Gongol.com Archives: 2017 Second-Quarter Archives
April 1, 2017
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.
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.
(Video) The Chicago Cubs are entitled to have a little extra fun this year. They earned it in 2016.
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.
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.
Why does this fortune cookie advocate insider trading?
"A confidential tip will clue you in to a great financial deal"?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back to worrying about the EMP
Former CIA director James Woolsey suggests we're ignoring the EMP risk at our own peril
April 9, 2017
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.
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.
April 10, 2017
Protests are breaking through in Venezuela
The government there has done a shocking amount to destroy both the economy and democracy
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
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.
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
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
April 11, 2017
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.
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
Microsoft pulls the plug on Vista
No more support
Secretary of State Tillerson questions why Americans should care about Ukraine
When is a threat to self-determination somewhere a threat to it everywhere?
New York to offer (limited) free college tuition
Ultimately, an offer like this is a business decision on the part of the state
April 12, 2017
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.
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.
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
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 Presidential elections of 2008, 2012, and 2016 in precinct-level detail
A really impressive display of research cartography
April 13, 2017
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.
"AutoDraw" takes your lousy sketch and turns it into something more recognizable
"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.
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.
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.
Farm states should be deeply pro-trade states
A reminder we need while trade is getting bashed in the media
Planners are never as wise as they think
Take a messy, dynamic, hard-to-predict economy over a "planned" one any day.
Opportunism tends to fill a void faster than justice
Who's in control across Syria and Iraq
April 14, 2017
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.
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.
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.
Tuition-free college in New York
Not unlimited, not unrestricted, but a rather significant free-tuition program
Apple gets permission to test self-driving car tech in California
They're modifying Lexus SUVs
The first book you read on a subject may be totally wrong. You won't know until you read several more.
Minnesota econ professor busted for 13 years skipping taxes
Someone may soon get a workshop in the hard-time value of money
Remember, it's been three years since the Chibok girls were taken
Gut-wrenching for their families
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.
When NYC killed its old setback regulations, skyscraper design took a giant aesthetic leap backwards.
April 15, 2017
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.
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.
April 17, 2017
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.
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.
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".
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.
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".
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.
Right-wing extremists claim responsibility for bombing a German bus
The investigation is incomplete, but claims of responsibility shouldn't be ignored
April 18, 2017
British Prime Minister Theresa May calls snap election
Likely a gambit to consolidate popularity gains by her party versus a chronically weak Labour Party
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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."
April 19, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How Russian efforts sought to influence the US election
They were (and likely are) actively trying to undermine faith in the electoral system
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.
Venezuela inches toward collapse
And socialist mismanagement of government and national resources is entirely to blame
April 20, 2017
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Take off your hat when you're in the Oval Office
That's not political correctness, it's dignity. Someone should tell Ted Nugent.
April 21, 2017
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.
Russia went after Trump advisors to try to influence the 2016 campaign
Nefarious. Just nefarious.
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.
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
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?
April 25, 2017
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
April 26, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
April 27, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
April 30, 2017
One-paragraph book review: "From Silk to Silicon"
A valuable lesson in the inevitability of globalization, delivered through strong storytelling
May 1, 2017
A government that responds to today's greedy voters by shoving its hands in the pockets of tomorrow's taxpayers is, truly, unlimited. And that's an affront to those who believe in limited government.
Apparent torture at the Milwaukee County Jail
Seven jail officials could face charges over the death of an inmate who was deprived of water. We explicitly prohibit cruel and unusual punishment for a reason. Deprivation of liberty should be punishment enough. It is un-American to take pride in the abuse of the imprisoned. Heed the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations."
Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence
The President walks away from an interview with John Dickerson of CBS when Dickerson asks what proof he has of illegal wiretapping supposedly conducted by President Obama
Purdue just grew by 32,000 students
The public university is taking over a big chunk of the Kaplan University system, instantly expanding Purdue's reach as an online-education presence in about the biggest way possible. Purdue's president, Mitch Daniels, said he didn't think Purdue could make a big enough entry into online education on its own without making the jump to an acquisition of this scale.
A little debate is good for the soul
Responding to outcry over a recent item published in the New York Times, Senator Ben Sasse notes, "We are in danger of becoming a nation that flees all discussion with people and ideas we don't already agree with. That won't work out well." He's right. No great idea has ever been diminished by a challenge from a lesser idea. Either it is sustained intact, or it is refined by the conflict.
And, like that, Congress appears to have reached a deal to fund the Federal government through September 30th. A vote is supposed to come later in the week.
Bloomberg and Twitter enter a joint venture
Bloomberg will provide 24-hour-a-day news content, and Twitter will provide the distribution platform. With a move like this, one ought to put the odds that Bloomberg will ultimately buy Twitter outright at something around 50-50.
Andrew Jackson wasn't a laudable President
And we would describe him in colorful words today if he were from somewhere else. That's what makes the President's bizarre and vocal defense of Jackson strange. Even a sympathetic look at Jackson reveals huge flaws in his character.
Would we have a better safety net for the young if, instead of specific programs, we instead simply had a national program for cash payments to parents to ensure the well-being of their children? An interesting question. To be sure, the value of targeting individual programs has an offsetting cost in terms of requiring poor parents to jump through lots of bureaucratic hoops.
"Then why do you support him?"
When an open supporter of the President says he finds it hard to defend the officeholder, Katy Tur has a good question
May 2, 2017
Upskilling and the social-safety net
Germany is grappling with the question of just how much the government can do to insist that unemployed workers get new training -- how to do it, how much to pay, and whether it should affect their unemployment benefits. The time to make strong structural reforms is when unemployment is low (like it is now), and when pilot programs and other testing can be done with less impact and disruption to the public at large. But it's also worth noting that if there is an accelerated pace of technological change affecting workers, then maybe it's worth taking a bigger look at what should be done throughout the economy to help make the changes less dramatic. The Nordic Council's idea to make life-long education a compulsory requirement might just be the answer, despite how radically that may change how we think about education. It's hard to get people to take voluntary action to keep developing their skills -- Singapore, just for example, has miniscule participation in programs for continuing education (both at the individual level and at the company level). So it might just be necessary to make it a universal requirement in order to get the social commitment necessary to make it work. Work is a social thing, not just an economic one, so it makes sense to consider the social aspects of ongoing labor-force development as part of the big picture, both socially and economically.
UK regulators lean on the big websites to counteract hate speech
The problem with leaning on your user base to produce the content you need to make money? It's costly and difficult to weed out the bad content, of which there is a lot. And the producers of bad content have far more vested interest in producing it, getting it seen, and skirting the rules than the producers of good content have vested interest in tolerating it.
Russian propaganda seeks to influence the German elections
There are lots of people with Russian ties (including language) living in Germany, and they're getting messages that seek to undermine the incumbent government of Angela Merkel. Watch this closely! For Americans, it may be easier to see this interference from the outside than on the inside...but it's clear that Russia has turned to asymmetric psychological-warfare efforts to interfere with outcomes in democratic countries.
Seeing storms like never before
The new GOES-16 weather satellite provides a much more real-time view of North America than meteorologists had before. And with that comes much smoother animation of storm activity. When viewed correctly, it becomes a whole lot more clear that the fluid atmosphere above us behaves like a liquid in slow motion. The frequent updates might also help observers to pinpoint sooner when clouds start to break through temperature caps.
On the virtue of having multiple parallel careers
The column is a little on the flaky side for something from Harvard Business Review, but the main point is valuable: Pursuing more than one career interest gives a person more options and allows them to think deeply about how they can apply interdisciplinary thinking to problems.
Northwestern's J-school decides special accreditation isn't worthwhile
The official reason for letting the accreditation lapse: It "doesn't lead us to a goal of significant improvement". Good for them, if that's the full story. Ultimately, those certifications, accreditations, trade groups, and regulations that fail to actually cultivate improvement are only relics.
Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #22
A fistfight broke out on a passenger airplane. You never know when you could be trapped in a small space with a crazy person (and no weapons).
May 10, 2017
The public deserves answers about the Comey firing
If institutions matter, then processes must be held as important as outcomes. The rule of law depends on it.
The former acting attorney general just told the Senate that she tried to warn the White House that they were opening the door to grave trouble by letting Michael Flynn become the national security advisor. The trouble was that he could be subject to blackmail -- a serious problem for the NSA.
Australia's treasurer wants banks to pay a new tax but not pass it along to customers
He says, "Don't do it -- they already don't like you very much," reports the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Nobody should rise to a position of real power without understanding that tax incidence has nothing to do with who likes whom. It's simple: Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price. Taxes are always -- always -- shared between buyers and sellers in some proportion, depending largely upon who "wants" the transaction more.
"Lateral entry" into the Marine Corps
They're looking seriously at letting people enter the Marines without going through conventional boot camp training, as long as they bring necessary technology-related skills. It really may be time to open up a distinct branch of the military devoted to cyberwarfare.
Tribune Media sells out to Sinclair
The purchase price is $3.9 billion plus outstanding debt. Sinclair has quietly covered a huge portion of the country with its owned-and-operated broadcast outlets. A prominent Chicago media columnist reports the story with a dark headline, seeing it as an ominous political move. It might better be portrayed as another step in the demise of proprietor capitalism -- a process which has its own drawbacks.
When you can't even turn a profit on a casino...
The "Trump Taj Mahal" has been liquidated at pennies on the dollar from its original cost
May 11, 2017
Public officials must be loyal to the Constitution
The New York Times reports that the President asked now-fired FBI director James Comey for a statement of loyalty, and further reports that Comey declined. If so, it is to his credit. This would be a sensible time to point out that we should reconsider our national Pledge of Allegiance. We swear that allegiance "to the flag [...] and to the Republic for which it stands". It would be more patriotic if we swore that allegiance not to the flag, but to the Constitution. It is to the law -- and the Republic which it establishes, not just "for which it stands" -- that we owe our loyalty above all. Most certainly, above loyalty to any person.
A ham-handed firing of the FBI director reveals incompetence alongside a craving for power
Megan McArdle writes: "There are a lot of sources of political power in the American system, and those civic institutions will fiercely resist any attempt to remake them into hand-crafted tools of Dear Leader's whims." The President's desire to preserve himself (and promote himself) appears unbounded by any self-control, and the unrelenting urge to appear decisive actively undermines any case he might make on behalf of the legitimacy of his decision. He manages, somehow, to be defiant, defensive, and desperate for approval -- all at the same time.
Aetna says it's quitting the ACA exchanges
There's just not going to be any individual insurance left. Iowa has already reached the zero hour, and soon so will plenty of other states. We may find ourselves forced without consent into a single-payer system.
Trade needs its defenders to speak up
Protectionism is the helicopter parenting of economics -- if we plunder the consumer in order to "protect" industries that cannot (or will not) compete, then we're only conducting a transfer of wealth from people who earned it to those who have politicians on their side. Trade agreements are not zero-sum. It is possible to benefit by exporting more -- and by importing more. Importing cheaply that which we can only produce at great expense (or not at all) isn't a loss. Nor is importing something of lower value and converting it (by assembly, refinement, or other upgrade) into something more valuable.
LDS Church withdraws support for certain Boy Scout programs
The Boy Scouts play an important role in the civic well-being of the country. This is an unfortunate withdrawal: Like America, the Boy Scouts are stronger because they consist of many who can differ about they ways they will live their private lives, yet still share an essential belief in some common principles of civic life and engagement. The less we retreat into our own silos of self-similarity and the more time we spend achieving common good alongside people who are different from us, the better.
Propaganda on the American front page
Because American photographers weren't allowed inside, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Boston Globe all ran photos from Russian sources of an Oval Office meeting between the President and the Russian foreign minister.
May 12, 2017
President threatens former FBI director
Empty threats of intimidation are conduct unbecoming a Constitutional officer of the United States. A reasonable argument could be made that the President is trying to intimidate people currently in the White House, more than the ex-director of the FBI.
Why carry live White House briefings anymore?
The apparently deliberate misinformation campaign conducted by the present administration suggests that it may be journalistic malpractice to give their press briefings a raw feed to the public. One simple technique could be implemented if broadcasting networks decide to start fact-checking the administration: If the speaker is lying, fabricating, or misleading, switch the video to black and white. That would offer a simple but unavoidable visual cue that could have a real impact.
Attorney General wants to look tough
Federal prosecutors are told to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense". The problem with this approach is that discretion in the direction of mercy is a cornerstone of justice in a society like ours. That's why the President retains the Constitutional authority to pardon.
All lives matter: Refugee stillbirth
A 22-year-old Syrian woman passing through Switzerland as a refugee had a stillborn child, and her treatment by authorities may be to blame. The Swiss authorities have opened a case against one of the border guards involved, as they rightly should. Anyone who vocally countered protests in the United States with the phrase "all lives matter" should examine whether they believe the lives of the refugee and her baby mattered...enough.
Literally tens of thousands of computers have been infected and some people are paying the $300 ransom. It appears to have crippled the British National Health Service. It's so bad that Microsoft has issued patches for Windows XP and Windows 8, both of which are "no longer supported". That's a big concession and an indication of just how significant the attack really is. As is so often the case, the best preventive measure is to make sure that your operating systems are fully up to date. Reputable sources say the NSA used the same vulnerability in the past to spy on computers.
Let's put drones in the sky during tornadoes
Much better to fill the air with drones (potentially providing useful live video) than to fill the roads with storm-chasers
Facebook imposes "sound on automatically"
As people scroll past videos in their "news" feeds, videos will play their audio automatically (until the user deliberately switches the setting). Auto-playing audio was a stupid feature of the Internet 20 years ago. It's mind-bogglingly stupid to impose it in 2017.
May 16, 2017
Norway overcomes the trouble of low oil prices
Oil and gas are obviously hugely influential to the Norwegian economy, but they're fortunate to have diversified away from a purely extraction-based economy.
A future fighting Russia's "little green men"
We're a long, long way away from the days of trench warfare
China's public diplomacy is on the rise and needs a rival
China is using "Confucius Institutes" to launch public diplomacy all over the world tied to their "Belt and Road" project -- an official says, "Confucius Institutes have been launched in 51 of the 65 countries linked to the initiative's two main routes". It's entirely their right to do so, but it should also be a substantial warning to the United States that now is not the time to back down from the world stage, but rather time to step up our own public-diplomacy efforts.
Increasing automation is going to hurt smaller communities hardest
The general thesis: Big cities have specialists, and their jobs are hard to automate. Small cities have lots of generalists, and their jobs are much easier to automate. This thesis is worth much more examination.
The Atlantic Monthly cover story "My Family's Slave" is positively riveting
May 18, 2017
One-paragraph review: "The New Democrats and the Return to Power"
Worthwhile reading for students of both American political history and political strategy
May 21, 2017
Indefinite ignorance of our budget problem won't make it go away
Budget watchdog group Fix the Debt: "The President is right to focus on job creation and tax reform. But he should not rely on unrealistic and rosy economic growth projections to pay for his proposals or fix our debt. It is not a good idea to spend as if you won the lottery in hopes that you actually do."
It's not the crime, it's the cover-up
McClatchy cites members of Congress: "Investigators into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential elections are now authorized to probe whether White House officials have engaged in a cover-up."
Too many Americans who knew that a free press was a key to winning the Cold War are now quick to share propaganda on their Facebook pages. We need to get smarter, not more entrenched in preconceived notions. Perhaps social media apps shouldn't open until you've been forced to read two pages in a book.
RTNDA statement about attacks on journalists
"Above all, reporters are representatives of the public." Yes.
Montgomery (Ala.) just got more than 8" of rain in 24 hours
There really just aren't civil-works infrastructures designed to handle that kind of water
Why Europe needs to understand China's "Belt-and-Road" concept in a hurry
China is undertaking a big concept: Essentially, that its interests are best served by heavy investment in the infrastructure that will permit it access to markets abroad so it can export more. But the concept isn't just about what China wants to build, but what the nations on the receiving end of the investment decide to do.
Could self-driving electric cars kill the automakers?
One team of futurists estimates that households will save thousands of dollars a year if they start using self-driving cars that are part of fleet services. What's perhaps more interesting is to consider what happens if people continue to own vehicles but (a) simply have a lot more time at their disposal because we waste so much human energy behind the wheel, and (b) save a ton of money because electric cars turn out to be much more reliable than combustion-engine vehicles. Some of the projections in the forecast are far-fetched (recovering "vast tracts of land" seems unlikely), but others could unsettle some of the biggest industries in the economy, including the oil companies.
Norway needs to fix the Doomsday seed vault
Water got in the front entrance, where it wasn't supposed to
May 22, 2017
An atrocity in Manchester, England
At least 19 people were killed in a bombing at a pop concert
DNI and NSA director both pressured by the President to deflect on FBI investigation
"Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate". Those with loyalties to the institutions of good self-government are the true heroes of this era.
Former FBI director chooses to testify to Senate Intelligence Committee
Interesting question: Why not the Judiciary Committee?
The benefits of agglomeration economies
Writes Noah Smith: "[W]e need to increase the chances of whole new fields of technology being created", and one way to raise the odds of that happening is to encourage lots of migration by smart people to places that want them
Pittsburgh and Uber on the outs over driverless cars
The technology holds enormous promise -- but the developers need to follow the rules while they're still testing things
What to know and where to see Total Solar Eclipse 2017
The Upper Midwest is going to have a decent view -- especially Nebraska
May 23, 2017
Who gains the most from NAFTA?
Note the substantial benefits that accrue to states with substantial ag sectors. There's no good to be gained from producing surplus crops, meat, and other products if there's no place to use or sell the excess output. Anyone who bears even a rudimentary understanding of specialization and comparative advantage ought to grasp that without liberalized trade policies, the states with surplus to sell will find themselves losing out.
"A significant person of interest"
If officials within the White House are under criminal investigation, then the investigation must be permitted to proceed without obstruction or interference, and the public ought to be on very serious alert.
On romanticizing Manchester: "Please stop celebrating my hometown"
Commentator James Palmer (the Asia editor at Foreign Policy), who grew up in the city says the terrorist attack shouldn't elevate the city into a symbol: "Of course Mancunians opened their homes and brought out free sandwiches and hurried into emergency rooms to save lives, and God bless every one of them. But they did that because they're people, not because they were Mancunians."
There are no words for what happened in Manchester, and there shouldn't be
If we had words for a time like this -- if we had rituals for reacting -- then we would be acknowledging this kind of attack as something normal. We should resist that normalization.
20% of kids killed in car crashes were improperly/not restrained
There's no reason for preventable child deaths
When Chinese students speak freely in America, someone may still be listening back at home
A Chinese student speaking at her commencement from the University of Maryland found herself on the receiving end of heavy criticism from home for revealing that her experience in America overturned the notion in her mind "that only authorities owned the narrative". This is exactly why a strong American effort on behalf of public diplomacy everywhere is a worthwhile investment. People shouldn't have to come here to get the message.
How essential is broadband Internet service?
From an economic perspective, it's almost as essential as other basic utilities like power, water, and sewer service. If that's the case, then there may be a case to be made on behalf of ensuring universal access -- and that, in turn, may influence whether people consider it worth subsidizing for those who live in places where it's not economical to deliver under conventional assumptions.
May 24, 2017
Keeping the US and China from conflict
A magnificent insight from Graham Allison: "We really need to rethink our vital interests and the way we cling to the Pax Americana established after World War II. That status quo can no longer be sustained when the economic reality has tilted so dramatically in China’s favour. America’s real strategy, truth be told, is hope. At the same time, Chinese authoritarianism is no longer sustainable."
The Carrier plant in Indiana -- for which the President took such gleeful credit for "saving" hundreds of jobs through negotiation -- is laying off most of those "saved" employees before Christmas. The President shouldn't have interfered in the first place, shouldn't have taken credit for the jobs, and now deserves as much blame as the undeserved credit he took.
Former Sen. Alan Simpson isn't persuaded by the White House budget
(Video) He is gravely concerned that we're right about at the tipping point where a reversion to historical interest rates are going to destroy anything left in the budget. He notes that leaving entitlements untouched in the budget leaves no room for any of the discretionary spending that people expect to get from their government.
The "strong leader" myth has got to go
A big range of countries have become disturbingly more open to strong-man politics in the last couple of decades. That's a problem, because the appeal of the "strong leader" is an artifact in our brains leftover from the past, when power did more to define groups of people than principles. That doesn't fit with a modern world that broadly depends on peace and trade rather than bloody fights.
Assaulting a reporter is attacking the Constitution
A candidate for the US House of Representatives just physically attacked a newspaper reporter for asking questions. When you go after a reporter, you (symbolically) go after the First Amendment. And there is no room for that in our Constitutional order. The news media ought to resist the temptation to overstate what happened...but the candidate ought to be instantly disqualified in the minds of the voters.
May 25, 2017
Sweden, now worried about a reanimation of Russian aggression, is putting more resources into national defense
Shameful if nations have to make a rational calculation to spend much more money and time on defense because we abandoned the liberal order. It's an inefficient use of resources to spend them on warcraft if we could have peace through strength (and mutual defense) instead.
What's so hard about reaffirming the core of NATO?
The President declined to reaffirm that US policy backs the Article 5 commitment to mutual defense in his hectoring and uninspired speech at NATO headquarters. (He also shoved another NATO leader like a toddler.)
Rep. Nancy Pelosi promises a $15 minimum wage
It's a ridiculous stunt in her bid to become Speaker of the House again. It's not really a feasible solution to poverty...and worse (from an electoral standpoint), it's not going to attract middle-class voters who aren't now voting Democratic.
Ankeny, Johnston, and Waukee all remain fast-growing
Ankeny even makes it into the very top tier for fastest-growing cities in the country
Uber Freight arrives on the scene
What the company did to remodel the taxi business, now it wants to do to over-the-road trucking. In the short run, it could be good news for independent drivers who are looking for a better way to fill their time carrying loads. In the long run, don't forget that Uber wants to go way beyond paying human drivers; they already own a project devoted to putting self-driving freight trucks on the road. In a sense, drivers who work for Uber Freight will be training their own replacements.
Even more new screening at airports
The TSA is going to increase the amount of screening applied to electronics with "new procedures" at ten airports this summer. The official announcement makes it sound like they're just going to require people to take things like cables and devices out of bags and put them in to separate bins for screening. But at this stage, who knows?
May 26, 2017
Defendant loses Israeli case because she texted with too many emojis
By peppering her text messages to a prospective landlord with a bunch of happy emojis, a judge concluded that she intended to show positive intent to rent, and now she has to pay a few thousand dollars in damages. There's a reason the written word beat out the pictogram millennia ago.
It may seem quaint, but just being against something (like an unlikeable President) still isn't enough to motivate winning coalitions of voters -- at least not reliably.
Among all the other reasons to worry, now China's taken on too much debt
And a heavy debt burden threatens the prospects for growth, which in turn could destabilize the country if it doesn't liberalize its politics. It's a whole basket full of alarms.
Murders in Portland apparently tied to racist attack
New York Times conducts spectacular forensic reporting on the Turkish protest violence
The report makes it clear: Officials of the Turkish government brought violence to Washington, DC
Not only is Russia hacking, it's faking some of the outputs
What better way to take advantage of the "leaks" resulting from their hacks than to deliberately falsify or modify some of the leaked materials in order to do even more damage?
President Trump accuses Germany of being "bad, very bad" for exporting goods
Trade is less about "We sell, you buy" and more about how complex things come together. The President's abject failure to understand how this works is his own deliberate fault, and it is inexcusable. A world that trades voluntarily is a world that delivers material well-being to its people and peace among its nations.
May 29, 2017
How the declining cost of transportation could promote exurban growth
While some of the projections are likely to be true, the narrative of this article from Bain and Company assumes that on balance the growth of automation will be bad for cities and good for less-densely-populated areas. That runs contrary to other projections, which suggest that as low-skill, widely-found jobs are disrupted by automation (especially in areas like retail service), cities will be the only places where enough concentrated specialists will be found to make economies sustainable.
June 4, 2017
Yemen borders on total civil collapse
And the world has done little or nothing to actually help. Do we not think the consequences will affect us somehow? Don't they always?
What is "patriotic" about attacking another country's free and fair elections?
When Vladimir Putin says that "patriotic" hackers "may try to add their contribution to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia", he's not really denying that his government could, would, or did try to interfere with the outcome of the US Presidential election. There's nothing "patriotic" about trying to undermine another country's self-determination. What an awful characterization.
It's perfectly fine to have a President who practices no particular faith (as long as he or she has given the matter some thought). It's fine for a President to come from an unusual or small faith tradition (again, as long as some thought has gone into the choice). It's fine for the President to come from a mainstream faith tradition (ditto on the "thinking about it" part). But for a President to not know the very basics of how Christianity is categorized among Protestants, Catholics, and other groups -- or within Protestantism, between evangelicals and mainline denominations -- betrays a deep lack of understanding of something that forms a deep sense of personal identity for millions of Americans. That's pretty astonishing.
June 5, 2017
No, we're not going to "defeat terrorism"
Terrorism is a tactic -- and it's been employed by a wide range of groups over time to achieve political ends all over the spectrum. To talk about defeating a tactic is to promise something that can never be accomplished -- so it only sets up the public for failure, cynicism, and a sense of defeat. Specificity of objectives is important.
Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results that come from it
And in the case of the President's management style, the process is perfectly designed to create chaotic results among people who vie for limited attention from a person who desires esteem above all things. That's a recipe for people to push boundaries, bend rules, and cross ethical boundaries.
Productivity figures are nothing to stoke excitement
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that labor in the non-farm business sector in the US is only 1.2% more productive than it was a year ago. Without a lot more labor-hours worked, it's really going to be hard for the economy to expand in any durable way. Weak productivity growth at a time of low participation rates in the labor force (low in no small part due to retirements among Baby Boomers) is really the deepest-seated problem in the US economy.
Young people need productive things to do
Iceland dealt with a substance-abuse problem among young people by finding them better things to do. It's a universal truth: If there aren't productive alternatives, young people with nothing better to do will fill the voids...and it should never come as a surprise if the voids are filled by things like drugs and alcohol, if those are the things that someone else has an incentive to push. The alternatives don't necessarily have to involve government, but they do usually require some kind of concentrated effort by people who are willing to commit some resources to filling the voids.
All sides in American politics need to back off the hero-worship
The DCCC is still trying to rally public support around messianic images of President Obama. That's not a path forward.
June 11, 2017
Amazon.com will offer small discount on Prime to people on public benefits
It's self-serving behavior, but it's also potentially a way to do some good for people who are economically on the margins. Anything that reduces the "cost of being poor" (as we've come to understand it) deserves attention and consideration as a public good.
Tesla's market capitalization now exceeds BMW's
That's a long way to go in a short period of time
UNI enters 3+3 law program agreement with Drake
The university also has a similar deal with the University of Iowa's law school
Sen. Bernie Sanders is out on the campaign trail again, pushing a hard-leftist agenda. It's full of energy and hype, but short on productive policy. The harder he and his acolytes push on the Democratic Party, the more they risk fracturing it entirely.
French president wants to loosen up labor markets
If Emmanuel Macron is successful, he will have done a great service to his country. The more flexibility to be found in labor markets, in general, the better.
June 12, 2017
France's startup political party is crushing legislative elections
En Marche is perhaps the most interesting and most disruptive startup of modern times
Tennessee enacts free community college for almost all adults without degrees
An educated (and credentialed) workforce is one way to induce demand
Autonomous cargo ships are coming
A substantially larger prospect than self-driving cars -- and yet, in technological terms, not that far away
The militant left is breaking the Democratic Party
We need (at least) two intellectually honest and principled political parties for our electoral system to work. If the GOP succumbs to a transient populism on one side while the Democrats succumb to a transient populism on the other, then as a nation we're in trouble.
Would 3% annual economic growth be wonderful? Absolutely. Is hoping for that number enough? Not even close. The CFRB notes the kinds of hurdles we'd have to overcome in order to consistently get to 3% annual growth in the United States. This matters because outrageously high growth projections are required for the current White House budget concept to come anywhere close to working.
June 14, 2017
US Senate approves new sanctions on Russia
And appears to seek new ways to constrain the President along the way
Apocalyptic fire at a UK housing tower
Shocking images of a tall building completely engulfed in flames
"The average rent in Oakland now is $2,400 a month"
The shortage of housing in the San Francisco Bay area is apparently at titanic proportions. KGO quotes a housing official as saying there have been 500,000 new jobs created and only 50,000 new housing units built in the last half-decade. The resulting shortage appears to be creating strain all over the place, including among senior citizens who now can't afford housing. The fact that sufficient new housing hasn't been produced when demand should be somewhere on the scale of ten times new supply suggests that some kind of regulatory or resource constraint is creating a massive chokepoint. And, when in doubt, assume that developers will find a way to overcome the resource constraint (like available land) with money (like building taller towers), so there's a pretty good chance you're looking at a regulatory choke.
Lawsuit result could categorize LinkedIn as a "work environment"
Such a definition might subject it to a giant wave of new internal and external restrictions and policies
"Tweet logorrhea does not reflect a well-thought-out strategy"
The President loves using Twitter...but it's massively against his best interests, at least from a legal standpoint
June 15, 2017
Rumors of looser capital-reserve requirements
Anything that would reduce the amount of reserve capital required to be held at banks should require some pretty extraordinary justification
"Presidencies don't come with training wheels"
Excuses are no substitute for knowing what you're doing when you're in the most powerful office in the Federal government
Absorbing Yahoo is going to cost Verizon half a billion dollars
That's a whole lot of spending just to get a new asset to fit under the corporate umbrella
Nestle might sell off its US candy business
Butterfinger, Crunch bars, and Sweet Tarts could all go on the auction block
Wind turbine collapses in Nebraska
Now, to find out why
June 18, 2017
Tough times in an economic sector lead to consolidation
And with times being tough in farming right now, expect to see more consolidation in agriculture
Chair of national Libertarian Party says "smash the state"
That's anarchism, not libertarianism. If your first belief is in the preservation of natural liberties, then some form of government is necessary. Coercion will exist with or without government power, so the only way to preserve liberties is to make sure that some form of coercive power is held by a government subject to rules, so that it can in turn prevent private individuals from coercing or oppressing others. You can't "smash the state" like an anarchist and effectively preserve liberty.
Concerted effort to raise college education rates among American Indians works
It's no small matter to raise the percentage of degree-earners among an entire population -- particularly one with extremely high poverty rates
Gordman's is being liquidated in a hurry
Just one example of trials (among many) in retail
How automatic emergency braking could be an anti-terrorism tool
It already makes sense to implement "guardian angel" technologies on behalf of ordinary drivers and passengers on the roads -- but it also could serve to prevent the use of heavy vehicles as weapons against crowds of pedestrians
June 21, 2017
There was a child in the back seat
When Philando Castile was shot by a police officer -- seven times -- there was a young child in the back seat. And after that trauma, the child could only think of her mother's safety.
South Korea wants the US to cool down the conflict with North Korea
One might imagine that Seoul has more skin in the game than people spouting off in Washington, DC -- and that brinksmanship with a tinpot dictator isn't a strategy with a good outcome in game theory
Colorado voter wants to ban pre-teens from getting smartphones
Should preteens be discouraged from living entirely through smartphones? Yes. Should they be banned from getting them? No. That's the attitude of a nanny state. What about the kid from a household with limited means (or disengaged parents) who uses a smartphone to take lessons from the Khan Academy? The problem is that in some ways, smartphones are as useful and good as public libraries. In others, they're all of the worst things about TV. But smartphone use is the kind of thing that should be decided by conscientious parents, not an overbearing government.
Ford is going to build the Focus in China
Ford thinks it'll save $1 billion by making the switch away from US-based production
An excellent episode of "Frontline"
June 22, 2017
The President of the United States (whomever that may be) needs to be a person with credibility. When a President is caught bluffing (as when President Obama backtracked repeatedly on his "red lines" over incidents in Syria and Ukraine, or when President Trump admits he doesn't have tapes of his meetings with James Comey), that undermines the security of the nation. The words of our chief executive need to mean something so that we don't always have to back them with force.
Experts review the Philando Castile shooting
Every police-involved shooting death really should be submitted to independent review, just like we do for plane crashes and train incidents via the NTSB. The reviewing body doesn't even have to be empowered to punish anyone -- but we do need to get a close look at exactly why individuals die during encounters with officers of the peace. If doctors and surgeons have to submit to morbidity and mortality reviews as a means of learning how to do a better and safer job in the future, shouldn't police departments submit their own incidents for the same kind of clear-headed review? Again, it doesn't even have to be punitive to be useful.
What are the odds your job will be automated?
A really fascinating tool for seeing which jobs are at highest risk. Automation is vastly more destructive to jobs than trade, but trade gets all the bad press. (But automation and trade also help to create new and better jobs -- in accounting terms, they destroy in gross but create on net.)
The White House needs to back off its threats of trade wars. That behavior is very bad for the economy.
Another way cybercriminals can get you
A take on the "man in the middle" attack that could crack even conscientious computer users
One-paragraph book review: "The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge"
An overlooked gem in American political biography
June 23, 2017
An outstanding timeline of Russian efforts to influence American elections
The Washington Post has delivered a blockbuster report on what happened and when, and how the United States (under two different Presidential administrations now) has sought to respond...or not.
Documenting the Philando Castile case
Reasonable people should expect better answers about why a gun was fired seven times into a car with this child in the back seat, leaving an innocent man dead and the child (and her mother) traumatized.
Boeing sees no future for the 747
Not as a passenger plane, except for its service as a VIP carrier like Air Force One
How En Marche reached out to French voters living in the UK
The startup political party went to some unusual measures to win
June 24, 2017
Protesters start using airports for political rallies
Politics notwithstanding, airports are really bad sites for mass protest. Large gatherings of riled-up people create an implicit security hazard, and could easily offer cover for malfeasance by terrorists. No matter how "spontaneous" the organizers want to pretend to be, if they use the same site (like an airport) more than once, then an opportunistic attacker need only scope out the security response the first time before coming back the second time with intent.
Buildings that integrate plants into their design
Literally "green" architecture: An article to think about the next time you see a drawing of a skyscraper with some random trees depicted somewhere around the 75th floor.
President acknowledges Russian attempts to interfere with election
That's a dramatic change in position, but efforts to influence the outcomes of our elections aren't new, aren't over, and aren't to be viewed through narrow partisan lenses. Sen. John McCain issued a lengthy opinion piece arguing that efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election were just "one phase of Vladimir Putin's long-term campaign to weaken the United States, to destabilize Europe, to break the NATO alliance, to undermine confidence in Western values, and to erode any and all resistance to his dark and dangerous view of the world." As Michael Bloomberg wrote: "Not admitting your problems means you can't fix them." We have a problem, and it's not one that fits a predefined partisan divide. It's a problem for all Americans, together.
"Another political party will not matter if Americans remain ignorant rage addicts"
Sage words from Tom Nichols. Better politics start with the character of the voters ourselves, so if we're not pleased with the results we're getting, then we need to start addressing the systems we have in place that create the voters and outcomes we get. It may not be reassuring to acknowledge, but self-government doesn't work without decent people choosing how to self-govern.
White House responds to House intelligence committee by copying a Presidential tweet
By this standard, all Presidential tweets should now begin with the conventional "My fellow Americans" and conclude with "May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America."
June 25, 2017
Russia attempted cyberwarfare on election systems in 21 states
That's per a deputy undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security
Think you're smart? Try the Debt Fixer.
See what it actually takes to fix America's chronically imbalanced budget. One approach: Make significant reforms to entitlements -- both taxes and benefits, send responsibilities back to the states, and impose some mild tax increases. Unpalatable? Then find and suggest another way.
An American reporter in Venezuela
A fascinating Q&A with Hannah Dreier, who tells important stories about a nation in the midst of economic collapse
Honda touts the fact its Accord engines are made in the USA
Off-duty St. Louis police officer shot by another police officer
The off-duty officer was trying to assist people in need
Women were tossed out of a protest march in Chicago because their Jewish rainbow flags "made people feel unsafe"
We really ought to celebrate the things that didn't work, or came far ahead of their times, since they often provide the stepping stones to much better things down the road
June 26, 2017
The President's sworn duty is not "to keep the homeland safe", but to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.
On the President and the Constitution
Jack Balkin, a Yale Professor of Constitutional Law, with a warning: "[M]any people have wondered whether we are currently in some sort of constitutional crisis. We are not. Rather, we are in a period of constitutional rot."
Bystander shot in downtown Omaha
It's the scenario people have nightmares about: Walking down the street and getting shot because completely unrelated people near you got into a fight
The company's been spinning off a lot of divisions already. It's a far cry from the times when it was a true and vast conglomerate. Conglomerates (in the pure sense) have fewer inherent advantages over other business types in times like these, when capital is really cheap. But if interest rates were higher (or if the government were to impose tax policies that punished dividends), then it would be rational to expect more of the classic conglomerate form to return.
Flying in a classic Ford Tri-Motor to get perspective on today
Air travel is unpleasant in all sorts of ways today, but it's still a million times better than when it was "glamorous"
Ritz-Carlton getting into cruise market with 300-passenger ships
With most other cruise lines doing what they can to stack thousands of passengers on top of one another, this whole niche approach is either a smart innovation or a symptom of complete saturation in the market. Possibly both.
June 27, 2017
Chicago Public Schools to pay $70,000 a day in loan interest
That's just a short-term loan while the district apparently hopes to get a bailout from the state government. Illinois and Chicago (in particular) are at the forefront of one of the biggest unrecognized risks to the US economy: State and local governments with obligations that will be impossible (or extraordinarily difficult) to meet without dramatic changes to spending, taxes, and future promises.
Federal Reserve chair Yellen says bank capital positions have improved
Whether that means the Fed will be enthusiastic about lesser capital requirements is a matter to be watched carefully. She suggested low concern that another banking crisis would re-occur anytime soon.
CBO forecasts large numbers of people to lose insurance under proposed health care reforms
The ACA set the ball rolling in an unsustainable direction, and things could in fact get worse
Major construction ahead for I-80/I-380 interchange
The Iowa DOT plans a dramatic reconstruction of what is presently a wildly over-congested interchange
June 28, 2017
Sweden saves in advance to prepare for demographic waves
Social-market/"soft" socialist economies can survive in the long term under a very limited set of conditions: A small, culturally homogenous society with some sort of government-owned (or heavily-taxed) resource wealth with judicious and far-sighted government management, along with a strong entrepreneurial class, pragmatic programs for ensuring useful (and near-universal) employment. That's an extremely tough set of conditions to satisfy, and the Nordic countries are a rare set of examples where these conditions have been more or less satisfied.
Using social media analysis to predict riots much faster than calls to the police
A development that requires urgent review and consideration by the civilian authorities who should always oversee the use of police power. There's a whole lot of good that could be done with these tools -- but also an enormous amount of harm.
What happens when people who are just out to capture royalties and other "rents" displace people who create productive new enterprises? Nothing good, it would seem.
TSA might use sheet explosives as reason to scan your reading materials
Is it explicitly the objective of the government to get a look at what you're reading? No. But even if it isn't the intent, it could very well end up being the effect.
Three Chicago police officers indicted on felony charges of conspiracy
A special prosecutor thinks they engaged in a felonious cover-up of the shooting of Laquan McDonald
A long evening of storms in Iowa
Feeling at the end of a tornado watch: "Oh, so I don't have to worry about a black cloud of death dropping randomly out of the sky anymore?"
Connecting to WiFi lets them tap into information that can be signaled in color: Like weather alerts...or incoming emails
June 29, 2017
Federal government requests voter rolls from states
Proceed with caution: States are in charge of their own elections for good reason, except in those cases where they've proven themselves incapable of handling the job responsibly. The default answer to a request like this should roughly be: "Show me a court order."
Debt is heading in the wrong direction
The CBO's latest estimates show the Federal debt on the rise to about 90% of GDP over the next ten years. As a country, we are on track to borrow an additional $3,000 per person per year over the next ten years, because we fail to arrange our spending priorities and raise the appropriate revenues to pay for the ones that matter. And with an economy that doesn't know how to grow faster than 2% a year, we'd better take seriously the need to restrain our spending habits.
Estonia takes over presidency of the EU Council
And at a very timely moment for the EU to place a focus on the Baltic states -- as well as cybersecurity, which is a priority for those countries as well
Anniversary of the creation of the Interstate highway system
Though government should always be limited, it probably has harmed our national character that we haven't had a big, constructive nationwide goal since the 1960s. Americans haven't really forged anything together (in the sense of a binding national identity) since the Interstate system and the Apollo missions.
MLB umpire saves suicidal woman in Pittsburgh before game
A timely reminder that most people are trying to do the right thing most of the time. We should amplify that fact.
Big banks plan big dividends and share buybacks
Noted in the Marketwatch report on the "stress test" results: "[T]hey'll be paying out close to 100% of projected net income over the coming four quarters, compared to 65% last year."
Don't make unnecessary decisions
Decision fatigue is one of the most useful concepts from behavioral economics that just hasn't quite made the leap into mainstream culture.