Friday, November 23, 2018


Facebook really did kill the news
Thanks to Facebook, hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs and readers have deserted news outlets in droves.  A new lawsuit filed by aggrieved advertisers alleges that for years, Facebook egregiously overstated the success of videos posted to its social network.  Based on the data they got from Facebook, news organizations chased the promise of web video.  As media companies desperately tried to do what Facebook wanted, many made the disastrous decision to pivot to video.

Cue the layoffs: 70 at, 60 at, 25 at organizations that slashed writers and editors to focus on web video.  As text-based stories disappeared, so did audiences. Three months after switching to video, had hemorrhaged 88 percent of its audience.  Instead of investing in content, news sites focused on stunts. Some "800,000 people watched a pair of staffers explode a watermelon on Facebook Live. B uzzFeed never repeated that success.  

Even if it had, it wouldn’t have mattered.   Facebook transformed its News Feed into a stack of videos, but the advertisers never came; they weren’t interested in the "window shoppers" who watched Facebook’s videos for as little as three seconds before clicking away.  In its haste to reshape the media, Facebook ended up laying waste to the information landscape.
                                                       --Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer,

Why the U.S. is still in Afghanistan?
America cannot win the war in Afghanistan, but we should continue to fight there anyway.  Since a U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban from power in 2001 in the wake of 9/11, every U.S. president has been forced to accept the same strategic reality.  Though we cannot eradicate the Taliban and other Islamist radical groups from Afghanistan, letting the country once again become a jihadist stronghold and training ground would be a massive defeat for the U.S. and directly endanger its people.  It was in Afghanistan that al Qaida had the space and resources to evolve into an effective terrorist organization that sent airliners crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

 If we leave, Islamist radicals are likely to mount a new attack--perhaps with chemical or biological weapons next time.  After trial and error, the U.S. has settled on a "medium footprint" approach to defending Afghanistan, with several thousand troops, special operations forces and air power working to destroy terrorist havens and strengthen Afghan forces.  That policy has been successful in its limited goals but will have to go on indefinitely as the terrible price of security in a hostile world.
--Michael Gerson, Washington Post

Supplements' hidden health perils
Hundreds of dietary supplements sold in the U.S. contain unapproved and potentially dangerous ingredients.  That’s the conclusion of a new analysis of the Food and Drug Administration’s "tainted products" database.  Researchers from the California Department of Public Health found that from 2007 to 2016, the FDA recorded 776 dietary supplements containing unlisted ingredients that were either unsafe or unstudied.  Nearly 46 percent of the tainted supplements were for sexual performance, 41 percent for weight loss and 12 percent for muscle building.  

The hidden ingredients included sibutramine, which is banned in the U.S. because of cardiovascular risks, and anabolic steroids, which when taken in excess can cause mental health problems and liver and heart disease.  Yet in most cases, the FDA didn’t order product recalls--only 360 of the tainted products were taken off the shelves.  Because dietary supplements are classified as foods, not drugs, they aren’t subject to the same rigorous pre-market testing as pharmaceuticals.  With the supplement industry now worth $35 billion, the study authors say it is essential to further address this significant public health issue.
Competition is alive and well
Competition is dying.  That’s the latest complaint against corporate America from critics, who argue that lax antitrust enforcement has allowed supersize firms to dominate the economy.  But is it true?  Yes, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple and some other tech firms are massive and have dominant market positions.  And yes, many industries have seen mergers and consolidations--amounting in 2015 alone to about $2.5 trillion, the highest annual number on record.  

But if giant firms really have so much market power, why don’t they raise prices more often?  Inflation, once a scourge of American consumers, averaged only 2.4 percent a year from 1990 to 2017.  Undeniably, consumer choice has expanded dramatically, thanks to deregulation and the internet.  Over the past decades, the U.S. economy has become more competitive, not less.  In the 1960s, for example, NBC, CBS, and ABC owned the airwaves; cable customers today can view hundreds of channels.  Mergers can be wasteful and inefficient, but the market is far more effective than the government at punishing firms that grow too bloated.  

This debate over competition is really about politics, not economics.  Critics want to lay blame for the economy’s ills at the doorstep of corporate America and give government the power to favor certain companies through regulation.  It’s a path best not taken.
--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

Obama’s climate goals still in sight
The U.S. is on track to meet targets established by President Obama’s signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, despite the Trump White House’s aggressive efforts to roll back its requirements. According to a U.S. report released [recently], the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 28 percent since 2005, ahead of schedule to meet the Clean Power Plan goal of reducing emissions by 32 percent before 2030.  Emissions, lower last year than at any point since 1987, have fallen because power producers have largely gravitated away from coal.  In August, the Trump administration proposed a replacement plan that would let coal-fired plants release 12 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than the Obama-era standards.
--The Week

Organic food may reduce cancer risk
People who regularly eat organic food are much less likely to get cancer than those who don’t, a major new study found.  Scientists in France recruited nearly 70,000 volunteers--most of them women, with an average age of 44--and asked how often they ate organic fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and other products.  Participants were tracked for an average of  4 1/2 years, during which time 1,340 of them developed cancer.  

Researchers found that the quarter of participants who ate the most organic foods were 25 percent less likely to get cancer than the quarter who ate the least--even after taking into account age, income and other risk factors. The most frequent organic consumers had 76 percent fewer lymphomas, 86 percent fewer non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, and a 34 percent lower incidence of postmenopausal breast cancers.  Lead author Julia Baudry says the lower level of pesticides in organic food is the most likely explanation for the disparity. Pesticides can mimic hormones in the body and elevate cancer risk.  Jorge Chavarro, a Harvard nutritionist who was not involved in the research, says the findings are "incredibly important."  But he says it’s possible the higher cancer rate in people who don’t eat organic food could be caused by other bad health habits, such as not eating much produce. "The relationship between organic food consumption and cancer risk is still unclear."
--Los Angeles Times

Trump and the troops
[Calling in the troops at the border] may be reality television for Trump.  But it’s real life for the soldiers.  Every military operation entails hardship and risk.  Vehicles crash.  Soldiers get injured operating heavy machinery.  There’s psychological distress, illness and heat exhaustion.  Over a recent 12-year period, nearly 4,600 active-duty personnel were killed in accidents.  Soldiers and their families bravely accept these risks, but the commander in chief should not to ask them to sacrifice for no reason.  Instead, Trump is  treating men and women who have volunteered to fight and die for this country like toy soldiers.
--Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune

Prenups aren’t just about money
If you think prenups are just for celebrities, you’re wrong.  There are some unexpected reasons more couples are considering prenups--an agreement about how you split assets in the event of divorce--such as protecting the right to use frozen embryos for in vitro fertilization.  And you’d do well to think early on about what will happen with a business launched during the marriage.  "All of my retirement assets went into building this business," says one entrepreneur, who felt that giving her ex-husband a share, as they would have shared retirement savings, was the fair way to go.
--Jillian Berman,

A $4.5 billion Great Lakes sinkhole
Wisconsin’s deal to lure the electronics giant Foxconn with $4.5 billion in tax subsidies looks like a politically motivated boondoggle.   Last year, the Taiwanese manufacturer promised a factory that would create 13,000 jobs.  Now Foxconn has downsized to a plant that will employ only 3,000, at an average salary of $54,000.  Even if all the originally promised jobs materialize--and there’s no guarantee they will--Wisconsin will pay $346,000 per worker, a staggering $1,800 from each taxpayer in the state.  Because Wisconsin’s taxes are already low, much of this will come in cash, not tax credits. The state could probably do better for its workers by simply employing them directly.  Heavily hyped by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the deal may have cost him re-election; now he avoids mentioning it.  The Foxconn "fiasco" is a glaring example of corporate welfare, but other cities and states hand out rich incentives. 

The war for Amazon’s HQ2 is a prime case. Estimates of local corporate subsidies range from $45 billion to $90 billion a year. A better way to bring in business is with education and infrastructure. Cities and states could just stop playing the tax-break game.  If all cities and states could simply agree not to give any incentives, companies would still have to put their offices and factories somewhere, wouldn’t they?
--Noah Smith,

Florida: The laughingstock state
Eighteen years after hanging chads and the Brooks Brothers riot, the Sunshine State is once again at the center of an election mess of its own doing.

The big picture: Florida is in the middle of three statewide recounts, and three counties in particular (Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Broward) haven't helped the situation.
"We have been the laughingstock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this," U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said while rejecting a request to extend the state deadline for counties to submit their machine recount results.

Driving the news:  Broward finished its recount just minutes before the deadline, the Miami Herald reported.   Palm Beach County missed the deadline, along with several smaller counties.   Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, won't submit its results after a recount "turned up 846 fewer than originally counted," the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The state's election infrastructure is a disaster.  Ballots tossed out for signature mismatches . poorly designed ballots  and overheated vote tallying machines. . . .
--Axios PM 

Have no fear of OPEC’s oil power
Just three men now control the worldwide price of oil:  Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Mohammed bin Salman.  The U.S. used to worry about the power of OPEC to cut our oil supply.  Now Saudi Arabia’s 10.6 million barrels–a-day production is more than one-third of OPEC’s total, and the U.S. and Russia between them pump more oil than OPEC’s 14 other members combined.    All three are pumping at record rates.   Saudi Arabia and Russia raised output in June, amid fears of a shortage.  Now those fears are over, and MBS hopes that by cutting production, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries can raise the price of oil to $73.30 a barrel, the number the Saudis need to balance their budget.

 Most likely, he won’t succeed. Russia’s own budget is less dependent on oil than it used to be, and Putin shows no great enthusiasm for restricting his production again.   Maybe he’ll decide that maintaining his improved political relationship with MBS is worth a small sacrifice.  But count on Trump’s opposition--most likely via tweet--being much louder. And U.S. shale can fill any gaps in supply.  Between Trump’s wrath, U.S. shale, and Putin’s indifference, the days of skyrocketing oil prices are over.
--Julian Lee.

Oil, oil, leaks and trouble
Since 2004, between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been leaking from the site of an oil-production platform 12 miles off the Louisiana coast that sank in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.  The oil spill, which officials estimate could continue throughout this century, is on pace to overtake the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever, but there are currently no efforts to cap the many leaking wells.
--Washington Post

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