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.