Saturday, October 25, 2014

Last Full October Weekend Links

Some stories to check out this weekend:

Jackie's Ghost: Roger Kahn and Jackie Robinson - Grantland.  Excellent piece.

World's Best Bucking Bull About to Retire - Morning Edition.   Bushwacker, who has only once been ridden for a full 8 seconds.

Daughter of the Dragon: Biking Bhutan with no shocks, no balls and a very gracious prince - SBNation

Greased Up at the State Fair of Texas: A night with the company that recycles the thousands and thousands of gallons of oil used during the fair - Texas Monthly

Idaho's sewer system is the Snake River: As Big Ag flourishes, this massive waterway suffers - High Country News.  See also, Environmental Impacts of Exporting Dry Milk Powder - Big Picture Agriculture

Soldier Flies: The New Food for Farm Fish - Scientific American.  More aquaculture news for you, Pete.

Alan Eustace Jumps From Stratosphere, Breaking Felix Baumgartner's Record - New York Times.  More cool video.

The man with the golden blood - Mosaic

TxDOT Ends Program That Converts Paved Roads to Gravel - Texas Tribune.  Truck traffic from the fracking boom and an insufficient maintenance budget were the original drivers of the program.  Politics is the driver of the termination of it.

Found in Pittsburgh: The Old Steel Industry, Frozen in Time - Wall Street Journal

Eye of the Storm: Ferguson Burger Bar & More - St. Louis Magazine

China's Rising Wages and the 'Made in USA' Revival - Businessweek

Thursday, October 23, 2014

How Not To Run A State

If we need a model for fucking things up, Kansas looks like an appropriate one:
Revenue numbers for July through September, the first three months of fiscal year 2015, suggest Kansas’ revenue gap is permanent, not temporary. The state anticipated $578 million in personal income tax collections over the summer, but it took in just $524 million, an overestimate of more than 10 percent. That was nationally atypical; according to the Rockefeller Institute of Government, 14 states have published projected and actual monthly personal income tax receipts through September, and the other 13 all came within 5 percent of expectations.
Kansas’ wide miss was probably a result of wading into uncharted territory with its tax reforms. In addition to cutting income tax rates, Kansas made itself the only state with a general personal-income tax that exempts “pass-through income” from tax.
Business entities like S-corporations and limited liability companies are not taxed at the corporate level; instead, their income is passed through to their owners, who then pay personal income tax on the profits in most states — but not Kansas.
One problem with this policy is that pass-through income and wage income are often fungible. A small-business owner might choose to take less of his income as (taxable) salary and more as (tax-free) profits, reducing Kansas income tax revenues. Estimating how many small-business owners would make such changes was the key to figuring out the cost of the tax cuts.
“I think there is major reshuffling of how people are paying their taxes,” says Duane Goossen, who served as budget director under the three governors who preceded Mr. Brownback, including the Republican Bill Graves and the Democrat Kathleen Sebelius. “You have every incentive to push your salary down and take all of your income as profit.”
Mr. Stotts, the taxation director, expressed hope that revenues would be stronger in the spring; he noted that taxpayers who make quarterly estimated tax payments are setting those payments based on last year’s tax bills, which (given last year’s revenue shortfall) were low. If incomes are strong this year, the resulting boost in revenues may show up in final payments made with tax returns filed in the spring, rather than estimated payments made this summer and fall.
"Mr. Stotts, the taxation director, expressed hope that revenues would be stronger in the spring." Mom always said, "wish in one hand, shit in the other; see which one fills up faster."  Looks like that is fiscal policy in the state of Kansas (and Ohio, for that matter).  Mom was also a math teacher, and understands that cutting income tax rates by 20% is impossible to make up by increased economic growth spurred by those tax cuts.  She's also a CPA, and understands that "pass-through income" has to be taxed (and should be taxed on a progressive scale) to prevent ridiculous skewing of the tax burden from successful business people to ordinary working stiffs.  In other words, she's about 20 times more intelligent than most Republicans, including those successful business people.  Like her, I knew such policies don't work, but I'm not in charge of a state.  Citizens tend to leave that to the dumb people (aka Republicans).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bruce Bartlett to Republicans: Come Back to Reality

He lays out a pretty good case that in an earlier era Obama would be considered a moderate Republican (when there was such a thing):
In my opinion, Obama has governed as a moderate conservative—essentially as what used to be called a liberal Republican before all such people disappeared from the GOP. He has been conservative to exactly the same degree that Richard Nixon basically governed as a moderate liberal, something no conservative would deny today. (Ultra-leftist Noam Chomsky recently called Nixon “the last liberal president.”)....
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was enacted in February 2009 with a gross cost of $816 billion. Although this legislation was passed without a single Republican vote, it is foolish to assume that the election of McCain would have resulted in savings of $816 billion. There is no doubt that he would have put forward a stimulus plan of roughly the same order of magnitude, but tilted more toward Republican priorities.
A Republican stimulus would undoubtedly have had more tax cuts and less spending, even though every serious study has shown that tax cuts are the least effective method of economic stimulus in a recession. Even so, tax cuts made up 35 percent of the budgetary cost of the stimulus bill—$291 billion—despite an estimate from Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that tax cuts barely raised the gross domestic product $1 for every $1 of tax cut. By contrast, $1 of government purchases raised GDP $1.55 for every $1 spent. Obama also extended the Bush tax cuts for two years in 2010.
It’s worth remembering as well that Bush did not exactly bequeath Obama a good fiscal hand. Fiscal year 2009 began on October 1, 2008, and one third of it was baked in the cake the day Obama took the oath of office. On January 7, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office projected significant deficits without considering any Obama initiatives. It estimated a deficit of $1.186 trillion for 2009 with no change in policy. The Office of Management and Budget estimated in November of that year that Bush-era policies, such as Medicare Part D, were responsible for more than half of projected deficits over the next decade.
Republicans give no credit to Obama for the significant deficit reduction that has occurred on his watch—just as they ignore the fact that Bush inherited an projected budget surplus of $5.6 trillion over the following decade, which he turned into an actual deficit of $6.1 trillion, according to a CBO study—but the improvement is real.
Amen.  Back in 2008, I felt the same as the Obamacons Bartlett mentions at the beginning of the article.  I really thought that Obama was somebody who would be able to work with Republicans much more smoothly than Hillary Clinton would have been able to.  I always thought Bill was a smarmy crooked politico who just was specially galling to Republicans, and that they'd react much more sanely with Obama in office.  Wow, I was incredibly incorrect on that one. 

I quickly realized that it wasn't Clinton personally who made Republicans act crazy, it was the fact that Americans would have the nerve to reject their candidate for President.  That turns them into tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy-mongers who suffer a psychotic break from reality when a Democrat enters the White House.  If congressional Democrats would have been half as hostile to Bush as the mouth-breathing idiot kings in the GOP House caucus have been to every completely sane proposal Obama has brought them in six years, all the loons on Fox News would have been calling the Dems traitors and saboteurs of our great nation.  Actually, what am I talking about, the loons on Fox News call the Dems traitors no matter what.  It just pains me to hear people I generally respect pour out the crazy talk over this president who, if he would have done what's best for the country, would have been a lot more liberal than what he has.  He's tried to get the half the country which has checked out from this world into bizarro world to work with him, and that has failed miserably.  As Bartlett says, maybe they will realize how conservative this president is when they get an actual progressive president, but at that time they'll be really, really losing their shit.  Some days, I worry that if that happens, we'll have a giant Republican Jonestown or Heaven's Gate mass suicide event.  But then I flip on Fox News or read something from a right-wing website, and wonder if it might not happen anyway.  I really wish I could talk to those folks and try to convince them that reality does not match up with what they think it is, but that's a mug's game.  You just can't convince them of anything.  Hey guys, look, a comet....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Chasing Cattle Rustlers

All Things Considered:
When cattle go missing, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is on the case.
You can find Special Ranger Wayne Goodman keeping an eye on local sale barns in Texas. With his badge, a cowboy hat and a pistol in his holster, he's the lawman there.
Goodman's job is to track down rustlers, and his work keeps him busy.
"I've got one I started yesterday where 50 calves were taken," he says. "[They] come in at night, they will honk the horn, call the cows up. They'll pull in there with a trailer, load them up and they're gone."
For some ranchers, it could be days before they realize the herd has shrunk.
That gives rustlers plenty of time to transport cattle out of state, never to be seen again. They usually take them to an auction, Goodman says, where the profit can be huge.
"If I break into your house and steal a TV set or your stereo, I can take it to a pawn shop and I get 10 cents on the dollar, maybe, if I'm lucky," he says. "I can take your cows to an auction barn, and I get dollar-for-dollar."...
It seems like it'd be impossible to track down stolen animals. But Goodman says it comes down to a tried and true method of identification.
"Branding is the oldest form of identifying cattle, but it's still the most effective," he says.
In Texas, ranchers actually register their unique brand symbols.
"You have to put down what your brand is, draw a picture of it, and where are you going to put it on the animal," Goodman says. "Left hip, right hip, right shoulder, left shoulder — all of that is part of your brand registration."
They also keep track of ear tags and small tattoos inside the animals' ears. All those details go into the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association database.
When an animal goes missing, special rangers know exactly what markings to look for at the local auction.
Hell, I wouldn't know if my cows broke through the fence or got stolen.  No brands to identify them by.  Right now, not even any ear tags.

Levi's - An Organic Chemistry Lesson

From James Kennedy:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shuckin' and Jivin'

 Ok, I guess only shucking:

Dick Humes, president of the Illinois Corn Husking Club, competes in the men's 50-and-older competition
Abby Wendle/NPR 
Frank Hennenfent is a typical Illinois farmer. At this time of year, he spends countless hours in an air-conditioned, GPS-equipped combine – an enormous machine that can harvest as many as 12 rows of corn at a time.
But in late September, Hennenfent was going back to the basics. He was a top competitor at the 34th annual Illinois State Corn Husking Competition.
This contest is held in a corn field in Roseville, a community in western Illinois. It's one of nine competitions happening during harvest season all across the Midwest. For some, picking corn by hand is about more than winning. It's about a connection to the past and remembering the older generations who labored in the fields....
The original competitions began in 1924 and grew in popularity in the 1930s as farmers struggled through the Depression and the dry days of the Dust Bowl. Back then, state competitions routinely drew crowds in the thousands and in 1938, newspapers reported 125,000 spectators attended the national competition in Iowa. For context, Soldier Field, home of the NFL's Chicago Bears, holds 61,500 fans.
Don McKinley grew up in the 1930s in southwestern Iowa on a farm with 100 acres of corn. During the harvest, he and his brothers would drop out of school for two months to help their dad pick corn from before sun up till after dark. "We just fall over into bed, collapse, get up the next morning and do it all over again," he says.
McKinley says each of them brought in about 4,500 pounds a day. That's a lot of corn.
But today, a big combine harvests close to 200,000 pounds an hour. To get the same results, you'd need more than 2,000 people picking by hand.....
Back in the corn field, Frank Hennenfent is finishing his race and he's attracted a crowd. He picked 450 pounds of corn in 20 minutes.
It might not be good enough to compete with John Deere. But it will take him to the national competition being held Sunday in Amana, Iowa.
4,500 pounds of ear corn is a little more than sixty-four bushel at 70 pounds a bushel.  I'm pretty sure I'd stick to the town job if we were still required to harvest corn by hand.

NASA Photo of the Day

From Thursday:

Rosetta's Selfie
Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA
Explanation: This Rosetta spacecraft selfie was snapped on October 7th. At the time the spacecraft was about 472 million kilometers from planet Earth, but only 16 kilometers from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Looming beyond the spacecraft near the top of the frame, dust and gas stream away from the comet's curious double-lobed nucleus and bright sunlight glints off one of Rosetta's 14 meter long solar arrays. In fact, two exposures, one short and one long, were combined to record the dramatic high contrast scene using the CIVA camera system on Rosetta's still-attached Philae lander. Its chosen primary landing site is visible on the smaller lobe of the nucleus. This is the last image anticipated from Philae's cameras before the lander separates from Rosetta on November 12. Shortly after separation Philae will take another image looking back toward the orbiter, and begin its descent to the nucleus of the comet.
Sixteen kilometers?  Looks more like sixteen feet.