Saturday, February 26, 2011

USS Green Bay

From Balloon Juice:

The USS Green Bay deploys on her maiden voyage

A Good Farm Story

This is the bad part, the rest is more uplifting:
By now it was obvious this wasn't going to be easy. Apparently the lamb was coming backwards. I tied on some baler twine and pulled. Nothing-zip-nada! Finally I made some progress. I got two legs out, still couldn't feel a head.
I needed help. It was pretty obvious by now this was becoming a retrieval operation for the lamb, but I wanted to save the ewe. I was sure it wasn't good when skin started peeling off the lamb's leg.
I looked at my cell phone—2 a.m. Who do you call at 2 a.m? My vet is an hour away, my pig partner is 7 miles away, but his idea of a good sheep is a dead sheep, and I was too close to that already.
Ah! Two miles from me is one of the premier Hampshire breeders in the country—no fooling! Stan Poe and his son Stan Jr. I had called Stan for advice before but not at 2 a.m. So I dialed the phone. No one answered. No surprise there it was 2 a.m. Then my phone rang—he dialed back!
"Stan are you awake?" I asked
"I am now" he said. I'm not too smart at 2 a.m.
Then I told him I had an emergency. Within 15 minutes, he pulled up to my barn door. The two of us worked side by side, and finally got a lamb out. It was huge and dead. "Man, that's a big single for a Southdown," he said.
Somehow I didn't think this was over. He felt inside and found another lamb, with its head twisted back. Apparently it was the one I tried to pull first. Next thing I knew, I had 40 pounds of dead lambs in a sack!

Another Bock

Today I tried Point Brewery's Einbock.  Not bad, but it didn't knock my socks off.  I like Point beers because they come from a tiny brewery in Wisconsin, and the label reads POINT . WELL MADE

Health Care Costs

From Ezra Klein:
The 11 things you'll learn about economics if you read 20 of the profession's most influential papers. Here's my favorite:
9. The average bill for surgery in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1953 was $99.

The Reds are on the Radio

Tomorrow at 3:05 versus the Indians.  Spring is here.

The Stupid Party

Daniel Larison on Mitch Daniels' problems with the GOP base:
Put more bluntly, the latest round of hysteria over Daniels’ alleged failings is even more baseless than the last. Hardly any of the people excoriating Daniels as unfit today gave a second thought to public-sector unions six years ago when he was first addressing the issue. The right’s new cause celebre is old news to Daniels, and because he made a decision about legislative priorities that showed him to be insufficiently zealous in his desire to weaken private-sector unions he has supposedly failed a critical test of leadership. If anyone wanted a demonstration of why Daniels shouldn’t waste his time seeking the nomination of the Stupid Party, here it is.
I'm glad somebody else feels the same way I do about the "Real Americans" making up the Republican Party.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Corporate Profits Soaring Thanks to Record Unemployment at The Economic Populist.  From the story:
In a January 2009 ABC interview with George Stephanopoulos, then President-elect Barack Obama said fixing the economy required shared sacrifice, "Everybody’s going to have to give. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin in the game." (1)
For the past two years, American workers submitted to the President’s appeal—taking steep pay cuts despite hectic productivity growth. By contrast, corporate executives have extracted record profits by sabotaging the recovery on every front—eliminating employees, repressing wages, withholding investment, and shirking federal taxes.
The global recession increased unemployment in every country, but the American experience is unparalleled. According to a July OECD report, the U.S. accounted for half of all job losses among the 31 richest countries from 2007 to mid-2010. (2) The rise of U.S. unemployment greatly exceeded the fall in economic output. Aside from Canada, U.S. GDP actually declined less than any other rich country, from mid-2008 to mid 2010. (3)
Washington’s embrace of labor market flexibility ensured companies encountered little resistance when they launched their brutal recovery plans. Leading into the recession, the US had the weakest worker protections against individual and collective dismissals in the world, according to a 2008 OECD study. (4) Blackrock’s Robert Doll explains, “When the markets faltered in 2008 and revenue growth stalled, U.S. companies moved decisively to cut costs—unlike their European and Japanese counterparts.” (5) The U.S. now has the highest unemployment rate among the ten major developed countries. (6).

Study: Supply and Demand Drive Commodities

From the G-20 interim report:
“It’s very hard to distinguish between financial and structural factors behind the price increases, but it looks like demand and supply are playing the predominant role,” Pier Carlo Padoan, chief economist and deputy-secretary general at the OECD, said in an interview.
A drought and fire in Russia last summer, coupled with export restrictions imposed by the government there, helped bring about soaring wheat prices. Meanwhile, bad harvests in the U.S., Europe, Australia and Argentina have contributed to soaring agricultural commodity prices on international markets.
There have been few investments in agriculture over the past few years and productivity has been stagnant, the OECD report is expected to highlight. At the same time, demand for food has been growing in China and India, the world’s two most populous countries, as their economies continue to grow at a rapid pace.
A similar supply and demand argument can be made for oil prices, Padoan said. Oil prices have recently surged above $100 a barrel amid concerns that the recent turmoil in the oil-rich North African and Middle Eastern countries could hit production. The price of Brent oil, considered the best benchmark, is close to $110 a barrel, 15% higher than at the start of the year.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Today on NPR

NPR's All Things Considered is featuring a story this evening about the boom times for grain farmers right now.  I'll add a link after the story is posted on the web site.
Update: here's the link.  From the story:
During recent years in America's Corn Belt, the average price for a bushel of corn has doubled to $6. The price leap has been similar for soybeans and wheat. Economist Ernie Goss of Creighton University in Omaha told NPR's Robert Siegel, "If states were stocks, I'd be selling California and buying Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Kansas."
Although you can't buy shares of the fertile plains of central Nebraska, you can buy farmland — with a whopping price tag. Kelly Holthus, president of Cornerstone Bank in York, Neb., says that with the high price of corn, farmland is selling between double and triple the prices from about a decade ago.
Tough economic times have not typically been so kind to farmers. The aftermaths of the Great Depression and the 1980s recession were devastating for agriculture. But today's farmers seem to be coming away unscathed from the Great Recession that began in 2008.
"What recession?" Holthus says with a laugh.
It also indicated farmers aren't going far into debt during this boom, which may lessen the pain when it comes to an end.

Joe Klein on Wisconsin

As goes Wisconsin...So Goes the Nation, at Time.  He drops this pearl into the story early:
It is good to remember that, in the end, the prairie fire over the rights of public employees is about people like Randall Wentz — and many who are less fortunate than he is: the school-bus drivers, home health care workers and cafeteria workers who, even with union protection, barely make enough to keep their families afloat. It is also good to remember that America's most prosperous time — the period from the 1950s to the '70s — was also when its trade-union movement and its middle class were strongest. That was not a coincidence: the rights and wages won by workers in the industrial turmoil of the 1930s created a consumer class eager to buy every product, from homes to hula hoops, American capitalism could produce.
He spends much of the rest of the article explaining ways in which the public sector unions have abused their power, but closes with this:
"You're arguing this from a good-government standpoint," says Scott Gletty-Syoen, one of the union members who is meeting with me at the Madison tavern. "But do you really think that's what Scott Walker wants? Do you really think that's where we're headed in Wisconsin?"
Fair point. And no, I don't. I think Scott Walker is a reflexive conservative who would probably be trying to bust his public employees' unions even if there were a budget surplus. His views are, in part, a reflection of the antitax fetishism that has become something of a mania in the U.S. If you want first-class public services — especially those, like education, that require real skills — you have to pay for them. (The idea, floated recently by Michigan's governor, that Detroit's schools can function with 60 students in a classroom seems a recipe for continued social disaster in that benighted city.) The existing arrangements between government and its employees clearly need a profound overhaul, but the idea that America can return to the mythic stability and prosperity of 40 years ago without a well-paid middle class, including public employees, seems a very dangerous experiment to undertake.
I have some more wide-ranging opinions on the future of the U.S. and the middle class, which I haven't been able to articulate while this debate has been going on.  I'll try to put them down in words soon, although it will be pretty pessimistic.

A Little Ag Learning

Yesterday, I attended the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference at Ada, Ohio.  I was going to go back today, except I ended up searching around for my calf.  The first speaker was Elwynn Taylor, professor of Ag Meteorology from Iowa State University (no, not The Iowa State University, they aren't that asinine in Iowa).  He first gave a little review of climate change and the potential threat from La Nina, then gave a little more in-depth presentation in a smaller session.  Amongst the items of interest, he showed a chart of precipitation for Iowa from I believe the 1880's until the 1960's, showing average precipitation of 31.5".  From the 1960's until the present, the average precipitation increased approximately 10%, to 34.5".  With this increase in rainfall, he estimated that what had been considered a 100-year rainfall has increased in likelihood to a 17 year return period.  That would seem to have some significant impact on my previous occupation of civil engineer. 

Also, he highlighted the wicked weather in Australia this year, which he attributed to the strongest La Nina in

Mitch Daniels and drug law

I have been scanning the news for mention of Mitch Daniels, since I consider him the best candidate I have seen thus far for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012.  I came across this post about his drug arrest at Princeton in 1970, and a 1989 Washington Post op-ed in which he favors strengthening drug laws.  Paul Waldman's take on the two:
Try not to get distracted by the despicable assertion that anyone who holds a position different from Daniels' "should be disqualified from further participation in the drug debate." See how Daniels describes his possession of an amount of marijuana that under current law would almost certainly qualify as "intent to distribute," not to mention LSD, as nothing more than "after one party too many." He certainly doesn't mention the two shoeboxes full of pot -- he'd obviously rather let you think the cops found him passed out with a roach in his pocket.
The comically mild penalty he received -- a $350 fine, no jail time, no probation -- was a salutary wake-up call that allowed him to go on to a productive career. And he presents this as evidence in favor of laws that would absolutely destroy the career of anybody caught in 1989 (or today) doing what Daniels was caught doing. A couple of hundred thousand students have lost their financial aid, in many cases meaning they had to drop out of college, because of a conviction for possession or sale of drugs. If Daniels were in college today, and thus had actually served time as a convicted drug dealer, not only would he have no political future, he wouldn't have much of a future at all.
But his logic seems be this: When the police found me with a huge amount of drugs, I was given a slap on the wrist, and I then went on to a productive life. Which shows that kids today who did what I did ought to have to leave school and get chucked in jail with murderers and rapists. Perhaps Daniels has changed his position on this issue since 1989 -- lots of other people have. But it's worth asking, particularly since he's probably going to run for president, if not next year then in 2016.
I think this is a good point.  Most of today's politicians have recreationally used drugs.  Bill Clinton used the "I didn't inhale" line.  Bush never addressed charges that he was a regular cocaine user in the 1980's.  Obama admitted using cocaine.  Now I come to find out one of the biggest dorks in politics got busted for having two shoe boxes worth of marijuana in college.  As the post says, the Washington Post op-ed is behind the paywall, so I can't read the whole thing, but it does seem odd that some one who got off pretty easily, and still thought it would keep him out of public office, would come out in support of tougher drug laws.  Clearly other people making the same mistake would end up suffering greater punishments because of the 1989 laws.  I think politicians need to take a look at the failed "War on Drugs" and re-evaluate the crimes and punishments, especially since most have broken these same laws.

Richard Lugar faces challenge

Larison covers the challenge from Indiana's State Treasurer, Richard Mourdock:
There is some merit to the charge that Lugar has moved left in recent years. Lugar’s lifetime ACU rating is 77, which isn’t terrible, but it’s a lot lower than one would expect from a Republican member of Congress in Indiana. By comparison, the ousted Utah incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett had a lifetime rating of 83. Even after we take into account that the ACU scored Lugar’s support for New START as a negative, his rating for the last two years has been below that lifetime rating.
One thing I would recommend to Mourdock is that he stop trying to pretend that he understands arms control better than Lugar. He doesn’t. It has never made sense to me why so many Republicans want to make opposition to this treaty into a litmus test, but it makes absolutely no sense to try to make Lugar’s support for the treaty into a significant issue in the primary. This is one of Lugar’s specialties, and it’s something that he takes very seriously. Lugar will be able to bat down Mourdock’s rehashed distortions without even trying, and by trying to demagogue on arms control Mourdock will simply expose himself to ridicule. Mourdock will only weaken his case for nomination if he tries to go up against Lugar on one of his strengths.
I don't understand the Republican opposition to the new START treaty.  I also don't understand the Republican test for ideological purity in all votes.  I agree with Daniel that it is healthy for somebody to challenge a politician who has been in Congress for 35 years, but I would like to see the GOP stop the swing to the right.  We need some grown-ups in our government, not a bunch of ideologues.  I've respected Richard Lugar over the years, much like I thought of George Voinovich.  I think the Republicans need more politicians like them, not less.  Unfortunately, the GOP base and I see things much differently, that's why I left the party.

Wasting Money


An interesting chart from Aaron Carroll with the following description (h/t the Dish):
Notice two things, however.  The first is that Norway and Luxembourg (the two countries farthest to the right), fall below the line.  This is because – presumably – at some point you can spend more money, but what’s the point? The drugs won’t work better, the advice is still the same, and the doctors can’t do any more.  At some point, spending more is just waste, because the outcomes don’t get any better.
The second thing to notice is the US.  You can’t miss it. It’s the big red dot that’s way at the top. We’ve chosen to ignore what I just said.
At some point, we are going to have to have a grown-up discussion about this without people screaming "socialism" and "death panel" like a bunch of freaks.

Dusty looks to get the monkey off his back

SI has a nice article on Dusty Baker (h/t Redleg Nation):
Baker, along with Hall of Famer Al Lopez, is in the argument for the most successful manager in baseball history never to have won the World Series, at least since they started playing the Fall Classic back in 1903.
"Hey, my time is coming," he said. " I always believe that -- and more than one."
With six more wins, giving him 1,411 victories, Baker will pass Jimmy Dykes and Lopez into second place for the most career wins by a manager in the World Series era without ever winning the World Series. The only manager who won more games without a ring is the all-time Captain Ahab of managers, Gene Mauch.
Is Baker the new Gene Mauch? Mauch won 1,902 games without a title. But Mauch also lost more games than he won and infamously presided over blown pennant races or postseason series in 1964, 1982, 1985 and 1986. Baker has a career winning percentage of .512 -- separating himself from Mauch.
I've been a critic of Dusty's handling of pitchers over the years, but his work last year impressed me immensely.  Go on Dusty, get out there, get us at least 90 wins, another division championship, then the pennant and world series ring.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's links- I have to highlight two.  First, on the ag side, Pathogen in Roundup Ready Soy and Corn Could Lead to Calmity, Scientist Warns, at Mother Earth News.  I don't put much stock in the opposition to GMO crops, but I think this should be monitored to see what there is to it.  From the story:
A new self-replicating, micro-fungal virus-size organism could be causing spontaneous abortions in livestock, sudden death syndrome in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy and wilt in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn, a plant pathologist has warned U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Randy Ananda reports today in that Dr. Don M. Huber, who coordinates the Emergent Diseases and Pathogens committee of the American Phytopathological Society, has found that “the pathogen threatens the U.S. food and feed supply and can lead to the collapse of the U.S. corn and soy export markets.” The USDA’s recent move to deregulate GE alfalfa “could be a calamity,” he stated.
"My letter to Secretary Vilsack was a request to allocate necessary resources to understand potential nutrient-disease interactions before making (in my opinion) an essentially irreversible decision on deregulation of RR alfalfa," Huber told Food Freedom in an email.
Also, Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators, at Rolling Stone.  Reminds me of  George Romney saying he was brainwashed by the Army brass in Vietnam.  From the article:
The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.
The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as "information operations" at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.
There are also several excellent links dealing with the attacks on the public sector unions, privatization and other issues involving the U.S. budget and economy.  As I've mentioned before, I think the Naked Capitalism links each day are among the best reads on the internet.

More Bad News with the Cows

Yesterday, my only calf for the spring was born, a nice bull calf.  I went to check on him this morning and couldn't find him.  Eventually, I found him drowned in the manure pit.  Today is not going too well so far.

The Wisconsin Circus

General assembly "votes":
Democrats launched a filibuster, throwing out dozens of amendments and delivering rambling speeches. Each time Republicans tried to speed up the proceedings, Democrats rose from their seats and wailed that the GOP was stifling them.
Debate had gone on for 60 hours and 15 Democrats were still waiting to speak when the vote started around 1 a.m. Friday. Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, R-Waukesha, opened the roll and closed it within seconds.
Democrats looked around, bewildered. Only 13 of the 38 Democratic members managed to vote in time.
Republicans immediately marched out of the chamber in single file. The Democrats rushed at them, pumping their fists and shouting "Shame!" and "Cowards!"
The Republicans walked past them without responding.
Democrats left the chamber stunned. The protesters greeted them with a thundering chant of "Thank you!" Some Democrats teared up. Others hugged.
"What a terrible, terrible day for Wisconsin," said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. "I am incensed. I am shocked."
GOP leaders in the Assembly refused to speak with reporters, but earlier Friday morning Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, warned Democrats that they had been given 59 hours to be heard and Republicans were ready to vote.
Again, why the need to strip the workers of collective bargaining in the budget bill when they agree to the cuts proposed in the bill?  Couldn't you wait to address the union issues in the next session?  I guess cowardice cuts both ways, huh?  The Citizens United case was a pretty big deal.  To paraphrase Kent Brockman, I, for one, welcome our new corporate overlords.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Strange facts about taxes

From Catherine Rampell:
The table below shows the total income and payroll tax liability of a typical resident of the Helmsley building, alongside the same tax liabilities of janitors and security guards earning the average wages for the jobs in the New York area.
DESCRIPTIONMartin A. Sullivan
As you can see, the average effective income and payroll tax rate for individuals filing from the Helmsley Building was 14.7 percent of their adjusted gross income. By contrast, the income tax rates for the typical New York janitor and security guard were 24.9 percent and 23.8 percent, respectively.
I guess this might explain some of the anger from the middle class about taxes.  Most people don't see the Employer portion of the payroll tax, but the point is the payroll tax is regressive and is actually targeted at Social Security and Medicare, where people are now looking to cut to balance the budget.  Needless to say, a person in the building could be receiving $5,000,000 in dividend income, and it would only be taxed at 15%, whereas, a person making $300,000 in salary would be paying at a 35% marginal rate on the top portion of that income.  Makes a lot of sense to me.

Tell us what you really think

The midwestern fight over unions in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana has made a lot of people say some dumb things, but this idiot takes the cake:
An Indiana deputy attorney general lost his job Wednesday after commenting online that authorities should use "live ammunition" to run off the throngs of protesters railing over union collective bargaining rights two states away in Wisconsin. The former state prosecutor, Jeffrey Cox, attached the comment "Use Live Ammunition" in response to a Feb. 19 Twitter posting by a writer for Mother Jones magazine. The writer, Adam Weinstein, wrote that riot police officers had been ordered to clear protesters from the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison.
The rumored 2 a.m. Sunday expulsion of protesters in Madison never happened.
Mother Jones on Wednesday published an article about Cox's Twitter posting and other inflammatory remarks the former state prosecutor had made online. By the end of the day, Cox had been fired from his job.
You know, that Twitter is a public forum, and you can be tracked.  Then when they find you, you might want to back away from your original statement.  Oh well, I'm sure the state is better off.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Goldman sees danger in US budget cuts, at the Financial Times:
The Republican plan to slash government spending by $61bn in 2011 could reduce US economic growth by 1.5 to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of the year, a Goldman Sachs economist has warned.
The note from Alec Phillips, a forecaster based in Washington, was seized in the ongoing US budget fight by Democrats as validating their argument that the legislation approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives last Saturday would do significant damage to the US recovery.
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, said: “This nonpartisan study proves that the House Republicans’ proposal is a recipe for a double-dip recession. Just as the economy is beginning to pick up a little steam, the Republican budget would snuff out any chance of recovery. This analysis puts a dagger through the heart of their ‘cut-and-grow’ fantasy”.
And who, pray tell, would benefit from a struggling economy going into the 2012 elections? 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The public will and Republican ideology

I get the feeling that Republicans in Wisconsin and Ohio may be overreaching in trying to destroy public sector unions.  But I have the sneaking suspicion that if this doesn't severely damage the Republicans, it won't take them long to find something new to push to shoot themselves in the foot.  Unfortunately, I don't think we can afford them the time to inflict enough pain on the public to get them kicked out of office.  Hopefully, people will remember why the Republicans were losing elections pretty badly in 2006 and 2008.  I am amazed that Republicans were able to win so many seats in 2010, but they seem to have forgotten that they didn't win by large margins, even though Democrats failed to turn out to vote. Kasich won 49% to 47%, while Walker won with a more sizable 52% to 46% margin.  In Ohio, voter turnout in the urban counties was down significantly. Maybe they will learn soon enough.

Damn Cows

More broken fence to fix.

Pricing weakness in Commodities?

A story from Barron's:
In recent weeks, prices for several commodities from soybeans to sugar have stalled. Cotton scored a massive bearish technical reversal last week. And in the stock market, fertilizer and copper stocks have been acting poorly.
Fertilizer stock CF Industries Holdings (NYSE: CF - News)was a market leader for much of the past eight months, but last week started to act rather poorly (see Chart 1). While the broad market edged higher it started to move lower with a particularly bearish performance February 18.

Reagan and Taxes

Bruce Bartlett has a great post reviewing the tax increase history for Ronald Reagan, including in California as governor:
 But it’s clear that getting control of the deficit in the 1980s required both spending cuts and higher revenues.
In the end, Reagan’s tax legacy fits neither the right-wing nor left-wing pigeonholes. Although he cut taxes when he could, he raised them when he had to. That’s something self-styled Reaganites today should remember. (emphasis mine)
This comes from somebody in Reagan's economic inner circle.  Today's Republicans are either too dumb, too greedy or too bought-off to realize this.  Anyone in favor of indefinitely extending the Bush tax cuts should be voted out of office for malpractice.  Obama should be ashamed for extending them for two years (especially on dividends and capital gains).  It is impossible to underestimate the intelligence of the electorate, and Republicans never have.  Unfortunately, some of the least intelligent members of said electorate are now members of Congress (see Bachmann, Michele).

More from the Links

This also comes from the links at Naked Capitalism, but these Republicans are damn stupid assholes:
I got a sense from Sen. Chris Larson and some others in Wisconsin that the Governor and his Republican allies had run amok in the Capitol before attention was paid to their machinations due to the assault on public workers. But I didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw this come across the transom:
Madison – Today, Governor Scott Walker signed Special Session Assembly Bill 5 which requires a 2/3s vote to pass tax rate increases on the income, sales or franchise taxes.
“I went to work today, met with my cabinet, and signed legislation that will help government operate within its means,” Governor Scott Walker said. “Wisconsinites can’t turn to raising taxes to balance their own family budgets when times get tough. This bill will ensure that we don’t kick the can down the road for a quick budget fix only to slap a long-term tax hike on the backs of Wisconsin taxpayers. I thank Senator Leah Vukmir and Representative Tyler August for their leadership on this issue.”
That’s hilarious framing on that one, that the bill makes sure that long-term solutions aren’t ushered in under the guise of a short-term budget fix. Wherever have I heard that one before? This permanent restriction on revenues was put through in a special session on the budget, not the regular legislative cycle.
Being from California, I’m pretty clear what the implications of a Prop 13-style supermajority requirement for taxes will do. It will basically destroy government as they know it in Wisconsin, ratcheting down the ability for the state to collect the revenue needed to provide a basic level of services. If you liked the efficient, responsive government we’ve seen over the last three decades in California, you’re going to love it in Wisconsin.
They cut taxes, then try to make it almost impossible to raise them back up. Recessions gut the revenues (even without stupid tax cuts) and tax increases can't be used to make up the difference.  If tax increases require a supermajority, then tax cuts should too, it only makes sense. 

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Public Employee Unions Failing Badly at Public Relations, by Rick Ungar.  From the post:
In fact, state and local employee unions around the country have been extremely responsive to the economic realities of their state. In many states and localities, these employees have stepped up by forgoing pension and benefit opportunities that were gained through years of trading larger salaries for a better pension and benefits program. They have accepted the ever increasing number of furlough days that have hit their families hard in the pocketbook.
While the public at large may not know it, the members of the public employee unions have been suffering through these hard times right along with workers in the private sector.
The question is why doesn’t the public know it?
While it is being widely reported that public employee unions contributed some $200 million to democratic party campaign coffers in 2010, where are the pieces telling the stories about how much money unions have contributed to worthy and important charities? I know that America’s unions do make sizeable charitable contributions to their respective communities, but try a Google search to locate some specific instances and you’ll find it a very difficult task.
We are in an era where the nation’s unions have formidable enemies who are spending huge sums to bring the modern union movement to an end. These entities have already been remarkably successful in diminishing the power of unions in the private sector and now they seek to finish off the movement in the public sector – the only area where the unions have experienced growth in the last thirty years.
Why are middle class public sector workers the scapegoats for the folks at the top of the economic food chain who are most at fault for the Great Recession?  Not only were those guys running the Wall Street banks who issued so many terrible loans, they were also running the corporations who have decimated the private sector middle class by offshoring jobs.  They are also the greatest beneficiaries of the tax cuts at both the state and federal level, which have made the deficits much worse.  We shouldn't let them finish off the unions, which are one of the few checks on their power.  Unfortunately, the folks with the money have done a damn good job of convincing folks that your neighbor who works at the school is your worst enemy, because he hasn't lost benefits which were a staple of the middle class 30 years ago.  Things are going to get worse before they get better.

More on Infrastructure Sales

Yves Smith again:
Yesterday, we discussed a mundane reason to be leery of the sale of assets owned by the public to private parties: the outcome, almost without exception, is a ripoff. Even if the owners manage to orchestrate the bidding well enough to assure that the entity fetches a decent price, the cost of doing the deal and the investors’ return requirements assure that charges to the public will rise faster than if the property was left in government hands (and this does not preclude the owner scrimping on maintenance and service levels). Macquarie Bank has been the world leader in this business, and reader Crocodile Chuck gave some useful examples:
Ah, the Macquarie model! Clipping the ticket, at each step, and all the way through the route map from public good to ‘privatised entity’.
The Sydney Airport (a Macquarie Airports asset), boasts the second highest parking rates on Earth (not inherited with the operation; they levied this themselves). About $100 for eight hours (I’ve never used it, since it was sold down the river)
Highest: Budapest Ferihegy in Hungary. Owner: Macquarie Airports.
I happen to have flown out of Budapest last summer. The lavish fees most assuredly have not been reinvested in the physical plant; the airport looks dated and worn.
$100 to park?  At least Mitch Daniels is smart enough to force the new owners of the toll road to do a bunch of work on them and to only double the tolls while he is in office.  We'll see what happens afterward.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Greatest threat to football

SI's Peter King on Dave Duerson (h/t wdg):
My year in review is coming. But first a few words on Dave Duerson. The former Bears' All-Pro starting safety shot himself in the chest Thursday after texting family members to be sure, after death, that his brain was harvested and analyzed for the kind of degenerative brain condition that has been found to be increasingly common in some former football players....
Duerson, 50, was a four-year starter at Notre Dame, graduated on time with a degree in economics, won the NFL Man of the Year award in 1987, earned a seat on the Notre Dame Board of Trustees in 2001, worked with the NFL Players Association, and then saw much of his personal and professional success waste away in the past five years. Most of his football friends, in interviews over the past few days, said they were shocked by the dramatic turn of events in Duerson's life that resulted in his decline and suicide.
"Mr. Duerson's decision to donate his brain for research will help a lot of people,'' Nowinski said. "It's an admirable decision to make at a time in his life that I can't imagine the hardship he was going through.''
This is much the same problem boxing suffers from, but with so many more people playing football, it will affect many more people.

What was wrong with the Bush Administration?

This.  At least for starters.

The US trails again

This time in drinking.  The economist reports on a World Health Organization study. (h/t the Dish)
I'm doing my part to make the US #1, what about you? Come on, we're trailing Argentina.

89 Wins

Projected NL Central standings over at Redleg Nation:
Finally, I used Bill James Pythagorean expectation formula, plugging in the RC and RA numbers to compute the expected number of wins for each team. Here are the results:
Team        Pyth. WP   W   L   RC   RA    OPS   ERA
St. Louis       59%   95  67  800  667   .767  3.79
Milwaukee       56%   91  71  774  681   .758  3.88
Cincinnati      55%   89  73  772  697   .756  3.96
Chicago         53%   86  76  765  721   .753  4.09
Pittsburgh      49%   80  82  773  784   .756  4.83
Houston         45%   72  90  680  756   .709  4.30
So maybe the 89 over-under was good.  We'll see what shakes out.  I've only got to buy a meal if I lose, but the other guy is a fatass.  Al's Pizza "all-you-can-eat" it will be.

Update:  The prediction shows the Pirates with their best record since 1992, but still has them posting their 19th straight losing season.  I'll take the under on 80, if anybody is willing to wager.

Update #2:  The Reds are 85 wins away from their 10,000th win, joining the Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, Dodgers and likely Braves (they need 55).  Actually, if you add in the 125 wins the Reds had between 1876 and 1880, prior to being kicked out of the National League for selling beer and playing on Sunday, they already have 10,040 wins.

Can Detroit Recover?

Michigan Central Depot in Detroit.  Photo from Forgotten Detroit.

Edward Glaeser has an interesting post on Detroit:
Detroit’s triumph and tragedy may be the great story of 20th century urban America. Like all of America’s older cities, Detroit first grew along a waterway as part of the great transport network that won the West.

The city’s early entrepreneurs took advantage of the city’s location, which made it an ideal place for Hiram Walker to import Canadian whiskey into the United States and for Frank Kirby to build iron-hulled steamboats.
Cars were the natural combination of engines and carriages, and the Detroit area had both. William C. Durant, who founded General Motors, came out of the carriage business in nearby Flint, Mich. Henry Ford learned at Kirby’s Detroit Dry Dock Engine Works. Even more importantly, like Silicon Valley in the 1960s, Detroit had an abundance of entrepreneurs fighting to find the new, new thing.
Part of Ford’s genius was that he was able to provide high wage jobs for less-educated workers; this helped turn Detroit into a city with too few nonautomotive skills.
Over the last 40 years, sun, skills and small companies have been strong predictors of urban growth, but Detroit is a cold city of big companies. About 12 percent of its adults have a college degree. A city built to house almost two million people now has 911,000. While Detroit was one of the richest places on the planet in 1950, it is now synonymous with urban poverty.
This is the unfortunate legacy of the Rust Belt.  The very good paying jobs which were readily available discouraged people from going to college.  Why invest 4 or more years to get slightly higher pay, when you can walk out of high school and get a job paying $20 an hour.  Then the job only involved doing one thing day after day for years.  If a person lost that job, they didn't have other skills to fall back on.  As far as not having small businesses, I don't think that is true.  The problem is that most of the small businesses are tied to the dominant industry.  Dayton has had a history of tons of tool and die shops, but they serviced the monufacturing plants in the area, which were almost exclusively automotive plants.  When those plants closed, they lost major customers. 
Until recently, the city of Detroit suffered by itself, the immense suburbs were insulated from the city's problems, but that has started to change.  Maybe now people in the suburbs will begin to face the challenges in the city.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link : Farmers Can't Meet Demand as Corn Stocks Drop to 1974 Low, from Bloomberg.  From the article:
Growers from Canada to Russia boosted annual output of wheat, rice and feed grain by 16 percent since 2000, not enough to keep up with the 20 percent gain in demand, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. While a Bloomberg survey of 25 analysts shows the agency on Feb. 24 may forecast a 3.5 percent increase in U.S. corn planting, the government says world stockpiles will equal 15 percent of use, the lowest since 1974.
Global inventories for all grain will drop 13 percent before the next harvest, the USDA estimates. That’s the first decline since 2007, when surging food prices sparked more than 60 riots from Haiti to Egypt. Increasing demand is causing isolated food shortages and accelerating inflation in developing countries even as it boosts farmers’ incomes and shifts planting strategies.
“We need to grow a huge crop this year to meet global food needs,” said Paul Jeschke, 58, who farms 3,600 acres (1,457 hectares) near Mazon, Illinois, and plans to boost corn planting by 50 percent because the crop is as much as $200 an acre more profitable than soybeans at current prices. “The increased demand for meat and dairy is driving demand for corn and soybeans.”
Also, this:
Corn probably will reach a record $8 by 2012, and may touch $10 if the U.S. crop is disrupted, said Peter Sorrentino, who helps manage $14.4 billion at Huntington Asset Advisors. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said on Feb. 10 that soybeans will rise the most, forecasting a 16 percent increase to $16 in the next three months. Wheat futures for delivery in December, after the U.S. harvest, trade at a 72.5-cent premium to the May contract, the widest spread since 2009.
Somehow, all this certainty makes me very nervous.
Another note, today is looking to be very bad on the stock market.

Infrastructure Privatization

One of the numerous ways the few are taking advantage of the rest of us is in infrastructure sales to private companies, such as the Indiana Toll Road and the Chicago Skyway.  Yves Smith discusses the problem:
For those new to this concept, the term of art is the anodyne “infrastructure sales” and the company that more or less invented this lucrative business is Macquarie Bank of Australia (known down under as “the millionaires factory”), although US firms clearly intend to exploit the once in a lifetime opportunity presented by widespread state and municipal budget distress and downgrades.
The problem, of course, is that these deals put important public resources paid for by taxes (or even worse, financed by bonds and thus potentially not even yet fully paid for) in the hands of private investors. They then earn their returns by charging user fees of various sorts. The public must rely on the new owners for reinvestment and maintenance, and depending on how the deal is negotiated, may have ceded control as far as fee increases are concerned. This is tantamount to selling the family china only to have to rent it back in order to eat dinner.
Now defenders will argue that there is nothing wrong with this in practice, as long as the price is fair, no one is harmed. That’s spurious. This is worse than an intergenerational transfer. Those future fees not only must recoup maintenance costs (which any owner would presumably pay) and the time value of money, but also the investor’s target return in excess of that. In addition, the large transaction costs of these deals are ultimately borne by the seller. (emphasis mine)
And the list of shortcomings thus far are merely those that result if you have two sides that are equally sophisticated. That is hardly the case with municipalities versus bankers and investors. As the old saying goes, “If you sit down for a game of poker and you don’t know who the sucker at the table is, it’s you.”
So far, the worst scheme I've seen yet was the Arizona (idiots) government selling government buildings, then leasing them back.

Monday, February 21, 2011

North vs. South

jaleh - February 21, 2011 | 1:09 pm · Link
This is interesting:
Only five states do not allow collective bargaining for educators. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores: South Carolina, 50th; North Carolina, 49th; Georgia, 48th; Texas, 47th; Virginia, 44th. Wisconsin, with its collective bargaining for teachers, is 2nd.

From Balloon Juice.

I won't comment on any correlation between the two data points.  I will say that Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa have tremendous educational success.  I was in Iowa one summer when the College Board released the annual SAT scores for states.  That year, Iowa slipped from first to third, behind the other two.  There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in that article.  One thing which bothers me is how Republicans look to Texas and other Southern states when they look for examples for economic growth, but they have some pretty poor characteristics also.  It may get pretty damn cold in the winter, but I'd relocate to the Upper Midwest if I were ever forced to move from Ohio.  I'll never move south of the Ohio River unless there is some disaster which makes living north of the river impossible.  Unfortunately, the Republican party is trying to bring the government from the South to the North.  No thanks.

Chinese High Speed Rail

Stuart Staniford highlights a story in the NYT about the Chinese government firing the head of the high-speed rail system.  First, from the paper, then his comment:
The statement underscored concerns in some quarters that Mr. Liu cut corners in his all-out push to extend the rail system and to keep the project on schedule and within its budget. No accidents have been reported on the high-speed rail network, but reports suggest that construction quality may at times have been shoddy.

A person with ties to the ministry said that the concrete bases for the system’s tracks were so cheaply made, with inadequate use of chemical hardening agents, that trains would be unable to maintain their current speeds of about 217 miles per hour for more than a few years. In as little as five years, lower speeds, possibly below about 186 miles per hour, could be required as the rails become less straight, the expert said. 
It will be interesting in coming years to see what cracks open up in the Chinese miracle. I can't tell if this is a small one, or the early stages of a big one. (emphasis mine)
That would make me a little nervous as I hurtle along at 217 mph.

Forgotten Cincinnati

Queen City Discovery looks like a really neat blog for anyone interested in Cincinnati and its history, or likes great photography.  Here is a post on the abandoned Cincinnati subway.  From the post:

- Lance Delune waits on the Brighton's Corner Station platform for a Cincinnati Subway train, but will one ever come?

Update: Here's another photo from a post on the Roebling Bridge:

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Moderate Wisconsin Republicans Offer Compromise, at the Wall Street Journal.  From the story:

Mr. Walker's bill would close a projected $3.6 billion shortfall by forcing public employees to pay 5.8% of their salary toward their pensions and 12.6% of health-care premiums, up from 6% on average. Mr. Walker said it is necessary to cut many of the collective-bargaining rights from union members to prevent massive layoffs.
Union leaders have said they will accept the benefit cuts but will fight to maintain their collective-bargaining rights. On Sunday, the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin's second largest newspaper, endorsed Mr. Schultz's proposal
Further down:
Even if moderate Republicans did move to support Mr. Schultz's proposal, it is not clear that Democrats would accept it. On Sunday, Democratic senators emphasized that the elimination of bargaining rights should be taken off the table all together since the state's public sector unions have accepted the governor's concessions on increase pension and health-care contributions to repair the current budget addressed by Mr. Walker's bill.
Several senators also said a compromise on the bill that would sunset the collective-bargaining provisions in 2013 would not be acceptable to Democrats. One reason is that Republicans will likely still be in control of both the state senate and assembly and simply extend the provisions. But a bigger reason, according to several senators, is that unions have already agreed to fix the fiscal issues.
Why should union busting be necessary when the unions agree to the proposed cuts?  I wouldn't trust Republicans on anything at this moment.

The Big Apple

Via Ritholtz

New York City - Timelapse from stimul on Vimeo.

Congressman Jim Jordan

George Will features Jim Jordan in yesterday's column:
The wrestling room at Graham High School in St. Paris, Ohio, where Jim Jordan, now 47, began the athletic career that took him to the University of Wisconsin and two NCAA wrestling championships, contains this sign: "Discipline is doing what you don't want to do when you don't want to do it." Today, as a third-term congressman from Ohio and chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Jordan leads what looks like an ongoing insurgency to discipline his party's leadership in the House of Representatives.
further into the story:
Michael Tanner of the libertarian Cato Institute notes that 24 of the RSC's members are on the House Agriculture Committee and that farm income in 2010 was $92.5 billion, 34 percent higher than in 2009. Even subtracting government payments, farm income was 28.8 percent higher than the average of the preceding decade. And 73 percent of all farm subsidies go to the wealthiest 10 percent of recipients. Jordan's district in west-central Ohio receives $30 million in direct payments, putting it among the top 50 beneficiaries of such subsidies.
Asked about this, Jordan smiles like Albert Pujols watching the approach of a hanging curveball. He says that he recently met with some corn growers who were in Washington to try to protect their programs, including the ethanol fiasco, and he told them, in the nicest possible way, that he is all for ethanol - to the extent that the market pronounces it viable. But, he says, the government subsidizes its production, protects it with tariffs and mandates the use of it - and still it cannot thrive in this rigged market.
How did the corn growers take this? Jordan laughs: "They know I'm just one of those crazy conservatives."
His explanation of why he got into politics is a verbal shrug: "You get married and have kids" - he has four - "and you get sick of having the government take your money and tell you what to do. I'm just a conservative guy." And an athlete looking for a surrogate sport.
All of this is well and good, but I have to ask, why doesn't paying taxes qualify as "doing what you don't want to do when you don't want to do it."  How come Congressman Jordan insists on other people making sacrifices while the weathiest among us pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than almost any time in the past 60 years?

Since he was a local politician, I've had the opportunity to watch Congressman Jordan's career from some distance.  This has provided a couple of anecdotes.

Land Rents are Crazy

I received a second-hand report of ground in the region renting for $404 an acre.  I know where 900 acres are available at that price.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

All-time Reds team

Pretty good selections at Bleacher Report.  The case could probably be made for Bucky Walters or Paul Derringer in their prime as starting pitcher.  Seaver was probably the best pitcher to ever pitch for the Reds (for more than one game, a la Christy Mathewson, who was traded by the Reds for Amos Rusie in 1900-worst trade ever), even though he didn't have career numbers those years.  Also, Mario Soto was a super pitcher on a bunch of terrible teams.  George Foster in 1977 and 1978 could break into the lineup, and Edd Roush was pretty good.  Perez would have a pretty good case for first base if you could come up with a replacement for him at third (Pete, maybe).  Lombardi would have been the starter on many teams at catcher.  Please correct me in the comments.

NASA Photo of the Day

From here:

Mammatus Clouds Over Olympic Valley
Credit & License: Matt Saal (Wikipedia)
Explanation: What's happened to these clouds? Normal cloud bottoms are flat because moist warm air that rises and cools will condense into water droplets at a very specific temperature, which usually corresponds to a very specific height. After water droplets form that air becomes an opaque cloud. Under some conditions, however, cloud pockets can develop that contain large droplets of water or ice that fall into clear air as they evaporate. Such pockets may occur in turbulent air near a thunderstorm, being seen near the top of an anvil cloud, for example. Resulting mammatus clouds can appear especially dramatic if sunlit from the side. These mammatus clouds were photographed last August over Olympic Valley, California, USA.
Also, if you click on the link for thunderstorm, it takes you to a cool picture of a thunderstorm in Montana.

How could anybody forget

Today is Hockey Day in America.

Vonnegut's words of wisdom

Andrew Sullivan links to the AV Club's 15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Says Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Will.  My favorite describes my mood when I wrote this post.  Here it is:
1. "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"
The actual advice here is technically a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's "good uncle" Alex, but Vonnegut was nice enough to pass it on at speeches and in A Man Without A Country. Though he was sometimes derided as too gloomy and cynical, Vonnegut's most resonant messages have always been hopeful in the face of almost-certain doom. And his best advice seems almost ridiculously simple: Give your own happiness a bit of brainspace.
I can relate to the part about being too gloomy and cynical.  All 15 are excellent, I definitely like the write-up for "So it goes."

Robocop statue in Detroit?

From the Christian Science Monitor:
The real trick – and the reason why the Super Bowl spot struck a chord around Michigan and beyond, he says, “is to tell the story of how the city is trying to claw back.”
The meaning from this comes subtly, he adds, “to the extent that these messages spur conversations about what’s next for Detroit, they’re meaningful.”
To the degree that they sentimentalize and overlook the ravages of displaced workers and manufacturing flight, they are what John McCarthy, a professor of urban history at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, calls “Rust Belt chic.”
He maintains that viewing blighted cities as blank slates for outsiders to compose upon – artists or not – is arrogant and undermines genuine progress towards renewal. “I don’t see anything in the Robocop image that is positive for the city of Detroit,” he says, noting that the primary message it sends is at best, “an ironic one.”
But the Chrysler ad was cool, even though I don't like Eminem, or Chrysler:

2011 $50 Gold Buffalo Tribute Proof

I saw this ad on TV last night and wanted to do the math to see how much 14 mg of gold turned out to be.  At $1400 an ounce, it works out to $0.69, but you can have it for just $9.95, plus shipping and handling.  I feel bad for people who actually fall for the crazy marketing on scams like these.  No wonder political advertising works so well.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link : The GOP's Post-Tucson Traumatic Stress Disorder, by Frank Rich:
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who lost his 2006 re-election bid by a landslide of 17 percentage points, believes he can be president despite being best known for having likened homosexuality to “man on dog” sex. Even less conversant in foreign affairs than canine coitus, he attacked Obama for deserting Hosni Mubarak, questioning the message it sent to America’s “friends.” But no one (with the odd exception of George Will) takes Santorum’s presidential ambitions seriously. Romney, on the other hand, is the closest thing the G.O.P. has to a front-runner, and he is even more hollow than Santorum. Indeed, his appearance at CPAC on the morning of Friday, Feb. 11, was entirely consistent with his public image as an otherworldly visitor from an Aqua Velva commercial circa 1985.
That Friday was the day after Mubarak’s bizarre speech vowing to keep his hold on power. At 9:45 a.m. that morning, as a rapt world waited for his next move, CNN reported that there would soon be a new statement from Mubarak — whose abdication was confirmed around 11 a.m. But when Romney took the stage in Washington at 10:35, he made not a single allusion of any kind to Egypt — even as he lambasted Obama for not having a foreign policy. His snarky, cowardly address also tiptoed around “Obamacare” lest it remind Tea Partiers of Massachusetts’s “Romneycare.” He was nearly as out of touch with reality as Mubarak the night before.
There was one serious speech at CPAC — an economic colloquy delivered that night by Mitch Daniels, the Indiana governor much beloved by what remains of mainstream conservative punditry. But Daniels was quickly thrashed: Limbaugh attacked him for his mild suggestion that the G.O.P. welcome voters who are not ideological purists, and CPAC attendees awarded him with only 4 percent of the vote in their straw poll. (The winners were Paul, with 30 percent, and Romney, with 23 percent.) Indeed, Daniels couldn’t even compete with the surprise CPAC appearance of Donald Trump, a sometime Democrat whose own substance-free Obama-bashing oration drew an overflow crowd. Apparently few at CPAC could imagine that Trump might be using them to drum up publicity for his own ratings-challenged television show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” which returns in just two weeks — or that he had contributed $50,000 to the Chicago mayoral campaign of no less an Obama ally than Rahm Emanuel.
He goes on to call out Obama for not stepping up and leading.