Gongol.com Archives: April 2017

Brian Gongol


April 2017
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April 1, 2017

News Child-care workers in DC now need college degrees

That's per a mandate from the municipal government. Like many such regulations, it sounds noble on the surface -- like it will result in children getting better care. But it's important to see that this could equally be viewed as a barrier to entry that will keep competitors from entering the market to supply child care, and according to the Washington Post's story on the subject, the market is already extremely tight. Beware what's happening in the market for labor overall: When new barriers to entry are put up, they're rarely taken down. It's common (but foolish) practice to make it harder for people to compete on the merits of their work rather than on the licenses, degrees, and certifications they can earn -- because once people earn those things, they have an incentive to use them to keep other people out. ■ Beware a growing problem on the other end of the labor market -- where society long ago exchanged high living standards for the assurance that "professionals" would put their clients' interests ahead of their own. That is, after all, the central concept which defines professionalism: An adherence to a code of conduct that puts the client's interests first in exchange for a certain amount of financial security and social status. ■ Unfortunately, Americans have gotten sloppy with the word "professional" -- to the point where it carries no real meaning in ordinary use. People in all lines of work call themselves "professionals" as a means of claiming status without actually adhering to any ground rules or behavioral principles. ■ This cheapening of the word "professional" has, in turn, given cover to people who are employed in actual professions, but who put crass commercial interests of their own ahead of the clients' best interests. The doctor who "treated" Michael Jackson to death, the personal-injury and DUI lawyers with crass billboards and television ads, and the variety of health and wellness "practitioners" who endorse dubious (if not outright harmful) supplements and diet plans are no more "professionals" than any entry-level sales clerk at a sporting-goods store. (Don't even get started on the use of contradictions in terms like "sales professional".) ■ Some commercialism is probably inevitable as professional service providers (doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists, architects, engineers, and others) merge operations with one another in order to administrative overhead costs. It's quite natural for some degree of consolidation to take place just through ordinary attrition and simple bookkeeping. But that consolidation can also be accelerated by the impact of government over-regulation: The greater the red tape, the more costly it becomes for a professional service provider to remain independent. More red tape should be expected to invariably lead to more consolidation. And thus we don't have solo practitioners making house calls -- we have doctors who work in groups that are attached to hospitals, which in turn have merged into large chains. The greater the rate of corporatization in a profession, the greater the pressure for other operators to start applying a more flexible yardstick to their own standards of professional behavior. The choices aren't always "consolidate, sell out, or die" -- but they can certainly start to look that way. ■ Can or should these trends be reversed? It's hard to say. They can certainly be accelerated by ham-fisted government intervention; the best way for the government to "do no harm" is to resist the urge to regulate everything under the sun. Professional organizations have a role to play as well, by self-policing their members and bringing the hammer down on those who make a mockery of their ethical codes. And consumers -- the clients of professional service providers -- have a duty to be informed and to insist on knowing when they're in a professional-client relationship and when it's "just business". There's nothing wrong with purely commercial transactions -- they happen all the time, and are the basis of most parts of the economy -- but if clients are letting down their guard because they expect professional treatment in a classical sense, and are getting unvarnished commercial treatment instead, then a clarification of roles is in order.

Business and Finance "American economic sclerosis"

The lure of government "protection" is strong, but in the long run it tends to cost a lot in visible and hidden tolls on an economy.

Humor and Good News Bryzzo Souvenirs is expanding

(Video) The Chicago Cubs are entitled to have a little extra fun this year. They earned it in 2016.

News Three people arrested for starting fire that caused I-85 to collapse in Atlanta

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says some of what burned was a pile of old HDPE (drainage pipe, perhaps?) that was being stored below the roadway and had been there for a decade. This would seem to point to a case of the broken-window effect: If you leave construction materials sitting outside for a decade, there's a good chance someone will get the impression that nobody's watching and nobody cares. And that's when bad things happen.

News Some Executive Branch financial disclosures are out

Two things to bear in mind: ■ Rule #1: It's not your assets that count, but your NET assets. Always subtract for debt. (The "sprawling real estate holdings" attributed to the Kushner family are a good case study in this: If you own a $250,000 house but you owe $225,000 on your mortgage, then you only really own $25,000 of house-related equity. Debt has a reasonable place in business -- especially real estate -- but it's not the same as owning something in cash equity. ■ Rule #2: When it comes to public officials, what you own is often much less important than who you owe.

Humor and Good News Why does this fortune cookie advocate insider trading?

"A confidential tip will clue you in to a great financial deal"?

News We need to talk about a few things, America

When an ordinary Walgreens in an affluent area has a shelf dedicated to paternity tests, breathalyzers, and at-home drug tests for cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and other drugs, then maybe those things are a bit too commonplace.

Threats and Hazards Russia turns to diplomatic nihilism

The Russian Embassy to the UK tweeted "Can a democracy be undermined from outside unless elite's resistance to change and broken social contract and trust have already done the job?" That is some sick nihilism.

News Real independence

Real independence requires study, self-discipline, and sacrifice for the future. It's true for individuals, for companies, and for countries. ■ Also: Part of maturity is in knowing that "trying to do what's right" is a process and "thinking I'm always right" is a character flaw.

News Painting the DC Metro stations

Once you start painting materials like concrete or brick, you have to keep going back for touch-up work. Bad idea.

Threats and Hazards Back to worrying about the EMP

Former CIA director James Woolsey suggests we're ignoring the EMP risk at our own peril


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April 9, 2017

Aviation News 50 years ago today: The first Boeing 737 test flight

Likely one of the five most important passenger aircraft in commercial aviation history. It remains a workhorse -- the best-selling commercial airplane of all time -- and its capacity helped to define what routes would be economically viable and which wouldn't. If the 737 can't handle a route, it's probably destined to become a regional-jet route, with all of the consequences that entails.

Threats and Hazards Accounting for the costs of war

People often give credit to wartime production efforts for stimulating economies (like, say, that of the United States during WWII). But that accounting is utterly incomplete if we don't also subtract the costs -- like the destruction of more than a quarter of France's national wealth and half of its annual economic output during the same war. War should never be credited for economic stimulus if we don't equally consider its vast costs.


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April 10, 2017

News Protests are breaking through in Venezuela

The government there has done a shocking amount to destroy both the economy and democracy

Business and Finance A time traveler from 1985 is in charge

If you really think Japan is still our biggest trade competitor, then you might just be stuck in the Reagan era

Aviation News Dragging an airline passenger off a flight? Not a wise decision.

United overbooked a flight and forced a passenger off after he'd already boarded. The reputational damage to the airline from the resulting videos could be substantial.

Iowa Accreditation committee wants University of Iowa to push its business school harder

That includes more emphasis on differentiating it from the other two business schools at the Regents universities

Humor and Good News Ford prepares a prototype crib

It mimics the sensory experience of taking a ride in the car, which for some infants is a cathartic experience


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April 11, 2017

News Lack of clarity on foreign policy

The United States is the sole superpower in world affairs. It's incumbent upon us to behave rationally, predictably, and transparently. When we don't, there's really not a lot of order left.

Weather and Disasters Necessary controlled burns in Kansas lead to thick smoke in Nebraska

There's no way around conducting the managed burns -- but they might want to coordinate better in the future

Computers and the Internet Microsoft pulls the plug on Vista

No more support

Threats and Hazards Secretary of State Tillerson questions why Americans should care about Ukraine

When is a threat to self-determination somewhere a threat to it everywhere?

News New York to offer (limited) free college tuition

Ultimately, an offer like this is a business decision on the part of the state


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April 12, 2017

Threats and Hazards Russia "spins out multiple, conflicting accounts in order to create confusion and sow doubt within the international community"

That's the interpretation of the National Security Council. Note the following: The price of oil is low (or, at least, it's well below the old bubble that subsidized oil-producing economies). The Russian population is stagnant or even shrinking. The Russian government depends a great deal on oil revenues to deliver goods and services -- for which demand would be expected to rise by a lot in a country with an aging population. And the cohort in power doesn't want to give up what they've taken. So it should come as no surprise that a form of asymmetric warfare -- the disinformation campaign -- will continue to be one of the go-to tools of that governing cohort, as long as disinformation continues to serve their interests. In China, a growing economy has served to suppress political dissent. Russia, which doesn't have a growing economy, may find its leaders turning more towards extraordinary tools to demonstrate (and maintain) power, in the absence of economic strength.

News NATO never was "obsolete"

The President takes credit for changing the focus of the organization, which in his own interpretation took an obsolete organization and rendered it no longer obsolete. That interpretation is silly. Still more, the damage that was done by campaigning on the organization's supposed lack of utility is already fixed in the public's perception -- that is to say, anyone who didn't have an opinion regarding NATO before, and who took the President's campaign statements at face value, is unlikely to change their minds today just because of a reversal in his own formal statement of policy. Institutional support doesn't bounce back so easily.

News Secretary of State visits Russian president in "surprise" meeting

And, in a gesture of disrespect to the press and the public, he ditched his press pool to do it

The United States of America Boston Globe gets one of Mitt Romney's "binders full of women"

However inarticulate Romney's statement may have been, his actions were commendable. As a country, let's not do that again -- if a good person with good intentions and strong qualifications again comes along and runs for President, can we please judge them on their merits rather than fixating on nonsense like the occasional clunky turn of phrase? America needs more politicians like Mitt Romney, not fewer.

The United States of America The Presidential elections of 2008, 2012, and 2016 in precinct-level detail

A really impressive display of research cartography


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April 13, 2017

News Prominent Democrats turn to public swearing

There are four problems with this: ■ If you're modifying your speech in an artificial way so that you "look" authentic, it's inauthentic (and people will see through it). ■ The smart way to demonstrate authenticity is by actually engaging with people -- look to Senators Cory Booker or Ben Sasse for online examples. ■ The Democratic Party should be trying to reach undecided voters and independents. Their base is sufficiently riled-up. The voters in the middle aren't looking for politicians to potty-mouth their way to success. ■ The DNC needs to work on its substance, not its style. The Democrats won the White House when the DLC pushed ideas to the forefront. The DLC was a direct reaction to the rise of identity-based politics in the party, and it promoted an agenda of ideas instead.

Computers and the Internet AI for your doodles

"AutoDraw" takes your lousy sketch and turns it into something more recognizable

Threats and Hazards "Watch out. There's something not right here."

The Guardian reports that British intelligence agencies reported on "contacts going on between people close to Mr Trump and people we believe are Russian intelligence agents", according to a source.

Aviation News Airline passenger suffered concussion and two lost teeth in aggressive removal from flight

So says his lawyer, who also says he'll probably sue. Airlines ought to be smarter about offering people incentives to be bumped from flights. Passengers in middle seats, for instance, may need to be reminded that they have more to gain than others by taking a chance on a new flight.

News Conventional wisdom may be a bit wrong on low-value college degrees

There really aren't a lot of basket-weaving majors, to be fair.

Business and Finance Farm states should be deeply pro-trade states

A reminder we need while trade is getting bashed in the media

Business and Finance Planners are never as wise as they think

Take a messy, dynamic, hard-to-predict economy over a "planned" one any day.

Threats and Hazards Opportunism tends to fill a void faster than justice

Who's in control across Syria and Iraq


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April 14, 2017

Threats and Hazards How North Korean trouble could bind China and the United States closer together

The US has an interest thanks to the presence of our allies South Korea and Japan -- and because of the threat that North Korea is developing weapons that could reach the United States, from Alaska down the Pacific Coast. China naturally doesn't want an unstable nuclear-armed dictatorship getting frantic on its eastern border. And thus, the two countries have a mutual interest in asserting the necessary dominance to end the trouble.

Threats and Hazards Russian psychological warfare continues

Analysts think the "#SyriaHoax" hashtag was a pure Russian fabrication. Let's also acknowledge that Russia tried to influence US elections back in the 1980s; it's not like these operations are anything truly new. On Russian cyber and psychological warfare against the US and trusted institutions, take note of this observation: "It has not plateaued. It is continuing to increase." Also important to remember (about Russia, Syria, North Korea, and so on): The regime isn't the people.

Science and Technology NASA says there are "ocean worlds" right inside the Solar System

There are others far away, too, but the idea that we might actually be in the same region as us is pretty intriguing. Saturn has a moon that looks especially intriguing.

News Tuition-free college in New York

Not unlimited, not unrestricted, but a rather significant free-tuition program

Computers and the Internet Apple gets permission to test self-driving car tech in California

They're modifying Lexus SUVs

News The first book you read...

The first book you read on a subject may be totally wrong. You won't know until you read several more.

News Minnesota econ professor busted for 13 years skipping taxes

Someone may soon get a workshop in the hard-time value of money

Threats and Hazards Remember, it's been three years since the Chibok girls were taken

Gut-wrenching for their families

Business and Finance Economic errors in the public mind

A generation of Americans now believes the risk-free rate is zero. Makes the math easier, but it lacks a certain historical validity.

News Art is in the constraints

When NYC killed its old setback regulations, skyscraper design took a giant aesthetic leap backwards.


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April 15, 2017

Threats and Hazards A valid concern about Asia

We have no confirmed ambassadors to Japan, South Korea, or China right now -- and those are important roles at a time when North Korea is setting up real trouble.

Business and Finance What bothers Americans about their taxes

It's not so much about paying too much (only 27% say it bothers them "a lot"), but whether they perceive that others are paying enough -- a Pew survey says 62% say it bothers them "a lot" that "some corporations don't pay their fair share", and 60% say the same about "some wealthy people". Worth noting: The households in the top 20% of the income bracket paid 69% of the income taxes in 2013. So, from a broad-brushstroke level, that looks pretty progressive.


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April 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Abominable cruelty: 68 children killed in bombing of Syrian refugee convoy

What kind of monsters would do such a thing? And can people begin to see just why so many refugees would be on the run? They're not the perpetrators -- they're the primary victims of the awful war.

News So many things getting better

And yet, still so far to go. The astonishing declines in characteristics like extreme poverty, illiteracy, and child mortality over the last two centuries truly reveal a world getting vastly better over generations. But it's up to each generation to keep pushing forward and avoiding the awful prospect of civilizational decline.

Business and Finance Perspective: US government spending as a share of a $100 budget

In the words of the Wall Street Journal editor Dennis Berman: "America has become a giant insurance scheme with an army".

Threats and Hazards No good options with North Korea

There's very little that can be done to punish the country economically that hasn't already been done, and the legitimacy of the government there basically depends upon fomenting a state of crisis and its related high-stress mentality. So escalating conflict with them only serves to reinforce the one thing that appears to be holding the power structure in place. Consequently, it's not especially productive to show up and try to do our own chest-thumping: That's what the totalitarian regime is hoping for.

Aviation News Meet the Jetsons

Dubai expects to be the first place in the world with drone taxis -- later this year. Really: They're getting autonomous drones that can carry passengers, called the "EHang 184".

Aviation News Boeing layoffs cut 300 engineers

As well as 1,500 mechanics. But the notion of layoffs affecting hundreds of aerospace engineers ought to attract special attention, as those would normally seem to be relatively bulletproof jobs in a high-income, high-status occupation.

Threats and Hazards Right-wing extremists claim responsibility for bombing a German bus

The investigation is incomplete, but claims of responsibility shouldn't be ignored


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April 18, 2017

News British Prime Minister Theresa May calls snap election

Likely a gambit to consolidate popularity gains by her party versus a chronically weak Labour Party

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges shortcomings in "Facebook Live" content reviews

Brought to the forefront by the broadcast of a murder this past week, though that's certainly not the only disturbing incident. It was evident the moment that Facebook Live came out that bad purposes, bad actors, and bad audiences could drive out the good.

News NY Times gives devastating review of Clinton campaign autopsy book

Have no doubt that the campaign made major strategic and tactical mistakes. But if the Democratic Party concludes that it would have won the White House if only it hadn't been hobbled by the Clinton errors, then they're going to make terrible mistakes leading up to 2020.

Threats and Hazards This should reassure no one

Turkey's president says the new powers granted to him via a referendum don't make him a dictator. If the question even has to be asked, the answer probably isn't a good one.

Socialism Doesn't Work Of course Sen. Bernie Sanders wants a radical transformation of the Democratic Party

That's because he's not actually a Democrat, and his campaign for their nomination was intended as a hostile takeover. Sanders has a view of government that is incompatible with the notion of limited government.

Threats and Hazards "Strong leadership" is overrated in national politics

It's probably too easy for us to project tribal instincts onto nation-state frameworks, making "strong leadership" look better than it is. It takes conscious choice to recognize and adequately support restraint, openness, and flexibility among high-ranking leaders.

News The President should do most of his business from the White House

Senator Joni Ernst -- critical of the President's over-use of his own privately-owned facilities for both business and (abundant) vacation time -- is right to expect that the people's business predominantly be done from the people's house.

News The first Federal Form 1040

Rather simpler than the form most Americans complete today. Donald Rumsfeld has a terrific letter to the IRS that he sends each year to acknowledge that "I have absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and tax payment estimates are accurate...despite my best efforts, despite having a college degree, and despite having the assistance of an experienced tax accounting firm, I do not have confidence that I know what is being requested."


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April 19, 2017

Threats and Hazards No child -- anywhere -- should have to live like this

A photo shows a small Sudanese refugee child -- perhaps two years old -- sleeping on a hard, dirty floor in threadbare clothing. No child should have to live like that. If we don't have sympathy for the refugee (and do something to help!), then we have no business calling ourselves civilized.

Threats and Hazards The risks to the classical-liberal order

The notion of limited government and individual liberty isn't assured or permanently guaranteed anywhere. It takes effort and commitment. Much of human history rewarded the concentration of power, while the broadest benefits come from diffusion of it. It's much easier for people to slip into a sort of hypnosis that "strong" leaders can fix everything than to undertake the hard and sustained work of self-government.

News Executive order requests report on H-1B program

In general, anything that permits the United States to act as a willing and open recruiter of talent from the global marketplace ought to have a positive impact on our economic standing. We should be "greedy", as the President likes to say, for as much talent as the rest of the world can send us.

Business and Finance Caterpillar headquarters to move from Peoria to suburban Chicago

The company says access to O'Hare makes a big difference since the company exports so much of its output. But it's also worth asking whether this is a case of the company chasing an agglomeration economy -- trying to move to where they think a willing population of management talent might already be (Chicago) rather than trying to dig in deeper and protect itself by entrenching further into Peoria, where its own employees are (perhaps) likely to have to be more committed to the company. By moving to suburban Chicago, it could just as easily lose valuable managers as gain them.

Business and Finance Federal government didn't act on 700 whistleblower warnings about Wells Fargo

If government is going to spend $10 doing something, it's worth spending $1 to see whether it's using the other $9 well. In this case, we have a report documenting insufficient internal oversight over their activities -- which happen to be external oversight.

Threats and Hazards How Russian efforts sought to influence the US election

They were (and likely are) actively trying to undermine faith in the electoral system

News An undignified and unproductive change of style

Prominent Democrats think they can swear their way to success. They've even used the party's official Twitter account to do it. They're dead wrong: Their problem isn't that they aren't using enough foul language, and if they think that's what's keeping them from winning, they're going to keep on losing.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela inches toward collapse

And socialist mismanagement of government and national resources is entirely to blame


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April 20, 2017

News Does China's economic growth make some Westerners soft on authoritarianism?

It's possible -- it was easy to oppose Communism when its public face was the grim, depressing, and economically-backwards Soviet Union. But China has the ability to put a lot of shine and sparkle on display (like the cities built practically overnight from scratch), and that may cause some people to think that an authoritarian government might not be all that bad, especially if it's able to "deliver the goods" that make the difference between poverty and at least some form of wealth. But we proceed down a dangerous path when we let this kind of thinking run about unchecked. ■ First, it's hazardous to assume that the economic success of a nation like China is more than skin-deep. Other countries have achieved substantial transformations in their economic status, too -- Japan, South Korea, and Singapore are all relevant examples from the same region of the world. But they each had important fundamentals undergirding their economic growth, and they each have paid a toll in the modern day for shortcuts that were taken in the past. South Korea's government intervened heavily in order to promote development in heavy industry -- and today, they continue to pay back a sort of civic debt in the form of political scandals tied to the favoritism that went unchecked a long time ago. Japan's economy had one of the world's great booms, but their strong resistance to immigration seems to have created avoidable obstacles to future growth. Singapore, being much smaller than the other two examples, is perhaps a less informative case study, but it is not without its own internal critics of the strength of the state. Ultimately, China will pay a major penalty for its growth if it doesn't start to rectify some of the weaknesses in its own structural approach. ■ Second, economic growth in a country that starts out very poor will happen at a much faster pace than in a country that starts out in the world's middle class or better, just like a startup company can show much faster growth rates than a mature one. Moving from poverty into the middle class will tend to look like a much faster and bigger achievement than moving from prosperity to greater prosperity, simply because it starts from a lower base. That doesn't mean they've discovered some special form of mastery. ■ Third, if looking to other countries causes Americans to think that the answer to prosperity is found somewhere in stronger centralization of power by a political elite rather than from the diffusion of power and control, then they're taking away exactly the wrong message. Sometimes, government has managed to concentrate a whole lot of attention and brainpower on select goals and achieved great success -- the Manhattan Project, for instance, or putting men on the Moon. But most of the transformative improvements in American life have come about from the accumulated small improvements made in many places by many self-interested individuals, families, and firms, which taken together have produced great rewards. Individual ambition among lots of people who are free to exercise their own motivation is a whole lot more effective at making great things happen in the long run than putting some purportedly great planner in charge. As Milton and Rose Friedman wrote, "The depression convinced the public that capitalism was defective; the war, that centralized government was efficient. Both conclusions were false." ■ Fourth, the economy isn't the only thing that matters. So does liberty. So does character. So does honor. So does dignity. So does the rule of law. These things all require hard work -- and though they may be harder to quantify than per-capita GDP growth, they should never be sacrificed in the name of simply making more money. Prosperity is good, necessary, and desirable -- but wealth shouldn't also cost our souls. Economic prosperity is more important as a tool for defending our freedoms and liberties than as an end unto itself. As Margaret Thatcher said, "The sense of being self-reliant, of playing a role within the family, of owning one's own property, of paying one's way, are all part of the spiritual ballast which maintains responsible citizenship, and provides the solid foundation from which people look around to see what more they might do, for others and for themselves."

The United States of America Giving extraordinary power to the former Presidents

Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon has proposed that a council of former Presidents and Vice Presidents be given the authority to conduct a 25th Amendment review of their successors, just in case an out-of-control President seeks to remove his or her own Cabinet in a bid to prevent removal.

News When celebrity overwhelms character

David French's analysis of the "toxic conservative-celebrity culture" in the National Review is quite good. Particularly this: "[B]ad character sends a country to hell just as surely as bad policy does, and any movement that asks its members to defend vice in the name of advancing allegedly greater virtue is ultimately shooting itself in the foot." There are great thinkers and a great intellectual tradition on the center-right of American politics. But just as surely as those ideas should be heard, the clowns who masquerade as "conservatives" in the name of self-absorbed publicity-seeking ought to be booted from the stage wherever possible. There's a lot of work to be done in defense of the classical values that support Western Civilization -- the policies that protect classical liberalism are rarely spontaneous or regenerative without heavy commitment from enlightened leaders. The distractions of noxious celebrity-seekers suck the air out of the room.

Business and Finance At home and not working

The Census Bureau says that a solid third of American adults ages 18 to 34 live at home with their parents. That's a big number, though there are plenty of reasons why that might be. And a quarter of those people living at home don't work or go to school. The total number is 2.2 million people. People who fail to get on the economic escalator early on are going to find themselves falling farther and farther behind in later life if they don't reverse course. A lot of things -- like marriage -- are happening much later for this generation of young adults than for their predecessors. But if you combine social delay with economic idleness, then there's a real problem to behold.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuelan government steals an auto plant from GM

GM says it's only been making parts at the plant since 2015, but they're going to shut down operations in the country rather than surrender. The Venezuelan economic disaster is entirely man-made and entirely correctible...but it would require that the socialists acknowledge that they're at fault, which isn't something they do.

News Take off your hat when you're in the Oval Office

That's not political correctness, it's dignity. Someone should tell Ted Nugent.


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April 21, 2017

Business and Finance Tax reform proposal by next week?

The White House claims it will put forward a proposal for tax reform by next week. Any proposal needs to reflect two important conservative principles: First, government shouldn't take any more than necessary. Second, one generation shouldn't take from another.

Threats and Hazards Russia went after Trump advisors to try to influence the 2016 campaign

Nefarious. Just nefarious.

News President Obama returns to the stage

Next week, he will speak on a major stage for the first time since the end of his presidency. The lingering trouble for the Democratic Party is that his electoral success was more personality-driven than policy-driven, and his "movement" in the meantime severely undermined the kinds of policy objectives that helped the Democrats put Bill Clinton in office. To get back into they White House, they'll need more Clinton-esque policymaking and less nostalgia for Obama. He managed a unique presence in electoral history, but it was not good in the long term for his own party.

News The trials of a captive audience member

Vice President Pence forced everyone aboard Air Force Two to watch "Hoosiers" because he's from Indiana and they were stuck on a flight to Australia

Broadcasting A push to eliminate the "main studio" rule in broadcasting

Does it matter anymore if a station has a main studio in its city of license?


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April 25, 2017

Business and Finance Stock options will enrich Marissa Mayer by almost $200 million when Verizon buys Yahoo

Assuming that everything proceeds as expected with the acquisition, the Yahoo CEO is lined up to make a huge amount of money off her vested stock options. And that's compensation for a performance that it's quite hard to dignify as "successful". Yahoo is, by any reasonable account, a diminished presence on the Internet from what it was when she started her tenure. Would it have done worse in other hands? Maybe or maybe not. But the fact that equity compensation in the form of stock options makes it possible for someone to make so much money -- a fairly incomprehensible amount, really -- without delivering a dramatic success ought to cause shareholders to really question whether they're being fleeced by management and the boards who set management compensation. It's hard not to think the answer is too often "yes". Or, in the words of New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum, "Another CEO is rewarded with generational wealth for accomplishing absolutely nothing." Calling it "absolutely nothing" may be a bit harsh, but it's certainly not a rousing success story. The people who own businesses -- shareholders -- need to speak up for themselves and demand better.

News Illinois stumbles towards junk-bond status

Imagine a state that reaches a point where it can no longer pay its bills, nor get anyone to lend it money at less than outrageous rates. Would the Federal government have to step in with a bailout?

Threats and Hazards Russia's been hacking the Danish defense ministry

For the last two years, say the Danes. That's a whole lot of cyberwarfare against a NATO member state.

Business and Finance Health insurance is killing family budgets for farmers and ranchers

Farmers and ranchers are highly likely to buy their health insurance in the individual marketplace, which has turned into a pretty catastrophically high-cost area for a lot of buyers.

Business and Finance IKEA wants to capitalize on its food division

They're seriously talking about opening up IKEA restaurants detached from the furniture stores, employing (of course) the lessons they've learned from operating the in-house food service as a tool to get shoppers to stick around for longer. As crazy as standalone Swedish fast-food outlets may sound, it's a bad idea to bet against IKEA -- they've demonstrated a strong capacity to figure out how to create greater demand than they can supply.

News We should use the right words when discussing prisons

The word "corrections" should only apply if we're trying to release better people than the ones who entered prison. How hard are we really trying to do that?

Humor and Good News Why Kris Bryant won't flip the bat after a big home run

He won't do it because he thinks it's rude to the pitcher. Imagine...we're talking about the Chicago Cubs as heavy hitters, after a century of loveable loserdom

Computers and the Internet Apple will overhaul its retail stores

Anyone who didn't like the Apple Store before will likely find it positively nauseating after the changes, which appear to be intended to make the stores more of a "destination" than a place to shop. Ugh.


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April 26, 2017

News Stop jerking NAFTA around

The President has wobbled back and forth between threatening to withdraw from NAFTA to, now, saying he's been convinced by phone calls from Canada and Mexico to leave the agreement in place. It's absurd and self-defeating. Anyone who thinks free trade is unilaterally bad for America hasn't seen the hoops that Canadians will jump through to buy US-made products, just for example. Restricting trade hurts many and helps a few, but the many often don't realize it. The harm done is real nonetheless.

Threats and Hazards Falling behind in information warfare

In addition to the substantial cybercriminal/cyberwarfare behavior that had some impact on the 2016 election, there's also an ongoing battle in the court of public diplomacy -- one from which the United States has been ill-advisedly retreating. With propaganda tools like RT on the rise, the United States needs to turn around and stop depleting and neglecting the tools of public diplomacy that helped shape the outcome of the Cold War. For altogether too long, we've been cutting back on conventional (even analog) means of communicating with the world to promote a message of transparency, individual liberty, and the rule of law. Excuses have been made about the economy of using online means to achieve the same ends, but the reality is that they are not true substitutes. They should be seen as complementary tools -- just like a terrestrial radio station, its online stream, and its website are each complementary of one another, to be supplemented by things like social media, podcasts, and "street presence". That's the model we need to resurrect in public diplomacy, and we need to be willing to invest in it.

Health Two teams qualify for big money in Qualcomm Tricorder X-Prize

The "Tricorder" medical device of "Star Trek" fame is now, at least tentatively, a real thing in our own world. Two teams have been awarded substantial prizes in an X-Prize to come up with a device that measures for 10 conditions (anemia, atrial fibrillation (AFib), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, leukocytosis, pneumonia, otitis media, sleep apnea, urinary tract infection, or the absence of all nine problems), a few additional elective conditions, and vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, temperature). A truly fantastic development in technology. Inducement/innovation prizes really work. Now the task is to get the devices to FDA approval so we can start to use them.

Business and Finance A tax-reform plan? Kind of.

We have, quite literally, only bullet points to describe what the administration says it wants to pursue for tax reform. But the headline above those bullet points is "The biggest individual and business tax cut in American history". Nobody with the slightest bit of sense can argue that the tax code isn't in need of simplifying reform. What we have now simply doesn't make any kind of comprehensive sense. But to promise a tax cut of historic proportions when the Federal debt stands just a hair shy of $20 trillion -- or, if you do the math, more than $61,000 per person -- is to put an irresponsible degree of faith in the power of a tax cut to stimulate economic growth. Rapid economic growth makes up for a whole lot of fiscal sins...but the amount of growth required in an economy that annually produces in the neighborhood of $18 to $19 trillion is far more than even the most enthusiastic Keynesian would probably permit. It's the expansive view of government that is the root of the problem -- the belief that government can and should do quite a lot. But once we have committed to having government do something, it is generationally irresponsible not to pay for it as we go. We can pass along debts on things that have inter-generational benefits (like the Interstate highway system, or winning WWII) -- and do it with a clear conscience. But our present problem is, quite simply, that we want too much and are willing to pay too little for it. That's a titanic failure of both math and morals. Lower tax rates might easily feel good, but their real impact really just won't be enough to pay for itself, likely not even by a long shot.

Computers and the Internet Ten years after cyberwar on Estonia, the former president thinks Europe still doesn't take the problem seriously

Former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves: "One of the problems is that many political leaders don't really quite get it. They don't understand the technology and then they will repeat things that they've heard..." That doesn't mean we have to fill the US Congress and the parliaments of Europe with computer programmers, but it wouldn't hurt if they had at least a modicum of digital and technological literacy before occupying those roles. Learning about cyberwarfare is today as important a job for a national-level politician as learning about bombs. You don't have to know how to use them, but you'd better have a general understanding of how they work. With mounting evidence that nefarious forces have been conducting cyberwarfare against the centrist candidate for French president, it should be clear to anyone who pays the slightest bit of attention to the matter that cyberwarfare is a pressing issue now and will continue to be.


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April 27, 2017

Business and Finance White House says it will propose biggest tax cut ever

Everyone like the idea of a tax cut, but it's not always the right prescription. If indefinite tax cuts led to infinite growth, then we should cut the rates to zero. But they don't, and so we shouldn't. The fact is that if we're going to spend 20% or 21% of GDP on the Federal government, then we need to collect taxes within a percentage point (or two, at most) of that amount in order to have a sustainable budget. But we don't: The Federal government only takes in about 17.5% of GDP as revenues (usually taxes). Economic growth can make up a small gap, but not a big one. Borrowing against the future only creates conflict between generations and raises the ultimate cost of our borrowing.

News Separation of powers is good for its own sake

The House Oversight Committee requested information from the White House about Michael Flynn. The White House is stonewalling the request. So now, regardless of partisan alignments, the House has a reason to stand up for itself and insist on its own authority to conduct an investigation -- for the good of the institution. That's a good thing.

News Spinning around and around on NAFTA

First, the President said we were cutting out of NAFTA. Then he got a couple of angry phone calls and decided to reverse course. Free trade is a much bigger and more important principle than that, and it deserves far more serious consideration than he has given the matter.

Broadcasting Unbundling is killing ESPN

The network announced a whole bunch of layoffs, and the ultimate cause is that people have more choice than ever about getting programming without the channel bundles. So a whole lot of people who used to pay for ESPN (as part of cable or satellite TV bills) but rarely or never watched it...still don't watch it, but now they don't pay for it, either.

Aviation News $10,000 for a bump

United revises its rules to offer a whole lot more than before in order to bump passengers voluntarily. The market will take care of the rest.


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April 30, 2017

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "From Silk to Silicon"

A valuable lesson in the inevitability of globalization, delivered through strong storytelling


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