Monday, January 15, 2018

Cruising the Web

The fact that the Hawaii Emergency Alert system could send out a false warning that was repeated on radio and TV and wasn't corrected until a half-hour later is extremely worrisome. What does this say about the whole emergency system in Hawaii and elsewhere?
The weakness of Hawaii's emergency system is terrifying. The fact that a single employee could trigger a warning by making a stupid mistake is beyond belief.

How many billions of dollars have we spent on these systems? Are all state emergency management systems as vulnerable to human error?

Today, I have no doubt that the other 49 states in the nation are looking at their notification systems under a microscope. But what should they look for? What happened in Hawaii?
Perhaps this mistake will be a salutary warning to everyone that we need to make sure that there are some failsafe measures to protect against similar errors.
Hawaii says the alert was sent out because of a mistake made by an employee. Currently, we have no reason to doubt that explanation. But would Hawaii - or any state - announce to the public that the system had been hacked and the entire EMA system was vulnerable to intrusion?

This isn't over - not by a long shot. The FCC is opening their own investigation into the incident and you can bet Congress will also be looking into the false alert as well.

If that happens, the screw up may be a blessing in disguise. Exposing vulnerabilities and dangerous procedures that might lead to the same thing happening elsewhere would be a positive development coming out of this terrifying incident.
And perhaps some Hawaiians can spare a moment to realize that this is how life in Israel is on a regular basis except the warnings are not mistakes.

Tyler Cowen provides evidence
why Trump is so wrong about accepting migrants from poorer countries. Cowen argues that "Africa is sending us its best and brightest." Many of the immigrants from Africa who are coming here already have an education.
One of the most striking facts about immigration to the U.S., unbeknownst even to many immigration advocates, is the superior education of Africans coming to this country. If we consider adults age 25 or older, born in Africa and living in the U.S., 41.7 of them have a bachelor’s degree or more, according to 2009 data. For contrast, the native-born population has a bachelor’s degree or more at the much lower rate of only 28.1 percent in these estimates, and foreign-born adults as a whole have a college degree at the rate of 26.8 percent, both well below the African rate.

How about high school degrees? About one-third of immigrants overall lack this credential, but only 11.7 percent of African-born migrants don’t have a high school degree. That’s remarkably close to the rate for native-born Americans, estimated at 11.4 percent.

Or consider Nigerian-Americans, Nigeria being the most populous nation in Africa. Their education levels are among the very highest in the U.S., above those of Asians, with 17 percent of Nigerian migrants having a master’s degree.

In addition, about three-quarters of African migrants speak English, and they have higher than average rates of labor force participation. They are also much less likely to commit violent crimes than individuals born in the U.S.
Of course, Trump just spouts off based on his stereotyping of these countries without considering who the people are who are applying to come here.
Economist Edward Lazear suggests a simple experiment. Consider immigrants to the U.S. from Algeria, Israel and Japan, and rank them in order of most educated to least educated. The correct answer is Algeria, Israel then Japan. Although that’s counterintuitive at first glance, it’s easy enough to see how it works. If you are Algerian and educated, or aspire to be educated, your prospects in Algeria are relatively poor and you may seek to leave. A talented, educated person in Japan or Israel can do just fine by staying at home. These kinds of considerations explain about 73 percent of the variation in the educational outcomes of migrants.

In other words, Trump is not only being offensive, he is also quite wrong.

Meanwhile, the politics of this standoff over DACA may or may not play to the Democrats' advantage. Matthew Continetti gives the counter-argument.
The difference between the actual politics of immigration and the way those politics are presented in the major papers and on the television news is more than wide. It's Grand-Canyon-scale enormous. The Dreamers are sympathetic cases the public supports. But the public also supports enforcing immigration law and reducing legal migration. A little more than a decade ago, congressional Democrats authorized the very border walls the party now opposes with such vehemence. Yet there is a not insignificant portion of the Democratic caucus that says it will refuse to support any DACA bill containing money for a barrier on the southern border. And they call Trump extreme.

The idea that Democrats benefit from a government shutdown over the Dreamers is absurd. Not only would Democrats have to explain that thousands upon thousands of federal workers are on leave because of a dispute over noncitizens. Democrats would also jeopardize the bipartisan goodwill the Dreamers enjoy by making them pawns in a cynical game. So unreasonable are the Democratic demands on immigration—more, more, always more, and with no changes to a rickety and leaky system—that one begins to wonder whether they actually want to settle the issue.

Perhaps the Dreamers and other illegal immigrants are more useful to the Democrats as tools of virtue signaling and electoral mobilization than they are as legal permanent residents in a country where the border is protected and laws are enforced. However, if my cynical interpretation is correct, then the Democratic strategy may backfire. I can think of one recent national campaign where immigration was central. It did not end in Democratic victory.

The Dreamers may turn against their supposed protectors, as is already happening. At the same time, independent voters and Trump Democrats may rebuke mealy-mouthed open borders types in favor of candidates who want both to legalize the Dreamers and to reform immigration law in a rational manner. Each scenario is plausible. Yet the political and journalistic analysis of this complex and dynamic situation never seems to go beyond the "isn't Trump crazy and mean" stage.
There is room for a reasonable compromise if both sides remember that the essence of compromise is that both sides give up some of what they want. Personally, I'm not so concerned about the wall since more of illegal immigrants come from overstaying their visas than crossing the border. But Trump needs something that he can claim as a victory so give him more of something on a virtual wall. But work on the visa lottery program and reforming chain migration and give the Dreamers some legal certainty so that they end being in this legal limbo.

The question then remains what do the Democrats want to do with power beyond resisting Obama? And there, the answer is hard to find.
This obsession with the president's habits and eccentricities has obscured the utter emptiness of the Democratic policy cupboard. There was no alternative Democratic health care bill, no alternative Democratic tax bill. All the Democrats have is obstruction. While annoying to the administration, it hasn't really worked. The judges are seated, the tax bill was passed, and the antiregulatory and foreign policy agenda moves forward. The latest Democratic tactic is to call the wage increases and bonuses announced for American workers as a consequence of tax reform "breadcrumbs." Genius.

And yet: What must worry Republicans is that a lack of accomplishment and message is no barrier to political success. A listless and exhausted and bereft Democratic Party can take solace in the following British cliché: Opposition parties don't win elections. Governments lose them.
And Trump seems to be working hard to lose both this year's elections and any hope he has in 2020.

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Steve Hayward explains the economics of why so many companies have announced that they're passing out bonuses or raising wages after the passage of the GOP tax reform lowering corporate tax rates.
This is happening for a simple reason: one of the largest factors for corporate finance is the cost of capital—whether that capital is raised through borrowing, issuing equity, or from the internal rate of return on the business’s own cash flow (and anyone who has ever taken a finance class will know how tricky doing the IRR calculation can be). And the cost of capital is set by the marketplace. All businesses have to achieve a rate of return that assures their continued access to capital, and when that cost falls it enables a company to maintain a competitive return while raising wages. The significant reduction in the corporate tax rate has lowered the cost of capital across the board. Other countries are quickly following the U.S. in cutting their corporate tax rates to remain competitive. Japan, Australia, Austria, even Argentina and France (!) have announced plans to cut their corporate tax rates, and several other nations indicate they won’t be far behind.

And liberals furious about this!

....What we are seeing here is a lesson is how left and right see the best strategy to help the economy. Liberalism likes to bribe people with their own money, which requires taking it from them first. It helps when you can target the funds to your favored groups, instead of letting the chips fall where they may when you let people keep their own money as tax cuts do. Freedom is like that.

Instead of having a lower cost of capital put upward pressure on wages, liberals are only happy when wages rise because of a government mandate. Liberals especially love mandating a higher minimum wage. How’s that working out? We’ve reported before (here and here) about how it is backfiring in Seattle, especially the NBER study (commissioned by Seattle) that found “the second wage increase to $13 reduced hours worked in low-wage jobs by around 9 percent, while hourly wages in such jobs increased by around 3 percent. Consequently, total payroll fell for such jobs, implying that the minimum wage ordinance lowered low-wage employees’ earnings by an average of $125 per month in 2016.” Nice going, Seattle.

Even Elizabeth Warren is having to do some intricate tap-dancing to say that she's happy that Massachusetts citizens are going to get cuts on their energy bills. But she still can't stop herself from blaming the corporations for being big or something and the Republicans from passing a bill that is putting more money in her constituents' pockets.
After that she ranted about the giant corporations getting tax breaks and how she wanted to stop it, utterly oblivious to the fact that it was the same giant corporations extending the tax cuts to their customers, who were benefiting.

Let's get that straight one more time: Warren actually said she wanted to get rid of the tax cuts, unable to grasp that the tax cuts are the exact instrument that enabled the energy company to cut rates for consumers. Warren was supposed to be smart enough to be a Harvard professor?

It's got to be painful to contort herself this way....

She followed it with another rant howling about how corporations – those same corporations handing out the bonuses – had benefited and how that somehow was a bad thing.

She apparently thinks Massachusetts's workers are stupid and are unable to see any connection between bonus money in their pockets and the tax breaks extended to the people who employ them.

In Warrenworld, there apparently are just these giant corporations floating out there, being rich, whose behavior has nothing to do with tax policy, jobs created, or bonuses handed out to workers.

So don't imagine there won't be more of this stupid talk from a washed up consumer advocate from a previous era. Liz Warren made her reputation as the staunch defender of the consumer, and her great contribution to it was the crummy little fiefdom of zero accountability known as the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, well known for its sleazy tactics against small businesses that cannot fight back the shakedowns for their purpose of funding left-wing activist groups. She already has said she wants the tax cuts repealed.

Yet it doesn't obliterate the fact that Trump and the hardworking Republicans in Congress have extended real benefits to consumers, across the board, without picking and choosing which consumers to "help" as Warren's bureaucratic confection did.

Well this sounds unlikely
A CNN anchor blasted author Michael Wolff on Saturday for "misrepresenting" himself at the outset of his project in order to gain access to the White House, citing emails in which Wolff allegedly promised to "humanize Donald Trump."

Wolff, the man behind the new tell-all book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, accused CNN of siding with the president when anchor Michael Smerconish questioned the methods he used to get inside the West Wing.

"You're doing the work of the White House to discredit this book. The White House wants to discredit this book," Wolff said in the contentious interview.
Yeah, because CNN is so very pro-Trump.

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Ilya Shapiro and Aaron Barnes discuss the terrible decision last week from the Eighth Circuit on a case challenging Missouri's law mandating at least 1,000 hours of training to be allowed to earn a living of African-style braiding.
Obtaining the mandatory license from the Missouri Board of Cosmetology & Barber Examiners entailed undergoing a minimum of 1,000 hours of mostly irrelevant training and passing an exam with both written and “practical” (term used loosely) components.

Not only is over 90 percent of the required training completely inapplicable to the practice of African-style hair braiding, but seven of the nine board members are barbers, cosmetologists, or cosmetology school owners with a direct financial incentive to limit competition.

None of that mattered to the three judges on the Eighth Circuit panel, who yesterday after a full year of foot-dragging issued a perfunctory opinion upholding the district court ruling in the board’s favor. Instead of finally providing two aspiring entrepreneurs their day in court before a neutral arbiter, this ruling continues the pattern of courts’ violating bedrock due-process principles by rubber-stamping occupational regulations under the flimsiest of rationales.
States should get rid of all these licensing requirements that are really designed to limit competition and instead prevent hard-working people from making a living. There is no justification for all these stringent requirements to braid hair. This case will eventually end up before the Supreme Court. This is an issue that should be considered if Trump gets the opportunity to make another Supreme Court nomination.
One further disturbing aspect of the ruling is thus that one of the panelists, Judge Steven Colloton, appears on President Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. By contrast, another member of the Trump shortlist, newly confirmed Fifth Circuit Judge Don Willett, wrote a concurrence while on the Texas Supreme Court that addressed this very issue of overly burdensome occupational licensing in a manner that properly considered plaintiffs’ right to earn an honest living in the face of arbitrary government regulations.

If nothing else, Niang should remind us all of the need for substantive debate at future judicial confirmation hearings, not frivolous demagoguery.

Megan McArdle looks at the lawsuit that former Google employee James Damore has brought against Google for bias against conservatives. It's not so much that Damore has much hope of winning legally, but because Google has a lot to lose from having this lawsuit and discovery go forward.
Google has an immense amount to lose, even if a court ultimately vindicates its corporate culture. The company’s internal systems, featuring an immense array of internal employee communications, will be ripped open to scrutiny. If I were a Google executive, I wouldn’t want to bet that employees haven’t said much worse things in emails and on message boards than those featured in the lawsuit. Things that are plainly, inarguably, expensively illegal.

But I also wouldn’t want even milder utterances to turn up as testimony in a lawsuit. Because every nasty comment and intemperate remark about Republicans or white males or conservative Christians is going to get broadcast to the public when this case goes to trial. And as you may have noticed, those folks are half the country.

Perhaps Google thinks its market position is so strong that it doesn’t have to worry about piddly things like whether its employees spend a great deal of time using internal systems to slander half the company’s American customer base. What are you going to do, use another search engine?

But this is too narrow an analysis. For one thing, there are quite a lot of conservative small-business owners, and small business is the lifeblood of the kinds of ads that Google sells. The company will be hurt if those business owners get serious about taking their advertising elsewhere, especially if conservatives pursue a secondary boycott, targeting companies that advertise with Google.

To be sure, boycotts are rarely all that effective. But most boycotts involve minor matters of policy. This is about tribal identity. Google fired a conservative for writing a rather anodyne memo. If it turns out that the company was at the same time tolerating truly vicious conservative bashing in its internal systems—well, no one wants to give their hard-earned money to people or companies that are violently bigoted against them.
And it might not matter that Google has unlimited resources to fight the lawsuit.
But Google’s very wealth and power mean it is even more vulnerable than usual to the political and economic pressure that such a lawsuit will bring. To a first approximation, every single conservative in America will learn about every single bigoted thing that a Googler has said about conservatives. If I were a Google executive, I would be willing to devote a considerable portion of the company’s riches to paying off Damore before this thing ever gets within shouting distance of a courtroom.
But what if Damore and his allies would prefer to embarrass Google?
This is one reason public corporations have historically tried to keep politics out of their business. It is internally divisive, and it paints a giant target on your back for your political enemies. Whatever small gains you may get, from internal bonding among like-minded employees, or external rewards from like-minded politicians, are almost never worth the blowback.

This is a lesson that Silicon Valley hasn’t had to learn yet, because it is so rich, and so new, that these sorts of concerns haven’t really registered. Presumably that’s why Google managers complacently allowed a corporate culture to grow up that at the very least tolerates some degree of progressive militancy at work, and quite possibly encourages more than a little of it. That was incredibly short-sighted. And if Silicon Valley doesn’t realize this, it is about to get belatedly hit by that realization, good and hard.

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