Sunday, February 28, 2010

While we're still facing north...

Jan passed along a helpful post from one of her favorite bloggers - Doug Green - who is (through no fault of his own) Canadian.  There are several helpful pointers for Americans who don't know much about our neighbors, but I think he nails one thing on the head.
The difference is much more profound than that.
The U.S. has enshrined the rights of individuals into its fabric – with those rights above the rights of any other group or organization.
Canada has built the rights of the “common good” into our system and this trumps the rights of the individual.
Our entire political structures (both countries) are based on this simple, yet profound difference.
We believe the common good demands health care access for all. You believe that individuals should have the right to decide.
We believe the common good demands control of handguns and military style weapons in private hands. You have organizations whose very existence depends on promoting this right for individuals.
We believe that the common good demands we set eduction standards that are enforced and met across each province so all children have equal access to equal education and we fund each student equally no matter where they live. You believe in leaving education and funding of that system to the individuals in their communities.
It is this difference in our view of the world – a view of common good versus individual rights that makes the subtle but profound differences in our institutions and way of life. [More]

Even better are the illustrative videos like..

I know I learn more about the world by simply crossing our northern border.  It's a shame we don't do it more often.
In the beginning...

It may not have been agriculture that propelled the civilization of humans.  It seems before we decided to try sedentary farming, we built temples to worship.
Standing on the hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins. Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built. The site isn't just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago—a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture—the first embers of civilization. In fact, Schmidt thinks the temple itself, built after the end of the last Ice Age by hunter-gatherers, became that ember—the spark that launched mankind toward farming, urban life, and all that followed.
This theory reverses a standard chronology of human origins, in which primitive man went through a "Neolithic revolution" 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In the old model, shepherds and farmers appeared first, and then created pottery, villages, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, and—somewhere on the way to the airplane—organized religion. As far back as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thinkers have argued that the social compact of cities came first, and only then the "high" religions with their great temples, a paradigm still taught in American high schools.
Religion now appears so early in civilized life—earlier than civilized life, if Schmidt is correct—that some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it, less a revelation than a genetic inheritance. The archeologist Jacques Cauvin once posited that "the beginning of the gods was the beginning of agriculture," and Göbekli may prove his case. [More]

It was a comforting and blatantly self-serving conceit that it all began with farmers. While this site is not without controversy (read the whole article), it still upends much of the sequence of human development. The earliest evidence of farming barely reaches to 10,000 BC.

Still, I have to wonder if the story ends here. The more we know about our very earliest colleagues, the more we realize we underestimate their ingenuity and productivity.  Maybe we'll be leapfrogging the dates of various steps of civilization for some time to come.
High speeds, high risks, high profits...

I have subscribed to the Chicago Fed Letter for years.  It's free, looks pretentious scattered on my desk along with my P. D. Q. Bach CD's and occasionally has an article I can almost understand.  Recently, it has a study on high-frequency trading and whether it poses and/or amplifies systemic risks.  Cutting to the chase:
The­ high-frequency­ trading ­environment­ has­ the­ potential ­to­ generate ­errors ­and­ losses ­at ­a ­speed ­and magnitude ­far ­greater ­than ­that ­in ­a ­floor ­or ­screen-based­ trading ­environment.­ In ­addition, ­the­ types­ of risk-management ­tools­ employed­ by ­broker–dealers ­and ­FCMs,­ their ­customers, ­nonclearing­ members, exchanges,­ and ­clearinghouses­ vary;­ and­ the ir­robustness ­for­ withstanding­ losses­ from­ high-frequency algorithmic ­trading­ is­ uncertain.­ Because­ these­ losses­ have­ the­ capability­ of­ impacting­ the­ financial­ conditions­ of­ the­ broker–dealers­ and­ FCMs­ and­ possibly­ the­ clearinghouses,­ determining­ and­ applying the­ appropriate­ balance­ of­ financial­ and­ operational­ controls­ is­ crucial.­ Moreover,­ issues­ related­ to­ risk management­ of­ these­ technology-dependent­ trading­ systems­ are­ numerous­ and­ complex­ and­ cannot­ be addressed­ in­ isolation­ within­ domestic­ financial­ markets.­ For­ example,­ placing­ limits­ on­ high-frequency algorithmic­ trading­ or­ restricting­ unfiltered­ sponsored­ access­ and­ colocation­ within­ one­ jurisdiction­ might­ only­ drive­ trading­ firms­ to­ another­ jurisdiction­ where­ controls­ are­ less­ stringent.­ [Whole source (pdf)]

This one article was nearly over my head, but for more explanation about how this form of trading is changing the stock market, this recent story really shed some light.
The rise of high-frequency trading helps explain why activity on the nation’s stock exchanges has exploded. Average daily volume has soared by 164 percent since 2005, according to data from NYSE. Although precise figures are elusive, stock exchanges say that a handful of high-frequency traders now account for a more than half of all trades. To understand this high-speed world, consider what happened when slow-moving traders went up against high-frequency robots earlier this month, and ended up handing spoils to lightning-fast computers.
It was July 15, and Intel, the computer chip giant, had reporting robust earnings the night before. Some investors, smelling opportunity, set out to buy shares in the semiconductor company Broadcom. (Their activities were described by an investor at a major Wall Street firm who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his job.) The slower traders faced a quandary: If they sought to buy a large number of shares at once, they would tip their hand and risk driving up Broadcom’s price. So, as is often the case on Wall Street, they divided their orders into dozens of small batches, hoping to cover their tracks. One second after the market opened, shares of Broadcom started changing hands at $26.20.
The slower traders began issuing buy orders. But rather than being shown to all potential sellers at the same time, some of those orders were most likely routed to a collection of high-frequency traders for just 30 milliseconds — 0.03 seconds — in what are known as flash orders. While markets are supposed to ensure transparency by showing orders to everyone simultaneously, a loophole in regulations allows marketplaces like Nasdaq to show traders some orders ahead of everyone else in exchange for a fee.
In less than half a second, high-frequency traders gained a valuable insight: the hunger for Broadcom was growing. Their computers began buying up Broadcom shares and then reselling them to the slower investors at higher prices. The overall price of Broadcom began to rise.
Soon, thousands of orders began flooding the markets as high-frequency software went into high gear. Automatic programs began issuing and canceling tiny orders within milliseconds to determine how much the slower traders were willing to pay. The high-frequency computers quickly determined that some investors’ upper limit was $26.40. The price shot to $26.39, and high-frequency programs began offering to sell hundreds of thousands of shares.
The result is that the slower-moving investors paid $1.4 million for about 56,000 shares, or $7,800 more than if they had been able to move as quickly as the high-frequency traders.
Multiply such trades across thousands of stocks a day, and the profits are substantial. High-frequency traders generated about $21 billion in profits last year, the Tabb Group, a research firm, estimates. [More] [[My emphasis]

I think we're kidding ourselves if we think some form of this type of computerized trading isn't going to be part of our markets - if it isn't already. As grain merchandisers tighten their exposure limits by handing risk costs down to growers, many will think to simply open accounts and take their own positions on an exchange.  Given the nature of trading described above, that seems a little sophomoric to me.

I suspect commodity markets could become even more squirrely as quants seek new playgrounds for such trading techniques.  Grain pits may not be big and deep enough for algorithmic trading to work right now, but that could be simply a matter of time and code.

Our pricing structure could still function, but only with lamprey-like costs added in as computers essentially "tax" each transaction.  As the Fed notes, it is not clear how to regulate this trend, and it may be that only by duplicating or capturing such transactional costs can commodity traders at least keep the money in our value chain.

The presence of such parasitic costs also argues for increased pressure to consolidate up and down the chain to keep the transactions out of the public markets.  For example, the efficiencies of packers owning cattle rise as they avoid having to shave a few cents off each buy-sell to hand to Wall Street. 

Now think how some kind of scheme to "capture" grain growers for an ADM, for example, could accomplish the same thing.  Throwing sand in the gears of our markets seems like a powerful incentive to avoid them.
I'm all for quieter...

Helicopters could become less obnoxious for bystanders.

For all the government conspiracy militia nuts out there, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there is no such thing as silent, stealth black helicopters. The bad news is that, thanks to Eurocopter's noise-canceling Blue Edge rotor blades, there soon will be.
The extremely loud noise made by helicopter blades results primarily from the blades chopping through eddies in their own wakes, a phenomenon known as blade-vortex interaction. By changing the shape of the rotor blades, Eurocopter manages to pair down the blade-vortex interaction so thoroughly that the sound only reaches the whisper volume of 3 or 4 decibels. [More]

Now if they could just tweak the emergency glide path, I might actually get in one.
Influencing food choices...

While most producers would dispute the link between farm subsidies and poor dietary choices (and in linkage, obesity), we don't really have much research showing what does influence food choices. A new study may help.
The results, just published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show that taxes were more effective in reducing calories purchased over subsides. Specifically, taxing unhealthy foods reduced overall calories purchased, while cutting the proportion of fat and carbohydrates and upping the proportion of protein in a typical week's groceries.

By contrast, subsidizing the prices of healthy food actually increased overall calories purchased without changing the nutritional value at all. It appears that mothers took the money they saved on subsidized fruits and vegetables and treated the family to less healthy alternatives, such as chips and soda pop. Taxes had basically the opposite effect, shifting spending from less healthy to healthier choices. [More]

I think what this may suggest is modifying the farm bill to subsidize fruits and vegetables rather than corn and wheat wouldn't be that effective. Taxing food choices that are deemed less healthy (soda pop, snack foods, etc.) at the point of purchase would be more likely to alter diets.

Of course, it also suggest from a public health viewpoint, grain subsidies are wrong no matter how you look at them.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Basketball bouncing in an empty gym...

The most compelling (addictive) sounds in the world are surprising.
There's no doubt about it, sound is immensely powerful. And yet 83% of all the advertising communication we're exposed to daily (bearing in mind that we will see two million TV commercials in a single lifetime) focuses, almost exclusively, on the sense of sight. That leaves just 17% for the remaining four senses. Think about how much we rely on sound. It confirms a connection when dialing or texting on cell phones and alerts us to emergencies. When the sound was removed from slot machines in Las Vegas, revenue fell by 24%. Experiments undertaken in restaurants show that when slow music (slower than the rhythm of a heartbeat) is played, we eat slower--and we eat more!
Is this just coincidence, or does sound make us buy more, want more, dream more and eat more? Any 50-year-old American can sing a whole range of television jingles from the 1970s--they are all well stored in the recesses of our brain. Yet if you were to ask the same of those who have come of age recently, you will find them stumped. Has the magic of a television tune disappeared, or has the advertising world lost sight of the fact that people do indeed have speakers at home? I decided to put these questions to the test.
Buyology Inc. and Elias Arts, a sound identity company in New York, wired up 50 volunteers and measured their galvanic, pupil and brainwave responses to sounds using the latest neuroscience-based research methods. We learned that sound has remarkable power. This may not be surprising for many, but it was certainly surprising to realize just how many commercial brands over the past 20 years have made their way into the world's 10 most powerful and addictive sounds--beating some of the most familiar and comforting sounds of nature. [More]
(The top ten are found at the link)

I would never have thought of most of them either, but have a few of my own.

11. Hail on a window
12. Rock in the combine rotor
13. Champagne cork popping
14. Maizey (our dog) whining to go for a run
15. Sauteing onions (this could be the smell, too)
16. Sharp chisel paring end grain
17. PTO shaft locking in place
18. Distant thunder
19. Autumn wind through dry standing corn
20. Twilight Zone theme
I dunno...

Just oddly soothing and entertaining at once.

The Sandpit from Sam O'Hare on Vimeo.

This is the new media of the Internet.  I think it hints at our entertainment future.

[via sullivan]
The weather report...

For everywhere.

(I think I can see my house!)
Happy Birthday, Terra.
No, not Terra the Earth, Terra the satellite. NASA’s Earth-observing bird first opened its eyes on February 24, 2000, and for the past decade has been dutifully watching our planet. It has looked upon us at different wavelengths, different resolutions, at different times of day, and different times of year. It has tracked changes, and reported back what it has seen. [More]
Sad note: due to funding cuts my local PBS station is dropping its weather department.
The elimination of the weather department signals an end to independent weather forecasting for WILL Radio and WILL-TV. Staff will share weather information with listeners from reports from the National Weather Service.
Providing the weather to the public costs about $140,000 a year, $40,000 of which is underwritten by businesses, according to Illinois Public Media.
“We are proud of our long tradition of weather coverage. Ed Kieser, Mike Sola, and their staff have for years dedicated themselves to making sure our listeners knew when severe weather threatened as well as bringing them day-to-day forecasts. But now that in-depth weather information is available on the Web and elsewhere, we believe that our limited resources must be applied to other areas,” said Illinois Public Media General Manager Mark Leonard in a statement Thursday. [More]

I wonder if media "weatherpersons" (?) are finally going to join the recession for the reason mentioned above. If the product is essentially free on the Internet...
THESE HAVE BEEN hard times for news organizations, and TV news is no exception. Fewer people are watching: viewership of local TV news fell by an average of 4.5 percent last year. Revenue is down, and with the precipitous drop in auto ads, once the staple of local TV news, it’s unlikely things will get better soon. Experienced and expensive anchors are being dropped for younger, cheaper ones. Reporters and producers are on the chopping block. But in the midst of all the cost-cutting, it seems the television weatherman isn’t going anywhere.
Weather is key to developing a strong brand for local newscasts, and it’s relatively cheap to produce. Beyond salaries, the only real expenses are any private weather forecasting or graphics services used in addition to National Weather Service data, which is free. Top meteorologists may find their salaries getting cut just like the anchors who stick around, but due to their low cost and high value, they’re unlikely to be sent packing. Karpowicz says that in a news department of 60 people, the total weather budget including salaries and expenses accounts for less than one-fifth of the total news budget. “We are in difficult times,” says Karpowicz, “but we are not considering cutting back on weather.”[More]
Maybe I'm seeing ponies that are only clouds, but it feels like the recession is starting to impact more people in my personal world recently.  It's like they've held on so far, but have exhausted their resources or luck.

It could also be that this is a reflection of tightening government budgets across the board. We often forget how important government is to rural economies.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

It's not just my yields...

That have been disappointing. Agriculture is struggling to grow in India.
India has been providing farmers with heavily subsidized fertilizer for more than three decades. The overuse of one type—urea—is so degrading the soil that yields on some crops are falling and import levels are rising. So are food prices, which jumped 19% last year. The country now produces less rice per hectare than its far poorer neighbors: Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Agriculture's decline is emerging as one of the hottest political issues in the world's biggest democracy.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet announced that India would adopt a new subsidy program in April, hoping to replenish the soil by giving farmers incentives to use a better mix of nutrients. But in a major compromise, the government left in place the old subsidy on urea—meaning farmers will still have a big incentive to use too much of it. [More with great comments]

It was whopping purchases of potash that ignited the run on that commodity back in 2008. And I suspect their shifting much of that business to Russia will further hassle Canadian potash suppliers.
Belarusian Potash Co., the world’s biggest exporter of the fertilizer, expects to sign contracts with India, the largest importer, in a “matter of weeks” as global demand strengthens.
The new contracts will most likely run through at least December and deliveries may start as soon as April, BPC sales chief Oleg Petrov said in an interview. BPC, which represents Belarusian and Russian producers, expects talks to start in the next two weeks, he said.
International Potash Co., the biggest supplier to India, said earlier this month the Asian nation may start running out of the fertilizer as early as March. Prices fell as low as $350 a metric ton last year from as much as $1,000 in 2008 as a slump in grain prices spurred farmers to curb purchases. India agreed to buy potash from marketer Canpotex last week at $370, signaling improving demand. [More]
I'm starting to doubt the potash cartel can survive in its present form as India and China are now large enough to deal seriously, and Russian competition and capacity can take advantage of much lower freight costs.
Tired of bullets?...

You're not alone.  There is a small but growing segment of teaching as well as speaking who find PowerPoint to be less the magic bullet (heh) it seemed to be a few years ago.
Teaching with PowerPoint has a different pace and structure than teaching with chalk or markers. It’s not just about overall fast vs. slow (though that’s part of it), but about when you go fast and when you go slow. When I use the board, I write down the major points, terms, definitions, etc. That forces me to slow down at exactly the moment when I’m making a big point and students should be attending closely. Once the critical information is on the board, I can elaborate, discuss with the class, ask questions, etc. while it hangs up there behind me for students to refer to. And since writing slows me down, I don’t give as much emphasis to relatively minor points — giving students an additional cue as to what’s more and less important. (“Don’t ignore this completely, but it’s not as central as what I said earlier.”) You can reproduce this kind of pacing and structure with PowerPoint, but in practice it’s difficult to do during a live performance in front of a classroom. You have to write your presentation with delivery (not just content) in mind. Otherwise it’s just too easy to blow through major and minor points at a constant pace.
Another point that she makes… I still use PowerPoint in my big introductory classes (though I make my own slides from scratch, use animation to help regulate my delivery, and try to avoid the mind-numbing bullety templates). I always have a few students ask me to post the notes before class. I don’t — I post them after class, but honestly, I have sometimes wondered if I’d be better off not posting them at all. Carolyn modestly writes “while [posting notes] is great for a lot of students, it doesn’t work for me…” but I actually think this describes most students. A lot of students misread their internal cues — if it feels like they are expending a lot of effort then they think they must be struggling with the material. Actually, though, if the professor is presenting challenging material, then you shouldn’t feel relaxed — relaxation is a sign that you’re probably thinking superficially or zoning out, not that you’ve quickly mastered the material.
I also found it impressive that Carolyn reached this conclusion on her own. Because frankly, it’s fundamentally very difficult to introspect into your own learning processes. A few years back, when I started moving away from PowerPoint, I got feedback on my student evaluations from people who wanted more PowerPoint. When I talked with students who felt that way, they thought they’d be able to focus more on the material if they didn’t have to bother taking notes. I realized that reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what note-taking does for you. I’ve been getting less of that feedback lately — maybe because I’ve gotten better at using the board, or maybe because recent students have been around PowerPoint longer and see its limitations more clearly. [More]

Having spent a lot of time watching other PPT presentations (mostly mediocre, IMHO) I think a new balance needs to be found. Teachers and presenters are getting lazier and I think the audience is following their example.

At the very least, after you finish your PPT, halve the number of slides and bullets and you'll be about right, I've found.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Don't mess...

With Romanian 5-year-olds.

[via arbroath]
We're not the only sector...

Undergoing consolidation.
Coca-Cola Co., the world’s biggest soda maker, is close to an agreement to buy the North American operations of bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. for about $15 billion including debt, the Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site, citing people familiar with the matter.
The rest of Coca-Cola Enterprises would remain independent and buy Coke’s bottling businesses in Scandinavia and Germany, the newspaper said.
Ben Deutsch, a Coca-Cola spokesman, and spokespeople for Coca-Cola Enterprises didn’t immediately return calls.
PepsiCo Inc., the second-largest soft-drink maker, agreed in August to take control of its two biggest bottlers for about $7.8 billion, ending a three-month standoff and allowing the soda maker to save money by bundling snacks and drinks. [More]
As near as I can tell, neither good times nor bad are interrupting the trend to multinational organizations. Should we expect agriculture to be different or just slower?
Japanese rice subsidies...

Are waaaay too high.


Remember, they do this when they plant, not just with a string trimmer.

I wonder if they could do dogs playing poker?

[via infonation]
The real deficit problem for farmers...

While producers are wringing their hands about trillion-dollar federal deficits with vague, but ominous sounding consequences for the future, I think some other deficits will really whack rural America up side the head: state budgets.

Eleven weeks after Congress settled on a stimulus package that provided $135 billion to limit layoffs in state governments, many states are finding that the funds are not enough and are moving to lay off thousands of public employees.
The state of Washington settled on a budget two weeks ago that will mean 1,000 layoffs at public colleges and several times that many in elementary and high schools.
The governor of Massachusetts, who cut 1,000 positions late last year, just announced 250 layoffs, with more likely to come soon.
Arizona has already laid off 800 social service workers this year and is facing the likelihood of deeper cuts over the next two. The state no longer investigates all complaints of child or elder abuse. [More]

Unable to fund deficits by creating money, states have postponed the inevitable for so long the effort to struggle back to balance will involve truly draconian cuts. More importantly, my guess is these cuts will be the cruelest of all in farm country.

First, schools will be hit very hard. many of my friends are married to teachers, and teaching jobs are some of the more desirable and stable in rural areas. Even more pronounced is the effect university jobs have on surrounding rural areas.  Not only are the salaries and security of that employment perhaps the best, the benefits make self-employment possible for otherwise uninsurable families.

As smaller schools struggle and even fail, consolidation will become the only option with all the costs and benefits for farm families that accompany it. I could see rural population decreasing as well, as manufacturing jobs, and social support systems shrivel for rural populations.  Even if rural schools strive to stay open, less state money will mean more local taxes, which means real estate taxes.

State budget crises presages miserable rural roads even as we ramp up our road-damaging farm machinery and grain volumes to be transported increase.
Governor Mark Parkinson has cut millions in state funding to bring the current budget into balance. Kansas’ schools, roads and many of the state’s most vulnerable citizens are again impacted by a historic drop in state revenue.
“Unfortunately, we are now to the point of potentially making crippling cuts to state services. This latest round of budget reductions will mean that class sizes will again increase in Kansas schools. Some districts will be forced to lay off teachers and close schools. These cuts mean that our universities will have fewer professors, offer fewer classes and critical investments in our future are in jeopardy. These budget cuts will force us to reduce supervision of released prisoners, increase the number of disabled citizens waiting for services and reduce road maintenance across the state,” Parkinson said. [More]

Linked to university budgets, I suspect Extension will be decimated, especially in states like mine - IL. Many of those jobs are part of a farm family economy, as well.
Rep. Richard Stevenson, R-PA 8th, asked what stresses the agricultural community was under because of the funding situation. Spanier indicated that Penn State cannot continue to meet expectations with no increase in state support for agriculture, as is proposed by Gov. Rendell.
"If there is no increase in funding there is no way to support Cooperative Extension or agricultural research at the current level," Spanier said. "We will have to have a reduction of another 54 positions in extension service. We cannot continue all of these services." [More]
Even courthouses could close.

The point is not so much the awful changes being forced upon us, but I hope a realization of why federal governments should run deficits during recessions.  (I strongly objected to the deficits during the expansion years) State budgets are procyclical and add fuel to the downward spiral because as revenues fall, they must reduce spending which then causes a drop in state economic activity which lowers tax revenue.

I can appreciate the outrage over projected federal deficits.  However, as reality hits Route 2, suddenly stimulus efforts during recessions may look less objectionable.
The happiness exception...

Perhaps money can buy happiness.
Q: There has been press coverage suggesting that happiness plateaus at a certain income level. Are you finding something different?
I haven’t seen a study that actually showed that happiness plateaus. What we see is that happiness rises with the log of income. I think that's where people get confused. A 10% rise in income is associated with a similar change in happiness at any income level. But when your income is $20,000 that 10% is a lot less money than when your income is $200,000. As your income goes up, the extra happiness or life satisfaction you get per dollar shrinks because it is a smaller proportion of your income. But we see that happiness rises quite steadily with the log of income.

A poor individual or a poor country is going to get a lot more happiness out of a dollar than a rich person or a rich country. But a 10% increase in income in a poor country is going to get us about the same amount of increase in happiness as a 10% rise in income in a rich country.

A lot of economists had hypothesized that relative income is what matters, so it doesn't matter if I get richer if everybody else is also getting richer. In that case my happiness isn't going to change. It only changes if my station in society changes. But, in fact, we find that richer countries are happier than poorer countries and as countries get richer, their citizens get happier. I should note, however, that there is one exception. The United States has gotten wealthier over the last 40 years and we haven't gotten any happier on average.

Q: Why is that?
We don't have any definitive answer. Things have changed in terms of family life. Things have changed in terms of social cohesion. There have also been changes in inequality; we know that the top 1% of the income distribution has had enormous income gains. And looking at the whole population, even if the top 1% got really, really happy, that wouldn't affect the average happiness very much. [My emphasis][More]

I am not fully persuaded this is finding hints at causality, given my previous research to the contrary.  Nonetheless, it does offer another data point about the possible problems with US income inequality.
Inflated worries...

Several separate pieces of information coalesced in my sinus-packed head today about a nearly inchoate fear I feel running through much of the farm economy.

Inflation is coming! Alas, Babylon!

I'm not the only only one who seems to be hearing this either. John Roach, whose newsletter I find to be one of the calmer voices in the ag marketing advice arena, offered this comment yesterday morning.
During our recent seminars we encouraged farmers to sell more of their 2010 crops than normal and pieces of distant years’ crops. Farmers’ largest concern voiced about making sales, was their worry about inflation.

Quite frankly we think farmers are too worried about inflation. The greater worry should be over production driving crop prices down not inflation driving inputs up. How many times in your history of farming has inflation been the reason profits have turned to losses on the farm? For many it has really happened only once… 2008.

We believe the bigger concern about profits on the farm should be, “I worry that strong profitability and a positive grain outlook has brought increasing amounts of capital to agricultural production around the world.” Capital investments are increasing acreage in South America and increasing yields in the former Soviet Union countries. We are headed toward surplus supplies as fast as Mother Nature will allow. Every farmer in the world is working as hard as he or she can spending more money than ever to create those surpluses.

We am not trying to get anybody to rush out and sell everything. Quite the contrary, our thought is spacing out sales over the spring Sell Signals will be the right approach this spring as it has been for the vast majority of the past 30 years. But, too many farmers are telling me they are afraid to make 2010 sales let alone anything beyond because they are so worried about inflation.
In fact, we often hear warnings about excess liquidity due to all the government stimulus flooding the markets for everything and driving prices skyward. And we keep hearing them, and have for years now - good times and bad.

So where is it?
From the BLS report on the Consumer Price Index this morning:
On On a seasonally adjusted basis, the January Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) rose 0.2 percent ...

The index for all items less food and energy fell 0.1 percent in January. This decline was largely the result of decreases in the indexes for shelter, new vehicles, and airline fares.
Owners' equivalent rent (OER) declined 0.1% in January, and is declining at about a 1% annualized rate. OER has declined for five consecutive months (a record) and is important because it is the largest component of CPI.

Based on reports of falling rents - and a near record high apartment vacancy rate, OER will probably decline for some time, keeping core CPI low and possibly negative this year. Also - falling rents will push up the price-to-rent ratio, and put additional pressure on house prices.[More - apologies for total excerpt]

Even more dramatically:


Some evidence exists to support a credible position that deflation remains a significant threat.

I have written frequently about the odds of both, and usually favor inflation, but maybe the better expenditure of time would be to actually try to envision what inflation might look like, regardless of how/when it arrives.

Suppose the CPI is announced at 5%.  Does this mean everything we buy is 5% higher?  I think that is the flaw in our expectations - we are fooled by overall numbers, when inflation occurs in different goods and services at different rates.

So given how the CPI is calculated, YOUR inflation rate could be another number altogether.  For instance, for Jan and I, several CPI components don't affect us much:
  • housing costs (mortgage paid off)
  • higher education (kids through college)
  • food (only the two of us, big garden)
  • transportation (I drive a 4 yr old Vibe, for Pete's sake)
and so on.  On the whole those who consume less see less inflation - duh. [Notable flaw in this argument: medical care costs, especially drugs - for four more years, anyway]

So even if the did revisit '70s type inflation, it may not be as bad for us as many younger families, for example. But we would and will, I believe, see asset inflation - like farmland and machinery.

In fact, I think what is happening is folks are captivated by One Big Thing they remember from Econ 101, best expressed by Milton Friedman's phrase "too much money chasing too few goods".  Only we don't have too few goods and services and could easily come up with more by importing or hiring a few laid off workers or utilizing slack capacity.


Even more important is all those billion of "excess" liquidity aren't showing up in the money supply.


In fact, this money is piling up in banks with skittish leadership too afraid to lend even as loan demand weakens.
[Same source]

As more banks fail, and bank officials grow more nervous about new regulation and reserve requirements, I don't see that wealth leaving their vaults very soon.  In fact, agriculture may be one of the few sectors with "decent" access to funds for borrowing.

But my current overriding reason for discounting the chance of inflation that could inflict serious damage on my finances is everybody is talking about it and has likely already shifted markets to make it less likely.  When more folks adopt a blase attitude about the outlook for inflation - then we'll have the pieces in place for its emergence.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The deficit is not my problem...

So says our industry.
The chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday called for a higher threshold for farm disaster relief than the 5 percent that has been proposed in the latest Senate package.
Senate Agriculture chairman Blanche Lincoln, a lead sponsor of a $1.5 billion aid package, has called for farmers to receive disaster relief if they lose more than 5 percent of their crop to natural disasters.
"That doesn't fly. That's asking for trouble," said House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson at a rice industry conference.
He spoke after Lincoln said "I've been working hard about disaster assistance." She said she was trying to steer the package to a floor vote. The House has not acted on the matter.
Persistent rains mired the fall harvest in the U.S. South, lowering cotton quality and water-logging soybeans. Drought baked Texas for much of 2009.
Peterson said stop-gap disaster bills in the past commonly required a one-third loss before compensation was paid. He said "I think there's going to have to be a higher loss" trigger this time and that lawmakers would work on the issue. [More]

When agriculture berates the Obama administration for "big government" schemes, they are really whining about their share of the loot.

Seriously - 5%!!

Where's Bob Stallman now?
I am officially antediluvian...

Not for the faint of heart.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter to lawmakers notifying them of the decision by the Navy, which could see the first women on nuclear submarines next year.
"This is fundamentally a Navy initiative, which they recently briefed to the secretary of defense. (Gates) supports it and he notified Congress of the Navy's plans," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Women account for about 15 percent of the more than 336,000 members of the U.S. Navy and can serve on its surface ships. But critics have argued that submarines are different, pointing to cramped quarters where some crews share beds in shifts -- a practice known as "hot bunking."
A likely scenario would see female officers becoming the first to join crews on the Navy's fleet of 71 submarines, since officers have separate accommodations, a U.S. defense official said. [More]
You know what this means, don't you?

And Jan merely smiles enigmatically.

Don't ask what you can do...

Do what you can do.  Here is how heroes step forward in a crisis.

Stan Thiergartner of Milford Corner Center, OH is one of many of us Eastern Corn Belt farmers coping with grain that is in poor shape and won't flow out.  He is also deeply concerned about farmers getting killed in their frustration to get the grain out.   He called me today after hearing my similar worries on USFR last week.  [And followed up with pictures.]

He began finding a solution.  This is an agitator/lump-prodder works for him. [Update: he calls it a "corn borer"]

Important notes:

  • It doesn't show well, but he has an adapter to blast compressed air through the pipe (hence the holes at the tip)
  • Stan uses the ridges on his bin roof to line up when pushing it in.
  • He's been able to angle down slightly toward the center sump and restore flow in a 48' bin.
  • Don't know where the auger point came from, but shop-modified cross augers from combines look like a source.
Many of you may already be modifying this idea in your head.  One thing I wonder if a fitting for a 1" impact wrench wouldn't work to minimize the hand cranking.  You've already got an air compressor there.  Speaking of which - how about a jack-hammer-sized a/c and larger pipe/more holes?

At any rate, this idea could save a few over-anxious farmers, I think.  My thanks to Stan and God bless the Internet for getting an idea out so quickly.  Please pass the link on to others (right click on the "posted" time below for the link location and click "copy", then "paste" in an e-mail).  Or just copy the photos.

Stan:  Thanks for your ingenuity and sense of responsibility.  Guys like you help build our community and lift our profession.

Please post additional questions and comments - as well as your design improvements - in the "Comments".

I'll be monitoring them and will try to get more info as well.

[Updates: Stan called me tonight. Some further information.]
  • He used 3/4" pipe.  The auger point was from an old earth anchor (he thinks).  I think one of those guy wire anchors would work well.
  • He did use an industrial air compressor.
  • He left the agitator in the bin until it was down to the sweep work.
  • The young man is his son Lucas.

 [One final remark: Note the instructions on the bin door.  Stan is preparing well for his upcoming fading memory.  I could use notes like that.]
Comment of the Week...

At least one dairy farmer is keeping his sense of humor.
At a dairy meeting I attended the speaker said that Americans consume the equivalent of roughly 193 acres of pizza per day. Our job as promoters of dairy products was to work to increase that acreage, since half of USA milk is made into cheese, and a large percentage of cheese goes on pizza. You bring up an interesting problem--there has been "topsoil" erosion on that acreage!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Woodland skills...

Test your "tracks in the snow" knowledge.
Meteorological constipation...

I think we may be hearing a lot about "blocked" weather systems in the future.
Atmospheric blocking occurs between 20-40 times each year and usually lasts between 8-11 days, Lupo said. Although they are one of the rarest weather events, blocking can trigger dangerous conditions, such as a 2003 European heat wave that caused 40,000 deaths. Blocking usually results when a powerful, high-pressure area gets stuck in one place and, because they cover a large area, fronts behind them are blocked. Lupo believes that heat sources, such as radiation, condensation, and surface heating and cooling, have a significant role in a blocking's onset and duration. Therefore, planetary warming could increase the frequency and impact of atmospheric blocking.
"It is anticipated that in a warmer world, blocking events will be more numerous, weaker and longer-lived," Lupo said. "This could result in an environment with more storms. We also anticipate the variability of weather patterns will change dramatically over some parts of the world, such as North America, Europe and Asia, but not in others." [More]

The first time I heard this concept (I think these are the same phenomena) was from USFR meteorologist Mike Hoffman after the incredible rains in Georgia last year.  He described it as storm systems that get cut off from the jetstream and simply sit over the same spot for days.

Cut-off low pressure systems are counterclockwise swirls in the atmosphere that become entirely detached from the jet stream, which is the fast-moving river of air high in the atmosphere that steers weather systems.
If a strong pocket of winds is moving through the jet stream, that energy can sometimes swing southward and then back around so rapidly that it makes a complete circle, cutting the circulation off from the jet stream.
It's a little like a roller coaster making a huge vertical loop, the kind that you're upside down for a second or two. The roller coaster has to have enough speed to move upward and turn over in that loop.
Another factor in a cut-off low is that the jet stream itself may be displaced northward from the circulation, leaving the circulation to spin by itself without any nudging from the strong river of winds aloft.
As a result, cut-off lows are not pushed along very rapidly as most weather systems are this time of year. Cut-off lows meander erratically, producing several days of similar weather for the locations they affect. [More]

It makes you wonder if the old "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes" gag will die out in the Midwest.
The 400 Club...

Those wacky guys at the IRS released some jaw-dropping data about the richest 400 taxpayers in the US. Several economists were all over it.


Here are the figures cited in Donmoyer's report (based on Tax Analysts' data analysis presented by David Cay Johnston on

Average income of top 400 US households in 2007: $345 million (that's income per year, folks)
Average income of top 400 US households in 2001: $131.1 million (that's about half)
Average effective tax rate in 2007 for this same group: 16.6% (per Johnston article)
Average effective tax rate in 1993 for this same group: 29.4%
Percent of the top 400 earners in items taxed at preferential (low) tax rates: about 75%
So the richest of the rich managed to do quite well in the artificial boom of the Bush years when most Americans were barely holding even (or actually declining) in wages. They doubled their annual income from 2001 to 2007 in the years after the Bush ta cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthy. [More]

The numbers are what they are, the conclusions are what observers draw. I am less concerned despite my alleged [Groucho] Marxist leanings about the causes than the effects. Even if we stipulate these happy few earned and deserve this significant slice of our economy, I would suggest it represents serious challenges to our economy and political system.
But what about the oft-heard argument that cutting taxes stimulates growth -- that putting money back in the hands of the wealthy in fact raises everyone's economic boat because the wealthy create demand for goods, and therefore, create more jobs as well?
Well, it's time to examine some of those assumptions.
In particular, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported, the top 1 percent of households held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928. Moreover, just after these households earned those record amounts, the U.S. economy fell into its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Real economic growth slowed from 2.1 percent growth in 2007 to just 0.4 percent in 2008 and fell by 2.4 percent, or by $324 billion, in 2009. Meanwhile, unemployment rose by more than 5.5 million to exceed 14 million, or roughly 10 percent of the labor force.
The negative impact of this income inequality may be more pervasive than understood. As neurologist William Bernstein wrote, a growing body of research shows that income inequality imposes high social and medical costs. Income inequality may explain the rise in obesity, low economic growth, and high rates of homicide in America, compared with other countries. Other studies show that wide disparities in income make everyone -- not just the poor -- worse off. For example, Harvard professor of public policy and epidemiology Lisa Berkman found that the wealthiest people in countries with less income disparity live longer than the wealthiest Americans. Other researchers have looked at the impact of player salaries on team performance and found that not only did baseball teams with wider pay dispersion do less well than other teams, but the individuals on those teams also performed relatively poorly.
While correlation certainly is not causation, these figures provide pretty convincing evidence that we all could benefit from taking another look at whether low tax rates and high income inequality are helping or, as seems may be the case, hurting the U.S. economy. [More]
One thing seems clear. The top of the economy is not in relative decline, as suggested by some because the cost of being rich was going up faster than the cost of being poor.
The incomes of the top 400 American households soared to a new record high in dollars and as a share of all income in 2007, while the income tax rates they paid fell to a record low, newly disclosed tax data show.

In 2007 the top 400 taxpayers had an average income of $344.8 million, up 31 percent from their average $263.3 million income in 2006, according to figures in a report that the IRS posted to its Web site without announcement that were discovered February 16. (For the report, see Tax Analysts
Doc 2010-3372 .)

The figures came at the peak of the last economic cycle and show that widely published reports in major newspapers asserting that the richest Americans are losing relative ground and "becoming poorer" are not supported by the official income data. [More]
If you dig through the actual report, you uncover some other points of interest.
  1. The vast majority of the income (and hence tax) derived from capital gains.  This being for tax year 2007, they were pretty handsome. The numbers for 2008 doubtless will be horribly worse.
  2. What does #1 say about government tax receipts after the crash?  In fact, more than a little of the huge fiscal deficit is due to plummeting tax revenues as capital gains turned to capital losses. (see below)
  3. Most of the members of the 400 Club only appeared one year (the year they sold out to Google, for instance), but 7 taxpayers have been on the list for all 16 years!

Finally, an effective tax rate of 16.6% does not strike me as an onerous burden for the very, very wealthy. (Mine is about 27%) It seems top marginal rates mean much less than capital gains rates. Which would also imply less Laffer bang for the buck from lowering top marginal rates than we think.
At 16.6 percent, the top 400 earners pay a lower actual individual income tax rate than the rest of the top 1 percent of earners, according to a Congressional Budget Office study of effective tax rates in 2004 and 2005. The top 1 percent at that time -- those who made more than $1.3 million -- paid an average of 19.7 percent of their income in federal income taxes.
The 16.6 percent effective tax rate for the top 1 percent is higher than actual taxes paid by middle-income families, that CBO report showed. The middle 20 percent of earners -- those making between $58,000 and $84,500 -- paid on average 3 percent of their income in income taxes.
When the effect of Social Security payroll taxes are counted, the tax burden on middle-income families increased to 12.5 percent, according to the CBO. Social Security taxes are collected on only the first $106,800 of income. [More]
Between the perceived and actual unfairness of such a system and its perverse effects on tax revenue during downturns, I think we could do better. As more economists ponder a VAT or other consumption tax, this debate could just be beginning.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Assorted near-posts...

Stuff that didn't make the cut for a full post this week.
[via 3Q, mefi, amscene]
Kindergarten birthday parties could get easier...

At least preparing the treats for them, anyway.
Dr Andrew Clark, at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge, believes the £1million NHS sponsored research project will help rid thousands of children of their allergic reaction to peanuts.
It could also be the beginning of the end for all food allergies, he claimed.
The new study follows a successful former trial in which 23 children were given tiny doses of peanut flour every day, gradually increasing the dose until now they can eat five or more nuts a day.
Previously the children would have risked anaphylactic shock or even death if they accidentally ate even a trace amount of peanut.
The team said this was the first time that so-called “desensitisation treatment” had been successful.
Earlier attempts at exposing children with peanut allergies to the nuts caused serious reactions.
It is thought this treatment has worked because it used small doses of flour, put into yoghurt, which was eaten rather than previous attempts which involved injecting peanut extract or oil.  [More]
The greater hope is this avenue of study will lessen the fear many have developed that something other than the actual food is causing these reactions.  If such desensitization techniques can help children early on with common foods the perception that the issue is an inaccurate immune reaction rather than an environmental cause could not only ease many parental fears, but forestall unsubstantiated charges of production method causes.

I hope so. Most of us know a child whose life is complicated by allergic food reactions. It is often heart-breaking for the child and the parents.
Photo(s) of the Day...

Which look like paintings.


[via presurfer]

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tim Pawlenty hates dairy farmers...

(And grape growers)

I have always wanted to post something like this - totally unfair, out of context, and attacking one silly rhetorical blunder.  But even then, what was Terrible Timmy thinking?
One of the real oddities of the contemporary conservative movement is its intense contempt for the perceived personal consumption habits of contemporary liberals. Particularly odd is that this is normally phrased as a hyper-defensive accusation that liberals have contempt for conservatives. At CPAC today, Tim Pawlenty went off an a really nasty rant about how liberals all sneer at conservatives for not having gone to Ivy League colleges and for not liking “brie and chablis.”
For one thing, I defy anyone to find a single example of liberals sneering at Pawlenty for having attended the University of Minnesota. It’s a good school! What’s to sneer at? And who’s sneering? Meanwhile: brie? Really? Ramesh Ponnuru likes it. They know all about it at Sam’s Club. Of course in Minnesota, local favorite Target is the big box retailer of choice and they sell this nice cheese board. At the St Paul Cheese Shop about 1.2 miles from Pawlenty’s house they’re offering what sounds like a nice sandwich of prosciutto di parma and Great Lakes brie. [More]
Obviously aspiring pop-conservatives like Pawlenty will say anything for an applause line at CPAC. Embracing populist egghead-bashing works pretty well, except he seems to be unaware the American cheese-buying market has moved on from Velveeta. At the least, it was tragically dated.
The mustiest of Tim Pawlenty's attacks today was on San Francisco elites who eat brie and drink Chablis.
Both are available at Wal-Mart. [More]

What is the point in market-driven dairy producers seeking to serve a lucrative premium market if politicians who claim to be on their side ridicule their customers?
Kiwis are different...

 Optical illusion sculpture from NZ.

[More photos that may or may not help]

[via bb]
Why I'm tiling...

As fast as I can afford it.  I know, I know, global warming is a hoax and GHG's don't matter, but just in case...
Keith Cherkauer, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering, ran simulation models that show Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan could see as much as 28 percent more precipitation by the year 2070, with much of that coming in the winter and spring. His projections also show drier summer and fall seasons.
"This was already a difficult spring to plant because of how wet it was. If you were to add another inch or so of rain to that, it would be a problem," said Cherkauer, whose findings were published in the early online version of the Journal of Great Lakes Research. "It could make it difficult to get into fields. There's also a potential for more flooding."
Cherkauer used three different scenarios based on the amount of carbon that could be emitted into the atmosphere in the coming decades. Carbon calculations were based on assumptions including population, technological advancements, the economy and other factors.
Those scenarios were used in two climate projection models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that give climate predictions from the years 1950 through 2099. Cherkauer said in years from 1950 to 2007 where actual climate data differed slightly from projections, the difference was subtracted to give a better projection for the future.
He calculated that winters in the four states could be between 2.7 degrees to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by 2077 than today. Summers could be between 3.6 degrees and 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.
Those projections were then put into the Variable Infiltration Capacity Model -- which simulates how precipitation moves through land surface environments -- to predict stream flow for six rivers: the Chippewa River, Wisconsin River, Illinois River, Wabash River, Grand River and Rock River.
Cherkauer estimates that increased precipitation would result in about a 20 percent increase in peak and mean flows for the Wabash River, for instance.
Daily river flow would be lower during the summer and fall despite an expected increase in thunderstorms and heavy-rain events. Overall precipitation would be down in those seasons, he said, and heavy rains from time to time would still leave prolonged periods without precipitation. [More]

Sarcasm aside, my position follows a classic negotiation technique: when you can't agree, make a bet.  I'm betting my son and those who follow will benefit - perhaps immensely - from better drainage of our reclaimed swampy oak savanna given the rainfall projections.  If I lose the bet, I'm out several hundred thousand dollars (to date) that maybe have poor return on investment.

If I'm right, those fields will be comparatively more productive.

Other bets could be tillage methods, hybrid selection, and grain systems. To my way of thinking it's not "alarmism" if it's your own money.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Me and the Tea Party...

I knew I didn't know very much about what the Tea Party stood for , only a significant list of things it opposed. This is hardly surprising because it is a very diffuse and dynamic political phenomenon. That's why this even-handed piece in the much-abused NYT is very helpful.
The Tea Party movement has become a platform for conservative populist discontent, a force in Republican politics for revival, as it was in the Massachusetts Senate election, or for division. But it is also about the profound private transformation of people like Mrs. Stout, people who not long ago were not especially interested in politics, yet now say they are bracing for tyranny.
These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the Tea Party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement, a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve.
Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show. In this view, Mr. Obama and many of his predecessors (including George W. Bush) have deliberately undermined the Constitution and free enterprise for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites.
Loose alliances like Friends for Liberty are popping up in many cities, forming hybrid entities of Tea Parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal — a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain. [More worth reading]
Throughout the article and from other reports, I was most struck by the emotion - mostly anger and sense of loss - prevalent in TP testimonies. As Jonathon Haidt might suggest, their "elephants" seem to be in charge.
If the rider and the elephant sounds like the basis for a Disney buddy film, you’re right on track. Haidt describes the rider/elephant dynamic: “I was a rider on the back of an elephant. I'm holding the reins in my hands, and by pulling one way or the other I can tell the elephant to turn, to stop, or to go. I can direct things, but only when the elephant doesn't have desires of his own. When the elephant really wants to do something, I'm no match for him.”

The rider couldn’t do without the elephant, because “the mind performs hundreds of operations each second, all but one of them must be handled automatically," but, likewise, the elephant depends on the rider for its chance for evolutionary success. For it’s the rider that "allows people to think about long-term goals and thereby escape the tyranny of the her-and-now, the automatic triggering of temptation by the sight of tempting objects."

As Haidt notes in the block quote above, the elephant and rider (or automatic and controlled processing systems) correspond to different areas of the brain. The distinction does have basis in the way different parts of our brain are active when we are emotional and rushed versus detached and deliberate. [More]

The flash point was, I think a delayed realization of the profound occurrence represented by a young, black president. I'm not sure this was essentially racial, just so different and seemingly unlikely as to shake the presumptions many people had about this country. Should Hillary Clinton have been nominated and won, and pursued essentially the same agenda I somehow doubt the reaction would have been as intense, despite its own historic aspects.

But as I said before, I will be looking for evidence this group has any idea about how to govern, other than trying to scale up local meetings to a national level. Nor do I find their naivete to be in their favor. The relative lack of interest in macroeconomics or science means they will tend to favor simplistic solutions to effective ones. I'm not sure they can comprehend what their goals would really accomplish, such as getting rid of the Federal Reserve.

Nor do I think there is enough common outrage to form a viable political force. Some are worried about unlawful detention first, others a global warming hoax. Above all, the people profiled in the article seem to me easy prey for demagogues and blatantly false information.  while their beliefs are their business, convictions that do not match up with the real world soon are eroded by time.

In fact, I think this movement may be a powerful, but short-lived historical footnote.
Barstow's piece is well worth your time if you haven't already read it. Click here. I hope that someday he writes a companion piece focusing just on the ideology that he talks about in this interview. Some of it is well worn, and some of it is new, and it would be fascinating to tease these strands out. On the one hand, you have the perfectly sensible belief that "both parties have been complicit in this giant charade that has done enormous damage to ordinary Americans" — something that even most readers of this blog might largely agree with — and on the other hand you have exotic worries about FEMA concentration camps and Interpol agents arresting U.S. citizens on their own soil.
I'm still not sure where this is going, but my sense is that we've seen this movie before. The tea party movement is basically a modern day John Birch Society, and eventually they'll either wither away or implode. These kinds of groups tend to get increasingly conspiratorial over time, and that limits both their growth potential and their influence. Republicans are pandering to them now, but I wonder how much longer they'll keep it up?
In fact, given the way that politics has been speeded up in virtually every way over the past few decades, the tea party implosion might come faster than we think. Having Fox and Glenn Beck behind them has obviously helped the movement grow far faster than, say, the John Birch Society could grow in the 60s, but it also means that they might hit their peak a lot sooner too. Eventually even conservatives are going to tire of Beck's gold buggery and wacky conspiracy theories, and they'll likely tire of the tea party movement too. And it will all happen at fast forward speed. [More]

Their open contempt for the intelligentsia and established wealth means they will likely not have those inputs to aid a rise to national impact, I would guess. And the growing economic decline of most of their members as they support institutions and laws that promote inequality will not provide them with much than more anger.

Anger is good for destruction, but makes building tough to do, and until TPers can find the time to outline solutions that have some shred of credibility (Balance the budget!) on the issues facing us I think many of us will simply avoid them.

There is better work to do, IMHO.