Saturday, April 23, 2011

Interesting Electric Generation Ideas

Washington's Blog guest posting at The Big Picture:
I wrote yesterday:
Another use of a free, wasted byproduct to generate electricity is piezo-electric energy. “Piezo” means pressure. Anything that produces pressure can produce energy.
For example, a train station in Japan installed piezo-electric equipment in the ground, so that the foot traffic of those walking through the train station generates electricity (turnstiles at train, subway and ferry stations, ballparks and amusement parks can also generate electricity).
Similarly, all exercise machines at the gym or at home can be hooked up to produce electricity.
But perhaps the greatest untapped sources of piezo-electric energy are freeways and busy roads. If piezo-electric mats were installed under the busiest sections [a little ways under the surface], the thousands of tons of vehicles passing over each day would generate massive amounts of electricity for the city’s use.
A couple of readers thought that sounded nuts.
He went on to mention that the Dutch are planning to install solar panels in bike lanes and roads.  Interesting.

Musical Break

This is a great song, but that is one ugly ass shirt.

Why 47% of People Pay No Federal Income Tax

Because they are paying other taxes (via Mark Thoma):
Here's another way to put it. Americans pay different kinds of taxes to different entities. State and local taxes tend to be regressive. Payroll taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare, are also regressive. To balance this out, we have a pretty progressive income tax. If you focus only on the income tax, it makes it look like the rich are getting screwed. But of course the income tax is just one element. And conservatives are working hard to make the tax code more regressive at every level of government.
The other trick is to describe the share of taxes paid by the rich in isolation. Wow, 1% paying 38% of the taxes! It sounds unfair. You intuitively think that 1% should be paying more like 1% of the taxes. But, of course, that number leaves out the proportion of the income earned by the rich. Indeed, as the rich earn a greater share of the income, their share of the tax burden rises as well. Conservatives in turn cite this fact to justify lower taxes on the rich.
It's pure propaganda, and what it lacks in quality it makes up in quantity. The right seems to have an unlimited number of talking heads, columnists, and pseudo-economists willing to peddle this nonsense.
What did the Wall Street Journal call people who had lower incomes and didn't owe federal income taxes, Lucky Duckies?  What a bunch of rich, ignorant jackasses:
And one "lucky ducky" wrote to the Journal editor, offering to share his luck (in a form of logical argument sometimes known as a modest proposal):
I will spend a year as a Wall Street Journal editor, while one lucky editor will spend a year in my underpaid shoes. I will receive an editor's salary, and suffer the outrage of paying federal income tax on that salary. The fortunate editor, on the other hand, will enjoy a relatively small federal income tax burden, as well as these other perks of near poverty: the gustatory delights of a diet rich in black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, chickpeas and, for a little variety, lentils; the thrill of scrambling to pay the rent or make the mortgage; the salutary effects of having no paid sick days; the slow satisfaction of saving up for months for a trip to the dentist; and the civic pride of knowing that, even as a lucky ducky, you still pay a third or more of your gross income in income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes and property taxes.
And yet Republicans always trot out their "rich people pay too much bullshit."

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Sewers, Swaps and Bachus, by Joe Nocera.  It is the story of Jefferson County, Alabama and how derivitives drove it to the edge of bankrupcy, and despite this, their congressman, Spencer Baucus doesn't want to regulate derivitives:
Once upon a time — back when too many people viewed derivatives as glittering innovations with magical powers to hedge against risk — Jefferson County was ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to upgrade its sewer system. To finance the new sewers, it issued bonds totaling nearly $3.2 billion.
After the sewer system was completed, the county moved all that debt from fixed rates to variable rates. It did so because some investment bankers at JPMorgan persuaded the county to purchase derivative contracts, in the form of interest rate swaps, that would supposedly allow it to avoid paying higher interest if rates went up. Magic indeed.
At first, this arrangement worked well enough. Though the cost of the sewers was bloated beyond belief — they were originally supposed to cost $1 billion — the county made its bond payments. The bank reaped handsome fees from its swaps contracts.
But the financial crisis caused those clever hedges to go blooey. Indeed, the swaps not only failed to protect the county from losses — they actually exacerbated the losses. In addition, two of its bond insurers had their credit rating lowered because they had also insured lots of toxic subprime derivatives. The downgrade triggered huge hikes in interest and principal for Jefferson County.*
Today, the county is broke; according to The Birmingham News, it may run out of cash by July. It is toying with a bankruptcy filing — which, if it happened, would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in history.
Surprise, surprise, Republicans only want to protect rich finance people.  I'd have never guessed.  At this point, I can't think of a single worthwhile thing Republicans do.

Irish Prepare Welcome for Obama

Obama to visit his great, great, great grandfather's home (h/t Balloon Juice):
A small Irish village is pulling out all the stops and making sure it's spotless in anticipation of one of its most famous sons.

Moneygall in County Offaly is getting a facelift, as the rural village prepares to welcome the most powerful man in the world, Barack Obama, next month.

The impending visit to Ireland by the U.S. President has transformed the appearance of Moneygall.

President Obama's great, great, great grandfather came from Moneygall and the president plans to swing by to his ancestral home during a two-day visit to Ireland.

And preparations for his arrival are giving the village a whole new look.

For instance, to ensure the presidential feet are made as comfortable as possible, the pavements are being dug up, re-laid and smoothed over as part of a huge refurb.
Pint for the President: Majella Hayes in her bar named Ollie Hayes
I bet folks in Western Ohio wouldn't be too excited by a visit, even though they renamed a street after the last president because he came to Tipp City to tell people things were going good in Iraq right after the surge started.  But, I'm used to people around here liking their politicians dumb.

River Downs Evacuates Horses

Springfield News-Sun:
With the spring rains causing the Ohio River to spill from its banks, River Downs race track in Cincinnati is in the process of evacuating all the horses off its backside, which sits about a furlong — just over two football fields — from the river.
“Believe it or not, there were 500 horses back there yesterday and I just went back again 10 minutes ago and they’re pretty much all gone,” John Engelhardt, the track’s Dayton-based racing publicity consultant, said by phone Friday afternoon. “There can’t be more than 25 left back there now.”
Flooding at this level requires the track to cut off electricity and water.
“Horsemen are a tight-knit community and officials at Turfway Park knew we were in a tight spot,” Englehardt said. “They had just closed their backstretch (after their racing season ended) but they reopened the barns and have allowed all our horsemen to stable there at no cost.
“Although the river has risen to 51 feet, right now it doesn’t appear to be too threatening. It’s not touching the main track. I can still see grass on the other side of the track. And I just heard a report that the river may be leveling out and we won’t get flooded like we thought we would.”
On Thursday the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Cincinnati area and predicted showers and thunderstorms through Tuesday. Flood levels were expected to cover the River Downs racing surface, parts of the stable area and cut off access to the track for several days.
Opening Day for racing is scheduled for April 29:
“That,” said Engelhardt, “is still the plan — God willing and if the creek don’t rise.”

Sheep Growers Doing Well

You know things are getting crazy when sheep farmers are making good money:
 In his 33 years raising sheep in West Texas, Glen Fisher has never seen it so good. Demand by U.S. consumers is up, imports are down and prices have soared.
"You have almost what you can call a perfect storm," said Fisher, 64, who has about 3,100 animals on his acreage near Sonora. "The great part is we have record prices for lambs — the highest ever by a whole lot."
Last year's May delivery of lamb fetched about $1.39 a pound; this year the price is around $2.20 a pound, said Fisher, the immediate past president of American Sheep Industry Association.
Lamb numbers far outstrip those for mutton. In 2010 about 156 million pounds of lamb was slaughtered at federal and state inspected plants, compared with about 11 million pounds of mutton.
If it weren't for my cousins raising sheep and having lamb roasts, I never would have eaten the stuff.  Other than burgoo in Owensboro, Kentucky and Seinfeld, I've never heard of anybody eating mutton.

Friday, April 22, 2011

KKK Day at the Ballpark?

Deadspin (h/t Cubs dad):
These four letters procured by Deadspin's house MLB archivist, Pete Nash, show that the Ku Klux Klan wrote polite letters and were extremely generous about their flower boquets. At least that was the case in 1924.
I like that they point out that the Knights of Columbus didn't provide as many bouquets as the Klan would provide.  I can hear the Klansman saying that it was because those foreigners were too poor and were always drunk.  I can't imagine that would have gone well in a town as Catholic as Cincinnati.

Farm Art

CHRISTOPHER GANNON/THE REGISTER
A mural by artist is Gregory Manchess of Portland, Oregon, depicts the Cresco boyhood home of Dr. Norman Borlaug inside the Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates Thursday in Des Moines.

Des Moines Register:
The first of more than 100 new pieces of artwork for the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in downtown Des Moines went up this week with a little touch-up help Thursday from restoration artist Rick Van Oel of Des Moines.
The new mural is one of four that will hang under the original 10,000-piece stained-glass skylight, which was reinstalled Wednesday after cleaning and repairs.

The budget for the $30 million renovation project in the old Des Moines Public Library includes more than $3.5 million for artwork, which will be in place for the grand opening in October.

The Goldman Sachs Employee Guide

From Bloomberg:
 To help outsiders understand what makes Goldman so great, we've categorized these employee requirements into easy-to-remember axioms. Rule 1: Don't Ever Make Us Look Bad. "No matter what you are communicating to the public, your words reflect on the reputation of the firm. ... The firm, therefore, requires that your communication reflect the high standards of the firm, not only in what you say, but also in the way you say it."
Rule 2: Talk Slowly to Stupid People. "The level of detail or explanation necessary to make a communication clear, accurate, and understandable will depend, in part, on the breadth and sophistication of the intended audience. ... The lack of financial sophistication of the recipient will often warrant a more detailed presentation."
Rule 3: You May Be Barbarians, But Please Keep It to Yourselves. "Of course, your communications should never contain obscene, offensive, or otherwise inappropriate, unprofessional, or unlawful language. Remember, that you do not control and you cannot always predict who the reader will be."
Rule 4: We Only Trust You With Things We Don't Care About. "Casual correspondence, thank you notes, confirmations or schedules for meetings, invitations, and other correspondence that does not relate to business does not require approval."
Rule 5: Shut Up at All Times. "It is the policy of the firm to make no comment on rumors whatsoever, even to deny rumors you believe to be untrue."
Rule 6: Guys, This Isn't Lehman; Don't Just Make Stuff Up. "Prior to recommending that a customer purchase, sell or exchange any security, salespeople must have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable."
Rule 7: Don't Forget, We're Always Watching You. "All sales correspondence from or to employees working from home offices must be routed through regional offices for purposes of review, approval, distribution and retention."
Rule 8: No, Seriously, We're Always Watching You. "Each individual's correspondence must be sampled no less often than annually."
Rule 9: We Even Have Rules About Mass E-Mails. "'To All' memos ... must be approved as described in the section entitled 'Firmwide Memoranda' in the Employee Handbook."
Rule 10: Whatever You Say, Say It This Way. "Avoid superlatives and exaggerations." "Write using standard, formal written language." "Communicate succinctly. Stay strictly to the topic of your communication. Do not include any gratuitous comments."
Rule 11: Just Don't Call It a Recommendation. "Firm employees frequently provide so-called 'trade ideas' to multiple recipients. Such trade ideas are designed to help clients take advantage of market conditions and intelligence, but are not intended to be specific buy/sell recommendations."
Rule 12: Don't Ever Forget, We're Always Watching You. "Correspondence (directed to registered representatives involved in the sale of securities) will be opened by, or in the presence of, an authorized individual to identify any possible complaints."
Investment Bank or Church of Scientology?  I don't know, but I've got a few 'trade ideas' for you.  I'll just have to give you a more detailed presentation.  Also, that Elizabeth Warren is a real go-getter.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's Link: How You Can Have a Billion-Dollar Income in America and Pay No Taxes, at Alternet.  It is an interview with David Cay Johnson.  From the interview:
DCJ: You will hear that the top 1 percent pay 40 percent of the taxes. It's not true. The federal individual income tax is only about one out of every five dollars of all taxes raised in America. We have federal taxes, state taxes, local taxes, payroll taxes, and I'm ignoring all the things that used to be covered by taxes that are now paid by fees -- three different fees for using the airport, surcharges when you rent a car, etc.
While it's true the top 1 percent are paying around 40 percent of the total income tax, in recent years they also have earned as much as 20 percent of the income -- 21 percent in 2008, the last year we have full data. Because their income has gone up vastly faster, the share of income tax paid by people at the top has gone up -- even though their rates have been cut.
It's important to recognize what's happened to incomes in America. More than half of the income in the top one percent goes to the top 10th of one percent -- one out of a thousand families in America. For every dollar they made on average in 1980, in the year 2008 they made $4, adjusted for inflation.
But in 2008 the bottom 90 percent of Americans earned on average a dollar and a penny for every dollar they earned in 1980. In 28 years, their average income went up 1 percent, $300 and change for the year, basically a dollar a day.
I did an analysis comparing 1961 incomes to 2007. The bottom 90 percent -- after higher income and social security taxes -- was making just a little bit more than they made in 1961. For each dollar in 1961, they made a dollar and twenty cents in 2007. The group at the top got $36.50 after tax per dollar they made in 1961. That's 180 times as much growth.
This must stop.  Income taxes must become much more progressive.  Go yell at your congressman.

Earth Day Image

From NASA:

Alaska’s Susitna Glacier

West Texas Getting Thirsty

Robert W. Hart for The Texas Tribune
A pump house at Lake J. B. Thomas, about 30 miles northeast of Big Spring. The lake, a source of Permian Basin drinking water, is currently less than 5 percent full.
From the Texas Tribune:
The oil business is booming, but there is something more precious in Midland right now: water. Since the beginning of October, barely one-tenth of an inch of rain has fallen on the oil and gas capital of West Texas. Two of the three reservoirs that Midland and other Permian Basin communities rely on for most of their water are getting close to empty. The third is below 30 percent of capacity.
This month, for the first time, Midland imposed water restrictions, forcing homeowners to water their lawns less, and schools to let their football fields grow a little scrubbier.
If the rain does not start soon, “it’s going to get bad,” said Stuart Purvis, the utilities manager for Midland.
All of Texas is extremely dry, and the parched vegetation is fueling huge wildfires across the state — prompting Gov. Rick Perry to urge prayers for rain this weekend. But the situation in the Permian Basin is particularly serious. 
Without significant rain, all three reservoirs may be dry by January 2013, according to John Grant, the general manager for the Colorado River Municipal Water District, which supplies reservoir water to Midland, Odessa and several other cities. Lake Ivie (pictured) is the fullest at just below 30 percent capacity; the other two reservoirs are only about 5 percent and 2 percent full. The district also pumps some groundwater from Ward County, west of Odessa, but expanding production would require building a pipeline that would cost $75 million to $100 million and that engineers say would take 30 months (Grant thinks it could be done faster). 

G.O.P. Governance in Kyrgyzstan

NYT:
Members of Kyrgyzstan’s divided Parliament slaughtered seven rams before their morning session on Thursday, a sacrifice that they said they hoped would banish “evil spirits” disrupting their work. Elections in Kyrgyzstan last October prompted hopes for what would be the first parliamentary democracy in the old Soviet Central Asia, long a domain of authoritarian governments. But the fragile governing coalition has come under threat after weeks of bitter recriminations and disputes in Parliament. “We decided to resort to popular customs, in order for this building not to see bloodshed any more,” Myktybek Abdyldayev, a member of Parliament, said after the sacrificed.
I guess it beats sacrificing the middle class.

Going with What's Hot

VoxEU on the gambler's fallacy and the hot hand fallacy, via Mark Thoma:
There are two plausible but apparently contradicting intuitions about how people over-infer from observing recent events.
  • The “gamblers fallacy” claims that people expect rapid reversion to the mean.
For example, upon observing three outcomes of “red” in roulette, gamblers tend to think that “black” is now due and tend to bet more on “black” (Croson and Sundali 2005).
  • The “hot hand fallacy” claims that upon observing an unusual streak of events, people tend to predict that the streak will continue.
The “hot hand” fallacy term originates from basketball where players who scored several times in row are believed to have a “hot hand”, i.e. are more likely to score at their next attempt (e.g. Camerer 1989).
Recent behavioural theory has proposed a foundation to reconcile the apparent contradiction between the two types of over-inference (Rabin and Vayanos 2010). The intuition behind the theory can be explained with reference to the example of roulette play.
A person believing in the “law of small numbers” thinks that small samples should “look like” the parent distribution, i.e. that the sample should be representative of the parent distribution. Thus, the person believes that out of, say, 6 spins 3 should be red and 3 should be black (ignoring green). If observed outcomes in the small sample differ from the 50:50 ratio, immediate reversal is expected. Thus, somebody observing 2 times red in 6 consecutive spins believes that black is “due” on the 3rd spin to restore the 50:50 ratio.
Now suppose such person is uncertain about the fairness of the roulette wheel. Upon observing an improbable event (6 times red in 6 spins, say), the person starts to doubt about the fairness of the roulette wheel because a long streak does not correspond to what he believes a random sequence should look like. The person then revises his model of the data generating process and starts to believe the event on streak is more likely. The upshot of the theory is that the same person may at first (when the streak is short) believe in reversion of the trend (the gambler’s fallacy) and later – when the streak is long – in continuation of the trend (the hot hand fallacy).

Fixing the Deficit

Robert Reich on the politics of the budget debate:
In my view, even the President doesn’t go nearly far enough in the direction most Americans would approve. All he wants to do, essentially, is end the Bush tax windfalls for the wealthy – which were designed to be ended in 2010 in any event – and close a few loopholes.
But why shouldn’t we go back to the tax rates we had thirty years ago, which required the rich to pay much higher shares of their incomes? One of the great scandals of our age is how concentrated income and wealth have become. The top 1 percent now gets twice the share of national income it took home thirty years ago.
If the super rich paid taxes at the same rates they did three decades ago, they’d contribute $350 billion more per year than they are now – amounting to trillions more over the next decade. That’s enough to ensure every young American is healthy and well-educated and that the nation’s infrastructure is up to world-class standards.
Exactly.  Somehow, Republicans have teamed with business to whittle away the middle class, and yet they are still able to convince most of that same middle class that their decreasing standard-of-living is caused by government taxation.  This is even though taxes are at historical lows.  I don't get it.  But then again, I never figured that that Nigerian bank executive would deposit millions of dollars in my bank account if only I gave him my account number.

Kasich Blows Off Mouth, Again.

John Kasich can't help but put his foot in his mouth, which seems physically impossible when his head is up his ass:
Just weeks after approving a deal to give Bob Evans Farms Inc. $11 million in loans and grants to stay in Ohio, Gov. John Kasich remarked that the food and restaurant chain offers staff health care benefits that are “shabby, at best.”
The remark prompted union activists on Thursday to call on Bob Evans Farms Inc. to improve the benefits package offered to workers.
Ohioans Against Shabby Benefits, a coalition of citizens and labor unions, said it believes that all workers should have the right to good benefits.
Bob Evans, which is moving its headquarters from Columbus to the suburb of New Albany, has $1.7 billion in annual sales and 44,000 employees.
Hourly restaurant workers are offered a 401(k) and a 401(a) retirement plan, optional health insurance, voluntary life insurance, and half-priced meals while on the clock, according to the company website.
So the governor was making the case that public employees ought to get shitty benefits because Bob Evans employees have them.  That offends Bob Evans, which Kasich was also bragging about keeping in Ohio.  What a dumbass.  The only thing that could make me move from Ohio would be having a dipshit like John Kasich as governor.  I sure wish high taxes in Ohio made him move somewhere else.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Caramel Delights

It might be a little too late to order some Easter candy, but you can still order caramels or other candy from the Trappistine Sisters at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa.  Their candies are delicious, and they'll ship them to your door or you can pick them up at the monestary. 

Also, their brother Trappist monks at the New Melleray Abbey outside of Dubuque can provide you with caskets if you need them.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's Link: 10 Charts About Sex, at OkTrends.  This is a very funny, even if it may not be true.  One of my favorites:
Anyway, it features the map which they consider one of the very first infographics, depicting Napoleon's invasion and retreat from Russia, which I consider extremely cool:


as it says at the link:
Later remembered as "the map that made a nation cry", it depicts Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia in 1812. The wide tan swath shows his Grande Armée, almost half a million strong, marching East to Moscow; the black trickle shows the few who straggled back. It's an elegant fusion of geography, time, and temperature into a single statement of military disaster.

MLB Takes Over The Dodgers


SI May 20, 1996  Photographed by: Bill Frakes

Since Selig and the boys have taken control of the Dodgers from the McCourts, I am reminded of when they forced Marge Schott out of control of the Reds, and then forced her to sell them in a fire sale to Carl Lindner.  This Sports Illustrated article is one of the final straws that broke the camel's back, but it really highlights what a sad, crazy old woman she was:
Alone in her bedroom, alone in a 40-room mansion, alone on a 70-acre estate, Marge Schott finishes off a vodka-and-water (no lime, no lemon), stubs out another Carlton 120, takes to her two aching knees and prays to the Men. To Charlie, the husband who made her life and then ruined it. He taught her never to trust. To Daddy, the unsmiling father who turned her into his only son. He taught her never to be soft. To Dad Schott, the calculating father-in-law, whom she may have loved most of all. He taught her never to let herself be cheated.
"I pray to them every night, honey," she says. "How many owners do that, huh? Hit their knees every night?"
Hard to say. For that matter, how many baseball owners keep in their kitchen drawer plastic bags containing hair from a dog that died five years ago? Or are worth millions but haven't shopped for clothes in nine years? Schott just wears the stuff people send her. "If it fits, honey," she says in her No. 4 sandpaper voice. "I wear it."
Honey is what Schott calls everybody, unless you're baby or sweetheart. It's what she does instead of remembering your name. "This guy is from SportsChannel, honey. He's here doing a big story on me."
"Sports Illustrated, Mrs. Schott."
"Right, honey."
Schott does not really have to remember anyone's name, because she's 67 years old, as rich as Oman, and she answers to nobody. She owns 43% of the Cincinnati Reds, but she hasn't had time to actually learn the game yet. After all, it has only been 12 years since that Christmas when she "saved the team for Cincinnati," as she has said over the years. (Why ruin the story by mentioning that the previous owners insisted that they never would have sold the Reds to anyone but a Cincinnatian, and there were no offers on the table from any other city. None of the men in Cincinnati were stepping up to buy the team, she says now.)
It is unfortunate that her inability to keep racist opinions to herself, or her inability to learn that such opinions were completely inaccurate cost her one of the few joys of her life.  But for the Reds it was good, because Marge had destroyed the farm system, and she wasn't going to be able to compete with George Steinbrenner at buying the veterans to win in the 21st century.  But her frugality in the rest of her life was pure Cincinnati German, and she was truly generous to a number of organizations.

Our Energy Must Become Decentralized



Washington's Blog highlights one of my core beliefs, that smaller, more disparate generating stations are needed.  If only we could get some safe, small, easy to use and clean plants which could power a town or a county, and cut down on the transmission losses, we wouldn't need to generate as much power.  As his post lays it out:
America uses 39.97 quads of energy, while it wastes 54.64 quads (i.e. "rejected energy").

As CNET noted in 2007:
Sixty-two percent of the energy consumed in America today is lost through transmission and general inefficiency. In other words, it doesn't go toward running your car or keeping your lights on.
Put another way:
  • We waste 650% more energy than all of our nuclear power plants produce
  • We waste 280% more energy than we produce by coal
  • We waste 235% more energy than we produce by natural gas (using deadly fracking)
  • We waste 150% more energy than we generate with other petroleum products
The Department of Energy notes:
Only about 15% of the energy from the fuel you put in your tank gets used to move your car down the road or run useful accessories, such as air conditioning. The rest of the energy is lost to engine and driveline inefficiencies and idling. Therefore, the potential to improve fuel efficiency with advanced technologies is enormous.
According to the DOE, California lost 6.8% of the total amount of electricity used in the state in 2008 through transmission line inefficiencies and losses.
The National Academies Press notes:

By the time energy is delivered to us in a usable form, it has typically undergone several conversions. Every time energy changes forms, some portion is “lost.” It doesn't disappear, of course. In nature, energy is always conserved. That is, there is exactly as much of it around after something happens as there was before. But with each change, some amount of the original energy turns into forms we don't want or can't use, typically as so-called waste heat that is so diffuse it can't be captured.
Ouch, that is brutal.

The Ryan Budget Can't Be Passed Without Raising the Debt Ceiling

Matt Miller on the debt ceiling politics reminding him of the movie The Shining, via Ezra:
Well, debt limit mania has driven me to a similar frenzied state. If my wife came across my manuscript it would read, “The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit. The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit.”
Scream it from the mountaintops, we shouldn't be borrowing tons of money so that ultra rich people get massive tax cuts.

Obama Was a Pirate

Jonathon Chait has the scoop:
He was a pirate! He viewed commerce as something to be pillaged and looted. He views wealth in completely zero-sum terms, as something that can be accumulated only through force. No wonder he hates capitalism.
Also, he probably engaged in a lot of sodomy.



That is too funny.  Too bad birthers are too dumb to get the joke.

The Lost Decade

Calculated Risk, posted in full because what he's saying needs said a lot:
I've been more upbeat lately, but even as the economy recovers - and I think the recovery will continue - we need to remember a few facts.

There are currently 130.738 million payroll jobs in the U.S. (as of March 2011). There were 130.781 million payroll jobs in January 2000. So that is over eleven years with no increase in total payroll jobs.

And the median household income in constant dollars was $49,777 in 2009. That is barely above the $49,309 in 1997, and below the $51,100 in 1998. (Census data here in Excel).

Just a reminder that many Americans have been struggling for a decade or more. The aughts were a lost decade for most Americans.

And I'd like to think every U.S. policymaker wakes up every morning and reminds themselves of the following:

There are currently 7.25 million fewer payroll jobs than before the recession started in 2007, with 13.5 million Americans currently unemployed. Another 8.4 million are working part time for economic reasons, and about 4 million more workers have left the labor force. Of those unemployed, 6.1 million have been unemployed for six months or more.

So even as we start to discuss how to fix the structural budget deficit, and also to address the long term fiscal challenges from healthcare costs, we can't forget about all of these Americans.
Parts of the Bush Tax Cuts have been in place for almost 10 years.  Let us please dispose of the canard that tax cuts create jobs.  That is bullshit.  Here is a video of Paul Ryan getting a rough reception when he rolls that crap out after what I would assume was a plant gave him a lecture.




It's fun to watch. Some people are catching on.

Good News at the State Fair

From the Canton Repository:
Ohio State Fair visitors will be able to sip on wine and beer this summer for the first time since the 1880s.

The Ohio Expositions Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to allow alcohol consumption at two locations at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus during the July 27 to Aug. 7 fair.

Commission spokeswoman Alicia Notestone says wine made with at least 90 percent Ohio-grown grapes will be available at the Taste of Ohio Cafi, and wine and Ohio-produced beer will be sold at the Celeste Center during adult concerts.

Notestone says the commission hopes to give new opportunities to Ohio breweries and wineries.

She says alcohol was served when the fair was held at a site that is now Franklin Park, but has not been permitted since the fair moved to the Expo Center in 1886.
They ought to sell beer and allow it to be carried around the grounds, but this is a start.  Now we need some more of the county fairs in western Ohio to start serving beer.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mr. Obvious Headline of the Day

Josh Green's post on Donald Trump has the headline, "In Financial Circles, It's Pretty Well Known that Trump is a Deadbeat." 

No kidding.  Even amongst Western Ohio farmers that is pretty well known. I can't believe that he could run for President when the country is facing bankruptcy, unless we want somebody in there who knows about the process.  That dude has bombed more deals than we've bombed wedding receptions in Afghanistan.  Jeez.  From the story:
Last night, NBC News did a damning expose of Trump's record, which is replete with bankruptcies, lawsuits, and aggrieved former investors. But that only scratched the surface. Trump's hilarious, bombastic dismissal of Mitt Romney's business career, coupled with his heightened political profile and rampant egotism, suddenly seems to be rubbing Wall Street folks the wrong way. Financiers who chuckled about Trump, have become peeved and willing to share their thoughts on his business acumen.

Earlier this evening, I had the opportunity to get the unvarnished thoughts of a former Deutsche Bank employee familiar with Trump from this $640-million deal gone awry on the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago. Trump was sued to collect on a $40-million personal guarantee that was part of the deal. Suffice it to say, the banker held a dim view of the Donald. "[The Chicago deal] was pretty minor given all the other things going on at the time. Real estate developers do default from time to time," he said. "But this guy has been doing it for 20 years, failing. Remember the Trump Shuttle? That's why he'll never run. His finances just won't hold up to scrutiny. It's pretty well known in financial circles that this guy is a deadbeat."
Why would anybody take this guy seriously?  My guess is that he's just a glorified con man, but the GOP always seems to fall for a flim-flam man.

I'm Confused

Brad DeLong, Alex Tabarrok, Steve Landsburg and Elizabeth Lesly Stevens are all talking about Robert Kendrick, the heir to the $84 million Schlage Lock Company fortune.  Stevens is recommending that people like Robert Kendrick, who doesn't appear to do anything all day except move a few cars from parking space to parking space, should be taxed more, because the idle rich don't contribute to society.  Landsburg and Tabarrok are arguing that the man can't be taxed because he doesn't consume anything.  DeLong says his estate can be taxed. 

I know these guys are trying to say that the government is crowding into the private sector and hurting the economy.  Landsburg makes the case that if the government takes the money from Kendrick's bank account, then the bank can't make loans to small businesses and so on. 

Let me come at this from a different angle.  Kendrick probably has his money tied up in stocks and bonds.  He may be making scads of money on dividends from those stocks, which until 2003 was taxed as regular income.  Assuming Kendrick's unearned income is greater than what the 15% income tax rate hits, he was paying more money in taxes before the dividend tax cut in 2003.  After that tax cut, many businesses increased the amount of money they paid out in dividends, and decreased the amount they reinvested in their businesses, thus creating fewer jobs. 

In the meantime, the Bush tax cuts increased the size of the U.S. budget deficit.  According to the same economists who say that taxing Kendrick and increasing government spending will cause others to consume less, government deficits crowd out business borrowing, thus doing the same thing.  I'm confused.  If the government has to spend less to lessen the deficit, than people like Kendrick need to consume more.  But we've been told he won't.  This seems to me like a weak point in the argument. 

If Kendrick's unearned income were to be taxed at a higher rate, wouldn't the government  receive more money, decrease the deficit or increase transfer payments, and not crowd out business spending, if there was enough private demand for credit?  If the government were to transfer that money to poor people who would consume with that money, wouldn't that also be a good thing?  Then, that money shifts from one bank account (Hendrick's) to another (the business person's who the poor person bought from) with little overhead (IRS, HHS, etc.), and there is still money in the bank with which to originate loans. 

I would think that after watching the banks hand out trillions in bad loans, a person wouldn't make the case that taxing someone will be a bad thing for the economy because banks can't loan as much money if they do.  It is pretty clear that banks printed a lot of money in the bubble heyday, because that is what the fractional reserve banking system does.  That was considered a good thing by neoclassical economists, but when the Fed does the same thing, bad.  I'm confused.

Ohio County Fairs

According to this schedule, we might still be planting beans when the county fairs start up.  The Paulding County Fair starts on June 13.  I pray that we're done by then. 

Jimmy T Has Trouble With Saying Sorry

Dayton Daily News:
Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith said Tuesday the $250,000 fine levied against Buckeyes football coach Jim Tressel for violating NCAA rules may not even cover the cost of the investigation.
“It’ll probably eat up the whole $250 (thousand),” Smith said. “I’m not sure. We haven’t done any projections.”
Declining to address the ongoing NCAA investigation into Tressel’s violation, Smith also said he didn’t know when Tressel’s problems would be resolved.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Smith said Tressel was supposed to apologize in March at a news conference on the situation but failed to do so, and that only after meeting with Smith did the coach finally say he was sorry in a public forum.
What a bum. Later in the story:
 
After Yahoo! Sports broke the Tressel story in March, Smith, who was about to chair the prestigious NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee, hastily called a news conference. Tressel was supposed to apologize that night, but did not.
“Then we got with him and he got better at it,” Smith said. “It’s an emotional thing.”
On Tuesday, Smith said he regretted that the hurried news conference did not go better and said there were a number of things he wished he had done differently.
Yeah, it's hard for a hypocrite to admit he did anything wrong.  There is a timeline included with the article, and it is pretty obvious that Tressel had no desire for this scandal to ever come to light.  But this section of the timeline really stood out:
Dec. 9: Tressel says this is the first time he hears what federal officials know about the items. He makes no mention to university officials of his email exchanges with Cicero or any knowledge he has of the matter.
Dec. 16: OSU interviews for the first time the six players found to be involved with Rife (Pryor, tailback Daniel Herron, Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and defensive back Jordan Whiting). Smith later thanks the players for their conduct in these interviews, “because they were honest (and) forthright.” Tressel does not disclose his knowledge of the memorabilia sales.
Dec. 19: OSU turns in a self-report to the NCAA and declares the six players ineligible.
Dec. 21: The NCAA conducts phone interviews with the players and then asks for additional information, which Ohio State provides on Dec. 22.
Dec. 22: The NCAA notifies Ohio State of five-game suspensions for five players and one game for Whiting. All must also pay to charity the equivalent of the money and services they received. But the NCAA does allow the players to participate in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 4.
Dec. 23: Smith and Tressel have a news conference to announce the sanctions. Tressel says the players must have known what they were doing was a violation of NCAA rules: “I suppose that would be something rattling around inside the head of each of them individually. We all have a little sensor within us, 'Well, I’m not sure if I should be doing this.’ ”
Way to be classy on December 23, coach.  I can't imagine many employers would be happy with their subordinate lying to them like this.  But then again, maybe we need to reconsider who's the boss:
March 8: Ohio State reports Tressel’s violation to the NCAA and calls a news conference to announce it has suspended Tressel for two games and has fined him $250,000. In the letter to the NCAA, Ohio State says, “The institution is very surprised and disappointed in Coach Tressel’s lack of action in this matter.” Yet at the news conference, university President E. Gordon Gee and Smith lavish praise on Tressel. Asked if he considered firing Tressel, Gee jokes, “No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
What an embarrassment.  You'd think the highest paid college President in the country would have a little more authority.  Why does that guy make $1.5 Million?  Ohio State football is a disgrace to this state.

Canadian Election Projections

Conservatives are predicted to win, but with less than 40% of the vote (via Yglesias):


Why the U.S. ended up with red meaning conservative and blue meaning liberal, I don't understand.  Anyway, here is the projected seat breakdown by province:


I think it is interesting how the Western provinces are almost entirely Conservative, the Maritime provinces are slightly leaning Labor, and then there's Quebec.  I would think that minority government in parliament would be tremendously difficult and frustrating.

An election that changes 4 seats seems like a waste, too.

Reminiscing about 2010

April 20 Planting update for our farm:

2010-Corn 100% completed, Beans 0%

2011-Corn 0%, Beans 0%

I kind of miss last year.  Right now in the 10 day forcast, 6 of the 10 days feature at least a 50% chance of rain.  This will be an interesting (read, frustrating) growing season.

After FBI Busts, Online Poker Players Head to the Casino

LA Times:
Though it was a Monday night and tax day to boot, finding a parking spot at Hustler Casino in Gardena was no easy feat.
It may have been the ongoing poker tournament that helped the crowd swell above normal size. But over the weekend, a breed of player not usually found in clubs had also swarmed the casino. Wearing sunglasses under their hoodies and hats, they stood out "like a zebra around a bunch of cows," manager Craig Kaufman said.
They were online poker players, who usually disdained Hustler's plush velvet detailing and soft jazz background music in favor of a dozen simultaneous poker games sprawled across home computer screens.
But after the FBI last week shut down the three biggest Internet poker sites — and accused their three founders and eight other executives of bank fraud, money laundering and violating gambling laws — millions of online players suddenly found themselves with few alternatives except to play in person. In the real world.
This makes me think of this story, which I heard last week about how poker playing robots are winning big in online poker sites.  I always was concerned that somebody could be rigging the game in online poker. 

Trying to limit online gambling is a sucker's game, somebody is always a step ahead.  Apparently, I;m not the only one who thinks that.  From the LA Times story:
This is a battle the U.S. might win in the short run, but they're not going to stamp out online poker playing," Kelly said.
But they'll still try.

Why the Ryan Plan Won't Work

Jeff Madrick takes on Paul Ryan's budget (h/t Mark Thoma).  Here is his summary on the Reverse Robin Hood tax and spending cuts:
The right effectively ignores the record of the Bush tax cuts, and in my reading is rarely challenged on the issue. Yet recent history makes a powerful case against tax cuts. If the Ryan plan were passed, two thirds of alleged savings would be taken out of the hides of what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls people of “modest means.” Sharp cuts would be made not only to Medicare and Medicaid, but also to infrastructure spending and funds for Pell Grants for college tuition—both areas that are crucial to the nation’s long term economic performance. In sum, poverty will rise and public investment in the economy’s foundation will founder, while people with an annual income of more than $1 million a year will get a tax cut of $125,000 a year. Does any rational person think this is a sound approach to our future?
Simply put, no.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Ohio County Loses Its Young To Painkillers' Grip, in the NYT.  It takes a look at Scioto County, whose county seat, Portsmouth, lost its steel and shoemaking industries in the '70's and '80's.  From the article:
Nearly 1 in 10 babies born last year in this Appalachian county tested positive for drugs. In January, police caught several junior high school students, including a seventh grader, with painkillers. Stepping Stone House, a residential rehabilitation clinic for women, takes patients as young as 18.
In Ohio, fatal overdoses more than quadrupled in the last decade, and by 2007 had surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death, according to the Department of Health.
The problem is so severe that Gov. John R. Kasich announced $36 million in new spending on it this month, an unusual step in this era of budget austerity. And on Tuesday, the Obama administration announced plans to fight prescription drug addiction nationally, noting that it was now killing more people than crack cocaine in the 1980s and heroin in the 1970s combined.
The pattern playing out here bears an eerie resemblance to some blighted cities of the 1980s: a generation of young people who were raised by their grandparents because their parents were addicts, and now they are addicts themselves.
Kasich has been pushing this issue pretty hard, which seems to be a lot more constructive than many of his other policies.  But then again, the overall drug war has been pretty destructive, so things might not get better here.  It really is a sad deal.  I read a really dark set of short stories called Knockemstiff a couple of years ago, which was generally set near Chillicothe, in Ross County, but dealt with painkiller addiction, amongst other problems and perversions.  It was extremely depressing.  Southeastern Ohio faces a lot of difficult challenges, I hate to see drugs making things worse.  According to the article, now things are getting violent.  Good luck to Governor Kasich and the local lawmakers.

Beer Consumption Charts

Felix Salmon looks at beer consumption around the world, especially in the developing countries:
How do we know that the world is getting happier? It’s drinking more beer! Here’s the chart, from a new paper by Liesbeth Colen and Johan Swinnen:
vlume.tiff
What we’re seeing here is largely the China effect — and, more generally, a world where poor people, once they reach a certain minimum income, start hitting the hops.
consmption.tiff
The U.S. is holding its own, but Germany is cutting back some.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Is the Iowa Republican Party Really That Kooky?

Daniel Larison takes on Johnathon Bernstein's contention that Michele Bachmann can't win the Iowa Caucus:
After all, it wasn’t particularly because Huckabee was a multi-term state executive that Huckaee was able to ride a wave of evangelical caucus-goers to victory in 2008. Huckabee won because he could appeal directly to evangelical voters as someone who shared their beliefs and experiences and spoke their language. His lack of campaign organization was less important in Iowa, because he was able to mobilize informal networks of evangelical church-goers. As Sean Scallon’s TAC profiile of Bachmann explained, she comes from a similar religious background, she has a long record of social conservative activism, she has family roots in Iowa, and she spent part of her childhood in Waterloo.
When Huckabee started, he wasn’t all that well known outside of Arkansas. By comparison, Bachmann is probably among the best-known Republican members of Congress nationwide, and she already has a following and a significant fund-raising network in place. Her appearances in Iowa have been quite well-received among activists, and she is using many of the same themes that Huckabee used to build up his following in Iowa. This isn’t proof of Iowan “craziness,” but of Bachmann’s ability to appeal to the sorts of conservative activists she needs to win over if she is going to compete seriously and possibly win in Iowa.
Folks, she's a moron.  Don't waste your vote.  We need somebody with a brain in charge, don't you remember President George W. Bush. He was Albert Einstein compared to Michele Bachmann.

High Corn Prices Bring Excitement, Worry

Des Moines Register:

But the signs indicate agriculture's economic profile has never been higher:

- Farmland values, a significant portion of net worth for Iowa landowners, have climbed 77 percent since 2006. At auctions since the 2010 harvest, hardened farmers and managers have dropped their jaws as sales of $9,000 per acre or more became increasingly common. - Iowa banks report that farm loans are helping them outperform urban banks hurt by downturns in commercial construction and housing.

- On Wall Street, shares of Deere & Co., Iowa's largest manufacturer, have doubled to $100 in the last year. The Bridgestone/Firestone plant on Second Avenue in Des Moines has raised its roof to accommodate the need for ever-bigger tractor tires.

- Pioneer Hi-Bred is preparing a new building in Johnston to house some of the 400 hires it will bring on this year to meet the growing demand for seeds.
But farmers know that agriculture can turn quickly. Older farmers, themselves children of the survivors of the Great Depression of the 1920s and '30s, recall the farm crisis that wiped out one-third of Iowa's farms in the 1980s.

"If we don't see the 1980s again, I'll sure be surprised," observed Marshall Mussig of Gladbrook.

Even a young farmer such as 25-year-old Chris Gaesser, who wasn't born when the farm crisis began in the early 1980s, knows the bill for any farm boom eventually comes due.
"We can't sustain $7 corn," Gaesser said.
The boom in commodities has generated memories of similar golden periods in the early 1920s and 1970s, both of which were followed by historic collapses in agriculture.

Bill Webb, a Mitchellville-area farmer, put down a successful bid of $9,550 per acre for 132 acres of farmland near Bondurant at an auction in late March.

"This is the best I've seen farming in 31 years," he said.

But he added: "It never lasts. We'll pay for it in a couple of years."
It is important to remember how bad it could get, because things haven't been this good for a really long time.

A Primer for the Canadian Election

A funny explanation of  the Canadian election coming up on May 2:
On to the election campaign itself. The big news is that there actually is an election campaign, and the good news is that it's already half-over. Canadians view an election like we do sex: it should be fast and cheap, and leave us feeling slightly dirty afterward.
This vote should meet our expectations. The government fell on March 26, and we'll vote for a new Parliament May 2. That's less time than the U.S. takes between electing a president and swearing him in, much less the 18-month campaign period that Obama just kicked off. Yeah, this country has one-tenth the population. But get real!
Same for costs. On the donation side, no corporate or labor-union contributions allowed. Each citizen can give $1,100 to a political party and $1,100 to a candidate. That's it! Oh, and each party collects $2 for every vote it got in the last election. Expenses are also strictly limited, depending on the number of potential voters the candidate is trying to appeal to. Constituencies (quaintly, we call them ridings) vary a bit in size, but the average limit is less than $100,000. Exceed that, and you might have your victory annulled. Although I'm not sure of that since, being Canadian, nobody ever cheats.
As for feeling dirty, we're still in jockeying-for-position mode. Nobody is desperate enough yet to go for a really low blow. But the English and French-language leaders' debates are now scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, and there might be some fireworks then. Or not.
The explanation of the parties and the issues at stake is humorous and interesting for this poorly-informed neighbor to the south (99.9% of the U.S. population should be considered poorly-informed neighbors to the south, but very few are interested).  I definitely like the idea of short election campaigns without massive special-interest money.

The Lager Beer Riot

Another example of German immigrants' love of beer, and how it shaped U.S. history:
The Lager Beer Riot occurred in Chicago, Illinois in 1855 after Mayor Levi Boone, great-nephew of Daniel Boone, renewed enforcement of an old local ordinance mandating that taverns be closed on Sundays and led the city council to raise the cost of a liquor license from $50 per year to $300 per year, renewable quarterly. This move was seen as targeting German immigrants. On April 21, after several tavern owners were arrested for selling beer on Sunday, protesters clashed with police near the Cook County Court House. Waves of angry immigrants stormed the downtown area and the mayor ordered the swing bridges opened to stop further waves of protestors from crossing the river. This left some trapped on the bridges, police then fired shots at protesters stuck on the Clark Street Bridge over the Chicago River. A police captain from Hyde Park lost an arm in the riot. Rumors flew throughout the city that some of the protesters were killed, although there is no evidence to support this. Loaded cannons set on the public square contributed to these rumors. The following year, after Boone was turned out of office, the prohibition was repealed. This riot concluded in one death and sixty arrests.
Chicago's rapid growth in the 1840s and 50s was due in large part to German and Irish Catholic immigrants. These immigrants settled in their own neighborhoods, German immigrants congregating mainly on the North Side, across the Chicago River from City Hall and the older, Protestant part of the city. The German settlers worked a six-day week, leaving Sunday as their primary day to socialize; much of this socialization took place in the small taverns that dotted the North Side. German-language newspapers, the Turners, and German craft unions gave the German population of Chicago a high degree of political cohesiveness; the Forty-Eighters among them were used to demonstrations as a political tool.
As in much of the rest of the country, distrust of Catholic influence produced a backlash in the form of the “Know-Nothing” movement. In the election of 1855, the American Party (the party of the Know Nothings) gained control of Chicago's government, with Levi Boone as mayor. Boone, a Baptist and temperance advocate, believed that the Sabbath was profaned by having drinking establishments open on Sunday. Boone's actions were in anticipation of Illinois enacting by referendum a Maine law that would prohibit the sale of alcohol for recreational purposes. The referendum failed in June 1855, by a statewide vote of 54% to 46%.
German immigrants and their love for beer also became a target of the Prohibition cause during World War I:

How Socialized Medicine Works in Canada (Maybe)

James Fallows highlights a reader's email:
First, a primer from a reader in Montreal (I think - or someplace up there):
>>Here is how health care is financed in Canada.

1- The state determines how much money is available for heath care from the budget of the year. Say $1.00 [billion] etc

2- The state then asks the various medical professionals for a price for say 50,000 broken legs to be repaired, 20,000 births, you name it. The statistics of the needs of the country are known from previous experience.

3- The medical professionals discuss between themselves how to divide the available money for the various procedures. They know that it takes 10 minutes to do this and two hours to do that.

4- They return to the state with a price list for each procedure.

5- The state then guarantees that every medical act will be paid according to the price list.

6- The medical professionals know that they will get paid immediately upon completion of services. The only paper to fill is a credit card slip of paper containing the identification number of the physician and the procedure with the agreed price.

7- That is it. No collection agency, no discussion with an insurance about the need to do an MRI etc.. Whatever is ordered by the doctor is executed. If a question arises, then it is the medical association that looks into the matter and decides. The association has the power to remove the license of the offending doctor.

<<In a follow up note, the same reader adds:
>>There is a social impact as well.   Since health care is free, when a doctor screw things up (yes it happens in Canada) fixing the problem is also free. Hence the patient does not develop the anger of paying his bills and losing his home for the mistake of somebody else.

Result: A Montreal friend orthopedic surgeon specializing in spine surgery told me that he pays $5,000 per year for malpractice insurance per year.

Compare that with the $250,000 for insurance of the average surgeon in Dallas, TX. The doctor must recover the insurance fee by charging more, and you end up in a vicious loop.

Fairness and justice makes life easier for everyone.<<
I tihnk that would reasonably apply my concept of cooperation between government and medical providers to handle medical delivery and control costs.  I would like to see doctors, hospitals, insurance companies along with the administrators of Medicare and Medicaid work out a plan to deliver better than current U.S. health care (which is on average less effective than France) at a cost within 5% of France's health care cost.  My guess is that we would discover that doctors, hospitals and insurance companies end up with most of the excess spending the U.S. has in relation to France, while patients do not benefit.  Our "market" system does medicine so inefficiently.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link : Throw out the Money Changers, by Chris Hedges.  This is a very good sermon for Holy Week:
We must defy the cant of consumer culture and recover the primacy in our lives of mercy and justice. And this requires courage, not just physical courage but the harder moral courage of listening to our conscience. If we are to save our country, and our planet, we must turn from exalting the self, to subsuming of the self for our neighbor. Self-sacrifice defies the sickness of corporate ideology. Self-sacrifice mocks opportunities for advancement, money and power. Self-sacrifice smashes the idols of greed and envy. Self-sacrifice demands that we rise up against the abuse, injury and injustice forced upon us by the mandarins of corporate power. There is a profound truth in the biblical admonition “He who loves his life will lose it.”

Life is not only about us. We can never have justice until our neighbor has justice. And we can never recover our freedom until we are willing to sacrifice our comfort for open rebellion. The president has failed us. The Congress has failed us. The courts have failed us. The press has failed us. The universities have failed us. Our process of electoral democracy has failed us. There are no structures or institutions left that have not been contaminated or destroyed by corporations. And this means it is up to us. Civil disobedience, which will entail hardship and suffering, which will be long and difficult, which at its core means self-sacrifice, is the only mechanism left.

The bankers and hedge fund managers, the corporate and governmental elites, are the modern version of the misguided Israelites who prostrated themselves before the golden calf. The sparkle of wealth glitters before them, spurring them faster and faster on the treadmill towards destruction. And they seek to make us worship at their altar. As long as greed inspires us, greed keeps us complicit and silent. But once we defy the religion of unfettered capitalism, once we demand that a society serve the needs of citizens and the ecosystem that sustains life, rather than the needs of the marketplace, once we learn to speak with a new humility and live with a new simplicity, once we love our neighbor as ourself, we break our chains and make hope visible.
The whole thing is worth a read.  There are also a number of other good links, including astory highlighting the number of ways that Obama is following Bush's lead, a story about taxes as a percentage of GDP are at historic lows, and an article looking at how judges are most likely to rule for parole right after lunch.

The Founding Father for a Strong Federal Government

William Hogeland on Alexander Hamilton, the original conservative who is the tea party's nemesis:

So as we stand on long lines at the post office hoping to avoid the midnight axe, we might spare a moment to consider the father of federal taxes, Alexander Hamilton. Our first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton is celebrated by both establishment liberals and establishment conservatives: The Hamilton Project is an economic effort of the liberal Brookings Institution, and former Obama budget director Peter Orszag hung a Hamilton portrait in his office; on the right, the writer David Brooks and former Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson are two of Hamilton’s biggest fans. It’s not surprising. Hamilton is rightly said to have put the new nation on sound financial footing and secured its creditworthiness. He gave us our first comprehensive national finance policy.
That policy depended on exercising certain economic powers that finance nationalists like Hamilton and his mentor the rich financier Robert Morris, as well as planter nationalists like James Madison, had been striving to achieve for the federal government throughout the 1780’s, and which came to fruition at the Constitutional convention in 1787. While Hamilton and Madison would arrive at dire odds over whether the Constitution gives the federal government the right to form a central bank (Hamilton yes, Madison no), all nationalists had long agreed that a national government, unlike a confederation of states, would have a right to tax its citizens directly, throughout the states. And unlike what they saw as state governments’ susceptibility to the American popular-finance movement’s riot and noncompliance, a national government, nationalists hoped, would have both the will and the police resources to enforce and collect taxes.
So whereas Tea Partiers sometimes associate their objections to federal taxes with a desire to “get back to the Constitution,” federal taxation is one of the Constitution’s central purposes. And we can thank the wunderkind Alexander Hamilton for proposing the legislation by which the first U.S. Congress imposed the first federal tax ever on an American product.
The whole thing is worth a read, but I also found this very interesting:

S&P Negative Outlook on U.S. Debt

Washington's Blog, posted at Ritholtz:
The real problem is that both Democrats and Republicans want to fund endless wars, give endless bailouts to the too big to fail banks and corporations, and perpetuate the expensive Ponzi scheme of printing money out of thin air.
I would also add that each side promises it's base that they will pay less in taxes, then they compromise and nobody pays more in taxes.  This has gone on for too long.

The Reds Struggle Against the Pirates

Last night the Reds were soundly whipped by the surprising Pirates, and went 1-3 in the four-game series.  Based on the post-game discussion, you would think that the season was over.  I don't think that Mike Leake's arrest for shoplifting helped that mood, though.

This may surprise frequent readers of this blog, but I'm going to stake out an optimistic position at this time.  This would seem out of character, as I'm generally pessimistic, but technically, I believe I am really a contrarian, and most other people are generally optimistic.  So here's the case:

Ironically, last year on April 18, the Pirates completed a three-game sweep of the Reds, albeit in Pittsburgh.  That left the Reds with a 5-game losing streak, in the midst of a 2-8 run which would conclude with a loss to the Padres on April 24, leaving them with a 7-11 record.  That point when they were four games under .500 was the low point of the season.  Hopefully, this season turns around in a similar manner.  We'll see, but the six-game road trip which goes to St. Louis and Milwaukee starting Friday will be interesting.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Textile Orchestra

Via the Dish, a Brazilian textile plant set to music:


Valsa das Máquinas, Paramount Têxteis from grafikonstruct on Vimeo.

How the Brain Changes Time

The New Yorker on brain research by David Eagleman (via Ritholtz):
The brain is a remarkably capable chronometer for most purposes. It can track seconds, minutes, days, and weeks, set off alarms in the morning, at bedtime, on birthdays and anniversaries. Timing is so essential to our survival that it may be the most finely tuned of our senses. In lab tests, people can distinguish between sounds as little as five milliseconds apart, and our involuntary timing is even quicker. If you’re hiking through a jungle and a tiger growls in the underbrush, your brain will instantly home in on the sound by comparing when it reached each of your ears, and triangulating between the three points. The difference can be as little as nine-millionths of a second.
Yet “brain time,” as Eagleman calls it, is intrinsically subjective. “Try this exercise,” he suggests in a recent essay. “Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move.” There’s no evidence of any gaps in your perception—no darkened stretches like bits of blank film—yet much of what you see has been edited out. Your brain has taken a complicated scene of eyes darting back and forth and recut it as a simple one: your eyes stare straight ahead. Where did the missing moments go?
The question raises a fundamental issue of consciousness: how much of what we perceive exists outside of us and how much is a product of our minds? Time is a dimension like any other, fixed and defined down to its tiniest increments: millennia to microseconds, aeons to quartz oscillations. Yet the data rarely matches our reality. The rapid eye movements in the mirror, known as saccades, aren’t the only things that get edited out. The jittery camera shake of everyday vision is similarly smoothed over, and our memories are often radically revised. What else are we missing? When Eagleman was a boy, his favorite joke had a turtle walking into a sheriff’s office. “I’ve just been attacked by three snails!” he shouts. “Tell me what happened,” the sheriff replies. The turtle shakes his head: “I don’t know, it all happened so fast.”
Very interesting.  When I crashed out the Focus this winter, time moved very slowly.  I thought at one point that I wasn't actually going to hit the pole I had seen coming because it seemed like it was taking too long.  I hit it a little later. Very hard.  I was still going about 30 or 35 when I hit it.  It seemed like I was doing 10.

The Economics of Water

Charles Fishman looks at the economics of water:
Sometimes the economics of water are as clear as water itself. And sometimes, they’re not. The disappearing water fountains make perfect sense for the arena. But what about the thirsty fans? Those who bought a single bottle of Aquafina at the Q were paying more for a couple swallows of water than they paid for a gallon of gasoline. In the cold case at a convenience store, you can get a half-liter of bottled water for 99 cents — 17 ounces for a dollar. The designer water in the same case, FIJI Water, costs 50 percent more, $1.49 for a half-liter, with the square bottle at no extra charge.
How incredible is that? If you drank the 99-cent bottle today, then took the bottle home and continued to use it, you could refill it every day with tap water until July 3, 2017, before you’d spent 99 cents on the tap water. Even the cheap bottled water is 2,000 times more expensive than the water we’ve got on tap at home.
He summarizes with this:
In the U.S., we spend $21 billion a year on bottled water. We spend $29 billion maintaining our entire water system: the pipes, treatment plants, and pumps. We spend almost as much on crushable plastic bottles as we do on our most fundamental infrastructure system.
That’s why, in Philadelphia, where I live, we have 3,300 miles of water mains — and the water department replaces 20 miles of main a year. A 160-year replacement cycle. It’s fine to indulge in a bottle of FIJI Water, just not at the expense of the water system itself.
Water is amazingly cheap, but that distribution system is rapidly aging and expensive to replace.  Bottled water sucks.