Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Slight Delay

Due to the fish fry and other considerations, the links will be delayed.  Probably until tomorrow.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Farmers Sympathize with Undocumented Workers but Fear They'll Leave With Amnesty

Morning Edition:
According to surveys, about half of all farmworkers in the country lack legitimate documents and live in what's often described as a "shadow world," without legal rights. The farmers who employ those workers, meanwhile, are deeply ambivalent about this situation.
"They present bona fide documents that show that they're a legal worker. Do I believe that they're 100 percent correct? No," says Stephen Patricio, president of Westside Produce, a big melon packer in California's Central Valley.
Patricio is frustrated with federal immigration policies that make life difficult for his workers. Those feelings are partly rooted in self-interest because he needs them. But they're mixed with sympathy.
"They're just trying to feed their families," he says. "And to punish people for seeking a better life, which we've held up as our mantra throughout the world, is wrong!"
So one part of Patricio was happy when, last fall, President Obama promised more protection for millions of immigrants, such as those who have children who are U.S. citizens. This executive action probably covers hundreds of thousands of farmworkers — but it is now in limbo, because a federal judge in Texas has blocked it, at least for now.
Patricio, however, also has another reaction, one that illustrates deeper conflicts over U.S. immigration policy.
He says that giving more legal rights to those workers is probably bad for his business. He believes that some of these workers are in the Central Valley, working in agriculture, because it's a good place to hide from the authorities.
If those workers gain legal status, "that pressure is off. Now they can go to the cities and look for construction jobs, or manufacturing jobs," he says.
In the late 1980s, millions of immigrants gained legal status. Patricio believes that as a result, many left agriculture.
But back then, employers had an alternative. The border was more porous than it is now, and employers were able turn to a fresh wave of immigrants. That flow has now slowed to a trickle, and Patricio says this has created a real shortage of farmworkers.
Traveling around the Central Valley, I heard same argument from several different employers. Among the most vocal was Manuel Cunha Jr., who is president of the Nisei Farmers League, based in Fresno.
Many workers who get legal protections "are going to go find full-time jobs, because now they're safe," Cunha said. "And I have nothing to replace them with. Nothing!"
However, many farm workers say they'd keep working in the fields. It tells you a lot about what farmers think of the work migrant workers do that they fear those workers leaving if the workers had other options than working on the farms, and they don't believe they could replace them with new workers if the migrants left.

The Corrosion of Union Membership


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bar Talk

Bar Talk (short film) from Lowell Northrop on Vimeo.

The Revitalization of OTR

The New York Times takes a look at commercial development in Cincinnati, including major projects in Over-the-Rhine:
Much of the focus of that interest is in Over-the-Rhine where 1,100 to 1,400 new residential units are either under development or planned over the next two years, said Anastasia Mileham, vice president for marketing and communications at 3CDC, the neighborhood’s principal developer.
That surge in interest follows $335 million in investment by 3CDC to renovate or construct new buildings for 176 apartments, 17 restaurants, 23 new offices, and 14 retail stores. The total includes $48 million to restore Washington Park, and build a parking deck underneath, a project completed in 2012.
Additionally, 3CDC is supervising the $130 million restoration of Music Hall, a 136-year-old, 3,300-seat performing arts theater in the district and home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The project is financed by tax credits, city investments, grants and donations.
Over-the-Rhine, which a decade ago had 500 vacant buildings and 700 vacant lots, has become one of Cincinnati’s choice residential neighborhoods for young professionals, and is now a busy downtown office, retail and entertainment district.
On Martin Luther King Day a year ago, the People’s Coalition for Equality and Justice, a civil rights group, organized a demonstration to attract attention to housing displacement fostered by climbing real estate prices in Over-the-Rhine. Property values climbed over 25 percent in 2014, faster than any other Cincinnati neighborhood, according to Hamilton County figures.
City officials responded that the 40-square-block neighborhood has 1,000 units of affordable housing. Executives from 3CDC added that their projects incorporated space for subsidized work force housing. For instance, 30 of the 67 rental apartments in the four-year-old, $55 million Mercer Commons project are designated for families earning $26,000 a year or less.
Over-the-Rhine was such an under-invested and underutilized potential treasure for the city for so long.   It is great to see the area being renovated and becoming the go-to neighborhood for entertainment, and one which convinces more people to move into the city core.  After decades of fleeing downtown, it is good to see people coming back.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Breaking Ice on the Hudson

Farmers Start to Walk Away from High Rents


Across the U.S. Midwest, the plunge in grain prices to near four-year lows is pitting landowners determined to sustain rental incomes against farmer tenants worried about making rent payments because their revenues are squeezed.
Some grain farmers already see the burden as too big. They are taking an extreme step, one not widely seen since the 1980s: breaching lease contracts, reducing how much land they will sow this spring and risking years-long legal battles with landlords.
The tensions add to other signs the agricultural boom that the U.S. grain farming sector has enjoyed for a decade is over. On Friday, tractor maker John Deere cut its profit forecast citing falling sales caused by lower farm income and grain prices....
"As cash rent collections start this spring, I expect to see more farm operators who have had difficulty acquiring adequate financing either let leases go or try and renegotiate terms," said Jim Farrell, president of Farmers National Co, which manages about 4,900 farms across 24 states for land-owners.
Take an 80-acre (32 hectare) farm in Madison County, Iowa, owned by a client of Peoples Company, a farmland manager. The farmer who rented the land at $375 an acre last year offered $315 for this year, said Steve Bruere, president of the company. The owner turned him down, and rented it to a neighbor for $325 -- plus a hefty bonus if gross income tops $750.
There are growing numbers of other examples. Miller, of the Iowa Farm Bureau, said he learned about a farmer near Marshalltown, in central Iowa, who had walked away from 650 acres (263 hectares) of crop ground because he could not pay the rent. Just days later, he was told a north-central Iowa farmer breached his lease on 6,500 acres.

6500 acres?  Wow.  As the story notes, financing is coming back with a vengeance.  The whole time land prices were going up, we were told farmers had never been in better shape financially.  I think we'll see in the next year or two whether that was true or was hype.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

February 17:

Fibrils Flower on the Sun
Image Credit & Copyright: Big Bear Solar Obs., NJIT, Alan Friedman (Averted Imagination)
Explanation: When does the Sun look like a flower? In a specific color of red light emitted by hydrogen, as featured here, some regions of the solar chromosphere may resemble a rose. The color-inverted image was taken in 2014 October and shows active solar region 2177. The petals dominating the frame are actually magnetically confined tubes of hot plasma called fibrils, some of which extend longer than the diameter of the Earth. In the central region many of these fibrils are seen end-on, while the surrounding regions are typically populated with curved fibrils. When seen over the Sun's edge, these huge plasma tubes are called spicules, and when they occur in passive regions they are termed mottles. Sunspot region 2177 survived for several more days before the complex and tumultuous magnetic field poking through the Sun's surface evolved yet again.

Immigration in Maps

Vox features immigration in one of their "X# of maps that explain [subject]" posts.  One of the maps was this cool one:

and there was this cool gif (click to enlarge):

Finally, there was this historical note:
The bottom line: before 1965, Germany sent more immigrants to America than anyone else; after 1965, Mexico did.
Here's why: from World War I to 1965, the immigration system was designed, essentially, to keep the United States white. Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg has called it "unbelievable in its clarity of racism." Each country was given a certain quota of immigrants who were allowed to come to the United States each year, based on who'd been in the country in 1890.
Combined with existing laws that prevented any Asian Americans from coming into the country, the laws of the 1920s basically froze the demographics of the immigrant population in place until 1965.
American history.  So classy.

Spring Training and Jim Crow

The Upshot has an interesting piece about the battle over segregation during spring training after the Dodgers broke baseball's color line.  I didn't realize that is why the Dodgers established Dodgertown:
By 1948, with Robinson a full-fledged Brooklyn Dodger, Rickey and a fellow part-owner of the team, Walter O’Malley, opted to confront the spring training problem head-on by taking over a decommissioned naval air station in sleepy Vero Beach, Fla., which soon became a national baseball landmark called Dodgertown.
Although Robinson found Dodgertown “like being confined to a reservation,” the camp, with its own barracks and dining halls, would liberate the team from Jim Crow. Players called their new baseball diamonds “Ebbets Field No. 2.”
But Dodgertown itself could not solve the larger problem of racial separation in the Grapefruit League. More than a decade after Robinson joined the Dodgers, black players for other teams were still shunned by many Florida hotels and restaurants. African-American spectators in West Palm Beach were forced to enter the baseball park by slipping through a gap in the stadium fence.
Decrying “Spring Training Woes,” Wendell Smith wrote in Chicago’s American in 1961 that the black player’s “patience is growing short.”
Robinson had long called for economic pressure against Grapefruit League team owners who resisted change, and spurred on in part by the N.A.A.C.P., the Cardinals’ owner, Anheuser-Busch, struck a housing deal in 1961 to move all of its players into two adjacent motels for spring training in 1962; other teams were not far behind in integrating.
They had to put up with that shit for almost 16 years after Jackie Robinson's first appearance at spring training in 1946?  That is insane. It is hard to believe that was going on only a dozen years before I was born. The south is such a disgrace to the United States of America. 

All-Natural Butterfinger?

Ok, I really just wanted to post this graphic, for some reason:

I heard a story about this on NPR, and the best part was that some parents were concerned that the artificial ingredients might contribute to hyperactivity in their children.  Yeah, the artificial ingredients, and not the corn syrup and sugar that are the two main ingredients.

The Portsmouth Boondoggle?

The Dayton Daily News had a front page story today about the deteriorating highway system and the shortage of funds in the highway trust fund.  It was a pretty typical story of the type, but then I saw this piece which caught me off guard:
The state is now experimenting with alternative funding ideas, including using private equity as a component in some projects. For example, the Portsmouth Bypass should begin construction this summer. It’s to be a 16-mile, four-lane limited access highway from U.S. 23 north of Lucasville to U.S. 52 near Sciotoville.
At $429 million, it’s the largest project in the history of the Ohio Department of Transportation and the state’s first public-private highway partnership. ODOT said it includes various forms of private financing such as the issuance of Private Activity Bonds, funds through the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program and private equity.
The state has a contract to make payments to the Portsmouth Gateway Group, the organization financing the project over the length of the contract, which is about 35 years. The group will be responsible for operations, maintenance and rehabilitation work. ODOT will handle ice and snow removal.
Now, I've been out of the civil engineering field for over 5 years, so it probably isn't a surprise that I haven't heard about this project.  However, I am stunned that the largest project in the history of ODOT is a highway bypass around a small town (pop. 20,000, although it did once have a steel mill and an NFL team) in the middle of the can't-be-extremely-busy Columbus to Huntington, West Virginia corridor.  I figured I'd look for some more information about the highway, like the location.  I was able to find this map:

I also came across this story in the Columbus Dispatch (with my comments in italics):
The $429 million Portsmouth Bypass will snake around the city, linking Rts. 23 and 52 via a 16-mile, four-lane limited-access highway.
The project has been discussed for decades, and it might have remained an idea if not for rules adopted by the state in 2011 (Maybe because it didn't make any sense to spend that kind of money in the middle of nowhere).....
It’s ODOT’s first public-private partnership: a new mechanism that allows the private sector to build and pay for public transportation projects while the state repays them over time.
In this case, ODOT will pay for the project over the life of a 35-year contract with the Portsmouth Gateway Group, a consortium of contractors that also includes maintenance of the highway.
“It’s kind of like when you buy your house (with a mortgage),” said Melissa Ayers, ODOT spokeswoman. “You get the road up front.” (and pay a shit-ton of interest over the life of the loan)
How much the project will cost taxpayers over the life of the contract, though, is still unclear. ODOT awarded the contract, but it hasn’t finalized the financial details, Ayers said. That should happen in the coming months. (What the fuck?!  They are going ahead with the project before they finalize how much the state is going to have to pay?  That isn't going to work out well for taxpayers)
ODOT will use a combination of federal funds that in past years have been earmarked for Appalachian highways and other construction money to make payments over time. In the past, the state has received about $20 million a year for Appalachian highways.
The first year’s payment will be $25 million, but that amount could change year to year based on inflation and other factors that are being negotiated (So the state will be paying more than what is set aside for Appalachian highways each year for this thing?).
The beginnings of the partnership can be traced to the 2011 state transportation budget, which included provisions to allow the state to finance projects through the public sector and combine the design and construction phases.
ODOT had planned to use a public-private partnership in Cleveland for a bridge project, but funds raised from bonds against future Ohio Turnpike toll revenue now will pay for those plans. The Portsmouth Bypass will be the first project in the state to use the concept and could be a model for others, officials said....
Building the bypass will allow drivers to avoid about 26 miles of Rts. 23 and 52 and a slew of stoplights through Portsmouth. That could save about 16 minutes of driving time.(that's it? So this shortens the trip by 10 miles, avoids "a slew" of stoplights, and only saves 16 minutes?)
That should reduce the number of semi trucks driving through the city and open the area near the Greater Portsmouth Regional Airport for economic development (Ha, fat chance.  There's copious land available up and down the state's interstate highways and somebody is going to locate down there?).
But some fear that it could hurt businesses in Portsmouth that no longer have the benefit of drivers who stop to buy gas or food in the city, said Jason Kester, executive director of the Southern Ohio Port Authority.
Similar concerns were raised before ODOT built rural bypasses around Lancaster in 2005 and Nelsonville in 2013. Lancaster’s Memorial Drive, a commercial strip through Lancaster, though, has seen new businesses arrive since the bypass opened (Notice nothing is said about Nelsonville.  Lancaster has been growing as an outer suburb of Columbus, and there was going to be commercial development there anyway).
Economic development in southern Ohio is difficult because many sites don’t have adequate access to basic utilities because of the hilly terrain. The bypass, though, will open part of Scioto County “that isn’t topography challenged,” he said (But all of southeastern Ohio is geographically challenged.  There's nothing around, and no good ways to get to any city of any size.  They are smoking crack if they expect any economic development because of this bypass, other than roadside services like fast food, gas stations and maybe the relocation of the region's Walmart).
Johnson said the city has worked with ODOT to erect signs telling drivers that they still can drive through Portsmouth to see its murals — a tourism destination in the city. He doesn’t believe, though, that it will hurt businesses.
“The truckers don’t stop here in the first place. This is a bypass for them,” he said. “From my standpoint, this provides incredible opportunity for the county, which can only benefit the city of Portsmouth.”
Actually, this provides incredible opportunity for Portsmouth Gateway Group, which is going to rake in a shit-ton of taxpayer money with a nice guaranteed annual return. This isn't a toll project where the private entity ends up with less-than-planned-for revenue because the projected traffic doesn't materialize.  Based on this analysis, the state doesn't pay as much over the first ten years, but then pays much more over the remaining 25 years or so.  However, the proposed savings by building the project as a PPP instead of a standard project are based on annual construction cost increases of greater than 3.5% per year.  In the current environment of disinflation bordering on deflation, I'm not sure how likely it will be to see those kind of price increases. 

That also doesn't take into account whether this is the best use of that $429 million.  Apparently, this is seen as part of the eventual (maybe) I-73/I-74 corridor.  Considering that the state isn't sure how it is going to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge replacement, and the existing highway network through more populous areas is in major need of attention, this seems like a waste of good money.  Throw on top of it the fact that the state is depending on a private entity to front the money for construction, and is kicking the can down the road on actually paying for it, I anticipate nothing but trouble coming from it.  Hopefully, I'm wrong, but I expect to hear future politicians pointing at this project as one of the reasons they can't afford to complete more necessary work.