Saturday, October 12, 2013

Some Saturday Night Music

The optimistic:

The realistic:

Nice Work, Hollywood

For my friend with the spinal meningitis/stiff neck:

Rural Americans and the Federal Government

From the support the Tea Party gets from rural areas, you would think the federal government has done nothing but take money from rural folks and give it to poor minorities in the cities.  However, rural areas have long been been beneficiaries of government programs, and not just farm programs.  One example got mentioned today in an NPR interview with Simon Winchester, the author of The Men Who United The States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible:
There's an irony I want to mention ... I write about the bringing of electricity to rural America and the role that the government played in the 1930s with the Rural Electrification Administration and very moving stories of farmers who never had electricity finally getting it. The first place in America to get electricity courtesy of FDR was out in the sticks, in Western Ohio — the 8th Congressional District, which is the district today represented by John Boehner. John Boehner — I don't want to get into a political fight here — is an archetype of "against big government," and yet the district he represents benefited hugely from big and wise government in the 1930s.
That's right, he's talking about my county and my rural electric co-op:
The earliest of millions of electric cooperative poles installed with funds from the federal Rural Electrification Administration was set by Miami Rural Electric Cooperative (now Pioneer Rural Electric Cooperative) in Piqua, Ohio, on November 14 (1935).
There are a number of other examples, but for some reason, rural Americans prefer the myth of self-reliance to the reality of communal support.  I am afraid that idiots like Jim Jordan, Tim Huelskamp and Steve King might cause the non-rural majority of the country to take actions to remind rural areas of how dependent they really are on the rest of the country.  That would not be a good thing.

How Does Ohio Kick Ass?

In affordable housing:

High-cost cities tend to have higher median incomes, which leads to the simple heuristic that, sure, it's costlier to live in San Francisco than in Akron, but the people who pay bills there make enough money that they can afford it.
In reality, yes, the median household income in metropolitan San Francisco is higher than it is in Akron (by about $30,000). But that smaller income will buy you much, much more in Ohio. To be more specific, if you make the median income in Akron – a good proxy for a spot in the local middle class – 86 percent of the homes on the market there this month are likely within your budget.
If you're middle-class in San Francisco, on the other hand, that figure is just 14 percent. Your money will buy you no more than 1,000 square feet on average. That property likely isn't located where you'd like to live. And the options available to you on the market are even fewer than they were just a year ago, according to data crunched by Trulia. To frame this another way, the median income in metro San Francisco is about 60 percent higher than it is in Akron. But the median for-sale housing price per square foot today is about 700 percent higher.
I guess that supply and demand thing is for real.

South Dakota Blizzard Kills Thousands of Cattle

This is from earlier in the week, but I thought there was some interesting information in it:
South Dakota ranchers are facing devastating losses in the aftermath of a blizzard that dropped as much as four feet of snow in western reaches of the state. It has been estimated as many as 100,000 cattle have been killed because of the snowstorm, devastating herds that many ranchers rely on to make a living, reported.
Sprinkled among melting patches of snow, thousands of carcasses now litter the flatlands where the cattle once grazed. The cattle likely died of either hypothermia or suffocation under the growing snowdrifts, said Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.
“It’s anyone’s guess how drastic this loss will be. The cattle were soaked to the bone. Then the wind and really heavy snow started -- it just clung to them and weighed them down,” Christen told Reuters. “Many of them just dropped where they were walking.” In all, it has been estimated most of the ranchers in the state lost between 50 percent and 75 percent of their herds, as Christen said the state is now looking at cattle deaths into the “tens of thousands if not pushing 100,000 at this point.”
I was surprised so many cattle would die in the storm, but then there is this:
 The snowstorm arrived so early in the season this year that the cattle were unable to grow their heavier winter coats.
One article also mentioned that the cattle were still on more open and remote summer pasture ground, and that normally ranchers move the cattle to more sheltered valleys for winter, but that the storm was so early that it hit before they had moved them. It is unbelievable how fast the weather changes there.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Road From Karakol

The Road From Karakol from Outdoor Research on Vimeo.

Jordan vs. Boehner

Rolling Stone lays out the battle lines: 
As leadership struggled to corral the class of 2010, a fellow congressman from Boehner's home state of Ohio seized the advantage. Jordan, the RSC chair, recruited 78 freshmen into his fold. The RSC suddenly comprised a majority of the majority party, and Jordan found himself in a position of tremendous power and leverage, concepts that the wiry but broad-shouldered third-term congressman understood in his bones – he won two NCAA championships wrestling in the 134-pound class.
Boehner never knew what hit him. The speaker would soon suffer two stinging defeats at the hands of Jordan and the RSC. The first came during the 2011 debt-ceiling battle, when Boehner shut out his conference to negotiate with President Obama a $4 trillion "grand bargain" that combined modest tax increases with draconian spending cuts. By any objective standard of Washington deal making, Boehner had extracted extraordinary concessions from a sitting Democratic president.
Believing the old rules of Washington still applied, Boehner was confident that where he led, House Republicans would follow. But Jordan's RSC simply wouldn't abide any deal that raised taxes, and more than 170 members were united against the speaker. If Boehner pressed ahead, the Grand Bargain could only pass with a majority of Democratic votes – a scenario that Cantor feared would spark a mutiny. So he spiked Boehner's deal. "We were preventing the speaker from making a bad mistake for himself and the rest of the leadership team," a former leadership aide tells Rolling Stone.
Jordan's intransigence forced Republican leaders and the president to settle on a smaller, cuts-only package that cost America its AAA credit rating and created the blunt across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester. Jordan and more than 60 House radicals opposed even that final deal, but he still claimed victory: "Conservatives stood firm," he gloated. "We [forced] Washington to begin addressing its spending­driven debt crisis."
Jordan beat Boehner again a year later during the fight over the expiring Bush tax cuts. In December 2012, the speaker introduced a compromise measure to preserve the Bush rates for incomes of less than $1 million.
I really don't understand who Jordan is fighting for.  Why would he care about folks who make more than $1 million a year.  His district just isn't very well-off.  Not only that, but he doens't have much more than government pension assets (ironic) of his own.  He is just one of the religious nut true believers.  What is his plan?  God only knows:
 Even the men who put this chaos in motion have admitted they don't have a strategy for the endgame. They just wanted to put the ball in play. Speaking on September 19th, after the House had all but guaranteed a federal shutdown, Jordan invoked the coach of the NFL's New England Patriots. "Even Belichick," he said, "doesn't script out the whole game."
What a fucktard.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Fairly Simple Explanation of the Tea Party

I think there are a lot of good explanations in this article, but there might be a little more nuance in what is going on.  However, I suggest you read the whole damn thing.  This is what I found interesting:
The Tea Party right is not only disproportionately Southern but also disproportionately upscale. Its social base consists of what, in other countries, are called the “local notables”—provincial elites whose power and privileges are threatened from above by a stronger central government they do not control and from below by the local poor and the local working class.
Even though, like the Jacksonians and Confederates of the nineteenth century, they have allies in places like Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the dominant members of the Newest Right are white Southern local notables—the Big Mules, as the Southern populist Big Jim Folsom once described the lords of the local car dealership, country club and chamber of commerce.  These are not the super-rich of Silicon Valley or Wall Street (although they have Wall Street allies). The Koch dynasty rooted in Texas notwithstanding, those who make up the backbone of the Newest Right are more likely to be millionaires than billionaires, more likely to run low-wage construction or auto supply businesses than multinational corporations. They are second-tier people on a national level but first-tier people in their states and counties and cities.
For nearly a century, from the end of Reconstruction, when white Southern terrorism drove federal troops out of the conquered South, until the Civil Rights Revolution, the South’s local notables maintained their control over a region of the U.S. larger than Western Europe by means of segregation, disenfranchisement, and bloc voting and the filibuster at the federal level. Segregation created a powerless black workforce and helped the South’s notables pit poor whites against poor blacks. The local notables also used literacy tests and other tricks to disenfranchise lower-income whites as well as blacks in the South, creating a distinctly upscale electorate. Finally, by voting as a unit in Congress and presidential elections, the “Solid South” sought to thwart any federal reforms that could undermine the power of Southern notables at the state, county and city level. When the Solid South failed, Southern senators made a specialty of the filibuster, the last defense of the embattled former Confederacy.
When the post-Civil War system broke down during the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, the South’s local notable class and its Northern and Western allies unexpectedly won a temporary three-decade reprieve, thanks to the “Reagan Democrats.” From the 1970s to the 2000s, white working-class voters alienated from the Democratic Party by civil rights and cultural liberalism made possible Republican presidential dominance from Reagan to George W. Bush and Republican dominance of Congress from 1994 to 2008.
There is a lot of valuable stuff there.  But the most important thing I think is in the whole deal is why decent folks buy into the sales pitch.  I think it is easy to demonizing folks who disagree with me, but I know so many good people who do, so I can't really buy into that.

On the Shutdown and Debt Standoff

I'll go with Bill McBride:
First, on the deficit. In 2000 the U.S. had a unified surplus of 2.4% of GDP. Then through a series of bad policy choices (all of which I opposed), the Federal government incurred a large structural deficit - and then with the housing bubble and bust - piled a large cyclical deficit on top of the structural deficit. In the fiscal year starting in October 2008 (Bush's last budget), the U.S. deficit had reached 10.1% of GDP. 

From a 2.4% surplus to a 10.1% deficit in a few years.  Ouch!!!

Since then, the deficit has declined from 10.1% to 4.0% of GDP in fiscal 2013.  Congratulations!  If anything, the deficit has declined too quickly (slowing economic growth).

Based on current policy, the deficit should continue to fall over the next couple of years, and remain in the 2% range for several years.  Then the deficit will slowly start to increase primarily due to healthcare costs.

This suggests we don't need any more fiscal tightening right now or for the next couple of years.  However we need a longer term plan to primarily address rising healthcare costs. 

Shutting down the government just adds to short term costs (pushing up the short term deficit).   Dumb. 

Smart policy would be to eliminate the so-called "debt ceiling" (really just about paying bills already occurred), and pass the Continuing Resolution (CR) that was negotiated between both parties (and agreed to by both parties except the House added an absurd policy rider).

In addition, smart policy would be to think of ways to address the long term issues.  This isn't pressing, and damaging the economy now is not the answer.  Perhaps another super-committee with long term consequences if the committee fails (not more short term cuts like the sequester).   The consequences should be distasteful to both parties - and both cut spending and raise revenue in the long term so there is some motivation for the committee to reach agreement.

And on deadbeats and defaults:  There are certain politicians who think it is OK to not pay the bills as long as the U.S. makes interest and principal payments on the debt.  This is crazy talk.

Amen. The Republicans are insane on this shit.

A Smuggler's Submarine

 Photo: Colombian soldiers guard one of the homemade submarines found in a rural southwestern Columbia. The submersible could transport up to 8 tons of cocaine at a time, the Colombian army said. By Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

Jim Popkin reports on an amazing engineer who designed illicit submarines to smuggle cocaine from Columbia to the United States:
On Monday a Miami jury delivered a guilty verdict for one of Mahecha’s associates. But far more interesting than the prosecution of one of his underlings was the detail the trial revealed about Mahecha’s criminal mind—and his underwater engineering marvels.
Mahecha spared no expense. He had a fat R&D budget and spent millions of dollars building each submarine. These aren’t the crude semisubmersibles that drug runners have used for years to cruise just below the ocean’s surface. Those vessels can’t dive to avoid detection and are often just cigarette boats encased in wood and fiberglass. Mahecha’s Kevlar-coated submarines, by contrast, can submerge to 60 feet, go 10 days without refueling, and glide underwater for up to 18 hours at a clip. Unbelievably, they were made by hand in the mangrove swamps of Colombia and Ecuador, in desolate outposts with no access to electricity.
When analysts with the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence got their first close look at one of Mahecha’s captured submarines, a 74-foot-long beast with twin propellers, they devoted 70 fawning pages to describing its capabilities. “The streamlined hull, diesel-electric propulsion system, and fuel ballast system design all show a significant level of technical expertise and knowledge of submersible operations,” they crowed in a confidential Naval Intelligence white paper marked “For Official Use Only.”
Mahecha is no MacGyver, and he didn’t design the subs himself. For help with construction and operations, he recruited talent from the Colombian navy, using promises of fast cash to lure five current and former seamen to work on the project in his remote jungle hideouts. He filled out his building crew by corrupting local welders, electricians, and fiberglass installers, according to papers filed in the case. Finally, he brought in local muscle to secure the sites, arming his men with automatic rifles and grenades.
Together, the ragtag team constructed at least three submarines. Perhaps the most important aspect of the subs’ design was how they were powered: They were loaded with batteries—249 Chinese-made, lead-acid batteries were found on one sub alone—and ran quiet. So quiet that the U.S. Navy worried that they were “potentially difficult to detect acoustically or by radar.” Mahecha was building an underwater cocaine pipeline, an undetectable narco-submarine delivery system straight from the mind of Lex Luthor. Indeed, U.S. and Columbian authorities may have never learned of his sophisticated operation if it weren’t for Genert Quintero
I remember when Cuban immigrants took off from the island on a raft with pretty much a grain truck with a drive shaft run to a jerry-rigged propeller to power the thing from Cuba to Florida.  Since they didn't make land, the Coast Gurad returned them to Cuba.  I thought that anybody that could rig up that mess and make it most of the way from Cuba to the U.S. was doing something well enough to deserve to be an American citizen.  If this submarine wasn't involved in the drug trade, it would be comparable.

Gosh Darn (edited), Real Politics is Hard

I was just hanging out with a bunch of folks I really like and respect.  Somebody (not me) made some comment that I would describe as straight from Fox News.  So I tried as best as I could (I swear) to explain why I thought that position was understandable, but ultimately misguided, and suddenly I was fucking Karl Marx risen from the dead.  I laid out all the information I could muster, and when people didn't believe what I said, I told them that seriously, they could trust the numbers I put out there.  The response I got was that I may have the numbers, but they understood the reality.  I tried to explain that they understood the anecdote they lived or heard about, but that the numbers gave a better explanation of realtiy.  I got 0 to 1 converts.  Actually, I got zero converts.  That is extremely frustrating.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Muana Kea Heavens Timelapse

Mauna Kea Heavens Timelapse from Sean Goebel on Vimeo.

Shutdown Affects Weather Prognostication

Sure, you think weather forecasting is bad anyway, but it could be much worse without government input:
On Monday afternoon, a line of storms hundreds of miles long crossed the Appalachians and struck cities on the Eastern seaboard. Earlier that day, tornado watch was issued, stretching from New York City to Washington, D.C., that lasted until 5 p.m.; broadcasts and web journalists picked up the news and transmitted it to millions in the affected region.
Most people who heard about that tornado watch learned about it from journalists and journalist-meteorologists who work at private media companies. But, perhaps without realizing it, everyone who heard about it depended upon the meteorologists, one level down and less visible, who work for the National Weather Service, a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Americans, in other words, rely daily on the “vibrant public-private-academic partnership” that exists in the United States around weather, according to Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, president of the American Meteorological Society. Every part relies on every part — and every part is suffering for the shutdown.
In a special blog post, Shepherd unfolds how the shutdown is damaging American meteorology. It’s easy to think, he writes, that “well, we are still getting our weather forecasts and warnings, and I still have the information from TV.”
But this, he says, is deeply naïve.
"Private sector companies and broadcast stations," he says:
are essential partners in the weather enterprise. However, most of the satellite, Doppler radar, and observational data are from federal sources. The major forecast models are run at NOAA facilities. Federal predictions centers and Forecast Offices issue warnings. I can’t imagine a major potato chip maker saying that it could survive without potato farms. The point herein is that there is a vibrant public-private-academic partnership and each component is essential.
(Emphasis mine.)
Those resources are still working, but all maintenance on them has halted. Many employees working at them have stopped being paid. American weather news depends on the American government.
But it goes beyond the news. Marshall proceeds to inventory what he sees as the cascading consequences of the shutdown. Some consequences are technical, he says: The United States might fail to develop weather models to rival Europe’s. The shutdown might exacerbate the upcoming, possible gap in functioning government weather satellites.
Again, I have never understood the Republican party's war on government scientific research and data gathering, other than that it prevents the private sector from screwing over citizens.  Most of the things the Republicans want to cut outside of social spending I think are the coolest things government does.  That is what keeps me from voting for those jackasses.

League of Denial

SI features an excerpt of the book highlighting the NFL's war against recognizing traumatic brain injury amongst NFL alumni:
Nowinski got McKee her first brain in February 2008. It belonged to a former linebacker, John Grimsley, who had played in the NFL from 1984 to '93, mostly with the Oilers. Grimsley had a reputation as a hard hitter with a mean streak, the archetypal linebacker. About a decade after he left the game, his wife of nearly 25 years, Virginia, started noticing changes in her husband. First came short-term memory problems: forgetting why he went to the store, renting the same movie over and over. Then came the mood swings—anger and irritability. He would lose his temper without any warning or provocation.
Grimsley died at 45. He shot himself in the chest. Police ruled it an accident. It appeared that he had been cleaning his pistol. Virginia told the Houston Chronicle that her husband had bought a new handgun with which he wasn't familiar. "Anyone could tell you that John would not take his own life," she said. "He was a happy guy." Two days later, Nowinski called and asked to examine Grimsley's brain.
When McKee peered into the microscope after staining the brain for tau, she was stunned. There was tau everywhere, "like disease on steroids," she said, but there was no trace of beta-amyloid, one of the main components of Alzheimer's. McKee would never forget that moment. "You feel like, Oh, my God!" she said. Her first call was to her brother Chuck, the doctor. Ann explained the disease she had found in Grimsley's brain. It looked just like dementia pugilistica, a brain disease first discovered in boxers in the late 1920s. Chuck's response would stick with Ann for years. "This is going to change football," he said.
On May 25, 2008, another former NFL player died young: Tom McHale, 45, who had spent nine years in the league as a 6' 4", 290-pound offensive guard before retiring after the 1995 season. He died of a drug overdose. By then the story had become familiar: At the time of his death the once thoughtful and friendly McHale "was very, very different from the guy I married," his wife, Lisa, said. "It was like he was a shell of his former self," with the often vacant and disheveled look of a man who no longer cared.
McHale's brain tissue was analyzed by McKee and, separately, by Dr. Bennet Omalu, who had discovered football-caused CTE when he analyzed Webster's brain in 2002. Both he and McKee found CTE in McHale's brain. McHale was the sixth deceased NFL player found to have CTE.
At a press conference organized by Nowinski in Tampa in January 2009, the week before Super Bowl XLIII, McKee pointed out the brown splotches of tau that had eaten away at McHale's identity. This looked like the brain of a 72-year-old former boxer. "I have never seen this disease in the general population, only in these athletes," McKee said. "It's a crisis, and anyone who doesn't recognize the severity of the problem is in tremendous denial."
Will the NFL be the premier sport in this country in 20 years, or will it be like boxing, a passion for a few diehards?  I don't really know, but I think the second outcome is more likely than we may think today.  Read the whole article.

Fall is Here

The Atlantic features a bunch of photos of the arrival of Autumn.  My favorite (other than the one of the Oktoberfest waitresses holding sparklers) is this one:

Bavarian farmers transport their cows on a boat over the picturesque Lake Koenigssee, on October 5, 2013. Before the winter season approaches, the farmers have to drive their cattle down from their Alpine meadows to a narrow valley that can only be reached by boat. (Reuters/Michaela Rehle) #

Salmonella Outbreak on Government Shutdown

While the government is shut down, with food-safety personnel and disease detectives sent home and forbidden to work, a major foodborne-illness outbreak has begun. This evening, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture announced that “an estimated 278 illnesses … reported in 18 states” have been caused by chicken contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg and possibly produced by the firm Foster Farms.
“FSIS is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period,” the agency said in an emailed alert. “The outbreak is continuing.”
This is the exact situation that CDC and other about-to-be-furloughed federal personnel warned about last week. As a reminder, a CDC staffer told me at the time:
I know that we will not be conducting multi-state outbreak investigations.  States may continue to find outbreaks, but we won’t be doing the cross-state consultation and laboratory work to link outbreaks that might cross state borders.
That means that the lab work and molecular detection that can link far-apart cases and define the size and seriousness of outbreaks are not happening. At the CDC, which operates the national foodborne-detection services FoodNet and PulseNet, scientists couldn’t work on this if they wanted to; they have been locked out of their offices, lab and emails. (At a conference I attended last week, 10 percent of the speakers did not show up because they were CDC personnel and risked being fired if they traveled even voluntarily.)
Hopefully people notice that government does do some important things for them on a day-to-day basis.  Food poisoning isn't one of the biggest concerns I have, but this can really hurt a lot of people.

Water's Scarce in Central Texas

Texas Monthly:
Central Texas lakes are at their lowest levels in more than 60 years, and Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan, the reservoirs northwest of Austin that supply water to the region, now stand at just 33 percent full. These lower levels have significantly reduced customer traffic and forced many lakeside business owners to make difficult decisions.
The closing of Carlos’n Charlie’s was the latest and most visible business impact of the drought. In the past, thousands of patrons would arrive by boat and car to watch the restaurant’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show and listen to live music. But the boat docks have been unusable for more than three years.
“We hung in there for the first bad year, the second bad year, and now the third bad year,” said Pete Clark, co-owner of Carlos’n Charlie’s. “We knew that if we hung on for a fourth, we would create a hole we couldn’t dig out of.”...
The Lower Colorado River Authority is the state-created organization that controls the water in Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis, as well as a 600-mile stretch from San Saba to the Gulf Coast. It is the L.C.R.A.’s duty to balance the needs of both those upstream in the Austin area, where the population around the lakes has boomed, and those at end of the line in Matagorda, Wharton and Colorado counties, where rice production drives the local economies.
State water laws give the downstream users first priority and two years ago, with Texas struggling through its driest year ever, the L.C.R.A. released roughly 120 billion gallons of water to rice farmers. That summer, very little rain fell to replenish the lakes while Central Texas experienced record-breaking streaks of 100-degree temperatures. By the end of the year, Lakes Travis and Buchanan had about half as much water as they had at the beginning of the year.
The L.C.R.A. took emergency measures in 2012 and 2013 to cut off the water supply to most downstream farmers, but according to Mr. Clark, by then the damage was done.
Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis are at about 1/3 of full pool volume.  Climate change plus irrigation plus population growth plus industrial growth equals trouble in the burgeoning desert.  Since 1900, we've seen this run-up of population growth against the water cycle so many times, I don't understand why we keep repeating it.  Anyway, the days of Texas growth are running up against the limits of natural resources. Don't believe the hype.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Year's Best Infographics

Wired features 13.  This is my favorite:

Also interesting (ah, Christmas parties):

Monsanto Spent $1 Billion on What?

Modern Farmer:
Monsanto is hot to expand further into data services for farmers.
Toward that end, the company on Tuesday morning announced that it will acquire The Climate Corporation for $930 million. Climate Corporation underwrites weather insurance for farmers, basically in real time, using some of the most sophisticated data tools available to determine the risks posed by future weather conditions and events.
And the company doesn’t limit itself to weather data. As politicians, pundits, and people on the Internet continue to argue over whether climate change is real, the insurance industry has for years been operating under the assumption that it is. So Climate Corporation uses data from major climate-change models — the very ones that are under constant assault by doubters —  in its calculations.
Climate Corporation manages an eye-popping 50 terabytes of live data, all at once. Besides climate-change models, data is collected from regular old weather forecasts and histories, soil observations, and other sources. The company collects data from 2.5 million separate locations. Given these numbers, it shouldn’t be surprising that Climate Corporation is basically alone in this market. The barriers to entry are immense.
The company makes use of “machine learning” —a kind of artificial intelligence. That’s the technology behind, for example, determining which of your incoming email messages are spam —except in this case the tech is much, much more sophisticated. Each new bit of data that’s entered into the system — rainfall in Douglas County Nebraska, say, or the average heat index in Louisiana’s Winn Parish —helps it learn, and more accurately forecast what will happen in the future.
It will be interesting what comes of such data.  I'm not sure how good they'll get at predicting the weather weeks or months away, but it's good to get a little competition in the field.  I haven't been extremely impressed with some of the incumbents in the field.

The Benefits of Obamacare for Small Business

James Surowiecki:
The story is guaranteed to feed the fears of small-business owners. But the overwhelming majority of American businesses—ninety-six per cent—have fewer than fifty employees. The employer mandate doesn’t touch them. And more than ninety per cent of the companies above that threshold already offer health insurance. Only three per cent are in the zone (between forty and seventy-five employees) where the threshold will be an issue. Even if these firms get more cautious about hiring—and there’s little evidence that they will—the impact on the economy would be small.
Meanwhile, the likely benefits of Obamacare for small businesses are enormous. To begin with, it’ll make it easier for people to start their own companies—which has always been a risky proposition in the U.S., because you couldn’t be sure of finding affordable health insurance. As John Arensmeyer, who heads the advocacy group Small Business Majority, and is himself a former small-business owner, told me, “In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our entrepreneurial spirit, but we’ve had this bizarre disincentive in the system that’s kept people from starting new businesses.” Purely for the sake of health insurance, people stay in jobs they aren’t suited to—a phenomenon that economists call “job lock.” “With the new law, job lock goes away,” Arensmeyer said. “Anyone who wants to start a business can do so independent of the health-care costs.” Studies show that people who are freed from job lock (for instance, when they start qualifying for Medicare) are more likely to undertake something entrepreneurial, and one recent study projects that Obamacare could enable 1.5 million people to become self-employed.
Even more important, Obamacare will help small businesses with health-care costs, which have long been a source of anxiety. The fact that most Americans get their insurance through work is a historical accident: during the Second World War, wages were frozen, so companies began offering health insurance instead. After the war, attempts to create universal heath care were stymied by conservatives and doctors, and Congress gave corporations tax incentives to keep providing insurance. The system has worked well enough for big employers, since large workforces make possible the pooling of risk that any healthy insurance market requires. But small businesses often face so-called “experience rating”: a business with a lot of women or older workers faces high premiums, and even a single employee who runs up medical costs can be a disaster. A business that Arensmeyer represents recently saw premiums skyrocket because one employee has a child with diabetes. Insurance costs small companies as much as eighteen per cent more than it does large companies; worse, it’s also a crapshoot. Arensmeyer said, “Companies live in fear that if one or two employees get sick their whole cost structure will radically change.” No wonder that fewer than half the companies with under fifty employees insure their employees, and that half of uninsured workers work for small businesses or are self-employed. In fact, a full quarter of small-business owners are uninsured, too.
I really think there will be a lot of people surprised at how they would benefit under the PPACA.  It might even lead to questions about why the Republican party lied for so long about the impacts of the law.  I've never understood why businesspeople weren't pushing for single-payer health care.  Having your health insurance tied to your employer has never made sense, and it is well nigh impossible for a small business to compete against a large corporation when it comes to health insurance cost. How much riskier is it for somebody to leave their job which provides health insurance to strike out on their own to start a business?  But hey, if there is one thing I've learned over the years, it is that the ability to run a business isn't necessarily indicative of natural intelligence.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Is Your Grass-Fed Beef Imported?

All Things Considered:
Nobody collects information on exactly how much of the grass-fed beef that Americans eat comes from abroad. Theo Weening, the global meat coordinator for Whole Foods, says his company buys very little. "We probably import maybe 3 percent. The rest is regional, local; that's what we really push for," he says.
But you'll see plenty of Australian-origin beef in other supermarkets. Organic Valley, meanwhile, gets all of its grass-fed beef from Australia. There's also a lot of grass-fed beef coming in from and Brazil.
So why does the U.S., the world's biggest beef producer, have to go abroad to find enough of the grass-fed variety?
, an agricultural economist at the University of Georgia, says some of the reasons are pretty simple. Weather, for instance. In most of the U.S., it freezes. In Australia, it doesn't. So in Australia, as long as there's water, there's grass year-round.
And then there's the issue of land. "If you're going to finish animals on grass, it takes more land," Lacy says. Grassland in Australia is relatively cheap and plentiful, and there's not much else you can do with a lot of it, apart from grazing animals.
As a result, Australian grass-fed cattle operations are really big. In fact, they're the mainstream. Seventy percent of Australia's beef production comes from cattle that spent their lives grazing. And when beef operations are large-scale, everything becomes cheaper, from slaughtering to shipping.
On Monday, the U.S. company Cargill with Australia's second-biggest beef producer — a company called Tey's. Cargill will now sell more Australian beef in the U.S., both grass-fed and grain-fed.
I would figure that most of our potential area for grass-fed beef is instead used for cow-calf operations which send the calves to feedlots at weaning.  So they can raise a lot more calves to sell by keeping more cows on grass and shipping out the calves.  Plus, in much of that region they still have to contend with winter.  Then there is also the extra time it takes to fatten calves up on grass. Overall, it would be hard to produce the beef in the U.S. at a price that is competitive to Australia, Brazil , Argentina or Uruguay.

NASA Photo of the Day

Right now:

Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not available.
We sincerely regret this inconvenience.
For information about available government services, visit

Este sitio web no se está disponible durante el cierre del Gobierno.
Lamentamos profundamente las molestias que esto pueda causar.
Visite para informarse sobre los servicios gubernamentales disponibles
durante el cierre del Gobierno.

That's the second time I got this today. I was looking at USDA maps at Wired and clicked on one of the links and got a similar message.

The Reign of Morons

Charles Pierce:
We have elected the people sitting on hold, waiting for their moment on an evening drive-time radio talk show.
We have elected an ungovernable collection of snake-handlers, Bible-bangers, ignorami, bagmen and outright frauds, a collection so ungovernable that it insists the nation be ungovernable, too. We have elected people to govern us who do not believe in government.
We have elected a national legislature in which Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann have more power than does the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who has been made a piteous spectacle in the eyes of the country and doesn't seem to mind that at all. We have elected a national legislature in which the true power resides in a cabal of vandals, a nihilistic brigade that believes that its opposition to a bill directing millions of new customers to the nation's insurance companies is the equivalent of standing up to the Nazis in 1938, to the bravery of the passengers on Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and to Mel Gibson's account of the Scottish Wars of Independence in the 13th Century. We have elected a national legislature that looks into the mirror and sees itself already cast in marble.
We did this. We looked at our great legacy of self-government and we handed ourselves over to the reign of morons.
This is what they came to Washington to do -- to break the government of the United States. It doesn't matter any more whether they're doing it out of pure crackpot ideology, or at the behest of the various sugar daddies that back their campaigns, or at the instigation of their party's mouthbreathing base. It may be any one of those reasons. It may be all of them. The government of the United States, in the first three words of its founding charter, belongs to all of us, and these people have broken it deliberately. The true hell of it, though, is that you could see this coming down through the years, all the way from Ronald Reagan's First Inaugural Address in which government "was" the problem, through Bill Clinton's ameliorative nonsense about the era of big government being "over," through the attempts to make a charlatan like Newt Gingrich into a scholar and an ambitious hack like Paul Ryan into a budget genius, and through all the endless attempts to find "common ground" and a "Third Way." Ultimately, as we all wrapped ourselves in good intentions, a prion disease was eating away at the country's higher functions. One of the ways you can acquire a prion disease is to eat right out of its skull the brains of an infected monkey. We are now seeing the country reeling and jabbering from the effects of the prion disease, but it was during the time of Reagan that the country ate the monkey brains.
I ran against our idiot state representative in 2006 because I couldn't stand that the Republican party was turning into an organization run by the dumbest part of the group.  I didn't really say a whole lot to get out the message, because I quickly learned that a lot of people I like and generally respect bought into the nonsense. 

I've worked really hard in conversations with people since then to explain that because of the Bush tax cuts (and various state tax cuts), very rich people are paying much less in taxes than they used to, and that folks with lots of unearned income pay much less overall in taxes than most folks with earned income.  What I've come to realize is that most folks are too busy in their daily lives to be able to keep up on the numerous ways people at the top of the heap buffalo them with simplistic talking points to convince them that Republicans are working in their interests.

Not only that, but the loss of good-paying factory jobs, and the increase of service jobs has left the difference between the incomes the lower middle class (say, people making enough income they don't qualify for the earned-income tax credit), the working poor (people with jobs who qualify for the earned-income tax credit) and the unemployed poor (people who's income comes solely from government support), which leaves the first two groups extremely resentful of the third group.  They will support politicians who tell them that the third group is the cause of most of the deficit, when a significant portion comes from the tax cuts and wars, along with Medicare.  But they aren't the only people voting for those guys.  A large number of business people who should be able to see through the bullshit also buy in.  Of those politicians who sell that bullshit, the worst of the worst are the true believers, the ones who have turned trickle-down economics and hatred of the poor into quasi-religious beliefs to be combined with their religious fundamentalism.  Those are the idiot caucus, and they are at fault in this mess. They need cut out of our government like the malignancy they are.  While folks like John Boehner tell the same tall tales as the idiot caucus, they are willing to listen to the semi-sane and realize they can't just burn down the government.  Unfortunately, in their lust for power, Boehner and his ilk have handed over the reins to the idiot caucus and the craziest part of the base.

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Firing Line

I'd be curious to know how much fat was collected and how much actually was used in the war effort. Anyway, this reminds me of the war propaganda posters. I searched for some the other day and came across some classics: