Saturday, April 2, 2011

Some Folks' Pay is Going Up

From the AP:
 Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., saw his 2010 compensation rise to $14.1 million from just over $1 million in 2009, according to an Associated Press analysis of data filed with regulators on Friday. Blankfein received a salary of $600,000, a cash bonus of $5.4 million and stock awards of $7.65 million for the year. He also received perks worth $464,067, including $185,110 for the use of a car, $62,020 for medical and dental coverage and the rest for life insurance, tax planning and retirement contributions. In addition, he was granted restricted stock valued at $12.6 million, up from $9 million in 2009, which is not counted in the total annual package because the grants are paid out over a period of three years.
Though his salary is among the top-tier for U.S. executives, it is a fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
Blankfein was known as one of the highest paid CEOs, taking home a package worth $42.9 million in 2008. However, Goldman's reputation took a beating during the financial crisis. Considered the leading Wall Street bank, Goldman has usually outdistanced its rivals with its trading and investment banking operations. But it was sharply criticized for its high compensation levels after it accepted a $10 billion government bailout during the financial crisis in 2008.

Antibiotic Use in Livestock

Andrew Sullivan highlights antibiotic resistant bacteria in livestock, and reports on Danish experience after banning regular low-dose antibiotic use in livestock:
Denmark quit giving antibiotics to their pigs, poultry and other livestock. Scientific American argues their example "has shown that it is possible to protect human health without hurting farmers":
Although the transition unfolded smoothly in the poultry industry, the average weight of pigs fell in the first year. But after Danish farmers started leaving sows and piglets together a few weeks longer to bolster the littermates’ immune systems naturally, the animals’ weights jumped back up, and the number of pigs per litter increased as well. The lesson is that improving animal husbandry—making sure that pens, stalls and cages are properly cleaned and giving animals more room or time to mature—offsets the initial negative impact of limiting antibiotic use. Today Danish industry reports that productivity is higher than before.
I am uncomfortable with regular antibiotic use in livestock operations.  It kind of falls in with using Roundup corn and soybeans as a foolish way to be a little lazy.

Republicans' Newly Found Deficit Religion

Bruce Bartlett calls the GOP out:
The truth is that Republicans don’t care anything about the deficit. They made that abundantly clear when they controlled Congress during the dismal George W. Bush years. What all of the current budget discussion is about is defunding programs that benefit Democratic constituencies and if possible destroying institutions, such as labor unions, that historically support the Democratic Party. In other words, it’s all about political power; any concern for the deficit is purely for show, window dressing to disguise the true Republican agenda.
 
A few days ago, an unnamed senior House Republican aide let the cat out of the bag, telling reporter Brian Beutler, “This debate has always been about discretionary spending – not autopilot ‘mandatory’ spending or tax hikes.” In short, it has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing the deficit.
 
Just to remind people, we had budget surpluses not too long ago. Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress bequeathed a surplus of 2.4 percent of GDP to the Republicans. They promptly dissipated it with tax cuts that reduced revenues by about 2 percentage points of GDP, increased domestic discretionary spending by about 0.5 percent of GDP, and defense spending by about one percent of GDP.
 
As noted earlier, Republicans made the problem with entitlement programs worse by adding a new unfunded benefit to Medicare just to buy the votes of seniors in 2004. They also repeatedly postponed cuts in Medicare physician payments that they themselves had enacted during the Clinton administration. While Republicans are not responsible for all of the increase in mandatory spending in the 2000s, they are guilty today of insincerity on the budget when they focus exclusively on domestic discretionary spending while exempting defense and entitlements from cuts.
Bartlett got kicked out of the conservative establishment, and has found his voice to tell people that the Republicans are full of shit, too bad conservative voters won't listen to him.

Employer-Provided Healthcare as Social Insurance

Uwe Reinhardt takes on Ron Johnson's op-ed about Obamacare:
Third, the contributions employees make directly toward the premium for health insurance (through explicit deduction from their paychecks), plus their indirect contribution through reductions in take-home pay, are effectively community rated. This means healthier employees are forced to subsidize through their premiums the health care of sicker employees by effectively paying the same premiums.
Consider two workers performing the same work in a company, one healthy and the other chronically sick. They will make the same direct contribution to the identical insurance policy and receive the same take-home pay.
In other words, the idea that raised so many hackles last year — that younger, healthier Americans should, through community-rated health-insurance premiums, subsidize sicker Americans — has long been accepted by the bulk of Americans at their place of work.
In this sense, then, private employment-based group insurance qualifies for the label of “social insurance,” even though it is privately sponsored. It is, of course, not socialized medicine, but neither are the Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare programs, government-sponsored social insurance programs that procure health care from the private sector.
He also discusses the tax subsidy for employer-provided health insurance.  It is very well written, and he takes the time to compliment Ron Johnson.  What bothers me about Mr. Johnson is his attitude that he earned everything he got, and his hostility toward the government which undoubtedly assisted him along the way.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: How Inflation Might Have Looked With Home Prices Counted, at the New York Times:
Until 1983, the Consumer Price Index included housing costs. But then the index was changed. No longer would home prices directly affect the index. Instead, the Bureau of Labor Statistics makes a calculation of “owners’ equivalent rent,” which is based on the trend of costs to rent a home, not to buy one. The current approach, the B.L.S. says, “measures the value of shelter to owner-occupants as the amount they forgo by not renting out their homes.” The C.P.I. is not supposed to include investments, and owning a house has aspects of both investment and consumption.
Whatever the reasonableness of that approach, the practical effect of the change was to keep the housing bubble from affecting reported inflation rates in the years leading up to the peak in home prices. It is at least possible that the Federal Reserve would have acted differently had the change never been made.
The accompanying charts represent an effort to put together an alternate index of inflation, one that includes home prices rather than the owner’s equivalent rate. The effort is far from precise, in large part because the old index was based not just on purchase prices but also on changing mortgage interest rates and on changing property taxes, while this one is based solely on an index of home prices. But it nonetheless gives an approximation of what inflation would have looked like had home prices remained in the index.
The effect is particularly notable in the core index, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, and which the Fed monitors closely. In 2004, when home prices were climbing at a rate of almost 10 percent a year — more than four times the increase in rents — the core index would have been over 5 percent had home prices been included. Instead, the reported core rate was just 2.2 percent.
This issue drove me nuts at that time.  I was complaining immensely about home prices increasing so much faster than wage growth.  The truth is that I think the Fed wanted housing prices to increase significantly to make up for the fact that wages were stagnant and the stock market bubble had collapsed.  They got it, for a while.

Farm Subsidies

Matthew Yglesias looks at whether farm subsidies are progressive:
In short: No, they’re not, largely because the largest subsidies go to the biggest, richest farmers. But even if they didn’t, Sallie James observes that farmers in general are richer than most people:
Farmers are wealthier (second graph from the bottom) and earn higher incomes (fourth graph from the bottom) than the average U.S. household. Their average debt-to-asset ratio is about 12 percent (third graph from the bottom), very low relative to the average U.S. household. Those should be the relevant data for any progressivity test.


The last three years have been great for farmers, and right now it is hard to justify the subsidies.  But a few years ago, the LDP payments made up almost half of farm income around here.  In the end, almost all of the direct payments go directly to landlords in higher cash rent.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Off to Fry Fish

We're #1

According to an analysis in the NYT, Ohio's anti-union law is tougher than Wisconsin's:
It is perhaps surprising that Ohio faced more limited public demonstrations considering that its bill, which Gov. John R. Kasich signed Thursday, goes further than Wisconsin’s in several important ways.
While both laws severely limit public employees’ ability to bargain collectively — they both prohibit any bargaining over health coverage and pensions — the Ohio law largely eliminates bargaining for the police and firefighters. Wisconsin’s law leaves those two groups’ bargaining rights untouched. Ohio’s law also gives city councils and school boards a free hand to unilaterally impose their side’s final contract offer when management and union fail to reach a settlement.
Notwithstanding the differences in legislation, the push by those states’ Republican governors and Republican-dominated legislatures points to a pendulum swing away from what many unions and Democrats see as a fundamental right for public employees: the right to bargain over wages and benefits.
I guess it will probably come down to whether the unions can get it on the ballot and repeal it.  I would guess that in an off-year election they'll have a hard time.

This Week's Derby Prep Races

This week brings the Florida Derby and the Swale Stakes, both at Gulfstream Park.

More April 1 News

from WLWT:

Reds Announcer Gets Fired Up Over Fake Facebook Page

Marty Brennaman Denies Creating Facebook Page Of Himself

This made me laugh:
"I don't have a problem with Facebook. I'm just not egotistical enough to think anyone cares about what time I get up, where I eat breakfast or what movie I saw last night," Brennaman said.
Sure, Marty.

Update:  At first I didn't see that it said Fired Up, instead of Fired, thus the reference to April 1.  The fact that Marty really is pissed off makes it even funnier, at least to me.  It reminds me of Tressel's World (warning NSFW).

Calvin, Master Capitalist

Via Ritholtz:

Apparently, he grew up to work on Wall Street. (click to enlarge)

A Blast From the Past

Remember back in January 2001 when leaders were concerned that we would pay off too much of the Federal Debt, and we ought to get money back in the hands of the people, who would invest it more wisely than the government?  I know, it seems like a while ago, but here's a graph:


Summary Figure 2.
Uncertainty in CBO's Projections of the Total Budget Surplus Under Current Policies (By fiscal year)
Graph

SOURCE: Congressional Budget Office.
NOTES: The figure shows the estimated likelihood of alternative projections of the surplus under current policies. The calculations are based on CBO's past track record. The CBO projections described in Chapter 1 fall in the middle of the darkest area. Assuming that policies do not change, the probability is 10 percent that actual surpluses will fall in the darkest area and 90 percent that they will fall within the whole shaded area.
Actual surpluses will of course be affected by legislation enacted during the next 10 years, including decisions about discretionary spending. The effects of future legislation are not included in this figure.
An explanation of how this probability distribution was calculated will appear shortly on CBO's Web site at www.cbo.gov/otherdoc.html

I accidentally stumbled onto the Budget and Economic Outlook 2002-2010, from January 2001.  It hurts to read.  Anyway, I blame Bush, the Republicans and Wall Street crooks.  Actually it is more than just them, but they were fully in charge until January 2007, so they hold most of the blame.  Note the statement Under Current Policies.

Job Creation By New Business

Matthew Yglesias on the Kauffman Foundation and "entreprueneurship":
I’m heading off to Kansas City for a couple of days for a Kauffman Foundation conference for economic policy bloggers. As usual, posting will continue. I went to a version of this event two years ago, and I have to say that at the time I didn’t really get what Kauffman was all about—it’s a foundation for “entrepreneurship” which just kind of sounded like BS to me.
But I’ve come to appreciate that this is actually a really important idea in a way that often gets missed. The key thing comes in the form of the political claptrap you tend to hear about how small businesses create thirty billion percent of all new jobs. What actually happens is that growth in both employment and GDP is driven not so much by small firms as by rapidly expanding firms. This is something American political culture tends to get very badly wrong despite a lot of nominal worship of the ideal of entrepreneurship. Whenever politicians are feeling themselves in a “pro-business” growth oriented mood, what they tend to do is look around and talk to a bunch of rich businessmen. But if the United States succeeds over the next 30 years it won’t be thanks to the executives of the firms of that are important today. It’ll be thanks to the firms you’ve never heard of. This, not GE’s exploitation of tax loopholes, is the real problem with the idea of brining Jeffrey Immelt on board for a “jobs council.” In 1981, Microsoft and Apple and Cisco and Wal-Mart (see Krugman) weren’t important companies and yet those are the companies that have been driving such improvements in living standards as we’ve managed to enjoy.
It is a good point that we tend to study how to win the last war, and likewise, what made already successful businesses successful.  In the same way, Democrats look to the New Deal and Republicans look to the Reagan Revolution to try to figure out how to succeed politically, even though circumstances are much different in 2011 than they were in 1933 or in 1981.  We can't just repeat the same steps Ronald Reagan took to improve the economy.  He was cutting the top marginal tax rate from 70%, not 35%.  Debt as a percentage of GDP was much lower in 1980 than it is now. 

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's Link: In a Stunning Turnabout, The U.S. Government Announces it Will Act in the Best Interests Of The Country, by Henry Blodgett:
President Barack Obama announced that, as part of a long-term United States energy plan (!), he will implement a phased-in gas tax. This tax, which will begin in 2015 to give consumers and business time to adjust and not threaten the fragile economic recovery, will add about $1 per year to the cost of a gallon of gas for five years -- until gas costs about as much in America as it does in the rest of the civilized world ($7-$8 a gallon). Half of the revenue of the tax will be used to close the country's massive budget deficit. The other half will be used to encourage the development of more sustainable domestic energy sources, which will have the side benefit of reducing America's dependence on crazy people. The President stressed that Americans who still want to drive Hummers and Denalis will be able to. They'll just have to pay more for the gas.
Observing that we have both too many houses and too few skilled engineers, the President also announced that he will change immigration laws to encourage smart, hard-working students to stay in America instead of going home to India, China, and elsewhere after getting educated here. This change, the President observed, will create demand for housing, thus boosting house prices, and lead to the creation of more skilled, high-paying jobs at new technology and manufacturing companies. The change will also help the US, whose economy has been the envy of the world for the past hundred years in large part because it has welcomed new citizens who want more freedom and better lives, stay competitive in the global economy.
Separately, the government promised that, henceforth, for one day a year, elected officials will stop devoting 98.6% of their time to campaigning and bickering and trying to "win news cycles" and actually tell the truth about where we are and where we're headed. The government stressed that this will only happen one day a year.
Not surprisingly, the date of publication is significant.

A Balanced Budget Amendment

Bruce Bartlett tees off on a balanced budget Constitutional amendment sponsered by all 47 Republican senators:
I won't repeat all of my previous criticisms of the balanced budget amendment that can be found in the links. But let me discuss one other thing. The gross domestic product is not a concept defined in law and is revised constantly; from time to time, the Bureau of Economic Analysis revises the GDP data all the way back to 1929. And of course, the 18 percent figure is totally arbitrary; the proposal effectively assumes that all federal outlays consist of funds that are appropriated annually, rather than consisting primarily of mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicare and interest on the debt. Even if Congress was willing to cut mandatory spending, it is practically impossible to do so quickly unless it is willing to reduce the monthly checks going to current retirees and other actions difficult to contemplate.
In short, this is quite possibly the stupidest constitutional amendment I think I have ever seen. It looks like it was drafted by a couple of interns on the back of a napkin. Every senator cosponsoring this POS should be ashamed of themselves. (emphasis mine)
That is coming from one of Ronald Reagan's policy analysts.  That is amazing.

An Open Letter to Sarah Palin

Dear Mrs. Palin,

I have been watching you since you entered the national conscience in August 2008 as John McCain's running mate.  At that time, it was obvious that you were much better prepared than your running mate, and certainly his opponent, to be President of the United States.

You clearly understand our nation's unique history, and destiny as the greatest nation in the history of the world.  You understand that God placed this nation on the Earth to be a guide and beacon for all other peoples.

It was clear at that time that our nation faced tremendous challenges, and since that time it has become clear that those challenges are even greater than we realized.  After this country failed to elect you and your running mate, our problems became much worse.  You have tried to offer guidance to the man who was chosen to lead our country, and he has failed to accept your help. 

I realize that you would have to sacrifice financially to step up and offer yourself to be President of the United States, and take the burdens this nation faces upon yourself.  You have the unique gifts of intelligence, temperment and disposition which can unite this country and guide us to the path of righteousness.

Therefore, I ask that today you announce your candidacy for President of the United States.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Roy Hobbs vs. the Whammer



I couldn't find Wilfred Brimley complaining that he should have been a farmer, so I'll post this in honor of Aroldis Chapman.

Japanese Engineers Noticed Nuclear Risks

Barry Ritholtz highlights two warnings about the earthquake and tsunami risks:
Indeed, Reuters points out today:
Over the past two weeks, Japanese government officials and Tokyo Electric Power executives have repeatedly described the deadly combination of the most powerful quake in Japan’s history and the massive tsunami that followed as “soteigai,” or beyond expectations.
***
But a review of company and regulatory records shows that Japan and its largest utility repeatedly downplayed dangers and ignored warnings — including a 2007 tsunami study from Tokyo Electric Power Co’s senior safety engineer.
“We still have the possibilities that the tsunami height exceeds the determined design height due to the uncertainties regarding the tsunami phenomenon,” Tokyo Electric researchers said in a report reviewed by Reuters.
***
The research paper concluded that there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.
But Tokyo Electric did nothing to change its safety planning based on that study, which was presented at a nuclear engineering conference in Miami in July 2007.
Pretty much like Katrina.

Joe Biden-A Guy I'd Drink a Beer With

Except Joe doesn't drink.  He seems to be one of those guys that is very interesting to talk to once in a great while, but he'd become tiresome if you talked to him every day.  Here are a couple of interesting posts about the Vice-President, both from when he was nominated for VP.  First, Alex Massie discusses Biden as the bloviator at the bar:
He's the sort of man I've met many a time in Irish pubs. Biden will tell you, at some length for sure, all about his plans for the future, how he's on the cusp of greatness just waiting for that last piece to fall neatly into place. The fact that  - stubbornly - it has never yet done so deters him not a bit. Next time, lads, next time...UPDATE: See what I mean! Priceless!
He'll often seem as though he's auditioning for the position of Official Pub Bore but then every so often there'll be a flash of wit or a moment of self-deprecation that punctures the bluster and bombast, rendering Biden warm and human.
You can picture him propping up one end of the bar for thirty years; long enough for all to be forgiven, all ancient battles and blunders forgotten as we grow older, more charitable, more sentimental. Biden's the sort of fellow who'll make a wildly inappropriate and suggestive comment about your wife. To your face. On your wedding day. But he'll do so in such a guileless fashion free from any hint of malice that, dash it and almost half despite yourself, you forgive the silly old fool. He was, you realise, probably trying to ay something complimentary.
The second post exceprts Richard Ben Cramer's 1988 campaign book, "What it Takes," talking about Biden's old mansion, and all the difficulties he has and creates for himself trying to fix it up:
Meanwhile, he planted. He liked hemlock trees. He found some old Czech guy who ran a nursery up in Pennsylvania. Joe didn't want any three-foot saplings, no. This guy had big hemlocks. Rhododendron bushes, great ones. Yews--big old yews! See, Joe had to have privacy. When he started have to sell off lots, he had to plant more, so he'd have privacy. ...
His pal Marty was with him that day: Marty Londergan, a dentist, Joe's buddy from high school. "Joe," Marty said. "How we gonna get all this shit back?"
"Get a truck," Joe said. Like everybody's brother had a forty-foot flatbed in the garage.
"Yeah," Marty said. "Who's gonna drive it?"
"I'll drive," Joe said. "Used to drive 'em all the time."

Opening Day and the Findlay Market Parade


Doyles Rooters Group, Opening Day, 1912. The predecessor of the Findlay Market Parade, the Rooter's Groups parades of the early 1900s, toured downtown Cincinnati on Opening Day in horse-drawn wagons. This photo was taken at 12th and Race. (Credit: Steve Wolter)

A history of Opening Day and the Findlay Market parade:
There are 15 openers held each year in baseball, and Cincinnati has lost its status as the first game of the season, and so, as Mrs. Schott proclaimed, it is the Findlay Market Parade with gives Cincinnati's its distinctive Opening Day atmosphere.
Not that anyone would ever confuse the Findlay Market Parade with the Rose Bowl Parade or the Macy’s Parade. This is not a pageant of majestic floats, extravagant musical productions, and corporate underwriting. Instead, it is grass-roots Cincinnati at its finest: a red convertible and pickup truck brigade, with a few modest floats, high school marching bands, and more politicians than roses. It is, after all, a parade organized by shopkeepers. They welcome nearly every group who wants to join the celebration. And the merchants of Findlay Market have been stepping to the plate for 80 years.
Findlay Market made its first appearance at Opening Day in 1920, but the market boys didn’t start the pageantry. The pre-game activities had been a regular part of the opener since the first parade was held in 1890. These early parades were very small, but they featured the teams themselves. The first parade had three streetcars: one carried the visiting Chicago team, one carried the Reds, and a marching band filled the third car.

Hiding the Big News

Barry Ritholtz:
The following narrative and news item comes my way via a professional journalist (cue the oxymoron jokes) friend.  Emphasis mine:
Now, when you’re in the sports information business, you generally highlight the exploits of your own team, not your opponents. With very, very, very rare exceptions. I’d say the eighth Division I perfect game in the last half-century might be one of those rare exceptions.
But nope, I’d be wrong. Because here is the George Washington write-up of the game:

A Double Dip Recession?

Robert Reich says yes (via Economist's View):
What about the 192,000 jobs added in February? (We’ll know more Friday about how many jobs were added in March.) It’s peanuts compared to what’s needed. Remember, 125,000 new jobs are necessary just to keep up with a growing number of Americans eligible for employment. And the nation has lost so many jobs over the last three years that even at a rate of 200,000 a month we wouldn’t get back to 6 percent unemployment until 2016.
But isn’t the economy growing again – by an estimated 2.5 to 2.9 percent this year? Yes, but that’s even less than peanuts. The deeper the economic hole, the faster the growth needed to get back on track. By this point in the so-called recovery we’d expect growth of 4 to 6 percent.
Consider that back in 1934, when it was emerging from the deepest hole of the Great Depression, the economy grew 7.7 percent. The next year it grew over 8 percent. In 1936 it grew a whopping 14.1 percent.
Add two other ominous signs: Real hourly wages continue to fall, and housing prices continue to drop.
I think he's probably closer to being right than wrong.  The federal, state and local budget cuts are going to be a big drain on potential growth, and commodity price increases will also hurt.  My fear is that Republicans won't find a sane candidate, the economy will tank, and the moron of their choice will be running things in 2013, that's when we get serious trouble.  He touches on politics to some extent:
Washington, meanwhile, doesn’t want to sound the economic alarm. The White House and most Democrats want Americans to believe the economy is on an upswing.
Republicans, for their part, worry that if they tell it like it is Americans will want government to do more rather than less. They’d rather not talk about jobs and wages, and put the focus instead on deficit reduction (or spread the lie that by reducing the deficit we’ll get more jobs and higher wages).
I’m sorry to have to deliver the bad news, but it’s better you know.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Scott Walker Peeved That  NYT Refuses to Publish His Op/Ed, at Alternet.  It blasts Walker's proposed cuts and takes on his claim that Mitch Daniels put in the same cuts and they worked in Indiana:
He claims that "our reforms will improve the quality of our governments" by allowing schools and government to "make decisions based on merit and performance," then compares his plan to Indiana, where he claims that the whole union busting thing "works well."
"In 2005, Governor Mitch Daniels reformed collective bargaining.  In turn, the government got more efficient, more effective and more accountable to the public."

The only problem is, Mitch Daniels didn't solve his state's budget crisis. Aside from union busting, back in 2009 Daniels cut state government by 20% and eliminated nearly 3,000 state employee positions. Daniels also made substantial cuts to primary and secondary education, as well as Medicaid. Those cuts were not nearly as steep as those proposed by Walker, who is cutting nearly $900 million from the Wisconsin public school systems, and is proceeding in what most people believe is a plan to gut the state's Medicaid program.
But Indiana's problems were not "solved" and the newest budget that Daniels has proposed contain more cuts, including to education and Medicaid. Indiana's Medicaid program has instituted Arizona-like restrictions that force some poorer patients to die, like infants with curable diseases, primary and secondary education is being cut, again, and last night at a session of the Indiana Assembly, pretty much everything was cut. As one Republican Representative, Eric Turner, put it, "'We just don't have the money.'" With their unemployment rate hanging stubbornly at 9.3%, I think everyone can agree that, contrary to what Scott Walker might believe, things are not "working well" in Indiana.
Walker then wastes a few paragraphs pontificating on his supposed "economic development legislation," his "commitment to the future," and reiterates my personal pet peeve saying, "Wisconsin is open for business."
Eric Turner is right, the states don't have the money, and cutting taxes doesn't bring them more money.  This post highlights that fact.  Part of the revenue problem is that capital gains are taxed as regular income in many state tax systems, so when the stock market dives, so do tax revenues.  But Ohio cut income tax rates by 20% over 5 years, so each year a lower percentage of taxes was being paid.  In good years, that isn't noticable, but in bad years it is terrible.  Now the Republican party holds that taxes can never go up, ever, under any circumstances, which is asinine.  Trickle-down economics is a giant confidence game.  It just doesn't work.

There are some other great links, including one calling for higher taxes on the super-rich, and another analyzing the history of humanitarian interventions.

Worst First Pitch Evah

Mark Mallory will never live this down no matter how many times he appears on "Undercover Boss."

A George Will Column I Like

Here:
(1) Which two players hold the record for the most seasons (23) played for the same team?
(2) Who hit 48 home runs beginning June 1, but only 51 in the season?
(3) Which two managers had six 100-win seasons?
(4) Who played the most regular-season games without ever playing a postseason game?
(5) Who has the best winning percentage among 300-win pitchers?
(6) Who had a 79-15 record over three years?
(7) Who was the player - and in what year - who led his league in home runs and RBIs, started every game of the World Series, and never crossed the Mississippi?
(8) Since Tris Speaker did it in 1912, who is the only player with 50 doubles and 50 stolen bases in a season?
(9) Which 10 Hall of Famers never played in the minor leagues?
(10) Who is the only catcher to lead a league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in the same season?
(11) When the strike stopped the 1994 season on Aug. 11, what team had the best record? And what was Tony Gwynn's batting average?
(12) In 1955, the year they won their only championship in Brooklyn, what was the Dodgers’ average regular-season attendance?
(13) What two players share the record for most hits in a month?
(14) From 2000 through 2009, Roy Halladay pitched the most shutouts, 14. Who led the 1970s with 44?
(15) What pitcher won World Series games in three decades?
(16) Who won a batting title during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s?
(17) Who was the youngest pitcher to win a Cy Young award?
(18) What two-time MVP and Hall of Famer won league fielding titles as a shortstop and center fielder?
(19) Since 1900, what two pitchers won at least 20 games in 13 seasons?
(20) Who is the only pitcher to have 20-win seasons with both the Yankees and the Mets?
(21) Who is the only pitcher to have 2,000 strikeouts with two different teams?
(22) Who had at least 200 hits and 100 walks in four consecutive seasons?
(23) Whom did the Reds intentionally walk five times in a 1990 game?
(24) Who is the only pitcher to twice pitch a complete game in a World Series seventh game?
(25) Who twice got 10 or more hits in a World Series, with different teams?
(26) What Hall of Famer got his 3,000th hit off a Hall of Famer?
(27) The Yankees' Bobby Richardson set a World Series record with 12 RBIs in the 1960 World Series. How many RBIs did he have during the regular season?
(28) What player, whose number 44 is retired by two teams, hit 44 home runs in four different seasons?
(29) What six pitchers had 3,000 strikeouts before (or without ever) allowing 1,000 walks?
(30) What team has won its last nine World Series games?
(31) Why was Roger Maris never intentionally walked in 1961 en route to 61 home runs?
Answers after the jump.

Prospective Planting (Planting Intentions) Report

From USDA:
Corn growers intend to plant 92.2 million acres of corn for all purposes in 2011, up 5 percent from last year and 7 percent higher than in 2009. If realized, this will be the second highest planted acreage in the United States since 1944, behind only the 93.5 million acres planted in 2007. Acreage increases of 250,000 or more are expected in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and South Dakota. The largest decrease is expected in Texas, down 150,000 acres.

Soybean planted area for 2011 is estimated at 76.6 million acres, down 1 percent from last year. If realized, the United States planted area will be the third largest on record. Compared with last year, planted acreage declines of 100,000 acres or more are expected in Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, and Ohio. If realized, the planted area in New York and North Dakota will be the largest on record.

All wheat planted area is estimated at 58.0 million acres, up 8 percent from last year. The 2011 winter wheat planted area, at 41.2 million acres, is 10 percent above last year and up 1 percent from the previous estimate. Of this total, about 29.4 million acres are Hard Red Winter, 8.2 million acres are Soft Red Winter, and 3.7 million are White Winter. Area planted to other spring wheat for 2011 is estimated at 14.4 million acres, up 5 percent from 2010. Of this total, about 13.6 million acres are Hard Red Spring wheat. Durum planted area for 2011 is estimated at 2.37 million acres, down 8 percent from 2010.

All cotton plantings for 2011 are expected to total 12.6 million acres, 15 percent above last year. Upland acreage is expected to total 12.3 million acres, up 14 percent from 2010. American Pima acreage is expected to total 252,500 acres, up 24 percent from 2010. Cotton acreage increases are expected in every State. The largest increase, at 548,000 acres, is expected in Texas. Acreage increases of more than 100,000 acres are expected in North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi.

More Talk of the GOP Clown Show

Joe Klein:


This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party's banner. They are the most compelling argument I've seen against American exceptionalism. Even Tim Pawlenty, a decent governor, can't let a day go by without some bilious nonsense escaping his lizard brain. And, as Greg Sargent makes clear, Mitt Romney has wandered a long way from courage. There are those who say, cynically, if this is the dim-witted freak show the Republicans want to present in 2012, so be it. I disagree. One of them could get elected. You never know. Mick Huckabee, the front-runner if you can believe it, might have to negotiate a trade agreement, or a defense treaty, with the Indonesian President some day. Newt might have to discuss very delicate matters of national security with the President of Pakistan. And so I plead, as an unflinching American patriot--please Mitch Daniels, please Jeb Bush, please run. I may not agree with you on most things, but I respect you. And you seem to respect yourselves enough not to behave like public clowns.
Please, in the name of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, run.

This freak show has been building for a long time.  It is why I tried my hand and failed at politics.  I can't believe people would actually vote for these guys (and girl).

It's Opening Day



Let's go Reds!

10 Things to Watch this Baseball Season

The Atlantic has them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Brought to you by Guinness


According to the Guinness facebook page:

Did you know, a pint of Guinness has fewer calories than a pint of semi-skimmed milk or a pint of orange juice? Not that we’d recommend drinking the black stuff at breakfast… but it’s good to know all the same!

Planting Intentions Report

Tomorrow's the big day.  Here is the discussion at Wallace's Farmer:
A nationwide survey of 1,400 farmers spring planting intentions by Farm Futures Magazine projects 2011 corn acreage at 91.4 million acres nationally, up from 88 million last year but short of the 5 million more acres that grain market analysts say are needed to help rebuild tight U.S. corn stocks. Informa Economics has put its projection at 91.8 million acres and Goldman Sachs, a heavy investor in commodities, has pegged this year's corn planted acreage at 92.1 million acres.

Bob Wisner, retired Iowa State University Extension grain marketing economist, has some thoughts on this topic. His projection for corn is around 91.5 million planted acres in the U.S. in 2011. That's what he projects to be planted. That's a shade below Informa's estimate but a little higher than the Allendale estimate. Informa and Allendale are leading private forecasting and marketing firms.

"I think the big question is where are we going to end up with soybean acres?" says Wisner. "Market prices have been signaling to farmers that corn looks better than soybeans as far as return over variable cost is concerned. And that hasn't changed much from late February to where we are today. If anything, beans have gained just slightly on corn in terms of return over variable cost."
The markets will be more interesting than usual tomorrow.  We'll see if it is buy the rumor, sell the news, or if the USDA really surprises one way or the other.  Cotton should figure in pretty significantly.

Update:  This doesn't make me feel any better:
ISU Extension climatologist Elwynn Taylor is projecting the possibility of a drought in 2011. That is, given the current status of a continuing strong La Nina, we could end up with a 2011 average U.S. corn yield that is way below the trendline. Taylor's worst case scenario is a 148 bu. per acre for a U.S. corn yield average in 2011.

"With that low of a yield, we would likely redefine the term 'explosive' prices for crops," says Wisner. "Of course we don't know what the upside price potential might be, given high petroleum prices. On one hand that would tend to restrain meat demand and temper the livestock sector prices, as people spend more money on gasoline, leaving less to spend on meat and groceries. On the other hand, as petroleum prices go up it pulls up ethanol prices. So I would say we most likely in those scenarios would re-test and very possibly exceed the market highs in prices we saw in the spring of 2008, for both corn and soybeans."

More Cubs Bashing



This is the same guy:
In 1974, singer David Allan Coe achieved considerable success on the country charts with Goodman's and John Prine's "You Never Even Called Me By My Name", a song which good-naturedly spoofed stereotypical country music lyrics. Prine refused to take a songwriter's credit of the song, although Goodman bought Prine a jukebox as a gift from his publishing royalties.
102 years since their last World Series win. Hopefully, that streak will be extended to 103 years starting tomorrow.

US Energy Consumption

Ezra Klein:
Julio Friedman considers why it’s so hard to talk about energy:
Energy is the largest economic activity on earth (much larger than agriculture) and the industry with the highest capitalization (much higher than car manufacturing). Energy units are confusing (megawatts, kilowatt-hours, tons of carbon, CO2 equivalents, BTUs and Gigajoules), but the scale of the system makes these units even more remote (terawatt-hours, exajoules, gigatons, quadrillion BTUs). This makes it hard to bring the discussion home — the discussion starts in a rarified, almost other-worldly place.


Let’s talk gigatons — one billion tons. Every year, human activity emits about 35 gigatons of CO2 (the most important greenhouse gas). Of that, 85% comes from fossil fuel burning. To a lot of people, that doesn’t mean much — who goes to the store and buys a gigaton of carrots? For a sense of perspective, a gigaton is about twice the mass of all people on earth, so 35 gigatons is about 70 times the weight of humanity. Every year, humans put that in the atmosphere, and 85% of that is power. Large actions, across whole nations and whole economies, are required to move the needle.
Two things amaze me.  One is the 35 billion tons of CO2 in human activity, 85% which is fossil fuel burning.  That is why I think global warming is real and man-made.  The other is how inefficient the electric generation and transmission systems and the transportation system actually are.  42% overall efficiency.  Damn you, laws of thermodynamics.

35 Amazing Aerial Photos

Here via the Dish:
Location: Center-Pivot irrigation, Maan, Jordan

Cuts to Food Programs

New York Times Food Writer Mark Bittman decided to fast in order to call attention to proposed cuts in food programs:
When I reminded Beckmann that poor people’s hunger was hardly a new phenomenon, and that God hasn’t made a confirmed appearance recently — at least that I know of — he suggested I read Isaiah 58, in which God says that if we were more generous while we fasted he’d treat us better. Maybe. But a billion people are just as hungry, human, and as deserving now as the Israelites were when they were fleeing Egypt, and I don’t see any manna.
This isn’t about skepticism, however; it’s about ironies and outrages. In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food — and still run out monthly — and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time.
It’s those people whom Beckmann and his allies (more than 30 organizations are on board) are trying to protect. The coalition may be a bit too quick to support deficit reduction, essentially saying, “We understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but we don’t want to sacrifice the powerless, nearly voiceless poor in its name. As Beckmann knows, however, deficit reduction isn’t as important as keeping people from starving: “We shouldn’t be reducing our meager efforts for poor people in order to reduce the deficit,” he told me by phone. “They didn’t get us into this, and starving them isn’t going to get us out of it.”
This is a moral issue; the budget is a moral document. We can take care of the deficit and rebuild our infrastructure and strengthen our safety net by reducing military spending and eliminating corporate subsidies and tax loopholes for the rich. Or we can sink further into debt and amoral individualism by demonizing and starving the poor. Which side are you on?

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today there are two.  First, World's First Air Powered Car, at Cars New:
The Air Car, called the MiniCAT could cost around Rs. 3,50,000 ($ 8177) in India and would have a range of around 300 km between refuels.
The cost of a refill would be about Rs. 85 ($ 2).
The MiniCAT which is a simple, light urban car, with a tubular chassis that is glued not welded and a body of fiberglass powered by compressed air. Microcontrollers are used in every device in the car, so one tiny radio transmitter sends instructions to the lights, indicators etc.There are no keys - just an access card which can be read by the car from your pocket. According to the designers, it costs less than 50 rupees per 100Km (about a tenth that of a petrol car). Its mileage is about double that of the most advanced electric car (200 to 300 km or 10 hours of driving), a factor which makes a perfect choice in cities where the 80% of motorists drive at less than 60Km. The car has a top speed of 105 kmph. Refilling the car will, once the market develops, take place at adapted petrol stations to administer compressed air. In two or three minutes, and at a cost of approximately 100 rupees, the car will be ready to go another 200-300 kilometers. 
Second, Researchers Close in on Technology to Make Renewable Petroleum, at Science Daily:
Aditya Bhan and Lanny Schmidt, chemical engineering professors in the College of Science and Engineering, are turning the ketones into diesel fuel using catalytic technology they have developed. The ability to produce ketones opens the door to making petroleum-like hydrocarbon fuels using only bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide.
"There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels," Wackett says. "CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment. It's also free. And we can use the same infrastructure to process and transport this new hydrocarbon fuel that we use for fossil fuels."
The research is funded by a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-energy (ARPA-e) program, created to stimulate American leadership in renewable energy technology.
Wackett is principal investigator for the ARPA-e grant. His team of co-investigators includes Jeffrey Gralnick, assistant professor of microbiology and Marc von Keitz, chief technical officer of BioCee, as well as Bhan and Schmidt. They are the only group using a photosynthetic bacterium and a hydrocarbon-producing bacterium together to make hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide.
There are quite a few researchers trying to find ways to easily and cheaply make hydrocarbons, whether from algae, pig manure or bacteria.  I have a gut feeling that we'll start feeling the effects of peak oil prior to a cost-effective way of making new fuel.  I'd like to see us start to prepare for that.

Goose Island Bought by Budweiser

I heard this on the radio last night:
Anheuser-Busch announced Monday that it was spending nearly $40 million to buy Goose Island, one of the country's pre-eminent craft brewers, in a play to capitalize on the success of that market.
Goose Island's 312 and Honkers Ale are among the lines that established its prominence in Chicago's local market. And some Goose Island's specialty beers garnered the company national attention: the Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout was rated the top beer of 2010 by BeerAdvocate, and RateBeer called Goose Island the tenth-best brewery in the world that year.
John Hall, the head of Goose Island, said that the company was quickly outgrowing its capacities, having to limit production of some of its most popular beers, and that the deal with Anheuser-Busch would help the company continue to expand. "This agreement helps us achieve our goals with an ideal partner who helped fuel our growth, appreciates our products and supports their success," Hall said, in a statement on the buyout.
I like a 312 or one of the seasonal beers once in a while.

Conservative States of America


Richard Florida looks at heavily conservative states:
Conservatism, at least at the state level, appears to be growing stronger. Ironically, this trend is most pronounced in America's least well-off, least educated, most blue collar, most economically hard-hit states. Conservatism, more and more, is the ideology of the economically left behind.  The current economic crisis only appears to have deepened conservatism's hold on America's states. This trend stands in sharp contrast to the Great Depression, when America embraced FDR and the New Deal.
Liberalism, which is stronger in richer, better-educated, more-diverse, and, especially, more prosperous places, is shrinking across the board and has fallen behind conservatism even in its biggest strongholds. This obviously poses big challenges for liberals, the Obama administration, and the Democratic Party moving forward.
But the much bigger, long-term danger is economic rather than political. This ideological state of affairs advantages the policy preferences of poorer, less innovative states over wealthier, more innovative, and productive ones. American politics is increasingly disconnected from its economic engine.  And this deepening political divide has become perhaps the biggest bottleneck on the road to long-run prosperity.
I find it extremely odd that the poorer a state is, the more conservative it is, and the more likely it is to favor tax cuts for rich people.  I don't get it.

 A note to the Ohio GOP: I don't want Ohio to be turned into Alabama.  If I wanted to live in Alabama, I'd move.

R.J. Corman



Fortune magazine features railroad man Richard Jay Corman:
Corman came from a farm family, which included a grandfather who did odd jobs hauling goods and took Rick in as a 25% partner when he was only 11. A few years later, high school utterly bored him. He got married in September of his senior year and, when she didn't turn out to be pregnant after all, they got divorced. Totally impatient with schooling, Corman missed 105 days out of a scheduled 175 during the 1973 school year but managed to graduate.
Having devoted his days playing hooky to learning the excavation trade from an uncle, Rick rented a backhoe and a dump truck and set out to do whatever jobs he could pick up. The dump truck was red, and that became his color. "You can't be good if you don't look good," he says.
He edged into railroad work, rebuilding crossings and driving grueling distances to wherever the job was, sometimes sleeping in his truck and regularly braving terrible weather. "Railroads don't care -- well, they really can't care -- what the weather's like when something needs fixing," he says. Workers who couldn't take the punishment left. Corman kept making himself the model for doing things right. A "go-getter" by the description of many, including even himself, he steadily picked up construction jobs and gained a reputation for fast, expert service. It also helped that most people simply liked him, sensing his innate intelligence, quickly learning that he was totally honest, enjoying his openness and humor and boisterous, cackling laugh.
In business, Corman was opportunistic. A Columbus company to which the rail industry outsourced some of its derailment business quit the city, and Corman was asked by railroad friends to step into the void. He did, accepting the need to acquire heavy, expensive equipment -- machines that will lift a derailed car, for example, so that the rails beneath it can be repaired or replaced. That naturally led to "crisis" work. "He's kind of like an oilfield firefighter," says Matt Rose, CEO of Burlington Northern Santa Fe, of his friend Corman. "He's the Red Adair of the railroad industry." But Corman also has a hand in more prosaic businesses, such as selling rails and ties to railroads. In effect, he takes on inventory costs they'd just as soon not bear.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Steel Making

The right going farther right is wrong

Andrew Sullivan:
I suffer, it seems, from an affliction that bedevils many. I now find myself largely opposed to most Republicans and in favor of a Democratic president as an even tempered pragmatist. But I have not reimagined myself as a leftist. Others have, of course, but I wince a little every time. Take the issue of taxes - and you see where the right-left paradigm is totally insufficient to the occasion.
Income tax rates are now lower than they were under Ronald Reagan and far lower than they were under Eisenhower. And yet it has become a Norquistian non-negotiable that no taxes can be raised at all on anyone, let alone the beneficiaries of the last thirty years - and those who differ must be "leftists" - even when the US is facing debt of historic and dangerous proportions. Someone advocating what Eisenhower was perfectly comfortable with would be regarded by the Republican right today as a communist. And yet, of course, Eisenhower was emphatically not a Communist, whatever the John Birch society believed. In retrospect, he might even be seen as the most successful small-c conservative of the 20th century. (This was indeed Paul Johnson's take in Modern Times.)
Similarly, those who view Obama as some kind of radical have to come to terms with what Glenn Greenwald spells out here:
Since Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones has increased more than 50% -- from 8,000 to more than 12,000; the wealthiest recieved a massive tax cut; the top marginal tax rate was three times less than during the Eisenhower years and substantially lower than during the Reagan years; income and wealth inequality are so vast and rising that it is easily at Third World levels; meanwhile, "the share of U.S. taxes paid by corporations has fallen from 30 percent of federal revenue in the 1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009."
I couldn't say it nearly as well.  He goes on to say that the right-wing is not really conservative, but destructive to the country and especially the middle class.

Death Penalty Countries

We stand in some fine company:


Hey Canada and Europe, all the cool countries do it.

Tax Revenues 2001-2010

David Cay Johnson:
And let's not forget what candidate Bush said about those surpluses that many of us thought were temporary. His campaign endlessly recycled a talking point about surpluses enduring as far as the eye could see. And why would we want to pay down the federal debt when those surpluses could mean more money in voters' pockets?
If the Bush policies in particular, and supply-side in general, produced the promised results or even something reasonably in the ballpark of what was promised, I would be foursquare for them. But the facts show otherwise. I go with the facts as best I know them and change my views when the facts change.
Even when you cherry-pick the numbers and use 2001 as the base year, the results are awful. The individual income tax in 2010 was 27 percent smaller than in 2001, and per capita it was 32 percent smaller; my 2000 analysis in the earlier column showed 30 and 36 percent, respectively.
So what did this blending of tax cuts (Bush), letting bankers and derivatives traders run wild (Bush and Clinton), and cheap money policies from the Ayn Rand acolyte and Bush favorite Alan Greenspan produce?

Regulations, Unions and Capitalism

Via Balloon Juice, the SEIU posted an interactive graphic showing workplace changes after the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire:

As the intro at the SEIU site says:
When a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911, overcrowded worktables, inadequate and locked fire exits, and narrow escape passageways created a fatal inferno for the 146 people–mostly women and girls–who died. In the aftermath of the fire, outraged New Yorkers, lead by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (now Workers United) fought for crucial regulations that continue to protect us on the job to this day.

Why do these people hate freedom. 

Tax Payment Receipt

From Democracy Journal (h/t Ezra Klein):
It is pretty informative.  I would assume that since there was a large deficit, the rest of the money was spent in the same percentages.

Why States Have Budget Deficits

From the Miami Herald (h/t Yglesias):
In his new budget proposal, Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich calls for extending a generous 21 percent cut in state income taxes. The measure was originally part of a sweeping 2005 tax overhaul that abolished the state corporate income tax and phased out a business property tax. The tax cuts were supposed to stimulate Ohio's economy and create jobs. But that never happened once the economy tanked. Instead, the changes ended up costing Ohio more than $2 billion a year in lost tax revenue; money that would go a long way toward closing the state's $8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2012.
"At least half of our current budget problem is a direct result of the tax changes we made in 2005. A lot of people don't want to hear that, but that's the reality. Much of our pain is self-inflicted," said Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal government-research group in Cleveland.
Schiller's lament is by no means unique. Across the country, taxpayers jarred by cuts to government jobs and services are reassessing the risks and costs of a variety of tax reductions, exemptions and credits, and the ideology that drives them. States cut taxes in hopes of spurring economic growth, but in state after state, it hasn't worked.
There's no question that mammoth state budget problems resulted largely from falling tax revenues, rising costs and greater demand for state services during the recession. But questionable tax reductions at the state and local level made the budget gaps larger — and resulting spending cuts deeper — than they otherwise would have been in many states.
A 2008 study by Arizona State University found that that state's structural deficits could be traced to 15 years of tax cuts, mainly income-tax reductions that "were not matched by spending cuts of a commensurate size."
In Texas, which faces a $27 billion budget deficit over the next two years, about one-third of the shortage stems from a 2006 property tax reduction that was linked to an underperforming business tax.
Thanks to Republicans, no state can raise taxes, all must cut them.  If you live in a rural area, you are going to be screwed.  Luckily, your wealthy fellow residents in the suburbs will still have twice as good of schools as your kids do.  But they deserve it and you don't.

The 2012 Candidates, thus far

Dave Weigel reports from Iowa (h/t Balloon Juice), where Iowa loon congressman Steve King hosted Haley Barbour, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and John Bolton. Yes, that's right.  Tobacco lobbyist, pizza company CEO, blowhard, idiot and crazy asshole.  His write-up on Bachmann:
The breakout star of the event (Maggie Haberman saw as much from the scene) is one of only two who gives a pure political speech, with applause lines, call-and-response, and a sense of urgency and destiny. The line that's generated the most attention is "I'm in! You're in! We're in!" -- she's been saying that for a while. More interesting to me is how neatly she ties together the work of Congress, references to the Constitution, and non-shrill religious appeal. She quotes John Adams on religion, then adds her own take: "You cannot build a nation unless it is build on a rock solid foundation." She knows exactly what outrages and legislation the crowd wants to hear about. "By the way, just so you know, I introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act!" There is huge applause for this. "Iowans can be trusted to choose their own light bulbs! They're really smart people." A B+ speech.

Ah, way to mention the light bulbs.  We have to have the freedom to use light bulbs that produce way more heat than light.  Thank God we have this idiot to protect us from evil flourescent light bulbs.  If anybody hasn't noticed, our economy still sucks.  I don't think bringing back incandescent bulbs is going to fix that.  While we're at it, get those water-wasting toilets back.

Herman Cain won the straw poll at the event.  Weigel gave him an A-.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link : Amber Waves to Ivory Bolls, at the NYT:
Tight supplies of corn, soybeans and wheat have sent prices skyrocketing in the last year, prompting worries of a looming global food crisis. In other years, American farmers have responded to high prices by devoting more land to staple food crops.
But this spring, many farmers in southern states will be planting cotton in ground where they used to grow corn, soybeans or wheat — spurred on by cotton prices that have soared as clothing makers clamor for more and poor harvests crimp supply.
The result is an acreage war between rival commodities used to feed and clothe the world’s population.
“There’s a lot more money to be made in cotton right now,” said Ramon Vela, a farmer here in the Texas Panhandle, as he stood in a field where he grew wheat last year, its stubble now plowed under to make way for cotton. Around the first week of May, Mr. Vela, 37, will plant 1,100 acres of cotton, up from 210 acres a year ago. “The prices are the big thing,” he said. “That’s the driving force.”
Economists, agricultural experts and government officials are predicting that many farmers, both in the United States and abroad, will join Mr. Vela this year in chasing the higher profits to be made in cotton — with consequences that could ripple across the globe.
“It’s good for the farmer, but from a humanitarian perspective it’s kind of scary,” said Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. “Those people in poor countries that have a hard time affording food, they’re going to be even less able to afford it now.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Corporate Tax Amnesty

James Kwak tells why the corporate foreign income repatriation is a bad idea:
So if no one could propose a one-time wealth tax with a straight face, how come people can propose a “one-time” corporate tax amnesty with a straight face? Yet that’s just what multinational corporations are pushing for; see this article by Peter Coy and Jesse Drucker or Drucker’s Fresh Air interview. The U.S. has a top average tax rate of 35 percent, but multinational corporations have gotten very good at shifting their income to overseas subsidiaries in places like Ireland and Bermuda that have much lower corporate tax rates, often avoiding U.S. corporate tax entirely. According to David Kocieniewski of the Times, for example, G.E.’s U.S. tax rate is 7.4 percent, and that’s including taxes it will not pay until it repatriates profits to the U.S. For 2010, it’s claiming a refund of $3.2 billion.
The “solution,” according to those same companies, is for the U.S. to offer a tax amnesty that will allow them to repatriate profits (which they have to do in order to, for example, pay dividends or buy back stock in the U.S.) at much lower tax rates — like zero. The lobbyists’ talking point is that if the companies have more cash in the U.S., they will invest it in ways that will create jobs. This doesn’t even pass the laugh test: as Coy and Drucker report, U.S. nonfinancial companies are already sitting on over $1 trillion in liquid assets within the U.S.
We’ve tried this before. In 2004, Congress passed a similar tax amnesty (companies were allowed to repatriate profits at a tax rate of 5.25 percent). Companies brought back lots of profits, the Treasury got a small bump in tax revenues, and companies learned that they should stash even more profits overseas and wait for the next amnesty. According to research by Thomas J. Brennan, the amount of profit stored overseas reached its 2004 peak as early as 2006 and has only grown since.
The last time this occurred, most of the money was spent on stock buybacks and dividends, not creating jobs.  Actually, the companies that brought back money cut jobs afterwards.  Lets not try it again.

Hudepohl and Baseball

I just saw this new ad:


I like the Hudy Amber.

Japan Agriculture News

From Bloomberg:
Farmers in Fukushima prefecture, Japan’s fourth-biggest rice producer, may not plant the grain this year after tainted soil was discovered near a crippled nuclear plant leaking radiation.
“Farmers cannot grow anything without assurance from the government that their paddies are safe for food production,” Takuo Ichiya, agricultural production manager at the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, Japan’s largest farmers group, said today in an interview. “Concerns about radioactive contamination may hinder planting not only in Fukushima but neighboring prefectures too.”
and in another Bloomberg story:
Japan has asked farmers to keep cows and cattle in barns as radioactive contamination of milk spread from Fukushima prefecture, where high radiation levels and fires have hampered repairs of a crippled nuclear plant.
“To prevent milk contamination, we are advising farmers that cows should be barred from grazing, kept inside barns and fed with grass harvested before the nuclear plant accident,” said Mitsuhiro Honda at the milk and dairy products division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. “We are not concerned about the safety of beef as the meat now on the market came from animals born more than two years ago.”
Japan has restricted raw-milk shipments from Fukushima and neighboring Ibaraki prefecture after tainted products were discovered through random testing.

The Aurora

Via the Dish:


The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.

Frozen Four and Final Four

Well the Frozen Four and the Final Four are set. 

In the Frozen Four, Minnesota-Duluth, Notre Dame and Michigan made it in after the #1 seeds were defeated, while North Dakota also advanced.

In the Final Four, Butler and VCU surprised the experts and advanced, along with Kentucky and UConn.  So in VCU's case, they were one of the final at-large teams which had to play in the first four, and Butler was the only team to make the tournament from the Horizon Conference.  VCU's Colonial Athletic Association put in 3 teams (VCU, Old Dominion and George Mason) and one made it to the Final Four.  Other conferences : Big East 11 in tournament, 1 in the Final Four.  SEC 5 and 1, ACC 4 and 0, Big Ten 7 and 0, Pac 10 4 and 0.  Also, for those Big East haters out there in Big Ten country, even if UConn loses in the semifinals, the Big East will finish with the same winning percentage as the Big Ten, who failed to advance a team to the regional finals, let alone the Final Four.  Apparently the Big East isn't the only overrated conference in the country.

Dad has been saying it forever, and I have to agree, get rid of the conference tournaments and let everybody in.  I bet the big conferences would end up looking even worse, and the smaller conferences would bring in more money.  I wonder why that isn't going to happen.

Canadian Budget

Matthew Yglesias discusses the upcoming Canadian parliamentary elections and notes this:
I’d also note that from a south of the border perspective, Canada seems to have managed to park itself in a state of affairs where overall government spending as a share of GDP is lower than in the states, but where the welfare state is simultaneously more generous and more effective. This reflects well both on Harper and his immediate Liberal predecessors, and not so well on the past ten years’ worth of legislating in the United States.
He doesn't mention that a country doesn't have to spend much on its military when it shares a 4000 mile-long border with the country that spends 1 out of every 2 dollars of military spending in the world.  They know that we won't let them be invaded, and it is pretty damned unlikely anyway.  Yea Team USA, way to blow ridiculous amounts of money because we are chickenshits.

Pathetic Staff Work

A reporter is shut in a storage closet at a fundraiser where Biden speaks (h/t Balloon Juice):
He told ABC News that he showed up at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday to cover Vice President Biden and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., attending a $500-a-head fundraiser at the Winter Park manse of developer Alan Ginsburg.
A young female staffer met him at the door and brought him to the storage closet.
"You're going to have to wait in here until the VP gets here," he says she told him.
"You're kidding me," he recalls responding.
Forcing reporters into closets is generally not the tradition of politicians in the US. Powers is a respected politics and business reporter who recently wrote about the Space shuttle Discovery coming home to Kennedy Space Center for the 39th and final time.
Making matters worse, Biden didn't arrive until more than an hour later.
Continued Alexander in her email to Powers: "I am told, once the Vice President and Senator Nelson arrived, the situation was quickly rectified – and hopefully you weren’t waiting too long."
Powers says the situation was never "rectified." Any time he stuck his head out he'd been shooed back inside. He said he was held for more than an hour in the closet, was allowed out for 35 minutes of remarks by Biden and Nelson, after which it was back into the closet until the VP left.
That is ridiculous.  Why wouldn't they put him in another room?  Fund raising events are just a bunch of crap.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: We're Number One, On American Superiority by James Gustave Speth :
To see where America stands not so proud, consider the advanced, well-to-do democracies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the rich countries’ club. To focus on America’s peers, I am excluding the former Soviet bloc countries as well as Mexico, Turkey, Korea, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Greece. In the remaining group of 20 affluent countries, America is, indeed, Number 1 or close to it in a number of categories: the 26 indicators of poor performance listed below.
It’s a good idea to set aside the rhetoric of national greatness and ask ourselves how we dropped to the basement on so many important issues—and what we should do to climb out.
To our great shame, America now has:
  • The highest poverty rate, both generally and for children;
  • The greatest inequality of incomes;
  • The lowest government spending as a percentage of GDP on social programs for the disadvantaged;
  • The lowest number of paid holiday, annual and maternity leaves;
  • The lowest score on the UN’s index of “material well-being of children”;
  • The worst score on the UN’s gender inequality index;
  • The lowest social mobility;
  • The highest public and private expenditure on health care as a portion of GDP, 
yet accompanied by the highest:
    • Infant mortality rate
    • Prevalence of mental health problems
    • Obesity rate
    • Portion of people going without health care due to cost
    • Low birth weight children per capita (except for Japan)
    • Consumption of anti-depressants per capita
That was just a partial list.  There are other good links, including one describing the radioactive water at the Fukashimi plant indicating at least a partial meltdown, one on the GOP's hispanic problem which fails to mention that Republicans probably shouldn't be so racist, and one that highlights Obama administration political review of emails prior to release for FOIA requests.

NASA photo of the Day

From Friday:


Auroral Substorm over Yellowknife
Image Credit & Copyright: Kwon, O Chul (TWAN)
Explanation: Intense auroral activity flooded the night with shimmering colors on February 24, captured here from a lodge near the city of Yellowknife in northern Canada. The stunning sequence (left to right) of three all-sky exposures, taken at 30 second intervals, shows rapid changes in dancing curtains of northern lights against a starry background. What makes the northern lights dance? Measurements by NASA's fleet of THEMIS spacecraft indicate that these explosions of auroral activity are driven by sudden releases of energy in the Earth's magnetosphere called magnetic reconnection events. The reconnection events release energy when magnetic field lines snap like rubber bands, driving charged particles into the upper atmosphere. Stretching into space, these reconnection events occur in the magnetosphere on the Earth's night side at a distance about 1/3 of the way to the Moon.


Tomorrow's picture: naturally so