Archive

September 6th, 2016

My Email Exchange With The Russian Stooges

    Let's see now: One presidential candidate's campaign director resigns after being outed as a Russian stooge, allegedly accepting millions in cash under the table. The other candidate meets with a Nobel Prize-winning economist who once donated to her husband's charity -- dedicated to providing HIV/AIDS medication to millions of Third World victims.

    Quick now, which of these two situations registers higher on the news media's scandal meter? Which candidate has portentous "questions" to answer about troubling appearances?

    Look, it's all about the horse race and the ratings. But things are getting ridiculous. Trump's right: He could say he'd been an All-Star third baseman for the Yankees or shoot somebody dead on national TV, and the next item on the evening news would involve Hillary Clinton's damn emails. Has the press ever given such scrutiny to any other politician's communications?

    Wouldn't you love to see Gen. Colin Powell's emails from the time of his infamous 2003 United Nations speech about Saddam Hussein's phantom "weapons of mass destruction"?

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Greater Than the Sum of Our Parks

    It’s the 100th anniversary of our national parks and in 2016, to date, I’ve visited Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Yosemite, King’s Canyon, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone.

    The price tag for admission? $80.

    That’s the cost of an annual pass to all of America’s national parks. And it admits everyone in your vehicle when you visit, not just one person.

    To put that in context, that’s less than it costs one person to visit Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom for just one day.

    Driving away from Yellowstone after five days of watching moose, elk, bison, a black bear, and even wolves, I turned the radio to NPR and listened to a segment on the anniversary of the parks. They were broadcasting from Yellowstone.

    “Are our parks being loved to death?” they asked.

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September 5th

How geographic equality benefits the whole economy

    The high cost of housing in cities such as New York and San Francisco has a bright side for the larger U.S. economy: As people who would like to live in these highly desirable but dauntingly expensive areas are priced out, they choose instead to settle in upwardly mobile communities that benefit from the new talent and wealth.

    That's because geographic equality matters. An environment in which high-value economic activity happens in just a handful of cities would make the country worse off, and ultimately starve those cities of what they need to thrive -- talent and ideas.

    One critique of this geographic equality argument is that big cities, and large states more generally, already pay more than their fair share to society. They contribute a larger share of federal taxes than they receive, and they're underrepresented in the U.S. Senate relative to their population -- California has the same number of senators as Wyoming despite have a population many times larger.

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Finland's experiment with basic income is too timid

    Finland's flirtation with an unconditional, universal basic income has entered a decisive stage: Draft legislation for a pilot project has been presented for public discussion, which will run until Sept. 9. It's clear that what the Nordic nation wants to try is neither overly ambitious nor particularly useful.

    Paying every citizen of a country the same amount of money in lieu of most or all social benefits is a tempting idea. Leftists like it because, theoretically, it eliminates abject poverty. Techie utopians see it as a solution to the displacement of humans by machines. Intellectuals appreciate state support for creative endeavors with an unclear commercial potential. Libertarians see an opportunity to shrink government: The enormous social services apparatus could be eliminated and legislation vastly simplified. Academic experiments, however, have been too piecemeal and small-scale, so it's hard for most people to imagine how basic income would work.

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Don't take your right to vote for granted. Immigrants like me wait years to have the chance.

    "How old do citizens have to be to vote for president?" the immigration officer asked during the civics portion of my U.S. citizenship test.

    Easy, I thought. I answered confidently: "Eighteen."

    Wrong. I had two more chances.

    "Um, at least eighteen?"

    Wrong again. I had one more chance. I started to panic. What else could it be? I had memorized all the dates (1776, 1787, 1803, 1812) and numbers (27 amendments, 435 voting members in the House) that could trip me up. I needed to answer six of 10 civics questions correctly, and I wasn't too worried -- until this point.

    "Eighteen," I repeated. The officer noted that was my first answer. "I know," I said. "I just don't know what else it could be."

    The correct answer was "18 and older."

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China's 'little green boats' have Japan on alert

    In early August, Japan's Coast Guard witnessed an unconventional Chinese assault on its territorial waters. According to Japanese officials I met with last week, at least 300 Chinese "fishing vessels" began incursions into the exclusive economic zone around the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, disputed territory administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan as well.

    Japan has seen similar probing activities for years. But in August, the Chinese escalated. There were far more boats than before, and the Chinese sent armed coast guard vessels to accompany these "fishermen."

    This may sound fairly benign compared to the shooting wars in Ukraine and Syria. But for Japan, the matter could not be more serious. Its military assesses that many of these sailors are really Chinese irregular militias, similar to the non-uniformed "little green men" that Russia has sent to eastern Ukraine to stir up separatist sentiment. Call them "little green boats."

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Calling all sociologists: America needs your help

    There are many more economists in the public sphere than sociologists. The president has a Council of Economic Advisers, but no Council of Sociological Advisers. Every presidential candidate has an economic team, but you never hear about a sociology team. There are government-run institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve banks staffed with Ph.D. economists, but no such brain-trusts of sociologists.

    In the media, economists such as Paul Krugman, Bloomberg View columnist Tyler Cowen and others command large audiences and great intellectual respect. Nor are they unusual -- many economists blog, or write for important news outlets. As for sociologists, though a few do interact with the public -- for example, Tressie McMillan Cottom of Virginia Commonwealth University or Fabio Rojas of Indiana University-Bloomington -- most remain in the ivory tower.

    That's a shame, because, as Bloomberg reporter Brendan Greeley recently pointed out, more and more of America's problems look sociological rather than economic.

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A bad ruling for those who want to throttle AT&T

    Ma Bell came back from the grave Monday, saving AT&T from the supervision of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC had sued the company for intentionally "throttling" the mobile internet for its unlimited data customers when they passed a certain usage. A federal appeals court rejected the suit on the ground that as a common carrier, AT&T is exempt from FTC regulation. The outcome is wrong, the product of a literalist reading of the laws that produces terrible real-world consequences. It should be reversed, by the courts or by Congress.

    AT&T's throttling practice is fairly outrageous. It's the result of the deal AT&T struck in 2007 to be the sole provider of data services for Apple's iPhones. As part of that arrangement, AT&T offered an unlimited data plan that many customers adopted -- I know I did.

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Win, Lose, but No Compromise

    Anyone who says it doesn’t matter whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton wins this election needs their head examined. The damage that Trump could do to our nation with his blend of intellectual laziness, towering policy ignorance and reckless impulsiveness is in a league of its own. Hillary has some real personal ethics issues she needs to confront, but she’s got the chops to be president.

    What interests me most right now, though, is a different question. It’s not, “Who are they — our politicians?” It’s, “Who are we — the voters?”

    To be specific: Are we all just Shiites and Sunnis now?

    More and more of our politics resembles the core sectarian conflict in the Middle East between these two branches of Islam, and that is not good. Because whether you’re talking about Shiites and Sunnis — or Iranians and Saudis, Israelis and Palestinians, Turks and Kurds — a simple binary rule dominates their politics: “I am strong, why should I compromise? I am weak, how can I compromise?”

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US taxpayers may pay most of the bill for Apple's $14.5 billion tax judgment

    The European Commission - the European Union's main regulatory body - has hit Apple with a whopping estimated $14.5 billion bill for unpaid taxes. While the commission had been expected to rule against Apple, both Apple and the U.S. government had hoped for a much smaller amount. Here is how it happened - and why U.S. taxpayers may end up having to pay most of the bill.

 

- Apple has taken advantage of creative tax arrangements

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