Monday, December 08, 2014

The Cost Shifting of Negative Externalities Lands Mostly on Those Least Able to Afford It

Photo from the LA Times
From a heart-wrenching LA Times story on Mexican farm laborers, here's the rest of the price of the cheap food--the part you're not paying:
  • Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply. 
  • Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods. 
  • Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest. 
  • Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors. 
  • Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.
Erik Loomis has an answer:
If wages are stolen, workers threatened, bathing facilities not provided, etc., then workers should have the right to sue for recompense in American courts. Subway, Safeway, McDonald’s, etc., must be held legally responsible for the conditions of work when people labor in growing food for them to sell.
If the food is cheap, someone paid something along the way--a subsidy paid by someone--that made it cheap. Either someone got underpaid, or had to work in horrible conditions, or some pollution went into the environment that causes someone illness or death. If we don't allow that to happen in this country, then why do we allow it to happen in some other country if that other country is shipping the product to us?

Next time someone tries to sell you one of these so-called free trade pacts, ask them about the cost shifting. If you're not paying, someone is.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Romans Spent Years Building, Nero Spent a Few Hours Fiddling

A different kind of crumbling being ignored by the GOP.
I'm sure Nero's fiddling sounded something like this:
"[Obama has] the worst record of any president when it comes to putting America deeper in debt.”--Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus
Steve Benen does his usual great job chipping through that old outcropping of bullshit.
...just last week, congressional Republicans pushed for a package of tax breaks that would cost $440 billion over the next decade. How would GOP lawmakers pay for this? They wouldn’t... 
President Obama has overseen the fastest deficit reduction seen in the United States since the end of World War II. For that matter, nearly all of the president’s agenda – Affordable Care Act, immigration reform, etc. – would actually improve the nation’s finances. 
...turned a massive surplus into a massive deficit, putting two wars, two tax breaks, Medicare expansion, and a Wall Street bailout on the national charge card, leaving the bill for future generations. 
...public debt grew under Reagan – who promised as a candidate to balance the federal budget – by 186%. 
...H.W. Bush increased the debt by 55%, Clinton by 37% (he’s the only modern president to see surpluses), W. Bush by 86%, and Obama by 59%.
Benen doesn't even mention that most of the debt accumulation under Obama can be laid squarely at the feet of GW Bush, as shown by this well-known-outside-the-conservative-bubble chart.

So, at a time when Republicans' precious free markets are screaming at us to invest in infrastructure (low fuel, materials, labor, and borrowing costs), we are, instead of borrowing and spending on infrastructure that more than pays for itself like any good CEO would do now, watching little corporate piss ants like Reince Preibus give millions of wingnuts a talking point to drop like a bomb while they run away from the real fight.

But the frame is set that Democrats are free spenders, so the GOP looks thrifty while the country literally crumbles.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Battle of Ideas Was Lost at Abu Ghraib

This is the US losing the war of ideas.
Or maybe Nagasaki.

BBC: "Eight civilians, including three children, were reported to have died."

Donald Rumsfeld: “We are capturing and killing a lot of terrorists. But we also have to think about the number of new ones that are being created, it seems to me, and the memo I wrote raised that question — how might we do that? How do we win that battle of ideas?”

My Grandfather was UDT in WWII. He came back to Hawaii from island hopping and saw a bunch of Japanese playing volleyball with their guards. He got mad and asked one of the guards what the hell they were doing being nice to them. The guard answered that once the Japanese saw that we weren't the devils they’d been told, they told us everything we needed to know from them.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Democrats to Hold Senate is a Nice Long Shot If You Can Get It

The Geeky Version of Senate 2014 Election Day Model from Sam Wang
From the mixed up files of the #ThingsIWishICouldBetOn, this year is serving up an excellent long shot: Democrats to retain control of the Senate. It's a long shot for a reason, of course. Gamblers, especially the right-leaning ones looking for confirmation bias, learned that Nate Silver has been right a lot (something many of them learned the hard way). Democrats have to defend more seats. Midterms go against the incumbent President. People prefer Republicans in times of terror threats Republicans drum up (shorter Lindsey Graham: We're all gunna die!), even though Republicans want to start another land war in Asia that the people supposedly don't want.

Because, of course they do.

So, the nerd war between Nate Silver and Sam Wang have been entertaining as a way to highlight the differences between their prediction methods, but as we approach election day, Nate's model looks less at the "special sauce" and more at the polls. Since Wang doesn't add any special sauce, the two models will start to agree more. And it's Nate's model that's moving into agreement with Sam's. In fact, 538 moved from 64% GOP to 53% GOP in 9 days.

And Wang's prediction is a 70% chance of Democrats holding control of the Senate.

Betfair is paying 16/5 odds for Democrats to hold 51 seats.

In one of the play-money prediction markets I'm in, I'm getting Dems to control (VP breaking tie counts as control) at 23.4 a share (pays 100).

I made some money betting with the Princeton model at Intrade, and, of course, now that there's decent odds against Wang, I have no where to legally bet.


Standard long shot warning applies: don't bet as much on long-shots, as you're already subjecting yourself to some long-shot bias. But in a showdown between Silver and Wang, my money, at least a small chunk of it, would go with Wang. So, a sizable chunk of my play money is.

Furthermore, the Democrats have an ace in the hole, or, more precisely, some jokers: pent up pressure building under the lid the GOP is trying to hold on top of their boiling pot of crazy.
...we are well positioned to see some of these candidates take a journey on the crazy train in the closing weeks of this election cycle. Why? Three reasons. First, the debates are coming up, and as we saw in 2012 with Mourdock, the more these people talk in an unscripted forum, the more likely the guano will ooze out.
Second, in the tighter races, the candidates are feeling the heat. Consequently, they may make an unforced error or try to offer some red meat to the far right hoping it brings their base out in what’s expected to be a low-turnout election.
Finally, there are some male Republican candidates for Senate, like Colorado’s Corey Gardner and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, who are playing with dynamite. By that I mean they’ve decided to talk birth control thinking it can help them, but one slip up on this issue, and cue the “Republican war on women” headlines.
Any of these scenarios could be trouble for the GOP. And not just for the candidate who made the comment, but it could put Republicans on the defensive nationwide. 
The Sarah Palin of the cornfields, via the Everlasting GOP Stoppers
Dean Obeidallah lists his Final Four crazies most likely to blow, which includes noted nullification expert Joni Ernst, the GOP Senate candidate in Iowa, who's reached pressure cooker levels of pent up crazy.

Nate Cohn notes:
If all of the candidates currently leading in the polls go on to win, which is not at all assured with so many close races and still 45 days to go, then the party that wins two from the list of Iowa, Alaska and Kansas will win the Senate. 
With Kansans, despite polling problems, looking more and more like less is wrong with them (they had to learn the hard way that Republicans are what's the matter with them) and Alaska being a tossup like Iowa, it seems my long shot could be depending on Joni Ernst doing or saying something really crazy, and when it comes to corn-fed Republicans and the crazy, the long shot looks better than even money.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ma Nishtana

GW Bush palling around
The first line of The Four Questions song from the Passover Seder asks "Ma Nishtana?" Or, "What has changed?" The term is often used sarcastically to refer to something that someone thinks is new, but is actually not.

So, I ask, in a more contemporary English translation, "This is different how?"
“There’s nothing in it about national security,” Walter Jones, a Republican congressman from North Carolina who has read the missing pages, contends. “It’s about the Bush Administration and its relationship with the Saudis.” Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, told me that the document is “stunning in its clarity,” and that it offers direct evidence of complicity on the part of certain Saudi individuals and entities in Al Qaeda’s attack on America. 
That's Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker, via Digby, on the Twenty-Eight Pages the Dubya administration removed from the 9-11 Report.

Here's Josh Roggin at the Daily Beast with the answer to the question of why on earth doesn't Dick Cheney talk about who's backing the bad guys de jour:
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now threatening Baghdad, was funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, three U.S. allies that have dual agendas in the war on terror.
Ma Nishtana?

Meanwhile, occasionally, someone from the elite actually stands up and tells us what all this palling around with fascists has gotten us.
"I can only plead with you to examine the current political and cultural works of my country [the U.S.]. We are in the hands of a terrible counterrevolution and a great reaction, a second Civil War sponsored by the same people that lost the first Civil War," the director said.
"And it has created a good president who is a prisoner of the White House who can do little beyond the ceremonial," McTiernan continued. "It has made, despite of what you may see on screens, a prison country, and I've had the pleasure of seeing what most people in our class are never allowed to see. I've seen the engine of the beast, it has given us a country with more prisoners than North Korea per capita, more policemen per capita than Germany in 1938. They have suspended trial by jury in most of America."
Now there's a guy I hope keeps talking.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Good to Go Local and Organic

Turkey Canadian bacon grilled cheese with caramelized
onions, arugula, and tomato.
Long time readers know we're big fans of organic gardening and organic and local food in general. Now that we live in a rural area surrounded by great organic farms, we've decided to put our money and effort where our mouths are: a small, take out restaurant that focuses on local and organic food: Good to Go.

We've just begun the venture, so we're at the fundraising stage. Rather than trying to borrow all the money to start the business, or going to accredited investors through a crowd funding site, we've decided to sell a 20% interest in the soon-to-be-formed LLC to our friends, family, readers, and community. We see this as a chance for anyone who truly believes in the resiliency of the local and slow food movement to help us create more demand for our local farmers.

Shares are $100 each, and represent a 0.1% share of the company. After we've been in business a few quarters, we plan to start buying back the shares over a 5 year period. During that time, by law, the LLC must pay each co-owner (known as members in New York) their percent of the net profits.

Visit the Good to Go Organic and Local Food web site, read the business plan, and decide for yourself. We're sure you'll see this as a great way for the slow, organic, and local food community to create more demand for food that gets eaten as close to where it's grown as possible. And while we're not getting too dreamy about the whole thing, we see this as a kind of co-op model for financing these kinds of ventures as an excellent opportunity for investors and those who want to do something similar.

So, please, get involved today. We're also looking for suppliers of organic and local food in the Cherry Valley, Cooperstown, and Sharon Springs New York area. If you have any questions, just leave a comment, or contact me directly (scott at supak dot com).

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Great Intrade Sock Puppet Fire of 2012

Photo by Bastique
Seems Putin's asymmetric war on public opinion may have been fought with an army of sock puppets.
Russia’s campaign to shape international opinion around its invasion of Ukraine has extended to recruiting and training a new cadre of online trolls that have been deployed to spread the Kremlin’s message on the comments section of top American websites.
At Intrade in the spring and early summer of 2012, I was commenting regularly in the "Obama to win" market. For every liberal commenter, there would be at least ten "conservatives." I would get pounded with insults, Gish Gallops, every kind of fallacy in the book behind some of the most horrific arguments for terrible things you've ever heard of.

It got so bad that Intrade changed the policy to only allow paid accounts (people actually funding their accounts for betting) to comment.

It got so quiet all of a sudden that I still call it The Great Intrade Sock Puppet Fire of 2012.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

GOP Letting It All Crumble Because They Like Bombs Better Than Bridges

The opposite of what we
should be doing right now.
Government spending is down, deficits have been halved, and the public sector is smaller since Obama took office. Of course, this is the opposite of what a Progressive government would be doing with so many people out of work and so much infrastructure crumbling.

Democrats, especially progressive ones, but even the President (a moderate Democrat), have been pushing for more infrastructure spending. Republicans will not pass any. They won't even pass minimal funding for an Infrastructure Bank, which used to be a Bipartisan idea, supported by Former Senator Hutchison of Texas, for one.

Now they seem intent on letting our infrastructure, which makes us more productive, pays for itself, and helps keep American companies here, crumble.

If terrorists were killing as many Americans as our crumbling infrastructure, I wonder how much Republicans would be willing to borrow and spend to invade and occupy a country that had nothing to do with it?