Friday, August 31, 2007
Thursday, August 30, 2007
A couple things struck me--in 10 years there will be no majority group in school--whites will be a minority like everyone else. And about 40+ percent of kids qualify under the food lunch program. And 56 percent of college students are women.
But decline is also found among other organizations than FSA--this piece from the Jewish Forward describes the decline in Buffalo:
In the recent decades since advances in technology and competition from abroad sounded the death knell for the industries that provided employment for the Rust Belt states of the Northeast and the Midwest, states that have lost major parts of their population to the Sun Belt, once-thriving Jewish communities in those regions have seen thousands of members head south and west. The Northeast and Midwest, where 80 percent of American Jewry lived as recently as 1960, now is home to barely half of American Jews, according to the latest National Jewish Population Survey.And just recently there was an article on the "Odd Fellows" a fraternal and charitable organization that's composed of old fogeys like me. It's the nature of society to have this ebb--not that it's any consolation to those being washed out by the tide.
For JCCs, synagogues and other communal institutions, this drop in members and in income has meant drastic, often painful, belt-tightening measures: mergers, downsizings and property sales and closures.
“The local Jewish community,” a front-page article in The Buffalo News states, “is adjusting to dramatically reduced numbers.” That means less money for Jewish federation fundraising campaigns, fewer volunteers for synagogues and other organizations, and smaller enrollments in religious schools.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
[The other question inquiring minds want to know: why the hell am I suddenly so interested in food?]
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
"In part due to lack of equal access to USDA loans, the number of farms operated by African Americans has declined dramatically over the past 20 years, plummeting from 54,367 in 1982 to just 29,090 in 2002."[My emphasis added.]I'm not aware of, and can't google up, any reports on the reasons for the decline so there's no way to know whether racism is 99 percent of the cause or some lesser proportion. [Side note: The academic and government researchers I ran across in my casual googling seem usually to ignore race in their analysis. That may be a real bias--seldom asking the question of whether there is a real difference based on race. Or it may just be my incompetence at searching. ]
Let's say the drop in farms is caused as follows:
50 percent due to lack of equal access to USDA credit. A followup question is what caused the lack of access. I'll leave that for other posts.
50 percent due to other causes, such as:
- general trend of declining farm numbers
- smaller farms (i.e., blacks may have had smaller farms to begin with, and smaller farms may have failed more often than large farms)
- less capital (a variant of the "smaller farms" argument)
- poorer land (i.e., when black farmers were acquiring land from 1865 to 1920, they may have been less able to buy the good land)
- less and poorer education (I'm assuming fewer black farmers went to college and perhaps those that did got a poorer education than their white counterparts--would you rather go to Texas A&M or Delta State?)
- bias among the bankers (of course, Farmers Home/FSA was supposed to be the lender of the last resort)
- bias among suppliers--the general agribusiness community (might particularly include co-ops, which have been important in farming. When did many white southern co-ops open their doors to blacks?)
- poorer location (a variant of the poorer land, but this would consider things like access to railroads and roads to get crops to market, attractiveness to labor, etc.)
"The central element ... is land ownership. There's nothing more primordially American, more conducive to the spirit of self-reliance and pride that fuels this country's origin myths, than cultivating one's own piece of land. Today more than ever."A sentiment to warm the cockles of the heart of every libertarian (that's if libertarians actually had a heart).
Unfortunately, the omitted words are "in making urban ag sustainable, according to the Food Project," and the piece is from the green/lefty GRistmill.
But I might just follow Professor DeLong and his class on American economic history. Here's his lecture notes for the first class. One interesting point--he cites corn as having a 40 to 1 yield ratio, compared to wheat's 5 to 1. (At least back in 1800 or so.) Sounds questionable to me, but I never had to deal with either.
"I’ve just come back from almost three days in a freezing cold Washington DC.
It was an extremely educational visit – hopefully for my hosts as much as for me.
But it was also a reality check.
We have talked at length in Brussels about the importance of farm subsidy reform in the US for the future prospects of the Doha trade round.
We have looked to the new US Farm Bill proposals to give a clear signal that reform is on the horizon.
My discussions in Washington showed that the Farm Bill will be written very much with domestic concerns in mind.
DOHA does not seem to be high on the agenda in farm bill discussions.
This is a very different approach to ours, where we reform first and then look to lock these reforms into a WTO agreement.
I was also struck by the fact that many of the forces that today shape European agriculture policy – consumer interest, environmental considerations, budgetary pressure, development policy - seems strangely absent from the American debate. It’s farming interest – and increasingly also energy (biofuels) that is shaping policy. Could you imagine that in Europe?
I like the straight talking you hear on Capitol Hill. But it brings home to me clearly how different the political process in Washington is to that I know so well in Brussels.
Of course there were bright spots.
Crucially, my visit was an important exercise in confidence-building.
Deal-making is so much easier if the people facing each other across the table know and like one another.
Monday, August 27, 2007
"...TAG as in Talented and Gifted. And who is and who isn't -- or at least who's designated such and who isn't -- has been one of the most contentious issues in Alexandria since the school system raised the bar for the TAG program two years ago. The new rules have cut out about two-thirds of the students who once qualified: At George Mason, the size of the fourth-grade program went from 17 to six last year."He closes thus:
"Shep Walker, a T.C. graduate about to enter the College of William and Mary, says the problem is that "gifted-and-talented programs get filled with white kids who have pushy parents, leaving a lot of black and Hispanic kids out in the cold and creating de facto segregation in the classes."
In its defense, Alexandria's school administration was probably trying to fix that situation. But the solution isn't to mark fewer students as gifted and talented. It's to challenge all our kids, all the time."
While that's a laudable sentiment, I don't think it works in the real world or the real classroom. I think the reality is that any teacher faced with 25 students, or even any manager faced with 12 employees, is going to find that teaching (managing) some of them is more rewarding than the others. (I think the reward is a matter of personalities hitting it off, not necessarily of bias.) So some are going to think Mr. Welsh is a great teacher, some are going to say he's okay.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I don't think it's accidental. Politicians and government leaders tighten the screws on immigration, making it harder to get in. That cuts the demand for both temporary and permanent housing for the immigrants. (Which has often been met by group housing, which is a centuries-old pattern--look at Jacob Riis at the turn of the 1900's and his book "How the Other Half Lives".) And, we know in a free market, a cut in demand will cause a cut in price.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Friday, August 24, 2007
First point: obviously people are polarized over the issue. The email (via Mulch), apparently circulating among some FSA employees, says the prospect of reopening the lawsuit makes her wish she weren't an employee of an agency.
That statement may be a statement by someone prejudiced against all minorities. That's the assumption made by Ken Cook, Barack Obama, John Boyd, and others. Their assumption may be true.
But, if you read the whole thing (and I give EWG credit for including the whole thing), a more reasonable assumption is that this is a bureaucrat who's complaining about the possibility of useless work being imposed by Congress. She passes on Ms. Cooksie's comment about the provision being "awful" and frets about being buried under workload, and being asked to provide information they don't have.
Now certainly it is the job of bureaucrats, when Congress speaks, to snap to and salute, just like their military counterparts do. It's not their job to worry about whether taxpayers money is being spent wisely, is it?
PBS has background material on the history of black farmers here.
The settlement in the class action suit called for an arbitrator to make decisions with a separate, independent court-appointed monitor to look over the arbitrator's shoulder (no decision power as I understand). Here's the Office of Monitor's website
Here's the National Black Farmer's Association website, with a record of their actions and USDA's response (in more detail than I've provided).
The lawsuit was settled several years ago. In 2004 the time had run and there was a spurt of publicity about it:
The Washington Post did an article
The Environmental Working Group did a study with the black farmers association 2004 report
Carol Estes did a piece stating the side from the black farmer point of view.
The Delta Press did a piece from another side here
In 2007 the House reopened the discussion and EWG did several pieces here in July 2007
and in their EWG July Update on farm bill
Here is the testimony of John Boyd
This is the website of the FSA bureaucrats who work on farm loans: National Association of Credit Specialists
The Manassas Park City Council criticized "a small faction of citizens" this week for what it called "irresponsible and offensive" statements about local immigration policies, approving an official position that sets the small suburb apart from neighbors seeking to step up enforcement against illegal immigration.What's interesting is that these are Republican politicians! What's happening? The handwriting is on the wall--anyone who wants a political career in Manassas Park had better not be hostile to immigrants, who are the majority. (That's independent of judgments over what policy is best.)
The position statement, unanimously approved Tuesday night, declared: "The City believes most residents in Manassas Park are legally present and moved to this area to create a better life for their respective families." It added that the city of 11,600, bordered by Manassas and Prince William County, "will continue to work aggressively with federal and state agencies to address all criminal activity."
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Someone asked Tom Philpott at Gristmill about the sourcing of a factoid apparently often used in the "slow food" or local food movement--that on average food on our table moves 1200 miles. To his credit, he did some research and found it wasn't a 1969 DOD study. Instead, he tracks down Rich Pirog at Iowa State who says it's a 1969 Department of Energy study:
"Rich did a comprehensive look at food-mile studies for his 2001 paper "Food, Fuel, Freeways: An Iowa perspective on how far food travels, food usage, and greenhouse gas emissions."
The only study he knows about that comprehensively estimates food miles nationwide is the 1969 DoE effort. Reader Steven, if you're still with me, the citation for it is: U.S. Department of Energy. 1969. "U.S. Agriculture: Potential Vulnerabilities." Stanford Research, Institute, Menlo Park, CA."
Unfortunately, DOE wasn't formed until the 1970's--Jimmy Carter in 1977. (Actually, it makes more sense to have been a DOD study--at that time there were still worries about nuclear warfare and the farther food traveled, the more vulnerable we might be.)
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Certainly the idea of strolling the streets of France (something my wife remembers fondly), stopping in at the chocolate shop, or the bakery, or the pastry shop is fine. Maybe I'll experience the reality one day.
Some argue that Europeans are happier than we, having consciously decided to opt for a society that is slower, works fewer hours, enjoys life more, and has a smaller gap between rich and
poor. That may be true. But from my age, I suspect there's also a bit of "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence". There's no paradise on earth.
Not really related, but here's a NYTimes article on the overlap among religions in their concern for the way food animals are reared and slaughtered. And a Post article on "terroir"--the idea that where food is grown makes a difference.
It's too bad the education cartel doesn't release data on student achievement. I'm tempted to tweak some of the libertarian/conservative economists I read about that fact.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
So, is the woman in VA in trouble? Maybe, maybe not. Seems to depend on how close she came to lobbying Congress. My reading would say that, if she had gotten an email expressing a political opinion (for or against the war, etc.) she would be in her rights to send it on to a friend. Multiple addresses and more direct criticism of Congress would be questionable.
Will be interesting to see what the "independent investigator" appointed by Administrator Lasseter comes up with, and whether Congress buys it.
The option would say, if wheat has a $4 target price and the national yield target is 25 bushels (being unrealistic to make for easy computation), the expected revenue per acre is $100. So if the national prices for wheat and the national actual yield are such as to make the actual revenue $10, there's a $10 per acre payment. See these links for more specific discussion:
Brad Lubben at U of Nebraska.
and U Of Illinois extension
I can think of lots of complications, particularly as the bill is written to make this a one-time option. But then, since I've left USDA, FSA has had experience with one-time options, so maybe I'm wrong about the complexity.
Monday, August 20, 2007
As long as I'm on the French, my impression is that in both Britain and France people tend to go to the store very often, even daily. It's the epitome of local food--the bread is baked, the meat is butchered daily, the refrigerators are small, so you practice "just-in-time cookery". Very different from suburban and country patterns here, where you make one big shopping trip a week to stock up, have big refrigerators, etc.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
"Specifically, an umpire will — with all other matters such as game score and pitcher quality accounted for — call a pitch a strike about 1 percent more often if he and the pitcher are of the same race."Apparently the bias would seldom affect the game, particularly as umpires are less biased when the situation is tightest (and not biased at all when the new electronic device that checks their accuracy is running).
"Consider Sept. 2, 1972, when Froemming was behind the plate and the Cubs' Milt Pappas was one strike from doing what only 15 pitchers have done -- pitch a perfect game, 27 up, 27 down. With two outs in the ninth, Pappas got an 0-2 count on the 27th batter. Froemming called the next three pitches balls. An agitated Pappas started walking toward Froemming, who said to the Cubs' catcher: "Tell him if he gets here, just keep walking" -- to the showers.
Pappas's next pitch was low and outside. Although he did get his no-hitter, the greater glory -- a perfect game -- was lost. Another kind of glory -- the integrity of rules [emphasis added]-- was achieved."
That's one cardinal virtue (and vice) of the bureaucrat, upholding the integrity of the rules.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
"In the context of Economics 113—American Economic History—we have aThe Conclusion:
definite puzzle: it was Britain that was ahead in technology and was where
technology was moving ahead the fastest in the first half of the nineteenth
century, and yet it was America that appears to have had the fastest perperson
economic growth. According to eh.net, British growth in real GDP
per capita averaged 0.50% per year in the first half of the nineteenth
century; American real GDP per capita growth averaged 0.86% per year
The westward expansion—the Erie Canal, the steamboats, expulsion of(The reasoning involves looking at capital, natural resources, level of technology, and labor.)
Indians from the near midwest and the inland southeast, et cetera—thus
looks absolutely key to the form that economic growth took in pre-Civil
Seems to be that was Turner's "frontier hypothesis" of American history.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Closing ten offices in NE approved by Johanns--apparently he has no further political ambitions in his home state. And 16 in Georgia.
I'm still not seeing news of closing of NRCS offices at anywhere near the same rate as FSA. I don't know why--whether they aren't doing as much or it's not as controversial. The FSA mythology had the soil conservationist driving around to his clients so it might well be that office closings don't rate the notice. Why should I care whether the conservationist drives 20 miles or 40 miles to my farm?
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Government Executive reports:
The Homeland Security Department inspector general is urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to streamline information sharing to help law enforcement agencies locate missing children, registered sex offenders and fugitive felons during disasters.
A report released by the IG this week showed that after Hurricane Katrina, law enforcement agencies struggled to get information from FEMA that would have helped them track down missing children and criminals. Among those missing after the storm were 5,000 children, more than 2,000 sex offenders and a number of fugitive felons.
On the other hand, if there were an interface between the Google calendar and the car's ignition, such that the car could only be started by the driver who had reserved the time on the calendar, your IT system would have the people by the short and curlies, as the Brits say.
Actually, her story may be a parable of the dangers of overreaching--she apparently has fallen back to a calendar for the car and a spreadsheet for gas, which may have worked.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
I remember Sherman County, Kansas (Colorado border) where we were doing an "Info-Share" project in 1991-2. Some farmers had PC's, but it was easy to overestimate. So many farmers are so old, and it's well established that us oldtimers don't like change. Judging by the fuss over closing county offices, it's clear that the Internet has yet to replace the need for warm blooded help from your local friendly bureaucrat.
(Buried in the depths are figures on the extent to which farmers in various states use the Internet to do business with USDA, or other websites. Amazon is doing lots better than USDA.)
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
It's an interesting theory, as well as a reminder that Presidents used to have much more power over bureaucrats than they do today, even though our esteemed [sic] current President has been accused of politicizing his administration.
No, I just found this factoid: "Well, Google Maps has 10396, not "millions of users" as you seem to
think." on the Google Maps troubleshooting group. I'm amazed it's so small though I suspect the true statement is something like: "of all the people who use Google Maps, only 10,396 have so far set up personal maps." I wonder how many users Google Earth has. What I've used Google Maps for is to track the places my ancestors lived. It seems a neat little application.
Monday, August 13, 2007
From a Post article today:
Given my tendency to generalize, I'd say there's a general rule at work here--called NIH, or "not invented here". This sounds as if it was a great idea, at least in 2003. But you give a kit to someone, it may not be used. That's particularly true if suspected WMD's don't show up very often. (I'd guess there's a strong correlation between the number of suspicious packages discovered in an area and whether the jurisdiction paid the maintenance/upgrade costs.) It's one reason for cost-sharing as a governmental/bureaucratic strategy--if someone gets excited enough about an idea to kick in some of their own money, they may stay excited enough to maintain the idea over the long run.
In 2003, the FBI used a $25 million grant to give bomb squads across the nation state-of-the-art computer kits, enabling them to instantly share information about suspected explosives, including weapons of mass destruction.
Four years later, half of the Washington area's squads can't communicate via the $12,000 kits, meant to be taken to the scene of potential catastrophes, because they didn't pick up the monthly wireless bills and maintenance costs initially paid by the FBI. Other squads across the country also have given up using them.
NIH is a problem with foreign aid, domestic aid, and probably children ("probably" since I don't have any). I remember playing more with stuff that I could create games (mostly war games) with than with the fancier toys I got. I wonder whether NIH is also more of a male thing?
Since the Pigford/USDA bias issue last week, I seem to be running into bias and race. I think this is about right. In our rational calculating side, most people aren't biased on most things. But it's the snap stuff that trips us up. (Going back to the article, I think Jerome Groopman in his recent book reported on a study that showed that physicians typically interrupted their patients with x seconds--they were leaping to conclusions, most of the time correctly, but not always.)
A new study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and other institutions affiliated with Harvard University provides empirical evidence for the first time that when it comes to heart disease, bias is the central problem -- bias so deeply internalized that people are sincerely unaware that they hold it.
Physicians who were more racially biased were less likely to prescribe aggressive heart-attack treatment for black patients than for whites. The study was recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The research finding cannot be automatically extrapolated to the NBA or other domains, but it does suggest a mechanism by which disparities emerge. No conscious bias was apparently present -- there was no connection between the explicit racial views of physicians and disparities in their diagnoses. It was only when researchers studied physicians' implicit attitudes -- by measuring how quickly they made positive or negative mental associations with blacks and whites -- that they found a mechanism to explain differences in medical judgment.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Friday, August 10, 2007
response today he outlines two alternative interpretations, this is the second:
The alternative interpretation is that the terror risk just isn’t that high and we are greatly overspending on fighting it, or at least appearing to fight it. For most government officials, there is much more pressure to look like you are trying to stop terrorism than there is to actually stop it. The head of the TSA can’t be blamed if a plane gets shot down by a shoulder-launched missile, but he is in serious trouble if a tube of explosive toothpaste takes down a plane. Consequently, we put much more effort into the toothpaste even though it is probably a much less important threat.Kevin Drum says the same, in the context of the Democrats and the bill on FISA:
I have to agree--as far as I can see, the "terrorist cells" that have been captured weren't very scary. If you assume that our security can catch 90 percent of the threats, that means the threats generally aren't potent. If you assume a lower level of averted threats, where's the attacks?
Note the way the incentives work here. If you pass the bill, the results are ambiguous. Sure, a lot of people will be angry, but they'll probably get over it eventually (or so the thinking goes). But if you stall the bill and a terrorist strikes, you are firmly and completely screwed. Goodbye political career. So which choice do you think a risk-averse politicians is likely to make?
This same dynamic was at work before the war, too. If you favored the war and things went south, the resulting mess would be long-term and ambiguous. There would almost certainly be a way to weasel your way out of any trouble and stay in office. But if you opposed the war and then, after the invasion went ahead over your objections, the Army discovered a serious nuclear arms program or an advanced bioweapons lab — both considered distinct possibilities at the time — you'd be out of office at the next midterm. For risk-averse politicians, the choice was obvious.
Nobody wants to risk being proved wrong in a way that's so crystal clear there's simply no chance of talking your way out of it. It's this fear that gives national security hawks the upper hand in any terror-related debate. Still.
For the past 75 years, America’s system of farm subsidies has unfortunately driven farming toward such concentration, and there’s no sign that the next farm bill will change that. The difference this time is that American farming is poised on the brink of true industrialization, creating a landscape driven by energy production and what is now called “biorefining.” What we may be witnessing is the beginning of the tragic moment in which the ownership of America’s farmland passes from the farmer to the industrial giants of energy and agricultural production.This is like saying that government policy has created industrial dining, with nationwide chains like McDonalds, etc. Wrong! Economic forces, notably returns to scale and the importance of capital to farming, and the basic thrust of modern life have caused the growth of large-scale agriculture. Research has helped, but the farm bills have basically slowed and tempered the evolution. If the AAA had never been enacted, we would not today be a nation of Amish farmers.
Last month, the U.S. Senate was opened for the first time ever with a Hindu prayer. Although the event generated little outrage on Capitol Hill, Representative Bill Sali (R-Idaho) is one member of Congress who believes the prayer should have never been allowed.
"We have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes -- and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers," asserts Sali.
Sali says America was built on Christian principles that were derived from scripture. He also says the only way the United States has been allowed to exist in a world that is so hostile to Christian principles is through "the protective hand of God."
"You know, the Lord can cause the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike," says the Idaho Republican.
According to Congressman Sali, the only way the U.S. can continue to survive is under that protective hand of God. He states when a Hindu prayer is offered, "that's a different god" and that it "creates problems for the longevity of this country."
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Sidestepping the policy issues, the question of proper use of government equipment is interesting. When I was hired, you weren't supposed to use your telephone for personal calls. On your lunch hour you called from the pay phone. Over time that policy was relaxed--you could make and receive personal calls, provided you didn't abuse the privilege.
I'd guess that a similar evolution might have occurred with employees, their PC's and their Internet connection. Limited personal use may or may not be technically legal, but only abuse (like looking at porn) is going to attract punishment.
But the issue being cited here is the possible violation of laws against using appropriated funds to lobby Congress. The USDA has an explanation of what's allowed or not allowed here. Basically, big shots can lobby Congress, small shots can't.
However, I'm reminded of a similar flap early in my USDA career. Might have been the end of LBJ or the beginning of Nixon. The issue there was someone, perhaps the head of a state office, talked to Congress without talking to DC first. The flap resulted in a directive to everyone in the agency saying: you can't talk to Congress unless it's cleared by the office of congressional relations. A few days later they came back and said: of course, everyone has a first Amendment right to petition Congress and we didn't mean to infringe that. You just have to do it on your own time. (It's similar, in some respects, to Karl Rove having to have a separate RNC email account and Congress people having to leave their offices to solicit contributions.)
Without being a lawyer, that seems to be the key issue here. Was the email being written and distributed using government time and government money? Or not?
I suspect everyone will read into this what they wish. The futility of public outcry, the depravity of the area in which he lives, the low value put on life, the free access to guns even though they're outlawed in DC, perhaps even a question of how many people Danny's relatives have killed over the years. Regardless of all that, Danny himself deserves better, everyone deserves better.
Any kid from a crime-ridden neighborhood would deserve such a break, but Danny especially so. In 2003, at age 12, he and then-D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey were featured in an anti-violence public service video. Five of Danny's relatives had been shot and killed.
"Enough is enough," was the rallying cry. Flash-forward to April. Danny had teamed up with D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) to announce the kickoff of yet another violence-awareness program, this one featuring anti-gun posters on the sides of buses. By then, however, Danny had lost six more relatives to gun violence, a total of 11: his father, a grandfather, two uncles, two nieces and five cousins.
But what strikes me, with an admittedly aging and quirky mind, is his connectedness. It seems that all these relatives live in DC (that's my assumption anyway). That seems odd to me, but yet it fits with other articles and books I've read about the inner city: people seem often to have loads of relatives and friends. It's almost tribal society, as in parts of Iraq or Afghanistan--you know a lot of people and it's important to know them--who does what, what will p**s someone off, who can help, who will hurt. It seems a far cry from some areas of suburbia, where people don't know their neighbor. Is this connectedness a part of the pathology?
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
- You must help your constituents when they are hurt by a natural disaster.
- A viable crop insurance program has no place for political action.
This describes the latest version of this political two step, brought to you by John Thune, stalwart Republican Senator from South Dakota:
According to a statement from Thune's office, without the clarifying legislation, many livestock and forage producers who suffered losses would be deemed ineligible for assistance. That estimate was echoed by the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader which earlier said the original provision would cause as many as 90 percent of South Dakota's 17,000 livestock producers to be ineligible for disaster assistance. This is because USDA's Office of General Counsel determined that the supplemental appropriations bill contains language stipulating that for producers to be eligible for assistance under the livestock indemnity program, they must have participated in either the non-insured crop disaster assistance program (NAP) or a federal crop insurance pilot program.
Facts and figures. According to USDA, nationwide participation in NAP during 2005 and 2006 was less than 13 percent. Thune says the reason the low NAP participation rate that payments for losses generally amount to only $1 or $2 per acre. "It is not sound policy to exclude livestock and forage producers from disaster assistance because they chose not to participate in what many consider an ineffective program," said Thune.
This Shreveport Times article is only the start of a wave. (Actually, Ken Cook had it yesterday but I was slow to post it.)
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
One of the penalties of getting old is you're forced to have some perspective on some issues. In today's Post, Eugene Robinson opines about the threat to privacy from all of the surveillance that we are under--he ends by saying:
Of course, 50 years ago some of us were still using party lines, so the eavesdropping was not potential, but actual; not a faceless bureaucrat, but your nosy neighbor; not of who you called and when, but what you actually said. Sometimes modern technology doesn't destroy privacy, it provides it.
The text messages we send back and forth on our cellphones are similarly long-lived. And if your mobile phone communicates with the Global Positioning System, it sends information about precisely where you are. What was that again about having to work late at the office?
Who needs GPS anyway? Think of all the security cameras that record your movements every day. Use an automated teller machine, fill the gas tank, drop into a convenience store, visit the mall or walk into the lobby of an office building and chances are you've been caught on videotape.
What if someone had predicted 50 years ago that someday all this once-private information would be captured and stored? Psychiatrists would have issued a quick and definitive diagnosis: paranoia.
And for those Harry Potter fans out there, you'll see the first incarnation of Professor Snape, whose greatest and final performance is still in the future, as a young Mr. Rickman brings Obadiah Slope to life.
Monday, August 06, 2007
- Point out all the problems with a position or proposal, all the reasons it won't work and nothing should be done.
- Figure out how to do something, particularly something that someone else says can't be done. Do so even if it requires a Rube Goldbergian contraption.
Studies have found that, for some reason, an enormous mental gulf separates "cold" emotional states from "hot" emotional states. When we are not hungry or thirsty or sexually aroused, we find it difficult to understand what effects those factors can have on our behavior. Similarly, when we are excited or angry, it is difficult to think about the consequences of our behavior -- outcomes that are glaringly obvious when we are in a cold emotional state.Rings true for me. Even though my addictions in life have dwindled, get between me and my Starbucks and I'm pure emotion. I often think the same applies for sports and politics--we become irrationally attached to our team, our positions, and can't apply reason. I know the Redskins won't reach the Super Bowl this year, but I'll still believe. I know George W. is a worthy person (but I immediately ask: "worthy of what?") I hope I'm mostly "cold" on this blog.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
The short answer: they don't, at least not in a nation as big as the U.S. An example, which I ran into while working at USDA, is the US Postal Service (and which I was reminded of while reading the NASCOE negotiation notes). USPS has written directives for its local post offices, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the local postmaster in Podunk, Iowa (why do we pick on Iowa?) has read, understands, and follows it.
When you bring two big bureaucracies together, like USPS and the Farm Service Agency, you reveal discrepancies. If FSA and USPS in DC reach an understanding of what directive A means, FSA tells its field offices to do X, Y, and Z based on that understanding. But when the field office operative reaches the local postmaster, he or she may have a different understanding. Result: confusion and inefficiency.
Provided further, That none of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay the salary or expenses of any officer or employee of the Department of Agriculture to close or relocate any county or field office of the Farm Service Agency (other than a county or field office that had zero employees as of February 7, 2007), or to develop, submit, consider, or approve any plan for any such closure or relocation before the expiration of the six month period following the date of the enactment of an omnibus authorization law to provide for the continuation of agricultural programs for fiscal years after 2007 [NOTE: I take this to mean either a new farm bill or a 1-year extension of current farm programs--they're trying to cover the bases]: Provided further, That after the expiration of the six month period following the date of the enactment of an omnibus authorization law to provide for the continuation of agricultural programs for fiscal years after 2007 none of the funds made available by this Act may be used to pay the salaries or expenses of any officer or employee of the Department of Agriculture to close any local or county office of the Farm Service Agency unless the Secretary of Agriculture, not later than 30 days after the date on which the Secretary proposed the closure, holds a public meeting about the proposed closure in the county in which the local or county office is located, and, after the public meeting but not later than 120 days before the date on which the Secretary approves the closure, notifies the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate, and the members of Congress from the State in which the local or county office is located of the proposed closure. [This is the procedure that USDA seems to have been following until this, so presumably the idea is, Congress does a new farm bill, we wait 6 months to close offices. If the farm bill causes lots of work, there's an opportunity to reconsider. If it doesn't, then the Reps can say they tried.]But from the Report on the bill (this isn't binding on USDA, but it explains intent):
I interpret the Report language as saying--we recognize that Representatives want to protect their offices, but: be real--we can't keep all the offices open.
Further, we are concerned about the restrictive FSA office closure language included in the bill. In many cases, the USDA has completed required steps to close certain offices under provisions set forth in fiscal year 2006, and again in the Continuing Resolution that agencies are operating under this fiscal year. Members are urged to consider these facts: there are 58 FSA offices that have no staff; 139 offices that have one employee; 338 that have two employees; and 515 offices that have three employees.
It is also worth noting that the funding level included in the bill for FSA salaries and expenses is $102 million below the President's budget request. As a result, the Democrat majority has significantly cut the appropriation below the request while prohibiting the FSA from closing unneeded offices. There are many States that, while not necessarily happy with proposals to close some offices, are willing to work with the FSA to close offices that should no longer be open. The minority worked with Chairwoman DeLauro to modify the language in the bill in order to continue making progress on this issue. Ranking Member Kingston offered an amendment that would allow FSA to close those offices that have zero employees, and the amendment was adopted by the full committee. People often ask why government can't run more efficiently. Closing FSA offices provides a good example. It's hard to run an agency with 435 managers second-guessing all decisions.
As a final note, there's no specific restriction on closing NRCS offices (except for generic restrictions elsewhere about not closing offices unless you notify Congress). So, if I'm reading it right, in New York where both FSA and NRCS offices are scheduled for closing, the one will be delayed, but the other could go through right away.
Your political system at work.
Friday, August 03, 2007
The Disciplinary Commission of the Communist Party in the well-off city of Ningbo in the province of Zhejiang financed the development of the game which stands at the vanguard of its campaign against corruption.
The hero is an 'honest and upright civil servant' who kills corrupt officials, their children and bikini-clad lovers with weapons, torture and even magic.
The children appear as monsters with names like 'son of corrupt official' or 'daughter of corrupt official.'
With each dead dirty civil servant, the player wins points that improve his or her abilities in areas like moral character and ethics.
The aim of the game is an 'honest paradise free from corruption.'
Thursday, August 02, 2007
It's mostly positive, though between the lines you see that there was consolidation--more large farms, fewer small (opponents of US farm programs say that the program helps large farmers, but the free market may be more helpful) and there would have been a lot of bankruptcies when the program ended if the banks hadn't given relief.
Because New Zealand dairy is mostly export, it's hard to do a real comparison. Nor does the article discuss any fluctuations in the 20+ years since the program was ended. My guess is that NZ may, in part, be "free-riding" on the dairy programs in the rest of the world--there would be more volatility in price if the world dairy market was entirely free, and volatility in price leads to humans hurting.
The contrast between the mostly farms of 1937 and the development now (this is well inside the Beltway) is striking.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
This is from Princeton's blurb for a new book:
Many popular ideas about terrorists and why they seek to harm us are fueled by falsehoods and misinformation. Leading politicians and scholars have argued that poverty and lack of education breed terrorism, despite the wealth of evidence showing that most terrorists come from middle-class, and often college-educated, backgrounds. In What Makes a Terrorist, Alan Krueger argues that if we are to correctly assess the root causes of terrorism and successfully address the threat, we must think more like economists do.
Krueger is an influential economist who has applied rigorous statistical analysis to a range of tough issues, from the minimum wage and education to the occurrence of hate crimes. In this book, he explains why our tactics in the fight against terrorism must be based on more than anecdote and speculation. Krueger closely examines the factors that motivate individuals to participate in terrorism, drawing inferences from terrorists' own backgrounds and the economic, social, and political conditions in the societies from which they come. He describes which countries are the most likely breeding grounds for terrorists, and which ones are most likely to be their targets. Krueger addresses the economic and psychological consequences of terrorism. He puts the terrorist threat squarely into perspective, revealing how our nation's sizeable economy is diverse and resilient enough to withstand the comparatively limited effects of most terrorist strikes. And he calls on the media to be more responsible in reporting on terrorism.
The egghead seems to me to have much the better argument. The US may be attacked by terrorists once for every 10 attacks on EU nations and 1 in 10,000 attacks in Iraq. While some attacks may be scary, and some damaging, we have much more to fear from mother nature. Our general policy should be to do intelligence and defense reasonably well, but respond to disaster very well.
“It’s one of the big problems for farmers that they don’t have health insurance and retirement plans,” Alice Brooke Wilson said. “That’s why farms get sold.In fact, farmers are covered by Social Security and Medicare, assuming they've been conscientious about paying in.
The five people are not taking a salary. Actually four people, because one has left during the 3 years it's been in operation.
All in all, the mixture of idealism and naivete means to me that this is more likely a niche than a great new frontier. Of course, the nice thing about a free society is that you can have lots of such efforts, a handful of which may hit upon the right formula.