Saturday, August 18, 2012

Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park

I was there yesterday:
Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, located on the East St. Louis Riverfront, complements the renowned Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, home of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, across the Mississippi River. Eero Saarinen, designer of the St. Louis Arch, originally included a park on both sides of the Mississippi River; decades later his vision has become a reality.
Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park boasts two distinct features: the Mississippi River Overlook and a fountain known as the Gateway Geyser. The Gateway Geyser erupts four times a day during the spring and summer months. The main fountain of the geyser was designed with the capability to reach 630 feet, as tall as the Arch itself.
Gateway GeyserThe geyser is surrounded by a small lake and four fountains, representing the four rivers that meet at St. Louis. The geyser is powered by three 800 horsepower pumps, and can shoot 7,500 gallons of water per minute at the rate of 250 feet per second. The four smaller fountains are powered by a 125 horsepower pump. The lake surrounding the geyser is six acres, 600 feet in diameter, and contains more than a million gallons of water. Nearby aircraft are alerted by a beacon on the roof of the pump house when the geyser will soon go off.
The Mississippi River Overlook stands 40 ft. tall on the opposite end of the park. Its tiered structure boasts stainless steel railings and architectural concrete. The MRO offers visitors marvelous views of the park, both sides of the Mississippi River, and the St. Louis City Skyline. The new park also provides passive open green space for visitors to enjoy. The Metro East Park and Recreation District owns and operates the park grounds. The park is the result of a partnership between MEPRD and the Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis.
I went up the Mississippi River Overlook, but I missed the Gateway Geyser.  I may have to check that out sometime, that sounds badass.  It was a very nice park, and the folks there were very friendly.  It gives a very nice view of the arch, and allowed me to fit the company product trailer I was driving into a picture featuring the arch.

Chasing The Storm

Chasing the storm from Nathan Kaso on Vimeo.

Farmland Bubble Chart

From Big Picture Agriculture:

A Pirates Return?

Michael Weinrab looks at the Pirates and their lost generation:
Baseball in Pittsburgh dates back to the 19th century, but the first turning point came in 1909, when Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, a Kentucky bourbon distiller, built Forbes Field in Oakland, an up-and-coming section of the city being developed by Andrew Carnegie. He believed his park could appeal to a more upscale clientele; his critics labeled it "Dreyfuss's Folly." But Forbes Field sold out on Opening Day, and the Pirates won the 1909 World Series, and 51 years later, in that same ballpark, Bill Mazeroski drove a 1-0 pitch from Ralph Terry over the left-field wall to win Game 7 of the World Series over the Yankees. It is a moment they still commemorate every October 13 by playing the broadcast of the game over a loudspeaker at the site of the outfield wall of Forbes Field.
That sentimental attachment to sports is what carried Pittsburgh through the lean times. When the city began to redefine itself as the steel mills moved out, the Steelers were a model NFL franchise, but there were enough people who remembered the Mazeroski home run or the Roberto Clemente years or the "We Are Family" World Series champion Pirates of 1979 that Pittsburgh refused to completely let go of its relationship with baseball. In order to maintain their status as a first-class city, they needed a baseball team as much as they needed a world-class symphony. And so they never fully gave in to apathy: The failures of the Pirates have always bothered people, even as those failures have dragged on for a generation. There is a reason all the sports teams in Pittsburgh wear black and gold; in some way, they are inexorably linked, and so the Pirates' mounting losses contrasted with the comeback of Pittsburgh itself over the past two decades. Here was this beautiful new ballpark, in this revived North Shore neighborhood: Why can't we get the product right?
"People care enough to get mad about the things that went wrong," Madarasz says. "That's Pittsburgh — we try and we try and we try, until we succeed."
When he talks about game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, I remember it mostly because there were several Pirates fans and Braves fans who were buddies watching the game together.  One of the Braves fans, who never failed to be a poor winner, was mocking the Pirates fans mercilessly.  I just remember the dejection all of those Pittsburgh showed, and I can only imagine how bad the last 19 years have been on them.

Drought Helps Lake Water Quality

Wisconsin State Journal:
The summer drought was good for one thing: It reduced the amount of manure and other phosphorus-laden material washing into area lakes.
That has eased the growth of ugly, smelly and even dangerous algae, weeds and green muck.
But long term, one drought doesn't change the dire need to reduce phosphorus levels in Mendota, Monona and the rest of the Yahara chain of lakes.
"I'm looking at Mendota now," lake expert Steve Carpenter said Thursday from his UW-Madison office. "It's windy and wavy, and it's looking pretty good."
But we're not going to have — nor would we want — a drought every year, Carpenter stressed. The extremely dry weather damaged crops, lawns and the economy.
"So what we want to do is find a way to improve the quality of the lakes without having a drought," said Carpenter, the director of the university's Center for Limnology.
Well, water quality has been pretty good this year in Grand Lake St. Mary's, so the drought may have helped out there, too.

The Business Model Of Crop Insurance

Planet Money:
The federal government spends about $7 billion a year on crop insurance for U.S. farmers. Policies are sold by private companies, but the government sets the rates, so the companies can't compete on price.
That means the guys who sell crop insurance have to find other ways to compete. They try to out-nice each other. They are very charming. They wear polo shirts depicting hobbies. They have fun nicknames. And they know everyone in town.
  Don "Dizz" Biefelt is the most interested, friendly neighbor you can imagine. He's 82 years old, and he sells crop insurance in Anchor Illinois.
I sat with him on Anchor's one public bench. His customers were everywhere. That guy over there, working on a truck — he's a customer. (And, by the way, the customer's wife just had a gallbladder out, Dizz says.) The guy in that house over there is another customer, as is the guy down at the end. Dizz knows their mothers, their nicknames, their wives' digestion problems.
But Don has competition. Brent "Hondo" Honneger works a few miles down the road. Brent also wears polo shirts and is charming and knows everyone.
She forgets to point out that people like their crop insurance agents because the crop insurance companies don't take your premiums then try to screw you out of crop insurance payments when you are owed like most of the other insurance companies do.  Instead, you turn in your yields, and if you are due money, they send you the check.  They really have no reason not to, because the government backs up the payments.  Overall, it is like any other government privatization plan, insiders make money and regular taxpayers foot the bill.  The government could easily do the same thing for less by leaving the private companies out, but that wouldn't fly with Republicans.

Chart of the Day

At least Indiana is fatter than Ohio.  I can't stand those Hoosiers:

According to the Economist, America is the fattest nation on earth.  USA! USA! USA!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Close Call

I came damn close to missing my flight home today.  After going to the wrong parking lot to try to park my pickup truck and trailer, I got to the terminal 55 minutes before my flight's schedule departure time.  When I found the security area, they had two metal detectors operating out of five machines, and first-class got one while coach had to use the other one.  More than 30 minutes later, I was just entering the concourse when they announced the final call for boarding my flight.  I ran to the other end and managed to get on.  I wasn't even the last one there, several other people came after me.  Anyway, I was expecting I'd miss my flight, but I got home ok.

Chart of the Day

From The Atlantic:

The richer you are, the more you get from capital gains. This shouldn't surprise us. The top 0.1 percent of earners collect roughly half of all capital gains. Of course, these are highly pro-cyclical. In other words, capital gains boom when the economy booms and go bust when the economy goes bust. That's why the rich and super-rich got such a high share of their income from capital gains in 2000 and such a low share in 2009 -- it's not that other income fell or rose in those years, but that capital gains rose and fell.

But the rich have more rentier income. They have dividends. And interest. And rents. That's what makes up the "other" category -- along with business income from S-corporations, partnerships, and the like. The rich and super-rich aren't so different when it comes to this other investment income. It's outsized capital gains that separate the Hamptons from the helicopter-to-the-Hamptons crowd. 
With our current tax treatment of dividends and capital gains compared to earned income, somebody who makes $110,000 will probably pay a higher total percentage of their income in income and payroll taxes than Mitt pays on $20,000,000 a year.  That doesn't make sense to me.  Under the Ryan plan, most of the income of those top 400 filers above wouldn't be taxed at all on the federal level.  That's just stupid.

Mmm Good

I had some deep-fried bacon tonight.  It was as expected.  Awesome.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

82 Year-old Nun Breaches Security At Oak Ridge

Turns out nuns have more up their habit sleeves than knuckle-rapping rulers and twee songs for Austrian children. Sister Megan Rice, 82, is an anti-nuclear activist who just broke into the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation, site of the country’s main supply of enriched uranium — an operation which experts call “the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex,” according to The New York Times.
This New York City-born nun, who taught school in Africa for years, has already been arrested more than 40 times for civil disobedience. But this latest operation required her to complete tasks worthy of James Bond: Rice and her two partners made their way through the wooded Oak Ridge compound in Tennessee, using bolt cutters to get past fences and dodging armed guards and motion sensors.
Once they reached the new Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility, they doused it with blood and hung banners outside with messages like “Swords into plowshares,” the Times reports.
The three activists, set for trial Oct. 10, now face up to 16 years in prison and up to $600,000 in fines.
Wow, that is crazy.  82 years old?  No wonder the bishops fear these women.

Presidential Beer

Des Moines Register:
In perhaps the most startling revelation so far in Obama’s three-day bus tour across Iowa, it was revealed this morning that the White House brews its own beer, and that the presidential bus is stocked with bottles of that beer.
The revelation came incidentally, when a man at the Knoxville coffee shop where Obama stopped today somehow got the president onto the subject of beer, and Obama noted that a sample of the White House’s home brew was just outside.
(The existence of White House home brew has been previously reported, in a spate of stories in 2011.)
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that Obama gave the man a full bottle of said beer, retrieved from the bus.
In a press gaggle a short time later, White House Spokesman Jay Carney took several questions about the beer, some which he could answer, others he could not.
The beer comes in two varieties, light and dark, Carney said. He has personally sampled the lighter brew, and declared it “refreshing.”
“It is superb,” he said. “It is quite good.”
Does the president himself drink the beer? Indeed he does, Carney said.
That is pretty sweet.  More Americans may want to have a beer with George W. Bush, but unlike Bush (or, unfortunately, Biden) Obama actually might have a beer with you.

A Report From Eastern Iowa

Well, for much of the corn along I-80 from Iowa City to Des Moines, things look pretty good.  In fact, if my corn looks that good, I'd be having a party.  However, I was harassed by an Iowa State Patrolman, about what DOT laws apply to our pickup truck and trailer.  I guess he's right until proven wrong.

I'm Getting Old

Via Tom Levenson:

So by 2014, the majority of Americans will be younger than me?  Wow, I'm an old fucker.  Hey, Paul Ryan, keep your government hands off my Medicare!

What's Up With Americans And Taxes?

NYT, via Ritholtz:
Yet Americans’ aversion to taxes runs deeper. We’ve been collecting less in taxes than other rich countries at least since the early 1970s, relative to size of the economy. But according to Gallup, only three times since the 1950s have more Americans said their taxes were “about right” than said they were “too high.” Scholars have resorted to cultural traits to explain our reluctance to pay for our government.
Alberto Alesina, an Italian-born economist at Harvard, contrasts American individualism rooted in the belief that effort brings success with Europeans’ belief in state redistribution — born of Europe’s long history of inherited wealth. Americans who think they have a fair shot at striking it rich vote against high taxes on their expected future wealth. Europeans who believe wealth is mostly a matter of luck and connections are less resistant to paying taxes for collective welfare.
Support for taxes also depends on how the money is spent. In Italy and throughout Western Europe, every time a voter goes to the doctor, he or she sees taxes at work.
By contrast, the ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity of the United States can sap support for government redistribution. Ten years ago, the sociologist William Julius Wilson wrote that American whites rebelled against welfare because they saw it as using their hard-earned taxes to give blacks “medical and legal services that many of them could not afford for their own families.”  (emphasis mine) In more homogeneous European countries, taxpayers may be more willing to pay for social programs because recipients are similar to themselves.
Where does this leave American society? Many conservatives in the Tea Party movement believe the government is already too big. Mr. Romney and most Republicans in Congress have even signed a formal pledge not to raise income taxes. Will no administration ever again dare raise taxes on the middle class?
I think that part in bold is an important reason why Americans think their taxes are being wasted.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chart of the Day

Take from the poor and give to the rich:

At least there isn't an income inequality problem.  Well there isn't in the Republicans' Bizarro America.

Paul Ryan Kinda Sucks

The Atlantic:
After looking at his record, I'm going to have to agree with Jonathan Chait, who writes that Ryan's "public persona is a giant scam" that marks him as a "skillful pol" -- and also someone who ought not to be underestimated. But there's a big difference between manners and character, between ideologically rigid political posturing and a substantive commitment to the difficult work of creating positive change within a pluralistic and diverse democratic society. If people can no longer tell the one from the other it's because we now live in an age, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has so memorably noted, where "where counter-intuitive bullshitting is valorized, where the pose of argument is more important than the actual pursuit of truth, where clever answers take precedence over profound questions."
Mitt Romney said Sunday that Ryan's "career ambition was not to go to Washington." But Ryan did go to Washington, D.C., arriving as an intern in 1991 and spending the entire rest of his career here after graduating from college. As National Journal's Rebecca Kaplan and Sarah Huisenga put it:
Ryan's career path doesn't quite gel with the image Romney projected in his speech. As a college student at Miami University in Ohio, he began serving as a staffer for Republican Sen. Bob Kasten. After graduating, he was hired as a speechwriter for Jack Kemp, then a congressman from New York. Ryan, who cited Kemp as a mentor at an event in Manassas, Va., on Saturday, went on to work for Kemp's think tank, Empower America, and as a speechwriter on his vice presidential campaign in 1996. He also was a legislative director for then-Sen. Sam Brownback, now governor of Kansas.
Ryan ran for and was elected to Congress in 1998, and has been serving as a member from his Wisconsin district since 1999.
As such, Ryan is both a product of and poster boy for the political city. And it is symptom of the corruption and divisiveness of contemporary Washington that a man who has not passed a single piece of substantive legislation, ever, can be hailed as a substantive and deep thinker and the voice of budgetary sanity while racking up an actual record consisting overwhelmingly of renaming post offices, honoring Ronald Reagan and Wisconsin, providing for the issuance of commemorative coins, and increasing the deficit through massive tax cuts.
Yeah, pretty much.  It would be nice if the guy brought a little debate, but his points make no sence, so I can't really rely on that.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bain Hits Illinois Town

But for Bonnie Borman – and 170 other men and women in Freeport, Illinois – there is a brutal twist to the torture. Borman, 52, and the other workers of a soon-to-be-shuttered car parts plant are personally training the Chinese workers who will replace them.
It's a surreal experience, they say. For months they have watched their plant being dismantled and shipped to China, piece by piece, as they show teams of Chinese workers how to do the jobs they have dedicated their lives to.
"It's not easy to get up in the morning, training them to do your job so that you can be made unemployed," said Borman, pictured, a mother of three who has worked for 23 years at the Sensata auto sensors plant......
But, in the midst of the 2012 presidential election, Freeport is different. For Sensata is majority-owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm once led by Mitt Romney, that has become a hugely controversial symbol of how the modern globalised American economy works. Indeed, Romney still owns millions of dollars of shares in the Bain funds that own Sensata.
So as Sensata strips out costs by sacking American workers in favour of Chinese ones, the value of Romney's own investments could rise, putting money into the pockets of a Republican challenger who has placed job creation in America at the heart of his bid for the White House.
The story of how Bain became involved in a car factory in a small town amid the rolling farmland of northern Illinois is emblematic of modern financial wheeling and dealing.
That sounds miserable.  I knew some guys locally who had to go out to a plant in Iowa to learn how to run the machinery before that plant was shut down and the equipment moved to Ohio.  Bringing Chinese folks in to be trained is even worse.

The Drought of 1936

The Des Moines Register looks back at the worst drought in Iowa in recorded history:
Irma J. Long of Woodbury County wrote a journal entry on July 18, 1936, expressing the distress in her state. The document, on file with the State Historical Society, provides a glimpse into rural life before air conditioning, electricity and running water.
“Heat, heat, heat!” she wrote. “It stifles and burns and saturates everything. The beds feel actually hot most of the night. The furniture, too, is not immune. Sometimes we seek stools or chairs without backs in order to get away from the heat on our backs. People all over the countryside are sleeping out of doors, for the houses do not cool off in the evening.”
Morris Stamps, 96, remembers sleeping outside in the yard of his Seymour farm, close to the house or on a porch. He still lives on the farm today.
“The house never cooled down,” Stamps said. “You had an old cookstove, and you had to use it to make meals. There was no refrigeration or deep freezes like they have today. We had to can food for the winter. There was no relief. You just endured it.”
Heat ravaged farm animals as much as humans. Many farmers still plowed with horses and mules. The intense heat caused fatigue, shortening the animals’ workdays and lifespans.
“The chickens would just die — right in the yard,” Rose Stoops of Grinnell told Iowa Public Television in an oral history given in 1979. “I had my hens walk from the house to the (water) pump ... and die on the way. They just flocked around you when you came out the door — they wanted water. Boy, our well went dry, and we hauled water up out of the creek. Oh — I’ve never seen such time. If my husband would have come in and said all the livestock lay down and died that night, I wouldn’t have been surprised because it seemed just one thing after another.”
I generally remember they didn't have air conditioning back then, but I often forget they cooked on wood stoves.   It is really hard to imagine today.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Romney's Taxes In The Ryan Plan

Pretty much nothing:
Under Paul Ryan's plan, Mitt Romney wouldn't pay any taxes for the next ten years -- or any of the years after that. Now, do I know that that's true. Yes, I'm certain.

Well, maybe not quite nothing. In 2010 -- the only year we have seen a full return from him -- Romney would have paid an effective tax rate of around 0.82 percent under the Ryan plan, rather than the 13.9 percent he actually did. How would someone with more than $21 million in taxable income pay so little? Well, the vast majority of Romney's income came from capital gains, interest, and dividends. And Ryan wants to eliminate all taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends. 

Romney, of course, criticized this idea when Newt Gingrich proposed it back in January by pointing out that zeroing out taxes on savings and investment would mean zeroing out his own taxes.
Almost. Romney did earn $593,996 in author and speaking fees in 2010 that would still be taxed under the Ryan plan. Just not much. Ryan would cut the top marginal tax rate from 35 to 25 percent and get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax -- saving Romney another $292,389 or so on his 2010 tax bill. Now, Romney would still owe self-employment taxes on his author and speaking fees, but that only amounts to $29,151. Add it all up, and Romney would have paid $177,650 out of a taxable income of $21,661,344, for a cool effective rate of 0.82 percent.
What the fuck kind of sense does that make?  Why tax people with jobs, but not tax rich folks who make money without working? That'll help get rid of the budget deficit.  Jackasses.

3D Printing Guns

Designing gadgets with desktop 3D printers is nothing new. But until now, no one has ever used an at-home thermoplastic machine to help build a pistol. For one of the nation’s gun lobbies, it’s about time.
The firearm in question is a .22-caliber rifle developed by Wisconsin engineer and amateur gunsmith Michael Guslick. Using his Stratasys 3D printing machine and blueprints downloaded from the internet, Guslick successfully printed the lower receiver — or frame — of an AR-15 rifle and turned it into a gun. He also shared the results on his blog.
“People have been making firearms at home since before America was a country,” Dudley Brown, executive vice president of the National Association for Gun Rights, tells Danger Room. “And not only does it not make it dangerous, it makes America safer. It’s where most of the innovation came from. John Moses Browning built guns out of his basement. We’re still using them.”
Neither Brown nor the NAGR condone building firearms illegally. But at-home plastic gun manufacturing raises some thorny legal and regulatory questions, and has some worried it could undermine attempts to keep America’s guns under control. Managing the flow of solid weapons is one thing. How do you control a digital pattern that people can use to print guns in their living rooms?
Note that Guslick didn’t manufacture the entire weapon using the printer. The rest of the rifle is assembled from commercial off-the-shelf parts. Guslick provided a photo of an earlier pistol model — seen above — to Danger Room, which shows a printed thermoplastic lower receiver, and a commercially bought metal upper receiver, barrel, grip and magazine. And of course, Guslick didn’t manufacture the ammo either. But as metal and ceramic materials become available for low-end printers, it could become possible to one day print an entire gun.
That reminds me of John Malkovich's plastic gun in the movie, "In The Line of Fire ."

The Real Paul Ryan

Charles Pierce:
Paul Ryan is an authentically dangerous zealot. He does not want to reform entitlements. He wants to eliminate them. He wants to eliminate them because he doesn't believe they are a legitimate function of government. He is a smiling, aw-shucks murderer of opportunity, a creator of dystopias in which he never will have to live. This now is an argument not over what kind of political commonwealth we will have, but rather whether or not we will have one at all, because Paul Ryan does not believe in the most primary institution of that commonwealth: our government. The first three words of the Preamble to the Constitution make a lie out of every speech he's ever given. He looks at the country and sees its government as something alien that is holding down the individual entrepreneurial genius of 200 million people, and not as their creation, and the vehicle through which that genius can be channelled for the general welfare.
In the lengthy — and now, very prescient — profile of Ryan that ran in The New Yorker this week, Ryan Lizza pinned him down on this very point. Ryan responded in fluent Weaselspeak....
When I pointed out to Ryan that government spending programs were at the heart of his home town's recovery, he didn't disagree. But he insisted that he has been misunderstood. "Obama is trying to paint us as a caricature," he said. "As if we're some bizarre individualists who are hardcore libertarians. It's a false dichotomy and intellectually lazy." He added, "Of course we believe in government. We think government should do what it does really well, but that it has limits, and obviously within those limits are things like infrastructure, interstate highways, and airports."
The fact is that his "budget" will demolish federal spending on those very things, either directly, or by sending the deficit off in the direction of Alpha Centauri. But the quote illustrates something else about Paul Ryan: get him out of his comfort zone of being thought an intellectual by the likes of Louie Gohmert, and of being thought of as a bold thinker by half the buffet-grazers in the Beltway media, and he really is quite the political coward. (In this way, he is a perfect match for the man who picked him.) He does not have the raw balls to explain to the country that, no, he does not believe in government — not the federal government, anyway, and not as it was originally conceived, as the fundamental expression of a political commonwealth.
I love the idea that Paul Ryan is brave because he's got the lack of decency and common sense to push to slash spending which helps out the poor and the middle class, while pushing to end ALL taxes on dividends, capital gains, interest and inheritance.  Yeah, what motivates the poor to work hard is to give them less money, but what motivates the rich to work hard is to give them more money.  I don't get it.  More than likely, the Ryan pick seals Barack Obama's reelection, but puts Obama in charge of at least partially dismantling the social safety net.  Either way, the middle class and the poor are screwed, but with Obama reelected, the dismantling of the greater good in the public sphere will be a "bipartisan" job.

The Future Of The Ogallala

Buddy Holly was born in Lubbock. He was the biggest thing that ever happened here. Well, him and irrigation. When farmers started to pump water from below in the 1940s and '50s, it changed everything. Kirby Lewis is a cotton farmer.
Kirby Lewis: This area, if it wasn't for the way the water was utilized, these cities wouldn't be here.
But here groundwater -- like oil -- is finite. Just go north, to the town of Happy, Texas. Hardly anyone's left. Main Street stores boarded up decades ago. I did find wheat farmer Clyde Hancock. He's 86.
Clyde Hancock: We got in a drought, like we are now. That's when we started drilling the wells. We pumped them for 20, 30 years. And then kind of ran out of water.
Tong: What did Main Street used to look like?
Hancock:One time there was grocery stores and drug stores. Had a doctor, cafes. Oh, in the 40s, 50s, back in there, this was a pretty thriving little town.
Dave Brauer met me in Happy. He works for the Agriculture Department.
Dave Brauer: This, in some parts of the high southern plains, is what we can expect to happen if we do not use the water wisely over time.
The future of agriculture, and rural life, in the Southern Plains, is completely tied to how long the water lasts.  Since it really doesn't get recharged, it won't be a long time.  More on the Ogallala here.