But now, with this summer’s drought killing off America’s most valuable crop, the ethanol industry is finally facing critics with actual political clout — meat producers, auto companies and the average American family. One bad crop of summer corn won’t dismantle the business ethanol producers have built. But it could herald the decline of an industry that’s been propped up for years by political convenience rather than economic or environmental sense.
Friday, August 03, 2012
This summer's drought came on fast and fierce, but the politicians have yet to notice:
A catastrophic drought has impelled the federal government to designate more than half the nation’s counties as disaster areas. Yet even in the face of this historic disaster, Congress has proven itself incapable of passing legislation, large or small, to help the farmers affected by the drought.
The big failure is Congress’ inability to pass a new farm bill. The Senate did manage to rally the votes to get a comprehensive trillion-dollar five-year bill through its chamber, but House Republicans refused to go along because the bill includes too much funding for food stamps.
Then, on Thursday, the last day before shutting down shop for August, the House passed a much more limited bill that would revive four disaster aid programs that expired last September. Much smaller in scope than the Senate’s bill, the House’s package includes aid to livestock owners who can no longer make a profit on their animals because the cost of feeding them has risen too high.
The Senate, however, is unlikely to take up the House’s bill because it pays its $383 million price tag by gutting $650 million from two environmental conservation programs. The point is moot, anyway, because the Senate has also closed down for the rest of August. The drought will continue, but Washington can’t be bothered.
The average global temperature across land and oceans during June 2012 was 0.63°C (1.13°F) above the 20th century average of 15.5°C (59.9°F) and ranked as the fourth warmest June since records began in 1880. June 2012 also marks the 36th consecutive June and 328th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average June temperature was June 1976 and the last below-average temperature for any month was February 1985. It was the second warmest June in the Northern Hemisphere, behind only the record warmth of 2010. The Southern Hemisphere had its 12th warmest June on record.
Here’s how the plan would work, according to a well-placed Republican aide.
The Bush-era tax rates will be fully extended through 2013. By the end of April, the House Ways & Means Committee would be required to introduce tax reform legislation in accordance with the budget the House GOP adopted in 2012. That includes collapsing individual tax rates in two brackets with a top rate of 25 percent or less, slashing the corporate rate to 25 percent, repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax and expanding the taxpayer base to keep revenue at 18-19 percent of the economy.
The Ways & Means Committee, which has jurisdiction on taxes, would be required to approve that bill late in May. The following month, the Rules Committee would either send the bill to the floor or House GOP leadership would move to consider it directly. The debate would be four equally divided hours with amendments allowed.
...The GOP’s new road map contemplates the possibility that the legislation would fall to a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, but contains no contingencies, suggesting Senate Republicans might have to fast track it through the budget process to avoid a super-majority requirement.
If the reforms passed both the House and Senate, a conference committee would convene to resolve any differences, and the legislation would soon be signed by President Mitt Romney in August, under the tentative plan. The new GOP law would replace the existing tax code in January 2014.
While this road map is contingent on a hoped-for GOP sweep in November, the House passed legislation on Thursday to create this process. And if Republicans take over the Senate and the White House in January, they would be strongly positioned to follow through with its requirements.
But even assuming a sweep, there are some harsh political realities that would confront a Republican colossus standing astride Washington. Is it truly viable politically to maintain revenues at existing levels? To do so — while cutting tax rates — inevitably requires ending popular deductions for the middle class, like the home mortgage deduction. In cloistered conservative economic circles, it’s considered a no brainer. Mitt Romney has embraced eliminating popular deductions in principle.
Home values in Sacramento, as well as the rest of California, are now about the same in 2012 as they were in 2002.
My experience is in line with these numbers:
Start of 1998: About $114,000.00
March 2001: $166,500.00
November 2002: $216,000.00
June 2012: $225,000.00 (or $212,000.00, depending on method followed)
In a rare press availability Friday, Mitt Romney took aim at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who for days has been hammering Romney to release more of his tax returns, while claiming he has secret information that Romney went 10 years without having to pay any taxes.
“I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes,” Romney said. “So Harry is simply wrong.”
Thursday, August 02, 2012
DMTC Producer Steve Isaacson assembled a reel of some of my more-memorable DMTC contributions from the period 2001 - 2006 (all but "Titanic" at Davis' Varsity Theater).
Reel 1 features Marc Valdez and a bevy of DMTC regulars:
"Grease" (2003): Opening of the show, as 'Eugene', speaking at the Rydell High School Class of '59 Reunion.
"A Chorus Line" (2003): 'Bobby's' monologue.
"Titanic" (2006): With Lauren Miller as Second-Class passengers 'Edgar & Alice Beane'.
"How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" (2003): As Mr. Gatch, with Lauren Miller as Hedy LaRue and Jan Isaacson as Miss Krumholz.
"Carousel" (2002): As the Carnival Barker, with Stephanie Skewes as Louise.
"Grease" (2003): The big dance, with Claire Lawrence as Cha-Cha deGregorio, and Lori Holmes as Patty.
"Oliver!" (2001): Dancing with Lori Holmes
"How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" (2003): As Mr. Ovington, with Arthur Vassar as J.B. Biggley and David Holmes as J. Pierrepont Finch.
Reel 2 features Marc Valdez and the cast from "Annie" (2005).
"Annie" (2005): As 'FDR', featuring Kaylynn Rothleder in the title role and Michael Jones as Oliver Warbucks.
Seems like quite a few chicken-loving, same-sex marriage foes turned out for Wednesday's Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.Well, then, it's time to gird for battle. We are under no compulsion to eat their chicken.
Based on reports from around the country, many Chick-fil-As had lines out the door come lunchtime. Attendees emphasized a mix of support for the company's stance against equal marriage rights and for what's being billed as an underlying free speech issue in the initial backlash against the fast food chain's officially outed politics. Mayors in a handful of cities, including Boston and Chicago, responded to president and COO Dan Cathy's recent remarks on his "Biblical" view of marriage by insinuating that the chain was not welcome within city limits.
And there's always the Colonel....
It justified this decoupling by arguing that the word "people" in the expression "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" (the amendment's second clause) must encompass more than just militiamen, because eighteenth-century militias enrolled only able-bodied free men--a mere subset of the people of the United States. But obviously the Framers did not mean to confer even a prima facie constitutional right to possess guns on slaves, criminals, lunatics, and children. The purpose of the first clause of the amendment, the militia clause, is to narrow the right that the second clause confers on the "people."
...Heller gives short shrift to the values of federalism, and to the related values of cultural diversity, local preference, and social experimentation. A majority of Americans support gun rights. But if the District of Columbia (or Chicago or New York) wants to ban guns, why should the views of a national majority control? Is that democracy, or is it Rousseau's forced conformity to the "general will"? True, a member of a national majority can be a member of a minority within a local area: gun buffs in Washington, D.C., for example. But a person who is a member of a local minority but a national majority can relocate to a part of the country in which the national majority rules. A resident of Washington can move to northern Virginia. This is not to say that there should be no national rights--that Mississippi should be permitted to stone adulterers, or Rhode Island to ban The Da Vinci Code. But the question of whether to nationalize an issue in the name of the Constitution calls for an exercise of judgment; and when the nation is deeply divided over an issue to which the Constitution does not speak with any clarity, and a uniform national policy would override differences in local conditions, nationalization may be premature.
In what it called its final audit report, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Funds on Friday spelled out a range of accounting weaknesses that put "billions of American taxpayer dollars at risk of waste and misappropriation" in the largest reconstruction project of its kind in U.S. history.
"The precise amount lost to fraud and waste can never be known," the report said.
By “ethnocracy” he means “a place where Jews enjoy citizenship and Palestinians do not”; it is a mini-state run by settlers, some of them violent and fanatical, that disenfranchises a huge Palestinian population and continually appropriates Palestinian land in the interests of expanding and further entrenching the colonial project of the settlements. Inevitably, the ethos of the occupation, now in its forty-fifth year, spills westward over the Green Line: “Illiberal Zionism beyond the green line destroys the possibility of liberal Zionism inside it.”
The evidence for this observation is overwhelming; Beinart discusses recent research that shows a dangerous erosion in the commitment by ordinary Israelis to basic democratic values and the concomitant rise of hypernationalist, racist, and totalitarian tendencies, some of them well represented in the ultra-right parties in the Knesset and in the current Israeli cabinet. In the last year or so, we’ve seen a spate of antidemocratic, “ethnocratic” legislation all too reminiscent of dark precedents in the history of the last century....Even apart from the disastrous political consequences of current Israeli policy, it is critical to recognize that what goes on in the territories is not a matter of episodic abuse of basic human rights, something that could be corrected by relatively minor, ad hoc actions of protest and redress. Nothing could be further from the truth. The occupation is systemic in every sense of the word.
...These Palestinian Bantustans now exist, and no one should pretend that they’re anything remotely like a “solution” to Israel’s Palestinian problem. Someday, as happened in South Africa, this system will inevitably break down. In an optimistic version of the future, we may be left with some sort of confederated model that is more than one state but somehow less than two—and in which the Jews will soon become a minority. I do not see how that can happen without a struggle, hopefully nonviolent at least to some degree, in which Palestinians claim for themselves the rights that other peoples have achieved.
...To prolong the occupation is to ensure the emergence of a single polity west of the Jordan; every passing day makes a South African trajectory more likely, including the eventual, necessary progression to a system of one person, one vote. Thus the likelihood must be faced that unless the Occupation ends, there will also, in the not so distant future, be no Jewish state.
It turns out that there are big intra-wingnut differences over Michelle Bachmann’s attempt to assassinate the character of Huma Abedin, with Limbaugh and Gingrich on Bachmann’s side [She’s not making any accusations, just asking questions. Why is it bad to ask questions? Shouldn’t we be concerned about the security of the country? What are you afraid of learning?] and McCain and Boehner (!), supported by Rubio and Scott Brown, speaking up for elementary decency
...It turns out that Bachmann (and her four fellow Teahadi Congresscritters) didn’t invent the smear against Abedin. Its part of the much bigger Muslims-under-the-bed fantasy invented just after 9/11 by a washed-up Reaganoid named Frank Gaffney. And one of Gaffney’s early (and continuing) targets was none other than the Godfather of the anti-taxers, Grover Norquist.
Now it happens to be true that, in the early days of the W usurpation, Norquist identified Muslim-Americans as a potentially Republican-leaning voting (and contributor) bloc, and pushed his fellow-GOPers to reach out to them. I’m not sure whether any of the outreach was supposed to involve Middle East policy as opposed to patriarchy, though it’s worth remembering that, pre-9/11, W himself treated the Saudi Ambassador as virtually a member of his family, and after 9/11 did everything he could to cover up Saudi complicity in planning the attack.
In any case, Norquist clearly wanted to add Muslims to the Big Tent the GOP was trying to build before it settled down to become the Party of Straight White Christians. Gaffney disagreed, and was more than willing to get ink and raise money by questioning Norquist’s loyalty, with frequent references to Norquist’s Muslim wife. And Gaffney hasn’t given up on Norquist as a target; Grover the Untaxable is prominently mentioned in the same “documentation” Bachmann cited in her attack on Abedin.
Wednesday, August 01, 2012
First and most important, talking up the innate superiority of the Israelis over the Palestinians isn’t, by any definition, a gaffe. That’s real, with real geopolitical consequences. He didn’t misspeak (and I’m not sure one can “misspeak” about such things anyway), and his initial claim to have been misinterpreted has been trumped by his decision to reiterate all the same points to the conservative audience at National Review.Mitt Romney cited David S. Landes' "The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations" as part of his analysis. As it happens, I have that book on my desk. Does Landes have any thoughts about the Israeli/Palestinian situation? Let's take a look!
In his book, Landes discusses the corrupting influence of oil wealth in recent Middle East history, and also talks about the importance of women reaching influential positions in Islamic societies. Landes also discusses Orientalism and the poverty of modern debates about the Middle East. With his defense of writer Bernard Lewis, it appears that Landes would probably qualify as a conservative in the American intellectual universe.
Nevertheless, Landes doesn't mention Palestine at all in his book, and makes only glancing references to Israel. Thus, it looks to me like Romney has taken Landes' big-think, Global Civilization approach and applied it to a very specific case (the Israel/Palestine quarrel) in a way that Landes didn't intend, and might not approve of.
It's hard being taken out of context, particularly when you spent so much time writing 650 pages of material, and trying very, very hard not to be taken out of context.
Lara Kong is fairly typical of a high-achieving high school student. ... What’s not typical about Lara, who is just 15 years old, is that she is an ardent fan of live musical theater.
...What bothered her most about their theater outings, however, was the noticeable absence of young people in the audience. “She said to us, ‘Everyone here is in their 80s!’” recalls Lara’s mom, Mindy. “She asked, ‘Why can’t we introduce my generation to musical theater?’” ... [H]er father contacted California Musical Theatre, the nonprofit sponsor of the Broadway Series and Music Circus. ... “He said that she wanted to raise money to buy tickets for kids who couldn’t afford to see our shows.”
Cagley was familiar with Breakthrough Sacramento, a yearround program on the Country Day campus that provides tuition-free college preparation for promising students from underachieving Title 1 schools who want to better their lives and stay on track for graduation and college admission. “When we tried to identify groups that would benefit from Lara’s program, this seemed like a natural fit,” she says.
...It was clear from the start that this would be a win-win for everyone.
...Through her own perseverance, as well as some of her father’s business and political connections, Lara succeeded in raising more than $27,000—enough to enable 17 Breakthrough students to attend ‘Wicked’ and to meet the cast and crew after the show, enough to send the entire Breakthrough middle school class to at least three Music Circus shows this summer, and enough to underwrite additional tickets for deserving arts students in San Juan Unified School District....
Catching up on old news here. San Diego's massive fireworks fail is interesting:
One of the nation’s biggest July 4th firework displays turned into a 15-second bust after a “premature ignition” caused pyrotechnics spread across five barges in the San Diego Bay to go off all at once.
Beth DeCaprio, the foundation's executive director, said the suit followed efforts to get the banks to take responsibility for the cost of caring for 48 horses, including 16 foals, that the foundation – at the banks' request – took custody of last August.
"We just hope and pray the banks will do the right thing," a tearful DeCaprio said outside the bank branches Monday.
Eight men accused of buying and training racehorses to launder drug profits for the powerful Zetas cartel are scheduled to go on trial Oct. 22 in Texas.
...Prosecutors said the evidence includes 30,000 pages of records on horses, as well as banking and auction documents and recordings of 2,000 phone calls.
Among those accused is Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of two alleged Zetas cartel leaders.
...Meanwhile, Jose Trevino Morales remains in federal custody as a flight risk pending trial on allegations that he was involved in a money laundering scheme centered on an Oklahoma horse ranch.
...The head of the agency that regulates horse racing in New Mexico told the El Paso Times on Wednesday he is deeply concerned about allegations that the notorious Los Zetas drug cartel had fixed the 2010 running of the All American Futurity, the state’s most prestigious race.
...Mares was referring to an informant’s claim, made in a federal court document, that a Zetas leader boasted of fixing the race run at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino — a race known as the Kentucky Derby of quarter-horse racing, the Times said.
...He said his staff would contact the FBI to see whether the agency plans to investigate the allegations that crews were bribed at the 2010 All American Futurity, which was won by Mr. Piloto, a horse won by Jose Trevino Morales, who allegedly ran the cartel’s U.S. horse operations.
...Late last week, officials at the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino denied allegations that the 2010 All American Futurity was fixed, the El Paso Times reported.
“We have looked at the video tape of the 2010 All American Futurity from every angle many times in recent days and can see no evidence of any horse being held or denied a fair start,” track General Manager Shaun Hubbard said in a statement. “We can find no evidence that there was any wrongdoing by our starting gate crew.”
...Maldonado-Huitron ran a horse farm in Bastrop County, southeast of Austin, and is charged with helping the Zetas launder millions through quarter horse operations in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and California.
...Gonzalez-Falla said that Maldonado Huitron was an illiterate horse trainer who posed no threat to the Zetas. An associate of Huitron Maldonado’s from El Paso testified Monday that the trainer was actually dismissed weeks before his arrest because his horses were underperforming, which the defense attorney said meant his client was now even less important in the eyes of the cartel.
“Why on earth would they hit my client?” he asked. “What has he done? He’s a horse trainer.”
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
I'm abandoning that refinance effort, because, despite today's rock-bottom interest rates, the costs of refinance are so high that I'd rather run the risks associated with job loss instead. Nevertheless, I went far enough down the road of refinance that I was able to get an objective assessment of my property's value.
The assessment is: $225,097.00. That is higher than I expected it would be. In the worst-case event of a job loss, and trouble with securing a new job, I could settle my $150,000.00 (or so) pile of debts and still have some money left over (presumably for purchasing the van that I would make my home, a la Joe The Plumber). Or, instead, I could move back to ABQ. Or make sandwiches over at Subway Restaurants until things looked up.
That's the nice thing about 'owning' a house near Sacramento's urban center. Not underwater, and having options!
According to Zillow, we are at a housing value 'bottom' right now:
Looking ahead, two in five, or 67 of the 156 markets covered by the Zillow Home Value Forecast, are expected to see increases in home values over the next year, with the largest increases expected in the Phoenix metro (9.9 percent) and the Miami metro (6.1 percent). U.S. home values are expected to rise 1.1 percent.So, that's only just five years after the peak in 2007, and virtually-identical to the previous housing boom's five-year gap between peak and bottom (1990 to 1995). That's interesting, because the two booms were quite different in nature. I thought, for sure, this time, the collapse would last longer - at least seven years - seeing how bad it was.
It must be that a five-year relaxation time isn't a function of the boom's nature at all, but reflective of another time scale (like a human lifetime of 75 years, or so). No matter how orderly or screwed up things get, that five-year span seems to be baked-in into the recovery that follows.
Smith and the weather experts like him are the "incident meteorologists" who inform firefighters of every nuance of the weather – from heat and humidity to changing gusts of wind. They make those calls from their tents and makeshift offices in the camps where fire crews refer to them as an "IMET."
Such on-scene weather experts are essential to building strategies to fight major wildfires. Using an IMET's information, fire chiefs determine the most effective and safe ways to contain raging fires.
"You belong to them," Smith said. "For any incident, any fire, you're the weather support for that particular site."
The practice is an affront to the First Amendment, more dangerous even than outright suppression because it undermines trust in the independence and truth-telling mission of news organizations.
The Times story set off a furor within newsrooms. Some organizations immediately moved to stop the practice and even the Times said it was reviewing its policy. Editors at other news organizations reiterated to staff that it is better to lose the interview than to agree to quote approval. The Washington bureau of McClatchy, The Bee's parent company, is among those newsrooms that do not allow quote approval.
..."It's our job to hold government accountable, not to serve as its mouthpiece," said Amy Chance, The Bee's senior political editor.
"We started having blue whales on every trip we went out on," said Sherman, who runs weekend whale-watching and natural history excursions from San Francisco to the Gulf of the Farallones with the Oceanic Society. "It hasn't been this great for the past five years."
Well, we made our first visit to see Ned and it went splendidly.
Ned is looking tan and fit and has dropped a few pounds (which was needed!).
His positive attitude is remarkable, but I expected nothing less.
He is taking a horticulture class, a running/fitness class, learning how to play the bass guitar and the drums, finishing up the Great Course on calculus, and learning Mandarin (!).
He continues to maintain the bathrooms to a new level of cleanliness, which makes many people very happy, and, he is FOLLOWING ALL THE RULES.
So Mitt Romney goes to London and the first thing he says is that he finds Olympic preparations to be "disconcerting." Then he uses the wrong title to address one of his hosts. Then he brags about meeting with the head of the top-secret MI6. And then he starts talking about looking out Number 10's backside, not realizing that that it sounded like he was saying he was admiring the view from the White House's ass. He wasn't done, however, because he went to Israel where he managed to insult not only Palestinians, but also Mexicans and Ecuadorians by saying their economies weren't as strong as neighboring countries because their neighboring countries had better cultures.
[DMTC is trying to gauge how much support there might be in the theater company for hosting a Haunted House fundraiser this coming October. We would like to meet on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, at 7:30 p.m., in the theater Lobby (607 Pena Drive, Davis) to discuss this question.]
Monday, July 30, 2012
Joe The Plumber is almost like a salmon, the way his bike rides seem to naturally progress upriver. First, a random ride through downtown, then along the K Street Mall, through Downtown Plaza, then Old Sacramento, then along the banks of the Sacramento and American Rivers. Must be a homing instinct!
Beach at Discovery Park, where the American River (foreground) joins the Sacramento River (in the distance).
Underneath the I-5 bridge over the American River.
Someone a few years ago died trying to jump across the gap between the south and northbound lanes. That gap is too big. What was that person thinking?
Left: Woman archer assesses the wind.
Joe the Plumber was eager to talk to this woman. As he says, "I'm a soldier, and I'm always in training." I looked at her, and thought of Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games," and how I'm better-fed than your typical squirrel. I discouraged contact, but Joe disregarded my advice. As I see it, one should refrain from talking to armed, solitary females, particularly in remote areas, and particularly since, as E. often insists, Joe 'looks like a rapist.'
After a pleasant conversation, Joe returned to report the woman was using a 40 lb. bow, lighter than the 60 lb. bow Joe is currently storing in my basement. Joe thinks the two of them would make nice shooting buddies.
On our return trip, we stopped off in Old Sacramento for ice cream. Joe wanted to buy a curious bird-themed clock on the wall of the ice cream parlor, but he had no money. Nevertheless, he learned the shop had a clogged drain, so today he is unclogging the drain, in exchange for the clock, and gas money. Since he has no place to hang the clock, since he is about to lose his recent residence (of a few weeks duration), he wants to hang the clock on my office wall, where (he believes) it would nicely supplement my collection of Deborah McMillion Nering's paintings. We'll see (currently, the wall is full of various paintings, and something would have to move to order to accomodate a curious bird-themed clock).
We also stopped and ogled the merchandise in a nearby tarot card - bath soap - handbags sort-of establishment in Old Sacramento (where a model horse once 'talked' to Joe, and which currently resides on his van's dashboard) before returning back to home base.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Wolf-whistlers from building sites might seem long gone, but workers have developed a new code to alert each other to passing woman.
The classic "whit-woo" indicating a female passer-by is an industry no-no, with wolf-whistlers given warnings and moved to other sites.
But workers, who declined to be named because their contracts forbid them speaking to the media, have confirmed codes exist to communicate the presence of women walking past.
"We might yell something like, 'Wayne's at the gate'," one said. Another identified "Anyone got a spanner?" was their code. Another admitted a number from one to 10, used as a rating, was still common.
Walking towards the Capitol, I noticed that tourists in the vicinity were shaking to the Zumba music. Encouraging! At the west steps, about 100-120 people were groovin' to the dance.
I never did see the instructional videos. It was a bit hard to follow the dances by instructors from different studios than Step One (where I go), particularly since so many of the instructors were short, and thus hard to see. Nevertheless, 90% of Zumba is just moving around. You have two legs, so you have a 50% chance of being on the right foot. Dance, I say!