Wednesday, July 31, 2019

My Political Preferences for President

I've written on this blog that I support Amy Klobuchar for 2020. [Note: I started writing this before the Tuesday debate.]

I remember 1972, when George McGovern was the Democratic candidate.  He had good positions, with which I agreed. But he was tagged as supporting "amnesty, abortion, and acid", in other words supporting the far left. His "demogrant" of $1,000 per citizen was also far out, though I think Sen Booker has a similar proposal.  Though I voted for him, I would have preferred a more moderate candidate, like Muskie or Humphrey, as more likely to give Nixon a fight.

In general I don't have principled objections to many of the proposals on the left.  Put them into legislative form, design good bureaucratic structures to implement them, and see if you can get enough support from the center and right to pass the legislation.  Implicit in that sentence is the idea that the plans of Warren and other candidates can't be enacted or implemented.

I'm pleased that Buttigieg last night pointed out the problems of getting proposals through the Senate.  Even if we get the four seats we need for majority control, our margin will depend on Sens. Manchin, Sinema, Jones, King, Warner, et. al., none of whom are very liberal.  So here's my preferences:

  1. someone reasonably sure of beating Trump
  2. someone who will have positive coattails in AZ, CO, AL, KY, KS, NC, etc.
  3. someone who won't hurt Senate candidates.
It's way too early to know who will meet my preferences.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

How Food Waste Happens

Watching DC's channel Four News.  (4 pm, 7/12/2020)Just had a consumer segment reporting on a test of having a supermarket deliver produce.  Bottom line, not good.  Berries mush, apples bruised, avocado not organic.

Agreement by the anchors that picking produce was personal, so such problems were big issues.

The program had no discussion of food waste, but it revealed why food waste happens--we pick the best out of the bin, and leave the worst, meaning the worst get tossed.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Fraud in the Farm

Farmers are no better or worse than other humans--that's my position and I'm sticking to it.

What's important, I believe, is structuring institutions so there's "countervailing power"--give anyone some power, you need to find another person whose interest is countering that power.

In the case of agencies, that's typically the inspector general, including the auditors, the fraud hot lines, and the whistleblowers.  I'm not sure those checks and balances are sufficient, but they can work, as in this instance of a tobacco farmer in Kentucky defrauding crop insurance.

Sunday, July 28, 2019


Farm Policy blog has a post on the announcement of signup for MFP II

If I'm correct, CCC may be getting close to exhausting its borrowing authority by the end of MFP II, requiring Congress to replenish it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Down and Dirty Dairy People

My mother always celebrated the goodness of farmers, particularly dairy and poultry farmers. Se would be disappointed at the shenanigans described in this thread.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Electric Airplanes and Electric Motorcycles

This article discusses the developments in electric aircraft.  I had no idea they were being worked on.
Noertker and his team at the Los Angeles-based startup Ampaire are developing first-generation electric aircraft — and they’re far from the only ones. Something on the order of 170 companies have joined what Noertker calls an electric aircraft “arms race.” Several made a splash at the Paris Air Show a couple weeks back. 
I wonder though. Yesterday while I was in the garden a motorcycle roared down Reston Avenue.  I'd assume that doing an electric motorcycle would be very easy compared to an electric airplance.  However, my cynical take is that the roar of the cycle is 90 percent of the value of the vehicle.

So, a modest prediction: development and sales of electric airplanes will advance faster than electric motorcycles.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Will Autonomous Cars Save Parking Spaces in the City?

It's assumed the answer to my question is "yes"--some recent articles arguing for changing zoning requirements in the city to reduce the number of parking spaces required.

I'm not so sure.  As long as people commute from the suburbs to the city for their jobs, it seems to me parking is going to be a problem.  Yes, in some cases I can imagine a Reston commuter to DC getting a car at 7 for a 30 minute drive to DC, the car then returning to Reston to pick up another commuter at 8 for another 30 minute drive.  But then it's going to need to be parked until the evening.  So if the two individuals were each driving solo into the city and parking now, that would reduce the number of parking spots needed.  But that's a special pattern

Granted, you can imagine with autonomous cars and a drive sharing app, we could have much more flexible drive sharing so the number of people in the car rises from 1 to 2 or more on average.  And there likely will be realignment of jobs and homes based on the availability of autonomous cars.

My bottom line: the change requires people to change their habits, meaning it's going to take a while before the impact on parking spaces is felt. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A Circuitous Route to Farm Survival--Cather, Stephens, and Somerby

Among the books in our house when I was growing up were three or four by Willa Cather, including My Antonia..  I've read it several times, but unlike some people I know, my wife for one, I don't have a great memory for the contents of what I've read.

Bob Somerby has his blog, The Daily Howler, which I follow.  He's often repetitive and usually idiosyncratic, predictably criticizing journalism and liberal pieties, although from a liberal background.  (He was a roommate of Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones at Harvard who has never forgiven some journalists for their criticism of Gore.  Also taught school in Baltimore for years, leading to sharp criticism of educational panaceas and the misuse of statistics.)

Yesterday he wrote a piece picking up on a Brett Stephens op-ed in the Times, in which Stephens uses My Antonia to discuss immigration.  The book is based on Cather's childhood, spent in Nebraska among immigrant families, mostly Czech, with the central character the "Antonia" of the title. It's a rich picture of immigrant and farm life on the Nebraska plains which I recommend. I also recommend both the Stephens piece and the Somerby piece.

Somerby has a quote from the book, which reads in part:

"There was a curious social situation in Black Hawk [the local market town] All the young men felt the attraction of the fine, well-set-up country girls who had come to town to earn a living, and, in nearly every case, to help the father struggle out of debt, or to make it possible for the younger children of the family to go to school..

What I'd point out is it's the 1880's, not now, and farmers are being supported by off-farm income! Most people don't realize that most American farmers do rely on off-farm income today.   Usually, when that's discussed, it's treated as a revelation and an indicator of how bad the farm economy is. But maybe it's time to reconsider.  (BTW, back in the day most FSA clerks (program assistants) were the daughters and/or wives of farmers, or former farmers.)  I think what's going on is the same logic as my father used when he notoriously came home and told my mother she was going to have a flock of chickens (mom held that grudge until she died).  The logic--diversification reduces risk.  That's true whether you're talking investments in stocks and bonds, or agriculture. Hens and dairy have different economic cycles. But an even better diversification is a nice steady income in town, whether it's 1880 or 2019.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Boyd and the 109,000

EWG reports John Boyd's testimony before a House Committee on Financial Services:
"John Boyd is founder and president of the 109,000-member Black Farmers Association. Testifying before the House Committee on Financial Services, Boyd said the Trump tariffs are “a national crisis” for farmers – and that small minority farmers are hurting the most:
It seems as though many have turned a deaf ear to America’s small farmers and black farmers alike. . . . Anytime the government gets involved, when they say it’s going to be a speedy payment to farmers, it’s always last for African American farmers, it’s always last for Latino farmers, for small-scale farmers and for women farmers."
That's the National Black Farmers Association,, not Thomas Burrell's 20,000 member Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

Not sure about those membership counts.  Might be as inflated as the Farm Bureau's.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Trump and Bureaucracy

A tweet:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Refugees from the Past: 1956

Media reports that some in the Trump administration want to cut the number of refugees admitted next fiscal year to zero.

I was first conscious of the US and refugees in the 1956.  The Hungarians revolted against their Soviet-supported leader, an uprising eventually put down by Soviet tanks. The result was a surge of refugees coming to the "West" as we called it back then.  There was much sympathy for these fighters for freedom who had suffered, so the US was able to welcome some,including an airlift which evacuated some thousands.. 

This was a precursor to the welcome extended to Cuban refugees after Castro took over, and subsequent episodes where the refugees seemed to be pawns or victims of the Cold War. Of course, back in the 19th century America viewed itself as the refuge for revolutionaries, from the 1798 Irish uprising to the 1848 uprisings particularly in Germany. We were the beacon of freedom.

But the Cold War is over, the beacon seems to be flickering, and our open door for refugees is closing.

(Can't resist a personal note: one contribution of the Hungarian refugees was the soccer-style kicker in the NFL, with Pete Gogolak being the pioneer during the days I was in college.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Marching Season and Remembering the Past

Here's a report on Marching Day in Northern Ireland.

The Protestant Orange Order is able to muster a lot of people, including a 6-mile long parade, ostensibly to celebrate a battle 330+ years ago.  I write "ostensibly" because it's really an assertion of community identity, at least incidentally in opposition to their Catholic neighbors.

Compare that to the remembrance ceremonies of the white South, celebrating the Confederacy of 158 years ago.  I'm sure there are some scattered around, but they aren't significant enough to warrant much attention. Why the difference?

You suggest one is celebrating a victory, the other an ultimate defeat?

That might logically make a difference, but where are the big parades celebrating the Union victory?  The closest we can come is the Juneteenth observances of recent years. And, more importantly, there's no organization dedicated to the celebration, as well as agitating for the cause now.  We had one such organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, but the GAR ended with the last vet, in 1956.

So why do Americans forget the past more easily than those in Northern Ireland? 

I suspect part of the answer is immigration: we've added millions of people who've no live interest in the fight for the union or the abolition of slavery.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

How Do Small Farms Survive?

Here's the piece from which I stole the heading:
The answer: renting out a minihouse through Airbnb

Another piece in the media suggesting comfort animals, as in those with big brown eyes, aka "cows", is the answer.

The real answers, of course, are:

  1. off-farm income, as has been the case for decades.
  2. drawing down capital (i.e., the value of land and buildings)   (My mother used to fuss about farmers who would be better off selling out and investing the proceeds in bonds.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Farming: the Definition

I follow Cam Houle on twitter and was struck by his T-shirt in this tweet.

Turns out the t-shirt is available on Amazon.

It seems even in Canada with its supply management setup, dairying is a losing proposition.

Monday, July 15, 2019

President Carter and the Courts

Slate has an interesting piece on President Carter's approach to filling judicial vacancies: Some points:

  • he was able to persuade Sen. Eastland to support a judicial commission to pick appeals court judges.
  • the result was diversity:
When Carter took office, just eight women had ever been appointed to one of the 500 federal judgeships in the country. (For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to the district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court.) Carter appointed 40 women, including eight women of color. Similarly, before Carter, just 31 people of color had been confirmed to federal courts, often over Eastland’s strenuous disapproval. The peanut farmer from Plains appointed 57 minorities to the judiciary. (He also had more robes to fill: A 1978 bill expanded the federal judiciary by 33 percent, or 152 seats.)
Justices Breyer and Ginsburg were Carter nominees for appeals courts.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

FL Olmsted: Bureaucrat

Reading a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted: "Genius of Place"

He's known as the creator of NYC's Central Park, his first big project just before the Civil War,.   But judging by his career through 1863 when he resigned from the United States Sanitary Commission, which he had serrved as executive secretary through its creation to Gettysburg, his true calling was as a bureaucrat.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Amish Vacations

"Amish vacations" seems like an oxymoron; dairy farmers don't get vacations. 

But the Amish have been moving into other occupations, and they still have big families, meaning someone can be in line to do the day-to-day work even of dairy farms.

So it seems that the Amish do take vacations, as shown by this Kottke post., linking to some photos and older articles.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Farewell to Cokesbury

My sister was a devoted patron of the Cokesbury book store in Syracuse.  It closed in 2012 as part of the closure of its 57 physical stores, shifting to online only.

I suspect the closure reflects both the decline of mainline Protestantism and the impact of Amazon on bookstores. 

Slate has a long piece on the decline of the religious bookstore here, and John Fea links it to evangelical religion.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

On the Filibuster and Policy Flip-Flops

Just replied to an Ezra Klein tweet about ending the filibuster.

If the Democrats can win the presidency, and if they can win control of the Senate, they've not won too much, at least not when compared to the stack of policy proposals the candidates, especially Warren, are coming up with.  The fact that the Senate majority will likely be composed of Sens. Manchin, Rosen, Jones, Kelly (AZ), Gideion (ME) and whoever, all centrists whose seats aren't the most secure, means the most liberal proposals won't get considered in the Senate, regardless of the filibuster.

The filibuster means even somewhat bipartisan measures (say 51 Dems plus 7 Reps) won't pass.

Removing the filibuster means a Dem majority can change policy (if they can agree, which is a big "IF").  My reservations here can be seen in the Mexico City policy on abortion--see my discussion below.

Two considerations might make me change my mind:

  1. suppose ACA is deemed unconstitutional by the Supremes next fall.  Obviously the Dems will want to pass some new healthcare legislation, but what can be passed that will not also be invalidated by the Supremes? I'd like to see some discussion of this.  Is it possible to change ACA enough to get past the 5 conservatives on the Court?  If so, we might need to kill the filibuster to get it done.  Pass it, and hope 8 years of a Dem administration gets it solidly entrenched enough to withstand Rep control of Congress and the Presidentcy.
  2. the other issue is the Congressional Review Act, which has been used extensively by the Reps to kill Obama's regulations.  The Act includes this provision:
(2)rule that does not take effect (or does not continue) under paragraph (1) may not be reissued in substantially the same form, and a new rule that is substantially the same as such a rule may not be issued, unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of the joint resolution disapproving the original rule.
That provision hasn't been tested in the courts, but what it could mean is there's no way for a victorious Dem party to reinstate Obama's regulations.  That's my interpretation, though one should never underestimate the ingenuity of lawyers.  If that's its meaning then we may need to kill the filibuster to permit bare majorities to pass the new laws needed to reauthorize the regulations.

 As Wikipedia describes:
First implemented in 1984 by the Reagan Administration, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has enforced the policy during all subsequent Republican Administrations, and rescinded the policy at the direction of all Democratic Administrations.[3] After its initial enactment by President Reagan in 1984,[4] it was rescinded by Democratic President Bill Clinton in January 1993,[5] then re-instituted in January 2001 as Republican President George W. Bush took office,[6] rescinded in January 2009, as Democratic President Barack Obama took office[7][8] and reinstated in January 2017, as Republican President Donald Trump took office.

That's no way to run a railroad, much less a country, if applied to all major policies.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Big Sort and Actblue

Gave money to Ms. McGrath via Actblue yesterday in the vain hope she'll be able to beat Sen. McConnell.

Something this morning ( likely reading about the Republicans struggle to come up with their own version of Actblue) triggered this thought: over time our politics have become more partisan, our parties more unified, our legislative bodies more cleanly divided; has Actblue been a cause?

Back in my childhood parties were local--you had Tammany Hall dominating NYC politics, various state houses and state bosses controlling how state delegations voted in the national conventions.  National lobbies were groups like Farm Bureau and the Grange, National Association of Manufacturers and Chamber of Commerce, AFL and CIO,  American Bar Association and American Medical Association.  Dollars for national ads weren't important (Ike did the first TV ad in 1952 I believe.

Anyhow, these days individuals can easily give to campaigns across the country, and candidates can fly to New York or LA to raise money from the rich based on their policy positions, not their ability or commitment to do their best for their constituency (a la Sen. Robert Byrd).

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

My Political Thinking on 2020

A couple of Never Trumpers-Megan McArdle and Jennifer someone (forgot her last name) have argued on twitter that Democrats expect too much of them. If I understand they feel Dems want them to vote for any Democrat we nominate, in spite of a leftish platform which violates all conservative principles.

I tweeted replies a couple times to McArdle.but let me be more considered:

  • if you're a Never Trumper, then logically you need to NOT vote for Trump.  Vote libertarian or don't vote, but don't vote for Trump. Yes, that means you're saying Trump's personal and presidential deficiencies, the damage he's doing to our institutions and our world standing, outweigh policy considerations, especially the chance to add two more conservative justices to the Supremes.  If that's your judgment, okay.
  • Consider this, however. Suppose Warren is the candidate and you like only one of her 1,000 plans. If she's elected with your vote, the odds are that she is at best governing with the support of a Democratic House, where the "majority makers" of 2018 are still worrying about their jobs in 2022, and a nominally Democratic Senate, where the balance of power is held by Joe McManchin, Kristen Sinema, Jackie Rosen, Doug Jones, and the winning candidates in ME, CO, AZ, and ?.  In other words, in neither House will there be majority support for the Warren plans which most deeply offend conservative sensibilities.   
In light of the above, my suggestion for Never Trumpers is to vote strategically--if it's close for the presidency, vote for the Dem, knowing we're likely to have split government for the next four years. If it looks good for the Dem, vote libertarian.  If it looks good for Trump, pray.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Aging, Savings and "Crashed"

Reading "Crashed" raises questions about interest rates and the amount of capital in the world.

I'm sure it's been observed before, but the world is getting older.  Japan and the US are examples, but China's another one.  I'll be foolish and apply my own experience to the rest of the world.  The older I get the more I save, partly because it's more important to have security for the future and partly because my desires are less.  Or in other words, I'm more set in my ways.

Extrapolate that pattern world wide and maybe we have more savings, more capital than investment opportunities and thus lower interest rates. 

Saturday, July 06, 2019

The Problem of Gig Workers, Farm Workers

Strikes me that the infamous "gig workers" and farm workers share some problems, though their situations are different. (Before I proceed, apparently there's at least confusion or  doubt over how significant the sign economy is.)

As I understand gig workers, they may be working for larger companies, like Uber or Lyft, or for smaller ones.  Farm workers, except in the case of the large fruit and vegetable outfits, are usually working for smaller employers.

In both cases, the worker is unlikely to get fringe benefits--health and disability insurance, minimum wage protection, etc.  The problem for farmers is the paperwork burden.  The problem for the workers is the power situation--almost impossible to organize.

I wonder if a state-mandated broker setup might work. 

Friday, July 05, 2019

On Reading Adam Tooze's "Crashed"

I'm currently reading Adam Tooze's "Crashed, How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World". The Amazon blurb is:"An intelligent explanation of the mechanisms that produced the crisis and the response to it...One of the great strengths of Tooze's book is to demonstrate the deeply intertwined nature of the European and American financial systems."--The New York Times Book Review."

That's the aspect of the book I'd highlight--I've read Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner's books on the crisis, but they give a US -centric view of the Great Recession and its aftermath.  So Tooze provides a more complete picture. 

He's not a great stylist, and I was disappointed by the Introduction, but he does the narrative well, and the book grows on you.  Some of the discussions are over my head.  Lots of the financial details go by too fast for me to deeply understand, but I get enough out of it.  Tooze is critical of decisions made by many of the leaders,  but I think fairly so. I recommend it.

But all that's not why I'm moved to post about it.

Tooze reminds me of the turmoil and tension of those days, the uncertainty over how things would turn out.  And that brings me back to today, and our current President.

Bottom line: we should thank our stars and stripes that Obama was president then and not Trump.  It's impossible to imagine the damage he would have done.

On the other hand, the existence of the crisis and perhaps the mistakes made in handling it and the aftermath might well have been a necessary condition for Trump's victory in 2016.  A question to consider in the future.

Boundaries Are Important, as Are Perspectives

From the Foothill Agrarian blog:

"From a predation perspective, our lambing season comes at a time when the coyotes and mountain lions don’t have many dietary options. From a dog’s perspective, lambing season offers all sorts of gastronomic and maternal delights. Our dogs love to clean up afterbirth! We’ve had young female dogs that decided they should care for newborn lambs - their maternal instincts drive them to steal lambs from the ewes. Both predilections can create problems. Ideally, we need a dog that is attentive but respectful of lambing ewes. We need a dog that gives a ewe her space while lambing, but that keeps the predators at bay."

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Super Delegates and 2020

Seems as if the Democrats change their rules for nominating much more often than the Republicans.

Back in the 50's the nomination was a combination of primaries and favorite sons and smoke-filled rooms.  The 1968 convention with the Mississippi controversy over seating the black Democratic delegation resulted in changing to dominance by primaries.  Then in the early 80's the pendulum swung back by creating the super-delegates to provide more "adult" guidance to the party.  Now, after 2016, the pendulum has swung again towards primaries.

It's interesting to me, as a supporter of Amy Klobuchar, to note she does a lot better in accumulating endorsements from party figures than she has done in polling.  That leads me to speculate that the switch away from super delegates may wind up depriving her of the nomination.

How Some on the Right Befoul Our History

The Post had a collection of short pieces (2-3 paragraphs) today from different writers entitled Nine Things to Celebrate This Fourth of July.

Hugh Hewitt arouses my ire by excerpting and linking to an old essay on the "Price They Paid", recounting the sacrifices made by the signers of the Declaration.  I'm mad because it's been debunked  (in 2005) by  Some of the facts are correct, but the interpretation is off.  The signers didn't suffer because they signed the Declaration as the essay claims; they suffered because the Revolution was a time of danger and hardship.

The essay represents to me the sort of right wing mythologizing which undermines patriotism and the value of history.  It's popular because anyone who reads it says OMG and feels awestruck.  But it's not true. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Democrat Predictions

I see Nate Silver predicting Biden, Warren and Harris as equally likely to win the nomination, with Sanders behind them.  Jonathan Berrnstein doesn't think Sanders is that likely.

As of today I'd take the field against those four, but I'd be willing to lose my money.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Stretching History

From a Dylan Mathews interview with Edgar Villaneuva on his book on the dominance of whites in philanthropy:
"Many families and many institutions that have amassed wealth have done so on the backs of people of color and indigenous people. One example I often share is my first job in philanthropy was in North Carolina, and it was all tobacco money. My office was on a plantation.
The R.J. Reynolds family had amassed all this wealth through the tobacco industry. Clearly, slave labor was a major part of that and helped to build this family’s fortune.  [Emphasis added.] There are multiple Reynolds foundations that now exist. I think that [money] should be given in a way that sort of centers and prioritizes giving in communities of color that helped amass that wealth.
The only problem with the statement is this: R.J. Reynolds was, according to wikipedia, born in 1850 and formed his company in 1875. 

It's sloppy work and tends to cast doubt on the book.

Soybeans and the Trade War

From an ERS report on the soybean trade among Brazil, China, and the US.