Gongol.com Archives: February 2017

Brian Gongol

February 2017
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February 1, 2017

Business and Finance Firm creation is at a long-time low

If new firms aren't being created, power is likely being concentrated in the old ones

News Everything you need to know about Donald Trump you get from his extemporaneous speaking

His Black History Month comments are a perfect example of his incapacity to consider anything abstract

Computers and the Internet New FCC boss wants to address the "digital divide"

It's a big deal -- being without reliable high-speed Internet access is in many ways like being without access to paved highways

Health How "Count the Kicks" came into being

And how it caught on

The United States of America A look into the soul of today's diplomacy

Some thoughtful reflection on the situation at the State Department

Recent radio podcasts

February 2, 2017

The United States of America Burping would be safe under Associate Justice Gorsuch

The Supreme Court nominee dissented in a case where he thought a school police officer went too far in busting a kid who burped to disrupt class. But here's the key takeaway: "...for it is (or should be) emphatically our job to apply, not rewrite, the law enacted by the people's representatives. Indeed, a judge who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge, reaching for results he prefers rather than those the law compels." Yes.

Business and Finance If people don't see their living standards rising...

...then they'll usually look for someone to be worse-off than themselves. And when that fails, we get an election like 2016.

Iowa Free rides home over Super Bowl weekend

Budweiser and AAA will cover the cost of a tow and transportation home for people in Iowa through Monday morning. An interesting way to combat drunk driving over Super Bowl weekend.

News UK parliament approves authority for Prime Minister to negotiate Brexit

The European Union as a political entity has a whole lot of problems -- but this feels like a bad time for such an important participant to get headed urgently towards the exit

News The Dissent Channel

Not a TV network; it's the way diplomats send urgent messages back up the chain of command within the US foreign service to warn that they think a policy is off-track. Probably a model that private businesses should adopt, too.

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February 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Norwegian authorities are most worried about Russia

The nation's top police officer says: "Russian intelligence services are targeting Norwegian individuals." It's unsettling when put in parallel with "Occupied", the phenomenal television drama about a soft Russian invasion of Norway.

Threats and Hazards Executive unilateralism could shut down tourism

Badly-written, hastily-drafted executive orders end up having unintended consequences.

Science and Technology Real progress compounds dramatically over time

You wouldn't believe how cheap light is today compared to when your ancestors walked the earth. Everything that durably improves the quality of life over time comes back to productivity -- we humans learning how to produce more with less waste.

News Calm down, America

Tom Nichols: "Unmodulated shock and outrage, however, not only burn precious credibility among the president's opponents, but eventually will exhaust the public and increase the already staggering amount of cynicism paralyzing our national political life."

News There's no such thing as a Presidential advisor in 2017

"For most of Trump's career he has only trusted a small group of longtime loyalists at the Trump Organization, and even then he has often tightened the circle further to family members." It's important to get the right perspective on things: The President isn't a skilled manager; he's a self-promoter. And it goes further: Where a lot of people see authoritarian instincts, others see deep-seated insecurities and thin knowledge. They may share some superficial symptoms in common, but it's hard to respond correctly without getting the diagnosis right. On a related note, it's a good thing we have Senator John McCain, who is a key player in the Republican resistance.

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February 4, 2017

Threats and Hazards Unintended consequences of "America first"

Other countries, if unable to count on America's support, are going to put themselves first

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February 5, 2017

Threats and Hazards The President's instability creates real political risk to the economy

Says columnist Matt Levine: "Everything Trump literally said is coming literally true; everything the serious people heard remains an unserious hope. Businesses may eventually get the tax and regulatory reform they wanted, but it's not a priority."

Business and Finance Coming to the defense of the free market

Charles Koch plans to spend a lot of money defending the free market against Trumpism.

Iowa University of Iowa has lost money for two consecutive years on athletics

Athletic programs are a fine adjunct to the college experience, but they are neither essential nor guaranteed to be profitable. Schools should be prudent about them: They're fine to have, but they should never drive the agenda of the university or become centers of consolidated power -- nor should they be above careful scrutiny.

Threats and Hazards The President still doesn't have a blind trust

In fact, he's still the sole beneficiary of the trust set up for his assets. And there's nothing blind about them. We should have higher standards for him, and for his successors -- and it may be time to codify those standards, rather than relying upon convention.

News Ambitious immigrants bring fresh blood to a culture and an economy

Think of it like a compressed spring: If you've been held back by circumstances in the past, and then by good fortune find yourself freed from those oppressive circumstances, it's not hard to imagine wanting to strive just a little more than those who never felt those constraints in the first place.

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February 6, 2017

Business and Finance Want to become richer? Add more value.

That's the lesson from Germany's economy: Train workers, focus on areas of comparative advantage, and engage more with the world market (not less). This is emphatically not the course being charted by the Trump administration -- but it would be the right one to follow.

News The missing-syllabus problem

Author Tom Nichols: "Most people do not have the skills or background to know if what they're reading is any good." This could be called the "missing-syllabus" problem: While the Internet (especially) causes us to think we have the world's information at our fingertips, it doesn't come with a syllabus. Without knowing where to start or how to truly teach ourselves, it's quite easy for us to think we're auto-didacts when we're really just filling our brains with intellectual hash. It's an especially complex problem in the Teach-Yourself Economy, since more people need to learn more than they used to, and our formal educational and training systems are slow to adapt to the demand.

Business and Finance A visual guide to the largest employers by state

Walmart, universities, health systems, and the Federal government. That's about it. Enlightening.

News How long should injured pro athletes be eligible for workers' comp?

A fight comes to life in Illinois

Threats and Hazards "The President has no constitutional authority over border control"

Even enthusiasts for expansive executive powers are starting to regret putting too much power in the hands of the Article II branch of government

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February 7, 2017

Threats and Hazards We are better than this. Let's act like it.

Max Boot, a conservative, criticizing the Republican Party: "By not doing more to distance itself from this morally obtuse president, the Republican Party is becoming, de facto, the party of moral relativism."

Weather and Disasters 3-day weather forecasts in 2017 are as good as 1-day forecasts in the 1980s

Improved granularity of forecasting is making things much more accurate.

Threats and Hazards Russia is literally trying to freeze out Ukraine

Without energy for heat, people literally suffer in the cold. It's not warfare, but it's the asymmetric application of pressure.

Broadcasting In selling CBS Radio, the parent also sells the heritage call letters

Even though CBS Radio stations won't have anything to do with CBS anymore, the KCBS and WCBS call letters will go with the sale, at least for 20 years. How the heritage networks have treated their radio assets is really extraordinary: NBC Radio was killed off, then brought back from the dead. ABC Radio was owned by Cumulus for several years until the deal folded in 2014, and then it was brought back from the dead at the start of 2015 not in its classic format but predominantly as a promotional arm of the parent. It's all quite odd.

The United States of America Watch the flows of immigration over the years

Watch where the people come from over the years

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February 8, 2017

Computers and the Internet Don't wake up angry

A message to the President: Waking up and blasting off an angry tweet every morning is a bad way to set the agenda

Threats and Hazards A government going off the rails

"[President Trump's] attempts to run a renegade White House are not working out well". Does he have the opportunity to do better? Of course. Does he have the wherewithal? That's the big question, and it's hard to see any signs the answer will be "yes".

Computers and the Internet Restaurant owner escapes jail time for tweeting pictures of a sting operation

An Omaha restauranteur shared photos of minors who tried to buy alcohol at his establishment as part of a sting operation. A jury decided that didn't constitute obstruction of justice.

News A Kennedy runs for governor -- of Illinois

Yes, one of those Kennedys: Chris, the son of Robert F. Kennedy, and one of the (seemingly few) family members who hasn't ever run for office. He's in part been responsible for managing the extended family's gigantic fortune.

Humor and Good News "Secret Service Adds Emotional Protection Division"

Barbed satire from The Onion

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February 9, 2017

News SCOTUS nominee Gorsuch "demoralized" by President's attacks on the judiciary

Before we have left and right, we have three branches of government -- each of which should jealously guard its own role in checking the other two. It's troubling to have a Supreme Court nominee already have to face heat because of ridiculous and troubling things the President has said.

News China appears to be executing diplomacy better than the new US administration

It is perfectly fine for us to find ourselves in a world where the United States and China aren't enemies or rivals or opponents, but instead find ourselves "cooperatively different" (to coin a phrase). But even if that is to be our future, then the United States will need to be playing its diplomatic "A" game so as to ensure we cooperate on the right things in the right ways and avoid unnecessary escalation of conflict in others. No sensible person should expect China to adopt a liberal-Western system of government anytime soon (or perhaps for decades or even centuries to come), but we're all stuck on the same planet together. Negotiations over our differences, though, should be conducted at a level far better than what we've executed thus far.

Computers and the Internet Iowa Senate bill would make texting while driving a primary offense

The problem with a bill like this is that texting itself isn't unique in its capacity to create distraction. There are people who are equally distracted by eating a sandwich, arguing with children in the back seat, or checking out their appearance in the mirror. Why should texting be singled-out when the danger it creates isn't unique?

Computers and the Internet No more telecommuting at IBM marketing

The company is eliminating the telecommute and putting all of its marketing staff in six offices

The United States of America Former Senator Alan Simpson finds himself displaced

He used to hold the record for tallest member of the United States Senate. The new Senator from Alabama, Luther Strange, has knocked him from the top spot.

@briangongol on Twitter

February 10, 2017

Business and Finance We always expect the nerds to save us

We have to give them the opportunity to do so. The job may be tougher than ever under the current administration: President Trump has decided that the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (whomever that will be; the role hasn't been appointed yet) will not serve in his Cabinet. It's likely because he can't find an economist willing to play yes-man to his economic savagery. Have no doubt: Someone will need to be called in to clean up the economic mess created by this President (should he get any meaningful amount of the economic policy he campaigned upon). The only ones capable of fixing it will be the "nerd" class of sober, pragmatic, level-headed economists. We're in trouble if they're being shown the door already.

News Canadian town (across the border from Minnesota) experiences an influx of refugees

They're crossing from the United States, presumably because they are fearful of what a feckless US government policy on undocumented immigrants will do to them.

Iowa New president at the University of Northern Iowa

Iowa's comprehensive public university needs respect and a high profile

News "Progressive" Democrats want to shove out the centrists

The idea that centrists are rivals to be shunned from the Democratic Party (rather than coalition partners to be embraced) represents the triumph of ideological puritanism over math. The Democrats need a broader tent, not a more leftist one.

The United States of America Americans should resist the consolidation of power

(Video) US Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska is a thoughtful voice on Constitutional separation of power, transcendent of politics. He is a generationally significant voice for the Article I branch of government.

Business and Finance Sunk costs: An economic concept that's good for your mental health

Whatever has been done...is over. Don't make decisions based on the rear-view mirror.

Threats and Hazards The national debt is no less a crisis than it was 12 months ago

At just a hair below $20 trillion, the debt comes out to $61,282 in real, incurred money owed per person for every one of us in the United States. And that doesn't count the massive future liabilities imposed by expenses like our entitlement programs -- which will cost even more.

The United States of America Decency transcends politics

American decency isn't about the boxes we check on Election Day, but about the things we do in ordinary civic life. So when you think of what makes America "great", think about the plow drivers who clear the way for a heart-transplant patient to make it to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm, or of the foster father who takes in terminally-ill children so they can feel familial love in their short time on Earth.

Business and Finance Don't misunderstand tariffs

If the government were to put a 20% tax on restaurant bills, consumers would eat out less, restauranteurs would find their revenues decreased, and everybody would be worse off. There is no reason to think that a 20% tariff would work in any other way. Remember: Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Tariffs aren't a tax on "other people" or "other countries". A portion of their incidence falls on the consumer -- and quite often, a very large portion indeed. (And don't forget: The Midwest depends on trade.)

News Read "It Can't Happen Here"

A book that ought to be taught in schools, right alongside "1984" and "Brave New World". Written by Sinclair Lewis, it is both a powerful narrative and a novel full of gems, like "...a country that tolerates evil means -- eil manners, standards of ethics -- for a generation, will be so poisoned that it never will have any good end."


February 13, 2017

The United States of America On welcoming refugees

It takes a dim view of human nature to ignore the fact that most people try to be good, regardless of birthplace.


February 14, 2017

The United States of America We need a "CONstitutional CONdition" index, similar to DEFCON

For bad behavior, ranging from bush-league to truly unconstitutional

Humor and Good News Why do coffee-flavored jelly beans exist?

Whoever invented the coffee-flavored jelly bean was a world-class sociopath.

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February 15, 2017

Business and Finance Why aren't there more good popularizers for economics?

What's with the shortage of public intellectuals, anyway? The shortage of good "explainers" on behalf of economics is a real loss to society. So much about conflict (of all types) traces back to resources and their creation, destruction, and distribution -- and that's economics. One causal factor, perhaps, is that the answers to economic questions tend toward ambiguities, gray areas, and conditionals. That makes it very hard for anyone credible to gain traction in the public eye.

Business and Finance Beware the perils of "factory fetishism"

Romanticizing a particular sector of the economy without thinking through the consequences of development is a path to waste, inefficiency, and trouble.

Threats and Hazards A Russian spy ship is hanging out just off the coast of Connecticut

30 miles out from a submarine base

News Singapore marks 75 years since the Japanese occupation

The story of Singapore is a complicated one, to be sure, but it is a definitive case study in the power of market economics, trade, and endogenous initiative ("bootstrapping", in a sense) to take a place with no substantial advantage in natural resource wealth and convert it into a tremendously wealthy place.

Humor and Good News A feel-good adoption story

What can and should happen when a person's birth family isn't ready or willing to give a child the care each one deserves.

@briangongol on Twitter

February 16, 2017

News "Today we learned the length of the president's fuse: 28 days"

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley captures the essence of the President's press conference today with erudition and economy of words

Threats and Hazards What causes conflict?

Neil deGrasse Tyson writes, "Almost all armed conflict in the history of the world came about because opposing sides believed different things to be true." While the conditions he describes may be true, the difference in the way people see things isn't really the underlying cause of most conflict. Instead, we should always be alert to the circumstances where armed conflict can be seen as a more efficient way of capturing resources than honest alternatives like trade or development. Genghis Khan didn't grow a colossal empire on belief, he built it to take resources from others. The Mongol Empire is just one among many examples. The predictive power that comes from understanding armed conflict as a means of capturing resources is that we can start to assemble an understanding of the world that promotes trade and human development and the dignity and rights of the individual. Very little in the world could be more dangerous than a poor country with giant ambitions and low regard (among the ruling class) for the value of common people's lives.

Business and Finance The chaebol under new pressure

From a 2001 paper: "While South Koreans are probably better off than they would have been without the chaebol system, they were living atop an economic fault line that was destined to shift. South Korea should provide yet another warning sign to those who fail to believe that managed economies are bound to experience failure."

Computers and the Internet Problems with White House information security go right to the top

Is the President really still using an unsecured Android phone? A device that hasn't been properly secured could easily be hijacked and turned into a bug by skilled adversaries, among many other bad things that could happen.

News Would getting rid of singlets make wrestling more attractive to prospective athletes?

Maybe compression shorts and separate shirts will make the sport more appealing

@briangongolbot on Twitter

February 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Russia uses disinformation campaign to undermine German soldiers

The German soldiers are in the Baltic states as part of their NATO defense commitment. The disinformation campaign is a clever (though sinister) way for Russia to undermine the defense of those small countries by driving a wedge between the NATO alliance and the locals. Again, Russia is turning to asymmetric techniques of conflict -- they've gotten very good at it.

Business and Finance A great reminder for most investors

Take interest in your own investments, or take out index funds. (But take interest -- it's much better. Learning how capitalism works from the inside is simply a cost of living in an advanced market economy like ours -- just like we all have to learn a few things about computers and modern medicine, too.)

Computers and the Internet Facebook is trying to be too many things at once

Mission creep is probably inevitable for an outfit like Facebook, but it always seems to end in failure

Threats and Hazards 75% of high-level Defense Department appointed positions are still empty

The President needs to spend less time tweeting hate mail, gallavanting off to Florida, and planning campaign rallies -- and more time finding qualified people to run the Executive Branch. What he's doing isn't in the job description, and what he isn't doing...is. He's had a month in office, and that followed more than two months of transition.

Threats and Hazards Norwegians increasingly fear Russia

As they reasonably might. There's some evidence Swedes and Finns may be growing more nervous, too.

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February 18, 2017

News Know your moral bearings

If your only standard for behavior is "The worst thing my opponent got away with", then you don't really have a functioning moral compass. Regrettably, a whole lot of people are trying to adjust to the 2017 political reality by using this line of excuse. It's repugnant and it's tiresome.

Humor and Good News Art is in the constraints

Building a cake with inedible fondant is like making a gingerbread house from cardboard.

Socialism Doesn't Work Three weekends in a row at his private resort

If Americans were bothered by President Obama's trips to Hawaii or his time spent campaigning for Hillary Clinton, then the same people should show concern over the fact the President of the United States has now spent three weekends in a row burning taxpayer dollars to shuttle him back and forth to Florida. That's not to mention the fact that we're now a month into the new administration and still short of massive numbers of key appointees. If it was wasteful spending under Obama, it's still wasteful spending under Trump.

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February 20, 2017

News One-paragraph book review: "The Death of Expertise"

A well-delivered call for all of us to do some urgent introspection

News Who's the real failure here?

(Video) CBS News anchor Scott Pelley offers a concise summary of the President's problems: "The media didn't block his travel ban, didn't fire the national security advisor, didn't cause the labor secretary nominee to withdraw, didn't attack the judiciary. It seems like the common denominator of Mr. Trump's woes is the Constitution." His comments (on the February 17th edition of the program, at about the 10:00 mark) manage to make a very strong point simply by illustrating the facts. Opponents of the President ought to take note: His missteps can be refuted through a plain recitation of the facts. No embellishment is necessary; in fact, the less the facts are hyped, the better.

Threats and Hazards FBI has three investigations underway of election interference by Russia

Brazen attempts to skew the outcome of an election by targeted attacks on computer systems and other illegal means of underhanded behavior should be repelled when possible and prosecuted when not. The American public, meanwhile, ought to think hard about becoming more resistant to manipulation -- since there's no reason to believe that Russia will back down from doing the same things again, nor any reason to believe that others will refrain from trying the same thing. Once a vulnerability has been exploited, one should expect continued attacks until it is patched.

News Even unified party government doesn't work very fast

Republicans control both houses of Congress, and a nominal Republican is in the White House. And yet, not much is getting done. That's a good thing -- government should be deliberate, not so nimble that big things can turn on a dime.

News What happened in Sweden last night

The President of the United States inserted comments into a speech making reference to things happening in Sweden. He suggested that they were awful, terrible events. Swedish media conclusively report no such things taking place.

Business and Finance Kraft Heinz decides no further pursuit of Unilever takeover

It would have been a gigantic merger -- estimated at more than $140 billion

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February 21, 2017

The United States of America Senator John McCain stands up for NATO

At the Munich Security Conference: "Our predecessors did not believe in the end of history -- or that it bends, inevitably, toward justice. That is up to us. That requires our persistent, painstaking effort. [...] [W]e stand for truth against falsehood, freedom against tyranny, right against injustice, hope against despair...and that even though we will inevitably take losses and suffer setbacks, through it all, so long as people of goodwill and courage refuse to lose faith in the West, it will endure." ■ The line of argument advanced by the President, which suggests that the United States has been ripped off by ne'er-do-well allies, is self-defeating. The point of a security alliance isn't to fight over who pays what share of the bills, but rather to ensure that no individual country is forced to fight its battles alone. The United States most likely plays a role in NATO that is disproportionate to its population; we probably pay more, and we probably do more of the heavy lifting. So what? If the ultimate objective is a secure world in which our interests are protected, then we would be exerting money and effort to advance our security interests globally, with or without allies. The outcome we want is not dependent upon the number of other participants. ■ So, if a peaceful world is going to be subject to the free-rider problem no matter what (and it is -- it's not as though our concept of security is defined by NATO borders), then anything that gets other parties to substantially participate in that common security arrangement is better than no such participation at all.

Threats and Hazards "Putin and his thugs are fundamentally at odds with America's interests"

Midwestern US Senators show broad agreement: No matter your political stripes, the notion of a foreign government interfering with our free and fair elections is noxious. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse concludes (correctly): "This should not be viewed through partisan labels. Congress should investigate Russia's influence campaign in the US."

Broadcasting 75 years of the Voice of America

One of the most sensible and cost-efficient means of conducting public diplomacy has been the operation of an international broadcasting service. (The BBC, to many people around the world, IS Britain.) The United States's effort in this area, the VOA, has been subject to far more than its deserving share of cuts in the last decade or two, and it's high time we recognize just how valuable it is.

The United States of America The self-funded candidate

Which is more peculiar: The candidate for office who has to spend considerable time and effort trying to raise funds, or the candidate who is wealthy enough to self-fund a major campaign (as one of the Pritzker clan intends to do if he runs for Illinois governor)? We should ask ourselves whether there is anything about the structure of our electoral system that makes these outcomes more likely than they ought to be.

News Looking for a lively Lincoln library

Nebraska's capital city is looking for ideas to build a new central library -- and it's a worthwhile question. Ideally, as a society, we would place such a high cultural value on learning (and not just classroom learning for those in the conventional school ages, but well beyond) that libraries would naturally be seen as the most viable and logical centers of most communities. That often isn't the case -- perhaps it's only true in the most extraordinary of situations. But taking serious steps to make the public library a real center of the community -- not just the building and where it's located, but the institution and what it does to the local civic fabric -- is a pivotal step for municipal leaders to take.

@briangongol on Twitter

February 23, 2017

News China will stop buying North Korea's coal

An effort to pressure the country into submission over nuclear weapons. May it work, for the good of us all.

Business and Finance A well-reported story on Warren Buffett's acquisition strategy

Rare is the financial reporter who actually understands the Buffett process. It's worth reading.

Iowa Truck platoons could hit Highway 20 in Iowa this year

Cooperative cruise control (involving trucks communicating with one another) could be a reality in Iowa by the end of the year

Business and Finance Hyped-up immigration crackdowns could hurt the US housing market

It's not just a matter of whether law enforcement only actually prosecutes people here without proper documentation -- if they create a sufficient amount of insecurity and uncertainty among people who immigrated here legally that they are starved of the confidence they need to make long-term decisions (like buying homes), then the waves of homeowners looking to exit the market (like, say, Baby Boomers hoping to down-size) may find themselves losing a very ready set of buyers. At the margins (where prices are decided), immigrants have a huge impact on the housing market.

News France's runoff system for electing a president shows how the system determines the outcomes

America's first-past-the-post system works rather differently, with dramatically different outcomes

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February 24, 2017

Business and Finance What do we want? Sustained 3% annual real GDP growth!

When do we want it? As soon as we get the productivity growth rates that would consistently make that kind of increase in real output possible! (It's not very catchy, but it's true.)

The United States of America The left discovers Federalism

Better late than never

Business and Finance The Smoot-Hawley tariffs didn't cause the Great Depression...

...but they did make it a whole lot worse. We should never retreat into mindless protectionism again.

News How generals are defending civilian government

With career military men in charge of the Defense Department, Homeland Security, and (naturally) the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we would normally be in a condition that ought to give people alarm: Civilian control of the government and oversight of the military ought to be a priority. But with a wildly inexperienced White House in charge, the sober words of experience and temperance are coming from the men who have spent a lifetime sworn to defend the Constitution. The President seems sufficiently impressed by their credentials to offer them deference he doesn't seem to show anyone else.

News American conference attendees duped into waving Russian flags

If you're sufficiently enthusiastic about politics that you'll show up at a "Conservative Political Action Conference", it ought to be pretty embarrassing that you could be taken by a practical joke that involved you waving a Russian flag. Basic familiarity with the symbols of one of our most important geopolitical adversaries ought to be required of anyone willing to so vigorously espouse a political opinion.

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February 25, 2017

Threats and Hazards Terrorism by Americans is still terrorism

A terrorist attack by a white man in Kansas against two Indian men is as deplorable as any other terrorist attack, and it should be denounced with the same kind of volume as any other.

@briangongol on Twitter

February 26, 2017

News One-paragraph book review: "Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World"

A valuable third-party perspective on the pivotal geopolitical relationship between China and the United States

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February 27, 2017

Iowa Should colleges strive for ideological balance?

A state senator in Iowa proposes Senate File 288: To "require partisan balance of the faculty employed at each fo the institutions of higher learning governed by the board." It is a fine concept for universities to promote exposure to a wide range of perspectives -- that's the point of obtaining a "liberal" education (where "liberal" means "open", not left-wing). But as Margaret Thatcher said, "One of the problems, I think, of modern politics, and modern journalists, is that people are always polarizing questions. You know, saying either/or. And in fact life isn't lived in either/or terms, but mostly somewhere in between." Legislating partisanship not only misses the possibility that "balance" may not reflect even the community standards of the state (which, at any given time, might be more of one party than another), but it also misses the exceptionally important notion that "balance" isn't binary -- Iowa, just for instance, has 715,000 independent voters and 12,000 third-party voters, compared with 627,000 Democrats and 665,000 Republicans. Thus, authentic "balance" should require more independents than either of the major parties. Moreover, any consideration of "balance" ought to reflect the multipolar nature of politics -- there are all flavors of Democrats and all flavors of Republicans, and all flavors of "other" as well. What of the person who agrees with 55% of a party platform? Does he or she count as a real partisan? The proposal for party balance at the state universities is silly and should be dismissed out-of-hand as ridiculous, unenforceable, and unproductive.

Business and Finance The deeper meaning of the Billy bookcase

What you can pick up about economics and consumer surplus from looking at a piece of IKEA furniture

News A Frank Lloyd Wright home on sale for $1.4 million

It's surprising that even with the enduring appeal of Wright's Prairie Style that there aren't more homes being designed and built today in the same fashion. Aren't there architects and builders today who want to make a similar name for themselves? Many people obviously don't mind spending obscene amounts of money on hideous McMansions, so why not spend the money instead on something that will still look good 50 years from now?

Aviation News SpaceX to fly two space tourists around the moon in 2018

They say the best way to spend your money is on experiences, not stuff. One could imagine that people with a lot of money might very rationally want to blow through their wealth on experiences like this.

Threats and Hazards No, you don't have to show your papers

Over-zealous hunting by government agents for immigration-rule violators leads to perfectly legal American citizens being asked to "show papers". It may sound like a trivial encroachment, but it ought to be resisted -- freedom of movement is a fundamental American right, and the pursuit of lawbreakers is no excuse for trampling on the rights of the law-abiding.

News White House staff subjected to phone checks

Politics aside, has anyone ever done their best in any workplace where paranoia, anger, and distrust prevail?

Threats and Hazards Disgraceful: Bomb threats against Jewish community centers

Threats like this have no place in civilization

Iowa Iowa county looks at repairing 123-year-old stone bridge

It could be argued that the bridge was built too well in the first place -- anyone who paid for its construction is long dead, and it most likely could be replaced by something using better materials and methods (that's the nature of technology, of course). It could also be argued that we are really too accustomed to coasting on the investments our predecessors made in building an adequate system of public works for us to enjoy today, and have done far too little to invest in their ongoing maintenance and upkeep. And there's a third argument to be made: That some old structures are worth keeping around because of their historical merit.

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February 28, 2017

News Dramatic cuts to soft power will undercut the country

(Video) Senator Lindsey Graham rebukes the President's proposal to slash funding for the State Department. Security today is the result of long, patient investment in trust-based relationships, not cavalier transactional deal-making. Things like diplomacy (including public diplomacy, like investments in international broadcasting) don't pay off overnight. That makes them susceptible to short-sighted cuts, unless thoughtful leaders like Senator Graham prevail.

Business and Finance Be realistic about economic-growth projections

It is a hallucination to believe that 4% real GDP growth can be achieved without long-term, sustainable, and patient investment in our physical and human capital. We need to invest in our physical infrastructure -- but not with short-term stimulus programs that just dump some asphalt on existing roadways. We need to invest in our human capital, too -- but not by artificially inflating (and then crashing) a dubious universe of for-profit schools. The United States could probably sustain 4% growth rates in the long term, but that would require increasing our productivity by much more than 4% (unless we somehow expect a dramatic boom in workforce participation). Plans to get to 4% growth absolutely must include plans to raise productivity.

Health The new bird flu

A strain that hasn't gotten a lot of attention before (H7N9) appears to be resurgent in Asia

News Are Republicans short on wonks?

Has a long period in the opposition hollowed-out the ranks of people who can make real proposals happen? It's an interesting question. And it's especially important when it's clear there isn't a lot of policy leadership emanating from the Executive Branch.

Business and Finance Target considers a more downmarket approach

Retailing is such a fickle business

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