Archive for July 2010

When The Government Owns GM...

... the other auto-makers are not going to be treated very fairly.

Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation have at least temporarily blocked the release of findings by auto-safety regulators that could favor Toyota Motor Corp. in some crashes related to unintended acceleration, according to a recently retired agency official.George Person, who retired July 3 after 27 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview that the decision to not go public with the data for now was made over the objections of some officials at NHTSA.

"The information was compiled. The report was finished and submitted," Mr. Person said. "When I asked why it hadn't been published, I was told that the secretary's office didn't want to release it," he added, referring to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Welcome to the corporate state, Obama-style.   Not to mention some old-fashioned bureaucratic CYA:

Since March, the agency has examined 40 Toyota vehicles where unintended acceleration was cited as the cause of an accident, Mr. Person said. NHTSA determined 23 of the vehicles had accelerated suddenly, Mr. Person said.

In all 23, he added, the vehicles' electronic data recorders or black boxes showed the car's throttle was wide open and the brake was not depressed at the moment of impact, suggesting the drivers mistakenly stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake, Mr. Person said.

"The agency has for too long ignored what I believe is the root cause of these unintended acceleration cases," he said. "It's driver error. It's pedal misapplication and that's what this data shows."

Mr. Person said he believes Transportation Department officials are "sitting on" this data because it could revive criticism that NHTSA is too close to the auto maker and has not looked hard enough for electrical flaws in Toyota vehicles.

"It has become very political. There is a lot of anger towards Toyota," Mr. Person said. Transportation officials "are hoping against hope that they find something that points back to a flaw in Toyota vehicles."

The existence of this report is one reason, suggests Walter Olson, why the Democrats in Congress (abetted by the NY Times) seem in an enormous hurry to pass a new auto regulatory bill.  After all, automobiles have been sold in this country for only about 100 years, so every day counts in getting new regulatory infrastructure in place

The recall of millions of Toyota cars and trucks because of persistent problems of uncontrolled acceleration has exposed unacceptable weaknesses in the regulatory system. These weaknesses are allowing potentially fatal flaws to remain undetected. Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation to improve regulation and oversight of auto safety. It should be passed into law without delay.

As Olson points out, the NY Times has bent over backwards to ignore recent NHTSA findings in its reporting. This in particular is the enormously flawed logic of the regulator:

N.H.T.S.A. could fine Toyota only $16.4 million for delays in revealing problems with defective accelerator pedals that left the throttle open after being released. That's pocket change for a company of its size.

Pay no attention to that free market behind the curtain.  The billions of dollars this acceleration problem has cost Toyota in recalls, repairs, lost sales, and damage to reputation are irrelevant -- only fines imposed by the Administration (and torts by its allies in the litigation industry) matter.  And if the same problem beset government-owned GM, anyone want to bet what the penalty would be?  They would probably get a new bailout from Obama to pay for the recall costs.   In fact, even without the NHTSA findings, this Toyota problem is really no worse in terms of incidence rates or costs than any number of other recalls by US manufacturers.  The only difference is the media attention lavished on the problem.

I'm Done With Macroeconomics

My column this week in Forbes is up.  Been getting a lot of mail today as it was picked up at RealClearPolitics.  An excerpt:

Here is my first law of economic growth: When we encourage more investment, and ensure this investment is being channeled to the most productive uses, growth will follow.

For all the talk about fiscal stimulus and jobs creation at the federal and state level, almost no one in government is doing anything about reducing the roadblocks to investment.

Not Sure Why I Found This Compelling...

Been doing research on grain elevators for my model railroad.  Ran across this video that I thought was pretty interesting.  I liked seeing the guy trying to keep the old technology working, and it was interesting to me to see this one guy do everything.  In the city, OSHA and the DOL would probably require 6 different guys on the shift.  The best part was seeing this older dude shoving a boxcar around by hand to position it for loading (around 8:40).

I Have Been Messing Around With the Wrong Scale

These guys sell a 1/4-scale RC King Tiger tank, perfect for tearing around the neighborhood.  Six feet long, nearly 600 pounds.  Uses electric motor rather than gasoline, which seems odd to me -- probably takes more juice to recharge it than a Chevy Volt  (and that's OK).  This would almost be wasted here in Arizona, where people would just think it was cool.  I would have to take it back to Cambridge to have any real fun.  (Yes, your neighbor can get a T-34/85 if they feel the need to respond).

Not Particularly Surprising

Natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico release more oil each year than even the most recent oil spill.  Somehow, nature consumes this oil with only a few tar ball showing up on beaches.  Which is why this is not hugely surprising

The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected, a piece of good news that raises tricky new questions about how fast the government should scale back its response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The immense patches of surface oil that covered thousands of square miles of the gulf after the April 20 oil rig explosion are largely gone, though sightings of tar balls and emulsified oil continue here and there.

Reporters flying over the area Sunday spotted only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak of thicker oil, and radar images taken since then suggest that these few remaining patches are quickly breaking down in the warm surface waters of the gulf.

Room Temperature Ice

Some scientists claim to be able to make room temperature ice (yes, I presume at 1 atm pressure).  Not sure what to make of it:

Earth's climate is strongly influenced by the presence of particles of different shapes and origins "” in the form of dust, ice and pollutants "” that find their way into the lowest portion of the atmosphere, the troposphere. There, water adsorbed on the surface of these particles can freeze at higher temperatures than pure water droplets, triggering rain and snow.Researchers at Spain's Centre d'Investigació en Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (CIN2) have studied the underlying mechanisms of water condensation in the troposphere and found a way to make artificial materials to control water condensation and trigger ice formation at room temperature. Described in the Journal of Chemical Physics, which is published by the American Institute of Physics, their work may lead to new additives for snowmaking, improved freezer systems, or new coatings that help grow ice for skating rinks.

The next step? The researchers' goal now is to produce environmentally-friendly synthetic materials for efficiently inducing snow. "If water condenses in an ordered way, such as a hexagonal structure, on such surfaces at ambient conditions, the term "˜room temperature ice' would be fully justified," adds Verdaguer. "The solid phase, ice, would be produced by a surface effect rather than as a consequence of temperature. In the long term, we intend to prepare smart materials, "˜intelligent surfaces,' that will react to water in a predefined way."

I remember some work on how water boiling could be suppressed by polishing surfaces where bubbles form (watch a pot of water boiling, the bubbles appear on the pan surfaces).  I presume this may be a related effect.

More Great Moments in Regulation

Today's episode -- the shut down of the new debt market

Ford Motor Co.'s financing arm pulled plans to issue new debt, the first casualty of a bond market thrown into turmoil by the financial overhaul signed into law Wednesday.

Market participants said the auto maker pulled a recent deal, backed by packages of auto loans, because it was unable to use credit ratings in its offering documents, a legal requirement for such sales. The company declined to comment.

The nation's dominant ratings firms have in recent days refused to allow their ratings to be used in bond registration statements. The firms, including Moody's Investors Service, Standard & Poor's and Fitch Ratings, fear they will be exposed to new liability created by the Dodd-Frank law.

The law says that the ratings firms can be held legally liable for the quality of their ratings. In response, the firms yanked their consent to use the ratings, hoping for a reprieve from the Securities and Exchange Commission or Congress. The trouble is that asset-backed bonds are required by law to include ratings in official documents.

The result has been a shutdown of the market for asset-backed securities, a $1.4 trillion market that only recently clawed its way back to health after being nearly shuttered by the financial crisis.

Transparency for Thee, But Not for Me

The government is the first organization, given its unique powers to use force against citizens, that should be subject to surveillance and transparency.  Unfortunately, since it is the government itself that sets the rules, it is usually the last.  Following in the tradition of a Congress that exempts itself form most of its workplace regulation, comes the new financial bill which apparently exempts the SEC from most public scrutiny

Under a little-noticed provision of the recently passed financial-reform legislation, the Securities and Exchange Commission no longer has to comply with virtually all requests for information releases from the public, including those filed under the Freedom of Information Act.

The law, signed last week by President Obama, exempts the SEC from disclosing records or information derived from "surveillance, risk assessments, or other regulatory and oversight activities." Given that the SEC is a regulatory body, the provision covers almost every action by the agency, lawyers say. Congress and federal agencies can request information, but the public cannot.

That argument comes despite the President saying that one of the cornerstones of the sweeping new legislation was more transparent financial markets. Indeed, in touting the new law, Obama specifically said it would "increase transparency in financial dealings."

Apparently the children of the sixties, who once pushed for the Freedom of Information Act as a check to those in power, now are rolling it back once they are in power themselves.

Sheriff Arpaio Meets Al Gore

Not since the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups have there been two great populist tastes that go so great together.  In an amazing bit of fact-free scare mongering gauged to panic everyone across the political spectrum, Michael Oppenheimer (embarrassingly a professor at my alma mater) manages to combine demagoguing against Mexican immigration with climate alarmism

Climbing temperatures are expected to raise sea levels and increase droughts, floods, heat waves and wildfires.

Now, scientists are predicting another consequence of climate change: mass migration to the United States.

Between 1.4 million and 6.7 million Mexicans could migrate to the U.S. by 2080 as climate change reduces crop yields and agricultural production in Mexico, according to a study published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The number could amount to 10% of the current population of Mexicans ages 15 to 65.

The proceedings of the NAS has become a joke of late.  Roger Pielke Jr responded:

To be blunt, the paper is guesswork piled on top of "what ifs" built on a foundation of tenuous assumptions. The authors seem to want to have things both ways -- they readily acknowledge the many and important limitations of their study, but then go on to assert that "it is nevertheless instructive to predict future migrant flows for Mexico using the estimates at hand to assess the possible magnitude of climate change"“related emigration." It can't be both -- if the paper has many important limitations, then this means that that it is not particularly instructive. With respect to predicting immigration in 2080 (!), admitting limitations is no serious flaw.

To use this paper as a prediction of anything would be a mistake. It is a tentative sensitivity study of the effects of one variable on another, where the relationship between the two is itself questionable but more importantly, dependent upon many other far more important factors. The authors admit this when they write, "It is important to note that our projections should be interpreted in a ceteris paribus manner, as many other factors besides climate could potentially influence migration from Mexico to the United States." but then right after they assert, "Our projections are informative,nevertheless, in quantifying the potential magnitude of impacts of climate change on out-migration." It is almost as if the paper is written to be misinterpreted

I thought this response was instructive

Philip Martin, an expert in agricultural economics at UC Davis, said that he hadn't read the study but that making estimates based solely on climate change was virtually impossible.

"It is just awfully hard to separate climate change from the many, many other factors that affect people's decisions whether to stay in agriculture or move," he said.

The same exact statement, by the way, could be made as to the relationship of climate change to the single variable manmade CO2 without reference to the myriad of other factors that affect the complex climate system.

Amazing Rebranding

At first I thought Kevin Drum was re-branding "laissez faire" into "economic nihilism."  But after reading the linked article, which blames deficits 100% on Republican tax-cutting rather than either Democratic or Republican free spending, I suppose he is really equating the policy of opposing tax increases to economic nihilism.    For this to be true, given the definition of nihilism, it means that all meaning, purpose, and everything of intrinsic value flows from the government.  Denying government more money = nihilistic negation of reality.

Disasterous New Government Reporting Requirement

I have blogged before about the absolute disaster that is the requirement (included in the health care bill) for businesses to submit 1099's for all goods and services purchases over $600.  We have hundreds of vendors who meet this criteria, and the process of filling out forms, collection tax ID's, etc. is insanely onerous.  Megan McArdle has more today.

Stop Stop Stop Stop STOP!

Please stop talking about there being a fiscal crisis or a government debt crisis.  All this does is give Democrats the opening next year to raise taxes.  "See," they will say, "we care about reducing the deficit."

What we have currently is a government spending crisis.   And the only way to solve it is with less spending.

Thanks, and we now return you to your regular programming.

Employee Reliability & FICO Scores

Megan McArdle writes:

There was a great deal of back-and-forth in the left half of the blogosphere this weekend over employers who use FICO scores as a way of weeding out job candidates.  In a sort of peculiarly American fashion, our nation seems to have decided that one's credit history is a good proxy for one's worth as a human being, and thus should be used to determine eligibility for everything from employment to excellent rates on car insurance.

I have no trouble believing that the FICO score is often a proxy for what some researchers call conscientiousness; I've certainly had roommates and others around me who had terrible credit because, well, they didn't bother to pay their bills, and regarded rent as something optional that could be turned in if no more exciting commercial opportunities immediately presented themselves.

That said, it's going to be at best a weak proxy.  It's also a proxy for things that, as a society, we may not want employers to consider, like a past history of depression.  And for things that have nothing to do with your job performance, like a car accident that left you with huge medical bills and no job, or a sudden job loss.  Looking at our national savings rate, lots and lots of Americans live very close to the edge of their paychecks; they can't all be terrible employees.

I have never really even considered asking employees for their FICO score, in part because all small business people hate these scores as, even with perfect credit records, our scores tend to be smaller than people with similar income and history due to the constant credit checks made on us by vendors and other partners.

That being said, as someone who has 500 service employees working for me, I understand the insatiable desire for information on employee reliability and conscientiousness.  A large number of our employees we hire who interview well tend to get released within 60 days of their hire.  I can't tell you how many people who seem totally normal and friendly turn out to be raving maniacs in stressful customer contact situations.

The elephant in the room that neither McArdle or folks like Kevin Drum mention is that businesses are starved for reliability information on potential employees.  It used to be the best source was to check job references.  Nowadays, though, very few employers will give a honest job reference, or will provide any information at all.  I know I am guilty of that -- my company does not allow any manager to give out performance data on past employees.  I only needed to be sued once over somehow interfering with someone's living by giving honest information about that employee's reliability to change my behavior.

I understand that this is exactly what the Left is shooting for - an environment where the competent have no advantage over the incompetent.  If employers are resorting to FICO scores, it just demonstrates how all the other reasonable avenues of obtaining information have been closed to them.

The only saving grace in this country is that employment is still mostly at-will, meaning we can fire our hiring mistakes and move on.  Of course the Left wants a European-style system where it is impossible to fire anyone too -- this is the system the post office has, and one can see how well it works out.  If they are victorious on this final front, I will be forced into a game of Russian Roulette, where I can't find out anything about those I hire, I can't fire the incompetent people I do hire, and I am infinitely legally liable for any mistakes any of these employees make.

Some Geek Love

One of the geekier conversations I used to get drawn into (up there along with arguing about favorite Serenity episodes, lamenting the demise of Omni magazine, and coming to blows over D&D rules interpretations) was over the relative merits of various sorting algorithms.  Flowing Data has some links to some interesting visualization approaches to sorting algorithms.  This one is for quicksort (colors start out random on the left and must be sorted into Roy G Biv order).

In college I did a project on solving traveling-salesman-type problems with an algorithm called simulated annealing.  Many approaches to the traveling salesman problem pick a random path and then randomly switch pairs of routings on the path, and then stick with the alternative that gives the best score (in this case the shortest path).   Rinse, repeat a zillion times.  The problem is this approach can get stuck in, or converge on, a local optima that are not as good as the single grand optimum for the problem.

In simulated annealing, the algorithm is allowed to sometimes jump to a worse (ie longer) path, which lets it jump out of local minima.  The amount of the backwards jump that is allowed is slowly reduced over time as the algorithm runs.  It is called simulated annealing because this is very similar to the annealing process in metals, where temperature is decreased slowly to, initially, allow the metal molecules to jump to higher energy states so that the whole can settle into a more homogeneous structure.

Anyway, we tried to show how the algorithm proceeded to a solution over time and the visualizations looked a little like this.

You Can Bet on 36 Red, But Not Amazon.com Angel Shares

I thought this was an interesting irony of our growing corporate state:

In my post "Attention Gov't: This Is How Businesses Are Created" I brought up the point that government regulations keep the average American from investing in ground floor business opportunities with rules specifying how much money someone must have before they can invest in start-ups (unless the start-up is being done by a friend or family member).  Government regulations also prevent start-ups from advertising their investment opportunity.  If you need ground-floor investment (as opposed to loans) to bring your business to the proverbial next level, there is a wall of regulation that keeps you from asking for it from the general public and specifies what "sophisticated investors" (the already rich) you can approach and how.

Those rules are there to protect us middle class rubes from being taken in by crafty and ill-intentioned businessmen.

I contrasted this protection the government so thoughtfully provides us"“keeping us from making possible bad investments"“with it's promotion of lotteries and acceptance of casino gambling.

Now these people who will not allow an entrepreneur to advertise or promote his start-up in order to get voluntary investment money from people willing to take a risk on the business idea or invention are looking at legalization of online gambling in the USA.

This Has Never Made Sense To Me

This makes no sense to me.  The SEC is working to protect Dell shareholders by ... taking $100 million of their money.

Layout Progress -- Staring at Grain Elevators

I had wanted to make more progress this weekend, but we had an astoundingly rare tragedy at one of our campgrounds (family got hit by lightening) so handling that had to take priority. But before that came awful bit of news, I did make some layout progress. Mostly I was tearing my hair out trying to weather a grain elevator, which turn out to be a pain to duplicate, unless one wants to paint it brand new and all white and that is never the look I go for.   They tend to be chipped, with horizontal weathered streaks as well as vertical staining. This is where I am so far. It looks better in person, but for just that reason photos are a great way to exaggerate modeling problems. In this case, I have too much of a cross-hatched effect on the tower and need to work on that.  Push comes to shove I will repaint the tower white and start over.

On the positive side, I finished my first pair of handbuilt switches using N-scale schedule 40 rail.  This was a ton of work for something they sell in the store, but the results are worth it, I think.  The switches are #8, built from Fast Track jigs, soldering the rail to PC board ties every 3-5 ties and using stained wood ties glued to the rail with Pliobond for the rest.  Rail is painted Floquil rail brown with hand-painted rust streaks.

If You Have to Go Negative...

Greg Patterson has an interesting post (at least to political neophytes like me) on how not to write a political hit piece.  For example:

The theme of the piece is that Jim Ward is an outsider and that Schweikert is a career politician.  Then lead quote is from...an incumbent Congressman.  Dude, that's awesome.  I like John Shadegg, but he's been in Congress for 16 years.  So Ward is telling me that he's an outsider by showing me that he's been endorsed Arizona's longest-serving Republican Congressman?

Garbage In, Money Out

In my Forbes column this week, I discuss the incredible similarity between the computer models that are used to justify the Obama stimulus and the climate models that form the basis for the proposition that manmade CO2 is causing most of the world's warming.

The climate modeling approach is so similar to that used by the CEA to score the stimulus that there is even a climate equivalent to the multiplier found in macro-economic models. In climate models, small amounts of warming from man-made CO2 are multiplied many-fold to catastrophic levels by hypothetical positive feedbacks, in the same way that the first-order effects of government spending are multiplied in Keynesian economic models. In both cases, while these multipliers are the single most important drivers of the models' results, they also tend to be the most controversial assumptions. In an odd parallel, you can find both stimulus and climate debates arguing whether their multiplier is above or below one.

Bottom Story of the Day

From the AZ Republic

Once Tempe officials determined the fish that remained in Tempe Town Lake would not survive a possible rescue mission, they decided to dispose of them in what they deem to be the most natural way possible: by feeding them to an alligator.

Hundreds and possibly thousands of fish were left in small pools scattered throughout the 220-acre lake after one of its dams breached Tuesday night and sent nearly a billion gallons of water cascading down the normally dry Salt River.

I'm Amazed They Are Amazed

Folks on the Left seem amazed that Obama could not muster a single Republican vote for his climate bill.  I am amazed they are amazed.  When you set traps lined with feces-smeared pungi sticks for opposition legislators, it may be momentarily fun for the Progressive base, but it does not make the opposition very happy to work with you.

Which is fine with me -- I don't think I can get too worked up about the Coke and the Pepsi party beating the crap out of each other.  But this administration does not seem to be able to make up its mind how it wants to govern.  With the Presidency, control of both Houses, and (originally) 60 votes in the Senate, a scorched Earth approach was probably viable.   I have no doubt Gingrich would have taken that approach had he had such numbers.

What confuses me, and I think a lot of the Progrossives rooting for a new October Revolution, is Obama has communicated publicly in scorched Earth mode but has not really legislated that way.  Time after time the Democrats keep seeking out Republican votes to give them cover for legislation that might be unpopular, but Obama's Chicago-style demonizing does not seem to help that much.  I am not much of a political observer, so their may be a sensible strategy in all this but I don't see it.

They Should Be Getting Degrees in Post-Modern Art Criticism Instead

Congress is cracking down on for-profit universities that market relatively fast degrees (< 2 years) in certain vocational programs like auto mechanics.  Apparently, Congress is concerned about "vocational programs in which a large share of students don't earn enough to pay back their loans."

So Congress is worried about students paying several thousand dollars and investing 18 months of their lives for a degree that may not repay their student debts.  No word yet on whether they are looking into students who spend four years and $160,000 for Ivy League gender studies degrees, which we all know have simply enormous income-generation potential.

The Most Open Administration Ever, Hope And Change, Yada Yada...

Ted Bridis of the AP reports

For at least a year, the Homeland Security Department detoured hundreds of requests for federal records to senior political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny, probing for information about the requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive, according to nearly 1,000 pages of internal e-mails obtained by The Associated Press....

Internally, Homeland Security was adamant that Napolitano's political advisers were merely reviewing materials before they were distributed, not making the call on whether they should come out. "To be clear, this is a review not an approval," Callahan wrote.

Yet many e-mails directed Homeland Security employees never to release information under FOIA without approval by political appointees.

"It is imperative that these requests are not released prior to the front office reviewing both the letter and the records," Papoi wrote in an e-mail to the agency's officers responsible for administering the law.

Another e-mail described a request from USA Today that was "tagged by the front office and requires approval."

Under the law, people can request copies of U.S. government records without specifying why they want them and are not obligated to provide personal information about themselves other than their name and an address where the records should be sent.

Yet several times, at least, junior political staffers asked superiors about the motives or affiliations of the requesters.

The directive laid out an expansive view of the sort of documents that required political vetting.

Anything that related to an Obama policy priority was pegged for this review. So was anything that touched on a "controversial or sensitive subject" that could attract media attention or that dealt with meetings involving prominent business and elected leaders.

Anything requested by lawmakers, journalists, activist groups or watchdog organizations had to go to the political appointees. This included all of AP's information requests, even a routine one for records that had already been sought by other news organizations.

When Funding Battles Trump Mission

Some Federal agencies are able to maintain their mission over many decades without much change from administrations that come and go.  The National Park Service is a good example.

Other agencies, in the desire to get funding, constantly recast their mission based on whatever flavor of the month is hot.  Here was one example I cited before, from the NIH, which, amazingly, managed to recraft its mission in the context of climate change to make itself more immediately relevent to the Obama folks:

Remember, the point of this all is not science, but funding.  This is basically a glossy budget presentation, probably cranked out by some grad students over some beers, tasked to come up with scary but marginally plausible links between health issues and climate change.   Obama has said that climate is really, really important to him.  He has frozen a lot of agency budgets, and told them new money is only for programs that supports his major initiatives, like climate change.  So, every agency says that their every problem is due to climate change, just as every agency under Bush said that they were critical to fighting terrorism.  This document is the NIH salvo to get climate change money, not actual science.

I have worked with the US Forest Service for years as a private operator of many of their recreation sites (for whatever faults they might have, they have been an early innovator on privatization -- without it, they could never have kept all their recreation sites open given their budget constraints).  The USFS has always had a mission challenge.  They are specifically tasked with balancing five missions -- Environmental preservation, timber, minerals extraction, recreation, and ... I can't remember the other one.  Grazing maybe.

In practice, this has meant of late that whatever interest groups among these five who are willing to spend the most time in court are able to shape the USFS mission in their direction, and in practice this has meant environmental groups.  As a result, Timber, the main source of USFS funding (from private timber fees) has pretty much been killed in the USFS, creating a funding crisis.  With their very logical timber mission gone, the only thing the USFS is unique at is recreation, as it is (surprising to many people) the largest recreation organization in the world.  However, this seems to be next on the environmentalists' target list.

So I suppose it is no surprise that the US Forest Service has decided to abandon any sense of long-term mission and simply glom onto whatever is the pet issue of the current administration.  For this year, they have latched onto climate:

The Forest Service has issued a national road map for responding to climate change, along with a performance scorecard to measure how well each individual forest implements the strategy.The new blueprint outlines a series of short-term initiatives and longer-term projects for field units to address climate impacts on the country's forests and grasslands.

"A changing global climate brings increased uncertainties to the conservation of our natural resources," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "The new roadmap and scorecard system will help the Forest Service play a leadership role in responding to a changing climate and ensure that our national forests and grasslands continue to provide a wide range of benefits to all Americans."

The last sentence could be rewritten as "we will continue to do everything we have done in the past but relabel as much as we can as having to do with climate change."

I can only speak to the recreation component, but this is the largest recreation organization in the world.  In some sense this new mission is roughly equivalent to the National Park Service hypothetically announcing in the Bush administration that it was going to focus on the war on terror.  In many areas of the USFS they, at their own admission, have years or decades of deferred maintenance.  From watching them at close range, they very clearly don't have the resources to handle the missions they have already taken on, and so it is going to dedicate its resources to this:

Immediate assessment actions include providing basic and applied science to help managers respond to climate change, conducting workshops, utilizing national monitoring networks, furnishing more predictive information, developing vulnerability assessments, tailoring monitoring and aligning service policy and direction.

Longer-term assessment will focus on expanding the agency's capacity for assessing the social impacts of climate change, implementing a genetic resources conservation strategy and fortifying internal climate change partnerships.

To the extent that some of this means "monitor forest health," I thought the organization was already doing that.  As to the value of the rest of this stuff?  Forgetting for a minute if the work should even be undertaken, under what possible allocation of expertise in the Federal bureaucracy does "assessing the social impacts of climate change" fall under the purview of the Forest Service?

Your Five-Word Party

Apparently, independent candidates in Wisconsin can identify themselves with a 5-word description of what they are about.   Tragically,  one woman was not able to use "NOT the 'Whiteman's Bitch,'" but I would love to see what you would use if you were running.  I am still thinking about mine, but if I really wanted to get elected, "10 dollars for every vote" might be effective.  Post yours in the comments.