Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Permaculture as a Solution?

There's an outfit in the Midwest which is pushing "permaculture"--the idea if we could convert from annual crops to perennials we'd save on expenses for fuel, etc. and be more friendly to the environment.   I mention this because this Extension post on cotton includes this:
"A defining characteristic of cotton growth and development is that it is a perennial plant. Being a perennial plant means that it flowers and sets fruit over a long period of time. In its native habitat, or with adequate warmth, cotton would not die in the fall. Perennial plants also flower and produce seed as a secondary mechanism, as opposed to vegetative growth. Because cotton lint is produced from the seed coat, it is the essential challenge of cotton production to overcome the perennial nature of the plant. Nearly everything we do to manage a cotton crop is in response to its perennial nature in an attempt to produce seed and lint in an annual row crop environment."
 I've expressed my doubts about permaculture before, but with global warming the frost line will move north and we won't have to plant cotton every year. (In the Rio Grande valley they speak of "stub cotton", cotton which is growing from previous year plantings.)

Monday, July 30, 2012

I Was Wrong About Pearlie Reed

I posted about Mr. Reed's retirement, speculating that the Republicans "would be all over this".  Maybe the Republicans got lazy, or maybe they did due diligence and found there was nothing there, but Google doesn't show any new news pieces on him.   Good news for him. 

Grow Teff

That's what Idaho is doing, according to this Post article.  It's a grain used for Ethiopian fermented bread.  See this wikipedia article.

[Updated: A quote from the Post:

A combination of factors has spurred the growth of the U.S. teff market. One is scarcity: The Ethiopian government routinely bans its export to protect prices from rising inside the country during lean seasons. Another is a shift in American dietary habits. The rise in Ethio­pian immigrants and the concomitant rise in the popularity of Ethio­pian food have increased demand, as has the surge in vegetarianism (a two-ounce serving of teff has as much protein as an extra-large egg). Yet another is the increased awareness of gluten allergies; gluten-free teff is a welcome alternative to wheat.]

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Drought and Land Prices

We were going through a boom in prices for farmland recently, but this farmgate post on how to pay the cash rent causes me to think the boom must be over.  Of course the EWG posts on how some farmers will make out because of revenue protection and the higher prices for the corn they do produce suggest the end of the boom doesn't mean the beginning of a bust.   It does, I suspect, mean more churn in production agriculture as some people get caught out and some people come through.

Condolences: Kevin and Inkblot

Kevin Drum is my favorite political blogger, because he mostly agrees with me. 

He suffered a loss, and I express my condolences.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

How Political Parties Change

Back in the day, when Abe Lincoln was a Whig, the Republican Party believed in building things to support business. It used to be called "internal improvements", now it's called "infrastructure". One of Teddy Roosevelt's proudest boasts was that he built the Panama Canal.  And then Ike built the interstate highways and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Back in the day, when Andy Jackson was a Democrat, his party was racist.  Woodrow Wilson pushed segregation, southern Democrats used racism to solidify their one-party dominance of the region.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sustainable Ag on Guide to Farm Loan Program

Sustainable Ag comments on the plain language guide FSA just issued.

Women in Ag School

Generally speaking, in my experience the county executive directors of ASCS/FSA county offices were graduates of the state land grant college.  I perceived, rightly or wrongly, a submerged conflict over advancement between the women who were mostly the program assistants (clerks) and the men who were the CED's.

This post caught my eye: women now outnumber men in undergraduate ag courses.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What Is a Dairy Animal?

Slate has a nice piece on why we mostly use cows milk for dairy products, and not goats or other mammals.

The Problem With Government Is...

We humans deal with assumptions and universals, but reality is a lot more messy.  Example 1 is the Pennsylvania voter ID law, which assumes that everyone either has a photo ID or can easily get one, because everyone has their birth certificate stashed away in their safe deposit box along with all other vital papers.

Example 2 is the reliance on crop insurance, because every farmer is rational and is going to buy it.  Chris Clayton at DTN reports getting calls from farmers like this:
"Is the government going to do anything? I don't have crop insurance.

How could you not have crop insurance? We've been saying since before the 2008 farm bill that you have to have crop insurance.

One farmer only has 160 acres. Crop insurance every year just didn't pencil out.
You didn't look into catastrophic coverage, or CAT?

I don't know what that is.

I wasn't sure what to think of this conversation, but I have to believe there are more people like this farmer out there. He's a small farmer in the scheme of things. He's never needed to rely on government payments and didn't want to. But now he doesn't have a corn crop and concerned the beans won't make anything either.

Is there some type of help available for him at the Farm Service Agency office. He said they couldn't think of anything that would specifically help him out."
 The advantage of disaster programs, perhaps their only advantage, is they apply across-the-board.  If that farmer and others like him make enough of a stink, Congress will do something ad hoc, which partially undermines the whole idea of crop insurance.  The situation is rather like that of a 30-year old who passes on health insurance because it didn't pencil out, then gets into a car crash which leaves her paralyzed.

[Updated to add the link.]

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Voter Fraud on Fox and Those Liberals

Fox ran a piece on voter fraud in Kentucky, home of Sen. McConnell today.  Seems to be well-authenticated and widespread.  So much for those liberals who oppose voter Id laws by claiming there's no such thing as voter fraud, right?

One small problem: it seems that Kentuckians are people of honor, which means if you buy their vote they stay bought, so the "voter fraud" Fox is flogging is really "vote buying" ($25 a vote apparently).  As far as I can see requiring a photo id to vote would not have changed anything.

[I'm really going to have to stop blogging until after the election, or my partisan sympathies are going to run away with me.]

Budgetary Games and Livestock Programs

An innocent little question, based on the fact the House Republicans considering something like this (from Farm Policy):
"The bill extends a number of programs through 2012: the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE); Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP); Livestock Disaster Forage Program (LFP); Tree Assistance Program (TAP); and Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP)."
The question?   Why weren't those programs authorized through 2012 in the original 2008 farm bill?

My suspicion is that it was a budgetary game--by cutting them off with 2011 the total cost of the bill was lowered.  And the Congress people would know that they'd have the chance to do an "emergency" bill in 2012 if needed.  What may also be true is that they don't need to pay for it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chicken Republicans, or the Wisdom of Discretion

It seems to be the case the House Republicans are going to duck a vote on the 2012 farm bill until after the election, presumably because part of the party would like to cut the bill further (perhaps particularly the food stamps) and another part of the party fears running on such a vote.

I could call them "chicken" or I could admire their wisdom in following the lead of the Senate Democats in refusing to vote on a budget which would raise the similar problems and a similar split.  See Ivy Brashear at the Rural Blog. I tend to lean in the direction of "wisdom", but such wisdom won't help the bureaucrats at FSA who have eventually to implement the damn thing.

"Fun To Be Around"--A Founding Father

I think Henry Knox rates as a founder, certainly a leader in the Revolution and Washington's Secretary of War.  Boston 1775 post on the relationship of Knox and Washington uses the phrase "fun to be around" in describing Knox and his wife. 

While I know it's true, people in the past were fun to be around, somehow I never think of them that way.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gun Control: A Modest Proposal

Three things strike me about mass slayings using guns in the U.S.:
  • the shooters are young males
  • the shooters aren't NRA members that I know of.
  • most of them have multiple weapons.
That leads me to this modest proposal:
  • permit men to buy 1 gun every other year on their birthday, or
  • permit men to buy a gun if they provide proof of being an active member of an NRA club for at least 1 year.
 In theory that should slow down the accumulation of weapons and mean that they're successfully handled social relations with others for a year.

Not that I expect anyone to take this seriously, but I get tired of the fights liberals have with the NRA.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Surprise of the Day: Fewer Gun Owners

While the US has gotten much more permissive on issuing permits to carry guns, what's surprising is that gun ownership has declined very significantly in the last 40 years.  That's from John Sides at the Monkey Cage.  Once you stop to think, we've become a more suburban nation over the years, and suburbia doesn't hunt and often doesn't have guns.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Climate Change Bad News for Dairy

The "standup economist" has gotten links from Prof. Mankiw and Paul Solman at the Newshour.  He's funny, but he does serious research, including this paper projecting the decreased production of dairy cows resulting from higher temperatures of climate change.

The research has been so strong that it inspired progressive students to rally in support of Holsteins, as described here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The GRH Zombie Rises from the Dead?

Reading the Congressional Research Service report on sequestration it seems to me that Gramm-Rudman-Hollings is starting to stir.  (GRH for the whippersnappers in the audience was the attempt in 1985 to fix federal budget deficits, by applying a flat percentage reduction to federal expenditures if certain conditions weren't met.  In 1986 we reduced deficiency payments by a factor (I think 4.6 percent) under GRH.  The result, when combined with the System 36 automation and the new farm bill, was total disaster administratively.  That was partially my fault because of the way we ended up applying payment limitation, and partially fiscals because we didn't have the coding and entries for refunds in place.) 

I wish FSA well if they have to apply sequestration in the new year.

No One Ever Washed a Rental Car

That's my best memory of something some economist once said.  Turns out the Zipcar is just another rental, according to this from Treehugger.  The advantage Zipcar presumably has is their continuing relationship with their customers and computers to track when their customers fudge on the agreement.  It's just another way in which modern Americans trade privacy for advantage in the age of the Internet.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Promise of Satellites for Agriculture

Back in the day ASCS had an Aerial Photography Branch in the Farmer Programs Division (and two labs, one in Asheville and one in Salt Lake).  With Comsat Congress started the process of privatizing the exploitation of space (in 1962).  We were young then, and full of hope that science fiction dreams would come true.  So ASCS dipped its toe into the world of satellite sensing and satellite photography, thinking someday we'd be able to assess crop conditions and acreages from space. We had for a while someone stationed in Houston just to work with NASA on this area.

I'm not sure of the history between then and now, but this earthobservatory image from NASA shows what's possible now, in the way of assessing drought.

Question for Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney

What's your position on taking legislative action to help drought-stricken farmers in 2012?

Secretary Vilsack raised the question yesterday, suggesting Congress needed to act.

[Updated: via Obama Foodorama here's the briefing today at the White House--Vilsack is focusing on livestock producers. Back in the day we used to have the Livestock Feed Program for these sorts of situations but I guess it got cut.]

[Update II: Got around to doing what I should have done--check the FSA webpage.  Apparently the old LFP got reauthorized under different titles and in different forms, but the authorities in the 2008 farm legislation expired Oct 2011. ] 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Question of the Day?

"I wonder how the Cuban Missile Crisis would have gone down if Kennedy and Khrushchev had relied on Twitter instead of diplomatic cables?"

From a KevinDrum post noting Russia responded to the latest explosion in Syria via Twitter.

After This, the Deluge (of 2012 Disaster Ideas)

Chris Clayton quotes Sen. Stabenow pushing for House action on the farm bill, goes on to say:

"This [is] another reason to pass a farm bill now so that we can not only pass what we have in the farm bill now in terms of disaster assistance, but I think we need to be strengthening that for 2012," she said.
See my post on the 20 percent of uninsured farmers. When you live a long time, you can be prescient.

Abundance: the Book

Reading Abundance, the Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. It's an easy read, bringing into one place descriptions of a lot of the recent innovations which the authors believe will make the future better than the present.

Unfortunately, from my view, because they cover so much ground, everything from 3-D printing to DIY bioengineering to agriculture, they fall victim to some fads, including Despommiers and his vertical farming.  In the appendices they include references for some of the ideas found in the text: for vertical farming it's a url from www.the-edison-lightbulb.com, a website containing ideas mostly from the young.  The vertical farming bit is a Chicago fifth graders pitch for vertical farming.  Pretty sad.

Having dissed that portion of the book, the bulk of it is a fast overview of all the reasons to be optimistic about everything.  I strongly recommend it if you're depressed about the future, though I wouldn't bet on the accuracy of any specific ino.  (Diamandis offered the "X Prize" for private spaceships.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Price Loss Coverage III

Okay, finally read the farm bill as of July 9 (link) re: price loss coverage.(See previous post here.)

The provision:
(A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in
13 subparagraphs (B) through (D), the term ‘‘pay-
14 ment acres’’, with respect to the provision of
15 price loss coverage payments and revenue loss
16 coverage payments, means—
17 (i) 85 percent of total acres planted
18 for the year to each covered commodity on
19 a farm; and
20 (ii) 30 percent of approved total acres
21 prevented from being planted for the year to each covered commodity on a farm.
23 (B) MAXIMUM.—The total quantity of pay24
ment acres determined under subparagraph (A)
25 shall not exceed the farm base acres.
(C) REDUCTION.—If the sum of all pay
2 ment acres for a farm exceeds the limits estab
3 lished under subparagraph (B), the Secretary
4 shall reduce the payment acres applicable to
5 each crop proportionately.
6 (D) EXCLUSION.—The term ‘‘payment
7 acres’’ does not include any crop subsequently
8 planted during the same crop year on the same
9 land for which the first crop is eligible for pay10
ments under this subtitle, unless the crop was
crop was
11 approved for double cropping in the county, as
12 determined by the Secretary.

 The line numbers carry over in the copy process.  There's two considerations in determining acreage accuracy: (1) potentially exceeding a limit, which is what my previous posts discussed; (2) the accuracy of payment acreage. Based on the above, I was wrong on (1)--there's no program limit to be violated.  The only thing which looks like a limit is the farm base acreage, but if it's exceeded you just prorate out, so no big deal.

(2) however looks a bit different.  If I under report my planted acreage, I get less payment, so no harm to the program. But if I over report, because my payments are calculated on planted acreage, there's overpayment, so FSA would need to handle that and deter such over reporting.

The provision would mean that reports of planted acreage are needed, which was a big battle back in Freedom to Farm days (bureaucrats always worry about workload).

20 Percent of Farmers Have Their Rear Hanging Out

That's the message I take from this Illinois extension piece on crop insurance coverage in IL.  It will be a big test: can politicians resist the pleas of the 20 percent uninsured for some federal help.

Billions and Billions and...

That's not Carl Sagan and stars (though he didn't really say that), it's Stu Ellis and crop insurance indemnities in this Farmgate piece.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Price Loss Coverage II

Still too lazy to read the text of the bill, but I got to thinking on my way to the garden.  When I moved to the production adjustment side of ASCS, we had programs which limited the planted acreage to some figure.  I'm not sure when that changed and how drastically it did.

Assume with me that since 1997 FSA hasn't been enforcing any acreage limitations--that may be true, may not be.  Back in the day we had "measurement variance", which recognized the ways we determined acreages were not 100 percent accurate.  If you ran the planimeter on your aerial photography, you might be off a tad.  And we also had a "tolerance" figure, which recognized the farmer might be trying to limit her planted acreage to the exact figure, but wouldn't have the tools to be exact.  Roughly speaking, if the farmer were supposed to plant only 100 acres of corn and he planted 103 acres, he was probably "within tolerance" and in full compliance with the program.

Finally we had "failure to fully comply". If you the farmer planted more than you were supposed to by more than the tolerance (say 106 acres), then the county committee had to determine whether you were acting in "good faith".  If you were, the payment would be reduced.  If you weren't, you were ineligible.

I recite these provisions first because they fascinated me as I tried to figure them out. My co-workers had all come from county offices so they had absorbed the provisions; I had to figure out their logic and how they related.

The provisions are interesting because, if there is no limit, as there hasn't been for a while (think I'm safe in saying that), they all go away.  But if the Price Loss Coverage program, which seems to reinstate a limit, the situation may change.

Damn, I really need to read the bill's language.
[Updated: this may be interesting as history, but probably inapplicable to the proposed program.  More to follow]

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Price Loss Coverage

Been lazy so haven't looked up the actual provisions of this program as included in the House farm bill.  Looks like a target price/counter cyclical type program, but based on planted (and prevented planted) acreage and with updated yields.  If I get ambitious I'll do some research.  It strikes me though that such a program will have problems with WTO rules--farm programs aren't supposed to encourage plantings.

Flashback Time

Ann Althouse links to a 1984 post-election piece by the Times.  I was struck by these paragraphs:
As Mr. Reagan watched tallies of the vote on television, reporters asked him about the possibility of a summit meeting with the Soviet Union.
''Yes,'' he said, ''it's time for us to get together and talk about a great many things and try to clear the air and suspicions between us so we can get down to the business of reducing, particularly, nuclear weapons.''
I guess he did foreshadow the summit meeting at which he proposed doing away with such weapons entirely.  Not something most conservatives like to remember.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Farm Bill Progresses?

House Agriculture has passed its version of the 2012 farm bill, but speculation provided by Keith Good at Farm Policy suggests it may not get to the floor.  Instead there'd be a temporary extension of current legislation and action later, after the election.  Sounds likely to me--Good quotes an expert on how seldom the new farm bill is passed on time. 

The problem for FSA is they don't know what to prepare to implement, the House version, the Senate version or something new which the conference committee comes up with.  As the time gets tighter, the less we know.

Gee, I'm glad I'm retired.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

From Favor to Process: USDA Disaster Designation

Here's yesterday's USDA press release about changes in the process for designating disaster process. One change is automatic designation for counties which are drought-affected for 8 weeks according to U.S. Drought Monitor, and the governors do not have to initiate the request.

That's one small step on the way to taking the life out of politics.  In the good old days governors could make a big show of standing up for the home folks by bragging about his request for designation and blasting the Washington bureaucrats for delays in approving it.  It's also a small step towards de-bureaucratization.  In the bad old days the paper request from the state went to bureaucrats in the northwest corner of the South Building, the offices with the great view of the Mall, the Washington Monument, and the White House. There could be back and forth between the bureaucrats and the states, particularly when the governor's aides weren't familiar with the process.  Then the paperwork would go up the line, some stopping at the Secretary's office, some going to the White House.  Of course those offices could also grandstand about how they were acting to help needy, hardworking folks.

So, if I'm feeling cynical, the Obama administration cashed in a long term asset for politicians for maximal gain in this presidential election year.  If I'm feeling idealistic, the administration rationalized the process and made the government more efficient and less bureaucratic.  Take your pick.

Child Labor on the Farm

Here's a piece on the hazards of having children work on the family farm.  As I often am, I'm of two minds.   One thing not emphasized in the article is a recognition of the hazards of farm work. Last I knew farming was one of the more hazardous occupations in the U.S.  Of course, there aren't many occupations other than farming where a child can reasonably make a contribution.  I suppose a family-owned grocery or restaurant would be another, but the point remains.

And what's the value to the child of having made a contribution?  I think it's great, though perhaps it's easy to romanticize.  The fact that I could drive tractor, carry feed bags, or clean hen houses didn't really build my confidence in dealing with strangers.  Still, it's better to know you're capable at something than not know whether you can do anything.

How good are parents at bringing children into farm work, as claimed by one person quoted?  It's easy to romanticize parents, but everyone has blind spots, and it's hard to resist the wishes of a child.  I might ask how good are parents at bringing children into driving cars?  I think everyone would agree there's a lot of variation. 

The article notes a big reduction in injuries in this century.  I wonder how much is the better job farmers are doing, and how much relates to the prosperity on the farms during the 2000's, meaning old equipment has been replaced by newer, safer equipment.  Look at the picture of the kid driving a 40-year old tractor.  There's no roll bar to protect the driver if the tractor flips backward--it's very scary when the front wheels start lifting off the ground, though I never flipped ours.

How protective do we want society to be?  I'm a firm believer in helmet laws for motorcyclists, and seat belt laws for drivers. I want off-road vehicles to be safe and regulated. And I support the child-labor laws of the last century. So I understand why people want to extend the laws, but at least today I think it's a bridge too far.  At least in some contexts I believe in tradeoffs, and in this case incurring a  few preventable accidents are the price I'm willing to pay for retaining child labor on the farm.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On Violence and Wealth

Got involved in a comment thread at Ta-Nehesi Coates' blog yesterday, particularly with a commenter who argued wealth was the key factor in whether a neighborhood was violent or not.  Since the thread has dwindled to an end, I thought I'd post a thought experiment here:

Consider all the professional athletes in the US, many are in the top 1 percent of income, most of the rest would be in the top 5 percent.  The athletes come from varied backgrounds, but few come from parents who themselves were in the top 5 percent.  I'd love to see a sociologist determine the violent crime rate among such athletes with the crime rate in enclaves of the 5 percent, and the average background of the athletes (say 30th percentile?).  I suspect, but don't know, that the rate of the athletes would be closer to the 5 percent rate than to  the rate of the 30th percentile, which would be the influence of wealth, but there would still be a significant difference, which would be the influence of culture/society and other factors.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Drought Speculations

A couple weeks ago I started but did not finish apost on the possibility of a drought in the Midwest--then it was a topic restricted to the ag media.  Today the drought has reached the top of the news pages and news broadcasts.  Two things will be happening in parallel: the drought will progress and Congress will be working, or not working, on the new farm bill.  Presumably there will a temptation to patch holes in the 2012 safety net with provisions of the bill, perhaps the adverse impact on pork, beef, and chicken producers. The extent to which crop insurance can handle the impacts on crop producers will also be interesting.  My impression is they did well with the drought last year which occurred in Texas.  We shall see. (I guess that's a last sentence I can use on most of my posts.)

Monday, July 09, 2012

Contrasting Views of Each Other

Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy does a poll asking readers of one persuasion (conservative, liberal) how honest people of the other persuasion are. The results surprised me a bit: almost equal pluralities of each persuasion thought the other side was roughly as honest as they were.  The remainder was split between thinking their opponents were "somewhat less honest"  or "generally much less honest". 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Big Organic and Dairy

NYTimes has two pieces today:  an article on how big food has taken over many organic food operations, along with a claim they've used their influence on USDA's organic standards board to approve ingredients which shouldn't be included in "organic food"; and a Mark Bittman diatribe against milk.  Yes, I realize my bias is showing in calling it a "diatribe", but Mr. Bittman's bias is also showing: he blames milk for years of his own health problems, which makes a strong case that nobody should drink milk.

They're currently 2nd and 3rd most popular NYTimes articles today.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

A 2012 Disaster Program?

Chris Clayton notes the SURE program expired with the 2011 crop year, so those corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest who are watching their crops shrivel in the drought and heat must only rely on crop insurance, right?  (Clayton notes the current Senate farm bill wouldn't cover such disasters, even if it did apply to 2012 crops, which it doesn't.)

I'd say: possibly not. Clayton mentions the ad hoc disaster program in 2010 the Obama administration delivered for Sen. Lincoln when they were trying to win her vote and help her in the fall election.  That's a precedent.  There's also the precedent of retroactive disaster programs, which I remember but can't recall the years of, which can possibly be tied to emergency appropriations acts, which evade the current emphasis on paying for legislation under "pay-go".

Weather Forecasts for the Sun

Seemingly we've progressed to the point where we're doing weather forecasts for the sun, at least that's how I read this MSNBC report.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Payment LImitation and OIG: a Puzzle

OIG tried to do an audit of FSA's administration of the payment limitation  rules in the 2008 farm bill, notably the "attribution" of payments made to legal entities to the natural-born persons who comprise the entity.  Ferd Hoefner at Sustainable Agriculture notes the report, and comments.  The gist is summed up in his title: "Commodity Payment Limitations, Weak System, Weak Report."

I may comment more later, or I may lose interest, but I am puzzled by one aspect of the report.

OIG says they couldn't audit because of problems with the system, specifically including this point:
"Specifically, we learned that joint ventures without permanent identification numbers were not recorded in FSA’s entity database,..."
As they recognize in a footnote, FSA doesn't make payments to such joint ventures, payments are made to the members. That should mean the payments are automatically attributed to members. To me that says it doesn't constitute a weakness in the system and shouldn't be considered a problem in auditing.

FSA's response doesn't point this out.

If I follow correctly, Environmental Working Group has been "attributing" payments for some time now, using the same data as OIG refused to tackle. 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Importance of Place

Charles Kenny writes for Businessweek on the importance of place: Indian workers making Big Mac earn much less (one seventh) than US workers, even when specified in terms of Big Macs--in other words, how many Big Macs can a McDonald's employee buy with her hourly wage.  From the piece:
Why do people in the U.S. earn so much more doing the exact same jobs as people in India? One reason is infrastructure: physical infrastructure such as (comparatively) good road and electricity networks, alongside economic infrastructure including a (somewhat) robust banking system. Institutions such as a (passable) set of commercial laws and (not completely capricious) regulatory regimes are another factor. The higher quality of these public goods allows the same amount of effort by the same quality employee to create considerably more value in the U.S. than in India.
 As your typical government-loving liberal, I hasten to point out the factors Kenny refers to are based on government.

The Conservative America

Thomas Fleming has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (hat tip Ann Althouse), discussing the colonies at the time of independence.  The closest he comes to mentioning slavery is this: " In some parts of the South, 10% owned 75% of the wealth."

It's amazing how easy it is to exclude people.  For example, Mr. Fleming above excluded the slaves.  But I myself did not remember to include Native Americans.  Were they "Americans" included in the Declaration? Are they "Americans" today?  Certainly their status is more complicated than most other citizens of the country.  When Jackson sent the Cherokees and Creeks on the Trail of Tears from Georgia to Oklahoma was he in effect taking away their citizenship in the U.S.?

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A Safe Prediction

The Bottom Line
Unless Mitt Romney personally beats back an alien invasion — and maybe not even then — Mr. Obama will win the District of Columbia’s three electoral votes."

From Fivethirtyeight

(I voted for McGovern in the District in the year the Republicans came closest to winning.)

GAO Disses Direct Payments

GAO issued a report yesterday critical of FSA 's direct payment programs.

They ding them on several grounds, but I'd highlight the last:
Oversight: Oversight of direct payments is weak. With regard to oversight, USDA has not systematically reported on land that may no longer be eligible for direct payments because it has been converted to nonfarm uses, as required for annual reporting to Congress. In addition, GAO identified weaknesses in USDA’s end-of-year compliance review process. For example, USDA conducts relatively few reviews and generally does not complete these reviews within expected time frames.

Their recommendations for USDA/FSA:

  • "...develop and implement a systematic process to report on land that may no longer be usable for agriculture, as required for annual reporting to Congress.
  • ...ensure the more timely and consistent regular collection and distribution of geospatial imagery needed to corroborate that payments are only made for lands usable for agriculture.
  • ...consider options within given budget constraints to improve FSA’s end-of-year reviews by selecting a larger sample of cases to review and ensuring that these reviews are completed in a timely manner.
  • ...maintain comprehensive data on misrepresentation and enforcement actions taken nationwide, as needed for management oversight and reporting purposes."

 The main thrust of the report is for Congress to end direct payment programs:

"Direct payments generally do not align with the principles significant to integrity, effectiveness, and efficiency in farm bill programs that GAO identified in an April 2012 report. These payments align with the principle of being “distinctive,” in that they do not overlap or duplicate other farm programs. However, direct payments do not align with five other principles. Specifically, they do not align with the following principles:
  • Relevance: When the precursors to direct payments were first authorized in 1996 legislation, they were expected to be transitional, but subsequent legislation passed in 2002 and 2008 has continued these payments as direct payments. However, in April 2012, draft legislation for reauthorizing agricultural programs through 2017 proposed eliminating direct payments.
  • Targeting: Direct payments do not appropriately distribute benefits consistent with contemporary assessments of need. For example, they are concentrated among the largest recipients based on farm size and income; in 2011, the top 25 percent of payment recipients received 73 percent of direct payments.
  • Affordability: Direct payments may no longer be affordable given the United States’ current deficit and debt levels.
  • Effectiveness: Direct payments may have unintended consequences. Direct payments may have less potential than other farm programs to distort prices and production, but economic distortions can result from these payments. For example, GAO identified cases where direct payments support recipients who USDA officials said own farmland that is not economically viable in the absence of these payments.''

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Locavores and Vulnerability

I mentioned the storm which hit the Mid-Atlantic states had gone through Reston.  The local Safeway got its power back yesterday, but its stock of perishable food, particularly frozen food, is still being rebuilt.  I think it reflects the extent to which the food chain has adopted the "just-in-time" logic of Japanese car makers from the 1980's, which was a hot meme in the 1990's. 

The discussion in the Post of the impact of the storm included observations from local vendors of high-end meat, including one perhaps apocryphal statement that his butcher had 80 head of cattle which he had to dispose of.  At first it sounded unlikely to me, but thinking about the practicalities makes it more likely.  Consider an operation where a butcher/meat packer buys cattle.  He's set up to move the cattle from the feed lot/ranch to his slaughterhouse where they'll be killed and cut into products he can ship out to his stores.  He knows how much meat his stores can take; he knows how long his refrigerated trucks will take to get the products to the store; he knows how long it will take to slaughter and butcher the animals. 

Simple economics means he should speed the animals through as fast as possible; that's good for the bottomline, reduces the amount of capital needed, and incidentally probably serves the animals well. So what happens when the storm comes through and the stores call up and say, no deliveries until we notify you we've got power back?  He's probably got no storage, no way to hold inventory.  He maybe could load up his trucks and keep their refrigeration units running, but that won't hold much surplus. If he's got 80 head of cattle in the lot, he's not set up to feed and care for the animals, certainly not humanely.

There's a Chaplin or Lucille Ball short where one end of an assembly line stops and the rest keeps going--that's what can happen here.

The point of my reflections is this: though I often question the advocates of the food movement, they've got one thing right:  our modern integrated food production and distribution system is efficient, but it's vulnerable.  Simply because of its integration, a disruption wreaks more damage than with the locavore system. 

Our Christian Nation Founded in Sin?

John Fea reports that one conservative scholar believes it was unChristian to rebel against Britain. 

Lonesome George: RIP

Via NYTimes, the last Galapagos tortoise of his subspecies is dead.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Ginsu: Made in the U.S. of A

Another illusion shattered.  I wonder if the implication of the previous sentence is true: do we start life with a defined set of illusions (Santa Claus, tooth fairy, etc.) and gradually they're shattered one by one so that by the end of life we face reality with no illusions?  Or is the truth that we create new illusions as we lose the old ( housing prices can go up continuously,etc.0 so that I'm now seeing the world through a whole new set of illusions?

Anyhow, the NYTimes has an obit of Barry Becher, in which it reveals the shattering truth: the ginsu knife was made in Ohio.  Not only that, "ginsu" has no meaning in Japanese. 

A tangent: this is interesting.  I remember the first things I ever saw which were made in Japan: a couple cheap mock fighter planes with friction motors, which may not be the right word but when you pushed them along a flat surface, they made an engine like noise.  This was probably 1949 or so, the time when "Japanese" meant "cheap" and "junk", at least if it didn't mean something more hateful.  So from that point to 1978 the image and associations with the word changed completely. Still a bit exotic, but completely believable that Japan could export great knives, which could do miracles.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

How the World Changes: Stylish Russian Women

The Times had an article today discussing fashionable and rich Russian women.  For some reason I found that amazing; maybe because I remember Nina Khruscheva, Nikita's wife, who for the 1950's and 1960's stood as a model for Soviet women.  Hard to find a picture of her, so I'll steal this from Brown University.

Anyhow "stylish" was never used in connection with Soviet women.  Nor was "fabulous".  As proof, I did Google searches for "stylish Soviet women" and "stylish Russian women".  Six hits for the former, 5600 for the latter.