Saturday, May 21, 2011

Kasich Poll Numbers Are Struggling

I'm not one to put much stock in polls, but I think this is interesting:
In Ohio, Governor John Kasich is struggling as well, after narrowly defeating Democrat incumbent Ted Strickland last fall. A new Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday found Kasich's approval numbers decidedly upside down, with 49 percent of voters disapproving and 38 percent approving of his efforts in office to date. This was a nominal improvement over the previous month, when he had a 46-30 split. But the persistent gender gap facing Kasich is stark—women disapprove of Kasich's job in office by a margin of 51 to 33 percent.
Maybe barely winning an off-year election when the opposing party couldn't turn out its base, then acting as if you won a landslide isn't a good idea.  Maybe putting in place radical policy changes when you barely won an election isn't a good idea.  Maybe being an obnoxious blowhard isn't a good idea.  I guess we will see what happens.  But when a guy puts in a tax cut when there is an $8 billion dollar deficit, then says he might push for more tax cuts the next year, when the massive cuts or local tax increases required haven't even hit yet,  he probably deserves bad poll numbers.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Two links today at naked capitalism.  First, The dairy farmers who returned to Fukushima's fallout path, at the Guardian:
Namie has become a ghost town. The fields, normally a hive of activity in this season, are deserted. Roads are almost empty, apart from emergency vehicles and a police van that blocks the route into the 16 mile-radius exclusion zone.
Almost all of the 2,000 residents followed government advice to evacuate after the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on 15 March, but Sanpei and her husband were among a few dozen farmers who returned, more concerned for their cattle than their personal safety.
"I could hear the cows in my ears mooing. I couldn't sleep. I was so worried," says Sanpei as one of the herd licks her arm. "We came back after a week. Even though the radiation was frightening, when we saw the cows again we had peace of mind."
Back then they were unsure of the risks. At the peak, in the worst affected areas of Namie, residents say radiation levels surged past 150 microsieverts per hour when it rained. But the government did not release data about radioactivity in the area until April.
"The government draws a boundary with a compass from the site of the reactor. But the reality is completely different. The most irradiated areas are in a line heading north-west from the plant. That includes here. But we only realised that in April," says Sanpei.
She now has her own dosimeter. It shows radiation outside her home is 13 microsieverts per hour – 200 times the level in Tokyo and equivalent to having a chest x-ray every four or five hours.
I know dairymen really worry about their cows, but that sounds like a lot of radiation.  I would have considered having the cows put down I think.  Milking them everyday seems nuts.  I still can't imagine having the land poisoned with radiation, that would be soul-crushing.

Second, America's 10 Biggest Constitutional Myths, by Garrett Epps:
The constitutional bosh propounded by charlatans like James J. Kilpatrick during the Civil Rights era was aimed at convincing the nation that racial equality was unconstitutional--instead of being, as the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments make clear, commanded by the amended Constitution. Those arguments live on under the surface of the bilge peddled by figures from Glenn Beck to Tom Coburn.

But the current far-right campaign is aimed at an even broader target: it seeks to convince us that the Constitution somehow forbids the United States from becoming a modern nation-state, with an integrated economy, a rational health-care system, a unified national citizenship, an open electoral process, and a system of bedrock civil and political rights.

This summer, I will be posting a series of short essays on what I consider to be the most dangerous unfounded claims about the Constitution currently floating around the airwaves and legislative halls. Each of us, I suppose, could make his or her own list of constitutional myths. The ones I list below are my top ten. I invite nominations from readers of their own.
Here's his list:
  1. Conservatives believe only in "original intent" and others believe in a "living Constitution," meaning whatever they want.
  2. The Founders wrote the Constitution to restrain Congress and limit its powers.
  3. The "Unitary Executive" means all unclaimed federal power flows away from Congress and to the President.
  4. The Constitution does not provide for separation of church and state.
  5. Corporations have precisely the same First Amendment rights as natural persons.
  6. The Second Amendment was "intended" to make government "fear the people."
  7. The Tenth Amendment and state "sovereignty" allow states to "nullify" federal law.
  8. The Fourteenth Amendment was written solely to address the situation of freed slaves, and has no relevance today.
  9. Election of Senators is unfair and harmful to the states.
  10. International law is a threat to the Constitution and must be kept out of American courts.
I find the Constructionist argument to be puzzling.  Did a group of people in the late 18th century not expect changes to be made to the system of governance when the country went from half a continent of wilderness with less than 4 million people, to a continent-wide nation of giant, sprawling cities with 310 million people?  Would folks who hated the East India Company welcome accepting giant corporations as people with the right to "free speech"?  I would expect that those men would be troubled by today's conservatives.  I'll be interested to read more on these 10 "myths."

Royal Delta Wins the Black-Eyed Susan

No telling whether her effort would have been good enough for her to be competitive two weeks beforehand in the Kentucky Oaks, but a clear-cut victory in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes was satisfaction enough Friday at Pimlico for the connections of Royal Delta.
After Royal Delta posted a flashy allowance victory April 15 at Keeneland, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott mulled over the possibility of running the Empire Maker filly back in the Grade 1, $1 million Kentucky Oaks on May 6 at Churchill Downs. But employing his customary discretion, Mott waited for the Grade 2, $250,000 Black Eyed Susan, and it paid off with an emphatic, 2 1/2-length score in the traditional Preakness eve fixture.
"We thought she was a nice filly early on, but soon realized she was a little better than we thought," Mott said.
With Jose Lezcano settling her into a nice early stalking position after three other 3-year-old fillies went out for the lead, Royal Delta moved through a rail opening in the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile race, then easily wrested command from a weary Hot Summer before moving along to a 2 1/2-length triumph over Buster's Ready.
Today, Animal Kingdom tries to continue his run to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.  After so many near misses in the past 15 years or so, it would be nice to see somebody do it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fields of Athenry

Parish Festivals

Much like June kicks off the beginning of county fair season, May kicks off parish festival season.  Here's a schedule of festivals in Southwestern Ohio, in case you need to see carnies, drink beer and/or gamble.

Timely Discussion

This kind of gets to the question I asked dad last week: how much of the decision for guys to start planting depends on when their neighbors start planting?

The farmer on the other end of the line was planting corn. It was just a few days ago. He started talking to me like I had known him for years. This was the first time I had ever talked to him, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. I have fretted over similar situations and made similar observations for years.

"Tom, I just don't get it," he said. "I just don't get it."

OK, don't get what?

"I finally started planting at noon today, my fields are well-tiled, we're on good black dirt, and it's still plenty damp for me. Yet I've got neighbors that started four or five days ago, and some of their land isn't that far from mine, and isn't well-tiled. It had to be mudballs."

Maybe it was. But that's their call to make. If you've earned the right to farm by sticking it out all these years and getting the bills paid, I guess you've got the right to decide when it's time to pull the trigger and plant. I'll have to admit, though, some of the things I've seen this spring already makes me wonder if anybody ever reads our magazine, Website or anybody else's. Yes, it's a late spring, but just how soon do you start? And at what cost?
I think last week, the forecast figured into the decision-making process.  While it wasn't quite ready, the forecast was showing rain for the foreseeable future.  If we were going to get any corn planted, we had to do it.  We started on Wednesday, didn't do anything on Thursday, waiting to see if it was actually going to rain.  Then we started again on Friday on marginally good soil, gave it a little go on Saturday before too much mud and some drizzle stopped us.  It wasn't very good, and we probably compacted some areas, but the stuff we planted Wednesday is starting to pop through.  The neighbors toiling in the fields is definitely an encouragement to get started.  I'll generally be on the mid to early side of things, but we have some light, well-drained soils also.  It's a tough call, but that's why we make the big bucks.

Black-Eyed Susan Preview

Here's the lineup for today's Black-Eyed Susan:
Earlier this week, seven three-year-old fillies drew into the field for Friday's Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico.  An early scratch to Art of the Hunt leaves this field with just six contenders and a much different pace situation. Below is a look at the field for Friday's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (post time 4:46 Eastern; TV - Versus).
1Royal DeltaJ. LezcanoW. Mott3/1
2Hot SummerR. DominguezD. Fawkes5/2
3Coax LibertyG. GomezJ. Lawrence8/1
4WyomiaJ. LeparouxC. Garrison9/5
5Buster's ReadyJ. VelazquezT. Pletcher8/1
6Love Theway YouareJ. RosarioM. Cho12/1
--Art of the Hunt----SCR
A horse-by-horse preview is included with the lineup here.

The Rapture

Awesome picture via the Dish:

I'm pretty sure I'm going to be here on Sunday.  How about you?

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link from naked capitalism: Artificial light: how man-made brightness has changed the way we live and see forever, at the Independent:
This new light first illuminated factories, commercial districts, and the homes of the wealthy. It remained a luxury for most home owners until electric lines began to arrive in middle-class and working-class neighbourhoods during the first decades of the 20th century. The last to receive electricity were usually those who lived in poorer city neighbourhoods or in the countryside. By the time it arrived in American farmhouses in the 1930s – generally lit until then by dim kerosene lanterns – incandescent light couldn't really be separated from all the other things that electricity brought into the home: refrigerators, washers, dryers, irons, stoves, vacuum cleaners. It seemed to define what it meant to be modern. And although all these other things would dramatically change domestic life, somehow it was the light people were waiting for.
The rapid expansion of power grids throughout the 20th century means those in industrialised countries now live in a world built of light, but the light that affords us an ease and freedom our ancestors couldn't imagine also has consequences. It has so effectively chased away the ancient night that more than half the people in the United States and Europe cannot see the Milky Way from their homes. Astronomers were the first to raise an alarm concerning light pollution, calling for better-designed lighting and an end to excessive lighting, which not only obscures the night sky but has consequences for our well-being – it affects human sleep, among other things – and can wreak havoc in the natural world by disrupting the migration of birds, for instance, that depend on celestial light to navigate, and affecting the ability of nocturnal animals to hunt and hide.
Only a conscientious effort to reduce lighting will ensure a future in which the brilliance we live by even remains the same, for our reaction to light isn't always rational. Not only do we love its beauty and ease, we imagine it makes us safer in the night, though safety may not always be a function of more light: blinding glare can give advantages to modern-day footpads and thieves, and light itself can help them to navigate their way.
It is hard to sit today and contemplate what life was like "back in the day."  It is always a good reminder to read about what it actually was like.  The Rural Electrification Act has to be one of the most valuable acts of legislation of the New Deal.  Life on the farm prior to electrification was brutal.

History and Second-Tier Cities

In a discussion of job-creation concerns in India and China, Ashok Bardhan delves into the development and shift to obscurity of cities (h/t Mark Thoma):
Many urban problems in emerging economies have deep historic roots, and Indian cities, in particular, are burdened by two unique legacies. The first has a colonial origin and concerns the location of major urban centers of modern India. Many ancient and medieval nations and empires were primarily land-based. This was true of the military campaigns of Alexander of Macedonia across the Eurasian heartland, or the territorial conquests of Genghis Khan. Many, if not most of the major cities of the time were in the hinterland, controlling access to strategic land assets and straddling vital trade routes. The Mughal Empire in India, or the successive Chinese dynasties, except for the dramatic oceanic adventures of Zheng He during the Ming period, were by and large inward looking and oriented to their vast hinterlands. The rise of seafaring colonial powers led to the development of large coastal cities like Bombay and Shanghai, serving both as the locus of colonial power and as entrepôts for trade.

The geographical distribution of major cities in pre-colonial versus colonial/post colonial India and elsewhere serves as a vivid illustration of how wrenching economic and political changes can affect the urban landscape. Thus appeared the relatively recent Bombays, Calcuttas and Hong Kongs, pushing aside the Agras (Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, was a major city under the Mughal Empire) and the Kaifengs (one of many capitals of ancient and medieval China). Cities, however, are resilient, living historic monuments and while their prospects may wax and wane, even the neglected ones do not disappear entirely and gently “into that good night” under the churning and dislocating impact of modern economic development. That path dependence and history still matter is borne out by Delhi and Beijing, both historic hinterland cities, and which have retained their importance throughout the colonial and contemporary periods. In any case, it was the pattern of trade and linkages of the colonial periphery with the core that determined urban growth rather than any organic economic process from within. It is this pattern that has left scattered across India a series of second tier cities that present a challenge for urban development, as well as an opportunity to wean away people and resources from the megapolises and their diseconomies of agglomeration.

A question frequently posed at the conference was – Can second tier cities play a positive role, both directly in the urbanization process itself by attracting people from the countryside, but also in helping mitigate some of the overgrowth of the megacities? There is an interesting example right here in the US of “alternative urban centers” that were set up deliberately, albeit with a different set of objectives and in a different context. In 32 states in the US, the state capital is in a second tier city: Albany, Sacramento, Carson City, Salem, Olympia etc., thus separating geographically the economic and political seats of power. It turns out that, by and large, the location choice process was quite idiosyncratic, with differing compulsions and histories, and largely reflected the desire of rural elites to carve out their own sphere of influence. But perhaps a more interesting question is this – what economic impact did this process have historically by creating an alternative focus of urban agglomeration? Did urban and state performance differ over time across these two different sets of states?  The combination of immigration, conquest, and land settlement in the westward move across the US makes its urban history pretty much a unique case, but perhaps there is a lesson here for emerging economies to promote alternative urban centers, given how their main metros are huge agglomerations, and where most provinces/states have just one congested city that is the economic, political and cultural capital, all rolled into one.
I find the historical development of the United States and its cities to be extremely interesting.  As he mentions here, there was an east-to-west pattern in the U.S., but it was more complex and interesting than that.  For example, the eastern seaboard cities first developed as ports for the export of raw materials and the import of manufactured goods for the country.  Then they became the first industrial centers.  After that, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, St. Louis and New Orleans developed along the Ohio-Mississippi River system.  Then the opening of the Erie Canal made Buffalo a significant place. made San Francisco the principal city on the west coast. The gold rush The railroads made Chicago into a major city.  The steel and auto industries fueled the growth of Cleveland and Detroit into major cities.  Later came growth to Los Angeles, and later still, growth in the Mountain West and South.  It seems that transportation and agriculture first drove growth, then industry, then climate.  It is also interesting how immigration fed and followed such growth.  The waves of Scotch-Irish immigrants in the 1770's into the early 1800's settled in the Appalachian region and started immigrating into the Northwest Territory.  The Irish and Germans followed next, and settled both on the Eastern Seaboard and into the old Northwest, especially in the Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis area.  In the 1840's, with the potato famine and 1848 uprisings, these immigrants settled Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota.  By the 1890's through until immigration was limited in the 20's, Eastern Europeans and Italians settled in Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, South Bend, Toledo, Duluth and other regions which were centers of the auto and steel industries.  Those patterns and unique histories have always intrigued me.  When I hear that Buffalo, New York was the eighth largest city in the United States in 1900, I am intrigued.  What happened to make that change?  It is a fascinating subject to study, and since it is now much smaller, implies some lessons may be learned about the current growth in the South and West. 

Wages Are Rising?

Felix Salmon:
To put this in terms even a politician can understand, the average weekly paycheck is now $787.19. That’s $59.78, or 8.2%, higher than it was at this point four years ago — and the rate of increase in wages is not slowing down. If you have a job at the next election day, you’ll likely be earning between 8% and 10% more than you were when Barack Obama was elected. This country has many problems, unemployment first and foremost among them, but stagnant wages and employees being underpaid are pretty low down the list, if they’re on it at all.
I do think that productivity gains should go more to labor and less to capital, but in the first instance that should take the form of increased hiring, rather than wage increases for the already-employed. Those of us with jobs are the fortunate ones — and yes, if we’re paid more, we’ll spend more, and that in turn is likely to show up in higher prices. The Fed is probably right to be worried about wage inflation. But that just means that it should look for ways to divert that money into new hiring, rather than raising rates to choke it off altogether.
This surprises me, although I guess it would be true in nominal dollars.  In real dollars, I would suspect that wages are just about the same, or even lower in purchasing power.  The other question I would have would be if this figures in benefits?  Some of the calculations of employee pay figure in benefits, and health insurance costs going up get reflected as wage increases for workers.  I'm pretty sure that doesn't make workers feel better off.

Crumbling Infrastructure-Satellite Edition

From All Things Considered yesterday:
Then, Lubchenco used the occasion to point to the importance of NOAA's satellite program.
Ms. LUBCHENCO: Satellites are a must-have when it comes to being prepared in detecting and tracking dangerous tropical weather. Not having satellites and not applying their latest capabilities could spell disaster.
HAMILTON: And she said there's a very real possibility that could happen.
Ms. LUBCHENCO: The future funding for our satellite program is very much in limbo right now.
HAMILTON: Already, Lubchenco said, the agency has been forced to delay the launch of a critical satellite. It would have traveled in a polar orbit, beaming down information for weather and climate forecasts. As a result, when the current satellite doing that job stops working, there will be no replacement.
Ms. LUBCHENCO: We are likely looking at a period of time a few years down the road where we will not be able to do severe storm warnings and long-term weather forecasts that people have come to expect today.
HAMILTON: And Lubchenco says satellites aren't just for hurricanes.
Ms. LUBCHENCO: For example, our ability to do a five-day heads-up about the severe tornadoes that hit a couple of weeks ago was a direct consequence of our having polar orbiting satellites.
HAMILTON: Lubchenco's comments come after years of warnings by groups, including the National Academy of Sciences, that the U.S. needed to replace many aging satellites used to study and monitor the Earth.
The Republican attempts to slash non-defense, non-entitlement spending, combined with constant tax cuts, leads to valuable basic science funding being slashed.  These programs don't have a strong constituency, but they have large real-life effects, and are extremely cheap based on their usefulness.  This nation will suffer for many years because of the 30 years of malinvestment under generally Republican guidance.

Land Ordinance of 1785

Today marks a significant date in U.S.and in surveying history:
The Land Ordinance of 1785 was adopted by the United States Congress on May 20, 1785. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress did not have the power to raise revenue by direct taxation of the inhabitants of the United States. Therefore, the immediate goal of the ordinance was to raise money through the sale of land in the largely unmapped territory west of the original states acquired at the 1783 (Treaty of Paris) after the end of the Revolutionary War. Over three-fourths of the area of the continental United States ultimately came under the rectangular survey. This was important because it provided easily recognized land descriptions, which in turn contributed enormously to the orderly and largely peaceful occupation of the land. The rectangular survey also provided the units within which economic, political, and social development took place.
The Ordinance of 1784 was a resolution written by Thomas Jefferson (delegate from Virginia) calling for Congress to take action. The land west of the Appalachian Mountains, north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River was to be divided into ten separate states. However, the 1784 resolution did not define the mechanism by which the land would become states, or how the territories would be governed or settled before they became states. The Ordinance of 1785 put the 1784 resolution in operation by providing a mechanism for selling and settling the land, while the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 addressed political needs.
The 1785 ordinance laid the foundations of land policy until passage of the Homestead Act in 1862. The Land Ordinance established the basis for the Public Land Survey System. The initial surveying was performed by Thomas Hutchins. After he died in 1789, responsibility for surveying was transferred to the Surveyor General. Land was to be systematically surveyed into square townships, six miles (9.656 km) on a side. Each of these townships were sub-divided into thirty-six sections of one square mile (2.59 km²) or 640 acres. These sections could then be further subdivided for re-sale by settlers and land speculators.
The ordinance was also significant for establishing a mechanism for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today are still located in section sixteen of their respective townships, although a great many of the school sections were sold to raise money for public education. In later States, section 36 of each township was also designated as a "school section".
Knepper notes: “Sections number 8, 11, 26, and 29 in every township were reserved for future sale by the federal government when, it was hoped, they would bring higher prices because of developed land around them. Congress also reserved one third part of all gold, silver, lead, and copper mines to its own use, a bit of wishful thinking as regards Ohio lands.” The ordinance also said “That three townships adjacent to Lake Erie be reserved, to be hereafter disposed of by Congress, for the use of the officers, men, and others, refugees from Canada, and the refugees from Nova Scotia, who are or may be entitled to grants of land under resolutions of Congress now existing.“ This was not possible, as the area next to Lake Erie was property of Connecticut, so the Canadians had to wait until the establishment of the Refugee Tract in 1798.
The Point of Beginning for the 1785 survey was where Ohio (as the easternmost part of the Northwest Territory), Pennsylvania and Virginia (now West Virginia) met, on the north shore of the Ohio River near East Liverpool, Ohio. There is a historical marker just north of the site, at the state line where Ohio State Route 39 becomes Pennsylvania Route 68.
Thanks to this Act, plane passengers can look down at the nearly perfect one mile squares which cover the nation's landscape.  It set up the 6 mile by 6 mile survey township. It also gave us the Section, Township, Range system of identifying every parcel of property in the Public Land Survey System.  It also greatly simplified the complex and nearly indefinable system of metes and bounds descriptions, which allowed surveyors to separate out the best land for themselves and their favored clients.  Later, the Act of May 18, 1796 altered the numbering system for sections in townships, and only two surveys in Ohio were conducted under the numbering system of 1785:
The Land Ordinance of May 20, 1785, allowed for the subdivision of government lands, and the subsequent sale of those lands which brought about the largest number of freeholders of property in the history of the world.  It is one of the greatest legacies of the United States.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Centroid of Population in Plato, MO

If you filled out the 2010 Census form from the U.S. Census Bureau, then you had a part in defining the centroidthe point where the center of the U.S. population falls. Every 10 years, after the Census Bureau crunches the numbers and figures out where the centroid is, NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey (NGS) places a geodetic survey disk (also called a survey marker, monument, or bench mark) in the incorporated community closest to its exact geographic location.
NOAA Chief Geodetic Surveyor Dave Doyle, who has helped place a survey marker at the centroid every 10 years since 1980, says first to think of a rectangular-shaped state like Colorado. “If you imagine Colorado as a perfectly flat plain without all the mountains and valleys, and you put it on a map, the place where this rectangular shape balances perfectly on a point is the centroid.”
“Then, think of the United States, including Alaska and the territories, as a flat plain and put it on a map. Imagine also that every individual in the population weighs exactly the same,” he continues. “The centroid is where the center of the population is located.”
The process that the Census Bureau uses to figure out the centroid for the U.S. population is more complicated, but that’s the basic idea.


I'm figuring on travelling to Detroit and Cleveland this summer to take in ball games.  I know, why would somebody plan vacations to two of America's fastest dying cities.  I guess I just don't like crowds.  I figure I can go on the River Rouge factory tour while in Detroit, and maybe visit the Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland.  Does anybody else have any recommendations for things to do in these fine Midwestern metropolii?  Here's a Cleveland tourism video.

Net Recipient States

Via Ritholzthis:
Happily, the Tax Foundation — a conservative Washington-based think tank — has, however unintentionally, provided the answer. In 2007, the foundation published a survey of 2005 federal spending in each state and compared that with each state’s contribution in federal taxes. In other words, the foundation identified the states that sponge off the federal government and those that subsidize it. The welfare-queen states and the responsible, producing states, as it were.
The list, alas, hasn’t been updated — in part, no doubt, because conservatives didn’t like what it revealed: that those states that got more back from our government than they paid in were overwhelmingly Republican. The 10 biggest net recipients of taxpayers’ largess were, in order, New Mexico, Mississippi, Alaska, Louisiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama, South Dakota, Kentucky and Virginia. The 10 states that paid in the most and got back the least were New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Illinois, Delaware, California, New York and Colorado.
Now, that list has surely changed since the middle of the last decade — Virginia has probably gotten richer and paid in more; Nevada has surely gotten poorer and paid in less. But today’s ranking are probably much the same, unless farming and manufacturing suddenly pay more than finance and high-tech. Even allowing for cyclical variations and political transformations, it’s patently clear that the states that drain the government also constitute the Republicans’ electoral base, while those that produce the wealth constitute the Democrats’. Far from strengthening our moral character, the red states plunge us into the slough of dependency.
That is funny overall.  I think it is interesting that a state like Connecticut, home to many hedge fund titans, is a pretty high tax state, but governors in the Midwest claim that people are moving south to get lower taxes.  I think the real driver is the weather, but what do I know, I also thought that I might see the sun for more than 4 days in May.  I just love to see somebody point out the obvious: that the people who are the biggest beneficiaries of government dislike it the most.

Disability Insurance, Where Social Security is Broken

Ezra Klein:
But Social Security’s disability program is area of obvious dysfunction that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. Damian Paletta has a great Wall Street Journal piece this morning that highlights just how out of control the program has gotten by focusing on one judge, David Daugherty:
In the fiscal year that ended in September, the administrative law judge, who sits in the impoverished intersection of West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, decided 1,284 cases and awarded benefits in all but four. For the first six months of fiscal 2011, Mr. Daugherty approved payments in every one of his 729 decisions, according to the Social Security Administration. …This breakdown is one reason why Social Security Disability Insurance — one of the federal government’s two disability programs — is under severe financial strain. It paid a record $124 billion in benefits in 2010 and is on track to become the first major entitlement program to go bust. Government officials said last week it is expected to run out of money in 2018
Since welfare reform took place, this tends to be the place where people end up when they are looking to be on the dole.  That is very problematic, since disabled people do need assistance, and being associated with goldbrickers doesn't do them any good.  Apparently, in Tennessee, attorneys advertise about how well they can get you onto disability.  One good thing for the disabled, many of the people who go on disability but aren't disabled are white, so that makes disability less of a target for conservatives, since it is their base, and not black or brown people abusing the system.

Does Privatizing Prisons Work?

Matthew Yglesias says no:
Privatizing prisons hasn’t been the boon that was promised:
The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.
The state’s experience has particular relevance now, as many politicians have promised to ease budget problems by trimming state agencies. Florida and Ohio are planning major shifts toward private prisons, and Arizona is expected to sign deals doubling its private-inmate population.
There are important general lessons here. The genius of the real private economy is that firms that are really poorly run go out of business. It’s not that some magic private sector fairy dust makes the firms all be runs soundly. Lots of bad businesses are out there. But they tend to lose money and close. Meanwhile, well-run firms tend to earn profits and expand. The public sector doesn’t have this feature. Just because a public agency is inept is no guarantee that it will go out of business. Resources are allocating according to political clout rather than any criteria of merit. It’s a problem. But it’s not a problem that “privatizing” public services actually solves. There’s no magic private sector fairy dust.
I'm not surprised that private prisons end up costing more than publicly-run prisons, as there has to be a profit factor figured in there.  But also, I would guess that while the private prisons pay guards and other workers much less, they end up paying executives more.  They also will end up handling more administrative duties that are spread out over all the prisons in the public system.  Therefore, they end up doing redundant work that adds up to higher costs than a similar publicly-run prison.  I think that higher executive pay and profits for the shareholders is considered a feature by Republican governors like John Kasich, not a bug.  They really don't care about how much government spends, they really care about where they spend it.

Company Remining Iron Ore Tailings Moves Ahead

A couple of years ago, I saw this article about a company processing the waste tailings piles in the Minnesota Iron Range to capture more iron ore:
Gazing across the craggy canyon that is the Hull-Rust-Mahoning mine in Minnesota's legendary Iron Range, it's hard to believe that our planet's most abundant element - iron - is mostly locked away in the earth's core. For here iron-bearing rock has shouldered its way to the surface in heroic quantities, and men and machines have carved out the world's largest iron-ore pit. And as it has for over a century, Range iron still forges the steel sinews of the American economy. But more than a century of mining has left Iron Country scraped and scarred, a landscape dominated by vast quarries and basins of stony waste from processed ore - tailings, which sprawl across the land like a mighty river delta. Now largely covered by scrub vegetation, these tailings are the remains of a struggle to wrest a living from the earth that began with the great Iron Rush of the 1880s. Fortune hunters from far afield flocked to the rich hematite mines of the Vermilion and Mesabi ranges, which were soon minting millionaires so fast that by 1910 regional capital Duluth was reckoned to have more than any other city in the world.
Two world wars brought boom times as the Range answered the call for iron and steel to arm the nation. And there were busts too, notably during the Depression, when output crashed from 47 million metric tons in 1929 to just 2 million metric tons in 1932. And all the time those tailings kept accumulating - a buildup that will continue until the ore runs out. Then the Range will fall silent, closing a long chapter of American history.
Or maybe not. Just west along Route 169 from the Hull-Rust-Mahoning mine, near the town of Keewatin (pop. 1,164), a vast domed structure dominates a tailings basin left by the defunct Mesabi Chief mine. The dome can't be seen from the highway, and few Rangers (and even fewer mining corporations) know it's there. Inside sits equipment that could prove to be as significant to the region as the 1950s-era discovery of a way to extract iron from low-grade taconite rock. The earlier technique arrived in the nick of time for the Range, for its hematite - known locally as "natural" ore - was almost depleted. Similarly, the dome at Keewatin is home to a revolutionary process, dubbed "magnetation," that can extract valuable iron from the tailings - just when the Range is in need of new sources of ore.
I was curious what happened to them, since I hadn't heard anything since.  So after a search, I came across this:
According to Magnetation, the patent-pending Rev 3™ Separator technology allows mining operators to recover a marketable, high-grade iron ore concentrate from low-grade hematite iron deposits, including material left behind from prior mining and mineral processing operations.
The recovered product can be sold to a variety of iron-making industry customers.
As part of the agreement, Cargill has the exclusive, worldwide right to jointly develop and apply the technology with Magnetation, and the right to market the recovered iron concentrate to its international iron ore customers.
Cargill’s financial involvement will help enable Magnetation to boost its production of recovered iron in Minnesota from 150,000 to 450,000 tons per year.
Magnetation points to the promising commercial aspects of the technology internationally, as well as to the environmental benefits in transforming iron tailings basins into functioning ecological wetlands.
“This pioneering technology generates, in essence, a new source for high-grade iron concentrate from existing resources,” said Larry Lehtinen, Magnetation chief executive officer. “Cargill’s support of this iron recovery technology demonstrates the real commercial value it presents to the iron industry worldwide, as well as the promise it holds in terms of its positive environmental footprint.”
“We are pleased to contribute to the advancement of what we see as next-generation technology in iron recovery,” said Bob Mann, vice president of Cargill Ferrous International. “This agreement capitalizes on Magnetation’s iron recovery expertise and Cargill’s international commodity merchandising and asset development capabilities.”
 So apparently, things are going forward with that technology.  That there appears to be one of those billion dollar ideas.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link from naked capitalism: Anxiety keeps the super-rich safe from middle-class rage, at the Guardian:
But the gap between the richest 1% or 2% and everybody else in the top 20% or 30% is now so great and growing so rapidly that, one might reasonably think, it should change the terms of political trade. The income distance may be huge but the social distance is not. Those in the top 2% and the next 28% have often been to the same schools and universities. More important, they compete for scarce resources: places in fee-charging schools, houses in the best areas, high-end personal services. The super-rich have provoked raging inflation in the prices of these goods. Many of the not-so-rich were born into the professional classes and high expectations. Now, to their surprise, they find themselves struggling. In income distribution, their interests are closer to those of the mass of the population than to people they once saw as their peers.
They are not, however, imminently likely to join a crusade for equality. This generation of the middle classes has internalised the values of individualist aspiration, as zealously propagated by Tony Blair as by Margaret Thatcher. It does not look to the application of social justice to improve its lot. It expects to rely on its own efforts to get ahead and, crucially, to maintain its position
As psychologists will tell you, fear of loss is more powerful than the prospect of gain. The struggling middle classes look down more anxiously than they look up, particularly in recession and sluggish recovery. Polls show they dislike high income inequalities but are lukewarm about redistribution. They worry that they are unlikely to benefit and may even lose from it; and worse still, those below them will be pulled up sufficiently to threaten their status. This is exactly the mindset in the US, where individualist values are more deeply embedded. Americans accepted tax cuts for the rich with equanimity. Better to let the rich keep their money, they calculated, than to have it benefit economic and social inferiors.
As Runciman observed, "most people's lives are governed more by the resentment of narrow inequalities, the cultivation of modest ambitions and the preservation of small differentials" than by the larger picture of social justice. That applies as much to the professional as to the working classes.
I've long been puzzled by why my friend who never made more than $50,000 a year thinks people who make $75,000 to $100,000 are overpaid and need to sacrifice, while thinking that people who make $1,000,000 have earned it and should be able to keep more of it.  I think it's just that he really doesn't know anybody who makes a million a year, while he knows a lot of people in the 75 to 100 thousand range, and he sees that they blow money on stuff they don't need.  It still seems strange, but I think he associates the million a year person with some amazing invention or something, and that they worked hard to get that money.  I tried to point out that such people make enough that they can pay higher marginal rates on very high amounts of income, but he tells me that they deserve what they get.  I think eventually people in the middle class will get mad at the super rich, and if they do, those guys up top better watch out.  When the scales fall from peoples' eyes, they are going to be out for blood.

One other note, today's links showed me one of the best post titles of all time: Longtop Financial: lessons in the morphology of sin, loss of virginity and your 17 year old daughter, at Bronte Capital. 

Preakness Post Positions Set

Animal Kingdom is favored:
The post positions were issued for the 2011 Preakness Stakes on Wednesday afternoon and Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom was slotted into the 11th slot. Now that the post positions have been released, new odds are also issued to reflect how the draw affects the favorites and underdogs. Although Animal Kingdom did not get the optimal draw, his spot did not remove him as the favorite. He currently sits at 2-1. Here is a rundown of the entire 14-horse field based on their current post position:
No. 1 Astrology - 15-1
No. 2 Norman Asborjson - 30-1
No. 3 King Congie - 20-1
No. 4 Flashpoint - 20-1
No. 5 Shackleford - 12-1
No. 6 Sway Away - 15-1
No. 7 Midnight Interlude - 15-1
No. 8 Dance City - 12-1
No. 9 Mucho Macho Man - 6-1
No. 10 Dialed In - 9-2
No. 11 Animal Kingdom - 2-1
No. 12 Isn't He Perfect - 30-1
No. 13 Concealed Identity - 30-1
No. 14 Mr. Commons - 20-1

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bt Byproduct Found In Human Blood

From India Today:
Fresh doubts have arisen about the safety of genetically modified crops, with a new study reporting presence of Bt toxin, used widely in GM crops, in human blood for the first time.
Genetically modified crops include genes extracted from bacteria to make them resistant to pest attacks.
These genes make crops toxic to pests but are claimed to pose no danger to the environment and human health. Genetically modified brinjal, whose commercial release was stopped a year ago, has a toxin derived from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis ( Bt).
Till now, scientists and multinational corporations promoting GM crops have maintained that Bt toxin poses no danger to human health as the protein breaks down in the human gut. But the presence of this toxin in human blood shows that this does not happen.
Scientists from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, have detected the insecticidal protein, Cry1Ab, circulating in the blood of pregnant as well as non-pregnant women.
They have also detected the toxin in fetal blood, implying it could pass on to the next generation. The research paper has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. The study covered 30 pregnant women and 39 women who had come for tubectomy at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke (CHUS) in Quebec.
None of them had worked or lived with a spouse working in contact with pesticides.
They were all consuming typical Canadian diet that included GM foods such as soybeans, corn and potatoes. Blood samples were taken before delivery for pregnant women and at tubal ligation for non-pregnant women. Umbilical cord blood sampling was done after birth.
I'm not sure what to make of this.  I think it falls in with the concerns of Don Huber at Purdue, about potential sterility in livestock fed Roundup GM corn.  I think there probably ought to be a number of research projects funded to look into it, but I don't know that any results will satisfy the seriously anti-GM anti-Monsanto folks.  I wouldn't think Bt itself would be very serious, since organic gardeners use it as an insecticide, but this is well outside of my area of expertise (breaking things).

Waiting Out the Flood in the Bar

The New York Times features the denizens of Strick's, a bar where the last residents of Eagle Lake, Mississippi wait out the flood:
Every night they sit in this mostly empty bar, throwing back some beers and eating a communal dinner of hamburgers or crawfish or whatever was brought in by the last person to visit a grocery store.  They tell stories, watch television and talk about any number of things, but usually about the latest measurements of the river, the state of the levees on which they depend for survival and their disappointment in the less hardy souls who took off at the first hint of danger.
“A bunch of people are real sorry they left,” said Tim Stennett, 52, a building contractor who took over the bar when Strick himself — Mike Strickland, formally — handed off the keys.
Mr. Stennett’s wife, Sheryl, became the bartender, though the Stennetts leave the keys with anyone who wants to drink late. Drinks are paid for on the honor system. In keeping with the handwritten admonitions posted throughout the bar, overnight tabs are frowned upon.
The Eagle Lake community, which sits between an expanse of cornfields and picturesque Eagle Lake itself, is a popular spot for fish camps and weekend homes. But most of the residents live here full time, making the 35-mile commute into Vicksburg for work.
If you have to wait out the flood, this seems like a good way to do it.  I'd guess if I were in the town, the chances are better than 50-50 that I'd be hanging out there.

Fool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice.....

Are Americans really dumb enough to elect another Texas governor president after the experience with the last one?  Some people think so:
As many grass-roots Republicans remain in search of a conservative candidate with the pizazz to go toe-to-toe against President Obama, a man from deep in the heart of Texas who was tea party before the tea party was cool appears to be giving the presidential race some thought.
Gov. Rick Perry has insisted on multiple occasions that he has no interest in the presidency, but RCP has learned that political associates have begun to nose around quietly on Perry's behalf.
A Texas pol who is close to Perry has been telling a few key strategists that the nation's longest-serving governor sees a vacuum and is waiting to be summoned into the race. This source believes that could happen by late summer. Without fellow Southerners Haley Barbour or Mike Huckabee in the race -- and with Newt Gingrich's early troubles raising further doubts about the current lineup -- there could be a glaring niche for Perry to fill.
According to another well-connected Republican, at least one Perry confidant has been very quietly making inquiries about the political terrain in the nation's first voting state of Iowa. A third Perry associate, RCP has learned, has been heralding a small contingent of Iowans with the time-tested line that is often used by would-be candidates who are leaving their options open: "Keep your powder dry."
Perry's aides have long made it clear that the tough-talking Texan, who succeeded George W. Bush in Austin in 2000, would not seriously entertain the idea of mounting a White House run before the state's legislative session finishes at the end of this month. That date is now less than two weeks away, and the 2012 presidential field remains fluid.
This governor doesn't seem any brighter than the last one, so I hope to goodness that the Perry bandwagon doesn't get any momentum.  I would think that we ought to steer clear of Texans for a while, after the turd GWB dropped on this country.

Update:  I should include the classic GWB clip:

The Free Market Religion

Phil Rockstroh, h/t mathman in the Big Picture comments:
One's sense of self and one's beliefs, as well as, the mythos and traditions of a people are inextricably bound with place, landscape, and social situation. When I was a child, growing up in Alabama and Georgia, on occasions such as backcountry fishing expeditions, I would, at times, come in contact with rural African American farmers who still lived by the agrarian rhythms of the nineteenth century.
Occasionally, taking refuge from the afternoon heat of high summer, we would lounge on wooden porches and snap green beans, and I would listen as they quoted scripture.
The Jesus of their belief system was born of humble beginnings (a mere seed) and grew beneath the hot sun, but, at the height of maturity, was cut down, sacrificed so they may live, then, like their life-sustaining crops, was resurrected as next year's seed crop. Suffused with a metaphoric analog of the criteria they lived day to day, these tales held resonance for these rural, farming people; the metaphors resounded with the verities of place and circumstance. The figure of Christ was as real to them as the snap beans beneath their fingertips.
Now, in an era in which the destination of most all of our objects and accoutrement is the landfill, Deep South mega-churches espouse a cosmology that resonates from a junk food paradigm: a Gospel of The Drive Thru Jesus…when The Rapture comes our corporeal bodies will be cast aside like fast food wrappers.
All in all, for both Christians and for secular-minded, market economy true believers, a belief in economic providence has proven our undoing -- an insistence on its miraculous influence left us mistaking ad-hoc, bubble-borne affluence for a soul-vivifying portion of divine grace. The corporate/consumer state's trickster gods of fast buck commerce offer drive-thru-window epiphanies. Members of the congregation of the Church of Free Market miracles believe their prayers will always be answered: Instantly, the consumer state's homilies of perpetual gratification arrive -- their voices crackling like a burning bush from drive-thru order-boxes.
It really blasts on working class hicks from Georgia and Alabama desperately clinging to their guns, religion and big trucks and SUVs, but it makes some interesting points, the veracity of which we will soon discover.  Actually, for me it was worth reading to find someone more pessimistic than I.

QE II Visits Guinness Brewery

Photo from Boots in the Oven.

No, it doesn't have anything to do with the Federal Reserve:
Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip resisted the temptation to sup the perfect pint of Guinness on a visit to the Irish cultural icon's home brewery on Wednesday. The royal couple were given a tour of the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, one of Ireland's top tourist destinations, as part of the queen's historic first state visit to the Irish Republic.
All eyes were on whether they would get stuck into a jar of the black stuff -- an indelible part of Irish life.
Up in the seventh-floor Gravity Bar, designed to look like the head on a pint, they were shown round the commanding 360-degree views over Dublin.
Master brewer Fergal Murray then took the royal couple through the stages of pouring a perfect pint of the stout, one of the world-famous cultural symbols of Ireland.
Prince Philip, who is known to like a pint of bitter, seemed in his element and asked if it was made with water from Dublin's River Liffey.
"No! Pure and pristine from the hills!" Murray replied, dismissing the "urban myth". The Guinness website says water for the brewery comes from springs in Ireland's Wicklow Mountains.
If they didn't drink a pint, they shouldn't have gone to visit, geez.  I could damn well care less about the Queen herself, but I do like being able to get Ireland into some posts, and she's definitely been providing that opportunity.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link from naked capitalism: They're onto us, at MacroBusiness.  The post looks at Moody's downgrade of 4 large Australian banks and quotes the Moody's press release to highlight the strains on the Aussie economy:
Ouch. Put this down as the China warning. Australia’s entire economic model is being peeled back here. For well over a decade, Australia’s banks have funded huge swathes of the current account deficit. As well, over the past two commodities booms, much of the export income has been leveraged up and blown on housing and fancy living. Moody’s is effectively calling the risks of this model to account. And they’re still not finished:
It goes on to say that Moody's is indicating the four banks are too big to fail, and if the Australian government backs off on implicit guarantees, they'll really cut the ratings.  Way to protect the banksters and investors at the expense of taxpayers, again.  We've got bad stuff brewing in Asia and Europe, while we plod along looking at huge government cutbacks sooner or later with a still highly-leveraged private sector.  I don't see this ending well.

More On Stupid Competition Amongst States

Richard Longworth (h/t the Dish):
This competition is not new, but it seems to have heated up since 2009, when Kansas passed a law that lets companies relocating to the state keep 95 percent of their employee withholding tax for up to 10 years. This has lured several companies to move from Kansas City, Missouri, to Kansas City, Kansas (known locally as KCK) and its suburbs, bringing several hundred jobs with them. Stung by the moves, the Missouri KC has offered multi-million-dollar packages to keep firms, like the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and AMC Entertainment, from decamping to the Kansas side.
Top Corporate Leaders Urge Governors to Stop Poaching Neighbors’ Businesses, Kansas City Star, April 11, 2011
Businesses Stand to Gain Most in Rivalry of States, New York Times, April 7, 2011
Kansas and Missouri aren't the only Midwestern states raiding each other's watermelon patches. The governors of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, which would seem to share a common economy, have been squabbling over which state has the lowest taxes, to the point that Indiana and Wisconsin have posted billboards on their state lines urging Illinois companies to flee north or east, as the case may be (presumably passing en route all those Democratic legislators from Indiana and Wisconsin who hid out in Illinois to avoid having to vote for objectionable legislation back home.)
In Kansas and Missouri, all this has reached the point that even businesses in the two KCs, which presumably could benefit from these bribes, have told their two states to grow up. Seventeen leading businessmen from both sides of the border sent an open letter to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, urging them to voluntarily "agree to a bilateral halt" in this "economic border war."
Nixon responded positively. Brownback basically told the businessmen to go jump in the Missouri River. This probably has something to do with the fact that, so far, Kansas has been winning most of these battles. 
Republicans have staked their political future on being able to prove that lower taxes mean more jobs, so they have to go around slashing taxes and spending, and then bribing businesses to move to their state, preferably from a higher tax state.  Unfortunately, this means cuts to primary, secondary and higher education, cuts to local governments and public safety, cuts to libraries and cuts to infrastructure spending.  Those are all long-term investments to improve the work force and the livability of the state which are being cut.  The short-term payoff of new jobs (taken from a neighboring state) might get a politician reelected or allow him to move to higher office (failing up, as it were), but come time those incentives expire, the business will start shopping for more incentives, possibly in a state which is willing to undermine long-term investment for short-term job growth (see Sears).  This is a failing strategy for all but the companies, and even they are undermining the long-term workforce quality where they move to.  When businesses are requesting that it stop, you know it has gone too far. 

Subsidies and Nutrition

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine looks at the farm bill and subsidies (also from Ritholtz):
The Farm Bill, a massive piece of federal legislation making its way through Congress, governs what children are fed in schools and what food assistance programs can distribute to recipients. The bill provides billions of dollars in subsidies, much of which goes to huge agribusinesses producing feed crops, such as corn and soy, which are then fed to animals. By funding these crops, the government supports the production of meat and dairy products—the same products that contribute to our growing rates of obesity and chronic disease. Fruit and vegetable farmers, on the other hand, receive less than 1 percent of government subsidies.
The government also purchases surplus foods like cheese, milk, pork, and beef for distribution to food assistance programs—including school lunches. The government is not required to purchase nutritious foods.

That threw me for a minute.  I couldn't figure out what they meant about meat subsidies, until I realized they were talking about corn and soybeans as feed grains.  I guess that makes sense. 

Foreshadowing the Fall of Lenny Dykstra

Dead Spin reprints a profile of Lenny Dykstra from Philadelphia magazine in January 1993, it is a must-read (via Ritholtz):
"I love you, dude," he says to the bald gambler, who nods meekly in acknowledgment. Dykstra compulsively smooths out his slender spire of chips; he keeps adding to the stack like a child testing how high his building blocks will climb before gravity in­trudes.
"We're on a fucking roll, dude."
And so are we. Watching Lenny Dykstra gamble is like having an orchestra seat at a one-character David Mamet tragicomic psychodrama. You are appalled and delighted by the language and the largesse, the exposed and tortured soul. You enjoy the ride. You know it will end badly.
A dozen strangers are loitering at the entrance to the pit, watch­ing the littlest Phillie go through his off-season regimen: tossing cards to keep his arm in shape, honing hand-eye coordination by betting, smoking, stacking and drinking simultaneously. He never does nothing. After performing before tens of thousands of screaming-meemies, a handful of hushed spectators won't inhibit his hyper reverie; degenerate gamblers are in heaven when in ac­tion, and Dykstra has been known to wager on tennis and golf and dice and football and poker and the accuracy of his own expecto­rated tobacco juice.
It always struck me as odd that Lenny Dykstra was an investment advice columnist on, who specialized in outside-the-money options.  It didn't seem like the right person for that strategy, especially because Lenny never came off as a brilliant guy to me.  It's sad to see a guy crash and burn, but I guess I'll take whatever lesson I can from it and try not to rubberneck too much at the smoking wreckage.

Update: I'll also excerpt the rules on baccarat, just because I didn't understand them:
The Banker is hot. The center fielder settles into a giddy super­stitious spree, talking to himself, taking short circular walks, con­tinually licking those luxurious lips like a nervous ingénue confronting a camera. Everyone knows the outcome of each hand the instant he does. No poker face, he is easier to read than a road­side billboard. In baccarat, it doesn't matter.
The rules of the game are simple. The gambler with the shoe deals two cards each to another participant (Player) and to himself (Banker). The closest to nine points wins. Tens and face cards count as zero, aces as one. A third card may be drawn, if needed. The gambler makes one decision: bet on Banker or Player. You win whatever you bet, dollar for dollar; the casino takes a five per­cent fee — vigorish — on Banker wins. In France, the game is called chemin de fer (railroad) because it moves at great speeds, money changing hands every minute, 60 or 70 times an hour. The game requires no talent at all. If you bat .400, you're a stone loser.

Who Owns U.S. Debt?

Robert Reich says rich Americans (via Mark Thoma):
Forty years ago, wealthy Americans financed the U.S. government mainly through their tax payments. Today wealthy Americans finance the government mainly by lending it money. While foreigners own most of our national debt, over 40 percent is owned by Americans – mostly the very wealthy.
This great switch by the super rich – from paying the government taxes to lending the government money — has gone almost unnoticed. But it’s critical for understanding the budget predicament we’re now in. And for getting out of it.  
Over that four decades, tax rates on the very rich have plummeted. Between the end of World War II and 1980, the top tax bracket remained over 70 percent — and even after deductions and credits was well over 50 percent. Now it’s 36 percent. As recently as the late 1980s, the capital gains rate was 35 percent. Now it’s 15 percent.
Not only are rates lower now, but loopholes are bigger. 18,000 households earning more than a half-million dollars last year paid no income taxes at all. In recent years, according to the IRS, the richest 400 Americans have paid only 18 percent of their total incomes in federal income taxes. Billionaire hedge-fund and private-equity managers are allowed to treat much of their incomes as capital gains (again, at 15 percent).
He doesn't have any solid numbers here as to what the wealthiest own, because I'm sure a lot of that debt is held by mutual funds and pension funds.  I would guess most wealthy Americans have fairly small holdings in Treasuries as a percentage of their portfolios.  Regardless, he gets the chance to repeat a lot of numbers which can use repeating. In the meantime, Paul Krugman points out that Paul Ryan is again calling for lower taxes on the wealthy to create growth.  I still want Paul Ryan to explain where all the growth is from the Bush tax cuts.  The fact of the matter is that the wars in Iraq, the Bush tax cuts and the Great Recession are most responsible for the deficits we are currently running.  Throw in Medicare Part D, and you have the Republicans as primarily responsible for the mess we are in.  CBPP points that out again.

Texas Law Allowing Noodling Held Up

Wall Street Journal:
But wrestling a flapping, whiskered giant as it latches onto your arm with its jaws isn't among Texas's accepted methods of capturing fish. It is, rather, a class C misdemeanor, with fines of up to $500.
So Mr. Knowlton, a 30-year-old-private citizen, oilman and outdoor enthusiast here, is pushing a bill in the state Legislature to legalize hand fishing, also known as noodling, grabbing or hogging. Noodlers go into the water, then reach into holes, hollow tree trunks and other underwater nooks to find the fish.
Nothing beats "the heebie-jeebies you get underwater, in the dark, with this little sea monster biting you," he says. He recalls that his arm looked like "the first stage of a chili recipe" after his first noodling experience about 15 years ago. Catfish are equipped with bands of small but very abrasive teeth.
The bill swam easily through the state house, but now rod-and-reel anglers are speaking up against the proposed law, currently in the state Senate.
They say noodling is unfair to the fish, since they're grabbed in their burrows without a chance to swim away.
It's more sporting, antinoodlers argue, to dangle a hook and give the critters the option of biting or not. Snatching a catfish from its underwater nest also leaves thousands of eggs exposed to predators, they add.
I doubt that the anti-noodling law currently on the books slows down many noodlers.  I'm not going to interfere with their "fun."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Add Another Clown to the Circus

Elspeth Reeve reports Michele Bachmann will announce her presidential candidacy in June:
Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign is "beyond speculation," a Republican consultant tells Fox News' Chris Stirewalt. "They are doing this." The Minnesota congresswoman's advisers are telling reporters that it's "very likely" she'll jump in the race now that the lineup is starting to shake out. With evangelical favorite Mike Huckabee dropping out, Newt Gingrich in freefall practically minutes into his campaign, and Sarah Palin looking like she won't run, only Rick Santorum stands between Bachmann and the social conservative vote.

In another good sign for Bachmann, the early favorable polls for Donald Trump's faux candidacy show that some Republican voters, at least, have an appetite for sharp attacks on President Obama, something at which Bachmann excels. Since Trump announced that, you know what, business is his "greatest passion" after all, calls to Bachmann's offices "have been burning up our lines," a source told Fox News' Carl Cameron. One caller deemed the Tea Party favorite "our Margaret Thatcher!"
The Republican candidates for president should ride to the debates in one car, and not because that would be fuel efficient.


James Fallows notes:
The New Yorker has brought out from its paywall archives John McPhee's wonderful 1987 piece "Atchafalaya." This is about the very stretch of the lower Mississippi River in the news today because of the pending decision to open the Morganza Spillway and flood parts of Cajun Country, so as to spare Baton Rouge and New Orleans from being flooded instead.

McPhee's piece, in addition to its narrative and descriptive power, explains the basic forces of nature against which the US Army Corps of Engineers, and much of modern development, have worked. For instance:
>>The Mississippi River, with its sand and silt, has created most of Louisiana, and it could not have done so by remaining in one channel. If it had, southern Louisiana would be a long narrow peninsula reaching into the Gulf of Mexico. Southern Louisiana exists in its present form because the Mississippi River has jumped here and there within an arc about two hundred miles wide, like a pianist playing with one hand--frequently and radically changing course, surging over the left or the right bank to go off in utterly new directions.<<
Update: Halfway through the article, it is all geology, hydrology and hydraulics, in other words, awesome.  I was wrong previously today, the Morganza Spillway is downstream from the Old River Control, where the Army Corps fights to keep the Atchafalaya from taking the water of the Mississippi.

Harmon Killebrew, RIP

Harmon Killebrew, the affable, big-swinging Hall of Famer whose tape-measure home runs made him the cornerstone of the Minnesota Twins and perhaps the most popular player in the team's 51-year history, died Tuesday after battling esophageal cancer. He was 74. The Twins said Killebrew passed away peacefully at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his wife, Nita, and their family at his side. He announced his diagnosis just six months ago, and last week Killebrew said he was settling in for the final days of his life after doctors deemed the "awful disease" incurable.
Killebrew is 11th on baseball's all-time home run list after an exceptional 22-year career. His eight seasons with 40 or more homers still is tied for second in league history to Babe Ruth, and his uppercut swing formed the silhouette that inspired Major League Baseball's official logo.
Killebrew started his career with the Washington Senators in 1954, prior to their move to Minnesota in 1961.  He won the AL MVP in 1969.  He was ranked fifth all-time in home runs prior to the steroid era.

Milwaukee and the Braves

From the SI archive in 1998, after the Brewers switched to the National League, a look back at the Braves run in the city:
Playing in the second smallest city in the majors (pop. 725,000), they became the first National League team to draw two million fans in a season. They did it annually from '54 to '57 and came up just 29,000 short in '58. And while the Braves relied on the rest of Wisconsin, as well as Iowa, Minnesota and northern Illinois, to accomplish that, there should be no doubt as to where the wellspring of love for them lay. Back then you could walk into the best restaurants in Milwaukee—Karl Ratzsch's, Alioto's, Ray Jackson's—and always find the Braves game on the radio. In the city's multitudinous taverns there were never cries of dismay when Earl Gillespie, the voice of the Braves, reported that a fan had leaped onto County Stadium's diamond; the drinkers simply started betting on how many bases he would touch before the grounds crew hauled him down.
If you ask why the drinkers weren't at the game themselves, it was probably because they couldn't get tickets. Most of the time their best shot was to hop on a tavern's chartered bus and follow the Braves to Wrigley Field, where in those days there were always plenty of empty seats. Selig paid his most memorable visit to Chicago in 1954 when the Cubs were honoring their lumbering slugger, Hank Sauer, who concluded the festivities by dropping a fly ball to give Milwaukee the win. "The Cubs had printed up these signs that said THANKS, HANK," Selig says, "and all the Braves fans started waving them."
Nobody who took those bus trips south ever got shortchanged, but Ruthie Patzke was starting to think she might be an exception when her group dragged her to a restaurant to listen to a Milwaukee Journal sportswriter. What, Ruthie wondered, could be so interesting about some joker who'd just seen the same Braves-Cubs game they had? When the sportswriter started talking, though, Ruthie noticed that his blue suit complemented his hazel eyes. So she took the trouble to learn his name—Bob Wolf—and then she wangled an introduction, and before you knew it she and a girlfriend were at a cozy little bar having a drink with him. No night of lust followed for Bob and Ruthie; this was 1953, and they were delighted just to see each other at Wrigley the next afternoon. Thirteen months later, just before the start of the World Series, Bob and Ruthie said "I do" to a marriage that is still going strong.
The love affair between Milwaukee and the Braves looked as if it would be equally enduring. No suitor courted Elizabeth Taylor, always a league leader in marriages, as ardently as this city did its baseball heroes. It wasn't just the good-time guys such as Mathews, Bob Buhl and Lew Burdette who never had to pay for a meal and always got a free car to drive. It was all the Braves. And the bounty didn't end with T-bones and Dodges, which were no small consideration during an era in which the minimum player's salary was $7,500, and raises for journeymen were measured in pennies. The players got free gas from Wisco, free dry cleaning from Spic 'n' Span, free beer from every brewery in town. "Soap powder and produce were just about the only things that weren't delivered to our door," Burdette says. It turned out to be too good to last.
There is no single explanation why. Bad news simply begot more bad news. In the early '60s Braves management barred fans from bringing their own beer into County Stadium, hardly a valentine to a populace historically as thrifty as it is thirsty. And then the first wave of crowd pleasers started getting old and getting traded. Suddenly attendance couldn't climb above 775,000, even though the Braves continued to make every season a winning one. When the first notes of Atlanta's siren song drifted through the air, the team's owners started checking flight schedules.
My favorite part of the whole article is where it says the Braves management banned the fans from bringing in their own beer in the early '60's.  So from 1953 until the early '60's, fans could carry their own beer in the game.  No wonder they got great crowds.  There is no doubt in my mind that Milwaukee is by far the most fun city in the country.  If you want any kind of festival during the summer, they have it.  If you need an excuse to drink a beer, thy've got it.  It is also extremely friendly, and has some great cheese and sausage to go along with that beer.  If you get the chance, spend a little time there.

Nostalgia and Politics

E.D. Kain takes a look at Paul Krugman's and his own politics, and how each's nostalgia shapes his views:
At some point you become your own special interest group. You suddenly see the public library as a symbol of everything that has been lost or that you imagine has been lost. You want to retake or protect what is valuable to you, and what you believe is valuable to others. The key question that needs to be asked is this: do these things you value inhibit the freedoms of others? Is your nostalgia inadvertently causing someone harm?
Krugman’s vision of the 1950’s really is a vision of an insulated world, locked precariously in amber. Can it ever really come back? Did it rely too much on the plight of the disadvantaged – women, minorities, post-war Europe? I cannot help but think that the 1950’s never really happened. That my childhood in 1980’s Montana never really happened.
So maybe we should look forward toward a new vision of the good life. If we do, in some ways it will require us to look back at freedoms lost, and that will require some level of nostalgia. But it will also require us to recall that coercion and oppression exist on many levels, that the state is often just the arm of our culture, enforcing whatever freedom-quashing cultural trend exists at the moment – whether that is a long history of women as second-class-citizens or the relatively new (and far more benign) tendency to ban smoking in restaurants and bars.
Krugman talks about an era when kids were free to go out and play in the streets all day, unsupervised and pretty much safe. I’m not thirty yet and I remember that freedom myself.
I think it is interesting that most (white) Americans, including myself, seem to idealize the '50's, and look upon the time as a time to get back to. I think that tends to hold across Republicans and Democrats.  And yet, when it comes to civil and women's rights, Democrats tend to, rightly, look askance at the decade.  Meanwhile, actual Republican policies are more tied to the 1920's or 1890's, as opposed to the 1950's.  Very few people recognize that the U.S. wouldn't have reached such an economically dominant position without the destruction of World War II unleashed on the U.S.S.R., western Europe, Great Britain and Japan.  That position can never be reattained.  The nostalgia is extremely powerful, but misleading.  We now need to determine what sort of a state we want to live in, and how we can afford that.  None of that is fun, but all of that is necessary.

More on the Morganza Spillway

The Morganza Spillway, shown while open during the 1973 flood. 

From Wikipedia:
The Morganza Spillway is a flood-control structure in Louisiana along the western bank of the Mississippi River at river mile 280, about three miles northeast of Morganza in Pointe Coupee Parish. The spillway stands between the Mississippi and the Morganza Floodway, which leads to the Atchafalaya Basin and the Atchafalaya River in south-central Louisiana. Its purpose is to divert water from the Mississippi River during major flood events by flooding the Atchafalaya Basin, including the Atchafalaya River and the Atchafalaya Swamp. The spillway and adjacent levees also help prevent the Mississippi from changing its present course through the major port cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana, to a new course directly down the Atchafalaya to the Gulf of Mexico. The Morganza Spillway is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Its gates have been opened only twice, during major Mississippi River floods in 1973 and 2011.
I think it is very important to note the part about how the Morganza Spillway prevents the Mississippi River from changing course, running through the Atchafalaya Basin and leaving New Orleans and Baton Rouge on a back channel.  Also, as is noted at Wikipedia, all of the levees and structures used to relieve levees along the river were put in place after the 1927 flood:
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States,[6] in large part due to the Mississippi River swelling to 80 miles wide in spots.[7] To provide protection against river flood and prevent a repeat of the Great Flood of 1927, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928 to authorize the United States Army Corps of Engineers to build the Bonnet Carre Spillway (located 33 miles above New Orleans and completed in 1931[8]), the Birds Point floodway in Missouri, and the the Morganza Floodway as part of the 1928 Mississippi River and Tributaries Project.[7] The Morganza control structure portion of the project was completed in 1954[7] and subsequently became incorporated into the Mississippi River Commission's 1956 Project Design Flood,[9] which added the Old River Control Structure in 1963 to the protections used to prevent Mississippi River flood.[10] The Flood Control Act of 1965 provided further regulation over the Morganza Spillway's role in Mississippi River flood prevention. A concrete pit called a stilling basin was added at the Morganza Spillway in 1977 "to provide erosion protection after the velocity of water pouring through the open bays during a 1973 flood caused severe scouring, or gouging out, of the land behind the bays."[11]
The blowing of the Birds Point levee, while dramatic, has been part of established plan since 1928.  The landowners in the area, while obviously dejected, knew that this is a possibility every year.  As for the Atchafalaya, it is very interesting that without the Corps, the Mississippi River would shift and flow through that basin.