Thursday, July 29, 2010

Elkhart farmers' market closing

So says the Trib. I try to think of the reasons the market didn't do well, and perhaps it's best to consider why I only went a few times despite having a great experience. I have a few quibbles with the place, the biggest being that it has little or no produce most of the time, nowhere to buy non-food groceries, and half or more of the place was occupied by craft stores.

All that aside, though, you know why we didn't go? It was in Elkhart, a 20+ minute drive from our house. The only things we buy regularly from a farmers' market are poultry and eggs, and South Bend has a farmers' market 5-10 minutes from our house where we can get those. That's why.

By far the two most successful markets I've ever seen are in Cork, Ireland and South Bend. They have exactly one thing in common that isn't shared by the failed American Countryside: they're centrally located in the city of their customer base. In a city of 100,000 people, 20+ minutes is a seriously long drive for groceries, especially when you can't even get all your groceries there.

Speaking of, the Old English Market in Cork is by far the most successful of the three for a very simple reason: it had a booth that sold condiments, prepackaged foodstuffs (dried soup, canned goods, etc.), and other such things. It didn't force its customers to go to its major grocery store competitors for their non-fresh-food groceries. There aren't just a ton of people willing to switch to a farmers' market from their convenient, familiar grocery store in the first place. There are far fewer willing to make two trips a week instead of one just so they can get free range eggs and chicken breasts. In Cork, however, the market seemed to do as much business as Tesco.

If the South Bend market had a booth or section where they sold things like cheap mustard bottles, canned beans, paper towels, and bath soap, I would do all my grocery shopping there, even if they didn't have all my brands. The market would gain not only my paper towel and bath soap business, but also my potatoes and milk and rice and sandwich meat business. If the Elkhart market had done so, it's possible we would have made the trip more often.

Monday, July 26, 2010

fun with numbers: autoworker pay edition

The Washington Post tells me that, while auto workers from the pre-bailout era make $28/hour, new hirees are making a government-mandated $14/hr.

Interestingly, although most people who read the Post are probably on salary and think of wages in terms of annual income, the Post never bothers to tell us how it translates.

In case you were wondering, $14/hr. X 8 hrs/day X 5 days/week X 52 weeks/year = $29,120/year. That's factory work (i.e., physically taxing) for guys assumed to be primary breadwinners, 99% of whom according to the article have at least high school degrees. That also means those supposedly hugely overpaid damn union workers were making less than $60k.

Wikileaks strikes again

90,000 pages of classified information on the Afghanistan War published by Wikileaks and sent to 3 different major newspapers. The cache of documents paints an ugly picture, and the Obama Administration is flailing to answer the charges. Their best counter is that all this occurred before the surge, and that much of it formed the basis of that decision. Some great commentary here.

How serendipitous it is that this bombshell drops only a week or so after the Washington Post's massive report (2 years in the making! as we are frequently reminded). The Post's is useful especially to us laymen, but many of critiqued it for bringing no new information to bear. It seems more to be an aggregate of stories published over the last several years on the intelligence community, and with little cohesive narrative thread to boot.

Compare with this story and all its truly new information.

An interesting note about its publication: the New York Times requested that Wikileaks withhold "harmful material" from its website -- on behalf of the Obama Administration. A wonderful comparison of priorities between old and new media right there.

technology and the end of privacy

Even getting harder for spies, as technological trends are tending to favor the surveillance state.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dems to make Bush tax cuts permanent

An extraordinary act of cowardice from a party that found such cuts repugnant just a couple of years ago. From Time:
Senate Democrats will soon advance a plan to make permanent President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts for middle-class Americans earning less than $200,000, but let the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans expire, two Senate party aides said Tuesday. They will also propose to reinstate a 45% estate tax on individuals for the next two years.

The emerging tax plan is designed, as much as anything else, to clarify the differences between the two parties as they hurtle toward the fall elections. Following on their success with the financial-regulatory-reform bill, Democrats are betting that Republicans will once again take up a legislative battle on behalf of the wealthy. "Republicans are going to have a real choice ahead of them," says a Democratic aide. "Are you for extending these tax cuts for middle-class families or are you against them because you want to protect tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% of Americans?"

This, of course, will be the second Obama tax cut in two years despite an already record low tax burden. The likely effect of permanent Bush tax cuts as shown by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (via Ezra Klein):

Tax cuts are the perfect example of a policy that is popular yet irresponsible. The cost is enormous, and the gain for the average citizen minimal.

Need I show more examples on this blog? Over and over we've seen how tax hikes amounting to pocket change for the average person can completely solve the budget woes of entire school districts. Instead, cities around the country are putting fire and police departments in hock. Meanwhile, at the federal level the argument on taxes is between those who want to bankrupt the Treasury cutting huge checks to the rich, and those who want to bankrupt the Treasury cutting checks for chump change to the middle class.

We have completely lost our minds on this issue.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Top Secret America

A massive report from the Washington Post. It's huge. It will make you sick to your stomach.

That being said, I know it's sexy in media circles to frame things in teabagger terms, but the "waste" and "overspending" in our secretive shadow government is so, so very beside the point.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Bradley Manning charged

And he could face 52 years in jail. Manning is the whistleblower who gave damning government documents to Wikileaks. People are already starting to compare him to Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

This is a serious matter. I wasn't all that surprised to see Obama give in on the public option, and it didn't shock me to see a smaller stimulus than was expected. His willingness to open our shores to further offshore drilling was unwise but not entirely unexpected. What has truly shocked me about this administration and this former-constitutional-law-prof-turned-president, however, is the secrecy of this administration, its cavalier attitude toward civil liberties, and the zeal with which it pursues whistleblowers. Never would I have thought that Barack Obama would be an enemy of civil liberties and a British Tory Prime Minister a defender of them.

Whistleblowers serve a valuable purpose in democratic governments. Governments that have whistleblowers in their midst have more incentive to deal honestly with the people and be more effective because someone is watching. As with all things in government, oversight is key.

Whistleblowing is also a right, however, one tied to freedom of speech, privacy, and dissent. One can't help but notice the sustained rollback of our civil rights over the last 30 years, and any hope we had of a Democratic president acting as a bulwark of those rights is all but gone.

Friday, July 02, 2010

cutting unemployment benefits won't create jobs

It's a pretty simple calculus, really, but no one's pointing it out. Cowardly Democrats and craven Republicans want unemployment benefits to expire, so the argument goes, so that people will get off their duffs and go get jobs. This theory assumes that there is a glut of jobs out there going unfilled.

The situation they are describing is what happens in times of full employment, not an economic downturn. The problem is not that a half million jobs are going unfilled; the problem is that there are a half million fewer jobs than applicants. This is not difficult to understand.