Saturday, July 9, 2011

Belfast's Bloody Sunday

July 10, 1921:
On 8 July, the RIC attempted to enter the mainly Catholic and republican area around Union Street and Stanhope Street. However, they were confronted by about 15 IRA volunteers in a firefight that lasted over three hours.
The following day, 9 July, the IRA ambushed an armoured police truck on Raglan Street, killing one RIC man, injuring two more and destroying their armoured car. Around 14 IRA men took part in the operation. They had been alerted to the police presence by local residents banging dustbin lids to warn the IRA of the RIC patrol.
This sparked an outbreak of ferocious fighting between Catholics and Protestants in west Belfast on the following day, Sunday 10 July, in which 16 civilians (11 Catholics and 5 Protestants) lost their lives and 161 houses were destroyed. Of the houses destroyed, 150 were Catholic.
Gun battles raged all day along the sectarian 'boundary' between the Falls and Shankill Roads and rival gunmen used rifles, machine guns and hand grenades in the clashes. Gunmen were seen firing from windows, rooftops and street corners. A "Loyalist mob, several thousand strong" attempted to storm the Catholic Falls Road, carrying petrol and other flammable materials.
Another four people died over the following two days. While the IRA was involved in the violence, it did not control the actions of the Catholic community. An IRA officer reported that "the Catholic mob is almost beyond control".
The violence occurred only one day before a truce between the IRA and British forces formally ended the conflict - though in the north the official truce did not end the fighting. IRA members later recalled, "The Truce was not observed by either side in the north". The leader of the Belfast IRA's Active Service Unit, Roger McCorley, stated that "the Truce lasted six hours only".
I wasn't familiar with this Bloody Sunday, only the Derry Bloody Sunday (January 30, 1972)  There were a lot of bloody days during the Irish Civil War.  What a terrible mess.

Chart of the Day

Ezra Klein:

Republican messaging keeps getting more and more effective, even though it is more and more detatched from reality.  Go figure.  All the Reaganophiles would be shocked to know St. Ronnie RASIED taxes to try to narrow deficits.  They would also be shocked to realize they don't know much.

Notre Dame Bengal Bouts Alum Is Now A Pro Boxer

The Atlantic:
As soon as he could drive, Mike Lee would venture from suburban Wheaton, Illinois into tough South Chicago to train at local boxing gyms. Lee's father owns one of the nation's biggest sellers of barcode devices, and by all outward appearances Lee seems like someone who should be hanging out at a suburban mall. But he loved a boxing gym's atmosphere—the buzz of the three-minute bell, the whipping of the speed bags, the melody of the jump ropes, the acrid smell of sweat—and learning the boxing trade. Lee is quiet and thoughtful and, by his own description, shy. He was a popular kid—starred as a middle linebacker on his high school team—but to him, there was nothing like the culture of boxing. "There aren't a lot of kids from my background in boxing gyms," says Lee. He felt more at home among the working class, regarding many in his peer group as "phony."

After finishing high school at Benet Academy, a private prep school, he went to the University of Missouri for a year then transferred to Notre Dame University. While he was in South Bend, he became a local boxing legend as a three-time winner of the "Bengal Bouts", an intramural boxing tournament started by Knute Rockne, which now benefits the poor of Bangladesh. (To get a better sense of where the aid was going, Lee volunteered and worked at a Bangladeshi school one summer and also set up his own foundation there.) While attending Notre Dame, he constantly traveled back and forth to Chicago gyms.

After he graduated (3.8 GPA) with a finance degree, there were job offers from Wall Street. But Lee, who also won a 2009 Golden Gloves championship, felt he really hadn't accomplished much as a boxer, and he wanted to see how far he could go in the sport. While his friends were moving onto finance careers in Chicago and New York, he had dreams of being a boxing world champion. He sought out his father for advice. An intense man who looks like an Irish cop, his dad told him to go after his real passion. So Lee called Ronnie Shields, a noted trainer based in Houston, who told Lee that he would give him an honest assessment. Shields asked him when he would arrive at the gym and Lee said he would see him the following morning. Shields laughed, but Lee took the next plane out, and there he was in the morning, going through the toughest workout of his life, throwing up in a trashcan afterwards. Lee loved it. Shields saw some skill, a passion for learning the trade, and a lot of heart.
I'm also a Bengal Bouts alum, but I fought 4 years and lost every fight.  It was a lot of fun, I met great guys and it was a great way to lose 20 to 25 pounds in the middle of winter  You have a real motivation to lose wieght when that means a smaller guy will be punching you in the melon.

Reds and Brewers Honor Negro League Teams

The Milwaukee Brewers plan to pay tribune to the Negro League at Saturday's game against the Reds. 

   The Brewers will wear reproductions of uniforms worn by the Milwaukee Bears, the city's 1923 representative in the Negro National League. 

   The team played one season before disbanding but featured some of the game's most influential men, including Hall-of-Fame player/manager John Preston "Pete" Hill. 

   The Cincinnati Reds will wear uniforms of the 1936-37 Cincinnati Tigers. 
More on the Cincinnati Tigers:
The Cincinnati Tigers were a professional baseball team based in Cincinnati, Ohio, which played in the Negro Leagues. The Tigers were founded in 1934 by DeHart Hubbard, the first black to win an individual Olympic gold medal when he won the long jump during the 1924 Summer Olympics. In 1937, the Tigers joined the Negro American League in its inaugural season. Using Cincinnati Reds hand-me-down uniforms, the Tigers played at Crosley Field, often outdrawing the Reds. The Tigers folded after the 1937 season.

Some Things Are Just Accidents

15 Awesomely Accidental Inventions, at Business Pundit, via Ritholtz.

At some times, luck makes a big difference.  You just have to adapt to what you get.

Never Learning Lessons

James Fallows on the stupidity of Republican economics, and Obama's mistake in going along with those morons:
Those days of the 1970s are now nearly 40 years in the past. And this morning's jobs report makes me wonder whether, as a political system, we ever learn anything. Even this basic thing: That when tens of millions of people cannot find work because of an overall "failure of demand" -- not enough paychecks going to not enough people who can not make enough payments to create jobs for enough other people -- the main problem facing the nation is not "runaway government spending." Any more than it was when Herbert Hoover tightened up on spending as markets crashed, in the wave of folly that Keynes and Ahamed in their different ways chronicled. A lot has changed since the 1930s, and the 1970s. But not this basic principle.

The Congressional Republicans, in saying today that the weak jobs report shows the importance of not raising taxes in tough economic times, understand half this reality. (Or maybe a quarter of it: there is no failure of demand in the top levels of the US income distribution, the levels whose taxes the Republicans fight hardest to hold down. I won't even get into the "propensity to spend" arguments about why higher taxes at the top could actually increase overall demand.) But they refuse to see how exactly the same logic undercuts their current anti-spending drive.
The Republican party is an evil combination of corporate shills and idiots.  The corporate shills know they are misleading people, but don't care because they are crooks.  The idiots just don't understand basic logic.  Too many voters seem to feel better when the Republicans blame government and poor minorities for all of our economic problems.  If Democrats don't get a spine and learn how to explain basic economics, the voters are going to continue believing Republican crap.  If these voters don't wise up, we're going to be up Shit Creek without a paddle. 

The Great Train Wreck of 1918

July 9, 1918:
The Great Train Wreck of 1918 occurred on July 9, 1918, in Nashville, Tennessee. Two passenger trains, operated by the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway ("NC&StL"), collided head-on, killing 101 people and injuring an additional 171. It is considered the deadliest rail accident in United States history.
The two trains involved were the No. 4, scheduled to depart Nashville for Memphis, Tennessee at 7:00 a.m., and the No. 1 from Memphis, about a half-hour late for a scheduled arrival in Nashville at 7:10 a.m. At about 7:20 a.m., the two trains collided while traversing a section of single track line known as "Dutchman's Curve" west of downtown, in the present-day neighborhood of Belle Meade. Traveling at an estimated 50/60 miles per hour, the impact derailed both trains and destroyed several wooden cars.
An investigation by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) attributed the cause of the accident to several factors, notably serious errors by the No. 4 crew and tower operators, all of whom failed to properly account for the presence of the No. 1 train on the line. The ICC also pointed to a lack of a proper system for the accurate determination of train positions and noted that the wooden construction of the cars greatly increased the number of fatalities.
In the 1970s, songwriters Bobby Braddock and Rafe VanHoy told the story of the trainwreck in the song "The Great Nashville Railroad Disaster (A True Story)". The song was recorded by Country music singer David Allan Coe on his 1980 album "I've Got Something To Say".

A David Allen Coe song without racist words.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Bigger Government is needed for the US economy, at One Salient Oversight:
What is obvious though is that the market is just not creating enough jobs. While the cause might be debatable, the result is not.

But what is needed to fix this is not just another round of stimulus packages. What is needed is a structural expansion of government spending. In essence, the US government needs to spend more.

Of course readers of this blog might wonder if I have changed my mind from recent times when I advocated austerity. The problem is that the word "austerity" has ended up becoming synonymous with spending cuts - which is the favoured position of conservatives. While I have advocated spending cuts in the area of military spending I came to the conclusion that the only way the US could ever hope to cut enough spending to make any difference would be to destroy Medicare or Social Security (and I don't use the word "destroy" lightly - you'd be looking at cuts of over 50% to make any difference). The alternative is to raise taxes - and that is the option I have always promoted. I still define this as "austerity" since it causes pain, but it is not the preferred description of the word in these times.

What I have done, though, is change my position on the market's ability to recover properly. I would've been happy for Obama to cut military spending and raise taxes in order to run a small deficit (at the least) but do little else while the economy stumbles, falls and eventually recovers from my austerity package. Now I realise that the economy wouldn't recover - at least not quick enough to make any difference.
His policy prescriptions are also very interesting.  Included are universal health care and promotion of renewable energy.  I think the water grid is a little out there.  Unfortunately, as he notes, there is zero chance of them being enacted.  He fears that the economy will tank, Obama and the Democrats will be swept out of office by lunatic Republicans, and the country will be led further down the path to ruin.  I hope that since the Republicans are the main cause of all of our economic woes, as well as so many incorrect beliefs among voters, more than half the country will vote against the Republicans.  I hope.

Dragging the Economy Down

For a while temporary census-related jobs masked the underlying trend, but we’ve been steadily shedding government work. Maybe you think that’s a good thing. Certainly most of President Obama’s critics from the right claim to believe it’s a good thing. But what happens when you shed public sector jobs amidst an already weak economic climate is the sharply reduced incomes of the former teachers and whatnot lead to them spending less in their local communities.
Republicans are idiots.  Cutting all these government jobs is going to drag the economy back into recession.  They claimed that uncertainty about tax rates prevented private businesses from hiring (false).  Now the Bush tax cuts are in place for two more years, still not much hiring.  Now they are threatening to default on the debt if they don't get more government cuts without raising tax revenues.  So they are pushing to further weaken the economy, pushing us toward another depression, while creating even more uncertainty to prevent the creation of jobs.  Their solution: more tax cuts, less government spending and fewer regulations.  All things which will make our problems worse.  The GOP is worthless. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Be Still My Broken Heart

Ohio State's 2010 Big Ten championship, its 12-1 season, its victories over rival Michigan and in the Allstate Sugar Bowl -- all gone. Coach Jim Tressel is out and so is star quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Left behind: two years of self-imposed probation.
The question now is whether it will be enough to save Ohio State from more severe penalties in an upcoming trip to see the NCAA committee on infractions.
And that is only in the hope of avoiding worse punishment.  It goes deeper than 2010.  I'm smiling.

Coinstar and the U.S. Mint

Part of an Economix explanation of the U.S. Treasury producing less paper money and coins in 2010 (h/t Mark Thoma):
In 1992, three Stanford University graduate students convinced four Bay Area supermarkets to let them install a new machine designed to count spare change. The concept was rather brilliant, like a slot machine with a guaranteed payout. There’s nothing quite like the sound and sight of money — your money — being counted. And as the company grew, the technology began to change the basic physics of change.
Americans keep vast quantities of coins around the house. “Keep” is maybe the wrong word. Coins gather in the folds of couches and drawer bottoms and coat pockets. They are collected in jars, popped into piggy banks, socked away. And until Coinstar came along, that money mostly just sat there. In keeping with the law of entropy, it was easy to turn bills into coins and difficult to turn coins back into useable money.
And that is exactly what Coinstar made easy.
By the early 2000s, the company’s machines were annually collecting more coins than the U.S. Mint was producing. And the company was putting those coins back into circulation, meeting a growing share of market demand, reducing the need to mint new coins.
There’s another important difference between bills and coins: Coin production tracks the American economy much more closely, because the demand for coins is almost entirely domestic, while the demand for paper currency comes mostly from overseas. (Moreover, the demand for paper currency can rise during a financial crisis, as it did in 2008, because people sought to withdraw their money from the banks.)
That's pretty interesting.  I've never used Coinstar, but have at times counted out a lot of change and cashed it in at the bank.  One time, I made 3 trips with exactly $25 in pennies, because they would charge for counting more than that.  Yes, I have issues.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Asia Rolling Headlong To Disaster: Consumptionomics: Asia's Role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet by Chandran Nair, at Asia Times Online:
To understand Consumptionomics requires a willingness to confront doctrinal purity, the sort of fundamentalism that all ideologies are prone to, and to admit that an idea can offer piercing insight in one way, and yet suffer from anemia in another. For Nair, capitalism's deficiency remains its inability (or perhaps, as some might suggest, its contemporary unwillingness) to acknowledge the natural resource limitations that confront most of the developing world.

This message may fall on deaf ears in the West, and in America especially. The US may be insensitive to Nair's concern over natural resource limitations simply because for so much of its history, the country has rarely had to confront any itself. America's relative lack of population density, its enormous arable land holdings, and its vast natural resources have all combined to make Americans less aware of the reality faced by most of those in Asia.

In many ways, Asia remains the mirror image to America's bounty: where America has vast arable land holdings, Asia faces a chronic inability to grow enough food to feed itself. Where America has - absent pockets in the West - large sources of natural water, Asia confronts a chronic water shortage that has the potential to dislocate tens of millions of people.

Nair is right that Asia may lead the way simply because it has to - but that to do so, Asia must develop a coherent ideology that incorporates these natural resource limitations into policies and practices. As Nair writes, "Growth on the scale envisaged by Asia's development over the next few decades will lead to a loss of natural capital that will dwarf the losses seen in the West during the 20th century, let alone what the world managed in the centuries before that." (pg 90)

Perversely, if Nair is right, it may well be that American business loses out as a consequence of not understanding the enormity of these needs. Asian entrepreneurs see more directly and feel more acutely these problems, and they are likely to advance the solutions more indigenously and rapidly than their Western counterparts.

In his emphasis on society's collective needs over the absolute freedom of the individual, Nair's solution to these problems will deeply trouble many in the West. He asserts three primary realizations that need to be incorporated into traditional capitalism: first, "resources are constrained; economic activity must be subservient to maintaining the vitality of resources", second "resource use must be equitable for current and future generations; collective welfare must take priority over individual rights" and third, "resources must be repriced; productivity efforts should be focused on resources, not people." (pgs 91-92)
This sounds a bit like my opinion that U.S. and European standards of living will decrease as Asian and other developing economies standard-of-living increase.  The main limitation will be resources.  We've seen the stress put on the world economy as food, fuel and metals prices have risen.  We are seeing pressure in the environment.  It will be a strange balancing act, but one we'll have to deal with.  In the end, I think it will come down to how well the global elite handle making large sacrifices, and current indications are that they'll get dragged down kicking and screaming.  We are in interesting times.  I can't see the United States, as currently oriented, handling such a situation well, and as the review points out, this may put us behind the curve in handling resource scarcity.  I think we've built into our culture too many impediments to easily change to a resource-scarce environment.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Alcohol Isn't Killing Brain Cells

High levels of alcohol just keep you from remembering what you did:
A person who drinks too much alcohol may be able to perform complicated tasks, such as dancing, carrying on a conversation or even driving a car, but later have no memory of those escapades. These periods of amnesia, commonly known as “blackouts,” can last from a few minutes to several hours.
Now, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, neuroscientists have identified the brain cells involved in blackouts and the molecular mechanism that appears to underlie them. They report July 6, 2011, in The Journal of Neuroscience, that exposure to large amounts of alcohol does not necessarily kill brain cells as once was thought. Rather, alcohol interferes with key receptors in the brain, which in turn manufacture steroids that inhibit long-term potentiation (LTP), a process that strengthens the connections between neurons and is crucial to learning and memory.
Better understanding of what occurs when memory formation is inhibited by alcohol exposure could lead to strategies to improve memory.
“The mechanism involves NMDA receptors that transmit glutamate, which carries signals between neurons,” says Yukitoshi Izumi, MD, PhD, research professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “An NMDA receptor is like a double-edged sword because too much activity and too little can be toxic. We’ve found that exposure to alcohol inhibits some receptors and later activates others, causing neurons to manufacture steroids that inhibit LTP and memory formation.”
I don't know that that makes it better, but it is interesting.

Even More On the Pacific Rare Earth Find

at the Register, via Ritholtz:
However, the part that doesn't make sense, at least not to me, is how to then make this silt a worthwhile source of extraction. They're certainly correct that if you dredge it up then wash it in dilute acids then you'll get a nice concentrate of the mixed rare earths. Easy enough to cut the salts out of that and dump your old acid over the side along with the 99.9 per cent of the silt you don't want any more (hey, we're in mid-ocean here!).
However, a concentration of 1,000 to 2,000 ppm isn't actually anything all that much to write home about. That red mud which went splat over Hungary has about the same sort of concentration. As does the other 40 to 80 million tonnes a year produced, including the 2 billion tonnes lying around in ponds. We've known for decades that we can extract the rare earths from this stuff: wash it in acid and get a nice solution of the metals. However – and here's the problem – you have to use so much acid that you can't make a profit doing this.
I say this not just on the Friedmanite basis that hundred dollar bills don't appear on pavements: for if they did someone would already have picked them up. It isn't that no one does this as yet, which would prove that it can't be done. It is that people have tried to do this (at least I have, in Greece, a couple of years back) and have found that the cost of getting the materials out is more than people will pay you for the materials you've got out. And this is a nice fine silt lying in ponds at ground level, silt which people will pay you to take away, not silt you've got to lift through 5,000 metres of salt water.
Makes sense.  I would probably try to mine the rare earth metals in groud-level sludge ponds before trying to mine them from the ocean floor.  Even extremely richly concentrated mines, such as the Mountain Pass mine, are expensive and environmentally problematic to operate:
In 1998, chemical processing at the mine was stopped after a series of wastewater leaks. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water carrying radioactive waste spilled into and around Ivanpah Dry Lake.
In the 1980s, the company began piping wastewater as far as 14 miles to evaporation ponds on or near Ivanpah Dry Lake, east of Interstate 15 near Nevada. This pipeline repeatedly ruptured during cleaning operations to remove mineral deposits called scale. The scale is radioactive because of the presence of thorium and radium, which occur naturally in the rare earth ore. A federal investigation later found that some 60 spills—some unreported—occurred between 1984 and 1998, when the pipeline was shut down. In all, about 600,000 gallons of radioactive and other hazardous waste flowed onto the desert floor, according to federal authorities. By the end of the 1990s, Unocal was served with a cleanup order and a San Bernardino County district attorney's lawsuit. The company paid more than $1.4 million in fines and settlements. After preparing a cleanup plan and completing an extensive environmental study, Unocal in 2004 won approval of a county permit that allowed the mine to operate for another 30 years. The mine also passed a key county inspection in 2007.
I would guess that seabed mining isn't feasible until prices are incredibly high, making the deposits worthless and the news release wishful thinking.

Getting Warmer?

Once a decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updates its definition of "normal" temperatures, based on the average temperatures of the previous 30 years. Here's how the 1981-2010 "normal" compares to the 1971-2000 "normal." Basically, it's a lot hotter.
It doesn't look like any place is getting cooler.  I would have guessed that until last year, Ohio was less hot than when I was a kid.  But last summer was damn hot.  Of course it was also my first summer in 13 years in which I was outside much of the day.  Although what seemed really bad last year were the nights, they were awful.  One morning at 5:30 am, it was raining outside and still 74 degrees.  Clearly, this data has nothing to do with human activity, and everything to do with sun spots.  At least, I'm sure that's what people I talk to in a bar are going to tell me, and they know lots more than scientists. 

Rooting for Losers:Why There Are Cubs Fans.

I would guess brain defect.
The Economist discusses the book "Scorecasting" (previously mentioned here), via the Dish:
It raises the question: does a team become a lovable loser simply because it loses? Is there something about losing that is inherently lovable? In a recent book called “Scorecasting”, Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim consider such “hidden influences” on how sports are played and won. In particular, they examine the effect of “loss aversion”—the tendency to care more about avoiding a loss than about making a similar-sized gain—on decision-making by players and officials. As The Economist explained earlier this year, Tiger Woods, for example, is more likely to hole a putt to save a par than to make a birdie.

Is something similar going on with spectators? To pick a team that is known to lose is technically to anticipate a loss, but in a manageable, predictable way. There is no real loss to avoid; a win would merely be an unexpected bonus. Backing a more successful team raises the stakes by making wins just as viable as losses, so losing is more of a loss.

Teams like the Cubs give people a safe space in which to lose. Fans get the benefits of commiseration without incurring any real costs. The predictable losers also allow other teams to win. So really the Sox fans should be grateful for the Cubs. Such losers may not be so lovable on scrutiny, but their ineptitude has an extra civic function: they take one for the team. They’re a sacrifice fly.
I can't resist posting at least once in a while about my hatred of Cubs fans and people who raise them.  Cubs fans are people to avoid.  The thing about rooting for a losing team was accidentally explained to me by an elderly Cleveland Indians fan in 1992, just before the club's mid '90's rejuvenation.  He was standing beside me just before the stadium gates opened, and he was explaining to a grandchild that the best thing about being an Indians fan was that you knew going to the game that the team was terrible and would probably lose.  You got to watch a game, and there was the potential that the team might surprise you and win.  So really, you couldn't be disappointed.  I think that sums up the above argument.  The Indians fans at that time were full of gallows humor.  It would be interesting to survey the fans to understand their feelings about the team's success in the late nineties, which in 1995 they came up just short of winning their first championship since 1948.   I would guess that overall, the fans think it was more fun being good, but not good enough, than it was being a laughingstock in the 1980's.  I would likewise guess that Cubs fans appreciated 2003, with it's letdown (I won't blame Bartman, if Alex Gonzales fields the double play ball, the Cubs are out of the inning) more than they have this season, lovable losers, or not.  I'd go with not lovable.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: The emotional depth of a cow, at the Guardian:
Who would think that beneath that calm exterior there is a boiling mass of emotions? I'm not talking about Wimbledon champions here, but cows. Yes, cows; those creatures that we eat, and take milk from, but rarely think about. According to new research by scientists at Northampton University, cows have "best friends" and get stressed when separated.
In his book The Cow, the former butcher and poet Beat Sterchi invented an adjective to describe the way that cows stand placidly – "cowpeaceably". If you watch cows lying down in a field they will normally be ruminating (chewing on regurgitated grass), staring blankly into space and looking totally at peace. This state of total calmness makes the cow appear withdrawn and "otherworldly". This is perhaps why we assume there is nothing much going on between a cow's ears.
But we cow lovers have always known that cows have emotional depth. DH Lawrence wrote brilliantly about his relationship with Susan, a black cow that he milked every morning in 1924-5 on his ranch in Taos, New Mexico. He comments on her "cowy oblivion", her "cow inertia", her "cowy passivity" and her "cowy peace" and he wonders where she goes to in her trances. But he believes, quite rightly, that there is always "a certain untouched chaos in her", which is never far away. Some days, he writes, she is "fractious, tiresome, and a faggot". This is because she will deliberately do things to annoy him, such as swinging her tail in his face during milking: "So sometimes she swings it, just on purpose: and looks at me out of the black corner of her great, pure-black eye, when I yell at her."
Cows definitely have their own personalities, and it is definitely good that they don't usually know how powerful they can be if they throw around their half-ton bodies.  I can't identify which cows are friends with each other, but I can tell them apart rather easily.

Quote of the Day

“Labor is prior to and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could not have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration."
Abraham Lincoln

Quoted by David Kotok's reader Bob Bender here.

The Carried Interest Loophole

Nicholas Kristof, via Mark Thoma:
This carried interest loophole benefits managers of financial partnerships such as hedge funds, private equity funds, venture capital funds and real estate funds — who are among the highest-paid people in the world. John Paulson, a hedge fund manager in New York City, made $4.9 billion last year, top of the chart for hedge fund managers, according to AR Magazine, which follows hedge funds. That’s equivalent to the average per capita income of 184,000 Americans, according to my back-of-envelope calculations based on Census Bureau figures.
Mr. Paulson declined to comment on this tax break, but here’s how it works. These fund managers are compensated mostly with a performance bonus of 20 percent or more of the profits they make. Under this carried interest loophole, that 20 percent is eligible to be taxed at the long-term capital gains rate (if the fund’s underlying assets are held long enough) of just 15 percent rather than the regular personal income rate of 35 percent.
This tax loophole is also intellectually vacuous. The performance fee is a return on the manager’s labor, not his or her capital, so there’s no reason to give it preferential capital gains treatment.
My understanding is that they don't even have to pay the 15% until they cash out of the fund.  They can borrow money against their "holdings" until they cash out and have to pay the taxes.  This is criminal that average people with jobs have to pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than people making a billion dollars a year.  How Republicans can defend this as non-negotiable is beyond me.  Screw Grover Norquist and his no-new taxes pledge, we have a country to operate.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Craft Brewers Try to Help Struggling Cities

Fast Company:
The recession isn't new to the mill towns of the Northeast; they hit the skids long ago. Decades before the most recent economic collapse, proud, river-encircled cities from Maine to Pennsylvania had faded to mere shadows of the engines of productivity they were during the Industrial Revolution. In place of idle smokestacks and shattered windows, Shoe Town to Brew Town--billed as "a friendly forum over food and drink" to be held at New York's Brooklyn Brewery--imagines another scene: historic manufacturies throbbing with the yeasty vapors of craft beer, and producing not only brew but sustainably raised fish, hydroponic produce, and enough natural gas to meet their own energy demands.
The project began as a notion hatched in the mind of New York restaurateur Jimmy Carbone. Imagining himself elected mayor of his hometown of Haverhill, Massachusetts, he had a vision of the city's moribund shoe factories transformed into breweries.
Craft brewers helping rust Belt cities.  I like the sound of that.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Operating Instructions: The Supreme Court shows corporate America how to screw over its customers and employees without breaking the law, at Slate:
As the Boston Globe editorialized, the new rule "lets Janus and similar companies hide false information in a complicated organization chart [and] can only undermine public confidence in the mutual fund industry over time." Ask yourself whether you really want the Supreme Court to be in the business of teaching corporate giants how better to deceive you about your investments. Yet Thomas, like Scalia in the AT&T case, was more worried about Janus, and its possible exposure to burdensome new lawsuits, than he was about the investors who were deceived. The purpose of civil litigation isn't solely to redress past wrongs. It's also to encourage better future conduct, particularly in situations where the parties have vastly unequal power. When you obliterate the very possibility of civil litigation, you are, by definition, helping big business screw over the little guy. But when you teach big business precisely how to screw over the little guy, and how to do it faster, cheaper, and without detection … well, that's not even an illusion of justice anymore. It's enabling.
The whole thing should be read.  I'm not a big fan of law suits and giant settlements against companies, but I've always found attempts to cap liabilities dangerous.  The companies need to be punished for bad, or even unintentional incompetent behavior.  For example, Chase Bank "accidentally" charged both my checking and savings accounts a $30 monthly fee one month.  When I pointed it out to them, they removed the charges.  But how many accounts did they charge which the people didn't notice?  If they were forced to pay out billions in illegitimate fee charges because of a class-action suit, I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.  Now, all they have to do is have an arbitration agreement in every customer contract, and they will never be liable to large suits.  Or maybe they can just print up a false prospectus under a different corporate name.  They can just hand back the money to the people who complain, and keep the money from those who don't.  They can continue business as usual.  The 30 years of packing the court system with conservative ideologues is finally paying dividends for business interests, and we all are going to get screwed.

Peak Car Use?

Ariel Schwartz at Fast Company (via Ritholtz):
Even major oil companies admit that we are reaching peak oil--the point when the maximum rate of petroleum production is reached and begins to go into an unstoppable decline. But one thing could, at least somewhat, mitigate that problem. We may have also reached peak car usage in our major cities.
A study (PDF) from the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute says that many cities--including Vienna, Zurich, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Houston--have already seen a decline in car usage between 1995 and 2005. Driving rates in the U.S. did rise in 2010 by 0.7%, but the study's authors believe a number of factors could come together to decrease our overall car use: The first is that cities are hitting what's known as the Marchetti wall. Most people don't like having to travel more than an hour each way to work, and cities tend to not get larger than one hour via car in every direction. The growth of public transport and the reversal of urban sprawl have also played a role, as more people in concentrated areas leads to more central shopping locations. Cities have also seen the growth of a culture of urbanism, resulting in more people who enthusiastically take public transportation, walk, and ride bikes. There's also, of course, the rise in fuel prices, which is probably the largest factor.
If all of these factors actually do cause a dramatic decline in car usage, city planners will have to think more about factoring light rail, buses, cycling, and walking routes into their plans.
I think increasingly scarce crude will force us to use cars less in the future.  The smart thing would be to alter our infrastructure design now, but out here in sprawlville, that isn't going to happen.  We're really going to hate ourselves in the future.

Taxes Are the Foundation of Democracy

David Cay Johnson via Mark Thoma:
The top conclusion I have come to, the one that like our imaginary intergalactic researchers report must come first because it matters most, is that America with all of its greatness, its freedoms, and its potential, is, like democracy itself, the child of tax.
Two centuries of debate and thoughtful consideration by the ancient Greeks gave us the moral basis for progressive taxation and, in turn, the radical ideas that people could govern themselves and that just because a man had money he was not entitled to a larger voice in the body politic.
Seven years under a central government without the power to tax or regulate commerce destroyed the first American republic and created the need for the second, with its strong powers of tax and regulation.
We are abusing our child -- which is to say we are abusing America -- with all of the hate-filled, nonsensical, demagogic talk about tax that dominates one of our political parties and intimidates the other.
We have forgotten the wise words of Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, who in his 1793 letter made the telling observation that "the revenue of the state is the state."
We seem to think we can raise generations to hate tax, when hate is never a good emotion. We spread tax illiteracy, with no regard for how it undermines America, the liberties of the people, and the very idea of self-governance. If you doubt that, just remember the total disconnect between what the Boston Tea Party was about and what modern Tea Partiers say is their cause.
Tax is not a pleasant subject and never will be. Neither are the responsibilities of child care, like calming bedtime fears about imagined monsters lurking in the shadows. Parents who perform these duties, showing their love by their actions, make for productive adults, while those who shirk the unpleasant realities of parenting often discover what a nightmare a child can grow up to become.
We need to nurture America. We need to do the hard work of changing our tax system to fit the times, of comforting those afflicted by change, and conquering the imaginary monsters perpetuated by politicians consumed by anti-tax ideology and the pursuit of power. We need to remember all six noble purposes in our Constitution's preamble, and we need to take care of our common property, forgetting neither our purposes nor our investments in the commonwealth.
Without taxes there is no America. Taxes are the foundation of the commonwealth, of the goods and services that make society work, and on which private wealth is built. Unless we build a sturdy foundation, we cannot prosper, we cannot remain free. Skyscrapers built on sand will fall.
I just don't understand why so many average Americans seem to put all of the blame for their economic struggles on the government.  While there are problems with our government, they are taking a worse screwing from the private businesses they want to let loose from regulation.  Somehow, the business lobby has been able to sell the rubes a pretty amazing story.  We may need more government, we may need less government, but we definitely need better government, and starving said government of revenues is not going to get us better government.  Republicans too often seem to try to make government dysfunctional, instead of trying to proactively make government better.  Their tax policies are beyond stupid, and their aversion to public investment in infrastructure is crippling.  If they won't work to make government better, they should get the hell out of the way.

Don't Get Excited About the Rare Earths

That's what Marketplace says:
Mike Stares runs Rare Earth Metals Inc., which explores for rare earth deposits on land in Canada. According to the Japanese, just one square mile of one of the discovered deposits could meet half the world's annual demand. Stares says that's very promising -- except for that ocean-floor part.
Stares: That's like finding a deposit in the middle of nowhere, with no infrastructure and trying to get this thing out. You're going to be disrupting the ocean bed as well -- you can't just run out there and mine this stuff.
Rod Eggert at the Colorado School of Mines says companies have just recently begun mining underwater, and no one has attempted to mine at these depths.
Rod Eggert: Much of what's been announced both under the sea and on land represents potential, rather than any rare earth that's going to be produced any time soon.
Ok, I won't sell that Molycorp anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Taxes are Historically Low

In the year 2000 combined Federal, State, and local taxes were 14.4 percent of personal income. In 2009, the total combined taxes were down to 9.4 percent of personal income. So that’s a 5% difference, or a decline of 34.7% !
Take a look at his graphs.  Total taxes haven't been this low as a percentage of income since 1950.

A New Source For Rare-Earth Elements?

Yahoo News Canada, via Ritholtz:
China accounts for 97 percent of the world's production of 17 rare-earth elements, which are essential for electric cars, flat-screen TVs, iPods, superconducting magnets, lasers, missiles, night-vision goggles, wind turbines and many other advanced products.
These elements carry exotic names such as neodymium, promethium and yttrium but in spite of their "rare-earth" tag are in fact abundant in the planet's crust.
The problem, though, is that land deposits of them are thin and scattered around, so sites which are commercially exploitable or not subject to tough environment restrictions are few.
As a result, the 17 elements have sometimes been dubbed "21st-century gold" for their rarity and value.
Production of them is almost entirely centred on China, which also has a third of the world's reserves. Another third is held together by former Soviet republics, the United States and Australia.
But a new study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, points to an extraordinary concentration of rare-earth elements in thick mud at great depths on the Pacific floor.
As a speculative investor in Molycorp, that might not be good news, but as a person who may benefit from technology which utilizes rare-earth element, this is good news.

More Immigrants = Less Crime

Richard Florida:
But the key factor, as it turns out, lies in the growing racial, ethnic, and demographic diversity of our cities and metro areas. Our analysis found that the Hispanic share of the population is negatively associated with urban crime. Crime also fell as the percentage of the population that is non-white and the percentage that is gay increased. And of all the variables in our analysis, the one that is most consistently negatively associated with crime is a place's percentage of foreign-born residents. Not only did we find a negative correlation (-.36) between foreign-born share and crime in general, the pattern held across all of the many, various types of crime - from murder and arson to burglary and car theft.
The Brookings study also finds evidence of a substantial shift in the connection between foreign-born residents and crime. While foreign-born share was positively associated with crime in 1990 and 2000, that relationship had disappeared by 2008. The foreign-born share of population now shows no relationship to property crime, and a negative relationship to violent crime. The pattern is most pronounced for primary cities and inner-ring suburbs, the Brookings study found, but not for lower-density suburbs and ex-urbs.
It might be hard to wrap your mind around this--especially with all the demagoguery about immigration. But the numbers tell a different story than our alarmist pundits and politicians do. "Since 1990, all types of communities within the country's largest metro areas have become more diverse," Elizabeth Kneebone, one of the authors of the Brookings report, wrote in The New Republic. "Crime fell fastest in big cities and high-density suburbs that were poorer, more minority, and had higher crime rates to begin with. At the same time, all kinds of suburbs saw their share of poor, minority, and foreign-born residents increase. As suburbia diversified, crime rates fell." Along with their entrepreneurial energy and their zeal to succeed, immigrants are good neighbors--cultural and economic factors that militate against criminal behavior, and not just in their own enclaves but in surrounding communities as well.
That correlation holds up here.  I think it makes sense that immigrants, especially illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes, because they can be deported.  They have a large incentive to avoid criminality.  I would also say that Hispanic culture, with an emphasis on family and community may also help in that.  I would go further in saying that the immigrants are also likely to settle in areas with better economies, although their presence in said economies would provide a positive feedback loop.  The demographic growth provided by the immigrants causes those economies to flourish more.  It may be that low levels of immigration into a region demonstrates that the regional economy is struggling, which leads to more crime compared to the areas with more immigration.  I am discouraged by attempts by Ohio officials, mainly Republican, who want to vilify illegal immigrants.  While it would be nice if we could give them papers before they come, their presence is good for our region.  Their absence is not a good thing.

1934 West Coast waterfront Strike

July 5, 1934 was "Bloody Thursday":
After a quiet Fourth of July the employers' organization, the Industrial Association, tried to open the port even further on Thursday, July 5. As spectators watched from Rincon Hill, the police shot tear gas canisters into the crowd, then followed with a charge by mounted police. Picketers threw the canisters and rocks back at the police, who charged again, sending the picketers into retreat after a third assault. Each side then refortified and took stock.
The events took a violent turn that afternoon, as hostilities resumed outside of the ILA the kitchen. Eyewitness accounts differ on the exact events that transpired next. Some witnesses saw a group of strikers first surround a police car and attempt to tip it over, prompting the police to fire shotguns in the air, and then revolvers at the crowd. One of the policemen then fired a shotgun into the crowd, striking three men in intersection of Steuart and Mission streets. One of the men, Howard Sperry, a striking longshoreman, later died of his wounds. Another man, Charles Olsen, was also shot but later recovered from his wounds. A third man, Nick Bordoise--an out of work cook who had been volunteering at the ILA strike kitchen--was shot but managed to make his way around the corner onto Spear Street, where he was found several hours later. Like Sperry, he died at the hospital.
Strikers immediately cordoned off the area where the two picketers had been shot, laying flowers and wreaths around it. Police arrived to remove the flowers and drive off the picketers minutes later. Once the police left, the strikers returned, replaced the flowers and stood guard over the spot. Though Sperry and Bordoise had been shot several blocks apart, this spot became synonymous with the memory of the two slain men and "Bloody Thursday."
As strikers carried wounded picketers into the ILA union hall police fired on the hall and lobbed tear gas canisters at nearby hotels. At this point someone reportedly called the union hall to ask "Are you willing to arbitrate now?"
Under orders from California Governor Frank Merriam, the California National Guard moved in that evening to patrol the waterfront. Similarly, federal soldiers of the United States Army stationed at the Presidio were placed on alert. The picketers pulled back, unwilling to take on armed soldiers in an uneven fight, and trucks and trains began moving without interference. Bridges asked the San Francisco Labor Council to meet that Saturday, July 7, to authorize a general strike. The Alameda County Central Labor Council in Oakland considered the same action. Teamsters in both San Francisco and Oakland voted to strike, over the objections of their leaders, on Sunday, July 8.
The history of the whole strike is interesting.  1934 was a big year for strikes:
The 1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike (also known as the 1934 West Coast Longshoremen's Strike, as well as a number of variations on these names) lasted eighty-three days, triggered by sailors and a four-day general strike in San Francisco, and led to the unionization of all of the West Coast ports of the United States. The San Francisco General Strike, along with the 1934 Toledo Auto-Lite Strike led by the American Workers Party and the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 led by the Communist League of America, were important catalysts for the rise of industrial unionism in the 1930s, much of which was organized through the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
It is notable that the National Labor Relations Act, or Wagner Act, was signed into law by FDR on the one-year anniversary of Bloody Thursday.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Pay Frozen, More New York Judges Leave Bench, at the NYT:
But across the country — and in New York, more than most places — being a judge has in recent years come with one big negative: the salary. New York judges have not had a raise in 12 years, making the state one of the more extreme examples of a growing pay gap nationally between judges and other professionals, including partners at top law firms, who can earn 10 times the salary of the judge before whom they are arguing a case.
Now, for the first time in memory, judges are leaving the bench in relatively large numbers — not to retire, but to return to being practicing lawyers. Turnover in New York has increased rapidly in the last few years: nearly 1 in 10 judges are now leaving annually, a new study shows.
In New York State, at least a dozen have resigned and explicitly cited the pay. The latest is James M. McGuire, a judge on the intermediate state appeals court in Manhattan, who last week resigned his position at the white marble courthouse on Madison Avenue. His judicial salary was $144,000. He stepped down to be a partner at a law firm, Dechert LLP, where average partner pay is $1.4 million.
That's another way to ruin the government, keep the pay so low that you can't get good people to work there.  Republicans will succeed one way or another to ruin our society, but their getting elected is perhaps the most simple.  Can it be considered going Galt if you leave the public sector because after rounds of cutting taxes, the pay is too low.  It would seem like the taxes on partners making $1.4 million a year could be higher, thus helping to pay more for judge salaries.  I'm willing to guess that being a judge will contribute more to society than being a partner in a large law firm.  I'll let my sister who is a partner in a firm, but always wanted to be a judge weigh in on that one, she might have a better insight.

Why Such Corn Market Swings?

David Kotok on the USDA reports:
In the last few weeks, we have watched the roller-coaster reports on the corn harvest from the US Department of Agriculture. During the last month, they were very bullish, and then they were bearish, and then they were bullish. To quote our friend Dennis Gartman, “Reflecting the uncertainty of the report and the skepticism with which the numbers have been received,” the USDA has issued a clarifying statement saying they may issue a clarifying statement. It will be released on August 11. Until then, “Confusion will reign,” says Dennis.......
GIC board member Michael Drury noted that the “government numbers assumed an average year for acres harvested.” Michael is a personal friend and chief economist at McVean Trading, one of the premier private grain and livestock futures trading operations in the United States. He added that “There are 6 million acres in North and South Dakota where flooding has been severe.” They were planted late (or maybe not at all), but the driving force (Kotok’s view) may have been to collect insurance claims. The crop yield from these late plantings may be insignificant.
There is also controversy about the inventory numbers. And about what the foreign holdings of corn reveal or do not reveal. And there is the distortion that continues because of ethanol subsidies and mandated use, which directs as much as 40% of the corn crop into fuel instead of food. This persists while American policy practices protectionism, so sugar ethanol is not imported. It is much less costly than corn ethanol.
Okay, enjoy the ear of corn on the Fourth of July. And the beef and chicken and other foods that depend on America’s grains. Try to remember that American policy is now starving millions of people in the world because we are driving food prices ever higher. Perhaps we can think about that as we watch presidential candidates genuflect to Iowans. Perhaps, those candidates who are skipping the Iowa caucuses deserve more of our respect. Time will tell.
I wouldn't assume those acres were planted only to collect insurance, as they might have been paid out for prevented planting.  In all likelihood, they needed feed grain or grain they had already contracted.  Plus, all farmers seem to share an optimism that if they just can get the corn planted, the weather will quit hurting them and will help them out.  If I remember correctly, the Dakotas were putting out more corn than normal this year, but their historical yields aren't tremendously good anyway.  I wouldn't be surprised by a significant yield miss by USDA this year, but I'd like to know who has better numbers.  As for the issues with ethanol and the food supply, I agree with him.

A Virtual Political Jonestown

Richard Cohen says that you shouldn't drink the kool-aid (or attend the Tea Party), it's poisoned:
But the net effect is to establish an intellectual barrier for admittance to the presidential race: Independent thinkers, stop right here! If you believe in global warming, revenue enhancement, stimulus programs, the occasional need for abortion or even the fabulist theories of the late Charles Darwin, then either stay home — or lie. This intellectual rigidity has produced a GOP presidential field that’s a virtual political Jonestown. The Grand Old Party, so named when it really did evoke America, has so narrowed its base that it has become a political cult.
That is exactly right.  If you can't ignore doubt and parrot the party line, get out you infidel.  Thank you very much, I'm gone.  Anybody who won't try to raise revenues when they are at a 50 year low as a percentage of GDP is somebody who shouldn't be governing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lorenzo Charles Dies

I missed this story last week:
Whittenburg's shot was an air ball. But Lorenzo Charles jumped and caught it, as if it had been the most carefully planned alley oop pass ever thrown and he dunked it. North Carolina State won the championship in one of the sport's greatest upsets. Lorenzo Charles was a hero, a star in a state where they take their college basketball stars very seriously. Lorenzo Charles died this week when the bus he was driving crashed in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was 47 and the bus had no passengers.

That has always been my favorite play from college basketball.

Stars and Stripes Forever

After the jump, God Bless America-triplet style.

The Big Roads

Guy Raz interviewed Earl Swift, the author of The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways on All Things Considered.  Here he is discussing building the interstate highway system through the central cities:
  If building roads was difficult in the countryside and suburbs, it was almost impossible in America's central cities. Building an interstate in cities such Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco and Detroit where people lived closely together on narrow streets was like trying to jam a basketball through a chain-link fence.
"You name pretty much any older city in the country and there was some serious clear-cutting of the human forest that made this possible," Swift says.
Although America's interstate system split some communities apart during its construction, the author argues that ultimately it tied urban areas together and made it possible for people on opposite sides of the country to see each other in record time.
Given the obstacles that stood in the way of creating the interstate highway system — the social costs of relocating citizens, the engineering feats, the routing and naming debates, and the politics of funding — Swift says it's amazing that the interstate system exists at all.
"I don't think there's any way in a million years we could build it today," he says. "No, this just wouldn't fly."
This definitely sounds like a book I'll be looking for when the paperback edition comes out next year.

America, It Is Time To Grow Up

Barry Ritholtz gives the U.S. a commencement speech in the Washington Post:
 “Government” is not the problem, “bad government” is the problem. There is an enormous distinction between the two. Being surrounded by two oceans — and being so powerful since WWII — has allowed you to become too insular. Your “not-invented-here” attitude has led you to miss many other good ideas. Have a look around the world and see what other countries are doing right:
Canada managed to come through the financial crisis unscathed — what was it about its banking regulations that protected it? Why is Finland the best country for education? Why does Australia have the world’s lowest jobless rate? How are Germany’s highways so darned good? What is it about Japan’s health-care system that has made it the best in the world? Norway has the highest adult literacy level and is often ranked as having the best quality of life; what is it doing right? And Singapore has the highest per-capita GDP and one of the recession’s fastest-growing economies. Why?
It sure wouldn’t hurt you to put your pride aside and take a few lessons from the best ideas in the world.
It is very good, and well worth reading.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Obama's Original Sin, by Frank Rich at New York Magazine:
What haunts the Obama administration is what still haunts the country: the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. There has been no legal, moral, or financial reckoning for the most powerful wrongdoers. Nor have there been meaningful reforms that might prevent a repeat catastrophe. Time may heal most wounds, but not these. Chronic unemployment remains a constant, painful reminder of the havoc inflicted on the bust’s innocent victims. As the ghost of Hamlet’s father might have it, America will be stalked by its foul and unresolved crimes until they “are burnt and purged away.”

After the 1929 crash, and thanks in part to the legendary Ferdinand Pecora’s fierce thirties Senate hearings, America gained a Securities and Exchange Commission, the Public Utility Holding Company Act, and the Glass-Steagall Act to forestall a rerun. After the savings-and-loan debacle of the eighties, some 800 miscreants went to jail. But those who ran the central financial institutions of our fiasco escaped culpability (as did most of the institutions). As the indefatigable Matt Taibbi has tabulated, law enforcement on Obama’s watch rounded up 393,000 illegal immigrants last year and zero bankers. The Justice Department’s bally­hooed Operation Broken Trust has broken still more trust by chasing mainly low-echelon, one-off Madoff wannabes. You almost have to feel sorry for the era’s designated Goldman scapegoat, 32-year-old flunky “Fabulous Fab” Fabrice Tourre, who may yet take the fall for everyone else. It’s as if the Watergate investigation were halted after the cops nabbed the nudniks who did the break-in.
I've got to agree.  I made the mistake of thinking that bringing in Geithner and Summers was ok, in the turmoil of the 2008 crash.  I now believe they were the biggest problems in letting the bankers get off scott free in this disaster.  The big guys aren't being held accountable, only the little people suffer.  Unfortunately, Obama is better than any alternative the Republicans have offered.  Republicans look to double down on helping the bankers screw everybody else, all the while trying to completely remove the social safety net.  They aren't an alternative, they are a punishment.

A Problem in the Packing House

Ted Genoways, reporting on an autoimmune disorder at the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota:
SIX MONTHS EARLIER, when Matthew Garcia was sent back to the Mayo Clinic neurology department, Dr. P. James Dyck explained to him that there was an "epidemic of neuropathy" that was affecting QPP workers—a newly discovered form of demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy. Inhaling aerosolized brains had caused his body to produce antibodies, but because porcine and human neurological cells are so similar, the antibodies began destroying Garcia's own nerves, as well.
The new disease theory made sense, except that, according to company officials, QPP had been blowing brains, off and on, for more than a decade. So why did workers fall ill now and not earlier? The answer is complex. First, in April 2006, the line speed increased from 1,300 pig heads moving down the conveyor belt each hour to 1,350. This speedup was slight, but it was just the latest in a series of gradual increases. "The line speed, the line speed," Lachance told the AP, when recounting patient interviews. "That's what we heard over and over again." The line had been set at 900 heads per hour when the brain harvesting first began in 1996—meaning that the rate had increased a full 50 percent over the decade, whereas the number of workers had hardly risen. Garcia told me that the speed made it hard to keep up. Second, to match the pace, the company switched from a foot-operated trigger to an automatic system tripped by inserting the nozzle into the brain cavity, but sometimes the blower would misfire and spatter. Complaints about this had led to the installation of the plexiglass shield between the worker manning the brain machine and the rest of the head table. Third, the increased speed had caused pig heads to pile up at the opening in the shield. At some point in late 2006, the jammed skulls, pressed forward by the conveyor belt, had actually cracked the plastic, allowing more mist to drift over the head table. Pablo Ruiz, the process-control auditor, had attempted to patch the fracture with plastic bags. (To this day, Ruiz says he suffers from burning feet and general exhaustion.) Fourth, the longer hours worked in 2007 had, quite simply, upped workers' exposure.
The whole article is worth a read.  I get the feeling that it doesn't tell us everything, but the difficulty of the work in the slaughterhouses, and the abundance of immigrant (illegal or often refugee) labor, signals that there are major problems with how we get our meat.  Anecdotally, I was told that nearly all the non-management workers in several plants throughout the Midwest fall into categories of Hispanic, Vietnamese, Hmong or Somali.  It really appears that the companies have to find the most desperate people to take jobs that almost no one wants.  I think this really opens up the workers to all kinds or abuse from employers.

we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor

235 years ago:

Morning Edition features their reporters reading the entire Declaration.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

More Hot Dog History

This post wasn't enough.  The Atlantic gives more history:
Why should the hot dog—a food so entrenched in American culture that more than 150 million of them will be consumed this Independence Day, according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council—have needed such defending, and to a roomful of the men who should have been its most loyal allies? One compelling answer: Until the 1930s, when our hot-dog-lover-in-chief, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, gave hot dogs a much-needed boost, many Americans hated them.

Newspaper articles from the early 1900s often make hot dogs, despite their widespread consumption at the time, seem like the lowest of the low. These were not plump Ball Park Franks you might squirt with primary-colored condiments and give to your five-year-old. They were gritty symbols of booze, drug dealers, and adulterated food. "SECRET OF HOT DOG IS EXPOSED," said one 1921 Los Angeles Times story about a novel alcohol-smuggling technique, adding, "Innocent-Looking Sandwich Found to Contain Moonshine." The connection between hot dogs and liquor was particularly strong. As a 1929 New York Times article put it, "For every frankfurter sold by a delicatessen in the ante-Volstead days, three had been speared and consumed by patrons of the saloon." Even the tendency of reporters to bracket the term with quotation marks—"hot dogs"—gave the whole topic an air of shadiness and skepticism.

The same Times story reported on the efforts of a suburban town to prevent a hot dog vendor from setting up shop near a high school, saying, "This attempt to remove the frankfurter from scholastic circulation was not the first time that its status had been impugned." In rich communities like Scarsdale, New York, and Evanston, Illinois, hot dog sales were banned. As stands and carts proliferated along the country's motorways, plans emerged to do away with these "eyesores"—or beautify them. Hot dog advocates defended their wares from allegations that the products contained actual dog meat, launching campaigns to change the name to "franks," "red hots," and even "hot pig and cow." There were odder stories, too: A kitten gone berserk after eating a hot dog, or an especially weird New York Times piece, "Scorned a Throne, Now Faces Swahilis' Curse; Hot-Dog Man Gets Ominous Note From Africa."
Hot dogs and moonshine smuggling?  I'd never heard that before.  I'm sure rich communities were much better off by banning hot dogs.

The West Coast's Last Major Shipyard

LA Times:
At the West Coast's last major shipyard, the action never seems to stop.

In one part of the Nassco yard, on the shores of San Diego Bay, the U.S. naval ship Medgar Evers is nearing completion. The 690-foot vessel is the 13th in a line of T-AKE ammunition and dry cargo ships built by Nassco for the Navy and is scheduled to roll into the ocean Oct. 29 wearing bunting and steamers to the blare of "Anchors Aweigh."
Next to it, No. 14 — this one called the Cesar Chavez — sits at a much earlier stage of construction. Nearby, the keel has been laid on a new Navy project called the Mobile Landing Platform, which can act as a wharf at sea or a floating dry dock.

Nassco, once known as National Steel & Shipbuilding Co., hasn't survived by doing every new job as well as the last. The General Dynamics Corp. subsidiary has outlasted the competition by making sure that every new vessel has been built better, faster, more cheaply and with fewer injuries than the one that came before, said Nassco President Frederick J. Harris, a former merchant marine with an MBA and a no-nonsense style.

Failure on one or more of those points might have put Nassco on the same path as the many dozens of closed U.S. shipyards. Instead, Nassco's performance helped it land a $744-million contract announced in May for a new kind of Navy support vessel, he said.

"In five years, we have reduced the amount of labor required to build these ships by more than 60%. We'll complete construction on the last one in less than half the time it took to build the first," Harris said. Among manufacturers, he added, "we have the best learning curve in the U.S."

Higher productivity, fewer jobs, but the story is interesting:
The American shipbuilding industry declined after the end of the Cold War, when it was surpassed by Japan. In a race to the lowest labor costs, Japan was overtaken by South Korea in 2005. China took the lead in 2009. The U.S. industry had some protection from the Jones Act and related laws that require U.S.-built, -flagged and -manned vessels for travel between U.S. ports, but the toll has been steep.

Across the U.S., 85,000 to 105,000 workers are still employed at more than 300 U.S. shipyards of all sizes, the numbers depending on the ebb and flow of government and commercial construction and repair contracts, according to the Shipbuilders Council of America.

Of 12 major U.S. shipyards operating in the 1980s, six remain. General Dynamics Marine Systems owns Nassco, Bath Ironworks in Maine and Electric Boat in Connecticut. Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. owns the three other yards: Newport News in Virginia, Ingalls in Mississippi and Avondale in Louisiana. Avondale is scheduled to close in 2013.

All of these do massive amounts of defense work.  Without Navy construction and repair, they would be really hurting.  Thats why the congressmen in these districts always intervene to avoid cutting any ship projects.

Home Field Advantage

From the SI archive, a recollection of the exploits of Bossard family, three (and maybe more) generations of groundskeepers:
There. It's safe now. Rog just noticed an itsy-bitsy difference in the shade of the grass near first base. That'll keep him churned up for a while. As long as we're here, let's start with this dirt right in front of home plate. It's critical, Brandon. The first bounce a ground ball takes is the most important one. Back in '48, when I was the Indians' groundskeeper, our infielders had all the range of a grubworm, so I took a pickax, went down a good half-foot, filled in the area around home with loose dirt, turned it into oatmeal with the hose, concealed it with an inch of dry dirt, and guess what? We won the championship with those grubworms, and I took the World Series money the players awarded me and bought a beaut of a brand-new Buick—which I used, I might add, to compact many a minor league and spring training infield.
I was so good at deadening ground balls that when Willie Mays kangaroo-hopped a clutch double over our third baseman's head to win Game 4 of the '54 Series, Joe DiMaggio himself, perched up in the press box, declared, "First time I ever saw that happen to the Bossards. It calls for a congressional investigation."
And good as I was at it, my son Gene—that's your grandpa—here in Chicago might've been better. Back in '67 Geno pulled so many shenanigans that the White Sox, who finished the season with a team batting average of .225 and not a regular player over .241, were tied for first on Sept. 6. They were loaded with sinkerball pitchers, who could roll out of bed on Christmas morning and make a batter roll a ground ball. So Gene and Roger, who was only 18 then, would come out with a pickax and a hose at 2 a.m., when the lights were out, and go to work in front of home plate. I can see Gene now, those shoulders hunched like he just wanted to get a couple of inches closer to the ground, that shirt unbuttoned to the belt, those pants rolled up to mid-calf, that laugh so deep and rich it could reach home plate from the warning track on one bounce, and that fat stogie, an inch of it going to ash in one strong pull when somebody messed with his field.

NASA Image of the Day


Fire acts differently in space than on Earth. Sandra Olson, an aerospace engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center, demonstrates just how differently in her art. This artwork is comprised of multiple overlays of three separate microgravity flame images. Each image is of flame spread over cellulose paper in a spacecraft ventilation flow in microgravity. The different colors represent different chemical reactions within the flame. The blue areas are caused by chemiluminescence (light produced by a chemical reaction.) The white, yellow and orange regions are due to glowing soot within the flame zone.

Microgravity combustion research at Glenn not only provides insights into spacecraft fire safety, but it has also been used to create award-winning art images. This image won first place in the 2011 Combustion Art Competition, held at the 7th U.S. National Combustion Meeting.

Image Credit: NASA

Invention, the Product of Copying

Part three of "Everything's a Remix," via the Dish.  This is interesting, and bucks the idea of individual geniuses coming up with grand new ideas on their own:

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Finally Caught Up

We've finally gotten caught up on our farm workload.  We've got the nitrogen on the corn, and the wheat is harvested.  The double-crop beans are sowed.  My first cutting of hay is made.  Now we can get stuff repaired and put away.  It was a long, drawn-out spring, but we finally got everything done.

Naked Capitalism Link of the Day

Today's link: Shale Gas: Not a 'Game Changer' After All, at Scitizen.  It is another story questioning the industry line on Shale gas as the solution to our problems.  I tend to also be a skeptic on the subject.  We'll see how it plays out, but I think we'll see rapid production decreases from producing wells.

Remembering Gettysburg

Paul Krugman marks the 148th anniversary of Pickett's Charge with YouTube clips of the Charge in the movie, Gettysburg.  My plan yesterday was to remember the battle at Little Round Top, and the bayonet charge of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine. I consider July 2nd the most significant of the days of the battle, but I got busy sowing double-crop soybeans, and didn't get it posted.  Here it is:

I still don't understand what Bobby Lee was thinking on the 3rd. But I think that July 4, 1863 is probably the most significant date in our country's history, after July 4, 1776. The surrender of Vicksburg, combined with the rebel retreat from their defeat at Gettysburg, marked the climax of the worst event in American history. From then on out, the war was just dragging out the inevitable end. It took nearly two more years, and thousands of lives, but chances of rebel victory ended on that day.