Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ruler On Ice Wins Belmont Stakes

Longshot Ruler On Ice wins the Belmont Stakes:
 Ruler On Ice posted a huge upset in the Belmont Stakes, taking the lead from Preakness winner Shackleford in the stretch and winning the final leg of the Triple Crown. Shackleford led from the start Saturday, but when the field of 12 turned for home in the 1½-mile Belmont, 24-1 long shot Ruler On Ice took over under Jose Valdivia Jr., and splashed home first, three-quarters of a length ahead of Stay Thirsty.
The much-hyped rubber match between Shackleford and Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom never materialized. Shackleford finished fifth, while Animal Kingdom got off to a terrible start, never got into contention and finished sixth. Jockey John Velazquez nearly fell off when Animal Kingdom collided with Monzon just after the start.

Government Aeronautical History

The Brewster Buffalo undergoes drag testing in 1938.

The NASA Langley Research Center:
In 1929, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, an organization that would become NASA Langley Research Center, began construction on a massive and unique facility: the Full-Scale Tunnel. Housed in a huge building in Virginia, the nation's first wind tunnel for testing full-size airplanes had a 30-foot by 60-foot maw through which two fans powered by 4,000-horsepower motors blew air at speeds of up to 120 miles an hour. Airplanes would be suspended in the path of the artificial wind. Transducers could convert the energy of the air hitting the plane into measurements for drag and lift.
Though engineers completed the tunnel in 1934, its finest hour was probably during World War II, when it operated virtually non-stop.
That's pretty fascinating.  My family has had a lot of involvement in air movement technology, so I find this to be interesting.

Today's Financial System

Via Ritholtz, South Park nails the finance sector:

The Committee of Five

They were a lot better than the Gang of Six:  June 11, 1776:
The Committee of Five of the Second Continental Congress drafted and presented to the Congress what became known as America's Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. This Declaration committee operated from June 11, 1776 until July 5, 1776, the day on which the Declaration was published.
On the Monday afternoon of June 10, 1776, the delegates of the United Colonies in Congress resolved to postpone until Monday July the 1st the final consideration of whether or not to declare the several sovereign independencies of the United Colonies, as proposed by the North Carolina resolutions of April the 12th and the Virginia resolutions of May the 15th, and moved in Congress on June the 7th by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia; henceforth the Lee Resolution. During these allotted three weeks Congress agreed to appoint a committee to draft a broadside statement to proclaim to the world the reasons for taking America out of the British Empire, if the Congress were to declare the said sovereign independencies. The actual declaration of "American Independence" is precisely the text comprising the final paragraph of the published broadside of July the 4th. In the broadside's final paragraph is repeated the text of the Lee Resolution as adopted by the declaratory resolve voted on July the 2nd. Hence, "American Independence", of these "Free and independent States", was actually declared in the Congress on the afternoon of July the 2nd and reported as such afterwards, unofficially in a local newspaper that very evening and officially in the published broadside dated July the 4th.
On June the 11th the members of the Committee of Five were appointed; they were, north to south: John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. At their first committee meeting Jefferson was tasked by the other four members of the committee to prepare the first draft. During the following two weeks Jefferson's evolving draft was critically reviewed by other committee members, likely Adams and Franklin, who suggested minor changes, After just 17 days the document was formally presented to the Continental Congress and given its first reading, on Friday, June the 28th.
Thomas Jefferson seemed to carry the load on this committee, but the final work is pretty well known.  He hated the editing, but some work had to be done.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Employers Spend on Equipment Rather Than Hiring, at the NYT:
Workers are getting more expensive while equipment is getting cheaper, and the combination is encouraging companies to spend on machines rather than people.
“I want to have as few people touching our products as possible,” said Dan Mishek, managing director of Vista Technologies in Vadnais Heights, Minn. “Everything should be as automated as it can be. We just can’t afford to compete with countries like China on labor costs, especially when workers are getting even more expensive.”
Vista, which makes plastic products for equipment manufacturers, spent $450,000 on new technology last year. During the same period, it hired just two new workers, whose combined annual salary and benefits are $160,000.
This is the cost of increased mechanization contributing to increasing productivity.  When my former boss and I talked last fall, this was exactly his prediction, that employers would invest in equipment and not hire workers.  He was dead-on. There has to be some major discussion about where we expect new jobs to be created, and what we expect people to do to make a living.  The loss of good paying low-skill and semi-skilled work has hollowed out the middle-class.  This recession follows two smaller, but long-lasting recessions in 1991 and 2001.  Each of those showed a different pattern of rehiring than other recessions, because the manufacturing jobs were going away and not coming back, as opposed to people being laid off while inventories came down, then brought back quickly, as things happened in the past.  Take a look at this chart from Calculated Risk:


This is the slow transition of the economy from manufacturing to services, and the changes in the labor market need to be discussed, but nobody wants to have that discussion.

The Belmont Stakes Separates the Good from the Great

That's the case that Andrew Cohen makes at the Atlantic:
The Kentucky Derby gets the glory. The Preakness gets a pass. For my money, it is the Belmont Stakes, the third and final leg of racing's Triple Crown, which almost always sifts out the very good horses from the truly great horses.
And it will be no different this Saturday afternoon, when New York's Belmont Park hosts the 143rd running of the race. The very good Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom will be there (the 2-1 morning line favorite from the 9-hole). And the very good Preakness winner Shackleford will be, too (at 9-2 from the 12-hole). A victory in the Belmont for either of these colts won't just earn his respective connections some serious lettuce, it will also likely guarantee horse-of-the-year honors. Then again, the Eclipse Award could go to the horse which wins Saturday if it isn't either of those two.
For those colts and geldings who race in all three races especially, the Belmont is the most difficult of the three to win. The race is longer than either of the other two-- three-eights of a mile longer than the Preakness. The Belmont is raced five weeks after the Derby and three after the Preakness; a crowded schedule for any horse, much less a 3-year-old who hasn't raced much in his pampered life. And the Belmont field always contains fresh horses who haven't gone to Baltimore and/or Louisville but who have instead trained for Belmont's great distance.
He makes very good points.  As he mentions, 4 horses in the past decade came into the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown, and all failed.  Today marks the 92nd anniversary of Sir Barton becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown, since then, only ten other horses have accomplished the feat.  The Belmont is almost always the race that makes the difference.  The 1-and-a-half mile race, 5 weeks after going a mile-and-a-quarter at the Kentucky Derby, and 3 weeks after going a mile-and-three-sixteenths at the Preakness, is just brutal.  One other thing I wanted to include from his post is the video of probably the greatest thoroughbred performance of all-time, Secretariat's 31 length victory in 1973:

Considering Geo-Engineering

at the NYT, via Mark Thoma, first, laying out the problems:
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are pushing 400 parts per million (p.p.m.) — up from the natural pre-industrial level of 280 p.p.m. Emissions for last year were the highest ever. Rather than drift along until a calamity galvanizes the world, and especially the United States, into precipitous action, the time to act is now.
The biology of the planet indicates we are already in a danger zone. The goal of limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, as discussed at the Copenhagen and Cancun climate summits, is actually disastrous.
As we push the planet’s average temperature increase beyond 0.75°C, coral reefs (upon which 5 percent of humanity depends) are in increasing trouble. The balance of the coniferous forests of western North America has been tipped in favor of wood-boring bark beetles; in many places 70 percent of the trees are dead. The Amazon — which suffered the two greatest droughts in recorded history in 2005 and 2010 — teeters close to tipping into dieback, in which the southern and eastern parts of the forest die and turn into savannah vegetation. Estimates of sea-level rise continue to climb.
Even more disturbing, scientists have determined that, if we want to stop at a 2°C increase, global emissions have to peak in 2016. That seems impossible given current trends. Yet most people seem oblivious to the danger because of the lag time between reaching a greenhouse gas concentration level and the heat increase it will cause.
Then there is the consideration of geo-engineering.  Here the recommendations are reforestation and carbon sequestering in the soil.  Pumping sulfates into the atmosphere is mentioned, but the potential problems may outweigh the benefits.  This is interesting, but scary stuff.  Doing large-scale projects with unknown side effects could be disastrous, but potential activities will have to be considered.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Are Tea Partiers Happy Like Danes?

I would guess not, if this story is to be believed:
Denmark has the highest well-being of any country in the world, according to a recent Gallup Poll, with 72 percent of Danish people "thriving." (The worldwide median is just 21 percent.) In addition, during World War II, the country rescued almost all Jewish Danes from impending atrocities.

A kind of positive psychology underlies both accomplishments. People who trust their government and their neighbors, and who resist abuses in their society, are more likely to feel a sense of well-being in their own lives. Social psychology shows that countries with little trust are less likely to be happy. Networks of support between people and groups—what the political scientist Robert Putnam called social capital—promote people's well-being and their ability to react well to crises, from turmoil in North Africa to flooding in the U.S. and tsunamis in Japan.
Trust government? No.  Trust their neighbors? Maybe, as long as they aren't brown people.  Resist abuses in society?  Yes, if the abuses target Christians or the rich.  No, for everybody else.  I would guess they are not happy, then.  Of course, listening to them talk about the President of the United States should answer that question.  They've been pissed off since he was elected. 

I can't say too much, I get pretty angry when I listen to talk radio, or when NPR interviews some Republican douchebag who explains that tax cuts will cure cancer, help paraplegics walk and grow better corn, all while cutting the deficit and helping you lose weight.  I'm not sure how to explain all the anger from a country which has been on top of the world, but I guess it probably comes from us slowly losing our place of privilege.  The last 30 years have been rough on the working and middle classes.  I would assume that drives the anger.

I went to pay my electric bill a little while ago.  A guy went in right before me.  He was at least 55, and probably 60.  He asked the receptionist if they had a senior discount.  She said no.  He then asked if they had a veterans discount.  She said no.  Then he said, "This country needs to start honoring its veterans."  At first, that made me kind of angry.  I have felt the last few years that average people tend to go out of their way in honoring veterans, sometimes even ignoring the possibility that any servicemember ever would do anything wrong.  But I think part of that reason is that because of the all-volunteer force, most people don't have to serve, know few people who do, and won't, and it makes them feel guilty  Therefore, they go out of their way to pay lip service to veterans.  My immediate reaction was that this guy thought he deserved to have other people pay his bills because he served in the military, and while he may have a point, it rubbed me the wrong way. 

But it slowly dawned on me that it was far more likely that instead of being a new customer of the electric company who didn't know their rate structure, he was just in dire financial straits.   I had noticed on the way in that his 2001 Ford truck had a for sale sign in the window.  It was a pretty nice looking truck, but I thought the price seemed a little high for a 10 year-old truck.  If circumstances were tight enough that he was having a hard time paying his electric bill, and had to go in and ask about any senior or veterans discounts, I can imagine he would be pretty frustrated.  Nobody wants to be nearing what should be retirement age, and find himself not able to make ends meet.  After serving his country and working for 40 years, he wouldn't want to decide between having electric in a heat wave and taking his heart medication. 

I don't know what the story was for this guy, but I felt bad for him, while I was disappointed in myself for my quick judgement of him when I was in line.  Times are pretty hard for a lot of folks out there, and they don't really have too many people to turn to.  Maybe this guy was having a hard time making ends meet, maybe he's a skinflint or maybe he was paying his Medal of Honor winner father's electric bill, but I don't do anyone any good getting angry at him.  We're going to churn away in economic frustration for a while yet, and for many folks, things will get worse before they get better.  I should put more thought into how I can help people out, and less into judging them. 

Ferris Bueller, Cultural Icon?



As we approach the 25th anniversary of the release of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Alan Siegel takes Ferris down a couple of pegs:
A quarter century after its release, the explanation for why Ferris Bueller's Day Off remains a pop-culture touchstone is simple. As a friend put it, "Every kid has dreamed of pulling off what Ferris Bueller did." This was certainly true in my case. I grew up in a place not unlike Ferris's tony North Shore suburb. Naturally, I dreamed about cutting class and zipping around Chicago in a 1961 Ferrari 250GT California. I'm just not sure every kid shared, or even had the means to share, my fantasy. This is the myth of Ferris Bueller. It's portrayed as a universal story, when it's really not.

Hughes's other movies may not channel Dickens, but they're at least populated with teenagers who've had it rougher than Ferris. In Weird Science, Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) are bullied dorks who are clueless about women. In Pretty in Pink, Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald) is too poor to afford a nice prom dress. In The Breakfast Club, John Bender (Judd Nelson) is the rebellious product of a broken home. Ferris Bueller, on the other hand, dates Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), the hottest girl in school, and says stuff like, "-ism's, in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself." The line might resonate more if the movie weren't dripping with classism. Ferris is wealthy, white, and still smarting from his recent birthday, when the doting parents he repeatedly and proudly deceives buy him a computer instead of a car. ("What kind of movie hero consciously presents himself as infantile and duplicitous?" Paris Review writer Caleb Crain asks in his recent essay "Totaling the Ferrari: Ferris Bueller Revisited.") Meddling Dean Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) spends the entire movie trying to bust Ferris, but never succeeds. Not that you expect him to. Nothing challenges Ferris. Unlike most teens, his life is free of adversity.
Alan Siegel makes some very good points.  Ferris is too cool, uses nearly everyone else to benefit himself and is extremely duplicitous.  He is also a movie character.  While the movie is fun, I don't think it is meant to be much of a lesson for life.  I would guess that almost all of the people who have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the movie know that stealing and wrecking someone's six-figure Ferrari doesn't make someone a hero.  Even Ferris' main plan to run the car in reverse to take the miles off of it is just plain dumb, and doomed to failure.  The fact that all of his plots and schemes work out for him takes the movie to fantasy level, severing the actual activities from reality, and just making it a fun lark.  Does anyone think Ferris will commandeer a parade float, get Danke Schoen and Twist and Shout ordered up, and steal the show in real life?  I enjoyed the movie, but I don't think it falls into the territory of imparting significant messages about the meaning of life.  Instead, it is just a fun hour-and-a-half break from our real lives.  It also serves as a cultural touchstone, one in which everyone understands what is being referenced.  Just say, "Hey batter, batter, batter, swinnnng batter," everybody knows what you are talking about.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link, The Banking Emperor Has No Clothes, by Simon Johnson at the NYT:
In a major speech earlier this week to the American Bankers Association’s international monetary conference, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner laid out his view of what went wrong in the financial sector before 2008, how the crisis was handled 2008-10 and what is needed to reform the system. As chairman of the Financial Stability Oversight Council and the only senior member of President Obama’s original economic team remaining in place, Mr. Geithner’s influence with regard to the banking system is second to none.
Unfortunately, Mr. Geithner’s speech contained three major mistakes: his history is completely wrong, his logic is deeply flawed, and his interpretation of the Dodd-Frank reforms does not mesh with the legal facts regarding how the failure of a global megabank could be handled. Together, these mistakes suggest that one of our most powerful policy makers is headed very much in the wrong direction.
On history, Mr. Geithner places significant blame for the pre-2008 excesses on Britain and other countries that pursued light-touch regulation. This is reasonable – though surely he is aware that the United States has led the way in lightening the touch of regulation, at least since 1980. A senior British official retorted immediately, “Clearly he wasn’t referring to derivatives regulation, because as far as I can recollect, there wasn’t any in America at the time.”
In the midst of the meltdown, when Obama appointed Geithner, I wasn't sure what to make of the move.  The stock market rallied when he was announced, which was extremely rare at the time, and it was clear that Geithner had been a major player during the roller coaster ride in September, October and November.  I didn't realize how big of a bank whore he was.  This was by far the worst appointment Obama made, with maybe the possible exception of Larry Summers.  Paul Volker would have been 10 times better in my opinion, as he would have taken a big stick to the big banks, who really need busted up.  When placed in contrast to Obama's decision to retain Robert Gates at Defense, the appointment of Geithner is dark, dark night to Gates' brilliant sunshine.  Geithner really needs to move on to some highly-paid Wall Street job, where he can steal from the outside instead of helping banks steal from the inside.  His decision to pay Goldman Sachs in full for their bets on AIG was indefensible, and in a well-run society would get him fired from any post.

More on Pawlenty's "Plan"

ataxingmatter takes a look at Pawlenty's proposed tax plan (h/t Mark Thoma):
Former Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty is running for president.  Like the rest of the GOP cast of hopefuls, he is bound and determined to introduce radical changes to the federal tax system that will carry out a corporatist agenda and so has released a proposed tax plan.   There is lots wrong with his plan, from the likelihood of it costing 7.8 trillion to 10 trillion over a decade, to the fact that it reduces revenues to the federal government so much that it raises only about 13.6% of GDP, a starvation level (especially when you consider the military commitments that the right is so supportive of) that would jeopardize all important public services and public goods like public transportation, public health care, public retirement security, and public parks.  Then there's the wacky extremist right-wing corporatist tax policy that it incorporates--a policy designed to continue the raping of the American economy and the American middle class by the elite current owners and managers of America's concentrated capital.
It includes:
  • a radically less progressive schedule of rates--10% and 25%
  • zero taxation for almost all income from capital--capital gains, dividends, and interest
  • elimination of the federal estate tax
  • reduction of the corporate tax rate from a statutory rate of 35% to a statutory rate of 15%
  • elimination of "special interest handouts, carve-outs, susidies and loopholes." 
There's nothing commendable about this so-called plan.  It is nothing more than a shifting of the tax burden to the middle class (and below) that furthers the corporatist agenda of allowing multinational corporations and their owners and managers a free reign, using all the benefits of the market established by government but sharing almost none of the burdens.
This is pretty much Paul Ryan's Roadmap for America's Future.  It is a blatant attempt to make the richest Americans nearly exempt from taxation.  It is absurd, and anyone who proposes such a scheme shouldn't get a damn vote from anybody.  Tim Pawlenty has proven the farcical nature of his bid for President.

Exploring America

The New York Times has an interactive map which allows people to explore data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey from 2005 through 2009.

A quick look at the education attainment map showed that my sister's census block had 95% high school graduates, 82% with a bachelor degree and 31% with a master's degree or higher.  My census block had 87% high school graduates, 16% with a bachelor degree and 5% with a master's degree or higher.  And they make more money in her census block, I don't get it.

Animal Kingdom and Shackleford Get Rematch at Belmont

Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness winner Shackleford each get a shot to win the rubber match at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.  It is the first matchup of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners at Belmont since 2005.  Here are the post positions:

1. Master of Hounds
2. Stay Thirsty        
3. Ruler On Ice        
4. Santiva     
5. Brilliant Speed      
6. Nehro       
7. Monzon    
8. Prime Cut  
9. Animal Kingdom   
10. Mucho Macho Man       
11. Isn't He Perfect  
12. Shackleford

Five horses, including last year's Belmont Stakes winner, Drosselmeyer, will run in today's Brooklyn Handicap.

Was the Civil War an Evangelical Crusade?

Joan Walsh reviews David Goldfield's new Civil War book, "America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation.", at Salon:
Whether or not you accept that premise – more on that later – Goldfield shows definitively that Northern evangelical Protestants were the moral force behind the war, and once they turned it into a religious question, a matter of good v. evil, political compromise was impossible. The Second Great Awakening set its sights on purging the country of the sins of slavery, drunkenness, impiety -- as well as Catholics, particularly Irish Catholic immigrants. Better than any history I've seen, Goldfield tracks the disturbing links between abolitionism and nativism. In fact, he starts his book with the torching of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Mass., in 1834, a violent attack on Catholics which Goldfield shows was "incited" by Lyman Beecher, the father of the Beecher clan, most of whom turned out to be as anti-Irish Catholic as they were anti-slavery. To evangelical Protestant nativists, Catholicism was incompatible with democracy, because its adherents allegedly gave their loyalty to the Pope, not the president, and the religion's emphasis on obeying a hierarchy made them unfit for self-government. Also, rebellious Irish Catholics didn't show the proper discipline or deference to conform to emerging industrial America. The needs of Northern business were never far from some (though not all) abolitionists' minds.

Still, though nativism was widespread in the North, and within the Republican Party (which  absorbed some old Know-Nothing and nativist Whig party remnants), abolitionism remained at the party's fringe.
The history of anti-Catholic bigotry in the United States is an interesting tale.  I've never seen it linked with abolitionists specifically, but it was always present in the Whig and Republican parties, and was the only tenet of the Know-Nothing party.  The Prohibition/Temperance movement targeted these "foreign" elements, specifically focusing on the saloons which made up German culture, the German beer barons who provided the product and the stereotypical Irish drunk.  This movement was mainly a rural, native Protestant organization, which tried to outlaw the leisure activities of the largely urban, immigrant Catholic newcomers.  This was a major driver of the urban Democrat/ rural Republican divide which still exists today.  It is interesting to me that the strength of the Republican party since 1980 has been in combining Evangelical Protestants with the Catholics whom these Protestants often still do not trust, to unite as a family values party.  History suggests that it is a marriage of convenience.

Joe Nuxhall's Major League Debut


June 10, 1944, from Baseball-Reference:
"Probably two weeks prior to that, I was pitching against seventh, eighth and ninth graders, kids 13 and 14 years old. All of a sudden, I look up and there's Stan Musial . . ." - Joe Nuxhall, about his first game as a 15-year-old major leaguer
Joe Nuxhall of the Cincinnati Reds was the youngest player to make his major league debut in the 20th Century at 15 years, 10 months, and 11 days old. He is probably also the youngest player of all time. The player once thought to hold that distinction, Fred Chapman, was recently discovered to have been Frank Chapman, a pitcher whose age was not remarkable in any way, while there are serious doubts about the true birth date of the other contender for the title, Billy Geer.
Nuxhall was actually discovered while the Reds were scouting his 34 year old father, Orville, to fill their World War II depleted roster. Instead, they liked what they saw of the younger Nuxhall, and the club signed him to a $175 per month contract after the school year ended. He spent most of his time sitting on the bench, but on June 10th, 1944, with the Reds trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 13-0, Reds skipper Bill McKechnie put Nuxhall into a game. He walked one and retired two batters before seeing future Hall of Famer Stan Musial on deck. Nuxhall then unraveled, allowing five earned runs and failing to retire another batter.
Afterwards, Nuxhall was sent to the minors and did not pitch another major league game until 1952. He spent most of his major league career with the Reds at the time when they were known as the "Redlegs". However, he missed the club's single World Series appearance of that era, as he was pitching for the Kansas City Athletics in 1961. His best year was in 1955 when he went 17-12 and played in the All-Star Game. In the 1960s, about twenty years after his big league debut, he had another pair of fine seasons, going 15-8 in 1963 and 11-4 in 1965.
Here is the boxscore from June 10, 1944.

Here is a video interview of Nuxhall reflecting on his first game, and his life in baseball.

Here is the Enquirer's obituary from November 16, 2007.

Marty and Joe began broadcasting together prior to my birth.  Joe's broadcasts were the sound of summer.  Nobody meant Cincinnati baseball more than Joe.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pawlenty's Economic "Plan"

Daniel Larison:
Whether Gov. Pawlenty’s prescriptions—dramatically lower individual and corporate taxes, zero taxes on capital gains and dividends, sunset provisions for federal regulations and a growth-rate target of 5%—are provable as solutions is politically beside the point at this moment. As substantive brand differentiation, the Pawlenty speech was a success. ~Daniel Henninger
Henninger forgot the part where all of this supposedly slashes the deficit at the same time through the massive infusion of extra revenues. Yes, that’s “substantive brand differentiation,” all right. Pawlenty has branded himself as the candidate of wishful thinking and fantasy. Pawlenty’s “plan” is based on the idea that there are no trade-offs in making policy, and therefore there are no difficult choices to be made.
Someday, Republican voters may realize that tax cuts cause deficits, don't grow the economy or create jobs, and benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.  I think someday is still a while off.  But if anyone takes Pawlenty's "plan" as serious, they are very misguided.  Because I think the economy will be struggling greatly in 2012, and Barack Obama will be vulnerable, I would really like to see the Republicans field a good candidate as an alternative.  So far, I don't think they will.  If a person seems competent, they are considered a RINO or Republicrat.  They have to go for the full crazy, or the base will hate them.  We really need a better conservative electorate.

Nostalgia-Generation X Edition



All Things Considered:
Do you have the Eight is Enough theme music burned into your brain? Do you fall into a Proustian reverie at the fizzy punch of Pop Rocks? Are you old enough to remember carrying a metal lunch box to school — and clobbering your friends with it?
Then you're the perfect age to appreciate a new book called Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes & Trends of the '70s & '80s. It's a catalogue of things designed to make you smile and say, "Oh yeah, I remember that!" Candy cigarettes, Fantasy Island, encyclopedias, and Stretch Armstrong dolls all make an appearance.
Co-author Gael Fashingbauer Cooper tells weekend on All Things Considered host Rachel Martin that she wanted to preserve bits of pop culture that slipped away without anyone noticing.
Country music has already covered this:

Nigeria and Oil

The Atlantic features a photo essay titled Nigeria: The Cost of Oil.  My favorite photo, but by far not the most graphic:

Nigerian oil companies burn off the second largest volume of natural gases in the world, with the practice of gas flaring. In 2008, Nigerian flares burned off an estimated 15.1 billion cubic meters of natural gases, or roughly 70% of the overall gas recovered that year. The flares are so prevalent, the Niger Delta appears brightly lit (lower left) in this detail from a NASA image of the Earth at night. Flare activity at night from 1994 through 2007 is also visible as a movie compiled by NOAA. (Image from a 2003 NASA map by Robert Simmon, based on data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Operational Line Scanner, processed by the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center) #
 

Wooden Shoe Beer and Samuel Adams


According to this quiz, Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch's father was the final beer master at Wooden Shoe Beer, in 1953.  Here is a history of Wooden Shoe at the website of the revived Wooden Shoe Brewing Company.  I didn't know that about the Koch family.  I assumed the answer to the question was a Cincinnati brewery, since his dad had worked there for a while.  I did get 15 out of 25 on the quiz, which I didn't think was too hateful.  I'm a pretty good guesser.

Political Self-segregation

Via Yglesias, Peter Orszag looks at where we choose to live as the main cause of polarization:
If redistricting isn’t the primary force behind polarization, what is? One crucial cause, as documented in “The Big Sort,” a path-breaking book by Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing, is increased residential segregation by political party. We are voluntarily separating ourselves into Republican and Democratic neighborhoods. Today’s media and blogosphere, which increasingly filter news according to their point of view, exacerbate and reinforce the effect.
Two maps (see accompanying maps: 1976 Election and 2008 Election), taken from a recent paper by James Thomson of the RAND Corp., show the U.S. broken down by county (county lines have also not been redistricted). The dark-shaded counties are those that have swung hard one way or another in a presidential election, and so are considered polarized, while the light counties are politically mixed. The difference from 1976 to 2008 is striking: The number of light counties has fallen sharply. Roughly 25 percent more of the U.S. population now lives in a landslide county than did in the 1970s.
There is some truth to that, as liberals tend to love the center cities, and conservatives tend to move to the suburbs, and are most prevalent in rural areas.  I tend to credit population density as a contributing factor to political opinion.  If you are surrounded by lots and lots of people, you tend to have more appreciation for governmental activism.  If you live in the middle of nowhere, you don't see the need for any government involvement in your life, as long as your farm subsidy payment and your social security check keep coming, and as long as Medicare pays for your hip replacement.  Government shouldn't prevent industry from polluting, because when you are in the middle of nowhere, there isn't any industry.  That's my explanation for why the "Great American Desert" of the Great Plains is so red on the electoral maps, while the coasts are so blue.

Ayn Rand vs. Christianity

Via mistermix at Balloon Juice, the American Values Network tries to highlight the anti-Christian beliefs of Ayn Rand.  Again, I find that her justification of selfishness and hatred of government are what draws so many Christian conservatives to her "literature," even though it attacks their belief in Jesus.  So long as they can feel that God is rewarding them for their "hard work" and "brilliance," they can likewise believe that God is punishing those who the government tries to help out, because they are shiftless and lazy.  It is a pretty good gig, believe Jesus will save you, even as you ignore His Gospel teachings.



Mark Silk isn't comfortable with the video's approach:
It's not difficult to make the case that the Ryan budget plan has a lot more in common with Rand's teachings than Jesus'. Yet there have been devout Christians in the past who have embraced draconian social policies towards the poor. Call me prissy, but I'd have been happier if the video traded less heavily in guilt by association with an anti-Christian atheist.

I think that in the end, it is appropriate to question why Christians support the radical Republican cuts to social spending. The thing to remember is that many of the conservatives or libertarians who support drastic cuts to social spending don't consider themselves Christians, or just believe that private charity can take care of the needs of the people. They will always be able to justify slashing the social safety net to put more money in their pockets. This video won't change that.

Chart of the Day

Today's chart, from the Economist, h/t the Sister:


Where, oh where could we find places to cut wasteful spending?  I know, in programs which help the needy.  At least that's where John Boehner and his associates look to cut.  I think we could probably save a significant amount by cutting Defense spending by 30% or so.

Joseph Welch vs. Joe McCarthy

June 9, 1954, the end of the cultural and political influence of Tailgunner Joe McCarthy:
On June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the Army-McCarthy Hearings, McCarthy accused Fred Fisher, one of the junior attorneys at Welch's law firm, of associating while in law school with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group which J. Edgar Hoover sought to have the U.S. Attorney General designate as a Communist front organization. Welch dismissed Fisher's association with the NLG as a youthful indiscretion and attacked McCarthy for naming the young man before a nationwide television audience without prior warning or previous agreement to do so:
Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think that I am a gentle man but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.
When McCarthy tried to renew his attack, Welch interrupted him:
Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch cut him off:
Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could ask – could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further. I will not ask Mr. Cohn any more questions. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness.
The gallery erupted in applause.


Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Georgia farmers attest to labor shortages ahead of new immigration law enforcement, at the American Independent:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on the ongoing exodus of undocumented immigrants from Georgia in anticipation of the new immigration enforcement law, which will take effect on July 1:
Businesses that cater to the region’s Hispanic residents say the new law has sown fear among immigrants, scaring away their customers and employees. A grocery store chain that serves Hispanic immigrants says the new law has led to sharp cuts in sales at some of its locations, forcing it to consider closing one of its spots. And the pastors of local Hispanic churches say some of their parishioners are leaving Georgia and taking the donations that support charitable causes with them.
Presumably, this phenomenon was the new law’s intended effect, but there are signs that some Georgians weren’t anticipating the central role that Hispanic immigrants play in the economy. The Georgia Agribusiness Council released a survey of Georgia farmers which said that 46 percent reported facing a labor shortage. As the Journal-Constitution’s Jim Galloway points out, comments on the survey repeatedly mentioned the law as the cause of the shrinking agricultural population. One of the comments summarized what is happening:
The labor pool has dried up because Hispanic are leaving Georgia as fast as they can. [sic] They are terrified about what will happen when this law goes into effect. Since we cannot find immigrant labor, we are trying to hire non-immigrant labor. Even with pay rates above $10 an hour, we cannot find people interested in working outdoors, in the heat. They will stay for one or two days and then leave. Our work is labor intensive, so we are losing money every day by not having dependable, hard-working laborers. This is just another blow to our business on top of what we have already lost due to the economy.
The politicians who initially pushed for the law are now reacting to complaints from farmers, and Gov. Nathan Deal has requested an expedited review of the law’s effects from the state’s agriculture commissioner.
Idiots.  Hispanic immigrants, legal or illegal, always end up contributing beneficially to local economies.  There are pressures on the system, especially in health care, as the illegal immigrants can't get insurance through their employers and don't want to go to the hospital until the situation is dire, because they are afraid of deportation.  These anti-immigration politicians are, in my opinion, just bigoted, and these Arizona-style laws are just tea parties in each state trying to prove their bonafides.  Let them cut their own economic throats.  Ohio shouldn't follow suit.  We don't have enough illegal immigrants, because our economy was too crappy to attract them last decade.

How The Germans Got Through the Recession

David Leonhardt takes a look at the German example (h/t Ritholtz):
The brief story is that, despite its reputation for austerity, Germany has been far more willing than the United States to use the power of government to help its economy. Yet it has also been more ruthless about cutting wasteful parts of government.
The results are intriguing. After performing worse than the American economy for years, the German economy has grown faster since the middle of last decade. (It did better than our economy before the crisis and has endured the crisis about equally.) Just as important, most Germans have fared much better than most Americans, because the bounty of their growth has not been concentrated among a small slice of the affluent.
Inflation-adjusted average hourly pay has risen almost 30 percent since 1985 in Germany, the kind of gains American workers have not enjoyed since the ’50s and ’60s. In this country, hourly pay has risen a scant 6 percent since 1985.
Germany also managed to avoid a housing bubble, unlike the United States, Britain, Ireland, Spain and other countries. German children have stronger math and science skills than ours. Its medium-term budget deficit is smaller. Its unemployment rate is like a mirror image of ours: 6.1 percent, well below where it was when the financial crisis began in 2007. Our rate has risen to 9.1 percent.
Among the reasons Germany has weathered the financial crisis better than the U.S. he cites, reform of government unemployment programs, greater protection of labor unions, stronger financial regulations and a less dysfunctional government which is able to cut spending, tax enough and is willing to get involved with industry when necessary. 

North Dakota Leads States in Growth

Economix features an interactive graphic showing changes in states' GDP.  North Dakota grew the most, while Wyoming shrank the most:
As for North Dakota and Wyoming, how can two states so similar in shape and population density have such different fates?
The key seems to be mining.
In North Dakota, almost every sector grew at least a little. The biggest contribution to growth, though, was in mining.
In Wyoming, about equal numbers of sectors grew as shrank, but the biggest drag on the state economy was mining.
I would anticipate that North Dakota's increasing shale oil production also contributed significantly versus Wyoming's reliance on natural gas drilling.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

China's First Aircraft Carrier

David Axe at Wired says it isn't all that:
Leaving aside her modest size compared to American carriers, her incomplete air wing and escort force and the fact that she’ll sail without the company of allied flattops, Shi Lang could be even less of a threat than her striking appearance implies. Shi Lang’s greatest potential weakness could be under her skin, in her Ukrainian-supplied engines.
Powerplants — that is, jet engines for airplanes, turbines for ships — are some of the most complex, expensive and potentially troublesome components of any weapon system. Just ask the designers of the Pentagon’s F-35 stealth fighter and the U.S. Navy’s San Antonio-class amphibious ships. Both have been nearly sidelined by engine woes.
China has struggled for years to design and build adequate powerplants for its ships and aircraft. Although Chinese aerospace firms are increasingly adept at manufacturing airframes, they still have not mastered motors. That’s why the new WZ-10 attack helicopter was delayed nearly a decade, and why there appear to be two different prototypes for the J-20 stealth fighter. One flies with reliable Russian-made AL-31F engines; the other apparently uses a less trustworthy Chinese design, the WS-10A.
For Shi Lang, China reportedly purchased turbines from Ukraine. Though surely superior to any ship engines China could have produced on its own, the Ukrainian models might still be unreliable by Western standards. Russia’s Kuznetsov, also fitted with Ukrainian turbines, has long suffered propulsion problems that have forced her to spend most of her 30-year career tied to a pier for maintenance. When she does sail, a large tugboat usually tags along, just in case the carrier breaks down.
As this story indicates, while China is rapidly advancing, they still have some very serious issues.  As James Fallows, who has lived in and covered China for much of the last decade, notes:
But paying attention to China, and taking it seriously, are different from being pie-eyed, gape-mouthed, and otherwise credulous about the overall nature of China's success. I'm not suggesting that people should be "hostile" to China, though there are aspects of its policy that need to be criticized every day. I'm talking about applying a common-sense BS-detector when you hear the next claim about how rapid, inevitable, trouble-free, and strategically-perfect the Chinese ascent will be. You could think of what I'm worried about as the "Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony" syndrome, or the "I just rode the bullet train to Tianjin, and holy shit, we're doomed!" approach. Lots of things work in China. Lots of things don't. We understand that kind of balance immediately when it comes to America -- it's a huge success, with huge failures. China is a similar woolly package, with the difference that it's still full of hundreds of millions of poor people, and is in the middle of environmental catastrophes that dwarf the local challenges in Europe or North America. (The drought in much of China right now threatens to assume Dust Bowl proportions, as Edward Wong of the NYT, among others, is pointing out.)
While the U.S. hegemony may be slipping away as we face fiscal, energy and demographic challenges, all the other major nations also face major issues.  China may be growing rapidly and challenging us for global natural resources, but they are far from solving all of their problems.  We should welcome their advance while adjusting to our new role, and we have few things to be truly scared about when it comes to China.  The article Fallows references above, about the North-South Diversion Project is definitely interesting:

More West Bank News

Settlers accused of trying to torch mosque:
West Bank settlers are suspected of attempting to set fire on Tuesday morning to a mosque in the West Bank village of Maghayer, breaking through a window and rolling burning tires into the mosque in order to maximize damage. The attackers left a message in Hebrew scrawled on the mosque’s walls, reading “price tag” and “Alei Ayin,” suggesting that the acts came in response to last week’s evacuation by Israel of the illegal outpost of Alei Ayin. Maghayer  is a small village near Ramallah, which has been subject to continuous harassment from settlers from the nearby settlement of Yidi’at.
Darwish Elhaj Mohammad, the imam of the mosque, told 972 that the settlers burned between 25 and 30 Qurans. Using two burning tires, they also succeeded in destroying the carpets and the wall. According Imam Darwish, this incident is one in a series of attacks aimed at seizing the village’s agricultural land.
The acts were quickly condemned across the Palestinian religious and political spectrum. Within hours, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the immediate restoration of the mosque. The village residents intend to have the mosque repaired and ready for Friday prayers .
The settlers are a danger to Israel, and it is irresponsible for Republicans to rally unstintingly to their side.  That of course will not stop them from doing so. 

Chart of the Day




Stuart Staniford graphs the U.S. vehicle inventory versus China's.  As he says, I don't know how the global oil market will be able to handle all the extra vehicles in China.  We will be bidding against them for oil, and they have a lot more disposable cash available.  We need to wean ourselves off of gasoline-powered cars, and soon.

Occupations in the U.S.

Reported Occupations in the United States, 1850-2000.  h/t Mark Thoma.  Even in 2000, there were more farmers than civil engineers, but a lot fewer farmers as a percentage of the population in 2000 than in 1850.  44.687% of the population in 1850 was farmers.

USS Liberty

June 8, 1967:
The USS Liberty incident was an attack on a United States Navy technical research ship, USS Liberty, by Israeli Air Force jet fighter aircraft and Israeli Navy torpedo boats, on June 8, 1967, during the Six-Day War. The combined air and sea attack killed 34 crew members (naval officers, seamen, two Marines, and one civilian), wounded 170 crew members, and severely damaged the ship. At the time, the ship was in international waters north of the Sinai Peninsula, about 25.5 nmi (29.3 mi; 47.2 km) northwest from the Egyptian city of Arish.
Both the Israeli and U.S. governments conducted inquiries and issued reports that concluded the attack was a mistake due to Israeli confusion about the identity of the USS Liberty. Most survivors, in addition to some U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials involved in the incident, continue to dispute these official findings, saying the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was not a mistake, and it remains "the only maritime incident in U.S. history where [U.S.] military forces were killed that was never investigated by the [U.S.] Congress."
Israel is quite the ally.  With friends like these, who needs enemies?  Seriously, who can make the case that Israel looks out for Israel?  I think the U.S. should look out for the U.S.  When it is beneficial to assist Israel, or when it is the right thing to assist Israel, we should do it, but unceasing support for all of Israel's actions is foolhardy, and only people who love Israel more than the United States, or loony religious fanatics hoping for the End Times will support the settlers in Palestine.  Actually, people who love Israel, and want it to remain a democracy, will not support the settlers.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: The Times' Andrew Ross Sorkin Gives Goldman a Rubdown, at Rolling Stone:
First of all, I have asked Goldman about the “Big Short” multiple times, as have other reporters,  and this is the first I’m hearing about $5 billion in long bets in "other parts of the company." I believe in that magical $5 billion about as much as I believe in the mythical private-sector hedges against AIG Goldman claimed to have. You might remember those – they were the reason Goldman claimed it didn’t actually need the $12.9 billion in public money it got through the AIG bailout, because it would have been paid off by private hedges anyway had the government not bailed out AIG. Goldman took the $12.9 billion of the public’s money anyway, however, but not because it needed it – no, sir!
When Lloyd coughed up that bit about the AIG hedges in testimony before Levin last year, there wasn’t a person in Washington who didn’t know it was bullshit. I have a similar feeling about these new numbers Goldman is offering, as do most of the sources of mine who saw the Sorkin piece today. “WTF seriously?” wrote one lawyer friend of mine. “Did Lloyd send ARS a letter from his Mom verifying the data?”
But hey, let’s be generous, and say that it’s all true. Does it mean jack shit? Does it have anything to do with anything?
Absolutely not. How much money Goldman did or did not make shorting mortgages in 2007 dulls not one iota the main charges in the report, which are that Goldman management saw that it was overexposed to mortgages in late 2006 and decided to get out from under them by dumping them on unsuspecting clients, then lying to those same clients about that, and then finally betting against them.
Goldman made a fortune at the expense of everyone else, and when their bets with AIG weren't going to get paid because AIG was insolvent, the U.S. government stepped in and gave Goldman 100 cents on the dollar for those bets.  Excuse me, the taxpayers that Goldman had already screwed gave them 100 cents on the dollar.  It's a pretty good gig if you can get it.  But having your former CEO as Treasury Secretary helps.  Then again, I don't think Geithner ever worked at Goldman, but it sure seems like he did, or he wants to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Chart of the day, Pt. 3

From Ezra Klein's post on Tim Pawlenty's idiotic "economic Plan":


Pawlenty is pushing the supply-side Kool-aid:
Nothing, I fear. This morning, Tim Pawlenty released an economic plan that was, if anything, more irresponsible than Bush’s tax cuts. At least Bush admitted that cutting taxes costs money. That’s why it made sense — or at least seemed to make sense — to use tax cuts to rebate a surplus. If cutting taxes raised government revenues, that statement would make no sense, as more tax cuts would simply lead to larger surpluses.
But that’s exactly what Pawlenty argued today. His tax cuts, he wrote, will boost annual economic growth from two percent to five percent and, in doing, “generate $3.8 trillion dollars in new tax revenues” and “reduce projected deficits by 40 percent.” In other words, you can have your cake, eat it too, and fit into those pants you haven’t worn since high schools. All you need are tax cuts.
Pawlenty also promised that “the real slog of the next administration will be an unrelenting trench battle against overregulation.” Bush wasn’t a big fan of regulations either. So we got a test of the low tax/low regulation approach in the Aughts. And how did it work out? “That business cycle was the first one in the postwar period where the income for a typical working-class family was lower at the end than at the beginning,” says Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute.
Idiots.  It didn't work then, it won't work now.  But it sure sounds good, doesn't it.  They will ruin this country yet.

Upsets in NCAA Baseball Regionals

UConn and Dallas Baptist each advance to the Super Regionals.  Illinois came up just short.

Drought Threatens Global Wheat Markets

From Bloomberg, via Ritholtz:
The worst droughts in decades are wilting wheat fields from China to the U.S. to the U.K., overwhelming Russia’s return to grain markets and driving prices to the highest levels since 2008.
Parts of China, the biggest grower, had the least rain in a century, some European regions are the driest in 50 years and almost half the winter-wheat crop in the U.S., the largest exporter, is rated poor or worse. Inventory is dropping 8.8 percent, the most in five years, Rabobank International says. Prices will advance 20 percent to as high as $9.25 a bushel by Dec. 31, a Bloomberg survey of 14 analysts and traders shows.
Wheat as much as doubled in the past year as crops failed, spurring Ukraine and Russia to curb shipments and increasing the U.S. share of global sales by the most since 2004. Russia ending its export ban on July 1 and Ukraine lifting quotas may not be enough as crops wither elsewhere, fuelling gains in food prices which the United Nations says are already near a record.
“In 32 years, I’ve never seen so many problems in so many places,” said Dan Basse, the president of AgResource Co., a farm researcher in Chicago. “We’re concerned about the world story now,” said Basse, who has been studying agricultural markets since 1979 and expects prices as high as $10 this year.
Unfortunately, we have more wheat out than normal, and it looks like it is going to get hit pretty hard with head scab.  I guess I'll find out how bad it will be for us when we haul our first load into the elevator.

More On D-Day


General Eisenhower's message to the troops prior to the D-Day invasion:
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
-- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

General Eisenhower also drafted the following statement in case of a failure on D-Day:


“Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
It only struck me last night that it would be interesting to post these two messages.  I wish we could find more public figures willing to take full responsibility for their decisions, and immediately, not after ten days of claiming your Twitter account was hacked.

Japan Confirms Three Full Meltdowns

CNN:
 Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant experienced full meltdowns at three reactors in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami in March, the country's Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters said Monday. The nuclear group's new evaluation, released Monday, goes further than previous statements in describing the extent of the damage caused by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
The announcement will not change plans for how to stabilize the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the agency said.
Reactors 1, 2 and 3 experienced a full meltdown, it said.
The plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., admitted last month that nuclear fuel rods in reactors 2 and 3 probably melted during the first week of the nuclear crisis.
It had already said fuel rods at the heart of reactor No. 1 melted almost completely in the first 16 hours after the disaster struck. The remnants of that core are now sitting in the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel at the heart of the unit and that vessel is now believed to be leaking.
More bad news for the Japanese people.  It doesn't do any good for the nuclear power lobby, either.  Also, the report confirmed that radiation leaks at the beginning of the disaster were wildly underestimated.

The Lee Resolution

June 7, 1776:
The Lee Resolution, also known as the resolution of independence, was an act of the Second Continental Congress declaring the United Colonies to be independent of the British Empire. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia first proposed it on June 7, 1776, after receiving instructions from the Virginia Convention and its President, Edmund Pendleton (in fact Lee used, almost verbatim, the language from the instructions in his resolution). Voting on the resolution was delayed for several weeks while support for independence was consolidated. On June 11, a Committee of Five was appointed to prepare a document to explain the reasons for independence. The resolution was finally approved on July 2, 1776, and news of its adoption was published that evening in the Pennsylvania Evening Post and the next day in the Pennsylvania Gazette. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved on July 4.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Decline and fall of the American Empire, at the Guardian:
The US is a country with serious problems. Getting on for one in six depend on government food stamps to ensure they have enough to eat. The budget, which was in surplus little more than a decade ago, now has a deficit of Greek-style proportions. There is policy paralysis in Washington.
The assumption is that the problems can be easily solved because the US is the biggest economy on the planet, the only country with global military reach, the lucky possessor of the world's reserve currency, and a nation with a proud record of re-inventing itself once in every generation or so.
All this is true and more. US universities are superb, attracting the best brains from around the world. It is a country that pushes the frontiers of technology. So, it may be that the US is about to emerge stronger than ever from the long nightmare of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. The strong financial position of American companies could unleash a wave of new investment over the next couple of years.
Let me put an alternative hypothesis. America in 2011 is Rome in 200AD or Britain on the eve of the first world war: an empire at the zenith of its power but with cracks beginning to show.
This is a hypothesis which I have held since at least 2001.  I think this is a tremendous country, which will continue to be a major player in the world economy.  But it will relenquish its position as the pre-eminent power in the world.  I don't think that China will take over the dominant role the U.S. has held, but that it will become the first, among many regional players.  The Eurozone, the U.S., China and eventually India will be the major players, with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Brazil the OPEC states and the Scandinavian countries filling in significant second tier roles.  The U.S. will have to address serious energy and health care issues, along with dysfunctional politics and the draining wars, before it can right its ship of state.  But overall, I believe we are heading toward a lower standard-of-living relative to the rest of the world regardless of what happens.  That doesn't mean other parts of the world will have a much better standard-of-living than ours, but that we won't have such a significantly better SOL.  I think that is something we will be forced to accept, and there is nothing we can do to prevent it.

Chart of the Day, Part 2

This chart is from Jared Bernstein, using an interactive graphic from the Washington Post (h/t Mark Thoma):

It shows the change in employment from the runup to the Great Recession until the present, in various job sectors.  I was curious what the roller coaster line was which goes above the Health and education sector early, then drops way down, then comes back down.  Turns out that it is the Mining and logging sector, which is a fairly small sector of total jobs.  The manufacturing and construction lines are interesting, and professional services is interesting, personally.  That sector has shown a trend of increased hiring for a while, but total jobs are still well below pre-Recession levels.

Bernstein makes the following note about the Health care and education sector:
I didn’t bother labeling every sector because I just wanted to make one simple point.  Look at health care/education (which is driven by health care).  Even throughout the worst recession since the Great Depression, with payrolls tanking worse than I’d ever seen, HEALTH CARE ADDED JOBS EVERY SINGLE MONTH.
The graph makes the point…um…graphically.  It’s a straight line sloping steadily up amidst all that carnage!
So there’s the other hint.  This is a sector with great demand, tough to outsource, strong gov’t involvement (and yes, unsustainable spending—and that’s not solely a public sector issue; it’s just as bad on the private side), and limits to productivity growth, relative to say, widget production.
As he mentions, this is one of the reasons why health care costs in the United States are unsustainable compared to any other industry, labor costs keep increasing.  Other sectors have cut jobs and wages over the past twenty years, but health care hasn't, and all those costs are passed on to the rest of society.  With an aging population, we will continue to need more workers, but we need to figure out how to limit cost increases while continuing to provide good health care outcomes (actually, to improve those outcomes).  This will be our greatest political challenge going forward.

Businessmens' Excuses

James Kwak takes on a businessman's complaint that regulatory uncertainty is preventing him from expanding his business.  This is a favorite excuse of mine.  I heard the CEO of Penn Station complain on NPR that uncertainty over the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which he said was preventing him from opening new restaurants (I still haven't made the effort to eat at a Penn Station since hearing this).  I think that is a comfortable excuse for businessmen, especially conservative businessmen, to fall back on.  As Mr. Kwak says:
I’m not doubting that Mr. Business Owner really believes that regulatory uncertainty makes it too risky to hire more people. But his saying so doesn’t make it so. Well, one might say, the fact that he believes it is the problem, and so the government needs to do a better job convincing business that it’s on their side. But I’m not buying that either. The problem is that the conservative media have been trumpeting the talking point that the anti-business Obama administration is creating regulatory uncertainty, and they’ve been doing it so loudly and for so long that lots of people actually believe it. And if businesspeople aren’t hiring because of that belief, then it’s the conservative media — and people who repeat their talking points — that are to blame.**
I'll second that.  In the end, flexible businessmen, who are willing to learn about the regulations and meeting them, will have an advantage over their competitors.  Regulations and taxes are a cost of doing business, and if a businessman is afraid changes will negatively affect the payback on investment, they will have to accept lower paybacks or raise prices.  Their competitors don't have magical ways of avoiding the same regulations, so they will have to do the same things.

Chart of the Day

Barry Ritholtz highlights a database at the Paris School of Economics, which allows comparison of income inequality across nations.  This chart demonstrates how the Great Depression caused nations to address income inequality, and how the U.S., unlike many other developed nations, has veered away from the policies put in place after the Depression to limit inequality, mainly very progressive taxation:


As you can see, the spike from trend begins exactly after the Income Tax reform of 1986, which cut the top marginal rate to 28%.  After the Bush 41 and Clinton tax increases, the percent of income made by the top 1% levels off until the tech bubble, the drops with the popping of the bubble, and soars again as the effects of the Bush 43 tax cuts take hold.  Currently, the top 1% of earners get twice as high of a percentage of total national income in the United States than they do in France, Australia and Japan.  I don't think this is healthy.

Planting is Complete

We managed to end this miserably long spring yesterday.  It seems amazing to me that we had to wait 6 weeks to finally get more than 3 days of weather in which to work.  Thank goodness, we finally did.  Now, as area farmers wrap up planting, hopefully we will continue to get some rains, and not go through a long, dry period to add insult to injury.