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December 9, 2017

NIH and FDA Should Allow Gene Editors to Cure Diseases



(p. A15) Should Americans be allowed to edit their DNA to prevent genetic diseases in their children? That question, which once might have sounded like science fiction, is stirring debate as breakthroughs bring the idea closer to reality. Bioethicists and activists, worried about falling down the slippery slope to genetically modified Olympic athletes, are calling for more regulation.

The bigger concern is exactly the opposite--that this kind of excessive introspection will cause patients to suffer and even die needlessly. Anachronistic restrictions at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health effectively ban gene-editing research in human embryos that would lead to implantation and births. These prohibitions are inhibiting critical clinical research and should be lifted immediately.


. . .


What's holding researchers back, at least in America, is outmoded regulations. The FDA is blocked by law from accepting applications for research involving gene editing of the human germ line--meaning eggs, sperm and embryos. The NIH, whose approval also would be needed, is similarly barred from even considering applications to conduct such experiments in humans. These rules date as far back as the 1970s, when the technology was in its infancy. It's easy to invoke hypothetical fears when actual lifesaving interventions are decades away.

Today they aren't--and desperate patients deserve access to whatever cures this technology may be able to provide. The public thinks so, too. A survey this summer found that nearly two-thirds of Americans support therapeutic gene editing--in somatic and germ-line cells alike. Popular opinion is in tune with scientific reality. Legislators and regulators need to catch up.



For the full commentary, see:

Henry I. Miller. "Gene Editing Is Here, and Desperate Patients Want It; Two-thirds of Americans support therapeutic use, but regulators are still stuck in the 1970s." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCT. 13, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 12, 2017.)






November 30, 2017

Federal and State Mandates Constrain "Creativity in the Classroom"



(p. A11) Mrs. DeVos sees choice as a means to the end of promoting educational innovation--including within traditional public schools. "Instead of focusing on systems and buildings, we should be focused on individual students," she says. That means encouraging young people "to pursue their curiosity and their interests, and being OK with wherever that takes them--not trying to conform them into a path that everybody has to take."

What stands in the way? "I think a real robust defense of the status quo is the biggest impediment," Mrs. DeVos says. She doesn't mention teachers unions until I raise the subject, whereupon she observes: "I think that they have done a good job in continuing to advocate for their members, but I think it's a focus more around the needs of adults" rather than students.

Many of the adults are frustrated, too. Recently I met a veteran middle-school teacher who said his creativity in the classroom has been increasingly constrained by federal and state mandates on curriculum and testing. Another teacher I know, who wants to start a charter, complains that "it is getting harder and harder to work for the idiots in traditional schools."

That sounds familiar to Mrs. DeVos. "I do hear sentiments from many teachers like that," she says, "and particularly from many teachers that are really effective and creative themselves. I've also heard from many teachers who have stopped teaching because they feel like they can't really be free to do their best, because they're either subtly or not subtly criticized by peers who might not be as effective as they are--or by administrators who don't want to see them sort of excelling and upsetting the apple cart within whatever system they're in."

She continues: "I talked to a bunch of teachers that had left teaching that had been Teachers of the Year in their states or their counties or whatever. I recall one of the teachers said he just felt so beaten down after being told repeatedly to have his class keep it down--that they were having too much fun, and the kids were too engaged. Well, what kind of a message is that?"



For the full interview, see:

James Taranto, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Betsey DeVos; The Teachers Union's Public Enemy No. 1." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 2, 2017): A11.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 1, 2017, and has the title "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; The Teachers Union's Public Enemy No. 1.")






November 19, 2017

German Energy Consumers Pay Double Due to Ineffective Solar Subsidies



(p. B1) BETZIGAU, Germany -- Katharina Zinnecker's farm in the foothills of the German Alps has been in the family since 1699. But to squeeze a living from it today, she and her husband need to do more than sell the milk from their herd of cows.

So they carpeted the roofs of their farm buildings with solar panels. And thanks to hefty government guarantees, what they earn from selling electricity is "safe money, not like cows," Ms. Zinnecker said. "Milk prices go up and down."

The farm has been a beneficiary of "Energiewende," the German word for energy transition. Over the past two decades, Germany has focused its political will and treasure on a world-leading effort to wean its powerful economy off the traditional energy sources blamed for climate change.

The benefits of the program have not been universally felt, however. A de facto class system has emerged, saddling a group of have-nots with higher electricity bills that help subsidize the installation of solar panels and wind turbines elsewhere.


. . .


(p. B2) . . . renewable energy subsidies are financed through electric bills, meaning that Energiewende is a big part of the reason prices for consumers have doubled since 2000.

These big increases "are absolutely not O.K.," said Thomas Engelke, team leader for construction and energy at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations, an umbrella organization of consumer groups.

The higher prices have had political consequences.

The far-right party Alternative for Germany, which won enough support in the recent elections to enter Parliament, has called for an "immediate exit" from Energiewende. The party, known by its German initials AfD, sees the program as a "burden" on German households, and many supporters have come into its fold in part because of the program's mounting costs.

Julian Hermneuwöhner is one such voter. Mr. Hermneuwöhner, a 27-year-old computer science student, said his family paid an additional €800 a year because of Energiewende.

"But it hasn't brought lower CO2 emissions," he said. "It's frustrating that we're paying so much more, because the country hasn't gotten anything for it."

As a clean energy pioneer, Germany has not always seen the results it desired from its heavy spending.


. . .


. . . progress has been undone somewhat by the government's decision to accelerate its phase out of nuclear power after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, Japan. That has made the country more reliant on its sizable fleet of coal-fired power stations, which account for the bulk of emissions from electricity generation.

The country has yet to address the transport industry, where emissions have increased as the economy boomed and more cars and trucks hit the road.



For the full story, see:

STANLEY REED. "$222 Billion Shift Hits a Snag." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 7, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Germany's Shift to Green Power Stalls, Despite Huge Investments.")






November 15, 2017

"There Comes a Time When You Get Tired of Being a Slave"



(p. A1) RIO DE JANEIRO -- In a rare act of collective defiance, scores of Cuban doctors working overseas to make money for their families and their country are suing to break ranks with the Cuban government, demanding to be released from what one judge called a "form of slave labor."

Thousands of Cuban doctors work abroad under contracts with the Cuban authorities. Countries like Brazil pay the island's Communist government millions of dollars every month to provide the medical services, effectively making the doctors Cuba's most valuable export.

But the doctors get a small cut of that money, and a growing number of them in Brazil have begun to rebel. In the last year, at least 150 Cuban doctors have filed lawsuits in Brazilian courts to challenge the arrangement, demanding to be treated as independent contractors who earn full salaries, not agents of the Cuban state.

"When you leave Cuba for the first time, you discover many things that you had been blind to," said Yaili Jiménez Gutierrez, one of the doctors who filed suit. "There comes a time when you get tired of being a slave."


. . .


(p. A10) . . . , Dr. Jiménez, 34, found the work rewarding, but also began to harbor feelings of resentment.

"You are trained in Cuba and our education is free, health care is free, but at what price?" she said. "You wind up paying for it your whole life."


. . .


"We keep one another strong," said Dr. Jiménez, who says she has been unemployed since being fired in June and is now barred from re-entering Cuba for eight years.

Dr. Álvarez and her husband were among the lucky ones to keep their jobs and get what amounted to a huge pay raise. They also managed to bring their children to Brazil.

"It's sad to leave your family and friends and your homeland," she said. "But here we're in a country where you're free, where no one asks you where you're going, or tells you what you have to do. In Cuba, your life is dictated by the government."



For the full story, see:

ERNESTO LONDOÑO. "'Slave Labor'": Cuban Doctors Rebel in Brazil." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 29, 2017): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Cuban Doctors Revolt: 'You Get Tired of Being a Slave'.")






November 14, 2017

Washington, D.C. Regulators Protect Citizens from Goat Yoga



GoatYogaInGlendaleCalifornia2017-10-09.jpg"Goat yoga has spread nationwide since last year. Practitioners in Glendale, Calif., in May." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) WASHINGTON--Young goats have on occasion grazed in the Historic Congressional Cemetery, deployed to keep down brush. A yoga instructor has been holding weekly classes in the chapel.

Goats and yoga go together, as any modern yogi knows. So, cemetery staff proposed this spring, why not combine them and bring inner peace to all on the grounds?

"I asked the farmer if there's any harm to the goats doing yoga," says Kelly Carnes, who teaches the discipline on the cemetery grounds. "She said quite the opposite--the baby goats just love to interact with humans."

Gruff was the response from District of Columbia officials. District policy, they decreed, prohibited the human-animal contact goat yoga presented: "At this time the request for the event with the inclusion of baby goats has been denied."


. . .


(p. A12) This spring at the Congressional Cemetery, Ms. Carnes read about goat yoga and raised the idea with participants in her "yoga mortis" classes at the cemetery. They were "crazy to try it," she says.

She spoke with Paul Williams, president of the nonprofit that manages the cemetery, about trying it with the goats they had twice hired over the past several years to eat down unwanted plants.

The cemetery planned to hold goat classes in a pen in a grassy area. In June, Mr. Williams sought permission from the health department.

The "no" came that month. The capital's health code, says Dr. Vito DelVento, manager of the District of Columbia Department of Health's animal-services program, bans animals beyond common household pets from within district limits.


. . .


Then there's Washington's "no touch" policy barring direct contact between humans and animals beyond household pets.

"Baby goats are probably one of the most fun animal species--they are a blast," says Dr. DelVento, who has farm animals outside the District and has raised goats. "But the fact that we have baby goats jumping on people and interacting with people obviously violates our 'no touch' policy."

Mr. Williams says he will try again next year when Mrs. Bowen has a fresh herd of kids. He will seek a no-touch-policy exemption.

"We're really trying to offer a service," says Mrs. Bowen, "that is good for people's mental health and physical health."



For the full story, see:

Daniel Nasaw. "The Kids Are Not Alright: Bureaucrats Buck Goat Yoga." The Wall Street Jounal (Sat., OCT. 2, 2017): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 1, 2017, and has the title "Goat Yoga, Meet the Zoning Board.")






October 30, 2017

Wisconsin Regulators Protect Consumers from Delicious Imported Kerrygold Butter



(p. A3) Attorneys with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty are taking the state to court over a 1953 law that mandates all butter sold in Wisconsin be graded and labeled on factors such as flavor, texture and color by state-licensed tasters.

Those convicted of selling unlabeled butter in the state more than once could pay up to $5,000 in fines and spend a year in county jail.

The statute has enraged devotees of the popular Kerrygold brand of butter, which is produced in Ireland and hasn't been tested by the state. Local retailers say their inability to sell the grass-fed, gold-packaged spread has affected their bottom line. WILL is representing four consumers in counties across Southeast Wisconsin in the suit, as well as a health-food store in Grafton.

"I think the issue is important because it's a specific instance of a larger problem," Rick Esenberg, WILL President and lead counsel, said of the obscure, 64-year-old ordinance. "The government should not restrict our liberties--particularly our ability to engage in a legitimate business and make a living."


. . .


Wisconsin laws have shielded the dairy industry from out-of-state competition for decades, but have often crumbled under judicial scrutiny.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1927 ruled unconstitutional a law prohibiting the sale of oleomargarine and other butter substitutes in the state, and in 1952 turned back an attempt to ban the sale of Dairy Queen soft-serve.

In 1895, Wisconsin forbade the sale of artificially colored margarine, forcing neighbors to pool funds and make "oleo runs" to the Illinois border to buy yellow-hued margarine in bulk. That law wasn't repealed until 1967.

A half-century later, Wisconsin residents are now embarking on similar Midwestern voyages to stock up on Kerrygold.

"It has a richness to it and a taste to it that's uncomparable to the other butters," said Jean Smith, an avid consumer of Kerrygold and one of the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin suit.

Ms. Smith especially enjoys adding the Irish butter to her tea on mornings when she doesn't have time for a full breakfast, and is a member of a Facebook group where neighbors keep each other abreast of the few Wisconsin stores supplying Kerrygold.

She buys the product whenever she travels out of state, picking up roughly a dozen bricks of butter on two trips to Nebraska this summer and then again when visiting Montana in May for her nephew's graduation.

"The fact that I have to do that is absolutely ridiculous," Ms. Smith said. "If it's not related to safety, it's not the government's decision whether they should offer a product or not."



For the full story, see:

Quint Forgey. "Wisconsin Lawsuit Aims to Whip Butter Statute." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 31, 2017): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 30, 2017, and has the title "Wisconsin Lawsuit Aims to Cut Through Butter Laws." Of the last eight short paragraphs quoted above, the first and third appear in both the online and the print version of the article. The rest only appear in the online version.)






October 29, 2017

"We Grow at Night, While the Government Sleeps"



HarareNightStreetMarket2017-09-10.jpg"In Harare, unauthorized street vendors wait until dark to avoid the police. The government says 95 percent of the work force is involved in the informal economy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



I remember my Wabash College economics professor, Ben Rogge, telling us that during one of his visits to Brazil, many decades ago, he asked an entrepreneur how the Brazilian economy managed to grow in spite of the heavy government regulations. With a smile, the entrepreneur told Ben: "We grow at night, while the government sleeps."



(p. 6) HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Dusk falls and thousands of vendors fan out across central Harare. Through the night, they hawk their wares -- vegetables, clothes, kitchen utensils, cellphones -- from carts, wheelbarrows or even the pavement, transforming the city's staid business district into a giant, freewheeling village market.

On Robert Mugabe Road, around the corner from the city's remaining colonial-era luxury hotel, the Meikles, Victor Chitiyo has sold dress shirts since losing his job as a machine operator at a textile factory several years ago.

"Since then, I've never been employed," Mr. Chitiyo, 38, said under the dim light of a street lamp. "If the economy improves, I'd want to be employed at a company again. But I don't think that will happen. It's been a long time since we were optimistic in Zimbabwe."

Harare's night market is the most visible evidence of Zimbabwe's swelling informal economy, which the government estimates now employs all but a small share of the country's work force.

Even as Zimbabwe's government, banks, listed companies and other members of the formal economy lurch from one crisis to another, the thriving informal economy of street vendors, traders and others unrepresented in official statistics helps keep the country afloat. For the government of President Robert Mugabe, that parallel economy is both a source of stability -- and a potential challenge.

Once one of Africa's most advanced economies, Zimbabwe has rapidly deindustrialized and shed formal wage-paying jobs, forcing millions like Mr. Chitiyo to hustle on the streets in cities and towns.

From 2011 to 2014, the percentage of Zimbabweans scrambling to make a living in the informal economy shot up to an astonishing 95 percent of the work force from 84 percent, according to the government. And of that small number of salaried workers, about half are employed by the government, including patronage beneficiaries with few real duties.


. . .


The government has occasionally cracked down -- sometimes violently -- on the street vendors, who are not licensed, describing their activities, near the seat of government and businesses, as an eyesore. Some of the vendors have also staged protests against Mr. Mugabe's rule.

But the government mostly turns a blind eye, clearly calculating that a permanent crackdown on the livelihoods of an increasing number of its citizens would result in greater political instability. According to an unspoken rule, the street vendors are allowed to operate only after dark on weekdays and starting in late afternoon on weekends.

"If I come too early, the police will take my wares away and I'll be broke," said Norest Muza, 28, who sold popcorn and chips while carrying her 2-year-old son on her back. "Evenings, the police don't come."

Many of the street vendors arrive in Harare's business district at dusk and spend the night on the streets before going home at dawn with the morning's first taxis and buses.


. . .


Mr. Mugabe's violent seizure of white-owned farms starting in 2000 precipitated a decline in manufacturing and a process of deindustrialization. Manufacturing peaked in 1992, accounting for about 30 percent of the gross domestic product. Now it is 11 percent and declining.


. . .


With the government now strictly controlling the transfer of dollars outside Zimbabwe, companies dependent on trade are finding it increasingly difficult to import critical goods.

"We have companies scaling down or discontinuing certain lines that are heavy on import requirements," said Busisa Moyo, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries.


. . .


As the formal economy keeps shrinking, more and more people have been crowding the area where Mr. Chitiyo sells shirts on Robert Mugabe Road.

Across the street, a girl's voice was crying, "Twenty-five cents for a cob!" It belonged to Tariro Dongo, 13, on her first evening working as a street vendor. It was past 9 p.m. Tariro said she was good in school and wanted to become a teacher.

She had bought 20 corn cobs for $2 near her home in Epworth, a poor township outside Harare. If she sold everything, her profit, after transportation, would amount to a couple of dollars. Sitting on a black bucket and fanning the coals in a small charcoal burner with a piece of cardboard, Tariro roasted the cobs.

She was happy with the money she had made on her first day, Tariro said.

"Twenty-five cents," she cried. "One cob left!"



For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI and JEFFREY MOYO. "Trade on the Streets, and Off the Books, Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MARCH 5, 2017): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 4, 2017, and has the title "Trade on Streets, and Off Books, Keeps Zimbabwe Afloat.")






October 16, 2017

Costs Rise in Single-Payer Health Countries



(p. A25) As Democrats and other policy makers debate the merits of Senator Sanders's proposal, here are a few important observations about international systems that they ought to consider.

First, a vanishingly small number of countries actually have single-payer systems. . . .


. . .


Some of the highest-rated international systems rely on private health insurers for most health care coverage -- Germany's, for example, is something like Obamacare exchanges for everyone, but significantly simpler and truly universal. The Netherlands and Switzerland have both moved recently to add more competition and flexibility to systems that were already built on the use of private insurers.

Second, single-payer countries have also failed to control rising health care costs. This is important, given that Mr. Sanders's proposal was released without a cost estimate or financing plan. For historical reasons, many other countries started with lower levels of health care spending than we did. Several analyses have shown that this has almost nothing to do with higher administrative costs or corporate profits in the United States and almost everything to do with the higher cost of health care services and the higher salaries of providers here.

Although they started at a lower base -- with, for example, doctors and nurses receiving lower salaries -- countries around the world have all struggled with rising costs. From 1990 to 2012, the United States' rate of health care cost growth was below that of many countries, including Japan and Britain. In 2015, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that rising health care costs across all countries were unsustainable.behavior, more hotel rooms are available to individuals and families who need them most."

Third, it is simply untrue that single-payer systems produce a better quality of care across the board.



For the full commentary, see:

LANHEE J. CHEN and MICAH WEINBERG. "'Medicare for All' Is No Miracle Cure." The New York Times (Tues., Sept. 19, 2017): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "The Sanders Single-Payer Plan Is No Miracle Cure.")






October 15, 2017

Regulations Reduce Health Care Quality and Increase Health Care Cost



(p. A15) There are two million home health aides in the U.S. They spend more time with the elderly and disabled than anyone else, and their skills are essential to their clients' quality of life. Yet these aides are poorly trained, and their national median wage is only a smidgen more than $10 an hour.

The reason? State regulations--in particular, Nurse Practice Acts--require registered nurses to perform even routine home-care tasks like administering eyedrops. That duty might not require a nursing degree, but defenders of the current system say aides lack the proper training. "What if they put in the cat's eyedrops instead?" a health-care consultant asked me. In another conversation, the CEO of a managed-care insurance company wrote off home-care aides as "minimum wage people."

But aides could do more. With less regulation and better training, they could become as integral to health-care teams as doctors and nurses. That could improve the quality of care while saving buckets of money for everyone involved.


. . .


. . . the potential cost savings are considerable. There are 2.3 million Medicaid patients receiving long-term care at home. Imagine if even half of them replaced one hourlong nurse's visit a month with a stop by a trained aide. Assuming the nurse makes $35 an hour and the aide $15, that's an immediate savings of roughly $275 million a year.



For the full commentary, see:

Paul Osterman. "Why Home Care Costs Too Much; Regulations often require that nurses do simple tasks like administer eyedrops." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 13, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 12, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the author's book:

Osterman, Paul. Who Will Care for Us? Long-Term Care and the Long-Term Workforce. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2017.






October 4, 2017

Dubai Central Planners Subsidize Driverless Drones



(p. A7) Like a scene from "The Jetsons," commuters in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, may soon climb aboard automated flying taxis, soaring over busy streets and past the desert city's gleaming skyscrapers, all -- quite literally -- at the push of a button.

Passenger drones, capable of carrying a single rider and a small suitcase, will begin buzzing above the emirate as early as July [2017], according to the director of the city's transportation authority, part of an ambitious plan to increase driverless technology.

Already, the eight-rotor drone, made by the Chinese firm Ehang, has flown test runs past the Burj Al Arab, Dubai's iconic, sail-shaped skyscraper.

The drone "is not just a model but it has really flown in Dubai skies," Mattar Al Tayer, the director general of Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority, said on Monday [Feb. 13, 2017], adding that the emirate would "spare no effort to launch" autonomous aerial vehicles by July.



For the full story, see:

RUSSELL GOLDMAN. "Dubai Plans Drone Taxis That Skip Drivers and Roads." The New York Times (Weds., FEB. 15, 2017): A7.

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 14, 2017, and has the title "Dubai Plans a Taxi That Skips the Driver, and the Roads.")






September 25, 2017

DeVos Defends Due Process at Universities



(p. A17) Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made clear her intention to correct one of the Obama administration's worst excesses--its unjust rules governing sexual misconduct on college campuses. In a forceful speech Thursday at Virginia's George Mason University, Mrs. DeVos said that "one rape is one too many"--but also that "one person denied due process is one too many." Mrs. DeVos declared that "every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined."


. . .


As four Harvard law professors--Jeannie Suk Gersen, Janet Halley, Elizabeth Bartholet and Nancy Gertner--argued in a recent article, a fair process requires "neutral decisionmakers who are independent of the school's [federal regulatory] compliance interest, and independent decisionmakers providing a check on arbitrary and unlawful decisions." The four had been among more than two dozen Harvard law professors to express concerns about the Obama administration's--and Harvard's--handling of Title IX. So too had 16 University of Pennsylvania law professors, as well as the American Council for Trial Lawyers.



For the full commentary, see:

KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr. "DeVos Pledges to Restore Due Process; The Obama Education Department's Title IX decree 'failed too many students,' she says." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Sept. 8, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 7, 2017.)


The commentary, quoted above, is related to the authors' book:

Johnson, KC, and Stuart Taylor, Jr. The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities. New York: Encounter Books, 2017.


The article by the Harvard law professors, mentioned above, has been posted online at:

https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/33789434/Fairness%20for%20All%20Students.pdf?sequence=1






September 20, 2017

"Make School Lunches Great Again"



(p. D1) ATLANTA -- On a sweltering morning in July, Sonny Perdue, the newly minted secretary of agriculture, strode across the stage of a convention hall here packed with 7,000 members of the School Nutrition Association, who had gathered for their annual conference.

After reminiscing about the cinnamon rolls baked by the lunchroom ladies of his youth, he delivered a rousing defense of school food-service workers who were unhappy with some of the sweeping changes made by the Obama administration. The amounts of fat, sugar and salt were drastically reduced. Portion sizes shrank. Lunch trays had to hold more fruits and vegetables. Snacks and food sold for fund-raising had to be healthier.

"Your dedication and creativity was being stifled," Mr. Perdue said. "You were forced to focus your attention on strict, inflexible rules handed down from Washington. Even worse, you experienced firsthand that the rules were failing."

Mr. Perdue then outlined how his department was loosening some of those rules. He finished with a folksy story about a child who asked whether Mr. Perdue could make school lunches great again.

Some in the audience cheered. Some walked out.



For the full story, see:


KIM SEVERSON. "Will the Trump Era Transform the School Lunch?" The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 6, 2017): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 5, 2017, and has the title"Will the Trump Era Transform the School Lunch?")






September 19, 2017

Reducing Taxes and Regulations Can Boost Growth



(p. A2) The angst was on display this weekend at the annual conference of the American Economic Association, the profession's largest gathering. The conference is a showcase for agenda-setting research, a giant job fair for the nation's most promising young economists and, this year, the site of endless discussion about how to rebuild trust in the discipline.

Many academic economists have been champions of free trade and globalization, ideas under assault among rising populist movements in advanced economies around the world. The rise of President-elect Donald Trump, with his fierce rhetoric against elites, in particular, left many at this conference questioning their place in the world.

"The economic elite did many things to undermine their credibility while people's economic fortunes were taking a turn for the worse," said Steven Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago.


. . .


Stanford University's John Taylor and Columbia's Glenn Hubbard said Mr. Trump's plans to simplify the tax and regulatory codes could indeed boost the economy's growth. Both economists served in the past in the White House Council of Economic Advisers, long populated by academics who present at the AEA conference every January.

This year, academics are out in the cold. During the election The Wall Street Journal contacted every former member of the CEA, including those going back to President Richard Nixon. None had been tapped as an adviser to Mr. Trump's campaign, nor did any publicly endorse him.

The president-elect is "not particularly interested in hearing from the academic economist club," Mr. Davis said.



For the full story, see:

Josh Zumbrun. "Economists Grapple With Public Disdain." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 9, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 8, 2017, and has the title "Top Economists Grapple With Public Disdain for Initiatives They Championed.")







September 17, 2017

Courageous Grover Cleveland Belongs in "Entitlement Reform Hall of Fame"



(p. A11) Mr. Cogan has just written a riveting, massive book, "The High Cost of Good Intentions," on the history of entitlements in the U.S., and he describes how in 1972 the Senate "attached an across-the-board, permanent increase of 20% in Social Security benefits to a must-pass bill" on the debt ceiling. President Nixon grumbled loudly but signed it into law. In October, a month before his re-election, "Nixon reversed course and availed himself of an opportunity to take credit for the increase," Mr. Cogan says. "When checks went out to some 28 million recipients, they were accompanied by a letter that said that the increase was 'signed into law by President Richard Nixon.' "

The Nixon episode shows, says Mr. Cogan, that entitlements have been the main cause of America's rising national debt since the early 1970s. Mr. Trump's pact with the Democrats is part of a pattern: "The debt ceiling has to be raised this year because elected representatives have again failed to take action to control entitlement spending."


. . .


Mr. Cogan conceived the book about four years ago when, as part of his research into 19th-century spending patterns, he "saw this remarkable phenomenon of the growth in Civil War pensions. By the 1890s, 30 years after it had ended, pensions from the war accounted for 40% of all federal government spending." About a million people were getting Civil War pensions, he found, compared with 8,000 in 1873, eight years after the war. Mr. Cogan wondered what caused that "extraordinary growth" and whether it was unique.

When he went back to the stacks to look at pensions from the Revolutionary War, he saw "exactly the same pattern." It dawned on him, he says, that this matched "the evolutionary pattern of modern entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps."


. . .


Who would feature in an Entitlement Reform Hall of Fame? Mr. Cogan's blue eyes shine contentedly at this question, as he utters the two words he seems to love most: Grover Cleveland. "He was the very first president to take on an entitlement. He objected to the large Civil War program and thought it needed to be reformed." Cleveland was largely unsuccessful, but was a "remarkably courageous president." In his time, Congress had started passing private relief bills, giving out individual pensions "on a grand scale. They'd take 100 or 200 of these bills on a Friday afternoon and pass them with a single vote. Incredibly, 55% of all bills introduced in the Senate in its 1885 to 1887 session were such private pension bills.".



For the full interview, see:

Tunku Varadarajan. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with John F. Cogan; Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . .." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 9, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipsis in title, in original; other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 8, 2017, and has the title "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . ..".)


The Cogan book, mentioned above, is:

Cogan, John F. The High Cost of Good Intentions: A History of U.S. Federal Entitlement Programs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2017.






September 8, 2017

Cashless Toll Technology Enables Congestion Pricing in Manhattan



(p. A15) As debate about creating a toll system to limit traffic in the most congested parts of Manhattan heats up, a transformation in technology could make congestion pricing a far more realistic notion than when it was last proposed a decade ago.

By the end of the year, nine crossings around the city will employ an open-road, cashless collection system that does away with tollbooths, toll lanes and toll collectors. Instead, sensors and cameras installed both above the road and in the pavement itself will capture cars and trucks as they zip by at full speed - automatically charging the 90 percent of drivers with E-ZPass transponders, and billing the other 10 percent by mail.

A decade ago, when the Bloomberg administration first proposed congestion pricing, such tolling technology was in its infancy and not widely used. Now, it is in place in some 35 jurisdictions, and its deployment in New York is the most ambitious use of the technology in a complicated urban setting.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who had not shown any enthusiasm for congestion pricing, has embraced the idea of late as a way to raise billions of dollars for the city's ailing subway system. But Mayor Bill de Blasio has been steadfast in his opposition, and has instead pushed a plan to raise transportation funds by increasing taxes on wealthy New Yorkers.

Mr. Cuomo has yet to release a detailed congestion-pricing plan, but most schemes being discussed call for tolling vehicles to enter crowded parts of Manhattan, and doing so in a way that that does not slow the flow of traffic. By making toll-collecting all but invisible, Mr. Cuomo hopes congestion pricing will be more politically viable this time around.



For the full story, see:

MARC SANTORA. "Cashless Toll System Could Pave the Way for Manhattan Congestion Pricing." The New York Times (Sat., AUG. 26, 2017): A15.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 25, 2017, and has the title "Open-Road Tolls Could Pave the Way for Manhattan Congestion Pricing.")






September 1, 2017

Inventor of Submarine "Was Shunted Aside"



(p. C6) There are very few wars in history that begin, dramatically, with a brand-new weapon displaying its transformative power, but one such case occurred in the southern North Sea in September 1914, when three large cruisers of the Royal Navy were torpedoed and swiftly sunk by a diminutive German U-boat, the U-9. At that moment, the age of the attack submarine was born, and the struggle for naval supremacy for a great part of both World War I and World War II was defined. The U-boat--shorthand for "Unterseeboot"--had come of age.

It is appropriate, then, that the historian Lawrence Goldstone begins "Going Deep" with a dramatic re-telling of the U-9's exploit. It should be said immediately that his chronicle doesn't present the whole history of submarine warfare but rather the story of the efforts of various American inventors and entrepreneurs--above all, an Irish-born engineer named John Philip Holland--to create a power-driven, human-directed and sub-marine vessel that could stalk and then, with its torpedoes, obliterate even the most powerful of surface warships.


. . .


"Going Deep" ends in 1914. By that time, the U.S. Navy was on its way to possessing some submarines--vessels equipped with torpedoes that were therefore capable, in theory, of sinking an enemy's warships or his merchant marine, although in fact these boats were aimed at only coastal defense. And by 1914 American industry could boast of a nascent submarine-building capacity, especially in the form of the Electric Boat Co., which was to survive the capriciousness of the Navy Department's "on-off" love affair with the submarine until World War II finally proved its undoubted power.

But these successes, limited though they were, were not John Philip Holland's. He had played a major role--really, the greatest role--in developing the early submarine, grasping that it could transform naval warfare. He had grappled with and overcome most of the daunting technological obstacles in the way of making his vision a reality. Mr. Goldstone is surely right to give him such prominence. But eventually Holland was shunted aside by more ruthless entrepreneurs, diddled by business partners and denied Navy contracts. He passed away on Aug. 12, 1914, just as World War I was beginning. By then, feeling beaten and having retired, he was a quiet churchman and amateur historian. This part of Mr. Goldstone's story is not a happy one.



For the full review, see:


Kennedy, Paul. "A Man Down Below; How an Irish-American engineer developed a Jules Verne-like wonder-weapon of the deep." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 17, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 16, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Goldstone, Lawrence. Going Deep: John Philip Holland and the Invention of the Attack Submarine. New York: Pegasus Books Ltd., 2017.






August 30, 2017

Higher-Paid Finance Jobs Moving from NYC and San Francisco to Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Dallas



FinanceJobsMigrateFromNYCandSF2017-08-15.pngSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. B1) Traditional finance hubs have yet to recover all the jobs lost during the recession, but the industry is booming in places like Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Dallas. The migration has accelerated as investment firms face declining profitability and soaring real estate costs.


. . .


"San Francisco is a wonderful place, but unfortunately it's an expensive place from a real estate standpoint," said Brian McDonald, a senior vice president for Schwab. "So we had to identify other places where we could make things work."

While the finance industry has been relocating entry-level jobs since the late 1980s, today's moves are claiming higher-paid jobs in human resources, compliance and asset management, chipping away at New York City's middle class, said (p. B2) Kathryn Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit that represents the city's business leadership.

"This industry isn't just a bunch of rich Wall Street guys," Ms. Wylde said. "It's a big source of employment that's disappearing from New York."



For the full story, see:

Asjylyn Loder. "Wall Street's New Frontier." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., JULY 27, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 26, 2017, and has the title "Passive Migration: Denver Wins Big as Financial Firms Relocate to Cut Costs.")






August 18, 2017

Russian Regulators Jail Entrepreneur for Innovating "Too Fast and Too Freely"



(p. A1) AKADEMGORODOK, Russia -- Dmitri Trubitsyn is a young physicist-entrepreneur with a patriotic reputation, seen in this part of Siberia as an exemplar of the talents, dedication and enterprise that President Vladimir V. Putin has hailed as vital for Russia's future economic health.

Yet Mr. Trubitsyn faces up to eight years in jail after a recent raid on his home and office here in Akademgorodok, a Soviet-era sanctuary of scientific research that was supposed to showcase how Mr. Putin's Russia can harness its abundance of talent to create a modern economy.

A court last Thursday [August 3, 2017] extended Mr. Trubitsyn's house arrest until at least October, which bars him from leaving his apartment or communicating with anyone other than his immediate family. Mr. Trubitsyn, 36, whose company, Tion, manufactures high-tech air-purification systems for homes and hospitals, is accused of risking the lives of hospital patients, and trying to lift profits, by upgrading the purifiers so they would consume less electricity.

Most important, he is accused of doing this without state regulators certifying the changes.

It is a case that highlights the tensions between Mr. Putin's aspirations for a dynamic private sector and his determination to enhance the powers of Russia's security apparatus. Using a 2014 law meant to protect Russians from counterfeit medicine, investigators from the Federal Security Service, the post-Soviet KGB, and other agencies have accused Mr. Trubitsyn of leading a criminal conspiracy to, essentially, innovate too fast and too freely.


. . .


(p. A9) Irina Travina, the founder of a software start-up and head of the local technology-business association, said Akademgorodok was "the best place in Russia," with "outstanding schools, low crime and a high concentration of very smart people."

But she said Mr. Trubitsyn's arrest had delivered a grave blow to the community's sense of security.

"In principle, anyone can fall into this situation," Ms. Travina said, praising Mr. Trubitsyn as a patriot because he had not moved abroad and had invested time and money in science education for local children. "It can happen to anybody," she added. "Everyone has some sort of skeleton in their closet. Maybe nothing big, but they can always find something to throw you in jail for."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW HIGGINS. "Russia Wants Innovation, but Jails Innovators." The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 10, 2017): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2017, and has the title "Russia Wants Innovation, but It's Arresting Its Innovators.")






August 14, 2017

Fanjul Sugar Family Donated to Inauguration and Now Seeks Sugar Price Protection



(p. B1) MEXICO CITY -- The sugar barons of Florida, Alfonso and José Fanjul, have been equal-opportunity political donors for decades, showering largess on the campaigns of Democrats and Republicans alike to ensure that lawmakers will protect the American sugar industry.

When Donald J. Trump was preparing to take office as president, the Fanjul brothers wrote another check. Among the contributors to Mr. Trump's inaugural festivities in January was Florida Crystals, a Fanjul-owned company that contributed half a million dollars.

The brothers most likely had more on their mind than a sumptuous ball. Led by the Fanjuls, large American sugar producers and refiners were eager for the new administration to tackle some business left unfinished by the Obama administration: an agreement to control imports of Mexican sugar.



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH MALKIN. "Sugar Talks May Hint at Trump's Approach to U.S.-Mexico Trade." The New York Times (Mon., June 5, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2017, and has the title "Sugar Talks May Hint at Trump Approach to U.S.-Mexico Trade.")






August 7, 2017

Health Innovations Launch Where Regulations Are Few



(p. A15) One type of mobile device that is likely to appear first in the Far East and be widely adopted there is the digital stethoscope. This device is able to detect changes in pitch and soon will be able to detect asthma in children, pneumonia in the elderly, and, in conjunction with low-cost portable electrocardiographs, cardiopulmonary disease.


An additional advantage is that this part of the world--particularly India and Africa--has limited regulation, which makes it much easier to launch these kinds of health-care tools. In India and much of Africa, there are few government drug agencies or big insurance companies to throw up barriers.

Companies that make medical devices and their accompanying smartphone apps could establish themselves almost overnight. Then, once they have built a large, profitable base of users, they could consider jumping through the legal and regulatory hoops to bring the technology to developed countries.



For the full commentary, see:

Michael S. Malone. "Silicon Valley Trails in Medical Tech; With smartphones everywhere and little regulation, India and Africa are set to lead.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 24, 2017): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 23, 2017.)






July 27, 2017

Bill of Rights Is "Gutted" by Bureaucrats' Administrative Law



(p. A13) Unelected bureaucrats not only write their own laws, they also interpret these laws and enforce them in their own courts with their own judges. All this is in blatant violation of the Constitution, says Mr. Hamburger, 60, a constitutional scholar and winner of the Manhattan Institute's Hayek Prize last year for his scholarly 2014 book, "Is Administrative Law Unlawful?" (Spoiler alert: Yes.)

"Essentially, much of the Bill of Rights has been gutted," he says, sitting in his office at Columbia Law School. "The government can choose to proceed against you in a trial in court with constitutional processes, or it can use an administrative proceeding where you don't have the right to be heard by a real judge or a jury and you don't have the full due process of law. Our fundamental procedural freedoms, which once were guarantees, have become mere options."

​In volume and complexity, the edicts from federal agencies exceed the laws passed by Congress by orders of magnitude. "The administrative state has become the government's predominant mode of contact with citizens," Mr. Hamburger says. "Ultimately this is not about the politics of left or right. Unlawful government power should worry everybody."



For the full interview, see:


John Tierney, interviewer. "The Tyranny of the Administrative State." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 10, 2017): A13.

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 9, 2017.)


The book by Hamburger mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:

Hamburger, Philip. Is Administrative Law Unlawful? Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2014.






July 24, 2017

"Gratuitously Stupid" Petunia Regulations



(p. A17) Sometimes government regulators do things that are not merely misguided but gratuitously stupid. A classic example came last month, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture called for the destruction of at least 13 varieties of petunias with striking hues. These plants don't pose any danger to health or the natural environment. But because they were crafted with modern genetic-engineering techniques, technically they're in violation of 30-year-old government regulations.

These petunias, first developed in the 1980s, were sold around the globe for years without incident. Then in 2015 a Finnish plant scientist noticed bright-orange petunias at a train station in Helsinki.


. . .


He tipped off Finnish regulators, who notified their counterparts in Europe and North America. Since no government had issued permits to sell these varieties, the result was a petunia purge. Untold numbers of beautiful and completely harmless flowers and seeds were destroyed.


. . .


If a researcher wants to perform a field trial with a regulated article such as the forbidden petunias, he must submit extensive paperwork to the Agriculture Department. After conducting tests for years at many sites, the developer can then submit a large dossier of data and request "deregulation" by the USDA for cultivation and sale.

These requirements make genetically engineered plants extraordinarily expensive to develop and test. On average, each costs about $136 million, according to Wendelyn Jones of DuPont Crop Protection. This probably is why the developers of the genetically engineered petunias never commercialized them legally. At around $5 for 5,000 seeds, there is no way to recover the regulatory costs.



For the full commentary, see:

Henry I. Miller. "Attack of the Killer Petunias; Harmless flowers are destroyed since they were genetically modified but not Washington-approved." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 13, 2017): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 12, 2017.)






July 21, 2017

Britain's Socialist National Health Service Failed to Update Old Software



(p. A4) LONDON -- Martin Hardy was in his hospital gown, about to be wheeled into the operating room for knee surgery on Saturday morning [May 13, 2017] at Royal London Hospital in East London, when, he said, his operation was abruptly canceled.

Mr. Hardy, 52, a caregiver for his father, said his surgeon told him the operation could not be carried out because the hospital's computer system was not working and his condition was not life-threatening.

"I was in my hospital robe literally about to go in," he said, wincing as he stood on crutches outside the hospital, waiting for a taxi home. "How can anyone in their right mind do such a thing?" he added, referring to the people behind the devastating cyberattack that affected organizations in nearly 100 countries and sent tremors across Britain's National Health Service.

A day after one of the largest "ransomware" attacks on record, which left thousands of computers at companies in Europe, universities in Asia and hospitals in Britain still crippled or shut down on Saturday, Amber Rudd, the British home secretary, told the BBC that the N.H.S. needed to learn from what had happened and upgrade its information technology system.


. . .


Ms. Rudd conceded that the N.H.S., where many computers had outdated software vulnerable to malware and ransomware, had been ill prepared, despite numerous warnings. "I would expect N.H.S. trusts to learn from this and to make sure that they do upgrade," she said.


. . .


"You can't blame the hospital, but surely the N.H.S. knew this could happen?" he said, his face reddening with anger. "And I don't understand why their computers weren't secure. We all pay into the N.H.S., and this is what we get. What on earth is going on in this country?"


. . .


Dr. Krishna Chinthapalli, a senior resident at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, who predicted a cyberattack on the N.H.S. in an article published in the British Medical Journal a few days before the attack, said it was disturbing.

"I had expected an attack," he said in an interview. "But not on this scale."

He had warned in the article that hospitals were especially vulnerable to ransomware attacks because they held vital data, and were probably more willing than others to pay a ransom to recover it. He said in the interview that many of the N.H.S. computers still ran Windows XP, an out-of-date software.



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "British Patients Suffer as Hospitals Race to Revive Computer Systems." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MAY 14, 2017): 11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 13, 2017, and has the title "British Patients Reel as Hospitals Race to Revive Computer Systems.")






July 19, 2017

Socialized Medicine Seeks to Ensure "No One Does Anything New or Interesting"



(p. A15) Heart surgeons are among the superstars of the medical profession, possessing finely tuned skills and a combination of detachment and sheer guts that enables them to carve open fellow human beings and hold the most vital human organ in their hands. In "Open Heart," British cardiac surgeon Stephen Westaby shares often astonishing stories of his own operating-room experiences, illuminating the science and art of his specialty through the patients whose lives he has saved and, in some cases, lost.


. . .


One theme in "Open Heart" is Dr. Westaby's frustration with Britain's National Health Service, which, he says, values saving money over saving lives. He grows frustrated as he tries to get the reluctant government-run payer to cover the costs of advanced interventions. There are other problems too: Dire situations often get worse, he says, because of treatment delays and poor attention to best practices, like administering clot-busting drugs after a heart attack. Medical directors, he says, seem intent on ensuring that "no one does anything new or interesting."



For the full review, see:

Laura Landro. "BOOKSHELF; Priming the Pump; One procedure involved implanting a turbine heart-pumping device and screwing a titanium plug, Frankenstein-like, into the skull." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 14, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 13, 2017.)


The book under review, is:

Westaby, Stephen. Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table. New York: Basic Books, 2017.






July 13, 2017

Australian Government's Centrally Planned "Costly Internet Bungle"



(p. A6) BRISBANE, Australia -- Fed up with Australian internet speeds that trail those in most of the developed world, Morgan Jaffit turned to a more reliable method of data transfer: the postal system.

Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world have downloaded Hand of Fate, an action video game made by his studio in Brisbane, Defiant Development. But when Defiant worked with an audio designer in Melbourne, more than 1,000 miles away, Mr. Jaffit knew it would be quicker to send a hard drive by road than to upload the files, which could take several days.

"It's really the big file sizes that kill us," said Mr. Jaffit, the company's co-founder and creative director. "When we release an update and there's a small bug, that can kill us by three or four days."

Australia, a wealthy nation with a widely envied quality of life, lags in one essential area of modern life: its internet speed. Eight years after the country began an unprecedented broadband modernization effort that will cost at least 49 billion Australian dollars, or $36 billion, its average internet speed lags that of the United States, most of Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In the most recent ranking of internet speeds by Akamai, a networking company, Australia came in at an embarrassing No. 51, trailing developing economies like Thailand and Kenya.


. . .


The story of Australia's costly internet bungle illustrates the hazards of mingling telecommunication infrastructure with the impatience of modern politics. The internet modernization plan has been hobbled by cost overruns, partisan maneuvering and a major technical compromise that put 19th-century technology between the country's 21st-century digital backbone and many of its homes and businesses.

The government-led push to modernize its telecommunications system was unprecedented, experts say -- and provides a cautionary tale for others who might like to try something similar.

"Australia was the first country where a totally national plan to cover every house or business was considered," said Rod Tucker, a University of Melbourne professor and a member of the expert panel that advised on the effort.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW McMILLEN. "How Australia Bungled Internet Modernization." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 12, 2017): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 11, 2017, and has the title "How Australia Bungled Its $36 Billion High-Speed Internet Rollout.")









July 8, 2017

Large Indian Tribes Hurt by Obama Regulations on Coal



(p. 1) . . . some of the largest tribes in the United States derive their budgets from the very fossil fuels that Mr. Trump has pledged to promote, including the Navajo in the Southwest and the Osage in Oklahoma, as well as smaller tribes like the Southern Ute in Colorado. And the Crow are among several Indian nations looking to the president's promises to nix Obama-era coal rules, pull back on regulations, or approve new oil and gas wells to help them lift their economies and wrest control (p. 14) from a federal bureaucracy they have often seen as burdensome.

The president's executive order on Tuesday [March 28, 2017], which called for a rollback of President Barack Obama's climate change rules, is a step toward some of these goals.

At the tribes' side is Ryan Zinke, who as the new interior secretary is charged with protecting and managing Indian lands, which hold an estimated 30 percent of the nation's coal reserves west of the Mississippi and 20 percent of known oil and gas reserves in the United States.

In a recent interview, Mr. Zinke noted that he was once adopted into the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes and said he would help native nations get fossil fuels to market.

"We have not been a good partner in this," he said. "The amount of bureaucracy and paperwork and stalling in many ways has created great hardship on some of the poorest tribes.

"A war on coal is a war on the Crow people," he continued. "President Trump has promised to end the war."



For the full story, see:

JULIE TURKEWITZ. "Tribes That Live Off Coal Hold Tight to Trump's Promises." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., APRIL 2, 2017): 1 & 14.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 1, 2017, and has the title "Tribes That Live Off Coal Hold Tight to Trump's Promises.")






July 4, 2017

Fed Throws Seniors Under Bus



(p. A1) The average one-year CD hasn't paid more than 1% since 2009, according to Bankrate.com.

The drop in interest rates since the financial crisis cost U.S. savers almost $1 trillion in lost income from savings accounts, CDs and bonds from the start of 2008 through 2015, taking into account money saved on debt costs, according to April 2016 research (p. A2) by insurer Swiss Re.

There are few signs of imminent improvement. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note has risen since the election to nearly 2.6%, but it is still below the 2.9% it yielded when U.S. stocks hit their low on March 9, 2009.


. . .


Lawmakers such as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) have criticized the Fed's low-rate policy as harmful to savers. Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) in 2013 said it amounted to "throwing seniors under the bus."



For the full story, see:

Corrie Driebusch and Aaron Kuriloff. "Stocks Have Tripled Since Crisis, but Low Rates Are Still Squeezing Savers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MARCH 9, 2017): A1-A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 8, 2017, and has the title "Stocks Have Tripled Since Crisis, but Low Rates Are Still Squeezing Savers.")






June 26, 2017

Fearing FDA, Schools Stop Students from Using Sunscreen Lotions



(p. A11) The Sunbeatables curriculum, designed by specialists MD Anderson Cancer Center, features a cast of superheroes who teach children the basics of sun protection including the obvious: how and when to apply sunscreen.

There's just one wrinkle. Many of the about 1,000 schools where the curriculum is taught are in states that don't allow students to bring sunscreen to school or apply it without a note from a doctor or parent and trip to the nurse's office.

Schools have restrictions because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration labels sunscreen as an over-the-counter medication.


. . .


Melanoma accounts for the majority of skin cancer-related deaths and is among the most common types of invasive cancers. One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence can double the risk of developing melanoma, says Dr. Tanzi. And sun damage is cumulative. The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that 23% of lifetime sun exposure occurs by age 18. Regular sunscreen application is a widespread recommendation among medical experts though some groups have raised concerns about the chemicals in certain sunscreens.

"Five or more sunburns increases your melanoma risk by 80% and your non-melanoma skin cancer risk by 68%," Dr. Tanzi says.

Pediatric melanoma cases add up to a small but growing number. There are about 500 children diagnosed every year with the numbers increasing by about 2% each year, says Shelby Moneer, director of education for the Melanoma Research Foundation.



For the full story, see:

Sumathi Reddy. "YOUR HEALTH; It's School, No Sunscreen Allowed." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 16, 2017): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 15, 2017, and has the title "YOUR HEALTH; Where Kids Aren't Allowed to Put on Sunscreen: in School.")






June 25, 2017

"Hubs of Genius Do Not Arise from Government Planning"



(p. 13) In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union tried to make a version of Silicon Valley from scratch. A city called Zelenograd came to life on the outskirts of Moscow and was populated with all manner of brainy Soviet engineers. The hope -- naturally -- was that a concentration of clever minds coupled with ample funding would result in a wellspring of innovation and help Russia keep pace with California's electronics boom. The experiment worked as well as one might expect. Few people will read this on a Mayakovsky-branded tablet or ­smartphone.

Many similar attempts have been made in the subsequent dec­ades to replicate Silicon Valley and its abundance of creativity and ingenuity. Such efforts have largely failed. It seems near impossible to will an exceptional place into being or to manufacture the conditions that lead to an outpouring of genius.


. . .


As in the case of Zelenograd, hubs of genius do not arise from government planning or by acting on the observations of a traveler. They're happy accidents. To attempt to clone such things or pinpoint their characteristics is futile.



For the full review, see:

ASHLEE VANCE. "Smart Sites." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "''The Geography of Genius,' by Eric Weiner.")


The book under review, is:

Weiner, Eric. The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.







June 22, 2017

Oregon Gadfly Fined for Practicing Engineering Without a License



(p. B2) Mats Jarlstrom acknowledges that he is unusually passionate about traffic signals -- and that his zeal is not particularly appreciated by Oregon officials.

His crusade to make traffic lights remain yellow longer -- which began after his wife received a red-light camera ticket -- has drawn some interest among transportation specialists and the media. But among the power brokers in his hometown, Beaverton, it has elicited ridicule and exasperation.

"They literally laughed at me at City Hall," Mr. Jarlstrom recalled of a visit there in 2013, when he tried to share his ideas with city counselors and the police chief.

Worse still was getting hit recently with a $500 fine for engaging in the "practice of engineering" without a license while pressing his cause. So last week, Mr. Jarlstrom filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying, charging the state's licensing panel with violating his First Amendment rights.

"I was working with simple mathematics and applying it to the motion of a vehicle and explaining my research," said Mr. Jarlstrom, 56. "By doing so, they declared I was illegal."

The lawsuit is the latest and perhaps most novel shot in the continuing campaign against the proliferation of state licensing laws that can require costly training and fees before people can work. Mr. Jarlstrom is being represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian organization partly funded by the billionaire brothers and activists Charles G. and David H. Koch.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Crusader Fined for Doing Math Without License." The New York Times (Mon., May 1, 2017): B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 30, 2017, and has the title "Yellow-Light Crusader Fined for Doing Math Without a License.")






June 21, 2017

FDR's Attorney General Warned Black Newspapers That He Would "Shut Them All Up"



(p. 12) . . . as the former Chicago Defender editor and reporter Ethan Michaeli shows in his extraordinary history, "The Defender," the Negro press barons attacked military segregation with a zeal that set Roosevelt's teeth on edge. The Negro press warned black men against Navy recruiters who would promise them training as radiomen, technicians or mechanics -- then put them to work serving food to white men. It made its readers understand that black men and women in uniform were treated worse in Southern towns than German prisoners of war and sometimes went hungry on troop trains because segregationists declined to feed them. It focused unflinchingly on the fistfights and gun battles that erupted between blacks and whites on military bases. And it reiterated the truth that no doubt cut Roosevelt the most deeply: His government's insistence on racial separation was of a piece with the "master race" theory put in play by Hitler in Europe.

This was not the first time The Defender and its sister papers had attacked institutional racism. That part of the story begins with Robert S. Abbott, the transplanted Southerner who created The Defender in 1905 and fashioned it into a potent weapon.


. . .


The black press was considerably more powerful and self-assured by 1940, when Abbott died and his nephew John H. Sengstacke succeeded him.


. . .


Things stood thus in 1942, when Sengstacke traveled to Washington to meet with Attorney General Francis Biddle. Sengstacke found Biddle in a conference room, sitting at a table across which was spread copies of black newspapers that included The Defender, The Courier and The Afro-American. Biddle said that the black papers were flirting with sedition and threatened to "shut them all up."



For the full review, see:

BRENT STAPLES. "'A 'Most Dangerous' Newspaper." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 4, 2016, and has the title "''The Defender,' by Ethan Michaeli.")


The book under review, is:

Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






June 20, 2017

Government Regulations Suppress Poor Street Entrepreneurs



(p. 7) HANOI, Vietnam -- As strips of tofu sizzle beside her in a vat of oil, Nguyen Thu Hong listens for police sirens.

Police raids on sidewalk vendors have escalated sharply in downtown Hanoi since March [2017], she said, and officers fine her about $9, or two days' earnings, for the crime of selling bun dau mam tom -- vermicelli rice noodles with tofu and fermented shrimp paste -- from a plastic table beside an empty storefront.

"Most Vietnamese live by what they do on the sidewalk, so you can't just take that away," she said. "More regulations would be fine, but what the cops are doing now feels too extreme."

Southeast Asia is famous for its street food, delighting tourists and locals alike with tasty, inexpensive dishes like spicy som tam (green papaya salad) in Bangkok or sizzling banh xeo crepes in Ho Chi Minh City. But major cities in three countries are strengthening campaigns to clear the sidewalks, driving thousands of food vendors into the shadows and threatening a culinary tradition.


. . .


. . . some experts say street food is not inherently less sanitary than restaurant food. "If you're eating fried foods or things that are really steaming hot, then there's probably not much difference at all," said Martyn Kirk, an epidemiologist at the Australian National University.


. . .


Ms. Hong, the Hanoi vendor, said her earnings had cratered by about 60 percent since the start of the crackdown, when she moved to her present location from a busy street corner as a hedge against police raids.



For the full story, see:

MIKE IVES. "Food So Popular, Asian Cities Want It Off the Streets." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., APRIL 30, 2017): 7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 29, 2017, and has the title "Efforts to Ease Congestion Threaten Street Food Culture in Southeast Asia.")






June 15, 2017

Middle Class Wants to Be Free to Choose Skinnier Health Insurance



(p. B4) For Linda Dearman, the House vote last week to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a welcome relief.

Ms. Dearman, of Bartlett, Ill., voted for President Trump largely because of his contempt for the federal health law. She and her husband, a partner in an engineering firm, buy their own insurance, but late last year they dropped their $1,100-a-month policy and switched to a bare-bones plan that does not meet the law's requirements. They are counting that the law will be repealed before they owe a penalty.

"Now it looks like it will be, and we're thrilled about that," Ms. Dearman, 54, said. "We are so glad to feel represented for a change."


. . .


In interviews over the last few days, people who support repealing the Affordable Care Act pointed to their long-simmering resentment of its mandate that most Americans have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Many also said that they could no longer afford the comprehensive coverage available on the individual market, and that they were eager to once again be allowed to choose skinnier policies without a penalty.

"Now I will no longer be expected to pay twice what I should for a product I don't need and be treated like a criminal with a fine if I refuse," said Edward Belanger, 55, a self-employed business appraiser in Dallas. He is an independent who usually votes Republican but last year chose Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, over Mr. Trump.

Like the Dearmans, Mr. Belanger canceled a plan that complies with the Affordable Care Act and bought a short-term policy that does not meet the law's standards, paying $580 a month for his family of four compared with the nearly $1,200 a month he paid last year. Policies like theirs usually have high deductibles and primarily offer catastrophic coverage for major injuries.



For the full story, see:

ABBY GOODNOUGH. "Feeling Hurt By Health Law, and Eager to See G.O.P. Repeal It." The New York Times (Tues., May 16, 2017): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 12, 2017, and has the title "Why Some Can't Wait for a Repeal of Obamacare.")






June 12, 2017

DARPA's $66 Million Fails to Develop Tech to Match Dog Noses



(p. A2) "What's cool about dogs is when they do come into contact with an odor, they can track it to its source," said L. Paul Waggoner, co-director of the Canine Performance Sciences Program at Auburn University. "There is not an instrument out there that replicates a dog's nose."

That's not for lack of effort.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense spent $66 million between 1997 and 2010 drawing on the expertise of at least 35 different research institutions to develop sensors that could detect explosives as ably as a dog and identify other chemicals.


They couldn't do it.


. . .


Surprisingly, pigs and ferrets outperformed German shepherds and Labrador retrievers, breeds often chosen for odor detection.

But overall, dogs won out because of their combination of qualities: Not only do they have strong noses, they are compatible with people, they respond to training, and--for now--they beat technology paws down.



For the full commentary, see:

Jo Craven McGinty. "THE NUMBERS; Dogs Still Beat Technology in the Smell Test." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 25, 2017): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 24, 2017, and has the title"THE NUMBERS; Making Sense of a Dog's Olfactory Powers.")






June 5, 2017

Going Postal



(p. 19) Over all, Leonard emphasizes a darker side of postal history, from the corruption scandals that periodically erupted after Andrew Jackson politicized the service, creating a gargantuan patronage machine, to oppressive government censorship campaigns. He devotes much of a chapter to Anthony Comstock, the longtime postal inspector and self-styled "weeder in God's garden," who banned and prosecuted the mailing of birth control pamphlets, "marriage aids" and "indecent" literary works like Walt Whitman's poems, lest they pollute public morals. Still another chapter charts the spree of mass killings by overworked, underpaid and aggrieved postal workers in the 1980s and early 1990s.


For the full review, see:

LISA McGIRR. "We Had Mail." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JULY 10, 2016): 19.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 8, 2016, and has the title "Two Books Recount How Our Postal System Created a Communications Revolution.")


The book under review, is:

Leonard, Devin. Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service. New York: Grove Press, 2016.






June 2, 2017

Since 1880 North America Is Warmer by One and a Half Degrees Fahrenheit



(p. A23) Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the earth since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That's especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn't to deny science. It's to acknowledge it honestly.


For the full commentary, see:

Stephens, Bret. "Climate of Complete Certainty." The New York Times (Sat., APRIL 29, 2017): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 28, 2017.)







May 31, 2017

Government Ignored Ebeling's Warning on Challenger O-Rings



(p. 21) Thirty years ago, Bob Ebeling drove to the headquarters of the aerospace contractor Morton Thiokol in Brigham City, Utah, to watch the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. On the way, he leaned over to his daughter Leslie and said: "The Challenger is going to blow up. Everyone's going to die."

Mr. Ebeling (pronounced EBB-ling), an engineer at Thiokol, knew what the rest of the world did not: that the rubber O-rings designed to seal the joints between the booster rocket's segments performed poorly in cold weather. A severe cold snap in Florida was about to subject the O-rings to temperatures more than 30 degrees lower than at any previous launch.

During the afternoon and evening before the launch, Thiokol engineers, relying on data provided by Mr. Ebeling and his colleagues, argued passionately for a postponement of the launch in conference calls with NASA managers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. They were overruled not only by NASA, but also by their own managers.

On the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, sitting in a conference room with his daughter and Roger Boisjoly, Thiokol's chief seal expert, Mr. Ebeling watched on a large projection screen as the Challenger cleared the launching pad. "I turned to Bob and said, 'We've just dodged a bullet,'" Mr. Boisjoly told The Guardian in 2001.

A minute later, the O-rings failed and the Challenger exploded in a ball of fire, killing all seven crew members aboard. Among them was Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher from New Hampshire who had been chosen to be the first citizen passenger in space.

Mr. Ebeling never recovered from the disaster. "I've been under terrible stress since the accident," he told The Houston Chronicle in 1987. "I have headaches. I cry. I have bad dreams. I go into a hypnotic trance almost daily."

He soon left Thiokol and the engineering profession. For the rest of his life he faulted himself for not doing enough to prevent the launch.



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Bob Ebeling Dies at 89; Warned of Challenger Disaster." The New York Times, First Section (Sun, MARCH 27, 2016): 21.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MARCH 25, 2016, and has the title "Robert Ebeling, Challenger Engineer Who Warned of Disaster, Dies at 89.")






May 27, 2017

Chinese Government Stimulus Inflated Egg Futures Bubble



(p. A1) HONG KONG -- China is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into its economy in a new effort to support growth. Some of it is going into roads and bridges and other big projects that will keep the economy humming.

And some of it is going into eggs.

China's latest lending deluge has sent money sloshing into unexpected parts of the economy. That includes a financial market in Dalian where investors can place bets on the future productivity of the country's hens.

Egg futures have surged by as much as one-third since March, the sort of move that would be justified if investors believed China's chicken flocks were headed for an unfortunate fate.

But the market's usual participants say the flocks are fine. In fact, the actual price of eggs in the country's markets has fallen from a year ago, according to government statistics.

The reason for the unusual jump in egg futures, they say, is China's tendency to experience investment bubbles when the government steps up spending and lending. China's previous efforts to bolster growth unexpectedly (p. B2) sent money into real estate and the stock market -- markets that had unexplained rises followed by striking drops.

"Many commodities prices have gone up crazily," said Du Shaoxing, a futures trader in Guangzhou, in southern China. "We surely hope for a more stabilized trend where futures can reflect economic fundamentals. The way in which recent commodity prices went up is worrisome."

China's latest bubble illustrates the potential risks of its newest effort to spur growth. The Chinese economy is already burdened with too much debt, economists say. And sometimes, stopgap measures to help the economy create long-term problems.



For the full story, see:

NEIL GOUGH. "China's Flood of Cash Roils Egg Futures." The New York Times (Weds., May 2, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 1, 2016, and has the title "China Lending Inflates Real Estate, Stocks, Even Egg Futures.")






May 17, 2017

Seeking a "Safe Space" to Protect Taxpayers from Wasteful "Spending on Political Correctness"



(p. A1) WORCESTER, Mass. -- A freshman tentatively raises her hand and takes the microphone. "I'm really scared to ask this," she begins. "When I, as a white female, listen to music that uses the N word, and I'm in the car, or, especially when I'm with all white friends, is it O.K. to sing along?"

The answer, from Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University, is an unequivocal "no."

The exchange was included in Ms. Marlowe's presentation to recently arriving first-year students focusing on subtle "microaggressions," part of a new campus vocabulary that also includes "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings."


. . .


(p. A3) In August [2016], the University of Wisconsin system, which includes the Madison flagship and 25 other campuses, said it would ask the State Legislature for $6 million in funding to improve what it called the "university experience" for students. The request includes money for Fluent, a program described as a systemwide cultural training for faculty and staff members and students.

But that budget request has provoked controversy. "If only the taxpayers and tuition-paying families had a safe space that might protect them from wasteful U.W. System spending on political correctness," State Senator Stephen L. Nass, a Republican, said in a statement issued by his office, urging his fellow lawmakers to vote against the appropriation.

Mr. Nass's objection to spending money on diversity training reflects a rising resistance to what is considered campus political correctness. At some universities, alumni and students have objected to a variety of campus measures, including diversity training; "safe spaces," places where students from marginalized groups can gather to discuss their experiences; and "trigger warnings," disclaimers about possibly upsetting material in lesson plans.

Some graduates have curtailed donations, and students have suggested that diversity training smacks of some sort of Communist re-education program.

The backlash was exemplified recently in a widely publicized letter sent to new freshmen at the University of Chicago by the dean of students, John Ellison.

He warned that the university did not "support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE SAUL. "Campuses Cautiously Train Freshmen Against Subtle Insults." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 7, 2016): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 6, 2016, and has the title "Campuses Cautiously Train Freshmen Against Subtle Insults.")






May 16, 2017

Panopticon: "Bentham's Most Infamous Idea"



(p. C6) Perhaps the most fascinating chapter of the book, highlighting Mr. Crawford's ability to mix philosophy and reporting, is the one about the panopticon. The idea of an annular building with a central observation tower was conceived by the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The utilitarian is known most superficially by students of and visitors to University College, London, as the eccentric who willed that, after his death, his body be preserved seated on a chair in a glass case.

Mr. Crawford fleshes out the story, noting that, in fact, the smartly dressed Bentham figure that sits inside a glass display case today is actually a skeleton of the man, his head a wax replica of the real one that did not survive the preservation process. When I was a regular at University College one summer, I was told that the cabinet holding the "Auto-Icon" (Bentham's term) was rolled over to the lecture hall on occasion, something that I don't recall witnessing.

The author's real purpose in discussing Bentham's most infamous idea is to describe the utopian--or dystopian, depending upon one's point of view--concept. In one embodiment, it took the form of a rimless wagon wheel, in which someone situated at the hub could oversee activities in all directions, making the layout ideal for insuring that workers in a factory did not take more breaks than allowed, inmates did not misbehave in a prison or students did not cheat on an exam.

Bentham's insight was that the mere fact that those being observed knew that they were being watched would cause them to alter their behavior for the better. Could Bentham have imagined that his idea would form the foundation of our surveillance society? Looking at our culture today--with its CCTV, smartphones and so on--to some it surely seems that we live in a permanent panopticon. "All this," Mr. Crawford writes, "from a 'simple idea in architecture.' "



For the full review, see:

HENRY PETROSKI. "What Goes Up." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 11, 2017): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 10, 2017, and has the title "The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings.")


The book under review, is:

Crawford, James. Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings. New York: Picador, 2017.






May 11, 2017

Fewer Regulations and Lower Taxes Rouse "Animal Spirits" in Small Businesses



(p. B1) More than any other president since Ronald Reagan, President Trump is moving to strip away regulations and slash taxes, said Jeffrey Korzenik, an investment strategist with Fifth Third, a large regional bank in the Midwest and Southeast. In meetings with clients, Mr. Korzenik has been making the case that these policies will rouse the slumbering animal spirits in businesses across America.

"And now we have seen this huge spike in small-business confidence since the election," Mr. Korzenik said, pointing to a chart. "So I have to ask you: Do you feel more confident now?"

There was a moment of silence, broken only by a howling northwestern Ohio wind that rattled the floor-to-ceiling windows in the bank's boardroom.

Then, with rapid-fire speed, came the responses.

The president of a trucking company spoke of a "tremendous dark cloud" lifting when he realized he would no longer be feeling the burden of rules and regulations imposed by the Obama administration.

The owner of an automotive parts assembler gave thanks that he would not be receiving visits from pesky envi-(p. B3)ronmental and workplace overseers.

And the head of a seating manufacturer expressed hope that, finally, his health care costs would come down when the Affordable Care Act was repealed.

"My gut just feels better," said Bob Fleisher, president of a local car dealership. "With Obama, you felt it was personal -- like he just didn't want you to make money. Now we have a guy who is cutting regulations and taxes. And when I see my taxes going down every quarter -- well, that means I am going to start investing again."


. . .


A heavier regulatory burden and uncertainty born of a weak economic recovery have kept small-business owners from making big bets in investments or hiring.

But in Toledo, this reluctance is changing -- and quickly.

Louis M. Soltis owns a small company that manufactures control panels for large factories and machines. After four years of not adding to his work force of 22, he has seen orders for panels jump in the last two months and is looking to take on as many as six new workers.

There may not be a direct correlation between his surging order book and the new president, but there is no doubting the psychological boost.

"That guy is a junkyard dog, doing his tweets at 3 a.m. and taking on the news media -- I just get strength from him," Mr. Soltis said over a wine-soaked dinner with a large group of his small-business friends and peers from around town. "And I have to say, it makes you feel gutsy -- ready to step up and start investing again."


. . .


Yet there is a downside to animal spirits that persist too long, especially in labor markets, like Toledo's, that are operating on the tight side.

And that is a sharp uptick in inflation.

In his presentation to Fifth Third's banking clients, Mr. Korzenik raised this issue, suggesting that the broader economy was in the "seventh inning" of what has been a pretty long business cycle.


. . .


Still, no one in the room seemed overly concerned. As the group saw it, the party was just beginning.

"Most businesses I know are just taking a deep breath, happy that there is finally someone in the White House who understands what they do," said Mr. Fleisher, the owner of the Lincoln car dealership. "So you say we are in the seventh inning -- well, I am not sure we are."



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "Small Businesses' Hopes Are Up." The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 13, 2017): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 12, 2017, and has the title "The President Changed. So Has Small Businesses' Confidence.")






May 10, 2017

Restaurants Add Labor Surcharges to Help Pay Minimum Wage Costs



(p. B1) In lieu of steep menu price increases, many independent and regional chain restaurants in states including Arizona, California, Colorado and New York are adding surcharges of 3% to 4% to help offset rising labor costs. Industry analysts expect the practice to become widespread as more cities and states increase minimum wages.

"It's the emerging new norm," said Sharokina Shams, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association. She said California restaurants are adding surcharges as the state lifts the minimum wage every year until it reaches $15 an hour by 2023. It is currently at $10.50 an hour for employers with 26 or more workers.


. . .


While adding a surcharge risks turning diners away, some restaurateurs say they want customers to understand the consequences of higher wages on a business with profit margins of generally between 2% and 6%.


. . .


(p. B2) Sami Ladeki added surcharges to the menu at six Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill restaurants in San Diego and eight more across California. He said it was a mistake to call the charge a state mandate, and has changed the wording. But he remains critical of rising minimum wages.

"This is not sustainable," said Mr. Ladeki, who says he makes a profit of around 1% charging $12 to $14 a pizza. "People are not going to pay $15 or $20 for a pizza."


. . .


David Cohn, who owns 15 restaurants in San Diego, including BO-beau, said his 3% surcharge wasn't a stunt.

"We want people to understand there is a cost," Mr. Cohn said. "How do we stay in business with margins shrinking and competition increasing?"



For the full story, see:

JULIE JARGON. "New on Your Dinner Tab: A Labor Surcharge." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 10, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 9, 2017.)






May 8, 2017

China's "Ruthless" One Child Policy Forced Some Women to Have Abortions



(p. 15) Deng Xiaoping, China's leader after 1978, had set a target of quadrupling the country's per capita national income by 2000. China's planners decided that they could achieve this goal only if, in addition to increasing the size of the pie, there were fewer people to share it.

So they determined, in their words, to "adjust women's average fertility rate in advance." The man who ran the program that treated women as if they were production functions was a rocket scientist, Song Jian, who had worked on ballistic missiles. Song went on to help manage the giant Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. His was a world in which unintended consequences were not important.

Population control was not unusual in the 1980s. India also had a fertility-­control program. The United Nations gave its first-ever population award to the Chinese minister for population planning in 1983 (along with Indira Gandhi). But China's application of population control was particularly ruthless.

In 2012, Feng Jianmei, a factory worker pregnant with her second child, was taken to a clinic, forced to sign a document consenting to an abortion and injected with an abortifacient. She was in her seventh month. Pictures of her lying next to her perfectly formed seven-month dead fetus went viral. But hers was hardly an unusual case. In the 1990s, population targets became a major criterion for judging the performance of officials. It is no surprise that they carried out the one-child policy ruthlessly. Reading this account, one wonders why rape as a weapon of war is (rightly) seen as a war crime, whereas the forcible violation of women's bodies in pursuit of government policy wins United Nations awards.



For the full review, see:

JOHN PARKER. "Little Emperors." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JAN. 10, 2016): 15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "''One Child,' by Mei Fong.")


The book under review, is:

Fong, Mei. One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






May 3, 2017

U.S. Science Agencies Omit Margin of Error in Warming Stats



(p. A13) The year 2016 was the warmest ever recorded--so claimed two U.S. agencies, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Except it wasn't, according to the agencies' own measures of statistical uncertainty.

Such fudge is of fairly recent vintage. Leaving any discussion of the uncertainty interval out of press releases only became the norm in the second year of the Obama administration. Back when he was presenting the 2008 numbers, NASA's James Hansen, no slouch in raising climate alarms, nevertheless made a point of being quoted saying such annual rankings can be "misleading because the difference in temperature between one year and another is often less than the uncertainty in the global average."

Statisticians wouldn't go through the trouble of assigning an uncertainty value unless it meant something. Two measurements separated by less than the margin of error are the same. And yet NASA's Goddard Institute, now under Mr. Hansen's successor Gavin Schmidt, put out a release declaring 2014 the "warmest year in the modern record" when it was statistically indistinguishable from 2005 and 2010.


. . .


. . . other countries like the U.K. and Japan also do sophisticated monitoring and end up with findings roughly similar to the findings of U.S. agencies, yet they don't feel the need to lie about it. For instance, the U.K. Met Office headlined its 2016 report "one of the warmest two years on record." A reader only had to progress to the third paragraph to discover that the difference over 2015 was one-tenth the margin of error.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "Change Would Be Healthy at U.S. Climate Agencies; In the Obama era, it was routine for press releases to avoid mentioning any margin of error.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 4, 2017): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)







May 1, 2017

How Uber Resisted Regulation



(p. B1) Uber Technologies Inc. has for years employed a program that uses data from its ride-hailing app and other tools to evade government officials seeking to identify and block the service's drivers, according to a person familiar with the matter.


. . .


Uber has set up GPS rings around government offices, tracked low-cost phones and looked for other clues that regulators were targeting its drivers, such as frequently opening or closing the app or using credit cards tied to city agencies, according to the Times report. Once identified, Uber kept regulators out of vehicles by failing to send drivers their way, according to the newspaper.



For the full story, see:

GREG BENSINGER. "Uber Used Program to Evade Authorities." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 6, 2017): B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 4, 2017, and has the title "Uber Used 'Greyball' Program to Circumvent Authorities." )






April 28, 2017

British Government Environmentalists Increase London Air Pollution



(p. A4) London is choking from record levels of pollution, much of it caused by diesel cars and trucks, as well as wood-burning fires in private homes, a growing trend.


. . .


London's air pollution today is different from seven decades ago, and more insidious. No longer thick as "pea soup," as it was traditionally described, the city's air is now laced with nitrogen dioxide -- a toxic gas mostly produced by vehicles with diesel engines.


. . .


The current problem is, in part, an unintended consequence of previous efforts to aid the environment.

The British government provided financial incentives to encourage a shift to diesel engines because laboratory tests suggested that would cut harmful emissions and combat climate change. Yet, it turned out that diesel cars emit on average five times as much emissions in real-world driving conditions as in the tests, according to a British Department for Transport study.

"No one at the time thought of the consequences of increased nitrogen dioxide emissions from diesel, and the policy of incentivizing diesel was so successful that an awful lot of people bought diesel cars," said Anna Heslop, a lawyer at ClientEarth, an environmental law firm that last year forced the British government to produce a better plan to improve air quality.


. . .


Bob Miller, 69, a cabdriver who has crisscrossed London for 30 years, wasn't convinced. He has lost faith in recommendations by policy makers and experts, he said.

"We were told how wonderful diesel is, how they were supposed to be cleaner than petrol," Mr. Miller said, idling his cab in heavy traffic with the window open.

"The experts make the rules, then they're wrong," he said, shaking his head. "I give up."



For the full story, see:

KIMIKO de FREYTAS-TAMURA. "A Push for Diesel Leaves London Gasping Amid Record Pollution." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 18, 2017): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 17, 2017.)






April 27, 2017

U.S. Forest Service Killed "Prometheus," World's Oldest Tree



(p. D9) Great Basin's . . . big draw--trees about as old as Egyptian hieroglyphics--sits at the top of the sky island in Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Grove.


. . .


At the grove, a stand of weather-battered bristlecone pines await, just as they have for between 3,000 and 4,000 years. With their knobby trunks and gnarled branches, the trees look like characters in an animated film's enchanted forest, ready to burst into song. They often have only a small strip of bark, with the rest of the trunk bare, exposing the smooth, rich browns, yellows and grays in its fine grain.

At one time the oldest known tree in the world lived here. Its dignified appearance earned it the name Prometheus. In 1964, two decades before Great Basin became a national park, a researcher, trying to collect data about the area's climate history, drilled into defenseless Prometheus (not knowing its exact age) to examine its rings. When his coring instrument got stuck, the Forest Service felled the tree to retrieve his tool-- only to discover that the tree was 4,900 years old.

Oops.



For the full story, see:

JIM ROBBINS. "In a Strange Land; One of the country's least-hyped nature preserves, Nevada's Great Basin National Park has a weird, wild beauty all its own." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., MARCH 11, 2017): D9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 9, 2017, and has the title "A Hike Through America's Otherworldly Outback.")






April 23, 2017

"High Expectations, High Support" Charter Schools Work Well



(p. 2) The briefest summary is this: Many charter schools fail to live up to their promise, but one type has repeatedly shown impressive results.

Hannah Larkin, the principal at Match, refers to such schools as "high expectations, high support" schools. They devote more of their resources to classroom teaching and less to almost everything else. They keep students in class for more hours. They set high standards for students and try to instill confidence in them. They focus on giving teachers feedback about their craft and helping them get better.


. . .


The latest batch of evidence about this approach is among the most rigorous. Professors at M.I.T., Columbia, Michigan and Berkeley have tracked thousands of charter-school applicants, through high school and beyond, in Boston, where most charters fit the "high expectations, high support" model.

Crucially, the researchers took several steps to make sure the findings were real. They compared lottery winners with losers, controlling for the fact that families who applied for the lotteries were different from families who didn't. They also counted as charter students all those who enrolled, including any who later left.

When you talk to the professors about their findings, you hear a degree of excitement that's uncommon for academic researchers. "Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance -- class sizes, tracking, new buildings -- these schools are producing spectacular gains," said Joshua Angrist, an M.I.T. professor.



For the full commentary, see:

Leonhardt, David. "Schools That Work." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., NOV. 6, 2016): 2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 4, 2016.)


The "latest batch of evidence" mentioned above, includes:

Angrist, Joshua D., Sarah R. Cohodes, Susan M. Dynarski, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher R. Walters. "Stand and Deliver: Effects of Boston's Charter High Schools on College Preparation, Entry, and Choice." Journal of Labor Economics 34, no. 2 (April 2016): 275-318.






April 19, 2017

Privatized Airports Are Better Managed



(p. A15) The highest-ranked American airport on the list of the world's top 100, as determined by the Passengers Choice Awards, is Denver--at 28. Atlanta comes in at 43, Dallas at 58, Los Angeles at 91.

Why do American passengers pay so much to get so little? Because their airports, by global standards, are terribly managed.

Cities from London to Buenos Aires have sold or leased their airports to private companies. To make a profit, these firms must hold down costs while enticing customers with lots of flights, competitive fares and appealing terminals. The firm that manages London's Heathrow, currently eighth in the international ranking, was so intent on attracting passengers that it built a nonstop express train to the city's center. It's also seeking to add another runway, as is the rival firm running Gatwick Airport.

American airports are typically run by politicians in conjunction with the dominant airlines, which help finance the terminals in return for long-term leases on gates and facilities. The airlines use their control to keep out competitors; the politicians use their share of the revenue to reward unionized airport workers. No one puts the passenger first.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "'Third World' U.S. Airports? That Insults the Third World; Private managers make terminals sparkle and hum the world over. Here we're stuck with LaGuardia." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 21, 2017): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 23 [sic], 2017.)






April 16, 2017

Steady Increase in Federal Regulations



RegulationsRiseGraph2017-02-03.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A2) In a high-profile attack on growth-killing red tape, President Donald Trump this week ordered that any agency issuing a new rule find two to repeal.

He will likely discover that the only thing harder than getting something done in Washington is getting it undone.

Vast swaths of rules are untouchable because Congress ordered them to be written or the president himself demanded them..



For the full story, see

Ip, Greg. "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Trump May Find Leviathan Hard to Tame." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 2, 2017): A2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 1, 2017, and has the title "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Donald Trump May Find Leviathan Hard to Tame.")






April 11, 2017

Hong Kong Is No Longer a Libertarian Dream Come True



(p. 5) HONG KONG -- For the 23rd year running, Hong Kong is, in the opinion of the conservative Heritage Foundation, the freest economy in the world. With low taxes, an efficient government and private businesses running the city buses and its spotless subways, this place is a libertarian dream come true.

So the story goes.

Many people who live in Hong Kong beg to differ. This has long been a city of tycoons, with a few families holding sway over the supermarkets, drugstores and real estate market, limiting competition and keeping prices high. And in the past few weeks, four words have further shaken the story line that this former British colony is a free-market nirvana.

Food Truck Pilot Scheme.


. . .


In Hong Kong, the government agency that devised the Food Truck Pilot Scheme had a new, bold and innovative idea: stationary food trucks that don't park on the street. A spokesman for the city's Tourism Commission explained why in an email:

"Since the urban area of Hong Kong is already saturated with traffic, it would not be desirable from the traffic management and road safety angles to allow food trucks to park and operate on public roads. Moreover, as many locations in Hong Kong have already got a number of food establishments, it would thus be desirable to introduce food trucks away from those areas."

It's all explained in a raft of guidelines. There are seven annexes in all, including licensing requirements (Annex D), special government loan programs (Annex B) and fixed venues (Annex F).

Then there is Annex C -- "Mandatory Requirements for a Food Truck" -- that lists in painstaking detail what each truck must have. Some examples: The kitchen floor space must be at least 65 square feet. Each truck must have a potable water tank with a capacity of about 32 gallons, and a wastewater tank at least one and a half times that size. The sink must be at least a foot and a half in length. And so on.

To meet all of those regulations, Hong Kong food trucks must be custom vehicles, bearing little resemblance to the decades-old trucks that congregate near the National Mall in Washington, the capital of a country that has only the 17th freest economy in the world.

All these rules and regulations have Liu Chun-ho, the owner of Ma Ma's Dumpling, very worried. To meet the stringent requirements, he paid about one million Hong Kong dollars ($129,000) for his new Isuzu truck.


. . .


The workers at Book Brothers hope that their next location, closer to the city's central business district, will be busier. And if they can't sell their pork buns, they could always try something else, right? After all, that's what capitalism is all about.

Not so fast. Please refer to Answer No. 8 of the government's "Frequently Asked Questions: Application of the Food Truck Pilot Scheme (Pilot Scheme)."

"No alteration of the signature dish proposed by the applicant in the application form will be allowed after the submission of Application and throughout the Scheme," it declares. "If the operator wishes to change dishes other than the signature dish, he should obtain prior written approval from the Venues and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL FORSYTHE. "Food Truck Rules Outnumber Patrons in Hong Kong." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., FEB. 19, 2017): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date FEB. 18, 2017, and has the title "The Economy Is Free in Hong Kong. Running a Food Truck Isn't (See Annex C).")






April 9, 2017

Government Threw the Party; Taxpayers Pay the Bill



(p. A1) RIO DE JANEIRO -- It is not uncommon for the Olympics to leave behind some unneeded facilities. Rio, however, is experiencing something exceptional: Less than six months after the Summer Games ended, the host city's Olympic legacy is decaying rapidly.


. . .


"The government put sugar in our mouths and took it out before we could swallow," Luciana Oliveira Pimentel, a social worker from Deodoro, said as her children played in a plastic pool. "Once the Olympics ended, they turned their backs on us."

Olympic officials and local organizers often boast about the legacy of the Games -- the residual benefits that a city and country will experience long after the competitions end. Those projections are often met with skepticism by the public and by independent economists, who argue that Olympic bids are built on wasted public money. Rio has quickly become the latest, and perhaps the most striking, case of (p. A8) unfulfilled promises and abandonment.

"It's totally deserted," said Vera Hickmann, 42, who was at the Olympic Park recently with her family. She lamented that although the area was open to the public, it lacked basic services.

"I had to bring my son over to the plants to go to the bathroom," she said.

At the athletes' village, across the street from the park, the 31 towers were supposed to be sold as luxury condominiums after the Games, but fewer than 10 percent of the units have been sold. Across town at Maracanã Stadium, a soccer temple, the field is brown, and the electricity has been shut off.

"The government didn't have money to throw a party like that, and we're the ones who have to sacrifice," Ms. Hickmann said, referring to local taxpayers.



For the full story, see:

ANNA JEAN KAISER. "Legacy of Rio Olympics So Far Is Series of Unkept Promises." The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 16, 2017): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 15, 2017.)






April 7, 2017

Public Policies Choke Off Entrepreneurial Opportunities




George McGovern was the Democratic candidate for President of the United States in 1972. He was a fervent advocate for expansion of the federal government.



(p. A12) We intuitively know that to create job opportunities we need entrepreneurs who will risk their capital against an expected payoff. Too often, however, public policy does not consider whether we are choking off those opportunities.

My own business perspective has been limited to that small hotel and restaurant in Stratford, Conn., with an especially difficult lease and a severe recession. But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never have doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: "Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape." It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators.

For example, the papers today are filled with stories about businesses dropping health coverage for employees. We provided a substantial package for our staff at the Stratford Inn. However, were we operating today, those costs would exceed $150,000 a year for health care on top of salaries and other benefits. There would have been no reasonable way for us to absorb or pass on these costs.

Some of the escalation in the cost of health care is attributed to patients suing doctors. While one cannot assess the merit of all these claims, I've also witnessed firsthand the explosion in blame-shifting and scapegoating for every negative experience in life.

Today, despite bankruptcy, we are still dealing with litigation from individuals who fell in or near our restaurant. Despite these injuries, not every misstep is the fault of someone else. Not every such incident should be viewed as a lawsuit instead of an unfortunate accident. And while the business owner may prevail in the end, the endless exposure to frivolous claims and high legal fees is frightening.



For the full commentary, see:

McGovern, George. "Manager's Journal: A Politician's Dream Is a Businessman's Nightmare." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 1, 1992): A12.






April 5, 2017

"Tax and Regulatory Policies" Influence Intel to Build Arizona Chip Plant



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel, the world's largest computer chip manufacturer, will invest $7 billion to finish a factory in Arizona, adding 3,000 jobs, the company's chief executive said on Wednesday after meeting with President Trump at the White House.

The completion of the factory, which will complement two other Intel semiconductor plants in Chandler, Ariz., had been under consideration for several years.

Standing beside Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, Brian Krzanich, Intel's chief executive, said the company had decided to proceed now because of "the tax and regulatory policies we see the administration pushing forward."



For the full story, see:

VINDU GOEL. "Intel Will Invest $7 Billion in Chip Plant in Arizona." The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 9, 2017): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 8, 2017, and has the title "Intel, in Show of Support for Trump, Announces Factory in Arizona.")






April 3, 2017

Government Job Certification Boards Reduce Opportunities for Former Prisoners



(p. A21) . . . while there's been a rightful focus on ending mass incarceration, there has been little public discussion of how we reintegrate this growing population.


. . .


. . . , we should remove unfair barriers to employment. Many jobs now require professional certification, like being a barber in Connecticut or a truck driver in Texas, and state certification boards often bar former prisoners. We should eliminate those blanket prohibitions.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT E. RUBIN. "How to Help Former Inmates Thrive." The New York Times (Mon., JUNE 3, 2016): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "The Smart Way to Help Ex-Convicts, and Society.")






April 1, 2017

Chinese Economic Stimulus Creates Egg Bubble



(p. A1) HONG KONG -- China is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into its economy in a new effort to support growth. Some of it is going into roads and bridges and other big projects that will keep the economy humming.

And some of it is going into eggs.

China's latest lending deluge has sent money sloshing into unexpected parts of the economy. That includes a financial market in Dalian where investors can place bets on the future productivity of the country's hens.

Egg futures have surged by as much as one-third since March, the sort of move that would be justified if investors believed China's chicken flocks were headed for an unfortunate fate.

But the market's usual participants say the flocks are fine. In fact, the actual price of eggs in the country's markets has fallen from a year ago, according to government statistics.

The reason for the unusual jump in egg futures, they say, is China's tendency to experience investment bubbles when the government steps up spending and lending. China's previous efforts to bolster growth unexpectedly sent money into real estate and the stock market -- markets that had unexplained rises followed by striking drops.



For the full story, see:

NEIL GOUGH. "China's Flood of Cash Roils Egg Futures." The New York Times (Mon., MAY 2, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 1, 2016, and has the title "China Lending Inflates Real Estate, Stocks, Even Egg Futures.")






March 28, 2017

Ukrainian Deal with E.U. Annoyed Russia and BLOCKED Ukrainian Egg Sales to Europe



(p. B1) SADKI-STROYEVKA, Ukraine -- A cold wind whips through the streets. Vehicles that enter must drive through a foot-deep, moatlike bath of disinfectant, lest their tires track in disease. Computers raise and lower the levels of light to match circadian rhythms.

The scene is one of emptiness. One in four buildings is deserted. Fewer delivery trucks arrive than in years past.

As in much of Ukraine, hard times have befallen the Slovyany farm and its million or so inhabitants -- all of them chickens.

"We could be a player, and not a small one," said a forlorn Oleg Bakhmatyuk, the owner of Avangard, Ukraine's biggest egg producer. "We could be a major supplier."

The plight of his company, and the broader agricultural sector, has come to encapsulate a wider disenchantment in Ukraine with a trade agreement signed two years ago with the European Union. The deal, which went into force in January, included protections for farmers in the European bloc, and, as a result, one of Ukraine's most successful industries has been effectively shut out of the new opportunities.


. . .


(p. B5) The deal itself was not particularly favorable to the agriculture sector, but there were other consequences as well. When the agreement was signed in March 2014, it almost immediately triggered conflict with Russia, Ukraine's powerful neighbor. Moscow annexed Crimea, and Russian-backed separatists took control of parts of eastern Ukraine.

Avangard lost seven farms and 7.5 million chickens. It now keeps just 10.7 million hens, barely a third of its prewar capacity.

In effect, the deal provided a double blow to the agriculture sector: It went far enough to enrage Russia, but stopped short of immediately opening a lucrative new market.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER. "Stunted Growth; Ukrainian Farmers, Poised to Broaden Their Markets, Stumble Under an E.U. Deal." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 24, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 23, 2016, and has the title "Ukrainian Farmers, Poised for Growth, Stumble After E.U. Deal.")






March 26, 2017

Musk Unveils Bold Private Enterprise Plan to Colonize Mars



(p. B3) Entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled his contrarian vision for sending humans to Mars in roughly the next decade, and ultimately setting up colonies there, relying on bold moves by private enterprise, instead of more-gradual steps previously proposed by Washington.

Mr. Musk--who in 14 years transformed his closely held rocket company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., into a global presence--envisions hosts of giant, reusable rockets standing more than 300 feet tall eventually launching fleets of carbon-fiber spacecraft into orbit.

The boosters would return to Earth, blast off again into the heavens with "tanker" spaceships capable of refueling the initial vehicles, and then send those serviced spacecraft on their way to the Red Planet. The rockets would be twice as powerful as the Saturn 5 boosters that sent U.S. astronauts to the Moon. Each fully developed spacecraft likely would carry between 100 and 200 passengers, Mr. Musk said.



For the full story, see:

ANDY PASZTOR. "Musk Offers Vision of Mars Flights." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 28, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 27, 2016, and has the title "Elon Musk Outlines Plans for Missions to Mars.")






March 9, 2017

British Socialized Medicine Refused to Save Life of Critic Who Loved America



(p. A29) A. A. Gill, an essayist and cultural critic whose stylishly malicious restaurant reviews for The Sunday Times made him one of Britain's most celebrated journalists, died on Saturday [December 7, 2016] in London. He was 62.

Martin Ivens, the editor of The Sunday Times, announced the death, calling Mr. Gill "the heart and soul of the paper." The cause was lung cancer.


. . .


In a long article published Sunday [December 8, 2016], after his death, Mr. Gill wrote, without rancor, that Britain's National Health Service had refused to pay for immunotherapy that he said might have extended his life.


. . .


As a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, he dismissed the pâté at the beloved Paris bistro L'Ami Louis as tasting like "pressed liposuction." The shrimp and foie gras dumplings at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Asian restaurant 66, in Manhattan, were "fishy liver-filled condoms," he wrote, "with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk and tasted as if your mouth had been used as the swab bin in an animal hospital."

Vituperation was not his only mode. He could praise. He could turn an elegant phrase and toss off a pithy bon mot. "America's genius has always been to take something old, familiar and wrinkled and repackage it as new, exciting and smooth," he wrote in "The Golden Door: Letters to America" (2012), published in the United States in 2013 as "To America With Love."


. . .


"When people fatuously ask me why I don't write constructive criticism, I tell them there is no such thing," he wrote in his memoir. "Critics do deconstructive criticism. If you want compliments, phone your mother."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "A. A. Gill Dies at 62; Skewered Britain's Restaurants." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 13, 2016): A29.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date DEC. 12, 2016, and has the title "A. A. Gill, Who Gleefully Skewered Britain's Restaurants, Dies at 62.")


Gill's book praising America, is:

Gill, A.A. To America with Love. Reprint ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.






February 26, 2017

Giving $10,000 to Each Adult American Would Cost 13% of GDP



(p. A2) Imagine you're president and Congress gives you a huge chunk of money to spend as you wish. Instead of cutting taxes or splashing out more on health care, infrastructure and defense, why not send a check to every adult?

That's the essence of universal basic income, a centuries-old idea now enjoying a revival across the political spectrum.


. . .


To send every American adult $10,000 a year would cost $2.4 trillion, or 13% of gross domestic product. Junking the current safety net wouldn't come close to paying for this: Scrapping income support for the poor, disabled and unemployed would save just $500 billion. Get rid of health care for the poor (mostly Medicaid), and the savings rise to only $900 billion. Getting rid of Medicare and Social Security would balance the costs, but that would leave the average retiree considerably worse off--politically (and ethically) a nonstarter.



For the full commentary, see:

Ip, Greg. "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Payout Proposal Ignores Labor Needs." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 14, 2016): A2.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 13, 2016, and has the title "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Revival of Universal Basic Income Proposal Ignores Needs of Labor Force.")






February 22, 2017

Cuban Entrepreneurs Lost Faith in Fidel's Revolution



(p. 22) Ihosvany Oscar Artiles Ferrer, 44, a veterinarian who worked in Camagüey but recently moved to Queens, said the lack of wholesalers to buy supplies from made it difficult to eke out a profit.

"The private business is like a handkerchief the government puts over everything to be able to say to the United Nations that in Cuba people own small businesses," Mr. Artiles said.

"In the beginning, almost all of us were revolutionaries," he added. "But now, we quit all that because we don't believe in Fidel, in the revolution, in socialism or anything."



For the full story, see:

FRANCES ROBLES. "Stay or Go? Cuban Entrepreneurs Are Divided on Where to Stake Futures." The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 22, 2016): 22.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 21, 2016, and has the title "Stay or Go? Cuban Entrepreneurs Divided on Where to Stake Futures.")






February 21, 2017

NASA Funding Depends on "Pure Pork-Barrel Politics"



(p. A15) "Beyond Earth" is delightfully different from any other book I've ever read by human-spaceflight cheerleaders. The authors have put their thinking caps on and broken out of the usual orthodoxy by presenting cogent ideas on why humans should go into space, including their lovely idea of going to and living on obscure (to most folks) Titan. We go, they say, because we need to go, not just to explore and study but to find another place to live and, if we want to, screw it up just as much as we have screwed up Earth, because that's what we do, that's what makes us human. We may make mistakes but, by God, we also produce great civilizations and art and, yes, science in the process. We've done Earth, so let's now go wherever our abilities take us and physics allow.


. . .


The one great truth I always tell people wanting to understand the American space program is this: The federal government doesn't give a flip about human spaceflight. That's why Apollo was canceled just as it hit its stride, why the shuttle program was underfunded from its inception, and why, after the shuttle was retired, NASA had nothing to replace it with. No one who holds the purse strings for NASA really cares whether American astronauts ever go anywhere. It's just not that important to a country beset with a vast array of pressing problems.

What keeps the current space program going at all is pure pork-barrel politics. That's why President Obama didn't blink an eye when he signed NASA budgets that provided funds to build a giant rocket called the Space Launch System, which has no well-defined purpose, as well as a crewed capsule called Orion, which has no specifically assigned places to go. As proof that spending money isn't evidence of support, there wasn't one dime in those budgets to procure and deliver the accouterments needed for true human space endeavors--no space suits, no planetary landers, no rovers, no habitats, nothing but the bottom and top of a big, expensive rocket that will require a vast marching army to operate for no apparent reason.



For the full review, see:

HOMER HICKAM. "BOOKSHELF; Forget Mars, Aim for Titan." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., December 16, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 15, 2016,)


The book under review, is:

Wohlforth, Charles, and Hendrix. Amanda R. Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets. New York: Pantheon, 2016.






February 18, 2017

Government Wastes Millions on Corrupt Nanotech Boondoggle



(p. A19) In Utica, a former industrial hub in upstate New York where the near collapse of manufacturing has made for a scarcity of jobs and a rarity of good news, the announcement in August 2015 that an Austrian chip maker had decided to put down roots in a fabrication plant built by the state was cause for jubilation.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo celebrated with an appearance in Utica, promising $585 million in state funds to cement the public-private partnership, which was to create 1,000 jobs. Some in the crowd wept with emotion.

But last week, after months of delays and mismanagement that culminated in September with federal prosecutors revealing a far-reaching bribery and bid-rigging scheme, state and local officials said that the Austrian chip maker, AMS, had abandoned the project.

The Utica project was merely one chunk of the multibillion-dollar investment with which the Cuomo administration has pledged to seed nanotechnology and high-tech industries in upstate cities starved for economic growth.


. . .


For the state, it seems, the strategy developed by Mr. Kaloyeros and trumpeted by Mr. Cuomo -- to lavish hundreds of millions of dollars in state subsidies on corporate partners to create high-tech jobs -- is unblemished. Yet the model has come in for repeated criticism from government watchdogs, who say an economic policy that tries to create risky new industries virtually from scratch, and that spends millions in taxpayer dollars to create every new job, is folly.

"We're incredibly skeptical of the economic logic behind these projects because they're too expensive," said John Kaehny, the executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good-government group. "There is no economic logic to (p. A21) this, really. But there's a huge political logic to it. The governor desperately needs for this to be a success for his political legacy in New York."



For the full story, see:

VIVIAN YEE. "How Missteps Doomed Plan for Growth, Foiling Cuomo." The New York Times (Weds., DEC. 28, 2016): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 27, 2016, and has the title "How Cuomo's Signature Economic Growth Project Fell Apart in Utica.")






February 14, 2017

Government Sugar Protectionism Kills More Jobs than It Saves



(p. A13) As if domestic price-fixing by the government--here, driving prices up by setting production limits--weren't enough, the feds then set a limit on sugar imports, and punish any imports above that limit with heavy tariffs.

The result? Countries such as Canada openly advertise to U.S. companies that use sugar--for instance, in the food industry--that they will enjoy lower business costs if they move. And when companies leave, like some candy makers that have moved production overseas, they take their jobs with them. Even the Commerce Department admits that for every job that the sugar program "protects," it kills three others.

Reforming this policy sounds like a no-brainer, but the small number of beneficiaries use their benefits to influence--by lobbying, for instance, or with campaign contributions--politicians who block any reforms. No wonder sugar was the only commodity program not to be reformed by having its subsidies reduced in the most-recent farm bill, in 2013.



For the full commentary, see:

JOE PITTS and DAVID MCINTOSH. "Your Funny Valentine Candy Pricing; Making a box of chocolates more expensive is one of many ways federal sugar policy hurts U.S. taxpayers." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 12, 2016): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 11, 2016.)






February 6, 2017

One Way to Defend Free Trade (in Honor of Reagan's Birthday)



(p. A9) Baldrige also knew how to use humor to deflate tense moments, as when the U.S. toy balloon industry petitioned for protection against cheap Mexican imports. Baldrige was opposed, but after debate the entire cabinet favored sanctions. Sensing this was not where the president wanted to go, Baldrige pulled from his pocket a dozen toy balloons and tossed them on the cabinet table. As the room filled with laughter, he said, "This is what we are talking about." Reagan denied the sanctions.


For the full review, see:

CLARK S. JUDGE. "BOOKSHELF; The Cowboy At Commerce; During tense talks over steel imports, Baldrige insisted the tired Europeans work through lunch. He'd hidden snacks for his team nearby." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Jan. 5, 2016): A9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 4, 2016, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; The Cowboy At Commerce; During tense talks over steel imports, Baldrige insisted the tired Europeans work through lunch. He'd hidden snacks for his team nearby.")


The book under review, is:

Black, Chris, and B. Jay Cooper. Mac Baldrige: The Cowboy in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet. Lanham, MD: Lyons Press, 2015.






January 28, 2017

British Government Ignored Scurvy Cure



(p. C14) Scurvy, we know today, has a single and simple cause: lack of vitamin C. But between the years 1500 and 1800, when an estimated two million sailors died from the disease, it seemed to defy all logic.


. . .


The conventional medical narrative holds that the mystery was solved by James Lind's announcement, in his "Treatise of the Scurvy" (1753), that it could be cured by drinking lemon juice. But in "Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery," Jonathan Lamb, a professor at Vanderbilt University, shows that the story is nowhere near so simple and that scurvy was a much stranger condition than we imagine, with effects on the mind that neuroscience is only now beginning to elucidate. The result is a book that renders a familiar subject as exotic and uncanny as the tropical shores that confronted sailors in the grip of scurvy's delirium.

James Lind was not the first person to recommend the lemon-juice cure. Contemporaries of Francis Drake had discovered it 150 years before, but the secret was lost and found again many times over the centuries. Some citrus juices were much more effective than others, and their efficacy was reduced considerably when they were preserved by boiling. The British admiralty ignored Lind's researches, . . .



For the full review, see:

MIKE JAY. "The Disease of the Enlightenment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 9, 2016, and has the title "Scurvy: The Disease of the Enlightenment.")


The book under review, is:

Lamb, Jonathan. Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.






January 23, 2017

Governments Encourage Drink that Consumers Are Rejecting



(p. A9) From coast to coast, urban planners are increasingly looking to craft breweries as the magic elixir to renew struggling urban cores.

Two years ago, Richmond, Va., put up $33 million in public money and incentives to entice Stone Brewing to build a retail store, tasting room and East Coast distribution center. Shortly thereafter the state of Virginia extended $1 million in grants and $1 million in matching tax credits to help Hardywood Park Craft Brewery expand into an office park in Goochland County. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported at the time that Virginia had specifically "targeted craft beverages as part of the state's economic development strategy."


. . .


Small towns are getting in on the action, too. At a meeting in November, the city council of Florence, S.C., population 38,000, approved an incentive package totaling $180,000 to encourage a craft brewery to set up shop beside town hall. The month before that, the city council of Reidsville, N.C., population 14,000, voted to sell a city-owned building for $1 to a startup brewing co-op. In tiny Perry, N.Y., population 4,000, a public development corporation matched bank financing this year to help a microbrewery build in its downtown.


. . .


But here's the rub: Demand for beer overall has been sliding in the U.S. for years. Twenty years ago, nearly three-quarters of young people said it was their favorite alcoholic drink, according to surveys by Gallup and Goldman Sachs Investor Research. Less than half feel that way now. The market is shrinking, and craft beer has grown at the expense of national brands like Budweiser, Miller and Coors.



For the full commentary, see:

JEREMY BAGOTT. "What Craft Brewers Want to Tap Next: the Taxpayer; Trendy suds are seen as a way to save city centers, never mind that beer sales have been sliding for years." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 31, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 30, 2016.)






January 20, 2017

When Winston Churchill Met Mark Twain



(p. C13) . . . [a] pleasant immersion in America's political history is Mark Zwonitzer's "The Statesman and the Storyteller: John Hay, Mark Twain, and the Rise of American Imperialism." It is a story of a friendship that flourished in spite of differences about momentous issues of war, peace and national identity. All of Mr. Zwonitzer's pages are informative and entertaining, but none are more so than those recounting the meeting between the 65-year-old Twain and a 26-year-old British parliamentarian at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan in 1900. Suffice it to say that Twain and Winston Churchill differed vigorously about the Boer War.


For Will's full book recommendations, see:

George F. Will. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C13.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed word, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "George F. Will on Stalin's last spy.")


The book recommended, is:

Tombs, Robert. The English and Their History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.






January 18, 2017

Deer Dies from Stress Caused by Bickering Governments



(p. A1) A white-tailed deer that went from being a minor celebrity in Harlem to a cause célèbre after its capture, died in captivity on Friday [December 16, 2016], moments before it was to be driven upstate and released.

The preliminary causes of death, according to a New York City parks spokesman, were stress and the day and a half that the deer spent at a city animal shelter in East Harlem. But that did not begin to tell the absurd tale of how the buck, known as J.R., for Jackie Robinson, and Lefty, because of his crumpled left antler, came to die.

The deer had become the latest and most unlikely casualty of the feud between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, an animosity that has manifested itself mostly on big issues like education, safety at homeless shelters and funding mass transit.

But the tussle over the deer was extraordinary even by the standards set by Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio. All day Thursday and into Friday, the city and state issued competing and sometimes self-contradicting updates on the deer and what should be done with him.

The buck had spent two weeks attracting adoring, snack-proffering crowds at Jackie Robinson Park, where he often was seen near a chain-link fence across the street from a bodega. How he traveled to a park in the middle of a crowded Manhattan neighborhood remains unclear.


. . .


After it looked like the deer might live, allies of the mayor and governor took the opportunity to throw a few jabs.

"Bureaucracy lost," Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor, wrote on Twitter.

"Andrew Cuomo is an idiot," posted Bill Hyers, who managed Mr. de Blasio's 2013 mayoral campaign.


. . .


. . . the Harlem deer was no ordinary deer. He was beloved, a holiday-season gift to a beleaguered city, a surrogate reindeer camped out just a block from St. Nicholas Avenue.


. . .


The deer was condemned to die, then he was not, then he was, then he was not.

For a few surreal minutes Thursday night, the deer, like Schrödinger's cat, was both alive and dead, with a city official insisting he had already been euthanized and the state insisting he had not.

Then, just before 2 p.m. with workers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Department of Agriculture gathering at the Animal Care Centers of NYC shelter on East 110th Street, a city parks spokesman announced that the deer had died.

The spokesman, Sam Biederman, blamed the state.

"Unfortunately because of the time we had to wait for D.E.C. to come and transport the deer, the deer has perished," he told reporters, adding that the city had wanted to euthanize the deer all along. "This was an animal that was under a great deal of stress for the past 24 hours and had been tranquilized for much of that time."

The state, naturally, blamed the delay on the city.



For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN. "Condemned, Reprieved, Then a Sudden Ending." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 17, 2016): A1 & A18.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 16, 2016, and has the title "Harlem Deer Caught in City-State Tussle Has Died.")






January 13, 2017

Government Permission to Build Takes Longer than It Takes to Build



(p. A21) America used to be the envy of the world in building great projects responsibly, efficiently and on time. The Pentagon was built in 16 months. The 1,500-mile Alaska-Canadian Highway, which passes through some of the world's most rugged terrain, took about eight months. Today, infrastructure projects across America often require several years simply to get through the federal government's pre-build permitting process. Consider a few examples.

New U.S. highway construction projects usually take between nine and 19 years from initial planning and permitting to completion of construction, according to a 2002 Government Accountability Office study. It will have taken 14 years to permit an expansion of Gross Reservoir in Colorado, and it took almost 20 years to permit the Kensington gold mine in Alaska.

It took four years to construct a new runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but it took 15 years to get the permits. Todd Hauptli of the American Association of Airport Executives bitterly joked to the Senate Commerce Committee last year, "It took longer to build that runway than the Great Pyramids of Egypt."

These problems have been building for decades as the U.S. regulatory state has grown.



For the full commentary, see:

DAN SULLIVAN. "How to Put Building Permits on a Fast Track; It can take 15 years to win approval for a new airport runway. No wonder U.S. infrastructure needs a lift." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 5, 2016): A21.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 4, 2016.)






January 11, 2017

$19 Billion in Farm Subsidies Mostly Go to Big Farms



(p. A17) President-elect Donald Trump's vow to "drain the swamp" in Washington could begin with the Agriculture Department. Federal aid to farmers is forecast by the Congressional Budget Office to soar to $19 billion in 2017. Farmers will receive twice as much of their income from handouts (25%) this year as they did in 2013, according to the USDA. Whoever Mr. Trump names as his agriculture secretary should target wasteful farm programs for spending cuts.


. . .


While generous government subsidies are defended by invoking the "family farmer," big farmers snare the vast majority of federal handouts. According to a report released this year by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based nonprofit research organization, "the top 1 percent of farm subsidy recipients received 26 percent of subsidy payments between 1995 and 2014." The group's analysis of government farm-subsidy data also found that the "top 20 percent of subsidy recipients received 91 percent of all subsidy payments." Fifty members of the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans have received farm subsidies, according to the group, including David Rockefeller Sr. and Charles Schwab.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES BOVARD. "Living Off the Fat of Washington; If Trump is going to 'drain the swamp,' he might start with wasteful ag subsidies." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Dec. 12, 2016): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 11, 2016.)






January 9, 2017

Unbinding Entrepreneurs Can Create Jobs and Speed Growth



(p. A21) This week more than 160 countries are celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week. The Kauffman Foundation, which I once led, created this event eight years ago to encourage other nations to follow the American tradition of bottom-up economic success. Yet this example has been less powerful in recent years, as American entrepreneurship has waned. Fortunately, President-elect Donald Trump has plenty of options if he wants to resurrect America's startup economy.

Consider the economic situation that the president-elect is inheriting. Despite the addition of 161,000 jobs in October, the labor-force participation rate fell to its second lowest level in nearly 40 years, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve. More people have joined the ranks of the chronically unemployed, slipping into poverty at alarming rates as their skills decay and dependency on public assistance grows. Considering population growth, America needs at least 325,000 new jobs every month to stanch the growing numbers of discouraged workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Merely bringing back factories from overseas will not solve this problem. Technology has made every factory more productive. Fewer workers make more goods no matter where they're located. At the same time, fewer U.S. businesses are being started. New firms are the country's principal generator of new jobs. Data from the Kauffman Foundation suggest companies less than five years old create more than 80% of new jobs every year. While the nation seems more enthusiastic than ever about the promise of entrepreneurship, fewer than 500,000 new businesses were started in 2015. That is a disastrous 30% decline from 2008.


. . .


What can President Trump do to encourage more entrepreneurship?


. . .


Government must . . . widen the scope of innovation by stepping back and letting the market find the future. By promoting trendy ideas and subsidizing politically favored companies, government dampens diversity in creative business ideas.


. . .


Mr. Trump can also reverse regulatory sprawl and cut government-imposed requirements that add to every entrepreneurs' costs and risks. Anti-growth policies like ObamaCare and minimum-wage increases make hiring workers prohibitively expensive.


. . .


With these policies in mind, President Trump should set another goal: that his administration will create an environment that enables one million Americans to start companies every year. Such an outcome would assure his target of 4% GDP growth, as well as full employment.



For the full commentary, see:

CARL J. SCHRAMM. "The Entrepreneurial Way to 4% Growth; Trump should set a goal: fix the business climate so a million Americans a year can start companies." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Nov. 16, 2016): A21.






January 8, 2017

Jane Jacobs Studied the "Mess of Everyday Life"



(p. C6) The decidedly unpredictable and unscientific mess of everyday life was the passion of the urban theorist Jane Jacobs. For her, studying the street and the city was the key to understanding how things work. Robert Kanigel's "Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs" has taken a place on my bookshelf right next to Robert Caro's landmark biography of her nemesis, Robert Moses.


For Bierut's full book recommendations, see:

Michael Bierut. "12 Months of Reading." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 10, 2016): C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 7, 2016, and has the title "Michael Bierut on Jane Jacobs.")


The book recommended, is:

Kanigel, Robert. Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.






December 30, 2016

Failed "War on Cancer" Gets Repackaged as "Moonshot"



(p. A15) Last Friday [January 8, 2016] a group of 15 cancer researchers cut short a meeting at the Food and Drug Administration. The reason: They had been invited to Vice President Joseph R. Biden's office to discuss his "moonshot" to cure cancer.


. . .


The idea that a concerted government push can lead to a "cure" for cancer is nearly a half century old, stretching back to President Nixon's failed "War on Cancer." The latest, which President Obama formalized in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, has a deeply emotional tinge. Mr. Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer in May, and the vice president's very public mourning and call for a "national commitment to end cancer as we know it" as he announced his decision not to run for president has moved and captivated Washington.


. . .


Unlike in 1971, when President Nixon launched his cancer war, researchers now understand that cancer is not one disease but essentially hundreds. The very notion of a single cure -- or as Mr. Obama put it, making "America the country that cures cancer once and for all" -- is misleading and outdated.

"Cancer is way more complex than anyone had imagined in 1970," said Dr. Jose Baselga, the president of the American Association for Cancer Research and physician in chief and chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.


. . .


Commitments by powerful Washington figures to cure cancer seem to come along about every decade.

Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the director of the National Cancer Institute, announced in 2003 that his organization's goal was to "eliminate suffering and death" caused by cancer by 2015.

During an appropriations hearing, Dr. von Eschenbach got into a public bargaining session with Senator Arlen Specter, then a Republican from Pennsylvania, about how much money Dr. von Eschenbach would need to advance the date of the cure.

"I asked you what it would take to move that date up to 2010," Mr. Specter asked.

"We have proposed a budget that would support those initiatives that would amount to approximately $600 million a year," Dr. von Eschenbach answered.

"Six-hundred million a year?" Mr. Specter asked. "And you can move the date from 2015 to 2010?"

"Yes, sir," Mr. von Eschenbach said.

Mr. Specter died of cancer in 2012.



For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA and GARDINER HARRIS. "'Moonshot' to Cure Cancer, to Be Led by Biden, Relies on Outmoded View of Disease." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 14, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 13, 2016.)






December 24, 2016

Infrastructure Costs Often Exceed Benefits



(p. A13) Most federal infrastructure spending is done by sending funds to state and local governments. For highway programs, the ratio is usually 80% federal, 20% state and local. But that means every local district has an incentive to press the federal authorities to fund projects with poor national returns. We all remember Alaska's infamous "bridge to nowhere."

In other words, if a local government is putting up only 20% of the funds, it needs the benefits to its own citizens to be only 21% of the total national cost. Yet every state and every locality has potential infrastructure needs that it would like the rest of the country to pay for. That leads to the misallocation of federal funds and infrastructure projects that benefit the few at the cost of the many.


. . .


Japan tried infrastructure-heavy serial fiscal stimuli for decades and is trying again under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Yes, Japan now has many new bridges, roads and paved drainage ditches, but the spending has done little to improve Japan's meager growth rate.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL J. BOSKIN. "All Aboard the Infrastructure Boondoggle; Whoever wins on Nov. 8, a flood of public-works money is coming. Cost-benefit tests are crucial." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 1, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 31, 2016.)






December 16, 2016

Space Trash Start-Up Aims to Be Quicker than Government



(p. D1) Mr. Okada is an entrepreneur with a vision of creating the first trash collection company dedicated to cleaning up some of humanity's hardest-to-reach rubbish: the spent rocket stages, inert satellites and other debris that have been collecting above Earth since Sputnik ushered in the space age. He launched Astroscale three years ago in the belief that national space agencies were dragging their feet in facing the problem, which could be tackled more quickly by a small private company motivated by profit.

"Let's face it, waste management isn't sexy enough for a space agency to convince taxpayers to allocate money," said Mr. Okada, 43, who put Astroscale's headquarters in start-up-friendly Singapore but is building its spacecraft in his native Japan, where he found more engineers. "My breakthrough is figuring out how to make this into a business."


. . .


(p. D3) "The projects all smelled like government, not crisp or quick," he said of conferences he attended to learn about other efforts. "I came from the start-up world where we think in days or weeks, not years."


. . .


He also said that Astroscale would start by contracting with companies that will operate big satellite networks to remove their own malfunctioning satellites. He said that if a company has a thousand satellites, several are bound to fail. Astroscale will remove these, allowing the company to fill the gap in its network by replacing the failed unit with a functioning satellite.

"Our first targets won't be random debris, but our clients' own satellites," he said. "We can build up to removing debris as we perfect our technology."



For the full story, see:


MARTIN FACKLER. "Building a Garbage Truck for Space." The New York Times (Tues., Nov. 29, 2016): D1 & D3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 28, 2016, and has the title "Space's Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job.")






November 27, 2016

Hillary Clinton Did Not Give a Rat's Ass About a Rat's Ass Lawsuit



(p. A4) LITTLE ROCK, Ark.--One of Hillary Clinton's first assignments as a corporate lawyer landed her far from her roots. She helped overturn a ballot measure that increased electric rates for businesses and lowered them for the poor.

"Instead of defending poor people and righting wrongs, we found ourselves squarely on the side of corporate greed against the little people," her colleague, Webb Hubbell, later wrote.

The future presidential contender worked for 15 years as a corporate litigator at the Rose Law Firm in Arkansas's capital, longer than any other position in or out of government. Her portrait still hangs in the firm's downtown offices.


. . .


In her 2003 book, Mrs. Clinton writes only briefly about her work at Rose. She highlights a couple of cases, including her first jury trial, where she defended a canning company sued by a man who found the rear end of a rat in his pork and beans. He claimed he couldn't kiss his fiancée because every time he thought about the situation he would spit.

Mrs. Clinton argued the man hadn't suffered any real damages and because the rodent part had been sterilized it would be considered edible in parts of the world. She said the plaintiff won "only nominal damages." Mrs. Clinton didn't identify the name of the man or the company involved.



For the full story, see:

LAURA MECKLER and PETER NICHOLAS. "Clinton's Forgotten Law-Firm Career." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 29, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 28, 2016, and has the title "Hillary Clinton's Forgotten Career: Corporate Lawyer.")






November 26, 2016

Longer Permit Delays Slow Construction of Houses



(p. A3) Home prices and rents are surging in Denver, but local builder Jared Phifer said his construction work virtually ground to a halt last fall.

The reason: He can't get permits for new projects.

The process can take as long as eight months, at which point the prices he quoted buyers often are out of date, he said.

The delays are "almost making us go bankrupt," he said. "We've had to put a halt on so many projects that I'm in the process of getting a loan for $150,000 to cover all of our expenses."


. . .


Developers of single-family homes reported that the median delay was seven months in 2015, compared with four months in 2011, according to the National Association of Home Builders.


. . .


Last July [2015], Denver saw the biggest permit backlog in its history, according to Brad Buchanan, the executive director of community planning and development. Residential projects were taking as long as three months to review, three times the target duration. Apartment and office projects were taking two months to review, although some developers and homeowners reported waiting much longer.

"Last summer our phones were ringing off the wall with people who couldn't even get permits to change out water heaters," said Jeff Whiton, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Denver.



For the full story, see:

LAURA KUSISTO. "Home Builders Slowed by Permit Delays." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 4, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 3, 2016.)






November 23, 2016

Regulatory Restrictions on Business Have Doubled Since 1975



GrowingRegulatoryRestrictionsGraph2016-10-31.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A2) Measuring the regulatory state is no easy task. The Code of Federal Regulations contains more than a million restrictions, as signified by the use of the words "shall," "must," "may not," "required," and "prohibited," according to two scholars from the Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank. The total has doubled since 1975, pausing only during Ronald Reagan's first term and Bill Clinton's second.

Rule enforcement is also getting more serious. Responding to accusations of lax oversight in the past, federal authorities have imposed criminal penalties, in particular on financial companies, averaging $7 billion a year in the past four years, up fourfold from the prior 11, according to Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of Virginia.


. . .


Brent Skorup, a scholar at the Mercatus Center, says regulators like the FCC increasingly extract behavioral conditions from companies via transaction approvals rather than rule-making. For example, Comcast Corp. acquired NBC Universal in 2011 after agreeing to a long list of conditions, from not charging for faster network access (aka abiding by "net neutrality") to expanding local, public-interest and children's programming.



For the full commentary, see:

GREG IP. "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; AT&T Feels Growing Reach of Presidency." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 27, 2016): A2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 26, 2016 title "CAPITAL ACCOUNT; Reaction to AT&T-Time Warner Deal Shows Presidency's Growing Reach.")


The data presented in the left panel of the graph above is described in the following article:

Al-Ubaydli, Omar, and Patrick A. McLaughlin. "Regdata: A Numerical Database on Industry-Specific Regulations for All United States Industries and Federal Regulations, 1997-2012." Regulation and Governance (2015), doi: 10.1111/rego.12107.


The data can be downloaded at:

http://regdata.org/data/


The Garrett results mentioned above, are reported in his article:

Garrett, Brandon L. "The Rise of Bank Prosecutions." The Yale Law Journal Forum (May 23, 2016): 33-56.






November 22, 2016

After Global Warming Hits Vietnam: "We Live Better Now"



(p. A9) On a chilly January day recently, Do Van Duy slugged back another shot of rice liquor. It had been a good year for raising fish in the Red River delta of northern Vietnam. He and other villagers in Nam Dien had gathered to toast their success as the Lunar New Year approached--and question whether climate change is such a bad thing after all.

"We live better now," said Mr. Duy, 31 years old, who now farms grouper, shrimp and crab in the brackish waters of the delta after giving up rice a few years ago. "If you can make the switch there's a lot more money to be made."

Nearly three-quarters of households in Nam Dien have abandoned rice farming, said Bui Van Cuong, a fisheries official with the People's Commune in Nam Dien, as salt water flows farther into the delta's farmland. "The changes are very apparent over the past 10 years," Mr. Cuong said.

The shift is focusing attention on a difficult question: Is it better to invest resources in fighting the effects of climate change, or in helping people adapt?


. . .


"Their competitive advantage is changing," said Le Anh Tuan, a director at the Institute for Climate Change Studies at Can Tho University. "The delta might not always be the best place to grow rice, but people can raise shrimp instead."



For the full story, see:

JAMES HOOKWAY. "Vietnam's New Tack in Climate Fight." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 25, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has title "Vietnam Tries New Tack in Climate-Change Battle: Teach a Man to Fish.")






November 18, 2016

Land Use Regulations Increase Income Inequality



IncomeAndPopulationInRichAndPoorStatesGraph2016-11-14.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A3) In this year's election, candidates have focused blame for rising income inequality on broad economic forces, from globalization to the decline of the American manufacturing base. But a growing body of research suggests a more ordinary factor: the price of the average single-family home for sale, from Fairfield, Conn., to Portland, Ore.

According to research by Daniel Shoag, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard University, and Peter Ganong, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a decadeslong trend in which the income gap between the poorest and richest states steadily closed has been upended by growth in land-use regulations.

Moving to a wealthier area in search of job opportunities has historically been a way to promote economic equality, allowing workers to pursue higher-paying jobs elsewhere. But those wage gains lose their appeal if they are eaten up by higher housing costs. The result: More people stay put and lose out on potential higher incomes.


. . .


Messrs. Shoag and Ganong looked at mentions of "land-use" in appeals-court cases and found the number of references began rising sharply around 1970, with some states seeing a much larger increase than others. For example, the share of cases mentioning land use for New York rose 265% between 1950 and 2010 and 644% in California during the same period. By contrast, it increased by only 80% in Alabama.



For the full story, see:

LAURA KUSISTO. "Land Use Rules Under Fire." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 19, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 18, 2016, and has the title "As Land-Use Rules Rise, Economic Mobility Slows, Research Says." A few extra words appear in the online version quoted above, that were left out of the print version.)


The research by Ganong and Shoag, mentioned above, is:


Ganong, Peter, and Daniel Shoag. "Why Has Regional Income Convergence in the U.S. Declined?" Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Working Paper Series, Jan. 2015.







November 17, 2016

Let Individual Indians Own Land on Reservations




Mortgaging homes is a common way for entrepreneurs to provide initial funds for their startups. So our keeping individual Indians from owning land on reservations, cuts off their access to funds for entrepreneurship.

The commentary quoted below is related to a book edited by Anderson and contributed to by Regan.



(p. A13) . . . , Native Americans showed a remarkable ability to adapt to new goods and technology. Italian trade beads became an integral part of American Indian decoration and art. The Spanish horse transformed Plains Indian hunting and warfare.

Over centuries, however, these adaptations and innovations have been replaced by subjugation by the U.S. government. In 1831, Chief Justice John Marshall declared the Cherokees to be a "domestic dependent nation" and characterized the relationship of tribes to the U.S. as resembling "that of a ward to his guardian." Marshall's words were entrenched when Congress became trustee of all Indian lands and resources under the Dawes Act of 1887.

In recent decades, the government has paid lip service to "tribal sovereignty," but in practice Native Americans have little autonomy. Tribes and individual Indians still cannot own their land on reservations. This means Native Americans cannot mortgage their assets for loans like other Americans, thus allowing them little or no access to credit. This makes it incredibly difficult to start a business in Indian Country. Even when tribes try to engage in economic activity, the feds impose mountains of regulations, all in the name of looking after Indian affairs.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY L. ANDERSON and SHAWN REGAN. "It's Time for the Feds to Get Out of Indian Country; A permit to develop energy resources requires 49 steps on tribal lands and just four steps off reservations." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 8, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 7, 2016.)


The book mentioned at the top of this entry, is:

Anderson, Terry L., ed. Unlocking the Wealth of Indian Nations. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2016.






November 12, 2016

Medal-Winning Official Steals Concrete from Public Road and Sells to Cronies



(p. A4) MOSCOW -- Corruption in Russia sometimes amounts to highway robbery, literally.

A senior prison official has been accused of stealing the pavement from a 30-mile stretch of public highway in the Komi Republic, a thinly populated, heavily forested region in northern Russia, the daily newspaper Kommersant reported on its website on Wednesday [January 13, 2016].


. . .


While he was in Komi, Mr. Protopopov won a medal for fostering "spiritual unity," the Kommersant report said, without specifying whether the unity was with the crews doing the illicit road work.



For the full story, see:

NEIL MacFARQUHAR. "Don't Blame Snow for Missing Road in Russia's North." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 14, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: online version of the story has the date JAN. 13, 2016, and has the title "Missing a Road in Russia? This May Be Why.")






November 10, 2016

Department of Motor Vehicles Staffed by Sloths



The video clip above is an authorized "embed" from YouTube.



(p. D3) . . . "since the trailers have been playing everywhere, I can tell you a bit about one of the best things in "Zootopia"--an extended sequence set in a Department of Motor Vehicles office where all the clerks are sloths. That's a funny notion, to be sure, and the main sloth, a clerk named Flash (Raymond S. Persi) has a deliciously distinctive demeanor. But the sequence's great distinction is how confidently it is developed. In an era of quick cuts and speedy action, Flash is remarkably...outlandishly....hilariously....and memorably s-l-o-w. Kids will be imitating him for a month of Saturdays.


For the full review, see:

Morgenstern, Joe. "'Zootopia': Beauty and the Beasts." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 4, 2016): D3.

(Note: the ellipsis at the start is added; the internal ellipses are in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 3, 2016, and has the title "'Zootopia' Review: Beauty and the Beasts.")






November 8, 2016

Chelsea on Clinton Foundation in Haiti: "The Incompetence Is Mind Numbing"



(p. B1) Chelsea Clinton was alarmed.


. . .


As Ms. Clinton asserted herself at the Clinton Foundation, eager to embrace her role as a board member and de facto heir, she became concerned about what seemed to her to be a lack of professionalism, as well as a blurring of the lines between the foundation's philanthropic activities and some of its leaders' business interests.


. . .


Even when emailing with her parents, Ms. Clinton was not shy about delivering blistering criticism, as when she wrote to them after a trip to Haiti, which the foundation was trying to help rebuild after the devastating 2010 earthquake. "To say I was profoundly disturbed by what I saw -- and didn't see -- would be an understatement," Ms. Clinton wrote to her mother. "The incompetence is mind numbing."



For the full story, see:

AMY CHOZICK. "CAMPAIGN MEMO; Hacked Emails Reveal Image of Chelsea Clinton." The New York Times (Fri., OCT. 28, 2016): A17.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 27, 2016, and has the title "CAMPAIGN MEMO; Chelsea Clinton's Frustrations and Devotion Shown in Hacked Emails.")






November 2, 2016

After Infrastructure Stimulus "Japan Is Less, Not More, Dynamic"



(p. A15) To help fight . . . economic sluggishness, Japan has invested enormously in infrastructure, building scores of bridges, tunnels, highways, and trains, as well as new airports--some barely used. The New York Times reported that, between 1991 and late 2008, the country spent $6.3 trillion on "construction-related public investment"--a staggering sum. This vast outlay has undoubtedly produced engineering marvels: in 1998, for instance, Japan completed the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world; just this year, the country began providing bullet-train service between Tokyo and the northern island of Hokkaido. The World Competitiveness Report ranks Japan's infrastructure as seventh-best in the world and its train infrastructure as the best. But while these trillions in spending may have kept some people working, no one can look at the Japanese numbers and conclude that the money has ramped up the growth rate. Moreover, the largesse is part of the reason that the nation now labors under a crushing public debt, worth 230 percent of GDP. Japan is less, not more, dynamic after its infrastructure bonanza.


For the full commentary, see:

Edward L. Glaeser. "Notable & Quotable: Infrastructure Isn't Always Stimulating." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 14, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipsis above added; ellipsis in article title below, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 13, 2016.)


The above commentary by Glaeser was quoted from the Glaeser article:

Glaeser, Edward L. "If You Build It . . . : Myths and Realities About America's Infrastructure Spending." City Journal 26, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 25-33.






October 29, 2016

Murders Up More than 10% in U.S. in 2015



(p. A1) Murders in the U.S. jumped 10.8% in 2015, according to figures released Monday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation--a sharp increase that could fuel concerns that the nation's two-decade trend of falling crime may be ending.

The figures had been expected to rise, after preliminary data released earlier this year indicated violent crime and murders were climbing. But the double-digit increase in murders dwarfed any of the past 20 years, in which the biggest one-year jump was 3.7% in 2005.



For the full story, see:

DEVLIN BARRETT. "Increase in Murders Sharpest in Decades." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 27, 2016): A1-A2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 26, 2016, and has the title "U.S. Murders Increased 10.8% in 2015.")






October 24, 2016

"My Fate Lies with Me, Not with Heaven"



(p. A7) . . . Dr. Unschuld, who is as blunt as he is outspoken, stands at the center of a long and contentious debate in the West over Chinese medicine. For many, it is the ur-alternative to what they see as the industrialized and chemicalized medicine that dominates in the West. For others, it is little more than charlatanism, with its successes attributed to the placebo effect and the odd folk remedy.

Dr. Unschuld is a challenge to both ways of thinking. He has just finished a 28-year English translation of the three principal parts of the foundational work of Chinese medicine: the Huangdi Neijing, or Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, published by the University of California Press. But unlike many of the textbooks used in Chinese medicine schools in the West, Dr. Unschuld's works are monuments to the art of serious translation; he avoids New Age jargon like "energy" or familiar Western medical terms like "pathogens," seeing both as unfair to the ancient writers and their worldviews.

But this reflects a deep respect for the ancient authors the detractors of Chinese medicine sometimes lack. Dr. Unschuld hunts down obscure terms and devises consistent terminologies that are sometimes not easy to read, but are faithful to the original text. Almost universally, his translations are regarded as trailblazing -- making available, for the first time in a Western language, the complete foundational works of Chinese medicine from up to 2,000 years ago.


. . .


. . . then there is the issue of efficacy. With his extremely dry humor, Dr. Unschuld likens Chinese medicine to the herbal formulas of the medieval Christian mystic Hildegard von Bingen. If people want to try it, they should be free to do so, he said, but not at taxpayer expense. As for himself, Dr. Unschuld says he has never tried Chinese medicine.


. . .


His purely academic approach, . . . , makes him a difficult figure for China to embrace. While widely respected for his knowledge and translations, he has done little to advance the government's agenda of promoting Chinese medicine as soft power. Echoing other critics, he describes China's translations of the classics as "complete swindles," saying they are done with little care and only a political goal in mind.

For Dr. Unschuld, Chinese medicine is far more interesting as an allegory for China's mental state. His most famous book is a history of Chinese medical ideas, in which he sees classic figures, such as the Yellow Emperor, as a reflection of the Chinese people's deep-seated pragmatism. At a time when demons and ghosts were blamed for illness, these Chinese works from 2,000 years ago ascribed it to behavior or disease that could be corrected or cured.

"It is a metaphor for enlightenment," he says.

Especially striking, Dr. Unschuld says, is that the Chinese approach puts responsibility on the individual, as reflected in the statement "wo ming zai wo, bu zai tian" -- "my fate lies with me, not with heaven." This mentality was reflected on a national level in the 19th and 20th centuries, when China was being attacked by outsiders. The Chinese largely blamed themselves and sought concrete answers by studying foreign ideas, industrializing and building a modern economy.



For the full story, see:

IAN JOHNSON. "The Saturday Profile; An Expert on Chinese Medicine, but No New Age Healer." The New York Times (Sat., SEPT. 24, 2016): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 23, 2016, and has the title "Gandhi the Imperialist - Book Review.")


The recently finished book mentioned above, is:

Unschuld, Paul U. Huang Di Nei Jing Ling Shu: The Ancient Classic on Needle Therapy. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016.






October 17, 2016

Without Property Rights "No One Is Safe"



(p. 1) BINDURA, Zimbabwe -- Dozens of angry young men jumped off a truck in front of Agrippah Mutambara's gate, shouting obscenities and threatening to seize his 530-acre farm in the name of Zimbabwe's president. They tried to scale the fence, scattering only when he raised and cocked his gun.

Zimbabwe made international headlines when it started seizing white-owned farms in 2000. But Mr. Mutambara is not a white farmer. Far from it, he is a hero of this country's war of liberation who served as Zimbabwe's ambassador to three nations over two decades.

But when he defected from President Robert Mugabe's party to join the opposition a few months ago, he immediately put his farm at risk.

"When it was happening to the whites, we thought we were redressing colonial wrongs," said Mr. Mutambara, 64, who got his farm after it had been seized from a white farmer. "But now we realize it's also coming back to us. It's also haunting us."


. . .


(p. 10) "No one is safe," said Temba Mliswa, 44, who was the chairman of the party's chapter in Mashonaland West Province before his expulsion from the party in 2014.

Mr. Mliswa got a 2,000-acre farm belonging to a white Zimbabwean in 2005. When he took possession, Mr. Mliswa said, police officers beat the white farmer and his workers.

But last year, Mr. Mliswa said, hundreds of youths sent by the party invaded the farm again, destroying property and beating his workers. They eventually left, but one of Mr. Mugabe's ministers recently held a rally in which he threatened to take Mr. Mliswa's farm unless he stopped criticizing the president's party.

"They use the land to control you," Mr. Mliswa said.


. . .


Mr. Mliswa said he had received his farm when his uncle headed the lands ministry. Once considered Mr. Mugabe's right-hand man, the uncle was also expelled from the governing party in 2014 and now risks losing his farm, too, Mr. Mliswa said.

"There was blood spilt on my farm, there was violence, which I really, really, really, really regret," he said of the seizure of his farm from its white owner in 2005. "I apologize profusely, but it was because of the system I was involved in. I belonged to a party whose culture is violence."



For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI. "'No One Is Safe': Zimbabwe Threatens to Seize Farms of Party Defectors." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 28, 2016): 1 & 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 24, [sic] 2016, and has the title "'No One Is Safe': Zimbabwe Threatens to Seize Farms of Party Defectors.")






October 15, 2016

Low Interest Rates Cannot Substitute for Needed Deeper Reforms



(p. B3) MUMBAI, India -- Three years before the 2008 global financial crisis, an Indian economist named Raghuram G. Rajan presciently warned a skeptical audience of top economic thinkers that excessive risk threatened the entire global financial system.

As Mr. Rajan stepped down on Sunday [Sept. 4, 2016] as India's top central banker, following intense criticism at home, he offered a new warning: Low interest rates globally could distort markets and would be difficult to abandon.

Countries around the world, including the United States and Europe, have kept interest rates low as a way to encourage growth. But countries could become "trapped" by fear that when they eventually raised rates, they "would see growth slow down," he said.

Low interest rates should not be a substitute for "other instruments of policy" and "various kinds of reforms" that are needed to encourage growth, Mr. Rajan said in a recent interview with The New York Times. "Often when monetary policy is really easy, it becomes the residual policy of choice," he said, when deeper reforms are needed.


. . .


In discussing the Indian economy in the interview, Mr. Rajan offered a less-than-ringing endorsement of the government's emphasis on manufacturing in India -- what the prime minister has called his Make in India campaign.

Mr. Rajan said he did not support the view of critics that it was too late in world economic history for India to become a manufacturing hub. But he also said that he would not focus exclusively on manufacturing as the solution to joblessness.

If India improves infrastructure and reduces government regulations, manufacturing might take off in a big way, but it "could also be services. It could be value-added agriculture also."`



For the full story, see:

GEETA ANAND. "A Departing Central Banker's Warning." The New York Times (Mon., SEPT. 5, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 4, 2016, and has the title "Raghuram Rajan, India's Departing Central Banker, Has a New Warning." The online version is somewhat longer than the print version, and has minor differences in the last three paragraphs quoted above. The last three paragraphs quoted above, are from the online version.)






October 11, 2016

Private Nav Canada More Innovative than Government FAA



(p. D1) Ottawa

Flying over the U.S.-Canadian border is like time travel for pilots. Going north to south, you leave a modern air-traffic control system run by a company and enter one run by the government struggling to catch up.

Airlines, the air-traffic controllers' union and key congressional leaders all support turning over U.S. air-traffic control services to a newly created nonprofit company and leaving the Federal Aviation Administration as a safety regulator. It's an idea that still faces strong opposition in Congress, but has gained traction this year.

The model is Nav Canada, the world's second-largest air-traffic control agency, after the U.S.


. . .


The key, Nav Canada says, is its nongovernmental structure. Technology, critical to efficient airspace use these days, gets developed faster than if a government agency were trying to do it, officials say. Critics say slow technology development has been the FAA's Achilles' heel.

"We can fly optimal routes because of the technology they have. It makes a big difference," American Airlines vice president Lorne Cass says. "These are things customers don't see except they shave off minutes."

Mr. Cass, who has worked for several airlines and the FAA, first visited Nav Canada in 2004 to see new technology. "They've always been pretty good at continuous modernization," he says. "They just have more flexibility than the FAA has."


. . .


(p. D2) In government, you often need giant programs with huge promises to get funding. But Nav Canada opted for small projects, often with no idea what the outcome should look like. The company hired a corps of techies that the federal agency had never had and involved controllers in development.

"We're convinced you're better off doing things incrementally than a big bang approach," Mr. Koslow says.

Data linkage between cockpits and control centers is one example. Text messages with cockpits have been in use across oceans, in parts of Europe and across all of Canada for several years. Controllers in Montreal who handle planes to and from North America and both Europe and Asia say the texting system virtually eliminates problems of mishearing instructions and readbacks over the radio because of foreign accents.

Another innovation adopted around the world is electronic flight strips--critical information about each flight that gets changed on touch screens and passed from one controller to another electronically. Nav Canada has used them for more than 13 years. Many U.S. air controllers still use paper printouts placed in plastic carriers about the size of a 6-inch ruler that controllers scribble on.


. . .


Jerome Gagnon, a shift manager in Montreal's control tower, says the electronic system has reduced workload, errors and noise. "We don't want controllers to just be heads down. There's a lot of stuff that happens out the window," he says.

Rarely do controllers have to call each other to coordinate flights anymore, but making changes with the FAA on cross-border flights can't be done electronically.

As he explains the process in the Montreal tower, other controllers start laughing. One blurts out incredulously: "You still have to call the FAA by phone!""



For the full story, see:

SCOTT MCCARTNEY. "THE MIDDLE SEAT; The Air-Traffic System U.S. Airlines Wish They Had." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 28, 2016): D1-D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 27, 2016. The online version has a couple of extra sentences that are included in the passages quoted above.)






September 20, 2016

Airline Startups Stall in Bureaucratic Regulatory Headwinds



(p. B4) Mr. Vallas owns California Pacific Airlines, known as CP Air, his latest venture in a peripatetic business career that has included stints in areas as varied as land development and other aviation-related ventures.

CP Air has sat on a metaphorical runway for years -- engines idling, ready for takeoff -- while awaiting certification by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mr. Vallas's patience is wearing thin. After all, he is 95, and he regards the airline as a legacy, an exclamation point to a colorful life.


. . .


. . . then there was that matter with the F.A.A. The agency has repeatedly denied applications. A letter from 2013, one of several from the agency, advised him that the application's contents were "incomplete, inaccurate and do not appear to have been reviewed for quality."


. . .


The government shutdown in 2013 and the F.A.A.'s staff reduction did not help matters, the agency acknowledges.


. . .


The process of greenlighting a new airline has become more complicated since Mr. Vallas sold a previous venture, a charter service called Air Resorts, in 1997.

He acknowledges the vast increase in paperwork since that era but contends that the conditions for acceptance have been met.

Mr. Vallas's airline is not the only one that has encountered bureaucratic headwinds. Other proposed airlines are in limbo for various reasons, including Baltia Airlines, created in 1989 to fly between New York City and Russia, which still lacks the authorities' blessing.



For the full story, see:

MIKE TIERNEY. "ITINERARIES; A Start-Up Airline Idles on a California Runway." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 26, 2016): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 25, 2016, and has the title "ITINERARIES; Start-Up Airline Idles on a California Runway, Stymied by Bureaucracy.")






September 18, 2016

Lack of Control at Job Causes Stress, Leading to Cardiovascular Disease



(p. 6) Allostasis is not about preserving constancy; it is about calibrating the body's functions in response to external as well as internal conditions. The body doesn't so much defend a particular set point as allow it to fluctuate in response to changing demands, including those of one's social circumstances. Allostasis is, in that sense, a politically sophisticated theory of human physiology. Indeed, because of its sensitivity to social circumstances, allostasis is in many ways better than homeostasis for explaining modern chronic diseases.

Consider hypertension. Seventy million adults in the United States have it. For more than 90 percent of them, we don't know the cause. However, we do have some clues. Hypertension disproportionately affects blacks, especially in poor communities.


. . .


Peter Sterling, a neurobiologist and a proponent of allostasis, has written that hypertension in these communities is a normal response to "chronic arousal" (or stress).


. . .


Allostasis is attractive because it puts psychosocial factors front and center in how we think about health problems. In one of his papers, Dr. Sterling talks about how, while canvassing in poor neighborhoods in Cleveland in the 1960s, he would frequently come across black men with limps and drooping faces, results of stroke. He was shocked, but today it is well established that poverty and racism are associated with stroke and poor cardiovascular health.

These associations also hold true in white communities. One example comes from the Whitehall study of almost 30,000 Civil Service workers in Britain over the past several decades. Mortality and poor health were found to increase stepwise from the highest to the lowest levels in the occupational hierarchy: Messengers and porters, for example, had nearly twice the death rate of administrators, even after accounting for differences in smoking and alcohol consumption. Researchers concluded that stress -- from financial instability, time pressures or a general lack of job control -- was driving much of the difference in survival.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "When Blood Pressure Is Political." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 7, 2016): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 6, 2016.)


The commentary quoted above is distantly related to Jauhar's book:

Jauhar, Sandeep. Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






September 13, 2016

Feds Use Taxpayer Money to Buy $20 Million of Cheese



(p. C1) U.S. agricultural officials agreed to purchase $20 million of cheese products from struggling dairy farmers who pleaded for a bailout earlier this month.

Around 11 million pounds of food will be donated to families throughout the country through government nutrition-assistance programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.


. . .


The national Milk Producers Federation, a group of roughly 30,000 farmers, on Aug. 12 asked the agency to purchase a much as $150 million of cheese, as a glut of dairy products and other food commodities has sent prices for many farmers to the lowest levels in years.



For the full story, see:

Gee, Kelsy. "U.S. Says Cheese--to Aid Farmers." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Aug. 25, 2016): C1.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: after much searching on 9/10/16, I could not find an online version of the story on the WSJ site.)






September 6, 2016

American Indians Suffer from Lack of Property Rights



(p. A15) There are almost no private businesses or entrepreneurs on Indian reservations because there are no property rights. Reservation land is held in trust by the federal government and most is also owned communally by the tribe. It's almost impossible for tribe members to get a mortgage, let alone borrow against their property to start a business. The Bureau of Indian Affairs regulates just about every aspect of commerce on reservations.

Instead of giving Indians more control over their own land--allowing them to develop natural resources or use land as collateral to start businesses--the federal government has offered them what you might call a loophole economy. Washington carves out a sector of the economy, giving tribes a regulatory or tax advantage over non-Indians. But within a few years the government takes it away, in many cases leaving Indian tribes as impoverished and more disheartened than they were before.


. . .


What American Indians need first is less regulation. There is a reason that Native Americans say BIA, the initials for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, really stands for "Bossing Indians Around."



For the full commentary, see:

NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY. "The Loophole Economy Is No Jackpot for Indians; Running casinos or selling tax-free cigarettes can't substitute for what tribes truly need: property rights." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 28, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 27, 2016.)


The above commentary by Riley is related to her book, which is:

Riley, Naomi Schaefer. The New Trail of Tears: How Washington Is Destroying American Indians. New York: Encounter Books, 2016.






August 31, 2016

Ministry of Justice Bus Unjustly Cuts Ahead of 99 Vehicles in Nigerian Gas Line



(p. A1) LAGOS, Nigeria -- Young men became entangled in a swirl of flying fists. Gas station workers swatted away boys hoping to fill their plastic cans. A mother with a sleeping baby in her minivan was chased off, rightly accused of jumping the line. A driver eager to get ahead crashed into several cars, the sound of crunching metal barely registering amid the noise.

Nigerians were getting used to days like this.

But then came the ultimate insult to everyone waiting at the Oando mega gas station: A bus marked Ministry of Justice rolled up to a pump, leapfrogging no fewer than 99 vehicles. "Service With Integrity" was painted on its door. A gas station supervisor who calls herself Madame No Nonsense stepped aside to let it fuel up before anyone else. The crowd howled at the injustice.

Plummeting oil prices have set off an economic unraveling in Nigeria, one of the world's top oil producers, and the collective anger of a fed-up nation was pouring out.


. . .


(p. A8) President Muhammadu Buhari is urging patience, noting that when he took office last year he inherited a corruption-plagued mess.


. . .


. . . the government says the supply is getting better. It has finally fired up Nigeria's three rickety oil refineries, and the wait in Lagos improved drastically last week. Eventually, officials say, Nigeria will make all of its own gasoline.



For the full story, see:

DIONNE SEARCEY. "Anger Overflows in Nigeria as Economy Dives." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MAY 10, 2016): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 9, 2016, and has the title "Anger Overflows in Nigeria as Economy Dives.")






August 27, 2016

"To Understand Zoning, You Have to Have a Law Degree"



(p. 27) Not all buildings are worth keeping. In Midtown East, many nonconforming structures have low ceilings and columns that make them unappealing to new businesses. Some developers have gone so far as to demolish all but the bottom quarter of their buildings, and then build up from there, allowing them to retain the old zoning for their plots so as not to sacrifice a single square foot. The city is currently reconsidering a proposal that would allow these buildings to be rebuilt to their original size and possibly even larger.

It does not have to be this complicated. In honor of the code's 100th anniversary, the Municipal Art Society of New York has called on City Hall to consider overhauling the code in a way that would make it intelligible to all.

"To understand zoning, you have to have a law degree, it's so convoluted and so dense," Mike Ernst, director of planning at the civic group, said. "The whole process of how buildings get built these days is so confusing and opaque to people. There really should be more transparency, so people can have an understanding of what the future holds for their city."



For the full story, see:

"Reviled, Revered, and Still Challenging Russia to Evolve." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MAY 22, 2016): 27.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 20, 2016, and has the title "40 Percent of the Buildings in Manhattan Could Not Be Built Today." It is substantially longer than the print version and includes three authors, while no authors were listed for the print version. The authors listed for the online version were: QUOCTRUNG BUI, MATT A.V. CHABAN and JEREMY WHITE.)






August 21, 2016

Brazilians See Government as a Father Who Should Hand Out Subsidies to His Favorites



(p. 9) . . . "Brazillionaires" offers more than a flat collection of billionaire tales. Cuadros shrewdly presents his collage of immense wealth against an underlying background of corruption. There are kickbacks for government contracts. There are gigantic taxpayer subsidies: In 2009 alone, the state-run development bank, BNDES, lent out $76 billion, "more than the World Bank lent out in the entire world." And of course there are lavish campaign contributions, attached to the inevitable quid pro quos. JBS, which leveraged government loans to become the largest meatpacking company in the world, spent $180 million on the 2014 elections alone. "If every politician who had received JBS money formed a party," Cuadros writes, "it would be the largest in Congress."

In his telling, Brazilians seem to embrace the cozy relationship between business and government as a source of pride rather than a risk for conflicts of interest. In one passage, Cuadros underscores the contrast between Adam Smith and the 19th-century Brazilian thinker José da Silva Lisboa, viscount of Cairu. Lisboa's "Principios de Economía Politica" was meant to be an adaptation of Smith's "Wealth of Nations." But rather than present a paean to the invisible hand of the market, the viscount offered a rather paternalistic view of economic progress.

"The sovereign of each nation must be considered the chief or head of a vast family," he wrote, "and thus care for all those therein like his children, cooperating for the greater good." Swap "government" for "sovereign" and the passage still serves as an accurate guide to the Brazilian development strategy. It's just that some children -- the Marinhos, the Camargos -- are cared for better than ­others.


. . .


It would be wrong, . . . , to understand Brazil's plutocracy as the product of some unique outcrop of corruption. The hold on political power by the rich is hardly an exclusive feature of Brazil. ­Latin America has suffered for generations from the collusion between government and business. Where I grew up, in Mexico, it is the norm.



For the full review, see:

EDUARDO PORTER. "Real Rich." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., JULY 24, 2016): 9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 22, 2016, and has the title "Watching Brazil's Rich: A Full-Time Job.")


The book under review, is:

Cuadros, Alex. Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2016.






August 19, 2016

"Draconian" Regulations Reduce Consumer Choice



(p. B1) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog agency set up after the last financial crisis, is poised to adopt strict new national rules that will curtail payday lending.


. . .


(p. B6) A sweeping study of bans on payday lending, scheduled to be published soon in The Journal of Law and Economics, found similar patterns in other states. When short-term loans disappear, the need that drives demand for them does not; many customers simply shift to other expensive forms of credit like pawn shops, or pay late fees on overdue bills, the study's authors concluded.

Mr. Munn, who works as a site geologist on oil wells, first borrowed from Advance America eight months ago when his car broke down. He had some money saved, but he needed a few hundred more to pay the $1,200 repair bill. Then his employer, reacting to falling oil prices, cut wages 30 percent. Mr. Munn became a regular at the loan shop.

He likes the store's neighborhood vibe and friendly staff, and he views payday loans as a way to avoid debt traps he considers more insidious.

"I don't like credit cards," said Mr. Munn, who is wary of the high balances that they make it too easy to run up. "I could borrow from my I.R.A., but the penalties are huge."

At Advance America, he said, "I come in here, pay back what I've taken, and get a little bit more for rent and bills. I keep the funds to an extent that I can pay back with the next check. I don't want to get into more trouble or debt."


. . .


The rules would radically reshape, and in some places eliminate, payday borrowing in the 36 states where lenders still operate, according to Richard P. Hackett, a former assistant director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.


. . .


"It's a draconian scenario," said Jamie Fulmer, an Advance America spokesman.



For the full story, see:

STACY COWLEY. "To Curb Abuse, Loan Rules May Cut a Lifeline." The New York Times (Sat., JULY 23, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 22, 2016, and has the title "Payday Loan Limits May Cut Abuse but Leave Some Borrowers Looking.")






August 14, 2016

How to Avoid Bureaucratic Time-Wasting Lines



(p. 9) London -- ITALIAN bureaucracy is legendary for a reason. Italians spend so much of their lives waiting in line -- an estimated 400 hours a year per person -- that some are now willing to pay freelancers to wait on their behalf. The rich can pay a "codista," a neologism for a trained line sitter, to maunder at the post office or bank while they get on with something more important.


. . .


Brazil has its "despachantes," meaning dispatchers. Venezuela has its "coleros," which, oddly, can translate to "top hats"; and Spain its "gestores" or agents. Meanwhile, in South Africa there is a company called Q4U that takes care specifically of the irksome business of applying for a British passport.

In New York City, the cash-rich and time-poor use the service Same Ole Line Dudes, which describes itself as "New York's only professional line sitting team." The Dudes will charge you $25 for the first hour, plus $10 for each additional 30 minutes, to put in the necessary time to obtain coveted concert tickets or rare new sneakers. Their slogan is, "We wait for your wants." I am told that they will even wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles for you.



For the full commentary, see:

TOM HODGKINSON. "How to Get Paid to Do Nothing." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., July 10, 2016): 9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 9, 2016.)






August 4, 2016

Based on Cost and Fairness, 76.9% of Swiss Voters Say "No" to Taxpayer-Paid Minimum Income for All



(p. C6) ZURICH--Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected a controversial initiative that would have guaranteed all Swiss residents a minimum income on which to live.

The Basic Income Initiative received just 23.1% of the vote in Sunday's referendum, compared with 76.9% against. . . .

Rather, the significance of Sunday's vote--which the plan's backers ensured by collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures--was that it gave a high-profile airing to an idea that has gained traction among economists in Europe and the U.S. in recent years.

Though the monthly amount wasn't spelled out, it was expected to have been around 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,560) per adult, with a smaller subsidy for children, without regard to employment, education, disability, age or even wealth.


. . .


Opponents, . . . , latched on to two critiques: cost and fairness.



For the full story, see:

BRIAN BLACKSTONE. "Switzerland Votes to Reject Basic Income Initiative." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 6, 2016): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2016.)






August 3, 2016

Obama and Koch Brothers Agree Occupational Licensing Restricts Opportunity



GranatelliGraceCanineMassageTherapist2016-07-11.jpg"Grace Granatelli, a certified canine massage therapist. In 2013, Arizona's Veterinary Medical Examining Board demanded that she close up shop for medically treating animals without a veterinary degree." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- "I usually start behind the neck," Grace Granatelli said from her plump brown sofa. "There's two pressure points back behind the ears that help relax them a little bit." In her lap, she held the head of Sketch, her mixed beagle rat terrier, as her fingers traced small circles through his fur.

Ms. Granatelli, whose passion for dogs can be glimpsed in the oil portrait of her deceased pets and the bronzed casts of their paws, started an animal massage business during the recession after taking several courses and workshops. Her primary form of advertising was her car, with its "K9 RUBS" license plate and her website, Pawsitive Touch, stenciled onto her rear window.

But in 2013, Arizona's Veterinary Medical Examining Board sent her a cease-and-desist order, demanding that she close up shop for medically treating animals without a veterinary degree. If not, the board warned, every Swedish doggy massage she completed could cost her a $1,000 fine.

To comply with the ruling and obtain a license, Ms. Granatelli would have to spend about $250,000 over four years at an accredited veterinary school. None require courses in massage technique; many don't even offer one.


. . .


(p. B5) The Obama administration and the conservative political network financed by the Koch brothers don't agree on much, but the belief that the zeal among states for licensing all sorts of occupations has spiraled out of control is one of them. In recent months, they have collaborated with an array of like-minded organizations and political leaders in a bid to roll back licensing rules.


. . .


. . . the current mishmash of requirements is too often "inconsistent, inefficient, and arbitrary," a White House report concluded last year. Many of them, the report said, have little purpose other than to protect those already in the field from further competition.


. . .


Only rarely are licensing requirements removed. Last month, though, Arizona agreed to curb them for yoga teachers, geologists, citrus fruit packers and cremationists.

But dozens more professions escaped the ax. "Arizona is perceived as a low-regulatory state, but this was the most difficult bill we worked on this session," said Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the Republican governor, Douglas Ducey.

Licensing boards are generally dominated by members of the regulated profession. And in Arizona, more than two dozen of the boards are allowed to keep 90 percent of their fees, turning over a mere 10 percent of the revenue to the state.

"They use that money to hire contract lobbyists and P.R. people," Mr. Scarpinato said. "This is really a dark corner of state government."

They are often joined in their campaign by lobbyists from industry trade associations and for-profit colleges, which sell the required training courses.



For the full story, see:

PATRICIA COHEN. "Horse Rub? Where's Your License?" The New York Times (Sat., JUNE 18, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 17, 2016, and has the title "Moving to Arizona Soon? You Might Need a License.")


The White House report mentioned above, is:

The White House. "Occupational Licensing: A Framework for Policy Makers." July 2015.






July 30, 2016

King Henry I Might "Have Liked Being Buried Under a Car Park"



(p. A4) LONDON -- Looking for a dead medieval king? You might want to check under a parking lot.

That theory, at least, is on the minds of archaeologists and historians in Reading, about 40 miles west of London, who this week will begin searching for the high altar of the abbey founded by King Henry I. They believe that the altar -- and, they hope, the king's remains -- could be under the parking lot of a local prison, near the abbey ruins. The area around a nearby nursery school will also be searched.

Nearly four years ago, archaeologists discovered King Richard III's grave under a parking lot in Leicester, about 100 miles northwest of London, on the site of a former monastery.


. . .


John Mullaney, a historian who is part of the team undertaking the search, said that archaeologists knew "within a few yards" where Henry was probably buried. He said the team would use ground-penetrating radar to search the area around the prison, and around a nearby nursery school.


. . .


As to whether a former monarch would roll in his grave at the prospect of spending eternity under a parking lot, Mr. Mullaney was philosophical.

"I'm afraid that England is a nation of car drivers," he said. "We are a small country and most people travel by cars, so we need lots of car parks. Henry was a reforming king and would have been fascinated by the idea of cars and transport, and may well have liked being buried under a car park."



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "The Search Is On for King Henry I, Who May Be Buried Under a Parking Lot." The New York Times (Tues., JUNE 14, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 13, 2016, and has the title "Search Is On for King Henry I, Who May Be Buried Under a Parking Lot.")






How Many Government Staff Members Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb in King Tut's Display Case?



(p. A7) The intense attention paid by experts to Tutankhamen's tomb has not always been matched by staff members at the run-down Egyptian Museum. In January the government said eight people at the state-run museum were being disciplined for their role in a botched repair job that caused minor but lasting damage to King Tut's golden burial mask.

The repair job was an attempt to correct the damage caused by workers who had accidentally knocked the beard from the 3,300-year-old artifact in August 2014 as they repaired a light fixture in its display case.



For the full story, see:

DECLAN WALSH. "King Tut's Blade, and 'Iron From the Sky'." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 3, 2016): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 2, 2016, and has the title "King Tut's Dagger Made of 'Iron From the Sky,' Researchers Say.")






July 29, 2016

"We Can Fight Back When Our Lives Depend on It"



(p. A23) San Jose, Calif. -- I'LL never forget the first piece of safety advice I got when I began my transition from the male body in which I was born to the female body I now occupy: Carry a whistle. If I was attacked, I was supposed to blow it in hopes it would alert some do-gooder to dash into a dark alley to break up a brutal hate crime.

The idea was not only preposterous, it was also insulting. The implication was that I, being transgender, wouldn't be able to save myself. But I didn't need a whistle; I had a gun.

Since the attack in Orlando, Fla., many L.G.B.T. groups have been calling loudly for laws restricting gun ownership. But if anyone should be concerned about protecting the individual right to bear arms, it's L.G.B.T. people. We need to stop preaching nonviolence and voting for politicians who don't protect us.

Violence toward L.G.B.T. people is real. We are victimized at far greater rates than other minority groups. We often face multiple assailants. The attacks are frenzied and quickly escalate from harassment, to fists, to something altogether different. People die.

If you find yourself in a violent encounter, you're lucky if you get three seconds to react. If you want to save yourself, you have to go on the offensive. And a whistle isn't going to cut it.


. . .


But every day, Americans use guns to defend themselves, and they don't even have to pull the trigger. The mere appearance of a firearm can save their life. Just last week, Tom G. Palmer, now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote in an op-ed article in The New York Daily News about an episode in his 20s when he flashed his pistol at a group of men who were threatening to kill him because he was gay -- and they retreated.

This is a call to L.G.B.T. people to take their own defense seriously, and to question the left-leaning institutions that tell them guns are bad, and should be left to the professionals. Become a professional. You're allowed. That's what the Second Amendment is for. We can fight back when our lives depend on it.



For the full commentary, see:


NICKI STALLARD. "The L.G.B.T. Case for Guns." The New York Times (Weds., JUNE 22, 2016): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 27, 2016

World Health Organization Praises Coffee, Reversing 1991 Warning



(p. A9) An influential panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization concluded on Wednesday [JUNE 15, 2016] that regularly drinking coffee could protect against at least two types of cancer, a decision that followed decades of research pointing to the beverage's many health benefits. The panel also said there was a lack of evidence that it might cause other types of cancer.

The announcement marked a rare reversal for the panel, which had previously described coffee as "possibly carcinogenic" in 1991 and linked it to bladder cancer. But since then a large body of research has portrayed coffee as a surprising elixir, finding lower rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders and several cancers in those who drink it regularly.



For the full story, see:

ANAHAD O'CONNOR. "Coffee May Protect Against Cancer, W.H.O. Concludes, in Reversal of a 1991 Study." The New York Times (Thurs., JUNE 16, 2016): A9.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JUNE 15, 2016, and has the title "Coffee May Protect Against Cancer, W.H.O. Concludes.")






July 26, 2016

Government Land Use Regulations Increase Income Inequality



(p. A1) . . . a growing body of economic literature suggests that anti-growth sentiment, when multiplied across countless unheralded local development battles, is a major factor in creating a stagnant and less equal American economy.

It has even to some extent changed how Americans of different incomes view opportunity. Unlike past decades, when people of different socioeconomic backgrounds tended to move to similar areas, today, less-skilled workers often go where jobs are scarcer but housing is cheap, instead of heading to places with the most promising job opportunities, according to research by Daniel Shoag, a professor of public policy at Harvard, and Peter Ganong, (p. B2 [sic]) also of Harvard.


. . .


"To most people, zoning and land-use regulations might conjure up little more than images of late-night City Council meetings full of gadflies and minutiae. But these laws go a long way toward determining some fundamental aspects of life: what American neighborhoods look like, who gets to live where and what schools their children attend.

And when zoning laws get out of hand, economists say, the damage to the American economy and society can be profound. Studies have shown that laws aimed at things like "maintaining neighborhood character" or limiting how many unrelated people can live together in the same house contribute to racial segregation and deeper class disparities. They also exacerbate inequality by restricting the housing supply in places where demand is greatest.

The lost opportunities for development may theoretically reduce the output of the United States economy by as much as $1.5 trillion a year, according to estimates in a recent paper by the economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti. Regardless of the actual gains in dollars that could be achieved if zoning laws were significantly cut back, the research on land-use restrictions highlights some of the consequences of giving local communities too much control over who is allowed to live there.

"You don't want rules made entirely for people that have something, at the expense of people who don't," said Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY. "When Cities Spurn Growth, Equality Suffers." The New York Times (Mon., July 4, 2016): A1 & B2 [sic].

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 3, 2016, and has the title "How Anti-Growth Sentiment, Reflected in Zoning Laws, Thwarts Equality.")


The paper mentioned above by Ganong and Shoag, is:

Ganong, Peter, and Daniel Shoag. "Why Has Regional Income Convergence in the U.S. Declined?" Working Paper, Jan. 2015.


The paper mentioned above by Hsieh and Moretti, is:

Hsieh, Chang-Tai, and Enrico Moretti. "Why Do Cities Matter? Local Growth and Aggregate Growth." National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper # 21154, May 2015.






July 16, 2016

"Entrepreneurs Can Appear in the Most Unpromising Environments"



(p. A11) Adam Fifield's entertaining biography of the little-recognized Grant shows that entrepreneurs can appear in the most unpromising environments--such as within the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the United Nations.


. . .


While top-down planning is usually misguided in aid (and most everywhere else), it turned out to be suitable for the particular challenge of vaccinations. Unfortunately, the aid establishment learned the wrong lessons from Grant's career. Instead of seeing him as an entrepreneur who saw a very specific unrealized opportunity to spread vaccination and oral rehydration salts, they viewed his success as vindicating top-down planning in general.


. . .


Those who came after Grant . . . seem to have developed even more of the paternalistic savior complex than he had--his counterparts today are the likes of Bono, Jeffrey Sachs and Bill Gates. But the condescending image of a powerful white male as the savior of helpless nonwhite children is thankfully a lot less acceptable today than it was in Grant's time. Since 2000 we have witnessed the mainly homegrown economic growth of low- and middle-income countries surpassing that of rich countries--plus many other positive long-term trends from democratization to the explosion of cellphones. Aid alone cannot explain these large triumphs in poor countries. There is still room for humanitarian entrepreneurs like Grant to find new breakthroughs, but we can appreciate much more today that the poor are their own best saviors.​



For the full review, see:

WILLIAM EASTERLY. "BOOKSHELF; The Father of Millions; The Unicef breakthrough on vaccinations and oral rehydration salts is still cited today as one of the few successes in foreign aid." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Oct. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 15, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fifield, Adam. A Mighty Purpose: How Jim Grant Sold the World on Saving Its Children. New York: Other Press, 2015.






July 8, 2016

Franklin Was Appalled by the Boston Tea Party, But Was More Appalled by British Arrogance



(p. A13) When George III assumed the throne in 1760, Franklin was full of praise for his "virtue" and "steadiness." Many American associates considered him somewhat sycophantic.

Mr. Goodwin's assessment is gentler. "Franklin was a proud Briton, but he was not starry-eyed." By 1770 he was frustrated by Britain's "treatment of her American colonies as one giant farm and forest of raw materials." His relations with Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, became venomous. Lord North, the prime minister, icily ignored him. Franklin began to produce anonymous satires rebuking British attitudes toward America.

The nadir came in December 1773, when word reached London of the Boston Tea Party. Incensed, the king's Privy Council summoned Franklin to Westminster. He was already in bad odor for having leaked impolitic correspondence from the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. The Privy Council chamber was, on this occasion, packed with counselors and curious members of the public. Other than Edmund Burke, they were hostile. Franklin stood grimly motionless as the solicitor general pounded the table and subjected him to "an hour-long verbal assault." The council roared approval as he accused Franklin of acting for "the most malignant purposes." The American had "forfeited all the respect of societies and of men."

The humiliation of Benjamin Franklin gratified the grandees of George III's government, but the episode epitomized their arrogant maladministration. Franklin was hardly an anti-British zealot. He favored reconciliation and might have been an effective mediator had he been respected and trusted. Franklin was so appalled by the Boston Tea Party that he offered to personally repay the East India Co. That this rather Anglophilic colonial served as the Privy Council's whipping boy demonstrates how obdurate the government had become.

Franklin's revenge was served hot. He left England in March of 1775 under threat of arrest. Twenty months later he arrived in France, where his diplomacy would deliver a mortal blow to Britain's American empire.



For the full review, see:

JEFFREY COLLINS. "BOOKSHELF; A Revolutionary Loyal to Britain; Franklin's years in France resulted in military aid and recognition of American independence. His time in London? Slightly less successful." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 10, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Goodwin, George. Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.






June 29, 2016

Perfect Reliability Is Not Worth the Cost



(p. B4) Say what you will about Plain Old Telephone Service, but it worked. The functionality of POTS, as it was known, was limited to making calls, and they were expensive. But many traditional phone companies offered 99.999% reliability, which allowed for about five minutes of downtime a year.

Today's networks are far less expensive, infinitely more capable and nowhere near as reliable as the wired-to-the-wall phone, . . .


. . .


To some extent, contemporary networks suffer from inattention. The old phone system worked so well because regulators in certain countries like the U.S. said it had to, and enough money was set aside to fund an army of technicians and engineers to oversee it. That generally isn't the case with modern, digital networks and IT infrastructure, and companies often neglect this nuts-and-bolts technology.


. . .


Underneath it all, the economics of falling prices carry a trade-off. Consumers get more for their money in the mobile, digital era, but that often leaves margin-stretched companies with fewer resources to invest in robustness and maintenance. Reliability is as much a function of business and risk management as it is about tech.

"I don't know if people are sweating that detail as much as they used to," said Mr. Bayer, previously CIO of the Securities and Exchange Commission.


. . .


Former NYSE Euronext Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Leibowitz told the Journal in 2013 the public shouldn't expect market technology to function perfectly, a goal that would be too expensive to implement even if it were technically feasible.



For the full story, see:

STEVE ROSENBUSH and STEVEN NORTON. "Network Reliability, a Relic of Business?" The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 10, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 9, 2015 and has the title "What We Learned From the NYSE, United Airlines Tech Outages.")






June 27, 2016

Utilities Shifting Back to Fossil Fuels to Reduce Electricity Prices



(p. B1) KEADBY, England -- A wind farm here, along the River Trent, cranks out enough clean electricity to power as many as 57,000 homes. Monitored remotely, the windmills, 34 turbines each about 400 feet high, require little attention or maintenance and are expected to produce electricity for decades to come.

"They're very well behaved," said Sam Cunningham, the wind farm's manager, as she drove around the almost three-square-mile site.

The owner of the wind farm, the British electricity company SSE, has been betting big on turbines as well as other renewables for years, with multibillion-dollar investments that have made the utility the country's leading provider of clean power. In theory, last year's United Nations climate accord in Paris should have been a global validation of the company's business strategy.

But instead of doubling down, the utility is rethinking its energy mix, reconsidering plans for large wind farms and even restarting a mothballed power plant that runs on fossil fuel.

The moves reflect the existential debate faced by many major power companies, as they grapple with real-world energy economics and shifts in government policy. The calculus for fossil fuels can be more favorable at a time when energy prices are low and countries like Britain are rethinking subsidies on renewables to keep electricity prices down."



For the full story, see:

STANLEY REED. "Clean Power Muddied by Cheap Fuel." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 20, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 19, 2016 and has the title "In Britain, a Green Utility Company Sees Winds of Change.")






June 20, 2016

Taxpayer Funded Stadiums Fail to Bring Promised Economic Development



(p. C14) The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have been an epicenter of the U.S. stadium-and-arena boom, rolling out five major sports facilities since 1990 that together cost more than $2 billion.

Now, the neighboring cities are readying for a sixth: a 20,000-seat, $150 million Major League Soccer stadium to be built by 2018 in St. Paul about halfway between the two downtowns.


. . .


But taken with the other facilities that have a combined seat count of nearly 200,000, this latest project illustrates how the Twin Cities are an acute example of the rapid increase in stadiums and arenas in U.S. cities. These developments come despite a growing chorus of warnings from economists who say the stadiums are almost always poor drivers of economic development. Even when these facilities do spur nearby investment, economists and critics say the cost to the public is typically far higher than with traditional economic-development programs.


"I've lived in the Twin Cities since 1976, and have seen this proliferation of new sports stadia," said Jane Prince, a St. Paul city council member who voted against the soccer stadium aid package. "I just don't see the promised economic development occurring in conjunction with all of these."


. . .


"There's not one group that makes these decisions--it was two city governments, it was a legislature, it was sports owners," said R.T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis from 2002 to 2014. Mr. Rybak said he had long been critical of sports subsidies but he grudgingly helped craft the aid package for the Vikings stadium after the team was poised to move elsewhere.

That deal, and the others, he said, were "also driven by the increasingly crazy politics of sports economics," in which teams want their own facilities, custom designed for their ideal crowd sizes.



For the full story, see:

ELIOT BROWN. "Twin Cities to Get Yet Another Stadium." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 23, 2016): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2016, and has the title "In Twin Cities, How Many Stadiums Are Enough?")






June 16, 2016

Government Elephant Ivory Bans Endanger Rare Helmeted Hornbills




Another unintended consequence of well-intentioned government policy.



(p. A3) BEIJING -- Even as China, the world's leading market for illegal ivory, promises to help safeguard elephants in Africa, a rare bird in Southeast Asia is in danger because its skull is being sold in China as an ivory alternative, conservationists say.


. . .


More than 2,000 helmeted hornbill skulls, or casques, were seized by the authorities in Indonesia and China in the past five years, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nongovernmental organization based in London. In some cases, Chinese citizens were caught trying to leave Indonesia with casques in their luggage.


. . .


China has joined the world in taking a stand against the trade in elephant and rhinoceros products. In September, during his state visit to the United States, President Xi Jinping pledged to "enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export."

But some conservationists worry that less celebrated but also threatened animals, including the helmeted hornbill, are being overlooked, becoming easy picks to meet the demand.

"Shifting to hornbill ivory is like grabbing a low-hanging fruit," Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, the director of the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society, wrote in an email.



For the full story, see:

SHAOJIE HUANG. "Chinese Demand for Ivory Alternative Threatens Rare Hornbill Bird." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 23, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2016, and has the title "Chinese Demand for Ivory Alternative Threatens Rare Bird.")






June 14, 2016

Suburbs Solved City Over-Crowding and Allowed Child Rearing



(p. C7) . . . , Adna Ferrin Weber, writing in 1899, had it right. "The 'rise of the suburbs' it is," he wrote, "which furnishes the solid basis of a hope that the evils of city life, so far as they result from overcrowding, may be in large part removed."


. . .

Joel Kotkin, in "The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us," presents the most cogent, evidence-based and clear-headed exposition of the pro-suburban argument. In Mr. Kotkin's view, there is a war against suburbia, an unjust war launched by intellectuals, environmentalists and central-city enthusiasts. In pithy, readable sections, each addressing a single issue, he debunks one attack on the suburbs after another. But he does more than that. He weaves an impressive array of original observations about cities into his arguments, enriching our understanding of what cities are about and what they can and must become, with sections reflecting on such topics as "housing inflation," "the rise of the home-based economy," "the organic expansion of cities" and "forces undermining the middle class in global cities."

The essence of Mr. Kotkin's defense of suburban expansion in the United States--with which he is most familiar and where the opposition to his views is better organized and much more formidable than elsewhere--is that suburbs now contain the great majority of residences as well as jobs. Suburban neighborhoods, he suggests, are as conducive to community living and as "green" as central-city ones. But his critique of conventional urban-planning wisdom goes further. He argues that central-city living is largely unaffordable by the middle class, let alone the poor; that central cities are becoming the abodes of the global rich, encouraging glamorous consumption rather than providing middle-class jobs; and that dense urban living in small, expensive quarters discourages child rearing, a critical concern for policy makers in many industrialized countries today.



For the full review, see:

SHLOMO ANGEL. "In Praise of Urban Sprawl; Dense urban living discourages child rearing. It is no surprise that there are 80,000 more dogs than children in San Francisco." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C5-C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Kotkin, Joel. The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. Chicago: Agate B2 Books, 2016.






June 10, 2016

Imperial Passivity of the Holy Roman Empire Allowed Liberty and Diversity



(p. C7) On Aug. 6, 1806, an imperial herald decked out in full court regalia galloped purposefully through the streets of Vienna to a magnificent medieval church at the center of the city. Once there, he ascended to the balcony, blew his silver trumpet and declared that the Holy Roman Empire, an institution that had lasted for more than 1,000 years, was no more.


. . .


But because the empire never evolved into a viable nation-state, many scholars and politicians regarded it as a failure. The Germans in particular (including the great 19th-century historian Leopold von Ranke) blamed the empire for the fact that Germany remained a "delayed nation" that was only unified (through Prussian machinations) in 1871.

Yet it was precisely this lack of political centralization, Mr. Wilson argues, that provided the empire with its greatest strength. Imperial passivity meant that individual rulers and states were largely left alone to govern as they wished. And all subjects had the right to appeal to the emperor if they believed their rights had been trammeled upon. Jews, for example, were given imperial protection as early as 1090; and though forced to live as second-class citizens during much of the empire's history, many viewed its dissolution as a catastrophe.

Political fragmentation also had cultural benefits. Unlike France and England, with their single capital and monarch, the Holy Roman Empire had numerous kings, courts and centers of patronage. The result was a remarkably wide distribution of educational and cultural institutions, one that is still observable in the former imperial lands. It was probably also no coincidence that both the printing press and Europe's first mail service were launched within the fragmented empire or that the imperial territories experienced higher levels of economic growth than regions of Europe with more centralized control.


. . .


Though far from perfect, the empire lasted for as long as it did because it strove to provide the two things most hoped for in a state: liberty and security.



For the full review, see:

MARK MOLESKY. "The Strength of a Weak State; In the Holy Roman Empire, individual rulers and states were largely left to govern as they wished." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 20, 2016.)


The book under review, is:

Wilson, Peter H. Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2016.






June 9, 2016

Feds Spend Over $500 Million to Aid Barges Shipping Coal



(p. B1) CHARLEROI, Pa.--A few years ago, coal barges lined up 20 or 30 deep, waiting their turn for a towboat to shuttle them through the locks near this town along the Monongahela River.

These days it is the towboats that often sit idle. Cheap natural gas, stricter power-plant-emissions rules and a weak steel market have gutted coal demand, and with it traffic on the rivers that have served as the industry's commercial arteries for over a century.

Nevertheless, river infrastructure is about to be flooded with federal cash. In December, Congress authorized $405 million to improve river locks and dams over the next fiscal year, the most since 2008.

The money follows a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort spearheaded by the Waterways Council Inc., which represents an array of companies including coal producer Murray Energy Corp., utility FirstEnergy Corp., agricultural-commodities trader Cargill Inc. and Marathon Petroleum Corp.


. . .


"It's kind of ironic--we're spending even more to update and modernize this system when the value and volume of the commodities is diminishing, and coal is something that we as a country are moving away from," said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a conservative-leaning advocacy group that analyzes infrastructure spending.



For the full story, see:

ROBBIE WHELAN. "Barges Get a Boost, Even as Demand Sinks." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 4, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 2, 2016, and has the title "U.S. Opens Spigot for Lock-and-Dam Fixes, Even as Coal Traffic Dwindles.")






June 8, 2016

A Rooftop Farm Is "a Foolish Endeavor" Due to High Costs and Government Regulations



(p. B1) BrightFarms Inc. last year pulled the plug on a planned greenhouse in Washington, D.C., 10 months into the process of getting permits, and earlier exited an effort to develop a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, New York. FarmedHere LLC, which operates a farm in a former box factory outside Chicago, shut down for six months last August to revamp its strategy.

Building farms on city rooftops is "a foolish endeavor" because of the higher costs and the additional time for permitting, said Paul Lightfoot, chief executive of BrightFarms.



For the full story, see:

Ruth Simon. "Farming Startups Have Tough Row to Hoe." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 14, 2016): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 13, 2016, and has the title "Farming Gets High Tech in Bid to Offer Locally Grown Produce.")






May 30, 2016

Contrary to Earlier White House Denials, Obama Admits to Banishing Bust of Winston Churchill



(p. A7) HANOVER, Germany -- It has been, perhaps, one of the most enduring mysteries of President Obama's tenure: What really happened to the bust of Winston Churchill that was once displayed in the Oval Office?


. . .


The conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, the onetime Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a current Republican presidential candidate, are among those who have chastised Mr. Obama over the years for returning the bust to the British.


. . .


Dan Pfeiffer, the president's communications director at the time, blasted Mr. Krauthammer, calling his charge about the disappearing bust "100 percent false" and saying that "news outlets have debunked this claim time and again."


. . .


But late last week, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, renewed the charge, writing in a British tabloid that the Oval Office bust had been "banished" . . .

Countering such charges is typically left to a president's aides. But asked at a news conference Friday about the mayor's comments, Mr. Obama seemed to relish the chance to set everyone straight, once and for all, about the fate of the Churchill bust.


. . .


. . . Mr. Obama went on to explain what had happened to the bust lent by Mr. Blair, the one that critics had accused him of summarily sending back to the British. It was, Mr. Obama said, his decision to return that Churchill to his native land, because he wanted to replace it with a bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


. . .


That appears to contradict the longstanding denials by White House officials, including Mr. Pfeiffer, that neither Mr. Obama nor anyone else in his administration had chosen to dispatch Churchill's likeness in favor of someone else's. By Mr. Obama's admission, he made the decision to replace the Churchill bust with one of Dr. King.



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL D. SHEAR. "White House Letter; No Need for Holmes; Obama Sheds Light on a Churchill Mystery." The New York Times (Mon., April 25, 2016): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 24, 2016, and has the title "White House Letter; No Need for Holmes; Obama Sheds Light on a Winston Churchill Mystery.")






May 28, 2016

Feds Encourage Costly, Intrusive, Confusing Title IX Bureaucracies



(p. A1) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In a brightly lit classroom here at Harvard, Mia Karvonides was trying to explain to a group of bemused student leaders the difference between a romantic encounter and "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature," as the university's relatively new code of sexual misconduct defines it.

She tried to leaven the legalistic atmosphere at the town-hall-style meeting with realistic-sounding examples, defying gender stereotypes. Jose and Lisa, chemistry students, are working late at night in the lab, she began, when Lisa comes up from behind and kisses Jose on the neck.

Such a surprise move, she suggested, could be the beginning of a sexual misconduct complaint.


. . .


Ms. Karvonides is Harvard's first Title IX officer, leading a new bureaucracy that oversees how the institution responds to complaints of sexual violence under Title IX, the federal law that governs gender equity in education. She is one of a rapidly growing number of Title IX employees on campuses nationwide, as colleges spend millions to hire law-(p. A3)yers, investigators, case workers, survivor advocates, peer counselors, workshop leaders and other officials to deal with increasing numbers of these complaints.


. . .


The expansion of Title IX bureaucracies -- often at great expense -- is driven in part by pressure from the federal government, which recently put out a series of policy directives on sexual misconduct on campus. More than 200 colleges and universities are under federal investigation for the way they have handled complaints of sexual misconduct, up from 55 two years ago.


. . .


. . . in a report last week, a national association of professors said that the Title IX bureaucracy had started to infringe on academic freedom, by beginning investigations into faculty members' lectures and essays.


. . .


At a minimum, federal rules require colleges to designate one Title IX coordinator, at least part time.

Many colleges have gone far beyond that, at a cost ranging from thousands to millions of dollars.


. . .


At the University of California, Berkeley, officials said, Title IX spending has risen by at least $2 million since 2013, though they declined to give the total.

"Certainly, colleges are spending more related to Title IX than ever in history, both preventatively and responsively," Mr. Sokolow said. He estimated that dealing with an inquiry could cost "six figures," and that responding to a lawsuit "can run into the high six or even seven figures, not counting a settlement or verdict."


. . .


Some campuses have adopted "affirmative consent" rules, in effect a written or unwritten contract, requiring a yes before the first kiss and at every step along the way. Harvard has opted instead for what Ms. Karvonides called a more nuanced standard of "unwelcome conduct."

This has led to criticism by some that the policy is not strong enough, and by others that it could punish behavior as mild as flirting.

"This is ubiquitously on the mind of everyone at Harvard," said Daniel Banks, the undergraduate council vice president, who helped organize the recent town-hall-style meeting on the subject. Many students have concluded that the best solution is not so much compliance as avoidance.

"You either don't date at all," said Daniel Levine, another student leader, "or you're like a married couple."



For the full story, see:

ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS. "In Battling Sexual Misconduct, Colleges Build a Bureaucracy." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 30, 2016): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 29, 2016, and has the title "Colleges Spending Millions to Deal With Sexual Misconduct Complaints.")


The AAUP report expressing concerns about how Title IX bureaucracies violate academic freedom and due process, is:

American Association of University Professors (AAUP). "The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX." Draft Report, March 24, 2016.






May 26, 2016

Tesla Direct Sales Thwarted by Laws that Protect Dealers Instead of Consumers



(p. B3) Tesla Motors Inc. hopes to capture mainstream auto buyers with its Model 3, an electric car it plans to unveil this week at a price about the same as the average gasoline-powered vehicle, but it may need a federal court ruling to succeed.

The Palo Alto, Calif., auto maker's direct-to-consumer sales are prohibited by law in six states that represent about 18% of the U.S. new-car market. Barring a change of heart by those states, Tesla is preparing to make a federal case out of the direct-sales bans.

The auto maker's legal staff has been studying a 2013 federal appeals court ruling in New Orleans that determined St. Joseph Abbey could sell monk-made coffins to customers without having a funeral director's license. The case emerged amid a casket shortage after Hurricane Katrina. The abbey had tried to sell coffins, only to find state laws restricted such sales to those licensed by the Louisiana Board of Funeral Directors.

For now, Tesla is banking on a combination of new legislation, pending dealer applications and other factors to open doors to selling directly in Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Connecticut, Utah and West Virginia. But the company said it is ready to argue in federal court using the coffin case if necessary.

"It is widely accepted that laws that have a protectionist motivation or effect are not proper," Todd Maron, the auto maker's chief counsel, said in an interview. "Tesla is committed to not being foreclosed from operating in the states it desires to operate in, and all options are on the table."


. . .


"There is no legitimate competitive interest in having consumers purchase cars through an independent dealership," Greg Reed, an attorney with Washington D.C.-based Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning law firm, said. He calls Michigan's laws "anti-competitive protectionism."



For the full story, see:

MIKE RAMSEY. "Tesla Weighs Legal Fight." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 29, 2016): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 28, 2016, and has the title "Tesla Weighs New Challenge to State Direct-Sales Bans.")






May 25, 2016

Government: "One Vast Honey Pot with Thousands of Ants Lined Up Around the Rim"



(p. A21) Ms. Tolchin hit on the subject of patronage when Mr. Tolchin, then a reporter in the metropolitan news department of The New York Times, wrote a series of articles on the topic that several publishers urged him to turn into a book. Daunted, he turned to his wife for help.

"The political-science literature had an enormous hole on the subject," she told The Washingtonian in 2011. "It's such a critical part of the political process -- it was wonderful virgin territory."

Their combined efforts -- he provided the reporting, she provided the scholarship -- resulted in "To the Victor...: Political Patronage From the Clubhouse to the White House," published in 1971.

In lively fashion, the book surveyed the history and examined the mechanisms of a system the authors described as "one of the occupational hazards of democracy." They traced its influence, for good and ill, in city halls, statehouses, courthouses and, onward and upward, Congress and the White House.

The picture it painted was often bleak, presenting government at all levels as "one vast honey pot with thousands of ants lined up around the rim to get at the sweetener inside," according to a review in The Times.

It was a rich subject to which the authors returned in "Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism From the Clubhouse to the White House ... and Beyond," published in 2011. Patronage is "the major reason people go into politics," Ms. Tolchin told The Washingtonian."



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Susan Tolchin, Scholar and Author, Is Dead at 75." The New York Times (Fri., May 20, 2016): A21.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 19, 2016, and has the title "Susan Tolchin, Political Scientist Who Foresaw Voter Anger, Dies at 75.")


The two books on government patronage that are mentioned above, are:

Tolchin, Martin, and Susan Tolchin. To the Victor: Political Patronage from the Clubhouse to the White House. New York: Random House, 1971.

Tolchin, Martin, and Susan Tolchin. Pinstripe Patronage: Political Favoritism from the Clubhouse to the White House and Beyond. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011.






May 24, 2016

Trump Threatens Antitrust Action Against Innovative Amazon Entrepreneur Bezos



(p. A11) Donald Trump, an innovator in all things, is now in the process of changing the rules in America with his threat to bring legal action against Amazon on antitrust grounds and, if we hear him correctly, on tax grounds as well.

Mr. Trump couldn't have been clearer about his motivation. He complained about Washington Post reporters calling up and "asking ridiculous questions," "all false stuff," apparently related to Mr. Trump's tax returns, which in defiance of all tradition he has refused to release, as well as Mr. Trump's real-estate dealings.

Mr. Trump says the Post was purchased as "a toy" by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (who bought the paper with his personal funds in 2013). Mr. Trump says the paper now is being used to attack Mr. Trump in order to protect Amazon's alleged tax-dodging practices even though Amazon, after long resistance, has begun in recent years to collect state sales tax.

All this seems to arise because the Post, the dominant newspaper in the nation's capital, has assigned reporters to investigate the business career of the candidate who champions his credibility to be president by referring to his business career.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Donald Trump's Amazon Adventure; Does he really want to be president--or is his attack on entrepreneur Jeff Bezos a cry for help?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 14, 2016): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 13, 2016.)







May 21, 2016

"Liberated People Are Ingenious"



(p. C1) Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income--mere 100% betterments in the human condition--had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan's income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.


. . .


(p. C2) Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England's impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?

The answer, in a word, is "liberty." Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther's reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England's turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To use another big concept, what came--slowly, imperfectly--was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled "French" in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, "Scottish," in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice."



For the full commentary, see:


DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY. "How the West (and the Rest) Got Rich; The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has one primary source: the liberation of ordinary people to pursue their dreams of economic betterment." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 21, 2016): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2016.)


McCloskey's commentary is based on her "bourgeois" trilogy, the final volume of which is:

McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Transformed the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.






May 12, 2016

Some Entrepreneurs Support Big Government, Except When They Are the Ones Regulated



(p. A11) In October [2015], author Steven Hill will publish a book called "Raw Deal: How the 'Uber Economy' and Naked Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers." At the political conventions next summer, which party's attendees will be most likely to have read that book?

The ironies run deep. The Uber driver who ferried Jeb Bush around San Francisco said the former Florida governor was a nice chap but added that he still planned to vote for Mrs. Clinton--the candidate who regards the innovations that has led to the creation of his job as a problem that government needs to solve.

But is Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick any different? Even as he struggles with regulators taking aim at his business model, Mr. Kalanick has spoken up in favor of ObamaCare. During a visit to New York last November, he enthused that ObamaCare was "huge" for companies like his, on the grounds that the individual market has democratized benefits such as health care.

That's true insofar as it means he doesn't have to provide it for his drivers. But the reality is that ObamaCare is to health what taxi commissions are to transportation. And if Uber's co-founder can't see the difference, maybe he deserves the Bill de Blasios and Hillary Clintons coming after him.



For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM MCGURN. "MAIN STREET; Uber Crashes the Democratic Party; The ride-share app is bringing out the inner Elizabeth Warren." The New York Times (Tues., July 21, 2015): A11.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 20, 2015.)






May 9, 2016

"Progressive" Eugenicists Attacked Free Enterprise




At the APEE meetings in early April, I heard a lecture by Jayme Lemke in which she praised a promising-sounding book by Thomas Leonard. I looked the book up on Amazon and found that it describes how many of the "progressives" who advocated increasing government control of the economy, were also among the advocates of the now-discredited eugenics movement.

The book is now on my "to-read" list and I will report more when it hits the top of the list (say, in about 2020 ;).



The book praised by Jayme, is:

Leonard, Thomas C. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.






May 6, 2016

Indian Government Scientists Fight Global Warming by Reducing Cow Belches



(p. A10) Let no one say that India isn't doing its bit to fight global climate change: Government scientists are working hard to reduce carbon emissions by making cows less flatulent.

Consider the numbers: India is home to more than 280 million cows, and 200 million more ruminant animals like sheep, goats, yaks and buffalo. According to an analysis of satellite data from the country's space program, all those digestive tracts send 13 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year -- and pound for pound, methane traps 25 times as much heat as carbon dioxide does.


. . .


Scientists at the Cow Research Institute in Mathura, around 100 miles south of New Delhi, are tinkering with cattle feed, seeking a formula that will create less gas for the cows to belch out. (That is how most of it is released, by the way; scientists say much less comes from farting.)

But a team of researchers in the southern state of Kerala is working on a long-term answer.


. . .


. . . dwarf animals, which are about one-quarter the weight of crossbred cows, produce only one-seventh as much manure and one-tenth as much methane.



For the full story, see:

ELLEN BARRY. "What in the World; Cows: India's Reply to Global Warming." The New York Times (Thurs., MAY 5, 2016): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 3, 2016, and has the title "What in the World; India's Answer to Global Warming; Cows That Belch Less.")






May 5, 2016

Forrest McDonald Defended Founders and Entrepreneurs




Forrest McDonald wrote one of the first detailed accounts of the life of Samuel Insull, an entrepreneur who helped to develop electric utility systems in the United States, and who was persecuted by the FDR administration.



(p. 20) Forrest McDonald, a presidential and constitutional scholar who challenged liberal shibboleths about early American history and lionized the founding fathers as uniquely intellectual, died on Tuesday [January 19, 2016] in Tuscaloosa, Ala.


. . .


As a Pulitzer Prize finalist in history and a professor at the University of Alabama, Dr. McDonald declared himself an ideological conservative and an opponent of intrusive government. ("I'd move the winter capital to North Dakota and outlaw air-conditioning in the District of Columbia," he once said.) But he refused to be pigeonholed either as a libertarian or, despite his Southern agrarian roots, as a Jeffersonian.


. . .


In "Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution" (1985), which was one of three finalists for the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in history, he pronounced the founding fathers as singularly qualified to draft the framework of federalism. He reiterated that point when he delivered the National Endowment for the Humanities' Jefferson Lecture in Washington in 1987.

"To put it bluntly," Dr. McDonald said then, "it would be impossible in America today to assemble a group of people with anything near the combined experience, learning and wisdom that the 55 authors of the Constitution took with them to Philadelphia in the summer of 1787."


. . .


Dr. McDonald wrote more than a dozen books, including biographies of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-Span's "Booknotes" in 1994, Dr. McDonald revealed that he typically wrote in longhand on a yellow legal pad and in the nude. ("We've got wonderful isolation," he said, "and it's warm most of the year in Alabama, and why wear clothes?")



For the full obituary, see:

SAM ROBERTS. "Forrest McDonald, 89, Critic of Liberal Views of History." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 24, 2016): 20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 22, 2016, and has the title "Forrest McDonald, Historian Who Punctured Liberal Notions, Dies at 89.")


The McDonald book mentioned by me way above, is:

McDonald, Forrest. Insull. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.






April 28, 2016

How Health Insurance Slows Medical Innovation



(p. A8) A recent study led by Wendell Evans at the University of Sydney supports growing evidence that early tooth decay, before a cavity forms, can often be arrested and reversed with simple treatments that restore minerals in the teeth, rather than the more typical drill-and-fill approach.

The randomized, controlled trial followed 19 dental practices in Australia for three years, then researchers checked up on the patients again four years later. The result: After seven years, patients receiving remineralization treatment needed on average 30% fewer fillings.


. . .


There is a substantial body of research supporting remineralization as a treatment for early tooth decay, and little opposition in the dental profession, says Margherita Fontana, a professor of cariology at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Tradition, however, has been an obstacle to widespread use of the treatment. "For older generations [of dentists], it just feels wrong to leave decay and not remove it," Dr. Fontana says. "That's how they were trained."

Reimbursement is another obstacle. Insurance typically covers application of fluoride varnish in children, but not adults. The cost ranges from $25 to $55, according to the American Dental Association's Health Policy Institute. Other preventive treatments also generally aren't covered.



For the full story, see:

DANA WECHSLER LINDEN. "Simple Dental Treatments Can Help Reverse Decay." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 12, 2016): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2016, and has the title "Simple Dental Treatments May Reverse Decay.")






April 27, 2016

Former Goldman Sachs Banker Predicts "Green Bubble"



(p. R5) Sustainable investing and clean energy are hot topics, but one Danish financier is warning that people might be getting carried away.

Per Wimmer, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the founder of Wimmer Financial LLP, a London-based corporate-advisory firm specializing in natural resources, foresees a "green bubble" that could have similar consequences to the dot-com and housing bubbles.


. . .


WSJ: What are the main issues behind the so-called bubble you see forming in green energy?

MR. WIMMER: Very simply put, for green energy to be truly sustainable, it must be commercially sustainable. The reality today is that when it comes to politicians allocating subsidies, it seems like they are being allocated almost religiously across the board. As long as there is a green element, then [politicians believe] it is fine and deserves funding from tax dollars. I argue that is a little unsophisticated.

We have got to look at supporting and subsidizing the technologies that stand a chance at becoming commercially independent from subsidies within a reasonable time period--about seven to 10 years.


. . .


WSJ: In your book "The Green Bubble," you highlight infrastructure problems involved in large-scale green-energy projects in the U.S. Tell us about those.

MR. WIMMER: There are a number of challenges that green energy faces, and one [involves] infrastructure, meaning that if you were to target, say, 20% green energy including wind farms in the U.S., you would have to build an awful lot of transmission grid, which is quite expensive.

Somebody is going to have to pay for it--the taxpayer, perhaps?



For the full interview, see:

TANZEEL AKHTAR. "Renewable Energy Is a 'Bubble,' Says Financier." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 11, 2016): R5.

(Note: bold and italics, in original; ellipses, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 12 [sic], 2016,)


The book mentioned in the interview, is:

Wimmer, Per. The Green Bubble: Our Future Energy Needs and Why Alternative Energy Is Not the Answer. London, UK: Lid Publishing, 2015.






April 26, 2016

Feds' Regulatory Delay Supports High-Fare Trans-Atlantic Airline Oligopoly



(p. B1) In the past three years, Norwegian, one of Europe's biggest low-cost airlines, has quietly established a beachhead in the trans-Atlantic market by offering low-fare, no-frills service on long-haul flights.

Thanks to a small but expanding fleet of fuel-efficient planes combined with deeply discounted ticket prices, Norwegian Air Shuttle has attracted a growing number of leisure travelers looking for cheap flights.

It is all part of the vision of Norwegian's outspoken chief executive, Bjorn Kjos, who is determined to force the same kind of low-fare competition on international routes that has been so successful in domestic markets for airlines like Southwest and Spirit, and Ryanair in Europe.


. . .


But Norwegian's expansion has been stymied by vigorous opposition. Legacy airlines on both sides of the Atlantic see a low-cost competitor on their cash-cow routes as a major threat to their long-term profitability. Labor unions object to Norwegian's plans to hire flight crew from Thailand, a practice they have repeatedly described as "labor dumping."

The airline has also faced lengthy delays in receiving regulatory approvals in the United States.


. . .


(p. B4) A spokeswoman for the Transportation Department did not give any reasons for the delays that have left Norwegian in bureaucratic limbo in the United States. The airline's first request was filed more than two years ago. . . .

The long delay in approving the application "does not reflect well on the political independence of the Department of Transportation with respect to the free trade principles behind the E.U.-U.S. open skies agreement," according to a report by analysts at the CAPA Center for Aviation. "The calculated inaction only serves to restrict competition and to deny consumer choice."


. . .


"There is still a lot to do," Mr. Kjos said. "We have to think about how to fly more people more cheaply. There are hundreds of millions of people that don't have access to cheap flights."



For the full story, see:

JAD MOUAWAD. "Norwegian Air Flies in the Face of the Trans-Atlantic Establishment." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 23, 2016): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 22, 2016.)






April 24, 2016

Government Regulations Protect Health-Care Incumbents Against Innovation



(p. A15) As people age, the main valve controlling the flow of blood out of the heart can narrow, causing heart failure, and sometimes death. In the past the only way to repair the damage was risky open-heart surgery. But an ingenious medical device now allows the heart to be repaired using a catheter that introduces a replacement valve through a main artery in the leg--another miracle of modern medicine.

In 2011, more than four years after they hit the European market, the Food and Drug Administration finally approved aortic heart valves for use in the U.S. The total cost of the new procedure is about the same as open-heart surgery. But government bureaucrats feared that the new replacement valve's lower risks and easier administration would mean that many more elderly patients would seek to fix their failing heart valves, pushing up Medicare's total spending. To limit their use, regulators created coverage rules based on a set of strained medical criteria. It was a budget prerogative masquerading as clinical reasoning.

This episode is a vivid example of the government's increasing practice to regulate medicine and ration care. A series of landmark studies published earlier this month in the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, and presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Chicago, makes clear how contrived the original Medicare guidelines were.

For a patient to be qualified for the aortic valve device, Medicare required two cardiac surgeons to certify first that a patient wasn't a candidate for the open-heart repair. Also mandated was the presence of a cardiothoracic surgeon and an interventional cardiologist in the operating room during the procedure.



For the full commentary, see:

SCOTT GOTTLIEB. "Warning: Medicare May Be Bad for Your Heart; Aortic valve replacements are superior to open-heart surgery and less risky. So why are they hard to get?" The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 12, 2016): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 11, 2016.)


The Lancet article mentioned above, is:

Thourani, Vinod H., Susheel Kodali, Raj R. Makkar, Howard C. Herrmann, Mathew Williams, Vasilis Babaliaros, Richard Smalling, Scott Lim, S. Chris Malaisrie, Samir Kapadia, Wilson Y. Szeto, Kevin L. Greason, Dean Kereiakes, Gorav Ailawadi, Brian K. Whisenant, Chandan Devireddy, Jonathon Leipsic, Rebecca T. Hahn, Philippe Pibarot, Neil J. Weissman, Wael A. Jaber, David J. Cohen, Rakesh Suri, E. Murat Tuzcu, Lars G. Svensson, John G. Webb, Jeffrey W. Moses, Michael J. Mack, D. Craig Miller, Craig R. Smith, Maria C. Alu, Rupa Parvataneni, Ralph B. D'Agostino, Jr., and Martin B. Leon. "Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Versus Surgical Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients: A Propensity Score Analysis." The Lancet (April 3, 2016), DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30073-3.


The New England Journal of Medicine article mentioned above, is:

Leon, Martin B., Craig R. Smith, Michael J. Mack, Raj R. Makkar, Lars G. Svensson, Susheel K. Kodali, Vinod H. Thourani, E. Murat Tuzcu, D. Craig Miller, Howard C. Herrmann, Darshan Doshi, David J. Cohen, Augusto D. Pichard, Samir Kapadia, Todd Dewey, Vasilis Babaliaros, Wilson Y. Szeto, Mathew R. Williams, Dean Kereiakes, Alan Zajarias, Kevin L. Greason, Brian K. Whisenant, Robert W. Hodson, Jeffrey W. Moses, Alfredo Trento, David L. Brown, William F. Fearon, Philippe Pibarot, Rebecca T. Hahn, Wael A. Jaber, William N. Anderson, Maria C. Alu, and John G. Webb. "Transcatheter or Surgical Aortic-Valve Replacement in Intermediate-Risk Patients." New England Journal of Medicine (April 2, 2016), DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1514616.







April 23, 2016

Welfare System Hurts Those It Is Intended to Help




I saw part of a C-SPAN 2 presentation, originally broadcast on 3/28/16, of a new book by Harvey and Conyers that appears to argue persuasively that the current American welfare system makes it harder for welfare recipients to transition to employment. It further argues that work is an important part of the good life, usually an important contributor to happiness. As a result, the current welfare system hurts the very people that it is intended to help.


The book discussed above, is:

Harvey, Phil, and Lisa Conyers. The Human Cost of Welfare: How the System Hurts the People It's Supposed to Help. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016.






April 22, 2016

Today Is 16th Anniversary of Our Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2016) is the 16th anniversary of the day when the Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.






April 18, 2016

Government Limits Hospital Competition



(p. A9) When the 124-bed StoneSprings Hospital Center opened in December, it became the first new hospital in Loudoun County, Va., in more than a century. That's more remarkable than it might at first seem: In the past two decades, Loudoun County, which abuts the Potomac River and includes growing Washington suburbs, has tripled in population. Yet not a single new hospital had opened. Why? One big reason is that StoneSprings had to fight through years of regulatory reviews and court challenges before laying the first brick.

County officials and the Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA, began talking about building a new hospital in 2001. But Virginia is one of the 36 states with a "certificate of need" law, which requires health-care providers to obtain a state license before opening a new facility. Getting a license is supposed to take about nine months, according to the state Health Department. HCA first submitted an application in July 2002 but didn't win approval for a new facility until early 2004.

Then the plan faced a series of legal challenges from the Inova Health System, an entrenched, multibillion-dollar competitor. Over decades Inova has become the dominant player in the Virginia suburbs.


. . .


It's not hard to understand why Inova might fight so hard to keep out challengers: There's a direct correlation between prices and competition. In a paper released in December, economists with Yale, Carnegie Mellon and the London School of Economics evaluated claims data from Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealth. They found that rates were 15.3% higher, on average, in areas with one hospital, compared with those serviced by four or more. In markets with a two-hospital duopoly, prices were 6.4% higher. Where only three hospitals compete they were 4.8% higher.

Research by Chris Koopman of the free-market Mercatus Center suggests that Virginia could have 10,000 more hospital beds and 40 more hospitals offering MRIs if the certificate of need restrictions did not exist. "In many instances, they create a quasi-monopoly," he says. "In essence, it's a government guarantee that no one will compete with you, until you get notice and an opportunity to challenge that person's entry into that market."



For the full commentary, see:

ERIC BOEHM. "CROSS COUNTRY; For Hospital Chains, Competition Is a Bitter Pill; Building a new medical center in Virginia can take a decade, because state laws favor entrenched players." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 30, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 29, 2016.)


The academic paper mentioned above that relates hospital charges to the number of hospitals in the area, is:

Cooper, Zack, Stuart V. Craig, Martin Gaynor, and John Van Reenen. "The Price Ain't Right? Hospital Prices and Health Spending on the Privately Insured." NBER Working Paper # 21815. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., 2015.


Chris Koopman's research, mentioned above, can be found in:

Koopman, Christopher, and Thomas Stratmann. "Certificate-of-Need Laws: Implications for Virginia." In Mercatus on Policy: Mercatus Center, George Mason University, 2015.






April 10, 2016

Zimbabwe Government Would Rather Starve Citizens than Allow GMO Food



(p. A15) Chikombedzi, Zimbabwe

My country's government would rather see people starve than let them eat genetically modified food.

That's the only conclusion to draw from the announcement in February that Zimbabwe will reject any food aid that includes a genetically-modified-organism ingredient--such as grains, corn and other crops made more vigorous or fruitful through GMO breeding. The ban comes just as Zimbabweans are suffering from our worst drought in two decades and up to three million people need emergency relief.

"The position of the government is very clear," said Joseph Made, the minister of agriculture. "We do not accept GMO as we are protecting the environment from the grain point of view."

In other words, my country--which can't feed itself--will refuse what millions around the world eat safely every day in their breakfasts, lunches and dinners as a conventional source of calories. It doesn't matter whether the aid arrives as food for people or feed for animals. Our customs inspectors will make sure that no food with GMOs reaches a single hungry mouth.



For the full commentary, see:

NYASHA MUDUKUTI. "We May Starve, but at Least We'll Be GMO-Free; Unlike the Europeans we copied, Zimbabwe can't afford such an unscientific ideological luxury." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 11, 2016): A15.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 10, 2016.)






April 9, 2016

"China Has Blindly Constructed So Many Homes and Wasted So Much Resources"



(p. C6) In November [2015], President Xi Jinping told a meeting of officials that China must resolve the housing inventory situation and ensure the health of the property sector.

Since then, Meishan, a city of 3.5 million people, has become a showcase for efforts to lure rural dwellers to cities to buy homes as part of so-called destocking efforts to reduce the glut.


. . .


. . ., some analysts and local government officials warn the rural strategy isn't a cure-all. Banks typically hesitate to extend mortgages to rural migrants, whose homestead land doesn't typically qualify as collateral.

"Now with bad loans growing in China, banks are reluctant to lend to farmers. Farmers don't have assets and lending to them is risky," said Wang Fei, an official at Hubei Province's department of housing and urban-rural development.


. . .


Housing inventory in the city rose to 22.5 months last April, an alarmingly high level compared with a healthier rate of 12 months or lower. There were also cases where cash-strapped property firms defaulted on their loans, leaving behind unfinished apartments.

Buyers of Purple Cloud Golden World housing project are now stranded after Yang Jinhao, who controlled Sichuan Xinrui Property Development, got involved in a dispute with a shadow lender early last year.

"China has blindly constructed so many homes and wasted so much resources. I can't stand it!" said Yu Jianmin, a 70-year-old caretaker of the stalled project who said the construction firm he works for is still awaiting payment from Mr. Yang. Mr. Yang couldn't be reached.



For the full story, see:

ESTHER FUNG. "Discounts Help China Ease Home Glut." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 2, 2016): C6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 1, 2016, and has the title "China Sweetens Home-Ownership Deals for Rural Dwellers.")






April 2, 2016

Electricity from Cow Manure Failing Despite Administration Support



(p. B1) Wisconsin dairy farmer Art Thelen was full of optimism a decade ago when he joined a growing group of U.S. farmers investing in technology that turns livestock manure into electricity.

The systems promised to curb air pollution from agriculture, generate extra revenue and--in no small feat--curtail odors that waft for miles in much of farm country.

"It was a great idea, and when it worked well, it was wonderful," Mr. Thelen said.

Now the 61-year-old is among a group of farmers who recently have shut down their manure-to-energy systems--known as anaerobic digesters--or scrapped plans to build them because of the prolonged slump in natural-gas prices and higher-than-expected maintenance costs that made the systems less economical.



For the full story, see:

DAVID KESMODEL. "Energy Prices Steer Farmers Away From Manure Power." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Feb. 19, 2016): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 18, 2016, and has the title "F.D.A. Regulator, Widowed by Cancer, Helps Speed Drug Approval.")






April 1, 2016

Obama Says Stimulus Worked at Battery Plant Where CEO Remains "Frustrated" at Losses



(p. A12) JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- President Obama on Friday [February 26, 2016] used a visit to a high-technology battery plant in Florida to argue that the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies he signed into law during his first days in office had bolstered the economy, transformed the nation's energy sector, and positioned the United States for a strong rebound.

But Mr. Obama's trip to the Saft America factory here, opened in 2011 with a $95.5 million investment from the Department of Energy, also highlighted the challenges that have tempered the economic recovery and the difficulty that the president has had in claiming credit for it.


. . .


After touring the facility and watching a large robot named Wall-E assembling one of the batteries, the president called the factory "tangible evidence" that his stimulus package had worked and said that the economy was better off for it. "We took an empty swamp and turned it into an engine of innovation," he said.

That engine, though, has sputtered as it has struggled to start here. Saft, based in Paris, announced last week that it was reducing the factory's value because it had still not gained profitability in the competitive lithium-ion battery market. Saying he was "frustrated," the company's chief executive projected the plant might not be profitable for a few more years.



For the full story, see:

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS. "Obama Praises Stimulus at Battery Plant." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 27, 2016): A12.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2016, and has the title "Obama Points to Florida Factory as Evidence That Stimulus Worked.")






March 31, 2016

After Wife's Cancer, F.D.A. Regulator Cuts Decision Time from Six to Five Months (Beyond Years Spent Testing)



(p. 1) BETHESDA, Md. -- Mary Pazdur had exhausted the usual drugs for ovarian cancer, and with her tumors growing and her condition deteriorating, her last hope seemed to be an experimental compound that had yet to be approved by federal regulators.

So she appealed to the Food and Drug Administration, whose oncology chief for the last 16 years, Dr. Richard Pazdur, has been a man denounced by many cancer patient advocates as a slow, obstructionist bureaucrat.

He was also Mary's husband.

In her struggle with cancer and ultimately her death in November, Ms. Pazdur had a part, her husband and a number of cancer specialists now say, in a profound change at the F.D.A.: a speeding up of the drug approval process. Ms. Pazdur's three-year battle with cancer was a factor, they say, in Dr. Pazdur's willingness to swiftly approve risky new treatments and passion to fight the disease that patient advocates thought he lacked.


. . .


(p. 13) Certainly there has been a change at the powerful agency. Since Ms. Pazdur learned she had ovarian cancer in 2012, approvals for drugs have been faster than at any time in the F.D.A.'s modern history. Although companies go through a yearslong discovery and testing process with new drugs before filing a formal application with the F.D.A., the average decision time on drugs by Dr. Pazdur's oncology group has come down to five months from six months. That is a major acceleration in a pharmaceutical industry where every month's delay can mean thousands of lives lost and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars in sales that, given limited patent times, can never be recovered.

When asked specifically how his wife's illness had changed his work at the F.D.A., Dr. Pazdur said he was intent on making decisions more quickly.

"I have a much greater sense of urgency these days," Dr. Pazdur, 63, said in an interview. "I have been on a jihad to streamline the review process and get things out the door faster. I have evolved from regulator to regulator-advocate."



For the full story, see:

GARDINER HARRIS. "A Wife's Cancer Prods the F.D.A." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 3, 2016): 1 & 13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 2, 2016, and has the title "F.D.A. Regulator, Widowed by Cancer, Helps Speed Drug Approval.")






March 25, 2016

Ethanol Adds Carbon Dioxide to Atmosphere



(p. A9) Before long, it may be politically safe to take a wise step and eliminate the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).


. . .


Today, ethanol's downsides have become clear.

First, it increases the cost of driving. Current ethanol blends provide fewer miles per gallon, so drivers pay more to travel the same distance. According to the Institute for Energy Research, American drivers have paid an additional $83 billion since 2007 because of the RFS.

Second, ethanol adds more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than it eliminates by replacing fossil fuels. The Environmental Working Group says that "corn ethanol is an environmental disaster." The group explains: "The mandate to blend ethanol into gasoline has driven farmers to plow up land to plant corn--40 percent of the corn now grown in the U.S. is used to make ethanol. When farmers plow up grasslands and wetlands to grow corn, they release the carbon stored in the soil, contributing to climate-warming carbon emissions." And then there is the carbon emitted in harvesting, transporting and processing the corn into ethanol.



For the full commentary, see:

MERRILL MATTHEWS. "The Corn-Fed Albatross Called Ethanol." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Jan. 6, 2016): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 5, 2016.)







March 22, 2016

Greek Corruption, Fraud, Evasion and Public Worker Job Security



(p. A11) Mr. Angelos, a former Journal correspondent, travels through Greece as a journalist first, and a native son second, to conduct a mostly unpleasant archaeology. By way of background, however, he first tackles the pervasive issues of disability and pension fraud, rampant tax evasion, and public worker job protections. These are the very problems that Greece's European lenders sought to remedy through a series of supposedly helpful but also punitive and ineptly administered reforms. Mr. Angelos dismantles the facile narrative accepted by many in the eurozone, in which hardworking Germans must clean up a mess made by their lazy and "Oriental" southern neighbors. But he is equally tenacious when it comes to exposing the misconduct of Greek politicians, not to mention the country's corrupt system of career tenure and its, well, truly Byzantine bureaucracy.

Mr. Angelos's book allows us to see how these problems play out, sometimes farcically, in the lives of actual people. There's a cranky grandmother on the island of Zakynthos who receives generous blindness benefits even though she can see perfectly well. There's the arrogant former prime minister who accepted millions of euros in bribes to buy useless submarines on behalf of the Greek government.


. . .


. . . the book's single most flattering portrait is of Yiannis Boutaris, the tattooed, wine-making, freethinking mayor of Thessaloniki, who courts Turkish tourism, refuses to kowtow to the church and publicly acknowledges the crucial role of Jews in the city's history.



For the full review, see:


CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN. "BOOKSHELF; How Greece Got to 'No'; On the island of Zakynthos, a grandmother receives generous blindness benefits--even though she can see perfectly well."The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 7, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 6, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Angelos, James. The Full Catastrophe: Travels among the New Greek Ruins. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015.






March 21, 2016

Ugly, Invasive, Depressing Federal LEDs Disrupt Sleep and Increase Risk of Breast Cancer



(p. B1) In my repellently contented middle age, I don't seek blue light. Like most sane people, I spurn restaurants whose lighting glares. I recoil from mirrors under fluorescent tubes. I switch on an overhead only to track down a water bug while wielding a flip-flop. Yet each evening from March onward, in the Brooklyn neighborhood where I live part of the year, it seems as if the overhead is always on.

Along with other parts of South Brooklyn, Windsor Terrace is an early recipient of the Department of Transportation's new light-emitting diode streetlights. New Yorkers who have not yet been introduced to these lights: We are living in your future.

Our new street "lamps" -- too cozy a word for the icy arrays now screaming through our windows -- are meant to be installed across all five boroughs by 2017. Indeed, any resident of an American municipality that has money problems (and what city doesn't?) should take heed.

In interviews with the media, my fellow experimental subjects have compared the nighttime environment under the new streetlights to a film set, a prison yard, "a strip mall in outer space" and "the mother ship coming in for a landing" in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Although going half-blind at 58, I can read by the beam that the new lamp blasts into our front room without tapping our own Con Ed service. Once the LEDs went in, our next-door neighbor began walking her dog at night in sunglasses.

Medical research has firmly established that blue-spectrum LED light can disrupt sleep patterns. This is the same illumination that radiates in far smaller doses from smartphone and computer screens, to which we're advised to avoid exposure for at least an hour before bed, because it can suppress the production of melatonin. . . .

While the same light has also been associated with increased risk of breast cancer and mood disorders, in all honesty my biggest beef with LEDs has nothing to do with health issues. These lights are ugly. They're invasive. They're depressing. New York deserves better.


. . .


Even fiscally and environmentally conscientious California has compromised on this point. Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco have all opted for yellow-rich LEDs. These cities have willingly made the modest 10-15 percent sacrifice in efficiency for an ambience that more closely embodies what Germans call Gemütlichkeit and Danes call hygge: an atmosphere of hospitality, homeyness, intimacy and well-being.


. . .


As currently conceived, the D.O.T.'s streetlight plan amounts to mass civic vandalism. If my focus on aesthetics makes this issue sound trivial, the sensory experience of daily life is not a frivolous matter. Even in junior high school, I understood that lighting isn't only about what you see, but how you feel.



For the full commentary, see:

LIONEL SHRIVER. "Ruining That Moody Urban Glow." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 18, 2015): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 17, 2015.)






March 19, 2016

Regulatory Costs Slow Development of Lifesaving Antibiotics



(p. A13) In the 1980s, 29 new antibiotics were approved; another 23 were approved during the 1990s. But only nine new drugs made it to market from 2000-10, and a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows few drugs in development for the most serious microbial threats such as multidrug resistant Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


. . .


To revitalize the search for lifesaving antibiotics, the Food and Drug Administration needs a new way to approve them. Legislation proposed in both the House and the Senate would create a new regulatory pathway that would enable the FDA to approve drugs specifically for patients whose serious infections can't be treated with existing drugs, and for whom there are few or no other treatment options.

For these patients, the FDA would be empowered to approve new drugs based on fewer or smaller clinical studies than for antibiotics intended for broader use. The goal is to reduce the cost of development and accelerate the availability of new drugs for a targeted public health need.



For the full commentary, see:

JONATHAN LEFF And ALLAN COUKELL. "How to End the Regulatory Slowdown for New Antibiotics; With the threat from lethal drug-resistant bacteria growing, the FDA needs to speed up its approval process." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 3, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 2, 2015.)






March 17, 2016

Americans Should Not Be Required to Join a Private Organization Against Their Will



(p. A15) I am one of 10 California teachers suing to end compulsory union dues in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which will be heard by the Supreme Court Jan. 11. Our request is simple: Strike down laws in 23 states that require workers who decline to join a union to pay fees anyway. In our view, paying fees to a union should not be a prerequisite for teaching in a public school. No one in the U.S. should be forced to give money to a private organization he or she disagrees with fundamentally. Teachers deserve a choice.


. . .


I was a member of the union for years and even served as a union representative. But the union never played an important role in my school. When most teachers sought guidance, they wanted help in the classroom and on how to excel at teaching. The union never offered this pedagogic aid.

Instead, the union focused on politics. I remember a phone call I received before a major election from someone in the union. It was a "survey," asking teachers whether they would vote for so-and-so if the election were held tomorrow. I disagreed with every issue and candidate the union was promoting. After that conversation, I thought about what the union represents. Eventually, I realized that my dues--about $1,000 a year--went toward ideas and issues that ran counter to my beliefs.


. . .


A Gallup poll last year found that 82% of the public agrees that "no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will." That's all we're asking.



For the full commentary, see:

HARLAN ELRICH. "Why I'm Fighting My Teachers Union; I don't want to be forced to pay for a political agenda I don't support. Now the Supreme Court will rule." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Jan. 4, 2016): A15.

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 3, 2016.)






March 13, 2016

More Evidence for Stigler's Capture Theory



(p. A15) WASHINGTON -- Marilyn B. Tavenner, the former Obama administration official in charge of the rollout of HealthCare.gov, was chosen on Wednesday to be the top lobbyist for the nation's health insurance industry.

Ms. Tavenner, who stepped down from her federal job in February, will become president and chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans, the trade group whose members include Aetna, Anthem, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

As the new voice for insurers, Ms. Tavenner will lead the industry in a time of tumultuous changes and challenges, including delicate negotiations with Congress over the future of the Affordable Care Act.


. . .


The board of America's Health Insurance Plans unanimously elected Ms. Tavenner at a meeting here on Wednesday, according to Mark B. Ganz, the board chairman, who is also the chief executive of Cambia Health Solutions, based in Portland, Ore.


. . .


Mr. Ganz said that Ms. Tavenner had "the trust and respect of members of Congress from both sides of the aisle."

Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, described the selection in more negative terms. "While millions of Americans are still being hurt by Obamacare's soaring costs and fewer choices," he said, "Ms. Tavenner's appointment shows how the law has created a cozy and profitable relationship for some."



For the full story, see:

ROBERT PEAR. "Head of Obama's Health Care Rollout to Lobby for Insurers." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 15, 2015.)






March 11, 2016

Feds' Dietary Policy Is "an Obstacle to Sensible Change"



(p. A25) BOSTON -- SINCE the publication of the federal government's 1980 Dietary Guidelines, dietary policy has focused on reducing total fat in the American diet -- specifically, to no more than 30 percent of a person's daily calories. This fear of fat has had far-reaching impacts, from consumer preferences to the billions of dollars spent by the military, government-run hospitals and school districts on food. As we argue in a recently published article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 35 years after that policy shift, it's long past time for us to exonerate dietary fat.


. . .


Recent research has established the futility of focusing on low-fat foods. Confirming many other observations, large randomized trials in 2006 and 2013 showed that a low-fat diet had no significant benefits for heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer risks, while a high-fat, Mediterranean-style diet rich in nuts or extra-virgin olive oil -- exceeding 40 percent of calories in total fat -- significantly reduced cardiovascular disease, diabetes and long-term weight gain. Other studies have shown that high-fat diets are similar to, or better than, low-fat diets for short-term weight loss, and that types of foods, rather than fat content, relate to long-term weight gain.


. . .


The limit on total fat is an outdated concept, an obstacle to sensible change that promotes harmful low-fat foods, undermines efforts to limit refined grains and added sugars, and discourages the food industry from developing products higher in healthy fats.



For the full commentary, see:

DARIUSH MOZAFFARIAN and DAVID S. LUDWIG. "Stop Fearing Fat." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 9, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "Why Is the Federal Government Afraid of Fat?")






March 8, 2016

Proletariat Loses Money Investing in Ponzi Scheme Supported by Chinese Communists



(p. B1) HONG KONG -- At every turn in his improbably rapid rise, Ding Ning, 34, went to great efforts to convey the image of strong government backing for his Internet financing business.

There was his company's lavish annual meeting and banquet last year in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, where China's legislature meets and where top government leaders host official functions. Adding a splash of celebrity to the event were Zhou Tao, a nationally famous actress and host on the government's main television broadcaster, and several mid-ranking officials, bureaucrats and lawmakers.

There were the positive profiles in state-controlled media, as well as the company's advertising on official TV. There was the section of his company's website devoted to building Communist Party spirit.

But it all came crashing down in dramatic fashion for Mr. Ding this week, when the police alleged that his financing business, Ezubao, was a $7.6 billion Ponzi scheme and announced 21 arrests, including of Mr. Ding. The company was shut down.


, , ,


(p. B7) In interviews, former staff and investors described the signals of strong state support as one of the keys to Ezubao's rapid rise.

"Many people joined Ezubao because they saw the support from the government and from some government officials," said Feng Zhe, 36, a Beijing resident who worked as a salesman at the company from June of last year until December.

Mr. Feng said a number of his friends and family members invested in Ezubao's products and suffered losses. "Many people bought their products because the government has lent the company credibility," he added.



For the full story, see:

NEIL GOUGH. "Feeling Twice Victimized." The New York Times (Sat., Feb. 6, 2016): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Feb. 5, 2016, and has the title "Ponzi Scheme in China Gained Credibility From State Media.")






March 7, 2016

"Recyclers Around the Country Face Losses"



(p. B1) . . . recycling is a commodities business. The paper, metal, plastic and glass that recyclers collect, sort and sell competes against so-called virgin materials. And right now, many commodities are cheap.

Abundant oil is the latest headache for recyclers. New plastics are made from the byproducts of oil and gas production. So as plentiful fossil fuels saturate global markets, it has become cheaper for the makers of water bottles, yogurt containers and takeout boxes to simply buy new plastics. This, in turn, is dragging down the price of recycled materials, straining every part of the recycling industry.

In Montgomery, Ala., Infinitus Energy opened a $35 million recycling center in 2014. By last October, it was hemorrhaging (p. B5) money and shut down. Montgomery's recyclables are now going to a landfill, and a once booming local business, United Plastic Recycling, filed for bankruptcy last year.


. . .


. . . as recyclers around the country face losses, they are passing their costs along to cities and counties. Increasingly, local governments are receiving nothing at all for their recyclables, or even having to pay companies to accept them.

Last year, the city government in Washington, D.C., paid Waste Management $1.37 million to accept the recyclables it collected from residents.



For the full story, see:

DAVID GELLES. "Losing a Profit Motive: A Skid in Oil Prices Pulls the Recycling Industry Down With It." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 13, 2016): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 12, 2016, and has the title "Skid in Oil Prices Pulls the Recycling Industry Down With It.")






March 6, 2016

In India's Public Education System, Teachers Are Often Truant



Matt Ridley has a chapter in his recent The Evolution of Everything, where he cites evidence the low quality of public education in much of the less-developed world. The quality is so low that many poor parents scrimp to pull together modest funds to send their children to modest private schools where the teachers actually show up.



(p. A1) DEORIA, India -- The young man, having skipped school, was there to plead his case, but Manoj Mishra was having none of it. When the truant offered a letter from a relative of a government minister pleading for leniency, Mr. Mishra grabbed it and, with a frown, tore it in half and dropped it to the floor.

Similar scenes played out repeatedly in Mr. Mishra's fluorescent-lit office recently, as one truant after another appeared before him, trying to explain an absence from school.

But these were not students who had been pulled in for truancy. They were teachers.

Mr. Mishra, a district education officer in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, is fighting one of the biggest obstacles to improving the largest primary school system in the world: absent teachers. His tough punishments and refusal to back down, chronicled in the local newspapers, have turned him into a folk hero. As he walks along the dusty streets of the wheat-farming villages a couple of hours' drive from Nepal, older people touch his feet in a sign of respect. Young women pull out their phones and take selfies by his side.

When Mr. Mishra arrived in Deoria in 2014, 40 percent of the district's teachers were absent on any given day from its 2,700 schools, he said in a recent interview. Nationwide, nearly 24 percent of rural Indian teachers were absent during random visits for a recent study led by Kar-(p. A6)thik Muralidharan at the University of California, San Diego. Teacher absences run as high as 46 percent in some states.


. . .


With the largest population in the world under the age of 35, India is trying to grow by leveraging what is often called the "demographic dividend." To prepare more than 200 million primary school children for jobs in a modern work force, India passed legislation a decade ago that more than doubled education spending, increased teacher salaries and reduced class sizes.

But children's already low performance has fallen. Pratham Education Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts an annual household survey, reported that in 2005 about 60 percent of fifth graders in rural India -- where most people live -- could read at a minimum second-grade level, but that in 2014 less than 50 percent could.

Teacher truancy is among the more prominent causes of that failure, experts say. Teaching jobs pay well and are sometimes obtained through political connections. But those who get them often do not want to travel to the remote areas where many schools are. In areas with weak local governance, not showing up has become the norm, and people feel powerless to complain.



For the full story, see:

GEETA ANAND. "Saturday Profile; Truant India Teachers, Meet Your Nightmare." The New York Times (Sat., FEB. 20, 2016): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 19, 2016, and has the title "The Saturday Profile; Fighting Truancy Among India's Teachers, With a Pistol and a Stick.")


The Ridley book mentioned above, is:

Ridley, Matt. The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge. New York: Harper, 2015.






February 27, 2016

Bernanke's "Astonishing" Admission that He Tried, and Failed, to Save Lehman



(p. B1) It is astonishing to hear a former Federal Reserve chairman acknowledge that he may have misled the public as part of an agreement with another senior government official about one of the most crucial moments in recent financial history -- and that he now questions whether he should have "been more forthcoming." But that is what Ben S. Bernanke says in his new memoir, "The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath."

That crucial moment? The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Mr. Bernanke, in perhaps the most candid explanation of Lehman's 2008 collapse, writes that he and Henry M. Paulson, then the treasury secretary, purposely obfuscated when asked about Lehman's demise early on, allowing a narrative to develop that the government had purposely let the firm fail.

"In congressional testimony immediately after Lehman's collapse, Paulson and I were deliberately quite vague when discussing whether we could have saved Lehman," Mr. Bernanke writes. "But we had agreed in advance to be vague because we were intensely concerned that acknowledging our inability to save Lehman would hurt market confidence and increase pressure on other vulnerable firms."


. . .


(p. B4) He writes that it was simply impossible to save Lehman, pointing to the nearly $200 billion of losses that Lehman's creditors have since suffered. No one has come forward on the record, nor has any contemporaneous document been produced in the past seven years that said the government had found a way to save the company and specifically chose not to do so for political reasons, a point Mr. Bernanke alludes to in his book. "I do not want the notion that Lehman's failure could have been avoided, and that its failure was consequently a policy choice, to become the received wisdom, for the simple reason that it is not true," he writes. "We did everything we could think of to avoid it."



For the full commentary, see:

Sorkin, Andrew Ross. "In Bernanke's Memoir, a Candid Look at Lehman." The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 6, 2015): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 5, 2015, and has the title "In Ben Bernanke's Memoir, a Candid Look at Lehman Brothers' Collapse.")


The Bernanke memoir is:

Bernanke, Ben S. The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2015.






February 24, 2016

Harry Reid Supported Huge Tax Loophole for Wall Street and Casinos



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- In the span of a mere 11 days this month, $1 billion in future federal tax payments vanished.

As congressional leaders were hastily braiding together a tax and spending bill of more than 2,000 pages, lobbyists swooped in to add 54 words that temporarily preserved a loophole sought by the hotel, restaurant and gambling industries, along with billionaire Wall Street investors, that allowed them to put real estate in trusts and avoid taxes.

They won support from the top Senate Democrat, Harry Reid of Nevada, who responded to appeals from executives of casino companies, politically powerful players and huge employers in his state. And the lobbyists even helped draft the crucial language.

The small changes, and the enormous windfall they generated, show the power of connected corporate lobbyists to alter a huge bill that is being put together with little time for lawmakers to consider. Throughout the legislation, there were thousands of other add-ons and hard to decipher tax changes.

Some executives at companies with the most at stake are also big campaign donors. For example, the family of David Bonderman, a co-founder of TPG Capital, has donated $1.2 million since 2014 to the Senate Majority PAC, a campaign fund with close ties to Mr. Reid and other Senate Democrats. TPG Capital has large holdings in Caesars Entertainment and helps run a Texas-based energy company, both of which stand to benefit from the (p. A17) last-minute change.



For the full story, see:

ERIC LIPTON and LIZ MOYER. "Lobbyists Shield a Tax Loophole Worth $1 Billion." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 20, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2015, and has the title "Hospitality and Gambling Interests Delay Closing of Billion-Dollar Tax Loophole." )






February 20, 2016

Mast Brothers Started Their Chocolate Business in Their Apartment



The Masts provide another example showing the possibility of entry into the candy business. The issue is relevant to the claim of those who support sugar quotas, that a decline in sugar prices would not be passed on to consumers in the form of lower candy prices. If there is easy entry into the candy business, then the business is traditionally competitive, and lower costs of production will be passed on to consumers.



(p. A20) In an interview on Sunday [Dec. 20, 2015], Rick Mast, who with his brother began making chocolate in a Brooklyn apartment in 2006, said the allegations were untrue -- for the most part. But on the claim that the Masts were "remelters" at the start, Mr. Mast confirmed the brothers did use industrial chocolate, what is known as couverture, in some of their early creations, before settling on the bean-to-bar process for which they are now known.

"It was such a fun experimental year," Mr. Mast said, adding that the brothers were transparent "to anyone that asked."



For the full story, see:

SARAH MASLIN NIR. "Unwrapping a Chocolatier's Mythos." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 21, 2015): A20 & A22.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2015, and has the title "Unwrapping the Mythos of Mast Brothers Chocolate in Brooklyn.")






February 19, 2016

Federal Government "Deputized" the Ku Klux Klan to Enforce Prohibition Against "Immigrants, Catholics and African-Americans"



(p. C4) . . . in her new book, "The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State" (W. W. Norton), the historian Lisa McGirr tells anything but a nostalgic story. The 18th Amendment, she argues, didn't just give rise to vibrant night life and colorful, Hollywood-ready characters, like Isidor Einstein, New York's celebrated "Prohibition Agent No. 1." More enduringly, and tragically, it also radically expanded the federal government's role in law enforcement, with consequences that can be seen in the crowded prisons of today.

In The New York Times Book Review, James A. Morone writes that the book "could have a major impact on how we read American political history." In a recent email interview, Ms. McGirr, a professor at Harvard, discussed Prohibition's political legacy, the surprising enforcement role of the Ku Klux Klan and the character from her story she'd most like to have a drink with. Below are excerpts from the conversation.


. . .


Q. You argue that Prohibition gave rise to today's "penal state." How did that happen?

A. By birthing a new national obsession with crime, Prohibition -- and the violence that came with it -- pushed the federal government in the direction of policing and surveillance. This was the moment that saw the first national crime commission, the birth of the Uniform Crime Reports, an expanded prison system and the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The F.B.I. also won expanded authority.


. . .


Q. You describe how the Ku Klux Klan helped enforce Prohibition in places like Williamson County, Ill., where federal authorities deputized its members to conduct sometimes deadly raids on distilleries, bars and private homes -- taking particular aim at Italian immigrants. What made the Klan such an ally in the war on alcohol?

A. The Klan sold itself to white Protestant evangelicals as a law enforcement organization, winning droves of recruits with its promise to clamp down on bootlegging. There were plenty of Klansmen who imbibed, but that did not stop them from leveraging the law to target the drinking of the presumed enemies of white Protestant nationalism: immigrants, Catholics and African-Americans.



For the full interview, see:

JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, interviewer. "A Word with Lisa McGirr; Throwing a Cold Splash on Prohibition Nostalgia." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 31, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date DEC. 30, 2015, and has the title "Lisa McGirr Discusses 'The War on Alcohol' and the Legacy of Prohibition.")



The book under discussion, is:

McGirr, Lisa. The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 2015.






February 17, 2016

Irony that Kafka Statue Faces Prague City Government Building



(p. 10) Prague is sprinkled with provocative pieces by Mr. Cerny -- a sculpture of a urinating man (directly in front of the Franz Kafka Museum), a statue of the Czech patron saint King Wenceslas sitting on an upside down dead horse.

His most recent installation in Prague is a sculpture of Kafka's head, set behind the Tesco department store in the center of town. The 36-foot-high head is made up of 42 moving chrome-plated layers, which move both in synchronicity and in opposing directions.

Mr. Cerny's original idea was a fountain featuring three figures: a robot, referencing the Czech-language writer Karel Capek, who coined the term; a Golem, representing the Yiddish language; and Kafka's beetle, referring to the German language. "I wanted to remind people that Prague was once a city of three languages," Mr. Cerny said.

Unfortunately, city water regulations prevented him from placing a fountain there, so instead he came up with the huge reflecting Kafka head, which is based on similar work of his on display in Charlotte, N.C., called "Metalmorphosis."

"I loved the irony that this sculpture faces a city government building in Prague," he said. "Imagine you're angry because the clerks are doing nothing, only saying for you to go to another office and then another office and another until finally you hear, 'This office is closed.' And then you walk out of the building, and there's the huge head of Kafka looking at you, reminding you of the irony."



For the full story, see:

DAVID FARLEY. "Footsteps; Prague; On the Trail of Kafka's Legacy." The New York Times, Travel Section (Sun., DEC. 27, 2015): 10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2015, and has the title "Footsteps; On the Trail of Kafka in Prague.")






February 11, 2016

Those on the Scene Matter for Outcome of Crisis



Amanda Ripley has argued that in many disasters, it is not the well-trained "first responders" who matter most for the outcome, but those who happen to be close to the scene. The problem is that often the "first responders" do not arrive soon enough to save lives or head off the crisis. The story sketched in the passages quoted below, seems to be another example for her thesis.



(p. B1) "We had a one-minute warning," recalled Dr. Lax, a mathematician who was the director of the university's computer center at the time. "The son of a friend ran in" and shouted that the demonstrators were coming for the computer, he said. "It was too late to call the police and fortify."


. . .


Jürgen Moser, a mathematician who was the director of the Courant Institute, the university's prestigious math research center, tried to stop the demonstrators when they swarmed into Warren Weaver Hall. According to a chapter in a biography of Dr. Lax by Reuben Hersh, Dr. Moser, who died in 1999, said he was "pushed and shoved around, and was unable to deter them."


. . .


After a two-day occupation, the protesters decided to end the takeover. But they did not carry out everything they had taken in, as two assistant professors, Frederick P. Greenleaf and Emile C. Chi, discovered when they ran in.

"We thought, 'Let's go take a look before the place gets locked down,' " Dr. Greenleaf recalled last week. "They had knocked the doorknobs off the door so you couldn't open it."

But there was a small window, high up in the door, and they peered in. "We could see there was an improvised toilet paper fuse," he said. "It was slowly burning its way to a bunch of containers, bigger than gallon jugs. They were sitting on the top of the computer."


. . .


Already, he said, smoke was curling under the door.

He and Professor Chi grabbed a fire extinguisher in the stairwell.

The only way to douse the fuse was to aim the fire extinguisher under the door. The only way to know where to aim it was to look through the window in the door, which was too high for whoever was operating the fire extinguisher to look through and aim at the same time.

So one functioned as the eyes for the pair, sighting through the window and directing the other to point the fire extinguisher up or down or left or right. "In a minute, we had managed to spritz the fuse," Dr. Greenleaf said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES BARRON. "Grace Notes; The Mathematicians Who Saved a Kidnapped N.Y.U. Computer." The New York Times (Mon., DEC. 7, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 6, 2015, and has the title "Grace Notes; The Mathematicians Who Ended the Kidnapping of an N.Y.U. Computer.")


The Ripley book mentioned above, is:

Ripley, Amanda. The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why. New York: Crown Publishers, 2008.






February 7, 2016

Communist Chinese One Child Laws Violated Basic Human Rights



On Sat., Jan. 17, 2016 I caught the re-broadcast of an interview with Mei Fong that C-SPAN's web site suggests was first broadcast on Jan. 11, 2016. The interview focused on Fong's book on the history, causes and effects of China's one child laws. Fong is understated in her style, but it is clear that the Chinese communist government violated the rights of many Chinese citizens by forcing them to have unwanted abortions, and to undergo unwanted sterilizations. In many cases, when their "one child" died in a disaster, or of natural causes, parents desperately rushed to try to have the forced sterilization reversed.

Fong's book, that she discussed on C-SPAN, is:

Fong, Mei. One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.






February 5, 2016

Health Spending Rises Faster



HealthCostGrowthGraphs2016-01-21.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A3) WASHINGTON--Growth in U.S. health-care spending is accelerating after reaching historic lows, a pickup largely attributed to the millions of Americans who have gotten health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Spending on all health care increased 5.3% in 2014, according to a report Wednesday [Dec. 2, 2015] from actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That compares with the 2.9% growth in 2013, which marked the lowest rate since the government began tracking the gains 55 years ago.

The return to more robust growth after a slowdown in spending had been anticipated by economists. Still, it is likely to add to criticism that the 2010 health law isn't doing enough to rein in costs. The report, based on 2014 government numbers and published in the journal Health Affairs, follows five consecutive years where average spending growth was less than 4% annually.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE ARMOUR. "Health Spending Picks Up." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Dec. 3, 2015): A3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Dec. 2, 2015, and has the title "Growth in U.S. Health-Care Spending Picks Up.")






February 3, 2016

Unusual Array of Groups Strongly Push Breast-Feeding



C-SPAN on Sat., Jan. 17, 2016 broadcast a thought-provoking presentation by Courtney Jung on her book Lactivism. Jung argues that an unusual array of groups strongly advocate breast-feeding for reasons that are independent of the fairly modest health benefits, for baby and mother, that result from breast-feeding.

Jung's book, that she discussed on C-SPAN, is:

Jung, Courtney. Lactivism: How Feminists and Fundamentalists, Hippies and Yuppies, and Physicians and Politicians Made Breastfeeding Big Business and Bad Policy. New York: Basic Books, 2015.






February 2, 2016

Gene Therapy Again Showing Promise



(p. B2) Biotechnology startup Spark Therapeutics Inc. said its experimental gene therapy improved vision among patients with hereditary vision impairment in a clinical trial, without the serious safety problems that have dogged the emerging field of gene therapy in the past.


. . .


Spark said it plans to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to market its treatment next year, which could make it the first gene therapy to reach the U.S. market if regulators approve it for sale. . . .

Gene therapy involves the injection of genetic material into a person's cells to treat or prevent a disease. The research stalled after some study participants died or developed cancer after receiving gene therapies in the late 1990s and 2000s.

But gene therapy is gaining ground again. In 2012, the European Commission approved the Western world's first gene therapy, UniQure NV's Glybera, for the treatment of patients with a rare enzyme deficiency. The therapy hasn't been approved for sale in the U.S.



For the full story, see:

PETER LOFTUS. "Eye Gene Therapy Shows Promise." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 6, 2015): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date Oct. 5, 2015, and has the title "Gene Therapy for Visually Impaired Shows Promise." Where there were minor differences between the print and online versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)






February 1, 2016

"America Represents Wilderness and Freedom, and Also a Big House"



(p. A1) JACKSON HOLE, China -- Yearning to breathe untainted air, the band of harried urbanites flocked to this parched, wild land, bringing along their dreams of a free and uncomplicated life.

But unlike the bedraggled pioneers who settled the American West, the first inhabitants of Jackson Hole, a resort community on the outskirts of the Chinese capital, arrived by Audi and Land Rover, their trunks filled with French wine and their bank accounts flush with cash.

Over the past decade, more than a thousand families have settled into timber-frame houses with generous backyards, on streets with names like Aspen, Moose and Route 66. On Sundays, some worship at a clapboard church that anchors the genteel town square, outfitted with bronze cowboys and a giant Victrola that sprays water.

"America represents wilderness and freedom, and also a big house," said Qin You, 42, who works in private equity and owns a six-bedroom home that features a koi pond, a year-round (p. A8) Christmas tree and what he proudly described as "American-style" electric baseboard heating. His parents live in the house and he goes there on weekends. "The United States is cool," he says.


. . .


. . . , Communist Party edicts and conservative commentators have sought to demonize so-called Western values like human rights and democracy as existential threats. Even if the menace is seldom identified by name, the purveyor of such threats is widely understood to be the United States.


. . .


Gao Zi, 60, a retired military employee who organizes an oil painting club for Jackson Hole residents, said that "we accepted the propaganda" back in the 1950s, when China was a closed society. "But now people have the opportunity to travel abroad and see the truth for ourselves."

Like Ms. Gao, Mr. Qin, the investment executive, has never been to the United States but he has long admired American ideals like personal liberty and blind justice. Five years ago, after his wife gave birth to their second child, Mr. Qin says the government fined him nearly $30,000 for violating the country's population-control policies. "This is not freedom," he said, before continuing a tour of his expansive back patio.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "JACKSON HOLE JOURNAL; Living a Frontier Dream on Beijing's Outskirts." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 11, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 8, 2015, and has the title "JACKSON HOLE JOURNAL; Living a Frontier Dream on the Outskirts of China's Capital.")






January 30, 2016

Some Heroes Are Punished for Doing What Is Right



At some point in the last few months watched, and jotted a few notes, on a C-SPAN presentation by Ralph Peters related to his historical novel Valley of the Shadow, that I caught part of. C-SPAN lists the show as first airing on June 23, 2015. My attention was drawn when Peters started talking about Lew Wallace. I had a minor curiosity about Lew Wallace for two obscure reasons. The first is that in young adulthood my favorite actor was Charlton Heston, one of whose most notable movies was Ben Hur, which was based on a novel by Lew Wallace. The other was that as an adult Lew Wallace lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana where there is still a small museum in his old study, a museum that holds memorabilia related to the Heston Ben Hur movie. The reason I know about the museum is that I graduated from Wabash College, which is also located in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

Peters said that he was fascinated by forgotten figures and that one of these was Lew Wallace. According to Peters, Lew Wallace saved the union during the Civil War. A confederate general named Jubal Early would have seized Washington, D.C., if Wallace and an officer named Jim Ricketts had not taken the initiative to lead a force to stop Early. For doing what had to be done, Wallace risked court martial, and Wallace was indeed fired from the army. After Ricketts gave a full account of what had happened, Wallace was re-instated, but Lincoln did not approve of his receiving a new command. Peters said that this was because Wallace was unpopular with some powerful Indiana Republicans, and that Lincoln was facing an election in which he needed to win Indiana.

The above is a rough summary of Peters's account. I don't know if any of it is disputed by other experts. But it is a good story, and I hope that it is true.

The Peters historical novel discussed on C-SPAN, was:

Peters, Ralph. Valley of the Shadow: A Novel. New York: Forge Books, 2015.






January 25, 2016

Recording a Pain of "5" and Then Leaving Without Relieving



If health care was provided by free market companies whose success depended on voluntarily attracting customers, instead of by bureaucratic, hyper-regulated, CYA incentivized, and competition-insulated bureaucracies, would the surreal experience reported below be as common as it is?



(p. 11) A FRIEND was recently hospitalized after a bicycle accident. At one point a nursing student, together with a more senior nurse, rolled a computer on wheels into the room and asked my friend to rate her pain on a scale of 1 to 10.

She mumbled, "4 to 5." The student put 5 into the computer -- and then they left, without further inquiring about, or relieving, my friend's pain.

This is not an anecdote about nurses not doing their jobs; it's an illustration of what our jobs have become in the age of electronic health records. Computer documentation in health care is notoriously inefficient and unwieldy, but an even more serious problem is that it has morphed into more than an account of our work; it has replaced the work itself.

Our charting, rather than our care, is increasingly what we are evaluated on. When my hospital switched to bar code scanning for medication administration, not only were the nurses on my floor rated as "red," "yellow" or "green" based on the percentage of meds we scanned, but those ratings were prominently and openly displayed on printouts left at the nurses' station.


. . .


We need to streamline our records so that they serve just one master: the patient. We should focus on the most important information in guaranteeing accuracy of diagnosis, efficacy of treatment, continuity of care and patient safety. Otherwise the content of our care will be increasingly warped by the demands of our e-record systems -- and patients like my poor friend will lie in hospital beds in pain, uncomforted by the knowledge that the electronic record of that pain is satisfyingly and exactingly complete.



For the full commentary, see:

THERESA BROWN. "Patients vs. Paperwork." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., DEC. 20, 2015): 11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 19, 2015, and has the title "When Hospital Paperwork Crowds Out Hospital Care.")






January 21, 2016

Anti-GMO Chipotle No Longer Wears Health Halo



(p. A13) . . . if you need an anecdote for how the year unfolded for the anti-GMO movement, look no further than Chipotle. Last spring the fast food company announced with great fanfare that it would take GMO ingredients off its menu. It was all downhill after that. As was quickly pointed out, Chipotle wasn't being fully truthful, since its soft drinks and cheese contain genetically modified ingredients, and its meat comes from animals fed genetically modified grains. A lawsuit filed in California, which is pending, accused Chipotle of false advertising and deceptive marketing.

Then cases of food-borne illnesses hit Chipotle locations across the country. Supporters of traditional agriculture, who have felt maligned by the burrito company, started keeping a tally of the number of people sickened by Chipotle's food (ongoing, but more than 300) versus the number sickened by GMOs (zero). As the year winds to a close, the company that once wore the restaurant industry's health halo is apologizing, preparing for lawsuits, recentralizing its vegetable preparation and cutting locally sourced ingredients.



For the full commentary, see:

JULIE KELLY. "The March of Genetic Food Progress; 'Farmaceuticals' and other GM products are slowly being approved, despite political scare campaigns." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 30, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 29, 2015.)






January 20, 2016

In Poor Province, Chinese Communists Spend Over $400,000 Building Giant Golden Statue of Mao, Starver of Millions of the Proletariat



(p. B1) ZHUSHIGANG, China -- Just two days after images of a giant gold-colored statue of Mao in the bare fields of Henan Province spread across the Internet, the statue was gone -- torn down apparently on the orders of embarrassed local officials.

Villagers said demolition teams arrived on Thursday morning [January 7, 2016], and by Friday morning [January 8, 2016], only a pile of rubble remained.

The 120-foot-tall statue, which local media reports said cost $465,000, had been under construction for months and was nearing completion when it began to attract attention.

Some commenters on social media denounced the extravagance of the colossus in a poor, rural part of China, where the money might have been better spent on education or health care.


. . .


Others pointed out the historical irony of erecting the statue in one of the provinces worst hit by the famine caused by Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward.


. . .


Statues of Mao, the founder of the People's Republic of China, were once ubiquitous in China, and many survive. President Xi Jinping has often praised Mao as a model for China today, saying Mao's era was one when officials were selfless and honest.

But some of his policies were disastrous, including the forced agricultural collectivization and industrialization of the Great Leap Forward, which historians blame for a famine in which tens of millions of people died.



For the full story, see:

DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW. "An Outcry Helps Topple a Mao Statue 120 Feet Tall." The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 9, 2016): A4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title "Golden Mao Statue in China, Nearly Finished, Is Brought Down by Criticism.")






January 18, 2016

Madison Revised Notes to Aid Jefferson's Attack on Hamilton



C-SPAN Book TV today played an extended interview with Mary Sarah Bilder about her book on James Madison's notes on the constitutional convention. Madison revised his notes to share with Jefferson, who had not been present during the convention. Chernow, in his biography of Hamilton, reports how Jefferson criticized Hamilton for aristocratic tendencies. What is most surprising about Bilder's comments is that Madison had made comments at the convention similar to Hamilton's discussing whether there might be merits to monarchy. But in his revision of the notes, he deleted those comments before passing the notes to Jefferson, presumably as part of his desire to ally himself more closely with Jefferson and to join in Jefferson's vilification of Hamilton.

This is not an earth-shattering finding, but it adds support to Chernow's defense of Hamilton. Jefferson was the slave-holding aristocrat in practice, while Hamilton opposed slavery, and Hamilton's intellectual speculations on the best form of government were not notably monarchist within the context of the time.

The book discussed on C-SPAN, was:

Bilder, Mary Sarah. Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.


The Chernow book I mention above, is:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






January 12, 2016

North Dakota Plans a Drone Silicon Valley



For many years state governments and universities have been trying to plan the creation of new Silicon Valleys in their own backyards. Success has been elusive. Now North Dakota is tying to create a drone Silicon Valley. My take: Silicon Valleys cannot be planned, though they can be encouraged by low taxes and limited regulations.



(p. A1) FARGO, N.D. -- "California and New York want what we've got," said Shawn Muehler, a 30-year-old Fargo resident, gazing at a horizon of empty fields, silos, windbreak trees and hardly any people. A winged craft traces the air, mapping a field with pinpoint accuracy for his start-up, a drone software company called Botlink. "They like drones, but they've got a steep learning curve ahead."

For years, entrepreneurs have come here to farm and to drill for oil and natural gas. Now a new, tech-savvy generation is grabbing a piece of the growing market for drone technology and officials want to help them do it here, where there is plenty of open space and -- unlike in other sparsely populated states -- lots of expertise already in place.

Silicon Valley has the big money and know-how, Mr. Muehler and others say, but North Dakota can take unmanned aerial vehicles, as the officials prefer to call drones, from a fast-growing hobby to an industry. And just as Silicon Valley got its start with military contracts, entrepreneurs and cooperative universities, they believe they can do the same with drones.

"The potential up here is tremendous," said Jack Dalrymple, the state's governor. "It's not about supporting a company or two; it's creating the leading edge of an industry."

North Dakota has spent about (p. B7) $34 million fostering the state's unmanned aerial vehicle business, most notably with a civilian industrial park for drones near Grand Forks Air Force Base. The base, a former Cold War installation, now flies nothing but robot aircraft for the United States military and Customs and Border Protection.



For the full story, see:

QUENTIN HARDY. "A Silicon Valley for Drone Craft in Great Plains." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 26, 2015): A1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 25, 2015, and has the title "A Silicon Valley for Drones, in North Dakota.")






January 11, 2016

Entrepreneurs Who Pay Taxes "Expect Services--Like Justice"



(p. B3) ATHENS -- Demetri Politopoulos, the founder of a midsize beer producer in northern Greece, says he nearly fainted when he heard the news late one night in October.

The Greek Parliament was planning to pass a law that would increase the tax he paid for each hectoliter of beer he sold by 50 percent.

Just like that, the microbrewery he started 17 years ago would go under, as his new tax bill of 1.6 million euros would wipe out his expected 1.45 million euros in profit for the year.


. . .


He started his business in 1998, but even as demand for his Vergina beer grew, his share of the market stayed in the low single-digits as the market leader did all in its power to prevent shops and restaurants from selling his product.


. . .


In 2005, Mr. Politopoulos took his case to the Hellenic Republic Competition Commission, citing numerous examples of what he said were unfair business practices by Heineken, from persuading retailers to not stock Vergina to more serious examples of bullying and intimidation.

But as is often the case in Greece, his petition went nowhere.

With Greece under unremitting pressure to find new revenue sources, the idea to close the gap between the way small and large brewers are taxed may have seemed a good idea.

That is, until Mr. Politopoulos took the floor in Parliament on Nov. 2.

"We are proud to pay taxes in Greece, but this is going to put us out of business," he said. "And when we do pay our taxes, we expect services -- like justice. Without justice in a society, there is nothing."

His 10-minute declamation hit a cord. A video of the speech went viral and parliamentary members rallied to his cause.

Indeed, concerns are growing here that in a rush to raise much-needed revenue, Greece and its creditors are placing an unfair burden on an already decimated private sector.



For the full story, see:

LANDON THOMAS Jr. "A Greek Dvid Lands Some Big Punches." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 12, 2015): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2015, and has the title "In Greece, Brewer's Woes Reflect Struggle of Business Owners.")






January 10, 2016

The Filth, Slaughter and Disease, That Was Rome



McCloskey's "Great Fact" says that life was very bad for tens of thousands of years until the capitalist industrial revolution started to make it better. The tens of thousands of years can be thought of as a horizontal hockey stick handle, with the capitalist industrial revolution represented by a sharply ascending blade. Rome was a bump on the hockey stick handle, but as the last paragraph quoted below suggests, not too much of a bump.



(p. C4) . . . Ms. Beard is competent and charming company. In "SPQR" she pulls off the difficult feat of deliberating at length on the largest intellectual and moral issues her subject presents (liberty, beauty, citizenship, power) while maintaining an intimate tone.

"In some ways, to explore ancient Rome from the 21st century is rather like walking on a tightrope, a very careful balancing act," she writes. "If you look down on one side, everything seems reassuringly familiar: there are conversations going on that we almost join, about the nature of freedom or the problems of sex; there are buildings and monuments we recognize and family life lived out in ways we understand, with all their troublesome adolescents; and there are jokes that we 'get.'"

"On the other side, it seems completely alien territory. That means not just the slavery, the filth (there was hardly any such thing as refuse collection in ancient Rome), the human slaughter in the arena and the death from illnesses whose cure we now take for granted; but also the newborn babies thrown away on rubbish heaps, the child brides and the flamboyant eunuch priests."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Early Rome: Its Warts and Wonders." The New York Times (Weds., Nov. 18, 2015): C1 & C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 17, 2015, and has the title "Review: In 'SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome,' Mary Beard Tackles Myths and More.")


The book under review, is:

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.


On the hockey stick, see:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. "McCloskey's Great Fact; Review of: McCloskey, Deirdre N. Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World." Journal of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy 1, no. 2 (2012): 200-05.






January 9, 2016

Behavioral Economists Ignore Biases and Irrationalities of Governments



(p. A4) . . . it is quite a leap between acknowledging markets sometimes fail and arguing they are inherently flawed. Policy makers who work from the second assumption risk overreaching, by seeing market failure where there is none and ignoring their own behavioral biases, in either case leaving people worse off, not better. Public trust in free markets hasn't wavered notably in the U.S. or Britain from precrisis levels and even in the pope's native Argentina, attitudes aren't much more negative than in 2009.


. . .


. . . , consumers don't seem irrational when they evaluate fuel economy; one study found changes in gasoline prices are closely reflected in the relative prices of less fuel-efficient used cars.

Besides, as Mr. Viscusi and Mr. Gayer note, the government has behavioral biases of its own. Courts and regulators assign more value to the potential harm of a new drug than its potential benefits. Politicians take actions out of proportion to the risks, for example by closing schools during the Ebola scare or imposing onerous airline-security checks to prevent terrorist hijackings.



For the full commentary, see:

GREG IP. "Market Critics Shouldn't Overreach." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Sept. 24, 2015): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 23, 2015, and has the title "Critics of Free Market Shouldn't Overreach." Where there are minor differences between the print and online versions of the article, the sentences quoted above follow the online version.)


The Vicusi and Gayer paper mentioned above, is:

Viscusi, W. Kip, and Ted Gayer. "Behavioral Public Choice: The Behavioral Paradox of Government Policy." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 38, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 973-1007.






January 7, 2016

Brits Attack Freedom, the Poor and the Environment, by Taxing Plastic Bags



(p. A4) LONDON -- Some warned of "bag rage" by irate shoppers. The Daily Mail predicted, "Plastic Bags Chaos Looms." Chloe Metzger, a 21-year-old blogger and student, wrote on Twitter: "I understand the whole #plasticbags thing but it couldn't be more annoying."

Nerves were rattled, jokes were made and the annoyance of it all was duly noted in Britain this week. Nevertheless, shoppers pulled off something that has also occurred in other cities, states and countries: They began weaning themselves off plastic shopping bags.

Starting this week, the government introduced a 5 pence charge for plastic bags for most groceries, clothes and other purchased items. And while it did not lead to a nationwide mutiny, as some had warned, it did create some tension in cashier lines.


. . .


The TaxPayers' Alliance, an anti-tax group, said the new measure would burden families struggling to get by.

A 2013 study by the National Center for Policy Analysis in Washington, which champions laissez-faire economics, argued that paper and reusable bags were worse for the environment than plastic bags when it came to energy and water use, and to greenhouse gas emissions. "Every type of grocery bag incurs environmental costs," wrote H. Sterling Burnett, the author of the study.

Whatever the arguments, the charge has inspired a mix of applause, resentment, fear and humor.

It has also inspired ingenious new ways to try to get around paying the new fee. The Daily Express, a British tabloid, noted that there was "nothing to stop Brits buying loose vegetables, being rewarded with their free plastic bag and ramming it full of the rest of the shopping."



For the full story, see:

DAN BILEFSKY. "British Begin Attack Aimed at a Scourge of the Realm." The New York Times (Weds., OCT. 7, 2015): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 6, 2015, and has the title "Charge for Plastic Bags in Britain Draws Applause, Anger and Humor.")


The 2013 bag report, referred to above, is:

Burnett, H. Sterling. "Do Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money?" National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report # 353, Dec. 2013.






January 6, 2016

Was "the Naturally Aloof" Washington, an Introvert?



(p. C6) In "The Washingtons," an ambitious, well-researched and highly readable dual biography, Flora Fraser has worked hard, despite the limited documentation that is available, to portray George and Martha, and their extended family, as fully rounded, flesh-and-blood people, freeing them from the heavy brocade of hagiography.


. . .


Her social graces, . . . , served the naturally aloof George well during his eight increasingly trying years as president. Martha had a way of keeping conversation flowing around her, Ms. Fraser says, while George's "silences could unnerve the most confident." An official dinner with the Washingtons could be an ordeal, since George was a terrible conversationalist and was known to sit silently tapping his spoon against the table, obviously impatient for the evening to end.



For the full review, see:

FERGUS M. BORDEWICH. "Domestic Tranquility; Martha kept conversation flowing at dinner; George's silences 'could unnerve the most confident.'" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Fraser, Flora. The Washingtons: George and Martha, "Join'd by Friendship, Crown'd by Love". New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.






January 4, 2016

"We're from the Streets and We Want Change"



(p. A9) CARACAS, Venezuela -- On a sunny afternoon, Jorge Millán, an opposition candidate for congress, walked through the narrow streets of a lower-middle-class neighborhood, pressing the flesh in what was once a no man's land for people like him.


. . .


With the economy sinking under the weight of triple-digit inflation, a deep recession, shortages of basic goods and long lines at stores despite the nation's vast oil reserves, the opposition has its best chance in years to win a legislative majority.


. . .


"I was a Chavista, but Chávez isn't here anymore," said Mr. Omaña, referring to the followers of the former president.

"It's this guy," he said, referring to Mr. Maduro. "It's not the same."

Mr. Omaña complained about having to stand in long lines to buy food and about the fast-rising prices, saying that for the first time since Mr. Chávez was elected in 1998 he would vote for an opposition candidate.

"Enough is enough," he said. "We need something good for Venezuela."

Venezuelan politics was dominated after 1998 by Mr. Chávez and the movement he started, which he called the Bolivarian revolution, after the country's independence hero, Simón Bolívar. Mr. Chávez died in 2013, and his disciple, Mr. Maduro, was elected to succeed him, vowing to continue Mr. Chávez's socialist-inspired policies.


. . .


Opposition candidates said one of the biggest surprises of the campaign has been the warm reception they have received in what were once hostile pro-government strongholds.

Carlos Mendoza, 53, a motorcycle taxi driver and former convict who works in the district where Mr. Millán is running, said that he belongs to a group, known as a colectivo, that in the past was paid by the government to help out during campaigns, attend rallies and drive voters to the polls. Such groups were also often used to intimidate opposition supporters.

"They called us again this time," Mr. Mendoza said. "I told them, 'No way, you're not using me again.' "

"We're from the streets," he said, "and we want change."



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM NEUMAN. "Venezuela's Economic Pain Gives Opposition Lift Before Vote." The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 5, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 4, 2015, and has the title "Venezuela's Economic Woes Buoy Opposition Before Election.")






January 3, 2016

Affirmative Action Reduces Number of Black Scientists



Malcolm Gladwell, in chapter three of David and Goliath, persuasively argues that science students who would thrive at a solid public university, may be at the bottom of their class at Harvard, and in discouragement switch to an easier non-science major. Gladwell's argument has implications for affirmative action, as noted by Gail Heriot in the passages quoted below.



(p. A13) . . . , numerous studies--as I explain in a recent report for the Heritage Foundation--show that the supposed beneficiaries of affirmative action are less likely to go on to high-prestige careers than otherwise-identical students who attend schools where their entering academic credentials put them in the middle of the class or higher. In other words, encouraging black students to attend schools where their entering credentials place them near the bottom of the class has resulted in fewer black physicians, engineers, scientists, lawyers and professors than would otherwise be the case.

But university administrators don't want to hear that their support for affirmative action has left many intended beneficiaries worse off, and they refuse to take the evidence seriously.

The mainstream media support them on this. The Washington Post, for instance, recently featured a story lamenting that black students are less likely to major in science and engineering than their Asian or white counterparts. Left unstated was why. As my report shows, while black students tend to be a little more interested in majoring in science and engineering than whites when they first enter college, they transfer into softer majors in much larger numbers and so end up with fewer science or engineering degrees.

This is not because they don't have the right stuff. Many do--as demonstrated by the fact that students with identical entering academic credentials attending somewhat less competitive schools persevere in their quest for a science or engineering degree and ultimately succeed. Rather, for many, it is because they took on too much, too soon given their level of academic preparation.



For the full commentary, see:

GAIL HERIOT. "Why Aren't There More Black Scientists? The evidence suggests that one reason is the perverse impact of university racial preferences." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Oct. 22, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Oct. 21, 2015.)


Heriot's report for the Heritage Foundation, is:

Heriot, Gail. "A "Dubious Expediency": How Race-Preferential Admissions Policies on Campus Hurt Minority Students." Heritage Foundation Special Report #167, Aug. 31, 2015.


Gladwell's book, mentioned above, is:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.






January 2, 2016

Key Roman Institution Was Citizenship for All



(p. C5) . . . , early in the fourth century B.C., everything changes. Somehow Rome's wars began to escalate in scale, their victories turned into conquests, their victims into allies, and Roman expansion became a bow wave rolling across Italy. Exactly how this "great leap forward" was achieved remains unclear. There are fragments of laws, a tradition of civil conflict leading to political reform, and the tombs of the first generation of great military leaders. But, as Ms. Beard says, "the pieces in the jigsaw puzzle become hard to fit together."

The best we can say is that, sometime in the early fourth century, consuls, senators and people emerge rapidly from the shadows, carrying all before them. By the time this was noticed by the other great powers of the day--Phoenician Carthage in what is now Tunisia and the Macedonian kings who had ruled everything east of the Adriatic since Alexander the Great--it was too late to stop Rome. Roman institutions did not drive this expansion, as Polybius had thought. In fact they played desperate catch-up for the rest of the Republic, trying to create ways of governing an empire that was not exactly accidental but certainly not planned. The one institution that Ms. Beard leaves in place as a motor of expansion rather than a response to it was Rome's unusual capacity to absorb the defeated and redirect their arms and resources to its own ends. "SPQR" ends with the logical culmination of that process, the extension of full citizenship to almost every one of Rome's 60 million subjects in A.D. 212.



For the full review, see:

GREG WOOLF. "Dawn of the Eternal City." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 14, 2015): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 13, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






December 26, 2015

Cuomo Bans the Fracking that Could Revive New York's Southern Tier



(p. A25) CONKLIN, N.Y. -- The main grocery store here was replaced by a Family Dollar store, already faded. The historic front of the town hall, a castle no less, is crumbling, and donations are being solicited. The funds earmarked to strip off the lead paint from the castle's exterior went instead to clear mold from the basement.

This town of roughly 5,500 residents looks alarmingly like dozens of other towns and cities in New York's Southern Tier, a vast part of the state that runs parallel to Pennsylvania. Years ago, the region was a manufacturing powerhouse, a place where firms like General Electric and Westinghouse thrived. But over time companies have downsized, or left altogether, lured abroad or to states with lower taxes and fewer regulations.


. . .


In western New York, . . . , Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, pledged $1 billion in 2012 to support economic development. Since then, he has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into numerous Buffalo-area projects.

The Southern Tier has proved to be a harder fix. It is predominantly rural and lacks a significant population core that typically attracts the private sector.

The region is resource rich, but landowners are angry the government will not let them capitalize on it. Some had pinned their hopes of an economic revival on the prospect of the state's authorizing hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking; many of them can recite the payment formula gas companies were proposing: $500 a month per acre.

But the Cuomo administration, citing health risks, decided last year to ban the practice, leaving some farmers contemplating logging the timber on their land, a move that could destroy swaths of pristine forest.



For the full story, see:

SUSANNE CRAIG. "Former Hub of Manufacturing Ponders Next Act." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 30, 2015): A20-A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 29, 2015, and has the title "New York's Southern Tier, Once a Home for Big Business, Is Struggling.")






December 22, 2015

FDA Has No Right to Stop the Terminally Ill from Seeking Cures



(p. C4) Ms. Olsen notes that "today, about 40 percent of cancer patients attempt to enroll in clinical trials, but only about 3 percent end up participating. That means that the vast majority don't make the cut, whether because they fail to meet the strict criteria, or a trial is thousands of miles from their home." Many of those who don't get these experimental drugs are the sickest patients because they are deemed "too sick to be useful for the study."

Ms. Olsen argues that terminally ill patients should be able to access such drugs--at their own risk and outside the context of FDA-required studies--if the companies are willing to provide them, and the book's title alludes to her proposed remedy: the state-by-state campaign the Goldwater Institute is leading to pass "Right to Try" legislation. The bills would allow terminally ill patients who have "exhausted all conventional treatment options" to access an experimental treatment if their doctors believe it is "the best medical option to extend or save the patients' life" and "the treatment has successfully completed basic safety testing and is part of the FDA's ongoing evaluation and approval process." Insurers, critically, would not be required to cover the treatment--a significant hurdle, largely unexplored here, since such costs could be significant.

The think tank's campaign has been incredibly successful, with 24 states passing Right to Try laws to date. Still, Ms. Olsen doesn't present such laws as a panacea. She doesn't expect experimental treatments to always--or even often--work for terminally ill patients. But she believes that some chance is better than the alternative. "If you have the Right to Die, you have the Right to Try," Ms. Olsen writes. "And you don't have to wait on Washington to secure it."

Yet therein lies the book's main shortcoming. Washington, it turns out, has a fair bit of say here. Courts have found that the FDA's powers to regulate drug development are extraordinarily broad. Many changes Ms. Olsen champions won't be possible without congressional action to revamp the FDA's drug development process and find new ways of paying for experimental drugs that would make widespread access sustainable for patients, companies and insurers. These issues, though touched on, are not grappled with in detail.



For the full review, see:

PAUL HOWARD. "BOOKSHELF; Hail Mary Medicine; Patients spend their last days pleading with reluctant drug companies and the FDA to get access to treatments that could save their lives." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 13, 2015): C4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Olsen, Darcy. The Right to Try: How the Federal Government Prevents Americans from Getting the Lifesaving Treatments They Need. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.






December 14, 2015

Health Care Mandate "Freezes You at a Time When You Need to Be Moving Fast"



(p. B4) When LaRonda Hunter opened a Fantastic Sams hair salon 10 years ago in Saginaw, Tex., a suburb of Fort Worth, she envisioned it as the first of what would eventually be a small regional collection of salons. As her sales grew, so did her business, which now encompasses four locations -- but her plans for a fifth salon are frozen, perhaps permanently.

Starting in January, the Affordable Care Act requires businesses with 50 or more full-time-equivalent employees to offer workers health insurance or face penalties that can exceed $2,000 per employee. Ms. Hunter, who has 45 employees, is determined not to cross that threshold. Paying for health insurance would wipe out her company's profit and the five-figure salary she pays herself from it, she said.

"The margins are not big enough within our industry to support it," she said. "It's not that I don't want to -- I love my employees, and I want to do everything I can for them -- but the numbers just don't work."


. . .


For some business owners on the edge of the cutoff, the mandate is forcing them to weigh very carefully the price of growing bigger.

"There's kind of a deer-in-headlights moment for those who say, 'I have this new potential client, but if I bring them on, I have to hire five additional people,'" said Philip P. Noftsinger, the payroll unit president at CBIZ, a financial services provider for businesses. "They're really trying to assess how much the 50th employee is going to cost."


. . .


For businesses that use many seasonal, variable-hour or temporary workers, like those in the hospitality industry, simply figuring out how many qualifying employees they have can be a challenge.

"I think companies are going to have to work with their payroll processor for the basic data, and then their accountant or attorney about what certain items mean," Mr. Prince said.

The expense and distraction of all that paperwork is one of the biggest frustrations for one business owner, Joseph P. Sergio. His industrial cleaning company, Polar Clean, which is based in South Bend, Ind., but dispatches teams nationally, has just under 50 core employees. One of its business lines is disaster restoration, and after a flood or hurricane, its temporary staff balloons.

Mr. Sergio offers health insurance to his permanent staff, but the premiums have risen so quickly that he had to switch to a more restrictive plan, with a higher deductible. He is reluctant to go over the 50-employee line and incur all of the new rules that come with it. That makes bidding for new jobs an arduous and risky exercise.

"I've had to pull my controller and a couple of top people to sit and spend days going through this," he said. "If you ramp up, and it pushes you over 50, there's all these unknown costs and complicated rules. Are we really going to be able to benefit from going after that opportunity? It freezes you at a time when you need to be moving fast."



For the full story, see:

STACY COWLEY. "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Health Care Law Leads Business Owners to Rethink Plans for Growth." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 19, 2015): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 18, 2015, and has the title "ENTREPRENEURSHIP; Health Care Law Forces Businesses to Consider Growth's Costs.")






December 12, 2015

How Democratic Operatives Fight Innovation-Crushing Regulations



(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO -- Over the last few years, so-called sharing companies like Airbnb and Uber -- online platforms that allow strangers to pay one another for a room or a ride -- have established footholds in thousands of communities well before local regulators have figured out how to deal with them.


. . .


Chris Lehane, a Washington political operative who now serves as Airbnb's head of global policy and public affairs, framed Proposition F (p. B10) as a hotel-industry-led attack on the middle class.

In this city of about 840,000 people, roughly $8 million was raised by groups opposed to Proposition F -- about eight times the amount raised by the proposition's backers, according to records filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Much of that money was spent mobilizing Airbnb hosts and users, Mr. Lehane said. Still, he repeatedly homed in on one of the company's most important talking points: Airbnb's victory was a win for the middle class.

"Cities recognize where the world is going, right, they understand that you're either going to go forward or you're going to go backward," he said. "They understand that in a time of economic inequality, this is a question of whose side are you on: Do you want to be on the side of the middle class, or do you want to be opposed to the middle class?"


. . .


Companies like Airbnb and Uber have become multibillion-dollar companies by employing a kind of guerrilla growth strategy in which they set up a modest team of workers in a city and immediately start providing their services to the public, whether local laws allow them to or not.


. . .


Mr. Lehane, a former political operative in the Clinton administration, was nicknamed the Master of Disaster for his no-holds-barred approach to winning political fights. David Plouffe, a former adviser to President Obama, is now a senior adviser to Uber and a member of its board.

Mr. Lehane and Mr. Plouffe have both tried to frame their companies as middle-class saviors in a moment of economic anxiety and income inequality -- themes that are playing out in the presidential election as well. Jeb Bush and other Republicans have bragged about their Uber rides on the campaign trail, praising these companies as the future of self-sufficient employment.



For the full story, see:

CONOR DOUGHERTY and MIKE ISAAC. "Airbnb and Uber Mobilize Vast User Base to Sway Policy." The New York Times (Thurs., NOV. 5, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 4, 2015.)






December 11, 2015

Environmentalists' Mandatory Green-Bins Succeed at Breeding Smarter Raccoons



(p. A1) TORONTO--Last fall, Suzanne MacDonald spent a week tempting raccoons into her Toronto-area backyard every night with rotisserie chickens locked inside organic-waste bins.

At one point, "I had like 12 raccoons on one bin trying to get in," said Ms. MacDonald, an animal behavior researcher who was testing bin prototypes for the city. None succeeded, she said, but "they did try mightily."


. . .


The battle between the city's residents and its backyard wildlife is increasingly playing out over the disposal of organic waste. Residents' green bins--which the city collects weekly at the curb--offer a smorgasbord for raccoons and have helped their numbers increase. Torontonians say it is tough to keep the (p. A8) bins sealed and the animals away.


. . .


"The members of Raccoon Nation are smart, they're hungry and they're determined," Mayor John Tory told reporters in April when he unveiled the new green bins. The bins, which feature a turn lock, will cost the city 31 million Canadian dollars ($23.6 million) and are to be rolled out next year.


. . .


Toronto was one of the first North American cities to introduce a mandatory green-bin program, as part of an effort to keep local landfills from overflowing and after years of a highly contentious cross-border garbage-disposal program in Michigan.


. . .


Ms. MacDonald believes the growing intelligence of Toronto's raccoons may be linked to the efforts people have put into outwitting them.

Her research, which has received financial backing from the National Geographic Society, suggests urban raccoons are smarter than their "country cousins," driven to new heights of intelligence by the humans working so diligently to outsmart them by creating obstacles.

"We're creating our environment in such a way that they have to be able to figure them out in order to survive," she said, "and those that figure them out will be smart and survive and pass on to their offspring."



For the full story, see:

JANE GERSTER. "Toronto Vows to Outsmart Its Raccoons; Hoping to stymie critters, city will roll out new green bins; 'Defeat is not an option'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 24, 2015): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated on Aug. 23, 2015, and has the title "Toronto Vows to Outsmart Its Raccoons; Hoping to stymie critters, city will roll out new green bins; 'Defeat is not an option'.")






December 10, 2015

The Morality of Denying Hope to 30 Million Guanggun



(p. A4) One wife, many husbands.

That's the solution to China's huge surplus of single men, says Xie Zuoshi, an economics professor at the Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, whose recent proposal to allow polyandry has gone viral.

. . .


By 2020, China will have an estimated 30 million bachelors -- called guanggun, or "bare branches." Birth control policies that since 1979 have limited many families to one child, a cultural preference for boys and the widespread, if illegal, practice of sex-selective abortion have contributed to a gender imbalance that hovers around 117 boys born for every 100 girls.

Though some could perhaps detect a touch of Jonathan Swift in the proposal, Mr. Xie wrote that he was approaching the problem from a purely economic point of view.

Many men, especially poor ones, he noted, are unable to find a wife and have children, and are condemned to living and dying without offspring to support them in old age, as children are required to do by law in China. But he believes there is a solution.


. . .


"With so many guanggun, women are in short supply and their value increases," he wrote. "But that doesn't mean the market can't be adjusted. The guanggun problem is actually a problem of income. High-income men can find a woman because they can pay a higher price. What about low-income men? One solution is to have several take a wife together."

He added: "That's not just my weird idea. In some remote, poor places, brothers already marry the same woman, and they have a full and happy life."


. . .

On Sunday [October 25, 2015], he published an indignant rebuttal on one of his blogs, accusing his critics of being driven by empty notions of traditional morality that are impractical and selfish -- even hypocritical.

"Because I promoted the idea that we should allow poor men to marry the same woman to solve the problem of 30 million guanggun, I've been endlessly abused," he wrote. "People have even telephoned my university to harass me. These people have groundlessly accused me of promoting immoral and unethical ideas.

"If you can't find a solution that doesn't violate traditional morality," he continued, "then why do you criticize me for violating traditional morality? You are in favor of a couple made up of one man, one woman. But your morality will lead to 30 million guanggun with no hope of finding a wife. Is that your so-called morality?"



For the full story, see:

DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW. "Bachelor Glut in China Leads to a Proposal: Share Wives." The New York Times (Tues., OCTOBER 27, 2015): A4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCTOBER 26, 2015, and has the title "Not Enough Women in China? Let Men Share a Wife, an Economist Suggests.")






December 5, 2015

"Racist" Woodrow Wilson Adopted "White Supremacy as Government Policy"



(p. A25) In 1882, soon after graduating from high school, the young John Davis secured a job at the Government Printing Office.

Over a long career, he rose through the ranks from laborer to a position in midlevel management. He supervised an office in which many of his employees were white men. He had a farm in Virginia and a home in Washington. By 1908, he was earning the considerable salary -- for an African-American -- of $1,400 per year.

But only months after Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as president in 1913, my grandfather was demoted. He was shuttled from department to department in various menial jobs, and eventually became a messenger in the War Department, where he made only $720 a year.

By April 1914, the family farm was auctioned off. John Davis, a self-made black man of achievement and stature in his community at the turn of the 20th century, was, by the end of Wilson's first term, a broken man. He died in 1928.

Many black men and women suffered similar fates under Wilson. As the historian Eric S. Yellin of the University of Richmond documents in his powerful book "Racism in the Nation's Service," my grandfather's demotion was part of a systematic purge of the federal government; with Wilson's approval, in a few short years virtually all blacks had been removed from management responsibilities, moved to menial jobs or simply dismissed.

My grandfather died before I was born, but I have learned much about his struggle -- and that of other black civil servants in the federal government -- from his personnel file.


. . .


Consider a letter he wrote on May 16, 1913, barely a month after his demotion. "The reputation which I have been able to acquire and maintain at considerable sacrifice," he wrote, "is to me (foolish as it may appear to those in higher stations of life) a source of personal pride, a possession of which I am very jealous and which is possessed at a value in my estimation ranking above the loss of salary -- though the last, to a man having a family of small children to rear, is serious enough."

And the reply he received? His supervisor said, simply, that my grandfather was unable to "properly perform the duties required (he is too slow)." Yet there had never been any indication of this in his personnel file.

Wilson was not just a racist. He believed in white supremacy as government policy, so much so that he reversed decades of racial progress. But we would be wrong to see this as a mere policy change; in doing so, he ruined the lives of countless talented African-Americans and their families.



For the full commentary, see:

GORDON J. DAVIS. "Wilson, Princeton and Race." The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 24, 2015): A25.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the title "What Woodrow Wilson Cost My Grandfather.")


The Yellin book praised in the passage quoted above, is:

Yellin, Eric S. Racism in the Nation's Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson's America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.


See also:

Patler, Nicholas. Jim Crow and the Wilson Administration: Protesting Federal Segregation in the Early Twentieth Century. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2004.






December 4, 2015

While Woodrow Wilson Was President of Princeton, "No Blacks Were Admitted"



(p. A1) PRINCETON, N.J. -- Few figures loom as large in the life of an Ivy League university as Woodrow Wilson does at Princeton.


. . .


But until posters started appearing around campus in September, one aspect of Wilson's legacy was seldom discussed: his racist views, and the ways he acted on them as president of the United States.

The posters, put up by a year-old student group called the Black Justice League, featured some of Wilson's more offensive quotes, including his comment to an African-American leader that "segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you," and led to a remarkable two days at this genteel (p. A17) campus last week.


. . .


Perhaps best known for leading the United States during World War I and for trying to start the League of Nations, Wilson as president rolled back gains blacks had made since Reconstruction, removing black officials from the federal government and overseeing the segregation of rank-and-file workers.

Raised in the South, he wrote of "a great Ku Klux Klan" that rose up to rid whites of "the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes."

During Wilson's tenure as president of Princeton, no blacks were admitted -- "The whole temper and tradition of the place are such that no Negro has ever applied," he wrote -- though Harvard and Yale had admitted blacks decades earlier. Princeton admitted its first black student in the 1940s.



For the full story, see:

ANDY NEWMAN. "At Princeton, Woodrow Wilson, a Heralded Alum, Is Recast as an Intolerant One." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 23, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 22, 2015.)







December 3, 2015

Bike Helmet Regulations Hurt Health



(p. D1) . . . many cycling advocates have taken a surprising position: They are pushing back against mandatory bike-helmet laws in the U.S. and elsewhere. They say mandatory helmet laws, particularly for adults, make cycling less convenient and seem less safe, thus hindering the larger public-health gains of more people riding bikes.

All-ages helmet laws might actually make cycling more dangerous, some cyclists say, by decreasing ridership. Research shows that the more cyclists there are on the road, the fewer crashes there are. Academics theorize that as drivers become used to seeing bikes on a street, they watch more closely for them.

. . .


Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Sydney's Macquarie University, actually calculated the trade-off of mandatory helmet laws. In a 2012 paper in the journal Risk Analysis, he weighed the reduction of head injuries against increased morbidity due to foregone exercise from reduced cycling.

Dr. de Jong concluded that mandatory bike-helmet laws "have a net negative health impact." That is in part because many people cycle to work or for errands, experts say. People tend to replace that type of cycling not with another physical activity such as a trip to the gym, but with a ride in a car.



For the full story, see:

RACHEL BACHMAN. "The Helmet-Law Backlash." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 13, 2015): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Oct. 12, 2015, and has the title "Do Bike Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?")






November 25, 2015

After Hiding Under Desk, Student Wants Gun to Protect Self and Others



(p. A1) ROSEBURG, Ore. -- A week has passed since J. J. Vicari huddled underneath a desk while gunshots exploded in the classroom next door. Now he is thinking about guns. Not about tightening gun laws, as President Obama urged after nine people were killed at the community college here. But about buying one for himself.

"It's opened my eyes," said Mr. Vicari, 19. "I want to have a gun in the house to protect myself, to protect the people I'm with. I'm sure I'll have a normal life and never have to go through anything like this, but I want to be sure."



For the full story, see:

JACK HEALY and JULIE TURKEWITZ. "Common Response After Killings in Oregon: 'I Want to Have a Gun'." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 8, 2015): A1 & A18.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated OCT. 7, 2015.)






November 21, 2015

Chinese Communists Fear the Magna Carta



(p. A5) HONG KONG -- China's leaders have long behaved as if nothing could daunt them. But an 800-year-old document written in Latin on sheepskin may have them running scared.


. . .


It is not clear why the public showing was moved off the Renmin University campus. But Magna Carta is widely considered a cornerstone for constitutional government in Britain and the United States, and such a system is inimical to China's leaders, who view "constitutionalism" as a threat to Communist Party rule.

In 2013, the party issued its "seven unmentionables" -- taboo topics for its members. The first unmentionable is promoting Western-style constitutional democracy. The Chinese characters for "Magna Carta" are censored in web searches on Sina Weibo, the country's Twitter-like social media site.

Hu Jia, a prominent Chinese dissident, said he was not surprised that the exhibit had been moved off the campus. He said that Renmin University had close ties to the Communist Party's training academy and that the principles the document stood for were contrary to the party's. More important, he said, Chinese leaders may have been concerned that the exhibit would be popular and that "many students would flock there."

"They fear that such ideology and historical material will penetrate deep into the students' hearts," Mr. Hu said.


. . .


Magna Carta has been the subject of several academic conferences and lectures in China this year, including two at Renmin University. One doctoral student in history who knows people at the museum said that the school had canceled the exhibit on orders of the Ministry of Education.

"To get kind of wound up about an old document like the Magna Carta? They're a little bit brittle and fragile, aren't they, Chinese leaders?" said Kerry Brown, a former British diplomat who was stationed in Beijing and now serves as director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney in Australia. "Poor dears."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL FORSYTHE. "Magna Carta Visits China, but Venue Abruptly Shifts." The New York Times (Thurs., OCT. 15, 2015): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated OCT. 14, 2015, and had the title "Magna Carta Exhibition in China Is Abruptly Moved From University.")






November 20, 2015

FTC Retaliated Against, and Destroyed, Innocent Firm that Stood Up for Rule of Law



(p. A17) Sometimes winning is still losing. That is certainly true for companies that find themselves caught in the cross hairs of the federal government. Since 2013, my organization has defended one such company, the cancer-screening LabMD, against meritless allegations from the Federal Trade Commission. Last Friday, [November 13, 2015] the FTC's chief administrative-law judge dismissed the agency's complaint. But it was too late. The reputational damage and expense of a six-year federal investigation forced LabMD to close last year.


. . .


Unlike many other companies in similar situations, . . . , LabMD refused to cave and in 2012 went public with the ordeal. In what appeared to be retaliation, the FTC sued LabMD in 2013, alleging that the company engaged in "unreasonable" data-security practices that amounted to an "unfair" trade practice by not taking reasonable steps to protect patient information. FTC officials publicly attacked LabMD and imposed arduous demands on the doctors who used the company's diagnostic services. In just one example, the FTC subpoenaed a Florida oncology lab to produce documents and appear for depositions before government lawyers--all at the doctors' expense.

Yet after years of investigation and enforcement action, the FTC never produced a single patient or doctor who suffered or who alleged identity theft or harm because of LabMD's data-security practices. The FTC never claimed that LabMD violated HIPAA regulations, and until 2014--four years after its investigation began--never offered any data-security standards with which LabMD failed to comply.


. . .


. . . , the FTC is likely to simply disregard the 92-page decision--which weighed witness credibility and the law--and side with commission staff. That's the still greater injustice: The FTC is not bound by administrative-law judge rulings. In fact, the agency has disregarded every adverse ruling over the past two decades, according to a February analysis by former FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright. Defendants' only recourse is appealing in federal court, a fresh burden in legal fees.

That's what happens when a federal agency serves as its own detective, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. As Mr. Wright observed, the FTC's record is "a strong sign of an unhealthy and biased institutional process." And he puts it perhaps most powerfully: "Even bank robbery prosecutions have less predictable outcomes than administrative adjudication at the FTC." Winning against the federal government should never require losing so much.



For the full commentary, see:

DAN EPSTEIN. "Hounded Out of Business by Regulators; The company LabMD finally won its six-year battle with the FTC, but vindication came too late." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 20, 2015): A17.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated on Nov. 19, 2015.)






November 16, 2015

Audits Worth Less When the Audited Directly Pay for Them



(p. B1) Environmental regulators in Gujarat, one of India's fastest-growing industrial states, found themselves in an implausible situation a few years ago: Every single city breached national air quality standards. And yet environmental audits kept finding that factories met pollution limits.

So the Gujaratis hired some researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to carry out an experiment, changing the way the audits were made. Instead of hiring their own auditors, companies had auditors assigned to them randomly. Instead of being paid by the companies they audited, auditors drew a fixed fee from a pool that all companies paid into.

Measured compliance rates abruptly plummeted. But once the new system was in place, the real emissions from polluting factories finally started to decline. The Gujaratis kept the new approach.

"When fact-checking is not done in an independent way, there is a long history of things turning out the way the entity being fact checked wants them to turn out," said Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago, a former chief economist for President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers who was one of the researchers involved in the study. "Until you change the incentives, this will not change."

The problem may seem remote, but it turns out that the same incentives apply in the United States, even in programs that, at first glance, appear to provide an unmitigated benefit.

Last month, the Energy Department released an extensive report assessing the impact of the federal weatherization program, which was begun in 1976 to shield the homes of low-income Americans from the elements, save them money on heating bills and improve energy efficiency.

It concluded that weatheriza-(p. B10)tion -- insulating homes, changing boilers, plugging leaky windows and the like -- was a stellar investment. Not only were the energy savings substantially larger than the cost of weatherizing homes, the report found, but the gains soared even more once the broader impacts on health were taken into account.

"The results demonstrate that weatherization provides cost-effective energy savings and health and safety benefits to American families," the Energy Department announced.

But do they? When Professor Greenstone and two other independent economists looked under the hood -- not a trivial challenge, given the report's 4,500 pages -- they found a collection of idiosyncratic choices and unorthodox assumptions that severely undermined the credibility of the enterprise.

In the end, they concluded, the government research effort, which was led by the Energy Department's own Oak Ridge National Laboratory, cannot tell us whether weatherization is a fabulous program or a waste of taxpayer dollars.



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "ECONOMIC SCENE; For Government That Works, Call In the Auditors." The New York Times (Weds., OCT. 7, 2015): B1 & B10.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 6, 2015, and the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; For Government That Works, Call In the Auditors.")






November 8, 2015

Recycling Is Costly "Religious Ritual"




John Tierney penned another eye-opening commentary, this one as a cover-story for the SundayReview Section of The New York Times. A few of the best passages are quoted below.



(p. 1) In 1996, I wrote a long article for The New York Times Magazine arguing that the recycling process as we carried it out was wasteful.


. . .


So, what's happened since then? While it's true that the recycling message has reached more people than ever, when it comes to the bottom line, both economically and environmentally, not much has changed at all.

Despite decades of exhortations and man-(p. 4)dates, it's still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill. Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas. The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies.


. . .


One of the original goals of the recycling movement was to avert a supposed crisis because there was no room left in the nation's landfills. But that media-inspired fear was never realistic in a country with so much open space. In reporting the 1996 article I found that all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the land available for grazing. And that tiny amount of land wouldn't be lost forever, because landfills are typically covered with grass and converted to parkland, like the Freshkills Park being created on Staten Island.


. . .


Last week the National Institutes of Health announced that it had prematurely ended a large national study of how best to treat people with high blood pressure because of its exceptional results.

In this trial of more than 9,000 people age 50 and older with high blood pressure, an aggressive treatment strategy to keep systolic blood pressure below 120 was compared with a conventional one aimed at keeping it below 140. The subjects all had a high risk of heart attacks, stroke and heart failure. The N.I.H. concluded, six years into a planned eight-year study, that for these patients, pushing blood pressure down far below currently recommended levels was very beneficial.


. . .


As a business, recycling is on the wrong side of two long-term global economic trends. For centuries, the real cost of labor has been increasing while the real cost of raw materials has been declining. That's why we can afford to buy so much more stuff than our ancestors could. As a labor-intensive activity, recycling is an increasingly expensive way to produce materials that are less and less valuable.

Recyclers have tried to improve the economics by automating the sorting process, but they've been frustrated by politicians eager to increase recycling rates by adding new materials of little value. The more types of trash that are recycled, the more difficult it becomes to sort the valuable from the worthless.

In New York City, the net cost of recycling a ton of trash is now $300 more than it would cost to bury the trash instead. That adds up to millions of extra dollars per year -- about half the budget of the parks department -- that New Yorkers are spending for the privilege of recycling. That money could buy far more valuable benefits, including more significant reductions in greenhouse emissions.

So what is a socially conscious, sensible person to do?

It would be much simpler and more effective to impose the equivalent of a carbon tax on garbage, as Thomas C. Kinnaman has proposed after conducting what is probably the most thorough comparison of the social costs of recycling, landfilling and incineration. Dr. Kinnaman, an economist at Bucknell University, considered everything from environmental damage to the pleasure that some people take in recycling (the "warm glow" that makes them willing to pay extra to do it).

He concludes that the social good would be optimized by subsidizing the recycling of some metals, and by imposing a $15 tax on each ton of trash that goes to the landfill. That tax would offset the environmental costs, chiefly the greenhouse impact, and allow each municipality to make a guilt-free choice based on local economics and its citizens' wishes. The result, Dr. Kinnaman predicts, would be a lot less recycling than there is today.

Then why do so many public officials keep vowing to do more of it? Special-interest politics is one reason -- pressure from green groups -- but it's also because recycling intuitively appeals to many voters: It makes people feel virtuous, especially affluent people who feel guilty about their enormous environmental footprint. It is less an ethical activity than a religious ritual, like the ones performed by Catholics to obtain indulgences for their sins.

Religious rituals don't need any practical justification for the believers who perform them voluntarily. But many recyclers want more than just the freedom to practice their religion. They want to make these rituals mandatory for everyone else, too, with stiff fines for sinners who don't sort properly. Seattle has become so aggressive that the city is being sued by residents who maintain that the inspectors rooting through their trash are violating their constitutional right to privacy.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "The Reign of Recycling." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., OCT. 4, 2015): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCT. 3, 2015.)


The Kinnaman paper mentioned above, is:

Kinnaman, Thomas C., Takayoshi Shinkuma, and Masashi Yamamoto. "The Socially Optimal Recycling Rate: Evidence from Japan." Journal of Environmental Economics & Management 68, no. 1 (July 2014): 54-70.






November 2, 2015

Federal Agency Director Collects $750,000 for Lobbying



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- In this city with a grand tradition of government officials who pass through the revolving door into a world of big paychecks, Jeffrey Farrow stands apart.

While earning more than $100,000 a year as executive director of a tiny federal agency called the Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which has only one full-time federal employee, Mr. Farrow has simultaneously helped collect as much as $750,000 a year in lobbying fees. His clients have included the governments of Puerto Rico and the Republic of Palau, a tiny island nation in the western Pacific.

Mr. Farrow was at once a federal government bureaucrat and lobbyist. The revolving door did not even have to spin.

He managed this feat while running one of dozens of agencies that can get lost in the vast United States government -- this one responsible for identifying and helping preserve cemeteries and historic buildings in Eastern and Central Europe that are important to American Jews and others, including Orthodox Christians from Kosovo.


. . .


(p. A16) "A bizarre tale," said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in a letter he sent last month to Lesley Weiss, the chairwoman of the 30-year-old commission, asking her to explain Mr. Farrow's dual roles. "This lobbyist used federal personnel and resources to run a profitable personal business advancing the interest of foreign agents.".


. . .


Mr. Johnson, the Wisconsin senator, in a statement released by his office Friday, said the commission, despite its worthwhile mission, was an example of what is wrong with government.

"This relatively tiny agency is a classic example of the dysfunction and waste that typify far too much of the federal government," he said. "Established with the best of intentions to memorialize the horrors of 20th-century genocides, the Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad did little to accomplish that goal but was instead used to enrich a lobbyist."



For the full story, see:

ERIC LIPTON. "The Lobbyist With a Six-Figure Government Job."The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 15, 2015): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 14, 2015.)






October 28, 2015

Lax College Accreditors May Be "Doing More Harm than Good"



(p. A19) Most colleges can't keep their doors open without an accreditor's seal of approval, which is needed to get students access to federal loans and grants. But accreditors hardly ever kick out the worst-performing colleges and lack uniform standards for assessing graduation rates and loan defaults.

Those problems are blamed by critics for deepening the student-debt crisis as college costs soared during the past decade. Last year alone, the U.S. government sent $16 billion in aid to students at four-year colleges that graduated less than one-third of their students within six years, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of the latest available federal data.


. . .


(p. A12) Accreditors say their job is to help colleges get better rather than to weed out laggards. Colleges pay for the inspections, which can cost more than $1 million at large institutions.

"You're not there to remove an institution," says Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a trade group. "You're there to enhance the operation."

The government has relied on accreditors as watchdogs since the 1950s. Colleges are evaluated by teams of volunteers from similar institutions, who follow standards set by the accreditation group. For example, colleges sometimes are required to collect student-retention data but given the freedom to set their own goals for those numbers.


. . .


Stephen Roderick, former provost at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, says he now has misgivings about his 2013 review of Glenville State College in West Virginia for the Higher Learning Commission. The review team wrote that the college had a "responsible program" to minimize default rates and "demonstrates a commitment" to evaluating graduation data.

Glenville's graduation rate is 30%, while about 22% of students defaulted on loans from 2011 to 2013. Both percentages rank near the bottom 10% of accredited four-year colleges. David Millard, assistant to Glenville's president, says the figures reflect the opportunity offered by the college to students in one of the poorest parts of the U.S.

Mr. Roderick says accreditors are inclined to see the best in colleges like Glenville, but that might not be the best for students. "Sometimes I feel that we're doing more harm than good," he says.



For the full story, see:

ANDREA FULLER and DOUGLAS BELKIN. "Education Watchdogs Rarely Bite; Accreditors keep hundreds of schools with low graduation rates or high loan defaults alive." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 18, 2015): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated June 17, 2015, and had the title "The Watchdogs of College Education Rarely Bite; Accreditors keep hundreds of schools with low graduation rates or high loan defaults alive.")






October 19, 2015

FCC Gains Arbitrary Power Over Internet Innovation



(p. A11) Imagine if Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg had been obliged to ask bureaucrats in Washington if it was OK to launch the iPhone, Gmail, or Facebook's forthcoming Oculus virtual-reality service. Ridiculous, right? Not anymore.

A few days before the Independence Day holiday weekend, the Federal Communications Commission announced what amounts to a system of permission slips for the Internet.


. . .


As the FCC begins to issue guidance and enforcement actions, it's becoming clearer that critics who feared there would be significant legal uncertainty were right. Under its new "transparency" rule, for example, the agency on June 17 conjured out of thin air an astonishing $100 million fine against AT&T, even though the firm explained its mobile-data plans on its websites and in numerous emails and texts to customers.

The FCC's new "Internet Conduct Standard," meanwhile, is no standard at all. It is an undefined catchall for any future behavior the agency doesn't like.


. . .


From the beginning, Internet pioneers operated in an environment of "permissionless innovation." FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler now insists that "it makes sense to have somebody watching over their shoulder and ready to jump in if necessary." But the agency is jumping in to demand that innovators get permission before they offer new services to consumers. The result will be less innovation.



For the full commentary, see:

BRET SWANSON. "Permission Slips for Internet Innovation; The FCC's new Web rules are already as onerous as feared and favor some business models over others." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 15, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 14, 2015.)






October 14, 2015

John Paul Stapp Thumbed His Nose at the Precautionary Principle



(p. C7) In the early 19th century, a science professor in London named Dionysus Lardner rejected the future of high-speed train travel because, he said, "passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia." A contemporary, the famed engineer Thomas Tredgold, agreed, noting "that any general system of conveying passengers . . . [traveling] at a velocity exceeding 10 miles an hour, or thereabouts, is extremely improbable."

The current land speed for a human being is 763 miles an hour, or thereabouts, thanks in large part to the brilliance, bravery and dedication of a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel named John Paul Stapp, a wonderfully iconoclastic medical doctor, innovator and renegade consumer activist who repeatedly put his own life in peril in search of the line beyond which human survival at speed really was "extremely improbable."


. . .


Initial tests were carried out on a crash-test dummy named Oscar Eightball, then chimpanzees and pigs. There was plenty of trial and error--the term "Murphy's Law" was coined during the Gee Whiz experiments--until Stapp couldn't resist strapping himself into the Gee Whiz to experience firsthand what the cold data could never reveal: what it felt like. On May 5, 1948, for example, he "took a peak deceleration of an astounding twenty-four times the force of gravity," the author writes. "This was the equivalent of a full stop from 75 miles per hour in just seven feet or, in other words, freeway speed to zero in the length of a very tall man."

Stapp endured a total of 26 rides on the Gee Whiz over the course of 50 months, measuring an array of physiological factors as well as testing prototype helmets and safety belts. Along the way he suffered a broken wrist, torn rib cartilage, a bruised collarbone, a fractured coccyx, busted capillaries in both eyes and six cracked dental fillings. Colleagues became increasingly concerned for his health every time he staggered, gamely, off the sled, but, according to Mr. Ryan, he never lost his sense of humor, nor did these ordeals stop Dr. Stapp from voluntarily making house calls at night for families stationed on the desolate air base.


. . .


After 29 harrowing trips down the track, Stapp prepared for one grand finale, what he called the "Big Run," hoping to achieve 600 miles per hour, the speed beyond which many scientists suspected that human survivability was--really, this time--highly improbable. On Dec. 10, 1954, Sonic Wind marked a speed of 639 miles per hour, faster than a .45 caliber bullet shot from a pistol. Film footage of the test shows the sled rocketing past an overhead jet plane that was filming the event. The Big Run temporarily blinded Stapp, and he turned blue for a few days, but the experiment landed him on the cover of Time magazine as the fastest man on earth. The record stood for the next 30 years.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK COOKE. "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet--Really." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 22, 2015): C7.

(Note: first ellipsis, and bracketed word, in original; other ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Ryan, Craig. Sonic Wind: The Story of John Paul Stapp and How a Renegade Doctor Became the Fastest Man on Earth. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






October 11, 2015

Feds Constrain Startups



(p. A15) Virtually every state has suffered a drop in startups, which suggests that this is a national, and not a regional or state, problem.


. . .


If history is any indication, many of today's economic heavyweights will ultimately decline as new businesses take their place. Research by the Kaufman Foundation shows that only about half of the 1995 Fortune 500 firms remained on the list in 2010.

Startups also have declined in high technology. John Haltiwanger of the University of Maryland reports that there are fewer startups in high technology and information-processing since 2000, as well as fewer high-growth startups--annual employment growth of more than 25%--across all sectors. Even more troubling is that the smaller number of high-growth startups is not growing as quickly as in the past.


. . .


Surveys by John Dearie and Courtney Gerduldig, authors of "Where the Jobs Are: Entrepreneurship and the Soul of the American Economy" (2013), show that entrepreneurs report being hamstrung by difficulties in finding skilled workers, by a complex tax code that penalizes small business, by regulations that raise the costs of doing business, and by difficulties in obtaining financing that have worsened since 2008.



For the full story, see:

EDWARD C. PRESCOTT and LEE E. OHANIAN. "Behind the Productivity Plunge: Fewer Startups; New businesses were created at a 30% lower rate in 2012 than the annual average rate in the 1980s." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 26, 2014): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 25, 2014.)






October 9, 2015

Smugglers Respond to Putin's Ban on Cheese



(p. A4) When the Russian government banned dairy products from a host of nations, including the United States and members of the European Union, last year in response to Western economic sanctions imposed over Russia's military meddling in Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin said the restrictions would create a profitable opportunity for domestic industries.

Instead they appear to have created an opening for forgers and smugglers. The "cheese ring" was busted with an estimated $30 million worth of the stuff, nearly 500 tons, according to the Interior Ministry police.



For the full story, see:

NEIL MacFARQUHAR. "A Crackdown in Russia on a Creamy Contraband." The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 19, 2015): A4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 18, 2015, and has the title "Russian Police Get Tough on Illicit Cheese.")






October 6, 2015

"Words Can Obscure Rather than Illuminate"



(p. C6) In his essay "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell shows how language is a tool of political control, how words can obscure rather than illuminate. Mr. Swaim explains how that applies to Mr. Sanford's office. At one point, constituents start writing in to ask whether the governor plans to run for president. While Mr. Swaim is expected to answer the letters, he is also expected to deploy a whole lot of "platitudinous observations" and "superfluous phrases" to say, basically, nothing.

"The trick was to use the maximum number of words with the maximum number of legitimate interpretations," he writes. "Words are useful, but often their meanings are not. Sometimes what you want is feeling rather than meaning, warmth rather than content. And that takes verbiage."



For the full review, see:

SARAH LYALL. "Pumpting Up Hot Air to the Governor's Level." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 30, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JULY 29, 2015, and has the title "Review: In 'The Speechwriter,' Barton Swaim Shares Tales of Working for Mark Sanford.")


The book under review, is:

Swaim, Barton. The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






October 5, 2015

Belgian Government Mandates Mayo to Be No Less than 80% Fat



(p. A1) BRUSSELS--Mayonnaise here is a sauce celebre, so important that a 60-year-old royal decree governs what goes in it.


. . .


Belgian mayonnaise must contain at least 80% fat and 7.5% egg yolk. European rivals are permitted to sell mayo with a mere 70% fat and 5% egg yolk.



For the full story, see:

TOM FAIRLESS. "No Yolk, Belgian Food Producers Fed Up with Mayonnaise Rules; But effort to relax royal recipe doesn't go down well with chefs; yellow peas." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Sept. 20, 2015): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 20, 2015 and the title "In Belgium, Mayonnaise Makers Want a New Recipe; But effort to relax royal recipe doesn't go down well with chefs; yell;ow peas.")






September 25, 2015

"If You Get Too Cold, I'll Tax the Heat"



(p. A11) George Harrison knew what he was talking about when he wrote the song "Taxman" for the Beatles: "If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet." Had the Internet been around in 1966, they might have added: "If you use the Web, I'll tax your tweet."


For the full commentary, see:

OHN THUNE and AJIT PAI. "Taxman, Won't You Please Spare The Internet?; A moratorium on taxing online access has been an unqualified success. Let's make it permanent." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 18, 2014): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 17, 2014.)






September 22, 2015

Venezeuelan Socialists Seize Warehouses of Cerveceria Polar Beer



PolarWorkersProtestSocialistsSeizingProperty.jpg "Polar workers protested the government's decision to expropriate warehouse land in Caracas on Thursday [July 30, 2015]." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A7) CARACAS, Venezuela--The government ordered major food companies, including units of PepsiCo and Nestlé Inc., to evacuate warehouses in an area where the state plans to expropriate land to build low-cost housing.


. . .


Manuel Larrazábal, a director at Polar, said he hoped the government would reconsider the measure. "We don't doubt that they need to construct housing, which is so important, but we ask why it has to affect active industrial facilities."


. . .


Some workers painted messages including "No to expropriation" and "Let us work" onto the walls of the industrial park and on dozens of trucks that lined the streets outside, which were blocked by police and National Guard. Polar said the move would affect some 600 workers, as well as 1,400 employees who transport their goods around Caracas and two neighboring states.


. . .


Polar suspended operations at its facility after getting the order Wednesday night. The expropriation order extends a history of shaky relations between it and the government, which began under the late leader Hugo Chávez and continues under his protégé, Mr. Maduro.

In recent months, the company, which is the largest beer maker in Venezuela, said it had to halt work at several plants and breweries due to labor strife. It has also struggled with difficulties in acquiring raw materials and U.S. dollars to pay overseas suppliers, a process controlled by the government due to complicated currency regulations.



For the full story, see:

KEJAL VYAS . "Venezuela Takeover Order Riles Companies; Maduro's government wants industrial zone to build housing for poor." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2015.)






September 21, 2015

Obama Praises Koch Brothers for Supporting Criminal Justice Reforms



(p. A1) Once known for grim letters to fellow wealthy Americans warning of socialist apocalypse, Charles G. Koch now promotes research on the link between freedom and everyday happiness. Turn on "The Big Bang Theory" or "Morning Joe," and you are likely to see soft-focus television spots introducing some of the many employees of Koch Industries.

Instead of trading insults with Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader, Mr. Koch and his brother, David H. Koch, are trading compliments with President Obama, who this month praised the Kochs' support for criminal justice reform at a meeting of the N.A.A.C.P.


. . .


(p. A17) . . ., the Kochs have made cause with prominent liberals to change federal sentencing rules, which disproportionately affect African-Americans, while a Koch-backed nonprofit, the Libre Initiative, offers driving lessons and tax preparation services to Latinos.


. . .


The brothers are sensitive to criticism that they are recent converts to issues like criminal justice. Mark Holden, the general counsel of Koch Industries, said the company had become active in defendants' rights back in the 1990s, after four employees at a Texas refinery were snared in what the company viewed as an overzealous prosecution of federal clean air and hazardous waste laws. The company and family have long donated to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Mr. Holden said, as well as to the United Negro College Fund and other charities.

"Charles obviously is a classical liberal, who believes in the Bill of Rights, and limited but necessary government," Mr. Holden said. "If those are your guideposts, criminal justice reform is where you need to be."


. . .


Michael L. Lomax, the president of the United Negro College Fund, said in an interview that any political dimension to the giving was not his concern.

"My focus is very narrow: Is this program working for our students?" said Dr. Lomax, adding, "I don't really get very involved in the critics."


. . .


Civil libertarians have also sought the company out as a partner. Mr. Holden has made several trips to the White House, striking up a partnership with Valerie Jarrett, one of Mr. Obama's top advisers. "People are pulling us in because we can be helpful," Mr. Holden said.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE. "'Koch Brothers Brave Spotlight to Alter Image." The New York Time (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015, and has the title "'Koch Brothers Brave Spotlight to Try to Alter Their Image.")






September 19, 2015

Increasing Recalls of Organic Food Due to Bacterial Contamination



(p. B3) New data collected by Stericycle, a company that handles recalls for businesses, shows a sharp jump in the number of recalls of organic food products.

Organic food products accounted for 7 percent of all food units recalled so far this year, compared with 2 percent of those recalled last year, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture that Stericycle uses to compile its quarterly report on recalls.

In 2012 and 2013, only 1 percent of total units of food recalled were organic.

Kevin Pollack, a vice president at Stericycle, said the growing consumer and corporate demand for organic ingredients was at least partly responsible for the increase.

"What's striking is that since 2012, all organic recalls have been driven by bacterial contamination, like salmonella, listeria and hepatitis A, rather than a problem with a label," Mr. Pollack said. "This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren't aware of it."



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "Private Analysis Shows a Sharp Increase in the Number of Organic Food Recalls." The New York Times (Fri., Aug. 21, 2015): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 20, 2015, and has the title "Recalls of Organic Food on the Rise, Report Says." The last paragraph quoted above differs in the print and online versions; the version quoted is the print version. The online version of the paragraph is: "According to Stericycle, 87 percent of organic recalls since 2012 were for bacterial contamination, like salmonella and listeria, rather than a problem with a label. "This is a fairly serious and really important issue because a lot of consumers just aren't aware of it," Mr. Pollack said.")






September 13, 2015

The Dynamism of Venturesome New Yorkers: "If You Want Country Living, Move to the Country"



(p. A18) One cannot live any closer to the terminals of La Guardia Airport than the residents of East Elmhurst, Queens. Some homes sit only a few hundred yards away from the control tower, on the opposite side of the Grand Central Parkway. The new $4 billion airport hub envisioned for the site, announced this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, would be even closer.

So it might be assumed that the promise of years of heavy-duty construction and the associated noise, traffic and dust would fill residents with dread.

Not quite.

"We live in New York City, honey," said Michele Mongeluzo, 56, whose house sits on a rise just south of the parkway, offering an unobstructed view of the airport and the proposed construction site. "If you want country living, move to the country."

In interviews this week along the blocks closest to the airport, residents almost universally said that they not only had no trepidation about the construction but that they also actually welcomed it. Improvements, they said, were long overdue.

Furthermore, they suggested, what was a little construction on top of the aural challenges -- the roaring jet engines, the chop of helicopter rotors, the incessant highway traffic -- that they had already contended with and apparently overcome?

"If it's noisy, I'm used to it," said Freddy Fuhrtz, 75, who retired as an employee in the cargo division of Pan Am and still lives in the two-story house on 92nd Street where he grew up and raised his children. "It's progress."



For the full story, see:

KIRK SEMPLE. "Construction Plans Don't Faze Airport Neighbors." The New York Times (Fri., JULY 31, 2015): A18 & A21.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 30, 2015, and has the title "Construction Plans for La Guardia Airport Don't Faze Its Neighbors.")






September 10, 2015

Uber Used Political Entrepreneurship to Fight Government Regulations



(p. A15) Mayor Bill de Blasio's summertime battle with Uber exposed vulnerabilities in his political operation and has given rise to resentment among many of the allies he will need to advance his agenda at City Hall.


. . .


Aides to the mayor said they weren't prepared for the force of Uber's campaign-style attack of television ads, which began to air on July 14, the day after they met with Uber officials to negotiate.

Uber also ran a sophisticated digital strategy, with more than 40,000 people emailing the mayor and almost 20,000 sending him twitter messages.

City Hall repeatedly stumbled when it tried to fight back.

Aides managed to send emails to thousands of Uber users, saying they were only trying to slow the car service's expansion--while studying the issue--but were flooded by many people incorrectly accusing them of trying to totally ban the service.


. . .


After Uber staged several large rallies, the mayor's office aggressively tried to find supporters. But a rally on City Hall steps had fewer than 200 people, and many other officials didn't want to enter the fray.

Many of the city's influential black leaders were already backing Uber and had appeared at a July 14 news conference. Aides to the mayor were furious. "It was the African-American ministers that turned this fight," said Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a pro-business group.



For the full story, see:

JOSH DAWSEY. "War With Uber Hurt de Blasio With Allies; Aides to the mayor say they weren't prepared for the force of Uber's campaign-style attack of TV ads." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 31, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2015.)







September 7, 2015

Smugly Believing Those Who Disagree with Us Are Stupid



(p. 3) Many liberals, but not conservatives, believe there is an important asymmetry in American politics. These liberals believe that people on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum are fundamentally different. Specifically, they believe that liberals are much more open to change than conservatives, more tolerant of differences, more motivated by the public good and, maybe most of all, smarter and better informed.

The evidence for these beliefs is not good. Liberals turn out to be just as prone to their own forms of intolerance, ignorance and bias. But the beliefs are comforting to many. They give their bearers a sense of intellectual and even moral superiority. And they affect behavior. They inform the condescension and self-righteousness with which liberals often treat conservatives.


. . .


. . . my strongest memory of Mr. Stewart, like that of many other conservatives, is probably going to be his 2010 interview with the Berkeley law professor John Yoo. Mr. Yoo had served in Mr. Bush's Justice Department and had drafted memos laying out what techniques could and couldn't be used to interrogate Al Qaeda detainees. Mr. Stewart seemed to go into the interview expecting a menacing Clint Eastwood type, who was fully prepared to zap the genitals of some terrorist if that's what it took to protect America's women and children.

Mr. Stewart was caught unaware by the quiet, reasonable Mr. Yoo, who explained that he had been asked to determine what legally constituted torture so the government could safely stay on this side of the line. The issue, in other words, wasn't whether torture was justified but what constituted it and what didn't. Ask yourself how intellectually curious Mr. Stewart really could be, not to know that this is what Bush administration officials had been saying all along?



For the full commentary, see:

GERARD ALEXANDER. "Jon Stewart, Patron Saint of Liberal Smugness." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., AUG. 9, 2015): 3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 7, 2015.)

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)






September 4, 2015

Most Early Christians Blended in as Ordinary Romans



(p. C9)The earliest Christian building excavated anywhere in the Roman Empire, the famous house-church of Dura-Europos (now under the enlightened protection of Islamic State), dates to the mid-third century. Literary sources, both Christian and non-Christian, make it abundantly clear that Christian communities grew up everywhere in the Mediterranean in the 150 years after Jesus' death: Think of the famous congregations of Corinth, Colossae and Ephesus, vividly evoked in Paul's letters. But to the archaeologist these communities are completely invisible. Where are they?

In his lively new book, "Coming Out Christian in the Roman World," Douglas Boin offers an answer. Early Christian writers like St. John of Patmos or Tertullian of Carthage rejected any hint of compromise with the Roman imperial state or with their non-Christian neighbors: "No man," warned Tertullian grimly, "can serve two masters." But there is no particular reason to think that Tertullian's views were widely accepted at the time. Fundamentalist zealots often have the loudest voices. In fact, it seems, most early Christians were quite happy to rub along quietly with the Roman world as they found it. They served in the Roman army, honored the emperor and even participated in pagan sacrificial ritual. Their archaeological invisibility is easy to explain: Aside from their personal convictions (revealed every now and then in their choice of graffiti), most early Christians were just ordinary Romans.



For the full review, see:

EVAN HEPLER-SMITH. "Rome at the Crossroads; Apart from their convictions, most early Christians were just ordinary Romans. They served in the army, honored the emperor and even participated in pagan sacrificial ritual." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 21, 2015): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 20, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Boin, Douglas Ryan. Coming out Christian in the Roman World: How the Followers of Jesus Made a Place in Caesar's Empire. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2015.






August 29, 2015

From Self-Funding, and Sony, Khanna Builds PlayStation Supercomputer to Advance Science



KhannaGauravPlaystationSupercomputer2015-07-05.jpg"Gaurav Khanna with a supercomputer he built at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth physics department using 200 Playstation 3 consoles that are housed in a refrigerated shipping container." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D3) This spring, Gaurav Khanna noticed that the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth physics department was more crowded than usual. Why, he wondered, were so many students suddenly so interested in science?"

It wasn't a thirst for knowledge, it turns out. News of Dr. Khanna's success in building a supercomputer using only PlayStation 3 video game consoles had spread quickly; the students, a lot of them gamers, just wanted to gape at the sight of nearly 200 consoles stacked on one another.


. . .


Making a supercomputer requires a large number of processors -- standard desktops, laptops or the like -- and a way to network them. Dr. Khanna picked the PlayStation 3 for its viability and cost, currently, $250 to $300 in stores. Unlike other game consoles, the PlayStation 3 allows users to install a preferred operating system, making it attractive to programmers and developers. (The latest model, the PlayStation 4, does not have this feature.)

"Gaming had grown into a huge market," Dr. Khanna said. "There's a huge push for performance, meaning you can buy low-cost, high-performance hardware very easily. I could go out and buy 100 PlayStation 3 consoles at my neighborhood Best Buy, if I wanted."

That is just what Dr. Khanna did, though on a smaller scale. Because the National Science Foundation, which funds much of Dr. Khanna's research, might not have viewed the bulk buying of video game consoles as a responsible use of grant money, he reached out to Sony Computer Entertainment America, the company behind the PlayStation 3. Sony donated four consoles to the experiment; Dr. Khanna's university paid for eight more, and Dr. Khanna bought another four. He then installed the Linux operating system on all 16 consoles, plugged them into the Internet and booted up the supercomputer.

Lior Burko, an associate professor of physics at Georgia Gwinnett College and a past collaborator with Dr. Khanna, praised the idea as an "ingenious" way to get the function of a supercomputer without the prohibitive expense.

"Dr. Khanna was able to combine his two fields of expertise, namely general relativity and computer science, to invent something new that allowed for not just a neat new machine, but also scientific progress that otherwise might have taken many more years to achieve," Dr. Burko said.


. . .


His team linked the consoles, housing them in a refrigerated shipping container designed to carry milk. The resulting supercomputer, Dr. Khanna said, had the computational power of nearly 3,000 laptop or desktop processors, and cost only $75,000 to make -- about a tenth the cost of a comparable supercomputer made using traditional parts.



For the full story, see:

LAURA PARKER "An Economical Way to Save Progress." The New York Times (Tues., DEC. 23, 2014): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 22, 2014, and has the title "That Old PlayStation Can Aid Science.")






August 28, 2015

No Increase in Public's Concern with Income Inequality Since 1978



(p. 4A) DENVER (AP) -- Income inequality is all the rage in public debate nowadays. Political figures from Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the left to Republican presidential prospect Jeb Bush on the right are denouncing the widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

But ordinary Americans don't seem as fascinated by the issue as their would-be leaders. The public's expressed interest in income inequality has remained stagnant over the past 36 years, according to the General Social Survey, which measures trends in public opinion.

In 2014 polling, Republicans' support for the government doing something to narrow the rich-poor gap reached an all-time low. Even Democrats were slightly less interested in government action on the issue than they were two years ago.

The survey is conducted by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. Because of its long-running and comprehensive questions, it is a highly regarded source on social trends.

In the latest survey, made public last week, less than half of Americans -- 46 percent -- said the government ought to reduce income differences between the rich and the poor. That level has held fairly steady since 1978. Thirty-seven percent said the government shouldn't concern itself with income differences, and the rest didn't feel strongly either way.



For the full story, see:

AP. "Income Inequality? Pols Want to Talk about It; Public Yawns." Omaha World-Herald (Monday, March 23, 2015): 4A.


For more details on the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) General Social Survey (GSS) results through 2014, see:

Inequality: Trends in Americans' Attitudes URL: http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/HTML%20Reports/inequality-trends-in-americans-attitudes0317-6562.aspx#study






August 26, 2015

Pentagon Seeks Innovation from Private Start-Ups Since "They've Realized that the Old Model Wasn't Working Anymore"



(p. A3) SAN FRANCISCO -- A small group of high-ranking Pentagon officials made a quiet visit to Silicon Valley in December to solicit national security ideas from start-up firms with little or no history of working with the military.

The visit was made as part of an effort to find new ways to maintain a military advantage in an increasingly uncertain world.

In announcing its Defense Innovation Initiative in a speech in California in November, Chuck Hagel, then the defense secretary, mentioned examples of technologies like robotics, unmanned systems, miniaturization and 3-D printing as places to look for "game changing" technologies that would maintain military superiority.

"They've realized that the old model wasn't working anymore," said James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "They're really worried about America's capacity to innovate."

There is a precedent for the initiative. Startled by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, at the Pentagon to ensure that the United States would not be blindsided by technological advances.

Now, the Pentagon has decided that the nation needs more than ARPA, renamed the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, if it is to find new technologies to maintain American military superiority.


. . .


The Pentagon focused on smaller companies during its December visit; it did not, for example, visit Google. Mr. Welby acknowledged that Silicon Valley start-ups were not likely to be focused on the Pentagon as a customer. The military has captive suppliers and a long and complex sales cycle, and it is perceived as being a small market compared with the hundreds of millions of customers for consumer electronics products.

Mr. Welby has worked for three different Darpa directors, but he said that Pentagon officials now believed they had to look beyond their own advanced technology offices.

"The Darpa culture is about trying to understand high-risk technology," he said. "It's about big leaps." Today, however, the Pentagon needs to break out of what can be seen as a "not invented here" culture, he said.

"We're thinking about what the world is going to look like in 2030 and what tools the department will need in 20 or 30 years," he added.



For the full story, see:

JOHN MARKOFF. "Pentagon Shops in Silicon Valley for Game Changers." The New York Times (Fri., FEB. 27, 2015): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 26, 2015.)






August 23, 2015

Starting in Late Middle Ages the State Tried "to Control, Delineate, and Restrict Human Thought and Action"



(p. C6) . . . transregional organizations like Viking armies or the Hanseatic League mattered more than kings and courts. It was a world, as Mr. Pye says, in which "you went where you were known, where you could do the things you wanted to do, and where someone would protect you from being jailed, hanged, or broken on the wheel for doing them."


. . .


This is a world in which money rules, but money is increasingly an abstraction, based on insider information, on speculation (the Bourse or stock market itself is a regional invention) and on the ability to apply mathematics: What was bought or sold was increasingly the relationships between prices in different locations rather than the goods themselves.

What happened to bring this powerful, creative pattern to a close? The author credits first the reaction to the Black Death of the mid-14th century, when fear of contamination (perhaps similar to our modern fear of terrorism) justified laws that limited travel and kept people in their place. Religious and sectarian strife further limited the free flow of ideas and people, forcing people to choose one identity to the exclusion of others or else to attempt to disappear into the underground of clandestine and subversive activities. And behind both of these was the rise of the state, a modern invention that attempted to control, delineate, and restrict human thought and action.



For the full review, see:

PATRICK J. GEARY. "Lighting Up the Dark Ages." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book under review, is:

Pye, Michael. The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe. New York: Pegasus Books LLC, 2014.






August 17, 2015

Average Length of 10-K Reports Rises to 41,911 Words




WordLength10KannualReportGraph2015-07-05.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) General Electric Co.'s chief financial officer was taken aback by the industrial conglomerate's 246-page annual report.

The 10-K and supporting documents his finance team and others at the company produced was meant to give investors a comprehensive picture of GE's businesses and financial performance over the previous 12 months. It did everything but.

Packed with text on the company's internal controls, auditor statements and regulator-mandated boilerplate on "inflation, recession and currency volatility," the 2013 annual report was 109,894 words long. "Not a retail investor on planet Earth could get through" it, let alone understand it, said GE finance chief Jeffrey Bornstein.

Companies are spending an increasing amount of time and energy beefing up their regulatory filings to meet disclosure requirements. The average 10K is getting longer--about 42,000 words in 2013, up from roughly 30,000 words in 2000. By comparison, the text of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 has 32,000 words.



For the full story, see:

VIPAL MONGA and EMILY CHASAN. "The 109,894-Word Annual Report." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 2, 2015): B1 & B10.






August 9, 2015

NOAA New Estimates Show Increase Since 1880 of Only 1.65 Degrees Fahrenheit



(p. A10) Scientists have long labored to explain what appeared to be a slowdown in global warming that began at the start of this century as, at the same time, heat-trapping emissions of carbon dioxide were soaring. The slowdown, sometimes inaccurately described as a halt or hiatus, became a major talking point for people critical of climate science.

Now, new research suggests the whole thing may have been based on incorrect data.

When adjustments are made to compensate for recently discovered problems in the way global temperatures were measured, the slowdown largely disappears, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared in a scientific paper published Thursday. And when the particularly warm temperatures of 2013 and 2014 are averaged in, the slowdown goes away entirely, the agency said.


. . .


The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington that is critical of climate science, issued a statement condemning the changes and questioning the agency's methodology.

"The main claim by the authors that they have uncovered a significant recent warming trend is dubious," said the statement, attributed to three contrarian climate scientists: Richard S. Lindzen, Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. Knappenberger.

However, Russell S. Vose, chief of the climate science division at NOAA's Asheville center, pointed out in an interview that while the corrections do eliminate the recent warming slowdown, the overall effect of the agency's adjustments has long been to raise the reported global temperatures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by a substantial margin. That makes the temperature increase of the past century appear less severe than it does in the raw data.

"If you just wanted to release to the American public our uncorrected data set, it would say that the world has warmed up about 2.071 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880," Dr. Vose said. "Our corrected data set says things have warmed up about 1.65 degrees Fahrenheit. Our corrections lower the rate of warming on a global scale."



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "Global Warming 'Hiatus' Challenged by NOAA Research." The New York Times (Fri., JUNE 5, 2015): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JUNE 4, 2015.)


The scientific article mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Karl, Thomas R., Anthony Arguez, Boyin Huang, Jay H. Lawrimore, James R. McMahon, Matthew J. Menne, Thomas C. Peterson, Russell S. Vose, and Zhang Huai-Min. "Possible Artifacts of Data Biases in the Recent Global Surface Warming Hiatus." Science 348, no. 6242 (June 26, 2015): 1469-72.






August 5, 2015

Plant Breeders Use Old Sloppy "Natural" Process to Avoid Regulatory Stasis



(p. A11) What's in a name?

A lot, if the name is genetically modified organism, or G.M.O., which many people are dead set against. But what if scientists used the precise techniques of today's molecular biology to give back to plants genes that had long ago been bred out of them? And what if that process were called "rewilding?"

That is the idea being floated by a group at the University of Copenhagen, which is proposing the name for the process that would result if scientists took a gene or two from an ancient plant variety and melded it with more modern species to promote greater resistant to drought, for example.

"I consider this something worth discussing," said Michael B. Palmgren, a plant biologist at the Danish university who headed a group, including scientists, ethicists and lawyers, that is funded by the university and the Danish National Research Foundation.

They pondered the problem of fragile plants in organic farming, came up with the rewilding idea, and published their proposal Thursday in the journal Trends in Plant Science.

. . .


The idea of restoring long-lost genes to plants is not new, said Julian I. Schroeder, a plant researcher at the University of California, Davis. But, wary of the taint of genetic engineering, scientists have used traditional breeding methods to cross modern plants with ancient ones until they have the gene they want in a crop plant that needs it. The tedious process inevitably drags other genes along with the one that is targeted. But the older process is "natural," Dr. Schroeder said.


. . .


Researchers have previously crossbred wheat plants with traits found in ancient varieties, noted Maarten Van Ginkel, who headed such a program in Mexico at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

"We selected for disease resistance, drought tolerance," he said. "This method works but it has drawbacks. You prefer to move only the genes you want."

When Dr. Van Ginkel crossbred for traits, he did not look for the specific genes conferring those traits. But with the flood-resistant rice plants, researchers knew exactly which gene they wanted. Nonetheless, they crossbred and did not use precision breeding to alter the plants.

Asked why not, Dr. Schroeder had a simple answer -- a complex maze of regulations governing genetically engineered crops. With crossbreeding, he said, "the first varieties hit the fields in a couple of years."

And if the researchers had used precision breeding to get the gene into the rice?

"They would still be stuck in the regulatory process," Dr. Schroeder said.



For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. "A Proposal to Modify Plants Gives G.M.O. Debate New Life." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., MAY 29, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 28, 2015.)







August 3, 2015

Tesla Cars Are Built on Government Subsidies



(p. A13) Nowhere in Mr. Vance's book, . . . , does the figure $7,500 appear--the direct taxpayer rebate to each U.S. buyer of Mr. Musk's car. You wouldn't know that 10% of all Model S cars have been sold in Norway--though Tesla's own 10-K lists the possible loss of generous Norwegian tax benefits as a substantial risk to the company.

Barely developed in passing is that Tesla likely might not exist without a former State Department official whom Mr. Musk hired to explore "what types of tax credits and rebates Tesla might be able to drum up around its electric vehicles," which eventually would include a $465 million government-backed loan.

And how Tesla came by its ex-Toyota factory in California "for free," via a "string of fortunate turns" that allowed Tesla to float its IPO a few weeks later, is just a thing that happens in Mr. Vance's book, not the full-bore political intrigue it actually was.

The fact is, Mr. Musk has yet to show that Tesla's stock market value (currently $32 billion) is anything but a modest fraction of the discounted value of its expected future subsidies. In 2017, he plans to introduce his Model 3, a $35,000 car for the middle class. He expects to sell hundreds of thousands a year. Somehow we doubt he intends to make it easy for politicians to whip away the $7,500 tax credit just when somebody besides the rich can benefit from it--in which case the annual gift from taxpayers will quickly mount to several billion dollars each year.

Mother Jones, in a long piece about what Mr. Musk owes the taxpayer, suggested the wunderkind could be a "bit more grateful, a bit more humble." Unmentioned was the shaky underpinning of this largess. Even today's politicized climate modeling allows the possibility that climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide is far less than would justify incurring major expense to change the energy infrastructure of the world (and you certainly wouldn't begin with luxury cars). Were this understanding to become widespread, the subliminal hum of government favoritism could overnight become Tesla's biggest liability.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; The Savior Elon Musk; Tesla's impresario is right about one thing: Humanity's preservation is a legitimate government interest." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 30, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 29, 2015.)


The book discussed in the commentary is:

Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. New York: Ecco, 2015.


The Mother Jones article discussing government subsidies for Musk's Tesla, is:

Harkinson, Josh. "Free Ride." Mother Jones 38, no. 5 (Sept./Oct. 2013): 20-25.






July 30, 2015

Institutional Improvements Can Sometimes Be Designed, Rather than Only Spontaneous



A distinguished school of libertarian and neo-Austrian economic thought argues, following F.A. Hayek, that institutional improvements only arise from spontaneous order, and never from conscious design. There is something to their argument, but the designs of Alvin Roth provide counter-examples.


(p. A13) Mr. Roth's work has been to discover the most efficient and equitable methods of matching and implement them in the world. He writes with verve and style, describing many market malfunctions--from aboriginal tribes in Australia arranging marriages for children not yet born to judges bending every rule in the book to hire law clerks years before they have graduated from law school--and how we ought to think about them.

Mr. Roth's approach contrasts with standard debates over free markets versus government regulation. We want markets to be thick, quick, timely and trustworthy, but without careful design markets can become thin, slow, ill-timed and dangerous for the honest. The solution to these problems is unlikely to be regulation legislated from on high. Instead what Mr. Roth practices is nuanced market design created mostly by market participants. Mr. Roth found, for example, that even though the problems in the market for gastroenterologists and law clerks looked the same (hiring started years before schooling ended), the solutions had to be subtly different because of differences in culture, history and norms.



For the full review, see:

ALEX TABARROK. "BOOKSHELF; The Designer of Markets; In some markets, price isn't the determining factor. You can choose to go to Harvard, but Harvard has to choose to accept you first." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., JUNE 16, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 15, 2015, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Matchmaker, Make Me a Market; In some markets, price isn't the determining factor. You can choose to go to Harvard, but Harvard has to choose to accept you first.")


The book under review is:

Roth, Alvin E. Who Gets What -- and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., 2015.






July 29, 2015

How Home Solar Panel Subsidies Increase Inequality



(p. A13) Well-meaning--but ill-conceived--federal, state and local tax incentives for rooftop solar give back between 30% and 40% of the installation costs to the owner as a tax credit. But more problematic are hidden rate subsidies, the most significant of which is called net metering, which is available in 44 states. Net metering allows solar-system owners to offset on a one-for-one basis the energy they receive from the electric grid with the solar power they generate on their roof.

While this might sound logical, it isn't. An average California resident with solar, for example, generally pays about 17 cents per kilowatt-hour for electric service when the home's solar panels aren't operating. When they are operating, however, net metering requires the utility to pay that solar customer the same 17 cents per kilowatt-hour. But the solar customer still needs the grid to back up his intermittent solar panels, and the utility could have purchased that same solar power from a utility-scale solar power plant for about five cents per kilowatt-hour.

This 12-cents-per-kwh cost difference amounts to a wealth transfer from average electric customers to customers with rooftop solar systems (who also often have higher incomes). This is because utilities collect much of their fixed costs--the unavoidable costs of power plants, transmission lines, etc.--from residential customers through variable-use charges, in other words, charges based on how much energy they use. When a customer with rooftop solar purchases less electricity from the utility, he pays fewer variable-use charges and avoids contributing revenue to cover the utility's fixed costs. The result is that all of the other customers have to pick up the difference.



For the full commentary, see:

BRIAN H. POTTS . "The Hole in the Rooftop Solar-Panel Craze; Large-scale plants make sense, but panels for houses simply transfer wealth from average electric customers." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., May 18, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 17, 2015.)






July 24, 2015

Army Corps of Engineers Blamed for Hurricane Katrina



(p. 13) NEW ORLEANS -- Nearly 10 years on, one might assume that the case of Hurricane Katrina is closed.

That the catastrophic flooding of this city was caused not merely by a powerful storm but primarily by fatal engineering flaws in the city's flood protection system has been proved by experts, acknowledged by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and underscored by residents here to anyone who might suggest otherwise.

But the efforts to establish responsibility with ever more precision -- to ascertain just how many of those flaws were due to engineering, politics or money -- have not stopped.



For the full story, see:

CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and JOHN SCHWARTZ. "Decade After Katrina, Pointing Finger Firmly at Army Corps." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., MAY 24, 2015): 13 & 16.

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 23, 2015, and has the title "Decade After Katrina, Pointing Finger More Firmly at Army Corps.")






July 21, 2015

Feds Paid New York Journalist to Not Grow Crops in Oregon



(p. 11) As for the foolishness of agricultural subsidies, until recently, the federal government paid me, a New York journalist, $588 a year not to grow crops in Oregon. I rest my case.


For the full commentary, see:

Nicholas Kristof. "Our Water-Guzzling Food Factory." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MAY 31, 2015): 11.

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 30, 2015.)






July 20, 2015

Drinking Water Not Harmed by Fracking



(p. A13) Fracking isn't causing widespread damage to the nation's drinking water, the Obama administration said in a long-awaited report released Thursday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency--after a four-year study that is the U.S. government's most comprehensive examination of the issue to date--concluded that hydraulic fracturing, as being carried out by industry and regulated by states, isn't having "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water."



For the full story, see:

RUSSELL GOLD And AMY HARDER. "Fracking's Harm to Water Not Widespread, EPA Says." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 5, 2015): A5.

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is June 4, 2015, and has the title "Fracking Has Had No 'Widespread' Impact on Drinking Water, EPA Finds.")






July 17, 2015

Environment Experts Admit Obama Policies Are Expensive, Ineffective and May Make Environment Worse



(p. B1) Is the American approach to combating climate change going off the rails?

Last year, President Obama set a goal of reducing carbon emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, only 10 years from now.

Now, environmental experts are suggesting that some parts of the strategy are, at best, a waste of money and time. At worst, they are setting the United States in the wrong direction entirely.

That is the view of some of the world's top environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club. On Tuesday, they argued in a letter to the White House that allowing the burning of biomass to help reduce consumption of fossil fuels in the nation's power plants, as proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, would violate the Clean Air Act.

It's also the view of economists from the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley, who on Tuesday released the disappointing results of a field test of the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, the government's largest effort to improve residential energy efficiency.

It turns out that burning biomass -- wood, mainly -- for power produces 50 percent more CO2 than burning coal. And even if new forest growth were to eventually suck all of it out of the atmosphere, it would take decades -- perhaps more than a century -- to make up the difference and break even with coal.

One study commissioned by the state of Massachusetts concluded that the climate impacts of burning wood were worse than those for coal for 45 years, and (p. B8) worse than for natural gas for about 90 years. Humans do not have that kind of time.

The energy efficiency push has a different problem: It is much too expensive. The weatherization improvements cost more than twice as much as households' energy savings. Even after including the broad social benefits from less pollution, it was still a bad deal. Indeed, the program spent $329 per ton of CO2 it kept out of the air, some eight times as much as the administration's estimate of the social cost of damages caused by carbon.

These are not small setbacks. Most of the scenarios that keep the rise in global temperatures under a 2 degree Celsius ceiling, the point at which scientists fear the risk of climate upheaval rises significantly, rely heavily on bioenergy, including biomass for power generation and other biofuels, which face similar problems.



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "ECONOMIC SCENE; Climate Change Calls for Science, Not Hope." The New York Times (Sun., JUNE 24, 2015): B1 & B8.

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is JUNE 23, 2015, and has the title "ECONOMIC SCENE; Climate Change Calls for Science, Not Hope.")


The letter to the Obama administration from many environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, is:

http://www.pfpi.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Groups-bioenergy-letter-to-OMB-6-23-15.pdf


The research mentioned above by economists from Berkeley and the University of Chicago, is:

Fowlie, Meredith, Michael Greenstone, and Catherine Wolfram. "Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver? Evidence from the Weatherization Assistance Program." Working Paper, The Becker-Friedman Institute for Research in Economics, The University of Chicago, June 2015.


The research mentioned above that was commissioned by the state of Massachusetts, is:

Walker, Thomas , Dr. Peter Cardellichio, Andrea Colnes, Dr. John Gunn, Brian Kittler, Bob Perschel, Christopher Recchia, and Dr. David Saah. "Biomass Sustainability and Carbon Policy Study, Executive Summary." Manomet, MA: Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, June 2010.






July 13, 2015

Banks Used "Regulatory Arbitrage" to Rent Seek at Taxpayers' Expense



(p. 21) Between 2009 and 2011, a group of economists at New York University's Stern School of Business published an influential series of reports and books that sought to explain what, exactly, happened during the financial crisis. The depth of the inquiry was notable because the school is generally thought of as a Wall Street-friendly training ground for future bankers. One of the most striking findings was that between 1980 and 2000, the large banks in America had significantly moved away from productivity ­enhancement and toward rent-­seeking.

For the reports' principal authors, Matthew Richardson and Viral Acharya, the evidence of this shift came from careful study of the various ways that banks have legally evaded regulation of their capital requirements. A fundamental tenet of bank regulation is that banks shouldn't borrow too much, because being overleveraged makes them vulnerable to collapse. But banks can most easily make huge profits if they borrow huge amounts, and they tend to pursue unsafe levels of borrowing. Then, the authors observed, they use their power as essential tools in an economy to negotiate bailouts from the government, forcing taxpayers to guarantee their losses. Richardson and Acharya showed that it was precisely because our banking regulations were so extensive and complex that banks were able to seek rents. They called this "regulatory arbitrage," a term that means banks have harnessed regulation and turned it into a powerful business tool.



For the full commentary, see:

ADAM DAVIDSON. "Wall Street Is Using the Power of Dodd-Frank Against Itself." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., May 31, 2015): 18 & 20-21.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 27, 2015, and has the title "Wall Street Is Using the Power of Dodd-Frank Against Itself.")


One of the relevant papers by Acharya and Richardson is:

Acharya, Viral V., and Matthew Richardson. "Causes of the Financial Crisis." Critical Review 21, no. 2-3 (2009): 195-210.






July 11, 2015

Canny Outlaws in Education and at Hogwarts



(p. 174) Interestingly, the union members in some of the schools run by Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school group with a solid educational track record, did not boycott the benchmark tests. The reason that they refused is revealing. Green Dot's exams are created by a panel of teachers from its schools and are regularly reviewed for effectiveness and modified by the teachers. The tests have more credibility with the teachers than the tests for the rest of the district's schools, which are written by an outside company, imposed from above, and don't mesh with year-round schedules.

The quiet resistance of canny outlaws and the vocal protests of others are signs that teachers dedicated to preserving and encouraging discretion and wise judgment are not going quietly into the night. These teachers are not people who simply rebel at rules or who are just committed to their own ways of doing things. They are committed to the aims of teaching, a practice whose purpose is to educate students to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, reasonable, reflective, and humane. And they are brave enough to act on these commitments, taking the risks necessary to find ways around the rules. We suspect that many of our readers are canny outlaws themselves or know people who are: practitioners who have the know-how and courage to bend or sidestep for-(p. 175)mulaic procedures or rigid scripts or bureaucratic requirements in order to accomplish the aims of their practice. We admire canny outlaws in the stories we tell ourselves about such people and even in some of our children's stories. We read the Harry Potter tales to them because Harry, Ron, and Hermione are canny outlaws who gain the guts and skill to break school rules and stand up to illegitimate power in order to do the right thing to achieve the aims of wizardry, indeed to save the practice itself.



Source:

Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.






July 8, 2015

Not Clear If Net Neutrality Is Good for Consumers



(p. B2) Of course, government antitrust and communications policy is supposed to benefit consumers, not any individual company or group of companies. "It's fair to say Netflix has gotten something of a free pass," said Scott Hemphill, visiting professor of antitrust and intellectual property at New York University School of Law. "This open Internet principle that's in ascendance is certainly good for Netflix. It's harder to say it's good for consumers."

. . .


Despite Netflix's arguments that it shouldn't have to pay fees to a broadband provider, that proposition is hardly self-evident. The fees Netflix so fiercely opposes are analogous to those found in many industries, such as credit cards, where both consumers and merchants pay the credit card companies. "It's hard to say if these fees are good or bad for consumers," Professor Hemphill said.



For the full story, see:

JAMES B. STEWART. "Common Sense; Netflix's Invisible Hand In Policy and Mergers." The New York Times (Fri., MAY 29, 2015): B2-B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the story is MAY 28, 2015, and has the title "Her Majesty's Jihadists" which was also the title used on the cover, but not at the start of the actual article on p. 42, which has the title "Common Sense; How Netflix Keeps Finding Itself on the Same Side as Regulators.")






July 5, 2015

"You Can't Get Married if You're Dead"



(p. A15) On Friday my phone was blowing up with messages, asking if I'd seen the news. Some expressed disbelief at the headlines. Many said they were crying.

None of them were talking about the dozens of people gunned down in Sousse, Tunisia, by a man who, dressed as a tourist, had hidden his Kalashnikov inside a beach umbrella. Not one was crying over the beheading in a terrorist attack at a chemical factory near Lyon, France. The victim's head was found on a pike near the factory, his body covered with Arabic inscriptions. And no Facebook friends mentioned the first suicide bombing in Kuwait in more than two decades, in which 27 people were murdered in one of the oldest Shiite mosques in the country.

They were talking about the only news that mattered: gay marriage.


. . .


The barbarians are at our gates. But inside our offices, schools, churches, synagogues and homes, we are posting photos of rainbows on Twitter. It's easier to Photoshop images of Justice Scalia as Voldemort than it is to stare evil in the face.

You can't get married if you're dead.



For the full commentary, see:

BARI WEISS. "Love Among the Ruins; Hurrah for gay marriage. But why do supporters save their vitriol for its foes instead of the barbarians at our gates?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 27, 2015): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 26, 2015.)







June 28, 2015

The Bureaucratic Absurdities of Socialized Medicine



(p. 13) Reading "Do No Harm," Henry Marsh's frank and absorbing narrative of his life in neurosurgery, it was easy to imagine him at the table. The men, and increasingly women, who slice back the scalp, open the skull and enter the brain to extract tumors, clip aneurysms and liberate nerves, share a certain ego required for such work. They typically are bold and blunt, viewing themselves as emperors of the clinical world. Marsh adds irony to this characterization, made clear in the opening line of the book, "I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing."


. . .


Britain's National Health Service is a socialized system, and Marsh chafes at new rigid rules imposed by its administrators. He is particularly incensed by a mandatory dress code: Neurosurgeons are subject to disciplinary action for wearing a wristwatch. There is scant evidence that this item contributes to hospital infections, but he is shadowed on ward rounds by a bureaucrat who takes notes on his dress and behavior. The reign of the emperor is ending, but Marsh refuses to comply and serve as a myrmidon.

Clinical practice is becoming a theater of the absurd for patients as well. Hospital charts are filled with N.H.S. forms detailing irrelevant aspects of care. Searching for a patient's operative note, Marsh finds documentation she passed a "Type 4 turd." He shows her an elaborate stool chart "colored a somber and appropriate brown, each sheet with a graphically illustrated guide to the seven different types of turd. . . . She looked at the document with disbelief and burst out laughing."



For the full review, see:

JEROME GROOPMAN. "Consider the Comma." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 24, 2015): 13.

(Note: ellipsis between paragraphs, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 21, 2015, and has the title "'Do No Harm,' by Henry Marsh.")





(p. C6) Amid the life-or-death dramas of neurosurgery in this book are some blackly comic scenes recounting the absurdities of hospital bureaucracy in the National Health Service: not just chronic bed shortages (which mean long waits and frantic juggling of surgery schedules), but also what Dr. Marsh calls a "loss of regimental spirit" and ridiculous meetings, like a slide presentation from "a young man with a background in catering telling me I should develop empathy, keep focused and stay calm."


For the full review, see:

MICHIKO KAKUTANI. "From a Surgeon, Exhilarations and Regrets." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 19, 2015): C1 & C6.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 18, 2015, and has the title "Books of The Times; Review: In 'Do No Harm,' a Brain Surgeon Tells All.")




The book under review, in both reviews, is:

Marsh, Henry. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2015.







June 23, 2015

"Brazen Federal Overreach" Blocks Wine Process Innovation



(p. A13) On May 27, our Napa Valley winery will pull eight cases of Cabernet Sauvignon out of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. We placed them there six months ago, protected from the elements, following similar experiments in the past two years. The cold water and the tides seem to expedite the aging process, and we believe that our ocean-aged fine wine--which we've trademarked as Aquaoir--could revolutionize how vintners around the world think about winemaking. The only obstacle: the federal government.

For more than a year, our winery has been targeted by the Treasury Department, specifically, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The agency believes our product is unfit for human consumption, despite an utter lack of evidence, and it has threatened to revoke our winemaking license. Washington doesn't recognize this wine for what it is: the product of entrepreneurship and experimentation.


. . .


We don't envision expanding into vast underwater wine-storage development. We simply want to try to understand the ocean-aging effects so that we can try to simulate them on dry land. It would be lamentable if brazen federal overreach blocked the potential for innovation in an industry that could be on the cusp of a true sea change. Only in Washington could you raise a glass to that.



For the full commentary, see:

JIM DYKE JR. "The Wine-Dark Sea of Regulation; We aged wine at the bottom of the ocean--then the feds threatened our license." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 21, 2015): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 20, 2015.)






June 19, 2015

It Takes Longer to Explain a Medical Bill than It Takes to Explain Newton's Second Law



(p. 4) I CONFESS I filed this column several weeks late in large part because I had hoped first to figure out a medical bill whose serial iterations have been arriving monthly like clockwork for half a year.

As medical bills go, it's not very big: $225, from a laboratory. But I don't really want to pay it until I understand what it's for. It's not that the bill contains no information -- there is lots of it. Test codes: 105, 127, 164, to name a few. CPT codes: 87481, 87491, 87798 and others. It tells me I'm being billed $29.90 for each of nine things, but there is an "adjustment" to one of $14.20.

At first, I left messages on the lab's billing office voice mail asking for an explanation. A few months ago, when someone finally called back, she said she could not tell me what the codes were for because that would violate patient privacy. After I pointed out that I was the patient in question, she said, politely: "I'm sorry, this is what I'm told, and I don't want to lose my job."


. . .


One recent study found that up to 90 percent of hospital bills contain errors.


. . .


Before you embark on the journey of decoding your bill, you might also want to have a look at a tutorial -- Understanding Your Medical Bill -- produced by the Khan Academy, an online educator, and the Brookings Institution in Washington. It's a bit over 12 minutes. That's about five minutes longer than the Khan Academy's tutorial explaining Newton's second law.



For the full commentary, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "The Medical Bill Mystery." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., MAY 3, 2015): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 2, 2015.)






June 12, 2015

Constitutional Superheroes Created the American Nation



(p. 12) When and how did the United States ­become a nation? This question is the core of "The Quartet." In his customary graceful prose, Joseph J. Ellis, the author of such works of popular history as the prizewinning "Founding Brothers," argues that the United States did not become a nation with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Rather, he says, American nationhood resulted from the creation, adoption and effectuation of the United States ­Constitution.

Ellis declares, "Four men made the ­transition from confederation to nation ­happen. . . . George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison" (along with three supporting players: Robert Morris, Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson). He writes that "this political quartet diagnosed the systemic dysfunctions under the Articles, manipulated the political process to force a calling of the Constitutional Convention, collaborated to set the agenda in Philadelphia, attempted somewhat successfully to orchestrate the debates in the state ratifying conventions, then drafted the Bill of Rights as an insurance policy to ensure state compliance with the constitutional settlement. If I am right, this was arguably the most creative and consequential act of political leadership in American history."


. . .


Ellis's "quartet" are constitutional superheroes, the Fantastic Four of American nationalism.



For the full review, see:

R. B. BERNSTEIN. "Gang of Four." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 10, 2015): 12.

(Note: ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 5, 2015, and has the title "''The Quartet,' by Joseph J. Ellis.")


The book under review, is:

Ellis, Joseph J. The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.






June 7, 2015

Merton Miller Applauded Bankers Who Cleverly Evaded Government Interference with Free Markets



(p. 12) . . . Merton Miller, a Nobel laureate economist at the University of Chicago, . . . was in many ways the father of financial innovation. Miller praised complex financial instruments, in large part because they helped institutions avoid the law. He applauded bankers for cleverly avoiding government attempts to interfere with markets.


For the full review, see:

FRANK PARTNOY. "Societal Bonds." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., MAY 10, 2015): 28.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date MAY 8, 2015, and has the title "'Smart Money,' by Andrew Palmer.")






May 31, 2015

Justice Kagan Cites Dr. Seuss to Show Fish Are Tangible



(p. A16) In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the real issue in the case, Yates v. United States, No. 13-7451, was that the law is too harsh. It is, she wrote, "too broad and undifferentiated, with too-high maximum penalties, which give prosecutors too much leverage and sentencers too much discretion."

She added, "And I'd go further: In those ways," the law "is unfortunately not an outlier, but an emblem of a deeper pathology in the federal criminal code."

Still, she said, "this court does not get to rewrite the law." She said it was "broad but clear."

"A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form," Justice Kagan wrote, citing as authority the Dr. Seuss classic "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish."

It does not matter, she said, that what Mr. Yates destroyed was not a document.

"A person who hides a murder victim's body is no less culpable than one who burns the victim's diary," she wrote. "A fisherman, like John Yates, who dumps undersized fish to avoid a fine is no less blameworthy than one who shreds his vessel's catch log for the same reason."

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined Justice Kagan's dissenting opinion.



For the full story, see:

ADAM LIPTAK. "In Overturning Conviction, Supreme Court Says Fish Are Not Always Tangible." The New York Times (Thurs., FEB. 26, 2015): A16.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 25, 2015.)


The book discussed above is:

Seuss, Dr. One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. New York: Random House, 1960.






May 26, 2015

Voters Want Texas-Style Economic Dynamism



(p. A23) Surveys and interviews give us some sense of what's going on. Voters have a lot of economic anxieties. But they also have a template in their heads for what economic dynamism looks like.

That template does not include a big role for government. Polls show that faith in government is near all-time lows. In a Gallup survey, voters listed dysfunctional government as the nation's No. 1 problem. In fact, American voters' traditional distrust has morphed and hardened. They used to think it was bloated and ineffective. Now they think it is bloated and ineffective and rigged to help those who need it least.

When many of these voters think of economic dynamism, they think of places like Texas, the top job producer in the nation over the past decade, and, especially, places like Houston, a low-regulation, low-cost-of-living place. In places like Wisconsin, voters in the middle class private sector support candidates who cut state pensions and pass right-to-work laws, so that economic governance can be more Texas-style.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "The Field Is Flat." The New York Times (Fri., MARCH 27, 2015): A23.






May 25, 2015

To FDA Aging Is Not a Disease, So FDA Will Not Approve Drugs that Extend Life



(p. D1) Some of the top researchers on aging in the country are trying to get an unusual clinical trial up and running.


. . .


The trial aims to test the drug metformin, a common medication often used to treat Type 2 diabetes, and see if it can delay or prevent other chronic diseases. (The project is being called Targeting/Taming Aging With Metformin, or TAME.) Metformin isn't necessarily more promising than other drugs that have shown signs of extending life and reducing age-related chronic diseases. But metformin has been widely and safely used for more than 60 years, has very few side effects and is inexpensive.

The scientists say that if TAME is a well-designed, large-scale study, the Food and Drug Administration might be persuaded to consider aging as an indication, or preventable condition, a move that could spur drug makers to target factors that contribute to aging.


. . .


(p. D4) Fighting each major disease of old age separately isn't winnable, said S. Jay Olshansky, another TAME project planner and a professor at the school of public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We lower the risk of heart disease, somebody lives long enough to get cancer. If we reduce the risk of cancer, somebody lives long enough to get Alzheimer's disease."

"We are suggesting that the time has arrived to attack them all by going after the biological process of aging," Dr. Olshansky said.

Sandy Walsh, an FDA spokeswoman, said the agency's perspective has long been that "aging" isn't a disease. "We clearly have approved drugs that treat consequences of aging," she said. Although the FDA currently is inclined to treat diseases prevalent in older people as separate medical conditions, "if someone in the drug-development industry found something that treated all of these, we might revisit our thinking."



For the full story, see:

SUMATHI REDDY. "To Grow Old Without Disease." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 17, 2015): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 16, 2015, and has the title "Scientists' New Goal: Growing Old Without Disease.")






May 23, 2015

Henry Paulson Fears Chinese Economy "Will Face a Reckoning"



(p. B1) About 340 pages into Henry M. Paulson's new book on China, a sentence comes almost out of nowhere that stops readers in their tracks.

"Frankly, it's not a question of if, but when, China's financial system," he writes, "will face a reckoning and have to contend with a wave of credit losses and debt restructurings."


. . .


(p. B2) Like the United States crisis in 2008, Mr. Paulson worries that in China "the trigger would be a collapse in the real estate market," and he declared in an interview that China is experiencing a real estate bubble. He noted that debt as a percentage of gross domestic product in China rose to 204 percent in June 2014 from 130 percent in 2008.

"Slowing economic growth and rapidly rising debt levels are rarely a happy combination, and China's borrowing spree seems certain to lead to trouble," he wrote.

Mr. Paulson's analysis in his book, "Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower," is all the more remarkable because he has long been a bull on China and has deep friendships with its senior leaders, who could frown upon his straightforward comments.



For the full commentary, see:

Andrew Ross Sorkin. "DEALBOOK; A Veteran of the Crisis Tells China to Be Wary." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 21, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date APRIL 20, 2015, and has the title "DEALBOOK; A Veteran of the Financial Crisis Tells China to Be Wary.")


The book discussed above is:

Paulson, Henry M. Dealing with China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower. New York: Twelve, 2015.






May 21, 2015

Instead of Becoming a Lobbyist, Harry Reid Would "Rather Go to Singapore and Have Them Beat Me with Whips"




Finally an issue on which Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell can agree:



(p. A14) "I've had calls from lots of people," Mr. Reid said. "For example, Al Gore called me. Maybe I want to do something with Al Gore? I have no idea."

But on one matter he was clear: He said he would not be a lobbyist.

"I'd rather go to Singapore and have them beat me with whips," he said.



For the full story, see:

ADAM NAGOURNEY. "Reid to Head Home on New Mission." The New York Times (Thurs., APRIL 3, 2015): A14.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 2, 2015, and has the title "Harry Reid Hopes to Ensure Democrats' Success as Tenure Winds Down.")







May 18, 2015

Obama's Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Likens Obama's Climate Change Policies to "Burning the Constitution"



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- Laurence H. Tribe, the highly regarded liberal scholar of constitutional law, still speaks of President Obama as a proud teacher would of a star student. "He was one of the most amazing research assistants I've ever had," Mr. Tribe said in a recent interview. Mr. Obama worked for him at Harvard Law School, where Mr. Tribe has taught for four decades.


. . .


Next week Mr. Tribe is to deliver oral arguments for Peabody in the first federal court case about Mr. Obama's climate change rules. Mr. Tribe argues in a brief for the case that in requiring states to cut carbon emissions, thus to change their energy supply from fossil fuels to renewable sources, the E.P.A. is asserting executive power far beyond its lawful authority under the Clean Air Act. At a House hearing last month, Mr. Tribe likened the climate change (p. A15) policies of Mr. Obama to "burning the Constitution."


. . .


While Mr. Tribe is one of the nation's foremost experts on constitutional law, and has argued some Supreme Court cases related to environmental law, he said he has never specialized in the Clean Air Act.


. . .


It is widely expected that the fight over the E.P.A. regulations will eventually go before the Supreme Court. If it does, Mr. Tribe said that he expects he "may well" play a role in that case -- which would be argued before two other former students, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Elena Kagan.



For the full story, see:

CORAL DAVENPORT. "Laurence Tribe Fights Climate Case Against Star Pupil From Harvard, President Obama." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 7, 2015): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 6, 2015, and has the title "Laurence Tribe Fights Climate Case Against Star Pupil From Harvard, President Obama.")






May 13, 2015

Purdue President Mitch Daniels Opposes "the Bureaucratic Accreditation Process"



(p. A9) As a college administrator, Mr. Daniels has . . . taken notice of the bureaucratic accreditation process that is a prerequisite for receiving federal funds. Six regional groups blessed by the Education Department, as well as a coterie of program-specific organizations, sign off on an institution's programs. The ostensible goal when Congress coupled federal funding with accreditation in the 1952 G.I. Bill was to protect students from colleges hawking worthless degrees.

That hasn't happened. Instead, universities devote considerable resources to a useless process. Almost no institution misses the mark, and since accreditation is done geographically, an upper-tier school like Purdue is accredited by the same agency that has given accreditation to Indiana University East, where the six-year graduation rate is about 18%.

Purdue pays $150,000 annually in direct accreditation fees, working with any combination of 17 agencies--but that doesn't include time. Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy said in a 2011 letter that the school spent $849,000 in one year of a multiyear accreditation. "One suspects you have some basic inertia and some folks would rather spend their time being busy with this than doing something more productive," Mr. Daniels says with a faint smile. "I refer of course to the people on other campuses."

'All this time and money and in the end some really lousy schools get accredited, so I'm not sure what the student--the consumer--learns. An awful lot of make work involved, or so it seems," he says. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) is considering reforms, including untangling accreditation from federal funding, an idea that Mr. Daniels says "ought to be looked at."



For the full interview, see:

KATE BACHELDER, interviewer. "THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; How to Save American Colleges; The Purdue president on freezing tuition, how to reduce student debt, and busting the accreditation cartel." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 25, 2015): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 24, 2015.)






May 9, 2015

Incandescents Better than LEDs at Allowing a Good Night's Sleep



(p. D6) Studies have shown that such light, especially from the blue part of the spectrum, inhibits the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that helps people fall asleep.


. . .


Devices such as smartphones and tablets are often illuminated by light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that tend to emit more blue light than incandescent products.



For the full story, see:

KATE GALBRAITH. "WIRED WELL; Can Orange Glasses Help You Sleep Better?" The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 7, 2015): D6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "WIRED WELL; Can Orange Glasses Help You Sleep Better?")






May 8, 2015

Self-Made, Abolitionist, Meritocratic Hamilton Viewed as Elitest



(p. 627) To Jefferson we owe the self-congratulatory language of Fourth of July oratory, the evangelical conviction that America serves as a beacon to all humanity. Jefferson told John Dickinson, "Our revolution and its consequences will ameliorate the condition of man over a great portion of the globe." At least on paper, Jefferson possessed a more all-embracing view of democracy than Hamilton, who was always frightened by a sense of the fickle and fallible nature of the masses.

Having said that, one must add that the celebration of the 1800 election as the simple triumph of "progressive" Jeffersonians over "reactionary" Hamiltonians greatly overstates the case. The three terms of Federalist rule had been full of daz-(p. 628)zling accomplishments that Republicans, with their extreme apprehension of federal power, could never have achieved. Under the tutelage of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, the Federalists had bequeathed to American history a sound federal government with a central bank, a funded debt, a high credit rating, a tax system, a customs service, a coast guard, a navy, and many other institutions that would guarantee the strength to preserve liberty. They activated critical constitutional doctrines that gave the American charter flexibility, forged the bonds of nationhood, and lent an energetic tone to the executive branch in foreign and domestic policy. Hamilton, in particular, bound the nation through his fiscal programs in a way that no Republican could have matched. He helped to establish the rule of law and the culture of capitalism at a time when a revolutionary utopianism and a flirtation with the French Revolution still prevailed among too many Jeffersonians. With their reverence for states' rights, abhorrence of central authority, and cramped interpretation of the Constitution, Republicans would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve these historic feats.

Hamilton had promoted a forward-looking agenda of a modern nation-state with a market economy and an affirmative view of central government. His meritocratic vision allowed greater scope in the economic sphere for the individual liberties that Jefferson defended so eloquently in the political sphere. It was no coincidence that the allegedly aristocratic and reactionary Federalists contained the overwhelming majority of active abolitionists of the period. Elitists they might be, but they were an open, fluid elite, based on merit and money, not on birth and breeding--the antithesis of the southern plantation system. It was the northern economic system that embodied the mix of democracy and capitalism that was to constitute the essence of America in the long run. By no means did the 1800 election represent the unalloyed triumph of good over evil or of commoners over the wellborn.

The 1800 triumph of Republicanism also meant the ascendancy of the slaveholding south. Three Virginia slaveholders--Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe--were to control the White House for the next twenty-four years. These aristocratic exponents of"democracy" not only owned hundreds of human beings but profited from the Constitution's least democratic features: the legality of slavery and the ability of southern states to count three-fifths of their captive populations in calculating their electoral votes. (Without this so-called federal ratio, John Adams would have defeated Thomas Jefferson in 1800.) The Constitution did more than just tolerate slavery: it actively rewarded it. Timothy Pickering was to inveigh against "Negro presidents and Negro congresses"-- that is, presidents and congresses who owed their power to the three-fifths rule. This bias inflated southern power (p. 629) against the north and disfigured the democracy so proudly proclaimed by the Jeffersonians. Slaveholding presidents from the south occupied the presidency for approximately fifty of the seventy-two years following Washington's first inauguration. Many of these slaveholding populists were celebrated by posterity as tribunes of the common people. Meanwhile, the self-made Hamilton, a fervent abolitionist and a staunch believer in meritocracy, was villainized in American history textbooks as an apologist of privilege and wealth.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






May 6, 2015

Economic Growth Depends on the Talented Becoming Entrepreneurs Instead of Rent Seekers



(p. 6) In an influential paper, the economists Kevin M. Murphy and Robert W. Vishny, both at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Andrei Shleifer at Harvard University argue that countries suffer when talented people become what we economists call "rent seekers." Instead of creating wealth, rent seekers simply transfer it -- from others to themselves.

Job titles don't tell you whether someone is primarily a rent seeker. A lawyer who helps draft precise contracts may actually be helping the wheels of commerce turn, and so creating wealth. But trial lawyers in a country with poorly functioning tort systems may simply be extracting rents: They can make money by pursuing frivolous lawsuits.



For the full commentary, see:

SENDHIL MULLAINATHAN. "Economic View; Maximizing the Social Returns to a Career in Finance." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., APRIL 12, 2015): 6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 10, 2015, and has the title "Economic View; Why a Harvard Professor Has Mixed Feelings When Students Take Jobs in Finance.")


The paper praised and summarized above, is:

Murphy, Kevin M., Andrei Shleifer, and Robert W. Vishny. "The Allocation of Talent: Implications for Growth." Quarterly Journal of Economics 106, no. 2 (May 1991): 503-30.






May 4, 2015

Hamilton's SEUM at Paterson Was an Early Failure of Centrally Planned Industrial Policy



(p. 384) The 1792 financial panic came on the heels of the two great projects by which Hamilton hoped to excite the public with the shimmering prospects for American manufacturing: the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures and submission of his Report on Manufactures. The outlook for both was badly damaged by the panic. Even a short list of the worst offenders in the share mania--William Duer, Alexander Macomb, New York broker John Dewhurst, Royal Flint--included so many SEUM directors that it almost sounded like a company venture. Duer's notoriety was especially detrimental since he had been SEUM governor, its largest shareholder, and its chief salesman in hawking securities.


. . .


(p. 385) How exactly would the SEUM, its coffers cleaned out by Duer, pay for its property on the Passaic River? Hamilton privately approached William Seton at the Bank of New York and arranged a five-thousand-dollar loan at a reduced 5 percent interest rate. He cited high-minded reasons, including the public interest and the advantage to New York City of having a manufacturing town across the Hudson, but more than the public interest was at stake: "To you, my dear Sir, I will not scruple to say in confidence that the Bank of New York shall suffer no diminution of its pecuniary faculties from any accommodations it may afford to the Society in question. I feel my reputation concerned in its welfare." The SEUM's collapse, Hamilton knew, could jeopardize his own career. In promising Seton that he would see to it as treasury secretary that the Bank of New York was fully compensated for any financial sacrifice entailed by the SEUM loan, Hamilton mingled too freely his public and private roles.

(p. 386) For several days in early July 1792, Hamilton huddled with the society directors to hammer out a new program. "Perseverance in almost any plan is better than fickleness and fluctuation," he was to lecture one superintendent, with what could almost have been his personal motto. Rewarding his efforts, the society approved wide-ranging operations: a cotton mill, a textile printing plant, a spinning and weaving operation, and housing for fifty workers on quarter-acre plots. Never timid about his own expertise, Hamilton pinpointed the precise spot for the factory at the foot of the waterfalls that had so impressed him with their strength and beauty during the Revolutionary War.

It was an index of the hope generated by Hamilton that the SEUM, at his suggestion, hired Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the architect who had just laid out plans for the new federal city on the Potomac River, to supervise construction of the society's buildings and plan the futuristic town of Paterson. At the same time, it was an index of Hamilton's persistent anxiety that he dipped into managerial minutiae befitting a factory foreman rather than an overworked treasury secretary. For instance, he instructed the directors to draw up an inventory of tools possessed by each worker and stated that, if any were broken, the parts should be returned and "a report made to the storekeeper and noted in some proper column." With his reputation at stake, Hamilton even subsidized the venture with his own limited funds, advancing $1,800 to the mechanics. Despite the Duer fiasco, the SEUM commenced operations in spinning, weaving, and calico printing.

The subsequent society records make for pretty dismal reading, as Hamilton was beset by unending troubles. L'Enfant was the wrong man for the job. Instead of trying to conserve money for the cash-strapped society, he contrived extravagant plans for a seven-mile-long stone aqueduct to carry water. He was enthralled by the idea of creating a grand industrial city on the pattern of the nascent Washington, D.C., with long radiating avenues, rather than with building a simple factory. By early 1794, L'Enfant shucked the project and spirited off the blueprints into the bargain. To find qualified textile workers, the society sent scouts to Scotland and paid for the laborers' passage to America. Even the managers clamored for better pay, and SEUM minutes show that some disgruntled artisans personally hired by Hamilton began to sabotage the operation by stealing machinery. One of the saddest parts of the story relates to the employment of children. Whatever hopeful vision Hamilton may have had of children performing useful labor and being educated simultaneously, they had neither the time nor the money to attend school. To remedy the problem, the board hired a schoolmaster to instruct the factory children on Sundays--which, as Hamilton must have known, was scarcely a satisfactory solution.

By early 1796, with Hamilton still on the board, the society abandoned its final (p. 387) lines of business, discontinued work at the factory, and put the cotton mill up for sale. Hamilton's fertile dream left behind only a set of derelict buildings by the river. At first, it looked as if the venture had completely backfired. During the next two years, not a single manufacturing society received a charter in the United States. Hamilton's faith in textile manufacturing in Paterson was eventually vindicated in the early 1800s as a "raceway" system of canals powered textile mills and other forms of manufacturing, still visible today in the Great Falls Historic District. The city that Hamilton helped to found did achieve fame for extensive manufacturing operations, including foundries, textile mills, silk mills , locomotive factories, and the Colt Gun works. Hamilton had chosen the wrong sponsors at the wrong time. In recruiting Duer and L'Enfant, he had exercised poor judgment. He was launching too many initiatives, crowded too close together, as if he wanted to remake the entire country in a flash.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






May 3, 2015

Social Security "Produces Inequality Systematically"



(p. B5) Mr. Kotlikoff, 64, did not set out to become Dr. Social Security. Two decades ago, he and a colleague were studying the adequacy of life insurance. To do so, you need to know something about Social Security. Soon, Mr. Kotlikoff was developing a computer model for various payouts from the government program and realized that consumers might actually pay to use it.

From that instinct, a service called Maximize My Social Security was born, though it wasn't easy to do and get it right. "We had to develop very detailed code, and the whole Social Security rule book is written in geek," he said. "It's impossible to understand."

Because of that, most people filing for benefits have to get lucky enough to encounter a true expert in their social circle, at a Social Security office or on its hotline. They are rare, and this information dissymmetry offends Mr. Kotlikoff. "We have a system that produces inequality systematically," he said. It's not because of what the beneficiaries earned, either; it's simply based on their (perhaps random) access to those who have a deep understanding of the rules.


. . .


"Get What's Yours" is a useful book. Indeed, we all need better instruction guides for the many parts of our financial lives that only grow more complex over time.



For the full commentary, see:

RON LIEBER. "YOUR MONEY; The Social Security Maze and Other U.S. Mysteries." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 14, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 13, 2015.)


The book under discussion is:

Kotlikoff, Laurence J., Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman. Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing out Your Social Security. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.






April 30, 2015

Hamilton Fostered the Preconditions for Capitalism




(p. 345) In a nation of self-made people, Hamilton became an emblematic figure because he believed that government ought to promote self-fulfillment, self-improvement, and self-reliance. His own life offered an extraordinary object lesson in social mobility, and his unstinting energy illustrated his devout belief in the salutary power of work to develop people's minds and bodies. As treasury secretary, he wanted to make room for entrepreneurs, whom he regarded as the motive force of the economy. Like Franklin, he intuited America's special genius for business: "As to whatever may depend on enterprise, we need not fear to be outdone by any people on earth. It may almost be said that enterprise is our element."

Hamilton did not create America's market economy so much as foster the cultural and legal setting in which it flourished. A capitalist society requires certain preconditions. Among other things, it must establish a rule of law through enforceable contracts; respect private property; create a trustworthy bureaucracy to arbitrate legal disputes; and offer patents and other protections to promote invention. The abysmal failure of the Articles of Confederation to provide such an atmosphere was one of Hamilton's principal motives for promoting the Constitution. "It is known," he wrote, "that the relaxed conduct of the state governments in regard to property and credit was one of the most serious diseases under which the body politic laboured prior to the adoption of our present constitution and was a material cause of that state of public opinion which led to its adoption." He converted the new Constitution into a flexible instrument for creating the legal framework necessary for economic growth. He did this by activating three still amorphous clauses--the necessary-and-proper clause, the general-welfare clause, and the commerce clause--making them the basis for government activism in economics.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 25, 2015

Lincoln Defended Innovative Rail Against Incumbent Steam



(p. A15) "Lincoln's Greatest Case" convincingly shows that 1857 was a watershed year for the moral and political questions surrounding slavery's expansion to the west, something that Jefferson Davis's preferred railroad route would have facilitated. Mr. McGinty's discussion of Lincoln's philosophy and the career-making speeches he would develop in the late 1850s allows us to see the transportation disputes in light of the political and cultural dynamics that would lead to the Civil War. The book is also a case study of discomfort with new technology--and the futility of using a tort suit to prevent the adoption of inevitable innovation.

The book ends on an elegiac note, with steamboats making their inevitable passage into the mists of history. The rails, which could operate year-round through paths determined by man, not nature, would reign supreme, thanks in part to the efforts of a technophile future president.



For the full review, see:

MARGARET A. LITTLE. "BOOKSHELF; When Steam Was King; A dispute over a fiery collision pitted steamboats against railroads and the North against the South. Lincoln defended the rail." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 22, 2015, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Technology's Great Liberator; A dispute over a fiery collision pitted steamboats against railroads and the North against the South. Lincoln defended the rail.")


The book under review is:

McGinty, Brian. Lincoln's Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America. New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., 2015.






April 24, 2015

Remaining Airline Regulations Increase Fares and Reduce Services



(p. 256) Kenneth Button makes the case for "Really Opening Up the American Skies." "The deregulation of the 1970s, by removing entry quantitative controls, led to a considerable increase in services. It also increased the capability of individuals to access a wider range of destinations from their homes via the hub-and-spoke system of routings that emerged. This pattern has been reversed since 2007. The largest 29 airports in the United States lost 8.8 percent of their scheduled flights between 2007 and 2012, but medium-sized airports lost 26 percent and small airports lost 21.3 percent. . . . In sum, the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act only partially liberalized the U.S. domestic airline market. One important restriction that remains is the lack of domestic competition from foreign carriers. The U.S. air traveler benefited from the country being the first mover in deregulation, and this provided lower fares and consumer-driven service attributes some 15-20 years before they were enjoyed in other markets; the analogous reforms in Europe only fully materialized after 1997. But the world has changed, and so have the demands of consumers and the business models adopted by the airlines. . . . But remaining regulations still limit the amount of competition in the market and, with this, the ability of travelers to enjoy even lower fares and a wider range of services." Regulation, Spring 2014, pp. 40-45 http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/regulation/2014/4/regulation-v37n1-8.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 249-56.

(Note: ellipses in original.)


The article quoted by Taylor is:

Button, Kenneth. "Really Opening up the American Skies." Regulation 37, no. 1 (Spring 2014): 40-45.






April 22, 2015

Today Is 15th Anniversary of Our Betrayal of Elián González



GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg"In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy." Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. "10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title "10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.")





Today (April 22, 2015) is the 15th anniversary of the day when the Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.






April 18, 2015

In American Political System "It Will Be far More Difficult to Undo than to Do"




(p. 330) Jefferson traced the formation of the two main parties--to be known as Republicans and Federalists--to Hamilton's victory over assumption. For Jefferson, this event split Congress into pure, virtuous republicans and a "mercenary phalanx," "monarchists in principle," who "adhered to Hamilton of course as their leader in that principle."

Why did Jefferson retrospectively try to downplay his part in passing Hamilton's assumption scheme? While he understood the plan at the time better than he admitted, he probably did not see as clearly as Hamilton that the scheme created an unshakable foundation for federal power in America. The federal government had captured forever the bulk of American taxing power. In comparison, the location of the national capital seemed a secondary matter. It wasn't that Jefferson had been duped by Hamilton; Hamilton had explained his views at dizzying length. It was simply that he had been outsmarted by Hamilton, who had embedded an enduring political system in the details of the funding scheme. In an unsigned newspaper article that September, entitled "Address to the Public Creditors," Hamilton gave away the secret of his statecraft that so infuriated Jefferson: "Whoever considers the nature of our government with discernment will see that though obstacles and delays will frequently stand in the way of the adoption of good measures, yet when once adopted, they are likely to be stable and permanent. It will be far more difficult to undo than to do."



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 17, 2015

Disclosure Regulations Often Have Unintended Consequences



(p. B5) . . . , some disclosure works. Professor Levitin cites two examples. The first is an olfactory disclosure. Methane doesn't have any scent, but a foul smell is added to alert people to a gas leak. The second is A.T.M. fees. A study in Australia showed that once fees were disclosed, people avoided the high-fee machines and took out more when they had to go to them.

But to Omri Ben-Shahar, co-author of a recent book, "More Than You Wanted To Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure," these are cherry-picked examples in a world awash in useless disclosures. Of course, information is valuable. But disclosure as a regulatory mechanism doesn't work nearly well enough, he argues.

First, it really works only when things are simple. As soon as transactions become complex, disclosure starts to stumble. Buying a car, for instance, turns out to be several transactions: the purchase itself, the financing, maybe the trade-in of old car and various insurance and warranty decisions. These are all subject to various disclosure rules, but making the choices clear and useful has proved nigh impossible.

In complex transactions, we then must rely on intermediaries to give us advice. Because they are often conflicted, they, too, become subject to disclosure obligations. Ah, even more boilerplate to puzzle over!

And then there's the harm. Over the years, banks that sold complex securities often stuck impossible-to-understand clauses deep in prospectuses that "disclosed" what was really going on. When the securities blew up, as they often did, banks then fended off lawsuits by arguing they had done everything the law required and were therefore not liable.

"That's the harm of disclosure," Professor Ben-Shahar said. "It provides a safe harbor for practices that smell bad. It sanitizes every bad practice."



For the full review, see:

JESSE EISINGER. "In an Era of Disclosure, an Excess of Sunshine but a Paucity of Rules." The New York Times (Thurs., FEBRUARY 12, 2015): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEBRUARY 11, 2015.)


The book under review is:

Ben-Shahar, Omri, and Carl E. Schneider. More Than You Wanted to Know: The Failure of Mandated Disclosure. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.






April 16, 2015

Occupational Licensing Creates Cartels



(p. 251) Aaron Edlin and Rebecca Haw discuss "Cartels by Another Name: Should Licensed Occupations Face Antitrust Scrutiny?" "Once limited to a few learned professions, licensing is now required for over 800 occupations. And once limited to minimum educational requirements and entry exams, licensing board restrictions are now a vast, complex web of anticompetitive rules and regulations. . . . State-level occupational licensing is on the rise. In fact, it has eclipsed unionization as the dominant organizing force of the U.S. labor market. While unions once claimed 30% of the country's working population, that figure has since shrunk to below 15%. Over the same period of time, the number of workers subject to state-level licensing requirements has doubled; today, 29% of the U.S. workforce is licensed and 6% is certified by the government. The trend has important ramifications. Conservative estimates suggest that licensing raises consumer prices by 15%. There is also evidence that professional licensing increases the wealth gap; it tends to raise the wages of those already in high-income occupations while harming low-income consumers who cannot afford the inflated prices." "We contend that the state action doctrine should not prevent antitrust suits against state licensing boards that are comprised of private competitors deputized to regulate and to outright exclude their own competition, often with the threat of criminal sanction." University of Pennsylvania Law Review, April 2014, pp. 1093-1164. http://www.pennlawreview.com/print/162-U-Pa-L-Rev-1093.pdf.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 3 (Summer 2014): 249-56.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 14, 2015

"The Most Celebrated Meal in American History"




(p. 328) If we are to credit Jefferson's story, the dinner held at his lodgings on Maiden Lane on June 20, 1790, fixed the future site of the capital. It is perhaps the most celebrated meal in American history, the guests including Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and perhaps one or two others. For more than a month, Jefferson had been bedeviled by a migraine headache, yet he presided with commendable civility. Despite his dislike of assumption, he knew that the stalemate over the funding scheme could shatter the union, and, as secretary of state, he also feared the repercussions for American credit abroad.

Madison restated his familiar argument that assumption punished Virginia and other states that had duly settled their debts. But he agreed to support assumption--or at least not oppose it--if something was granted in exchange. Jefferson recalled, "It was observed... that as the pill would be a bitter one to the southern states, something should be done to soothe them." The sedative measure was that Philadelphia would be the temporary capital for ten years, followed by a permanent move to a Potomac site. In a lucrative concession for his home state, Madison also seems to have extracted favorable treatment for Virginia in a final debt settlement with the central government. In return, Hamilton agreed to exert his utmost efforts (p. 329) to get the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to accept Philadelphia as the provisional capital and a Potomac site as its permanent successor.

The dinner consecrated a deal that was probably already close to achievement. The sad irony was that Hamilton, the quintessential New Yorker, bargained away the city's chance to be another London or Paris, the political as well as financial and cultural capital of the country. His difficult compromise testified to the transcendent value he placed on assumption. The decision did not sit well with many New Yorkers. Senator Rufus King was enraged when Hamilton told him that he "had made up his mind" to jettison the capital to save his funding system. For King, Hamilton's move had been high-handed and secretive, and he ranted privately that "great and good schemes ought to succeed not by intrigue or the establishment of bad measures."



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






April 13, 2015

Italian Traditional Family Stunts Individual Enterprise



(p. 15) Hooper's book, both sweeping in scope and generous with detail, makes persuasive arguments for how geography, history and tradition have shaped Italy and its citizens, for better and sometimes for worse. Roman Catholicism, for example, has indelibly conditioned Italian society, even as the Vatican's restrictions are widely ignored. Catholicism's great allowance for human frailty has translated into a great propensity for forgiveness, as evinced in the Italian justice system, but also resistance to the notion of accountability. It's a word, Hooper adds, that has no counterpart in the Italian language.


. . .


There's . . . mammismo, the propensity of young Italians to remain too closely tied to the maternal apron strings. But while "the traditional family has been at the root of much of what Italy has achieved," Hooper writes, dependence on the family can infantilize, and lack of individual enterprise has held the country back. Indeed, various sections of Hooper's book return to Italy's economic decline and its underlying causes.

He notes that the paperwork and formalities of Italy's cumbersome bureaucracy rob the average Italian of 20 days a year. And he wonders what other country could ever have had a Minister for Simplification to deal with its plethora of often conflicting laws and regulations.

Circumventing some of that bureaucracy partly answers another common question: Why is Italy so prone to corruption? After all, Italians are masters at sidestepping regulations, or, as the saying goes, "Fatta la legge, trovato l'inganno" ("Make the law, then find a way around it"). It's no wonder foreign investment in Italy is so low.



For the full review, see:

LISABETTA POVOLEDO. "Under the Italian Sun." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., March 1, 2015): 15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date FEB. 27, 2015, and has the title "'The Italians,' by John Hooper.")


The book under review is:

Hooper, John. The Italians. New York: Viking, 2015.






April 10, 2015

In Hamilton's Financial System the "Cogs and Wheels Meshed Perfectly Together"




(p. 302) Much later, Daniel Webster rhapsodized about Hamilton's report as follows: "The fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jove was hardly more sudden or more perfect than the financial system of the United States as it burst forth from the conception of Alexander Hamilton." This was the long view of history and of many contemporaries, but detractors were immediately vocal. They were befuddled by the complexity of Hamilton's plan and its array of options for creditors. Opponents sensed that he was moving too fast, on too many fronts, for them to grasp all his intentions. He had devised his economic machinery so cunningly that its cogs and wheels meshed perfectly together. One could not tamper with the parts without destroying the whole. Hamilton later said of this ingenious structure, "Credit is an entire thing. Every part of it has the nicest sympathy with every other part. Wound one limb and the whole tree shrinks and decays."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)






April 7, 2015

"Red Tape Is Good for the Government but Not for Us Chinese People"



(p. A8) China's seven million public servants have long been a target of scorn by citizens who accuse them of endemic laziness and corruption. Last year, a municipal water official in Hebei Province with a history of turning off the taps of customers who refused to pay kickbacks -- including an entire village -- was detained after investigators found $20 million hidden in his home.

In the southwestern province of Yunnan, officials at a local land reclamation bureau often leave for lunch around 10:30 a.m., returning after 3 p.m. "It simply gets too hot to do any work," Pan Yuwen, an agricultural adviser, said one rainy day last month when the temperature was a less-than-sultry 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

But more than lackadaisical bureaucrats, it is the head-spinning tangle of regulations that infuriates many ordinary Chinese. At the heart of their ire is the hukou, or family registration, an onerous system akin to an internal passport that often tethers services like public education, subsidized health care and pensions to a Chinese citizen's parents' birthplace -- even if he or she never lived there.


. . .


One recent afternoon, Li Ying, 39, sat in a fluorescent-lit Beijing government office, waiting for her number to be called so she could apply for a temporary residence permit that would allow her 6-year-old son to enroll in school.

Although Ms. Li moved to Beijing with her parents as a child in 1981, her hukou is registered in a distant town, meaning her son will be shut out of the city's public schools without the permit.

Among the 14 required documents, Ms. Li must provide her hukou certificate, proof of residence, a diploma, a job contract, a marriage license, her husband's identity card, his hukou, a certificate proving that she has only one child and a company document detailing her work performance and tax payments.

"What a headache," she said, a pile of paperwork balanced on her lap. "Red tape is good for the government but not for us Chinese people."



For the full story, see:

DAN LEVIN. "China's Middle Class Chafes Against Maze of Red Tape." The New York Times (Sat., MARCH 14, 2015): A4 & A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 13, 2015.)







April 6, 2015

"He Used the Rich for a Purpose that Was Greater than Their Riches"




(p. 299) Hamilton's interest was not in enriching creditors or cultivating the privileged class so much as in insuring the government's stability and survival. Walter Lippmann later said of Hamilton, "He used the rich for a purpose that was greater than their riches."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






April 3, 2015

Chinese Communists Crush Innovative Entrepreneurs by Banning Open Internet



(p. A1) BEIJING -- Jing Yuechen, the founder of an Internet start-up here in the Chinese capital, has no interest in overthrowing the Communist Party. But these days she finds herself cursing the nation's smothering cyberpolice as she tries -- and fails -- to browse photo-sharing websites like Flickr and struggles to stay in touch with the Facebook friends she has made during trips to France, India and Singapore.

Gmail has become almost impossible to use here, and in recent weeks the authorities have gummed up Astrill, the software Ms. Jing and countless others depended on to circumvent the Internet restrictions that Western security analysts refer to as the Great Firewall.

By interfering with Astrill and several other popular virtual private networks, or V.P.N.s, the government has complicated the lives of Chinese astronomers seeking the latest scientific data from abroad, graphic designers shopping for clip art on Shutterstock and students submitting online applications to American universities.

If it was legal to protest and throw rotten eggs on the street, I'd definitely be up for that," Ms. Jing, 25, said.

China has long had some of the world's most onerous Internet restrictions. But until now, the authorities had effectively tolerated the proliferation of V.P.N.s as a lifeline for millions of people, from archaeologists to foreign investors, who rely heavily on less-fettered access to the Internet.

But earlier this week, after a number of V.P.N. companies, including StrongVPN and Golden Frog, complained that the Chi-(p. A6)nese government had disrupted their services with unprecedented sophistication, a senior official for the first time acknowledged its hand in the attacks and implicitly promised more of the same.

The move to disable some of the most widely used V.P.N.s has provoked a torrent of outrage among video artists, entrepreneurs and professors who complain that in its quest for so-called cybersovereignty -- Beijing's euphemism for online filtering -- the Communist Party is stifling the innovation and productivity needed to revive the Chinese economy at a time of slowing growth.

"I need to stay tuned into the rest of the world," said Henry Yang, 25, the international news editor of a state-owned media company who uses Facebook to follow American broadcasters. "I feel like we're like frogs being slowly boiled in a pot."


. . .


The vast majority of Chinese Internet users, especially those not fluent in English and other foreign languages, have little interest in vaulting the digital firewall. But those who require access to an unfiltered Internet are the very people Beijing has been counting on to transform the nation's low-end manufacturing economy into one fueled by entrepreneurial innovation.


. . .


Avery Goldstein, a professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said the growing online constraints would not only dissuade expatriates from relocating here, but could also compel ambitious young Chinese studying abroad to look elsewhere for jobs.

"If they aren't able to get the information to do their jobs, the best of the best might simply decide not to go home," he said.

For those who have already returned to China and who crave membership in an increasingly globalized world, the prospect of making do with a circumscribed Internet is dispiriting. Coupled with the unrelenting air pollution and the crackdown on political dissent, a number of Chinese said the blocking of V.P.N.s could push them over the edge.

"It's as if we're shutting down half our brains," said Chin-Chin Wu, an artist who spent almost a decade in Paris and who promotes her work online. "I think that the day that information from the outside world becomes completely inaccessible in China, a lot of people will choose to leave."



For the full story, see:

ANDREW JACOBS. "China Further Tightens Grip on the Internet." The New York Times (Fri., JAN. 30, 2015): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 29, 2015.)






April 2, 2015

Hamilton Thought "Contracts Formed the Basis of Public and Private Morality"




(p. 297) Hamilton argued that the security of liberty and property were inseparable and that governments should honor their debts because contracts formed the basis of public and private morality: "States, like individuals, who observe their engagements are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of those who pursue an opposite conduct." The proper handling of government debt would permit America to borrow at affordable interest rates and would also act as a tonic to the economy. Used as loan collateral, government bonds could function as money--and it was the scarcity of money, Hamilton observed, that had crippled the economy and resulted in severe deflation in the value of land. America was a young country rich in opportunity. It lacked only liquid capital, and government debt could supply that gaping deficiency.

The secret of managing government debt was to fund it properly by setting aside revenues at regular intervals to service interest and pay off principal. Hamilton refuted charges that his funding scheme would feed speculation. Quite the contrary: if investors knew for sure that government bonds would be paid off, the prices would not fluctuate wildly, depriving speculators of opportunities to exploit. What mattered was that people trusted the government to make good on repayment: "In nothing are appearances of greater moment than in whatever regards credit. Opinion is the soul of it and this is affected by appearances as well as realities." Hamilton intuited that public relations and confidence building were to be the special burdens of every future treasury secretary.



Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






March 31, 2015

Brin: Regulatory Burden Discourages Health Entrepreneurs



(p. A13) Earlier this month, at a private conference for the CEOs of his portfolio companies, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla interviewed Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, asking them if the company might jump into health care. "It's just a painful business to be in," Mr. Brin replied, later noting that "the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs."

Mr. Brin is right. As a neurosurgeon-scientist and entrepreneur who co-founded a bioelectronic medicine company that deploys implantable technology to supplant drugs, I wish he were wrong.


. . .


. . . entrepreneurs should be allowed to carve out their own turf and let patients choose their own level of risk.

Consider the case of Goran Ostovich, a burly, 47-year-old truck driver from Mostar, Bosnia. Mr. Ostovich has suffered from long-standing rheumatoid arthritis and needed near-permanent bed rest. With his hands and wrists swollen and aching, he could no longer hold on to a wheel or even play with his small children. He tried a variety of medications. None worked.

When I met Goran at his doctor's office in 2012, however, he didn't seem at all afflicted with the disease. That's because, one year earlier, he had been offered the opportunity to be the first participant in a clinical trial of a new therapy based on my invention. He received a bioelectronic implant and rapidly improved.


. . .


Since news of this clinical trial's success became public, people from all over the U.S. stricken with rheumatoid arthritis have emailed, called and sent letters pressing for their shot at potentially effective--but not yet FDA-approved--treatments.


. . .


Some patients are very willing to take a calculated risk, . . .



For the full commentary, see:

KEVIN J. TRACEY. "Let Patients Decide How Much Risk They'll Take; Take a tip from Sergey Brin: The health-care regulatory burden stops entrepreneurs from getting into the game." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 28, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 27, 2014, and has the title "Let Patients Decide How Much Risk They'll Take; Take a tip from Sergey Brin: The health-care regulatory burden stops entrepreneurs from getting into the game.")






March 29, 2015

Rich Slaveholders "Posed as Plucky Populists"



(p. 267) As Hamilton tangled with Lansing, neither knew that Virginia had on June 25 become the tenth state to ratify the Constitution. Like their New York counterparts, antifederalists there posed as plucky populists, even though their ranks included many rich slaveholders. Patrick Henry, the leading antifederalist, warned delegates who supported the Constitution, "They'll free your niggers." George Washington noted the hypocrisy of the many slaveholding antifederalists: "It is a little strange that the men of large property in the South should be more afraid that the Constitution will produce an aristocracy or a monarchy than the genuine, democratical people of the East."


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.







March 19, 2015

Over-Regulation Could Stifle Drones' Potential to Revolutionize Our Lives



(p. A15) In the early days of the automobile, Vermont enacted a law requiring someone to walk one-eighth of a mile in front of every car and wave a red flag to warn pedestrians. Iowa directed all motorists to call ahead to warn each town on their route that they were coming. Some jurisdictions set speed limits so low that drivers who obeyed them risked having their engines stall.

Those laws seem humorously quaint, but if they had been widely adopted and enforced, the automobile revolution might have been shut down and its manifold benefits denied to millions. Today over-regulation could stifle the development of drones, which have the potential to revolutionize many parts of the economy and our everyday lives.

To cite a few examples: Amazon hopes to launch Prime Air, which would use drones to deliver packages in less than 30 minutes after an order is placed. Texas Equusearch, which organizes missing-person recovery efforts, can replace the labor of 100 volunteers with one drone. Clayco Inc., a construction firm, intends to use drones for aerial imaging of construction projects--replacing either helicopters, which burn fossil fuels and can be dangerous to those below, or construction workers, who risk serious injury through falls when they must climb to reach high, hard-to-reach places to take photos.



For the full commentary, see:

JOSEPH R. PALMORE and CHRISTOPHER J. CARR. "Overregulated Drones Struggle for Take-Off; The FAA has been slow and stuck in the past--precisely what the technology is not." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Feb. 23, 2015): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 22, 2015,)






March 12, 2015

Machiavelli Experienced "Flow" Writing The Prince



(p. 8) "Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are," Machiavelli wrote in "The Prince."


. . .


After the reveling, back in his study at a heavy desk much like the one in Palazzo Vecchio, he would spend the evening on the work that would come to define him. "For four hours," he wrote, "I feel no boredom, I forget every worry, I don't dread poverty, nor has death any terrors for me."



For the full story, see:

ONDINE COHANE. "Footsteps; Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli." The New York Times, Travel Section (Sun., DEC. 7, 2014): 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 4, 2014, and has the title "Footsteps; In Tuscany, Following the Rise and Fall of Machiavelli.".)


Machiavelli's classic is:

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992 (based on a translation first published in 1910).






March 11, 2015

Occupational Licensing Raises Costs for Consumers and Reduces Jobs



(p. B1) What lesson should we draw from the success of Uber?

Customers have flocked to its service. In the final three months of last year, its so-called driver-partners made $656.8 million, according to an analysis of Uber data released last week by the Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger, who served as President Obama's chief economic adviser during his first term, and Uber's Jonathan V. Hall.

Drivers like it, too. By the end of last year, the service had grown to over 160,000 active drivers offering at least four drives a month, from near zero in mid-2012. And the analysis by Mr. Krueger and Mr. Hall suggests they make at least as much as regular taxi drivers and chauffeurs, on flexible hours. Often, they make more.

This kind of exponential growth confirms what every New Yorker and cab riders in many other cities have long suspected: Taxi service is woefully inefficient. It also raises a question of broader relevance: Why stop here?


. . .


(p. B5) . . . like taxi medallions, state licenses required to practice all sorts of jobs often serve merely to cordon off occupations for the benefit of licensed workers and their lobbying groups, protecting them from legitimate competition.

This comes at a substantial social cost. "Lower-income people suffer from licensing," Professor Krueger told me. "It raises the costs of many services and prevents low-income people from getting into some professions."

In a study commissioned by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, Morris Kleiner of the University of Minnesota found that almost three out of 10 workers in the United States need a license from state governments to do their jobs, up from one in 20 in the 1950s. By cordoning off so many occupations, he estimates, professional licensing by state governments ultimately reduces employment by up to 2.8 million jobs.



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "Job Licenses in Spotlight as Uber Rises." The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 28, 2015): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)



The working paper co-authored by Krueger, is:

Hall, Jonathan V., and Alan B. Krueger. "An Analysis of the Labor Market for Uber's Driver-Partners in the United States." Working paper. January 22, 2015.



Kleiner's working paper at Brookings, is:

Kleiner, Morris M. "Reforming Occupational Licensing Policies." In The Hamilton Project, Brookings, Discussion Paper 2015-01, January 2015.






March 10, 2015

Over-Taxed and Over-Regulated Castles for Sale in Italy



(p. A3) While castles and historic mansions in Italy have long been family inheritances, today dozens of them are for sale, even in one of the most conservative real estate markets in Europe.


. . .


On historic buildings, where owners used to pay little as compensation for the elevated costs of maintaining centuries-old structures, the taxes increased by 20 or 30 times, depending on the property's location.

On some buildings, taxes spiked from 3,000 euros (about $3,400) in 2011 to 75,000 euros (about $84,000) by 2013. That might be a small figure for castle dwellers in the United Kingdom, but it is a burden for Italian pockets, especially in regions where the property's market value or tourism interest is low.

The trends, to many here, are indicative of Italy's place as a country caught between its past glory and its modern difficulty in producing an innovative climate capable of ensuring its future.


. . .


. . . buyer beware: Living a nobleman's life in Italy comes at a cost, even for many tycoons. New owners face the same onerous bureaucracy as Italians to make even minimal changes to many older properties.

Under Italian law, the owner of a historic building is its custodian, bound to maintain it and grant its security and, in some cases, its use to the public. Many buyers give up on properties of great historic value, but in bad condition, for this reason, brokers said.

"This is a problem for possible investors, who want to have modern comforts like a spa, air-conditioning or a lift," said Mr. Pallavicini, of the Italian Historic Houses Association.

"We no longer live like in 1800," he added. "But 99 percent of those changes are either impossible or extremely bureaucratic and complicated in an Italian historic building."



For the full story, see:

GAIA PIANIGIANI. "PONTASSIEVE JOURNAL; Life of Italian Nobility for Sale, Complete With Regulations and Taxes." The New York Times (Weds., JAN. 28, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 27, 2015.)






March 7, 2015

Innovation and Jobs Destroyed by Tax



(p. 7A) I was humbled to receive in November the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House for the development of life-changing medical devices. Traveling to our nation's capital, I couldn't help but think: There is no way I could have had the same impact if the tax on medical devices was in place when I got started over 50 years ago.

Simply put, the medical device tax is destroying job creation and innovation, and as a result, patient care is suffering.


. . .


Every day, I see firsthand the difficult choices innovators must make as a result of this ill-conceived tax. Perhaps worst of all, the medical device tax is helping cause a steep drop of investments in promising therapies.


. . .


It's time to put an end to this disastrous policy so that medical device entrepreneurs can do what America does best -- innovate.



For the full commentary, see:

Tom Fogarty. "Opposing View: Tax Destroys Jobs and Innovation." USA Today (Mon., January 5, 2015): 7A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 4, 2015, and has the title "Tax Destroys Jobs and Innovation: Opposing View.")






March 6, 2015

A Federal "Building Whose Banality Is Exceeded Only by Its Expense"



(p. A3) WASHINGTON--They span 75 feet, weigh 4,300 pounds and can't move.

The four, black aluminum clouds comprising the once-mobile component of "Mountains and Clouds"--one of the final works of sculptor Alexander Calder, which dominates the Hart Senate office building's 90-foot-high atrium--haven't drifted for more than a decade. They once rotated at a gentle speed, but have been frozen in place for years after a bearing failed.


. . .


, , , , mirroring the mixed feelings toward Mr. Calder's sculpture, many in Washington didn't appreciate the contemporary Hart building's break with traditional architecture. In 1981, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., N.Y.) suggested in a "sense of the Senate" resolution that the plastic covering that had protected the building from wintry elements was preferable to the exterior itself.

"Whereas the plastic cover has now been removed revealing, as feared, a building whose banality is exceeded only by its expense," said the resolution, which never came to a vote. "Therefore, be it resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that the plastic cover be put back."



For the full story, see:

KRISTINA PETERSON. "A Nebulous Debate in Washington." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Dec. 26, 2014): A3.

(Note: ellipses are added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 25, 2014, and has the title "Calder Sculpture Triggers Heavenly Debate in Washington.")






March 4, 2015

Depression of 1920-21 Ended Quickly, Without Government Stimulus or Bailouts



(p. C3) Beginning in January 1920, something much worse than a recession blighted the world. The U.S. suffered the steepest plunge in wholesale prices in its history (not even eclipsed by the Great Depression), as well as a 31.6% drop in industrial production and a 46.6% fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Unemployment spiked, and corporate profits plunged.


. . .


In the absence of anything resembling government stimulus, a modern economist may wonder how the depression of 1920-21 ever ended. Oddly enough, deflation turned out to be a tonic. Prices--and, critically, wages too--were allowed to fall, and they fell far enough to entice consumers, employers and investors to part with their money. Europeans, noticing that America was on the bargain counter, shipped their gold across the Atlantic, where it swelled the depression-shrunken U.S. money supply. Shares of profitable and well-financed American companies changed hands at giveaway valuations.

Of course, the year-and-a-half depression must have seemed interminable for all who were jobless or destitute. It was, however, a great deal shorter than the 43 months of the Great Depression of 1929-33. Then too, the 1922 recovery would bring tears of envy to today's central bankers and policy makers: Passenger-car production shot up by 63%, for instance, and the Dow jumped by 21.5%. "From practically all angles," this newspaper judged in a New Year's Day 1923 retrospective, "1922 can be recorded as the renaissance of prosperity."

In 2008, as Lehman Brothers toppled, the Great Depression monopolized the market on historical analogies. To avoid a recurrence of the 1930s, officials declared, the U.S. had to knock down interest rates, manipulate stock prices to go higher, repave the highways and trade in the clunkers.

The forgotten depression teaches a very different lesson. Sometimes the best stimulus is none at all.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES GRANT. "The Depression Fixed by Doing Nothing; The agonizing but often forgotten 1920-21 economic crisis suggests that sometimes the best stimulus is none at all." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Jan. 3, 2015): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 2, 2015, and has the title "The Depression That Was Fixed by Doing Nothing; The often forgotten 1920-21 economic crisis suggests that sometimes the best stimulus is none at all.")


Grant's commentary is elaborated on in his book:

Grant, James. The Forgotten Depression: 1921, the Crash That Cured Itself. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






March 2, 2015

"It's My Life, and I Want the Chance to Save It"



(p. 18) LYONS, Colo. -- Since May [2014], a string of states have passed laws that give critically ill patients the right to try medications that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Deemed "Right to Try" laws, they have passed quickly and often unanimously in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana and Arizona, bringing hope to patients like Larry Kutt, who lives in this small town at the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Kutt, 65, has an advanced blood cancer and says his state's law could help him gain access to a therapy that several pharmaceutical companies are testing. "It's my life," he said, "and I want the chance to save it."

The laws do not seem to have helped anyone obtain experimental medicine, as the drug companies are not interested in supplying unapproved medications outside the supervision of the F.D.A. But that seems almost beside the point to the Goldwater Institute, the libertarian group behind legislative efforts to pass Right to Try laws. "The goal is for terminally ill patients to have choice when it comes to end-stage disease," said Craig Handzlik, state policy coordinator for the Goldwater Institute, based in Arizona. "Right to Try is something that will help terminally ill people all over the country."



For the full story, see:

JULIE TURKEWITZ. "Patients Seek 'Right to Try' New Drugs." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JAN. 11, 2015): 18.

(Note: the bracketed year is added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 10, 2015.)






March 1, 2015

Probate Court Kept Hamilton Waiting for a Year



(p. 25) For a year after his mother's death, Alexander was held in painful suspense by the probate court and perhaps absorbed the useful lesson that people who manipulate the law wield the real power in society.


Source:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.






February 26, 2015

The Case that Hamilton Was Better than Jefferson



One of my entrenched beliefs has been that Thomas Jefferson was one of the great heroes of human history, and Alexander Hamilton was not. It is rare that I read something that changes my entrenched beliefs. But Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton did that. He makes a strong (and long) case that Alexander Hamilton was mainly a decent, brilliant, courageous, hard-working, self-made man, who not only talked the talk on liberty, but walked the walk (taking fire in the revolution, and strongly opposing slavery). He wasn't perfect in either his personal life or his beliefs. But he now has my vote as one of the great heroes of human history (and Jefferson does not).

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most revealing or thought-provoking passages of Chernow's book.

PS: I also previously learned a lot from Chernow's Titan, a big book about a big entrepreneur.


Main book discussed:

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.


Other book, briefly mentioned:

Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998.






February 25, 2015

Wall Street Democrats Question Hillary Clinton's Views on Job Creation



(p. B1) "Hillary said what?"

That was the question whispered among some of Wall Street's most prominent Democratic supporters over the weekend after Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke on the campaign trail for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts.

"Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs," Mrs. Clinton said on Friday in Boston.



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN. "Wall St. Wonders About Hillary Clinton." The New York Times (Tues., OCTOBER 28, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCTOBER 27, 2014, and has the title "Hillary Clinton's Comment on Jobs Raises Eyebrows on Wall St.")






February 24, 2015

In Defense of the "Degar-Andish"



(p. C9) "The Lonely War" begins by retelling a lesson from Ms. Fathi's mother, imparted on the first day of third grade. "If anyone asks you whether your parents support the revolution, you must say, 'Yes, they do.'"


. . .


As the Islamic dress code became obligatory, Ms. Fathi and her sister, Goli, faced the tyranny of a "morality" teacher at school who tried to mold them into ideal Muslim girls.

The author remained steadfastly critical through it all. "To feel human," she writes, "we needed to retake control of our minds as well as our bodies. We waged the war on both fronts."


. . .


Defying a ban on covering the protests any further, Ms. Fathi was under surveillance at her home and tailed by government agents; her life was threatened. She, her husband and two children left Iran in June 2009.


. . .


Her portraits of the women's rights activists Faezeh Hashemi and Shahla Sherkat make for fascinating reading. So do her accounts of other courageous Iranian women like the lawyers Mehrangiz Kar and Shirin Ebadi (the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2003), who made legal challenges against discriminatory laws against women, and publishers like Shahla Lahiji who dared to print the work of those branded as "degar-andish," literally, "those who think differently."



For the full review, see:

NAHID MOZAFFARI. "Books of The Times; Portrait of Iran, Where Revolution Is Ideological and the Costs Are Human." The New York Times (Thurs., Jan. 1, 2015): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 31, 2014.)


The book under review is:

Fathi, Nazila. The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran. New York: Basic Books, 2014.






February 22, 2015

Free Market Tour Guide Challenges Savannah's Attack on Free Speech



(p. A25) SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Especially when she sips French onion soup at a restaurant that was featured in the Julia Roberts movie "Something to Talk About," Michelle Freenor is an irrepressible tour guide.

She rattles off the history of Methodism in this city, as well as tidbits about William T. Sherman's March to the Sea. She discusses the canopy of Spanish moss that hangs above Savannah's streets, whether "Jingle Bells" was actually composed here, and just how haunted one of the country's largest historic landmark districts might be.

But Ms. Freenor has also emerged in recent weeks in a new role: plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that could reshape Savannah's lucrative and potent tourism industry. Backed by a nonprofit law firm with libertarian leanings, Ms. Freenor and three others, including her husband, are challenging the Savannah ordinance that requires tour guides to hold licenses and pass regular academic and medical examinations.

"It's the free market that made us successful, not the City of Savannah," said Ms. Freenor, 43. "You shouldn't have to pass a test to be able to tell people where the best ice cream in Savannah is."


. . .


"What tour guides do is talk for a living," said Robert Johnson, one of Ms. Freenor's lawyers. "They're just like stand-up comedians, journalists or novelists. And in this country, you don't need a license from the government to be able to talk."



For the full story, see:

ALAN BLINDER. "Lawsuit May Reshape Tourist Industry in History-Rich Savannah." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 21, 2014): A25 & A31.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2014. The online version says that the New York paper version of the article started on p. 28. It does not say on what page of that edition, the article continued. My page numbers are from the National Edition, which I usually receive.)






February 20, 2015

High Costs of Public Sector Unions



(p. A11) . . . the costs of public-sector unions are great. "The byproduct of political management of the economy is waste," the author notes. Second, pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas. Increasingly, such a burden is fatal. When Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, a full half of the city's$18.2 billion long-term debt was owed for employee pensions and health benefits. Even before the next downturn, other cities and some states will find themselves faltering because of similarly massive obligations.

There is something grotesque about public workers fighting for benefits whose provision will hurt the public. Citizens who vote Democratic may choose not to acknowledge the perversity out of party loyalty. But over the years a few well-known Democrats have sided against the public-sector unions. "The process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted into the public service," a Democratic politician once declared. His name? Franklin Roosevelt.



For the full review, see:

AMITY SHLAES. "BOOKSHELF; Public Unions vs. the Public; Pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 16, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 15, 2015.)


The book under review is:

DiSalvo, Daniel. Government against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.






February 19, 2015

Mandated Health Treatment Regulations Are Often Reversed



(p. A25) After spending nearly two decades in medicine, I am still amazed by how spare the evidence is on which we doctors base our medical decisions. Treatment guidelines, often accompanied by a de facto mandate, are frequently reversed.

Only a few years ago, for example, beta-blocker drugs were routinely recommended for almost all patients undergoing noncardiac surgery. Since then, research has shown that these drugs may significantly increase the risk of stroke at the time of surgery. I remember colleagues questioning the beta-blocker recommendation for certain patients and being admonished for not being "evidence-based." I shudder to think how many patients were left disabled by strokes because of the blanket adoption of this standard.

What is in vogue today is often discarded tomorrow. Hormone replacement therapy for women after menopause is an example of a once widely implemented treatment that we have now largely abandoned. In September, in response to new research, the American College of Cardiology revoked a major recommendation on heart-attack treatment. "Science is not static but rather constantly evolving," said its president, Patrick T. O'Gara, in explaining the decision.


. . .


Instead of being allowed to deliver "patient-centered" care, many physicians feel they are being co-opted by regulations. Some feel pressured to prescribe "mandated" treatment, even to frail older adults who may not benefit. Guidelines are supposed to assist and advise. But all too often, recommended care in certain situations becomes mandated care in all situations.



For the full commentary, see:

SANDEEP JAUHAR. "Don't Homogenize Health Care." The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 11, 2014): A25.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 10, 2014.)






February 17, 2015

Congress Appropriates Funds to Test Concussion Theory of Rain



(p. 190) the first century A.D., when the Greek moralist Plutarch came up with the notion that rain followed military battles. Napoleon believed as much and fired cannons and guns at the sky to muddy up the ground between him and his attackers. Civil War veterans who wallowed in cold slop believed that ceaseless, close-range artillery fire had opened up the skies. In the late 1890s, as the first nesters started to dig their toeholds on the dry side of the one hundredth meridian, Congress had appropriated money to test the concussion theory in Texas. The tests were done by a man named Dyrenforth. He tried mightily, with government auditors looking over (p. 191) his shoulder, but Dyrenforth could not force a drop from the hot skies of Texas. From then on, he was called "Dry-Henceforth."

Government-sponsored failure didn't stop others from trying. A man who called himself "the moisture accelerator," Charles M. Hatfield, roamed the plains around the turn of the century. A Colonel Sanders of rainmaking, Hatfield had a secret mixture of ingredients that could be sent to the sky by machine. In the age before the widespread use of the telephone, it was hard to catch up with the moisture accelerator after he had fleeced a town and moved on.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 15, 2015

Police Unions Make It Harder to Get Rid of Bad Cops



(p. A29) A small percentage of cops commit most of the abuses. A study by WNYC News in New York found that, since 2009, 40 percent of the "resisting arrest" charges were filed by just 5 percent of New York Police Department officers. In other words, most officers rarely get in a confrontation that leads to that charge, but a few officers often get in violent confrontations.

But it's very hard to remove the bad apples from the force. Trying to protect their members, unions have weakened accountability. The investigation process is softer on police than it would be on anyone else. In parts of the country, contract rules stipulate that officers get a 48-hour cooling-off period before having to respond to questions. They have access to the names and testimony of their accusers. They can be questioned only by one person at a time. They can't be threatened with disciplinary action during questioning.

More seriously, cops who are punished can be reinstated through a secretive appeals process that favors job retention over public safety. In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf has a riveting piece with egregious stories of cops who have returned to the force after clear incompetence. Hector Jimenez was an Oakland, Calif., cop who shot and killed an unarmed 20-year-old man in 2007. Seven months later, he killed another unarmed man, shooting him in the back three times while he ran away. The city paid damages. Jimenez was fired. But he appealed through his union and was reinstated with back pay.



For the full commentary, see:

David Brooks. "The Union Future." The New York Times (Fri., DEC. 19, 2014): A29.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date DEC. 18, 2014. )






February 13, 2015

The Federal Government's "Arrogance on a Grand Scale" Encouraged the Dust Bowl



(p. 126) In the last years of the wheat boom, Bennett had become increasingly frustrated at how the government seemed to be encouraging an exploitive farming binge. He went directly after his old employer, the Department of Agriculture, for misleading people. Farmers on the Great Plains were working against nature, he thundered in speeches across the country; they were asking for trouble. Even in the late 1920s, before anyone else sounded an alarm, Bennett said people had sown the seeds of an epic disaster. The government continued to insist, through official bulletins , that soil was the one "resource that cannot be exhausted." To Bennett, it was arrogance on a grand scale.

"I didn't know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence," he said.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






February 5, 2015

Justice on the Plains



(p. 71) "What are you doing here?" the judge asked again.

"I cannot talk," Ehrlich answered, in his hybrid English-German. "This guard will stab my heart out."

"You talk to me," Judge Alexander told him. "Now what are you people here for? It's the middle of the night."

"Pit-schur."

"What's that? A picture?"

"Yah."

An officer produced the picture that Ehrlich kept in his house--Kaiser Wilhelm and his family in formal pose.

"That's a beautiful picture," the judge said, then turned to the police. "Is that all you got against these people?"

"They're pro-German. They're hurting the war effort. Spies, for all we know."

The judge turned to the Germans from the Volga. "How many of you are supporting America in the war?" All hands went up.

Ehrlich reached into his pocket and produced two hundred dollars' worth of government stamps issued to support the war effort . A friend produced war bonds. The judge looked at the sheriff and asked him how many of his officers had war bonds or stamps. None.

(p. 72) "Take these people home," the judge said. "If anything happens to them, I'll hold you responsible ." They drove back in the freezing predawn darkness and released the men to their families at sunrise. A daylong party followed.



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

(Note: italics in original.)






February 1, 2015

How the Federal Government Caused the High Plains Dust Bowl



(p. 50) People were pouring into town, taking up rooms at the Crystal Hotel-- suitcase farmers who had no intention of ever settling there. They wanted only to rent out a tractor and a piece of ground for a few days, drop some winter wheat into the fresh-turned fold, and come back next summer for the payoff. It was a game of chance called "trying to hit a crop." One suitcase farmer broke thirty-two thousand acres in southeast Kansas in 1921. Four years later, he plowed twice that amount. The banks seldom said no. After Congress passed the Federal Farm Loan Act in 1916, every town with a well and a sheriff had itself a farmland bank -- an institution! -- offering forty-year loans at six percent interest. Borrow five thousand dollars and payments were less than thirty-five dollars a month. Any man with a John Deere and a half-section could cover that nut. If it was hubris, or "tempting fate" as some of the church ladies said, well, the United (p. 51) States government did not see it that way. The government had already issued its official view of the rapid churning of ancient prairie sod.

"The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses," the Federal Bureau of Soils proclaimed as the grasslands were transformed. "It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted, that cannot be used up."



Source:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






January 29, 2015

Government Encouraged the Dust Bowl of the 1930s



Timothy Egan in The Worst Hard Time helps us to understand the motives and struggles of those who suffered in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the Great Plains of the United States. Sometimes he also illuminates the role that the government had in encouraging ordinary people to move to a place that would soon be hell on earth.

In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most thought-provoking passages of Egan's book.


Book discussed:

Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.






January 28, 2015

TransCanada Plans to Use Eminent Domain to Build the Keystone Pipeline




I am not opposed to the Keystone Pipeline on environmental grounds. But I have long believed that property rights should be defended, and that we too readily allow the violation of property rights through eminent domain.

If the Keystone Pipeline can be built without eminent domain, then I am in favor of allowing it. If it can only be built by violating landowners' property rights, then I oppose it.



(p. 1A) LINCOLN -- As the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate pledged quick approval of the Keystone XL pipeline early next year, final offers were landing Tuesday in dozens of Nebraska mailboxes.

TransCanada Corp. said it mailed new offers of right-of-way payments this week to more than 100 Nebraska landowners who have refused to sign an easement contract.

The letters also say the company will pursue eminent domain against landowners who don't agree to terms by Jan. 16. The company says Nebraska law requires condemnation proceedings to start within two years of the state's approval of the pipeline route, which occurred Jan. 22, 2013.



For the full story, see:

Joe Duggan. "TransCanada sends final offers to 100-plus Nebraska landowners." Omaha World-Herald (Weds., DECEMBER 17, 2014): 1A & 3A.

(Note: the online version of the story has the title "Keystone XL pipeline: TransCanada sends final offers to 100-plus Nebraska landowners.")






January 24, 2015

"You Don't Reach Serendip by Plotting a Course for It"



(p. 320) As John Barth wrote in The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, "You don't reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings serendipitously."28 The challenge for educational institutions, government policy, research centers, funding agencies, and, by extension, all modern medicine, will be how to encourage scientists to lose their bearings creatively. What they discover may just save our lives!


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






January 21, 2015

Obamacare Advisor Says Obscure Law Passed Due to "Stupidity of the American Voter"



(p. A4) Jonathan Gruber, the economist at the heart of a fresh debate about the Affordable Care Act, has had more than a dozen appointments to visit the White House since Democrats began drafting the health law in 2009, records show.

The visits included at least one group meeting with President Barack Obama , as well as appointments with senior administration officials who helped shape the 2010 law that expanded health insurance to millions of Americans.

The White House in recent days has tried to distance itself from Mr. Gruber, a 49-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, since a 2013 video surfaced last week in which he said the law passed because of the "huge political advantage" of the legislation's lacking transparency. He also referred to the "stupidity of the American voter."

Republicans have seized on the comments as evidence that supporters of the law purposely misled the public about its costs.

"It is amusing to watch Washington liberals discount Mr. Gruber's truth-telling as a gaffe and disown" his involvement in the law, said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE ARMOUR and COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON. "Health Adviser Gruber Logged Regular White House Visits." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 18, 2014): A4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 17, 2014.)






January 10, 2015

Inequality Much Less If You Count Government Transfers as Part of Income




Despite the gratuitous jab contained in the "fanciful assumptions" phrase, what is notable about the passages quoted below is that Porter is mainly, though grudgingly, granting Burkhauser's main point: including government transfers reduces allegedly high inequality.



(p. B1) Washington already redistributes income from the rich to the poor. Richard Burkhauser and Philip Armour from Cornell and Jeff Larrimore from the Joint Committee on Taxation have become heroes to the right by trying to establish that government redistribution has, in fact, erased the trend of increasing inequality.

While these claims rest on fanciful assumptions about what counts as income, their analysis of taxes and government programs does support the argument that the government does more than it has in a long time to protect lower-income Americans from the blows of the market economy.


. . .


(p. B5) "Substantial changes in tax and transfer policies during the Bush and Obama administrations have increased dramatically the resources available at the middle of the distribution and at the bottom more so," Professor Burkhauser told me.


. . .


Research by Leslie McCall of Northwestern University finds that . . . American voters remain lukewarm about government interventions to reduce income inequality, . . .



For the full commentary, see:

Eduardo Porter. "Seeking New Tools to Address a Wage Gap." The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 5, 2014): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date NOV. 4, 2014.)


The Burkhauser co-authored paper summarized above, is:

Armour, Philip, Richard V. Burkhauser, and Jeff Larrimore. "Levels and Trends in U.S. Income and Its Distribution: A Crosswalk from Market Income Towards a Comprehensive Haig-Simons Income Approach." Southern Economic Journal 81, no. 2 (Oct. 2014): 271-93.


I believe that the research being to referred to by McCall is in her book:

McCall, Leslie. The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs About Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.






January 8, 2015

With Targeted Research, Scientists Not Allowed to Pursue Serendipitous Discoveries



(p. 303) When scientists were allowed to pursue whatever they found, serendipitous discovery flourished.

Today, targeted research is pretty much all there is. Yet, as Richard Feynman put it in his typical rough-hewn but insightful manner, giving more money "just increases the number of guys following the comet head."2 Money doesn't foster new ideas, ideas that drive science; it only fosters applications of old ideas, most often enabling improvements but not discoveries.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






January 7, 2015

Pentagon Bureaucracy "Hindered Progress" on Drones



(p. A13) Compared with, say, a B-2 Bomber, drones are simple things. An empty B-2 weighs 158,000 pounds. The largest version of the Predator--the unmanned aerial vehicle now playing a critical role in every theater where the American military is engaged--weighs just under 5,000. Yet these small aircraft are revolutionizing warfare. Given the simplicity of drones, why did it take so long to put them into operation?


. . .


The most alarming take-away from Mr. Whittle's history is the persistent opposition of officials in the Pentagon who, for bureaucratic reasons, hindered progress at every step of the way.

A case in point: Two months after 9/11, the Predator was employed to incinerate one of al Qaeda's senior operatives, Mohammed Atef. The same blast also incinerated--metaphorically--a study released two weeks earlier by the Pentagon's office of operational testing and evaluation. The study had declared Predator "not operationally effective or suitable" for combat. If one seeks to understand why the drone revolution was late in coming--too late to help avert 9/11--the hidebound mentality behind that Pentagon document is one place to start.



For the full review, see:

Gabriel Schoenfeld. "BOOKSHELF; Building Birds of Prey; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Sept. 16, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 15, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Predator' by Richard Whittle; Red tape at the Pentagon prevented the development of a drone that could have helped avert the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.")


The book under review is:

Whittle, Richard. Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2014.






January 4, 2015

Government Funding Rewards Conformity



(p. 302) Inherent in the system is a mindset of conformity: one will tend to submit only proposals that are likely to be approved, which is to say, those that conform to the beliefs of most members on the committee of experts. Because of the intense competition for limited money, investigators are reluctant to submit novel or maverick proposals. Needless to say, this environment stifles the spirit of innovation. Taking risks, pioneering new paths, thwarting conventional wisdom--the very things one associates with the wild-eyed, wild-haired scientists of the past--don't much enter into the picture nowadays.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 31, 2014

Government Funding Not Conducive to Serendipity



(p. 301) Even in the early twentieth century, the climate was more conducive to serendipitous discovery. In the United States, for example, scientific research was funded by private foundations, notably the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York (established 1901) and the Rockefeller Foundation (1913). The Rockefeller Institute modeled itself on prestigious European organizations such as the Pasteur Institute in France and the Koch Institute in Germany, recruiting the world's best scientists and providing them with comfortable stipends, well-equipped laboratories, and freedom from teaching obligations and university politics, so that they could devote their energies to research. The Rockefeller Foundation, which was the most expansive supporter of basic research, especially in biology, between the two world wars, relied on successful programs to seek promising scientists to identify and accelerate burgeoning fields of interest. In Britain, too, the Medical Research Council believed in "picking the man, not the project," and nurturing successful results with progressive grants.

After World War II, everything about scientific research changed. The U.S. government--which previously had had little to do with funding research except for some agricultural projects--took on a major role. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grew out of feeble beginnings in 1930 but became foremost among the granting agencies in the early 1940s at around the time they moved to Bethesda, Maryland. The government then established the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950 to promote progress in science and engineering. Research in the United States became centralized and therefore suffused with bureaucracy. The lone scientist working independently was now a rarity. Research came to be characterized by large teams drawing upon multiple scientific disciplines and using highly technical methods in an environment that promoted the not-very-creative phenomenon known as "groupthink." Under this new regime, the competition (p. 302) among researchers for grant approvals fostered a kind of conformity with existing dogma. As the bureaucracy of granting agencies expanded, planning and justification became the order of the day, thwarting the climate in which imaginative thought and creative ideas flourish.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 27, 2014

Eisenhower Warned that "a Government Contract Becomes Virtually a Substitute for Intellectual Curiosity"



(p. 300) In his farewell address on January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower famously cautioned the nation about the influence of the "military-industrial complex," coining a phrase that became part of the political vernacular. However, in the same speech, he presciently warned that scientific and academic research might become too dependent on, and thus shaped by, government grants. He foresaw a situation in which "a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity."


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 8, 2014

Billionaire Risks All for Hong Kong Freedom



(p. A11) Hong Kong If Chinese soldiers crush Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, there's little doubt media tycoon Jimmy Lai will be high on their wanted list. His Apple Daily newspaper and Next magazine cheer on the movement for universal suffrage. He bankrolls the city's pro-democracy political parties, as financial records stolen by hackers show. The government-owned media accuse him of fomenting a "color revolution" at the behest of the American government. . . .

But Mr. Lai's activities this week are not hard to track. From about 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., he sits in the protesters' encampment outside the main government offices. Most of the time he can be found at one of the makeshift supply pavilions labeled "materials stand," chatting with students or listening to speeches.

On Friday morning, I find Mr. Lai at the encampment reading essays by Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu, and we walk to a nearby food court to chat. Two photographers from a pro-Beijing newspaper conspicuously record our meeting.



For the full interview, see:

HUGO RESTALL. "Hong Kong's Billionaire Democrat; Despite threats and smears from Beijing, Jimmy Lai talks about his support for student protesters in Hong Kong and why they might succeed." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): A11.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Oct. 3, 2014.)






December 4, 2014

Consumers Cannot Count on Regulators for Safety



(p. A1) WASHINGTON -- The nation's top auto regulator faced withering criticism across Capitol Hill on Tuesday over its failure to identify a deadly defect in General Motors cars -- even as its top official tried again and again to shift the blame back to the automaker.

Hours after a House committee released a scathing report about the agency's yearslong failure to spot the ignition-stalling defect that has now been linked to 19 deaths, a Senate subcommittee hearing turned angry and tense. Lawmakers from both parties accused the agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of overlooking evidence that could have saved lives and of deferring to the auto industry rather than standing up to it.

The agency was "more interested in singing 'Kumbaya' with the manufacturers than being a cop on the beat," said Senator Claire McCaskill, the subcommittee's chairwoman, in sharp questioning reminiscent of her interrogation of G.M.'s chief executive, Mary T. Barra, in a hearing before the same panel in the spring.


. . .

(p. B2) "You want to obfuscate responsibility, rather than take responsibility," Ms. McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said, her voice rising. "We've all said shame on G.M." She added, "You've got to take some responsibility that this isn't being handled correctly."


. . .


Watching from a seat just behind Mr. Friedman [deputy administrator of the N.H.T.S.A.] was Laura Christian, the birth mother of Amber Rose, a teenager who was killed in 2005 when her Cobalt ran off the road, into a tree, and the air bags did not deploy.

As Mr. Friedman continued to speak, Ms. Christian said she could feel herself getting flushed and increasingly upset over the agency's lack of remorse.

"It was extremely frustrating to hear David Friedman go on about how his agency was this wonderful thing," she said. "All along they missed the glaringly obviously defects."



For the full story, see:

HILARY STOUT and AARON M. KESSLER. "Congress Castigates Auto Regulator Over a Deadly G.M. Defect." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 17, 2014): A1 & B2.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed words, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 16, 2014, and has the title "Senators Take Auto Agency to Task Over G.M. Recall." In the Midwest edition that I receive, this article started on p. A1; according to the indexes, and the online edition, in the New York edition, the article started on p. B1.)






November 30, 2014

Esther Dyson Sees a Lot of Silicon Valley as Just Motivated to Make Money



(p. C11) The U.S. Commerce Department recently said that it plans to relinquish its oversight of Icann, handing that task to an international body of some kind. The details are still being worked out, but Ms. Dyson hopes that governments won't be the new regulators. . . .

For now, she thinks there are many Silicon Valley Internet companies with inflated market values. "There is the desire to make money that motivates a lot of that in Silicon Valley, and yes, I think it's totally a bubble," she says. "It's not like the last bubble in that there are a lot of real companies there [now], but there are a lot of unreal companies and...many of them will disappear." She thinks too many people are starting similar companies. "You have people being CEOs of teeny little things who would be much better as marketing managers of someone else's company," she says.

And though her work often takes her to California, she's happy to stay in New York. These days, she finds Silicon Valley "very fashionable," she says, "and I don't really like fashion."



For the full interview, see:

ALEXANDRA WOLFE, interviewer. "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2014): C11.

(Note: first ellipsis added; second ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date May 2, 2014, and has the title "WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Esther Dyson's Healthy Investments; The investor is hoping to produce better health through technology with a new nonprofit.")






November 28, 2014

When Pirates Were More Enlightened than Most Governments



(p. A11) While slaves were oppressed by the social order, Mr. Rediker argues, pirates on the high seas were remaking it. An estimated 2,500 buccaneers prowled the Atlantic and the Caribbean at any given time during the first half of the 18th century. The great majority were former merchant seamen, or deserters from the Royal Navy. They were aged between 14 and 50, though most were in their 20s. Married men were not welcome for fear that they might desert and compromise an entire pirate crew.

Here, Mr. Rediker suggests, egalitarianism was being practiced at sea half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution. And, he adds, there was a striking uniformity of rules and customs on all pirate vessels. At the start of each voyage, or whenever a new captain was chosen, a wide-ranging social compact would be drawn up listing rights and responsibilities. The articles would allocate authority, deal with the distribution of plunder, and set the rules of punishment to enforce discipline. Booty was usually allocated according to skills and duties--the captain might be given two shares; gunners, boatswains, mates, carpenters and medics one and a half shares; and the rest of the crew a share each. In times of battle, the crew gave the captain unquestioned authority whether fighting, chasing or being chased. What perhaps set the pirates most apart from their former colleagues in the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy was punishment. The lash, for example, was rarely used. Fighting was not allowed on board and disputes between crew had to be settled ashore by sword or pistol. This brought an unusual degree of harmony to the pirate ship. Incorrigible trouble makers were unceremoniously dumped and left behind on deserted islands. Vengeance was also freely taken upon captives, and woe betide any ship's captain who had tyrannized and abused his crew.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL FATHERS. "BOOKSHELF; Motley Crew at the Helm; Egalitarianism was being acted out at sea by pirates half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution. The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 22, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Outlaws of the Atlantic' by Marcus Rediker; Egalitarianism was being acted out at sea by pirates half a century before it became a catch-cry of the French Revolution.")


Book under review:

Rediker, Marcus. Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2014.






November 23, 2014

Cat Stevens Protests New York Government Ban on Paperless Tickets



(p. C3) Yusuf, the singer until recently called Yusuf Islam, but better known as Cat Stevens for his 1970s hits like "Peace Train," has canceled a concert at the Beacon Theater in frustration over New York state laws on ticket scalping.


. . .


"I have been a longtime supporter of paperless tickets to my shows worldwide and avoiding scalpers," Yusuf wrote. "Unfortunately NY has a state law that requires all tickets sold for shows in NYC to be paper, enabling them to be bought and sold at inflated prices."

After heavy lobbying by the ticketing industry, New York passed a law in 2010, which has since been renewed, requiring promoters to offer customers the option of transferrable tickets.



For the full story, see:

BEN SISARIO. "Cat Stevens Cancels Show and Cites Ticket Law." The New York Times (Thurs., SEPTEMBER 25, 2014): C3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPTEMBER 24, 2014, and has the title "Yusuf, the Former Cat Stevens, Cancels New York Concert.")






November 22, 2014

Socialist Price Setting Causes Shortages of Corn Flour, Car Batteries and Toilet Paper



(p. B1) Venezuela's prices on everything from butter to flat-screen TVs are set without warning by the government, which also caps corporate profits at 30%. Any profits evaporate quickly, however, because inflation is almost double that.

And expanded price controls imposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded late leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez in April 2013, have exacerbated shortages of basic items such as corn flour, car batteries and toilet paper, triggering violent street protests since early February.



For the full story, see:

MAXWELL MURPHY and KEJAL VYAS. "CFO JOURNAL; Currency Chaos in Venezuela Portends Write-Downs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 27, 2014): B1 & B6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2014.)






November 21, 2014

Cancer Gains Have Not Come from "Centralized Direction"



(p. 180) The truth remains that over the course of the twentieth century, the greatest gains in the battle against cancer came from independent research that was not under any sort of centralized direction and that did not have vast resources at its disposal. As we have seen, such research led to momentous chance discoveries in cancer chemotherapy and a greater understanding of the mechanisms of the disease that have resulted in exciting new therapeutic approaches.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






November 20, 2014

Robert Morris Financed the Revolutionary War, and Private Ventures, But Ended in Debtors' Prison



(p. C7) The Philadelphia merchant banker Robert Morris, reputedly the richest man in Revolutionary America, performed prodigies in financing the war and then staving off the new country's insolvency. He was bullish on America's future, and when he returned to private life in 1784, he initiated a variety of ventures--a fleet of ships trading with China and India, multiple manufacturing enterprises, and, not least, vast assemblages of unimproved interior land--that eventually landed him in debtors' prison. Ryan K. Smith offers a readable and enlightening portrait of this busy and turbulent life in "Robert Morris's Folly."


For the full review, see:

CHARLES R. MORRIS. "Financing the Founders; Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUG. 30, 2014): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date AUG. 29, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'Robert Morris's Folly' by Ryan K. Smith; Robert Morris built a French-style palace out of Pennsylvania logs in the hope that Marie Antoinette would visit.")


The book being reviewed is:

Smith, Ryan K. Robert Morris's Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder, The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.






November 17, 2014

War on Cancer Was "Profoundly Misconceived"



(p. 179) Following the testing of nearly half a million drugs, the number of useful anticancer agents remains disappointingly small. Expressions of discontent with the methodology of research and of research and the appalling paucity of results were, over the years, largely restricted to the professional literature. However, in 2001 they broke through to the popular media. In an impassioned article in the New Yorker magazine entitled "The Thirty Years' War: Have We Been Fighting Cancer the Wrong Way?" Jerome Groopman, a respected clinical oncologist and cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston, fired a devastating broadside. "The war on cancer," he wrote, "turned out to be profoundly misconceived--both in its rhetoric and in its execution. The high expectations of the early seventies seem almost willfully naïve." Regarding many of the three-phased clinical trials, with their toxic effects, he marveled at "how little scientific basis there was and how much sensationalism surrounded them." Groopman concluded that hope for progress resided in the "uncertainty inherent in scientific discovery."


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






November 13, 2014

In 1971 Nixon "Launched an All-Out War on Cancer"



(p. 173) In 1971 the U.S. government finally launched an all-out "war on cancer." In his State of the Union address in January 1971, President Richard Nixon declared: "The time has come in America when the same kind of concerted effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease. Let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal."

As the country debated a bill known as the National Cancer Act, the air was filled with feverish excitement and heady optimism. Popular magazines again trumpeted the imminent conquest of cancer. However, some members of the committee of the Institute of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences, which was asked by the NCI to review the cancer plan envisioned by the act, expressed concern regarding the centralization of planning of research and that "the lines of research... could turn out to be the wrong leads." The plan fails, the reviewers said in their confidential report, because

It leaves the impression that all shots can be called from a national headquarters; that all, or nearly all, of the really important ideas are already in hand, and that given the right kind of administration and organization, the hard problems can be solved. It fails to allow for the surprises which must surely lie ahead if we are really going to gain an understanding of cancer.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






November 12, 2014

FDR Ruthlessly Manipulated Political Process



(p. D8) Michael C. Janeway, a former editor of The Boston Globe and executive editor of The Atlantic Monthly who wrote two books chronicling what he saw as the intertwined decline of democracy and journalism in the United States, died on Thursday [April 17, 2014] at his home in Lakeville, Conn.


. . .


The second book, "The Fall of the House of Roosevelt: Brokers of Ideas and Power From FDR to LBJ," published in 2004, measured some of the ideas in his first book against the history of the New Deal. It focused on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inner circle of advisers, a group of political operatives and thinkers often called Roosevelt's "brain trust," who helped conceive ideas like the minimum wage, Social Security and federal bank deposit insurance.

Mr. Janeway's father, Eliot Janeway, an economist, Democratic hand and columnist for Time magazine (a portfolio not unheard-of in those days), was a prominent member of that group.

Michael Janeway suggested that in undertaking the radical changes necessary to yank the "shattered American capitalist system into regulation and reform," Roosevelt and his team manipulated the political process with a level of ruthlessness that may have been justified by the perils of the times. But in the years that followed, he wrote, the habit of guile and highhandedness devolved into the kind of arrogance that defined -- and doomed -- the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, Roosevelt's last political heir.



For the full obituary, see:

PAUL VITELLO. "Michael Janeway, 73, Former Editor of The Boston Globe." The New York Times (Sat., APRIL 19, 2014): D8.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has title "Michael Janeway, Former Editor of The Boston Globe, Dies at 73.")


The book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Janeway, Michael. The Fall of the House of Roosevelt: Brokers of Ideas and Power from FDR to LBJ, Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.






November 9, 2014

"Discovery Cannot Be Achieved by Directive"



(p. 170) As early as 1945 the medical advisory committee reporting to the committee reporting to the federal government on a postwar program for scientific research emphasized the frequently unexpected nature of discoveries:

Discoveries in medicine have often come from the most remote and unexpected fields of science in the past; and it is probable that this will be equally true in the future. It is not unlikely that significant progress in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, cancer, and other refractory conditions will be made, perhaps unexpectedly, as the result of fundamental discoveries in fields unrelated to these diseases.... Discovery cannot be achieved by directive. Further progress requires that the entire field of medicine and the underlying sciences of biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, bacteriology, pathology, parasitology, etc., be developed impartially.

Their statement "discovery cannot be achieved by directive" would prove to be sadly prophetic.



Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: italics in original.)






November 4, 2014

Less than One Percent of Government Spending Is Cost Effective



(p. A3) . . . , most Americans don't think of their government as particularly successful. Only 19 percent say they trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, according to Gallup.


. . .


Of the 11 large programs for low- and moderate-income people that have been subject to rigorous, randomized evaluation, only one or two show strong evidence of improving most beneficiaries' lives.

"Less than 1 percent of government spending is backed by even the most basic evidence of cost-effectiveness," writes Peter Schuck, a Yale law professor, in his new book, "Why Government Fails So Often," a sweeping history of policy disappointments.



For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt. "A Quiet Movement to Help Government Fail Less Often." The New York Times (Tues., July 15, 2014): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the last two paragraphs quoted above, were combined into one paragraph in the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has title "The Quiet Movement to Make Government Fail Less Often.")


The book mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Schuck, Peter. Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.






November 1, 2014

Centrally Planned War on Cancer "Fails to Allow for Surprises"



(p. 115) It leaves the impression that all shots can be called from a national headquarters; that all, or nearly all, of the really important ideas are already in hand.... It fails to allow for the surprises which must surely lie ahead if we are really going to gain an understanding of cancer. --A COMMITTEE OF THE INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, ON THE NATIONAL CANCER ACT AND THE "WAR ON CANCER"


Source:

As quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)






October 30, 2014

British Parents Jailed by Nationalized Health Service for Trying to Sell Home to Pay for Son's Cancer Treatment



(p. A4) . . . , no Briton is ever entirely happy with the taxpayer-funded service, and now the case of a 5-year-old boy with a brain tumor has thrown a harsh light on the $170 billion-a-year system.

Critics are asking whether the service was justified in refusing a cancer treatment for the boy, Ashya King, sought by his desperate parents in an effort to save his life, and whether it overstepped in trying to impose its decision on his family.

The refusal set off a chain of events that enthralled and horrified the British public, as Ashya's parents removed their son from University Hospital Southampton in England on Aug. 28 without the consent of British doctors, setting off a highly publicized international hunt. Concern for the child, however, turned into public outrage when the parents, Brett and Naghemeh King, were arrested and jailed in Madrid, where they had traveled to sell their holiday home so they could pay for the treatment, called proton beam therapy.


. . .


"They treated us like terrorists," Mr. King, 51, said during an emotional news conference in Spain, where he and his wife were held for three days, separated from their critically ill son, as British authorities pursued University Hospital Southampton's recommendation that Ashya be made a ward of the court.


. . .


(p. A10) Professor Hunter . . . said that, because the health service is publicly accountable, doctors tend to be reluctant to recommend innovative solutions for fear of lawsuits if things go wrong.

Mrs. Anderton, too, said that, despite the excellent care her son received, the N.H.S. is not always at the cutting edge. "The only downside is that we don't have advanced types of treatments that could be lifesaving," she said.



For the full story, see:

KIMIKO DE FREYTAS-TAMURA. "Health Care for Britain in Harsh Light." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 17, 2014): A4 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 16, 2014.)






October 27, 2014

China May Have Higher Incomes, But India Has Freedom and Hope



(p. A11) The author remains generally optimistic about India's prospects. Economic reforms that began in 1991 have quickened growth. On average, GDP has grown nearly 7% a year since then. Thanks to a media revolution that began in the 1990s and has exploded over the past decade, a state-owned monopoly over television news has given way to upward of 450 raucous channels that make Fox News look staid by comparison. The author argues that together these two trends have sparked a kind of virtuous cycle: Better-educated and better-fed Indians are demanding more from their politicians. A take-no-prisoners media will keep them on their toes.


. . .


Educated Indians can't stop complaining about the politicians who lead them. Yet, echoing the historian Ramachandra Guha, Mr. Denyer argues that India's main success since its independence in 1947 has been political rather than economic. It has strengthened its democratic institutions and nurtured religious and cultural pluralism. Despite the fact that the average Indian earned $1,500 last year, less than a fourth of the average Chinese, it is in New Delhi, not Beijing, that you can afford to call the president (or prime minister) a blithering idiot without worrying about a midnight knock on the door.



For the full review, see:

SADANAND DHUME. "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Rogue Elephant' by Simon Denyer; The average Indian earns less than the average Chinese. But it's in New Delhi--not Beijing--where you can call the prime minister an idiot without worrying about a knock on the door." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 28, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 27, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Rogue Elephant' by Simon Denyer; The average Indian earns less than the average Chinese. But it's in New Delhi--not Beijing--where you can call the prime minister an idiot without worrying about a knock on the door.")


The book being reviewed is:

Denyer, Simon. Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India's Unruly Democracy. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014.






October 22, 2014

Nevada Government Lets Tesla Sell Directly to Consumers



(p. A13) . . . in addition to rubber-stamping the agreement that waived Tesla's property, sales and business taxes for a decade or more--while throwing in discount power rates--the Nevada legislature also approved a bill last week that would exempt the auto maker from franchising regulations outlawing the company's retail approach. The state's auto dealers, who only weeks ago threatened to sue over the matter, shifted gears and endorsed the legislation.

"My car dealers want to assist in any way they can," John Sande of the Nevada Franchise Auto Dealers Association told the Reno Gazette Journal. "Nevada law does not allow Tesla to come in and sell directly to the consumer, so we are going to have to come in and change it so they can sell directly to the consumer."

No doubt the dealers balanced the pros and cons of agitating for their own self-interest against overwhelming political support for the deal and the spending potential of thousands of new, well-paid workers who may prefer a Ford or Chevy pickup over a $70,000 Tesla Model S. But the fact that Nevada legislators so quickly jettisoned a key provision of the state's dealership-franchise provisions speaks volumes about how essential these statutes really are to the well-being of their constituents.

There is no rational reason Tesla--or any other automobile manufacturer--should be restricted from selling new cars directly to those who seek to buy them.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN KERR. "OPINION; Tesla Breaks the Auto Dealer Cartel; Nevada lets the electric car maker sell directly to consumers. Too bad everyone else still can't." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 17, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 16, 2014.)







October 13, 2014

Mexicans Abandon Government Subsidized Housing Developments



(p. A5) ZUMPANGO, Mexico -- In an enormous housing development on the edge of this scrappy commuter town, Lorena Serrano's 11-foot-wide shoe box of a home is flanked by abandoned houses. The neighborhood has two schools, a few bodegas and a small community center that offers zumba classes.

There is very little else.

"There are no jobs, no cinema, no cantina," said Ms. Serrano of the 8,000-home development, called La Trinidad. Her husband's commute to the capital, Mexico City, about 35 miles south, takes two hours each way by bus and consumes a quarter of his salary, she said. "We're in the middle of nowhere."

Ms. Serrano, 39, is among more than five million Mexicans who, over the past decade, bought houses through a government program that made mortgages available to low-income buyers.

The program, initially hailed by some experts as the answer to Mexico's chronic housing deficit, fueled a frenzy of construction and helped inspire similar efforts in Latin America and beyond, including Brazil's "My House, My Life," which aims to build at least 3 million homes by this year.

But the concrete sprawl around Mexico City and other big towns grew faster than demand. Commutes proved unbearable, and residents abandoned their homes.



For the full story, see:

VICTORIA BURNETT. "ZUMPANGO JOURNAL; They Built It. People Came. Now They Go." The New York Times (Tues., SEPT. 9, 2014): A5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 8, 2014.)






October 9, 2014

Feds Allow Hollywood to Use Drones



(p. B1) LOS ANGELES -- The commercial use of drones in American skies took a leap forward on Thursday [Sept. 25, 2014] with the help of Hollywood.

The Federal Aviation Administration, responding to applications from seven filmmaking companies and pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America, said six of those companies could use camera-equipped drones on certain movie and television sets. Until now, the F.A.A. has not permitted commercial drone use except for extremely limited circumstances in wilderness areas of Alaska.

Put bluntly, this is the first time that companies in the United States will be able to legally use drones to fly over people.

The decision has implications for a broad range of industries including agriculture, energy, real estate, the news media and online retailing. "While the approval for Hollywood is very limited in scope, it's a message to everyone that this ball is rolling," said Greg Cirillo, chairman of the aviation practice at Wiley Rein, a law firm in Washington.

Michael P. Huerta, the administrator of the F.A.A., said at least 40 similar applications were pending from companies beyond Hollywood. One is Amazon, which wants permission to move forward with a drone-delivery service. Google has acknowledged "self-flying vehicle" tests in the Australian outback.

"Today's announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial use," Anthony R. Foxx, secretary of transportation, told reporters in a conference call.



For the full story, see:

BROOKS BARNES. "Drone Exemptions for Hollywood Pave the Way for Widespread Use." The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 26, 2014): B1 & B7.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 25, 2014.)






October 5, 2014

Feds Protect Us from Baby Photos



(p. 1) Pictures of smiling babies crowd a bulletin board in a doctor's office in Midtown Manhattan, in a collage familiar to anyone who has given birth. But the women coming in to have babies of their own cannot see them. They have been moved to a private part of the office, replaced in the corridors with abstract art.

"I've had patients ask me, 'Where's your baby board?' " said Dr. Mark V. Sauer, the director of the office, which is affiliated with Columbia University Medical Center. "We just tell them the truth, which is that we no longer post them because of concerns over privacy."

For generations, obstetricians and midwives across America have proudly posted photographs of the babies they have delivered on their office walls. But this pre-digital form of social media is gradually going the way of cigars in the waiting room, because of the federal patient privacy law known as Hipaa.

Under the law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, baby photos are a type of protected health information, no less than a medical chart, birth date or Social Security number, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Even if a parent sends in the photo, it is considered private unless the parent also sends written authorization for its posting, which almost no one does.



For the full story, see:

ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS. "Baby Pictures at the Doctor's? Cute, Sure, but Illegal." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., AUG. 10, 2014): 1 & 19.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 9, 2014.)






October 4, 2014

Cancer Will Likely Be Cured by "Lone Wolves, Awkward Individualists, Nonconformists"




Morton Meyers quotes Ernst Chain, who received the Nobel Prize in 1945, along with Fleming and Florey, for developing penicillin:


(p. 81) But do not let us fall victims of the naive illusion that problems like cancer, mental illness, degeneration or old age... can be solved by bulldozer organizational methods, such as were used in the Manhattan Project. In the latter, we had the geniuses whose basic discoveries made its development possible, the Curies, the Rutherfords, the Einsteins, the Niels Bohrs and many others; in the biologic field... these geniuses have not yet appeared.... No mass attack will replace them.... When they do appear, it is our job to recognize them and give them the opportunities to develop their talents, which is not an easy task, for they are bound to be lone wolves, awkward individualists, nonconformists, and they will not very well fit into any established organization.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: ellipses in original.)






October 1, 2014

Brazil Libertarian Uses Laser Vision to Privatize Trains



BrazilLaserVisionLibertarian2014-09-30.jpg"In campaign ads, Paulo Batista, who is running for a seat in the São Paulo state legislature, is a superhero looking for old commuter trains to blast into privatization with his laser vision." Source of caption: print version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A4) RIO DE JANEIRO -- An auditor flies through the air like Superman, shooting laser beams from his eyes.


. . .


"The neutral, generic method of appealing to voters is a mediocre and failed way of doing politics," said Paulo Batista, 34, a real estate auditor and self-described libertarian who is running for a seat in São Paulo's state legislature.

Mr. Batista's ads, depicting him as a superhero using his laser vision to privatize dilapidated commuter trains, are popular on YouTube.



For the full story, see:

SIMON ROMERO. "Brazil's Politicians Often Play the Clown in Ads." The New York Times (Weds., SEPT. 3, 2014): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date SEPT. 2, 2014.)






September 29, 2014

For Health Entrepreneurs "the Regulatory Burden in the U.S. Is So High"



(p. A11) Yo is a smartphone app. MelaFind is a medical device. Yo sends one meaningless message: "Yo!" MelaFind tells you: "biopsy this and don't biopsy that." MelaFind saves lives. Yo does not. Guess which firm found it easier to put their product in consumers hands?


. . .


In January 2010, Jeffrey Shuren, a veteran FDA official, was appointed director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the division responsible for evaluating MelaFind. Dr. Shuren, Dr. Gulfo writes, had "a reputation for being somewhat anti-industry" and "an aggressive agenda to completely revamp the device approval process." Thus in March MELA Sciences was issued something called a "Not Approvable letter" raising various questions about MelaFind.


. . .


The letter sent the author into survival mode. He battled the FDA, calmed investors, and defended against the lawsuit all while trying to keep the company afloat. Under stress, Dr. Gulfo's health began to decline: He lost 29 pounds, his hair began to fall out, and the pain in his gut became so intense he needed an endoscopy.


. . .


The climax to this medical thriller comes when, in "the greatest 15 minutes of [his] life," Dr. Gulfo delivers an impassioned speech, à la "Twelve Angry Men," to the FDA's advisory committee. The committee voted for approval, 8 to 7, and, perhaps with the congressional hearing in mind, the FDA approved MelaFind in September 2011.

It was a major triumph for the company, but Dr. Gulfo was beat. He retired from the company in June 2013-- . . .


. . .


Google's Sergey Brin recently said that he didn't want to be a health entrepreneur because "It's just a painful business to be in . . . the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that I think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs." Mr. Brin won't find anything in Dr. Gulfo's book to persuade him otherwise. Until we get our regulatory system in order, expect a lot more Yo's and not enough life-saving innovations.



For the full review, see:

ALEX TABARROK. "BOOKSHELF; It's Broke. Fix It. MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Aug. 12, 2014): A11.

(Note: ellipses added, except for the one internal to the final paragraph, which is in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 11, 2014, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Innovation Breakdown' by Joseph V. Gulfo; MelaFind's breakthrough optical technology promised earlier, more accurate detection of melanoma. Then the FDA got involved.")


The book under review is:

Gulfo, Joseph V. Innovation Breakdown: How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances. Franklin, TN: Post Hill Press, 2014.






September 23, 2014

French Government Wastes $68.5 Million Ordering Trains Too Wide for Many Platforms



(p. B3) PARIS--France's state-run railway system on Wednesday admitted failing to mind the gap, after realizing that a fleet of new trains it has ordered are too wide to fit many of the country's stations.

Confirming a report in satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, train operator Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer and network owner Réseau Ferré de France said about 1,300 of France's 8,700 railway platforms must be trimmed to make way for the wider rolling stock.

It will cost about €50 million ($68.5 million) to alter the platforms to fit the new trains by 2016, when they are delivered, SNCF and RFF said.