Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol

August 31, 2016

Business and Finance Successors of the Tribune Company no longer own Tribune Tower in Chicago

They've sold the landmark to a real-estate developer for $240 million. The two successor companies to the original Tribune Co. (one for newspapers, the other for broadcasting) will both operate from the building for at least a while longer, but they're now tenants, rather than owners. The story in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean much. But it is symbolic of two trends taking place in American business: One is the shift to an asset-light framework, the other is the demise of great proprietor-owned institutions. Asset lightness (that is, renting, leasing, or contracting out the things that allow a company to run, rather than owning them outright) seems like an odd strategy in a time of near-zero interest rates (and it may have other substantial shortcomings), but it is in vogue. The demise of proprietor capitalism, though, is more disturbing and may undermine some important aspects of our national character that could make America much stronger in the future. There aren't a lot of great family fortunes that are still tied to businesses run by the families as well. These dynasties have been replaced by venture capitalists, professional managers, and public shareholding. But the problem is that in the long run, anything other than proprietor capitalism runs a very high risk of succumbing to the problem of diffusion of responsibility. If everyone is just a fractional shareholder, then nobody's really in charge. If managers aren't really owners, then their interests are hard to align with those of the owners. If the objective is to cash out with a big IPO or some other short-term exit strategy, then nobody is really looking at the long run. This is not to say that every business should be privately-held, run by a family, and operated according to a 100-year business plan. But if nobody feels a compelling responsibility to a business as an institution worthy of preservation and improvement over a long period of time, then it's hard to see what incentive is created to make good long-run decisions. That's a problem for customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders, each in their own way. And it's probably no good for a country that once depended upon companies like Tribune to contribute to the civic stature and well-being of their communities.

Aviation News At long, long, long last, the FAA has implemented rules for drones

It took them long enough. The government doesn't have to regulate everything...but in those cases where it is obvious that they will impose regulations under the umbrella of a compelling public interest, it's best if they can move quickly to establish ground rules fast enough to permit the private sector to keep up the pace of technological development without obstruction. The government took way too long to acknowledge the reality of drones; they've been in the popular consciousness for years.

Science and Technology Shutting down a Nebraska nuclear power plant will take 60 years

The Fort Calhoun plant (just a bit north of Omaha) is too small to operate competitively, so it's set to stop generating electricity on October 24th. But the full decommissioning will take two generations.

Humor and Good News Vintage posters promoting America's national parks

Truly some magnificent artwork

Broadcasting How Rush Limbaugh turned on his own audience

Either he's believed all along that Donald Trump is a fraud, or he's lying about it now. Either way, it doesn't look faithful to his listeners.

August 30, 2016

The United States of America "In some ways he's a more centrist voice than either the Republican or the Democrat"

The Chicago Tribune says Gary Johnson should be in the Presidential debates. They're right.

Business and Finance European Commission says Apple owes billions in back taxes to Ireland

The BBC reports that Apple paid 1% or less on profits when it should have been paying 12.5%. Corporate tax rates are a complete boggle in the world today.

Computers and the Internet The Facebook news-selection algorithm is already junked

Well, that didn't take long. The very same weekend that they let loose all of their human editorial staff, Facebook began promoting a completely fake story in the news feed.

Aviation News Small-plane parachutes save lives

The key, as with any new safety feature, is in creating a culture where people are expected to use them.

News Women have a hard time liking Donald Trump

As do Latinos and African-Americans. That's not the way to win elections. Or to be a decent human being.

August 29, 2016

Business and Finance Should the Federal Reserve tie overnight rates to inflation?

The less attractive the overnight rate, in theory, the greater the incentive to make loans rather than parking funds in a "safe" spot. Right now, there couldn't be a lot of greater importance in economics than in figuring out how to put capital to more productive use. There's just so much of it sitting around doing very little good, and productivity has been falling.

Threats and Hazards Illinois State Board of Elections confirms cyberattack

They say the cyberattack started on June 23rd and they became aware of it on July 12th. In the meantime, they think up to 200,000 voter registration records might have been accessed. Unsurprisingly, the FBI thinks it was the work of a foreign group. They haven't pointed fingers at any governments yet, but one could reasonably put Russia, China, and Iran on the list of suspects.

Aviation News Japan races to get passenger jet certified

Into the competitive world market for regional jets, enter Mitsubishi, which is trying to get its MRJ into commercial service by 2018. They say they started with a "clean sheet" for the design. One design feature: No middle seats. Mitsubishi was trying to ferry one of the MRJs across the Pacific to get certified by the FAA, but they ran into trouble with the air conditioning. The project has been underway only since 2008 (making for an 8-year development cycle), which compares favorably with China's new ARJ, which is more than ten years behind schedule.

Health Even animals nap

Fascinating that in 2016, we still don't really have a unifying theory of sleep -- why almost all animals need it, why they need the amounts they do, and what brought it about in the first place. Sleep would seem to be a peculiar evolutionary disadvantage for non-predators, and it certainly seems inefficient that we need to shut down our conscious brains in order to properly store our memories.

News The Sanders campaign will stick around to push the Democratic Party harder to the left

They're sending out fundraising emails with catch lines like, "[O]ur political revolution is responsible for the most progressive Democratic platform in the history of our country." Just like OFA, they're establishing "Our Revolution" as a permanent interest group with the intention of becoming an entrenched wing of the Democratic Party.