Saturday, January 5, 2013

Speaking of Anti-Catholicism


Loyalists have attacked police with fireworks, stones and golf balls on a third night of trouble in east Belfast.
Cars have also been set on fire. Police have advised people to avoid Templemore Avenue and Castlereagh Street.
Earlier, a 38-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after shots were reportedly fired at police.
About 100 loyalists targeted officers after an earlier protest against the council's decision to stop flying the union flag over city hall every day.
Bricks, bottles, fireworks and smoke canisters were thrown by the rioters on the Lower Newtownards Road.
Up to 1,000 loyalists had protested outside Belfast City Hall over the decision to fly the union flag only on designated days.
The chairman of the Police Federation, Terry Spence, said he had no doubt that paramilitaries had been involved in the violence.
"This is a very sinister development and quite clearly the police came under fire this afternoon from a gunman," he said.
"I think what it clearly does demonstrate is that there has been paramilitary involvement in these attacks on police and it has been orchestrated, in the case of east Belfast, by the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force)."
However, Democratic Unionist assembly member Robin Newton said it was too early to say whether the violence had been organised.
"I'm going to wait until the police actually indicate that from their intelligence, they haven't indicated that these riots have been orchestrated by the UVF," he said.
"I think we do need to be concerned about the number of injuries on the police officers - this is just not a good situation for the east of the city."
Three other men were arrested during the earlier trouble which happened close to the nationalist Short Strand area.
Some loyalists claimed it was sparked when they were attacked by republicans.
Police responded to the attacks on them by using water cannon.
Belfast is becoming more and more Catholic as the Protestant population moves out of the city.  I think you'll see more and more political controversies like this, but hopefully the violence will go away.

Alabama Loves To Hate Notre Dame

For two schools that haven't played each other in 25 years, and have met just six times in history, there is a very active contempt between the powerhouses. And for a whole host of reasons that extend far beyond this particular matchup, the hate seems to flow with particular fervor from South to North.  This is in part a reaction to Notre Dame's position of historical primacy, a position that rivals, if not exceeds, Alabama's. But that's not all. It's also a matter of sociology and hagiography. The roots go beyond mere football, extending to cultural and possibly even religious divides.
"There is a real defensiveness in the South in general, but Alabama in particular, about everything north of the Mason-Dixon Line," said Wayne Flynt, the founding editor of the Encylopedia of Alabama and professor emeritus of History at Auburn. "And that includes Notre Dame, which is a huge image of success in America.
"When you rank in the bottom five in the nation … in almost every quality-of-life category, and get hammered in the national media about how backward you are, you sort of get a 5,000-pound chip on your shoulder. We don't excel in almost any other category than college football – and we're kind of gangbusters in that.
"There's one team that vies for supremacy with Alabama in college football. That's Notre Dame, which is the ultimate example of ‘The Other,' to use a sociological term."
From the Southern viewpoint, here is why Notre Dame was "The Other": It was the media darling, the golden program, literally and figuratively. The Irish were the glamour boys with a far-flung fan base, a showcase of academic excellence coupled with football power. Alabama was the standard bearer for the downtrodden, undereducated, underappreciated South, striving to show that the region could look the rest of a disdainful nation in the eye and not blink....
In 1919, Alabama had a law on the books that allowed authorities to search convents without a warrant to make sure no one was being "involuntarily confined" there, according to the Birmingham News.
In 1921, a Catholic priest was shot to death outside his house in Birmingham. The accused killer was a protestant reverend who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and he was acquitted by a jury that included several Klansmen. The reverend's legal expenses were paid for by the Klan, and his defense attorney was Hugo Black, who would go on to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Black later reportedly joined the Klan, but renounced it before joining the Supreme Court and ultimately becoming one of its most liberal members.
Flynt, for one, dismisses any suggestion that Notre Dame's famed religious affiliation has anything to do with Alabama fans rooting against the Irish football team.
"There is historical anti-Catholicism in evangelical Christians," Flynt said. "I think that's a thing of the past. I don't think that matters anymore."
Ah, the historic anti-Catholicism.  I think that is a pretty ugly chapter of American history that lots of Catholics don't even realize occurred.  And I don't really believe that some of the hatred isn't linked to anti-Catholicism.  Hopefully the Irish will pull off the big upset.

A Look Inside The Republican Caucus

Molly Ball interviews Steve LaTourette who finished his last term in the House of Representatives this week:

Q: The deal did pass the House in the end, though the majority of Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor, didn't support it. But then Boehner decided not to hold a vote on the bill to fund relief money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. What happened there?
LaTourette: The Sandy thing could have been handled better. But Boehner had expended so much political capital on the tax bill, and now these same 20 to 60 people were grousing that [the aid money] was unpaid for. You look at the roll call on the tax bill -- Boehner votes yes, and every other [member of the GOP leadership] except Cathy McMorris Rodgers voted no.
During the roll call on the tax bill, I walked into the cloakroom, and Boehner was sitting there. I said, 'This Sandy thing is really important. We've got to do something.' He said, 'Not tonight.' I asked if we were going to do it tomorrow, and he said no. He said, 'After this mess, I just can't do it tonight.'
Q: I don't understand. Was he just exhausted? Was he afraid the votes wouldn't be there?
LaTourette: He had expended a lot of political capital to get the 85 votes [on the fiscal-cliff deal], and he felt a little betrayed that the other members of the elected leadership walked on him. And the last piece was, as you saw during the Speaker election [Thursday], this sort of insurrection was forming against him. There was a fear that if he put $60 billion, no matter how worthy, of unpaid-for emergency spending on the floor, the insurrection would become bigger than it was.
Q: How about that insurrection -- doesn't that prove that Boehner is a weak leader who can't control his caucus?
LaTourette: I think it's ridiculous. They should kick them all out of the Republican conference. The picture in Politico of a sitting Republican member of Congress on the floor with an iPad showing a screen with a whip count to deny the Republicans the speakership of the House is asinine. This is what I'm talking about: These guys are OK when it comes to ideology and dogma, but they don't have a clue how to participate in the legislative process.
I don't know what their objective is. If it was to deny the speakership to Boehner and hand it to Mrs. Pelosi, I don't know how their cause would have been furthered. If it's to force the vote to a second ballot to make some demands, well, who the hell do these people think they are? Twelve out of 233, and they're making demands? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.
This really burns me up about the Republican party.  They've been cultivating the loons and the idiots for at least 50 years, and now the sane ones who are left are just shocked that such morons have worked their way up to positions of influence.   You reap what you sow.  The Republicans fed the religious nuts and the conspiracy theorists and the outright racists and whatever other bunch of lunatics who would consistently vote for them, and never worried that this became the grassroots of the party.  As those folks became more involved, they began to move up the chain of command.  Now they are way too close to the levers of power.  This party needs utterly destroyed before it destroys the country.  The sane folks have to give up their cherished talking points and figure out how to work toward a better future.  That future is going to involve difficulty, sacrifice and more taxes.  And less lunatics in Congress.

The Best and the Brightest?

I saw this gem about potential 2016 GOP candidate Marco Rubio:
Rubio’s explanation for voting against the fiscal-cliff deal reflects a firm conservative posture that leaves little room for a potential GOP rival to outflank him. “Thousands of small businesses, not just the wealthy, will now be forced to decide how they'll pay this new tax, and, chances are, they'll do it by firing employees, cutting back their hours and benefits, or postponing the new hire they were looking to make,” Rubio said in a written statement. “And to make matters worse, it does nothing to bring our dangerous debt under control.”
I guess I would expect them to pay the new tax from the profits they are getting taxed on.  In what world do small businessmen make over $400,000 a year in profit, and because their taxes will go up by a few percent they decide they should fire employees?  Only in the world of fucking morons.  Why would somebody in a very profitable business reduce their business capacity to save a few dollars in taxes?  Instead, if they wanted to reduce the amount of taxes they make, I would guess they would use some of that profit to bring on new employees or invest in new software or equipment or something, and if they didn't think they needed the additional capacity, maybe they would better reward the employees who earned them that money (or give money to a fucking charity).  But Marco Rubio, who as far as I know has "never had to meet a payroll" or hold a job that wasn't a political position thinks that businessmen would fire workers because they have to pay more in taxes.  Thank God he hasn't run a business, or he'd have made George W. Bush look like a titan of industry.  This is another example of a Republican politician which I can't decide whether he is this dumb, or he is smart enough to know better and just says things like this to manipulate the base.  Like Jim Jordan, I am guessing Rubio is the former, because anyone with a shred of pride wouldn't want to say something like this which any person who runs a business would immediately recognize as idiotic. 

For some reason (ok, I have an idea why), conservative economists love to hype "rational expectations,"  with the explanation that government spending doesn't stimulate the economy because people realize that if the government is running deficits, they will eventually have to raise taxes, so those folks will save to pay the taxes they know are going to come later, thus decreasing economic activity now, cancelling out the stimulus effect of the government spending.  This is preposterous.  The number of people who are going to do this is so tiny as to be insubstantial.  If that were the case, we wouldn't have a use for Social Security, because everybody would have tucked their money away in their retirement accounts.  Marco Rubio's explanation of  small businesses' reactions to new taxes is the perfect example of peoples' irrationality when it comes to taxes.  Like efficient market theory, rational expectations, especially when it comes to taxes, is a textbook example of academic cluelessness.  Anybody who thinks that the vast majority of people can be counted on to do whatever is in their own rational self-interest hasn't ever been around very many actual people (or been able to figure out why rural people overwhelmingly vote Republican).  We can pretty much expect that people will act irrationally.  At least if they run their businesses like Marco Rubio thinks they would.  Or if they would ever consider voting for him for President of the United States.

Playoff Pregame

The Bengals look to win their first playoff game since my sophomore year in high school, and their first playoff road game in history. I start to think just how depressing that streak is, and then I remember that I could be a Cleveland sports fan, or a Cubs fan, or a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, and I don't feel so badly. I totally wrote this team off after they managed to become the Cleveland Browns first victim of the season. I probably contributed to that loss by taunting Browns fans mercilessly prior to that game. They managed to rally/take advantage of the Steelers collapse and prove me wrong. Who Dey!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Deep Thoughts While Facing Mortality

Via the Dish, an animated video of Maurice Sendak's interview with Terry Gross just before his death:

I love the line, "I'm in love with the world." Even though I love hating it at times, I do am too.

Boehner Narrowly Reelected as Speaker

In total, 220 Republicans out of a conference of 234 supported the Ohio Republican during the tension-filled vote on the House floor.
There were a few scattered votes for other names. GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor, frequently mentioned as a potential rival, received votes from three House Republicans. But when Cantor's name was called, he stood and loudly yelled Boehner's name – a show of unity amidst the defections.
Texas Republican Louie Gohmert and Georgia Republican Paul Broun voted for defeated Rep. Allen West, the tea party favorite from Florida.
Michigan Republican Justin Amash cast his vote for Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, but when Labrador's name was called by the House clerk, he remained silent, showing his unhappiness with Boehner's leadership by abstaining.
Amash, who was recently removed by GOP leaders from the Budget Committee, reached out to urge other critics of Boehner to vote for someone else in the hopes of pushing the speaker vote to second ballot.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina, sat front-and-center in the House chamber, but didn't respond when his name was called either, as members of the press gallery spotted him from their vantage point inside the chamber. Both he and Labrador also remained on the floor the second time the House Clerk called their names to give them another chance to vote, but they didn't answer.
Freshman Texas Rep. Steve Stockman was the sole member to vote "present" – another public show of criticism for Boehner.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who has been increasingly critical of Boehner since the speaker supported his removal from the House Budget Committee, told CNN he was casting a vote against Boehner based on "past performance."
Huelskamp stood and voted for conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who voted for Boehner.
Rep. Walter Jones, R-North Carolina, who was clearly still annoyed at the speaker after his slot on the House Financial Services Committee was taken away, went along with Amash's strategy, and voted for GAO Comptroller David Walker.
I had guessed Tim Huelskamp wasn't one of the brighter bulbs in the House of Representatives marquee, but voting for Jim Jordan?  Really?  And I assume the clowns voting for Allen West meant that as some kind of stupid joke.  Please tell me they weren't serious.  The Republican caucus is absolutely ridiculous.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Did Lead Cause Crime?

Kevin Drum thinks that might be the case:
Like many good theories, the gasoline lead hypothesis helps explain some things we might not have realized even needed explaining. For example, murder rates have always been higher in big cities than in towns and small cities. We're so used to this that it seems unsurprising, but Nevin points out that it might actually have a surprising explanation—because big cities have lots of cars in a small area, they also had high densities of atmospheric lead during the postwar era. But as lead levels in gasoline decreased, the differences between big and small cities largely went away. And guess what? The difference in murder rates went away too. Today, homicide rates are similar in cities of all sizes. It may be that violent crime isn't an inevitable consequence of being a big city after all.
The gasoline lead story has another virtue too: It's the only hypothesis that persuasively explains both the rise of crime in the '60s and '70s and its fall beginning in the '90s. Two other theories—the baby boom demographic bulge and the drug explosion of the '60s—at least have the potential to explain both, but neither one fully fits the known data. Only gasoline lead, with its dramatic rise and fall following World War II, can explain the equally dramatic rise and fall in violent crime.
I'm a little skeptical of the crime connection, but it is notable that the same guy who figured out that tetraethyl lead got rid of engine knocking also invented freon.  Quite the environmental marvel, Thomas Midgley.  And he did his work in Dayton.

The End Of An Era

The legendary Sparrows Point Steel Mill outside Baltimore closes, apparently for good:

The sprawling Sparrows Point plant is on more than 3,000 acres in a prime location in eastern Baltimore County, nearly surrounded by water. The property's major downside: toxins.
"More than a century of steelmaking and finishing operations have resulted in perhaps the most complex environmental cleanup site in the Chesapeake Bay watershed," Baltimore County's attorneys wrote in court documents.
That's the sort of work in which Environmental Liability Transfer says it specializes. Jostes said in an earlier interview that a cleanup would take "many, many, many years" but the site could be used while the work is under way.
Environmental Liability Transfer acquired another large, bankrupt manufacturer in 2005 — a Missouri brick factory — and got it "up and running and producing brick once more," Jostes said. But most of the company's projects are straight redevelopment.
Sparrows Point steel built the Golden Gate Bridge and Maryland's Bay Bridge, along with hundreds of ships for World War II, but recent years have not been kind. Environmental Liability Transfer and Hilco are Sparrows Point's sixth owners in less than a decade, a tumultuous stretch for workers that included the bankruptcy case of longtime owner Bethlehem Steel.
Some analysts thought the Baltimore County facility would land a new operator, but others were pessimistic from the start, given its age and the tough steel market.
Steel analyst Chuck Bradford suggested last summer that Nucor might want to buy the cold mill "to pick up and move somewhere else." It's a "very good" mill, he said.
"Almost nothing else has any value," Bradford added.
Deborah Rudacille, writer of the book "Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town," a workers' history of Sparrows Point, said last summer that Sparrows Point becoming scrap would be sadly ironic. It was built in part from the remains of the Ashland Iron Works in Cockeysville.
It lasted longer than the Homestead, Bethlehem and Duquesne Works,  but it's future is the same as those legends.  What was once the largest steel mill in the world is no more.

The Pathetic Republican House

Ezra Klein:
What’s the record of the 112th Congress? Well, it almost shut down the government and almost breached the debt ceiling. It almost went over the fiscal cliff (which it had designed in the first place). It cut a trillion dollars of discretionary spending in the Budget Control Act and scheduled another trillion in spending cuts through an automatic sequester, which everyone agrees is terrible policy. It achieved nothing of note on housing, energy, stimulus, immigration, guns, tax reform, infrastructure, climate change or, really, anything. It’s hard to identify a single significant problem that existed prior to the 112th Congress that was in any way improved by its two years of rule.
The 112th, which was gaveled into being on Jan. 3, 2011, by newly elected House Speaker John Boehner, wasn’t just unproductive in comparison with the 111th. It was unproductive compared with any Congress since 1948, when scholars began keeping tabs on congressional productivity.
When it ends, the 112th Congress will have passed about 220 public laws -- by far the least of any Congress on record. Prior to the 112th, the least productive Congress was the 104th, from January 1995 to January 1997. Not coincidentally, that Congress also featured a new Republican House majority determined to ruin a Democratic president in advance of the next campaign. The 104th, however, passed 333 public laws -- almost 50 percent more than the 112th. The 112th stands alone in its achievement of epic failure.
Of course, raw productivity statistics can mislead. After all, if the 112th Congress’s laws were particularly worthwhile, or if its low productivity reflected a period of political calm and economic growth, the slow rate of legislating might even be a good thing. In this case, however, the raw data mislead in the other direction. The 112th Congress wasn’t merely unproductive: It was devastatingly counterproductive.
The 112th found legislating so difficult that lawmakers repeatedly created artificial deadlines for consequences and catastrophes intended to spur them to act. But like Wile E. Coyote with his endless supply of Acme products, when the 112th set a trap, the only sure bet was that it would explode in its collective face, forcing leaders to construct yet another hair- trigger legislative contraption.
First, do no harm.  I think this Congress would fail this.  The kicker is that the Tea Party "brain trust claims to be Constitutional scholars.  However, my brief knowledge of the Constitution leaves wide power in the hands of Congress to make taxing and spending decisions, and limits the President's power.  But the majority in the people's house is scared to lay out their positions and try to work out any deal with the Senate. They prefer to cry and complain and vote against whatever can pass the House with a majority of the minority, and a minority of the majority.  They are the perfect example why the Republican party is not fit for governance.  Their proposals, like the Ryan budget, are idiotic ideology which would be disowned by any economist with a conscience.  And yet, thanks to rural and suburban voters and some very devious map makers, they hold the majority.  I guess we'll see if the 113th Congress will be any better than these morons.

Crop Insurance Program Takes Drought Hit

Des Moines Register:
Losses to Iowa’s corn and soybean corps exceeded $1 billion during the drought and heat wave of 2012, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The losses are covered through federally-subsidized corp insurance. The federal government subsidizes about 57 percent of the insurance premiums for Iowa corn and soybean crops. Those payments were extended Tuesday by Congress as part of the Farm Bill extension running through next September.
Loss payments on corn for Iowa farmers totaled 157 percent of total premiums through Dec. 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Wednesday, as the bills mount for the historic drought and heat wave that struck the Corn Belt in 2012.
Iowa farmers were paid $933.6 million in loss claims on corn, more than the $627 million in premiums they paid. Of those premiums, $362 million were subsidized by the federal government.
Nationally, corn farmers lost 143 percent of their premiums, with claim payments totaling $6.149 billion compared to premiums of $4.3 billion. Subsidies for premiums totaled $2.674 billion.
On soybeans, Iowa claims totaled $158.9 million, or 62 percent of the $257 million paid in insurance premiums. Of those premiums, $147.1 million were subsidized by the federal government.
Nationally, $1.3 billion was paid in claims for soybean losses against $2.3 billion in premiums, $1.46 billion were federally-subsidized.

I am assuming these are just a partial summary of the numbers.  So far, farmers got paid $3.78 in claims for every dollar in crop insurance premiums paid by the farmers themselves (ourselves) for their corn crops.  On soybeans, farmers got $1.54 in claims for every dollar paid by farmers.  However, with the federal subsidy, there were only $0.57 paid out for every dollar paid in.  Without the feds, I would hate to know what similar private crop insurance would cost.

As for us, we should get a claim payment on our corn, but not on our beans.  I'll be interested to see if these are the final numbers, or just payments processed so far.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Some Mato Grasso Facts

From Business Insider, via Big Picture Agriculture:
In 2001, Brazilian agricultural exports totaled $16 billion, according to USDA analyst Oliver Flake. By 2010 exports had climbed to a record $62 billion and reached approximately $80 billion in 2011.
That represents an increase of 400 percent over 10 years. Comparatively, U.S. exports rose about 175 percent over the same period, Flake says.
What's their secret?
A place called Mato Grosso.

There are four large clusters of farms
One contiguous farm of approximately 8300 acres

 That is freaking amazing.  8300 acres is about 2/3 of the size of my home township, and 36% of the size of a standard surveying township.

What Was In The Fiscal Cliff Plan?

A lot of giveaways:

I thought for certain they would do away with direct payments.  As for the taxes, I'm amazed Obama went with the cutoff at $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for couples.  The dividend thing blows me away.  There is no reason we couldn't go back to the way things were from the beginning of the income tax until 2003, and tax dividends as regular income.  That way, the little old ladies with the utility stocks would only pay at 10% or 15% or whatever it would work out to be. 

Another Four Crop Rotation

Star-Tribune, via Big Picture Agriculture:
Forty years ago, just as the revolution in agriculture was about to take off, Thompson went in the other direction. He started farming much the way his father had on the same 300 acres. Instead of just two crops, corn and soybeans, he has honed a strategy that includes annual rotations of four crops in five years - corn, soybeans, hay and oats. Crop rotation prevents insects from gaining a foothold in his fields; alfalfa and soybeans help restore the soil's natural chemistry.
Thompson doesn't buy fertilizer -- he gets it from his animals and from town, and it's better for the soil because it contains more organic matter. He controls weeds with cover crops and with a specialized system of tilling and planting.
And he makes a profit: An average of $218 per acre since 2000 -- without federal subsidies -- compared with an average loss of $10 per acre in Boone County, by his calculations. The difference is the money he doesn't spend on fertilizers and pesticides.
"They spend too much money for stuff," he said.
Of course, it's taken him years to figure it out, and to track his progress with meticulous care in a stack of black notebooks. He's bought specialized equipment from Europe and built the manure pit. And had to deal with the watermelons and tomato plants that suddenly popped up in his fields from seeds that came through the sewage treatment process in Boone.
It also requires a lot more time and daily management, plus livestock to eat the oats and alfalfa, for which there isn't much of a market anymore.
Which makes some question how many farmers would adopt Thompson's methods.
"That's the way my dad farmed in the 1950s and '60s," said Robert Plathe, a corn and soybean farmer west of Mason City. "If I have a market, that makes sense," he said. It would also help revive agricultural communities because farms would be smaller and more families could live off the land.
But, he pointed out, it's a lot harder, and few people want to farm like that anymore. Animals require daily care, winter and summer.
The main challenge is the marketing of the livestock.  Small farmers don't have many places to sell small batches of livestock and manage to make much money.  Long term, farmers will need to utilize nutrients much more efficiently than they do now, whether with many more farms having small numbers of livestock or with smaller numbers of geographically dispersed confinement facilities.  Mercer County, Ohio and parts of Iowa have demonstrated that too many confinement facilities in too small of an area are a disaster for water quality.  The four crop rotation might be one way to get to a better future, but we're probably going to need several ways.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


We kick ass, until we don't:

MAN from Steve Cutts on Vimeo.

A Sucker Bet

Does anybody want to bet that Jim Jordan votes for the fiscal cliff deal?  I'll take the no position, and give odds to any takers.

Remember When New Year's Day Bowl Games Meant Something?

Ok, they probably never really meant as much as I thought they did back in the good old days.  But all the major bowls had major conference tie-ins (Rose, Big 10 and Pac 10) (Cotton, Southwest) (Orange, Big 8) (Sugar, SEC), so they were certain to feature significant teams, and they all were played on the 1st (unless the 1st fell on Sunday, when they would be on the 2nd).  Now we get this travesty of worthless games played over a week.  We've got the game in Cotton Bowl Stadium (Heart of Dallas Bowl? Seriously, who gives a fuck?) played on the first, while the Cotton Bowl is played in Cowboys stadium on the 4th.  We've got every second-tier Big Ten team playing in the early afternoon against teams that will likely kick the shit out of them.  The Orange Bowl is tonight, and features cinderella Northern Illinois facing Florida State.  The Sugar Bowl is tomorrow night and the Fiesta Bowl is Thursday night.  The only game that really matters is next Monday. 

The Rose Bowl is still on at suppertime and features the champions of the Big Ten (well, the one that isn't currently banned from bowl games) and the Pac 10, so at least something has generally stayed the same.  Anyway, the significance of New Year's Day has declined dramatically, and the most interesting recently created activity on the 1st, the NHL's Winter Classic, is absent this year because of the league's ridiculous lockout.  Enjoy the day off from work, just don't expect to catch very much in the way of entertaining sporting events.

Obama's Negotiating Strategy, or Lack Thereof

Let me revise my post from last night.  Obama allowed the Republicans to enter the safety of the courthouse, like the sheriff in Blazing Saddles.  I can't express how inexplicable it is that Obama caved on almost all of the Bush tax cuts, without getting any real concessions from the Republicans, especially on the debt limit.  Now, instead of the Republicans holding the gun to their own head, they've got the economy to hold hostage in the debt limit negotiations.  Instead of clearing up the "uncertainty" of the "fiscal cliff," the struggle is extended for another couple months.  Also, Obama has given up the most valuable bargaining chips for greater revenue.  How on earth he could agree to extend preferential tax treatment for dividends is beyond me, and why he let captial gains (and dividend) rates remain at 15% when Ronald Fucking Reagan thought 28% was a fair number is stunning.  Republicans are now going to be able to play off Americans' belief that the"undeserving" poor need benefit cuts while rich folks (like me) bank more unearned income, and there is no real chance of taxes going up on anybody but the filthy rich.  We are going to find out how sustainable a bastardized version of Modern Monetary Theory really is. 

Monday, December 31, 2012

End of the Year Summary

Well, 2012 has managed to slide by, and we survived the end of the Mayan Long Calendar.  We somehow made it through a very depressing Presidential campaign, and as far as I'm concerned, the best man (men) won.  The drought of 2012 nicked the crops here at home, but we got out better than a lot of folks out west.  My job kept me busy enough that the original writing on posts decreased from last year.  The best I could come up with was an Onionesque April Fools' story on Obama getting fed up and leaving Joe Biden in charge while he went on a bender.  There were a few surprises, like where I agreed with Ben Stein and the Koch Brothers, and with Republicans investigating MF Global.  Land prices continued their epic climb, in the monkey dirt out west, and even across the road from our farm.  My year wasn't hateful.  It was better than Big Tex's (or Mitt Romney's, which went like Big Tex's on election day), but not as good as R.A. Dickey's (or Lebron. I guess he proved my former employer and Dan Gilbert wrong).  Hopefully, all of you had a fine year, hopefully the next will be even better for you.  I'm glad you've stopped in to visit (this month has had the most pageviews since I started the blog) and I hope you come back next year. 


P.S.  I was trying to think of what my favorite song of 2012 was, and I think I'll go with Tim McMorris' "Overwhelmed."

It may carry some meaning that I discovered that song in a commercial for a product which has to fill in for the absence of such a presence in my life:

To 2013 being the year to find that person. (lifts bottle of Sam Adams)  Hell, I may as well start the year on an optimistic note.

The Republican Negotiating Strategy

This classic movie clip reminds me of the Republicans' fiscal cliff negotiating strategy, except for two things.  First, in this scene, the sheriff is black and is smarter than everybody else in town (which is more Obama's position), and second, Republicans are holding the gun to their own heads, but think they can pull the trigger, too.  Anyway, here it is:

Chart of the Day

Via the Dish:

There has to be something to cut in that big blue dot, even though Mitt Romney thought it was too small.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Local Contractor Receives No-Bid Contracts

Dayton Daily News:
When Lord asked Harrah about whether there was a relationship between David Waibel’s status as a Republican political fundraiser and Waibel Energy Systems receiving multi-million dollar contracts, Harrah said he had no proof, but had his suspicions.
“You got this guy who lives in Miami County. He’s hosted statewide people, federal candidates. And you know, he contributes a lot of money,” Harrah said, according to a recording of an interview that took place after he had negotiated a plea deal with prosecutors.
As part of their investigation, detectives examined how Waibel Energy came to receive the $2.4 million county HVAC contract without local competitive bidding. They found that company officials walked commissioners through a process that allowed the county to award Waibel Energy Systems the contract outright.
The process involved enrolling Miami County in a purchasing cooperative that solicits bids for goods and services nationally, then allows local governments to hire the winning bidders.
Other governments use the same cooperative. For example, Montgomery County has used it three times in recent years, twice for contracts with Waibel.
Some construction industry professionals and critics allege governments use purchasing cooperatives to hand-pick preferred contractors while cutting out potential lower bidders. The cooperatives themselves say they provide the best — though not always the cheapest — contractors, and that it’s the responsibility of local governments to make sure they are following local laws.
County administrator/clerk Leigh Williams told Lord in July she didn’t understand the process very well, and that commissioners were awaiting more detailed legal guidance on the issue from the state.
The Daily News contacted the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office, which said it was unfamiliar with legal issues involving these organizations. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has not issued a public legal opinion on the issue, a spokesman said.
The Miami County Republican Mafia has always watched out for itself as opposed to taxpayers.  This might be a bigger deal than their run for reelection, then resign and appoint the chosen replacement so they can run for reelection in three-and-a-half years as an incumbent scam.  One party rule is unhealthy for any level of government.  Miami County has been run by the Republican party for eternity.

NASA Photo of the Day

December 28:

NGC 6188 and NGC 6164
Image Credit & Copyright: Kfir Simon
Explanation: Fantastic shapes lurk in clouds of glowing hydrogen gas in NGC 6188, about 4,000 light-years away. The emission nebula is found near the edge of a large molecular cloud unseen at visible wavelengths, in the southern constellation Ara. Massive, young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association were formed in that region only a few million years ago, sculpting the dark shapes and powering the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. Joining NGC 6188 on this cosmic canvas is rare emission nebula NGC 6164, also created by one of the region's massive O-type stars. Similar in appearance to many planetary nebulae, NGC 6164's striking, symmetric gaseous shroud and faint halo surround its bright central star at the lower right. The field of view spans about two full Moons, corresponding to 70 light years at the estimated distance of NGC 6188.

Spontaneous Combustion From Alcoholism?

Colin Dickey covers the history at Lapham's Quarterly (h/t The Dish):
The evils of alcohol abuse have long been known and preached against by the more sober-minded, but for a period of about two hundred years imbibers had a particularly dire consequence to fear: that too much drinking would cause them to catch fire and be reduced to a small pile of greasy ash. A few decades after the Millet trial, on the evening of June 20, 1745, Countess Cornelia Zangari de Bandi of Cesena, of Verona, also burned to death. She was sixty-two years old; she went to bed at a normal hour, but when the maid came in the following morning, she found the Countess’s “corpse on the floor in the most dreadful condition. At the distance of four feet from the bed there was a heap of ashes. Her legs with the stockings on remained untouched and the head half-burned lay between them. Nearly all the rest of the body was reduced to ashes.” The scene was noteworthy in that it many details defied conventional understandings of pyrotechnics: “A small oil lamp on the floor was covered with ashes, but had no oil in it, and, in two candlesticks which stood upright upon a table, the cotton wick of both the candles was left, and the tallow of both had disappeared.” The bed was disturbed as if she had just risen from bed, but neither it, nor any other item in the room, showed any trace of fire. As with Millet’s wife, the Countess was a known drinker.
By 1799, there were enough cases on record for one physician, Pierre Lair, to identify some patterns and recurring characteristics of victims of spontaneous human combustion:
1. Victims were older, usually over 60.
2. Victims were overweight.
3. Victims led inactive lives.
4. Victims were alcoholics.
5. Women were more prone to spontaneously combust than men.
6. At the scene there was often an external flame, such as a candle or fireplace.
7. Combustion was extremely rapid.
8. The flames were difficult to extinguish.
9. The flames produced a strong empyreumatic odor.
10. The surrounding room was coated with a thick, yellow, greasy film.
11. The first usually consumed the trunk of the body, but left the head and extremities intact.
12. Accidents occurred during fair weather, and more often in winter than in summer.
Lair also ranked various spirits in terms of their likely contribution to Spontaneous Combustion: gin, followed by brandy, whiskey, and finally, rum.
I don't know about you, but the potential for spontaneous combustion is the last reason I need to avoid drinking gin.  As a side note, Morning Edition featured the history of gin the other day while interviewing Richard Barnett, the author of The Book of Gin.

Iowa DNR Gets Last Chance To Avoid EPA Takeover

Des Moines Register:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the Iowa Department of Natural Resources five years to inspect nearly 8,000 livestock facilities under a preliminary plan aimed at preventing a federal takeover of the program.
That is one of the details in an elaborate “work plan” the EPA has negotiated with the DNR, which enforces the Clean Water Act in Iowa on behalf of the federal agency.
But the three environmental groups that prompted the action still have concerns over whether the DNR will have enough workers to get the job done. And the organizations want to make sure that new permits the state agency grants those facilities aren’t full of loopholes, said David Goodner, a staffer at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
CCI, Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project in 2007 petitioned the EPA, asking the federal agency to consider taking over enforcement of the 1972 U.S. Clean Water Act. At the same time, it blasted the DNR for failing to adequately control pollution, including spills, from large livestock confinements.
In the past, the DNR has maintained that the facilities don’t need federal permits that control discharges because state law prohibits any releases into waterways. And the major livestock organizations here have agreed with that analysis.
But after a series of court decisions and environmental group petitions kept the issue hot, the EPA now is ordering the DNR to make sure those permits are issued. And the resources department has said it will ask the Legislature for money to hire more inspectors, perhaps 13.
Critics, including the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council, have noted that would only restore staff previously cut, not add firepower.
Goodner said the EPA will have to keep the heat on the DNR, which he claims is too friendly toward agricultural interests. He said CCI and its petition partners want the DNR to write tough permits that can be revoked for repeated environmental violations.
An industry-friendly state regulatory agency?  I'm shocked.  Too much ag industry influence in Iowa?  Nah.  Regulatory capture is one of the major weaknesses of the federalist argument.  It is much easier to buy off the state folks than the feds.  The state folks can see the economic benefits of ignoring pesky regulations that make businesses do things right.  What are the odds that DNR will get the job done right in the next 3 years?

The Heart of Scotch Whisky

CBS Sunday Morning visits the Isle of Islay:
Islay has just over 3,000 year-round residents, but in their midst nine whisky distilleries are thriving.
"I don't think there's many countries now in the world that wouldn't know about some of the whiskys that we have on Islay," said Mike Heads, manager at one of the older distilleries, called Ardbeg.
The Ardbeg mill dates back to 1921.
While some of his equipment may have seen a few updates over the years, he says the distillation process for a decent Islay malt has hardly changed a drop.
"The only thing you're allowed to use here is water, malted barley, and yeast," Heads said. "That's the only things we're allowed to put in the whisky."
The yeast and water are mixed with the barley, then fermented for a couple of days in enormous casks, known as "mash tuns," before it's distilled in giant copper stills and finally aged in wooden barrels.
But ultimately it's the malted barley they use here that really separates the wheat from the chaff.
Heads told Marx the peat smoke flavoring - measured at 55 parts per million in the malt is what gives it the flavor.
"It's the most heavily-peated malt of any whisky in Scotland if you look at that level," he said.
What's peat? A boggy kind of soil that is traditionally dried and burned as a fuel in Scotland's western isles.
Islay has peat in abundance, and peat smoke has long been used to malt (or flavor) the barley, creating its unique taste.
If I'm going to drink a Scotch (which almost never happens), it would probably be Laphroaig.  I enjoy the peat-smoked taste.

Some MF Global Customers May End Up Whole

Some customers of the failed brokerage MF Global could get back all the money they lost, according to the trustee who is working to recover those funds.
The Securities Investor Protection Corporation said there would “likely” be full restoration for securities customers who made “accepted” claims to get their money back. There should also be “significant additional distributions” to return some money to commodities customers, the organization said.
The outlook for repayments follows an agreement reached recently. James Giddens, the bankruptcy trustee overseeing the liquidation of MF Global’s main brokerage unit, and Richard Heis, who is overseeing the liquidation of the company’s United Kingdom operations, agreed to resolve all claims between the two corporate entities.
That agreement could result in an extra $500 million to $600 million eventually being freed up for the main brokerage unit to return to customers. The agreement still has to be approved by U.S. bankruptcy court.
I'm not sure what "accepted" claims means, but it would be nice if the small guys come out ok on the deal.  I still don't know how nobody (especially Corzine) has been charged with a crime in that collapse.

Fracking vs. Farming?

A water battle erupts over water use for Mississippi shipping and fracking (h/t nc links):
Fogarty says the Coast Guard has deployed four additional cutters to St. Louis running almost 24/7 to help set and reset navigation markers to designate the ever-shrinking shipping channel.
But even though the Coast Guard will make the call on whether the shipping channel in St. Louis will remain open, its ultimately the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who controls the fate of river commerce.
The Corps' decision to hold back water in reservoirs on the Missouri River is part of a set plan to conserve water for the spring shipping season and recreational use.
But people downstream on the Mississippi need that water right now.
“We estimate that $7 billion in cargo will stop moving on the Mississippi River if a nine-foot channel cannot be maintained through the winter months,” says Craig Philip, CEO of Ingram Barge Company. Ingram Barge is based in Tennessee.
Cutting the flow from dams in South Dakota will reduce water levels in St. Louis by 3 to 4 feet. Realizing that this might effectively kill shipping on the Mississippi over the near term, a group of Midwest politicians including Illinois Senator Dick Durbin are asking President Obama to declare an economic emergency and authorize the Army Corps to reopen the dams.
“This could be an economic catastrophe,” Durbin says.  “Let me be specific, by early this spring we need to be moving chemicals up the Mississippi River from Louisiana, so farmers have them for their spring planting.  Remember, they just went through a tough tough year in Illinois, so many of them are anxious for a comeback.”
But upstream states are saying, “not so fast.”  South Dakota, for example, is calling dibs on millions of gallons of water for use in the states oil-fracking boom.
Even Senator Durbin admits that asking the President to settle what amounts to a water-war between states is a dicey prospect.
“Clearly we’re in, maybe a zero-sum situation,” Durbin says. “We may be able to help our commerce downstream, but if we do it at the expense of those communities and states upstream, you can understand, they’re not going to stand by for this and I’m not sure I would either.”
Water requirements will end up limiting the scale of fracking, especially in the West.   This will be interesting, as it pits conservative interests against one another.