Thursday, October 19, 2006
People are, after all, the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The good news is buried towards the end of the Electoral Vote site where there's a list of the Senate seats won in 2002, and therefore up for grabs in 2008. Republicans defend 21, Dems 12. That looks as good to me as current prospects look gloomy.
Mr. Craig [an American hiree/student], who still calls home nearly every day, says he has made an effort to teach himself a few things about his new, temporary home. He has learned how to conduct himself properly at a Hindu temple. He makes an extra effort to be more courteous. He has learned to ignore the things that rattle him in India — the habit of cutting in line,[emphasis added] for instance, or the ease with which a stranger here can ask what he would consider a deeply personal question.Although the Post gets lots of mail complaining about commuters who cut into line on the road, generally we Americans observe line etiquette. What does it say about a culture where they don't--they're into unfettered individualism and disregard of others?
Monday, October 16, 2006
"Another aspect of Xavier's work, however, should appeal to those on the left: In his model, high CEO salaries are pure economic rents. CEOs are paid what they are worth to their companies, and their high pay reflects the extraordinary value of their talent, but the supply of talent is inelastic, and the allocation of talent would not be affected if everyone faced high tax rates.If I understand, CEO's aren't that good, but because they have great leverage, they earn the big bucks. That is, when you have a corporation doing $20 billion, you don't want some George W. running it, so you'll pay just a bit more than $400K for someone who's a little better.
Xavier's model encourages people to think of CEOs as similar to Tiger Woods. Woods makes a lot of money because he is really, really good at golf. He is not stealing from those companies that pay him millions for endorsements. To the people paying Woods for his services, he is worth every penny. Yet if Woods were taxed at 50 percent, rather than 35 percent, he probably wouldn't give up golf or forgo the lucrative endorsements. (Response from the right: On the other hand, at a higher tax rate, Woods might play fewer tournaments each year. He might retire earlier. He might take more compensation as untaxed fringe benefits, such as a cushy private jet to fly to tournaments. And so on.)"
The idea of talent as "economic rent" is intriguing. Resurrecting the old-time religion, men were intended to be stewards of the earth they inherited. Suppose we say that people are stewards of their talents? That might bring us around to Andrew Carnegie, who's an interesting study. (New bio just out I mean to read.)
[Back to Mankiw] What's a CEO going to do except CEO? Woods can cut back on his playing and probably increase his gross, because he'll win a higher percentage of those he does play. CEO's can only retire. (Of course, if you consider a CEO as a multi-talented person, then she can find something else to do, so there is some point at which taxes would become too high.)
It's not partisan--Sens. Clinton and Conrad do the same sort of thing that Sens. Grassley and Hagel do.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
From an Agweb post (note the last paragraph):
USDA will soon begin issuing first partial 2006-crop-year counter-cyclical payments for producers with base acres enrolled in USDA's Direct and Counter-cyclical Program (DCP). The 2002 Farm Bill requires that these payments be made in October.
The 2006-crop-year projected first partial payment rates, equal to 35 percent of the total projected amount, are $0.0481 per pound for upland cotton and $30.45 per short ton for peanuts
First installment payments are not available for producers who have wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, rice, soybeans and other oilseeds base acres because the effective prices for those crops equal or exceed their respective target prices.
The point is that commodity prices are still volatile.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Gallup didn't ask if we were ready to elect an Italian-American, Greek-American, Polish-American--apparently these ethnicities have lost their power and fall into the general category of acceptable white. (I haven't done research, but I think Jackson was our first "non-English" President, being Scots-Irish and we've still to elect someone from outside the British Isles.) Gallup also didn't ask about Catholicism or Islam. (I understand that Taft was a Unitarian, which was controversial in the day.) Nor did it ask about divorce (which was a weapon against Adlai and Rockefeller).
Gallup should have asked about single--Rep. Foley wasn't out of the closet, but I doubt, unless Father Drinan were permitted to serve again, that there's any single man over the age of 35 who could get elected senator, much less President. No more Buchanans for the U.S. So much for the idea that we grow more tolerant as the nation gets older.
The "lumping" is interesting--are we as eager to elect a Hmong President as a Japanese, a Korean as a Filipino? Is Obama more acceptable than a descendant of American slaves? And Hispanics--aren't there differences among the Cuban-Americans and the Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans and Peruvians, Brazilians and Mexicans? The answer, I think, is the immigrant process creates arbitary groupings, which then become our reality. In an alternate universe maybe we'd discriminate against a Salvadoran and for a Puerto Rican, but in the world we've got, once we're halfway ready to consider a Hispanic, we'll disregard nationality and go right to consider the merits and demerits of the individual. (Just as now we care more about whether Rudy is too liberal for the Republican base than his religion or ethnicity.)
We've also forgotten some of the balancing--look at Kennedy's cabinet A Jew, a Pole, an Italian, and no women. When Clinton tried for a cabinet that "looked like America", he didn't care about East Europeans and religion, he cared about blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and women.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Oxfam, Cato, the Environmental Working Group, Environmental Defense, American Farmland Trust and Bread for the World helped form the Alliance for Sensible Agriculture Policies, an ad hoc, politically diverse coalition preparing to fight the farm bill. Oxfam, along with Yum Brands, the Louisville, Ky.-based company that owns KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell restaurants in 100 countries, decries subsidies' impact on free trade. So, too, does the Food Products Association, the nation's largest food and beverage trade group.The problem of farm programs and big farms is built into the program's genes: if a program intends to help "farming", then it starts off favoring those who do more "farming" than less. I remember when I started with USDA, the cotton allotment program had a special 10-acre provision. I think it worked that people who usually farmed less than 10 acres got program benefits without having to reduce their plantings in the years that plantings were reduced. The provision was dropped--few people farmed only 10 acres (which probably had originated as a sharecropper's share).
It seems a general principle that you can be equitable to people either by capping at the top end (payment limitations in farm programs, "progressive" tax rates for the wealthy) or by focusing on the low end (the earned income tax credit). But if you focus on the low end, you create inequities. The inequities might be lessened if you do a sliding scale, as EITC does. And with computers we might now have the bureaucratic capacity to administer such a program.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
"Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate - Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations with the fight here - all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a 'Band of Brothers' who will die for one another. They found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps. [Italics added]The last sentence struck me. It's a reminder of how long the war has lasted. [Pause to digest thought.]
It's possibly also mistaken. My wife's uncle was a Marine whose service spanned WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. (He wasn't in combat but I'm sure there are Marines who were.) So a Marine who served on Guadalcanal with the First Marine Division might have had several other landings, then the Chosin reservoir in Korea and then engagements in Nam.
Still, the Marine's points are worth noting--he finds O'Reilly a buffoon and the Iraqi police surprisingly resistant to terror so it's not a simplistic letter.
Monday, October 09, 2006
- "weaning" farmers away from farm programs (implying farmers are babies sucking on the teat of government programs)
- "small family farms" replaced by "large commercial farms" (blurring the fact that the smaller farms of the 1930's were also commercial while the large farms of today are also family-owned and run)
- playing "agribusiness" and "rich farmers" against "small family farmers" (blurring the fact that, given the increased specialization of modern agriculture, much of this is apples and oranges.) Small family farmers who have been growing field corn for the last 40 years get government checks; large operations who grow sweet corn for the last 5 years don't.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Slate summarizes the situation described by Woodward's book, but neither the 9/11 commission nor previous books highlight the meeting--why?
I think the answer lies in the workings of humans and bureaucracies. Remember these things:
Pages 49–52: On July 10, 2001, George Tenet and his top terrorism expert, Cofer Black, visited Condi Rice and warned that a major terrorist attack was coming. "It's my sixth sense, but I feel it coming," said Tenet. "This could be the big one." They felt like the then-national security adviser blew them off.
Page 79: "Rice could have gotten through to Bush on the bin Laden threat, but she just didn't get there in time, Tenet thought. He felt he had done his job, laid it on the line very directly about the threat, but Rice had not moved quickly. He felt she wasn't organized and didn't push people as he tried to do at the CIA." Rice has said the July meeting was not as dramatic as Tenet remembers. Woodward quotes Cofer Black: "The only thing we didn't do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head."
- Tenet and Black have been focused on bin Laden for years. Rice has been on the job for less than 6 months. She was the foreign policy guru for a campaign that never mentioned bin Laden.
- There's no good solution to the bin Laden problem.
- Tenet and Black have been out of the administration for years, Rice is still in it.
- People like to make their stories consistent.
So, Tenet and Black rush off to see Rice with a hot potato for which they've no clear solution. But Rice knows her boss isn't good on coming up with solutions, and certainly doesn't want to do anything Clinton did before him. She also knows Dick Clarke and other bureaucrats are trying to put together an overall plan to drain the swamp (which they'll have ready in early September). So, at best she may have sent Tenet to Ashcroft (Freeh has left, I think, and Mueller won't come on board until September). So much for the meeting--just another case where the linkage between career types and political types breaks down during the transition.
How about the new prominence of the meeting? People are loyal to their fellows. Woodward's earlier books and the 9/11 commission were working right after Tenet and Black had retired. I suspect their residual loyalty to the administration meant they didn't highlight the "blowoff". Now, though, it's 2 more years later. Rice is still loyal to the administration but Tenet and Black have had more time to nurse grievances. Rice's story is consistent: because she took no action, she couldn't have been given any information that should have caused her to act. That tends to shift the onus back to the CIA, which rubs T and B the wrong way. So now they start to highlight the urgency of the meeting and the failure of Rice to act. No one says there was a failure of imagination or a lack of capacity to act.
There may not be any lying going on and, absent any tape recording or contemporaneous notes, we may never know the truth.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
I had to register to see this article, but not the earlier article.
It's a complex story, with USDA's Inspector General, FSA's county, state, and DC offices, the Senator who leads the Ag Committee, and Justice all playing a role. The bottom line is:
- if there were no payment limitation rules, McNair would be farming the same crops on the same acreage but without the superstructure of paperwork and fake accounting. ("Fake" is pejorative, I know.)
- if his neighbors thought he were cheating on his income taxes they wouldn't be as likely to condone the schemes. But since it's FSA bureaucrats depriving hard working farmers of money, McNair will be at least tolerated by the community.
- because McNair and his fellow farmers (on the county committee) are pillars of the community, they pack a lot of political clout. So Congress isn't really serious about enforcing payment limitations (ask Senator Grassley). Can you imagine how dispirited Jim Baxa might feel about the task? (Full disclosure--I used to be his wife's boss.)
And to be fair to Sen. Chambliss, Clinton's first Secretary of Agriculture had his chief of staff convicted of an offense because of mishandling of payment limitation cases.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
He farms 3,000 acres, which probably means that there used to be 15-20 families, each with a quarter section, farming where he is now.