[imgcontainer left] [img:ChrisSantiago.jpeg] [source]Chris Rybak[/source] One of the more exciting musical collaborations we’ve heard recently comes from Chris Rybak (left) and Santiago Jimeniz Jr. Both play the accordion, but Chris comes from a Czech tradition and Santiago is one of the country’s finest conjunto players. The Roland accordion company recently signed Santiago to a deal (an arrangement Chris brokered) and now the legend has a new Roland FR-18D instrument. Fire engine red! [/imgcontainer]

The official “poverty level” has always been a makeshift number, concocted swiftly back in the 1960s and kept because people couldn’t agree on a better measure.

The New York Times reports that the Census Bureau is about to release a new set of poverty statistics. They will show that there are fewer people in the U.S. who are living in poverty. And they will show that there are fewer people living in poverty in rural America than previously reported. 

The old measure didn’t take basic things into account. For instance, it assumed that rents were equal across the country, the same in San Francisco as in Harlan.

The new measure will be released Monday and we’ll do our normal rural/urban accounting when we can get the figures. But the Times reports the basics:

The fuller measures have also shown less poverty among children but more among older Americans, who are plagued by high medical costs. They have shown less poverty among blacks but more among Asians; less poverty in rural areas and more in cities and suburbs, where the cost of living is high. And they have found fewer people in abject destitution, but a great many more crowding the hard-luck ranks of the near poor, who do not qualify for many benefit programs and lose income to taxes, child care and medical costs.

“The official measure no longer corresponds to reality,” said Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia University. “It doesn’t get either side of the equation right — how much the poor have or how much they need. No one really trusts the data.”

Coming amid soaring need and bitter debt debates, the findings in Monday’s release are likely to offer fodder both to defenders of safety-net programs and fiscal conservatives who say the government already does much to temper hardship and needs to do no more.

Experts expect the new report to be consistent with a decade of research about the ways in which the official poverty rate distorts the realities of American poverty.

• A federal subsidy is making locally-owned crop insurance companies inviting buyout targets for larger financial firms, Politico reports. And the crop insurance program seems impervious to cuts. 

The story is based on a new report from the Environmental Working Group, written by Iowa State University economist Bruce Babcock. Babcock found that the cost of the crop insurance program has tripled since 2000 to $8 billion. “This insurance can pay out even if a farmer has not suffered any loss and duplicates the coverage farmers can obtain from traditional commodity programs,” Dr. Babcock wrote.

The full report can be found here

• Cellist Yo-Yo Ma just put out a bluegrass album, The Goat Rodeo Sessions. The record features Nickel Creek mandolin player Chris Thile, fiddler Stuart Duncan and bassist Edgar Meyer. Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still did some singing. 

“You look at it on paper and it’s like, ‘Gee, how come these people are getting together?!’” Yo-Yo Ma told Billboard. “But we clicked immediately — and partly because we basically share the same values. We’re all interested in the world around us and in all different kinds of music. So when we got together it was such an excitement of, ‘Gee, tell me more stories about Bill Monroe or the Stanley Brothers…’ It’s a typically American phenomenon that you can have a group of people who didn’t grow up together or go to school together, but because they like one another and have certain values, they find a way to work together.”

• Every neutral analysis of Republican Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan shows that most taxpayers, especially those earning less than $100,000 a year, will pay more than they pay now. But a new Iowa Poll finds that two-thirds of likely Republican voters in Iowa who earn less than $50,000 a year believe they will be better off under Cain’s plan. 

Cain would get rid of the current tax system, substituting a 9 percent sales tax, a 9 percent flat income tax and a 9 percent corporate tax. The Tax Policy Center figures that families with incomes of $40,000 to $50,000 would pay $3,407 more each year under Cain’s plan than they do today. Those making $500,000 to $1 million would pay an average of $80,315 a year less.

• The USDA is predicting that beef prices at the retail level will rise by as much as 9 percent this year and another 5 percent next. 

Pork is also expected to go up. Both are rising as herds have shrunk and exports have risen. 

• White House officials are worried about a backlash among Democrats should President Barack Obama approve the Keystone XL pipeline, InsideClimate News reports

Senior officials at the White House and Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters have fielded complaints from supporters who are unhappy about TransCanada Corp’s plan to build a massive pipeline to transport crude from Alberta to Texas, sources familiar with the situation said.

The concerns could contribute to a delay in the approval process for the Keystone XL pipeline just as the 2012 presidential campaign heats up.

The State Department, which is overseeing the process, said this week a delay from its end-of-year target was possible.

• From reporter Ken Ward Jr. at Coal Tattoo

We continue to hear an awful lot about the Obama administration’s supposed “war on coal,” with op-eds coming out now and again by various local business boosters, repeating the same rhetoric over and over.

What I keep wondering is when are any of these big defenders of coal miners going to start defending coal miners’ health and safety, and not just their right to have a job that threatens to put them into an early grave. Once again this week, it took a congressman from California to stand up in the House chamber and call for passage of mine safety reform legislation….

• Hispanic immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for 20 years or more are 98 percent more likely to become obese and are two and a half times more likely to become diabetic than those who have been in the country for less than a decade, according to a new report. 

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