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February 3, 2018

Broadcasting Show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 3, 2018

Airing live on WHO Radio from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Central -- AM 1040 on the terrestrial dial, or streamed live at WHORadio.com

Computers and the Internet Fallout from fake followers

Movie columnist Richard Roeper, exposed in a recent news report as one of the celebrities who purchased fake Twitter followers, has reached an agreement with the Chicago Sun-Times (his employer) to delete his old Twitter account and start over. Roeper's statement includes the line "On a number of occasions, in an effort to build my brand, I bought Twitter followers." The rules of the game are pretty fuzzy right now: Media outlets want "brand-name" presenters, hosts, columnists, and even journalists -- but the whole idea of "building a personal brand" is largely in conflict with the idea of institutional standards in journalism. Buying fake Twitter followers is a pretty sketchy thing to do, but when the reward structure inside conventional media puts a premium on digital reach, individual journalists are probably going to try it. There aren't a whole lot of clean hands in the commodity-clicks universe.

February 2, 2018

Threats and Hazards We should play no part in our own division

Sen. John McCain's statement today is perfect: "The latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests -- no party's, no president's, only Putin's. The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia's ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation's elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin's job for him." Just because people don't understand the actions being taken against us doesn't mean they're not real. Just because we don't want to believe that we're susceptible to attack via means ranging from influence campaigns to cyberwarfare doesn't mean we're invincible. And just because it's easy to fall into a divisive and tribalistic culture of internal division doesn't mean we can sustain a republic that way. We need vigorous and intelligent debate, far-sighted approaches to big problems, and a sense that we can be of different opinions without being enemies of our fellow Americans. It's an offense against the republic that the President terrorizes law enforcement from his bully pulpit because of his own selfishness. And with members of Congress acting as accomplices through the release of a memo that the FBI asked them not to, we have a lot of people showing the moral backbone of jellyfish.

Socialism Doesn't Work China's "Belt and Road" includes a media component

The head of China's Xinhua news agency is shown meeting with the prime minister of Laos to discuss "media cooperation". As Ely Ratner of the Council on Foreign Relations notes, "China exporting illiberalism and censorship in Asia. Expect much more 'media cooperation' under Belt and Road." If we're not a part of what's happening in the Asia-Pacific region, we shouldn't expect liberty and freedom to fill the void -- not with China's present leadership and the incentive structures they face. As Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore used to say, "To achieve the modernization of China, her Communist leaders are prepared to try all and every method, except for democracy with one person and one vote in a multi-party system."

Business and Finance Stock market falls by 2%

It's a pretty dramatic decline, and a reminder that the stock market isn't the economy and the economy isn't the stock market. A one-day decline of 2% isn't sustainable and rarely reflects more than the animal spirits taking over the market. But in fairness, the stock market has been overpriced for a while, according to any conventional and rational sense of valuation.

Computers and the Internet Facebook resists judging news sources

Mark Zuckerberg, on a quarterly call with stock analysts: "We don't want to assess by ourselves which sources are trustworthy. I think that's not a situation that or a position that we're comfortable with ourselves." It's rather like Zuckerberg has never met anyone outside his immediate psychographic profile. This "wisdom of crowds"/techno-utopian mindset has to go.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve hits Wells Fargo hard

Bank must replace four directors and hold its assets at the same level as punishment for the unauthorized-accounts scandal

February 1, 2018

Business and Finance Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta forecasts wildly optimistic economic growth rate

5.4% GDP growth would be fantastic, but there's no way to call it realistic. The fundamental underpinnings to support sustained growth at that rate aren't there.

Iowa Iowa drops from 2nd to 3rd in nation's wind-energy capacity

Iowa added lots in 2017, but Oklahoma added more. Now it's Texas in first, Oklahoma in second, and Iowa in third. Texas is way out in front.

Iowa Meredith completes acquisition of Time

In an interesting historical footnote, Des Moines was once the home to Look Magazine, which was intended to be a rival to Life Magazine. Life is long-gone, but its name lingers as part of the direct-mail media company.

Business and Finance 4th quarter economic productivity slipped by 0.1%

It's on an annualized rate, so the figure itself isn't big. But the stock market isn't the economy, and the economy isn't the stock market. Stagnant or declining productivity is not a good bellwether for economic strength, no matter what the S&P 500 is doing. The economy and the stock market have been on totally different paths since 2008 -- the economy fell by something around 5%, and has subsequently grown by a total of maybe 20%. The stock market, by contrast, plunged by 50%, and has since doubled.

Threats and Hazards Was the CIA director's meeting with Russian intelligence bosses "routine"?

That's what Mike Pompeo says. Any contact of that type taking place right now has to be executed with the highest sensitivity to even the appearance of impropriety.

Threats and Hazards Is "Redfish" a Russian-funded propaganda operation?

The Daily Beast says the "grassroots" media organization is an offshoot of RT. Programming ought to be accompanied by an NPR-style sponsorship liner: "Support for this program is provided by...parties who would rather remain nameless, but whose interests coincide with sowing the maximum possible division within Western societies."

January 31, 2018

News A $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

Briefly hinted at the State of the Union, a giant proposal that ought to have some attention. $1.5 trillion is around $4,600 per American. We probably need to spend that much (or more) on a wide range of infrastructure projects, but the needs range widely and call for a lot of technocratic judgment. Saying you'll spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure is like saying you're going to lose 100 lbs. The admission means you probably need to do it, but it matters a great deal whether you're really changing your lifestyle or just banking it all on a two-week juice cleanse. Low interest rates today are a stupendous incentive to borrow for the long term on work that would have lasting value, but whenever "infrastructure" projects are done as a means of putting people to work, the work that is done may not be an efficient use of the capital.

The United States of America Sen. Jeff Flake has twice been a first-responder in the span of one year

At the Congressional baseball game, and again at the train crash en route to the Republican retreat. It is tragic that one person should have encountered circumstances like that twice in such a short time, but good for him for being prepared to do good things.

News The changing American household

A Pew research piece says that 31.9% of American adults live in households containing an adult who isn't the head of household, a spouse or partner, or an adult child of roughly ordinary college age. Of note: "Today, 14% of adults living in someone else's household are a parent of the household head, up from 7% in 1995."

The United States of America Should you love your government?

Your country, perhaps. But your government, never.

January 30, 2018

Science and Technology Someone claims to be offering "Human Uber"

A tool to provide virtual presence. The low-wage, low-skill, technology-enabled job of the future is...Larry Middleman from "Arrested Development"?

Threats and Hazards Russia names fighter plane regiment "Tallinn"

That's some very serious trolling, naming a military group after a national capital of a former satellite state

Aviation News United Airlines prohibits "emotional support peacock" from flight

Buried lead in this story: Someone has tried to bring an emotional-support spider on board an airplane somewhere.

News Omaha-area grocery store won't sell Tide Pods to under-21s

Isn't there some non-toxic, non-staining, extremely bitter flavor additive that could be added to the external gel of these laundry packs? Wouldn't that be the logical step for Tide and others to take? There were more than 10,000 incidents reported to poison-control centers last year involving children ages 5 and under. As a convenience, laundry packs have tremendous merit. But if there's a reasonable way the manufacturers could offset the hazard of ingestion (whether intentional or accidental), then it's worth asking what stands in the way. All of the buzz is about teenagers consuming them intentionally, but that's happened around 100 times this year -- whereas accidental ingestion by little people happens orders of magnitude more often.

January 29, 2018

Iowa Single-family home in northeastern Iowa contained more than 725 animals

There's no way to make that make sense

Science and Technology Republicans on FCC slam trial balloon over nationalized 5G service

Axios reports that there have been internal debates within the Trump administration about the idea of nationalizing the 5G wireless infrastructure. It appears to be part of an internal discussion among national-security team members, who frame the need to get away from dependence on increasingly dominant Chinese suppliers of 5G technology as a matter of national security.

Business and Finance "Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful"

Warren Buffett's axiom applies today, when the World Economic Forum review of global risks rates virtually no concerns over economic conditions.

News Cleveland to retire Chief Wahoo from uniforms after this season

File under: It's about time. Everyone knows that tastes and mores change over time, and sometimes that requires adjusting our present-day reality to match the changes. Does it mean some cultural icons might get sacrificed along the way? Sure. But anyone who is more attached to the rendering of a mascot of a baseball team than to scrubbing pretty blatant racism from the present really ought to adjust their understanding of what's important. We should be happy to take a path toward getting better about how we treat one another.

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January 28, 2018

Computers and the Internet Social media ought to mark the end of the vox pop

The "vox pop" (from "vox populi" -- basically, the "man on the corner" interview) has always been a weak spot in journalism. Tying it to easily-manipulated social media buzz only makes that worse. But that's what's happening -- news sources make stories out of the quantity of public reaction to items in social media. But in a time when it's become clear just how enormous and widespread the problem of bot contamination is, news organizations ought to put a stake in the heart of the vox pop altogether.

January 27, 2018

Humor and Good News It's easier to dream of those possibilities we can see

Aesha Ash is an African-American ballerina who is making herself visible (in full dress) in places people might not expect because she wants "to help change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women by showing the world that beauty is not reserved for any particular race or socio-economic background."

Business and Finance Wall Street Journal ranks the semifinalists for Amazon's HQ2

They conclude that Dallas and metro Washington, DC, are in the lead. That's pretty sound analysis.

Threats and Hazards The UN Ambassador shouldn't be subject to crude innuendo

Nikki Haley is shooting down crude rumors that she's having an affair with the President. There's no reason she should have to spend time or energy rebutting the rumors. We ought to have a world where we can all agree that issues of personal character do matter in politics -- without weaponizing rumors almost invariably at the expense of women. Women's reputations are indisputably put under attack far more by these kinds of allegations than men's, and there's no question that tends to have an effect that depresses the participation of literally half of the population in our civic affairs. It's not just scurrilous, it's degrading to our public welfare.

Threats and Hazards "[I]f anyone else had this much contact with Russians [...] they'd be considered a Grade-A security threat"

Tom Nichols gets directly to the heart of the problem: You don't have to believe there's some explicit quid pro quo between the President and the Kremlin to reasonably insist on a thorough investigation of the links. And the Senate had better agree.

The United States of America Democrats pick legacy-name member of the House to deliver response to State of the Union

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Robert Kennedy, represents a Massachussetts district in Congress. Picking a Congressman from a legacy political family to deliver the response to the ultimate anti-legacy, pro-disruption President in generations is a really dumb idea. The State of the Union address (and its response) is the flagship mass-market political moment of the year. Why they aren't putting the spotlight on a current governor or a recent Cabinet member makes it look rather like they're not taking this seriously. At all.

Broadcasting Radio show notes: Brian Gongol Show - January 27, 2018

Airing live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm Central

January 25, 2018

Threats and Hazards Two killed in Kentucky school shooting

It truly is a shame on our national character that violence takes so many young lives. It's a real public-health crisis: Homicide is in the top four causes of death in America for each of the age groups 1-4, 5-9, 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34, and suicide is the #2 or #3 cause of death in age groups 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34. These should be solvable problems, and we should have a sense of urgency about them.

Threats and Hazards Abusive gymnastics team doctor gets sentence of 40 to 175 years in prison

The sentence for Larry Nassar is deserved, but the judge was speaking to the rest of us when she said, "Justice requires more than what I can do on this bench." What stops the next abuser? Who protects the next victim? Those are systemic duties for all of us. Nassar used powers of manipulation and persuasion to get away with a massive crime spree over many years. One doesn't have to believe there was a broader conspiracy beyond him alone to believe that he was enabled and empowered by systemic and individual failures by others.

News Mayors ditch meeting with the President

The mayors of New York City, Los Angeles, and New Orleans were among those who dropped out of a meeting with the President after the Department of Justice threatened to subpoena a bunch of cities, counties, and states over "sanctuary" status issues. The President took shots at Democrats and others in the meeting with those mayors who showed up at the White House despite the boycott by some. Federalism is taking on some pretty unusual forms these days; the notion of a limited but energetic Federal government is being beaten senseless by a variety of opponents.

Business and Finance What we imagine to be important isn't always what's truly important

In a new Pew survey, Americans rank terrorism, education, and the economy as the "top priorities" for the President and Congress, while ranking the military, climate change, and global trade at the bottom of the list. As Scott Lincicome notes, the fact that an issue like trade falls at the bottom of the public priority list may contribute to why public opinion swings so much on the subject -- and why it remains an area subject to hijacking by protectionists with a vested interest in imposing higher costs on the public at large by shutting down trade. What the public values most isn't always what's most important: In fairness, eating vegetables and flossing are also low on voters' preferences -- but, just like trade, they're almost entirely in voters' best interests.

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January 23, 2018

Computers and the Internet British cybersecurity chief: "When, not if" a major cyberattack will target his country

The Guardian notes that "As well as North Korea, intrusions have been blamed on Russia, China and Iran." Now would be a good time to heed the words of Sun Tzu: "[T]he skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field." Cyberwarfare is different from kinetic warfare (where the objective is to blow up things), but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have a dedicated sense of what it means, both in theory and in practice. The longer it takes for the United States and its allies to treat cyberwarfare with the gravity it deserves, the worse-off we will be. As one observer notes, "people significantly overestimate the effect of Russian influence, and vastly underestimate the potential effect of disinformation from other sources (including domestic ones)". Fortunately, the antidotes to disinformation are effective no matter where the disinfo originates. Unfortunately, a lot of people are either unaware or unwilling to "vaccinate" themselves against any of it.

Aviation News Oldest operational ship in the US Navy completes dry dock work

The USS Blue Ridge (commissioned in 1970) is now back in service after a huge refurbishment. Of note: The US Air Force still flies B-52s built between 1952 and 1962 and only three years ago retired a 52-year-old C-130. To have airplanes in flight that are older than the oldest ships in the Navy seems counterintuitive.

Threats and Hazards Michigan man arrested for threatening to kill CNN employees

Does it have anything to do with the President's non-stop feud with the news media? Maybe -- the possibility certainly can't be dismissed. As columnist Niall Stanage notes: "As I learned growing up in Belfast, when politicians throw lit matches onto gasoline, you'll tend to get fires." Even one person whose anger exceeds his or her self-control is too many, and that hostility shouldn't be stoked from high office.

Business and Finance An America-free Trans-Pacific Partnership moves ahead

Canada, Japan, and nine other countries are marching ahead with a trade agreement despite the dropout of the United States. As Senator Jeff Flake notes, "We're being left behind." All other things being equal: Better a multilateral trade deal than a bilateral one; better low barriers to trade than high ones; better to be inside these agreements than outside of them.

Humor and Good News The one justified conspiracy theory

Individual sheets of select-a-size paper towels are scientifically designed to be 25% too small for any purpose under the Sun.

January 20, 2018

Socialism Doesn't Work Toll roads in North Korea

With nothing better to offer on the world market, North Korea is turning to what is literally one of the oldest stunts in economics to raise hard currency: Toll roads.

News A Presidency misexecuted

Tom Nichols assesses the first year of the Trump Administration, and finds that a lot of collateral damage is being left behind for POTUS 46 to clean up

Humor and Good News Early contender for 2018's "Person of the Year"

An Omaha nurse donates 8 gallons of her own breast milk to a new mother undergoing chemotherapy whose baby has a milk allergy

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January 15, 2018

Computers and the Internet Does Instagram withhold "likes" to play on the insecurities of users?

Really quite sick, if true. Ordinary people are at risk of doing evil things when they only look at what technology can do, rather than pausing to reflect on what it should do.

Weather and Disasters Cold weather sometimes rewards you with sundogs

A spectacular display in Iowa

Broadcasting On the passing of Dolores O'Riordan

A true genre, as I think of it, needs a foundational set of performers who set the definitions -- but it also needs artists who push out the boundaries, testing how far the genre can bend before it breaks.

Iowa Midway between the caucuses

An event Iowans mark by lighting corn-scented candles and preparing the guest room for politicians starting their "listening tours".

January 10, 2018

Threats and Hazards Politics corrupt religion

Self-appointed moral authority Jerry Falwell, Jr. says that the President's behavior "is no longer relevant". This is perhaps the best contemporary illustration why politics and religion should be kept apart: Not because religion would overwhelm politics, but because politics can corrupt religion.

Business and Finance The gig economy isn't bias-free

Women get treated differently not just in conventional workplaces, but in the gig economy, too -- even when they're the employers.

News While the United States dithers

The European Union is getting the signals: If the United States is going to hollow out its international presence under the Trump Administration, they're going to have to address a rearranged global power structure. French President Emmanuel Macron is in China, saying "I want us to define together the rules of a balanced relationship in which everyone will win." Europe naturally needs to maintain its own relations with China, but in the long term, we may be witnessing the slow erosion of American hegemony in the world.

News Five things to consider before putting Oprah in the Oval Office

Someone can be inspiring, decent, interesting, and popular. That doesn't mean we ought to hire them to be President. There really are different skills required to be President than what can gain a person commercial success.

Broadcasting Milt Rosenberg, a true radio icon, has died

Milt Rosenberg's show was consistently both intelligent and entertaining. He proved that truly smart talk could be must-listen radio.

Humor and Good News "Efforting a fix"

Why is this particular corruption of the English language so satisfying? Is it because it conveys urgency through its rule-breaking?

Business and Finance Honda's US footprint in a generation

Realizing that the company has only been in the United States for a generation, it's pretty remarkable just how far it reaches

News A beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright home sells in Chicagoland

What's truly impressive is just how good the home still looks at more than a century old. The Prairie Style is profoundly enduring.

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January 9, 2018

Threats and Hazards Deportation looms for more than 320,000 people

The US government has provided "Temporary Protected Status" to people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Sudan as a form of what is basically refugee relief. It's hard to imagine how returning more than a quarter of a million Salvadorans to a deeply troubled homeland. The State Department tells Americans to "reconsider travel" there -- the last level of advisory before "Do Not Travel". Putting substantial strain on Central American countries that can't handle the pressure certainly isn't a way to introduce stability there, which likely only makes conditions worse for Mexico.

Weather and Disasters More than a dozen people killed by California mudslides

With vegetation wiped out by wildfires, there's not a lot left to keep heavy rain from turning the ground into mud

Science and Technology How Americans really sleep

Fitbit data tells us a whole lot more than we've ever really known about how people actually sleep

Business and Finance Omaha developer wants to go back to the future

Or something like that, with old-style buildings in new construction. They would include buildings intended for mixed residential and commercial use -- but one big question looms: If developers are really going to push for new-build live/work spaces, what's going to sustain the relationship? Most business sectors are going to face consolidation and change, so merging living and working spaces with the old model of the "apartment over the shop" is really harder to justify than ever.

Business and Finance Alabama will get huge new Toyota/Mazda plant

Not a huge surprise, given Toyota's previous pattern of site selection

The United States of America Should we have a completely ceremonial head of state?

When times are good, perhaps we'd pick a happy figure -- an Oprah Winfrey or a Johnny Carson or a John Elway. And when people are angry, like many are now, we could handle putting a hothead in the spot to express the popular discontent.

Humor and Good News "Journalism"

Matt Novak: "It was admittedly an odd choice for The Post to just be 110 minutes of Tom Hanks staring at the camera and whispering 'journalism' while getting more and more drunk but honestly it works". Any reasonable person would totally watch this.

January 5, 2018

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg's 2018 personal challenge: Fix "important issues" about Facebook

It's a grand ambition to want to figure out how the platform is being used for bad purposes and causing harm either through malice or neglect. But -- while trying not to read too much into his declaration -- it's a curiously undirected project, in the sense that Zuckerberg really says only that "I'm looking forward to bringing groups of experts together to discuss and help work through these topics." ■ Experts can and should be consulted on issues like these. But the phrase "bringing groups of experts together" is really pretty empty. Lots of experts come together for lots of reasons in lots of places, and in many cases the only result is an empty box of doughnuts and a memo that nobody ever reads. There's no doubt that Zuckerberg himself is an intelligent person, but he's also fortunate to have lucked into being in the right place at the right time with a tool. That's all that Facebook is: A technological tool. And tools are almost always value-neutral; like Teddy Roosevelt once said, "A vote is like a rifle: Its usefulness depends upon the character of the user." A vote, too, is simply a tool. The question is really one of character. ■ And that is the part of the story with the greatest promise -- but also the greatest risk that Zuckerberg's endeavor will end up accomplishing nothing. Ultimately, given the extraordinary control he maintains over Facebook -- the tool and the company -- it is an extension of himself to a degree that has few rivals in history, save a few rare examples like that of William Paley and CBS. So Zuckerberg's plan really doesn't reach far enough: He mostly seems interested in preventing harm, which is necessary...but not sufficient. ■ Being against something bad is not enough; much harm has been done by missions against other bad things. Anti-Communism is an epic example: It was right to be against Communism, but the incompleteness of that mission allowed ills like McCarthyism and the John Birch Society to fill the void. Anti-fascism may have brought together the USSR, the UK, and the United States as allies in World War II, but Soviet anti-fascism was hollow in the sense that it sought to fill the void with its own totalitarianism. ■ Zuckerberg is, in many ways, a techno-utopian: His professed belief is in the goodness of the tools themselves. And that means that an effort to purge the bad from Facebook will be incomplete -- just like anti-Communism or anti-fascism. And it's quite unlikely that any meeting of "groups of experts" will provide the right thing to fill the void. Ultimately, it hinges on Zuckerberg's conscience to decide that Facebook is actually for something -- not the ultimate triumph of technology over bad things, because that has never been and never will be the case. Great technology in bad hands is an awful thing. ■ For himself and for the tool that is such a pure extension of himself, Zuckerberg needs to find a normative philosophy in 2018: Something to strive to be. It will never be enough to be anti-bad, and it will never be adequate to think that perfecting technology will perfect humanity. In choosing something for it to strive to be, Zuckerberg would ultimately narrow the appeal of his tool -- since some people would decide that they object to the goal or conscientiously object. But he would do well to consider the way in which Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, became the benefactor of the Nobel Peace Prize. Like Facebook, dynamite is a tool, used for purposes both good and evil. Nobel's legacy wasn't to convene experts to tell him how dynamite could be perfected. The tool itself wasn't the ultimate end: It was only a tool. But the goodness of humanity itself and the positive goal of peace? That was Nobel's choice. Whatever comes of Facebook in the years ahead, Mark Zuckerberg has to make a choice, too -- and it isn't about perfecting the "anti-bad" of his platform.

Business and Finance How much of GDP goes to Federal-debt holders living overseas?

A non-zero number, but less than 1%. Important, though: If/when interest rates rise, that figure could be at risk if we haven't also brought the Federal budget under control.

Computers and the Internet Double-spacing after a period

It's habitual for a lot of people over the age of 35, and sacrilege to many under that age. In fairness to members of Generation X (who are often caught in the middle -- applying the double-space out of habit, but knowing that people want it gone), the double-space emerged out of necessity in the typewriter age, and stuck around when computer printers still mainly generated output in fixed-width fonts. Moreover, there was something viscerally gratifying about the heavy mechanical "click" of the early PC keyboards, so the double-space lingered, if nothing else, because it was also an excuse to get extra mileage out of clicking the heavy keys.

Business and Finance Know what's unusual about the times in which you live

For anyone who wants to go beyond basic passive investing (which itself isn't a bad policy for most people), there are two essential things to do: Have a cogent investing philosophy, and know what's unusual about the times in which you're living. The era of the conglomerates, just for instance, rose and fell on tax policies and interest rates that were unique to their time. Warren Buffett's early defining move was to pull out of the stock market altogether when it was still boiling hot, since he understood that the times were about to change. And who wouldn't like to take a time machine back to early 2009 with a bag full of cash and a stock-trading account? ■ What's unusual about our times today? Extremely low interest rates (by historical standards), equity valuations that are untethered from conventional estimates of value, a monumental shift in the workforce, and -- not least of all -- a deeply arbitrary and capricious Federal executive branch. Where the Obama administration tended to be hostile toward capital in general, the Trump administration reflects the President's capricious attitudes and eagerness to capture whatever he thinks can be categorized as a personal "win". He (and, by extension, his administration) is quick to interfere with deals not on the basis of law, but on the basis of what appears to count for a short-term political victory. As Tara Lachapelle notes in a Bloomberg Businessweek column, this means that epic mega-mergers like Disney/Fox and CVS/Aetna could all be in danger of rude surprises.

Threats and Hazards "What Wolff is describing is an open secret"

Newly-published book or not, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the President lacks curiosity and knowledge about the world, making him a singularly dangerous Commander-in-Chief.

January 4, 2018

Threats and Hazards Casual threats of nuclear war

If the President takes nuclear war so lightly as it appears, he has never read any history of war, never pondered the weight of his office, and never cared about any human life besides his own. Certain members of Congress are talking about restraining the power of the President to initiate a nuclear first strike. Policy thinker Megan Reiss quite wisely suggests sending every President-elect to Hiroshima and to a concentration camp, "to contemplate the impact of acting and not acting, and the weight of choosing." Even a war fought with conventional weapons guarantees the loss of thousands of innocent lives. A person who cannot take that seriously is not to be trusted with any weapons at all, no matter what their form.

News Instead of posing with the handbook of "Antifa", how about a Constitutional selfie?

If a member of Congress wants to strike fear into the heart of an abusive President, there's no need to take a selfie with "The Antifa Handbook". Just pose with one of the classics: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Federalist Papers. All three provide the necessary foundation for striking proper fear into the heart of anyone who would misuse the power of the Presidency.

Threats and Hazards The distressing softness of the President's self-confidence

The very thought that the President would threaten a private citizen by sending a "cease and desist" notice -- even to someone as unsavory as Steve Bannon -- is reprehensible. If there is one thing Americans are free to do, it is to criticize officials in high office. That the President has people around him (and likely including himself) who think that their ability to make commercial gains off the family name is of greater importance than the public's right to criticize is a symptom of an irredemable pathology.

Threats and Hazards Death isn't for clickbait

An adult man beclowning himself on film next to another man's corpse is appalling. To use the death of another human being as clickbait is surely an indicator that someone harbors sociopathic tendencies, and both this Logan Paul and anyone who shared his video ought to be not only ashamed but scrutinized for their apparent sociopathy.

Broadcasting When Must-See TV got philosophical

A frame from an early episode of "Night Court" captures a sitcom confronting one of the great philosophical issues of all time: The individual struggling against himself

Business and Finance Pondering geographic mobility

If urbanization is inexorable (and it's definitely nothing new), then it's worth asking whether government policies should seek to encourage particular kinds of mobility, so that it's easier to move labor around to where it's needed or to get it out of places where it's under-productive. A matter surely worthy of serious debate.

Science and Technology 52% of new cars sold in Norway last year were electrics or hybrids

Despite being a huge oil country, Norway is turning its back on fossil fuels. Electric-only cars are up to 21%.

News Small savings groups help people get on their own feet

A charity that converts donations into tools to help people help themselves is a great thing

News Let's move New Year's Day to April Fool's Day

Wins for those who intend to break their resolutions, and for those who intend to keep them

December 30, 2017

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 30, 2017

Airing live on WHO Radio at 2:00 pm Central Time

December 29, 2017

The United States of America Who rebuilds the world?

The US ought to consider a quasi-diplomatic agency to focus real resources, expertise, and accountability on addressing reconstruction efforts around the world. The job too often falls to the military, and that's really not a very sensible use of their tools. Assigning tasks to the wrong agency or department avoids accountability, since they can't be blamed for the outcome of a task for which they are not properly equipped. We need just such a department of government -- fully accountable for outcomes.

The United States of America The atomic centrist

A suggestion: Let "atomic centrist" become the name for those people who share a core belief in pluralism, individual liberties, and the rule of law (this core of central ideas being like the nucleus of an atom) -- even if they might have far-flung ideas on individual issues (like electrons). The far-flung ideas on individual policies may make us different from one another and may at times be far apart from one another, so long as we share in common the preeminence of those central values.

News Resolution for 2018: Avoid using empty euphemisms

Words matter, as do ideas. Anne Applebaum makes a good case for working out the words to accurately describe the big ideas moving politics today, since lots of old labels seem no longer to apply.

News Taxes on taxes

A warning: "Prepayments on 2018 state and local taxes before January 1st may be deductible, but only if the municipalities have actually assessed the taxes..."

Weather and Disasters Multiple-truck collision on I-80 kills a driver

Human beings can't control circumstances like the bad weather conditions that swept into Iowa today. The sooner we can take advantage of technological tools for enhancing our safety on the roadways, the better.

December 28, 2017

Agriculture Cargill pipes up for free trade

The White House's hostility to trade is dangerous to the US farm economy. American farmers have some huge competitive advantages on the world market, but if we don't have free access to global trading opportunities, that cuts into the ability of the ag sector to turn a profit on its surplus outputs. People don't always understand that it's often at marginal places on the supply and demand curves where big things happen -- and it's really hard to tell farmers to cut back on the supply, since the individual incentives are always to produce as much as possible of a commodity. Thus, marginal differences in demand can make a huge difference. And with the ag sector in really weak condition in the Upper Midwest, for instance, any further threats to those marginal markets are potentially very harmful. Is Cargill acting out of self-interest? Yes. That doesn't mean they're wrong. (It should also be noted that the national economic statistics often mask what's happening in local economies -- like the pressure being felt in rural areas due to low commodity prices.)

News Nine ways to make a better to-do list

They're different and not necessarily compatible with one another, but they're also pretty decent ideas

Broadcasting The best "Key and Peele" sketch might have been one of the darkest

The show's director thought the spoof of the 80s aerobics competition was his favorite "of the season, and possibly ever". And for good reason: It's executed so brilliantly that it's a real television masterpiece. The plot is super-dark, but yet the whole thing is completely hilarious.

News A faulty arrest could obstruct a Marine's career

A Marine from Clive, Iowa, got arrested on a completely faulty charge. That sloppy work could get in the way of her future career.

Threats and Hazards A shameful op-ed from a sitting member of Congress

Rep. Andy Biggs wants to undermine the unfettered process of fair justice because he thinks it might turn out badly for someone he likes. That isn't how the law works. A rigorous investigation is the right way to reveal bad behavior in high office, and real leaders should welcome the opportunity to expel crooked people from the President's orbit.

Socialism Doesn't Work Profoundly stupid ideas still exist

The Socialist Party of Great Britain promotes a stupefyingly inexcusable interpretation of the facts that would have one howling with derisive laughter -- if it weren't for the dominating fact that millions of human beings have died from their abject stupidity. Do not fall for the idiotic platitude that "perfect socialism hasn't failed because it's never been tried": The fact is that in a world where scarcity inexorably exists, there will always be some form of pricing that determines who gets what. That will either come in the form of rationing and shortages, or it will come in the form of explicit market pricing. The natural world is constrained, which is why plant and animal populations rise and fall. They don't have pricing, so they resolve the allocation of limited resources through the cruel, cold reality of what we tend to call the law of the jungle. If there aren't enough rabbits to eat, the foxes die out. If there aren't many foxes, the rabbits proliferate. That the exchange is made in blood and death doesn't change the fact that the resources themselves are limited. As humans, we have the intelligence to use pricing to make those allocations. It's vastly more humane than pretending like those limitations don't exist...even if "true" socialists are too obtuse to understand that.

News We may feel exhausted with Iraq and Syria, but someone has to rebuild

If we withdraw from a world leadership role, we shouldn't expect peace and order to fill the void. It's perfectly fine to be reluctant about hegemony, but it's not OK to abdicate it. The United States ought to consider a quasi-diplomatic agency to focus real resources, expertise, and accountability on addressing reconstruction efforts in troubled parts of the world. The job too often falls to the military, and that's really not a very sensible use of their tools.

Iowa Iowa celebrates 171 years of statehood

Let's skip the candles on the cake, though.

December 27, 2017

News The daily routines of Bill Gates

The details don't matter -- what does matter is that he's intentional about what he does with his time, sticks to pretty ordinary human routines (like doing the dishes and eating cheeseburgers), and manages his informational diet by reading books and well-edited news sources.

News Flake 2020?

He's not ruling it out, and reasonable people shouldn't either

Health Best friends find out they're actually brothers

Personal DNA kits deliver a surprise

Computers and the Internet Library of Congress will stop archiving all public tweets

The library says it will shift to a "selective" model on January 1, noting that the volume of activity on the site is huge, they will have archived the entire first twelve years of public content for future research, and -- perhaps most tellingly -- "The Library only receives text. It does not receive images, videos or linked content. Tweets now are often more visual than textual, limiting the value of text-only collecting."

News City council refuses mayor the keys to his office

In a small town in Georgia

Humor and Good News Pulling the leg, diplomatically

A gag article in El Nuevo Dia suggests that the United States is trying to return Puerto Rico to Spain. It's only a gag.

News Stop looking for politicians to be saviors

Believe in principles, fight for systems, and treat politicians like employees. They should be hired for good reasons, held accountable for their work, and let go if they don't earn their pay.

Threats and Hazards China's state-coordinated efforts to influence universities worldwide

A warning from Jonathan Sullivan about soft power and hegemony: "Western academic institutions are prone to Chinese attempts to generate influence because they strike at our weakest point: finances." Other countries are going to use what tools they can to try to influence world affairs in their own favor; that means all nations ought to be wary of the ways in which they might be manipulated. This unquestionably includes the use of cyberwarfare, influence campaigns, and even hacking to try to affect the outcomes of elections. But it's also incomplete. Free nations must anticipate attempts at influence by a wide variety of means, by many countries, and by non-state actors, too. Too many Americans have become habituated to close their ears at the word "Russian", and miss the bigger picture. We have huge leverage in the world, so we're an irresistible target for influence campaigns, of many types and from many sources. Naivete is neither a viable strategy nor a productive tactic.

December 26, 2017

Threats and Hazards "They thought it was all over and that we'd won the propaganda war"

The United States radically down-scaled its public diplomacy efforts in the 1990s, and President Obama dismissed too readily the warning signs that Russia was adopting a whole slew of tactics to try to influence the West (especially the United States). Many tools having been used already, President Trump refuses to believe that it's a problem (almost certainly because he thinks any acknowledgment of the efforts would undermine the credibility of his election). It's madness, incompetence, and short-sightedness all around. Disinformation is alive and well, and without a strategic approach to countering the bad and promoting the good, we're going to face lots more trouble in the future.

Threats and Hazards Facebook's tool to test whether you follow Russian propaganda content

It's good information, but incomplete. Users ought to know how often they were exposed to "Internet Research Agency" propaganda content via their friends. That's the whole point of viral content -- that you don't have to find it; it comes to you.

Threats and Hazards Disasters in 2017 stretch FEMA to its limits

Almost 26 million Americans were affected by major hurricanes. Puerto Rico's power is still only 65% restored. Things are at least as bad in the Virgin Islands. A quarter of a million Puerto Ricans may have already moved to Florida. It's most likely time for the United States to invest in a true national emergency-response agency with the resources (in equipment, funding, and most importantly, manpower) to act decisively when natural disasters overwhelm local governments' capacities to respond. We evidently don't have that yet.

Humor and Good News 2018 goal: Be more like these people

A few ladies from Omaha who, when they find bargains on necessities (like clothing and blankets), stock up so they can give them away.

Iowa Things to say if you're a national politician showing your face in Iowa

It's inevitable that high-profile politicians bouncing around Iowa will be asked if they're running for President. A bit of advice: If you're here and someone asks if you're running, you're always free to deflect with one of the following: (1.) "I couldn't live another day without trying Tasty Tacos." (2.) "I thought the Butter Cow was on display all year." (3.) "I wanted to see the Bridges of Madison County."

Threats and Hazards Russian warships cruising close to the British shore

The Washington Post reports: "British and NATO leaders have warned of Russian naval activity at levels unseen since the Cold War."

December 23, 2017

The United States of America Victory with honor

It is a fundamentally conservative principle to be skeptical of power and those who have it, and to almost reflexively resist any vigorous attempts to use it.

Humor and Good News If anyone is still taking nominations for "Person of the Year", please put this woman on your shortlist

Hospital employee works overtime all year so she can buy presents for sick children

December 22, 2017

Broadcasting After 50 years, Charles Osgood is signing off from CBS Radio

Rare is the career where a person can do the same job for half a century. Rarer still is the one where a person can be exceptional at it the whole time.

Socialism Doesn't Work Were 10,000 people killed at Tiananmen Square in 1989?

Some evidence has surfaced to suggest that's the number Chinese officials thought were dispatched. If accurate, this is one of the most damning things reported about a government since WWII. And if anyone thinks that the present government would be above a similar atrocity today, they have greater confidence than they should.

Computers and the Internet Twitter asks users to suggest improvements

Chief among them ought to be some kind of authenticity index. It's well and good that public figures can have verified accounts confirming that they are who they say they are, but the service ought to make it instantaneously visible whether an account is probably an authentic one or whether it's more likely to be a troll or a bot. Measures of authenticity that could easily be formulated into an algorithm for this purpose: (1) The ratio of the account's original tweets to its replies (bots and trolls disproportionately reply to others, mainly for the purpose of harassing them). (2) The originality of the account's tweets (if twenty accounts post identical text at the same time, they're not likely to be authentic accounts). (3) Likes and replies from valid accounts (much like the Google Page Rank method of rewarding sites that have high-quality inbound links).

Humor and Good News Why is English such a fertile language for pun-making?

A question that shapes the comedic talents of fathers everywhere in the Anglosphere. Without puns, dad jokes would be impossible.

Computers and the Internet Eric Schmidt is leaving "executive chair" role at Alphabet/Google

The company appears to anticipate that a non-executive chair will be appointed by the board in January. It wouldn't hurt if more American companies selected non-executive chairs -- the whole idea that one person ought to be president, CEO, and chair of the board is pretty contrary to the idea of at least some oversight by the owners.

December 21, 2017

Aviation News Boeing might take over Embraer

After Boeing set up Bombardier to face nearly 300% tariffs for moving their aircraft across the Canadian-US border, Bombardier teamed up with Airbus. This kind of merger ought not be much of a surprise -- but it'll be very interesting to see whether it has any consequences for the Mitsubishi regional jet.

News On USA Today's strong editorial condemning unfit Presidential behavior

The paper was uncharacteristically direct when, in response to a tweet from President Trump attacking a United States Senator, its editorial board said that "Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed." The follow-up from the editorial board says that all of its statements are the results of consensus, but it really might be interesting to see newspaper editorials start to look like Supreme Court decisions -- in which the various members can join in a majority opinion, concur with it, or dissent from it. That would not only be interesting, but the process of "signing" editorials with individuals' names might help to counter some of the misunderstanding that an editorial board is speaking for the news-reporting side of the operation.

News Children should be in school, not laboring

(Video) A brief story about a 13-year-old boy in Kabul who supports a family of nine by hauling goods through the streets for pay. His father died young and he works so his sisters can go to school. The boy himself? An inspiration. But his circumstances tell us that the world has a whole lot of work to do before we're truly achieving the full reach of human potential.

Iowa What's a college town without rental properties?

Iowa City has decided to limit the number of houses and duplexes that can be rented in any given neighborhood around the University of Iowa to 30%. Paradoxically, the city appears to be concerned that student-dense houses are pushing single-family buyers out of the market.

Aviation News The skies may be friendly, but the airport concessions aren't

Workers from at least four of the restaurants inside O'Hare Airport went on a brief strike during one of the busiest air-travel days of the year. Reflexive pro- or anti-unionism isn't going to get us especially far as the world economy becomes more and more tightly bound together. The more fragile our systems become, the more sensitive they can be to disruptions -- like a food-service outage at Chicago O'Hare, or a power outage at Atlanta Hartsfield, both of which happened this week. In order for society to obtain the large-scale benefits of tight economic integration, we're going to have to either better ways of dealing with some failures (like doing more to make airport power systems more robust), and of thinking through the human elements required to make other things go (you can't have an airport without food -- but it's also hard to create a lot of social status for people working at an airport Chili's Too). Some deep thinking needs to happen about these issues, since the macro-scale forces that amplify them into major issues aren't going away.

Humor and Good News Americans start making our own Scandinavian liquors when the home sources run out

American distillers are now making aquavit. What they really ought to do is figure out how to mimic a particularly tasty (but extremely expensive) Icelandic liqueur called "Bjork".

News Couple tells Nebraska sheriff their 60 pounds of pot were for Christmas presents

Seems like a stretch

Threats and Hazards Few countries have more government debt per person than the United States

Massive government borrowing makes sense if it's at reasonable interest rates for long-term investments -- like durable public infrastructure, or to win a war with existential consequences (like WWII). Anything else is just irresponsible cost-shifting to later generations.

Business and Finance How far would Detroit go to get Amazon's HQ2?

Pretty astonishingly far, according to Crain's: "The proposal ... says the company could operate for 30 years without paying real estate and personal property taxes". Just remember: Sears once was what Amazon is now. The Detroit offer (like others) is reminiscent of the apocryphal exchange between Winston Churchill and a lady: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?" His response: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we're only haggling about the price."

Business and Finance Without productivity growth, wages aren't going anywhere soon

One of the key factors that appears to be holding forth (anecdotally) is the very low rate of transfer of the *skills* to use technology from the highly skilled to the less-skilled. Technological tools have gotten radically better, but only the highest-skilled workers know how to use them effectively. And they don't have the time (or incentives!) to teach lower-skilled workers. Thus certain super-productive workers are getting MUCH more productive, but a whole lot of others are stuck at the same skill/productivity level as they were 20 years ago.

News One-paragraph book review: "On Liberty"

A must-read, and a must-re-read.

News One-paragraph book review: "A Nation of Immigrants"

A brief book from a half-century ago whose spirit remains applicable to a major public policy challenge today

Humor and Good News Love a good rivalry

It's nice to see institutional accounts having fun with each other, as the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star trade barbs on Twitter

December 20, 2017

Threats and Hazards Government debt per person, per country

One world ranking where it's uncomfortable to be at the top. Japan, Ireland, and the US are the top three. Massive government borrowing makes sense if it's at reasonable interest rates for long-term investments -- like durable public infrastructure, or to win a war with existential consequences (like WWII). Anything else is just irresponsible cost-shifting to later generations.

Business and Finance Women in manufacturing add value

Honda finds that using the brains of women and men alike turns out better products

Business and Finance Tax bill passes Congress

One major unresolved problem: The CBO says it will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion over the next decade, at a time we can't afford more overspending

Computers and the Internet Final examinations via Twitter

Economics prof tests college students via social media

Threats and Hazards Top Presidential advisor still can't pass a security clearance

Newsweek: "Kushner's permanent security clearance was stalled because he initially omitted 100 foreign contacts before revising his forms three times."

December 18, 2017

Business and Finance "If you dislike the bill, you should dislike it for the right reasons"

The major tax bill going through Congress is imperfect, but its imperfections are correctable through the political process

Aviation News Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson power outage lasted almost 11 hours

The redundant power system was damaged, too

Science and Technology Toyota bets hard on electric vehicles

The company has held out a lot on EVs in favor of fuel cells instead, but is now announcing that "by around 2025, every model in the Toyota and Lexus line-up around the world will be available either as a dedicated electrified model or have an electrified option"

News Chicago cop shoots 18-year-old in attempted carjacking

No matter how you square it, this is a terrible story. Whatever drove the young man to make such a terrible decision will now likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

The United States of America Honest criticism is necessary

People ought to be consistent about what they criticize in government -- and hold their own side to the same standards they would hold the opposition

December 12, 2017

Threats and Hazards The rise of the know-nothing populists in Europe

Anti-immigrant, anti-modernist parties have gained worrisome degrees of strength in parts of Europe

Weather and Disasters Why the California wildfires are so bad

Enormous fires, scaling larger than entire major American cities

News Doug Jones wins race for Alabama seat in the US Senate

The Democrat is a rare winner for his party in that state, but his opponent took a loathsome route

Threats and Hazards Why the Mueller investigation could stir up some ugly reactions

It's quite likely on course to reveal deeply untoward behavior on the part of people closest to the President, and that's going to elicit really bad reactionary behavior

Agriculture The Baltic Dry Index is going up

And since that's a signal of higher export shipping costs, it's really bad news for American farmers who are already dealing with low commodity prices and a President who is too obstinate to see that his anti-trade rhetoric is awful for export-dependent sectors of the economy, like agriculture

December 11, 2017

Computers and the Internet Facebook-related navel-gazing was big 12 months ago

And what real progress has been made since? Can one name anything concrete?

News Iraq says it's expelled ISIS

CNN: "The campaign to eradicate the Islamic State took more than three years and about 25,000 coalition airstrikes."

Business and Finance Taxed more than has been earned

The Senate tax bill might actually contain elements that could result in marginal rates higher than 100% for certain earners

Threats and Hazards Know your adversary

What does Vladimir Putin have in mind when he targets Western elections and instigates cyber-warfare?

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December 7, 2017

Business and Finance One-paragraph book review: "How to Win at the Sport of Business", by Mark Cuban

It's no Harvard Business School case study, but most readers will gain something from the text

December 6, 2017

Aviation News Cathay Pacific pilots think they saw North Korea's latest missile

This, naturally, could render the airspace in the region much too dangerous for passenger safety

News Attorney-client privilege is different from invoking the Fifth Amendment

The President's son won't talk freely to the House of Representatives because he claims a conversation with his father is protected by attorney-client privilege (because lawyers were in the room). That's not really how attorney-client privilege works, and it's not the same as invoking the Fifth Amendment...which is probably closer to the protection he's looking for.

Weather and Disasters Dramatic photos from the fires around Los Angeles

Massive fires in southern California -- including one that's almost as large as the Des Moines metro area

Science and Technology Lyft to pilot-test self-driving cars around Boston

PRO: Self-driving cars virtually eliminate human error, which causes 90% of accidents. ANTI: Americans in self-driving cars are likely to spend more time on the Internet, which causes 90% of stupid ideas.

Aviation News Electric-powered airplanes are happening

The Economist: "Dozens of firms are working on electrically powered planes of all shapes and sizes." Hybrid power systems will come first, but all-electric models aren't inconceivable. The advantages are substantial: Higher efficiency, fewer moving parts, reduced noise, and radically lessened air pollution.

Science and Technology Don't be surprised to see a lot more truck platoons in the future

Over-the-road trucking is almost certain to see closely-packed convoys in the future of two or more trucks that travel together (with the help of automation) in order to reduce wind drag. A 10% increase in fuel efficiency is a mighty reward.

News Isn't a "landscraper" just a long, low office building?

Google's new London offices will be more than 1,000 feet long, but only a few stories high. Why that qualifies it for a special name like "landscraper" is up to question.

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December 5, 2017

The United States of America Of course a President may be guilty of obstructing justice

The preposterous argument advanced by President Trump's personal attorney, that a President "cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under and has every right to express his view of any case", is preposterous in that it elevates the President to the status of a sovereign, rather than a co-equal citizen. The Queen of England, for instance, doesn't have a passport because all British passports are issued in the name of the Queen (as sovereign). The President of the United States carries a diplomatic passport, like thousands of other people, because the President is a co-equal citizen. He does not rise above the law just because he is charged with enforcing it; if anything, he is unusually subject to the law, since many laws are applicable to the actions of the officeholder which are not applicable to those of a citizen not in office. That anyone on the President's legal team would suggest that he is less subject to legal scrutiny as a consequence of his office is abhorrent.

Threats and Hazards The situation in Yemen, somehow, is actually getting worse

The former president has been killed after switching sides in the war, and famine there is getting worse. This is a problem that starts with human failure.

Business and Finance Ontario is experimenting with a basic income

There are strong arguments both for and against the universal basic income (UBI) in theory, which makes it a good subject for practical testing and further study. It might prove to be a great tool for eliminating red tape and freeing people to make choices to enhance their long-term welfare, or it could just be a socialist catastrophe. Experiments like this are going to tell us a lot that is worth knowing.

Business and Finance GE's chief executive asks existential questions

He's literally found himself asking, "Why do we exist?" GE is prominent in this regard, but not unusual: We've had a shortage of pro-institutional thinking as a country for a while now, which has contributed to institutional weakness in all kinds of areas -- from our hollowed-out political parties to the decline of important businesses to the weakness of cultural and educational institutions. A lot more pro-institutional thinking is needed.

News 2018 Winter Olympics won't feature a Russian team

A dramatic move to ban an entire country (and ordinarily a major contender) from the games over "systematic manipulation" of rules against performance enhancements. It's imporant that the Olympics be conducted according to rules -- but it's also not a great thing for the world overall that these particular games will be so prominently fractured. In too many ways, forces are trying to pull the world apart instead of taking advantage of ever-greater connectedness. Vladimir Putin is, regrettably, a champion of pulling apart -- as is Donald Trump.

News Tough questions for sensible Republicans

Tom Nichols asks, "[D]o we finally just abandon the party to loons, or do we stay to try to anchor the party if there's any chance of recovery?" One answer: A political party is a machine for doing things, composed of many factions. The "sane" faction (the conventional center-right) ought to adopt a name, an identity, and a statement of principles -- and fight back, hard.

News How China and India are competing in an arms race of infrastructure

If you can read the story and still conclude that the US needs to radically cut back on the State Department and other forms of global engagement, then you ought to read more history.

The United States of America Happy 84th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition

A reminder that government sometimes does stupid things, and that when it does, the best thing we can do is act swiftly to fix our mistakes.

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December 4, 2017

The United States of America "No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor"

Mitt Romney, speaking out with clarity on the candidacy of Roy Moore and its corrosive effects on the Republican Party. No person so disgraceful in his personal conduct as Moore ought to be making grave decisions in the Senate.

The United States of America Will the vital center of conservatism hold?

The core of thoughtful American conservatism is a belief that we should be defined by what we think people (and a nation) should strive to be. That's different from defining ourselves by our grievances or by our wants. It's a belief structure under heavy assault, as populists define themselves by everything they resent (like immigration, trade, and change) and the left defines itself largely by what it wants government to give away.

News The age of hyperbole?

Words like "fundamentally", "extreme", and "most" are getting at least ten times the use they should.

Business and Finance CVS wants to buy Aetna

When the drugstore chain owns the insurance company, is that going to result in efficiencies from vertical integration -- or pricing abuse?

Business and Finance New life at old Sears warehouses

Relics of a previous retail transition (in the 1920s) are being put to new use in the 21st Century. As the article notes: "In the 1920s, Sears had its own formula for adapting to an urbanizing, upwardly mobile population. Robert Wood joined the company as chief executive in 1925, and immediately re-focused the mail-order behemoth on brick-and-mortar stores." Urbanization is nothing new, nor is retail turmoil.

News Iconic designer Ivan Chermayeff has died

One of the most influential graphic designers in modern American history

December 3, 2017

Threats and Hazards Running like prey

The more our foreign policy is driven by reaction to smaller countries misbehaving, rather than by a strategic view of the world as we want it to be, the weaker the United States becomes. To think only (and obsessively) about every possible threat around you is the instinctive behavior of the weakest prey in the food chain. We ought to be much more evolved than this.

Threats and Hazards China's state-controlled media loves President Trump's antipathy towards CNN and others

Words matter. Ideas have consequences. And the world isn't about to spontaneously order itself around the classical values of human liberty without some help and leadership. The President ought to show that leadership instead of playing right into the hands of authoritarians.

December 2, 2017

Broadcasting Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 2, 2017

Purging bad behavior, retail apocalypse, and what's needed beyond tax reform

November 30, 2017

Threats and Hazards British prime minister rebukes American President for stupid tweeting

This is really an awful state of affairs -- wherein the head of the Article II branch of the United States government shows neither the self-awareness nor the impulse control to keep himself from stoking the fires of false and misleading representations of the world, to the extent that he causes real and meaningful international harm in the process.

News What cities offered Amazon to entice HQ2

Some of the offers have leaked out, and they're scarcely above the level of municipal prostitution. If one takes it as a given that HQ2 will be built somewhere in the United States, then massive subsidies on the part of some local and/or state government in order to "incentivize" its construction represent a net transfer from the public to a private company, at no net gain to the welfare of the country at large.

News A lonely voice among Democrats, arguing that anti-Trumpism isn't enough

With Democratic fundraising events being headlined by people who think their 2016 shortcoming was that "We just didn't work hard enough", the party needs badly to realize that it has to capture voters who are persuadable -- and they're likely to be found toward the center of the political spectrum (or map, as one might see it). "Working harder" isn't always the answer.

Science and Technology Holographic dead rock stars on tour

Elvis doesn't have to be alive to still be in the building. It's really very weird to think that a holographic singer is something people are willing to pay to see, but there's no accounting for tastes and preferences.

Broadcasting NBC renews "The Good Place" for a third season

Normally, a show renewal isn't noteworthy -- but "The Good Place" is unapologetically philosophical. It's good and entertaining television in its own right, but it makes no excuses for actually exploring big matters of morality. Quite unusual for major-network broadcast television.

News Many more changes coming to Wrigley Field

Renovations are ongoing and involve removing a whole lot of seats for a while

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November 29, 2017

News Time should change the "Person of the Year" title

Time Magazine should long ago have clarified that the "Person of the Year" citation isn't an award to be won by changing the name to "Newsmaker of the Year". The fact they haven't made the change is a colossal unforced error that only plays right into the hands of President Trump, who is so utterly lacking in self-awareness that he took a press event to honor the Navajo Code-Talkers and turned it into a reckless display of insensitivity. In fact, he remains the leading newsmaker of the year -- but also in fact, no responsible organization in the world would nominate him as the most laudable person or character-driven leader in the world today. Time Magazine, it's time to change the name of your award. Either name the newsmaker of the year, or name the person of the year. One gets credit for commanding attention. The other ought to command respect.

Iowa Meredith purchase of Time Inc. could boost Des Moines

Creative talent will stay at Time in New York, but the Meredith CEO says a lot of support staff will move to Iowa

News Roadblock to Brexit: The Irish/Northern Irish border

So, paradoxically, Britain's past as an expansionist/imperialist state is standing in the way of its ability today to secede from a different political project. It's an incredibly messy situation.

Business and Finance Most of Great Britain is less productive than most of old East Germany

And the old East Germany is much less productive than the old West Germany. Very important for the future of any country's economy.

News No whining

Kat Timpf: "It suggests that President Trump does not understand that his role is to be a servant for the people of the United States -- of all of the people, whether they (or their fathers) like him or not."

News Missive: Welcome to Bizarro-World

Some recent updates

November 28, 2017

Science and Technology Sweden's innovative way of improving road safety

Laudable: "[L]et's create a system for the humans instead of trying to adjust the humans to the system." They've decided that it's better to look at the root causes of accidents than to hope they can fix human beings. This is the way a lot of professions ought to operate -- build better systems instead of forever hoping that human beings can be perfected.

Business and Finance On the value of economic historians

Every profession, trade, or craft needs to know from whence it came. Economics is perhaps in need of this more than most, since it's such a constructive field with such a (relatively) short history as a science.

News Parents all over the world spend more time with their kids now than in the past

Labor-saving devices in and around the home probably play at least a partial role. Will new ones on the horizon create even more family-based leisure time?

Iowa It's fun to have limited competition

Iowa doesn't have a whole lot of big highway contractors

News Why Chile is so long and narrow

History has left some weird results in its wake

November 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards 400,000 tweets about Scottish independence came from fake accounts

No surprise: Russia looks to have been behind most of them. The age of memetic warfare is here, and to not recognize that is as stupid as to not recognize tanks rolling across a border.

News Secret Service recollections of the Kennedy assassination

An event that has long since entered the realm of myth is one that happened to real people -- some of whom are still alive. Interesting to read the recollections of one of the men closest to the event.

Threats and Hazards Hundreds killed at a house of worship

At least 235 people were murdered in Egypt as they gathered to pray.

Health If you're going to need CPR, need it in public (and be a man)

Study finds that people are more likely to get CPR in public than at home, and that men are much more likely to get CPR than women. That's really important information, and certainly gives the public-health sector something to do.

News What comes first?

Most obituaries identify a person's place within a family. Your co-workers and your government aren't your survivors. Life ought to be organized accordingly.

News "We do not seek to confront anyone."

Margaret Thatcher's words from 1979 bear remarkable timeliness today: "We do not seek to confront anyone. The world is too small and precarious a place for that. We and the Communist world share a common interest in the avoidance of war, and in the development of trade and commerce. We long for the freer movement of people and ideas."

November 23, 2017

News Rwanda offers to take in 30,000 refugees

Appalled by the news that slave auctions are taking place right now in Libya, a small country with a modern history of genocide is trying to atone for its past by stretching to protect human rights today.

Humor and Good News An antidote to the apocalyptic drumbeat

It's hard to get away from the world of bad news, but a story about a woman who volunteers to hold sick kids in the hospital is a decent antidote.

Threats and Hazards Just what is going on here?

Was the idea of running for President part of a big quid pro quo between Donald Trump and people he needed in Russia? An extraordinary claim, for sure -- demanding equally extraordinary evidence.

Science and Technology Does an author have to be a human?

Does artificial intelligence have a claim to copyright? Does the person who created the AI have the right to what it produces? Per the Constitution, intellectual property protections exist "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries". If AI is strictly a tool, then the creator of the AI has no more right to its output than the maker of a pen has a right to what someone writes with it. This may seem like an issue for sci-fi, but computers can already generate original music at the click of a mouse and some news organizations already use AI to write news stories. The sooner we start to wrap our brains around the issue, the better. Computers are not only here to stay, they're going to end up doing a lot of things most of us never expected.

The United States of America Thanksgiving: A symbolically appropriate day to try something in honor of American Indians

Also, a really appropriate day to give to the American Indian College Fund

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November 22, 2017

Computers and the Internet The party of limited government needs to get behind technology in the public sector

(Video) A compelling argument advanced by Kristen Soltis Anderson in conversation with Bill Kristol

Computers and the Internet Uber was hacked last year for data on 57 million accounts

That they paid the attackers and didn't disclose the breach until just now is not a good sign for them

Science and Technology The world is radically more electrified than it was 25 years ago

It would be hard to overstate just how important electrification in the home really is for human development. Food refrigeration alone is revolutionary.

Business and Finance A big gap between economic performance in big cities and small towns

When you see big macroeconomic stats, remember that they aggregate the experiences of 325 million Americans. What's happening to us on the neighborhood level varies widely. This has deep meaning for a bevy of public policy issues, from education to infrastructure.

Socialism Doesn't Work Video of a defecctor escaping North Korea should give each of us a start

The desire for freedom clearly represents something deep within human beings

October 27, 2017

News First criminal charges from Mueller probe about to arrive

CNN reports that a grand jury has approved charges resulting from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and someone is likely to be taken into custody as soon as Monday.

News Almost 2,900 records released on JFK assassination

The National Archives says this is pretty much it for the files that had been kept secret up until now

Business and Finance What if tight zoning regulations in some cities benefits others?

An interesting argument that tough zoning ordinances in some major cities actually has a very positive effect for other places that don't have similar rules -- which dampens the clustering effect that would normally be expected to benefit some of those large cities via a rich-get-richer feedback loop.

Business and Finance A hypothesis on American manufacturing

Why don't we have as heavily industrial an economy as, say, Germany? One argument is that the American economy is so dynamic that skilled people get drawn into post-industrial jobs at a much higher rate here than there, creating a high hurdle for industrial jobs to compete against.

News Massachusetts girl has best score in golf tournament, but doesn't get the trophy

Because she was playing on a boys' team. Seems like a peculiar way to structure things.

October 26, 2017

Threats and Hazards "Until further notice, he occupies the commanding heights of the GOP"

Rich Lowry sees the future of the Republican Party heavily ballasted towards a Trumpite populism.

Threats and Hazards "Democrats in Denial"

The party seems, at an organizational level, not to understand that the harder they chase delusional goals, the less prepared they will be to provide an effective opposition. As Damon Linker writes, "Democrats need political power, and they can only get it if they win more votes."

Computers and the Internet How Twitter intends to flag political advertising

Some transparency in this regard will probably be helpful, but what about the bots and the troll farms?

News If you get something for free, maybe you're the product

A report from the Financial Times documents China's "United Front Work Department", which the Communist Party there is using to project its soft power into geographies it doesn't fully control, areas of social life where dissent might pop up, and the politics of foreign countries.

News Urbanization is a global phenomenon

More than 60% of all startups in India are located in three metro areas. Urbanization has a wide range of substantial and durable effects, and we need to start thinking hard about a world where a majority of the entire global population lives in cities. We're already at 54% urban worldwide and rising fast.

October 25, 2017

The United States of America "Leadership does not knowingly encourage or feed ugly and debased appetites in us"

Senator Jeff Flake declares his political independence and his intention to leave after his term expires

The United States of America Pew names eight "typologies" of American voters

It's a little too binary and probably too clever by half. Yes, a lot of people share common beliefs, and they could probably be grouped into something like a dozen clusters. But the pure left-to-right spectrum doesn't really make sense anymore, if it ever did.

Computers and the Internet Fake Facebook accounts -- and why you get friend requests from them

Once a new account gets past Facebook's initial screening process, it becomes a valuable commodity

Business and Finance Is Amazon coming next for the banking sector?

Amazon has already smashed a lot of the retail sector, and if it's driven to keep growing, it could very well start extending its reach into peripheral industries (including banking).

Computers and the Internet Information warfare and free elections

CNN says Cambridge Analytica (which played a major role in the Trump campaign) sought out data potentially hacked from the Clinton computer systems via Wikileaks. The more data-driven campaign targeting and dirty cyber-tricks start to overlap, the greater the risk that people may be driven to really bad decisions at the ballot box. Influence campaigns are nothing new -- the Founders worried about foreign influences on campaigns -- but the removal of mediating institutions (like edited publications) from the chain going from source to destination probably serves to amplify the effects.

October 24, 2017

Computers and the Internet We're a long way from "I Like Ike"

Walter Shapiro: "Even without deliberate foreign interference, it is dangerous for politics to be conducted in an arena potentially free of all public scrutiny. In theory, it is now possible for political campaigns to tailor individualized messages to every voter in America." Technology itself is almost always value-neutral; whether it is good or bad depends upon the hands in which it is placed. And if we're not thinking about making better people, we shouldn't be surprised if the technology is used for bad purposes.


Jennifer Rubin writes: "[I]f we collectively decide we want more government (or the government we want costs more for the foreseeable future) we should pay for it, not fob it off on the next generation." Letting tax "cuts" become the cart that drives the horse has become a big mistake: The management of tax rates as an economic-growth management tool is really just a warmed-over version of Keynesianism. Instead, we should decide what we want from government, limit those wants, and pay for it.

Socialism Doesn't Work President Xi's ideology is now Chinese Communist Party orthodoxy

Reports the Economist: "The person has become the party in a way China has not seen since Mao."

News The military should have to answer questions when Americans die in service

"[O]ne fundamental part of honoring the sacrifice of servicemembers is understanding why they were put at risk, and demanding that those who did so hold themselves to account.

Business and Finance Chicagoland offers some $2 billion in incentives to get Amazon HQ2

A billion and a half in tax discounts, plus half a billion in transportation infrastructure spending, according to the Chicago Tribune.

October 12, 2017

Weather and Disasters Three weeks after Hurricane Maria, no power in most of Puerto Rico

Maybe 10% of the island has electricity. That's a humanitarian crisis, and it's happening to our fellow Americans.

Threats and Hazards Someone's pushing a 5-year sunset clause on NAFTA

That ridiculous idea, apparently being floated by American trade representatives, would undermine the very predictability that makes all the difference for businesses that make investments that employ the people that the isolationists like to pretend they're helping.

News Nixon became a drunk as Watergate unraveled his Presidency

A cautionary tale, perhaps, of what happens when the government is too dependent upon one person -- and that person isn't capable of doing the job

Computers and the Internet Facebook to reveal ad content and targeting regarding 2016 election

What did agents and tools of the Russian government try to do to influence the outcome of the election? This data might help tell -- too late.

Science and Technology Toyota is testing a fuel-cell semi tractor with zero emissions

For all we talk about developments like self-driving vehicles, dramatic changes are happening on the powertrain side of things, too

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October 9, 2017

Weather and Disasters California wine country hit by explosive wildfires

Tens of thousands of acres have burned in a very short time

The United States of America What strange times

A well-known Republican explains why he's (temporarily) in alignment with his usual opponents from the Democratic Party: "The daily cascade of indignities, when considered in totality, diminish the presidency and the country so thoroughly that we should all worry he will leave them both beyond repair."

News The balance between good and evil probably hasn't changed from what it's always been

What's changed is that every act of good or evil has the potential to be amplified through modern tools, both technological and practical. And that's inevitable.

Computers and the Internet "Protecting the digital homeland"

Head of signals intelligence agency in Britain argues that cyberwarfare is as big a deal to them as spying

Computers and the Internet "160 terabits of data every second"

New undersea data cable between Virginia and Spain will move almost incomprehensible volumes of data for Facebook and Microsoft

Business and Finance IKEA plans an aggressive retail expansion

Showroom stores and sales through online outlets both come into the plan

October 8, 2017

Threats and Hazards "He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation."

The words of the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaking about a head of state. His own. That's frightening. In particular: "He's hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway." The really shocking thing about all of this is the degree to which the national conversation about the President seems to take place as if he's in the next room, and all of the competent adults need to have a whispered conversation out of earshot. It's no way to run a country.

Threats and Hazards Does the President really want to censor the press, or is he just hopelessly glib?

Either way, it's a problem that the person whose job is to lead the free world is so dismissive of the individual rights most central to our way of life that he thinks they can be either abrogated entirely or joked about recklessly. The only bright spot in this debacle is the thought that it might force sensible people to recommit themselves to the principles that matter.

Science and Technology Puerto Rico's governor opens door to Tesla to restore power

Elon Musk claims an island-wide power system "can be done for Puerto Rico" to recover from Hurricane Maria

News Chicago-area pop tax might be repealed

A penny an ounce on sweetened beverages adds up to $200 million a year in government revenues.

Computers and the Internet AOL Instant Messenger to close on December 15th

20 years -- a good enough run for a one-time cutting-edge technology?

October 7, 2017

News Don't surrender to despair after Las Vegas

Bad people are getting better at doing bad things. That doesn't mean there is truly more evil in the world.

News The danger in decoupling

Pulling away from the rest of the world -- or letting it pull itself apart -- only makes everything more dangerous

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

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 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.

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 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 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

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 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 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.

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 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 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 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).

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

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 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.

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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 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 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 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 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.

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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 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.

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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 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 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

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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 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

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June 29, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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."

News 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.

News 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

The United States of America 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.

News 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.

Business and Finance 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."

Health 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.

June 28, 2017

News 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.

Computers and the Internet 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.

Business and Finance Rent-seeking is on the rise

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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

News 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

Weather and Disasters 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?"

Science and Technology "Smart" nightlights are here

Connecting to WiFi lets them tap into information that can be signaled in color: Like weather alerts...or incoming emails

June 27, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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.

Business and Finance 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.

Health 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

Iowa 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 26, 2017

The United States of America Define the role the right way

The President's sworn duty is not "to keep the homeland safe", but to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.

Threats and Hazards 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."

Threats and Hazards 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

Business and Finance Break up GE?

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.

Aviation News 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"

Business and Finance 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 25, 2017

Threats and Hazards Russia attempted cyberwarfare on election systems in 21 states

That's per a deputy undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security

News 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.

News 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

Business and Finance When a "foreign" car isn't

Honda touts the fact its Accord engines are made in the USA

Threats and Hazards Off-duty St. Louis police officer shot by another police officer

The off-duty officer was trying to assist people in need

News Inconsistent open-mindedness

Women were tossed out of a protest march in Chicago because their Jewish rainbow flags "made people feel unsafe"

Business and Finance The "Museum of Failure"

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

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June 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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.

News 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

News "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.

News 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 23, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Aviation News Boeing sees no future for the 747

Not as a passenger plane, except for its service as a VIP carrier like Air Force One

News How En Marche reached out to French voters living in the UK

The startup political party went to some unusual measures to win

June 22, 2017

Threats and Hazards The cost of bluffing

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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Science and Technology 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.)

News No need for a trade war

The White House needs to back off its threats of trade wars. That behavior is very bad for the economy.

Computers and the Internet Another way cybercriminals can get you

A take on the "man in the middle" attack that could crack even conscientious computer users

The United States of America One-paragraph book review: "The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge"

An overlooked gem in American political biography

June 21, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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.

Threats and Hazards 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

Science and Technology 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.

Business and Finance 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

News "Bannon's War"

An excellent episode of "Frontline"

June 18, 2017

Agriculture 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

Threats and Hazards 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.

News 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

Business and Finance Gordman's is being liquidated in a hurry

Just one example of trials (among many) in retail

Science and Technology 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 15, 2017

Business and Finance 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

News "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

Business and Finance 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

Business and Finance Nestle might sell off its US candy business

Butterfinger, Crunch bars, and Sweet Tarts could all go on the auction block

News Wind turbine collapses in Nebraska

Now, to find out why

June 14, 2017

News US Senate approves new sanctions on Russia

And appears to seek new ways to constrain the President along the way

News Apocalyptic fire at a UK housing tower

Shocking images of a tall building completely engulfed in flames

News "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.

Computers and the Internet 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

Computers and the Internet "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 12, 2017

News France's startup political party is crushing legislative elections

En Marche is perhaps the most interesting and most disruptive startup of modern times

News Tennessee enacts free community college for almost all adults without degrees

An educated (and credentialed) workforce is one way to induce demand

Science and Technology Autonomous cargo ships are coming

A substantially larger prospect than self-driving cars -- and yet, in technological terms, not that far away

News 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.

Business and Finance A wish is not a plan

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 11, 2017

Computers and the Internet 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.

Business and Finance Tesla's market capitalization now exceeds BMW's

That's a long way to go in a short period of time

Iowa UNI enters 3+3 law program agreement with Drake

The university also has a similar deal with the University of Iowa's law school

News A major-party meltdown

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.

Business and Finance 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 5, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Business and Finance 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.

News 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.

News 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 4, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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?

Threats and Hazards 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.

News Religion and the Oval Office

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.

May 29, 2017

News 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.

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May 26, 2017

Computers and the Internet 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.

News A winning strategy

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.

Business and Finance 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.

Threats and Hazards Murders in Portland apparently tied to racist attack

Just awful

Threats and Hazards 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

Threats and Hazards 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?

Business and Finance 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 25, 2017

News 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.)

News 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.

Iowa Ankeny, Johnston, and Waukee all remain fast-growing

Ankeny even makes it into the very top tier for fastest-growing cities in the country

Computers and the Internet 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.

Aviation News 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 24, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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."

News Presidents don't "save" jobs

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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Threats and Hazards 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 23, 2017

Business and Finance 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.

Threats and Hazards "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.

News 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."

Threats and Hazards 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.

Health 20% of kids killed in car crashes were improperly/not restrained

There's no reason for preventable child deaths

News 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.

Computers and the Internet 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 22, 2017

Threats and Hazards An atrocity in Manchester, England

At least 19 people were killed in a bombing at a pop concert

Threats and Hazards 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.

News Former FBI director chooses to testify to Senate Intelligence Committee

Interesting question: Why not the Judiciary Committee?

News 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

Science and Technology 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

Weather and Disasters What to know and where to see Total Solar Eclipse 2017

The Upper Midwest is going to have a decent view -- especially Nebraska

May 21, 2017

Business and Finance 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."

Threats and Hazards 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."

Threats and Hazards Say no to propaganda

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.

News RTNDA statement about attacks on journalists

"Above all, reporters are representatives of the public." Yes.

Weather and Disasters 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

News 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.

Science and Technology 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.

Agriculture Norway needs to fix the Doomsday seed vault

Water got in the front entrance, where it wasn't supposed to

May 18, 2017

News One-paragraph review: "The New Democrats and the Return to Power"

Worthwhile reading for students of both American political history and political strategy

May 16, 2017

News 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.

Threats and Hazards A future fighting Russia's "little green men"

We're a long, long way away from the days of trench warfare

News 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.

Business and Finance 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.

News Slavery in the modern day

The Atlantic Monthly cover story "My Family's Slave" is positively riveting

May 12, 2017

Threats and Hazards 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.

Broadcasting 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

News 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.

Computers and the Internet A global ransomware crisis

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.

Computers and the Internet 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

Computers and the Internet 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 11, 2017

The United States of America 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Health 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.

Business and Finance 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.

News 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.

Threats and Hazards 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 10, 2017

News 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.

Threats and Hazards Political blackmail

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.

Business and Finance 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.

News "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.

Broadcasting 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.

News 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 2, 2017

Business and Finance 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.

Computers and the Internet 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Weather and Disasters 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.

Business and Finance 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.

News 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.

Threats and Hazards 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).

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May 1, 2017

The United States of America Calling all budget hawks

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.

Threats and Hazards 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."

Threats and Hazards 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

Computers and the Internet 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.

News 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.

Business and Finance A $1.1 trillion spending plan

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.

Computers and the Internet 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.

News 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.

Business and Finance A universal child allowance

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.

News "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

April 30, 2017

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

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

April 27, 2017

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

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

News Separation of powers is good for its own sake

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

News Spinning around and around on NAFTA

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

Broadcasting Unbundling is killing ESPN

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

Aviation News $10,000 for a bump

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

April 26, 2017

News Stop jerking NAFTA around

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

Threats and Hazards Falling behind in information warfare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 25, 2017

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

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

News Illinois stumbles towards junk-bond status

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

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

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

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

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

Business and Finance IKEA wants to capitalize on its food division

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

News We should use the right words when discussing prisons

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

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

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

Computers and the Internet Apple will overhaul its retail stores

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

April 21, 2017

Business and Finance Tax reform proposal by next week?

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

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

Nefarious. Just nefarious.

News President Obama returns to the stage

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

News The trials of a captive audience member

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

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

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

April 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

News When celebrity overwhelms character

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

Business and Finance At home and not working

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

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

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

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

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

April 19, 2017

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

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

Threats and Hazards The risks to the classical-liberal order

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

News Executive order requests report on H-1B program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News An undignified and unproductive change of style

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

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela inches toward collapse

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

April 18, 2017

News British Prime Minister Theresa May calls snap election

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

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

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

News NY Times gives devastating review of Clinton campaign autopsy book

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

Threats and Hazards This should reassure no one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News The first Federal Form 1040

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

April 17, 2017

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

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

News So many things getting better

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards No good options with North Korea

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

Aviation News Meet the Jetsons

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

Aviation News Boeing layoffs cut 300 engineers

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

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

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

April 15, 2017

Threats and Hazards A valid concern about Asia

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

Business and Finance What bothers Americans about their taxes

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

April 14, 2017

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

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

Threats and Hazards Russian psychological warfare continues

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

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

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

News Tuition-free college in New York

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

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

They're modifying Lexus SUVs

News The first book you read...

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

News Minnesota econ professor busted for 13 years skipping taxes

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

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

Gut-wrenching for their families

Business and Finance Economic errors in the public mind

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

News Art is in the constraints

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

April 13, 2017

News Prominent Democrats turn to public swearing

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

Computers and the Internet AI for your doodles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business and Finance Planners are never as wise as they think

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

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

Who's in control across Syria and Iraq

April 12, 2017

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

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

News NATO never was "obsolete"

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

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

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

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

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

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

A really impressive display of research cartography

April 11, 2017

News Lack of clarity on foreign policy

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

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

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

Computers and the Internet Microsoft pulls the plug on Vista

No more support

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

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

News New York to offer (limited) free college tuition

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

April 10, 2017

News Protests are breaking through in Venezuela

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

Business and Finance A time traveler from 1985 is in charge

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

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

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

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

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

Humor and Good News Ford prepares a prototype crib

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

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April 9, 2017

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

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

Threats and Hazards Accounting for the costs of war

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

April 1, 2017

News Child-care workers in DC now need college degrees

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

Business and Finance "American economic sclerosis"

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

Humor and Good News Bryzzo Souvenirs is expanding

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

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

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

News Some Executive Branch financial disclosures are out

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

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

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

News We need to talk about a few things, America

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

Threats and Hazards Russia turns to diplomatic nihilism

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

News Real independence

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

News Painting the DC Metro stations

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

Threats and Hazards Back to worrying about the EMP

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

March 31, 2017

Threats and Hazards "He's already rich"

In an interview with The Atlantic, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who is chair of the House Oversight Committee, dismissed a question about whether the President might seek to take advantage of his position for monetary gain. His response is wrong -- or, at best, supremely naive -- for at least four reasons. ■ First, it assumes that the President actually is rich. We don't know that. We still haven't seen any meaningful tax returns. We don't know what he owes, or to whom, nor have we seen anything that constitutes an independent accounting of his net worth. ■ Second, it assumes the President is not trying to get richer. We don't know that. The only evidence we have right now says that he never really divested, and his son confirmed just the other day that he's still giving his father reports on the family business. ■ Third, it assumes the President's greed is limited. We don't know that. In fact, he openly campaigned on the notion that his greed was a virtue, not a vice. ■ Fourth, and most importantly, it defaults to the idea that Congress shouldn't assume an adversarial role with the other two branches of government. That's a faulty conclusion. The three branches of government should be jealous of their own powers and eager to keep the others in check -- and that should be the case, even if all three branches were occupied unanimously by people who shared the same ideology. It's a matter of process, not outcomes, that there should always be tension among the branches of government as they struggle with one another to maintain an appropriate separation of powers. If "oversight" is the very name of your Congressional committee, then nobody should get the benefit of the doubt -- whether they're "rich" or not.

Threats and Hazards Sen. Marco Rubio confirms that Russian hackers went after him

Back in the Presidential campaign, and, he says, just this week. It came out during Senate Intelligence Committee hearings. Testimony from one analyst identified an amplification system for Russian propaganda promoting Donald Trump and attacking his opponents. This is well beyond mischief. It's psyops -- warfare against the mind, saving the hassle of firing a gun. And what do we have to show for it? While it can't be proven conclusively what happened in an alternate reality where none of this took place, it's clear that the man elected President is failing in dramatic fashion to set a course for his administration, get a legislative agenda underway, or establish his own credibility. The Washington Post notes that hundreds of high-level Executive Branch jobs aren't just unfilled -- they're without nominees. The Post's appointee tracking database is a true public service.

Computers and the Internet Twitter nixes the egg and raises the character ceiling

The default profile picture -- currently an egg -- is being jettisoned in favor of an icon that looks like a person. Twitter seems to have put a great deal of excess thought into this. Perhaps more interesting is that they're raising the ceiling on characters allowed in tweets, putting "@username" references and media links outside the 140-character limit count.

Business and Finance How talent is organized has a huge effect on a firm

If star employees are organized so that they can work together, they can get a whole lot more done than if they are spread out all over the company. The more a firm chooses to concentrate the efforts of its top employees on core missions of the company -- and the better it does at stripping out red tape so that people don't waste their time on unproductive activity -- the better the company can perform. At least, that's what consultant research says.

Business and Finance Caterpillar will shut down factory in Aurora, Illinois

And 800 jobs will depart with it. That's not a small number for a city like Aurora (population 200,000). The closure will take until the end of 2018 to complete. Municipal leaders: Put not your faith in any one company, and never count on manufacturing jobs to stay in one place -- even if there's a huge plant that cost lots of money to build.

March 30, 2017

News "It's just not going to be a 21st-Century Western country."

A dire way to forecast the future of the United States if we don't start acting seriously on our physical infrastructure (and it's a problem that goes way beyond just "roads and bridges").

Business and Finance A big bet on nuclear power goes very, very bad

Toshiba is losing billions of dollars because of trouble with its US nuclear-power unit, Westinghouse, which just declared bankruptcy.

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela's supreme court undertakes a coup

They've assumed legislative powers under the claim that the legislature (run by the opposition, not the authoritarian socialists in charge of the executive branch) swore in members who weren't eligible.

Business and Finance Get ready for a loopy future in oil prices

Investment is moving heavily towards oil production that comes from sources that are quick to be tapped -- which could mean under-investment in sources that are more reliable. One of the little-told stories of the US economy today is how much we've been subsidized (implicitly) by cheap energy. It was a surprise -- a bonanza -- and you should never count on a bonanza to go on forever.

The United States of America Government should be a last resort for cushioning the economy

Not a first choice. Robert Samuelson's column probably gives too much credit to the White House for having a coherent vision of government, but he's definitely right when he says, "There's a bipartisan unwillingness to answer this question: What is government for?" -- and even more so when he notes, "We need limited government not in the sense of smaller government [...] but in the sense of government that is focused and reflects agreed-upon boundaries."

March 29, 2017

Threats and Hazards Americans "are being asked to choose between two unpalatable versions of events"

A BBC analyst observes that either there was epic misbehavior on the part of the Obama administration in applying surveillance against Donald Trump and his allies, or there were Americans who collaborated with and enabled a dirty influence campaign by a foreign government with the objective of getting Trump elected.

News The UK files for divorce

It's going to take a while, but they're officially leaving the European Union. It's really happening.

The United States of America "Russia is not unaware of our own distrust of each other...[or] our own increasing self-doubt"

US Senator Ben Sasse's comments on how an adversarial government in Russia is exploiting the soft underbelly of American political life.

Health If we want new antibiotics, we need to grow new bacteria

And it turns out that only a very small range of bacteria like to live in a conventional lab environment. So developments in the last few years that have enhanced the ability of scientists to cultivate bacteria in an organized way outside regular Petri dishes could be one of the best things to happen to medicine in the era of growing antibiotic resistance.

Humor and Good News "My fully optimized life allows me ample time to optimize yours"

A really funny swing at the people who make a pop-psychology fortune selling their purported insights into living perfected lives

March 28, 2017

News "Indyref2": Scotland goes for a divorce, again

"Indyref2" seems like a pretty casual way to describe splitting the United Kingdom, but what's interesting is that the mother country really doesn't want to let the fight happen until after "Brexit" is over and the UK is out of the EU. So: Scotland's leaders have voted for a new independence referendum in 2018 or 2019, and the ministers in London say not until 2020 at the earliest, by which point the European Union divorce ought to be complete -- which would obviously complicate matters for an independent Scotland seeking to get back in.

Broadcasting On Scott Pelley's style of news delivery

He's calling things as they are during the CBS Evening News, and his forthright approach is what we've long needed in broadcasting. It's not editorializing -- but it's not gentle, either.

Threats and Hazards "[H]e's gone off on a lark [...] an Inspector Clouseau investigation"

Senator Lindsey Graham, in his inimitable style, on the things the House Intelligence Committee chair claims to know but won't tell anybody -- including the members of his own committee

Business and Finance Which countries do the most research and development?

Relative to the size of their economies overall, only a few countries in the OECD spend more than the United States -- notably, three of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, and Sweden), two of our close East Asian allies (Japan and South Korea), and Israel. Switzerland and Austria beat us, too.

Weather and Disasters Severe weather season has arrived

A look at the climatology of past severe weather isn't a perfect guide to any individual year, but it's a very good place to start

Business and Finance Supply and demand: The tiny-apartments edition

A British developer wants to build really tiny apartments in the London region

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