Saturday, March 5, 2011

Obama's White House Honey Ale

Via Lawyers, Guns and Money, this:
President Obama has officially declared March 2011 Irish American Heritage Month. More importantly the White House also announced that the president would be brewing his own beer called White House Honey Ale for St.Patrick’ Day.

Obama, who said he will pay for the beer making equipment himself, has made  presidential history by being the first U.S. president to brew beer at the White House.

It seems that Obama is certainly getting in touch with his Co. Offaly, roots although no one is sure if honey ale is brewed in the town of Moneygall (Obama's great-great-great grandfather is said to have left Offaly for New York in 1850).

Last month the president and his wife Michelle served White House Honey Ale at their Super Bowl party. They are officially the first White House residents to charge their chefs with brewing, and White House curator Bill Allman says the chefs love it.

Now that is good.  Can't see Mike Huckabee having beer brewed at the White House.


Andrew Bacevich:
The violence unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 persists, but Americans, from Barack Obama on down, are eager to declare the Iraq War at an end. Apart from a few diehard neoconservatives still keen to use Mesopotamia as a springboard for the pursuit of imperial fantasies, Americans can’t wait to shake the dust of Iraq from their feet and be done with the place.
Yet even as we leave, we should not forget. Common decency demands that we honor the service and sacrifice of those who bore the burden of waging that war. No doubt some committee will soon start lobbying for the construction of an Iraq War Memorial to be erected on the Mall in Washington. That effort deserves to succeed. 
My own view is that every American war, large or small, ought to be commemorated smack dab in the middle of the nation’s capital. Crowding every inch of the Mall with granite and marble war memorials—the bigger the better—just might help deflate the continuing American illusion that we are a peaceful people desirous of nothing except to be left alone. It might help us see ourselves as we really are.
Yet the commemoration of the Iraq War ought to have a second component: American soldiers and American citizens are owed an accounting of exactly what this war was about. Who devised it? What was its actual purpose? What did it achieve and at what cost? Why did so much go so wrong for so long? Who should be held accountable? 
Read the whole thing.  He lost his son in Iraq.

A Long Time

From the Church of Baseball:
It has been 7441 days, 10 hours, 53 minutes and 53 seconds since the Cincinnati Reds last won a World Series

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: War, Debt and Democracy, at Aljazeera.  From the post:
Moreover, the US is paying for these wars with debt. The government funded World War II partly with war bonds, but it also instituted the first general income tax in American history, increasing tax revenue from $8.7bn in 1941 to $45bn in 1945. This would have been impossible for an unpopular war. To finance today’s wars, by contrast, the US government has not only avoided raising taxes, but has actually cut them on an enormous scale, with the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 now extended at least through 2012.
By 2009, the US budget deficit had climbed to more than 10 per cent of GDP, thanks to increased expenditures and plummeting tax revenues during the recession. Overall public debt, to which each year’s deficit adds another hefty dollop, is projected to exceed 100 per cent of GDP in 2011, up from around 40 per cent in the late 1970’s.
Countercyclical spending and tax policy are widely acceptable to experts and taxpayers alike, but deficit spending on wars is known to be a paltry way to stimulate the economy. It does, however, buy political time for US administrations to continue prosecuting ill-considered and expensive wars with little domestic scrutiny. With the US government’s access to global debt markets reducing the need to raise taxes, foreign governments now own nearly one-third of the US government’s $14 trillion debt.
George Bush's legacy: tax cuts for the weathy and 2 worthless wars.

Friday, March 4, 2011

China's Shipbreakers

Adam Minter has a series of posts on recycling in Asia.  This one features Chinese shipbreakers:
Shipbreaking: for the few Americans who know anything about it, the term invokes disturbing images of unprotected workers laboring in the shadow of hulking ship bodies on defiled beaches (in large part, thanks to William Langweische's landmark article on Indian shipbreaking for The Atlantic). And, indeed, that's an accurate depiction of how shipbreaking is done in most parts of the developing world. But the situation is changing in parts of Asia, in part because savvy Chinese steel and recycling entrepreneurs figured out that China's still relatively cheap labor allows them to offer environmentally-sound shipbreaking at prices that can't be matched in the developed world; and, in part, because Chinese workers simply won't tolerate Bangladesh-level working conditions and pay. These factors, and others, mean that Chinese ship breakers sometimes lose ship auctions to breakers in lower-cost countries (with their own, or nearby, steel industries to feed).

A Flashback

Since the farm land market is booming, here's a song from the last bust:

More on Trains

Ezra Klein on George Will's anti-train column:
I think sensing socialism behind various preferences for rail policy says more about the speaker than those being spoken about. Take, well, me. My household owns a car. When it breaks down, we will purchase another car. And yet, I think it’d be good for this country to have better mass transit and better high-speed rail lines. Why? Well, my car is good for some things and bad for others. It’s good for going to get dinner in the suburbs, or furniture from Ikea. It’s bad for driving around Washington’s insanely crowded city streets during rush hour. It’s good for picking up a used chair I bought on 14th Street. It’s bad for driving to work, as parking costs $15 a day. It’s good for getting to places an hour or two away. It’s bad for getting to New York, as I don’t have a place to park, don’t want to drive while I’m there and would like to use my transit time to get some work done.
There’s no either-or here. No endless war between the car lovers and the train enthusiasts. I come from Southern California. We have a lot of cars down there and not much in the way of alternative transit options. Driving is a nightmare, as the streets are overloaded. Living in Washington has been a vast improvement for me: The subways and Amtrak take me where my car has trouble going, and I use my car for the errands and travels that suit its strengths. And as long as my tax dollars are going to subsidize transportation networks, I’d like them to subsidize a sensible transportation network such as Washington’s, not the endless traffic that I escaped when I moved away from Los Angeles.
In his piece, Will admits that most supporters of improved rail tend to say they want “to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use.” He then says the length of the list, plus its “flimsiness,” points towards his more esoteric interpretation. But perhaps people just support rail for all the reasons they say they support it! Why is that so hard to believe? And why does it have to be conscripted into the endless war between individuality and collectivism, or even cars and trains? I had some vanilla ice cream last night, but it wasn’t because I hate chocolate ice cream and the decadent, globalized culture that produced it.

Reds throwbacks

Last year the Reds broke out these sweet uniforms for the Civil Rights Game.  Hopefully they make a return so uneducated baseball fans can tell the difference between Reds hats and Cubs hats.

NCAA hockey

Current rankings: Division I Men's Poll

February 28, 2011

Team(First Place Votes)RecordPointsLast Poll
1North Dakota(42)24- 8-39891
2Boston College( 6)24- 7-19482
3Yale( 1)23- 5-18873
4Union( 1)25- 7-48375
5Denver20- 9-57266
5Michigan23- 9-472610
7New Hampshire19- 7-66599
8Miami19- 9-662811
9Merrimack21- 7-46204
10Notre Dame21-10-56088
11Minnesota-Duluth19- 8-65697
13Boston University17- 9-836515
15Western Michigan16-10-1024817
17Colorado College18-15-318219
Others Receiving Votes: Princeton 18, Ferris State 8, Rochester Institute of Technology 6, St. Cloud State 5, Cornell 3, Robert Morris 2, Air Force 1

Read more:

The Coming Slowdown

Paul Krugman, How to Kill a Recovery:
The clear and present danger to recovery, however, comes from politics — specifically, the demand from House Republicans that the government immediately slash spending on infant nutrition, disease control, clean water and more. Quite aside from their negative long-run consequences, these cuts would lead, directly and indirectly, to the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs — and this could short-circuit the virtuous circle of rising incomes and improving finances.
Of course, Republicans believe, or at least pretend to believe, that the direct job-destroying effects of their proposals would be more than offset by a rise in business confidence. As I like to put it, they believe that the Confidence Fairy will make everything all right.
But there’s no reason for the rest of us to share that belief. For one thing, it’s hard to see how such an obviously irresponsible plan — since when does starving the I.R.S. for funds help reduce the deficit? — can improve confidence.
Beyond that, we have a lot of evidence from other countries about the prospects for “expansionary austerity” — and that evidence is all negative. Last October, a comprehensive study by the International Monetary Fund concluded that “the idea that fiscal austerity stimulates economic activity in the short term finds little support in the data.”
The first step to fiscal sanity shouldn't be domestic spending cuts, it should come from returning the dividend and capital gains taxes, and top marginal rates to the rates prior to the Bush Administration.  The first spending cuts should come by reducing troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Ohio GOP may invite backlash with tough stance on unions, at the Washington Post.  From the story:
Grendell is not known as a big-union supporter, and he backed "85 percent" of the measure in Ohio. But, he said, several aspects of it went too far: a ban on collective bargaining for police officers and firefighters; a provision giving government the final say in contract negotiations; and another provision, which he believes is unconstitutional, that blocks public workers from talking to elected officials during contract talks.
Ohio Republican leaders have moved quickly on the measure - which also makes going on strike a criminal offense for virtually all government workers - with little effort at compromise. That approach could turn off a broad swath of voters, especially if they come to see it as more of a politically-motivated move against unions than one necessary to balance the state's multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.
"Taking on the fire and police, from a political perspective - it's illogical," Grendell said. "I can't explain it. I can't justify it. The ad that is going to be fatal to Republicans is going to be the fireman carrying the baby out of the burning building. How do you counteract that?"
So it is OK to kick around teachers and nurses, but bad to mess with firemen or policemen?  Wisconsin's bill would exempt firemen and police officers too.  What's with the Republican crush on men in uniform?
Later in the article:
Seitz said that history is not on the side of Republicans. In the late 1950s, the last time the Ohio legislature tried to go after unions - by passing a right-to-work law - not only did the unions get the measure on the ballot the following November and defeat it by 2 to 1, but Republicans also subsequently lost the governorship. Ohio lawmakers have been leery of union reforms ever since.
One reason Ohio Republicans are moving so quickly this year is to control the timing of a challenge to the law. Ohioans may challenge any law within 90 days of its passage by collecting enough signatures to trigger a referendum at the next general election.
By planning to fully enact Senate Bill 5 by April, Ohio Republicans are ensuring that such a challenge would appear on the 2011 ballot rather than in 2012, when Obama will be up for reelection - and a more union-friendly electorate is likely to turn out. (emphasis mine)
The low Democratic turnout and high Republican turnout in 2010 put them in power. They want to take advantage of another low-turnout election to solidify their changes. 

Other lawmakers are proposing a right-to-work law in Ohio.  I have to ask, if Ohio is such a pro-union state in which businesses avoid locating here, could someone please explain all the Honda plants and Honda suppliers located in Ohio?  As far as I know, Honda doesn't like unions, and yet they are still here, and expanding.  It is all about politics.  Republicans are not conservatives, they are radicals, slashing and burning through existing civic structures to help establish an oligarchy, from whom they hope to benefit financially.

NYT notices-Land Prices going Crazy

From the NYT:
The 80 acres of rich farmland that Jeff Freking and his brother Randy bought near Le Mars, Iowa, on Monday for $10,000 an acre would seem to have nothing in common with a condo in Miami or a house in Las Vegas.
But as prices for agricultural land surge across America’s grain belt, regulators are warning that a new real estate bubble may be forming — echoing the frothy boom in home prices that saw values in Miami and Las Vegas skyrocket and then plummet.
“It just seems to be going up in leaps and bounds here,” said Jeff Freking, who bought a similar farm, also in northwestern Iowa, for $6,000 an acre just two years ago. “Everybody thinks it’s crazy.”The surge in prices has been dizzying throughout the Midwest, with double-digit percentage increases last year in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska. In parts of Iowa, prices for good farmland rose as much as 23 percent last year, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Buck O'Neil and the Buck O'Neil Award

Joe Posnanski has a great post on Buck O'Neil and Roland Hemond, the winner of the Buck O'Neil award.  The whole thing is great, because any story about Buck O'Neil or told by Buck O'Neil is enjoyable.  I really liked this:
Roland Hemond broke down in tears when he won the award. That's what the award should be about. That, I think, is what Buck O'Neil's life was about -- it was about not letting wonderful moments and wonderful people drift away unremembered.

Buck always wanted to tell people the story of Oscar Charleston. I heard him talk about Oscar Charleston dozens of times. He always said that while Willie Mays was the greatest Major League player he ever saw, Charleston was simply the greatest player he ever saw. He said Charleston could hit you 50 home runs, steal you 50 bases, run down every fly ball hit, and he had a bit of a mean streak too. He was going to beat you every way you could be beaten.

There were people who thought Buck told Oscar Charleston stories again and again to honor Oscar Charleston. But as I look back on Buck's life, I don't think that's quite right. Oscar Charleston was dead a long time by then. No, I think Buck told those stories to honor ... us. He thought WE should know about Oscar Charleston. He thought knowing that such a great baseball player once roamed the outfields of the world would make OUR lives a little bit richer, a little bit fuller, a little bit more colorful. That to me should be -- and I think is -- the spirit of the Buck O'Neil Award. I expect for the next few months people will share many Roland Hemond stories that most of us have never heard before. I expect Roland himself might share a few. And we'll all be richer for hearing them.

Hennepin Farmhouse Saison

Tuesday, I tried a Hennepin Farmhouse Saison, from Brewery Ommegang, at a local establishment.  It was very good. It seemed to be a little more mild than the only other Saison ale I'd tried, the Grassroots Ale from Great Lakes Brewery, although because I like so many of the other Great Lakes beers, I never tried it again.

U.S. Ethanol Production

From Stuart Staniford:

U.S. Ethanol Production

Percent of Corn Crop used in Ethanol Production

Technically, the 40% is also partially used in food production because the DDG's are used for feed, but ethanol production just doesn't make sense at this level.

Not something that would happen in Columbus

From ESPN:
Brandon Davies was dismissed from BYU's basketball team after he admitted to having sexual relations with his girlfriend, the Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday.
BYU's honor code forbids students from having premarital sex and instructs them to "live a chaste and virtuous life."
Ever wonder why large numbers of BYU students get married after their freshman year?  This might be one.  I think the OSU might have some issues fielding a winning team if similar rules applied in Columbus.

Title Post of the Year

From Better Off Red,


Describing yesterday's 7-6 win over the White Sox.  This picture was included:
That makes me feel so much warmer, no matter how cold that wind is.

Welcome, Ramon Hernandez

Via Redleg Nation, this:
Reds catcher Ramon Hernandez returned to camp Wednesday after missing two days. Hernandez was in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., taking his exam to become a United States citizen. Hernandez, a Venezuelan, passed his test without any issues. All that stands between him and becoming an American citizen is the swearing-in ceremony and he will have his U.S. passport.
"I already live here and I have my life here," Hernandez said. "My kids are U.S. citizens and my wife is a U.S. citizen. I'm the only one left. I feel like I've got to do it because I live here."

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Lots of stuff today.  First, "The Hollow Cry of 'Broke'" at the NYT:
“We’re broke in this state,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said a few days ago. “New Jersey’s broke,” Gov. Chris Christie has said repeatedly. The United States faces a “looming bankruptcy,” Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. It’s all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends. A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more “broke” than a family with a mortgage or a college loan. And states have to balance their budgets. Though it may disappoint many conservatives, there will be no federal or state bankruptcies.
The federal deficit is too large for comfort, and most states are struggling to balance their books. Some of that is because of excessive spending, and much is because the recession has driven down tax revenues. But a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican politicians like Mr. Boehner and Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years.
Amen.  Why John Kasich is pushing a further income tax cut which will widen the budget gap is clearly to screw government and government workers and benefit rich people.  I'm glad to see a major newspaper call Republicans out.

Second, Wisconsin Democrats Announce Recall Effort Against 8 Republican State Senators, at FireDogLake.  This is a terrible idea.  Recall elections should only be used for the most egregious cases of corruption.  It undermines the electoral system and will be used more and more by the losers in the previous election.  The Democrats should allow the Republicans to lay bare their political goals which benefit the wealthy and deteriorate government service.  In the midst of a terrible recession caused by the private sector, Republicans are stuck making the tough choices, and they continually avoid raising taxes and slash public services.  People are finally taking note.  If Democrats were in their place, they would be getting blamed for the inevitable slow down because they raised taxes.  Finally, the cuts required to maintain low tax rates for the wealthy are going to be felt.

Finally, Supreme Court: Corporations don't have 'personal privacy' rights, at the Raw Story:
Claiming they were a "corporation citizen," AT&T tried to use the personal privacy exemption to prevent the disclosure of federal government documents about the company.
The unanimous decision in Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, Inc. reversed a ruling by a US appeals court in favor the telecommunications company.
"Personal' in the phrase 'personal privacy' conveys more than just 'of a person,'" Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his decision. "It suggest a type of privacy evocative of human concerns—not the sort usually associated with an entity like, say, AT&T."
"We reject the argument that because 'person' is defined for purposes of FOIA to include a corporation, the phrase 'personal privacy' in Exemption 7(C) reaches corporations as well," he said.
"The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations."
"We trust that AT&T will not take it personally," Roberts added. "The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed."
The decision is a striking contrast to the court's ruling in Citizens United, which upended decades of campaign finance regulation, allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns without having to identify themselves.
It is good to see that there are some limits on the citizenship of corporations.  Even the most-business friendly court has some boundary.  Note that the Court of Appeals didn't have the share that feeling.  The Federalist Society has done a lot of court-packing since 1980.

Even more bad news with the cows

Yesterday, I saw the cow who lost her calf walking funny.  Turns out her hip is now dislocated.  It is now a race between me getting her to market before she quits walking.  Also, a calf got pinned behind the hay feeder, but luckily she wasn't seriously injured.  Hopefully, things will get better, and not worse.  Yes, that is me knocking on wood.

Weekly Unemployment Report

Calculated Risk:
The DOL reports on weekly unemployment insurance claims:
In the week ending Feb. 26, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 368,000, a decrease of 20,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 388,000. The 4-week moving average was 388,500, a decrease of 12,750 from the previous week's revised average of 401,250.
Just before massive state and local government job losses, the private sector finally is starting to strengthen slightly.  Check back in eight months and see how things are going

Working in public service

From Catherine Rampell:
More than two years later, our suspicions have been borne out: The number of recent college grads in public service jobs has skyrocketed in the last two years.
As I wrote in an article today, in 2009 16 percent more young college graduates worked for the federal government than in the previous year and 11 percent more for nonprofit groups, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau. A smaller Labor Department survey showed that the share of educated young people in these jobs continued to rise last year.
It goes on to give some possible explanations for the increase, most of which I would attribute to that these were the only places hiring, and the federal government has had a lot of Baby Boomers retiring recently.  Regardless, it is a good thing for the nation that some of the best and the brightest young people aren't being hired by Wall Street to find more clever and dangerous ways to chisel the rest of us out of larger percentages of our money.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Seinfeld quote

From Tech Ticker:
With the U.S. facing large, structural deficits, analysts of all stripes are taking an inventory of the nation's assets and liabilities. Mary Meeker, famed for her coverage of Internet stocks, has produced a long presentation on the nation's balance sheet, as if it were a private-sector company. Historian Niall Ferguson suggests in Newsweek that the U.S. start selling off some of its assets.  "The U.S. government currently has $233 billion worth of non-defense 'property, plant and equipment'," he noted. Plus there's land, power-generating assets and roads. (As if somebody would buy I-95).
On Tuesday, word came that President Obama is set to propose setting up a board to look at whether the U.S. can sell off some of its real estate holdings, a move that might raise some $15 billion.
But they're missing a big source. To quote the Seinfeld character Kenny Bania: "That's gold, Jerry. Gold!"
For a good chunk of its modern history, the U.S. was on the gold standard. That meant the Treasury and central bank had to keep a ready supply of the metal on hand in case anybody wanted to turn in paper money for bullion. While the U.S. left the gold standard for good in 1973, it has held on to its stash of what economist John Maynard Keynes called a "barbarous relic." And so there's lots of it lying around, in Fort Knox in the fortress-like Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in various U.S. Mint operations. Some of it is used to make gold coins. But most of it is in bullion. Tons of it.
Talk of selling the TVA and highways is stupid. Raise taxes assholes.

Interesting Move

Via Kay at Balloon Juice, Ohio Republicans replace Bill Seitz on the Senate Committee prior to voting on S.B.5 because Seitz was opposed to the bill.  Once he was replaced, the bill passed 7-5.  I would think the G.O.P. might be wise to consider his opposition.  Republican Senator Jim Hughes joined the four Democrats on the committee in voting against it.

The Cincinnati Enquirer picked up this little nugget:
Another Republican, Sen. Scott Oelslager of North Canton, was removed from the Senate Rules Committee to avoid a split vote and get the bill to the 33-member Senate floor this afternoon. Seitz and Oelslager have voiced opposition to the bill.
There is absolutely no question that under the Senate Rules, Niehaus was within his power to remove these legislators from the committees.  However, he gets that power under Rules his own ma
Further update: The bill passed the Senate 17-16, with 6 Republicans and all 10 Democrats voting against it.  When Tim Grendell is against the bill, that is saying something.  He's about as crazy conservative as they come, or maybe as they used to come.  Our legislature is marching to the beat of our financial betters.
jority drafts and enacts.

Worst Prediction Ever

Calculated Risk discusses Fed Chairman Bernanke's testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services and remembers former Chairman Greenspan's testimony from 10 years ago:
It is probably a good time to revisit then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony to the same committee 10 years ago today. Here is his testimony on March 2, 2001:
Both the Bush Administration and the Congressional Budget Office project growing on-budget surpluses under current policy over the next decade.
The most recent projections from OMB and CBO indicate that, if current policies remain in place, the total unified surplus will reach about $800 billion in fiscal year 2010, including an on-budget surplus of almost $500 billion. Moreover, the admittedly quite uncertain long-term budget exercises released by the CBO last October maintain an implicit on-budget surplus under baseline assumptions well past 2030 despite the budgetary pressures from the aging of the baby-boom generation, especially on the major health programs.

These most recent projections, granted their tentativeness, nonetheless make clear that the highly desirable goal of paying off the federal debt is in reach and, indeed, would occur well before the end of the decade under baseline assumptions.
How did that work out?

One would have thought that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve might have noticed that a stock market bubble was contributing a lot of revenue from capital gains and stock options for workers in tech companies, and that the bursting bubble would cause a recession and lower revenues.  I guess not.

Warren Buffett to George Will- "You are a dumbass"

Ok, that isn't actually what he said, but it is fun to imagine that it is.  Here he eventually points to the competitive advantage of the railroads to trucking.  And Will is mainly attacking passenger rail.  But Buffett mentions Berkshire's $34 billion investment in BNSF, and how good the railroad business is for both the owners and society.  Not too bad for "a technology that was the future two centuries ago."

John Deere Model A

Grandpa had one of these he was restoring about 25 years ago, but he got rid of it when he moved off the farm.

This one wasn't his.  Anyway, a history of the model A here.  Of note:
During World War II all American manufacturers were under control
by the War Production Board. Nothing could be exported without
a license. Lend Lease began in late 1942 and covered tractors, plus
some equipment. One Lend Lease contract covered 1584 Model A
tractors. Another sent 1000 Model H's to Russia.

Corporate Taxes

Andrew Sullivan highlights a Chuck Marr post about Corporate Tax reform which contains this graph:
It is amazing that with one of the highest corporate marginal rates and with corporate profits at a record-high, there are so many loopholes which companies can take advantage of.

More Vonnegut

Sunday night, I read Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country, his rambling thoughts on his life and the world around him.  It is a pretty short read, but there are numerous wry and wise observations made throughout.  Much of the book is written in response to the Bush Administration, and some of it is a justification of his own socialism, humanism and pacifism.  One part I thought hit the mark, after quoting Eugene V. Debs, 5 time Socialist Party candidate for President, Vonnegut follows with this:
How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
And so on. Not exactly planks in a Republican platform.  Not exactly George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld stuff.
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes.  But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings.  And of course that's Moses, not Jesus.  I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
I have long been puzzled that people justify so many political issues through the Old Testament or Saint Paul's epistles, but often don't quote the Gospels.  I guess it's maybe because they think Jesus sounds like a hippy.  But it seems odd to be a Christian, but not listen to Christ.

Goodyear, Arizona

The Reds Rocket reports from spring training about the Reds spring home:
The Reds Rocket made the trip out to Goodyear, Arizona on Sunday for the Reds' spring opener versus the Tribe. Goodyear is best known for a prison, within view of the freeway, from which inmates periodically escape and run across the highway and, of course, the Snyder's of Hanover pretzel factory. Samples and products available for purchase in the main lobby. The prison now houses a death row facility for the state's women who murder. You're welcome to stop by but don't forget the tape, for making shivs, and the crank inside your shoe. Oh, and also this from our friends at Wikipedia  - Goodyear was established in 1917 with the purchase of 16,000 acres of land by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company to cultivate cotton for vehicle tire threads. So, there you go. All you ever need to know about Goodyear.
The Reds Rocket is a fun read during the season.

Patron Saints

I happened to see this post from Newsweek which lists several of the more unique patron saints the Catholic Church has named:
Saint Joseph of Cupertino
This 17th-century Apulian saint—reportedly a slow-witted boy—was known for levitating in front of witnesses more than 70 times over the course of 17 years. He’s also the saint of air travelers, aviators, test takers, and weak students.
Saint Clare of Assisi
When Saint Clare was too sick to attend Mass, she claimed to be able to see and hear the service on the walls of her room. She is also the saint of telephones, clairvoyance, and eye diseases.
Saint Fiacre
Known for treating the diseased during his travels circa the late 600s, this Irish holy man also set up a hospice in Paris. Centuries later, a nearby hotel rented out the first coaches for hire—and Saint Fiacre became the patron of taxis.

Elio Ciol / Corbis
Patron Saint of Television: Saint Clare of Assisi

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Paul Krugman highlights a George Will column bashing trains:
Oh, boy — this George Will column (via Grist) is truly bizarre:
So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.
Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.
As Sarah Goodyear at Grist says, trains are a lot more empowering and individualistic than planes — and planes, not cars, are the main alternative to high-speed rail.
I personally have never understood the conservative antipathy to trains and subways.  There is no more relaxing way to travel the east coast than by Amtrak.  It is great to be able to jump on the el in the Loop, and ride to Wrigley or Comiskey for a game.  To be able to kick back and read a book or newspaper is really nice.  I love the crack that railroads are a technology that was the future two centuries ago.  Well George, the wheel was a technology that was the future 100 centuries ago, what's your point?  My supposition is that these people don't want to actually be around other people, and thus despise anything that attacks their precious cars.  I figure that in 10 or 15 years, when gas costs much more, we'll be sorely disappointed that we didn't invest in high-speed rail now.  But conservatives don't give a damn for the future.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: A Microcosm of Market Manipulation in the US and the Repeated Failure of Ideology, from Jesse's Cafe Americain.  From the post:
It is getting to be a bit much, and is going to end badly. It will end badly because like the economy which has been crafted by the same makers it is hollow, a facade, set up for the benefit of a few who transfer wealth to themselves from the many. As someone wrote to me today:
"There aren’t really many good options for people who just want to save some money for retirement and live their lives in the meantime. Not even social security or pensions for 30-year veteran teachers are safe from pirate raids and partisan deconstruction. Everything else available to the ordinary retail and retirement saver has become a Wall Street killing floor."
This is no accident. This is no error in judgement. This is not philosophy. It is a calculated white collar crime, that has co-opted many elements of society. It hides behind slogans like 'small government' and 'libertarianism' and 'free markets' but its real intent is to subvert the law and corrupt the processes of the economy and society. It is a type of financial coup d'etat.

The problem is not that there is too much government, but rather, the government which you have is tainted with corruption and needs a thorough cleaning and reform. Knock down all the fences if you will in the name of an unsustainable ideal, and give the ravening wolves free range for their plunder. And then be surprised.

Anyone who believes that not enforcing the rules, or even simply eliminating them, will result in the natural and efficient flow of productive activity has never driven on a modern freeway. This notion is just another version of a belief in the noble savage, the view that people are naturally good and rational, but are corrupted by rules and society. And those people who espouse this think that they are cavorting in some magical world with Peter Pan, instead of with some of the oldest and basest forms of evil against which good people have continually come together throughout history for their mutual protection.
Amen to that.  There is also a link to a story about the city of Vernon, California, which is a city of and for businesses.  Ok, here's this second link for the day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Manufacturing then and now

Calculated Risk reviews the ISM Manufacturing Report and throws out this gem:
• Although this was the highest employment index reading since 1973, manufacturing employment is a much smaller percentage of overall U.S. employment now. In 1973, almost 30% of private payroll employment was manufacturing, today it is less than 11%. So the same reading today will have a much smaller impact on the overall U.S. employment.
Wow, 30% versus 11%.  Quite the change over 38 years. 

Give me a break

I seem to detect some ideology in this story at the Wall Street Journal:
Yet as the chaos in North Africa has grown over the past month, investors have largely shunned the dollar and sought shelter elsewhere. They have turned to other traditional islands of stability, buying Japanese yen and the Swiss franc.
What has especially raised eyebrows has been the move by investors to buy euros, a currency traditionally seen as a riskier prospect than the dollar, especially with the euro zone's debt problems still largely unresolved.
Further along:
Some note that Japan's economy also is in the doldrums and the country imports essentially all its oil.
Yet buyers continued to seek out the yen as a safe haven. Investors aren't concerned about Japan's own fiscal problems and loose monetary policy.
Mr. Borthwick at Faros says that focus on oil misses the point of flight-to-quality buying, which is that investors are thinking first and foremost of moving their money somewhere safe where they can be sure they will get it back.
With investors increasingly wary of the ability of the U.S. to solve its fiscal problems and the Fed perceived to be "printing dollars" as part of its quantitative-easing strategy to support the economy, there's less confidence that the U.S. dollar is "safe" in the sense, Mr. Borthwick says.
"It's the knee-jerk reaction that matters," he said. "Nowadays the knee-jerk reaction is buy euros and not to buy dollars. The mindset of buying euros is a complete switch."
I cannot see the Yen or the Euro as being considered more safe than the dollar.  The Japanese have a demographic nightmare and 200% debt to GDP, while the Euro is quite possibly going to disappear because of dissention amongst Euro nations. Neither seems to have lower tax rates than the U.S., where much of the budget deficits could be made up.  I smell politics in the story.

Running Government as a Business

Seth Masket does a good job distinguishing between government and business, and highlights that business isn't naturally efficient (h/t The Dish):
There's nothing wrong with the idea that governments should be run more efficiently or with better customer service, and if that's what people mean, they should say that. But to say that governments should be run like businesses is to reveal ignorance about what either governments or businesses -- or both -- are. Businesses exist to turn a profit. They provide goods and services to others only insofar as it is profitable to do so, and they will set prices in a way that ends up prohibiting a significant sector of the population from obtaining those goods and services. And that, of course, is fine, because they're businesses. Governments, conversely, provide public goods and services -- things that we have determined are people's right to possess. This is inherently an unprofitable enterprise. Apple would not last long if it had to provide every American with an iPad.

I'm also always surprised to hear people tout the efficiency of the private sector. There's a great deal of inefficiency in the private sector, of course. How many CEOs end up hiring dim, unqualified brothers-in-law or grandkids who are taking time off college? And that's just not considered a big deal as long as it doesn't noticeably hurt the bottom line. If a member of Congress does that, it becomes a major scandal.

There is a lot of room to expound on this.  All large organizations of human endeavor are inherently inefficient in some ways, but there are major differences between government and business.  There clearly isn't a profitable way to provide any welfare.  People point out that the WPA was paying people to do very little work in some instances back during the Depression, but businesses weren't hiring these people to do any work for any pay.  Nobody can point to Enron or Lehman Brothers or much of the financial sector as paragons of efficiency, unless the efficiency would be parting people from hard-earned money.  The self-congratulatory tone of people in the private sector is a little much, coming off of a collapse in our economy driven by said private business.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's Link: China's Highly Unequal Economy, at The Diplomat.  From the story:
However, when looking under the bonnet at China’s economic engine, it’s clear that a growing middle class with rising disposable income and consumption is missing. Instead, there’s an economy that is still dominated by state owned firms and state-led investment, as well as by rapidly rising inequality. Instead of an enlarging urban middle class, China is increasingly splitting into a small upper class that spends freely on luxury goods, and a remaining population whose earnings and savings are eroded by inflation and state confiscation. 
The underlying dynamics are clear in a recent statistical release by the government. First, real urban disposable income rose a comparatively tepid 7.8 percent in 2010, despite economic growth of nearly 10 percent. However, urban retail sales of consumer goods grew 14.5 percent. While the growth of consumption is good for China's economy, the pattern of this growth suggests rising inequality.
The biggest growth in consumption included jewellery (46 percent), furniture (37 percent), cars (34 percent) and construction material (34 percent).  Essentially, these are items related to the spending of the upper class.  These ‘consumer’ goods also made up 33 percent of all retail consumption in China. The large size and strong growth in luxury items implies that grey income was substantial in 2010, as suggested by a Credit Swiss report authored by Prof. Wang Xiaolu.
Something about this sounds eerily familiar.

Suburbs still growing

From Economist's View:
Richard Green is surprised:
Joel Kotkin cannot find evidence of a "Back to the City" movement, by Richard Green: He puts together a table of suburban and core urban growth based on 2000 and 2010 census data:
MSA Core Growth   Suburban Growth   Total Growth
Austin20.4%      56.1%         37.3%   
Baltimore-4.6%      9.9%         6.2%   
Chicago-6.9%      9.0%         3.9%   
Dallas-Fort Worth0.8%      30.2%         23.4%   
Houston7.5%      39.3%         26.1%   
Indianapolis5.0%      28.3%         15.2%   
San Antonio16.0%      43.7%         25.2%   
Washington5.2%      16.8%         15.4%   
Total3.2%      21.7%         15.7%   
These are places for which the Census had released data by mid-February. Some of the places for which data has been released since then--St. Louis, Las Vegas and Birmingham--have the same pattern: in all cases suburban growth has outpaced central city growth. St. Louis' population has dropped to its lowest level since 1870.

The results seem particularly surprising for Chicago and Washington, which have had successful redevelopment in their urban cores. But redevelopment can actually reduce density. Gentrification often means that wealthy households rehabilitate mult-family properties into single family homes. This can lead to an increase in wealth in cities, but does not necessary translate into a relative increase in population.

Not a Pretty Sight:Mississippi 1966

Over at Balloon Juice, Dennis G. takes apart Gov. Haley Barbour (Foghorn Leghorn) for his faulty memory of events during the civil rights era:
In the summer of 1966 Mississippi was ground zero of the Civil Rights struggle and the focus of world wide media attention. By that time Haley Barbour was a student at Ole Miss. As June 1966 began, a well known former Ole Miss student decided to take a walk. His name was James Meredith and a few years earlier he became the first African American to attend Haley’s school. Somehow, I think Haley Barbour and his fellow students at the University of Mississippi would have known the name “James Meredith”. And Haley might have remembered that name and the connection to his school when James Meredith was shot by a white racist as he began his walk from Memphis, TN to Jackson, MS.
James Meredith shot June 1966 in MS on MAF
Meredith began his walk to prove that black people could register to vote in Mississippi and should not be afraid of white violence anymore. He had called his quite walk his March Against Fear. He was shot on June 6, 1966. The act of white supremacist terrorism made completing his march a Civil Rights campaign priority. Within days Martin Luther King, other leaders and activists came to Mississippi to complete Meredith’s March Against Fear.
By June 21, 1966 Dr. King had been marching in the State for days and there were many public rallies. The marchers were greeted by young white men waving the Confederate Flags and hurling insults from the sidelines of the roads where they marched or in the places where they tried to speak. Haley could have his memory of seeing Dr. King that summer as one of these young men stalking the marchers (or he could be one of those rare young white Southerners in 1966 who supported Civil Rights, but if that was the case why can’t he remember taking that stand).
Read the whole thing, if you can.  Reading Rick Perlstein or David Halberstam in 'The Fifties' or any other history of that time, it is hard to comprehend the outrageous violence and racism which were perpetrated.  And it isn't just the South, although that is where it was worst.  Reading about Boston during the school busing uproar is almost the same.  White flight has taken away some of the tension, by leaving blacks stuck in the inner cities, where whites can ignore their problems, but things haven't ever healed.

Update: I edited the title, it was originally overstated, at least compared to Stalingrad or Leningrad, 1942 or any Nazi camp.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Short History of Information

How We Know, by Freeman Dyson (h/t Ritholtz):
In 1949, one year after Shannon published the rules of information theory, he drew up a table of the various stores of memory that then existed. The biggest memory in his table was the US Library of Congress, which he estimated to contain one hundred trillion bits of information. That was at the time a fair guess at the sum total of recorded human knowledge. Today a memory disc drive storing that amount of information weighs a few pounds and can be bought for about a thousand dollars. Information, otherwise known as data, pours into memories of that size or larger, in government and business offices and scientific laboratories all over the world. Gleick quotes the computer scientist Jaron Lanier describing the effect of the flood: “It’s as if you kneel to plant the seed of a tree and it grows so fast that it swallows your whole town before you can even rise to your feet.”
I still remember the family Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III, which had 48k RAM, something like 64k hard drive and cost several thousand dollars for a used model.

Union busting, Calvin Coolidge and a Mechanical Horse

I didn't expect to be typing that, but:
Young Coolidge, you see, had gone to Amherst College, where he had hardly any friends except Dwight Morrow, who became his bosom buddy. Coolidge went on to become a small town Massachusetts attorney representing banks, while Morrow became a senior partner in House of Morgan. When Morrow saw his pal Coolidge attracting attention in the Boston Police Strike, he wrote to everyone he knew and launched a national campaign to make a legend out of the uncharismatic Coolidge. Morrow and fellow Morgan partner Thomas Cochran lobbied tirelessly for Coolidge at the Chicago Republican Convention in 1920, and their lobbying paid off. Coolidge, first as vice president and then as president in 1923 when Harding died, became a valuable partner for the House of Morgan. Famously declaring that “the business of America is business,” Coolidge stocked his administration with enough Morgan men to fill a banking convention. Historian Murray N. Rothbard notes that
the year 1924 indeed saw the House of Morgan at the pinnacle of political power in the United States. President Calvin Coolidge, friend and protégé of Morgan partner Dwight Morrow, was deeply admired by J.P. “Jack” Morgan, Jr. Jack Morgan saw the president, perhaps uniquely, as a rare blend of deep thinker and moralist. Morgan wrote a friend: ‘I have never seen any president who gives me just the feeling of confidence in the country and its institutions, and the working out of our problems, that Mr. Coolidge does.’
Coolidge got to the White House for crushing unions, where he slept ten hours a day and hopped on and off a mechanical horse in his underpants and a cowboy hat.
Here’s what America got: the Great Depression.
Did not know that.  I had heard this story:
A possibly apocryphal story has it that Dorothy Parker, seated next to him at a dinner, said to him, "Mr. Coolidge, I've made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you." His famous reply: "You lose." It was also Parker who, upon learning that Coolidge had died, reportedly remarked, "How can they tell?"

Curse you, Mother Nature

The snow we received on Friday melted yesterday, and with the soil already saturated, the meltwater was running off.  Then we received a hard rainfall overnight.  This afternoon I went out and surveyed the new gullies running through some of our better fields.  That was extremely frustrating.  Mother Nature you're a $#%*!.


According to Moody's Analytics, the Republican House spending cut proposals would cost 700,000 jobs through 2012.  Only a good move if you want the president to look bad going into an election.

Floyd B. Olson

A Balloon Juice reader sent in this picture to their site from a rally in St. Paul on Saturday in support of the Wisconsin public sector workers.  I was struck by the length of the quote on the sign, but also that the quote was from Floyd B. Olson, Governor of Minnesota from 1931-1936, representing the Farmer-Labor Party (later merged with the Democratic Party to create the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, or DFL)  It is an interesting quote, but it also should be a reminder to business interests how lucky they are that the government stepped in to "interfere" with the "free market" in 2008 to prevent a recurrence of the Great Depression.  Governor Olsen played a pivotal role as one of the close-to-socialist politicians who dealt with the fallout at that time.  Businesses today can't even imagine what plans were considered then to deal with the crisis.

A little history after the jump (including the origin of the Floyd of Rosedale trophy)

When is the best calving time?

“Should we go to May and June calving?” That is the question producers are asking themselves. It is a tough question.
A review of data from the CHAPS program through the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association shows there is not much difference in early March- or early April-born calves and late April-born calving herds.
Calf average daily gain was very similar, no matter when the calves were born. Late April-born calves were lighter due to age and having fewer days to grow before weaning. Overall, reproductive performance also was similar for all calving seasons. From the data available in the CHAPS program, the bottom line is that the only disadvantage for early March calving herds was a slightly longer calving season. The disadvantage for late April calving herds was decreased calf weight at weaning due to the calves being younger.

The Tea Party and Religion

The Sharia law stuff really makes me scratch my head:
One of the subtler but also most hysterical expressions of legislative sectarianism is the wave of state proposals aimed at banning the non-existent threat of Sharia law. At first glance, you might mistake this trend for an effort to keep religion out of government, but a law intended to impose special disadvantages on one religion is no less sectarian (and violative of the First Amendment) than a law intended to extend special advantages to another.

So it's not surprising to find proposed bans on Sharia law in conservative states, like South Dakota and Texas, alongside extreme anti-abortion proposals. (You can find atheists and agnostics who oppose abortion rights, but generally the anti-abortion movement is overwhelmingly religious and tends to divide along sectarian lines: according to Pew, "most religious traditions in the U.S. come down firmly on one side or the other.") The notorious South Dakota bill that would arguably legalize the killing of abortion providers has been tabled; but a bill pending in Texas requires doctors to conduct pre-abortion sonograms for women and to impose on them a description of the fetus's arms, legs and internal organs. Supporters of this bill insist that it is "pro-woman;" its purpose is empower them and "ensure there are no barriers preventing women from receiving the information to which they are entitled for such a life-changing decision" -- barriers like a woman's right to decline a sonogram or description of the fetus.
But the right wing's aggressive sectarianism extends far beyond the usual battles over abortion and other culture-war casualties. Just listen to Mike Huckabee gush over Israel (biblical Zionists have been carrying on about Israel for years, but these days they have Tea Party stars on their side.) Michelle Bachmann claims that "if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play." Note former Senator Rick Santorum's defense of the Crusades, which, he laments, have been maligned by "the American left who hates Christendom." Remember the Bible-based environmental policy of Illinois Congressman John Shimkus, now chair of the House Environment and Economy Sub-Committee. "The Earth will end when God declares it's time to be over," Shimkus famously declared in a 2009 hearing. Reading from the Bible and citing God's promise to Noah not to destroy the earth (again), Shimkus said, "I believe that's the infallible word of God and that's the way it's gonna be for his creation."

The history of a city block

A block in SoHo, NYC (h/t the Dish):
A factory constructed in 1880

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Will 'Chindia' Rule the World in 2050, or America After All, at the Telegraph.  From the article:
HSBC’s report also sketches an era of unparalleled prosperity, yet the West does not sink into oblivion. China overtakes the US, but only just, and then loses momentum.
Chimerica, not Chindia, form the G2, towering over all others in global condominium. Americans prosper with a fertility rate of 2.1, high enough to shield them from the sort of demographic collapse closing in on Asia and Europe. Beijing and Shanghai are 1.0, Korea is 1.1, Singapore 1.2, Germany 1.3, Poland 1.3, Italy 1.4 and Russia 1.4.
Americans remain three times richer than the Chinese in 2050. The US economy still outstrips India by two-and-a-half times. This is an entirely different geo-strategic outcome.
My own view is closer to HSBC, perhaps because my anthropological side gives greater weight to the enduring hold of cultural habits, beliefs, and kinship structures, and because of an unwillingness to accept that top-down regimes make good decisions in the end.
I wonder mainly about energy, and the ability to continue to increase consumption.  Overall, the UK has remained near the top in standard of living, even though their time at the top of the world ended almost 100 years ago, and they lost India over 60 years ago, so I wouldn't panic about the threat that the Chinese people will be better off than the US in 2050.

Thanks again, Wall Street

Via Economix, a Bureau of Labor Statistics chart:
More work is getting done, but wages are lower.

Thanks Wall Street

Paul Krugman links to a Dean Baker piece on the state pensions, and includes this graph:
Also, people shouldn't forget the states have been underfunding the pensions by overestimating the likely rate-of-return.

Still pretty grim

Looking forward to the monthly employment report on Friday, Calculated Risk reminds us that things are still ugly out there:
And we have to remember the numbers are grim:
• There are 7.7 million fewer payroll jobs now than before the recession started in December 2007.
• Almost 14 million Americans are unemployed.
• Of those unemployed, 6.2 million have been unemployed for six months or more.
• Another 8.4 million are working part time for economic reasons,
• About 4 million more have left the labor force since the start of the recession (we can see this in the dramatic drop in the labor force participation rate),
• of those who have left the labor force, about 1 million are available for work, but are discouraged and have given up.

Duke Snider, RIP

Hall of Famer dies.  He had the most home runs and RBIs of any major leaguer in the 1950s.  From 1953 to 1956, he averaged a .320 batting average, 42 home runs and 123 RBIs.  Though overshadowed by Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays as the three centerfielders in New York through most of the 50s, he was immortalized in the song, "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke)" by Terry Cashman:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Daydream believers

A Massachusetts biotechnology company says it can produce the fuel that runs Jaguars and jet engines using the same ingredients that make grass grow. Joule Unlimited has invented a genetically-engineered organism that it says simply secretes diesel fuel or ethanol wherever it finds sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.
The Cambridge, Mass.-based company says it can manipulate the organism to produce the renewable fuels on demand at unprecedented rates, and can do it in facilities large and small at costs comparable to the cheapest fossil fuels.
What can it mean? No less than "energy independence," Joule's web site tells the world, even if the world's not quite convinced.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Two stories today.  First, Forget fuel costs, U.S. farmers cheer oil surge, at Reuters:
Not too long ago, a surge in oil prices such as this week's would have caused a groan of misery from the U.S. farm belt, forced to pay higher prices for tractor fuel and fertilizer. Today, farmers are far more likely to cheer.
The farm sector's response to a surge in fuel costs has inverted for two important reasons: the rise of biofuels now means more corn and soybeans are likely to be drawn into the fuel pool; and the disconnect between natural gas and crude prices means fertilizer costs are not being dragged higher.
While neither trend is new, it's been put in sharp relief this week as U.S. oil prices surged to $100 for the first time since 2008 amid Middle East unrest. U.S. crude futures rose toward $100 per barrel again on Friday before easing.
On balance, the surge is far more likely to lend support for a near-record corn sowing season than it is to crimp farm income through higher costs for crop chemicals and transportation charges, analysts say.
Second, Why Wouldn't the Tea Party Shut It Down, by Frank Rich:
The 2011 rebels are to the right of their 1995 antecedents in any case. That’s why this battle, ostensibly over the deficit, is so much larger than the sum of its line-item parts. The highest priority of America’s current political radicals is not to balance government budgets but to wage ideological warfare in Washington and state capitals alike. The relatively few dollars that would be saved by the proposed slashing of federal spending on Planned Parenthood and Head Start don’t dent the deficit; the cuts merely savage programs the right abhors. In Wisconsin, where state workers capitulated to Gov. Scott Walker’s demands for financial concessions, the radical Republicans’ only remaining task is to destroy labor’s right to collective bargaining.
That’s not to say there is no fiscal mission in the right’s agenda, both nationally and locally — only that the mission has nothing to do with deficit reduction. The real goal is to reward the G.O.P.’s wealthiest patrons by crippling what remains of organized labor, by wrecking the government agencies charged with regulating and policing corporations, and, as always, by rewarding the wealthiest with more tax breaks. The bankrupt moral equation codified in the Bush era — that tax cuts tilted to the highest bracket were a higher priority even than paying for two wars — is now a given. The once-bedrock American values of shared sacrifice and equal economic opportunity have been overrun. (emphasis mine)

Majorly geeky

From Ritholtz:

Economic Fundamentalism

Stan Collender highlights an article in New York Magazine:
“What you’ve got to understand is this is an emotional issue, not a rational issue," says budget guru Stan Collender, a veteran of both House and Senate budget committees who puts the likelihood of a shutdown at 90 percent. “As far I can tell it has no theoretical economic underpinnings, which is why it’s so difficult for the budget these days to be discussed, because statistics don’t mean anything, equations don’t convince anybody. It is almost a religious belief.”
Perhaps more than “almost.” The tea party has a reputation for secularism, but in fact it’s deeply rooted in the religious right. The GOP’s tea party freshmen made their leanings clear by going after insurance coverage for abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood, but their faith informs their economic stance as well. “It's no coincidence that socialist Europe is post-Christian because the bigger the government gets the smaller God gets and vice versa,” Senator Jim DeMint, one of the Tea Party’s major Senate supporters, told the Christian Broadcasting Network last year.
Republican elites have encouraged this quasi-theological approach to economics. Last year, Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, published The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future, a book much discussed in right-wing circles. “America faces a new culture war,” Brooks argued. Instead of a fight over “guns, abortion, religion and gays,” it’s a struggle between American freedom and European statism.
Thus debt has come to replace homosexuality as a symbol for American decline, and the fervor of past culture wars is being deployed in budgetary battles. And things could soon get truly apocalyptic, given that some tea party-aligned Republicans are balking at raising the debt limit, which we'll reach later this spring. That would be far more serious than a government shutdown: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has warned of “catastrophic economic consequences, including default on U.S. debt and a suspension of Social Security payments.