Saturday, June 9, 2018


Firms hoarding tax savings

 Why aren’t companies spending more?  The corporate tax cut was supposed to bring about a renaissance in capital spending, but it simply isn’t happening.  The Commerce Department reported [recently] that orders for durable goods--long-lasting equipment such as tractors and machinery--dropped 1.7 percent in April from the previous month.  Even if we exclude the drop in aircraft orders, spending on nondefense capital goods was up an anemic 1 percent.  That’s shocking, given how much money the corporate tax cut is providing companies, and how much money is being repatriated from overseas. 

It’s also clearly at odds with what companies have been saying. I n a survey earlier this year, corporate executives said they expected capital spending at their companies to increase an average of 11 percent over the next 12 months.  So what is going on?  It could be that the firms are about to spend more now that they know how much savings they can expect from the tax cuts.  But it could also be that companies simply prefer to give the money back to shareholders via dividends and buybacks. Whatever the cause, the tight labor market is giving companies a good reason to boost their existing workers’ productivity via capital spending, and the tax cuts have given them the means.  Their hesitation is unsettling.
                                                                                       -- Justin Lahart, Wall Street Journal

The Clintons’ normalization of corruption

With President Trump’s poll numbers ticking up despite mounting scandals, frustrated Democrats are asking themselves, “Why don’t voters care? Doesn’t corruption matter?”  Perhaps voters might care more about Trump’s abuses if Democrats hadn’t spent the past two decades insisting that Bill and Hillary Clinton’s corruption was perfectly normal.

Don’t get me wrong: Trumpworld has taken graft and influence peddling to a new, vulgar level.  But the Trump model is simply the Clinton model on steroids.   Hillary Clinton raked in $675,000 in speaking fees from the financial industry before her presidential run, while the Clinton Foundation solicited tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments while she was secretary of state. At the same time, Bill made millions giving speeches abroad and to corporate gatherings.  

Liberal partisans instinctively defended the Clintons because they were on their side. So is it any surprise so many voters decided they might as well put their own corrupt guy in charge of the swamp? Thanks to the #MeToo movement, Democrats now admit that Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct was indefensible. They should now admit that both Clintons’ financial corruption was also unacceptable.
-- Josh Barro,

A cure for the common cold

Scientists are closing in on a cure for one of the most widespread infectious diseases in the world: the common cold.  Most adults catch a few colds each year, suffering from congestion, sore throat, and achiness; children are even more susceptible.  While decongestants and other remedies can help ease symptoms, a cure for the infection has proved elusive, in large part because the common cold is caused by hundreds of different strains of the virus, which mutate rapidly and become resistant to drugs.  

But scientists at Imperial College London have developed a drug that appears to overcome that problem. Rather than attacking the virus itself, the drug prevents the infective agent from binding to a protein in human cells--a protein that cold viruses need in order to replicate and spread.  Early lab tests show that the treatment effectively neutralizes several strains of cold virus within minutes, without harming the human cells.  “A drug like this could be extremely beneficial if given early in infection,” lead researcher Ed Tate tells New Scientist.  “Even if the cold has taken hold, it still might help lessen the symptoms.”  Tate and his team are now working on a form of the drug that could be inhaled, to quicken its passage to the lungs. But they caution that more studies are needed to confirm that the treatment isn’t harmful to the body.
--The Week
 Is Amazon Prime still worth it? Five views

  • Is Amazon Prime worth its new $119 price tag?  The retail behemoth [recently] raised the annual price of its membership program by 20 percent--the first price hike since March 2014.  In justifying the rise, Amazon pointed to its expanded list of perks beyond Prime’s essential attraction: free two-day shipping.  Prime now provides members with streaming packages of TV shows, movies, and music that rival those of Spotify and Netflix, plus video games and e-books and magazines.--Jacob Passy, Market​

  • A lot depends on how much you rely on Amazon for everything from paper towels to power cords.  My wife and I probably order five to 10 items a month and always opt for free shipping, so Prime pays for itself after a couple of months.  But a colleague of mine only occasionally buys things and got a Prime membership so his father could watch its TV shows.  At $119, he’s thinking of dropping it.--Dwight Silverman, Houston Chronicle

  • I say keep your $119.   Free shipping, once the key incentive to sign up, is no longer that unusual.  Walmart and Target, for instance, now offer free two-day shipping on orders over $35. Amazon itself also provides free shipping--although admittedly not two-day shipping--on most product categories when you spend more than $25.--Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

  • In its defense, Amazon countered the dulling of free shipping by building out the rest of the ecosystem.  The company is beginning to offer innovations like in-car and in-home delivery, and the Amazon-owned Whole Foods supermarkets offer free grocery deliveries for Prime customers in some cities.  It’s also worth noting that a year of Prime still costs less than a year of Netflix.  You may not need Prime, but you could almost certainly slice and dice the benefits in a way that adds up to a yes.-- Brian Barrett,

  • If the Prime price hike seems too steep, you could split your membership with a family member or friend. Memberships--including most benefits--can be shared among two adults through Prime’s Household feature.  But there’s a catch: Users must agree to share payment methods, including credit cards and gift cards.  You can also switch to a monthly payment plan.  Instead of coughing up $119 in one lump payment, you can instead opt to pay in monthly installments of $12.99.  Want to stream movies but don’t care about free shipping on orders less than $25?  A monthly Prime Video subscription is available for $8.99 per month.  And anyone heading to school can save:  Students with a .edu e-mail address are eligible for a half-price student membership for up to four years.--Abha Bhattarai, Washington Post

How to kill that one pesky mosquito

Think strategically. You’re lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, when a mosquito whines in your ear--but you can handle this, and quickly. You just need a flashlight or cellphone, plus the wherewithal not to simply start swatting blindly.

Set a trap. Lying in the darkness, place your phone on your chest with the screen illuminated and the brightness on high.  The light, plus the carbon dioxide in your exhaled breath, should lure the mosquito to the screen, where you can smack it.

Widen the search. An effective, older method requires getting out of bed.  In this scenario, you turn on a single, small light source near a wall and wait for the mosquito to be lured to the wall.  Hold an illuminated flashlight flat against the wall and rotate the beam.  When it catches the mosquito, it’ll create a bold shadow and easy target.

The truth behind weed and the brain

It may make sense to legalize marijuana, but Americans are being astoundingly naïve about how the widespread use of pot will affect communities and individuals, particularly teenagers.  The research on marijuana’s effects on the brain shows that the ingredient that causes its “high,” delta-9-THC, can indeed dampen motivation and interfere with a successful life, as well as lead to tolerance, dependence, and craving--the hallmarks of addiction.”

In particular, the research on THC’s impact on the developing adolescent brain is inconveniently alarming.  Teens who smoke weed regularly, studies show, have reduced activity in brain circuits critical to noticing new information and making decisions; they are 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school, are at substantially increased risk for heroin addiction and alcoholism, and are seven times more likely to attempt suicide. Recent studies even show that THC can turn on or off genetic expression in a teenager’s epigenome, making young users’ children at increased risk for mental illness and addiction years before they are conceived. Yes, it’s true that alcohol and tobacco also have caused great damage, but let’s not pretend that marijuana is benign or beneficial.   And let’s not pretend that legalizing weed will be without costs.

--Judith Grisel, neuroscientist, in Washington Post

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