Could we get a little perspective here? Immigrants, Numbers, and Trumpian Fearmongering

Oh mercy me! Merciful mercies…there are 5000 migrants “storming” our southern border, waileth the Trumpian fearmongers, intent as they are on creating a curtain of dread veiling the eyes of those who are susceptible to such manipulation.  Let’s take what’s probably an inflated number (5,000) of people seeking to apply for asylum along our southern border and compare that to some other examples of people “storming” in lines we see every day.

For example.  The Clark County Department of Aviation compiles statistics on the number of people who “storm” McCarran International Airport.  (pdf)  Wow, thus far in 2018 we’ve been “stormed” by 25,013,841 people!  But wait, we like these people. They come, some spend money at the airport, some get off the planes in Terminal 1 and go spend more money in our special Nevada play zones; playing with cards, and machines, and things with bells and whistles designed to help separate our tourists from their dollars.   Now, get out the old plastic brains and punch in 5,000 and divide that by 25,013,841.  Hint: You are going to get a small number with an exponent “e-4” on the tail end of it.  We can play with these numbers a bit more.

Try this.  Compare the 5,000 “storming” the southern border with the McCarran traffic for one month.  Let’s take a happy month for us — July — with many happy people who land in Nevada’s sunny climes to part with their paychecks; 2,991,599 of them in the month of July.  There are 31 days in July, so divide the number above by 31.  No exponent this time.  There’s an average of 96,503 passengers using terminal 1 each day in July.  Now, divide 5,000 by 96,503 and you’ll get 0.0518, turn that into a percentage and it’s 5.2%.  In other words the “storm” at the US southern border is a measly 5.2% of the number of passengers using McCarran International Airport Terminal 1 on a SINGLE DAY  in the month of July.

We can play with some other numbers from the northern part of the state, for example, RTC ridership in Washoe County.  The RTC published a report of YOY comparisons for April 2016 (pdf)  reporting 105.082 rides on the RAPID system, coming in at about 43.8 rides per service hour.  Handy calculator time again please.  Our word problem solution for this one is that 5,000 “stormers” are about 4.8% of the rides on the Washoe RTC RAPID system.  Not so much of a storm huh?

But wait, cry the fearmongers, these stormers will clog up our social services and get welfare… uh, not so much, non-citizens in Nevada aren’t eligible for social service benefits.  But but but — they’ll pack our schools!  There are 492,496 youngsters enrolled in Nevada public schools (exc downld) and again our calculator hops into action.  If every single one of the 5,000 Stormers from the “Great? Caravan” were a school aged youngster and they all enrolled in a Nevada public school they’d constitute a — wait for it — a 1.01% increase in public school population.  Hardly the stuff of alarmist proportions.  Realistically, they aren’t all school aged, they aren’t all coming here, and they aren’t anything remotely like a “storm” of invaders upon our southern flank. Please take two deep breaths and call a friend for consolation prior to any more anxiety attacks based on “swamping” our schools blathering.

So, why all the televised emphasis on the “caravan?”  It’s good “optics” for the racists.  Get a nice tight crowd shot of “illegals storming” the border and the fear factor kicks in — much more so than if we emphasize the FACT that most visa over-stays are people who fly in.

DHS has determined that there were 52,656,022 in-scope nonimmigrant admissions to the United States through air or sea POEs with expected departures occurring in FY 2017; the in-scope admissions represent the vast majority of all air and sea nonimmigrant admissions. Of this number, DHS calculated a total overstay rate of 1.33 percent, or 701,900 overstay events.”

Excuse me, but I’m having a problem here envisioning a “storm” of unlawful entries into this country when we have most visa overstays dribbling in through POEs by air and sea, and there’s a 1.33% overstay rate.  What I’m not having a problem seeing is that people like the current POTUS, and his sidekick the virulently racist Stephen Miller, are driving a PR campaign to convince people that Brown is Bad, and that “hordes” of “those (read ‘brown’) people” are “storming” our southern border.  I’m not buying it, and frankly speaking I don’t think anyone else should be buying into their malarkey either.

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DB Returns to Ranting About Soy Beans, with a pro tip for economic advisers

Yes, the results of the midterm elections were mostly satisfying — large and copious  thanks to all those who phone banked, precinct walked, and otherwise worked to make those results possible — No, there weren’t any major networks (or even minor ones) discussing trade policy as a factor in those election results, and rightly so because trade policy wasn’t a big deal.  Why should it be?  It’s not like anyone pays much attention, and that includes the so-called “business channels.”  About as close as we’re likely to get to any explication is yet another interview conducted by some major urban news outlet with yet another white rural voter who inexplicably votes for “Buzz Windrip” in the White House while ignoring the trade policy that’s wiping out rural agricultural profits.

Type in “stock market” and Google will return 384,000,000 results in less than .30 seconds. Type in “commodity futures trading” and get 27,900,000 results in the same time period.  Which one has more impact on our daily lives?  Right! The one with the smaller numbers, likely because the advertisers who pay the freight for what passes for business news are interested in the stock market, their stock prices, their competitor’s stock prices, their 90 day stock performance… we get it… the advertisers want stock market information and want us to pay attention to their stock market information, so that’s what we’ll all get — and we’d get it 24/7/365 were it not for commercials about skillets which can be beaten with sledge hammers, devices to remove facial hair, and pills and potions to restore attributes few people had in the first place.  But, we digress.

Those commodities futures trading markets are important.  There are four major functions of these markets: pricing; hedging; speculating; and organizing.  Let’s look at the hedging function first:

Merchants, farmers and international firms use the futures exchanges to hedge future transactions. When a farmer plants his crop of wheat, for example, he does not know what the price will be at harvest time. To remove the risk of price changes, he sells wheat futures contracts at planting time. When he sells his crop a few months later, he buys back the futures contacts. If wheat prices have fallen, he is protected because the futures contracts he buys at harvest cost less than the ones he sold at planting. An importing firm can use financial futures contracts in the same manner to lock in a price for the goods it will be importing later in the year.

This concept doesn’t require a degree in finance to comprehend. Sell futures contracts to protect himself from a price drop at harvest and our soy bean farmer can stay in business.  Actually, the farmer usually isn’t dealing with the futures but we can bet our last soy bean the grain elevator operators are. They’re paying very close attention.  NPR explains, “They’ll use futures contracts to manage sales and get good deals throughout the year, allowing them to pay farmers a more consistent price and protect them from big drops.”  Farmers benefit from a “more consistent price” and “protection from big drops.”  Anyone doubt those of us who buy the stuff related to soy beans (everything from soy sauce to animal feed to consumer products)  benefit from consistent prices?

“Manufacturers of both industrial and consumer products use soybean oil and meal to replace petroleum and other volatile or hazardous ingredients, as well as increase product performance. The versatility of U.S. soybean components makes product applications remarkably wide-ranging, including rubber, fiber, coatings, solvents, plastics, lubricants and adhesives.” []

Again, no finance degree is necessary to understand that a consistent price is beneficial for manufacturers in a wide range of consumer products.  Consistent prices in a more stable market mean more predictable manufacturing costs, and more predictable business decisions.  IF there’s a market.  If there’s a market for the soy beans. If someone would decide (preferably before December 10, 2018) to fix the mess created by the administration’s silly tariff flap with the Chinese.

December 10 is the day the CFTC is scheduled to make a decision on the storage rate for soy beans — thus far it’s climbing because we’re about out of storage space — because major purchasers like China aren’t buying soy beans — and storage space is scarce and becoming more expensive —  remember Economics 101 or high school  “General Business?”  The result of current policy is a nose dive in soy bean prices.

The USDA is forecasting that soybean-planted acreage will drop by 6.6 million acres to 82.5 million in 2019. The American Farm Bureau Federation notes that “if realized, this would be the third-largest acreage decline of all time and the largest year-over-year decline in soybean plantings since … 2007.

“The decline in soybean acreage is anticipated given the slow pace of soybean exports, the dramatic decline in Chinese purchases, expectations for a nearly billion-bushel-l?carryout and projections for decade-low soybean marketing year average prices.”

Negotiations are still underway between the Trump administration and the Chinese government over trade issues. However, the U.S. government has emphasized that it is committed to getting things back to normal for soybean farmers. According to Bloomberg, “Any trade pact would also address the resumption of soybean sales specifically, since that was targeted in the trade war.”

“Committed to getting things back to normal?”  How about if Buzz and Company hadn’t launched the stupid trade war in the first place? There were other ways to press the intellectual property issues and trade questions with the Chinese without using a policy version of a meat ax.  However, the ham handed, ham fisted, and ham headed administration acted as “normal” i.e. acting first, without a full and measured consideration of the ramifications, and being surprised at the unintended consequences of its actions.  So, we’ve lost 98% of our soy bean sales to China.  Our storage facilities are filling up, and costing more; while the Chinese are signing contracts with the Brazilians for more beans.

Pro Tip for the economic advisers to the President — draw him a picture of a soy bean on a white dry-marker board, put his face on it, and then erase 98% of the picture until he gets the idea we’ve lost sales, and revenue, and a major component of our national agricultural statistics.  We could try this, but I don’t really hold out much hope he’ll do much more than blame the problem on a slow walking group of immigrant mothers and children from Honduras who have Hillary Clinton’s emails in their back packs, and whose 300 pound sons are at home in their bedrooms in San Pedro Sula hacking into DNC servers.   But, hey, it’s worth a try to amuse Buzz on a rainy day when he can’t play golf, with some colorful charts and pictures of himself as a soy bean if we could manage to get his attention long enough to do something about the trade/tariff stupidity?

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Focus, Group: Routine Maintenance for Elections

A few thoughts on voting and counting and counting the voting:

(1) Nevada would be better served if we’d take a few moments to consider the age, use, maintenance, and condition of our voting equipment than if we persist in the highly questionable track of “run to ruin” accounting.  “Run to ruin” is altogether too common in the public sphere — it’s a condition, initiated by under-funding or limited revenue in the first place, compounded by public unwillingness to spend “sacred taxpayer dollars,” and finally the proximate cause of expensive projects and replacements in the last instance due to deferred maintenance, or deferred replacement.  Colloquially, it’s the process by which park service managers don’t replace cattle guards until the whole front end of an extended cab pickup falls through; or, a water system has pipe in the ground for 65 years without replacement; or, a county clerk hopes beyond hope he or she can get two more elections out of the voting machines in the courthouse basement.  It’s what Granny called penny wise and pound foolish.

However, on some occasions there’s no way to escape it.  That’s why we have three levels of government.  If the local county resources won’t cover the cost of new or upgraded voting equipment, then the county looks to the state; and, if the state can’t manage the entire tab, then the federal government kicks in.  If all three levels are loathe to spend any money on any government services, again it’s what Granny called penny wise and pound foolish.  The cattle guards will collapse, the pipes will break, and the voting machines will crunch and crumble into their version of electronic/mechanical Valhalla.

We can, and probably should, start asking questions now (as opposed to waiting around for another two years) of our local election officials:  How old are our voting machines? In what kind of shape are they in?  What’s the maintenance schedule for them? Is that schedule continuous or only when the devices are hauled out every two years for use? How secure are our machines?  How likely is it that the computer systems in place for local voter registration can be hacked? Do we have a coordinated plan in place to prevent interference?

Do we have enough voting machines?  Do we have a sufficient number of voting machines to insure that every citizen who wishes to cast a ballot can do so in a reasonable amount of time?  At a reasonable distance from his or her residence?

(2) Do we need to consider other voting formats?  Some localities have mail-in ballots. This saves personnel costs in remote regions; saves time and expense for members of local law enforcement in regard to the transportation, collection, and security of voting devices, and keeps voting personnel expenses to a minimum.  The system doesn’t come without some decisions, a few controversial, about the process.  For example, must ballots be postmarked prior to the deadline or received by the County Clerk’s office before the voting deadline? Should the voter’s signature be clearly visible on the exterior of the envelop or should a privacy flap cover the name? (The flap system is a bit more expensive.)

(3) Are we staffing our elections adequately?  One of the contentious elements in current chatter concerns how local and state election officials are handling the count of absentee, mail-in, and provisional ballots — this really shouldn’t be an issue. Every legal ballot ought to be counted in every jurisdiction in every election.  The question is: Do we have the personnel to do that?  Should there be a higher than expected turnout, then do we allow our local election officials enough resources to properly staff the counting process, and/or do we allow them enough time to accomplish the tasks without having to hire too many (a number that represents a policy decision) additional people for the count or recount?    Are we allocating sufficient resources so that local election officials can plan for the best possible election service instead of the cheapest possible election service.  Granny said, “You get what you pay for.”

Granted we may all have a tendency not to look at the tires until one of them goes flat, and not to take heed of the washing machine until there’s water on the floor, but we’d be better prepared for elections if members of the public were to take an interest in our voting systems, processes, equipment, and staffing, BEFORE election seasons hit us with the full force of the advertising on our TV screens.

And, just to re-emphasize the punctuation in the title:  Have you eaten Granny?

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Filed under Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics, Voting

Make America Good Again, Nevada Style

Congratulations to Nevada’s Democratic candidates, and to all the people who worked so hard to get them elected!  Now, perhaps we can get down to business, down to making America Good Again.

For one thing we can honor the victims of the horrific shooting at the Las Vegas concert by implementing the background checks for gun purchases approved by Nevada voters.  We can also remember them by enacting legislation banning bump stocks and other means of increasing the lethality of firearms.  This would be a good start. Nothing herein impinges on any 2nd Amendment rights, but should serve to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for citizens, residents, and visitors to our state. Every little step helps.

There’s another step we can take to make America Good again, at least in our portion of it.  We can bolster and improve our health insurance coverage options for Nevada citizens and residents.  We might want to look at the structure of our taxation system, are the “big box” operations getting an advantage over our family owned small businesses?

We should evaluate the way in which we fund our schools.  Do we really want to obsess over standardized test scores?  There are some serious questions in this domain which deserve equally serious debate and consideration.

And, we need to look very carefully at the security of our state and local elections.  We still don’t know with any great precision which states were among the 21 subjected to Russian interference in 2016.  We would be best served by assurance our voter rolls aren’t subject to any form of interference.  There is also the matter of adequate funding for upgrading our voting systems, appropriately staffing our polling stations, and preventing each and every attempt to suppress voting.  Some localities may need assistance with these items, and local governments might need some pressure to tackle these issues; the state should stand ready and willing to assist.

The rest of us aren’t off the hook quite yet either.  Yes, it’s time to enjoy, indeed celebrate, the Blue Wave in Nevada. No, it’s not time to rest on the old laurels and quietly emit sighs of relief. There is still work to be done.

There are still women in this state earning significantly less than men for performing the same work. There are still workers in this state for whom the minimum wage is an unrealistic sub-minimum travesty in terms of compensation. There are still families in this state  living in substandard housing.  There are still families in this state struggling to see their children fed properly.  There are still parents in this state who are one paycheck away from homelessness.  There are too many people, even one would be too many, who are waiting for mental health care.  There’s still work to be done.

While we’re celebrating the wins, and focussing on issues that matter, it’s time to separate some sheep and goats.  It would be useful to ignore some bleating goats. They can be safely moved away from civic discourse, at the very least from the center of it.  For example, the “Pelosi Leadership” issue is a press manufactured cocktail party circuit process topic, closely related to the hoary old Dems in Disarray theme so popular among the Chatteratti. It can be safely shunted to one side.

Watch out for shiny objects.  The current administration seems to have mastered one thing: Distraction.  As various topics vaporize in the mists of scattershot globules of what passes for news, there are some which should be retained in focus. Comprehensive immigration policy reforms are much more important than the president’s latest round of petulant name calling.  There are still children who were separated from their parents at the border who have not yet been reunited with them.

Indeed, the president’s inflammatory rhetoric should not divert our attention from the evident racism of his immigration and other social policies.  Since he began campaigning for the presidency he’s been crude, rude, and racist. We’ve seen his demonstrations of empathy deficit on too many occasions to count.  We can stop counting and start doing something about it.

He insults African-American female journalists, what else is new?  Our attention should be drawn to his racist, misogynistic assault on the press, the only profession specifically protected in our Constitution.  The Chatteratti wrinkle their noses and “see a pattern.” NOW, you see a pattern?

The president brightens at the appearance of Putin in Paris, like a little boy who spots the new train set under the Christmas Tree.  We still don’t have a read out of what happened in Helsinki.  So, what happened in Helsinki?  Efforts to find out, and to oversee the adequacy and accuracy of presidential records will be deflected by the GOP buzzword of the day: Presidential Harassment.  Forget Secretary Clinton’s 11 hours of testimony and the whole Benghazi/ Email flap. Call “presidential harassment” what it is, a lame attempt to change the subject. Keep talking about things that matter. Health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions. Comprehensive immigration policy reform.  Infrastructure.  Foreign policy. Economic equity. Gun violence as a public health problem.

We can, should, and must make America Good Again. We can if we aren’t distracted and diverted.  We simply need to get back to the business of sustaining a good country with good people, all trying to do the right thing.

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Is Halloween Over Yet?

The candy has been distributed, the costumes retired for the season, and the President is still trying to scare the bejeezsus out of us.  Immigrants!!  They’re coming! Actually, and economically speaking, we’re not getting enough immigrants. But who’s going to let a few facts get in the way of a good scare strategy to rouse the basest of the base?

Back to basics:  The GDP depends on buying things, good old fashioned goods and services.  We have GDP growth when more people buy more stuff. Have I made this easy enough for The Great Pumpkin?

So, let’s try one more step. If one wishes to create economic growth something has to increase. Simple enough?  Spending would be good. Now, careful Great Pumpkin, things are about to get more complicated.  Spending increases if people have more money to spend,  and not just the top 1% of all income earners. Spending increases if there are more people to spend more money.  See, that’s not too difficult.

If the birth rate isn’t increasing then the other way to get more people is to take other people’s people. It’s called immigration.  Therefore, it makes no sense to limit immigration merely because they happen to be the “wrong” color.  Focus, O Great Pumpkin, if the object is to generate more Green, then it is counter productive to get distracted by Brown.

Remember, O Great Pumpkin,  your vaunted tax cut for millionaires and billionaires was supposed to be countered by economic growth.  Economic growth requires increased spending, increased spending requires more people — or, requires something you don’t seem anxious to do — raise wages. Only inside the nonsensical bubble of pie-in-the-sky fantasies do we get to increase consumer spending by diminishing the number of consumers doing the spending.

Chew, O Great Pumpkin, on your semi-edible seeds for a moment.  You, O Great Orange One, want increased economic growth, but when you tack on increased tariffs on consumer goods to an anti-immigration policy things can go pear shaped in a hurry.  One pear is developing in the national housing market.

Interest rates are going up. Why? Because the tax cut has increased the deficit.  Higher deficit levels mean higher interest rates, meaning fewer people can afford new housing.  Returning to an old theme in the posts over the past few years, housing is a mid-stream economic area.  Construction takes raw materials, occupancy means more spending for retail items to make the occupancy comfortable.  Housing activity ripples out on all sides.

Seeking economic growth by adopting policies which restrict population increases, while increasing the deficit, when threatening the safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare, when conducting a trade/tariff war with a major supplier, and while ignoring the consequences of muting our efforts to modernize our overall economy (see transitioning from reliance on fossil fuels,) is tantamount to believing pumpkins grow best in Antarctica .

This is something of which we should be legitimately afraid.

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Words Matter

There’s what is said, what is meant, what is intended, and what is understood. Additionally, there’s much space between each of these elements and we don’t need advanced degrees in rhetoric, communications, linguistics, or psychology to understand this.

A discussion which has been touched upon in the last 48 hours, but not to my mind fully explored, concerns leadership comments and how these might be perceived by the various audiences.  Perhaps we should review a smattering of the vocabulary involved.

Let’s start with the phrase which has earned the President some criticism in the wake of the massacre in the Pittsburgh synagogue: Enemy of the people.  The President seems disturbed that the broadcast media discounted his denunciation of the horrific act in Pittsburgh.  They are therefore the fake news, the inaccurate news, the false news.

At one level the President is saying the media is unfairly criticizing him when he did, in fact, condemn the atrocity.  However, there’s another layer, one understood by a segment of the audience that understands this phrasing in a very different way.  In their minds the Jews control the media, the media is unfair, ergo Jews are the enemy of the state, especially the President.

At one level the President is saying the asylum seekers from central Americs are a menace to America.  Anderson Cooper offered a segment on his CNN program this evening about the words involved.  An important observation made was that what the President said and what an unhinged bigot heard were related if not causally connected.  When the President hints Soros (Jewish) is paying for an “invasion,” the bigots hear “Jews are those Others who are destroying our nation.”  When a prominent Congressional Republican tweets “Steyer, Bloomberg, Soros” can’t be allowed to control the upcoming election, the bigot heard echoes of the anti-Semitism formerly associated with the name Rothschild.

The term “globalist” has a deep and stained history.  Globalist = Internationalist = Jew. Perhaps it’s time for a network to dust off previous explications of anti-Semitism in America, broadcast them, and re-educate a population which no longer has a significant number of World War II survivors.  The generation that witnessed the horror of the Holocaust is dwindling by the day, the generation which went to war or manned the Arsenal of Democracy is declining as the pages of the calendar turn.

When we are careless with our terminology and unconscious of our history there is an opportunity for amplifying hateful, anti-Semitic rhetoric. We can and should do a better job of monitoring our commentary such that our compassion is emphasized  beyond that of our conflicts.

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Values Voters?

I’m old enough to remember when the chattering classes called a certain group

Values Voters.  As with so many phrases this one becomes the property of conservatives, narrowing the definition to those of a certain religion, and a certain subset of that religion. Perhaps it’s time for more people to become values voters.

Do we value inclusiveness?  Do we welcome the views of our political adversaries and seek to understand those elements of issues upon which we agree so that we can work toward solutions? Or, do we value the battlefield wherein only our own positions merit consideration?  Do we take pride in an uncompromising stance, and declare intractability a positive character trait?

Do we value diversity? Do we see in our fellow citizens sources of innovation? Creativity? Economic progress? Fellowship?  Community service? Do we value The Stranger who approaches our tent? Do we abhor the actions and expressions of those whose response to a diverse cultural environment is eliminationist rhetoric?

Do we value progress?  Do we welcome change, innovation, and improvement?  Do we keep what is positive in our institutions and traditions while seeking ways to enhance the lives of others if those institutions and traditions somehow limit their participation in the fullness of American life?

Do we value a free press?  Interesting, there’s only one profession specified for protection by the US Constitution — the press. The press is not, as the Stalinist phrase goes, the enemy of the people.  The press reports. The press opines. We can choose which broadcasters to watch, which newspapers to read.  What we cannot do, without doing great violence to our own civic institutions, is to restrict the flow of information to merely that which reinforces our individual preferences.  We can, and should, insist media reports be as accurate as possible,  but we cannot require they be propaganda conforming to our ideologies.

Do we value morality and ethical behavior?  I’m not convinced a person needs to espouse a specific religion, or indeed any religion at all, in order to be a moral and ethical individual.   What moral people share is a commitment to standards of behavior which promote the well being and safety of others. What moral people demonstrate is respect for others. What ethical people share are patterns of behavior which respect the rights and well being of others. What ethical people demonstrate is a willingness to place the value of norms and mores above the value of their own individual reward.

Perhaps it’s time for us to review what it means to be a values voter?  It’s time to exercise our right to vote with an eye toward putting our values front and center. Life is never a zero sum game, and Eleanor Roosevelt was correct, “no one can make us feel inferior without our consent.”  Thus we are strong because, not in spite of, our inclusiveness; because not in spite of our diversity; because not in spite of our attitude toward progress; because not in spite of our commitment to a free press; because not in spite of our ethics and morality.

Vote our values.

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