Numlock News: March 23, 2021 • Offshore, Cultists, Hatching
By Walt Hickey
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Five years ago, United Egg Producers pledged they would eliminate chick culling — the gruesome process by which 7 billion male chicks are killed annually — by 2020, which was huge news coming from the cooperative whose members produce 90 percent of all commercial eggs in the United States. Well, that didn’t happen in the slightest, and there is essentially no plan to phase-in the cull-free tech in the United States. Commercially available “in-ovo sexing" tech exists in Germany and France, with the former country scheduled to ban the industrial culling of male chicks from 2022 onward. A German firm, respeggt GmbH — which I assure you is far more technically innovative than their name suggests — has cull-free eggs in 6,000 supermarkets, which have an incredibly slight 2 to 5 euro cent per egg cost premium over conventionally harvested eggs.
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A Kyushu University survey from last June found that 40 percent of Japanese college students feel lonely or isolated because they have fewer chances to meet other people. This is a significant issue everywhere, but especially in Japan because the nation has had troubles with cults targeting lonely college students in the past. The successor to the doomsday cult that carried out the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway has been actively recruiting, and Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency said that they’ve shifted from targeting potential members in bookstores to targeting lonely college kids on social media. It’s been working, according to PSIA, with more than 60 people, mostly in their 20s, joining the group last year, which has prompted universities to warn students about the cults.
The annual Pro Farmer survey found that U.S. farmers intend to plant 319.4 million acres this year, up 8.9 million acres over last year and the most since 2018. The majority — 182.3 million acres — will be corn and soybeans, up 4.8 percent from last year. The USDA’s own projections also point to this being a huge year, with that agency projecting 92 million acres of corn and 90 million of soybeans, which would in their book be a new record. This is great news, because in the post-vaccine bacchanal that I intend to turn the back half of 2021 into, I’m going to need the carbs.
A new study from IRS researchers and academic economists estimates that the top 1 percent of households fail to report 21 percent of their income. About 6 percentage points of that comes from the kind of aggressive, sophisticated avoidance strategies that a random audit simply cannot suss out. This means that for the top 0.1 percent, the unreported income — squirreled away in partnerships, offshore entities and other financial gymnastics — could be twice as large as the normal IRS methodologies would indicate. Given that the only way to hack through the obfuscations is through actual investigators, each additional dollar spent on tax enforcement yields $5 to $7 in revenue reclaimed from the dodgers.
Atlantic salmon in the Penobscot River in Maine have been in precipitous decline for a century. Stocks fell from tens of thousands in the 19th century to only a few thousand in the 20th, from the end of commercial fishing in 1947 to mandatory catch-and-release in the ‘90s to the eventual end of all fishing in 1999, when the Atlantic salmon became an endangered species. For decades, the population has been supported by hatcheries adding smolts (young salmon) to the river, but populations are still in a rough place. In 2020, 1,439 salmon returned to the Penobscot and 26 to the nearby Machias, nearly all born from hatcheries, and that was a good year. Now, state and federal agencies and the Penobscot Nation are about to try something ambitious and new: they’ll transfer two-year-old smolts from the hatcheries to pens off the coast, where a commercial salmon farm will keep them alive for 18 to 24 months, and then transfer them back to the Penobscot and Machias where a new generation of wild-born fish will hopefully kick-start the rejuvenation.
At the end of January, 1.04 million homes were up for sale in the United States, down 26 percent from a year ago and the lowest number since 1982. Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors hit 1.45 million members, up 4.8 percent from a year ago. The fact that the number of realtors significantly outnumbers the numbers of actual homes that are, in fact, for sale is owed to several reasons, including low barriers to entry and a weird little economic moment where unemployment is high but also so are home sales. The business is prone to churn, with about 15 percent of NAR membership turning over annually. Realtors with two years of experience or less earned a median of $8,900 in 2019, but those who stick around can see commissions rise, with the median gross income for NAR agents in 2019 hitting $49,700.
Freight rail is an essential vein of the transportation system in the U.S., moving 57 tons of goods per American each year. It’s also the safest way to move hazardous materials, but freight train derailments are more common than one might think: in 2019, there were 341 reported derailments on main line track, of which 24 were freight trains carrying 159 cars of hazardous materials. The labor unions in the rail industry have been calling this out as a symptom of a degrading safety culture, and warn that it’s only a matter of time before one of those derailments causes catastrophic damages. They cite the adoption of Precision Scheduled Railroading, an efficiency-boosting business approach, as a problem, allocating less time to inspections, running longer trains, deferring maintenance and closing inspection points along routes. For instance, in February 2019, Norfolk Southern announced it would roll out a version of PSR, and now workers that had once inspected 300 cars a day must inspect three to four times that amount.
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