America's Decline, in Two Photos

September 20, 2017 at 3:17 pm

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Change at a Central Massachusetts apple orchard is the topic of my column this week. Please check out the full column at the New Boston Post (here), New York Sun (here), and Newsmax (here). Best wishes for 5778.

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IPO Brain Damage

September 19, 2017 at 10:01 am

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Under the headline "The Profits of Going Public Without the 'Brain Damage,'" Andrew Ross Sorkin has a column about tech companies staying private rather than going public:

The number of companies listed on public stock exchanges is half what it was two decades ago. Last year, fewer companies went public than during the financial crisis.

It's an interesting column but there are a few areas that I wish had been explored more. First, maybe some of these companies remain private not entirely by choice but because they can't successfully find enough public shareholders to buy in to marginally profitable or unprofitable companies at stratospheric valuations. In other words, if they could go public, they would, but they can't, so they are portraying it as choosing to stay private longer.

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Our Unimperiled Democracy

September 19, 2017 at 9:34 am

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Alex Beam has a Boston Globe column:

the "democracy is imperiled" crowd insists that democracy has become endangered ever since Donald Trump took office. I disagree...

Playing the pitch pipe for the "democracy is imperiled" amen chorus is Yale professor Timothy Snyder, who has likened Trump to Adolf Hitler. Snyder preaches that "we are hanging by our teeth to the rule of law," and that a presidential coup attempt "is more or less inevitable."There is quite an audience for this pap, reinforced by Snyder's status as a once-respected professor at a university that people have heard of....

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Bill Gates on Trump and the Press

September 19, 2017 at 9:25 am

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The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has released what it says will be the first in a series of annual reports measuring progress on a series of measures of development and public health. The statistics show remarkable recent gains and are worth a look if you need cheering up.

The New York Times has an illuminating news article about the effort and some recent Gates appearances:

Health journalists are sunk in negativism, they say, focusing on failures in a sea of global health successes...

Surprisingly, the new report was not a reaction to Mr. Trump's threats to slash the foreign aid budget by 32 percent.

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Stewart on Martoma

September 15, 2017 at 2:08 pm

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James B. Stewart actually concludes his latest column by coming down in the same place I do, calling for Congress to step in and clarify insider trading law. But he makes so many errors along the way that it undermines his credibility. He writes:

Prosecutors had to dismiss the convictions and guilty pleas of seven people who'd participated in insider trading schemes, in some cases reaping millions in profit, including Michael S. Steinberg, one of Mr. Cohen's top lieutenants.

Steinberg never pleaded guilty. Even if the sentence read "convictions or guilty pleas," it would still be inaccurate, because Stewart is stating that Steinberg "participated in insider trading schemes," even though whatever he participated in expressly wasn't an "insider trading scheme" under the laws that applied at the time in the place that he participated in it.

Equally inaccurate is the column's treatment of Dr. Sidney Gilman. Mr. Stewart writes:

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A Good Paul Krugman Column

September 15, 2017 at 12:40 pm

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Senator Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" plan is a bit too much even for the New York Times' Nobel laureate economist and op-ed columnist, who writes:

So far, however, Sanders hasn't produced either an estimate of how much that would cost or a specific proposal about how to pay for it....actually making it happen would probably mean facing down a serious political backlash. For one thing, it would require a substantial increase in taxes. For another, it would mean telling scores of millions of Americans who get health coverage though their employers, and are generally satisfied with their coverage, that they need to give it up and accept something different. You can say that the new system would be better — but will they believe it?

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New Yorker on North Korea

September 14, 2017 at 9:58 pm

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Evan Osnos has a long dispatch from North Korea in the most recent New Yorker. It includes this passage:

Pyongyang is the emptiest, quietest capital in Asia, but it is changing, slowly, driven by the legacy of famine. Between 1994 and 1998, a combination of mismanagement, droughts, and flooding paralyzed North Korean food production, killing up to three million people. Hundreds of thousands went to China in search of food and work, and many returned to their families having seen a better quality of life.

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Posner Exit Interview

September 14, 2017 at 9:47 pm

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Judge Richard Posner makes a pretty stunning admission in his exit interview with the New York Times:

"I pay very little attention to legal rules, statutes, constitutional provisions," Judge Posner said. "A case is just a dispute. The first thing you do is ask yourself — forget about the law — what is a sensible resolution of this dispute?"

The next thing, he said, was to see if a recent Supreme Court precedent or some other legal obstacle stood in the way of ruling in favor of that sensible resolution. "And the answer is that's actually rarely the case," he said. "When you have a Supreme Court case or something similar, they're often extremely easy to get around."

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Jason Hill on Ta-Nahesi Coates

September 14, 2017 at 1:51 pm

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Commentary magazine has a piece by a philosophy professor at DePaul, Jason D. Hill, about race and the American dream. Hill is an immigrant from Jamaica.

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Eye Surgery Price Shopping

September 14, 2017 at 11:12 am

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At Stat, a Boston-based health and medicine-related site, Harvard medical school professor Ateev Mehrotra has an interesting article about the difficulty he had getting a straight answer about what his daughter's eye surgery would cost:

My family had every advantage that newly minted price shoppers could possibly have: We live in Massachusetts, one of the states that have passed price transparency laws to help patients shop for care; I am a physician; my research focuses on consumerism and price transparency, giving me plenty of insider information; and the surgery was minor and not urgent, giving us lots of time to shop around.

How did it go? Terribly. Here's why:...

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Charles Murray at Harvard

September 13, 2017 at 1:19 pm

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Charles Murray was pleased with how his visit to Cambridge was handled: "maybe Harvard just got lucky. But the whole evening had the feeling that the adults were in charge, that they knew they were in charge, and that—crucially—the students knew the adults were in charge, too."

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Two Views on Trump and the Press

September 12, 2017 at 9:43 pm

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Russ Roberts writes at Medium:

The media is part of the problem. I follow a lot of mildy left-leaning journalists on Twitter who write for major publications and outlets. They are not fringe players. Their employers aren't either. These reporters aren't ideologues. They're just right-thinking people who lean left. Somewhere along the line, they stopped pretending to be objective about Trump. They have decided he is dangerous and a liar and they write about it openly on Twitter. They mock him in a way they didn't mock previous presidents who they didn't particularly like. They may be right about the dangers posed by a Trump presidency. But their stance which violates long-standing norms of their profession amplifies the feelings of Trump supporters that those supporters are under attack from mainstream American culture.

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A Solution for North Korea

September 12, 2017 at 11:26 am

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"Instead of starving the North Koreans or nuking them, how about rescuing them by helping them escape?" That's the question I ask in my column this week. Please check out the full article at the New Boston Post (here), New York Sun (here), and Newsmax (here).

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The Politics of the New Yorker

September 11, 2017 at 9:00 am

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Adweek.com has an interview with Michael Luo, who used to work at the New York Times and is now the editor of the New Yorker magazine's web site. The interview was interesting to me in that it openly addressed the political tilt of the magazine:

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Jared Kushner's Harvard Admission's Essay

September 8, 2017 at 11:53 am

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The New Yorker has published a "humor" essay headlined "Jared Kushner's Harvard Admissions Essay." It reads in part:

My favorite color is green, like money. My favorite shape is rectangle, like money. I also like round, which is like some kinds of money that poor people use for littering in fountains...Here are some things I want to be when I grow up: a fireman, an astronaut, a business boy, a fire truck, a thousand-dollar bill. If you would like some more money, here is some more money!

Why, one wonders, would the New Yorker riff on the idea that Jared Kushner is obsessed with money? It seems to me that if anything his behavior — stepping away from his business to devote himself first to his father-in-law's presidential campaign, then to national service — is characteristic of someone who has other priorities. If President Trump made this sort of stereotype-driven comment about a prominent Jewish person, the New Yorker would probably accuse him of anti-Semitism.

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