Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Miracle of Glass-Steagall

Joe Nocera on the passage of the Glass-Steagall Act (h/t Mark Thoma):
From my vantage point here in 2011, Glass-Steagall seems miraculous. It was amazingly radical, not just for its time, but for any time; it didn’t so much reform banking as upend it. Most notably, it ordered banks to get out of the securities business. As Sisson complained: “The effect of the proposed banking reform is to renounce investment banking rather than regulate it.” Because investment banking was then the chief activity of the big banks, this was a very big deal.
Glass-Steagall also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insured customer deposits for the first time, and outlawed branch banking by national banks, among other things. It is impossible to imagine anything like it passing today; although the modern reform bill, Dodd-Frank, surely does some good, it’s not even comparable.
Back in the Depression, politicians may have had a lot of issues, but caving to the banks wasn't one of them.  Too bad today all the major politicians, including Obama, but especially Republicans, are bought and paid for by the finance industry.  The banking sector is just as corrupt now as it was then, but politicians don't even feel the need to look like they are doing anything to reel them in.  It is just sad.

Will Baseball Realignment Occur?

John Renshaw:
The current format of 16 teams in the National League and 14 teams in the American League will be recreated into 15 teams in each league. In doing so, the playoff system would grow too, resulting in five playoff spots within each league.
Currently, the MLB has six divisions, and a possible consideration will feature three divisions of five teams in each respective league, and not only do I think this is a solid idea, but it will simplify the structure of the MLB.
A no-brainer decision wouldn't be difficult for an ordinary corporation to make, but then again, this is Major League Baseball.
The big sticking point is one National League team will have to relocate to the American League. Many baseball executives believe the likely franchise will be the Houston Astros, which will enhance a rivalry setup with the Texas Rangers.
I'm not a huge proponent of change.  I have yet to attend an interleague game.  But I really like the idea of putting the Astros into the AL West.  That would leave the NL Central and the AL Central as perfectly Midwestern divisions.  The other realignment idea I heard, having two 15 team leagues with no divisions is stupid.  That would require an interleague series every day of the season.  As people were complaining about how the 6 teams in the NL Central really screwed up scheduling for interleague play, all I could think of was that it would be great to get Houston out of the NL Central.  Please make this change.

U.S. Population Density and High-Speed Rail

Via the Dish, Tim DeChant on high-speed rail:
Low population densities are often cited as the reason why high-speed rail would never work in the United States. While it’s true that typical American metropolitan areas sprawl far and wide, many larger cities are still relatively dense, and a surprising number of our states are as dense as some European nations. California, for example, has just over 90 people per square kilometer (234 per square mile), while Spain has 88 people per square kilometer (231 per square mile). Given the success of Spain’s rail system, it stands to reason that California would be fertile ground for high-speed rail.
It’s probably not a bad argument to make, and one that sheds some light on why the Obama administration directed money toward certain states for rail upgrades. Ohio and Florida—both of which unfortunately rejected rail funding—are about as dense as France, a world leader in high-speed rail.¹ Illinois, Virginia, and North Carolina sit one density level down, but are on par with Spain and Austria, both of which host high-speed rail. As a state, Illinois may be a poor example since 75 percent of the state’s residents lives in the Chicago metro area. But if you look at the wider region—from Milwaukee to Detroit to Toledo, with Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati not much farther away—you can see where the Midwest upgrades were headed.
I so wanted to see rail service start between Cincinnati and Cleveland.  It wouldn't have been high-speed, but we have to start somewhere.  The Northeast Corridor service on Amtrak is so nice, I would love to travel in the Midwest that way.  Unfortunately, Republicans want to make sure we are screwed when oil becomes more scarce.  Their irrational hatred of all things passenger rail is completely stupid, as is their irrational hatred of all things Obama.  When it comes down to it, many Republican hobby horses are completely stupid.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Pocket Particle Accelerator Like This One Could Bring Safer Nuclear Power to Neighborhoods, at Popular Science:
A wee particle accelerator in the English countryside could be a harbinger of a safer, cleaner future of energy. Specifically, nuclear energy, but not the type that has wrought havoc in Japan and controversy throughout Europe and the U.S. It would be based on thorium, a radioactive element that is much more abundant, and much more safe, than traditional sources of nuclear power.
Some advocates believe small nuclear reactors powered by thorium could wean the world off coal and natural gas, and do it more safely than traditional nuclear. Thorium is not only abundant, but more efficient than uranium or coal — one ton of the silver metal can produce as much energy as 200 tons of uranium, or 3.5 million tons of coal, as the Mail on Sunday calculates it.The newspaper took a tour of a small particle accelerator that could be used to power future thorium reactors. Nicknamed EMMA — the Electron Model of Many Applications — the accelerator would be used to jump-start fissile nuclear reactions inside a small-scale thorium power plant.
Thorium reactors would not melt down, in part because they require an external input to produce fission. Thorium atoms would release energy when bombarded by high-energy neutrons, such as the type supplied in a particle accelerator.
Providing that stimulus is one obstacle to building small thorium reactors — but a new generation of accelerators like EMMA, and someday potentially even smaller, luggage-sized ones — could do the job.
Distributed power generation would greatly ease transmission losses in the grid.  The additional efficiency would dramatically decrease the amount of energy generation required. 

American Decline-Infrastructure Edition

Marketwatch, via Ritholtz:
Analysts are pessimistic about the U.S. transportation system making progress. There isn’t enough money to maintain what the country has right now, much less to get to quality levels that are giving other nations a competitive advantage. “Substantial under-investment won’t affect the economy in the short run, but productivity will be affected in the long run,” said Gus Faucher, an economist with Moody’s Analytics. “People will be stuck in traffic more often, stuck at airports longer, and that lost time adds up over 10, 20 years.”
It will also mean higher transportation costs, whether rail, trucking or shipping, and that will make American-made goods more expensive overseas and less competitive, Faucher said.
Today U.S. infrastructure investments amount to 2.4% of the nation’s GDP, versus 5% in Europe and 9% in China, according to a data from the World Economic Forum.
“Long term, that’s going to hurt our economic position in terms of freight movement and maintaining the viability of our metropolitan areas,” said Peter Peyser, managing principal of Blank Rome Government LLC, a lobbying firm.
Deficits in the U.S. trust funds that support the country’s interstate system and civil aviation have been widening for years as tax revenue failed to keep up with inflation. To fill the gaps, Congress has been taking cash from the general till.
But tax revenue for the general budget has declined as well because of the economic recession and the Bush-era tax cuts, and now Congress is determined to eliminate the shortfall by reducing spending across the board.
In the latest House bill for highways, lawmakers envision sharp cuts in spending that could halt upgrades to federal roads and bridges, and leave barely enough resources to maintain the existing infrastructure.
Research points to economic consequences of that trend. For every $1 billion pulled from the U.S. budget for highways, an estimated 30,000 jobs are lost, according to a 2007 report from the Department of Transportation.
“Clearly, numerous major engineering and construction companies will be impacted by the shrinking U.S. federal budget,” said Gregory Garrett, managing director of the government and contractor services at Navigant, a consulting firm.
We've been underinvesting for decades.  This bill will come due in the future when we can't afford for it to.  The farm-to-market road system is already showing the wear.  Our county has hundreds of miles of roads, and they are able to repave less than 20 miles a year.  Those roads are starting to fall apart, and we will never have the money available to bring them back to the condition they were in 10 years ago.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Battle of Bunker Hill

June 17, 1775:
The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775, mostly on and around Breed's Hill, during the Siege of Boston early in the American Revolutionary War. The battle is named after the adjacent Bunker Hill, which was peripherally involved in the battle and was the original objective of both colonial and British troops, and is occasionally referred to as the "Battle of Breed's Hill."
On June 13, 1775, the leaders of the colonial forces besieging Boston learned that the British generals were planning to send troops out from the city to occupy the unoccupied hills surrounding the city. In response to this intelligence, 1,200 colonial troops under the command of William Prescott stealthily occupied Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, constructed an earthen redoubt on Breed's Hill, and built lightly fortified lines across most of the Charlestown Peninsula.
When the British were alerted to the presence of the new position the next day, they mounted an attack against them. After two assaults on the colonial lines were repulsed with significant British casualties, the British finally captured the positions on the third assault, after the defenders in the redoubt ran out of ammunition. The colonial forces retreated to Cambridge over Bunker Hill, suffering their most significant losses on Bunker Hill.
While the result was a victory for the British, they suffered heavy losses: over 800 wounded and 226 killed, including a notably large number of officers. The battle is seen as an example of a Pyrrhic victory, as while their immediate objective (the capture of Bunker Hill) was achieved, the loss of nearly a third of their forces did not significantly alter the state of siege. Meanwhile, colonial forces were able to retreat and regroup in good order having suffered few casualties. Furthermore, the battle demonstrated that relatively inexperienced colonial forces were willing and able to stand up to regular army troops in a pitched battle.
Sarah Palin can fill everybody in, she was at the Bunker Hill Monument on her bus tour.

Bunker Hill Monument

Chart of the Day

At Sankey, via Ritholtz:

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Rising water, falling journalism, at Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
On June 7, there was a fire -- apparently unrelated to the flooding -- in an electrical switchgear room at Fort Calhoun (Nuclear Station). For about 90 minutes, the pool where spent fuel is stored had no power for cooling. OPPD reported that "offsite power remained available, as well as the emergency diesel generators if needed." But the incident was yet another reminder of the plant's potential vulnerability. And so, Fort Calhoun remains on emergency alert because of the flood -- which is expected to worsen by early next week. On June 9, the Army Corps of Engineers announced PDF that the Missouri River would crest at least two feet higher in Blair than previously anticipated.
The Fort Calhoun plant has never experienced a flood like this before. The plant began commercial operation in 1973, long after the construction of six huge dams -- from Fort Peck in Montana to Gavins Point in South Dakota -- that control the Missouri River flows and normally prevent major floods. But, this spring, heavy rains and high snowpack levels in Montana, northern Wyoming, and the western Dakotas have filled reservoirs to capacity, and unprecedented releases from the dams are now reaching Omaha and other cities in the Missouri River valley. Floodgates that haven't been opened in 50 years are spilling 150,000 cubic feet per second -- enough water to fill more than a hundred Olympic-size swimming pools in one minute. And Fort Calhoun isn't the only power plant affected by flooding on the Missouri: The much larger Cooper Nuclear Station in Brownville, Nebraska, sits below the Missouri's confluence with the Platte River -- which is also flooding. Workers at Cooper have constructed barriers and stockpiled fuel for the plant's three diesel generators while, like their colleagues at Fort Calhoun, they wait for the inevitable.
This is interesting, I would guess it is probably safe, but it bears watching.  There are also a couple of links about the danger of routine antibiotic use in confinement livestock operations.

Ideas For a Functional Government

"How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans", from The Atlantic, via Ritholtz:
Many Americans assume that’s just how democracy works, that this is how it’s always been, that it’s the system the Founders created. But what we have today is a far cry from what the Founders intended. George Washington and James Madison both warned of the dangers posed by political parties. Defenders of the party system argue that parties—including Madison’s own—arose almost immediately after the nation was founded. But those were not parties in the modern sense: they were factions uniting on a few major issues, not marching in lockstep on every issue, large and small. And while some defend the party system as a necessary provider of cues to voters who otherwise might not know how to vote, the Internet and mass media now make it possible for voters to educate themselves about candidates for office.
What we have today is not a legacy of 1789 but an outdated relic of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Progressives pushed for the adoption of primary elections. By 1916, all but a handful of states had instituted the “direct primary” system, under which a party candidate was selected by a public vote, rather than by party leaders in backroom deals. But the primaries, and the nominating conventions, were open only to party members. This reform was supposed to give citizens a bigger role in the election process. Instead, the influence of party leaders has been supplanted by that of a subset of party activists who are often highly ideological and largely uninterested in finding common ground. In Delaware in 2010, a mere 30,000 of that state’s nearly 1 million people kept Mike Castle, a popular congressman and former governor, off the general-election ballot. In Utah, 3,500 people meeting in a closed convention deprived the rest of the state’s 3 million residents of an opportunity to consider reelecting their longtime senator Robert Bennett. For most of the voters who go to the polls in November, the names on the ballot have been reduced to only those candidates the political parties will allow them to choose between. Americans demand a multiplicity of options in almost every other aspect of our lives. And yet we allow small bands of activists to limit our choices of people to represent us in making the nation’s laws.
I am not calling for a magical political “center”: many of the most important steps forward in our history have not come from the center at all, including women’s suffrage and the civil-rights movement, and even our founding rebellion against the British crown. Nor am I pleading for consensus: consensus is not possible in a diverse nation of 300 million people (compromise is the essential ingredient in legislative decision-making). And I’m not pushing for harmony: democracy depends on vigorous debate among competing views. The problem is not division but partisanship—advantage-seeking by private clubs whose central goal is to win political power. There are different ways to conduct elections and manage our government—and strengthen the democratic process. Here are some suggestions designed to turn our political system on its head, so that people, not parties, control our government.
Defactionalizing the political system would be nice, but as long as one party is run by fundamentalists and the other is run by people afraid to say what needs said, we're not going to get somewhere.  These recommendations are a good start, but there is a long way to go.  Until somebody can stand up and get rid of the Bush tax cuts, we won't be able to fix anything. 

No Kidding, U.S. Oil Contractors Working in Iraq

NYT, via Mark Thoma:
The auction’s outcome helped defuse criticism in the Arab world that the United States had invaded Iraq for its oil. “No one, even the United States, can steal the oil,” the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said at the time.
But American companies can, apparently, drill for the oil.
In fact, American drilling companies stand to make tens of billions of dollars from the new petroleum activity in Iraq long before any of the oil producers start seeing any returns on their investments.
Lukoil and many of the other international oil companies that won fields in the auction are now subcontracting mostly with the four largely American oil services companies that are global leaders in their field: Halliburton, Baker Hughes, Weatherford International and Schlumberger. Those four have won the largest portion of the subcontracts to drill for oil, build wells and refurbish old equipment.
“Iraq is a huge opportunity for contractors,” Alex Munton, a Middle East analyst for Wood Mackenzie, a research and consulting firm based in Edinburgh, said by telephone.
I'm just shocked that U.S. contractors picked up the bulk of the oil work in Iraq.  Who'd have thought that the world's largest oil consumer would have the most experienced oil workers in the world?  There was no doubt whatsoever when we invaded Iraq that U.S. oil workers wouldn't be drilling for oil there.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Did A U.S. Team Win the Stanley Cup?

Andrew Cohen on the Bruins' win:
Indeed, in the end, the Bruins won because they played like Canadians. Or at least how Canadians would like to think they play hockey when it really counts. Determined. Gritty. Consistent. Makes sense, since the team from Boston had more Canadians on it than the team from Canada. The Canucks have six American-born players on their roster (and 16 Canadians and nine Europeans, by my count). The Bruins have only two US-born players on their roster. And every single one of their forwards (save for David Krejci) are Canadian. It takes a village to finish a cross-check—but it's still Canada's game (Thomas, not for nothing, was born in Flint, Michigan—paging Michael Moore!).
In the United States, the playoffs were shown on NBC and Versus. Those broadcasts were chock full of denunciations about the dirty play of the Canucks early in the series. In the meantime, in Canada, on the CBC and RDS, the view was quite different. The Bruins didn't so much win the series as the Canucks, inexplicably, lost it. And Boston was just as dirty, or more so, than Vancouver. If you watched the two game broadcasts in quick succession, you might have gone stretches at times wondering if you were watching the same game. For the sake of comity, let's just say that both teams played dirty at times, and several players were severely injured as a result. Same as it ever was. 
I like the description of the different perspectives of the broadcasts.  Again, I found it funny that people were cheering USA! USA! when the Bruins won.  Oh well.

George W. Bush as Dictatorial Thug

NYT, via Ritholtz:
Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information on Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor who writes an influential blog that criticized the war.
In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted “to get” Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful.
I thought it was pretty obvious that Bush was digging up dirt on opponents, but I just wonder how many dozens or hundreds of people were targeted.  I always figured people were overreacting when they said they ended up on the terrorist watch list for being opposed to the Iraq War, but at this point the thuggish and cruel behavior demonstrated by the Bush administration makes me think that some of these people were lucky they weren't detained and tortured.  Now, Obama is using drones to target at least one U.S. citizen for attack, so he isn't much better.  There are a number of Bush White House officials who should be prosecuted, including Dick Cheney, John Yoo, David Addington and a number of others.  They are criminals and cowards.

Chart of the Day

To follow up on my previous post, this chart from the Frum Forum via Mark Thoma:

Labor is getting the shaft, and all the conventional wisdom is that capital deserves the return.  Things will get worse before they get better.

Gambling or Investing

via Ritholtz, the Wall Street Journal:
Sometimes, the line between investing and gambling can be hard to see. Tony Emerson, an investor and gambler in Austin, Texas, said that what starts out as research-driven investing can turn into a blind gamble quickly.
"Consumer sentiment is impossible to predict," Mr. Emerson said. "Models and analyses that once seemed to work to predict stock movement failed when the economy crashed."
Still, it doesn't take a market collapse for the similarities to show themselves.
"The losses and gains are generally less dramatic than craps, blackjack, roulette or poker. But just like gambling, the more you risk, the more you stand to gain," Mr. Emerson said.
The real problem, according to Todd Tresidder, a former hedge-fund manager who is now a financial coach, is that most people don't understand the odds. He argues what sounds like card-counting the markets: knowing the math takes gambling out of the equation.
"If you invest like most people, there is no difference," Mr. Tresidder said. Investors, he argues, understand the odds. "The only way you will profit over time is either by sheer luck or by betting on positive mathematical expectancy situations," he said.
Mr. Tresidder has a point about knowing the odds, but don't a lot of gamblers know the odds? They pull the trigger, make the wager, or trade anyway. It is the thrill of betting that they love.
Maggie Baker, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, said that the neurological similarities between traders and gamblers are striking. Whether they are about to make a trade or plunking down a bet, the pleasure center in the brain lights up, Ms. Baker said.
The way I invest has to be gambling, but the house take is smaller, and the odds are that if the market is going up, new money will prop up prices.  If you sit down at a blackjack table, it doesn't really matter if another player sits down, the odds stay the same.  But if you buy 100 shares of Caterpillar, and a bunch of other people show up and want to play, you can make money from them playing.  It is an entire different animal.  Really, value investing is buying something which you think people will eventually want to buy, so you anticipate the price will go up.  That may or may not happen.  As the old saying goes, the markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.  I think it is gambling with more favorable rules. 

Taking An Economic Lesson From Germany

Harold Meyerson looks at the differences between the U.S. and German manufacturing sectors (via Mark Thoma):
Of course, if you listened to the Republican presidential candidates’ debate this week, you’d conclude that the way to revive the economy generally and manufacturing particularly is simply to deregulate business and eliminate its taxes. (This is also the Republican remedy for measles and gout.) Throw in the defunding of the National Labor Relations Board, which Newt Gingrich advocated, and you’d get an economy that competed with Asia’s low-wage manufacturing regions. They’d pass us on their way up; we’d pass them on our way down.
Fortunately, that’s not the only economic model out there. For a growing number of economists, pundits and even the occasional CEO, Germany offers lessons in how an advanced economy can compete globally and actually raise, not lower, its living standards.
In a March paper for the Council on Foreign Relations, Nobel laureate economist Michael Spence and New York University researcher Sandile Hlatshwayo argue that Germany’s success at building a booming manufacturing sector that constitutes almost twice the share of the economy that ours does is largely the result of “a broad agreement among business, labor and government” to keep wages competitive and high-value-added production at home. Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, also attributes Germany’s overwhelmingly positive trade balance and comparatively low unemployment rate (7 percent) to that tripartite system. David Leonhardt, the New York Times economics columnist, wrote last week that Germany owed its edge in global competitiveness to a range of policies that could not be more different than ours: limiting homeownership, improving education (including vocational and technical education) and keeping unions strong — which is why “middle-class pay,” he noted, “has risen at roughly the same rate as top incomes.”
This growing appreciation of the German model is a welcome change from the laissez-faire approach to globalization that has dominated U.S. policy and discourse for decades, dooming many Rust Belt denizens to lives of crystal meth and quiet desperation. But some of these analyses still understate the crucial distinctions between Germany’s stakeholder capitalism, which benefits the many, and our shareholder capitalism, which increasingly benefits only the few.
I think the shot about the Rust Belt hits below the belt.  The whole article is very interesting.  Don't expect U.S. business approaches to change.  American politicians are only concerned with placating the rubes with the minimum real benefit necessary while further enriching those at the top.  Marx's home may be amenable to balancing labor and capital but in the United States, labor is shunted to the corner.  Capital always wins.  The Republican party caters to every whim of the interests of capital, while the Democrats mouth platitudes to labor while winning table scraps for the masses as compromise with Republicans in catering to capital.  Money talks, bullshit walks.  Republicans have snowed the middle class into believing that government is the enemy and business is the friend of the middle class.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Watching the Republican candidates and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it is perfectly clear who will win, and it won't be the lower 90% of the American populace.  Check out the tax proposals of Tim Pawlenty and Paul Ryan. I'll be sitting on my pile of capital, pissed off at the world, but I'll keep getting richer, without laboring much.  Pass me a beer, I'm gonna have to be drunk for the foreseeable future.

Michele Bachmann and Ayn Rand

Jonathan Chait links the conservative Christian movement to Randians:
The religious right has its origins and deepest roots in social issues, as Goldberg shows. But it has evolved into a more full-fledged worldview with coherent positions on economics and foreign policy that often motivate its believers just as strongly. That is a key development that the many analysts who have been dismissing Bachmann have failed to grasp. Twenty years ago, a figure like Bachmann would represent a sizeable but still minority constituency in the party, speaking to a cadre motivated by social issues but unable to represent the concerns of most Republican voters. (For instance, Pat Robertson, the televangelist who turned in a strong showing in the 1988 Iowa caucus but fizzled afterward.)
But Bachmann is a cutting edge religious right conservative, espousing an apocalyptic free market fundamentalism that's become virtually indistinguishable from the apocalyptic Randian worldview of the party's libertarian wing. Bachmann spent months addressing Tea Party rallies where she focused primarily on economics.  Meanwhile, the movement's embrace of right-wing Israeli nationalism has merged with mainstream Republican foreign policy thought. (Not just Bachmann but figures like Mitt Romney* and Newt Gingrich will appear at Glenn Beck's nut-fest in Jerusalem this August.)
The skepticism about Bachmann's prospects reflects an antiquated assumption that there's a natural ceiling within the GOP on the support base of a hard-core religious conservative. Yet both the movement and the party have changed in ways that make that less and less true.
*Update: Romney's campaign now says he will not attend.
I think the strong doctrinaire Biblical fundamentalism of the Christian conservatives has been widened to an American exceptionalism which encompasses some imaginary Capitalistic fundamentalism which overlaps with the economic fundamentalism of Ayn Rand.  I've tried to puzzle through why so many Christian conservatives latch on to the beliefs of Ayn Rand when she is so anti-Christian, but I think that they just welcome fellow travelers who share some core beliefs, much like Jewish Zionists welcome the support of the Christian Zionists who believe that all Jews who do not accept Jesus at the rapture (I think 2/3 of all Jews) will be cast into Hell.

Update:  The underlying story by Michelle Goldberg, which Chait is referencing, is well worth the read, but it may be a little much for those who are squeamish about creepy Christians in politics.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: America For Sale, by Dylan Ratigan:
As with mortgage securitizations, the conflicts of interest are intense. Pennsylvania nearly privatized its turnpike, with Morgan Stanley on multiple sides of the deal as both an advisor to the state and a potential bidder. As you'll see, these deals are often profitable because they constrain the public's ability to govern, not because they are creating value. For instance, private infrastructure company Transurban, now attempting to privatize a section of the Beltway around DC, is ready to walk away if local governments insist on an environmental review of the project. Many of them have clauses enshrining their monopolistic positions, preventing states and localities from changing zoning, parking, or transportation options.
While the trend is worldwide, privatization of public infrastructure only came to America en masse in the 2000s. It is worth discussing, because where it has happened it has sparked deep and intense anger. In Chicago, protests flared as Mayor Richard Daley pushed the privatization deal through. In Wisconsin, recent protests and counter-protests around controversial Governor Scott Walker revolved around, among other issues, the privatization of state medical services. In Ohio, a controversy is swirling around the political proposal to put the turnpike up for sale, while in Indiana, the state toll road has been in private hands since 2006 (upsetting the truckers who are paying much higher tolls).
The political organizing is intense - on the Republican side, conservative groups are aggressively driving it as a strategy for fiscal prudence. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the influential think tank that targets conservative state and local officials, has launched an initiative called "Publicopoly", a play on the board game Monopoly. "Select your game square", says the webpage, and ALEC will help you privatize one of seven sectors: government operations, education, transportation and infrastructure, public safety, environment, health, or telecommunications.
On the Democratic side, the Obama administration has been encouraging Chinese sovereign wealth funds to invest in American infrastructure as a way to bring in foreign capital. It was Chicago Mayor and Democratic icon Richard Daley who privatized Chicago's Midway Airport, Chicago's Skyway road, and Chicago's Parking Meters. Out of office after 22 years, he is now a paid advisor to the law firm that negotiated the parking meter sale.
Privatizing public assets is always a losing deal for the taxpayers.  Ohio is still studying privatizing the Turnpike, and since Republicans believe taxes must always go down until they reach zero, they will continue to privatize assets to pay for those tax cuts:
Ohio might get several billion dollars if it leases the Ohio Turnpike, and the director of the state Department of Transportation says most of the money would go toward projects in the northern part of the state, where the 241-mile toll road is located.
Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray is defending the idea of leasing the turnpike amid growing opposition from leaders in the region who worry that having a private operator for the roadway could create other problems, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported.
"I'm not here to pick on the turnpike," Wray said. "We are looking at what do we need to do to benefit the state, and this is an asset that has value to us that's not being leveraged."
Ohio lawmakers are working on the two-year state budget, and the Senate version would provide for the Legislature to guide the bidding process if the turnpike were sold or leased.
Republican Gov. John Kasich wants to lease the roadway but ensure the deal benefits Ohio, Wray said. He said Kasich would prefer a 30-year lease that includes a payment up front and a share of toll revenue each year, and the governor is hoping to get at least $2.4 billion from any lease deal.
I love that Jerry Wray uses the word leveraged.  That is such a private equity style word that translates to me as make a bunch of money by gambling.  Leveraged really means used as collateral to borrow against, but in the end, privatization means making private entities rich at the expense of taxpayers.  Don't let anybody tell you different.

Boston Wins Stanley Cup While Vancouver Burns

Angry, drunken fans ran wild Wednesday night after the Vancouver Canucks' 4-0 loss to Boston in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, setting cars and garbage cans ablaze, smashing windows, showering giant TV screens with beer bottles and dancing atop overturned vehicles. Later, looters smashed windows and ran inside department stores.
"We have a small number of hooligans on the streets of Vancouver causing problems," Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said. "It's absolutely disgraceful and shameful and by no means represents the city of Vancouver. ... We have had an extraordinary run in the playoff, great celebration. What's happened tonight is despicable."
At a Bay store, looters were seen grabbing T-shirts and anything else they could get their hands on. Young women were seen escaping with MAC cosmetics, with one carrying out part of a mannequin. The landmark building was filling with smoke as people, their faces covered in bandannas, continued the violence.
"It's terrible," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said, shaking his head. "This city and province has a lot to be proud of, the team we have and the guys we have in here. It's too bad."
Don't mess with those Canadians' hockey.  The generally staid, polite Canadians rioted after the Canucks fell in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.  A Canada-based team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993.  Chants of USA! USA! broke out in Boston, which seems ironic since only 5 Bruins players hail from the United States, although star goalie Tim Thomas is one of them.  I guess it is clarifying to see that there is no real difference between a Canadian city like Vancouver and U.S. cities like Los Angeles.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chart of the Day

Pawlenty's tax cuts vs. Bush's tax cuts, from Ezra Klein:

Note that these are pretty much also the Paul Ryan tax cuts.  I'm glad they are looking after the wealthy, nobody else does.  Everybody else picks on the poor guys (meaning the rich).

Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker

Not only Rose and Shoeless Joe have run into trouble because of gambling on baseball.  From SI in 1989:
Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are linked by more than their 4,000-plus hits and hell-for-leather styles. It is little remembered that 63 years ago Cobb—like Rose today—was embroiled in a gambling scandal that featured an alleged vendetta and complaints about a commissioner who was slow to act.
In 1926 retired pitcher Dutch Leonard told American League president Ban Johnson that near the end of the 1919 season, Leonard and Tiger teammate Cobb, along with Tris Speaker and Smokey Joe Wood of the Indians, had met beneath the stands in Detroit and reached an understanding that the Indians, who had clinched second place behind the White Sox, would lose to the Tigers the next day so that Detroit could finish third and claim a share of World Series money. Leonard said that to profit on the arrangement Cobb planned to bet $2,000 on the game, Leonard $1,500 and Speaker and Wood $1,000 each. In the end, Cleveland did lose, 9-5, but Cobb didn't get his money down in time, and only a small portion of the others' money was wagered.
Leonard was said to harbor grudges against both Cobb and Speaker—Cobb, the Tigers' player-manager, had released him in 1926, and Speaker, the Indians' player-manager, had refused to pick him up—but he did possess two incriminating letters from Cobb and Wood. In his letter Wood had written, "If we ever have another chance like this we will know enough to try to get [our bets] down early." Cobb had written, "Wood and myself are considerably disappointed in our business proposition."
The public didn't get wind of Leonard's accusations until Cobb and Speaker both retired unexpectedly after the '26 season. Johnson had allowed them to resign rather than make the affair public. But he gave Leonard's letters to commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who crossed Johnson by revealing them to the press. While fans clamored for a decision, Landis spent more than two months looking into the case. He deemed the charges rather old, and sensed the overwhelming public support for Cobb and Speaker. Uncharacteristically brushing off a number of questions that remained unanswered, Landis exonerated everyone involved.
To their dying days, Cobb, Speaker and Wood all denied any wrongdoing. But baseball had been rife with gambling early in their careers. As Woods told baseball historian Mark Alvarez in 1975, when he was asked about the scandal, "Things were so different then."
The difference, Cobb and Speaker are in the Hall of Fame, Rose and Jackson aren't.

The fictional Shoeless Joe was right:

About Rick Perry

Hendrik Hertzberg, on the most recent not-yet-running heartthrob of the Republican base via the Dish:
On the other hand, Perry is a little bit “out there,” even in a Republican context. He loves the Constitution, needless to say, but he wants to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment. That is, he wants to take the power to elect senators away from the people and give it to back to state legislators. He also wants to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. That is, he wants to outlaw the Federal income tax—a step which, given that he also wants to eliminate the capital-gains tax, the corporate-income tax, and the inheritance tax, would put Uncle Sam in a bit of a hole. He thinks Texas has a right to secede from the Union and maybe ought to do just that if Washington keeps oppressing patriotic Americans with things like health care. He wants to let states “opt out” of Social Security. In 2004, he refused to commute or even delay the death sentence of an almost certainly innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004. Last month he signed a Texas law that forces any woman seeking an abortion to submit to a pre-procedure sonogram and forces her doctor to hand her the image of the fetus, tell her the size of its limbs and organs, and make her listen to its heartbeat.
This spring, Governor Perry proclaimed “the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.” (When God didn’t come through, the governor sought aid from the federal government, which did.)  (emphasis mine) That time, at least, he invited participation from “all faiths and traditions” (other than the tradition represented by Thomas Paine, Mark Twain, and the First Amendment, of course). But then, last week—well, here’s how it’s described in the official gubernatorial press release:

Gov. Rick Perry has proclaimed Saturday, Aug. 6th, as a Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation. He has invited governors across the country to join him on Aug. 6th to participate in The Response, a non-denominational, apolitical, Christian prayer meeting hosted by the American Family Association at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

It’s one thing—and not a good thing—for a governor to use his office to sponsor a “Christian prayer meeting” and instruct us to “call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.” But the American Family Association? Uh, oh.
Wow.  I'm a bit overwhelmed by the crazy coming out of the Republican party.  The scary part is that this guy has a chance just by saying, hey look, Texas' economy is doing really well.  You know what, oil prices are pretty high too.  I don't think Rick Perry is creating jobs, unless he starts building up a campaign organization.  People do move to Texas from other parts of the country, big deal.  People flocked to California for 80 years.  People moved to Georgia in droves.  All I can say is that we've done the Texas governor as President thing, and it didn't turn out well.  I don't think this guy is any better than George W. Bush, and I just don't agree with the idea that Barack Obama is doing a worse job than GWB.  The only person I think who can complain about Obama's job performance versus George W. Bush would be Osama Bin Laden, and he can't complain because he's at the bottom of the ocean somewhere.

The Battle of Saipan

The landings on the island began June 15, 1944:
Bombardment of Saipan began on 13 June 1944. Fifteen battleships were involved, and 165,000 shells were fired. Seven modern fast battleships delivered twenty-four hundred 16 in (410 mm) shells, but to avoid potential minefields, fire was from a distance of 10,000 yd (9,100 m) or more, and crews were inexperienced in shore bombardment. The following day the eight pre-Pearl Harbor battleships and eleven cruisers under Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf replaced the fast battleships but were lacking in time and ammunition.
The landings began at 07:00 on 15 June 1944. More than 300 LVTs landed 8,000 Marines on the west coast of Saipan by about 09:00. Eleven fire support ships covered the Marine landings. The naval force consisted of the battleships USS Tennessee and California. The cruisers were USS Birmingham and Indianapolis. The destroyers were USS Norman Scott, Monssen, Colahan, Halsey Powell, Bailey, Robinson and Albert W. Grant. Careful Japanese artillery preparation—placing flags in the bay to indicate the range—allowed them to destroy about 20 amphibious tanks, and the Japanese strategically placed barbed wire, artillery, machine gun emplacements, and trenches to maximize the American casualties. However, by nightfall the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions had a beachhead about 6 mi wide and 0.5 mile deep.  In the end (July 9), almost the entire garrison of troops on the island—at least 30,000—died. For the Americans, the victory was the most costly to date in the Pacific War. 2,949 Americans were killed and 10,364 wounded, out of 71,000 who landed.

County Fair Season is Here

The Paulding County Fair began on Monday.  With the exception of June 26-28, a fair will be going on somewhere in Ohio from now until October 15.  Be sure to check out the livestock and chow down on funnel cake or elephant ears or some other deep fried treat at a fair near you.

Moerlein Saengerfest Maibock

The beer is pretty light and smooth, and it comes with an interesting history lesson about the Cincinnati Music Hall.  Prosit.

Is Lebron The Most Evil Person Ever?

Or is it just recency bias?  Should Clevelanders hate Lebron more than this guy?

Art Modell with the Lombardi Trophy won after moving the Browns to Baltimore.

Anyway, the Real Browns play in Baltimore.

Too Much Electricity

The Atlantic:
There will be a legal bill. That much is clear.
But little else is easily explained in a bizarre situation in the Pacific Northwest that's pit wind energy against hydropower, and caused the shutdown of thousands of wind turbines during a prime season of hard-blowing gusts.
Spring runoff has caused rushing waters in the Federal Columbia River Power System, making massive amounts of water power possible. In fact, there is too much power available to the northwest's power grid, threatening service and rate stability. Some generation has to be slowed or shutdown, or buyers outside the region found for the electricity.
The Bonneville Power Administration, which manages power transmission in parts of eight Western states and sells hydropower from federal dams, has decided to curtail windpower to solve its overgeneration problem.
Since May 18, the decision has disrupted operations at 35 wind farms with more than 2,000 turbines stalled almost daily in the Columbia Gorge along the border of Oregon and Washington. Those generators have contracts with BPA to transmit wind power. Now, they are tallying ongoing losses already in the millions.
The explanation is very interesting:
The agency has grappled mightily with the demands of managing that power, however, particularly as development centers around the Columbia Gorge. With turbines located mostly in one place, the wind either blows there or doesn't, and wind power's effect on the grid fluctuates widely. Tasked with balancing the power supply to meet demand, an exercise that keeps power delivery and prices stable, BPA has had the most difficulty in spring, when wind power and hydropower peak simultaneously. Though BPA can spill water over dams to release oversupply in some cases, fast-falling water makes for bubbles in rivers, which dissolve as gas and can threaten endangered salmon.
The on or off fluctuations of renewable power make operating the grid very interesting.  It would seem like there could be some kind of potential energy storage solutions, even if they are pretty inefficient.  Something like pumping water uphill to run through turbines later, or electrolysis of water to store hydrogen for fuel cell consumption or something.  I guess that it is better to have too much power rather than not enough, but it will be interesting to see how the grid develops to handle more inconsistent power generation.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: U.S. Chamber's Tom Donohue tells Atlanta Rotary how business is faring in D.C., at the Saporta Report.  Yves said to read the last few paragraphs, and it was worth it:
Surprisingly, Donohue did advocate for tax increase. “I do want to increase the federal gas tax,” he said. “We haven’t done that in 18 years.”
Because vehicles have become so much more fuel efficient, drivers — including truckers — have been paying about half of what they used to pay in gasoline taxes. More revenue is needed to properly maintain the nation’s roads and highways. Donohue proposed increasing the gas tax by 5 cents a year for four years.
To those who would oppose such a gas tax increase, Donohue’s message was simple. “Don’t pay it,” he said. “Stay home.”
For much of his talk, Donohue was quite critical of the Obama administration. But he did praise the work that Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of GE (General Electric), is doing as head of Obama’s economic advisory panel.
In one of the funnier moments during his Rotary talk, Donohue was asked if Congress was going to raise the debt ceiling.
Yes, it will be raised, Donohue answered, mainly because the country can not afford to not pay its bills. To those newly-elected representatives who say they aren’t going to raise the debt ceiling and will shut down government, Donohue said the U.S. Chamber has its own message: “We’ll get rid of you.”
He then went on to praise U.S. House Speaker John Boehner for his Congressional leadership.
“He’s growing into his shorts,” Donohue said. “He’s put on his big boy pants.”
I think it is interesting that he is pushing a gas tax increase.  I would assume the construction companies who support the U.S. Chamber would like to see some work.  But even better is the warning to the Tea Party that if they cut off government spending to businesses and contractors, they will be defeated.  This should be fun to watch.  In other words, vote for tax cuts and decreased regulation, but don't take the money the government spends with us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Long Afternoon of Baling

422 bales.  About 60 lbs. each. I'm tired.  Quite a few were still wet.  Get to unload in the morning.  Still have more to bale, but probably won't get it in because of rain.

Monday, June 13, 2011

British Conservatives Want Nothing to Do with U.S.-style Healthcare

Krugman references an LA Times article:
Ask a Briton to describe “American-style” healthcare, and you’ll hear a catalog of horrors that include grossly expensive and unnecessary medical procedures and a privatized system that favors the rich. For a people accustomed to free healthcare for all, regardless of income, the fact that millions of their cousins across the Atlantic have no insurance and can’t afford decent treatment is a farce as well as a tragedy.
But critics here warn that a similarly bleak future may await Britain if a government plan to put more power in the hands of doctors and introduce more competition into the NHS succeeds — privatization by stealth, they say.
So frightening is the Yankee example that any British politician who values his job has to explicitly disavow it as a possible outcome. Twice.
“We will not be selling off the NHS, we will not be moving towards an insurance scheme, we will not introduce an American-style private system,” Prime Minister David Cameron emphatically told a group of healthcare workers in a nationally televised address last week.
Our system is the best in the world only if you mean that it is the most expensive in the world.

The Inverted "W"?

The Atlantic:
New York Yankees Joba Chamberlain has a torn ligament in his elbow. This means the two most hyped pitching phenoms of the 21st century, Joba and the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg, have now fallen victim to the same curse: the "Inverted W," or the "Inverted L," or whatever a particular trainer or sports physician wants to call it.

Per the website, the inverted W is the position of a pitcher's arms as he picks up the baseball during the cocking phase of a pitch. When winding up, "the pitcher picks up both of his elbows above his shoulder," creating the inverted W. This puts a lot of strain on both the shoulder and elbow, which many baseball mechanics experts think can tear the ulnar collateral ligament, which stabilizes the elbow.
Baseball observers have taken so long to identify the inverted W because it is a relatively recent development—that is, it didn't come into being until the windup disappeared almost entirely from baseball. Go back 40 to 50 years and look at pitchers like Warren Spahn or Juan Marichal and ask, "Why is it that they could pitch 300 more innings year after year and not hurt their arms?" There are several answers to that question, but the primary one is that pitches used to throw out of a full windup, which took advantage of the momentum of their whole body to give velocity to the pitch. In recent decades, with pitchers more concerned about holding runners on base, the windup has largely gone the way of the two-dollar hot dog. The Inverted W is the result of a pitcher trying to add speed or finesse on a pitch by forcing the delivery—in other words, his arm working against his body instead of with it.
This is not something I was familiar with.  I guess pitching out of the windup should put less strain on a pitcher, since he's using all of his body to gather momentum.  I'll just go with my theory that throwing the ball really hard makes a lot of pitchers arms give out.  100 mph is really hard. 

Republican Debate Tonight

At St. Anselm College.  Transportation for participants will be provided:

Paul Ryan will not be attending, the Wienermobile is broken down.

Will Greece Be Like Lehman?

Some are speculating about money market mutual funds breaking the buck:
Lending weight to the fears of another Lehman crisis, regulators are warning that in such a situation, even super-safe money market funds may not provide the risk-free refuge they proclaim to offer.
According to a recent report by Fitch, as of February, 44.3 percent of prime money market funds in the United States were invested in the short-term debt of European banks. Some of those institutions, like Deutsche Bank and Barclays, do not have dangerous Greek exposure. But some of those funds also hold shares of French banks like Société Générale, Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas, which do have significant Greek bond holdings — about 8.5 billion euros, or, in the case of BNP and Société Générale, about 10 percent of their Tier 1 capital.
This month, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Eric S. Rosengren, warned that the large share of European banks in American money market fund portfolios posed a Lehman-like risk if, in the wake of a default in Europe, panicky investors took their money out all at once.
“Money market mutual funds have the potential to be impacted should there be unexpected international financial problems emanating from Europe,” he said in a speech at Stanford.
The idea that European banks, not those in the United States, would take a hit if Greece defaulted, has sustained a view that such a crisis might be containable. But according to a recent analysis by The Street Light financial blog, this misses the point. It will be American banks and insurance companies that will have to make the lion’s share of default insurance payments to European institutions if Greece fails.
That would make this slowdown into another freefall.  I'm afraid this time taxpayers will take the damage yet again, but hopefully it doesn't cause a complete meltdown.  If taxpayers socialize more bank losses, bank profits ought to be confiscated whenever there are any.

Does Lebron Pay Ohio Taxes?

If so, John Kasich is a dumbass (he is anyway):
Without naming James, Kasich's resolution commends the Mavericks for their ''loyalty, integrity and teamwork.'' He also makes them honorary Ohioans.
The resolution singles out MVP Dirk Nowitzki for choosing to re-sign with the Mavericks and forego free agency in the summer of 2010, ''thus remaining loyal to the team, city and fans for whom he played his entire career.'' James made an opposite choice by departing the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami when he became a free agent.
I damn well know that Dirk Nowitzki doesn't pay taxes in Ohio.  If a businessman moved from Ohio to Florida to avoid paying Ohio taxes, John Kasich would consider him a rational actor, so what if Lebron moved to win basketball games?  I am assuming that Lebron doesn't have his primary home in Akron anymore, but if he did, he should send Kasich a letter with his taxes explaining that Kasich is a dick.  Anyway, Dirk Nowitzki remained loyal to the team, city and fans in Wurzburg, Germany by emigrating to the United States.  But John Kasich is too busy privatizing state government assets to notice such things.

Update:  It is obvious that Nowitzki stayed in Dallas because Texas has no income tax.

Michele Bachmann, Tea Party Favorite

Ezra Klein makes the case that Michele Bachmann is the candidate Sarah Palin was supposed to be:
And whatever it is that a tea partyer might not like about Palin, Bachmann’s got that covered, too. Want a candidate who can rattle off her reading list without embarrassing the ticket? “When I ask who she reads on the subject, she responds that she admires the late Milton Friedman as well as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. ‘I’m also an Art Laffer fiend — we’re very close,’ she adds. ‘And [Ludwig] von Mises. I love von Mises,’ getting excited and rattling off some of his classics like ‘Human Action’ and ‘Bureaucracy.’ ‘When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.’” Want a true believer who seems interested in winning the election rather than just carrying the torch? “We’ve got a huge messaging problem [on Medicare]. It needs to be called the 55-and-Under Plan. I can’t tell you the number of 78-year-old women who think we’re going to pull the rug out from under them.”
Bachmann is a better politician than Palin, a better policy wonk than Palin, and because she’s a better politician and a better policy wonk than Palin, she’s actually able to be a bit more extreme than Palin, as Palin rarely gets specific enough to do such precise ideological positioning. Put simply, Bachmann is the candidate Palin was supposed to be.
From what I've seen of Bachmann, she doesn't strike me as a mental heavyweight, even though she is an attorney and used to work for the IRS.  She definitely drinks the kool-aid, and she comes off to me as anti-intellectual, even when she's trying to sound smart, so that should be a benefit with the base.  I can't get over the crazy look in her eyes, and the fact that she can raise so much money totally floors me.  Overall though, the Wasilla Grifter has more people conned, and she will siphon off a ton of Bachmann support if she runs.  Neither would be qualified to be dog catcher in my opinion, but I can't control how crazy the GOP is these days.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Roundup Birth Defects: Regulators Knew World's Best-selling Herbicide Causes Problems, New Report Finds, at the Huffington Post:
Industry regulators have known for years that Roundup, the world's best-selling herbicide produced by U.S. company Monsanto, causes birth defects, according to a new report released Tuesday. The report, "Roundup and birth defects: Is the public being kept in the dark?" found regulators knew as long ago as 1980 that glyphosate, the chemical on which Roundup is based, can cause birth defects in laboratory animals.
But despite such warnings, and although the European Commission has known that glyphosate causes malformations since at least 2002, the information was not made public.
Instead regulators misled the public about glyphosate's safety, according to the report, and as recently as last year, the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, the German government body dealing with the glyphosate review, told the European Commission that there was no evidence glyphosate causes birth defects.
Published by Earth Open Source, an organization that uses open source collaboration to advance sustainable food production, the report comes months after researchers found that genetically-modified crops used in conjunction Roundup contain a pathogen that may cause animal miscarriages. After observing the newly discovered organism back in February, Don Huber, an emeritus professor at Purdue University, wrote an open letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting a moratorium on deregulating crops genetically altered to be immune to Roundup, which are commonly called Roundup Ready crops.
The hypothesis of Don Huber is going to be very significant.  More research will be required to test his hypothesis, but so far, I've heard that a number of researchers at Purdue signed a letter trying to debunk his claims.  The anti-Monsanto, anti-GMO crowd is going to hold on to this hypothesis until it is completely debunked.  If researchers can't or won't definitely prove that this hypothesis is wrong, they are going to start losing the public relations battle.  Maybe it won't matter, as weeds become more resistant to Roundup, but I think that group think without followup research, on both sides, is terrible policy. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chart of the Day

From Krugman, via Yglesias:

Looks to me like we could use single-payer health care.

Gorgeous Sky

Via the Dish, Chile's Atacama Desert:

Mmm, Chicken Litter for Feed

I didn't realize this, as pointed out by Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice:
And who better to trust on the issue of chicken safety than the people whose job is to sell us more chicken? Look, they voluntarily “suspended” sales—or will, in a month or so…

Environmentalists have long been concerned that the waste from chickens treated with roxarsone, when used as fertilizer on crops, causes arsenic to leach into water supplies and estuaries. Even cattle are exposed, since chicken litter is sometimes included in feed…

Just in case you thought a burger might be a safer choice. Yep, they feed chicken manure to cows. When I took a dairy-science course thirty years ago, one of the standard elements of the nutrition-calculation equations was a commercial supplement made by mixing poultry-barn waste with ground-up telephone directories (urea plus fiber), but I’m sure that’s been supplanted by now… there probably aren’t enough phone directories printed to make it economical these days. Don’t look so nauseated, just think of it as recycling, ya DFH!
Wow, that sounds good.  Routine use of antibiotics in production livestock is going to receive more and more attention in the next couple of years.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Udderly Gorgeous, at Der Spiegel:
Forget Germany's Next Top Model and Heidi Klum. This week, the German gaze was trained on the country's most beautiful cow. "Krista" became the envy of bovine beauty queens across the land when she won the grand prize at the 2011 German Holstein Show, her second time to take the pageant's top honor.

Krista successfully defended her 2009 title against a field of much heavier competition than that faced by most other beauty contestants. Of some two million hopeful dairy dames, just over 200 were chosen to lock horns over the grand prize, which comes complete with a trophy and cow-sized sash. Eight finalists strutted their stuff for a panel of jurors in the northern German city of Oldenburg on Thursday night. But it was Krista, described by juror Matthias Zens as "a perfect Holstein," who won over the jury with her professional demeanor and pleasing physique.

There were a lot of good links today, but most were pretty depressing, so I went with this story.

Hot Dog History

At Salon:
Early frankfurters were prepared in small butcher shops or kitchens and probably featured a coarser grind of meat than does the average modern hot dog, which is the product of emulsifying technology. But it's hard to pinpoint "average." Even today, the definition of "hot dog" is vague: Hot dogs can be made of beef or pork or both, with or without casings. According to the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink: "Most hot dogs are made from emulsified or finely chopped skeletal meats, but some contain organs and other 'variety' meats."
The origin of the term "hot dog" is so contentious that there is a 300-page scholarly book on the subject. The author, David Cohen, has been researching the term since 1978. His co-author, the incomparable word sleuth Barry Popik (who is famous in etymology circles for his contributions to the academic study of the word "dude") uncovered the proletarian dog's curiously blue-blooded roots: "Hot dog" was popular slang on the Yale campus in the 1890s; the "dog" was a humorous reference to the dubious origins of sausage meat. As Cohen says, "College students since time immemorial have combined a keen sense of wit with occasional bad taste. Both came into play in referring to a hot sausage as 'hot dog.' The term at first was disgusting, but of course it gradually caught on."
It seems like a good summer subject.  I'm partial to burgers though.