Gongol.com Archives: 2017 Third-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol





July 3, 2017

News "Russia's stealth public relations war"

Public diplomacy works wonders when done effectively, and Russia's government has clearly been aggressive about using it

News "Rebuilding" the Democratic Party with Obama's help?

As put by one commenter: "Iceberg plays behind-the-scenes role in rebuilding Titanic". President Obama's campaign for the White House largely sought to transcend the Democratic Party -- and while in office, the President didn't merge his campaign with the party of which he was the titular head (he kept "OFA" running as a parallel operation to the DNC), nor did he appear to do things to groom a farm team of Democratic party leadership (most voters would be hard-pressed to name more than one or two Obama Cabinet officials, no doubt due in part to Obama's penchant for micromanagement). In other words, much of the damage was done by the individual now being asked to help do the rebuilding.

Iowa West Des Moines moves south of Highway 5 in 2018

In support of the Microsoft data center being built near the Maffitt Reservoir, the city is going to extend Veterans Parkway and build a bridge over I-35 -- serving traffic by 2018

News Why a statesman's words matter

Laura Rosenberger: "Deterrence is based on credibility and capability. And credibility requires clear signaling of intentions."

News What does it mean to say that "all roads lead to Rome"?

In much of Europe, it's literally true




July 4, 2017

The United States of America The Declaration of Independence

"To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"

Broadcasting Russian propaganda broadcasts arrive on the DC radio dial

Public diplomacy has never been more important than it is right now. Facebook acknowledged in April that it was used as a tool of disinformation by foreign actors (read: Russia) to influence the US elections.

Threats and Hazards Cholera outbreak in Yemen affects a population the size of the City of Des Moines

Cholera spreads where there is no clean water, and the war in Yemen is enough to disrupt what access many once had

News Illinois flirts with junk-bond status

The state almost certainly needs to raise taxes, but who wants the blame for doing that?




July 5, 2017

Threats and Hazards North Korea launches an ICBM

Or at least that's what the evidence suggests. And an ICBM in the hands of an unaccountable, irrational authoritarian government is a gigantic problem.

News 8th straight year of population decline in Japan

And most of the nation's prefectures are also shrinking. The population is, on net, both shrinking and gravitating to Tokyo.

Threats and Hazards "101 people shot between late Friday afternoon and early Wednesday" in Chicago

Victims aged from 13 to 60

Aviation News Airbus claims 140 airplanes sold to China

That's a massive order

News Freight trains are growing longer

Good news for shippers, but not so great for ambulance drivers




July 6, 2017

Threats and Hazards Mind the gap

We can manage a gap of one or maybe two percentage points between government revenues and government spending (as a share of GDP) -- if the economy grows faster than the gap. But not what's on tap: 23.6% in spending and 18.4% in revenues (ten years from now). Deficits aren't free.

News Nebraska election officials put up resistance to Federal snooping

The states are in charge of elections for good reason -- unless they show a specific inability to conduct them freely and fairly, it should remain that way

Computers and the Internet Why is rural broadband access a fight?

Many serious policy issues are treated inconsistently because we haven't decided whether Internet access has the status of a public utility.

Business and Finance Why do American companies make aluminum in Iceland?

Per the New York Times: "Electricity in Iceland costs about 30 percent less than what Alcoa might pay in the United States." Iceland got into the smelting business because it needed to find something to replace fisheries. That's the effect of specialization in action.

Humor and Good News A police chase -- of a suspect on a tractor

These things do occasionally happen in the Midwest




July 7, 2017

Threats and Hazards Two Presidents, zero serious strategy for cybersecurity

Both Presidents Obama and Trump deserve blame for failing to take seriously the threat of cyberwarfare (in all its forms, from attempts to steal voter lists to efforts to interfere with voting machines to influence campaigns and microtargeting). It's a high-leverage problem: Bad actors can get their hands on powerful cyberweapons with little investment and can do asymmetrical damage.

Threats and Hazards CNN says Russia has 150 spies in the United States

That's a significant non-zero number, and certainly doesn't count the number working on things like "signals intelligence" back home

News "[T]he White House hasn't submitted nominations"

Of 564 high-level appointive positions being tracked by the Washington Post, 68% have no nominee. That's after 168 days in office.

Threats and Hazards Russia's government is overcompensating for a bad economy

To understand why the Putin regime would want to meddle with foreign elections, look at the state of the Russian economy. A bad economy raises the proportional returns to investment on creating chaos elsewhere. People perceive relative status -- so efforts to make everywhere else look "just as bad" may be a more effective strategy than fixing what's falling short domestically.

Health Iowa City/Cedar Rapids hospitals agree: Fireworks injured a lot more Iowans this year

Lifting the ban on the sale of fireworks may have seemed like striking a blow for freedom, but dozens of people were injured in the process






July 10, 2017

Threats and Hazards Love your country first

The President's affections for Vladimir Putin are unjustified

Computers and the Internet Sen. Lindsey Graham: Cybersecurity cooperation with Russia is incredibly dumb

We need to take cyberwarfare seriously. To do so with the "help" of one of our major cyber-adversaries would be preposterous.

Socialism Doesn't Work Sen. Bernie Sanders resumes campaigning for President

He's going to keynote a left-wing convention in Iowa on July 15th.

The United States of America Couple has been to every county in 49 states

Alaska, alas, is too much work

Business and Finance Dalian Wanda Group sells off controlling stake in hotels and tourism projects

It's a substantial retreat from the investments they had been making in Chinese real estate, supposedly to reduce debt and free up cash. That could also be an early warning signal of trouble ahead for Chinese financial markets.





July 12, 2017

Business and Finance How brain drain hits small countries

In this case, it's Finland. But similar circumstances apply not only to small nations, but to small states as well. As the global urbanization trend continues, so will the concentration of population in some of the world's largest urbanized areas -- and some of that will suck human capital out of lesser-urbanized places. Not everyone wants to live in London or Tokyo or New York City, but it will take a concerted effort by the Helsinkis (metro population: 1.3 million), Winnipegs (800,000), and Des Moineses (600,000) of the world to make sure they retain and develop their share of highly skilled civic, educational, and business leaders in the face of high returns to urban agglomeration economies.

Business and Finance Is a trade deficit a symptom of living beyond our means?

On the surface, yes. A net trade deficit with the rest of the world is often a symptom of a country that consumes more than it produces. But...there's also the question of capital flows. If a country has lots of valuable capital stock (factories, intellectual property, real estate, and so on), then it's possible to exchange things we have for things we want. It's not perfect -- it's like living off a trust fund -- but it's not necessarily living beyond our means. And, importantly, if we create new capital stock (for instance, by building expensive new real estate projects like the new second-tallest skyscraper in San Francisco), then it may be possible to buy things, send cash overseas, then get some of the cash reinvested back in the country. And depending on factors like property bubbles and the impact of agglomeration economies, it may be possible for foreign direct investment to come back to buy overpriced capital, reducing the relative cost of the net imports.

News "Does starting a band called ThugHammer count as a plan?"

The Onion spoofs the new requirement imposed on students in the Chicago Public Schools -- requiring them to have some kind of documented plan in order to graduate from high school. The plan goes into effect for the Class of 2020, and while it is completely understandable why something beyond a high-school diploma really is the de facto standard for a comfortable socio-economic future, that's a far cry from making it into a de jure standard. The advocates for a "Grade 14" policy (like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan) appear to be well-intentioned and get the problem generally right -- as the economy has grown more sophisticated, so have the expectations for people to be prepared for work -- but the prescription runs the very real risk of being, well, too prescriptivist. Creating true "lifelong learners" is a much bigger challenge than simply moving the goalposts for what it means to "finish school".

Computers and the Internet Microsoft to push for rural broadband access

They're proposing to conduct twelve experimental installations of broadband-over-TV-spectrum. Using the "white spaces" in the spectrum is supposed to be a cost-effective way of reaching people in places with population densities between 2 and 200 people per square mile. That basically describes all but about half a dozen counties in Iowa, though the state is not on Microsoft's list for the test runs. Nobody should choose not to recognize the economic, educational, and cultural impairment that is imposed today by a lack of access to high-speed Internet. We haven't chosen yet to give it the same kind of legal status as other near-universal utilities like electricity and water, but it's not far from being just as essential, at least in economic terms.

Threats and Hazards Why we should all worry more about North Korea

One scholar of arms control worries that we may already be down a path of no return towards open conflict with North Korea -- and no matter what we do to put up defenses here in the United States or abroad (as in South Korea), there may be targets that are vulnerable to attack in ways we cannot defend effectively -- and one of those is Seoul.




July 13, 2017

Business and Finance Dallas Federal Reserve president has some reasonable observations and concerns about the economy

Robert Kaplan: "[W]e are in the midst of a fragile equilibrium regarding global oil supply and demand"; "[W]e are moving very close to full employment in the U.S."; and "Our economists at the Dallas Fed believe that the skills gap in the US is substantial." And one other thing: "[T]here are likely limits to the ability of countries, including the US, to further increase debt to GDP in order to generate higher levels of economic growth...raising questions regarding fiscal sustainability which, if not addressed, could negatively impact longer-run economic growth."

Iowa Iowa's 28th baby surrendered under "safe haven"

It's hard to fathom what kind of emotions go into a decision like this, but we should be very glad we have a way to protect these little lives. Also interesting: Looking at how other countries handle this agonizing decision. Germany has a two-track approach, which includes not just a safe-haven option, but also the option for "confidential birth" to protect those mothers who may be at risk of domestic violence or other hazards.

News Vatican goes after "evangelical fundamentalism"

It's a pretty spicy editorial, with a reference to the effort to "submit the state to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism". It also argues that "[Pope] Francis radically rejects the idea of activating a Kingdom of God on earth as was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and similar political and institutional forms, including at the level of a 'party.'" Especially interesting: The piece condemns the use of "an ecumenism of conflict" -- alliances of political convenience between Catholics and non-Catholics who have short-term political objectives that would serve mainly to cement larger, long-term theological separation. Quite interesting.

News Florida state attorney pulled over for...what, exactly?

Dubious traffic stops should not put anyone at undue risk (or even inconvenience) due to the color of their skin

The United States of America Population shifts

Texas grew from a population of 23.9 million in 2007 to 27.8 million in 2016. That increase (just shy of 4 million) is greater than the entire population of Iowa (3.1 million). We should really see lots more maps that use tilegrams to illustrate elections, since geographic size is so disjointed from population.




July 14, 2017

News Representative from Connecticut wants mandatory on-camera White House press briefings

Representative Jim Himes wants the on-camera press briefings to become mandatory. In theory, sure -- the manner in which the present administration has run away from legitimate scrutiny from the press, including their ridiculous approach to on-camera/off-camera press briefings, is an abomination. But is this a legitimate use of Congressional authority? It's hard to say that it is. Just consider applying the same test to the third branch: Could Congress order the Supreme Court to allow cameras? One would think not. It's important not to over-reach in the course of trying to execute legitimate inter-governmental oversight. This has close parallels to the illegitimacy of the White House project to demand voter data from all 50 states: To the extent that existing standards are in place to permit retrieval and requests for voter documentation, it may be hard for states find the legal authority to reject the Federal request for that data. But it's still a substantial overstepping of norms for the Federal government to make such a request (especially when there is no evidence to indicate that the states have somehow become incapable of conducting legitimate, free, and fair elections on their own). Moreover, it is a clear violation of the intent of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which in no uncertain terms reserve all unenumerated rights to the people and all unenumerated powers to the states and the people. If the Federal government isn't acting to prevent a state from encroaching on the rights of citizens, then it really has no standing to tell anyone what to do with their elections.

Computers and the Internet If you contact government officials, watch out for your own privacy

The Federal commission that claims (dubiously) to be examining the integrity of elections took public comments -- then, apparently, revealed the personal contact information of at least some of the people who submitted public comments. If you're going to contact officials in a way that will go on the record, make sure you're using a PO Box, a public-facing email account, and a telephone number that masks your own (like, for instance, a Google Voice number). Put no faith in the people who take your comments to redact your private information for you.

Computers and the Internet Alexa device didn't call 911 for a domestic-violence victim

But that's how the sheriff's office wrote up the story. Though the device can't initiate a 911 call, there's a lot that can legitimately be done to make our smartphones and other gadgets into better tools for putting technology in service of human needs. It's not much to ask that artificial intelligence tools like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant should be programmed to take notice of situations, searches, and queries that might indicate that the user is at risk of an imminent health problem (mental or physical) or is in some form of danger.

News Florida school district prohibits routine homework for elementary-school kids

Instead of busy work, the superintendent wants parents to spend 20 minutes a day reading with their kids. This is an utterly laudable plan.

News Kid Rock claims he's a real Senate candidate

If the Senate is supposed to be composed of two people from each state, representing the best discernment and judgment that can be found in each of those states, then a recording artist like Kid Rock is a real test of those standards. Shouldn't the bar be higher for entry into either house of the national legislature than fame alone?

Science and Technology Omaha Public Power District to get 40% of electricity from wind by 2019

The better we can get at energy storage and recovery, the higher those figures could potentially go




July 15, 2017

News Social Security trust fund will go broke before today's newborn is out of high school

How can this be made more plain and clear? We've gone along with a giant national lie that the problem would resolve itself. It hasn't. It won't. When the trust fund is gone, payments will drop as Social Security becomes fully pay-as-you-go. Yes, 2034 seems a long way away, but if you can remember Y2K, then you should be able to project ahead to 2034 with equal ease.









July 21, 2017

News Minneapolis police chief resigns over civilian shooting death

Justine Damond and Jamar Clark were both unarmed civilians killed by Minneapolis police officers during the outgoing chief's tenure.

Threats and Hazards "Nothing compelled them to be Good Samaritans"

A group of teenagers apparently watched, mocked, and recorded as a man drowned in a Florida pond on July 9th. They might be free of legal culpability for choosing not to render aid, but they might face prosecution for failing to report a death.

Threats and Hazards The state of the First Amendment isn't uniformly good

The Newseum Institute finds that only 49% of people ages 18 to 29 believe in universal freedom of religion

Health 360,000 people with cholera in Yemen

That's just in the last three months. An appalling figure.

Computers and the Internet 21% of American adults are online but don't use social media

For as much as Facebook and Twitter and their cousins are discussed every single day in the news, one in five of us don't use them (but aren't holding out on the rest of the Internet). Another one in 10 doesn't use the Internet at all.





July 23, 2017

Business and Finance Federal Reserve chair Yellen: "Congress should be taking into account" the impact of debt

Higher interest rates are likely if not inevitable, and with productivity growing only very slowly, there's a serious collision course ahead between Federal borrowing and private-sector growth

Threats and Hazards The President does not have the support of former intelligence leadership

The big question is whether the views of emeritus spy chiefs reflects the attitudes of current spies. It seems like more than a case of sour grapes.

Iowa Major flooding in northeastern Iowa

Sumner and Fredericksburg both saw colossal rainfalls

Broadcasting Univision is looking for a sale

The company owns about 60 radio and 60 television stations, and they're trying to find a way to either go public through an IPO (which appears to be their distant second preference) or sell out to another media company. It's actually a bit surprising that anyone would want to give up control of such a premier property in a specialty media market (one which shows no signs of shrinking).

Business and Finance Wyndham buys AmericInn

A move of interest to the Midwestern hospitality market, involving about 200 hotels




July 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards "Now that the west is conscious, again, of Russian active measures, where else could Russia use its cyber capabilities, and to what end?"

We've already seen what the agents of cyberwarfare can do to a political system. What about their impact on economic ones?

Iowa Iowa State Patrol to go undercover to enforce laws against texting-while-driving

Discouraging the practice of distracted driving is a fine idea in theory -- but it's also worth asking just how comfortable we are with sting-type operations that are specifically intended to surprise ordinary people with police enforcement

Threats and Hazards Political peril on the road ahead

The administration's erratic behavior means there may be no road ahead. Al Hunt suggests that "...it's not crazy conjecture that a president who doesn't think the rules and laws apply to him would try to replace the attorney general with somebody not recused from the Russia probe."

Business and Finance OECD looks at state-owned enterprises and foreign investment

Key: "As bearers of state as well as commercial interests, SOEs may place their emphasis on strategic acquisitions, such as advanced technologies for example, on non-market terms." This means state-owned enterprises looking to invest in other countries might behave in ways that would wildly distort market outcomes. Suppose, for instance, that it's considered in the national interest to gain some form of security or military technology by any means necessary; in that case, a supplier company (like Lockheed Martin or Northrup Grumman, in theory -- or even Microsoft or Kaspersky) might find itself the subject of a takeover attempt that may not reflect market realities. This distortion may be one of the strongest cases for domestic political intervention in the case of foreign asset purchases.

Broadcasting New York Times expects apology from "Fox and Friends"

The newspaper submits a demand that the broadcaster retract and apologize for a segment that accused the paper of foiling a government plot to kill a terrorist. Given the program's strange and disproportionate power to influence the President of the United States, this is more than a mere dispute among rivals.









July 30, 2017

Threats and Hazards Former Secretary of Defense is on high alert for nuclear war

Bill Perry: "I believe that today the likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War"

Threats and Hazards Official NYPD response to the President on police brutality

"...sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public"

Threats and Hazards Terrorist plot in Australia

A plan with an "improvised device" and no clear tie to an organized group

Science and Technology Nebraska small towns pitch eclipse as tourism opportunity

Some of the best eclipse-viewing will happen in some of the most sparsely-populated territory in the country

Broadcasting "Friend from College" could do better

The cast is fantastic. The soundtrack is spectacular. The script falls short.




July 31, 2017

Business and Finance When the President damages the dollar

Political risk has a real cost, even if people don't realize it

News Remembering the I-35W disaster

The 10-year anniversary should serve as a reminder of just how badly we tend to neglect our infrastructure: How much did people all over the country care about dangerous neglect in the immediate aftermath, then cease to care later even though nothing really had been done?

Threats and Hazards Children traumatized by life under ISIS

They deserve a better world than what they've been given

Science and Technology How Alphabet wants to try storing energy

The Google parent company has obvious reasons to want to capture and store energy on the cheap

Science and Technology The Tesla Model 3 is almost here

And it goes farther on a single charge than people might have expected




August 1, 2017

Computers and the Internet Russia bans the use of VPNs

Starting November 1st. That's the kind of intrusion on individual privacy rights that most people probably don't understand, but it's a huge encroachment.

News Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Olympics

May they break the usual patterns and have a profitable, successful, and durably positive outcome -- but don't count on it. We'll hear a lot of claims that "This time will be different" -- but it rarely is.

The United States of America Virtues still matter

An excellent commentary from David French on remaining true to a virtuous system of values in politics in a time that doesn't seem to reward those much

Aviation News Aboard the last United Airlines 747 flight

Not a whole lot of aircraft have ever had a kind of mystic hold on people -- the 747 and the DC-3 are probably the two at the top of the list.

News Deliberate mixed-use developments "in-a-box"

"Urby" developments appear to deliver what some would denigrate as a sanitized version of urban living. Others would argue that it's a way to radically increase the value of an otherwise low-rent property. In truth, it's probably somewhere in between. There's not an especially great history of the long-term outcomes of heavily-planned development projects, especially not when tied to things that seem trendy (like millennial-themed urban living).


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August 2, 2017

The United States of America Let us ask less of the Executive Branch

George Will, a prominent conservative critic of President Trump, argues that some good may come of the damage Trump does to the country if it gets us to move away from our national infatuation with a strong Presidency. The commander-in-chief isn't (and shouldn't be) the legislator-in-chief.

News Is immigration justified only by the expected work value of the immigrants?

It's not particularly true to our national character to think of immigrants purely as factors of production -- nor is it particularly consistent with the long-term good of the country. Many of us here today are the descendants of low-skilled immigrants like fur trappers, subsistence farmers, and woodsmen. The administration's proposed rules for skills-based immigration are more of a ploy than a thoughtful approach to reforming the system.

News When the boss becomes an obstacle...

...work may simply flow around the blockade. That's what some people think is happening in the White House now, with the President acting as the obstacle.

News Norway's "nice" prison

If freedom is the ultimate value, shouldn't a lack of freedom be the real punishment for most criminals? Shouldn't we do whatever is best to actually reform (or "correct") inmates so they don't re-enter the system after release?

Business and Finance "Re-skilling": A phrase to get to know

It's an inevitable byproduct of economic and technological progress that most people aren't going to be able to stick with a static set of skills throughout their working lives. It's time to get our policy priorities straight so we can accommodate.




August 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Sen. Jeff Flake: Trump won on "oversimplified answers to infinitely complex questions"

Not a small thing for a seated United States Senator to say about a President (nominally) of his own party

Threats and Hazards CNN reports Mueller investigation into Trump money ties

"Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections..."

News Don't start a trade war: It hurts here at home

Nebraska could get hit hard by tariffs imposed by Japan on beef they get from us

News Does international democracy promotion matter to our national interests?

First and foremost, America's allegiance ought to be to supporting self-determination around the world. But it's pretty hard to extract self-determination from democratic processes. This is a very important question, because the way we frame our values and priorities in diplomacy shapes how we act.

News Mark Zuckerberg hires a pollster

Naturally, this stokes the fires of speculation that he's thinking about running for office -- perhaps even President. Does one have to assume he wants to be the front man? Might he be investigating in the interest of finding a prospective winner to back?




August 4, 2017

Business and Finance Industrial espionage only works in the beginning

Research based on what happened when East Germany stole West German ideas suggests that it works in the short run to steal ideas -- but in the long run the cost of stealing starves the flow of money to organic research and development.

Business and Finance Silicon Valley workers cost too much for Japanese automakers

Toyota and Honda are looking for Japanese talent to bridge the gap between the world of automaking and the world of high technology. There's too much competition for the hot employees in Silicon Valley. Take note: What made Toyota and Honda successful as they emerged from obscurity was operating under serious constraints in their early years. Adapting to adversity is in the corporate DNA of both companies, and it makes them tougher when they develop skills on the inside. Meantime, Toyota and Mazda are cross-investing and building a joint plant in the US.

News "Our commanders-in-chief, not our commanders in the field, are responsible for this failure"

Senator John McCain fires a shot across the bow at the Trump Administration over Afghanistan policy

Aviation News Boeing and SpaceX both plan manned spaceflight in 2018

NASA hasn't done manned spaceflight since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.

News What's going to replace the old Des Moines YMCA?

The prime riverfront property has been empty for months now, and the Federal government is threatening to build a new Federal courthouse there. The city is not amused; for predictable reasons, the city government would rather see the property become a high-tax-revenue private space instead of an untaxable Federal property. Similarly, one can see why the why Federal employees might be interested in erecting a courthouse on what's one of the most attractive properties in the entire city. If you can't control much about how much people get paid (and Federal pay scales are what they are), then you can offer "compensation" in the form of a great view out the window in a beautiful new building.




August 5, 2017

Humor and Good News A fine gesture

The Chicago Cubs gave Steve Bartman a World Series ring. Closure.

Business and Finance What keeps young people from working?

One important factor to measure and consider is the minimum wage. The higher the barriers to entry for the young to enter the labor force, the harder it is to get on the great American prosperity escalator. Ideally, we'd look at entry-level jobs as the equivalent of classrooms for the soft skills needed to "graduate" into more sophisticated jobs.

Threats and Hazards Russia has more tanks invading Ukraine than all of Europe has tanks at all

That's an epic imbalance. Russia has invaded Ukraine in a big way, and that's not a settled condition.

The United States of America Some people still look at public service with humility

A thoughtful brief essay on the dignity of serving in the Executive Branch.

Socialism Doesn't Work Don't get fooled again

"[L]eft-wing economic populists are enjoying a resurgence [...] This is a scandal." Venezuela is a grave example. In the words of the Associated Press reporter who has at last decided it's time to leave the country: "There was no war or natural disaster. Just ruinous mismanagement..." Venezuela's catastrophe is man-made, and its only way out will be man-made, too. Unfortunately, they're in the violent score-settling phase of a civil collapse, where opposition leaders are hauled off in the dark of night by shadowy forces.

Weather and Disasters Parts of Iowa are 16" above normal precip for the year

Others are 8" below. And they're not really that far apart.

Business and Finance A novel and interesting angle on the universal basic income

Consider: A complex welfare system rewards those who have the skills required to navigate it successfully. Those are skills that could be put to better use in the working world. While that's not a definitive case for the UBI, it's well worth taking into account. In a similar vein, there are people who doubt the value of revenue-neutral tax reform. They shouldn't be such skeptics: It's the same logic that rewards using an EZ-Pass on a toll road or a touchless card on a subway: Same cost, but with lower "friction" loss. If you pay the same amount but with less transactional friction, you're still better off.

Aviation News NTSB report on narrowly-avoided disaster at San Francisco airport

An Air Canada jet almost landed on a crowded taxiway. The pilots got confused, and the radar system that's supposed to prevent this kind of thing didn't because the plane was in a blind spot. It could have been a calamity of huge proportions, and the pilots involved weren't rookies -- 30,000 flight hours between them.

Health One in 50 US deaths are drug-related

It's a problem that has at least doubled in magnitude in the last 15 years. Any condition like this ought to be treated as an urgent public-health problem, which is how we should have been addressing drugs all along.

News European Council president: "There is a question mark over Poland's European future today"

Wouldn't pushing them away reward the people who want to take their country backwards and isolate the liberalizers?

News Too many generals in the civilian government?

It's possible that we can have several good individuals serving as former military leaders in civil office right now, and still be engaging in a hazardous concept.

News The White House isn't a "dump"

An expensive suit can look like a wreck if it doesn't fit the man. Maybe it's the same with a house that doesn't suit the occupant.

Business and Finance Money as aesthetic object

Retired pennies in the floor

Business and Finance Someone wants to experiment with the Dunkin' Donuts name

Taking the "Donuts" out of Dunkin' Donuts is like taking the "Burger" out of Burger King.

Business and Finance A slip in the trade deficit

Exports are up and imports are down. Among those who will seek undeserved credit for this, who will acknowledge the impact of a weak US dollar in making our exports cheaper and imports from other places more expensive? The dollar is much-weakened (down 8% in value since November), and whether that is a direct result of politics or not, it's entirely unfair for anyone to take credit for "doing" anything politically to level out the balance of trade. Note, too, that the weak dollar has an inflationary effect on the stock market, so when the President tries taking credit for the stock market, he's doing so absent the offsetting impact of what's happened to the dollar.

The United States of America 34 million immigrants are in the US legally

Including 19.8 million who are naturalized citizens, which is a population equal to the State of New York -- the 4th largest state. A true credit to our nation.


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August 6, 2017

Threats and Hazards How deep is the rot?

Robert Mueller may be finding things that most Americans would be appalled to discover

News Addressing a thorny issue by considering the counter-factual

Should Southern cities preserve their Confederate monuments? One answer can be found in asking whether they would erect any new ones today.

News Donald Trump can't define himself without Hillary Clinton

He needs her (or someone like her) to survive. The Democratic Party needs to figure that out.

News California Gov. Jerry Brown becomes a voice of reason within the Democratic Party

Interesting, considering how mercurial a figure he was when he ran for President in 1992

Iowa United Technologies reportedly wants Rockwell Collins

Rockwell is a huge employer in Cedar Rapids (#1 in the private sector and #3 overall), where it's a homegrown institution




August 7, 2017

News Movie review: "Dunkirk"

Occasionally confusing (by design), "Dunkirk" tells a necessary story of honor

News City thinks man stole 21.5 million gallons of water

Criminal mastermind risks actual prison time for a product that costs less than 1 cent per gallon




August 8, 2017

Agriculture A recession only some people are feeling

It's hitting the Midwestern ag economy hard. Important: "A full repeat of the 1980s is unlikely[...] But it doesn’t remove the fact that the current downturn is severe[...]"

Threats and Hazards "Fire and fury like the world has never seen"

The President makes threats to North Korea. Strength is one thing, and bluster is another. Remember the words of Dwight Eisenhower: "[O]ur basic national objective in international affairs remains peace -- a world peace based on justice." Also Eisenhower: "We seek not violence, but peace. To this purpose we must now devote our energies, our determination, ourselves."

News Visitors from Chicago tour landmarks in Cedar Rapids

Gives one cause to wonder: Which of today's architects are leaving behind work that people will still tour with interest in 100 years?

Threats and Hazards It's hard to see the debt-to-GDP ratio not reaching 100% in the next ten years

Things look distressing if low interest rates remain. But if they revert at all towards historical norms, things could look downright awful.

News Grassley accelerates investigation of Trump campaign through Senate Judiciary Committee

Most of the interesting stuff thus far has been happening at the Senate Intelligence Committee. Judiciary has been largely sidelined for a while.

Health 2 million opioid addicts

If they gathered in a single place, they would outnumber the entire population of Nebraska

Threats and Hazards Lots of Russian flights in the Baltic with the transponders off

Radio Poland says "Most of the Russian aircraft did not respond to air traffic control."

Threats and Hazards North Korea might now have a miniaturized nuclear warhead

Tie that to one of the missiles they've been showing off, and there's a real problem

Threats and Hazards IED at Bloomington (Minnesota) house of worship

An offense to all reasonable, Constitution-adhering people


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August 9, 2017

News "Fire and fury" meaning nothing?

Some want to discount what the President meant when he threatened North Korea. Note what Calvin Cooldige said: "The words of the President have an enormous weight and ought not to be used indiscriminately."

Computers and the Internet Password absurdity

Complex requirements are counterproductive if they mean people just write down their passwords on sticky notes

Humor and Good News Editor chases a manuscript 30 years overdue

If you're this far behind on a writing project, it's probably time to find a good ghostwriter. Or even a bad one.

Threats and Hazards De-escalation isn't dishonorable

Anyone who's eager for war in Korea is thinking of it as an abstraction. The reality would be tens of thousands of individual tragedies -- all the tragedy of a single death, thousands and thousands and thousands of times over.

Business and Finance Honda goes against the grain and stays independent

Other automakers are rushing for tie-ups with one another, but Honda remains stubbornly independent. That's probably true to the company's intrinsic character, and thought it might be a more difficult way to climb, it's hardly the first obstacle in the engineering-heavy company's way.

Business and Finance Productivity is rising, but not by very much

If output per hours worked is only rising by a hair over 1% a year, it's going to be basically impossible for the economy to grow faster unless a whole lot of people start working or a whole lot more hours start getting worked

Computers and the Internet Iowa Homeland Security office issues notice about Kaspersky Labs

Kaspersky makes one of the most highly-regarded computer security suites on the market, but there are a whole lot of suspicions that have emerged lately that the outfit may have troubling ties to the Russian government.

News FBI raided Paul Manafort's house

The FBI search suggests that the special counsel investigation under Robert Mueller is stopping for nothing and no one




August 10, 2017

The United States of America A President has no Constitutional claim to an agenda

If you expect your President to "drive the agenda", then you're doing the Constitution wrong. A timely reminder in light of the President's open heckling of the Senate Majority Leader. Let it not escape our memory that the President's authority even to veto legislation is embedded as a subordinate item within Article I, Section 7. The President is given no Constitutional authority to tell Congress when to do so much as open a window curtain, and that's how it's supposed to be.

Business and Finance Every wasted day without a responsible Federal budget is going to cost us real money

That old line about compounding interest being the most powerful force in the world? It wasn't just personal financial advice.

Threats and Hazards Venezuela has an "all-powerful" new assembly

Don't let anyone sugarcoat the fact that bad government ruins good lives. The people of Venezuela deserve better.

Threats and Hazards President Trump cracks jokes to "thank" Putin for diplomatic expulsions

As stand-up comedy, this isn't clever. As fiscal statement, it's immaterial. As geopolitical strategy, it's nonsensical.

The United States of America Democratic centrists in the fight of a generation

For the good of the country, both parties need strong centrist wings. "Politics as it is, and not as ideologues wish it to be" is an apt description of the overarching problem for both major parties. American politics could use a lot less Santa Claus ("Here's what I'll give you in exchange for nothing!") and a lot more James Madison.

Iowa Iowa's drought is growing worse

Much of the state is now in a drought condition. That's bad news especially for a farm economy that's already weak.

News Cruise ship blackout

Passengers on an around-the-world cruise were told to help turn it into a ghost ship at night when traveling around the pirate-infested waters of the western Indian Ocean.

Iowa A dramatically renovated Lawther Hall

(Video) A classic building on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa has been radically updated









August 16, 2017

News Former Presidents issue joint statement

The Presidents Bush make an easy call: "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms." The statement should really be so obvious as to not even bear repeating, but the fact a sitting President struggles to make any such statement makes it necessary for his predecessors to say so. And in so doing, they exhibit an awareness of their joint legacy that escapes those who seem to think we should commemorate people on the wrong side of the Civil War. Isn't the idea that history may judge our behavior by a higher standard a fairly important tool to incentivize good behavior in the present? If your view of history is that it is static, then you're missing the point. It's not to be memorized. History must be grappled with. A compendium of names and dates is just a list. To really appreciate history is to struggle with questions of context, meaning, and choice. Sometimes, that may cause us some discomfort -- like when we have to acknowledge that the Founders were imperfect. But treating the Founding Fathers like humans rather than demigods is good for us. It says we have a duty to try to be even better than them. When we put the Founders on an untouchable pedestal, it says we are "less than" -- when in fact, we honor them most by trying to be greater. To understand their time (the Enlightenment) is to understand that they saw humanity as a work in progress, to be constantly improved upon.

Business and Finance Naming a company after yourself may correlate to higher returns

Whether it's causal or just coincidental is a different question -- but putting your name on the door might make a difference

News America's two major parties are in distress

They're factionalized to an extent we haven't seen in a long time

Threats and Hazards Kenyan police beat a baby to death over politics

The inhumanity of subjecting an innocent child to murder over adults and their politics should be incomprehensible to us all. It is most surely an abomination.

Science and Technology The merit in diversity for its own sake

Different people have different needs

News Advisory council shutdown

The President declares he's shutting down advisory councils -- after the businesspeople on the councils already quit en masse. The easier (and better) choice would have been to take responsibility for his own behavior.

News China's (expected) new vice-chair of the Central Military Commission

He appears to have been selected on merit, rather than connections. That's apparently a big change for China's military hierarchy.


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August 17, 2017

Threats and Hazards Why retain monuments to traitors?

The President tweets his opposition to removing Confederate statues from public display. This is a good time to re-familiarize with the drawbacks of the endowment effect. Just because we already have something doesn't mean it's valuable enough to keep. If we need monuments to keep public spaces beautiful, perhaps Rosa Parks statues would be a good substitute for those of Confederate generals.

Threats and Hazards War crimes are no solution

The President has tweeted out his endorsement of a fictitious counter-terrorism strategy. You will not find such nonsense recommended anywhere in the US military's wide range of professional reading lists.

Business and Finance A plan to revitalize the American economy

Some good ideas; others may need some work. All worth serious examination.

Threats and Hazards Don't impute motive where it does not exist

There's really no reason to think otherwise: The President is just winging it.

Aviation News What stops airlines from making seats smaller

At some point, it becomes impossible to effectively evacuate in time to stay in the good graces of the FAA

News It's getting difficult to recruit enough truck drivers

One major issue: Depending on how quickly autonomous vehicles reach the mainstream, this could be an occupational track heading into a narrow lane

Computers and the Internet A bad prescription for social media

Columnist Leonid Bershidsky correctly identifies that anonymous accounts on social media are responsible for a whole lot of bad behavior and cultural damage. But then he suggests that social-media sites "should be regulated in the same way as a TV station or a newspaper, which always knows the authors of the information it publishes." This argument is both radical and misled. The notion that government should step in to regulate social networks betrays a wildly misplaced confidence in the virtue of the regulators.

Health Scientists find a whole lot of genes that affect intelligence

The genes themselves aren't new, they're just newly-discovered. If we start to develop truly new genes...that would be a game-changer.




August 18, 2017

Science and Technology Who honestly thinks life was better 50 years ago?

Anybody who says things today are worse is welcome to turn in their smartphones, laptops, air bags, microwave ovens, and basically all chemotherapy drugs.

Business and Finance "Technical patterns" signaling a stock-market crash ahead?

Technical analysis is nothing more than astrology for stock-watchers.

News Short-term thinking puts long-term American interests at risk

Survey finds that a lot of military and foreign-service professionals in the Pacific think China's within 20 years of being the hegemon there

Threats and Hazards 13 killed in Barcelona terrorist attack

And Spanish police think they saved a lot more after a raid

Business and Finance Lots of management layoffs at Union Pacific

Putting a lot of white-collar talent on the market in Omaha

Health Cleaning up a broken CFL

It may be no real risk at all, but the recommended cleanup process rivals Chernobyl


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