Saturday, February 7, 2015

Color Me Shocked

From Vox:

Early February Weekend Links

Some stories for your weekend enjoyment:

The General Who Never Was - SBNation.  Back in my conservative days, I was a huge Bobby Knight fan.  I thought those kids who couldn't play under him showed the weakness of modern America.  It's amazing how things change.

In Pond Hockey, No Reason to Have One Big Fish - New York Times

Pinball Wizards - Cincinnati Magazine.  "Ride the ferris wheel."

In Northern Minnesota 176,000 Acres Have Been Deforested for Cropland Since 2006 - Big Picture Agriculture.  That sounds like a really bad idea.  Then again, maybe this is just good preparation for global warming.

Feds Seize $2 Million Worth of Illegal Chinese Honey - Modern Farmer (It's still churning along).  More on Chinese honey imports here.

Report urges grass buffer requirements between crops and streams - Cedar Rapids Gazette.  Hat tip HillBilly.  Also, Advocacy group touts buffer zones to reduce pollution - Des Moines Register.  A little different wording in that headline.  Finally, Here's How To End Iowa's Great Nitrate Fight - The Salt

The Birth of the Philly Cheesesteak - Priceonomics

Canadian Whisky Is Way Better Than You Think - Bloomberg.  I'll stick to beer.

Growers Are Making Bank on This Green, Fragrant Bud.  No, Not That One - Mother Jones.  On hops.

Alcohol Prohibition in America Is Not Over Yet - Pacific Standard
You Have No Idea What Happened - The New Yorker.  Timely, what with Brian Williams in the news.  Eyewitness testimony is given way too much credibility.

Plush Life: Why did people lose their minds over Beanie Babies - Slate.  I mocked that bubble way before it popped.  It still pisses me off that the guy who came up with those is a fucking billionaire.

Walker proposes changing Wisconsin Idea - then backs away - Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  Drafting error, my ass (Meet the state's workforce needs?  Seriously? That's it?).  The fucker just got caught trying to sneak through a massive change to a major part of the state of Wisconsin's DNA (just like how cancer works).  I just don't understand how he convinced a majority of Wisconsinites to elect him three times.  It is terrifying thinking of him as President working with a wing-nut Republican Congress.  I want to see him politically curb-stomped. 

How Nebraska Took Its Energy Out of Corporate Hands And Made It Affordable For Everyone: Publicly owned utilities provide electricity to all 1.8 million residents in this red state - Alternet.  Didn't know that.  What the hell happened to the plains states between the Great Depression and today?

Risky Pension-Bond Strategy Considered in Kansas - Wall Street Journal.  This is what happens when your state is run by idiots who put cult beliefs ahead of basic arithmetic.  What the hell happened to the plains states between the Great Depression and today?

The Foolish, Historically Illiterate, Incredible Response to Obama's Prayer Breakfast Speech - Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I'm pretty sure the terrorists who blew up the 16th Street Baptist Church thought they were doing God's work.  William Baxley disagreed.

Texas Swagger Fades as Oil Town Finds Itself in OPEC Squeeze - Bloomberg.  Also, U.S. Supply Growth To Halt This Summer -

This Map Shows Why The Midwest Is Screwed - Mother Jones.  This reflects my biggest concern about the potential impacts of global warming on agriculture.  Hopefully, we will be able to adapt, but it isn't the kind of risk I like taking.

Friday, February 6, 2015

John Henry

I just started a novel about John Henry, and figured we could use a Friday night song:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

CME To Close Most Open Outcry Pits

That era has finally ended after CME Group Inc. announced Wednesday it will close most of its futures pits in Chicago and New York. The move deals a death blow to trading floors that grew in the 20th century alongside America’s agriculture, mining and energy industries and were once synonymous with capitalism.
With open outcry trading dwindling to just 1 percent of volume at CME, the owner of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and New York Mercantile Exchange decided to shutter nearly all its trading floors by July 2, according to a statement from Chicago-based CME. The exceptions include Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures as well as some options on futures.
“It was only a question of time,” said Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford University and Bloomberg View contributor. “It has taken this long mainly because CME has shown some loyalty toward market participants whose livelihood has depended on their participation in open-outcry trading.”
The rise of computers triggered the decline of floor trading beginning in the 1990s, said Craig Pirrong, a finance professor at the University of Houston.
“The floor in its heyday was an amazing place,” he said. “Despite the seeming chaos, it was an incredibly efficient way to buy and sell.” Yet in-person trading was a technology that hadn’t been updated since the 1860s, when Chicago served as the birthplace for derivatives.
Though CME’s Chicago trading floor has its roots in the 19th century, the pits at the Merc and the Chicago Board of Trade -- which CME bought in 2007 -- also spawned many of the high-frequency trading firms that now dominate computerized markets. Former floor traders Paul Gurinas and Bill DiSomma created Jump Trading LLC, one of the most prolific trading firms in the world.
The frenetic shouting, gesticulating and jumping -- which Gurinas and DiSomma allude to in the name of their firm -- that’s used to buy or sell futures made their way into popular culture. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” featured a scene where the main character proposed to his girlfriend while overlooking the Chicago Board of Trade....
The CME decision affects products including contracts linked to metals, energy and agricultural commodities. In the past decade, CME bought the Chicago Board of Trade and consolidated their Chicago trading floors into one location. Many of the posts had become mostly empty in recent years as traders shifted to electronic platforms, including CME’s own Globex system.
All options traded at CME will retain an open-outcry component, except for contracts on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq-100 Index.
They may as well have closed the pits as soon as they closed the observation deck at the Board of Trade after the September 11 attacks.  What good is the trading floor if you can't watch and see what's going on? Anyway, one more job where computers have put people out of work.


From Bloomberg:
The underground industrial park known as SubTroplis opened for business in 1964 in an excavated mine below Kansas City, Mo., attracting tenants with the lure of lower energy costs and cheap rents. The walls, carved out of 270-million-year-old limestone deposits, help keep humidity low and temperatures at a constant 68 degrees, eliminating the need for air conditioning or heating. Tenants have reported saving as much as 70 percent on their energy bills, says Ora Reynolds, president of SubTropolis landlord Hunt Midwest. Rents run about $2.25 per square foot, about half the going rate on the surface. "It's also a question of sustainability," says Joe Paris, vice president at Paris Brothers, a specialty foods packager that employs about 200 workers underground. In addition to Paris Brothers, 51 tenants have rented nearly 6 million square feet of space. Others include LightEdge Solutions, a cloud computing company that uses the mild climate to help cool servers, and an underground archive that contains the original film reels to Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz.
The U.S. Postal Service keeps hundreds of millions of postage stamps in an underground distribution hub at SubTropolis. There's still plenty of space here, with about 8 million square feet of land to develop—almost 10 times the floor area of Kansas City's tallest building. To reach capacity, Hunt Midwest may have to consider additional uses. Underground real estate has been used to grow mushrooms in Pennsylvania and vegetables in London. "We've talked about that," says Reynolds. "We've talked about fish, too. For now, we're trying to stick to what we're good at."
Makes energy sense.


Wings from Victory Journal on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Extreme Effectiveness of ISIS Terrorist Tactics

I've heard a lot of people in the last few days say that we need to double down on killing those fuckers from ISIS because they behead people and set some dude on fire.  Yes, both of those things are horrible, but doesn't Saudi Arabia behead people they find guilty of crimes?  And what the fuck were those dirty fucking hippies doing protesting against Dow back in the 1960s?  Wasn't it for manufacturing the napalm that was dropped over rural villages and set innocent civilians on fire?  Does anybody remember seeing this picture?

And it seems like I recently saw a post about the photo from the first Gulf war that no U.S. newspaper would publish. It showed one of thousands of Iraqi army victims of a U.S. fuel-air bomb attack:

This is a description of that scene:
The retreating Iraqi soldiers had been trapped. They were frozen in a traffic jam, blocked off by the Americans, by Mutla Ridge, by a minefield. Some fled on foot; the rest were strafed by American planes that swooped overhead, passing again and again to destroy all the vehicles. Milk vans, fire trucks, limousines, and one bulldozer appeared in the wreckage alongside armored cars and trucks, and T-55 and T-72 tanks. Most vehicles held fully loaded, but rusting, Kalashnikov variants. According to descriptions from reporters like The New York Times’ R.W. Apple and the Observer’s Colin Smith, amid the plastic mines, grenades, ammunition, and gas masks, a quadruple-barreled anti-aircraft gun stood crewless and still pointing skyward. Personal items, like a photograph of a child’s birthday party and broken crayons, littered the ground beside weapons and body parts. The body count never seems to have been determined, although the BBC puts it in the “thousands.....”
“There were 1,400 [Iraqi soldiers] in that convoy, and every picture transmitted until that one came, two days after the event, was of debris, bits of equipment,” Tony McGrath, the Observer’s pictures editor, was quoted as saying in the same article. “No human involvement in it at all; it could have been a scrapyard. That was some dreadful censorship.”
Here is a description of how those bombs work:
A Human Rights Watch report of 1 February 2000 quotes a study made by the US Defense Intelligence Agency:
The [blast] kill mechanism against living targets is unique–and unpleasant.... What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs.... If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents.
According to a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency study, "the effect of an FAE explosion within confined spaces is immense. Those near the ignition point are obliterated. Those at the fringe are likely to suffer many internal, and thus invisible injuries, including burst eardrums and crushed inner ear organs, severe concussions, ruptured lungs and internal organs, and possibly blindness." Another Defense Intelligence Agency document speculates that because the "shock and pressure waves cause minimal damage to brain tissue…it is possible that victims of FAEs are not rendered unconscious by the blast, but instead suffer for several seconds or minutes while they suffocate."
And then we have to remember firebombing Dresden and Tokyo, and both times that an atomic or nuclear weapon were ever used in war.  The horrific scenes in which ISIS beheads or immolates prisoners involves two or three bad guys killing one or two good guys.  How does that compare to a few good guys immolating thousands of bad guys?  What about three or four good guys torturing a bad guy to death?  I guess I have a hard time telling the good guys from the bad guys without any reference to skin color, religion or the efficiency of the attack.  Please don't tell me that we need to continue spending gargantuan amounts of money and wasting lives trying to "rid the world of evil."  If we do that, we will probably be killed along with those fuckers from ISIS.  God have mercy on us all.

Chart of the Day: The Cost of the "War on Terror"

From Mercatus Center, via Forbes:

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service, which examines the cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other global “War on Terror” operations since 9/11, calculates a cumulative (fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2014) nominal price tag of $1.6 trillion. Adding the war funding for fiscal year 2015 that was passed in December pushes the total to almost $1.7 trillion. When it comes to funding national defense, policymakers tend to ignore war costs so an accurate assessment on the burden on taxpayer of overseas military ventures is increasingly important as pressure mounts to increase the Pentagon’s regular “base” budget.
As the following chart shows, the vast majority of the funding has been allocated to the Department of Defense ($1.562 trillion). The State Department and related foreign aid efforts received $101 billion and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, $17 billion.
$1.681 trillion.  For what?  Now we've got people wetting their pants that we have to kill ISIS because they are evil.  Fuck that.  Some other evil bastards will come along when we kill a bunch of civilians in our war on ISIS. Let's just shut the hell up about the "war on terror" and leave folks in the rest of the world to deal with the fuckheads in their own neighborhoods.  We'll be fine.

Enjoy Your Intermission

Enjoy Your Intermission from Adam Carboni on Vimeo.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Many Dimensions of Baseball

From THIRTY81 Project:

Kasich's Budget Aims to Soak Poor and Give to the Rich

 Ohio's tax burden before Kasich proposed to make it much more regressive

The Republican Bizarro Robin Hood in action:
Ohioans would pay a half-cent more in state sales tax and have it apply to more areas – an increase of nearly $1.5 billion – under Gov. John Kasich’s proposed $72.3 billion two-year budget introduced today.
In all, nearly $5.2 billion worth of tax increases combined with about a $5.7 billion reduction from a 23-percent state income tax cut shakes out to a net $500 million in tax savings.
More than half of Ohio school districts would see a reduction in funding under the plan, state Budget Director Tim Keen said.
Kasich also wants to means-test several state income-tax reductions for those making more than $100,000 a year, which would mean an increase of about $167 million for those taking credits for Social Security, retirement and the senior credit.
Along with the increase in Ohio’s 5.75 sales tax rate, it would now be assessed on such things as cable TV, parking and travel services, lobbying, public relations and debt collection services, and exemptions would be reduced for used car and watercraft trade-ins.
The Blueprint for a New Ohio would have a new top income-tax rate of 4.1 percent, compared to 5.9 percent when Kasich took office.
The governor’s budget also proposes:
-An increase of $700 million in funding to Ohio’s traditional public schools, although that total is offset by $235 million worth of reductions in state reimbursements that had made up for removal of the tangible personal property tax several years ago. Districts won’t see a cut of more than 2 percent nor an increase of more than 10 percent, Keen said. Kasich, noting the large number of Ohio’s traditional public schools facing a funding decrease, pointed to a collective surplus of nearly $5 billion held by Ohio’s districts to show that their financial needs may not be as severe as school officials say.
-A $1 per-pack increase in the cigarette tax, to $2.25, generating $337 million that in part would be used to help stem Ohio’s infant mortality problem. A new vapor-product tax would be assessed on e-cigarettes, generating $15.9 million. Another $86.6 million would come from a tax increase on other tobacco products to equal the assessment on cigarettes. Related increases would bring the total to $463 million a year.
-Caps of 2 percent this year and a freeze in 2016 on public-college tuition. A new $120 million debt relief fund would be formed to help financially ailing Ohioans pay off student loans. Kasich said the current rate of increase is “not sustainable, affordable nor acceptable...We want to make clear to universities that cost savings are coming.” Another $2 million would be earmarked to implement “best practices” to prevent sexual assaults on campus.
-Opening the door to charter schools tapping local schools’ levy money for communities that vote for that option. At the same time the state would crack down on operators/sponsors of failing charter schools, with the state superintendent given authority to kick bad operators out of the state. However, Kasich said student performance wouldn’t be the sole determining factor, because some charter schools concentrate on students facing the biggest challenges.
-Virtual elimination of state income taxes on Ohio’s 971,000 owners of small businesses (defined as those with gross annual receipts less than $2 million) retroactive to the beginning of 2015, which would save those filing as “pass-through entities” an estimated $696 million over two years.
-An increase in the severance tax on oil and gas wells by $183 million, with 20 percent of the money being used for the income tax cut as well as a special subsidy to counties in which most of the hydraulic fracking is taking place. Kasich said Ohio’s tax would still be lower than that of several oil-producing states.
-Elevating the commercial-activities tax by $416 million, which would mainly impact larger companies.
The general-revenue fund budget represents a proposed 12.5 percent increase over this year, and an additional 4.8 percent increase next year. Kasich said most of the increase represents federal funding to pay for Ohio’s Medicaid expansion.
Consistently making state taxes more regressive just pisses me off to no end.  So our farm partnership would pay no income taxes, while regular folks will get hit with an extra 1/2 percent tax on everything they buy.  That doesn't make any sense whatsoever.  Holy shit I hate Republicans. The only good thing is that the legislature won't agree with all of the budget items, and we won't see all the regressive changes in the tax code.

Crop Insurance Subsidy Is a Target of President's Budget

The President's Fiscal Year 2016 budget just came out and one of the areas that he has identified for savings is reduction in the subsidies for crop insurance. Quoting the budget directly:
"Overly generous benefits have almost eliminated the risk in farming at a cost to taxpayers in the billions. The Budget includes reforms that are designed to reduce the distorting aspects of the program while maintaining its place as an insurance program and a key component of the farm safety net. Specifically, the Budget proposes to reduce the subsidy for the premium on the harvest price protection revenue insurance, and tighten the prevented planting crop insurance rules saving an estimated $16 billion over 10 years."
To be more specific, the budget calls for savings in the next four years of:
  • 2016 - $1.125 billion (a 21% reduction in total estimated premium subsidy ($5.332 billion current CBO estimate)
  • 2017 - $1.374 billion (a 25% reduction)
  • 2018 - $1.560 billion (a 27% reduction)
  • 2019 - $1.614 billion (a 27% reduction)
It appears the President would like to phase-in the reduction in subsidy at a 21% rate the first year, 25% the second and then about 27% each year thereafter. The government currently subsidizes about 59.5% of total premiums on an annual basis. If this was fully phased in, the premium subsidy rate would drop to about 43%.
If a farmer incurred a current $100,000 annual crop insurance premium, they would be currently be paying about $40,500 in net premiums. Under President Obama's proposal, this premium would increase to about $57,000....
The total exposure to crop insurance risks have risen from $67 billion in 2007 to almost $110 billion now (based primarily on the rise in crop prices).
I'm sure some farmers are saying some unprintable things about our President today, but I don't know how a bunch of folks who think other handouts from the government should be slashed can defend the premium subsidies provided to farmers.  USDA has been keen to move support from the obvious direct payments into the less noticeable subsidies on crop insurance.  This budget proposal is aiming at that shift.  The trouble for farmers is that these changes are proposed just as the seven year boom in agriculture winds down.  I don't know if this will pass, but it is going to be hard to make the case that these cuts shouldn't be made while other programs are reduced.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

January 28:

Comet Lovejoy in a Winter Sky
Image Credit & BY-NC-2 License: Juan Carlos Casado (TWAN, Earth and Stars)
Explanation: Which of these night sky icons can you find in this beautiful and deep exposure of the northern winter sky? Skylights include the stars in Orion's belt, the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades star cluster, the bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, the California Nebula, Barnard's Loop, and Comet Lovejoy. The belt stars of Orion are nearly vertical in the central line between the horizon and the image center, with the lowest belt star obscured by the red glowing Flame Nebula. To the belt's left is the red arc of Barnard's Loop followed by the bright orange star Betelgeuse, while to the belt's right is the colorful Orion Nebula followed by the bright blue star Rigel. The blue cluster of bright stars near the top center is the Pleiades, and the red nebula to its left is the California nebula. The bright orange dot above the image center is the star Aldebaran, while the green object with the long tail to its right is Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy). The featured image was taken about two weeks ago near Palau village in Spain.

A Closer Look at the Smithfield Deal

The Center for Investigative Reporting takes a look at the Chinese purchase of Smithfield Foods, and investigates whether the company that bought Smithfield is controlled by the Chinese Government.  I find that focus to be misguided, but there are some very interesting numbers in the article:
The Virginia-based pork company derived its ham from a curing process Native Americans taught settlers five centuries ago. It owned part of Main Street in the bucolic town of Smithfield – including a restaurant, a historic Southern hotel and the company’s nearby headquarters.
C. Larry Pope, its president and CEO, had a fireplace in his sprawling executive office, which looked more like a hunting lodge than the command center for what had become America’s largest pork business.
But in 2013, a Chinese firm bought this quintessential slice of Americana – Main Street and all. The takeover, valued at $7.1 billion, remains the largest-ever Chinese acquisition of an American company...
With the Smithfield purchase, a Chinese company now owns 1 in 4 pigs raised in the U.S....
Pope had moved into the role of chief executive at Smithfield Foods seven years prior, taking the reins from the grandson of the company’s founder. He oversaw the company’s operations, including 46,000 worldwide employees, a research lab that had genetically engineered the leanest pigs on earth and nine slaughterhouses, including the world’s largest in North Carolina.
The company processed 32 million pigs a year. On average, one pig moved through a Smithfield Foods processing plant every second to be slaughtered, butchered, packaged and shipped for consumption. Bacon, ribs and other pork cuts made Smithfield a multibillion-dollar company.
Smithfield supplied restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and Denny’s and many grocery stores in the United States. It represented the height of America’s industrialized farming, owning everything from hog farms in Iowa to slaughterhouses outside Chicago and warehouses and distribution trucks that crisscrossed the United States, Canada and Europe....
In 2011, the year the five-year plan was announced, Chinese nationals owned $81 million worth of U.S. farmland.
By the end of 2012, the Chinese owned $900 million in U.S. farmland – a 1,000 percent increase – making them the largest buyers that year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Smithfield deal included another $480 million in U.S. farmland, which would push the Chinese stake to nearly $1.4 billion in less than two years....
Pope explained that the deal would create jobs in the U.S., not destroy them. Shuanghui’s plan to import more American pork would ramp up production at Smithfield’s 460 hog farms, creating more money for farmers and more jobs at the slaughterhouses.
All of the numbers describing Smithfield's operations amaze me.  460 farms.  32 million pigs a year. $480 million in farmland.  But probably most amazing is that the Chinese bought 1/4 of the entire U.S. pork industry for $7.1 billion, which was 30% above the market value of the company at the time.  Even at the 30% premium, that would indicate that all the hog raising facilities and all the hog processing facilities, along with all the hogs in the United States are worth less than $30 billion.  That's less than a third of what is spent on highways annually, and the transportation network is grossly underfunded.  $30 billion is pocket change in the U.S. economy.  That seems like a pretty low number to me. 

How To Make A Football

NBC travels to the Wilson plant in Ada, Ohio: