Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bob Herbert Signs Off

He goes out firing:
There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.
Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.
The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.
This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.
A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.
As The Times’s David Kocieniewski reported, “Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”
He closes by saying this:
This is my last column for The New York Times after an exhilarating, nearly 18-year run. I’m off to write a book and expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society. My thanks to all the readers who have been so kind to me over the years. I can be reached going forward at bobherbert88@gmail.com.
At least he went out in style.  This is the story that needs to be told.  I recommend reading the whole column.  Our country has previously been through a period of ridiculous income disparity and eventually came out with the New Deal, the Great Society and a seriously progressive tax system.  Since Ronald Reagan became president, much of this system has been dismantled or made dysfunctional.  That condition must change, and it must change soon.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: The High Water Mark of American Science: at Physics Buzz.  The post features pictures from the abandoned Superconducting Super Collider in Texas:

In the 1980s the Department of Energy started to design what would have been the biggest science experiment in the world, the Superconducting Super Collider. Waxahachie, Texas was all set to host a particle accelerator that would have dwarfed Switzerland's Large Hadron Collider, today's reigning champ. Construction began in 1991, then was abruptly canceled in 1993.

The SSC was designed to collide protons and anti-protons at energies of 40 TeV, today the LHC can only ever hope to reach 14 TeV. The LHC has tunnels 17 miles in circumference; the SSC would have been more than 54 miles.

Congress pulled the plug in 1993 for a couple reasons. The projected budget swelled from about $4.4 billion to $12 billion. Political support for the project had always been shaky, and it essentially came down to whether Congress wanted to fund the International Space Station, or the SSC. The ISS won out.

Today the old SSC site sits rusting away. No one wants to buy the derelict buildings, so they are slowly rotting into the Texas prairie. Workers had drilled over 14 miles of tunnels underground.
It is pretty amazing what was done there, and then just left to rot.  There is another good link to a story called Inside America's Most Dangerous Nuclear Plant, at TruthOut, which indicates that this chart may just indicate that the worst accidents in nuclear energy may not yet have occurred.  It is well worth reading.

Jon Stewart Takes Note of John Kasich


I have yet to figure out why these Republican governors came in to office knowing that serious sacrifices were going to need to be made, then swore off raising taxes, in many cases cut taxes (benefitting the wealthiest individuals and corporations), then shoved as many things as they could up the hindquarters of state and local workers, and now don't understand why they aren't popular. Maybe I'm just biased, but rewarding the best off in society while screwing everybody else doesn't seem like the best way to "share sacrifice." All of the Medicaid cuts by definition fall on the poor and the elderly. The vast majority of the tax breaks go to the extremely wealthy.

It just seems like Republicans go out of their way not only to screw the least fortunate and benefit the most fortunate, they go out of their way to do it without the least shred of decency, tact or class. They seem to revel in being assholes, and their supporters seem to show more respect for their leaders if they are bigger assholes.

It concerns me that the party which claims that the United States is a Christian Nation governs in the least Christian way possible. When President Obama nominated Justice Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, he was derided by Republicans for saying that he chose her because of her empathy for others. What characteristic is demonstrated more often by Jesus in the Gospels than empathy for the least powerful and influential people in society? If I have to pick the characters in the Gospel best represented by Republicans, it would have to be Jesus archenemies, the Pharisees.  Republicans govern as Christians only in Bizarro World.

Update: Thanks to the sister for bringing the video to my attention.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Off to Fry Fish

A little music for your listening enjoyment:


Also, from a reader at the Dish:


They say creepy, I say funny.

The Danger of Nuclear Power

From Seth Godin via the Dish:

He says:
For every person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,000 die due to coal, adjusted for the same amount of power produced...
Radiation is still a scary unknown, but mainly if you live near the reactor.  I wouldn't want the farm poisoned for generations from radiation (although you might be able to grow giant crops).  Luckily, accidents like this are extremely rare.

Wisconsin GOP Goons

From James Fallows:
Because Cronon dared write an op-ed piece in the New York Times* pointing to Wisconsin's long tradition of bi-partisan, "good government"-minded support of collective bargaining rights, and criticizing Gov. Scott Walker for his campaign against organized labor and collective bargaining, the Wisconsin Republican Party is launching a legal effort to look through his email archives to see if he has been involved in the recent protests in the state. The putative rationale is that Cronon's messages were sent on the University of Wisconsin's email system and therefore are covered by the state's open-records law.

Cronon gives a very, very detailed description of the case here, with an impassioned and, to me, convincing argument about why this should be seen as a flat-out effort at personal intimidation, in the tradition of Wisconsin's own Sen. Joe McCarthy. I encourage you to read that, and Josh Marshall's explanation of the case here. I hope to say more about this later.

The reason this strikes me particularly hard at the moment: I am staying in a country where a lot of recent news concerns how far the government is going in electronic monitoring of email and other messages to prevent any group, notably including academics or students, from organizing in order to protest. I don't like that any better in Madison than I do in Beijing.
____
* UPDATE and correction: The Republican request to see Cronon's email records actually came on March 17, before the NYT op-ed but two days after Cronon had made a blog post about the situation in Wisconsin, plus the role of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council in promoting anti-public sector union efforts in several states. That post is here. The attempt to intimidate is the same. But Cronon's "offense" came a week earlier than I said, and in a far less visible venue, which if anything makes the bullying reaction worse.
I linked to the op-ed here.  It was well written and classy.  What could they possibly find in the man's emails?  Are they looking to see if he actively utilized the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly?  I hope these goons continue to bring on the crazy.  Their ideas of freedom and less government are pretty confusing.  Freedom from tyranny if you agree with me!  Tyranny if you disagree!  Woo Hoo.

Derby Prep Races this Weekend

There's the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes at Turfway, the Louisiana Derby at the Fairgrounds, the UAE Derby and the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park.

Late Night Comedians Will Have it Easy

Michele Bachmann announces the formation of an exploratory committee for a Presidential run in 2012.

At least we will find out how many people are off their rockers.

NCAA Hockey Bracket

East Regional-Yale and Minnesota-Duluth
Champion-Minnesota-Duluth

Northeast Regional- Notre Dame and Miami
Champion-Notre Dame

West Regional-Boston College and Nebraska-Omaha
Champion-Boston College

Midwest Regional- Denver and North Dakota
Champion- North Dakota

Frozen Four winners Notre Dame and Boston College
Champion- Boston College

Damn Ohio Republicans

Two bills which are in the Ohio House caught my attention, and raised my blood pressure.  First, the House passed a new photo ID bill, which would require each voter to show a government-issued ID card at the polling place, while providing a photo ID for free if a person can't afford one.  This is "intended" to cut down on voter impersonation, according to the bill's sponsor.  When barely half of all registered voters vote, I seriously doubt that this is a problem.  The Republicans don't even claim that they know of any cases having ever occured.  If they were honest, it would be called vote suppression, because their only goal is to turn away the poor and the elderly voters who don't have photo IDs, and won't know about the restrictions or won't go out and get the photo ID to vote.  It is an extremely cynical and anti-democratic bill, and frankly unnecessary.  Republicans have done their math, and they know that old white people are going to be a minority, so they have to prevent as many people as possible from voting.

Secondly, Republicans are proposing an amendment to the Ohio Constitution which would attempt to block the health insurance mandate in the Health Care Reform bill.  It would be placed before voters on the fall ballot.  My question is, why should people be allowed to not carry insurance and be a free rider on the system?  This mandate is a Republican idea.  How cynical can these jackasses be?  In the photo ID bill, Republican supporters will tell you that poorly-informed voters shouldn't vote, yet these same people are extremely poorly-informed, getting their "news" from Fox News and bullshit artists like Rush Limbaugh.  I don't understand why people who have insurance provided by their employers are opposed to the insurance mandate.  If they lose their jobs and can afford health insurance, would they refuse to buy it?  If so they are idiots they are free riding on the system. 

If anyone has read the Ohio Constitution, they will notice it is chalk chock-full of stupid amendments like this one, along with more than a dozen amendments for various bond issues, because the 1851 Constitution outlawed the state issuing bonds after the canal debt crisis after the Panic of 1837 in the 1840's.  Now, every state bond issue, such as highway construction bonds, must be added as amendments to the Constitution.  The Constitution includes amendments for selling bonds to pay bonuses to veterans of WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the current wars.  We also amended the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage in Ohio, which will look absolutely stupid in 10 years. 

One provision of the Constitution places a question on the ballot every 20 years to vote for a Constitutional Convention to review and amend the state Constitution.  It was passed in 1912 at the last such Convention, which installed the referendum system and other Progressive Era reforms.  It has never been passed since then.  I think it is high time that we undertake the process, make the state Constitutionally allowed to issue a certain amount of debt indexed to state finances or GDP, get rid of the gay marriage ban as a business-friendly and creative-class friendly move, dramatically reform the referendum process, revisit the casino amendment and change or remove many other stupid or outdated amendments.  The only problem is that Republicans are not up to the task, leaving half of the potential convention members lacking in sense.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's Link : Stock Market in a State of Denial, by Comstock Partners:
Those of you who watch financial TV or read the financial media have probably heard the current market referred to as the "nothing matters" market since it is supposedly ignoring a spate of negative news.  According to this view, the negative news is exogenous and temporary while the true backbone of the market is the so-called strengthening recovery that has a long way to go.  We have a number of disagreements with this point of view. 
First, you may have noticed that the market has not exactly ignored the problems.  The S&P 500 peaked about five weeks ago at 1344 and then proceeded to fall 7.1%.  It has since climbed back by 4.6% in a rally that looks somewhat anemic by past standards.  This type of action is actually typical of the way most bear markets begin.  Generally bear markets go through three psychological phases----denial, concern and capitulation.  Most often, but not always, the market rallies between each phase.  The denial phase is the initial downleg from the bull market high, and we are only at the start of that downleg now.
During the denial phase the majority of investors are still in a bullish frame of mind after seeing continual profits in their account and having seen the market bounce back from prior corrections.  They look upon the decline as merely another buying opportunity and think that stocks are cheap.  In addition the fundamentals during this period are still perceived as positive and any negative news is downplayed.
I fear that a dramatic slump in the so far slow recovery would make it more likely that whatever freak the Republican base nominates could win.  Unless they do something unexpected, that would be very bad.

There is also an interesting link to Scientific American on whether the great expansion after the Big Bang is a mistaken hypothesis.  That's way over my pay grade, but interesting.

House Prices - Real vs. Nominal

From Visualizing Economics via Ritholtz:
A $10,000 house in 1890 would be worth almost the same in real dollars in 2010 but more than $350,000 in nominal dollars in 2010. Which matters to the home seller, real or nominal prices? If a seller is holding a mortgage then the question is: Can I sell for more or less than I owe? Since that loan amount is not adjusted for inflation then the nominal value is more importent both the seller and the mortgage holder. It is when nominal prices fall that banks have trouble with high rates of mortgage defaults. But if you are looking at the long-term value of real estate as an investment (compared to stocks or bonds) then you need to take into account the real growth.
In other words, inflation giveth, and inflation taketh away.  Nominal prices mean that over the years that 30-year mortgage payment isn't so big, but your house isn't a good long term investment.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reform in Chicago

An interesting story by Don Rose at The Week Behind:
Not only was it not ready for reform, it was about to double down on clout. In an era when the old urban machines were gasping and wheezing their last, Daley grabbed hold of both the mayor’s post and the county party chairmanship to retool the fearsome Chicago Democratic machine into the nation’s most powerful political organization. He became, in Sidney Lens’s phrase, not the last of the old-time bosses but the first of the new-time bosses.
He did it using a new political model that invited the business and financial communities—two traditionally WASP-ish groups that initially opposed his election–to share in the spoils. Their unwritten pact gave them almost unlimited control of business and real estate development downtown while he worked to stem the spread of Chicago’s burgeoning black population–that also threatened the central business district’s white sanctity.
In Daley’s Chicago, politics was intrinsically tied to race. He used every possible instrument of government, from schools, housing and employment to protective and recreational services to suppress the African American population and created the nation’s most segregated city. It took federal legislation, a potent local civil rights movement and a few brave politicians like Ralph Metcalfe and Al Raby to liberate Chicago’s black citizenry from what some called Massa Daley’s plantation.

The Koch Bridge

I saw the headline for this, and the first thing I thought of were the Koch Brothers and privatizing infrastructure.  Damn Democrat blogs.  Anyway:
Edward I. Koch is many things to many people: larger-than-life mayor, cantankerous commentator, amateur movie critic. Now he will be a bridge.
The City Council voted 38 to 12 on Wednesday to rename the Queensboro Bridge after Mr. Koch, who led New York City from 1978 to 1989 and emerged as one of its most familiar faces. The city is expected to officially christen the bridge the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge next month.
The bridge, which serves as connective tissue between Manhattan and Queens, is a signature of the New York skyline, depicted in movies and memorialized in song. Its steel frame extends from 59th Street over the East River.
“It just makes me feel marvelous,” Mr. Koch said in a telephone interview after the vote. He said he used the bridge frequently because he liked to go to Telly’s Taverna in Astoria for Greek food. “I’m going to feel very, very comfortable on that bridge,” he said.
The Queensboro Bridge, also known as the 59th Street Bridge, opened in 1909 and helped transform Queens from a collection of rural communities into an urban center of commerce and housing.
I have a hard time imagining that in 1909, Queens was a collection of rural communities.   Things can change dramatically in a short period of time.  When I rode the bus from LaGuardia to the 7 train, I learned that these days Queens is full of people from nearly all nations on the globe.  Leaving the airport, I and some other corn-fed hick were the only people on the bus.  He was such a hick that he was wearing a "W the Convention, 2004" baseball cap, in 2008. I can't fathom how out-of-touch (or smugly conservative) somebody is to wear that in New York in 2008, although I guess it signifies that he was in New York previously for the Convention. 

Anyway, the first stop was in a Hispanic neighborhood.  The second stop was in a Haitian neighborhood, the third stop was in an Indian neighborhood, etc.  Pretty soon, the bus is full, and we are clearly the only out-of-town, Midwestern white backwater folks on the bus.  He's on the other side of the aisle from me, one row back, and we are both sitting against the window.  He gets up, walks over, and asks me how far to the Roosevelt Avenue stop, to switch to the 7 train.  Mind you, I didn't even know that the 7 train was at Roosevelt Avenue, I just assumed I would be able to tell where the 7 train was.

The Wall Street Journal Propaganda Page

Ezra Klein:
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has a Wall Street Journal op-ed today in which he uses the emergency heart surgery conducted on his daughter 27 years ago as an argument against the Affordable Care Act. “I don’t even want to think what might have happened if she had been born at a time and place where government defined the limits for most insurance policies and set precedents on what would be covered,” he writes. “Would the life-saving procedures that saved her have been deemed cost-effective by policy makers deciding where to spend increasingly scarce tax dollars?”

Here’s the odd thing: At no point in his op-ed does Johnson ever argue that the Affordable Care Act would’ve made his daughter’s surgery less likely. And that’s because it wouldn’t. Johnson’s daughter was covered under Johnson’s health-care insurance. Johnson’s health-care insurance was provided by Johnson’s employer, a plastics manufacturer based in Oshkosh, Wis. There is nothing in the law that would’ve made the insurance offered by Johnson’s employer less generous or would dictate what treatments can and cannot be covered. The story about his daughter is, in all respects save for one, a complete red herring.
I am shocked, just shocked that a Wall Street Journal op-ed has nothing to do with the facts.  And Ron Johnson is an Ayn Rand loon, read this George Will column on him:
What Samuel Johnson said of Milton's "Paradise Lost" -- "None ever wished it longer than it is" -- some readers have said of "Atlas Shrugged." Not Johnson, who thinks it is "too short" at 1,088 pages.
That book is about 600 pages too long.  Also, this:
"The most basic right," Johnson says, "is the right to keep your property." Remembering the golden age when, thanks to Ronald Reagan, the top income tax rate was 28 percent, Johnson says: "For a brief moment we were 72 percent free." Johnson's daughter -- now a nurse in neonatal intensive care -- was born with a serious heart defect. The operations "when her heart was only the size of a small plum" made him passionate about protecting the incentives that bring forth excellent physicians.
That 28% top marginal rate lasted for a whole 2 years, because the deficits were huge.  George H.W. Bush had to man up and raise taxes.  Dude needs to quit reading libertarian science fiction and come join the real world.

More Wisconsin News

From Yahoo:
Wisconsin Treasurer Kurt Schuller has drafted a bill that would eliminate his position and the office of the secretary of state. The resolution would amend the state constitution to cut both offices by 2015, Schuller said Wednesday. Schuller, a Republican, promised during his campaign that he would only serve one term if elected and would work to get rid of the treasurer's office, which has little power.
If either the treasurer or secretary of state's office is eliminated, the elected officer's seat on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands would be filled by the lieutenant governor. If both offices are cut, the superintendent of public instruction would fill the remaining seat.
Schuller said Republican Rep. Scott Krug of Wisconsin Rapids will introduce the bill in the Assembly. If the Legislature approves the measure in two consecutive sessions, voters could provide final approval through separate statewide referendums. Voters could eliminate one or both offices. Legislators would have to reapportion any duties not designated by the constitution.
I am torn on this issue.  I really think there are several Constitutionally required jobs, especially at the county level, that could be eliminated.  At the same time, the fact that they are elected positions means that they are accountable to the public.  As far as Treasurer goes, I think the amount of money the state invests would be more likely to go to campaign contributors if the Treasurer is appointed by the Governor, especially if it is a Governor like Scott Walker.  If this were to take effect, I would prefer to see career public servants and not political appointees in charge of the office.  The political appointees could make changes, but only in a very public and open-bid manner.  I doubt that is what Republicans will do in this bill.  I don't trust them any farther than I can kick them.  Democrats aren't much better, but they don't completely kiss the ass of Big Business.

Dutch Dairies

From Marketplace:
The Reulings built a new house and a state-of-the-art milking parlor. But the project also required a minimum of 300 cows. That's about average for Iowa, but it was four times more than what the farmers had milked back home in the Netherlands. Reuling found that many animals to be a burden, especially as he realized business plans that had gotten the blessing of Iowa State were overly optimistic and didn't match what was happening in the marketplace.
Reuling: Cows were more expensive, feed was more expensive. We couldn't make any profit at that time.
Two of the five families who relocated to Iowa have filed for bankruptcy, including Peter Poelma and his wife. The timing of their arrival in 2007 could not have been worse: corn prices for cattle feed hit record highs and milk prices plunged to levels of the 1970s.
Peter Poelma: We had to stop farming. We turned the farm over to the bank because we were not able to pay the bills.
Poelma has returned to the Netherlands after losing his life savings. Eduard Reuling says they were reassured they would have plenty of support both on and off the farm. But that help never came.
I never understood why these guys wanted to take a couple of million dollars (euros), move to the U.S., borrow even more, and start milking 600 to 2400 cows.  If I was sitting on several million dollars and really felt the urge to milk, I think I'd buy a quarter section dairy farm and milk somewhere between 50 and 80 cows.  That would be plenty of cows, I could have my milking fun and instead of losing tons of money, I'd lose much less.  Besides, then I could also raise my own feed.  I just never understood how these 1,200 cow dairies could be situated on 60 acres, with the dairyman buying all of his feed from neighbors.  I guess it is just my penchant for vertical integration, but I can't imagine being dependent on others for so many necessary inputs. 

I can't decide if these guys just got taken for a ride, or if they were crooks.  My guess is that the Vreba-Hoffs of the world really pulled the wool over the eyes of a bunch of hicks from the Netherlands, and the ag industry folks were happy to see some major livestock investments, and went along for the ride.  Regardless, I can't imagine a worse way to "invest" millions of dollars, except with Bernie Madoff.

Rural Counties and Subsidies

Monica Potts looks at farm subsidies and life in rural counties (via Mark Thoma):
  A 2008 USDA report found that over the previous year, the population of rural areas increased at a measly rate of 0.4 percent, compared with a growth in metro-area populations of 1.1 percent, and attributed the difference mostly to people moving into cities. Most rural counties actually saw a population decline. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Children in rural areas are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to die, and more likely to be held back a grade. Rural areas receive more government support in the form of farm subsidies and income support like Social Security, but that's largely due to their aging and more disabled populations. In general, rural communities receive less money per capita to support community services like law enforcement and higher education.
Klein notes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has an office of Rural Development that supports small-time entrepreneurs and infrastructure development like broadband in rural areas, but spends most of his time arguing against farm subsidies. First, farm life and rural life aren't quite interchangeable, and the billions we spend to support farms, including the $8.3 billion in direct payments and crop insurance we call subsidies, no longer support the actual people who live in rural America. In fact, they support the big factory farms that have eroded the quality of rural life.

The fact of the matter is that while grain farmers have been doing extremely well the past few years, before that, things were tough.  I can remember several years in the late 90's when about half of all farm income was either LDP payments or crop insurance payouts.  Our area isn't too bad for maintaining smaller farms.  We (guys on the other side of the river) have some monkey dirt, where guys can farm small farms and get pretty good returns, and there are a lot of town jobs guys can hold down and farm on the side.  Once you get out west, though, if you aren't farming, there aren't too many other things to do.  Take a look at the census data, and rural counties are emptying out.  It is pretty depressing.  And if the trends continue with oil prices, and we see peak production, things will be worse.  People will be hard pressed to live in the middle of nowhere if gas costs $8 or $10 a gallon.

Ohio Boys Basketball Bracket

Division I-Cincinnati LaSalle and Columbus Northland.
Champion-Cincinnati LaSalle

Division II-Columbus Bishop Hartley and Thurgood Marshall
Champion-Columbus Bishop Hartley

Division III-Cincinnati Taft and Cleveland Central Catholic
Champion-Cincinnati Taft

Division IV-Canal Winchester Harvest Prep and Berlin Hiland
Champion-Berlin Hiland

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Behind Reactor Battle, a Legion of Grunts, at the Wall Street Journal:
The glory, such as it is, for battling blazes and radiation leaks at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex has belonged to firefighters, soldiers and a corps of plant workers dubbed the Fukushima 50.
But much of the grinding grunt work of taming Japan's worst nuclear accident has fallen to a less-visible group—hundreds of industry foot soldiers who support the effort by carrying pipes, clearing debris and performing other manual labor amid the threat of elevated radiation.
In normal times, thousands of workers perform routine tasks of reactor maintenance at the Fukushima Daiichi complex. Now, many of them are being called to volunteer to work, at standard pay, at the troubled plant.
"I'm scared," says Kenji Tada, 29 years old, a worker at protective-coating specialist Tokai Toso Co. "But someone has to go."
Mr. Tada's normal job includes painting corroded spots on reactor equipment. On Monday, he is scheduled to join several hundred other workers who will be on call for duty at the compound. Some are engineers and operations specialists. Others will drag electrical cables, hook up water pipes or otherwise provide on-the-ground muscle in the effort to bring the overheating reactors under control.
It is fascinating to read what these guys are doing, and how matter-of-fact they are.  I didn't realize when this started that it would drag on for weeks.  I figured that either it would meltdown quickly or it would be brought under control.  Shows what I know.

Taxes and Budget Balancing

Ezra Klein:
Not to steal Bill Maher’s schtick, but new rule: if you’re not willing to consider tax increases, you’re not serious about deficits. Full stop. Just as rigid pacifists aren’t credible on national defense and dogmatic Christian Scientists are rarely consulted on health-care policy, a politician who has made an ideological vow to refuse to even consider tax increases is not interested in reducing deficits -- and that’s true no matter how often they say the word “deficits.” So if Grover Norquist has really gotten ironclad assurances from both Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that they will not permit tax increases as part of a deficit deal, then the only sensible conclusion is that Boehner and McConnell are not interested in deficits.

One politician making it a priority, however, is Sen. Tom Coburn. The play that Coburn and the other “Gang of Six” members want to run is to shut down loopholes in the tax code and reform expenditures such that the code is flatter and broader and raises more money. Norquist (and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, or ATR) considers that a tax increase, and he’s technically correct -- it will mean more taxes get paid. But Coburn’s office is undeterred. “Dr. Coburn has been arguing for many years, in word and deed, that the problem is overspending, not under-taxation,” John Hart, Coburn’s communications director, told the Hill. “That said, he strongly disagrees with ATR’s belief that every distortion and corporate welfare subsidy in the tax code, such as that for ethanol, is a ‘tax cut’ that needs to be preserved. Trusting Washington to pick winners and losers in the tax code should be anathema to conservatives. ATR’s odd definition of tax purity is an argument for tax deferment, tax complexity, more spending and unsustainable borrowing.”
I never thought I would say this, but hey, way to take a stand, Tom Coburn.  Bet I don't say that very often.

The More Things Change...

...the more they stay the same.  Harold Meyerson on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company:
But standards were on the way. In Triangle’s wake, and facing the prospect of losing New York’s Jewish community to an ascending Socialist Party, Charlie Murphy, who ran Tammany Hall and controlled the state’s Democratic Party, told two young protégés — Assembly Speaker Al Smith and state Senate President Robert Wagner — to make some changes to New York’s industrial order. Aided by Frances Perkins, a young social worker who was in Washington Square looking on in horror as the seamstresses jumped to their deaths, Smith and Wagner visited hundreds of factories and sweatshops. Over time, they authored and enacted legislation that required certain workplaces to have sprinklers, open doors, fireproof stairwells and functioning fire escapes; limited women’s workweeks to 54 hours and banned children under 18 from certain hazardous jobs. (Years later, Wagner, by then a U.S. senator, authored — with help from Perkins, who had become labor secretary — the legislation establishing Social Security; he also wrote the bill legalizing collective bargaining.)
Businesses reacted as if the revolution had arrived. The changes to the fire code, said a spokesman for the Associated Industries of New York, would lead to “the wiping out of industry in this state.” The regulations, wrote George Olvany, special counsel to the Real Estate Board of New York City, would force expenditures on precautions that were “absolutely needless and useless.”
“The best government is the least possible government,” said Laurence McGuire, president of the Real Estate Board. “To my mind, this [the post-Triangle regulations] is all wrong.”
Such complaints, of course, are with us still. We hear them from mine operators after fatal explosions, from bankers after they’ve crashed the economy, from energy moguls after their rig explodes or their plant starts leaking radiation. We hear them from politicians who take their money. We hear them from Republican members of Congress and from some Democrats, too. A century after Triangle, greed encased in libertarianism remains a fixture of — and danger to — American life.

NFL Ownership

Matthew Yglesias:
Stephen Squibb’s N+1 piece on the NFL lockout sheds light on something I’ve wondered about from time to time. How come you don’t see more teams organized as co-ops the way the Green Bay Packers are? Conversely, how come you don’t see teams organized as regular firms with shares listed on the stock exchange? Apparently it’s against the rules in both cases:
It is this kind of public—a universally available and voluntary association—that the league outlawed in 1961, when it stipulated that “No corporation, association, partnership or other entity not operated for profit nor any charitable organization or entity not presently a member of the league shall be eligible for membership.” The new rules demanded that each team be owned by at least one person with a minimum controlling interest of 30 percent. As the value of each team has risen, so has the height of this barrier to entry, which has recently become so high as to trigger a kind of succession crisis in Pittsburgh. There the problem was that no individual Rooney child had enough millions to buy out any of the others in order to create the necessary 30 percent share. Acting quickly to preserve one of its prized aristocracies, the league declared some owners more equal than others, allowing the combined 32 percent stake of the two Rooney boys to count as that of one individual.

Coffee Growers Face Climate Change

From the LA Times:
A mile above this rural mountain town, coffee trees have produced some of the world's best arabica beans for more than a century.
Now, farmers are planting even higher — at nearly 7,000 feet — thanks to warmer temperatures.
"We noticed about six years ago, the weather changed," said Ricardo Calderon Madrigal, whose family harvests ripe, red coffee cherries at the higher elevation. He sells beans to some of the most notable coffeehouses in the U.S., including Stumptown Coffee Roasters of Portland, Ore., and Ritual Coffee Roasters in San Francisco.
Standing among healthy coffee trees near the upper reaches of his farm, Calderon said he knows he is lucky.
Calderon is one of the few Costa Rican coffee farmers benefiting from the shifting weather pattern, while most of his fellow growers have found themselves on the losing end.
Yields in Costa Rica have dropped dramatically in the last decade, with farmers and scientists blaming climate change for a significant portion of the troubles.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Detroit Shrinks

From the Free Press:
The shocker from Tuesday's release of 2010 census data: One in every four Detroiters left. With 713,777 people, the city reached its lowest count in 100 years, though officials will contest it. The decade's exodus -- dropping the city from 10th to 18th nationally -- was a larger percentage than during the white flight of the 1970s, when population dropped 20%.
At its peak, about 1 in 3 Michiganders lived in Detroit. Today, it's 1 in 14.
The changes will reduce Detroit's political clout and add to it in Macomb County and western Michigan, which both grew.
Overall, Michigan was the nation's only state to lose people, as about 400,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared, forcing many to flee for work.

Republican Falsehoods

Robert Reich:
“Cutting taxes on the rich creates jobs.” Nope. Trickle-down economics has been tried for thirty years and hasn’t worked. After George W. Bush cut taxes on the rich, far fewer jobs were created than after Bill Clinton raised them in the 1990s.
To his credit, President Obama argued against Republican demands for extending the Bush tax cut for those making more than a quarter million. But as soon as Republicans pushed back he caved. And the President hasn’t even mentioned that the $61 billion Republicans are demanding in budget cuts this fiscal year is what richer Americans would have paid in taxes had he not caved.
“Cutting corporate income taxes creates jobs.” Baloney. American corporations don’t need tax cuts. They’re sitting on over $1.5 trillion of cash right now. They won’t invest it in additional capacity or jobs because they don’t see enough customers out there with enough money in their pockets to buy what the additional capacity would produce.
The President needs to point this out – not just in Washington but across the nation where Republican governors are slashing corporate taxes and simultaneously cutting school budgets.
I can't believe they still sell the cutting taxes creates jobs lie.  We've had tax cuts in place for ten years, where are the jobs?

The Next Bubble

Via Mark Thoma, Robert Schiller says farmland:
I don’t know, though I have some hunches. ... [T]oday’s commodity-price boom ... has ... a “new era” story attached to it. Increasing worries about global warming, and its effects on food prices, or about the cold and snowy winter in the northern hemisphere and its effects on heating fuel prices, are contagious stories. They are even connected to the day’s top story, the revolutions in the Middle East, which, according to some accounts, were triggered by popular discontent over high food prices – and which could themselves trigger further increases in oil prices.
But my favorite dark-horse bubble candidate for the next decade or so is farmland... Of course, farmland is much less important than other speculative assets. For example, U.S. farmland had a total value of $1.9 trillion in 2010, compared with $16.5 trillion for the US stock market and $16.6 trillion for the US housing market. ...
But, farmland ... seems to have the most contagious “new era” story right now. ... And the highly contagious global-warming story paints a scenario of food shortages and shifts in land values in different parts of the world, which might boost investor interest further. ...

Why the Financial Industry Hates Inflation

Dean Baker:
In principle, the Fed can offset much of the burden of the debt run up to boost the economy during the downturn by simply buying and holding it. In that case, the interest would be paid to the Fed and then refunded to the Treasury, leaving no net burden for taxpayers. The Fed could prevent this from leading to inflation when the economy recovers by raising reserve requirements. Of course most economists agree that a somewhat higher inflation rate would be desirable at the moment since it would alleviate the debt burden of consumers.
It is remarkable that this path towards dealing with the deficit has garnered so little attention. This could perhaps be explained by the fact that the Wall Street actors who are the main financiers of the anti-deficit crusade are not interested in a deficit reduction path that does not cut social spending and risks somewhat higher inflation. Higher inflation is generally anathema to the financial industry, since it devalues the debt it owns. (emphasis mine)
It is also worth noting that most people involved in the debate on economic and budget policy are not very astute observers of the economy. They were unable to see the $8 trillion housing bubble that both gave us the current downturn and the large deficits that have fixated Washington.
I've been puzzled why so many people are afraid of inflation when we are stuck in a deflationary environment.  The only driver of real inflation will be wage increases, and we won't see those anytime soon.  But since credit is near an all-time high, that burden could be mildly inflated away.  Unfortunately, commodity market reaction to QE2 has seen price inflation without wage inflation, and debts are still onerous.

Hulett Iron Ore Unloaders

Information on the Hulett Iron Ore Unloaders which showed up in the intro to Major League:
The Huletts were invented in 1898 by George H. Hulett, who was born in Conneaut, Ohio, but grew up in Cleveland. The Huletts were revolutionary at the time, greatly speeding up the process used to unload lake ore carriers. According to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: “They could completely unload a ship in 13 hours. Earlier, the same task had taken nearly a week. In their years of service, it is estimated that they unloaded some 100 million tons of material.”

The use of the Huletts spread to other areas around the Great Lakes, with many of them around Lake Erie in the Ports of Cleveland, Conneaut, Ashtabula, Huron, Toledo, and Lorain. The Huletts also played a big part in the development of the iron ore industry – and other related industries – in Ohio. Huletts were not suited for use near ocean waters, due to the rising and falling tides.

The Huletts became increasingly obsolete in the 1980s as the Great Lakes fleets converted to self-unloading ships. Cleveland last used a Hulett in 1992.

Even more here and here.

Babe Ruth Video Unearthed

From the NYT:
One recent discovery, from a cellar in Illinois, might be unlike any other, showing Ruth in his prime and shot from close range, sitting atop a pony while wearing a child’s cowboy hat and muttering into a home movie camera, as a boyish Lou Gehrig, who never had children and was known for his dignified demeanor, held children and framed his smile with big dimples.
Amid the eight reels of 16-millimeter film found in excellent condition in the cellar are three and a half minutes of Ruth and Gehrig wearing the uniforms, but not the caps, of their barnstorming teams. The film is thought to have been shot with a high-end home movie camera in or around Sioux City, Iowa, on Oct. 18, 1927 — 10 days after the Yankees completed a four-game World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
That season has special meaning in baseball annals. The 1927 Yankees, with their Murderers’ Row lineup, finished 110-44 and might have been the best team in major league history. Ruth, 32, hit 60 home runs that year, a record that stood for 34 years. Gehrig, 24, hit 47 home runs — more than anyone to that point other than Ruth — and was the American League most valuable player. His consecutive-games streak was in its infancy.

Salinger and College

From the NYT:
Then Jon Volkmer, an English professor, had what Holden Caulfield would have called a goddam terrific idea. They could establish an annual J. D. Salinger Scholarship in creative writing for an incoming freshman, and as a bonus the winner would get to spend the first year at Ursinus in Salinger’s old dorm room. “Any college could offer money,” Professor Volkmer said. “Nobody else could offer Salinger’s room.”
On Jan. 19, 2006, the college announced the $30,000-a-year Salinger scholarship, and within a week, the writer’s literary representatives were demanding that his name be removed. In retrospect, this was not a big surprise. All his life, Salinger had done everything possible to protect his privacy from the same stinking phonies who’d so unnerved Holden Caulfield. He removed his photograph from the jacket cover of “The Catcher in the Rye” and successfully sued a biographer to prevent the publication of his personal letters.
“Salinger’s representatives sent us a warning; it was only one paragraph, but it was blunt,” Mr. DiFeliciantonio said. “They may have used the word ‘exploit.’ ”

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Long-Neglected Experiment Gives New Clues to Origin of Life, at ScienceNOW:
In 1952, Stanley Miller of the University of Chicago in Illinois and his colleagues conducted one of the most famous experiments in all of science. They repeatedly sent electric sparks through flasks filled with the gases thought to resemble Earth's early atmosphere, including water vapor, hydrogen, methane, and ammonia. After 1 week of near-continuous zapping, the simulated lightning had converted a substantial portion of the gases into organic compounds, including several of the amino acids needed to produce proteins, indicating that this might be how life began on our planet.
In the next few years, Miller and his colleagues repeated the experiment with the same lab equipment and procedures but with different sets of gases. For some reason, the results of the experiments were shelved but not analyzed, surfacing again only after Miller died and colleagues began poring through his archives. In 2008, researchers reported the results of one of those experiments, in which the half-century-old residues yielded 22 amino acids, 10 of which hadn't been detected in the original 1952 experiment.
Now, researchers have analyzed the results of another of Miller's studies, one conducted in 1958. In that research, the team sent sparks through a mixture of methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. These gasses may have been similar to the noxious blend spewing from early volcanoes, and thus they may have been more representative of the environment in and around volcanic plumes than the gasses used in the 1952 experiment. The resulting dried sludge has been stored in glass vials inside cardboard boxes and kept at room temperature for more than 50 years.

More on Nuclear Plant Design

From Alexis Madrigal:
Why's this history especially important right now? No new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States for 25 years. During that time, the operational record of the plants has improved tremendously and the specter of climate change has made nuclear power more popular among some greens. In Washington, a consensus appeared to have coalesced around developing more nuclear power. Meanwhile, during nuclear power's long lull, plant designers reopened the history books and began to look at new ideas for tapping the atom's energy. From the thorium reactor featured in Wired to the modular plant backed by Bill Gates to the pebble bed reactors developed in South Africa and China, a host of new ideas are on the table for the future of nuclear energy.
With the Fukushima plant's problems putting safety back at the forefront of Americans' minds, these new reactors could be the only real way forward for nuclear power, if the globe's citizens decide they want that future. Many engineers think they're safer. For example, they incorporate "passive" safety features instead of the active pumping systems that failed at Fukushima. As importantly, some new reactor designs are made to be smaller than the one-gigawatt behemoths we built for decades. That could assuage some critics' contention that nuclear power exacerbates the centralization of an energy system that's already too centralized. Because they're smaller and may be safer, the plants may cost less too. That's important considering that a new standard reactor may cost up to $10 billion, which is more than the market value of all but a handful of the largest utilities.
$10 billion, that won't make for cheap, clean energy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Working Together to Achieve the Common Good

William Cronon on the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight:
This in turn points to what is perhaps Mr. Walker’s greatest break from the political traditions of his state. Wisconsinites have long believed that common problems deserve common solutions, and that when something needs fixing, we should roll up our sleeves and work together — no matter what our politics — to achieve the common good.
Mr. Walker’s conduct has provoked a level of divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of which have not been seen in this state since at least the Vietnam War. Many citizens are furious at their governor and his party, not only because of profound policy differences, but because these particular Republicans have exercised power in abusively nontransparent ways that represent such a radical break from the state’s tradition of open government.
Perhaps that is why — as a centrist and a lifelong independent — I have found myself returning over the past few weeks to the question posed by the lawyer Joseph N. Welch during the hearings that finally helped bring down another Wisconsin Republican, Joe McCarthy, in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Unlikely Arms Dealers

From Rolling Stone, via the Dish:
Reassured by the e-mail, Packouz got into his brand-new blue Audi A4 and headed home for the evening, windows open, the stereo blasting. At 25, he wasn't exactly used to the pressures of being an international arms dealer. Only months earlier, he had been making his living as a massage therapist; his studies at the Educating Hands School of Massage had not included classes in military contracting or geopolitical brinkmanship. But Packouz hadn't been able to resist the temptation when Diveroli, his 21-year-old friend from high school, had offered to cut him in on his burgeoning arms business. Working with nothing but an Internet connection, a couple of cellphones and a steady supply of weed, the two friends — one with a few college credits, the other a high school dropout — had beaten out Fortune 500 giants like General Dynamics to score the huge arms contract. With a single deal, two stoners from Miami Beach had turned themselves into the least likely merchants of death in history.

Large Earthquakes

From Ritholtz:
He links to a story at Newscientist.com about whether the earthquakes are linked.

The Last Action Hero

Via Balloon Juice, the Badass of the Week:
But Hideaki Akaiwa still wasn't done yet.
Now, I'm sure you're wondering what the fuck is more intense than commandeering a wet suit, face-punching a tsunami and dragging your wife of two decades out of the flooded wreckage of your home, but, no shit, it gets even better. You see, Hideaki's mother also lived in Ishinomaki, and she was still unaccounted for. I think you all know where this is going.
First, Hideaki searched around the evacuation shelters and other areas, looking for his mom among the ragtag groups of survivors who had been lucky enough to flee to higher ground. She might have escaped, and he needed to find her. Now. He ran through the city like some post-apocalyptic action hero, desperately trying to track her down, but when a couple of days went by without any sign of her, he knew what he had to do. The water had only receded a few inches by this point, the rescue teams weren't working quickly enough for his tastes, and Hideaki Akaiwa fucking once again took matters into his own hands – rushing back into the waterlogged city looking for his mom.
Read the whole thing, it is amazing.  Saving your wife and your mom, not a bad accomplishment.

Billy the Kid

John Fay on Billy Hamilton:
I was out on the back fields watching a little minor league batting practice this morning and heard a great story about Billy Hamilton from Billy Doran, the Reds’ assistant field coordinator.
“We were playing on this field the other day. The left fielder just lost a ball,” Doran said. “Billy took off. We were all like, ‘what’s he doing?’ He caught the ball over his shoulder, about 10 feet from warning track.”
That’s the amazing thing about Hamilton — he gets to balls that other players merely would give up on.

Long Term Effects

Parker Donham talks about how September 11 changed the U.S.:
The vastly greater compound disaster now convulsing Japan lacks the dastardly element of human agency that made 9/11 so reprehensible, but in magnitude of destruction, death toll, and potential for permanent damage, it dwarfs the September 11 attacks. What's happening is not merely awful, but Biblical in scope. In yesterday's Times, Norimitsu Onishi wondered how it will change Japan:

Will it... be a final marker of an irreversible decline? Or will it be an opportunity to draw on the resilience of a people repeatedly tested by calamity to reshape Japan -- in the mold of either the left or the right? This disaster, like the 1923 Tokyo earthquake and the 1995 Kobe earthquake, could well signal a new era.

I'm no Japan hand, but like all Canadians, proximity makes me something of an expert on the United States. (As Pierre Trudeau memorably told Washington's National Press Club in 1969, "Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.") From this vantage point, America's response to the atrocities it suffered on September 11 has been a dismaying combination of self-indulgence, official bullying, and evisceration of the freedoms that make the US a beacon for the world.

If Osama Bin Laden had a checklist of dumb things he hoped the U.S. would do in response his attack, the boxes have all been ticked. From the trivial (the seventh inning stretch song switch) and the merely obnoxious (the prison guard approach to airport security ably chronicled by our sponsor) to the reckless (three foreign wars launched on borrowed money without considering what comes next.) and the totalitarian (Abu Ghraib, Maher Arar,* Omar Khadr,* and now, Bradley Manning), America has done itself far greater damage than  Al-Qaeda could have dared hope.
I am glad that he mentioned playing "God Bless America" at the seventh inning stretch (done on Sunday's in Cincinnati).  I don't care if they continue to do that at Yankees games, but it is stupid to continue to do it in Cincinnati.  But seriously, the torture and stupid wars and loss of civil liberties are unnecessary, as terrorism is such a small threat to this country.  We need to move on, and the 10th anniversary of September 11 would be a good time for it.  Bring back September 10.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's Link : New process cleanly extracts oil from tar sands and fouled beaches, at Science Daily:
Paul Painter, professor of polymer science in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State, and his group have spent the past 18 months developing a technique that uses ionic liquids (salt in a liquid state) to facilitate separation. The separation takes place at room temperature without the generation of waste process water. "Essentially, all of the bitumen is recovered in a very clean form, without any contamination from the ionic liquids," Painter explained. Because the bitumen, solvents and sand/clay mixture separate into three distinct phases, each can be removed separately and the solvent can be reused.
The process can also be used to extract oil and tar from beach sand after oil spills, such as the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon incidents. Unlike other methods of cleanup, the Penn State process completely removes the hydrocarbons, and the cleaned sand can be returned to the beach instead of being sent to landfills. In an experiment using sand polluted by the BP oil spill, the team was able to separate hydrocarbons from the sand within seconds. A small amount of water was used to clean the remaining ionic liquids from the sand, but that water was also recoverable. "It was so clean you could toss it back on the beach. Plus, the only extra energy you need is enough to stir the mixture," said Aron Lupinsky, a researcher in Painter's group.

Technological Lock-In

Via Ritholtz-Why "light-water" reactors, because they fit into submarines:
Japan’s reactors are “light water” reactors, whose safety depends on an uninterrupted power supply to circulate water quickly around the hot core. A light water system is not the only way to design a nuclear reactor. But because of the way the commercial nuclear power industry developed in its early years, it’s virtually the only type of reactor used in nuclear power plants today. Even though there might be better technologies out there, light water is the one that utility companies know how to build, and that governments have historically been willing to fund.
Economists call this problem “technological lock-in”: The term refers to the process by which one new technology can prevail over another for no good reason other than circumstance and inertia. The best-known example of technological lock-in comes from the 1970s, when VHS and Betamax, two different kinds of videotape, competed in the market until VHS gained a slight lead and then leveraged it to total domination. Whether the VHS format was actually superior to Betamax didn’t matter. After the lock-in, consumers no longer had a choice.
Much more is at stake in nuclear power. Some reactor designs are safer than others in an accident; some are more efficient than others in their use of fuel and produce less nuclear waste. The fact that the industry settled on light water over any number of alternatives was determined in the years after World War II, when the US Atomic Energy Commission and Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover made a series of hasty decisions that irreversibly set the course for how nuclear power plants around the world are built today.

Raising Interest Rates

Andrew Leonard via Economist's View:
The Wall Street Journal has an early April Fool's entry -- an opinion piece by former hedge fund manager Andy Kessler arguing that the Federal Reserve should raise interest rates to boost the economy.
The key paragraphs:

It's all counterintuitive, but it will work. Ending quantitative easing and raising short-term rates will surely cause the stock market to crater. 1,000 points? 2,000? Who knows? But a selloff will ensue. Does that mean a negative wealth effect? I doubt it. Who really thought they were wealthier at Dow 12,000 versus Dow 10,000?
Some banks will sputter, and maybe even fail, even the big boys. But they've already had two years since the end-of-the-world sell-off in March 2009 to get their acts together, and many can now pay dividends. Hopefully the FDIC is ready to dive in and remove the remaining toxic mortgage assets of any failing banks, along with their managements, and then refloat the institutions. This contingency should be well mapped out by now with the Orwellian-named "Orderly Liquidation Authority" in the Dodd-Frank law.

Mark Thoma is pithy in his scorn: "The key to recovery begins with a Fed induced stock market crash, followed by failing banks -- perhaps even systemically important ones?" Yep, that's certainly "counterintuitive." Even with nascent signs of recovery in labor markets, consumer confidence is shaky and concern about the health of the economy high. But Kessler thinks that the sight of a few big banks going down in tandem with a plummeting stock market will change that dynamic for the better! That seems rash.

Supermoon Photo gallery

From NASA:

Sewage Stupidity

From the Columbus Dispatch:
Penn National Gaming's idea to pump sewage from its planned Franklin Township casino into a deep well would be a first in Ohio.
Locked in a stalemate with Columbus officials over annexation, the Pennsylvania-based company advanced the idea of "deep-well injection" for its casino sewage in a Feb. 22 memo sent to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
The company argues in the memo that an injection well is an option that would circumvent a demand by Columbus officials that the casino allow its property to be annexed into the city before it can get sewer services. Another option is trucking sewage to a treatment plant.
The company also is looking at obtaining drinking water by drilling wells rather than tapping into Columbus water mains.
Penn National has balked at annexation unless Columbus agrees to provide tax breaks and other incentives.
Bob Tenenbaum, a company spokesman, declined to comment.
I saw a mention in the Dayton Daily News that Penn National was proposing deep-well injection of sanitary sewage.  I couldn't figure out why they would be considering that.  Now I know.  That is stupid.  I thought the casino was going to be built at an old Delphi factory, wouldn't they already have had sewer?  Anyway, Penn National has really been a pain-in-the-ass with this casino.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lowering Sin Taxes

Maybe Governor Kasich ought to look into this:
If they’re too effective at discouraging “sinful” behaviors, though, they can undermine their original revenue-raising goals. As a result, some states are now reversing course and lowering such taxes to draw more “sinners” across their borders:
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — As some states look to tobacco tax increases to plug budget holes, a few are bucking the national trend and instead are considering dropping the rate to increase cigarette sales.
In New Hampshire, supporters argue that reducing the tax by a dime would help the state compete with Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts, while opponents say it would still lose millions of dollars even if sales improved.
New Hampshire’s House voted on Thursday to reduce the tax and sent the bill to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. New Jersey and Rhode Island have also considered reducing their taxes.
New Hampshire has previously adopted this strategy with alcohol sales, drawing in residents of neighboring states to purchase alcohol tax-free at state-owned stores. And when you think about it, this strategy is not all that different from recent state efforts to legalize (and then find ways to tax) other activities considered verboten, like prostitution, gambling and smoking marijuana. Even gay marriage, which has long been opposed (or supported) based chiefly on social grounds, has lately had its economic merits subjected to greater scrutiny.

Commodity Prices Track Demand

at Economist's View :
from Fed Views by Reuben Glick, SF Fed: In fact, increased demand from developing countries accounts for most of the increased world demand for commodities such as oil, wheat, and corn over the past decade. In the case of corn, a substantial amount of increased demand also reflects its use in ethanol production. ...

Earthquake Economic Effect?

Via Ritholtz-James Surowiecki:
But, as the economists Eduardo Cavallo and Ilan Noy have recently suggested, in developed countries even major disasters “are unlikely to affect economic growth in the long run.” Modern economies, it turns out, are adept at rebuilding and are often startlingly resilient.
The quintessential example comes from Japan itself: in 1995, an earthquake levelled the port city of Kobe, which at the time was a manufacturing hub and the world’s sixth-largest trading port. The quake killed sixty-four hundred people, left more than three hundred thousand homeless, and did more than a hundred billion dollars in damage (almost all of it uninsured). There were predictions that it would take years, if not decades, for Japan to recover. Yet twelve months after the disaster trade at the port had already returned almost to normal, and within fifteen months manufacturing was at ninety-eight per cent of where it would have been had the quake never happened. On the national level, Japan’s industrial production rose in the months after the quake, and its G.D.P. growth in the following two years was above expectations. Similarly, after the Northridge earthquake, in 1994, the Southern California economy grew faster than it had before the disaster. A recent FEMA study found that after Hurricane Hugo devastated Charleston, in 1989, the city outpaced growth predictions in seven of the following ten quarters. And the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, despite its enormous human toll, may have actually boosted the economy’s growth rate.
These were all monumental catastrophes, and yet, a couple of years after the fact, domestic growth rates showed little sign that they had happened. The biggest reason for this, as the economist George Horwich argued, is that even though natural disasters destroy physical capital they don’t diminish the true engines of economic growth: human ingenuity and productivity. With enough resources, a damaged region can reconstruct itself with surprising speed. Although the Northridge quake demolished the Santa Monica Freeway, it reopened after just sixty-six days. Healthy economies are by definition adaptive: in the case of Kobe, other Japanese ports picked up the slack until it was back on line. And, because governments generally flood disaster areas with money, there’s no dearth of cash for new investments.

NCAA Bracket-Update

11 of 16 in the Sweet 16 is pretty good for me.

10 Days Until Opening Day

The Opening of Major League, albeit with a couple of German dubbings to read the newspaper headlines:

Christian Conservatives and Corporations

Peter Montgomery:
One of the most striking examples of this theory reaching into the political realm is found in an early Christian Coalition Leadership Manual, co-authored by Coalition founder Ralph Reed in 1990. A section titled “God’s Delegated Authority in the World,” which argues that “God established His pattern for work as well as in the family and in the church,” cites four Bible passages instructing slaves to be obedient to their masters, including 1 Peter 2:18-19:
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. 
And then, the astonishing lesson drawn by Christian Coalition leaders from these slaves-obey-your-masters passages:
Of course, slavery was abolished in this country many years ago, so we must apply these principles to the way Americans work today, to employees and employers: Christians have a responsibility to submit to the authority of their employers, since they are designated as part of God’s plan for the exercise of authority on the earth by man. 
Slavery also makes an appearance in “Indivisible,” a booklet of essays being aggressively promoted by the Heritage Foundation as part of its campaign to assert that genuine fiscal conservatism cannot be separated from social conservatism. In one essay, anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson writes that minimum wage laws “[remind] me of slavery.”
I'm sure the boss is doing God's work.

TARP Watchdog

Barry Ritholtz notes that Neil Barofsky is getting some well-deserved credit:
This is more than mere noise: Barofsky actually saved the US taxpayers some big dough:
“In addition to his candor, Mr. Barofsky delivered a solid prosecutorial record. Since it was created in the fall of 2008, his office has won criminal convictions of 18 people, helped keep $555 million in taxpayer funds from being lost to fraud and provided the Treasury with 68 recommendations to protect taxpayers from losses in its programs. The office — known as Sigtarp, for special inspector general for the TARP program — continues to work on 153 civil and criminal investigations, including 74 involving executives and senior officers at financial institutions who received or applied for TARP money”
A lot more people should be going to jail, not just related to the TARP, but to the massive fraud prior to the 2008 meltdown.

Bruce Bartlett on the Tea Party

Here:
According to Sen. Paul, much of what drives the Tea Party is sort of a delayed reaction to the disappointing presidency of George W. Bush. In a revealing passage from his book, Paul says:
Imagine this – what if there had never been a President George W. Bush, and when Bill Clinton left office he was immediately replaced with Barack Obama. Now imagine Obama had governed from 2000 to 2008 exactly as Bush did – doubling the size of government, doubling the debt, expanding federal entitlements and education, starting the Iraq war – the whole works. To make matters worse, imagine that for a portion of that time, the Democrats actually controlled all three branches of government. Would Republicans have given Obama and his party a free pass in carrying out the exact same agenda as Bush? It’s hard to imagine this being the case, given the grief Bill Clinton got from Republicans.
This argument hits close to home for me because after 30 years of working in Republican politics, including for Ronald Reagan and Rand’s father, I became deeply alienated from the party for the very reasons Rand explains. The final straw for me was the way Republicans rammed the Medicare Part D program into law in 2003. This took place at the very moment when the Medicare program was starting to seriously hemorrhage money. It was grossly irresponsible to add massively to its deficit largely for the purpose of buying re-election for Bush and his party in 2004.
This year, Medicare Part D will add about $55 billion to the deficit – far more than can be saved with all the budget cuts Republicans can possibly hope to achieve in fiscal 2011. Furthermore, it annoys me to see so many of those who voted for Medicare Part D, such as House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), treated as if they are paragons of fiscal responsibility. In fact, their concern for excessive spending is highly selective, directed almost entirely at programs supported by Democrats primarily to undercut their political support, not because they care so much about deficits.
He goes on to say that pandering to the Tea Party will probably cost the Republicans the Presidential election in 2012.

Beneficial and Nonbeneficial Spending

The Economist:
MARK THOMA has an appropriately succint post up today which reads in its entirety (and I hope he'll forgive my quoting the whole thing):
We have enough money to pay for military action in Libya, but not for job creation?
It's hard not to be cynical about government policymaking, and this is why. Forget about fiscal stimulus for the moment. At present, both Republicans and Democrats are committed to cutting the government's budget in the current fiscal year. These cuts will almost certainly threaten programmes with positive economic returns; job retraining programmes are on the chopping block, for instance. Certainly few party leaders are seriously discussing new spending on programmes with positive economic returns. America has substantial infrastructure needs—current spending is inadequate to simply maintain critical infrastructure at its current state of repair—and yet the odds of passing a new transportation law to replace the one that was scheduled to expire in 2009 but which has since been extended repeatedly, well, they're close to zero. Why? No one can agree on a way to fund new infrastructure spending.
Libya poses no threat to America. It's far from clear that American intervention will yield positive outcomes for Libyans. And yet here America goes, launching massively expensive sorties, dropping massively expensive ordnance. And obviously it isn't just America, Britain managed to join the fight despite its austerity drive.

NCAA Hockey Bracket

At USCHO. Go Irish.

A Map of Inequality

At the Atlantic:


Click the link to check it out.