Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Farming issues

I complained last time about economists ignoring farming in general audience books of how the world works. There are other books that have lots of facts in a different manner:

The book is also sold under the name
What's Really Happening to Our Planet?: The Facts Simply Explained

One page points out the soil issue which should become a major issue as the climate changes:

More on this topic, and the reasons for organic farming is explained in another book. Basically we kill all the organic matter in the soil, including bacteria and other life, between crops. If you leave that matter in the ground, it prevents erosion and also retains water. Natural soil retains water.

it is the combined use of farming chemicals and leaving bare soil that causes that. No till agriculture leaves some stubs over the winter and helps retain soil, and can be done with "chemical" farming as well.

A related video:

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A little economics

Much of farming and ranching has to do with politics. It is a complex story, having to do with lobbyists, farm bills, industry related to it (Monsanto, food processing), subsidies, crop failure issues etc. The farmer in the prairie tends to be Republican. I'm not going to get into the details of that, other than to mention that their main intent is to keep state money in the state and to direct as much of federal tax collected as possible back to the state. They understand the need for some federal control and support, such as is flooding and river issues. But still, they have not found Democrats addressing their concerns.

Aside from a recent interest in the workings of politics (not so much politicians), I have gathered a few books on economics. Very few of them mention agriculture. In the US, only some 2-3% make a living producing our food at farms, ranches and orchards. The more broadly defined "farm industry," which includes the farmers and ranchers as well as some support networks, employs 11% of the work force. If economists look at food at all, it is a measure of poverty. If you cannot eat the quantity of starch, protein etc. one needs daily, you may be close to the poverty level. One of my books tells that Japan eats enough food that if they were to raise all their own food, they would need five times the land they have. Many Asian countries are in that situation. Whether rich or poor, they have to export goods to eat.

What we all do for work:

Some of that work is in fact in rural areas, but is not farming. For example, there are seed plants, chemical plants and ethanol plants. Some food processing takes place in rural towns. These are for example in Western Kansas, where there are slaughter houses.

I was out West bicycling with a group. We saw many trains with a few hundred coal cars. Many of the rocky mountain states have coal. It comes from Wyoming, Montana and states South of these. Much of your electricity is still made from coal. It is one of the cheap sources of fuel. For agriculture, the fuel is mostly oil or ethanol based.

Other trains bring containers from the West. A good part of them contains consumer goods from Asia. Much of the clothing and personal items of the farmer and rancher working on the prairie. Why do we need to haul it so far?

It has to do with wages. If you make Nike shoes at 3 dollars a hour in Asia, compared to 15 dollars an hour in the US, the shipping cost becomes clear. If a pair of Nikes costs 50 dollars, the labor is a small part of that (it does not take an hour to make shoes by machine or even partly manually.) But the shipping actually is a long process, and many hands are employed getting your shoes to the store. My guess is that the shipping is equal to the costs of labor to make the shoe, and not anywhere near the cost of making it here. The stores and distributors take their major cuts.

Another way of looking at the costs is to assume the 3 dollar worker in Asia (Vietnam) makes 10 pairs of shoes at 3 dollars an hour. The US worker makes the same 10 pairs of shoes at 15 dollars an hour. Therefore, it must cost less than 12 dollars to ship the 10 pairs across the ocean. The shipping within the US does not enter into the comparison, as you would have to ship it to distribution centers in any case.

How shoes are made: Video 1
A more traditional method: Video 2 

Big Things are still made in the USA. International Harvester used to make the combines for harvesting, but a series of mergers with heavy equipment makers has left the company with a product but all new names. The combine is explained here:
LINK: Combine

The harvester is now Case IH:

Red tractors are no longer made in Iowa or Illinois, the plants have moved to Wisconsin:  News story

The cows were everywhere when we bicycled. Wheat was here and there, where irrigation was not needed. 

And corn was common where center pivot irrigation was used. Corn is another story. Corn and soybean are a major source of animal feed. To feed one American, about two acres of land is needed. Those Asian countries want to raise animals, but with the shortage of land in Asia, we export feed to them. Much of out food is made from the agricultural raw materials by a few giants such as Conagra.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


Donald Trump has his base supporting him and those 40% will vote for him no matter what. But there are states that still are borderline. Given a 5% error in polling, the states of the rust belt still matter.
This is where patriotism matters. Trump is in a position to act patriotic and strong. His tweets and acts support a strong effort, though no military action. If Putin took over Ukraine, we would do nothing.

As it is, he appears patriotic in front of crowds, and there is some appeal to simple working class folks who celebrate Fourth of July with a bang. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet and all that. There is nothing wrong with being loyal to your country, to enlisting in the military, to feel good about your country. Provided we are in a situation where our military actions get the support of our allies.

The Democrats are in a position of weakness. Though Clinton got talked into some military action, he was a centrist. Hillary is history as well. Our trend is not to support nation building. We see the exporting of "democracy" as mostly a failed effort. Oil states rotate toward a dictatorship because the people in general do not own the land oil.

Our military efforts would be in support of our allies or toward stability in trouble spots, such as Kosovo. None our acts are seen by voters as "strong" or particularly patriotic. The Trumpsters, as I now understand, just want us to be boss in every situation. Negotiation is not seen as patriotic. We just want our way, they say. Trump is doing exactly that at least in appearance, and tweets. Basically he says fuck you to any foreigner, any unamerican party or view. We will go alone!

The Democrats tend to attend to matters more important at home: veterans, firefighters at 9-11 (as expressed by John Stewart to Congress recently). We go about it differently: less cheer leading.

Problems come from appearances. Trump appears patriotic to his fans. it is difficult to understand that most of them do not see it as a con. He represents them, whether he is sincere or not!

Bush was a rather useless president to start with. His golden opportunity was provided by Bin Laden. It is kind of sad we could only rise to the occasion when assaulted. But that is how things went. Bush was not as good as Trump at appearances, though Trump hugging a flag and Bush lading on an aircraft carrier amounts to the same. Just showmanship.

Trump's fight against "foreigners" and "China" or "Mexico" is seen as patriotic. This is a problem. We need to deal with immigrants in some manner, and the Democrats better get a clear message on that soon. Biden could use to his advantage that Obama deported 2.5 million illegals.

Trump plans big Fourth of July celebrations on 2019 and 2020. presidents normally do not participate. I hope the people will come to see that it is now  ALL ABOUT TRUMP. He is stealing our national holiday!

Friday, June 7, 2019


Missouri became a leader in the anti-abortion movement all of a sudden. Quietly, clinics have closed by arbitrary rules. The major urban area at the Western end, Kansas City, has no clinic. Curiously, very conservative Kansas next door has a clinic in nearby Overland Park.

Nationally, white men have been ruling on abortion in all these states. Missouri had a Democrat for a senator, and even a governor. But now it is fully conservative. When the economy is doing well, the conservative issues, like abortion and guns, become campaign issues. The death penalty is also a popular campaign item. The Missouri house and senate look like this:

Nationally, Joe Biden was holding on to 20 year old ideas on abortion. These things were always decided by men. But as we have several women candidates running, Biden had to change his mind on this immediately. He no longer bans federal funds for abortion.

Nobody wants to face abortion personally. The rules put in are there to scare the single women, who have no means to support a child, to carry the child to term and put up the newborn to adoption.

The facts concerning abortion are the same as any other item you can look up on the internet. The truth lies out there, but you have to search a bit deeper. Start with Wikipedia.

Fetuses have a heart beat to exchange oxygen with the mother through the placenta. This not mean a fetus of 8 or 12 weeks is a functioning being. At 8-9 weeks it has limbs, fingers and toes. You can look up pictures of it.

Survival at past 20 weeks is only 50%, and the whole thing becomes a healthcare cost issue. Do you want the senators to pay for it? If not, what business do we have deciding? The options for the mother at 20 weeks are few, depending on insurance and local rulings. At this point, all options should be purely medical angles. Past 30-32 weeks survival is quite optimistic. But the whole thing is still quite in the medical arena at this point. The decision should be between parties involved and the doctor. The senator of the state or the US senate has no business inside the uterus at this point. There are medical reasons even for late term abortions. These are rarely done, something like 1-2% in most countries. Before we had abortion, women had to carry a dead fetus along for 9 months and give birth to a dead baby, if it did not abort on its own. It was quite common.

Added note: Biden was still struggling with this issue. It's not complicated. Katie Porter explained it to Bill Maher: Your mother made a choice. You are the consequence of that choice. We are all here because of that choice our mothers made. (Well, past 1960 something).

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Someone else is getting something for free!

Global warming is not real. The foreigners are taking all the jobs. Foreigners are not smart and we should not them into the country. And we absolutely should not ban plastic bags, how else will the owner of this pick up get his fishing snacks and supplies to the lake?

He was at the local lake, popular for all joggers, grannies, fishermen, kayakers and all. And me. He honked at me, passed me and came out to direct me to the bike path. The bike path around the lake is gravel, some of it was under water, and there were plenty of people at the shore using it. Dog walkers. I get to ride it when it is empty in November. He however is annoyed at my blinking tail light and HIS paying for my bike paths that I did not use. I was on the paved road. The road is used to get to locations in the park. It is useless for through traffic. He was going back and forth on both shores of the lake, "policing" it by his rules.

The main principle these people have with public spending is that "someone else is getting something for free that I do not." The thinking is close to that of libertarians, but not as well thought out.

There is no guesswork in deciding that he voted for Trump. These people are not interested in spending any public money for any group, any cultural activity (other than 4th of July rockets), anything different from the mainstream. Fishing is OK, "guys do it," because they need to get away from their wives on weekends. Bicycling is some liberal crazy thing. Jogging is almost as crazy. Half the funding for our trails is there for joggers. We host a well known half marathon. Crazy spending! Actually the marathon brings income. Billy Bob approves of baseball diamonds, and might even support the tax money supporting a local small time baseball team. At least the stadium. The games get ticket income for a little support to the athletes and staff.

Billy Bob must be really hurting when we have our once a year trail event, with thousands of cyclists and families doing loops that are cut off from car traffic on a June weekend. Trails are used for about half the distance.

Billy Bob is happy to know we do not spend public money for abortions. That is for the crazy socialist Europeans.

I wonder if Billy Bob favors education? He must have kids and grandkids in town. Do we need to have them learn modern life? Just the basics? Anyway, I am paying for his kids to learn, I pay property tax. I don't mind. I do not have kids or grandkids in town. some other Billy Bob will have to pay for their education elsewhere in the country.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Who wants to make a career as a politician? What skills do they have? What motivates them? Who wants to spend decades in an office building with meeting rooms? Suppose you are in Montana or Idaho and are public minded, and here is where you go, or even a more plain office block building built in the 1900s. There the passionate Republicans can debate for days and days about acceptable ways to execute criminals or perform abortions. Or to ban the clinics in some technical manner, making the abortions more or less impractical. The abortion is only a bus ride to Seattle and back, but that itself is mostly impossible.

If I had the inclination to go into politics, I would tackle some practical matter for one or two terms, such as trash, and be done with it. Even there, you get people on the right or left to oppose NEW IDEAS, sometimes together.

The people out there is sparsely populated states have the same tasks as in the populated East. Police, city utilities, highway patrol, flooding and all the practical matters of life. The Kansans had to finally deal with their penny pinching Republicans and collect funds to take care of mounting problems. I admit that when Republicans are forced to deal with a practical problem, they can do it. I also admit that Democrats can also solve those same problems, but perhaps with more spending and debt. They want to fix it RIGHT, for the long term. The Republicans, however, are  more likely to be buddies with the contractors and play golf with them.

In middle of the road states you get the pendulum effect. The right merely has to cut taxes and spending for as long as possible. They never have to solve problems that cost money. They have to do things  they were voted to do: stop abortion, stop gay marriages, stop liberals. This costs nothing! Well, actually costs a lot, in the form of social problems and crime that follows. But the voters do  not see the connection.

Then in the middle of the road states the Democrats take over for 4-8 years and fix the stuff the Republicans refused to fix.

As an effective use of taxed money, politics is not the solution that spends the least money. They rarely use trained professionals, such as city managers who actually do know how to do public spending. Those type of managers do not get involved in social programs, only remotely, such as providing housing.

But there are forward thinkers, and eager young people launch into a career to push medical marijuana or wind power or some other thing. I guess there is a place for them. In many ways a dictatorial system such as China is better equipped to deal with practical problems: roads, infrastructure, health care, dams, waterways, harbors, airports etc etc. They also have allowed capitalism to enter in the form of manufacturing. This makes us dependent on them and war less likely.

I don't need to think about being a politician. I could only be and adviser. Where I live, they would not vote for an outsider and an atheist.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Lock Up Trump already!

I'm allowed to say that, because I have no power to lock him up. Crowds of simple working class folk who seem to be threatened by immigrants, democrats, healthcare, lack of jobs without a college degree etc etc. seem to think it's OK for the president to incite a crowd to physically threaten opponents who have different political views.

This was what went on at Grand Rapids. It is sad to see that the supporters do not see a difference in MSNBC or Saturday Night Live making fun of him, criticizing his politics and making conclusions about his crooked business practices and then Trump's behavior. The most powerful man on the planet suggesting treason and asking Adam Schiff to resign is entirely different. We call it bullying at this point but it is on the verge of becoming illegal.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Uninhabitable Earth

The Mueller report release is the topic of the day, although the Trump camp has started another attack on Obamacare. The 2020 election is coming and the Green New Deal has brought the environment slightly to the news. However, most liberals see the main task is getting rid of Trump first.

Here in the prairie we suffered flooding that was the result of a bomb cyclone. Violent weather and excessive rain are thought to be a consequence of warming.

I picked up a book on the climate change issues and politics, David Wallace-Wells’ best seller The Uninhabitable Earth. In this book you can find all our climate related problems catalogued. However, my main interest was in the chapter Crisis Capitalism. Rather than actually focus on capitalism as a factor, it is a list of behavioral economics factors. Psychologists have now studied for decades how we make economic decisions. Israeli scholars Tversky and Kahneman started the ball rolling and came up with the terms to describe our “rule of thumb” behaviors when given choices.

This behavior is related to climate, because our response follows those rules of thumb.  Most people resisted the idea initially, of human caused warming and carbon dioxide effects. Anchoring, ambiguity and other behaviors are at work. When faced with uncertainty, we tend to react in such a way as to minimize loss. We are programmed to recognize possible loss and avoid it. Winning is good, but loss is what guides our behavior. Somehow it is not working in the face of climate change. David Wallace-Wells stated that we treat it as a riddle, something not understandable by the average person. He does not list conspiracies, but many people have started thinking of the government and its published science as merely as a conspiracy. Alex Jones and Breitbart capitalize on this, The Heritage Foundation actually publishes misinformation.

David Wallace-Wells also mentions the bystander effect (let us see what others do!). Optimism bias and pessimism bias are both active. The latter leads to defeatism. We cannot do anything! The planet is too big, nature is too big, it does stuff we cannot control, so why try doing anything? 

Others think politics is useless for any change, as lobbyists control politics rather than voters. The internet and its manipulations in social media adds another item to things we can’t fight. Others have pointed out that leftist dictatorships, such as China, have more power to change things quickly if they wish. Some writers point this out and a label, “shock doctrine” is used by Naomi Klein.

Young people without children are more likely to be affected by peer pressure to do something in their personal lives. They can choose where to live and work. Middle aged people are unlikely to change anything at all until the children have left the house. Much of our rich lifestyle comes directly out of burning fossil fuel. We are reaping the benefits of the energy spent somewhere else on the planet and sent to us as food and products. Just the shipping of cheaply made goods from Asia is a big energy drain. That fuel is cheap diesel oil, so it does not add to the price of goods. Unless you tax it.

People are drawn to prophets and preachers. Some will respond to charismatic speakers rather than science. I myself have supported people who have this skill, fully knowing that the prophets are simplifying things for the common man. Al Gore, however, is not a favorite, I do not really like the politicians who have taken up the challenge. Millionaires sometimes feel guilty for the wealth they have collected and start global initiatives through their charities.

The economic impacts of climate change will eventually  become a nagging everyday item. People will eventually be dulled by it. However, small investments now will prevent even bigger changes later on. We are not quite sure how the free market will help things. It probably won’t. It will just be a fight for every little patch of earth we own.

Finally: a little dark humor to end this piece.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

He could have gotten a dog or run for president

Now it finally came out. Trump is just an old man with nothing to do. He wanted some people, any people, to like him. He found his crowd.

But we could all have got off easier if he had just gotten a dog. He rambled on about dogs in his El Paso speech. But, if he had gotten that German shepherd, that dog would have liked him. Dogs are bred that way. That dog would have saved us from a lot of misery.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Trump is the Republican Brand now

Having stuck to low taxes and less government for decades now, the Republicans are now fully behind Trump. They have not grabbed national attention in previous election years, and the politicians realize the facts: they themselves will get the maximum votes if Trump is on the ticket. It does not matter if he wins or not. The people fired up about "foreigners" and "the wall" as well as repealing all Obama did are the ones that get them voted in. Not just in red states but borderline states as well, and states with one senator from each party. Our governor ran on Trumpian ”less regulation” and less government issues. He also erased all benefits the state was providing illegal aliens. We allowed them some semi-official papers and healthcare.

The RNC decided not to have any primary challengers to achieve their goal. And it will make it easier for them to work with Trump in whatever time he has left. I believe impeachment is coming, but perhaps just rolling to full force in late 2020. This would be perfect for Democrats as well. They may lose a few seats in the house 2020 or hold on to their own, but it will give them something to do for Oct, Nov and Dec of 2020 and the new Democrat coming in taking over. First, bring it to near impeachment by election and then use two months to bring Trump to a halt.