

The fact it's doable on a massive scale suggests to me Brazil has an advantage over US farmers, who are limited in their doublecropping to soybeans after wheat, mostly.   Of course, with global warming we may be able to change that in the future.  We still have an infrastructure advantage over Brazil, if I understand correctly--we've the transportation--rail and barge--to move crops to export ports easier than they currently do.  But that too will change.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Slow on the Uptake

Megan McArdle is just one of the commentators who are using the Justsie Smollett  "fake racist attack" episode to caution people to go slow in making judgments. The quick reaction of some Democratic politicians now looks foolish, as does the reaction of the left to the Sandmann video of last month.

Going slow is always good advice.  But advice is often ignored. Daniel Kahneman wrote a good book on the subject.  We all jump to conclusions and less often are we willing to reconsider, to apply reason and/or wait for more evidence.

Anyone remember McVeigh?  IIRC President Clinton cautioned going slow and not blaming international terrorists.  (That was before 9/11, but if my memory is correct we were hyper aware of terrorists even then.)

But then it's possible to overreact to the overreaction, which is the interesting take here.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Beneficial Ownership for All, Not Just Farms

If I correctly understand current payment limitation rules (dubious, at my age it's questionable what I correctly understand) farmers are required to identify the beneficial owners of the legal entities which receive farm program payments.  "Beneficial owner" meaning the live body, as we used to say, who actually gets the money in the end.

That seems to me to be right and proper, so right and proper I come to agree with AEI, not something a good Dem often does, that this should be required for all legal entities.  Without such a requirement the rich and powerful can hide behind a paper veil of dummy corporations, fake partnerships, and trusts.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

From the Ag Outlook Conference

Some items from this year's Ag Outlook conference  via Illinois extension--Farm Policy..  For those who might not know, there's an annual confab in DC where USDA types and ag people get together to assess where agriculture is and where it's going.  Typically the chief economist for the department gives an overview (I think this is one of the positions proposed to be moved from DC under the plans for relocating ERS , etc.)

From the slides we see that the states with the highest rate of bankruptcies for 2018 are ME, NY, and WI, with GA fourth.  I think this is likely the result of the consolidation of dairy farms, a subject on which I've posted fairly often recently.

Also interesting is this graph I copied from the Farm Policy.  While the line depicting the Chinese share of our export sales drops sharply, the total values don't.  This may reflect the higher value of the dollar in 2018/9--our sales volume drops but the money we get stays flat?  (I don't know, just guessing.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Advice to Trump: Don't Play Games With Congressional Appropriators

When I joined ASCS one of the things to learn was the relationship of ASCS and CCC.  Essentially the Commodity Credit Corporation was a way for USDA to put on another persona, a corporate one, allowing it to bypass the annual appropriations process.

It had the most impact for me when we were trying to impact new farm legislation and were on a very tight schedule.  Lew Calderone, the head of printing, would ask whether the program specialists could justify the rush job as fitting under the CCC's responsibilities.  When the answer was "yes", he could bypass requirements to go through the department and GPO and send the work to a printing contractor. (At least, that's the way I remember it.)

I was also aware that CCC and ASCS had separate inventories of personal property, depending on whether the item had been bought with appropriated funds (ASCS) or corporate funds (CCC).

The agency's ability to switch between ASCS and CCC personas was the envy  of other agencies,like SCS and FmHA.  

In the mid-80's through into the 90's ASCS and USDA began to use the CCC authority more widely, which is where the agency came to grief.  As I understand it, the procurement and automation people used CCC funds to buy a lot of computer gear.  What's worse, the computer projects didn't work out--success might have had a different result

Anyhow, the bottom line was the House Appropriations Committee put restrictions, tight restrictions, on ASCS and USDA on their spending, including spending of CCC money.  As far as I know those restrictions remain in the current law.

This leads to my advice to Trump: any effort to reprogram money to build your wall runs the risk of stepping on the toes of the appropriators.   If that happens, and I'm sure DOD will try to avoid touching anything in the districts of the members of House appropriations, the committee is perfectly capable of putting tight clamps in the appropriation act.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Spring Is Almost Here

Weather forecast for tomorrow is for snow, along with rain, and sleet, but I'm looking forward to spring and being able to garden again. The winter has been mild enough, except for one cold spell in February, that the ground is not frozen.  After 40 years or so gardening in the same plot of the Reston gardens the soil is good enough that it can be worked relatively early. And beyond tomorrow's snow the forecast looks pretty good.

I wonder whether people who grew up in town (i.e., suburbs/cities) have as strong a sense of cycles as do those of us who grew up on farms?  I doubt it, but don't know.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Salute to the Ballantines

Betty Ballantine died at 99, following her husband Ian.  They were very important in my life, because they founded the Bantam and Ballantine lines of paperbacks.  In the 1950's I could find a rack or two of their paperbacks in a couple stores in Greene, NY, and at $.35 or $.50 they were affordable for a teen.  I know I have a bunch of their books packed away in boxes.  I remember their line of WWII books, one by Adolf Galland the German ace, and one by C. Vann Woodward on Leyte Gulf.

And the science fiction, though I can't be sure the books I remember were Ballantines, nor some of the fiction, like "God's Little Acre", the risque book of the times.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Extremes of Farming: Enlightenment Versus Romance

Having just blogged about Netherlands agriculture and precision farming, I was struck this morning as I was skimming Twitter by a proposal to combine small farms with a small town (sorry but I didn't note the tweet and can't find it now).  It seems to be that we can see the long time contest between the Enlightenment and the Romantic eras being reenacted today in farming.

On the one hand you have the increasing consolidation of farming in the US and elsewhere, consolidation being driven by investments in technology which increase the amount of commodities per acre and per hour of labor, with decreasing inputs per unit.  It's the application of intelligence and human control to farming.  On the other hand you have the less tangible byproducts and the emotions elicited by the process of organic and/or small farming.

I guess with that summary there's no hiding which side I basically favor.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"Flerds" Are the Coming Thing?

See this piece. 

Short explanation:  a "flerd" is a "flock" + a "herd", the idea being by mixing different types of animals (usually sheep/goats with cattle) you reduce predation.

Trump's Own Words

Great analysis of what Trump has said about his wall/barrier/fence and who will pay for it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Case for Intensive Farming: the Netherlands

National Geographic has a piece on Netherlands precision farming.
From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. Van den Borne’s production numbers testify to the power of this “precision farming,” as it’s known. The global average yield of potatoes per acre is about nine tons. Van den Borne’s fields reliably produce more than 20.

I've viewed with skepticism reports about the Netherlands high value of exports, figuring it was mostly flowers of all kinds.  But it's the top exporter of potatoes and onions. I've been skeptical about proposals for vertical farming and urban farming, but this article is changing my mind. 

What I'm taking as the bottom line is intensive farming can work in the market place.  It's not clear what the additional equipment and the inputs cost, but the adoption of the techniques in the Netherlands means you likely have positive cash flow. 

I do retain a bit of skepticism--Netherlands is cited as being in the top exporters of potatoes and onions, both of which strike me as unlikely to be exported over long distances because both have high water content.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Is a Democratic Victory in 2020 a Cinch?

Some twitter traffic suggesting that President Trump will be defeated in 2020 by almost anyone the Democrats put up.

I violently disagree.  Let me count the ways:

One: I remember the late 70's when it looked as if we liberals might be lucky enough to face Ronald Reagan in 1980.  We knew we could beat him with Carter or with Kennedy.  Look how that worked out.

Two:. Even if today's polls are reasonably accurate, and I don't doubt them, there's the issue of fundamentals:  right now Trump is riding the best overall economy in years, perhaps better than Clinton's late 90's boom.  He's also seeing "successes" in foreign policy--defeat of ISIS, withdrawal of troops from Syriana, and likely Afghanistan (by 2020), possible agreement with North Korea, renegotiated NAFTA, NATO countries responding to his harangues, etc. etc.  (I put quotation marks on successes because they mostly aren't, but as of now they can be sold as such.)  Those fundamentals would guarantee any normal person reelection.

Three: There's always the possibility of rally-round-the-flag episodes, a black swan event which rallies the US around its president.

Four: The reality is that some of the Democratic candidates and potentials can beat Trump, unless he has a real run of luck (somewhat like he had in 2015-16)and some can't.  Right now we don't know which is which.

Five: Because we don't know the future, we need to work, and contribute, and vote as if we're underdogs.

Six: My mantra is, even if we win the presidency it doesn't do much good unless we keep the House, gain the Senate, and take some more state legislatures.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Amy Is In But Who Would Run With Her?

Sen. Klobuchar has officially entered the Democratic primary race. 

I think I've said here, certainly on Twitter, that Il like her, mainly because I think she will appeal to independent voters along with Democrats and thus will be in a good position to beat an incumbent president and, I hope, have coattails to help candidates for the Senate and House.

That's the sort of reasoning I've used before, voting for Sen. Edwards in the 2004 primary over Keerry and Sen. Obama in 2008 over Clinton, and Clinton in 2016 over Sanders.  I've more enthusiasm fro Klobuchar than I had for Edwards or Clinton, but less than for Obama.  Klobuchar has a better record than Obama had but his candidacy was more historic than hers is, which made the difference in my enthusiasm.

As I see it, Klobuchar's main weakness is foreign affairs.  In the past that would have meant she'd pick as vice presidential candidate someone with better credentials in that area.  But, big as the Democratic field of candidates and potential candidates is, Dems don't seem to have a lot of such figures. Looking at the rosters of the Senate Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees I don't see people with a combination of the right age, the right background, and a national reputation.  The closest we can come, I think, are the two senators from VA: Kaine and Warner.. 

Interesting times.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Blast from the Past--Investigating President Carter

FiveThirtyEight has a piece on how presidents get investigated by Congress, including an interesting graph showing investigations of presidents from Nixon to Obama. 

Three points of particular interest:

  • based only on eyeballing, ranking the presidents from least investigated to most (counting days of investigative hearings in the House) you get this list:
    • GWBush
    • Clinton!!
    • Obama
    • GHWBush
    • then Carter, Nixon, and Reagan, much more investigated and hard to rank.
  • the graph shows whether Congress was under the control of the president's party or not--which accounts for Bush's position, but what's most surprising to me is the high ranking of Carter.--if you discount Watergate, he likely was more investigated by his own party, than Nixon was by his opponents. 
  • Reagan's high ranking is partly accounted for by Dem control of the House throughout his terms in office, but it's also a reminder of how rocky his administration was and the number of scandals.  

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Northam and Boyd

John Boyd, head of the National Black Farmers Association, met with Gov. Northam and offered support, according to this.

Why Blue America Is Blue--II

See this tweet on bankruptcies increasing from 2017 to 2018.

And see this report from Politico. 

I'd predict some "emergency" farm legislation will move before 2020.

A Leap Too Far for the Army

As a former draftee I retain a deep skepticism of the wisdom of the US Army.   So I would have said "I told you so" to the Army's plan for its "Iron Man suit", that is if I'd known about it, which I didn't.

As it turns out it was impracticable to integrate all the features desired into one outfit, so the Army appears to be separating the bits out to use individually.

Friday, February 08, 2019

The Marginal Utility of an Extra $50 Million

Jerry Brewer had an interesting column in the Washington Post about star basketball players seeking new teams.  This was the bit which stood out to me:

 In the doc [made by ESPN on Chris Paul's decision], he met with his friend, Jay-Z, the rap and entertainment mogul. Paul was telling him about various offers, ranging from $150 million to $200 million. Jay-Z listened and then spoke his mind. “Ain’t gonna change your life,” Jay-Z said about the offers. “You get 150, you get 200 — it’s the same thing. You’re gonna ride the same plane. You’re gonna wear the same sneakers. That [expletive] ain’t gonna change your life. One-fifty, 200 — same thing. . . . Your happiness, now that’s worth everything.”

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Why Blue America Is Blue I

From the Rural Blog:

About 15 percent of Americans live in rural areas; the percentage has been declining for more than a century. The 35 percent of counties that have experienced long-term, significant population loss now have about 6.2 million residents, a third less than in 1950. Depopulation mostly started with young adults moving to cities or suburbs; the slide in population continued because fewer women of childbearing age were left in rural areas to boost the population"

That's part of the "Big Sort" which underlies our political divisions. 

Monday, February 04, 2019

"Seeing the Whole Picture"

T.J. Stiles had some tweets participating in a discussion on Winston Churchill (Newt Gingrich had triggered it by comparing Trump's work habits to Churchill's, to which some, including Stiles, took issue).

He had this tweet in which he said it was important "to see the whole, real picture".   I replied to the tweet, but have had some added thoughts.

"Seeing the whole picture" sounds good, but when you think about the meaning of the word, it's more complicated.  A picture, whether painted or photographic, is basically a two-dimensional  representation of reality; it's not a 360 degree holographic image.  And it's static, representing a moment in time, not a movie showing the lapse of time.

I'm being nitpicky, of course. It's best to look at every corner of a picture, to look up close and stand way back, while remembering the limits of a picture in representing reality.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Simple Gifts--the Handshake

According to this, Quakers popularized the handshake in America.  I can see them as disliking the bow or the tipping of the hat as perhaps signalling social differences. "Simple Gifts" is a Shaker song but the emotional basis is similar.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

What Historians Don't Know--the Case of Jill Lepore

So I got several books for Christmas.  First I read "Becoming" which was very good.  Then I read Carl Zimmer's "She Has Her Mother's Laugh", which also was very good.  Now I'm ready for Jill Lepore's " These Truths, a History of the United States". 

Lepore is a good writer.  I think I've read most of her books and enjoyed them.  She's more of a narrative historian than an analytical one, but she knows how to tell a story.

So she starts her history by imagining in the fall of 1787 readers of a New York newspaper seeing the language of the new constitution. By page ii of the Introduction she moves to the people of the United States considering whether to ratify it, "even as they went about baling hay, milling corn, tanning leather, singing hymns, and letting out the seams on last year's winter coats for mothers and fathers grown fatter, and letting down the hems, for children grown taller."

So what does she get wrong?

Obviously farmers weren't baling hay in 1787.  (I  know I've seen a similar error somewhere recently, forget where, might even have been Lepore in another form reusing the same material. )

I'd also challenge the idea of "milling" corn.  I find to my surprise that wikipedia covers it, but I'd be more comfortable with the wording: "grinding corn".

As the proportion of Americans who farm, or grew up on farms, dwindles, the understanding of that way of life starts to vanish.

Friday, February 01, 2019

ERS on US Agriculture: the Case of Hay

Farm Policy has a post summarizing a recent ERS report on the characteristics of farms in the US.

There's the points which are not new to me: when considering total value of production the dominance of the family farm, except in the case of very high value crops and beef, especially what are known as "large-scale family farms", which are the modal and median farms in the ERS categorization  Except, except in the case of hay and poultry.

Because poultry is, I think, dominated by contract farming I won't comment on it.  But hay is interesting--I suspect in part it representatives the last gasp of small scale dairy farms, where the production pattern is harvesting hay in the summer and feeding the hay in the winter.  But dairy itself is dominated by the large-scale family farms, likely meaning their cows don't graze the pastures, but have their feed delivered to them in their barns/feed lots.   In that context a small farm can find a niche space--growing and harvesting hay is not that difficult to combine with getting income from elsewhere, like social security or off-farm employment.  And the the big dairies provide a market.