Special Report

Special Report

Faust’s Networks: Why the Sony Kill Is Not the Last

By 1.5.15

Modern societies run on a set of networks whose hardware and software represent a modern technology Faustian bargain: achieve unparalleled efficiencies of economic cost and social interconnection at the price of equally unparalleled exposure to several forms of catastrophic “cascade” failure.

Specifically, the hardware and software infrastructures that enable prosperous modern life in advanced societies are relatively simple—and hence increasingly tempting—high-value targets for our enemies. Portents of what we face now have been largely ignored for decades.

Special Report

The Real Minimum Wage Is Still $0

By 1.2.15

Twenty states and the District of Columbia forced layoffs to ring in the New Year.

The New York Times headline hardly disguised the Old Gray Lady’s glee: “States’ Minimum Wages Rise, Helping Millions of Workers.” The mandates escalating the price of labor certainly will help some of the very few workers currently earning minimum wage. The news that isn’t fit to print is that by further burdening employers with costs, the policies ensure layoffs of some workers currently employed and the continued unemployment of others who might have found work if the states allowed the market, rather than bureaucrats, politicians, or a mathematical formula, to determine wages. 

“The true minimum wage is zero—the amount an unemployed person receives from his nonexistent employer,” Milton Friedman explained in his Newsweek column 43 years ago. The truth of Friedman’s quip hasn’t changed one bit even as government’s precise minimum an employer should pay employees has changed a few bits every few years.

Special Report

The ‘Dark Money’ Inquisition Is Coming

By 12.30.14

It’s a brilliant misnomer, “dark money,” the sort of thing you’d expect from the consultant Frank Luntz, if Luntz were a Democrat. The term is a work of semiotic genius, tapping into fears so powerful they manage to convince Americans that free speech isn’t such a good idea after all. It’s flagrantly pejorative, but respectable newspapers use it anyway. Reporters rarely question transparency, of course. This sort of transparency, however, is starting to look more like the Inquisition.

The common alternative term, “outside spending,” is better, but only because it’s so unintentionally revealing of the proprietary attitude that politicians hold toward their offices. They do the talking; we get to press the red button or the blue one. The rightful course of political speech is mudslinging depravity funded by official accounts. The rest of us are outsiders, presumed suspect, and any views we might advertise about Obamacare or collective bargaining should be seen as part of a plot by usurping billionaires.

Special Report

Worry On Christmas Day

By 12.25.14

The last day of Hanukkah happened to fall on Christmas Eve this year, and while I am not one to read meaning into a coincidence of the calendar, it does invite us to reflect on the obvious but usually overlooked point of convergence between Judaism and Christianity, so far apart because, like Mexico and the United States, so close.

Special Report

What Scrooge Hillary Won’t Discuss

By 12.24.14

You need to know how much more coercive “health reform” could be if Hillary Clinton is elected president.

A new ABC/Washington Post poll shows 61 percent of Democratic voters support Mrs. Clinton for president in 2016, far more than other possible contenders. Obamacare’s future is uncertain, with the Supreme Court revisiting the law and Republicans now in control of Congress. That too could change in 2016. If Hillary makes it to the White House, what can we expect on health reform?

Mrs. Clinton ducks that question. Her proposal in 1993 as First Lady was more coercive than Obamacare. She put price controls on doctors, a hard and fast limit on how much healthcare the nation could consume annually, and limits on how much healthcare you could buy for your own family, even if you paid for it yourself. That was twenty plus years ago. But it’s an important window into her thinking.

Before Americans choose their candidates for 2016, they need to ask how much power government should have over their healthcare and whether Mrs. Clinton stands by what she proposed the last time she occupied the White House.

Special Report

Who’s Responsible?

By 12.23.14

The cold-blooded murder of two New York City policemen as they sat in their car is not only an outrage but also a wake-up call. It shows, in the most painful way, the high cost of having demagogues, politicians, mobs, and the media constantly taking cheap shots at the police.

Those cheap shots are in fact very expensive shots, not only to the police themselves but to the whole society. Someone once said that civilization is a thin crust over a volcano. The police are part of that thin crust. We have seen before our own eyes, first in Ferguson, Missouri, and then in other communities, what happens when there is just a small crack in that crust, and barbarism and arson burst out.

That can happen anywhere. So can what happened in New York. “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

It is a painful irony that, on the eve of the murders of these two police officers in New York, some of the city’s police were already saying that, in the event of their deaths, they did not want Mayor Bill de Blasio to attend their funerals.

Special Report

A Growth Strategy for the New Congress

By 12.22.14

Does America still have what it takes to achieve a high-growth economy? Does Congress? Economic growth, in the current recovery, is half that of past recessions since World War II. Moreover, average wages have been stagnant for seven years and there is a greater disparity between the very wealthy, a struggling middle class, and an emerging underclass that seems to be outside the economic and social mainstream in good times as well as bad. Technology, globalization, family breakdown, and a sub-par educational system have combined to deprive many working or lower-class citizens of solid, meaningful work and the ability to support their families and maintain their self-respect.

There are also government failures that compound the problem including an internationally uncompetitive corporate tax code, a perversely complicated income tax, and the unending accretion of inefficient and overdone regulation.

Special Report

Obama’s Keystone Confusion

By 12.16.14

In his appearance last week on The Colbert Report, President Obama restated his approach to the Keystone XL pipeline decision, a mindset that can only be described as confused.

The president summarized his strange dilemma as follows: “[Keystone] could create a couple of thousand potential jobs in the initial construction of the pipeline, but we’ve got to measure that against whether or not it is going to contribute to an overall warming of the planet that could be disastrous.”

But this thinking hinges on three key — and false — assumptions.

First, that whatever carbon dioxide or pollution (note that I did not say “or other pollution” since CO2 is plant food, not pollution) would be generated in the building or operation of Keystone will not be generated in whatever other method ends up being used to transport oil from Canada through the United States.

Special Report

Burma Enjoys an Uneasy Peace: Time to Close Thailand’s Refugee Camps?

By 12.15.14

Mae La Refugee Camp, Thailand

Trees give way to primitive wooden homes in the rolling hills approaching Mae La refugee camp on Thailand’s border with Burma. Access is controlled by the Thai army. The largest camp in Thailand, Mae La, holds 50,000 refugees. Some residents have spent their entire lives within Mae La’s confines.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been at war most of its history. A British colony occupied by Japan during World War II, Burma gained its independence shortly after that conflict ended. But the new government refused to grant the autonomy promised the nation’s many ethnic groups. War erupted.

Although the bloodiest and most tragic aspect of Burma’s history, the fragmented civil war has been overshadowed by the democracy struggle centered in Rangoon. In 1962 the superstitious Gen. Ne Win overthrew his country’s young democracy. The junta changed shape over the years, with his eventual ouster, but the generals refused to relax their bloody grip.

Special Report

The Self-Enforcing Nature of the Old Moral Code — It’s Gone

By 12.12.14

Yeah, yeah, I’m I’m olllllld. I know and confess it. I remember the Kennedy assassination. I remember when all the guys wore coat and tie at college football games. I remember when the New York Times could be characterized as more or less a pro-American institution.

I mean, look — I even recall when a kind of moral consensus about sex, and sexual relationships, denied the likes of Rolling Stone magazine and Lena Dunham the privilege of whomping up national crusades against the Predatory Male.

We no longer have that consensus. But, boy, do we have Lena Dunham. And Taylor Swift. And the president of the United States — to sound the alarm about the male multitudes who view women as disposable playthings, fit for ravaging at will. Presently, America’s rape “crisis,” as we’re probably supposed to call it, vies with CIA torture and Obamacare for Topic of the Moment status.