Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Mega-farms get a sweet trade bailout
Rich farmers, not mom-and-pop farms, will be the big winners in Trump’s $28 billion tariff bailout.   Soybean exports have cratered, thanks to the China trade war, and pork, corn, grain, and dairy producers are all worried anew, now that the president has announced plans to impose tariffs on Mexican imports.  To cover most of their losses, Trump issued a $12 billion farm bailout last year and an additional $16 billion bailout [recently].  But most of that money will go not to the small holdings that account for 89 percent of American farms, but to large industrialized operations.  Most of them are already major beneficiaries of federal crop support programs that steer billions in subsidies and low-priced crop insurance--including insurance that already covers some of their losses in the trade war.   

Meanwhile, reports from the prairie states indicate that the trade war is driving many small farmers out of business.  Trump tweeted recently that “our great Patriot farmers have been forgotten” for many years.  That’s not true:  U.S. agriculture has been among the most heavily subsidized sectors of the economy.  It’s just that with the tariff bailout, as with other farm subsidies, the biggest payments will go to those  who need them least.
--Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

Democrats 'big tent' on abortion is no more
2020 candidates are rushing to the left to embrace an expansive view of abortion rights, but the strategy could be a major gamble:   Could it cost them votes come Election Day?  
The leftward move in the Democrats’ messaging on abortion--now led by Kirsten Gillibrand, who has quietly become the abortion-rights trendsetter in the race--is a response to a string of right-wing states that have passed tough restrictions on abortions in recent months, putting the future of Roe vs. Wade on shakier footing.  But plenty of voters in key swing states have more middle-of-the-road views on abortion, which means the strategy for Gillibrand and other Democrats is high-risk, high-reward.
--The Atlantic
Reparations would worsen race relations
Democratic presidential candidates are testing the idea of making reparations for slavery an active issue in the 2020 presidential campaign.  That’s a terrible idea, both politically and practically.  Compensation for slavery is an inviting idea in principle, but it raises so many complex and divisive issues that it would make race relations in America a good deal worse.  Tens of millions of white Americans would insist that their immigrant forebears arrived in the country after slavery ended, and therefore cannot be held responsible for its crimes or its legacy.

Indeed, most people who lived in the U.S. in 1860 did not own slaves.  And who would get the reparations? Everyone with any African-American ancestors, even if they were 98 percent white?  Should wealthy black people--such as Oprah Winfrey or Barack Obama (whose father grew up in Africa)--get reparations, too?  As Americans argued over these issues, it would throw open a trap door out of which all manner of bigotries and bitterness, all the black bats of American history, would fly. 

Unfortunately, the only realistic answer to America’s ugly racial legacy is continued slow progress. No program of reparations can undo the past or heal its wounds.
--Lance Morrow,  Wall Street Journal
Exploding batteries
Lithium-ion batteries can be dangerously flammable, but it’s common to find them selling on Amazon.  That’s where Nicholas Jones purchased what he thought was a replacement battery for his HP laptop in 2016, later to discover that the lithium-ion battery in the laptop sitting next to him had ignited, setting his couch on fire.  More than half the products sold on Amazon are listed by third parties, so batches of lithium-ion cells made in China that don’t pass inspection sometimes end up listed by sellers on Amazon.  In August, Amazon barred the sale of cylindrical lithium-ion cells not designed to be handled by consumers--the kind that have caused the most problem--but The Atlantic had no problem buying eight of them on the site in February.
--Alana Semuels, TheAtlantic​.com

The danger of overhyping 5G
5G mania has swept the wireless industry, regulators and tech enthusiasts--but the hype may be getting ahead of the market demand for it.

Why it matters: The promise of 5G--with mobile broadband speeds up to 100 times faster than current 4G networks-- and the pressure to keep up with global competitors are impacting major merger reviews and city budgets.  But unrealistic expectations for 5G could lead to big disappointments.

Between the lines:  It's always hard to anticipate how and when new technologies will catch on. No one predicted Uber and Airbnb would spring from 4G networks and the smartphone, for example.  When 4G launched, the U.S. wireless market still had plenty of room to grow, and revenue margins were relatively high.  So the telecom industry's promotion of 4G service was more measured and less hyped.

Now the wireless market is mature and has little subscriber growth (around 1%), so telecom companies are searching for ways to wring new revenue from current subscribers.   That has driven the industry to push flashy marketing campaigns to sell consumers on the benefits of 5G.

The bottom line:  "The hype is so preposterously misaligned with economic reality that inevitably there’s going to be this disastrous crash in expectations," said Craig Moffett, founding partner at MoffettNathanson Research.
--Kim Hart, Axios

The new, cruel robot overlords
“It’s time to stop worrying that robots will take our jobs and start worrying that they will decide who gets jobs.  Companies like General Electric and Goldman Sachs routinely cut underperformers.  But that’s less alarming than a recent report in that Amazon enlists computers that track the productivity of its employees and regularly fire those who underperform. 

We already use artificial intelligence for managerial tasks, such as screening résumés and assigning projects.  Technology is also used by industrial laundry services to log how many seconds it takes to press a laundered shirt, and by major discount retailers to report if the cashier is scanning items quickly enough. So perhaps it was only a matter of time before software was used to fire people.  

The ruthlessness seems to work:  Studies show that hiring and firing employees more aggressively yields faster productivity growth.  But the rising wage inequality doesn’t fully capture how unequal work has become.  The risk of losing a senior job at GE or Goldman is more than compensated for by the reward of stimulating and challenging work and handsome paychecks.  The same can’t be said of employment at industrial laundromats and Amazon warehouses, where work is repetitive, the pay is low and the robot overlords have arrived.
--Greg Ip, Wall Street Journal

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