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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Uncovering the Root of Poverty: An Addictive Habit

Addictive pain-killers killed 64,000 residents in the U.S. in 2016, in part because physicians tended to rely on patients’ self-determined ratings of pain on a scale of 1 to 10.[1] Such subjective ratings were of course vulnerable to self-seeking motives willfully negligent or even reckless in terms of health. A habit or marked tendency in favor of choices at the expense of a person’s own long-term well-being stems, I submit, from weak impulse-control. This, plus the related lack of consideration for other people, either causes or is associated generally with poor people at least in the United States.
Poverty, it has been said, is the cruelest form of war, for such war can go on and on and wreck subtle though tremendous damage on the afflicted. Yet the mentality that can get a person into such a war and associated bad choices can be easily overlooked by elites that deign to study the problem of poverty.

The full essay is at "An Addictive Habit."

[1] Gregory Korte, “U.S. Waging Tech War against Opioid Epidemic,” USA Today, November 24-26, 2017.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Conflicting Business Models at Singapore’s Airport

Singapore’s Changi may have been “the world’s most fabulous airport” in 2011, according to Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal. To be sure, the airport’s amenities were amazing. How they are were being operated, however, detracted in certain respects with the goal. “We wanted to transform the way travel is done and create a stress-free experience,” Foo Sek Min of the airport’s management said. This goal dovetailed with the airport being “a key economic development element” for Singapore. Accordingly, the state-owned company that ran the airport received “plenty of government support.” In line with these goals was there a business model that was long-term oriented? Rather than trying to “nickel and dime” customers so as to minimize the funding from airlines and the government while maximizing revenue on a daily basis, resisting such urges in order to provide a truly stress-free experience would, I contend, be more consistent with the goals. 

The full essay is at "Conflicting Business Models." 

On the Legitimacy of the US Invasion of Iraq

George H.W. Bush had not sent the US military all of the way into Iraq; he decided to go along with the consensus in the coalition of the time that the invasion would go just far enough to remove Iraqi forces from Kwait.  Undoing an invasion is a laudatory military venture.

The full essay is at "The U.S. Invasion of Iraq."

The Tea Party on Congress & Popular Sovereignty

Mark Meckler, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, characterized the lame-duck session of the Congress at the end of 2010 as presumptuous because the Democratic-controlled House would be controlled by the Republicans in the upcoming session. In other words, the Democrats had just lost the right to control the House in the elections, so their continued control of the House was at odds with the “will of the American people.” According to Meckler, "For them to legislate when they've collectively lost their mandate just shows the arrogance of the ruling elite. I can't imagine being repudiated in the way they were and then coming back and saying 'Now that we've been repudiated, let's go pass some legislation. . . . I'm surprised by how blatant it was."

The full essay is at "The Tea Party."

President Obama and the War Powers Act: On Libya

In June 2011, a bipartisan group of members of U.S. House of Representatives objected to the refusal of the Obama administration to obtain Congressional approval in line with the War Powers Act of 1973 for the U.S. military’s continued involvement in Libya. On June 17, 2011, The New York Times ran a story which indicated that Barak Obama had gone against the views of the top lawyers at the Justice Department and the Pentagon in his decision not to seek Congressional approval.

Real or Incremental Change?

On October 13, 2010, Fox News reported a poll that found that women were turning on Obama.  The reason cited was that they feel there has been too much change—that it has been “jarring.”  I was stunned—wondering if I was listening to a broadcast from another planet. I remembered that when I had been sampling a fattening food item in a grocery store in my antiquated home town in Illinois; the old woman who gave me the sample, said, “We have lots of devils here!” as she was handing me the sample.  She was referring to the array of food samples in the store that day a few weeks before Thanksgiving.  My reaction, which I charitably did not share with her, was, Oh, horrors! I wondered what century she was from (probably Calvin's, I concluded privately as I chewed a “devilish” olive). I wondered, moreover, why some people magnify little things into horrendous sins. Such people, I concluded, cannot seem to let go of what is to the rest of us so utterly antiquated and get with it. That is, why are some people so resistant to change? Why do they perceive small, incremental changes as somehow momentous—even jarring?

The full essay is at "Real or Incremental Change."

Political Staying Power: Ethanol Subsidies

“A broad bipartisan majority of the Senate voted [on June 15, 2011] to end more than three decades of federal subsidies for ethanol. . . . [At the time,] Gasoline blenders [received] a tax credit of 45 cents for every gallon of ethanol they blend[ed] with motor fuel. The amendment would have repealed that as well as a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on imported ethanol. . . . The tax breaks . . . cost about $6 billion a year. The House [was] expected to reject the repeal as unconstitutional because tax bills must originate in that chamber, and the White House opposes it. But the 73-27 vote signals that once-unassailable programs could be vulnerable.  [The intent was] to end subsidies for wealthy interest groups and [to make some] cuts before slashing social-welfare programs. [Thirty three] Republicans joined 40 Democrats and Independents in supporting [the] repeal. (E)thanol has come under increasing fire from diverse groups, including food industry groups concerned about rising corn prices and environmentalists who had concluded corn ethanol wasn't an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The full essay is at "Ethanol Subsidies."

Fannie and Freddie: A Lavish Corporate Lifestyle after the Financial Crisis

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac spent more than $640,000 to send 100 employees to a mortgage-industry conference in Chicago in the fall of 2011. According to a letter from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie and Freddie, the spending included nearly $342,000 for travel, food, hotel and meeting-room space. Incredibly, $74,000 was spent on four invitation-only dinners for mortgage-lending companies that are regular customers of Fannie and Freddie. Because Fannie and Freddie at the time dominated the U.S. mortgage market, "purchasing and guaranteeing about 70% of new loans from mortgage lenders,” who in turn thus had few alternative potential buyers, managers at Fannie and Freddie still felt the need to wine and dine their customers under the subterfuge of valuing “face-to-face meetings with customers as a way to understand their needs,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Apparently the folks at Fannie and Freddie were not familiar with customer surveys or even the telephone. Instead, Freddie spokesman Doug Duvall bragged, “[We were able to meet] with our lender customers in a cost-efficient way. In just two days we held approximately 200 meetings.” Undoubtedly some of those “meetings” were held at the dinners, each of which cost the taxpayers $18, 500.

The full essay is at "Fannie and Freddie."